This story was written to go with a comic book cover altered by Jenny North. You should have a look at the image, preferably before reading.
Certain characters in this story (no points for guessing which ones) are the property of DC Comics. This story is intended as loving pastiche and not a violation of their copyright, so back off; parody is protected under Fair Use doctrine. I know the Fortress of Solitude is supposed to be in the Arctic, not the Antarctic, but damn it, there's no landmass up there.
This story contains f/f sex (mostly implied - I write lousy sex scenes), two gender changes (eventually), masturbation, and very mild mind-control elements.
This isn't the type of thing I usually write. I commit a number of deliberate style excesses my editors would normally blue-pencil in a flash. I didn't take it as seriously as my usual fiction. Neither should you.
This story is copyright © 2000 by Columbine. Don't distribute it, repost it or put it on the web unless you've specifically obtained permission from me.
THE FLOWERS OF TIRESIAS
The earth spun in its endless circles, continent after continent plunging into darkness and then returning to meet the sun again. High in orbit above the blue planet, a creature its human inhabitants would have difficulty recognizing as alive, much less sentient, sat watching the dance of the planet. Watching, completely motionless, as hours became days and days became weeks.
Its subordinates sat nearby, also motionless. This species had no term for "patience"; to them the doctrine was inseparable from life itself. To live was to wait. To wait was to think. To think -
The leader croaked a command, a harsh string of noises which to a human would sound a little like rocks being scraped together.
Things happened with surprising speed then, as the subordinates all shuffled away, their underparts hissing against the floor as they slid. From the underside of the ship, a small soundless explosion, the flash and trail of an object being launched toward the planet. Then, almost as fast as that could happen, the glare of the ship's massive engines firing. In an instant it was out of orbit and gone.
"What do you mean, on assignment?" Lois exclaimed, her voice rising from a petulant whine to an outright shout. People on the newsroom floor turned to look, hoping to witness another of Lane's legendary tantrums. Perry White had unwisely left his office door open.
"Listen, Perry, you knew all along that the convention would be a two-person job. How could you give Clark what amounts to a paid vacation when you knew he needed to be here for this?"
"It's not a paid vacation," her editor-in-chief replied, massaging the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "And there are other reporters here, you know. It's a newspaper."
"Oh, sure, stick me with some stringer who can't write under deadline to save his life. Or a bimbo from Features. Forget it. I'll do it by myself. I may drop dead from exhaustion ...."
"Lois, close the door," Perry said, struggling to open the bottle of aspirin he kept on his desk. "Since when are you so interested in working with Kent? Usually you want to kick his ass. Pardon my French. No, sit down and stop pacing like that. You're making me dizzy."
"Listen," he continued, "I know what's really eating you. You're thinking that I'm farming you out, that I'm putting you on this by yourself because I don't give a damn about the convention. You're half right. This stuff doesn't sell anymore. Half our readers could care less about interviews with the candidates. Hell, half of 'em don't care who gets to be President. But we still have to cover it, and you're the only person I'd dare put on it by herself and still expect to get anything decent."
Lois sniffed. "Go ahead, Perry, flattery'll get you everywhere, right?"
"I'm serious. Listen. You're it. That's final. Take the hotshot. Get me one good interview and some photos and I'll get you a front page byline. Consolation prize. Close the door on your way out."
After a parting glare, Lois spun on her heel and dashed out of the office, slamming the door nearly hard enough to break the frosted glass. Perry sighed and looked at the aspirin in his hand. He swallowed them, then leaned down, opened his lowest desk drawer, and fiddled with an unseen object. Still leaning down, he took a clandestine gulp of bourbon. He then quickly replaced the bottle and reached for a breath mint.
Lois didn't pause as she crossed the newsfloor at a pace that would have done a greyhound proud. The other staff members knew to keep out of her path or be trampled. She didn't stop as she entered the photographer's dogpound, where they sat around telling dirty jokes, cleaning or loading equipment, or showing off new prints still damp and sticky to the touch. The "hotshot" was never seen there - if he wasn't actually out getting pictures, he was in the darkroom. She knocked on the door. The light wasn't on, but not even Lois would just storm into a darkroom.
"Come on in," Jimmy Olsen shouted.
Lois walked in, her eyes adjusting to the dim light. "Whattaya think, Lois? Pretty swell, huh?" Jimmy held up a fresh print. It took her a moment to figure out what she was looking at.
"Um, 'swell' isn't the word I'd use, Jimmy. Is that the mayor? Who's the girl?"
"I don't know," Jimmy said with a grin, "but I don't think she's his wife, do you?"
"I don't think she's out of high school," Lois muttered. "How do you get shots like these?"
"I guess people just don't notice me," Jimmy said. "I kinda blend in. Gee, do you really think she's underage?"
"Oh, Jimmy," Lois said. "All these years and you're still this naive? Anyway. You're on a job with me for the next three days."
"I know - the convention. Perry told me already."
"That figures," Lois said.
When Lois Lane reached her townhouse that night, she was decidedly less than sober. The day had gone from bad to worse. First there had been the news about the convention. Then she learned that a political story she'd been working on for three days had been pulled to make room for some godawful piece about an aging rock musician getting stabbed. Then she'd had a fight with a copy editor who wanted her to lose three inches from a piece that had already been brutally cut twice.
And then she ran into Lana.
Lana Lang had also decided to go into journalism - never an original thought in her head, Lois mused - but instead of print news, where she might actually have to work for a living, she'd gone into television. She'd schmoozed her way up the ladder and now she was a junior anchor, a genuine local celebrity, expected to be the lead when the old fart she was working with retired next year. That alone would have made Lois impatient with Lana. The fact that the Daily Planet and Lana's channel were owned by the same bosses, and occupied the same building, made it worse. The fact that they both competed - mostly fruitlessly - for the attentions of a certain gentleman in red-and-blue skintights pushed Lois over the edge into open hatred.
"Oh, hi, Lois," Lana had said in the lobby. "Haven't seen you in a while. How come we never get together?"
Because hell would freeze over first? Lois thought. Aloud she said, "Well, Lana, it's just that I'm always so busy. You know, newspapers aren't like TV. You end up running around a lot."
"I think it's a shame they're working you so hard," Lana said. "It must really take its toll on your social life. You're not seeing anybody, are you?"
"Not as often as I'd like," Lois said through clenched teeth.
"Well, I must be off!" Lana chirped. "Big night tonight."
"Don't let me stop you then."
"Oh, yes," Lana continued, "I have an interview with our favorite superhero. Exclusive and personal. At least, I hope it'll be personal. Very personal," she said, a faraway look in her eyes.
Damn Lana! Lois thought as she wobbled into her living room. I've been trying to get Superman over here for weeks and she's grabbed him right out from under my nose. I wonder how she did it. I bet she got herself into some kind of trouble on purpose, so she could be rescued. I've pulled that too many times, though, she reflected. He's beginning to get annoyed.
Lois's townhouse had been paid for by a generous insurance settlement from one of her "mishaps." It was way too expensive for her to afford on her reporter's salary, which was one reason she loved it ... although even she had to admit that she only came home to sleep. Behind the townhouse was that most valuable of things in the city, a fenced yard with a small amount of garden space, but Lois had never been the domestic sort. The yard contained exactly what it had when she moved in - hard unturned dirt, rocks, and a few patches of crabgrass that had somehow managed to gain a foothold.
Lois felt flushed, from anger or alcohol or both. On a tipsy whim, she began to undress. She undid her blouse so hastily that she pulled off a button. She cursed as she watched it roll under the sofa, then shrugged, pulled off her shoes, stepped out of her slacks. If I were Lana, she thought, I'd be wearing short skirts and heels to work every day. Good thing I'm not crazy.
In her bra and panties, she unlocked and slid back the glass door to the yard, and the heavy iron security grating as well. Then she stepped out into the cool night air, relishing the gentle breeze across her skin. She closed her eyes and let her facial muscles relax, smoothing her brow with the fingertips of both hands. Can't let the stress get to you, Lane. It's not good for the wrinkles. Or the heart. Say, what smells so good?
Lois opened her eyes and saw that the yard was full of flowers. Flowers on tall, delicate stems, waving gently in the breeze, hundreds of flowers. She couldn't make out their colors in the darkness. Who planted these? Lois thought. How did they get in here? Did seeds blow in here somehow?
She didn't pay much attention to the yard, certainly, but she'd have sworn the flowers weren't there yesterday. Carefully, as if it might bite her, she crouched at the edge of the concrete patio and picked one. She brought it inside, into the light. The petals were shaped like nothing she'd seen before - although that didn't mean much; to her flowers were something that came wrapped in paper cones or delivered to the door in cheap glass vases.
Speaking of which ....
She dragged a chair into the kitchen. In a high cabinet were several such vases, all that was left of various love tokens and peace offerings received over the years. She got one down, filled it partially with water, and brought it into the living room. Without really considering what she was doing, she picked a large bunch of the flowers, brought them in, and arranged them in the vase on the coffee table. There. That looked nice. They were such vivid colors! Blue and yellow and red and orange and purple ... and they smelled so good .... She put her face in them and took a deep whiff, then leaned back on the sofa contentedly.
Mmm, what a relaxing scent. It made her sleepy. Of course, she'd also been drinking. Now if only that pounding noise would stop ....
She blinked and came all the way awake. The pounding was someone knocking on her front door. She jumped up, noting as she passed that she had apparently fallen asleep with the patio door wide open. She opened the front door without bothering to check who it was. Lana rushed in, in a furor. "You bitch -" and stopped dead. "Um, Lois?"
Lois looked down and realized she was completely nude. "Oh. I was asleep on the couch. What time is it, anyway? What are you doing here?"
Lana was obviously still collecting herself. Lois walked back into the living room and sat on the sofa, pushing her discarded clothes to one side.
"Superman didn't show up tonight," Lana said, coming in, "and I know you're responsible, so don't try to deny it .... Say, could you at least put on a robe or something?"
Lois laughed. "I didn't know you were such a prude, Lana." Truth was, she should have been terribly embarrassed herself, but tonight she just didn't care. "Sit down, won't you?"
"I'll stand, thanks," Lana said. "So what did you tell him, hmm? How'd you get him to stand me up?"
"I had nothing to do with it," Lois said. "What do you think of these flowers? Don't they smell good?" She inhaled deeply.
"Um, actually ... yes, they do." Lana moved closer, suspiciously. "What kind are they?"
"I have no idea. They're growing out there in the yard. I didn't notice them until tonight. I'm going to try to look them up tomorrow, I think."
Lana put her face in close to the flowers, sighed, and then sat down on the couch heavily, as if her knees had buckled under her. "Wow ... that's really something ... but I think it's making me dizzy. Are they, you know, maybe like drugs or something?"
"I don't think so," Lois giggled, "but you're right, they do make your head spin. I like it."
"Mmm," Lana agreed, lying back on the sofa. She heard Lois laughing and opened her eyes. "What's so funny?"
"Do you know what you're doing?" Lois asked. Lana looked down. One of her hands was squeezing her own breast through her dress; the other was under her skirt, between her legs. "Oh," Lana said drowsily. "I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention."
"That's okay," Lois said, "but you should take off your clothes before you do that."
"Oh, you're right!" Lana sat up enough to pull the skirt of her dress out from beneath her, then pulled it over her head and tossed it over the back of the sofa. She reached down to remove her shoes and hose, letting her hands run along the insides of her legs as she bent forward. "Thanks for reminding me." She kicked off her shoes and pulled off her panties and hose in one motion.
"Here, turn around, I'll get your bra." Lana obliged and Lois removed it, then put one hand over each of Lana's breasts and scooted across the sofa toward her.
"I'm still mad at you about Superman," Lana murmured as she felt Lois' warm skin press against her back.
"I'm telling you, I've been here all night. Just ... smelling ... the flowers," Lois said, rubbing her breasts against Lana's shoulder blades. She started giggling again.
"Sounds like you had a better night than I had," Lana said, turning to face Lois. She embraced Lois, kissed her tentatively. Then she pulled back, a little surprised at herself.
"Let's try that again," Lois said, licking her lips.
Again a pounding noise woke Lois up. She blinked and squinted at the bright daylight coming in through the door. She couldn't move. Then her brain caught up and she realized that Lana was lying next to her and partially atop her on the narrow sofa.
"Lana, honey, I have to move. Someone's at the door."
Lana groaned and rolled over enough for Lois to escape. She ran to the front door and remembered to look through the peephole this time - although, she realized, she hadn't bothered to lock it after letting Lana in last night. And the patio door had been open all night. So much for home safety.
It was Jimmy. "Just a minute, Jimmy," she shouted through the door. "Let me put something on." She dashed back into the living room. The flowers hadn't even started to droop yet, she noticed, and the room was full of the smell, not just from the ones in the vase, but also from the yard. No time for that now, though. "Lana! Lana, get up. Jimmy's at the door. We have to think fast."
"Urh," Lana mumbled. Lois gathered the pile of clothes, hers and Lana's, brought them into the bedroom and tossed them on the bed. She stopped in the bathroom to pull on her robe. When she got back into the living room, Lana was sitting up, rubbing her eyes. "Come on," Lois said. "You've got to hide until we can get rid of him." She pulled Lana up from the sofa by the hand, practically dragging her into the bedroom. "Be quiet until I tell you it's safe," Lois said, and shut the door.
"Sorry, Jimmy," Lois said, opening the front door. "I must have overslept."
"Did you have a bad night last night?" he asked. "You look - sorry - I just mean that -" He blushed. Jimmy was one of the few people she knew who actually blushed.
"Relax, Jimmy, I'm sure I look rotten," she said. "Yeah, I couldn't sleep very well."
"They won't start the speeches for a while yet," he said, "so it's not a problem. I'll wait for you to get ready," he said, sitting on the sofa.
"Er, Jimmy, it might take me a while. I mean, I just woke up, I haven't showered or anything."
"Oh, that's all right," he said. "Take your time. I'm yours for the day, remember?"
"Right," Lois muttered. "Well, um, have a seat then." She went into the bedroom and quickly shut the door behind her.
"What did -" Lana began.
"Sssh!" Lois said. "He's still out there."
"What? How am I going to get away?"
"Jimmy has trouble taking a hint sometimes. You're just going to have to wait until I leave with him. Then you can sneak out."
"I'm surprised you trust me alone in your house," Lana said.
"Before last night, I wouldn't have. But - mmm." Lois pulled Lana to her for a long kiss. Eventually, reluctantly, she pulled back. "But now I have to get ready."
"Say - he can't see the bedroom and the bathroom, can he?"
"Well, no ..." The back rooms of the house were around a corner from the living room, off a short hall. "Not unless he gets up and comes back here."
"Would he do that?"
"Not in a million years."
"Then I'm taking a shower with you."
"Ssh! We'll be quiet. It'll work. Come on." They crept into the bathroom, suppressing giggles.
Fortunately the water was loud, because they got a little carried away soaping each other. A little long for a shower, Lois thought as she dried off, but Jimmy probably thinks women take forever to get ready anyway. She put on light makeup, as fast as she dared ... lipstick, eyeliner ... maybe I should have used a little concealer under the eyes, she mused. She really did look like she had passed a bad night. Well, she felt fantastic. She hurried into the bedroom to dress, fending off Lana who seemed to want to drag her onto the bed instead.
"Okay, Jimmy, I know that was a long wait but I'm ready at -" Lois rounded the corner into the living room, stopped in her tracks, and gasped.
Jimmy Olsen sat on the sofa, completely unclothed. She had both hands between her legs, stroking and rubbing her new pussy, rocking slowly back and forth on the sofa as she did. Moaning softly, eyes closed, oblivious to the world. Her smallish breasts stood up nicely even without a brassiere, areolae crinkled tightly around tense nipples.
Lois closed her mouth and walked carefully over to the sofa, fascinated, horrified, unwilling to disturb the scene. Jimmy kept moving back and forth, stroking ever more quickly, now gasping for breath. She arched her spine, letting her head rest heavily against the back of the sofa as she tensed her entire body, her hand moving frantically against her clit. Her low moan raised in pitch to a high yowl as she shuddered repeatedly, twitching. Then she exhaled slowly and relaxed, collapsing into the sofa.
Lois cleared her throat.
Jimmy opened her eyes. "Oh. Sorry, Lois," she said, not even looking surprised. "I guess I got carried away." She smiled languidly. "Mmm, that felt really good, though."
"Jimmy -" Lois said, sitting down next to her "- at what point - what I mean is - how did you -"
"Why am I a girl? Beats me, Lois. I fell asleep, I guess, and when I woke up I was sitting here and my clothes were off and I was like this, and I was touching myself, and it felt so good ..." Jimmy's hand moved to the inside of her leg again.
"Jimmy. No." Lois pulled the hand away. "Jimmy, er, not that there's anything wrong with you being female, but ... well, this might be a problem."
"I know. It should bother me," the redhead said. "But it doesn't. Isn't that strange? Oh, you mean clothes and stuff, don't you? You're right. We need to do something about that. But does it have to be right this minute?" Jimmy shifted closer to Lois on the sofa, put an arm around her.
"Lana!" Lois shouted. "Could you come out here, please?"
"He'll never buy it," the redhead said, while lining up a shot of the convention floor.
They were standing on a catwalk high above - not just so the rechristened Jenny could get the crowd shot, but because it was the first privacy they'd had since arriving at the convention.
"He won't think about it very hard," Lois explained. "Okay, I agree it's unlikely that you've got a twin sister you never mentioned ... but you don't really talk about your family much anyway, right? And Perry is only interested in the quality of the photos. No offense. You could be a three-headed alien and he'd hire you if you got the kind of shots you usually get."
Now that they were away from the influence of the flowers - they'd made Lana depart at the same time; Lois was worried about leaving her alone with them - Jenny seemed a little more concerned about her future. Lois found this oddly reassuring. She also noted that Jenny was a lot cuter as a girl, and one of Lois' too-small outfits fit her very nicely ... although they weren't really her colors. Well, there'd be time to shop later.
"And how do we explain Jimmy's disappearance?" Jenny asked, putting on her lens cap. Her voice hadn't changed, Lois thought ... but then, Jimmy's voice had always sounded like he hadn't hit puberty yet. Jimmy was funny that way; sometimes he had struck her as an adult, sometimes as a teenager. She'd have guessed the girl in front of her now at about eighteen, maybe twenty at the most.
"I don't know," Lois admitted. "We'll have to make something up."
"It had better be something good," Jenny said with a sigh. "Do you want to go try to get an interview with Brigham now?" she said, gesturing at the politician who had just stepped down from the podium, below.
They descended, and negotiated the back corridors of the convention center.
"No, Miss Lane," the burly guard said. "Senator Brigham still remembers the last time you interviewed him."
"I'll be gentle, I promise," Lois said. "Really. Doesn't the senator want some front-page coverage?"
"What's all the fuss?" the senator himself asked, opening the door. "Oh. Miss Lane. Such a pleasure to see you again." His scowl changed to an ear-to-ear leer. "And who might this be?" he asked, looking at Jenny.
"This is my photographer," Lois said.
The senator looked Jenny over, top to bottom. "I believe I can spare a few moments, Miss Lane."
"I guess I don't blend in as much anymore," Jenny whispered to Lois as they filed into the room.
"Nope. But you have other advantages to make up for it," Lois replied.
The Man of Steel shot toward his adopted planet, still many thousands of miles out but closing rapidly. He would be home in a few seconds, home to put his feet up and rest. He was getting too old for this, he reflected. Parts of his body were beginning to ache, a relatively new and unpleasant thing for him. Well, super-powered didn't mean immortal, after all. He had plenty of good years left ... but settling down and hanging up his cape was looking more attractive, especially every time he came back from one of these extended missions.
The thing was, if he settled down, what would he do with the rest of his life? Thoughts like that led him inevitably to Lois and Lana; both wonderful women, if a bit pushy, but he could never impregnate them, never even have intercourse with them in the most direct fashion ... their bodies wouldn't be able to take it. He sighed, silent in the vacuum of space. He doubted either of them would settle for a life of mutual masturbation.
And, of course, there was always the question of which one he'd choose ....
That reminded him, he owed Lana an apology after he got back. But not immediately. He had deliberately built a little extra time into Clark's assignment, sufficient to allow him to hole up in the Fortress of Solitude for a day or two.
As Superman closed in on the Antarctic, far behind him, in the outer reaches of the solar system, there was a vast energy equalization. No lights or noises indicated that, for a few seconds, a hole had effectively been punched through space from there to Somewhere Else. The only sign of anything out of the ordinary was the spacecraft which seemed to appear by stages, as if emerging from behind a curtain. But of course there was no one to see it happen.
To human eyes, the vessel would have appeared empty. But the flickering images on the various display grids definitely indicated that, empty or not, the ship was proceeding with purpose.
The ship slowed to a halt. Its computers and unseen entities began a broad sweep of space, scanning in slow and regular patterns. Searching for something it/they knew had to be nearby.
"Nearby," of course, is a relative term.
Lana and Lois sat on Lois' sofa, arm in arm, watching Jenny snore gently at the opposite end.
"She must have been as tired out as she said she was," Lois whispered.
"Well, she had a long day. Isn't she cute like that?"
Lana had met them for lunch, and while in the mall attached to the convention center, she had suggested Jenny take some photos of herself in a coin-operated booth - apparently just for fun, Lois had thought. But after a day of walking the convention floor, Lana had met Lois and Jenny with an unexpected gift: New identification for Jenny. "How on earth did you manage that?" Lois asked.
"Hey, you print reporters aren't the only ones who know tricks," Lana said with a grin. "Someone owed me a favor at the DMV, and that's all I'll say about it. Anyway, it's legal. Congratulations, Jenny; it's a girl!"
Jenny blushed. "Gee, Lana, I don't know what to say. Thank you!"
Then they had gone shopping for new outfits for Jenny, and had a late dinner, and by the time they all got back to Lois' house, Jenny had practically been asleep on her feet.
"Let's go into the bedroom so we don't wake her," Lois said.
"Are you planning to make a lot of noise?" Lana asked coyly.
"I meant so we can talk," said Lois, "but that might be fun too."
"Say," Lana said, looking around, "What did you do with the flowers?"
"I tossed those out. They were finally beginning to wilt. Do you think we need more?"
"I think we can make do without them," said Lana.
They were soon lying on the bed next to each other, in a loose embrace. "Penny for your thoughts," Lana said.
"You're staring at nothing in particular."
"Oh. Yes. I was thinking about Superman, actually."
"Mmm. I do that all the time," Lana said, curling up against Lois.
"Me too," said Lois, "but that's not what I meant. You know, Superman hasn't exactly treated either one of us well."
"What do you mean?" Lana asked, sitting up.
"Well, think about it. He plays around with both of us but never throws us a bone, never commits to anything. It's a trick just to get him to give me a kiss - how about you?"
"He stood you up last night; he's done it to me I don't know how many times. I mean, I know he's out saving the world and all, but that's no excuse to be rude."
"Where are you going with this, Lois?"
Lois giggled. "I think we should see if the flowers work on him."
"That's what I was worried you'd say."
"Oh, come on. Look. He can still save the world, right? But maybe if he's - well, you know, maybe if he has our point of view a little - he'll figure it out."
"But then he'll be female. I like him like he is, thanks."
"Oh, be honest. Is he ever going to pick either one of us the way he is now?"
Lana considered it, sighed. "No. I guess not."
"So it can't hurt to try. Besides, there are other effects. Look what the flowers did for our friendship!"
Lana started to laugh. "I see what you mean. What if we do this and he doesn't forgive us?"
Lois shrugged. "What if we try it and it doesn't even work on him? I think it's worth it."
It took her the rest of the night, off and on ... but by switching between various forms of oral argument, Lois finally convinced Lana to go along with her plan.
Clark Kent reminded himself to look fatigued as he walked onto the newsfloor. In fact Superman felt well-rested, but Kent was supposed to have been doing exhausting field work. He waved in response to various greetings as he crossed to Perry White's office. Just as he reached Perry's door, it opened and out came Lois and a young redhead with freckles, a pale peaches-and-cream complexion, and a camera around her neck.
"Let me guess," Clark said with a smile, "you're Jimmy Olsen's twin sister."
Lois and Jenny shot each other a frantic look. "Actually, Clark, you got it in one!" Lois said. "Meet Jenny."
"I was only joking," Clark said. "Well. Pleased to meet you. I take it you're a photographer as well?"
Jenny nodded shyly. "And a good one," Lois added. "Based on the convention work she just turned in, Perry has agreed to keep her on as a substitute for Jimmy."
"What happened to Jimmy?" Clark asked.
"Jimmy is spending the rest of the summer with our parents," Jenny explained. "Our dad isn't doing well. I've been keeping them company for a while and I needed to get away, and they haven't seen Jimmy in ages, so we decided to trade places for a few months. Lois helped arrange it."
"Hmm," said Clark, raising an eyebrow, but he continued into Perry's office without saying anything else.
"Do you think he bought it?" Jenny whispered to Lois after they were out of range.
"Maybe not," she replied, "but it doesn't matter. Clark has so many mysterious disappearances that he can't afford to pick on anybody else's secrets. C'mon, we're late to meet Lana."
But Lana met them, coming out of the elevator just as they were reaching it. "Have you heard the news?" she exclaimed.
"We're a newspaper," Lois said. "We've always heard the news."
"This won't be in the paper. Superman was seen just a few minutes ago in this area."
"You're right, that's not news. So what?"
"So he hasn't been seen around town for days, that's what, Lois," Lana said, taking each of them by the arm and pulling them into the elevator. On the way down, she continued, "He's obviously been away on some mission or another. Now he's back, and if he's true to form, he'll show up at my apartment tonight to apologize. I'd bet on it."
"You want to try it tonight?"
"Unless you can think of a good reason why not."
The alien craft was having difficulty finding its target at this distance, but it had obtained enough information to narrow its search. With no visible means of propulsion, it began to slide through space, accelerating, finally coming to rest in a different area of the solar system.
It/they began its scan once again.
Gradually the entities aboard the ship became aware that the object of their search was somewhere on or around a particular planet in this system. They shifted position again, this time shifting smoothly into an orbit around Earth.
It/they began its scan once again.
After another interval, it/they became aware of the exact location of their objective. Now possessed of the information needed to continue tracking its exact movements, it/they changed over the power routing, drawing all the energy normally designated for the ship's drive into the process of charging the ship's main weapon.
It took a lot of power to kill a Kryptonian.
Lana sat, trying to present the proper mix of angry and receptive. Unfortunately the flowers on the table in front of her were helping "receptive" get the upper hand. She knew she wouldn't be believable if she wasn't at least a little mad, but right now every time she thought of Superman she kept imagining him with his costume off ... holding her tightly in his big muscular arms ....
She shook her head to clear it. She had to stop that. She didn't even have a guarantee he'd show up.
Then, as she was on the verge of drifting off, she saw a flash of blue and red on her balcony. She opened her eyes all the way and he was standing there.
"Superman," she said, with what she hoped would be a bitter smile.
"It looks like you were expecting me," he said, in that deep voice. Oooh, come here, stud. No, no, Lana, calm down.
"I guessed you were out of town. I was hoping you'd be by now that you've come back. To apologize. Please, come sit down for a minute."
"Lana, I'm sorry. I was called away unexpectedly."
"I know, I know," she said, feeling a little blurred. "Always unexpected. The life of a superhero ...."
He studied her. "Have you been drinking?"
She almost told him the truth before she caught herself. "Only one drink. But it's been a long day."
"I'll go then, and let you rest," he said.
"No! I mean ... sit down. Stay a few minutes. The least you can do is tell me where you were and what you were up to."
He sat down next to her. "Very well." He had noticed the flowers as he came in, but now he couldn't resist examining them more closely. Lana bit her tongue. "These are very interesting flowers," he said to her.
"And don't they smell wonderful?" she said. "Take a deep breath. Really take it in."
"I've never seen anything like them," he said, mostly to himself. "Anywhere."
"But they're lovely, aren't they?"
"Hmmm? Oh, yes ... but they're not of any species I know ...." Without really realizing it, as he studied the flowers more closely, he moved his face nearer and nearer to them. "I've never seen them anywhere on ... the planet ... whoof." He sat back.
"Superman, are you all right?"
"I'm just a little ... dizzy, that's all. Nothing to worry about."
"Mmm." Lana moved next to him, cuddled up against him.
"Lana ..." he cautioned.
"Oh, I'm not going to do anything. Relax," she said. She pulled a flower from the vase and began to rub it across his face, over his cheek and down over his strong chin. "Relax and smell the flowers."
"Lana ... what are you ... up to?"
"Not a thing, dear. Don't you want to smell the flowers?"
"Yes ..." the Man of Steel gasped.
"Then go ahead. It's all right."
He leaned down then, and took a whiff that threatened to suck the flowers right out of the vase. Lana couldn't hold in the giggle. He slumped back on the couch. "What's ... funny?" he managed to ask.
"You just about inhaled them, honey."
"Oh. Yes ..." he said, and then he started to laugh. "That is funny ...." He had barely finished saying the words when he fell asleep, head reclined backwards and snoring loudly.
Lana replaced her flower in the vase and stood up, extricating herself carefully. She tiptoed to the bedroom. "Lois!" she hissed. "He's out!"
Lois crept in beside Lana. "Do you think it'll work?" Lana asked.
"Jenny wasn't out very long," Lois said, "so we should know any minute now. Look! Look!"
"Oh my goodness!" Lana exclaimed. For breasts were definitely beginning to surface on Superman's rapidly-changing torso.
In Earth orbit, the alien ship brought its weapon to full capacity and waited. If the entities aboard could have been said to be nervous, they would have been. The weapon, a hurried development still basically in prototype stage, could only be kept at full charge for a short time before overloading. In a few minutes they would orbit into range of their target, but it/they would find those few minutes to be tense ones.
It/they watched impatiently as the continents did their dance around the planet, waiting as the North American continent spun into view. The signal was about to be given.
Suddenly their target disappeared, its distinct signature vanishing completely from their grids.
Impossible! would have been the thought. Their systems were the best in the known universe, designed triply redundant to prevent such failures. They checked the logic. They checked it again. There was no possible way their target could have simply vanished. Even if the Kryptonian had flown directly into the heart of the planet, they would have been able to track him at this short range.
While they were checking and rechecking and pondering this mystery, they neglected to consider their fully-charged weapon. They were caught completely by surprise when it exploded.
Brightly, silently, the ship became a brilliant cloud of supercharged vapor, its components and entities reduced to hot molecules, which rapidly dissipated into space.
"I can't believe you did this," Superman said, wondering at her new soprano voice even as she said it.
Her costume still fit, having been built to stretch in the first place, but the body beneath it was completely different. While still muscular, the very feminine creature in the red-and-blue tights was not obviously so. She might have been mistaken for an Amazon, but not a weightlifter. Her tall body bore its substantial curves gracefully; her sizable breasts resisted sagging remarkably well for having no visible means of support. Her dark hair cascaded down over her shoulders in waves. She turned again in front of the full-length mirror, unabashedly admiring her form.
"You don't seem too angry," Lois said with amusement.
"Well ..." Superman began.
"C'mon, tell us," Lana said. "You've got something on your mind, and it's not just murdering us."
"I have been thinking of retiring," Superman said.
"I've been doing this for years now, Lois. It gets to you after a while. Oh, I might not hang it up for good, but definitely slow down the pace, only come out for real emergencies. This night-by-night patrol is more Batman's style."
"So you'd settle down ... alone? With someone?" Lana asked.
Superman sighed. "I suppose you both think I'm cruel, never giving you any indication I care. Well, I do. I care about both of you very much. But you know we could never have had children. It would kill you. Now that's no longer a problem ... except I don't think you could call it a solution, either." She studied herself in the mirror again.
"Well, I think it is," Lois said.
Superman turned to look at her. "I thought you wanted a husband."
"I want you," she said. "I don't care what form you're in. That was the point. If this makes you more likely to settle down, then great. As for the sex, I'm sure we can manage to have fun like this. Lana and I certainly have, over the past few days."
"This doesn't solve the problem of which of you to pick -" Superman began.
"Who says you have to pick?" Lana asked. "Can't we share?"
"Honestly, Superman," Lois said, shaking her head. "Welcome to this century. Oh, my goodness! Lana, look!"
"Well, I'll be. I never thought anyone could make Superman blush."
As they led the Man - now Woman - of Steel to the bedroom, Lois commented, "You're still looking sad. Does this really bother you that much?"
"No, no," Superman said absently. "I think I'm going to enjoy retirement. A lot."
"So why the face?"
"We'll never know where those flowers came from, will we?"
"Does it matter?"
"No, I suppose not."
In a place unimaginably distant from Earth, a creature its human inhabitants would have difficulty recognizing as alive, much less sentient, sat pondering the wisdom of its actions.
Changing the course of events, it reflected, was not something to be done lightly ... but it had examined all the consequences most carefully and was convinced it had done well.
The Data Fringe would never again attempt retaliatory actions on the Kryptonian for her defeat of their planetary invasion. They were now convinced that their super-weapon was a failure, and by the time they developed an even more powerful weapon, the grudge would be forgotten.
The Kryptonian would find the life she had been craving, almost without her conscious knowledge, for many years ... as would her compatriots.
The only facet which disturbed the serenity of this course was the instrument. The patch of flowers still remained. The creature had, of course, considered their subsequent removal, and discarded the prospect. It was best to limit intervention to the minimum.
Besides ... although with enough time for deliberation, the creature was nearly omnipotent in practice ... and though it took its work, if it could be called that, seriously indeed ... this was not to imply that it lacked a sense of humor.
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