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04 May 2013 @ 03:08 am
Across the Universe-Storm Winds Rising [Chapter Forty-Four]  
Might just have a surprise for you guys this week since this one ran long. ;)

Spending the spring and summer in Kansas had a few unexpected complications for Lois. She’d lived in lots of places with lots of interesting weather, from the heavy rains of the summer monsoon in the Philippines to the snowy winters in Germany. But she’d never lived in Tornado Alley before, and the local preoccupation with the weather caught her by surprise.

Her first indication was the amount of conversation outside the general store, where Lois and Lana found themselves stopping in every few days as much for a change of scenery as well as to buy supplies. There were always several older men hanging out in the rocking chairs on the front porch, and if Lois so much as hesitated there for two seconds one of them would chivalrously offer her his seat. At first she felt awkward, but as her pregnancy progressed she found herself grateful for the chance to sit down for a spell, as they said. She came to know all the general store regulars by name, and some of the stories they had to tell were fascinating.

Of course she knew people were talking behind her back. Lois wasn’t that naïve. She was young, from out of town, pregnant and unmarried: all those things made her the lightning rod for gossip. But people were always nice to her face, and she got the feeling that the old-timers liked her. They certainly smiled and laughed easily with her. When she grilled Lana on the subject, Lois found out that most of the town felt she was basically a good girl with bad timing—and almost all of them believed the boy who’d gotten her in a family way deserved to be hung up by his heels.

When she stopped in to sit with them, the men outside the general store all made small talk with her for a moment or two, and then inevitably the conversation would return to the weather. It seemed as though every smallest detail had intense importance, and each man had his own tried-and-true sayings. They even argued about which TV meteorologist was most accurate, and which ones were completely adrift.

Lois only half-paid attention to that, most of the time. There was nothing she could do about the weather, after all. March was abysmal, cold and damp, and between storms and melting snow the roads had been awful. After her time on New Krypton, the snow was a novelty again, at first. But that renewed childish delight had mellowed to its usual frustrating familiarity as the late winter had worn on. And, too, not all the roads in Smallville were paved; on their trips Lois often saw farmers using their tractors to pull cars out of mudholes or ditches. “Does that happen a lot?” she’d asked Lana one day, when it seemed like every side-road they passed had a stranded motorist on it.

The redhead had chuckled. “Oh yes. People follow their GPS down dirt roads when they really shouldn’t. In winter they skid on the ice, in spring they get stuck in the mud. Most of the farmers won’t charge for a pull-out, but then again, they won’t refuse a little gratuity, either. You should’ve seen this when I was a kid—state road 210 would wash out every spring. The Roys’ farm is out there, and John’s father Gene used to have a pair of plow horses until John bought the tractor. He’d yoke them up, hitch them to a car, and pull people out of the muck that way.” Lois had shaken her head; it felt surreal to be living someplace where only a generation ago, fields had been plowed by literal horsepower.

April brought warmer temperatures and scattered showers, but even those were warm, and Lois spent more time outside. She needed the distraction; she was growing restless and tried hard not to show it. Thank God Lana had fast broadband internet access, but Lois couldn’t log in to any of her accounts, not knowing what her father had under surveillance. For the same reason she couldn’t try to find information on her mother and sister, not that she would’ve been able to crack Witness Protection’s security, anyway. At least she could browse and play games.

By the end of April, the weather was delightful. Warm, sunny days with occasional afternoon storms, and pleasant nights when crickets and cicadas sang in the long grass at twilight. Lois took long strolls around town, helped Lana with a bit of gardening even though she’d always had a black thumb, and read her way through almost all of the town library’s historical autobiographies while sitting in the courtyard.

As much as Lois loved the turn in the weather, the front-porch crowd seemed to be wary of it. She would’ve expected older men to prefer warm weather, since they’d spent the spring complaining bitterly of how the damp and cold ached in their old bones. Instead, she and Lana dropped in one day to a lively discussion of ‘tornado weather’. Lois had known the Midwest was prone to tornadoes, but she made the mistake of asking, “It’s not really all that bad, is it?”

That was the classic out-of-towner question, and the assembled old-timers all looked at her in frank disbelief. “Miss Sarah, have you ever seen a twister?” Al Lutter asked her.

By now, she was finally used to answering to her assumed name. “Only on TV,” she replied.

“TV ain’t much better’n a picture,” Will Ellzey said disdainfully. “Don’t even get the sound right. Like a freight train coming right down on top o’ you.”

“Not all of ‘em are s’ loud,” Fred Thomas put in. “The one up Hartwell way in ’63 didn’t make no sound ‘tall. Not ‘til it ripped the roof off’n ever’ building on Main Street ‘cept the bank.”

“Nah, that’s ’55 you’re thinking of,” Al Lutter said. “There weren’t no big twisters in ’63.”

“Yes, ‘twas ’63,” Will Ellzey put in. “My ma’s family live up in Hartwell. Twister blew their house down, took all the silverware her aunt was polishin’ and scattered all over the yard. There’s still a dinner fork buried four inches into a tree trunk in their back yard.”

“Couldna been ’63,” John Roy insisted.

For a moment it sounded like they were going to fall into bickering amongst themselves, and Lois half-closed her eyes, ready to doze. She was always tired lately. But then a new voice came in. “Not in 1963, no, but we had one right here in Smallville in ’83. Came right through our farm.”

Lois looked up. The speaker was a younger man than the group on the porch, but only young in comparison to them. He looked at Lois with bright blue eyes and offered her a smile. She hadn’t met everyone in town yet, but the woman at his side gave her the hint. “Mr. Kent, isn’t it?” she said, stretching out her hand.

He shook with her, his expression open and friendly. “Right indeed, and you’re Miss Sarah Blodgett, Lana’s friend. Pleased to meet you. I hope you’re not letting these scoundrels scare you with wild tornado stories.”

Lois shook her head, but before she could answer, the oldest man present spoke up. “Huh. Oughta scare her a little bit. Kids these days try to see a tornado. Damn fools—pardon my language, ladies—darn fools all over the weather channel. Get these fancy armored cars and chase twisters. Idiots.” John Roy shook his head angrily.

Mr. Kent leaned against the railing as his wife went inside. “Well now, a tornado is pretty darn scary. The one that came through here in ’83 passed through our corn field. Me and Martha were in the storm cellar, safe as houses. Safer than houses, when it comes to a tornado.”

“Yup, and that was the one that picked up your chicken coop and dropped it over on the Hubbards’ land, weren’t it?” Fred Thomas said, his eyes sparkling.

Lois thought that had to be a lie, but Mr. Kent nodded seriously. “Must’ve caught it with the very edge or it would’ve been torn to pieces. Instead it just blew the coop door off—blew the feathers right off most of the chickens, too. All the hens lived, but none of them would lay for a month.”

“Listen to me, young lady,” John Roy said suddenly. “If you ever think there might be a tornado comin’—hear it on the news, or see the sky turn green—you get your tail inside, y’hear? The Lang house has got a basement. Head down there and stay ‘til the all-clear. It’s nothing to play around with, no matter these fool children on the Weather Channel think a twister’s all fun and games.”

Having seen a few episodes of the show he was talking about, Lois didn’t think that the scientists and amateur storm-chasers were foolish. They understood the power of the storms they witnessed, and they were fascinated by it. Besides, the more information they gathered, the better tornado-prediction got, and the more people were saved. “I promise, Mr. Roy. Is it really that bad out here, though?”

“Oh, we get a lot of tornadoes,” Mr. Kent put in. “Most of them don’t do much damage. Knock down some loose branches, peel off a few shingles, that sort of thing. The really dangerous ones are rare.”

That reassured her, and the talk turned to the growing season. “’Twill be a good season. We had plenty storms in March,” Al Lutter remarked. “’When March blows its horn, th’ barn will be filled wi’ corn.’ A good sign, March storms are.”

“Good for your crops, but not for my cows,” Fred Thomas remarked. “Four of ‘em got rain scald. Nothing sadder’n cows stuck in the barn lowing to be let out to pasture. Gotta keep ‘em dry ‘til it heals though.”

Lois let herself doze as the men argued, each one of them having his own proven cure for the ailment. She felt rather sorry for the poor cows, from the sounds of half the remedies.

Surprisingly, not all of Lois’ concerns were related to the weather; some were due to her advancing pregnancy, and she complained about those, too. It was no picnic trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in with her growing belly, and even if it had been, her baby liked to start practicing acrobatics around the time Lois laid down for bed. And when she finally did fall asleep, she woke up every hour or two because she needed to go to the bathroom. Her growing daughter occupied most of the space inside her abdomen, leaving no room for her bladder. That mean the frequent pee-breaks continued through the day, and Lois muttered crankily that she hadn’t expected a tour of every public bathroom in two counties.

Lois had noticed when she first returned to Earth and sent poor Perry out to buy bras that they’d become a little tight. By now, she was two full cup sizes larger, and her breasts were tender. As if that wasn’t enough, she soon realized that she’d gone up a shoe size due to a combination of her feet swelling and, as Lana’s pregnancy books informed her, her ligaments loosening up. Buying new shoes and bras was just the tip of the iceberg, though. Her entire wardrobe had to change, and for that Lois had had to turn to Lana. She had no money of her own whatsoever, and felt the weight of her debt increase almost daily. Lana, of course, waved it all off as nothing important. “I don’t like having to depend on the kindness of strangers,” Lois had admitted a month or so into her seclusion, and Lana had taken her hand with a small smile, telling her, “By this point we’re hardly strangers anymore, don’t you think?”

It was true; months had passed, and they’d grown to be friends despite what could’ve been an awkward situation. Lois couldn’t help cringing a little at the reminders lying around—the books, the patterns for maternity clothes, the websites bookmarked on Lana’s computer—that Lana badly wanted to be a mother, had apparently tried very hard to get pregnant, and now had to take care of Lois, who had gotten knocked up accidentally at the tender age of seventeen. If the redhead hadn’t been such a generous soul, they probably would’ve wound up loathing each other in jealousy and judgment. Instead, Lana seemed genuinely happy for her.

As time passed, Lois’ profile changed significantly, her belly large and round. Stretch marks had appeared, which Lois diligently rubbed with cocoa butter. There was nothing to be done for the dark line descending from her navel, which would’ve freaked her out if she hadn’t read about it in advance. The linea nigra, it was called, which was just Latin for ‘dark line’ and immediately promoted to the head of Lois’ list of unhelpful medical terms. It was just one more of the hormonal changes in her body, along with the sudden reappearance of acne and the way her wavy hair had grown even thicker and fuller.

No one knew how long a Kryptonian-human hybrid pregnancy would last, but all those signs pointed toward the end of the term. Lois was grateful. Despite all the inconveniences and setbacks, she was proud and happy, yet more than ready to meet her daughter at last and go back to feeling like herself again. She’d never quite valued her lithe, agile body before—tending to dismiss herself as tomboyish—but now that many daily tasks required planning and care, Lois missed who she’d been.

They had decided to perpetuate the fiction that ‘Sarah’ was seeing an obstetrician in Kansas City, suitably far away that no Smallville resident would ever bother to check. In reality, this pregnancy was proceeding without any medical supervision. Lana was incredibly well-versed, and the local midwife put Lois at ease, but there could be no amniocentesis, no sonogram, nothing that might show suspicious results.

For better or for worse, this baby was going to be a surprise.

Kal-El woke in the night to an urgent beeping from his front door. He stumbled out of Lois’ room to answer it, his hair sticking up and his eyes only half-open. Who could possibly be out there at this hour, right in the middle of the curfew?

To his surprise, it was Nira Kor-En, looking disheveled and wild-eyed as if she’d run here from her own home. The moment he opened the door, she barged in without invitation. “We are all in grave danger,” she said, without preamble. “Tar-Kon has been arrested on suspicion of treason. It is only a matter of time before he implicates the rest of us.

Now he was wide awake, and Kal-El scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to think. “How many humans are left? Twenty?”

“Fifteen,” she replied. “We cannot get them out. There are no other ships leaving for three days. We must hide them instead. We might be able to convince the Consulars that they learned how to manipulate the tracking crystals and escaped.”

Fifteen humans. Fifteen humans who would be trapped here, hiding from patrols, cowering like vermin while the wrath of Zod sought them out. Fifteen humans including Chao Huang, who had become Kal-El’s primary contact and even something of a friend. Fifteen humans just like Lois, who had left their homes and families to come here. Fifteen humans who, like her, deserved to be more than bargaining chips—who deserved to go home.

Kal-El came to an abrupt decision. He had told himself his backup plan had been only that, a last chance in case anything went wrong, more theoretical than real. But now the worst had happened, time was against them, and he had to act or watch them all suffer. And he knew his course would not be blameless—his actions would reflect upon his House, and his parents had had too much grief already. Still, the danger the humans were now in was the greater evil, and it had to be fought first.

He took a deep breath. “No. I have a better way. Gather all the humans, and all the tracking crystals, and meet me at this location.” He brought up his holographic screen and showed her the canyon where he had built the ship. Kal-El’s heart was hammering the whole time, his conscience screaming at him for doing this to his parents. He wasn’t even going to have a chance to speak to them beforehand.

“What are you planning to do?” Nira Kor-En asked.

Kal-El simply smiled. Despite everything, this felt right in ways he could not have explained. It was his duty, to the humans, to Lois, and to the rest of the Rebellion. “My father designed the ships that brought us out of Old Krypton. It is only fitting that I have designed—and built—the one that will bring the humans back to Earth. I will pilot it as well.”

“What about our military fleet?” she asked, ever practical.

“My ship should be faster,” he replied. “But I hope that Jhan-Or has a surprise or two left to give me an edge. Hurry, Nira. Take word to the others. There’s no time to waste.”

“You are a brave young man, Kal-El,” she said, and clasped his shoulder briefly before hurrying back out.

There was really no time left at all. No time to pack, even. Kal-El had food and other essential supplies stored with the ship—on some level he had always known it might come to this, no matter how far-off and dreamlike the prospect seemed—and simply grabbed some clothing to take with him.

Just before he ran outside, he thought of one more thing, and recorded a quick message for his parents. Of course the Consulars would eventually see it, so he had to be careful in his wording, but even that could be helpful.   By necessity the message was short, and began with words of stark simplicity. “Mother, Father, I know that you will not approve of what I have done. I do not regret the choices I have made, even as I have had to keep them secret from you. I will not stop to ask your blessing; my errand is urgent. I only wish you to understand that I have done that which I feel is right and proper. I hope that you will not judge me too harshly….”

He could not take the hovercraft, as its lights would draw in the patrols, so this trip would by necessity be made on foot. The Consulars would not think to find any Kryptonian dashing about on ground level, off the paths and heading into the wilderness.

Despite the dread and danger, Kal-El felt a wild exhilaration building up inside him, spurring him to greater effort. Lois, I’m coming. I’m finally coming after you.