Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Heirs to the House of El: Thieves in the Temple (Chapter Forty-Five)

Wow, what an insane last three weeks it's been! I want to thank everyone for their well-wishes and understanding about the delays in the schedule. I wish I could have helped it, but I feel like I've been in a whirlwind of awful for the whole time. I'm hoping this one is a little better than the last, although it's not as long as I would have liked. Then again, with things the way they've been at my job and just Real Life butting its nose in, I'm just glad that we got this one in on-time. Love to you all and thanks again! *big huge snuggles*

Oh, also, the final ballot for the supes_mv_awards  goes up later today and will run through July 17. Please take a moment to go over and cast your votes! I wanna say vote for me, but vote for the fics that you love the most, be it Anissa and I or one of the other awesome authors out there! Pass on the love!

And now, without further ado, on with the show:


Wonder Woman surveyed the scene before her, shaking her head in disbelief. It simply made no sense! Why would armed robbers choose to attack one of the most heavily fortified banks on the west coast, in broad daylight, using sophisticated equipment that probably cost more than they could hope to net from the robbery? And when police arrived, instead of fleeing in the helicopter they’d brought, the thieves took hostages and engaged in a potentially deadly firefight.

It was madness. Fortunately, one woman with an invisible plane, an unbreakable lasso, and a rapidly-shortening temper had ended it without loss of life. It had been a near thing, though – and it called to mind a similar situation on the opposite coast more than ten years ago.

Luthor had been behind that bank robbery, as he was likely behind this one. That was what infuriated Diana the most. That the man had the sheer gall to sponsor such insanity, just to tie the League’s hands dealing with his mess. He was doing it, of course, to increase the odds of getting Superman alone. And given that Clark had nearly been hurt last week by one of Luthor’s traps, she didn’t like the idea of him taking on his nemesis alone. Someone ought to be keeping watch on him, who had so often come to their aid. She’d lost track of how many times he’d saved another JLA member’s life, including her own.

Well, at least this one had come to a satisfactory conclusion – only property damage and minor injuries, no fatalities. Diana clicked on the communicator and reported to Oracle, “All clear on this front – where are you sending me next?”

Only prior knowledge allowed her to identify the computer-scrambled voice that answered her. “Assist to… Cancel that, it’s under control. Proceed to… Hold on.” The communicator went silent, Oracle clearly speaking to someone else, and Diana waited. The past two days had been like this, everyone constantly on the run, dealing with one crisis only to be sent to another. Some of the younger members of the JLA had been making names for themselves during the frenzied pace. Diana only hoped they didn’t burn out in their enthusiasm. She also hoped Oracle herself was managing well. Barbara worked herself harder than anything she demanded of anyone else, as all of the Batclan tended to do, and she had to be feeling the strain.

Oracle picked back up, a hint of surprise making its way through the digitizer. “Return to Watchtower. We’ve received a communication from Superman, and Batman would like to speak with you.”

“On my way,” Diana replied, her curiosity piqued. Hopefully Clark’s news was good – and what did Bruce want? Generally if he needed a word with you he simply turned up in the shadows of the room you were currently in – a habit that both impressed and infuriated his teammates.

Diana smiled slightly. Well, maybe sneaking onto an invisible plane hovering six thousand feet above sea level was a bit of a stretch, even for Bruce. Of course, she’d never say that in front of him – he’d find a way to prove her wrong.

Luthor hummed quietly to himself – everything was going perfectly, and he wanted to savor this moment. Lois was dead, the alien’s family thrown into confusion, and all of his plans were coming into fruition. He was ready to abandon this facility if necessary, all essential personnel and processes backed up at the lab in Australia. 

He held Lois’ old Ladysmith, turning the gun over and over again in his hands. Not only was this the trophy that he’d taken from her ten years ago, it was now the weapon that had slain her. The locket would have been just as powerful a memento, but he’d needed that to break Kala’s mind.

The girl was very close to the tipping point now. That last strong push might have been enough to snap her. Once she’d lost it, he could rebuild her personality into what he wanted her to be, making her the perfect weapon against her father. Even if that didn’t work, just tearing her down was a victory, knowing the pain it would cause his worst enemy. Kal-El might be invulnerable to all physical harm, but his family was a greater weakness than kryptonite. 

His only obstacle to molding Kala was her mentor. Zod had his own motives, and Luthor didn’t necessarily know what those were. The Kryptonian’s mind didn’t work like an ordinary human’s. Regardless, if Luthor couldn’t turn Kala into something useful for his purposes, he had a backup plan.

There was always a backup plan, and then another backup plan in case that one failed. That was part of his genius, along with the fact that no action Luthor took served a single purpose if it could be made to serve several more. One way or another, Kala would be useful to him: as hostage, as bait, as vengeance, as the key that unlocked the information on the crystals, and as a bargaining chip with Zod.

Thoughtfully, Luthor lifted the gun and inhaled deeply. Faintly beneath the fresh cordite, he could still catch a trace of Lois’ perfume clinging to the rosewood grip.  


Grief was the fuel on which rage fed, burning higher and hotter with each step she took. By the time Kala had left her room and crossed the hallway, she had a fine blaze going. She slapped her palm against the crystal panel outside of Zod’s room, for the first time since she had arrived not caring about the impression it gave.

It opened at her touch, Kala not even having a moment to register her surprise before she stormed in. Zod rose to his feet at her entrance, but before he could even get so far as to say her name Kala was fighting the urge to slap his face. Or far worse, Luthor’s words ringing in her mind. Instead she snarled an accusation. “They were here, all three of them came here for me! And I know you were up there with him, don’t even try to deny it! Why didn’t you tell me Luthor killed my mom?!”

Just a look at the girl’s face was enough to make the General aware that only thinking very fast would keep him from losing ground with Kala. “I was unaware that he had even encountered her. To my knowledge only your father and brother arrived here.” Even as he spoke, she was stalking right up to him, the expression on her face as feral as the moment they’d met. In spite of his efforts, her passionate humanity had momentarily reasserted itself and he was furious at the setback Luthor’s crude actions had caused. 

Knowingly violating the personal space decorum demanded, shouting only inches away from his face, Kala was clearly mad with grief. “They were alone, huh? Only Dad and Jase? Then what’s this?” Zod did not flinch even as Kala thrust the bloodied locket toward him as far as its chain would allow. Her guilt was written in every line of her features and it was obvious that remorse motivated her impassioned behavior.

Zod inclined his head to look at it. “I presume it is an item of jewelry belonging to your mother, one which Luthor could not have simply stolen?”

His calm, quiet demeanor served only to further infuriate her. “Obviously. She’d never let him take it,” Kala informed him hotly. “It’s the present Jase and I gave her on our birthday. I haven’t seen Mom take it off. After all that’s happened, I didn’t expect that she’d still be wearing…” She trailed off, trembling, her eyes moist. Trying to keep from flying apart right now was a struggle. She just wanted to close her eyes and for it all to be over. It couldn’t get any worse. Another nightmare, why couldn’t she wake up and find out this was all a nightmare? Her mind was awhirl, reality trying to fog over. She swallowed a shudder, trembling as the world tried to dip away on her.

Such displays of emotion were actually quite disgusting to Zod. He valued restraint, particularly in women. Kala as a lady of noble Kryptonian blood ought to have shown more decorum. Still, now was not the time to correct her, lest he lose her. He had been subtly shaping her into what she could become and had made great progress, but his hold over her was still vulnerable in spite of its strength. 

Little as he liked to do so, he placed one hand on her shoulder. That unaccustomed intimacy stilled her. “It is still possible that Luthor has tricked you, thinking that this would unbalance your mind and leave you open to his manipulations,” Zod cautioned.

 Fragile hope blossomed in her eyes, and Kala took a ragged breath. She grabbed on for any hand-hold, any probable hope that all of her family still lived and were still coming for her. To believe otherwise would to give way to the madness tearing at her. Would be to let Lex win.  “He would do that, too. I suppose he might have gotten it off her somehow. In some way where she couldn’t fight back. She could still be…” It was a desperate thought, borne of the need to not give in, but she clung to it as tightly as she could. She had to believe. 

“I will go and learn what I can. You should remain here. Luthor does not yet know it, but I have revoked his access to this room.”

No sooner had the words passed his lips than Kala responded with, “Can you do the same for mine?” Just as he had hoped, Zod could see the Kryptonian in her again in that question; she was again beginning thinking logically, planning ahead, as opposed to focusing on the trauma right in front of her – or around her neck, as it so happened. An excellent sign.

“Not quickly or easily.”  He was very careful to tell her as close to the truth as he sensibly could. “I believe we have only days at most before your family breaches this facility. The risk of the alteration being discovered thus outweighs the benefit. Remain here, under the yellow light, where you shall be safe.” With that, he bowed to her and turned to leave.

“Dru-Zod,” Kala called to his back in Kryptonese.  When Zod turned to gaze at her questioningly, she added, “Thank you,” returning the bow.

“You are welcome, Kala Kal-El,” he said gravely, and was gone.

Trying to navigate the rules of any bureaucracy was like trying to dig through quicksand. As fast as you shovel out the slop, more pours in. Jason knew that, but he was still young enough to get impatient and angry with the delays, especially in light of the sheer soul-numbing insanity of the day. Leaving his mother’s side hurt, but he would have to do it sooner rather than later – and the doctors weren’t expecting her to wake up today. A while after his father left him to explain to the hospital staff that Richard and Lana were immediate family, Jason slipped out to see Elise. Watching Dad struggle to keep himself in check just made him need to see Elise all the more.

He found her in the waiting room up the hallway, paging through an old copy of Discovery Magazine. It looked as if Richard and Lana had to have gone with Dad to plead their case, and Jason was grateful for a moment alone with Elise. But he found he had too much to say and somehow not enough words for it. Fortunately Elise heard him coming, gray eyes glancing up into his. Without a word, she dropped the magazine and stood immediately, Jason pulling her into a hug. Emotion knotted up inside him; taking the comfort she so willingly gave, he rested his forehead on her shoulder.

Elise hugged him back, tightly, feeling her eyes start to water. So this was what Lois had meant about it not being easy. From the look of Jason, what he needed was a hot shower, a long nap, some comfort food, and then a longer nap. And then a good, long reunion with his twin. If Elise had her way, she’d supervise every bit of that – well, maybe not the shower – and breathe a sigh of relief when he finally slept.

That acknowledged, they both knew that what Jason was actually going to do was go out there to fight the same people who had kidnapped his sister and shot his mom. There was no getting around that. After all of the danger surrounding them, after the potentially-fatal attack so short a time ago, he was going to go back out into this fight. And that’s the way things had to be. There was no way to change his mind, they both knew it, and Elise found that she didn’t want to. She was scared, God knew she was, but how could she let herself talk him out of this? This was who he was, who his family was, who he was meant to be. And Elise was finding that she loved him even more for that. The thought just made her hug him tighter. 

Jason needed that hug, murmuring against her temple. “I’ve gotta go get her.”

“I know,” Elise replied. She found herself fighting the urge to tell him that she loved him; it was just too romance-novel pat for her to actually say it, though. Instead she kissed his cheek and whispered, “Be safe.”

For that, he had no reply, and Elise felt a twinge in her chest. He should have promised her that he would be careful, but he couldn’t promise that. Jason’s life was going to be the opposite of safe and careful, and she should’ve realized that when they were fleeing from a flash flood yesterday. The full understanding of what that meant for her future cast a shadow over Elise, like a rock overhang looming above.

All of this was too much for her at the moment. Elise pulled back from the hug and caught Jason’s face. “Listen up, Jason. You and Kala both had better come back here to me in one piece, okay?” Her tone was threatening instead of pleading, and that got a smile from him.

“Or what?” Jason asked with tired humor. “Elise, I’m bulletproof. What are you gonna do to me?”

She could’ve done without that little revelation, though a part of her was keenly interested in just how the invulnerability worked. “I’ll tell everyone at school you drool in your sleep,” she promptly replied.

“I do?” Jason asked, his brow furrowing with self-consciousness.  If he did, Kala would have given him unmerciful hell by now…

“No, but none of them are gonna know that,” she retorted, and was rewarded with a chuckle. That was exactly what she’d wanted, and Elise’s sarcastic smile softened. For a long moment she and Jason just looked at each other, bereft of words. 

Zod strode to Luthor’s office, unopposed by security. Most of the scientists had been removed to the auxiliary lab, and the hired thugs didn’t feel the need to patrol so often. Still, they were growing restless, trapped here in a fog of their own testosterone and frustrated by the wait for the foe to arrive. He would have to handle them carefully, as time wore on. 

He found Luthor, unsurprisingly, gloating over his victory. The man appeared to be kissing his gun; Zod chose not to comment on that aberrant behavior. Instead, he got directly to the point. “Is it true that you have murdered Lois Lane?”

Luthor grinned horribly, his eyes alight. “I shot her twice with hollowpoint bullets from this gun. Do you know, for all they call it a Ladysmith, this is one of the deadliest handguns on the market?”

“Fascinating,” Zod replied in bored tones. “Did you see her die, or are you simply assuming?”

That cut through Luthor’s obscene good humor, and he narrowed his eyes. “She was still alive when I left, but too weak to stand up or talk. I suppose there’s some infinitesimal chance she could survive, if he got her to a hospital fast enough. What’s it to you, General?”

“You are needlessly alienating the girl.”

“Needlessly?” Luthor asked, sly pleasure coloring his face just a little.

Zod sighed. The man would choose to be difficult. “We are very close to our goals. She has been extremely helpful, in spite of the pressure you have placed on her. And now, when victory is all but in your grasp, you have chosen to inform her of your attack upon her mother in the most upsetting and disturbing fashion possible. Why, Luthor? Why do you deliberately estrange her now, of all times? It is foolish – and worse, it is poor tactics.”

Luthor’s gimlet eyes watched him. “Again, General, why do you care? I have my own reasons, which I have no inclination to share. You should be happy that I’ve severed another tie between your little sweetheart and her former life.”

By the keenness of his gaze, the human expected some telling reaction. Zod simply looked at him, letting none of his thoughts show. Perhaps he could use Luthor’s expectations for his own aims… His voice was utterly cold when he spoke. “Regarding Kala Kal-El, you shall not lay hands upon her again.”

“Is that so?” Luthor purred, amusement written large on his features. “My, aren’t you the protective swain, General Zod! How exactly do you propose to stop me if I decide to lay hands on her again? And I might – the mother’s dead, but the daughter makes a fair substitute.”

He was purposefully goading, but Zod did not rise to the bait. “Put that thought aside, Luthor. You will not touch her. You gave me your word that the girl would be mine if I secured her cooperation; I will not allow you to rescind it.”

The man rose, annoyed that his gambit wasn’t yet working. Luthor lifted his hand, prominently displaying his lead ring. Laughing nastily, he retorted, “Oh really? Watch your tongue, General, or I’ll have you on your knees in agony.”

Few things could truly stir Zod to anger, but open scorn was among them. He glanced about the room, and his gaze landed on a life-size marble bust. Perfect. “Do not threaten me, you miserable worm,” he snarled. “I will not tolerate your interference any longer. You will not touch her again.” 

Luthor bridled, but before he could speak Zod continued icily, “As for that paltry ring of yours, the stone is very small, the amount of radiation it puts forth quite feeble. Furthermore, kryptonite causes only pain and weakness. It does not interfere with my powers. True, it is capable of killing me ­– eventually. In the time before I become incapacitated, there is much I could do.” 

So saying, he darted a quick glance at the bust. Heat vision seared through it, neatly severing the head from the neck, and after a moment of hesitation the noble face shattered on the floor. “I believe my point is made,” Zod concluded, and walked out, deliberately turning his back on Luthor to show his contempt of the man.

He could return to Kala with this glimmer of hope, but it might not be enough. Luthor had surely turned the girl against any alliance with him, but her loyalty to Zod was not yet fully assured. And in the coming crisis, he needed her to trust him utterly, if his plans for her were to be fulfilled.

She craved certainty, and if he provided her with it, regardless of the outcome, it might seal the bargain between them. Now he had only to discover the means of acquiring that knowledge and sharing it with Kala.


 It had only taken an hour, but Kal-El had talked some sense into the hospital authorities. Richard and Lana were finally installed in Lois’ room in the ICU; Richard kissed his ex-fiancée’s cool forehead tenderly, watching her still form with worried eyes, while Lana simply took the hand that didn’t have an IV in it and sat down to keep watch. Even Elise was allowed in, though she seemed ill at ease and restless.

When he and his father finally withdrew, Jason was loathe to leave them alone at their watch, but the call to save Kala was more powerful. Elise caught his gaze one last time before he left, giving him a smile full of encouragement and trepidation. At least he could ease his mind a little by doing what Mom had asked. “Do you think they’ll be okay while we’re gone?”

Clark nodded then, although his mind seemed to be set on something else far beyond the hospital hallway. “Luthor won’t be able to touch them while we’re gone. I put in a few calls. One of them was to your uncle in Gotham. Some of the team are already on their way. I won’t ask them to fight our battles for us, but I can ask them to safeguard the rest of the family.”

That was a relief. Jason had dreaded leaving them for that exact reason. He couldn’t have lived with himself if further catastrophe had occurred while they were alone. That burden lifted, Jason was free to turn to his next question. “Dad, how’d you get clearance for Elise?”

That actually got a chuckle from Kal-El, bringing him back to himself for a moment. Never bothering to look at his son, he said lightly, “You both look and act a little older than you are. It wasn’t too far a stretch when I told them she was our daughter-in-law.”

That was enough to hit the brakes right there. Jason practically choked, stumbling to a stop with eyes wide in disbelief. Had his own father said that? Now Dad was glancing at him with tired amusement. Jason just shook his head before catching up to him. It was at his expense, but if it kept that shuttered look off Clark’s face, he’d take it. The boy knew his father was trying to shut down, force the search for Kala to come first, but he couldn’t let that happen. At least he would be here to help balance it. Coming abreast of his father, Jason finally managed to squeak as they left the entrance to the emergency room , “Um, yeah. Okay then. So what’s our plan? How are we getting back in?”

Clark’s voice remained remarkably steady, but then, he had years of experience in remaining objective during a crisis. “I’ve got copies from Richard showing a decommissioned underground military base that’s so close to the building we were just in, Luthor has to be using it.”

Jason was nodding. “Right, it’s gotta have above-ground access, for air if nothing else. We can just find an air shaft or something…”

Clark’s face had gone serious again, although not as distant as the moment before. His mind was locked onto the plans to recover his daughter and Jason was satisfied with that. “We’ll be making our own entrance. I don’t want to give Luthor any way to predict where we’ll come in.”

There really was no way to argue with his logic on that point, and Jason was doubly grateful that he and his father were working together on this. If he’d had had to go alone to rescue Kala… He had had sense enough to realize that he still had a lot to learn. Well, there was a reason why he tried to take most of his cues from his dad. Jason wasn’t too arrogant to learn from a veteran’s vast experience. And who had more in this kind of thing than Dad? “All right, so let’s get going. It’ll only take us a few minutes to get there and then…”

Kal-El shook his head, his son looking at him in sheer puzzlement. “I don’t want to waste any time either, Jason, but we’re going up north first. I have a few questions for your grandfather that I need the answers to before we jump further into this.” Jason scowled at that, but before he could protest, Kal-El put a hand on his shoulder and looked at him seriously. “Son, Luthor expects us to come charging right back. Which is exactly what both of us want to do. But it’s very clear that he’s figured out how we think. The only way we can outsmart him is to go against our first instincts, no matter how badly we want to do otherwise.  Especially now that we know the General’s involved.”

Luthor stared at the door Zod had just stormed out of. He could almost feel the gears turning in his own mind, ratcheting up to greater speed. The Kryptonian’s behavior had changed markedly over the past week, and Luthor needed to know why.

In the beginning, when he’d first sprung Zod out of prison, the arrogant general had seemed like a shadow of his former self. He’d been quietly contemptuous instead of outright scornful, and he had only challenged Luthor’s authority in small ways. In fact, he’d been so compliant that Luthor had stopped needling him. It served no purpose when Zod was already broken to his will, and wasn’t even any fun when the Kryptonian steadfastly refused to be baited.

At the time, he’d thought that defeat and imprisonment had been too great a blow to Zod’s psyche to be overcome. Now he had to re-evaluate that conclusion, in light of today’s sudden show of spirit.

Kala might be the reason, though Luthor didn’t like to jump to such conclusions. Correlation was not causation, and just because the girl’s arrival coincided with the change in Zod’s behavior didn’t mean she’d caused it. Luthor narrowed his eyes, mulling over the variables. 

It seemed equally likely to him that Zod was reacting to a living reminder of his heritage in the daily conversations with Jor-El, or to the inevitable arrival of his enemy Kal-El. The first could have increased his pride, and both could have wakened his thirst for vengeance. But would vengeance have made him so protective over Kala?

No, it had to be Kala herself. What could Zod want with her? The obvious answer was the wrong one. Kryptonians didn’t do such things, and Zod had shown no interest in the kind of entertainment the security staff enjoyed. So he had to have some other reason to protect the girl.

Pure Kryptonian chivalry never entered Luthor’s mind as a motive. He’d seen how Ursa behaved, how she heeled like a dog or literally followed in Zod’s footsteps. No, there was something Zod wanted, and Luthor bent his mind to discovering what it was. After all, if you know what people want, you can control them. 

And if he couldn’t control Zod, well, killing Kala’s only protector might be the final step in gaining absolute control over her.

Mercy chose that moment to stalk into the room. “What have you done?” she snapped.

Luthor raised one eyebrow. Upsetting Mercy’s emotional equilibrium was quite difficult; fortunately, he enjoyed her temper. “It’s been a busy morning,” he quipped.

She stood in front of his desk, glaring, before finally taking a seat. “The access records say you went into the girl’s room. I thought we were going to give her the impression only she could get in there?”

“This took precedence.” He leaned back in his seat, watching her.

Her stance alone made it evident that Mercy was rapidly reaching the end of her considerable patience. “What, exactly, was so important?”

“Informing Kala of her mother’s fate.” Luthor still felt a little chill rush down his spine at the memory. The look in the girl’s eyes … he’d destroyed her world with two bullets, shattered her present, past, and future in a single action. The sheer destructive power of it was better than any drug.

For a long moment, Mercy simply stared at him. “Lex, why? Everything was going according to plan…”

Nothing has gone according to plan,” he snapped back. “Your agent couldn’t get me the boy, so we had to settle for the girl, whose powers we don’t know. They were onto us within hours when they should’ve thought it was a runaway instead of a kidnapping for a few days, at least. Hope failed, getting killed in the process, and your agent failed when we tried to use her to mop up. You told me all of those failures would work to our advantage, but they haven’t. The alien’s family has accelerated the timetable and they’d be in here among us right now if I hadn’t shot Lois. The only thing that’s gone right for us so far is the one thing I insisted on handling personally.”

Mercy had no reply, her eyes going wide in astonishment. She had no fear of him, and he’d always liked that, but maybe it was time to give her a reason to worry. Leaning forward, Luthor made his voice low and thoughtful. “In fact, in light of all your failures, I’d almost suspect you of … less than perfect allegiance. Whose side are you really on, Ms. Graves?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Just because every other woman you’ve slept with eventually throws you over for Tall Dark and Cape-Flapping doesn’t mean I will. And if I was on his side, I’d have done him a favor and stuck a knife in your ribs a long time ago.” She dropped the scoffing tone to become more serious. “No, Lex, I work for you – but you have never been able to think on your feet. You plan ahead, and you think you’ve planned for every circumstance, but when the world proves you wrong, you’re lost. I told you to leave them be. I told you to get the cell samples you needed another way, or from someone else. And when you insisted on pursuing your vengeance, I tried to do it in such a way that we might live to see the end of it.”

Very few people could silence Luthor, but she’d accomplished it. Mercy was much better at the instinctive, seat-of-the-pants stuff than he was, and Luthor knew it. He had no problems setting plans in motion that wouldn’t come to fruition for a decade, but when people – it was always people, they were the only variables he couldn’t completely account for – behaved in unexpected ways, he often found himself falling back on plans he’d never intended to actually use. He did not, however, enjoy being reminded of it.

Mercy wasn’t finished, either. “Incidentally, I’ve reviewed the security footage of the warehouse facility. Ms. Lane appeared to still be alive – Superman took her first, then returned for the boy, both of them escaping before the explosion.”

Luthor’s scowl deepened. “She was shot twice. If she’s alive, she’s badly hurt. If you’re so loyal to me, Mercy, then go and finish her. I’ll deal with the alien and his half-breed when they arrive.”

“What about the girl?”

Luthor laced his fingers together thoughtfully. “If her mind is as close to broken as I suspect after my little intervention today, the loss of her twin and her father should leave her wholly vulnerable to reprogramming.”

“And if she’s resistant to brainwashing?” Mercy’s brows angled up. “The general’s been at her, we know that.”

“Then exposing his ulterior motive and killing him will bring her back to our side,” Luthor said with a shrug. He grinned and added, “Either that, or we use her as a lever to move him. I’m not sure quite what it is with the two of them, but I am certain we can use it to our advantage. Personal attachments are always a weakness, wouldn’t you say, Mercy?”

She smiled that wintry smile and nodded. “I’ll head out and see if I can find Ms. Lane. The closest trauma center is in Las Vegas, so I’ll start there. It’s not as if he couldn’t reach any hospital in the U.S. in about the same time, but with his wife dying, he wouldn’t have wanted to waste a single second.”

As Mercy rose to leave, she added, “I agree with you, Lex. But remember, a vendetta is also a personal attachment.”

She swept out of the room, striding swiftly for the lone elevator available to them now. Several minutes after she passed, Zod slipped out of the alcove where he’d been lingering. Las Vegas – that gave him a destination, one he’d seen on maps of the state. Though he didn’t know where he was, exactly, he knew how to find out. After all, though none of the maps in Luthor’s office or elsewhere in the facility had this location marked on them, they did conveniently provide an aerial view.

The Fortress was always lighted, but when no one was there the crystals were barely illuminated, a soft glow that created more shadows than it dispelled. As soon as Kal-El landed with Jason, however, the light intensified. Jason had grown used to the effect over the years, barely noticing it. Only now, when he was trying so hard not to think about so many things, did he focus on it, seemingly fascinated by the light that bloomed at their approach and shyly retreated a few moments after they left.

Kal-El approached the control panel, selected the father crystal, and slotted it into place. The image of Jor-El appeared on the smooth crystal wall opposite and nodded to them. “Kal-El, Jon-El, greetings and welcome.”

“Thank you, Father.” Jason heard his father slip automatically into Kryptonese, and nodded politely to his grandfather. In this place, the language sounded normal and appropriate, even the abbreviated Kryptonian version of his own name sounded right. 

“What brings you here, my son?” Jor-El asked.

“Father, I find myself in dire circumstances, and in desperate need of information.” That got Jor-El’s attention, and Jason watched the hologram’s expression vacillate between horror, anguish, and outrage as Kal-El explained the events of the past several days. 

A casual observer might have thought Jor-El was listening with only academic interest, but Jason had long ago learned the subtleties of Kryptonian body language and expression. The slightest flicker of a brow or dilation of a pupil spoke volumes among a people who valued detachment and restraint so highly. The young man waited for his father to finish, wondering if Jor-El would be able to help them.

“And so I have learned this day that my old foe is aided by an even deadlier nemesis, General Zod, who had sworn vengeance upon all of your heirs,” Kal-El concluded. “Father, I beseech you, tell me all that you know of this man, whom we have had so little occasion to discuss, so that I may devise a way to defeat him utterly and rescue your granddaughter.”

Everything Jason had just been thinking about Kryptonian objectivity vanished. He’d never seen such a naked expression of dismay on his grandfather’s face, and couldn’t even have imagined it five minutes ago. All of Jason’s life, he had never seen Jor-El anything but confident to the point of disdain for any who questioned him.  His grandfather, it seemed, always know it all, was unsurprised by any and all events.  This reaction was entirely unprecedented.  Jason’s heart plummeted, his own features growing grave. This is gonna be bad.


Tags: heirs to the house of el

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