A little longer chapter than usual, so enjoy, all!
General Lane typically wore fatigues in the field, just like his men, but today he even went without his medals. That was a rarity. It was currently the fashion among military leaders to wear every single bit of decoration one had ever earned, though Sam didn’t follow that. He’d once glared at one-star general with a chest full of meaningless stripes and remarked, “Forgot your Boy Scout popcorn sales fundraiser badge.” One of the highest-achievers in his field, Sam was entitled to a great deal of ribbon and braid, though he ordinarily wore just a few of great personal importance—and being without those now left him feeling strangely undressed.
Still, he had to look as much as possible like just another grunt today. Rifle in hand, Sam mingled with his soldiers as they gathered to supervise the unloading of the empty shipping containers that would take the current batch of salt to New Krypton. Well, supposedly empty. The whole reason why he was here was to receive the latest group of freed humans—and some promised information.
The Kryptonians had just one of their military personnel supervising the entire operation, but then, the majority of the actual mining was carried about by machines. The engineering staff had been doubled, and even so consisted of just ten people. All of them sympathetic to the human cause. They were all wary of the one … Consular, that’s what they were called, Sam remembered. Not just military, but somewhere between military police and the equivalent of Delta Force, essentially. The elite, and according to the intelligence he’d received, all fanatically loyal to the Supreme Chancellor who had once been General Zod, and their commander.
Even as the Vice Chief of Staff, a highly-decorated officer, and a career Army man, General Lane knew that it wasn’t always wise to have a career military officer in the highest seat of power. Oh sure, some military experience was preferable, as little else gave a man—or woman—the right perspective on public office as service to one’s country. But someone who lived and breathed military discipline and military rules of engagement, placed in a position of near-limitless power with none of the checks and balances of American democracy? That made this Zod a man to be feared.
The Consular only gave the empty shipping containers a superficial glance before they were loaded into the processing facility. Grown entirely from crystal ‘seeds’ about twice the length of a man’s hand, these buildings and all the equipment in them had been set up in under a week. General Lane wanted to get his hands on that technology so badly his teeth itched. It would revolutionize so much about the world … but he had a job to do right now, and that meant sauntering along like an ordinary soldier on a boring detail.
Within the processing facility, the environment was completely controlled by the same crystals that made up the walls, ceiling, and floor. Temperature, humidity, and air quality were all maintained at levels comfortable for the Kryptonians. To Sam, the air was almost too pure. Even the fresh mountain air of some of his more remote installations had a little tang of pine on the breeze, but this was completely sterile. It made him uncomfortable, as did the cleaning robots that literally followed in his squad’s footsteps, erasing every little fleck of dirt that came from their shoes. He was uncomfortably reminded of Ella scolding him for not wiping his feet. But then, the robots were also removing any threads from clothing and shed hairs or skin cells. Absolutely no forensic trace would be left of this visit.
Once all the containers were inside, the Consular left them, and the engineers took over. Sam followed the containers as the hidden compartments were revealed … but this time, far fewer humans stepped out. “Only five?” he asked gruffly.
The nearest engineer—a woman, with pale blonde hair worn back off her face and piercing dark eyes—answered him. “Security has been increased on New Krypton,” she said, her voice slightly digitized. All the Kryptonians on Earth wore mechanized suits that protected them from the planet’s ‘impure’ atmosphere any time they went outside, as well as in rooms that opened directly outside. General Lane thought it likely that they were also insulating themselves against this primitive planet and its people.
The scientists’ suits were white, and had all manner of sophisticated sensors built in while still managing to fit relatively close. They added only a foot of height overall. By contrast, the Consular’s suit was black and bristled with weapons, with extended stride and reach that made it ten feet tall. Sam figured that one was much more of what any fan of science fiction would consider a mecha-suit. He understood that communications were also built into all the suits, but the engineers had worked out a way to jam the Consular’s signal, and pretended the same fault applied to their own as well, blaming the problem on solar radiation or microwave transmissions, he couldn’t remember which.
For the moment, he gave his attention to the woman who had spoken. Her statement sounded like the tip of the proverbial iceberg—and Sam felt uncomfortably like the captain of a ship running blind across a night sea. “And why is that?”
She didn’t answer immediately, darting a significant look his way before striding to the corridor that lead to the offices and living spaces, where humans were forbidden to go. Sam hesitated just a moment before following; he had other priorities first.
The other men were taking charge of the human refugees, all of them blinking and staring like newborn foals. No one in this group was any kind of leader in the Resistance, General Lane could tell at a glance. Perhaps with enhanced security measures, the remaining leadership was lying low so as to keep from being caught. Frustrating, but it meant he could turn his back on them without regret.
He did catch one lieutenant’s eye and gave the man a slow nod before carefully following up on the Kryptonian scientist. Sam had barely stepped into the corridor when she appeared, beckoning him to a doorway.
It could be a trap … but his intuition said otherwise, and Sam went into the room without showing any trace of doubt. The crystal door slid down behind him—another eerie thing he could never get used to—and the woman seemed to sigh in relief. Then she spoke without preamble or hesitation. “The news may reach you from the humans we transported today, or from the communications we bring. If not, however, you must be aware of the situation on New Krypton. There has been an assassination attempt upon Supreme Chancellor Zod.”
Sam caught his breath. “Are you serious? Damn, that’s premature! I thought your people were going to wait until all of mine were home to make your move.”
“It was not our people,” she corrected. “There is another faction rebelling against his rule. They are younger and more impatient. We do not yet know the entire story, but it appears that some members launched an ill-advised and un-approved sortie against the current military construction. They escaped, but wounded several Consulars. That is, of course, virtually unheard of among our people.”
A non-violent society that abhorred touch having to deal with its elite military force being taken by surprise and actually injured … yes, he could see how that would be a shock. The General in him growled at the culpability of soldiers caught off guard.
The engineer continued to speak in the same low, rapid tone. Their time might be limited and she meant to convey as much information as possible. “The leader of that faction chose to take the blame himself, and knowing he would be hunted down for his treason, he took extreme measures. The Supreme Chancellor was unharmed, but his right hand, Ursa, who is called the Hound of Zod, was slightly wounded.”
Oh, Hell. A slight wound to that megalomaniac’s favorite follower was worse than a grievous one. This Ursa, of whom General Lane had heard much and all of it worrisome, would be on her feet and causing trouble again in no time. That wouldn’t stop Zod from being savagely vindictive over her injury, though. “Just what we don’t need,” he muttered.
“There is more. Ursa killed the traitor. Understand, our people have not come to armed combat amongst our own for centuries, excepting only the revolution that placed Dru-Zod in power. It was a terrible shock to much of the population. Worse, the leader of the rebel faction who lost his life? Was Zor-El, brother of Jor-El. Both of them are highly respected members of the Science Council—”
“And Jor-El’s the only one with any sway over Zod,” Sam finished. “Might as well count on him not being able to help, one way or another. Which means we’re in for a helluva ride, until this is over.”
“On the contrary, my superior believes the loss will increase Jor-El’s resolve,” the engineer told him. “And now you must go, General Lane. Further details will surely be transmitted to you.”
“Thank you,” he told her, and was out of the building before realizing he’d never gotten her name.
It was irrelevant. All that mattered now was getting the last of their people off that damned planet … and getting their own counter-measures in place.
And one more thing. Finding his wayward daughter.
On New Krypton, a series of rapid changes fell into place in the wake of Zor-El’s death. Everything happened so quickly that the populace was still in shock, and no outcry was raised. The measures seemed sensible to most people … at first.
All such weapons as Zor-El had used were banned. Anyone who had such a weapon was given two days to turn it in with amnesty; after that, possession of one became a crime on the level of treason.
The tools from which those weapons were developed became restricted to only the miners whose use of them was legitimate. Every such tool had a serial number encoded in it, and every one was to be accounted for at the end of the day and returned to the security of a vault in the mining office. A Consular personally checked that it was done, and the penalty for falsifying records would be as severe as if that individual had stolen the tools with the intent to use them as weapons.
Salt was officially a controlled substance, and all of it that arrived henceforth would be held by the Supreme Chancellor’s hand-picked representatives for distribution as Dru-Zod saw fit. That most of it would go to military construction was obvious to anyone with the sense to read the shifting political winds. Families would receive a strict ration according to their dietary needs. Of course, there was no way to know how much was privately held before the restrictions took effect, and that could be bartered for, if one was discreet enough. Overnight, the price of salt on the black market increased tenfold.
And lastly, the humans were under strict control, confined within the homes of their hosts. Random checks of the tracking crystals were to be increased, and any human found outdoors and unattended by a Kryptonian would be immediately arrested. It went unsaid, but was obvious that many suspected the humans of some sort of collusion in the attacks. Jor-El worried about that, but Kal-El had just shaken his head with a secretive smile. Apparently the Benevolent Society already had plans in place to deal with such restrictions, despite the fact that humans were being smuggled off-planet.
Those changes made sense to the people. But the next one, a general curfew, raised some muttering. No one was to be abroad from one hour past sundown to one hour before sunrise; anyone found outdoors during those hours would be brought in for questioning by the regular patrols. Any and all travel during the restricted hours had to be approved by one of a group of Consulars assigned to that purpose. This was said to be for safety, but it made dinner gatherings much more difficult to arrange, and complaints were lodged. The Supreme Chancellor himself broadcast the message that the measure was temporary, and that the people must be patient; he held their safety in higher regard than their comfort. The fact that the message was broadcast from his office, with the shattered crystal wall in plain view, silenced much of the discontent.
Jor-El saw all of that, and worried. His concern grew when three young Kryptonians were arrested as part of a conspiracy to avenge Zor-El by destroying the Council Dome itself, and all the offices within—not just Dru-Zod’s. There would not even be a trial; the case was presented to the Science Council fait accompli, with their guilt and punishment already determined by the Consulars.
Not that he wasn’t already aware of the ambitions of the discontented youth. What bothered Jor-El was that the evidence against the three could only have been gathered by covert surveillance, and no one else on the Science Council seemed to notice. They were all too frightened by the intent to attack them.
When he attempted to speak up, they turned as one and silenced him with threats of censure. Jor-El could not help feeling a fatalistic déjà vu. This had happened before, when he tried to warn them of the impending cataclysm, and they had shut their ears and minds rather than face a danger so great. That day was the direct cause of this one; Jor-El had shared information with General Zod, and had warned him of the Council’s intent to arrest him. If not for that, they would all have perished on Krypton-that-was.
If not for that, Dru-Zod would not have become Supreme Chancellor.
Was it worth it? To have survived the apocalypse only to face this new threat? This time he had no allies outside his own House, no savior with an army at hand to take control of the situation and force the Council to do what was best for all Krypton. Jor-El knew better than to approach any of the people he knew or suspected were involved with the Rebellion. He was too well-known an associate of Dru-Zod’s. The only one who would even listen to him was Kal-El, and the very last thing he wanted to do was get his son even more involved in this fiasco.
Worse, Alura had accepted an offer from the Supreme Chancellor’s office, and now worked in the Council Dome translating human languages. The position came with an office and secure living quarters inside the building itself. Jor-El had been incensed by the news, and Lara disbelieving, but Alura had only looked at them with hollow eyes and said, “Let Dru-Zod believe I am cowed and obedient. The closer I am, the more useful I may yet be.” She refused to elaborate on whether or not she was already in contact with the rebels, or whether she meant to act alone.
Not even Lara’s appeal to her to think of Kara helped. Alura had simply shaken her head. “She will be as safe as any of us. I thought too much of her immediate safety before, and not enough of long-term security. Now I must.” And with that she had simply left. It had been the last time they’d seen her, a visit solely to inform them both of the new position. According to gossip, she worked incredibly long hours, trying to stave off grief with purpose.
And then the situation became yet more complicated. As Jor-El left the Council Dome, brooding upon his circumstances and setting the whole of his intellect in search of something he could do, a voice spoke at his elbow. “My condolences, Jor-El.”
He turned to see Jhan-Or matching his pace. “Why offer condolences on the death of an avowed traitor?” Jor-El asked, keeping his voice cold. He did not and could not trust this man; further, he had no fellowship in his heart for Jhan-Or, who had led Kal-El into the poisonous tangles of treason.
“We are not so many that the loss of any one of us is not to be mourned,” Jhan-Or replied diplomatically, then added, “No matter what else Zor-El became, he was a genius. And a man devoted to his principles. I can admire those traits even as I acknowledge the destruction they can wreak upon a person.”
Was he sincere? Or was he seeking some leverage? Jor-El couldn’t decipher it, and didn’t trust himself to guess. Not where Jhan-Or was concerned. The biologist did not scruple against using blackmail and intimidation to get his way, though of course nothing could ever be proved against him. So Jor-El said only, “If you are attempting to goad me into making a potentially disloyal remark, then you are wasting your time, Jhan-Or.”
“I would not dream of it, Jor-El. You are far too wise and cautious for sedition.” That seemed like all he would say, and Jor-El prepared to increase his pace just enough to escape his presence, but then Jhan-Or spoke again. “Except the once, that is. And to that one rash act we all owe our lives. Do not speak, Jor-El, I would not have your carefully-crafted answers with no substance behind them. We both know how the situation lies. I wished only to remember your brother to you, and to tell you one other thing.”
“And what is that?” he asked, his voice flat.
“That you are the last one of us with any influence upon him,” Jhan-Or murmured, not even daring to name Dru-Zod. “Be careful how you use it. The time is not yet right to make a bold move. Remember your caution, Jor-El. You will know when the time is right.” With that, it was Jhan-Or who stepped away. To an onlooker, the two men might have passed a few casual words before parting ways.
Jor-El let that warning—for warning it surely was—sink in. Before going to the Council, he had been thinking of making a bid to unseat the Supreme Chancellor before he could consolidate his hold further. Jhan-Or seemed to advise against it … but he might only be trying to delay Jor-El for his own ends.
A few hours of fruitless thought, theorizing upon every probability and circumstance until his head ached, left Jor-El no wiser than before. All he could do was what his intuition indicated—and what his principles demanded. He had compromised only once in his life, tacitly agreeing to Dru-Zod’s bid for power because it had seemed the only way to save their people.
No, twice. For he had been silent when the Council demanded it of him. They had delivered dire threats, and for the sake of his wife and of their child growing in the birthing matrix, he had obeyed. The decision seemed wise, when one considered the fate of Non. And later, he had revealed everything to Dru-Zod, who might have been a spy, but Jor-El’s intuition told him he could be trusted.
The memory of those days pained him now. He and so many others had seen the courageous General as a savior; the tentative friendship between them had solidified during the months leading up to the exodus. Jor-El still believed that Dru-Zod had felt genuine regret for what had become of Non, and for those non-believers who had remained behind on Krypton-that-was. The man he had known and trusted, whose company he enjoyed despite the differences in upbringing and philosophy, was still somewhere within the tyrant who now ruled New Krypton.
Perhaps there was still time to save them all. Jor-El requested an audience with the Supreme Chancellor, and to his surprise was granted one within the hour. Perhaps that was best. He had no time in which to over-think his appeal.
All too soon, he was walking up the corridor toward Dru-Zod’s office. To his surprise, the other man met him there, placing a hand on his shoulder. “My friend, you have my deepest sympathies,” Dru-Zod said quietly. From the look in his eyes to the careful touch, he was utterly sincere.
That was … unexpected, at least, and Jor-El felt optimism rising. “Thank you, Dru-Zod, but I did not come to speak of my brother. I can only hope that he has found what he sought so vehemently.”
“That is my wish for him as well,” Dru-Zod sighed. “Come, then, and let me know what I can do for you. Not in my office—I will not have so petty a thing as a wall repair expedited when greater matters await us. There is another office here we can use.” And saying that, he led Jor-El down a side corridor to a smaller room without the large, imposing desk that dominated his own office.
That left them facing each other with only a narrow table between them, Dru-Zod leaning forward with an intent look in his gray-blue eyes. “Speak, my friend.”
“It is not for myself that I have come,” Jor-El said earnestly, leaning forward as well. Had he thought of it, he would have intentionally mirrored Dru-Zod’s posture, one of the many little tricks of getting cooperation that all politicians of his class knew. Instead, he was operating on intuition, which he privately thought of as the part of his brain that was smarter than all the rest, and knew things instantly that it would take long minutes for logic to conclude. It had rarely led him astray.
“I came here for you, Dru-Zod. I am worried for your safety. There is much dissatisfaction amongst the people, such that even I have heard rumors of it.”
“And what have you heard?” Dru-Zod asked, in a silken voice.
Jor-El knew better than to be entrapped. “Nothing specific, just grumblings of unhappiness. No one would dare reveal anything important in my hearing, as they all know I am your friend.” The latter part of the statement was true, and Jor-El had buried his knowledge of his son’s plans so deeply that he could speak the former part without appearing to lie. “I fear that the recent outbreaks of rebellion are symptoms of that larger discontent, and that dealing sternly with the dissenters and enacting yet more stringent laws is exacerbating the problem, not alleviating it.”
Dru-Zod only looked at him, a strange light in his eyes. “Speak plainly, Jor-El. A friend as loyal as you need not couch your concerns in the graceful words of politicians. Nor should you fear that there will be any repercussions for what you say to me in the privacy of this office.”
He took a deep breath, and let it out in a sigh. “Dru-Zod. You are a military man, but the measures that function perfectly within the ranks simply do not work on the free men and women of Krypton. Dealing harshly with them will only make them hate you—you, who so recently were lauded as the savior of our entire race! And if they come to despise you, I dread that the next step beyond these isolated attacks will be full-scale, open revolt against you.”
There, it was said, without incriminating anyone—especially not himself. The warning was given as caution instead of censure. So why did Jor-El suddenly feel as if he were standing at the bottom of an outward-slanting cliff, with tons of merciless stone hanging above him.
For a long moment, Dru-Zod simply watched him, weighing his words. When he finally spoke, his voice was curious, not angry or worried. “Tell me, my old friend, why should I fear open revolt?”
That response stunned Jor-El. “What do you mean?”
“Why should I fear them? Scientists and scholars, most of whom have never held a weapon. Your brother was as much an innovator as you are, Jor-El—he had the cunning to adapt a tool to his use. Most of our people lack that. Their minds are as closed as the Science Council’s. At best they can stand beneath my window and shout their defiance. What is that to me?”
“You do not care that they would stand against you?” Jor-El asked in horrified isbelief. “That so many malcontents might even sway the Science Council into asking you to step down?”
Dru-Zod smiled then, and it was a terrible thing to see the amusement in his eyes. “My friend, I have an army. And even if the regular military force were to choose loyalty to the Council in such a situation—a very far-fetched idea, as even the lowliest recruit knows who has sheltered and guided them for decades—even if they turned against me, the Consulars owe their loyalty solely to me. Not the Science Council, not the rest of the chain of command, certainly not the people. They are my army, and I would set them against the rest of our military without hesitation.”
The battle was already lost. Jor-El could only stare at Dru-Zod. At last he stood revealed: coldly and calculatingly planning to remain in power indefinitely, even against the will of his constituents. A true dictator such as Krypton had not known for centuries. And Jor-El had placed him there.
While he sat mute and horrified, Dru-Zod rose, and clapped a hand to his shoulder again. “Do not fear, my friend. I have the situation well in hand. And now our time is sadly up, and I must go meet with the Bureau of Human Affairs. However, do not hesitate to seek me out. I will always make time for the House of El.”
And for some reason, that sounded like a threat.
Meanwhile, in a remote canyon far from regular patrols, Kal-El found a pool of water hollowed from the rock. There was nothing here, no reason for anyone to explore this place, and therefore it was perfect for his purpose. The water was collected rain, and utterly pure. But he had the remedy for that. Kal-El had brought the salt that Jhan-Or had given him as a cover story, and now he added it to the pool, stirring thoroughly. A quick test of its salinity revealed that it would work perfectly for his intent.
He removed the seed crystal he had carefully prepared for this moment, and placed it into the water. There was a momentary flash of light, and though he could not detect it, Kal-El knew an electromagnetic pulse was released simultaneously. That was another reason to seek out this secluded location. The crystal glowed golden-white within the water, and Kal-El watched it for a moment as many points began to grow from it. With luck, this would be his backup plan: a ship to carry the last human hostages to Earth.
A ship he meant to pilot there himself.
Kal-El looked up at the sky above, where the first stars were just beginning to show. He could not see Sol, but thought of Lois under its light. “I am coming to you, my love,” he murmured, and then hastened away to get home before the curfew.
And on Earth, Lois stood at her window and looked up at the night sky. Somewhere out there was New Krypton, and Kal-El. Wishing she knew what was going on there, she rested her hand on the swelling curve of her belly and sighed.
Today Lana had taken measurements and, with no apparent effort, sewn three new empire-waist blouses that flattered her changing figure. Her pregnancy had never really been a secret in Smallville, but now it was blatantly obvious. In a town this small, she expected stares and rude remarks, and to be honest she’d gotten a few disdainful sniffs from certain women. That stopped when Lana sweetly offered them tissues for the cold they didn’t have; the redhead really made the phrase ‘kill them with kindness’ come to life for Lois.
Everyone else cooed over her. It seemed like most of the people in town wanted to touch her belly, or offer advice, or share stories from their own adventures in childbirth. Lois had not at all been comforted by the revelation that the nearest actual hospital was over two hours away. An older woman she’d met at the store, Martha Kent, had seen her obvious anxiety and patted her hand gently. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. Women in this town have been having children at home for over a hundred years. You’ll do just fine.” And then she’d scolded Lana for not feeding Lois up enough, and brought them both back to the Kent farmhouse for lunch.
This was not a way of life that Lois could ever envision herself sustaining for years on end. She would grow restless and fret at the unseen boundaries of custom and tradition all around her. But for now, this little bit of peace was the best thing for herself and for the growing daughter whose late-night acrobatics had Lois out of bed and staring out the window.
“You’re going to know your father someday,” Lois whispered, and patted her stomach. “I promise, little one. No matter what it takes.”
No, I'm not saying
Maybe we'll meet again
No, I'm not saying
Maybe we'll meet again
NO! NO! NO! NO!
Can you, can you can you
Can you imagine a time
when the truth ran free
The birth of a song
and the death of a dream
Closer to the edge
This never ending story
Paid for with pride and fate
We all fall short of glory
Lost in our fate.
~30 Seconds from Mars, Closer to the Edge