Jason had just gotten Bagel settled again – the poor dog was completely confused, her walking and feeding schedule utterly shot these past few days – when he heard the patio doors open. He was instantly alert, running into the living room just in time to be utterly shocked by what he saw: his father in uniform, carrying Kristin. The little girl was crying weakly … and covered in something red…
Kal-El’s entire being should just how tightly he was reigning in his emotions, “Take your sister. Get her cleaned up – she’s got paint all over her dress.”
“Wait, That’s not…” Jason began to say as he held his arms out for her. The substance matted into Kristin’s silky auburn hair and smeared on her clothes was blood, just barely tacky. A lot of blood, very fresh. His mouth dropped then, eyes going to his father’s in horror. Blood? Why blood? And this much of it? What was going on here?
Just the forbidding look of his father’s face, one he had never seen before, was enough to strike him silent. “It’s paint, Jason,” he said commandingly, adding in whispered Kryptonese, “Do not upset her. It is not her blood.”
Just what the hell is going on? Why isn’t Kristin with Lana? And where did the blood come from? “What happened?” Jason asked in shock, holding Kristin close while he stared at the older man in disbelief.
“I will tell you everything later,” Kal-El replied. “For now, take care of her.” With that he flew off, and Jason was left with a very upset Little K.
Still stunned by the last few minutes, he wanted nothing more than to make his dad give him answers, but he knew Kristin was more important right then. Whatever happened, his baby sister was here and safe. She was clinging to him as tightly as her little body could manage and Jason returned the hug with equal measure. “Let’s get you out of these clothes,” he murmured into her ear, kissing her forehead, and carried her to the bathroom, trying to force his mind away from the obvious question. Whose blood is it, then? He suspected he wouldn’t like the answer.
When Kala placed her hand against the panel outside Zod’s room, she expected it to chime – but the door opened immediately. That spooked her, and she hung back in the hallway, surprised by the light spilling from Zod’s room. Somehow she’d expected it to be dark and foreboding, but the mostly-white décor only emphasized the brightness.
“Enter,” Zod’s voice sounded steady, perfectly calm, and Kala stepped forward hesitantly. She still wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or the worst one over.
Zod rose from his chair and gave her a slight bow. “Welcome, and be seated,” he said. “We have much to discuss.”
“Such as?” Kala said warily, sidling away from him and the proffered chair.
Zod watched her for a moment, and then took his own seat again. “You must not give Luthor access to the information on the crystals,” he said intently.
“What?” Kala said, caught off guard. “Wait, not that I was gonna, but why are you telling me this?”
“Luthor is a loathsome creature,” Zod answered. “He serves no interest but his own all-consuming desire for power. Given the knowledge contained in those crystals, he would be nearly unstoppable.”
“You’re one to talk about Luthor being power-mad,” Kala retorted, amazed by his hypocrisy. “Does ‘kneel before Zod!’ ring any bells? You did try to conquer the world. I know all about it, even if it was before my time.”
“You do not ‘know all about it’,” Zod remonstrated, “and if you are wise, you will speak our language. I believe I have removed all of the monitoring devices from this room, but our best defense is our inherent proficiency in Kryptonese. Some of these humans understand it haltingly, but they cannot follow a conversation.”
“Very well,” Kala said, coming to stand behind the chair he’d offered her. The lights in the room were all angled toward this spot, and she could feel their soothing warmth on her skin, almost like sunlight. “I will speak our tongue, but I will also have an explanation for your statement. Who are you to accuse Luthor of excessive ambition, General Zod?”
“What is a general with no army to command?” he said smoothly. “My name is Dru-Zod. And I am … not the man I was when I first arrived on this planet.”
“How so?” Kala asked. It was amazing how easily the formal phrases of Kryptonese came to her; perhaps Zod was right, that the language was natural to her people in a way that made it very hard for humans to learn.
Zod sighed. “I would ask you if you would consider yourself sane after imprisonment in the Phantom Zone, but that is a fate none should have to bear. Suffice it to say that I was consumed by the desire for revenge, and my caution was overturned by discovering the tremendous powers this planet’s sun granted me and my associates. I sought a chance to be certain that such a thing would never happen to me again, nor to my loyal followers. Had I the ability to live those days over again, I would proceed differently.”
Kala turned that over in her mind, considering. He sounded sincere … but her extended family of reporters had taught her that sincerity could be faked. Still, Zod hadn’t made any hostile moves, so she sat down. “We are in agreement in the matter of Luthor,” she said. “I have no intention of granting him access to the crystals.”
“Yet you must not tell him that,” Zod warned. “I was able to convince him that the crystals respond only to the House of El at higher levels, when in fact I could have easily given him what he desires. I used this ruse to protect my own life, until such time as I am able to escape Luthor. You must do the same, if you wish for your own and your family’s safety. Do not openly defy Luthor – we must move against him in secret.”
“So it is ‘we’, then?” Kala said. “You seek alliance against Luthor. How can I, daughter of the House of El, trust you?”
“You have something I need,” Zod said. “Schecter told you I serve only myself, but in this case, what I desire benefits you as well. For if my freedom can be secured, so can yours. Furthermore, I freely offer you useful knowledge. First, the lights in this room are all treated in a particular manner that mimics the radiation of the yellow sun. It is a poor substitute for those life-giving rays, but at least it will prevent you from slowly losing the powers you’ve gained. You see, we are quite some distance underground, and unlikely to see the true sun again unless we escape Luthor.”
Kala felt a chill down her spine. She was a dedicated sunbather, scandalizing her brother by lying on the apartment roof in a bathing suit, and the thought of being trapped so far from the sun terrified her. But her voice was steady when she spoke. “What is it you want from me?”
“Your mother is human – the woman Lois Lane, correct?” When Kala nodded slowly, Zod continued, “Then it follows that, since you are half-human, you have inherited some of her human immunity to kryptonite.”
“It still makes me sick,” Kala said. “But I have been exposed to it before, and I survived. The effects were less serious on me than they were on my father and brother. But I am still susceptible to the radiation.”
“Then what I ask of you will require courage,” Zod told her. “Green kryptonite causes weakness and pain, and it eventually kills, but it does not remove your powers. And at the moment, I suspect you may be more powerful than I.”
“So what would you have me do?” Kala said, even more wary than she’d been when she first walked in.
“Disarm Luthor,” Zod said.
“But it was you who warned me away from him earlier,” Kala replied.
“I had not had a chance to discuss this with you,” Zod said. “Fortunately, Luthor will now think you as reluctant to approach kryptonite as I am. He will be even less likely to realize what is happening until after the fact.”
“So all you need me to do is take his ring?” Kala asked. That sounded off…
“No,” Zod said, and he looked troubled. “There is another weapon, the design of which he adapted from common mining tools used on Krypton. Those plans he had access to even before he helped me escape prison. In its original form, it concentrated a laser beam to cut through crystal and stone. Now, Luthor has modified it to be more portable, and to concentrate kryptonite radiation and project it.”
Kala had to switch to English. “You mean to tell me he built a freakin’ kryptonite ray gun?” she exclaimed. “No way!”
“That is an apt description,” Zod told her. “Furthermore, the device leaks radiation at an appreciable level. I can barely stand its presence, and I am certain that it would incapacitate me if fired anywhere in my vicinity. You, on the other hand, have partial immunity to kryptonite, and based on your demonstration earlier, you have sufficient speed to disarm Luthor before he could fire the weapon.”
“It is still risking my life for you,” Kala said. “Have you any reason why I should do such a thing? You are not precisely known for rewarding your allies.”
“You speak of Luthor,” Zod corrected. “Him I would have killed as soon his usefulness ended. He is a particularly craven human. But Non and Ursa, my true and faithful allies, I protected as long as I had the power to do so.”
“I am half-human,” Kala said, “and the other half is of the House of El, against which you swore vengeance. Neither gives me reason to trust you.”
“You are half Kryptonian,” Zod said. “I see the legacy of our people in you – it is stamped into your appearance and your character. The blood of Krypton has won out over human traits. That is why I would make alliance with you, and none of these humans who surround us. None of them know the meaning of honor, but you are a noble daughter of Krypton.”
Kala was tempted. She had to make a choice: hold her own against Luthor and Zod, or ally herself with one or the other. Daughter of Superman or not, she was only sixteen years old, and the thought of trying to deal with them both terrified her. So it seemed like she’d have to choose between them, and of the two, Zod looked like the safer option.
But he was still Zod. “No way,” Kala said in English, and continued in Kryptonese, “I do not trust your allegiance to a fellow Kryptonian. I am the daughter of the House of El, and I believe that yet weighs heavily on your mind.”
“So it does,” Zod said. “But you have intelligence enough to know that the more I try to persuade you to trust me, the more untrustworthy I shall seem. Consider the matter for yourself, Kala Kal-El. And when you do, think of this: I have but one reason to betray you, and that is hatred of your grandfather. My reasons to keep my word are myriad, not least of which is the fact that helping you to escape may be my own last chance at true freedom. For who else but you could intercede with your father on my behalf?”
Richard heard Lois scream, and realized what this meant. It wasn’t over; whoever had tried to kill Lana was still out there and still targeting his wife. He dove in front of the gurney, trying to simultaneously push Lana back into the relative safety of the apartment, and shield her with his own body.
Sound seemed to have cut out; he saw Lana’s mouth moving, but couldn’t hear her. Richard felt Maggie grab at his shirt, probably trying to stop him from sacrificing himself, but he didn’t care. As long as Lana was okay, nothing else mattered. He’d come far too close to losing his wife today.
His eyes met hers just before his vision went red.
The phone rang, and Giselle glanced at the caller ID before answering. “Hi, Mom,” she said. “How’s your trip?”
The voice in her ear, however, was not Justine’s, and her green eyes grew wide with fear as it spoke. “No,” she whispered, but that wouldn’t stop her caller.
Maggie Sawyer felt the world seem to tilt on its axis. This morning, she’d been dealing with the difficult case of a close friend’s runaway daughter. By mid-afternoon, it was increasingly clear that Kala had in fact been kidnapped – and her captor was almost certainly Luthor. Who else had access to so much kryptonite, and the diabolical idea of using Lois Lane’s daughter to bait a trap for Superman?
She and Dan had finally had a breakthrough in the case, and then suddenly all hell had broken loose. Lana had been attacked in her own apartment, and the most shocking news of the day was that she’d managed to not only survive, but had turned the tables on her attacker. The kitchen, where Maggie had often enjoyed a cup of Lana’s excellent coffee, was now one of the most brutal crime scenes the seasoned inspector had ever laid eyes on.
The constant reversals were taking their toll even before she heard Lois shout. The only way someone could see what was going on right now was through a high-power scope … like the ones mounted on sniper rifles. Maggie had been just a hair too slow to stop Richard, and her heart sank with the realization that she was probably about to see one of her friends die.
Then, suddenly, a violet blur, and Richard stumbled back, blinking. He’d been struck in the face by Superman’s cape, and as they all retreated into the living room the hero stood shielding them from harm. He was holding out one arm, his hand inches from where Richard’s head had been a moment ago. “Inspector Sawyer,” he said. “Hold out your hand, please.”
She was far too bewildered to do anything but comply. Superman dropped something warm into her palm, and she looked down to see a large-caliber bullet, mushroomed where it had struck Superman’s hand. Her stomach churned; she knew what bullets like this could do to a person, and the thought of seeing Richard…
Choking back her gorge, she realized Superman had flown off. Somewhere behind her, the EMTs were urgently calling off Life Flight, and Lois was grabbing Richard in a fierce hug. Lana was sobbing again.
An instant later, Maggie heard a bang and saw a flare of orange on the face of a building some distance away. Superman reappeared beside her, so damn fast you couldn’t even see him coming in, and now his expression was grave. “I didn’t get there in time,” he said quietly. “I followed the trajectory back to the sniper, but … he was wearing some kind of headset. It looked to have been rigged with explosives. Before I could reach him…”
“Where?” Maggie said. Her duty brought her back from her bemused state; that was another crime scene, and she needed to get officers on it now if she wanted any chance at recovering evidence. Plus there was a risk of fire…
Superman gave her the address and floor, which she repeated into her radio. Disastrous as it was, at least the world was spinning in an understandable way again, and she began to feel more normal.
Unfortunately, the normal reaction to seeing her friends injured and threatened was to get angry – very angry. Maggie had had just about enough of Luthor’s games to last her for a lifetime. Somewhere in the back of her orderly, logical mind was a simple line. On one side was her duty, the other her personal life, and while the line between the two was exceedingly narrow in places, it had never been crossed. Not until now.
“I doubt there’s another sniper,” Superman was saying, “but I think I should escort Mrs. White to the hospital just the same.”
“Great,” Maggie said, and the EMTs helped Lana get up off the gurney. She seemed to be slipping back into the confused state of shock in which they’d first found her, and Superman quickly got her airborne. At least she was safe – Maggie turned her attention to Richard and Lois.
“I’m going to meet her at the hospital,” Richard said.
“Yes, you are,” Maggie said, “and you’re going in an armored car. Ames! C’mere, I need you. And where the hell did Lois get to?”
Her hands shaking in fear, Giselle tried to compose herself in the lobby of Reeve Plaza. She felt wetness on her cheeks and angrily scrubbed the tears away; she couldn’t let Jason see that. She had to be calm, confident, and casual when she walked through the door of the apartment – nothing could be out of the ordinary. He was still worried about Kala, and the last thing she needed was for him to be distracted by her suddenly breaking down in tears.
But oh, that last phone call… Giselle felt her spine turn to ice, and she had to fight her urge to just run away from all of this. She’d never imagined it could get this bad; when she’d started going out with Jason, she could never have foreseen that she’d end up here, with no place else to run, nowhere left to hide.
It was do or die time, and that wasn’t just a quaint phrase anymore. She’d heard the venom in Luthor’s voice.