Lois had been holding herself tensely aloof from this cold-mannered man, whom her intel indicated was a well-respected scientist. But the moment she stepped into his house, she received a shock that startled her out of her studied detachment.
She was expecting to be introduced to Jor-El’s wife, but instead a handsome young man met them practically at the door. Lois had to tilt her head back slightly to meet his gaze; he was tall and broad-shouldered, with black hair falling into his bright blue eyes. And unlike everyone else she’d seen today, his expression was one of enthusiastic delight. Wow. Just … wow.
For an instant she took him for another human; she hadn’t yet seen a Kryptonian so animated. Maybe one of the few young male captives. There had been a boy or two amongst them. The girl’s heart tightened for a moment. The young man’s conversation with her host had none of the stilted, formal quality she’d already noted in Jor-El. Maybe she wasn’t quite as alone in this as she had thought. But then she saw the peculiar silvery-white clothing that covered him, his comfort in the garments, and knew even before Jor-El introduced him that he was one of them. The heart that had so recently risen plummeted back into her stomach.
Still, he was … well, it sounded cliché, but he was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. This one, he could knock Scott Bracewell’s fancy car right out of the competition just by smiling. Lois stared up at him, unable to help it, and his blue eyes met her hazel ones with frankness and intensity, as if he found her utterly fascinating. He was a few years older than herself, perhaps.
Her thoughts were tending toward the unsafe and Lois sent herself back on the right path with a brutal reminder. Don’t be an idiot. He’s not a man. He’s an alien, she told herself harshly. Only then did it occur to her to wonder why he’d been placed in her path. The obvious answer came to mind. That delicate jaw tightened like a steel trap. Of course, put the young handsome one out as a representative. Surely he’d be more likely to win her cooperation than his dour father. We’ll change that way of thinking real quick. Nothing’s that handsome. So thinking, she bristled at him, and turned a wary eye on Jor-El and his wife Lara. General Lane raised no fools. Go get some bimbo to pull that crap on. Try another one.
Introductions aside, Jor-El summarily dismissed his seemingly-errant son, who went out with a lingering glance toward Lois. That seemed to wreck her theory, but maybe the Kryptonians were just devious and subtle. Toss the eye candy in front of her, then yank him away before she can get suspicious. Except as the daughter of a three-star general, Lois could get suspicious in a nanosecond.
She nearly missed the soft voice to her right. So locked into her own thoughts, she just barely stifled a gasp of surprise when she startled. Embarrassed anger flushed her cheeks then. Great. Just great, spygirl. Good focus there. Your alertness training is top-notch. Dad would be so proud. “Your quarters are this way,” the woman – Lara Jor-El, what a chauvinistic naming tradition – said, leading her out of the main room.
Lois watched her curiously as they made their way. Like it or not from her quick observation, she reminded Lois of her own mother, gracious and kind, and the human girl couldn’t resist wondering for a moment if Lara had also learned how to let the man of the house think he was in charge while actually running everything herself.
A smile crept across her lips briefly before she banished it. That comparison bordered on treason, and Lois shook the thought out of her head. She was surrounded by enemies; if Lara seemed nice, it was either because she was trying to win Lois’ trust, or because she was too weak to stand up for herself. Lois couldn’t afford to think otherwise. Besides, you couldn’t know someone’s true nature from a few moments in their presence.
She kept her guard up, making no comment on the two rooms given to her. The décor was Spartan, but it seemed to have everything she needed. The bed was made of crystal like everything else, curiously round, and the sheets had the same metallic sheen as the clothing. Lois touched the fabric cautiously, expecting it to be stiff. Instead it was incredibly smooth, almost slippery, the texture of silk.
“The fabrics we use are all anti-microbial and temperature-stabilizing,” Lara informed her. “I understand you are accustomed to more bed coverings, and we can procure additional ones if necessary, but you may find this sufficient.”
Lois simply nodded, keeping silent. Lara continued as if this was to be expected, “You are free to move about the house, but you will not be able to enter the laboratory. The experiments Jor-El has in progress are sometimes quite delicate. Come here, please, and I will key the other doors to open for you.”
It turned out that there was a crystal panel beside each door, and once Lara tapped a series of codes into the one in Lois’ room, all Lois had to do was press her palm against it. From then on, scanning her hand would give her access to all the rooms except the lab – which made getting a look at it her first priority – and Lara moved on to showing her around the rest of the house.
The dining room was recognizable if needlessly spacious by human standards; there wouldn’t be any rubbing elbows at this table. “You will be summoned at mealtimes,” Lara informed her. “Your physiology is largely compatible with our own, so we will be able to share our cuisine with you, though you will need supplements of certain minerals. Of course, there will be appreciable differences in palate, but I and several others have endeavored to begin cultivation of some of the common edible plants from your world.”
With that she brought Lois to the solarium, which contained a variety of plants. Most were exotic to Lois’ eyes, but she also recognized certain herbs from her mother’s garden, and even a tomato plant. The little touch of home threatened to wake full-blown nostalgia, but Lois curtailed it sharply. After all, unlike Ella Lane’s pots of strawberries and herbs and decorative houseplants, there was no rich, welcoming smell of loam here. Everything was grown hydroponically, just water, nutrients, and sterile substrate. It fit with what she knew of Kryptonians’ germ-phobia, and reminded her that nothing here was like home. Nothing.
And on the same note of germ-phobia, she would never understand the showering routine Lara detailed for her. It was the weirdest she’d ever heard of. She’d never thought she’d miss running water this much.
Over the next few days Lois began to grow familiar with the daily routines of the House of El. Being locked up inside within the range of rooms, she really didn’t have a choice. Lara was a historian, and she spent most of her time in the library – a room which contained no books but instead displayed thousands of holographic recordings. Jor-El seemed to stay holed up in his laboratory except at mealtimes, although he also left the house to consult with other Kryptonians. Lois was able to gather that most meetings were conducted via transmitted holograph, but some apparently required that personal touch.
It seemed to her like Jor-El was up to something he didn’t want traced, and Lois began to study him, timing his movements. No tasks of any nature had been assigned to her and that made her observations all the easier. She was slowly learning the language as she went, though, and it was incredibly frustrating not to understand what was being said around her. Although by the end of the second day, she knew enough along with reading into their tone of voice to comprehend a holographic conversation between Jor-El and his son. The elder Kryptonian was warning Kal-El to stay away from the house. “She needs time,” he argued, and Lois took that to mean herself.
What did she need time for, anyway? Time to relax and trust them? Not likely. Every passing day made her more and more tense. She had no contact with other humans – they were limiting that for the first little while – she couldn’t get outside without one of them with her, and she couldn’t escape the presence of her jailers. The stress never let up.
In the midst of it, Lois couldn’t help longing for home. She tried to kill the nostalgia with the stern reminder that if she wasn’t here, Momma or Lucy would be, but her heart wouldn’t listen to logic. By the third day she even missed her father’s lectures and would’ve welcomed a full-force General Lane dressing-down. With nothing else to focus on other than tracking the movement of the enemy, thoughts of her former life lingered and re-enforced her efforts.
Little things started to get on her nerves. The way the light was always just slightly too bright, like her entire world had become an overexposed photograph. The perfect sterility of this house, which could never be anything like a home without a few scuffs and stains to give it character. The silence grew oppressive; Kryptonian music favored unfamiliar harmonies, so Lois preferred to go without it, and the solemn nature of her ‘hosts’ lent themselves to much quiet reflection. Committing murder would be a small price to pay for one of her rock albums. Just the thought of the Kryptonians’ reaction to the classics like Jagger or Bowie made her heart just a little lighter for a few moments.
The worst, cruelest torture was all of the things that reminded her of home at first glance, but not quite. One of the common spices tasted a lot like cinnamon, but with a strange almost salty note, and Lois couldn’t adjust to the flavor. Even when Lara tried, with every evidence of kindness, to make their foreign dishes more familiar, the contrast only reminded Lois how far she was from the simple pleasures of a pizza or a hamburger. That, in itself, was why Lara wasn’t her primary target. Her attempts to please her, combined with the occasional wistful smile, made it just too hard to actively pursue. Besides which, it wasn’t like Lara was closely involved with the government. Or at least that’s what she told herself. If it came down to it, though, she’d steal whoever’s secrets she had to.
It hurt to see the way that Jor-El and Lara looked at each other with such light and love in their expressions, so like Momma and the General on their best days. But unlike her parents, the Kryptonians never kissed, never touched, other than the occasional brush of hands. And even that, when they realized she’d seen it, they both pulled back abruptly as if they’d been caught in some sordid behavior. The lack of touch made it seem like there was no real warmth between them, and Lois found herself longing for the way her parents were, for the way her father would hold her mother and drop a gentle kiss on her shoulder, for the way Momma would run her fingers through the General’s close-cropped hair and smile at him. It was singularly weird to miss the very things that used to make her gag at her parents’ mushiness.
She missed Lucy most of all: no obnoxiously cute and sweet little sister tagging at her heels, getting into her stuff, generally being a nuisance but always too adorable to be properly furious with her. A kid would’ve livened up the place, made it a real home, brought a little of the chaos and spontaneity that was part of life itself as Lois had always known it. As it was, Lois felt oppressed by the constant order and tranquility, smothered by serenity. And trapped. She was never afforded the opportunity to see outside the living quarters and it was giving her cabin fever of the worst stripe.
All of that translated into deep resentment of her hosts. And, if she was honest, a little fear. After all, now that they had the humans here, there was nothing to force the Kryptonians to keep their word. Despite the fact that not even Lois’ paranoia could misconstrue Jor-El’s or Lara’s actions as threatening, she still refused to let down her guard. Enemy territory, she told herself each morning on waking up.
So she redoubled her efforts to figure out what Jor-El was up to, shadowing his steps, watching him carefully for any clues he might let slip. It never occurred to her that she might be unnerving him until the moment when he turned, saw her, and actually flinched.
He’s afraid of me. The thought dawned on Lois slowly. Of course. We’re the primitives, the savages. They fear touch, and we have all kinds of hand-to-hand combat skills. I could probably hurt him, badly, if I tried. They’d kill me for it, or something worse, but it wouldn’t matter to him.
The realization gave her a feeling of vicious triumph, and it was with mean-spirited glee that Lois let Jor-El see her hanging about a little more often. It was nice to feel as though she had the upper hand for once. She set out to exploit the advantage, hoping to have something to report when she was next allowed to speak with her own kind.
For the same reason, Lois also redoubled her efforts to get into his lab. Other people’s secrets had always fascinated her, and she simply could not leave any mystery alone. Her parents had stopped keeping her birthday and Christmas gifts in the house years ago, as no precautions were sufficient to stop her from finding them.
This was no prankish whim, though, no mere curiosity. This was potentially a matter of life and death, and Lois took it extremely seriously. Which was why, when she decided to take a closer look at the entry panel to see if it could be dismantled or otherwise subverted, she got just a little too focused on her task.
“Lois of the House of Lane.” Jor-El’s voice was sharp with reprimand when he spoke from behind her, and she bolted to her feet. She froze, blinking in shock and cursing her inattention. The white-haired scientist leveled a stern gaze on her before continuing, “I suggest you cease trying to gain access to my laboratory, as you will not be able to disable the security measures.”
Lois narrowed her eyes at him. “Yet,” she replied coldly.
Jor-El sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. “Regardless, you shall soon be beyond the reach of temptation. The decision was made this afternoon. As you are so clearly uncomfortable here, I am transferring you to the custody of my son, Kal-El.”
Ohhh, shit. Maybe I should have handled this different. Can he even do that? She could only stare at him with wide hazel eyes, wondering exactly what that would mean in the scheme of things. Had her situation been made better or worse?