Here we are again, all. I suggest that everyone keep their eyes peeled during the next few chapters because this rocketship is taking off. ;)
“How is Lois?” That question was the one he never expected. For a moment Kal-El could only freeze, caught utterly unprepared.
Lara tilted her head and her brows drew together. “My son, for months you have never failed to mention her every time that we converse. I sometimes feel I know more of Lois’ daily life than I do my own son. And yet you have not spoken of her for weeks now. Is something wrong?”
He had been a fool, a thousand times a fool, for not thinking of this ahead of time! “Lois has … she has been feeling unwell,” he stammered.
Lara drew back, her eyes wide, and asked sharply, “This sickness is not communicable, is it?”
Kal-El could have struck himself in the forehead for stupidity. Though he had, through exposure to Lois and familiarity with Jhan-Or’s biological studies, come to a more relaxed view of health, the average Kryptonian still had a pathological fear of illness. The great plague a millennium ago had never left their minds, and it had been one of his mother’s particular fields of study as well. “No, Mother, it is only a minor illness, and seems only to be transmitted among humans.”
That seemed like brilliance on short notice; if they were questioned about the humans being sequestered, they could always claim a minor illness of the sort humans called a ‘cold’, a mere upper respiratory infection. It would also keep the Consulars out of their homes at even the suspicion of pathogens.
“If you are certain it is not contagious, perhaps I should come visit her,” Lara said.
“Mother, that would be unwise,” Kal-El hastened to reply. “Lois dislikes being ill; she is no mood to receive visitors.”
Lara only looked thoughtful. “In that case, you must bring her here when she is recovered. I do enjoy her company, and she seemed to return the feeling. It would be impolite of me not to invite her, after all.”
Now he was, as humans said, stuck between a rock and a hard place. He could not refuse an invitation on Lois’ behalf without grounds, and yet he could not claim her supposed illness continued for more than another few days without it sounding like something serious enough to warrant contacting the Bureau of Health!
Something of his consternation must have shown in his expression, because Lara leaned forward worriedly. “Kal-El? What is it? Something more than mild illness has happened, for you to look so pale.”
Trapped. There was no way out of this, so Kal-El took a deep breath and did what must be done. Unthinkingly, he covered his mother’s slender hand with his own before he began to speak.
And then, after inventing an excuse to get them both into Jor-El’s lab where the sonic generator would mask their voices, he told her all of it.
Well, almost all—Kal-El left out the part about becoming lovers, but he did tell Lara the most important part of that: that he loved Lois.
In the end, after listening to her son talk for an hour, Lara just sat back and stared at Kal-El. Her son, her gentle dreamer, her soft-spoken and amiable son, was a poltroon—a collaborator in the most outrageous act of treason committed in the last century. Kal-El had allied himself with far wilier politicians than he was, and she already feared that Jhan-Or might shift the blame onto him. The charismatic scion of the House of El would make an obvious abolitionist, and would cause such scandal if revealed as a traitor that perhaps no one would look further.
And yet … those things did not entirely surprise Lara. Kal-El had seen a situation that went entirely against his personal ethics, and he had treated it as a wrong that he could not allow to go un-righted. No matter the danger, no matter the cost, he had done what was right. So very like his father, in that, the Jor-El of younger years having wagered all to save their people.
But such actions, though founded in the most intensely-held ideals, had repercussions that remained unseen until the fullness of time. For example, their current predicament. The strong leader they’d allowed to rescue them had become the very tyrant they now feared.
Lara could not help but tremble at the thought of her son caught up in such a volatile situation. Her mother’s instincts demanded that she forbid him to continue, threaten to expose his involvement if she must to keep him safe. Lara was wise enough to know that doing so would not stop Kal-El, not as deeply as his convictions ran. All she would accomplish was the loss of his confidences, so she suppressed that first impulse.
While she thought through it all, Kal-El stared at her worriedly, his expression growing more sorrowful the longer her silence held. “My son, I am so proud of you,” Lara finally said, her voice cracking.
That wasn’t the response he expected, and Kal-El looked utterly stunned. The next Lara knew, he had hugged her. Lara hugged him back; she was his mother, after all, and he was her son. Societal propriety could be relaxed or even ignored, at a time like this. She did, however, whisper fiercely, “I am proud that my son is a man of such principles. Just be careful, Kal-El!”
“I am, Mother, and I will,” he told her.
She’d last held him like this when he was very small, but Lara remembered her arms around him and the warm scent of his hair in her nose. At that moment she had known she would move the very heavens for the sake of her son. Only, in the end it had been Jor-El who had moved them all across the heavens. For his people, yes. But mostly for this boy of theirs.
When they both drew back it was with identical, half-embarrassed rubs at their eyes, where tears of relief and concern had gathered. “I had thought you would attempt to dissuade me,” Kal-El admitted.
“Have I any chance of doing so?” Lara asked plaintively.
He lifted his head and his expression went solemn and determined. Suddenly he looked so much like Jor-El that the resemblance was staggering. “No, Mother, you do not.”
“Then give me credit as your mother for knowing that before you did, my son,” she replied. Oh yes, he was set on his course. “However … I suggest that we not speak of this your father.”
Kal-El’s brow furrowed. “Why should we not?”
Lara sighed. It was intuition that told her to keep this news from Jor-El, but sound reasoning followed it quickly. “He has enough to worry about. And he is too much in Dru-Zod’s company; perhaps he is the only person on this planet who has even the slightest hope of swaying the Supreme Chancellor. Considering that, it is best if Jor-El is completely unaware of such things.”
Kal-El bowed to her greater experience. “If we are speaking of things I should prefer not to tell Father, then there is one more thing I must tell you.”
Lara tipped her head sideways. “Yes, my son?”
To her surprise, he looked more nervous than when he’d spoken of treasonous plots. Kal-El took a deep breath, and began, “It concerns Lois. Mother … I love her.”
There were some days when Dru-Zod craved a challenge, and this was one of them. He was still searching for the roots of the conspiracy against him, and knowing that something was amiss but being unable to find it was maddening. Some of the investigations he was undertaking, however, were simply too easy.
Right now, Tar-Kon was sitting in his office. Currently a highly-ranked official in the Bureau of Human Affairs, the man had been mere domestic security personnel on Krypton-that was. His kind were little more than watchmen, in the strictest sense of the word. They witnessed and mediated personal disputes, but if something truly serious happened they could only watch and wait for the military to arrive. Dru-Zod found the lot of them to be useful at best and annoyances most of the time. Surely unworthy of his respect or his caution.
For example, Tar-Kon could not simply await the meeting that was already ten minutes late. He continuously looked at the clock, or glanced toward the door, or changed position in his seat. Not as fidgety as a human would be, but to a Kryptonian his discomfort was clear.
Dru-Zod waited another ten minutes, allowing Tar-Kon to stew in his own fear, and then entered the room. Immediately the younger man rose to his feet with a respectful bow. “Supreme Chancellor Zod,” he said, every breath betraying his anxiety.
“Thank you, Tar-Kon, for taking time from your exhaustive duties to comply with my request,” Dru-Zod replied, taking his seat. He used the voice he’d developed specifically for these interrogations, low and smooth and rich in timbre, a voice that invited confidences.
And one that could turn deliver the darkest threats in elegant tones, though he rarely had to use it in such a way.
“It is my pleasure,” Tar-Kon lied as he sat back down. “Tell me how I may be of service, Supreme Chancellor.”
The man before him was a coward and a fool, in Dru-Zod’s estimation. A coward because he had never seen combat, and a fool for showing the depth of his fear. It would take mere minutes to reduce him to a sniveling, shivering, pathetic wretch using only words, but that was sport for another day. “I shall not keep you long,” he informed Tar-Kon, sliding a document on his desk display into view.
Tar-Kon swallowed visibly. Right there were the names of every human hostage—in his own mind Dru-Zod did not call them guests, as he knew quite well what they were—and the history of their ownership. In some cases they had changed hands twice. Watching him, Dry-Zod murmured silkily, “I merely wished to discuss these irregularities with you.”
To his surprise, Tar-Kon met his gaze. “Irregularities, Supreme Chancellor?”
“Some of the humans have been passed about like keepsakes,” Dru-Zod replied, with a little chill on the tone. Not frost, not yet, just a hint of warning.
“Yes, sir, there were some changes made in housing,” Tar-Kon said. He was still clearly nervous, but to Dru-Zod’s surprise he actually seemed to have some backbone. He certainly wasn’t spilling a list of justifications as Dru-Zod had expected.
“Why were these changes made, Tar-Kon?” Still the persuasive, friendly voice—for now.
“Supreme Chancellor, some of those who volunteered to serve as hosts discovered that they were unsuited to the task. Others who had not had the opportunity, or who had no interest until they had learned more about the humans, asked to relieve the first group of their burden. The Bureau of Human Affairs facilitated these changes as efficiently as possible, and as you see, everything was fully documented.”
“And why was my office not informed?”
Tar-Kon looked honestly surprised. “Sir, we did not think so trivial a matter required escalation.”
“Trivial?” Dru-Zod’s voice was at its most calm and patient when he was growing angry, as now. “The unauthorized reassignment of the humans was no trivial matter. Nor were all the other ‘minor’ adjustments the Benevolent Society for Kryptonian Cultural Advancement has applied.”
That quickly, Tar-Kon looked frightened again. “Supreme Chancellor?”
Dru-Zod smiled, a gentle fatherly smile. “Did you honestly believe, Tar-Kon of the House of Kon, that no one noticed the humans moving about at liberty? Or the astounding amount of black-market items acquired by your Society?”
All Tar-Kon could do for a moment was swallow, and then he managed to speak with hesitation. “Sir, it … it seemed to us that as the superior species, it was our duty to look after the humans. Like children. They are accustomed to outdoor exercise, and it is not as if they can escape, not when all of them wear tracking collars. And we sought only to make them more comfortable, with such small things as might soothe a fractious child. With so much traffic in items from Earth, it only seemed sensible.”
That was an interesting gambit, and Dru-Zod changed strategies in an instant. He adopted an understanding tone. “I see now. Quite a commendable effort. However, all children need discipline, Tar-Kon, for their own safety as well as the good of the society they live within. Surely you are aware of the anti-human sentiment running high amongst certain sectors of our people?”
“Yes, Supreme Chancellor.”
“In light of that, I think it would be best if the humans’ liberty was revoked.” Dru-Zod watched carefully, and saw only the slightest disappointment in Tar-Kon. Interesting. “In fact, it would be wise to keep them indoors as much as possible. If one of them were to be harmed by these radicals, that could jeopardize our entire operation on their home planet.”
“Understood, sir,” Tar-Kon said with a nod.
“The changes of residence shall remain as they stand now. As for the black-market items, what has already been done can be forgiven. But it will cease. Now.” Only at the last did he reveal the steel beneath the velvet, his pale blue eyes flashing fire.
Tar-Kon practically leapt from his seat. “Yes, absolutely, Supreme Chancellor Zod. I will make the rest of my department aware of your orders immediately, sir.”
“Very good,” Dru-Zod said, and dismissed the man.
He was still seated at his desk a few moments later when Ursa walked in. “I am surprised that odious little worm did not dissolve out of terror,” she remarked.
“Yes,” Dru-Zod murmured. “Either the conspiracy we seek lies elsewhere … or there is someone he fears more than me.”
Ursa smiled, sensing that he was about to set her loose to hunt.
If Lara had been stunned by the first half of their discussion, she was utterly staggered by this news as her son continued to explain. He had a deeper and more personal reason than duty for freeing the humans, and for releasing Lois first among them. Kal-El had finally fallen in love, the love that was supposedly less desirable: passionate love. Not the companionable love that Kryptonians prized as the civic ideal, the love of a semi-arranged match, where friendship and commonality grew into a lifelong connection and source of strength, the love that she and Jor-El had hoped he would grow into with Lyla Ler-Ol.. No, his love was the one they were all warned about, the love that came searing into the heart like a meteor tearing through the atmosphere, love that burned fierce and high and could destroy all in its path.
The same love that Lara herself had felt for Jor-El in their youth. Not at their first meeting, when his blue eyes struck her to the core of her soul in a single glance—that was merely attraction. No, this love had come somewhat later, when she’d first understood the sort of man he was, the brilliance behind his abstracted demeanor and the noble resolve that was the core of his soul. That love had made her want to bind her fortunes to his for all time, made her want to be the mother of his son and overseer of his legacy. Her love had not been blind, but it saw too much and with too keen a clarity. From the moment that love entered her life Lara Lor-Van was no more, only waiting impatiently until she could call herself Lara Jor-El.
That love she had struggled to hide beneath a veneer of propriety, and mostly succeeded, at least in public. Jor-El returned her love with the same fervor, which was dangerous and made keeping the force of their feelings extraordinarily difficult. The timing of the great exodus from Krypton-that-was had been fortunate for them both; under pressure, many couples found refuge in the passionate love that they had been taught was so selfish. During the journey, it had been safety and comfort and strength for many of their people, as Lara well knew. As a historian, she knew the exact percentage of children of the last two decades who had not been conceived in a birthing matrix—and it was higher than anyone would’ve guessed.
Her Kal-El had fallen into that same kind of love, with a human. While Lara did not regret her own destiny, her heart bled for her son. No matter what was to be, he had chosen a path for himself that would be incredibly hard. Perhaps the wisest course—as a Kryptonian, as a historian, as his mother—was to counsel him to put Lois aside from his thoughts, to starve this love that consumed him and force it to loosen its hold on him.
And yet, Lara could not make herself say those words. Not now. Not when his love was so far away and facing her own trials. Not when their entire civilization seemed with each passing day to lean further over the abyss that was revolt and anarchy. No, she could not deny him the strength such a love would bring. Had not Jor-El’s love for her and for Kal-El himself fueled the salvation of all their people? Perhaps Kal-El loved Lois to the same level of inspiration.
All she could say, taking both his hands for emphasis and looking deep into those cerulean eyes just like his father’s, was, “Are you certain, Kal-El?”
The response came neither too quick nor too slow, and it came with a smile of such joy that she could no longer doubt him even for an instant.