“I see you have both applied yourselves to the study of Kryptonian history,” Jor-El said, “although your knowledge, Jon-El, is not as extensive as that of your sister.”
Kala couldn’t resist grinning at her brother, and he narrowed his eyes at her. “Thank you, Grandfather,” he replied evenly. “I shall improve.”
You’d better, Kala mouthed at him, and he had to stifle the urge to swat her – or laugh. They’d been speaking formal Kryptonese, what Kala liked to call the High Speech, for the past hour, and her sudden departure into English was a sharp contrast.
“Attend me, Kala Kal-El,” Jor-El said. The use of her full name made the girl wince; it was worse than Jason being abbreviated into Jon-El. Lois hadn’t known about Kryptonian naming conventions when she’d chosen Kala’s name, but it was still an annoyance.
“We are in high spirits, Grandfather,” Jason said, by way of explanation. “An important holiday draws near.”
“Yes,” Jor-El said. “This frenzy of rampant consumerism known as Christmas.”
The English word sounded strange coming from him, particularly when both twins knew he could speak the language perfectly when he chose. Kala’s head came up at that remark, her brow furrowing. “Grandfather, I think you may have drawn an inaccurate conclusion,” she said. “Christmas means a great deal more than that.”
“It is the consummate holiday of the American calendar,” Jor-El replied, “and as such it is also logically the consummate reflection of American culture. Thus it comes as little surprise to me that this Christmas is celebrated with so much unbridled greed. After all, materialistic disregard for the consequences of one’s actions is the defining note of much of human culture, but most particularly that of the nation in which you reside.”
“You are wrong.” Jason spoke clearly and distinctly, his chin lifted slightly and his blue eyes steely. “The defining note of American culture is not greed but hope. True, blind hope may become folly, as in the wastefulness of our people – we hope that the resources we use so recklessly may be endless, and when we begin to see that they are not, we hope that someone else will rescue us, rather than making changes to our accustomed lifestyles. But when we are clear-eyed, it is our hope that the world can be a better place that drives us to our greatest feats. For if we were purely rational, we would see the world around us as it is, and we would despair.
“It has ever been so; this nation was founded upon the hope that the poor, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised could make something better of their lives here. The same hope that brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants to this land when it was wild and untamed, now gives us the strength to face our plight and attempt to save ourselves. And while there are many who dilute the true spirit of Christmas with their greed, it is also meant to be about hope. For a child, it is the hope that a longed-for toy may be wrapped up beneath the Christmas tree. But for those old enough to reason, the true meaning of the holiday is the hope that, if the past year has been a poor one, the next year will not be so. And if the last year was satisfactory, the new one will be better. Perhaps this will be accomplished by means of a savior, who comes to redeem us all from our folly and wickedness, but on that day each individual shares in the spirit of the holiday, and becomes for a little while one who brings joy and peace. For one day, we all strive to be the best of what we know we can become.”
He could feel Kala staring at him, but Jason held firm, looking at the holographic image of Jor-El. Such eloquence was generally unlike him, but the Kryptonian elder had struck a deep chord in his essentially American soul. Never mind that he had been born in Paris, or that his father was not born on this planet at all. In his heart of hearts, he was defending not just his culture, but his mother.
“You speak well, and your point is duly made,” Jor-El said at last. “It is true that these people have within them the capacity for greatness. But it disturbs me to hear you say ‘we’ and ‘our’ in reference to American culture. My grandson, you are not entirely human – this is only a part of your heritage.”
“As are these lessons,” Jason retorted. “I am not entirely Kryptonian, either, Grandfather. The same challenge my father faced, to reconcile his human upbringing with his Kryptonian legacy, is mine to face anew. In my case, it is not merely a matter of cultures, but of fundamental biology; I am part of both worlds in my very DNA. I can only hope I master it as well as he has.”
“Jon-El, I ask you to consider your favorable bias toward humanity in this matter,” the hologram said carefully.
“I will do so, Grandfather, if you will consider your negative bias toward them,” Jason replied. “You are the one who so despised the notion of diluting the pure Kryptonian bloodline that you counseled my father to surrender his powers if he wished to marry a human woman. And yet, had he not defied you, you would not now be tutoring the heirs of the House of El, and there would be no one to carry your legacy onward past the name of Kal-El.”
That seemed to surprise Jor-El; perhaps he hadn’t considered that his son would tell the children the whole truth of everything that had happened around the time of their conception. After a long silence, in which the hologram looked thoughtful, Jor-El spoke again. “Perhaps you are correct, Jon-El,” he said slowly. “I shall give the matter some thought. In any case, it is now time for your individual lessons. Kala, if you would like to practice your Kryptonese composition?”
Kala bit her lip, and Jason suppressed a grin. As much as she claimed to love the language, she hated writing in it. All those intricate symbols didn’t make it easy to write fluidly and swiftly, and she frequently complained about how laborious it was. So far Jor-El had firmly discouraged her attempts at developing Kryptonese shorthand.
“See you soon, Kal,” Jason said, and she rewarded him with a quick grin on her way out the door. Then he was facing Jor-El alone, and Jason squared his shoulders. I am Jon-El, scion of the House of El, the noblest of all the ancient houses of Krypton. So why do I feel so out of place and awkward before my grandfather?
Jor-El regarded him thoughtfully. “We have long since passed the point of memory exercises, son of my son. Something weighs upon your mind; ask, and I shall do my best to answer.”
All of Jason’s silver-tongued lucidity seemed to desert him. “There is … an issue which concerns me,” Jason said slowly. “But it is one which, I fear, you will categorically disapprove of.”
“You mean to say ‘one of which you will categorically disapprove,’ I suspect,” Jor-El said, unable to resist correcting his grandson’s grammar. “What concerns you concerns me also. Please, speak.”
Jason sighed heavily. This was not going to go well. “It is about … my future.”
Jor-El’s eyebrows rose a little. “Jon-El, you have shown the desire and the aptitude to aid your father in his mission. Surely that is not the issue?”
“No, Grandfather, it is not,” Jason replied, suppressing the urge to sarcastically announce he’d decided to run off with the circus. “Rather, I am considering my … personal life. I am worried about my search for a companion.” He realized how dryly scientific that sounded, and amended with a chuckle, “I am sixteen years of age, Grandfather, and like many boys my age, I am thinking of girls. One in particular.”
“Human girls?” Jor-El asked, startled.
“There are not many other kinds on this planet, Grandfather,” Jason said.
“You know me well, Jon-El,” the hologram said. “And you are already aware of my feelings on the continued intermarriage of the House of El with humans.”
“I do not see another option, Grandfather,” Jason replied quickly. “Only one Kryptonian woman is known to have survived the destruction of Krypton, and she was the ally of General Zod. In any case, she perished some years ago while attempting to escape prison.” Deciding to drive his point home, he added, “The only other is Kala, and she is merely half-Kryptonian – and wholly my twin sister.”
That gave Jor-El pause. It was unthinkable; Kryptonian society forbade marriage between first cousins or closer relatives. The advent of the birthing matrix had eliminated the occurrence of twins on Krypton, so he could not understand the depth of the bond between Jason and Kala, but he recognized that it was even closer than ordinary siblings. Unless some other survivor of the doomed planet could be found, Jason could never find a suitable Kryptonian wife.
Jason watched these thoughts flicker across Jor-El’s face, waiting for the hologram’s response. It wasn’t unexpected. “There is the choice of celibacy.”
“And let the House of El die out?” Jason asked.
“You ask me to choose whether my legacy should peter out until our blood is thinner than water and we are become mere mortals, or whether it should end abruptly with one in whom the greatest traits of our people are so clearly shown,” Jor-El mused. “I am inclined to say that, since an end must come to the House of El as I know it, I would choose to end it in glory rather than merely allow it to trickle away.”
“Is there truly no glory in joining our fate once and for all to the destiny of our adopted planet?” Jason countered.
“Tell me, then, why you are so convinced of your need to marry into humanity,” Jor-El said. Jason sighed; when the hologram abruptly took a different tack like that, he was feeling pressed, and would likely grill Jason relentlessly until the original point was lost. I guess asking Grandfather about girls was pretty stupid, he thought, as he mustered his arguments. Considering that there was no sex on Krypton, and virtually no touching – the amount of hugging and handshaking and backslapping that goes on at school would permanently traumatize Jor-El – he may not be the best person to go to for advice. But then, he did ask what was on my mind.
And it was little surprise that Giselle was on his mind. She’d been deeply disappointed about not coming to Christmas in Smallville, especially since she’d already missed the family celebration at Thanksgiving. After some persistence, Jason had managed to finagle an invitation for her to the New Year’s Eve party at the Lane-Kent penthouse. Kala was allowed to go out clubbing with Sebast, provided she got home by midnight, so it just made sense for Giselle to come over. Even better, with Kala not home, there wouldn’t be any quarreling between his girlfriend and his sister. All in all, a perfect New Year’s Eve.
Jor-El paused, and Jason quickly returned his attention to their conversation.
Kala’s individual lessons had been shorted – as usual. But then, since Jor-El refused to discuss the heroic stuff with her and learning about Kryptonian womanhood from a man seemed counterproductive, she didn’t exactly miss it. Although, she did resent the way the hologram lavished attention on Jason; she was by far the better scholar in all things Kryptonian, yet she never received praise unless it was to motivate Jason to catch up to her.
Still, there was one thing about trips to the Fortress that never failed to please her. The moment Kal-El returned from his evening duties, she took her leave of Jor-El and raced out into the Fortress’ grand hall.
Jason was already putting on his gloves, getting ready for the flight home. Kala raced up to her father, eyes agleam, and said one word: “Please?”
“Oh, no,” her brother groaned. “No way. I am not riding through that again.”
Kala looked heartbroken at that, and Kal-El sighed. “Kala, it isn’t fair to ask that of your brother.”
“Didn’t you already say we were getting a little too much to fly together?” Kala asked cunningly. “Not weight-wise, but having to manage two people on a long flight. It’s not as if two trips would take much longer than one.”
“Pushy,” Jason muttered. “Kala, I don’t want to wait up here while you go make a fool of yourself.”
“Fine, chicken, you can have the first flight home,” Kala replied sharply. She turned a winning smile on her father before adding, “Please, Daddy?”
“All right,” he sighed, and held out a hand to Jason. The boy sighed, rolling his eyes, but he went without further commentary.
That left Kala all alone in the Fortress. She knew her father would be back soon, but couldn’t resist strolling around a bit, imagining what it would be like to come here on her own, whenever she wanted. Wasn’t this place part of her personal history as well? Maybe one day, when she was older, she could come and listen to poetry in Kryptonese, or pore over the history of the doomed planet.
The Fortress echoed with Kal-El’s footsteps when he returned. “Jason says I spoil you,” he told her.
“He’s just too chicken to go solo and hates admitting it,” Kala replied. She hurried to her father’s side and held tightly to his arm as he spiraled up through the Fortress’ interlocking-crystal roof and into the Arctic sky. Higher and higher, until the stars seemed close enough to touch and the world was a blue-white blur below, the air so thin and cold it burned Kala’s lungs to breathe it. She looked out, not down, thrilling to the distant curve of the horizon and the inky darkness of the night sky. This, oh, this, for this I would do anything, bear anything, learn anything, for this beauty and glory that only the few of us know, those who can fly and those lucky enough to be their passengers.
“Ready?” Kal-El asked softly, smiling at her. He knew how she felt up here; the same wild joy that made her eyes gleam had to be racing through his veins.
Kala nodded her assent, too excited to speak, and Kal-El let go of her hand. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and slid her hand out from the crook of his arm.
It was like a sudden gust of wind, at first. The sense that she was falling, faster every second, came only after she opened her eyes again. Gently, Kala let herself lean forward, and her fall slowed a little as she moved into the typical skydiver’s position with maximum surface area. For a little while, she could almost believe she was flying.
The steady loss of altitude proved her wrong, of course. Rather than simply fall down on her belly, she shifted her center of gravity further forward. Now Kala was falling headfirst, arms back behind her, and she went faster with less surface area to slow her down. This was what flying was like, all power and speed, the slightest gesture of one hand altering her course through the cold air. The sole difference was that she could only go down.
She tried making herself to level out and accelerate; closed her eyes and focused all of her considerable willpower on one object: a moment of true, unaided flight. It wasn’t a muscular thing, Dad had told her that much, but her shoulders tensed and her legs trembled from the mental effort she was making. One second, one instant, to pull herself out of the steep dive…
It never came; it never had. Of all the powers Kryptonians possessed on Earth, Kala wanted this one the most, and so far she hadn’t shown an inkling of it. Her father had had all of his powers, though in reduced intensity, by his late teens, and the window for Kala and Jason to develop new ones was narrowing.
Oh well, she thought, stretching out her arms and letting the cold air buffet her. I can’t fly yet, but for now there’s this, and I love it. While few sane people would define ‘fun’ as plummeting toward the Arctic tundra at something over a hundred miles and hour, Kala found it exhilarating. But even she began to notice that the ground below was looking quite a bit closer than it had the last time she’d done this.
“Daddy?” she called, the wind tearing the words from her mouth. He usually caught her far above the ground, farther up than this. Kala could see hills below her now, and called louder, “Daddy!”
No answer. Fear tried to creep up her spine, but she forced it away. Her father was Superman. He could fly almost as fast as the speed of light. There was simply no way he’d forget about her and let her fall. Not possible. Not unless something really bad happened to him…
The fear came roaring back, and Kala shuddered, trying to look over her shoulder. Where was he? Had something happened? And if it had, why hadn’t she seen or heard anything? She couldn’t have been that drunk on speed… And on the low hills below her, Kala could actually make out the tracks of a polar bear across the snow. “Daddy!” she screamed.
Trying to look around had unbalanced her, and Kala was tumbling through the air instead of diving straight down. The earth and sky seemed to flip past each other, the ground getting closer and closer and…
…suddenly zooming along, a strong arm around her waist, and the snow mere yards below. Kala heaved a sigh of relief and twisted around to glare at her father. “I thought you forgot me!”
“I didn’t forget you,” he told her, smiling as they rose skyward again. “You always say you want to fall for a long time, so I let you do that.”
Kala scowled, but the fear had worn off, replaced by elation. She couldn’t help grinning at her dad. “Nice catch,” she said at last. “But next time, wait another fifteen feet or so.”
Kal-El groaned. “I was hoping you wouldn’t want me to drop you anymore after this, Kala.”
She only shrugged and leaned against his shoulder. “I guess that’s enough for one day. Thank you. You’re the best daddy ever.”
“And you’re the most spoiled-rotten little girl ever,” he teased back gently, and flew her home.
In order to be at the airport early enough to go through security, the Lane-Kents had to leave the house at four in the morning. Kala had been bright-eyed and chatty at three in the morning, while Jason lumbered around like a hibernating bear that had been rudely awakened. Both of them were already packed, however, and got dressed and ate breakfast in a reasonable time. At five minutes to four, the whole family was in the car, with Bagel snuffling at the front of her carrying bag as Clark drove the Audi out of the parking garage. Lois merely sipped coffee and tried to keep her eyes open, letting him pilot her car for once.
Clark and Lois talked a little about the next couple days, the things they both needed to accomplish at work before they left on vacation. Actually, Clark was doing most of the talking, Lois mainly just nodding in the right places while she waited for the caffeine to seep through her.
After a while, Lois turned to glance into the backseat to check on the kids. Jason and Kala had both been noticeably silent. One glance made Lois smile warmly, her hand stealing to the locket she wore. “Clark, look,” she whispered.
He glanced into the rearview mirror. Jason had fallen back asleep braced against the door, and Kala’s initial wakefulness had ebbed away. She was now leaning on her brother’s shoulder, snoozing with her legs curled up on the seat. “Do you remember when they were little enough that they’d both curl up on the same side of the car?” she whispered, watching them.
“I remember,” Clark murmured. “I remember having to carry them out of the car and put them to bed like a couple of oversized dolls.”
“When they were ten,” Lois quipped, and they both chuckled.
“Do you remember the time we told them to be quiet and not bother us for an hour unless someone was bleeding, and we forgot to turn the thermostat up?” Clark asked softly. “They got chilled, snuck into our room, and borrowed my cape.”
“Before we made the false back in the closet for your uniforms,” Lois remembered. “I wish I could’ve taken a picture of them wrapped up in the cape, asleep on the couch.”
“With our luck, someone would’ve found it and published it,” he replied.
“True,” Lois sighed.
The rest of the trip was spent in silence, both parents glancing into the backseat to see if the twins intended to wake up anytime soon. They both slept until the car was parked, when Bagel’s chuffing woke them. “We’re here?” Kala asked blearily.
“Fi’ mo’ mints,” Jason grumbled, thinking he was still in bed at home.
“C’mon, son, we’re at the airport,” Clark said. With a little encouragement, he and Lois got the kids woken up and out of the car. Jason had reverted to his sleepy-bear shamble, while Kala managed to summon a little wakefulness, even if she did yawn prodigiously several times. Clark helped them with their luggage, and Lois walked ahead of the group with Bagel’s carrier, looking for Lana’s red hair. The terminal wasn’t crowded this early, and if anyone in the family would be bright-eyed at this hour, it would be Lana. She, Richard, and Kristin were supposed to accompany the twins to Smallville…
Lois eventually spotted a gleam of bright auburn, but it was Kristin, being carried by Richard. The reporter laughed, seeing that the little girl had simply rested her head on her father’s shoulder and fallen asleep that way. At his feet rested another carrier like Bagel’s, and in it was Dusty, bright eyes watching the forest of legs around him. Walking up to her former fiancé, Lois couldn’t help teasing, “Red’s refusing to be seen in public with you again, and from the looks of things you had to tranquilize Little Red to keep her around. Richard, your luck with women really is awful.”
She expected him to joke back, but he just sighed heavily. “Yeah, right,” Richard replied. “Lana got called back to Italy this morning. Some huge emergency with the company. She’ll fly in to Smallville as soon as it’s over, but it’ll probably be Christmas Eve before I see my wife again.” He glanced past Lois to grin roguishly at Clark. “Mind if I borrow yours?”
Clark just smiled, sliding an arm around Lois’ shoulders affectionately while she swatted at Richard, laughing. “I don’t think so, Richard. Lois is staying right here in Metropolis with me.”
“Wait a minute, you’re going to deal with all three kids and two dogs by yourself on the flight out?” Lois asked. “At an hour when we both know you’re more likely going to bed than waking up?”
“Hell no,” Richard replied instantly. “I’m going to sleep on the flight out and let Jason and Kala take care of Kristin.”
Lois looked over at her kids; Jason was swaying slightly on his feet, eyes open just enough to make him look like a deranged zombie, and Kala was yawning again. “You wanna rethink that plan, flyboy?” Lois asked.
Richard surveyed them, and shrugged. “What the hell. We’ll all sleep. Even if the little one wakes up, it’s not like she can really go anywhere.”
“As long as I don’t have to explain to Lana why the flight crew wants to adopt her baby girl,” Clark said warningly.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be okay,” Richard said. “I promise.”
They decided to take him at his word, and everyone exchanged hugs and the occasional kiss before Richard headed off down the concourse with still-sleeping Kristin in his arms, the twins following. Lois leaned against Clark, watching them get into the line for security with a slight frown, and she was holding the locket again without being aware of it. She sighed, and Clark slid his arm around her shoulders. “We’ll be there with them in two days,” he reminded her.
“I know,” she murmured. “I just…”
Whatever she meant to say was cut off by Kala turning around, walking backwards for a few steps. She waved to them and put both hands to her lips, blowing extravagant kisses the same way she had when she was about five years old. Jason turned too, waving, and almost shyly blew a kiss to Lois.
Biting her lip, Lois pretended to snatch those kisses out of the air, and pressed her palm to her cheek. Both teenagers laughed, and then they turned the corner behind frosted glass.
Clark hugged Lois, kissing her temple. “It’s okay,” he said. “You’re being silly and you know it, love.”
“I know,” Lois said quietly.
“Let’s go home,” he murmured, nuzzling her hair. “You can go back to bed for a while … I might join you for a bit, then I’ll go take care of the rest of the world.”
Lois yawned again, feeling the effect of too little sleep and too little coffee. “Sounds like a good idea to me, hero,” she replied.