And then it was done. The last of the main action arc ends here with an unexpected and startling surprise at the end. Expect to see more on that scene next chapter. The countdown to the end of Heirs continues....
There was no more time to stop and think her plan through; it had swiftly become do or die time. And most likely both, Kala thought, as she whirled for one last glance at her family. The knife of longing that struck her then was almost enough to stay her hand. After being desperate for just another look at their faces…Aware of all of the emotions boiling inside her, Kala gave them both a smile that spoke her love for them more easily than she had ever voiced aloud before turning away to brace herself for the events of the next few moments. She hoped they would understand her decision someday. For now, this was how it had to be, the only way she could be certain. Dru-Zod would never be their ally; if he was allowed his freedom, he would pour his poison into her family's ears until his madness seemed like sense. She had too much personal experience of that to blithely believe her father and brother were immune. Kala knew she had only one choice.
She smacked the panel and let the door come crashing down. Zod leaped toward her, calling out, “Kala, no!” but it was already too late. The trigger was pulled and the world exploded in a burst of green fire that blinded and deafened her.
When Kala came back herself, she was lying on the floor, gasping and retching. Her ears rang hellishly, her skin felt burned, her eyes stung, and her whole body was a mass of throbbing aches. Her guts were roiling too, and as she spat to clear the taste of bile from her mouth, Kala saw blood in the spittle.
The kryptonite gun was lying right beside her, still pulsing with green death. With a mighty effort, Kala attempted to crawled away from it, whimpering, pulling herself along with knees and elbows because she was too weak to stand. Her thoughts were jumbled, her mind full of static from the pain and the kryptonite radiation she’d exposed herself to, but she had enough presence of mind to be surprised that she was still alive. She’d expected the kryptonite to kill her instantly.
Another spasm wracked her body, and she coughed, her throat scratchy. Her heart was racing, her pulse shallow and fast, with an odd little hesitation every few moments as it skipped a beat. I’ll be dead soon enough, she thought, putting her back to the wall and trying to relax. She’d done it, destroyed the single greatest enemy of her family, kept the House of El safe from this particular menace for all time, and that was worth the sacrifice. Maybe this was why she’d been born in the first place, this was her purpose in life, to die and take the most treacherous of her father’s foes with her.
A rattling wheeze beside her startled Kala, but she was too weak to flee. She realized she’d inadvertently crawled over to Dru-Zod, who lay trembling with the effects of the radiation. His skin had a terrible grayish pallor, and his eyes seemed wide and blind. “I’m sorry,” Kala managed to say, her voice grating. “Sorry it had … to be this way. But you … you would have killed us … all in the end. Everything … you did for me … was for revenge.”
“Not … all,” he rasped back, turning his head toward her sightlessly.
“Liar.” Her voice was now a harsh whisper.
The ghost of a chuckle turned into a cough. “Too late … for lies.”
“Then … what?”
He was silent for several seconds, and Kala thought bitterly that it was just like him to die and leave her wondering. At last he spoke, his voice barely audible. “Father … brother … heirs of El … must die. You … needed you … rule beside me…”
“Too late for lies,” Kala snarled harshly, and collapsed again in a coughing fit. The air seemed to have gone bad, scorching her lungs as she breathed, yet at the same time there wasn’t enough of it.
“No … lie,” he managed. “You … Last Daughter … you … House of Zod … Queen, Empress…”
Only then did she understand the fate he’d intended for her. To rule beside him, to be the link between Krypton and humanity as he raised a new empire on Earth. That was why Zod had protected her, why he had brainwashed her to follow him. He did care for her, but as a man cares for a particularly rare, costly, and useful tool. Kala would have laughed if she could – that was her fantasy come true, to be recognized for the nobility of her Kryptonian blood, to play out every little girl’s dreams of being a princess.
Kala looked at the wish she’d nurtured in her heart of hearts ever since she’d first learned she was Superman’s daughter, and saw it for the pitiful thing it was. With that understanding the dream burned away, leaving only ashes and grief that she had learned it so late. Her eyes filmed, her chest tightening with the sob rising in her throat. So stupid, so blind, so needy… With a harsh chortle, she told Dru-Zod, “Rather … die.”
To her surprise, he returned the laugh with a wheezing attempt at one. “Heir … of El … father’s … daughter.” His breathing suddenly grew harsher, and his spine arched as he strove desperately for air. Kala had closed her eyes against the tears that now flowed, biting her lip; even though he had betrayed her, even though he had meant to turn her into a sort of puppet, it hurt her to watch him die.
Dru-Zod fell back, panting, and even through the ringing in her ears Kala heard the unevenness of his heartbeat. It would be soon, for him – and she would die soon after. It would be for the best. “I couldn’t … let you harm them. Not … my people. Not … my family. I’m sorry,” she whispered again.
“No,” he replied, the merest modulation of his tortured breath. “Do not… Death … better than … oblivion… Better than … Zone…” He stiffened with a shuddering gasp, then let out that breath…
…and did not take another. Kala felt her breath begin to wheezy, her eyes screwed shut, her lungs feeling heavy. Not long to go now. Now she was alone, dying, with only the hope that her father and brother were far away from here.
Not again, Luthor snarled to himself. Mere inches from his prize, from the weapon he had developed to end the Kryptonian threat for all time, and they’d beaten him to it! Not even the kryptonite lacing the walls of the weapons room had deterred them.
As he scrambled to his feet, he saw a tableau that assuaged his wrath. Kala had grabbed the weapon, the most unstable of them all, and she was now aiming it at the General. That was priceless; Luthor didn’t know what had happened to turn her against her ally, but he wished he’d seen it. The look on Zod’s face was immensely gratifying, regardless.
Maybe this would all work out as he intended, anyway. If Kala fired that weapon at Zod, it would most likely kill all four of them. And then the only Kryptonian DNA left on the planet would be safely in Luthor’s own cryogenic storage at the Australian lab.
‘Most likely’ wasn’t good enough for Luthor, though. His ring wasn’t powerful enough to stop all four of them; he took Zod’s threat quite seriously. But there was another option, and he set out to use it.
Luthor moved quietly until he was out of sight, then ran to the nearest crystal panel. His palm-print allowed him to access the security menu, and from the available options Luthor selected ‘Self-destruct sequence’. It asked for his confirmation code, which he gave, and then began counting down.
Fortunately sparring with Mercy had kept Luthor fit despite the encroachments of time, because he had to run to get safely away from the facility before the explosive charges went off. He paid no attention to the remaining security staff; their lives were already forfeit to him. Nothing but prison scum hired for their muscle, and it was easier to hire new thugs for the Australian facility than to ship these goons overseas. The loss of dozens of lives meant little to someone who had planned to drop half of California into the sea.
From his perspective, it seemed like a sure thing. Kala would fire the weapon and kill or drastically weaken all four Kryptonians. Then the tons of concrete, stone, and sand would finish the job, immuring them all deep in the earth where the sun couldn’t reach to revive them. All he had to do was get to the elevator, and he could savor his victory from a nearby sand dune. Mercy had the ATV, true, but she would be on her way back soon. And if for some reason she was delayed, he would simply take shelter until nightfall and walk towards the lights of the nearest town, which he already knew were clearly visible.
A foolproof plan, except that these particular fools had bested him more than once. Luthor scowled at that thought as he ran, then brightened. Most of the time Superman and family defeated him by being completely irrational, behaving with more stubbornness than logic. Since this plan relied on Kala’s unbalanced state of mind, even the typical House of El idiotic defiance ought to play right into his trap.
“NO!” Jason and Kal-El shouted in unison, but the door came down too swiftly even for them. Kal-El plunged his hands into the metal, meaning to tear it away, and was met by sizzling agony. He yanked his hands away, staggering back as sickly green light poured through the holes his fingers had made in solid lead and steel.
Concentrated kryptonite radiation drove them both away from the door, sweating and gasping for breath. Kal-El knew it would be suicide to walk in there … but Kala was inside. She was half-human, partially resistant, yet she would feel the effects too. He met Jason’s panicked eyes and knew of no solution.
Then the green light blazing through the door abruptly went out. Sending up a prayer of thanks, Kal-El moved toward it again, only to find that radiation was still leaking from the holes he’d made. Once more they flinched back, only this time stepping a few feet away was enough. “What’re we gonna do?” Jason yelled with the barest grip on calm, clenching his fists. “Dad, how do we get her out?”
“Whatever that weapon was, it’s left enough residual radiation to affect us both,” Kal-El thought aloud, forcing himself to focus on this as a problem he could solve, and not think of Kala trapped in there. If he took even a moment to consider the horror he was feeling, it would all fall apart. It couldn’t happen. “If we bring the door down, it could knock us both out. I can still hear Kala’s heartbeat…” He trailed off, realizing that pulse was highly irregular, and only a lifetime of self-control kept him from barreling through the door regardless of the kryptonite.
“I’m more resistant than you are,” Jason said quickly. “If you grab the door and kind of peel it back, it should shield you while I go in.”
“No.” Kal-El’s response was immediate, firm. There had to be another way. He couldn’t have both children stuck in the irradiated room.
Jason was shaking his head impatiently, frustrated with the relay. They needed to get her and get her now, damn the consequences. They hadn’t gone through all of this, gotten this close to bringing her home, to have Kala die with just a door between them. “No, we both know it’s the only way. It has to be me. I can grab her and drag her out, then you grab me and get us both out of here. C’mon, Dad, hurry.”
“The radiation…” How could he ask his son to expose himself to that kind of pain? His fingertips still felt burned, throbbing painfully.
“I can take it,” Jason said with confidence he didn’t feel. “Dad, we have to get her out, now. I can do this. I can save her. It’s what I’ve been training my whole life to do. Besides, I promised her. Dad, she’ll die!”
Just then, fresh alarms began to blare. They had forgotten about Luthor; he was nowhere in sight, and they had no time to search for him. He had gotten away, and triggered some fresh mayhem in the process.
A recorded voice spoke over the klaxons, “Warning! This facility will self-destruct in fifteen minutes.” It repeated every few seconds, adding to the noise and chaos.
“Dad,” Jason pleaded, his eyes wild. No better plan presented itself, and Jason had taken on adult responsibility throughout the search for Kala. It was time to let the young hero prove himself. Kal-El knew that even as he hated to send his only son into danger. Unable to speak, he simply nodded.
Bracing himself against the pain and numbing weakness of the kryptonite, Kal-El moved back to the door and pulled one side free of the track that held it. More radiation poured out into the larger room, and he paused for an instant to look into Jason’s eyes. “Be swift,” he warned in Kryptonese, and stepped back, pulling the door sideways with a shriek of protesting metal.