It was almost as if she had known the call would come. And after five years of this routine, she should have. Once through all three checkpoints and having had her press pass checked each time, it was inevitable what would happen next. Just as she made her way up the tarmac, her phone chirped to life. Not even glancing at the caller-ID, Lois pulled the phone out of its carrier on her side and answered with a mix of amusement and exasperation. "Hello, Richard. Is this the standard 'Uncle-Perry-hates-it-when-you-do-this' call? Because he hired me for a reason and I won't let us get scooped because Pierson finally owned up to airsickness with no one else available on such short notice."
There was a pause before he laughed into the receiver. "Yes, well, he just burst in here and spent twenty minutes on a diatribe that included the comments that you were the bane of his existence and how it's a damn good thing that you're a good reporter even if you can be a lousy assistant editor. I figured that it at least deserved a phone call."
The roll of her hazel eyes was inevitable as she made her way up the aisle. Shaking her head as she slid into her seat, the dark-haired woman continued to argue her point, "Look, this Genesis project has the makings of being an important step in travel, but it's not without flaws. Would you rather I let the other papers carry this and buy all their propaganda, only to have them be wrong? And let the Planet go without because of Pierson and his vertigo? I think not."
"Well, I suppose it's a good thing that you don't have a fear of flying, eh?" The teasing was clear in his voice.
She had to chuckle at that. "Oh, give it a rest, Mr. White. Your uncle is all too aware that the only reason that I finally took the assistant's job was because he decided to make a spectacle of himself with that heart attack. And he knows now just as well as he did then that I don't play by the rules. I never have, I never will. Which has always served me well." Lois pretended she didn’t hear the slight irritation in her own voice.
"Ah, yes. You've always been a brilliant role model, Miss Lane..."
Well, he was just being impossible this afternoon. "Hush, White. And speaking of which, I don't expect this to be over until after five. Since I'm caught up here, I'll take your turn on Friday if you'll go get the kids."
"Isn't today a half-day? It’s Wednesday."
"Yeah, but they're going to spend the afternoon at Ashlyn's. Seems that little imp has talked her mommy into taking Kal and Jason to the zoo with them. Which is fine, since I made sure to give Barbara the money for their admission when I saw her Monday. The zoo's too expensive to expect her to pick up the tab alone, no matter how long the kids have known each other." Phone braced on her shoulder, Lois unzipped her purse and pulled out her recorder, noting that the plane was filling up rather quickly now. A glance at her watch told her that all would be beginning in the next ten minutes. "Alright, Richard, it's nearly show time. I have to go. And I'll be sure to have the whip and stool when I see Perry later. Don't forget to put out the beef for later. I promised Jason that we'd have something other than Chinese tonight."
“Consider it done, Lois,” he said, the warmth of affection clear in his voice. “And you don’t forget what I said last night.”
“Richard, I told you not to get pushy,” she replied with a trace of nervousness.
“I’m not pushing, Lois. Just … think about it, okay?”
“Okay. Look, I need to go. If I don’t turn this phone off before they start the engines, the plane might explode or something.”
“Richard, I’ll think about it. That’s the best you’re getting right now.”
“Thanks. I love you, Lois.”
“Love you.” She pushed the END button and sighed. He just had to bring it up again. Against her will, her mind drifted back five years, to a time when the twins had been in the middle of their second year, when she had just come back to the Planet. For a moment, it was almost like she was there again.
“So, what are you doing Friday night, Miss Lane?”
Lois glared at him. The editor’s nephew couldn’t take a hint anymore than Perry himself could. “Mixing macrobiotic shakes for the twins,” she replied coolly. “Just like every night.”
“You know, there’s this new café called Heartworks down on Eighth Avenue. They have a lot of vegetarian food.”
“The kids can’t have wheat, either.”
“That’s fine, the menu says gluten-free options available. And no peanuts anywhere in the facility. We could try it.”
“With a pair of eighteen-month-olds? Please.”
“It’d be a lot easier with two adults.”
She dropped the files she’d been carrying to the desk with a very final thwack. “Richard, do you have the first idea how to care for children?”
“No, but I’ll have twice the opportunities to learn. Besides, you didn’t know anything about kids, either, and everyone says you’re a great mom.” At her foreboding look, he amended, “Great reporter and great mom.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere.”
“And hiding in your apartment won’t get you anywhere, either. C’mon, Lois, it’s just a date. We’ll have both your twins for chaperones. I promise you won’t have to knock me unconscious with a shoe.”
“Oh, so you heard about that, too?” she muttered. Lombard had deserved it, but she hated the way office gossip about her was so accessible to this man. Richard was still there, as he had been for months, always friendly, always supportive, always interested in the kids.
It was the last that had gotten to her. Most men would have run when they heard she had two children, but Richard only seemed more intrigued. On the rare occasions that she brought the twins to the office, he made a point of talking to them, as if he knew they were her only weakness now.
And he was still leaning against the door of her office, still smiling. Rejected a dozen times, and still never giving up. Lois glanced at him exasperatedly, and that smile broadened. “The owner says they’re usually a little slow around five.”
Lois’ resistance finally crumbled. “Fine! If I go out with you, will you shut up!”
Richard mimed zipping his lip and shot her a thumb’s-up. Then he pointed to his watch, held up five fingers, and tapped Friday’s date on her desk calendar.
“You are impossible, Richard White,” she sighed. “Now, shoo. Contrary to your uncle’s belief, I have work to do.”
And that first date had been a success. Over time, she went out with Richard more and more often, and he proved that his interest in the twins wasn’t just a front to get into Lois’ good graces. Sometimes he paid more attention to them than to her, which she found oddly comforting.
Neither of them had said anything to Perry, but the office rumor mill had made the announcement for them. The editor gave his approval by his silence, although Lois sometimes saw him smiling at the two of them when they argued over layouts or stories to pursue.
And then, the office Christmas party. That had been singularly unfair. Lois would’ve been perfectly content to let things continue as they were, with Richard at her place as often as she was at his, their relationship cemented by long talks – and sometimes more than talks, but that had taken a while – after the twins went to bed. But that day he caught her hands and pulled her close, pointing upward with an impish grin.
Bloody mistletoe. Lois tried to keep it to a simple peck on the cheek, but Richard had other ideas. She heard someone whistle and a scattering of applause, and glared at Richard. “Now that I have your attention,” he said, still holding Lois’ hand, “there’s something I’d like you all to hear.” Then he turned to her, dropping to one knee, and pulled a black velvet box from his pocket. “Lois Lane, will you marry me?”
Her jaw had dropped, and spontaneous cheering had drowned out any response she could think of. The only voice that penetrated the uproar was Perry’s. “Great Caesar’s ghost!”
Oh yes, the memories were as clear as his honest blue eyes. Dragging her mind back to the present, Lois nibbled her pen as the captain announced their liftoff. Richard had been a persistent devil, not obnoxious but always hopeful. Just the way he was being about their engagement now. Richard wanted to get married.
It wouldn’t change much. They already lived together, they already shared the raising of these children. Marriage would just make it official.
Which was precisely what made her nervous. It would be official.
The Ace o’ Clubs turned out to be one of those bars where all the regulars know each other, where the TV seems to receive only news and sports, and where the bartender has worked there since it opened at approximately the dawn of time. It was a place where lonely, weary, or unhappy men came to drink quietly, watch TV without ever seeing anything called a ‘special TV movie event,’ and occasionally debate the important questions of the times with other men, such as, “Can Holyfield really stage a comeback, especially at his age?” and “Will late-night TV ever show something remotely watchable?”
Jimmy took what was probably his regular seat, and Clark hesitantly took the barstool next to him. Bo, the bartender, glanced up at Jimmy and pulled the cap off a longneck; Clark held up two fingers, and the elderly man brought him one of the same. He didn’t often drink, but it always comforted him when he did. As a teenager, Jonathan had sometimes allowed him half a glass of beer while they sat on the back porch and talked about so many things. Pa claimed that if his doctor recommended “a little liquor for my ticker” then it couldn’t hurt the boy, either.
Remembering that phrase made Clark’s heart ache, even after all these years. He wished his father was still alive; he needed someone to talk to. Apparently the bartender knew Jimmy pretty well; Clark partly tuned out their small talk as he brooded over Lois and nursed his beer. Assistant editor. Engaged. Twins. Did I even come back to the right universe?
He was startled into paying attention by a slap on the back from Jimmy, made hearty by a beer and a half. “Clark here has been doing some soul-searching. He saw llamas.”
Llamas? Oh, wait, I was supposed to be in Peru. But before he could reply, Bo just nodded and asked, “Was it tough coming back?”
How on earth does he know? he thought, looking puzzled.
“To work,” the man elaborated, obviously used to minds affected by alcohol.
Tougher than I ever imagined. Now they were both looking at him curiously, and he tried to tell the truth without telling too much of it. “Well, things change,” he began. “And sometimes things that you never thought could change, would change.” The bartender nodded.
“Take Lois,” he said, glancing at Jimmy. The younger man was starting on his second beer. “A woman like her, I never thought she’d settle down.”
Jimmy nodded wisely, but his eyes were distant, and he turned his beer bottle absently. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “I used to get such good pictures. Even front page. But I guess there’s such a thing as photographer’s block. Like writer’s block, you know? I haven’t had a picture published in two months. Perry’s gonna fire me, this keeps up,” he sighed.
Now it was Clark’s turn to comfort him. “No, Jimmy, I’m sure things will turn around soon. Just don’t give up.”
Just then, someone called for Bo to turn up the TV, and both Daily Planet employees looked up. “And now, live from the Genesis launch…” an overly dramatic voice began.
Clark had read about it; it was front page news. A space shuttle strapped to the back of a 777 jet, hopefully a means of cutting costs for NASA. The two craft would separate in midair, the jet taking its cargo of journalists back to earth, and the shuttle heading up to the space station. That was the story Lois had been racing to cover when she blew past him without even noticing his existence – or listening to Perry, which was nothing new.
And now Lois was on screen, the TV camera focusing in on her. She was honing in on the unfortunate press agent with typical Lane intensity. “You’ve said that the Genesis project may finally allow private space travel. Just how much would the ‘average person’ be expected to pay for such a launch?”
Bobbie-Faye, the spokeswoman, gave her a forced grin and a stock answer. Clark smiled; he’d been on the receiving end of Lois’ questions more than once.
Meanwhile, not too far from either of them, Lex Luthor sighed and closed his eyes. For what felt like the millionth time, he asked himself, Why on earth am I surrounded by such idiots?
If Riley was any more obsessed with that camera, he’d have literally glued it to his face. Stanford was smart enough to be tolerable, and Kitty wasn’t too bad either, even if Luthor was always one step ahead of her. But Brutus and Grant were typical prison muscle, and their blank looks at a moment like this made Luthor want to cut into them with several razor-sharp remarks.
Not that they would understand the verbal abuse he gave them, which Luthor had to admit was probably why he continued to employ people whose weight was double their IQ. Very few people in the world were smart enough to keep up with him; most were comparatively slow-witted, to say the least. It frustrated Luthor to the point of fury when he had to explain himself more than once, and he spoke cruelly when he was angry. The only people who would continue to work for him either thought that they were using him, like Kitty, or were thick-skinned as well as thick-skulled enough to let his insults pass unnoticed.
Just as he reflected on this, one of the miniature trains in the Vanderworth basement ran into Stanford’s arm as he tried to place the tiny sliver of Kryptonian crystal into the lake. Calipers and crystal plunged into the water and Stanford jumped back, rubbing his elbow and looking at Luthor worriedly.
Scratch that about Stanford being bright enough to tolerate.
For a moment, nothing happened. Kitty shot Luthor a poisonous glance and said, “Wow, Lex, that’s really something.”
Is it truly necessary to have a woman in my life? Every one of them tries to be contemptuous of me – of me! – and what do I really get in return?
Hmm. True. Well, there are compensations. “Wait for it,” he growled at her.
A moment passed, with Riley filming avidly, Stanford watching the lake with bulging eyes, and Kitty sighing melodramatically. “Wow, Lex, that’s really something.”
If sarcasm was lead, that remark would’ve dropped straight through the floor. Lex managed not to lash out at her, glaring at the miniature lake, willing it to do something. Anything, at this point. He couldn’t be wrong. He couldn’t be wrong. He…
He had learned to admit defeat. “Stop the camera.”
“Shut it off,” Lex said sharply. They all relaxed slightly, disappointed.
The sudden darkness that descended on them should’ve made a noise. Its instantaneous, silent arrival spooked even the hardened criminals. “Sorry,” Riley said meekly.
Now, in the pitch darkness of the basement, they could see the little lake glowing. “That wasn’t you,” Lex said softly, the faint light reflecting off his eyes.
Unbeknownst to them, unnoticed even by Luthor himself at the time, the electromagnetic pulse was spreading, racing outward across Metropolis, blanking out every electronic device it encountered. It also spread upward…
Although she was all too aware of the importance of this flight, as she had argued with Richard, Lois couldn’t help but let her mind wander just a bit as their Genesis representative spouted Virgin Air dogma in a pleasant, modulated tone. Besides, she thought with amusement, she was sure that this Bobbie-Faye would be relieved to be left be. After zinging her on the lack of major television broadcasting of this ‘pivotal next step in travel’ and questioning her usage of ‘insertion boosters’ just to rock her, giving her a break was somewhat due. The annoyance that broke through on that model-perfect face was like gold. It was moments like this that made Lois miss working in the field so much.
Watching the almost garish animated presentation before them, Lois couldn’t help that her mind kept finding its way back to her and Richard’s discussion. Or her conscience. Richard was a good man, a truly wonderful one that had been there for so long. He loved the twins. He loved her. So why was she scared to make an honest man of him? He deserved it, didn’t he?
Unwillingly, her eyes fell to her sapphire engagement ring from where it rested on her recorder. He did. Of course he did. He deserved more than she could possibly ever give him. He was so good to her and the kids…
And she was stalling, Lois thought guilty. She knew it. She had never wanted to be married before, hadn’t the slightest idea how to be a wife, the very idea always seeming impossible for a million little reasons.
And not the least of which being a large one who could crush coal in his very hands.
Just as she scoffed at herself in disgust, the plane’s lights flickered and died even as the cartoon moaned to a stop. Startled out of her reverie, her sharp hazel eyes scanned around the plane as Lois felt the pit of her stomach go cold with déjà vu at the sudden lack of sound. Memories of malfunctioning aircraft past froze her to her seat then, and she tried to listen more carefully. She couldn’t even hear the hum of the engine, let alone the added rumble of the shuttle’s boosters. Something’s happened. This seems too much like that damned helicopter, something deep inside her warned. Richard and the ring were completely forgotten as she turned her gaze to the window. And wished she hadn’t. The ground seemed suddenly a lot closer.
And just as she made to brace herself, the cabin brightened again and the comforting sound just outside came again. The cartoon returned to life, continuing its careful explanation of the plane workings. But no one was listening then, the sound of the nervous press overriding it easily.
Within a moment, the jet leveled off back at its former height. Bobbie-Faye was quickly attempting to restore confidence to the frightened pack of journalists, her lightly-accented voice was soothing, but her eyes were just a bit wider when Lois met them. And she was smiling just a little less realistically. It served to calm the other sheep, all settling in again with a nervous scattering of laughter. But the blonde woman knew something was wrong, even as she continued her rehearsed company rhetoric, just as well as she could. Lois wasn’t buying it. “No reason to be alarmed, it was just a minor power outage, everything is perfectly normal.”
Oh, dear God. Just tell me it was turbulence. Tell me it was turbulence, she thought around the rock suddenly in her stomach. Only to hear the shudder of the shuttle’s boosters come to life, followed by more metallic groans. And the climb continued. Lois, feeling the cold prickle across her skin, took a deep breath.
They were right. I should have sent Pierson, after all. Would have served him right.
“The shuttle will separate momentarily, just before its boosters ignite. And if you’re lucky,” Bobbie-Faye said, grinning too widely, “you may just hear the faint pop of the sonic boom.”
A sudden roar that made the entire plane shudder, seeming to shove every journalist against their seats, flung Bobbie-Faye to the floor practically at Lois’ feet. The angle of ascent was markedly steeper as the plane continued to shiver, and the spokeswoman tried vainly to get to her feet.
I’ve flown with Superman, I know what a sonic boom sounds and feels like. Whatever the hell it was, that was no sonic boom, sister, Lois thought, unbuckling her lap belt. Even if she had been needling the woman a moment ago, this was some kind of emergency, and lying in the aisle was no safe place to be. No one else was even trying to help.
After a brief power outage, no unusual event in Metropolis during the summer, the coverage of the Genesis launch had been abandoned in favor of a baseball game. Jimmy was drinking his third beer while Clark sipped his second. The photographer took a long sip, then look conspiratorially at Clark. Apropos of nothing, he said, “You know, if you ask me – and you should ask me, you shouldn’t ask her, because she’ll tear your head off – she’s still in love with you-know-who.” He tried to nod and wink wisely, but two beers was clearly his limit.
No need to ask who ‘she’ was. Jimmy thinks Lois is still in love with me? The surprise lit up Clark’s face.
He would’ve loved to follow up on that, to use his keen journalistic instincts to find out exactly why Jimmy thought that and whether his assumptions were valid. But just at that moment, the baseball game vanished from the screen, provoking groans from the bar patrons.
In its place was a serious-looking anchorwoman. “We’ve just received word that the inaugural flight of the Genesis space shuttle is experiencing a midair emergency.”
The effects of one and a half beers seemed to melt out of Clark’s veins as he stared at the screen. His mind, his entire being, seemed to resonate with one sentence: Lois is on that plane.
Even Jimmy had sobered up, watching in openmouthed shock as the anchorwoman continued gravely, “Sources are telling us that the shuttle failed to disengage, sending both craft rocketing toward space.” He absorbed little of the next sentences, something about the blackout, while he remembered with quiet horror just who was covering the launch. Quickly he turned to Clark, his professional instincts kicking in.
“I should do some… thing…” Jimmy trailed off, puzzled. Clark was gone, leaving him with the bill. Guess his newspapering sixth sense is a little sharper than mine.