Chapter 1: Lost: One alien - blue eyes, blonde hair, answers to the name Kara.
It had been a long day for Lois Lane. A very long day.
And a very boring one.
She hadn't had a decent scoop since forever.
Well all right, since last week, but even so. No news may be good news for some, but not for her. Her whole life revolved around finding the next story, the next angle, the next moment. For a journalist to have nothing to write about, it was virtually comparable to a fish without water, or a storm without thunder. A bike without wheels. It just didn't work. It was uncomfortable. In fact, it was downright irritating.
Sitting on the porch swing of the Kent farm, a bottle of soda in hand and gazing at the sunset, she was just debating whether a piece on the various shades of pastel that the sky could turn would be a front page headline – or more to the point, could she MAKE it a front page headline? - when in the distance, a car came down the lane, stopped outside the farm entrance, then after a few seconds of hesitation – the driver clearly checking that this was the right place – the car swung in and began the long trip down the gravel track.
"Well, what have we here?" Lois muttered to herself before taking another swig from the bottle and setting it down, watching the car with keen eyes. It wasn't one she recognized. And anyone she did know, knew that she and Clark had taken a week off to return to the farm for a break from the busy city, so they wouldn't have bothered coming all the way out here to pester them. Not unless it was really important, anyway. But then a phone call first to warn them would have been appreciated.
The windows were completely blacked out of the SUV, and something about the whole thing screamed 'military' at her.
"Smallville, visitors," she spoke calmly, not bothering to raise her voice because she knew that Clark would have heard her anyway. He'd probably heard the car coming long before she'd even known it was there, after all.
"I know," he spoke suddenly into her ear as he appeared on the porch swing beside her - the only indication that he'd just arrived (other than his sudden appearance) being Lois' hair plastered across her face from the gust of wind he'd caused upon his rapid entrance.
Scraping the hair away from her face, she glared at him. "Was the 'whoosh' really necessary?"
"I was in the barn," he shrugged, by way of an explanation. "Some of the machinery's gone a little rusty."
He rubbed at one ear and Lois watched him for a moment, then sighed. "Your ear again?"
"The ringing came back about five minutes ago," he nodded. "It'll stop in a minute. It doesn't last very long each time."
"I told you not to get a building dumped on your head," Lois shrugged as she turned her attention back to the car. "So it's your own fault."
Clark frowned, about to protest that an entire city had been crumbling because of an earthquake, but sensing that she was perhaps not in her best mood today, he decided not to.
He knew why she was being like this, though. She had itchy fingers. She was desperate to get back to Metropolis and write. She was desperate to get out and investigate, and recently there hadn't actually been anything truly groundbreaking to write about, which was why she and Clark had decided now would be the best time for their 'vacation' whilst things were calm and Superman wouldn't be missed.
Besides, all the trivial stories had been covered already by the rookie journalists in the bullpen, and Lois Lane was above and beyond these stories now that she was Superman's official reporter. The fact that she and Clark also had their own office up on a higher floor also showed their status and the fact that they were on their way to the top, after years of hard work and dedication.
It was now her job to report on all the Man of Steel's activities, but considering the Man of Steel was also her fiancé, she knew there would be no stories from him in the immediate future.
Clark was enjoying the break, but Lois wasn't. She couldn't wait for him to don his 'iconic' outfit and do some 'hero' stuff again, just to give her something to write about.
"Am I really the only one who's finding it hard to believe that there's NOTHING going on right at this moment that requires Superman's attention?" She sighed, picking up her soda bottle again as finally the black SUV – still screaming military at her (Probably the General, come to check up on her again. He had a habit of dropping in at the most inconvenient times. Or maybe it was her kid sister and pain in the ass, Lucy?) – pulled up alongside the white picket fence that marked out the farm house's small grass lawn and flower garden.
"I'm sure Kara's got it covered, if there is anything going on," Clark replied. "You know she promised to keep an eye on Metropolis for us as well as National City. Besides, I'm surprised you're not more intrigued by our guest," Clark smirked as Lois took another swig from the bottle.
"It's just the General, probably," she shrugged.
"I don't think it is," Clark shook his head as the door opened and a pair of boots emerged from the car, stepping out onto the gravel. Who the boots belonged to, still remained to be seen as the owner of said feet was hidden behind the car door still.
"What makes you say that?" Lois frowned, still convinced it was her father.
"Because those boots belong to a woman," Clark replied.
"How do you -?" Lois started, staring at him for a few seconds before realising what he'd done and slapping him on the shoulder. "Oh, you cheat! Using X-ray vision does not count!"
Clark bit back his retort as the car door finally slammed shut and his theory was confirmed.
Their visitor was indeed a woman. About five six in height, she was slim but by no means thin. There was a good deal of muscle beneath the surface, giving her a more athletic look, rather than a supermodel one. Pale skin and short red hair that was cut into a messy bob, along with dark, inquisitive eyes that were currently surveying the surroundings with curious interest.
She wasn't wearing a uniform of any kind – just black cargo pants and a black polo shirt, but something about her did indeed scream 'military' to Clark. Lois was right about that theory, it would seem. Though he of course had the added advantage of knowing this woman. Lois – to his knowledge at least – didn't. Though she'd heard about her from her much more famous sister.
As she glanced towards the house and spotted the two occupants on the swing, the woman turned sharply on her heel and headed for them at a brisk walk, head carried high and proud, a very distinct posture with no slouching or sloppiness, that clearly displayed she meant business. She didn't march, as such, but Clark had no doubt in his mind that she could, if she desired, and it would be a very imposing thing indeed. Very regimental.
"Do you guys realise how damned impossible you both are to get hold of?!" She asked as they both stood from the swing, Lois setting her bottle down to one side once more.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lois retorted without thinking, earning a glare from Clark.
The woman stopped before them, glanced from one to the other and then looked back to Clark, deciding she'd get a better answer from him.
"Agent Danvers," he greeted her, walking down the steps and extending a hand. "What a pleasant surprise! What brings you here?"
"Wait, Danvers?" Lois frowned, also coming down the steps. "Any relation of Kara Danvers?"
"She's my sister," Agent Danvers replied with a tight smile. Then she glanced to Clark before amending. "Well, 'adoptive' sister, if you catch my meaning?"
"Lois, this is Alex. Alex this is Lois, my fiancée," Clark introduced them both to one another as they shook hands. Then he looked to Alex. "Is there something we can do for you, Alex? Why don't you come inside?"
"Actually," Alex was looking all around as if expecting to see someone. "I was hoping Kara might be here? I tried calling you both, but seeing as you decided to go 'off the grid' and turn your cells off, I ended up having to drive all the way out here instead."
"Here?" Lois frowned, even as Clark asked "Why would she be here?"
"Well, she hasn't checked in for at least eight hours now, and we're kind of starting to get worried," Alex admitted after a brief hesitation. Whilst Clark was Superman, Lois was still a civilian. And a reporter at that. A damned good one, if the Pulitzers and various other accolades were anything to go by. Still, she was worried about her sister and if that meant that a civilian got involved, then so be it. She'd accept the consequences – and the reprimand from J'onn later.
"She's probably just in Metropolis," Lois shrugged, not truly understanding the implications of Alex's words. "Clark asked her to keep an eye on both cities whilst we were gone, which shouldn't be too hard because... well, basically nothing has happened in Metropolis for the past two weeks now. It's been disappointingly boring, from a journalistic point of view."
"It's the same in National City," Alex agreed. "Something's not right."
"Kara doesn't just miss her check ins," Clark agreed. "It's not like her."
"We've checked with our Metropolis Field Agents," Alex sighed, deciding that Lois had just as much right to know as Clark. She did know his secret, after all. And Kara's. She wasn't just any random civilian. "Kara hasn't checked in with them either. No-one's seen her. It's like she's just vanished."
"Have you tried the Fortress of Solitude?" Clark asked, folding his arms across his broad chest, his brows furrowing deeper and deeper with concern.
Alex shook her head. "J'onn J'onzz is on his way there now, but since Cyborg Superman broke in and your new security measures have been put in place, he wasn't sure if he would even be able to get in."
"Ah," Clark looked suitably chagrined at that, even blushing a little as Lois turned to him. Alex wasn't sure why he was looking so embarrassed at first, until Lois spoke, one eyebrow rising.
"Someone broke into the Fortress? Clark, honey, are you still leaving your key under the doormat? I warned you that would only invite trouble."
"I know, I know," he sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I... found a new place for it now, though."
"And now J'onn won't be able to get in to see if Kara's there or not," Alex sighed.
"Look on the bright side?" Lois suggested. "If this J'onn can't get in, then it must mean the door's locked, right? Does Kara have a habit of locking herself in when she's there?"
"To be honest, I have no idea," Alex groaned, rubbing a hand across the back of her neck in agitation, though to be fair, Lois had made a valid point that she'd not even considered. Perhaps having a journalist's perspective on everything may not be such a bad thing?
"All I know is she's not checked in, and it's not like her. I can't even reach her on her cell, she's not been to work – for either job – she's not in her apartment, she's not in Metropolis... something's not right."
Clark considered for a moment, and then he nodded. "I'll do a flyby of Metropolis then head to the Fortress, help J'onn. With any luck, she's just in there doing a bit of research on something." Then he turned back to Lois. "I'm sorry, Lo, but it looks like the vacation's over."
Rather than look upset, disappointed or even angry at this however, Lois beamed in delight. "Thank God! No offense, Clark, as lovely and relaxing as this place is, I was going stir crazy! Now my reporter's nose is itching, and I just need to scratch it!"
"I'm sorry?" Alex frowned, afraid she may have misheard.
"I'm coming with you," Lois nodded brightly.
Alex scoffed and shook her head. "I don't think so, Miss Lane."
"Well I do, Agent Danvers. We come as a pair, he and I. You don't get one without the other. So you want OUR help? I'm coming with you." She placed a hand over Clark's chest, roughly over where the large 's' symbol would be on his suit, just to make her point.
Alex turned to Clark, her mouth working furiously, but no words coming out. After a moment, they came tumbling out in a frantic, annoyed frenzy.
"Clark, she cannot come with me! You know she'll never get within a hundred feet of the... of where I work if J'onn has anything to say in the matter. Which he does, seeing that he's the Director and all."
"Clark, honey?" Lois smiled sweetly up at him. "I'm going. I'll see you in a few days, alright?"
"Alex," Clark sighed with a humorless smile. "Look how big I am. Do you know what that means?"
"That you can bench press a cruise liner?"
"That I don't fit on the couch. Take her with you. Believe me when I say that it's the lesser of two evils."
Alex raised an eyebrow at them both, unable to believe what she was hearing. She needed Superman. She didn't need the annoyance that was Lois Lane. But apparently she wouldn't get one without the other. The phrase "take it or leave it" sprung to mind and she knew she had no choice.
So, knowing that she would more than likely regret these next words, but feeling duty bound to say them anyway, she nodded. "I'll be in the car. Don't be too long, Miss Lane, or I WILL leave without you."
"Ouch," Lois grumbled as Alex stalked away, back to the SUV. "Who pissed on her pancakes this morning?"
"Lois," Clark attempted to sound stern, though he was fighting back a smirk. "Please play nice whilst I'm gone? Her sister's gone AWOL. Think how you'd feel if I just disappeared without a trace."
"I can't even imagine it, Clark," Lois replied, serious and somber as his words hit home. "Promise you won't leave me?"
"Only for a short while," he smiled properly this time, kissing her lightly on the lips. "I'll be back before you know it."
Not satisfied with just this little peck from her future husband, Lois wrapped her arms about his neck and pulled him in for a proper kiss, full of passion and love and all the things they felt about one another. His hands wrapped about her, to hold her close, and Lois was pretty sure she could have stayed there for all eternity, lips locked with the man she loved, his strong arms protectively wrapped about her...
The illusion was shattered by a loud blast on a car horn. There was a moment's silence wherein the two of them jumped apart, startled, and then Alex pressed her hand on the horn again and held it there this time.
"Alright, alright!" Lois snapped, shooting an angry glare in Alex's direction as she threw one hand in the air. "Sheesh!"
"Remember, play nice. I'll see you soon," Clark grinned, ripping open his shirt to reveal the famous scarlet 'S' emblazoned against royal blue and gold. The blink of an eye later, his 'farm boy' clothes were fluttering to the floor as he streaked into the sky, nothing but a red and blue blur.
"Man, I love it when he does that," Lois grinned to herself as she once again brushed the hair back from her face before bending and scooping up his clothes, hurrying them back inside the farmhouse.
The trip back to National City was incredibly quiet. And incredibly tense.
And incredibly long.
Mainly because they had to drive the whole way. When Alex had told her that they would be flying back to National City, Lois had had to admit that she was on the 'no fly' list. Alex, not believing her, had had Winn check to see, and was furious when the he'd confirmed it to be the case.
"How the hell did you even get yourself on the 'no fly' list?!" She'd snapped, diverting the car away from the airport and seeing no other alternative, setting them on the highway out of town instead.
"Long story," Lois shrugged. "I mean, we've got the time, but I'm not sure you're in the mood to hear it."
"You're right, I'm not."
"Are you mad?"
"No, I'm not mad. I'm fucking furious!"
"Yeah... I sensed that," Lois nodded, biting her lip for a moment. "Want me to drive for a—"
"Okay. Well if you get tired, let me know and I can—"
Every time Lois had tried to engage in some sort of conversation with Alex after that, to pass the time, she'd been met with short, snappy, one or two word answers. Occasionally, three if she was lucky.
They drove through the night and on into the morning, and were still nowhere close to National City. Lois had slept, fidgeted, had one sided conversations, messaged Clark, checked her phone a dozen times for a reply, checked the news on her phone, checked the weather, rechecked the news, checked again another dozen times for a message from Clark, hunted all around the dashboard for a place to plug in her phone after she'd drained the battery, slept some more and was now sitting twiddling her thumbs – quite literally – as she waited for her phone to recharge so she could check it again.
"Aren't you tired?" She asked her stoically silent companion at last. "I could take over for a bit if you wanted to catch some shut eye? I promise I won't hit anything... well... I promise I won't 'try' to hit anything."
Alex just glared across at her, hands gripping firmly to the steering wheel. "You talk a lot."
This surprised Lois. It was the most she'd been able to get out of the other woman for hours. "Well, I'm just not comfortable with uncomfortable silences, and you're not exactly keeping up with your end of the conversation."
Alex glanced at her again, then sighed and her grip visibly relaxed on the steering wheel. "Sorry. I'm just worried."
"About your sister?" Lois asked, turning in her seat slightly, sensing that finally she might be about to engage in some conversation that wasn't entirely one sided.
"This isn't like Kara," Alex nodded through gritted teeth, doing her best to keep her emotions in check and failing miserably. "She doesn't do this. She's... she's the carefree, happy go lucky, 'sun is always shining, today is a good day' kind of person. Even when it's pissing cats and dogs, she'll always see the bright side of everything. She doesn't just drop off the radar. She doesn't just skip work for no reason – either her civilian job, or her superhero one. One of her best friends owns CatCo where she works, another works alongside her there... more of her friends and family work at her other job... what reason could she have for skipping out on the job and the people she loves? It just... it doesn't make sense!"
A fist pounded angrily off the steering wheel, making Lois jump. She bit her lip for a moment, trying to judge the other woman and her obviously foul mood, and then she did what Lois Lane does best. Charged right on in, no holds barred, no holding back. No cares for her own safety.
"Who does she work for?"
Alex gave her a sideways glance that clearly suggested she couldn't believe she'd just been asked that.
"CatCo. I just said—"
"No, no, no not her civilian job. Her 'other' job. The cape and tights getup gig."
"Oh. That's classified."
"Huh," Lois considered for a moment. Though she was in 'reporter' mode now, not to be perturbed or put off by anything. Lois Lane didn't take 'no' for an answer. "Alright then, who do YOU work for?"
"Huh," Lois nodded again. Then she frowned. "Wait, is that actually the name of the company? Classified? Damn, that's a good name. Great for avoiding any unwanted questions. 'Where do you work?', 'Classified'. Bet it comes in handy a lot."
"I..." Alex hesitated, confused. "I can't work out if you're joking or actually being serious, right now."
"So Classified isn't the name of the company you work for?" Lois pouted. "Why not? It's a good name."
"I'll put in a suggestion with the boss when I get back," Alex replied, and the corner of her mouth quirked up a bit. It would have been optimistic to call it a smile, but it was a start. Lois didn't miss it, but she decided not to point it out for now in case Alex slammed her defenses back up and shut the other woman out again. That would have been a shame, given the progress they were currently making, after all.
"Okay so... you and Kara work at a place that isn't called Classified, for some reason. What can you tell me about—"
"Will you let me finish! What can you tell me about the place that isn't the place that isn't called Classified."
"... What?" Alex frowned, totally confused.
"Oh come on, I work for their rival. Speaking the name of that place is like speaking the name of He Who Must Not Be Named."
"I never had you pegged as a Harry Potter nerd."
"Likewise," Lois smirked, and Alex realised the trap she'd just fallen into. She didn't bother to complain because as much as she hated to admit it, talking to Lois was providing a good distraction from the monotony of driving and the worries about Kara.
"Alright, fair point. Well CatCo—"
"Ah!" Lois held up one finger, fixing Alex with a stern glare of warning.
Alex stopped the car sharply with a screech of tires and glared at her in return, matching Lois' intensity and then dialling it up several notches, and Lois grew uncomfortable under the other woman's scrutinizing gaze. It was almost as if Alex was trying to peel back every layer of the protective shield Lois had spent years building up around herself using snark, wit, sarcasm and sass.
It made Lois feel suddenly vulnerable and exposed. There was only one person she would ever tolerate feeling this vulnerable and exposed around, and it certainly wasn't Alex Danvers.
"Eyes front soldier!" She snapped at last, pointing to her eyes, then to the road in front of them. Alex blinked, but surprisingly did as she was told – a good soldier following orders as she looked forwards once more and pulled away, thankful that the road they were on was pretty deserted. She'd stepped on the brakes without thought for other road users and was only now realising her stupidity at such an action. Her worries about Kara were seriously clouding her judgement.
Lois also blinked in surprise, amazed it had even worked. Perhaps being an army brat had it's advantages after all.
They traveled for another hour in silence, before finally Lois grew bored and began to fidget again. Her phone still wasn't charged – how long did it need?! - and she was getting restless.
"Are we nearly there yet?"
"You sound like a child."
"You sound like a child," Lois mimicked petulantly.
Alex had two choices open to her at that very moment. Three if she wanted to get violent. But seeing as Clark wouldn't take too kindly to her if he found out she'd punched his fiancée in the face, and she'd never hear the end of it if she pulled over and made Lois get out now and walk the rest of the way, she really didn't have any choice but to go with the third option.
"You wanted to know about the Media Company whose name I'm apparently not supposed to mention?"
"You can say the name," Lois grumbled sulkily. "I was just trying to have a joke, but apparently they're beyond you. Or beneath you, most likely."
Alex bit her tongue and silently vowed never to volunteer for any assignments that involved Lois Lane ever again. She counted to three, to calm herself down, then forced herself to speak calmly once more.
"Okay, you wanted to know about CatCo Worldwide Media? Why?"
"Just curious," Lois sighed as she sat up in the seat, realising that Alex was trying to offer a proverbial olive branch of sorts and knowing that their squabble had been petty. Plus she didn't like sitting in silence, so any excuse for a conversation was good enough for her. "Besides, I know the score. I'm a civilian. Which means I also know that when we get to National City, you're going to be off doing your Confidential Secret Agent stuff, and I'd rather not be sitting on the sidelines doing nothing. I'd have stayed at the farm if I'd wanted to do that. So I thought maybe I could check out Kara's day job. Her civilian life. See if I can find any clues there."
"And you're just going to walk into a rival media company and do what exactly?"
"What I do best," Lois smiled brightly, her sulk forgotten now. "Be a journalist."
"Lois, look," Alex sighed as she turned the car off the road they were on and finally the city came into view, at last. "I let you come to National City with me, but that doesn't mean I had to like it. I know it's a lot to ask, but please, can you try to stay out of trouble until I can work out what the hell to do with you?"
"What the hell to do with me? What the hell does that mean? Am I under house arrest?"
"You're overreacting. I think it would be best for everyone if we held you someplace safe and had someone watch you to—"
"Someone watch me?" Lois repeated, raising one eyebrow. "You're making me out to be some kind of prisoner. Or worse... a child! That's it, that's exactly what I feel like right now! A naughty child who is being punished by her uptight, 'doesn't know how to have fun' mother. All because I asked if I could go out to play."
"You're a journalist, and journalists are trouble," Alex was trying to keep calm and not snap again, but Lois sure knew how to press all the wrong buttons. "Especially you. I've heard the stories. The lengths you'll go to, to get the next scoop."
Rather than be annoyed by this particular comment though, Lois beamed with pride. "My reputation precedes me, it would seem."
"Exactly. Which is why I've been told to take no chances."
"By your top secret Government agency? Please tell me it at least has an acronym I can call it by?"
"Right," Lois scoffed. "As if I'm going to believe you work for the Feds."
"You don't have to, but it's the cover I use everywhere else, so I'd appreciate if you could go along with it and not screw up my day any more than it already is."
"Wait... if I've got to keep your cover intact, that means I'm actually going to speak to people! Have I been let out on early parole for good behavior?"
Alex knew Lois was just winding her up on purpose now, so didn't even deign to reply. Instead she pulled the SUV into the parking lot of an apartment complex, killed the engine and sighed. "Come with me."
Chapter 2: L is for Trouble
Alex’s apartment was small, modest yet tastefully decorated, Lois discovered as she stepped through the door that Alex held open for her. If this was going to be her home for the next few days, she could live with that.
Alex noticed Lois’ eyes appraising everything around her and taking it all in. “Everything all right?”
“I’ve been in worse prisons,” Lois shrugged, moving further into the apartment and taking a seat on the sofa.
“Most people would say that as a joke, but I get the feeling you’re not joking,” Alex replied as she closed and locked the door. Lois wanted to make a comment that locking the door wasn’t going to stop her from getting out again, when she saw that Alex now had her cell phone to her ear and was pacing back and forth as she waited for the person on the other end to answer.
“J’onn, it’s me. Any luck?” She asked as soon as the line was picked up – no hesitations, no hellos. Lois turned to face the other woman, waiting expectantly and listening intently.
“No, she wasn’t at the Kent farm either. Superman went to the Fortress to find you and Lois came with me, back to National City. We drove through the night to get here and… what? No I know she’s a civilian… I know… J’onn, I couldn’t stop her...” Alex cast a furious glare at Lois over her shoulder, but Lois didn’t shy away. She wasn’t ashamed of what she’d done. If anything she was impatient to find out what was being said to Alex right at that very moment. Which judging by Alex’s frown, was nothing good.
“No, he left us and said he was going to do a flyby over Metropolis, then come straight to you at the Fortress. That was yesterday. You mean he never showed up?”
Lois sat bolt upright. “Alex—”
Alex raised a hand to Lois, forestalling the verbal assault that was sure to be forthcoming.
“J’onn, Lois is with me now and—”
“Give me that!” Lois was on her feet and snatching the phone from Alex’s hands before the young agent knew what was happening. “Listen to me, J’onn… yes it’s me Lois! No, I’m not giving the phone back to Alex, listen to me damn it! Where is Clark? Is he with you now? Did you see him?… No no no, don’t you tell me to calm down, J’onn J’onzz. You tell me where Clark is or I’ll—”
Alex snatched the phone back from Lois again, the two ending up in a momentary wrestling match over it. They grunted and cursed one another, their argument turning louder and angrier with each passing moment. It may even have turned into an all out brawl if J’onn hadn’t suddenly appeared in the apartment, having used his powers to simply walk right through the locked door.
“Alright, you two, that’s enough!” He barked, stepping between them and glaring first at Alex, then at Lois. “You’re both lucky I was nearby. We’re two Supers down, and the last thing I need is any of my agents getting involved in altercations with civilians! Miss Lane, I understand you’re worried about Superman. Agent Danvers, I understand the same about you and Supergirl, but fighting amongst ourselves is not going to solve anything!”
Alex and Lois glared at one another for a moment longer, then Lois finally let go of the phone in Alex’s hand. “He’s right. I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” Alex nodded, tucking her phone away and pushing her hair back out of her eyes, looking exhausted all of a sudden as her drive through the night seemed to be catching up to her.
“So, what’s the situation?” Lois turned to J’onn, who raised an eyebrow at her. She scowled right back. “Don’t give me that look. Clark Kent is my fiancé. That makes me more than just an ordinary civilian. I have a right to know what’s going on!”
“I agree,” J’onn nodded, cutting off any further protests by Lois, who blinked in surprise.
“Oh. You do?”
“Absolutely. If anything happened to M’gann, I’d be beside myself with worry too. In fact, I am right now. Kara is like a daughter to me, and I hate not knowing what’s happened to her just as much as the rest of you do. But we can’t just go blundering in, looking for trouble when we don’t know what it is we’re dealing with.”
He motioned to the sofa, and reluctantly Lois sat back down on it. J’onn looked to Alex. “I know you’re tired and worried, but I need you back at HQ. Can you call someone to come and sit with Miss Lane for a while? Mr Olsen, perhaps?”
“On it,” Alex nodded quietly, taking her phone back out and walking into her bedroom so that she wouldn’t be overheard.
“J’onn, I don’t need a babysitter,” Lois protested as he sat down on the sofa with her. “I need to be out there, looking for my fiance and his cousin.”
“No you don’t, Lois. My people are already on the case. Whatever has happened to the Supers, we’ll find them. But we can’t do that if we have to constantly watch out for you at every step of the way. So please, stay here and try to get some rest. I promise, you will be the first to know as soon as we know anything.”
“You promise?” Lois asked, fixing him with a steady gaze.
“Absolutely,” he took her hand as he said it, and gave it a comforting squeeze. “I promise that we’ll find Clark and Kara, and we’ll bring them home. We just need you to stay here and not get in the way. Can you do that?”
With a deep, resigned sigh of defeat, Lois nodded. “All right fine. Just make sure it’s a decent babysitter, yeah?”
“I was thinking more of a friend than a babysitter,” J’onn chuckled. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple of twenty dollar bills, setting them on the coffee table. “I know it’s still the morning, but a little later on, why don’t I ask Mr Olsen to bring a couple of coffees and some sweet pastries up with him. Then you two can maybe watch a few movies or some daytime tv? I’m sure you’ve both got plenty to catch up on?”
“You know, in all my thirty four years on this planet, I don’t think my father has ever done anything like this for me,” Lois grinned as she nodded to the money. “You’re more of a father to me already, and you’re not even from this planet.”
“Better keep that to yourself,” J’onn smiled patiently – a fatherly smile of pride. He had experience at playing the role model and father figure to Kara and Alex, after all.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ve kept Clark’s secret all these years. I’m sure keeping yours will be a piece of cake,” Lois grinned as she reached over and took the tv remote, switching it on and beginning a search of the channels to see what was on.
J’onn, seemingly satisfied with Lois’ compliance, stood up and walked over to Alex. “I have to get back. Come find me as soon as Mr Olsen turns up.” He glanced over to Lois, who’d found an rerun of Sex and the City to watch. “I don’t think she’ll give you any more problems.”
“Let’s hope so,” Alex nodded. “I’m exhausted, and she’s REALLY hard work! Like more work than hyper Kara. And that’s saying something.”
J’onn chuckled and patted her shoulder fondly, before he let himself out, using the door this time.
Little did either of them know, Lois actually hated Sex and the City and had absolutely no intentions of ‘playing ball’ or staying where she was. She was putting on a front, for now. The defeated young woman who knew when to do as she was told.
All she had to do was wait for the opportune moment.
James arrived not long after J’onn had left, and Lois was both surprised by his appearance and delighted to see him. They spent the best part of the next two hours catching up on everything – including but not limited to James’ relationship with her sister Lucy, their subsequent break up, his work at the Daily Planet alongside her and Clark, and his work here and now in National City.
Alex had slipped out at some point, though neither of them could have honestly said when that was, and James had indeed done as J’onn had requested, supplying the coffee and a movie.
Towards the end of the movie, however, the novelty of seeing an old friend like James had worn off, and Lois’ fears had returned once more. She’d grown fidgety and restless, as she often did when something was on her mind, and in the end James reached for the remote and switched it off.
“Hey, I was watching that,” Lois protested half-heartedly, as she stared at the screen of her phone again for the billionth time.
“He still hasn’t made contact yet?” James asked, his smile unable to offer anything but weak comfort as he gestured at the tiny screen in her hand.
“It’s not like him to go silent like this. I dunno, maybe it’s the signal? It’s pretty crappy here?” She started to hold up her phone above her head, waving it about. Then she stood up and began to pace, shaking her head and muttering.
“Hey, Lois,” James stood, drawing Lois’ attention back to him. His smile was gentle, and his eyes were sympathetic. “I get it. You’re worried sick. But we don’t know that Clark’s gone missing yet,” he assured her as he started to clear away the empty coffee cups and the package of cookies that Lois had found stashed in one of Alex’s cupboards.
“J’onn said that he never showed up at the Fortress.”
“Which means nothing. You know Clark, he probably got sidetracked helping to rescue a kitten out of a tree, or he’s putting out a forest fire or something.” He looked up from his domestic chore, smiling again.
Even though James was being deliberately sarcastic, it made Lois grin involuntarily anyway because as much as she was worried about her future husband, James was right. Clark often hopped across the pond to France before breakfast to help his friend Diana take care of business. He’d stopped off in China on his way home a few weeks ago to help the local police deal with a drugs bust that had gone wrong, and just last week in fact, before their vacation, he’d gone to Canada on his lunch break to help repair a burst dam.
“He’ll probably call me later,” she nodded, not at all convinced, but knowing that for the moment she was helpless.
“Why don’t you go and get some rest,” James suggested, putting the rubbish down for a moment and walking over to her, to offer her a friendly hug. “J’onn said you and Alex drove through the night to get here. You must be exhausted? Go get some sleep and I’ll let you know as soon as anything happens.”
“Yeah, maybe I’ll do that,” Lois nodded, feigning a yawn. “Thanks Jimmy.”
“No problem, Lo,” he smiled patiently, watching her take herself off in the direction of Alex’s bedroom. As soon as she’d left, the smile disappeared from his face and a thoughtful look took its place.
Anyone who’d work with Lois, like James had, would know she wasn’t this easily defeated. Lois was brave, smart, funny, witty, sarcastic to the extreme at times, and she didn’t take no for an answer. One of her ‘rules’ of reporting was to do whatever it takes to get the story. James had seen the lengths she’d gone to before. Lois Lane was not this easily defeated especially when it came to Clark Kent. She was more than motivated, she was also more than capable, which dictated his next action.
Moving to sit on the arm of the sofa closest to the bedroom door, he pulled out his cell phone and dialled a number. He held the phone to his ear but glanced in the mirror on the opposite wall, his back to Lois but part of his attention still trained on her.
“Winn, hey it’s me. I was just wondering if you had any updates on the Supers?”
For a moment, there was no movement from the bedroom, but James carried on anyway, his voice deliberately louder than it needed to be as he put the phone on loudspeaker. “Because you know it’s been over a day now and still nothing.”
“Dude, why are you shouting?” Winn’s tired voice grumbled into the room. Clearly Lois and Alex weren’t the only ones who’d been up all night.
“Sorry, I’m on loudspeaker and wasn’t sure if you could hear me.”
“Uh, hearing you. Very loud and very clear,” Winn grumbled again.
“So, anything? Because I’m with Lois now, and she’s beside herself with worry. And she’s got every right to be.”
“You’re phoning me in front of a civilian?!”
“No, no no no.” Motion in the mirror caused James’ gaze to flash that way and then away again, rather purposefully not making eye contact with Lois’ reflection. Standing up and pacing, he never went far, always staying within hearing distance of the bedroom. He cleared his throat. “She’s asleep in the other room. Listen, Winn, has anyone tried to contact Lena Luthor yet?”
“Why would they?”
“Well, because she and Kara are best friends, both as Kara Danvers and as Supergirl. They’re very close. Plus she’s, you know, a multi-billionaire and a genius. If anyone’s got the money and the resources to help you guys out, it’s her.”
From Winn’s end of the phone, there was a loud sigh. “I know. And I’ve already tried to bring up the subject like a hundred times in front of Alex, but she’s having none of it. Anyone would think I’d asked her to cut her ring finger off, or something. She just keeps snapping that Lena’s an even bigger security risk than Lois. Which, going by Lois’ record, is saying a hell of a lot.”
James began to chuckle, turning the noise into a throat clearing. “Why, because she’s a Luthor?”
Rubbing the back of his neck, James nodded. “I get that. Well, I got that. I remember Lex from back in Metropolis when I worked at the Planet, and I’ll be the first to admit that I kind of judged her on her brother’s actions. But I was wrong. Kara told me that, and Lena has proven herself again and again. I can see that now. Kara trusts her, and Clark’s investigated her. He was happy with what he found. The word of two Supers has to be more than enough, right? You see it, don’t you, man?”
“Hey, I don’t make the rules. I just do as I’m told. I’m just the ‘tech nerd’. ‘Hack this, Winn’. ‘Look up that, Winn’. Do people realise I can do stuff other than be a nerd?”
James sighed, giving a quick glance to the mirror which revealed Lois still eavesdropping, none too subtly now, either.
“Oh, come on, man. You’re sure Alex can’t even spend a few moments to at least talk to Lena? She’s got a couple of meetings this morning at Catco, one at nine-thirty with some important visitor from the UK, and the other at eleven. I’m sure the eleven o’clock one could be postponed if you asked Lena’s assistant Eve?”
In the bedroom, Lois had her reporter's notebook out and was scribbling notes frantically as she crouched in the doorway. She made note of the times of the meetings and Eve’s name, all information that might provide useful.
“I’ve tried, dude. Really I have. But Alex and even J’onn seem dead set about getting Lena involved. And they absolutely don’t want Lois to get involved either. So if I were you, I’d do whatever you have to do to keep Lois out of the way and let them get on with it.”
“Maybe,” James sighed. “Well, alright. Thanks anyway, Winn. Catch up with you again soon.”
From behind James came the telltale creak of the bedroom door closing again, and he grinned as he hung up. With any luck, Lois would be able to work with that little bit of information he’d managed to wave under her nose. She was the kind of person to go and do something amazing now, just to prove to everyone that she could.
He sat back down on the sofa and flicked the tv on again, turning up the volume loud enough that it nearly drowned out any sounds from behind him. When the bedroom door opened again, followed by the soft shuffling of feet in the direction of the front door, it was something that couldn’t be heard unless you were listening for it. There was a gentle click and a small motion along the frame of the apartment as Lois slipped out, closing the door behind her.
Jimmy turned down the volume before beginning to flick through the channels. “Go get ‘em, Lo.”
Lois stopped off at a newsstand on the way to her current destination and purchased the latest copy of CatCo magazine. Inside the cover, it had the company contact details. She could have looked them up on her phone, but if the top secret government agency she still didn’t know the name of, was keeping tabs on her, they’d probably have hacked her phone and would know she was up to something. So she was doing some old fashioned investigating instead.
After a bit of a hunt, she finally found a payphone that was still in some form of working order and, digging a few quarters from her purse, she dialled the CatCo number.
“Hello, this is CatCo, how may I help you?”
“Hi,” Lois put on her brightest and politest voice, even throwing in a smile because she knew that just because someone couldn’t see you, they could still tell if you were smiling or not. “Could I speak to Eve, if possible?”
“One moment, please.”
Some incredibly lame and annoyingly upbeat ‘on hold’ tones began to play down the line as she waited for her call to be connected, but thankfully, she only needed to listen to them for a moment before the line was answered again, this time by a different voice.
“Lena Luthor’s office, Eve Teschmacher speaking, how can I help?”
“Hi, I’m sorry to bother you,” Lois flicked through her reporter’s notebook quickly as she spoke, leafing through until she found her page of scribbles, reminding herself of the times of the meetings James had mentioned. It was nine thirty now, so the first of the two meetings would already be underway. Which left only one option... “I have a meeting with Miss Luthor at eleven o’clock…”
She hesitated, hoping that Eve would be the perfect assistant - one who was prompt and organised, and was even now pulling up the information on her screen to verify against what she was hearing on the phone. Lois could hear the woman clicking about on a mouse and breathed a silent sigh of relief. Eve Teschmacher did indeed seem to be one of these people.
“Ah yes, Miss Tschudin with Helios Solar Energy, wasn’t it?”
“That’s me,” Lois grinned broadly. Now she had a name and a time, that was all she needed to get in. Except there was one more thing, to ensure her plan was sound.
“The thing is, there’s been a bit of an unexpected change in my schedule for this morning, and I’ve found myself double booked. So I was wondering if there was any chance I might be able to come in a bit earlier to see Miss Luthor?”
“Oh.” Eve hesitated. More clicks from her end of the line. “Well, she’s in a meeting now, but I’m sure it should be fine to come along after that. Would you like me to double-check?”
“Oh no it’s fine, no need to interrupt her meeting now, I’ll just come along anyway and if she’s free, great. If she’s not, I’ll just cancel my other meeting that I stupidly booked for the same time. Would that work?”
“That will be fine, Miss Tschudin. We look forward to seeing you soon.”
“Great, thank you. I’ll be there shortly.” Lois beamed proudly as she hung up the payphone receiver.
Digging around in her purse, Lois pulled out a handful of coins and dialed 411, connected with Information, and requested the number for Helios Solar Energy. The number was provided, then the operator offered to connect her for an extra charge.
Instead, Lois noted the number on her pad, hung up, and dialed herself, saving the extra money and only paying the normal cost for the call. She’d never really understood why anyone would pay more for ‘convenience’ when it really wasn’t that hard to hang up and then dial another number.
“Helios Solar Energy, how may I connect your call?” Came a crisp voice on the other side of the line. More stuck up, and bored sounding than Eve Teschmacher had been. Clearly this person didn’t enjoy their job as much.
“Yes, hello,” Lois replied. “This is Eve Teschmacher from CatCo Worldwide Media. I’m calling on behalf of Miss Lena Luthor. Would you please connect me with Miss Tschudin?”
“One moment please.”
Smiling, Lois waited, though her smile quickly turned into a sigh and barely restrained eye roll as yet more upbeat hold music played across the line.
Fairly quickly, a professional sounding woman interrupted the light jazz. “Miss Tschudin speaking, how may I help?”
“Miss Tschudin. You haven’t left yet!” Lois said with exaggerated enthusiasm.
“Sorry, who is this?”
“Oh, you mean the operator didn’t tell you? It’s Eve Teschmacher from CatCo Worldwide Media.”
“Ah Miss Teschmacher, I wasn’t expecting a call from you. Is something wrong?”
“No. Well, I mean yes. I mean…” Lois sighed, over-exaggerating for emphasis. “I’m so sorry, I’m afraid you’re double-booked.”
“I’m doubled booked?”
“Yes, I’m so sorry,” Lois pushed her voice up into an uncomfortable octave, making it squeak slightly. “I... double-booked you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Stupid. Stupid. This is the second time, Eve, the second time,” Lois chided herself across the line loud enough that her audience could hear her. “Miss Luthor was kind to me last time, but it was such an embarrassment with those investors there and her being new to the role. She apologized in front of them and said it must have been her mistake but… oh, she’s going to fire me for sure.”
“Surely she doesn’t need to know? If it helps, I can reschedule?”
“You could do that?!”
“Well, it’s really not a problem,” the other woman agreed. “I haven’t even left yet, after all. And it would give me more time to get ready for my 1 o’clock.”
“Oh Miss Tschudin, you are a lifesaver! Well, at least a job saver. My cat is going to have kittens, and I’m naming the cutest one after you! What’s your first name?”
She laughed. “Eugenia.”
“Ah…” Lois paused before putting her best smile on her face again. “Eugenia kitty it is. I’ll send you a picture.”
Laughing back the woman replied, “Thank you. I love cats.”
“Who doesn’t love cats?” Lois shook her head. “So, when would be a more convenient time to reschedule you for?”
“Oh um…” There was a clicking of keys. “I could do Thursday afternoon?”
“Let me check Miss Luthor’s schedule....” Lois tapped her pen several times on the metal surface of the phone booth to mimic keystrokes as best she could. “How about one-thirty?”
“That sounds great. I look forward to seeing you and Miss Luthor both then.”
“Oh, we’re really looking forward to meeting you too, and Miss Tschudin?” Lois paused, a smile in her voice.
“You are a veritable angel. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Thank you for being so understanding, and I really am sorry for the inconvenience.”
With a chuckle, the woman replied, “It’s perfectly fine. Have a nice day.”
“You too.” Lois hung up. “Sucker. Like taking candy from a baby. Okay, time to go meet Luthor Junior.”
Leaving the phone booth, she was about to dump the CatCo magazine in the trash, when she saw the Exclusive story that was listed on the front, all about Lena Luthor becoming the new CEO and owner of the media company. Written by none other than Kara Danvers.
“Actually, this might be just what I need,” she nodded, folding the magazine and tucking it into her bag beside her reporter’s notebook instead, then starting off towards the towering building in the distance.
Lena Luthor studiously poured over every inch of the portfolio in front of her, going over even the finest details on every page. She didn’t say anything – barely even acknowledged the presence of the other woman in the room, who sat on the opposite side of the desk, waiting patiently, her eyes flitting from screen to screen on the wall behind CatCo’s newest CEO as she watched the various news reports, whilst one hand fiddled, unconsciously, with a silver bracelet with dangling charms that hung from her wrist.
She could have stood up, waltzed around the room, done an Irish jig on the table and juggled fire to her heart’s content, and Lena still wouldn’t have noticed – her attention was fully engaged on the portfolio that had been presented to her by the young woman. But Abigail Storm was used to difficult bosses – she worked for one of the UK’s richest and most difficult men, but she respected him a great deal and when he’d asked her to come to National City and present this business venture to Lena Luthor on his behalf, she’d been honored that he’d even entrusted something of such great importance to her.
He was also expecting a complete and full rundown on everything Lena had to say about his proposition, which was why she was waiting patiently now, not allowing her mind to wander or distract her in any way as she waited for Lena to finish reading.
Finally, Lena set down the last page, and Abigail sat up a little in her chair – not a lot, just a slight change in her demeanor – but it told Lena that the woman was now giving her full and undivided attention once more.
“Well, it’s certainly an interesting proposition,” she said at last, closing the portfolio and clasping her hands lightly together on top of it.
Abigail folded her hands neatly into her lap as she smiled, sensing a ‘but’.
“Well put together, and sound in principle, but what he’s asking for in return is simply too high a price, I’m afraid. Far too steep, even for me.”
Abigail nodded patiently, her rich mahogany eyes meeting Lena’s dazzling emerald ones steadily. “That’s why Lord Sugar has granted me permission to negotiate on his behalf.”
Her accent – full English with just the tiniest hint of an American twang on some words – was refreshing for Lena to hear. The woman was clearly confident as well. With her accent she carried a confidence that was virtually impossible to miss. And this gave Lena confidence as well. She may have been new to the media business, but science and technological businesses she could pretty much run standing on her head. This woman knew what she was talking about, and that was reassuring to Lena that this wasn’t all just a waste of time.
Abigail crossed one leg casually over the other before resting her hands back on her knee again. “Provided the price is reasonable.”
“I see,” Lena smiled, sensing an opportunity here but knowing that she couldn’t rush into anything. Like all good business deals this would take time and careful negotiation. Something that thankfully she was very good at.
The main foyer of CatCo Worldwide Media was a complete contrast to the foyer of the Daily Planet. Where the Planet was polished oak, marble floor and ‘retro’ in it’s decor (most people said outdated, Lois insisted it was classic antique), CatCo was modern, chrome and glass and sleek. Seriously, there was a LOT of glass, Lois decided as she crossed the foyer and stepped into the elevator, hesitated for a moment as she realised she had no idea which floor she needed, then just decided to go to the top and work down, floor by floor if she had to.
Stepping from the elevator on the top floor, she was greeted with a whole load more glass, as well as several desks with people tapping frantically away at keyboards, whilst phones rang and there was a general frenzy of chatter that made Lois feel right at home. It was the sound of stories being told, news being reported, journalism at work. It was the heart of the newspaper. The very soul, even. This was where the pages came to life.
Navigating the sea of news reporters with the ease of someone who knew their way around the world of news and media, Lois spotted what she was looking for, and made a beeline for it.
The largest office on the floor with an assistant’s desk right outside.
Walking up to the desk, she stopped in front of the blonde woman and smiled brightly, noting with relief that she was in the right place when she saw the nameplate reading “Eve Teschmacher” sitting proudly on the desk.
“Hi,” Lois glanced through the glass doors and into the office briefly, to see two women deep in conversation, sitting on either side of the desk.
“Can I help you, Miss…?”
“Tschudin,” Lois’ head snapped back to the front as she remembered her cover, just in time. “We spoke on the phone earlier.”
“Miss Tschudin,” Eve smiled politely as realisation dawned. She glanced into the office as well, for a moment, then back to Lois apologetically. “I’m so sorry, Miss Tschudin. Miss Luthor is still in her meeting. Perhaps I could reschedule you for a more convenient time?”
Lois glanced to her watch. It was only just gone ten. That gave Lois plenty of snooping time until Miss Luthor’s current meeting ended and she needed to impersonate Miss Tschudin. “No, no I can wait. I cancelled my other meeting anyway, but thought I’d get here early, just in case.”
“Of course,” Eve nodded. “Can I offer you any refreshments while you wait?”
“No I’m good. Actually,” Pulling the Catco magazine out of her purse, Lois opened to Kara’s article on Lena. “I suppose this must sound like a bit of an odd question, but I’m quite the fan of Kara Danvers. I’ve read every one of her articles, and her writing is excellent. Which is partly why I came early. I was hoping to maybe meet with her? I won’t take much of her time, but I’d love to say hello, maybe get an autograph?” Lois smiled endearingly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Eve smiled apologetically in return. “Unfortunately, Kara’s away at the moment on a family matter.” Her eyes shone with sympathy.
“Oh, so you mean she’s not…” Lois turned, sounding disappointed whilst scanning the room for empty desks. “Not here… anywhere?”
Standing, Eve pointed over Lois’ shoulder. “She usually sits right there, but not this week. We’re sure she’ll be back soon, though. Maybe you can see her next time?”
As Lois turned and saw Eve sitting again, Lois added, “Actually, you know what, I’d love a coffee, if that’s okay?”
“Of course,” Eve rose quickly from behind her desk. “How do you take it?”
Lois was tempted to say “warm and wet”, but instead knew that she needed to stall the young assistant for as long as possible, so reeled off the most ludicrous order she’d heard someone place when she’d been in the queue for a coffee once. “Half-decaf, quarter non-fat, quarter 1%, half whole milk, two splenda, one sugar.” Lois held up a finger, nodding, then added, “Make that a sugar in the raw if you have it, though I’m not picky, and drop in an ice cube when it’s done. Don’t want to burn my mouth.”
Eve nodded, her eyes wide and mouth agape. “O-o-kay… What?” She grabbed a sticky pad and a pen from her desk. “Could you repeat that, please?”
“Really?” Lois fought her smirk back. “Sure. Half-decaf, quarter non-fat, quarter 1%, half whole milk, two splenda, one sugar in the raw if you have it, though just sugar is fine, and an ice cube.” Lois watched Eve scrawl furiously and when the blonde made eye contact again she asked, “You get that, sweetie?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“I’m sure it will be fine. I’ll drink it however, really.”
A series of indiscernible expressions crossed Eve’s face before she finally said, “I’ll get your coffee.”
Lois waited until the other woman was about fifteen feet away and then called out, “Oh, Miss Teschmacher?” When the other woman stopped and turned, Lois asked, “Do you have any cinnamon?”
Eve blinked rapidly. “Cinnamon?”
Smiling, Lois waved the blonde off. “It’s fine, don’t worry, just ignore me. I don’t want to be any bother.”
A nod and a stumble as she left was Eve’s only response.
Chuckling, Lois headed off toward the desk that had been pointed out as Kara’s and mumbled to herself. “Well, that should keep you busy for a little while. Now, Kara, let’s see if you left us any clues here.”
She poked around on the top of the desk first, taking note of the small pink vase with the flowers that had seen better days, a small potted plant, a framed picture of Alex and Eliza, an orange and clear plastic rectangle filled with maybe a dozen pens, a big glass candy dish filled with...Lois peered inside. Yep, candy. No surprise there. Helping herself to a piece, Lois continued to search.
There were two mugs, one with just a ‘K’ on it that seemed to exist to hold plastic utensils and another bearing the picture of a white puppy that looked suspiciously like Krypto. Lois smiled as she reached out a hand to touch the photo of the dog for a moment. Hopefully, he was having a great time protecting Mrs. K and keeping her company.
There was also a ream of paper and a folder with a few news articles about a local food shelter, but nothing that looked relevant.
Moving to the drawers, Lois started in the long one across the top, narrow, shallow, and filled with a collection of brightly colored pens, brightly colored sticky pads, brightly colored paper clips, brightly colored rubber bands, brightly colored… “Okay, okay, Little Miss Sunshine, that is some seriously colorful office crap.”
Closing the top drawer and moving onto the top left, she found mainly steno notebooks, both new and old, staples, other generic office supplies plus a few things that seemed odd until one realized that someone might need to replace their mouse and the receiver of their phone quickly and without being noticed if they had super-strength.
Pulling out the latest used steno notebook by date, Lois shoved it into her purse for later snooping and opened the large bottom drawer. It was filled with file after file, all neatly organized and labeled, and making Lois raise her eyebrows. The reporter began to flip through things, checking briefly to make sure Miss Teschmacher hadn’t yet returned with the order that would have pissed off the most polite of underpaid baristas. Seeing she was still in the clear, she dug through each file by name, hoping something stood out. When she found one labeled ‘L. Luthor’, Lois pulled it out, dropping it onto her lap as she began to look through it.
Though all of the Luthors were ‘L. Luthor’, this file was on Lena, the new CEO of CatCo.
Lois flipped through some early articles, some of which looked familiar. A few were only vague memories of seeing the young woman in the background when her older and at the time much more famous brother was arrested. Lena was a relative unknown back then. But not for long. Article after article delved into the young heiress’ life, hack jobs with badly veiled innuendo that made Lois’ eyes roll wildly. Then came the article that Clark wrote after the problem with the oscillator on the Venture led him to Lena. Lois gave it a cursory glance as she had a vague memory of the details, mainly remembering that Clark had cleared Lena of any wrongdoing and been fairly impressed by the young CEO. Lois flipped through a few more articles which led to some from Kara which were very different than earlier takes. It started with something about an alien detection device and then led to things about green energy and even about the arrest of Lena’s own mother.
“Yeesh, poor kid,” Lois muttered with a sigh.
As she moved to the back of the file, she found not articles or newspaper clippings as she’d expected, but actual photographs. It started with just Lena, but then there were some of Lena and Kara. The two young women were sitting on the couch together, on a park bench while Lena made a rather appalled face at the three, no four! scoops of ice cream Kara balanced on top of her cone, the duo walking conspiratorially together with their shoulders knocking as they both grinned shyly, and the last a four-strip from a photo booth with the two of them smiling and laughing like they’d known each other forever and every joke was some long-known secret. They were obviously great friends. They looked really close, almost like—
Startled from her reverie, Lois nearly dropped the file as she closed it quickly, her head snapping up as she stared into bright emerald eyes that bore into her with an intensity that could rival Clark’s heat vision. Her hand caught in the proverbial cookie jar, Lois smiled awkwardly and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I was just looking for—”
“You’re not Kara Danvers,” Lena Luthor said, her arms crossed imperiously across her torso as she continued to glare.
“Nooo, I’m not,” Lois agreed cautiously.
“So, why are you sitting at her desk and going through her things?” The only change in her visage was one eyebrow lifting.
Lois swallowed hard and with it swallowed down her immediate response. She shoved the file rather haphazardly back into the drawer, kicking it closed as she stood and stretched out her hand, smiling. “I’m Miss Tschudin. Miss Eugenia Tschudin from Helios Solar Energy. I’m your eleven o’clock.”
Eyebrow still crooked and arms still crossed, Lena replied, “Still not Kara Danvers.”
“Ah…” Noticing the woman several feet behind Lena but watching with a keen interest, the same one who had been in the meeting with the CEO not long ago, Lois stepped around the young Luthor and extended her hand. “Eugenia Tschudin, Helios Solar Energy.”
Obviously taken aback at first, the woman nearly instantly recovered and responded politely as she took Lois’ hand, her English accent clear and strong. “Abigail Storm, personal assistant to Lord Sugar.”
“Wow, firm grip there.” Lois shook out her fingers, then smiled over her shoulder at Lena before returning to Abigail. “Seems Miss Luthor is a busy woman.”
“She is,” Lena agreed, clearly still not amused.
At that moment, Eve arrived with a cup of coffee in hand. “Miss Tschudin, here you are. I apologize for the delay but—”
“Not at all. This is perfect.” Lois took the cup, sipping it quickly as it gave her something to do other than wilting under Lena’s intense glare. But almost instantly she had to work to contain several explosive coughs. Finally, she garbled out, “Found the cinnamon I see.” She smiled in a fairly convincing manner and said, “Delicious.”
“Eve,” Lena walked around Lois with only mild annoyance. “Will you please assist Miss Storm in setting up a follow-up appointment? She and I have further details to discuss.”
“Yes, Miss Luthor,” Eve replied as she hurried back to her desk, the entire party moving in that direction. “Any particular date or time, Miss Storm?”
Lena shrugged and looked at Abigail.
“Well, I fly back to London tomorrow, but I’m coming back over in two weeks time? Would that be too long?”
“That’s fine,” Lena replied with a nod. “I look forward to seeing you then. Today was a pleasure.”
“Moreso for me, Miss Luthor.”
“Please, give my regards to Lord Sugar.”
“Of course.” Abigail turned to Eve to book herself in for two weeks time, whilst Lena made her way back to her office again, freezing and turning to see Lois following in her wake. Again the imperious eyebrow rose. Her gaze wandered to the clock on the wall and then back to the woman who had been following her as she said, “You’re my eleven o’clock?”
“Yes,” Lois said slowly. “Your receptionist said you might be able to see me early.”
“Oh, I can see you Miss Tschudin.” Lena crooked a finger as she turned and led the way into the office.
Lois pulled at her collar slightly, trying to let out some of the heat from the laser glare that had been set on her once again before she followed the CEO into the office.
She looked around as Lena closed the glass doors behind them both, seeing several familiar photographs along the walls. A few were of the Man of Steel himself, but others were less well known. All had been taken by a very famous photojournalist.
“Is this your office?” Lois asked as she placed her coffee on the corner of the desk and pulled out her notebook and pen.
“Was that a topic of this meeting?”
“No I…” Lois caught sight of a nameplate bearing the name ‘James Olsen’. She cleared her throat and said, “No, of course not. It just doesn’t seem very you.”
“And you know me?”
“You’re a Luthor - the last one standing in fact. Lena Luthor, CEO of the company formerly known as Luthor Corp, now L-Corp, current CEO and owner of Catco Worldwide Media and you made number two on the list of ‘Top Thirty Under Thirty’. Quite frankly, you should have made the top pick, but it’s always about a pop star, isn’t it? You’re sure to make the list again this year.” Lois paused, then added, “Hey, Rihanna turned thirty in 2018 so maybe now you’ll take that number one slot this time.”
Leaning back in her chair, a small smile lit the CEO’s lips, though it was clear she was still trying to suss Lois out. “Who are you?”
“Eugenia Tschudin, Helios Solar Energy,” Lois replied without skipping a beat.
“And what do you do there?”
“We uh… We’re a green energy company. You know.” Lois pointed up. “The sun. You can’t get much greener than that.”
“I could argue that, but let’s say I don’t. Answer me this. Who is Helios?”
“Helios? Helios is my employer.”
“Well, yes. Originally, though, who is Helios? From where did the name come?”
“I don’t follow,” Lois replied as she tried to surreptitiously slide her cell phone out of her purse for a google search.
Her head tilting slightly to the right, Lena dryly informed, “The son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia, Helios was the personification of the sun in the Greek mythos. Brother of the Goddesses Selene, the moon and Eos, the dawn.”
“Oh, oh! You meant originally like from a marketing picking the name perspective. Why didn’t you say so?” With a sigh, Lois shifted in her seat. “Look, Miss Luthor, I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with you.”
“I’d say we’re beyond that.”
Pointing, Lena’s finger wavered slightly. “I know you.”
Lois shook her head. “Don’t think so. Pretty sure we haven’t actually met before.”
“I’ve got a rather good memory for faces, and I’ve seen yours before.”
“Well, that’s possible. Maybe Lex—” As Lena tensed, Lois immediately realized her mistake.
“You know my brother?”
“That was not a threat.”
“You know my brother, and that’s not a threat?”
“I… jeez, good going, Lois,” she mumbled. “Definitely not a threat. I knew him, past tense. At least, I thought I knew him. I guess none of us did.”
Varied expressions crossed the CEO’s face seemingly in a millisecond before it was schooled back to neutrality again. “Who the hell are you already?” There was heat in her voice now.
Realising the game was up and her cover was blown, Lois sighed. “Lois Lane. I’m a reporter for the—”
“The Daily Planet,” Lena finished, cutting Lois off. “Yes, I know who you are, Miss Lane. I recognise you now from Lex’s trial. And I’m afraid if you’re here for an interview, as… lovely as it is to finally put a face to a name, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I have a business to run, and I don’t have time for your theatrics.”
“Theatrics? Ouch. Look, I’m not here for an interview, but I am doing my job, Miss Luthor.”
“I seem to remember you are employed by the Daily Planet, not CatCo,” Lena retorted. “Again, if you consider this to be some kind of interview, you didn’t get the job - not that we’re hiring. Now, do you know how to show yourself out, or would you like me to call someone to assist you?”
“Oh, I am doing my job. I’m working on a front page story for The Planet right now,” Lois nodded fervently as she stood up and walked around the room, trying to release some of her nervous, pent up energy. “See, word on the street is that Supergirl has gone missing and the Government is trying to cover it up. But I believe the public has a right to know what’s going on. So, that’s what I’m doing.”
“Making yourself a nuisance?” Lena retorted, pressing her finger against her temple as she closed her eyes as if to ward off a headache… perhaps one with the last name of Lane.
“I’m an investigative journalist. Clue is in the name,” Lois sighed, annoyed by Lena’s apparent lack of interest. “Means I investigate my stories. Verify every source, check out every angle, and right now I’m looking for information.”
Lena sighed and set her pen down a little too forcefully. “So why are you bothering me with this? Why were you rummaging in one of my employee’s desks?”
“I was looking for Kara Danvers. She IS Supergirl’s official reporter, isn’t she? Only I couldn’t see her out there, is all, so I poked around a bit.”
Opening her eyes, Lena rolled her hand from her wrist. “Oh, Kara’s taken some time off to be with her mother. Apparently, she’s not well. Kara’s sister has been called away on last minute business, so Kara is handling things on her own.”
“Ah,” Lois nodded, knowing full well this wasn’t the truth. But Lena didn’t know that Kara and Supergirl were one and the same, so in Lena’s eyes at least, she was telling what she believed to be the truth. And to contradict her would give the game away. “Shame. I was looking forward to finding out her opinion on what was going on.”
“Why don’t you ask your Man of Steel?” Lena replied, turning her eyes back to the report on her desk – an indication that the conversation was over. “They are cousins, aren’t they?”
“Superman and Kara?”
“Superman and Supergirl.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, course they are.” Lois paused for a moment, struggling with her next words because saying them out loud all of a sudden made them real. All the time she didn’t say it, she could deny that any of it was happening. But if she was going to get Lena’s help, she’d have to stop denying it and accept the truth of the situation.
“The thing is, Superman’s gone AWOL too.”
This caught Lena’s attention and she looked up again. “Both Supers are missing?” Arms pressing on the desk, she stared intently at Lois. “They’re both truly missing?”
“And the Government is covering it up. I tried to interview a few of their agents, but they were giving nothing away.”
“How do you know Government Agents?”
“They came to ask me if I knew where Superman was,” Lois lied quickly. “So I turned the questions back on them. Didn’t work though.”
“I see.” Lena sat back in her chair and set her pen down again, finally giving Lois her full attention. “And how long have they been missing?”
“Long enough for people to notice.”
“Are you writing a story on their disappearance, or actively trying to help in finding out what’s happened?”
“I can’t believe I’m about to say this,” Lois shook her head. “But right now the story isn’t important. Finding the Supers is.”
Lena nodded again slowly, processing this information. Then she sat forward. “So what can we do?”
“You mean you’ll help me?”
“Supergirl is my friend. If she’s in trouble, I want to help. At first, I thought you were only interested in the story, but if you’re actually trying to do something about it, then count me in.”
And just like that, Lois found her first ally in the hunt for the missing Supers.
Chapter 3: "Ooh, what does this button do?"
It had been decided that Lena and Lois would move their investigations over to L-Corp, across the city because they could use one of the labs, and they would have a lot more privacy to work in, without the prying eyes and ears of a hundred curious journalists watching their every move.
On the way, Lois used the last of the money J’onn had provided to buy a cheap phone - a burner cell - that she could use to make calls without the government agents or anyone else knowing it was her or tracking her calls.
Once at the huge skyscraper building, she and Lena stepped into an elevator, and Lena used a thumb pad to scan her thumb print and grant her access to someplace that was apparently top secret.
Or at least Lois assumed it was - people didn’t make a habit of installing fingerprint recognition for no reason, after all.
After a couple of moments of awkward silence whilst they waited for the elevator to ascend, the two women stepped out into some kind of laboratory, or workshop area. Lois was surprised - she’d been assuming Lena would take them to her office and do some technical stuff on an iPad then command other people to do the dirty work for her. But no, this looked like Lena’s own personal lab where she did her own hands on work.
This became especially obvious when Lois noticed the desk over in the far corner, near one window that looked out over National City. And judging from the view, Lois guessed they must have been about halfway up the massive skyscraper. Yet another shocker. If Lena was going to have a secret lab that only she could access, Lois was going to have placed it at the top, near her office, for convenience if nothing else.
Crossing the room to the desk, Lois sat herself down in the swivel chair to observe the contents.
The desk itself was a clean stainless-steel design, sleek with rounded edges. The pen holder, stapler, tape dispenser, even the pens were of a matching stainless steel look. All very uniform and downright boring, compared to Kara’s myriad of rainbow colors in her desk. Even Lois’ haphazard desk at the Daily Planet had more charm than this one did.
It was possible the stationary was all ordered from the same place or as one unit. Also on the desk was a monitor that dwarfed the set up, easily 32” across, but set far enough back that it didn’t dwarf the viewer. There were no plants, no family or friends photos, and the only mug was plain and black, sitting on a matching silver drink warmer that was powered off. The entire scene would have been without any touch of mirth or whimsy except for the dotting of gadgets off to one side. These stuck out like a sore thumb, and Lois was immediately drawn to them. There was a Rubik's cube, all six sides solved, an abacus, a 3-D star-shape puzzle made up of interlocking pieces of wood, a robot that stood about eight inches tall, a miniature wooden catapult, a small bust of Albert Einstein with paperclips on his head like hair, and a miniature Supergirl figurine floating maybe half inch above its base. Lois picked up the star and turned it over a few times, quickly dropping the pieces as it fell apart in her hands. Brushing them to one side, she slid a few beads of the abacus about, poked Einstein’s nose, waved a hand under the Supergirl figurine to try and work out how it was floating, then took the Rubik's cube, as Lena finally came over.
“You’re in my seat,” she said haughtily, one eyebrow rising as she made a shooing motion with one hand. Lois evacuated the seat but took the Rubik's cube and Einstein with her. Lena rolled her eyes.
“Put them back.”
“I’m just looking,” Lois replied, turning her back on Lena. As Lena flicked on the monitor and brought her PC to life, Lois set the Einstein back on the desk, minus the paperclips. Then she set the cube back beside him, completely muddled and in no sense of order at all. She hadn’t even attempted to make any kind of pattern.
Lena barely suppressed a groan as she took the cube and in less than a minute had it back to uniformed perfection. Lois was impressed by that, in particular. Then she held up the paperclips, which she’d threaded into one long paper clip chain, with a triumphant grin.
“Oh for the love of— ” Lena grumbled as Lois went for the robot next. But a sharp hand across the back of her wrist stopped her short with a yelp of surprise.
“No.” Lena spoke firmly - a mother telling a child in no uncertain terms that this particular item was off limits.
Now it was Lois’ turn to pout as she turned away, pulling the cell phone from her purse that she’d bought on the way to L-Corp. Dialing a number that she knew off by heart, she held the phone between her shoulder and her ear as she pulled out her reporter’s notebook and ballpoint, and began to wander round the lab, taking the rest of it in as she waited for the person on the other end of the line to pick up.
“Perry, hi! It’s me… Lois… Lois Lane?… You know, your star reporter?... Yes me! Listen, I need a favor… What? Oh yeah, I forgot to phone and say I wouldn’t be at work. Last minute story came up in National City and… what? Yeah I’m here now… what do you mean ‘what am I doing here?!’ I just told you, working on a story… I need some numbers. Contacts. Names. Give me people to talk to here, Perry. You’re always barking at me to verify my sources, so give me some sources to verify… No, no I wasn’t calling you a dog, Sir. Not at all. I didn’t mean it like… I know it sounded that way but… What? Oh, Clark’s looking after Mrs K. She… .she… had a, uhm… a nasty fall last week and… oh yeah, yeah I’m sure she’s fine, but the barn roof collapsed in that storm a few weeks back, so Clark’s gone to fix it… to be fair Perry, Clark and I are on vacation, so he’s kind of entitled to - actually that’s a point! I’m on vacation! Why are you getting your cornstalks in a twist over me not being there when I’m not actually supposed to BE there this week!” Lois sighed heavily, pressing a hand to her head. “Perry, please, just give me names and numbers, that’s all I’m asking… Thank you.”
She turned back to Lena and pointed to the phone. “He put me on hold.” Then she turned back to the lab, continuing to wander as she waited for Perry to come back with the information, and the on hold music played softly into her ear, the bright, melodic sounds of Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube.
With a little waltz in her step, moving in time to the music, Lois passed from workstation to workstation - the soundtrack to her explorations playing through the phone as she remained on hold.
The rest of the room was filled with a series of different work stations. There was what looked a little bit like a microwave, a little bit like a power tool. It was black along the top and bottom with a black back. On the exterior top and bottom it had a red lid. There were black arms along the front to frame it and a panel at the top that could obviously be used for programming, along with and a big red button that practically screamed, ‘On.’ Inside was a piece of machinery along the top that could obviously slide from side to side on the rails provided, and the base on the bottom looked to move allowing for full movement along the interior of the casing.
Checking over her shoulder to see if Lena was watching - she wasn’t as she’d set to work at her computer - Lois reached out and pressed the button. Almost immediately the machine came to life, and she watched in fascination as an ear began to take shape. It was only then that she realised it must have been some kind of 3D printer, of sorts. Leaving the printer to finish it’s job, she moved onto the next workbench.
There was nothing on this one but a monitor, powered down, and a square of plastic about 4” by 4” that sat over a thin pool of liquid. On the back of the square was a switch. Reaching out and flicking it on, Lois watched as it illuminated the pool of liquid below and turned on the monitor. On the screen, a creature came into view. It looked a bit like a ray. Its body was round, but it had a tail, and it began to move, rippling and moving across the fluid as it swam. The screen was much larger than the dish below in which it was held, so it was obviously being magnified, and in its center was a golden line with several smaller lines branching off of it a bit like a spine with a rib cage. Leaning closer, it looked entirely metallic, just like gold.
“Huh, you’re cute,” Lois grinned as she watched it swimming around for a moment. Then when it didn’t do anything immediately different, other than swim, Lois once again moved on, still leaving it turned on, just as she had with the 3D printer.
The next workstation had a square of glass, about 6” in either direction that was braced along its sides, top, and bottom in a sturdy frame. There was no sign, no indication of what this was. The only other thing on the table was a hammer that was chained to the desk and well within striking distance of the glass. Once again glancing back towards Lena, who was still engrossed in her work, Lois set the phone down on loudspeaker in case Perry came back, then picked up the hammer and studied it for a moment. She looked from the hammer, to the glass, then back to the hammer again, the dots connecting in her mind. Glancing back to Lena again, just to make absolutely sure, Lois got a better grip on the hammer then swung it at the glass, expecting it to smash under the impact. Ready to leap back and deny all responsibility, Lois wasn’t expecting the glass to hold firm. The impact jarred her arm, and she bit back an exclamation as she dropped the hammer and rubbed her elbow for a moment, frowning.
Then she picked up the hammer again and this time knowing what to expect, swung it at the glass once more, bracing for the impact again. The glass didn’t even crack under the impact. Lois nodded, impressed, as she set the hammer down again and picked up her phone, taking it off loudspeaker and replacing it between her shoulder and her ear. “Come on, Perry, what’s taking you so long!”
The workstation next in line held a strange contraption that was like a lattice work of metal, bright and silver, akin to Swiss cheese (albeit light on the cheese and heavy on the holes). It was incredibly strong to the touch but also much lighter than expected - about half the weight of steel but apparently just as strong, Lois discovered when she tried to bend it. She poked and prodded it a few more times, then grew bored and moved on once more, not really knowing what it was or understanding it’s design and purpose.
“Now this looks more interesting,” Lois grinned as she bent over slightly to get a better look at what was going on. Two plates sat with a thin string between them, and a bright red button on the base. Pressing it curiously, Lois watched as the top plate started to rise, and rise, and rise up to four times the height it had been. The string stretched the whole time but held. It stayed like that for about thirty seconds before the machine, with a big exhalation of air, released again and went back to its earlier decompressed state. When it did, the string resumed its earlier form, showing no sign of being stretched or misshapen. “Huh, neat.” She reached out and pinged the string a few times, listening to the noise it made. Then she pressed the button to start it up again, pinging the string as the plate rose and listening to the varying pitch as the string stretched. “Awesome,” She grinned, all set to do it again, when a noise from another workstation caught her attention and once again, she left the machine running so that she could go and examine this newest one - there now a trail of machines and robots running of their own accord, unsupervised and undirected.
“Gross,” She frowned as she watched what appeared to be raw sewage vanishing into some kind of filtration system. Or at least she assumed it was, given that the water that came out the other end was crystal clear. Lois considered sticking her fingers in the water for a moment, then thought better of it and held back.
Which was when she saw the gigantic wall of Plexiglas and the big DANGER sign on the front.
Head tilted to one side, she walked over to it, peered at the robotic arm behind the glass for a moment, then set her phone down, not even realizing that Perry had hung up a while back and the music had stopped. Looking around, she found what appeared to be some kind of remote control - a bright yellow brick-like object, and shrugging, she pressed the big green button.
The arm began to move and a red laser beam shot out, burning into the sheet of steel it had been aimed at. A small joystick on the remote was soon being pressed and maneuvered by a curious Lois and the robotic arm turned towards her, the laser cutting a line through the Plexiglas and heading straight for Lois’ exposed neck.
Lois’ phone began to ring at that moment, vibrating itself off the table where she’d sat it.
Lena looked up and jumped out of her seat suddenly. “LOIS! Look out!”
“Oh shoot,” Lois exclaimed, ducking down to pick up the phone as the laser passed overhead, the reporter completely oblivious to the danger she’d just been in and the very near miss. “I got it, I got it.” Standing up again, she pressed the phone to her ear, just as the sheet of Plexiglas fell in two, the top half crashing to the floor.
“Perry, hi! What took you so long? Hang on, let me get my notepad… where did I put it? Oh, there it is. So here’s what I need...”
And leaving the laser running, now burning a hole in the nearby wall instead, she passed back across the room and grabbed her notebook and pen, blissfully unaware of the carnage she’d inadvertently left in her wake.
“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Lena exclaimed, rushing over to the myriad of machines to turn each of them off, one by one, starting with the laser.
Lois, meanwhile, was leaning against yet another workbench, scribbling notes into her notebook as she listened to Perry.
“Uh huh… yep… got it… yep… uh huh… seven five? Oh five seven. Right… yep… yep… yep… uh huh… wait, how do you spell that? Never mind I’ll work it out… That’s brilliant, thanks, Perry. You’re a star… Yes I promise Clark and I will be back soon… Yes, I promise I’ll stay out of trouble… Yes I promise I’ll give your regards to Mrs K… Yep, okay, uh huh, bye!”
Hanging up and brandishing her notebook triumphantly, Lois spotted several oddities about the workbench she’d been leaning against. They certainly caught her eye, and she couldn’t resist picking a few of the items up from within a Plexiglas tank - A spoon attached to a big paper clip, a broken mug with two chopsticks firmly adhered to its side, three matchbox cars, with their wheels facing out, all stuck to an empty pickle jar. Lying about were several small, white tubes with the L-Corp logo on them, looking suspiciously like super glue tubes. And hanging from a robotic arm was another tube with the same markings.
Her curiosity once again getting the better of her, Lois was just about to examine the larger tube of glue, when Lena’s voice rang out, echoing across the lab.
“LOIS LANE, DO NOT TOUCH THAT!!!”
Lois flinched and jumped back, alarmed. “I wasn’t doing anything, jeez!”
“If you touch that, you won’t be doing anything for a very long time. That creates a bond on a molecular level. Do you understand?”
“It sticks things to other things?” Lois shrugged.
Lena pinched her brow. “Oh, good lord. Forever!”
“Forever?” Lois repeated thoughtfully. “And that’s… bad? Huh, I could think of some great uses for this! Have you got any spares?”
After glaring at Lois, Lena walked over to her computer and pushed a button, then spoke out loud. “Jeffrey, if I called security, how quickly could a team get here?”
“Under a minute, Miss Luthor,” A voice responded through a loudspeaker somewhere in the room. “Is there a problem? Do you need me to send some personnel?”
Raising an eyebrow, Lena stared Lois down for several seconds before finally saying, “Not at this time, but I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you, Jeffrey.”
“Yes, ma’am. Have a good day.”
Lois blinked at the conversation, then slowly held up her hands - notebook and ballpoint clutched firmly in one, but the other empty, and backed slowly away from the workbench, making a point of not touching.
Like a child in detention, she stomped over to the desk with a little more attitude than was actually necessary and flopped in the chair. “Fine, be boring then. What’s going on? What did your little tech whizzy things find out?” She motioned to the monitor as she was talking, though her tone had taken on a bit of a monotone, like she was asking a question even though she actually didn’t care for the answer and was only asking for the sake of it.
Lena clicked a few keys on her computer again, then motioned for Lois to come closer though the CEO’s attention was entirely on the screen as she began to talk. “Actually, I’ve been thinking through some abnormalities here at L-Corp, anything that could even remotely be related to our missing Supers. It’s a long shot, but I’d reviewed some reporting last week with Sam, our new CFO. Originally, it looked like we had some shipments that went through a local warehouse go missing, but when we investigated it further with accounting, there was no actual record of them. We were able to track it back to a glitch in some computer software.”
“And what’s that got to do with us?” Lois asked. “You’re telling me the Supers disappeared because of a glitch? Is that even possible?”
“No, of course not. But what if there was no glitch? What if the so called glitch was manufactured to hide L-Corp resources being used to for some other, more nefarious purpose?”
“Ooooh, you mean like Lex-type dodgy dealings? Now I’m with you. Do you suspect your new CFO?”
“Sam?” Lena shook her head. “If anyone’s above suspicion it’s her. Anyway, she wouldn’t have the means to do it. She’s new to the company. Whoever did this would have to have had long term knowledge and access to L-Corp systems. If anything, Sam’s uncovered something here.”
“Okay, well yay for her. And where is this shady base of operations?”
“I wouldn’t call it a ‘shady base of operations’. L-Corp has several warehouses downtown. We use them to store material we’re bringing in by ship across the Pacific. From there things are either moved to our facilities here in National City, or out to any number of our other facilities or subsidiaries across the country or Canada. The paper trail, well, the glitch, leads there, but there isn’t an actual invoice. We’ll have to go to the facility and pull the files there, maybe download the video records for the past few weeks and cross-reference them with actual shipments to look for an anomaly. We do that, and we’ll find our glitch.”
“Finally! Some proper investigative journalism!” Lois jumped to her feet. “What are we waiting for? You drive. I’ve got some calls to make, and I can’t promise I won’t hit anything again if I call and drive.” The way she said it seemed to indicate that it wouldn’t have been the first time she’d done that, either.
Lena pushed to her feet, brow pressed together as she asked, “Excuse me, did you say, ‘hit anything again’?”
“Oh don’t worry, was only my fiancé,” Lois shrugged. “The first time, anyway. The second time it was his dog. But they’re both fine.”
“You… you hit your fiance AND his dog?” Lena looked around her lab, and the destruction that was nearly contained. “What do you think the odds are that the poor man will make it to the wedding?”
“I didn’t hit them at the same time, obviously,” Lois frowned as if this was obvious. “And believe it or not, I actually made it down the aisle - we were halfway through our vows in fact before some big national emergency struck and I hitched a lift on Airforce One. Which got shot out of the sky. Superman came to my rescue yet again, and Clark and I just haven’t found the time to rearrange since. We will though.”
After several stunned blinks, Lena nodded. “I’ll drive. I’ll always drive.”
“Sounds good to me,” Lois smiled. “Gives me more time to phone my contacts and ‘verify my sources’.” Then as an afterthought she added, “When I say I hit them, I do mean with a car. I didn’t just go up to them and punch them, or anything. Well… actually I did punch Clark once. But he deserved it.”
“You know what, you don’t need to explain. I think the less I know about your… relationship the better.” Lena walked past Lois and back to the exit.
“Oh, honey, you have no idea,” Lois muttered quietly to herself as they left the lab, using the same elevator as they’d arrived in to take them back down to the ground level.
Chapter 4: Indiana Lane and Luthor... Lena Luthor.
Lois stood staring at the the 1964 Aston Martin DB5. It was sleek and silver with mirrors set further forward near either bumper and a slightly raised intake on the hood. Over a third of the car was nose, and the back window curved down slowly to help manage wind resistance. While the words, James Bonds’ car! jumped around in her brain, what Lois actually said was, “You’re shitting me!”
Raising one eyebrow, Lena sniffed politely as she walked past Lois to the right side of the car and said, “I don’t believe I’ve ever done any such thing.”
“Hey, I thought you were dri—” Looking down at the license plate that stated ‘LL007’, Lois became momentarily distracted. When she looked up, Lena had climbed into the passenger side, so the reporter headed over to the driver’s side and pulled open the door. “Hey, I thought you said you were...?” A look of dawning realisation crossed her face as she also climbed in. “Oh, the wheel’s on that side. How British. You know, I’m getting a very James Bond vibe about all this, which is quite frankly awesome.” Lois ran a hand appreciatively over what looked to be either a very, very antiquated GPS device, or some kind of radar scanner in the centre of the dash console beneath the radio.
Lena started the car with a healthy thrum of the engine, which received an excited chuckle from the passenger’s side, then she checked her mirror before putting the car into reverse and pulling out of the space. “I need to stop by my place before we head to the warehouse. I just need to pick something up.”
“Ok, sure,” Lois looked around at the cabin of the vehicle with its dark leather seats, brown, wide steering wheel, numerous dials and odd switches and covered things that seemed out of place. “Hey, you know this really REALLY looks likes James Bond’s car. Is it like some kind of replica? Are you a secret James Bond fanatic?”
Clearing her throat, the young CEO pulled carefully out into traffic. “Well, it is a 1964 Aston Martin DB5, the same model that was used in Goldfinger. So yes, you could say it’s a James Bond car.”
“I did say it. Well, I said it was like it, not that it was it. Because that would be insane.”
“Did you know there were two of them?”
“Two of what?”
“There were two identical cars used in the movie - two cars used by James Bond. One was used for many of the close up scenes, and the other was the one that was actually outfitted with many of the gadgets and devices seen in the movie. It’s what was called the ‘props cars’,” Lena informed casually as she drove the stick shift vehicle like it was second nature to her.
Lois blinked several times, taking that all in. “Oh. Well, I guess that makes sense. They trashed about seven of the ten DB10s in Spectre. So, did you buy one of those Bond cars, then?”
“Oh.” Lois deflated back into her seat and pulled out her phone. “So this is just a regular, mundane Aston that just looks like the one from the film? Boring. Quaint, but boring. I’m going to start on my calls.”
“In 1997, the props car went missing from a warehouse where it was being stored in Florida.”
It was such a casual, throwaway comment, it was almost as if she’d been talking about the weather. But it had the desired effect as Lois sat bolt upright again, turning to smile at the CEO as her eyes lit up with hope “Alright I’m listening. What happened to it?”
Lena shrugged. “No one knows. The insurance company paid out the claim - over a million dollars in liability. It’s become one of life’s great mysteries, and no one has ever seen the car again.” Turning to look at Lois briefly, a sly little smile touched Lena’s lips and she shrugged. Almost as if there was something funny - an inside joke, or something only she knew. “No one.”
Lois was quiet for a moment, and then she very nearly exploded with excitement. “Holy fuck! Are you saying this is the missing Bond car?!”
Looking at the road again, Lena shrugged. “I didn’t say that.”
“O… kay. Are you saying this isn’t the missing Bond car?”
There were several moments of silence, and then Lena pulled up at a red light. Turning to look at Lois again, she slowly lifted one eyebrow while her lips curled up at the corners. “Well, I didn’t say that either.”
“I knew it! This is the missing Bond car!” Lois bounced in her seat as excited as a child on Christmas morning. “Does it do stuff?! What does it do!? It does stuff, right!?” She started to reach out and touch things, pressing panels to look for secret compartments, looking for dials and switches with which to play. Suddenly Lena grabbed her hand, pulling the excited reporter’s attention back to the driver.
Staring at her passenger, Lena said quite seriously, “Lois, I’m the CEO of one of the largest media companies in the country, and I’m still responsible for my family’s business on top of that. I’m the only Luthor not dead, incarcerated, or sought by the federal authorities for attempted genocide. Since I was a teen, my pursuits have been curing cancer and finding a way to bring clean and renewable resources of energy to every corner of this world, as well as advancing medicine to benefit the future of mankind.” Pulling back her hand, Lena suddenly smiled an actual, proper and genuine smile, her nose crinkling up. “Of course, it does stuff! I’m a bloody engineer first!”
Lois’ smile lit up the entire car. “Make it do something! Make it do something!” Reaching out she flipped open the top of the gear stick, hoping and praying to any and all gods out there that - yes! There it was! The big, red button!
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Lena chuckled as the light turned green and they pulled off again. “Because you’ll end up out there.” She raised a hand and pointed to the roof, and her meaning became suddenly very clear. Slowly, Lois closed the flap again and retracted her hand.
“Ok, point made. Do these all do things?” Her hand moved to the somewhat safer display of switches built into the armrest between the seats, and accessed when she flipped it open. Glancing down, she read the various descriptions of each switch.
“Oil… nails… smoke… M-guns? What’s - oh wait machine guns! Cool! Out rear and out front?”
“Extendable bumpers to use as battering rams.”
“Changes the number plates.”
“Bet that’s handy for speed traps.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“You mean you’ve never been tempted to go through a speed trap deliberately fast and then switch the plates when the cops pull you?”
“I can safely say that thought never crossed my mind. I don’t go out looking for trouble, Miss Lane.”
“Ugh, what a horrible way to live… aha! Is this one the—” She didn’t finish her sentence because she was already turning in her seat, having flipped the last of the switches which read ‘bullet screen’. A no doubt bulletproof (given its name) sheet of metal slid up into position from the trunk of the car, to completely cover the back windshield, blocking it and protecting it from gunfire.
“Yes!” Lois mini-punched the air, flipped the switch and watched the sheet retract back into its original position so she could see out of the rear window again.
Lena couldn’t help it, and chuckled at Lois’ sheer enthusiasm. “I take it you’re a big Bond fan?”
“Huh?” Lois turned and sat properly back in her seat again. “Oh, not at all. Well, not the man himself. Though I do love the cars and the gadgets. It’s all just so… spy-fi!”
“Spy-fi?” Lena raised an eyebrow.
“Uh huh. Like sci-fi, but with spy stuff instead of space.”
“Sci-fi isn’t all about space, you know,” Lena rolled her eyes. “It’s called Science Fiction, not Space Fiction.”
“Actually, James Bond went to space in Moonraker.”
With a loud sigh, Lena pulled over to the sidewalk and cut the engine. “Stay here and don’t touch!” She warned, pulling the keys from the ignition and taking them with her. Lois pouted, but made no further protests - mainly because as soon as Lena had run inside the building she’d parked in front of, Lois began pressing buttons and turning dials, only to find that none of them worked. Lena had rigged them all to work only when the keys were in the ignition.
“Spoilsport,” Lois pouted again, pulling out her notepad and flipping it to the page of contact names and numbers Perry had given her. Dialling the first number on her burner phone, she set about arranging times and meeting places for these contacts, whilst she waited for Lena.
It was about fifteen minutes later when Lena returned from whatever she was doing upstairs. She placed a laptop bag on the floor behind her seat then climbed back in and started up the engine again.
“Yeah, yeah, hold on a sec,” Lois said, sticking her thumb over the mic of her cell phone. “You get what you needed?”
“I did indeed,” Lena replied, checking traffic again as she pulled out into the flow. “I’ll need a decent system if we’re to retrieve data from the warehouse. I trust I didn’t keep you waiting too long.”
“It was fine.” Lois looked at the bag in the back. “It took you that long to get a laptop?”
“Well, if I’m going to be out of the office for an extended period, I needed to get someone to come in and cover CatCo. I called the former acting CEO, and he was able to free himself to return to the office. We had to cover a few business items. Then I had to phone my CFO at L-Corp. I didn’t think you cared to hear boring business talk though.”
“Not really. So who’d you call? Your former acting CEO and CFO. Who are they?”
“James Olsen and Sam Arias.”
“James? You called James?”
Glancing over at Lois, Lena nodded. “Yes, do you know him?”
“Yeah, you could say that. We used to work together. He was my photographer out in the field. Did you mention me? Did he ask about me?”
“I don’t make it a common practice to speak about personal matters with my employees,” Lena replied, fairly tartly, Lois couldn’t help but notice. “Kara’s an exception, but she was a friend before we started working together. Likewise with Sam.” Taking the exit for the highway, Lena asked, “So is there a message you’d like passed onto Mr. Olsen?”
“What? No. I think your ‘no fraternization policy’ is a - Oh, Eddie! Sorry, I totally forgot… yeah, sorry. Okay, so where is the bar located?” Lois took notes while making encouraging noises. “Great, just great. Now did you say this guy’s name was actually Peewee or does he just go by Peewee, like a nickname? Okay, got it. Eddie, thanks a million. I owe you one. If there’s anything I can do… Italian Pastries? Sure. Where’s the shop located?” Taking notes on the name and address of the shop, Lois added an extensive order of the exact type of pastries and cookies to be ordered. She tapped her pen on the pad. “Got it. I’ll pick that up when I’m heading back to Metropolis. Eddie, it’s been a pleasure. Take care.”
“A successful endeavor?”
“Eddie’s got a sweet tooth.”
“Apparently. The next exit is ours.” Lena pointed to a sign saying there was an exit in three miles.
They sat in relative silence for the next three miles, and then took the exit. They wound their way through a few city streets before finally coming out in an area that was a series of warehouses and other urban facilities. After a few turns, they came to a fenced-in warehouse that looked much like any other and was only identified by its address. The gate outside was large with barbed wire around the top, security cameras, and an inner gate with a sign warning that the fence was electrified. Uniformed men roamed the facility in groups of two with a dog, each close enough that they could see the next in the distance. There was one gate in and one gate out, and a security booth stood there, one guard remaining inside and the other coming out to meet the ladies when their car stopped.
Leaning down, the security guard said, “I’ll need to see some identification.”
“Uh, I got one of these?” Lois said hooking her thumb over toward the driver’s side where Lena sat.
Frowning at the passenger where a driver normally sat, the security guard looked past Lois as his expression changed to one of startlement. “Miss Luthor! Ma’am, we didn’t know you were coming.”
“Surprise inspection. Open the way for us, won’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am. Right away, ma’am.” Snapping upright, the guard spun and began hurrying the other guard to open the way.
As the gate opened and the car slid through, Lois laughed. “Well, that was fun. Is your life always like that, people jumping and hurrying to do what you want when you glare at them?”
“On the good days, yes.”
Pulling up into a space near the front of the warehouse building, Lena killed the engine and stepped out.
Lois climbed out a little more slowly, almost reluctant to leave the amazing James Bond Gadget Car, but knowing she couldn’t stay in it forever. Shutting the door carefully, as Lena leaned into the back to retrieve her laptop bag, she suddenly let out a loud exclamation.
“What?” Lena stood up sharply, looking at Lois and seeing, perhaps for the first time, a look of genuine panic flicker across the other woman’s face. Following Lois’ gaze towards the gate they’d only recently driven through revealed a black SUV that had pulled up. “I assume you know who they are?” she asked, turning to look back at Lois for confirmation - only to find that the woman had vanished. Blinking in surprise, Lena looked around for a moment, then stepped round the car to find Lois crouching beside the front passenger wheel, peering over the hood of the car. “Um, what are you doing?”
“Huh?” Lois jumped, startled. “Oh, stone in my boot. Don’t mind me.” She was making no move to do anything with said boot, however, and was simply staring at the black SUV still.
With a sigh, Lena turned back toward the two federal type agents that had now stepped out and were flashing what appeared to be badges at the security guards. Leaving her laptop bag with Lois, Lena stormed over to the gate, and as she got closer, snatches of what the two agents were saying became audible.
“ 'It’s a federal issue… need to know basis… you don't want to hamper a federal investigation… how do you spell your full name again?...”
She stopped by the gate and cleared her throat, getting their attention. “Can I help you? Because this is private property, and you’re trespassing.”
“Agents Vasquez and Johnson of the FBI, ma’am. We’re here on federal business,” one of the two agents turned to her, flashing her FBI badge and stepping forward, clearly used to this working and allowing her entry to most places.
But Lena didn’t budge. She simply folded her arms across her chest and glared sternly at the two agents. “What federal business?”
“I’m afraid it’s need to know, ma’am. Now please, you’re blocking our investigation and—”
“And unless you have probable cause or a search warrant to enter these premises, you’re going to turn round and leave again,” Lena said calmly, cutting Agent Vasquez off, mid ‘federal’ spiel. “Though I’m assuming, being that you’re with the FBI and all, that you’ve done your research and have such a warrant in hand already? In which case, it should be presented to the owner, who happens to be myself. So may I see it please?”
The two agents looked uneasily at one another for a moment, then shook their heads in defeat.
“I see. Well, in that case, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. And if I might remind you that this property contains all the land between this point and the city street? I’ll be happy to call a few friends at Quantico, Agent… Vasquez, was it? Should you need clarification on where exactly the boundaries of my property end.”
“That won’t be necessary, Miss Luthor. Thank you for your time.” The two agents hesitated for a moment longer, and Lena raised an eyebrow. Taking this silent cue that they’d outstayed their welcome, they climbed back in the SUV and put it into reverse.
Lena watched them pull away, waiting until they disappeared from sight before she nodded slowly. She turned to the guard at the front gate. “No one gets in here but me or someone with me. I want all transportations suspended, in and out, deliveries both ways, until further notice. Is that understood?”
“I… I… Yes, Miss Luthor.”
“Excellent. That order doesn’t get lifted until you hear it from me either in person or over the phone. That means verbal confirmation, nothing in writing or via email. Oh, and we’re also going to enact beta protocols.”
Brow furrowed, the guard asked, “Beta protocols, Ma’am?”
“Yes. Look them up. Today’s password is chromosome. You’ll need to go confirm that.” She waved the man off, back to the guard shack, with one hand.
He hurried away and came back moments later. “Password confirmed. Thank you, Miss Luthor.”
“Thank you. Remember, not even I get in without that password. Any questions?”
“No, Miss Luthor.”
Glancing over her shoulder to make sure the SUV was still out of sight, Lena said, “And if the FBI comes back—”
“They won’t get in, and you will hear about it, Ma’am.”
Her smile was small but satisfied. “Excellent.” Lena strode back to fine Lois standing by the hood of the car now. “Everything all right?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t it be? I was going to ask you that. Who were those people?”
Eyes narrowing nearly imperceptibly, Lena grabbed her laptop bag. As she headed toward the warehouse entrance she said, “FBI. They wanted access to the warehouse.”
With a little grin over at her companion, Lena replied, “Let’s see if we can’t find out.”
Lois grinned in reply. “Well, now you’re talking, Luthor. If the FBI want in, we must be on the right trail. Let’s crack this egg and see what the yolk’s made of.”
They were about halfway to the entrance when Lena held out a hand, stalling Lois’ progress. “Careful, don’t step on the snake.”
“The fuck?!” Lois shrieked, leaping a good few feet backwards in alarm.
“Seriously?” Lena crouched and carefully lifted the small green garter snake, moving it off to some shrubs along the side of the building and away from the walkway. Smoothing her skirt, she shot Lois a withering glance. “I thought you were Lois Lane, the intrepid and fearless investigative reporter.”
“Intrepid? Absolutely. Fearless? Definitely. Most of the time. But, but…” she pointed to where Lena had set the snake down. “Snake! Big fucking snake just walked right in front of us and you just picked it up and why did it have to be snakes? I hate snakes!”
“Big? That one couldn’t have been more than a foot long. Lois, garter snakes are harmless. ”
“Size isn’t everything!” Lois snapped as she stormed towards the warehouse, her hands clenched into fists by her sides as she focussed continually on the shrubs, almost as if she was daring the snake to “walk” right back out again.
With a head shake and a sigh, Lena hurried her pace and caught up to Lois. “I apologize. We all have our fears, and it’s justifiable. For instance, I’m terrified of family reunions.”
Lois tried and failed to contain a snort of laughter at that, covering it up with a poor attempt at a coughing fit. “Yes well, you know one of mine. I’m not telling you my other one.”
“I won’t press.” As they reached the warehouse, Lena entered a security code and pulled open the door. “Come along, Indiana Lane.”
Lois opened her mouth to protest, realised what Lena had said and grinned a huge grin instead, her ‘snake ordeal’ forgotten at last. “Hey, I like that. Indiana Lane.” She repeated it, as if testing it to see what it sounded like, then nodded, grinning. “Alright, I’m right behind you Luthor… Lena Luthor.”
Lena glanced over at Lois but only shook her head, saying nothing.
The warehouse was like nothing Lois had ever seen before, as she stepped through the heavy iron doors and stared upon a tall and long building, filled almost to the brim with crate after crate stacked high upon pallets. There were section markers both painted on the floors and hung high from the ceilings. It stretched longer than the eye could see, and the boxes were only coded with alpha-numeric markings that made sense to someone but without a legend were total gibberish.
Letting out a long, slow whistle, Lois looked up and around as she trailed after Lena and held up two fingers. “Okay, two questions.”
“Number one: where are you keeping Jimmy Hoffa in here? And number two: jumping back on the Indiana theme, which one of these things has the Ark of the Covenant in it?”
With a quiet chuckle, Lena replied, “Oh, the Luthors had nothing to do with Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance. Feel free to publish that. You won’t find him here.”
After several beats of silence, Lois asked, “No witty comeback about the Ark?”
Smirking over her shoulder, Lena tilted her head to the side then marched onward, head forward.
“Hey, whoa whoa whoa, hold up there Indy! After the Bond car, you can’t just lead a girl on like that!”
Lena crooked a brow. “Not familiar with Luthor foreplay?”
Opening and closing her mouth, several comments flew through the reporter’s mind. Finally, Lois made the rare choice to say nothing and, head down, trudged past the CEO.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“Yeah, I uh…” Lois’ head swiveled left and right before her gaze fell upon a computer terminal and she smiled. “Right there.”
“Fine investigative skills there, Miss Lane.”
Both women made their way to the computer. Pulling out her laptop, Lena powered it up. She dragged out a cable and plugged her system in with a USB cord. There were several commands entered as the warehouse’s desktop responded.
“Does this place seriously not have wireless?”
Lena shook her head. “All records are brought over to L-Corp by courier daily. The system is segregated and secure. There’s no internet.”
“No inter…” Looking around again, Lois let out a breath, “Okay, now I’m only half-joking about that Ark of the Covenant. It’s not in here, is it?”
Lena shrugged. “This was Lex’s facility before it was mine. Soon we’ll have the complete log and a listing of all the contents. I’m asking for dates things were shipped in and out in the last year along with the volume and weight of everything here just in case anything stands out. If we have a crate of… oh, say a thousand ping-pong balls and they way a half-ton, that’s a discrepancy.”
“Or someone takes ping-pong way too seriously,” Lois joked. “So, a list of the complete contents of this facility, huh? You do realize you let a reporter in here, don’t you?”
“Oh, it’s much worse than that.” Lena looked up from her typing to see Lois’ furrowed brow and added, “I let Lois Lane in here. Some might say I let THE reporter in here.”
Mouth hanging open for three heartbeats, Lois suddenly broke into a bright smile and said, “Hey, thanks, Luthor. I take that as a compliment.”
“I had no doubt that you would.” With a final keystroke, she moved her hands away from the laptop. “All right, that should do it. It’s downloading the data now. Time to download is approximately four minutes.” Lena’s brows furrowed as she rubbed her hands together.
“What is it?”
“Hmmm? Oh, I just hate wasted time. I can’t help but think about how I could be making better use of these minutes.”
“Four minutes?” Lois shook her head. “Jeez, and Clark says I’m a fidget. Hey!” Stooping down, Lois stood up again with a crowbar in hand. “Want to crack a few of these open and see if we can find Mr. Hoffa?”
“Again, we had nothing to do with his misadventures.”
“Jimmy Hoffa was before your time, sweetheart. You weren’t even born in 1975. Hell I wasn’t even born then.”
“Neither was Lex,” Lena countered. “When Hoffa went missing, my father was still running Luthor Corp. Lionel had many shortcomings, but he was a good man.”
“It sounds like you miss him.”
Playing with the edge of her jacket, Lena’s fingers moved up and down while she seemed to consider her response. “He brought me home when my birth mother died, took me in when I had nowhere else to go. He was always kind to me, always made me feel loved.” Meeting Lois’ gaze, she added, “There are things I wish I had know about him before he… well, I wish I had gotten to know him better, but I feel lucky to have known him.”
“Sounds like you loved him,” Lois said with a gentle smile.
“Very much, and I was loved by him.” Clearing her throat under Lois’ gaze, Lena asked, “What about your father?”
“The General?” Lois laughed without humor. “Oh, The General and I have a complicated relationship.”
“Hmmm. Well, complicated sounds like my mother and me.”
“Lillian Luthor?” Eyes bright as pennies, Lois leaned forward. “Now that is a woman I’d love to meet!”
“Nope!” The reporter’s grin grew. “There are so many things I’d love to ask her. Boy-o-boy, that would be the interview of a lifetime. I mean, given my well documented relationship with The Man of Steel, that lifetime might not last terribly long, but what’s life without a little risk, right?”
“You’re a bit of a madwoman, aren’t you?”
Lois continued to grin. “Now you sound like my fiancé.”
“Clark Kent? I met him once. I liked him. He was… There was a bit of steel under that Kansas wheat.”
Lois blanched and looked away, checking the download time remaining on the laptop.
“If it’s ever possible, I’ll see if I can arrange that interview.”
“Hmmm?” Lois turned back to the CEO.
“My mother, if the authorities ever catch up with her, I’ll see if I can arrange an interview for you. Of course, whichever federal agency will have to agree, but I’ll put in the good word with my mother for you.”
With a loud clang, the crowbar fell from Lois’ hands and rattled against the cement floor. “Are you serious?”
Lena startled momentarily but recovered quickly. “I don’t see why not. The only other friendly reporter I know is Kara, and she wouldn’t want to see my mother nor do I expect my mother would agree to speak with her.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Miss Luthor. Thank you.”
Lena smiled and nodded, then went back to her laptop. The download was halfway there. As Lois fidgeted nearby, growing restless again, Lena struck up further conversation as they passed the time. “So you call your father ‘The General’. Why?”
“Because that’s what he is. A General.”
“My father was a businessman, but I still called him Father.”
“Like I said, The General and I have a complex relationship. And by complex, I mean we just avoid one another these days and don’t talk unless we absolutely have to.” She hopped up to take a seat on one of the nearby crates, her legs swinging back and forth a little as she glanced down at her feet.
“When my mother died, he was unable to cope with raising two daughters alone. So he modelled his parenting on what he knew best - the army. He implemented a chain of command, so he was in charge of me, and I was in charge of Lucy. We both resented him for it, but it was the only way he knew how to deal with the hand he’d been dealt. We tried our best to fall in line and be the good little soldiers he wanted us to be. Yet my best was never good enough. Lucy joined the army, worked her way up to Major, and became Daddy’s Golden Girl. While I became a huge disappointment in his eyes. I was the failure, and Lucy was the star.”
“Because you became a journalist?” Lena asked softly, surprised by this new, almost vulnerable side to a woman who had, until then, been all brass and mouth and confidence on two legs.
“No. Because I got involved with Superman.” Lois jumped down off the crate again, clearly still in fidget mode despite her sombre tone. “The General is, to put it bluntly, a huge opposer of anything and everything alien. My journalist career wasn’t so much a problem until the Man of Steel arrived. He saw how close I was getting to this “off world security threat”, and he warned me to back down. I refused, we argued and needless to say, our relationship has been somewhat strained ever since.
“Sounds like he and my mother would get along far too well. She hates aliens too.”
“Well, actually, there’s only one thing he hates more than aliens, and that’s fugitives who evade capture.”
“Perhaps not then,” Lena nodded.
There was a moment of silence that quickly became too uncomfortable for Lois, but she couldn’t think of anything else she wanted to say on the matter - she’d said too much as it was, in her eyes at least. Lena was still a Luthor, after all. A rather likable Luthor, but a Luthor nonetheless.
Thankfully, said Luthor came to her rescue by providing a new topic of conversation for them both. “So, you and Superman?”
“What about us?” Actually, Lois had changed her mind. She didn’t like this topic any more than she had liked the last one.
“Well, I’ve read a lot of your articles about him. It’s clear through your writing that you care a great deal about him.”
“Of course I do,” Lois nodded slowly again, sensing a trap.
“What does Clark say about it?”
Lois blinked for a moment, then laughed. “You think that because Superman and I are close, we’re romantically involved, even though I’m engaged to Clark Kent?”
“Well, I wouldn’t have put it like that exactly…”
“But you wanted to know if I had any dirty little secrets about my love life with Clark Kent, and my non-existent, so called affair with Kal-El, the Man of Steel from Krypton?”
“You know his name.”
“I know your name. Does that make us an item?”
Lena scoffed and shook her head. “No offence, Lane, but you’re not my type.”
“And you’re not mine either.” Rather than be annoyed by these comments, Lois was actually highly amused. “Oh honey, if I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked that question about Superman…”
“You still haven’t answered it, though.”
This momentarily wiped the smile off Lois’ face. “Huh. Good detection skills you got there, Poirot. We’ll make a reporter of you yet.”
“I have no desire to become a reporter.”
“Says the woman who just bought an entire media company.”
There was another moment’s silence, and then Lena chuckled. “Touché.”
Thankfully, Lois was spared any further discomfort in this particular line of questioning by a beep from the laptop to indicate the transfer was complete.
“Looks like our files are ready,” Lena noted.
“Ah, great. Maybe we can start to solve this little mystery. What does it tell us?” Lois asked eagerly, glad the topic had finally steered away from her once more. She wrote the news, after all. She wasn’t comfortable being the centre of it.
“Well, there’s still a lot of data through which we’ll need to dredge. It’s going to take some time. I also added the video files for the past two weeks. I’m curious as to who made that delivery and took delivery of the time in question… if indeed we do have something that’s gone missing.”
“Okay, so what do you need to sort through all of this?”
“Just me and my laptop. It will be rather boring for you I’m afraid. I’d suggest we—”
“How about lunch?!”
Lena blinked several times. “Lunch?”
“Well sure.” Looking down at the time in the corner of the laptop, she looked back at the CEO. “It’s after one. I don’t know about you, but reporters don’t work without a constant influx of fuel. Take me to your local hotdog cart.”
Eyebrows skyrocketing, Lena took a half-step back. “Oh, good lord. Perhaps it’s just a reporter thing. Kara’s eating habits are clear now.”
“That, Miss Lane, will not be happening. Have you ever been to Sheerwater in Coronado?”
“Ah… I can’t say that I have.”
Shutting down and closing up her laptop, Lena began to put everything back in order. “We’ll get my usual table. It will supply us with ample privacy and protect our arteries from heart disease.”
Lois laughed. “I should have known you’d be one of these health nuts. Low carbs, no fat, skinny vegetable crap. Honestly, a good old fry up every now and then never killed anyone, you know?”
“The American Medical Association would disagree.” Slinging her laptop bag over her shoulder, Lena asked, “Ready to go?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Lois shrugged. “Though I’m making note of the exact location of this place because one day I will be coming back, and I will be finding that Ark!”
“Good luck with that, Indiana Lane.”
Lois’ eyes lit up. “Indiana Lane? I really do like that! What are my chances of convincing Clark to like it too?”
Lena faltered slightly but then recovered as she headed for the exit. Looking over her shoulder at the woman next to her, the CEO grinned. “Well, I barely know this fiancé of yours, but you do rather seem to be a force of nature. I assume convincing people of things you want is part of your DNA.”
“Nah, usually I just ask, and if that doesn’t get me anywhere, I take,” Lois shrugged, giving no indication at all if she was joking or not. Then she tilted her head, looking up as if she expected to see something there. “How do you think I’d look in a fedora?”
Pausing at the door, Lena shook her head. “Like you left your bullwhip at home. Let’s go, Miss Lane. Lunch awaits.”
Chapter 5: The way to a Reporter's heart is through her stomach
Lena had already called the mâtre d’ at the restaurant to make sure her regular table would be awaiting them when they arrived and now the two women were making their way back through city streets, aiming toward Coronado. As they headed up B Ave, Lena checked behind them in the mirror for the fourth time.
This fact hadn’t gone unnoticed by Lois, who even though she’d been on her phone, had still managed to see Lena’s almost imperceptible head movements each time she checked the mirror, and her slowly deepening scowl.
Considering it was something she was seeing in the mirror, and as Lois didn’t have a mirror of her own, she turned to peer out the back instead. “Son of a bitch!”
Suddenly she’d all but vanished into the footwell of the passenger seat, slinking as low as she could while still buckled in, out of sight.
One eyebrow raised, Lena glanced down briefly before returning her view to the road. “Drop something?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah my….um…...my….thingy.” Lois made no move to retrieve anything, however, and no move to sit back up again properly either.
“I hate it when that happens,” Lena deadpanned.
“Uh huh,” Lois nodded, only half paying attention as she turned again, unfastening her seatbelt so she could turn round properly to get a better look, peering between the seats. Then she glanced down at the row of switches by her elbow. Reaching out, she flipped a switch, then scrambled back up to see the outcome of her actions. Seeing the hundreds of little metallic objects dropping from the rear of the car, she grinned in glee, then hit the smokescreen button as well. “Found it!”
A plume of black smoke billowed from the back of the car to completely obscure them from view.
“Oh, good Lord! What are you doing?” The concern was obvious in Lena’s voice.
“Nothing,” Lois shook her head, still turned backwards, kneeling in the seat and watching. “Come on, come on….”
“Lois, those are federal agents. With federal agents come federal charges.”
Lois stared at Lena a moment, confused. “What’s your point?”
“My point is your last name may be Lane, and your father may be a General, but my last name is Luthor. I’m the last of a murderous, genocidal family. This is my car, my...oh, dear Lord...this is my stolen car that my insane brother bought from who knows where. Who do you think is going to end up in a federal prison for this?”
“Oh, lighten up and live a little, will you? Look,” Lois reached down and hit the ‘plates’ switch. “There we go, now your plates don’t match the ones in their description they’ll be giving out. So it can’t possibly be us. The smoke is from engine troubles - we’re on our way to a garage to get it sorted if anyone asks and besides, they’ll have to catch us first which will be difficult when their tyres are shot to pieces, thanks to the little presents we just left for them.”
Seeing the black SUV emerge from the smoke, then pull over to the side of the road, clearly unable to go any further and growing smaller and smaller, the more distance they put between them, Lois turned back round in her seat and sat down again, doing her belt back up with a triumphant grin. “I love this car.”
Lena made a left and stopped two blocks further ahead at a red light. She sat in complete silence staring ahead barely blinking. Slowly a smile spread across her face until it was all consuming, her nose crinkling as her eyes lit up. She turned to the reporter. “Oh, my God. That was amazing. You actually...You used the gadgets and they...Oh, my God! That was genius!”
“Nah, you’re the genius,” Lois grinned right along with her. “You did that. I just pushed the buttons. You made the actual gadgets that work, which is pretty damned awesome.”
“Lois, I haven’t had this much fun since…” Lena paused, brow furrowed as her mind wandered back through time. The light changed and the car moved forward. “Actually, I don’t remember having this much fun ever. Is your life always like this?”
“Pretty much,” Lois nodded. “When you hang out with Supers, you can be sure there’s never a dull day. And even when there’s no Supers around, there’s always trouble. I’m an investigative journalist - means I go out and dig up dirt, uncover clues and actually investigate what I’m writing. It’s not all interviews in posh offices over cups of coffee, or sitting at a desk typing. Well ok, I do have a desk, and I do interview people over coffee but still…”
“Interesting. I’ve always been on the receiving end of interviews. I’m getting to know the process a bit more now, thanks to my recent purchase, but still, I’m more a desk type of woman. That’s not to say we haven’t had some fairly exciting moments of scientific discovery in my day. For instance, there was the portal and then the lead dispersal unit. For all the harm that portal did, it still holds vast scientific possibilities.”
“Ah, the Daxamites,” Lois nodded knowingly, understanding what Lena was referring to. “Clark said they were a tricky bunch of bastards. Did a real number on him...because,” She paused, realising what she’d said and having to think fast to cover it up. “He was in National City on an assignment at the time, and the Daxamites were all punchy douchebags trying to enslave everyone. Clark’s not the best fighter, bless him. Ended up getting hit more than a few times before Supergirl was able to save him.”
“Clark…” Lena nodded. “I’m so sorry, Lois. I’m sorry your fiancé was injured due, in part, to my actions. I’d like to apologize to him when I get the opportunity.”
“Honestly, it’s fine, Lena. He admits he shouldn’t have been there, though he was glad he was. Ended up helping quite a few people in the end.” Of course she’d failed to mention that the punches Clark had received had been from his own cousin, not the Daxamites. But Lena didn’t need to know that bit. Nor that he was in his ‘other work’ uniform. Or that he was affected by silver kryptonite.
With a slight smile, Lena replied, “He’s sounds like a very good man.”
“He is. A bit of a dork. Well, more of a geek really, I suppose. A bit clumsy and bashful, but he’s my world. And I can’t wait to meet up with him again.”
As she pulled onto the highway, the CEO’s smile grew far and away. She was looking at oncoming traffic as she merged, but her mind seemed to be elsewhere. “A clumsy, bashful, geek, huh? Well, I can see the attraction in that. I’m happy for you. I’m happy for you both.”
Lois, who had been drifting off into her own reverie of Clark, swallowed back her fears for his safety as Lena spoke again, and forced herself back into the present, just in time to catch the look on the young CEO’s face. She couldn’t resist a little digging then, her reporter senses tingling. “How about you? Anyone special in your life right now?”
Lena’s head turned quickly, her expression suddenly guarded as she faced the reporter before returning to traffic. “I’m much too busy for any of that. I’ve just bought a new company, and I’m still CEO of L-Corp even though I have a fabulous new CFO. No, dating is for other people. I’m...I’m a Luthor.”
“You sound just like me, when I first started out,” Lois chuckled. “All I cared about was my career. Clark was a bumbling idiot, and I hated being paired with him for assignments. And then one day, all that just changed. I can’t even pin it on any one, specific event, really. All I’ll say is don’t rule it out yet. And as for you being a Luthor? Means nothing. Lex dated all the time.”
“Well, I’m not going to be Lex no matter what people say about me.” Lena swallowed hard, her words coming out a little bit too harsh in the small confines of the vehicle. There was a silence that lasted a few beats and then, with a gentler tone, she added, “So, somehow things just fell into place for you and Clark? One day you were coworkers and then...then what?”
“I think he saved my life,” Lois considered for a while, then shook her head. “No, Superman saved my life, that was it. Superman saved me, but Clark was there to pick up the pieces after. I needed a couple of stitches I think, and he sat in the hospital all night with me as I waited to be seen. Didn’t complain once, just sat and kept me company. I think that was probably the moment when I first saw him in a whole other light. The kind, caring, compassionate man he could be under all that geek.”
“Superman saved your life and Clark picked up the pieces? Hmmm, well, if that’s all it took I’d be dating…” Clearing her throat, Lena continued, “We’ll be at the Sheerwater restaurant in less than five minutes. Do you like seafood? They have a wonderful lobster bisque.”
“Not so fast there, Skippy. Who were you going to say just now?” Lois leaned forward a little to get a better look at Lena’s expression.
Her expression placid and unchanging under the deep scrutiny, Lena shrugged. “Given the number of times Supergirl has saved my life? Likely half of National City by now. Wouldn’t the gossip rags have a field day with that. No offense. The Daily Planet is an upstanding publication, much like CatCo.”
“Are you trying to flatter me, to make me change the subject?” Lois smirked, one eyebrow rising. “Perry called me a Pitbull once, and I think I’ve been called a Bloodhound too. You want to know why? Because when I get hold of a scent, I can’t just let it drop. So flattery might get you everywhere, Miss Luthor…..but I’m not fooled.” She pointed two fingers to her eyes, then to Lena. “I’m onto you and your tricky….tricks. But for the sake of this newfound alliance, and because you’re my ticket to food, I’ll stop with the questions… For now.”
Eyes shifting between her companion and the road several times, Lena finally said, “The Sheerwater also has excellent cheesecake.”
“So what were we talking about just now, that had absolutely nothing to do with your love life?” Lois asked brightly, suddenly very keen to change the subject, despite her words of a moment before.
Lena shook her head. “Reporters and their stomachs. I’ll have to take a look at the CatCo budget. Perhaps our doughnut to pen funding ratio isn’t out of whack.”
“Hey now, you can’t get between a reporter and her doughnuts! That’s just a big no!” Lois frowned as if this was indeed a truly terrible sin.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. When Miss Danvers gets back from seeing her mother, I do hope you’re still in National City. You two can go for doughnuts together.”
“Miss Danvers?” Lois asked carefully. She knew who Kara was, of course, but as far as she was aware, Lena didn’t know that she knew her. She’d need to tread very carefully here, in order not to give anything away. “Oh, as in Kara Danvers, the reporter? Supergirl’s reporter?”
“Indeed. She’s our local expert on all things Supergirl and all things doughnuts. Given your affinity for the Man of Steel and fried baked goods, you two should get along famously. The two of you should spend time together when she gets back in town.”
Lois smiled and nodded. “I think I’d like that. I’d love to hear all of her stories about the Girl of Steel. I know Clark was very impressed by her writing when he shared that interview with her - the one where they came to your office after the whole Venture fiasco. He was talking about it for weeks after.”
“Yes, another little something from Lex. Family, the gift that keeps on giving,” Lena said with obvious bitter sarcasm. “Your Mr. Kent was quite fair to me in his article. I wasn’t expecting that, especially not from someone who used to be a friend of Lex’s. My brother burned so many bridges, I’m surprised they didn’t add several charges of arson to all of those murder counts against him. You’ve got yourself a good man there, Lois. Don’t let go of him. A man like that is one in a million.”
“He sure is,” Lois nodded, slipping away into her own world of thoughts again. And then Lena’s other words registered, and Lois blinked back to reality, then smirked. “Hey, at least he didn’t tie you to a stake in the middle of a cornfield and set the place on fire. That was something to remember, let me tell you! If I ever see his smug, bald head again, I’ll be sure as hell to give it a good slap for that.”
Swerving slightly before she recentered the vehicle in the lane, Lena swallowed hard as she blinked rapidly. She took her exit, but needed close to a minute before she could speak. “My brother tied you to a stake and set the cornfield around you on fire? He...He tried to kill you?”
“Uh huh,” Lois nodded as if it was an everyday occurrence. As if being in life or death situations was a daily thing for her. Though to be fair, it usually was. “He thought he was being clever. Gave Superman a choice - save me or save Metropolis. Silly fool didn’t believe he could do both.”
“Lois I…” Lena sighed heavily. “I’d apologize, but that sounds like hollow words when one’s brother tries to kill someone. My whole damn family is toxic. That’s why most people won’t touch a Luthor with a ten-foot pole. Are you okay with…?” Lena gestured back and forth with one finger between herself and Lois.
“You? You’re a whole other bucket of awesome, Luthor. Nothing to worry about there. Don’t worry, you impressed Clark and that takes a lot. And from what I’ve seen so far, we are going to be friends for a very long time. So no worries from this side of the car.”
Lena blinked several times, not responding, then pointed to a gated area ahead. As she pulled in she said, “We’ll valet the car.”
She pulled up front and a young man in a white shirt, black pants, and a black vest hurried immediately to Lena’s side and opened her door. As she got out, he held the door and waited for Lois to exit, and Lena to take her laptop bag and purse from the back, before he drove around back with the vehicle.
The Sheerwater was attached to the Hotel Del Coronado, a vast expanse that stretched along the beachfront. It was picturesque, white room upon white room with bright red roofs and in the corner, an iconic red circular tower that stood out like a lighthouse but was much broader. It was a lovely combination of classic and modern architecture.
As they stepped inside the Sheerwater restaurant, rich warm colors brought with them a coolness beyond the comfort of the air conditioning. The rug was a paisley design, burgundy with cremes, some greens, and even the occasional bright blue to liven up the scheme. The ceiling was an elongated arch design, dark wood with a hint of red and exposed posts coming together to a beautifully designed center that was a combination of form and function. Small tables of glass and wood, bright among the otherwise dark design, sat about the room, and the windows stretched from floor to ceiling allowing in ample light. To one side was a small area of fresh fruit and pastries, and on the other was a station where a chef would cut fresh slabs of beef or chicken.
“Well this is very….expensive,” Lois surmised at last as she took in the surroundings with a keen eye. Then she glanced across at her companion, and somehow wasn’t at all surprised. “Suits you. This place, I mean. It’s very…..you.”
Before Lois could say anything else, the mâtre d’ greeted them. “Miss Luthor, it’s a pleasure to have you joining us again this afternoon. We have your usual table, and the privacy dividers are ready. We have it prepared for two people. Is that correct?”
“Yes, Christopher. It will be just the two of us.”
“Perfect.” The man bent ever so slightly at the waist and gestured toward his left. “If you ladies will kindly follow me, I’ll show you to your table.”
They were led to a table at the far end of the restaurant next to a window. There were two white screens, folded up leaning against the glass, and as Lois and Lena took their chairs, a waiter and waitress set them up between the two women at the table and the rest of the patrons.
“Okay, do you always eat like this?”
“Like this?” Lena looked up to see where Lois was looking. “Ah, the dividers. Paparazzi I’m afraid. I don’t know if it’s worse when I’m eating alone or with a companion. Either way, there’s certain to be pictures and interesting comments.” Snapping open her menu, Lena added, “Can the youngest Luthor not get a date, or who is she sleeping with this week? If you like seafood, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, I hear. It’s all fresh.”
“Perfect,” Lois nodded, opening up her own menu. Then peering at Lena over the top of it, she grinned, wondering if she was brave enough. To hell with it, she was Lois Lane. Of course she was!
“So…..care to give me an exclusive? On who you’re sleeping with, I mean,” she teased playfully, forcing herself to look at the menu and keep a straight face. Though she was carefully studying Lena’s reaction out of the corner of her eye.
“I should have known better than to lunch with a reporter,” Lena replied, though there was just the hint of smile on her lips. “I’m sorry, Miss Lane, but you’ll understand of course, when I say that will have to be a CatCo exclusive. I can’t go around giving away that kind of juicy tidbit to the competition.”
“Ah well, was worth a try,” Lois shrugged. And then her eyes snapped up. “Wait, you mean there IS an actual ‘juicy tidbit’?! Who?”
Dropping her menu with an exasperated sigh, Lena replied, “You are a damn bloodhound, aren’t you?”
“Thank you,” Lois beamed with pride. Then she set her own menu down. “Seriously though, off the record, if there is anyone…...well good for you. I know how crap the rags can be when they catch wind of a juicy bit of gossip. I was on the receiving end of it myself, remember? ‘World renowned reporter engaged to co-worker, secretly dating alien from another planet’. Well, replace ‘dating’ with ‘sleeping with’ and you get a more accurate picture of some of the absolute drivel that the lesser reputable tabloids will run these days for a fast buck.”
“I’m sorry they dragged you through that. Are still dragging, most likely. I don’t read those things. I have lawyers that file lawsuits that don’t cover the costs of their legal fees, but it helps to keep some of the rags from getting out of control.” Lena paused. “Off the record?”
“Off the record,” Lois nodded, sitting forward a little.
“There’s no one, hasn’t been for years. I’ve dated a little bit, though socially really. It’s more as a business acquaintance sort of way if that makes sense. Romantically though…” Lena shook her head.
Lois nodded, a small smile of understanding as she reached across the table and took the other woman’s hand, giving it a gentle, encouraging squeeze. “You’ll find someone. Someday. Hey, maybe you already have, and you just don’t know it yet?” She also paused for a moment, and then grinned. “By the way, that reporter who ran that particular article about me? I got my own back. Punishment Lane-Style. Poor guy never knew what hit him. My dad might be difficult, but he has his moments. Especially when I put on my ‘Daddy I need you’ act. He whacked that guy with a Federal Court Martial summons, told him he’d committed treason and unless he wrote a retraction, he would be facing some serious consequences.” She grinned a huge, mischievous grin. “I may have exaggerated ever so slightly to dear old papa, when I was telling him what had happened.”
“Well, that’s rather terrifying. Remind me to stay on your good side. To be fair, if my mother ever did me any favors she’d likely murder someone for me. I suppose that isn’t any better.” Lena met Lois’ gaze for a few heartbeats then nodded. “No, likely worse. So, I’m thinking drinks. The Blood Orange Avenue is Makers Mark Bourbon, blood orange juice, and blood orange bitters. Thoughts?”
Lois cringed a little, without meaning to. “Too much blood mentioned in all that for my liking.”
“Well…” Lena looked at the menu briefly. “They have a martini? Sunset Martini with Belvedere Vodka, pomegranate liqueur, and pineapple juice. It’s a bit sweet for my tastes, but you could get it shaken and not stirred.”
“Alright Double Oh Seven,” Lois chuckled, shaking her head. “If there’s a strawberry daiquiri or a bellini, I won’t say no though.”
Reaching across, Lena pulled Lois’ menu from her hands. “Darling, you just tell the nice waiter what you want. They’ll make it happen.”
“Just like that?” Lois asked, surprised. “In that case, I’ll have one of each. Although…...actually better make it half a one. My supply of cash has fast dwindled since I’ve been here and I, uh….didn’t bring my cards.” She had, but she knew that using them would alert the ‘relevant authorities’ to her presence, and the longer she could fly under the radar, the better. Though J’onn’s cash, plus the small amount she’d brought with her was really pulling a disappearing act on her rather quickly now, she’d only just realised. If she was going to make it last, she needed to be more careful.
Lena tutted. “I invited you out for lunch. This is on me. Hmmm...actually, what do you think about working at CatCo, Miss Lane?”
“As sorely tempting an offer as that is, Miss Luthor, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline. There’s no end of people who would likely kill me if I accepted. Clark Kent, Superman and Perry White being at the top of that list.”
Lena chuckled. “Well, don’t decline yet. Make it through the end of lunch and then give it a day or two to mull it over. After all, if we don’t get through this interview, how am I going to write this off as a business expense?”
“You’d use and abuse your business expense on something like this? Oh, of course you would, you’re a Luthor,” Lois teased again. “Well, I suppose you did do me a massive favor when you bought CatCo, so I at least owe you that much. I’ll consider it, Miss Luthor. But don’t get your hopes up.”
“Miss Lane…” Hands folded on the table, Lena smiled slyly as she leaned forward. “You totally underestimate my powers of persuasion. After a few days together, let’s see on who’s payroll you are.”
“And you, Miss Luthor,” Lois replied as she also leaned forward a little, mirroring Lena’s pose. “Totally underestimate my powers of being a complete pain in the ass. So indeed, let’s see who's payroll I’m on after a few days together.”
Raising a finger, Lena signaled the waiter over to her. “We need drinks. This relationship needs a toast.”
“Hear, hear,” Lois agreed with a mischievous grin again.
“I’ll have a blood orange avenue and for my business associate…?” One eyebrow raised, Lena looked over at Lois.
“I’ll have a bellini please,” Lois decided after a brief deliberation. She usually always went for a strawberry daiquiri, after all, so the bellini would make a change.
“Thank you,” Lena said, “Also, please let the chef know we won’t be ordering off the menu. That’s all for now.”
With a nod, the waiter left the table.
“We’re not ordering off the menu?” Lois pouted. “But….but….food?”
With a hearty laugh, Lena said, “Darling, you and Kara truly do have to spend time together. If I’d closed my eyes just then, I’d have thought she was here with me.” Sobering slightly perhaps at that thought, Lena added, “We are ordering food. We’re just not limited to what’s on the menu. If you ask for something for which they don’t have the ingredients, it could take a bit longer. They might have to do a bit of shopping.”
“Oh, give me a burger and some fries and I’m all good,” Lois nodded. Then remembering where she was, and that this was a more ‘high end’ class of dining, she faltered. “Uh….maybe that should be…….steak? With…...something that’s like a posh version of fries?”
Rubbing at her lips to try and hide her smile, Lena quickly tapped it down and returned her face to a neutral visage. “They have both a steak and a burger. According to Kara, both are excellent, especially when eaten at the same meal. As to the fries, they just call them fries. It’s as ‘posh’ as they get.”
“You and Kara have eaten here before, huh?” Lois asked, picking up on this particular trail of evidence. “Well obviously you have, but Kara? She’s...just a reporter isn’t she? Do you make a habit of wining and dining all your employees, Miss Luthor, because if that is the case, you are a considerably more favourable option than Perry White, right about now.”
“I...I wouldn’t call it wining and dining I...Kara and I are friends.” Lena waved a hand around in the air a bit aimlessly. “At any rate, before Kara was my employee, she was the reporter at CatCo who was assigned to L-Corp. At times we’d have interviews at more relaxed venues such as this.”
“Wish all my interviewees were as accommodating to me as you are,” Lois shook her head, now her turn to have a slightly bitter tone. “Most of them either tell me to get lost, leave them the hell alone, threaten to call the cops, or just straight out threaten me. Wonder Woman was even convinced that I was the spawn of Aries, come to test her, or…..something….”
“Spawn of Aries.” Lena laughed, the smile sliding off her face a moment later as she looked at Lois’ own face. “You’re being serious? She was being serious? Wait, is Aries real?”
“I think she may have been hit with one too many U-boats in the First World War, to be perfectly honest with you, but I had a hell of a job convincing her I was just a regular human,” Lois sounded as if she herself couldn’t quite believe what she was saying, though the ludicrousness of such a statement did leave serious room for debate, even for one who’d been there and met the woman in question, herself. “Needless to say I won’t be going back to Paris in a hurry.”
“World War One, Aries, Wonder Woman, U-boats.” Lena shook her head. “On what kind of stories does your editor send you?”
“If you’d told me I’d be reporting on all this stuff when I first stepped into the world of journalism, I’d have laughed at you. But then Superman came along and the whole world changed overnight. Suddenly the impossible became…..well, possible.”
“I’m a scientist and therefore not a fan of the word impossible.” As the waiter came back with their drinks, Lena paused in her commentary and thanked the man. “Lois, steak or burger?”
“Burger please,” Lois replied, looking up to the waiter. “Ooh, and extra fries, I’m starving.”
“How would you like it cooked…” He glanced down briefly at her hand before making eye contact again, “Miss?”
Lois also glanced down at her hand, and found that she’d forgotten to put her engagement ring on in her haste to leave the Kent farm, however long ago that had been now. “Ah crap. Clark is gonna kill me if he finds out.” A polite cough from the waiter and she was reminded that he’d asked her a question. “Right, medium...no, well done. No….wait that sounded like I was congratulating you, which I wasn’t but well done anyway for being you. Oh and can you maybe make it medium-well done?”
The waiter nodded, trying not to smirk as he remained professional. “That comes with a side-salad unless you’d prefer fruit.”
“Fruit?” Now Lois was confused. “What…...what kind of fruit?”
Glancing briefly at Lena, the man looked at Lois again. “What would you like?”
Lois also looked at Lena. “I’m way out of my league here. I’m a burger van girl…..what do I ask for? Like apples or, I dunno, kumquats or something?”
Picking the menus up from the table, Lena handed them to the waiter. “Bring her a spring fruit salad, and I’ll have my usual. That’s all.”
“Thank you, Miss Luthor,” the man nodded, taking the menus and walking away.
Lois watched him go, then whispered conspiratorially, “Do people really eat fruit with their burgers? That’s just…….weird.”
Lifting her drink, Lena said, “Lois, to our relationship. May it continue to be as illuminating as it has begun.”
Grinning, Lois picked up her own drink from the table and held it aloft. “Oh, I’ll illuminate you, Luthor. This is going to be the start of something beautiful, informative, a bit madcap, and definitely not something you want to do without at least one drink in you.”
As their glasses gently clinked together and they both drank, Lena smiled and said, “Miss Lane, I have no doubt everything you said is true.”
After a few sips, Lena set her drink down and pulled out her laptop, setting it up on the table. “Let’s see what our investigating revealed, shall we?” She clicked through several settings, gaining access to the files that had been downloaded earlier. Pulling out several sheets of paper from her bag, she looked at some numbers that were highlighted. “Okay, let’s see what happened here.” Typing into her system, she then sat back, waiting for the results.
“Anything?” Lois asked impatiently after about five seconds.
Smirking but not looking up from the screen, Lena said, “You’re really not a fan of foreplay, are you?”
“Oh there’s foreplay and there’s foreplay . I’m not a fan of your version of it, let’s put it that way.”
Still smirking, Lena watched her screen for several moments as she sipped her drink, not saying a thing. Finally, she lifted a single eyebrow, the smile gone. “Well, that’s interesting.”
“Interesting……?” Lois prompted, tapping the fingers of one hand on the table impatiently. “How interesting?”
“Yes it’s um...very,” Lena replied, typing again.
“Very…..?” Lois prompted again, the tapping fingers becoming more impatient as a foot under the table joined in, tapping out a rhythmless tune. “How ‘very’ are we talking, here?!”
“Hmmm...quite.” Lena typed again, her brows deeply furrowed. “Let’s see what this brings up. Nothing good I expect.”
Lois waited for exactly five further seconds, then let out a loud exclamation. “Oh for the love of God, scoot over!” Standing up and picking up her chair, she shuffled it around to sit beside Lena’s. Then she pointed at the screen. “Alright, explain.”
Startled, Lena slid her chair over a bit when the other chair bumped into hers. “Oh, all right. You see, notice the contents listed here?”
“Uh huh,” Lois nodded. She could see a list, though the things in it meant nothing to her.
“Notice the weight in the margins over there next to the shipping costs?”
“Uh huh,” Lois continued nodding, again seeing what Lena was pointing out, but not understanding it.
“Clearly incongruous, don’t you agree?”
Lois spent some time studying the list, then the weights, then the costs. Then she shrugged, with a sheepish grin. “It’s all alien to me.”
“All right, let’s begin again,” Lena said with a heavy sigh. She pointed at the screen. “Capacitors are listed here. See, capacitors, agreed?”
“I can read, you know,” Lois frowned, a little put out by Lena’s tone, like she was a child in a school lesson. “But what have those capacitors got to do with the weights and costs?”
“I didn’t mean to insult you. I just…” Lena shrugged. “Tantalum capacitors are extremely light weight. A shipment of two thousand, as is listed here, would not explain this shipping weight. Either Fed Ex is cheating me, or the contents of that container was something entirely different.”
“See, now that I understood,” Lois nodded, her frown vanishing in an instant as she reached across the table and retrieved her own beverage, taking a sip that immediately brought another smile to her lips. “And you didn’t insult me. Takes a lot to do that, trust me. I’m just not as up to speed with your science lingo yet. Give me time, I’ll get there.”
“Well, I’m far from an expert at the lingo of investigative journalism, and I have an entire company to run. Perhaps we can be patient with each other and both learn a thing or two along the way,” Lena offered as she sipped her drink again. “At any rate, I’ve cross referenced the shipments that left that same day headed to the same destination. I’m also pulling up the video files for that day, for the shipments in question, so we can see who actually took delivery.”
“Sounds like a plan. When will we see that?”
“Classic Lane patience.”
“Hey, I resemble that remark.”
“Indeed.” Opening another window, Lena started a video file. “These are the people who took delivery that day. Our policy is to get video of anyone entering or leaving the premises. No audio, of course, because that would require authorization. However, we have videos of everyone, and these are the people who took delivery.”
Lena clicked on the white arrow, starting the video file. A generic brown truck pulled up, and a man and a woman stepped out of either side. Two people wearing L-Corp Security uniforms were waiting for them. There was a check of identification and paperwork, and after things had cleared, the guards lead the newcomers into the warehouse. The view changed to one from a different camera again and again, until it stopped by a set of crates. The guards checked the paperwork again and pointed out a crate and the newcomers began to load it onto a pallet jack. They took it back to their truck. This process repeated twice while Lena and Lois watched. Finally, the duo waved off the guards, closed up their truck, and drove away.
“Well, that’s disheartening. There’s nothing like watching a video recording of yourself being robbed,” Lena said taking another sip of her drink. “Recognize either of those two?”
“I’ve never seen them. The whole thing looked pretty normal, but I suppose that was the point.”
“Hmmm.” Pulling out her cell phone, Lena thumbed through her contacts before one eyebrow rose briefly. She hit a button. “Excuse me please, Lois.”
“Sure thing. Hot date?”
A smile tugged at the corner of Lena’s mouth while she waited for the call to be answered, and then she plastered on a smile that didn’t reach her eyes, “Alberto, darling, it’s Lena Luthor. I need a favor, of course.” She laughed slightly. “No, I promise it won’t be that bad this time. How could it? No, this is a simple matter of track down two people. I’m going to send you a video file. You’ll see two people taking delivery of some cargo. I need to know who they are, and where they are now.” She nodded, listening. “Yes, that’s right. Depending on where that is...Alberto, these people stole from me. You know how bad it would be for business if that got out. I need to know exactly for whom they’re working. I can track down the shipment to some extent, but the more information and the quicker you can help me the better. Your usual retainer?” This time when she smiled her eyes glimmered, but not with joy. “No questions on either end. You’re the best for a reason. A risentirci.” Disconnecting Lena put her phone away again.
Eyes narrowed, Lois leaned a bit closer to the other woman. “Did you just put a hit out on someone?”
“What?” Lena waved vaguely. “Oh, don’t be so dramatic. No, Alberto doesn’t take care of those sort of things for me. He procures information. He’ll use facial recognition software to gather the identities of the people in question, find what airports they’ve used, track them down, and...speak with them on my behalf.”
“Speak with them,” Lois repeated sipping her drink again.
Nodding, Lena took a sip of her beverage also.
“You know, for the good Luthor, you’re scary as all heck sometimes. Okay, so what’s our...Wait a minute. You said Alberto doesn’t take care of those sorts of things for you. That kind of implies someone else does. Do you have a paid killer on retainer?”
“Well, if I told you that, I’d have to have you killed, wouldn’t I?”
Lois blinked several times then downed her drink. “Okay, that bellini was great. You think I could get a strawberry daiquiri this time? I feel like this isn’t going to be a one drink lunch.”
Raising her hand, Lena wiggled a finger and a waiter seemed to appear from nowhere. “The lady would like a strawberry daiquiri.”
“Of course, Miss Luthor, and anything else for you?”
“No, actually, yes. I’ll have a sparkling water with a twist of lime. That will be all.”
As the waiter left, Lois grinned. “Can’t hold your liquor, Luthor? I don’t seem to remember that being a Luthor family trait. Both your brother and father drank like...well, like Aquaman.”
“Oh, I’m sorely tempted, Miss Lane, believe me, but I feel like two could become three could become four all too easily, and I’m driving. When I retire this evening it will be with a stack of quarterly reports and a bottle of Glenfiddich forty-year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.”
Lois leaned back in her chair, head turned so she could watch the younger woman. “Is that how you usually spend your evenings?”
“No.” Lena laughed off the question. “Sometimes it’s wine.” Before Lois could pry any further, she picked up her phone again, “Excuse me, but it occurred to me there’s one more thing we should do in regard to this missing shipment. I apologize for continuing to be rude and making calls while-”
Lois waved her off, “If I weren’t on vacation, I’d be on the phone and making notes this whole time. Honestly, you’re seeing me on my best behaviour.”
“This is your vacation?” Lena asked as she hit a number in her contacts then smirked up at Lois. “This is your best behaviour?”
“Sam, Lena,” the CEO said into the phone. “Check your schedule if you would. Do you have any openings later on this afternoon? There’s something I’d like to go over with you, and I’d rather not do it on the phone.” Lena covered the mouthpiece of her phone and whispered to Lois, “This is Sam Arias, the CFO of L-Corp. She’s the one who discovered the discrepancy in the shipment in the first. I’d like to bring her up to speed on this.”
“On this?!” Lois whispered a bit too loudly.
“No.” Lena shook her head. “Nothing to do with Superman or Supergirl. I just want her to look internally as to how this was all hidden and to see if we have any more missing shipments. If we do I...Yes, Sam.” Checking her watch, Lena smiled. “Oh, that would be perfect. We’ll see you then. Hmmm? Ah, yes, I’m bringing a business associate. I’ll explain when we get there. See you soon.”
“Oh, now I’m a business associate,” Lois said steepling her fingers as she looked at the CEO. “My how quickly things change.”
“Well, this is a business lunch.”
Lois scooted her chair back round to sit opposite Lena as the food came out, a salad covered in fresh vegetables with dressing on the side for Lena and burger, medium-well on some fancy artisan bun with horseradish sauce on the side and an extra serving of extra-thick steak fries on the side for Lois along with her fruit salad, all extremely fresh looking. Lois’ drink was brought out also, a strawberry nearly as big as a small apple slit and stuck on the rim.
Raising her glass, Lois said, “Well, then a toast to a successful business venture. Let’s hope this partnership brings the important people back home. This world sure needs them.”
“Miss Lane, I couldn’t agree more,” Lena said clinking her glass carefully off Lois’.
Chapter 6: Onwards and Upwards
Lena pulled into her reserved spot in the L-Corp underground parking lot, and she and Lois made their way directly to the top floor via the elevator there. It opened up to a broad waiting area outside Sam Arias’ office, what had once been Lena’s office at L-Corp. As the ladies stepped out of the elevator, the Executive Assistant rose smiling from her desk, her eyes only trained on the CEO.
“Jess.” Lena opened her arms. “You’re a sight for sore eyes. I hardly get to see you anymore.”
Stepping around her desk, the shorter woman exchanged a brief embrace with the young Luthor before she stepped back and said, “Well, whose fault is that? You know where I am.”
Lena chuckled. “That’s fair, I suppose. I’m still trying to get my legs under me at CatCo. Trying to learn a new industry is taking all my time.”
“Oh, Miss Luthor. You’ll conquer it in no time and have the media industry eating out of your hand. You turned this place around after all.”
“You flatter me,” Lena said then gestured to the door. “Is Sam…?”
Nodding, Jess walked behind her desk. “Miss Arias is in her office and expecting you.”
“Excellent. Will you let her know we’re here?”
“That won’t be necessary, Miss Luthor. She said to let you and your guest know to go in when you got here. Can I get anything for you or Miss…?” Brows furrowing, Jess stared at Lois as familiarity slowly overcame her expression.
“Nothing for me, thank you, Jess. Did you want anything?” Lena asked.
“No, I’m still stuffed from lunch and a little…” Holding out her hand, Lois wiggled it back and forth palm down. “You know, from cocktails. Though I should stick to the soft stuff from now on. Can’t write a story if I’m intoxicated. Still, it’s a good thing you’re driving, Luthor.”
“Especially since we don’t need you hitting anyone’s fiancé.”
“It was one time,” Lois argued, holding her finger in the air as she trailed after Lena. “Jeez, you tell a pal something in confidence.”
“What about the dog?” Lena asked as they entered the office.
“Okay, in my defense, the dog ran in front of my car, and he isn’t as tall as a person. Sure, Clark I saw when I hit him with the car, but the dog, that was a surprise.”
“Lena?” Eyes shifting back and forth between the newcomers, a confused expression on her face, Sam slowly rose from her desk.
“Sam, thank you for seeing us on such short notice. Lois, I’d like you to meet Sam Arias, the new CFO of L-Corp and the woman keeping the ship afloat and moving full speed ahead in my absence. Sam, this is Lois Lane, reporter with the Daily Planet, all around troublemaker but seemingly good sort.”
“But not a good driver I’d gather,” Sam said as she walked out from behind her desk and extended her hand, “Miss Lane, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Miss Arias, the pleasure is mine. I wish I could disagree with anything Miss Luthor here has said, but she actually painted me in a fairly good light.” Pulling back her hand, Lois wiggled her fingers about. “Wow, that’s some grip you’ve got there.”
“Oh, sorry about that. I think it’s from signing all of this paperwork for L-Corp. When I bought my home they misspelled my name. I had to sign my name incorrectly, initial it and then sign it again correctly. I thought that was a lot of paperwork, but it’s nothing compared to corporate America.”
“Regretting the job already?” Lena asked.
“No, not at all,” Sam said quickly. “I think I just may be developing carpal tunnel. I’m glad this job came with a top notch health insurance plan. Now, how can I help you ladies? Does this have something to do with a story?”
“Unfortunately not,” Lena said. “Sam, remember last week when you brought those abnormalities to my attention, the ones that showed we had shipments that went missing from a warehouse downtown?”
Sam nodded, “Sure the software glitch. I’ve got a tech team working on upgrading the software so it won’t happen again. What about it?”
“It’s not a glitch,” Lena said.
Lena nodded. “You heard me. It’s not a glitch. Miss Lane and I went to the warehouse today. We pulled the records and then the video files to go with it. The shipment was there, and someone took it. The shipment weights didn’t match itemized objects in the shipments. We were able—”
“Lena wait.” Blinking rapidly, Sam’s mouth hung open for a moment before she closed it and shook her head. “Are you saying we’ve been robbed?”
“I’m saying we’ve been robbed.”
“Oh, my God,” Sam whispered, hand briefly covering her mouth. Hurrying back around her desk, she nearly fell into her chair as she began typing into her system. “Have you contacted the authorities?”
Looking at the CEO, Sam sighed. “Lena…”
“Sam, I have someone working on this, but we’re handling it internally. We can’t involve the police. You know this company can’t afford a scandal.”
After just a moment of maintaining eye contact, Sam nodded and then went about her typing. “I can’t believe this happened on my watch. Lena, I’m so, so sorry.”
“Sam, no.” Sitting on the edge of the desk, Lena reached across and stilled her CFO’s furious typing by grasping one of the woman’s hands. “This didn’t happen on your watch. This was discovered on your watch. Thank you for that.” Lena waited until Sam nodded in acknowledge then withdrew her hand and stood. “Now, how do we move forward?”
“Well, the tech team that was working on the glitch was ordered to locate and isolate any other glitched occurrences so we could upgrade the software. However, if that wasn’t a glitch…” Sam held Lena’s gaze.
“Then maybe none of it was.”
“That’s what I’m thinking.” Sam typed for a few more moments, then her printer began to spit out paper. “This goes back several months, and the shipments come from different warehouses. They all use the same software.”
“But the systems are separate. There is no network for a reason. Each upgrade is manual.”
Sam nodded. “Yes, but all with the same software which made the glitch possible.”
“It doesn’t make theft any less possible.” Lena’s brow furrowed. “How long ago did this start?”
Pulling the sheet of paper off the printer, Sam studied the dates. “The earliest one listed is nearly five months ago. Why? Is that relevant?” She asked, one finger drawing down from her upper lip to land on her lower lip briefly before returning to play with her top lip, the CFO studying Lena.
“At this point, I haven’t the foggiest, but it could be. Sam, we may have to involve legal. Who’s in house today?”
“I’ll check,” Sam said pushing her intercom button and calling for Jess.
Lois wandered about the office for a bit as Lena and Sam got ‘corporate’. Namely, they began to speak business, in technical terms that Lois neither understood, nor cared to even bother trying.
A thought occurred to her as she completed a circuit of the office, and she looked towards the balcony.
“Mind if I make some calls?” She asked, pulling out both her actual phone and the burner phone she’d been using, to ensure she couldn’t be tracked. She looked towards the balcony, and Lena, catching her eye and seeing what she was silently asking, nodded.
“Of course. You’ll find some privacy out on the balcony if you need it.”
“Thanks.” Lois was already opening the door, even before Lena had given her permission to, and stepping out onto the small balcony of the office, she closed to door again behind her as Sam and Lena resumed their conversation. Considering she couldn’t hear them talking, Lois took that to mean that the glass was soundproof and would work both ways, meaning that they wouldn’t be able to hear her either. After straining to hear them for a few moments longer, just to make absolutely sure, she then looked back to the two phones in her hand, and scrolling through the contacts on one, she found the number she was after, dialled it into the burner phone, then took a shuddering breath, her heart pounding so fiercely in her chest that she was afraid it might crack a rib or three, as she waited for the other end of the line to be picked up. It seemed to take an age, and with every passing second, Lois found her nerve slipping away, as she began to pace in agitation up and down the small area of concrete. Just as she was about to bottle it completely and hang up, however, there was a click, and then an oh so familiar voice.
“Hey, Mrs. K,” Lois breathed, already feeling so much better, just hearing that one single word from the other woman who had become like a mother figure to the reporter in the years that she’d known her.
“Lois!” Martha Kent’s voice was pleasantly surprised. “It’s been a while, my dear! How are you?”
“Honestly, Mrs. K?” Lois tucked her phone back into her pocket as she spoke on the burner, then pressed her now free hand to her eyes, squinting them shut and pinching the bridge of her nose for a moment. “Not great.”
“Oh dear,” Martha’s tone was sympathetic. “What’s happened?”
“It’s… oh, Mrs. K, it’s really bad,” Lois blurted out then, feeling a sudden and unexpected swell of emotion as she took her hand away from her face again. “It’s about Clark. Maybe you should sit down?”
“Lois?” Now Martha’s tone was concerned. More than a little, in fact. “What’s going on? Has something happened to Clark?”
“He’s…” Lois swallowed hard for a moment, feeling the tears prickling at the corners of her eyes, but as yet refusing to fall. She took another deep breath and forced herself to carry on. “He’s gone missing.”
There was a long silence from the other end of the line, and if Lois hadn’t been able to hear the other woman’s breathing, she’d have wondered if the line had cut out completely. But not really knowing how to carry on, she just waited and let the other woman digest this news first.
Eventually, Martha let out a long, slow breath herself. “Are you absolutely sure he’s missing?”
“Positive,” Lois nodded, even though she knew the other woman wouldn’t be able to see the action. “The last anyone heard from him, he was heading for the Fortress to look for Kara. She’s missing too. Both of them are gone. Like vanished, without a trace. I can’t get hold of him - not even on his Super phone. That’s not like him, Mrs. K. He would have called by now.”
“Lord have mercy,” Martha breathed again, a tremble in her voice that she was trying to hold back, for Lois’ sake no doubt.
“Mrs. K…” Lois’ voice was barely more than a whisper now as the first tear rolled free and unchecked down her cheek at last. “I’m scared.”
“It’s alright, Sweetheart,” Martha was putting on a brave voice now, most certainly for Lois’ sake. “Where are you?”
“National City…” Lois sniffed and palmed away some of the tears with her free hand, though she was finding it difficult to talk around the lump in her throat. “I came here with Kara’s adoptive sister Alex. There’s… there’s people working on finding them both… I’ve got some leads I’m tracking down right now as well.”
“You’re not alone, I hope?”
“No, no,” Again Lois shook her head, sniffing and palming away a few more tears, though her voice was stronger now. More steady. As she reassured the older woman, she was also reassuring herself. And it was helping. “Would you believe I’m working with a Luthor?”
“Lois!” Now Martha’s voice was shocked. “What on earth are you playing at?!”
“It’s ok, Mrs. K, she’s the baby one. Lena Luthor - she’s one of the good guys. Don’t worry, Clark vouched for her in person when he first met her, and from what I’ve seen of her so far, she really is great. I feel terrible keeping all these secrets from her though. She has no idea who the Supers really are.”
“And it has to stay that way, Lois. For her safety, as well as theirs,” Martha sighed, though from the tone of her voice she’d relaxed once again - apparently Lois’ word being enough to convince the older woman of Lena’s character and good intentions.
“I know, I know,” Wiping away the last of the tears with the back of her hand, and finally able to compose herself once more, Lois nodded. “So anyway, I figured no one had told you, so I thought I should at least bring you up to speed.”
“Thank you, Lois, I appreciate it. I know if anyone’s going to find my son and his cousin, it’ll be you. Do keep me informed if you find out anything?”
“On my word as a Lane, you’ll be the first to know,” Lois promised. “Try not to worry, Mrs. K. I’m sure he’ll be home again in no time.”
“I’m sure he will too,” Martha’s tone wasn’t convinced, but just as Lois was now doing, she was attempting to be optimistic and hopeful that all would turn out right. “You know where I am if you need anything.”
“Sure do. Can you give Krypto a big hug for me, by the way? It’s been far too long since I gave him one myself.”
“Careful, Lois, or you’ll ruin that carefully crafted reputation you have of being a dog hater.”
“I don’t hate dogs, Mrs. K. I have allergies. Krypto’s different though.”
“I know. I’ll give him a big hug and a kiss, especially from you.”
“Thanks. I’d better go now, Mrs. K. I’ll speak to you soon, hopefully with better news.”
“You take care, Lois!”
“Oh come on, you know that’s one promise I can’t make.”
“That’s what worries me,” Martha managed a light chuckle as she ended the call.
Lois smiled and used her sleeve to dry her cheeks. Leaning on the balcony wall, she looked out over the city beyond, and the busy hustle and bustle of the streets below, and after a couple of deep breaths, she was calm and composed again. Talking to her ‘almost’ mother-in-law had helped a great deal, and now Lois was ready to face the world with a brave face once again.
Pulling out her phone, she scrolled through to the next contact she needed, then dialled it into the burner and initiated her second call.
“Good afternoon, Miss Lane,” the prim and proper English voice of Alfred Pennyworth greeted her after three rings. “How can I be of assistance?”
“Hey, Alfred,” Lois grinned. No matter what mood she was in - angry, upset, frustrated or anything in between - hearing the voice of the genteel butler was always enough to put a smile on her face. “How’d you know it was me?”
“Master Wayne likes to keep tabs on all members of the League, including honorary ones such as yourself.”
“I’m an honorary Leaguer?” Lois blinked, surprised.
“Well of course, Miss Lane. You are soon to be the wife of one of its founding members, which places you under the protection of the entire League. So when Master Wayne’s facial recognition software picked you up in National City, he tracked you down to a cell phone store and picked up the number of the ‘burner cell’ you procured. Then he programmed it into the telephone directory of Wayne Manor.”
“I… see…” Lois didn’t know whether to be horrified by the prospect of Big Brother watching her every move, or pleased that she wasn’t alone and always had someone watching her back. “Speaking of everyone’s favourite billionaire, is he home? Maybe he can put that high tech wizardry of his to some good use and help me track down someone very important.”
“Unfortunately, he’s not my dear. He’s attending to some business down in Arkham. I’m afraid the Joker escaped last night and took several associates with him, so Master Wayne’s hands are a little tied at the moment - though I’m hoping for his sake, they’re not literally tied. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all.”
“Bummer,” Lois cringed. “That’s really crappy.”
“Yes, it is indeed,” Alfred agreed. Lois could hear the tinkling of china and glassware in the background along with a few metallic clinks and assumed that Alfred, like the good servant he was, was getting Bruce’s evening dinner ready, even as he was on the phone to her. She could just imagine him in his butler’s tux, apron over the top and sleeves rolled up, phone tucked between shoulder and ear as he worked over a stove in the kitchen.
“But I’m sure he won’t be long. Might I give him a message at all, Miss Lane? Perhaps he can set up a scan for your missing person when he returns?”
Lois ummed and ahed for several moments. She could really do with some of Bruce’s high tech gadgets and gizmos to help point her in the right direction, but even she knew that the Joker was bad news. Despite how grave the disappearance of Superman was, locking the Joker back behind bars had to be the priority.
“No, it’s okay, Alfred. He’s far too busy.”
“I’m sure it’s no trouble, Miss Lane. Whatever you need, if he can be of any assistance, I’m sure Master Wayne will be most obliging?”
“Well, if it’s really not too much trouble, I could use his help. Superman and Supergirl have gone AWOL.”
“Good heavens!” There was the sound of a metal spoon clinking against a plate. “Are you absolutely sure they’re missing, Miss Lane?”
“Positive,” Lois found herself repeating, but this time in a much calmer and more composed manner than she had previously. “I’m working to track down a few leads, but any help would be most appreciated.”
“Absolutely. I shall inform Master Wayne as soon as he returns, and we shall not rest until young Master Kent is safe and sound again, along with his cousin.”
“Alfred, do you ever rest?” Lois couldn’t resist, and there was an uncharacteristic but not at all unpleasant chuckle from the other end of the line.
“Master Wayne asked me that once.”
“Yeah? And what did you tell him?”
“That when he decides to stop playing fancy dress every evening, I’ll consider it.”
Lois burst out laughing at that and said farewell to the butler, ending the call on a high and feeling even better now than she’d done after her conversation with Martha. Oh, she’d needed this! She’d just never realised how much, until now.
Glancing back into the office to see that Sam and Lena were still in some deep discussion about something or other, Lois looked up her third number and dialled it on the burner cell, then waited.
“B onsoir, département des antiquités du Musée du Louvre, comment puis-je vous aider?”
Lois cringed, not having entirely thought this through. Her French was a little rusty, so this could go one of two ways.
“Uh, puis-je parler à la conservatrice, Diana Prince, s'il vous plaît?”
“Qui dois-je dire appelle?”
“Un instant s'il vous plaît.”
Lois let out another breath, this time one of relief, as some calm, soothing tunes played through the speaker of the phone. She started to pace again, her free hand running along the balcony wall this time as she waited.
“Lois, it’s been far too long!” Diana’s voice came through the receiver, far too upbeat for Lois’ liking. Though, doing a quick mental calculation in her head, she realised that it was well into the night, over in Paris . This still didn’t explain the chirpy, upbeat tone, however. “How are things in Metropolis these days?”
“I… uh… they’re… I mean I’m not in Metropolis and… hang on, why are you still at work? Isn’t it after closing time?” Lois’ brain was struggling to comprehend the time difference.
“A curator’s work is never done,” Diana replied, though there was a double meaning to her words, and Lois finally understood. It was night in Paris. The time when a museum curator retired, and a certain scantily clad Amazonian Princess came out instead.
“Well, before you retire for the evening, I’ve got some news. A uh… a boyscout went out in the woods a few days ago, and he hasn’t been seen since.”
There was silence for a moment on the other end of the line. When Diana spoke again her tone had immediately changed to reflect the gravity of the situation. “ How many scout meetings has he missed?”
“Enough to get us all worried.”
“And no one knows anything?” Diana cleared her throat across the line. “This sounds like a bit of a detective mystery.”
“That was my first thought too. I wasn’t able to get one on retainer.”
“Hmmm. Have you called his parents?”
“Of course. And the authorities. They’re searching for him now. The air in their household is rather blue right now,” Lois cringed. As far as ‘covert conversations’ went, this one was far from brilliant. But she was hoping from Diana’s reaction that she’d at least got her point across.
“I’m truly sorry, Lois, I’d love to help. But I’m in Paris at the moment. I fear I wouldn’t be of much use. Have you tried the other scouts? Maybe he’s at a sleepover? Have you contacted…?” There was a pause, the only sound coming over the line the drumming of fingers. “He does have other family. Perhaps —”
“His cousin, the girlscout, went missing too. He actually went out looking for her and hasn’t been seen since.”
Diana spluttered, in disbelief. “That’s terrible! Lois, this can’t be a coincidence.”
Exhaling heavily, Lois replied, “I know.”
“Of course,” Diana replied, her tone changing to one of composed sympathy. “I need to remember to whom I’m speaking. You’re not calling because you’re lost or unsure, but because you need assistance. Tell me what you need.”
“Are you still a Scout Leader these days, or did you hang up your boots when you went across the pond?”
Again there was a pause, as Diana seemed to consider. “No, I’m still one of them. I’ll check in with some of the other Scouts, see if I can’t find out anything for you that might help.”
“That would be amazing! I’m… borrowing a phone at the moment, so if you do find anything, could you call me on this number?”
A light knock on the window behind her made Lois jump, and she turned to see Lena standing there, a questioning look on her face, her meaning clear. Are you done?
“Diana, I’ve got to go, but you’ve got this number. Call me if you find out anything? I mean anything!”
“ Absolutely. Good luck, Lois.”
Hanging up, Lois tucked both phones back into her pocket and walked back to the door, stepping inside with a smile. “Sorry about that, ended up chatting with a couple of old friends. So, we ready to roll?”
With a smile over to her CFO, Lena nodded. “We’re settled up here, and Sam has another meeting in a few minutes.”
“Sorry about that,” Sam said. “L-Corp is a busy place.”
“I’m familiar,” Lena replied, still smiling. “Thanks for fitting us into your schedule, Sam.”
“For you, anytime, Lena. My company is your company… literally.” Sam’s smile was broad as her joke made Lena’s smile grow. She gave a small wave, just from the wrist, to Lois. “Miss Lane, it was a pleasure meeting you. I’m sorry it couldn’t be for longer or under better circumstances.”
“Oh, yeah… uh. Same here. I’m sure I’ll be back in your neck of the woods at some point. Maybe we can do lunch and set up an interview.”
“An interview?” Sam’s eyebrows skyrocketed.
“Yeah, you know. New CFO of L-Corp, there’s got to be lots to tell there.”
“I uh.” Sam cleared her throat. “I’m pretty sure that would be a CatCo exclusive.”
“Nah, Lena wouldn’t mind, would you Luthor?” Elbowing the CEO none too gently, Lois grinned. “Just let us work out the details, Miss Arias, and I’ll be in touch.”
Taking Lois by the arm, Lena led her to the door and waved Sam goodbye. “I’ll be in touch, Sam. Miss Lane and I will be leaving so you can make your next meeting before there’s a hostile takeover.”
“Hostile? Never,” Lois argued as she allowed herself to be led from the office, ignoring Sam’s fading laughter behind her.
“Honestly, Miss Lane, do you ever stop?”
“Nope. That’s why my middle name is Persistent.”
Eyes narrowed, Lena paused mid-stride and replied, “I thought it was Trouble.”
“It’s hyphenated,” Lois said with a shrug.
“I have one more quick stop to make on our way out,” Lena replied choosing not to engage with Lois’ latest shenanigans.
“Not really. I just want to speak to security. It should only take a few minutes. With what’s been going on here of late, I’d like to invoke some protocols.”
“Invoke protocols?” Lois smirked. “How very James Bond of you, Miss Luthor.”
“Well, one has to dress for the car, after all.”
“It was nice seeing you today, Miss Luthor,” the assistant sitting outside the office said as they began to walk again and passed her desk.
“You too, Jess,” Lena replied. “Lunch Sunday assuming work doesn’t rear its ugly head for me?”
Jess smiled broadly. “I’ll make reservations.”
“You know you don’t have to do that. It isn’t your job and —”
“But I’m very good at it.” Jess waved Lena away with the back of her hand. “Have a good day, Miss Luthor.”
“You too, Jess.”
As Lois and Lena stopped by the elevator, Jess called out, “Oh, and Miss Luthor?”
Lena turned. “Yes, Jess?”
“Is Miss Danvers all right?”
Brow furrowed, Lena tipped her head to the side curiously.
Pointing at Lois with an inscrutable look upon her face, Jess said, “You’re keeping company with a different reporter. Is there something going on at work or…?”
“I… what? No I —”
“Friend of the family,” Lois offered, throwing her arm over Lena’s shoulder and pulling the younger woman into the elevator as the doors opened. “It was nice meeting you.”
“Hmmm.” Jess watched the other women leave, a thinning of her lips as she stared Lois down the whole time.
“Wow, tough crowd,” Lois said, as the doors closed securely. “Does she dislike everyone, or is it just me?”
“She’s a bit… protective. Jess has been with me for some time, and the press hasn’t always been welcoming. It took quite some time for her to trust Kara. Seeing a new face, especially one she recognized as being so infamous as yours, was sure to bring about some unrest. Don’t be concerned. Jess is harmless.”
“I sure hope so.”
The trip to the ground floor was quick, no stops along the way. The duo stopped briefly by the security desk where Lena spoke to the guard stationed there and had him make some changes as per her instructions. Lois was just getting antsy from standing around again when a familiar voice got her attention. She turned left and right before seeing someone, head down and talking on their phone, striding in quickly through the front doors.
“I’m on it, J’onn,” Alex Danvers said as she made her way through the lobby at L-Corp and headed to the security checkpoint. “Look, I’m here. I’ll call you once I find out what Sam knows. Hopefully, we can go around Lena and just get it this way. I know Kara loves that woman, but she’s a colossal pain in the ass right now. I’ll be in touch.”
Looking at Lois who was on the floor behind the security desk, the guard said, “Miss, you can’t be down there. I’m going to have to —”
“Ahem.” Clearing her throat, Lena shook her head at the guard and then turned to wait for Alex’s arrival.
After going through the security checkpoint, showing her identification to carry, and having the guard call upstairs to confirm she was expected, Alex was allowed through. She gave the guards a brief wave, but the smile fell off her face when she saw Lena Luthor leaning against the security desk and watching her.
“Miss Luthor, what are you doing here?”
“Agent Danvers, I own the company. Perhaps I should be asking you that question instead. I thought you were in the middle of an investigation, and that’s why you couldn’t take care of your mother. Has that investigation led you here?”
“Uh… No. Yes. No.”
One eyebrow rising, Lena said, “Well, it’s one of those, isn’t it.”
With a small laugh, Alex rubbed at the back of her neck.. “It’s a little of both, actually, but nothing that should concern you. My case isn’t settled because I’m following up on a lot of loose ends. They’re leading to thefts at major tech firms, so I thought I’d head out here and make sure there was nothing going on with your security that was… alarming?” Alex leaned forward a little bit, smiling.
Smiling back, Lena asked, “You have a meeting with security then?”
“Actually, no. I’m meeting with Sam.” Alex pointed toward the elevators.
Gesturing toward them with her hand, Lena walked over with the agent following along, pushing the up button. “Ah, well, good to see a friendly face. Good luck to you, Agent Danvers.”
Alex nodded. As she walked into the elevator and turned she said, “You can call me Alex, you know.”
Lena nodded in return. “Of course, Alex. Good luck.” She watched the agent disappear as the elevator doors closed and then the smile fell off her face. Grabbing her phone she hit her most recently dialed number. “Sam, this is very important. Agent Alex Danvers is on her way up to see you. The FBI will try and tell you that there have been a string of thefts at tech companies, and they’ll ask if we’ve been targeted. They’re phishing. You’re to give them nothing, understood?” Lena nodded once. “Excellent. Yes, I’m sorry to put you in this situation. You handle the investigation internally. If things change with the FBI, I’ll let you know. For now, mums the word.” Ending her call, Lena went over to the security desk and knocked on it. “Miss Lane, Agent Danvers has gone upstairs. Did you drop your thingy again?”
“Oh, um… yeah,” Lois replied as she rose to her feet and brushed herself off. “Damn slippery um… thingies. They need to stop making those things out of teflon.”
With a chuckle, Lena replied, “Perhaps I should put someone in the R&D department to work on that.”
“Oh you’d make a killing, I’m sure,” Lois agreed, stepping out from behind the desk and glancing quickly in the direction of the elevator, then hurrying for the door. “So, onwards and upwards!”
Chapter 7: Homeworld
Lena’s silver Aston Martin pulled to a stop on the street across from what was rather obviously a biker bar. It was a two-story building with decking around the semi-open upper level, pillars stretching to ground-level to hold the decking up. It went around the side of the building and sloped down on the left, perhaps allowing for an entryway from somewhere out of view.
There were people on this open top-level drinking and smoking, laughing and going in and out from the double doors that led inside. Several small tables were scattered about up there but no chairs. There were men and women in various jackets of leather and denim material. If this weren’t enough to make the place look like a biker bar, add to it the lights shining down on the painted words declaring the establishment was called “Kickstand”.
The final touch, of course, were perhaps two dozen motorcycles parked out front, all cruisers, and more stretching around on either side.
Checking the notes scribbled in her pad, Lois looked up at the name of the bar and nodded.
“This is the place. Let’s go.” She flashed Lena with a bright smile, then turned back to the street and grabbed the door handle, stopping and turning back again when a hand gripped her shoulder and squeezed hard.
“Are you insane?!” Lena’s head shook back and forth quickly. “There is no way on God’s green Earth I’m going in there. My mother only raised one madman, and he’s serving thirty-seven consecutive life sentences.”
Brows drawn sharply together, Lois asked, “Why not?”
“That’s a rhetorical question, right?”
“Oh come on, Princess, live a little. It will be fine. We’ll just go in, ask some questions, grease some palms, get some info, then sneak out before anyone really even notices we’re there. It will be fine. I do this kind of stuff all the time. You wanted to learn about the newspaper biz, right? Well, this is it. Trust me.”
Lena gave a low and throaty laugh. “Not the obituaries. Lois, being a Luthor is about being noticed. I have spent the last twenty years of my life making sure of just that when I walk into a room. My goal has been to be the center of attention and control that room. However, this is not my powerbase. I’m intelligent enough to know when I’m at a strategic disadvantage. I will admit that as a child, at times in my teen years, I mistook bad attention for some kind of attention from my mother. I’m not a child anymore, and this would be the worst kind of attention. I’m not going in there.”
With an eye roll, Lois said, “Don’t be so dramatic. Everything with you is all ‘I’m a Luthor and life is dark. Bad things are going to happen.’ Just relax and live a little. Come on.”
“Not going to happen.”
“Give me one good, non-vague ‘because I’m a Luthor and evil lurks around every corner’ reason why not.”
“One,” Lena said holding up a finger. “If we go in there we’ll get murdered. I have a rule about being murdered.”
Lois just sighed and waited for whatever was coming next.
Lena raised an eyebrow, “Family has dibs on murdering me. That only seems polite. Two.” The young Luthor raised another finger. “If by some miracle we survived our encounter with that den of iniquity… which I don’t think is possible since both Supers are AWOL, and I’m fairly certain they’re the only reason either of us are still alive to this point—”
“Hey!” Lois protested, then realised what Lena had said, processed the words for a moment, then nodded, conceding. “Okay, valid point. Carry on.”
“Thank you. Where was I?”
“We’re missing our alien protectors and are going to die in a bar fight.”
Lena snorted. “Almost worth it if that sentiment would end up on my gravestone and make it to my mother. At any rate, if we somehow managed to stumble out alive and with all our fingers and toes, the statistical probability of this car still being here is zero.” Arms crossed, the Luthor just stared.
“Hey, you’re right.” Lois said exaggeratedly and with deliberate sarcasm as she rolled her eyes. Then she reached out and squeezed Lena’s arm. “You stay with the car. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
As Lois popped open her door, Lena reached across and grabbed the older woman’s coat sleeve. Shaking her head as Lois looked back, Lena was close to - but not quite - pleading.
“Lois don’t. Don’t go in there.”
“Oh, it will be fine. Just relax.”
“But… the murder.”
“I promise not to murder anyone,” Lois said, pulling her coat sleeve away as she stepped out of the car and leaned back in. “Want me to pinky swear?”
“Lois, please…” Lena’s eyes were wide, her fear obvious. “I don’t want you to die.”
With a kindly smile, Lois squeezed Lena’s arm again. “Well, that makes two of us. I’ll just be a few minutes. You relax, okay?”
Lena shook her head.
“Okay, well if you can’t do that, can you at least try not to have a nervous breakdown while I’m gone?”
With a loud swallow, Lena admitted, “I don’t know.”
Chuckling, Lois held her fist inside the car. “Fistbump for luck?”
“You just… Hold up your… Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Grabbing Lena’s hand, Lois curled it into a fist and bumped hers into it. “There. We’ll work on that. Now, try not to have a stroke while I’m gone. You look so nervous. Are you sure you’re Lex’s kid sister?”
“Quite certain… unfortunately.”
“Jeez… no kidding. Well, I’ll be back before you can calculate pi out to a thousand places… which you can probably actually do, so nevermind. I’ll just be quick, okay?”
As Lois walked away, Lena rolled down the window and called out, “How long do I wait to call the police? Do I call the police? What should I do?”
Smiling as she walked backwards, Lois gave a little salute and turned around. Her smile changed into something less cocky but quite genuine as she said to herself, “Okay, that Luthor needs a hug. She is nothing like Lex.”
Inside the bar the biker chic decor continued. The bar itself was normal enough, wood with lots of stools, and men and women who looked liked they had recently been on the bikes outside milled about. Behind the bar were several layers of alcohol on tiers, and above all of that was a black chopper with red flames painted on it with chrome that was polished to a mirror finish. A gigantic American flag, that must have been forty-feet in length, hung to cover a section of the ceiling like another tile.
There were a few tables scattered along the main part of the bar, and there were bench seats against the walls. In a back section was pool tables and a few dart boards, all in use with loud and happy patrons. Music blared from a jukebox. Along a distant wall was a stage, no one on it at this time, and the locked cage that would normally protect the musicians from the patrons was quite telling. One section of the bar was wallpapered with Polaroid pictures, hundreds of them though they were too far from the newcomer for her to make out any of the images. Given that the only other decoration on the wall were dozens of bras, that distance didn’t change.
As Lois entered, conversation nearby died down and heads turned in her direction though she ignored it. Finding an empty stool, she slid onto it and waited until the bartender approached, drumming a light tune on the counter with her fingers as she waited. A skinny man with more hair on his face than his head and two arms covered in sleeves of tattoos beneath his denim shirt, he gave Lois the once over. She held his gaze unfalteringly when he met hers again.
Nodding once, Lois looked briefly to her right and said, “Excuse me, I’m looking for…”
Her attention was momentarily distracted by something on the bar, however and her voice trailed off as she turned to look at it properly. It was silver and looked like a vase with a top. There was an engraving on a plate on the bottom. It read, ‘Trigger. He died the way he lived: fast, loud, and on the wrong side of the road. Drink up brothers!’
Meeting the bartender’s gaze again, Lois pointed at the vase-thingy and asked, “Is this an urn?”
“Huh…” She nodded to the urn once, a silent salute of respect, then looked back to the guy behind the bar again. “Okay then. So, I’m looking for a guy named Peewee. I was told I could find him here. Could you point him out?”
“You’re looking for Peewee?”
“Are you drinking?”
She smiled. “Whatever you’ve got on tap.”
He grunted and filled a mug. Handing her the beer he said, “Go sit by the table with the picture of Muhammad Ali. Peewee will find you.”
Her beer in hand, Lois carefully navigated the crowd, happy to find the empty table with the picture as directed. It was oddly empty given how crowded the rest of the place was. Sitting, she she flipped through her notebook as she waited.
“You looking for Peewee?” A voice boomed down at Lois from somewhere above.
She jumped a little in surprise. Then, stiffening, she turned in her seat and looked up… and up… and up… yup, up just a bit further. “Yikes,” she mumbled under her breath before plastering on a smile.
The man looming over her was big, maybe 6’6”, bald, and had a handlebar mustache that went down to the end of his chin. His arms folded over his chest showed off the muscles on his muscles, along with a bit of a gut. He had an open black leather vest with no shirt, jeans, a gap between his front teeth when he sneered which was apparently a lot, and a face only a mother could love (albeit it barely).
“Peewee?” Lois croaked out, then cleared her throat, repeating, “Are you Peewee?”
“Depends who’s asking?”
“Um… Lois. Lois Lane. That’s my given name. I’m assuming yours isn’t. I mean, you know… your birth certificate and… parents and…” As he stared, Lois slunk down slightly. “That assumes you had parents.”
“What does that mean?” He snapped.
“Great going, Lane,” She muttered to herself, then looked up, “Can I buy you a beer?”
Looking back at the bar, he nodded then pointed to the table before sitting, the entire table pushing a good six inches toward Lois as he did so.
“Whoa. I thought that was bolted down when I… ah, nevermind,” She slid a little further back in her seat to try and give herself more room, then flipped open her notepad to a blank page and set down the pen beside it, ready to take notes. “So, Peewee. Can I call you Peewee?”
The man grunted, so she took it as permission.
“Great. So, Peewee, I understand you might know something about some alien related activity that went down in the alley behind here about two weeks ago. Is that right?”
He nodded. “I might. Why do you want to know?”
“I’m… looking for someone, and I was told you could help.”
“A friend,” she answered hurriedly as his drink arrived and he passed along his thanks to the waitress. “So, what can you tell me?”
“What will it get me?”
“My undying affection?”
“If it’s useful, how about twenty bucks?”
“How about a hundred?”
“How about you kiss my...!” Taking a moment to calm herself, she let out a breath and said, “Look, I’ve got forty. Are you forty dollars worth of useful?”
“You’ve got some fire in you, don’t you babe?”
“I’m not your babe. Do you have information or not?”
Taking a deep swig of his beer, the man watched Lois. “I saw something.”
Leaning forward eagerly, Lois asked, “What did you see?”
“I saw one of those things getting its ass handed to it.” He grinned.
Brows creased, Lois asked, “What things?”
“You know, a Marvin.”
Taking another sip, the guy said, “A Marvin Martian. I don’t know where it came from, but I know it don’t belong here. A couple of guys were taking turns kicking it, and it was curled up on the ground and bleeding real good. It was making the weirdest noises too.”
Lois swallowed hard, one hand in a fist in her lap and the other squeezing the handle of her beer mug so tightly her whole arm trembled.
“Then some people came out of the apartment next door and the guys took off. I went over to check on Marvin, and he opened his big bug eyes at me. He was bleeding green. He looked up at me and said, ‘Help’ in this pathetic, little voice.” The guy laughed. “So, I did. I kicked him, and I kicked him, and I kicked his ugly alien face in and I—”
“Shut up!” Lois shot to her feet suddenly. “Shut the fuck up!”
Her hand darted out and cold beer splashed him in the face as he suddenly found himself wearing the contents of her drink. Screaming, tears welling in the back of her eyes, she pointed a trembling finger of her other hand at him sharply. “You’re a bigoted, racist, xenophobic, supremacist piece of shit! Someone should kick YOUR face in!” As Lois raised the now empty mug, a hand grabbed her wrist from behind.
“Whoa, easy there, Missy,” the waitress said, holding Lois by the wrist. “Leo, what did you do to set this one off?”
Rising to his feet and wiping beer from his face, the bald man laughed. He pulled a rag from the waitress’ belt to dry his face better as he smiled. “Oh, I deserved that, Deb. Thanks for the assist.”
“Any time,” Deb said, taking back the rag as she let go of Lois’ wrist, but not before prying the empty beer mug from it. “You two going to be okay?”
He nodded. “We’re good.”
As the waitress walked away, Lois took a shuddering breath, visibly forcing herself to calm down, before she said in a quieter voice, “You’re not Peewee?”
“I’m not Peewee,” Leo agreed.
“So what the hell is going on here?”
“Sit down, kid. It was a test, and you passed with flying colors,” Leo explained gently, patting her on the shoulder in what she was sure was supposed to be an encouraging or kindly manner, but actually caused her knees to buckle. As she half fell, half sprawled back into her seat, he laughed. “If you had cracked my head open, however, I never would have lived that down. Hey, Jojo!” He waved down the bartender. “Get my friend a new drink. She spilled hers.”
“All over you!” Someone called out to be greeted by much laughter.
“Fuck you, Dutch!” Leo replied.
“As soon as I’m done with your mom!” Dutch called back.
“My mom’s dead!” Leo said.
“She wasn’t any better when she was alive!” Dutch said, and the whole bar erupted into laughter, including Leo. Lois was quite relieved that he was able to see the funny side.
“Fun crowd,” She said with a smile, relaxing a little as Deb the waitress brought her a beer. “When’s ladies night?”
“This is ladies night,” Deb replied. “That’s why we have such a gentile group in tonight.”
“Ah.” Lois nodded, gripping her drink and looking around a bit again but not holding eye contact with anyone.
“You stay here, Notebook, and try not to pick a fight with anyone else until I come back for you. Can you do that?” Leo asked.
“Notebook?” Lois blinked.
Tapping on Lois’ notebook, Leo nodded. “Just stay out of trouble. I feel like that may be hard for you.”
“You have no idea. Where are you going?”
“To see if he’ll meet with you.”
Eyebrows high, Lois asked, “He?”
Leo smiled. “Just enjoy your beer and no bar fights without me.”
As he walked away, Lois yelled after him, “No promises!” She watched him disappear into the crowd then turned back to her notebook. “See what you missed, Lena? This is going great. This is fun, and you’re just sitting outside bored off your ass and missing all of the action.”
Outside, Lena drummed her fingers as she watched the group of young men grow ever closer to her vehicle. At first they’d been satisfied to simply stare from a distance. The engine was purring gently, and there was still a bit of daylight, but perhaps that was asking too much in the way of protection. She caught movement in her rear and side view mirrors. It looked to be a good ten people or so, but it was hard to say. She could call 911 and say there were people looking at her car… right. She could drive off and leave Lois alone in the bar… not. The only other option, as the young people drew ever closer, was to face things like a Luthor.
Turning the keys to kill the engine, she stepped out, cinching her coat closed and locking the vehicle behind her. She clenched the keys tightly in one hand, which she buried into her pocket, hiding the fact that she’d stuck the key between two fingers like a makeshift weapon, just in case. She kept her other hand tucked into her pocket as well, in what she hoped was a casual, non-threatening gesture. No point provoking anything until she’d got the measure of the group, after all.
She took exactly three steps away from her vehicle and toward the person to whom the others turned when she first stepped out. In every pack there was an alpha. She didn’t need to beat the pack, just their leader. One eyebrow raised, she waited with her head held high.
As expected, the leader stepped closer, bridging the gap between them. “Nice car.”
Lena nodded once. “Yes, it is. Thank you for noticing. Nice…” She let her gaze run up and down the young man before eye contact returned. “...shoes.” She managed to keep her face neutral at the laughter that brought forth.
Mouth tightening and nostrils flaring, the leader said, “Kind of a tough neighborhood for a car like that, dontcha think?”
“Is it? I hadn’t noticed.”
Taking a step closer, the kid said, “Kind of a tough neighborhood for a lady like you, dontcha think?”
Taking two steps closer, Lena smirked and raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s definitely not the case.”
After about three beats, the leader’s expression changed from an angry arrogance through confusion to something like familiarity. Hand over his mouth, he took two steps back. “Oh, hold up bitch! I know you!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah! Your brother killed like a thousand people. He’s in jail for a hundred life sentences, no parole and shit. Your mom tried to kill all aliens on Earth, and you flipped on the bitch! You sold her out to the cops, right? Yeah, you’re that Luthor. Bitch, you crazy!”
“Ugh… well, fuck,” Lena grumbled.
Slowly, the group of teens and young adults circled, surrounding Lena, until she was completely encircled and lost in the swirl of bodies and gang colors.
The elevator only had the one button. Apparently, you either went someplace or you didn’t. Leo pressed it, and Lois looked at her notes while counting the seconds of their descent. It was an older elevator, one meant for moving stock into and from storage, and it moved slowly, but still it felt like they were moving down more than one level.
When they finally reached their destination, Leo opened the gate and said, “Ladies first.”
With a small chuckle, Lois stepped out. “You wouldn’t call me that if you knew me better.”
Smiling in a way that suited the homeliness of his face, Leo stepped past Lois and led the way. They continued down a long and unchanging corridor. Finally, they reached the singular door along the way. Pausing, perhaps for dramatic effect, Leo said, “Notebook, welcome to Homeworld.”
“Homeworld? What is—?”
As the door opened and she turned, the rest of the sentence died on her lips. Lois stumbled into the room, looking around in awe and distraction. Her head turned left, right, up, down, every-which-way she could look and still she couldn’t take it all in quickly enough. This was… was…
“Amazing,” Lois said as she slowly breathed out.
“This way,” Leo encouraged.
Lois nodded, allowing herself to be led by the arm but looked around grinning the whole time.
Kickstand was a biker bar, undoubtedly, but it was a bar over a bar. It was a cover for those who didn’t fit into society over those who didn’t fit into the world. Here they’d created a world away from home, several little pieces of home, and made it their own.
The bar in the middle of this room looked normal enough. Well, normal except for the array of races represented. People had ears on the tops of their heads, skin of blue, red, purple, or even rainbow colors. Some of the patrons had fur or scales. Tails twitched and huge horns rose over the back of one person’s skull. Some were no more than two-feet-tall, while another stretched and must have been closer to eight feet. These were not the sorts of people who blended with humans. They stood out.
As she continued through the bar, motion to her right caught Lois’ attention. She turned her head quickly to see something… someone jet by in a tube that was set into the wall at about shoulder height. It was large, clear, and filled with what looked to be water. Lois followed the motion as she continued walking in the direction of the swimming person. The tube ended in a large tank set into the wall behind a sectioned-off area of the bar. It had glass walls all around, a fine mist of water spraying from the ceiling, and a glowing blue barrier over the entrance. People sat at tables drinking from glasses that looked like orbs with flat bottoms and straws sticking out of the sides. The occupants had gills, fins, webbed fingers, some just one but some all of these. They were light-blue, green, dark gray, or vibrantly colored. Right by the entrance, Lois and Leo stopped as a waitress, wearing a raincoat and carrying a tray in one hand and an umbrella in the other, stepped out. The blue barrier crackled off of her and seemed to dry her as she stepped through.
Snapping the umbrella closed and clipping it onto her belt, she smiled and said, “Hey, Leo. Who’s your friend?”
“Hey, Amber. This here’s Notebook.”
“Nice to meet you, Notebook,” Amber said smiling at Lois. Then leaning in closer she said, “Watch out for this one. He can get handsy if he has too much to drink, and he thinks you’re really cute.”
As she walked away with a wink, Leo said, “Mind reading is rude, Amber.”
“So is pinching asses, Leo!”
Lois blinked. “She’s a mind reader?”
Leo shrugged. “Yeah, but it doesn’t take one. You are cute. Come on.”
They kept moving through the bar. It was long, and there were several different ‘zones’ along the wall as they passed it. Each had an entrance with a barrier just like the mist-filled aquatic area. The next was bare and white. The tables and chairs were the same, seemingly chiseled from snow and ice. The occupants were shaggy white beasts, blue humanoids around the size of average men, and gigantic ‘men’ that could have been sculpted from ice. They sat, drank and laughed together.
The next area was all fog. Lois slowed the peer inside, trying to see anything within the depths. Occasionally something shimmered in the pea-soup-like interior. They were glowing shapes that would appear, light up, then fade as quickly as they came into being. Lois paused by the glowing barrier that marked the entry way. One finger extended, she pushed her hand forward. A sudden throat clearing caused the reporter to turn her head.
“You don’t want to go in there,” Leo said shaking his head.
“They’re not hospitable?”
“Oh, they’re mighty friendly, real decent folk. The atmosphere in there is highly acidic. That’s why you can’t get in unless you have a protective suit on with a sensor that lets you through the barrier.” Leo gestured to a bright yellow suit that hung on a hook on the left side of the doorway.
Lois eyed it briefly before her gaze shifted to the right. On other hooks were what looked a bit like some kind of protective suits but they ranged in color from tan to brown and had shaggy head coverings. “What are these?” Lois asked grabbing one by the top and lifting before she let go suddenly. “Is that… Is that hair?”
“Why? Why is that…?” Reaching out much more tentatively this time, she took the ‘hand’ of one of the suits before letting it go. “That feels like skin. Is that skin?”
Turning suddenly, she hissed out, “Are these skin suits?! Do they wear skin suits?!”
Leo laughed, his shoulders bouncing up and down. “Relax, Notebook. No one was killed for these. People were done with them, and the families donated them. They come from people upstairs. It’s okay.”
Lois relaxed marginally. “Okay, but still… they wear skin suits, don’t they?”
He nodded. “They have a hard time with our atmosphere without protective gear. This lets them get around. It’s working.”
Looking back at a glow from inside the list, Lois asked, “What are they?”
“Not exactly sure who they are or where they come from. They don’t talk or hear, so people just started calling them Wisps.”
Lois looked back at him. “Wisps?”
“Yeah, you know, like Will-o-wisps. Once we figured out how to get them protective suits, and they learned sign language, we were able to communicate. Still, they communicate with each other through lights, and there isn’t a word in English, or any human language, for flash-flash-flashity-flash-flash or whatever they’re called.” Tugging on Lois’ arm he said, “Let’s go.”
The next section they passed was an array of colored crystals. It looked like giant rock candy, but the rocks seemed to glow slightly. Lois peered inside looking for the inhabitants of the room. It was possible no one was there at present. It was also possible the rocks were the inhabitants. Somewhat distracted looking for motion, Lois would have tripped if she didn’t have Leo holding her arm.
Up above, a fluttering noise of something/someone launching themselves from branches growing down from a section caused Lois to look up. There she saw a whole other bar set up and set of patrons… winged patrons. Branches, some small and some huge, all jutted down several feet from the ceiling so that these people could sit… squat together and share in drinks that sat nestled in nest-like sets of branches. As Lois watched, another patron took off and flapped their wings to land a good fifty feet away next to someone else.
“Keep walking,” Leo urged as they continued past the next area.
This room was as dry as the first room was wet. The floor was a red clay, split from baking, and several rocks were set throughout the zone. On a few of them different colored, sized, and shaped lizard creatures basked under artificial red lamps that were set throughout the area. Other rocks were smaller and gray, one causing Lois to jerk back when it unfurled, stretching and rolling over where it curled up again.
Next they passed an area that looked like a rainforest. A dragonfly that was easily three feet long flew through the room picking up empty glasses from a table and depositing them on a tray near the door. At a table, two people sat who looked half-frog. One eyed the dragonfly in a way that seemed concerning, but they made no overt move toward it. The most interesting thing was the foliage. Leaves were huge, larger than a person, and the flowers in there were six-feet tall if not taller. One which was a vibrant mix of pinks, purples, reds, and even a hint of orange was in the corner and near Lois.
Coming to stare at the flower, Lois smiled and said, “Oh, my God. Have you ever seen anything like this before? This is the most beautiful flower I’ve ever seen.”
The flower shifted, rising and turning its petals to the back of its head while a decidedly masculine but pleased looking face stared at her and said, “Why thank you, dear. You’re lovely too.” Before turning back around and sitting again.
Blanching, Lois turning and stumbled with Leo. “Is anything in here what it looks to be?”
“I’m a big ugly dude.”
Lois laughed. “Thanks for that, Leo. You’re my hero.”
As they stopped in front of a rather unremarkable looking area, Leo let go of Lois’ arm and said, “Okay, you’re on your own from here. He’s in the table in the back there. Good luck.”
Grabbing his arm before he left, Lois asked, “Anything I should know?”
“Be polite. Don’t throw your beer in his face or try to smack him in the head with your mug.”
“Ah, not my strong point,” Lois admitted.
Leo grinned. “You’ll be fine, Notebook. Just no touching without permission.”
As Leo walked away, Lois called after him, “So don’t pinch his ass?”
Turning around and walking away backward, Leo said, “Everyone’s a mind reader now!”
Lois smiled as she watched him leave. When he was gone into the alien crowd, she inhaled deeply, gathered her courage, and turned to find Peewee.
After the cornucopia of alien environments, this area looked downright normal. The only thing that seemed out of the ordinary, outside of the obviously diverse alien species sitting at the different tables, were that each table was behind some sort of relatively low but solidly constructed barrier. None was so daunting that it couldn’t be leapt over, crawled under, or gone around, but the meaning was obvious: please don’t. There was a hinged gateway at each barrier surrounding each table, and that allowed for entrance and exit.
Lois glanced from table to table, but her eyes finally settle upon one person, covered nearly completely in clothing and wrappings from head-to-toe, who sat alone in a back corner with his back to the wall. He was small in stature, his legs swinging freely and not touching the ground, and his shoulders narrow and sloping even under the clothing. She stopped outside the barrier, one hand resting on the gate, and asked, “Peewee? You look like a Peewee. No offense.”
“None taken,” he said in a fine and high-pitched voice as he gestured to the empty seat across from him. “You’re a reporter?”
Pausing with the gate open in her hand, Lois blinked rapidly at a question that sounded like an accusation. “Is… Is that a problem?”
“That depends. Are you here to write a story?”
“Definitely not,” she answered without hesitation as she moved the rest of the way into the area, securely closing the gate behind her and taking a seat. “I’m looking for a friend. I think he’s in trouble, and I need some help.”
“Hmmm.” Sliding the wrappings covering his mouth the slightest bit to the side, Peewee lifted his glass and put the straw to his lips. “What kind of trouble?”
Lois set her notebook and pen on the table, opened at an empty page, and Peewee made a point of glancing down at it, then he shook his head.
“You…. have a problem with me taking notes?” She ventured. “Like I said, my friend’s in trouble. Any help you can give me would be much appreciated, but you honestly can’t expect my primitive human brain to remember everything you tell me, right?”
She was hoping that some flattery - or at least a little ‘human bashing’ might help to soften him a little.
There was a soft drumming as Peewee’s gloved fingers thrummed against the table, him considering her words. “Look, lady, I feel for you and your friend,” he squeaked out. “I’m sure you’re a nice lady, but this is about more than just your friend. This is about our whole community, hundreds of people. Some of us are the last few of our race, only a handful of us left. We’re the living embodiment of entire cultures. You have to look at this from our side. Having a reporter down here sniffing around, it’s scary. Do you know what would happen to us if a story on Homeworld got out?” He shook his head, only his eyes visible and them scrunching up in obvious displeasure.
Lois took a deep, slow, measured breath as she weighed up his words. He had a very valid point, of course. One she’d not even considered before. Rule number three of her journalist rules was “Do whatever it takes to get the story”, after all. So if this was what it took?
“Alright, strictly off the record,” she agreed, closing the notebook and sliding it to the very edge of the table, within sight, but out of reach. “Though this friend I’m looking for? He’s a Kryptonian. One of only a few left. So I’m not doing this to out or hurt anyone. I’m on your side, Peewee. I promise you.”
Those eyes, one of the few visible parts of the alien, that had be narrowed just moments before flashed wide. “A Krypt…?!” He looked left and right then hunkered down even further into his seat and lowered his voice a half-octave though it was still quite high. “A Kryptonian? So, do you mean you’re looking for…?” Peewee nodded, watching Lois carefully.
Catching his meaning, she smiled and nodded as well, leaning over the table a little so that she could speak quietly and he could still hear her. “My name’s Lois Lane,” she semi-whispered. “If you know anything about me, you’ll know that Superman and I are very good friends.” Her smile faltered and then vanished completely, as her voice turned serious. “He’s gone missing, along with his cousin, Supergirl. And I won’t lie. I’m worried about them. Something’s happened, and I can’t... no I won’t rest until I find them again.”
Peewee nodded nearly as gravely as Lois’ expression. “Okay, okay.” He touched the hoodie on the back of his head, rubbed the coverings on his face, then his hands together. His shoulders moved up and down as he squirmed seemingly trying to find comfort. “Yeah, okay I get that. Look, I need to just make 100% sure. If I’m sure I can trust you, then I can help you. Are you willing to trust me?”
Do I have a choice? Lois almost said. Instead, she bit back those words, remembering rule number three again. Do whatever it takes to get the story. “What do I have to do?” She asked cautiously.
Slowly, almost methodically, Peewee removed the glove on his right hand finger by finger to reveal a small but otherwise human-looking hand. He blinked at it for several moments before laying it palm up between them on the table and meeting Lois’ gaze, saying simply, “Take my hand.”
“You about to transport me to some far off place of magic and mystery?” She teased lightly, albeit to cover her nerves a little. Aliens didn’t generally make her nervous as a rule. But shifty, mysterious characters did, regardless of their species. And this was definitely hitting her ‘iffy’ radar right about now.
When he replied, it sounded like he was smiling. “Not on a first date. Come on, Lois, take my hand. Let’s trust each other.”
“First date, huh?” She grinned again, reaching out, before hesitating for a moment with her hand hovering over his. And then she weighed up her options for a moment, before shrugging. “Oh what the hell.” Her hand closed the gap between them, and she took his gently.
The connection was instantaneous. Though Lois didn’t physically move, she was completely aware of everything Peewee felt in that moment. His fears, anxieties, concerns, loss… Oh, Dear God the loss of his world, his people, his loved ones, Jirahaela, Sasahel, Kikavema, all gone never to share their hearts with him again, that was almost overbearing. To rise each day and only face one sun, go to bed each night and say the prayers alone, to break bread on an alien world and somehow take a new step forward with people he KNEW hated him because they feared him because they didn’t understand him because they chose ignorance was almost… ALMOST unbearable. Hope, he had hope and each day he kept it in his heart and let it grow like a mavakavik seed into a flower and would not falter. He would find more of his kind, and his culture would continue. Hope kept him alive each day, hope and finding people who chose love and acceptance over ignorance.
As quickly as Peewee’s feelings pushed into Lois they pulled out again and with it she felt hers flow back in toward him.
On the surface there was bravado, of course. She used her confidence - her over confidence in fact - to mask the deep and turbulent current of what was going on below the surface on an almost daily basis.
Because contrary to what everyone saw, Lois wasn’t confident at all. If anything, her confidence had been severely shaken after the loss of her mother when she was younger, and she’d never truly recovered. Oh, she could talk a good game, of course. She could play the part, but in reality there was always that chasm deep down - that sense of loss, of longing, of never quite fitting in or living up to expectations. She was a failure in her father’s eyes, not because she hadn’t followed him or her sister into the army but because of the friends she chose to keep and the life she chose to live. He would never approve of her bond with Superman, and that would forever be Lois’ biggest failure. That she’d learned to see the people beyond the aliens. That she could see them for what they were - living, breathing creatures with minds of their own, lives, opinions, families and jobs and personalities.
Smallville was the pivotal one who had taught her that. Oh, her Smallville. Where was he now? What if he was hurt? What if he couldn’t find his way home again? What if he was gone forever? What if she never saw him again? Why couldn’t she find him? Why hadn’t she been there to protect him? He helped everyone else, yet who was there to help him? It should have been her. So why had she failed him? Why hadn’t she been able to keep him safe? What if he was dead and she’d never see him again? What had her last words to him been? Why had the bloody idiot gone off without her?! Why hadn’t he waited? She could have gone with him! Maybe he wouldn’t be in this mess then?
He was her world. Her reason. Her heart. Without him she was empty. She was nothing. No-one. She was a hack writer and a shoddy reporter. He made the news, she just reported it. Yet if he wasn’t there, what would she report about?
Who would she go home to every day? Who’s arms would she fall into when she needed a hug? Would she ever find anyone who could love her as wholly and completely as Smallville? Why did she even want anyone else, when he was everything to her and more.
Where the hell was he? She was dying inside - the unknown was tearing her apart and there was literally nothing she could do about it. What if someone had found out about kryptonite? What if they were using it against him? What if he was in agony? What if he was being tortured right this very second, and she was doing nothing about it? What if it was too late? What if he was already gone? What if he was lying in a ditch somewhere, a kryptonite dagger through his heart?
It was the only explanation. He had to be gone. He would have come back to her by now otherwise. He HAD to come back to her. He had always come back to her. The only reason he hadn’t now, was because he was dead.
Superman was dead. Clark Kent was dead! Now she was absolutely certain. She couldn’t deny it any longer.
And… oh God, what would his mother say?! Would she blame Lois? Chalk that up to another failure in the steadily growing list of Lois Lane failures. Martha trusted Lois after all. Trusted her to keep him safe. To watch over him and make sure nothing happened to him. Lois had promised her. And now she’d failed her. She’d failed Mrs K. The woman who was the closest thing to a mother that Lois now had. How the hell was she going to tell her what had happened? How her only son had died on Lois’ watch, and she’d let it happen. Mrs K would never forgive her. Hell, Lois would never forgive herself. How could she?
Lois lurched backwards into her seat, gasping, staring blindly into the room for a moment, grasping the sides of the table.
She had no idea what the hell had just happened, but it had shaken her deeply.
It took her the better part of ten seconds to work out where she was. Her vision was blurred and she blinked a few times, waiting for it to clear. In the artificial lights of the underground bar, she could just about make out the shape of Peewee the alien, sitting across from her once more. His hands were withdrawn where he had broken contact. Sitting up again slowly, she buried her head in her hands, sobbing quietly.
The tears that ran between her fingers then were tears of grief, anger, and if she was being brutally honest - fear as well.
All the things she’d been dreading, all those fears she’d been denying to herself, because saying them out loud only made them all the more real… Everything she'd been suppressing, pushing down and avoiding at all costs had now been laid bare before her, for the whole world to see. She couldn’t avoid it any more. She couldn’t ignore it or pretend it wasn’t happening.
Reaching out but immediately withdrawing his hand, though it was still a good two feet away from Lois when he did so, Peewee’s voice was laced with regret. “Miss Lane, I’m so very sorry. I had no idea that—”
Her hand cutting through the air in front of her, Lois stood quickly, knocking over her chair in her haste. Her head pounded furiously, the veins in her temple throbbed painfully and her whole body screamed in protest with every tiny movement, but she ignored that for the moment, just needing to get some distance between them.
Her weakened legs struggled to hold her up as she staggered over to the barrier giving entry to this section, before eventually giving way altogether, and causing her to lean on the chilled rail, just to keep herself upright. Grasping it furiously, desperate for a grounding feeling in her life, she stood and stared out upon the endless regions of the rest of this exotic Homeworld bar.
Taking in all the sights and sounds of a hundred different species going about daily life and enjoying some time with friends and family.
Her heart still thrumming too fast in her chest, mouth dry and throat like sandpaper, she clung to the bars like a liferaft in a storm, her forehead resting against the cool metal, the only reprieve she had from the fever of terror that raced inside of her. It was then that she became suddenly aware of her breath. She sounded like she'd been running.
Holding her throbbing head and feeling the mixture of sweat and tears on her cheeks, she took several shuddering breaths, trying to calm her wild nerves and piece together everything that was going on.
It was several long minutes before her heart rate returned to normal, her breathing didn’t betray her any longer, and she was able to roll her body along the barricade and stare with misery laden eyes at the man who stared back with a look not too dissimilar.
Swallowing hard, it took Lois three tries to croak out, “How… How could you?”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his voice barely audible over the hum of the other bar patrons.
With three lurching steps, Lois’ hands came crashing palms flat against the table surface, her face a portrait of misery as she spat out more loudly, “How could you?!”
Head shaking rapidly, Peewee leaned in on himself. “I didn’t know. You said a friend. You said concerned. You said—”
“You had no right! I wasn’t… I couldn’t…!” Eyes closed, more tears rolled down her face, unbidden. And just when she thought she’d managed to get them in check once more.
Her hands clenched into fists, as she shook her head weakly. “I can’t lose him.”
“I might know something.”
Lois’ eyes flashed open again in an instant. “What?”
“Men came around almost two weeks ago. They attacked me, and they hated aliens more than anything in this world. I’m certain of that. I saw their truck, where it was from. I don’t know if they took your… friend, but I’ll tell you what I know.” His eyes were full of compassion and sympathy… and regret.
Scrubbing away tears with the back of her sleeve, Lois nodding as she righted her chair and dropped into it, grabbing her notebook and pen. “I’m taking notes. That isn’t up for discussion.”
“Of course,” Peewee acquiesced immediately. “You wouldn’t do anything to hurt aliens. We’re people to you.”
Head snapping up from her notebook, Lois said, “That’s because you ARE people.”
He shrugged. “I really am sorry.”
“I know, and I’ll forgive you, but not right now. Let’s just get through this.”
“Of course,” he nodded getting down to business. “Well, three men attacked me. They pulled off some of my coverings, and they were kicking me. I’m not one for fisticuffs, so I did the only thing I could do to protect myself. I…” Slowly, he held out his hand palm up.
“Right,” Lois said very slowly, his meaning becoming quickly apparent and sending a slight shiver down her spine. Biting back tears at the memory of what had happened, she cleared her throat and asked, “What did these three men look like? Can you describe them?”
“Human. I believe they were males of your species. I’ve gotten to know some of you and can tell a few apart, but I’m sorry to say this, and please don’t mistake me for a racist, but you all look the same to me.”
Lois blinked rapidly.
“You feel very differently. I can tell you apart from the others, based on your feelings. But looks-wise, humans are all pretty similar, don’t you think?”
Relaxing slightly, a smile hinted at the corners of her lips. “You know, I really wish this part of the conversation was on the record. Okay, so you can’t describe the guys, but you saw their truck? Was it local?”
“It was from Earth, even this country, I believe. So yes, I’d say fairly local.”
Dropping her pen, Lois groaned and scrubbed at her face. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Peewee. What little patience I have is now wearing dangerously thin. Give me something! When you say local, are we talking feet or zip codes? Did you get a license plate number? Please, for the love of God tell me you at least got that?”
“There was a company name and an address on the side of the truck.”
Snapping to attention again, Lois grabbed her pen. “I’m listening.”
“It was from Wayne Enterprises, 1437 Merryweather Avenue, Gotham. Is that helpful?”
“Are you kidding?” Lois blinked in surprise, then grinned at last. “Peewee, I could kiss you. No! No I can’t. Cancel that.” She scribbled a quick note, then nodded and looked up to him again. “Anything else?”
Peewee shrugged. “Some of the people from upstairs came out, and my attackers ran off. That’s all I saw, but I felt their hatred. They wanted me dead because I wasn’t human. They wanted all aliens dead, and it felt like they were working on doing it. They were organized.”
“Organized.” Lois scribbled again. “Perfect. Is there a way I can contact you again if I have follow-up questions?”
Pulling a card out of his pocket, he slid it across the table to Lois.
She picked it up and and looked at the address and phone number, then read the company name aloud. “P & W Small Exotic Animal Breeder. You’re an animal breeder?”
He smiled. “The emotions of animals are simple. They aren’t overpowering like people. I can be around them, touch them, and just share with them and it’s fine. They enjoy my company and are very easily managed. If you’re ever in the market for a bearded dragon or a degu, let me know.”
Eyes squinting, Lois leaned forward. “That’s not a real dragon, is it?”
“No fire, I promise, and they’re quite small.” His voice sounded like he was smiling. “I’m afraid that’s all I know about the humans who attacked me. Is there anything else?”
Picking up her notebook, Lois glanced at it briefly and shook her head as she stood. “Not for now. I think I’m all set. If I have any questions, or need a pet, I’ll call you. I’d shake your hand but… yeah, I’m not shaking your hand.”
“Thank you. I prefer it that way.” As she turned to go he added, “Miss Lane, I really am quite sorry.”
“I know. We’ll get there.”
“Good luck finding your… partner? I’m not sure what the term is here.”
Face shifting across many expressions, Lois finally settled on a half-smile. “He’s just a friend. A really good friend.”
“Bye!” Lois turned and left hurriedly, making great haste through the bar, into the elevator, through the upper bar, and out into the quickly fading daylight.
As she stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the bar, she flipped back through the pages in her notebook, reviewing what she had written last. It had been an interesting encounter to say the least. Or perhaps traumatising was a more appropriate word?
Pulling out her burner phone, Lois dialed up a recently used number and the call was answered nearly immediately.
“Good evening, Miss Lane,” said Alfred Pennyworth in his prim English voice. “How can I be of assistance?”
“Hey, Alfred. Any chance Bruce is back? I need a favor in Gotham now.”
“I’m afraid not, Miss. May I give him a message?”
Lois sighed. “I… look, I tracked some guys down to one of his businesses. They may have had something to do with Clark going missing. I really need Bruce’s help.”
“Oh, good Lord! Which business?”
Lois flipped through her notebook. “Uh… All I’ve got is Wayne Enterprises, 1437 Merryweather Avenue, Gotham. Does that help?”
“Not off the top of my head, no, Miss,” Alfred admitted. “However, I will let Master Wayne know of it when next he surfaces.”
“And when will that be?”
“I’m not certain. I’m sorry, Miss, but this situation at Arkham is quite nasty. I have no way of contacting him or for this I would. You know that.”
“I do.” Lois sighed. “Look, as soon as he checks in you let me know, okay?”
“I shall and Miss Lane?” Alfred paused. “Please take care of yourself and be careful whatever it is you’re doing. These are dark times.”
“Tell me about it.” Disconnecting, Lois shoved the phone back into one pocket, the notebook into another, her mood slightly soured but her determination only growing.
Still, it looked like Gotham was their next stop. That was clear on the other side of the country. Lois sighed, considering how many hours of driving that would be. Maybe Lena would let her take a turn driving the shiney Bond-mobile and be less of a control-freak than Alex was on the drive to National City.
As she lifted her head to cross the street, Lois immediately tensed. On the other sidewalk was a group of teens and young adults. They were wearing matching gang colors and were huddled around in a group near Lena’s car. There were murmurs and loud noises coming from them, some back slapping and the like. Lois looked in the car seeing it empty, Lena not inside and nowhere in sight when the reporter looked up and down the street. Worse yet, when the gang parted for just a moment before closing up again, a familiar splash of a bright burgundy coat was clearly visible in their midst.
“Oh, fuck no!” Lois yelled as she launched herself across the street and raced toward the group. “Hey! You get away from her! Leave her alone!” She grabbed the closest person, pulling the much larger young man by the shoulder and yanking him out, only surprise allowing Lois to move the guy. Then she muscled her way toward the middle with her shoulder to arrive within their circle and find Lena.
Lena Luthor stood as if holding court. Her stance was regal and her smile enchanting. She held one hand up, bent at the elbow, and twirled her hand around at the wrist. Green eyes sparkled as one of her eyebrows crooked up, her lips quirked with endless amusement. As she spoke, her audience guffawed, slapping each others’ backs and hanging on her every word.
Lena gave a small and amused laugh. “Oh, and then there was the time Lex set my hand on fire.”
“No fucking way!” One of the gang members said.
Lena waggled a finger at the man. “Yes fucking way. I believe I was six. He showed me how to make fire retardant gel. It was something he was making for a science project. I was completely enthralled, so when he asked if I wanted to see how it worked, naturally, I said yes. We coated my hand and set it on fire.” Lena wiggled her fingers in the air. “It worked perfectly.”
“Bitch, that bro was nuts!”
Lena shrugged. “Well, I see that now. When you’re six and your fifteen-year-old brother suggests something, it seems perfectly natural. The nanny, however, she was scarred for life when Lex called her in and screamed, ‘Lena’s on fire!’ Oh, how she ran out of there screaming and looking for a fire extinguisher. Lex laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Mother did not. Mother strolled into the room, took one look at my burning hand and said, ‘Do you know how hard it is to find a good nanny? Lex put your sister out. And no dessert for either of you’. Then she just strolled out again. I’ve never been quite able to stroll in and out of a room like my mother can. But then again, she is six-feet-tall.”
“Was your brother trying to kill you, even back then?” One girl asked.
“Lex?” Lena shook her head. “Obviously, Lex had his… troubles, but he was quite kind when he was younger, a sweet boy before he went insane and such. The mad ranting and the murder was totally unexpected. It’s made for many awkward social situations.”
“I bet,” one kid replied, a lanky youth who stood a bit formally with his arms in front of him, hands held out as if trouble could come any moment. On his knuckles were tattooed letters. One hand spelled out, “HELL” and the other was, “BENT”. Still smiling and with a bit of a laugh, he leaned forward toward Lena and asked, “What about ya ma? She a tough bitch, right?”
“Mother, hmph.” Lena’s head ticked to the side and a smile hit her lips but never touched her eyes. “Well, Mother is a different story altogether. She’s always been… difficult. What Mother lacked in love she made up for in discipline. Given her personality, it shouldn’t have come as any surprise that attempted genocide was in her future.”
“Oh, Lois.” The young Luthor’s smile grew into something real. “When did you get here?”
“Right around the time I found out Lex has been setting things, and by things I mean you , on fire since long before I met him. It seems we have something in common.” Lois grinned. “Making new friends I see.”
“Yes. I met these lovely ladies and gentlemen from The Savage Reapers. We’ve been trading tales of our childhoods. Apparently, we’re not so different.”
“Nah, our mamas are way better,” one of the ladies said.
“Well, no doubt,” Lena agreed. “Lois, are you all done. Did you have any luck?”
“Ah, yeah. We have a long drive ahead of us though. Maybe we should talk in the car?”
“Of course.” Nodding to the gang members, Lena said, “Well, I hope I see you all around. It’s been such a pleasure.” Unlocking the car, she slid into place still waving and smiling as people walked away.
Lois took her seat, looking at her notebook. She buckled the belt then took up the pad again, flipping frantically through the pages of notes, a broad smile on her face. “You won’t believe what you missed in there, Lena! You should go in with me next time. Here’s what I—”
“Are you insane?!”
“Huh?” Lois looked up from the notebook at the obviously upset young woman staring at her.
“What were you thinking running into that gang? Lois, you could have gotten yourself killed!”
“I didn’t even think you’d noticed me.”
“Ugh.” With an eye roll and an exaggerated sigh, Lena said, “Of course, I noticed you. I was trying to just keep their attention on me and keep the atmosphere as light as could be. Then you came running into the middle of things like a bull in a china shop—
“My specialty,” Lois interjected.
“I’ve noticed,” Lena said between gritted teeth as she stared forward, hands gripping the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. “You barged in and could have gotten yourself killed. What were you thinking?”
“That you were in trouble and needed help. You’re welcome, by the way. So, do you want to know what I found out or not?”
Lean’s head snapped toward Lois. “I wasn’t thanking you! I was telling you how stupid you were!”
Lois rolled her eyes. “I’m an army brat, Princess. You honestly think the General didn’t teach me a thing or three about defending myself?” Lena opened her mouth to protest further, when Lois - who apparently wasn’t finished - continued on. “Besides, what do you know about Klurkor?”
“Kla-what?” Lena blinked in confusion.
“Klurkor,” Lois repeated patiently. Then seeing Lena’s confusion hadn’t dissipated, she sighed. “It’s the Kryptonian form of Karate. Makes our form look incredibly primitive.”
“And let me guess, you’re an expert in this Kryptonian version?” Lena drawled sarcastically, one eyebrow raised, as she finally pulled out into the road to start them on their journey - even though no one had actually given her a destination.
“Well I wouldn’t say I’m an expert as such,” Lois shrugged, going back to her notes again. “But I mean, at a pinch I could maybe give a powerless Supergirl a run for her money.”
Lena glanced at Lois several times, her mouth opening and closing as if she were about to say something, before, with a shake of her head, she closed her mouth firmly and her gaze focused entirely on the road before her.
“You do realize there were ten of them, don’t you? You can at least count.”
Lois scratched at the bridge of her nose. “What’s your point?”
“My point is you could have gotten yourself killed. It was just you, you all alone against ten gang members.” Lena sighed heavily. “What in the world were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t alone.”
With an eye roll that she extended by rolling her entire head on her shoulders, Lena’s sigh was even louder this time as she came to glare at the reporter for long enough that it was likely a road hazard. “Oh, and I suppose you have an entire army battalion in your pocket or some secret Kryptonian force at your disposal? Tell me, Lois, who exactly was going to help you in this situation?”
“You,” Lois said plainly.
Lois pointed back to the road, relaxing a bit when the younger woman’s gaze returned in that direction. “Yeah, I had you, Luthor. You and me, we’re a team. I had your back, and you had mine.” With a small smile, Lois squeezed Lena’s forearm before returning to studying the pages of her notebook.
A long silence stretched between them, Lois studying various pages in her notebook, making notes and drawing lines, jotting things down in a shorthand that would mean nothing to anyone else. Lena just drove. Brows creased while she fretted at her lower lip, the Luthor heiress continued steadily forward. She didn’t speak or even glance to her side. Eventually, tension left the younger woman and the silence turned back to comfortable. There was nothing between them but the drumming of the road under their tires, things that had been said, things left unsaid, and a more pressing mission.
Finally, clearing her throat, Lena asked, “Alright, fine. Where are we headed then, Miss Reporter?”
Lena’s foot hit the brakes hard, and Lois jerked forward in her seat unexpectedly, then immediately looked up, expecting to see something in the road. When there was nothing immediately obvious, she turned to Lena. “What the hell?”
Lois frowned. “That’s what I just said, wasn’t it?”
Lois nodded patiently. “Yes. If you’d let me explain what I’d found out in that bar instead of tearing me a new one for trying to save your pretty little Luthor ass, you’d know that we need to go to Gotham to see a certain playboy billionaire.”
“Oh, so now you want to know? Well, we’ve got a long enough drive that I can fill you in on the way. Now, we moving again or what? People are staring.”
“Unbelievable!” Lena groaned, as she started them off once more. “I am not driving all the way to bloody Gotham.”
“Oh, I don’t mind driving,” Lois piped up, a little too eagerly for Lena’s liking.
“We’re not driving to Gotham,” she repeated.
“But… we’ve got to,” Lois didn’t exactly pout, but it was close.
“We’ll go to Gotham, but we’re not driving. Luckily, I happen to have a plane on standby for emergencies.”
Lois opened her mouth to say something, then sighed. “You’re not joking about the plane, are you.”
“Is now a good time to tell you I’m on the ‘no fly’ list?”
“Something happened once,” Lois shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. “I may have punched a passenger.”
Lena’s eyebrow rose slightly. “I presume he deserved it?”
“Oh, he did. The air hostess might not have, though.”
“The… ? Seriously?” Her brow rose even higher.
“Yeah, and the Air Marshal definitely didn’t, but he just sort of got in the way. Anywho, Lois Lane isn’t allowed to fly.”
“Lois Lane is a certified nightmare,” Lena couldn’t help but tease, shaking her head in wonder. “Luckily, my plane doesn’t have an Air Marshal, so I think you’ll be fine.”
“Well, when you put it that way,” Lois grinned back, settling into her seat. “To Gotham?”
“Can I drive the Bond-Mobile for a bit?”
“Can I drive it later?”
“Can I drive it ever?”