|Not that trip to Florida you always wanted|
|What: Lois and Clark travel to Florida, hot on the heels of a tip about a mysterious vigilante with an earthy aesthetic.|
Key West, Florida
Rain pummels the pair of reporters from the Big Apricot (or Apple, depending on who you talk to). It's a thick kind of rain. A heavy rain that billows down in sheets so bad that driving is impossible. The sun is setting early due to the clouds and dark is fast approaching.
They're small little Prius rental pulls into the parking spot at the closest Motel and Lois Lane and Clark Kent do their best to get inside before they drown from above.
For two days they've been tracking the whereabouts of rumor. Lois, being the head writer for the Planet's Superhero beat, caught wind of a vigilante deep within the lush strip of Key West Islands. So far, a whole lot of nothing but ballyhoo and false leeds. Clark was here because-well, it's not clear why Perry sent Clark. Only that he did.
Lois darts through the raindrops as best as she can, but there's no avoiding getting drenched nevertheless. She's dragging her Samsonite behind her, which is -- thank God -- fairly rainproof. Her laptop case is tucked under her raincoat, and as she sprints through the rain into the lobby she lets out a weary sigh. "Florida. /Florida/, Clark. Florida, and somehow we've managed to show up during monsoon season. It's probably sunnier and warmer and drier in Manhattan as we speak." She drips lightly on the rug, glancing out the window before leaning her belongings against a nearby bench.
It's been a disappointing trip so far. Lots of leads, but the only place they lead is to dead ends. Still, they're not all dry. Not yet. Especially in this weather.
It's about to get worse.
"Good evening," says the lady behind the desk. She's got thick glasses, a purple flowered blouse, and a pearl necklace. Accidentally, Clark talks right over her, "Well gosh, Lois, had we known the weather was this bad we should have waited until next week!" The guy from Kansas pipes down once he realizes he's interrupting /and/ getting close to ragging on Lois for her hasty decision to come down, which wasn't all that hasty.
"Fallin' from buckets out there," says the woman, probably close to her 60s. "You're in luck, though, I've got one more room available."
Lois, raking a hand through her hair, gives the lady behind the desk a dazzling and pleasant smile before she looks up at Clark with something that... you know, it could be a smile. It could. The corners of the mouth are curled up and her teeth are showing, so that's a smile, yes? Y... maybe not.
"Would we? Really? Something tells me we wouldn't have. I wouldn't have." And before she gets into not needing a chaperone and really just assenting to bringing Clark because of Perry's say-so and all right, he /was/ a good journalist for all that he can be an oaf, she hears those fateful words from the sweet older lady behind the counter.
Her head whips around and she strides up to the counter, trying to make the smile a little less like a death rictus. "That's great," she says. "That's fantastic -- we're actually looking for /two/ rooms, though, if at all possible. And are you set up for internet?" Because if they can't do any legwork, they could at least do other work.
Clark gives a wince and doesn't respond, sensing Lois is about to lose her cool on him. It's happened once or thrice.
"Yes we do have internet, ma'am, but unfortunately we've just got the one room. I figured you two were a couple. My mistake." She gives Clark a pained look, as if to apologize to him.
"It's a queen," she says. "If that's not going to work, the next motel down the way is about 15 miles across the bridge. I can call and see if they have openings."
"No... no," Lois replies, running her hand across her face. She glances back at Clark and shrugs helplessly. "It's what we've got. Thank you," she continues, because she has a small soft spot for little old ladies. A very small one, and given that this one probably doesn't have any vital information for her, she's willing to be generous. Even if she is drenched and somehow hot and cold at the same time.
"He's my friend," she continues, and quickly adds: "Colleague. It'll be fine." Because she's slept in tents and caves and under the stars and even in the rain, and as long as word doesn't get back to the Planet of her and Clark sharing a bed, she can also survive this.
"I'll take the floor," Clark says with a smile as he pulls out his drenched wallet that drips to the floor amid his wincing. A wet card is produced. "One room, please." Clark turns to Lois, smiles, and pushes his glasses farther up on his nose.
Within a few moments they're out in the rain again. This is one of those motels that open to the street. Classy all the way.
Clark fumbles with the keys, getting Lois even more wet, but is finally able to get the door open. He nearly falls inside.
"Don't worry about it," Lois mutters. She just shoulders her own luggage again -- and luckily, Clark doesn't offer to carry it or she'd get all irked again about the fact that she can do it her own damn self, thanks. Ordinarily it wouldn't be such a bother. Today? The slightest little thing is getting on her nerves.
She clenches her teeth as she stands outside their room, glaring out at the rain and trying not to glare at Clark. It isn't really his fault. He didn't do anything wrong. Even if he is tripping over his damned feet again. She reaches out to catch his arm when he nearly falls, though, which means she drops her suitcase. It's all right. It's all right. She takes a deep breath, letting him go when he seems reasonably stable and stooping to pick it up. Attempting to move past him inside, she says "Dibs on the bathroom. I just want towels and dry clothes."
"Oh...sure...absolutely." Clark is going to take a shower. The heat, then the rain kicking in will make for real yuckiness under his rumpled suit. "Take your time," Clark responds as he sets his own suitcase down and shrugs out of jacket. His damp hair gets pushed to the side away from his eyes, making him look like a 1950s nerd with his hair slicked to the side. "There's delivery pizza," he calls out.
"Sounds perfect!" Though it won't be New York pizza. She's considerate enough not to take more than she needs. There's a strong temptation to have a shower, but instead she carries everything into the bathroom and pulls the door tight shut. Five minutes takes her from looking like a drowned rat to stepping out of the bathroom looking slightly /less/ like a drowned rat in dry clothes with her hair wrapped up in a towel. She lugs her suitcase onto the tile by the sink, carrying everything out that's dry to stuff into one of the drawers. "My wet stuff's hanging on the shower rod," she says, "so if you want to actually have a wash, let me know. You get into something dry and I'll look into ordering, unless you have."
"I actually held off. I didn't know for sure what you liked on your pizza." If he remembers correctly, it can change from time to time. Clark nods, "I'm going to need a shower, yeah. If you want me to move them, I can. It's no problem." When Lois comes back into the room, he's pulling out a pair of gym shorts and a Kansas City Royals t-shirt.
He's said he's okay with it, so she'll let him. "Pizza is a very touchy subject," Lois says. She's in an Army T-shirt and a pair of red flannel pajama pants -- not the most elegant of clothing, but comfortable and what she'd planned on sleeping in. She sits on the corner of the bed, flipping through the menu and giving it a long careful peruse. When he comes back, she's pulling out her phone and dialing: "I can never remember what you like. So I was thinking one medium margherita, one medium supreme. That'll give us breakfast for tomorrow and hits the fine bases of what pizza can be."
"I'll eat whatever," Clark says. "On the farm, we allowed ourselves one pizza night a month. Doesn't make sense to eat out a lot when you grow your supper in the backyard. I like all kinds." Clark excuses himself for a shower and is back within ten minutes, wearing the afore mentioned clothing.
She makes the call, then, and the order's in by the time he's out and clean. Lois is content enough to sit by the air conditioner, dry and cool, and when Clark comes in she tosses him the remote. By the time he's done showering she's already connected to the internet, scrolling through her email -- she's addicted -- and making a face at the screen. "This is internet only in the most technical sense," she mutters. "I might steal a shower for myself, I just didn't want you to be stuck there dripping for any longer than necessary."
"I imagine I looked pretty pitiful," Clark says with a chuckle. His hair looks a lot longer when it's wet and parts of it fit under his glasses, while parts come over the top of them. He takes the remote and slides down to the ground, casually flipping it over to the sports. "I'm really sorry about this, Lois. I know it's been a rough couple of days for you. I'm sure this is kind of the capper. I suppose the best news is that by this time tomorrow we'll be home."
"Which isn't great news," Lois says mournfully. She shoves the laptop away from herself on the table and lets her head loll back. "There's something out here. I know it. Another week and we'd have it, but this just feels like a wasted trip. And you know how much I hate wasted time." She slides to her feet and claps Clark's shoulder. She's in a rotten mood, but she can still be decent. "Let's give it an hour. Watch the game. I'll clean up the rest of the way. We'll have a nice hot dinner and in an hour we'll go over what we have again. Maybe a little time to rest our brains will give us a direction." She peers down at Clark, reaching out in a familiar and half-teasing way to push his hair back from his brow and out of his eyes. She's already turning to head into the bathroom before she even gives him a look with his hair combed back, closing the door behind her as the air conditioner's compressor kicks on again.
By the time Lois finishes her shower, the pizza has arrived. Clark decided to pick up the tab since it's well within the per diem allotment that's already been direct deposited into their accounts. He doesn't dare start before she gets out, and when she does, he's still lying on the floor watching the Tampa Bay v. New York baseball game. "I'm not sure re-focusing will help much, but whatever we can try will probably be better than where we're at."
The proper response to the pizza is to snag a piece and eat it folded on itself in front of the television. Lois does this, sitting on the bed's corner again and nodding absently. "It's worth a shot," she says. "But let's eat first. And baseball. Food and baseball. It'll clear the brain." She munches more or less contentedly, even if the wrinkle between her eyes shows the tension she's still feeling.
"I agree," Clark says helping himself to a piece after Lois breaks the seal. The game is pretty boring; a low scoring affair, but Clark seems content nonetheless. Having caught it towards the last third anyways, it ends soon enough, leaving the pair back at square one. "So what do we have? A farmer, a botanist, and a fisherman all claiming they've seen a plant monster doing 'good acts.' Not enough to write a story on, I fear."
It's not a very inspiring game. It's not a deeply inspiring pizza, but even a 'meh' pizza is still pretty good. Lois eats maybe half a piece more than she'd really meant to and clambers over to her chair again, glaring at the notes on her laptop and nodding gloomily. "I mean, it could be as simple as a guy in a ghillie suit who thinks that colorful tights are so fifteen minutes ago. But no, it's not much to go on. Are there any older stories about this? Anywhere outside the Keys?"
Clark shakes his head. He's usually a pretty darn good researcher, but hasn't been pleased with how things have come out. "There were a couple of stories in the Baton Rouge press a couple of years ago, but I was never able to make a hard link." Clark sighs, "I'm thinking I'm going to just go to bed. We've got nothing to go on, and I'm beginning to think we're done for. Whoever this guy is, if he's even real, doesn't want to be found."
Lois presses her lips together. It's not an answer she likes. Unfinished stories nag like the hole left by a lost tooth, raw and uncomfortable and omnipresent. She sighs and nods, gesturing to the bed: "Fine, but not on the floor. I'm going to stay up and do some more research, so you take the bed. I'll try not to keep you awake, but maybe I'll chase down some of the link to Baton Rouge."
Clark shakes his head, "Sorry. If my mom found out that I took the bed over you, she'd disown me. She raised me differently." Clark stands up, abruptly, grabs a pillow, and reaches atop the closet to grab the extra blanket. He heads into that crevice between the bed in the wall. All the better to hide when you take your glasses off, of course.
Soppy bastard. "Clark," Lois sighs, "I've slept under two sticks and a raincoat and I've eaten scorpions. I'll be -- " But he's already doing it, and she just sighs. And smiles a little, because Clark doesn't do this because he thinks she's less or weak or dependent; he does it because he thinks she's /important/, and because his mother raised him right. "Sleep well," she says resignedly, drawing her knees up to her chest and going back over their work -- and the Baton Rouge cases -- for the nth time.
Within moments, Clark's breathing changes enough for Lois to know he's asleep. He doesn't given in to her protests and it's probably the first time or oneof the few times he's ever stood up to her.
Meanwhile, all of her leads dry up. Simply put, there's little if anything to go on. What little rumors there are from Baton Rouge can't be linked to what they've heard here by anything resembling fact. It will dawn on her, despite her efforts, that this is going nowhere.
In desperation, she starts skimming news sites, blogs, deep-web places where people swap information, anything she can find. She steps into the little bathroom to make herself a mug of coffee, frowning at the screen. Well. There's ways and then there's ways. There must be /some/ connection between the things he stopped happening. Perhaps some kind of plant mutant? Someone who could travel through the green? There was plenty of wildlife around both places. Maybe she could coax him out of hiding. Maybe she could even go to where he was last seen. Glancing to the sleeping Clark, she felt a pang of guilt -- but it was only a small one. He was warm and snug and asleep, and she could do all that on the plane.
At about 1 AM, after hours of research and getting nowhere, the lightning finally is victor over the local power company as the lights and power go out abruptly. While Lois' laptop might still carry a charge, the vital internet connection is now gone.
Between drowning, getting bitten by a snake, or just generally getting lost and having to sleep in a swamp all night -- which she /considers/ -- or just going to bed in the warm and dry, Lois finally just grumbles out a sigh and closes the laptop. There's no point in pushing things any further. It's a dead end. Learn to let go. She slides to her feet and pads over to the bed, crawling under the blankets and burying her face in the pillows.
It doesn't take long after she goes to sleep. There's a small gap in between the window screen, the window, and the wall. A tiny plant vine sneaks its way in and over towards the door, growing longer and longer.
Within a moment, it next to silently opens the door. In the rain, a figure with sharp features and yellow skin stands in the rain, looking for its next victim. But FLORONIC MAN looks nothing like those reports have mentioned. Was it even him? No, the one thing linking all the stories other than the way the beast looks is that it was intent on good. As the tendrils of plant matter enter the hotel room, it's clear that this being is up to no good.
Before he can awake, Clark is ensared by the vines, his glasses crushed in the process. Though he tries to yell to Lois, his voice is muffled. He tries to break free, but the bonds must be magical in creation because try as he might he simply cannot break them.
She's a heavy sleeper -- it's one of the things that's been really helpful, actually, or she never would have survived a war zone without actively lethal amounts of coffee. But she hasn't been asleep for long, and the plant-man might well have misjudged how long it would take her to drop off entirely. She's woozy when she hears the faint sound of Clark's muffled voice, and she mutters under her breath: "D'n't talk in y'r sleep..." But something feels wrong. Something feels damp in a room made artificially dry by circulating air. She snaps up suddenly, lifting her head and peering around when a bolt of lightning illuminates the winding vines, and --
"Clark!" She leans over toward him, trying to pull the vines away from him and extricate him from the plants. But her head whips around and her eyes narrow as she looks toward the door. One hand starts grasping over at the nightstand, but what's there? The lamp?
Her cell phone, apparently.
One tendril of vines leaps out to grab her hand, but the hand closest to the cell phone is still there. Meanwhile, Floronic Man enters the room slowly. His dead eyes taking in the scene. What would have escaped both Lois and Clark's detection is the recent disappearance of tourists in the area amongst the islands. That hasn't been as widely reported, nor is it Lois or Clark's normal beat.
The vine is strong and slowly it pulls Lois across the bed towards the villain.
"It's..." his voice is a whisper. "Not my fault...I need...need your carbon..."
"You can go knock over a pencil factory, buster!" Lois's fingers scrabble for the phone, which she holds in front of her like a talisman even as he drags her closer. With three quick flicks of her thumb, the iStark flashes quick and bright toward the figure's face. Dual purposes -- a picture and, hopefully, a blinding light in this dark room. Her own eyes close before she hits the button and she yanks her arm hard, trying to grab for the table lamp instead.
The flash is enough to get surprise from Floronic Man. He recoils just a bit and for a moment, the line goes slack. Just enough to allow her to grab the lamp in her hands.
Meanwhile, Clark is wriggling as best he can. Poor guy. He just simply cannot be of much use to anyone, anywhere, anywhen, can he?
Just enough. Lois yanks back, and even though she can't get the tendril out from around her wrist? That's just fine. When she yanks the lamp off the nightstand, the shade is knocked awry. She jams the still-plugged-in lamp bulb-first at the thickest part of the tendril, yanking back on her wrist at the same time and praying she doesn't just electrocute them all. But the man is wet, and he's the closest circuit, and better a possible death than a certain one. Right?
Floronic Man begins to wriggle insanely. The tendril lets go of Lois before the electricity coarses through it. Clark, however, is not so lucky and electricity grips him. He begins to wriggle much like Floronic Man. The latter falls to the ground in a heap; the heaving of his chest lets her know that he's still alive.
Hurling the lamp away, Lois quickly scrambles for her cell phone and dials 911. She's hauling out of her bed at the same time, barrelling toward what she assumes must be the center of it all -- the man-shaped part -- and shoving him toward either the bathroom door or the door out of the room, whichever's closest. "Clark!" she shouts again; then, for the phone: "Attacker in our room! Sea Breeze Motel!" She rattles off the number and tosses the phone aside, whirling around to find the crumpled man. "Oh God. Clark. Are you okay? I'm so sorry; I couldn't think of anything else. Speak to me. Please be okay."
"Yeah!" Clark says as the vines loosen around his mouth. "I'm alright. Little singed, but okay!" his voice sounds about as upbeat as it always does. Apparently the electricity must not have gotten him too bad. Hrm. That's odd.
Meanwhile, from the dirt outside there's a murmuring. The sound grows bit by bit until finally there's a new sound of dirt giving way in a small avalanche. Behind Lois stands a gigantic plant-like life form of green with red eyes. It stands ominously, saying nothing.
She whirls when she hears the sound, backing up to stand over the fallen Clark. Protective as a lioness, she's nevertheless shaken to her marrow when she sees the massive figure, staring up at him in nervous amazement. The woman's tense, but she's also amazed. It's clear instantly that this before her /isn't/ the man who just attacked her. Eyes widen and she takes a deep breath, swallowing hard and clearing her throat. "Thank you?" she suggests.
"Thank you," says Swamp Thing in return, the twigs in its mouth crackle as they snap on each other. The giant leans down, picking Floronic Man up and over its shoulder. "Peace be with you..."
Slowly the giant walks from the room, carrying his adversary. It heads towards the hole from which it came and in a moment both creatures of the earth disappear. The ground, though it still looks somewhat disturbed, settles back into place.
By the time Lois will look back, Clark is already pulling out of the vine that's been left upon him. Mysteriously, he's wearing glasses again. Three cheers for superspeed. "What happened, Lois? I missed all of it." By all of it, he means whatever he couldn't see with his x-ray vision.
"You would..." But when Lois says it, it's without rancor or even really annoyance. It sounds a bit more like sympathy instead. "You missed out on... on... I don't even know what." She stares out at the disturbed ground the pair disappeared into, shaking her head in amazement before turning back to Clark and helping him stand. "I'm so sorry," she murmurs. "I could have killed you. I don't even..."
Her eyes light up, though, as she looks up into Clark's face. "You know what happened?" Glancing back over her shoulder toward the door, she continues: "I found the story."
"I missed it? Shucks..." Clark even snaps his fingers in frustration. "Well, don't worry about me, Lois. I'm fine. And now it looks like you'll have enough for the article. Hope Perry doesn't ride me to hard for missing things. Did you get a picture?"
"I..." Lois dashes to her phone, snatching it up and sorting through the pictures inside. 'Shucks'. How is Clark even /real/? She taps the first picture to come up, muttering: "Just the one. Not of the guy who's been helping -- the one picture I got is the guy who tried to kill us. Says he needed carbon. Maybe not a mutant, then, or even an alien. Could be a botched science experiment... the /big/ guy, though. I couldn't even. Ugh, I'm a journalist, not a photo...journalist..."
Clark seems to be well humored. "I guess Perry will be kicking himself that he was too cheap to send Jimmy along for the ride." He then grows a bit more serious. "Are you alright?"
"Mmm? Yeah. Fine." The picture is... There have been better pictures of Bigfoot. Lois slumps back onto the bed, holding her phone in her hand so tightly that if she were Clark-strong, it would have long since shattered. "But there's still a story in this," she says brightly. Standing, she catches Clark's hand and drags him with her if he'll let her, stepping outside and stooping over the disturbed ground. "He must travel through root systems," she murmurs. "Or dirt. Or something. The big guy. He looked like he was /made/ of swamp." She's so tired and so wired at the same time. Sleep may be impossible, at least until the sleep hammer hits her. If she doesn't get coffee, it'll be within about thirty minutes. If she does, she has a good four hours ahead of her.
Clark follows along, back into the rain, and looks down at the hole. "Well, if you've got a shovel, we can start digging. But I imagine wherever he went he's far gone by now. Did he look like the reports we got? Large? Green? Made of vegetation?"
"All three," Lois confirms. "But digging... no, like you said, I figure he's long gone." She turns back to head inside, only vaguely aware that she's sopping wet. Quickly she hustles to her laptop again, powered or no, and scrubs her face again with one hand. "Huge. Green. Amazing. It was less like... I mean, head and arms and legs and torso, sure, but it was less like -- the first guy, he was like a man made out of saplings, but this was like... this was like the plants just sort of came up, this... what's the word, what's the /word/, it starts with a... P? I think? This is the forest... Primeval. That's it. Pri...me...val..." She starts typing, red-eyed and frantic.
Clark sighs wearily. He'd just gotten to sleep and now it's starting all over again.
"I'll get some coffee going."