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#183031 - 05/28/02 03:24 PM Four Days to Nightfall--Parts 3 and 4 of ?
Nan Offline
Lane and Kent

Registered: 04/12/01
Posts: 2702
Loc: The Lone Star State
In accordance with the request not to post new threads at this time, I'm tacking part 4 onto part 3. I hope it doesn't confuse anyone. For the new part, just scroll down to the bottom of Part 3.

Nan

**********

Four Days to Nightfall: part 3/?
by Nan Smith

Previously:

She opened her door and slid out. "Let's go upstairs to the newsroom. There ought to be some other people up there "

"Okay. You're the boss."

"Besides," she added, "maybe we can find you some better clothes."

He glanced down at himself and she was surprised to see a red flush stain his cheekbones. "I could sure use some. I'm surprised you didn't run screaming when you saw me."

She couldn't help a faint grin. "Oh, it wasn't that terrible a sight."

He didn't answer, but his blush deepened. She locked the door of the Jeep and slammed it shut. "Come on," she directed. "The elevator is this way..."

**********

And now, Part 3:

The newsroom was relatively quiet when Lois stepped out of the elevator with "Charlie" following her. Three or four people were moving around and the monitors were on with the sound turned down. There was light in the editor's office, which wasn't really a surprise. She could see Perry at his desk. For a moment, she wondered if the man ever went home, but then, tonight was an unusual one, anyway. After all, she hadn't even managed to make it to her apartment and Perry lived farther from the Planet than she did.

Jimmy Olsen emerged from the supply closet with a package of printer paper in his hands. He saw her and stopped, his gaze going past her to her oddly dressed companion. Lois had to admit that it looked pretty strange, but Jimmy hadn't gone through the last hour with her. She led the way down the ramp with a businesslike step and waved at an empty chair. "Wait there for a minute. I need to talk to my boss."

Perry stepped out of his office as she approached. "Lois--what happened? Who's that guy? Why's he wearin' your coat?"

Her reflection in his office window explained the first question. Her face was smeared with streaks of soot and her hair had definitely looked better. She made an ineffectual gesture at it and gave up for the moment. "I can't get home, Perry. I ran into rioters. I figured I could sleep here tonight."

"Are you all right? And who's that guy?"

"He doesn't know. Did anyone report the fireball?"

"We saw it from the window. There's only been one report on the news--" Perry broke off, staring at her. "What happened?"

"It came down in Centennial Park," Lois said. "I was there when it landed--"

He was silent while she gave him a quick summary of the events of the past hour. When she finished, he whistled softly. "Honey, if anyone else told me that story, I wouldn't believe it. Okay, Charlie can stay for the night. I guess we owe him that, at least. You write up what happened. At least some people will want to know about that crater in the park. Any idea how he got where he was?"

Lois shook her head. "None. And he doesn't remember."

"Guy's probably in shock," Perry said. "Let's hope that's all that's wrong. I guess I better say hello."

Lois nodded and led the way across the newsroom to where Charlie sat.

He got to his feet as they approached, pulling Lois's coat more closely about his chest, without much result. Perry held out a hand.

"Hello, Charlie. I'm Perry White, the editor here. Thanks for helpin' Lois in the park."

Charlie took his hand. "I couldn't let those men hurt her. It's nice to meet you, sir."

Perry grinned slightly. "Wish more people felt that way. Are you all right, son? Lois told me where she found you."

"I think so--at least, I don't seem to be hurt--except that I can't remember anything." Charlie ran a hand through his hair, making it stand more on end than ever. "I don't even know my name. It's a little scary."

"Maybe you hit your head," Perry said, helpfully. "Tomorrow, we'll try to get you to Metro General--and a little sleep might help, too. In the meantime, maybe we can find you something better to wear. Jimmy!"

Jimmy had been hovering nearby, obviously curious about the strangely dressed man. Perry beckoned him forward. "This is Charlie. Take him down to the lockers and find him some clothes."

"Right away, Chief." Jimmy grinned cheerfully at the newcomer. "Hi. I'm Jimmy Olsen. Come on. I think I can get you something better than Lois's coat. Mind if I let him use the shower, Chief?"

"I think that might be a good idea," Perry agreed. He and Lois watched the two of them leave and then Perry said, "You were lucky he turned out to be a good guy, Lois. He could have just as easily been another mugger. What was he doin' in Centennial Park at that hour, anyway?"

Lois shrugged. "I'm more interested in how he turned up in the crater without a mark on him. Not to mention, how he disarmed two muggers and didn't pick up a scratch. And what was that thing, anyway? Was it a piece of Nightfall?"

"I don't see how it could have gotten here so far ahead of the predictions," Perry said. "There's a limit to how fast it could travel."

"Did EPRAD have any idea?"

Perry shrugged. "We've been trying to phone them, but the lines have been jammed. Evidently, a lot of other people have been trying to call them, too."

"Yeah." Lois glanced down at the hole in her skirt and grimaced. "I think I'll go wash the soot off my face. Have you managed to get hold of Alice?"

Perry shook his head. "She's been visiting the boys for the last couple of days. I tried to call, but the lines are pretty much jammed all over the country. I'm going to try again a little later. Maybe if EPRAD gives us an 'all clear' tomorrow, I'll be able to get through."

"*If* they give us the 'all clear'," Lois said. "This is crazy, Perry. Where on Earth are the police? A lot of people ought to be arrested for what they've been doing tonight."

"There aren't enough jails to hold every person who's been doing stupid things for the last day or so," Perry said. "No police force on Earth could control an entire city in a panic."

"I guess not. It's scary how quickly things can fall apart. I wish people would keep their heads in an emergency."

"Most do," Perry said. "It's the ones who don't that cause the trouble. Let's hope things quiet down by tomorrow. I'm lettin' Jimmy stay here tonight, too--his place is over near the spot where they're fightin' that fire. Arson," he added, grimly. "He probably couldn't even get through."

"Perry, you're not going to try to go home at this time of night, are you?" Lois tried to sound casual, but she was aware that her boss wasn't fooled. He shook his head.

"No, not tonight. There's too much goin' on. I might need to be here." His expression didn't change. "You can sleep on the couch in my office. It'll give you some privacy."

**********

Lois had finished writing up her article about the fireball when Jimmy reappeared with Charlie. She glanced at them and then did a double take. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and without soot covering him from head to toe, the man whom she had rescued was definitely worth a second and maybe a third look. Jimmy was talking animatedly to him when they emerged from the elevator, and from what Lois gathered, he was explaining what a photojournalist's job entailed. Charlie was listening attentively and nodding in the appropriate places, apparently absorbing all the confusing details that the younger man was throwing at him with machine gun speed.

The monitors switched to an aerial view of the street in front of City Hall at that moment and someone turned up the volume. A milling crowd filled the screen and a thin line of police in riot gear appeared to be holding them back. The mayor was speaking, calling for calm, his voice almost drowned out by the voices of the crowd.

"What's going on?" Charlie had deserted Jimmy to stand beside her. His heavy, dark brows were drawn together in a frown. "All those rioters, and this--what's happening?"

"You don't know?" Thomas Bailey, one of the reporters on the night staff, asked.

"Charlie has amnesia," Lois said, absently. She turned her attention from the monitors to the man standing beside her, feeling almost reluctant to explain the current circumstances. Could that be why his memory had disappeared? she wondered suddenly. Didn't that happen sometimes? She knew very little about amnesia, but she seemed to recall reading an article at sometime or other about someone who had been so upset about events in his life that he had literally blocked it all out. She supposed it was possible, but Charlie, or whatever his name really was, didn't seem to be the kind of guy who would run from danger. On the other hand, what did she really know about him?

The answer was: almost nothing. She knew he seemed to be a decent guy, but there were plenty of things about him that she couldn't explain. If she survived the next three days, she might have time to figure out who he was and how he had managed all the things she had questions about. But, in the meantime...

He was looking directly at her, obviously waiting for her to enlighten him. She put a hand on his arm. "Come on into the conference room, Charlie. I'll tell you about it--"

**********

Lois woke for the fifth time, and looked up at the dim ceiling of Perry White's office. The reason she was here came back at once and she turned over, trying to get comfortable on the office couch.

The blinds were drawn to give her privacy and she could see light in the room beyond leaking around the edges. The night staff was still awake, although the lack of noise out there seemed to indicate that nothing much was happening.

The clock on the wall said it was three-thirty. Lois squirmed around on the cushions again and closed her eyes, trying to will herself back to sleep. She was tired, but at the same time, her brain was active and wide-awake. Every time she closed her eyes she could see the fireball plunging toward her and in her sleep she had relived over and over the moment when she had first seen Charlie in the middle of the smoking crater.

The sheer impossibility of that circumstance contrasted with the fact that she had seen it with her own eyes. Common sense said that Charlie couldn't have been where he was, stark naked, and yet have walked away without a single scorch mark. And then there had been the muggers' knives. He might have escaped damage by the first one--maybe, anyhow. It was just possible that some advanced fighting technique that he didn't consciously remember was behind it, but she had seen him seize the second one by the blade. He should have been sliced at the very least and yet his hand had been uninjured.

"Lois, you're going to start imagining miracles in a few minutes," she muttered to herself. Either Charlie was some kind of supernatural being or he'd been incredibly lucky. Since the probability of angels being involved was pretty low, she might have to accept the idea of sheer dumb luck even if she couldn't imagine any possible way he could have escaped injury.

There had been that story last year--that kid in Texas who had been picked up by a tornado, carried fifteen miles away and deposited in the middle of a field without a scratch and without a stitch of clothing. Seemingly impossible things did happen, but this one...

All her instincts rebelled against that explanation where Charlie was concerned, but no other solution presented itself for the time being--at least, none that she was prepared to accept.

Finally, she sat up. She wasn't going to get any sleep this way. Maybe a drink of water would help.

The Planet's newsroom was quiet when she opened the door of Perry's office. Jimmy was dozing in his chair and Sara Hardesty was frankly asleep with her head on her desk. The monitors were still on, their sound turned down to a whisper. Tom Bailey and the other two members of the night staff were sitting around the coffee machine, conversing in whispers.

Perry was sound asleep on the conference room table, she realized a moment later, his jacket rolled up under his head. Lois winced. His back was going to bother him in the morning. Maybe she should wake him up and send him in to sleep on his couch. After a moment's consideration, she rejected the notion. He'd given up his office couch for her, with his typical Southern chivalry, and taken the far less comfortable bed, but at least he was asleep. If she woke him up now, he'd probably be awake for the rest of the night.

"Can't sleep?" Charlie's voice spoke quietly from behind her, and she almost jumped.

She turned around. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"

"Sorry." He looked apologetic. "I thought you'd hear me."

"It's okay. I guess you were trying not to wake anyone. I just got up to get a drink of water."

"I heard you moving around," he said. "I couldn't sleep, either. It's pretty hard to think the world might end in just a couple of days and my whole life is a blank. I don't know if I have a family that's looking for me, or a job or anything."

"You still can't remember how you got to where I found you?" Lois asked.

He shook his head. "It's as if my life started when I woke up in that crater and heard you ask if I was all right."

"Well, the fireball couldn't have hit you," Lois said. "You'd have been dead in that case. You say you woke up in the crater?"

"Yeah." He followed her as she walked to the water cooler. "I was dreaming--at least, I think I was. I couldn't breathe and I was running from something, trying to get somewhere that I'd be safe--and then I was waking up and you were there."

"And you didn't have a mark on you," Lois said. "I'd have thought you'd have at least picked up a few burns. The ground was hot."

"I know. I could feel it--but I must not have touched anything too hot because it didn't hurt. Just dumb luck, I guess. Weird, huh?"

"That's one word for it," Lois agreed. "Or two, anyway. I'd like to get another look at the crater. Maybe we could figure out what happened if we saw it by daylight."

"I suppose." Charlie looked doubtful. "Look, Ms. Lane--"

Lois grimaced. "Call me Lois. I think we've gone past the 'Ms. Lane' stage."

He looked embarrassed. "Considering how you found me, I guess. Okay then; Lois. There's a lot of stuff going on out there right now. It could get kind of dangerous."

"Charlie, I'm an investigative reporter. I know how to take care of myself."

"I didn't mean you couldn't," Charlie said, quickly. "I just meant, it's more dangerous than usual. You probably could use some backup, just in case. And I want to find out what happened, too. Would you mind very much if I went with you?"

She considered the request for a moment. Although she would never admit it, the idea of having a muscular bodyguard along--one who had already proven he knew how to take care of himself, especially considering the situation out there right now--had its appeal. She pretended to hesitate. "I really shouldn't let you get into more trouble. You've already lost your memory. But, it does involve you, after all."

He looked hopeful. Finally, she said, "Well, okay, I guess it's only fair. There's a press conference at EPRAD at ten, tomorrow morning, to update us on the status of the Nightfall Asteroid. If you don't mind, I'd like to drop you off at Metro General in the morning and pick you up after the conference. We'll go back then and look around. Besides, maybe you'll have remembered more by then."

He nodded. "Thank you for wanting to help," he said, quietly. "Not to know anything about myself--what I've done, what I've missed--"

Lois nodded, feeling a little ashamed of herself. True, she liked Charlie, but her main reason for doing this didn't really have much to do with helping him regain his memory. Charlie had confronted her with a situation that seemed impossible on the surface, and Lois Lane had never been able to leave a mystery alone. Still, she rationalized, if she found out more about how he'd arrived where she had found him, she might be able to help him, too. That made her feel a little better.

**********

The first part of her plan was scuttled the next morning when a triage nurse informed her over the phone, that the emergency room was swamped and the wait for all but urgent cases was approximately ten hours. Since Charlie appeared to be in good health except for his memory loss, he would not be considered a priority case.

Lois passed on the news. "Do you want to go there and wait for ten hours?"

He shook his head. "No. Who's to say they won't get other urgent cases they have to take first? If I still haven't remembered anything when this is all over--if it ever is--then I'll go."

"That's probably sensible," Perry said. He glanced at Lois. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes," she said. "I can't help thinking the fireball has something to do with Nightfall. Call it a hunch if you like. Charlie and I are going to go back to the park right after the press conference and take a look at the crater by daylight."

"Just watch out for muggers," Perry said, dryly.

"We will," Lois said. "What's the latest on the riots?"

"It looks like things have calmed down a bit, now that it's daylight. Most people aren't as brave about breaking the law when other people can see their faces." Perry fixed her with a no-nonsense look. "You still be careful out there, you hear me? Not everybody is behaving himself. I've been hearing sirens all morning."

"I will be. Charlie will have to wait in the Jeep until after the press conference is over and then we're going to the park. He's determined to play bodyguard," Lois said.

Charlie didn't smile. "It's not safe out there for anybody right now," he said. "I won't let anything happen to her, Mr. White."

"I can take care of myself," Lois said.

"I don't doubt it," Perry said. "Just have mercy on your old editor and make sure you come back alive, all right?"

"I will." Lois glanced at her watch. "Come on, Charlie. We've got an hour to get to EPRAD and there are bound to be traffic problems."

Jimmy appeared with a pair of wrapped sandwiches. "Here you are, Lois. Two cheese sandwiches out of the vending machine in the lobby. It was all they had left."

Lois made a face, but accepted the items and handed one to Charlie. "Here. This will have to do until we can get something else later."

He took the sandwich. "I'm not really that hungry--"

"You haven't eaten since last night," Lois said. "I don't want you passing out from hunger. Eat it."

He obeyed meekly and Lois took a bite from her own, dismissing the subject.

**********

The press conference at EPRAD got off to a slow start. Professor Daitch and General Zeitlin were several minutes late and the members of the press were not taking it well, Lois thought. When the two men finally appeared and approached the microphone, several of the assembled journalists began to shout questions before either man had been given a chance to speak.

Daitch raised his hands before him, waiting for the noise to die down. When it finally did, he was slow to begin. Lois didn't like the expression on his face. The scientist had a grim set to his mouth. He didn't look like a man who had been issued a reprieve.

"We have just completed a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Team. This meeting was called to discuss the new situation regarding the Nightfall Asteroid." Professor Daitch cleared his throat uncomfortably and glanced sideways at the general. It was obvious to Lois that he wasn't happy about the information that he was going to impart. Her heart sank. Daitch paused for several seconds and the assembled members of the media began to stir restlessly.

"The explosion of the Nightfall Asteroid has changed the situation somewhat," the man continued, finally.

"What do you mean by 'somewhat'?" Lois asked. "Is the Earth still in danger?"

The scientist hesitated a long moment. "Unfortunately, yes. A large portion -- approximately three miles across -- remains on an impact course with the Earth. It is accompanied by other, much smaller pieces both preceding and trailing it, some of which can be expected to miss or to burn up in the atmosphere, and some which will reach the surface of the planet. They may cause a certain amount of damage, but it will be minor in comparison to the largest object." He paused. "We expect the meteor swarm to arrive approximately fifty-five hours from now."

"Is the government doing anything about it?" Frank Madison inquired.

General Zeitlin stepped forward and Daitch seemed relieved to surrender the spotlight to him. The General fixed Madison with a stern eye. "The Asgard booster is still available and is expected to be able to eliminate the largest object," he said. "The smaller objects may cause a certain level of damage but nothing outside the capability of disaster relief organizations to cope. The situation has improved considerably. The greatest danger the earth faces at this moment is the panic and civil disturbances we've seen over the last twenty-four hours. If necessary, martial law will be declared to maintain order." He glanced at his watch. "Now if you will excuse me, ladies and gentlemen of the press, I'm due at a meeting in five minutes."

**********
(to be continued)
_________________________
When I get old, I don't want people thinking, "What a sweet little old lady." I want them to say, "Oh crap, what's she up to now?"

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#183032 - 05/30/02 01:49 PM Re: Four Days to Nightfall--Parts 3 and 4 of ?
Nan Offline
Lane and Kent

Registered: 04/12/01
Posts: 2702
Loc: The Lone Star State
Four Days to Nightfall: Part 4/?
by Nan Smith

"I guess the news wasn't very good," Charlie said.

Lois shook her head. "There's still a big piece of asteroid headed for us. Some littler ones, too, but the one they're worried about is three miles across."

Charlie swallowed. "How long?"

"Fifty-five hours," Lois said. "I hate to admit it, but I'm scared."

"So am I." Charlie said, soberly. "Anyone would be."

They were silent for several moments, waiting while the crowd of cars around them maneuvered for the quickest way out of the lot.

"What do you want to do, now?" Charlie asked, at last.

Lois took a deep breath and blew it out. "I guess we'll do what we planned on doing. I don't even know why, you know? The fireball still isn't explained and I just have the feeling that it somehow has something to do with Nightfall, but I can't begin to tell you why. Even if we do find out something about it, it probably won't help." She looked at his expression and felt suddenly ashamed of herself. "I guess I'm not used to being so helpless. I need to be doing something. If we can just figure out where you came from, at least we can get you back to your family, if the Asgard rocket doesn't manage to save us. When I wrote the story about the fireball, I told all of it--finding you, everything. It's on the front page--a sidebar to the Nightfall update from last night. Maybe somebody will realize who you are and come forward."

Charlie met her eyes and smiled. "Thank you."

She smiled back. "I'm not really being all that altruistic, you know. If I didn't have something else to think about right now, I'd go crazy."

His smile widened a little. "I know. I feel a little the same way. But if I have to be in this situation, I'm glad it's with someone like you."

**********

The streets were quiet as they drove away from EPRAD back toward Centennial Park. Lois tried not to look at the debris left by last night's riots; the smashed windows and overturned or burned cars. Twice they were stopped by police checkpoints and allowed to go ahead when Lois presented her press pass. When they finally arrived at the place where Lois had been when she had first seen the fireball, neither said anything. She pulled up to the side of the street and she and Charlie carefully locked the doors before they started for the crater.

The morning was bright and sunny. It was hard to believe that somewhere out in space, growing ever closer, a mindless chunk of rock, three miles across, was plunging toward them at nearly thirty thousand miles an hour; that in slightly over two days it would smash into their world, bringing an end to the life that everyone had known. Of course, there was still the Asgard rocket, Lois reminded herself. If they could hit the thing with a nuclear payload, the fallout might be something they would have to deal with afterwards, but at least civilization would survive.

"It came from there," Lois said, pointing in the direction of the sign, where a jagged hole, charred at the edges, showed the path of the fireball the night before.

Charlie looked, and then followed her pointing finger to the shattered stand of trees. "Wow," he remarked. "You'd think something like that would have made a bigger crater. Have you ever seen the one in Arizona?"

"No," Lois admitted. "I've seen pictures, of course--" She broke off. "You remember seeing it?"

"Yeah, kind of. I think I saw it from the air. It's this huge crater--"

"Do you know when?"

The look of discovery on his face faded. "No."

"Well, at least you remembered something." She took his elbow with one hand. "Come on. Let's go look at it by daylight."

There was no one visible as they walked toward the broken, charcoal skeletons that had been a stand of maple trees the night before. As they rounded the trees, Charlie stared at the trough the fireball had ploughed in the soft ground and the crater at its end. "Good grief! And you found me in the crater?"

"Right at the end," Lois said. She was watching his face as he stared at the damage. He scowled, as if trying to recall something that slipped from his grasp as he reached for it. "Are you remembering anything?"

"Just that dream," he said, slowly. "I remember the dream."

"Tell me about it," she said. "Maybe it wasn't all a dream."

He shook his head. "I don't see how it could have been anything else."

"That's okay. Tell me what you remember about it, anyway."

"All right." He let her lead him toward the crater as he began to speak. "I was scared; I remember that much. I was trying to get away from something but I don't think it was anything alive. It's funny, you know--most of time I don't remember what I dream, or I just remember bits and pieces and then I forget even that after a while."

"Maybe that means this was something more than just a dream," Lois said. She was aware that she was clutching at straws but so far, there didn't seem to be anything more concrete to work with. "Anything else?"

"I remember not being able to breathe," he said. "I was falling and there was no air. I thought I was dying, and then all of a sudden it was hot--not hot enough to burn me, but hot--and there was air."

"Was the air hot, too?" Lois asked, before she thought.

"Yeah, it was. I was falling and it was hot, but I could breathe. Then, there was a kind of a crash and nothing for a while. And then I heard you asking if I was all right." He paused, his brow still wrinkled with the effort at recall. "Weird, huh?"

"Yeah," Lois said. "Definitely weird. Especially since I found you in a crater so hot it was still smoking."

He shrugged. "Maybe I dreamed it because the crater was hot."

"Yeah, maybe. I'd still like to know why you didn't get burned, though."

"Believe me, if I knew, I'd tell you."

They were standing at the edge of the crater, now, looking down at the scorched, torn earth. Was it her imagination, or could she see the imprint of his body in the blackened dirt? Something gleamed dully amid the ashes, reflecting the late morning sunlight. She glanced at her companion. "Charlie, could you give me a hand? I want to get down in there and look around."

He seemed doubtful, but nodded. "Okay."

Lois kicked off her shoes and set down her shoulder bag. She always kept a change of clothing at the Planet, and the pantsuit was probably going to need dry cleaning after this, but she wanted to look more closely at the crater before any more evidence was destroyed by the weather. "Okay, I'm ready."

Charlie held out his hands and she took them. An instant later, she felt herself lifted as lightly as a feather and lowered over the side of the crater. Slightly surprised at his apparent strength, she almost didn't realize it when her feet touched the scorched dirt at the bottom. She almost stumbled as he let her go, and regained her balance with an effort. Wow! Charlie had a nice build, but he was even stronger than he looked

"Are you all right?" He was kneeling at the edge of the crater, looking at her in some concern.

"Um, yeah. Fine." She turned her attention to the marks his body had left in the dirt. There was where he had sat up, and that mark looked like a handprint--which meant his head would have been here... Again, she saw that dull gleam as light reflected off of something nearly buried in the dirt and ash.

Lois leaned down and picked it up.

It came free easily and she frowned at the object in puzzlement. What on Earth was a pair of glasses with half-melted frames doing here?

"What is it?" Charlie asked.

"Glasses," she said. "Melted glasses."

"Let me see," he requested.

She held them up to him and he reached out to take them. He frowned at the glasses with a look of half-recognition.

"Are they yours?" Lois asked.

"I don't know."

"Well, hold onto them for me a minute." She looked around again, careful not to disturb the marks that Charlie had left the night before. The places where he had lain were as scorched as the rest of the crater.

This didn't make sense, she thought. Every indication said that Charlie should have been badly burned, but he obviously wasn't. There was something she was missing here--something important.

"Is anything wrong?" he asked.

"I'm not sure." She turned and held up her arms. "Help me out, please."

He gripped her hands and hoisted her out with no more effort than he had used to lower her into the hole. Lois dusted herself off and slipped her shoes back on. "Do you still have the glasses?"

"Oh, yeah." He had stuck them into a back pocket, but now he retrieved them. "Here."

She tucked them into her handbag. Maybe a lab could tell her something about them, but the chances were that they would remain one more unsolved mystery in this whole investigation--unless Charlie regained his memory before it was too late.

**********

"Find anything, Lois?" Perry asked.

Lois looked up from her examination of the melted glasses.

"Yeah--these. I don't know if they mean anything, though. Charlie seems to see just fine without glasses, so they may not be his. The spot where he was lying was just as burned as the rest of the crater, though. It doesn't make sense."

"Any sign of whatever the thing was that came in last night?"

She shook her head. "Nothing. Just a big hole in the ground. This is really weird, Chief."

"Yeah." Perry sighed. "One more mystery to add to all the other ones right now. What shattered Nightfall? I mean, I'm grateful. An asteroid that's three miles across is better than one seventeen miles across. It may cause a lot of damage, but at least the Earth and the human race will still be here afterwards."

"Yeah, well another ice age doesn't bode well for humanity," Lois said. "And if what we've seen in the last couple of days is any indication, it won't be a picnic."

Her editor shrugged. "I'll take any pluses that we can get right now. We're not dinosaurs. We can take steps to survive when they couldn't, even if it won't be fun. The human race won't become extinct."

"And there's always the chance that the Asgard rocket will do the trick," Jimmy said. "I don't like having to depend on a rocket. Things break down, people make mistakes--but it's better than nothing."

"Has anyone called about Charlie?" Lois asked. "I made sure to mention him in my piece about the fireball--just in case."

Perry shook his head. "The lines are still pretty much jammed. I did get a call through to Alice, finally. She hasn't been able to get a flight back to Metropolis." He straightened up. "Hell, she's probably just as safe where she is. Maybe safer."

"Maybe," Lois said.

"Did you get hold of your parents, Lois?" Jimmy asked.

"Yeah. Mother, Dad, Lucy and I managed to get together for a conference call, a little while ago. Mother and Dad even acted as if they liked each other. It was nice."

Perry glanced at Charlie where he stood looking out at the city. "He's probably the luckiest of us all. If he can't remember what it was like, he won't miss it so much when it's gone. You tell him he can sleep here again tonight, Lois. It wouldn't be right to throw him out with no place to go."

**********

"That was nice of Mr. White," Charlie said a few moments later. "I appreciate it."

Lois nodded. She looked out the window at the clear blue of the sky. It didn't look as if doomsday was approaching. Wasn't it supposed to be covered with clouds and foreboding shadows or something?

The elevator doors opened at that moment and Cat Grant stepped out. The Planet's gossip columnist glanced around and, as might have been expected, her gaze settled immediately on Charlie. Surprised, Lois found herself bristling slightly as the woman came quickly down the steps to the newsroom floor, and had to remind herself that she had no reason to be jealous. Charlie was just a guy she'd met last night, after all.

"Well, well--who's this?" Cat looked Charlie over, and Lois could have sworn she was licking her lips.

"This is Charlie," Lois said. "He has amnesia and he stayed at the Planet last night. Charlie, this is Cat Grant, our gossip columnist."

Charlie extended a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Grant."

Cat ran her eyes over Charlie in a way that Lois found annoying. "Pleased to meet *you*, Charlie," she purred, eyeing him like a tiger checking over a potential meal, Lois thought. "Now I'm sorry I decided to leave early, yesterday. If you need a place to stay tonight, I have room."

"Um--thanks, but Mr. White already offered," Charlie said, looking uncomfortable.

"I can offer a few fringe benefits that Perry can't," Cat said, trailing a finger along his arm.

Lois couldn't take it anymore. "I'm hungry," she announced, suddenly. "Do you suppose it's safe to go out for something to eat? And all you've had since yesterday was a stale, cheese sandwich, Charlie. You must be starving. Come on--my treat."

He shrugged. "I'm not really hungry."

"Don't be so noble. If the Asgard rocket misses, money won't mean anything, anyway. Besides, I'll feel safer with you along. Let's go."

Appealing to his chivalry was apparently the key. He smiled at Cat. "All right, Lois. It was nice meeting you, Miss Grant."

**********

"The nerve of that woman," Lois was saying, a few moments later as they left the Planet via the front door. "She only just met you!"

Charlie wisely said nothing. Lois fumed silently for a few more moments. How *dare* Cat move in on her territory like that! She'd discovered Charlie! The woman had absolutely *no* class!

The streets were fairly quiet near the Planet, but Lois could hear sirens not far away. Things weren't nearly as uneventful as they looked from here. Uncharacteristically, she had no wish to rush to the scene. One more riot at this point wouldn't make any difference or even make news.

"It looks like the coffee shop is open," she said, pointing. "Want to eat there?"

"Sure," he agreed. "We probably won't find anything better right now."

A few moments later, they were seated in a booth by the window. Two other customers were there, one of them a police officer who was waiting at the cash register. As they watched, an employee appeared with several bags of food in a large carton that had originally held ketchup. The officer picked it up and departed.

"Can I help you?" A young woman had appeared by their table. "Hi, Ms. Lane."

"Hi." She looked familiar, although Lois had never learned her name. Her nametag introduced her as Lena. "Not much business today, huh?"

"Not much. People are afraid to go out anywhere. We've had some police and firefighters in." Lena sighed. "If that Nightfall thing hits, I wonder if there'll be any businesses left. Well--" She plastered a smile on her face. "What can I get you?"

For once, Lois ordered a full meal with genuine sugar and cream in her coffee and real butter on her toast. If Nightfall hit the planet, she might not be alive long enough to get fat, anyhow. Why should she deprive herself in order to stay slim if it didn't matter anymore?

Charlie, in spite of his declaration that he wasn't hungry, made a good meal as well. Lois couldn't quite imagine herself eating a full order of steak and shrimp with all the trimmings in the middle of the day, but if it made him happy, she wasn't going to argue at this point.

Taking a cautious sip of her steaming coffee, Lois watched her companion. He presented a puzzle that was a welcome distraction to the larger problem that she couldn't solve. Everything about him, so far, was contradictory. About the only thing she was sure of was that he was a decent guy.

She blinked suddenly, realizing what she was seeing. He had picked up his coffee that was certainly as hot as hers, since it was steaming vigorously, and took a healthy swallow. He didn't even wince.

"Isn't that hot?" she inquired. "Didn't you burn yourself?"

"It's not that hot," he said, apparently unaware of her sudden attention.

"It's steaming," she said. She put out a hand and felt the cup. The surface was hot enough that she couldn't rest her hand comfortably on it for more than a couple of seconds. There was no way he should have been able to swallow the coffee without scalding his mouth just as there was no way he should have been able to lie in that crater without being badly burned. And he obviously didn't realize there was anything unusual about it.

Just what was Charlie, anyway?

**********

(to be continued)
_________________________
When I get old, I don't want people thinking, "What a sweet little old lady." I want them to say, "Oh crap, what's she up to now?"

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