He cast about with the device as if it were a Geiger counter, following the loudest of the device's noise. He was so concentrated on the device itself that he nearly ran into the road sign in the path in which the device led him.
It was a city limits sign; it read METROPOLIS and boasted of a seven-figure population. The oddly-dressed man stared it in confusion quickly turning into horror. "Oh no," he said, and began looking around for something. A newspaper vending machine with the words DAILY PLANET printed prominently on its sides caught his eye. He rushed up to it and stooped to peer at the front page displayed. "Oh no!" he said again, and began running into town.
Superman dropped into the alley behind a particular house in Metropolis. A moment later Clark Kent walked in the back door. "Honey, I'm home!"
Lois Lane Kent entered the living room as he was hanging up his suitcoat, wrapped her arms around him, and kissed him until she had to come up for air.
"You're in a good mood," said Clark.
"You're not, after that?"
"Lots better than when I came in," conceded Clark. After another half a minute's distraction he asked, "How's J.J.?"
"Asleep, for the moment, finally," said Lois. She sank onto the couch as Clark took his sweater from the closet and pulled it on. "Don't make any loud noises."
"All right." Clark sat down next to Lois and put his arms around her. "Any news?"
Lois sighed. She had addressed this subject less and less willingly as the past week had worn on. "Of a sort. Dr. Klein left a message for Superman on your office machine." Superman had taken the infant to S.T.A.R. labs for an hour or two of tests, the day after J.J. had appeared in their home. "There are results from J.J.'s DNA test."
"Already?" Clark was impressed. "I thought even S.T.A.R. labs took months to do that. It was S.T.A.R. who did the O.J. tests, wasn't it?"
"It takes months to identify an individual human," Lois said. "Apparently it only takes a week to determine that a sample comes from someone who's only part human."
"Part human?" Clark repeated. He was stunned, though this possibility had been unspoken on his mind all along - and Lois' too, he was certain.
"Yes," said Lois.
Clark waited for her to drop the other shoe, but she didn't. "And the other part - Kryptonian?"
"No," said Lois.
"Dr. Klein said the rest of the genes aren't Kryptonian. They ran a comparison with your -"
"Right, right." Clark had had to leave a sample with Dr. Klein for the fertility test a week and a half ago, and still wasn't comfortable discussing it, for more reasons than the genetic incompatibility with Lois which the tests had revealed.
"He doesn't know what they are. Clark, he still must have come from New Krypton. You heard the super speed dropoff, you told me. J.J. was left here by a New Kryptonian."
"No; no, he wasn't," sighed Clark. "I know he wasn't."
"How do you know?"
"Because ..." Clark admitted reluctantly - he hadn't told her he was going to do this - "that's where I just came from." He made flying motions with his hands, toward the ceiling, though in fact New Krypton was in the sky of the other side of Earth at the moment. "Zara was able to account for all of their citizens during the time it would've taken for one of them to have left J.J. here."
"That's ridiculous!" Lois stood, switching on the artifical outrage she used when she didn't want to hear something. "How can she possibly be sure that everyone on the planet was on the planet?"
"You know what I mean! Zara can't be sure, especially after a week has passed."
"As a matter of fact, that day was her formal investiture as ruler of New Krypton," said Clark. "As part of the ritual she's mentally linked with the planet's central biocomputer, which is also linked to everyone else on the planet - it keeps the rulers in touch with the people. Everyone's required to participate. If anyone hadn't been present or accounted for, Zara would have known."
"Clark!" Lois was giving him the oddest mixed involuntary body language. It had been going on for days now; it was almost to the point that Clark wouldn't wait any longer for her to bring it up first. "We have to find out where this baby came from! And soon!!" Lois was pacing in agitation now.
"Honey, I know! We're doing everything we can."
"It has to be soon!" Lois was about to cry.
Clark stood and took her by the shoulders, stilling her. "Lois! Calm down! What's the rush? I thought you liked looking after him."
"That's the problem," said Lois. "Clark, I think it may already be too late for me to give him up."
John and Holly stepped off the curb into the parking lot. All around them were fellow moviegoers - more in front than in back, since John was a credits reader - pouring out of the theatre with the five-times-life-size droid cutouts over the marquee bearing the great Roman numeral IX.
"Ten years," John corrected. "I never saw any of them until I was eight."
"That's impossible," said Holly.
"Not until the series was re-released for Episode III," John said as they climbed into his parents' car. "Mom and Dad insisted I see them all for the first time on the big screen. They said it was 'doctor's orders'."
Holly only thought she knew what that really meant, because John had given her the cover story. In fact it'd been that day he'd first seen Episode IV that his parents had told him as much as they ever had of the truth about himself. The rest, they said, was his father's to tell him in his father's own time; though John knew the doctor had something to do with it too - how much, John wouldn't realize for many, many years.
He started the car and pulled out into the post-performance lot traffic congestion.
"All right," said Holly, "was it worth the ten year wait?"
"Yes," said John with relish. "The effects and the performances were great. But most importantly, it was a fitting conclusion for a great tradition. A story to inspire men to do good."
"But all that is just movie stuff," said Holly.
John looked up in the sky. "No it isn't," he said, pointing. As he intended, Holly poked her head out the window and looked. Swooping overhead - at less than Mach One, John noted from the lack of sonic boom; not in a hurry just now - was a streak of red and blue that never failed to move him, even though it was a familiar sight to Metropolitans after twenty-odd years. John had even met Superman several times because his parents knew him.
"Uh huh." Holly was one of those who took Superman for granted, but she knew better than to argue with John about it. "So how's it stack up against The Movie?"
John laughed. "You presume objectivity on my part, when I freely admit I have none. Nothing will ever replace BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE in my heart of hearts."
Holly rolled her eyes. "Even against the series as a whole?"
"The greatest screen epic of all time, by your own admission, and it falls second best to a low budget teen comedy about two guys traveling time in a phone booth?"
"How can you spend so much time with high school boys," said John, "and know them so little?" They turned out of the mall lot onto the street. "BILL AND TED is the archetypal adolescent male fantasy; to be granted a fantastic device, go on an adventure - and lay down the pattern for all society to come, just by being themselves."
Holly shook her head. "You might just do it."
John looked at her. "I might?"
"Well, you know how you affect people."
"Right," said John, who didn't.
He dropped Holly off at her mother's and went home. He pulled into the driveway and burst through the front door. "Mom, Dad, are you home? It was fantastic - oh."
Mom and Dad had a guest - the doctor.
Lois jumped. "Who's that?"
"It's the Doctor," said Clark. He'd heard the sonic screwdriver unlocking the back door. "We're in the living room!" he called.
Lois tried to compose herself before the Doctor reached the living room. It probably hadn't been necessary, though. The Doctor entered in a state of agitation rivaling hers. "Hello, how are you," he said, "good good, I have something you must do for me."
"Time travel," Lois said suddenly.
"Nnnno," said the Doctor, taken aback. "I already do that." Clark marveled again at the way the Time Lord's translation device - whatever it was he used - made him sound like a character from a Coward play. Assuming he wasn't actually speaking English.
"You left J.J. here," Lois said to Clark.
"J.J.?" said the Doctor.
"Jerald Joseph Kent," said Clark. They'd had to call him something. Maybe picking a name as if he were theirs had been a mistake, though, if it was going to turn out that they had to give him away. Clark was realizing he would have as hard a time with that as Lois. "It's a long story."
But from the comprehension on his face it seemed to answer a question for the Doctor. Well, after all, the Doctor was as familiar with their future history as they themselves were with their past.
And if Lois was right about time travel, the Doctor was the most likely agency for J.J.'s appearance a week ago. Whether he knew it yet or not. After all, he and they had been through a few time paradoxes together already - usually up against the Doctor's fellow renegade Time Lord, the Master - though Lois remembered these adventures better than Clark did. There was Lois' trip 'sideways' in time to an Earth where she didn't exist; their honeymoon tour through history as their own previous reincarnations, battling Luthor's; and others.
On the other hand, if the Doctor knew they had a child, why didn't he know what they'd named it?
There was a wail from the hastily improvised nursery in what had been the den. Lois rolled her eyes. "Guess who's awake again." She left the living room, surreptitiously wiping her eyes.
"About that long story -" said the Doctor. His agitation had returned.
"Doctor," said Clark, "what exactly do you know about -"
Clark had never, ever heard Lois scream as she screamed now.
Clark had heard Lois squeak from falling on her behind. He had heard her yelp for being surprised while doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing. He had heard her bluster when in fear of her own life, and cry in fear for the life of a loved one. Now he heard her scream as if she was being torn limb from limb.
He was at her side in the nursery less than a tenth of a second after it had started. He started to quiet her by asking what was wrong, but never got it out. Naturally he'd assumed it was something to do with the baby, and even as he put his arms around her he was looking into the crib.
J.J. was gone.
Clark hadn't heard anything from the den - or anywhere in the house or on the property lot - between the baby's cry and the start of Lois' scream. He made a circuit of the house and the property for footprints or other evidence of an intruder's passage anyway. When he came up dry he checked again. By the time he was done with the second sweep and had returned to the nursery, several hundred milliseconds had passed. Lois' wordless scream was ending, and the Doctor was just completing his rush to the nursery after Clark.
"He's gone!" Lois was shouting now. "He's gone!"
"I'm too late!" cried the Doctor.
"Too late?" Clark demanded.
"This is just what I came here to prevent!"
END OF CHAPTER 1
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