Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Across The Universe: The Requirement of a First Step [Chapter Thirteen]

Made it to vacation in one piece, although it will have to be severely cut back. No mountains this year. I have my fingers crossed for it in February. I miss the snow. I MISS it. Forgive the pouting. You know how I love them. So it's Orlando and no theme parks on anything. But we're out of the house. I hope it's the best three days I've had in a year. :D

Gacking a laptop, too, because guys know what vacations for the KLK writing team means. M-rated fic! Not in this 'verse, but hey. ;)

I hope you're all having a good weekend and enjoy. This one is a little longer than the last few. ;)

If Lois let herself admit it, she was nervous about this meeting. She had sounded out Chao Huang during their trip to the Painted Canyon, and he impressed her as a keen, sensible person. Just the sort she should be networking with for the sake of the nascent resistance. They hadn't had much time then, but she'd gleaned a few details. Huang was the son of a high-ranking government official, though he hadn't been particularly specific about which branch of the government. He spoke fluent English and French in addition to his native Mandarin, and he viewed everything with a patient detachment that Lois knew she lacked. Best of all, he was completely on board with the idea of an organized resistance, though he had cautioned her that not everyone would participate. Even in these conditions, some people would rather endure than risk worsening things. It was that kind of forethought that Lois knew they would need.

His host, Jhan-Or, was another matter entirely. Every time Lois looked his way on their outing, the Kryptonian was watching her, and she had the weird feeling that his gray-blue eyes saw more than she wanted him to. Inviting this man over for dinner felt like all kinds of bad idea – but it wasn't her place to say anything, since it wasn't her home, it was Kal-El's, and he could invite whoever he damn well wanted.

Still, she had to deal with Jhan-Or to get to Huang, so she'd deal. When they arrived, Lois greeted them both in near-perfect Kryptonese, and was on her best behavior as the meal was served.

"A very interesting flavor in this," Jhan-Or mused over their entrée.

"It is one of the herbs cultivated by humans – basil, it is called. I have been trying to replicate and adapt human recipes," Kal-El replied.

Jhan-Or's eyebrows rose slightly. "I will assume you have acquired the plant through legal research channels."

"Of course. My mother was one of the first to cultivate them – for research purposes, of course," Kal-El said, but he looked down, and Lois tried not to wince.

"We must be careful to be observant of the law," Jhan-Or remarked. "Especially since we as hosts are representatives of the entire Kryptonian race."

And that was a veiled warning if Lois had ever heard one. Not obey the law, but observe it. When she glanced up, Jhan-Or met her gaze, and she saw the corners of his eyes wrinkle in what might have been the beginning of a smile.

Huang spoke up then. "It is most kind of you to attempt human cuisine. Such gestures are a reminder of our true role here."

"It is only the courtesy you are due," Kal-El told him.

Lois stifled a wry smile. Vermicelli with basil pesto wasn't exactly home cooking for either of the humans present, but compared to most Kryptonian dishes it was still comfort food. They kept to casual conversation through the majority of the meal, and only when they were finishing the final course – which was some sort of lightly sweetened ice confection – did the topic at hand turn weighty again.

"We ought to discuss those courtesies, now that you have elected me the chairman of the Benevolent Society for Kryptonian Cultural Expansion," Jhan-Or sighed.

Lois couldn't help thinking of the newly-formed society as simply B.S. The name, and the reason for it, had been explained to her; Kal-El had been eager to tell her about the decisions made during their trip. He had also questioned her closely about Huang; he sounded almost jealous. It had to be an illusion, though, and most likely Kal-El was just interested. Lois had claimed they found a lot in common as military kids, and left it at that.

"Indeed, there is much to discuss," Kal-El said slowly.

"You are thinking that such conversation ought to wait until the society meets next?" Jhan-Or asked with a smile. "Kal-El, my friend, how little you know of the workings of committees! The more people involved in any discussion, the less progress shall be made. It is better that we who are most concerned with such things discuss them amongst ourselves before bringing matters up for general discussion and voting. And I am right to assume, am I not, that the treatment of humans concerns you deeply?"

The way he asked that last made alarms go off in Lois' mind for no reason she could specify. Kal-El allowed one of his robots to refill his drinking vessel before answering. "It does concern me, Jhan-Or. Once, I witnessed a human wearing an electrical-pulse sedation device around his neck. It was quite a strange sight, until it occurred to me that such a device could be used to restrain a human. I could never bring myself to consider doing such to Lois."

"True, the high-intensity pulses cause such profound relaxation that the wearer is unable to stand, which is why such devices are worn only while one is undergoing a procedure which requires absolute calm. You are most likely correct; it was being used to control the human." Jhan-Or frowned. Lois had to wonder if he was frowning because of the collared human, or because he'd just noticed that Kal-El called her by her given name. Such informality was not yet accepted practice with other hosts and guests. It suggested either disrespect or familiarity, neither of which Jhan-Or could possibly approve of.

"In addition, the wearing of a collar-like device carries connotations of degradation and humiliation in most human cultures," Kal-El added. "That is but one example of the sort of behavior I would like to see stopped. Perhaps those who cannot control their guests without resorting to such means ought not have them."

"If I may," Huang said, and when neither Kryptonian interrupted him, he continued. "If your people are anything like mine, you will find it more difficult to convince them to stop such things by claiming it is inhumane and threatening punishment."

"Chao Huang is very wise for his age," Jhan-Or said, and Lois felt a prickle of interest at that as well. He was wise for his age, not for a human. Maybe Jhan-Or was as sympathetic to humans as Kal-El was. She'd have to get Huang alone and find out.

"So we had best approach the matter by proving the benefits to Kryptonians," Kal-El mused. "For example, ourselves. Lois and I find our daily interactions much less stressful because we have come to an understanding based on mutual respect. I suspect it is much the same with you and Chao Huang."

He'd just done it again, and Jhan-Or had definitely taken notice. Lois found that she couldn't remember when he'd stopped calling her Miss Lane, and it disturbed her that she hadn't noticed the change. It just seemed natural for him to call her Lois, and that scared her most of all.

Meanwhile, Jhan-Or was expanding upon Kal-El's point. "Indeed, by mediating such conflicts as you have described, we could free many of our brethren from the burden of anxiety. After all, none of us wished to have our routines disturbed and our liberty curtailed by the sudden arrival of strangers into our homes. It is a service which we owe our fellow Kryptonians, to liberate them from their fears and deliver them into a safe, sensible accord with our human guests."

Lois' jaw nearly dropped. Jhan-Or sounded like nothing so much as the abolitionists in her history books. Even though he was phrasing everything as beneficial to Kryptonians, the words he chose were powerful, and she knew Kryptonese well enough now to know it wasn't an accident of her translation.

Kal-El seemed to sense the same thing, looking at Jhan-Or with wide eyes. "You are right, we owe our people that much, and yet more," he said quietly. "But we must show them what is possible, first, in order that they might believe and understand. I propose that we first address the question of liberty. For as you say, we find ourselves burdened by the constant supervision required of us. Why should we not petition to permit our humans some freedom of movement? It is not as if they could cause any harm. And though many of us are inclined to seek solitude in our homes, preferring to limit exposure to this uncivilized world's atmosphere, we are denying the human guests the opportunity to move about outdoors, which is natural to them."

Lois and Huang sat frozen, trying not to catch each other's gazes too obviously. Freedom of movement would mean the resistance might actually be able to do something besides bolster each other's courage. They might actually find ways to have an impact. But if they appeared too eager, that might cause Kal-El to reassess his evaluation of them as harmless. Huang absorbed himself in capturing the last bit of ice, as if the discussion was of only academic interest to him.

Jhan-Or sighed and shook his head with a soft chuckle. "My young friend, it is entirely too obvious to me that your father has not seen fit to temper you in the fires of Kryptonian politics, especially in the current climate."

"I beg your pardon?" Kal-El asked, with barely-restrained affront lurking in his tone.

"One does not ask the government for permission to do that which is not forbidden," Jhan-Or said, leaning forward and pointing at Kal-El. Lois knew that gesture lent as much emphasis to his words as if he'd prodded the younger Kryptonian in the chest to punctuate his statement.

Kal-El looked utterly stunned, his jaw actually dropping. Jhan-Or continued, "We have no need to ask anyone for permission. We were never ordered to accompany the humans at all times. None of us has permitted them their liberty because we feared the repercussions of it – not from the humans, from our own people. And if we made a formal petition, there would surely be reprisal. No, it is better to simply grant such freedom to the humans we know we can trust, and say nothing of it. When it is finally noticed, it will already be an accepted practice among society."

All of them stared at Jhan-Or in stunned silence for a moment, the meal forgotten. He returned their gazes with perfect equanimity. "Do you doubt me? I certainly trust Chao Huang at liberty. He has proven his wisdom and his discretion to me many times over. I know that he will not act rashly and create a disturbance which would reflect badly upon me, his host, as well as his entire race. Since I am directly responsible for his behavior, it matters not to me what any ordinary citizen of Krypton has to say about it."

Another veiled warning, there, and Lois' admiration of Jhan-Or went up again. He had to be an experienced statesman, and Kal-El's amazement proved that allying herself with Huang would be doubly invaluable, for it would give her access to a sympathetic Kryptonian politician.

Kal-El apparently took it as something of a challenge. His earlier fear of letting Lois go out alone seemed to have evaporated. "My trust in Lois is equally secure. Assuming that she uses reasonable discretion and courtesy, which I am certain she will, I see no reason not to permit her the freedom to move about the city, beginning now." With that he turned to Lois, his tone level and casual. "My research has indicated that a brief walk after a meal is believed to be healthful. And I do remember that I promised you a daily constitutional. Would you care to take a stroll, Lois?"

If he had thrown down the gauntlet, Jhan-Or was perfectly willing to pick it up. "Chao Huang, if you wish to accompany her, you may."

They didn't even have to look at each other to decide. "It would be my pleasure," Huang said.

"And mine," Lois replied with a smile. "Thank you, Kal-El."

"I am certain that you two have matters to discuss which would be beyond our current grasp of Kryptonese," Huang added.

"And I would not bore you with minutiae," Jhan-Or told him. Lois noted that his voice sounded fond, almost paternal. That impression was strengthened by his next words. "I would suggest that you not venture far nor remain out too long. Surely you have both noticed that few Kryptonians choose to walk when hovercraft are available. It would not do to attract too much notice so early in the venture."

"Indeed not," Huang said, and after politely excusing themselves, he and Lois headed out the front door, which opened smoothly at their approach.

"I never even though to try just walking out," Lois muttered.

"Ah, but if you had done so, he wouldn't trust you enough to let you run loose," Huang replied in perfect, unaccented English. When he smiled, his ink-dark eyes twinkled merrily.

Lois smirked back. "You're right, of course." They walked in silence, and Lois knew his mind had to be racing as much as hers.

Huang was the one who, when she'd whispered 'Vive la revolution' to him on their outing to the canyon, had cautioned her about approaching others. He hadn't had time to elaborate on that, but Lois was looking forward to picking his mind now that they were finally outside their jailers' supervision.

Huang asked after a moment, "You're General Lane's daughter, right? The Vice Chief of Staff?"

Lois nodded. "All I know is that your father is in the military too."

"I'd prefer not to mention which branch," he replied, with a glance downward. "Strange, that they never thought about the risks of bringing the wives and children of military leaders here. Especially the children. I expect growing up in a military family is much the same in any first-world country."

"It probably is," Lois replied cagily, thinking about growing up on bases all over the world, moving with a moment's notice, the only stability in her life being military discipline and order at home. It left her thinking of other kids as civilians, and feeling much older than them.

Huang seemed to insinuate that he, too, had grown up more like a soldier than a normal kid. That was useful, if she could trust him. And why shouldn't she? They were all foreigners here. Lois took a deep breath, and decided to stop playing cat and mouse. "So I'm guessing you came here with at least as much military intelligence as I did, and the intention to use it?"

"You could say that, yes," Huang replied evenly. "I'll be happy to share everything I know with you, if you'll do the same."

"I don't see any reason why not." Lois shrugged.

He smiled. "Some would think that passing military secrets to a Chinese national might not be in the best interest of a United States general's daughter. But here and now, what's important is that we are both human. It's strange – and a little sad – that it took an alien invasion to make all of us see that."

Lois could only nod, having thought much the same thing. At this point she'd work with just about anyone, from anywhere, because all of them had the same goal: getting home. Huang had more to say, however. "I know you and the rest want to recruit aggressively for the resistance, but I would be very careful who you talk to."

"Why?" she asked. Didn't everyone want out of this situation? They could expect complete support, couldn't they?

Huang chuckled. "All teenagers are idealists if they believe in anything. Have you forgotten that some of the hostages are in their forties, a few in their fifties? And some of them are military wives, not children. They have their own strengths, but not all of them are willing to plunge into a fight, especially one they might think they can't win."

"If my mom was here, she'd be running the resistance," Lois replied hotly.

"I don't doubt it," he said with a sidelong glance at her. "Some of these people would run from it. They don't believe they're invincible, they're terrified over what could happen to us and to our families back home, and they probably think the best thing to do is be on our best behavior and hope the Kryptonians choose to be merciful."

Lois bit her lip. That made sense, unfortunately. There were always people who would rather do nothing than take a risk. No matter how bad things got, as long as it happened slowly, they'd stick to the status quo. "Then it's up to the rest of us," she murmured.

"Yes. We know we can trust Geoffrey – he's with Nira Kor-En. I believe Henri from Quebec was the one who started it all, but I don't know who his keeper is yet. Our biggest challenge is going to be finding each other, but your Kal-El's idea for a formal society has made it much easier."

That a sent a chill down her spine. Whether it was from the knowledge that the real work was soon to begin, or the fact that he'd referred to Kal-El as hers, Lois couldn't quite tell.

Tags: across the universe

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