“No, I haven’t heard from them yet, and it’s making me crazy.” The cell phone conveyed Lana’s frustration perfectly.
Kay sympathized with her completely, wishing there was something she could do to smooth out the agitation she knew Lana felt right now. It had been more than twenty-four hours since Kala had gone missing and that anxiety was just elevated due to Kristin’s sudden cold. She didn’t envy the redhead the stress. “Easy, boss. Even if Lois and Richard go haring off somewhere, Inspector Sawyer will keep you updated. We’ll find her.”
Her employer sighed. “I’m sorry, Kay. I just hate being kept out of the loop.”
“Kala’s your daughter, too,” Kay replied simply. “Don’t think anyone’s gonna forget that. Speaking of daughters, how’s the child of Lang?”
“Woozy on antibiotics, and even more in the dark than I am,” Lana replied, sounding wrung out. “She wants her big sister home, now. And she’s as stubborn as her father, so help me. Thankfully, she’s down for another nap at the moment. I don’t know if I can handle any more questions right now.”
Kay smiled to herself, thinking that Kristin got stubbornness from both sides of her family tree. She also knew that her boss was worried to death about Kala, so much so that she’d left all the L. Lang business in Kay’s capable hands until the teenager came home. The brunette decided not to add to Lana’s worries by telling her about the phone call she’d had from Laurel earlier; if it was what they thought might be happening, she could handle it without Lana’s help. Although she’d have a lot of explaining to do later if she was wrong…
There was another restless sigh on the other end of the line. “I’m sorry, Kay, I don’t mean to be like this. Thank you for putting up with me.”
That brought on another smile, this one just a little melancholy. It hurt to hear the strain in the other woman’s voice. She’d known Lana a long time now and knew when she was trying to hold back for appearances’ sake. “No problem,” Kay told her, playing along. “You’re a pretty cool boss – and besides, I get to borrow your dog whenever you’ve got too much going on to have him at the apartment. Here, Dusty, tell your mom Hi.”
The beagle had been taught, during his many visits to the L. Lang offices, to howl whenever a phone was held toward him. He performed perfectly, as always, and Kay was rewarded by hearing Lana laugh on the other end of the line.
After a moment of silence while Kala refused to confirm or deny anything, Schecter continued, “Mr. Luthor copied the crystals he took from the Fortress. The only one we don’t have is the control crystal – the one that has most of the AI programming. The copy was used to make New Krypton, and the original was stolen from Mr. Luthor and returned to your father.”
Kala tried not to react to that, but he didn’t seem to be watching for shock or denial. That answered her question about whether Luthor had shared his information about her with his employees, though.
Schecter continued, “Essentially, we have part of a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence. It’s not complete enough to be reasoned with but it’s too smart to be tricked, and while we managed to access some of the features, there are whole crystals that we can’t get into. Our other Kryptonian guest managed to get us into a few new files – enough to keep R&D happy for the next year – but he told us that the program will only recognize the DNA of the House of El.”
They had traveled down another corridor and stopped at a huge window. Kala caught her breath; the Fortress of Solitude was partly replicated within, and her heart ached for the real thing, for the impossible loveliness of pure white crystal creating that magical place in the middle of the vast Arctic.
This was, of course, only a small part: the control panel and one of the large flat crystals on which the images were shown. But Kala already knew what Schecter was asking of her. “You want me to go in there and access all the files for you,” she said flatly. “Let me guess: knowing Luthor, he wants the weapons technology.”
“He wants it all,” Schecter corrected. “Every little forgotten useless bit of technology. But especially how the information is encoded on the crystals. As I understand it, the research department has learned a lot from studying what we have, but they’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s there.”
“Right,” Kala was watching him dubiously. “Now tell me the rest.”
“Not much else,” Schecter said with a shrug. “You unlock the files, and Mr. Luthor will let you go. It’s that simple.”
Kala scoffed loudly at that. How much of an idiot does this guy think I am? Riiight. “Bullshit. It’s never that simple. What does he really want?”
“That’s it,” Schecter said. “The general can’t or won’t do what Mr. Luthor wants, so he’s asking you. In my experience, Mr. Luthor keeps his word. If you play it straight with him, he’ll do the same for you. Do what he wants, unlock those files, and you can go home.”
In spite of the fact that she’d just run away, Kala wanted to go home more than anything else. Her struggles with her mother looked so insignificant from her current perspective. But she knew what would happen if she gave Luthor the keys to that kind of power. If her own father was sometimes worried about the temptation of the vast store of knowledge contained in those crystals, then what would someone like Luthor do? Kala shivered; there was no way she could do this.
If she said that, though, Luthor would have no reason to keep her alive. “Let me think about it,” she told Schecter cautiously.
“All right,” he replied. “Perfectly understandable. Let me walk you back to your room.”
Kala agreed, her mind churning as they walked. Her wrist ached less now that it was immobilized, but she was already worrying about taking the pain pills. If they were too strong, she’d be unconscious and helpless. If she didn’t take them, though, she could look forward to a long night, during which she would have to think about Luthor’s offer. She knew that giving him what he wanted would pretty much doom the entire world, but it was only a matter of time before loneliness, pain, and homesickness combined to weaken her resolve.
They soon arrived back at Kala’s room, and Schecter punched a code into the panel beside the door. “Press your hand here,” he instructed, and Kala did so, surprised to feel the slight warmth of Kryptonian crystal. It lit up briefly, and Schecter pressed another code into the panel. Kala saw now that it was marked with Kryptonian numbers and letters, and marveled at how pervasive the technology had become. “There,” Schecter continued, “now you’re the only one who can open this door from the outside. Well, besides the head of security. When someone tries to get in, you’ll hear a chime and a panel on the wall inside will light up and show you who’s out here. All you have to do to let them in is touch the panel.”
“Nice.” Kala’s tone was dry as the Sahara, the teenager crossing her arms before sighing. “I’d still rather be at home, but at least I don’t have to worry about every crazy ex-con trying to come in while I sleep. Who’s the head of security, anyway?”
“Ms. Graves,” Schecter told her. It seemed as though he would leave, but then turned to look at her seriously. “Oh, and one last thing. If I were you, I’d stay away from General Zod. He might’ve helped you today, but it’s for his own ends. And quite frankly, he’s the only person here who scares me.”
Not really sure whether to trust the information she’d been given, Kala only nodded and watched him walk away from the doorway of her cell. She hesitated before entering the room. If she had to deal with this forced captivity, at least she had some tiny measure of safety. That is, if Schecter could be trusted. And she remembered all too well what happened the last time she thought she could trust someone on Luthor’s staff. With that chilling thought in mind, Kala stepped into the room, the door sliding closed after her.
If it brought her daughter home safely, Lois would bear anything – the scathing comments meant for Kala’s eyes only, and the inevitable anger when Kala found out about this betrayal. Resigning herself to whatever words lay ahead, Lois opened the journal.
As soon as she untied the decorative strap holding it shut, a photograph fell out of the back. Lois caught it, feeling that old flare of excitement at discovering something pertinent to an investigation. But when she turned the picture over, she felt her heart clench. A younger version of herself held a five-year-old Kala, the little girl pouting while her mother cradled her. Lois couldn’t remember the circumstances, but she knew that sad look; Kala had been denied something she wanted, and as usual back then, she’d run to her mother for comfort.
The way things used to be … it looked like Kala missed those better days as much as Lois did. Where had it gone off-track? She couldn’t even remember when the tide had turned. Thinking back, it was as if she woke up one morning to discover that she could do no right by her own child. And there was no way to change that.
Lois swallowed the painful lump in her throat, blinked away the tears stinging her eyes. More than ever, she wanted her daughter back. She had to try harder, make Kala listen to her when they got her home. If they got her home…
Not now. Get her home first before you get maudlin and pathetic. There will be a time for dealing with this. This isn’t it, Lois.
Lois stared longingly at the photo for another long moment before she made herself gently tuck the photo back into the journal and start scanning the pages, looking for a recent date.
Ruffling the pages, her eye caught the previous year in her daughter’s exaggerated spidery script – thankfully Kala dated all the entries in the upper corner of each page – and Lois flipped to December. She braced herself for any hurtful entries, knowing that things had not been the best between the two of them for a time, but was surprised to find that Kala had been in pretty good humor through the season, several entries snarking about Jason and the choices he’d made on the majority of his presents – “I forget that Dopey has absolutely no sense of color at all. Then again, I have to say that it’s a plus for me this time, since I know for a fact that Giselle will look totally washed out in that shade of pink! (insert evil laugh here)” – had her laughing with pure amusement that made her heart ache.
Despite their recent differences, Lois could see the Kala she had always known in these words. It was clear in the passages, words she didn’t think anyone would ever read, that most of Kala’s façade was just that. She tried her hardest to hide her feelings, especially when they had been stepped on, but it was mostly for show. And she hadn’t missed the tension between her parents lately. “I can’t stand it when they start in on each other,” that one read. “And for stupid reasons, too. I hate seeing Daddy’s face after they’ve acted dumb. Why don’t they just deal with the fact that they have a perfect marriage and get on with it? I mean, didn’t they go through all kinds of trouble and static from the Giant Floating Head to be together? Lord, be happy and get over it!”
It probably does look idiotic to a sixteen-year-old, Lois thought, biting her lower lip. And we thought we were covering up all of this pretty well. Well, neither of them has ever been unobservant at any point in their lives, so why is this a surprise? Being rational about it didn’t help, though. She’d hoped, in an admittedly blind and dense way, that she and Kal-El’s issues would be mostly unnoticed, and she hurt to know that the twins were all too aware of it.
Making herself read on, she scanned the next few pages for any clues without letting herself read too deeply into their meaning. Kala’s perception of her mother’s life made it clear just how little she really understood the real world, how adult relationships worked. Not everything stays perfect forever, she thought with an almost defensive cynicism. And not everyone stays perfect. Things change. The real world interferes. Even as she thought it, Lois felt absolutely heartless. Just the thought was enough make her close her eyes for a moment, feeling something sink inside her. Was this the point she was at, making excuses for the cracks in her marriage? Better to write it off than deal with it? That’s why she had waited so long to look for Kala’s journal, wasn’t it? Nothing better than someone putting a mirror up to your face to make you see what you couldn’t bear to. And who better for that than Kala?
Dammit, stop. Just stop it! You were just trying not to cry over how much you love the girl, about how much you miss those moments between you, and now you’re being needlessly vicious. How could you be so confused about your own feelings for your child?
Fighting back the urge to scream in frustration, Lois won against the storm of emotion brewing fleetingly before she flipped to an entry dated 12/28. The first line captured her torn heart, and once started, seeing it in Kala’s own writing, the reporter couldn’t look away.
Today someone compared me to Mom for the 4,796,342nd time. Yes, dear diary, I AM dork enough to keep count.
Not really, but if you can’t exaggerate wildly in real life, there’s always your journal.
Anyway. Uncle Perry didn’t say a word about my outfit when Lizardboy and I came over with the ‘rents, but as soon as I was out of earshot - or so he thought – he muttered to mom about how her taste in shoes was obviously genetic, and woe to the world at that. Pfff. Mom NEEDS six-inch heels, I just wear ‘em cause I like looking down at boys. It freaks them out so much, I just can’t quit.
But these were my sweet black calf boots, the ones with the silver chain on the left ankle. I love them like whoa and damn, seriously. I’d marry those boots. One time a guy at school even said he’d lick them, which is totally unhygienic, but whatever, boys are weird.
Now I can’t wear them because mom had a pair just like that when she was living with Uncle Perry. Wonderful. No matter what I do, I’m following in her footsteps. The harder I try not to be like her, the more people compare us.
Seriously, What the hell? I don’t want to live the rest of my life in her shadow! Mom’s cool and all, but I’m. not. HER! I’m half my father, too, and the daughter of Superman shouldn’t have this hard of a time just trying not to be a carbon copy of her mom…
Sometimes I’m afraid that, in spite of everything, I will grow up to be nothing more than a pale imitation of my mother. Lois Lane light, half the awesome of the original.
Screw this, diary. I’m gonna call Sebast over and we’re gonna watch bad Mexican horror movies all night and eat way too much popcorn. Kala out.
Lois heard herself whimper, her hand going to her mouth as she leaned forward. Maybe it could have hurt more if she had heard it aloud, Kala there in front of her, but it didn’t seem possible. Likely, she would have written it off as yet another temper tantrum. But here, in a diary that she never expected another soul to read, Kala had no reason to lie. And in light of Kala’s furious protests over any comparisons between them, this struck to the core. She had never known that this was what Kala was so hurt about. This wasn’t what she had wanted for her daughter. What was worse was the knowledge that, of all occurrences that she had tried to protect her from, just being her daughter had inadvertently caused Kala more pain than she would have expected.
There really were no words for the emotion that overwhelmed Lois then. If the road to Hell was truly paved with good intentions, she had never believed it more than she did now. Unable to hold back any longer, the journal fell from her lap to the floor. Lois’ wracking sobs were the only thing that broke the silence of the empty apartment.
In all the years Richard known him he had never seen Clark quite this single-minded. From the moment the other man had returned to the subway, he’d been fixated on one goal: finding out where Luthor had taken his daughter. “We need to dig out all those notes we made ten years ago,” said the taller man, staring out the windshield at something Richard couldn’t see. Even Clark’s voice was tense, his fixation of his goal clear with every word. “And we’re going to need to check into property records again, see what else he’s been up to.”
“The notes are still in the Planet archives,” Richard offered just as somberly as they got into his convertible. As terrifying as the concept of Luthor having their little was, at least now that had a lead. Something to fight against other than shadow. And God help Luthor when they found him this time. He took out his cell phone and slid it into the holder on the dashboard, telling Clark, “Speed-dial 4 is Lois’ cell phone. Have her meet us there.”
Richard’s bluetooth speakerphone came on automatically as soon as Clark dialed, broadcasting the ringing phone through the car as Richard merged into traffic. As exacted, she picked up on the second ring. “Hey Richard,” Lois answered abruptly, clearing her throat. “What news?”
Her voice sounded a little off to him, tight and tense as if she’d been crying. She couldn’t hold it in forever. Better that she did it now rather than letting it build until it made her crazy. I know it’s killing her… But before Richard could even open his mouth to ask what was wrong, Clark was answered her question. “Luthor’s behind all this,” he said. “They found Kala’s sunglasses in the subway. I went to check up on it…”
As Clark recounted the story of springing Luthor’s kryptonite trap, which Richard had already heard, the younger man frowned to realize that he was editing out Diana’s part in all this. Richard had seen Wonder Woman soar past, he’d heard how her quick reflexes had saved Clark from injury, so why wasn’t Lois hearing the same story?
Because she’s already jealous, he answered himself. And Clark’s trying to keep her from being even more upset. Poor, naïve guy – when Lois sees it in the paper, she’ll wonder why he didn’t tell her, and then she’ll be even more suspicious. I’m beginning to see how his totally innocent friendship with a coworker can be hugely misconstrued. I’ve gotta talk to the man about how to manage a jealous spouse…
“So when I got back, Bruce and Diana had picked up the investigation,” Clark was saying. This part was new to Richard, and piqued his interest. “Kala wasn’t down there for long. Whoever took her got her onto a train car of some kind – the old tracks have been used recently. The cops and the League are working on trying to find out where that train car could’ve gone.”
“If they were moving her around, wouldn’t you have heard her heartbeat? You’ve been listening constantly.” She sounded worried, not accusatory, and Richard knew she had to be wondering the same thing he was. How could you not hear her … as long as she was alive?
“Bruce figured that one out, too,” Clark replied evenly, and his voice went cold. “Part of his job is managing the strike files on all of us. If anything ever happened to me – if I wasn’t myself, if I turned dangerous – soundproofing wouldn’t be enough to hide you and the kids from me. But there are several different drugs used to treat cardiac problems that, if given to a healthy patient, will actually induce arrhythmia. It’s dangerous, but it would work.”
Lois swore extensively and creatively, finishing with, “Whichever of those sonofabitches did it is going to regret that when, not if, I get them in my sights.”
“Until then,” Clark said, his tone never changing, “we need to find Luthor. Richard and I are heading for the Planet to dig through the archives. Meet us there?”
There was a pause, both men knowing she had to be glancing at her watch. “Be there in fifteen. I just have to tell Jason where I’m going.”
“Call Lana and tell her, too,” Richard put in, piloting the Saab toward Reeve Plaza’s private parking garage. “We’re gonna be pulling in in just a minute, and I don’t get a signal there.”
“No big deal,” was Lois’ response. “She was on the other line when you called, and she’s still holding. We were talking about having Jason come stay with you two tonight so I could look into a lead. Sounds like I should warn him to pack a bag just in case.”
Clark was nodding slightly. It was starting to sound like he had been thinking along the same lines. “Not a bad idea, honey. See you soon.”
Lana had hung up the phone with Lois after hearing about the reporters’ plans. The news that Luthor had definitely returned to haunt them all depressed her, and she turned on the television for some distraction.
She hated feeling like she was useless, just sitting around the house while everyone else tried to find Kala. She hadn’t even been in the original search parties, sending her assistant out instead. Nothing else could have made her feel more like a lazy millionairess than that little fact.
Stop it, she told herself. They all need you right now – you’re always the level-headed one, always the person who stops and thinks while everyone else is rushing off trying to save the world. You’re the one they all turn to for emotional support, too. You can’t get maudlin and self-recriminating now.
Sighing, she closed her eyes for a moment, trying to push aside the fear and worry clouding her mind. It didn’t seem to work, and when she opened them again in resignation, she realized the television was tuned to one of those hyper-dramatized talk shows she detested. It’s not as if I’m actually watching it, anyway, she thought with annoyance, and pressed the remote to turn it off.
In the suddenly dark screen, she saw the reflection of the room around her. That wasn’t a surprise, but the tall, dark-skinned woman standing right behind the couch certainly was. Lana gasped in shock, adrenaline pouring into her veins.
The stranger was holding a knife, its blade the only bright spot in the reflection. Lana whipped around, her eyes wide, and saw that she wasn’t imagining things. There really was an armed woman in the room with her, just a few feet away, and the intruder looked as shocked to have been discovered as Lana was to see her.
Lana panicked and bolted for the patio door. It happened so quickly, she didn’t even make a sound, didn’t think about yelling for Clark. Overwhelmed by pure fear, Lana’s mind had gone utterly blank except for escape and survival.