Switch Press
Nivea Serrao
March 01, 2017 AT 11:25 AM EST

What’s that in the sky? It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s… a flying man?

That’s just one of the mysteries Lois Lane will be solving in Lois Lane: Triple Threat, the third book in author Gwenda Bond’s YA series. In Triple Threat, Lois Lane tries to protect the mysterious flying figure from not just federal agents, but also her father, while also going up against a mad scientist and mutant teens. And if things couldn’t get more complicated for the young reporter, she’ll also be going on her first date with Clark Kent SmallvilleGuy.

Bond’s popular Lois Lane series centers on the teenage adventures of the fan favorite character as she adjusts to life in Metropolis, and writes and breaks stories for the Daily Scoop, a teenage subsidiary of the Daily Planet—all while navigating a crush on her new online friend.

With the latest adventures of Lois Lane set to hit bookshelves May 1, EW presents an exclusive excerpt of the first two chapters of the upcoming book.

Sarah Jane Sanders

Excerpt from Lois Lane: Triple Threat by Gwenda Bond

Chapter 1

“You’re smiling like your world domination is nigh,” Maddy said.

“Always,” I said as I fell into step beside her on the bustling sidewalk.

This time my world-domination smile was because I’d spotted our Scoop colleagues James and Devin waiting in front of the fancy old movie theater up ahead, as prompt as I’d known James would be.

It was a beautiful spring evening in Metropolis and a group of us were converging uptown for the first showing of Madwoman, a biopic about my hero Nellie Bly and her early days of groundbreaking journalistic exposés. I was determined to do my part for its opening weekend success. Support the things you love with your dollars . . . and make your friends support them too. Especially when journalism is involved. This was my motto. Or one of them, anyway.

Maddy led a hearty crew that also included her perfectly coiffed twin sister Melody, Maddy’s paint-spattered boyfriend Dante, and our gaming-happy friend Anavi. James had volunteered to get to the theater early to procure tickets. I’d needed to stop by the Scoop offices en route. I had a feature to file about how boys could know when they were being creepy and, um, well, stop being creepy. It had been inspired by a topic on the upstart online gossip hub Loose Lips and a long thread by guys who were wondering whether they were part of the problem. Our boss Perry White hated Loose Lips’ crowdsourced news style, but we’d found ideas for several stories there—and just not revealed the source of our inspiration to him.

“You got the tickets, right?” I asked James by way of greeting as we met in front of the old-school marquee. He was tall, glossy-haired and -toothed, and born with a silver spoon but also a sense of fairness and a good heart.

Devin said, “Is that what he was supposed to do? I think he forgot.” His afro was getting a little longer, and today he wore a T-shirt with a nerd-cool graphic of wolves and dragons.

My eyes narrowed at James, but he reached into his pocket and fanned out white ticket stubs. “Very funny, Dev,” he said. “You’re risking my life and limb. Here they are. Although I think we may be the only people at this showing.”

I started to speak, but Maddy laughed and said, “Wait, Lois, let me guess what you’re going to say.” She tossed her head to get a lock of hot-pink-streaked hair out of her face. Her T-shirt read Her Royal Shyness—it was, as always, for a fake band she made up, though only I knew that. But lately she hadn’t been shy at all.

“Let’s hear it, then,” I said, crossing my arms.

“That’s because people are barbarians,” Maddy declared. Anavi and Melody were talking to each other about something else. But I looked over to find Dante glancing back and forth as he followed our conversation. I felt a momentary pang for him, watching us quip at each other. Even after dating Maddy for months, he sometimes looked like he was standing outside a secret clubhouse.

I knew that feeling. In fact, I knew it much better than the feeling of being inside the clubhouse. I still understood being alone far better than I understood having good grades and a job that was a true calling and friends and a long-distance friend-who-was-more-than-a-friend. My family had moved to Metropolis at the beginning of the school year, and in the months since, it had become home sweet home, something I’d never experienced before. Soon we’d be out of school for the summer, free to spend every day working at the Scoop.

“People are barbarians,” I said. Seeing “the true story of Nellie Bly” in little letters below the title on the marquee filled me with what could only be described as glee. “At least ones who don’t appreciate Nellie. Everybody pay James back.”

I passed James some money and so did the others. In exchange, he handed over our tickets. He didn’t need the money, but it was the principle of the thing. James’s family had lost some of their wealth to legal fees for his dad, but they were starting to recover. His dad was running in the emergency mayoral election set for next month, the former bogus corruption conviction against him expunged (thanks to us and the story we’d managed to get six months ago).

We proceeded into the theater, and Anavi noticed me eyeing the concession stand. “Would you like to split an assortment of refreshments?” she asked.

Trust Anavi to use a word like refreshments instead of snacks—she was a former spelling bee champ. “If you’re talking about the giant tub of popcorn I’m about to buy, then yes,” I said.

The others got candy and drinks too, and then we made our way down the grand aisles. Sure, it wasn’t a stadium-seating theater, but it was the nicest one I’d ever been in. There was a vaulted ceiling with mosaic detail, and velvet lined the walls and the seats.

Maddy selected a row halfway down. When Dante started to go in first, she stopped him. “Girls in this row, and you boys can sit behind us,” she said.

He raised his eyebrows. Was it me or had her tone been strained?

Usually Maddy and Dante were on the same wavelength; it was the kind of sweet that bordered on nausea-inducing—not that I could talk, given the way I was with SmallvilleGuy.

Dante stepped back around Maddy with a shrug and dropped a kiss on her cheek.

James watched all this, then moved aside to let Dante in the boys’ row. Months ago, James had revealed to me that he had developed the world’s largest crush on Maddy. She’d long carried a torch for him, but she had just met Dante. So I’d talked James into not doing anything about his feelings for Maddy. Wrong timing. I had no idea whether he continued to pine, and his expression told me nothing.

We sat down. I took a spot between Maddy and Anavi and almost dropped the popcorn when my phone buzzed in my pocket. “Hold this,” I said to Maddy, thrusting the salty, buttery deliciousness at her so I could get to my phone.

Given that all my Metropolis friends were around me, there was only one person this could be.

SmallvilleGuy: Did you make it?

SkepticGirl1: Yes. It hasn’t started yet. Wish you were here.

SmallvilleGuy: Me too. Always. I wanted to let you know I won’t be able to meet later in the game—Bess needs some TLC. Vet’s coming over.

“Oh no,” I muttered.

“What?” Maddy asked, and I glanced over at her.

“Oh, just Bess the cow’s pregnancy,” I explained. “She’s having a tough one.”

Maddy bit her lip, obviously to keep in laughter. “I’m ignoring you,” I said.

SkepticGirl1: Crossing my fingers. We’ll talk tomorrow?

SmallvilleGuy: Miss you until then. xo

“I’d make fun of you, but that expression on your face is too cute,” Maddy said, shoveling a handful of popcorn into her mouth.

“I’m keeping my silence on this one,” Anavi said.

Melody leaned over from Anavi’s other side. “You still haven’t met this guy in person?”

“Shhh,” I said, grateful for the dimming of the theater lights. I retrieved the popcorn from Maddy. “The movie’s starting.”

“Saved by the cinema,” Devin said behind me.

No, we hadn’t met yet. And I still didn’t know his actual name. But I felt like we knew everything else about each other—everything else that mattered. We’d gotten closer and closer over the past months. Which meant the physical distance between us was sometimes downright painful.

The movie proved to be perfectly cast and was heart- thumpingly exciting. I knew Nellie made it safely out of every situation to write her exposés. But I still held my breath when she was being examined by the doctors so she could infiltrate Blackwell Island for her famous story, which revealed the terrible conditions in which the facility’s mentally ill patients lived. When she posed as a factory girl, my heart swelled with sadness at the exploitation she observed.

I felt almost dazed when we emerged into the night two and a half hours later. “Please give that movie every Oscar,” I said. “If any of you didn’t like it, don’t tell me.”

Everyone laughed. “It was great,” Maddy said, lifting her hand to push back a strand of hair just as Dante reached for her hand.

Weird.

“Anyone want to ride-share?” James asked.

The others demurred, but Devin nodded. “That’d be great. Lois?” he asked.

I should have said yes, but I wanted to walk to the subway alone. I needed time to process my thoughts. “I’ll see you guys at school tomorrow.”

We waved and I gave Maddy and Anavi a hug, then exchanged a nod with Melody. I saluted the boys, and as everyone split off into separate directions, I waited on the sidewalk’s edge for honking, merging traffic to clear so I could cross.

Given how heavy it was, it’d be awhile. I didn’t mind standing here, waiting, though. After that movie, I had things on my mind.

It had left me with a distinct craving. I wanted another big story. Nellie Bly didn’t wait for them to come to her. The last six months had been good, and we’d done some important work. But none of it front-page-of-the-Daily-Planet level important.

Something I’d learned from the whole big story clearing the ex-Mayor was that the little stories mattered too. I wasn’t above them. And I had needed to learn to be more patient.

But . . . bringing down the bad guys? Restoring a good guy’s honor? Helping people? That was heady stuff.

I missed it.

And, okay, I enjoyed having my name on the front page of the Daily Planet. Little stories didn’t end up there as often.

We’d been watching for jerky mad scientist type Dabney Donovan to resurface. The evil doctor had gotten away clean after helping set up James’s dad and endangering Maddy’s sister in the process. There’d been no leads. He avoided tech networks like the plague, preferring paper records. Devin set up searches for him online anyway, and he had a regular trawl looking for vacant buildings that shouldn’t be draining power and other oddities. So far, nothing. We needed to find Donovan and figure out how to take him down.

Suddenly, I wished I was going to the office instead of home. Nellie had inspired me. We shouldn’t be waiting around for Donovan to reemerge. I preferred to chase my stories, not the other way around.

Then there was the whole mess related to the person who went by the mysterious online handle TheInventor. He ran a message board called Strange Skies, catering to fans of weird, unexplained phenomena. It was where I had first encountered my online friend-who-was-more-than-a-friend, SmallvilleGuy.

Of my friends, Devin was the only one who knew most of this; he’d even met SmallvilleGuy in Worlds War Three, a real-sim holoset game Dev was super into. The game was also where SmallvilleGuy and I frequently hung out together these days.

I’d asked for Devin’s help to track TheInventor’s movements online, but he’d never been able to manage it. The last time he tried was a couple of months ago now.

What Devin didn’t know was that I suspected TheInventor of working with members of a secret government task force who were hunting for someone I owed my life to—a certain flying man. And Devin didn’t know that I also suspected one of the people on said task force was my dad.

But I needed to make absolutely certain TheInventor was playing double agent before I pressed the issue with SmallvilleGuy. Because SmallvilleGuy trusted him. Completely. And SmallvilleGuy didn’t trust easily.

I hated keeping secrets from SmallvilleGuy. This, despite the fact he continued to keep his real identity a secret from me. But I hadn’t told SmallvilleGuy what I thought might be happening. Not yet. Or why I preferred meeting in the game to chatting on software designed by TheInventor. Not until I had proof that TheInventor might be willing to put us in danger. Or until I had proof that he had already put us in danger. The street finally calmed enough for me to chance crossing, and so I did.

When I made it to the other side, I looked back at the theater and noticed a boy staring straight at me. He was short and too skinny for his frame, shoulders and elbows jutting out beneath a faded T-shirt. He had floppy brown hair on the right side of his head and a smooth shave on the other.

He lifted his hand in a sarcastic beauty-queen-style wave.

A horn honked and distracted me for a split second, and when I turned my head back, he was gone. No sign of him anywhere on the block. He had just . . . vanished.

Great, I thought, now I’m seeing things.

I took out my phone and sent Devin a text. The least I could do tonight was pursue a lead on something.

Can you give tagging my Strange Skies pal TheInventor another shot? Maybe he’s been lured into a false sense of security.

Typing the words, I thought maybe they also applied to me over the last few months. And I vowed: no more.

Chapter 2

After my last class the next day, I finished stowing my books in my locker and shut the door. I turned around and discovered Maddy standing behind me. Her T-shirt today was for Passive Attack. “So?” she asked.

I blew on my fingernails in a universal sign for success. “I aced that bio test. A-plus.”

“Should make your dad happy—and Principal Butler.” Maddy said it dryly. She was fully aware of how little I cared about the loathsome principal’s regard for me.

James walked up and joined us. “Hey,” he said, “I’m on my way to the Scoop. Anyone want to come along?”

I did want to, but I couldn’t. I had an impromptu date with SmallvilleGuy—he’d said he had “significant news” and refused to divulge more. No way I could wait until after hitting the office with that kind of lead-up, desperate to find another big story or not. Besides, Devin had also sent me a text after lunch saying that he’d made progress on his task.

Maddy nodded to James. “Sure, I’m headed there too. I have an album to review.”

“Great,” James said. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I said.

“Um . . . why?” James asked, hesitating.

“Not that we would,” Maddy said. She considered. “Unless you were doing something crazy dangerous. So I guess that means we would.”

“Haha, hilarious. Have I done anything crazy dangerous lately?” I answered the question before they could. “I have not.”

It was the truth. Winter had passed in what most people would describe as calm but I would call boring. Well, almost boring. I could feel my cheeks getting a little hot. There was one person in my life who was the opposite of boring.

Always.

“I’m meeting up with Devin here about something, and then I have somewhere to be . . . I’m not coming by the office today. So go ahead without me.”

“She has an online date with her mystery boy,” Maddy said. “That’s what she means.”

“I could tell by her air of glazed euphoria,” James said. He and Maddy grinned at each other.

“I need to hit my locker before we go,” Maddy said.

I heard my name and turned to see Devin at the end of the hall near the main exit.

“That’s my cue. I’ll see you guys later.” Leaving the others behind, I walked toward Devin.

Of my fellow Scoop staffers, Devin was more like me than James and Maddy were. Except unlike me, he had crazy good tech skills. I hoped he’d have some info on TheInventor.

“I got him this time,” Devin said. He pushed open the door and held it for me. He had on a slouchy gray T, jeans, and cool sneakers. “Fifth time’s the charm.”

“You really think so?” I asked Devin as we left school. As usual, I wore jeans and my boots.

I kept my voice down, because we were still surrounded by our classmates. Not that anyone was listening. It was the post- last-bell exodus and no one was much in the mood to linger. School buses pulled away from the curb.

“I know so,” Devin said. “And this worm’s so sleek, he won’t even notice it’s there. It should capture his activity so we know who he’s in contact with and what he’s sharing.”

“Excellent,” I said.

“You going to tell me what we’re looking for?”

“You’ll know it when you see it,” I told him. “We’re looking for anything suspicious.”

“That’s . . . nonspecific,” he said.

I shrugged. That was as specific as I was willing to get for the time being.

Devin was a good enough friend to agree to help me outwithout knowing the full story. We stopped on the sidewalk down the block from school, the post-bell exit traffic starting to thin out.

I almost did a double take when I spotted a guy on the other side of the street watching us. The thing was, he looked an awful lot like the boy outside the theater last night. Skinny, check. Floppy hair, check. But he turned away before I could get a good look at his face.

Weird. But it didn’t seem possible the same guy from last night had turned up at school.

I shifted to face Devin. “You coming to the office?” he asked.

“Not tonight,” I said, biting my lip against a smile.

“Oh, I get it. You have a date,” he said, teasing.

“Sort of.” Apparently I was that transparent. But I was also grinning.

“Go on,” he said, serious again. “I’ll ping you if I see anything . . . unusual.”

I should have taken off, but I hesitated.

“What is it?” Devin asked.

“Just . . . speaking of unusual, any sign of Donovan lately?”

I mentally crossed my fingers.

“Nada on that front,” he said. “I’d have led with it if there was. Why?”

“He can’t ghost forever,” I said, hoping it was true. “I think we need to come up with a plan to track him down.”

Devin nodded. “Okay, but why the sudden rush?”

“It’s not sudden. I just feel like we’ve been a little lazy about it.”

“If you say so,” Devin said with a small frown.

“I do.” I thought he might argue, and I didn’t want to explain that Nellie Bly had opened my eyes anew to what I should be doing. So I waved. “See you.”

He opened his mouth, but then just shook his head and lifted his hand in goodbye.

We headed off in separate directions, my boots thudding on the sidewalk as I hurried to catch the subway home. I wove through bodies on the sidewalk like a native Metropolitan.

“Ow!” Someone knocked into me hard, sending my breath out of my lungs and forcing me to the sidewalk. Dad’s lesson about safe landings during his self-defense training was the only thing that kept me from catching myself with my hands and destroying my wrists. Instead, I redirected, and my butt collided hard with the concrete.

I looked up to see who’d knocked me over.

It was the boy who’d been watching me. And he was definitely the same one from yesterday. He paused on the sidewalk ahead, his head crooked back toward me. He was so thin that his cheeks had hollows.

He winked at me.

I blinked at him in stunned confusion. Then the backpack he wore caught my eye. It—unlike the rest of him—was in perfect condition. There was a symbol on the back, a round logo that struck me as familiar. I squinted to get a better look, and noticed another odd thing as he started to move away. His feet—they appeared to be coated in some kind of silver armor. Also in pristine condition.

Then he really took off.

I scrambled to my non-armored feet as the boy put on a burst of speed. It was some burst. Whatever the armor was, it did the opposite of weigh him down. He ran so fast he almost blurred as he dodged between people on the sidewalk.

The passersby reacted with startled steps back and exclama- tions. So I wasn’t hallucinating this.

I went after him as fast I could, which wasn’t anywhere near fast enough. The speed he used didn’t seem . . . possible. No one ran that fast.

I lost sight of him as he hung a right at the corner. When I reached the end of the block, I turned and saw him at the next intersection. Then he was gone again, taking a hard left.

Was he letting me follow him?

“Not such a quick thinker, if you are,” I said, jogging ahead. When I reached the end of that block, though, I really had lost him. The next street was quieter, and I scanned it hard in case I was missing something. There were awnings over shops, some buildings that seemed unoccupied, and trees dotting the sidewalk. A repurposed payphone booth covered in mural art sat near the corner. There were only a few people out on the sidewalks.

None of them was the floppy-haired silver-foot with the backpack.

“Is everything all right?” a woman’s voice asked. Outrageously glam, she stood next to the Don’t Walk sign, seemingly comfortable in skyscraper heels and perfect makeup with her hair piled on top of her head and a high-necked dress that I’d bet cost a thousand dollars if it cost a penny. There was a musical lilt to her voice, an accent I couldn’t place.

News story alert. He wasn’t just leading me. He’s a lead. “Everything’s perfect,” I said.

“Glad to hear it,” she said, then crossed the street, though the light hadn’t changed yet.

I considered continuing up the street to see if I could find any trace of the rude speedy dude. I even gave it a few more steps. But he was nowhere to be seen. I was alone, and I was in a hurry to get home. Continuing this way would move me in the opposite direction.

Still, I unearthed my phone from the outside pocket of my messenger bag and tapped out a group chat to Devin, James, and Maddy: Got a lead on a story. Let’s talk at school.

The boy had showed up and drawn my attention on purpose. I was sure of that. I had his scent now, and I wanted a closer look at that backpack decal. I also owed him for knocking me down.

And I had a feeling he’d be back soon enough

* * *

I unlocked the front door of our brownstone and swung it open just as my phone buzzed. I fumbled for it—though I was almost certain it’d be SmallvilleGuy teasing me about being late, as usual—and barreled right into Dad.

“That’s my girl,” he said, catching my arms to steady me. “Always in a rush.”

He wore his dress uniform and Lucy was behind him, also in fancier clothes than normal. Where he was shiny medals and ribbons, she was sedate baby-goth in a black dress.

Mom came down the stairs and was wearing a dress too. Though hers wasn’t fancy. In a slate gray sheath with a jacket over top, she was the height of professionalism. Her blond hair was smoothed back into a low ponytail.

“Where are you guys going?” I asked. It would be just my luck to have blanked on a family obligation.

Mom answered. “They’re going to an airfield just outside the city for a reception. I’m going to teach my first class. Do I look okay?”

She stood for inspection, nerves apparent in the slight trembling of her arms as she held them out to each side of herself. Oh, right. This was Mom’s first night teaching at a local college. She’d picked up a double masters before she and Dad got married, intending to teach college classes on English and/ or Art History. But we’d moved around too much for her to do more than pick up a session here and there over the years.

She’d always longed for the front of a classroom.

Dad smiled at her. “You look great, Professor Lane, and you’re going to do great.”

“I hope so.”

“Yeah, knock them dead, Mom,” I said. “Or whatever the teaching version of ‘Break a leg’ is.”

“I think it’s just ‘Break a leg,’ sweetheart,” Mom said, but she sounded less nervous. She shouldered her purse, and then glanced down at my clothes. Okay, so my jeans were a little the worse for my tumble on the street. “Are you okay?”

“Fine. I, um, tripped leaving school.” It wasn’t a complete falsehood.

Dad shook his head. “Try not to break anything while we’re out.”

“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” Mom said, heading off any bickering between me and Dad.

“But lock up behind us anyway,” Dad added.

As if I wouldn’t have.

Things were strained between me and Dad these days. Well, more strained than usual. The weird undercurrent traced all the way back to my last big story. Whether it was my fault or his didn’t really matter. We were both aware of it, but neither of us had mentioned it or tried to address it. We just sniped at each other more than usual. Christmas had been particularly awful. I guessed he thought the weirdness would eventually go away on its own and normalcy would make a triumphant return. I worried more that things between us wouldn’t ever feel normal again.

The three of them left together, and, as directed, I locked the door behind them. My phone was buzzing again. And my stomach growled. But that could wait.

I checked my phone. It was SmallvilleGuy messaging me in our app.

SmallvilleGuy: ETA soon, or did something come up? Or did you forget about me?;)

SkepticGirl1: Be right there. Race you to the game.

SkepticGirl1: (Never.)

I bounded up the stairs and went straight to my desk. In smooth sequence, I picked my holoset out of my desk drawer and then tucked it over my ear with one hand while I stretched out my other arm to close and lock the door. A little paranoia never hurt anyone. Much.

I settled on my bed and pressed the button to power the holoset on, finally taking a breath. A spray of lights focrused into the familiar, if ever-changing, landscape of Worlds War Three. Currently there was a storm-gray sky with scudding orange clouds above Devin’s newly reconstructed castle. The turreted tower known as the Lois Annex, where SmallvilleGuy and I usually hung out, loomed in front of me.

A pretty, red-scaled dragon flew overhead.

A familiar form split off from the dragon and flew down to land by my side. This was one person I’d never mistake for another, here in the game or anywhere. Lanky, with black hair and light green-tinged skin, he was my favorite resident glasses-wearing alien: SmallvilleGuy.

“I see how it is,” I said with a fake pout. “I take a few extra seconds and I’m replaced by a dragon.”

“Never,” he said, grinning. “She doesn’t have much personality, being computer-generated.”

“I knew it.” I kicked the ground with a bare foot. Devin had made my character in here an elf princess; I was pointy-eared, scantily clad, and shoeless. “You like me for my personality.”

He laughed. He had a good laugh. “That’s why I like you too,” I said.

Our eyes connected, and our gazes held.

I can’t believe I say this stuff out loud now.

We’d still never stood across from each other like this in real life. The real-sim tech might fool our brains into feeling like this was actually happening, might make my heart beat harder in my chest and my palms feel sweaty. And our relationship was real. At least, I was almost certain it was. But this place was a simulation. That’s what the sim part of the name was short for.

When SmallvilleGuy reached out and offered me his hand, I slipped mine into it. The sensation of my hand enveloped in his felt real enough that—as usual—my brain was utterly convinced.

“How’s Bess?” I asked. First things first.

SmallvilleGuy smiled and swung my hand. “Better. Nellie Bly is refusing to leave her side.”

Nellie—named for my hero—was no longer a dainty baby calf, but I still considered her the world’s cutest adolescent cow. In a few more months, she’d have a little brother or sister.

“Good . . . Sooo, what’s the big surprise?” I asked. “Can you turn into a dragon now?”

His last surprise for me had been that he could fly in the game and take me with him—which led to a kiss with our feet off the ground. Maybe this surprise would be kiss-worthy too.

“No,” he said, suddenly shy and studying my fingers in his. “It’s not about the game. It’s a real-life thing.”

“Oh?” My heart picked up speed. I hadn’t expected something real-life big. I couldn’t decode his expression.

“So . . .” he said. “My birthday’s coming up in a couple of months.”

He took a step, and I let him lead me across the grass toward the Lois Annex.

“You’ll have to tell me when it is so I can, um, get you something.” Though as I said it, I knew that was impossible. I didn’t know his address. I couldn’t send him anything. “Never mind,” I blurted.

“No,” he said, quick. “I’m not letting you off the hook. I definitely want that present.”

He steered me through the arched entrance into our turret, and I placed my other hand in his, the two of us staring into each other’s eyes again. I felt like I was floating before our feet even left the ground. He flew us up to a ledge with a bench and a window that overlooked the hillside. The dragon was still visible off in the distance, sailing through the gray sky.

“Um, okay,” I said. “But . . . how?”

“Telling you this is more embarrassing than I imagined.” He stared out the window, avoiding looking at me. “I feel a little goofy.”

“You imagined telling me this? Whatever this is?” I gently hit his arm. “And you’re feeling goofy? I love it already. Spill the details. You’re murdering me with this suspense.”

He turned to face me again, and my breath caught in my throat for a moment. I hoped he didn’t notice. I didn’t want to spoil whatever his surprise was. But he was looking at me with such intensity. It legitimately short-circuited my brain and my nervous system along with it.

“What is it?” I asked, breathless.

“My birthday’s coming up in a couple of months, and my parents have, uh, noticed how into all things Metropolis I am,” he said. “Since you moved there, especially. And you know I mentioned you to my mom a while back.”

He paused. The pause lengthened.

“Still being murdered,” I said. “Possibly dying here.”

He smiled, a shyness to it. “They gave me a choice of whatI wanted for my birthday. A new laptop—”

“Oh, that’s great,” I said, happy for him. He’d spent the money he’d been saving for a new computer on a holoset to help me out, and I felt guilty about that. Even though it had also produced the nice side effect of allowing us to meet in the game.

“As I was saying . . .” He smiled again, still nervous. Still shy. It made me like him even more. “They gave me a choice. A new laptop or a trip to Metropolis.” He paused again. “I chose the trip.”

I knew my eyes were wide. My mouth had dropped open. I closed it. “Does this mean . . .”

“It does,” he said. “It means I’m coming to Metropolis and we finally get to see each other. Together, in real life.”

“In real life.” I echoed his words, too overwhelmed to find my own. Finally, I managed to ask, oh-so-articulately, “Really?” “Really.” He reached over and gathered my other hand in his again. I clung to his hands, as if to convince myself this was truly happening. “And there’s more to the surprise. I’m going to tell you my name. It’s—”

“No!” I blurted, before I could think better of it. “Don’t tell me now.”

He arched his brows, puzzled. Who could blame him? I’d asked him nightly for more than two years.

“It’s just, I’d rather wait.” I felt my lips curve into a smile. “I want you to tell me when we meet. For real.”

Yes, I’d asked him over and over again for his name. I’d reassured him he could trust me. But now that it was a certainty, I wanted it to be when we were really across from each other. I needed to save some part of our meeting each other for truly meeting.

“Whatever you want,” he said, at last. “But . . . I mean. You’re sure?”

Tempting, but . . . if TheInventor was as tech savvy as I thought, he could have figured out some way to monitor us in here too. Sure, the task force had been keeping a low profile. We hadn’t had any close calls in the past few months.

But I didn’t want to risk it. In person was the safest way.

“I will probably hate myself later, because you know I’m a total snoop. But yes. I’m sure.”

“Okay then.” His thumb rubbed across my hand, back and forth. “You know what I’m not sure about?”

That we’ll like each other in real life? Oh god, did that have to be my first thought? What is wrong with me?

“Enlighten me.”

“That I can wait two more months.”

My heart might as well have leapt out of my chest and landed at his feet. I leaned in to give him a quick kiss. I rested my avatar’s forehead against his.

“It does seem like an awfully long time.” We smiled at each other, our in-game faces close, our real-world bodies states apart.

For now.

“Oh, wow, I almost forgot,” I said, pulling back. “I’m still determined to track down Donovan, but I think I found my next story on the way home. I ran into this guy who’s super-fast.”

That straightened him up. “What do you mean, super-fast?”

“Like he ran faster than any normal person should be able to. And actually, he ran into me. He knocked me down on the street.” I leaned back against the stone wall. “And it was on purpose. I saw him last night outside the movie theater too. After he barreled into me he took off, but then he kept slow- ing down. It seemed like it was so I could follow him. He had some weird armor on his feet and a backpack with a logo on it. I couldn’t make it out, though.”

“Hold up.” SmallvilleGuy blinked at me. “He knocked you down? Are you all right?”

He touched my arm carefully, like he could examine me for injuries even though we weren’t anywhere close to each other.

“Stop worrying, worrier. He just knocked the wind out of me, maybe a bruise or two on my—” I bit my lip before I could say something embarrassing. “Um. My back.”

He reached up and touched my cheek.

“You still showed up to meet me after that?” He sounded surprised. “You didn’t run straight to the Scoop?”

“No. I came here. And it was worth it.” I wondered about something, though. “How fast can a regular person go, anyway?”

He didn’t even hesitate. “About twenty-eight miles per hour—but that’s not regular-person speed. That’s a professional running record. Most people run eight miles per hour or so.”

“Gold star for sports trivia,” I said. “Anyway, you know I plan to go all out to find him.”

He looked back to me. “Of course. But be careful, okay?” “I’ll do my best.”

As usual, that was the only promise I could make and have any chance of keeping it.

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