8/31/07

Biological Families – Chapter 23

Part 1

Sliviuh slowly pulled the sleek black 996 Porsche Turbo into the stable. Watching her rearview mirror, she idled forward far enough for the matching black Cayenne to also clear the large sliding door. Then after bleeping the 450 horsepower engine once, she shut it down and climbed out of the car. Glancing down as she made her way back to the waiting SUV, she grinned at her reflection in the heavily tinted windows. It was lucky they had had one with the dark windows on the show room floor at the dealer in Metropolis, it made getting around Smallville incognito so much easier. Everyone who saw the car would simply assume it was another of Lex Luthor's toys. Of course, it hadn't prevented the cop from pulling her little caravan over for doing 140 mph in a 55 zone, but with a hot little body, she hadn't even needed to exchange blood and secretly infect him with her 'bots to convince the cop to let her go.

With a swagger perfected during the centuries all humanity had groveled at her feet, Sliviuh strode to the Cayenne's driver's door and gestured with her finger for the driver to lower his window. As the dark window slid down, she once again looked at the thirty-something Porsche sales guy sitting behind the wheel. In the three passenger seats sat the other three sales reps, all in matching white golf shirts with prominent logos adorning their left breast pockets. It was going to be a slow sales day at the dealership, thought Sliviuh. But what was more important: them meeting their sales quotas, or her personal convenience? In a matter of weeks, she should once more be running the world, which certainly made the answer obvious.

"Get your gear ready, boys, but wait out here until I send her out," directed Sliviuh.

"Yes, Mistress," the enthralled men all responded in unison.

Sliviuh threw them a quick wink that she knew would get their hearts racing based on the subliminal triggers she had implemented during her special form 'training'. Then without a backwards glance she turned and left the stable, pulling the big door shut – no point in tempting the Fates too much.

As she walked to the large white house located a hundred feet to her left, she glanced across the wide field separating her from the next farm over. A small part of her enjoyed the thrill of being less than a quarter of a mile from the Kent farm. It was just remotely possible that the 'Clark' who had followed her back from 1936 Germany could be in the immediate vicinity and could confront her before she was ready. Oh, it was a very small risk as he certainly wouldn't dare run into himself before tonight's events would send him back in time. But still there was a small risk and the thrill-seeker portion of her personality, which had been suppressed by Chloe for so many thousands of years, rejoiced in the moment.

Reaching the wide encircling veranda, she briskly climbed the three steps, walked passed the swinging loveseat, and grabbed the doorknob. With a simple twist the door clicked open. Based on her access to Lana's memories, it wasn't a surprise to find it unlocked, but she still had to marvel at the naiveté required to leave it unlocked after all the attacks Lana had experienced from meteor freaks over the past year.

"Aunt Nell, I'm home," she called out as soon as the door was fully open.

"I'm in the kitchen," came the reply.

Sliviuh couldn't help a small grin; the kitchen would have so many handy objects to give them both the necessary small prick.

She crossed the at once familiar, yet new living room. She had access to all of Lana's memories and simply 'knew' when and where each picture on the mantle had been taken, yet it was like looking at a detailed photo album she had seen a hundred times without ever experiencing the events first hand. It was a little like experiencing one of her subject's memories when they submitted to her oath of fealty, but she had never been through it before while in someone else's body.

Pushing the white swinging door to the kitchen open, she found Nell at the kitchen table. The table was covered with cut flowers and several vases waiting to be filled. From Nell's attire and the assortment of flowers, it was obvious she had been out collecting them from the woods.

Perfect, thought Sliviuh, as she ran her eyes across the table and recognized the Virginia bluebells, yellow lady slipper orchids, sweet William, nodding trillium, and finally what she was most hoping for, a handful of pale green prairie roses. Jeffrey Palmer had told her the woods between the Potter place and the Luthor Estate were full of them, but it was nice to have it confirmed. And better still, at least one location where they could be found was already locked away in Nell's memory.

Before she looked up, Nell set down the scissors she had been using to trim the stems. "Good, to see you, Lana," she said in a tone that clearly indicated she was still very unhappy with the amount of time her sixteen-year-old niece was spending over at the Luthor mansion.

Sliviuh tried to assume the embarrassed smile she knew Lana would have in this situation, but it was hard. Her normal reaction was to execute anyone who used such a condescending tone with her.

"Oh, I just stopped by to pick-up a couple changes of clothes. I think Lex will love my blue silk chemise. You know, the one at the bottom of my underwear drawer that we both pretend you don't know about," she said with a hint of a cruel gleam in her eyes she couldn't fully suppress. It would be so much fun to destroy the older woman's image of Lana. If only she had the time.

Nell's eyes widen in shock at this blatant remark confirming her fears about the true status of the relationship between Lana and Lex. But before she could respond, Sliviuh staggered and would have fallen to her knees if she hadn't grabbed the edge of the table.

"Lana, what's wrong?" exclaimed Nell, their growing rift over Lex put momentarily aside.

Sliviuh gasped as she momentarily had to focus her full attention to the ongoing struggle to retain her control over Lana's mind and body. It was one more reminder her time was growing short. She would have preferred to pick her own time and place to attempt to recover her old body, but it was going to have to be tonight, as soon after Lana and Clark had passed through the time machine as was possible. But perhaps it was for the best, Clark probably wouldn't expect her to attack within minutes of his return to the root cellar to save Chloe. Assuming, of course, Clark had found a way to save Chloe from the virus or whatever was attacking her 'bot system.

Fortunately, the hours she was forced to spend in the virtual reality world contending with Lana passed in only a couple of seconds in the real world. As soon as she had control of her temporary body again, she straightened up.

"I'm fine, Aunt Nell. I think it is probably something I ate. Or," she continued, feeling particularly malicious due to the constant annoying struggle with Lana, "perhaps it's just a touch of morning sickness."

Nell took a sudden step back, her eyes widening in an expression of shock. "Lana, what are you saying?" she asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

While Nell's brown eyes were frozen on her niece's face, Sliviuh took a step forward. Quietly she reached out her left hand and retrieved the discarded scissors.

"I'm saying there are two people trapped in this body and one of them wants out."

As Nell stood there frozen, interpreting the comment in the only way her personal experience would allow, Sliviuh stepped closer. In an apparent effort to gain her aunt's emotional support, she turned slightly and placed her right hand on top of Nell's, which was lying flat on the wooden table.

Then, just as Nell's was trying to muster a sympathetic smile, Sliviuh struck! She raised the heavy old scissors with her left hand and slammed it down, straight through both their hands until the tips of both blades were driven deep into the wood below. Instantly, Nell began to scream.

Sliviuh took a moment to relish the pain before using her 'bots to damp it out. Sometimes it seemed like she felt most alive when giving or receiving pain. But she couldn't indulge herself today, there simply wasn't time. With more than a hint of regret, she forced herself to begin the task of taking control of Nell's mind.

Simultaneously she began to work the scissors back and forth to pry them loose from where they were stuck in the table top; already sufficient 'bots had been transferred between their hands to make direct blood contact no longer necessary.

In the eleven seconds it took for their hands to heal, Nell's ordeal was over.

Bowing her head, Nell said, "I understand my task, Mistress Sliviuh."

"Excellent," answered Sliviuh. "But call me Lana, we don't want any mistakes at an inopportune moment."

"Of course, ahh, Lana," responded Nell. Then picking up the scissors, which had only seconds earlier ripped a large hole through her hand, she turned towards the door.

"Wait a moment, Nell," Sliviuh commanded.

Nell turned and looked dutifully at her mistress.

"Wash the blood off you hands before you go, I don't want any of it getting on my car," she said in a tone that indicated the Porsche was more important to her than Nell. "And take the gloves; I may not have time to heal your hands later."

In a couple of minutes Nell was gone; on her way to the stable to pick up the men and head off into the woods on an expedition in search of green roses.

After watching the older woman depart, Sliviuh walked over to the counter and picked up the cordless phone. Then frowning, she was forced to open a drawer and pull out the phone book. Lana hadn't called the number Sliviuh needed during the past week, since she had acquired her 'bot system from Chloe. And before acquiring the perfect recall provided by the 'bots, Lana's memory of 'seldom-used' phone numbers was hazy at best.

Finally, after wasting two precious minutes with three wrong numbers, she connected to the one she needed.

"Good morning. Is this Mr. Baker? Ahh, hi, could I speak to Alicia? This is Lana Lang . . . ah . . . Lana from The Talon. Yes, thanks."

"Hi, Alicia. This is Lana. I could use a big favor. Could you meet me at The Talon in, say, twenty minutes? Great, see you then."

As Sliviuh hung up the phone, she couldn't suppress a grin. With access to all of Lana's memories of this day, she knew she wouldn't run into herself at The Talon. With anyone else she could just pretend to be Lana. And if she happened to run into Chloe, she would just have to be sure they didn't touch. And the same would have to go for Lex, which might be harder, but she couldn't risk leaving traces of herself in Lex's 'bot system for the original Lana to find.

In addition to Lana's memories, she also had access to all of Chloe's memories before the events in the Roman arena split Laura from Chloe. Therefore she knew of the events two months earlier when Chloe had learned of Alicia's secret gift. Of course, Alicia had learned part of Chloe's secret, too, but she didn't know about the 'bots ability to infect others. And she certainly didn't know about Lana's 'bots. And unless Chloe had told Clark in the last week, Clark had no idea about Alicia's little gift either.

Sliviuh found herself humming a little tune that hadn't been heard in ten thousand years as she made her way back to the Porsche parked in the garage. Thirty minutes to 'acquire' Alicia's services and then an hour to use Alicia's gift to run a few errands before returning here. Hopefully, by the time she got back, some of the guys with Nell would be back with the first batch of roses. Throw in her visit to Belle Reve the previous afternoon and the plans for tonight were coming together nicely.

Part 2

A thousand feet above the root cellar Clark hovered in the storm filled sky. The wind was howling, lightning bolts were thrumming all around, and he was drenched from the scattered rain. But none of that mattered with the moment he had been striving for finally at hand.

He had arrived and taken up position forty-five minutes early to ensure everything went as planned. Six minutes before his earlier self would arrive with Chloe from the school dance, the reporter, Roger Nixon, appeared lugging a large shoulder-mount video camera in one hand and a duffel bag in the other. Clark zoomed his vision and watched Nixon pull a pair of bolt cutters from the bag and use it to cut the padlock Clark's Dad used to keep people out of the cellar and away from spaceship hidden within.

As the reporter headed down the stairs, Clark's vision automatically shifted over into x-ray mode. And this time it was not the skeletal mode he had mostly been limited to for the past six months, but rather an enhanced mode like he had only experienced very intermittently. Since undergoing the Purl Nous procedure the previous day, many of his abilities, not just the x-ray vision seemed to have improved. So now, instead of seeing a skeleton moving down the stairs, he saw Nixon and the entire interior of the cellar as though the intervening ground was merely lightly tinted glass.

Clark watched as Nixon flipped the camera's attached floodlights on before hoisting it up onto his shoulder. Nixon did a preliminary quick sweep of the chamber before using the lights to select an out of the way location to stow his duffel bag. Then turning back towards the center of the room, the reporter homed in on the canvas draped object near the opposite wall.

Nixon quickly crossed the intervening space and pulled back the cover. For a moment he appeared so shocked at what he had uncovered, he seemed to forget entirely about the video camera. But after thirty seconds he pulled himself together and started shooting the ship from all angles in one long, fast take, as though he expected to be interrupted at any moment.

At almost the same time Clark spotted his Mom step out onto the porch and start to take down the row of hanging plants, which were whipping madly about in the near gale force wind. Less than a minute later, his father joined her carrying a heavy-duty flashlight. They appeared to converse for a few seconds and then with Jonathan's arm wrapped protectively around Martha's shoulder, they hurried in the direction of the storm cellar.

During the thirty seconds they needed to reach the cellar's entrance, Clark took a moment to scan the surrounding area. Off in the direction where he knew Lana and Whitney had to be, he could clearly see a tornado descending out of the clouds. About two miles further to the right, he could see two others already on the ground causing massive destruction. Then looking closer to home, he spotted Lex's silver Land Rover just turning from the county road into their long driveway. All of the players were reaching their assigned positions.

Clark turned his attention back down in time to see his parents descending the stairway. In a moment Jonathan was confronting Nixon and it seemed almost like Clark could hear the shouting all the way up at his position just at the edge of the lowering clouds. He chaffed at the urge to swoop down and take care of Nixon. But he forced himself to remain motionless, knowing it was going to be even harder once things started to happen to Lex and Chloe.

While the shouting continued, Lex raced up to the cellar's doorway. The storm front had just reached the barnyard and it wasn't clear if his sprint was caused by the weather or by some guess at what was already going on down below. Clark watched him rip open one of the doors and then let it slam behind him as he took the stairs two at a time.

Then things began to happen fast, as the two older men began to fight and Lex was drawn over to the ship. Abruptly, Nixon broke free and with the video camera still tightly clasped in one hand, he dashed up the stairs and out into the storm. As his father chased after him, Clark marked their direction so he could go help his father after he had taken care of things down in cellar. Nixon was leading his father towards the woods and would pass almost the same spot where Clark had confronted him a week earlier. Had that only been a week ago, marveled Clark. From his perspective almost three weeks had passed since that afternoon when Nixon had tried to blow-up his truck. And those three weeks had been some the most life-altering he could remember. He had thought when he had returned from ancient Rome that he would never experience anything so intense again. But during the past week in Nazi Germany he had learned to fly, had learned more of the true extent of his strength, and, most importantly of all, had learned an incredible amount about his true heritage.

'Stop letting your mind wander,' he told himself, as he turned his attention back to the cellar. Looking down, he found Lex already in the grip of the Purl Nous beam. As he saw Lex begin to scream, he couldn't help but sympathize based on memories of his own exposure just the day before to the similar beam in Var's underground New Mexico facility.

Then it was over and he watched Lex's body drop limply to the floor. Now his attention was solely focused on the spaceship. He knew from what his Mom had said that the spaceship was about to slam its way through the reinforced concrete ceiling and disappear into the sky. He would have liked to linger to see his and Chloe's arrival, but he had to keep the ship in sight, as it was the key to reversing Chloe and Lex's condition. If he was lucky, he would already have it under control before they arrived.

The symbols on the craft began to glow with an almost incandescent intensity. Then abruptly the ship produced a massive wave of light and energy. Clark felt like he had momentarily gone blind as his x-ray vision absorb the intense blow. By the time his vision cleared, the ship had already burst from the ground and raced off to the east. Instantly, Clark accelerated after it, diving deep into the speed zone. But the ship was fast; faster than anything he had come up against so far. In an instant the lights of Metropolis flashed passed and he seemed to be only slowing closing the gap.

Drawing on his experiences during his Purl Nous, he forced himself much deeper into the speed zone until from his perspective the spaceship rapidly began to slow. Then it seemed to stop, hanging suspended in space and time. In surprise, he almost overshot it before slowing until he, too, hung in mid-air.

Reaching out with his left hand Clark firmly grasped the edge of the small ship. In the same way his touch to the giant Nazi battleship had shifted it into the alternate space-time continuum which surrounded him when he was in the 'speed zone' and had allowed him to hoist it high into the air above the Baltic Sea, his touch now shifted his ship into his accelerated time mode. This was vitally important as he had many hours of work to do and only seconds in 'real time' to accomplish it.

With his right hand Clark began pressing the glowing symbols. These symbols were effectively a giant keyboard for interfacing with the ship's brain. With the intimate knowledge he had acquired of Krypton during the Purl Nous process, he not only knew the Kryptonian language, but also the three primary protocol systems for data entry compatible with ship brains.

Faster and faster Clark's hand raced across the symbols. Not only did he have to stop the ship from its preprogrammed trajectory, he needed to reprogram its Purl Nous mechanism to ameliorate the virus-like effect it had had on Chloe's 'bot system. Fortunately, now with his near eidetic memory and with all the historical data about the El family that had been slammed into his mind, he was able to understand the significance of the reference Chloe had made to security protocol Fedra Seventeen Hatu Six during her pre-recorded message stored in the device he had retrieved back in 1936. This protocol, developed by the legendary Shu-El nearly three hundred years earlier, gave, among other things, selected members of the El family secret 'back door' access to override the most basic ship brain programming. And it was this secret knowledge that allowed him to make the necessary changes.

Steadily Clark pressed the symbols, never faltering or even hesitating; the information he needed seemed to flow straight from his memory to his fingertips with almost no need for conscious thought. Finally, after what felt like six hours from his perspective, the task was finished. The twenty-five thousand quartels of revised code he had entered should now reverse the effect the previous Purl Nous exposure had had on Lex and Chloe's unprepared human minds. This alteration to the Purl Nous process had also been made possible by his own Purl Nous experience. However this time the data had not come from the El family's historical files, but rather the historical files of Garf-Og, the original developer of the Hall of Gestation and the associated Purl Nous process. During some of his early experiments, he had attempted a Purl Nous like process without the preliminary prenatal alterations to the Kryptonian minds. These had caused mental responses in the test subjects similar to what Chloe and Lex were experiencing. Garf-Og had come up with a process to restore the minds of his test subjects and it was a variation on this approach that Clark had encoded into his ship.

Clark paused for a moment to let his mind rest from the nearly impossible task he had just completed. But he only paused for a moment, because even in this accelerated mode, time was still passing in the 'real' world, and his window of opportunity to save Chloe was rapidly drawing to a close.

Scanning his surroundings, he saw they were hovering near a coastline. And from the way the water below seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon, it must be the Atlantic. And if it was the Atlantic, then he had nearly fifteen hundred miles to traverse to return to Smallville. If he was going to make it back in time, it would be necessary to stay deep in 'speed mode'. So tightening his grasp on the ship to ensure it stayed in the envelope of his space-time field, he willed himself back in the direction from which he had come while keeping the ship in tow.

Part 3

Martha watched as Clark leaned down and placed a quick kiss on Chloe's forehead. After gently lowering her trembling body to the ground, he quickly stood.

"Mom, take care of them. I have to go, but I will be back as soon as I can."

Martha numbly nodded her head, but he was already gone. Some small part of her mind registered that his departure was even more abrupt than normal. Usually, he seemed to blur slightly as he accelerated up to his incredible speed, but this time he simply vanished. One second he was standing there and a millisecond later he was gone, as though someone had thrown a giant switch labeled 'Clark' and he no longer existed.

For a couple of seconds she just sat there staring at Lex and Chloe. Two of her son's best friends were lying there looking near death. Lex was utterly motionless and in the dim light of the ruined storm cellar she couldn't even detect if his chest was rising and falling from a mere five feet away. With Chloe on the other hand it was easy to tell she was still alive, although the way the spasms shook and racked her body, she didn't seem much better off than Lex.

Her motherly instincts suddenly seemed to kick in and she started to lever herself erect to move over to Chloe, as it looked like a soothing voice might benefit her more than Lex.

She had just gotten to her feet when Clark seemed to rematerialize out of thin air. He wasn't where he had been standing by Chloe, but instead was on the far side of the cellar and he seemed to glow a brilliant yellowy-white, almost like an angel. It took her a moment to realize the light was coming from the spaceship. Somehow it had also instantly returned and the symbols etched into its surface were now brilliantly illuminating the cellar.

"Clark, How . . ." was all she got out before he brusquely cut her off.

"I'll explain later, Mom. I need to help Chloe and Lex now."

Martha was certain he hadn't been gone more than ten seconds, yet something about him seemed changed. And it wasn't just his clothes which had somehow gone from a black tuxedo to a pair of gray coveralls with a large 'K-Star R&D, Inc.' logo on the back. No, after being in his presence for less than five seconds and hearing one brief comment, she was certain there was something different about him – a focus or purpose she had never seen before.

She watched as he carefully lifted Chloe into his arms and carried her over to the ship. Lowering her legs to free his right arm, Clark leaned her head back until it rested between his head and shoulder. Then he reached out with his right hand and touched a dozen of the symbols in a rapid sequence. Instantly, a brilliant beam of light shot out of the ship and struck Chloe in the forehead, just as the beam of light had earlier done to Lex.

Martha took a couple of tentative steps forward. This changed the angle between the ship and the others just enough so she could see there wasn't just the one beam playing across Chloe's face, but also a second one directed at her son. She felt a moment of panic that the same thing was going to happen to him as had happened to the others, but then she noticed a difference. The beam touching Clark was much narrower and more focused. And she got the sensation that data in his beam was flowing in both directions rather than in one direction like the earlier beam with Lex or the current beam with Chloe.

The beam played against Chloe's forehead for at least ten seconds and during that time Martha was certain the trembling in Chloe's body had begun to subside. Then both beams simultaneously stopped and Clark once more swept Chloe fully up into his arms.

"Thank you, Clark," Martha heard the girl whisper and she felt a smile light her face for the first time in minutes; somehow in a matter of seconds her son had once more done what should have been impossible.

"Can you stand?" Clark asked with a distinct sense of relief in his voice.

"Yes," was Chloe's simple response.

After a quick gentle kiss, Clark lowered her feet to the ground. As her legs took up her weight, she swayed just a little.

"You okay?"

Martha walked over to join them as Chloe nodded.

"Yeah, there is just so much data my 'bot system is trying to process all at once, it is sort of distracting."

Its current task now completed the small ship's systems began to power down. And as part of the process, the bright symbols started to fade. As gloom began to settle once more about the damaged cellar, Chloe reached out and quickly tapped four of the symbols. At once the symbols began to brighten, not to the earlier near-blinding intensity, but to a level which comfortably lit the entire chamber.

"How did you know how to do that?" asked Martha.

"Oh, apparently I now know how to read the language of Krypton," answered Chloe in a tone that implied she was just as surprised by her words as Martha was.

"Krypton?" echoed Martha.

"It is the name of the planet where I was born," answered Clark with a smile. "So much has happened since I last saw you."

"But you couldn't have been gone more than ten seconds," answered Martha already knowing she about to have another of those dizzying conversations.

"It has been about two weeks for me," Clark answered before turning back to Chloe. "Are you really okay? Can you cure Lex or should I use the ship? I have so much to tell, but it affects Lex as much as us, and I would like to tell it just once."

"Oh, I can handle it. The revised data you downloaded to correct the effects of Lex's earlier encounter with the ship allowed my 'bot system to properly integrate and store everything rather just delete all of the corruption. I can replicate the effect on Lex's 'bots and his mind with less risk of permanent damage than exposing his passive 'bots to the ship again."

Before she had finished speaking she had already slipped from Clark's enveloping arms and moved over to Lex. Kneeling down, she lightly rested her right hand on Lex's forehead. Unlike her previous encounter, which her internal 'bot clock said was exactly two hundred ninety six seconds earlier, this contact didn't end in a shock of pain and horror. No, after fifteen seconds she withdrew her hand and asked calmly, "Lex, can you hear me?"

Lex's eyes, which were still showing only the whites, slowly closed and then he blinked rapidly several times. With a small moan, he pushed himself up into a sitting position and they could all see his eyes had reverted to their normal dark blue.

"What happened?" he asked, still sounding a little groggy, as he ran a hand through his short auburn hair.

"You experienced what is called Purl Nous on my home planet. It is a procedure which Kryptonian youths are put through around their sixteenth birthday. It greatly enhances their mental abilities. However it is only the second half of a process; the first part involves pre-natal genetic manipulations. The intended recipient should have been me, not you. Unfortunately, we have been in the middle of an extended timeloop and the ship had been intentionally set to perform the process on the first person, other than me, whom it encountered after my sixteenth birthday."

From the expression on his face, it was obvious Lex was still struggling to get back up to speed. But Chloe wasn't having the same problem.

"Another timeloop?" she asked.

Clark shrugged. "From one perspective you could say that. However I believe it is part of a greater loop that also includes the events related to our trip to ancient Rome."

Martha took in the coveralls Clark was wearing in place of the tuxedo she had seen him in just minutes earlier. "Clark, are you saying you have traveled in time again?"

He nodded. "I just spent a week in 1936 Nazi Germany."

Chloe let out a small gasp. Ever since she had arrived in Smallville three years earlier and met Clark on the first day of school, she had wondered when this end of his trip back in time to Germany would occur. Now, at last she had her answer.

And suddenly it felt like she was stepping back into the unknown for the first time in several millennia. Since the day Clark and Whitney had shown up in Dresden she had always known one fact about the future – someday she would once again meet Clark. Then during her long two thousand year journey back from Rome, she had known so much about the intervening years it had been like rereading a favorite book. Now, at last, she had no further knowledge about the future. No secret edge when dealing with everyone else. From now on, each page of the book was new and unread. Even with her vast experience, life suddenly felt a little more scary.

Clark smiled. "I've been wondering, did you get Patrick and Maddalyn out of Germany?"

With her revere broke by Clark's question, Chloe returned his smile. "Yeah, we relocated to New Zealand about six months later. They both made it through the war okay."

"And your husband?"

Chloe was watching Clark's face when he asked the question. Before today, when her previous husbands were brought up, there had always been an edge in Clark's voice or a look in his eye that said he was very uncomfortable with the whole idea. But now that seemed to be gone. Whether it was actually meeting one of them and discovering he was just an ordinary person and not someone Chloe kept on a high pedestal, or some other event during the two weeks Clark had been away, either way Clark suddenly seemed so much more grown-up and mature.

After looking into Clark's eyes for another moment, Chloe shook her head. "No, Johan was too deeply caught up in the events in Germany and I couldn't convince him to leave without explaining your warning. I don't believe he ever went completely to the dark side or got involved with the death camps. At least I like to think so, but towards the end, things became so chaotic I no longer had reliable sources in Germany. A few years after the war, we returned for a brief visit, but all I could determine was that he died during the final Russian assault on Berlin."

"Ah, what are you talking about?" asked Martha. And by now Lex was also echoing her question with a nod.

"While back in Germany, I met Chloe at an earlier point in her life. Before she came to Smallville, even before she was called Chloe."

"Here, this might help," Clark continued, as he reached into one of the deep front pockets of his coverall and pulled out a bundle. He handed the bundle to Lex, who unwrapped it,. Inside the protective paper, Lex discovered the small set of photos Clark had brought back from the past, as well as a small black box with a large red button under a protective cover.

Chloe couldn't stop herself from taking a small step backwards at seeing the familiar box.

"Clark, what is going on?" asked Lex, as he too recognized the device which had been used on their return from ancient Rome to purge Laura from Lana's 'bot system.

"I'm afraid I recruited Lana and Whitney to go back to 1936 with me, and well, things didn't go well."

Lex's brain had still felt groggy from his experience with the ship, but suddenly concern for what might have happened to Lana seemed to shake all the remaining cobwebs clear.

"Clark, what happened?" repeated Lex more forcefully.

"From the little Chloe was able to tell me after she became infected from having her 'bots attempt to interface with yours, she had a mental image of a device that might be able to help with a cure for the two of you, but the only time she knew its exact location was during the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The person who was supposed to receive it was named Dr. Jones. Therefore I had no choice but to travel back in time to retrieve the device. Anyway, so we would have time, hopefully, to find this Dr. Jones before the events in Chloe's vision, we used the time machine to arrive a week early.

"Since we had been forced to leave with less than three minutes notice, we weren't very well prepared. We didn't have appropriate clothes, we didn't have any local currency, and only Lana could speak German. After we arrived, we decided the best cover while starting our investigation was to blend in with the American Olympic team, who had arrived in Berlin one day before us.

"And that's where these pictures are from. On our first day, Lana talked the coaches into giving us an opportunity to try out for the team. I knew Whitney was a decent athlete, but even I was a little surprised that with just a little help from his 'bots, he was able to blow Jesse Owens out of the water in a 200 meter exhibition race."

"Wait a second, Clark," interrupted Lex, as he glanced up from the photo he had been staring at of Lana all decked out in a 1930's summer dress and a big frilly hat. "Are you saying Whitney has a 'bot system now, too?"

Clark nodded. "While you were down here having fun with my ship, Lana and Whitney were caught up in a tornado while on their way to the bus depot. From the scattered wreckage of Whitney's pickup, I would guess they were lifted several hundred feet into the air before the truck was thrown clear. The impact on landing killed Whitney and left Lana pinned under the truck's engine block until it was almost too late, introducing a set of 'bots into Whitney's body was the only way to save him."

"So Whitney made the Olympic team by beating Jesse Owens?" asked Chloe to get Clark's story back on track.

Clark nodded. "Yeah, and Lana got a place on the Women's fencing team."

"What about you, Clark?" asked Chloe.

"Oh, you know me. I seem to have developed this thing for javelins."

When Chloe and Lex both nodded and displayed small smiles, Martha asked, "What?"

Lex was the first to respond. "When we were back in Rome, one of Clark's first little demonstrations as the Greek God Ares was throwing a spear about one thousand feet and hitting a thrown orange. I remember wondering at the time how far you could have thrown it if you had gone for range instead of accuracy. Of course, that was before I saw you toss that sixty foot tall stone obelisk."

Clark wondered what Lex was going to think when he got to the part about lifting an eight hundred foot battleship a thousand feet into the air. Of course, until things were resolved with Sliviuh, he might not want to give away too many of his remaining secrets. It was certainly possible for her or her agents to infiltrate almost anywhere.

Responding with a simple shrug, Clark continued. "I am sure my distance with a Javelin will always be limited by the slowing effects of wind resistance and aerodynamic drag, the answer is probably not more than ten or twenty miles.

"Anyway, Lana, Whitney and I managed to secure positions with the Olympic team and settled into the Olympic village while Lana searched for the 'Dr. Jones' Chloe had mentioned. After three days she tracked down his hotel. The three of us went to meet him and that's when things started to go wrong."

"What happened Clark?" asked Chloe, who couldn't seem to keep her eyes from darting every few seconds to the scary little black box still resting in Lex's hand. She had never expected to need it again after clearing Laura from Lana's 'bot system and just standing this close to it was enough to make her skin crawl. She might be extremely difficult to kill, but one press of that button would wipe out most of her memories of the last nineteen thousand years. And after using her 'bot system to store memories for so very long, she wasn't certain how much of her mind might be left after the event. Certainly she wouldn't revert to some nice simple pre-nanobot Chloe like Lana had done. No, even with her 'bots she had very little memory of her life before them. Would she end up like some amnesia victim on TV with absolutely no memories of who she was?

Clark didn't immediately sense the distress Chloe was feeling and jumped right back into his story. "We went to Dr. Jones' hotel, but discovered he wasn't there. We had just started to chat with his wife when two superstrong Nazi thugs broke into the room. That was the last time I saw Lana or Marion Jones."

"How long has it been since you last saw her?" asked Lex. "Is she still trapped back in the past?"

"From my perspective, it has been six days since I have seen her. And no, she is here in the present somewhere, although things would be a lot simpler if she was still back there. But it will make a lot more sense if I tell things in their proper order."

Clark was expecting someone to interrupt with the 'Jones' question, but surprisingly it was his Mom who was the one to ask. Then he realized she would have been around college age when the first movie was released, so perhaps that is why she more easily made the connection than Lex. Or maybe it was just that Lex's entire attention was focused on Lana.

"Dr. Jones. Marion Jones. Are you talking about Indy? How is that possible?" asked Martha with just a hint of hysteria creeping into her voice. Even with all of her experience with the meteor freaks over the passed couple of years and the almost countless times she had had to patch up her supposedly invulnerable son, these time travel situations were still almost beyond her comprehension.

"Yeah, I'm talking about Indiana Jones. Oh, not exactly the one in the movies, neither Hank nor Marion look that much like Harrison Ford or Karen Allen, but they and their adventures were certainly the basis for the movies. However the whole 'Indiana' name appears to have been made up by Lucas and Spielberg as it didn't ring any bells with Hank. He didn't even have a dog by that name."

"But the other parts of the movies were true?" Martha pressed.

"Well, I only have Hank's word for it, but apparently the Lost Ark and the Holy Grail parts were based on actual events. I don't know about the other one in the Far East as it never happened to come up in our conversations."

"So those relics actually existed?" asked Lex.

For a moment Clark saw a hint in the look in his eyes of the old predatory Lex. "Well, as I said I never saw them myself, but based on things I did see, I would have to say yes.

"What leads me back to the superstrong Nazis who kidnapped Lana and Marion. I didn't learn the truth until much later, but they got their strength from braids of Samson's hair they had somehow acquired."

"Strong, as in 'Clark Kent' strong?" asked Chloe.

Clark gave a shrug, but not the 'completely embarrassed by my special abilities' shrug of the old Clark. Chloe realized he seemed much more at ease with his gifts than he ever used to be. Echoing her thoughts about Clark's reaction to comments about her former husband, she wondered what exactly was behind this new more comfortable, less humble change.

"No. Oh, they were probably fifty times stronger than an ordinary person and they caught me off-guard during our first couple of encounters. But they didn't have my speed nor were they invulnerable to bullets."

Chloe was still listening to Clark's words, but she couldn't get the sight of the little black box out of her head. Almost like she was channeling Spiderman from the comics, she was getting this tingling sensation that very bad things were about to happen.

"Clark, why did you bring the box? I am suddenly getting a bad feeling. Can you cut to the chase?"

Clark nodded. He had no idea where Sliviuh was or what she was up to. The sooner Chloe was in the know, the better. As only then could they really start figuring out a strategy.

"Okay, but you need to understand I got most of the following from Marion. Apparently, there was still a copy of Laura in Lana's 'bot system. While the two women were being held prisoner, something happened to trigger her. At some later point Lana introduced her 'bots into Marion's body and Laura was already a separate distinct personality. Lana and Laura were coexisting in some virtual reality world and they were alternately taking control of Lana's body.

"At first, Marion said, Laura was mostly helpful, although apparently a little exotic by Marion's standards. But things changed after their captors transferred the women to a German battleship which promptly put out to sea."

Chloe once again remembered her long ago encounter with Clark and Whitney. And the follow-up research she had done later.

"You're talking about 'The Hitler', right?"

Clark nodded, but before he could continue, he was interrupted by Lex.

"There was a battleship named 'The Hitler'? Why haven't I ever heard of it?"

"It predated the Bismarck and was completed during the period before the Nazis were ready to officially denounce the Versailles Treaty," answered Chloe. "Therefore they kept its existence a carefully guarded secret during it construction. Then, when it was lost on its very first voyage, there wasn't anything to be gained by acknowledging its existence."

Obviously, Lex's mind was back to full speed. "So Lana was taken on board a ship that was lost on its first voyage?"

"Yeah," answered Chloe again, as she could almost see where things were heading. "I didn't find out about the ship until after the fact, but since Laura was from further in my future, she would have known she was on a doomed ship. And she also would have believed there wasn't any rescue coming as she knew she/I had sent Clark and Whitney to the wrong place. So she would have known it was up to her to save herself and Lana."

"According to Marion, that was the situation," added Clark as he took control of the conversation. "And being held prisoner on a ship at sea, Laura decided the only solution was to use her abilities to take control of the ship."

"What abilities?" asked Lex.

"We talked about it back on the terrace at Chloe's palace back in Rome. You remember, right after the events in the stadium."

"Truthfully, Clark, most of my attention at the time was focused on the situation with Laura and Lana. You better refresh my memory."

"Who is this Laura you keep referring to?" asked Martha.

Clark turned towards his mother. "Mom, ah, Lana was executed by the Romans in one of their stadiums. Chloe managed to get to her soon enough after her death to use her nanobots to save her. But during the process, a copy of all of Chloe's memories were transferred into Lana and these memories overrode Lana's mind so that effectively we had Chloe's mind in Lana's body. Lana was no longer Lana and we couldn't call both Lana and Chloe 'Chloe', as it would have been too confusing. So we called the Chloe mind in Lana's body Laura."

Clark could see his Mom's eyes begin to glaze over. He could barely understand what had happened and knew he wasn't doing the situation justice with just a few sentences, but forced himself to forge ahead. He could always go into more detail with her later, but now he needed to get on to the aspects of the situation which Lex and Chloe needed to know to comprehend the current situation.

"When we got back to the present after our trip to Rome, Chloe figured out how to strip the copy of her mind from Lana's body, so Lana could once more have control of her body."

Clark swiveled to more directly face Lex before continuing. "Anyway, the part of the conversation back in Rome that is important at the moment, was Chloe's story about the time she had been going by the name 'Sliviuh' ten thousand years ago."

A shiver she couldn't suppress raced down Chloe's back at the mention of that long-disused name. Suddenly the reason Clark had brought the little black box seemed crystal clear. Oh, she didn't have any idea of the details, but if her old Sliviuh personality was running around in Lana's body, they were in BIG trouble.

"When she was Sliviuh was the first time Chloe figured out how to insert her 'bots into other people's bodies to heal wounds and injuries. But more importantly at the moment, she also eventually learned how to use them to control people's minds by giving them visions which convinced them she was their personal god."

Clark turned to Chloe. "How long did you rule the planet as Sliviuh?"

Chloe seemed to be staring down at the floor when she answered at little more than a whisper. "Two hundred eighty three years."

"Ruled the planet?" asked Martha never having heard this before and not truly understanding.

"It was one of my darkest times. And it was one of the darkest times for the world. Some of the things I did were unbelievable foul."

"Why is this important now, Clark?" asked Lex, although he already had some strong suspicions.

"When Laura found herself trapped on board a ship she knew was going to be lost at sea somewhere in the next few days, she decided the only solution was to take control of the ship. And to take control of the ship, she started to enslave the minds of the crew. Lots of the crew. Somewhere along the line something snapped in her mind and she reverted to the earlier Sliviuh personality. And the Sliviuh personality didn't see enslaving the crew as simply a means of getting off the ship. No, she saw enslaving the crew as merely the first step on a path to regaining her rightful place as despot of the entire planet."

"Shit," exclaimed Lex. "It is a very scary concept that the person with the most powerful computer in the world in her head is intent on taking control of the planet."

"Lex," said Chloe quietly. "What you say is true, but I don't think you grasp how dangerous she truly is. Way back during the first reign of Sliviuh, she, okay I better say 'I' since talking about myself in the third person is just wrong; like pretending it was someone else. When I ruled the planet as Sliviuh, I was already thousands and thousands of years old. I had seen hundreds of generations of families, friends, associates, and enemies grow old and die around me. Yet I always lived on. Eventually, I reached the point where I no longer cared about human life. I mean they were all going to die in a few years anyway, so what did it matter if I killed people at my slightest whim?

"And that is what makes the situation truly scary if Sliviuh has control of Lana's body; she will not hesitate to kill anyone who gets in her way or even annoys her in anyway. Hell, back in the day, I had people tortured to death for simply bowing one inch less deep than what I thought was proper."

Clark sighed. "I think that pretty well describes her current state. Whitney was shot while he and Hank were trying to rescue the girls from the battleship. Sliviuh just stood there and watched him die. She made no attempt to use her 'bots to help him."

"Whitney's dead?" gasped Martha, as the shock of Clark's revelations of what had happened during the mere ten seconds he had been gone threatened to overwhelm her.

Clark nodded. "Yes. However there is still a chance we can go back and save him with the time machine, but we have to deal Sliviuh first."

Lex's gaze jumped from Chloe to Clark as he tried to imagine his Lana doing the sort of things the two of them had stated or implied. Then his thoughts were interrupted by a new, yet achingly familiar voice from the stairway.

"Hey, you guys aren't talking about me behind my back, are you?" asked Sliviuh, as she paused three steps from the bottom of the stairs.

Lex stared at her and for the moment everything Clark and Chloe had just said seemed to fade away. All he saw was the girl he loved. She was wearing jeans and a white tee shirt similar to what she had been wearing when she had left to take Whitney to the bus depot. Her hair was all wind-blown from the storm raging outside, but otherwise she looked very much the same.

Clark, too, looked at her and for a moment only saw Lana. Since her transformation into Sliviuh they had on several occasions missed each other by mere minutes, but in actual fact they hadn't yet crossed paths. Oh, she had left him a menacing note on the side of the dumpster back in New York, but somehow in his mind he had been thinking of her as a distinctly separate person and in his heart hadn't really accepted she would look and sound just like Lana, the girl he had fantasized about for so many of his adolescent years. After having already experienced Laura in Lana's body for several weeks back in Rome, he should have been more prepared for meeting Sliviuh in her body, but still it was Lana he saw at first glance.

Forcing himself to remember the true situation, Clark quickly turned his x-ray vision on her and scanned for meteor rocks. Nothing. Since she had to know their debilitating effect on him, he had assumed the first sign of her would be some kind of attack using meteor rocks. And that was what he had prepared for.

Quickly, Clark expanded his search for the meteor rocks he knew had to be there. But again he found nothing, at least not within a couple hundred feet. He didn't know why she had shown up without them, but he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Clark's search for the dangerous kryptonite didn't take more than two seconds. Before the others standing with him knew what happened, Clark simply vanished only to reappear instantly across the cellar standing behind Lana with his arms wrapped tightly around her.

"Oh, Clark," began Sliviuh, wiggling around in his powerful hold, but not really trying to get free. "Should you really be holding me like this in front of your girlfriend and my boyfriend after the things we did together back in Germany?"

Clark stared down at her for a moment having no idea what she was talking about.

She wiggled around a little more within his grasp and then suddenly exclaimed, "Why Clark, are you wearing lead panties?"

She gave a twist of her lower body that thrust her ass back against his crotch in a way everyone in the room could clearly see and interpret for its sexual intent.

Then she turned and looked up into his face and clearly read something in his expression. "You are! You're wearing lead panties! Why you naughty, naughty boy. I never would have guessed from our previous tryst that you're so kinky."

Clark stared down at her and wondered why she was fabricating a story about them having had an affair while they had been back in time. What could she hope to gain? Surely she must know he would never let her loose until they had figured out some way to force her out of Lana's body.

Then as he stared down across the mere six inches that separated their faces, he saw her eyes change. Then it spread until her whole expression seemed to be one of arrogant strength and power like she was the one in control and not he.

"Or perhaps it just means you are afraid of me. And you should be. I intend to rule the world. It will be glorious and I would prefer it if you were willingly at my side. But with or without you, I AM going to do it."

After pausing a moment, as though to let her words sink in, she continued. "Let me give you a little time to appreciate the hopelessness of your situation and then we will talk about it again."

Then in a slightly raised voice, Sliviuh commanded. "BEGONE."

Lex, Chloe, and Martha had been silently watching this exchange. They all had witnessed at various times Clark's incredible strength and had assumed once Clark had the girl in his arms the situation was under control. Lex had even begun wondering about the range of the small black box he still held in his hand. How far did he need to be from Chloe to use the device on Lana without risking resetting Chloe's 'bots, too?

Therefore they were all shocked when at her command, Clark vanished. At first it looked just like when Clark had moved in his superspeed mode from the position near them to the spot behind Sliviuh across the room. Blink and he was gone. But he didn't instantly reappear anywhere in sight by the time Sliviuh had dropped the eight inches from where he had been holding her hoisted above the staircase.

Sliviuh landed gracefully on the stairs. She took a moment to run her fingers through her tangled black hair before turning to the three standing motionless on the far side of the room.

"So much for Clark and all of his vaunted strength and speed," Sliviuh began. She shook her head before continuing. "He seems to have this delusion he is like the old Greek Gods. Well, we will have to see how he fares against the Herculean tasks I have set for him and learn if he is truly worthy of standing at my side."

Sliviuh lazily descended the three remaining steps. It was then the others saw the bobbing lights from the flashlights of several more people descending the stairs behind her.

Suddenly, Martha also vanished from their midst just as abruptly as Clark had departed.

"Of course," continued Sliviuh, "For one of Clark's trials we need a damsel in distress. Normally, I would have chosen his girlfriend, but since I need her body, he is going to have to make due with his mother."

At first Chloe couldn't think of how Sliviuh had managed the disappearing act with Clark. But with the much closer abduction of Martha, her enhanced senses had picked up the trace of a familiar perfume.

"Alicia. You got to Alicia."

Sliviuh gave a little bow of her head. "I am sure you can appreciate the advantage of knowing everything that is going to happen for two days into the future."

Then Sliviuh took a small step to the side to clear the way for the two men descending. It wasn't until they had nearly reached the bottom and the glow from the ship finally lit their faces that their identities were revealed. Jonathan Kent and Roger Nixon, each carrying a shotgun, stepped out onto the floor of the cellar and pointed their weapons unerringly towards Lex and Chloe.

"Now, if the two of you would be so kind as to throw down your cell phones and Lex get rid of the gun you are packing, too, we will be on our way."

"But Mistress," whined Jonathan. "You promised me I could kill him for what he did to Martha."

Lex felt his first real jolt of fear. Ten seconds ago the situation had seemed under control. But now Clark and Martha had vanished and Sliviuh had made Jonathan Kent believe he was responsible. He knew Jonathan had always regretted how Clark and he had become friends. He had never really understood why, but knew there had been a kernel of mistrust and animosity in Jonathan's heart that Sliviuh could easily have played to.

"I keep my promises, Jonathan," began Sliviuh in a sickly sweet tone. "But you will have to wait; there are some things I need from Lex first."

Then she turned back towards Lex and Chloe. "Gun and cellphones on the floor now or I will let them shoot you. Killing you for a few minutes will not inconvenience me all that much."

Lex longed for Lana's touch, but he knew he needed to avoid it for as long as possible while Sliviuh was controlling her body. And he still had the little black box clutched in his left hand. He just needed to find a way to get close enough to Sliviuh and far enough from Chloe to use it. Carefully, he reached his closed hand into his side pant's pocket and exchanged the box for his cell. Making a show of tossing the cell across the room, he then proceeded to follow it with his special, limited edition Walther PPK from his custom shoulder holster. The gun, and the fantasy of being James Bond it represented, weren't going to do him much good against someone who could instantly heal anyway.

"Let's go," commanded Sliviuh to Lex and Chloe.

Then before heading up the stairs, she gave one last set of instructions to the two with her. "Remember," reminded Sliviuh her two thralls, "do not let the girl touch you. If you do, I WILL kill you and everyone in your families. You are authorized to shoot them, if you have to."

Lex took in the expressions on Jonathan's and Nixon's faces. They had both been strong-willed men, but now they had been cowed by what Sliviuh had done to them. 'Enslaving minds' had been little more then words before, but now he was starting to understand what Clark and Chloe really meant. And no way did he want to end up like them. He had to find a way out before Sliviuh touched him.

"Lex, do what she says," suggested Chloe.

He looked at her and tried to read her expression. Did she have some plan in mind? But she was suddenly doing a good impression of a game-winning poker face.

Sliviuh led the way out of the ruined cellar. The wind was still howling when they got out into the open and headed back to the barnyard. Lex quickly spotted the large truck pulled up behind his Land Rover. A flash of lightening momentarily lit the side and he was surprised to see the large LuthorCorp logo. Had Sliviuh already infiltrated his company? She had made a comment about knowing things two days into the future. Did that mean she had already been here for two days? With her abilities it was difficult to imagine what she could have already accomplished.

They were led around to the back of the truck and the large roll-up door was raised.

"Alright you two, get in there," said Sliviuh.

Lex helped Chloe up over the tall tailgate, as her formal gown was intended for dancing not clambering into trucks.

Jonathan gestured for them to move further forward. When they had complied, Lex expected one or both of the men to join them. But Jonathan merely reached up to the dangling strap and pulled the door down. Lex was certain Sliviuh would have wanted to prevent them from making any plans, but apparently that was not the case.

With a clang of finality, the door slammed shut, cutting off all light. Then as his eyes tried to adjust, he heard the external lock click into place.

Part 4

Clark had Sliviuh securely in his grasp when he felt the lightest touch on his arm. Even with his superhuman speed, everything went momentarily black before he could react. Then just as abruptly, he knew he was somewhere else.

His arms were empty and his first thought was to wonder how Sliviuh had managed it. Obviously her plan had been to separate him from the others. But he began to wonder why do that, rather than simply incapacitate him? Had she been serious about her comments? Did she really expect him to join her in her quest to rule the world? Then he remembered Sliviuh wasn't simply some reincarnation of a 10,000 year old Chloe. No, she had all of Chloe's memories, at least up to events in the Roman arena. And perhaps she still had some of Chloe's feelings towards him. Maybe she truly did hope to convince him to join her.

Clark's thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a voice out of the darkness. The voice seemed to come from everywhere, but it wasn't as though it was coming from speakers located all around him. No, it was as though the person speaking was moving from place to place in an instant. And if it was the person who had transported him here, it was probably true.

"Clark . . . don't . . . do . . . anything . . . rash . . . before . . . you . . . read . . . the . . . message . . . on . . . the . . . table . . . or . . . you . . . will . . . probably . . . end . . . up . . . regretting . . . it."

The voice was pleasantly female and it only took him a second to place it.

"Alicia, is that you? How did you do it? Why did you do it? Where are we?"

But his voice echoed back and he knew she was already gone.

Clark quickly glanced around him. The chamber he was in was large and mostly in darkness. The only light was coming from a sputtering gas lantern on a stone table at the far end of the chamber, at least seventy-five feet away. Clark cranked up his special vision and scanned the room using everything from infra-red to x-rays. He was immediately reminded of the secret temple chamber deep beneath the chateau back in Germany. Oh, this one wasn't covered in paintings and tapestries glorifying the demon realm, as the murals he was currently looking at were much more benign. But this room like the other was carved from solid rock deep underground with several rows of massive columns supporting the ceiling towering far above.

Taking Alicia's warning message to heart, he started to walk towards the table at the far end of the room. As he went, Clark looked up and extended his x-ray vision far beyond the limits of the chamber. And immediately, he knew where he was. For two hundred feet straight above his current position was the crouching form of the Giant Sphinx. And when he lowered his gaze towards the horizon in the direction in which he was walking, he could make out the Great Pyramid in the distance. He was definitely in Egypt.

While part of his mind processed this data, another part was still focused on Alicia. How had she moved him here in an instant? Obviously, she had to be a meteor freak with the gift of teleportation. And was that any harder to believe than the guys who had been able to walk through walls?

But how had Sliviuh known to enslave her? He had known Alicia slightly for years and had come to know her a lot better over the past couple of months since the events surrounding the Necrodemis flower had thrown them together. Yet he had never had any inkling Alicia was a meteor freak. If Sliviuh already knew about Alicia's gift, it had to mean Chloe had known about her, too. If that was the case, why hadn't Chloe told him? And if Chloe had known about her, for how long had she known? And had Alicia known about his special abilities before her encounter with Sliviuh? Well, if she had, she obviously hadn't told anyone.

Another part of Clark's enhanced mind was chastising himself for letting Sliviuh get him into this position. He should have known she wouldn't have simply walked into the storm cellar without a plan. He never should have given her the opportunity to talk. No, he should have grabbed her and then without dropping out of speed mode he should have grabbed the little black box and sped far away before stopping to use it on her.

But then he had to wonder if Sliviuh had been prepared for that eventuality, too. What did he know about the limits of Alicia's gift? Could she have tracked him where ever he went and then swooped in to retrieve Sliviuh when he paused to use the device? Sliviuh had seemed very confident, but was it because she was that certain of the outcome or just a result of her thousands of years of experience?

Clark realized it was pointless to 'armchair-quarterback' the events back in the storm cellar. He had screwed up and badly underestimated her. The important thing was to focus on the future and doing things better the next time.

He forced himself to pick up the pace as he continued moving towards the far end of the room. Even though he had had various aspects of his enhanced vision for almost six months, Clark was still most comfortable using his normal vision. And as he reached end of the room with the gas lantern, he almost stopped in shock as he realized the chamber was filled with more gleaming golden objects than he had ever seen. It was like the set of some old adventure movie where the hero enters the undisturbed crypt of some long lost Pharaoh. This chamber was filled with countless solid gold jars, vases, artworks, furniture, and a plethora of objects he didn't even recognize with only a brief glance. His x-ray vision told him most of the objects were solid gold not just mere gold-leaf. Without conscious thought, his mind supplied an estimate of nearly forty tons of gold in all.

However what stopped him in his tracks, as much as the fortune in gold, was the giant mural adorning the wall beyond the table with the lantern. It depicted the Sphinx sitting in a green river valley, just like the stained glass windows in Chloe's Solarium room back in ancient Rome – right down to her face on the Sphinx. One of the two murals was obviously based on the other and at the moment Clark would have bet money on this one being the original. This room simply felt ancient in a way Rome never had. Perhaps it was the fetid air which felt like it hadn't circulated in thousands of years. Or perhaps it was the way the lantern sputtered like there was barely enough oxygen down here to support the flame.

Forcing himself to move again, Clark quickly reached the stone table, which up close looked more like an altar than anything else. A number of gold relics had been haphazardly pushed aside to clear a space near the center. And in the center of this cleared space sat the lantern. Directly in front of the lantern was a folded piece of paper torn from a spiral notebook. Resting on top of the paper was an old-style pocket watch.

The watch looked vaguely familiar and when Clark picked it up, he couldn't suppress a loud gasp. The pocket watch was the old family heirloom his father always carried, which he had inherited from his grandfather, Clark's great grandfather. And the message the watch delivered was perfectly clear, Sliviuh had enslaved his father.

Quickly, Clark set the watch aside and picked up the paper.

GREETINGS CLARK,

I'M AFRAID YOU ARE A VERY LONG WAY FROM HOME, SO I HOPE YOU CAN SWIM AS FAST AS YOU CAN RUN.

Began the letter, and Clark felt a small smile cross his lips. Sliviuh didn't know about his ability to fly! He knew she had never seen him fly, as he had only been able to fly in 'speed mode' while she had still been in the past. But even without seeing him, she might have been able to extrapolate his ability based on other clues. But apparently she hadn't, which might provide him with an unexpected advantage he could exploit down the line.

Quickly he turned back to the message.

BUT BEFORE YOU GO HARRYING BACK TO SMALLVILLE, LET ME ASK A QUICK QUESTION. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO PARIS? IF YOU HAVEN'T, OR EVEN IF YOU HAVE, I THINK YOU MIGHT WANT TO STOP THERE FOR A QUICK VISIT. FOR YOU SEE, THIS AFTERNOON ALICIA AND I HAD THE MOST INTERESTING CHAT WITH SEVERAL FRENCH MILITARY MEN. AND AS A RESULT, THEY HAVE GENEROUSLY INSTALLED A NUCLEAR DEVICE ON THE EIFFEL TOWER JUST FOR LITTLE OLE ME. I DIDN'T WANT THEM TO GO TO TOO MUCH TROUBLE, SO NOTHING BIG AND FANCY, JUST FIFTY KILOTONS. I ESTIMATE IT WON'T KILL MORE THAN THIRTY-SEVEN THOUSAND PEOPLE. WELL, AT LEAST DURING THE INITIAL BLAST, THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE MAY PUSH THE TOTAL UP CLOSER TO SEVENTY-FIVE THOUSAND. ANYWAY, YOU MIGHT WANT TO MAKE A STOP IN PARIS BEFORE RETURNING TO SMALLVILLE. THE BOMB IS SET TO GO OFF AT 7:37. I HOPE YOUR FATHER'S WATCH IS ACCURATE.

GOOD LUCK, CLARK.

P.S. I DO HOPE YOU THINK SERIOUSLY ABOUT MY SUGGESTION OF JOINING ME. WE COULD HAVE AN ABSOLUTE BLAST RUNNING THE WORLD THE WAY IT SHOULD BE RUN. XOXOXO

Clark stared at the message for a moment. A nuke! Sliviuh was planning to set off a nuke! And he knew she wouldn't be bluffing. They had just been discussing how she had no regard for human life and she obviously wanted to ensure he didn't interfere with her plans back in Smallville.

Clark's eyes shot to the old pocket watch. It read 7:34. He had three minutes to get to Paris and figure out how to stop the bomb.

In one fluid motion Clark gathered up his father's pocket watch and slid it along with the handwritten note into the front pocket of his gray coveralls. By the time his hand cleared his pocket, his feet were already eight feet above the floor as he rocketed towards the ceiling. During his initial walk from the far end of the chamber, he had spotted the original entrance to the chamber. But it had long been backfilled with rock, which probably explained why this chamber had not yet been rediscovered. Since that old passage sloped gently upwards and had numerous twisting turns, it would be far quicker to simply create a new route which led more directly to the surface. Therefore almost without conscious thought, his body had headed towards the ceiling. However as he climbed, he angled his trajectory back towards the far end of the chamber. Then when he was ten feet short of the ceiling he cranked up his heat vision all the way and started to burn a passage like he had done so many times before in the past couple of weeks.

He continued to angle his trajectory until he finally burst through the surface directly between the front paws of the Giant Sphinx. He was momentarily blinded by the brilliant light, but then quickly passed back into near total darkness. After having been transported straight from early evening twilight in Smallville to the underground chamber, he had momentarily forgotten about the time difference here in Egypt. If it was 7:30 back home, it had to be around 3:30 in the morning here. The burst of light he had momentarily experienced had been nothing more than a bank of floodlights illuminating one of Egypt's great treasures.

He briefly considered pausing to fill in the gaping passageway he had left to the long lost chamber below, but decided he might need every available second in Paris. Besides, even if he filled it in, no way would it go unnoticed. No, at most it would buy a few days or weeks before the chamber was explored. Then he remembered how Chloe's face was clearly shown on the massive mural. If it was discovered, it would be on every news feed in the world within minutes. Someone, somewhere, would most definitely recognize her.

At this thought, his staggeringly fast pace did actually falter, but then he remembered the thirty-seven thousand plus potential victims waiting for his attention in Paris. It was very dark out and he was going to have to hope the new passageway wouldn't be discovered until morning, which should give him time to resolve the situation in Paris, get back to Smallville and solved the problems there, and still leave time to return. And besides, there were probably hundreds of depictions of Chloe's face down there scattered upon the various murals, sculptures, and decorative vases. It would take far more than the couple of seconds he could spare to ensure the chamber was completely sanitized. No, things here were definitely of lower priority than either Paris or Smallville, where lives were most definitely in jeopardy. And if Chloe's identity did end up being revealed, well they would just have to find someway to cope.

Therefore with the decision on what to do about the secret chamber in Egypt temporarily shelved, Clark turned northwest and accelerated hard while simultaneously pushing himself deep into the 'speed zone'. He might need every second he could shave off the travel time once he reached his destination.

To an outside observer, Clark's trip from Egypt to Paris would have taken just under five seconds. But from Clark's perspective, due to the peculiar physics of the 'speed zone', it felt more like twenty minutes.

He tried to use the time constructively. He hadn't received much useful information on French, or any other earthly nuclear weapon's design details during the massive data infusion he had received during the previous day's Purl Nous experience. Oh, he could now assemble a Kryptonese gravity beam weapon blindfolded, but that wasn't going to do much good in the current situation. And design details for atomic bombs hadn't been emphasized in the curriculum at Smallville High either. About all he could guess from his limited knowledge and the hints from the note was that the device was probably fairly small, most likely in the range of a large suitcase. He remembered from somewhere that the tower was around a thousand feet tall. Finding a suitcase sized object in that mass of steel girders might be like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack. He wondered if his unique senses could detect the special radiation put out by uranium or plutonium or whatever radioactive material was used for the bomb's power source. He had never had occasion to try before.

Quickly Clark turned his attention to the glittering surface of the sea far below. He thought the United States Navy frequently had a carrier task force in the Eastern Mediterranean and if he could locate it, he could try and spot the nuclear weapons carried on board or even the nuclear reactors which powered the mighty ships. And if there wasn't carrier group, there would certainly be nuclear-powered submarines from one or more of the American, French, English, or Russian Navies.

It took five minutes of his apparent travel time to finally spot his first submarine. And rather than its nuclear reactor or its atomic-tipped missiles, it was the massive electromagnetic field put out by all the electronics that first drew his attention. Fortunately, with that flag providing a focus point for his attention, he closed his eyes and explored the area with his other senses. Strangely enough, the unique sensation he discovered about the submerged vessel appeared in his brain through his sense of taste rather than as some variation of his sense of sight that he had expected. Somehow the radiation he was picking up triggered a sensation, which more than anything reminded him of tasting a slice of orange covered in peanut butter. Most odd.

Once he knew what to look for, he quickly located three more submarines as well as a spot on land off to his right which had to be a power plant somewhere in southern Italy. Satisfied he would be able to locate the device once he reached Paris, Clark tried to focus on what would happen next. But beyond the device's timer, he had no idea what else to expect. He knew from the movies that bombs could be rigged up with all kinds of anti-tamper devices like motion sensors, temperature sensors, and possibly even radiation sensors that could detect his x-ray vision. Could he disable the device without accidentally setting it off?

Then he remembered the bomb Nixon had tried to use to blow up his old pickup. That device had gone off, but Clark had been fast enough to remove the fuel tank before bomb's wave front had propagated beyond its boundaries. How fast would the explosion from an atomic bomb propagate? Could he remove it to a safe distance once the nuclear chain reaction had begun? Perhaps once he found it, if he did everything in 'speed mode', he could get the device clear before any anti-tamper mechanisms could react.

Feeling a little better that he could probably detect the device and remove it before it could trigger, Clark let his mind wander to other topics as a large island swept by far below and a broad coastline, which had to be the French Riviera, started to come into view. And while he should have been planning what to do when he returned to Smallville, he instead found himself thinking about Sliviuh's 'lead panties' comment and how it had felt when she had rubbed her butt against his crotch.

He had thought seeing Sliviuh in Lana's body would have been similar to seeing Laura in Lana's body back in ancient Rome. But this had somehow been much hotter and more provocative. Then thinking back, he suddenly realized Laura had almost never touched him except in emergency situations. Had Laura had feelings for him, but refrained from acting on them since she was trapped in Lex's girlfriend's body? Sometimes he almost had to remind himself that Laura was really Chloe, as she seemed so different – more cool and clinical. But inside, she had still been Chloe, so of course she would have had feelings for him. How much had it cost her to see the other 'real' Chloe with him while she had been forced to stay away? Once again, he was forced to wonder how much of those feelings were in Sliviuh, too. Could he use that to his advantage? Or would it ultimately be to his detriment? Because Chloe in Lana's body was like some secret fantasy and if Sliviuh had rubbed her ass against him for five more seconds, she might have had more to comment on than just 'lead panties'.

For a second Clark couldn't suppress a grin. She did find the most erotic way of telling him she had guessed about the lead lining Var and he had so carefully applied to this pair of coveralls. Still, if he ever got passed this current situation and back to his 'regular' life, something similar would be handy for his frequent bouts with meteor freaks. Could they, with more than one day's notice, come up with some coating or suit that he could wear under his normal clothing? Hmm . . .

His musings, while not entirely productive, had served to fill the travel time. For when he looked forward into the distance, he could see a white glow stretching almost from horizon to horizon. It had to be Paris and the old 'City of Lights' moniker appeared to fit it well.

Clark began a steady descent from the eighty thousand foot altitude where he had been flying. As he swept over the edge of the city, he easily picked out the Eiffel Tower. It dominated the skyline of the central part of the great city standing at least twice as tall as any competing structure. And somehow its shape and brilliant gaudy lighting made Clark think of it as some giant sparkly Christmas tree. Of course, this tree currently possessed one extremely dangerous ornament, and if he didn't find it quickly, a whole lot of people were going to have a very, very bad day. And if he wasn't careful that might even include him. He knew his body was unbelievable tough, but could even it survive inside a nuclear fireball? He didn't know and certainly wanted to avoid finding out the hard way, if at all possible.

Swooping down, Clark spotted many of the brilliantly lit landmarks: The Arc de Triomphe, The Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile-de-la Cite Island in the center of the Seine, The Louvre. Towering over them all was his destination: The Eiffel Tower.

It was two-thirty in the morning. Even for a Saturday night in Paris, life was beginning to wind down. Stores and most restaurants were shuttered; only bars and nightclubs were still open. While the Tower was ablaze with light, it should be almost vacant; its two main restaurants had been closed for over three hours and even the observation deck had been closed for almost two.

Clark performed two spiraling loops around the Tower as he descended, focusing his new found senses for traces of radioactivity. Halfway through the second loop he 'tasted' a hot spot near the western side of the second level – in an area to one side of the 'Le Jules Verne' restaurant. As he moved closer he realized the hot spot wasn't actually on the second level, but in the supporting girders directly below.

He brought his full range of senses into play before moving too close, in the hopes he might spot any external anti-tampering sensors before he triggered them. However what he actually spotted was the heat signatures of a large group of human bodies. Roughly twenty people were clustered within fifty feet of where his senses told him the bomb was located.

Had Sliviuh left a sacrificial set of guards stationed around the device? Quickly Clark scanned the area for meteor rocks, but didn't find any. It didn't at first make any sense. He knew from the tenor of her note that she didn't really intend to blow up Paris. No, it was just a way to keep him distracted while she did whatever it was she intended with Lex, Chloe, and his Mom. So, a large group of guards didn't seem to make sense. Sliviuh knew they wouldn't slow Clark down. And besides too many people milling around would just draw the wrong type of attention whereas a couple men in workmen's clothing could have easily moved the small device in and set it up without anyone noticing.

No, the large group most likely wasn't from Sliviuh, which probably meant someone else had discovered the bomb before he had arrived. And whoever it was, they must have called in the police. The $64,000 question was – could they disarm it in time without any help from him?

He had to know for certain, before he could simply allow the clock to wind down to zero. And then a second thought struck him – was there another message from Sliviuh he needed to see?

Before moving closer, Clark pulled his father's pocket watch from his pocket to verify how much time was remaining, as traveling for so long so deep in the 'speed zone' made judging the passage of time in the real world a little tricky. He was momentarily startled when he saw it read 7:59, over twenty minutes passed the deadline. Just for a moment he wondered if the whole bomb threat had been a fake before he realized that since the watch had been in his pocket, it had experienced the same time distortion he had when deep within the 'speed zone'. Abruptly, he shoved the watch back into his pocket, it wasn't' going to be of any value for telling time in the 'real' world.

He was just starting to move closer to the Tower when the full implications of the 7:59 on the watch sank in. He thought he had until the very last second to remove the bomb to a safe distance, but that might not be the case. If he came into physical contact with the bomb, it might be just like what had happened with the watch. It would be sucked into his personal field and time for the bomb would seem to speed up. He might actual cause it to explode when he tried to move it to safety.

Clark moved closer to where he felt the bomb was located but paused before getting close enough to touch anything to give himself a little more time to think back to his previous experiences while in 'speed mode'. With the bomb in the gas tank of his old truck, his contact had been brief – just while he had been tearing loose the mounting brackets and then while moving the tank. But if the whole tank had been moved into his accelerated frame of reference, the tank still should have fire-balled. Since it didn't there must be a reason. After considering it for a few moments, he concluded it must have been because the explosion was propagating through a liquid rather than a solid. Somehow the fluid must not have been shifted while the surrounding metal tank had been.

Then he thought back to events during the sinking of the battleship Hitler. During its initial plunge to the bottom, merely pushing against the bow of the mighty ship hadn't had any appreciable effect. It wasn't until he had pressed his hands into the metal of the hull that whatever field his body put out had expanded to encompass the whole ship. Then once it had been lofted into the sky and he had removed his hands, it had shifted back to 'normal' mode. And it had stayed there throughout the ensuing rescue efforts when he and Var had removed all of the survivors. Apparently, burning countless holes through the superstructure hadn't been sufficient to cause it to shift back into his 'speed zone' field.

Size and material properties seemed to affect how objects shifted into his personal field. However a nuclear bomb didn't seem like the best object to use for some field experiments. No, he had best get to it with the most possible time remaining and then minimize the time he was in physical contact.

While a part of his mind had been studying the issues of how to use his 'speed zone' gift to its best advantage, another part of his mind had been studying the situation with the bomb.

The bomb was enclosed in a black metal case and was located in the lattice work of girders supporting the second main level of the tower. It was about twenty feet from the western edge of the structure and would have been well camouflaged in the maze of shadows created by the external lights illuminating the great tower if not for the battery of temporary floodlights set up in its immediate vicinity.

Of the twenty people he had originally spotted in the bomb's general area, fifteen were up on the second level while five were down in supporting structure. Two men appeared to be working on the bomb, or at least had removed one of the outer panel; while the other three were positioned to form a relay to pass forward any additional equipment that might be required.

Clark wove his way passed the three 'frozen in place' relay men and moved up next to the two men at the bomb. For a moment he simply hovered in place as he studied the situation. The men had already removed one access cover and one of them was frozen with a hand extended inside. Peering passed the man's shoulder, Clark could make out a mass of wiring that looked like so much multi-colored spaghetti. Intermingled with the wiring was an array of mechanical devices from cams to gears to linkages. However dominating his attention was a large red LED display. The display was lit with several sequences of numbers, but at first glance it was obvious which one was the timer. Currently, its big red digits were frozen at one minute thirty seven seconds.

On the one hand, Clark hated to give away his presence to these people, as it could possibly result in a complete loss of privacy for himself and his family. But on the other hand, if they were moments away from disarming the device, it would be better to let them finish than taking the additional risk of moving the device. Deciding minimizing the risk was more important than having his secret revealed, Clark reached up with one hand, grabbed a support beam, and dropped back to 'normal mode'. At least at first glance by hanging from his right hand he wouldn't appear to be hovering magically in mid-air, even if he would have seemed to suddenly appear out of nowhere.

"ARE YOU GOING TO BE ABLE TO DISARM IT IN TIME?" asked Clark in French with all the power and authority he could project based on his experiences of the past few weeks. Hopefully, the commanding tone would elicit a response before the shock of his miraculous appearance sank in. And he was suddenly thankful for the language skills Var had included in the Purl Nous procedure. At least some good was coming from it since so far the supposedly enhanced mental skills hadn't proved to be of much value in his struggle against Sliviuh.

"No," responded the man, whose arm was deep inside the device. The other man was staring at Clark in shock, but the first man hadn't yet looked up from the task he was performing inside the large box. "If I had ten more minutes, maybe, but I am having to cut too many corners and am just as likely to set it off myself."

Clark briefly considered pulling the man into the 'speed zone' to give him more time. But he had never successfully managed it before. Not that he had particularly tried. But when he had moved Indy and the others from place to place via the 'Transporter Effect', none of them had ever gone into 'speed mode'. After the knowledge and skills he had gained from the Purl Nous, he thought it should now be possible. But again, did he want to make his first attempts while a bomb was about to go off?

"THEN YOU BETTER LET ME HANDLE THINGS. ARE THERE ANY ANTI-TAMPER TRIGGERS TO WORRY ABOUT?"

The man pulled his arm clear of the device and turned in the direction of Clark's voice. Sweat was dripping off the man's face and the first signs of defeat and panic were setting in around his eyes. "Who . . . who are you?"

"IT IS NOT IMPORTANT NOW. ANTI-TAMPER TRIGGERS?" Clark prompted again. "CAN THE BOMB BE MOVED?"

The man didn't respond, but simply stared at Clark.

"WHAT IS YOUR NAME?" commanded Clark in a tone that demanded a response. Hopefully, if he could get him talking again the man could get passed the shock he was sinking into with death mere seconds away.

"Jacques. Jacques Alexandre."

"Okay, Jacques. This is very important. Are there any anti-tamper triggers?" Clark asked in a more normal tone.

Jacques swallowed hard and then answered. "I have all of the motion sensors disabled except for a pair running a current through the support beam it is attached to. They are buried in epoxy and I can't get at them to rig a bypass."

"If the support beam is moved with the bomb, can it be moved?"

"Yeah, but there is no way to unbolt and remove a twenty ton beam in less than a minute," Jacques answered in a ragged tone, the hopelessness of the situation starting to take hold of him again.

Clark quickly scanned the surrounding area for the best place to cut the big beam with his heat vision. The trickiest part was going to be how to thread it and the bomb out of the maze of girders. Then he realized he was running out of time to be subtle; he was going to have to melt a path straight through until he was clear. Hopefully, the Tower had a lot of redundant structure and his action wouldn't bring it crashing down.

"MOVE BACK AND GRAB HOLD OF SOMETHING SOLID," Clark commanded as he began burning through the massive beam ten feet beyond the bomb. As soon as he was through, he grabbed the beam just in front of the bomb and then cut through the beam ten feet on this side of it also. Almost instantly the massive beam was free and with one hand Clark held the combination bomb plus beam in place.

One part of his mind was keeping count and there was now forty-five seconds until the nuke would explode. Time enough for one last question.

"WAS THERE A MESSAGE WITH THE DEVICE?"

Jacques was staring at the white-hot cut ends of the beam where molten iron was still dripping free before making the long two hundred foot plunge to the ground below. With agonizing slowness he nodded. "The terrorists left a note, but it is in some kind of code. The 'suits' up above are working on it."

No time to retrieve Sliviuh's note now, thought Clark. He was going to have to come back for it after he disposed of the bomb.

Turning his gaze in the shortest direction out of the Tower's structure, Clark cranked his heat vision up to high and started burning a path even has he accelerated the twenty ton beam faster and faster. Within ten seconds he was finally in the clear and drove himself harder than ever before. His body automatically wanted to dip deep into the 'speed zone', but he forced himself to resist, as he knew that might simply accelerate the bomb's detonation.

Pushing hard, Clark accelerated the great mass faster and higher. When the countdown in his head reached five seconds, Clark flung the beam and its deadly payload up as hard as he could. After releasing it, he finally had time to take in his surroundings. The sky was pitch-black all around him with the only tinges of lighter color far, far below. More than anything the view reminded him of photos taken from the shuttle in low earth orbit. He knew he was higher than he had ever been in the week since he had learned to fly, but could he really be a hundred miles up and completely outside of the earth's atmosphere?

Turning his attention back up in the direction he had tossed the beam, he quickly spotted it, as at that moment it passed out of the Earth's shadow and into the blazing sunlight. The black device and dark colored beam suddenly seemed to gleam against the absolutely black sky only possible here outside the atmosphere.

The pair was already at least twenty miles from Clark's position, but Clark still wasn't comfortable with allowing the bomb to go off if he could possibly avoid it. Who knew what damage shrapnel from the blast might cause to orbital satellites or even to things down on the ground. Using his newly fine-tuned telescopic vision in conjunction with his heat vision, Clark sent a focused blast of energy directly into the plutonium core of the bomb. Instantly, a two inch diameter chunk of the core was vaporized and sent blasting out the far side of the device. This alone would have been sufficient to drop the bomb below critical mass, but Clark continued to sweep his powerful gaze across the core until it was completely reduced to an expanding cloud of individual atoms. Then Clark widened the beam of power projecting from his eyes and continued pumping energy into the cloud until electrons were stripped away from nuclei and nuclei were broken up into smaller, more stable elements.

Finally, after almost a minute of intense effort, Clark allowed his heat vision to dwindle away to nothing. Then with barely a pause, he pointed his body back down and dove towards the surface and the waiting note from Sliviuh. For less than five minutes had elapsed since Alicia had deposited him in the secret chamber below the Giant Sphinx and doubtlessly Sliviuh would want him out of the way for longer than that. As he tore back to Paris and the Eiffel Tower, he wondered what distraction Sliviuh had planned next.

Clark made the return journey to Paris deep in 'speed zone'. The total travel time didn't feel much different to him, but he knew in the outside world less than a second would pass compared to the nearly one minute of the outbound journey.

When he reached the tower he dropped lightly onto the deck of the second level, but remained in 'speed mode'. It would take less time to search for the message this way plus he didn't want to reveal his presence to any more people, if he could avoid it. Already Jacques Alexandre and possibly several of the other men who had been working on the bomb might be able to give an accurate description of him, but no point in compounding the problem.

Most of the people standing on the exposed portion of the deck were staring up into the dark sky. They must have seen his departure and were still waiting for the bomb's explosion. Great. If his departure had been unnoticed, it would have been only the word of the five men below about what had happened. And their story about a man flying and also burning through iron beams would have been almost impossible to believe. But if another dozen people had seen him fly off into the night sky while carrying the giant beam and the bomb, it was going to be that much harder for them to put it down to some kind of group hysteria.

Steadily Clark searched everyone present and then also searched through the seemingly countless black duffle bags of equipment scattered around the area. He eventually found the access panel which had been removed from the bomb, but there wasn't a trace of anything that looked like a note from Sliviuh.

Cranking up his x-ray vision, Clark scanned the surrounding area. Immediately he spotted another half dozen people inside the restaurant gathered around a couple of tables filled with laptop computers and communication gear.

Clark ran around to the front entrance of the restaurant and then sprinted inside. One man standing near the first table full of equipment was holding the note. He was frozen in mid-gesture and was obviously talking to the man and woman standing in front of him. As Clark peered over the man's shoulder at the message, he could see the screens on several of the computers in his peripheral vision. He instantly realized they were displaying scanned versions of the message. And if these computers had copies, then they could already have been forwarded to countless other places. Retaining his anonymity was looking harder and harder. And that was before he even saw the contents of the message.

HI CLARK!

IF YOU ARE READING THIS, YOU MUST HAVE MADE IT TO PARIS IN TIME. BUT THEN I KNEW YOU WOULD. I AM SURE THE POTENTIAL DEATHS OF TENS OF THOUSANDS WAS A POWERFUL MOTIVATOR FOR YOU.

HOW DO YOU LIKE THE WELCOMING COMMITTEE? I GAVE THEM A CALL BEFORE HEADING OUT TO YOUR FARM, SO THEY WOULD HAVE PLENTY OF TIME TO UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION BEFORE YOU ARRIVED. SINCE I (OR WE, IF YOU HAVE RECONSIDERED MY OFFER) WILL HAVE CONTROL OF THE PLANET WITHIN A FEW DAYS ANYWAY, I DECIDED TODAY IS AS GOOD OF TIME AS ANY TO LET THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD KNOW THAT GODS ARE WALKING AMONG THEM. AND I AM SURE WHATEVER METHOD YOU USED TO DISPOSE OF THE BOMB WILL HELP CONVINCE THEM OF THE FACT.

'Shit, shit, shit!' thought Clark, as he couldn't help but be distracted from his reading for a moment. He had never considered that Sliviuh might 'out' his secret. But then she had played the 'gods among men' game several times before in her long life. So why not use Clark's abilities against him? Since she couldn't possibly exchange blood with every political and military leader in the world in a mere couple of days, part of her plan had to be based on the old 'smoke and mirrors.' And he had just unintentionally provided a good dash of it in support of her cause. Damn, she had planned things out a lot more than he had expected. How many other things had she already set into motion? He was finally starting to grasp the near limitless potential her computer enhanced mind gave her.

Forcing his attention back to Sliviuh's note, he read on.

I AM SURE YOU HAVE GUESSED I NEED TO KEEP YOU OCCUPIED FOR A LITTLE WHILE LONGER. SO THE NEXT STOP ON YOUR WORLD TOUR IS VICTORIA FALLS ON THE ZAMBEZI RIVER IN SOUTHERN AFRICA ON THE BORDER BETWEEN ZAMBIA AND ZIMBABWE. THIS IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST WATERFALLS IN THE WORLD BASED ON TOTAL VOLUME AND WITH A DROP OF THREE HUNDRED SIXTY FEET, IT ISN'T A SLOUCH IN THAT AREA EITHER. NOW, WHY WOULD YOU BE MOTIVATED TO GO THERE, I AM SURE YOU ARE ASKING YOURSELF. WELL, CLARK, MY NEW BEST FRIEND ALICIA (OH, DID I MENTION SHE WILL BE A PART OF MY PANTHEON OF GODS RULING THE PLANET? AND SHE MIGHT EVEN BE AT MY RIGHT HAND IF YOU TURN DOWN THE POSITION. SO THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT IT, CLARK.) HAS TELEPORTED YOUR MOTHER INTO A SMALL BOAT JUST ABOVE THE FALLS. DEPENDING ON THE VAGRATIES OF THE CURRENTS, THE BOAT SHOULD MAKE ITS FATAL PLUNGE AT 7:40. SO YOU MIGHT WANT TO HURRY, AS I HAVE ALWAYS LIKED HER AND WOULD HATE TO SEE ANYTHING BAD HAPPEN TO HER.

LOVE AND KISSES,

SLIVIUH

His Mom! Sliviuh had taken his Mom!

Clark felt anger boiling up inside him like he hadn't felt in a long time. He didn't think he had felt an emotion quite like this since the time he found Chloe and Lana executed in the Roman arena. Oh, he had been scared after the virus from his ship had made the jump from Lex to Chloe, but at the time it had seemed to have been caused by a malfunction of his ship, and it was impossible to hate an inanimate object like it was possible to hate a person. He had truly hated Venta back in Rome for what he had done to the girls and hadn't been too upset to find out how Venta had met his demise. And now, suddenly, he was starting to feel a similar anger and hatred toward Sliviuh. It had seemed almost like a game, however putting strangers or himself in danger was one thing, doing it to his mother was something completely different.

He felt the anger continue to rise, but he knew he had to keep it under control. This wasn't the time or place for a repeat of what had happened back in the arena. 'Focus, Clark, focus,' he told himself.

Scanning the room he quickly spotted the large map of Africa spread out across the second table. He must have seen it when he arrived, but it hadn't registered as important. Now he raced over and started looking for the words 'Victoria Falls'. Fortunately, someone had already circled them in red, which made them easy to spot. Once he found it, he ran his finger over to the edges of the chart to read off the latitude and longitude. One part of the mental gift Var had included in the Purl Nous was how to interpret the signals coming from the GPS satellites and then how to do the necessary math in his head to calculate his position. Now he should be able to fly the most direct path possible to the falls.

Straightening up from the chart, his eyes fell on the row of computers set up on the next table over. All of them were running Windows and were displaying the time in the lower right corners. Two of the machines were showing 02:39 and one was showing 02:38. Factoring in the seven hour time difference from Smallville meant two out of the three machines said he had less than a minute and that wasn't even including Sliviuh's 'vagraties in the current' remark.

Clark instantly launched himself into the air on the most direct path possible. He didn't even bother wasting the miniscule amount of time needed to use his heat vision to bore him a path. No, he simply slammed straight through the ceiling of the restaurant without slowing. He then punched straight through one of the massive support trusses which kept the upper structure erect. For a moment he almost didn't care if the mighty tower collapsed or not. But then after he cleared the structure and continued to climb almost straight up, he did open his senses for a moment and studied the tower. He could literally feel the strains and loads in the truss work change and flow until a new equilibrium was reached and he knew the damage he had caused via his abrupt passage and the earlier removal of the bomb supporting beam were neither going to cause the famous tower to collapse.

Gustave Eiffel's masterpiece was already dwindling beneath him as he turned his senses up towards the sky above. Instantly Clark began scanning for the GPS satellites in their low, fast orbits. Hopefully, he wouldn't need their services to find the Victoria Falls as truly accessing them would require dropping out of 'speed zone' and back to normal time to read their real-time signals. But at the moment, it seemed the best use of his time while making the long journey. Because at a guess, the falls were almost twice as far from Paris as the Giant Sphinx and the journey from there had felt like about twenty minutes. So it would probably be closer to forty minutes from his perspective before he would reach his current destination.

Since he had plenty of time and since searching for satellites in the sky didn't require his full attention, Clark forced down his still seething anger towards Sliviuh and reviewed this new message from her for any additional useful data. And the first thing that came to mind was her remark about establishing a 'pantheon of gods' to rule the world. She had distinctly included him and Alicia, but three hardly seemed to meet the definition of 'pantheon'. So who else could she be referring to? Alicia's teleportation ability had to be derived from meteor rocks just like so many of the other superhuman abilities he had run across during the past year. And that in turn implied a couple of things. First, it said all or at least some of the meteor freaks were just as vulnerable to attack by Sliviuh's 'bots as normal humans. And second, it implied Sliviuh had or was planning to recruit more meteor freaks, which was a very scary thought. Many of the meteor freaks he had encountered had only been defeated because they either didn't think about the longer-term consequences of their actions or had simply been driven insane. If they hadn't been half crazed or trapped in the ultimate 'me generation' moment, they would have been far more dangerous. But he now knew from experience that planning ahead was one of Sliviuh's greatest strengths. Hell, she was quite capable of planning so far ahead, she could choose to wait to implement a plan until all of her adversaries had died of old age.

Not that she appeared to be taking the slow path in this instance. No, she was pushing forward as fast as she could, almost as though she was working to some kind of secret deadline. Why else would she have made her move at the earliest possible moment after the timeloop had been completed? Surely the smart move would have been to wait a few days or weeks until their guard was down. Hell, she could have simply disappeared for a few years while she consolidated her position and then she could have presented her conquest of the planet as a fait accompli. And in the meantime Clark and Chloe would have been trapped with the ongoing task of regularly testing all the important world political and military leaders for signs of nanobot contamination. So, why had she acted so quickly?

At the moment he didn't have enough information to make any useful guesses, but he would have to keep the question in mind when he read any additional messages from her. Somehow, if he could understand her motivation for attacking when she did, it felt like he would have the solution to the whole situation.

Forcing himself to leave that train of thought for a future time when he had more data, Clark turned his attention to another very troubling aspect of her latest message and the events at the Tower. Namely, the high potential he was about to have his simple life as a high school student in Smallville ripped away from him. She hadn't quite used the message as a flaming arrow pointing straight at him since she hadn't mentioned Smallville by name and hadn't divulged any last names. But still the message had contained almost enough clues to allow some big government agency with nearly unlimited manpower to use a brute force solution to find him – particularly if he had been caught on video. Most of his time had been in 'speed mode' which should have left him immune. But he had spent many seconds in real time while he was in the substructure with the bomb. Had he been caught by any cameras with long-range telephoto lenses? Damn, they had been wrestling with a nuke. Of course they would have been monitoring progress from a distance. Well, if they had photos of his face, he was going to be that much easier to identify.

How could he salvage his everyday life if some government agency became aware of his secret? And even more importantly, how would he prevent his family and friends from being held hostage to force him to do their bidding? How was he going to ensure he controlled his own destiny?

For a moment he wondered if Sliviuh's 'Pantheon of Gods' was more or less the answer. Instead of risking just some shadowy governmental agencies knowing his secret, perhaps he should just exclaim it to the world. If everyone knew, would it lessen the risks to his family? Of course, it would require a careful balance to intimidate people enough to convince them to leave him alone without stepping over the line and ending up the tyrant Sliviuh wanted to be.

He wished there was some middle ground that would allow him to retain his personal life yet would still allow him to act when necessary without fear of discovery. If he got through the current situation with his secret intact, he would have to give it some more careful thought. Perhaps Var would have some useful thoughts on the subject; certainly Var had had plenty of time over the past fifty years to contemplate this topic.

Turning his gaze down, Clark could tell from the pattern of lights that he had to be passing over the Mediterranean Sea. This journey certainly would have been easier if it wasn't the middle of the night. But the choice hadn't been his, so now he would have to just do his best under the circumstances. Of course, his best HAD to be good enough to save his mom or it would all be pointless.

Since all he had to go on was the brief glimpse of the map of Africa back at the Tower, he had decided it was necessary to get a bird's eye view to make the dark ground below look as much like the map as possible. Well, perhaps 'bird's eye view' wasn't completely accurate. He was currently flying at almost the altitude where he had so recently destroyed the bomb. And from a hundred miles up, the continent of Africa sprawled before him almost like the illustrated map. In the foreground was the brilliantly lit Mediterranean coastline of Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. But not far beyond the coast the great Sahara desert spread from horizon to horizon and the number of lights coming from towns and villages became few and far between. And then past the great desert stretched the tropical jungles of Central Africa and again the bright lights symbolizing the presence of man were rare. No, only along the coastlines did the great continent of Africa have significant lights. Fortunately, the distinctive shape of Africa was easily discernable from its nearly solid outline of lights. It should be sufficient to at least get him close to his destination.

Quickly, Clark raced passed the coastline and headed into the heart of the great continent.

After what felt like another twenty minutes of travel, Clark thought he was in the right place, or at least as close as he could guess from a hundred miles up. Knowing this wasn't the time for hesitation; he pointed his body down and dove hard for the target region. As he remembered how the nose and belly of the space shuttle glowed white hot during re-entry, he marveled once again how he didn't experience anything similar considering he was re-entering the atmosphere at five, hell, maybe ten times the shuttle's 18,000 mph. No, other than a slight ruffling of his hair, he didn't experience any noticeable effect. And glancing down at his gray coveralls, he realized it was a good thing he did experience Shuttle-like heating or he would be doing all of this flying around buck naked. But other than some tears in the sleeves at the forearms, doubtlessly acquired during his hasty departure from the Eiffel Tower, his coveralls didn't look the worse for wear and tear.

Turning his attention from his attire and back down towards the ground where it belonged, Clark started scanning for the river and its associated waterfall. Even in the middle of the night, it shouldn't be that hard to spot a waterfall that was apparently in the size range of Niagara. But after spending several 'speed zone' minutes rapidly tracing out a spiral search pattern from the center of his target region, he decided he was going to have to drop out of the 'speed zone' and back to normal time long enough to grab a quick GPS fix on his location.

It took five precious seconds in normal time to collect the data he needed from the satellites. Then just as he was about to return to the 'speed zone' to more leisurely calculate and then recheck his position relative to the falls, his super hearing registered the faint low frequency roar which had to be coming from his destination. Without conscious thought his body automatically turned and headed on a beeline path towards his goal.

Twelve miles away and forty-seven from his original target spot, he found it. And immediately he realized why he hadn't spotted it earlier; its shape wasn't at all like what he had expected. He thought it was going to be like the photos he had seen of Niagara with a wide, similarly-sized river both above and below the falls. But this one was completely different. From overhead it looked almost like the broad river was disappearing into a wide slot in the ground. But this was indeed the falls and the impression of the river simply disappearing in the ground was mostly an optical illusion due to the relatively narrow chasm which the water had cut into the rock in such a way that it was possible to stand on a natural bluff less than two hundred feet in front of the sheet of descending water before it exited the chasm via a deep narrow gorge.

Knowing there would be plenty of time later to marvel at the odd geology which had caused this almost hidden falls, Clark quickly turned his attention to scanning the waters immediately above the falls for any signs of a small boat. Quickly he ran his senses through the complete gamut of frequencies he was able to detect, but other than some large pieces of driftwood he didn't see anything of the right size and shape to be a boat.

With fear clenching at his heart, he turned his attention directly to the falls. Was he too late? No, he HAD to be in time.

While deep in the 'speed zone' the water descending along the face of the falls formed an almost solid mass that made detection of anything within very difficult. Therefore Clark flew down to the falls near one end and pushed his body directly into the wall of water. Once inside, he turned and headed towards the far other end of the falls nearly a mile in the distance. And as he flew, he kept his arms extended out from his sides as though this pose would enhance his already incredible sensory skills.

He was two-thirds of the way down the falls when he finally spotted what he had come for: a small aluminum boat was hanging limply inverted, seemingly frozen in the solid wall of water. However he knew it wasn't peacefully adrift, but rather if he dropped back into 'normal time' he would find it madly tumbling out of control.

His anger at Sliviuh once again was rising for not having given him at least one more minute to reach his mom before letting her tip over the falls. But then his thoughts jumped back to his Mom. Was she already dead from drowning or suffocation in the heavy wall of water? Or had the probable bone-shattering intensity of the water killed her before she had time to drown?

Quickly he swung below the inverted boat having already verified with his enhanced x-ray vision that his mother was still with the craft having been securely tied to the pair of cross-bracing seats. Carefully, he stretched out his arms and grabbed the wet and slippery sides of the boat. Tightening his grip, he began forcing it towards the outer edge of the falls. As he moved, he did the math in his head and realized his mother hadn't been within the falls for more than three or four seconds. Certainly, she wouldn't be dead from drowning at this point. And if her small boat hadn't struck any rocks going over the edge, and he didn't see any significant damage to the craft, then she might be in no worse shape than slightly daze from the rough and tumbling passage down the face of the falls. And probably scared to death, he thought. His mom was one of the strongest, toughest people he had ever known, but going over a giant falls while tied to a small boat was enough to make anyone blanch.

As soon as he had the boat clear of the cascading water, Clark began to climb higher into the air to clear the looming opposite wall of the chasm. As he gained a little altitude in his search for a safe, dry location to set down the boat, he spotted off to his left a truss-work bridge crossing the downstream gorge. And following with his eyes the road extending from bridge, he spotted a small parking lot next to a rickety old gift shop. And mounted on the side of the gift shop was a security light providing the only illumination for miles around here in the heart of Africa.

Clark headed over and after giving the area a quick sweep for signs of life, he flipped upside down which left the boat right side up. Then while appearing to be suspended by his feet from some invisible cable, he gently lowered the boat to the roughly paved surface of the parking lot. It wasn't until he released his grip on the boat and swung around to kneel beside it on the ground that he finally allowed himself to drop out of the 'speed zone'.

"Mom," he called out softly while trying to keep the panic out of his voice. "Can you hear me?" he asked, as he gently brushed the wet auburn hair out of her eyes. "You're safe now."

Martha's eyes flashed open and wildly danced around before finally settling on his face. "Clark, is it really you?"

"Yes, Mom, it's me. Hold still a second while I get rid of these ropes."

Martha was stretched across the two seats in the small boat which was nothing more than a rowboat or small skiff. Her arms were tied beneath the bench under her back and her legs were tied over the top of the second seat. Being careful not to hurt her, Clark grasped the ropes restraining her feet and easily snapped them in two. Then reaching behind her back he repeated the process on the ropes binding her arms.

"How did you get here?" asked Martha throwning her arms around him and pulling him into a tight hug as Clark tried to help her up into a sitting position. "And how did I get here? And where exactly are we?"

"What do you remember, Mom?" asked Clark as he returned her hug. He suddenly felt so good knowing she was safe and alive.

"We were down in the root cellar – you, me, Lex and Chloe – when Lana showed up. You grabbed Lana and then abruptly you just vanished. Then a few seconds later it was like a ghost touched me and suddenly I was no longer in the storm cellar but standing along the edge of a wide river and it was the middle of the night.

"And then I realized a girl was standing beside me. When I turned towards her, the moonlight lit her face and I realized it was Alicia Baker. I don't think I have talked to her since the day a couple of months ago when we ran into her in the hospital outside Jonathan's room and at the time she struck me as a nice girl. But just then I had barely had time to recognize her when she suddenly hit me and knocked me to the ground. Before I knew what had happened, she had me tied to the boat and then gave it a shove out into the current."

When Martha paused for breath, Clark answered. "Alicia has been brainwashed by Sliviuh and that's why she is doing the things she is doing."

"Sliviuh?" asked Martha with a glazed look on her face as her eyes swept the area, as though she was expecting another boogey man or perhaps boogey girl to materialize out of thin air.

"Remember Mom, we were talking about her back in the root cellar. She is an ancient evil variation of Chloe's personality that is currently in possession of Lana's body."

But it was almost as if Martha didn't hear him, perhaps due to the shock of the events she had just gone through or maybe due to the ongoing information overload from the preceding conversation back in the cellar. "Clark, where are we?"

"We are in either Zambia or Zimbabwe. I am not sure which side of the river we are on."

When his Mom just stared at him blankly, he appended. "Africa, Mom. We are in Africa."

At last a hint of comprehension showed on Martha's face. "Africa? But how did we get here?"

As Clark was talking to his Mom, one of his hands had drifted into the front left pocket of his coveralls. When it came back out he realized he had his cellphone in his hand. He fingered the 'on' button but nothing happened. He had doubted he would have service out here in the middle of nowhere, but had expected the phone to at least power up. However the phone seemed to be as dead as a doornail. He didn't know what had happened, but somewhere along the line, perhaps when he had flown outside the atmosphere, he had apparently fried the phone's electronics.

He slid the useless phone back into his pocket. If they got through the current situation, he needed to give the phone back to Chloe to see if she could determine what had gone wrong with it. If the problem was caused by some interaction with his gifts, they needed to figure it out and find some workaround solution. There certainly were times when a functional phone would be a big help.

But then he got to wondering who exactly he could have called, if the phone had been working. His Dad was chasing Roger Nixon somewhere out in the storm, but since his father never carried a cell, he couldn't call him. Lex and Chloe were doubtlessly being held incommunicado somewhere by Lana. His mom was here with him. Who did that leave to call? Pete?

But if he were to call Pete, who was doubtlessly still at the dance, what could he possibly say? 'Hi, Pete. Even though you saw me twenty minutes ago out on the dance floor, I am now somewhere deep in Africa with my mom. Could you please go stop Lana, who is holding Lex and Chloe prisoner? And by the way, she now has a nearly unkillable body and is being possessed by a 10,000 year old version of Chloe. Oh, and she has a computer enhanced mind beyond anything you have ever heard of. And she or someone with her has a braid from the biblical Samson which bestows the strength of fifty or more men. But don't worry about these impossible gifts, just go save the day.' Yeah, calling Pete in this situation was going to do a lot of good. NOT!

No, if his phone had been working there was only one person he could possibly call for help – Var. But Var wasn't going to be of immediate help for the current situation in Smallville. Var had been forced to maintain an extremely low profile there to insure the 'original' Chloe didn't catch wind of him or his associates. Therefore, even if Clark's phone was working, it would still be several hours at best before Var could have sufficient assets in Smallville to even consider going up against Sliviuh.

Feeling a hint of regret that there wasn't anyone else he could call, Clark turned his attention back to the ongoing conversation with his mother.

"Mom, apparently Alicia has a meteor rock gift, the ability to instantly teleport herself and anyone she is touching to anywhere on the planet. She left me in a secret chamber under the Giant Sphinx in Egypt, apparently just before she dropped you off here."

Clark had intended to say more, but at that moment his Mom started to rise to her feet to step out of the small boat which had briefly served as a mobile prison. And her movement exposed a note inside a zip-loc'ed bag which had been duct-taped to the top of the boat's seat. It had been hidden by her body during Clark's rescue efforts, but now that it was visible, Clark quickly grabbed it and tore open the enclosing plastic bag.

HI CLARK, began this note just like its immediate predecessor.

I AM GLAD TO SEE YOU HAVE ONCE MORE MADE IT IN TIME. LET ME ASK YOU, ARE YOU THE TEENSY-TINIEST BIT DISAPPOINTED THERE WASN'T AN AUDIENCE LIKE IN PARIS? COME ON, BE TRUTHFUL NOW. WOULDN'T IT BE A RELIEF TO NOT ALWAYS HAVE TO HIDE YOUR ABILITIES? AND DON'T YOU SOMETIMES SECRETLY WISH YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO PRETEND TO BE LESS THAN YOU REALLY ARE? PERHAPS NOW IS THE TIME TO STEP FORWARD AND TAKE YOUR RIGHTFUL PLACE UPON THE WORLD STAGE. JUST THINK FOR A MOMENT ABOUT HOW MUCH MORE GOOD YOU COULD DO IF YOU MOVED BEYOND YOUR OLD LIFE IN SMALLVILLE. IF WE WORK TOGETHER, EVEN WORLD PEACE IS WITHIN OUR GRASP.

HOWEVER TO PROVE YOU ARE WORTHY TO BE MY PARTNER IN THIS UPCOMING GREAT ENDEAVOR, YOU HAVE A FEW MORE TASKS TO PERFORM. NOW I AM SURE YOU REMEMBER THE STORY OF HERCULES AND HIS TWELVE LABORS. WELL, I AM GOING TO CUT YOU A BREAK AND GIVE YOU ONLY SEVEN LABORS AND TWO OF THEM ARE ALREADY COMPLETE. BUT WHILE HERCULES SPENT TWELVE YEARS COMPLETING HIS TASKS, YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO PROVE YOU ARE THE BETTER MAN (OR IS IT GOD?) BY COMPLETING YOURS IN JUST THIRTY MINUTES.

NOW, YOUR NEXT STOP ON THE WORLD TOUR . . . INDIA.

An expression of dismay crossed Clark's face. Lex and Chloe needed his help back in Smallville, yet what was that old line by Spock - 'The needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few' – or something like that. How could he just abandon the thousands of people Sliviuh was putting at risk? He couldn't; he would just have to trust that Chloe was a match for Sliviuh since she had once been Sliviuh and now was so much more.

But then something from his thoughts about Pete popped back into his head. He had told Lex and Chloe about the Samson braids, but they had been interrupted before he had gotten around to mentioning that Sliviuh had brought one back from 1936. Chloe might be on the same mental level with Sliviuh, but how could she compete against someone she didn't even know was fifty times stronger?

His fear for Chloe ramped up even higher than it had been, but for the moment he saw no option but to follow through on the tasks Sliviuh had set him. His mood had lightened with the discovery his mother was safe, but as he turned his attention back to the message, it darkened again.

End of Chapter 23

Author's Note

Well, I thought this was going to be the last chapter, but since it is already well over twenty thousand words with a lot yet to come, I decided to break it here with just a little cliffy.

Plus ending with a total of 24 chapters has a better ring then 23.

So I dropped the Belle Reve hint. Any guesses what meteor freak besides Alicia we are going to see?

Have a great day,

Duane