This course of action was unwise bordering on ruinous, and Jor-El had argued vociferously against it – both publicly, in the Council, and privately, in Dru-Zod’s study. To his horror, he had been soundly defeated both times. The Council followed Dru-Zod’s lead, and the Rozz VI had carried one of his most trusted lieutenants. He had spoken eloquently in the Council of the need to prevent further deaths, had illustrated the means by which this would be possible, and the rest had agreed.
Only Jor-El had said that destroying a world’s military capabilities and taking its people captive could only be construed as an act of war, and that they would eventually reap the consequences of such actions. Dru-Zod had merely looked at him with a faintly chiding expression, as one looks at a child who has not yet learned to reason. It had been the other councilors who had argued him down, their expressions controlled but their eyes bright with fear, grief, and anger.
After that he had gone to Dru-Zod privately. Jor-El was privileged to be among the General-turned-Chancellor’s friends; together they had forced Kryptonian society out of its apathy, saving the lives of their entire race in the process. He had approached Dru-Zod earnestly and honestly, and their conversation that day was still engraved upon his memory.
“Dru-Zod, we cannot proceed upon this course,” Jor-El had said.
“The Council has already voted and approved it,” Dru-Zod had countered.
Jor-El had simply looked at him for a long moment. “Let us not belabor ourselves with sophistry. We are both aware that you are the sole authority of Krypton at this time; the Council is a mere formality. If you veto the measure, they will all rush to retract their votes.”
“But I shall not veto it. This course of action is not only appropriate, but necessary,” Dru-Zod had told him laconically.
“It is both inappropriate and beyond reason,” Jor-El had insisted, not even realizing his voice was rising. “In fact, it is madness!”
Dru-Zod had not – quite – slammed his fist onto the desk between them, but it had been a near thing. His eyes had gone dark with anger, and his expression had been thunderous. “Be very careful how you speak, old friend. Very careful indeed. You do not understand these savages.”
Jor-El had been truly frightened then. He himself was known to be rather more passionate about his pursuits than was acceptable, but most of the time he remembered to control himself to suit Kryptonian standards. Such an open display of fury as Dru-Zod had just shown him was considered a sign of mental instability. He had tried to reason with Dru-Zod then, telling him that the humans were so far behind Kryptonians in terms of civilization and technology that they were like children. But Kryptonian blood had been spilled, and Dru-Zod would not be swayed from his course.
Since there was no changing it, Jor-El had reluctantly given his support. He had even offered to house one of the so-called ambassadors. Looking about the group who currently awaited their new guests, he was dismayed by some of Dru-Zod’s choices. Most of the other councilors looked distressed, as if dreading this prospect. A few seemed rather more interested than Jor-El preferred, as if these humans were some sort of new, fashionable pet.
He was soberly awaiting his own human visitor. Dru-Zod had decided that each host would place a small crystal necklace upon the guest’s neck. It did not escape Jor-El that this required the human to bow his or her head before a Kryptonian stranger within minutes of arriving on the planet. The crystals served several functions, identification and tracking among them. Once placed, they could only be removed by someone who understood how to properly manipulate the crystals.
The humans disembarked from the ship and milled around a bit, sorting themselves out and searching for the family crests of their hosts. Jor-El studied them a moment; their typical mode of dress was bizarre to Kryptonian eyes. So many different colors, different types of fabric even, most of which had no apparent meaning in terms of rank or insignia. How unlike Kryptonian garments, which were pleasingly uniform, served a variety of functions including temperature control and protection against infectious disease, and preserved modesty as well. By contrast, many of the humans bared an absolutely indecent amount of skin. Some of the other hosts cringed at the sight, though Jor-El controlled his own reaction. It was utterly improper to have one’s neck, arms, and in some cases even legs on view, but the humans did not know this. They dressed and acted as was appropriate for their own kind.
They’d been briefed in flight about whom to seek out. Jor-El knew he was getting a female, one who spoke the Earth language English and who hailed from the nation known as the United States, the daughter of a general. He also knew that she was the youngest of all the captives by what sounded like a significant margin; the rest were eighteen Earth years of age, considered the age of adulthood in many human societies, but Dru-Zod had saddled him with a child.
A slim young woman stepped away from the crowd, looking about with a clear-eyed gaze. Most of the humans seemed disheartened and confused, but this one separated herself from the pack and walked forward boldly. Jor-El watched her, impressed by her courage, but fearing what that certainty meant for his people. Anyone who could display such fortitude at a moment like this was not going to tamely accept the restrictions of life in captivity.
To his surprise, she came directly to him, fixing him with a scornful expression. Her eyes were unlike any Kryptonian’s: two-colored, each iris amber around the pupil and green around the outer rim. The strangeness of it fascinated him momentarily, before he remembered that his guest was supposed to be the youngest girl, the one who was likely cowering in the center of the group.
“I believe you may be mistaken,” he told the woman politely in what he hoped was her own tongue. “I am Jor-El. There are others whose crests resemble…”
“I know. I’m Lois Lane,” she said, glaring at him.
Affronted by the discourtesy – and astounded that she had the gall to interrupt him – Jor-El almost stepped back from her. He remembered that it would set a disturbing precedent, however, and merely inclined his head slightly. “Forgive me my error. I did not expect the youngest among you to be the boldest.”
She looked amused at that, and Jor-El had the disturbing sensation that he was not the one in command of this encounter. The other humans were beginning to get sorted out now, and he decided to get on with this. Jor-El showed her the crystal necklace. “You have been informed of the purpose and use of this. Not only does it identify you as my guest, it can also be used to locate you anywhere on this planet’s surface. You must wear it at all times or be subject to immediate imprisonment.”
“I know,” she replied coolly. Somewhere one of the humans was weeping softly; Jor-El felt a pang of distress at that. No Kryptonian expressed grief so publicly, but then, no Kryptonian had ever been in precisely the same situation as these poor captives.
Lois Lane was still meeting his gaze with a directness Jor-El found unsettling. He held the necklace toward her, meaning for her to incline her head. Instead she lifted her chin slightly. True, with the difference in their heights it was not strictly necessary for her to bow her head, but the symbolism of the gesture was the point of the exercise.
At the same time he found he could not bring himself to ask her to do it. This business was sordid enough without such a heavy-handed demonstration of the captives’ place in Kryptonian society. So Jor-El took a half-step forward and placed the necklace around her neck, reaching around her shoulders while taking exquisite care not to touch her. They had no idea what sorts of germs the humans carried.
All the while she looked into his eyes with an expression of such utter loathing that Jor-El nearly felt compelled to tell her none of this was his idea, that he was as much forced into his role as she was into hers. But no good could come of such a revelation. There was no point to giving any of the captives hope, and for the first time Jor-El found himself wishing he had not thrown his support behind Dru-Zod’s coup back on Krypton-that-was.
Perhaps if he had exposed the then-General’s plans to the Council, he might have been able to convince them of the direness of the situation and achieve the salvation of their people via proper legal channels. At the time he had been convinced that the Council would never listen to reason, and that the only way to save all of their lives had been Dru-Zod’s way.
Now, little though he would admit it aloud, his brother’s position began to sound more reasonable. Zor-El was openly inimical toward Dru-Zod’s regime, and only Jor-El’s intervention had kept him from being arrested as a traitor immediately after the coup. He made no secret of his mistrust and disdain, however, and by doing so ensured that he was alienated from much of the higher-level political maneuvering. No, it was best for Jor-El to keep his doubts to himself and attempt to effect change from within. So long as Dru-Zod trusted him, it might yet be possible to sway the Chancellor by virtue of reason.
Thoroughly unnerved, Jor-El made to leave the landing field as swiftly as possible. On the way he told the girl, “I have set aside a room for you in my home. The accommodations here are not so grand as what we could have offered on Krypton-that-was, but are sufficient to our needs. I intend that you should be comfortable during your stay.”
The watchful girl only continued to stare at him with her strange eyes, neither agreeing, disagreeing, nor grateful. It was only after a long moment that she gave a nod. They didn’t speak further on the trip to his home; he had expected her to balk at the hovercraft, so unlike the tedious modes of transportation to which she must be accustomed, but she merely looked about her with the same wary curiosity.
The sights were still strange to Jor-El: this planet’s native life had mostly been innocuous flora, the dominant one a plant with very thin, pale reddish leaves. It may have seemed similar to the grasses of Earth, but the green-tinged sky had to be disturbing to his guest. On her planet skies of that color presaged dangerous weather formations. And of course, the buildings were all of crystal, gleaming asymmetrical structures designed and positioned to capture and filter everything from sunlight to rain. Still, Lois Lane did not appear to be dismayed by all of this strangeness.
Thus far his so-called guest was nothing that Jor-El could have imagined. Poised and confident where he expected fear and confusion, silent and watchful where he expected some measure of hysteria, she seemed almost Kryptonian in her reserved manner. Yet she was not; she was an entirely unpredictable creature, and one which he was not eager to have in his home any more than she was eager to be there.
They docked at the crystal structure which housed his living quarters and laboratory. “My wife, Lara, will be meeting us,” Jor-El said, and received only the same cool nod as they walked the few steps to the door. The sensors in the door recognized the approach of the master of the house, and opened as they approached.
Built entirely of crystal that illuminated the interior as well as controlled the temperature, to Jor-El’s standards his current dwelling was mediocre, perhaps a bit cramped. He had seen the statistics on his guest’s nation, however, and knew that this would be more living space than usual for her, and far more open, uncluttered by the sorts of trifles that seemed to clog human homes. So he waited in the entryway for her to adjust to her surroundings.
The chance to settle herself was not forthcoming. The moment they stepped in, Jor-El’s son Kal-El approached them, an eager light in his eyes. Jor-El cursed himself inwardly; he had forbidden the boy to accompany him to the landing field, but had neglected to bar him from this meeting. He should have anticipated this reaction from his son, who had inherited all of the inquisitiveness present in both of his parents.
Kal-El had been a mere child when they set out from Krypton. He remembered little of his home world. His youth had been spent aboard the great transport ships as they sought a suitable planet to colonize. That harrowing journey had been immortalized by the accounts of Kryptonian historians, including Kal-El’s own mother Lara, yet to the young boy it had been an adventure.
An entire generation of Kryptonians, from young adults like Kal-El down to those like Zor-El’s daughter Kara who had been mere infants when they evacuated Krypton-that-was, had spent their formative years either in space or on this frontier planet, still only half terraformed to Kryptonian comforts. They were unlike their predecessors, more flexible in their thoughts and deeds, possessed of an insatiable desire to explore and to learn. Many of them, Kal-El included, had been carefully insulated by their parents against the political machinations of their elders during those times of strife and tribulation, and now existed in a state of limbo, unprepared to take up the mantle of their houses yet clearly no longer children.
In Kal-El’s specific case, his voracious curiosity had fixated upon the humans. When sentient life was discovered so close to their new home, a mere solar system away, and found to resemble Kryptonians so closely that at first researchers had thought they had discovered a lost colony of their own kind, Kal-El had been fascinated. He was intrigued by all sorts of life, studying the creatures they encountered on their travels as well as the animals native to Krypton.
To study intelligent life forms was his greatest wish, so of course Jor-El should have expected him here. Even as he approached, trying to keep his features composed but unable to hide his smile, Lara caught her husband’s eye and sighed. Jor-El shook his head slightly and turned to the human girl, ready to make introductions.
Kal-El interrupted him before he could do so. “Father, I was under the impression we were receiving a child – a human roughly equal in years to Kara.”
“As was I. Evidently humans reckon time somewhat differently than we do,” Jor-El replied in their own language. “Still yourself, my son, and remember your manners.”
“Yes, Father,” Kal-El said, inclining his head, but his bright blue eyes never left the girl.
Switching to English, Jor-El addressed her. “Lois Lane, this is my wife, Lara, and my son, Kal-El. Lara, Kal-El, this is Lois, the daughter of General Samuel Lane.”
Only then did he realize that, from the first moment Kal-El had stepped forward, the human had been looking only at him. Her strange eyes locked on his blue gaze, and her expression was one of surprise. He, meanwhile, was plainly eager to speak with her, restraining the impulse only with effort.
The two young creatures from different worlds studied each other intently, fearlessly, and Jor-El felt a tremor of unease as he contemplated their rapt attention to one another. The human girl seemed much less wary about Kal-El, as if she recognized his youth even though he was somewhat older in terms of physical development, and Kal-El himself was clearly fascinated with Lois, showing not a whit of the caution of his elders in interacting with a new and primitive race.
As Jor-El watched, trying to discern what was going on, the girl’s expression changed, her eyes narrowing. She didn’t quite step back from Kal-El, but her body language suddenly communicated distrust. Kal-El, who had done nothing to cause that reaction, tilted his head in confusion. Jor-El’s disquiet deepened into actual worry at her abrupt reversal; there was no real way to keep his son away from this unpredictable creature, and he had no idea how their interaction would develop. Or what it would bode for the rest of the ‘guests’ and their hosts.