Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Two years earlier
"Why are we here?"
Clark Kent trailed behind Chloe Sullivan and Lois Lane, cousins, rival reporters, and insanely reckless women. He was listening intently with superhearing, and he knew the building was empty but for a few distant security guards, but that didn't stop him from being nervous. LuthorCorp's labs always made him nervous. He had a bad feeling he was going to wind up here one of these days, strapped to a lab table and being sliced open with kryptonite blades.
"I told you, I got a tip from Lionel," Chloe said briskly. "He thinks Lex is experimenting on people again."
"And we didn't just call the cops because..."
"Don't be such a weenie, Smallville," Lois said, shooting him a look of disgust over her shoulder. "You know perfectly well the cops are all on Lex's payroll."
Clark sighed. "I just wish you guys would have let me come snoop around first..."
"Yeah, like you'd have a hope of finding anything," Lois retorted. "Just because you're taking journalism classes doesn't make you a journalist, Smallville. Leave the reporting to the reporters."
"Oh, yeah, because all the best reporters work for the Inquisitor."
Lois fired visual daggers at him over her shoulder, and Chloe intervened before her cousin could turn around and aim a kick at him. "Cut it out, you two. We're breaking and entering, which means we're supposed to be sneaking around. It's hard to sneak with you two yelling at each other."
Clark grinned sheepishly. "Okay, Chlo. I'll be good."
"That'll be the day," she answered, and smacked him lightly on the shoulder.
Even though it was far from a romantic caress, a little heat rushed through his veins at the touch of her hand. They'd been close friends for years, but in the past six months their friendship had blossomed into something new and better, something so intense that just thinking of her could take his breath away.
He was desperately in love with Chloe Sullivan.
She turned away and started walking again. "Based on the schematics Lionel gave me, it's right up here."
Moments later she unlocked a door with a key Lionel had procured for her, and they all walked into a sterile, white-walled lab. Clark looked around, and was relieved to see no people strapped onto tables. In fact, the room was pretty much empty but for a few computers and some file drawers. Behind a glass wall, he could see a small crystal on a pedestal.
Clark tilted his head and studied the crystal. Before they'd embarked upon this adventure, Chloe had informed him that Lionel believed Lex's newest experiment had to do with some piece of Kryptonian technology Lex had gotten his hands on. She'd told him that out of Lois' hearing, of course, since Lois was still laboring under the delusion that he was an ordinary Kansas farmboy-- a delusion Clark wanted her to hang onto as long as possible. Lois had a big mouth, and besides, she wrote for the Inquisitor, a tabloid that ran "alien invasion" articles on a regular basis. If she discovered he was the last survivor of an alien race, he wasn't quite certain she wouldn't see him as her big break. He didn't want to be featured on the front page of the Inquisitor.
He looked the crystal over carefully. The problem was, one piece of Kryptonian technology looked pretty much like another. The technology of his home planet was crystal-based, and he didn't have a clue how to tell their devices apart. Kryptonians often marked their crystals with symbols, but not always... and this one didn't have a symbol. It could be anything from a fission bomb to a toenail clipper, for all he could tell.
As always, Lois was impatient with waiting. "Use your key and get us in there, Chloe."
"I don't think the key will work on that door," Chloe said. "Looks like it takes a thumbprint."
"Damn." Lois frowned. "That's a problem."
"Not really." Chloe grinned, unconcerned. "I kind of hacked into LuthorCorp's system. Clark's an employee now, as far as the computer knows. It should recognize him."
Clark knew this was a cover story concocted for Lois' benefit. Chloe expected him to break his way into the chamber, which was why he was really here. Although she'd fed Lois a line about helping Clark to spread his journalistic wings, she considered him the brawn of the outfit. She provided the brain, and he provided the muscle.
Which could have been annoying, if he hadn't been aware she was far sneakier than he was. He just wasn't a sneaky guy. He'd never needed to be. A guy who could smash his way through a steel door didn't have a lot of need for stealth.
He went over to the door, put his thumb on it, and then turned the doorknob. It opened-- because he'd broken the latch-- and he pushed the door open. Fortunately Chloe had managed to hack into the system and disrupt the alarm system, as well as the security cameras, so that little piece of sleight of hand wouldn't be caught on tape for Lex Luthor to observe later.
They stepped into the chamber together. There were two tables in the room with restraints, which he guessed were used to hold unwilling experimental subjects. On its pedestal, the crystal looked small and unimpressive, but Clark knew from personal experience that even small Kryptonian crystals could unleash incredible forces. He knew better than to touch it, because Kryptonian crystals were sometimes activated by touch. While he studied it, walking around it and looking at it from all angles, Chloe went back out into the larger room and began to yank files from metal cabinets. Apparently LuthorCorp still kept paper records in addition to electronic ones.
"I'm not sure what this experiment is all about," she said, glancing over the papers, then looking at them through the glass wall. "It seems to have something to do with transmitting something from one person to another, but I'm not sure exactly what's being transmitted."
"Transmitting something?" Following Clark around the crystal, Lois looked intrigued. "Like transmitting thoughts, maybe? Telepathy?"
Clark could barely restrain himself from rolling his eyes. He had no idea why Chloe had brought Lois along. She'd been "reporting" for the Inquisitor for three years now, and her stories had gone from bad to worse. She didn't do any real research, she made up half of what she wrote, she wrote ludicrous stories about Bigfoot robbing convenience stores, sightings of the Loch Ness Monster in the Missouri River, and Elvis love babies... and then she had the gall to call herself a journalist.
The more classes on journalistic ethics Clark took, the more Lois and her "journalism" annoyed the hell out of him.
But the two girls were cousins, and despite some professional rivalry, they were close. So if he was going to date Chloe, Lois was something he had to put up with, even though he enjoyed her presence about as well as humans enjoyed toothaches.
"I don't think so," Chloe said, frowning. She studied the file intently. "I wish I'd taken more psych classes. There's all this stuff about the id and the ego and the psyche, and I don't have a clue what any of it means."
"That's your whole problem," Lois said. "You're always trying to find out stuff by reading."
Chloe looked slightly annoyed. Even though she loved Lois and had a lot of tolerance for her cousin's foolishness, Lois could aggravate her, too. "That's part of what separates us from the animals, Lois. We read."
Clark gave up staring at the crystal, since he obviously wasn't getting anywhere, and walked out into the lab, taking the file from Chloe and looking at it. She patted his arm in a familiar gesture of affection, then went back into the glass chamber and stood next to Lois, staring at the crystal.
Clark glanced through the file, but couldn't make much more sense of the dense psychological jargon than Chloe had. Psychological transmission and exchange, resulting in complete alteration of personality and memory loss in both subjects.
He wasn't quite sure what any of that meant. But it sounded painful.
He didn't have time to think about it, because he heard footsteps. They were still a distance down the hall, but he didn't want their exit blocked. He stared at the door, listening carefully. "Someone's coming."
"I don't hear anything," Lois said. "You're just jumpy, Smallville."
"Better to be cautious," Chloe answered. She knew the full extent of his powers, and she knew that when he said someone was coming, he meant it. "Let's get out of here."
"I'm not leaving without a story," Lois answered, and reached out to grasp the crystal.
Chloe grabbed at her hand. Clark turned his head to see Lois' hand closing on the crystal, and Chloe's hand catching Lois' wrist. He opened his mouth to yell a warning, but too late-- the crystal was already clutched in Lois' hand.
A green and blue miasma rose into the air above them, swirling and shifting. Then it seemed to subside into their bodies and disappear.
Oh, shit, Clark thought. He wasn't sure what had just happened, but he was pretty sure it wasn't good.
And things were going from bad to worse. A terrible, high-pitched sound began to rise from the crystal, although neither of the women seemed aware of it. He wanted to get Chloe and Lois out of this room, away from the godawful noise, but the sound was so piercing, so agonizing, that all he could do was cringe and cover his ears.
The noise rose to unbearable levels, and suddenly glass flew everywhere as a massive explosion knocked him right off his feet and into the wall behind him. He slammed into the wall hard enough to crack the plaster, then collapsed to the floor. It took a lot to knock him off his feet, because he was superstrong and invulnerable and generally superpowered.
Lois and Chloe weren't.
If he'd been knocked to the floor, then odds were they'd been seriously hurt. He struggled to his feet, feeling winded, and saw that the interior of the glass chamber was on fire. Through the smoke and flames, he saw their inert bodies lying side by side on the floor.
Panic gripped him, freezing him in place for an instant. Chloe.
Shaking off his moment of shocked paralysis, he went into superspeed, not caring if Lois saw him or not. A fraction of a second later, he was kneeling between the women. Both were unconscious. He could still hear Lois' heartbeat, strong and steady, but Chloe's was fading.
"Chloe," he whispered, holding her hand in his. "No, Chloe... please..."
She didn't open her eyes. She didn't respond at all.
Her heartbeat faded into nothingness.
Agony flooded him, and tears burned his eyes. He wanted to drop his head into his hands and sob. But the lab was on fire, and although flames didn't hurt him, the smoke was rapidly getting thick enough to suffocate a human. He could still get Lois to safety, at least. Chloe would want him to save Lois.
He threw Chloe's body over his shoulder, knowing she was beyond his help but unable to leave her behind, then picked up Lois more carefully and supersped for the door. Tears streaked his face, but he ignored them.
He had a job to do, and a life to save.
He just wished he could have saved Chloe.
Read Chapter 2 here.