Kal-El and Lois were visiting the capitol building, though his mind was not on the architecture that recreated the glories of Old Krypton. Instead he was reflecting on his conversation with Jhan-Or several days ago, while Lois and Huang had been out walking.
The older Kryptonian had warned him quietly that his activities were causing his father some consternation. While their association benefited from counting a son of the House of El as a member, the patriarch was not entirely sanguine about it. "Tread carefully," Jhan-Or had said. "You are young and idealistic. I do not doubt that your intentions are the best, for our people and theirs, but you do not always think of how your actions reflect and affect those around you. So be wary, Kal-El, and when in doubt, keep silent and watch. That is half of the key to wisdom."
Because he was insatiably curious, Kal-El had asked, "And if I may be so presumptuous, what is the other half?"
Jhan-Or had smiled, his eyes bright with laughter. "The other half of wisdom is learning from those moments in which you decide to speak and act."
Kal-El was still musing on that, not paying attention to his surroundings, when his aunt and cousin approached them. "Kal-El, it is good to see you," Alura said, and only then noticed that he wasn't alone. The faintest hint of distress crossed her features, and he could guess why. Kara was beside her, and her keen blue eyes were already fixed on Lois.
"It is always a pleasure to see you, Aunt," he replied warmly. "Lois Lane, this is my aunt, Alura Zor-El, and my cousin, Kara Zor-El. Ladies, this is Lois, daughter of General Samuel Lane."
Lois knew the formal greetings already, and gave the smile and slightly deepened nod that indicated great respect. "It is an honor to meet you," she said. At the same time, Kal-El noticed the way her eyes flicked to Kara. Lois favored the young Kryptonian with an affectionate smile.
"As we are honored," Alura replied formally, but Kara did not add the expected answer. Instead she stepped back, her nose wrinkling slightly. Alura spoke softly but sternly. "Mind your manners, Kara."
The warmth faded from Lois' gaze, and she adopted an almost Kryptonian formality. "It is no insult. I have a sister the same age; sometimes children are shy."
"I am not shy," Kara said. "I simply have no wish to associate with a human."
"Kara!" Alura scolded, her expression plainly shocked. Kal-El could not help staring at his cousin in surprise. He hadn't expected such frank disdain, even knowing his uncle's opinions.
Lois appeared to take it in stride. She turned to him and asked, "Kal-El, what is the Kryptonian equivalent of 'snob'?"
Her ability to find amusement instead of offense in the situation made him laugh softly. Instead of answering her, he turned to Kara. "There is no cause to be rude, Kara. If you wish to claim superiority, you cannot behave with inferior courtesy."
Alura chuckled too, and Kara seemed momentarily bemused by the way her remark had been received. Evidently she had expected more rancor, and being met with laughter left her perplexed.
Zor-El chose that moment to arrive, and immediately made it obvious from whence Kara's ideas came. "How charming," he said dryly, eyeing Lois warily.
"Lois, my uncle Zor-El," Kal-El said. "Uncle, you are already aware that this is Lois Lane."
"Most honored to meet you, sir," Lois said, with a graceful tilt of her head that managed not to convey an ounce of the warmth she'd shown Alura and Kara, but without a trace of insult, either. In fact, it was perfectly formal, devoid of Lois' normal vibrancy and candor.
"I regret that I am unable to pass the time with you, nephew," Zor-El said in tones that made it clear he didn't regret it at all. "Unfortunately I have business to which I must attend. Further, I wish to limit my family's exposure to certain elements."
That offended Kal-El. "You do not know Lois Lane, to speak so of her," he said warningly, unaware that he looked very much like his father in that moment. The stubborn set of his and the defiant light in his eyes were pure Jor-El.
"It is not Lois Lane of which I speak, Kal-El. It is you." And in the stunned silence that followed that remark, Zor-El continued, "I do not know which disturbs me more: that you have devoted yourself so publicly to the humans, or that you are willing to sing the praises of Zod to further your cause. In either case, you have shown yourself to be truly the son of your father."
Kal-El felt an unseemly flush of anger creeping up his neck. The relationship between his father and uncle had become even more strained of late, with Zor-El's outspoken disapproval of Supreme Chancellor Zod and Jor-El's continued staunch support of the same. Kal-El had no wish to be caught in the midst of that battle, nor for his aunt and cousin to suffer for it.
Before he could answer rashly, Lois spoke in cool, emotionless tones. "Kal-El, you told me that Kryptonians are a rational and peaceable people. Until today, I had no cause for doubt."
The jibe clearly landed, but Zor-El merely gave her a thin smile. "Ah yes, I am branded mad, for I dare to speak truth to power. His father whom Kal-El so admires would quail from the mere thought of doing so. And yet I find it amusing that you show me disdain. For unlike my nephew, I would swiftly send you and your kind home to Earth and leave you there, untroubled by Kryptonians. You have no place in our new world."
Kal-El saw Lois' eyes widen, saw how painful her captivity still was. He answered Zor-El in bored tones. "You speak of theory, Uncle. In practice, neither of us has the power to send Lois and the other humans home. That decision rests with the Science Council."
Zor-El scoffed. "It rests with Dru-Zod, and Dru-Zod alone. The council scurries to anticipate his whims so that they may not find themselves in the dreadful position of opposing him." He took a half-step closer, eyeing Kal-El interestedly. The older Kryptonian had often been fond of posing tests of logic to his nephew, and those inquiries were not always pleasant, though they did have the effect of making Kal-El more thoughtful. "Politics is debatable at any hour of the day. I am more interested in your intentions, nephew. Given the opportunity, would you or would you not return Lois and her people to their rightful home?"
He could feel Lois' keen gaze upon him, but that would not change his answer. Nor would the wary look in Alura's eyes. "Considering that they are here against their will, no other ethical option exists but to send the humans home. Their leaders are now aware of our might and of the consequences of further rash behavior, and we have no need to belabor our point further. I would, of course, invite Lois to remain, though I doubt that she would do so. Our world is simply too foreign."
"So you would sacrifice your research for your principles. How noble." Zor-El looked thoughtful, not sarcastic. Alura sighed in relief, and even Kara looked content that Kal-El would choose to send the humans away.
It was a pity he had to shatter their complacency. "On the contrary, Uncle, in the purely theoretical situation of which we speak, I would not forsake my studies. I would follow Lois to Earth and conduct my research there."
All of them were struck silent by that pronouncement, even Lois looking amazed. At last, Zor-El laughed. "And they say that I am unbalanced! Forgive me for having implied you are as much a dreamer as your father, Kal-El. You have far surpassed him."
Alura laughed too, though her voice betrayed nervous tension. "It is most fortunate that you are speaking hypothetically, Kal-El."
He shrugged, a gesture he had acquired from Lois. "I assure you, I am aware of the present dangers. It is not something I would lightly attempt. Yet if circumstances were so arranged that Lois could return to her home, I would like to accompany her. Where better to study to humanity than in its native environment?"
The announcement only garnered blank, shocked stares, even from Lois. Kal-El appealed to his aunt. "Alura, you are a linguist. Would you not wish to hear the many tongues of Earth spoken naturally, in everyday conversation? Would you rather study a language vibrant and ever-evolving in the land of its birth, or merely learn from samples cultivated and examined here?"
Of course she couldn't refute that. "It would be a dream – and only a dream, Kal-El. The issues of safety cannot be lightly put aside, and we must deal with the practical realities of the world we live in rather than logical constructs and theories." There was a trace of sadness in her voice even though she was espousing her husband's philosophy.
"Indeed we must," Zor-El said. "Unfortunately the practical reality of the moment is that we have appointments to keep. However, I look forward to debating this issue with you in the future, nephew."
They said their goodbyes, and once again Lois' gaze lingered on Kara. Now the young Kryptonian looked up at her with more curiosity and less scorn, though there was still a healthy amount of the latter. Kal-El and Lois headed home in much the same preoccupied manner with which they had toured the capitol.
Once they were in the hovercraft, he turned to Lois and said quietly, "I value your opinion, Lois. Tell me truthfully, how do you think I would fare on your world?"
She nibbled at her lower lip, a gesture he found charming even though it denoted indecision. "Honestly? I wouldn't trust you alone on the streets of any major American city. You'd look like a tourist. Anyone would be able to tell you weren't from around there, and you'd get mugged in about five minutes." Lois winced to say it, looking askance at him.
"I would need a guide, someone to show me how to behave so as not to attract undue attention," he mused. Kal-El wondered if she saw the parallel to her own situation; under his tutelage she had adapted herself to this world so thoroughly that no one suspected she was human. At least not until they saw the necklace she wore.
"I'd still be worried," Lois admitted. "Kal-El, you're a big guy, but there's no meanness in you. You're not intimidating, and sometimes a person has to be a little tough, a little hardcore, to get along in my world."
Kal-El smiled at her. "That is why I would prefer to have you as my guide. You have resiliency to spare." Lois laughed at that, and they lapsed back into the casual conversation that was quickly becoming the norm between them.
Later that evening, long after Lois had retired for the night, and in truth long after Kal-El should have retired as well, he was still awake and pondering. His highly theoretical answer to his uncle's challenge had sparked a highly improbably line of thought that, while so far-fetched as to be ridiculous, would not be denied.
What if he could somehow, some way, go to Earth? Would it not be amazing to see Lois' world firsthand, to experience its sights and sounds for himself? He could not begin to see how that would be possible, but his fertile imagination was more captivated by the wonder of the idea than by practical considerations.
Kal-El was deep in contemplation of Lois' own home city, when he heard the sound. The towering skyscrapers vanished from his mind as he paused, frowning in concentration. What an odd noise….
The second time he heard it, he identified it as Lois' voice, but with a strange tone that disquieted him. Kal-El hurried to her room, hearing the noise grow louder. It was definitely Lois, calling out wordlessly. She sounded distraught, and he worried for her.
He touched the panel beside her door, but it did not open. Of course not, he had promised her privacy. But that did him no good now, with Lois' pained cries ringing in his ears. Kal-El called her name, raising his voice. He could not allow her to be harmed, he simply could not.
She did not answer in words, but by the tone of her voice she was deeply hurt or afraid. The sound of her distress frightened him; what could bring the courageous Lois to such a point? Kal-El forgot decorum, shouting her name, and smacked the impenetrable door with both palms in his frustration.
That seemed to reach her, for the next thing he knew the door was opening to reveal a wild-eyed Lois, dressed in an Earth-style sleeping garment. Her face was damp, her hair in disarray, and she was trembling with fear. At the moment she seemed to barely recognize him. And for an instant, he her. In all of her time here, he'd never seen her in a state of blind panic. "Lois, what is wrong?" he asked her urgently. She blinked up at him, comprehension clearly dawning. Whatever the trouble was, it had evidently ended, and relief flooded him.
And then Lois flung herself at him without warning, wrapping her arms around his chest, still shivering as if chilled. Her tear-streaked face pressed against his neck as she clung to him as if he were the only safety in a world of threat.
The young man froze at that. For a single instant Kal-El felt the instinctive urge to shove her away, to resist this abrupt and unwelcome intrusion. But a stronger instinct surfaced, and the desire to protect her overwhelmed him. Kal-El embraced Lois, holding her tightly against him, and the unnatural contact was oddly reassuring.
Still he worried, and drew back slightly to look into her eyes for any further sign of fear or pain. He saw neither, but there was something fey about her expression, some strange mingling of relief, fear, and tension. A nameless emotion tugged at his soul as their gazes met and locked, like a magnetic current drawing them both within its influence. Something was about to him, he was filled with a vague yet powerful premonition of profound occurrences.
Yet Lois still caught him completely by surprise when she broke contact, rose up on her toes, and pressed her lips to his.