The flight to Las Vegas’ University Medical Center took only seconds, and Kal-El flew directly into the trauma unit, landing amid the startled doctors and nurses. He locked eyes with the nearest doctor, and his voice was rough as he demanded, “Help her. She’s been shot.”
The man took one look at the reporter and called for a gurney. Soon Lois was lying on it, surrounded by medical staff. They seemed to be moving at Kal-El’s own speed; it felt like he had only set her down a heartbeat ago, and they already had an IV line in and a pulse oximeter on her finger as they rolled her into a room. No one denied Superman access, not when he was still holding tightly to the patient’s hand. A nurse called out Lois’ vitals. “Pulse ox 90, BP 81 over 45, she’s bradying down, Doctor.”
“Get a crash cart in here. Hang normal saline and whole blood, running wide open. I want 0.5 milligrams of atropine, IV push,” the doctor commanded as he examined her. “We’re gonna need a CT to determine the extent of the injuries.” He pressed against Lois’ belly gently, and found it stiff and swollen, the dark-haired woman giving the softest whimper. Her eyes showed what her face would not: the enormity of the pain she was holding back. The doctor looked up at Kal-El, his own compassionate but very serious. “We’ve got to get her into surgery, fast. She’s bleeding internally.”
The phrase internal bleeding froze her. She had guessed as much; the confirmation just made it all the more real. There might not be much time and she couldn’t waste the time fretting. The implications were terrifying and everything was going too fast and everything hurt, but now wasn’t the time for it. Tears tried to well up in her eyes, but she couldn’t let them. He had to go. Luthor was still out there and he had an even better shot at the rest of her family than ever. The longer Kal-El stayed, the greater the possibility of Jason’s life being forfeit. Fear overwhelming her over that thought, Lois tightened her grip on his hand. Her eyes locked on his, blazing with the enormous effort of will this was costing her. “I’ll be here when you get back. It’s not as bad as it seems,” she managed to say, her voice a weak and whispery stranger’s even to her own ears. “I need you to go get my twins. They need you. I’ll be fine.”
For a moment, his throat froze up. Her face was so pale. The doctor was waiting to wheel her away, the other doctors and nurses were trying their best to work on her, and he was standing rooted to the floor by the pleading in her eyes. Even now, even with such terrible injuries, even while her heart tried to slow down because there wasn’t enough blood in her body for it to beat properly, Lois was thinking of him. Not only was she trying to reassure him, she’d also remembered not to refer to the twins as theirs. Even now, her body failing her, she was protecting the secret.
He couldn’t say he loved her, not in front of witnesses. “I’ll find them,” he promised, with a squeeze of her fingers. Lois gave a small nod, the faintest smile. And then they were wheeling her away toward white swinging doors.
He had to get moving. But first, he took out his cell phone and sent a quick message to Richard and Lana. Lois in Las Vegas UMC ER, shot by Luthor. I’m getting Jason. Then he took off, back to Luthor’s lab, hoping against hope that Jason had done as he’d been told.
Rage pulsed in Jason’s veins. Everything that had gone wrong – his parents fighting, Kala being kidnapped, Lana getting hurt, and now Lois grievously wounded – was Luthor’s fault. And there would be redress for all of it, all of it, if he could only get his hands on the man.
Luthor had a few minutes’ head start, and Jason wasn’t quite sure which way he’d gone. But Jason had speed and righteous fury on his side. Soon he was out of the air shafts, tracking the sound of Luthor’s running footsteps down yet another concrete corridor. This one was piled high with crates and boxes.
Up ahead, the floor sloped downward to a dark, cavernous opening. Another tunnel? Jason faltered for a stride. They hadn’t known anything this size was down here. Then he saw Luthor dart into the darkness, and his keen vision made out the shape of Mercy Graves as well.
His foes had conveniently assembled for him. Furious, Jason redoubled his speed, racing to catch up with them. Luthor and Mercy were climbing into some kind of cart, and now Jason saw tracks set in the ground. He pushed for still more speed, coming out of the narrow corridor into the wider room before the tunnel.
Just as he cleared the threshold, he ran into something that knocked him flat on his rump. Frustrated, Jason glared up at the offending object…
…only to look into the implacable blue eyes of General Zod.
Jason knew that face; he’d seen it in photos in newspapers from before he was born, seen it projected onto the Fortress’ walls as Jor-El warned him of the dangers of arrogance. He realized two things in a flash: one, that Zod had not perceptibly aged in the seventeen years since he’d come to earth, and two, that all the signs pointed to Luthor having a collaborator.
Here was his partner in villainy, then. Sworn to destroy the House of El at any cost, the deadliest foe Superman had ever faced, a man with all of Kal-El’s powers and none of his compassion, none of his humanity…
Wait, Jason thought as he scrambled to his feet, meeting the mocking sneer on Zod’s face with a blaze of pure outrage in his own expression. Zod lost his powers. He’s no more than a mortal man, now. I can take him. With that, Jason lunged, fist cocked to knock the other Kryptonian aside. Speed and strength in the blow, intending only to get Zod out of his way so he could pursue Luthor. His grudge against Luthor was much more recent.
His fist connected only with the palm of Zod’s hand, the older man turning on one heel as he twisted Jason’s wrist. The boy found himself flying across the room, thrown by a one-handed grip, and when he struck the wall he felt something crack. Concrete dust sifted down around him as he got to his feet again; it had been the wall, not his spine, that shattered.
Jason had no time to marvel at Zod’s powers or his own invulnerability. He could hear a rattling, clanking sound from the tunnel; that cart was descending, taking Luthor and Mercy further away from him. And Zod was approaching warily, eyeing the boy. “You should not have meddled in the affairs of your elders,” Zod said in Kryptonese.
A thousand questions raced through Jason’s mind. How had Zod faked his death and regained his powers? And why was he working with Luthor again, when they’d both thoroughly betrayed each other? A part of him was starting to panic. This madman, the greatest criminal ever produced by Krypton, was facing him down with icy disdain.
Jason drew himself up to his full height, striving for his father’s majestic bearing. “You should have remained in prison, General Zod, and not sought out Luthor,” he replied just as coldly. “You will learn the error of your ways.”
Zod laughed. “It is you who will learn, boy, and swiftly.” He struck then, faster than Jason could dodge, and the boy bounced off another wall. Wincing in pain, he collected himself, pummeling his brain for a strategy that would defeat a faster, stronger, wilier opponent.
Distraction was always a good technique. “Don’t fool yourself. Luthor will betray you at the first opportunity.”
“And well I know it.” The moment Zod began to speak, Jason leaped at him, but Zod deflected his punch and delivered one of his own that made the breath whoosh out of Jason’s lungs. “In fact, I depend upon it. Which is why I cannot allow you, son of Kal-El, to spoil my plans by slaying him.” Zod punctuated the words with blows, some of which Jason was able to block. He didn’t see the swift cuff that made his ear ring painfully, though, and flinched back from it.
Zod caught him by the collar of the shirt and held him up, eye to eye. “Fortunately for you, boy, I cannot have your blood upon my hands either.” With that, he threw Jason so hard it was immediately clear he’d been holding back earlier.
Jason crashed through one of the walls he’d cracked earlier, landing on his back in a cloud of concrete dust. He coughed the stuff out of his lungs and tried to surge to his feet again, but his body rebelled. The best he could do was focus his vision through the remains of the wall in time to see Zod disappearing down the tunnel at some speed.
Why run? Jason could – and would, once he could stand – easily follow the cart tracks down the tunnel to catch up to them. As he slowly got to his feet, he heard a beeping sound from somewhere nearby.
Jason turned his head, curiosity rapidly becoming foreboding. The beeping was coming from the crates stacked in that hallway. And when he turned his vision on them, he saw that they were made of steel, a substance he couldn’t see through.
The patient was unconscious, as much from blood loss as the anesthetic. She lay on the operating table, the harsh glare of the light making her seem that much more fragile. She was the utter stillness surrounded by a flurry of activity; no wasted motion among the doctors and nurses, just an intensity of effort that made her peril clear.
“She’ll be fine with one kidney,” the surgeon murmured, suturing blood vessels.
“Blood pressure’s dropping again,” the anesthesiologist informed them. “And her heart rate…”
The heart monitor had been beeping more and more slowly, which they had allowed as long as it continued a steady rhythm. It was better not to force her heart to speed up and pump out more blood from the damaged arteries and veins in her abdomen. But now the rhythm began to falter.
Cursing under his breath, the surgeon hurried to locate and seal the last few sources of internal bleeding. They’d already taken care of the ruined kidney and managed to stop the bleeding from the nick to her liver. Around him, other doctors worked to stabilize the patient’s heart rate and get her blood pressure up.
There, he’d found the sluggish flow from a large vein that had only been grazed by the bullet. The surgeon sutured it up just as the heart monitor began to indicate ventricular fibrillation. The nearest doctor smartly applied a precordial thump. To the layman, it would seem that he had just needlessly struck the patient’s chest with, but in some cases that was all it took to interrupt the deadly rhythm. But not this time. The heart continued quivering uselessly, not pumping blood as it should be, and the line on the monitor showed only a slight up and down wavering. Fortunately the defibrillator was near at hand and now set to charge.
A nurse whipped back the sheet covering the patient’s upper body, and another doctor applied the paddles to the woman’s pale chest. “Clear!” he called, and then her body surged under the current. When he removed the paddles, the heart monitor continued to show that damned wavering line.
The surgeon stood back, hands fisted as he stared at the monitor. He’d been catching a few seconds’ break when this patient had arrived by a rather unusual route – flown in by Superman. He would hate to lose her, not after having seen the haunted look on the hero’s face. C’mon, fight, he thought as the woman was shocked yet again. Fight, dammit, you can come back from this, you can survive this, if you’ll just fight!He would have been even more distressed if he’d known that this was Lois Lane.