“Where exactly are we again?” Kala asked. She was driving, Dustin was playing navigator, and Sebast was sprawled across the van’s bench seat, snoring gently. Reno had been good to him, Kala assumed.
Dustin unfurled the map. “We just passed Lovelock. The next town is Winnemucca, about an hour away.” He glanced over at the speedometer and added, “Fifty minutes, for you.”
“Hey, I am my mother’s daughter,” Kala protested, checking her speed. She was maintaining a steady 79 miles per hour, just four above the limit.
Dustin shrugged. “Long as you don’t get caught, and don’t blow a gasket.”
“I checked everything before we left. And Robb’s even keeping up.” She checked her rearview mirror again; Robb’s Corolla was hanging on gamely a few car lengths behind her, and behind him was Ned’s hearse, currently being driven by Morgan while Ned napped in the back. He’d had some fun when they set out from Reno, leaving the curtained windows open and lying perfectly still with his hands folded on his chest. People had stared at the apparent ‘corpse’ in traffic, until Ned raised a hand and waved. Kala had had to call Morgan and get him to tell Ned to quit before they caused a wreck.
Silence again. The desert flowing past her window seemed to beckon, a great yawning silence full of wind and sand and loneliness. The hairs on the back of Kala’s neck stood up every time she looked out. This was a little too familiar; around a hundred miles south of here was Luthor’s underground lab, and the awareness of it made her anxious.
They’d gone in and out of Vegas earlier on the tour, and it had been just before dawn when they’d passed through the part of the desert that held dark memories for her. Kala had kept herself busy then, drinking staggering amounts of coffee and doing crossword puzzles and sudoku. She’d let Sebast drive, not trusting herself behind the wheel. But she had gotten through it, and would again. The rock star life was definitely going to take her through Las Vegas more than a few times.
Now, though, she was the one driving, and she couldn’t take her attention off the road … and the scenery. The highway was fairly well-traveled, which was better than a lonely road would’ve been. But the desert’s stark beauty rolling out for miles on either side kept reminding her of sinister things.
“What’s on your mind?” Dustin asked softly.
Kala shook herself. “Old news.”
“Three year old news, maybe?” he ventured.
She looked over at him and smiled wanly. “Yeah. This part of the country always creeps me out. I’ll get over it, though. I got over my fear of the ocean; I’ll get over the desert. I’m not letting that rat bastard win.”
“That’s my girl.” Dustin knew some of what had happened to her. He knew she’d been kidnapped twice by Lex Luthor; he knew the first time she’d almost drowned in the Atlantic Ocean, and the second time she’d been held captive somewhere in Nevada.
“I’m fine, Dustin. Really.” Kala wasn’t quite sure who she was reassuring, herself or him.
“You will be,” he told her, reaching over to stroke a stray lock of hair out of her face. “You’re Kala Lane-Kent, sweetheart. Goth rockstar, Superman’s god-daughter, daughter of two of the best reporters in Metropolis, stepdaughter to a millionaire and a mad pilot, and sister to the great and mighty Lizardboy. Not to mention, my girl. So no bald psycho with a hatred for heroes is ever gonna get you down.”
She had to laugh at that; Dustin could always get a smile from her, no matter where her mind was. “I’m telling Jase that you called him Lizardboy.”
His smile was always so open and honest that it almost hurt her heart. “He is Lizardboy. I’ve seen his dorm room on Skype; Gazeera’s cage takes up half of it. And he’s always letting him run loose, too, so I’ll be talking to him and then this giant lizard crawls up his shoulder.”
“I know, right? I think if Mom knew when Uncle Perry gave us our pets how big iguanas got and how long they live, she really would’ve tossed Gazeera off the balcony. Probably Uncle Perry, too.”
“Probably. I wouldn’t put it past her. Kala, you sure you’re gonna be all right? I can take the wheel, if you want.”
Kala took a deep breath and let it out. Part of her wanted to just tell him the truth—that three years ago, she’d killed a man in that desert, a man who wanted to rule the world … and had the means to do it. A man who would have made her queen of all she surveyed. No one outside the immediate family and a few key members of the JLA knew that she’d killed Dru-Zod. Or how close, how very close, she’d come to killing one of Lex’s hired thugs along the way. Zod was one thing, he was a direct threat to her sanity, to the world, and to her family’s lives. But the thug had just been in her way.
She’d read a lot about psychology after that terrible New Year’s. It no longer surprised Kala that it had taken less than a week for Dru-Zod to turn a fairly ordinary half-alien teenager into someone who might have killed so casually. Stranger things had happened. Most people read about Stockholm syndrome and thought it could never happen to them. Kala read about it and knew just how fragile the mind was, how easily the strongest principles could be broken. Most people had no idea that every day they walked a tightrope over disaster, and she knew how far the drop was. Which was why she was out here driving a secondhand van with a sleeping singer and a bunch of instruments in the back, instead of putting on a cape and kicking butt alongside her brother and father.
“Earth to Kala?” Dustin said, and she realized she’d been lost in thought instead of answering him.
“Sorry. There’s … a lot on my mind. I love you for offering, but I think I’d rather drive. It keeps me from brooding. Well, it mostly keeps me from brooding.” Kala gave him a smile.
“All right. But if you start looking all distant and miserable, I’m gonna turn on the radio and find a country station. I’ll even sing along. If that doesn’t make you laugh, nothing will.” There was genuine warning behind the smile, and Kala knew he’d do it, too. Dustin didn’t need to know every shadow in the back of her brain, he only wanted to shine the brightest light he could into her soul.
That was how, an hour later as they stopped for gas, Sebast woke up to Kala belting out the lyrics to Gunpowder and Lead. She sang it with a snarl, as if Luthor could somehow hear her. Try messing with me one more time, Baldy. The ocean, Nevada, wherever you dragged your slimy self off to. I’m my mother’s daughter, and I’m not scared anymore.
“What the hell?” Sebast groaned, rubbing his eyes. “When did we switch from Adam Lambert to Miranda Lambert?”
“When she made a song about not taking bullshit,” Kala shot back merrily, her dark mood entirely gone by then.
Sebast just looked over at Dustin wearily. “I blame you for this.”
“Hey, I think it’d be cool if you covered a country song,” he said, and then all three of them broke up laughing.
Lois kicked back in her office chair, sipping her coffee. This was the way coffee should be, thick and black and bitter. Dose it with sugar and milk, and it was practically a meal. In the early morning she often claimed that there was too much blood in her caffeine stream, and several reporters would’ve agreed that pressroom coffee and newspaper ink ran in her veins.
As she meditated upon her coffee, a sound caught Lois’ attention. She turned toward the windows behind her office and saw something in the distance, something shiny rocketing along the concrete canyons of Metropolis. Shiny? What the hell?
Her question was answered a moment later when some jackass—make that several jackasses—in metal power suits roared past the office building, closely pursued by a familiar blue streak trailing a red cape. Lois didn’t even need to glance toward International; she could hear the bitching about the mysterious ‘draft’ that blew papers off reporters’ desks from here.
Any thought of a leisurely morning was gone as Lois barreled into the bullpen. “Phillip! Where the hell…” Her protégé was at his desk, furiously typing something, and he popped his head up like a prairie dog when she yelled his name. Lois ascribed to the Perry White school of reporter training, which boiled down to one maxim: give ‘em all the work they can handle, and then give ‘em some more. The best reporters would make it happen, much like Lois herself had.
Although seeing him hard at work, just like she was back when she was green and being Perry’s favorite mostly meant she got crapped on the most, did make her smile. “…there you are. Get your ass on the story that just literally flew past my window. Now! Do I have to do everything myself?!”
Phillip Murray bolted out the door like a well-trained reporter, and Lois watched him go with a fond expression. She turned back toward her office, but movement in her peripheral vision made her snap her head around in time to catch Krista Khan sidling toward the door. “Excuse me? Ms. Khan, the story is happening in Metropolis right now. It is not International’s baby, you hear me?”
Krista just gave her a pitiful look. “Actually, Mrs. Lane, I’m leaving for the day. I already cleared it with Mr. Kent.”
“Leaving?” Lois sensed shenanigans, and eyed the girl warily. That one reminded her of herself, too. It was no wonder. Kal-El had found himself a fierce young woman with more guts than caution, and he was bringing her along to be the star of his department. Word amongst the administration was that she wanted to be embedded with the Marines in Qurac next year, and was asking to go through Marine Corps boot camp alongside the platoon she’d deploy with.
“Yeah, I kind of…” Krista looked miserable and embarrassed, quickly crossing the room to Lois’ side. She moved hesitantly, as if she was in pain. “It’s kind of a feminine problem,” she whispered, wincing.
Oh Lord, the poor girl wanted to go home because she was having cramps? Seriously? Of course Kal-El would let her; he was a notorious soft touch. Lois huffed in amusement. This from the girl who wanted to deploy with Marines. “Sure, fine, go home. Cuddle up with a heating pad.”
Maybe she didn’t need to be threatened by this one after all, Lois thought as the girl hobbled out, holding her midsection and getting a variety of pitying or embarrassed looks from the staff. After all, Lois herself had been reporting for the Quotidienne right up until the final month of her pregnancy; she’d gone into false labor in the newsroom, in fact.
Only much later did she realize that Krista Khan was more like her than even Lois guessed.