ETA: missing text
The robots had just asked, for the fourteenth time, if Lois required assistance, when Kal-El finally returned. The worst part of this entire situation, if she was totally honest, was just the complete boredom. With nothing to do, nothing in any language she knew to read, no real stimulation of any sort short of interacting with her captors, it was driving her up the wall. And with him out of the house, she didn’t even have that. It made her wonder how the other humans were handling things.
Just the thought of those of her own kind not being too far away brought on some unexpected melancholy. In response to that, her replies to the polite mechanical requests had been getting increasingly snide – she just wanted to pace, dammit, she was trapped in here by herself and had to have some way to work off her tension – and the return of her ‘host’ was a welcome distraction. She’d begun to wonder about the possibility of taking a couple of those too-helpful robots offline.
But something in her appearance must have indicated how stir-crazy she was, because Kal-El stopped abruptly at the sight of her and asked, “Are you all right, Miss Lane?”
Jesus Christ, give me a damn break! Lois gritted her teeth. “Yes, I’m fine. And I swear to God, if you ask me if I need assistance, I’ll strangle you. I’m fine. I just want to be left alone!”
She didn’t mean it, of course. It was being left alone for several hours with nothing to occupy her that had caused the problem. That kind of hyperbolic threat was pretty common for a teenage girl – whenever Lucy was being a pest Lois had often threatened to tie her braids to the ceiling fan. Lucy generally screamed in mock terror and then ran away laughing, all too convinced of her older sister’s love. But Kal-El took three quick steps back, eyeing her warily. And that only made Lois’ current mood even more irascible.
Her frown was positively thunderous when she threw her hands up in the air and dropped heavily into the crystal chair nearest her. Lois knew she was behaving like a typical teenage girl, and didn’t like it any better when she realized that her reaction was, in part, due to the fact that she was getting used to his presence. And in a way that she never had with his parents. “Oh, knock it off, I wasn’t serious,” she snapped, shoving the disturbing thought away before glaring at him. “Even if I was, let’s get real. You’re like a foot taller than me and built like a linebacker; I doubt I could even get both hands around your neck. What the hell would be the point? I’m just aggravated because your freaking robots won’t leave me the hell alone. I can’t stand feeling like I’m being stalked or something.”
In any other circumstance, it would’ve been amusing to watch him parsing the meaning out of those slang-laden sentences. At the moment it was just a further source of infuriation. “I apologize if the robots have been too obsequious,” he finally said, his eyes still wide.
He was still looking at her like she was a wild animal, something that had escaped from its cage at the zoo, and part of Lois wanted to growl and lunge at him just to see what he’d do. The thought of his shocked expression erased some of her temper, Lois fighting a sudden smile at the image in her mind. If all else failed, it would break the tension. But General Lane had raised no fools and this wasn’t back home and Lucy. Any overtly aggressive move on her part would have consequences best not contemplated.
Instead she just sighed. “Relax. I’m not that stupid, Kal-El.”
“I never suspected you of intellectual inferiority,” he replied, seeming a little less perturbed. “It is to be expected that you would find many sources of frustration during the first part of your stay with us. I promise you I will do everything in my power to alleviate that stress. Tell me, what were the robots doing that vexed you so?”
She deflated at that, frowning a bit. One of the most maddening things about the man was how hard he made it to stay aggravated with him. Once he’d dragged out of her that she’d been pacing and promised to reprogram the robots to recognize that as normal behavior, Lois had no further reason to be angry at him. The lingering irritation didn’t just vanish, though, and she would have turned on her heel and left – if her whole problem hadn’t been the fact that she was going stir-crazy all by herself.
So she was still feeling a bit out of sorts when Kal-El asked her, “Miss Lane, if I might ask, why were you pacing?”
It might have been wiser to dissemble, but Lois was only sixteen, and her temper was already frayed. “Because I was bored out of my skull,” she snapped back. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but there’s literally nothing for me to do here. I can’t work on my Kryptonese without you, I don’t have any books to read, I don’t know how to work the hologram viewer thing, and I’m not even allowed to go for a freaking walk! Not to mention I haven’t seen another human being in…” She trailed off then, horrified to realize she’d lost track of how many days she’d been on New Krypton. Even worse was the flood of homesickness that washed over her. Lois bit her lower lip hard to keep from being overwhelmed. Soldiers didn’t freak out, soldiers didn’t cry. She could handle this. She could. Had to stop being a stupid hypochondriac girl.
Kal-El’s chagrined expression matched the apologetic tone of his next words. “Your pardon, Miss Lane. I was remiss in not looking at this situation from your perspective. I shall see that it is remedied, immediately. Would you like to learn how to operate the viewing system now, or would you prefer to go out and get some … I believe the expression is ‘fresh air’?”
“Out,” Lois replied immediately, relieved. She was stifled in here, caged by crystalline walls. Figuring out the viewing system could wait until she shook free of that trapped feeling.
He smiled at her evident relief, and they both headed for the door. This time they didn’t take the hovercraft. Instead Kal-El led her along pathways of more crushed crystal. The feel of it underfoot was strange at first; it gave slightly under pressure as each step landed, but it almost seemed to stick to the soles of her shoes for a second. The thrill of being outside overwhelmed Lois’ initial misgivings, and she soon ignored the odd qualities of the paving material except to notice that it gave excellent traction in spite of appearing slick and hard.
Very few people were out walking. Most travel seemed to be via the hovercraft zooming around above. The few pedestrians they passed exchanged greetings with a nod, but none seemed to want to talk. At least not once they got a look at the crystal around Lois’ neck. It took effort to stifle the resentment she felt from showing on her face. It shouldn’t be a surprise, since things would have likely been the same back home.
Kal-El pointed out a few trivial things to her – a planting of rare singing flowers, abstract sculptures of hypnotic beauty, the round dome of the Council building in the distance. As she stopped to examine one of the sculptures, which looked like a waterfall from one angle, he asked her quietly, “Do you feel better now?”
From the other side, the sculpture looked almost like a stylized dancer. “Yes,” Lois replied, surprised at her own answer. Just getting outside had alleviated the worst of her tension.
He beamed at her; it was ridiculously easy to make him happy, and damned difficult not to grin back. The bitterness drained away somewhat then. “Very well. I shall make time for us to take a daily constitutional, then. I, too, sometimes feel rather confined if I do not get outdoors every once in a while.”
The general’s voice cropped up in her head then and her mind ticked off in another direction. The military needed to know exactly what was what here if they were to bargain for the return of their people and this was the perfect opportunity to get that information for them. If she was able to get that intel to her father… Thinking quickly, Lois agreed with a meek smile, “That would probably be a good idea. I’d hate to keep you from other projects, though. Maybe I could go alone, once I get the lay of the land, to stop interruptions to your schedule.”
She was watching him carefully without making it obvious, and his expression was full of conflict. “I have no higher priority at the moment, yet I understand why you might prefer time to yourself. It is difficult to find proper reflection without solitude. Still, I am afraid you might not be entirely safe on your own. There are those among my people who would …misinterpret your actions. And the consequences of that I could not even begin to guess.”
Lois could, and she should have known that they would distrust the humans wholly. Imprisonment, even more restrictive than what she faced now, and some form of punishment. Kryptonians didn’t go in for corporal or capital punishment, but she could easily see them using the more ‘humane’ alternative of solitary confinement. And that would drive her up a wall in no time flat. She tried not to seem disappointed, merely shrugging. There had to be a way to work around to his trusting her on her own.
She mused on that as they returned to Kal-El’s home, turning over options in her mind. Lois wasn’t paying much attention to her surroundings, until a flash of white caught her eye. She turned to look and saw that it was sunlight reflecting off a crystal worn around a young man’s neck.
With a start, Lois realized that was the same type of crystal she wore. Though the young man was dressed in Kryptonian robes, he was darker skinned than their people. It dawned on her then with a surge of hope. Another human!
Homesickness swept over her, the urge to run up to that total stranger just to speak with someone who’d been born in the same solar system. He might not even understand English, but that didn’t matter. She had more in common with him, wherever he’d been born, than with any of these Kryptonians.
He saw her too, and his eyes lit up. But the Kryptonian woman with him was getting into a hovercraft, and spoke sharply to him when his attention strayed. With a last longing glance at Lois, he followed her.
It felt as if she had been physically punched in the gut. All she could do was stand there in horror. The rebuke the woman had uttered sounded strangely familiar, in tone not words. And then she blanched. It was the same way her family called Caspar, their German Shepherd. They were being treated like pets. And from the looks of things, she could be considered one of the spoiled ones that was allowed on the furniture, but a pet none the less.
Sick in heart, she briskly turned to look at Kal-El, making her feelings clear in the sharp way she glared at him. Her first instinct was to run, just run. How foolish had she been to even think she could possibly have an ally in this, to think he might just understand what it was like for her here? Sneering in disgust, she looked forcefully away from him, “Take me back to my cell, okay? We’ll remember the leash next time since I’m already in the collar.”
“Miss Lane, I am afraid I do not understand. What has angered you?,” Kal-El said, glancing from her to the departing hovercraft.
She had meant to quit after that instant of searing sarcasm, but his total bewilderment spurred her onward. “You don’t get it either, do you? I thought we were prisoners, but it’s worse than that. You treat us like pets. If I bark a little too loudly, you get all wide-eyed like I’m going to leap up and bite you. Now you have to take me for a walk every day so I won’t tear up your house. We’re not allowed to make our own choices, ever. You’d better keep us all from spending any time with each other, because you’re trying so hard to civilize us and you don’t want us picking up bad habits from our own kind. And don’t get too close, you don’t know what kind of germs I might have!”
She stalked toward him, her voice rising, forgetting all about keeping her head down. This was just too much of an insult to be suffered silently. “We’re nothing more than subhuman animals to you, aren’t we? A curiosity to be examined, maybe an experiment to see if we can be trained, but not equals. You’re treating us like we treat our dogs, right down to the collars we wear to let everyone know who our owners are! How long do you think it’ll take you to teach me a couple of cute tricks, like speaking your language and using the TV? Better yet, how long before one of us gets ‘put down’ because we can’t live in your world?”
Lois in the grip of anger was a force to be reckoned with, as several boys at her various schools had learned over the years. By the time she finished speaking she was glaring up at Kal-El, practically shouting in his face, and luckily no one else was in earshot at the moment. Lois was ready to throw caution completely to the winds and just slug him one if he patronized her again, her fiery temper pushed to its limit.
Kal-El looked completely stunned, but when he spoke his voice was very serious. “But you are not an unreasoning animal. You are a sentient, rational being. My family and I just debated this at dinner – I am of the mind that your species is the intellectual equal of our own, which is why I wish to learn from you.”
That quiet, respectful tone, almost as if he was hurt by her accusations, silenced Lois for the moment. Kal-El continued, “As for us treating you like pets, Krypton has never had the same tradition of domesticating companion animals that you have. Most of the native creatures on Old Krypton were exceedingly large and fierce, not animals we could conceivably tame. The truth is, we have little experience with other sentient races. Space travel was forbidden on Old Krypton until it became the only possible means of survival. So we have no concept of how we ought to be treating you. I will do what I can to rectify the current problems, Miss Lane, but I fear it may not be as much as we could hope.”
Which is to say that he could do nothing at all. Breath hitched in her throat. There was going to be no easy way to accomplish the task she had charged herself with and her emotions were in total upheaval. Her brows furrowed then, wanting to keep yelling but knowing it was no use. Her eyes burned. Without another word, she turned and strode away from him in the direction they had come.
After a moment, Kal-El followed her silently.
Lois spoke very little to Kal-El, and he kept his questions to a minimum. A pall of frost had grown over every interaction, and though he was clearly trying to win her over with kindness, Lois ignored the attempt even though she was almost certain he empathized with her. Prisoner or pet, she resented the hell out of her current situation, and she wasn’t going to go out of her way to assuage her captor’s guilt.
Several days had passed before he came to her while she was browsing the language education holograms. That much she had accomplished, figuring out the viewing system, and now she had a library of materials to learn from. “Miss Lane?” Kal-El said from the doorway.
“Yes?” she replied, annoyed that he had interrupted her.
“I have received a message from the Council. They have set dates for the humans to speak with their families on Earth. Yours is in six days’ time.”
That had been unexpected and Lois could do no more than sit silently then, trying to get her mind around how this announcement made her feel. Because the relief and excitement had been anticipated, but the anxiety that curled around her was not.