The Pilot Episode

Written by Deborah Joy Levine

INTERPRETED BY SARAH WOOD, submitted to the L &C board by carolm.

I would like to thank the many FOLCs who contributed to this transcript, especially Pam Jernigan, Chris Mulder, Genevieve Clemens, Georgia Walden, Kathy Brown, John Dobson, Donna Hafner, and Donna Brown. Their input was invaluable.

A word about this transcript: There are three different versions of this episode. The original airing was a two-hour movie, and it was re-shown in the United States as two hour-long episodes with additional scenes. The European/Australian version has even more scenes added in, and some scenes are in different places. This transcript follows the European/Australian release as closely as possible, since it is the most complete version.

The relative stillness of an early Metropolis morning was broken by a taxi that came tearing down the street. It made a wide U-turn, riding over the edge of the sidewalk and sending a few pedestrians scurrying out of the way, and came sharply to a stop in front of a landmark building with a large globe over the entrance, home to the Daily Planet, the greatest newspaper in the world.

A bearded young man wearing a woolen cap and carrying a video cassette emerged from the cab. He kicked the taxi's door shut and quickly headed inside the building.

Inside the newsroom it was still rather quiet, although not deserted. The man headed for a particular desk, where he shrugged off his jacket and got a pair of scissors. Reaching under the front of his shirt, he carefully snipped at, and began pulling out, strips of binding cloth, looking very glad to be freed from their tight restraint. He sighed in relief and wiggled his shoulders.

Jimmy Olsen, the paper's young copy boy and all-around gopher, approached the man. "You're in early," he commented. He inspected the man from different angles. "I like the beard... but the mustache isn't working for me," he teased. "Want me to do it?"

The bearded man nodded in resignation, and squeezed his eyes tightly shut, preparing for the pain to come. Jimmy ripped off the false facial hair, revealing a lovely young woman. She triumphantly held up the videotape and two rolls of film.

"I nailed 'em, cold!"

"All right!" Jimmy congratulated. He took the evidence, and the young woman removed the woolen cap, fluffing up her shoulder length hair. It hadn't been easy, but she never backed down from a challenge and never took "no" for an answer.

* * *

"Million Dollar Car Theft Ring Exposed" was the headline on the Daily Planet's morning edition the following day, an exclusive by Lois Lane. All the papers and television stations picked up the story quickly. "A stolen car ring was smashed by a brilliant raid..." a newscaster was reporting on the television screen in the newsroom.

Lois Lane had made a startling transformation from grubby, scruffy man to beautiful, professional woman, now wearing a sharply tailored suit and high heels, with her dark brown hair glossy and shining. She accepted the congratulations and admiration of her co-workers with modesty. "Oh come on, you guys, it was nothing, really," she said. A beaming smile that lit her brown eyes with a glow showed how pleased she was, nonetheless.

"I still can't believe they thought you were a boy," Jimmy Olsen said, shaking his head in wonder.

"Well, the mustache helped, and thanks for teaching me how to boost a car," she said to him.

Jimmy raised his coffee mug in a toast. "To Lois Lane, still going where no reporter has gone before!" he joked. The staff members clapped and laughed until the booming voice of the editor-in-chief cut through their ranks.

"Hey, hey, hey! Turn that thing off," Perry White instructed someone with a curt gesture to the television. "Now Jimmy, don't encourage her, she's got a head as big as the Metro Dome as it is!" he said gruffly, as he gave Lois that special smile he reserved just for her.

"Well it's nice to know I'm appreciated around here, Chief," she said saucily.

"What do you expect... garlands thrown at your feet?" he suggested with a wicked smile.

"No," she said with a quick laugh. "But I would like a raise."

"Well I'd like a 145 foot triple-masted schooner with a teak interior but hey, Lois..." He showed her the insides of his empty pockets. "Times are tough." The gathered staff members laughed, and Perry looked around at the party going on in his newsroom. "What's everybody standing around for? This is a newspaper, not Happy Hour at Buckingham Palace," he said firmly.

Jimmy followed his boss across the newsroom, eagerly trying to get his attention. "Chief, I got an angle on the mini-mall murders. Chief, I figure there was blood on the burritos because -- check this out -- they were eating, right, and the perpetrators come --"

Perry stopped at the door of his office and turned to face the enthusiastic boy. "Did you finish those obituary updates?"

Jimmy looked crestfallen that his boss wasn't interested in his idea. A murder was far more exciting than the obits. He wondered if Lois Lane had started off writing obituaries.

"Jimmy," Perry began, sounding each word out clearly, "never underestimate the need for a good obituary." With that, he went into his office and closed the door.

Jimmy turned away. "I can think of one right now," he muttered under his breath. He headed over to Lois's desk, angrily tossing down his notebook. She moved it from her work, making a face at him. Then he spied her pink message pad. "Whoa, I guess you've finally hit the big time!"

Lois, concentrating on her work, didn't look up. "Huh?"

"This time, Lex Luthor's personal assistant --" he began teasingly with a big grin, and as Lois jumped to reach the pad he danced back, trying to keep it from her. "-- returned your call," he finished in a rush as she snagged it from him. She looked at it in disappointment and crumpled it up. "Give it up, Lois," Jimmy said. "Luthor never gives one-on-one interviews."

Lois just looked at him. "Well, he's never met Lois Lane before, either," she said determinedly.

* * *

Sirens wailed, people hurried across the street like a herd of sheep, cars honked their horns, and vendors shouted out their wares, as a clean-cut young man stepped off a bus. He set down his battered suitcase, embossed with the initials C.K. in gold, on the sidewalk to stop for a moment and survey the bustling city, breathing in the aroma of exhaust fumes and hot dogs. Inexplicably, he felt both like a stranger and as though he had found a home, especially when he saw the immense Daily Planet globe.

Suddenly an insistent honking drew his attention. A city bus was careening down the avenue, out of control! The traffic light had just turned red, and the throng on the sidewalk began pouring onto the pedestrian crossing without looking. The runaway bus would mow them down!

He didn't know what to do, but he knew he had to do something or people would get hurt. Abandoning his suitcase, he swiftly ran into the street, right in front of the oncoming bus. He caught a glimpse of the driver's horror-stricken eyes as he held his hand out and braced himself for impact.

The bus came to an abrupt halt, throwing its passengers forward violently. The young man looked around fearfully, hoping that no one had seen what he had done. A woman standing close to him, who would have been in the direct path of the bus if it hadn't been stopped, stared at him in stunned disbelief. "He... he..." she stuttered, pointing at him and trying to get someone's attention.

The young man looked around anxiously, afraid that in averting a disaster he had revealed himself as someone extraordinary, but no one was paying attention to her, and no one else seemed to have seen anything. His heart pounding, he darted back to the sidewalk, grabbed his suitcase -- which was miraculously still there -- and melted into the crowd of pedestrians, hoping to disappear in their midst. No one came after him, no one paid him any attention at all, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

The woman on the street stared in shock at the imprint of a hand, imbedded perhaps an inch into the steel of the bus's grillwork.

* * *

A middle-aged man wearing ragged and mismatched clothes came out of the elevator and into the Daily Planet newsroom. He was filthy, and he smelled of sweat and dirt and other things no one wanted to try to identify. He looked around the busy newsroom for someone. "Lois Lane? Lois Lane?" the man repeated in an urgent tone as he weaved his way past people and down the stairs to the pit, his eyes roving around the room. Seated at her desk, Lois heard her name called, and she looked up for the source of the disturbance. "Lois Lane!" he shouted as he spotted her. He brandished a paper-wrapped parcel in one hand. "It's going to explode!" he yelled to her. Lois's brown eyes widened, startled, as she stood up.

"He's got a bomb!" someone cried out in alarm.

"It's not a bomb," Jimmy derided.

"It's my credentials," the man announced around him. Two security guards from the lobby caught up with him at that point, taking him by the arms, but the man's momentum carried him to Lois.

"I'm sorry, sir," one of the guards said to the chief editor, who was emerging from his office to see what the commotion was. "He ran right past me."

"You don't understand," the man said urgently, handing the parcel to Lois. "Miss Lane, the Messenger is going to explode! Please, Miss Lane, you must tell my story!"

"We've had trouble with him before," the guard said, beginning to haul him away firmly.

"No, please!" the man cried helplessly, "You've got to believe me!"

"No, wait a minute, don't!" Lois called out to the security guards, wanting to hear more. There was something in the man's desperate eyes that urged her to find out more.

"He's just a box short of a variety pack," the guard explained, paying no attention to her.

"Please, the space program is doomed!" Still crying out his pleas, the man was hustled out of the newsroom by the guards. Lois looked down at the package in her hands with a slight frown, wondering what was in it. Whoever he was, the man had fervently believed what he was telling her.

A short while later Lois was sitting at her desk, now covered by the contents of the package -- lots of crumpled pieces of paper that she had been trying to flatten out. They were different sizes and colors, with notes scribbled on them. Her attention was diverted, however, when she heard the Messenger mentioned on the television set nearby. She turned to watch with interest.

Gloria Campos was reporting for Lex*Tel Communications News. "The transport vehicle Messenger, piloted by Commander Jack Latterman and carrying the final propulsion module for Space Station Prometheus, is scheduled for lift-off Friday at 9:00 a.m. Dr. Toni Baines reminds us that timing is crucial."

The scene shifted to show the young blonde woman so central to the space program. "Unless all the modules are in place within the next few weeks, Space Station Prometheus will lose its orbit and fall back into the Earth's atmosphere. That kind of an occurrence will surely spell the end to any future projects, and the space program as a whole."

The newscaster's voice then explained, "A series of delays and launch failures have already put EPRAD's back to the wall."

Lois looked at the papers on her desk. If that crazy-looking man had been telling the truth, if the Messenger had been sabotaged and was doomed to explode, then the entire space program was in jeopardy!

As she turned, some of the papers slid to the floor. With a sigh she got down on her hands and knees to retrieve them from under her desk.

Catherine Grant sailed into the newsroom, her luxurious coat dangling languorously from one hand. As usual, she was dressed in outrageous attire, revealing plenty of tanned, toned skin. "Morning, Lois," she said smoothly, her voice a deep, rich timbre. "On your hands and knees again, I see."

Lois collected the last of the papers and stood up, grimacing at the typical jibe. Cat Grant never missed a chance to put her down, but as always, she fired off a return volley. "Isn't it a bit early for you to be in, Cat? I thought ladies like you only work nights."

Cat laughed. "Part of my job as society columnist..."

"Mud-slinging rumor monger," Lois interjected tightly.

"... is to maintain an active social life." Cat paused. "You remember what's that like... or do you?" With a contemptuous laugh she departed, managing to slap Lois's face lightly with the sleeve of her fur coat.

Lois shook her head slightly, grimacing. She had worked hard to become a top investigative journalist, to be seen as an equal to her male colleagues, and she believed that women like Cat, who flaunted their sexuality and used it to their advantage, just made things harder for women who would rather use their brains than their bodies.

Jimmy came up behind her, watching Cat.

"What do men see in her anyway?" Lois asked grumpily. "Don't they know she's just looking for another notch on her garter belt?"

Jimmy was quick to agree. "Pathetic!" Then a considering look crossed his face. "Have you actually seen this garter belt?"

Lois gave him a disgusted look as she turned to him and smacked his chest.

* * *

The young man who had stopped the bus with one hand crossed the street and stared up at the famous globe hanging over the entrance of the corner building, reading the name "Daily Planet" wrapped around it in neon blue lettering. He was here! He was lucky that his connections had landed him an interview with the Editor-in-Chief, Perry White. There was no time to stand on the sidewalk, gawking at the massive iron globe like a tourist; he didn't want to be late. He took a deep breath, and carried his suitcase inside to ask for directions to Mr. White's office.

Mr. White seemed a little less organized and efficient than the young man had expected. In fact, he seemed rather distracted as he rifled through the loose sheets of paper that covered his desk. "So you are Mister, uh..."

"Kent, Clark Kent," the young man supplied quickly.

Perry White found the resume he had received. "Ah yes, Kent. Oh, Professor Carlton called me about you; boy, I haven't seen him in I don't know... Let's see here," he suddenly said, remembering the purpose of the appointment and trying to bring himself back to the matter at hand. "Editor, Smallville Press," he read slowly, his smile faltering. He'd never heard of Smallville. "Where is that, that's in...?"


"Kansas," the chief repeated, trying to keep his voice neutral. The phone rang with a shrill, insistent sound. "Oh, just a minute please," he apologized as he reached out and grabbed the receiver. "Yeah... Oh, tell him to keep his pants on! If Carlini's can't deliver on time, just find a place who can!" he ended up hollering into the mouthpiece before slamming it down. "Would you believe I had to buy a blood pressure monitor last week?" he asked Clark as he laid two fingers against the side of his neck and looked at his watch.

"Paava leaves," Clark offered.

"I beg your pardon?" Perry asked blankly.

"The Yolngu tribe in New Guinea eat paava leaves to relieve stress, it puts them in a meditative state. Maybe you should try it," he suggested helpfully. A woman entered the office and laid some papers on Perry's cluttered desk, leaving silently.

"Oh, well, I see you've done some traveling," Perry observed, not quite sure what to make of that information. Eat leaves? Was the boy serious?

"Well, this is my first trip to Metropolis," Clark clarified. "I have some samples of my work," he remembered, bringing some papers out of his satchel.

"Oh good, good, let's take a look," the editor said agreeably as he accepted them. He liked this young man's honest face. "The Borneo Gazette," he read slowly, getting a sinking feeling in his stomach. "Mating rituals of the knob-tailed gecko?" With a sigh he faced the clean-cut young man with the hopeful eyes, trying to find a gentle way of breaking it to him. "Kent, I'm sure that these are fascinating stories, but you see, son, this is the Daily Planet! We're the greatest newspaper in the whole world! Now our people are dedicated servants of the Fourth Estate who routinely handle matters of international significance."

He was interrupted by a dark-haired young man who burst through the office door. "All right, Chief, I fixed the horn on your golf cart," he announced happily.

"Not now, Jimmy," Perry said abruptly.

"The tone's still off," the lad continued apologetically.

"Jimmy, not now!" Perry shouted. Jimmy didn't waste any time leaving. "Now, as I was, uh, saying, you just can't walk in here and expect..."

He was interrupted again when a young woman burst in through the door behind his desk, calling to him before she'd even entered the room. "Chief! I think there's a story here and we should have this guy checked out, you know, the crazy one from this morning? He was an engineer at EPRAD for ten years..."

"Lois!" the chief exploded. "Can't you see I'm in the middle of something here?" he asked plaintively. Clark rose to his feet politely to meet the woman, intrigued by the fire in her eyes and the intensity of her manner.

"Oh," she said, not sounding in the least apologetic. She barely afforded Clark a glance before turning expectantly to her editor and waiting impatiently.

"Lois Lane, Clark Kent," Perry introduced.

"Nice to meet you," she said, sparing him another brief glance without really seeing him. She turned immediately back to her editor. "Anyway, he worked on the Messenger..."

Clark closed his mouth, his polite words of greeting having been totally sideswiped by her rapid-fire words to Perry White, and used the hand he had extended to Lois to adjust his glasses instead. He was taken aback by her brusque rudeness and yet he admired the dedication she obviously had for her work.

"Wait, wait, wait a minute!" Perry interrupted, holding a hand up to stop any more words from spilling out. "What happened to that mood piece I gave you about the razing of that old theater on Forty-second Street?"

"I wasn't in the mood," she said with a touch of sarcasm.

"You weren't in the mood," he repeated in disgust. "Now look, Lois, you can't come in here and tell me you're not in the..."

The young woman was no longer paying attention, and Clark saw the golf-cart fixer making urgent faces at the glass window of Perry's door, pantomiming a phone call. "I gotta go, I'll catch you later!" she told her boss, drowning out his tirade as she swept out of the office like a tornado of energy.

"I tell you, if that woman wasn't the best damned investigative reporter I've ever seen, I...!" Perry put his fingers against the pulse point in his neck again, sure that the stress of his job would give him a stroke one day. Then he remembered what he had been discussing before the interruptions: the Borneo Gazette article this nice young man had written. "Look, Kent, I'm sure that you're an intelligent guy, but you just can't walk in here with this kind of resume and expect to get a job."

"Mr. White, I know I lack experience," Clark said earnestly, "but I'm a good writer --"

"Kent," Perry interrupted.

"-- and a hard worker, and I --"

"Kent," Perry interrupted again, regretfully but firmly. "I just don't have anything for you, son."

Clark's face fell. "Well thank you, sir, I appreciate you taking the time to see me," he said politely, realizing dejectedly that he should not have expected his modest success in small circles to translate into opportunity in the big city of Metropolis.

"Okay," Perry said with a friendly smile.

Clark shook the man's hand, picked up his satchel, and walked slowly out of the office.

Perry smiled until Clark had turned away, and then stared at his throbbing hand with a grimace and a whimper of pain, holding it away from his body. Then he looked in the direction the young man had gone, his eyes wide.

* * *

Clark found a room at the Hotel Apollo. It was a seedy dive, but it was all he could afford until he got a job. He put his suitcase down in the rather bare room, looking around at the grimy walls, the cheap furnishings, and the pay phone on the wall. From the room next door came the sound of rock music playing loudly. It wasn't much of a home.

Home. He closed his eyes, and the word conjured up the knitted afghans his great aunt had made for his bed, the collection of photos on the mantle, the smell of something delicious to eat, and all the love and warmth that made a house a home.

He got out a quarter to call his parents. Hearing their voices always cheered him up, and after that disappointing interview he sure needed cheering!

"You want me to wire you some cash?" his dad offered right away.

"No, I'm fine," Clark said half-heartedly, wondering how long he was going to be able to afford to stay at this crummy hotel while he looked for a job.

"How'd the interview go?" Martha Kent asked eagerly.

"Not so good, but something'll turn up, I'm sure," Clark said into the phone, not feeling at all sure and not sounding at all convincing.

"Nyeah, I think I should wire you some cash," Jonathan put in.

"I'm fine, Dad."

"You're still going to make it home on Friday?" his mom asked.

"What, and miss your home cooking?" Clark asked with forced cheer.

"What home cooking?" Jonathan snorted. "I haven't had a homecooked meal in..."

"Clark, you're being careful, aren't you?" his mother asked into her phone, cutting off her husband's complaint.

"Sure, other than the bus incident this morning, but that --"

"Bus incident? Clark..." his mother began, her happy smile vanishing.

"Metropolis isn't the Outback, you know," his father warned, ignoring his wife's glare. "People in the city are always looking to make a quick buck. If they find out about you, they'll put you in a laboratory, and..."

Clark finished the familiar refrain in a chorus. "... 'dissect you like a frog.' I know, Dad. Believe me, I'm trying my best to be like everybody else here."

"Well, I'll get that cash out to you tonight," his dad told him.

"Dad..." Clark stopped his automatic refusal as he realized that he needed the money, and that his father would feel better if he accepted it. "I'll pay you back, I promise. Okay, I'll talk to you guys soon."

"Bye, honey," his mom said gently, giving her husband a slightly sad smile.

Clark hung up slowly, feeling a pang of loneliness... that lifelong companion of his.

Intending to look in the classified section for another job opportunity, Clark had gotten a copy of the Daily Planet. He lay down on the bed, reading an article about Russia on the front page, putting off his task. It was a great paper, and he had really wanted to work there.

The light above his bed, a bare bulb on the ceiling, flickered and buzzed annoyingly, distracting him. With a frown he tossed the newspaper aside and, with no sign of effort, he willed himself to levitate, floating gently upwards to the ceiling. He was still stretched out horizontally, looking for all the world as though he were still laying on the bed. As he neared the light he reached out and touched it with his bare hand. Unheeding of the temperature of the bulb, he gave it a turn to tighten it. The flickering stopped, and he hovered there for a moment, testing it cautiously with a gentle tap. Satisfied, he slowly floated back down to the bed.

He lay on the narrow, springy matress, staring at the grubby ceiling, unwilling to pick up the paper again and start job hunting. He had been so excited by the prospect of working at the Daily Planet! Now his hopes had been ground to dust, and these strange powers of his were of no use to him. Sure, he could float up to the ceiling, but could he get a job? A regular job like any regular guy?

Getting up, Clark began to pace restlessly across the small room. Two steps, and he was at the wall. He checked the pay phone to see if his quarter had miraculously passed into the coin return slot, then turned and paced to the opposite wall. Two more steps and he was at the phone again. This time, instead of turning around, he placed his foot on the wall and walking right up it to the ceiling!

He tried to "stand" still for a moment, with his feet on the wall and his back resting against the ceiling, but his nervous tension needed an outlet. He paced down a few feet, then returned to the ceiling. He gave the light bulb another gentle twist, but it wasn't misbehaving anymore. He walked back down the wall, smoothly making the ninety degree transition to the floor. He threw himself down on the small bed with a deep sigh and drummed his fingers on his pillow.

He was almost out of money, he was staying in a miserable hole, his hopes for working at the world famous Daily Planet had been utterly crushed, and he was beginning to think he ought to just return home to Smallville and ask for his old job back.

Admit to everyone that he couldn't make it in the big city.

Admit to himself that, despite having awesome powers, he just couldn't cut it in the real world.

He didn't want to give up his dream. He liked what he had seen of Metropolis so far; the bustle and excitement and constant activity. He would just have to get a job somewhere else.

* * *

Each of the four locks turned one at a time, and Lois entered her apartment, an elegant home tastefully decorated with fine furnishings. She juggled a bag of groceries and her keys, her handbag and her satchel like an expert city dweller. "Lucy?" she called. "Are you home?"

"Hi sis!" came a bright voice from the bedroom. Lois's younger sister, who was staying with her for a while, came into the kitchen in her bathrobe as Lois set the grocery bag down on the counter. "I thought you were going out tonight," she said in surprise, looking inside the bag.

"Oh, I gotta work, I can't. Don't start!" she warned over her shoulder as she went to put her handbag and satchel down on the sofa.

"Did you find an escort to Lex Luthor's White Orchid Ball yet?" Lucy asked, following her into the living room area.

"No, I did not," Lois said clearly, feeling that she'd had quite enough of this old conversation already.

"Lois, it's tomorrow night!" Lucy reminded her unnecessarily. "What about Mitchell? I thought you liked him."

"Mitchell is a hypochondriac," Lois pronounced, taking some files from her satchel and trying to escape into the kitchen.

Lucy followed her. "They can't all be bad, Lois. They can't all be boring or stupid. What are you waiting for?"

"Fine. I'll ask Mitchell to take me," she said as she pulled a frozen dinner out of the grocery bag.

"I'm not just talking about the Ball, Lois. You've got to get out more," Lucy insisted.

Lois groaned. "Will you stop?" she demanded, with the cardboard end of the box clenched between her teeth. "Geez, you sound like Dad! I'm only twenty-six!" She popped the frozen dinner into the microwave.

"Twenty-six today, thirty-six tomorrow," Lucy warned ominously, following Lois again as she took a folder from the kitchen back to the sofa. "And I know why that dentist, Alan, never called you back; dragging him to the Women In Journalism seminar, 'Weak Men And The Wise Women Who Love Them'. You've got to stop scaring them off, Lois!" She grabbed the folder from her sister's hand to get her attention, to make her listen. "You've got to stop being so smart all the time, so intense!"

Lois looked at her sister. "Look, I'm just being myself, and if they're not man enough to handle it, then I guess I'll just have to wait 'til I find someone who is." Lois Lane was not about to hold back merely to entice a man.

"I just hate to see you sitting at home," Lucy replied almost sadly, cutting off her sister's tirade.

"I get out plenty, I have dates," Lois said defensively.

"You have interviews," Lucy corrected gently. "It's not the same thing." Lois opened her mouth to refute that, but she realized that her sister had a point. "Lois... I just want you to meet a super guy."

Lois couldn't remain irritated when she saw her sister's sweet, hopeful face. Deep down inside, she too wanted to meet a super guy. She dreamed of romantic walks on the beach, of candlelit dinners and slow dancing in Mr. Right's strong arms. Experience had taught her, though, that reality didn't work that way, and she wasn't convinced that super guys still existed. If they did, she was willing to bet that they had all been taken, or were gay, or would want nothing to do with a woman like her.

Later that night Lois was sitting in bed propped up against her pillows and snuggled under her comforter, reading some papers with a pair of glasses on. Yawning, she threw the papers down, took off her glasses, and picked up the remote control. She was in the mood to watch one of her favorite tapes, The Ivory Tower. She fast-forwarded through the credits, and munched on some popcorn as she watched.

"Gwendolyn, have you made your decision?" a dark-haired man asked on the screen.

Although she knew it by heart, Lois felt herself getting caught up in the story.

The pretty blonde tossed her wavy hair. "All right, you win," she replied almost defiantly. "I'll keep my promise. Tonight my body is yours. But my heart... my heart beats only for one man," she finished in grand melodramatic fashion.

"Oh!" Lois wailed softly, hugging the comforter to her and beginning to cry. Why couldn't she feel that kind of passion? Would she ever find her one true love? As the dark man began to nibble on Gwendolyn's neck, Lois pulled a tissue from beside the bed. With a little whimpering sound she wiped her eyes, blew her nose, and sniffled.

The Ivory Tower always had that effect on her.

* * *

Forty-second Street was crowded when Clark arrived there early the next morning, looking around tentatively. During the night he had remembered the mood piece about the demolition of a theater on Forty-second Street that Perry White had assigned to that woman who had barged into the office during his job interview, the sassy one who hadn't been in the mood. It had occurred to him then that some of his best work had been mood pieces. If he could find the theater that was being torn down, he could write a piece about it and take it to Mr. White. Perhaps the man would at least want to use it.

It wasn't hard to locate the theater that was being razed. Construction workers with hard hats were coming in and out of the old Sarah Bernhardt Theater, setting up equipment and maneuvering a wrecking ball into place. A small but determined group of protesters, all of them rather elderly, stomped around waving their placards and chanting, "Keep the theater on the spot, we don't need a parking lot!"

An old lady wandered around, searching worriedly. "Where's Beatrice? Bea? Bea?"

Clark took a quick look around him, but no one was paying attention to him with all the ruckus going on. He lowered his glasses and looked over the top of them, at the brick wall of the decrepit theater... then looked right through it. A woman stood on the stage, a feather boa around her neck and an enormous floppy hat on her head, surrounded by debris: fallen-down columns, empty seats, old props and racks of costumes all over the stage.

"After the dark death of autumn, and the cold barren winter, how I wish this rock might be taken from my heart," she cried out, her voice strong and clear, echoing slightly in the cavernous interior.

"Okay, Bill, start her up!" a loud voice shouted near Clark, distracting him. He saw that the construction workers were ready to begin razing the theater now. He glanced around again, then stared intently at the machine, his glasses once again lowered. He looked through the outer casing to the motor, and just as it started he used his heat vision to burn through some of the wiring, short circuiting it. The protesters cheered madly when the engine failed, although it was only a brief respite from the inevitable.

Taking advantage of the confusion, Clark adjusted his glasses and slipped inside the old theater.

The woman on the stage didn't see him at first, and he watched for a moment, listening to the heartfelt passion in her voice. "Oh, for the days of my childhood, back when my soul was pure. I slept right here in this nursery, looking out at the orchard from this very room, and every morning I awoke with such joy in my heart. My orchard is just the same as it was then. Nothing is different. All of it, all of it, dressed in white. My lovely orchard."

Clark felt it only right to applaud the actress, his claps echoing strangely and drawing her attention as he had meant to.

"Who's there?"

"Just... a fan."

"I'm not leaving," she told him. "Not until I finish."

He grinned. "All right. Do you mind if I watch? I always loved this play."

"You know it?" she asked.

"The Cherry Orchard. Anton Chekhov."

She looked pleased that he knew it, that she could share her passion with someone who appreciated it. "His finest, don't you think?"

"Definitely," he agreed with a gentle half-smile.

She smiled back at him wistfully. "They don't understand. Theater is more than bricks and mortar." She looked around the cavernous hall, seeing more than old age and decay. "It's drama and passion, and mystery and comedy and life!" She looked at him yearningly. "Don't make me go. I'm not ready."

"We have some time," he assured her.

"You understand. I just want to say good-bye."

Clark knew that he'd found an angle for his piece. He watched and listened as she lifted her face to the back row again.

"...all of it dressed in white. My lovely orchard."

Later, back in his hotel room, Clark gathered together his research and the notes he had taken in his interview with Beatrice, the actress at the theater, and sat down at his laptop. He typed away rapidly, fingers flying over the keys as the words poured out of him. The poor machine struggled valiantly to keep up with him, but it wasn't long before it began beeping pathetically, issuing smoke. Impatiently he fanned at it with his jacket.

When he was finished, Clark read over his piece, feeling a deep satisfaction. "Beatrice was eighteen when she made her debut. Warren G. Harding was President, the Unknown Soldier was interred at Arlington, and Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees..."

A little later, Perry finished reading it in his office, his southern accent caressing the final words. "... She came to say good-bye, as we all must, to the past, and to a life and a place that soon would exist only in a bittersweet memory." He smiled broadly at Clark.

"Smooth," Jimmy said admiringly.

Lois had listened, spellbound, with her head resting against the door, letting the words flow through her. Somehow this nobody from the middle of nowhere had managed to slip through her tough exterior, her shell of indifference, and made her care about the changing of times, the inevitable passing of everyone and everything. He had evoked memories of her childhood, those innocent years before she'd understood the bitterness in her mother's eyes, before she'd come to understand that no matter how well she did, it would never be good enough in her father's eyes. She had said good-bye to that life when her parents separated, and it was, indeed, only bittersweet memory now.

The sound of Jimmy's voice roused Lois from the spell Clark's words had woven around her, reminded her that she was standing in the Chief's office, and she hastily straightened up. She didn't want anyone to know that the piece had touched something deep within her. "Uh, yeah, if you like that sort of thing," she said disparagingly, hoping to sound blasé.

"You know, Kent, there's only one attribute I value more than experience, and that's initiative." Perry White looked him straight in the eyes. "Clark Kent, welcome to the Daily Planet!" He extended his hand to Clark, who took it in delight. Then Perry remembered the last handshake he'd had with this boy and said, "Oops!" He clasped Clark's wrist with his free hand so that he could extricate his right hand from the young man's grip, and patted Clark's hand instead of shaking it.

Clark's moment of triumph was immediately interrupted, though, when the office door was flung open.

"The space shuttle's on fire!" a staff member cried out in distress.

"Lois, get over here!" someone else shouted.

"Turn it up!"

"Let's take a look," Perry said, including Clark in the group. They headed into the newsroom and joined the crowd gathering around the television monitor. The shuttle Messenger was still on the launch pad, its rockets flaring and spitting out fire.

"... this fast breaking story, we have a reporter on the scene and we're trying to establish contact with her. Carmen Alvarado, can you hear me? She's on the launching pad right now. Carmen?"

Just then the Messenger exploded into a terrible fireball.

The reporter on the scene, looking stunned, spoke directly into the camera. "Wesley, you've just seen what we've seen here, a terrible tragedy is unfolding, there seems to be something..."

Lois gazed at the fiery scene, stricken. "I knew there was something to Platt's story, I knew it," she said.

"Now, Lois, just because one madman's prediction came true doesn't mean that there's a conspiracy to sabotage the entire space program," Perry said reasonably.

"But with more than a hundred colonists going up on the next launch, are you willing to take that chance?" she asked him.

Clark saw how affected she was by the tragedy, and her determination to investigate the story, and admired her for it. Here was a woman who cared! Perry saw it too, and he knew that if there was anything to this engineer's story about sabotage, Lois Lane would dig up the truth.

In Perry's office, Lois laid out her game plan. "I'll need a task force, I can't cover this story alone."

"You can have Jimmy," Perry offered.

"Chief," Lois said dryly, "we're talking about the space program!"

"Okay, take Kent."

"Kent?" she repeated incredulously.

"Kent," he confirmed impatiently.

"What about Myerson?" she asked hopefully.

"He's busy."

"Burns?" she tried, desperately.


"Forget Kent," she declared.

"Uh-uh," he said firmly. "He's a good man."

"Kent is a hack from Smallville, I couldn't make that name up!" she snorted.

"Kent, or nobody."

Recognizing the steely glint in Perry's eyes, and the finality in his voice, she gave in with bad grace. "Fine. Don't ever say that I'm not a team player." She turned on her heel and stalked out of the editor's office.

"Let's hit it," she told Kent, swatting his arm briskly as she strode purposefully towards her desk.

Clark, after a moment's surprised hesitation, put down the papers he was holding and hurried to catch up to her. "Mind if I ask where we're going?"

"To interview Samuel Platt. He's convinced the Messenger was sabotaged; I'll brief you on the way." Lois grabbed her coat and bag from her desk, and Clark quickly grabbed his jacket to keep up with her. "And let's get something straight, I did not work my buns off to become an investigative reporter for the Daily Planet just to baby-sit some hack from Nowheresville! And one other thing," she said without pausing for a breath, as she stopped on the stairs that led up from the pit of the newsroom to the elevators and whirled to face him, "you are not working with me, you are working for me. I call the shots, I ask the questions." She began to walk towards the elevators again, still laying down the law. "You are low man, I am top banana, and that's the way I like it. Comprende?" she asked over her shoulder.

"You like to be on top, got it," he returned clearly, looking straight forward at the elevator's impassive doors and not meeting her eyes.

Lois glared at him venomously. "Don't push me, Kent, you are way out of your league." The doors opened and she stalked into the elevator. Clark followed her in and took up a position just behind her right shoulder, safely out of her sight, able at last to allow the broad grin he had been witholding to light up his face. He was delighted to be working with Lois, confident he could quickly improve her low opinion of him. In the meantime, though, if she pushed, he intended to push back.

They took a cab to the address Lois had for Dr. Samuel Platt. The condemned building was dark, dirty, and dank, and they had to duck under police tape to get inside. A rat scurried away from Lois as she walked purposefully to the only door within and banged on it. "Dr. Platt?" she called out, seeming completely unfazed by her surroundings. "Dr. Platt, it's Lois Lane."

The door opened a fraction, and a wild-eyed, terrified face peered out. Dr. Platt held a crowbar, as though expecting his visitors to be dangerous, but he lowered it when he saw Lois, and opened the door wider to admit them.

As he led them inside, Dr. Platt began to ramble about his circumstances. "And they said that I was crazy, but wouldn't you be after the drugs? I mean, you know, they drugged me after I submitted my report to Dr. Baines."

Lois looked around at the total disarray, then focused her attention on interviewing the scientist. "Dr. Platt, how could the Messenger have been sabotaged? In order to bypass the security, you... unless the orders came from high up."

The engineer attempted to explain things more clearly. "Well, you see, under extreme temperature conditions the particle isolators were in danger of shutting down, so in order to prevent this we installed heating devices. But when I broke into one of the off-limit labs, I discovered that the heating devices had been replaced... by coolant systems." He stared at Lois meaningfully.

"To freeze the ion particles?" Clark added questioningly, wanting to make sure he was following this correctly. He had been wandering around the room, taking in his surroundings, listening intently without interruption, letting Lois ask the questions.

"Of course," Dr. Platt said quickly, turning to him, delighted by his comprehension. Lois shot Clark a surprised look. Did this farm boy actually understand this? "And emit fumes, and the Messenger would blow up. I mean, it's all in my report."

"What report?" Lois asked him, trying to steer control of this interview back into her hands.

"Well, the report that I gave to Dr. Baines."

"Do you have a copy of this report?" she asked.

"Ha! What kind of scientist would I be if I didn't keep reports?" He began rummaging violently around, searching the overflowing bookshelves, behind the fish mounted on the wall above them, and inside a child's tennis shoe, pulling out one crumpled piece of paper after another.

Lois exchanged a glance with Clark, not very hopeful. "Ah, Dr. Platt, perhaps you could gather your report together some other time, I'll have somebody come by and pick it up." Idly she picked up a photograph from the clutter covering the desk, taken in better times. The clean-cut, smiling man was Dr. Platt, and with him were an attractive woman and a laughing child.

Dr. Platt saw her. "My wife," he explained. "We'd planned to live together on the Prometheus," he added sadly.

"Where's your family now?"

"Gone. They left when... Well, it's all for the best," he finished gruffly.

Lois's face softened. "Dr. Platt, who would want to sabotage Space Station Prometheus?" she asked gently.

"I don't know. See, the microgravity laboratory on the Prometheus could be the key for curing hundreds of diseases here on Earth," he explained earnestly. "In a zero-gravity environment we can actually separate the proteins that form viruses. So many children with crippling diseases..." His voice trailed off as his eyes drifted to the photograph in Lois's hands. "... my daughter," he added, his voice a haggard whisper. "We could cure them!" He raised soulful, sad eyes to the young reporters.

"I think you and I should pay Dr. Baines a visit," Lois said quietly to Clark, giving the tired engineer a sympathetic look. They left him alone with his sorrows and his crowbar, and drove one of the Daily Planet vans to EPRAD, where they managed to meet with Dr. Antoinette Baines. She was a beautiful but hard-looking woman with glittering eyes and an air of sorrow.

"Naturally we're all still in a state of shock. I don't suppose I have to tell you what a catastrophe this explosion was. Captain Latterman was one of our best. His three kids, his wife Anna..."

"Dr. Baines, what's being done to investigate the cause of the explosion?" Lois asked, all business.

"Well, we won't know anything until we've examined the burned wreckage. We're in the process of moving it to a hangar right now for inspection."

"Can we take a look at it?"

"Sorry, no press allowed."

"No exceptions?" Clark asked, looking directly at her.

Dr. Baines looked into his warm brown eyes. Then she gave him an appraising glance from head to toe. She obviously liked what she saw, for she smiled and amended her hard line. "I'll see what I can do."

"Great," Clark said, flashing Dr. Baines a quick smile. If a little extra friendliness gained them an advantage, he figured it wouldn't hurt.

Lois tried to keep from rolling her eyes. Didn't the woman have any professionalism? "On the subject of Dr. Samuel Platt..."

"Oh, I have his file right here," Dr. Baines said immediately, turning and getting it. She referred to its contents without offering to show it to them. "A real waste of talent. Seems building the space station and his divorce finally got to him. He started drinking, taking drugs... He went from bad to worse. We kept him on as long as we could, but when he set fire to one of the laboratories we had to let him go." She set the file down as though that ended the subject.

Lois had one more question. "Dr. Platt said that he submitted a report to you, something about coolant devices installed to --"

"Coolants," Baines cut her off, appearing to think hard for a moment. "No, I don't recall any report. I could check my records," she offered.

"Could you? And, give us a call?" Lois produced a business card and handed it to Dr. Baines.

"Certainly. I'd be glad to help." She eyed Clark once more, and her voice softened as she added to him, "Let me know if I can be of any further assistance."

"Thank you," he acknowledged with another smile.

A few minutes later, Lois and Clark were walking back towards the van.

"She seemed cooperative," Clark said to break the silence.

"I don't trust her," Lois said.

"Very attractive," Clark added. "Young, for a woman in her position."

"Typical!" she said in disgust.


"That's a typical male response," she said scathingly.

"Lois, trust me on this, I am not a typical male," Clark assured her, amused.

"No? Just because she's... okay looking..."

"She's very okay!" he interjected with a grin, enjoying the way he was getting a rise out of her.

"... you automatically assume she's telling the truth?" Lois ended.

"That's pretty cynical, Lois."

"It's realistic, Clark. At least I don't go through life disappointed."

He spent the rest of the trip back to the newsroom wondering what had happened to Lois Lane to make her so hard on the outside, and wondering what she was really like on the inside.

Once back at the Daily Planet, Perry assigned Jimmy Olsen to show Clark around the newsroom. "We have different sections, just like the paper has different sections," Jimmy explained. "Society, Sports, Entertainment... Come here." Clark obediently followed him around, wondering how long it would take for all this bustle to become familiar, wondering if he would ever feel a part of the team.

Cat Grant, who was at the coffee pot with Lois, let out a low wolf whistle appreciatively as she watched the handsome, dark-haired young man following Jimmy around. "Who's the new tight end?" she asked in a throaty voice.

Lois grimaced. "Why don't you throw your usual forward pass and find out?" she asked in withering tones, putting a teaspoon of honey into her coffee.

Deciding that it would be a good place to start, Cat shimmied out of her Toledo jacket and adjusted the bizarre red and black outfit she wore underneath. Lois eyed the tacky outfit disdainfully; Cat had a seemingly never-ending supply of outrageous clothes, all of them designed to display a lot of the body she worked hard to keep toned and tanned. Lois wouldn't be caught dead in any of them, preferring unobtrusive colors and businesslike suits. She took her coffee and went to get a file from one of the nearby cabinets.

Cat scrubbed her teeth with a finger and pinched her cheeks to bring color to them before turning to block Clark's way as he approached the coffee pot.

"Ah, excuse me," Clark said politely, gesturing to the coffee behind her.

"Catherine Grant," she introduced in a deep, throaty voice. "'Cat's Corner'." She held out a hand to be kissed.

"Oh yeah, I've read your column." He held her hand awkwardly for a moment before releasing it.

"Oh, then my reputation precedes me," she purred, pleased.

"Among other things," Lois muttered from the file cabinet nearby, where she was unobtrusively listening and watching the exchange.

Ignoring that, Cat began to stroke Clark's tie. "You know, I know what it's like to be new in town... Lonely... I'd be happy to show you around."

"Ah, that's very nice of you, Miss Grant," Clark said slowly, flattered by the attentions of this exotic creature, but not really wanting to encourage the way she was fondling his tie.

"Cat!" she told him, almost hissing in a rather feline manner.

"Cat!" he repeated with the same ferocious inflection, not sure whether to be amused or alarmed. "Um, maybe when I get settled in," he suggested noncomitally.

She patted his shoulder before starting to slink away, with her jacket dangling languidly from one hand. She paused beside Lois to turn and look at him provocatively over her shoulder and tell him, "It's a date."

Lois rolled her eyes, closed the cabinet drawer rather loudly, and took her coffee to her desk.

Clark poured himself a cup of coffee. He was amused by Lois's reactions to the gossip columnist, but had the uncomfortable sensation that Miss Grant had designated him as her next prey. "Cat!" he hissed again, quietly, and grinned. There weren't too many people like her in Smallville!

* * *

Clark went to his desk, took off his jacket, and sat down. Lois was at her nearby desk in the middle of a phone call, and he idly listened in to her conversation, fiddling with a pencil to make it look as though he was doing something.

"No, Mitchell," she was saying in a resigned tone, "I'm not mad. If you've got the sniffles then you've got the sniffles... Yeah, that could lead to complications," she agreed listlessly into the phone while looking through her address book. "No, don't call me, I'll call you."

Lois hung up, knowing that she'd never call him again. Whoever heard of canceling plans to attend Lex Luthor's White Orchid Ball because of sniffles? Now what was she going to do? The Ball was that evening; how was she going to find another escort at the last minute? She couldn't go alone. She'd never hear the end of it! Feeling glum, she looked around the newsroom.

Clark quickly pulled the phone book to him and opened it to the first page, hoping to look as though he'd been busily absorbed in some task. Belatedly he realized that Lois would probably find it suspicious that he was looking at the 911 instructions, so he began turning pages as though searching for something.

Lois's eyes lit on the newcomer, Clark Kent, working at his desk. She paused, eyeing him thoughtfully. He was new in town and he probably didn't know anyone, so he might not have plans for this evening. She could ask him. He wasn't exactly sophisticated, but...

No, that was a crazy idea!

Then again, she was desperate, and she could make sure he understood that this was a black tie affair, so that he wouldn't embarrass her by showing up in jeans and a flannel shirt.

She stood up, paused for a moment, then walked irresolutely over to his desk, sighing heavily. "I don't suppose you own a tuxedo," she said negatively.

"I could get one," he said, looking up at her expectantly. He knew what she was going to ask, and he was looking forward to hearing it. "Why?" he asked, feigning innocence.

"Oh, well, the man that I was going to Lex Luthor's Ball with has the flu," she explained lightly, perhaps exaggerating Mitchell's condition a little, smiling in a manner that showed it didn't matter to her, it was merely an inconvenience.

"Ye-es...?" he asked expectantly when it appeared that no more was forthcoming. He fought to keep a straight face; it was evident that Lois didn't want to have to come right out and ask him to be her date, but he certainly wasn't going to miss out on hearing this!

"Well, I was just wondering if you wanted to..." She stopped, hoping he would save her from having to ask. Then she saw the amused light in his brown eyes and the expectant look on his face. He knew what she needed and he was forcing her to come right out and ask him! He was enjoying this! She started to walk away, determined not to give him the pleasure. After a few steps, however, the reality of her situation struck her again, and she came back to his desk. "Do you want to take his place or not?" she demanded in exasperation.

Clark grinned at the blunt, almost defiant way she had phrased it. It wasn't exactly a romantic approach! He feigned indifference, hoping to get a rise out of her. "Well, thanks anyway, Lois, but I thought I'd go to bed early tonight."

"Are you crazy?" she asked incredulously. "This is the social event of the season! Everyone who is anyone is gonna be there, and you want to go to bed early?"

He rose from his seat and approached her. "So, is this... a date?" His pause emphasized his meaning. He knew, of course, that it was no such thing, but he couldn't seem to help himself; teasing Lois was fun, and he enjoyed the fiery light in her eyes.

"Date? Oh!" Her voice turned deceptively sweet. "Oh, you mean like in Kansas, where you meet my parents and then you try and give me a hickey in the vacant lot behind the Dairy Freeze." She glared at him then, and the mocking tone left her voice. "No this is not a date! This is business. I am going to land the first one-on-one Lex Luthor interview if it kills me!"

"Okay," Clark said, stopping her tirade, deciding that if he teased her any more she might withdraw her offer.

Lois looked momentarily surprised. "Good. I'll see you there." She started to walk away, then swung back to face him. "Nine," she added. He nodded. "Okay," she said uncertainly, not sure that it was a good idea to be at the Ball with her new coworker. She got her coat and her satchel, and turned to take one last look at Clark. He waggled his fingers at her cheerfully, and she left the newsroom.

Clark chuckled. Even though she didn't seem very enthusiastic about having him substitute for her original escort, he had to admit that her take on dating in Kansas was pretty funny.

Now that his evening's plans had substantially changed, Clark quickly gathered his belongings and left work. He was having dinner with his parents, and he decided to go straight to Smallville without stopping at the hotel. He ducked into a dark alley, slipping his glasses into his jacket pocket in preparation for his flight.

Just as he began to take off, a man emerged from behind a hanging blanket under a metal staircase. "Hey buddy, got a buck?" the man asked, not very hopefully. His voice trailed off at the end as he saw that the young man was hovering two feet above the ground!

Clark turned in alarm. He hadn't seen the homeless man in his make-shift shelter. For a heart-pounding moment, he was afraid. For one wild moment he hoped the man hadn't gotten a very good look at him, and maybe if he took off really quickly his secret would be safe. But Clark was never one to abandon a man in need of help. He didn't have much money left, but he certainly had more than this guy did. He reached into his jacket pocket, and walked on air towards the man, handing him a five dollar bill.

"Oh, oh, oh!" the man chortled appreciatively in a melodic way. "You must be some kinda angel, brother!" Then he stared in astonishment at Clark, who smiled as he rose slowly and gracefully into the night sky, made a lazily looping circle overhead, and vanished with a whoosh. "Some kind of... angel!" he repeated in amazement.

Clark swooped effortlessly past the skyscrapers, a satisfied feeling from having helped someone transforming into a giddy excitement. Metropolis spread out below and around him, a glittering array of lights and muted sounds, full of excitement and danger, and a sharp-tongued, prickly young woman with beautiful burnished hair and lively brown eyes.

It wasn't a date, he reminded himself; she wasn't interested in him. The grin remained on his face all the way west to Kansas. He landed in front of an old farmhouse which glowed softly with welcoming lights, climbed the porch steps, and opened the door. It was great to be home!

* * *

"Dinner was great, Mom, thanks," Clark said warmly. After eating take-out in his crummy hotel room, it was a balm to his soul to eat a home-cooked meal.

"Thanks, honey," Martha murmured in response, happy to have him home for a visit.

His father grunted an agreement, but couldn't refrain from adding, "More than I get these days! Your mother is now an 'artiste'," he explained to Clark, gesturing to a large, rather severe metal sculpture in the middle of the room. It was all sharp angles and silver planes punctuated by holes.

"I call it, 'Too Much, Too Soon, Tortured Heart, Waning Moon'," Martha said with a broad smile. "What do you think? Too cerebral?" she asked, suddenly looking a bit unsure.

"No! No, it's..." He searched for an adjective. He thought the sculpture was interesting, and his mom's welding skills were impressive, but it was a rather bizarre name! He wouldn't hurt his mom's feelings for anything in the world, though, and she was looking at him hopefully. "It's very imaginative," he finished.

"Uh-huh," his father grunted, giving him a conspiratorial, knowing look as he rose from the table with his dishes.

"So now tell me more about this woman you're going to Lex Luthor's Ball with," his mother called from the kitchen.

"Lois is... well, she's complicated," Clark began, not quite sure how to sum up Lois Lane. "Domineering, uncompromising, pigheaded... brilliant," he added more softly with a smile. His parents both picked up on the change in his voice, and they smiled at him, prompting him to add, "And we're not really going out, it's 'business'."

"Uh-huh," Martha said, her smile growing bigger.

"Thanks for sewing my jacket, Mom," he said as he stood up.

"You're welcome, honey," she said softly.

"That electrical storm over Cleveland was brutal."

"Maybe you should take another route," she suggested simply, putting her arms up for a hug. "See you next week, honey. I love you. Take care!"

Jonathan went outside with Clark, and the two stood out by the barn for a few moments together, silently looking up at the sky. "I forget how beautiful it is here," Clark said contemplatively, his voice disturbing the hush of the evening. "The only stars you see in Metropolis are riding around in limos," he added wryly.

"You're the one who wanted the rat race," his father said lightly. "I couldn't live there, not for a minute!"

Clark tried to explain to his dad what the appeal was. "There's something about the city... the pace... everyone going somewhere."

"Impatient," Jonathan said succinctly. "Just like you." He smiled at his son then, knowing that Clark wasn't born to be a Kansas farmer, and not holding it against him. "Well, I guess you finally found your niche," he relented, resting his big hand on his son's broad shoulder. "You can stop living out of that old suitcase."

"I hope so, Dad," he answered with a sigh, looking around at his home and wondering if there was a place for him on this world. "Being in Metropolis, working at the Planet, it's a dream come true, but..."

"But you still feel like you don't fit in," Jonathan finished, understanding him perfectly. His heart ached for his son.

"I don't!" Clark said quickly. "I don't fit in." He never had, and he probably never would, because he was different. Resentment, years of pain and longing and frustration, built up within him quickly, and he needed to release it, let it go, because it wouldn't do him any good. He spotted a rock on the ground and concentrated all of his self-pity into a swift kick.

Jonathan Kent watched the rock soar up into orbit.

"I have to control myself, all the time, never use my powers because I don't want to jeopardize my chance to lead a normal life!"

"Whatever that means," Jonathan said, trying to remind his son that there was no such thing as normal.

"Just... being human, like you and Mom. Living, working, meeting someone, having a family," Clark replied wistfully.

"Clark, we don't know if that's possible," his dad cautioned him, although Clark refused to accept that terrible possibility. "And you can't risk anyone finding out about you. If they knew you came from another planet..."

"But I can't hide forever, Dad," Clark protested passionately. "There has to be a way that I can be Clark Kent and still use what I've been given to do some good!" Seeing the strained, sad look on his father's face, Clark realized that the conversation was upsetting his dad. He sighed, hanging his head for a moment. He knew it hadn't been easy on his parents, having a son like him. He knew how much his father had worried, through the years, that someone would find out Clark's secret and take him away from them. He went to his dad, reaching out and giving him a hug.

Jonathan patted his back reassuringly. If it was important to Clark, he would offer his support. "You'll find a way, boy. You'll find a way."

* * *

Clark and Jimmy walked together through the elegant rooms of Lex Luthor's penthouse with Metropolis's high society. The low murmur of a room full of conversations, the tinkling of glasses, the deferential hushed tones of waiters passing out cocktails... It was a glittering affair. Clark searched the room for Lois, wondering what she was wearing, wondering what she would think of him in a tuxedo. Despite her need for an escort, Lois had not waited outside for him as he had expected, and he was eager to find her.

"Have you ever met him? Lex Luthor?" Clark asked idly.

"No, but I've read all five of his unauthorized biographies!" Jimmy said enthusiastically. "Rags to riches, wrong side of the track, self-made billionaire, owns dozens of companies, employs thousands of people, Man of The Year every year, has his finger in every pie, but rarely appears in public," he rattled off, intercepting a drink from a passing tray. "He won't give personal interviews. Hey, there he is!" he exclaimed in awe, pointing Clark's attention to the top of the stairs.

A handsome man in his mid-thirties, looking very dignified despite the boyish waves in his brown hair, was descending the stairs, smiling graciously and shaking hands with all those who spoke to him as he passed, dropping warm phrases left and right on those most familiar in whichever language was appropriate. "You're on my phone list," he assured a beautiful young lady. "Harry, congratulations on the buy-out." "I like that editorial on the ozone." "Senator Washington! Nice of you to come." "Merci beaucoup." He made his way down like royalty.

Lois Lane watched his progression, wondering how she would get his attention amidst so many Metropolis luminaries. She decided on a frontal assault.

Lex was talking to a trio of guests, when from behind him a woman's voice called out commandingly, "Lex Luthor!" He turned slowly, wondering who dared demand anything from him, to face a beautiful young woman. She wore a gown of midnight blue, cut low over her breasts, and her hair was caught up, displaying a slender, delicate throat and neck. Her eyes were intelligent and bright, looking at him challengingly. A woman who knew her own power, he thought, drawn to her in an instant. The storm raging outside matched the sudden tumultuous lurch he felt.

"Why haven't you returned my calls?" Lois asked.

Lex turned back to his companions. "Gentlemen," he murmured politely, excusing himself from their company gracefully before turning his full attention on this rare creature of fire and ice.

"Lois Lane, Daily Planet," she introduced, extending a hand.

"Well, I can assure you I'll never make that mistake again," he said gallantly as he gave her a charming smile and swept her hand to his lips to brush a kiss on the back of it.

"She's something, isn't she?" Jimmy asked as he watched Lois, shaking his head with a smile, impressed by her audacity and beauty.

Clark didn't even feel his feet leave the floor as he unconsciously levitated; he was captivated and entranced by this stunning woman, so full of energy, so sharp of mind and tongue. At work she was cool and efficient, and yet here was a different side to her; poised, graceful, elegant and charming.

"Clark? Clark?" Jimmy prompted over his shoulder without turning around.

Jimmy's voice brought him back down to Earth, literally. Clark hoped that no one had noticed. "Yeah. She is something," he agreed wholeheartedly.

Lois had accepted Lex Luthor's invitation to dance, and found him a very smooth partner. "I hope you'll forgive me for being so bold..." she began, not sounding at all contrite.

"But boldness is a trait I find very attractive in a woman, Miss Lane," Lex said, his eyes gleaming.

Delighted, and rather surprised, Lois laughed. It was the first time she'd ever heard that! "Well, thank you." She turned more professional as she broached the matter of an interview. "Anyway, Mr. Luthor, I..."

"Lex," he corrected smoothly, as he spun her around expertly.

"Lex," she repeated, again surprised. She hadn't expected the most reclusive man in the city to be so warm and engaging. Nor had she realized, from seeing pictures of him, that he had such magnetic appeal. She couldn't help but smile radiantly. "I know that you're hesitant to give interviews..."

"Well, you can understand, a man in my position, I wouldn't want to be misinterpreted. I have had one or two bad experiences with the media," he said wryly.

Lois gave a throaty chuckle. "But not with me!" she said persuasively.

A spark ignited in his eyes. "So why don't we make it..." He leaned closer, his soft lips barely touching her cheek as he murmured near her ear, "... dinner."

Lois was glad that he couldn't see the triumphant gleam she knew must be visible in her eyes. She was sure she would have no problems turning dinner into an interview! The exclusive personal interview with Lex Luthor under her byline would be a real feather in her cap!

"Mind if I cut in?" Clark asked politely.

Lois looked in fury at Clark, then quickly recovered her gracious smile. "Lex, this is Clark Kent. Clark works at the Planet," she said, not sounding anywhere near as sweet as she had hoped to. Inwardly she was cursing him for interrupting.

"A pleasure," Lex said coolly as he shook Clark's hand, in a voice that was impeccably polite but had no feeling in it. He turned back to Lois, his eyes intense. "Thank you," he murmured to her, and then he strode off.

She followed him with her eyes, still smiling, until the crowd swallowed him up, unaware of Clark pulling her into his arms and beginning to dance. As soon as Lex had vanished she swatted him angrily. "Clark, you idiot!" she fumed, still looking over his shoulder in hopes of another glimpse of Lex Luthor. "It's taken me a year to get this close!"

"What, this close?" he asked with a smile, pulling her body against his.

She made a disgusted sound deep in her throat and pushed him back. "I would've thought square dancing was more your style!" she said sarcastically, hoping to put him back in his place. He had some nerve, interrupting her dance with Lex Luthor when he knew she was trying to get an interview from the reclusive man!

"Actually I learned from a Nigerian princess who studied ballroom dancing in England," Clark said, hoping impress her the way Lex Luthor's dazzle obviously had.

"Really? How fascinating," she said sarcastically as she turned and walked away from him without a backward glance.

"Where're you going?" he called after her. He followed her up the stairs and into a room that had a magnificent desk, valuable pieces of art, a fire burning in the fireplace, and French doors leading out onto a wide balcony. "Lois, what're you doing?" Clark asked, closing the door behind him, both bewildered and mortified that they were snooping around someone's home.

"Being a reporter; you should try it some time," she said coldly, shutting a set of double doors that opened onto another branch of the hallway.

"Lois, you can't come in..." He faltered when she went into an adjoining room, paying no attention to him. "Lois..."

"Just look around," she told him irritably when he tried to follow her. With a sigh, not feeling at all comfortable with the situation, Clark wandered over to a wall where several antique weapons were displayed. When he turned away from it, he was stopped abruptly by the cold steel tip of a sword touching the base of his throat. Lightning flashed outside, reflected in the steely eyes of Lex Luthor, who held the sword in one hand.

"Macedonian," Clark observed, unfazed. He knew this was a challenge, and knew that his skin could not be pierced by the blade, so his gaze was steady.

"It belonged to Alexander the Great," Lex Luthor informed him, his hand never wavering. The two men locked eyes. Luthor was expecting the younger man to turn away, but Clark didn't even blink. "A brilliant tactician. Alexander's strategy was simple. Always seize the high ground." Lex suddenly smiled insincerely and turned the sword around, offering it to Clark. "It was with this sword that he defeated --"

"Defeated Darius the Third and was proclaimed King of Asia," Clark finished, looking directly into Lex's eyes.

"You surprise me, Mr. Kent. I'm not often surprised." Lex didn't need to add that he didn't like the experience; it was evident in his voice.

Lois returned and gave their host a gracious smile, having missed the exchange between them. "I hope you don't mind us looking around. You have a beautiful home, Lex."

Her presence called an end to the silent face-off between the two men. "Have you seen the view from here?" Lex asked, and he escorted them to the French doors and opened them to the primal glory of the storm. "The tallest building in Metropolis," he said grandly, raising his voice to be heard over the lashing rain and low, grumbling thunder. "I must confess that I love the fact that everyone in this city has to look up in order to see me!" His face was exultant for a moment as he reveled in his station. "Let's get back to the party. I think you'll find my announcement will... interest you." He stood aside and gallantly escorted Lois past him, and gestured for Clark to follow.

"After you," Clark said politely.

Lex Luthor felt triumphant as he followed Lois, leaving Clark to close the windows. When the younger man had failed to be intimidated, Lex had seen him as someone deserving respect, someone to be taken seriously. Now he revised his opinion, since Clark had just handed him the chance to escort Miss Lane downstairs and charm her further. A man to whom strategy was of great importance, Lex decided that Clark was not on his level.

Clark stared after Luthor, wondering what that little scene had been all about. Perhaps Luthor was angry that he had cut in on their dance, perhaps he was trying to stake some sort of claim to Lois and intimidate Clark.

Downstairs, the band played a fanfare to draw the attention of the milling throng of party-goers. "Ladies and gentlemen!" Lex called out in his well-bred tones. "Honored guests... my friends. Well, we've come here tonight for a good cause. Thanks to your generosity the Luthor House for Homeless Children will soon be a reality."

The guests began to applaud, but Lex held his hands up to stop them. "Thank you. As you know, I've dedicated myself to improving the quality of lives of the citizens of Metropolis. Tonight I'd like to go further. Now it is my sad understanding the Congress of Nations intends to cancel Space Station Prometheus."

There was a murmur of regret and dismay in the gathering.

"Profit aside, the potential benefits that a zero-gravity laboratory could bring, most importantly pharmaceuticals that could end many crippling diseases here on Earth, must not be lost to the citizens of this planet. So therefore I have decided to commit my total financial support toward the building of a privately owned space laboratory. I have submitted my proposal to the Congress of Nations and I am awaiting their outcome. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Space Station Luthor!"

With that pronouncement a three-dimensional, holographic image of a shining space station appeared in the air before him, its light giving Luthor's triumphant face an eerie glow. The crowd gasped in astonishment, awe and delight, very impressed.

"Now step right up, don't be shy," Lex urged, gesturing for a couple to come forth but promptly stepping in front of them again to remain the center of attention. "Feast your eyes on an engineering marvel. A signpost to a new age of scientific advancement. A flagship, cruising into the new century. My gift to the future of mankind, the children of Earth."

The applause was sincere and enthusiastic, and Lois joined in heartily. Her gaze, however, was not on the impressive hologram. She was looking at Lex Luthor admiringly, and Clark, in turn, was watching her closely, trying to read the expression on her face. She seemed very impressed with Mr. Luthor. Clark turned his attention to the recipient of these accolades, who was smiling around in a benign fashion. He slowly, hesitantly, joined in the clapping, but his heart wasn't in it.

* * *

The storm raged on, lightning crackling like a live wire. Lex Luthor was deeply satisfied, reclining on the plush Persian rug before the fire in his tuxedo, the silk bow tie discarded and the top two buttons undone, a fine Cuban cigar between his teeth and a large glass of cognac at his elbow. The hologram had been a great success, and the obsequious responses of his guests had stroked his ego. Space Station Luthor was perhaps his finest project.

The fine hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, and he froze momentarily, senses brought to life. He whipped his head around and saw a venomous cobra before him, on a level with him, flared and poised to strike. A man in a turban watched from around the corner of the door.

Without a hint of fear, without hesitation, Luthor leaned ever so slightly closer, looking into the reptile's eyes intensely. The forked tongue darted out as the creature moved from side to side, but Lex never released it from the magnetic grip of his gaze, even though his eyes were tearing. He kept from blinking by sheer will power, the tears spilling out and running down his face. He loomed over the snake until it shrank down, intimidated by the sheer forcefulness of his gaze, the strength of his will, and slithered towards the door. Lex smiled a victorious, ferocious smile.

It was carefully retrieved by the Indian man. "Will that be all for this evening, sir?" he asked

"Yes, Asabi, thank you, that will be all," Lex replied.

Asabi retreated with a murmured, "A pleasure, sir."

Lex rolled onto his back, clasping his hands behind his head, sucking on the cigar, and feeling on top of the world. Not a man or beast alive was his equal!

The deep rumbling of the thunder and the snap of lightning kept him company.

* * *

The next morning Clark walked across the street to the Daily Planet just as Lois Lane climbed out of a cab. "Morning, Lois," he greeted cheerfully.

"Maybe for you, I've been at it for hours," she retorted. "I went back to EPRAD to follow the truck with the wreckage of the Messenger inside. They brought it into this hangar. I tried to get in but your friend, Dr. Baines, threw me out," she added sourly.

Just then there was a low rumbling sound from beneath the sidewalk of an explosion underground. "Hey, there's a man down there!" someone shouted, pointing to a manhole. "Call the fire department!"

Lois hurried closer, fumbling in her brown satchel for her notebook to get the story, not noticing that Clark, instead of following, had slipped away from the crowd. He found another manhole, removed the cover, slid inside, and pulled the cover back, all in the blink of an eye.

"We need help! People, stand back! There's a man down there!"

Suddenly, help was there. A pair of hands pushed a coughing man out of the manhole to safety. "Are you okay?" his co-workers asked anxiously, as wailing sirens heralded the approach of medical assistance. The man who had been saved suddenly pointed at a face in the crowd of onlookers.

"That man... that man saved me, that man," he said in astonishment. Lois turned, but there was no one there except Clark, looking rather grubby. Clark gave her a confused look. "He pulled me out," the worker insisted before he started coughing again.

"He's delirious!" Clark said to Lois.

"Obviously!" She gave him a good look, her face crinkled in distaste, and she brushed some dirt from his lapels. "Look at you, you're a mess! From now on do what I do, bring a change of clothes to work." She strode towards the revolving doors, leaving a relieved Clark hurrying to keep up with her.

"Hey, CK," Jimmy greeted as he headed towards the elevator Clark had just gotten off. Lois had stopped in the lobby.

"Hey," Clark greeted in return.

"Hold that eleva-" Jimmy made a face as the doors closed on him.

"Where're you off to?"

"Lois sent me to pick up that report from Platt; he called this morning, said he hopes we can read it. She also told me to take a copy over to my friends at STAR Labs to analyze." He took a good look at his new friend. "What happened to your suit?"

"Don't ask," Clark said simply, gesturing to the other elevator car, which was opening its doors. "See you later." As the elevator doors closed, Clark turned to go to the rest room, swiping at the grime on his coat.

"Morning, handsome," Cat purred as she approached him.

"Oh, hi, Cat," Clark greeted her with a smile. "If you'll excuse me..."

"No," she said petulantly, taking hold of his lapel to stop him from leaving, "I don't think I will excuse you! I've asked you to have dinner with me two times." Pouting, she once again took his tie in her hands. "That's two times more than I've ever had to ask any man to do... anything."

"I'm sorry, I've been really swamped." Just then Lois came out of the elevator, scowling when she saw Cat coming on to Clark again and passing them without a word. "Lois and I --" Clark began, half turning as though to follow her. Cat grabbed his tie more firmly to pull him back to her, and cut him off.

"Poor Lois, all work and no personality." She gave him a lascivious smile.

"Well, if I could take a raincheck on that dinner..." he suggested, trying to back away without losing his tie.

"Sure, but..." She touched his nose lightly, an intimate gesture, and her voice dropped to a sensuous whisper. "Don't wait too long."

"Okay," he whispered back, smiling and backing away until his tie at last slipped free of her fingers.

"Hmm! I love it when they play hard to get!" Cat said with a delicious shiver as she watched him leave.

Clark got himself a cup of coffee, and then went in search of Lois. She was working alone in one of the conference rooms. "Catnapping?" she asked sarcastically when he joined her.

He smiled. Was her antagonism because she was jealous? Or was he just being hopeful? He decided to let the matter drop. "Anything?"

She leaned back in her seat. "I must have called fifty ex-employees that worked at EPRAD the same time Platt did. None of them are talking. I don't know, maybe there's nothing to talk about." She shrugged wearily.

"So what do we do now?" he asked, deferring to her experience.

"Well, first we piece together Platt's report, if that's possible. Then we try and figure out a way to prove that Dr. Baines got a copy of it, and if there's any written evidence that Platt found coolant devices and Baines ignored it... I hope you didn't make dinner plans," she finished.

"I am all yours," Clark assured her, resting his chin on his folded arms and giving her a beautiful smile.

* * *

Dr. Antoinette Baines hung up the phone and pressed the button that opened the heavy security door to the balcony, where Lex Luthor was enjoying the morning air, wearing a silk robe over his black silk pajamas, an ascot at his neck. She herself was wearing an almost transparent robe over a seductive satin undergarment. She stretched luxuriously in the deep leather chair. "It's done," she said airily. "The Messenger's at the hangar."

"I knew that I could leave everything in your capable hands," Lex said smoothly as he came inside and kissed the back of her hand. Then he caught sight of the man standing near the door. "What's he doing here?" he asked sharply.

Baines was suddenly all business, cool and efficient, a marked contrast to her languidness before. "I have an errand for him to run. Platt has to be silenced, and those reporters, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, are also becoming a problem. Lois Lane was there this morning. Followed the truck to the hangar."

"Right, you do what you want with Platt, you leave the reporters to me," Lex told her firmly before turning away to look outside.

After a moment's hesitation, Baines nodded briefly, and gestured regally to the man to go ahead with the plan. She came up behind Luthor. "Tell me, Lex, do you have some special interest in those reporters? Clark Kent, for example?"

"Kent is nothing," Lex said contemptuously, without looking at her. He remembered how the younger man had allowed him to escort Lois back to the Ball. "He's a giblet."

"And Lois Lane?" she asked, in a voice that was dangerously smooth.

"Well, she's a very talented young woman, I may have use for her," Lex answered ambiguously. "Unfortunately, she may not be so easily seduced."

Baines finished the unspoken words. "As me?" She turned away angrily.

For a moment Lex was dismayed by his slip of the tongue. It was only a moment, however, before he was able to make a smooth recovery. "Oh, I seduced you?" he asked, one eyebrow arched. He moved closer and let his hands land on her shoulders. She shrugged off his touch, looking cold and venomous, not an easy person to placate. "I thought it was you who seduced me."

"I'm warning you, stay away from her," Baines said in a low and threatening voice, facing him boldly.

"Antoinette, you know me, perhaps a little too well. You know I don't like threats." He began kissing her neck.

"I don't care," she told him, taking his ascot and twisting it in her hands. "Everything we've worked for... we are so close! And I will not let her interfere. And you know what I'm capable of," she reminded him.

"Yes I do. And that is part of the appeal," Lex whispered before leaning down to kiss her again, their tongues dueling for a moment before he scooped her into his arms.

* * *

It was late, and the newsroom was nearly empty except for two tired reporters, who had spent the last several hours hunched over the crumpled bits of paper that comprised Dr. Platt's report, trying to piece it together in some semblance of order.

"This is impossible," Lois said with a sigh. "Nothing matches, no dates... We're never going to get through this. Oh, and I'm starving!" she complained. "Wish I knew some good Chinese take-out."

"I know a place," Clark ventured, getting up and fetching his coat. "I'll be right back."

"Don't you want to know what I want?"

"I'll bring an assortment," he replied. Lois shrugged, and got back to work.

It didn't take long for Clark to fly halfway around the world and reach one of his favorite little restaurants in Shanghai. He ordered a variety of dishes, hoping she would enjoy them. Something spicy, something mild, a little of the chicken, and some of the shrimp...

"That was quick!" Lois said in surprise, as he planted the bundle of bamboo containers down before her.

"I took a short cut."

"Still hot!" she enthused, opening one eagerly and dipping her fingers in to help herself to a mouthful. She let out an appreciative noise. "Ooh, this is out of this world!"

Clark happily watched her enjoy the food, smiling, hardly tasting his own dinner.

A short while later, sated and feeling drowsily content, the two reporters leaned back in their chairs. Lois cracked open her fortune cookie with anticipation, but her face dropped as she look at it. "It's in Chinese!" she complained. Clark leaned over and took it from her. "Oh, don't tell me that you read --" she began disbelievingly.

"A good horse is like a member of the family," he read cheerfully, handing it back.

"I hate that! That is not a fortune!" Lois declared. Clark chuckled, and she smiled at him. "You are a strange one, Clark Kent," she said slowly, struck by the incongruity of a Kansas farm boy reading Chinese, understanding what Dr. Platt had been talking about, and knowing ballroom dancing.

"Am I?" he inquired, amused because she had no idea just how strange he truly was.

"Yeah. But I think I've got you figured out," she returned confidently.



"Didn't take you very long." He looked at her intensely. What would happen if she really did figure him out? How would she react? What would it be like to have someone that knew him, really knew him? Someone he didn't have to hide from, someone he could turn to. He had never shared his secret with anyone; his parents were the only ones in the world who knew about his strange powers.

"Well, it's my business, looking beyond the external," she said, looking and feeling quite smug until she noticed the steady, penetrating look he was giving her, the light in his eyes. She felt a sudden lurch of panic and fear and excitement that she instantly suppressed. "Don't fall for me, farm boy," she warned him. "I don't have time for it. Come on, let's go find Platt, maybe he can help us decipher this."

Practically running, she gathered the papers and led the way out of the newsroom, needing to escape the closeness of the moment they had shared, needing to break the spell she could feel being woven around her when he gazed at her with those soft brown eyes.

Clark followed more slowly. For a moment there it had seemed that she was responding to him, but then she had withdrawn again. He had caught tantalizing glimpses of a softer side to Lois underneath her brusque and often rude exterior, but she kept pushing him away. It was as though she was afraid of him, afraid of taking a chance with him.

He was just going to have to be perseverent, he decided.

They took a cab to Dr. Platt's place in silence. A strange crackling sound was the only thing they heard when they entered. The inner door was ajar, and Lois cautiously pushed it open. "Lois, let me look first," Clark said, feeling in his gut that something was wrong here.

"Don't be silly, I've seen it all: war, crime, famine," she intoned in a blasé manner. The room was dark and shadowy, with only one lamp on. She tried the switch for the overhead light, but nothing happened. "Dr. Platt?" she called out, seeing that he was sitting in an armchair, his back to them.

"Wait, wait!" Clark urged. "The water." He pointed to Platt's bare feet, seemingly being soothed in a tub of water. Blue electricity sparked in it and made little arcs between his hands, and made miniature, macabre Jacob's ladders in his hair. They drew closer, careful not to step in any of the water that had splashed on the floor, until a shaft of light illuminated the blue-gray face of the engineer, at peace in death. A wire was draped over the tub of water and went up to his now limp hands. Lois turned away in distress, leaning a hand against Clark's strong chest to keep her balance as her stomach twisted.

Clark looked away momentarily with a grimace as he held Lois against him, then turned back again, stricken by the awful sight. That gentle man, who had yearned for a cure for the disease that his daughter suffered from, who had lost his family and his career because he tried to save lives, had been murdered to keep him from talking. He should have been keeping an eye out for Platt, keeping him safe. Perhaps he could have prevented this.

They called the police and waited in silence for their arrival, Clark ridden with guilt and Lois trying to focus on what to do about the story now that Platt was dead. The officers who came went through the motions of investigating the scene, but made up their minds pretty quickly.

"Suicide? That's ridiculous!" Lois argued.

"He's tried it before," Inspector Henderson replied in a jaded voice. "No sign of false entry, no sign of struggle, nobody saw anybody come in or out..."

"But we were on the verge of proving that his theory... that something he was working on was right!" Lois protested. "There's just no way he --"

"Hey, if a man's gonna barbecue himself, he oughta use sauce," an officer joked.

That was too much for Clark. To hear an officer of the law make light of the tragedy was an outrage. He confronted the officer, stabbing two fingers into the man's chest, his face only inches away and his eyes blazing with emotion. "The man's name was Samuel Platt. He was brilliant. A scientist, and someone who cared about others. Under the circumstances, I don't believe that kind of humor is appropriate."

Lois looked at him closely, worried that he was taking Dr. Platt's death too much to heart.

"Sorry, buddy," the officer said, both intimidated by the strength of the reporter's reaction and also ashamed of himself for having the poor taste to make such a comment. "Really, I'm sorry." He moved away.

"Are you okay?" Lois asked Clark in concern.

"Hey, we should've known. We should have protected him."

"How?" she asked reasonably.

"I don't know, but we should have done something," he said helplessly, deeply saddened by the tragedy, by the waste of a man's life.

"Look, Clark, all we can do now is try and prove him right. We have a lot of work to do." She looked at her watch. "It's only five-thirty. Why don't we try and get a few hours sleep and I'll come by for you about nine, okay?" Lois nodded briskly and left the building. She always found it easier to bury her emotions and concentrate on work.

* * *

Clark couldn't sleep. He wrestled with his feelings of guilt until the sun came up. He had never been able to stand by and watch someone get hurt if he knew he could prevent it, but he knew, too, the risks that involved, and what might happen if people knew about his powers. A possibility occurred to him, and he mused it over in the early morning hours. He took a shower to get ready for Lois's arrival, still thinking about his idea. Then, still damp and clad only in a towel, he called his parents from the pay phone in his room. He told them about the tragedy, unburdening himself. His mother was distressed that he was torn up about something that wasn't his fault.

"I can't help it, Mom, I feel responsible," he said in reply.

"If you could've helped him, you would have," Martha said sensibly into the phone.

Jonathan, on the other phone, changed the subject. "Clark, what's this about a worker caught in an explosion down a manhole? You mother told me he recognized you!"

"Dad, the workman was really out of it. I mean, nobody believed him when he pointed to me," Clark assured them.

"One of these days you're gonna pull one of your stunts and some nut with a video camera is going to --"

Martha interrupted hotly. "Well what did you want him to do, Jonathan, did you just want him to let the man die?" She let out a heavy sigh. They had come across this dilemma before, but since Clark had arrived in Metropolis the danger seemed tenfold. "So how are your clothes holding out?" she asked her son in a determinedly cheerful voice.

"Don't change the damned subject!" Jonathan said grumpily, thinking that Clark's secret was far more important than his wardrobe.

Clark intervened, hoping to defuse the whole matter and allay his father's worst fears. "Listen, I have been thinking about this, and maybe it's a crazy idea, but... Mom, how's your sewing machine, is it still working?"

"I think so," she said, puzzled.

"Well, I have a favor to ask. I think I need some kind of outfit," he said, still a bit unsure about his tentative thoughts.

There was a pause. "Outfit?" Jonathan repeated in disbelief.

"Well, you know, like a disguise I could wear when things like that explosion happen," Clark explained, growing more eager. "I could --" There was a knock on his door. "Oh, Mom, I gotta go, Lois is here."

"Oh, Lois again, huh," she said, a teasing smile in her voice as she winked at Jonathan and gave him a nudge with her elbow. Clark sure talked about her a lot!

"Bye," Clark said firmly, hanging up and getting his glasses.

Lois was standing there impatiently when he opened the door. Her eyes dropped to the smooth expanse of his bare chest, the narrow waist and flat stomach, all muscle. "I said nine, I thought you'd be naked," she said, tearing her eyes off his physique with difficulty. She realized too late what had slipped out of her mouth, but she did an admirable job of pretending it hadn't happened. "Ready," she corrected, maintaining a look of studious indifference.

"I was on the phone. I'll be out in a jiff," he promised, vanishing into his tiny bathroom.

Lois closed the door behind her without taking her eyes off him, admiring the muscles in his back. She hadn't realized that he had been keeping such a beautiful body underneath those suits and loud ties. Deciding that she was wandering down a dangerous path with such thoughts, she looked around the dingy room for something to do to erase the image of his towel-clad and muscular body from her mind.

She opened a kitchen cupboard, looking for a glass, and found that it was full of junk food. With a look of surprise, conjuring up the hard, flat stomach she had seen, she closed the cupboard and picked a glass up from the draining board, checking it carefully to make sure it was clean. When she opened the fridge in search of some orange juice, she was astonished by an even vaster array of junk food stuffed in there.

A noise behind her startled her, and she turned around with an alarmed expression. Surely Clark couldn't have dressed so quickly! He couldn't possibly be coming out wearing less than that towel, could he?

Clark emerged from the bathroom, neatly dressed in his usual suit and tie.

She gaped, wondering how on earth he had dressed so quickly, and then shook her head. Clark unobtrusively checked his zipper, wondering what she was staring at.

Lois decided she must have been staring at the refrigerator's contents for longer than she had realized. "We'd better be going." He nodded agreeably, and Lois started towards the door. She turned back abruptly, unable to contain her curiosity, the words tumbling out in staccato. "So, explain something to me. You... you... eat like an eight-year-old, and you look like Mr. Hardbody." She laughed self-consciously, feeling silly for having said anything. "What's your secret. And can I have it?" she joked.

He looked at her blankly, and with a grunt of disgust she opened the door to leave. Clark grinned as he followed her out. She might want to pretend that she hadn't been ogling him, but he knew better.

* * *

Lois was sitting at her desk, leaning back in her seat and toying with a pen in one hand, seemingly talking to the air. "But Henderson, if there were contusions on Dr. Platt's head, then he could've --"

The Inspector answered over her speakerphone. "Inconclusive. He could've gotten them last week. I'm sorry, but the autopsy result is gonna read 'suicide'."

"This isn't over. I'll call you back." She pressed the button to disconnect the call and got up.

Clark came towards her, calling, "Lois!" He nodded his head towards the entrance to the newsroom.

Lois looked. "Who's that?"

"It's Mrs. Platt and her daughter, Amy."

Amy, a sweet-looking child of ten or twelve, looked up at her mother from her wheelchair. "Mom, I was supposed to be at Susan's by now."

"Oh, honey. Take my coat and just wait over there by the elevator for me, okay?" She placed her coat across her daughter's lap.

"Okay," Amy agreed.

Lois and Clark joined them, giving the girl warm smiles. Mrs. Platt said, "Excuse me," and she turned Amy's wheelchair around.

Amy looked over her shoulder at Lois and murmured, "Bye." Her mother wheeled her a little distance away. Lois and Clark exchanged looks of sympathy. This was the reason why Samuel Platt had been devoted to the Prometheus Project; this is what he had died for.

Mrs. Platt returned, alone. "I, uh... I haven't told her yet. You see, everything we worked for was for Amy. The space lab Prometheus was the only hope, and now..."

"Mrs. Platt," Lois began, "when you and Amy left your husband --"

"No," the woman interrupted. "We never left him. He made us leave. He was sure they were going to come after him. He was afraid Amy and I would get hurt, so he sent us away."

"Do you have any who might've --"

"All I know is, Samuel knew Prometheus was being sabotaged and that knowledge got him killed. Please, help me. Don't let his daughter grow up believing her father committed suicide," she implored.

Clark moved closer to stand behind Lois's shoulder. "We'll try. We promise."

"Thank you," Mrs. Platt said, shaking hands with both of them before leaving.

A while later several staff members were gathered around the television in the pit to hear an announcement. "We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you this special report from the Congress of Nations."

The gentle face of the Chairperson appeared on the screen. "I am pleased to announce that we have unanimously decided that the Space Station Prometheus will proceed," she said into the microphones in her delicate accent.

"What about Lex Luthor's proposal?" a journalist off-camera asked as Clark came to join the group.

"This body would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Mr. Lex Luthor for his generous offer, but it is our firm belief that the space station should go forward as originally planned, a project dedicated to global cooperation for the advancement of the sciences. The colonists' launch, scheduled for next week, will proceed as planned."

Lex Luthor, in his penthouse office, listened to the broadcast in silent fury, every word adding fuel to the hot, white rage building inside him. With a sharp cry he smashed his fist through the glass display case, within which was the model for Space Station Luthor. He wrenched it from its perch and slowly crushed it between his hands, his face twisted in anger as the chairperson continued.

"The rocket will also carry an auxiliary propulsion module. Should any serious problems arise, we shall be forced to cancel the mission. We don't anticipate that happening. We anticipate success."

* * *

Later that day Jimmy had exciting news for the reporters. The three of them went into an empty conference room to talk. "So I gave STAR Labs Dr. Platt's report, they recreated the launch in a hologram, it was really smooth," Jimmy told them. "Anyway, they concluded that Platt's theory was right on, it was deliberate sabotage, and the transport explosion was no accident! Congrats!"

Lois gleefully feinted a jab at him, which he ducked with a laugh before leaving. Lois and Clark looked at each other with triumphant grins.

"He was right, Platt was right!" she said exuberantly.

"Now we can write the story," Clark enthused.

"I can write the story," Lois quickly corrected, still smiling.

"With my help," he insisted.

"With your help," she agreed readily. "And if we can convince people there was sabotage, and who was behind it --"

"We can stop them," Clark finished for her, grinning broadly.

"Oh God!" she cried happily, and they laughed happily and gave each other a spontaneous hug. They both drew back a little bit to look at one another, a bit startled. Each of them felt something far more than camaraderie.

"Why don't we have dinner," Clark suggested suddenly, taking a chance, wanting to hang on to that intimate moment between them, wanting to keep her from erecting those formidable barriers again.

"Oh, I don't know," she said quickly, knowing that she had entered uncharted waters and feeling uncharacteristically off-balance.

"We should celebrate," he said persuasively, hoping that making it work-related, however distantly, would help her to accept.

She hesitated, poised on the brink of a cliff and not sure that she should take another dangerous step. He has such beautiful, honest eyes, she thought with a pang. He truly wasn't like most guys, and there was an innocence, a naivete to him, that made her trust that he wasn't going to take advantage of her. "Okay, dinner," she said quickly before she could regret it. Suddenly a sense of euphoria swept over her, and she giggled. Then reality came crashing through. "Oh, wait a second, what am I talking about, I can't, I have plans tonight."

The hopes that had lifted Clark's heart dropped, and his smile vanished. "Luthor?" he asked with a trace of bitterness and a hint of a challenge in his voice.

"Yeah," she replied casually, but she knew there were undercurrents here that she needed to escape from. She opened the door of the conference room.

Clark followed her out into the newsroom, losing control of his emotions. Just when it seemed that she was softening towards him, the billionaire philanthropist came between them. He remembered the way she had been dancing with Lex, the way she had smiled at him with her eyes as well as her lips, and was afraid that her interest in the man was beyond that of a journalist hoping for an interview.

"Tell me something," he asked confrontationally, "how far are you willing to go to get this interview?" He knew it was a dangerous implication to make, but the words were out before he could think, and there was no taking them back.

"Not that it's any of your concern," she retorted sharply, "but as I told you before, this is business." She coated her voice in iciness to hide her hurt and anger. How could she have thought that Clark was any different from the rest of them? Just because she couldn't have dinner with him because she had an interview to do, he turned around and implied that she would sleep with Lex Luthor just to get the story? She grabbed her satchel from her desk and tried to make a dignified retreat.

Clark couldn't quietly accept another sharp retort from her, and since his fears about her interest in Lex Luthor couldn't be expressed, his anger came to the fore. "What is your problem, anyway? You've had a chip on your shoulder since the day I met you. You resented the fact --"

"That Perry foisted an inexperienced --"


She twirled around to face him. "What?"

"You are a snob, Lois," he said clearly.

"Well, coming from Mr. Greenjeans, that's really --" She broke off, infuriated, and started to march up the stairs. She just couldn't let it drop, though, and turned on him, her dark eyes flashing fire. "I live by three rules. I never get involved with my stories, I never let anyone else get there first, and I never sleep with anyone I work with. This is business." With that she stormed up the stairs to the elevator, never looking back.

With a sick, sinking certainty, Clark knew that he had made a big mistake.

* * *

The fire burned merrily near the table set for two. The china was impeccable, the crystal was delicate, the candles were a very intimate touch, and the silverware was embossed with Lex Luthor's initials on the handles. Lois picked slowly through her delicious dinner. On the one hand she was enjoying the romantic undercurrents of the evening, but on the other hand she wasn't here for personal reasons.

"Your mother and father both died when you were fourteen, correct?" she asked in a professional tone.

Lex looked steadily at the beautiful young woman for a moment. "Why don't I just have my office send you a biography?" He gestured with one hand for the hovering servant to refill their champagne glasses.

"Well, because I don't want the standard line," she explained earnestly. "I mean, I want to know the real Lex Luthor. What makes you tick, what you strive for. What do you want?"

"Pleasure," he said simply. "The pursuit of pleasure."

Lois hadn't expected that. "Hmm," she murmured as she jotted that down in the notebook alongside the fine china.

"Does that surprise you?"

"I would've guessed you'd say power."

"Power is a means, not an end."

"You took over your first big company when you were twenty-one." She met his gaze steadily. "There were rumors that that buyout was coerced, is it true that the Board of Directors were given substantial --"

"Was the food not to your liking?" he inquired politely, cutting her off.

"It was delicious," she assured him, glancing at her plate, which was still half full. "It's just that when I work, I..."

"All work and no play... Is that your credo, Lois Lane?" He looked at her in interest and slid his chair a little closer.

Lois felt wary. "I don't think that we should --"

"Why don't we just enjoy the evening," he began smoothly as he handed her her champagne, "enjoy each other, let down your hair, loosen the tie." He touched his fluted glass to hers gently.

"I'm not wearing a tie," she pointed out wryly, smiling in spite of her determination to keep this a business dinner. He was a very charismatic man.

"But you're so tense. Why don't you just let your defenses down," he suggested in a gentle voice, stroking her hand seductively.

His touch set off alarms in her head, and she withdrew automatically. "I think you've gotten the wrong idea about this dinner, Lex."

His smile faded and his face grew serious. "Look, I hope you don't think that we're here merely because you're a beautiful young woman. It wouldn't speak very well for either of us. You want an interview, right? A scoop?" He lifted her notebook and flipped it closed, leaning closer to her intensely. "I understand that. Quid pro quo, let me tell you what I want. My talent in life is not making money, it's not juggling companies, it's character assessment, and I sense things about you. Possibilities, potentials... you have the intelligence, the spirit, and the vision to transcend the mundane." He took her hand then, and his voice softened. "And, just so there are no misunderstandings, you are beautiful."

Flattered and flustered, Lois lowered her head for a moment, a bit taken aback by his sudden fervor. This man, who could have any woman he wanted, saw all of that magic in her? But what potentials? What possibilities? She wasn't quite sure if he wanted to hire her or date her! She was stunned by the idea that such a rich and powerful man could desire her, and yet she was uncomfortable with that thought. As always, she took refuge in her work. "Lex, I have a story to write... tonight. I should get going."

"No dessert?" he asked

"Um, no, I never have dessert," she lied, putting her notebook away in her purse.

"Really? You don't know what you're missing!" Lex said with a gleam in his eyes.

Asabi drove the Rolls Royce to Lois's apartment. When they pulled up in front of her building, Lex and Lois climbed out and stood on the sidewalk, facing each other.

Neither of them saw Clark approaching from the other side of the street. He was wearing comfortable sweat pants and a tee-shirt underneath his coat, having decided to walk over from his hotel room to make sure she'd gotten home safely. He stopped abruptly when he saw her with Lex Luthor.

He was relieved that Lois had come home; a part of him had been afraid that she wouldn't, in spite of her earlier words about never mixing business with pleasure. He watched as Lex adjusted the lapels of the coat she wore around her shoulders and spoke softly to her, and she smiled charmingly at him. Then they walked up the steps. Lois went inside first. Lex turned to nod slightly to Asabi before following Lois into the building.

Clark darted down the alley next to Lois's building and floated up to see in through the windows of Lois's apartment, needing to know whether Luthor was just seeing her to her door or staying for a drink.

Lex didn't make any attempt to come into Lois's apartment, nor did she invite him in, not in the least because her sister would probably be home. He stopped in the hallway outside her apartment door.

He's going to kiss me, she thought, as he slowly leaned towards her. She had been wondering if he would, and was staring into his eyes as his head came nearer. She closed her eyes and felt his lips softly touch hers. She wanted to feel something special, but it was just a kiss, gentle and undemanding, sparking no fires within her.

"Good night," Lex said softly, and he turned and walked away, supremely confident. She watched him leave, then made a strangled noise in her throat. She had spent the evening alone with Lex Luthor, in a perfect position to learn some heretofore unknown aspects of his past and get the personal interview that no one in the newsroom thought she could get, and she'd blown it, letting him talk about her! She should have been grilling him, pressing him, firing questions at him point-blank and sneaking them past him unexpectedly!

She opened the door to her apartment and slammed it shut behind her furiously. She flung her purse and her keys down on the sofa, violently yanked off her coat and threw it forcefully down on her purse, and stood there with her arms stiffly braced on the back of the sofa. She sighed.

Lucy Lane came out of the kitchen. "Well?" she asked.

"Oh, I blew it! I didn't get the interview!" She felt furious with herself. She had failed to keep the evening purely professional, and she had missed her chance.

"No," Lucy said, coming up behind Lois. She rested her hands on her sister's tense shoulders, massaging them. "Did he ask you out again?"

"Oh, I don't know!" Lois replied, frustrated. "I guess so." That just didn't seem important compared with having to face Perry White the next day and explain how it was that she didn't have a single thing to write about Lex Luthor that wasn't already known.

"You guess so? I hope you said yes! Lex Luthor is the world's most eligible bachelor!"

Clark was still hovering just outside the window, his back to the wall, leaning around slightly in the hopes of seeing and hearing more. Anyone walking past on the street would easily be able to see him. He knew he was being incautious, but he couldn't bring himself to leave just yet.

"Mr. Right could be out there," Lucy told her sister, pointing to the window Clark was next to.

"Oh, come back to earth, Lucy! This is reality we're talking about." Lois walked to the window. Clark flattened himself even more against the building. Lois looked a little wistfully down at the street, then up at the sky. Could there be a Mr. Right for her? Dismissing the fantasy, she firmly closed the curtains.

Clark felt disheartened. Lois didn't sound as though she was interested in a relationship with any man, be it a billionaire or a co-worker. Frustrated, unable to release his emotions, he flew straight up, careful not to make any sound. For a moment he was silhouetted against the moon, and then he was gone.

* * *

The next morning, Lois and Clark and Jimmy crowded into the chief editor's office to present him with their copy, looking and feeling pleased with themselves and waiting expectantly for his praise. "All right, let me see if I've got this straight now," Perry White said in his slow drawl after reading it. "You want me to publish a story that says that the Prometheus Project is being sabotaged..."

Jimmy nodded eagerly, Clark nodded intently, but Lois recognized the danger signals in his voice and looked uneasy.

Perry continued, "... that the space transport Messenger exploded, and that the transport carrying the habitation module to Space Station Prometheus, scheduled to be launched in less than three days, is probably also going to... blow up." He pantomimed an explosion with his hands.

Clark was still nodding seriously, but Jimmy turned his gaze to Lois, beginning to get worried. Lois opened her mouth to interject something defensively, but she wasn't given the chance.

"And all of this information you got from interviewing Samuel Platt. A man who was banned from the scientific community, underwent psychiatric treatment, and committed suicide! Although he was 'probably murdered'."

Under the editor's scathing sarcasm, Lois's face wilted. Jimmy winced slightly. Clark looked a bit concerned; when put that way, it did seem a bit flimsy.

"Now does that about sum it up?" Perry asked them.

"Chief," Lois began, but got no further.

"Hard facts!" Perry shouted. "Hard facts, that's the name of this game! Now go out there and get me some!" He handed the copy back to Lois, and she nodded meekly.

The three left the office in varying degrees of dismay, humiliation, and frustration. Lois, particularly, was stung by Perry's words and angry with herself. "What we need is physical evidence," she said brusquely.

"I'll call Dr. Baines's office and see if I can get permission to set up an independent examination --"

"Clark, Baines is not going to let you do that, she could be involved. Besides, we don't have time to play by the rules." She grabbed her coat from the back of her chair and struggled into it. Clark tried to assist, but she yanked it from his hands, and he wisely backed off. "The colonist transport goes up in two days."

"I'm making the call, maybe someone else at EPRAD will authorize it," he insisted.

"You do that," Lois agreed sharply as he walked to his desk.

"Where are you going?" Jimmy asked as she strode towards the elevators.


"I'm coming too," Jimmy called after her, hurrying to catch up.

Alone in his office, Perry opened a small tin of paava leaves and looked at them uncertainly. Did that young fellow really know what he was talking about? Eat them?

He took some between two fingers and raised them to his nostrils, sniffing them suspiciously, but there was nothing ominous about the fresh odor. He stuffed them into his mouth, and began to chew slowly, hoping it would help his blood pressure.

* * *

Jimmy danced alongside Lois as she strode purposefully along the corridor towards a work area at EPRAD. "I guess I don't need to point this out to you, Lois, but this is dangerous." He got in front of her to block her way, hoping to get her to calm down and think. When Lois rushed off in a fury, she often got herself into sticky situations.

"Fine," she said, brushing him aside. "You go back to writing obituaries. I'll grab the scoop of the century by myself." She stopped in front of a door with glass panes, and they both peered through them. The area was enormous, with workers in protective suits and people welding things, and scaffolding rigged around a singed piece of the Messenger's remains. There were guards there, too.

"How do we get inside?" Jimmy asked.

"We don't have to," Lois replied slowly, staring at the scene.


"I watched them load the Messenger wreckage onto the truck," she explained. "The whole left side of the shell was bashed in. That one isn't. They're working on a phony shell."

They looked at each other, then Lois led the way out a door, in search of another hangar.

The public address blared, "Dr. Langley, please contact the main gate. Dr. Langley, the main gate." Sneaking around EPRAD, peering through glass panes and opening doors, Lois hoped that the activity would be centered on the fake Messenger, and that she and Jimmy would be able to locate the real one somewhere around here, unattended.

Going down some steps, they stealthily approached another door. Lois tried the handle, but it was locked. Jimmy, having anticipated that, was ready with a thin wire, and he deftly picked the lock. "You're amazing, where'd you learn to do that?" she asked him.

"Reform school," he replied, then gave her a sharp look. "It was a bum rap."

She accepted that readily enough, far more interested in trying to find the real wreckage of the Messenger.

* * *

"Your friend Lois Lane is here," Dr. Baines said into the phone as she watched Lois and Jimmy move carefully around the hangar that contained the real Messenger on the security camera's monitor.

"Lois, this is so cool!" Jimmy was saying.

"I think it's time we eliminated her," Baines continued.

"Kill off the Daily Planet's star reporter? I'm surprised at the suggestion, Antoinette," Lex said coolly into his cordless phone as he walked into his office. He wore jodhpurs and a polo shirt, with his coat stylishly draped over his shoulders, having just come back to his office after a challenging game of polo. Asabi followed a few steps steps behind carrying Lex's riding crop and helmet. Lex shrugged his coat off, knowing that Asabi would catch it, which he did. Asabi then retreated deferentially, leaving his master in privacy.

"She suspects me , Lex. You said I would never be implicated."

"She lacks evidence. Evidence!" Lex put her on speaker phone. "Evidence is sometimes all that separates the criminal from the successful businessman. Or woman. I told you I'd take care of her."

"I did this for you, Lex," Baines hissed angrily, knowing that his interests in Lois Lane were more serious than she had first suspected.

"And you've been paid, very well." He got out a cigar from the opulent silver humidor now sitting on his desk where the model of Space Station Luthor had been. "In fact, the final installment is waiting for you in the helicopter. Proceed as planned. I promise, there'll be no loose ends." He smiled as he snipped off the end of the cigar and terminated the conversation

Dr. Baines hung up slowly, and a moment later opened a drawer in her desk. She pushed aside a silk scarf and pulled out her gun.

* * *

Jimmy followed Lois around the immense interior of the hangar. "Lois, what do you expect to find here? Do you know what particle isolators even look like?" She ignored him. "Wow, smooth!" he exclaimed when they came across the burned shell of the Messenger.

"Take pictures of every inch of this wreck, we'll have them analyzed later." Lois left Jimmy earnestly snapping pictures of the interior as she wandered around the outside of it. "Then we're going to have to break into Dr. Baines' office, I am positive she's lying about that report. I never trusted that woman, not from the very first time I met her. The way she looked at Clark... Very unprofessional."

A hand clamped down over Jimmy's mouth abruptly. Baines's henchman knocked the young man unconscious and left him on the ground.

Lois, on the other side of the shell, thought she heard something. "Jimmy? Jimmy?" she repeated when there was no answer, coming back to look for him. Suddenly she was attacked from behind. She caught the man's movement just in time and whirled around, swinging her purse and hitting him across the face with it. She followed that up with a hard kick to his midsection, and drove him to the ground by crashing her purse down on his head again.

"Jimmy?" She spotted his limp body on the ground. "Jimmy, get up!" she urged, but he was unconscious. The attacker slowly got to his feet and opened a switchblade. Lois rose from Jimmy's side to face him. As he lunged at her, she skillfully deflected the knife attack with her arm, kicked him forcefully in the stomach, and finished up with a solid right cross. He crumpled. Hoping that would keep him down, Lois turned back to help Jimmy. She found herself facing the wrong end of a handgun, and Dr. Baines stepped forward from the shadows.

"Very impressive, Lois. These days a woman has to know self-defense." The thug got to his feet carefully, and clamped a hand down on her shoulder. Lois knew she was caught.

* * *

Perry entered the crowded conference room and took his place for the staff meeting. "Okay, sorry about the late hour, folks, there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day." He looked around suddenly. "Where're Lois and Jimmy? Clark?"

"I assumed they'd be here," Clark said with a slight shrug, beginning to feel a bit worried. Where had Lois stormed off to? Probably EPRAD, to nose around for some evidence. They'd been gone a long time, though. Could they have gotten into trouble?

"All right, we're just gonna start without them. Okay, now, the piece on the recent sex change operation in the royal family, I kinda have mixed feelings about this, I --" Perry stopped abruptly when he saw Clark rise from his seat and go to the door. "Kent?"

Clark stopped, his hand on the door knob.

"Meeting's not over," Perry pointed out.

"It's not like Lois or Jimmy to miss a staff meeting, sir. I thought I'd go call around, if that's okay."

"Hell of a way to run a railroad," Perry muttered under his breath. "All right, let's see, where was I? Oh yeah."

Clark let himself out and quietly closed the door. He walked down a corridor, thinking that he needed a window to fly out of unobserved. He saw a door with dirty glass panes marked Storage Room. Perfect! It looked as though no one had been in here for months! He went in and crossed the room, heading straight for the window. He stepped up onto a bench beneath the window, but just as he unlatched it he heard Perry's voice outside the room.


He quickly turned and sat down on the window ledge, his feet on the bench, and arranged his hands in a casual pose. Perry opened the door and peered in.

"Oh Kent, there you are."

"Yes sir."

Perry came further into the room, eyeing Clark. What on earth was the boy doing in this dusty, cluttered room of cleaning supplies? "They told me you were in here."

"Yes sir," Clark said again, not sure what else he could say. What if Perry asked him why he was in here?

"Did you make your call?" Perry asked.

"I was just about to, sir," Clark replied. He belatedly realized that this supply room wasn't exactly equipped with a telephone.

"Oh... So, are you looking for something?"

"No sir, not really," Clark said, truthfully enough.

"Umm, well, I guess I'd better be getting back," Perry said, not sure whether Kent was completely sane or not.

"Yes sir," Clark repeated politely.

"When are you coming... out of the closet?"

"Soon, sir. Very soon." Clark stood up and put his hands in his pockets, hoping to look comfortable and casual and desperately wishing his boss would hurry up and leave.

Perry turned and left, but he couldn't resist turning to look back once. A gifted writer, that Clark Kent, but talk about strange!

* * *

Clark searched around EPRAD and found his guess had paid off when his hearing suddenly picked up Lois's voice. He stopped, concentrating on where it was coming from.

"You'll never get away with this," she was bluffing confidently. "Everyone at the Planet knows where I am."

He lowered his glasses and looked through the wall of a nearby building. Baines was standing over Lois with a gun while her hired hand was tying Lois's arms behind her, around a pylon of the Messenger wreckage. Jimmy's unconscious form was lying on the concrete nearby.

Without thinking of a plan of action, Clark broke the door down, sending it flying through the hangar. "Let her go," he demanded authoritatively. Both of them turned their guns on him. "Put down those guns or I'll... I'll..." He stopped, realizing that he couldn't very well finish that sentence. The quandary he had placed himself in suddenly became evident.

"Or you'll what?" Baines asked, amused.

Lois, having for a brief moment felt a wave of relief that the cavalry had arrived in the proverbial nick of time, felt her hopes deflate. What an idiot, she thought, rolling her eyes. Charging in and getting himself caught!

"I don't know," Clark murmured helplessly.

A short while later, Lois and Clark were tied to opposite sides of the post; Clark with chains, Lois with seat belts from the interior of the Messenger. Jimmy was still unconscious, and Dr. Baines and her henchman had gone to attend to other matters. At last Lois could give vent to her feelings. She was worried about Jimmy, who hadn't stirred once, and she was sorry she'd gotten him into this mess; what surfaced, of course, was fury at Clark for bungling the rescue.

"I told Perry I needed a task force. Task force! What do I get? Amateurs! I still cannot believe you came barreling in here like some five hundred pound gorilla! If you really thought that we were in trouble, why didn't you bring the police?"

"Look," Clark began in irritation, his ego bruised.

"Don't tell me, I already know," she burst out, "because you're like every other man in Metropolis, you've got this testosterone surplus that says 'I can do it myself'! Baines has got to kill us now, I don't know why she hasn't done it already!"

Clark quietly broke the padlock on his chains. "Lois, I've somehow managed to --"

"Mess everything up? No kidding!" she shot back.

"Now hold on a second! I'm not the one who snuck in here --"

Lois interrupted him indignantly. "What are you saying? Are you saying that this is my fault? At least I had the guts to come in here, and..." She stopped abruptly, hearing herself. "What am I saying?" she asked miserably. "This probably is my fault. Oh God!" Tears gathered in her eyes. "I sometimes do things, you know, like jump into the pool without checking the water level first, but... Clark, it's the only way I know how to do it. How to get the job done, to get the respect that I want, that I deserve!"

His irritation dissipating, Clark listened as Lois Lane let her formidable defenses down and opened herself up to him, giving him a glimpse of the reasons for her brusque exterior, a tantalizing glimpse of the softness she hid inside.

"Do you remember when I told you about my three rules? Well, I've broken every one of them. I somehow manage to always get involved with my stories."

"You slept with someone at work?" Clark asked.

"Yeah," she admitted in embarrassment.

"It wasn't... Jimmy, was it?" he asked with a grimace.

"Don't be ridiculous!" she exclaimed. "It was a long time ago, when I first started at the Daily Planet. Claude. He was French." She tried to sound nonchalant about it, to hide the pain it had caused her. "I must've been in love with him, or thought I was, and anyway, one night I told him about my story, and the next morning when I woke up, he was gone. So was my story. He won an award for that! Didn't even thank me for my 'input'." Even after all these years, that part still stung her to indignation.

There was a silence between them, broken after a while by Clark. "I guess when you're in love with somebody it doesn't matter how smart you are or how many rules you set for yourself, you're still vulnerable."

"We're only human," Lois agreed unhappily. "And what difference does it make now anyway? We're just gonna die," she ended despairingly.

Clark, of course, knew that they wouldn't die. He was free and could untie her. He hesitated, though, not wanting to lose this chance to talk to her. "Lois, you know what you said about respect? Well I just want you to know that everybody at the Planet -- everyone -- thinks you're just about the best reporter they've ever met. Perry told me that the day I interviewed."

"He did?" she asked, starting to cry a little harder.

"Yeah. And not that it really means anything coming from a 'hack from Nowheresville', but..."

Lois made a little sound, hearing how unbearably arrogant her words had been, how judgmental and unfair.

"... I think you're pretty terrific too," he finished softly.

"Oh, Clark!" she got out, on the verge of breaking down into weeping. "I'm sorry. About everything. I know it's too late for apologies, but I never meant --"

Just then she saw Dr. Baines coming towards them, effectively cutting off any further tender moments.

"Well, I hope you'll forgive the accommodations. But then again, I never was much of a hostess." Baines smiled tauntingly down at them.

"Answer one question," Lois said, getting a grip on her emotions and wishing she could dry her eyes. "Why?"

"It's simple, Lois. Profit. Outer space is no different than any other new frontier. It'll belong to those who get there first and seize the high ground."

Clark raised his head and stared at Dr. Baines, those words echoing in his head, punctuated by a stab of lightning and a crash of thunder over the incessant pattering of rain. With perfect clarity he recalled Lex Luthor using that exact phrase, describing the strategies of Alexander the Great, a conquering hero he obviously admired and emulated. All the pieces clicked together in a blinding second of understanding. Lex Luthor was working with Dr. Baines to sabotage the Prometheus project and install his own space station instead!

"Sorry you won't be around to enjoy the rest of the evening, but accidents do happen."

"Accidents?" Lois asked.

"Yes," Baines said, moving over to two canisters. "You see, while dismantling the orbital maneuvering system, the monomethyl hydrazine leaked..." She opened the valve on one, letting an amber liquid trickle out. It formed a little pool on the hangar floor and headed towards a drainage grate. "... and mixed with the nitrogen tetroxide." She opened the other container's valve, letting a green liquid seep out. "Unfortunately the blast killed three nosy reporters who didn't bother to read the sign." She leaned down to stroke Clark's face and plant a kiss on his lips. He fought to show no reaction, to stare at her impassively and not give her any satisfaction. With a smile she rapidly walked away.

Clark tossed his chains aside as soon as she was gone, one eye on the second liquid as it made a path towards the grate and began to trickle in.

"Clark, how did you --" Lois said in astonishment as he released her from the seat belts tying her to the post.

"A missing link," he explained hastily, far more concerned with getting out of there on time. He grabbed Lois to help her up, but released her for a moment to hoist Jimmy over his shoulder. Grabbing Lois around the waist again, he ran for the door, getting them out just as the two chemicals combined and exploded and the entire hangar became an inferno that blasted against their backs.

Clark flew just above the ground, wobbling awkwardly with the currents of the blast assailing him, until the three landed face first into a puddle of muddy water. Another explosion was set off, perhaps a part of the Messenger's remains, and they looked back in awe at the fiery death that they had so narrowly escaped. Jimmy, shocked back to a wakeful state by having his face doused in water, looked around uncomprehendingly.

"What happened?" Lois asked, stunned, when she realized how far away from the building they were.

"I don't know. I guess the force from the explosion must have carried us here," Clark offered rather desperately, praying that she would buy his story.

Luckily she was distracted from their rescue by the sight of a helicopter leaving the area. "Look!" She pointed to it, and before their very eyes it exploded suddenly, raining burning debris down onto the ground.

* * *

Safely distanced from his latest crime and his most recent victims, Lex Luthor sat in the office of his penthouse lazily pushing the buttons on the remote which again and again rewound a certain section of a video tape. On the screen was an image of a helicopter blowing up, reforming, blowing up and reforming. He idly played with the remote as he gazed at the screen.

"Good night, Antoinette, sweet dreams," he murmured insincerely. He had promised there would be no loose ends... and Lex Luthor was a man of his word.

* * *

The newspaper headline for the Daily Planet read "Messenger Sabotaged, Saboteur Dies In Fiery Explosion", with a picture of Dr. Antoinette Baines. The story was major news world-wide, and the Daily Planet had the exclusive.

This time Clark was a part of the celebration in the newsroom, receiving the warm congratulations of his new co-workers, but he didn't feel much like celebrating. Dr. Platt, Dr. Baines, the helicopter pilot, the crew of the Messenger... Their deaths weighed heavily on his mind, especially the ones he thought he might have prevented. Baines had been a criminal, but not even she deserved to die.

"Were you scared, Jimmy?" one of the younger women asked.

"Scared?" Jimmy scoffed, taking off his silly red pointed party hat. "No! No, ladies, not at all! I was..." He discovered himself in the center of a group of admiring female co-workers, and his voice took on a serious and important tone. "I was more concerned with the larger issue. Unless we got out of there alive, the colonists' launch could blow up as well."

"I just spoke to ground control over at EPRAD," Perry White announced loudly. The staff quietened to hear. "They went back over the colonists' launch vehicle with a fine-toothed comb, found the same coolant problem in the protective bands, and fixed it. Launch is all set for tomorrow morning!"

The staff cheered heartily.

"It's a no go for you, Lois," Perry said more quietly. "No reporters allowed."

"Oh, Chief! Imagine the Daily Planet getting an exclusive personal account of being on the colonist transport!"

"No can do, Lois," he insisted.

"All right," she said reluctantly. "Another time, maybe."

Perry turned his attention to Clark, who was standing behind Lois's shoulder. "Now Clark, you're gonna be pleased to know that Platt's widow and his daughter are back on board."

"Thank you very much, sir, I appreciate that."

Lois didn't hear the two men talking. There was a gleam in her eyes as a plan occurred to her. When Perry left, she turned to Clark. There were one or two things she wanted to say to him. "Clark, I just, well, I wanted to thank you for all your help getting us out of there," she said sincerely.

"I'm glad it all worked out," he said modestly.

"And, uh, one other thing." She sidled closer to him almost seductively, but then her smile vanished and her voice dropped to a threatening tone. "If you ever breathe a word of anything I told you in there I will deny it and I will --"

"You can trust me, Lois," Clark said, trying not to smile.

"Right, I've heard that one before," she said in disbelief, popping her oversized blue party hat back on her head and giving him a jaded look from under its brim. There was nothing more she could do or say on the matter, so she returned to the party.

* * *

That night at EPRAD's Mission Control center, preparations for the historic launch of the colonists' transport were underway, reports coming in from different stations. "All biological monitoring devices should be self-activated. I'm still showing a red light in sector seven. We will advise, we will advise."

A nasal voice came over the loudspeaker outside. "Attention all ground personnel. All service vehicles depart the gantry area." In a few more hours, just as the sun came up on the horizon, the first inhabitants of the Prometheus would set off for their new home.

* * *

The Kents had finished having dinner together, and Clark turned the conversation to his half-formed plan for helping those in need without ruining his chances to live the life he wanted.

"I don't know about this costume thing, Clark," Jonathan said skeptically, as he brought two cups of coffee over to the dining table.

"It'll work. It has to!" Clark said fervently. "If I have an effective disguise I won't have to worry about people finding out about me."

Martha came in from the kitchen and put a serving dish down on the sideboard. She came up behind her son and leaned forward, putting a hand on either side of his head to stroke his hair back, smiling encouragingly at him. "Come on, let's get started!"

They went upstairs together to get to work. Martha had already bought reams of brightly colored materials, and had her pattern books on hand. During the long night, Clark tried on a succession of different outfits, all based on tight ski suits that made him feel practically naked. Different types of masks and hats, different colors and designs, none of which seemed quite right.

The jungle-print one made him feel ridiculous. The green one wasn't bad, but that crazy cap with wings would come off the first time he flew! The red and orange one with the hood was definitely not something he would wear in public! The red and blue was nice, although he thought the stripes on the front made him look like a flag.

"What about that one?" Martha called for the fifth time as she lay on the bed, going through different pattern books and waiting while Clark put on the latest attempt.

"I don't know," he said.

Martha rose wearily from the bed and when Clark emerged she looked him over appraisingly, her hopes rising.

"What do you think?" he asked, looking in the mirror.

She stood beside him, looking at his reflection. The spandex suit was an electric blue, the underwear on the outside that made him feel a little less exposed was red to match the flowing cape that was tucked under the neckline and the laced boots, and the belt was yellow.

Clark wondered if he looked like an exotic parrot.

"Well one thing's for sure, no one's going to be looking at your face!" Martha said with a broad grin.

When her meaning sank in a moment later he turned to her, shocked and embarrassed. "Mom!"

"Well, they don't call them tights for nothing," she said, laughing. Clark laughed with her a little self-consciously.

"I don't know, there's something missing, something..." Her voice trailed off as an idea occurred to her, and she dropped to her knees to pull an old suitcase out from under the bed, opening it almost reverently.

"What's that?"

"The baby blanket we found you in so long ago," Martha told him, stroking the soft blue item with misty eyes. "And this." She held it up to show him. Clark couldn't recall ever seeing it before. It was red and yellow, and looked mostly like a stylish "S" in a geometric shape.

A little while later Clark was once again standing before the mirror. This time the strange symbol was emblazoned on his chest, drawing the eye to it.

"Your folks would be proud of you," Martha said softly, slipping her arm around him. "We sure are."

"Thanks, Mom." He gave her a gentle squeeze, and then turned one shoulder slightly to see his back in the mirror. "I'm not so sure about the cape, though."

"Oh, really? I love it! It'll be great when you're flying!" she enthused.

Clark removed his glasses and gazed at the man looking back at him, larger than life and decidedly heroic in bright primary colors. Despite the obvious fact that his features were visible and still the same, he looked a mile removed from Clark Kent the reporter.

"Hey you two, come on in here!" Jonathan hollered from the living room. "The launch vehicle's about ready to go up!"

Martha put a hand on her son's chest and whispered, "Let's go show him!" with a twinkle in her eyes. They joined him to watch the proceedings on the television, Martha perching on the arm of the sofa and putting her arm across her husband's shoulders while Clark remained behind him, out of sight.

On the television the pre-launch newscast was giving background information. "In preparation for the upcoming launch, all have undergone a series of examinations to determine their ability to function in an alternate environment."

"The colonists are just about all on board," Jonathan reported without turning around.

Martha turned to give Clark an impish smile, looking forward to seeing Jonathan's reaction when he finally noticed the results of their night's work.

"This'll be the first time that a group this large, drawn from the general population..." the newscaster was intoning as the camera followed some of the men, women, and children boarding the vehicle. Clark recognized Amy Platt being carried on board, her mother following.

"An historic occasion," Jonathan said reverently. "Remember when you were a kid, Clark, and we watched the first moon landing..." He turned with a smile, saw his son in the bright costume, and jumped in surprise.

"What do you think?" Clark asked with a grin, both pleased and uncertain, a bit afraid that he looked ridiculous.

"That's my boy," he said, his pride in his son mingling with amazement at his outlandish appearance.

Martha suddenly looked concerned. "Oh, that's right! What if somebody recognizes you?"

Clark had thought about that already. "I don't think they will, Mom, because it won't be me!" He briefly put his glasses on and swept them off to demonstrate the difference.

Martha looked doubtfully at him, but it was true that there was a huge difference between Clark in glasses in his suits, and this brightly-costumed man. She also knew how important this scheme was to him, so she tried to look convinced. "Yeah," she agreed a bit worriedly. There was nothing to do but hope for the best. She ruffled her husband's hair fondly, feeling proud of their son for what he wanted to do. Jonathan smiled up at her, and they turned their attention back to the television.

* * *

Various announcements came over the loudspeakers on board the transport and all around the launch site. "Attention all personnel, we have reached and cleared..." was followed by, "Boosters set on my mark."

Lois marched into the launch vehicle with the air of one who belongs, wearing the same flight suit as the rest of the colonists, her hair tied back into a businesslike ponytail. There was no way she was going to let some bureaucratic wimp tell her she couldn't get a first-hand account of this historic moment!

"Prepare to synchronize all information processed..."

"Main computer control transferred to redundant computer sequence."

"T-minus three minutes and counting. All technical personnel should deplane at this time."

"All bio-monitoring systems..."

Lois ducked into an empty compartment to the right of the entrance. Excited by the adventure, filled with wonder at the importance of this event, she closed the compartment door so that no one would notice her in there.

"The umbilical cord attached to the liquid fuel booster has been disengaged. One minute and counting," came the steady voice of the controller.

The Kents watched the scene unfold. "Almost ready to go!" Jonathan said excitedly.

On board the transport, Lois strapped herself into a jump seat.

"Forty five seconds and counting." The doors were sealed.

A small black device on the wall opposite her began to beep, displaying numbers in red. It didn't look like it belonged there, so Lois took the straps off and moved in for a closer look. It was a timer, counting down the seconds, with thin wires leading off it.

"Oh my God, it's a bomb! Baines!" she realized, her heart all but stopping. She backed away from it. "It's a bomb!" she cried out, turning to open the compartment door. She ran into the entry way, hoping to find someone who could do something. Just then the ship began to shudder with the increase in power to the engines. "Someone help, there's a bomb! Help!" she shouted, but there was too much noise for anyone to hear her, and the exit had already been closed off.

It was up to her. She had to do something. She returned to the compartment where the timer continued to beep, inexorably counting down to an explosion that would occur shortly after liftoff. Opening a service panel, she used a pair of pliers to snip through some electrical wiring, hoping it would alert the ground crew to a problem on board.

Just then the massive thrusters fired.

"Perfect ignition," a controller reported.

"There she blows!" Jonathan said with awe and pride.

"Thirty seconds and counting," the controller announced.

A technician in a lab coat entered the control center. "We have a circuit failure in the main panel," he reported urgently, showing the controller something in a notebook he carried.

The controller assessed the situation rapidly. "Due to mechanical failure we are suspending the countdown at twenty-nine seconds," he said smoothly into his headset. "We will advise, we will advise."

Lois looked around anxiously, but no one was coming in. The timer on the little device was still counting down. Thirty... twenty-nine...

* * *

"I don't believe it! I don't believe it! Something's gone wrong," Jonathan said anxiously, leaning a little closer to the television.

"There has been a launch termination," the reporter was saying.

"Clark --" Jonathan turned, but Clark wasn't there anymore. He heard a whoosh outside, and the front door slowly closed in the wake of his son's rapid departure. Clark was already on his way to help.

As Clark flew towards the colonist transport, the crowd that had gathered to watch the launch from a safe distance noticed him.

"What the hell is that?" one man cried out, pointing to the fast-moving speck of color in the sky. The curious group followed his gaze.

"Is it a bird?" someone asked.

"Is it a plane?" another asked.

"Nope," said a man with binoculars, "just a guy in a pair of tights and a cape."

The disbelieving crowd groaned at what they took to be lame humor, tossing popcorn and other things at the man.

Clark landed on the catwalk that connected the transport to the tower, running along it to reach the door of the vehicle.

The controller and his supervisor saw him on the monitor. The controller turned to her and asked, "Are we scrubbing the mission?"

Clark entered the transport and saw an open compartment to his right. Inside it was Lois Lane, her eyes wide with fear. He honed in on an incessant beeping, saw the little black box on the wall that displayed the number nineteen, and wondered what the hell he was supposed to do about a bomb. He hadn't the slightest idea how to disarm one, and it didn't look like there was time to learn now! He pulled the timer off the wall and looked inside the exposed panel.

"Hey, get away from that!" Lois cried out as he took a small, flat square from within. "What kind of a lunatic are you? That's a bomb!"

I sure hope I'm as invulnerable as I think I am, he thought with a gulp as, unable to come up with a better plan, he popped the bomb in his mouth.

It exploded, making an odd booming sound inside his body. Lois stared in horror and shock.

Clark covered his mouth and burped, then patted his chest. "Excuse me," he said politely with a disarming smile.

"What the hell are you?" Lois wondered aloud, her mouth hanging open.

* * *

At Mission Control the supervisor was trying in vain to explain the suspended countdown into her headset. "Yes, sir, due to equipment problems and an unexplained occurrence."

* * *

Lois followed the strange man -- or whatever -- into the passageway by the entry of the launch vehicle, where the colonists were gathering. "There was a bomb," she announced to them, still not quite sure what had happened. "He... he... ate it!" she finished in confusion, not sure how that could be possible.

Clark saw Mrs. Platt and her daughter amongst the colonists, and he smile at the young girl in the wheelchair, finding it easier to look at her than at the adults who obviously wanted some sort of explanation for all of this. "Hi," he said to her.

"Hi. I like your costume," she offered, beaming.

"Thank you," he said in relief. "My mother made it for me. What's your name?" he asked engagingly.

"Amy. Amy Platt. Who're you?"

Clark was stumped for an answer for a moment. "I'm... a friend."

"Can you teach me how to fly?" Amy asked with a grin. Her mother, crouched beside her, smiled lovingly at her.

"Not fly, but once this lab is operational... walk, that's very possible," Clark told her seriously.

The supervisor's voice blared over the loudspeaker on board. "Attention colonists: the mission has been scrubbed. Prepare to disembark."

The colonists were deeply disappointed and dejected.

"That's it, then, it's all over," a man said.

"Why?" Lois asked, never one to give up easily.

"Once the thrusters have been fired they have to be replaced," Mrs. Platt explained.

"We lose our launch window," the man added.

"Yes," Mrs. Platt agreed.

"We just have to forget about Space Station Prometheus."

"No," Clark spoke up suddenly. "You don't."

All eyes turned to him, some with hope and others with disbelief. "There's nothing wrong with this transport vehicle," he pointed out, "or the station, you only need to get there."

"How're they supposed to do that?" Lois asked, the first to find her tongue.

"Easy. I'll give 'em a boost." He smiled broadly, and a murmur of renewed hope spread amongst the colonists.

* * *

The supervisor was giving orders to find out what had gone wrong with the launch. "I want security and tech teams to go over every inch of that transport. We have --"

"Lift-off!" the controller interrupted, seeing the vehicle rise from the earth on his monitor.

"... on hold," someone was saying. There was a pause before he continued in a stunned voice, "We have lift-off!?"

"What?" the supervisor asked in astonishment. "That's impossible!"

The launch vehicle rose slowly and silently from the pad with none of the fumes and noise of a normal lift-off. It was majestic, awe-inspiring, and utterly impossible!

Clark, his cape billowing out behind him, escorted the vehicle through the Earth's atmosphere and into space, located the orbiting space station, and very carefully steered towards it.

An announcement was made. "All Prometheus personnel prepare for docking."

With his gentle guidance, they docked successfully.

* * *

The newspaper headlines announced this astonishing event in different ways.

"Mysterious Phenomena In Space," declared the London Voice.

"C'est Magnifique!" exclaimed the Paris Bulletin.

The New York Daily Star heralded, "Alien Invasion Of Earth!"

The National Whisper had a picture of a pregnant woman and a green alien wearing red, yellow and blue, enclosed together within a heart, with the caption, "I'm Having The Alien's Baby!"

* * *

The Daily Planet newsroom was abuzz. The incredible story had everyone working overtime trying to find out the details and get the answers that the editor-in-chief demanded. The editor himself was skeptical. He'd been a newspaper man for many years, and this story sounded too much like tabloid fodder. "I still don't believe it," he said to Jimmy. "A man who flies!"

"Chief, it's all over the TV," Jimmy insisted.

"Aw, Jimmy, don't believe everything you see on TV," his editor said in disgust. "I tell you one thing, though," Perry began. Jimmy industriously took out a pencil and notebook to write down the chief's advice. "Whoever pulled off a hoax like this... is a..." Perry's voice trailed off as he looked up.

The huge windows at the upper floor's research corner opened as if on their own accord, and a bright figure in red and blue slowly drifted in, carrying a miraculously-silent Lois Lane in his arms. The entire staff in the newsroom watched in astonishment.

"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry exhaled slowly.

Jimmy had the presence of mind to take a few photographs.

Lois stared at this stranger's chiseled features, his eyes warm and radiant, his lips curved in a smile. For the first time in her life she had been struck speechless, unable to ask him questions, just staring at him and glancing at the ground below, just feeling instead of thinking for a change.

Clark set her down on her feet gingerly, his eyes on her only, as if the rest of the newsroom didn't exist. He was completely enchanted by this lovely, sweet, gentle Lois Lane, whose eyes were brimming with excitement and aglow with a special light as she looked at him in awe. He was thrilled that she was responding to him without hesitation.

Lois gazed back at the man who had saved the day, feeling a magical connection between them. Did he feel it too? How could he not feel something this powerful, this overwhelming?

"I see it, but I don't believe it," Cat Grant said flatly.

"What, a man who flies?" asked an equally amazed co-worker.

"No, Lois Lane, finally -- literally -- swept off her feet! Too bad he's an alien!" she added disparagingly, not wanting to admit to being jealous of Lois.

"I think, considering the fact that I saw you first, you owe me an exclusive," Lois managed to say, her voice sounding as though it were coming from somewhere else, her brain not convinced that her feet were on solid ground yet.

"Is that the rule?" Clark asked, bestowing upon her another killer smile.

"Well, no," she admitted with a laugh, "but I'd appreciate it very much."

With an enigmatic smile and no commitments, he rose into the air and began to soar towards the open windows.

"Wait!" she called after him, a bit desperately, running to the stairs to try to keep up. "How do I find you?"

"I'll be around," he told her mysteriously with another beautiful smile.

Lois watched him slowly leave the building, and then he vanished with a flash of color and a whooshing sound.

"Real smooth," Jimmy said admiringly.

Lois sighed.

"Did you find out what the "S" stands for?" Cat asked her.

With a dreamy smile on her face, Lois's subconscious answered. "Super!" she said on another sigh. Her eyes suddenly lit up. "Superman!" A burst of exuberance flooded her, and she suddenly felt as though she had come alive.

"Hey, hey, hey! Let's get back to work, we've got a newspaper to run!" Perry ordered.

Lois started down the stairs but paused, turning around to take one last look in the direction the gorgeous stranger had gone. Then she continued down the stairs.

* * *

Clark, wearing the costume that was starting to feel a bit more comfortable now, stood on the wall of the balcony outside Lex Luthor's penthouse office that evening, his hands on his hips. The billionaire philanthropist was sitting at his desk reading a book.

Lex, getting the prickling sensation that he was being watched, turned around. He did a double-take when he saw the bright costume, surprised and even awed, then pressed the button that opened the security door.

Clark jumped down lightly from the wall and approached him.

Lex greeted his guest with applause and a jaunty salute with one hand. "An astonishing debut," he congratulated. "Superman," he added, accenting the last part of the name that had been coined in the press as though it were two separate words.

Clark didn't understand.

"Well haven't you heard? That's what they're calling you," Lex told him. "It's international news." He carefully put his book down on the desk, face-up. "So, to what do I owe this honor?" he asked as he stood up, feeling supremely satisfied that this being, whoever he was, had naturally sought out Lex Luthor, the most important man in the city.

"I came to tell you that I know who you are," Clark told him.

Lex's smile vanished, and he assumed a carefully blank, slightly inquisitive look.

"Who you really are," Clark clarified, crossing his arms over his chest. "I suppose on its face it was a good plan. Destroy Prometheus so that you could put your own space station in its place, then not only would you make billions from the patents of the vaccines developed, but you would also be the supposed savior of the space program."

"Well, it's an interesting theory, Superman, but I'm afraid that's all it is," Lex said smoothly, apparently undaunted and unintimidated. He moved around his desk to get his jacket, putting it on.

"You were also responsible for the deaths of at least three people. Commander Latterman, Samuel Platt, Dr. Baines." Clark saw no discernible reaction. "Those probably aren't the only skeletons in your closet."

"So you've become both my judge and executioner?" Lex asked as he went to the mirror to examine his appearance.

"Like any other citizen of the planet, I must obey the law, I am not above it. You, it seems, believe you are."

"I hold a certain position in this city," Lex reminded him arrogantly, getting and lighting a cigar.

"Yes. And there is nothing that would please me more than to see you dethroned and behind bars like any common criminal. And that day will come," Clark promised.

"Well, I trust not," Lex said confidently. "But, as they say, let the games begin!"

Clark eyed him coldly and then turned to leave. "Oh, and one more thing, if you ever need to find me..." he said, rising a few feet above the balcony's ledge and turning to look down at Lex Luthor. "...all you have to do is look up." With that parting shot he soared away, leaving Lex staring up after him furiously.

* * *

When Clark arrived at the Daily Planet for work the next day Lois was already there. "Morning, Lois," he greeted happily, thinking of her reaction to him when he'd flown her into the newsroom.

"Clark, where've you been?"


"Well," she began, grasping the sleeve of his coat and tugged him along after her. "Not that it's anywhere near as exciting as the stories you covered on the Smallville Press," she jibed, "but Superman was in the newsroom and I just about nailed down the exclusive!" She was beaming with pride and excitement.

"Well, congratulations," he told her, amused.

She stopped and faced him, her eyes aglow. "Oh Clark, you should've seen him, up close... He is the most magnificent figure of a man that I have ever --"

"Sounds like he made quite an impression on you," Clark said with a huge grin.

"He did! Hmm!" she sighed blissfully, then she shot him a look. "Why, are you jealous?" she asked coyly.

"Of Superman? Should I be?"

"Pul-lease!" she scoffed, turning to go to the elevator.

"Where are we going?" Clark asked as he followed her.

"To cover a shoot-out on Sixth. And Kent..." She pointed a finger at his chest. "I'll ask the questions," she reminded him in a businesslike tone as they got into the elevator. Then her thoughts turned back to that incredible stranger, and a softness came over her face as she sighed happily.

Clark, standing close behind her, heard her. He grinned happily, feeling good all over. Space Station Prometheus was safe, he had a great job in this exciting city, and Lois Lane thought he was super... even if she didn't know it.


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