This planet was not as seismically active as Old Krypton, and it did not have anything as spectacular as the Fire Falls or the Jewel Mountains. However, it did have a magnificent canyon located not far from the fledgling city. It was miles deep, and its sheer rock walls were striped with a fantastic palette of colors, displaying the different geological eras and mineral concentrations. On this particular day Kal-El and Lois were visiting the aptly-named Painted Canyon in company with several other Kryptonian hosts and their human guests. For the first time, more than two humans and their hosts had gathered together.
Their appearance was causing some disturbance. The Painted Canyon was a fairly popular destination, so groups of people were not uncommon. But the humans had drifted toward each other as they explored, the Kryptonians grouping together just behind them. Kal-El was in a perfect position to watch the other groups and families as they noticed the identifying crystals hung around the humans’ necks. Most of them moved aside warily, and families brought their children close. For the moment the humans didn’t seem to notice the consternation they were causing, too absorbed in the natural beauty around them and too relieved by the company of their own kind.
“I still feel we ought to be supervising them more closely,” said Sar-Ves. He was one of the first Kal-El had contacted about this outing. His human was a few years older than Lois, and there had been some difficulties that left Sar-Ves rather uneasy about his young man. One of the purposes of this outing was paving the way for Lois to tutor him in Kryptonese and thus prevent further communication issues. Kal-El was inordinately proud that his human had a better grasp of their language than any of the other ambassadors.
“They remind me of my students,” Nira Kor-En replied. She was an educator, and very patient with her charge, a man of similar white-haired years to herself. “Endlessly inquisitive and inclined to stay with their peers. Let them do as they will, Sar-Ves. They can do little harm here, in any case. Not that you would guess that by the unfounded reactions of so many other visitors.”
Kal-El looked over his own group. They resembled each other much more than the humans, not having the diversity of skin, hair, and eye colors their charges sported. The many nations of Earth each had their own linguistic and cultural traditions, and most of them also had a certain look. Kal-El found that fascinating as he examined the contrasts and similarities with Lois’ assistance.
Yet the differences between Kryptonians were just as marked, if not as visible to the naked eye. Sar-Ves was anxious about having a human in his home, but he had not been able to refuse the honor. His main interest in conferring with other hosts was to learn more about the humans and find ways to resolve – or better yet, prevent – conflicts.
Nira Kor-En was intrigued by humans as a whole, and considering writing a scholarly text on their culture. To that end she sought the widest possible exposure to them, and seeing them interact with one another was very informative.
Of the rest, most simply sought knowledge, and found that pooling their experience was the wisest course. Kal-El had been the one to suggest that allowing their humans to meet would relieve tensions among the guests. And an outing like this gave them neutral space in which to do so, as well as an opportunity to learn more about their hosts’ world.
At the moment, there was only one other person in the group whom Kal-El believed was primarily interested in improving conditions for the humans. That was Jhan-Or, a member of the Science Council no less, and a contemporary of Jor-El. True compassion showed in his gaze as he watched the group. At the moment his human appeared to be comparing notes with Lois; certainly they spoke with their heads close together, deep in conversation. The man glanced back at the Kryptonians, saw them watching, and slipped an arm around Lois’ shoulders.
Kal-El could not understand why that sight annoyed him. It was perfectly normal behavior among humans, and surely Lois would make her displeasure known if she did not welcome it.
He was brought back to the present by the conversation between Jhan-Or and Sar-Ves, in which he heard the younger man mutter something about eating utensils. Jhan-Or informed him, “Those implements which resemble ours are native to the cultures inhabiting the Asian continent, and descendants thereof. Your human, being of European extraction, will likely be more comfortable with ‘forks’, the ones with multiple tines.”
“Such crude devices,” Sar-Ves sighed. “I would sooner see him learn to use proper Kryptonian implements.”
Kal-El, who had since learned that spaghetti was not a dish eaten with chopsticks, added, “Lois and I alternate between Kryptonian and human cutlery at meals. It is meant to be a cultural exchange, is it not?”
“What are we meant to learn from them?” Sar-Ves said, his eyes narrowing.
“Perhaps we are merely meant to be inspired by their youth and vitality,” Jhan-Or murmured. “Krypton is old and wise, my friends, but we grow static. It is difficult to find solutions to the myriad problems this planet causes us, because many of us have lost the knack for creativity. These humans are nothing if not creative. Why, within the same community one might observe a dozen or more different methods of solving the problem of shelter.”
“Quite inefficient,” Sar-Ves said dryly.
“Indeed so, my friend,” Jhan-Or said agreeably. “Yet there is something appealing about such diversity, is there not? Around each turn, a new wonder to behold. Further, because they pursue multiple and varied solutions, they are more capable during changing circumstances. And that adaptability is what we ought to learn from them. Its lack nearly caused the ruin of our people once.”
Sar-Ves thought that over, and nodded. Kal-El managed not to smile; Jhan-Or was patient and persuasive as he himself lacked the experience to be, and he counted the scientist’s attendance at this meeting a very positive sign.
“It seems to me that we would be best served by making our partnership official,” Nira said. “For surely we can all benefit from one another’s experience, and each of us brings a different set of skills to the continuing negotiations between humans and Kryptonians.”
“That has been my hope from the first,” Kal-El replied. He did not mention that, as an officially-recognized society, they would have the right to petition the government about issues of interest to them. In this case, it would mean speaking directly to Supreme Chancellor Zod about conditions for the humans.
“Do not be so eager to engage in politics, Kal-El,” Jhan-Or warned. Kal-El looked at him in surprise, unaware that his intentions were so easy to read. “You young idealists have little experience in such an arena; you do not yet know how political involvement tends to expand until it has superseded every aspect of one’s life. I, personally, prefer to keep our association unofficial.”
That was unhappy news for Kal-El, who had hoped to have the older man’s support. Sar-Ves apparently felt the same. He argued, “It is not as if we would be expected to devote ourselves completely to the human cause. This would be our society, and we would be free to spend as little time on political maneuvering as possible.”
“We would greatly miss your wisdom in the venture,” Nira added.
“I do not mean to say I will abstain,” Jhan-Or told them. “Only that I prefer not to form an official society. If I am outvoted, then I will join the society. I expect that our meetings will be too beneficial to miss.”
They had reached a natural stopping point along the path that led through the canyon. Here, many thousands of years ago, the river which had cut this rift through the planet’s surface had been dammed. The canyon opened up to a wide, rounded bowl, with a few thin spires of rock that had stubbornly refused to be worn down. Kal-El saw Lois staring up at one of them, her brow furrowed as she tried to figure out how such a seemingly fragile structure had resisted erosion for so long. The other humans were similarly diverted, and at the moment no other Kryptonians were in this space.
“Let us vote, then,” Sar-Ves said. “All in favor of incorporating as a society?”
Kal-El had managed to get sixteen of his people to attend this meeting, and eight of them were in favor. To his surprise, only three voted against. The remaining five registered no strong opinion. Jhan-Or sighed. “The majority rules, then. And now we shall have to choose a name, create a mission statement, draft rules of conduct, and choose a leader.”
“The last is easiest,” Nira said. “I nominate Jhan-Or for chairman of the society.”
He looked at her in obvious surprise, but Sar-Ves quickly seconded her idea and called for a vote. Kal-El was momentarily nonplussed; it had been his idea, he had organized this outing and all the previous meetings, so why should he not lead?
Common sense returned in time for the vote, which was overwhelmingly positive. Of course Jhan-Or made a better spokesperson and leader than Kal-El himself did. He had age and experience on his side, and he was someone whom the others could respect and follow. With him leading the society, they could expect to increase their membership swiftly.
Jhan-Or seemed less convinced. “My friends, you honor me too much. The position rightly belongs to Kal-El, as the idea was his.”
Kal-El answered with a smile. “And perhaps when I have amassed one-tenth your wisdom, poise, and judgment, I will desire the position. Until then, it is yours.”
Nira cut in then. “Jhan-Or, have you not read your history? Or the human’s history, for that matter. The best leaders are always the ones who do not desire power, and who assume it solely out of necessity. By expressly not wishing to become embroiled in politics, you have made yourself the best possible choice for the position.”
“I will remember that, Nira Kor-En, and speak more highly of those tasks I do not wish to find myself saddled with,” he replied with some asperity.
One of the others in the group spoke up then, and Kal-El could not be certain who it was, his attention too fixed on Jhan-Or. “We have our chairman. Let us name our society. I propose the Benevolent Society for Human Improvement.”
A few murmurs of approval greeted that, and Kal-El himself nodded. Jhan-Or, however, shook his head. “I think perhaps it would be best to place the focus on our own people. We shall have enough undue interest as it is, without seeming to be dedicated to the advancement of the race that most of our people find barbaric. Let it be called the Benevolent Society for Kryptonian Cultural Expansion.”
“That sounds quite mercenary,” Nira remarked.
Jhan-Or smiled. “Let it be so. We will attract less attention by putting the emphasis on the benefits to Kryptonians.”
“Perhaps we have elected too subtle and devious a chairman,” Sar-Ves said, clearly joking.
Jhan-Or answered him seriously. “It is unfortunate if you have, my friend. For you neglected to draw up a set of rules before electing me, and now you have no means to remove me from office if I am not to your satisfaction. Your only recourse now is to withdraw from the society and form a new one, without me.”
“That is precisely why we must have you as chairman, Jhan-Or,” Kal-El said. “You are far wiser in the ways of politics than any of us.”
“I hope that you learn swiftly, young Kal-El,” Jhan-Or told him. Was it simply his imagination, or was there a conspiratorial gleam in his eye as he spoke?
He soon had more to think about than that, as Lois strolled up to him. “We’d like to follow the path around that curve,” she said politely. “Will you accompany us?”
“Gladly,” Kal-El replied, and escorted her over to the path. He didn’t notice that the rest of the Kryptonians were hanging back, still discussing the ramifications of their decision.
For a moment, just a moment, he was alone in the midst of sixteen humans, only one of which he knew well enough to predict. And he didn’t feel the slightest bit threatened or afraid as he guided them around the bend, which opened to a fantastic set of sheer walls, striped in dazzling blues and greens with occasional threads of white.
“Wow,” Lois said, coming to an abrupt halt at the sight.
Kal-El smiled at her. “That is perhaps the most appropriate of all possible reactions.”