Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Across The Universe: A Flare of High-Powered Perception [Chapter Eight]

On a personal note, for those that normally come by just on post-day, Anissa and I got some pretty bad medical news about my father-in-law this week and all the good vibes you can spare would be greatly appreciated. This just sucks, to put it bluntly.

On another note, the Superman Movieverse Fanfiction Awards is in the midst of setting up the voting for best of fandom, which starts tomorrow and will be running through the 14th. If you feel the urge, please go over and make your voice heard for your favorite authors! You guys have no idea how great it is to see that you have fans behind you!

Also, things are brewing in this little universe now, starting this chapter. Are you ready for what's to come? :D Time will tell.

Enjoy, all!

Kal-El was miserable.  His grand project had ground to an abrupt halt, and Lois’ cold attitude made even the simple act of living with her a burden.  She treated him with such cold formality, as if he’d given her some terrible insult, and at first Kal-El could not ascertain what had angered her so.

She had been frustrated, but he had done everything she asked.  He had taken her outside, and when she’d been overcome with anger on seeing the other human, he had refuted her furious assertions.  He’d even promised to do what he could to rectify the problems, and had examined his every interaction with her to ensure that he wasn’t treating her as a second-class citizen.

After several days Kal-El had come to the conclusion that his own behavior was not at fault.  Instead, Lois had been enraged by the way the Kryptonian woman had treated her human ‘guest’.  The incident had opened his eyes to the way his countrymen reacted to the humans.

He knew, of course, that some of his people agreed with Zor-El that humans were base savages.  He had never guessed that anyone with that attitude had volunteered to house a human.  Yet once Kal-El began to investigate, paying more attention to the humans’ caretakers than to the humans themselves, he was disturbed to realize that in many cases they were being treated like animals.  True, there were others like himself who were fascinated by the humans and eager to interact with them, but the prevailing attitude was one of mistrust, resentment, and even fear.

Kal-El had even seen one human, a tall, powerfully built man, fitted with a Kryptonian medical device that looked much like a crystal collar.  It emitted electrical impulses to certain nerves in the cervical spine, and was used to induce deep relaxation prior to some procedures that required sedation instead of anesthesia.  That human’s host had been an older man, much slighter than his ‘guest’, and by the tension in his shoulders he was deeply afraid of the human that accompanied him.  Kal-El had quickly surmised that the human wore the collar not to treat some medical condition like chronic anxiety, but so that his Kryptonian host could humanely tranquilize him at will if he felt threatened.

He had thought better of his own people than that.  They had been handed an incredible opportunity to interact with a foreign culture, and they were wasting it.  Both humans and Kryptonians stood to profit by their association; staid Kryptonian society could be reinvigorated by exposure to the novelty of human innovation, and the humans could benefit from the Kryptonian’s vast wisdom.  Their medical knowledge alone would be beyond priceless.

As of the morning of Lois’ scheduled contact with her family, Kal-El was still unsure how to rectify the situation.  There had to be some way to convince his countrymen of the valuable opportunity they were overlooking.  He was more absorbed by the problem of how to deal with Lois, however.  She had been uncommonly silent and surly ever since the incident and no amount of conciliation on Kal-El’s part had thawed her attitude.

It had been decided that the humans should be brought to the Communications Center well before their scheduled time.  Kal-El brought Lois there an hour in advance, intending to remain with her until she was called, but the official in charge informed him that his presence was unnecessary.  “We will also be conducting a health check on all of the humans while they await their turn at the remote viewer,” the officious young man told him.  He wore the sigil of a minor house, one Kal-El could not remember at the moment. 

“Why was this information not given to us earlier?” Kal-El asked. 

“It is a routine matter,” the young man told him, as if that answered the question.  “This is … Lois Lane, correct?”

He would have motioned Lois to follow him, but Kal-El stepped slightly in front of her.  “Indeed.  What kind of health check are you planning to perform?”

Now the official was annoyed, and let it show in his tone.  “A simple diagnostic crystal scan, to ensure that they are being maintained in good health.  Does that meet with your approval…?”  He trailed off, expecting to hear his questioner’s name.

“Kal-El, son of Jor-El,” he replied, and the official paled.

“Forgive me…” he stammered, clearly worried about offending the son of a member of the Science Council and close friend of Chancellor Zod.

“It is not I to whom you need apologize,” Kal-El said, gently.  His father had raised him with more grace than this man.  He turned to Lois and said, “The diagnostic crystal he referred to is quite simple.  It merely shines a very bright light upon you.  Much like your own x-rays, only this is not harmful even in very large doses.  This technology allows us to monitor your overall health without any invasive procedures.”

Lois simply nodded, as if all of this meant nothing to her.  Perhaps she was simply distracted, both by the presence of other humans and by the prospect of speaking to her family again.  “I will return for you at the appointed hour, Miss Lane,” he told her. Her eyes flicked to his then as she nodded a second time. He couldn’t quite read the emotion there.

To the official, Kal-El added, “Take good care of her.  Do not forget that these humans are ambassadors of a sovereign world.  They ought to be treated with the respect due to them.  It is only proper courtesy to tell them what is to happen to them.  And if they do not understand Kryptonese, find one of the humans who have learned it to translate.”  The young man, who was most likely a few years older than Kal-El himself, nodded a trifle too eagerly.

His attitude continued to rankle as Kal-El turned to leave.  Why was it so difficult to simply inform the humans and their caretakers of what was planned?  Did they think no one cared?  For a moment, he tried to imagine the diagnostic crystal through human eyes.  An enormous, glowing, translucent stone, moving under its own power with little chiming noises as it slid along the other crystals in its assembly, steadily approaching a human who had no idea what it was…  There might be panic.  Kal-El was glad he had made his request. 

Perhaps there was more he could do.  Kal-El briefly considering visiting the Office of Human Affairs, but on a day like this they would be overwhelmed trying to coordinate the communication schedule.  Besides, that organization was still quite new, having been chartered and formed just before the human ambassadors were brought to New Krypton.  Perhaps the best option was to speak to someone with more direct control over the situation.  Kal-El did not immediately know who was in charge of all this, but he was certain his father would know.  With an hour or two to spare, he decided to call on Jor-El.

The trip by hovercraft took only a few minutes, and Kal-El had a standing invitation to his father’s home.  Lara let him in, and since Jor-El was in his laboratory, they spent a few minutes in casual conversation.  “And how is Lois Lane?” Lara finally asked.

Kal-El sighed.  “She is … dismayed.  The other day while we were walking, we encountered another human with his host.  The woman assigned to him was very brusque.  Lois took exception to that treatment.  She says that we treat her people like animals, that at best they are pets.  At worst, slaves.  And I … I find it very hard to disagree with her, in some instances.”

Lara had gone somewhat paler as he spoke.  “My son…  This is a very trying time, for both of our peoples.”

“And it need not be,” Kal-El countered.  “We have an opportunity for the betterment of both of our worlds, and we are wasting it in ignorance and xenophobia.  Some of our people are treating the humans as if they are mindless, vicious beasts.  I had thought to make an appointment with the Office of Human Affairs, to discuss a more equitable treatment of our guests, but…”

Sighing, Lara touched his arm lightly, something she had occasionally done in his childhood to reassure him.  “Kal-El, you are an optimist.  The truth is, we have some cause to fear the humans.”

“They have never seen spacecraft like ours before.  They could not have known the Roz IV was manned,” he argued. 

“They also could not have known it was not manned, and they struck anyway.  I know, my son, I know.  To Lois, we must surely seem like oppressors.  But she will soon come to appreciate the benefits of having lived among us.  Our advanced society has much to offer her primitive people.”

Kal-El blinked.  Lara had espoused a much more accepting view of humanity at dinner the other day, and now she sounded almost like another bureaucrat.  Before he could reply, she smiled and said, “Now, if you will keep your fascination with your studies to a minimum, we may call upon your father in his laboratory.”

That wasn’t like her at all.  Lara had never discouraged his interest in anything.  Bemused, Kal-El followed her to Jor-El’s workspace.  He seemed surprised by their arrival, but welcomed his son warmly.  Once the door was closed behind them, Lara said in tones of disappointment, “Oh, you were not going to work with the sonic disruptor again, were you?  Jor-El, I promise you that device makes an audible – and quite annoying – hum.”

“Unfortunately, my dear, if we are to find a use for the harmonics it generates, we must test it.  And with Kal-El here we can test your assertion that it creates sound in the audible range.  I myself hear nothing.”  With that, he touched a panel on his workstation, and indeed a barely-audible hum filled the room.

“Mother is right.  I do hear it,” Kal-El said, now thoroughly confused.

“Yes, and any listening devices in or around the house are thoroughly scrambled by it,” Jor-El replied.  “Lara, what has happened?”

“Nothing of great import, my love.  Only that your son wishes to inform the Office of Human Affairs of how to conduct their business,” Lara said dryly.

Both of them stared at Kal-El.  “My son,” Jor-El began, and faltered.

“Father, tell me what is going on.”  Kal-El’s heart was racing with fear – and unseemly excitement.  Were his own parents involved in some kind of controversy?

Jor-El sighed, and motioned them all toward seats.  “It has become … disadvantageous to speak too highly of the humans.  I was asked some pointed questions after our dinner.  Zor-El has been stirring trouble, trying to sway public opinion.  The fool does not know…”  He shook his head, interrupting himself.

Kal-El could only stare.  He had never heard his father speak so critically of his uncle.  The two were not close friends, and at times they had disagreed loudly, but Jor-El had never openly disparaged his brother in Kal-El’s hearing. 

Lara spoke up then.  “Kal-El, if your father is to maintain his position and keep Dru-Zod’s trust, we must be very careful what we are heard to say.”

His heart leapt.  “So you were dissembling before.  You do agree we are mistreating the humans.”  Kal-El knew that his parents did not share certain things with him, mostly the intricate details of political maneuvering, in which he had no interest anyway.  But realizing that they might be on his side was a revelation.  Perhaps he would finally be inducted into the machinations of Kryptonian high society…

That emotion was crushed when Jor-El scoffed.  “Mistreating them?  You have learned their history, my son.  You know how barbarously they have treated their own prisoners.  If they must suffer a minor loss of pride or comforts here, then that is of little consequence.”

“But Father, there is no need to treat them so.  Humans could become our allies, and both of our worlds could benefit, they from our wisdom, we from their ingenuity,” Kal-El pleaded.

Jor-El and Lara shared a look full of dismay.  “Perhaps this is so,” Lara ventured, “but only once they have become less of a threat.”

Kal-El stared at them both.  “I do not understand how you, who were both so excited to learn of the existence of an intelligent species so near to our new home, who encouraged me to learn all I could of them, can be so pessimistic and dismissive.”

“My son, I do not dismiss your ideas.  I will, however, forbid you from taking them to the Office of Human Affairs, or to anyone on any of the Councils.”  Jor-El spoke heavily, and his gaze seemed to be trying to communicate something beyond his words.  Unfortunately, Kal-El could not grasp what that was.

The younger Kryptonian rose from his seat.  “Then I shall do what I can, within your limitations, to improve the conditions of Lois’ captivity,” he said stoutly.  And with formal leave-takings, he turned and left.

Kal-El did remember to pause at the open laboratory door and say, for the benefit of any listening devices that might exist, “Father, forgive my abrupt departure.  I too can hear the hum Mother mentioned, and it is quite aggravating.”  Amid apologies and formal leave-takings, he made his exit.

After returning to the Office of Human Affairs, where he intended to wait for Lois, Kal-El devoted some thought to the problem.  He had to at least consider that his parents might be correct; in his experience, they often were.

But as he quickly concluded, not on this matter.  That conviction came from someplace deeper than knowledge and experience.  Kal-El was certain that Lois was a sentient being, and that as such she was entitled to a life of dignity and freedom.  He believed so intrinsically, just as he believed that courtesy and kindness were virtues while ignorance and spitefulness were vices.  Whether cosseting or callous indifference, her treatment at the hands of a technologically-superior species robbed her of self-determination and reduced her to a curiosity.

With a chill, Kal-El realized what bothered him so much about his people’s attitudes toward the humans.  Kryptonians were technologically superior, but many of them seemed to forget the adverb modifier in that sentence, believing themselves to be superior in all ways.  They evidently did not learn from the example of humanity, had not studied the histories of slavery, degradation, and war caused by one race’s surety of superiority over another.  True, this was a slightly different situation, since Kryptonians and humans actually were different species and not simply races of the same species.  The example held, however, because in Kal-El’s mind there were few differences between his own people and Lois’.  Cultural, technological, perhaps a few physiological, but humans showed the same capacity for intelligence, honor, courage, and commitment that Kryptonians esteemed in themselves.

Kal-El had hoped that humans would be treated as equals here, that he could approach Lois as a fellow traveler on a magnificent journey to interspecies understanding and accord.  But that he could not do, not while some of his countrymen regarded her as little more than a talking animal.

He resolved then to make himself her ally, and to seek to improve conditions for all humans on Krypton.  Only then could the free exchange of ideas he hoped for take place.  He simply would not go through bureaucratic channels, as Jor-El had forbidden it.  No law compelled him to obey his father once he was a grown man of voting age, but Kal-El respected Jor-El and obeyed out of filial duty.  Besides, there were other ways to foster better relations between the two species than to enact laws requiring it.

As for Lois, personally, he would have to convince her that he was truly on her side.  She had every reason to question his motives and to doubt his intentions.  It seemed likely that he would have to step across the cultural divide between them to prove how committed he was to understanding her people.

By the time Lois was finally released, Kal-El had come to the conclusion that convincing her was going to require a major concession on his part.  The thought was disturbing, but if he had calculated correctly, that one simple act would speak volumes.

He waited, however, until they were home again.  And perhaps it was as well; she seemed unusually subdued after speaking with her family.  “Lois,” he said softly, when she would have gone to her room.

She turned to look at him questioningly, expression clouded, and Kal-El paused only briefly before he reached out to lightly touch her shoulder.  Just for a few seconds, and he made sure not to let his aversion to it show on his face.  “I want you to know that I am your friend,” he told her quietly, as her eyes widened in disbelief.


Tags: across the universe

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