Giselle fretted in her cell. She hated captivity; a large part of the reason she’d chosen the life of a con artist was that it allowed her to be constantly on the move. She could stay in a city for a few weeks or a few months, until it bored her, then cash in her chips, sever her ties, and be gone.
Not now. She was in a cell by herself, a cramped accommodation of black bars and concrete walls, feeling like a zoo animal on display. The cops and other prisoners eyed her disparagingly when they went by, or else ignored her so thoroughly it made her want to do something reckless. Giselle did not like to be an object of pitying disdain, but even less she liked being forgotten and dismissed.
This morning was a case in point. She had been on her way to the showers. The fact that she had been here long enough to need a shower was galling in itself – Sawyer was holding her here in the city lockup deliberately. She couldn’t go on to actual prison, where she might be able to make the kind of contacts necessary to escape, and she couldn’t make bail because she was a flight risk. So she was stalled in city jail, watching as dozens of other people were brought in and out within hours, while she just moldered in her cell.
And to make it worse, this morning as the bored cop had led her to showers, Giselle had walked a little too close to the wall of cells on her left. Another prisoner reached out and grabbed at her, the other woman’s nails scoring her arm. She’d even drawn blood! But other than a quick trip to the infirmary to have the scrape cleaned and antibiotic ointment applied, no one had paid any attention. Not even when Giselle complained that the wound stung. The cops sneered at her for whining over such a little thing.
It did sting, though. And her whole arm was starting to itch. Worse, she felt light-headed and dizzy. Giselle paced the tiny cell, rubbing absently at her arm.
Some distance away, her attacker lounged in a solitary cell. Amira Darden had had to wait much longer than she’d expected to get a chance at the girl. The cops were being very careful; if they had placed her in the general population, all of this could have been over the same night she was arrested. But no, she was kept apart from everyone, so this farce had to drag on until a lucky chance presented itself.
And it was a lucky chance, just not for Giselle. The woman in solitary smiled grimly. Their jailers wouldn’t realize that she hadn’t scratched the girl with her nails. Instead, Amira had used a needle she’d kept hidden since she was arrested. Her very arrest was a sham, stalling too long with the convenience store clerk at gunpoint waiting for the time delay safe to open. It was such a stupid crime for a sober person with no violent offenses to commit, the cops might’ve been suspicious. But then, who wanted to get into jail?
Who, indeed, but an employee of Luthor’s sent to dispatch Giselle. Amira grinned foxily. Now that she’d managed to send a coded message to her handler stating the deed was done, her bail would be posted tonight. She’d be out of jail before Giselle began to show the more obvious symptoms of the poison on the needle. It was an exotic concoction: the venom of some sea creature mixed with the oil pressed from a rare seed, among other ingredients, one of which was an antidote to the deadliest of the others. That would retard the effects for a while, long enough for Amira to get out. But the antidote was metabolized much more quickly than the poisons, and then the girl’s mild symptoms would suddenly worsen.
By nightfall, Amira would be headed back to Mercy for further orders, and Giselle would be dead by no means the medical examiner could trace. Such were the rewards and penalties Luthor meted out to those in his employ.
Jason was running toward the sound of his twin’s voice, but it didn’t feel like he was getting any closer to her. The same sense that had warned him she was in danger when she ran away should have let him know he was close to his goal, but it felt like she was the same distance as when he’d started running. So he redoubled his efforts, opening up another notch of speed he hadn’t even known he possessed.
Haste saved him. When Jason turned a corner without even bothering to slow down, he cannoned into the woman waiting there and knocked both of them to the ground. The gun that had been in her hands went spinning across the concrete. Jason saw it, and adrenaline surged in his veins at the realization that he was now embroiled in a fight for his life. And Kala wasn’t even here; he had been tricked. He rolled to his feet, tracking the woman, alert to any sound of reinforcements arrived. His mind tried to focus on a thousand things at once.
And then he saw her face as she gracefully regained her footing, and everything seemed to freeze. It was one thing to know; it was quite another thing to come face-to-face with it. “Mrs. Davenport?”
“Mercy Graves, actually.” The woman he had known as his girlfriend’s mother then gave him a cool smile before taking advantage of his distraction to launch a flying kick that caught him squarely in the chest. Jason landed on his rump, already berating himself for his stupidity. They knew Justine Davenport was really Mercedes Graves. He knew she was in the area, too, since Mom had met with her yesterday. But seeing her still startled him.
Fortunately for Jason, he’d spent his childhood rough-housing with a ruthless and conniving opponent. He had learned all of Kala’s tricks and had no compunctions about using them now. When Mercy tried to skirt around him to get to her gun, he sprawled out on the concrete to grab her ankle and yank her to the ground again.
They both got up at the same time, neither of them any nearer to the gun. Mercy stepped back warily, and Jason eyed her. The evidence of her fight with Lois was plain to see in the scrapes on her hands and the bruises on her face. Still, she didn’t move like she was in pain. More like the karate instructor he’d gone to for a while.
She had training. He had superpowers, but he couldn’t use most of them. His heart quailed at the thought of killing someone. Even Brutus’ death had provoked nightmares, once Jason understood what he’d done. To kill a human being was anathema to everything he’d been taught, even if that person had been trying to kill him a moment ago.
Her eyes flicked to the gun, and Jason took a sliding half-step nearer to it. “Mom really kicked your butt, didn’t she?” he said in admiring tones, trying to get her attention back on him.
To his surprise, Mercy grinned. “You’re as blind as ever, Jason. I let your mother win that fight.” As she spoke, Jason dove for the gun with every ounce of super-speed he possessed. He snatched it up before she could even begin to move after it, and Mercy had only taken a single step when Jason held the weapon up before her eyes … and crushed it to a useless hunk of steel and plastic in his bare hand.
Letting the fragments drop, Jason grinned right back. Now they were on better footing – she couldn’t really hurt him unless she had a second weapon, and he would try not to hurt her. Except with words. He let out a skeptical chuckle. “You let Mom win? Yeah, right. Sure you did.”
She didn’t look too dismayed at that. “Of course,” she replied silkily. “Luthor wants to kill your mother himself.”
The emotionless way she said it chilled Jason’s blood, and he took a single step forward, a truculent look in his eyes. The only thing that could override his essentially pacifist nature was a direct threat to his sister or his mother. And this most certainly counted. Before he could reply, however, he heard gunshots echoing off the concrete.
His heart plummeted. If he had been tricked, then Lois could have been too. She hadn’t arrived here yet, so she must have been following another false lead. Kala was crying, yelling for us. And she had to have heard it. Just like him, she had been led into a trap. Mercy’s casual declaration rang through his mind. Luthor wants to kill your mother himself.
Jason had no more time to waste with Mercy, and raced off toward the sound of those gunshots, praying that what he heard was Lois shooting Luthor. He wouldn’t even allow himself to entertain the possibility of any other scenario.
Kal-El explored cautiously. He found himself in a series of rooms full of crates like those above, and the slightest sound echoed off the metal. That was aggravating enough, but some of the corridors here were so narrow he had to turn sideways to pass through them.
It was during one of those awkward passes, his hearing strained to its limit and still catching the steady thump of the motor in the previous room, that he heard a peculiar squealing rumble. When Kal-El looked around to try and orient on the sound, he saw the entire stack of crates wobble…
…and then crash down atop him. It couldn’t hurt him, of course, but it was startling. And when he tried to disentangle himself, he somehow brought down even more of the crates, a few of which began to break open against his invulnerable body.
The contents of the crates were weirdly varied. Glassware shattered around Kal-El, mingling with ingots of lead. There were various types of hardware – nuts, bolts, screws, washers, hinges, a slew of other such objects.
It made no sense at all. What on earth was Luthor doing with this incredible variety of materials? Or was it all a smokescreen for his true plan? Frustrated, Kal-El thrust the boxes aside and strove for the top of the mound he was currently buried in.
As he shifted the last box aside, he caught a glimpse of movement across the room. Kal-El whipped around, but whatever had moved was gone. He focused his hearing and heard a faint echo of the machinery in the other room – no, this was closer, and though it beat in the same time, he could distinguish it. A heartbeat, someone who had intentionally knocked over the storage crates.
Intent, Kal-El scrambled after that flicker of movement. He soon found himself in a twisting tunnel, dark and close. It ended in a locked lead-lined door. Well, he had no intention of letting that stop him, so he kicked the door in. He wanted some answers, now, so he could find his daughter, regroup with his wife and son, and get out of here. Throwing Luthor back in prison could wait.
The room beyond was just as dark but more open, and Kal-El heard another door close on the other side. There were several doors, and he paused, trying to figure out which one the object of his pursuit had disappeared behind. It was then that he heard Kala’s voice, faintly, and he spun around.
He wasn’t deceived as Lois and Jason had been. Kala’s familiar heartbeat wasn’t audible, but a very faint hissing sound was. That was only a recording, and he tried to block it out as he scanned the other side of the various doors with his x-ray vision. Strangely, he could see through all of them, but the person who’d run from him simply wasn’t there. Kal-El strained his hearing for a hint of running footsteps, glad that collapsed crates insulated him from the machinery in the other room.
Instead, he heard gunshots, and his stomach dropped. Lois. Oh, no. Orienting on the sound, Kal-El raced toward it, taking whatever path or tunnel seemed to lead in that direction.
The locket dangled from his fist as terrible, triumphant joy swelled up in Luthor’s chest, threatening to crush every other emotion and thought. At last, at last, he’d won. Here and now, he was about to administer the coup de grace. Killing Lois Lane was the cruelest blow he could strike to his nemesis; Kal-El was besotted with his wife, and the loss of her would surely unbalance him. After that, it would be almost merciful to slay the alien and his offspring. What were they all without their touchstone to this planet and its people? Why, he would be doing humanity a favor – without Lois to infect them with human weakness and sentimentality, the family would turn out much more like Zod and his followers.
Speaking of Zod, that menace needed dealing with as well, but not while he was being useful. In the meantime, Luthor gloated, savoring the metallic smell of Lois’ blood and the fury in her eyes as she realized she could do nothing to stop him. She had sneered at him through prison bars after his first arrest, and her articles made him seem like an incompetent buffoon. Luthor loathed her for that. No one dared to mock him, and worse yet, she had insulted his intelligence. That was an affront he could not allow to stand.
Furthermore, in his clashes with Lois and the alien, Luthor had discovered an intense attraction for Lois. At heart, she was just as ruthless as he was, but she chose to temper that with self-inflicted weaknesses like morality and ethics. And she had a certain type of cunning that sometimes came close to his own intellect. It helped that Lois hated him virulently, and he’d always found that fascinating in a woman.
Thus, this moment. With a single shot he could visit ruination upon the alien, achieve revenge upon Lois herself, and obliterate the face that sometimes haunted his dreams. Smiling, he tightened his finger on the trigger, capturing in his memory the look of terror upon her face…
…only it wasn’t fear he saw. The defeat, the ultimate capitulation, simply wasn’t there. Lois glared at him with savage defiance in her eyes, her expression leaving no doubt that if she’d had the strength to rise, she would have attacked him with bare hands and teeth. No surrender.
That made him hesitate in frustrated fury. How dare she? Didn’t she realize her own death was staring her in the face? Didn’t she know that with this shot, both her children and her husband were also doomed? Demoralized and in shock, it would be all too easy to pick off Kal-El and Jason, and he already had what he needed from Kala.
Never mind. Let her die thinking her defiance meant something. The gun had dropped slightly with Luthor’s surprise, and he lifted it again. Time to end this.
“MOM!” The terrified shout startled Luthor, and he spun around to see the boy racing toward them. He was a mere blur in the airshaft at the speed he was moving, and Luthor knew his danger. At six, this boy had killed one of his henchmen. What could he do now at sixteen? Luthor fired wildly at him, one shot before the gun clicked empty.
The boy stumbled, and Lois found her voice to shriek “NO!” Even as that happened, Luthor was moving, running for his life. Lane was dead anyway. The boy, perhaps not. And Kal-El was around somewhere, being entertained by Zod. It was time to get out of here. Their second line of defense was ready.
Jason ignored the fleeing villain as he scrambled to his feet and rushed to his mother. He was terribly close to panic; the front of Lois’ shirt was soaked in blood, and he could see more smeared against the wall behind her. All of those gory horror movies he’d watched suddenly weren’t so laughable – this wasn’t corn syrup and food dye, this was his mother’s blood. Not even seeing Kristin the other day could quite compare. It had been the assassin’s blood then, and already dry, but this was wet and fresh and lent a peculiar copper tang to the air.
Real. “Mom?” he asked tremulously as he knelt beside her. Sitting here, overwhelmed, Jason heard her words from this morning echo back with chilling déjà vu. I don’t know why, but I get the feeling he has to be with us. I was going to be the first to tell him no, but I keep getting a bad feeling about leaving him behind. I don’t like it, either, but … maybe it’s time. Maybe this is what he’s been training for. Somewhere in the back of her mind, his mother had to have known, and she had come, anyway.
He pummeled his brain for the memory of first-aid courses, and that calmed him a bit. Jason realized he’d have to try to stop the bleeding somehow. The shoulder wound was flowing steadily, so it was venous blood, not arterial. A hopeful sign. “Are you hit anywhere else?” he asked her, meeting her pained hazel eyes.
As soon as he knelt down to her, her working hand went to his chest over the small tear in his shirt, feeling for the wound she knew he should have. Lex had shot him as he came to her, she had seen that perfectly well, but she couldn’t feel anything under the fabric, although Jason gave a little hiss of discomfort. Despite the fresh agony that came from every movement, Lois gave a small smile. The bullet had only glanced off him. The invulnerability, or some of it, had kicked in. It had been extreme stress that had fully manifested the first of his powers. And now, just when he needed it, here was another.
He was trying to hold her up, but the careful touch brought a bolt of fresh agony. Lois fought to keep her struggle internal but it was so taxing; she’d never been injured this gravely. That she could remember. The day in the desert so long ago flashed through her mind. Don’t you panic, Lane. You can’t panic. God, my poor little boy; he shouldn’t be seeing this. He can’t know how bad this is. He’ll lose his calm and God knows how much worse this could get. Just brazen it out. And stop thinking about the blood. Or the cold. Push it away before you go into complete shock.. “It’s just … another flesh wound. I’ll be … okay. Sweetheart, I need you … to find your dad. He’s going to need … your help.”
“No, Mom, I’m staying with you,” Jason insisted, his voice trembling. When she reached for him, he saw the blood pooling in a fold of her shirt, and then saw the torn fabric. He couldn’t breathe, the fear paralyzing when he looked up at her with eyes too wide. That was bad, very bad. Oh God, she shouldn’t be bleeding this much from a flesh wound. What do I do? What do I do? Oh God, Mom. His mind was racing to try to fix this. To take it back. As gently as he could, he tried to apply pressure to the wound in her shoulder. Lois winced, but wouldn’t cry out.
Instead she tried to smile, a horrible parody of her usual insouciant grin. “I’ll be fine, baby. I’ve gotten worse from your Aunt Tobie’s gossip column,” Lois whispered, and Jason scowled worriedly, holding her tighter. He was on the verge of stark terror, barely holding it in. This shouldn’t be happening, not to Mom. Not his mom. Not now, not when they were so close to getting Kal home. A sudden gust of air made him whirl around protectively, and Kal-El was there.
Everything stopped as those azure eyes took in the scene, Jason looking up at him pleadingly. It seemed as though he was six again, begging Daddy to make things right, hoping the nightmare would end now that he was here. But even back then he had known that Superman wasn’t all-powerful, that he could be hurt, that bad things could happen and no one could make them un-happen. Heroes were the people who went on in spite of those awful occurrences, who tried to fix things no matter how terrible the odds against them were. “Dad?” Jason said, his eyes wild.
Kal-El focused on his wife, and Jason saw his face grow pale. “Get out of here, son,” he said sternly. “Get to the car. I’ll be there to pick you up in just a minute.” With that, he gently scooped Lois up, wrapping his cape around her.
“No, take Jason…” Lois started to say, but broke off with a strangled whimper. She clutched Kal-El’s neck as waves of pain crashed through her at being lifted.
“Run, Jason,” Kal-El said. “She needs to go to the hospital now.” With that, he looked up, and his heat vision seared a hole in the concrete above them. The next thing Jason knew, his mother and father were both gone, Kal-El flying at top speed.
Jason simply stood there a moment. The gunshots still seemed to be echoing in his ears; certainly nothing else was in his head but a far-off roaring sound. He looked at the place where Mom had been sitting. The wall and floor were both covered in smudges and spatters of blood. Too much blood, from such a slightly-built woman.
He pressed one hand against the opposite wall, feeling a bit faint. That roaring noise was getting closer now. Jason saw a streak of blood across his knuckles, and turned both hands palm upward. The lines in his palms were sticky with drying blood. His mother’s blood.
It wasn’t an echo. The roar was coming from inside him, from his ever-gentle heart. Mom was so badly hurt that Dad had to rush her to the hospital; he couldn’t even wait to go through the air shafts, he had to go straight up out of the roof, melting a path with his heat-vision. That meant … that meant…
Jason couldn’t let himself think it. He closed his eyes, swaying. He’d been told to run, to wait by the car like a good little boy. But all he could think about was his mother’s blood growing tacky in the creases of his hands. “I’m not running away. There’s been too much of that already,” he whispered softly.
His sister was captive. His mother was hurt. Jason had had enough. “LUTHOR!” he bellowed, no, roared, and leapt to the pursuit of the madman with utter wrath in his eyes.