The fact that they were finally this close to recovering Kala was almost unreal and they were all tense with thoughts of the battle ahead. All three Kents were very aware of what they were potentially walking into. Lois was at the wheel as they drove through the silent desert, with Kal-El in the passenger seat and Jason in the back of the rented car. Their current plan was to pass the facility, letting both sets of x-ray vision check it out, and then they would conceal the car somewhere to figure out a concealed method of approach.
The road they were traveling wound through the low hills covered in desert scrub. Some people enjoyed this kind of landscape, found its stillness and sparseness enthralling, but Lois wasn’t one of them. It looked barren and forbidding to her, and the chill air outside didn’t help either. Between that, worrying about her husband and her son, and still not knowing if Kala was okay, Lois’ anxiety was running at an all-time high. In the end, she spoke because the lack of voices was spooking her. “It should be up ahead.” Concentrating on keeping a steady speed, she relied on the other two for visual conformation. She herself couldn’t see anything, but the GPS said they were almost there.
As she expected, it was her husband that got the first sighting, a faraway look in his eyes. “You’re right. I can see it. On the other side of that hill…”
His voice trailed off, and Jason leaned forward between the two front seats. The teenager squinted as hard as he could, then said, “I see it, too. But I can’t see inside the walls.”
“Me, neither,” Kal-El said in disgust, frowning. “The walls must be lead-lined.”
Lois swore under her breath. “Damn Luthor. Then again, are any of us surprised? At least it’s a sign we’re on to something he doesn’t want us to see. Then again, he’s just perverse enough to have done it even if there’s nothing in there. It shouldn’t be a shocker.”
The stormy look on Kal-El’s face made it very clear exactly how he felt about the situation. “No, it shouldn’t, but also means that we’ll be going in blind. I don’t like it.”
Lois reached over and took his hand, willing him to look at her. Putting all of the confidence she had into her voice, she murmured, “Listen, neither do I, but we both know that’s just how he wants it. He’s had ten years to plan all of this. But right now he has Kala and we don’t have much choice. It’s not the worst odds we’ve ever been up against. And we’ve always beat him, haven’t we? Have a little faith in us, okay? We can do this.”
Smiling at her, he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles. “You’re right, as usual, Lois. And thank you for the encouragement. Looks like I married a cheerleader after all.”
She caught his meaning immediately, from the look of the smirk she gave him. Rolling her eyes at the grand gesture, she nevertheless squeezed his hand and there was a hint of pleasure glinting in her eyes. “Oh, give me a break. If you’re going to be a dork, never mind. We have better things to be doing than distracting our son from the rescue by grossing him out.”
A pointed reply came from the back seat as Jason sighed. “Thank you. Now would one of you please look at the road and not each other?” That got a quiet chuckle from both parents.
They managed to find a place several miles away to leave the car where it wouldn’t be too conspicuous, and Kal-El changed into uniform to fly Lois and Jason back to the site. They flew low, skimming the ground in case Luthor was scanning with radar. Jason couldn’t help lifting up his feet every time they shot over a cactus. He had never liked flying, and being this close to the ground reminded him why. It was just too out-of-control for him. Not that he didn’t trust Dad, but being powerless to steer around the rocks and thorns simply wasn’t his idea of fun.
Kal-El landed them all one ridge away from the actual site, and used his x-ray vision to get a thorough look at the building. “That’s … actually pretty odd. I’m not seeing any surveillance equipment.”
Yeah, right. Lex never did anything without calculating exactly how much damage it would cause and what he would get out of it. Lois gave a soft snort of wry amusement. “We both know better than that. He’s just planned better this time for hiding them. How about entrances?”
“There’s a loading dock with a pair of roll-up doors, and a locked steel door beside that. There’s also what looks like a garage on the side of the building – basically a big shed with another roll-up door.”
Jason strained his vision to confirm that. “Not very many cars in the garage, and they’re dusty,” he offered.
The reporter crossed her arms while she mulled over their options. Not that there were many. “So we're either going through the garage or through the dock,” Lois mused aloud. “There’s more cover in the garage, I think.”
“And I just spotted a surveillance camera at the dock,” Kal-El added with a grimace. “It’s recessed above the door.”
The reporter considered the choices at hand. The dock, for multiple reasons, was out. That left the garage, which had its own reasons to make her leery. Knowing the way Lex’s mind worked, and the fact that the place was obviously unused, it might very well be that room that was a trap. Both had their disadvantages, which was the less of the two? “Let’s go with the garage. Should be a little easier to spot any of his little surprises. Agreed?”
“Yes,” Kal-El replied, only to stop them both when they started to move forward. “Before we do this, there’s one thing we need to discuss.” Lois shot him an annoyed look; locked into and fully committed to their current plan, the General’s Daughter hated deviations. Though the way he was looking at them both did the trick this time.
He had only just gotten the words out when Jason supplied dutifully, “Do as you’re told, don’t take risks, watch your own back and everyone else’s. That much I already figured out.”
That brought a surprisingly warm smile from his father. “No, Jason, that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. You’ve both got your cell phones, right?” When Lois and Jason nodded in reply, he continued, “I’m going to give you the direct number for Oracle. If anything happens to me, I want both of you to get out as fast as you can, and send her a text. We should have enough signal for that.”
Jason bit his lip. Could he really leave his father behind if something did happen? Kal-El evidently saw his expression. “I’m giving it to both of you in the hopes that at least one of you will be able to get out. This is Luthor we’re talking about. So if you have the chance, take it. That goes for both of you. All right?”
He left unspoken the fact that if his wife or son were trapped, he wouldn’t be running for backup. Of all the amazing things Superman could do, that simply wasn’t one of them. When Jason and Lois both reluctantly agreed, he gave them the number. “You need to send the message in code. Just send, ‘Could you bring a new deck for five card stud? The king of diamonds is missing from this one.’ Five card stud means an emergency, and I’m the king of diamonds. She’ll be able to track the phone’s location and know who it’s from, so you don’t have to tell her that.”
Lois’ somber expression grew more grave then. Something about his giving the both of them the code chilled her in ways all of this morning’s discussion hadn’t. It was the same feeling she’d had before seconding Jason’s coming with them. There was no explaining it, just a hunch. One that was growing more unsettling by the second. Her hazel eyes didn’t leave Kal-El’s, but her words were directed at her son when she said calmly, “Repeat it. I want to know you can remember that if you need it, Jason.”
That evoked a confused frown at his mother. It wasn’t as if he really needed to remember the code. If anything, she would be the one headed out of trouble while he covered her escape. But Mom was implacable in most things, so he humored her. “Bring a new deck for five card stud. The king of diamonds is missing from this one.”
That calmed her heart just enough to get her back under control. Her every maternal instinct was still baying in protest over their bringing him into this, hated having him in the line of fire, but she couldn’t ignore whatever warning was being given to her. With Luthor involved, it was better to have him close, and the more to fight against the maniac, the better the result. Facing him, she noticed that he was watching her wonderingly, clearly trying to puzzle out what she was thinking. Seeing his worry, the need to try to fix things, just made her heart clench. “Good,” she said gently, coming forward to catch his chin. “Jason, your dad’s right. No matter how brave you are or how big a help you could be, none of us know what we’re walking into. If we get separated for more than a few minutes or you get in over your head, I want you to run. No acting brave when they outnumber or outclass you. Do you hear me? This man is crazy, he has a lot of money now and a lot of hired hands, and he’s tried to kill all of us before. We clear on that?”
He should have felt offended, but he knew what his mother was getting at. She had always been like this, wanting to shield him and Kal from the worst of things in life, even if it meant holding the mirror a little too close to warn you of your lack of experience or ability. Until all of this had happened, he’d never really known how far she would go. Rather than argue, he just nodded and pulled her into a hug. “I know how crazy he is, Mom,” Jason replied quietly against her shoulder. “I haven’t forgotten that he held a kryptonite shiv to my throat to make you give up your gun.” Hopefully that would silence her objections before she realized he hadn’t agreed to run. At least she hadn’t made him promise.
His mother just watched him for a silent moment once they pulled back. The Tremaine eyes took in everything about him, giving him the impression that she was committing something to memory. It felt like a punch to the gut when he became aware of what she was doing. She’s actually scared. Oh, God, we’re going to be okay. Don’t do this, Mom. The frantic thread of his thoughts must have shown on his face because his mother smiled then, full of warmth. “My brave boy. Just remember that, okay? Things will probably be pretty crazy once this starts.”
Afraid to say anything else, he reached out to squeeze her hand. His voice was little more than a whisper, only managing, “Yes, ma’am.” She was turning away then, trying to keep her composure when her eyes landed on her husband.
Again, time seemed to stop, narrowed down to the two of them. It wasn’t the first time they’d been in a situation like this. And after the events of yesterday, this should be a cake-walk. Lois privately thought that jumping into the fire together willingly had always been one of their strengths. In a moment like this, when your whole world hinged on a series of actions and reactions you had no way of guessing, what could be said? Not willing to let her emotions get away from her in spite of her worry, Lois gave him a challenging smile. He knew how she felt, both of them on the same page now more than ever. Locking her emotions in place and getting her mind set for anything, the General’s Daughter turned and started away. Better now than never.
Kal-El caught her hand, tugging gently to turn her back to him. They were locked and loaded, but not quite yet ready. Some things remained to be said, in light of the danger they were all about to face. When her questioning gaze rose to his, he smiled gently. “One last thing.” Kal-El turned from her to Jason, making a point of meeting both their gazes. His cerulean eyes were steady and sure. “No matter what happens, I want you to know that I love you, and I am so very proud of both of you. Lois, I was never happier than the day I married you – and Jason, part of the reason I was so happy was that you were finally officially my son.”
Jason’s throat tightened, and all he could do was hug his father. Why they always like this right before they went into a fight? The way Mom and Dad were talking, they almost sounded like they didn’t expect anyone to survive this. Jason privately vowed that he wouldn’t let that happen. Mom could be the one to call for backup. If Luthor tried to kill Dad, he would quickly learn that Superman wasn’t the only hero in this family.
When they pulled back, Lois was shaking her head at them. If this went on much longer, they’d never leave and it was time to move out. She grinned at the two most important men in her life and jerked her head at their destination. “Come on; enough of that, you two. We’ve got to stop this. It’s not the end of the world. We go in, get Kala, get out. Then we call the League down on his head, if we even need to do that. It’s just one more fight to be together. And we’ve always come out the victors. It’s time to bring the battle to him. It’s time for Kala to come home.”
“Damn right,” Jason said, his voice a little rough.
Kal-El pulled Lois to him for a quick hug, then returned his attention to the battle plan. “We’ll circle around to the opposite side of the garage. I’ll cut a hole in the sheet metal to give us access. Then we can work on getting through the door to the interior. You’ve got your lock picks, right, Lois?”
With a disbelieving snort of amusement, she grinned at him in that reckless and brilliant way she always did just before doing something insanely dangerous and utterly Lois. “That’s like asking if the Star is only good for lining a litter box. Of course. Let’s do this.”
It was the first time she could ever remember him looking that thrilled that she had instruments totally dedicated to illegal entry in her back pocket. And he seemed rather amused by it, too. “That’s my girl.” On that note, he led the way to the side of the garage.
She just laughed as she and Jason followed, muttering under her voice, “Guess there’s a first time for everything. I’ll remind you of this the next time Mags wants to take me in for breaking and entering, hero.”
Lana and Richard had taken Elise with them as planned. The car was loaded with their luggage; once they were done at the records office, they were going to head out of the area and get a hotel room somewhere else. Luthor had to know the pressure was on, and he might decide that attacking the three of them was a good way to distract the Lane-Kents. So the less time they spent in one place, the better. The only thing going for their current trip was the fact that Luthor might think they weren’t foolish enough to return to a place where he’d caught them before.
They wouldn’t have bothered to return at all, except Richard had been in the middle of government records when he and Lana had left yesterday. He had a feeling there was something of importance there; he’d only glanced at the documents, but something kept nagging him about them.
He and Lana had charmed their way back into the files, Elise tagging along, and they were now hunting for that one little point of relevance that Richard had subconsciously noted. Lana was the first to speak up. “Oh, my God,” she whispered, her eyes wide. “Richard, there’s a decommissioned underground facility out in the hills somewhere.”
The pilot sucked in a stunned breath. “He’d have a ready-made base; all he’d have to do is hook it up for power and water. And he’s smart enough to do that without the government finding out.”
Elise hurried to Lana’s side, peering at the documents spread out on the table. The information was scanty, but the land had clearly been sold to a private owner thirteen years ago. Her sharp eyes spotted something Lana and Richard hadn’t seen yet. “Hey, guys? This is right off the road Mr. and Mrs. Kent are heading down.”
Richard swore under his breath and snatched out his cell phone to call them. “They have no idea what they’re walking into. There’s probably miles of tunnels underground…”
Even as he dialed, Lana’s phone rang, and she answered it. “Kay, we’re a bit busy,” she said gently.
“Yeah, well, we have a situation,” Kay told her. “Thank God you’re finally somewhere with cell service. Listen, Luthor’s making a bid to take over the Daily Planet.”
“He’s what?” Lana yelped, startling Elise and Richard.
“Perry and the employees are fighting him, but it’s a battle for shares of stock right now,” Kay explained. “If Luthor and his cronies get a controlling interest…”
“We can’t let that happen,” Lana replied instantly.
Kay laughed, an oddly strangled sound. “That’s what I thought you’d say. Listen, Laurel just called me and said one of the investors was there making threats. This deal is going down today.”
“You’ve got power of attorney. Call the broker and use my money,” Lana told her. She had Richard’s full attention, her husband practically leaping out of his shoes with impatience. Elise was watching her too.
“I already did,” Kay said meekly. “I’m sorry, Lana, I couldn’t reach you…”
Lana stood up very straight. “How much?” she asked, her voice quiet and steady.
“Twenty-five thousand from your checking…” Kay’s voice trailed off miserably.
“Well, leave my checking account alone, I might need it soon,” Lana replied. “Take it from the savings, instead. Just don’t touch the earmarked accounts or the trust funds. That should give you around six hundred thousand to work with.”
Kay almost choked. “That ought to do it. Lana, I just…”
“Tell Perry not to thank me. I’m already invested in the paper, I’m just increasing my shares so I can dictate when Lois and Clark get vacation,” Lana replied lightly. After a few more minutes of conversation, mostly Kay stammering in relief, she ended the call.
“Six hundred thousand?” Richard said. “For what?”
“Luthor’s trying to buy your uncle’s paper,” Lana replied. “By the time this is over, Perry and I will probably own it jointly. In fact, I’d better call my broker and tell him he can shift some of my investments around.”
Richard shook his head, ignoring Elise’s shell-shocked look, and went back to trying to reach Lois or Clark to warn them.
As they entered the darkened building, Jason kept close to Mom, trying to watch all sides at once. He focused his hearing to make up for his inability to use the X-ray vision; it had never been his strongest power, but every little bit counted now. Although it did have drawbacks. So riveted was his attention that when Dad cursed under his breath, it startled him. He whipped around wide-eyed; they had only just gotten inside. How could things be going wrong already? From beside him, Lois hissed, “What is it?”
Kal-El’s voice was a frustrated growl. “The interior walls are lead-lined, too. No wonder I couldn’t find her. He’s been keeping her deliberately shielded. Doubly so, if this place is set up the way I think it is.”
That was enough to have Jason biting his lip to keep from swearing. Lois, meanwhile, was rolling her eyes. Where Luthor was concerned, nothing surprised her. “About what we expected from him. He’s underground.” Which just edged her tension up a notch, but that wasn’t such a bad thing at a time like this. “Guess we’re doing things the old-fashioned way, then. Good thing I’m used to that.” She couldn’t resist a smirk. Story of my life.
Kal-El caught that, in spite of things, and cut her a look before turning to Jason. “Keep your ears open. Whatever we can’t see, we might be able to hear with enough time to prepare for it.”
Nodding, Jason strained his hearing to the limit, but all he could catch was three heartbeats – his and his parents’. “Clear,” Kal-El murmured in confirmation, and they headed down the long hallway, trying to walk softly. Kal-El went first, alert to any threat. Lois followed, her gun out and pointed safely upward. Jason brought up the rear, watching their backs. All three were on a hair-trigger, expecting violence at any second.
They were met instead by nothing. Not even the faintest echo of a footstep other than their own. The entire facility seemed deserted. There were rooms off the hallway, but after opening each door they found just empty offices. Lois perused some of the papers lying about, but nothing looked particularly interesting. Some bills of lading for various shipments, the contents of which weren’t specified, were the only items that could have been considered clues.
Oddly, there were no computers of any sort in any of the rooms. When they found a manual typewriter in one office, Lois snorted. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one of those. Guess he hasn’t figured out a way to cut down on the interference. The EMPs sure do play hell on any kind of electronics. And I’m sure the crystal would kick up one hell of a fuss if he tried to force the information, which we know he has.” She smiled grimly then, Lex’s main commercial use of the technology coming to mind. “The KAL chip, anyone?”
There was no missing the way Kal-El’s countenance darkened at that. “He called it that just to aggravate me. I know he did. The thieving slimy smug sonofa…” He could feel Lois’ eyes on him and let his voice trail off rather than finish the thought. Jason, whose nerves were strung tighter than the wires of his piano, just scoffed under his breath.
That severe look never leaving her face, Lois shook her head. She’d be chasing the ghost of the past just a little bit longer, it seemed, with or without his forgiveness. “He’s not worth it. And it wasn’t just you he baited with it. He knew just how guilty I’d feel. He knew I’d rise to the bait eventually, if only to get the damned Sword of Damocles out from over my head.”
“At least that’s over with,” Kal-El said with clear finality that was a balm to Lois’ still-injured pride. He moved onward then, and soon they reached the end of the hallway. It terminated in a locked door, behind which even Lois could hear the sounds of machinery. Kal-El pressed his ear against the door, listening intently, then withdrew with an exasperated sigh. “It sounds like air-handling equipment, maybe, and some other large motor. The interference is making it hard to get a fix on any subtle noises.”
Having his powers lessened clearly annoyed him, but they had expected Luthor to have measures in place to defeat them. That was the problem with your enemy knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Regardless, having Lois and Jason here was hopefully enough of a wild card to work around Luthor’s defenses.
Lois came to the front to kneel by the door, maneuvering the locking mechanism with the picks until it gave. Opening it very slowly, she peered into the room before glancing back to the other two. “Not bad, Kal-El. It’s what you think it is.” She stood aside to let him go first.
All three looked into the room. From the high ceiling above and plain concrete block wall to their right, this space had originally been something like a warehouse. Now it was packed so full of crates that only a narrow aisle was left in which to maneuver. Lois felt a shiver of déjà vu; this was too much like the warehouse in which she’d fought with Mercy. Only this one was much larger, and there was less space between the crates and boxes stacked all the way to the ceiling.
Worse, the aisle made a sharp turn at what had to be the opposite wall of the building. Halfway between there and where they stood was another aisle perpendicular to this one. That made two avenues they would have to explore.
Jason scowled and announced, “Whatever’s in those crates, I can’t see through it. Those ones on the end there, they’re actually made of metal. The wood ones up here have a bunch of metal things in them.”
Kal-El looked, too. “Interlocking fittings of some kind. And it’s a lead alloy. Wonderful. Whatever’s down here, he really doesn’t want me to see it.”
“Which is good news, right? It means we’re on the right track?” The boy looked to his father hopefully.
Lois cut her husband a significant look, the angle of her brows and set of her mouth broadcasting, ‘well, shit,’ as clearly as if she’d spoken. Her hazel eyes blazed with equal parts irritation and trepidation. He interpreted her expression correctly, his own mouth down-turned. “The bad news is, we’ve got two aisles. If we choose the wrong one, he could get behind us or even escape. Come on.”