Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

Across the Universe :: And Thus It Begins [Chapter Forty-Two]

You think last chapter was full of surprises?

*Both Evil Cliffie Princess crowns firmly on*

If you've never read our other universes, hold on tight.

This is ground zero. Be prepared for take-off.

Veteran readers of the LS-verse's action arcs and such, you know where the harnesses are.

It's go time.

“Suspect neutralized.” That flat pronouncement came from a handheld computer, and everyone immediately knew what it meant. Zor-El was captured … or worse. Lara managed not to wince when Alura’s grip on her hand tightened, the other woman’s nails almost breaking the skin. She held on, giving what comfort she could, as Alura’s shoulders began to shake.

Lara turned her gaze on the two Consulars still in the room, unable to hide the flare of resentment in her eyes. Protection. Of course. Dru-Zod would call it that, but the real reason those black-clad specters of destruction were in her house was surveillance. What she wanted most of all was to throw them out….

“You are no longer needed here.” That voice, so firm and so certain in speaking the thought of Lara’s secret heart, had come from Kal-El, who rose to his feet smoothly.

“That is not for you to determine,” said the first Consular.

“You heard the report. There is no longer any need to protect us from a suspect who has been neutralized,” Kal-El replied, and there was steel in his tone—hot steel, anger backing his determination, the same voice his father had used on very rare occasions.

Lara tried to catch his eye; he was only doing what she wanted to do, only doing what he felt was right, but the Consulars were armed and it was dangerous to rile them. Especially given the secrets he’d confided in her a few months ago.

Instead, Jor-El stood up as well. “My son is correct. I would not detain you here when you may be needed at the Council building.” That had an impact, the two glancing at each other, and Jor-El added, “My brother was, before his madness, a brilliant and determined man. Who knows what he has done in his folly? But he is no threat to us here any longer. You are free to go to your leader.”

Throughout that, Alura had been sitting very still, her eyes closed, only the tightening of her grip proving that she was even aware of the conversation. Once the two Consulars were out, though, she took a deep, shaky breath.

And even as Lara turned to console her, Kal-El rounded on his father. “Zor-El was not mad! How can you even say such a thing?”

“Of course not,” Jor-El snapped back, showing just where his son had inherited that temper. “I said what was needful to get them out of this house!”

“And Zor-El did what was needful,” Alura said, her voice breaking. “What he thought was needful. Oh, if only … if only he hadn’t….” With that she began to sob, turning blindly into Lara’s embrace.

Lara held her close, but she had no words of comfort. None that were true. She and her sister-in-law had always been closer than the brothers they’d married. Sometimes Lara thought that if she and Alura hadn’t been friends, the sons of the House of El would have stopped speaking to one another years ago. They had compared notes on the two brothers, tried to ameliorate the worst of their quarrels, rejoiced in their children together, and weathered the journey here despite all obstacles.

Lara had been the first to know about the night that had turned out to be Kara’s conception, and she’d been the one to reassure Alura that she and Zor-El weren’t the first in that situation, and that procedures were already in place to handle such missteps. Her historical perspective had meant she could deal with that knowledge without seeing her sister-in-law as some kind of regressive, even if she hadn’t had her own personal experience to consider. Which, to be perfectly honest, many more Kryptonians were partaking of such comfort at the time than anyone but the historians, biologists, and doctors knew about.

And now, though their culture said that weeping one someone else’s shoulder was both a sign of emotional instability and a possible vector for contagion, Lara couldn’t care less. Alura was her friend, the sister she’d never had, and the idea of spurning her at this moment was unthinkable.

Jor-El had left the room, muttering something about needed more information. And Kal-El was hovering awkwardly near before he finally dropped to one knee beside them both. “Alura, I am sorry,” he murmured.

She pulled away from Lara then, dashing tears from her eyes. “So was Zor-El. And look where it got him.”

“Once things are righted, he can be freed from the Phantom Zone,” Kal-El said.

“You naïve boy,” Alura said, but it was with affection warring with the grief on her face. Her voice wavered, but there was no doubt in it. “My husband meant to kill Dru-Zod. Do you honestly think that dog of his let him live?”

“Careful,” Lara murmured. They’d checked time and again for any listening devices in this house, and found nothing, but that was no guarantee, and Alura’s grief could only excuse so much. And the look of betrayal the other woman turned on her broke Lara’s heart afresh.

“Mother is right,” Kal-El murmured, and took his aunt’s hand, his voice barely more than a breath. “We must be careful. Especially now. But I swear to you, Alura, wrongs will be righted.”

A chill ran down Lara’s spine at those words, knowing what she knew about Kal-El’s recent involvement. She wanted to caution him, but it was far too late for that. This was like the moment the transport ships had broken free of gravity leaving Krypton-that-was; they were all rushing toward a conclusion that none of them had yet seen, with no chance of turning back.

Alura thanked her nephew, and he went to speak to his father. Lara rubbed her sister-in-law’s back consolingly. Thank Rao that little Kara was asleep, giving her mother time to compose herself … though eventually they would have to tell her, too.

As a member of the Science Council, Jor-El had access to privileged channels of information. So he wasted no time on the planet-wide gossip, and sought official communications only. And what he found took his breath away as if it had been a physical impact.

Zor-El was dead.

Ursa had been injured.

And Supreme Chancellor Zod still reigned.

“You fool,” he muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. Jor-El’s eyes stung, and a headache threatened. His brother, his brash and brilliant brother, was no more. No chance for a new accord, no time forgive all the wrongs between them, just … nothing. A void like space, but without the comfort of stars to steer by. Jor-El was adrift, with no idea of how to proceed or what to do next.

In the other room, he could hear Alura keening. She had needed no official bulletin; she knew her husband had died. If only he could have taken Dru-Zod down with him….

That was a shocking thought to have for any civilized Kryptonian. Their society had done away with the death penalty, and no violent deaths had occurred in living memory. To wish for another’s death was simply not done. To wish for another to be murdered, no matter what that individual had done, would be seen as a character flaw indicative of mental instability.

Yet Jor-El could not find it within himself to be horrified. Not anymore. As angry as he’d often been with Zor-El, as much as his brother had frustrated him, he had never imagined a time when Zor-El would not be there. And though some would surely say that his end was justified in that he’d attempted to assassinate the Supreme Chancellor, Jor-El knew that Dru-Zod was ultimately responsible for his brother’s death. Had he only stepped down from power once they were established on this world, all of this could have been avoided. But Jor-El knew now that Dru-Zod would never relinquish power.

His son’s voice startled him out of his reverie. “Father? I know this is a trying time, Father. I have always found your lab a comfort.”

Turning, he saw the serious look on Kal-El’s face, and understood the meaning of that nonsensical remark. “As have I, my son,” Jor-El replied, and did not expect the roughness of his own voice until he heard it. He sounded like … well, like a man who had lost a brother suddenly.

The two of them proceeded to the lab, where Jor-El switched on the sonic generator that would mask them from any listening devices. The device, which had been a source of frustration before, was turning into an unexpected boon. Before his son could speak, Jor-El said quietly, “Zor-El is no more.”

Kal-El was visibly shocked, and Jor-El realized this was the first time that someone close to him had passed on. He blinked, and mastered himself with obvious effort. “So Alura is right. Father, I … I cannot comprehend how this must feel for you.”

“Nor can I, in truth,” Jor-El replied. “It does not yet feel like reality.”

At that, Kal-El sighed. “Nothing has felt like reality for months. But seeing what has happened today, Father, I cannot … I have no wish to hide things from you any longer. Not when any of us could be in danger at any moment.”

“I have seen to it, at great personal cost, that none of my House will come under suspicion,” Jor-El countered. “You are safe, my son.”

Kal-El shook his head. “Not if Dru-Zod learns that over half the humans are no longer on this planet, and Lois was among the first to leave.”

Jhan-Or. That scheming old poltroon was behind this. Throughout Kal-El’s life, Jor-El had sheltered and guided him, keeping him out of the worst of the political maneuvering. All so that his son might never learn the same fears that robbed him of his sleep. And here Kal-El was telling him that he had not only gotten involved with the plotters, but was actively aiding them. What did you just say?”

To his surprise, the thundering tone didn’t dissuade his son in the slightest. In fact, Kal-El nearly matched it. “It is wrong to keep hostages for so petty a reason as mining rights. The humans should never have been brought here against their will. We had the technological superiority all along to approach them with care and consideration, to keep ourselves safe while negotiating to acquire what they have an excess of. The only possible reasons why we did not manage the situation that way are carelessness and malice. I do not believe the Supreme Chancellor is capable of making such a mistake as to provoke the humans unintentionally. Do you, Father?”

Jor-El could only stare at his son. He remembered what it was to be so young and full of fire, so idealistic that the only justification he ever needed was ‘because it is wrong’. He also remembered the folly of those days had landed them in their present situation. Could there have been another way to save the people of Krypton-that-was, as Zor-El had suggested to him? Could the exodus have been accomplished without Dru-Zod at the helm? They would never know.

At last, he was left with only the truth. “No, I do not believe this conflict was begun by mistake. Dru-Zod arranged it to keep himself in power longer. And yes, bringing the humans here was unethical and an offense to all Kryptonian ideals. But my son … do you not think you have gotten involved far beyond your depth?”

Kal-El actually chuckled. “Father, I have been out of my depth for months. There are greater schemes about than even I am aware of. Aiding the human Resistance and the Kryptonian Rebellion is the only option of which I am certain that I am acting in accord with my principles.”

“I told you not to become directly involved,” Jor-El replied. “I did not ask that out of cowardice. I wanted you to be safe.”

“None of us are safe. Not while he reigns.” Kal-El said it so calmly that Jor-El felt on the verge of outrage. Did the boy not know what he was playing at?

“And you would endanger us all? Your mother? For such simple, childish idealism?” It broke Jor-El’s heart to say it, and to remember when he too had believed that justice would always prevail, that one man with the will to do what was right could change the fate of an entire people. Time to contemplate his choices had made him more cynical.

“Father, if I am caught, I can truthfully say my decisions were made without your knowledge or input,” Kal-El replied. “But this must be done. Without the human hostages, the Supreme Chancellor has no leverage against Earth, and more importantly, we no longer have a quarrel with them. The Rebellion can then proceed against him without worrying about a flanking maneuver from the Resistance.”

Jor-El scoffed. “And that is why you got involved? Because Jhan-Or convinced you it was the first step to the glorious rebirth of Kryptonian democracy?”

Kal-El shook his head. “No, Father. I would have attempted something like this without him, and was fortunate to have use of his experience and resources. His plans and mine interwove neatly, but it is simply a case of separate goals making common cause. I could not have kept Lois captive like some sort of pet any longer. I could not bear it. Father…” He took a deep breath, and let it out, a curious mixture of worry and determination on his face. “…I love her.”

At that pronouncement and all it implied, Jor-El’s jaw actually dropped.

Turmoil in the aftermath, the whole of the Consulars boiling with dismay and undirected rage. What made Dru-Zod a leader was that he strode among it with a calm mien and a stern voice, forging order and purpose out of the frothing chaos. That he had emerged unscathed despite the blood-flecked, shattered crystal that had once been his office wall only aided his cause.

Even as he dispatched reinforcements to the shipbuilding facility, where security had been relaxed in error, and directed the cleanup and repair of the Council building offices, Dru-Zod felt none of the composure he displayed. Ursa was wounded. The most loyal of all his soldiers, perhaps the only person on this entire world who truly understood him and shared his vision, and that fatherless Rao-forsaken old fool Zor-El had managed to harm her. Dru-Zod wanted nothing more than to bring him back to life just long enough to kill him again. How dare he! If she died, the traitor’s wife and child would pay for the crime. He would see to it himself.

Ursa had assured him, before being swept away to the medical facility, that her injuries were only minor. Still, she would say that no matter what, not wanting him to be concerned over her. Her selfless devotion was normally a priceless treasure, but now it brought him only further worry.

He could not allow his men to see him unsettled, however. Forcing his mind to focus on strategy reaped other benefits: this situation could be turned to his advantage. Such an unprecedented attack, and by such a well-known fanatic … if Dru-Zod appeared to respond with compassion and sorrow for Zor-El’s derangement, his position would be cemented.

He allowed himself a slow smile. Perhaps the widow Alura might best be employed by him, housed here in safety from radical elements that would seek revenge or to exploit her. Yes, that would be perfect, and it would keep her and whatever she knew about Zor-El’s plans away from the rest of these rebellious fools. Dru-Zod did not fully believe her repudiation of her husband; the pair had been married too long for his actions to come as a surprise. By taking her statements as sincere, he could keep a potential dissenter under control and show himself to be a more forgiving leader than even the Science Council had ever been.

Such delightful irony. And on the heels of that thought, better news arrived: the medical center reported that Ursa’s injuries were superficial. She would be back on duty the following day. Dru-Zod allowed himself a smile, and in a moment of whim decided not to bother repairing the shattered wall of his office. It would stand as a reminder to all who came that attempts against his life were doomed to failure, and imply that he would not waste precious construction supplies even to repair his own office. The time was fast approaching when all confidential meetings would have to be conducted elsewhere, anyway.

Pleased by his own brilliance, Dru-Zod enjoyed a few moments of contentment before the next report came in. “Sir, there is a … situation at the construction facility,” one of his Consulars said.

Dru-Zod would not have a coward in his ranks, but this young man was nearly shaking with apprehension. “What else has happened?” he asked, restraining his temper. It might be only some bit of foolishness, reported directly only because all of them were half-mad with outrage….

His half-formed hope was not to be. “The traitor Zor-El, sir. He … he somehow managed to contaminate eighty percent of the growing solution vats.” The young Consular winced at delivering that message, clearly expecting an outburst.

Breathe. Rein it in, hold it back, use this wrath and let it fuel you. Do not let it show. “I see,” Dru-Zod said, with a remarkable facsimile of calm. “Measures must be taken to ensure that no further disruptions are allowed to happen. The moment Ursa is released from medical, I will want her and all of my other captains for an emergency meeting. See to it that message is carried to all of them, Consular.”

The young man saluted, “Yes, sir, Supreme Chancellor.”

Only once he had left did Dru-Zod realize the grinding sound he heard was not fragments of crystal being swept away. It was his own teeth, clenched in white-hot fury. The remainder of the House of El had best be loyal, he thought. If they wish to survive.

Tags: across the universe

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