by Valentine Michel Smith
Valentine Michel Smith
Big Sur was a wonder of nature, home to both redwoods and some of the best coastline California had to offer. The distance from the beach to the peak of jagged rock above seemed incalculable. The cliff stretched impossibly high and afforded little room to perch, yet, here Dylan was, positioned dangerously close to the edge.
A luscious full moon bathed the landscape, its glow illuminating rocks and errant blades of grass. Beyond the cliff, the Pacific Ocean crashed, waves ominous and insistent in the inky darkness.
Dylan leaned slightly, careful not to lose her footing. At least, not yet. She wasn't ready. The beach seemed to pull away, confirming what she already knew: it was a long way down.
The waves continued to slap the shore, but Dylan could no longer hear them. The sound of the rustling redwoods was also now absent, obliterated utterly the sound of her own footfalls as she moved to the other side of the cliff.
It would be easier to pitch herself off from here.
Without warning, Dylan stepped into the night. Gravity claimed her eagerly and she fell, spiraling down, her caramel skin occasionally bouncing back the moon's glow. There was peacefulness at long last in her honey colored eyes, and she was smiling. She hadn't smiled since... Well, she couldn't remember when.
Dylan kept smiling even as her velocity increased. She hadn't expected it, but discovered the sudden acceleration had prompted a change of heart.
Well below her, just beyond the beach, the moonlight dappled water glistened and the hypnotic lap of waves returned. Dylan appeared on the horizon and sighed, sloshing toward the shore. She stopped, giving into the urge to splash through the salt water like a child discovering ocean joy for the first time.
It was pure whim, and Dylan indulged it for what seemed like hours.
Exhausted, Dylan pulled herself from the water and walked slowly back toward the road. She stopped, her progress inexplicably and abruptly impeded.
Dylan was staring down at a pair of shoes. Big shoes, belonging to the thick-tall man in front of her who smiled politely. *Not a social call. Not the time. Not the place. How'd they find me?*
Dylan reached out for and grabbed the only logical available emotion - fear.
The Tall Man took assumed a more active role, grabbing her harshly by her wrist. A second pair of shoes appeared, and instantly, a thin-short man with tiny feet had her other wrist.
She followed the men, watching as they led her in the direction of a massive man. "This's for getting me out of bed in the middle of the night," he explained as he punched her, sending her off her feet and into the air.
The landing wasn't as brutal as the massive man had hoped and expected. He'd hit her damned hard - hell, Dylan should've bounced. He'd heard she was good. Actually, the three men were surprised she wasn't even resisting. They'd heard a lot of things at Cadmus, and well, they wanted to know: were they any of them true?
In the distance, Hobbes appeared, tranquilizer gun at the ready. The questions would have to wait.
Hobbes had a single shot and intended to make good use of it. Precise and effective. Very much like the man himself. He squeezed the trigger and that was that.
The only greeting the trio got was Hobbes passing one of them the gun. He walked by the three wordlessly, choosing instead to focus solely on the inert female in front of him. As he drew nearer, Dylan moaned and cast a bleary eye in his direction. Hobbes smiled giddily, watching as she lost consciousness. "She sleeps," he cooed, "like an angel."
"Deoxyribonucleic acid. Say that three times fast," Lex intoned amusedly, a thin smile etched upon his lips. A molecular model of the double helix spun on the monitor, lumpen chains swirling in a rhythm that lulled him into a hyper-contemplative, vaguely meditative state. Lex savored this space that was very much like the moment when wakefulness and sleep fought for supremacy; it was the zone where his best thinking occurred.
*Hydrogen, oxygen, carbon in the helical phosphate ester chains, carbon and nitrogen in the cross-linked purine and pyrimidine bases, phosphorus*.
Lex was well aware that genetic information encoded in DNA was transmitted from generation to generation. This wasn't the first time he'd seen this particular DNA. Even so, the coiled molecule, organized into chromosomal structures he'd memorized long ago, held him in its sway. Genes, after all, were the "biochemical instructions" possessed by every organism from bacteria to human. Newborns received a mix of genetic information from both parents, which, of course, accounted for the endless parade of shapes and types.
But sometimes, things occurred naturally. Odd, unexplainable things. Not Smallville post-meteor shower unexplainable. Potentially similar, but that remained to be seen.
A full ninety-seven percent of DNA was "junk" - scientists could ascribe no use to it. Yet Dylan had something of a "glitch" in her genetic system, something still hidden from Lex in that "junk" DNA. He wanted to know. He needed to know. And he would.
Thus far, the scientists at Cadmus - and there were what now - almost a dozen? weren't sure how to isolate it. He didn't need to be a genius to acknowledge if they couldn't isolate it, they couldn't replicate it. What good was that? All they knew, the lot of them, was what Dylan could do. But they weren't even sure of the extent, the limits of the abnormality.
Dylan hadn't exactly been a model test subject. Not eager. Not willing. Able, certainly. But... The drugs made her controllable. The drugs also made her... Lex sought the proper euphemism...unable to perform. He'd seen her, strapped to a bed, near comatose. What was the point of that? Especially with the clock ticking.
He'd asked the Legion of Scientists about the dosage. Hobbes had stepped in, assuring him that it was necessary and appropriate. "What about another med?" Lex had heard himself asking. Not everybody reacted the same to every medication. Another quirk of chromosomal/biochemical organism specificity. Zombie Dylan was not useful in the least.
Hobbes had grinned a conciliatory grin - or was it an idiot/boss placating grin? Lex being the "idiot/boss" in question, recognized it immediately as such.
Lex hated when Hobbes did that. If he hadn't been so busy with the crap factory (the nickname stuck, in spite of his recent decision to remain in Smallville) and a miscellany of other "projects," he would've made damn sure Hobbes knew just how much.
Lex turned his attention back to the monitor. The DNA swirled like a wounded ballerina, full of knowledge and mystery.
Mendel had begun the process with garden peas. Lex was on a full-tilt "next-steps" mission.
"Genetics is the science of the function and behavior of genes. Genes carry the biochemical instructions of cells..."
The twin strands - or double helix to be more precise - of the DNA molecule sat spectacularly flatfooted on the page. Clark was nonetheless riveted. He stared intensely at the textbook illustration as Mr. Hendricks (3rd period, AP Biology) continued. "Although all humans share the same sets of genes..." Clark's mind began working in spite of his efforts. All humans... He could barely hear Hendricks over the voice in his head, the instructor's words came like dreamt whispers, a sort of background buzz without substance. "Individuals inherit varied forms of given genes. Result? Each person..."
Clark was focused on his hand. "...is genetically unique." He'd gotten pretty good at using his vision to see skeletons through walls and the like, but he wondered: could he control the ability even more? If he could, it might yield some answers. Maybe, if he could fine-tune it enough, he could actually see what his DNA looked like. Was it even possible...? Would it look like the illustration on page 90? Would his DNA look like everyone else's? A small shudder went through him. What if...? I mean...? Do I even have DNA?
Clark concentrated on his hand. He was able to see muscle fibers (looked like Pete's, maybe thicker), bone (density was hard to make out by viewing, but it also seemed larger and thicker than most he'd seen). "Clark?"
Clark looked up. "Genetic engineering," Hendricks began. Clearly from his tone, the teacher thought Clark had been daydreaming. Clark frequently multitasked without realizing it, and spoke without missing a beat. "Alteration of an organism's genetic - hereditary - material. The idea is to eliminate undesirable characteristics. Or produce new ones. Uh, in recent decades, the field's been revolutionized by the technique of recombinant DNA."
Hendricks straightened, and took a half-step away from his lectern, amazed, impressed and (oddly) amused. "Gene splicing," he and Clark said in unison. "Thank you, Clark. For a minute, I thought you'd abandoned us."
"Us." The word hung in the air. How much apart of "us" was he even to begin with?
Later, Clark tried again to see what precisely he could see. His vision wouldn't offer any insight into his physiology on the level he sought. Not today. Maybe not ever. *But he didn't know*. He just didn't know.
The "not knowing" was beginning to wear at Clark. Everyday seemed to bring some new surprise. He'd grown accustomed to the seemingly endless adjustments his body forced upon him. Sometimes he filled his parents in, sometimes he didn't. Things were just changing much too often.
Now, thanks to Hendricks, Clark found the not knowing who (what?) he was gnawing at him, and his curiosity grew, a hungry beast demanding to be fed.
Clark stepped into the kitchen, his brow knit tightly. He paused, turning to the only parents he'd ever known. "Mom. Dad." It wasn't so much Clark's voice as its tone that stopped both Martha and Jonathan in their tracks.
"Son?" Jonathan responded, hoping to read something more from the boy than the quiet panic he seemed to radiate.
"He's wearing his 'very serious face'," Martha said. Blatant levity was her best "ability" (well, after baking) and would often snap Clark back from the very depths of teen angst. Today, levity wouldn't be enough. "Sweetie?" Inadvertently, Martha's face mimicked her son's. She pulled a chair toward her, almost missing it as she moved to sit down.
Clark also sat, then motioned for Jonathan to do likewise. Jonathan's face fell. Clark looked at the couple who had adopted him, taken them in as their own. He felt a twinge of guilt and realized he needed to begin the discussion quickly. He spoke to reassure them. "No, it's nothing bad. Not like..." Clark shifted. This was going to be one difficult conversation. Almost as difficult as the "sex" talk his father had begun when he was nine and had yet to complete.
Clark straightened slightly in his chair, folded his hands on the kitchen table. He unfolded his hands, then folded them again.
Martha and Jonathan looked at each other. Under the table, Jonathan touched Martha's leg gently.
"Can you tell me... about the day of the meteor shower."
"Clark," Martha touched her son's hand, her voice replete with motherly patience and comfort, "honey, we've talked about this."
Jonathan's hands were now on the table. He and Clark sat like inversions. Genetics didn't make them so similar. Clark behaving like Jonathan on "too many" occasions (as Martha would insist) was strictly a "nurture" issue. "You don't still think you're responsible for the meteor shower?"
Clark shifted uneasily in his seat. The process of making peace with the arrival of his *spaceship/UFO/spaceship/rocket/spaceship* was ongoing. And while the meteor rocks may not have been his "fault," he couldn't see their arrival at the same time as his own as purely coincidental.
Yes, the two events were linked if not causally, then factually, logically and indisputably.
Clark inhaled, holding the breath as he considered. He exhaled, beginning the story, an image of black smoke devastation rising in his mind's eye. "You saw me and you brought me home. Why?"
"Why?" Martha's lips were twisted quizzically. "You were a baby."
Jonathan turned his head, fighting the rising level of disbelief. "Are you saying we should've left you?"
"No, no, I'm not saying that at all." Clark sighed, shifted. "A meteor shower hits Smallville. You've never seen anything like it. And...you... you pick up a 'baby' in the middle of it all."
"Well, yeah, Clark," Jonathan responded, the "duh" implied.
"It was the right thing to do," offered Martha.
Clark looked at his parents. They were sincere - and obviously confused. Why had he initiated this dialog? He couldn't read minds like Ryan, but he knew that's what they had to be thinking. Clark continued, speaking softly, "How'd you know?"
"Know?" Jonathan said impatiently. He loved his son. He loved him dearly. Would that be enough?
"Know what, Clark?" His mother, as usual, took the quiet road. "Whatever it, is can't be that bad."
Jonathan adjusted himself in his seat. *I couldn't help him with the floating. And that day Lex hit him... Then, geez the woodchipper*...
"That I wasn't the 'First Wave'."
Martha and Jonathan exchanged glances.
"Part of an...invading army." Martha and Jonathan breathed a collective sigh of relief. Nowhere near as bad as they'd imagined. Clark was just looking for and needed assurance.
"You were a baby, Clark," Jonathan said again.
"But how'd you know," Clark's voice dropped to a whisper, "it'd be ok? That I'd be... safe?" Clark thought about the tantrums, about Eric and about what potentially lay ahead for him.
Martha reached over, taking Clark's hands in her own. "You were a miracle. Our miracle"
"But how'd you know I wouldn't... I won't..." The words came in sputters. Clark shivered involuntarily at the thought of Greg and what'd happened to him after his exposure to the meteor rock afflicted insects.
Jonathan spoke firmly. "We were willing to take that chance." Jonathan tried to lighten the mood. "Guess we weren't reading Richard Matheson," he continued, smiling, Kent charm cranked to "high."
Martha half-tilted her head and nodded, indicating her agreement. "The thought never occurred to us."
"But shouldn't it've? Aren't you...worried..." Clark's voice trailed off.
Martha and Jonathan drew back in unison. It was Jonathan who screwed up the courage to speak, pushing beyond the worry and the fear. "Is something going on that we should know about?" Concerned Clark might read their alarm too easily, Jonathan switched gears. "Adolescence is full of change, Clark. You're...different. I'm sure you have more to deal with than the 'average' kid, but" he spoke, emphasizing the words, "*it's all handle able*. You have us. Whatever it is, and you know I've told you this already - we'll get through it. Together."
"We'll always be here for you. In spite of the occasional freak out." Martha had long ago owned her over-response to Whitney's accident. The vision of the fireball that swallowed the quarterback's truck was as unshakeable as the discovery of her son, safe, with no more indicator of the explosion than charred clothing. Her panic at the sight of both occurrences had been palpable. She'd slipped as parents sometimes do, being human and all. She was more careful after that. She loved Clark deeply and had spent the intervening months trying to convince him of that. She knew he knew. And then, tonight...
Clark regarded his parents. Ok, now he'd done it. He didn't want to worry them, and here he was, worrying them. "No," Clark forced brightness from within. He shone like a beacon in the night. "Teenage moment."
Both Jonathan and Martha visibly relaxed. Clark thought he heard his father exhale.
"Off to the loft," Jonathan asked, forced buoyancy tingeing his voice.
"Yeah," said Clark. He'd unintentionally reproduced his father's feigned lightheartedness. "Got a... biology assignment due."
Clark padded out of the kitchen. Outside the house, his eyes filled with tears. He couldn't stand the thought of hurting his parents. How could he have? *It wasn't intentional*, Clark thought. *And you don't know anymore than you did before you sat down at that table*. Martha and Jonathan were virtuous, good-natured people. Heartland simplicity. The phrase popped into Clark's head instantly, derision neither implied nor intended. The truism helped account for just why, in the midst of a cosmic firestorm that forged Smallville's new identity as the "Meteor Capital of the World" - and (mind off, mind off, mind OFF) killed Lana's parents and other locals (sigh) - Martha and Jonathan saw something good.
His parents' absolute unwillingness to see life's darker side helped contextualize the leap Jonathan and Martha Kent had taken. *Big duh. Big, jumbo, me sized duh. Way to over-think things - again*. It had become a bad, bad habit of late. Or, not so much over-thinking as over-focusing. With predictable frequency, Clark would turn his mind to one fact that needed no scrutiny, and scrutinize it he would, with clinical precision.
Standing beyond the house, staring at the basketball hoop in front of him, the notion of simplicity seemed abundantly fetching. The basketball whim would be denied as Clark nixed the idea in favor of the loft. He still had questions.
The loft was where the key lay.
Dylan lay in the bed. The walls of Cadmus Labs weren't as brightly painted as those of Metropolis Hospital. The walls here seemed barely painted at all, completely devoid of texture, gray and less than ordinary, without warmth, without character.
One could say the same for Dylan. The restraints on her ankles and wrists merged completely with the gown she wore which merged with the bed linen. She found little upon which to focus in her present surroundings. The drugs had already complicated matters. The scenery certainly wasn't helping.
Through the chemical haze, Dylan fought. She tried to focus on the ceiling light. It glowed as she stared, then fell from clarity like everything else she'd tried to concentrate on.
The most recent failure forced Dylan to give into the emptiness. She dissolved willingly into unknowingness.
Hobbes - or whomever he worked for - had merely won a battle. The war was far from over.
Clark sat in the loft, the key in hand. It had a peculiar feel to it, weighty but somehow weightless, metal but non-metallic. Six "slots", two prongs, one semi-circle, one slender oblong, brushed chrome over copper. The symbols resembled hieroglyphics but meant less than nothing to him, and he imagined if his dad had tried to decipher it and subsequently determined it wasn't written in any language known to man, that no amount of riddle/puzzle solving would suffice.
Clark stared at the key. It was maybe twice as long as a pack of cigarettes and about an eighth as thick. Your real parents weren't exactly from around here. He'd been given the key the day of the accident. The day everything changed. *Nothing like being knocked through a guardrail and off a bridge by a car going 60 miles per hour - and walking away without a scratch - to shift your perspective*. The symbols (3 columns) were etched deeply into the metal (unknown origin). Clark ran his fingers on the markings. The Ouija board theory ("Will I sprout a second head?") didn't pan out.
Clark inhaled, considering his options. The truth is, he needed to know, and there was only one way to do that. Clark thought for a moment about safety, emotional safety. The telescope beckoned. It was a comforting ritual. The "Lana Watching."
*Stalker behavior, Clark. Let it go. Let her go. She knows where you are. She knows you. You've got issues*.
Issues indeed. Clark laughed a little. He hadn't laughed in a long time. Maybe it was time he (as Pete would say) "handled his business." The laughter stopped. Clark knew what he needed to do.
Talking the key in hand, Clark headed for the storm cellar.
Hobbes stood by Dylan's bedside, his concern almost paternal, Luthor's words echoing internally. Dylan slept soundly. As much as Hobbes hated to admit it, Luthor'd been right - they'd never find out anything like this.
Hobbes stroked Dylan's forehead lightly. The words rose to his lips, "We're changing the medication. You won't make me sorry, now, will you?" Hobbes meant the latter query not as an admonishment. He simply feared losing her. They'd been together for so long. Since her freshman year of college. That was when he'd "discovered" her.
Hobbes liked Dylan. It wasn't purely physical attraction, although she was a curious cultural blend ("exotic" was the word that came to mind). He imagined they'd only scratched the surface regarding her ability.
Dissection? A waste. But he did what he was told.
Clark was about ten feet from the storm cellar when Jonathan's voice broke his focus.
"Son!" his father called. Clark turned abruptly turned, startled. "Now, you're sure you're ok?"
"I'm fine, Dad. Really."
"Ok, you know
we're here for you." *we're here for you.*
Clark nodded as did his father. Satisfied, Jonathan headed off to feed the cows because *the cows won't feed themselves*. The gate swung shut, and his father was gone.
Clark turned back in the direction of the storm cellar. Amber grass jutted high around the edges of the entrance. Clark's mind drifted back to that afternoon and Ryan as he made his way down the stairs. That was the last time... Ryan, apparently, had been convinced Clark was keeping secrets. Well, truer words had never been spoken. It didn't matter that there might have been good reason, that some things need not be known.
Ryan had asked Lana about Clark he later discovered, then asked his mother about her greatest fear. Martha'd joked about not getting a pie done before the boy had to leave, but uttering the joke didn't hide the thought of the spaceship hidden in the storm cellar. No one knew at the time that that was how Ryan's ability worked, that he could mine surface thoughts like a prospector looking for gold.
Martha's unwitting revelation had set the boy on a mission. Clark had been a "blank slate" (*guess the "peace" bothered him*) - the only thing he really knew about Clark was what he saw and what Clark told him. These things, of course, had included Clark punching through a garbage truck and ripping off its back panel. Clark wondered if he had handled things differently, might his secret have remained safe? What was told to his "buddy" in the face of his actions had not been enough for Ryan-the-Curious. And the child has swiped (ok, that was harsh), no "pried to the surface" information from his mother to help connect-the-dots.
Upon seeing the storm cellar door open, Clark descended the stairs that day hurriedly, on a mission of his own. The ship sat in the center of the underground room, tarp removed, accessible to anyone who wanted to inspect it. Clark had been more concerned about who was down there and whirled - only to find Ryan standing behind him.
Ryan had readily confessed to the mind reading and told Clark he couldn't read his mind ("That's how I knew you were different. Now I know why.") Clark had hung his head in response, not believing that someone his family had shown so much kindness would betray that trust. Clearly plumbing the depths of someone's psyche for information they'd prefer remained hidden was a violation. Sure, it was what Ryan did - and "overheard" information was one thing. Actually probing - well, it seemed like an ethical faux paus. If you wanted to know something about a person, shouldn't you wait, because maybe they'll tell you? Or ask...indirectly? It would be the polite thing to do. Particularly in Ryan's case. *Then again, maybe I just have a different take on secrets. Seeing as how I'm the Fort Knox of 'em and all.*
"You understand what it's like to be different," Ryan had said. "What it's like to hide so people don't think you're a freak." Sensing the boy's inner turmoil, Clark had deftly spun the conversation away from himself, drawing Ryan's attention to the photograph of the boy and his mother. He'd swallowed any remaining concerns about further betrayal on Ryan's part ("I'll never tell. You keep my secret, I'll keep yours"). Ryan had been used and abused by his stepfather and his new wife had merely been driven by a search for safety.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
How many sci-fi films had Clark watched those lazy afternoons with Pete, and then Pete and Chloe when she arrived in Smallville before he found out? He'd devoured them voraciously and hadn't thought about their pull until that night in the loft. The telescope had replaced movies as a guilty pleasure (*thinking "stars" not Lana. Thinking "stars."*).
That night in the loft was the night his father had, unwittingly and with the best of intentions, ruined his life and broken his heart. It was one thing to be different. It was something else entirely to be different because...well, he was.
You didn't get much more "different" than being a Thing from Beyond.
Standing on the bridge that day had been the unintentional catalyst for everything. Getting knocked from the bridge, bouncing from hood to windshield, spiraling down... He didn't lose consciousness. He didn't really feel anything more than the brush of impact. And peeling back the top of the Porsche to save Lex had been relatively easy in spite of the water pressure. Lex's first words after lake came fountain-like from his lips "I (cough, cough) could've sworn I hit you," the look in his eyes (quiet amazement), the up and down inspection, were something else entirely, not as effortlessly handled emotionally. And Clark's own bewilderment tinged admission "If you did...I'd be... I'd be (holy sh..) dead" stood at the head of an accumulation of events, each weirder than the last, until his father revealed the spaceship.
Wrapping my brain around it. Wrapping my brain...
Clark had been hurt and angry that night. He'd torn out of the cellar before his father could explain who (or what) he sought to protect him from. The graveyard seemed a logical retreat. A place to dry the tears and try to think things through. Of course, running into Lana meant an immediate end to the dance of self-pity and confusion.
Clark's run-in with Phelan had probably most clearly illustrated his parents' fears. As strong as he was (and I just keep getting stronger...), it took luck and cunning to resolve that particular predicament. It could have ended a lot more badly, in spite of the rogue cop's death. (*I wanted to kill him, but I didn't. But I sure wanted to*...) Until Ryan, he'd avoided this place like it had been under government quarantine.
After Ryan, his curiosity grew. He pushed the fear aside, and now, here he was, standing mere feet away from something that looked like what Ed Wood might've used instead of that tacky (though hilarious) paper plate in "Plan 9" - if Wood had actually had a budget.
Clark stepped forward and stood directly in front of the spaceship.
He swallowed hard.
Clark crouched down to get a better look. He removed the tarp.
Unidentified flying object, dragged home by a pair of well meaning adoptive parents. *Suck it up, Kent. And let's see what there is to see*.
Clark leaned forward.
The craft was small, smaller than he remembered, and seemed to be made of a metal that was similar to the key in that it too appeared chrome-like and sported similar brush markings.
Clark reached out. The metal (again, unknown origin) wasn't cold like he'd expected. It felt... well, he wasn't sure. He hadn't felt anything like it beyond the key. The spherical assemblage overlapped in several places, and set housed in the center of a "ring" (Saturn came to mind immediately).
How long had he traveled in this vehicle? Where had he come from? Who was he? Really?
"Clark?!" Chloe's voice snapped him from his musing. She was outside, beyond the cellar. Which gave Clark more than enough time to re-cover the ship.
Chloe appeared at the storm cellar's entrance. Quickly, Pete emerged from behind her. Clark took a half-step, hoping to further obscure the wrinkled mass that was now behind him. He headed promptly up the stairs.
"I have to go into Metropolis to pick up some stuff for my Dad. Chloe's down. We haven't seen you in a while -"
"-wanna come with?" Chloe interrupted.
Clark's first reaction was to beg off. He weighed his options. Stay home on what was probably a fool's errand - or spend the day with neglected friends and indulge a change of scenery? Simplicity, thought Clark. "Sure," he said finally. He headed out of the cellar, laying a hearty hand on Pete's back. "I'm driving though." Clark turned to Chloe and spoke conspiratorially, "Pete drives like the Church Lady."
"Ouch," supplied Chloe, in hopes of fueling the banter fire.
"I do not!"
"Uh, yeah, Pete, not to be the messenger of obvious, but... ya do," affirmed Ms. Sullivan.
The new meds gave Dylan increased lucidity. She'd managed to fool Hobbes and the others into believing there had only been minor improvements; certainly, they didn't know just how much more cogent she'd become. Had they, they would not have delayed or hesitated in upping the dosage. Psychotropics were tricky, and finally, their limitations had served her well.
The restraints hadn't been difficult at all.
Dylan stood by the window. She hadn't realized she was in a city, yet, here she was, facing some (unknown) city's street.
Dylan looked down. The area wasn't heavily trafficked.
That was a good thing.
Dylan knew what she had to do.
Pete, Chloe and Clark made their way through the industrial area. "Shortcut," explained Pete, voice thick with certainty.
"Are you sure you know where you're going?"
"And what you're doing?" added Clark.
"Yes," said Pete, firmly and without hesitation though marginally annoyed.
Chloe engaged in a cursory visual survey. "Pete, I used to live in Metropolis - and I'd never walk down a street that looked this."
Pete chuckled. "This from the woman who likes 'living on the edge'?"
"There's 'edge'. And then there's abject statistic inducing stupidity. I may be wrong," continued Chloe apprehensively, "but I'm pretty sure this falls into the latter category."
"It's alright, Chloe. I'm here to protect you. And Clark..." Pete grinned broadly. "Well, Clark's here."
In the building just beyond them, stood a woman, unnoticed in the window.
Dylan stood by the window. The frame creaked as it shifted from the brick and concrete's grasp. It was easy. She'd gotten better, stronger, faster while running from Hobbes. Not that she enjoyed being hunted, but the byproducts almost made the harshness of her life seem somehow worth it. What was the quote: "The leaders of tomorrow are forged by the battles of today"?
The window popped out, falling frame intact into the street below.
Clark looked up immediately. He'd heard the sound before he saw the falling window - all ten by ten feet of it. Chloe and Pete were oblivious to the danger, still teasing each other as the world slowed down around them. Large industrial glass housed in metal seemed to
Fortunately, Clark was standing between his friends. That made things easier. He reached for each of them and pushed them toward the face of the building, out of harm's way, and waited for the imminent crash/tinkle of the glass that would come as the window shattered upon impact.
Pete and Chloe looked unsure, then turned and saw the window.
Not that it had hit the ground.
What they saw - what they all saw - defined ready explanation. The window's acceleration had decreased to nothing without warning. The trio would each swear if separated and questioned, that it, the window...floated about an inch from the ground - though for no more than a second - before gently settling there. Chloe had reached for her omni-present camera, but the moment had come and gone.
It was Clark who first stepped away from the building. If the window was freaky, he still wasn't prepared for what he saw above. A woman stood in the gaping hole (clearly, that's where the window used to be). She was upright, not supported by anything, and seemed to hang suspended - at a 45-degree angle.
Chloe followed Clark's gaze. She hit Pete, directing his attention upward.
Pete, Chloe and Clark counted the seconds. Chloe had enough time to raise the camera, wait for focus, and squeeze off a series of shots as the woman reached out with her arms, spreading them widely. Pete had enough time to turn to both Clark and Chloe, evidence of his bewilderment plain as plaid of the shirt Clark was wearing.
Dylan had regained the look of peacefulness she had that night in Big Sur.
Inside the room, two of Hobbes' men appeared, their footfalls clicking gently on the linoleum covered concrete floor.
Dylan had forgotten about the door. She fixed that. Then, she fixed them.
They weren't able to get close at all.
Dylan looked skyward, then down.
Below, Clark maintained watch, working through permutations of "what if" strategies - how to save the woman and not reveal himself (maybe two options out of a hundred possibilities).
It was all unnecessary.
As Clark worked through the assorted variations on the "rescue" theme, Dylan's concentration lapsed. It was just for a moment, but, in that moment, unknown to her, Hobbes - wearing athletic shoes - had entered the room.
Dylan didn't hear him. She didn't know. And she wasn't prepared for what would follow.
Hobbes eased behind Dylan and administered a larger dose of the new med. He'd added a sedative for good measure to the syringe.
Dylan slumped but did not fall. She was pulled instantly into the room by the two men who'd failed to stop her.
On the street, Clark, Chloe and Pete shared a look. "Ok," began Chloe, camera now at her side, "what do you think that was?"
"I dunno," offered Pete. "It looked pretty funky though." Pete turned to his best friend. "Clark?"
Clark was busy concentrating. He was trying to see through the building to no avail. Apparently, the walls were lined with lead.
Inside the room, Hobbes watched as the two men dragged Dylan from the room.
Clark squinted a final time then relented. "I haven't a clue," Clark provided eventually.
"Best guess?" queried Pete.
Clark cast a final glance in the direction of the building. "Can't even begin to guess." Clark turned away from the edifice. "We'd better go."
"Yeah, before they come looking for witnesses."
"Who's joking? Something's going on up there. And what was up with that window? Did you see that?"
"Riiight?" chimed Pete. "It hovered - not crashed."
"How's that possible?"
"We're gonna find out," said Clark authoritatively. It hadn't been a whine or an order. It was an impressive statement, made all the more impressive because it came so effortlessly from Clark, who frequently verged on apparent immaturity - especially when contrasted with Pete and Chloe. Clark thought momentarily about perception, about how his best friends might somehow misconstrue the straightforwardness of what he'd said. It didn't matter that it was the most logical thing to do - given the circumstances. Clark needed to make sure they continued to like him. Now, more than ever. He needed them. He needed his friends.
Clark softened. "But let's get out of here."
"But - "
"- Not now, Chloe," said Clark.
"Bu - "
"- Not now, Chloe," said Pete. "C'mon." The three ran, disappearing around the corner. By the time Hobbes peered through the former window, the trio was long gone.
On his way out of Dylan's room, Hobbes noticed the cracks in the floor where his men had stood, unable to stop Dylan until she'd been incapacitated.
Hobbes had gotten there just in time.
Chloe effervesced as she burst through the Torch office door. She turned to Pete, grabbing him roughly by the collar. "Never let it be said, Pete," she started, joking very seriously, "that you don't know how to show a gal a good time!" She loosed Pete, screamed "Whoo hoo!" and began downloading the pictures.
"Now this," Chloe said, inspecting the images in the monitor, "is beyond previous Small-ville weirdness. I know what I thought I saw..." Pete and Clark huddled around the monitor "but..." Chloe revealed downloaded image after downloaded image, "she didn't move. Look at this." Chloe pointed to the monitor and the flickering date/time stamps. "Here, here, here, here, here. That's what - five frames, 3 seconds."
"She's halfway out the window."
"Due instantly to become the metropolitan equivalent of roadkill."
"Sidewalk kill," Pete mentioned gleefully.
"It was only the third floor," Clark spoke, his voice barely above a whisper.
"At the very least, sidewalk 'ouch'," corrected Chloe.
In hopes of expunging the circular thoughts of fragility that threatened to nest, Clark gave the images another look. "No wires, no strings..." he said, absorbed by the captured scene. "So why didn't she fall? I mean, I didn't notice anything? Did you?"
"No, but just because we didn't notice it, it doesn't mean they weren't there."
"Well, it's either wires. Or we're dealing with some pseudo-disruption of the laws of gravity. Or physics. Or both." Chloe downloaded the final image.
"523," Clark's voice trailed off, "Edmunds."
The image appeared on the monitor. 523 it was. The image on the monitor was instantly swapped for a search engine - "Reverse Look Up." A banner cheerfully proclaimed "SEE WHO LIVES THERE!"
Chloe entered the address. The Mac whirred, then chimed as the name "Cadmus Labs" appeared.
"Anybody?" queried Chloe.
Pete and Clark dug deep and came up empty. Chloe pulled up another search engine.
"What're you looking for?" Pete watched the monitor, interest piqued.
"Cadmus isn't a person. Ergo, there should be a fictitious business name registration somewhere... Don't worry. It's public information."
Assorted fictitious business name filings appeared immediately, and Chloe watched intently, assisting the search by scrolling expertly through the listings.
Chloe selected an entry whose address matched.
"Looks like 'Cadmus Labs' is a recently acquired DBA for -
"DBA?" asked Pete
"'Doing business as'" explained Chloe.
It was purely involuntary, but all eyes went wide when "Luthorcorp" blinked into view.
"Luthorcorp?" Chloe appeared puzzled.
"Why does that make so much sense?" asked Pete. His animosity sat naked. "Who knows what Lionel Luthor's doing in there..." Pete was now standing.
Clark leaned closer to his best friend. Pete drew back. "Clark, what're you doing?"
"You sounded so much like my dad," Clark chuckled, "I just wanted to make sure you were still you."
"I guess they could be doing R&D outside of Smallville," suggested Chloe.
"Research and Development," said Clark to Pete.
"What about this: with Level 3 shut down, Luthor decided to take his party elsewhere."
"Pete, we've got no proof."
"The one thing that's weird - ok, it's one of many - but why wouldn't Luthorcorp just call it Luthorcorp, R&D Facility Number whatever? Lex's father strikes me as a man who likes his name up on buildings. Hey, you gotta appreciate the consistency of his territorialism."
"I guess it all depends on what kind of research they're doing. Maybe it's something they don't want people to know about," Pete huffed. "They didn't exactly take out ads about the work on Level 3 now did they?"
"A fictitious business name isn't necessarily the mark of sin. What if the company's a recent acquisition?"
"So why not change the name?"
"Suppose the name change's pending?"
Pete looks at Clark disbelievingly. "I'd wonder if you'd feel the same way if what happened to my dad had happened to yours." Pete left the room abruptly.
"He'll calm down." Chloe turned her attention back to the computer. "Eventually. Let's think about what we do know. We know, based on what happened to Earl, Lionel Luthor has a history of doing things that are, at the very least, questionable."
"One bad choice doesn't make it a 'history', Chloe."
"One bad choice that we know of. If there is a dollar value attached, do you really think Lionel Luthor wouldn't be interested?"
Clark's lips moved to say "no" but Chloe interrupted before he had the opportunity. "We know something's going on in there."
"Maybe it's some kind of 'hospital'."
"That would explain the lovely jammy-ish ensemble. But it wouldn't explain the quasi-acrobatic/aerial display we got treated to in the middle of the afternoon."
Chloe's rationality seeped through, and Sponge Clark absorbed. "Not to mention the window..."
Pete reentered the room. "I'm sorry." He hung his head sheepishly. "I went volcanic and... it was... I just - "
"- have a button labeled 'Luthor,' and we pushed it. I'm sorry."
"Hey, I'm about to get archeological in cyberspace to see what I can find, wanna enable?" Pete readily settled in by Chloe as Clark started towards the door. "Clark?"
Clark turned. "I should get home. My parents're probably worried. We were having a sort of 'deep' discussion earlier."
Chloe and Pete nodded, returning their attention to the monitor. Chloe looked up. Clark had disappeared without a sound. Chloe rose, walking towards the door. She called "Cla-"
Clark peered into the room "I'm right here, Chloe." She'd half-expected Clark to be gone. He did that a lot. Be there one minute then gone the next.
Chloe shook off her surprise. "Uh, no. I... I'll let you know when I get something."
"If you get something."
Clark didn't go home right away. He walked some. He ran some more. And then, he really, really ran.
If the room they were holding Dylan in was bad, then Alpha Lab was worse. There was nothing pleasant or distinctive about it; the testing room occupied space in the purest utilitarian fashion and could be described in the alternative as stark and depressing.
Dylan was standing a good fifteen feet away from Hobbes and a twitchy scientist, additional separation of the parties provided courtesy of a bulky wall-length sheet of EverGard. It was the biggest, thickest piece of the security barrier Dylan had ever seen. The scientist, Dr. Johnson, still had reservations, abundant and apparent.
Dr. Johnson tapped the EverGard lightly. "Level 8? Tested to provide across-the-board bullet resistance against M16 multiple rounds." The scientist tapped the EverGard again out of Dylan's view.
"Don't worry Doc, you're safe." Hobbes grinned. "For now. Dylan." Hobbes spoke through a microphone. "You know why we're here."
Dylan did not acknowledge Hobbes. Whatever pharmaceutical cocktail they'd cooked up for her this time made concentrating very nearly impossible. And concentration was the key.
"Let's try this another way. If you don't do as I ask, understand - and understand me completely - I will put a bullet into your brain."
"You can't do that," the Dr. Johnson said. Hobbes had switched off the mike.
"She doesn't know that."
"In the chest, certainly. But we need the brain for further study."
Hobbes glared at the man. "You were... bluffing... Oh, right. Right. Bullet in the brain, much better threat. Well played. "
Hobbes was not interested in accolades. He wished he only cared about the results, but, if the truth were told, he did care about Dylan McGee.
On the far side of the EverGard, Dylan surmised a bullet to the brain would not be an option. But killing her - or trying to - would certainly be on top of the list of "Things to Do" if she chose to not participate in this "session."
Dylan took a half-step forward.
"There's a good girl," said Hobbes, "Start with the one on the left." Hobbes turned to Dr. Johnson. "Are the balls sensored?"
"Certainly." Dr. Johnson keyed information into the computer. "And the sensors are all... functioning properly - including those in the target."
Dylan looked at the table and the assorted balls she was expected to handle. They weren't very big. She speculated they were lead or some new alloy. Built in LED scales placed the first ball's weight at 50 pounds.
"Toss the ball at the target wall, uh, if you would, Ms. McGee."
Dylan was frankly surprised they hadn't asked her to juggle them.
The Massive Man from Big Sur took a half step toward Dylan as she reached for the first ball. She picked it up with two hands, much to Dr. Johnson's mystification. The Massive Man snorted and shook his head.
It wasn't that she needed both hands.
Dylan held the ball in one hand and let it fly - in the wrong direction. The ball lodged deeply into the wall behind the Massive Man's head. And she'd only missed shattering his skull by mere inches.
"Dylan, that wasn't very nice," Hobbes' voice lilted. She was so much fun when she broke the rules. "Pick up the second ball."
"She did not use the target. How am I supposed to measure that?" asked Dr. Johnson.
"You're the scientist. Try something...um..." The sarcasm came without warning, "scientific."
The second ball was only slightly larger but apparently weighed 50 pounds more. Dr. Johnson turned to Hobbes. "Are you sure you want to continue this?"
"I am certain, positive, and wanting very much to see this thing through to its logical conclusion." Hobbes switched on the mike. "Dylan, we're waiting. And we would very much like not to be."
Dylan blinked slowly. The Massive Man shifted. She lifted the next ball as though it were virtually weightless. And she let if fly.
Again in the wrong direction. This time, the only thing that stopped the ball from hitting the Massive Man was the fact that he moved, a fact the Massive Man did not appreciate.
This time, the ball went through the wall.
Dr. Johnson stood up. Hobbes smiled.
The Massive Man tried to lunge and discovered, much to his dismay, he was unable to. He watched helplessly as he sank, the concrete floor buckling beneath him.
The Massive Man sank through the floor to his ankles...
"Dylan," cautioned Hobbes.
...to his knees...
...to his hips...
"I won't ask again."
...to his waist...
Dylan turned to face Hobbes.
Behind her, the Massive Man remained immobile, wedged between Alpha Lab and the ceiling below.
Dylan picked up the remaining ball.
Dr. Johnson hastily finished adjustments to his program in time to see Dylan take hold of the last ball. He turned frantically to Hobbes. "You don't think she would - "
This ball, the one the glowing red of the LED placed at 150 pounds, came crashing through the EverGard. The sensors failed for a heartbeat (Hobbes surmised the weight of the ball had temporarily exceeded their recording capacity), then indicated fluctuating weights of in excess of 1,000 pounds, the numbers flashing randomly as the ball went through the back wall, then through several more walls before the readings stopped - at 2000 pounds.
The scientist examined the monitor. He glanced frantically at the ruptured EverGard and the hole in the wall behind him. "That's not possible!" the scientist shouted.
"Oh, good. That one you measured." Hobbes turned the mike on. "Dylan, you throw...like a girl."
Dylan did not respond.
"You did not tell me - I am not prepared - we should - " Dr. Johnson looked up and thought he saw Dylan walking toward the exit. He immediately pushed the panic button. The first set of metal doors landed vertically; the second met horizontally. The room was now (presumably) impenetrable. Security had also been notified, but how long would it take for help to arrive? Or, more importantly, how much damage would Dylan do as they waited?
Dylan walked purposefully toward the observation booth, reached out, and touched the EverGard. Hobbes and Johnson ducked as the barrier popped immediately free and sailed into the opposite wall. It then tilted back, prompting the two men to scramble under the desk as the EverGard landed partly on the desk and partly on the floor.
This test was progressing even better than Hobbes had imagined. However, Dr. Johnson did not share his enthusiasm. In spite of "intellectual" curiosity, Johnson was scared. He understood there might be others out there, other genetic anomalies (he thought freaks but consciously opted for a more professional designation) and wondered why someone wasn't just hunting them down and terminating them. Dylan surely was a poster child for extermination. She was an abomination. She had no place in the world.
Hobbes and the scientist remained pinned under the EverGard, under the desk. Then the desk began to move. Hobbes wasn't sure how heavy it was, but it had been bolted to the floor.
The desk continued to travel. The EverGard slid towards the lab, then clattered to the floor as the desk sailed into the far wall.
Then, the far wall was gone.
The desk had hit so precisely with enough radiating force (Hobbes loved physics and geometry) that the wall fell into the hallway.
So much for the security doors.
Dylan stepped atop the EverGard and walked over it, then walked past Hobbes (now standing) and Johnson (now cowering), then around the desk and out into the hall.
"Wha - what was that?" Dr. Johnson asked.
"Um... Manipulation of mass on an atomic level...? Or... Possibly... the use of the gravitational force of the Earth itself," Hobbes ruminated, barely containing his excitement.
"You're not sure?"
"No. And I don't really care."
"You should. Mass manipulation is one thing. If she has access to the gravitational pull of the planet..." Dr. Johnson drew back, then spoke very quietly, "Or more..." The scientist fell silent. If he had been armed, he would have put a bullet in Dylan himself.
Beyond the lab, armed security was attempting entry; more armed men stood at the end of the hall.
Dylan stood very still, and had they been able to raise their weapons, she was a perfect target. Instead, the floor beneath Dylan creaked, cracked, and Dylan plummeted to Level 10, riding a circular patch of floor like a snow disc all the way down to Level 1 where she ran toward the exit door.
Jones was the first security officer to reach Hobbes. He listened keenly, holding a finger to his earpiece, then turned to Hobbes. "Level 1."
Hobbes raised an eyebrow. He considered. Not that there were really any options. "Arm the door."
"Whatever it takes. Just remember: she's resilient, not invulnerable."
On Level 1, Dylan noticed she hadn't been followed. She couldn't have scared them that badly. Hobbes had to have some inkling of what would happen during that session. Why else had he been smiling as she walked by? He probably thought she hadn't seen the small curl in his lips, but she had learned to pay attention to him. He had to know she'd try something. In which case...
Dylan looked at the door. It was the only thing standing between her and (temporary) freedom. The pattern had been established long ago. She'd run, and somehow, they always found her. She'd almost believed Hobbes had wearied of the game by Big Sur. Boy, had she been w-r-o-n-g. Somehow, somewhere in the five years of running, she had become Hobbes's raison de'etre. Would he really let her get away like this?
There was only one way to know for sure.
Dylan hesitated before reaching for the door. Blue-white electricity sparked and arced like she was in the center of an oversized taser. The voltage surged through her body, slamming Dylan back into the far wall with punishing force. Had she not had the presence of mind before losing consciousness to minimize her impact, she would've hit the wall a lot harder.
Hobbes appeared. "Prep her for surgery." He sighed loudly, "Then... maximum containment."
Dinner tended to be a lively ritual in the Kent household. It had most of his growing up in any event. Lately, with school and the meteor rock madness, he hadn't been spending as much time with his parents. Tonight's meal was an attempt at the resumption of what had been. Sometimes, you have to let go to move forward... Had he actually said that? The words leapt of their own volition during the Eric/abilities transfer incident. He'd hoped they'd inspire Lana, his motives not wholly altruistic. Clark couldn't help but wonder though: was his "former" life with his adoptive parents over?
Clark took his seat at the table. "Clark," acknowledged his father with a nod. His father's eyes sparkled the way they always did after a "good day of hard work" on the farm. Jonathan loved what he did and who he was, that much was clear.
Martha carried two bowls to the table. Clark rose, "Here, Mom, lemme help you."
"Clark," said Martha, "I think I can manage a few string beans and some mashed potatoes. Sit down sweetie." Clark sat, the thoughts, his latest thoughts, those he sought desperately to avoid, springing jack-in-the-box like every few seconds. Then there was what had happened in the city.
"Clark?" Clark looked up sharply. Jonathan's plate was piled with food. Martha's too. They'd begun eating.
Clark's plate set conspicuously empty. "Are you feeling ok? Aren't you hungry?" The scent of roasted garlic chicken would, under other circumstances, have appealed to him. But he wasn't hungry.
Clark filled his plate.
"So," the pause was pregnant, though Jonathan hadn't intended it. "What's going on?"
Clark had shoveled a forkful of mashed potatoes into his mouth. "We can wait until you're done with that," Martha said, her manner playful. "Seafood" had been one of Clark's first jokes; luckily, the phase didn't last. The sight of the three of them mouths open, food half chewed, well, it wasn't pretty.
"How was Metropolis?"
"Good 'bonding' moment?"
"Definitely. Definitely good bonding. Saw some things I hadn't see before."
Jonathan reached for a second helping of potatoes. "Anything we should know about? You know, since we didn't have a chance to talk when you got back last night."
"Well," began Clark enthusiastically. He'd moved forward in his seat, then settled back slowly, composing himself. This wasn't like the Phelan situation. He wasn't lying. He knew lying to his parents was wrong. He was simply making a choice, like those he'd grown accustomed to making of late. "No. No, not really," he responded.
Martha and Jonathan shared a glance. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I mean, it's the city. Things happen." Clark wiped his mouth and excused himself.
He'd cleaned his plate.
Johnson had picked a bad week to give up smoking. His hand trembled as he raised a match to the end of the cigarette, lit it, and took a lingering drag. He worked to steady himself as he inhaled again. Sweet nicotine filled his lungs. Johnson held the breath and closed his eyes. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four... Johnson exhaled; the remaining smoke drifted in front of him. Damned freaks. Why were some given so much while others had so little? Sure, he was smart, but "smart" would never be enough. Not in the highly competitive landscape of the 21st Century. God, he sounded like a bad infomercial. But he was living proof. He was smart - and unerringly average - or below (depending on whom you asked) - in every other aspect of his being.
"Doc?" The security guard spoke, startling Johnson.
"Phil," a Good afternoon tone rose in Johnson's voice although he didn't continue speaking. Damned freaks.
"Are you ok?"
"Wha... Sure, Phil. Why... Don't I seem 'ok'?"
Phil considered. "I guess. I just heard... things got a little hairy up in Alpha earlier."
Hairy? The man had a talent for understatement, that much was true. Johnson felt lucky to have escaped with his life. Damned freaks. The security guard smiled and turned to walk away. "Phil - " Johnson's eyes were on Phil's hip and the blue-black weapon in his holster. "New gun?"
Phil beamed. "Yeah. Just got it today." Phil unholstered the firearm. "She's a beaut, ain't she?"
"Yes, indeed." Johnson reached out. "Would you mind...?"
"Naw, Doc. She's a little heavier than she looks." Johnson accepted the gun, grasping it delicately. "Just be careful - " Phil looked confused and pained as Johnson had struck him squarely in the temple. The guard dropped to the floor.
Johnson headed to Level 11. Dylan would still be under the effects of the aesthesia.
Johnson had hoped all the chemicals they'd pumped into her would cause Dylan to flat-line during the procedure. Problem solved. But hope was clearly for fools. If he couldn't make his mark in science (that door seemed to have closed some time ago) or in any other way (also highly unlikely at this juncture), at the very least, he could rid the world of one of Them.
Clark stood at the loft window and stared out into the night.
*There's a fine line between fate and coincidence.
You have this innate sense of justice - I can see it on your face how upset you get every time you feel somebody's being mistreated.
You see all that in me?*
Had Clark just happened to be at Cadmus that day? Or was there some other reason he'd wound up there? And why did he feel this... pull? Something was clearly going on there. Something happening behind the lead lined walls that was just... wrong.
How did he know? Clark tried to put his finger on it, the "it" being the specific reason he felt compelled to return to Metropolis. Try as he might, he couldn't. Instead, Clark opted to simply trust himself, to trust his instincts. When he really listened, really felt what he felt, he generally found that he was pointed in the "right" direction.
Clark contemplated taking the truck, then nixed the idea in favor of a faster mode of transportation - himself. He arrived in Metropolis quickly, and headed directly for Cadmus Labs.
Clark stood briefly on the sidewalk in front of 523 Edmunds. He looked up at the building and noticed the window had already been replaced. He wondered: would the woman still be there?
Clark made sure he was not being watched, then headed through the alley to the back of the building. En route, he took note of the surveillance camera just beyond him. Clark scanned the alley for a suitable tool, found a rock and hurled it at the camera. The camera, struck neatly and forcibly, pitched from its moorings and fell some distance from the rear entrance. Clark was sanguine about the security system registering no more than a glitch, thus affording him the time to do what he needed to do.
Clark zipped around the corner and stood in front of the door. He wasn't really worried about the cameras inside the building. The 30 frames per second rate for video meant if he moved fast enough, the cameras wouldn't even see him. The keypad was another issue. The variations to unlock the door had to be numerous, and Clark didn't know how long he'd have before the "system glitch" warranted investigation.
"B&E much?" Clark spoke aloud, punching an endless stream of numbers with such rapidity even he lost track. The keypad was the primary reason Clark had "removed" the rear-entry security camera. He'd never done anything like this before and suspected it might take, well, a minute to find the proper entry sequence. Clark also suspected (correctly) the door would be alarmed; hence, he hadn't just pulled it open.
It took maybe seconds to find the key code, but Clark was convinced with practice, he could improve his time.
The rear door opened and Clark was immediately on the second floor. He searched the floor unseen. The same was true of floors 3-10, all of which he covered so swiftly, he'd almost given up any hope of finding the woman.
It was the 11th time that was the charm.
The windows in the doorways had been a godsend. It was only through the windows that Clark could see, and it through a window that he spied her. Outside the room, he vacillated, asking himself the question a final: Should I even be here? Conviction claimed him, and with that, any residual doubts were eradicated.
Clark popped open the locked door without difficulty. He stepped quickly inside the room.
Clark was standing behind the door when Dr. Johnson entered.
The scientist didn't see Clark at all, so utterly focused was he on Dylan. He approached the bed, his gait coming in purposeful strides.
Clark saw the gun as Johnson raised it and pointed it at Dylan's head. He sped to intercept the bullet at the exact instant the scientist squeezed the trigger.
Clark covered the distance from door to bedside in time to watch the bullet exit the gun's barrel. The .9 mm cartridge seemed to float before him.
Clark caught the shell effortlessly in one hand, curling his fingers around it to ensure it didn't go bouncing off somewhere. With the other hand, he struck Johnson cleanly in the chest with a palm heel, knocking the scientist into the wall and out cold.
Johnson never knew what/who had hit him.
Clark grabbed the gun as Johnson fell and wadded it and the bullet into a ball, the metal crumpling neatly within his hand. By the time he'd finished, the weapon once capable of so much destructive force more resembled a paperweight than a firearm.
Clark turned his attention back to the woman.
The woman lay unconscious in what looked to Clark like a modernist take on the iron maiden. What was up with that? Clark stood, his attention rapt. What could this woman have done to warrant such treatment? The restraints weren't mere bindings - she was practically welded to the bed. Maybe she was affected by the meteors and had been captured by someone?
From what he, Pete and Chloe had witnessed, she hadn't tried to hurt anyone though. She was the only person he could ask, and from the looks of her, she wouldn't be able to answer anything anytime soon. If he helped her, and she was one of the ones who'd gone "bad," at least he'd be in a position to set things right. How much trouble could one girl be anyway?
A keypad was situated on a small platform adjacent the unit. Clark took the keypad between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed. The metal and circuitry crumbled. The restraint mechanism whirred; the top lifted. Clark regarded her aporetically. She looked so... harmless. But so had Greg and Sean and Tina and Eric. Not that he was in Smallville.
The woman stirred. "I'm here to help you," said Clark. The woman worked to sit up (with Clark's assistance) and swung her legs over the bed's edge. She and Clark walked to the door and he opened it. He thought about the video cameras. If they kept moving at this pace, not only would they be seen, they'd get caught.
The woman wobbled, then pitched forward as she faded from consciousness. Clark caught her as she fell, lifting her gently. He sped down the hall and down the stairs, pausing briefly on the 10th floor landing to consider his options. That's when he glimpsed security through the railing - coming from above and below. The keypad on the rear door had been armed with a failsafe that allowed three attempts only. And Dylan's room was also armed - Clark's forced entry had pinpointed his location.
With security approaching from two directions, Clark was trapped and lacking alternatives.
He didn't have a lot of time to think. The woman was still unconscious. A rapid glance ensured no passersby on the street and security was still far enough away to not ID him. He stood Dylan up, wrapped his arms around her waist, enfolding her as -
As Clark braced for impact, preparing to safeguard the woman with his body, at about the 5th floor, Dylan stirred, and their velocity began to decrease. Just above the sidewalk, Clark looked down - and saw his feet dangling above the pavement.
Dylan faded again, and Clark landed abruptly. He regained his balance to in time to see security coming to the window. He scooped Dylan up once more. Cradling her, Clark ran like he'd never run before.
Clark peered through the loft window. The night was cool and clear, every winking star countable even without the assistance of the telescope. The crispness of the air was something Clark savored. He was growing more impervious to pain, and had wondered if the improved ability to withstand the sting of bullets and fire meant he might find other sensations dulled or worse - denied him completely. Instead, he discovered just the opposite. If he concentrated, he could feel the caress of the wind as it tickled what felt like every cell. His flesh rose in response, forming tiny goose bumps.
Not that he was cold. Just absolutely unabashedly overjoyed. The wind seemed like a gentle friend, caressing him in novel ways. A half-smile crossed his lips. Well, the good news was he hadn't thought about Lana. Not even standing here, in this very familiar spot. Stalker. Clark laughed out loud. He didn't even glance in the direction of the house. His head remained fixed as he gazed up into the flicking lights the darkness revealed. So many questions, so much sheer, unarticulated mystery.
Clark had almost forgotten about Chloe. Her voice finally disrupted his reverie via a third and supremely irritated "Hello?"
Clark snapped back. "Chloe..."
Clark shifted, switching the phone to his other ear as he leaned against the window edge. "I have kind of a... Did... Did you - or Pete - turn up anything on Cadmus." Clark listened intently, his face immediately divulging Chloe's response. He could always count on Chloe. "Nothing?" His surprise was profuse and well communicated.
"No Clark," Chloe's bemused tone filtered through the cordless. "We haven't turned up anything. Color you curious. Why the urgent?"
"Uh..." Clark glanced at the woman who lay sleeping on the couch. "No reason. Are you in the middle of anything?"
"Clark, you know me. I'm in the start, middle, and near completion of three articles, one copy edit, a layout redesign - let's see... and understand this represents a supreme understatement... Oh, not to mention..." Chloe paused for dramatic effect, then "but for you - all easily back burnered. Just speak the words. "
"Chloe, I've... done something..."
"Not the words I was looking for, but we are talking about you... That was a joke, Clark. Hello? C'mon, it can't be that bad. What'd you do? Turn down an old lady who wanted help across the street? Take candy from a baby? Shave your head? I knew Lex was a bad influence. Wait, I'm imaging mentally. Nope, not you at all. I like you with hair - you look really good when it gets longer, and it kinda curls up..."
Clark's lips were moving - repeatedly - but no sound was coming out. How was he supposed to say it? Wait, did Chloe just say something about my hair?
"So... spill already."
"Yesterday afternoon... Remember that woman?"
"The Flying Wallenda wannabe? Uh, yeah. That's how we started this zero-information fest. For the record, we've been on the phone for five minutes - and other than establishing that I like you with hair and your hair long, I have no idea what we're talking about."
Did she just say something about my hair again? "She's here."
"The woman. She's here. With me. In the loft."
Clark heard the clatter, then Chloe muttering something positively unrepeatable.
"Chloe, you still there?"
"Yeah. Cell phone tried to make a break for it. I squashed the rebellion. " Manifestly excited, Chloe's questions came rapid fire. "So," she began as she continued bobbling the just retrieved phone, "what's the dealio? What'd she say? How'd she get there? Why's she there?"
"She hasn't said much. She's just... sleeping." Clark regarded Dylan. "She hasn't moved much either."
Chloe had hung up the phone. "Chloe?" The cordless rang immediately. "You know I'll be right over." A dial-tone rose abruptly and Clark switched off the cordless.
"Yeah, I kind of figured that," Clark said to no one.
Chloe entered the loft and was greeted immediately by Clark, who first smiled brightly, then, upon considering the seriousness of the most recent turn of events, tucked the warm, goofy-toothy grin he reserved for Ms. Sullivan away. "She's up there," Clark motioned and followed Chloe as she bounded up the stairs. Is she wearing... perfume?
Dylan was as Clark had left her, stock-still but breathing. "Clark," Chloe twisted, turning abruptly on her heels. She did that a lot. This time, she found Clark was standing right behind her. Irresistible force, meet immovable object. Chloe found herself suddenly staring into his chest. Was it broader than she remembered?
Chloe gasped lightly. The surprise (uh, why was he standing so close anyway?) had been pleasant, but well, perplexing. Nice, but perplexing.
Clark misinterpreted Chloe's reaction and immediately stepped back slightly. Nice work there, farm boy.
"Uh... How'd she get here?"
Ok, why hadn't he seen that query coming? He'd purposely neglected to answer the question the first time Chloe'd asked. Now, here it was again, hanging like a neon sign over Chloe's head: *Answer me, Space Man, and you'd better make it good. Waiting. Still waiting here*... Chloe's questions were harder to dodge than Uzi rounds. Why didn't she just... forget?
"Still waiting here," Chloe said.
Clark sucked air, then, made Clark magic. "It's a long - and boring - story," Clark shrugged.
The lack of a direct response from Clark gave Chloe yet another item for the mental file. He was tallying up some resume. "Has she been like this the whole time?"
"Pretty much. But she...uh...moaned earlier."
"Moaned." *Get a grip, Sullivan. It couldn't've been what it sounded like. We are taking about Clark here. Why did I even think that?*
"Yeah. But that was a while ago."
Chloe stepped closer. Dylan's arm was exposed, revealing what looked to Chloe to be... track marks. A plethora of them, as a matter of fact, as well as a fair amount of bruising. Chloe leaned in to get a better look. Clark followed her, then recoiled. He hadn't exactly begun to take what was beginning to look like invulnerability for granted, but faced with this grim reality, he found himself abjectly horrified. Did she do that to herself? Had someone done it to her?
Chloe looked at Clark, piecing together what she could in the absence of Clark actually offering information. "Right," she said, her voice overflowing with understanding, "I forgot."
"What?" Clark's mind was still fixed on the track marks.
"Problem with needles."
Clark worked to shake the thoughts of pain and suffering. The color that had drained from his face returned. "Right."
Chloe turned back to Dylan. "Might explain a lot. Whatever's in her system must be pretty strong stuff." Chloe leaned in closer. It doesn't even look like she's breathing."
"She's - "
"No, Clark. I think she's ok. More or less."
"Maybe we should get her to a hospital."
"Didn't she just come from a hospital?" Clark shot Chloe a look. "Lab, hospital... They do a lot a poking and prodding in all the aforementioned structures. Did you try to get her up?"
"Are you gonna?"
"I... I hadn't thought about it." Chloe motioned for Clark to Do It. Clark scrunched up his nose and curled his lips slightly, providing the visual shorthand instantly recognized by Chloe as Clark's "Why me?" face. "Because," she began cheerfully, "yours should be the first face she sees when she wakes up." Chloe pushed Clark in Dylan's direction. "Besides, if she wakes up swinging, it's better for me if she hits you."
Chloe was more right about that than she knew.
Clark hesitated, then leaned forward and touched Dylan lightly on the shoulder, shaking her gently. Dylan stirred.
Clark immediately found himself flat on his back. He tried to stand but couldn't.
Chloe leaned over Clark. "Uh, what just happened?"
Whatever it was, it felt to Clark as though he'd been pulled to the ground by an unseen - and very powerful - hand. When he tried to stand again, it was as though nothing had happened. "I was gonna ask you that," Clark said as he rose. He dusted off his pants. *First the floating, now this? Great. Some stupid new ability, I've got no idea what it is, and I'm making a fool of myself right out in the open*.
"What'd it feel like?"
Clark glanced at Dylan. "I dunno. Sorta like I couldn't support myself anymore."
"Hence the knee bucklage and the supremely graceless descent to the pine."
"You could say that."
Chloe grabbed her bag.
"Wh-where're you going?"
"Don't tell me that Clark Kent, saver of a multitude of Smallville residents - myself included - is afraid of one little girl."
"No, Chloe, I'm not 'afraid' but - "
"I'm going to do some more digging. Maybe this time, I'll actually get some answers."
With that, Chloe was gone.
Hum, not exactly the outcome Clark had hoped for. Of course, he didn't really know what he had expected.
Clark leaned against the railing. He stared out the window. It took some time before he realized he was consciously avoiding Dylan. It dawned on him that Dylan represented a world in which Clark did not wish to participate. *Lab experiment. Freak in a jar (Thank you Phelan, for that lovely image)*. It was the only thing that made sense. She wasn't a criminal but a prisoner. And, under the right circumstances - if anyone would discover what those "right circumstances" were (damn meteor rocks) - Clark too could find himself on an examination table or worse, a true "Alien Autopsy" subject.
Clark shuddered at the thought. He'd been lucky. Certainly, not everyone could be. But maybe he could pass some of his luck along.
The blanket had fallen from Dylan and she was shivering. Clark hadn't noticed the coolness, but quickly became aware that a good wind was wafting through the barn.
Clark turned towards Dylan, the terror in his eyes replaced by resoluteness. He took a single step toward the woman, then another.
Before he realized it, Clark was standing over her. He looked down, regarding the somehow familiar stranger.
Clark reached out softly, taking the blanket in hand. He picked the blanket up, and placed it carefully on Dylan. Clark pulled the blanket up to Dylan's shoulders where he adjusted it, depositing it gently.
Clark lowered himself slowly to the floor and sat by the couch, curling his knees into his chest. He wrapped his arms around his legs, his thoughts drifting into multiple spaces simultaneously.
Beyond Dylan and Clark, the wind whispered soothingly.
Pete had started up the stairs to the loft. He hadn't heard anything from Chloe and was surprised when he didn't hear from Clark either. It wasn't like Clark to stay out of contact for more than a few hours at a time. And given what the three of them had witnessed, he expected to have seen Clark first thing in the morning, even if they didn't talk about "It" ("It" being the event). Reliving the unexplainable ad infinitum was more of a Chloe thing. Clark always seemed to just be in need of encouragement, to hear that all was right with the world, that things were indeed "normal."
Things may have been (normal), but Clark sure wasn't. He'd been acting weird - even by Clark standards. Withdrawn, sullen... Pete hadn't seen Clark's teeth in a week. Unheard of! Pete had once counted - Clark smiled an average of 5.2 times per hour. He never understood how he could be that happy, but he didn't see why he shouldn't be smiling at all. Gee, Pete actually found he missed the glare coming from Clark's pearlies.
Pete laughed quietly, ascending the stairs.
Pete had thought to knock, then felt silly about waiting for entry into a barn. He simply stepped in and headed for the loft.
At the top of the stairs, Pete stopped unexpectedly for a split second (definitely, no longer), and it was in that split second that he wished he had knocked - for propriety's sake. Of course, had he knocked, Pete most surely would've missed the sight he found himself treated to - his best friend, Clark Kent, tucking in a *lay-day*. He couldn't see the woman very well, fact was, he could only see enough to make out that she was a woman. A woman who wasn't Lana or Chloe.
Pete backed down the stairs. Ol' buddy Clark had taken off the Lana blinders (yup, Yuup!), and if Chloe had missed her opportunity, oh well. She'd had plenty of them. Maybe this was why Clark'd been acting like such a freak of late. *Well, it's about time he put the Kent Charm to use for a higher purpose. The "Greater Good."* Finding himself a girl, especially if it mean Clark would be spending less time with Lex, made it all right by Pete. Why should he, Clark Kent, let "the whole package" (looks, brains, farm boy charm) go to waste?
Frankly, Pete was surprised it'd taken Clark so damn long.
Clark found he needed sleep less and less but still enjoyed the sheer silence brought by slumber. He hadn't expected it, and he had exerted himself quite a bit during the day. Clark nodded off, his head had landed on the sofa by Dylan's feet.
Clark bolted upright. Dylan lay motionless, sleeping still.
Clark considered. *Maybe she'll be hungry - or thirsty - when she wakes up*. Clark headed quietly down the steps and out of the barn.
Clark practically plowed into his father who was on his way into the barn. "Whoa, there, Clark," Jonathan stayed his son with a hand. "What's your hurry?"
"Dad! Uh... Wh-what're you still doing up?"
"Little nippy tonight. Good night for a fire." Jonathan started into the barn, "Needed some wood..." Jonathan's voice trailed off as Clark blocked the entrance.
"Uh... I'm... I'm working on a project. It's a little... messy. I'll get the wood."
Clark sped inside and was back before his father could start or finish "It's a barn, Clark."
Clark passed off an armload of firewood to his father. "I'll have everything... back... by tomorrow."
"Ok, Clark," his father said skeptically. What was that boy up to? Jonathan headed back towards the house, then hesitated, spurred on by a flash of paternal cognition.
Clark scanned the area quickly, found what he thought he needed, zipped off and returned.
Jonathan turned back towards the barn in time to see Clark wrapping a steel rod around the barn door handles, bending it not once, not twice, but five times.
Clark turned. His father was standing right behind him. "Clark?"
"I was about to head in for a snack..."
"If I didn't know better, I'd say we had some 'trust issues'." Jonathan's tone was mild and joking.
Clark sighed. "It's not that, Dad. It's not that at all." Clark stepped away, shoved his hands into his pockets. *Ok, Einstein (not), now what?* He began pacing.
"Why do I get the feeling there's something you should be telling me?"
Clark first thought uh, no, not really, then, found the words had a fluidity all their own. "Yesterday, Pete and Chloe and I saw something in Metropolis. A... woman." Clark's eyes were drawn to the loft window. Dylan was standing there. He looked quickly back towards his father.
"A woman, Clark?" *Did I finish that talk? Oh dear sweet... Started it, never finished it. Wasn't sure how/if...*
"Yeah. She seemed like she was...in trouble." Clark glanced up again.
Dylan was standing on the roof. Clark choked, inhaling. *How'd she* -
"Trouble? What kind of trouble?"
"Jonathan, that fire won't start itself." Clark coughed as Martha stepped up from the shadows. She cast a glance in the direction of the Kent boys and immediately realized she'd interrupted something. "Clark?" Martha stepped away from Jonathan, shifting from wife to mother mode. "Ok, who wants to fill me in?"
Clark turned to his mother and noticed Dylan was standing back by the window.
"Clark was just explaining to me about his visit to Metropolis."
Clark started to say something, but Jonathan was on a slow simmer, partly induced by his own guilt. *Should've finished that conversation. What's he done?* "What kind of trouble, Clark?"
"Trouble?" Martha's countenance changed, revealing a bold and unmistakable inscription of fretfulness. "Who?"
"I don't know. I know 'who' - sorta. I don't know what. Kind of trouble. All I know is she needed help so... I rescued her."
"Rescued her?" Martha repeated, still playing conversational catch-up.
"And brought her here."
Jonathan felt spaghetti legged. *Mars needs women. Stop it! This is your SON you're talking about. He's a good kid. You know he's a good kid*. "You brought..."
"You brought a woman here?" Martha finished Jonathan's sentence, albeit in more cool-headed fashion.
"Yeah. I... I didn't know what else to do."
Jonathan spoke up. "Clark, I can think of at least two things: leave her be; let the police handle it."
Martha, peacekeeper in the battle of the bulls, spoke again. "Sweetie, why? Did you go back to Metropolis?"
"Yeah. Just tonight." Clark shot Jonathan a look. "I was careful." He turned to his mother. "I... I can't explain it exactly. I just knew that she was in trouble."
"Can we see her?" asked Martha delicately.
"She's sleeping. I thought she might be hungry when she woke up so - "
"Sure," Martha glanced at her husband who had transcended words. "C'mon in. I'll fix her something."
Jonathan bit his lip. *All our efforts, and the boy's about to undo twelve years of a very careful existence - and for what? Hormones? * "Clark, this isn't the most thought-out thing you've ever done."
The family was walking in the direction of the house. "You brought Ryan home."
"He was an abused kid."
"Who could read minds."
"Well - " Jonathan had to own the boy had a point.
Clark planted a firm hand on his father's shoulder. "She's in trouble. And... I think I can help her."
Jonathan turned to his boy. For whatever else, for all the weirdness, for all the constant surprises (nope, no instruction manual for this one), Jonathan had to own his son was a pretty good judge of character. "All right, Clark." There was a moment before he added, "Sounds like I just gotta trust you."
"Yeah. Yeah, sounds like you do."
Clark loosed a smile that brightened the night.
The desk surface was, as always, precisely cluttered. A handful of prospective projects occupied the right edge; projects on the imminent horizon were located (perpetually) directly to Lex's left. The organizational style was nothing if not consistent. Very, very much like Lex. A pile of Plant 3 documents was stacked diagonally to his right. It would only be the fourth time he'd gone through the paperwork.
Lex couldn't take the chance that his father would try to slip something through, the true temptation here being the achievement of some (potentially) undermining objective right under his son's nose. *Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.* Lex smiled slightly. The smile vanished almost as spontaneously as it had arisen and was replaced instantly by Cultivated Business Face. Eyes steeled, lips taunt, breathing all but indiscernible.
What Lex had with his father transcended paranoia. In fact, their ceaseless one-upmanship went well beyond "friendly" competition. What this generation of Luthors had was also in very real danger of veering wantonly past "dysfunctional billionaire" grooming antics. No, no, it wasn't just business - it was, in every aspect of the word, personal. Lex and Lionel were two high-speed trains running on the same track, and a bloody collision was all but inevitable.
But even the worst wrecks had survivors.
Lex was living proof of that.
Hence, the phone call to Hamilton. Thanks to Cadmus, things were shifting into clearer focus, and Lex's plans were that much closer to fruition. Dylan McGee had been an excellent find. How had Sun Tsu put it: All warfare is based on deception.
Individuals like Dylan were a godsend and would function as much better tools than he had imagined possible. She wasn't conspicuous; therefore, she could blend without difficulty where necessary. If he could replicate Dylan and those with similar intriguing... attributes - or, in the alternative, instill such attributes in other personnel - there would be no limit to what he could achieve. All those BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) would be absolutely attainable, and Lex could soar to heights Lionel's imagination could not dare to reach.
Lex awaited the scientist's arrival with uncharacteristic restlessness. He'd nurtured patience and calm while in Smallville - the "leafy little hamlet" had been very good for improving these aspects of his character. Yet, here he was, feeling as though he were back in Metropolis, short sighted, impetuous - all traits he abandoned shortly after his arrival in Smallville.
Well, more accurately, shortly after the accident that should have ended his life.
The scientist was due any minute now. Any minute.
"Ah," Lex said, looking up at Hamilton, "what news do you bring from Metropolis?"
Hamilton entered the room, surprised Lex had noticed his arrival. Had he even looked up? "According to Hobbes," Dr. Hamilton began, "Everything is proceeding as per schedule."
"Really?" Lex stood and walked to the table, selected a single malt, and poured. "I understand," he began, looking not at Hamilton, but at the wall ahead of him, "that there was a 'containment' problem."
Word traveled fast. Even when it wasn't supposed to. "Apparently," Hamilton's voice wavered, but only momentarily, "it wasn't anything that Hobbes couldn't handle."
Hamilton headed for the doorway.
"Dr. Hamilton." Hamilton turned. "I appreciate you coming out on such short notice."
Dr. Hamilton nodded knowingly. "I understand this was not a 'phone' conversation."
"No, no it wasn't. Impress upon Hobbes, would you, the importance, that the field test proceed on schedule, without delay."
"He understands your urgency."
"Be sure he does. Oh, and tell him would you to be a little more careful of who he has working where. Johnson was clearly unstable. Not the sort of man I want assigned to a project like this going forward."
"Understood. Not on a project... of this... magnitude."
"Then I have been clear."
Hamilton nodded and exited brusquely. Lex sipped the scotch, his thoughts dancing with possibilities.
Hobbes pulled one report from the mound of reports before him and began typing sequences of numbers into the computer. Dr. Innis, a lanky, too-serious man, bent as he stepped into the cranny-cum-office.
"Are we ready?" asked Hobbes, his eyes not leaving the monitor.
"Yes. Amazingly. Considering the circumstances."
Hobbes stopped typing, clearly displeased. He hadn't expected this outcome, but he'd planned for it nonetheless. And if everything was proceeding...
Innis picked up on his political faux pas. He added quickly, "We have verification of the reduction of psychotropics."
"The controller is functioning properly and should be fully operational," Innis consulted his watch, "in approximately 5 hours."
"Then we continue to be 'on schedule'." Innis hesitated, unsure of Hobbes' meaning, then nodded. Johnson had been so much better at reading the man. "Good."
Innis turned to exit, then turned back to Hobbes. "Excuse me. Um..." Dr. Innis wasn't quite sure how to say it. The words tumbled free in what would certainly be tallied as political faux pas deux. "Shouldn't Dr. Johnson be here? I mean, isn't he the head of this project?"
"Titular head." Hobbes said dismissively.
""Well, shouldn't he... be here?"
"Things have, out of necessity, changed. Dr. Johnson... was a victim..." Hobbes looked directly at Innis and grinned widely, "...of... a realignment of corporate priorities."
"But his locker - "
"Oh? Someone should've cleared that out. Would you like it? It's very nice as lockers go. Much closer to the showers."
Clark returned, basket in hand. He put the basket down, looked around (a habit he'd grown very attached to post-Phelan), and began unbending the rod. The steel yielded easily in his grip, and he had almost completed the task and gotten the door open when -
Dylan was standing about five feet away. Oh, I am sooo busted...
Clark thrust aside the shock and gathered up the basket, making very sure to stand directly in front of the barn doors. "I... I brought you something to eat. And some water. I wasn't sure..." Clark tucked one hand out of view, and finished removing the rod, dropping it surreptitiously to the ground, "if you'd be hungry."
Dylan took a step towards Clark, then turned without warning and walked away. "Does this mean you're not hungry? Cause if you're not... Or, I could take the food inside." By now, Clark was doing something he'd grown marginally accustomed to (although mostly in Chloe's presence): speaking only to Clark. His voice had grown provisionally soft and fragile. "I... I could do that."
Clark called after Dylan. "You come in - when you're ready." Clark glanced at the door, then up at the window. He mulled over the options as he entered the loft.
Once inside the loft, Clark took a look at the basket he and his mother had worked so assiduously to prepare. "Brought...corn, cornbread - we're big on corn around here - coleslaw, chicken...milk...," muttered Clark. "My mom's a really good cook. You're in Smallville."
He headed up the stairs, sat down, then, thought to keep an eye on Dylan. Well duh, she had been welded to a bed. And what about the roof?
Clark was staring out the window. He didn't see Dylan outside. Trust yourself. It's ok. Clark went back and sat on the couch. Moments later, Dylan walked up the stairs.
Dylan looked at Clark.
He shifted nervously under her gaze.
Dylan turned, saying nothing as she walked over to the window. She stared out into the night.
Uncomfortable silence that seemed to last forever.
Uncomfortable silence that Clark couldn't stand anymore. "So... how'd you... wind up at the lab?"
Dylan turned to face Clark. She favored him with a small, toothless smile as she took swift inventory: he seemed harmless enough, tall, big hands and feet. Probably (she guessed) had something to do with her getting out of the lab. But how? Had it even been him? She wasn't entirely sure; her mind was still hazy from the industrial-grade pharmaceuticals.
Dylan stepped closer. She stared into Clark's eyes, deep pools of speckled color that shifted, wanting to be green or blue or gray (it seemed to depend on how the light hit them). There was something about him that made Dylan think "trustworthy," but she'd renounced trust long ago.
Dylan's head tilted slightly as she focused on Clark's mouth. His lips were...the word that leapt immediately to mind was "kind." Yes, Dylan decided his lips were kind, and this perception was what ultimately convinced her to speak. It wouldn't be necessary to reveal all.
"It's a long - and boring - story."
The sound of her own voice startled her. Dylan rarely said anything anymore. Who was there to speak to? Hobbes? Johnson? That Mass of a Man she'd wedged between Levels 10 and 11? No, speaking was something that was part and parcel of being a human being in the world, existing and functioning as a "member of society." These things had been wrested from her long ago, much like her freedom. The four years she'd spent in college were probably the last she'd had as a "human being in the world." Back in college, everything was different - even Hobbes, who had been her trainer/mentor as she began to discover who she was.
Then, she graduated.
And everything changed.
Those memories, the joys and pleasantness associated with intimacy and friendships and the Life She Used to Have were drifting from her, replaced by thoughts of survival and incessantly evolving methods of escape.
Continued existence (predicated however marginally on her terms) replaced living a full and satisfying life.
Clark repositioned the food basket, then clasped his hands together atop his lap. "I've got some time."
Dylan was wrenched back to the moment. Was she even hungry? She didn't really even "eat" anymore (another social, human being in the world activity) - her nourishment generally came intravenously or as sawdust-chalk (amino rich Hobbes had informed her) textured gruel. She couldn't remember the last time she actually eaten a meal.
Dylan regarded Clark. Damn, but he seemed...earnest. Apparently, well intentioned. And she was tired. Suddenly, so very tired. And dehydrated. Did she have the time to dawdle here? Hobbes was undoubtedly already looking . Hell, he'd probably already dispatched Mass and company to retrieve her.
These thoughts recurred as Clark spoke again. "Hello? Are you... Are you all right?"
All right? Dylan hadn't been "all right" for five years. She might never be "all right" again. Still, part of her craved lingering here, the slowness of it, the freshness of it, the lie of it...
Dylan walked to the couch. She rummaged through the basket and removed a bottle of water.
Dylan sat down on the couch, right next to Clark, close enough, so close in fact, that she could feel the warmth of his body. She'd been denied physical contact longer than she'd care to consider, and while she wouldn't be able to take full advantage, she could self-administer a minute dose of solace. Feign, if only for the moment, normalcy. Her body ached for comfort, the delight brought by touch, but Dylan would have to make do with mere proximity for a variety of reasons.
Dylan reached deep to embrace the notion of being just a gal sharing a sofa with a friend, staring into a night sky full of hope and wonder.
Dylan drained the water bottle. She grew drowsy, nodding off, her head falling softly onto Clark's shoulder.
A lone tech sat at a workstation, regarding the computer screen intently as he confirmed streaming data, verifying the shifting figures against a clipboard mounted spreadsheet. The monitor went unexpectedly blank, jolting the tech into adrenaline (over)fueled panic. He instantly initiated a frenetic series of keystrokes. Once, twice, a third time.
Dr. Innis arrived just as small beads of sweat formed along the tech's hairline. It didn't take someone of the good doctor's intelligence to know that something was wrong. But maybe -
Innis glimpsed the monitor, smiled wryly, and tapped it once sharply on the bottom of its right side.
The phosphors began to glow once more, revealing the data, data that (luckily) remained intact.
The tech mopped his damp brow. He'd heard stories about things that happened at Cadmus, none verifiable, but...
The tech relaxed visibly and returned to the task at hand.
Innis looked at him expectantly.
"Sleep mode engaged," said the tech. He searched for the proper tone. "Dr. Innis?" the tech began, lowering the register of his voice to sound more... serious. "Doesn't she know?"
Innis glared at the tech like the moron he believed him to be.
The tech continued, oblivious. "About the controller?"
"How would she? We tell her not to. She doesn't."
Innis inhaled, drawing patience from a place he reserved for idiots and children. "She doesn't know there's a controller. We tell her to 'not know'."
The tech considered, then grinned. Innis swore he heard a click as gears engaged, locking into that territory this waste of space called "understanding." He regarded the tech disdainfully. "Let Hobbes know." The words came through a tight but eternally professional jaw.
Dr. Innis turned and exited, wondering as he walked down the hall why some people were allowed to breed.
Well, at least Hobbes would be pleased.
Always, always a good thing.
It was summer, the year 1857. A steamer, SS Especial, set sail from the port of San Francisco en route to Panama. The manifest listed 557 passengers, crew, and a commercial shipment of gold valued at $2.3 million. The gold, primarily coins and ingots, was placed in the hold where it remained without incident. During the rush, gold as cargo was frequently rule rather than exception.
Arriving in Panama some 13 days later, the *Especial's *voyage had proven relatively undistinguished.
As the Especial traveled from San Francisco, the SS Midvale voyaged from New York to Panama's Atlantic coast. The 272-foot long sidewheel steamship steamer shared both the *Especial's* departure and arrival dates, and had some forty-odd round trips between New York and Panama under her bow and stern.
The *Especial's* passengers disembarked in the Pacific port city of Chagres.
The gold shipment was also removed.
An ocean away, the Midvale, refueled and provisioned in Aspinwall.
Afterwards, travelers and gold made their way to the fresh rails of Panama's newest mode of transport. At three and a half hours, the train trip proved a phenomenal upgrade over the seven-day jungle schlep, the only available option prior to 1855.
The *Midvale's* crew immediately loaded the passengers and gold onto their vessel, and two days after the Midvale arrived, she left Panama bound for New York.
It was to be the ship's last voyage.
The seas were tranquil, providing the proverbial lull before the storm. Four days later, the Midvale dropped anchor in Havana harbor, ostensibly to take on supplies and coal.
The Midvale set off for New York and quickly encountered weather severe enough to cause panic among its passengers. A south wind pushed her hard, and by dawn, a squall loomed.
Dusk saw the ship bounced upon gigantic swells, brutal waves punishing the hull. Gusty, violent winds screamed through her sails as the Midvale rocked, powerful winds clawing at the ship's rigging.
Voluminous rain and walls of rising ocean forced the ship to take on water. Amazingly, the Midvale made it to port, although getting coal to the engine room for firing the boilers was not an option, given the circumstances.
The outcome? The Midvale became unmaneuverable. The bilge pumps, critically important, shut down completely. Water weighted, the once mighty steamer became no more than a bloated, feeble ocean carcass.
A considerable storm sail was set.
Immediately, its fabric was ripped asunder by shearing air.
The ocean top battle had pitted Man against Nature, and Nature seemed assured Her victory.
Come evening, the most horrific conclusion of the Midvale's hurricane encounter had been realized. The ship sank, taking 450 passengers and the gold cache to the briny depths of the Atlantic.
The loss of SS Midvale was one of America's worst peace-time nautical disasters, providing grist for the newspapers and inciting a financial panic in the stateside and global markets. The submerged gold was abandoned, considered "irretrievable."
However, technology had a way of making the impossible possible.
A funded recovery effort had been successfully completed several years ago, and astonishingly, virtually every bit of the sunken gold had been reclaimed.
Lex knew the story by heart.
Museums were very fond of displaying historical artifacts, casting special favor to those born of calamity. Museums provided the socially acceptable equivalent to stopping at the scene of an accident - particularly where the gentry were concerned. The current dollar value of the gold, once wrenched from a doomed vessel by the heavens and the Atlantic herself, once abandoned and given up for lost, was irrelevant.
The gold, however, was not. And it was currently within Lex's grasp. The rescued treasure would be traveling through Smallville on its way to an upcoming exhibition at the Metropolis Museum.
The epic nature of the tale, the intertwining of fate and provenance had built a desire in Lex. He wanted - no, needed - to possess this bit of history once claimed so mercilessly by the sea.
Yes, there was exceptional significance to the recovery, by virtue of its considerable size and monetary value, but the Midvale collection somehow transcended mere money: it represented the dreams of pioneers and visionaries who fought to discover and mine it. The gold breathed life into legend, inspiring kinship sentiments within Lex.
Not everything - or everyone - experienced resurrection.
The recovered treasure had traveled the nation, security out of necessity, heavy, without incident. But being a child of privilege certainly had its advantages. Lex knew how museums operated, and, much more germanely, what security measures would be put in place along the way. Lionel had funded copious exhibitions, often lending items from his own collection - and asked questions about measures for the safety of his artifacts habitually in Lex's presence.
The Midvale collection had originally caught Lex's eye for funding purposes. He couldn't continue skimming money from his father indefinitely, particularly after the visit from Dominic. But somewhere, somehow the need for cash metamorphosed into a nothing more than desire for possession.
In any event, the mission would be a good test of Dylan's abilities. Certainly, a collection of mercenaries could accomplish the reclamation, but a half dozen men were five more than Lex wanted to achieve his ends. Dylan, if the reports were accurate, could effectively facilitate the entire objective as a solo operative.
Although Lex was anything but stupid. Dylan would have "watchers," entrusted with reporting her every move. He'd directed Hobbes to give her only basic instructions, understanding that she wasn't abnormally fast and she wasn't anything like bulletproof.
What Dylan was, what made Lex trust her implicitly with this assignment, was savvy.
Lex truly looked forward to seeing how Dylan conducted herself in the field, forced to think on her feet. And should she fail, well... He preferred, at this juncture, to not think about such things.
The last thing Clark remembered, well, after her head landed on his shoulder, after he thought about moving himself or her (he decided against it - she seemed so peaceful, and it felt... nice), after he inhaled softly, not wanting to disturb her, was thinking about the Stupid New Mystery Ability. The earlier manifestation of It in Chloe's presence hadn't bothered him. He knew, given what they'd seen, that Chloe would merely chalk it up to the strange woman in the "jammish ensemble." But with all the "rescuing," with time spent enlisting Chloe's assistance and explanations to his parents, he hadn't had time to consider the "what ifs" in the event the ability decided to make a second public appearance while he was with the woman. He had no qualms about having her here. It was the right thing to do, but what if it happens again? How am I supposed to explain...
Clark had fallen asleep there in the loft, sitting next to a complete stranger whose name he still didn't know, who'd spoken a mere seven words to him. There was a comfort level in spite of the information vacuum, and Clark had yielded quickly to it. Maybe he just needed to ask some more questions (*uh, and maybe some better questions*) if for no other reason than to avoid the "what ifs." They'd begun to spin like one of his dad's 45's, Clark's mind the turntable, replaying "New Ability" thoughts that roused him abruptly.
Well, one less thing to worry about...
Clark shifted on the couch, then, rose slowly.
The woman had vanished.
The town car had stopped on Route 90 some minutes earlier to gather Dylan. The two "watchers," Walker and Masterson, had been surprised at the sight of this woman, a bit disheveled, clad still in a bizarre cross between pajamas and hospital attire, as she climbed into the back of the vehicle without prompting, scooting across the seat. They watched as she reached for the pile of clothing - an assortment in black - gloves, pants, shoes, shirt... A cowl for covering hair and face. Except the eyes... There were sunglasses for that.
Dylan began stripping, removing the Cadmus wear, oblivious to the attention paid her by the men. The observable discourtesy of the scrutiny slowly washed over Masterson. Embarrassed, he tapped his partner. "Hey. Put up the partition."
Too busy enjoying the show (the best things in life are TRULY free), Walker ignored him.
Masterson tapped Walker again, this time, harder. "C'mon," Walker protested, "she doesn't even know we're here."
Walker was lost in the moment, delighting in the revelation of flesh, the act of proximity voyeurism a thrill he'd never imagined.
Masterson's voice hardened. "Just do it."
Reluctantly, Walker hit the switch. Damn, and she just was getting to the good part.
Darkly tinted Plexiglas rose from behind him and whirred into place, obscuring his view.
Masterson exhaled slowly. Counted to ten. He'd thought momentarily to tell Walker to take a picture (*it would freakin' last longer*). He opted instead to remain professional.
Now maybe, just maybe, they could get back to the task at hand.
The instructions were clear. Intercept the caravan (two sedans in point/rear guard positions, one armored car) and extract the Midvale collection - all courtesy of one woman.
The town car cruised the highway, speeding toward the test and proof of Dylan's usefulness.
Clark searched the barn, then the farm, then the house. He fed the cows. Ate breakfast (no super-speed here) though he finished the bowl of Cheerios quickly, pondering what had become of today's "damsel in distress." *I'm sensing a pattern here*. Clark chuckled at the notion of it, Clark Kent, "HERO," and pictured himself as a future "babe" magnet. He smiled broadly as the image settled, as he made peace with the possibility. It could happen...
Dylan sat mutely in the car, resplendent in nouveau criminal chic, clad in black from toe to head. The sunglasses adroitly covered the only part of her that would have otherwise been visible. Certainly, this outfit was not designed for blending but rather denying aspects of identity.
Masterson turned to Walters as the rear sedan came into view. "Can you get us closer?"
"How much closer?" asked Walters as he mashed the accelerator pedal.
Without warning, the front end of the vehicle before them tilted sharply forward, its tires exploding. The back tires suffered in like fashion.
"Guess that's close enough," said Masterson amusedly.
Just ahead of them, the car began to sink into the roadway, asphalt splitting and cracking around it. It seemed as though the earth itself had inhaled, sucking the car deep into the gravel and dirt below the tarred surface. In no time, the vehicle was stuck well beyond its wheel wells, mired deeply in the roadway and completely immobilized.
Walters snaked around the incapacitated vehicle. The car's occupants would not pose a threat - they weren't able to open the doors or windows. Inside, the driver spoke agitatedly into a cell phone.
In the town car, Walters turned to Matheson. "What next?" he asked, awaiting further guidance.
"Um," said Matheson. He noted that the point vehicle had dropped back and tossed his head in the direction of the second car. "That?"
Walters followed his gaze. The point vehicle was now between the town car and the armored car.
Walters attempted to maneuver around the vehicle with little success. He snatched the steering wheel to one side, then the other, speeding up, slowing down - even stopping. The continued car-as-defense move paid off, affording the armored car the time and opportunity to pull ahead.
"What's she waiting for?" Walters asked, his frustration palpable as he snatched the steering wheel again.
"I dunno," Masterson responded. "Maybe she's got something else in mind."
No matter what Walters did, the point car responded as reflection, matching the town car movement for movement.
Suddenly, Walters sped up, slamming hard into the back of the point car, a twisted grin rising.
"That wasn't necessary," said Masterson, his tone scolding.
Masterson was taking in the scene, his eyes fixed on both the point car and the armored vehicle that seemed in danger of eluding them. He considered, then turned to Walters. "Stop the car."
"You're kidding me, right?"
"No. Stop the car."
Walters shook his head but did as he was instructed. The men waited briefly, then -
"Is she armed?" the driver asked, turning to his partner.
"Doesn't look like it."
"Is she crazy?"
"Take a look." The two men turned in unison for a second glimpse of Dylan, then turned back to each other. "You tell me."
Obligation quickly outweighed curiosity.
The driver and his partner shared a single thought.
Each man reached for his weapon.
Dylan stood at the back of the escort vehicle. She took the bumper in hand and lifted.
As the car rose from the highway, the driver and his partner grabbed for purchase, thanking their lucky stars they were wearing their seatbelts -
Dylan walked back to the town car.
Walker was slack-jawed. "How... How many feet do you think that was?"
"Best guess?" Masterson considered. "Many, many."
Walker was still staring into the field. "I'll accept that," he finally managed, "but what's to stop 'em from crawling out?"
"Probably can't open the doors."
Dylan climbed into the back seat. Walker swallowed hard, trying to compose himself. Man, had she seen what he'd been doing earlier? He just assumed she didn't. But what...
"Uh, Spanky, you might wanna get a move on it," said Masterson said, tossing his head in the direction of the armored car.
Walker tapped the accelerator, suddenly unsure of why he'd taken this gig in the first place.
The town car sped down the asphalt, the armored car growing ever nearer.
The velocity of the town car increased rapidly as Walker pressured the motor, forcing the mechanism to give in ways imagined by engineers but not considered prudent or practical.
As the car drew nearer to the objective, it became clear that it would only be a matter of time - and a short time at that - before the town car overtook the armored vehicle.
The moment arrived swiftly and readily.
Walker pulled far ahead of the armored car, then cut the steering wheel hard as he applied the brakes, forcing the automobile into a catercorner, rubber leaving skid that placed it directly in the path of the armored vehicle.
The armored car barreled down the roadway, collision looming.
Clark walked absent-mindedly along the grass at the farm's edge. His thought shifted with mechanical precision to a single notion: had he really thought how much trouble could one girl be? Well, let's see... She'd wound up on the roof (*still don't know what that was about*), been the subject of an argument with his father (*would really like to know what up with that*), and then just disappeared.
Uh, how long had she been there?
The hip holster dangled loosely as Dylan climbed from the back of the town car. She stood in the middle of the road as several tons of metal bore down upon her, the vehicle's driver having neither desire nor intent to stop.
It didn't matter.
Dylan provided the means. The armored car's tires popped loudly in quick succession, forcing the vehicle to collapse immediately upon its rims, rims that were subsequently crushed beneath the car's increased mass.
Dylan strode determinedly towards the vehicle. The driver stepped out, hand on his holster, fingers unsnapping the leather to loose the gun.
He took the pistol grip in his hand.
Dylan removed the gun from her hip and fired.
The tranquilizer dart sailed unerringly, striking the driver in the neck. He fell, splayed on the roadway.
The second guard tried to exit the car but found he couldn't open the door.
Dylan took her time, even as he drew his weapon.
The guard winced, the weight of the gun pulling his arm in the direction of the vehicle floor. He fought the pull - or tried to - until it overwhelmed him, pulling the Beretta from his fingers.
Wrenched from his grip, the handgun tore through the floorboard of the armored car and wound up embedded in the asphalt below.
Dylan opened the passenger door and shot this guard in the neck as well. He slumped, falling onto the driver's side of the vehicle.
Clark kicked the grass softly (*control... it's always, always about control*), heading initially in the direction of the house, but something just on the periphery of his vision caught his attention.
Clark headed off to investigate.
Walker shifted in the town car. He tried again to wrap his brain around the entire scenario. One woman, three cars... What was...god... this thing?
"What?" asked Masterson, noting the unasked question evident in Walker's expression.
"What she... I mean... The car."
"Oh yeah." Masterson seemed to relax a bit, relishing the mind's eye replay of the events. "Very nice work."
"Little... freaky though, right?"
Masterson sipped coffee from a travel mug. "Define 'freaky'," he said.
A small metal strip lay in the road. Clark scooped it up, noting its resemblance to a hospital id bracelet. He ran his fingers along edges that were jagged - as though the "bracelet" been torn like paper.
Clark observed a fresh set of skid marks not far from where the wristband lay. The band's markings made no sense at all (just a indecipherable series of numbers), but he remembered - the woman had been wearing it when he retrieved her from Cadmus.
There was nothing to indicate a struggle. Still...
Clark decided to follow his instincts.
He sped down Route 90, heading in the direction the tire marks indicated.
Opening the rear of the armored car was no test at all; the lock gave too easily to be seriously in the running as an "obstacle." A more valid measure of her capabilities lay in the retrieval of the gold and the maintaining of the lightness of the load during transit to the drop-point.
Dylan removed the first shipping crate, the size of which was prodigious.
A ways down the road, Clark spotted the car wedged in the asphalt, slowing down enough to determine the occupants were all right but not enough to be seen. The flipped vehicle posed a greater problem. The seatbelt mechanism had failed, leaving the occupants struggling and upside down. Pulling the passenger door just enough to make it seemed it had relented of its own accord was the only viable option, and Clark wisely made use of it.
Clark continued down the highway. In the distance, he could see the disabled armored car and a vehicle just beyond.
Logic dictated he handle the town car's occupants first. Clark used his x-ray vision to determine their numbers (two), that they were armed (small handguns), and that they appeared to be waiting for what looked to be a lone operative (*operative? Where'd that come from?*) who stood at the truck's rear.
Unobserved, Clark wrenched the sedan's back door open and climbed into the rear seat. He jammed his hands through the Plexi, forming neat, fist-sized holes that expanded as he thrust his forearms through the partition.
Clark went for incapacitation, correctly assessing that a head in each hand if connected one-to-the-other would suffice.
One gentle *_THNuNNK/CRRaRCK_* later (head meet head), Walters and Masterson had slumped, rendered insensate by the force of the blow.
Clark turned, scuttling out of the vehicle.
He headed back to the armored car.
Dylan was inside the car. The second crate had been positioned differently than the first, wedged very neatly - perhaps in camouflage attempt - behind a hodgepodge of museum bound items.
Dylan shifted things as required and took the large crate by the handle.
Outside, Clark closed the double doors, pinching together the metal at their junction to insure that they'd remain closed.
Dylan pushed and instantly discerned she was sealed inside.
She pushed again.
As the doors flew open, Clark was caught off guard. Had it not been for his "gifts," he would certainly have been knocked clear. Instead, Clark shifted, moving hastily just beyond what he suspected to be harm's way.
Clark stood several feet from the truck and waited.
Dylan climbed from the vehicle.
Clark sped toward her.
Dylan sensed rather than saw. She turned, putting up a hand -
*F = ma*
(*Force = Mass times Acceleration*)
Clark sailed across two lanes of highway, through part of a field and into a utility pole. The utility pole *snapped*, dropping toward the road and in the direction of the armored car.
Time spent craving normalcy delayed his reaction. Clark knew his body had split the pole, he knew he was unharmed in spite of the butt bashed landing. He watched the pole fall as though there were nothing he could do, until he realized, remembered, recalled (duh!), he wasn't exactly powerless and gotten over the transitory embarrassment of having been lobbed.
It wasn't that it had hurt physically, but it wasn't like the Justin mind-chuck into the hay pile either. Clark had felt a pressure, a force.
Clearly, it had been potent.
What seemed to Clark like an eternal lag was, in reality, not much of a lag at all. He'd merely afforded Dylan enough time to realize the pole was headed toward her.
Dylan caught the pole and hefted it to the far side of the highway. She prepared to climb back into the armored car -
Embarrassment gone, Clark was now wearing "The Angry Face," patterned after Jonathan's but uniquely his own. He started to do what he always did under such circumstances - reach out, snatch the woman up and chuck her to the far side of the road. *Heh, let's see how she likes it...*
The "she" part of the thought stuck, delaying him. *She's a girl...* Given that, "The Clark Kent 30 yard Toss (TM)" might not be appropriate.
Clark deliberated, his thought processes leading him into heretofore uncharted territory.
Clark decided to try reasoning while he worked out the finer points of "Plan B."
The woman hadn't done anything at the farm. Except the roof thing. And the sleeping. Oh...and the disappearing...
"You... you don't want to do this," Clark began hesitantly.
Dylan turned away from him -
Clark played the cards one by one. "The farm? The loft?"
Still nothing from the woman. "You know," Clark continued, " it might be easier to talk to you if you weren't looking so... Some might consider it 'chic' but...
"Could you at least take off the sunglasses? And maybe - "
Dylan raised a hand, and Clark found himself in a curious position. He didn't know a lot about the moment, but what he did know what that he wasn't willing to take a second unscheduled flight.
Clark thought briefly, then wrapped his arms around the woman. If he couldn't fight her at least he could keep her from fighting him.
Dylan struggled, struggled being the operative word since she'd never had to "struggle" against anything - or anyone - before.
Try though she might, she couldn't pry loose the hold this... boy had on her.
Plan B then.
Plan B it was.
Clark's Plan B seemed to work, at least up until the second Dylan activated her own back-up scenario.
Clark continued to hold Dylan tightly, even as he began to see the world from a new perspective, even as his feet left the asphalt and dangled above ground.
No way. No way am I doing this.
Clark had yet to develop - let alone perfect - his game face. He looked at the woman, his astonishment reading with abundant clarity.
Clark watched as they rose higher, the armored car and road decreasing in size and importance. He continued to hold the woman tightly as the landscape shifted from actual to topographical.
Dylan was able to mitigate the effects of the air pressure but the lack of oxygen became a problem as she continued to drag the kid with her into the sky.
Dylan held her breath and focused on the belief that she might be able to outlast him. Shouldn't his lungs have collapsed, his ribs have been crushed by now?
Though not pleasant, it was her last conscious recollection. Oxygen deprivation provided a new world of darkness to which Dylan succumbed in spite of her efforts to the contrary, and without Dylan, the ascent stopped as abruptly as it had begun.
Clark gathered the woman tightly into his own body as they fell (*So much for that "New Ability"*). Eric had jumped off the damn and survived. Of course, he wasn't up nearly as high - and he wasn't holding an unconscious woman who suddenly seemed very frail - when he did.
The woman must've had some control over their direction, Clark surmised as he noted the pair had been relocated from their position just above the armored car.
At least we're headed toward a field. If the fall doesn't KILL me, at least it won't hurt as much as landing on that car. Can you say "Ouch"?
Clark turned his thoughts to the Discovery Channel. He'd seen a show about parachuting that explained as you approached the ground, you shouldn't look down. The ground apparently rushes up, and your legs reach out for it.
Clark didn't look down. He braced himself and turned, opting for a prone rather than upright landing. More surface area to diminish the impact.
Even for him, the ground seemed to arrive much too quickly.
Clark hit the field hard, and, for a flicker of time, thought he'd broken every bone in his body. *The good news is, I didn't shatter every bone in my body*.
He lay still, the woman atop him, there in the field, the armored car to one side, the town car just beyond, and the overturned vehicle a bit down the way.
Clark inhaled. It hurt. He shifted the woman as he sat up, placing her gently on the field. In so doing, Clark noticed he'd left quite an indentation in the ground.
The indentation brought a small grin to Clark's lips as the pain ebbed.
Clark turned his attention from self to other. He removed the woman's sunglasses and cowl and checked her pupils. The woman's pupils seemed "responsive" (Thank you, ER! And Mr. Hendricks...), she was breathing and no bones had been broken.
As he inspected the woman, Clark found something curious at the base of her neck: a small burnt nickel colored disc. He reached out to touch it, and instinctively found his x-ray vision engaged. The disc had connectors that cobwebbed into the woman's brain. Some of the connections seemed dead; Clark watched as others withered and still others seemed to sprout.
Clark pulled back, startled. He didn't know enough about biology or medicine to be able to tell if he could remove that thing without hurting her.
Clark heard the sirens in the distance. He sped to the armored car, placed the crate inside and started off in the direction of the farm. Oh yeah. The girl...
Clark went back to the field.
The woman was gone.
When the Smallville Police arrived an instant later, Clark was gone too.
Dr. Innis gazed into an assortment of monitors, taking in their views in second intervals, his head steady, eyes moving in a trained and (for Innis) logical progression. He raised an eyebrow.
The data was irrefutable; yet, here he was, attempting the impossible. "Damn," he said softly. "Damn it..."
Innis hadn't noticed Hobbes slip into the room. Hobbes stood very quietly, remaining unnoticed. He liked that.
Hobbes remained unnoticed until he spoke. "Is there a problem?"
Dr. Innis spun, startled, but immediately recovered. He raised a finger as if to indicate "Moment please." Innis reconfirmed the data. The scientist went from one end of the room to the other, typing, watching, analyzing. He stopped, turning to Hobbes as he spoke. "Yes, there is a problem..."
Innis typed a final series of keystrokes. He inhaled deeply, releasing the captured air loudly as he exhaled. "And it is absolutely insurmountable."
"Uh Doc... Two things: one - no problem is ever 'absolutely insurmountable' and two - it might help if I knew what the 'it' in 'insurmountable problem' was."
"Valid. Completely. The controller..."
Hobbes regarded Innis, and decided, given what he saw in the doctor's eyes, to brace himself for the worst. "What about the controller?"
Innis blinked, attempted another series of keystrokes to no avail, then leaned back slowly, his anger and frustration barely contained. "This should not have happened."
"What?" A smile rose from the depths of the remnants of Hobbes' soul. "Did she get it off? Dylan? Did she manage to remove it?"
Innis frowned. "That wouldn't've been a good outcome."
"All depends on how you view the glass, Doc."
"However, this one's worse."
"How bad can it be?"
"The controller is... malfunctioning And as near as I can ascertain - it's been exposed to an extreme of some sort. The 'extreme' caused neuro disconnects... But the thing is... The real problem... They seem to have regenerated."
"Could you maybe shine a light? I don't see - "
"There may be a 'pattern' to the regenerated connections, but none that I can establish. The connections appear... random."
"Random? Maybe you need to take another look."
"I would, but... There are 'opportunity issues'."
"Damn, Doc... Did you get your PHD in 'cryptic'? Where is Dylan?"
"That's one of the issues," the scientist hesitated. "I have no idea. The tracker went first."
This couldn't be happening. Not now. Not to Dylan. "One of the issues..."
"I no longer have access to the controller."
Hobbes shifted, impatient. "Let's make sure we're on the same page here. You're telling me that someone of Dylan's talents is out there with a pricey malfunctioning piece of technology screwing with her head?"
Dr. Innis deflated slightly. It wasn't his fault. He'd done all he could. And he wasn't going to take responsibility for whatever Johnson and Hobbes had set in motion. "Yes," he said quietly.
Hobbes picked up the phone and dialed an extension. He spoke softly into the receiver, the conversation brief. Innis couldn't make out much, but what he heard terrified him. "Worst Case Scenario..."
Innis steeled himself. He wasn't sure what would follow.
What followed was Hobbes' hasty exit.
Clark checked the Smallville Ledger the next day for mention of any activity that might be traceable to the woman. He checked the day after and the day after that. He watched the television news and checked the web. He went back to the site of the attempted robbery and looked for clues.
Clark found nothing. The only thing he eventually saw in the paper was that the Metropolis Museum's Benefit Gala highlighting the Midvale Collection would proceed as scheduled (apparently, there'd been some talk of postponing the event because of delays in transit). The article had attracted his attention for one reason: he'd noticed Museum labels on the crate he'd returned to the back of the armored car.
Clark even went so far as to made a quick trip to Metropolis where he discovered Cadmus Labs no longer occupied the property at 523 Edmunds.
Clark hung out in the loft, half expecting to turn and see the woman standing there.
Outside the loft, he found himself checking the barn roof involuntarily on the off chance she would appear there.
After two weeks, though he still thought about her and the attendant mystery, Clark gave himself permission to let it go.
Hobbes had close to a dozen very good searchers hunting Dylan. To date, they'd turned up nothing.
Whatever had happened with the controller seemed to have improved Dylan's ability to cover her tracks.
To Hobbes' way of thinking, it was a good - and bad - thing.
Dr. Hamilton made a point to deliver the news of the test's failure personally to Lex. All things considered, he seemed to handle it well. Hamilton absented himself from the mansion immediately after relaying the details. He had other projects that seemed more promising on deck - and Hobbes' "searchers" had proven more ineffectual than Hamilton had thought possible. Dylan had gone missing and that was that.
Had Hamilton remained, it would have become clear that Lex hadn't handled the news well at all.
The Midvale Collection had been within his grasp when something happened. Something that altered the inalterable.
Lex stood in the study, his body shaking almost imperceptibly as the rage built to near-nuclear proportions.
The barbeque was Martha's idea. They hadn't cooked outdoors yet, and the weather provided the perfect excuse. Clark and Jonathan needed some time together - as did Clark and Chloe and Pete. Clark had seemed reluctant at first, but Martha knew how to get her boy to do the "right thing."
The barbeque was the right thing to do.
Forcing them together didn't always work, but Martha hoped the revisited summer ritual - abetted by the presence of Chloe and Pete - would smooth the residual craggy patches left in the wake of the Rescued Girl Incident. Clark hadn't really spoken about it since, but Martha knew his feelings had been hurt. And Jonathan... His concern was valid, but he'd overreacted for reasons Martha still didn't understand. Surely he realized even a kid from somewhere out... *there (Could he have a normal life? Marriage? A family?*) deserved the gift of companionship. Better it be a friend than some rescuee from a lab (personal preference), but Clark had to follow his heart and trust himself.
The weather was perfect. The temperature had dipped enough to make the summer heat less oppressive, and combined with a welcomed though unexpected drop in humidity, the afternoon had turned out to be remarkably pleasant. The scent of charcoal wafted through the air along with the aroma of grilled hot dogs, burgers, Asian chicken and veggie kabobs (Chloe's contribution - cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion, and mushrooms), corn (always, Martha laughed quietly). The red gingham tablecloth fluttered in the mild breeze. The table set full of bowls and platters - potato salad, cole slaw, ribs, fruit ambrosia...
The meal began without much conversation. Noise came in the form of the gently scraping of utensils on the plates, but as cobs were stripped clean and ribs suctioned meatless, conversation rose effortlessly. Martha relaxed. Mission accomplished. Ah, food, the eternal problem solver. Why hadn't world leaders thought of this?
Clark excused himself as Chloe, Martha, Pete and Jonathan chatted animatedly. Yes, this had been a very good idea.
Clark walked to the barn and around the side. There was still a small piece of him that he found would turn on occasion to the woman. Had he done enough?
Clark looked up to find he wasn't alone.
Dylan was standing in front of him. "I'm not staying. And I'm not here to cause trouble. There's something... wrong..."
If something was wrong, Clark couldn't see it. She looked, well, pretty. A bold floral print halter dress afforded glimpses of sculpted shoulders and an elegant, toned back. Glimpsing her, one wouldn't know that being coherent had become an effort, that sometimes, reality seemed to slip away from her entirely.
Clark thought instantly of Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch." Not as many pleats as that white dress, but what the woman was wearing seemed astonishingly quaint. *And hella sex-say. Hormones to neutral. Hormones to neutral*...
"I'm not sure what made me come here exactly... But... I want... I want you to stay out of it. Stay away. I'll handle it."
The concern on Clark's face was genuine. "You know you don't have to - I have friends who - "
" - 'Friends' are what got me into this mess in the first place. Trusting the wrong people..."
"You can trust me."
"Yeah. I'm sure." Dylan stepped closer. She felt bold, bolder than usual. Something was going on in her head, she wasn't sure what, but she sensed a bond between them. Had they...? "I came here because... I think... I seem... I believe I owe you a thank you."
Dylan wasn't entirely responsible for her actions. The controller was rewriting her history, without her knowledge. She stepped forward, closing the distance between them. There was something that passed between Dylan and Clark - intense, undeniable, electric.
Dylan examined Clark's face. Kind lips... She reached up, tracing the curve of Clark's mouth delicately with a finger. She then took Clark's face in her hands and kissed him.
It wasn't what Clark had expected. Not that he'd expected a kiss at all. It was...different. It wasn't like the "Tina as Lana" kiss, nothing like the "Chloe under Kyle's influence" kiss. This was a kiss that spoke of experience and joy. The woman was very thankful indeed. And something more...
Dylan pulled away. "Gotta go."
"Where? You - " Clark turned to lead Dylan toward the others. When he turned back, she was gone. In her place stood Chloe.
"Ch-Chloe?" Had she seen anything? And why did it matter to him?
Chloe was staring intensely at an image on her digital camera. She'd apparently missed the lip lock. "Clark..." Clark moved to Chloe's side. "What do you think that is?" Chloe pointed to the small disc - the nickel colored one he'd see earlier.
"Dunno. But... I think I know someone who might. Or can at least point us in the right direction."
Clark led Chloe around the barn. He peered out into the yard where Pete and his parents continued the meal. He led Chloe into the house.
Clark emailed the image to Lex as he spoke on the phone. "Did you get it?"
The digital photo loaded quickly, appearing almost instantly on Lex's monitor. Lex fondled a small box as he drank in the photograph, then flipped the box open. The controller's prototype was tucked neatly in shipping foam. "Got it." Lex's jaw had tightened but he managed to sound surprisingly nonchalant. The comparison of the image and the prototype left no room for doubt: Clark had seen Dylan. Had he somehow...?
"I'm not sure what it is..." said Clark, "But if you know anyone who could shed some light..."
"I'll have some of my research people take a look at it." Lex then went fishing, "Clark, any guesses as to what it might be?"
Clark hesitated. What he'd seen of the device while on the highway didn't make a lot of sense to him. "No, not really."
"How'd you come to have this picture?"
"Long story. But I think a friend's in trouble."
"Oh? What makes you think that?"
"Hunch. Gotta go. My parents are probably wondering what happened to me. Sorta skipped out in the middle of a Kent family 'bondathon'. Thanks, Lex."
"No problem, Clark. What're friends for?" Thoughts moving at maximum velocity, Lex hung up the phone.
Lex closed the box, deleted the image and called Hamilton. He the scooped up his keys and strode out of the mansion.
Lex didn't know what he'd been thinking, but the urge to get into the car
overtook him, "Man of Control." He'd pointed the car in the direction of the Kent farm automatically, then laughed realizing the Man of (Lost) Control was also the Man with No Plan. What was he going to do? Confront Clark? Check the farm for strays? He didn't even know what Dylan looked like. Instead of problem solving, here he was, traveling at a profoundly illegal rate of speed down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that cut through Smallville.
On the road, Dylan wrapped a scarf about her head and donned a pair of sunglasses. If she was the visage of Marilyn earlier, she now existed in a fashion space between Marilyn M. and Jackie O.
Dylan walked as a white Lamborghini shot past her. She heard the downshifting of gears and watched as the driver brought the vehicle to a skidding halt.
A bald, attractive man with deep blue eyes peered out the driver's side window. The last time Lex'd stopped on a highway for a woman, he'd wound up being interrogated.
This woman didn't look like the interrogating type.
Lex regarded the woman thoughtfully and not altogether wholesomely. Distractions sometimes provided the best methods for conquering difficult problems.
"You look as though you need a ride."
The innuendo was plain.
Dylan regarded the man, clad in a thin gray sweater that stretched like a soft veil over pale skin and nicely proportioned pectoral muscles. His chest heaved slightly as she watched.
"Do I?" responded Dylan coyly. "Do I really?" Dylan moved closer to the car. "How do I know you're not some psycho killer - or generic pervert?"
"You don't. That's what makes life interesting."
"And I'm anything but 'generic'. Where're you headed?"
Dylan studied the stranger then answered, "Where ever you're going."
Dylan walked around to the passenger side and climbed into the car, affording Lex a lingering look at toned leg. She was easier on the eyes than Carrie Castle and didn't seem to have any of the ulterior motives. What was it about women and Route 90 in Smallville anyway?
The Lamborghini screeched off, kicking up dust and gravel as it disappeared down the highway.
When they returned outside, Clark and Chloe found Pete helping clear the table. Martha stopped him.
"Pete, I know you're practically family, but you do more than Clark... Now sit. Dessert's on the way."
"Apple pie?" asked Pete expectantly.
"And homemade ice cream..." said Jonathan. Martha and Jonathan scooped up used dishes and utensils and started into the house.
"Mom?" asked Clark, the "Do you need a hand?" implied.
"No sweetie. Enjoy your company."
Pete smiled broadly as the Kents disappeared from view. "Clark, you got nothing to complain about. And if I hear you complaining, remind me to slap you."
"Duly noted," said Clark, nodding.
"Where'd you disappear to?"
"A little bit of a situation... I've got somebody looking into...uh...something..."
Pete looked to Chloe. She gave him an "I'll fill you in later" glance that Pete acknowledged with a small nod.
"Hey!" Clark looked up. Pete had tossed a water balloon, dousing Clark from the knees down.
"Aren't we a little old for - "
"Clark, we've got plenty of time to be 'old'. In a few years, we'll be in college, planning our careers, talking about marriage - and," Pete made a face, "babies... But right now..." Pete lobbed a second balloon, hitting Clark squarely in the chest. "Bwhahahahahahaha! I say we savor this moment of youth. Because you're only young once, and 'Mr. I Am Carrying the Weight of the World on My Shoulders', we are still - for all intents and purposes - kids."
Clark moved toward the stash of balloons. "In that case..." He pelted Pete, then Chloe who barely had time to get her hands on a balloon before cool water seeped through her blouse.
"Oh, you will soooo pay for that!"
"Bold words, Sullivan..."
As the water balloon battle continued, the laughter and squeals of the trio drifted into the summer night.
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