Across town, Clark and Richard hurried down the steps into the Busiek Street subway station. By rights, they really shouldn’t have been down there – investigating the disused tunnels where Kala’s sunglasses had been found was a task for the police. But this was their daughter, so ordinary rules didn’t apply. Clark wanted to check it out, and the other man couldn’t blame him. Not only was his super-vision powerful enough to pick up traces of forensic evidence the human eye couldn’t see, both men just had to see for themselves. And for the moment, Sawyer was letting him get away with it; she’d passed the information on to him with only a warning not to interfere with the officers on the scene.
Richard had come along because he’d been talking to a recently-arrived Clark when the news about the found sunglasses had come in. Lois had only been out the door a few minutes to pursue another lead, and Richard didn’t like the thought of him haring off by himself anymore than Jason had liked Lois going out alone. Super-powered or not, any fool could see Clark was taking this very hard; not that it was easy for Richard, or anyone else, but he seemed to blame himself for Kala’s disappearance and it showed to a painful degree. Only Lois looked more haunted and guilt-ridden than he did.
They were very nearly at the location when Clark stopped mid-stride and turned quickly to the left, a frown furrowing his brow. Richard had just enough time to glimpse the exasperation on his face before Clark was stepping away, saying, “Just a minute,” and disappeared into the crowd. Richard sighed; amazing how a guy his size could still manage to eel through the throngs of people in the subway.
Letting himself drift through the crowd, Richard tried to keep Clark in sight. He caught a glimpse of the taller man over at the end of the platform, and headed in that direction. Surely Clark wasn’t going to just jump down and walk along the rails looking for further clues… not in street clothes, anyway.
As it turned out, that wasn’t his goal. He’d cornered a tall, black-haired woman, and though Richard couldn’t hear their conversation, Clark’s body language made it clear that he was angry. The woman just folded her arms and gave him a regal stare. Richard decided not to just walk up and ask what the hell was going on – he did, however, make his way around to one of the support columns close enough to hear their conversation.
“We’re aiding you, Clark, whether you want us to or not,” the woman was saying. “It doesn’t matter that this is personal. If anyone deserves the help of the League, it’s you, who have given so much to our cause over the years.”
“Diana,” Clark began to say, while Richard sucked in a breath. Knows Clark, tall, black hair, and talking about a League? Holy shit, that’s Wonder Woman, he thought, and quickly looked around to see if anyone else had noticed. Fortunately, it seemed that the citizens of Metropolis were ignoring everything except themselves, as usual. It helped that he was the only person around who knew Clark was Superman.
“Clark, you don’t have a choice. Bruce is already investigating our findings.”
“I don’t like using League resources for this,” Clark protested.
“We volunteered,” she replied. “We all volunteered.”
“You’re treating my daughter running away as if it’s a catastrophe of world-shaking proportions, Diana.”
“It is,” Diana said gently, placing a hand on his shoulder. “For you, it is. And you know that if you haven’t found her, it’s very likely someone has taken her.”
Richard saw Clark shudder. That possibility had lurked in the back of everyone’s mind since yesterday, along with the extensive list of criminals and super-villains who might have a reason to kidnap Superman’s daughter. No one had spoken it aloud yet, but everyone who knew the secret was thinking it. The search for Kala had been twice as desperate, knowing that the longer they didn’t find her, the more likely it was that she couldn’t return on her own.
“Clark, let us help you,” Diana said. “Wherever she is, our combined efforts will be more successful at finding her. Besides, we’re your friends as well as your colleagues.” Clark had hung his head, and Diana cupped his cheek, making him look at her. “It’s not about professional responsibility or repaying favors. We care about you.”
Clark sighed and took a step forward, closing the distance between them. He enfolded Diana in a hug, resting his forehead against hers. She slipped her arms around his neck, letting him lean on her, and they stood like that, oblivious of the rest of the world. The busy commuters a few yards away didn’t notice the embrace any more than they had noticed the argument a moment ago.
Richard, however, noticed it all too well. The obvious familiarity was enough to make his eyebrows shoot up. What the fuck?! That was absolutely not what he had been expecting. All of a sudden, the problems in the Lane-Kent marriage seemed to be much more serious than he and Lana had thought. If he’s cheating on Lois, she’ll kill him… and I might help her. What the hell is he thinking?
Fans of the JLA had often speculated on a match between the supposedly-single Superman and Wonder Woman. Even their names seemed meant for each other. But Richard had always had the impression, from stray remarks by Clark, that the possibility hadn’t even crossed the Kryptonian’s mind. Now he had a panicked moment where he wondered if they’d all been deceived, and the fanboys were right after all…
Living with Lana for ten years had taught Richard patience and discretion, though, and the longer he looked, the more he realized exactly what he was seeing. After all, he’d watched Clark hug Lana just as easily, and a kiss on the cheek was the normal greeting for the two old friends. The bigger man was something of a magnet for platonic female affection; Lucy hugged him enthusiastically and teasingly called him her big brother, and all of Lois’ friends tended to give him a hug when the gang got together. Hell, even Raines would hug Clark, and she still refused to shake Richard’s hand, claiming he might be contagious.
Richard himself hugged Lois as often as he could, once in a while picking her up just to make her yelp and threaten him. When it came right down to it, Richard had hugged Clark on a number of occasions, and so had Jimmy. The taller man might not realize just how damning it looked, his arms around Diana so familiarly. And that Lois approved of his hugging friends; in Lois’ mind, Diana wouldn’t be among them.
His heart in his stomach, Richard refocused his attention to the pair on the platform. “Thank you, Diana,” Clark said in a murmur so low, Richard barely caught the words. If not for a trick of the acoustics, he wouldn’t have heard the soft tone.
“Who else is going to reprimand you?” she asked. “Bruce? I’m certain that would be in everyone’s best interest.”
Clark chuckled, and stepped back from her. “If I don’t tell you often enough, I’m grateful to have you in my life.” Richard winced at that, knowing Lois well enough to know that this exchange would have hurt her if she had been the one overhearing. The entire family considered it to be Lois’ job.
“The feeling is mutual,” he heard the woman reply, and added, “and the rest of the League feels the same.”
Yeah, Richard thought, looking at her wistful expression, but not quite the way you mean it. He was fairly certain of Clark’s innocence – the guy was an open book where women were concerned. His love and desire for Lois shone in every glance toward her, and he looked at other women as just people, no differently than he looked at men. Richard had never seen him doing the kind of casual appraisal he himself was so often caught at.
But just because Clark was completely starry-eyed in love with his own wife didn’t preclude the possibility of trouble. Richard knew perfectly well that Lois would’ve done her best to put a bullet in Diana’s brain if she’d seen what he just saw. He sighed as Clark headed back over to him, thinking that they needed to focus on finding Kala… but this was one more thing that needed to be discussed. Richard would take it up with Clark himself, though. He doubted bringing Lana – or God forbid, Lois – into it would help the situation.
Eastlake hovered nervously as Lois flipped through his father’s journal. She pointedly ignored him, scanning the old man’s tiny handwriting. She wasn’t going to get into all of that mess right now, especially with her son present. That had been one of the main reasons that she had given in and let him come. Erik didn’t seem like the kind to air his dirty laundry in public or with an audience present. And Jason hovered even closer, watching Eastlake with a dubious air. That said, Lois was keeping half an eye on her son; in spite of her attempt to keep him in the dark, he sensed something more than research was going on.
“So,” Eastlake finally spoke up after a tense twenty minutes. “Let me guess. Being interest in the software? All of it was about some story, wasn’t it? It had nothing to do with upgrading the Planet’s computers; you just wanted more information on L-Tech.”
Lois shot him a look that had silenced district attorneys and mayoral candidates, and Eastlake sighed. “Yeah. Look, I might be able to help you find what you need if you tell me what you’re looking for.”
There was a derisive snort at that as Lois looked back to her task. “And what makes you think I would trust you?” she said calmly, never looking up from the ledger she’d moved on to. Damn, Eagle Capital Investments handles a hell of a lot of money, she thought, glancing at the figures.
“Lois, I’m on your side,” he said, and there was a note of sincerity there that Lois hadn’t heard from him before. It was enough for her to stop and consider it. If he could shed a little light, it might go a long way to finding Kala. And that was what was important. Regardless of what she thought of that little stunt he pulled, she finally met his gaze.
His expression was equal parts guilt, pleading, and fear. It had occurred to Lois before that Eastlake might be someone’s pawn, but her background research seemed to prove him legit. Maybe he was being used without his knowledge or consent, a more charitable interpretation, but she knew that this could have been dangerous. Taking Jason hadn’t been her idea, but she’d let him come along because she was armed, and he was so determined to protect her. Besides, even if Eastlake was working for Luthor more directly than she suspected, bursting into his house without warning was probably her safest option. If she caught him off-guard, she would have more control over the situation.
Now, though, she reassessed the situation and figured Eastlake might know more than she’d thought. As always, Lois took a deep breath and laid her figurative cards on the table. “Alright, fine. Ever heard of Lex Luthor?” she asked point-blank, and Jason sucked in a shocked gasp.
The way Eastlake’s brow furrowed looked completely genuine. If he was faking, he was a damn fine actor. “He was that guy that went after Superman a while back, wasn’t he? Created some kind of island. I always thought he sounded like a nut, actually.”
Lois leaned back the chair as she turned to fully face him. Her reporter’s instincts were locked on to every movement of Eastlake’s, down to the slightest gesture. If he was lying to her at any point, she’d know. “Crazy, but too damn smart for anyone’s good. And he managed to dodge prison last time around. No one’s seen him since. Except I think your father might have met him at a business function.”
“What?” Eastlake said in incredulity. There was no missing the indignant tone in his voice. “Dad wouldn’t have anything to do with someone like that. The investment business can be pretty cutthroat, but he’d never deal with someone who broke the law…”
That sent those hazel eyes heavenward and her raising respect for him plummeted a bit. “Erik, calm down. No one accused your father of first-degree murder, okay? Odds are that he might not have known,” Lois countered, flipping the ledger closed. “Where’s the scrapbook? If Luthor’s using the alias I think he’s been using, you might just have a picture of him.”
“Who do you think he is?” Eastlake stepped away, rising on tiptoe to get a leather-bound book off a top shelf. He blew a thing coat of dust off it before handing it to Lois. “Someone in L-Tech?”
“No,” Lois replied. Her voice sounded preoccupied, but she was on full alert, every muscle tensed for sudden action. Erik’s reaction to her next words would reveal whether or not he had any knowledge of Luthor’s current activities, or the deal Lois had struck with the maniac ten years ago. “I think he’s the founder of Prometheus Corp., Alexander Roth.”
Eastlake cocked his head, brow furrowing. “I don’t know either of those names,” he admitted.
“Well, Prometheus funded a lot of ECI projects,” Lois continued, still wary. She paged slowly through the scrapbook, finding old, sepia-tinted photographs of dour men in double-breasted suits. “Usually through their subsidiary, Vanderworth Holdings.”
“Them I remember,” Erik said with a grimace. “Pop said they had no class but plenty of money. The husband named everything after his wife – she had a couple of those puffball dogs, carried them around everywhere with her. Pomeroys? Something frou-frou like that.”
“Pomeranians,” the reporter corrected, still absorbed in every detail of the pictures before her. “And Lex Luthor married the widow Vanderworth when she got him out of prison. She left her entire estate to him. He used the yacht to kidnap me and the kids, and managed to escape in the helicopter that came with it. Police found the chopper in Texas but never caught up to Luthor. The yacht and the estate reverted back to the family, but he’d drained all of the accounts. He’d started moving Gertrude’s money while he was still in prison.”
“Wow,” Eastlake said softly, shaking his head. “She seemed like a nice old lady. I can’t believe she got mixed up in all this.”
“Erik, at the time you would’ve been about the same age as Jason is now,” Lois said with a sigh. Her instincts had finally decided the young investor wasn’t a threat. There was no way that Luthor could have trained him to be this far off the mark. And she had to admit that it was a relief. “I wouldn’t have relied on you for a character assessment when your biggest concern in life was not having an acne breakout right before prom.”
“Touché,” he said, with a glance at Jason. The boy hadn’t spoken a word, just watched Erik carefully, and now his expression suggested that he was a much better judge of character than Eastlake would ever be. With a sigh, the investor said to Lois, “Upper management at L-Tech is notoriously camera-shy, and I’ve never run across the Prometheus company in Dad’s notes. I doubt you’ll find what you’re looking for in there. But I might be able to ask some people…”
“You don’t have to call anyone.” Lois was still flipping the pages slowly. “I’d really rather you not say anything about what I’m looking for – the wrong people might get wind of it.” She bit her lip, thinking that the wrong people had probably already known about her investigation. Why else would Kala disappear so suddenly?
Eastlake shuffled his feet, and he looked as though he was about to suggest something else, when Lois shuffled through a few more pages and was rewarded with a familiar face looking up at her. “Gotcha,” she said, giving a triumphant and predatory smile.
Jason was leaning over her shoulder, worried and curious at her reaction. “What is it, Mom?” He gasped in recognition the moment he saw the photo.
“It’s not Luthor, but I know this guy.” Lois tapped the image of the third man from the left in the photograph, who had a pained expression on his face as he and half a dozen others posed in front of a sign that read ‘L-Tech’. “He looks Indian, but he had a British-sounding name…”
“Stanford,” Jason supplied with a pause. “His name was Stanford, Mom. He was with the others on the boat, but we didn’t see him very much. He stayed away from the other guys. I think he was Luthor’s tech guy.”
“And he was flying the helicopter,” Lois murmured. “So he escaped with Luthor. There’s no way he would’ve gotten involved with a major company like this if he was on the run from Lex, so he must still be working with him.”
Perry leaned back in his desk chair and pretended to study the series of photos Jimmy had just handed him, while actually watching the younger man. Once upon a time, the freckled photographer would have been fidgeting in his seat, worrying what Perry was thinking. Now he sat with his elbows on the desk, waiting patiently.
He’d come a long way from the anxious kid trying to break into the news business, and the pictures showed that just as much. Perry knew that once he’d decided which ones the Planet would run, Jimmy might offer the others to a magazine or two. His work had been published in Newsweek and Time, and Perry had approved completely, since the kid knew where his primary loyalties lay. As the head of the Planet’s photography department, Jimmy not only coordinated with all the other photographers, he was a photojournalist in his own right – the shots on Perry’s desk were from Olsen’s recent trip to the Middle East. Powerful stuff. The redhead deserved all the compliments he’d been getting.
“We’ll see,” Perry said gruffly. Olsen just grinned; he’d finally learned, after years of shying away from every outburst, that the Chief only really yelled at the employees he liked. He made a point of challenging them; his favorites were never coddled, and instead were given just the right climate of adversity to inspire them to rise above it all and prove his dire prognostications wrong.
“Thanks, Chief,” Jimmy said with a grin. “So what’s been going on while I was out? Anything happen since New Year’s that I should check out?”
The older man frowned. It wasn’t like Olsen to be out of the loop, especially on something like this. “Checked your voicemail yet?” Perry asked.
“No, my phone died and I haven’t charged it yet,” the younger man replied. “What’s up?”
Perry took a deep breath, wondering how he would break the news to Olsen. Lois’ twins adored him, the feeling was mutual, and telling Jimmy that Kala had run away wasn’t going to be easy. Fortunately, he was spared having to tell him right then by the arrival of Laurel, Lois’ secretary.
“Sorry to interrupt, Mr. White, but I think you should see this,” she told him.
Jimmy craned his head around to look at the piece of paper she’d given Perry. The editor scowled at the graph with its spiky upward line. “Our stock price is going up,” he commented. “That’s good.”
“Sir, that’s since this morning,” Laurel told him. “It’s jumped over ten dollars so far today, and the trend keeps going higher.”
Perry scowled. “That’s odd. Someone out there knows something I don’t?”
“Are we suddenly gonna make a lot of money?” Jimmy wondered.
“I only found out because Kay – Lana’s assistant – called me,” Laurel said. “Lana has a lot of stock in the company, and her broker wanted to know if she wanted to sell at these prices.”
“I’m calling my broker,” Perry said decisively.
Kala paced around her room, looking at everything and touching nothing. Everything was in a monochromatic color scheme of grays accented with black and white. The lights were recessed, except for the one tucked under the bed that shone a subdued gleam along the floor. The lines of the minimalist furniture were clean to the point of sterility, and the shelves were recessed into the blank expanse of the wall. Mercy had selected the furnishings for this room and the one across the hall, which was nearly identical except that it used more white than black.
Kala cradled her left arm close to her body as she moved, her shoulders hunched and her eyes wide. Suddenly she froze, then ran to the door. It opened at a touch, and she sighed in relief at not being locked in before letting it close. Soon she was back to pacing warily.
The surveillance camera over the door caught her attention, and she stared into the dark lens. Lex Luthor and Mercy Graves watched her on a large screen. “She’s more self-possessed than I expected,” Luthor said thoughtfully.
Mercy’s response was immediate and to-the-point, her pale blue eyes riveted to their subject. “It was in the surveillance notes. She puts up a good façade, but she is vulnerable. She’ll break.”
The girl sat down on the edge of the bed, a platform design that matched the room’s ultra-modern décor. When she began taking off her boots, it was obvious that she was struggling to do it without using her left hand. “She’s injured,” Mercy commented.
“We’ll have it seen to.” He watched the screen as avidly as a diner in a seafood restaurant watched the aquarium. “In a while. For the moment, it might give us leverage.”
His assistant looked at him with a reproving expression. “We have all the leverage we need. We don’t want to turn her hostile; the General is enough trouble in that department.”
Lex scoffed; meanwhile, Kala walked over to the surveillance camera with a boot in her hand. Standing on tiptoe, she hammered at the lens with her boot heel. “Smart girl,” Lex said with amused approval as the image went dark, switching the video feed to the room’s other camera. This one was hidden behind the room’s mirror.
“Intelligent subjects don’t react well to a negative approach,” the blonde woman warned, watching the girl again. “Be patient, Lex. If you push her too hard, we’ll lose her. And she’s already dealing with trauma.”
“I had to let the boys bring her in. Her mother got loose aboard The Gertrude because the guys I had then couldn’t believe she was dangerous. I won’t have this one running around just because those idiots can only see a pretty little teenager. It was an object lesson.”
“The security staff does respond better to aversive techniques.” Mercy herself had caused innumerable injuries during her tenure as chief of security, having to repeatedly remind the staff that her sleek good looks were deceptive. “Of course, now they’re angry with her, and they’ll want revenge, but they’re smart enough not to take her on without a larger group. She was drugged when she was brought in, and we don’t know the extent of her powers. We may have some fatalities from this.”
“Her brother killed one of my guys when the twins were only six. I won’t be surprised if she kills a couple of them before they catch on. They’re prison scum; we can always find a few more.” Dark humor leaked behind the smile on Lex’s lips, coloring his words.
The woman at his side gave a slow nod. “We might not have to worry so much,” she said thoughtfully. “Zod seems to have designated himself her protector.”
“Zod no longer cares if he’s useful to you,” Mercy replied with a dry chuckle. “I saw how he behaved down there. He hates you as much as he ever hated Jor-El.”
“That would sit easier with me if I knew what his motive was concerning the girl,” Luthor muttered. Kala had paced the room for a few more minutes before curling up on the bed, her eyes flicking around the unfamiliar surroundings.
“Hmm.” A slow smile curved her lips, and then she said speculatively, “Time has no meaning in the Phantom Zone, and he hasn’t visibly aged in his sixteen years on Earth. Essentially, he’s still in the prime of his life, albeit the late prime. And you are aware that she is the only living female of her kind…”Luthor looked up at her, and then at the scared sixteen-year-old huddled on the bed. He and Mercy started snickering in unison.