It said something about her life, Lois thought, that arriving home from work to find a doppelganger going through her dresser wasn’t even all that surprising.
As befitted the nerves of steel she’d developed over decades of risking her life in the pursuit of information people didn’t want her to have, Lois didn’t stand there gaping like a damsel in distress. Instead she backed quietly out of the doorway while the doppelganger remained engrossed with digging through her possessions, slipping her hand into her purse to retrieve her phone as she did so.
Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be enough.
The next thing she knew, she was up against the wall, back aching from the incandescent red shock of impact, staring directly into the same pair of eyes she saw every day in the mirror. It was only then, as the echoes started to fade, that Lois realised she couldn’t feel a floor under her shoes. Or breathe.
Why do they always go for the throat? she wondered with an irritation verging on terror.
“Super—” Lois managed in a breathless little squeak before a hand plastered itself over her mouth, muffling the rest of the word in a grip so implacable it reminded her of being held by Metallo. Or Superman, if Superman was a violent maniac.
“Superman, right? I saw your work on him.” Even the doppelganger’s voice sounded the same, though it was a little like the unfamiliarity of hearing yourself on tape, outside your own head. She smiled, that friendly public smile Lois had practiced for years to use during interviews so people would be more inclined to overshare. “I’m going to take my hand away in a moment, but if you try to call for help, I’ll break your pretty neck. Got it? Blink twice for yes.”
Lois blinked twice, as emphatically as she could.
“Good.” The doppelganger removed her hand from Lois’s mouth, and Lois stayed true to her word, concentrating on gasping for breath as quietly as possible in case her doppelganger got the idea that she might be trying to draw attention to her predicament. This was bad. This was very, very bad. Her eyes darted around the room and landed on her purse, strewn across the floor halfway between the back hallway and the main room they were in now like the detritus of a car crash.
The doppelganger saw her looking, and her smile shifted into the one Lois only used when she wanted to remind someone how badly she could ruin them. At least she knew exactly how effective that was now. (Very.) “It’s good to know that the me in this universe is semi-competent, at least.”
There was another stomach-lurching whirlwind of movement and then Lois found herself tied spread-eagled to the bed by four of her silk scarves. She inhaled desperately, coughing like a tuberculosis patient. The doppelganger was standing in front of her dresser again, running her hand through her hair to resettle it from its super-speed tousle. “Not that competent, though,” she continued as if uninterrupted. “I can’t believe you don’t even have any powers.”
“You’d be amazed,” croaked Lois. “What do you want?”
“I want my life back,” the doppelganger replied with sudden viciousness. Then she turned back to the dresser and said in a more normal tone, “Not that that’s any of your concern.”
“You wanna talk about it?” Lois asked.
The doppelganger gave her a look of either pity or scorn. “Not with you.” Apparently finished overturning every piece of furniture in Lois’s room, she picked up a cobalt-blue skirt, matching jacket, and a lighter blue blouse. “I see your Lex Luthor is an absolute bastard. Did Superman ruin his life in this world, too?”
‘My Lex Luthor?’ Lois didn’t say aloud. She also didn’t say ‘what?’ or ‘what the hell are you talking about?’ or, especially, ‘Let me go before Superman finds us and ruins your life, you psychopathic bitch,’ because she was rather attached to having a pulse. “Superman didn’t do anything to Luthor that he didn’t set himself up for,” Lois replied instead. She tried to subtly test the knots restraining her while the doppelganger wasn’t looking and found that they were really tight. It had only been a minute or two and she was already starting to lose feeling in her hands.
If this identical clone was an alternate-universe version of her, she probably knew about the trick handcuffs Lois kept in her purse in case she got caught snooping by anyone dumb or lazy enough to restrain her with whatever was on hand. Damn it.
“So he’s not too street-smart in this world, either?” the doppelganger remarked from the en-suite bathroom. “Shame. I suppose I’ll have to figure things out along the way.” Another gust of wind as she darted out into the hallway and back. There were some miscellaneous sounds for about thirty seconds, and then the doppelganger walked out into the bedroom again, brushing her hand back through her hair so it fell in a shining black curtain behind her shoulders. “How do I look?”
Lois stared in consternation. She hadn’t paid much attention to the doppelganger’s clothing when she arrived — jeans and an oversized graphic T-shirt, the kind of thing she might wear around the apartment on a day off, with plain black flats on her feet; it was early May, so everyone who could get away with it was discarding sweaters and jackets to soak in the spring sunshine. Only now did Lois realise that it was the sort of clothing someone might steal off a random person on the street, if someone was inclined toward mugging people and had superpowers to help pull it off. The doppelganger standing in front of her was currently the spitting image of Lois down to her second-favourite pair of black pumps. She’d even stolen Lois’s lipstick out of her purse to make sure it matched. The only difference that Lois could see was that her bangs were swept in the opposite direction from usual, like she’d forgotten to flip left and right while looking in the mirror. Lois wasn’t going to share that observation with her.
“Great,” Lois said, mouth dry. If she screamed, how likely was it that Superman would make it to her apartment before the doppelganger killed her?
The smirk on the doppelganger’s face was sharp and cruel. Lois hoped she didn’t usually look like that. “Perfect.” Then she looked herself over one more time, lifting one foot to awkwardly examine the three-inch heel she was wearing. “Ugh, women really are chattel in your world, aren’t they? At least I know they’re allowed to talk.”
“What?” Lois asked, indignant. She didn’t know which statement to take issue with first. This was the twenty-first century; Lois liked pumps. They meant that pompous men had to work harder to physically look down on her. (Also, if you stomped on somebody’s instep with them there was a serious chance they’d need to go to the hospital. Lois didn’t buy any shoe without a steel shank supporting it.) It wasn’t like she didn’t have practice running in them, or staying on the balls of her feet so the heels wouldn’t click against the floor.
This time the doppelganger’s expression held clear and genuine pity, albeit the condescending kind that made Lois want to spit in her face. “Never mind. As I said, none of that’s your concern right now.”
This time the period of disorientation was much longer, accompanied by the kind of scouring wind that forced Lois to squeeze her eyes shut and bury her face against her captor’s body. Not as fast as Superman going full speed, Lois was grimly satisfied to note, although that might be because the doppelganger didn’t want her clothes to literally catch fire after the effort she’d taken with her disguise.
When the scenery settled, Lois was in an unfamiliar room, apparently separated from her evil twin by a floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window. She staggered a little at the sudden loss of support before she managed to get her feet under her and look around. It quickly became clear that she was in some kind of scientific observation chamber, with a fully-exposed cot and bathroom setup against either wall and ominous instrumentation she couldn’t identify in both sections of the room. The cot had straps anchored to the frame.
Lois glanced sharply at her doppelganger. “Where are we?”
The doppelganger gave her that horrible smirk again. “Funny thing — a lead-lined, soundproofed basement stands out like a sore thumb to anyone with X-ray vision. I’ll have to mention that to your Lex before we leave.”
Lois realised that her mouth was hanging open and promptly shut it. As the doppelganger turned away, she found her voice and strode up to the window to bang her fist against it. “Hey! Hey! You can’t just—” Lois had been about to finish that sentence with ‘leave me here,’ but her doppelganger obviously could, as a matter of fact. She didn’t even know if anyone would be aware that she was here and bring food before she starved to death. She had no idea how big this basement complex might be. Lois’s fist was starting to hurt, so she switched to kicking the glass instead. “Hey! You! Why are you doing this? Why keep me here?” As opposed to just killing her and taking over her life completely, she meant — it was obvious why she was somewhere Superman wouldn’t be able to detect her, but Lois didn’t want to give the doppelganger any suggestions.
The doppelganger stopped, looked back at her, and walked right up to the other side of the plate glass. “Because you disgust me,” she responded in that low seething tone again, her gaze boring brightly into Lois’s own. The doppelganger’s eyes reflected the sterile overhead lights like Superman’s did sometimes, flashing an impossibly pure gleaming sky-blue. “I’m nothing like you, and I’ve had a really bad year. So before I leave this pathetic world to rot in its own pointless vapidity, I’m going to take everything I hate and tear it apart. And I want to make sure I get to see your face when I’m done.”
Lois found herself taking an involuntary step back. The doppelganger spun on her heel and headed for what looked like an airlock door at the other end of the room, still moving a little awkwardly in the pumps. After a second or two to regain her composure, Lois shouted after her, “You have to sway your hips more!”
Hopefully she’d take the advice. Lois typically walked with a longer, straight-legged stride, both because it got her where she wanted faster and because anything that discombobulated people still mired in archaic expectations brought her a simple, profound joy; anyone who knew her would notice right away that something was up.
Lois definitely didn’t mess with her hair as much as Fake Lois did. She was almost completely certain about that.
Once the doppelganger was out of sight, Lois took the opportunity to let out a scream of pure frustration. It sounded thin and small within the soundproofed walls.
Last year. It had taken Lois a moment to place it, but that was around the time Clark and the rest of the Justice League disappeared completely off the radar for a few days with no warning but the usual brand of scrupulously-vague voicemail, only to return with this wild story about another Earth where they’d had to stop some worldwide crime syndicate from destroying all existence, per typical Justice League protocol. Clark had never lied to her unless there were lives at stake ever since she’d learned who he was behind the glasses; after it all went down, he spent a while telling her about a heroic Lex Luthor from the other world. Clark had been…depressed about that. About what Luthor could have been in their own world, if he tried.
Lois hadn’t really thought about the possibility of a superpowered, villainous version of herself somehow finding a way to follow them back home.
(The fact that the Justice League dealt with this sort of thing often enough that it took Lois effort to remember which massive existential threat they thwarted at what point said so much about her life now.)
She groaned and slid down one of the transparent walls to the floor, thumping the back of her head against the glass a few times. Great. Now what?