What can I say other than hold onto your seats? You've been waiting to see what's behind the curtain, what all the build up was for? :D It's time, ladies and gents. Keep all hands and feet inside the ride, because we couldn't stop now if we tried.
We now present:
A Warning to the people,
The Good and the Evil
This Is War
To the Soldier, The Civillian,
The Martyr, The Victim
This is War
It's the moment of truth
And the moment to lie
The moment to live
And the moment to die
The moment to fight,
The moment to fight,
To fight, to fight, to fight…
~ 30 Seconds to Mars, This is War
Had Jason thought harder on the situation he was likely to get himself into, maybe a few things would have turned out differently. Once all was over and done, the boy admitted that he had no idea what had gotten into him beyond the need to get out of the hotel room after Sebast’s call. Part of it, he knew, was the fact that he had gotten permission of a sort. All he knew was that he and Elise would be more help finding Kala than being locked up in here. Jason wasn’t stupid; if he thought he was going to get grounded before sneaking out here, the penalty was going to be far worse for risking the wrath of Mom for snooping into her files for clues. His stomach lurched a little at the thought of the confrontation, especially after all that they had been through in the last few days. Making up his mind with a deep breath, he had just booted up Mom’s laptop when he heard Elise at his shoulder. “Wait, you know your mom’s password? With the way she’s all cloak and dagger about stuff, I figured anything hers would make Fort Knox’s security look like a joke. Especially after the listening devices.”
Nope, that’s actually Uncle Bruce. But Mom’s a close second. He couldn’t resist a little grin when he looked up at her. It was a little nice to be in control of something right now. “No, but I have a pretty good idea how she thinks. And there’s a hint, usually.” When the password screen came up, sure enough, it had a button beside it that read, “Forgot your password?” Drawing in a deep breath, he prepared to cross the line before he clicked that and saw the hint his mother had left herself. “Birthplace.”
Well, that should be easy if you knew the inside angle on the family history. Without a pause, Jason confidently typed in ‘Weisbaden’, only to have it rejected. Okay, he should have known better. That wasn’t something that couldn’t be looked up in public records. “Hmm. Maybe it’s not her birthplace, maybe it’s ours?” he muttered, typing in ‘Paris’. That, too, was rejected, and Jason couldn’t blame his mother. It was another piece of information that was easily accessible. Fortunately he would have at least three more tries.
Next he tried ‘Krypton’, then ‘Kryptonopolis’, only to have both also rejected. What else could it be? He’d put down the birthplaces of the immediate family… Wait. He’d tried all four of their birth cities and in one case the birth planet, but birthplace could mean a lot of things. One of those was very easy to remember but not something most people would guess, and Jason groaned as he thought of it. Luckily he’d seen where Mom had entered in his and Kala’s baby book and knew precisely where he’d been born: the American Hospital of Paris. Typing in the first two words, without the space, finally got him into the computer. “Yes!” he shouted as it loaded up the desktop.
Elise couldn’t help but laugh, popping him lightly on the shoulder in congratulation. “All right here, Crash Override. You just bought us a one-way ticket to getting our butts kicked by your mother. So, now that we’re in, where do we look?”
“Let’s see if we can find her notes.” Jason was already clicking the start menu to get the list of recent documents. All of them had cryptic names, and Jason started to open them at random, trying to find the information Lois had collated this morning.
While he did that, though, the computer was running through its normal startup routine, including connecting to any available wireless network. As it happened, the hotel offered free WiFi, which Jason didn’t even realize was connected until he saw a message pop up on the lower right-hand corner of the screen: ‘You have 1 new message.’
Without a word, Jason and Elise glanced at one another. It could be anyone, Uncle Perry, Uncle Jimmy, but it also could be another lead. How much deeper are you willing to go to find your sister? Is Kal worth it? What would she do if it was you in her place? Biting his lip, Jason took another deep breath before he clicked on it. Mom would be livid if she found out he had gone as far as reading her email; but then, she’d be just as infuriated if she found out he’d used the computer. If he was already in trouble, there was no sense in stopping now, right? And it was easier for six to search than four.
The email program opened, and the new message was in bold. Jason sucked in a deep breath when he saw the sender: firstname.lastname@example.org. He remembered that conversation in the car, when Lois had received an email from Uncle Bruce that contained more leads, and clicked on it eagerly, only to find a very sparse message within, giving latitude and longitude coordinates. He opened a new tab to enter that information and find a satellite image of the location it described.
“Wait, Bruce Wayne?” Elise looked down at him with skeptical amusement, having read over his shoulder. “He’s that nutjob in Gotham who totaled his Lamborghini last month. I remember it because it was all over TMZ and my Mom wouldn’t stop talking about it. Something about the ‘Idle Rich’ and the break-down of American society.” She rolled her eyes then, giving a snort of laughter. “So why’s the current King of Tabloids emailing your mom?”
“He knows people, which is kinda useful for Mom.” Jason colored, hastily trying to cover for Bruce. That was all he needed at this point; Bat-Clan wouldn’t be inclined to forgive a slip of the tongue. As grateful as he was for the lead, being pounded like a tent-stake by either his uncle or Dick wasn’t a thought he particularly cared for. “Mom interviewed him years ago, he and Lana know each other from when she lived in Gotham, so they sort of keep in touch now and then.”
Elise was looking at him funny, which was not a good sign. For the first time since he’d met her, Jason really wished she wasn’t half as intelligent as she was. “I never figured your mom or Lana as the type to hang out with drunken playboys.”
Jason made himself chuckle dismissively, sounding almost natural. Uncle Bruce would slaughter him if his identity got leaked because of this! “He’s okay when he’s sober – and his networking skills are out of this world. Besides, Luthor’s in big business now through L-Tech, so if anyone’s in position to dig up the dirt, it’s another CEO.”
That seemed to satisfy Elise, or maybe she was just distracted by the satellite image now covering the screen. It was a fairly close view of some kind of concrete ravine, so Jason zoomed out. With only a couple of clicks he realized that what he was seeing was on the outskirts of Hawthorne, the very town they were staying it. “So what is it?” he muttered.
Elise had the answer. “I think I remember hearing about this in geography class last year. If they’re what I think they are, they’re man-made ravines. A lot of towns out here, especially so close to the mountains, have them in case of flash floods. The desert can’t absorb the rainwater, so it would just wash right through town if they didn’t build those drainage canals. The better question is, what does it mean?”
Jason nodded thoughtfully, clicking around the screen to zoom in on details close to those coordinates, looking for anything that might be a clue and wishing that Uncle Bruce didn’t have to be quite so cryptic.
Finally he zoomed in on a dark spot on the image, and at that resolution the software told him it was a reservoir. Between that and the town itself was a water treatment plant housed in a dam-like structure. “So the runoff from the mountains goes there, and they store it and treat it and pipe it into the city for people to use,” Jason murmured.
Elise nodded. “And if they get a sudden storm, they can sluice the extra water into the drainage system.” Both teens paused, and then she spoke softly. “Hey, Jason. How much of that facility would you guess is underground?”
“It even comes with its own water source. Perfect villain’s hideaway. Better yet, we can walk there in less than twenty minutes.” Jason grabbed his cell phone and programmed the coordinates into its GPS function, making mental notes on the best way to approach. He’d be using his x-ray vision once they got close anyway.
“Shouldn’t we get one of your parents to come with us?” Elise asked.
That would be the sensible thing to do, but Jason couldn’t quite make himself be sensible. The possibility of finding Kala and somehow spiriting her away from Luthor himself was a siren song in his mind, but he still had some sense of caution and restraint. “We’re just going to look,” he told Elise – and himself. “If nothing’s there, then Mom can cross this off her list. And if something is there, we can call her or Dad, and get them to look into it.”
Trying to convince himself that was all he was doing, Jason put Lois’ laptop in the lockbox and headed out to save his sister.
Plans within plans within plans, an endless spiral of contingencies and backups: that was how Luthor worked, and it had always served him well. Before Kala had ever been kidnapped, he had thought of the possible consequences and set out to mitigate them. Hence the listening devices, the spy in the family, and the various people in his employ poised to rain destruction upon the Lane-Kent family. So far things hadn’t worked quite according to plan, with everyone alive and still coming after him, but he had planned for this course of events as well.
Luthor had made several assumptions in crafting his fallback plan. One was that the Justice League would be aware of his involvement and coming to Superman’s aid in the eventual fight. That obviously wouldn’t go well, so he had moved to neutralize them. There were plenty of other people in the world who shared his views, after all, people who resented the often alien superheroes who towered godlike above mere humans. Luthor had spent years cultivating them: a few thousand acres of rainforest purchased for Pamela Isley, some technical details of Kryptonian crystal mirrors for Sam Scudder, a few embarrassing facts expunged from Dr. Crane’s professional record, some customized weapons for General Eiling … all of them owed him something, some calculatedly personal trifle.
In return, Luthor didn’t ask much, only that they be willing to do him a favor. One small favor, for which he would provide the financing and any necessary raw materials. Most were more than willing to let him pay for something they would’ve done anyway; all he was really doing was choosing the timing. It was a win-win proposition for everyone, except the JLA.
When the alpha wave tracker had first shown Superman in Nevada, Luthor had put his allies on standby. With this morning’s discovery that the alien was so close to his base of operations, Luthor had put the fallback plan into effect.
By now, the rest of the JLA would be turning away from their comrade to handle problems closer to home. Luthor had recruited at least one person with a specific grudge against each of the main members of the League, and a few more who hated that organization’s very existence. With all of them causing mayhem at the same moment, Luthor would be almost certain of facing his own particular nemesis one on one.
Well, not precisely one on one. That would hardly be a fair fight, given the alien’s advantages. Fortunately Luthor had an alien of his own, and Zod had a personal score to settle that virtually ensured he would take the opportunity to destroy Superman no matter how much he loathed Luthor. While the two Kryptonians were distracted, Luthor could take out both of them and rid humanity of its greatest threat.
All the while, he knew that everything important to him was backed up at the facility in Australia. Life was good, and Luthor hummed a jaunty tune while watching Superman’s progress on his computer monitor.
Now Richard realized more than ever why Lois had had no interest in doing the research, preferring to scout out the warehouse. Already an hour into their task, he and Lana had not been finding much they didn’t already know, which frustrated the hell out of Richard. He had patience, when he needed it, but this was just too discouraging when his daughter was out there somewhere.
He sighed, leaning away from the microfiche reader to rest his eyes. Always the comic relief at family gatherings, Richard had been striving even harder than usual to inject a little levity into the tense situation, regardless of how he felt about it. And though he thought he had everyone except Lana fooled, he was just as angry and out of sorts as Clark.
Kala was his daughter, too. Richard had taught her how to swim and how to ride a bike, scoped out restaurant menus weeks in advance to be sure he could take her there, applauded her singing even when her voice was in that uncertain preteen phase, and been a father to her since she was four years old. Not knowing where she was or if she was all right was slowly killing him. But he kept up the façade, never letting himself fall into despair or rage. He owed Ella Lane that much.
The afternoon before she passed away, each member of the family had spoken to Ella privately. Richard stayed in the waiting room, comforting the rest, and he honestly hadn’t expected her to call for him. But when Lana came out, dabbing at her eyes, she’d kissed his cheek and whispered that Ella wanted to speak with him next.
He had gone in, feeling a little nervous. From the moment he’d met Lois, Richard had known that he would never have a chance with her unless he made a good impression on her mother. As much as Lois loved to defy her father, she adored her mother and relied heavily on the older woman’s wisdom, so if Ella disliked him, not even his considerable charm would be enough to recapture Lois’ favor. He’d been nervous at meeting her, and ever so slightly off balance in her presence ever since, even after he and Lois had split up. Part of that was probably the feeling he’d always had that while Ella did like him, she had some significant reservations about him.
When he’d walked into the hospital room, Ella had smiled and thanked him for being there with her. Her voice was a little raspy, and Richard had poured her a glass of water and held it while she sipped. For a moment, she looked up at him, her hazel eyes as intense as her daughter’s. At last she’d said, “Richard, I want you to know I never thought poorly of you. My only reservation was that I didn’t want Lois to hurt you the way I knew she eventually would. You didn’t deserve that.”
“She belongs with Clark,” he’d murmured, and it no longer pained him the way it had for those first couple years. Clark was Lois’ destiny; it was just that simple. “Her heart was always his. Of course, I didn’t know it back then.”
“She does love you, though. And so does Clark,” Ella had told him.
“So does Lana,” Richard added with a waggle of his eyebrow that made Ella chuckle.
So it surprised him when she had suddenly become serious again. “You are one of the most relentlessly positive people I know, Richard. One of the things I didn’t like about the end of your engagement to Lois was the way it made you suspicious and bitter. You’re an optimist at heart, and you help even my little cynic look on the bright side every now and then.”
“I try,” he’d replied, thinking that life had been extraordinarily kind to him. He had excellent health, a gorgeous and wonderful wife, three fantastic kids, a job he enjoyed and didn’t strictly need, as well as an extended family that included Superman. How could he not believe that life was essentially good?
“She’s lucky to have you,” Ella had said then, patting his hand, and Richard had grinned like a little kid at that praise. Ella’s hazel eyes had looked into his solemnly just before she asked. “Will you watch over her for me?”
“Gladly, but she’s got her super-powered protector,” Richard replied, with no bitterness.
Ella had chuckled softly. “He can see through most things, but sometimes I don’t think he can see all the way through her. I know my daughter’s skull can be as dense as lead, sometimes. Richard, you know her in a few ways he doesn’t, and since the two of you are no longer a couple, you see more clearly than he does. And you’ll have to watch her – don’t listen to what she says. Lois is going to grieve for me terribly, but she’ll never admit it.”
“She won’t show weakness,” Richard had agreed, thinking of all the times he’d admired Lois’ strength and never guessed about the insecurities that lay beneath her fierce determination. He knew better now, having observed her from a slightly less intense perspective.
“And she’ll need to be reminded to laugh, and love, and not let my death cloud every moment of every day. Will you do that for me, and for Lois?” Ella seemed perfectly calm about her own death, and Richard had to bite his lip. He would miss her, dammit, in spite of the way he always felt just a little anxious around her. Not many women would take so well to the guy who’d married another woman less than two months after breaking up with their daughter. And Ella had always made a point of welcoming him, inviting him to family events, making him and Lana part of the Lane tribe.
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” he’d replied and his voice had been unexpectedly husky.
Now Richard felt like he hadn’t quite kept his promise to Ella. He should have realized sooner just how bad things were getting between Lois and Clark, should have stepped in sooner and made Clark talk about what was bothering him. He should have made more of an effort to rattle Lois’ cage, force her to acknowledge her grief and deal with it rather than suppressing it until it bubbled up in a thousand little anxieties. It would have been a lot easier to deal with relationship troubles without the added complication of Luthor’s plots – and maybe if Lois and Clark had been back in sync, Kala would never have run away.
Speculating on what he should have done wasn’t getting them anywhere, though. At least he’d found a couple of good leads to explore. Richard sighed, wincing a little at the headache he was developing. “Hey, hon?” he called.
Lana was on the other side of the shelves that held the property deed books. “Yes?”
“Do we have any Excedrin?” It was looking at all that fine type that made his temples throb, but damned if he was going to buy reading glasses. Richard wasn’t that old yet.
The redhead gave a little smile, as if she’d heard the thought aloud. “In the car, I think,” Lana replied, coming over to him. “It’s about time for my antibiotics, too. Shall we take a break?”
“Yeah,” he sighed, leaning in to kiss her cheek. There truly were days where Richard didn’t know what he’d do without her. Throughout the whole ordeal, she’d been determined to be just as involved with the search as the others, even after the attack on her. Sliding his arm around her shoulders as they left, he kissed the top of her head. Lana just glanced up with a smile, which Richard returned gratefully. With her at his side, he could do anything, even find a missing girl in the middle of the desert.
They stepped out of the records room, Richard waving at the clerk they’d talked into letting them in the records room. That was as much Lana’s doing as his; while Richard had the silver-tongued charm, Lana had the absolute sincerity. No one could look at her and think she had some nefarious scheme in mind.
They walked arm in arm to the parking lot, Richard alert for any wavering on Lana’s part. No matter how much she protested that she was fine, he couldn’t help being extra vigilant. So when she stopped short, her eyes going wide, he at first thought something was wrong with her. “Are you okay?” he asked urgently, looking for signs of what it could be.
She replied with another question, green eyes trained on something in front of them. “Why is that man standing behind our car?”
It took a second for Richard to process that, and then he turned to look. A man in a jacket and jeans stood behind their rental car, looking around. Richard acted on instinct, pulling Lana back into the lobby of the building, but his eyes never left the stranger loitering outside. Who was he? Another of Luthor’s hired killers? Richard’s headache was gone, and protective anger uncoiled itself from somewhere deep inside.