Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Across the Universe: Cautious Queries of Science and Progress [Chapter Twenty-Two]

Storming on and of here, so I figured I'd jump on here and get this posted while I had the chance. Enjoy, all!

The meetings with his brother and his son’s human left Jor-El struggling to regain his composure, not a state in which he wanted to have yet another uncomfortable meeting, this time with the very individual he and Zor-El had been debating.  If he allowed himself to think upon it, Dru-Zod had shown some disturbing tendencies of late.  There was the way he had nearly struck his desk in anger … the icy expression Jor-El sometimes saw in his eyes, not the cool reserve of a rational man but the cold-burning fury of a tyrant … and then the one thing Jor-El would not allow himself to think, but he had seen it anyway.  Just a brief moment, coming to Dru-Zod’s office early one day, and he had thought he’d seen the Supreme Chancellor briefly touch the cheek of his second-in-command, Ursa.

It could not be, of course.  His vision had been obscured by the translucent crystal door, and he could not be certain of what he’d seen.  It was best that he forget the moment had ever occurred.  Besides, that was a level of intimacy no sane Kryptonian would admit to. 

Such a thing was … not as unheard of as they wished the children to believe, but even during the stress of the unprepared journey across galaxies, it had only occurred between wedded couples.  If Jor-El had seen what he thought he’d seen, then Dru-Zod was behaving in a manner that suggested a frightening degeneracy.  It called into question everything Jor-El believed about his erstwhile friend.

And it was on the realization that they were no longer truly friends, that he was locked into a dangerous game of chess against a man whose integrity and sanity he could no longer be certain of, that Jor-El arrived at the Supreme Chancellor’s office to discuss the upcoming Council vote on mineral distribution. 

His arrival did not help him regain any equilibrium.  Dru-Zod greeted him cordially and invited him to sit, while moving to close the files on his screens.  For a split second, Jor-El saw his brother’s face staring from one of them, and his heart sank.  He knows, Zor-El is doomed, and I too will end this day banished into the Zone, he thought.

Dru-Zod did not mention it, though, and he listened very thoughtfully to Jor-El’s concerns about military construction.  “We still have adult children sharing their families’ homes,” he pointed out, making his argument by rote while a small part of his brain waited for the black-clad Consulars to arrive and lead him away.  “You are aware, I am sure, that is undesirable to allow adults other than married couples to cohabit.”

“Ah, Jor-El, but we all lived aboard the fleet of great starships you designed, in rather closer quarters than any of these families, and we did not descend into madness,” Dru-Zod pointed out reasonably.

“There were … aberrances,” Jor-El said.  He could not, even now, bring himself to speak of them, no matter what he had been thinking mere moments ago.  Living in ridiculously close quarters, forced to interact every day with dozens of individuals, under constant stress, had resulted in several breakdowns in Kryptonian cultural norms, specifically those related to touch. 

“Minor aberrances,” Dru-Zod said dismissively.

That left Jor-El in a quandary.  The aberrances of behavior had not been minor at all.  It had gone far enough, in fact, that there were several children about who had not been conceived within the sterile environment of a birthing matrix.  The populace at large had no idea such things had happened, and the couples involved had been deeply motivated to hide their shame.

Was Dru-Zod attempting to gloss over an unpleasant topic?  Jor-El supposed so.  In a world where the fact that he sometimes embraced his wife was a shocking level of regression to which he would never admit aloud, such things were difficult to think about, much less discuss.  No matter what one might have done in the privacy of one’s home (or office, his traitorous mind insisted on adding), some things simply were not talked about, ever.

It also was possible that Dru-Zod simply did not know.  It was not necessarily within his purview.  Jor-El knew only because Lara knew; it was part of her function to know.  Historians kept the knowledge of their people’s past, including the unsavory parts, and nothing of import was hidden from a senior historian even as it occurred.  The biologists and doctors knew as well, at least some of them did.  The biologists were just as aware as the historians that … certain drives … had not been bred out of Kryptonians in a mere millennium.  The potential to regress existed in all of them, and only their cultural conditioning kept it at bay.

Deciding to skirt the topic entirely, as it was decidedly uncomfortable even to speculate upon, Jor-El chose a different tack.  “We have a fleet of ships that are essentially invincible to the humans’ remaining technology,” he said.  “I do not understand why it is necessary to build more.”

Dru-Zod smiled sadly.  “Do you believe that we and the humans are the only sentient life in this galaxy?  And even if you do, my friend, are you willing to stake all of our futures on that belief?  I would have our safety assured, our people protected from any threat that arises.  Do not forget that these humans are technologically primitive, millennia behind us, and yet they destroyed the Rozz VI and slew its crew.  What would you have us do if we encounter an advanced race that proves as hostile as the humans?”

“If there were such a race, the humans would have encountered them,” Jor-El said.

“Perhaps they have.  Their legends contain tales of visitors from the sky, some of which are helpful mentors, but many seem incomprehensible and cruel.  Suppose there is a grain of truth behind those myths.  I would not have our people lightly defended.”

Jor-El remembered his son’s point at dinner months ago, that most human cinema about contact with extraterrestrials centered around the concept of hostile takeover.  What if those films were not the product of a basically xenophobic mindset, but instead atavistic memories of true events?  It was a frightening thought, to say the least.

“And if we discover that we and the humans truly are alone in this galaxy, they are more than enough with which to concern ourselves,” Dru-Zod continued.  “Surely you have noticed, Jor-El, that their primary traits are innovation and adaptation?  Their technology now is vastly inferior to ours, but they have been exposed to advanced science, and surely they will study it, learn from it, and innovate upon it.  We cannot predict their course, cannot anticipate their actions.  We can only be prepared for any eventuality.”

“I had not considered either scenario,” Jor-El admitted.  He did not mention that the reason he’d never thought of humans adapting Kryptonian technology was because he honestly had not thought they would be mining on Earth for very long.  In the back of his mind he had always believed an equable solution would be found, or that they would withdraw their forces in short order once a surplus of minerals were obtained.  Now it seemed as though Dru-Zod had plans for a much more extensive occupation of the human homeworld.

“Of course you had not,” Dru-Zod said.  “You are an idealist, my friend, and an optimist.  No ordinary man could even conceptualize evacuating our entire people from Krypton-that-was in the time we had left, and you not only conceived of it, you brought the idea to fruition.  You never entertained the thought of what would become necessary if your plans were not completed in time.  Such failure would never occur to you.  That gives you a purity of focus that I, quite frankly, find humbling.”

Now that sounded like the Dru-Zod he’d once known, a man who acknowledged the differences in temperament between them and who valued Jor-El’s philosophy.  His heart lifted; this was why he refused to join Zor-El.  Of all the Council members, only Jor-El had ever heard the Supreme Chancellor admit to being humbled.  He still had the means to persuade Dru-Zod and avoid the terrible battle of wills that would occur if he attempted to defy him.

Dru-Zod had not yet finished speaking, however.  “It is also in your nature to believe the best of people, a very worthy trait and yet a dangerous one.  You do not think of how easily your trust can be betrayed.  Some on the Council whom you would call friends have urged me to investigate your House.  That, I will not do, for I trust you and know them to be cowards and scandalmongers.  They are among the same ones who discredited you when you attempted to warn them of the impending doom that threatened us all.  I know you have forgiven them, as is your nature, and surely you will forgive this fresh insult as well.  Your generosity of spirit is noble indeed, Jor-El, but in some matters it is best to consider things from a more practical standpoint.”

“I presume you refer to human matters,” Jor-El replied numbly, still trying to absorb the news that some of the councilors—with whom he thought he had repaired friendships fractured by the debate about evacuating Krypton-that-was—were trying to have him arrested.  For that was the certain outcome of an investigation.  Zor-El would be imprisoned, and Jor-El would be questioned intensely.

“Indeed.  I understand that you, and Kal-El for that matter, believe that these humans can reach a level of civilization equal to our own.  At the moment, however, they still caught in their base past, and cannot yet be trusted as we would trust one another.  For that reason, I do not think of them as they could be, instead as they are, and what they are presently is a potential threat to the safety and security of our people.”

Jor-El shook his head slowly.  “I do not disagree with you, Dru-Zod.  You are far wiser than I in matters of national security.  However, we must balance the defense against a potential threat with the needs of our people now.  Projects across the planet have ground to a halt for lack of mineral-enhanced crystal growth.  We have so much we must do here, to make this world livable for our people, and I do not think the populace at large will tolerate the current situation for an extended period of time.  The average Kryptonian does not consider these humans more than a distant threat, and will balk at delays caused by defense construction.”

Dru-Zod sighed, rubbing his temples lightly.  He looked like a man weary of the trials and travails of government, which gave Jor-El hope for the future.  “I do understand the situation, old friend.  If I were unaware of how the people complain, your brother would certainly bring it to my attention.  In a perfect world we could trust the humans to remain quiescent while we continue to mine on their planet, and I could surrender the entire mineral shipment to civil construction.  We do not live in that world, Jor-El.  One needs only look at the black market price for the minerals to see that.  Humans call it ‘salt’ and use it as a condiment to their meals; it is common and cheap on Earth.  Imported here, it increases a hundredfold in value, and I am told certain individuals are artificially inflating the price by hoarding it.”

Momentarily setting aside the veiled warning about his brother, Jor-El focused on the more important task at hand.  The Council would not gainsay Dru-Zod, and if anyone could convince him to release the majority of the mineral shipment to civilian construction, it was Jor-El.  He had already been quietly approached by several Councilors—likely the same ones who had approached Dru-Zod about arresting Zor-El, but then, a certain breed of politician always played at least two sides of any conflict.

Over the next half hour, Jor-El employed every skill he had ever learned in his debate courses and every ounce of personal persuasiveness he possessed.  By doing so he managed to talk Dru-Zod down from appropriating a staggering three-fourths of the mineral shipments, to taking only one-third of the total volume.  That would free up quite a lot more for construction and still leave a safe margin for Dru-Zod’s military campaigning.

At the end of the negotiations, Jor-El was completely wrung out, and cut the pleasantries to the minimum acceptable before letting himself out.  At least he had won a significant victory—or so he believed.  He was unaware that Dru-Zod had decided well beforehand that one-third was the figure to which he would allow himself to be argued down.

Jor-El made his way home, unable to do more than take comfort in his day’s work.  He should have been proud, but he had too much to worry about.  His brother was behaving irrationally, his son was fast becoming obsessed with his human, the other Councilors were conspiring against him, and his friendship with Dru-Zod was crumbling as his trust in the Supreme Chancellor eroded.  How under the sun was he expected to manage all of those separate problems at once?

Heartsick, he returned home, where Lara awaited him.  He saw her face when he walked in, the worry written there, and an instant’s anger flashed forth within him.  It was too clear that some small part of Lara had not expected him to return, that in the back of her mind she feared constantly that Dru-Zod would turn on them.  It was she who had educated him thoroughly on the few dictatorships of Krypton’s past, how they rose and fell, and being a historian she was never free from the awareness of what precarious times they lived in.  For a moment, Jor-El hated Dru-Zod, the Council, even fate itself with a clean-burning fury for having put fear into her compassionate and generous heart.

He was not a man given to emotional extremes, however, and the moment passed.  To act on those moments of passion was to doom his House, and he knew that too well.  Instead Jor-El went to Lara as she came toward him, and he enfolded her in his arms.  They stood in a silence filled with things of which they dared not speak.

Tags: across the universe

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