Had he spotted her, or hadn’t he? There was no good reason for Richard White to recognize her. Millions of people saw her face on television and in newspapers, and none of them recognized her in street clothes. She took pains to make sure they wouldn’t, just as Clark did. Anyone in the League who didn’t wear a mask quickly made an intensive study of how to trick people into not recognizing their face.
Diana reviewed what she knew of Richard White. Clark had told them the bare minimum: his wife’s ex-fiancé, now a friend of Clark’s, and the other man Clark’s twins called Daddy. His primary importance to the League was that he, along with his wife, knew Clark’s dual identity. Bruce wouldn’t allow someone who knew something that important about one of the founders to be noted in files as merely ‘friend of the family’, so he had quietly done some research. Diana had seen those dossiers. Richard was more than the loveable scoundrel he seemed to be. Air Force pilot, an honorable military record. He’d never seen combat, but he’d trained extensively for it.
He was also smart and observant. Diana herself had some history with military men, so she had to admit the possibility that he’d made her. If he hadn’t, then the glance and half-embarrassed smile were just a guy looking at a beautiful woman. No problems there. She wouldn’t be around long enough for him to get more than one or two more glances.
If he had recognized her, then what? He hadn’t confronted her, hadn’t wanted her to know he knew. He might have been holding on to that knowledge for later blackmail. Their files on him suggested otherwise, however. He knew Superman’s secret, and for a while he’d had a substantial reason to hate Clark. Yet he’d never turned, and Clark considered him a close friend. Almost a brother. Clark was no fool, in spite of being an eternal optimist. He wouldn’t mistake a traitor that close to him.
More likely, if he had recognized her, Richard White simply didn’t want to deal with it. He had more important things to worry about. One of his best friends and the boy he’d raised like his own son were out in the desert confronting Luthor. His wife was recovering from severe injuries. And his ex-fiancée, whom he clearly still cared for, was lying in the hospital bed fighting for her life.
No, even if he had some idea who she was, Richard White wasn’t interested in her at the moment. That left Diana free to contemplate other things – after making the mental note to let Bruce know about the incident.
Uppermost in her mind was the situation in the desert. The League had been working nonstop to contain the massive crime wave Luthor had arranged. If he had those kinds of resources, what was he willing to spend so much of them to protect? What exactly was he doing?
The JLA was keeping discreet surveillance, and every available team member would be called in if the situation went critical. Clark wanted to do this alone, handle it personally. They had let him; one or two people, with Kryptonian powers, might be able to pull off a rescue than twenty or thirty could only botch. But if things went bad…
Her communicator was nestled in her ear, hidden by her hair. It looked like any other Bluetooth headset, anyway, except it received secure satellite transmissions. Diana was ready at a moment’s notice to respond if she received a message – but only once she was relieved of guard duty. She’d undertaken this detail for atonement, and she would not leave Lois unguarded.
It was the least she could do. Ever since Bruce had taken her aside and quietly told her what he’d noticed, Diana had keenly felt the stain of dishonor. She wasn’t certain how it had all started; back in the early days of the League, before any of them had entrusted each other with their secrets, she hadn’t known Clark was married. And she thought she’d found in him someone who complimented her near-perfectly.
Once she knew about Lois, Diana had banished that thought – or so she’d told herself, and believed wholeheartedly. If she smiled at Clark, it was congratulations on a job well done and admiration for his courage. If she watched him, it was to learn from the first superhero to go public, and still the greatest of all. Only Bruce, who watched everything all the time and spent hours pondering the implications of the tiniest gesture, had seen it differently. And only Bruce was brave enough to hold up the mirror and show her what she denied to herself.
No more. She’d sworn it to herself at that moment, and would keep a constant vigil for any other foolish daydreams creeping in. For what one highly observant man could see, a married woman certainly could, if it involved her husband and the colleague every fan claimed was his perfect match. Diana had the utmost respect for Lois Lane; the League trusted her with their secrets, and she would die before betraying them. They couldn’t ask for a better ally in the news media.
Diana glanced toward the ICU. You must recover, she thought worriedly. I owe you an apology, Lois Lane-Kent.
That was definitely Kala, but she didn’t even sound like herself. She never said Father, always Daddy since she was just a tiny little girl, and while her Kryptonese had been good before she had been taken from them, she sounded like a native now. Like Jor-El … or like Zod himself.
She looked different, too. Harder, sharper somehow – like fear and stress had burned all the softness out of her, leaving a spare cruel elegance. The night of their birthday party came back to Jason, when he’d seen her in the blue dress with her hair and makeup done differently, and he hadn’t recognized his own twin at first. He barely recognized her now.
Her voice distracted Kal-El, and he turned his head to look at her, disbelief and pain written all over his face. Jason saw the realization hit him; Kala had turned. She was defending Zod. Call it manipulation, call it Stockholm Syndrome, call it choosing the lesser of two evils. She wasn’t on their side anymore. It didn’t occur to Jason or Kal-El to think of how it looked from where Kala stood. She hadn’t seen the fight, had only arrived to find Zod hanging from a throttling grip.
“Release him!” she called again, and ran, faster than Jason had ever seen.
He moved to block her, to catch her up and keep her out of it. He was stronger than his sister, always had been; he could restrain her long enough for Dad to stop Zod. But the General was calling out too, Kryptonese so rapid Jason couldn’t make it out right away. Only after he’d grabbed Kala and pinned her to the wall did he realize what Zod had said: “Beware, they will attack you as well!”
Jason had played right into it. He was stronger than Kala, but she was faster. She’d fought more often than he had, and when she did, she fought dirty. Kala brought her elbow up hard against Jason’s chin, still screaming at Kal-El to stop. Jason’s invulnerability saved him from harm, but the surprise of being attacked by his own sister threw him off guard. And that was all Kala needed. Closed in against the wall, she couldn’t get enough space to swing at him, but she could press her knuckles against his sternum and grind. Hard.
Invulnerability to harm was not the same thing as insensitivity to pain. Kryptonian nerves worked just as well as human ones, allowing Jason to feel the whisper of a kiss Elise had pressed against his hand last night. And he could feel the pressure and pain as skin grated against bone. It wasn’t harm, it would stop hurting as soon as she let up, but it burned and Jason couldn’t help flinching away. As easily as that, Kala was loose.
Kal-El had been distracted by the fight between his children, and General Zod had broken his hold, getting the upper hand. While Kal-El struggled to free himself, the General snapped to Kala, “Flee while you can!”
At the same moment, he let go of his opponent. Kal-El had been using every ounce of his strength, and the sudden release meant he lurched forward … at Kala. That spooked her enough to make her bolt away. General Zod leaped in the opposite direction, crossing from the overhang they were standing on to the one across the open space. Kal-El followed him, and Jason also made the leap. Instead of running as she’d been ordered, Kala followed them.
Luthor had not been in the security office long. Once he knew the General was back in the building, he had begun making arrangements to deal with his nemesis. But then, weirdly, Zod began acting like one of the team. Filling in for Mercy, keeping security on their toes, ordering the air shafts guarded. It was bewildering.
Being far too smart to think Zod was actually on his side, Luthor started trying to decipher the Kryptonian’s motives. Meanwhile, he watched Zod from a series of surveillance screens that had been installed in the now-deserted chief scientist’s office. No one would look for him there.
And then, just when he’d decided that General Zod was playing a deeper game than any of them suspected, the other two had burst in. They hadn’t come down the elevator shaft, or through the air vents, or down the collapsed mine tunnels. Superman and Son had blasted a new hole in the facility.
That was unexpected and risky. They could have flash-fried the very person they came to rescue, or killed a dozen bystanders. It wasn’t Superman’s style, and Luthor began to worry. Had he finally pushed the alien over the edge? Was kidnapping his daughter and subverting her the final straw?
As Zod began to mix it up with them, Luthor cast aside his concerns. He finally had what he wanted: all four of the remaining Kryptonians in the same place at the same time. Well, barring one mental case, but Non was constantly sedated and could be dealt with later in his own time. Now all of Luthor’s plans could come to fruition.
He left the science office and quietly made his way toward the weapons locker.
The fight raged on, and Kala was caught at the fringes of it. Her throat was half-closed on a sob of frustration and fear; she hated that she’d been forced to hurt Jason, but there was no time to reason with him, if she even could. Their father was about to kill Dru-Zod; he didn’t know the older Kryptonian wasn’t at full strength, and he didn’t know that Dru-Zod had been Kala’s ally, not her captor. Yet she could not make herself heard to end the fight; Kal-El was refusing to listen to her. She was torn in two directions, wanting to be overjoyed that her family had arrived in spite of everything, and terrified that they would kill without cause.
And her brother was not helping, unable to stop interfering. As she tried to intervene yet again, he grabbed her elbow and spun her around. Face to face, the girl couldn’t miss the terror in her twin’s eyes. For the first time in their lives, he was looking at her as if he’d never seen her before. She couldn’t bear how deeply it cut, especially after this long. “What’s wrong with you? Knock it off, Kal!” he yelled in her face. “We’re trying to save you!”
Before she could even speak, there was a loud noise over her shoulder that made the twins look up. Behind them, heat vision lanced out and carved another ribbon through the ceiling. The two men grunted with the strain of their battle. The blood drained from Kala’s face then, panicked eyes huge as she began to struggle. She had to stop this now! “Release me!” Kala snapped back, trying to yank herself loose.
Instead, he grabbed her other arm, and shook her so hard it felt like her teeth rattled. Even with every nightmare moment of this trip under his belt, Jason had never been so petrified as he was looking his own twin sister’s eyes and not recognizing what he saw there. Their bond had always been so strong. He had to get through to her. “Dammit, Kal, wake up! Stop it! It’s me! Kal, it’s me! Dad and I, we’re here to get you out! Come on! Stop acting crazy!”
His behavior made her immediately defensive, seeing the loathing in his gaze. Zod had been correct in his assessment of their reaction to seeing the two of them. Since she’d arrived here, the only people to set hands on her had been the guards and Luthor. She reacted to Jason’s rough shake the way she’d primed herself to react to any attack: with escalating violence. Bringing both hands up within the cage of Jason’s arms, she struck outward sharply at the insides of his elbows, breaking his grip.
And then, while his hands were falling away, Kala slapped him across the face. Jason’s blue eyes were terribly stunned, but the shock was about to get worse. Kala snarled in perfect Kryptonese, “Let me be, Jon-El! You know nothing of what is happening here!”
That scared him enough to willingly drop her in mortification. Jor-El had been right; for all intents and purposes, this wasn’t his sister anymore. This was some pure Kryptonian stranger. She’d never called him by his Kryptonian name, not even to aggravate him. “DAD!” Jason yelled in disbelief, Kala whirling away from him and heading directly at the two fighters.
She was now General Zod’s tool. Jason’s incredulous scream had distracted their father, who turned slightly toward them and away from his foe. In the time it had taken Jason to utter that single word, Kala had reached their father’s side, roughly grabbing his forearm to pull him further around. Floored by the display of strength, Kal-El let himself be moved. Then Kala did the last thing he would ever have seen coming. Leaning up into his face, fury rampant in her voice, she shouted, “Leave him alone!”
Utterly stupefied by this behavior from his own daughter, his baby girl, whom he’d adored and cosseted for the last ten years, Kal-El could only stare at her. This was not the reunion any of them had expected.
So thrown by these events, he was unaware that, behind him, General Zod had regained his bearings and was taking a menacing step forward. “Look out!” Jason yelled. Without thinking, he grabbed the nearest railing and wrenched off a piece, tossing it over his father’s head toward the enemy.
Several things happened at once. Jason had put all of his strength behind that throw, and it took him slightly off balance. The floor here was rough concrete, speckled with bits of the ceiling that had rained down during the fight. His shoe slid a few inches on the chips of plaster and concrete, and there was no longer a railing beside him. With a startled gasp, Jason fell again.
At his son’s warning, Kal-El had whipped his head around toward the foe while instinctively shoving Kala out of danger. Now was no time to hope that her own invulnerability had been begun to solidify as Jason’s had. Heat vision was an extremely useful long-range weapon, one both he and his opponent had already used several times. It hurt a great deal, and allowed them to fight at some distance. So his eyes blazed red even before he’d finish turning toward Zod.
Dru-Zod was swift to react, expecting his enemy to strike based on the warning. He already had his hand up to deflect the heat vision, and it went off at an oblique angle toward the ceiling.
Kala herself had stumbled backward on the same debris that had let Jason slip, and nearly fell. In catching her balance, she happened to look up, where the roof of this level had been scored by heat vision. It already had a large hole in it some distance away from her family’s dramatic entrance. And when he’d triggered his heat vision again a moment ago, Kal-El had unknowingly seared through a support column.
The roof was cracking, raining plaster and concrete down on this level and the one below. As Kala watched, another lance of deflected heat vision happened to score perpendicular to most of the cracks.
The structural integrity of this place was never intended to withstand so much damage coming from inside it. Kal-El and Dru-Zod paid no attention, all of their attention locked on one another, as a huge chunk of the ceiling cracked loose, falling straight down two full levels.
Right toward where Jason had landed flat on his back, the breath knocked out of him.