And another....and another....
Gritting her teeth against the forces that tore at them, Lois finally caught Bobbie-Faye’s hand while keeping an iron grip on the hand-rail beside her seat. Ordinarily it would be no great feat to pull someone as slim as the blonde to her feet, but she couldn’t do anything about the disorientation that she would have due to hitting the floor as hard as Bobbie seemed to have. With a worried glance around, Lois realized that the only seat nearby was her own. Dammit. Nice going, Lane. There you go thinking with your heart again and not your head. Just perfect. Your self-preservation instincts are at an all-time low. As it was, she had barely managed to help buckle the woman in and start to look for another open seat, before there was another roar.
The plane lurched sickeningly, catching her by complete surprise in only four steps. Before she even knew what was happening, she was hurled to the floor with a startled cry. In an instant, Lois reached out for purchase of any kind, finding none as the force pulled her along. One more jolt and a with terrified cry, she was sent bumping and sliding to the rear of the cabin as oxygen masks dropped from their position. Even before she could catch her breath, her mind reeling, Lois was slammed brutally into the back wall of the jet. Pain shot through her like a knife as she cried out, her head an agony.
Oh God, please let us make it through this.
His mind was running in overdrive. Get out onto the street, dodge through the crowd out of anyone’s direct sight, yank the shirt open … and then force of habit failed him. There was only a plain white cotton undershirt beneath. Clark felt his heart freeze, then sharply kick into a higher gear. The uniform was still in his suitcase, in the janitorial closet.
For an instant, he considered leaving it there. But no, what would people think of Superman in a suit from Macy’s? It would jeopardize his secret identity. And, unlike his red and blue suit he wore as the hero, this one would easily ignite if he flew too close to the afterburners. Not exactly the kind of ‘Superman exclusive’ he wanted to give the world.
Clark – no, better get in my superhero mindset – Superman changed course and raced back to the Planet, faster than the human eye could follow. The revolving doors whirred in protest as he flashed through them, soaring up a ventilation shaft instead of waiting for the elevator. In only a few seconds, he was flying at top speed out of the airshaft, his cape snapping behind him.
Dazed and hurting, Lois was coherent enough to realize that she was growing short of breath. And to realize that she was pinned to the wall by the force of the g’s. Darkness threatened behind her eyes then. They were still climbing, going higher and higher. The air was growing thinner and thinner. The chaos inside the cabin, the screams, the prayers, were beginning to seem surreal, impossible. And her head was growing light, vision a bit fuzzy… She knew the physiological effects of too many g’s, knew she was going to pass out soon if she didn’t do something about it. Fighting gravity, she fought to reach for the nearest oxygen mask, fingertips just brushing the thin elastic band.
Trying to get her head together enough to make another try for it, she turned to face the side, trying to ground herself. I’m going to lose it, she thought with real fright. How are we going to get out of this? How? We must be headed into space. Feeling panic begin to seize her, Lois locked her jaw and started to make another attempt. Preparing to fight for it yet again, something made her glance to her right out the window. What she thought she saw out there in that breathless instant had to be a hallucination, a by-product of the lack of oxygen to her brain. Her eyes widened even as her heart rose higher into her thought. No, it couldn’t be. That’s impossible. You must be delirious, Lois. He’s…
And then she heard two thuds on the roof above.
He rocketed past the fighter jets, sparing a pitying thought for the pilots who must have been staring at their radar in shock. The shuttle was dragging the jet higher and faster than it had been designed to go, and the booster rockets had set the jet’s tail on fire. Superman pushed himself to the limit of his speed to catch up and landed on the roof of the jet, pressing his hands to the underside of the shuttle. Three quick flashes of his heat vision vaporized the balky connectors, and he began to push the shuttle upward.
It only took a minute for Superman to feel the shuttle beginning to lift away from him, its own power sufficient to take it the rest of the way. He watched it go, breathing a sigh of relief as it escaped gravity.
The jet stopped shuddering, the groaning metal gone quiet. They seemed to be floating, Lois’s sense of unreality doubling as she rose gently into the air. The other journalists had gone silent as well, watching in amazement as their briefcases and note pads and cameras hovered in midair.
Wow. This is some hallucination, Lois thought. A pen was floating toward her, and she reached for it, hoping that the contact would either shatter the illusion of levitation or prove it real.
For one long, breathless moment, the remainder of the jet’s upward thrust was equal to the pull of gravity, and inertia canceled acceleration. There were no noticeable forces acting on the plane and its contents, so everything that wasn’t fastened down floated. But it was unfortunately true that, within the earth’s atmosphere, gravity always wins.
The jet began to slip sideways. The moment that its upward acceleration was lost, it was as if gravity had suddenly noticed the errant jet and snatched it downward. Everything that wasn’t secured was flung violently upward and sideways – including Lois.
As her head whacked the ceiling again, bringing stars to her eyes, Lois cried out in pain. What now? How much worse can this possibly get?
Her answer was to slide across the roof, smack into the overhead bins, and wind up pinned to the roof above another terrified reporter. The clouds outside seemed to be spinning past the plane like the view from a merry-go-round, and Lois’ disoriented mind kicked out the reason why.
She knew, from having flown with Richard, that a plane moved in three main directions: roll, pitch, and yaw. Tilting the nose up or down changed the pitch, and dipping one wing or the other rolled the aircraft. The jet was now yawing, the nose and tail spinning around its center. Just like a helicopter’s blades…
Oh, God. Now I know I’m gonna die. Helicopters. I’m jinxed with damn helicopters. I’m going to die. I’m really, truly, going to die this time.
He’d found an extra burst of speed beyond what he’d thought was his limit, chasing the falling jet, boring straight through the clouds of smoke trailing behind it. Got to stop that spin. Superman grabbed the wing, trying to slow it, pulling against the force of the rotation.
The jet was massive, its surface slick. Centrifugal force whirled him out along the wing even as he forced it to slow down. The overstressed metal creaked under Superman’s hands, and before he could change his grip, the entire wing broke off, spinning him along with it.
Damn! Hold on, Lois, hold on!
It had felt as though she was being squeezed against the corner where the ceiling and the wall met, robbed of her breath. The man sitting below her tried to reach up, to help her, but at first she simply couldn’t pull herself down. A small, terrified voice in the back of her mind was pleading, Just let me get home to my kids. God, please, if You’re out there, let me make it home to Jason and Kala!
Another voice, steadier in spite of the panic she found herself in, reminded her of that story she did about vehicle fatalities. The effect of multiple skull impacts is cumulative. You’ve had, what, four or five good smacks? One more might be your ticket to aneurysm city.
Then the forces acting against her suddenly dissipated, and Lois fell to the floor. She quickly hauled herself into a seat, her shaking hands struggling with the buckle.
Only a few seconds to get reoriented, but in that brief time the plane’s other wing had broken off. No time to dodge; Superman shoved his fists forward and punched straight through it. The plane was dropping below him, nose down and beginning to spiral.
One more notch of speed, chasing the jet, seeing the ground come soaring up at him. Superman gritted his teeth as he forced himself past the huge airplane, grabbing its nose and pushing upward.
Not too hard, don’t want to crush it. At the same time, he had to get it slowed down, and now, because they were close enough for him to recognize Metropolis by its street patterns. Shoving the jet, taking its weight on his palms and pressing it away, he felt himself being pushed toward the ground like a helpless rag doll.
Lois had just gotten her seat belt buckled when the whole plane shuddered and the overhead baggage came tumbling out. The passengers were thrown forward, only their lap belts preventing them from breaking their noses on the seats in front of them. Other journalists yelped as they were smacked by their own luggage, and suddenly a woman on the right side of the plane screamed, “The wing came off! The wing came off!”
Pushing someone’s carry-on aside, Lois glanced to her left and saw that wing tear off as well. Somewhere up ahead she could hear Bobbie-Faye praying. The journalists, a more cynical group of people than average, were screaming and cursing. They were spinning over and over now, spiraling out of control as they plummeted several feet per second. The earth was coming up on them and there was no savior, nothing to stop this from happening. There hadn’t been for years. The hallucination had been just that. She had seen what she had needed to see. What she had been subconsciously willing to happen even after all this time.
All Lois could do was lock her jaw to hold back her own despairing screams, both broken and enraged at the thought of never seeing her twins again. Never again to listen to Jason play the piano, so intense and determined to get it right that he would start again from the beginning if he even missed one note. Never to listen to Kala as she dressed up in her room like some rockstar, singing and trying to dance along quite badly to pop songs, acting as if she were in the Metropolis Arena. Never to listen to them squabble about the theft of a crayon. Never again hold them during a fearsome thunderstorm. Never again hear them say, “Mommy.”
That broke her and a sob slipped from her lips. Why? Kala, Jason. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know this was going to happen. I love you. I love you both so much. Oh God, please… Choking down the pain in her heart, she couldn’t stop the tears that ran down her cheeks. Trying to prepare herself for what was to come, Lois Lane closed her eyes.
Superman found himself praying silently, his jaw locked against the strain of trying to push upward on the jet hard enough to stop, not so hard that it crumpled. Please, God, please, let this work. Let them be all right … let Lois be all right. Please, I love her.
The nose of the jet began to wrinkle with a groan, the metal scrunching up like an accordion. The sharp crack of a bat meeting a baseball, and then shouts and screams from below. From the sound, he was a lot closer to the ground than he wanted be.
Superman gave one final, mighty shove against the jet, and its metal skin rippled as the shockwave passed through it. Now he was just balancing it, having negated all of its falling speed. He let himself drift downward gently, looking over his shoulder to find the ground.
A wave of cold chills danced up and down his spine. The baseball diamond was no more than six feet below his boots; he’d stopped the jet with no more than a second to spare.
In the cockpit, the altimeter warning was suddenly loud in the absence of all the shouting, screaming, and praying. “Fly up,” a mechanical voice repeated. “Fly up. Fly up.”
The pilot and copilot looked at the man who was gently lowering their massive jet to the ground, and then at each other. Both were obviously badly shaken. Dry pants first, and then a drink to steady my nerves, the pilot thought. Maybe the seventh or eighth drink will be the one that actually stops my hands from shaking.
The fall seemed to slow down, and Lois assumed it was a side effect of dying. Her mind spun the time out, everything in slow motion, to savor the last few seconds of her life. A sudden jerk, and everyone’s heads snapped forward, smacking the seats in front of them.
Then, strangely, they were stopped. Everything was completely still for a few seconds, and then the plane began to tilt gently backward from its position perpendicular to the ground. It settled to earth with a groan, and the passengers stared at each other. Lois was so amazed to still be alive that it felt like her brain was in vapor-lock.
“Thank you, Jesus,” Bobbie-Faye whispered.
Then the emergency exit door was torn off the plane, and their savior looked in anxiously. At that point, the journalists might have been less surprised to see a bearded man with robes and halo than the one who hovered just outside the plane.
Lois’ heart froze in her chest.
“Is everyone all right?” Superman said, his voice as deep and rich as always.
They stared at him in utter shock, but he saw one face in that crowd upon whom amazement was written rather larger. Thank you, dear God, she’s all right. Superman savored her face for an instant that felt like forever to him. In spite of everything, in spite of what he knew, how she had moved on, she was still his Lois, still so beautiful it almost hurt to look at her. He took a few steps inside, and asked again, looking directly into her eyes, “Are you okay?”
The rest of the journalists turned to see who was getting Superman’s personal attention. Lois was rising from her seat slowly, jaw still dropped and eyes wide. She looked completely astonished, and most of the others thought that was all.
But inside the keen mind that lived behind those hazel eyes, a war had broken out, keeping her speechless.
The part of her that was still half in love with him – maybe more than half – whispered in awe, He’s here. He’s really here.
The anger that had helped her to survive her loneliness and pain, that had given her the courage to go on with her life, spat, Took you long enough!
He just saved my life. Again.
You bastard, where the hell have you been all this time!
Superman just smiled at her, his heart almost breaking. He could no longer try to deny that he loved her. He would never have her, not now, not with Richard and the twins in the picture, but to lose her forever was more than he could dream of bearing.
Lois saw the smile, but she couldn’t even manage a weak one in response. The voices in her head were pulling her apart, one half swooning, the other furious.
If he hadn’t shown up, this would really be it, I would’ve really died.
How dare you come and save me? Now I have to be grateful after you made me a tabloid headline! You bastard!
A long moment passed, in which everyone in the plane watched them keenly. Superman searched for something to say. I’m sorry, I was wrong to leave you, I’ll never leave again, just didn’t seem appropriate with twenty reporters standing around. He chose to make a private joke, hoping to bring her out of her shock.
Superman glanced around the plane, raising his voice to address all of the passengers and crew. “Well, I hope this experience hasn’t put any of you off flying. Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel.” Only his raised eyebrow indicated the line was meant for Lois.
The press nodded dumbly, and he turned away. Then they all seemed to find their voices, shouting to him, begging for a few words, a pithy quote for their papers. Only Lois was silent, her eyes still wide, half-touched that he had remembered what he said the night they met, half-peeved that he should remind her now when so much had changed. But he had gone back to the door, and the roar of the crowd in the stadium met his ears, drowning out the reporters.
Looking around at the thousands cheering for him, for just a moment Superman felt like he was home, like he’d never left. He had thought there might be accusations, but this was unadulterated rejoicing. How could I imagine that my place, my purpose, my destiny, was anything but this?
He flew away quickly, a grin on his face, and never saw that Lois had pushed her way past the other reporters and come up behind him. What she meant to say, she had no idea. At least part of her just wanted to fling her arms around him; another part regretted that she couldn’t just cold-cock him. He was gone before she could do anything, left watching him fly away as she had done far too many times in the past.
At last her mind seemed to kick into gear as she looked out into the stadium. Superman is back. Not a hallucination, not wishful thinking. He’s really, truly, totally back. And he just saved my life literally a few feet from the end of everything. He can’t know how much has changed, how much I’ve changed.
My God, what happens if he finds out about the twins!
That thought was one shock more than her abused mind and body could handle. Lois’ hazel eyes rolled back, and she fell almost gracefully down the emergency exit slide.