"J.J. is you?" Lois gasped to the Doctor.
"And I told you it was a long story," Clark said to the Doctor, nettled.
"I'll explain, I promise," said the Doctor, "but first we have to get me out of this thing!" The Doctor unconsciously took a step toward Luthor while gesticulating at the death trap with the infant inside.
"He's perfectly safe as long as I don't feel threatened!" reiterated Luthor, waving the Doctor back with the remote control, but rising from the chair.
"You keep saying that," said Lois. "I thought you were working for the Master."
Luthor shrugged. "His vendetta against the Doctor is none of my affair. I have my own concerns, and he can hardly fault me for failing at something he himself has failed at already. Of course, you might think I'd do your kid just to get your goat - but, believe it or not, there are some things beyond even me."
"It's not healthy to double-cross the Master," the Doctor said.
"Let the man talk," Lois snapped.
Luthor addressed the Doctor again. "This little construction of mine is nothing you can't get yourself out of, with the help of the Kents' muscleheaded friend. Just a little design I tossed off over breakfast Wednesday. Oh, if I were you," he added to Lois and Clark, "I'd get on your signal watch or whatever it is you use. But not until after I leave."
"What makes you think we're going to let you leave?" Lois snarled.
"Mr. Twice-As-Honest-As-Dull is going to give me his word," Luthor said at Clark. "In the time it'll take you to get the kid out of the cage, I'll be a long way off - and as far out of this thing's range," he added, brandishing the remote control again, "as out of Superman's. Just move away from the door."
"If you don't want the baby," asked Clark as he and Lois moved to one wall and the Doctor to the other so that Luthor could proceed up the center of the room, "why did you do this?"
Luthor stopped for a moment when he was even with Lois and Clark. "Because there's a message that needed to be sent to the Master, and you three, and also your friend in the Danskin."
"And what's that?"
Luthor looked Clark straight in the eye. "I call no man 'master'." He waited until he saw the grudging respect in Clark's eyes, and said, "Your word?"
Clark nodded. But Lois said, "Once J.J.'s out of there, though, it's open season on bald criminal masterminds."
Luthor bowed to her. "I would expect nothing less of you, my dear." Then he left.
"Well," said the Doctor. He walked up to the Rube Goldberg-looking thing into which Luthor had teleported the infant, waving Clark to follow him. "What's the first step?"
"Doctor!" Lois was not in a good mood, though it'd improved once Luthor left. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"When?" said the Doctor. "The crisis came on as soon as I arrived. It isn't quite over yet, I'll remind you," he added, belying his casual tone. He was visually surveying Luthor's latest sculpture. "Clark? What have we got here?"
Clark had been looking it over. "Well, there's an obvious path through the pipes," he said. "That is, it's obvious to me, because it's crossed with infrared security lasers, and everywhere else the pipes are too close together for anyone to pass. Every few feet you come to some sort of electronic puzzle." The Doctor nodded - he'd spotted those already. "Each puzzle is wired both to a weapon aimed at J.J. and to the mechanism to disable the next laser. Presumably breaking one of the laser beams before it's deactivated by solving the puzzle sets off one, more or all of the weapons. The puzzles are beyond me, so the idea must be that I'm supposed to talk you through the maze so you can solve the puzzles."
"And we can't risk cutting through the pipes," said the Doctor, "because there are probably lasers running through them as well as across my path."
"Exactly," said Clark, who had been going to mention that next; the pipes weren't lead. "You know, as Luthor death traps go, he's right - he has made it easy for us."
"I'll tell him you said so," said Lois, "when I've got him by the hair he has left."
"Well," said the Doctor, "let's get started."
"Yes, son. I'm Superman."
"Dad -" John stood up and went to him. "... I hope you don't think you needed to do this for my respect. We've had our differences, but -"
"I know, son," said Dad, said Superman.
"We know," said Mom.
"That's not the reason," said Superman. "I know it's been hard for you - keeping your secret, knowing you're different from everyone else, waiting patiently for years for the rest of the story. I just wanted you to know you're not the first. At least you knew your answers were coming eventually."
"You're a good son," said Mom.
John put his arms around his dad - his hero - and his mom came to them and joined them. In a moment, though, they heard the familiar mechanical rhythms of Father's travel capsule.
"Your father's here," Mom said.
John's father stepped out of the cube-shaped device that had materialized in the living room. Unlike Mom and Dad, he didn't appear to have aged any throughout John's life, one indication of his extraterrestial origin. "Are you ready to go?" he asked John. He didn't say anything to Mom and Dad. Father wasn't big on the social graces, another indication.
"Yes, all right," said John. He gave Mom and Dad a last squeeze and moved over toward the travel capsule.
"We love you, John," said Mom. "Always remember that."
John turned back and smiled. "I love you too."
Inside the travel capsule, Father was setting the controls. "That was an unusual display of emotions, even for humans," he said.
"Surprised you noticed," said John drily.
Father was also impervious to sarcasm. "Had I interrupted?"
"The doctor was visiting when I got home a minute ago," said John. "I think he said something to upset them. Ever since he left, they've been acting like ..." He searched for a simile, and when he found the right one, it shook him. "Like they're never going to see me again."
The Doctor watched Clark sit across from him, on the couch next to where Lois was bottle-feeding J.J. He smiled. "It looks so idyllic now. I suppose it actually was. Or will be. Youth is so wasted on the young."
"So this 'twinge of cosmic angst' you felt was because it was your own timeline being being interfered with," said Lois, "and not because danger to J.J. is a danger to history."
"Both!" said the Doctor with mock affront.
"Doctor -" Clark persisted.
"I haven't told you about my father, have I?"
"You've never mentioned any Time Lord family life at all," said Lois.
"There isn't any, usually. Time Lords propagate the species in the laboratory," said the Doctor. "Pairbonding and mating are outlawed in the name of detachment and the cultural imperative for non-intervention, and procreation is by the numbers, sterile and automated. My father in fact worked under the sign of the crossed computers.
"He realized, however, that there was something missing from our lives, something important, the part that made life worth living. But since he didn't have it he had only an imperfect understanding of what it was. He decided that the way to put it back in the race was to breed it in; a natural enough conclusion for an accomplished geneticist to make.
"So behind the other Time Lords' backs he traveled to other planets and persuaded women to donate zygotes, and fertilized them with his own. He peppered space and time with half-Gallifreyan changelings. In a case I know of, he contrived for a ten-year-old child to be discovered on an abandoned planet with false memories of having lived there alone all her life."
"How cruel," said Lois.
"He didn't mean to be cruel," said the Doctor. "I happened on him out of sequence, once, several lives ago. It was on that very abandoned planet, in fact, searching with my eldest half-sister for her origins. We didn't know we were brother and sister until the end of the adventure. Anyway I became very angry when we discovered him. Accused him of child abandonment. Of course I was actually upset about perceived trespasses against me. That was the first I heard of much of this. But he was doing the best he knew how, and a lot more than most Time Lords would. I think better of him now."
"And - you?" said Lois, hefting J.J., then putting him over her shoulder to burp him.
The Doctor looked at Clark. "You've met Lois' parents - you know what family life can be like. Until the Time Lords haul him away to be one of them, I want this baby to have a Kent upbringing like you had." The Doctor shrugged, smiling. "Jonathan and Martha are already taken."
"Are you changing your history by doing this?" Clark asked, as Lois' efforts with J.J. bore fruit. "In your subjective history, were you raised by someone else?"
"No," said the Doctor. "This is what the Earth anomalists of the future will call a 'predestination paradox'. I want you to raise me because you did, because I wanted you to, because you did, and so on in a closed recursive loop."
"You mean ..." Lois was getting a little misty around the edges. In fact Clark was too. "... this is our baby to keep?" The cry that had been coming all week finally started.
The Doctor nodded. "Until the Time Lords find out and come for me. But that's eighteen Earth years off - as long as you get to keep one you build yourself."
"Doctor ..." Clark cleared his throat. "I don't know what to say. The trust you've given us ... We can't repay it."
"You will, have. And," he added with a grimace, "it isn't going to be all fun, you know. But," he said, standing, "you forget that there's another step to go."
"There is?" Clark said, standing too.
"We have to go bring J.J. home a week ago," said Lois.
"Uh," said the Doctor, "not 'we'. You need to stay here with, er, J.J. Besides ..." He looked Clark up and down.
"What?" asked Clark. "What is it?"
"This," said the Doctor, "is a job for Superman."
Less than a minute later, had any been watching, such watchers would have seen Superman arrive at the blue box at the city limits, carrying the man who had disembarked from the box earlier. They both stepped inside it, and presently amidst a loud mechanical wheezing and grinding noise it vanished again.
Superman had traveled time in the TARDIS before, and knew that the up-and-down motion of the column at the center of the free-standing hexagonal mushroom-shaped control console meant that the TARDIS was in timeflight. He wasn't aware that it also signified anything that should disturb the Doctor - on the contrary, the Doctor often seemed quite pleased and surprised when the TARDIS worked at what he led others to believe were standard performance specs. But this time, as soon as the TARDIS took off, the Doctor immediately became as agitated as he had been when he arrived at the Kent house. "It's happening again!"
"What is?" Superman asked.
The Doctor again pulled from his pocket the device he'd used to track J.J. through Metropolis, now inserting it into a slot on the TARDIS console, where it fit well enough that it may even have belonged there. "Someone is trying to undo my past again!"
"Well, we'll stop it," said Superman. "We can pick up J.J. afterwards."
"You don't understand!" The Doctor pointed to a console readout positioned just above the tracker slot, whose display in fact didn't mean anything to Superman. "The interference in my timestream is exactly at the point in space and time that was already our destination!"
END OF CHAPTER 3
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