Title: Seventy-Two Hours

Author: Josh

Category/Rating: Drama/Action, Slight AU; PG-13, I hope. TV violence and mild language. Some adult situations (The Lana/Whitney scenes get a little racy…)

Summary: Fic-Challenge: Smallville-verse meets Lois&Clark-verse, thanks to Tempus…

Spoilers: Season One Smallville. Story takes place before events in Nicodemus. No mint-kiss in Hug either…

Feedback / Distribution: Feel free…Just let me know where…

Author's Notes: Never say ‘No Limit’. I wrote this the way I’d like to see it. Knowledge of Sci-Fi shows past will be most helpful. It’s quite long, but this story had to be. Enjoy!

Acknowledgments: *waves* to Ellenore, AJ, s.a., and Jessie; thanks for the beta’s…I borrowed the idea that Clark spoke in his native language when he first arrived on Earth from Sarah T.’s With Mercy Round and Round…No hard feelings, Sarah…

Disclaimer: I don't own anyone or anything in this story. All characters belong to their respective copyright holders. I’m just borrowing them for a little while. (We’ll see if I give them back…)

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Part One

TIMER END: 72.00.00 TIME ELAPSED: -00.01.47

Quinn slowly crawled across the floor. He held tightly to his stomach in a vain attempt to close the wound. Warm blood flowed around his fingers.

I’ve been shot!

He pushed that thought back to focus on more important matters. Six feet away, Wade lay face down, the timer griped tightly in her dying hand, soft entrails of smoke rising from her back.

He crossed the floor in slow motion. To his right, Rembrandt Brown, the Crying Man, was crumpled against the wall. His chin lay at rest on his chest, his eyes closed. Quinn fought a sob and hastened his pace, all the while trailing blood behind him.

Smoke burned his eyes. In the distance, outside the room, Quinn could hear muffled gunfire. For the first time, he noticed that the Professor was not present.

I hope he got away.

It was more of a prayer than a wish.

He made it to Wade’s side, slowly lifted her head to his lap, and felt for her pulse but found none. Her skin was starting to cool. Tears burned down his cheeks as he brushed dark hair out of her eyes.

"I’m so sorry…so sorry…"

He was losing blood fast, having trouble breathing. He knew that his time was up, that their long journey ended here, in a cold, abandoned warehouse on a war-torn Earth. His head slumped back against the desk behind him.

Wade’s hand went limp, and the timer dropped from her fingers, clattering to the floor. Quinn’s eyes followed its path but stopped suddenly at the sight of a pair of expensive leather shoes. Quinn followed the legs up until he was facing a man in an equally expensive charcoal gray suit and a tie the color of Brandywine.

The man had a youthful face and sandy brown hair. But it was his eyes that caught Quinn’s attention. They were gray-green and seemed to sparkle. A huge, maniacal grin crossed the man’s face. Quinn drew in a lungfull of air - a feat that left spots of light dancing through his field of vision - and choked out a question.

"W…why…?"

The man’s smile widened. "Oh…you mean this?" The man produced a black handgun. It was no doubt the same gun that had silenced Quinn’s friends. "Because this is life, Mr. Mallory. And life," he paused and waved the gun around, "life never ends the way we expect it to." The man let out a harsh laugh and bent down to retrieve the timer.

The numbers of the timer ticked down to zero and a blue vortex of energy swirled into existence in front of the man. Quinn silently cursed himself for allowing the power of the timer to fall into this man’s hands.

The man in the suit started to walk forward, but turned around one last time.

"Say, Mr. Mallory? Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?"

Quinn looked up at him.

The man read the confused gaze on Quinn’s face and smiled. "Don’t worry, son. I heard it in a movie once. I kind of liked the sound of it."

With that, the man aimed the gun at Quinn’s head and pulled the trigger.

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The swirling time pool opened up just off-center of a lonely country road. A long, barbed-wire fence stretched from horizon to horizon. Giant stalks of corn monopolized the countryside. Several crows cried out from their roost. The moon painted everything in a wash of gray.

The man in the suit stepped onto the road as the portal closed behind him. He took a moment to survey his surroundings. He may have been born William James Archer, but to the world at large - indeed, throughout history itself - he was known only as Tempus.

His eyes stopped as they met a billboard. He laughed. "Well, I say! This has certainly gotten more interesting." He started walking up the road toward the lights of the small town ahead.

It was an old sign. Twelve years of harsh winters and rowdy teenagers had taken their toll. Its fading blue paint was cracked in a few places, but for the most part, the sign did its job well.

It read: WELCOME TO SMALLVILLE: HOME OF THE METEORS!

TIMER END: 71.59.21 TIME ELAPSED: +00.00.38

Fade to black.

Echoes of Remy Zero…

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Part Two

TIMER END: 71.38.45 TIME ELAPSED: +00.21.14

Smallville, Kansas

Smallville High School — Room 312-B - Torch Office

10:28:19 Pm CDT

A loud beeping pulled Chloe Sullivan’s eyes away from the screen of her I-Mac. "No!" she screamed, which caught the attention of the two boys in the room with her. "OhnoohGodnopleasebabynocomon!"

She walked over to the table that housed Hector, the Torch’s new color printer. One look confirmed her worst fears. "Damn!" she said, maybe just a little too loud.

"Paper jam?" came the voice of the ‘Cute Annoying One.’ He flashed her a winning smile that was All-American: baseball and apple pie. He was Kansas farm boy, through and through.

Oh, hell, I can’t even be mad with that smile in the room! Damn his eyes!

She composed herself and gripped the edge of the table.

"Paper jam," she muttered through clenched teeth, and felt her cheeks flush, ever so slightly. She nervously danced on the balls of her feet. Her gaze sticking to him just a fraction too long.

"Well, don’t take it out on poor Hector," came a voice from across the room.

Startled, Clark and Chloe turned toward the third person in the room, the ‘Annoying Cute One.’ He was crossing over to where the other two stood, that knowing smile on his face. The one that said that she was being too obvious, again.

On second thought, maybe I can be angry…

"Where’s my article, Ross?" she snapped as she yanked a large piece of paper from the printer. She turned the reset on, and - tossing the discarded paper to the floor - she spun around on her heel and faced the two people she trusted more than anyone else in the world.

"The article about our student government’s been on your desk for the past ten minutes, Chief." He eyed his companion before returning his gaze to the petite blonde. "The question is: Where have you been? You’ve been glued to that screen for over an hour now. What’s so important that you forget your two best friends? Hmmm?" He raised his eyebrows for effect, and was suddenly sorry that he did. Chloe locked on to him with her ‘Heat Vision’ glare.

Pete Ross knew that look all to well. At least five times a week, for the past four years, he had been on the receiving end of that stare. Pete stepped over to the left to stand just a little behind Clark. His plan worked, Chloe’s sternness faded almost as soon as Farm Boy was in sight. Pete silently smirked to himself.

Yeah, there’s nothing going on there. Right. Sure.

Chloe blinked her eyes and shook her head a little. She had to turn completely away to find her train of thought again.

Oh, yeah! The story.

"Get a load of this." She smirked as she returned to her chair. "Looks like Lex Luthor isn’t the world’s richest twenty-something any more."

That got the attention of the guys. They gathered around her desk.

"It’s a report out of Gotham City," she replied as her fingers maneuvered her mouse back to the top of the page. "It seems that Bruce Wayne has moved out on top."

"Wayne…Wayne Enterprises, that Wayne?" questioned Clark.

"One and the same," Chloe chirped.

"Wow." Both Chloe and Pete turned towards him. "I did a report on Wayne Enterprises a couple of years ago for Mrs. Strickland’s Economics class. They are the company to beat on electronics, telecommunications, you name it."

"Yeah?" Pete answered. "Looks like big competition for Luthorcorp."

"So, how is it that Wayne is in power now? I thought he was close to our age," Clark asked and moved a little closer to Chloe’s chair.

The fragrance of his shirt was just the right mixture of clean air and Ivory soap to turn Chloe to Jello. She adjusted her seat - accidentally bumping Clark’s arm away - and found she could concentrate again.

"He just turned twenty-one. He had a trust fund set up for him after his folks died."

"Poor guy," Clark replied.

"Yeah, well," Chloe spurted, "with an estimated thirty billion dollars to throw around, I’m sure that he’ll be ok." Pete let out a long whistle.

"Don’t be too sure of yourself, Chloe," Clark warned, his father’s voice resonating in his ears. "Money can’t buy everything."

Chloe was about to answer that it bought enough when the printer started beeping again. "Damn it, Hector!" she yelled, and threw her red pen at it.

Clark and Pete just smiled at each other.

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Part Three

TIMER END: 71.11.51 TIME ELAPSED: +00.48.08

Smallville, Kansas

Lang Residence

10:55:13 Pm CDT

"-was Orlando Rojas making an incredible recovery! I’m not sure if I speak for Casey, but I believe that just might make the ‘Play of the Year’."

"Dan, it’s May."

"I know that. I’m just starting my list a little early."

"Well, with that, we’re running a little late. For Dan Rydell, I’m Casey McCall. You’ve been watching Sports Night on CSC. We’ll see you in twenty-three hours."

"Good night, Mom."

Whitney Fordman never heard the end of his favorite sports show. He was currently trying to make his hands be in six or seven places at once. He was lying on the couch, with Lana on top of him. They were both breathing hard.

Lana was loving every minute of this. The feel of Whitney’s hands sliding all over her body was the best stress reliever there was. She had gotten so worked up that she never wanted him to stop. Not ever.

"Ohhhhh," she moaned.

She knew what he liked, what he wanted her to say.

"Ohhh, Whitney Adam Fordman," she all but whispered. She stuck out her tongue and licked his earlobe.

Whitney could barely think. With one smooth motion, he switched their positions, him straddling her. He gently kissed her neck and collarbone. She pulled his head closer. Her necklace dug into his cheek, but he didn’t notice.

She knew that she was making a mistake. She should have never let Whitney get this far. Soon, they would push the envelope too much, and she would have to stop.

It was no one’s fault, really, just plain old stupid morals. She knew she really liked Whitney, but she didn’t love him. She didn’t love anyone.

Not that way.

Whitney had said that he loved her on a couple of occasions, but they had been occasions like this. She was sure that it was just the heat of the moment making him say that. She was pretty sure that he didn’t love her either. They were just physically attracted to each other, that’s all.

And, God help me, the boy knows how to make out!

But, then it was too late. She felt his hand sliding up under her shirt. She placed her hand on top of his.

"No."

He tensed. He worked his way over her neck more and she felt her eyes roll back in her head. Oh, how she wanted his touch. Here, there, everywhere. But, no. She couldn’t. Couldn’t do that. His hand was back under her shirt.

She violently shoved him back. "No! Whitney, no. We’ve been over this. Not tonight."

The hurt look in his eyes said it all. She hoped that he didn’t misread the look in her eyes. Hoped that he understood that she was disappointed in herself, not him. She had wanted this too. But she couldn’t.

Whitney always went through the same routine. Almost every time they got together, they ended like this: With him gathering up his books and lacing his shoes back on in silence. An awkward, forced hug goodbye and Whitney walking away, wondering what he did to make Lana hate him so much.

Lana watched him through the window. Usually, he would turn back and give a small wave. This time he didn’t. He just got in his truck, backed out of the driveway and drove off.

She felt tears welling up in her eyes and questioned again, for the hundredth time, why growing up had to be so hard.

Someday. Someday, it will all get better. Someday, everything will all make sense.

She looked out across her yard towards the Kent farm. She saw a dark structure on the horizon. The barn, Clark’s ‘Fortress of Solitude.’ She almost had the nerve to walk over there and tell him about tonight. To hear him say that it would all be ok. To have him offer his shoulder to cry on. Clark would do that. That’s what friends were for.

But, she didn’t see a light on. So, she turned off the porch light, locked the door and walked upstairs, ready to put this night behind her.

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Part Four

TIMER END: 69.25.02 TIME ELASPSED: +02.34.57

20 Miles East of Smallville, Kansas

Club Let’s Bolt

12:42:02 Am CDT

Malcolm Edwards walked through the smoke filled room, a man on a mission. He wound his way through the half-naked pretty people and the occasional inebriated teenager. He didn’t notice the illicit drug deals going on along the darkened booths nor did he beckon to the call of the sirens, those promising much more than conversation.

He didn’t lose himself in the monotonous drone of the electronic house music. Nor was he blinded by the swirling lights streaming from the dance floor. He was not intimidated by the leather-clad monoliths flanking the bar. He paid no heed to the young man over-dosing near the hallway leading to the restrooms.

No, Malcolm was here on official business. He checked his watch. He was three minutes early. He made it a habit to always be a little early wherever he went. This was a trait that his boss liked. In fact, Malcolm Edwards had many traits that Lex Luthor liked.

Malcolm spotted his boss at a table near the back of the club. Luthor was dressed to the hilt - crisp, navy blue shirt, clean black slacks, polished alligator loafers - and was making time with a redhead that looked like she just stepped out of a magazine photo shoot.

Lex Luthor was getting bored with the girl sitting on his left. Truth be known, Lex was pretty much bored with Club Let’s Bolt itself. The liquor was watered down, the DJ always seemed to be at least a month behind on the latest music trends, and the clientele left much to be desired.

But, it was the only decent club this side of Metropolis, and, though it might not rate high on Lex’s personal scale, it was still a good place to meet and go unnoticed.

Lex was not lost on the fact that in most locations he stood out like a beacon. Over the past twelve years, he had come to grips with just who, and what, he was. At first, it was hard to adjust, but, he had learned to turn that to his advantage. Not that he was ashamed of his appearance, it was nice to be able to blend in to the background from time to time.

His eyes caught movement to his right. Edwards was approaching the booth. Lex nodded to him and dismissed the girl, Amanda? Amber? It didn’t matter. Her took the napkin with her number and tossed it to the floor as soon as her back was turned. He motioned for Edwards to take a seat.

Malcolm dropped a manila envelope on the table. "Advanced copy."

Lex opened the envelope and produced a magazine. Next week’s issue of Forbes. The cover was adorned with the image of a young man with black hair and ashen face, a prominent scowl and knitted brows. Bruce Wayne. New CEO of Wayne Enterprises.

"What have you found?"

"The report’s in the envelope." Malcolm replied.

Lex perused over the enclosed collateral. "Interesting." Parents murdered when he was twelve, schooling all over Europe, majored in criminal psychology and forensics. "Looks like he wanted to be some sort of detective." Lex paused, then looked up at Edwards. "I can get this off the ‘net. What else have you got?"

"Not much," Malcolm admitted. "I’ve got a man inside Gotham PD. Wayne’s record’s clean. Not even a speeding ticket. Of course, I’m not even sure the guy’s ever had to drive himself anywhere."

Lex smiled. Yeah, he knew people like Wayne. Silver spoon and the sort. Hell, hadn’t he been raised the same way? Had circumstances been different, he and Wayne might have even been friends. Well, associates at least. "Nothing else?"

Malcolm scratched absently at his chin. "Just this. He saw his parents get it. He was witness to their murder. They say it really did a number on him."

Lex’s eyebrows went up at that. "Really? Now that is interesting." He would have to find a way to use that bit of information to his advantage.

"Good work." Lex furnished a white envelope from his shirt pocket. He handed it to Edwards, who grunted and slipped it out of sight.

"Are we done?" Malcolm was standing to leave.

"Just one more thing. Any progress on that other matter we discussed?"

Malcolm shook his head. "All roads from the Kent adoption keep leading to dead ends. I’m still researching, but I haven’t found anything at this time."

Lex nodded, content with the information. "Thanks. I’ll be touch."

Malcolm nodded and made his way back through the club toward the door. Lex turned his attention to the brunette who had just sat down beside him. Neither of them paid any notice to the man sitting at the table opposite them. A man in a charcoal gray suit.

Well, well, well. Kent adoption? A smile spread across his face. This was going to be much more fun than Tempus had ever imagined.

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Part Five

TIMER END: 62.41.40 TIME ELASPSED: +09.18.19

Washington, D.C.

J. Edgar Hoover Building

08:25:24 Am EDT

Dana Scully made her way slowly through the FBI office cubicles toward her room. She was munching on a bagel and was in no hurry to get started on the mountain of paperwork that had been building on her desk for the past couple of weeks.

Her auburn hair glowed in the morning light. It was Friday, the first sunny day in almost three weeks, and the whole office seemed to be vibrating with cabin fever. Dana really didn’t blame them. She sighed as she approached her chair.

She placed her purse in the bottom file drawer beside her desk and discarded the bagel wrapper. She was about to refill her coffee mug with hot tea when she noticed the yellow sticky-note on her computer monitor.

"Scully — Come see me when you get this. -M"

Fox Mulder’s office was located on the bottom of the building, in the basement. It was a good office as far as Mulder was concerned. Out of the way from the normal hustle and bustle. Also, a person had to know how to get here to find him.

A slight knock caught his attention. He looked up and smiled as he saw who was in the doorway.

"This office does have a phone intercom system, you know," his partner stated.

"Yeah, but this way adds to the mystery," Mulder mused.

She just rolled her eyes and shook her head at that.

"Scully." He grinned. "You ever heard of a town called Smallville, Kansas?"

"Should I have?"

He picked up a folder from the top of a pile of assorted papers and magazines. "Close to Metropolis. Twelve years ago it was the site of the largest meteor shower in recorded history. For twenty-five minutes straight, fire rained from the heavens." He produced a photograph from the folder. It showed an overhead view of a small town that looked like a war zone.

He handed her a magazine. Time. October 1989. The little girl on the cover was wearing a fairy-princess dress, tears streaming down her face.

"I remember seeing this. Her parents were killed?"

"Yeah, just two of the thirty-seven people killed that day." He ran his fingers through his dark hair.

"What now, Mulder? This happened a long time ago."

He handed her a small newspaper. "This was printed last month."

The paper’s headline read: SMALLVILLE: MUTANT CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

"Oh, you’ve got to be kidding."

"No. Really. The investigative reporter there has been doing stories on several strange occurrences. She places these events in close proximity to the meteors." Mulder regarded his notes. "Events ranging from thermo-kenitic energy to cellulose-vampirism to suspended animation-"

"Mulder! Please. This investigative reporter is a high school student. She’s probably seen too many bad movies or is making it up for higher distribution."

"But, check the dates, Scully. Check the facts. You, of all people, know the existence of such phenomena. And I checked up on her. She’s authentic. I think, at the very least, this calls for an investigation. If even to disprove-"

"But, Mulder. A high school tabloid?"

"The Smallville Torch is very legit. Besides, haven’t you been saying that you wanted to get out of the office for a few days?"

Dana thought about the paperwork on her desk. "Why do I have the sinking feeling that we’re on the ten o’clock flight to Metropolis?"

"I would never do such a thing without first consulting you."

Scully raised a crimson eyebrow.

"There wasn’t a ten ’o clock flight," he smiled. "We’re on the ten forty-five."

She sighed and shook her head.

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Part Six

Another Place

Another Time

Lois Lane let the hot water of the shower work out the stiffness in her back and shoulders. The past four weeks had taken their toll on her. She was glad that the Intergang drug trafficking ring had been busted, but she did wish that it was someone else who had to go undercover.

Oh, well. The story was over. The world was safe once again from evil, and Perry had given her Friday off to celebrate. And, with luck, Clark’s alter ego would have a couple days off as well. Wow! A whole weekend, just the two of them. She couldn’t wait.

Her dark, shoulder-length hair was almost dry when she suddenly felt a pair of arms wrap around her waist. Shocked, she looked into the mirror in time to see the reflection of her husband materialize behind hers.

"You know, most husbands just say, ‘Honey, I’m home.’ But, no. I get the one who uses his super speed to scare the crap out of me."

"Oh, I don’t know. I hear Perry’s quite the sneak when he wants to be. You don’t hear Alice complaining."

"Now, there’s an image I could’ve done without." She pulled his head down close to her and kissed him. "Now. Where were we?" Clark levitated the two of them into the bedroom.

A knock from the front door came at the most inopportune time.

In a flash, Clark was dressed and at the door before the second knock. He opened it and found two, rather strange men standing in his hallway. The first was a burly, bearded man with a sling around his right arm. The second was a timid little man holding a bowler hat in his hands.

H.G.Wells took a step. "Good morning, Mr. Kent."

Clark just stared.

Wells continued, "I do hope that we haven’t come at a bad time."

Lois was tying the sash on her robe as she came down the stairs. "Are you kidding? We could set our clocks by it."

"Yes. Yes. I do apologize. But, I’m afraid that we are here on rather urgent business." The two visitors walked into the Kent entranceway. Wells turned his attention to the other man. "Professor?"

"Mr. and Mrs. Kent," the large man boasted, his voice filling the room, "my name is Maximillian Arturo. And, I’m afraid that we a have a common acquaintance. A man that goes by the name of Tempus."

Lois and Clark looked at each other and then slowly sank down onto the sofa.

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Part Seven

TIMER END: 62.21.43 TIME ELASPSED: +09.38.16

Smallville, Kansas

Kent Residence

07:45:21Am CDT

Martha Kent set a large plate of pancakes on the table. Her husband walked over to the counter by the sink and filled his thermos with coffee. She smiled and drummed her fingers across his shoulders.

Jonathan Kent looked back and gave her a wink. They both gazed out the little window and took in the sunrise.

"How does your day look?" Martha asked.

"Not too bad." Jonathan screwed the lid of the thermos on and licked the couple drops of coffee off his hand. "I’ve got to repair that gap on the east fence. Then I have to go into town and see Foster Lott about a vaccine for the calves."

"Foster? Did Dare Lott finally retire?"

"Yeah. And Foster’s taking over for his dad."

"Wow. I remember when he left for college. I was sure that he would never come back here."

"I know. But, you know Smallville. This towns grows on you after a while."

Martha smiled. "How about that stump out back?’

"I was going to ask Wayne Irig to come over with his tractor and help me pull it out."

"You know, you could ask Clark to do it. He could have it done in a couple of seconds."

"Martha," Jonathan started. That tone coming into his voice. "You know I don’t like Clark showing off like that."

"I know. I really do. But, Clark needs to understand that his…gifts…are not a burden. That he can use them to help. Besides, I think that sometimes he thinks that you’re ashamed of him."

"Ashamed!? When have I-"

"Hey." She placed a hand on his chest. "That’s not what I meant." The look of hurt in Jonathan’s eyes caught her off guard. "You know how teenagers are. I’m just saying that you could try to not be so cautious all the time. Let him know that it’s ok to be different. That he can have fun with it from time to time."

"I don’t know, Martha. That could be asking for trouble."

"Just think about, huh?"

Jonathan looked back out the window. Then he glanced at his watch. "Where is that son of ours anyway? Doesn’t he usually help Chloe distribute the Torch on Friday?"

"Clark! Honey, you’re going to be-"

A gray and blue streak shot downstairs and halted in front of her.

"Late. Yeah, I know. I overslept." Clark practically inhaled half the plate of pancakes. "Good breakfast, Mom."

"Thanks, honey," she smiled. Clark was dressed in jeans and a light flannel.

My, don’t the Kent men look good in flannel.

Clark was just heading out the door when Jonathan called his name.

"Clark, I was wondering…if after school today," he turned towards his wife. Martha tilted her head to one side. "If you could help me pull up that old stump in the back yard." Clark stood there with his mouth open. "If you don’t have anything else to do, that is."

Clark beamed, flashed a smile (that - for no fault of his own - brought a certain editor to her knees) and hugged his father. "That would be great. Thanks, Dad!"

Jonathan hugged his son back. "Good. Now, get out of here. You’re late."

With that, Clark vanished, a gray and blue streak heading toward Smallville High.

Martha placed her arm around her husband. "That was nice."

Jonathan sighed, kissed is wife on the forehead, picked up his thermos and headed out to the barn.

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Part Eight

TIMER END: 62.18.12 TIME ELASPSED: +09.41.47

Smallville, Kansas

Smallville High School — Room 312-B - Torch Office

07:48:52 Am CDT

Chloe checked her watch and bit back a curse. She wasn’t asking for much, just for Clark Kent to be on time for once in his miserably cute life. She walked over to Hector’s table and picked up one of the stacks of paper.

She turned around and walked right smack into the aforementioned Mr. Kent. She let out a yelp.

I swear he wasn’t there a second ago!

"Man! Don’t you knock?" She was more scared than angry, and hoped he couldn’t tell.

"Sorry. I just have…soft-soled shoes." Soft-soled shoes!? Argh!

"Yeah, ok." She caught her breath. "Come. We have papers to distribute." She grinned and dropped a large stack into his hands. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem affected by the weight.

Must be all those hours in the barn, she thought. In the barn, at night. In the barn at night, with no shirt on.

Whoa, Girl! Eyes forward.

*He’s wearing the Blue-Gray flannel.*

Stop it!

They passed Pete in the hall and Chloe handed him a paper. "Hot off the Hector."

"Thanks." He tucked the Torch under his arm and headed toward the office. "See you guys at lunch. Have a history quiz to study for."

Lana wandered the hall, twirling the chain of her necklace around her finger . She was trying to avoid the cluster of people. She stopped when she found herself in front of the Torch office. Maybe Clark will be here, she thought.

He usually helps Chloe with the Friday addition. Maybe I could -

"Oh. Hi, Lana."

Lana stepped back. She wasn’t expecting him to be there. "Oh…sorry, Pete. I didn’t mean to interrupt. Was just looking for…"

"Lana?" Pete’s expression changed from surprise to concern when he saw her face. A face that was usually filled with an unimpeachable cheerfulness. A face that was now blank and emotionless. A face that scared him more than a little.

"You ok?"

"Yeah…sure."

"Liar. Come here. Sit down." He walked her over to a chair. "Talk to me."

"It’s…Whitney…" she began.

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Part Nine

TIMER END: 59.58.06 TIME ELASPSED: +12.01.53

Smallville, Kansas

Luthor Residence

10:08:58 Am CDT

Lex’s full attention was upon the thirty-five inches of hardened steel flashing near his head. With reflexes honed from countless hours of constant exercise, he parried away the approaching foil and extended his reach into the torso of his opponent.

Point five.

Match.

He saluted the other man with his saber and removed his helmet. "Good match."

"Thank you, sir." The man excused himself as Lex made his way through the winding hallways.

Lex discarded his jacket and wiped the sweat off his face with a fresh towel. He made his way into his office and sat down behind his computer. His smile of victory quickly vanished as he saw an unmarked envelope propped up against the monitor.

He suddenly felt exposed, vulnerable. With a sweeping glance, Lex marked all the possible hiding places within the room. He saw no movement.

Lex studied the envelope for a moment. Plain white, no markings of any kind. Not even sealed. He emptied the contents onto the desk: A newspaper clipping and a sheet of copy paper.

The clipping was a report on the meteor shower right after it had just happened.

But, it was the second article that caught his eye. It was a photocopy of a driver’s permit. It had the seal of the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles on it.

The name on the dotted line was Clark Kent.

And his birthday - though three years earlier - was the same day of the meteor shower.

Well, well, well. Lex stood up and walked over to the window. Now, what is someone trying to tell me?

From a safe, secluded spot just beyond the trees of the grounds, Tempus watched Lex move away from the window. He set down his binoculars.

Salute, Mr. Luthor. Point one to me, I believe.

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Part Ten

TIMER END: 58.12.51 TIME ELASPSED: +13.47.08

Smallville, Kansas

City Limits

11:54:13 Am CDT

Four people from another place, another time, made their way down Highway 335, the long road leading into Smallville, Kansas.

Wells’ time machine had been hidden a few miles behind them. Behind a billboard for a new Luthorcorp housing development: Lyon Estates.

They paused at a familiar road sign.

"‘Home of the Meteors’?" Lois asked, puzzled. "I don’t remember any — Clark!"

Clark suddenly felt lightheaded and fell back. H. G. Wells and the Professor caught him by the arms and steadied him.

"Are you alright, my boy?" Wells placed the back of his hand to Clark’s forehead.

"Yeah. I guess. Just feel…dizzy. That’s all."

"Ah, yes. That’s right. I haven’t told you about this world Professor Arturo and I tracked Tempus to. About the Kryptonite."

"Kryptonite!?" the Kents said in unison. They looked horrified.

"Yes. It seems that the ship that rocketed you to Earth landed here only twelve years ago. And it arrived with an arsenal of the remains of Krypton." Wells started.

He read the bewildered look on Lois’ face and pointed to the sign. "Meteors. The entire area was showered with them."

"So," Lois paced around in a slow circle, her arms waving as she talked, "the whole town is contaminated with Kryptonite?"

"Yes, that’s about right." Wells turned towards Clark. "Not to worry, though. Most of the poison is buried deep within the ground. You are only in danger in close proximity."

"Well, that’s a relief," Lois quipped, sarcasm dripping from her words.

Clark was still thinking about something the time traveler had said. "Mr. Wells?"

"Yes?"

"You mentioned that the spaceship landed only twelve years ago? So…I …er…the Clark from this world…he arrived as an adult?"

"Oh. No, my boy." He removed his glasses and cleaned them with the back of his tie.

"The travel time was the same as in your world. About three years. It’s just that events in this world took a little longer to happen."

Clark looked confused.

"You see, the Clark Kent of this world is only fifteen. Everything will happen, just as it did for you. Well, not everything, but Let’s see. This time it started in 1989. Instead of 1966."

Still a little baffled, Clark looked around the countryside. "Fifteen? So, it’s 2002. That’s six years from now…time travel, argh."

He turned toward his wife. "Anyway, he doesn’t have full control of his powers yet."

Lois nodded and chimed in. "And with handy access to Kryptonite, Tempus could easily take advantage of him."

Clark concurred.

"At least he won’t meet Lex Luthor for another few years," Lois added.

"Oh!" exclaimed Wells. "There’s one more thing you should know…"

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Part Eleven

TIMER END: 56.49.25 TIME ELASPSED: +15.10.34

Smallville, Kansas

Smallville High School

01:17:39 Pm CDT

Chloe walked up to Clark, who was standing in line at the cafeteria. "Forget your lunch again, handsome?"

Clark turned around and blushed. "Yeah. Kind of left in a hurry this morning."

She looped her arm through his. "Well, come on. You can share mine. Dad always packs way more than I can eat."

"Thanks."

"Think nothing of it. I have to save my favorite reporter from the horror that is ‘Mystery Meat Friday.’"

Clark liked the idea of Chloe saving him for a change. But what was that thing about favorite reporter? And why was it suddenly strange to have her walking on his arm? Chloe was his best friend.

I mean it’s not like there’s anything else going on, right? It’s not like she wants to be more than friends.

Right?

Chloe was in heaven. She was walking through the Smallville High cafeteria, with the man of her dreams on her arm.

Ok. That’s a little cheesy.

But, still, the rush was there. She felt as though she were floating. For just a moment, there was no Lana Lang. No Lex Luthor. Not even a Wall of Weird. Just her and Clark.

"So. Where’s Pete?" And the moment was gone.

Sigh.

She tried to not sound hurt. "Haven’t seen him since this morning."

Clark nodded and pulled out a chair for her. "Then, I guess it’s a party of two."

Chloe smiled and sat down.

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Lana walked along the path to the basketball court behind the school. She was thinking about the talk that she and Pete had that morning. It was funny. All this time, and she never really knew Pete that well. She had always known him as part of Clark’s Trio.

Oh, he was nice and everything. But she never took the time to get to know the real Pete. He had been a good friend today. He had let her talk and didn’t interrupt. He’d let her cry and offered her the box of Kleenex on Chloe’s desk. He was a good listener.

I guess that’s what makes him a good reporter.

She had pretty much made up her mind about the Whitney situation. As much as it would hurt him - and her - she saw no alternative but to break things off. She had wrestled with the thought for several weeks now. Too many sleepless nights. Too many tears.

No. It would be better this way. For both of them.

She saw him shooting baskets near the rear of the court. He was alone.

Now or never

Whitney saw her coming. He tossed the ball against the fence and walked over to her.

"Whitney -" Lana began.

"It’s over, Lana." She froze in mid step. "I’m tired of feeling like a jerk every time we go too far. I’m tired of getting the cold shoulder from you for a week afterward. I’m tired of you hating me for doing what you want to do as well. I’m tired of everything."

Lana still did not move. She watched as he picked up his jacket and walked off.

She didn’t feel the tears start to roll down her cheeks.

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Clark and Chloe made their way to the third floor and the Torch office. They were talking and laughing about old times. They didn’t notice the two people standing in front of the door.

"Miss Sullivan?"

Chloe looked up, clearly annoyed at being interrupted. "Yeah?"

A man in a black suit held out a badge. "I’m Agent Mulder. This is Agent Scully. We’re with the FBI."

Chloe backed up against a row of lockers, mouth agape.

"Ididn’tdoitnobodysawmedoityoucan’tproveathing!"

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Part Twelve

TIMER END: 55.12.58 TIME ELASPSED: +16.47.01

Smallville, Kansas

Smallville Public Square - Downtown

02:54:06 Pm CDT

Martha Kent drove her battered blue pick-up truck into the last open space left on Main Street. She removed a folded piece of paper from the breast pocket of her work shirt.

Taking note of the errands on the list, she crossed the street and made her way towards Rueben’s Grocery.

She was exiting the store, arms filled with ingredients for the night’s dinner, when she saw a familiar face departing from the library. Martha smiled and found herself facing Pete Ross. His head was down, his dark eyebrows pinched with thought. His lips a tight line.

He kept scratching the inside of his palms.

Martha wasn’t sure, but she felt he looked troubled. Perplexed.

"Pete? What are you doing out so early?"

"Oh," Pete said. "I have a free period last hour on Fridays." With that, he took two of her bags and started out toward her truck.

"Oh. Ok. Thanks." She joined him, her burden severely lessened. She could read from his body language that he was uneasy about something.

But, what?

For a moment, she remembered all the conversations the two had had over the years. All the maternal advice Judge Ross wasn’t able to give that had fallen on Martha’s shoulders.

In that moment, Pete was nine years old again.

And she missed those talks.

"So, how are you?"

"Oh, I’m fine."

"Hey," she placed a hand on his arm. "I know you, remember? I can tell when something’s bothering you. Spill it."

Pete looked around, nervous. "Well, there is something I need to get off my chest."

"What’s up?"

"Well…" he began. "I have this friend I who’s going through a tough time right now. I want to be there for her." He looked at his feet for a moment. "I don’t want her to think that I’m taking advantage of the moment and trying to hit on her. Because…I might really like her."

"Oh?" Martha exclaimed, eyebrows up, motherly pride radiating off from her.

"Yeah." A half smile on his lips. "But, there’s a problem." The smile faded. He looked her in the eyes. "It’s…Lana."

"Oh."

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Clark stared at the contents of his coffee mug. He was trying not to be intimidated by the conversation taking place at the other end of the table. He really was.

Chloe and Mr. FBI, Agent Mulder, were going back and forth about everything from Kennedy to Elvis.

Man, this guy was an even bigger conspiracy nut than Chloe.

And that’s saying a lot!

It was a little strange there at first. With badges being flashed and all. But, as soon as Mulder had seen the Wall of Weird, he turned giddy. Like a kid in a candy store.

He wasn’t sure he could trust Mulder. He was scared of what that man would do if he ever found out Clark’s secret. At least his partner, Agent Scully, was more down to earth. And, it seemed that she didn’t go along with all of Mulder’s theories. Clark had caught her rolling her eyes more than once.

And, why did he feel jealous that Chloe was having a great time with the man?

Chloe was sure that this was a dream. It had to be. Not only had she been able to have Clark all to herself for most of the day, she had found a kindred spirit. A person with a perspective on the world at large that rivaled her own.

And he was cute! Granted, he was ancient — Thirty-two? Thirty-three? — but those smoldering eyes were just too much.

Now, his partner on the other hand…

They had spent the last hour talking about the past few months, and were now having coffee at the Beanery, discussing a tour of the town tomorrow. This is just great, Chloe thought.

She ordered another coffee and beamed at Clark.

If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up!

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Dr. Steven Hamilton was engaged in his work. Amidst the various beakers and scientific paraphernalia, Hamilton’s lab and workshop were quite hidden from the outside world. Stack after uneven stack of papers and folders littered the workbench and surrounding floor. Organized chaos. Hamilton was mumbling to himself.

At the moment, his interests lie in that of the large poster in front of him. It was on loan to him from one of his old friends at Metropolis University.

It was a star chart.

He jotted down several notes. Among them were the words: Supernova and Krypton.

A knock at the outer door broke his concentration. Agitated, he walked into the front room and saw a stranger standing just inside the doorway.

"Yes? Can I help you?"

"Oh, I do hope so," the man said, a strange little smile on his face. "I’m looking to purchase a few of your meteors."

Hamilton felt a frown coming on. Oh, he was pleased that there were people out there who bought into the whole meteor phenomenon — they helped pay the bills — but, sometimes he just felt sorry for them all the same. "How many were you looking to buy?"

The man jerked a thumb towards the vehicle parked out front. "Enough to fill the bed of my truck."

Hamilton’s eyes flashed, a red flag raising. "Why so many?"

"Oh, I’m the archaeology professor over at Harper Community College. I’m starting a new class for the summer semester on the meteor craze." The man extended his hand.

Hamilton shook it, warily. "You know, most of those stories are greatly exaggerated."

"Yes. Yes. But you know kids. They’ll jump on anything strange and amazing. If I can fill half my seats, it’ll be a better summer than I can remember for some time."

Hamilton smiled despite himself. "And, how would you like to pay?"

The man in the expensive charcoal gray suit smiled. "How does cash strike you?"

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Lana walked trough a throng of high schoolers with a drink tray balanced on her shoulder, her face a blank mask. She made her way to a table near the back. Four people were sitting around it. She didn’t like the way they were looking at everything. Something about them wasn’t quite right.

She arranged the drinks in front of them. "Can I get you anything else?" She wanted to get as far away from them as possible. And not just them. She wanted to get away from everyone. She wasn’t sure how long the shock of Whitney’s breaking up with her would last. She didn’t want to break down here.

She was hoping that they wouldn’t want anything, and was not disappointed. They all shook their heads. The young guy in glasses almost spilled is drink when he took it from her. Strange. The way he was acting reminded her of Clark in some way. And that reminded her of Pete. And that reminded her of Whitney. And that….

"Well, I’m Lana if you need anything else." As she turned, she didn’t see the young couple react to her name and look at each other.

Lois nearly choked on her drink. "Lana? That’s Lana Lang?!"

"That’s not the Lana I remember," Clark stated, visibly shaken.

"Yes, yes," Wells interjected. "I did warn you that there would be certain differences. In fact, I feel quite confident that most everything here is not going to coincide with your memories."

"I don’t know, Clark," Lois said, "I think she’s pretty cute."

"She’s so…different. Lonely. And her necklace…was that Kryptonite?"

"Mr. Kent," the Professor exclaimed, "I do hate to break up this little trip down memory lane, but I must remind you that we are on a terrible time schedule. Our calculations indicate that Tempus may indeed slide out of this reality very soon." He looked around the table. "Now, where do you suggest we start looking for him?"

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Part Thirteen

TIMER END: 52.39.22 TIME ELASPSED: +19.20.37

Smallville, Kansas

Sullivan Residence

05:27:42 Pm CDT

Clark walked Chloe up to her door. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. He just felt that he needed to say something.

This is ridiculous!

He had known Chloe going on five years now, it shouldn’t be this hard to talk to his best friend.

It’s not like this is Lana.

Or was that it? Oh, wow.

Does Chloe see me like I see Lana?

Chloe didn’t want the day to end. It was bad enough that Mulder and what’s-her-name had to bail so early. But now it looked like her day with Clark was over to. She turned to say goodbye and saw the lost look on his face. "Hey. Earth to Kent."

Clark shook his head a little to clear his thoughts. He looked into Chloe’s eyes and asked a question. "Chloe? Have you ever thought about…us? I mean as a couple?"

The blood drained from Chloe’s face. The question that she promised herself Clark Kent would never ask, was now hanging in the air between them. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out.

Clark read her expression. It was if an explosion went off in front of his eyes. Feelings he didn’t even know he had were coming to the surface.

Chloe was still frozen in time. Her mind kept screaming that there was NO WAY that this was happening. But she was here. She was seeing it.

Clark Kent - her best friend, the guy who won her a stuffed shark at the Smallville County Fair in sixth grade, the guy she’d been maddeningly in love with for almost as long — was leaning in for a kiss.

A KISS!!!

Her first kiss. And with Clark!

Please, God! Don’t let me wake up!

She watched as Clark leaned in further. She had to remind herself to breathe. Her heartbeat was approaching critical mass. His face was mere inches from hers now. His eyes, usually green, had taken on a bluish tone.

Wow. Like a mood ring.

*Shut up! He’s about to kiss you, and you’re thinking about mood rings?! You need help, Sullivan!*

Clark’s eyes abruptly shut. "Damn." It was a whisper. Barely audible.

"W…what?" Chloe squeaked out.

Oh, this is SO not fair!

Clark placed is hands up in mock surrender. "No. No. It’s just that I’m late. I promised that I’d help Dad with chores after school."

Chores. CHORES??!! He’s not kissing me because of chores?!

"I really…and I mean really, hate to do this Chloe..." She just stared at him. "I promise that as soon as I’m done I’ll come right back. This will only take a minute. I swear."

"No." Her throat was dry, her head felt heavy. "No. You…go do your…chores." She could hardly stand up.

"I’ll be right back. Promise."

She watched him go. She felt sick. She opened the door and heard the porch creek behind her. She turned and was startled to see him there.

There’s no way he could’ve gotten from the gate to here so fast.

His hands found her arms.

"Something to hold you over until I get back."

He took her face into his hands and kissed her. A soft, gentle, passionate, heart-stopping, head-rushing, knee-weakening, unbelievable kiss. She felt her body collapse. She felt like she was floating. He didn’t seem to mind the extra weight.

After a small slice of eternity, Chloe felt her world shift back into view. Clark’s eyes were completely blue now.

"Wow."

It was all she could say at first.

Clark blushed. "Just ‘wow’?"

She could still feel where his hands were on her face. His warm fingerprints on her skin. "You taste like…like green apples." Clark blushed again.

"I’ll be right back." He jumped off her porch and started off towards his house. Chloe sank back against the door.

Try as she might, she couldn’t stop smiling.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Jonathan was returning to the house after a long day when he noticed the stump. It was old and gnarled. The tree had been a good one. It had been there since he was a kid, and it was a shame that the ice storm a few weeks ago had killed it.

Thankfully, the tree hadn’t fallen on the house. He and Martha had cut up the trunk and repaired the back gate. Now, all that was left was to remove the stump itself.

He might not like to admit it, but it would be much easier for Clark to just wrench it out of the ground. Sometimes, as dangerous as it was, it was good to have someone with Clark’s strength around. As long as he didn’t overdo it.

Of course, it helped if the boy were there to begin with…

Just as he was ready to give up on Clark showing up at all, an all-to-familiar ‘whoosh’ swept through the yard. And a blue-gray blur gradually turned into his son.

Jonathan watched as Clark vaulted over the gate — a good six feet! — and landed on the stump. It was probably the happiest he had ever seen the young man.

"Everything alright, son?"

Clark wasn’t sure where to start. There was too much to tell.

"Me and Chloe…We…Well,…I…"

"Take a breath, Clark," he placed an arm over the teenager’s shoulders. "What’s going on? What’s up with Chloe?"

"Dad," Clark found he needed that breath. "Would it be ok if I asked Chloe over for dinner tonight?"

Jonathan put on a skeptical face. He’s never asked permission before. "Sure, son. Anything wrong?"

Clark’s eyes flashed. "No. No, everything’s right." With that, Clark tore the stump out of the ground as if it were no more than a dead root. He spun it around on his finger like a basketball.

Jonathan tried not to laugh as chunks of dirt flew in his direction. "Ok, Clark! Ok. That’s enough." He looked around, nervously. "We don’t want to attract attention."

Clark grinned and tossed the stump over by the chopping block. "Was there anything else you needed help with?"

"I’m sure I can handle whatever is left."

"And you’re sure it’s ok to ask Chloe over?"

"Well, I’m not your mother," he looked over toward the kitchen, "but I’m sure she’ll be fine with it. Is there anything you want to tell me?"

"Not yet," Clark grinned. "I’ll explain everything tonight. Gotta go. Be back soon."

Jonathan suddenly found himself talking to thin air. He scratched at his cheek and made his way toward the house to wash up.

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Part Fourteen

TIMER END: 48.58.47 TIME ELASPSED: +23.01.12

Smallville, Kansas

Lang Residence / Kent Residence

09:08:17 Pm CDT

Lana woke with a start. She looked around the room. All was quiet and still. She had fallen asleep in the chair facing the TV in the living room. The only light was coming from the hall upstairs. It felt a little scary. Here, all alone. In the dar -

A knock from the front door produced a scream from her.

"Lana?" The voice came from the other side of the door. And, although muffled, it sounded a lot like…

"Pete? That you?" She turned on the porch light.

"Yeah." There was a slight pause. "I’m not stopping by too late, am I?"

Lana opened the door, trying to straighten her bed-head. "Of course not." She found Pete standing in her doorway, holding something behind his back. "What’s up?"

Pete glanced all around the porch, finding it hard to look her in the eye. "Well, I was wondering if you might be up for some company?"

He pulled a large plastic bag from behind him. "I have a few games here. And some ice cream."

Lana stared at him, a surprised look on her face.

"I just thought you might need a friend. That’s all." Pete hung his head and gave a shy smile, his dark eyes pleading for acceptance. And…was he blushing?

Lana smiled. Nell was covering her shift at the Talon…And the house was a little spooky an night…

"That’s the best offer I’ve heard all day." She moved out of the way and switched on the overhead light as Pete stepped over the threshold.

"Hey! Is that Ben & Jerry’s?"

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Martha walked into the kitchen to prepare dessert. Jonathan was right behind her, barely able to contain his emotions.

Girlfriend.

The word hung in the air before them.

"Well," she began, "you know this was bound to happen sooner or later." She read the worried look in his eyes. "At least we know Chloe."

"It’s not her." He sounded tired, lost.

She fumbled the slice of cobbler and it fell on its side.

"I like Chloe. You know that." He looked deep into her eyes. "I just think it’s too soon for a girlfriend." He sighed and hung his head in defeat.

Martha hugged him and rested her forehead against his.

"You and I both were dating when we were Clark’s age," she responded.

He opened his eyes. "That’s what I’m afraid of." He saw her slight smile. "Wait, a minute. Why are you so calm about this?"

"Because, I know our son. He’s a sensible young man. We raised him well."

"But…" his voice trailed off. "What if he…hurts her?"

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"HA! Marvin Gardens," Lana shouted. "That’ll be…with three houses…eight hundred and fifty dollars!" She grinned wickedly at her companion.

Pete looked woefully at the small pile of bills in his hand. "Don’t tell anyone, but I do believe that was a smile coming from Miss Lana Lang."

Lana blushed and looked away. Empty ice cream containers and candy wrappers littered the floor. "Yeah. Haven’t done that in days." She reluctantly glanced up at him.

Pete flashed the second best smile in Smallville and laughed. "Don’t worry. I promise not to tell a soul." He noticed that her eyes had glazed over again. "Lana? You ok?"

"Huh?" her attention snapping back. "Oh, sorry. Just…" a little hard to breathe.

"Somewhere else," Pete finished for her. He popped his wrist. "That’s alright. You’re still inside the ninety-six hours."

That brought her back. Lana was sure she heard him wrong. "What?"

Pete beamed. "The Ninety-Six Hour Clause." Lana’s head tilted to one side, confusion blossoming over her face, her eyes squinting.

He continued. "Whenever you break up with someone, you evoke the Clause. Think of it as…temporary insanity. You can’t be held responsible for anything you say or do during that time. And everything starts to get better afterwards."

"Where did you come up with that?"

"Hey, three brothers and one sister. I’m the youngest. I’ve seen more breakups than you’ll ever know. Trust the Clause. It’s a proven science."

Lana nodded. "You’re a weird one, Ross."

His eyes darted from his earnings to his property and back. "Uh…would you be willing to trade for my rent?"

Lana mock frowned and glared hard at Pete’s meager stack and shook her head. "Sorry, Pete," she gave him a once over, "you got nothing I want."

Pete feigned hurt pride and slapped a hand over his chest. "Ouch! Jeez, Buffy, go straight for the heart, why don’t ya?"

Lana snorted and threw the dice at him.

"That’s two, Lang."

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Chloe couldn’t stop looking around the living room. She must have been in there hundreds of times over the years, but she felt as though she was seeing it for the first time. And every time she looked at Clark…well…she could literally feel herself turning to mush.

Clark’s arm was around her shoulders. She’d had a few thousand dreams that began like this. She leaned in against his chest.

God! He’s so warm!

Yeah, she could definitely get used to this!

Clark pulled Chloe close and rested his chin on the top of her head. He took a deep breath. Taking in the aroma of her shampoo and the slight scent of vanilla.

She must have put that on while I was taking care of the stump.

She turned around and pushed off to look him in the face. His eyes were pure blue now, as sure a signal as she ever saw one. She clenched her fingers into his hair and pulled his mouth to hers.

For several moments, Chloe Sullivan and Clark Kent were the only two souls in the entire universe. She kept thinking that he would stop to breathe, but in the end it was she who broke.

Boy’s got swimmer’s lungs.

Clark didn’t want to stop. He knew his parents were in the next room, could hear them mumbling. All logic told him to calm down before things got out of hand.

His ears picked up a slight gasp. He cracked one eye open to see his mother standing in the doorway, cobbler in hand, mouth agape. His father was staring as well.

Busted!

But something was different…wrong. The perspective was…odd.

He stole a glance down and realized why. They — he and Chloe — were hovering a good ten inches above the sofa! His eyes snapped open in alarm and the two of them crashed back down to earth…er…couch.

"Wow." Chloe flushed red and turned around to greet Clark’s equally embarrassed parents.

I know this sounds crazy, but I swear we were just floating!

*Get a grip, Sullivan! You just can’t let the weirdness of this town go, can you?*

Martha walked in and offered Chloe a plate pilled high with cobbler and ice cream. Clark was staring at his parents, practically glowing crimson, chewing on his bottom lip.

No, no, Mr. Kent. That’s my job now.

*Atta, girl!*

"Uh…so," Jonathan began, not sure what to say. "The FBI was at the school today?"

Clark sent a mental ‘thank you’ to his dad.

"Yeah. Seems that the Wall of Weird has made national news." He turned to Chloe who was shoveling a spoon-full of Ma Kent Happiness into her mouth. She choked it down and smirked.

"Well, I don’t know about the Wall, but Smallville in general sure is." She looked up at the Kents. "Mulder says that he’s been working on strange cases - like the ones we’ve seen - for years now." She turned back to Clark. "I dunno, I kind of liked the idea of Smallville being unique."

"Oh," Clark stated, finishing off his cobbler, "Smallville is…certainly unique." He smiled and she melted. He took her hand in his.

Her fingers are so cold.

Martha set her plate down and motioned to the clock over the mantle. "Clark, it’s getting late. You should be getting Chloe home." She turned toward her husband, who nodded.

"It’s still early," Clark protested, but Chloe cut him off.

"It’s ok, Farm Boy." She tousled his hair. "We have an early day with Mulder and Sulky tomorrow."

"That’s Scully."

"Whatever. Mr. and Mrs. Kent, thank you for a wonderful dinner."

"It was our pleasure, Chloe. We’re just so happy for the two of you." One last glance at man beside her. "And, please, call us Jonathan and Martha."

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Part Fifteen

TIMER END: 43.07.16 TIME ELASPSED: +28.52.43

Smallville, Kansas

Fordman Residence

02:59:48 Am CDT

The photo showed Smallville High’s Homecoming King & Queen. Balloons and flowers dominated the background. Whitney’s smile looked sincere and genuine. Lana’s looked forced and tired, as though a great weight was on shoulders. Even back then, it seemed, she was just going through the motions.

Whitney sighed, tossed the picture aside and downed the rest of his beer.

What the hell is wrong with me?

This wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed his mind.

No! Whitney, no. We’ve been over this.

He kept hearing her words echoing in his ears. Kept hearing his rebuttal.

I’m tired of feeling like a jerk every time we go too far. I’m tired of you hating me for doing what you want to do as well.

He couldn’t go on like this. It had to end.

Let her go.

This was bordering on pathetic.

The clock had just ticked past three. His mother was not yet back from the hospital.

Dad was still there. Twenty years of cigarettes and Scotch had taken their toil. The doctors weren’t giving him good odds.

One more thing to worry about.

He staggered through the dark house towards the kitchen. The fridge held only one remaining beer. A whole case, wasted on her.

He belched loudly and dragged a hand across his face. The tattoo on his right biceps began to ache, to burn. The withdrawal was worse at night. Some evenings it was all he could do to not give in. To just go down to the basement and unlock Dad’s old Army trunk. But, no. That was the last thing he needed right now.

Why the hell, not? He questioned himself. Just one, quick fix. That’s what I want. To feel powerful again. More in control. It just might help him get over her.

We’ve been over this.

I’m tired of feeling like a jerk…

He felt a headache coming on. A violent spasm jerked through his arm and the bottle exploded in his hand.

"Damn it! Christ!" he bellowed to the empty house.

He threw the broken glass into the sink and examined his hand. He was bleeding pretty badly. There were several shards embedded in his palm.

I might need stitches.

He wrapped a dishtowel around his throbbing hand and headed downstairs to where his father kept the emergency First-Aid kit. As he riffled through the ointments and bandages, he caught sight of the Army trunk sitting along the opposite corner.

The pain in his hand was forgotten for the moment.

He approached the trunk cautiously and popped the lock. As he opened the lid, an eerie green glow escaped from within. Whitney lifted a container out into the open. The last of the meteor-infected tattoo serum.

He really didn’t know why he had taken it from the crime scene. Why he had hidden it from Kent and Luthor. He knew it was dangerous. Maybe that was it. With it secretly stashed away, he could feel more in control of the addiction. That he had some leverage.

That didn’t matter now. All that mattered was that he needed a hit. Just a little one to keep the headache at bay. To numb the pain in his hand. To get him over her…

His arm snapped into spasm again as he looked around the medicine cabinet. His mother was diabetic. She always kept syringes around the house in case of emergency, but he couldn’t find one.

We’ve been over this.

I’m tired of feeling like a jerk…

He sighed and lowered his head, eyes closed. "Screw it," he whispered and uncapped the valve. With one last shutter, he drank all of its contents.

Whitney felt sick. Sweat broke out across his forehead. He immediately dropped to his knees, as his stomach wrenched up into his throat. He fought the urge to vomit. It was a battle he desperately wanted to win.

Exhaustion, combined with alcohol and blood-loss shock, finally won over and he sank back against the trunk.

As he slipped from consciousness, he failed to notice that the cuts on his hand had already healed themselves.

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Part Sixteen

TIMER END: 37.55.55 TIME ELASPSED: +34.04.04

Smallville, Kansas

The Talon

08:11:09 Am CDT

Lana turned as the bell above the front door clanged.

"Well, you’re up early for a Saturday."

"Yeah," Clark said and yawned for effect. "I’m meeting Chloe and a couple of people here in a few minutes."

He looked around the room. It was crowded; Smallville citizens getting their breakfast before starting their morning tasks. Lana went back to filling up the coffee maker.

"Lana?" She looked up. "Hey, I…" his voice trailed off. "I talked to Pete this morning." She flinched. "I’m sorry about what happened. How are you holding up?"

"Oh…you know. Up and down." She forced a smile. "I’ll be alright. Time heals, yadda yadda yadda."

Clark felt awkward. He wanted to tell her about Chloe, but that felt like rubbing salt in the wound.

Plus, she had her necklace on again. He scooted a little farther back on the stool.

"Well, I’m here if you want to talk."

"Thanks, Clark."

"Have you…um…talked to Whitney…?"

Lana sighed. "No. Not since…well, you know." Clark bit his lower lip.

Lana quickly changed the subject. "So. I hear the FBI was at school yesterday."

"Yeah. In fact, that’s who Chloe and I are going out with today."

She cocked her head. "Really?"

The patented Kent dimples answered her. "Chloe’s Wall got their attention. We’re going out to let them see all the weirdness of Smallville."

"Well, be careful," she set the full coffee pot on the top burner and prepared another container. "Can I get you something while you wait?"

"A chocolate milk would be great. I’ll be," he pointed to one of the few remaining booths, "over there."

Lana nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.

Clark took a seat as a familiar voice addressed his back.

"I didn’t take you for the kind of person who would strike before the body was even cold. I must admit, I like it."

Clark grinned. "Have a seat, Lex. You haven’t heard anything yet."

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Sunlight poured in from the little basement window. Whitney shielded his eyes and slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position. A steady thump of blood reverberated behind his eyes. He reached to massage his pounding temple and froze when he saw his palm.

It was fine.

In fact, it was perfect. No blood. Not even a cut. He tentatively turned his hand over. The white fishhook scar along the back of his knuckles — a permanent reminder of his carelessness with a hunting knife at age seven — was gone.

What’s going on here?

He clutched the edge of the trunk to help himself stand up, and the metal crumpled under his grip.

Whitney was more than a little scared now.

His eyes fell upon the empty beaker on the floor, and his stomach churned at the memory of last night’s actions.

The serum. It must have…changed me somehow.

Just like one of Chloe’s stories…

He ran upstairs.

The kitchen was just the way he had left it. The floor was sticky where the beer had been spilled. His shoes squeaked as he passed through the room.

The picture stopped him. He picked it up.

Happy Whitney and Bored Lana stared back at him.

Anger flared through his veins. He struck out at the wall. He slowly withdrew his arm from the hole and flexed his fingers. No damage. No pain.

A dark grin spread across his face.

I could get used to this.

He made his way out the back door and headed towards Lana’s.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

"-can’t believe you went over to her house last night!" Chloe exclaimed into her cell-phone. She swerved her father’s Volvo around the old truck in front of her and sped on east, into town.

"Have you no tact, Ross?"

Hey," Pete retaliated on the other end. "It was Mrs. Kent’s idea. I didn’t like it either." He smiled to himself. "But, it worked."

"Granted. But, still," she snarked, "ballsey."

"And what about you, Miss ‘Clark and I are just friends’ Sullivan? Huh?"

"Hey! That was totally unexpected."

"You know, I’m not usually one to say ‘I told you so,’ but…aw, hell. Who am I kidding? Of course I am…"

"Shut up, Ross!" Her cheeks were beginning to hurt from smiling so much. She found she didn’t mind it all that much.

Pete laughed. "It’s good to hear you so happy, Chief."

"You, too. I-" her Call-Waiting beeped. "Sorry, Pete, that’s the other line. I’ll call you later."

"Fine. Have fun with the feds."

"Will do." She pressed a button. "Sullivan."

"Chloe, it’s Brian Kendrick. I just got your call. What’s up?"

She had to think for a minute. Kendrick was her contact at Smallville PD.

"Bri, what’s the latest on the couple that was car-jacked Thursday night?"

"How did you know about that?"

"I do have other sources, you know."

"Well, the official report is just that, a car-jacking. But, I’ve never seen such a senseless act of violence. Doug and Stacy Preston were beat to death with a tire iron. After they were shot.

"No suspects, yet. Whoever did this is a real piece of work," he sighed.

"Well, he’s a piece of something all right."

"I hear ya. Listen. Keep your eyes open, Chloe. I don’t like the idea of this guy still on the loose."

"What did they drive?"

Kendrick regarded his file. "Silver Ford pick-up. Late model."

Chloe turned into the Talon parking lot. "Well, you have my number should anything come up."

"You’re gonna make one heck of a reporter someday, Kiddo. You have the dialogue down and everything."

"I already am one. Keep fighting the good fight, Bri. Lates."

As she parked, a green four-door rental car pulled up beside her. She waved to Mulder and Sour-y. They waved back.

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"Let me get this straight." Lex looked hard across the table at his friend. "Not only did you decide to get over your infatuation with our courteous proprietor here, but you managed to do it on the same day that she became available?"

"That about sums it up. Ironic, huh?" He had a slight chocolate milk moustache. He wiped it away with the cuff of his shirt.

"Clark Kent," Lex shook his head, "you will never cease to amaze me. Don’t ever change."

He looked over at Lana. "So, how is she doing?"

Clark shrugged. "Not great. But, that’s expected. I’d like to help, but with Chloe, now…I think it might be awkward. Mean, you know?" Lex nodded.

"She’s been talking to Pete, though. I think he can help her get through it."

"Pete?"

"Pete Ross. It was his family that owned the corn factory your dad bought to convert into the plant."

"Ah, yes," Lex nodded again and sipped his coffee. "I don’t think the Ross’ like me very much."

Clark took offense. "It’s not personal. They just know the name. They don’t know you. That’s all."

"I don’t know, Clark. You can’t really know everything about a person." He paused a moment to make sure his audience was paying attention. "We all hide things. We all have secrets."

Clark was about to respond when Lana walked up with their bill. As she placed it on the table, her necklace came too close to the younger man.

Three things happened all at once:

A) Clark involuntary gasped and his eyes rolled back in his head, his face pale. He fell back in his seat, the cup slipping from his grasp.

B) Lex watched in horror as it shattered on the floor. Then, just as Clark was pulling away, Lex saw his hand. It looked old, shriveled.

C) Lana swooped down in a desperate attempt to advert disaster.

With the meteor safely out of range, Clark snapped back to normal. He looked over at Lex, trying to ascertain just how much the older man had seen.

"What happened? Are you ok?" Lex tried not to stare at Clark’s hand. It was fine again.

That’s because there was nothing wrong with it to begin with.

Lex wasn’t so sure.

Clark exhaled slowly and looked around. "Yeah. Just felt a little…dizzy there for a minute." He glanced down. "Oh, I’m sorry, Lana."

"That’s ok, Clark. You sure you’re alright?"

"Yeah. I’m going to go…splash some water on my face. Guess I’m not as awake as I thought I was. Sorry about the mug. I’ll pay for it."

"Don’t worry about it."

"No. I insist."

Lana sighed, then smiled. "Fine, Clark."

"I’ll be right back." He walked over to the restrooms.

Lex bent down to help Lana with the broken porcelain. "What was that?"

She looked up at him. "I’m not sure."

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

"So, what’s the plan for today?" FBI Chick — Her name is Scully. *Who cares?* - asked. She peered at Chloe. They were standing outside the Talon.

A tan car pulled into the parking lot. Chloe noticed that it was Nell Potter.

The intrepid reporter turned back to the agents, and grinned. "First, we should check out Reilly Field. That’s where the majority of the meteors hit."

Mulder jotted the name down in his pocket notebook.

"And, don’t forget Shuster's Gorge," a voice called out behind them. All three turned to see Clark emerge from the front door. "That’s the deepest strike in town."

Chloe could almost feel her inhibitions fade away as he approached. Her heart stated pounding. Yet another smile was coming on, fast.

Get a grip, Sullivan! Gonna be a long day.

She looked at Clark. He was flushed.

"You ok?"

"Yeah. Just a little tired is all." He winked and her knees all but gave out.

"Oh," she said, just to have something to do, besides turn to jelly. "We should also go see Steve Hamilton."

Nell made her way past the quartet. She smiled as Clark opened the door for her.

Sullen-y scrunched her nose. "Who’s Steve Hamilton?"

Chloe sighed. "Dr. Hamilton is the mineralogist who handled the Apollo moon rocks. After a stint at Metropolis University, he retired to Smallville."

"Now he sells plastic meteor fragments to the tourists," Clark added.

Mulder was practicality dancing with anticipation. "Come on, people. Let’s get moving."

His partner rolled her eyes.

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Part Seventeen

TIMER END: 35.37.27 TIME ELASPSED: +36.22.32

Smallville, Kansas

Hubbard Bed & Breakfast

10:29:37 Am CDT

An older version of Clark Kent smiled as he watched Lois Lane cautiously push eggs around on her plate. She would never cut it as a country girl, that was for sure.

He didn’t like the way his head hadn’t stopped hurting since they had arrived, but was sure it would pass. Eventually.

"Something else I can get you, honey?" he called from across the kitchen. It was his third trip to the breakfast buffet.

"Black coffee, a chocolate eclair, and a copy of the Planet," she snapped.

"You’ll just have to make due with fresh eggs, bacon and milk for now.

We can go back to that coffee place we saw yesterday. The Beanery, I think it was called. Ben said they carried the Planet there for one of their regulars."

The four had spent the night in a rooming house belonging to Ben Hubbard. A man Clark remembered once being kind to his mother - although, Hubbard was much younger in this particular interpretation of Smallville.

Clark sat down behind Lois on the bench, wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her tight. She had her hair up, chestnut strands caressed her face.

"Mummm. That’s nice. No eclair, mind you, but nice," Lois purred and leaned her head back into the crook of his neck. Was it her imagination, or was he warmer than usual?

"But, unfortunately, there’s ‘no time for love, Dr. Jones,’" she smiled.

The Professor looked up. "Jones? I thought your cover was Bob and Carol Stanford."

Lois and Clark looked at each other and grinned.

"Sorry, Professor," Clark stated. "Obscure movie reference."

"Ah, yes," Arturo mumbled, "American cinema. As I recall, Mr. Mallory was quite fond…" his voice suddenly left him. He opened his mouth to continue, but couldn’t.

Lois could see more gray in his beard today than yesterday. She reached over the table and placed her hand on his. "It’s ok. We’ll find Tempus." She glanced over at Clark. "We’ll stop him before he can hurt anyone else."

But, as much as she wanted to believe that, she couldn’t.

Not that she didn’t think they would catch the psychopath; indeed, they would. She wasn’t so sure about when, was all.

The day before had been a total wash. Everywhere they went, they could find no evidence of anyone matching Tempus’ description.

The only thing they had to go on was a report in the Smallville Ledger. There had been a stolen car around the same time Tempus was supposed to have arrived. But, that was it. Lois’ reporter intuition told her that there was more to the story than had been reported.

One of the most troubling aspects to the whole thing was that she carried no clout here. Her doppelganger in this world had yet to make a name for herself. Lois had no contacts.

It was both frustrating and exhilarating at the same time.

Not only that, it turned out that Clark wasn’t so super here, either. Wells surmised that the high concentration of Kryptonite in the area was having an affect on him.

The most disturbing trait was that Clark couldn’t fly.

She looked out the picture window and marveled at the Rockwell-esque landscape. A sigh escaped her lips. For the first time in five years, she found herself craving a cigarette.

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The window had tiny pink curtains.

Whitney stared at them with a broken expression on his face. He caught sight of himself in the reflection of the glass, and quickly looked away.

Nell’s car was gone. The house was empty. Lana was not here.

We’ve been over this.

Whitney fumed.

He was standing in the exact same spot he had been two nights ago. The oil stain from his truck was still visible on the grass.

He closed his eyes. Tried to remember a time in the past six months when she’d smiled, laughed. He couldn’t think of one.

Instead, all he saw was every time she had cried. Every time he had hurt her. Every time he had said the wrong thing.

I’m tired of you hating me for doing what you want to do as well…

He looked up at the sky. Dark clouds were approaching from the east.

The ache in is arm was worse, now.

We’ve been over this.

This had to end.

He knew where she would be.

The Talon

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Part Eighteen

TIMER END: 34.52.55 TIME ELASPSED: +37.07.04

Smallville, Kansas

Shuster's Gorge

11:14:09 Am CDT

Mulder dug his knife blade deep into the earth. It produced a clump of dirt that he quickly deposited into a small plastic sample bag. Across the white sticker on the outside of the bag he wrote: SMALLVILLE.

The four of them were standing in the middle of a large abandoned field just east of town. The land was pockmarked with dead grass and stale clay. He winced at the clouds overhead, which were quickly turning gray. He had a sudden desire to be safely inside when the rains came.

Mulder pocketed the sample bag and addressed the group. "So, what’s the story with this place?"

Chloe turned towards him. "This used to belong to old man Shuster. After the Shower…well, look around. It’s been like this ever since. Nothing grows here."

Clark interjected, "Shuster and his family pulled up stakes and moved out west. Last I heard, they settled somewhere near Central City."

"That’s not exactly a move for the better," Scully mused.

Mulder nodded and took a long survey of the gorge. "What was his main crop, anyway?"

Chloe and Clark exchanged a look. "Bees," they said in unison.

Mulder swallowed hard and glanced over at Scully. Her eyebrows were raised.

"Great. Just great."

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"Hold on Clark!" Lois shouted to the man convulsing in her arms. She pulled him closer and was repulsed by the cold sweat coming off of her husband. Fever radiated from his skin, making her feel sick as well.

He had dropped so fast, she didn’t know what to do. She had never experienced this before.

"We’re almost there!"

Professor Arturo glanced at the cab driver uneasily. "Not to worry about the young man, my boy," he looked back at Lois, "just a bit of food poisoning is all."

"Yes, yes. Quite right," replied Wells. "Nothing to worry about at all. Now, how far are we from the Kent Farm?"

"’Bout a mile and a half. You sure he’s alright?"

Lois regained her composure. "He’ll be fine as soon as we get him…uh…to his uncle’s."

Wells smiled and winked at her.

She closed her eyes and prayed that this version of Jonathan and Martha Kent were as reasonable and understanding as the ones she knew.

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Pete pointed at his reflection in the rear view mirror.

"Nothing to be afraid of, because you’re super cool."

He flashed a smile and got out of his car. He made his way into the Talon.

Lana smiled when he walked in.

"Hey, Pete."

"Lana. Any idea where a guy can find a good slice of apple pie around here?"

"One Ma Kent Special coming up," she grinned. "You’re not out with Clark and Chloe and the feds?"

"Nope. I’m heading over to Grandville to do a movie review this afternoon."

"Really? Which one?"

"The new one with Kevin Spacey and that Damn Judi Dench."

"Uh, Pete. I think that’s Dame Judi Dench."

"Humph. Same difference."

Lana laughed and shook her head. "Eat your pie."

"That’s three, Lang."

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Jonathan Kent was washing up for lunch as Martha walked in.

"How are the calves?"

"Hungry, as usual." He gave her a gentle kiss. "How’s the fence coming?"

"Slowly but slowly."

He nodded and yawned. "And Clark?"

"He was gone when I got up. I suppose he’s still out with those FBI agents and Chloe." There was a disapproving tone in her voice.

"Yeah, I don’t like them snooping around either. But, Clark knows how to be careful."

Martha was about to respond when a knock from the front door startled her.

"Now, who could that be?"

She opened the door and found a small man dressed in a very old suit and holding a…bowler hat? She noticed that he was frazzled, his hands shaking.

"Good morning, Mrs. Kent. I do hope that we haven’t come at a bad time."

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Lex looked up from his computer as his head of security walked in.

"Yes?"

"This was left by the front gate, Sir." He placed a Digital video tape on the desk. There was a note attached to it. It read:

Play Me. Points 2 thru 5. Match.

Lex smiled wearily. "Thank you Davis."

"Sir." Davis turned and left.

Lex picked up the tape.

"What have we here?"

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Pete was paying for his pie when the front door of the Talon exploded. He watched in horror as he saw Whitney walk smoothly through the rubble like Darth Vader.

"Where is she?"

A few guys in letterman jackets formed a semi-circle around Whitney. One of them took a step forward. "Cool down, Fordman."

"Back off, Gavin. This doesn’t concern you."

"The hell it doesn’t. Look, man, I know you’re hurting, but -"

Gavin never finished his sentence due to the fact that he was thrown twenty feet through the air into the back wall.

"Anyone else care to dance?" Whitney glanced around the room.

Most of the customers were fleeing into the street.

Lana walked out from the kitchen, her mouth agape. Pete grabbed her arm and headed out the back door.

"What’s going on? Was that Whitney?"

"It looked like him, but it sure didn’t hit like him." He spared a glance behind them. "Come on! We gotta get to Clark and Chloe."

"But…what…"

"I don’t know, Lana. My best guess would be meteor fallout. Just like everything else around here"

"But…Nell."

"We have to get out of here. Now!"

Whitney turned to the sound of squealing tires. His vision was incredible, now! He saw the car some fifty yards away. In it were Lana and…Pete Ross?

He spun and faced Nell. "Where are they going?"

Nell stammered and tried to run. Whitney caught her wrist. It snapped with a stomach-churning crunch. Nell screamed and dropped to the floor.

Whitney took a step back. For a second, he looked very lost. Then his eyes turned dark again.

"I always liked you, Nell. Don’t make me hurt you any more." A cold grin cracked his ashen face. "Now, where are they going?"

Nell looked up at him through bitter tears, shivers running down her spine. She felt she would remember that smile for as long as she lived.

"I…I heard them mention…Steven Hamilton…"

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Dr. Steven Hamilton opened his front door. That reporter from the Torch was there. So was that kid Luthor was always hanging out with. Also, two people who looked very official.

"What can I do for you, Miss Sullivan?"

"Just wanted to ask you a few questions, Dr. Hamilton."

He cursed inwardly and invited then in.

Thunder rumbled overhead. A storm was coming in…

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Part Nineteen

TIMER END: 33.20.36 TIME ELASPSED: +38.39.23

Smallville, Kansas

Kent Residence

12:06:27 Pm CDT

Martha tried to wrap her mind around the events of the past few minutes.

First: There was a man who claimed to be the H.G. Wells, and that he was a time traveler.

Of course you are…

Second: His companions were from alternate universes.

Sure, it could happen…

And, third: The sick young man lying on the couch was her Clark, only from another time. Oh, and he was dying.

Not a chance in hell…

Jonathan was staring the little man down, hadn’t said a word since the whole party had pretty much barged into their house. "Look…I don’t know what game you people are trying to play here, but-"

"Jonathan, please," Lois interrupted. "You have to look at this with an open mi-"

"Now see here, young lady, I don’t know where you were raised, but around these parts we show a little respect to the people who’s home we’ve just invaded."

Lois felt her blood starting to rise. She was about to let loose when Clark stopped her with a shout.

Only, it was in a language that no one in that living room had ever heard before.

Well…once before, maybe. For months after he had been "found," Clark had uttered those same sounds from his dark room. Sounds that were almost musical, yet disturbing nonetheless. Foreign sounds. Sounds that were certainly cries of pain and loss.

Sounds that parents never forget.

Martha turned to her husband with tears in her eyes. Her voice was suddenly that of a little girl, her bottom lip trembling.

"Jonathan?"

He looked at the man on the sofa.

"Clark?"

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The figure on the screen was dressed in a blue-gray flannel shirt and jeans. He had just hurdled a six foot fence in a single bound. He had just ripped a fifty year old tree trunk out of the ground with one hand. He was — revealed after a radical tight zoom — Clark Kent.

Lex rewound the tape and played it again.

There was the yellow farmhouse. There was Jonathan Kent. There was…Clark?

What’s going on here?

He took a long drink of the bottled water by his chair. The first drops of rain were starting to patter against the window.

He watched the tape again.

He picked up his cell phone.

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Pete swung his car around the silver pick-up in front of him, heading away from town.

"It’s ok, Lana," he looked at his passenger. "We’re almost there."

She sat in the front seat, blank mask in place.

"How could that have been Whitney? He’s not like that…"

Her voice sounded very far away.

Pete fought back a curse and sped on westward, toward the approaching storm. He was thinking of his conversation with Chloe earlier. Now, where did she say they would be going? To the deepest concentrations of meteor strikes. Would they drop in on that quack, Hamilton, as well? Probably.

Worth a shot.

Clark and Chloe will know what to do…

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Malcolm Edwards studied the young man through his binoculars. Lithe and agile, the subject glided across the yard with a fluid grace and a freighting ferocity. His black hair a sharp contrast to his pale skin and white tunic.

Does this guy live in a cave or something?

He hesitated a moment as the phone on his hip started to vibrate. He flipped open the lid and read the Caller ID: Luthor Residence.

"Edwards here."

"Malcolm, abort your current mission. I need you here to verify a tape for me."

"Sure thing, Boss." He glanced at his watch. The next flight from Gotham to Metropolis left in an hour. "I can be at your place by seven tonight."

"Sounds good. See you then."

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Outside, purple lightning cracked the sky and bruise-colored clouds shackled the sun.

Hamilton paced around the front room. His guests were quickly outstaying their welcome. This was a meeting that could get embarrassing if the FBI got too nosey.

Mulder was asking questions and jotting down notes.

"So, you haven’t seen the meteors have any adverse affects on the general populace?"

Hamilton sighed. My God! Who talks like that?

"No, Mr. Mulder. As I’ve stated several times now, I’m unaware of any…affects."

"But, as a scientist, surely you must have some speculation to what’s been happening to the townspeople here."

"Look, I don’t like to ask questions anymore. I’ve found that they just lead to headaches."

Scully spoke up. "Dr. Hamilton, do you have any rational explanation to what -"

She was cut off by a blaring car horn from outside.

Now what? Hamilton thought.

The small group moved out into the rain. Clark saw that it was Pete’s car skidding to a halt just a few inches from the green rental.

"Pete? Lana…what’s going on?"

"Clark, we have to get inside," Pete shouted. "Now!"

"But, what -" Chloe started before she was swept up by Pete’s momentum and carried backwards toward the house.

Lana was visibly shaking. "It’s Whitney. He…he…"

Clark was almost inside when he felt a hand clasp his shoulder. He was turned around to face Whitney, standing right behind him. A large bolt of lightning flashed overhead. Lana screamed.

"Say goodnight, Clark."

With that, Whitney threw Clark forty feet across the yard and into the street.

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Part Twenty

TIMER END: 33.13.05 TIME ELASPSED: +38.46.54

Smallville, Kansas

Hamilton Residence

12:13:58 Pm CDT

Chloe heard Lana scream, but couldn’t see why. The rain was coming down in sheets, now. She looked around the room. Everyone was there except for Lana and Clark.

"Pete, what’s going on?"

He was staring out the door, his eyes wide with fear.

"Pete?"

Lightning crackled and the front of the house was lit in unnatural azure tones.

Whitney stood over Lana.

Chloe could see that his eyes glowed green in the dark rain. Her voice left her.

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"I don’t understand."

"You see, Mr. Kent, there is more Kryptonite in a four block radius here than on the entire Earth where our Clark is from. I’m afraid that his immune system doesn’t know how to handle it." Wells shifted his hat from hand to hand.

"Kryptonite?" Jonathan asked.

Lois took Martha’s hand. "The meteors. They’re fragments of the planet that Clark is from." The elder Kents looked at her. "Clark is from a planet called Krypton. It exploded just moments after his ship took off."

Jonathan leaned back on his chair. "This…doesn’t make any sense. How…"

"Believe me, Jonathan, Martha, it was quite a shock for me when I found out."

Martha looked at Lois. "I’m sorry. But, who are you again?"

"Oh. I’m Lois Lane…Kent. Clark is my husband."

The room fell silent.

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Clark landed on the other side of Allentown Road with such force that his weight snapped the pole of a YEILD sign clean off at ground level.

He shook his head to clear it.

Man! Don’t remember ever being hit that hard before.

He looked back across the street to Hamilton’s house. It was dark outside, but his night-vision was perfect. He saw Whitney standing in front of Lana. The tattoo on his arm was a radiant green.

Clark picked up the road sign.

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Whitney grabbed Lana’s arms and tossed her to the ground.

"FBI! Don’t move!"

He turned to see two people in black with weapons pointing in his direction. In a fury, he advanced on them.

Mulder didn’t want to shoot the kid. He really didn’t. He just wasn’t sure what was going on here. He aimed for the leg to try to subdue him.

Whitney saw the muzzle flash of the gun go off. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth in anticipation of the pain.

Pain that didn’t come.

If anything, it felt as though someone had slapped him on the thigh. A hollow "ping" was muffled by the wind.

Whitney looked up and grinned.

Mulder was visibly shaken, but in control enough to get off another shot. This one toward the chest.

Whitney laughed as the bullet bounced away harmlessly. To his left, Scully opened up with her own sidearm. Ammunition ricocheted throughout the house.

Hamilton cried out in pain as iron tore through muscle and bone.

Pete and Chloe helped him and the FBI agents into the inner hallway, the one leading to the lab. Whitney slammed the door and crushed the frame, pinning the opening shut. He walked back outside to where Lana was.

"Look at me!" he shouted at her.

She was crying, her body trembling, and not because of the rain.

"Look at what you’ve made me become!" He moved in, his hands clenching into fists.

A voice came over his shoulder. "You know, this is something I’ve always wanted to do."

Whitney turned just as Clark connected with the sign. The force of the strike carried him across the lawn, a rut of torn soil following him like a tail.

Clark reached down to help Lana up. Her necklace moved too close and he felt the breath ripped from his lungs. He dropped to his knees just as Whitney reappeared and caught him with an uppercut that drove him over the house.

The good news was now that he was out of range of Lana’s necklace, his strength had returned. The bad news was that this happened just as he dropped through the roof of Hamilton’s house.

Clark hit hard and took most of Hamilton’s lab with him.

"What was that?" Chloe asked.

Clark was back in a flash, ready to put an end to the fight. He saw Whitney shove Lana up against the house. She hit her head against the outside wall and slumped to the ground.

"No!" Clark shouted.

Whitney was pummeled with about fifty punches before he could blink, the last drawing blood. Blood that landed on Clark’s hand and burned like acid.

Clark roared in pain and recoiled away. Rain and hail shrieked from the heavens with reckless dismay.

Whitney retaliated with a folly of his own blows. The shockwaves of the punches shattered windows two blocks away.

"Is that an earthquake?" Scully questioned as she braced herself against the wall.

"In Kansas?" Pete answered.

Lana moaned and struggled to pick herself up.

Meteor infected jabs were taking their toil on Clark. He was driven to his knees again and again. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep this up.

However, there is an old saying that goes: The brightest flame burns twice as fast. Whitney was exhausting adrenaline faster than his body could produce it.

The serum was running out.

Just as Clark was finding the urge to sleep hard to resist, Whitney’s eyes faded from green back to blue.

It felt as though Whitney had punched a steel beam. He cursed and cradled his wounded knuckles.

He picked up a large rock with his good hand and held it above a still weakened Clark.

Before the strike came, however, Whitney cried out as something hit him from behind. He slumped over and didn’t move.

Clark looked up to see Lana standing over him. The YIELD sign slipped from her grasp, her hands shaking.

"Lana? How did you…"

"Ninety-Six Hour Clause."

"What?"

"I’ll explain later, Clark."

She sank to the driveway and started to cry.

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Clark made quick work of the door and Chloe rushed into his arms.

"Are you ok? You’re hurt!"

He hugged her back and kissed her hard. "I’m fine, now."

Mulder was on his cell phone arranging medical air support. Scully was tending to Hamilton’s shoulder wound. Lana was still in a state of shock.

"Hey, Pete," Clark pulled him aside. "I think you and Lana should go with Whitney and the feds to the hospital in Metropolis."

"What about you?"

"Chloe and I will try to track down a cause for this."

"What do you think it was?" Pete looked tired.

"I can’t say for sure, but I think it may be centered around that tattoo he got a while back."

"Man, I hate this town."

"Yeah, tell me about it. You ok?"

"Sure, just my pride. How ‘bout you?"

Clark rubbed his jaw for effect — the pain had already subsided. "I’ll heal."

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Scully closed the door of the hospital helicopter. She gave Mulder a thumbs up signal and hunched-ran to the car.

Mulder nodded and turned to Clark. "You sure you don’t want to come and get checked out? It looked like you took quite a pounding."

"I’m fine. Really." He pulled his girlfriend close. "Besides, Chloe and I need to hang around here and research what happened." She smiled and kissed Clark on the neck.

"Ok. Here’s my number." Clark took the card and shook his hand.

"Good luck."

"You to."

Mulder climbed into the car and turned on the windshield wipers.

"Is he ok?" Scully looked out the window.

"He’s tough, I’ll give him that. You know, Scully, this reminds me of a case I heard about a few years ago. You remember an agent named Bill Maxwell? Anyway, he had a friend, a school teacher named Hinkley…"

Clark and Chloe watched as the FBI agents drove away, followed closely by Pete and Lana.

"Will they be alright?" Chloe asked.

"I hope so," Clark answered. "Come on. Let’s get out of the rain."

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Part Twenty-One

TIMER END: 26.37.40 TIME ELASPSED: +45.22.19

Smallville, Kansas

Sullivan Residence

07:42:34 Pm CDT

The rain beat out a rhythmic pattern on the window of Chloe’s bedroom. Her eyelids were heavy, yet she refused to fall asleep. She sat at her computer desk and stared intently at the young man curled up on her bed.

His dark curls framed his face in a way she would never forget.

He looks so peaceful.

The past several hours had proved profitable.

They had indeed found an empty valve in the Fordman basement. It’s contents confirmed their suspicions: Tattoo serum.

Clark surmised that it had come from the house of the trio of thugs who had put Chloe in the hospital not too long ago. To know that Whitney had been involved with them set her jaw on edge.

The crumpled picture of the "Happy Couple" strewn on the floor and the fist-sized hole in the wall had confirmed the anger. Violent outbursts were common with drug overdoses.

Judging by the amount of serum taken, it would be debatable as to weather or not Whitney could be held responsible for his actions.

The damage to the Talon was minimal. The front door would need to be replaced and few new dishes bought, but, all in all, not as bad as it could have been.

Gavin McGuire was released from Smallville General with minor cuts and bruises.

Nell Potter’s wrist had been broken in three places and required pins to help set it back to normal. She was in a cast and was finally able to sleep due to an extra dose of medication.

She had been in hysterics for several hours after the attack. Chloe thought it would be a long time before Nell would allow herself near Whitney. The fact that Lana was with him now, was the reason the extra medication was warranted.

The damage to Steve Hamilton’s house was major. A large object had crashed through the ceiling and destroyed most of the laboratory (though, just what it had been was never discovered). If that wasn’t enough, the rain had ruined a large chunk of what was left. Dr. Hamilton was going to be furious!

Speaking of which, he was resting comfortably in stable condition at Metropolis Mercy. The bullet had passed through is left shoulder, but had missed the heart. Dr. Scully said that he would be able to come home in a few days.

She and Clark had come to her house to compile their notes (and to get in a little make-out time while her dad was out of town for the weekend).

They had talked to Pete about an hour before and he said that Whitney was still in a coma and had the first of several surgeries set for the next morning. When asked about Lana, Pete’s voice had cracked.

"She’s…been better."

Clark had gone quiet after that. Just pulled her tight and lay down on the bed. She had dozed a little, just content to be held in his arms.

Then, her e-mail beeped.

She drunkenly crawled into her chair and nudged the mouse to switch off the computer’s sleep mode. Her e-mail server window popped-up and showed one new message. She double-clicked the envelope icon:

URGENT!!

411 ON CAR-JACKING

MEET @ TORCH OFFICE

8:00 PM

A FRIEND…

Car-jacking? Oh, yeah. Doug and Stacy Preston.

A friend? Humm, anonymous address. Don’t like that, but it’s probably nothing.

She glanced over at Clark. He stirred and opened his eyes.

"What’s up?"

She grinned. "Oh, nothing. Just a tip on a story I’m researching. Want to tag along?"

"Sure." He sat up and glared at the clock. "Damn, is that time right?"

"Yep. Time flies when you’re making-out," she snarked.

Clark smiled sheepishly. "Hey, I’m not complaining, but I should really give Mom and Dad a call. They’ll be worried."

"You can call them from the Torch. We gotta bail."

"Sounds good to me." He pulled her close and kissed her. She almost gave in, but her reporter’s instinct had been awakened.

"Come on, Farm Boy, we need to go."

"This is me going." He pushed her up against the wall for an excruciatingly short amount of time, hands nervously exploring, two bodies dancing to an unspoken melody.

She smiled despite herself.

I could get used to this…

The phone started to ring, just as Chloe’s car pulled out from the driveway.

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Edwards was shown in by a servant whose name escaped his mind at the moment.

"Sorry I’m late. The storm -"

The look from the young man at the far end of the room stopped him cold. His boss tossed him an 8mm Digital tape.

"That is a fake. I want you to prove it."

"That may not be easy, sir."

"I don’t care what it takes. I want to know who’s responsible for it." Lex stared straight into Malcolm’s eyes. "And I want to know now!"

"I’ll take care of it."

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Martha was pacing the room.

"I don’t like this. It’s not like Clark to not call."

"I’m sure he’s fine," Wells assured her.

Jonathan walked in shaking his head. "No answer at Chloe’s."

"You saw that report about the Talon. What if this Tempus has gotten hold of him?"

Lois rose from her chair. "Don’t think like that, Martha." She looked to Wells and the Professor. They looked back. Her Clark was sleeping in the guest bedroom, sick. A lump was forming in her throat.

"If you want, we could go look for them," she offered.

Jonathan picked up his coat.

"I’d like that."

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Clark and Chloe walked into the Torch office.

"Hello?" Chloe called. "Bri?"

"Humm. Not here yet, I guess." Clark said as he made his way over to his desk. There was a box sitting on top of it. "What’s this?"

The box was made of carved lead. Very expensive. Cautiously, he opened the lid…

Four large meteor rocks were inside.

Revulsion swept over Clark in waves. His vision blurred. His lungs burned.

"What is — Clarmmrhh!" Chloe’s words were cut off as a hand clamped a kerchief over her mouth.

Three shots rang out in the enclosed space. All three rounds connected with Clark’s chest and he was forced backwards and out the window.

The three-story window.

He landed in the bed of a truck.

A truck bed filled with meteor rocks.

Chloe’s fight ended as the chloroform took affect.

Tempus smirked and lowered the gun.

"Faster than a speeding bullet, my ass!"

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Part Twenty-Two

TIMER END: 12.00.00 TIME ELASPSED: +59.59.59

Smallville, Kansas

Kent Residence

10:07:05 Am CDT

Jonathan Kent watched the rain fall outside the kitchen window. The deep lines around his mouth and his creased brow showed not only exhaustion, but fear.

The previous evening had been one of the worst he had ever lived through. He and his new houseguests (Wells, Arturo and Lois - his daughter-in-law?) had found Clark near the school grounds. They were lucky they arrived when they did.

Clark had been lying in the bed of the high school maintenance truck. It was filled with meteor rocks.

She called it Kryptonite…A part of the planet that Clark is from…

It had all the markings of a trap.

They found no sign of Chloe. Just her car…

Lord, let her be ok.

Clark was comatose; he gave no response at all. Jonathan had never seen his son so - what? helpless? Yeah, that was it. Helpless.

It was an experience he never wanted to repeat.

Against his better judgement, they had brought Clark back home. Lois’s explanation - that once out of range of the rocks, Clark would regain his strength - had gotten under his skin more than he wanted to admit. That she could know Clark better than his own father was outrageous.

Yet, she had been correct.

As soon as they pulled him from the truck, the cuts on Clark’s arms and face begun to heal. His skin was severely shriveled and the veins in his hands were prominent due to long exposure to the meteors — no, Kryptonite - but even that had quickly started to fade.

Now, almost twelve hours later, Jonathan couldn’t even tell that he had been hurt at all.

Except for the fact that Clark was still unconscious.

Now the fear was creeping in. Fear that his son might never wake up.

He took a sip of his coffee and spit it back out. It had grown cold while he was staring out the window. He stood up and silently poured the remainder down the sink.

The house had been unusually quiet for a Sunday morning. Unable to rest, Jonathan had made his rounds.

Everyone else was asleep. Lois was in the guest room, curled up in the chair beside the bed. In it, looking too much like an older version of his son, was her Clark. The man’s fever had broken early this morning, but he still slept. Jonathan pulled the quilt up over Lois’s shoulders and let her rest as well.

Martha was keeping vigil over his Clark. He looked better, much better than when they had found him. Her head was down, the book she had been reading aloud open by her hand. Jonathan looked at it and smiled. To Kill A Mocking Bird was Clark’s favorite book.

He had come downstairs then. Wells and Arturo were conked out in the living room. They had been very helpful in getting Clark back to the house. Jonathan may not know exactly who they were, but he had to admit he was grateful for their assistance.

Now he was standing in his kitchen, watching the rain, trying to figure out what to do next.

As he was pouring a fresh cup of coffee, a new voice addressed him.

"Could you make it two cups…Dad?"

Jonathan turned and looked at the young man. Yes, he was sure that Clark would look like that at thirty, despite the glasses.

"Have a seat…son. We should talk."

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Lana Lang watched as Whitney was rolled into the elevator. The nurse had put an arm around her and told her that all would be well.

Lana wasn’t so sure.

She knew about meteor-influenced victims. Things that weren’t written in the Smallville Ledger. Jeremy Creek had been in a coma for twelve years. Greg Arkin had been bad, kidnapped her, and…then disappeared. Tina Greer had…well, best not to think about that.

Several more were in state hospitals somewhere, undergoing treatment. Chloe was pretty tight-lipped on the subject, though Lana suspected that there was more she wasn’t being told; and for that she was grateful. It was hard enough to sleep as it was.

She didn’t want Whitney to end up another Smallville statistic. Another entry on the Wall of Weird.

She sat back down in the chair by the bed in Whitney’s room. It was more uncomfortable now than it was last night. She sighed. She hated hospitals.

Pete stirred and jerked himself awake. He wiped the side of his mouth and looked up at her, another winning Ross smile etched upon his face. He rose from his own chair and tried to stretch. Lana heard cartilage popping and Pete winced.

"Man, no more nights in this chair. I can hardly move." He walked over to the bathroom with all the grace of a ninety-year-old.

"You know, I think that chair folds out to become a bed."

He stopped in mid-step. "Now you tell me. Sheesh! Thanks for nothing."

She tried not to laugh, but Pete couldn’t pull off anger to save his life. A loud snort escaped her nose. She blushed bright red.

Pete’s grin widened.

"That’s four, Lang."

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Lex Luthor drove his sports car around the rain-slicked turn and sped on toward Metropolis.

He picked up his cell-phone and pressed seven on his speed-dial.

"Edwards," came the voice on the other line after just two rings.

Lex frowned. "What is the progress on the tape?"

"Still nothing useful yet, sir. A couple more hours and I should be able to tell you more." There was a hesitation. "From what I’ve been able to gather so far, though, it seems to be authentic."

Lex’s brow hardened. "That’s not the answer I was looking for."

"I know, sir. Sorry."

"Edwards," Lex paused, "I want you to re-open the Kent investigation. Make it your first priority."

"Yes, sir. Understood."

Lex hung up and dialed a new number.

"Metropolis Mercy, may I help you?"

"Yes, I’d like to check the status on a patient there. A Dr. Stephen Hamilton."

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The dull pounding behind Chloe Sullivan’s eyes brought her back to reality, reluctantly. She felt as though she were drowning in an ocean of darkness. She experimentally moved her head and a jolt of pain shot through her body.

She saw no good reason why she shouldn’t lie perfectly still for the rest of her life. When would she ever really need to open her eyes again, huh?

The relentless thump of blood pulsing in her temples forced her to abandon this line of thought. Also, her bladder informed her that she should find a restroom soon, or matters would get certainly worse. So, she would have to move…eventually.

She opened her eyes very, very slowly. It didn’t make it any better. If anything, it did exactly the opposite. Blinding needles of jagged light stabbed directly into her brain.

She shifted her weight and her stomach rebelled; the urge to vomit overtook all other conscious thought. Despite the pain, she rolled over on her side and raised herself up, just a little, before the floodgates opened.

When she finished, she pushed herself up on hands and knees, panting and gasping for air. She tried to look around to see where she was, but the movement of her eyes set off the nauseous vertigo all over again.

After she was done — again! — she found it was easier to think and examine her surroundings. Not that she felt any better when she did.

She was in some sort of industrial factory. A revolting mixture of oil, dirt, and mold filled her nose and she had to fight the gore in the back of her throat.

Don’t know, Sullivan. Hear third time’s the charm…

Even her sarcasm was getting run down. What had happened to her?

She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and exhaled slowly. She was lying on a rusted metal walkway of sorts. It was a gangway path, about a story off the ground, which ran along the sides of the factory.

She was still focussing on the handrail when she heard footsteps from behind. She panned cautiously to the left and her gaze met a pair of leather shoes. She glanced up at a man wearing an expensive gray suit.

He was pointing a gun at her.

The white noise that held her short-term memory hostage was starting to fade. She remembered gunshots…and broken glass… and Clark? -

"Welcome back to the world of the living, Miss Sullivan," the man in the suit said, breaking her train of thought.

Chloe backed up a little, her bare ankles scraping on the metal surface. Pain proved this wasn’t a dream.

Lightning flashed outside and was reflected in the man’s gray-green eyes. It gave him an almost hypnotic appearance.

He’s completely crazy, she thought.

He laughed, as though he had read her mind.

"Say, Chloe? Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?"

Chloe started to scream.

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Part Twenty-Three

TIMER END: 10.08.52 TIME ELASPSED: +61.51.07

Metropolis, Kansas

Metropolis Mercy Hospital — Room 406

11:58:12 Am CDT

Steve Hamilton sat in his bed trying to read his morning paper and ignore the extremely unhealthy breathing of the person in the bed beside him.

He had tried to watch TV — hoping the noise would drown out his roommate — to no avail. The only programming he could find was morning church services.

At least the televangelists take Sunday off, he had thought, not quite amused.

So, it was the Daily Planet that he chose to ease his boredom.

His shoulder ached but he couldn’t buzz the nurse for a pain killer for another couple of hours. The indignity of it all. To be shot.

And by the people trying to protect him!

He couldn’t wait to file his lawsuit against the federal government. He might be able to get some good press from the whole ordeal as well.

The thought brought a smile to his face.

"I hope that smile means that you’re feeling better and ready to get back to work."

Hamilton looked up from his paper and scowled at the millionaire’s son.

"I was wondering how long it would take before you showed up," Hamilton snapped.

"Sorry," Lex grinned, "had to stop in and check on the young man who put you in this position first." He looked around. "Nice room."

"I have you to thank for that, I assume?"

"Dr. Hamilton, I always take care of my…employees."

"Yes, well, I’m afraid that my laboratory was destroyed by that Fordman kid and your buddy Kent. All my work, ruined." Hamilton sighed.

"Don’t worry, I’ve taken the liberty of relocating what was left of your lab to a facility a little easier to protect."

"You mean Cadmus Labs, don’t you?"

Lex turned. "You do your homework, don’t you, Doctor?"

"I try to protect my interests, yes."

"I think I’ll like having you in a more…secure environment."

"Oh, I can’t wait," Hamilton retorted. "How is the quarterback, by the way?"

"Difficult to say. He’s still in surgery. It’ll be touch and go for the next few hours. I’ll tell him you asked."

Hamilton blanched. "Thanks."

Lex ignored the look and continued. "So, I got a call from you before the excitement began. You’ve found something?"

Dr. Steven Hamilton leaned back on the bed, even though to do so caused his shoulder to hurt more, and grinned.

"Tell me, Mr. Luthor, have you ever heard of a planet called Krypton?"

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Pete poured two cups of coffee at the hospitality counter on the sixth floor. He hissed as the last three drops scalded his hand. He took a sip from one of them, anticipating the dull taste of hot, watered-down mud. He wasn’t disappointed.

Man, all hospital coffee tastes the same.

He’d certainly had his share the past few months. They all had. Clark, Chloe, and especially Lana. And now, he was bringing her yet another cup.

I wonder if you can become addicted to bad coffee? Hmm. Just might be a story in there somewhere. I’ll run it past Chloe, maybe she’ll -

He stopped when he saw Lana, and his heart went out to her.

She sat alone by the window, twirling her necklace around her finger, staring off into space. Pete walked up beside her and placed her cup on the windowsill.

"Dollar for your thoughts," he offered.

She looked up at him in wonderment. "Dollar? I thought it was only a penny."

"Naw, that’s old school. Inflation. Welcome to the twenty-first century. And that’s with a discount. What with the economy the way it is, you’re lucky it’s not five or ten bucks." Pete raised his eyebrows in a vain attempt to make her smile. It worked, sort of.

Lana took his hand. "Pete, I wanted to thank you for being there for me the past couple of days. I’m not sure how I could’ve got by without your help."

"Hey, it’s what I do. You ever need anything, I’m right here."

That earned him a smile he hadn’t seen in — days? weeks? It didn’t matter. He was just happy to see it now. It was very easy to see why both Whitney and Clark had fallen in love with her. He hoped he wouldn’t be next on the list.

But he was afraid he just might be.

"You’re too good to me, Ross."

"Wait till you get my bill."

She laughed and punched his arm.

"Keep it up, Lang."

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

"- can’t you just keep them apart?" a thirty-year-old Clark Kent yelled at his "father."

"Hey!" Jonathan snapped back, "I’m not exactly on the Luthor bandwagon myself here. But…you…er…Clark — you know what I mean — it’s not like the kid’s really all that bad."

"But you don’t understand," Lois started, "Lex Luthor isn’t just any kid. He’s evil incarnate."

"Oh, I’m sure you’re exaggerating," exclaimed Martha.

"Don’t downplay this," Lois spat, she was furious now. "You haven’t seen the man he’ll grow into. He’s - "

"That’s enough, Mrs. Kent," Wells interjected. The two women looked at him, mouths agape. "Um, well, from both of you." He glanced around the table. The Kents - both sets - and the Professor were seated around it and were all taking part of the discussion. "As I’ve stated before, events here may not transpire as they did in your reality, Lois."

Arturo stood up. "Mr. Wells is right. The most important thing right now is Tempus. We need to know where he is, and," he paused as he caught Jonathan’s eye, "we need to know what the status of Miss Sullivan is."

Lois turned to him. "Like I said last night, Tempus is holding Chloe as bait. He won’t harm her until he has Clark where he wants him."

"That’s not very reassuring," Jonathan said.

"And I’m not back to full strength yet," Clark frowned. "And young Clark upstairs…"

Martha cleared her throat. Everyone turned to her.

"Could someone explain to me just who this Tempus is? And why he hates my son so much?" Jonathan took her hand. The Professor sat back down.

Wells cleaned his glasses and raised from his chair. "I suppose I should tell you. It is, after all, my fault." All eyes focused on him.

"You see, I actually live in the future. In a place called Utopia." He read the skeptical stares of Jonathan and Martha. "Yes, well, you’ll like the next part even less. Utopia was founded by the descendants of Clark and Lois, here."

"You can’t be serious!" cried Martha.

Wells backtracked. "I know, I know, it sounds outlandish. All I can say is that in the version of the future I come from, that is the way it is."

Jonathon was shaking his head in disbelief.

Wells continued. "Anyway, during my time there, I befriended a young man named William Archer. He helped me with my studies and seemed very interested in time travel."

"Yes, indeed," Arturo interrupted.

"Young Archer soon took to travelling with me. At the time, I didn’t realize that all he wanted was to steal my secrets," Wells stopped and pinched the bridge of his nose. "On one such travel, we journeyed to modern day Metropolis to study Clark here."

Clark smiled sheepishly and took Lois’s hand. "I really had no idea," he stated.

Wells smiled back. "Yes, well, Archer — he was calling himself Tempus by then, I’m not really sure why — decided that he could change the future if he went back and altered the past. He stole my time machine, kidnapped Lois, and traveled back to 1966 in an attempt to kill the infant Clark. Luckily, we were able to stop him.

"He’s escaped from us several times and is always trying to bring harm to Lois and Clark."

Jonathon raised a hand. "1966?"

Wells raised his hands in mock surrender. "Yes, well, in our reality, Clark arrived in 1966."

"I was six in 1966," Jonathan smirked, "Martha was still in diapers. How could we be Clark’s parents then?"

Wells shook his head. "Events took place at different times. The Kents were in their early thirties when they found Clark. You were in your late twenties. Everything happened the same - just as it should have — only…differently."

"’66? Then, shouldn’t you be closer to forty?"

Clark chewed his inner cheek. "Actually, it’s only 1996 where we’re from."

Jonathan rolled his eyes. "Time travel, huh?" He shook his head.

"We must be so old there," Martha sounded lost.

"Not that you’d notice," the grown Clark said, "they really keep in good shape and are always running around."

"Just watching them makes me tired," Lois chimed in.

Upstairs — unnoticed by anyone in the kitchen — a young Clark Kent moaned in his sleep.

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Part Twenty-Four

TIMER END: 08.33.23 TIME ELASPSED: +63.26.36

Smallville, Kansas

Creekside Factory

01:33:41 Pm CDT

Chloe struggled against the chains surrounding her wrists and ankles. This had to make the - what ? sixth? seventh? - time she’d been knocked out and tied up?

She screamed, for all the good it did her.

How do I keep getting myself into these situations?

The gun had been really bad. The man calling himself Tempus had very nearly killed her a couple of hours ago. He had placed the barrel of the gun to her forehead and smiled.

She would never forget that smile.

Then he put the gun away and laughed. He kept babbling about how she was the key to the whole thing. Whatever that meant. As far as she was concerned, the guy was certifiable.

The sooner she found a way out of here, the better.

Temper-us had led her to a bathroom a short while later, and she discovered that she was at the abandoned Creekside Factory. During the trip, she noted several deposits of meteor rocks almost everywhere. This place had taken quite a beating during the Shower.

He brought her back to the loading dock where he had set up a makeshift altar: a heavy oak desk salvaged from one of the offices was placed on the upper platform with a large pile of meteors surrounding it.

Chloe was liking the look of this less and less.

He had then chained her to the large, vertical I-beam behind the desk, hands over her head; and just left, for God knew where. That had been about an hour ago. And, her arms were starting to cramp.

No, Chloe was pretty sure she’d spent better Sundays.

Oh, Clark, I hope you find me soon…

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Lana sat in the observation lounge on the top floor of Metropolis Mercy Hospital. The window offered a view of the city that few buildings could match. The majesty was lost on her.

She only gazed through her reflection, not seeing anything at all.

She told Pete that she had come up here for some fresh air, but that was a lie. She had come to be alone.

It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate Pete’s company, she just needed some time to herself to think.

She and Whitney were over. He had scared her yesterday. Badly. And not just her, Nell was in a cast thanks to him. The Talon a mess. Dr. Hamilton here, injured.

Whitney Fordman, another name to add to the ever growing charter of the weirdness of Smallville, Kansas.

She tried to focus on the good times. They seemed so long ago. The two of them had been dating for close to three years.

Three years!

So long, and yet, she felt she hardly knew him at all. He had hidden his father’s illness from her. He hadn’t told her about losing his scholarship. His behavior yesterday had been monstrous and abusive. She had seen hate in his eyes.

For a moment she wished him dead. She was immediately appalled by the thought and pleaded with herself to forget it had happened.

But she couldn’t, and that was almost too much to bear.

She buried her face in her hands and began to cry.

All at once, Pete was there beside her. He pulled her close and let her weep for as long as she needed.

It was a long time before the tears stopped.

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Fifteen-year-old Clark Kent was drowning in an ocean of green shadows. His equilibrium was off and he couldn’t find his center of gravity. Up and down no longer held any significance to him.

He felt cold sweat on his skin, yet the inside of his body burned hotter than the sun.

He was lost. Time and space were just theories here, unproven.

He heard sounds, but they had no meaning. He tried to yell, but had no breath.

Suddenly, a face rose out of the darkness. Chloe…or his mother. The face was blurred. She was crying, or screaming, it was difficult to tell. The image vanished as a dark figure took shape before him. The figure had gray-green eyes that burned with hate. It was surrounded by fire.

Clark tried to hit the shape. His arm passed harmlessly through the apparition. The figure laughed. It was a horrible sound, like nails dragging across steel.

The sound followed Clark into deeper eclipse.

He fell below the level of dreams once more, and rested.

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Part Twenty-Five

TIMER END: 05.45.16 TIME ELASPSED: +66.14.49

Smallville, Kansas

Luthor Residence

04:21:54 Pm CDT

Lex sat at the piano in the music room and tried to clear his mind of the inquiries the papers and notes on the table behind him had caused. So far, he wasn’t having much luck.

He had returned from Metropolis with more questions than answers.

He closed his eyes and played through the first part of Fur Elise, his late mother’s favorite piece. Whenever he felt overwhelmed, Lex would play this and remember a time when the world made sense.

How he wished this was one of those times.

The music came to an abrupt stop and he rose from the bench and walked back over to the stack of folders. He reached for the glass siting there and drained it.

He regarded the information with equal parts exhilaration and cautiousness. What he had before him just didn’t add up, and that infuriated him.

Laid out in front of him were twenty or so police reports detailing the strange occurrences that had taken place all over town over the past several months. The events were odd, striking here and there at random. Almost on a weekly basis. Strange.

The most disturbing trait was that a common name kept popping up at every scene.

Clark Kent.

Lex checked his watch. Edwards would be calling soon with a diagnostic of the videotape. Would its origins answer some of his questions, or only add to them?

He turned away from the table and walked back to the piano. He sat with a sigh. He closed his eyes and began to play.

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Part Twenty-Six

TIMER END: 04.49.58 TIME ELASPSED: +67.10.01

Smallville, Kansas

Kent Residence

05:17:06 Pm CDT

Martha was washing dishes in an effort to keep her mind occupied. Behind her, Jonathan and the other Clark were still engaged in conversation with Professor Arturo.

She and Lois had been upstairs an hour ago when her Clark’s fever broke. He was asleep, but at least the cold sweats and shivers had stopped.

His thrashing had almost destroyed the bed.

She had been relieved, but her mind had turned back to Chloe, the little blonde girl with no problem speaking her mind who had captured Clark’s heart, and not for lack of trying. Chloe had been attracted to Clark forever, it seemed. Now, she had finally won him over.

The thought of Chloe being held by a madman turned Martha’s blood cold. Most of the last three days didn’t make any sense.

So, she was in the kitchen, trying to wash away the fear.

With the dishes done, Martha was looking for something productive to do. She made her way past the men at the table to the back door. She had hoped to pass the time before her son woke up by cleaning his ‘Fortress of Solitude.’

She had only made it across the yard and through the arched doorway, when the barn exploded.

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Pete yawned as he turned left off Highway 335 onto Route 12, the main road that went through town. He glanced to the person in the passenger seat. Lana had slept the whole drive home.

The past few hours had been draining. Whitney had pulled through the first of his surgeries and the doctor seemed confident that the young man would be fine. Pete and Lana weren’t sure if that was good news or not.

Sure, it was good that Whitney was going to wake up again; that wasn’t it. The thing was, how were things going to be between Whitney and everyone he had hurt?

It was a question that Pete had been asking himself a lot over the past hundred miles or so.

He carefully tapped her arm. "Lana? We’re home."

She stretched and nodded, sleep still holding to the corners of her conscious mind. Placing the back of her hand over her yawn, she motioned to the dashboard clock.

"Wow. Sorry, Pete. Don’t remember the last time I was so tired."

Pete nodded absently, and was surprised when he realized that it was true for him as well. At last, the long weekend was over. He was almost glad he had to go to school the next day.

Almost.

That was when he saw the truck on the side of the road. It was a silver Ford F-150, late model. Its hazards were on and the hood was up.

Pete slowed and turned on his own flashers. "Better check and make sure he’s ok."

Lana looked skeptical. "Are you sure? We’re all alone out here."

Pete jerked a thumb towards the truck. "Yeah, so’s he." He opened his mouth to say something else, then stopped. "Sorry, just the boyscout in me taking over. This won’t take a minute. I promise. Want to come?"

She frowned, then looked at him and sighed. "Yeah, ok."

I didn’t know he was a boyscout…

They got out and walked over to the truck.

Pete approached the driver, who was standing by the front bumper. "Need a hand?"

The man smiled. "Say, that’s down-right neighborly of you."

Pete grinned. "Hey, it’s our plea -"

Just then, a rumbling sound shook the ground. Over the horizon to the west of them, an orange and black cloud was forming above the trees.

Lana grabbed Pete’s arm. "Pete, that’s the direction of my house."

"Actually," the stranger laughed, "it’s coming from the Kent farm."

The two teenagers turned back to the driver of the truck.

The man in the expensive gray suit was pointing a gun at them.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

As Pete was walking up to the man in gray, the elder Clark Kent was trying not to fall asleep listening to the Professor. In a mad attempt to stay alert, he had gazed out the window to follow Martha on her trek out to the barn.

His enhanced eyesight caught a flash of sunlight off of the thin line of sliver wire crossing the yard. He was standing before he was aware of it.

"Mom."

So fast did Clark move, that it seemed as though everyone around him was frozen in time.

It still wasn’t fast enough for him.

He saw Martha’s foot connect with the razor line. Heard the minute click of the detonators of the buried charges. This was happening too fast for him. He was not back to full strength yet.

He wasn’t going to reach her in time.

That was when he saw the blur coming from the other side of the house.

To his astonishment, the other figure was moving faster than he was. It was a long time — in Kryptonian thinking, anyway — before he realized that he was seeing his adolescent self. The Clark Kent of this world.

Young Clark caught his mother and turned her away from the force of the explosion just as the older Clark shielded her from the other direction.

The noise lasted a long time. When Martha could finally hear again, she looked up into the faces of two young men whose resemblance was so strong, they could have been brothers.

Jonathan, Lois, Wells and the Professor were all standing around, various expressions of amazement and disbelief on their faces.

"This had to be Tempus," Lois was ranting.

The two Clarks regarded each other.

Jonathan stood before them. "Um, Clark," he said to the younger, "I’d like to introduce you to…well…"

The more mature Clark grinned. "Clark Kent," he stated and stuck out his hand. The youthful Clark shook it, uneasily. "I’m you, in about twenty years. It’s a long story, and we don’t have much time. But, just to avoid more confusion, why don’t you call me Kal."

Clark gazed along the destruction. "What’s going on here? Where’s Chloe?"

Kal took his arm. "Like I said, it’s a long story, but I can explain it to you while we try to find her. How ‘bout it, huh?"

Martha walked up to them. She placed her hands on the older man’s shoulders. "I never wanted to believe that you were…who you said you were."

Kal shook his head. "It’s alright. I understand."

Clark looked to his parents who only nodded approval. "When do we go?"

Kal kissed Lois, hugged her tight, and handed her his glasses. "Right now," he said.

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Part Twenty-Seven

TIMER END: 02.18.13 TIME ELASPSED: +69.41.46

Smallville, Kansas

Kent Residence

07:48:51 Pm CDT

"Do you have any idea how this happened, Jonathan?" Ethan Miller asked, surveying the charred remains of the barn before fixing his gaze upon his friend once more.

Jonathan took a measured breath before answering. "I’m not sure, Ethan. Possibly a ruptured gas main? I just don’t know."

Miller nodded. "And, you’re sure everyone is alright?" He eyed Lois, Wells and the Professor. "I’ve seen your new friends around town the past couple of days. They’ve been asking more than a few questions. Of, course, there was another one…"

"Yeah," Jonathan answered. "Cal. He and Clark…went to see about…finding some supplies to repair the barn." He hated how unconvincing the lie sounded, even in his own head. He could tell Ethan didn’t believe it either.

The Sheriff scratched at his moustache. "Ok, Jon. But you tell Clark and ‘Cal’ to come see me when they get back. I’d hate to have to come back out here today."

"Will do, Ethan, and thanks."

"My pleasure. Let me know when you’re ready to rebuild. I’ll get my boys to help.

"Oh, one more thing." He turned back to Jonathan. "I got a call from Gabe Sullivan this morning. Seems his daughter has gone missing."

Jonathan tried to sound surprised. "Missing?"

"Yeah, well you know Chloe. She’s probably following another ‘story.’ She and Clark were out with a couple of feds yesterday. They stopped by Chief Waid’s office yesterday afternoon to do a follow-up on what happened with the Fordman kid.

"Anyway, you haven’t seen her today have you? Look’s like she and Clark are an item these days."

"News travels fast," Jonathan said sheepishly. "Haven’t seen her today," he stole a glance at Martha and Lois, "but, I’m sure she’ll turn up shortly. If I see her, I’ll tell her to check in with Gabe."

"Thanks. I’ll check back on you folks in the coming days, you let me know if Marcie and I can help."

"Thank you, Ethan."

"Any time, Jonathan. Martha."

"Bye, Ethan," she responded.

The two men shook hands, then the officer returned to his car and drove away.

"Do you think he suspects?" Lois asked as she walked up beside Martha.

"He knows enough to keep an eye on us until this Tempus matter is resolved," Jonathan replied bitterly.

"Well, if that’s the case," a new voice from behind startled them, "then, by all means, let us resolve it."

Lois felt the cold steel of a gun press against her cheek.

Jonathan Kent exhaled slowly and took a step forward. "You’re him, aren’t you?"

"Greetings and salutations," Tempus laughed. His eyes blazed as he faced the small group, his grip on Lois’ arm tightening.

"Now, if you would all be so kind as to follow me around to the front of the house and step into my vehicle, we have an appointment to keep."

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"What is this place?" Kal exclaimed. The two of them were standing at the edge of a massive water fountainhead.

"Cedar Bluff Reservoir," Clark replied.

"Cedar Bluff? That was lost in a flood back in ’82. Well, back in my Smallville anyway." He pointed to the west. "And, it was on the other side of town." He shook his head. "Still trying to get used to all this alternate reality stuff."

Clark smiled. "I know what you mean."

"So, why are we here?"

"Well," Clark began, "you said that Tempus would want to stay in a place that was hard to find and out of the way. The walls down here are filled with lead. And I was wondering…" His voice trailed off.

Kal pursed his lips. "Sorry. That’s one weakness that stays the same for both of us."

Clark nodded, and tried to hide his concern. "We should rest here for a little bit."

The last few hours had been quite educational for him. Not only had he found out about his homeworld, a planet called Krypton, he had seen Kal demonstrate several abilities far and above those of mortal man.

However, not everything was going in their favor. In their weakened condition, it had taken them much longer than necessary to search the town for any sign of Tempus.

Plus, there were several places in which the Kryptonite deposits were too much for Kal to handle. Many times, the older man had needed the younger to help carry him. He had hoped to find some clue here, and possibly store up some energy in the Kryptonite-free walls.

As much as he wanted to find Chloe, he was starting to feel run down.

If he was to face Tempus again, he’d need to be back to full strength.

Kal exhaled deeply. "Yeah, you may be right." He glanced at his watch. "Five minutes." He leaned back against a metal door and closed his eyes.

"Better make it ten."

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Chloe Sullivan snapped awake with a jolt. She tugged at her chains again and thought back to something Tempus had said.

You are the key to the whole thing…

What was he talking about? And just what (or who?) was in that bundle she had seen him carry in and lock inside the utility closet a couple of hours ago?

Where was Clark? Where was Tempus? Hell, where was the Kansas National Guard?

With an overwhelming feeling of depression, she screamed.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Pete Ross awoke to find himself suspended in a gray gloom. A wave of nausea hit him as he tried to sit up. Dull thunder rumbled through his skull. He reached around to the back of his head and winced as he found the source of the pain, a bruise swelled to the size of a baseball.

He glanced over and could just make out Lana huddled over him in the shadows.

"Oh, man. I don’t even want to know what hit me." He hoped he didn’t sound as bad as he felt. He looked around. They were in an enclosed room. Empty metal shelves lined the walls. The only light came from a small vent over the door. "Where are we?"

She shook her head. "Not sure. It seems to be a storeroom of some kind." She rattled the doorknob without much enthusiasm. "It’s locked."

Pete sat up straight in spite of the pain. When he looked at Lana, there were three of them. "Um, which one is the real you?"

"The middle one," she smirked.

"I swear, if I get knocked out one more time, I’m going to have to repeat the tenth grade." He tried a wan smile, and pulled it off quite remarkably.

"Preaching to the choir, Ross."

With Lana’s help, the two hobbled to the door. They both glanced down at the knob and stopped with their faces just inches apart. He could feel the warmth of her breath and wondered just when he had brushed his teeth last.

Lana’s eyes were full of tears. Despite his better judgement, he leaned forward…

A scream broke the uncomfortable silence.

"Chloe?" Pete yelled, "is that you?"

"Pete?" Her voice sounded tired.

"Are you OK?" They both shouted in unison.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Part Twenty-Eight

TIMER END: 01.00.00 TIME ELASPSED: +70.59.59

Smallville, Kansas

City Limits

09:07:05 Pm CDT

Clark and Kal were running down Route 12 when they found the car. It was parked right under the old billboard proclaiming Smallville to be the "Home of the Meteors."

Pete’s blue Ford Falcon.

Clark walked over and felt the hood. "It’s cool," he stated. His double nodded.

Kal knelt down and squinted at the road. "There’s a faint trace of oil and Kryptonite filaments here," he said and pointed to the grass under the road sign.

"Where? I don’t see anything."

Kal looked up at Clark. "Microscopic vision," he replied off-handedly. "Comes in handy sometimes."

Clark furrowed his brows, and gave a lop-sided grin.

Microscopic vision!

"Is there anything I can’t do?" he asked as he looked inside Pete’s car.

Kal smirked. "Not much." He returned his gaze to off in the distance. "The trail seems to be heading southwest from here. Toward-"

"Toward the old Creekside Factory," Clark finished for him.

"How’d you-?"

"Found this," Clark said holding up a torn piece of paper.

It read:

To the elusive Mr. Kents-

As you no doubt survived the little remodeling I gave

your barn earlier today, your presence is requested at a most

formal banquet at your honor at the luxurious Creekside

Factory overlooking breathtaking Cross Lake promptly at

nine o’clock and one half hour this evening.

No RSVP needed, as you will most assuredly be there.

XOXO

T

Kal read Clark’s face. "What’s wrong?"

"Creekside Factory has one of the highest concentration of Kryptonite in town." He pursed his lips. "Are you ready for this?"

"Let’s do it."

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

"Get your hands off me!" Lois shouted as she was thrown savagely to the floor.

"Now, Lois," Tempus purred, "that is no way to talk to your host." He smiled as he turned to secure the loading dock door. The Professor and Jonathan Kent had to hold her back before she lunged forward.

"You son of a-"

"Tisk, tisk, Lois. I’d keep a leash on your little wildcat if I were you, gentlemen."

The men of the group scowled at their captor. Tempus shook off their glare with a laugh. "I must say, this really is no way to set a proper example for today’s youth." He extended his arm to turn their focus to the young woman chained to the pillar in the middle of the room.

Chloe Sullivan smirked, turned her head to the side, and gave him the finger.

"Feh, kids," Tempus shook his head.

Lois and Martha Kent exchanged a look.

"I could get to like this girl," Lois exclaimed.

"Chloe, are you alright?" Martha asked.

"I’m ok. A little stiff, but ok…" Her voice trailed off and eyes grew big as if she had just remembered something important. "Oh, my God! Where’s Clark? I remember gunshots and broken glass…"

"Clark’s just fine, Miss Sullivan," Tempus interrupted, "they’ll be here soon enough."

"They-?"

Chloe’s words were cut short as the massive loading door was torn from it’s hinges.

Lois started forward, but was held back by Tempus. "Clark, don’t! It’s a trap!"

Jonathan shouted, "Don’t come in here, Son!"

Clark looked in and made a mental image of the room. His parents and Kal’s three companions were behind a table in the center of the room. Chained to the center I-beam, Chloe screamed his name. Just the sight of her in pain made his blood boil.

And there, in the thick of it all, was a man wearing a very dark expensive suit. Tempus was wearing something around his neck. On second glance Clark realized that it was Lana’s necklace.

And that wasn’t all. Clark noticed that the entire loading area was filled with layer upon layer of Kryptonite. They had barely made it inside before the first wave of nausea struck.

Tempus spread his fingers in a mock Vulcan hand gesture and shouted, "Ba weep granna weep ninny bong!" He read their confused look. "Ha! Figures you wouldn’t know the universal greeting." He laughed and raised his gun toward the two young men.

Clark and Kal turned to each other. "Oh, shi-"

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Lex looked up as Davis walked in the door of the study.

"Yes? What is it?"

"Letter for you sir," Davis replied and handed him an envelope.

"Thank you," Lex said and turned back to his desk. "That is all."

"Sir." Davis left.

The letter was short and to the point:

You are cordially invited to attend a banquet

specially designed to answer all of your questions

about a certain Mr. Clark Kent.

Please join us at the luxurious Creekside Factory

overlooking breathtaking Cross Lake promptly at

nine o’clock and one half hour this evening.

Lex checked his cell phone. Still no message form Edwards.

He opened the top drawer of his desk and retrieved a small metal case. Inside were a black handgun and two clips.

He could be at the old Creekside Factory in fifteen minutes.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

The good news was that Tempus had put away his gun. The bad news was that he could do just as much damage — if not more - with the three-foot metal pipe in his hands.

Clark fell to his knees behind an overturned desk, short of breath and head swimming with Kryptonite poisoning. He chanced a peak over the desk toward the other end of the room where Kal was on the receiving end of Tempus’ rage.

This was a nightmare. He shook off the latest urge to lay down and die and rose to his feet. Just as he stood to his full height, Tempus caught him across the kidneys with the pipe and knocked Clark back to the ground.

As Tempus loomed overhead, Lana’s necklace glowed bright green. Clark felt his heartbeat slow and heard the thunder of his blood behind his temples. Unfortunately, he could also feel the stabbing bite of the pipe as Tempus shattered his right knee and two ribs.

Real pain exploded through Clark for the first time in his life. He heard shouts from his family and friends. And, he knew there was nothing he could do about it.

Just as the Kryptonite would get to be too much for one, Tempus would back off and return to the other young man. He was methodical and precise. A surgeon of agony. At long last, he had his nemesis — both of them — right where he wanted him.

Tempus could not sop smiling.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Lex puled up behind the silver pickup. He loaded the gun and placed it in the rear waistband of his pants. He walked to the edge of the loading dock, toward cries of anguish.

He never got to see what was inside.

Just as he was about to enter the factory, Lex was enveloped in a blue-white glow and found himself standing in a large white room.

"What the-?"

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

The stranger now currently inhabiting Lex Luthor’s body stood in awe and horror at the sight before him.

"Oh, boy."

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Part Twenty-Nine

TIMER END: 00.05.00 TIME ELASPSED: +71.54.59

Smallville, Kansas

Creekside Factory

10:02:05 Pm CDT

Chloe Sullivan was out of tears. All around her was destruction and carnage. She had seen Clark — and a guy who could have been his cousin! — get beat within an inch of their lives by a madman with a steel tube.

All that blood…

The most troubling aspect was that no one could have survived more than two minutes with a beating like that. Only, Gray Suit had been swinging like he was Mark McGuire for the better part of half an hour, and her boyfriend was still fighting back! Both of them were.

How are they both still alive? What the hell is going on here?

Tempus reached down and gripped Kal’s bloody hair in his hand. "I must say, Kal-El, you have looked better. It’s entirely possible that you may not make it home from this."

Kal coughed and spit the blood from his mouth, his left eye swollen shut. "G-Go to hell, Archer."

Tempus smirked. "You first."

"Pay attention, Kal. I want you to see everyone you love torn away from you." He turned toward Chloe. "And not just you, but every incarnation of your life I can find. Starting with Miss Sullivan here."

Chloe swallowed hard. Her hands twitched in the chains above her head as the blood drained from her face.

Dear, God….He’s going to kill me now…

Tempus walked up to Lois and yanked her head around to face the young girl tied to the altar.

"Why her, Tempus?" Lois shook off his hand. "What did she ever do to you? As far as we know, she only exists in this reality."

"You know, Lois, I always thought the stupid act was just that, an act. I see now that you truly are this insipid."

Lois lay there with her mouth agape.

"Of course she only exists in this reality. For the same reason that you can find no reference to Lois Lane in this reality."

Wells looked up, "You don’t mean-?"

"I’m disappointed, Herbert. I thought you’d have figured it out by now."

Lois turned to Wells and the Professor. "What’s he talking about?"

Wells sighed and closed his eyes. "Remember how we discovered that you and Clark were soulmates? That your life energies seem to always find each other?"

Lois blinked. "Yes, but, I…oh, no. Are you saying-?"

Tempus rolled his eyes. "Welcome to the program, Lois. It’s about bloody time."

He drew his gun and turned to a very confused Chloe Sullivan. He grabbed her arm and pulled her forward. She yelled as the chains pinched her wrists.

"May I introduce you to the soul of Lois Lane in this reality." He removed the timer from his jacket pocket. "But, only for the next eighty-seven seconds."

"Put down the gun, and let the girl go," a new voice addressed the room.

Everyone turned to see Lex Luthor enter the building; a black gun aimed at Tempus.

"Lex!" Jonathan shouted, "get out of here! Go get help!"

Dr. Sam Beckett ignored the man chained to the handrail on his left, steadied his arm and gripped the bottom of the gun. "I said drop it!"

Tempus exhaled slowly. "This is getting boring."

"Sam, watch out!" It was the voice of a man that only Sam could see and hear.

Tempus emptied his gun toward the young bald man and nodded triumphantly as Lex dove out of the doorway.

In the confusion, Clark slowly stood. His face was badly bruised and his lungs felt like they were filled with molten lava. But still, he faced down his enemy. And, his eyes were…burning?

"Let. Her. Go."

"Ah, yes," Tempus grinned, "the other Mr. Kent." He unlocked Chloe from the I-beam and glanced at the clock on the timer and pressed the red button. A swirling vortex of blue-white energy tore a hole through the fabric of reality. "Son, you really have an overdeveloped sense of vengeance don’t, you?"

Tempus lifted the gun a final time, placed one bullet in the chamber and pulled Chloe’s lips to his.

"Muuuuurphhhhh!" Chloe recoiled in disgust as she pushed herself away.

"Thus with a kiss," he aimed the gun at her, "you die."

Chloe’s eyes widened as she saw the muzzle flash.

Clark and Kal acted as one. Fire leapt from their eyes. The bullet, the gun, and Tempus’ right hand were engulfed in flame.

The muffled explosion was drowned out by a scream that rose from the tempter’s throat.

Kal hurled a chunk of oak desk directly at Tempus’ chest. The older man tumbled backward over the table and fell into the tidal wake of the temporal vortex. Kal next shot flames from his right eye that ignited the timer from Tempus’ left hand. Several Kryptonite rocks were sucked into the whirlpool as well.

Tempus shrieked as the timer detonated and the vortex distorted and exploded in a brilliant light show of blues, whites, and greens. The tunnel disappeared and the body of William Archer dropped to the floor with a heavy thud.

Clark made his way up onto the platform as quickly as he could and pulled Chloe close to him. He vowed to never let her go again.

Then, he and Kal passed out.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Part Thirty

TIMER END: 00.00.00 TIME ELASPSED: +72.00.00

Smallville, Kansas

Creekside Factory

10:15:41 Pm CDT

"Now, be careful, Sam," the hologram image of Rear Admiral Albert 'Al' Calavicci hovered over the man now inside the body of Lex Luthor. "Ziggy says that the only way to ensure a proper heal is to set the bones exactly, before these young men are moved outside." The hand-held device in his hand beeped and flashed at no one in particular.

Dr. Sam Beckett set is jaw and twisted the right knee of the youngest victim back into place. "You know, Al," he mumbled to his best friend, "it’d be easier if I knew why I had to do this in here." He motioned to the green fragments beside his patients. "These two are obviously allergic to those rocks."

Al bit down onto his cigar. "Yeah. Well Ziggy says…what the?" he hit the multi-colored keypad hard on its side. A loud serious of hoots and squeals erupted from it. "Ziggy says that there’s a 98.824% chance that once these two are outside, their bones will heal automatically and there will be no way to re-set them."

"That doesn’t make any sense," Sam replied.

"Oh, I assure you that it is quite true."

Sam and Al turned to the man who just walked up to them. A little man with a bowler had ambled his way up to them.

"You," Sam looked from the little man to Al and back, "you can…see and hear Al?"

"Yes, Dr. Beckett."

Sam looked visibly shaken.

"No need to worry, my boy. Your brain patterns and mine flow along the same pattern."

"You can see…me?"

"Yes, Sam. In fact, we have met quite a few times before. Your short time memory problem seems to have clouded your recollection of those events, though."

Al sized the little man up. "Well, just for the record, who are you?"

"H.G. Wells, at your service. And, for the record, may I introduce you to two different versions of Clark Kent and welcome you to Smallville, Kansas."

Sam and Al turned to each other. "Oh, boy."

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Once Clark and Kal were safely outside, their wounds did heal quite quickly. The scene was one of curiosity and confusion.

Clark looked up to see Lex Luther tending to his wounds with the expert care of a surgeon.

I don’t even want to know what happened…

Chloe was by his side and he could see how tired she was.

"You look like I feel," he mumbled.

"Mind telling me just what all this was about?" she asked and placed a light kiss on his forehead.

Lois and Martha each placed a hand on the young woman’s shoulders. "It’s a long story," Martha began. "We’re just glad you’re ok."

Kal, Jonathan, Wells and the Professor helped Pete and Lana outside and then they dragged Tempus out. Though he was still alive, he seamed to have no idea where he was, plus, an interesting transformation had taken place to his physical appearance.

Tempus’ skin had turned a pasty white and his hair now had a distinctive emerald green hue to it. A low growl came from his mouth. It sounded almost like laughter…

Wells placed a call via Chloe’s cell phone and within a half-hour, a young man on a motorcycle joined them. Wells introduced him as Captain Darien Lambert of the Temporal Police Force.

"We have a detention center we can hold him in," Lambert stated. "It’s new, state of the art. Just a few miles north of Gotham City. I’ve called for backup."

As Lambert was making preparations to leave, Sam Beckett walked up to Wells.

"I’m still not sure just what all went on here tonight."

Wells smiled. "Not to worry, my boy. In time, you shall forget any of this ever happened."

Pete stepped up. "But, that’s just it. He looked around the crowd. What did happen?"

Guilty faces exchanged looks at each other. However, before anyone could respond, Sam was surrounded by a blue-white glow. When the light was gone, Lex Luthor looked around.

"What’s going on here?"

In answer to his question, a black car pulled up beside them. Two men in dark suits got out. As one helped place Tempus into the backseat of the car, the other addressed Wells.

"Doctor, I believe it’s time for you and your companions to leave, don’t you?"

"Yes, yes. Come, Lois, Kal. We’ve spent too much time here. Let us be off. Professor, let us see about getting you home."

Clark took Kal’s hand. "Thank you." He hugged Chloe close to him with his other arm. "For everything."

Kal grinned. "Don’t mention it. You’d have done the same for me."

Lois turned to Chloe. "And you, I expect to hear great things about you."

Chloe smiled back weakly. "I’ll do my best."

As Wells and the others departed, Lana looked from Pete to Chloe to Clark to Lex and finally to the Kents. She sank against Pete’s protective embrace, tears welling up in her eyes. "Is anyone going to explain this to us?"

The younger of the men in suits stepped up. He placed dark glasses over his eyes and held up a slender sliver tube.

"Just look here for a moment and all of your answers will be answered."

A flash of red light enveloped them.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Unheard by anyone outside, the cell phone in Lex’s car began to beep. The voice mail picked up on the third ring.

"Mr. Luthor. Edwards here. I have some bad news. The tape you supplied me is completely authentic. I repeat, completely authentic. I’m awaiting your instructions. Edwards out…"

Fade to black.

 

FIN