For a moment he thought his father would find some reason – any reason – to avoid the plan he’d hastily laid out. But then Dad wordlessly agreed, and as he opened the door Jason got ready to charge in and rescue his sister.
Kryptonite radiation bathed Jason in waves, reducing his charge to a painful stagger. It hurt so much, even worse than what he remembered of the island, but he wouldn’t turn back. Kala needed him.
She was slumped in a corner beside the body of General Zod. At first Jason thought he was too late, but when he grabbed Kala’s arm she groaned. She was alive. The relief that surged through every fibre of his being was like nothing the boy had ever felt before, stronger even than the pain of the waves of green radiation that tore at him. Kala was here, where he could see her and help her. That was all that mattered for right now. Jason pulled Kala’s arm over his shoulders, bringing her upright, and put his free arm around her waist. He hauled her to the door like that, each step an agony, his legs numb with effort by the time he reached his destination.
Jason stumbled around the edge of the door with Kala limp and unresisting at his side. He saw his father’s expression, saw the heartbreak there at seeing Kala so weak, and then Kal-El had hold of them both and was rocketing upward. The concrete, steel, lead, stone, and sand above them were no barrier to his heat vision, and soon they were in the brilliant desert sun.
Almost immediately, Jason felt better. Golden warmth suffused him, and he turned his face up to it gratefully as they soared upward. But his twin didn’t respond to it; Kala was still hanging unconscious from his hold on her. Jason jostled her a little, disturbed by the extremity of her stillness. “Wake up, Kal. Open your eyes. You’re safe.” When she didn’t react, he shook her harder.
It took a breath for Kala to groan and she lifted her head minutely to look at him. Jason was shocked to see that her skin had a faintly greenish cast; how much radiation had she absorbed? Her eyes didn’t seem to focus on him, and he began to worry. “Dad, I don’t think she’s getting better,” he fretted.
“We’ll go higher,” Kal-El said determinedly, making every effort to sound confident as he soared up to where the thinner atmosphere allowed more of the sun’s rays to fall on them.
That seemed to work, and Kala stirred, blinking and staring. The greenish tint to her skin was fading, but she still seemed weak. “Kal, talk to me,” Jason said urgently.
“Jase…” she managed to say, then coughed. “Jase… Hurts … oh, hurts … should’ve … left me…”
His grip on her shoulders tightened, and Jason put his face right next to hers to growl urgently, “Don’t even think it, Kal. I’ll always come after you. I promised you ten years ago I wouldn’t let anyone take you away from me. Now don’t you leave me. Come on.”
She smiled tremulously, whispering, “My big brother … the hero.” And now she was aware enough of what was going on to hold on to him, but her grip felt fragile. Her next words confirmed that impression. “It’s not … enough… Too much … radiation. It’s … all right, Dopey…”
“To hell with that,” Jason snapped, terrified. No way was he going to find and rescue his sister only to lose her now! “Dad, we have to get higher! She’s fading out; she needs more sunlight.”
Kal-El could see that, and he couldn’t imagine what such high exposure to kryptonite could have done to Kala. She’d been in that room for only a few minutes, but everything in it had been thoroughly irradiated. They were already as high as he’d ever taken the twins, still within breathable atmosphere but far above the highest mountaintop.
There was only one thing he could do now, a dangerous gamble. Kala was human enough to have survived the initial dose of kryptonite, but was she Kryptonian enough to withstand the cure? “Hold your breath, and close your eyes,” Kal-El said sharply. Jason had to repeat the instructions to Kala, shaking her shoulder a bit before she took a deep breath and let her eyes fall shut.
With that, and a prayer that this might work, Kal-El soared ever higher, until he had left the stratosphere and its shielding ozone. Here, thirty miles above the earth’s surface, he had to position them carefully, as the temperature could vary between 400 and -170 degrees Fahrenheit. But here the sun’s rays would strike them all with full force, unimpeded by the thicker atmosphere below. If anything could heal Kala of kryptonite radiation poisoning, it was these rays of the yellow sun.
This was where he came to replenish himself after an exhausting battle. There was no breathable air up here, but he could hold his breath for a very long time. The view of Earth below always brought him a deep tranquility he could find nowhere else.
Jason felt the sun as he’d never felt it before; always when he basked in its rays, he had likened the sensation to honey pouring into a container, slowly filling it with golden sweetness. This was nothing like that. This was like molten gold searing into him, fusing with every cell of his body. If it had had a flavor, it wouldn’t have been mild honey, but pure blackstrap molasses, so potently sweet it almost burned the uninitiated tongue.
Startled, he opened his eyes in spite of his father’s warning, and saw the sun uncloaked and radiant. Jason had to tear his eyes from that brilliance, instead looking down, and there beheld the vast North American continent sprawled beneath his feet. It was the same view that astronauts aboard the various shuttle missions had, only there was no glass or metal between Jason and the Earth below. Awestruck, Jason could only stare, for the moment forgetting everything but his first real view of the planet. Never before had he truly understood that it was a world, his knowledge confined to places he’d been, places he’d flown over, and the abstractions of maps and globes. This … this brought tears to his eyes for reasons he couldn’t explain.
But never did his grip on Kala loosen, and when she stirred in his arms his attention snapped back to her immediately. She had lifted her face to the sun, and that befuddled, defeated expression was gone, replaced by relief.
The aches, the nausea, the ringing in her ears – all were gone. Kala still felt weak and wrung out, but she no longer felt as if she were dying. She smiled, slowly, and when Kal-El saw that he took them back down to where they could breathe.
Both twins were too emotional to speak, just holding tight to each other. Kal-El enfolded them in a hug, grateful that his family was safe at last. No words could express his relief. His worst nightmares had come true – Kala’s disappearance, almost losing Lois in more ways than one, confronting Luthor again – but they were finally over and he could wake up to his real life again.
Far below them, the explosives in Luthor’s lair detonated. Kal-El heard it first, snapping his head up and narrowing his eyes at the world below. Under his breath, he murmured, “Damn you, Luthor.” Was it too much to ask for him to have a single moment of joy before he had to get right back to saving the world?
In the next moment, his communicator beeped. He’d almost forgotten he was wearing it, but he had agreed to stay in touch if the League would let him handle family matters on his own. Kal-El held on to Jason with one arm and touched the receive button on the communicator. “Superman here,” he said. “My team is clear of the facility; only hostiles remain.”
Oracle’s digitized voice answered him. “Affirmative. I’m sending in support teams now.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Kal-El told her.
“I expect sufficient coverage, Superman. This call was just to confirm your team was clear of the conflict zone. Though your assistance is greatly appreciated, I know you have other obligations that must come first.” Those simple sentences floored Kal-El. Generally when the League called him, they needed him now, and generally couldn’t take ‘no’ or even ‘just a minute’ for an answer. To be told in so many words that he could take his time – that was unheard of.
“Thank you,” he managed to say, and signed off. Both twins were looking at him curiously, Jason holding Kala. In spite of the sunbath, they both looked exhausted, and Kala’s eyes were drooping with weariness. “You both need some rest,” he said gently. “I’ll take you back to the hotel room. Kala, can you hold on to my other arm?”
“I’ll try, Daddy.” Despite the fatigue in her voice, she leaned into him a bit while linking her arm through his securely. There was no time to really show his gratefulness and relief for his daughter return now, so Kal-El settled for leaning slightly to lean his head against her. Kala, after a moment, responded in kind. There would be time for words later.
With a twin on each side, Kal-El found it easier to fly and steer. He began a gentle descent toward the hotel in Las Vegas, lingering in the sunlight for Kala’s sake.
Kala let herself be borne along, holding tightly to her father’s arm. The weakness and pain were a fading memory; other than fatigue, physically she felt better than she had since Christmas. Mentally, now that was a different story.
Dru-Zod’s dying words echoed in her mind. The fact that she’d taken a life – no matter how honorable the reason – weighed on her conscience. There were still questions she was afraid to ask: how was Mom? And had Lana really been killed?
Shoving all that back down into the depths of her brain, Kala tried to focus on the moment, on simply being grateful to be alive. Still, doubts and speculations kept bubbling back up. They chilled Kala in spite of the warm sun on her face, and she closed her eyes, trying to force everything away and clear her mind. She knew perfectly well that the last few days weren’t simply going to disappear – she wasn’t going to be able to walk back into her old life and forget everything that had happened. Nothing could erase her captivity or the truths she’d learned there, about herself and about the rest of the world.
But for a while, she could escape that and pretend that everything was going to be okay, that there would be no nightmares later on, that she would emerge from this experience the same Kala she had always been. It was a comforting lie, and with it she banished the look in Dru-Zod’s eyes the moment she pulled the trigger.
Harder to dispel was the soul-deep horror she’d felt when she saw Jason in danger and realized no one else could save him. That had shattered the crystal prison she’d built around herself, letting in all the memories of home she’d walled away so she could operate with something like sanity while surrounded by enemies. It had worked then to break down all the barriers in her mind, and it was working now, the one memory she couldn’t shunt aside to give her a little peace in which to recover.
So Kala focused on that moment, ruthlessly examining it. She’d never been so scared before, not even when her own life was in danger. Waking up while being manhandled into Luthor’s lair had made her more angry than terrified. Even her worst nightmare, the memories of almost drowning in the ocean at six years old, paled before the fear she’d felt at seeing Jason in danger. Maybe that was how it had always been for him – Jason’s nightmare was watching her fall and not being able to catch her. Odd, how the roles were reversed.
With all of her mind focused on that incident, Kala began to notice something else weird about it. When she’d seen he was in trouble, she had rushed toward him, faster than she had ever dreamed she could run. At the time, she had been too focused on saving him to be amazed. But in retrospect, she realized she’d never felt her feet touch the ground. It was as if she had moved on pure willpower, her need to save Jason overpowering mere gravity and friction.
And again, when she and Dru-Zod raced toward the weapons locker, Kala had reached for that new extra notch of speed and found it. It was nothing like running. Kala remembered when Mom would sometimes get out on a long, lonely stretch of highway, look carefully all around for traffic, and then drop her Audi into overdrive.
Basking in the warm desert sunlight, Kala contemplated the possibility that her powers might include a whole new gear of super-speed. That, finally, was able to eliminate the rest of her anxieties as nothing else could. Preparing her for what she would do next…
As Dad took them down toward Las Vegas, Jason watched his sister carefully. She had closed her eyes, and her expression settled into a look of serenity.
Jason distrusted that. Kala never looked peaceful if she was conscious. Those hazel eyes always snapped with vitality, her mouth was always smirking or scowling, and her eyebrows alone gave entire monologues of sarcastic invective. He knew better than expect her to be her usual self, but he had never seen her this drained. Seeing what expressiveness remained slowly dwindle was worrying. It looked to Jason like Kala was giving up.
Maybe she was just falling asleep. She had been through a lot; there hadn’t been time to find out exactly what had happened to her during her captivity, but even if she was treated well the mere fact of being held against her will would traumatize her. And they already knew Luthor wouldn’t have treated her well. Jason thought darkly that the man would delight in frightening his sister. Why else would she be wearing Mom’s locket, which Luthor had to have taken when he’d shot Lois?
He didn’t want to imagine just how bad it had been for her. It had probably been worse than anything he could think of, to cause her to turn to Zod. So maybe Kala was entitled to fall asleep in midair, practically passing out from the relief of not having to be constantly on her guard.
Jason wanted to believe that, but somehow he couldn’t shake the idea that Kala was surrendering. She looked as if she was letting go of everything that tethered her to this moment, this world, retreating further and further inside herself. He frowned, watching her as Dad began to bank for the turn that would spiral them down to Las Vegas. They were still very high, thousands of feet above the ground, and Jason tightened his grip for the inevitable swift descent.
On Dad’s other side, Kala did the opposite. Her eyes still closed, she slipped her hand out of the crook of Dad’s elbow. For a few seconds momentum kept her by his side, but then she started dropping. Jason gasped, his heart frozen, one thought overtaking his mind. It’s too much, she didn’t want to be rescued, and now she’s committing suicide. “Kala, no!” he screamed, clutching tightly to Dad’s arm. He was going to have to do one of those wild power dives that Jason loathed, so he’d better hang on.
Kal-El came to an abrupt halt in midair as soon the pressure of Kala’s hand fell away. He had been focused on getting both twins to safety, and when he glanced at her she’d seemed merely sleepy. But now he worried that it was something much worse.
Pivoting, Kal-El looked toward where he expected Kala to be, but she wasn’t there. He scanned the air nearby, trying to pinpoint her location, and grew more frightened and frustrated when he couldn’t. He knew how fast and how far she would be falling, so why wasn’t she anywhere in expected trajectory? Jason, clutching his arm tightly, was also scanning the sky, trying to pick out the rapidly-falling dot that would be Kala.
She was nowhere to be seen, and both of them began to panic. She couldn’t have fallen that far in only seconds, could she? “We have to get under her,” Kal-El said grimly, and Jason flinched as he prepared for a steep dive.
“No need, Daddy.” The voice that came from behind them could only belong to one person, the very one they were looking for. Kal-El whirled in midair, and he and Jason stared in open-mouthed shock. Kala hung in the air under her own power, completely unsupported, triumph blazing in her expression. This apparent miracle – no one had expected the twins to develop flight, of all the powers – rendered them all speechless.
Kala smiled broadly, clearly stunned herself, at her father, biting her lip a little. Her eyes brimmed with disbelieving tears; in spite of everything, here was proof that she was still a Kent, still her father’s daughter, sharing in his most prized ability. After a few seconds of amazement, Kal-El returned the smile, so immensely proud that he couldn’t shape the words to tell her so. He settled for grinning at her, tears in his eyes as well.
Jason just goggled in wonder. Kala had always wanted to fly – he preferred to keep his feet on the ground, but he knew how his twin coveted that particular power. And now, in spite of captivity far from the sun and exposure to kryptonite, she had it. His sister could fly. Their eyes met, and though he was at a loss for words he tried to let her know how happy he was for her.
Kala had just achieved her fondest wish, and now she had the balance to appreciate it. Flying meant she was a true heir to the House of El, but only her mother’s quick wit and resolve had let her survive the last few days. She could be both, Last Daughter of Krypton and Lois Lane 2.0, and she could be damn good at it, too. She didn’t have to deny one half of her heritage in order to live up to the other, and it was an overwhelming relief to finally know that.
And the realization couldn't have come at a more appropriate time.