No matter what comes next, continue to trust us. We know where this ends. And the finale will be worth it.
(It also won't take us another fifty chapters to get there this time! ;) YES, I MEAN IT!)
Maggie Sawyer watched through the one-way mirror, her keen gaze missing nothing, but her quarry wasn’t some jumpy street kid to telegraph her state of mind through fidgeting. Giselle sat perfectly composed in the hard wooden chair, the one that Dan had sanded an eighth of an inch off one leg so it would never sit level. She didn’t even look much worse for wear after having spent two nights and a day in jail. The intended strategy was to let Giselle get a good long look at what prison life could be like, and hope that she’d be rattled enough to say anything that might get her out from behind bars sooner. It often worked with young offenders, the kinds of kids that were all aggressive façade.
But with Giselle, it seemed to have backfired. She certainly wasn’t the girl Maggie had met before, the doe-eyed sweetheart from the New Year’s Eve party nothing more than a memory. This young woman was cool, self-possessed, her green-eyed gaze faintly mocking whenever she glanced at the mirror. Maggie didn’t like it.
It was just one thing on a very long list of things she disliked. Fortunately, she knew how to keep her anger and dismay in check while interrogating a suspect. Taking a deep breath, Maggie walked around to the door and went into the room.
Giselle met her gaze steadily, and Maggie thought, Chameleon. She’ll change into whatever she needs to be to survive. “Good morning,” the policewoman said casually.
“Are you going to be the good cop or the bad cop?” Giselle asked, her tone light, but biting sarcasm lurked beneath it. “Because I watched NYPD Blue too, you know. None of those tricks work on me.”
Maggie turned the room’s other chair around and sat down in it, folding her arms along the back. “I don’t doubt it, but not from watching TV. You’ve been in a few other police stations, haven’t you, Giselle? Mostly fraud charges – the tax return checks thing was pretty clever.”
The girl shrugged but said nothing. She was too wise to admit to anything. Maggie continued, “Must’ve been boring, going back to school and all that. Why’d you do it? Why take on such an intense cover for so long?”
“I won’t answer anything without a lawyer, so you can quit trying.” The girl sounded almost bored, and Maggie felt her anger beginning to rise to the surface.
She leaned forward, letting her gaze become cold and scathing as the Arctic wind. “Go ahead. Call your lawyer. But here’s the deal, little girl. If you decide to play ball with us, I have to go along with whatever the D.A. says we can offer as a plea bargain. If you lawyer up, we’ll prosecute you for everything we can think of. And trust me, I can think of a lot, starting with the attempted murder of my friend’s son.”
Her voice had become a growl at the end of that. Maggie remembered Lois’ return to Metropolis, the twins just three years old, wide-eyed and wondering. She remembered how Cat had charmed Jason into letting her pick him up, and she’d done the same with Kala, the scent of the toddler’s hair reminding her painfully of Jamie. She knew both kids well enough to love them fiercely, enough that only her deep commitment to her personal ethics kept her from knocking this arrogant little bitch right out of her chair. If Jason had been hurt … if Kala didn’t return safely from wherever Luthor had her … then it would be wise for Giselle to steer very clear of Maggie Sawyer. Assuming, of course, that Lois didn’t get to her first.
Not even her stare intimidated Giselle. The girl only leaned forward as well, her green eyes intense. “Listen up, cop,” she said, and this was the bitter truth beneath her pretty face and sweet demeanor. “Lex Luthor is much scarier than you are. The worst you’ll ever do to me is send me to prison. He’d kill me.”
Maggie allowed herself to laugh. “You idiot. You think he won’t kill you if you don’t talk? Get real. He’s going to assume you talked, and he’ll kill you as soon as he can get his hands on you. That’s why you’re still in my jail, where I can keep an eye on you myself. If I let you go into a correctional facility, you wouldn’t last the night.”
For the first time, she saw real fear in Giselle’s eyes. She smiled, and let Giselle see just how angry she was. “Right now I’m the only person protecting your worthless hide, and I really don’t like you. So start talking; my patience is very limited.”
Elise had thought that sharing a room with Mrs. Lane-Kent might be awkward, but the reporter had been too exhausted. After apologizing to Lana for not being there to patch up her popped stitch as promised – and re-bandaging the wound on her hand, which Elise was glad to not have to deal with – Lois hadn’t even made a feeble attempt at small talk. She’d just gotten changed and fallen into bed, asleep before Elise finished brushing her teeth.
That had been weird, to say the least. Elise was old enough to know that adults didn’t have all the answers, but she was used to them at least acting like they had the world running more or less according to plan. Part of that was the way they tended to hover over kids, even older teenagers who could look after themselves. To be almost completely ignored, Mrs. Lane-Kent clearly assuming that Elise was smart enough to take care of herself, was a new experience.
And it just got stranger in the morning. Elise woke to her shoulder being gently shaken, and then she was left alone to get ready while Mrs. Lane-Kent went over to the Whites’ room across the hall to discuss the plans for the day.
Elise took a shower using the complimentary bath stuff the hotel left out, but she hadn’t been able to bring any spare clothes. Fortunately, someone was thinking of her; a white blouse and dark gray skirt were hanging on the outside of the bathroom doorknob. She got dressed gratefully, not quite able to put her finger on what was so off about the day so far.
At a loss for what else to do, Elise went over to the Whites’ room. Mr. White saw her and grinned. “Think fast,” he said, tossing something at her. When she caught it, it turned out to be a blueberry muffin. “I raided the breakfast buffet. Eat up, kiddo. We’ve got coffee to drink, and a pitcher of milk, too.”
“Also liberated from the buffet,” Mrs. Lane-Kent pointed out, and Mr. White just shrugged. Mrs. White rolled her eyes at him, but gave Elise an encouraging smile.
Mr. Kent barely glanced at Elise before returning his attention to what she now saw was a map spread out on the table. “Superman said he’d gotten out to Artesia Lake yesterday, and he followed the highway to Walker Lake at Hawthorne this morning. There’s nothing close to the road, and the town itself should be safe.”
“So let’s take our traveling roadshow to Hawthorne,” Mr. White said. “We can sniff for clues while Superman’s flying a search pattern.”
Mr. Kent sighed, but apparently he’d given up on sending everyone home. “And we can leave the kids safely in a major hotel. Speaking of which, Elise, would you go wake Jason? We need to get ready if we’re going to make decent time today.”
“Sure,” she said, and he handed her the key. As she walked out of the room, she finally realized what was so odd, and it froze her in the hallway for a moment.
They were all treating her like another grownup – not hovering, and not assuming she was useless. They were looking out for her, making sure she had clean clothes and breakfast, but only because she hadn’t had the time or ability to take care of those things herself. Come to think of it, even last night Mrs. Lane-Kent hadn’t looked over her quick-fix on Mrs. White’s stitches. She’d assumed that Elise was competent to take care of it.
Elise blinked. And then they’d sent her off to wake Jason, expecting her to continue to be useful. A little voice in her mind asked, Isn’t this exactly what you wanted? Well, yes, but she hadn’t been quite ready for the weight of responsibility now settling on her shoulders. She decided to focus on the present, which at the moment was wolfing down the last of her muffin before she went into the room.
Before she started dating Jason, Elise had occasionally spent the night at the Lane-Kent penthouse, sitting up late with Kala and having cold pizza for breakfast the next morning. She’d learned then that Jason was a late riser, and given how broken his sleep had been the night before last, he’d probably be twice as difficult to wake up today. The girl shook her head ruefully as she went in to confront her ex.
Jason was asleep in the bed furthest from the door, curled up in the covers with only his nose showing. Elise couldn’t help grinning slightly; he really was an adorable goof, if you only looked at the surface. The trouble with Jason was that he wasn’t just an adorable goof. Beneath the charmingly wacky exterior was a really deep, intense young man. Getting to know him had been a little like jumping into a kiddie wading pool expecting to get wet to the ankles, only to discover it was just the plastic edge of such a pool positioned perfectly around a bottomless sinkhole. Elise had quickly begun to feel like she was in way over her head, and when he’d popped out the whole family-pictures-on-the-mantle thing she’d done what seemed sensible at the time, and run away. She wasn’t exactly proud of that, now.
Elise walked over to him with a sigh, shoving all of her thoughts aside to focus on the task at hand, which would not be easy. “Hey, Jason,” she said loudly, and shook the comforter-wrapped lump that was probably his shoulder.
He grumbled incoherently and rolled over, turning his back to her. Elise shoved his shoulders again, rocking him back and forth, but he wasn’t moving. “Come on, Jason, you have to get up,” she insisted, giving another push. This time the grumbling sounded more intelligible, but it still didn’t make any sense. She frowned, and decided to escalate. Elise grabbed the comforter up by Jason’s head and yanked it, hard.
When he yelped and sat bolt upright, she realized she’d gotten a few strands of hair along with the heavy blanket. “Ow!” Jason yelled, rubbing his head.
“Well, wake up, and I won’t have to scalp you,” she retorted, feeling guilty.
Jason’s eyes finally focused on her, and his expression became one of stark horror as he grabbed the comforter back and clutched it to his chest. “Elise! What are you doing in here?”
“Your parents sent me to wake you up,” she replied, and realizing what was wrong with him. “Oh my God, Jason, breathe. It’s not like I haven’t seen you without a shirt on before.”
“I’m just not cool with you ripping the sheets off me when I’m only wearing boxers,” he informed her, sounding as prissy as a twelve-year-old girl.
She snorted. “Coulda been worse. You could’ve been wearing your Snoopy pajama pants. Besides, dork, I’ve seen you in swim trunks.”
“That’s different,” Jason insisted. “Anyway, I’m awake. Will you please leave so I can get dressed?”
Somehow Elise had never realized he was quite this squeamish. It made for a nice diversion from everything else. “Nope, I think I’ll stay and watch the show,” she teased.
Jason scowled and tossed a pillow at her. “Get out, perv.” Laughing, she did, only pausing to tell him that breakfast awaited in the Whites’ room.
General Zod faced the five men warily. He had learned to read human body language very easily. The more primitive species was more expressive than Kryptonians, their gestures more exaggerated, and that made them easy to understand.
It also meant that he couldn’t deceive himself about the group’s intentions. They meant to harm him if they could. Luthor had always been a little lax in policing his security staff, but now that Kala Kal-El was proving more effective with the AI, Luthor was clearly less concerned about Zod’s safety.
They hadn’t outright attacked, but they were blocking his way with an air of anticipation. Perhaps these men simply needed a sterner warning than Luthor had given them. Zod told them calmly, “This is futile. You know you cannot defeat me.”
“Oh, can’t we?” He had picked out the leader of the little group, the one whose hand had been blistered by his heat vision on the police baton. That was the man who now took a step forward, a predatory smile on his face. “You’ve outlived your usefulness, old man. I think we can do anything we damn well please.”
“Then you are a fool,” Zod told him silkily. He didn’t allow his own body to betray his tension, standing at parade rest while he watched them dispassionately.
The man just grinned and held out his hand. In his palm was a small box, which he opened to reveal a shard of kryptonite. Zod felt the all-too-familiar wave of nausea and weakness sweep through him. “You aliens have a problem with this stuff, don’t ya? All your powers just fade away around a stupid piece of rock.”
That wasn’t precisely true, but Zod held his tongue. If the men thought that kryptonite rendered him powerless, they would be unprepared for an attack. But before he could move, a new voice spoke from behind the men. “Unfortunately for you, I am not as affected by kryptonite as he is,” Kala said, stalking up to them. The men whirled, and the smile she gave them made their leader’s fierce grin seem juvenile. She met the leader’s gaze and stared until he looked down. “Put the crystal away, gentlemen, and go find something useful with which to occupy yourselves.”
Cowed, they turned away, and Zod held his ground, forcing them to file past him on either side. He met Kala’s eyes with a slight smile. She paced to his side, a flash of fire in her eyes. “Your intervention was most timely,” Zod murmured.
“Your gratitude is accepted,” Kala replied, and they both turned to go get breakfast. They walked leisurely, knowing that no one in the compound dared mess with both of them.
She was definitely on his side now. It was well worth the trouble he’d gone to, lurking in the halls to confront that specific group of men and thus create the opportunity for Kala to rescue him. Zod’s master plan proceeded efficiently.
By the time the kids got back to the Whites’ room, the plans for the day had been established. Those few moments without Elise had been enough for them to talk openly, Clark finally agreeing to drive to the hotel. It would only take a couple of hours, and then he could head out to fly over the surrounding area while secure in the knowledge that the kids were safely ensconced in the hotel. Lana had called ahead and sweet-talked the desk clerk into letting them check in early.
Leaving was just as hurried as the rest of the morning had been so far. Clark pushed them all, wanting to get moving now, but everyone kept their tempers in check. The idea was that Lois would drive, Clark would rest, and Richard and Lana would follow. Jason wasn’t fast enough to get in the first car, so he and Elise got left to the Whites.
Richard eyed the departing rental car and shook his head. “I give it half an hour,” he said.
“Until we catch up with them?” Jason asked, tilting his head to the side.
Richard didn’t reply, tousling his son’s hair. “Load up, kids, let’s put some miles on this thing. And best of all, we won’t have to look at it once we’re inside it.”
That got a tired laugh. The car rental places had been nearly sold out, and Lois had gotten the halfway respectable dark blue coupe. Richard had to make do with a sedan that happened to be a particularly eye-watering shade of metallic burnt orange. At least it had a decent engine, something that could keep up with Lois’ lead foot.
Elise sat in the backseat, keeping quiet, occasionally looking at her cell phone and wondering how she’d explain all this to her parents – which she would eventually have to do. Not even a naïve fifteen-year-old could expect to stow away on a plane headed halfway across the country and not have her parents find out.
Jason would have liked to go back to sleep, but his stomach didn’t want to settle down. Maybe it was the cinnamon bun he’d wolfed down … or maybe something was going on with Kala. Jason had always resisted any attempt to proclaim he had a ‘psychic connection’ to his twin, but still, he generally knew what she was up to, with a few disastrous exceptions like New Year’s Eve. He shut his eyes, firmly telling himself that it had to be the cinnamon bun. He knew better than to eat something so sugary first thing in the morning.
Lana had just taken the first pills for the day: antibiotics to ward off infection, and a pain pill. The latter had just begun to kick in, creating a comforting, if false, sense of distance from everything. She resented the drugs at the same time as she understood how people could get addicted to them.
Richard just focused on driving, on getting to Hawthorne. They knew Luthor was somewhere along the southern border between Nevada and California, and Clark had covered about a third of it so far. The hope was that he and Lana could do the research, trying to narrow his search, while he covered the skies and Lois checked up on a few leads on the ground.
Except for the shush of tires on pavement, the car was silent as they drove, none of them feeling much like conversation. At least, until Jason’s sharp eyes spotted a car stopped by the roadside, and a figure walking toward them. The distance masked both until they got closer.
“Twenty-five minutes,” Richard sighed, glancing at the clock. “I called it.”
Only then did Jason realize that was Mom stalking toward them. Now he could make out Dad standing beside the other car as well, and his stomach plummeted. Were they already fighting?
Richard pulled over next to Lois and rolled down the window. “Hey baby, wanna ride?” he called.
“Not now, Richard,” Lois snarled back as she stormed up to his door. “Here. Take the keys and go ride with Mr. Passive-Aggressive so I don’t rip him a new one.”
“I’ll go,” Lana said before Richard could reply. “If you don’t mind, Lois.”
The reporter sighed and stalked around to the passenger side. “Can you even drive after taking those pills?”
“No, but Clark can,” Lana said as she got out of the car. When Lois went to give her the keys, Lana caught her hand and held on. “Lois. Take a moment and just take a deep breath. Please?”
Lois sighed in annoyance, but did it, and some of the tension went out of her shoulders when she took that deep breath. Lana smiled. “That’s better. Don’t worry – we will find her, Lois. Now hop in; I’ll walk to the other car.”
“Thanks,” the reporter muttered as she sat down.
Jason and Elise in the back seat just stared, wide-eyed. Lana waved Richard on, and he pulled back out onto the highway. “Lois…” he began, but she cut him off.
“If you’re going to lecture me, I don’t have time.” Her voice was brittle, her gaze fixed on the windshield.
“Oh, we have two hours, Lois,” Richard said, keeping his tone gentle. “I could fit in two, maybe three lectures, plus some generalized complaining.”
She looked over at him, and her expression was equal parts hurt and mistrustful. “You talked to Clark last night.”
“Yeah, I did, but now I’m talking to you.” Richard reached over and put his hand on her knee, giving it a familiar squeeze. “And we were together long enough for me to know you won’t take my marching orders anyway, so I’m not even going to bother trying to tell you what to do.” With that, he turned to conversation toward the future, asking Lois about her researching plans for the day and the other information she’d gleaned so far.