Jonathan had finally accepted that the boy was not an escaped prisoner from Leavenworth. Which was fortunate, because Martha had started calling him ‘Clark’, and he knew full well that once she named a living thing, she meant to keep it. That she’d chosen her own maiden name just made it more obvious.
That didn’t change the fact that the boy’s face was plastered all over the town. He had to reject Martha’s initial plan of telling people her cousin’s son was visiting. Not even a haircut and an old pair of Jonathan’s glasses would make an adequate disguise. They had to hide him, and that would’ve been more difficult if they didn’t grow most of their own food and have plenty stored away. Young men ate a lot, and someone would’ve noticed the Kents hauling home twice the groceries. Luckily he was content with the bounty of their garden, though the pantry and freezer were starting to look less well-stocked. And Martha, glad of his appreciation, was baking almost daily to feed his sweet tooth.
There were more disquieting ramifications. Since the boy wasn’t a prisoner, the Army had to want him for some reason. Maybe something to do with the fact that he was incredibly strong, incredibly fast—as he’d proved catching a glass Jonathan dropped all the way across the room—and could apparently hover, but only when he wasn’t thinking about it. Jonathan felt uncomfortably like he was living in a Stephen King movie he’d seen once, with a little girl who could do miraculous and dangerous things. And a whole bunch of shady government types hunting her. In the film there had been a kindly old farm couple who’d given the girl and her dad shelter.
Jonathan was also aware that the husband of the kindly couple had gotten shot in the film. But he also wasn’t about to let a bunch of soldiers trot onto his land and yank someone off his property without a warrant. And the boy, now that he let himself grow to know him, deserved to be protected. Whatever the Army had going on, Clark was an innocent in all senses of the world.
There was a charming boyishness about him, and the open delight he showed in almost everything was infectious. Whether it was the simple miracle of a flower opening, or the pattern of fox tracks in the soft mud at the edge of the pond, or even just the bright spots of color that shone through the sun-catchers Martha had hung on the bay window, Clark seemed to fall in love with every new thing he encountered. Such open-armed joy couldn’t be resisted. It was like he’d never been outside before, never done anything.
Some of that was probably the amnesia, but Jonathan got the feeling that the boy really didn’t have much experience of the world. Some people would be shy, frightened by so much newness. Others would turn bitter; Jonathan had seen that often enough, the instinctive resistance to change and novelty that made men hard-hearted and stubborn. Clark had none of that. He wanted to embrace the whole world and love every second of it.
He worked like a demon, too. Jonathan only had to show him how to nail up one board, and then Clark gleefully replaced all the damaged ones in the outbuildings in the course of one day, a job that would’ve taken Jonathan at least a weekend to complete. He hummed while he worked—and he must’ve had a radio, wherever they’d kept him, because the songs he hummed were familiar. Martha liked to sing while she cleaned, and Clark picked up on her favorite songs, too, singing them pitch-perfect after one hearing. He picked up on cleaning, too, and he thought it was fun to scrub the baseboards and the crown molding. Heck, he could reach the latter just by standing on tiptoe. Martha even let him wash her precious china that had been handed down from her grandmother, once he’d proven his delicate touch with the ordinary plates.
Odd, that for all that strength and air of inexperience, Clark wasn’t clumsy. Distracted, sometimes, though downright graceful when he paid attention. Jonathan would’ve expected him to clomp through the house like a young ox, but he took an almost exaggerated care around anything fragile. Jonathan saw why when they were cutting up the fallen branches for firewood.
A simple mistake. Clark had been steadying the branch while Jonathan cut it with the chainsaw, and Clark’s ball cap had blown off. He reached to grab it, missed, grabbed again, and Jonathan had jerked the saw back when he saw how close Clark’s hand was to it. Before he could shout a warning, the hat dropped onto the saw and was flung aside with a new nick in its rim. Clark grabbed the saw itself.
Jonathan automatically cut the power, dropped the saw, and grabbed for the handkerchief in his pocket, ready to tie a tourniquet around the boy’s arm. But what should’ve been mangled fingers was just an ordinary hand … and the saw’s chain was in pieces. “Um,” Clark said, with a woebegone look.
“Huh. So I guess we can add invulnerability to your list of quirks,” Jonathan had said with more aplomb than he felt. Calling them quirks seemed less intimidating than saying powers, although superhuman powers was certainly what they were. And Clark was torn about them. On the one hand he was proud as any young man might be of his abilities; on the other he was almost embarrassed by them, since they marked his otherness so clearly. At times he reminded Jonathan of a dog he’d once owned, a lurcher, half farm collie and half greyhound. When the pup had been old enough to finally get all four feet moving in the same direction and in some kind of cohesive rhythm, he’d been fast as greased lightning. Nothing was as pure an example of joy as watching that dog light out for the horizon … and nothing was as apologetic as the expression on the same dog’s face when he turned up back at the house after going missing for two days, having outrun his knowledge of the territory. It must’ve been something, to have an engine running like that inside and not be able to quite control it.
Jonathan was nonchalant about Clark’s abilities to make him more comfortable, showing him how to put a new chain on the saw. And then they cut up the rest of the downed tree limbs, though at Jonathan’s gentle suggestion Clark simply snapped a few of the branches to length. Only the ones that were less than a foot thick, though.
They went inside for a hearty lunch, salad and leftover baked chicken. As always, Clark set to with a will, drinking glass after glass of milk alongside it. “Thank you, Ma,” he said when she set a stack of cookies on his napkin. “This chicken is even better the second day.”
She laughed, and patted his shoulder. “Why thank you, son,” she said.
Meanwhile Jonathan wondered when she’d become Ma instead of Mrs. Kent. He suspected the easy way his wife said ‘son’ might have something to do with it. Clark tended to call him by the respectful ‘sir’ … but come to think of it, that’s what he’d always called his own father. While he was looking thoughtfully at the boy, Clark beamed a quick grin at him, the easy smile that so often graced his features, and Jonathan felt something that had little to do with conscious thought decide that yes, this one would make a fine son. Strength tempered by kindness, handsomeness softened by a total unawareness of his own looks, friendly courtesy and a willingness to help: what more could a father want?
Well, besides knowing who on earth the boy really was, and where he’d come from, and how he managed to do the amazing things he could do.
The radio was on, and between songs there was a few minutes’ worth of talk. Local updates, the weather forecast, and then news of the wider world. When the broadcaster said, “No new word from New Krypton,” though, Clark reacted as he had to nothing else.
All of a sudden he’d gone from sitting at the table to standing up, staring at the radio with a fierce intensity. The boy was almost trembling, and with that powerful a reaction Jonathan wondered for a brief moment if he might have actually been a soldier.
“What is it, Clark?” Martha asked.
The boy blinked. “Nothing. I … all of a sudden I remembered all those people on that planet out there. I’d forgotten that, too.” He sat back down, looking sheepish, and cleaned his plate studiously.
Jonathan just watched him, aware that Clark had just lied to them for the first time, but not sure why.
The soldiers were still hanging around Smallville like a stubborn stain, their target uncaught. They were now making systematic searches of abandoned buildings around town and in neighboring areas. And Lois was going predictably stir-crazy.
Even with a two-week-old infant demanding the majority of her time and attention, Lois was restless and curious. She did about as well being cooped up in the house as a certain well-bred working collie of Lana’s former acquaintance. The dog, which had belonged to a friend’s family back in high school, had been injured and forced to rest as an indoor companion for several months. To an animal accustomed to patrolling a large acreage, moving livestock, chasing vermin, and occasionally following the kids on long horseback rides and camping trips, it had most likely been a short season in Hell. Lana remembered one day toward the end of the dog’s convalescence when she and her friend had come home late to find him on top of the refrigerator. To this day she had no idea how he’d managed that.
Lois would probably start running up the walls soon. The weather didn’t help, high summer in the Midwest bringing the endless whine of crickets and cicadas, dull heat thudding down during the day and slacking off a little at night with a breeze. Impossibly wide blue skies and all sorts of things that Lois might actually like to get out and do, but she couldn’t risk being seen. Not even when they were invited out to lunch at dozens of houses by people who wanted to coo over baby Connor, whose birth during the storm was already becoming a front-porch classic tale.
At least one thing had alleviated her boredom a little: at the news of the escaped prisoner, Pete had finally come out to Kansas and brought his security detail with him, for added protection. Lois had rolled her eyes at the pair of them when he walked through the door, picked Lana up, and swung her around twice, Lana yelping in protest that was only half-felt. The younger woman was kind enough to plead exhaustion and go to bed early, which let them go to bed early.
It was very good to have him home again.
The next day Lois had set about picking his brain, much to Pete’s amusement. She knew he and Lana couldn’t discuss anything critical when they talked on the phone or online, nothing that might make anyone listening in suspect that they had anything to do with her disappearance. So Lois had been starved for news. Pete wasn’t privy to everything the military was up to, but he had spent his time in Congress making friends on both sides of the aisle. He knew that more humans had been smuggled back to Earth, which Lois knew had been planned and had told Lana about. But the most momentous development shocked them both.
“There’s been an attempted coup, possibly more than one,” Pete said, swirling lemonade in a tall glass beaded with condensation. “We’re deep into their systems that we can monitor a lot of their holographic communications, not just what’s transmitted back and forth to our internet. And it was your boy’s uncle, Zor-El, who tried to kill the Supreme Chancellor.”
A bright spark of hope flared in Lois’ chest, then faded. For one minute she’d almost believed … but then she knew better. “He failed,” she said softly. So it really had started; the first casualty in the rising unrest had been Kal-El’s uncle. The thought brought tears to her eyes. In some ways, Lois felt as though she herself was responsible for the loss. Maybe if she hadn’t involved Kal-El, hadn’t taunted Zor-El that night, it would have been someone else. But then, stroking the fine black hair on Connor’s head protectively, she couldn’t find herself regretting a moment of her time on New Krypton. Any moment she spent with her son’s father.
And in that instant something else occurred to her, like a finger of ice down her spine. “What about Alura and Kara? And Kal-El’s parents? Are they all okay?”
“Alura repudiated him over a month before the attack. She’s safe, and now working within the Council itself. We suspect she may have joined the Rebellion. An awful lot of information comes our way now. But there’s more.” Lois sighed in relief, but there was no respite.
Pete looked away, out the big front window toward the lawn edged with flowers he and Lana had to have planted together. A peaceful little world, here, but little. And now he and Lana were involved with something much, much bigger. The reason why would’ve dumbfounded quite a few of his colleagues on Capitol Hill, and most of the people Lois knew as well. It was, quite simply, the right thing to do.
“What else?” Lois asked, leaning forward in her impatience. Connor mumbled at the jostling, and she quickly soothed him, but her eyes stayed fixed on Pete.
He was looking worried. “Trouble on New Krypton. New ordinances, new restrictions. New warships. Someone decided to do something bold, and evacuated the last of the hostages all at once. No smuggling, either, they built a ship in secret. It landed in China … wow, probably the same time that little guy was making his debut.”
“How on earth could anyone build a ship in secret?” Lana wondered.
“There were ways,” Lois said, thinking. “They hadn’t completely terraformed the planet yet, so they weren’t using most of its surface. Someone smart, someone adventurous, could’ve found a place where no one else would conceivably go. And there were Kryptonians like that. It’s mostly the older generation who were hidebound. The younger ones, the ones who never set foot on Old Krypton, they might try something like that.”
“We don’t know who piloted the ship,” Pete said. “The military does, but they’re treating it as top-secret. And the pilot isn’t in custody, either. They’re going nuts, every one of my contacts’ contacts is in full lockdown—they call it maximum pucker factor. I have no idea how they’re conducting a search in China, but they’re doing it somehow. The last thing they want is for a Kryptonian to get killed on Earth. That’d really damage chances of peace with whatever regime comes after Zod.”
Lois flared her nostrils. Neither of them had any idea how creepy the Supreme Chancellor was. Lois had never even met him in person and the sound of his name made her skin crawl. Probably in part because he’d likely have her incinerated if he ever found out about the hybrid baby in her arms.
Speaking of men who disapproved of her choices…. “Exactly how deep is my father in all of this?” Lois asked.
Pete and Lana shared a look, and Lois just arched an eyebrow. “That deep, huh?”
Finally Pete said, “Lois, he’s the vice chief of staff, and he’s personally headed the project that receives the returning hostages. He’s about as deep as it gets. One good thing, though. None of my contacts ever mentioned so much as a hint about him looking for you.”
“Good,” Lana said decisively.
“I still don’t like having the military in town,” Pete said. “Even if these are the MPs from Fort Leavenworth and not the regular infantry you would’ve been around most of the time, it just feels like a clock ticking toward countdown. But we can’t get you out, either, Lois. There are roadblocks and searches all over eastern Kansas. Whoever this guy is, they want him bad.”
Lois scowled, squeezing Connor just a little closer. She’d outrun one danger just by staying free this long: her father couldn’t force her to have an abortion once her son was born. But he could still try to take Connor away … and he might do it, too, even though he had to know she’d do her damnedest to claw his eyes out before she let it happen.
One way or another, she had to get out of his reach.
General Lane knew his daughter’s undaunted will very well. He felt the steel of it at the bottom of his own soul every day. What he couldn’t understand was how the hell one naïve alien was managing to hide from him. He had men on the ground all over the eastern half of Kansas, checking every empty building, roadblocks everywhere within three hours’ drive of the crash site … and still nothing to show for it.
They’d found the crash site before any curious yokel with a camera phone, thank God. He hadn’t even needed to use his backup plan for containing the event. Forget weather balloons and Russian satellites. The best way to hide a UFO these days was put some soldiers around in cheap rubber masks and weird-looking suits, then a couple more in plainclothes with videocameras or scripts. Make sure at least one was a good-looking woman in tight-fitting civvies, and anyone who stumbled on the scene would think ‘movie set’ before ‘alien invasion’.
The site itself had been deserted, way out in the middle of some fields, and first the storms, then the supposed prisoner search, kept people from wandering from their homes. They’d had it all to themselves and hauled every single scrap away—except for one thing: the pilot.
Some of his aides speculated that the boy might be dead. Either injured in the crash and crawled off somewhere, or succumbed to one of the Earth microbes the Kryptonians at the salt mine were so paranoid about. Sam didn’t believe it for an instant. There’d been blood on the ship’s console, ceiling, and door, but not a mortal amount. And the blood trail leading away disappeared quickly. Search dogs tried valiantly to follow the scent, but storm runoff and roads had slowed them.
Sam had a great deal of respect for those dogs and their handlers. When the girls were still little, he’d adopted a retired shepherd named Nero who’d been a search dog. Damned smart animal, by the end of the first week he could ask the dog, ‘Where’s Ella?’ and be guided straight to his wife, or ask for the girls by name and get taken to them. He wasn’t a pet, he was the guardian of the family and their property, and when they had to ship out overseas and leave him behind both girls had cried. Hell, Sam had shed a tear or two himself. He’d made sure Nero went to a family who would take good care of him, and they’d had four years. More than most military families got in one place.
So he knew, when the dog teams had trailed for over eighteen miles and come up dry, that it wasn’t their fault. The alien had to’ve masked his scent somehow, and the obvious way would be by getting into a vehicle. He might’ve climbed into the bed of a briefly parked pickup truck, or hitched a ride somehow. He certainly looked human enough, and people in this area were trusting. The boy might’ve already slipped through the net Sam was trying to draw tight around him.
But consider: the trail was eighteen miles long, and the alien was injured. He could not have covered those miles as fast as Sam himself could. Assume a walking pace, because they’d found no indications that he’d fled at speed. Most of the time he’d been going through cultivated fields, turning along roads only at the last stretch. So, three miles an hour? Maybe as little as two, in places. Anywhere between six and nine hours walking, while Sam’s team was getting into position. Road blocks had been in place within two hours, and Sam had set the spacing generously, based on the assumption that the alien might acquire a car and drive it at maximum speed. Once they knew that he’d been walking through fields for hours—be generous, assume a fast walk of four miles per hour, and it still meant he was on foot for at least four and a half hours—it was impossible that he could’ve gotten beyond the roadblocks.
Unfortunately, no one could maintain roadblocks on major highways for more than a day. Vehicles were traveling freely again, but the posters were up in every truck stop and rest area. There was a handsome reward for information, too. Someone would’ve seen the alien if he’d traveled. Therefore, he was still somewhere in the irregular rectangle marked out on Sam’s map. Somewhere in those five or six counties was one otherwise ordinary-looking teenage boy, who might cause a major diplomatic incident by getting his naïve self shot. Or falling down a well, or getting attacked by some farmer’s dogs, or even just sleeping in wet clothes and getting hypothermia. New Krypton had far fewer natural hazards than Earth.
General Lane was hoping that he was lying low in an empty barn somewhere. If the alien had found shelter with some civilian, he might’ve convinced them to hide him. It was a possibility Sam had to consider; the damned boy was charming enough to have bedded his daughter.
They couldn’t simply start kicking doors in. There had to be some reasonable suspicion of the alien’s presence to make a search lawful. While within the Army itself certain rights and rules were suspended for the sake of expediency, when dealing with the general public and not in a state or martial law, they had to be more cautious. The very freedoms they fought to protect were part of the reason why the boy remained hidden, and the paradox gave Sam a moment of sardonic amusement.
He’d find him, sooner or later. The posters were everywhere, there were generous rewards on offer, and the alien couldn’t get far without human help. Sooner or later, human nature would be a reliable ally. Someone would turn him in—out of fear of the false story, or greed for the reward money. Soon they’d have him safely in custody.
Memory was a funny thing. He remembered pale green skies, a painted canyon, clothes much thinner than the soft woven stuff he had on, cars that flew in the air. And faces, so many faces, none of them with names. A woman, the recollection of whom made his chest tighten. And a bearded man whose image sent chills into his heart.
Words for things always came to him in Jonathan and Martha’s language, English. All the common everyday objects he knew now. And when they gave him a word he lacked, he could feel its rightness as something he’d known before. But now he was getting terms in another tongue. He understood the meaning of kehgier as a verb meaning to make, to cause, sometimes to do, and he could even conjugate it properly. But it had come to his mind as part of an idiom, and he knew somehow that it was not a word in any language these people had ever heard of. He also knew the names for things he saw in his dreams in the same foreign languages. The structures he saw in those dreams looked more grown than built, and were made of crystal, not wood or brick; they were different enough that he couldn’t call them houses even in his mind. They were rurrelahso, a word he would’ve translated as buildings or dwellings.
Alone in his room, he pushed all those thoughts away and focused on the one thing that gave him comfort. Neither Jonathan nor Martha had ever seen it: a simple crystal necklace, which had been wearing wrapped around his forearm underneath his shirt when they found him. What it meant, he couldn’t quite remember, but it was important. And it had something to do with the woman whose face he saw in dreams, the one whose name he’d spoken when he first met Jonathan and Martha. Lois.
He held the necklace carefully wrapped about his hand while he slept. Maybe if he was lucky, the sense of its meaning would return to him in the same haunting dreams that teased his mind with glimpses of his forgotten past.
And to those who lack the courage
And say it's dangerous to try
Well they just don't know
That love eternal will not be denied
I know you're out there somewhere
I know you're out there somewhere
Somewhere you can hear my voice
I know I'll find you somehow
I know I'll find you somehow
And somehow I'll return again to you
~The Moody Blues, I Know You're Out There Somewhere
[Yes, LS readers, you DO know this song! ;)]