Clark knew what to do when the truck pulled up in the yard. Ma and Pa Kent had talked it over, and they’d made a plan. First, all of them had to watch out. Clark was always listening for vehicles approaching on the road, and whenever one came along he made sure to get out of sight. Once there he was to listen and watch. If it was just company, he would stay hidden until they left, either up in his room or in the storm cellar or in the barn outside, whichever had been more convenient to bolt into.
If it was soldiers, the older couple would contrive some kind of warning, which he could hear from anywhere on the immediate property. Then he had to play a careful game of hide and seek, because they would be thorough in hunting him. Clark always had in mind a running list of the best hiding spots in and around the barn for just such occasions. It was a paranoid mindset, but necessary.
So when he heard the engine on the road while he was cutting up one of the downed trees for firewood later in the year, he stopped and listened, wiping sawdust from his hands. The engine slowed as it dropped to a lower gear, and he picked up the unused axe to drive it through the last round of wood, then left it sticking in the stump while he trotted toward the barn. Now it looked like Jonathan had been cutting the wood, instead of someone who could do it twice as fast with just the edge of his hand.
Clark hid himself up in the haymow, his ears trained on the yard at the end driveway just in front of the house—what Ma and Pa called the dooryard. Sure enough, the truck pulled in and parked there. He had learned to differentiate engines by sound after a couple weeks of paying such close attention to them, and this one was a big eight-cylinder diesel. All power, no subtlety. Probably a big truck, possibly the sort of thing that groups of soldiers were transported in.
If only he could see it! Clark stared at the old barn boards a few feet away from his face. Just dull, weathered wood, unpainted on the inside and long ago faded to a silvery gray. There was a knot in one board, slightly darker than the rest. He could see the grain of the wood, where the tree it had once been laid down different layers as it grew. And each of those layers was made up of cells, sheathed in a protective coating called cellulose, one of the chief differences between animal and vegetable life being the cellulose walls around the cells…
…and inside each cell he could now see the various structures, chloroplasts and mitochondria floating in the cytoplasm, and the nucleus with its chromosomes….
The names for those things arrived in his mind in two languages, one of which had just enough familiar terms that he knew it was English. But Ma and Pa Kent hadn’t spoken to him of vacuoles or nuclear membranes, this was knowledge from before his injury, something he’d studied. Clark was pretty sure none of these structures were supposed to be visible to the naked eye.
He blinked, and saw the molecules making up the DNA of the chromosomes, then blinked again and saw through the barn wall. The cells that made up the layers of wood that made up the boards were a ghostlike haze, and now he squinted at the image beyond, bringing it into focus. Not a clue how he was doing this, it must be a new one of his ‘quirks’ as the Kents so kindly called them, and then Clark’s train of thought jumped the tracks because yes, that was a big camouflaged truck parked in front of the house, and uniformed soldiers were getting out of it.
A voice in the back of his head yelled something, and the English translation took a beat. Consulars! But what did that mean, and why did he fear it? Or them, whoever the Consulars were. Even repeating the term in the privacy of his own mind sent a chill down his spine, though that warded-off portion of his brain was insisting that they should have been wearing black.
The men spoke with Jonathan, who stalled him, standing on the front porch and arguing about his rights. Martha came out a moment later, exclaiming about all the soldiers and scolding one for almost treading on her flower garden. That was the warning they were trying to give Clark, and would they check amidst the hay? He thought so.
The Kents would be in trouble if they were discovered to have hidden him. Clark turned with grim determination, needing to get far away and fast before the search even began. There were too many men to try playing cat-and-mouse, slipping into spots they’d already searched. Better if he were gone, entirely outside the scope of their search.
Luckily there was no immediate evidence in the house of his presence. His clothes were always neatly folded away in a large cedar chest, as if in storage, convenience sacrificed for safety. His toothbrush always got dried and put away in the medicine cabinet, his bed was always made as if kept ready for guests, and on the whole he had left precious little mark on the house.
He hurried to the ladder while the leader of the soldiers talked to Pa, who was doing an excellent impression of a thick-headed mule-stubborn old fool. Clark grinned to himself to hear it; Jonathan Kent was determined, and tenacious, but never a fool, despite what his wife might’ve muttered about him. Even Clark understood that the older man was just being protective—and at the time, he couldn’t remember enough about himself to reassure them that he was trustworthy.
Clark slid to the ground and slipped out the back of the barn, watching the soldiers’ progress as they fanned out. He had to be careful not to leave tracks, but he was lucky in that regard. Those little ‘quirks’ came in handy, as he was learning. A single running stride, and then he leapt, covering several dozen yards. He landed only to leap again, broadening the distance. This was something he’d discovered while trying to burn off excess energy, and though he hadn’t perfected it, at least Clark wasn’t crashing into trees anymore.
And that was only near the house and outbuildings. Once within the sheltering cornfield, Clark really opened up both the strength and speed, pushing it beyond where he’d taken it in the past. He had to be careful not to rise so high that he’d be seen above the towering plants, but his leaps could cover an astounding distance. It was stunning, to him, to realize he could do these things; they seemed impossible, against the laws of physics, almost as if he was undergoing some kind of supernatural transformation. And all from a knock in the head that scrambled his memory? No, something decidedly weird was going on.
But Clark didn’t focus on that. He didn’t feel like a freak, not until he did something like this, kicking off the loose soil and covering hundreds of yards before he landed again. Careful, though, careful, if he landed too hard he’d leave a crater behind him. So he ran and leaped lightly, springing through the large field in a matter of moments.
Now the woods, avoiding the thickest brush, and once far enough in he took a slight risk. Clark crouched, staring up at a tall cottonwood tree, and sprang straight up from a standing start. He landed fifty feet up on a branch just a shade too narrow, one that swayed alarmingly under his weight, but he clutched the tree trunk and got one foot onto another branch in time to stabilize himself. His perch left him far from the farm, but with a moment’s concentration he could hear the soldiers searching for him.
And climbing trees was not normal for him. Somehow he knew that boys tended to do this, but he never had. The whole tree shifted in the wind, and he couldn’t help gripping the bark tightly in sweaty hands whenever it did. Clark felt a brief panic at the thought of getting down again, before remembering that he could just drop and not get hurt. What am I? he thought to himself, half-confused and half-despairing. Or what am I becoming?
Lots of things that were everyday for Ma and Pa were wholly new to him. Like planting seedlings, harvesting fruits and vegetables, even opening a door latch. He knew what a tomato was and that it would taste good, but he’d never eaten one before apparently, because he’d bitten down like he had with his first apple, and the juice had sprayed into his eyes. Ma had laughed, and so had Clark at the time, but later he wondered. People who grew up in cities might not know how to pluck berries from their brambles, but surely everyone knew how to eat a tomato? Or open a window? Or button a shirt, for crying out loud?
That was one of Jonathan’s expressions, and it had been Jonathan who found him struggling to pull a button-down shirt over his head and frowning with frustration that it was too tight. The warm affection Pa had shown him—tinged with amusement, true, but still kind—lingered in Clark’s mind. Jonathan Kent was not his father, but he was becoming quite fatherly. He couldn’t remember much about his father, just a sense that the man was very wise and very serious, and Jonathan’s more casual demeanor was welcome.
The search never even got near the woods where Clark was hiding. Soldiers started to comb through the fields, but the heat and the silence discouraged them. Among the rows of corn especially, the men could be mere feet away from each other and not be able to clearly see or hear their counterparts. If it was really a convict they were searching for, the man might’ve had the sense to lie up somewhere in the cornrows. Or to hide in the woods, for that matter. But not this high up, and he certainly wouldn’t be able to see the searchers through the thick foliage.
Clark watched them finish their task and trudge back. In a few more moments he could head back…
…but should he?
Ma and Pa Kent would be in trouble if he was found on their land. No matter what the real reason for the manhunt was, they would be charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive. They had been too kind to him for Clark to repay them so shabbily. Now that he was out of the house, out of sight, he probably ought to just keep going. His speed and strength and other little quirks were increasing almost daily; sooner or later he’d have nothing to fear from the Army or anyone else. He could spot anyone tracking him before they got close enough to know he was there, and even if he did get spotted, he could outrun them easily. Really, it would be best for everyone if he went…
…but Martha would be heartbroken. Clark saw the love shining in her eyes, and knew she thought of him as a son. In this brief time they had bonded so closely that he felt she was family to him, too. She had certainly stood up for him from moment one, believed in him despite every evidence of his strangeness, and not once had she feared him or been angry with him. Unconditional love, that was very parental.
If he just up and left, Ma would worry. She’d fret herself to pieces wondering if the soldiers caught him. Pa would worry, too. The older man’s initial mistrust had only been protectiveness, but now he was just as protective of Clark. He’d feel guilty for the rocky start between them, probably blame himself, thinking that if he’d been more careful the soldiers wouldn’t have caught Clark—or if he’d been kinder from the beginning, Clark wouldn’t have left.
No, he couldn’t do that to them. Or to himself. Clark didn’t know much, but he knew he had no one in this world. Everyone he met would be a stranger, and everyone for miles was primed to think of him as some kind of violent criminal.
That wasn’t true. He was certain of that much. Clark had the sense that everything he was missing was somewhere in his head, but he couldn’t get at it. So far the things he’d remembered were linked to things he’d experienced since the injury, as if his memory needed a little jump-start. What he needed to do was lie low, be patient, stay hidden, and let those connections keep forming. Eventually he’d get enough bits of memory back to make a cohesive whole. It would take time and patience, but he had plenty of both.
Once he was absolutely certain the soldiers were gone, Clark walked back to the house. He hugged Martha as soon as he walked in, not telling her that he’d thought of just keeping on. Maybe she knew, because she hugged him back extra-tight, and served his favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream after dinner.
“Lana, if I don’t get out of this house, I’m going to start clawing the wallpaper,” Lois said flatly. The three of them were sitting down to breakfast; Connor was sleeping peacefully after having his own breakfast.
“Isn’t that supposed to be the curtains?” Pete said in friendly tones. Both women stared at him, and he lowered his newspaper to smile. “That’s what cats do when you lock them in the house. Claw the wallpaper, tip over the trash, run around the house at two in the morning and jump on you while you’re sleeping.”
Lois arched a dark eyebrow, and Lana sighed. “Lois, please don’t take that as a suggestion.”
The younger woman couldn’t help chuckling at that mental image; despite Lana’s strait-laced reputation, she really didn’t want to try jumping on the happily reunited couple in the wee hours of the morning. Besides, it might wake up Connor, and every moment he slept was precious. Good thing Lois was already used to sleeping lightly. What years of living on base and listening for incoming orders hadn’t done, months on New Krypton listening for Consulars kicking in the door had accomplished.
“Really, though, there’s got to be somewhere we can take Lois where we won’t run into soldiers,” Pete offered.
Lana sighed. “Nowhere in town. I’ve overheard them talking about searching the outlying farms, too.”
“Maybe we can just go for a drive out in the country?” Pete offered.
“As long as we don’t hit a roadblock,” Lana warned.
Lois threw her head back and groaned loudly. “God! I’m almost to the point of calling my dad. Connor’s already born, and I doubt Dad would be dumb enough to try and take him away now that a U.S. Senator and a highly-placed newspaper editor know about him.” She was half-convincing herself as she spoke.
Pete reached out and took her hand. “Lois, honey, we can’t be optimistic. Let’s face facts. Connor’s father is Kryptonian. Your dad would jump at the chance to send him ‘home’ to a planet he’s never seen—and if the revolution on New Krypton has its way, they might just accept him. I mean, he is half Kryptonian.”
Lois winced. “Actually I think they might freak out. A lot.”
“Well, yeah. Bad enough the other half is human. But they wouldn’t want him raised by humans. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but I do know a couple things about prejudice.” Pete winked, not without a touch of irony, and tipped his head toward the fair-skinned redhead he’d married.
Sighing, Lois asked, “Hey Pete? Yeah, okay, I understand where you’re coming from, but … you were grown in your mom’s womb, right?”
He startled a bit at that, and after a pause said, “Well, yeah. Isn’t everyone?”
“There’s your problem right there,” Lois said with a nervous laugh, sweeping a pointing finger through the air to aim right at him. “See, no one on New Krypton was. They have these things called birthing matrices. You take a DNA sample from both parents, put it in the matrix, and it grows you up a baby. No muss, no fuss, no three hours of grunting sweating active labor. Kryptonians don’t do things like that.”
Pete just stared at her. “Wow. Well. I guess they must have really good contraception, then.”
A flush rose to Lois’ cheek, but she was too much a Lane to back down just because she was beginning to feel flustered. Instead she upped the ante. “Yep. If you call being so phobic of touch that married couples holding hands in public is considered flagrantly deviant behavior. They don’t have sex, Pete. If his people found out about Connor … they’d probably disown Kal-El. Or at the very least send him off for lots of psychological evaluation and treatment.”
Pete just blinked, stunned, but it was Lana who shook her head and muttered, “You lost me at ‘they don’t have sex’. How on Earth could you get married and not…? Why would you … not ever?”
As Pete chuckled, Lois tried not to blush. “On Earth is kinda the point, Red. Krypton had a huge plague about a thousand years ago, and the only ones who survived were the people who had absolutely no contact with anyone who might’ve been infected. It took them a long time to actually defeat the virus. Now it’s ingrained in the culture.”
“But not in the biology, or little Connor wouldn’t be here,” Pete mused, and then Lois did blush.
Kansas kept tickling at Sam’s mind. At first he thought it was because of Leavenworth; he’d sent a man there, once or twice. But no, that wasn’t it. Something about the place kept drawing his attention, something that goaded him to make the search for the alien more urgent. The frustrating thing was, he couldn’t figure out why that little intuition kept nagging him. And no matter how much he trusted his gut instincts, General Lane couldn’t declare martial law based on a hunch.
It was driving him nuts, not knowing, and so Sam flung himself into work as a distraction. He had two major operations running at the same time, and one of them was covert, so work was easy to come by. Sorting through the phone records from pay phones around the Daily Planet and Perry-White’s home was tedious, but it had to be done. And his subordinates respected him more for getting down in the trenches with them.
The search went slowly, and Sam could barely leash his frustration as he slogged through it. All the while he waited for news of the on-the-ground search in Kansas.
And again that little tickle in the back of his brain! Sam flung down the call list in front of him, and tried to remember everything he knew about Kansas. Capital was Topeka, largest city was Wichita, 15th largest state and 33rd most populous. Officially opened to settlement in 1854, so hotly contested over the slavery issue that it was known as Bleeding Kansas, eventually joined the Union as a free state in 1861. All but four counties were in the Central time zone, it was located dead center between the coasts, and it contained both the geographic center of the 48 contiguous states as well as the geodetic center of the continent. States bordering it were Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Politically it was a relatively progressive state, despite having a Republican party monopoly on congressional seats that kept it more socially conservative…
…wait. There was that little tickle again. What did he know about elected officials in Kansas?
All of a sudden it hit General Lane. The junior senator, Pete Ross, had just returned to his hometown of Smallville, which was within the search area. Sam’s troops on the ground were being particularly cautious with the senator in town, and he’d sighed over the report. Just one more congressman getting in his way, that had been his thought at the time.
But. One of the calls made from a pay phone just outside Perry White’s place had been to a Kansas area code. He’d had all the numbers logged for the location their area codes lead to, even knowing that lots of people had cell phones with area codes from faraway places. No sense in changing a phone number you’d had when you lived in New York when you moved to Florida, not when free long distance and roaming were part of most mobile plans. Sam scrambled through the lists, hunting for that Kansas area code.
It was 913, which a quick online search told him was the eastern part of the state. Where Smallville was located. And why had Senator Ross gone home to Smallville? That was in a report somewhere, too.
He found it. His wife had gone home seven months beforehand, and he went to join her. Seven months. Right around the time Lois had disappeared in Metropolis. It was all circumstantial, but it looked plausible. Even better, it felt like he’d found the key to getting his daughter back.
Mad Dog Lane stormed out of his office with a predatory gleam in his eye. “Get me the next flight to Kansas. I’m taking over the ground search. While I’m in the air I want a complete report on Senator Peter Ross, his wife, and their movements over the last seven months. Move!”
It had not escaped him that the father of Lois’ child was in the area, too. At all costs he had to keep them from finding one another.
“Clark, sweetheart, we’re having company for dinner,” Ma said, rubbing his shoulder gently. “I’m so sorry. It feels so wrong to ask you to hide up in your room….”
“But everyone in town thinks I’m a dangerous escaped prisoner. I’ll be okay, Ma. Just sneak me some biscuits.” He smiled, despite the little ache in his chest. Clark was naturally sociable, and to hide from people made him feel obscurely ashamed.
She kissed his cheek, and smiled sadly. “Well, Jonathan thinks he might be able to talk them around a bit. We might have some allies here. But we have to be very careful, for your safety, son.”
“Of course,” he told her. Clark tried to act like nothing was wrong until the dinner hour neared, and then headed up to his room with a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. The Kents had a decent assortment of classic literature, and he was working his way through it at a good pace.
The story engrossed him, and he barely paid attention to the sound of a car arriving, then unfamiliar voices in the front hall. People were moving around downstairs, making the typical greeting small talk, most of which was about the tornado. He heard a woman say something about spending it in a basement, which got chuckles from Ma and Pa. That was the last Clark noticed for a while; he was too tightly wrapped up in the story, turning each page with bated breath as the mob assembled to lynch Tom Robinson. The three kids were just showing up in the midst of the dangerous scene and…
…from downstairs, a young woman’s laugh, the sound floating up the stairwell and under his door and through his ear into his brain like a bolt of lightning.
The book tumbled to the coverlet, and Clark jumped up from the bed, every sense on the alert. That voice! He knew that voice! Before he could think he was out the door, springing halfway down the stairs in a single bound, his hands shaking. He froze there, staring.
In the living room, Ma and Pa looked up at him in dismay, Martha’s mouth dropping open into a shocked expression. On the couch across from them were a man and a woman, both of them widening their eyes in horror. But in the chair beside them…
His heart leaped, a heavy physical thump that resounded in his chest. “Lois?” he said, his voice cracking.
Beautiful hazel eyes, the expression in them completely stunned—but no fear, not fear of him like the strangers or fear for him like the Kents. Just recognition and utter surprise at it.
Jonathan had stood up, and stretched a hand toward the frightened couple. Clark knew his next words would be something like, He isn’t who you think he is, or something to that effect. But the girl rose, her eyes still locked on his, and in a trembling voice she said, “Kal-El…?”
His name. The associations flicked into place, memories blurring into thought. He saw his father’s hair, prematurely white, his eyes the same brilliant blue, and the older man’s hand on his shoulder, his voice full of pride, ‘You are a credit to the House of El, my son’. Kal-El, son of Jor-El, a noble scion of one of Krypton’s greatest families. One of the generation who had never seen Old Krypton, born on the great transport ships, for whom New Krypton was home. Son of his mother, as well, Lara who had been born into the House of Van, the wise historian and gentle parent. The one who had been kind to a bristly human teenager, who had brought a birthday gift on no notice for the girl whom her son had become so fond of, and who still did not quite know how deep his affection for that young woman ran. A love that had led him to treason, to plotting against Supreme Chancellor Zod in secret, and when events forced his hand, he had committed to open defiance. He had piloted the ship that evacuated the last of the human hostages from New Krypton, and he had dropped them off before trying to fly a circuit of this world … a flight that by amazing coincidence or destiny or fate had ended in a crash landing within walking distance of the woman for love of whom he had done all of it.
That young woman was staring at him as if he were some kind of ghost, while he blinked and tried to process the information. Kal-El came down the steps carefully, and for a moment no one else in the world existed. “Lois,” he said again, his voice certain and full of warmth. “By Rao, Lois, what are you doing here?”
That seemed to snap her out of her bemusement, and she scoffed. “I could ask you the same thing! Dammit, Kal-El, when the hell did you get here?!”
Even that sharp tone was beloved, and he crossed the room in an eye-blink, sweeping her into his arms. Lois yipped in surprise, but flung her arms around his neck and squeezed. “I thought I might never see you again,” he murmured.
“Yeah, right. Like I’d let anyone keep me away.” Lois’ voice was half-smothered by the way she pressed her face into his neck. Kal-El drew back, cupped her jaw in his hands, and could not straighten out the amazement-shock-wonder from the rapidly returning memories. So he kissed her, long and thoroughly, enough that Lois had to bend back a little—but she had one hand wrapped in his hair and absolutely no intentions of letting him go ever again.
“Well, apparently you two know each other,” Martha said, flustered.
Lana laughed. “Oh, you have no idea. Wait until she shows him Connor.”