Lois wouldn’t have chosen to broach her idea—really just the germ of an idea, at that point—to Geoffrey if she could help it. Of all the Resistance members, he was the oldest and most conservative, almost to the point of being stodgy. But she needed to talk it over with someone, and she couldn’t reach Henri or Huang easily at the moment.
Everyone was being more cautious with their humans since the sabotage. Henri’s reports said that the Supreme Chancellor was plainly furious, but no arrests had been made, and no suspects were officially named. Lois knew from Kal-El that Zor-El was an unofficial suspect. His wife, Alura, had publicly quarreled with him—most likely a staged event to ensure that her loyalty wasn’t questioned. What Kryptonians considered an argument wasn’t even a disagreement by human standards; there had been no raised voices, no accusations, merely a formal debate. It was still hot gossip among the Kryptonians, though. And it had thoroughly depressed Kal-El, whether the discord was true or a ruse.
That was another reason for discussing this, little as she wanted to do it. Lois knew she couldn’t wait to get hold of one of the others, so she talked to Geoffrey anyway, knowing the reception she’d likely get. Still, maybe it was best this way. If she could overcome all of Geoffrey’s objections, convincing the rest would be easy by comparison. But only by comparison.
They managed to lose themselves in the public gardens, now even less frequented by Kryptonians than before. Geoffrey sat down and patted the bench beside him. “Come now, Lois. You’re about to boil over with something—news or a question, I can’t tell which. Out with it.”
Chagrined, she sat down. She hadn’t known she was quite that transparent. “Well, something has been on my mind lately. But you won’t like it.”
“Lois, my dear, I like precious little about this situation we find ourselves in,” Geoffrey chuckled.
She took a deep breath. “I have reason to believe that there’s more than one faction among the Kryptonians who might want to help the Resistance. And I think we should give that due consideration, in light of possibly forming an alliance.”
By the look on Geoffrey’s face, he thought she’d gone completely mad. “Right. So, Lois, let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about these factions.”
“For the record, Geoffrey, I’m not losing my mind,” Lois said, forcing her voice level. It wouldn’t do any good to snap at his tone, which bordered on patronizing to her ears. “Please remember that I’m closer to Kal-El than any other human is to any other Kryptonian, that he’s connected, and that he tells me just about anything.”
“Oh, I remember that. I also remember that while you may never doubt his information or his intentions, it’s my duty to question everything. If your information comes from him, I have to consider his motive in revealing it.”
For an instant, Lois considered replying with the stark truth. His motive these days is generally pillow talk. But no, she could never say that, the Resistance would consider her compromised—and Kal-El would no longer be her escape from the world if the rest of the world knew about them.
Instead, she sighed. “Understood. Anyway, we know for a fact there’s a group of Kryptonians who oppose Zod. They’re the ones who sabotaged the construction of the military’s new ships.”
Geoffrey nodded. “Right. So what makes you think they’d be sympathetic to our situation?”
“Well, I’m pretty sure who one of them is, and he’s either the ringleader or highly placed. Kal-El’s uncle, Zor-El. And he’s made his stance on humans very clear: we don’t belong here. I think he’d gladly send us home if only to get us off his planet.” Lois shrugged. “Now, I know his group is dangerous, because they’re under suspicion right now. Supreme Chancellor Zod has to know he’s mixed up in this somehow. But it’s worth at least keeping an eye on them. If they do manage a coup, the Resistance could make ourselves known and help them get us out of here.”
“I’ll agree with you there,” Geoffrey said. “Zor-El does seem the obvious suspect, but I’ve heard nothing from Henri about him being under investigation. Then again, considering how close his brother is to the Supreme Chancellor, perhaps the investigation is taking place via unofficial channels.”
Lois bit her lip. “That, and while we have an ear in the Bureau of Human Affairs, we’ve got nothing on the Consulars. None of our people have a host that’s associated with them. They seem pretty clannish, to me. All that wearing black even when they’re not in uniform.”
“That’s because they’re never really out of uniform. Working or not, a Consular is always a Consular.” Geoffrey’s eyes looked shadowed by that, but he shook it off. “Make no mistake, Lois. The Consulars might have started out as military police, but right now they’re Dru-Zod’s personal army. From what we’ve gathered, the woman running the Consulars is frighteningly loyal. Essentially she’s a fanatic, and the rest aren’t far behind in terms of devotion. They do not obey the law or the office, they only obey the man they still call General Zod.”
A shiver ran down her spine. Her father had very definite opinions on military service and politicians—he tended not to respect any of them who’d never served, or who had used political connections to get desk duty during a major conflict. But he was also adamant that active military leaders should not run the country. In one of his rare talkative moods, he’d told her why once, when she’d sarcastically suggested that he’d complain less if his superior just took over the President’s job. Military people see things differently than civilians. You know that—you see how much trouble you have running with civvie kids. They don’t get us, we don’t get them. It’s worse among leaders. There’s no democracy in the armed forces, after all. The kinds of things we see, the responsibility we hold, the absolute authority we wield, the decisions we have to make, it’s all good background for a president, hell, for anyone, but it’s better if there’s a cool-down period between military service and political service. We need time to remember how the people we’re protecting live, how to be one of them again, so we can represent them properly.
The thought that the Supreme Chancellor was still addressed by his military title—and worse, he had an armed force that was completely loyal to him, not his title—spooked her. No wonder everyone on New Krypton was so nervous. The situation was a powder keg waiting to explode.
Geoffrey interrupted her musing. “You said more than one group.”
“Yeah, and the other one is the group I think we might want to consider approaching.” Lois hated herself for phrasing it in such a wishy-washy way, but she had to make sure she didn’t sound too certain. That would earn her even more questions.
“And who are they?” Geoffrey asked.
Taking another deep breath, Lois plunged in. “The Benevolent Society for Kryptonian Cultural Expansion. I have reason to believe they’re a front for human sympathizers, basically.”
Geoffrey simply nodded thoughtfully. “Mm-hmm. That interpretation had occurred to some of us, too. Would you mind telling me why you thought so?”
A spark of hope rose in Lois’ chest. Maybe Geoffrey wasn’t going to outright veto her. Even better, maybe there was more intel out there, more concrete evidence that Kal-El’s group could actually be the allies they needed. “Mostly Kal-El. He and Jhan-Or have been the most progressive of the Kryptonians with how they treat us. I was there when they decided to just let us wander around on our own. And certain things Kal-El has said recently seem to be hinting at a larger purpose for the society. Maybe not even all of them know it, but he’s sounding like he’s on our side.”
Geoffrey looked at her for a long moment. “What things, specifically?”
Now she had to be careful. “Well, he … he said he would see me freed, no matter what it takes. That sounds an awful lot like the B.S.K.C.E. is fronting for an abolitionist group. I mean, they’ve got all the humans assigned to their members, now.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” Geoffrey said delicately. “Lois … was it you singular or plural?
She cocked her head in confusion, and he elaborated. “Did Kal-El say he would see you free, or all the humans?”
Her blush was all the answer he needed. Geoffrey patted her hand gently. “Listen, Lois….”
Lois yanked her hand back, scowling. That patronizing tone was the last thing she needed to hear. “Don’t you ‘listen, Lois’ me. I know how it sounds, but I know him. If he’s talking about setting me free, he’s talking about all of us. That’s just who he is.”
Geoffrey looked pained. “Lois, it’s natural to think well of him. All of us are now in situations where our hosts treat us kindly and try to make our lives as pleasant as possible. That does not make them any less our jailers. In the event of a human uprising, they would be the first suspects, and therefore they are the last people we should trust.”
“Kal-El’s not that selfish,” she insisted.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Geoffrey sighed. “Kal-El is young, Lois. And probably just a little enamored of you. Young men promise the world, but they rarely deliver. Trust me, he may want to free you, and the rest of us, but I doubt he has the wherewithal to accomplish it.”
She bit her tongue. He was more than a little enamored of her; the l-word had been exchanged more than once, and not just in bed. And there it was again, the teensy little insignificant fact that they were lovers—lovers, she was quite literally sleeping with the enemy—which she would never reveal to Geoffrey or anyone else in the Resistance. Ever. Her credibility with them would be shot to hell if she did.
Geoffrey spent some more time reassuring her, but Lois let it drift in one ear and out the other. He didn’t know—or need to know—that she’d already sent her father a coded letter.
General Samuel Lane was also known as Bulldog Lane, with good reason. One of his highly-educated and experienced military advisors was presently discovering that fact, much to her chagrin. “General Lane,” she began.
He cut her off. “Now look here, Colonel Matthews. We sent the best personnel we could into this charlie foxtrot. The least we can do is trust their assessment.”
“With all due respect, sir, the person to whom we’re referring is your sixteen-year-old daughter, who is neither a trained intelligence officer nor enlisted military personnel,” the colonel replied. She sat across from him, hands neatly folded on the edge of the desk, military precision in everything from the perfect creases of her uniform to her evenly-spaced braids.
Sam narrowed his eyes. “Lois has been sneaking into and out of restricted areas, ferreting out classified information, and dodging armed patrols since she was ten, Colonel, so I’ll match her against of your spooks any day. As for enlisted personnel, she grew up on base, under my watch, surrounded by soldiers. For all intents and purposes, she’s been in the armed forces for all seventeen of those years. Almost makes her a lifer.”
Her dark brows rose ever so slightly. Then again, it was hard to get even that much of a rise out of someone from INSCOM. “Sir, there is a vast difference between an enlisted soldier and the child of a ranking officer.”
“Not this officer’s child,” Sam told her stoutly. “You’ve never met my Lois, Colonel Matthews. She’s not some silly little girl. We’re talking about someone who’s been behind enemy lines for months, and she’s not only actively working with their side of the Resistance, she also has contacts to several key members of the opposition.”
“I don’t deny that what she’s achieved is remarkable. What concerns me, sir, is that you’re willing to risk so much on her hunch that some of these Kryptonians might be amenable.” Eyes dark as mess hall coffee met his blue ones unflinchingly.
Sam had to admire this young woman. She didn’t rattle, and as long as she thought she was doing what was best for the mission, she wouldn’t hesitate to go toe-to-toe with someone who outranked her as much as he did. He allowed himself a small smile. “Colonel, I’ve seen your record. You’ve been under fire in Qurac. You know there are times when a hunch is the only thing saving your life—and the life of the soldier beside you.”
She nodded, conceding that. Colonel Matthews was a decorated officer, and she didn’t get that way hiding behind a desk somewhere.
Sam leaned forward. “I’m not suggesting we should offer these aliens any military secrets. What I’m suggesting is that we allow Lois to approach the most likely faction. In her own time, mind you. She’ll know the right moment to suggest an alliance. And you know we’re going to need a more concrete agreement, eventually. What we have going on with the black market is useful, but if we’re aiming to smuggle our people out of there, we’re going to need a whole lot more cooperation.”
“Sir, I’ll level with you,” Colonel Matthews offered. “I am extremely uneasy about trusting these Kryptonians. They are an entirely different species. It’s not simply a matter of cultural divide, sir, they come from another solar system. I doubt anyone’s ability to accurately predict them. Taking them into confidence is going to be extremely dangerous.”
“Colonel, I don’t like it any more than you do. Hell, the thought of negotiating with them makes dealing with the Chinese and the Russians and the whole Middle East seem like a cakewalk. But that’s exactly what we’re doing now, isn’t it? Lois’ contacts over there are exactly the people we wouldn’t deal with in any other situation. Now they’re our allies. And maybe we have a few more allies than we suspected.”
The younger officer seemed to waver. Sam leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Trust my daughter, Colonel. She’s a damn good judge of character, and she’s a soldier in everything way that matters. She won’t forget who she is or what’s at stake.”
At that moment, though, Lois was determinedly and deliberately blocking out everything else. Geoffrey telling her not to trust any Kryptonian, the look she’d gotten from Henri when they passed each other the next day, the sense of impending doom that hovered over her day and night. All the secrets, Kal-El’s and the Resistance’s and her own. It was enough to make her scream.
Even Huang had gotten in on it, sending her a note that simply read, “Be careful.” As if she could.
All of them were watching her now—suggesting they ally themselves with Kryptonians had brought even more suspicion than she expected. The sensible thing to do would be to lie low, be careful, cool things off with Kal-El at least a little. Let it all blow over until the rest of the Resistance got used to the idea of working with the Benevolent Society. God, why didn’t any of them get it? How was it that she was the only one to see the potential of what she had proposed?
So at the moment, Lois wasn’t being sensible or careful. For now, she was just being herself, being selfish. She wasn’t trying to be a soldier or a spy. She wasn’t thinking about plots or secrets—or anything that was further in the future or more complicated than getting Kal-El out of his damned Kryptonian robes.
He laughed, his voice low and warm. “I take it you missed me today?”
“You could say that,” she murmured, stopping his words for a moment by kissing him. “I hate it when you’re gone all day. All I can do is hang around and think.”
Kal-El drew back slightly, cupping her face in his hands. “Lois. I would not be gone if I did not have to be.”
“I know that. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” She could feel another frown starting up, so she buried her complaints against his lips instead. That always worked; being able to kiss him was still novel enough that Lois felt confident it could distract Kal-El from everything short of a nuclear explosion. And it distracted her pretty effectively, too.
“I miss you, too, you know,” he murmured against her lips.
Lois smiled at that, and let her tongue flirt with his at the next kiss. Kal-El’s hands smoothed down her sides, shoulders to hips, like he was framing her body with his touch. She pressed herself closer to him; even though they were still half-dressed atop her bed, any distance between them was too much.
Somewhere in the back of her brain, she could hear voices telling her not to do this, not to trust him, especially not to love him. Her father as well as the other members of the Resistance, even her own voice from earlier days. You have a mission. He is the enemy. Don’t forget that. She forcefully ignored them all.
This wasn’t just Lois’ typical defiance. True, given an order she would generally do the opposite, especially to spite her father, but this mission was important. World-shatteringly important. And yet, for her, there was something so immediate and so powerful that it eclipsed the world entirely: love. Every time she saw Kal-El, her throat got tight and her heart raced. The attraction between them was magnetic, both of them turning toward each other even in sleep.
Attraction alone she could ignore. Lois had turned down plenty of handsome boys. But this … with Kal-El, every time she touched him, all the stress and fear and doubt simply vanished. If he was beside her, she felt safe, no matter what. And that sense of security was something she’d never really had before. His devotion to her was the rock she could brace against to keep everything else from overwhelming her.
Kal-El leaned into her, arms around her, nuzzling her throat. “By Rao, I love you,” he breathed against her skin. And then he kissed slowly downward, lingering at the hollow between her collarbones and the curve of her belly.
Lois stretched and sighed, letting everything but him and now and this go. Here, there were no hard decisions. “Kal-El… God help me, I love you, too.” Nothing else she’d said for months had been so true. The way he touched her, his hands and mouth, yes, but mostly his tender consideration, his honest delight, drove everything except bliss from her mind. She stroked her hands over his broad shoulders and gladly lost herself in him.