Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

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Across the Universe: The Curious Duplicities of the Heart [Chapter Twenty-Three]

I'm just going to smile here and tell you just to read. ;)

Also, just a head's-up that we'll be going out of town April 22-29 and there will be no posting that weekend. The schedule will stay the same until then, ATU next week and one more Love and Other Headaches the day before we leave, but the posting schedule will pick back up on May 5. With the crazy insanity lately, we just need time to recharge and do some SERIOUS plotty goodness. Thanks for understanding in advance!

Lois and Kal-El had kept missing each other that day; he was out of the house when she woke up, meeting with Jhan-Or on something to do with administrative responsibilities of running the Benevolent Society for Kryptonian Cultural Expansion.  She waited for him a while, having a quick breakfast as prepared by his robots, then left a note and went out for her morning stroll.

Huang met her in the public gardens, and they talked lightly of inconsequential things.  Lois had never been much of one for small talk; inane chatter bored her.  She wanted a story, or at least some hard facts, to engage her mind.  If a topic didn’t interest her, or was blatantly specious, she would find a way to escape the conversation.  But after several months on New Krypton, she was perfecting the art of blathering on about the weather and the various new species of plants in the gardens.

“Oh look, they got hydrangeas to grow here,” she pointed out to Huang.  Large clusters of blue flowers nodded beside the path.  “Funny thing, the color of the flowers is controlled by the acidity of the soil.  The more acidic it is, the bluer they are.  If the soil’s alkaline, the flowers are pink.  Balance it just right and you get purple.  Momma used to spend days in the front yard of our place in Fort Bening trying to get hers to bloom purple.”  She didn’t give him the epilogue, which was just like most of her childhood stories: and then Dad got new orders so we moved, and everything changed.

“Fascinating,” Huang said.  “When I was young, we had wisteria that same color growing by the door.”  Botanical observations occupied them until they reached a spot out of sight of any casual passersby.  Quickly, the two humans hopped over the wall and headed for their prearranged meeting spot, where Geoffrey and Henri awaited them with a human woman Lois hadn’t met yet.

No time for small talk; Henri spoke first.  “We have a problem.  The deadlock in the Council has broken; military construction will begin soon.  The only break we’re getting is that Jor-El apparently talked the Supreme Chancellor into taking a whole lot less of the salt shipment than he wanted.  From what I’ve read of Tar-Kon’s messages, he’s the only one left who can sway Dru-Zod.”

“Well, he bought us a little time, at least,” Lois said. 

Geoffrey nodded.  “He did.  Most of the current salt shipment and stockpile is going toward civilian construction, for which we can be grateful.  Now we have a couple of tasks ahead of us—warning people back home about the military construction, and seeing what we can do about it.” 

“You mean sabotage,” Huang said quietly. 

“Yes,” Henri replied.  “It’s the logical next step.”  Lois felt the hairs at the nape of her neck stand up.  Passing information was one thing, but deliberate sabotage….  Then again, anything that bettered the odds for Earth was worth risking.

After a moment to make sure they were all on board with the plan, Geoffrey spoke up again.  “To that end, I’ve brought Gabriela Bernardes with me today.  She’s a chemist, and even better, she’s assigned to a Kryptonian host whose specialty is crystal architecture.”

Gabriela nodded to the rest of the group.  She was somewhere in her late twenties or early thirties, with golden-bronze skin and dark hair highlighted caramel.  When she spoke, her English was crisp and lightly accented.  “This is the situation we face.  The crystals apparently need an ionizing solution to grow properly, which is not unexpected.  I do not know why table salt is the specific ionic compound necessary; it may be the abundance of salt, or its high electrical conductivity, or some other factor related to one of the ions themselves.  I highly doubt that Kryptonians, science-based as they are, never tested other solutions’ efficacy, so we must assume that they require saltwater specifically.  Our task will be to somehow alter those solutions so as to affect the crystal growth.”

“And do it without getting caught,” Lois pointed out.  “If they have the slightest idea of sabotage, we’ll all be suspects.”

“Yes, of course.  Now, I have looked into our options.  Our first problem will be obtaining access to the saltwater used for military construction, but I shall leave that aside for the moment.  Once we have access, there are several things we could do.  Adding silver nitrate to the saltwater would cause a chemical reaction that would rearrange the ion formation, but it would leave telltale traces in the solution.  Other compounds have essentially the same problem.  Certain types of ion-exchange resins might be able to remove the sodium and chloride ions from the solution, but again, they are quite obvious—and difficult to come by as well.”

Gabriela smiled then, dark eyes alight with a predatory gleam that made Lois smile back.  “The simplest way of sabotaging the military growth is also the one that leaves the least evidence.  If we change the concentration of the saltwater solution, the crystal growth will be affected.  We cannot feasibly desalinate it, so we must look at changing the salinity by other means.  Fortunately, for complex structures such as these military ships, any significant degree of deviance in either direction will serve out purposes.  Increased salinity causes too-rapid crystal growth with distortion of certain fine details of construction.  Decreased salinity slows the growth and also results in distortions.”

Huang looked concerned.  “Salt is possibly the most valuable substance on this planet at the moment, so I doubt we can add salt to the solution without getting caught.”

“Ah, but we can increase or decrease the amount of water by several different methods,” Gabriela pointed out.  “Best of all, our efforts will appear to be malfunction or negligence, and should go undiscovered for some time.”

“It looks like our first task is going to be figuring out just where the construction will take place, and how much security we have to deal with,” Geoffrey said. 

“I can get the security specs, and possibly the location,” Henri offered.

“I want to keep Lois out of this,” Huang said thoughtfully.

What?  Hell no, I’m in,” she snapped. 

“You’re the youngest,” Geoffrey began, and she bristled.

Huang spoke before she could.  “That’s unimportant.  Lois has the best rapport with her captor, and he’s been extremely useful.  We can’t take the risk of jeopardizing Kal-El’s trust in her.  He’s too important a source of information, and through him she may also have a slim chance of influencing Jor-El.”

“You’re right,” Henri mused, and Geoffrey nodded.  “Lois, you’ll have to sit this one out.  You’re too important to the overall goal.”

She couldn’t help pouting slightly.  Only a moment ago she’d been worrying about the risk, but that had vanished when it seemed Huang and Geoffrey were implying she wasn’t up to the challenge.  Lois’ reaction to having doubts cast upon her competency was so predictable as to be inevitable.  It was highly unlike her to choose the safe and sensible option, and her defiant soul resisted having it forced on her.  “If anyone gets caught, I’ll still be a suspect.  They’ll be after all the humans, and I’ve been seen with you all often enough to get myself condemned as a conspirator even if I’m nowhere near when this goes down.”

“You’re the only one who could conceivably talk herself out of such a situation,” Gabriela put in.  “We must not put you in any unnecessary danger.”

“It might even be best if we limited contact—” Geoffrey began.

Lois cut him off abruptly.  No.  I can’t be of any use to anyone unless I know what’s going on.  Don’t you dare cut me out of the loop, Geoffrey.”

“She has a point.  Besides, if we suddenly stopped associating with Lois, it could be construed as more suspicious than maintaining our acquaintance,” Huang countered.

With a little more grumbling, they managed to negotiate the situation.  Lois would be kept informed of the saboteurs’ plans and activities as well as everything else within the Resistance.  No one would attempt to conceal information from her, and she would not be kept out of any of the ongoing efforts without extraordinarily good reason.  “For after all, though we have no single definitive leader for our enemies to persecute, the rest of the Resistance recognizes each of us as organizers, and knows Lois is one of our chief assets,” Huang added.

That had startled her, and as they’d all gone their separate ways it continued to haunt the back of her mind.  Not having a single leader, well, that was a good thing for their sort of group.  Rigid hierarchies were a point of weakness in guerrilla organizations: take out a charismatic leader, and the rest wandered off leaderless.  But since the Resistance relied on several main organizers and open dissemination of information among its many members, there were no key ringleaders to round up.  Even if Geoffrey, Henri, and Huang were captured—even if Lois herself was captured—the rest would go on.  They were acting on a shared desire to escape captivity, not according to any one person’s orders.

Although, now that she thought about it, Lois had been in on all of the major breakthroughs.  Her father held an important position within the most powerful military in the world, and he served a crucial function in this conflict.  And not only did she have the best rapport with her Kryptonian host, but he was from a politically important family and was himself a member of the society that was working to better living conditions for humans on New Krypton.  None of that made her any more a leader of the Resistance than Henri or the others, but it did make her far more important than she’d suspected.

Some young women, having discovered something like that at the tender age of seventeen, might have developed inflated egos.  Importance was a heady feeling, after all.  For Lois, stranded on a foreign world in the midst of battle being fought by subterfuge and espionage, it only unsettled her.  She didn’t like feeling as though she was a lynchpin to the Resistance; that was more pressure than she wanted to handle.  Being Lois, she would rise to the challenge, but for the moment all she wanted to do was curl up on the couch and whimper. 

That was how Kal-El found her some time later, huddled in a little ball in the corner of the couch.  He came to her immediately, his hand on her shoulder as he sat down beside her.  “Lois, what’s wrong?”

She didn’t even notice that he’d used a contraction for the first time—something that didn’t exist in Kryptonese, and which none of them used when speaking English to the humans.  Lois looked up at him, her chest feeling heavy with the weight of all the things she couldn’t say.  Instead of speaking, she leaned into him, letting his arms enfold her.

“I will keep you safe,” he murmured against her hair, and held her.  Lois felt safe, finally, and clung to him, gripping the thin material of his sleeve.  Closing her eyes, she let her breathing slow down, surrounded by his warmth and surety.  Being with Kal-El this way felt like entering a separate world within the circle of his arms, a place where the rest of her worries and fears couldn’t intrude.  A place where it didn’t matter that his people were keeping her captive. 

She supposed it was the same for him.  Here, with her face nuzzled in against his throat and her hip pressed against his leg, he certainly didn’t seem to worry about human germs or the monstrous impropriety of their behavior.  Instead he sighed quietly against her hair, and stroked her back soothingly.

Lois sighed too; his warm palm making slow circles over her tense muscles was exactly what she needed.  She let herself all but collapse against him, not thinking that she was practically in his lap, not thinking about anything but that for this one moment she could forget the Resistance and the war bubbling beneath the surface, forget sabotage and conspiracy, forget everything but the fact that Kal-El cared for her and wanted her to be relaxed and happy.

Instead of drawing away from the increased contact, he tightened his other arm around her, and softly kissed the top of her head.  What happened next seemed only natural at the time, the logical progression of events.  Not a single thought given to the world outside of these walls, more trying to hide from it. Lois tilted her head back and kissed him, first the curve of his jaw, then his mouth.

This time there was no instant of stiffened shock as there had been when she kissed him the night of her terrible nightmare.  This time, Kal-El returned the kiss gently, and he showed no inclination to stop.  Lois answered that willingness with another kiss, and when he replied in kind she kissed him yet again.

Turned toward each other, his arm around her waist and her hand on his shoulder, Lois and Kal-El kissed for long minutes.  When she deepened the kiss, his mouth tasted faintly sweet to her, and she murmured wordlessly in contentment.

Unthinking, she shifted closer to him, curling one leg over his.  This was just a moment out of time, one thing she could have for herself without worrying about his culture or her circumstances.  And it was deliciously, deliriously tender, nothing like any other kiss of her life.  Most boys she’d kissed had been aggressive, seeking to get past kissing to what they really wanted from her. 

Not Kal-El.  He had no prior experience of kissing, no demands, no expectations.  Like her, he had put the world on hold for this, for the caress of lips and tongues that set every nerve singing with delight.  A wonderful almost-shiver ran up and down Lois’ spine, practically making her purr, and she kissed him with more intensity, losing herself in sweetness.

After a while, though, she had to admit she needed air more than his kisses, and drew back with a soft laugh.  The look in his eyes silenced her; those royal blue depths suddenly held an expression of longing that simultaneously woke her appetite for more and cooled her ardor. 

On the one hand, no one had ever looked at her like that, as if she was the most beautiful and desirable person in the galaxy.  On the other, reality abruptly intruded into their pretended safety: neither of them should’ve been doing this.  And they knew it. Especially not with each other, especially not now.  This is so, so wrong, she thought, but even the voice in the back of her mind didn’t sound convinced.

“Kal-El…” she trailed off, not knowing what to say, but he seemed to wake up as if from a trance, giving himself a slight shake.

“You’re right,” he said, distracted, even though she hadn’t said anything other than his name.  Instead of elaborating, he gave her a helpless, adoring smile.

Lois smiled back, and leaned in for one last chaste kiss on the cheek.  She wanted to say something, but couldn’t quite think of the words to express her thoughts and feelings.  Instead she simply went to her own room, to lie down and think about what had just happened.  It was certainly better than thinking about anything else at the moment.

Tags: across the universe

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