"I've done it," he muttered. "There is no way even Superman will be able to find me."
"What kind of dream did you have last night, Clark? You were tossing and turning and mumbling in your sleep."
Clark rubbed his eyes. "It was the strangest thing. I dreamed that it was New Year's Eve for the new year 2000, and I was fighting some evil immortal by the name of Luca. What is really disconcerting about it is that it seems like it really happened."
Lois' jaw dropped. "And this Luca," she said, "was the son of the Contessa del Portenza, just a super-evil guy we found in suspended animation on this island."
Now Clark looked amazed, too. "Right. How could you know about . . . Lois, you were there, too, weren't you?"
"Yes, and I've been having the same real dream and not saying anything because I was weirded out by how real it was. What's going on?"
Clark shook his head. "You know, Lois, only a short while before the millennial change I had a very strange feeling that if certain events had been made known to the world, my life would have been completely changed.* It would have followed a whole different reality. And this New Year's adventure with the Contessa and Luca seemed to me like part of the reality that didn't happen. Does that make sense?"
*(The Rest of the Story)
"It probably wouldn't, except that I remember it, too. Isn't that weird? Clark, how can both of us remember something that couldn't have happened?
"I don't know. But let's think about this. There is such a thing as Hypertime, which incorporates alternate timelines, and those timelines sometimes come very close to each other, even overlap, or split from a common root. I wonder if maybe the change of a millennium is a nexus point for time, a point when timelines join or split. Both you and I have experienced Dominus' warped realities, and we have both used Torquasm-Vo. So maybe we're more sensitive to the timelines, the elseworlds, as I like to call them. I think we slipped realities for a little bit and experienced both branches' New Year's Eves."
"That's creepy. Can that really happen?"
"I don't know for sure, but it seems right when I say it."
Lois sat close to him and stroked his shoulder. "It seems that way to me, too," she said. "I wonder what else can be explained by this? Deja vu, maybe?"
"You got me."
"You know something else unusual about this? Both versions of the new year involved the death or disappearance of one of the Contessa's children."
That caught Clark's interest. "Maybe that's the connector."
"Does this kind of phenomenon need a connector?"
"I don't know. I'm theorizing. But it makes sense, doesn't it?"
Meanwhile, an ocean freighter was docking at New York City. This was a shipping company that used to dock at Metropolis until the B-13 virus had destroyed all the ports in the city of tomorrow. A large dog that looked a lot like a Russian wolfhound suddenly bolted from a cargo area and headed down a ramp. He was very fast, and was off and away before anyone gave him a second thought. Rounding the corner of a pier warehouse, the dog began an easy trot down the shore drives, on a steady course toward Metropolis.
But Dan Turpin wasn't about to give up. "Maggie," he began one sweltering afternoon at the SCU headquarters, "there are only so many ways a person can be tracked, and I think we got to start thinking like Sherlock Holmes here."
Maggie swivelled in her chair to face him. "What do you have in mind, Dan? Bloodhounds chasing him across the moors? Detectives with magnifying glasses examining the cigar ashes on the floor of the room locked from the inside?"
"Ha, ha, very funny. But you're pretty close to right."
"Bloodhounds. Maybe this guy can change his appearance and his voice in a heartbeat, but animals go by scent."
Maggie looked seriously at him. "Well, that's true, Dan, but this is one huge city we're talking about here. What bloodhound is going to be able to isolate the scent of one perp in a city this size?"
Dan smiled. "There might be one," he said.
She stopped to pet the dog, and then checked the tag hanging from his collar. "Nikolas," she read. "Well, Nick, old pal, you really do look like a smart dog. You seem to understand everything I'm saying. You really do, don't you?"
They arrived at the door to the Steelworks. "Won't you come in? I'm afraid the place is a mess, but . . . " And then the dog nearly knocked her over as it ran directly to the Phantom Zone portal and began to whine.
"What is it, boy? Come on, Nick, what do you want? You want to get into this thing?" Natasha looked around. "Uncle John?" she called out. "Unc, are you home?"
The new pet continued to whine and scratch at the edge of the portal.
"You really want into this thing, don't you? Believe me, doggie, I don't think that's such a hot idea. Look, at least wait until Uncle John is home, and see what he has to say about it, okay?"
But it was plain that as far as Nikolas was concerned, it was not okay.
"We need someone to track this guy," Dan said. "Not by sight or sound. He's got those angles covered. But by scent . . . "
Maggie joined in. "When Dan suggested this, I at first thought it was a dumb idea. Tracking a perp by bloodhound in Metropolis? But then Dan reminded me that you have the super-hound, the superdog with the super sense of smell. So, what do you think, Superman? Can your dog pick out our guy from among the millions, through subways and aircars? It's asking a lot. He'd have to be super."
"Maggie, even I don't know what Krypto can and can't do," Superman replied. "But he certainly was helpful in tracking down Mr. Bloat and Shrewface. I think that since all other methods have failed, it's worth a try. Do we have something to give Krypto the scent we want to find?"
"Yeah," Turpin volunteered. "When I heard this mook had escaped, I made a quick trip over to Stryker's. I didn't think anyone would pay much attention to this idea until other methods had flopped. But I've got Skin Man's unwashed bedding in a plastic bag in the trunk of my car."
Superman and Maggie stared in amazement. "Don't ever let this man transfer, Maggie," Superman finally said. "I think he's Metropolis' unsung hero."
"Not my pet," the superhero scientist said. "He followed Nat home."
"So I get to keep him," Natasha smiled. "Hmm. I guess Nick and Krypto are getting acquainted just fine. Why do dogs do that?"
"How did you happen to bring Krypto?" Steel asked.
"Maggie and Dan think he might be able to track the Skin Man," Superman replied. "Bloodhounds in the city. I know. But they think Krypto's sense of smell, under a yellow sun, might be able to do it."
"We're going to head out right now to see if it works." Superman and Krypto started toward the door. The effect on Nikolas was remarkable. He bounded to the door right behind them.
"Hold on, Nick," Natasha called after him. "There's no way you can keep up with them. You can't fly."
But it didn't seem to make any difference. Although the Superman and the Superdog were already in the air and a fair distance away, Nikolas obviously had a good sense of the direction they were heading, and had launched into that same assured trot that had led him to Metropolis and the Steelworks.
The next stop was an art gallery where a valuable Renoir had been stolen. Here Krypto quickly picked up the scent and the chase was on. Remarkably, Krypto was able to follow that scent even through the air where Skin Man had at one point taken an air taxi. Superman was impressed. No earthly dog could have done it.
If he'd been watching what was going on below them he would have been impressed with the abilities of another dog as well. No matter where they went, Nikolas managed to show up there a short while after.
Within an hour the Kryptonian superdog had found the most intense manifestation of the scent he'd been following. They were at Skin Man's shabby apartment building in Suicide Slum. No one would ever have thought to look here for an art and jewel thief. Skin Man had thought of everything, and when he saw Superman and a flying dog approaching the building he knew that somehow they'd managed to find a way around all his careful planning. He bolted for the roof where the elements of his last ditch plan were stored.
"Is this it, Krypto?" Superman was saying. "Have you found . . . ? Yes!" His telescopic vision revealed a man running across the roof of the building they were approaching. But before they even got close enough for the man to hear Superman demand that he surrender now for his own good, there was the sudden launch of a heat-seeking missile which exploded as it hit Superman squarely on the chest. The concussion actually knocked the caped hero back a few feet.
"Whoa! That was unexpected. I'd better get up higher if I'm going to take any more hits like that. Better keep the explosions out of the way of innocent civilians." Superman flew high above Metropolis to draw his fire, and Skin Man kept firing. Across town could be heard the sirens of the approaching MPD, but clearly the situation needed to be resolved right away. Krypto's solution was immediately apparent: he needed to protect his master. Amid the barrage of stolen missiles, he flew to block the onslaught with his own body. Superman would have flown immediately to apprehend Skin Man, but he didn't want to risk a missile exploding too close to the building
While Superman and Krypto weathered the missiles, and the evening was shattered by the sounds of explosions and sirens, Nikolas appeared, bounding up the stairs to the roof, and attacking Skin Man with snarling fury. Nikolas had a firm grip on Skin Man's arm and was dragging the kicking and screaming man across the roof away from his weaponry when the police pulled up at the building. This was Superman's chance. He swooped down and scooped Skin Man away from the grip of Nikolas' teeth and high into the air. By the time the police were on the roof, Skin Man was ready to surrender.
"Dan, I have to hand it to you," Maggie was saying. "Good instincts, man. This was a top-notch plan."
Turpin just looked at his feet as Skin Man was taken way. "Ah, just as it often takes a Superman . . . Well, sometimes it takes a Superman and a Superdog," he said.
"And sometimes," Superman smiled, "it takes some great police work. I'm with Captain Sawyer on this one, Dan. You were the brains of this plan."
The police officers were taking care of business as Superman turned and said, "Let's go home, Krypto," and man and dog leaped into the air. Not fast enough, though. Nikolas leaped just as they did and caught Krypto by the tail. Startled, the Kryptonian dog whirled on him, fangs bared, and the two dogs were instantly into the snarling melee of a dogfight. The police stopped and turned to watch. So did Skin Man. Superman tried to stop it, but . . . did you ever try to stop a dogfight?
As suddenly as it had started, it was over, Krypto standing over the limp body of Nikolas.
"Krypto. No!" Superman started to exclaim in dismay. But then he saw that Nikolas was not dead. He wasn't dead, and he wasn't a dog. Like the transformation in the old Jekyll and Hyde story, Nikolas had transformed and was getting up, standing on his own two human feet, a dignified young man dressed in medieval fashion. Everyone's jaws dropped. Superman looked relieved, then concerned. He was always distrustful of magic.
"What is this?" someone said. "Who is that?"
"Please, everyone, calm down," the young man said. "Everything's okay. My name is Nikolas del Portenza, and I am the son of the Contessa Erica Alexandra del Portenza. I know how confused you must be. Explanations, indeed, are in order." And there, before the Metropolis Police, Skin Man, and Superman, he told his strange story, a story he recounted again later, in more detail, in the presence of Superman, Lois Lane, Steel and Natasha.
"Dr. Irons, Natasha, I owe you this explanation for your kindness and help. And Ms. Lane, I believe that if you write this story it will give people a greater appreciation of the multiple worlds we inhabit. First of all, my mother and I are immortals. She and all of her children by various mortal husbands are all immortal. Immortality is not our only power, however. When threatened we can halt our life functions and appear to be dead, or we can revert to ‘the disguise', the ability to morph into the shapes of animals. I know that some of my half-siblings - one in particular - have used this to escape serious trouble in their lives. When I was younger I used to practice this ability a great deal, just for the fun of it. But as you may or may not know, the change of a millennium brings the alternate realities, the various parallel timelines, very close to one another. Timelines sometimes split or join or cross at these millennial nexi. And that is what happened to me at the stroke of midnight at the dawn of the year 1000. I am from a different timeline than the one we are in now. Somehow I managed to slip from that reality to this one, but it was at the moment that I had switched into the form of a dog. Then I discovered, to my horror, that I was unable to morph back into my normal shape because I was in a different reality from the one in which I had made the shapeshift. I needed to get back to my own reality in order to get back into my own body. Being in this different timeline was fascinating, but being in a canine form terrified me. I immediately set out to find my mother in this reality. I have telepathic ability, so when I found her I was able to communicate to her who I am.
"From time to time over the past thousand years we have teamed up and helped each other. A couple years ago we teamed up again because the new millennium was approaching, and we each had a quest we felt we could assist each other in reaching. My mother sought the legendary Medallion of the Damned, and I sought a way to breach realities again as the millennial change drew near. I'll admit I thought the Medallion might aid me in getting back and changing into my human form. So we were together when she took over Lexcorp. At one point, my mother and I thought that young lady, Ms. Lemaris, who had inexplicably been able to find a lot of ancient artifacts, might have the Medallion. We went to her apartment, and I read her mind, but she didn't have it. I was so discouraged. I was still trapped in this reality and this body.
"Actually, I was more at home in this reality than in my own after all these years, but I hated being a dog. I had seen my half-brother Luca, as evil a man as ever lived, blithely switch from human to the disguise and back whenever he wanted to avoid responsibility for his actions, and it infuriated me. I'm actually glad he's gone. In this reality he's been in some kind of suspended animation for about a century, and if I understood you correctly, Superman, You're aware of a reality in which he actually died. I'm not sorry.
"Krypto saved me. When he passed the portal from his own reality to this one, I could sense it much as my mother can sense supernatural power. I could sense him because he was from the same reality that I am from. Different planet, same timeline. I hoped that I could get back to my own timeline the same way Krypto had come here. So I wanted to stay close to Krypto, thinking that if he ever went back, I could, too.
"It was an incredible stroke of luck when the dogfight occurred. Somehow, that intense interaction with a being from my own reality was all it took to change me back. So I'm finally in my natural form, and fortunately, still within the reality I now consider my home."
Lois switched off the tape. "Thanks, Nikolas," she said. "That's a blockbuster story if I ever heard one. And it answers quite a few questions for me, too."
"This is quite a shock, Nick." Natasha interjected. "I can still call you Nick, can't I? I was really used to you as a dog."
Nikolas smiled. "I'm sure we can still be friends."
"I have a question, Nikolas," Superman said. "That other reality I mentioned to you involved your half-brother Luca. And the one we're in, at the same time, involved your half-sister Lena. Do you see any significance to that?"
"I can't be sure, Superman, but I have the feeling that time was trying to fix something. Is it incredibly self-centered to think it was about me? That it was ‘searching' for me?"
Superman was pensive. "I could as readily believe that as anything."
"And yet . . . " Nikolas got a strange look on his face. "I think I was only part of it. I sense there is still something time is trying to fix."
"What about your mother, Nikolas?" Lois asked. "Where is she now?"
"I don't know, Ms. Lane. Sorry. I can understand why she is hard to find if she doesn't want to be found. She can even stop her life functions temporarily and fake her own death. I know. I've seen her do it before."