Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Across The Universe: A Distant, Tentative Glow [Chapter Eleven]

Thank you all for understanding about last week's setback. There is some serious madness and badness going on in my life right now and this month is making it clear that this will likely be the peak of it all. I just hope we weather all of this in one piece.

Good news? We plan to give you two new chapters in a row, so keep your eyes peeled next week for another entry!

This would have been posted last night at the same time as FF.net, but LJ's being weird again andI wound up having to manuelly reformat the whole entry. NOT. FUN. At least it wasn't an LS-verse chapter, because I'd have killed someone afterwards.   

Lois walked around the new creation, a skeptical light in her eyes.  “Is it acceptable?” Kal-El asked, hanging back at the doorway.

He was doing his best to make her comfortable – he didn’t intrude into her rooms without a direct invitation, which so far she hadn’t given, and he had come through on his promise to acquire Earth-style clothing.  Which was why she was currently wearing jeans and a t-shirt, nothing special, but the feel of cotton and denim against her skin was pure heaven after a couple weeks of slick, antimicrobial Kryptonian fabric.

This latest effort was also about making her comfortable.  Kryptonian beds were circular, more like a nest than a bed, and Lois had trouble sleeping in them.  The single thin sheet kept her perfectly warm, but it felt alien, nothing like the comforters and blankets she was used to.  So Kal-El, ever the gracious host, had done his best to create a human-style bed for her.

Obviously the black market couldn’t transport an entire bed.  They were shipping plants, spices, artwork, and textiles, mostly trivial things, easily concealed in small packages.  Even the paintings and photographs could be rolled up and shipped in tubes.  An entire bed frame was out of the question for weight and size, to say nothing of the mattress and box-spring.

Therefore the frame was of crystal, the same stuff as his ‘coffee table’ in the main room.  It looked surprisingly like wood, even had a grain pattern, and the illusion was complete until Lois touched it.  It still felt like crystal, somehow too cold and hard to ever match the warmth of wood. But the frame wasn’t all that important.

What worried her was the mattress.  The sheets and comforter had been imported, a high pure-cotton thread count and bold burgundy hues that Lois herself had picked out, so they were certain to please.  The mattress, on the other hand, was something that Kal-El himself had crafted, or directed his robots to make.  She’d described to him what it needed to be, and she knew he’d put a lot of effort into this.  Lois just hoped it had turned out well.  At this point, she’d hate to be disappointed and have to watch that boyish excitement vanish from his face.

Lois sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed, and the mattress had the right amount of give.  There didn’t seem to be any real springiness, but she wasn’t going to be jumping on it or anything.  What mattered was how comfortable it was to sleep on.  With that thought in mind, Lois lay back and put her feet up.

Not too soft, not too firm – she’d have to check again after a few nights to get used to it, but it felt right.  Relief washed through her, and she smiled at Kal-El.  “It’s perfect.”

He beamed back.  “I am delighted to hear it.”  The phrasing was as stiltedly formal as anything in Kryptonese, but the joy beneath the words was real.  That much Lois had decided she could
trust.  Kal-El truly did want her to be happy and comfortable in his home, and he enjoyed being able to provide that for her.

Now, whether he wanted her to be happy because she was a fascinating subject of study that behaved more naturally in those circumstances, or because he suspected she was a spy and needed to gain her confidence, she didn’t yet know.  The effect on her reactions to him was the same.  Over time she had stopped needing to remind herself to be friendly, that he had to think she was harmless if she was ever going to get any useful intel from him. 

Now she occasionally had to remind herself that he even was Kryptonian, because his behavior was so very similar to a human of about the same age.  And he was picking up mannerisms and idioms from her at an astounding rate.  He’d fit right in at her high school.  Well, fit in with the chess club, maybe.  There was still too much shyness and smarts to him for Kal-El to fit in with the average teenage boy crowd.  Among the nerds, even his high-flown speech might not seem odd. Some of them talked like characters out of fantasy or sci-fi novels anyway.

It was much harder to keep in mind the fact that he was the enemy, not to be trusted even if his intentions were good, when he was grinning at her like this.  Just like one of the straight-A math geniuses who’d just found out the hot girl knows who he was.  His glad kindness made her task here both easier and harder.  Easier, because he’d give her anything she asked for within reason, and harder, because she had to fight the temptation to confide in him.

She needed someone to confide in.  The video-conferences with her family were going to be few and far between, and she was keenly aware of the weighty responsibility on her shoulders.  The General was relying on her…  Lois forgot for the moment that her host was still watching her, and closed her eyes, hiding from duty for a moment.

“May I?” Kal-El asked softly, and her eyes sprang open again.  He was still hovering at the doorway, still scrupulously respecting her boundaries, and Lois tilted her head to grant him permission.  He came toward the bed, examining his creation with critical eyes.  “You are certain it meets your requirements?”

“It’s comfy,” Lois said, and watched as the slang first bemused, then delighted
him.  She sat up and impulsively added, “Why don’t you try it?”

“It is yours,” he demurred, answering the question literally.

“No, I mean, you should try it.  You made it.  C’mon.”  Lois hopped off the bed as she spoke, patting the comforter for him.

“If you insist,” Kal-El finally said, and lay down gingerly.  He looked absolutely perplexed lying there, his expression caught somewhere between a frown of concentration and a faint smile.  “It is certainly ‘comfy’, as you say.  Although it seems unnatural to sleep stretched out flat on one’s back.”

“I usually don’t,” Lois said.  “Sometimes I sleep on my belly, but mostly I lay on my side.”

He thought about that for a long moment.  “Logic suggests that our beds would be more comfortable and provide more support in that position.”

“Logic’swrong,” Lois informed him, then softened it.  “At least for someone who grew up on flat rectangular beds.”

“Hmm.  Habituation would certainly be a major factor in comfort,” Kal-El mused aloud.  He sat
up then, pressing his hand against the mattress.  “I am pleased that I was able to replicate the appropriate tensile strength.”

“How’d you manage that, by the way?” Lois asked.  It certainly didn’t feel like the usual bedsprings.

“A sound- and motion-suppressing type of foam used for insulation in the spacecraft.  One detriment to using crystal is that it tends to communicate vibrations and sounds quite clearly.  The material is soft to the touch, yet resistant to more intense pressure.”

Lois blinked.  “Oh, it’s like Tempur-Pedic,” she said, remembering ads on late-night television.  At Kal-El’s curious look she elaborated, “We have something similar, but it’s expensive. 

Very expensive.  Funnily enough, the ads say it was developed for use in our spacecraft as well.”

He nodded.  “We had noticed that you have the capability for space flight, but had not developed it very far.  Was expense perhaps part of the reason?”

“Yeah, money was a factor,” Lois sighed, thinking back to the excitement of the space
program.  She remembered the thrill of learning about the Apollo missions when she was a kid, but in recent years the only space travel was into low earth orbit. 

“Perhaps our technology can be of assistance to you in that endeavor as well,” Kal-El
said.  “We have only just rediscovered our space-faring abilities, and could benefit from sharing ideas.”

Lois looked at him steadily.  Did she dare?  Careful to keep her tone respectful, she said, “Do you truly believe that your people are going to freely share knowledge with mine?”  Lois had unconsciously fallen into Kryptonese diction, trying not to offend him.

Kal-El returned the look just as seriously.  He looked incongruous, sitting on her bed in his Kryptonian robes, but his blue eyes met hers without a trace of duplicity.  “I do believe that, Lois.  If I do not, then everything we have done, every promise we have made, every action we have taken, is a farce.  If I did not believe that our intentions toward humanity are ultimately good, then I would be tempted to speak ill of my own government and accuse them of ruthlessly exploiting an equally sentient race.”

He knows, was her first thought, and Lois’ heart stuttered.  Kal-El had arranged to meet with several other hosts and their human guests, and Lois had taken advantage of those meetings to pass on the word about the rebellion.  They were still hampered by the fact that none of the humans could move around unescorted, so trying to share information under their captors’ noses was a problem.  Luckily the Kryptonians seemed content to talk about their humans while said humans socialized with one another.

Kal-El’s remark seemed to indicate that he knew what she was up to, and Lois felt a stab of terror like any spy who suspected she’d been discovered.  In the next breath she forced herself to be calm.  He might not know, and either way, if she was found out, it was imperative that she not implicate the others. 

Her silence prompted a clarification from Kal-El.  “I still believe in my people and our leaders, Lois.  I know that conditions are … decidedly non-optimal for you and the other ambassadors.  I am trying to make right as much of that as I can.”

In spite of herself, Lois softened a bit more toward him, and sat down on the furthest edge of the bed.  “I just … it’s so lonely,” she said, giving him the truth – but not all of it.  “I don’t know what’s going on at home, not really.  And it’s nice to be able to see other humans, but we’re constantly reminded that we aren’t free here.  We can’t go anywhere without a Kryptonian to watch over us.  It makes me, and most of the others, feel like we’re being treated like children.  Like we’re not smart enough to stay out of trouble.”

Kal-El frowned, and reached out to her, touching the tips of her fingers with his.  As always when he touched her, Lois went still; the fleeting contact was never intrusive, but it made her wary nonetheless.  “I will do my best to seek more liberties for your people, Lois.  I do understand your plight.  I have begun to solicit aid from other hosts as well.  We have considered forming a … the word in Kryptonese means something akin to your ‘club’ or ‘committee’ or ‘society’, but is not precisely any of those.”

Lois arched an eyebrow.  “You’re going to start up the Friends of Humans Club?” she asked dryly.

“Essentially, yes.  We are facing many similar challenges.  It is only logical that we share information on how best to help our guests adjust.  That is one reason why I have introduced you to several other hosts.  You are … a good example, for what their ambassadors could be.”

I’m a good example?” Lois said, shocked.

“You speak our language well.  Your understanding of our customs becomes more refined each day.  And you behave naturally.  You are not depressed, or sullen, or defiant.” 

Lois scoffed at that, thinking of all the times she’d bitten her tongue, all the times she’d let a caustic remark slip before remembering her duty.  He smiled at her kindly.  “At least, not often.  Not anymore.  And not in front of others.  I would like to think that I have been influential in that regard.”

She had the grace to blush at that.  “I know … you’re doing the best you can for me.  That, I can believe in.  It’s just…”

“I am asking much of you; I know that.  And I do appreciate your forbearance.”  Kal-El leaned toward her and touched her hand again.  He used touch for punctuation, to emphasize what he was saying, and every day he did it more and more often.

Lois bit her lip, trying to steady herself.  What he didn’t realize was how every little touch reminded her of the mostly sterile world she lived in.  No hugs from her mother, no smooches from her sister, not even the gruff shoulder-clasp that was her father’s way of showing affection.  Kal-El was making her think about things she thought she’d buried, reminding her how lonely she was.

Seeing the look on her face, he curled his fingers around hers, ever so gently.  “There’s so much I miss,” Lois explained weakly.  And so much she couldn’t explain to him, including the real reason why she answered all of his questions.

“I wish that I could say I understand, but I cannot,” Kal-El told her.  “I remember when we came to this world and made it our own, but I have never truly experienced what you are feeling.  I do not remember Old Krypton, for one.  And we brought our culture with us when we came here.  To have to adapt to a new culture and a new planet at once … it speaks volumes of humanity’s versatility and courage, that you have done so well.”

“You sound as if you admire us,” Lois said quietly, looking down at their linked hands and wondering why he hadn’t let go yet.

“I do.”

“I thought we were barbarians.”

“Not so.  As my mother and my aunt argued at our family dinner some time ago, human society is clearly civilized, not savage.  You may not be as technologically advanced as we are, but your art, your music, your poetry – these things have a vibrancy that has long been missing from Kryptonian arts.  You are a young race, and you have all the vitality of youth.  I think that, in the end, the events that led to your arrival here will be of benefit to both our peoples.”

But he had to think that, didn’t he?  Otherwise he was a traitor, and the son of Jor-El was no traitor.  Lois’ breath caught in her throat, wanting so badly to trust him, and yet knowing that if their positions were reversed, she’d be doing everything she could to gain his trust and find out what he knew.

One thing was still clear.  While she might be developing a weakness for this earnest young man, Kryptonians as a whole were still the enemy.

Tags: across the universe

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