Alura Zor-El watched the broadcast with a heavy heart and a growing sense of despair. She had been acquainted with Dru-Zod when the man was merely a general and a friend of her brother-in-law. He had always struck her as a very charming man, well-spoken and well-educated. Zor-El had never liked him, though. He once claimed, when he was exhausted enough to be loose-tongued, that behind Dru-Zod’s blue eyes was not the mind of man but the gears of a machine. Alura had remembered that remark precisely because Zor-El had spoken thoughtlessly. It was a rare thing for any of them, but especially for him.
When the Science Council was overthrown and General Zod became Supreme Chancellor Zod, Alura had worried. If Zor-El was correct in his assessment, they had just allowed a dangerous individual to assume command of their people. On the other hand, she believed Jor-El when he said that the only way to save them was to evacuate Krypton-that-was. She had known him as long as she’d known her husband, and he was not rash and headstrong as some believed. If Jor-El said the explosion of the red sun Rao was imminent, then it was so.
Many did not believe him. It hadn’t mattered at the time; Supreme Chancellor Zod was not interested in convincing the populace, only in commanding them. There had been only one serious attempt at revolt, which quickly ended when military personnel used lethal force. The entire populace of Krypton had been stunned into compliance that day.
The fact that Rao had indeed gone supernova after they evacuated the planet had convinced most Kryptonians that Dru-Zod was right. Suddenly no one mourned those lost in the revolt, and everyone claimed to have been in support of the Supreme Chancellor from the beginning.
Though her own husband had always been critical of the new regime, Alura had been certain he was not involved with the original revolt on Krypton-that-was. He had protested the overthrow of their planet’s government, but he had never been implicated in the protest that turned violent. Now, though, she began to wonder. Zor-El was one of the most vocal dissidents on the planet, after all. Had he perhaps had a hand in that failed rebellion? And, worse, had he been involved in this new sabotage?
For herself, Alura would have thrown her support wholeheartedly behind a nascent revolution. The power the Supreme Chancellor wielded was too much for any one man, certainly too much for an ambitious military leader. She would gladly speak out as her husband did, but for one thing: Kara.
Kara was still only a child. She did not deserve to pay for her parents’ transgressions. What would be her fate now, with this fresh revelation?
Alura sought out her husband, and though her expression seemed calm, she seethed inwardly with fear—and anger. It would be just like him to have been involved in this and never have told her, leaving her unprepared.
“Alura, my love,” he said over his shoulder to her as she stepped into his workroom.
She took a deep breath before speaking. “Zor-El. Be honest with me. Were you involved in this sabotage?”
“Of course not,” he replied, turning toward her at last. But the look in his eyes was faraway, the look of some ancient philosopher, not of the brilliant and vital man she’d married. It chilled her to the core of her soul.
“It matters not whether you were involved,” she told him, her temper rising. “Supreme Chancellor Zod will suspect you anyway. You will be questioned.”
“Of course I shall. I am one of the few with courage to speak against him, and he fears me. I assure you, Alura, I was not party to sabotage. Dru-Zod can track my movements and interrogate me as much as he wishes; it will not make his suspicions true.”
Her answer came hotly. She loved him for his forthrightness and indeed, even his passion for those things he considered important, and yet at this moment those were the traits she most wished he could have suppressed. “No, it may not, but it will not stop him from imprisoning you regardless. And how shall I to explain that to our daughter when she asks where her father has gone?”
The strange calm in Zor-El’s eyes never wavered. “If he imprisons me without an iota of evidence, then our people may finally see him for what he is: a madman. He is lost to avarice, ambition, and zealotry. He is using his position and manipulating the situation to achieve what he wants most: power. The sooner our people comprehend that, the better. If I must endure imprisonment for their blindness to be healed, then so be it.”
Alura trembled with the force of competing emotions like asteroids tumbling around inside her chest. “And if he will not stop at imprisonment? What then, Zor-El?”
“Then I will pay any price to free us, even if I am banished to the Phantom Zone.” He said it slowly and calmly, but she saw the glint of fear in his eyes. Eternal living death, imprisonment in a hell from which there was no escape, never to feel hunger or thirst—but never to age, never to escape even into true death.
Something in Alura snapped. “How could you do this to us?!” she shouted, the first time in their life together that she had raised her voice. “I could understand perhaps if it were only me—I could stand with you, even—but Kara! How can you do this to Kara!”
“It is for Kara that I do this!” he thundered back. “I see my nephew growing up a trusting fool, I see his entire generation call Dru-Zod a savior! I will not have our daughter surrender her birthright and join them!”
He took two steps toward her and seized her shoulders; Alura barely noticed, caught up in his stormy gaze. “We were a great people, once, Alura. We were a shining beacon of civilization. Now we all cower before a black-clad general and his oh-so-loyal troops. We who prided ourselves on our erudition and the skills of our orators now fear to speak our minds in public. We who thought ourselves champions of liberty have traded it for safety, and in so doing have lost both. Worse, most of our people are not even aware of what we have lost! What would become of Kara, who never knew democracy? What of the generations to follow, who will remember only that the Science Council would have doomed us and the dictator Zod saved us? We will all be little better than slaves, Alura. My life would be small enough price to pay to wake our people from their slumber and stop this madman before it is too late.”
“You truly believe he is mad,” Alura whispered, chills running down her spine.
He looked down at her seriously. “Talk to Lara, if she will dare to speak of it. She can reference all of the recorded history of twenty-seven galaxies. She knows that only two sorts of men put themselves forward as sole rulers in a time of crisis: those who relinquish the burden of power as soon as they are able, and those who have no intention of ever releasing it. We both know Dru-Zod is not one of the former, for he remains in power. Earth and the humans were dreadfully convenient for him, were they not?”
“And so you mean to martyr yourself. That is what you have planned all along, to sacrifice a son of the House of El to this cause,” Alura said. The air seemed heavier to her, and she wondered if she might be in clinical shock. For the moment she was wrapped in a strange, fatalistic calm, very similar to the way Zor-El had been when she first walked into the workroom.
“Yes, my love. If that is what is necessary to save our people, our daughter, then that is what I must do. My only regret will be that I must leave you and Kara to accomplish it, but you will both have better lives if I do this.” Gently, softly, he leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
Alura closed her eyes. “Unless you are wrong, Zor-El. Unless Dru-Zod outwits you, or your martyrdom does not result in a coup. Then we shall be the widow and orphan of a traitor.”
“You must renounce me, then, for your own sake,” he told her.
A shudder ran through her at that thought. He had everything figured out, but … she couldn’t help fearing for the future.
Kal-El woke slowly to the irritating chiming sound of an incoming holographic message. He felt strange and stiff; his body, accustomed to sleeping in the curve of a Kryptonian-style bed, was uncomfortable on this flat surface in spite of its softness.
Why was he asleep on a flat surface? He started to stretch, and heard a complaining whimper from beside him. Kal-El froze, only his eyes moving. Yes, there was Lois Lane, and they were both completely nude. That actually happened.
There had been awkward moments last night—neither of them had been completely sure of what they were doing—but also moments of pleasurable yearning so keen they transcended his ability to describe. And at the end, a starburst of ecstasy like nothing he could ever have dreamed. After, they had lain in each other’s arms, exhausted and struck silent by wonder.
He had felt not an iota of shame. The human way of doing things was not primitive or disgusting. It was … primal, certainly, and far more intense than any emotion a proper Kryptonian should feel. But it was not wrong. He knew that by the warmth of trust in Lois’ eyes. Anything that could bring two people together in such perfect harmony was never wrong.
She still slept, and the chiming continued. Kal-El made his way out of bed, gathering up his robes and tugging them over his head. On his way to the door, he stepped on something that made him flinch and stagger back, his foot aching.
It was Lois’ crystal necklace. Kal-El picked it up and tucked it away in his sleeve. Eventually he would have to put it back on her; little as he liked doing so, he couldn’t yet allow others to learn of his new conviction.
She is not property. Her people are not inferior to ours. Keeping them here against their will is a monstrous evil, one which every decent Kryptonian must abhor. One which I who love her must loathe with every fiber of my being. I will not be able to rest easily again until Lois has the choice to stay with me or to return home, Kal-El thought as he padded into the main room, setting the door to remain open so he could get back in after he took this call.
A terrible shock awaited him there. The image on his holographic screen was a black-clad Consular. Already? Even as he thought it, he was grateful that his furniture hid the fact that he was barefoot. Such an irregularity would lead to all manner of unwanted questions. “May I be of service, Consular?” he asked politely.
The man narrowed his eyes and glared. “Where is your human, Kal-El?”
“In her room,” he replied, his heart thudding. The necklace, the damned necklace, of course they conducted random tests of the crystal tracking system. And hers had been off for several hours. Everything was about to come crashing down much sooner than even he had anticipated, and all he could do was try to come up with a desperate lie that might save one of them….
“Are you certain?” the Consular barked, but before Kal-El could stammer an answer the image wavered as the man turned away, toward someone else in the room. His expression became less threatening, and when he spoke again his voice was bored. “Ah, I see. We are showing the tracking crystal is back in place and that the human is in your home as she should be. Twenty minutes ago the scan showed the crystal was disconnected. Had you noticed any malfunction?”
“No, sir,” Kal-El said, thinking quickly. They’d only missed one random scan—no one knew the necklace had been off overnight, only that it was off moments ago. “I do understand the anomaly, sir. You see, Lois Lane has long, curly hair. It became tangled in the necklace, and I briefly removed it to alleviate her discomfort.”
The Consular gave him a look that clearly doubted his intelligence. “Very well. In the future, scion of the House of El, I strongly suggest that you warn the Bureau of Human Affairs before removing the necklace. For any reason. Especially after such news as we had yesterday.”
“Of course, sir. It was foolish of me. Thank you for the reminder.” The screen went blank, and Kal-El sagged. He barely managed to make it to the couch before his knees gave out.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Last night, removing the necklace had made perfect sense; he could not bear to see it on her. She was not property, not a slave; she was the woman he loved. That was still true in the face of fear and tribulation. In the morning light he knew himself for a romantic simpleton. Taking the tracking crystal off had been an immense risk, and it was only luck that had saved him from landing in worse trouble.
Trouble could still be headed their way. Kal-El knew he would have to be both careful and lucky to avoid further suspicion from the Consulars, and he could not rely on luck. Last night, when he’d heard the Supreme Chancellor’s announcement, he had been filled with despair. This morning, he felt only hope and determination. He would somehow get through this. For Lois.
And for the moment, he had to wake her. She would want to know about the Consular’s call. When Kal-El stood up again, the crystal necklace slid down in his sleeve, and he automatically caught it. An epiphany burst upon him.
The Consular had said the tracking crystal’s reading was back online. That meant it was active and broadcasting while he was holding it. Kal-El knew the crystal required a bioelectric field to operate, but he hadn’t yet realized that that signal didn’t have to be human. He could wear the crystal, Lois wouldn’t have to—but no. If she was seen without it there would be more trouble. Still, it was worth remembering that he could activate the signal, and the Consulars had no way of telling the difference.
Kal-El padded back into the bedroom, where Lois was burrowed into her pillow. Gently he stroked her tousled hair off her face, and bent to kiss her forehead. “Lois, my love,” he murmured. “Wake up. I have much to tell you.”
She grumbled softly and clutched the pillow more tightly. Kal-El had to keep stroking her hair and speaking softly to her for several more minutes before her eyes finally blinked open. At first she looked at him in utter bewilderment, and then understanding lit up in those hazel eyes, followed by a blush that made her face turn an adorable shade of pink.
Lois smiled shyly at him, laughing a little, though he couldn’t tell if it was at him or at her own embarrassment. “Oh … oh, wow. Um … good morning?” she said hesitantly, biting her lip.
“Good morning,” he replied warmly. And in spite of the unpleasant surprise he’d already had, it was a good morning, because she was here.