Lois (kalalanekent) wrote,

Across the Universe :: Faintest Strains of the Vox Populi (Chapter Fifty-Two)

Welcome back, all! Nope, your eyes don't deceive you. We may be forced to run with the old every-two publishing schedule, but it will be something we try hard to hold to. We even have a head-start on the next. So, yeah, not dead. Not at all. To quote our caped wonder, "Sorry we've been away so long. We won't let you down again."
As well as that, everyone love our very long-time graphics specialist for all of our series, Rizny, for inspiring us to get back on the horse despite any misgivings about our abilities these days. For her, as her birthday present, we started to get back to work. L, I love you so much it hurts and it's my very great pleasure to work on this and maybe, just maybe, close out that one other series for you. Happy belated birthday, my darling, and here's to all of these years of fic, gorgeous manips, and the greatest friend I've ever had.
Okay, enough. Without further ado, let's get back to the kids. ;)

Claire Sutherland paused in the lobby of the base post office to sort through her mail.  It was truly amazing how much junk mail tended to accumulate, even for someone who moved around frequently.  Mostly advertising fliers of one kind or another…

…but she came to sudden, sharp alertness when she heard someone say “hostages”.  Without looking up, letting herself seem fascinated by the tempting offer from the nearest car dealership, she strained her ears to listen.

It was probably just nonsense, the way most of the talk was.  But if the off-duty soldier who’d spoken was talking about what she thought he was talking about, then Claire was deeply intrigued.

The man was talking quietly with two friends, but a middle-aged woman engrossed in her mail passed beneath their notice, and they didn’t bother to whisper.  This was a base, after all, and there were Army wives around all the time.  She was part of the scenery to them, and she blessed it even as her eyes ran over the small print on the flier.  Despite passing over the words again and again, despite knowing the language, she got no sense of them, her eyes simply on autopilot while her mind was devoted to her ears.

“Word has it that Mad Dog took off with a wild hair up his tailpipe. Makes you wonder what’s going down back stateside. I hate being this far from home with major shit going down,” one of the men muttered. 

“Think he’s cracking up?” one of the others said, and that was nearly a whisper.

The third man snorted.  “Cracking down, more like.  Security’s tight ever since the last of the hostages came home.  Speaking of which, zip it.”

They changed topics and moved on, but now Claire could only stare unseeing as the bright-red convertible in the ad jittered with the shaking of her hands.  The hostages who had come home had to be the political prisoners held on New Krypton.  And she hadn’t known that they’d returned to Earth.

That was no surprise, though.  The Mad Dog they’d mentioned was General Samuel ‘Mad Dog’ Lane, and his daughter Lois had been among the hostages taken.  Some months later, as political intrigue heated up, his wife and younger daughter had quietly disappeared.

Into Witness Protection, though ordinary WitSec wasn’t good enough for Sam.  They were both living in military housing at Camp Zama near Tokyo—where Lucy Lane had been born, in fact—under assumed names.  Of which Claire Sutherland was the one Ella had chosen.  It had been months, long enough for her to answer naturally to Claire.
But not long enough for her to stop missing her eldest daughter like a lost limb, like some precious part of her that had been ripped away.

And Lois was back, all the hostages were back on Earth, and Sam … Sam hadn’t even contacted her.  That was rather the point of WitSec, but she knew he could circumvent it if he’d tried.

If he’d wanted to, or felt that a simple piece of information such as her daughter, flesh of her flesh, the first kick in her belly, was finally back in the same solar system with them…

Ella ripped the advertising flier without even knowing she’d done it, and that forced her to calm down.  If she kept thinking about this, she’d give the entire game away.

One thing was certain.  When she got hold of that stiff-necked husband of hers, he would be made to understand the depths of her displeasure.

Lois had never seen her father so quiet and so still for so long.  Served him right. It was about time something other than her mother threw a wrench in his plans. Kal-El’s little demonstration with the rifle barrels, and his absolute implacability coupled with utter non-threatening calm, seemed to have stymied the General.  There was nothing here for him to fight, no possible avenue of attack that might be successful, and he seemed almost lost without it.  After Sam posted the two men who’d seen that at the front and back doors, he let himself be persuaded to sit down at Martha Kent’s long dining table and drink coffee while Kal-El talked.

And all the while, Pete and Lana watched him like a pair of hawks.  Lana in particular had stationed herself so close to Lois that if she moved to rock Connor, her elbow bumped the redhead’s hip.  Lois spent a lot of her time just sort of swaying him, though Connor was peacefully asleep despite the disturbance the soldiers had caused.

Hard as it would be for most to believe, her son was the only safe, sane, reliable thing in Lois’ universe right then.  The Rosses’ protectiveness counted, too, but it wasn’t concrete the way her baby boy was.  In less than an hour she’d found the love of her life again, introduced him to the son he hadn’t even known she was carrying, gotten caught by her father, and witnessed her lover manifest super-human powers in her defense.

Trying to hold all that in her head made pre-calculus look simple.  And dear God, what a headache she got realizing that under normal circumstances she would’ve been on summer break right now, trying to avoid thinking about what classes she’d be taking in the fall.

It was too much, and Lois looked down at Connor again to anchor herself.  Her life had changed the minute she had stepped off Earth’s surface and touched down on New Krypton. There was no going back. And would she if she could? The definitive answer was no, leaving the small scary details of her journey out. She felt more alive,  more real, now than she ever had. This is who she was now.

Of course, then a new question reared up in her mind: would he have similar abilities?  She needed to know how long it had taken Kal-El to develop these powers.  Connor might be different, being half-human, but if he could … oh, hell, and she’d thought her life was complicated when it was just interplanetary spy games.

“You’re awfully quiet, sir,” Kal-El said.  Lois looked up at him, noting that he was really selling the farmboy schtick.  Oddly enough, it kind of suited him.  That earnest, charming frankness that had been there from the moment they first met suited the soft flannel he wore and the time-worn table they were seated at better than New Krypton’s sterile formality.

All the while she could practically hear the gears running in her father’s head.

Sam raised one eyebrow.  Of course he was being quiet.  The boy was volunteering all kinds of information without being prompted, so why should he interrupt?

But even he knew that wasn’t the whole reason why. 

The Kryptonian invaders, he knew how to deal with.  Superior technology could be worked around, and the Resistance on Earth had been learning and adapting for over a year, laying plans in place to nullify the aliens’ advantage.  It was long odds and a bad situation, but it was the kind of thing he’d trained for.

A young man who could bend steel in his bare hands, who had dropped a running chainsaw on his foot and broken only the saw, who could leap over a hundred feet and run faster than a car, who had placed his hand into a roaring bonfire without even scorching his sleeve … that was beyond General Lane’s training and experience.  Very nearly beyond his comprehension.  How the hell did you neutralize that?  Drop a nuke on him, maybe, but Sam had to face the very real possibility that not even that might work.

“This a lot to digest,” he finally said, choosing every word carefully.  “As a father, as a general in the United States Armed Forces, and as the officer in charge of handling the hostage situation.  I hope you understand that.”

“I do, sir,” the boy said calmly.

Meanwhile his daughter was doing her best to glare a hole in him, which Sam summarily ignored.  Lois wasn’t the problem.  She’d gotten her way, she had the ill-advised baby she’d wanted so much despite not even knowing about it until he told her, and now she had her alien boyfriend standing up for her.  Priorities: he could bring Lois to heel later.  Right now there were bigger issues, such as the blue-eyed one looking at him expectantly.

Sam sipped coffee and thought furiously.  “You said you had amnesia that didn’t resolve until today.  So you’re not in contact with the rest of your people on Earth, or anyone back home on New Krypton?”

“Not yet,” the boy said, and Sam barely managed not to bristle.  There was no way to stop him from hopping over to the desert and dropping in on the salt mine.

Lois chose that moment to interject, “And if he goes missing, I will tear your fucking throat out with my teeth.  I will kill you, Dad.  I hope you understand that.”

That level of profanity had everyone else in the room, including the boy, turning toward her with open-mouthed shock, but it didn’t faze Sam.  “Duly noted,” he said.  He had to hand it to the girl, Lois was quick on the uptake—she knew those kinds of questions could be used to establish whether or not it was possible to take someone into custody without undue trouble.

“Lois,” the boy said quietly, and she looked at him.  The glance they exchanged was full of complicated things; Lois’ hazel eyes so like her mother’s, but the hard look in them was all Sam and he knew it, while the boy just appeared aggrieved.  Maybe Kryptonians didn’t talk back to their parents like that.  Well, even a stopped clock was right twice a day, it was no surprise they did one thing right.

“I ask because that means you’re not aware of the situation with the rest of your people,” Sam said smoothly.  That got their attention.  “Namely, they’re not on the planet’s surface.  Within the hour of the hostages landing, they were recalled—but not that far.  The ship is parked behind the moon.”

“Sir, all of the scientists are Rebellion sympathizers,” the boy said.

“That’s great, but the only one with a weapon is that damn Consular,” Sam shot back. 

Jonathan had startled back as if he’d been slapped when Lois spoke to her father.  There was such deep vitriol there, so much anger laid down over years and compressed until it was diamond-hard.  This was more than casual disrespect; he’d known a few family feuds over the years, and this was the nastiest one he’d ever seen.  The implication that Lois thought her dad would have Clark arrested, maybe worse…

…well, she knew the general better than they did.  And he had started the manhunt by making everyone thinking they were looking for a violent escaped prisoner.  That could’ve gotten Clark shot, around here.  Not that getting shot would hurt him much, but the general didn’t know that.

Jonathan didn’t know Lois very well, but she had Lana bristling over her like a mother collie protecting her pup from a wolf, and that was enough of a character reference for him.  Her father must be a first-class horse’s ass, then, to be so disliked and distrusted by his own daughter.  Good on his boy Clark for setting the man back on his heels with that display of power.

The way she expressed it, of course, made him wonder how kind and self-effacing Clark had gotten mixed up with a girl like her—mixed up enough to result in the baby asleep in her arms.  Opposites were supposed to attract, he guessed.

“Mining tools can be adapted as weapons,” Clark was saying.  “If they were recalled to orbit, though, Supreme Chancellor Zod knows the hostages landed safely.”

“He doesn’t know you did,” General Lane pointed out.  “We have a mole inside, one of your Kryptonians.  Not the same line as our other Rebellion contacts.  This one is very highly placed and only communicates on secure channels.  The problem for us is we were talking to her on a console in the mining facility, when the scientists could get us in.  Dropped a helluva lot of data to us, but we were waiting on a couple of confirmations that we can’t get now.”

“I don’t have to tell you to be careful of who you’re talking to,” Clark said slowly.  “She could just as easily be a spy.”

“If she is, the quality of intel she’s sent so far is worth it, and you’re right.  You don’t have to tell me.  This isn’t my first dance.”  General Lane looked like nothing so much as an old fox then, gray-muzzled and wise to every sort of trap.

“What kind of intel?” Clark asked.

“That you were on your way, among other things,” General Lane said.  “She doesn’t seem to know everything that your Rebellion knows—she didn’t know some of the hostages escaped before your ship took off.  But from the sounds of things, she’s in your Council building itself on a day-to-day basis.”

Clark mused aloud, “That sounds like someone Jhan-Or would plant … and he doesn’t always tell everything to everyone.  That way there’s less we can be forced to reveal if we’re caught.  Not even I know all of what’s planned.”

“Jhan-Or’s the ringleader, then?” General Lane said with studied casualness.

At that, Lois put her hand on Clark’s shoulder, giving him a significant look.  Jonathan chose that moment to speak.  “Son, not to interrupt, but you should remember that everyone here has an ax to grind.  Even me and Martha—we just want to get out of this without anyone we care about getting hurt, but that’s still a bias.”

Clark blinked at him.  The boy could be so trusting, so willing to believe the best of anyone, and perhaps that was a godsend in someone with his powers.  He had been so meekly grateful when they first found him.  If he had chosen to be suspicious, if he’d wondered what their angle was, Jonathan figured things would’ve gone a lot differently.  Luckily this Lois seemed to have all the caginess the pair of them needed.

“True, Pa, but we have to share information to help each other,” Clark said.  “Jhan-Or wouldn’t say he’s the ringleader, anyway.  He doesn’t like to be a leader of anything if he can help it.”

“Good, because he’s saying it was you and your uncle,” General Lane put in.  Jonathan saw the sour, unsurprised look on Lois’ face, and suppressed a smile.

Kal-El met that news with no surprise.  “He would have to,” he said.  “If Zor-El and I are the only traitors, and we’re both dead as far as Supreme Chancellor Zod knows, then the rest of the Rebellion is relatively safe for now.  I’m safely out of Dru-Zod’s reach, anyway, so he can say what he likes about me.  I only hope he spares my family.”

Even as he said it, he knew it was unlikely.  If the Supreme Chancellor hadn’t moved against Jor-El and Lara, it was because he had some more important reason to leave them free.  That was several layers of political maneuvering too deep for Kal-El to navigate, and he shook his head.

“Don’t be so certain of it,” Lois’ father said.  “I highly doubt that General Zod is willing to simply accept your disappearance.  He’ll be looking for you; he won’t want any loose ends flopping around.  If he’s half-worthy of the title General, he’s learned how easy it is to get tangled up in them.”

That sounded like the voice of bitter experience, and Kal-El bit his lip thoughtfully.  He wished for his father’s wise council, or even Jhan-Or’s cagey advice.  Either would at least be some sort of guidance, but he found himself having to navigate this journey without the knowledge of his elders.

But not alone.  A quick glance around the table reassured him.  Lois had hidden her involvement with the Resistance from him, and she’d been one of its founders.  She was all the wary second-guessing he would need.  As for Ma and Pa Kent, despite the sudden revelation of just who and what he was, they still loved him.  The two of them, their simple kindness and belief in him, was a foundation on which he could build.

General Lane hadn’t finished.  “And if Zod finds out what you can do, he’s going to send a dozen Consulars down here armed to the teeth to figure out how he can replicate your results.  The last thing we need is them knowing about you.”
“I’d figured that much out on my own, sir,” Kal-El told him.

“Good.  So you know better than go flashing your powers all around.  We’ve got to keep you a secret, at least for a while.”  The older man folded his arms atop the table and gave him a piercing look.  “At the same time, we’re going to need you in this.  We don’t have a way to get into the compound to reach our contact.  I’m hoping you know enough about the technology to help us get back in touch with her.”

An idea sparked to life at that, and Kal-El saw how it could be done.  “My ship had a communications module that could be modified.  I don’t know where the ship is, though.”

“In a highly-secured military facility, being studied as much as we can without damaging it further.  It came through the crash surprisingly intact.  If you can repair and adapt it...”

“Of course.  I’d need some basic supplies, but it shouldn’t be difficult.”  Now he began to feel excitement.  This was a viable contribution he could make, another tangible way to assist the Resistance and right the wrong his people had done to humans.

“Excellent.  I can make the arrangements to get you inside...” the general began, and was cut off.

“Oh, no, the hell you don’t. You wait just a goddamn minute,” Lois snapped, and Kal-El turned to her in surprise.  “If know what you’re thinking, and ten to one, I do, hell no. Dad, I just got Kal-El back.  He’s barely even met his son!  I don’t care what the hell you’re up to; you’re not going to whisk him off to Area 51 before I even get a day with him.  For at least the next couple days, he’s not going out of my sight. And I’ll do what I have to do to get my way on that.”

That was true, too.  Kal-El had unthinkingly assumed that Lois would come with him, and little Connor too.  Now that he had them both, he had no intention of leaving them behind.  Given his choice, he and Lois would never have been separated in the first place—and they had been talking marriage before the soldiers burst in.

Her father seemed to have other ideas.  “Lois, be reasonable.  There’s no good reason to take you and an infant into a secure facility with unknown technology.  I can’t guarantee your safety there.”

She gave a very unladylike snort, her eyes bright and hard as Kryptonian crystal.  “And that’s exactly what I thought you’d say. Big surprise there. I can take care of my own safety, thank you very much, and feel much safer doing so,” she spat back.  “And Connor’s, too, for that matter. Although your concern is incredibly touching, Dad.  You were the one trying to get rid of this little mistake, remember?”

Kal-El turned to the General again, acute dismay etched into his features.  He’d lost track of that little detail in all of this, somehow.  Had Lois’ father meant to end the pregnancy before he’d even known that Connor was a possibility?  Such a cold decision seemed to belong more to the likes of General Zod than to someone who should be an ally.

When the older man spoke, his voice was bland.  “You got your way, Lois.  There’s no point in not protecting the boy now.  He’s here, that’s a fact, and if we’re lucky he’ll grow up to be a symbol of peace between his parents’ species.”  Only at the end did a little sharpness enter his tone.  “You also get to explain everything to your mother once this was over.”
Lois only huffed, shooting him a saracastic smile, and Kal-El cut back in.  He put his hand over hers, looking deep into eyes he was still falling in love with.  “He has a point, Lois.  I’m not naïve.  We are at war, and I have certain advantages that are going to be crucial.  I can’t risk Connor or you on the front lines.”

Her chin came up, and she turned that too-brilliant glare on him.  “I’m not an idiot, Kal-El, I have no intention of bringing Connor into the thick of this, but don’t think you can leave me behind like some sad little girl too innocent for the harsh realities of war.  I’ve seen more of it than you have, and worse.”

Kal-El had to interrupt.  “Lois!  Is that how you think I think of you?  I know you.  I know who you are.  You had the wit and the determination to run the Resistance without me even having a clue.  If it was just about experience and knowledge, you’d be more fit for the task than I would.  But the simple fact is that my skin can turn a bullet.  And I have the feeling I’m going to need that ability before we’re done.”

She scowled at him, an expression that would have been charming if he hadn’t known the fierce will behind those hazel eyes.  “Fine.  Point made.  Still, I just got you back, and if he has his way you won’t even get ten minutes with Connor before you’re running off to save the world.  I am not going to stand for that.”

“Of course not,” Kal-El said, before turning to look at General Lane.  To his surprise, Lois’ father looked caught out, as if perhaps he had intended to do just that.

“Why, it’d be ridiculous to separate the kids at this stage,” Pa Kent said, with a steely glint in his eye.  “Lois is right, they’ve only just seen each other again.  And a man deserves to know his child no matter what the circumstances, don’t you think, General Lane?”
Tags: across the universe

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