For some reason beyond Lois, most of the humans had been left to mill around while waiting for their turn at the video-conference area. The fact that they would have allowed such casual contact amongst the Earthlings told her everything she needed to know about the Chancellor’s thoughts on intelligence and the human spirit. She easily drifted through the crowd, spotting a few familiar faces from the trip here. She could hear snippets of a dozen languages, some of which she understood, some of which were utterly foreign.
Suddenly, someone caught her elbow. Oh God, since we do they have telepaths? Tell me this isn’t… Unable to stop the chill that ran down her spine, Lois whirled around at the unexpected contact, and a handsome young man beamed at her. It was so unexpected that the surprise didn’t even have a chance to show on her face. “Hey! I’ve missed you!” he exclaimed and swept her into a hug.
He was a complete stranger, and Lois stiffened. Were some of them already cracking up from the stress? But no, as he squeezed her tight, he whispered in her ear, “Vive la resistance. Pass it on, Lane.”
Those words electrified her. It’s already started. Her mind raced as she instantly understood. Of course – the Kryptonians couldn’t stand to watch typical human displays of affection, so the best way to cover the passing of secrets was with an affectionate hug. And of course he knew her name; by his accent, he was American, and most of their hostages knew who Lois was by virtue of her being the youngest. Lois squeezed him right back before moving on, smiling as if she’d just parted from an old friend.
Long live the resistance. She hadn’t felt this free of heart since coming to this planet. So there was an organized resistance to Kryptonian rule, which Lois and her father had known would eventually happen. She just hadn’t expected it this quickly. She moved around the group with a spring in her step, passing on the word to several others just as it had been given to her.
When it came time to sit down in front of the crystal screen they were using for video-conferencing, Lois was ready. Her father, mother, and sister were all there, and Lois pretended not to see the tears that trickled from the corners of Ella’s eyes. “Hello, Princess,” General Lane said, his voice a trifle rough.
That, too, was code. Her father had never been much on affectionate nicknames, for Lois at least. If he’d called her ‘Sweetheart’, it meant he had no new information. ‘Princess’ meant that plans were underway to rescue her and the other hostages. Long-term plans, of course. When those plans came close to fruition, his greeting would change to ‘Pumpkin’ – as in, be ready on time or your carriage may turn into one.
“Hi, Daddy. Hi, Mom, Luce,” Lois said, surprising herself with the tremble in her voice.
“How are you?” Ella asked, overriding Sam’s scripted questions. Worry was clear in her expression.
“I’m fine, Momma,” Lois said, desperate to reassure her. The last thing Ella needed was more stress. She edited her further explanation accordingly. “My host is … pretty cool, actually. He’s interested in Earth, and he tries to make me comfortable. Even if does eat spaghetti with chopsticks.”
That got a giggle from Lucy, and all of them relaxed a bit. Sam almost sighed. “Good, good. Remember, our best bet in this situation is to make allies of them, let them see their first impression of us was wrong. So make sure you’re on your best behavior.”
Another coded reminder, and Lois managed not to flinch at it. Her orders had been to befriend her captors, to lull them into thinking she was harmless so that she could get more reliable information. The past few days of frosty behavior definitely weren’t in line with her father’s goals. “It’s not always easy, but I’m working at it.”
“So everything’s going well so far?” the General asked.
That was yet another code, and Lois made sure to give the right answer. “Absolutely. I’m doing well. Just a little homesick, you know, but that happens when you travel.” If she hadn’t mentioned homesickness, that would mean things were uncomfortable, and if she’d said she was doing great, that would mean she had serious problems.
They talked for a few more minutes, interspersing coded exchanges about her safety with questions from her mother and sister. Lois finally managed to say, “Dad, have you heard from Uncle Bob?”
Lois didn’t actually have an uncle named Bob. Asking after him meant that the humans on Krypton were forming a resistance. Lois hadn’t expected to be able to share that so soon, but she saw her father’s eyes light up with pride.
Ella had been warned to expect the question, so she didn’t look confused as Sam answered smoothly, “He’s doing well. About the same as usual – his heart’s in it, but he’s not back up strength yet.” That reply meant that the Earth side of things was in progress but not yet fully developed. Lois could live with that.
She found she could be patient, as long as she had reason to. One thing she tried to communicate to her father through code words was the way the Kryptonians consistently underestimated her people’s intelligence. That would certainly come in handy. If the aliens kept thinking of them as dumb brutes, the humans could use that to surprise them and win the ultimate battle.
One thing they didn’t have codes for, and Lois had to sneak it into actual conversation. Fortunately Ella provided an opening. “I worry about you missing school,” she fretted. “I know that’s silly, but…”
“Don’t worry, Momma,” Lois cut in, smiling. “I’m learning a lot from the Kryptonians – their science is way ahead of ours. And for the history stuff, well, they’ve got the internet, so I can follow along with the class syllabus even from here.”
“Excellent. That’s wonderful, that you’re keeping up your schooling,” the General said. Shortly thereafter, her time ran out, and Lois walked away feeling quite accomplished.
At least until a Kryptonian woman with short dark hair stopped her. Her uniform was black rather than the more traditional white, and something about her eyes sent a chill down Lois’ spine. “Why did you tell them about the internet?” she demanded.
Shit! Think fast, Lane. They might question your family. “My mother was worried about me keeping up in school,” Lois said, trying for a casual tone. “We’re military, we’re constantly moving around, so it’s enough trouble trying to stay even with students my age without having to miss a bunch of classes, too. I just don’t want her to worry about me.”
The woman stared at her for a few long seconds, then dropped her gaze to the crystal around her neck. Lois thought the symbol carved on it looked like an S, but it was supposed to be the sigil of her host’s family. “House of El? Very well then. You may go.”
That had been a lot closer than she liked, and Lois moved on, hoping that Kal-El would be there to pick her up soon. She’d known that the House of El was important and powerful, with Jor-El being on the Science Council, but she hadn’t known that merely wearing their symbol could get her out of trouble.
To her surprise, she found Kal-El waiting. On the flight home, Lois kept silent, wondering how – and if –she could exploit his family’s influence. She also worried about the way she’d been questioned. That black uniform looked like bad news – the only other time she’d seen a Kryptonian dressed in black was the video footage of Chancellor Zod. Maybe that woman worked directly for him – sooner or later she’d have to ask Kal-El what the significance of the color was. Assuming, of course, that he remained a reliable source of information. If he began to suspect her, he might feed her misinformation. That was the smartest way to deal with a spy, after all. Getting rid of a known spy just meant you didn’t know who the replacement would be. Keeping them in place and controlling what they knew turned a liability into an advantage, and Lois had to be sure not to land in that situation.
Once they walked into his house, however, Kal-El shocked her badly. She was headed for her room when he spoke her name. Lois turned, and he touched her shoulder.
Kryptonians don’t touch. That had been one of her safeguards, knowing that these people considered a handshake the height of intimacy. Violence of any kind was simply beyond them. But here was Kal-El, touching her, a human, a lesser creature. Admittedly, he was just touching her clothing, not her skin, and only for a few seconds. But it still called into question everything she knew about him and his people.
Then again, her father wanted her to get as close to him as possible, and this was as close as his kind ever got. It meant he trusted her, at least a little, and she could build on that. If she stopped treating him like an oppressor.
Only then did she realize what he’d just said. “I want you to know that I am your friend.” A few quiet words, but spoken with absolute sincerity, his eyes boring into hers with such earnestness that she believed him.
For a moment, the endless refrain of he is the enemy stopped. She couldn’t think like that, not if she wanted to accomplish her goals. Lois would have to at least appear to return his friendship.
And there was, somewhere buried beneath the duty she clung to and the fear she refused to show, a deep yearning for what he was offering. For someone she could trust. It would be foolish to offer that to her captor, but she could tap that loneliness and use it to make her performance more genuine.
All of those thoughts flashed through her mind quicker than summer lightning. Then Lois smiled back at him, still a trifle cautious. “Thank you, Kal-El. I … I’m starting to think I need a friend.”
“Of course,” he said. For a moment he seemed about to say more, but then he shook his head and apparently changed the topic. “Please, if there is anything you require, anything you would wish to have, let me know and I shall do my best to procure it for you.”
He seemed to want her to ask for something, and Lois could easily think of a few things. “Honestly? It probably sounds dumb, but what I’d like more than anything else are some more human-style clothes.” She bit her lip a little once she got it out. It was a pretty foolish request, honestly, but truly meant. Maybe she’d be a little more capable of clear thought if she felt like herself again. Besides, it was best to start small. “I could only bring one outfit with me, and I’m not really comfortable in Kryptonian clothes yet. I know, I know, I have to wear this outside, but in here at least I’d be much happier in familiar clothing.” She gave a little shrug then, making sure to look a little sheepish.
Kal-El smiled at that. “I believe I can accomplish that easily. I will, however, need to know your clothing sizes.”
The discussion that followed involved the different sizing conventions, discussions of different types of clothing, the advantages and disadvantages of different fabrics, and ultimately ended up with Kal-El using his crystal computer to let Lois show him examples on the internet. The experience that followed was one of the strangest she’d ever had.
The hacked-together browser they were using was extremely basic, but it allowed their advanced crystal computers to interface with internet data servers. He already knew about Google search, but Lois decided to make things a little easier and showed him to the online store of one of her favorite retailers. Just something simple – she wasn’t going to be wearing miniskirts on New Krypton. Some jeans and t-shirts would be very welcome, though. “Most U.S. stores use these kinds of sizes for women’s pants,” Lois told him. “Any boot-cut jeans this size will work. And for shirts…” She surfed over to the t-shirt collection. “Anything in this size. Solid colors are probably simplest. Slogans you don’t want to mess with.”
Kal-El had saved some of the images and links as she worked. “It will take some time, but I believe I can do this. Is there anything else?”
Lois hesitated, then plunged onward. “Maybe … some food? Like actual made-on-Earth tastes-like-grandma-made-it food? I mean, it’s very sweet of you to try and recreate things, and most of them are really good, but…”
“If I were on your planet, I would long for the tastes of home,” Kal-El said quietly. “It must be something that will survive the journey. Do you have any specific requests, or shall I simply acquire whatever non-perishables I can?”
Feeling like she was on shaky ground, Lois decided not to be picky. “Whatever you can get. How are you getting this stuff, anyway?”
He grinned like a boy planning a raid on the cookie jar. “It may surprise you to know that a thriving black-market trade in human goods already exists. Some of my people are as fascinated with yours as I am, and all of us are intrigued by novelty. Few Kryptonian homes are currently without Earth spices, Earth literature, or Earth art.”
“Whoa.” Lois hadn’t expected that at all. This was interstellar trade – but how were they managing to bring all that stuff across under Chancellor Zod’s nose? Despite herself, she gave him the thinnest edge of a conspiratorial grin. “Do I even want to know how all this is being managed?”
Kal-El hesitated a moment before replying. “Some of our people are on your world, mining a certain mineral compound that is plentiful there. During their breaks, the miners have been learning more about the planet they find themselves on. At least one, and more likely several, of the miners have chosen to acquire human goods, and to trade them for conveniences from home that the military would not normally allow to take up shipping space.”
“And you got into this how?” Lois asked, since he was in a talkative mood.
“I am the scion of the House of El. I have the necessary funds and connections. Furthermore, I am aware that the trade is technically illegal but that it harms no one; in fact, it benefits our miners in that it makes their lives more comfortable. And now it can benefit you and the other humans, making your captivity more bearable. Those who trade in such things know that, once I was aware of their activities, I could easily have turned them all in to the Supreme Chancellor, and my unsupported word as the son of Jor-El would have been enough to start an investigation. However, since I have also involved myself in the trade, I am unlikely to turn traitor when it would cause suspicion to devolve upon me. Therefore they are happy to deal with me.”
That was a lot to consider . One, she had potential blackmail material now. He seemed to think she would never use that against him, or maybe he knew a human’s word wouldn’t be believed over a Kryptonian’s. Regardless, it was important information.
Perhaps more importantly, he had referred to her captivity. Using such a term could mean that he had cast aside the euphemisms about her being a guest or an ambassador, and seen her situation for what it was: a hostage, a prisoner of war.
It might even mean that he sympathized with her plight, and could even be made into an ally. Lois couldn’t yet allow herself to dare to hope for so much. Sympathy was easy, but actually doing something about such conditions was always hard. Few people had the courage to stand up to an abusive regime, especially when it wasn’t their own people being imprisoned.
Still, the glimmer of hope in her heart refused to die.
The wheels had begun to turn.