Post by huronna on Aug 9, 2009 22:06:18 GMT -5
By Paul E. Jamison
By Paul E. Jamison
PROLOGUE, Part 1
Four years ago
It was a lovely day to fly. Visibility and ceiling were unlimited, so the sky was a deep blue and unbroken by a single cloud. He was at about 15,000 feet, his favorite altitude for long-distance flying, and he was watching the green Dakota plains roll along far below him.
People were always asking Superman: “Why the cape?” He had to admit that there was no good answer. Batman wore his cape for several reasons: gliding capability; bullet-proofing; an effective weapon with the weights sewn in the hem; and, above anything else, good old-fashioned psychology. The Shadow of the Bat was enough to frighten any criminal and quite a few of the Good Guys. As powerful as Superman was, there were times when Batman’s silhouette gave him the willies.
But his own cape – it was showmanship, nothing more. Clark Kent had attended a circus in Smallville when he was a mere lad and had been enthralled by the high-wire acrobats. They all had worn gaudy pink and blue capes with gold-lamé trim, and he’d thought that that was the coolest thing in the world. When the time came to put together a costume, he’d stayed away from the gold lamé and had gone with simple red, with the sign of the House of El as the only decoration. But he had to have a cape. It was at times like this that he simply flew along and enjoyed the way that the cape flapped out behind him. What was wrong with showmanship?
A lot has been written about Superman’s powers and abilities, some of it greatly exaggerated. Lois had taken great joy in a recent article in some puff-piece celebrity magazine that had said, in all seriousness, that he could hear a sparrow fall from a tree on the other side of the Earth. That was nonsense, of course. Even if his hearing, acute as it was, could extend all the way around the curve of the Earth, there was far too much noise in between for him to hear a thousand squawking condors using a thousand megaphones, much less the peep from a little bird. Even if he could hear such a thing, there wasn’t much he could do about it from half a world away.
But now, at 15,000 feet in an otherwise empty sky, it was easy for Superman to notice something else sharing the airspace, even something several miles away. Like, say, what appeared to be a small animal falling through his altitude, heading straight for Dakota farmland.
Superman turned his attention to the creature. It was – a weasel?!
His first gut reaction was pure farmboy. Pa Kent hated weasels because they were always getting into the henhouse and stealing eggs. But Superman couldn’t just ignore this one. There was no sense in letting an animal die if it could be rescued. So he turned and followed it down. Besides, maybe he could find a clue to what it was doing up here.
He got closer and realized that it wasn’t a weasel, but a ferret. Nice-looking creature, a Sable, he thought it was called. It was tumbling down at terminal velocity, and he could hear the heart still beating.
Superman quickly matched the ferret’s downward velocity and scooped it into his hands. The ferret stared up at him wide-eyed.
Superman smiled and said, “Easy there, little fella, I’ve got you. Now where did you come from, I wonder?”
The ferret replied, “Please don’t patronize me, sir.”
Superman had seen some strange things and had met some remarkable creatures in his time, but this startled him. Thankfully, he didn’t drop the ferret.
Something tickled at the back of his mind. “Oh, that’s right, there are talking ferrets out there! I’m terribly sorry!”
“Mustela sapiens, yes. That’s all right. I do appreciate the save, thank you so much. My name is Constable Murphy of the RCMP. And I know who you are.”
“Oh! That Constable Murphy! I’ve heard good things about you! It’s an honor to finally meet you, Constable! Only… um… why are you up here?”
“I’ve been doing undercover work with an agent of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He’s posing as a very eccentric Canadian drug dealer who travels everywhere with his pet ferret –” Murphy touched his neck; he was wearing a collar marked with the word PONGO. “– which is why I’m stuck with this abomination. Up until a few minutes ago I was with my, um, master in the private jet of a Mexican drug lord. Then Agent Bonehead of the CSIS blew our cover. The drug lord had me tossed out first just to be mean.”
Superman was looking above. “Cessna Citation X at about 20 thou? Heading South-Southwest?”
“That’s the one.” Cradling Murphy in his hands, Superman began to climb.
They were soon close enough that the jet was clearly visible. Murphy said, “Agent Idiot at least was putting up a fight when I left, but he was outnumbered, so I figure he’ll be on his way down soon – ah, here he comes now.”
“I’ll get him.” Superman cocked his head to one side and listened. “I’m afraid he’s not taking it very well.”
“Can’t say as I blame him, really.”
By the time Superman snagged him, the undercover agent had passed out. Superman shifted the man and the ferret around to more comfortable positions and resumed climbing after the jet.
Murphy asked, “So, what now? I take it you’re going to do something about the baddies?”
“Sure am.” Superman narrowed his eyes and gazed at the jet above. Despite what the cartoons and comics try to tell you, Superman’s Heat Vision is not visible to the human eye. It didn’t look like he was doing anything beyond staring. But, suddenly there was a bright flash within the left-hand engine, followed by a cloud of dark smoke. A few moments later, the same thing happened to the right-hand engine.
“There. Now they’ve got no way to go but down. If the pilot’s any good, they’ll just glide. I’ll put you and your colleague down on the ground and come back for them.”
“Sounds fine to me. Again, thank you very much for the rescue.”
“You’re quite welcome, Constable.”
“Call me Murphy.”
Three years ago
Lois leaned back in her window seat and let out a contented sigh. Of the many perks she got as a star reporter for the “Daily Planet”, traveling First-Class had to be the best. Granted, she also had access to what could be considered even more exclusive air travel – literally one-to-one service – but honestly, it wasn’t as comfortable as this. Whenever she flew by the other method, it involved being wrapped up in that red cape of his to keep out the cold, and as often as not she required bottled oxygen. She appreciated the intimacy of traveling with him, but for long-term trips this was much better.
Lois stretched out her legs and slipped off her shoes. She wouldn’t have wanted to do that if she’d been flying Coach. Theoretically it could be done, but there was always the possibility that some angelic little girl with curly blonde hair might steal her shoes and gleefully run up and down the aisles waving them around; she knew this from experience. However, she certainly couldn’t complain this time.
A smiling flight attendant came by and leaned over the aisle seat. “Are you comfortable, Ms. Lane?”
“Oh, yes. I’m quite fine, thank you. I’m getting settled in.”
Lois noticed that the attendant was carrying something. It looked like an infant carrier for a car. The attendant began to fit it to the aisle seat. “I’m getting things ready for your seatmate, Ms. Lane. I hope you don’t mind.”
Lois wasn’t sure how she felt about sitting next to a young child, but she figured it couldn’t be too bad; hopefully it wouldn’t be old enough to want to steal her shoes. But then she realized that the seat wasn’t quite the right size and shape for a child of any age.
The attendant finished attaching the seat and turned to speak to the floor. “May I pack your hat in the overhead bin, Constable?”
A high-pitched voice replied, “That would be fine, Ma’am.” Lois stared as a small paw held up a miniature version of a campaign hat. The flight attendant placed it in an overhead bin and stepped back.
Lois was astonished when a ferret in a red serge uniform leapt up into the small seat. It turned to her and said, “How do you do? I know you – you’re Lois Lane!” It held out a paw. “I’m pleased to meet you. Constable Murphy at your service!”
Lois recognized him then. “Of course! Of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police! I’m delighted to meet you!” They shook hand and paw.
The ferret settled down and the flight attendant made a bit more fuss over him as he buckled in. After she’d moved on, Murphy said, “It looks like we’re stuck sitting together until we reach Sydney. I’m hope you have no objections.”
“None whatever. I’ve heard quite a bit about you and this is an honor. Do you have business in Australia?”
“A bit. I’ll only be staying a few days, though. Then I’ll be heading for Tokyo to attend an international conference on law enforcement. I’ll be representing the RCMP’s Ferret Division. I take it you have reporter stuff to do in Australia?”
“Yes, I’m doing a little journalistic investigation in the Outback. Nothing I can talk about, you realize.”
“Understood. I’m a little surprised that you’re travelling alone. I’d have thought that your husband would want to go with you.”
“He wanted to, but it didn’t work out. Clark has some business to attend to himself. He said he’d try to catch up when he could.”
“I see. Well, in the meantime, I shouldn’t be too bad of a travel companion. Some of my friends say I snore, but they may just be teasing me about that.”
“It won’t be a problem.”
Within half an hour the Boeing 747-8 was climbing away from LA International and heading out over the Pacific. Two hours later, Lois was reading the latest Carl Hiaasen while Murphy was listening to some Japanese language tapes on his Walkferret®. That’s when four men with big guns came into First Class.
People began to scream as one man, a hard-looking American with a holstered pistol and a semiautomatic machine gun, strode to the front of the cabin. How he’d gotten his weapons onboard was anyone’s guess. He waved the semiautomatic around and shouted, “Alright, this is what is known as a hijack situation! Settle down, people, or bad things will happen!”
Another armed man joined him. This one was Arabic. He had the hard look and tough attitude of a man that the State Department sometimes referred to as a “Freedom Fighter” or a “Terrorist”, depending.
His eyes swept the cabin. He didn’t look like he approved of what he saw. He said, in heavily-accented English, “I am Amjhejy. I and my colleagues represent the Qurac Separatist Movement, and we have taken over control of this aircraft for the furtherance of our holy cause. Our goal is to break away from the puppet forces that now rule Qurac under the control of the Western governments. I know that you soft creatures do not respect that cause –” He looked at the American standing next to him. “– Indeed, some of our fellow soldiers, like Mr. Trask here, are only in this for monetary gain. But you can be useful to us in achieving our aims. You and everyone else on this aircraft are now hostages. If your weak governments do as we say, you will not be harmed. If they care so little about their subjects, which is a possibility, you will suffer. For now, do as you’re told and you will not get hurt.”
Lois murmured, “Oh, dear, another one.”
Murphy leaned over and whispered, “This doesn’t happen all the time, does it?”
Lois replied, “Oh, no, not really. But it’s happened before with me. One of those things, I guess.”
“Ah. Do you expect to be rescued?”
“I’ve always been so far, Constable. For now, my suggestion is to keep your seat belt fastened.”
“You, woman!” Amjhejy and Trask strode over to her. The Quracan said, “You will keep quiet, or an example will be made of you! Do you –”
Amjhejy looked at Trask. He was surprised to see that the mercenary had gone pale. The Quracan asked, “What is wrong?”
Trask pointed and sputtered, “That – that’s Lois Lane!”
Amjhejy shook his head.
“Lois Lane! The reporter for the ‘Daily Planet’!”
Amjhejy looked at Lois and smiled. “Ah, yes, the American newspaper. Well, then, she will be useful to us. You, woman, will be spared. You will write messages to your government –”
Trask interrupted. His voice was quavering. “You don’t understand! That’s Lois Lane! She’s – she’s a friend of Superman!!”
Amjhejy stared at him for a moment, and then threw his head back and roared. “Superman? The mighty Man of Steel? The one who they say can bend iron bars with his bare hands? The one who can fly?” He laughed again. “Do you seriously think that we of Qurac really believe in this Western fairy tale?” Amjhejy removed his pistol from its holster and held it up. There was menace in his voice as he said, “Let this Superman come and try to rescue you! We will see how he reacts to a bullet between the eyes!”
Murphy said, “You’d be surprised.”
The Quracan stared down at the Mountie as if he were seeing him for the first time and bared his teeth. He hissed, “A talking animal? The Demon’s pet! You heathen Americans dare to keep such animals?”
“Hey, I’m nobody’s pet!”
Amjhejy pointed to Murphy and calmly said, “Trask, shoot it.”
The mercenary looked at Murphy for a moment, then at Lois. She didn’t seem too disturbed by this. Trask shrugged his shoulders and pulled out his own pistol. He pointed it right at the ferret’s small skull.
Murphy simply said, “I know Superman, too.”
Amjhejy couldn’t quite follow what happened next. The gun disappeared quickly back into the holster, and Trask stepped back; his eyes looked like they were ready to pop out of his head.
Amjhejy sneered at the man. “And you told me that you and your men were strong. I should have known differently. You’re as weak as all Westerners.” He held up his own gun. “Very well. I shall have to do this – ungh!!”
The cabin ceiling had now become the cabin floor. Trask, Amjhejy and the other two gunmen hit the ceiling hard, along with several other passengers who weren’t buckled up. Lois and Murphy, however, calmly hung from their seat belts. Murphy said, “Pity about the other passengers.”
The aircraft suddenly righted itself and people tumbled to the floor. Lois replied, “They’ll be alright. It could well have been worse. They never complain.”
The airliner was soon on the ground in Hawaii, far more quickly than the 747 was designed for. The door was opened and Superman checked for injuries and rounded up the hijackers. The mercenaries and the terrorists gave no resistance, except for Amjhejy. When Superman approached him, the Quracan screamed something about his righteous cause and swung at him with a wicked-looking knife. Soon the blade was broken and Amjhejy was looking very confused.
It was some time before Superman could greet Lois and Murphy. He smiled down at the ferret and said, “Hello, Murph! Fancy meeting you here!”
Murphy nodded. “Good to see you again, Supes. We always seem to be running into each other at altitude. Not that I’m complaining this time, either. Thanks for another save.”
“You’re welcome. Ms. Lane, pleased to see you again.”
“And you. It seems like you’re always pulling my fat out of the fire, too. And I’m definitely not complaining.”
“I’m here to help, you know that.”
It was only for a brief instant, but Murphy noticed a look that passed between Lois and Superman. Nothing was said, and the look didn’t last long. But he’d seen that look before, and he knew what it meant. Murphy silently wondered if Clark Kent knew about this. He said nothing to either of them.
It wasn’t until a few hours later that Murphy recalled pictures he’d seen of Clark Kent and thought to compare them with Superman. Then he realized that Clark did know. Of course he did.
Murphy chuckled. A pair of glasses evidently made for a very effective disguise.
To be continued...