"So," said Lex to the woman sitting next to him on the shuttle a couple hours into the flight. "Why are you going to Krypton?" He didn't usually talk to people on flights but she was attractive and the flight was going to be longer than usual since it was interplanetary. Also, he hadn't expected anybody other than his staff to be going.
"I'm a reporter from the Daily Planet," she said, smiling at the irony of the name of the newspaper she was representing. "They decided that I should be their correspondent and send them articles from there."
"I'm surprised that you took the offer."
Chloe gave him a look. "Are you kidding me? I'm being sent to the only other planet with intelligent life and get to break stories nobody else will be able to touch. Please. Besides, I think that aliens have got to be more interesting than us boring humans, right?"
"I only meant that you might get homesick."
Chloe shrugged. "The only family I have back home is my father and we're not that close. As for friends, most of them are at the Daily Planet. I'll be in contact with them via the computer system they set up for me. Besides, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A lot of other newspapers applied to send a reporter to Krypton. My application was the one that was chosen."
"I didn't catch your name," said Lex.
"Chloe Sullivan and you're Lex Luthor, our ambassador. How does it feel to be representing our planet?"
"Already angling for an interview?"
"I'm afraid that you're going to have to go through my secretary to set up a proper place and time once we get to our destination."
"I'll be sure to do that. I am curious about one thing, though."
"As long as it's off the record."
"It is. I was told that before I would be allowed to be a resident on the planet, I would have to attend a personal audience with their Emperor Kal-El."
"I was told the same thing," said Lex.
"Do you know anything about him? I'd hate to embarrass myself."
"I don't know much about him, myself, except that Kryptonians in general are not an easy people to get along with. I will say that the hologram I was given of him showed a man who would be beautiful according to our standards."
"I hope that the food there is edible."
"If you happen to visit the consulate, I'm sure I can get my cook to make a reasonable facsimile of any comfort food you might be craving. Also, I have enough pull to get food straight from Earth."
"You're not trying to make sure you stay on my good side, are you?"
"Small price to pay for good press."
It was then that the shuttle began shaking as if it had encountered turbulence despite the fact that it had already left the atmosphere a long time ago.
"What's going on?" said Chloe.
"I don't know."
"Attention passengers," said the voice of the captain over the intercom. "We are temporarily stalled in subspace but have apprised the Kryptonian authorities at the spaceport of our situation."
"Stuck in subspace?" said Chloe. "Isn't that dangerous?"
"Only if your communication array is also down and you failed to file a flight plan with either of the spaceports at either end of one's journey. Luckily, the Kryptonians do an excellent job of finding the occasional wayward ship."
Even with such reassurances, they were both relieved when the captain announced that two Kryptonian ships had appeared on either side of the shuttle and were going to tow it to the exit jump point near one of Krypton's moons. As the auxiliary engine still functioned, the ship would be able to enter the atmosphere and land at the spaceport near the capital.
"For a second there," said Lex. "I half wondered if perhaps some xenophobic terrorists had sabotaged our ship."
"A while back, a few Kryptonians led by General Zod had formed a movement to keep us Terrans off the plant. It lost popular support when several Kryptonians working for some Earth-based companies got killed when the terrorists tried to blow a factory that had been built near the capital. General Zod and his cohorts ended up imprisoned in the Phantom Zone for their crimes. Things have been peaceful ever since."
The ship made a soft landing on the strip. Lex smiled. "Ready for your audience with the Emperor?"
"Not really but it's not like we have a choice, right?"
Lex looked around. The air was clean and sweet-smelling without any of the industrial or exhaust fumes one smelled in Metropolis. There were very few cars on the road. He had read about the vast and well-planned public transportation system throughout the planet and the fact that all the cars on the planet ran on electricity. In the distance were mountains capped with snow. It was winter time and everything around them was dusted with snow. Snow country, he thought.
He watched the flow of traffic. Things seemed to go at a slower, unhurried pace here. People walked by on the sidewalk dressed in clothing that were extremely colorful and form-fitting. There had been many who had a crest of symbol on their chest. He had been informed that many members of the larger and more prestigious families wore their crest in such a manner.
"Wow," said Chloe, breaking the silence.
Ahead was the palace that towered over the office buildings and the shops they had passed by on the main road. It was like something straight out of a fairytale, looking as if it was cut out of a single crystal.
"Simply call me Kal-El. And your name is . . ." he said, turning his attention to Chloe.
"I'm not part of the diplomatic delegation. I'm Chloe Sullivan."
"Ah, you're the reporter from the Daily Planet."
"I heard that your shuttle ride was less than . . . perfect."
"That's true however I have no complaints about the escort that came to our rescue," said Lex.
"Come, I've arranged a feast for your arrival."
The seating arrangement was such that Lex was seated next to the Emperor while Chloe was seated several seats away, sitting to one side of a royal cousin and the other side of another member of the diplomatic corps. There were also a few Council members there as well. Overall, it was a fairly intimate affair. All the Kryptonians were dressed in their version of formal wear with their family crest featured prominently. He was wearing a long one-piece outfit that was black with his family crest in white on his chest with a red cape that he removed and handed to a servant before he sat down.
The dinner was fitting for a winter's day. There were roast meats that were reminiscent of beef and lamb rubbed with savory spices that were like but not quite the same as Earth's. Hearty soups and steamed dumplings filled with a variety of fillings including a mixture that resembled creamed pumpkin with cooked apples with cinnamon and cardamom. There was even wine and hot spiced tea.
"I took care to choose dishes that were most like your world's. I hope they suit your palate," Kal-el said as dinner began to wind down.
"Everything's excellent," said Lex. He wasn't merely being diplomatic; the food was indeed top notch.
"It's delicious," Chloe said, completely sincere.
"Is it winter time where you come from?"Kal-El said.
"No," said Lex. "It's spring in Kansas. If you ever happen to visit Earth . . ."
A Kryptonian noble interjected, "I believe the Emperor has no intention of . . ."
Kal-El interrupted him by saying, "I think that would be a great idea."
Chloe mentally raised an eyebrow at the man making a face and the sudden rise in tension around the table. "What is spring like on Krypton?" she said.
The man who had interrupted Lex said, "It's the loveliest spring in the universe. You have never seen flowers like the ones that bloom on the mountains on my land after the snow has melted. I'm sure that I can arrange a hike for you to see them once the trail has been cleared for safety."
"Thank you, I'll take you up on your offer," said Chloe. The tension in the room had slightly deflated in the face of such diversionary pleasantries.
Lex tried again to make small talk. "I noticed that you speak the most amazing English . . ." he said, noting to himself that Kal-El was the only Kryptonian who spoke without an accent.
"Well, I once had someone from Earth teach me . . . He . . ."
"Perhaps we should move on to dessert," said the blond, blue-eyed woman sitting next to Chloe. She was wearing a silver, floor-length sleeveless dress with the insignia of the royal house across her chest. She was quite tall. Even sitting down, she was half a head taller than Chloe.
The Emperor sighed, "Perhaps that's a good idea."
Lex felt slighted but kept his tongue still. For some reason, there were taboos he hadn't been made aware of prior to his trip. He wondered at that.
He went down to have breakfast at the embassy's dining area and saw Chloe starting her day with a grande mocha and a cinnamon roll. "So, how are you enjoying Krypton?"
"I haven't really gotten out yet. I've been getting everything at my office set up just the way I like it and I sent Perry a little e-mail that I made it here safely. I also wrote up the welcoming party dinner so that's my column of the week. I must confess . . ."
"I feel rather disoriented and I don't know why. It's not just the regular jet lag."
"It's really not that surprising. The magnetic field is a little stronger here, the day is a little longer, we just came the start of spring to the start of winter, and the sun goes from west to east instead of east to west. Add to that a green sky and multiple moons, I think it would throw even the most experienced traveler a little off-balance. How well do you speak Kryptonian, by the way?"
"I took some lessons the minute I heard the position was open but it's mostly survival Kryptonian like `where's the bathroom?' or `how much is this?' or `how do I get to such and such?' I probably have the most atrocious accent. How about you?"
"I took an intensive series of courses though I do have the luxury of an interpreter. As someone who's been to countries where English is not spoken, I have to warn you that I've seen other travelers begin to crave the sound of one's native tongue after being inundated by the sound of another."
"I think I'll manage."
"What do you plan on doing today?"
"Well, if I want to observe without calling attention to myself, I plan on getting some Kryptonian clothes I can wear. Kara, the Emperor's cousin who was sitting next to me at the table, has offered to help out. She's told me that she's going to have one of her servants take me clothes shopping and give me a guided tour around the city. I plan to go out into the country once spring comes."
"That's nice of her."
"Yes, it is, though I can't help but think it's to keep the wild Earth woman from disturbing the Zen calm of society. So, what are you doing?"
A waiter came by and asked Lex, "What would you like for breakfast?"
"I'll have a glass of spiced tea, toast, a small fruit salad and a side of scrambled eggs," he said to the water before turning back to Chloe and saying, "I've managed to get an audience before the Council members so I can make my presentation regarding increased cultural exchanges and expanded trade relations with Krypton. I also plan on suggesting joint scientific projects regarding astronomy and space exploration."
"Well, I hope your presentation goes well."
Lex stopped , turned around and saw the young Emperor walking up to him, flanked by two bodyguards. "How can I be of service to you?"
"I was wondering if perhaps I could have a word with you."
As Lex realized that he was being taken to the Emperor's office in the capitol building. "Have I done anything to offend . . ."
"Please come in," Kal-El said. He turned to the bodyguards. "Stand outside, the conversation I plan to have will be a private one."
After the door had closed behind the two of them, Kal-El said, "No, you haven't done anything wrong. I just wanted to say that you looked rather disheartened by the Council's reaction to your proposals. Their silence is a typical reaction to any proposal involving change. Do not take it personally."
"Ah . . ."
"I also wanted to say that I'm favor of the things that you suggested."
Lex smiled. "Thank you."
"I . . . I also noticed that you've been staring at me from time to time. Why is that?"
Lex sighed. There was no religious or social restrictions against same sex relationships on Krypton unlike certain segments of Earth's population but overall, it wasn't exactly favored either. He didn't want the potential complications of admitting his attraction so he decided to say something equally as true. "For some reason, I keep thinking that I've met you before but I know that can't possibly be . . ."
"Is the person that I remind you of . . . Was he named Clark?"
Lex blinked and a memory came to him of a boy with green eyes, tan skin and a luminous smile. "Clark . . . Kent?"
Lex was sitting on a little grassy mound, reading a book while the other children played with each other. Even here where the other children were also sick or injured, he was still the one they excluded. It was just as well. He could catch up on his studies while he was inside. He had seen a meteorite streak through the sky a week ago and made a wish for things to change but knew it was useless to put one's hope in a superstition.
From what he had been told and what he managed to glean on his own, the factory that his father had bought in Smallville was the site of a secret laboratory working on a government project. He hadn't known what it was about or who else had been involved. He only knew that his father was dead, he had nearly gotten killed as a result of his father insisting on showing him the factory that he was going to inherit and that he had to spend the summer recovering from his injuries. Unfortunately, it looks like one side effect isn't going to disappear, he thought ruefully, feeling the sun on his bald scalp.
A shadow blocked the light from his book and he looked up annoyed to see a boy younger than himself, standing there and smiling down at him. "You're blocking the light," Lex snapped.
The boy sat down and continued beaming at him. Lex frowned at him and closed the book. "Now, you're making me nervous."
The boy reached out and stroked his bald head.
"What are you . . ." Lex said, about to slap the boy's hand away.
"I'm sorry," said a nurse, running up to them. "Clark doesn't understand English."
Lex sighed and got up to leave except the boy grabbed his shirt sleeve. The nurse tried to get him to let go but was having a hard time uncurling his fingers.
"Clark, let go of him now! I'm so sorry," said the nurse. "I think he's really lonely."
Lex sat back down and said, "Look, I'm sure if I sit down long enough, he'll get bored and wander away. They all do, anyway."
The nurse sighed and said, "All right."
After Lex sat back down, the boy let go of his shirt sleeve and sat down next to him.
After a while, Lex couldn't stand it anymore and said, "I'm going to read out loud to you, OK?" He said this hoping it would drive him away but the boy simply looked happy to hear him going on and on about a madman named Don Quixote who thought he was a knight on a magnificent adventure and Sancho Panza the man who accompanied him. After a while, he forgot about being irritated that Clark was sitting next to him.
The next day, Clark found him reading again, sat down next to him and looked at him expectantly as if waiting for another chapter of that story.
I don't understand," said Lex. "If that was you then why were you there?"
"When I was a child, I was gravely ill. However, my parents remembered that if a Kryptonian visited a planet with a yellow sun then they often gained incredible strength and perfect health so they sent me there to recover from my illness. To keep my presence on the planet a secret for security reasons, they had me listed under the name Clark Kent. So I stayed there until they were completely sure I was cured. In the meantime, I met you . . ."
"I'm surprised you remembered me," said Lex, feeling quite touched. It had been a low point in his life as his mother had been too ill herself at that point to visit him, never mind take care of him. Only his nanny came to check on him though it was obvious that she was already tired from having to run the house and make sure his mother was properly looked after.
"Why not? You were the first person who taught me English. I was a long, long way from home and you were my friend. That's why people were so rude at the dinner. It's not common knowledge that I went to Kansas and the people who know prefer not to remember I went. There's another reason I was on Earth for as long as I was. It was around the time that General Zod was blowing up the factories owned by your planet's companies. My parents were afraid that he might target the royal family next since my father was outspoken in his support of interplanetary relations. The last factory that was destroyed in one of his bombings had over a hundred children and caretakers in its daycare facility at the time of the explosion. None of them survived."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"That's why people don't like to talk about that time period much. It brings back a lot of bad memories. It wasn't just horrific; it also struck at how we viewed ourselves as a people." Kal-El sighed. "I suppose you didn't expect things to be quite so complicated."
"I suppose not but I'm glad you're around to help me navigate that particular minefield." Lex shook his head. "Emperor of another planet, that's one thing I wasn't expecting."
"We have a lot to catch up on. I have an appointment to go to but perhaps you could come to the palace and we could talk over dinner?"
"I'd love to."
Chloe felt very strange, wearing the clothes of a servant of the house of El. "I hope I don't stand out," she said in her slightly funky Kryptonian. It was a pale blue dress with matching leggings. The crest as small and about the size of one's palm was near the right shoulder on the front.
"No, there are so many people working for the El clan that one more won't be noticed," said the servant in slightly accented English. While she was taller than Chloe, she was not as tall as Kara and not as striking with her dark brown hair tied up in a bun and pale grey eyes. She was wearing something very similar, though of a light yellow color. "It actually helps you to blend in. As for the way you talk, well, we will say that you are from an island of the southern archipelago. They're known for having an unusual way of saying things."
"Mila, are you sure that Lady Kara won't mind you showing me around the city?" said Chloe. "You're her assistant and . . ."
Mila shook her head. "I'm following her orders to make your stay here as smooth as possible. I've got my car ready outside."
As Mila drove them through the industrial sector, Chloe noticed that some people like the shop owners didn't have a crest on their clothes, indicating that they weren't from a prestigious house. A few people wore Western-style Terran clothes that indicated that they either worked for a nearby Terran company or were people who had actually moved off planet to work on Krypton. She caught a few teenagers wearing clothes that mimicked some of the off-planet fashions, seemingly to the irritation of passing adults. She chuckled a little at that and was amused at the idea that even extraterrestrial teenagers liked to wear something a little outrageous to peeve their elders.
Chloe shook her head. "It's nothing."
Mila saw what she was looking at and scowled. "Those kids!"
"From what you told me and what I've read, Kryptonians seem to have this unusual reaction to sunlight from a yellow sun," said Lex as he sat on the couch in Kal-El's living room, relaxing after a day of skating and skiing.
The fire in the fireplace filled the room with a flickering light that danced over Kal-El's face. He poured himself a cup of hot spiced cider and handed Lex a cup as well. "According to our mythology, there was once a time long ago when our sun was yellow like yours. My people were like gods. However, the gods turned the sun the color of blood to show their displeasure at our misuse of our powers. Thus, we became as we are now. Scientifically speaking, I think that something from that time must still exist inside our bodies because whenever a Kryptonian goes to a planet like yours, the powers come back."
Lex took a sip of the cider and enjoyed the warm spicy sweetness sweep over his tongue. "I wonder if Kryptonians visiting our planet are the source of much of our mythology."
"We have visited your planet but there are no records of a colony or an extensive stay by an individual."
"It's not impossible. I've read some of your travelers' chronicles. Flying, incredible strength and heat vision, they're not thing one rejects lightly."
Kal-El looked into the wine as if he could see the answer there then frowned as if the answer was not what he wanted. "Perhaps they returned because they felt homesick. You can have all the powers in the world but if you're not among people who love and understand you, it's not worth as much. Maybe . . . most of them felt guilty because such powers were forbidden by the gods. Besides, Krypton has a policy against disturbing other cultures so they developed ways to drag an individual back home if he tried to pretend to be something he wasn't. I notice that you haven't gained any powers from being under the light of our red sun."
"No, no powers at all. It's . . . rather disappointing," said Lex with a smile.
"Just imagining you flying and shooting deadly heat rays out of your eyes."
They both laughed at that.
Kal-El said, "So, how long are you staying on Krypton?"
Lex sighed, "My assignment here is for a year. The government will probably order me back home and send someone else to replace me."
"Oh . . ."
Lex saw the disappointment on his face and felt as if somehow he had broken a promise. "Kal-El, I . . ."
"You'll stay for dinner, won't you?"
Chloe found it really hard to get into Kryptonian pop culture. It didn't help that she couldn't understand everything that was being said on the holographic shows. A lot of the comedies depended on wordplay that she couldn't understand or references she couldn't place. As for the music, it was not as energetic or varied as the music at home. After watching the subtitled Kryptonian news, she'd sigh and turn on her computer to watch some programs from home she'd downloaded using the subspace net while she was asleep.
She ended up talking with some of the expatriates at the local Chinese restaurant that also doubled as a teahouse. She wrote up a couple columns profiling the kind of people willing to go off planet to work and what their experiences were. Some had left their families behind for the term of their employment, knowing that while some families could tolerate moving to a different state or a different country; however a different planet was where some drew the line. Others were totally devoted to their career, people who loved working and traveling and hoped that this would be a sure way to get promoted once they went back to Earth.
One night, she'd stay up late and call up Jimmy via her computer. "Jimmy, how's the DP?"
"It's been a little quiet since you left. Your columns about Krypton have been a big hit, though. It's one of the most downloaded sections of the news site."
Chloe felt rather pleased at hearing that. "How's Lucy?" Chloe said, referring to Jimmy's on-again, off-again relationship with her cousin.
Jimmy sighed, "She's run off with a ski instructor with a fancy French accent. How are you holding up?"
"I'm great." She decided not to talk about her homesickness because she knew there were hundreds, even thousand of people who'd give their left kidney to be in the position she was in right now.
"How are the women there?"
"In general, they're tall, beautiful and a bit on the serious side."
Jimmy cracked a smile. "Hey, I can work with that."
"I'm sure you can, Jimmy."
"Any Kryptonians stop you on the street and ask about the column?"
"No," said Chloe. "My column isn't translated into Kryptonian and the government has been irritating in that they only allow people on Earth to read it. Only a Kryptonian with access to certain clearances like my guide can read it."
"That's too bad."
"Not really. It helps keep me anonymous so I can do a better job of seeing how things really are. I wouldn't be able to do that if I was notorious."
"True enough. Perry's rather pleased just in case he hasn't said so to your face." Jimmy waggled his eyebrows a little naughtily. "You haven't been talking about how the men on Krypton are."
"I've been busy just getting used to being here, Jimmy."
"It's true. The men are tall, dark and handsome but . . ."
"But . . ."
"I don't think they're that interested in an Earth girl. I have talked to a few guys from Earth who work here but the few Kryptonian men I've met haven't been sending me any vibes they're interested. They're polite but a bit on the distant side. I don't think they're particularly used to my kind of snark."
"As long as nobody's keeping you warm these lonely winter nights, you know where to call me." Chloe rolled her eyes. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind. Bye, Jimmy."
As Lex and Kal-El hiked into the hills of the Emperor's private estate, Lex marveled at the fact that there were bees and butterflies buzzing in profusion amongst the flowers. Parallel evolution, he thought, remembering that he had been served a slice of honey cake the night before. Even though we're on different planets, many species on this planet have evolved in similar ways to take similar roles in the ecosystem. Lex thought of getting one of his staff members to see if a comparative analysis between the ecosystems of Earth and Krypton had been done.
"I'm glad you got to see Krypton during the spring," said Kal-El as they stood looking at the city from above. "I'd hate for you to think that Krypton's always white and made of snow."
"You don't look happy," said Lex, noting the slight melancholy in his voice.
"Krypton wasn't always like this. The winters weren't always so long or so cold. It's because Krypton's sun is slowly fading."
"I'm not talking about something to worry about tomorrow, next year or even the next century but someday, it's going to be too cold to live here."
"Surely, you could all emigrate to . . ."
"You don't understand how bound my people are to our home world. While they are capable of leaving, many won't leave. My hope is that more extensive interaction with off-worlders would allow the following generations to get used to the idea of leaving."
"I assume you've already talked with the Council about this."
Kal-El let out a sigh of exasperation. "Of course, they're all in denial despite the simple physics of the situation being so incredibly obvious. The sun isn't going to remain as it is and the plants and animals can only adapt so much before they become extinct."
"I remember watching a debate between various scientists about this issue on a holographic news program. Unfortunately it looked like the host was siding with the ones who insisted that nothing was wrong."
"I'm not surprised."
"If you don't mind, I wouldn't mind reading some more information about it. Watching talking heads lock horns isn't exactly the best way to learn what's going on."
Kal-El smiled. "I've got tons of information. I'll have my assistant copy the information on a memory card and send it to the embassy."
"Why don't you come over to the embassy? Now that I have an idea of the kind of food you like, I'm pretty sure the cook can make you some Earth specialties to your taste."
"I'd like that. How about we stop here and rest for a while? You can't get a better view than here."
The two guards that had been trailing the pair quietly and efficiently laid out the picnic blanket and took out the various treats from the basket they had been carrying all this time.
"I haven't heard from their representatives yet. The Emperor does occasional press conferences and I've made sure that you can get into the room for that."
"How about I interview you?"
"I'm just a servant."
"I've interviewed factory workers, university students, and even the people who own this restaurant. You'll fit right in." Chloe took a bite of the red chili `beef' and frowned. It was good but nothing like the versions she'd eaten in Metropolis.
"There's really not much to me. My family has loyally served the House of El for generations. We have served in the kitchen, as manager of their estates, and caretakers of their children. I myself serve as Lady Kara's assistant, taking care of things that she commands me to take care of. I'll have you know that my family is not merely a bunch of servants who are taken for granted. The El House helped pay for my advanced education and there's a prestige in being connected with such an illustrious house."
"Well, that sounds like a great column right there."
"You do know that the Kryptonian government reads your column."
"Yes, I know. I don't plan on writing anything that will get you in trouble. You have read my columns right?"
"Well, I started reading them a few weeks ago."
"Mila!" Chloe mock scolded.
"Sorry," Mila said with a sheepish smile. "I actually enjoyed reading them. It's interesting to see how my planet looks from someone else's eyes. Earth must be a terribly different place."
"If you ever come to Earth, I'd totally show you around Metropolis and introduce you to all the people at the Daily Planet . . ."
"I could never go."
"Why?" said Chloe, frowning. "Is there a law against servants of royal houses going off-planet?"
"No, nothing like that, it would just take me away for much too long."
"Everybody needs a vacation once in a while."
"My place is at Lady Kara's side, doing what needs to be done," Mila said with immense pride. She actually threw back her shoulders and puffed out her chest.
"I'm sure someone else could temporarily . . ." Chloe stopped when she noticed Mila looking a bit insulted. "Never mind."
"It's been a while," said Chloe as she saw Lex come down to the dining area for breakfast. She was having a cappuccino with cinnamon sprinkles and a blueberry muffin.
Lex flashed her a smile. "Life as an ambassador isn't an all-expense paid trip to a foreign country. I talked to the business concerns that have come here from Earth to set up shop and listened to their concerns about the local work force, restrictions on pollution and use of certain materials and taxes. I went to talk to the Council about those issues and there was a debate about whether or not to increase the number of immigrants to this planet. There was also some other unkind comments about whether or not it was a good idea to have a larger cultural exchange."
"I heard that you've been talking with the Emperor a lot lately."
"It is my duty to always be available to speak on behalf of our planet," said Lex before he turned to the server and said, "I'll have a cup of black coffee, a glass of orange juice, a few slices of melon and a couple pancakes."
Chloe gave him a look, which warned the talker that she knew he was blowing her off. "Please . . "
Lex sighed. "All right, we've become friends."
"Friends? Does that mean you two go down to the local clubs, pick up women and drink apple martinis?"
"Really, Chloe. I'm not eighteen anymore."
"Well, what do you do?"
"He's interested in the Earth and the rest of the rest of the universe around us. He's quite up to date with what the current scientific theories are. We also talk about our respective planet's history and mythologies. We've also compared notes on what it's like to live with the burden of family legacies. He's gone out of his way to make feel me welcome. He's actually a lot of fun to be with."
Chloe raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Fun's not exactly how I describe the Kryptonian men I've met."
Lex looked amused. "Perhaps you just haven't met the right one. Other than that, how have you been enjoying Krypton?"
"It's been pretty interesting, actually. Mila has been the biggest help ever. It's a little frustrating, though."
"Oh, in what way?"
"I've tried to talk to her about Earth but she doesn't seem interested. It's like . . ."
"Krypton is the center of the universe and the sun orbits it . . ."
"Yeah, that's it exactly. I guess it's a pretty common attitude."
Lex sighed and nodded. "Very."
"Your Highness, may I have a word with you?" said Lord Zed, one of the members of the Council as he walked up to Kal-El in the capitol building. He was ten years older than Kal-El, a little shorter and stouter, and was from a different house.
"Of course," said Kal-El.
"I was hoping that it could be in private."
"Is it that important?" Kal-El frowned.
"I believe it to be yes. I speak not just on my own behalf but for several other Council members as well."
"I see, let's go and discuss this over lunch."
As they sat in his private dining area, Kal-El sat down at the marble table where he often had lunch and Zed sat across from him. "What is it that you want to say?"
"We've been noticing that you've been spending much of your free time with the ambassador from Earth."
"We are worried that he might be exerting undue influence on your decision making. If you are talking policy with him. . . Well, I wonder that you do not talk policy with the Council instead."
Kal-El sighed. "I want to hear things from a different point of view. The ambassador is my friend. I'm not allowed to make friends without the Council's express approval?"
"We aren't against you having friends. However, the Council does have the right to question certain choices if they appear to effect our planet's security and well-being."
"But you don't have anything concrete that you can accuse the ambassador of actually doing or saying . . ."
Lord Zed said stiffly, "Not per se. Though I do disagree with his encouraging you in your dream of . . ."
Kal-El snapped. "If you don't have anything material to object to then I suggest we end this conversation . . ."
"We are only trying to remind you that his first obligation isn't to you but to his planet, to his people."
Kal-El stared at him in stony silence.
Lord Zed clenched his jaw before spitting out, "I'll have you know that Lady Kara agrees with me."
"Well, perhaps she should be Empress instead since she obviously knows how to be a ruler far better than me," said Kal-El, knowing that there was a high likelihood that Lord Zed was actually thinking something along those lines even if he'd never admit it.
"Your Highness, I meant no such . . ."
"Lord Zed, .would you care to tell me who the others are that agree with you?"
"Not at this moment but I will say that it's not an insignificant number."
Kal-El smiled but the smile didn't reach his eyes. "I don't plan to drop my friendship with the ambassador due to baseless accusations or insinuations. The day you have something substantial against him is the day that I personally order him to go home. Until then, I suggest you concentrate on our meal," he said as the servant came in with two covered plates.
General Sam Lane, head of the military arm of the United Earth Government, looked at him. "Lex, how are you?"
"Our intelligence says that you've become quite close with the Emperor, maybe a little too close."
"I don't know exactly what your agents are saying about my relationship with the Emperor but I assure you that Earth's interests will always come first with me."
"Oh, I'm not accusing you of doing anything wrong. I am suggesting that you are letting your emotions cloud your judgment. I know that the Emperor has been wanting the Kryptonians to move off the world en masse to a planet with a yellow sun. You do remember that the closest planet with a yellow sun to Krypton is Earth, right?"
"I doubt that he wants to take over a planet that's already inhabited when there are already planets already in their star charts that are livable without having to go to the effort of wiping out Earth's inhabitants. I don't see why helping him save his people is considered against our interests."
"Considering the fact that they develop superpowers when exposed to yellow sunlight on Earth, it would be in our best interest that Kryptonians stay on Krypton even if it means their race does eventually become extinct."
"I find that a rather cold way to treat our allies."
Sam shrugged. "Say what you like. However, if a million of them came to our planet and stayed long enough to absorb enough sunlight to be as powerful as I think they could be, it would raise havoc not only with us but with them. It's been millennia since their society has had to deal with powers like that. If they were to turn on each other and we got caught in the crossfire . . . Also, you should know that if the Emperor does try to make our planet a home away from home, we have weapons to deal with them."
"Weapons?" Lex remembered that during his research into the explosion that took his father's life and nearly his own, the General's name had come up a few times. "What kind of weapon?"
"I believe that's classified."
"I have the necessary clearance for that information, General," snapped Lex.
He looked at Lex appraisingly before saying, "Well, it's known that Kryptonians have visited our planet before and that some were not benevolent or even benign. We found ancient alarm systems rigged on our planet so that if a rogue Kryptonian gained powers, the authorities on the home world would be alerted. At each alarm system was left a piece of irradiated crystal that happens to neutralize the powers a Kryptonian gains when solar-powered."
Lex smiled bitterly. "Let me guess. You and my father happened to have been involved in making more of those crystals, am I right?"
The General smiled but said nothing.
"I find it interesting that there is this concern even though Krypton has never tried to colonize Earth."
The General shrugged. "Desperate people do desperate things. The smart thing to do is prepare for all possible scenarios."
"You're not planning a first strike, are you?"
The General shook his head. "No, according to the ancient texts, it doesn't work on Kryptonians not under the influence of a yellow sun. So don't worry, Earth won't be declaring war anytime soon. That stuff's not that good for humans, either. Besides, the present arrangement is quite satisfactory." He lit up a cigar. "Would you like me to send you a few of these? I know Krypton doesn't have anything like tobacco."
"No thanks. That's one of the many things I don't miss at all about Earth."
"Down?" Kal-El looked puzzled.
"Pre-occupied in an unhappy way," said Lex as he reached out and squeezed Kal-El's shoulder in a reassuring way. "Is there something wrong?"
"A few days ago, Lord Zed told me that he and a few of the Council members objected to my being friends with you."
Lex let his hand fall back into his lap. "I'm sorry that my friendship is causing you problems with the Council members."
Kal-El smiled at him. "I told him that it was none of his concern."
"These are people who can make things rough for you. If you want me to stop coming here . . ." Lex said, about to stand up.
Kal-El took hold of his arms and gently pulled him back down, only to have Lex lose his balance and land on top of him with their faces only an inch apart.
"Sorry," whispered Lex, only to be surprised by Kal-El kissing him. He closed his eyes and relaxed into the sweetness and welcome in those lips. When he opened his eyes and lifted his head, he said, "You . . . Perhaps we've had a little bit too much honey wine."
"We've only had a glass each and a small one at that." Kal-El said.
"You don't know what you're . . ."
"I know what a kiss means on Earth. It means the same thing it does here. It means that I want more than your friendship . . ." Kal-El said, before kissing him again.
A servant, who had been watching from behind an almost closed door sighed as the two men wrapped their arms around each other and continued kissing each other, went to her room and picked up a phone. "Lady Kara."
"It has turned out as you feared." The servant hung up quickly to avoid being discovered.
Kara sighed. Mila stood by her chair, waiting for her to say something. "Mila, Lord Zed has already talked to Kal-El. I'm not sure what to do next."
"Perhaps, we should have someone talk to the other party in this matter . . ." said Mila.
"You're Chloe Sullivan?"said Kara.
"Yes, I am. It's been a while. I don't think I've talked to you since the dinner party," said Chloe as she sat down on a chair.
"How have you been enjoying your stay on Krypton?"
"It's been great. Mila's been totally amazing."
"I heard that you are friends with Ambassador Luthor?"
Chloe narrowed her eyes at the question. So do not like the way the conversation is going, she thought. "I guess you could call us friends."
"I have a favor to ask of you."
"OK . . ."
"I need you to ask the ambassador to leave the Emperor for both their sakes."
Chloe frowned. Wait a second, she thought. "What? Why?"
"Because his affair with my cousin is going to cause people to talk and not in a respectful manner."
"I really think that the people you need to talk to are the Emperor and Lex. I may be a reporter but I don't like to deliver other people's messages regarding personal matters." The conversation was really starting to make her squirm.
"I really wish it were only a personal matter," said Kara. "Are you refusing my request?"
Chloe gasped. "I'm going to be honest. I had no idea that Lex and the Emperor were more than friends. It's going to be really awkward for me to raise the subject."
"Oh, I see."
"I don't want to insult him," said Chloe. "Even if I were to ask him about it, he might deny it. If you really have problems with him, the only people with authority over him are his superiors at the United Earth Government."
"I wanted to avoid that. I was hoping that advice from a friend would make him do the honorable thing. Please try. I understand that you may not succeed."
Chloe sighed. "I'll think about it."
Kara nodded. "I will have Mila drive you home."
As Mila drove her home, Chloe noticed that instead of making small talk, Mila said nothing. "Are you mad at me?"
"Lady Kara asked for your assistance. It wasn't nice of you to be so reluctant," Mila said, rather huffily.
"I knew that they were friends but not that kind of friend. How am I supposed to bring up the subject? I don't even know if what she said is true."
"Are you saying she's lying?"
"I'm just wondering if someone's trying to misinform her in order to stir up trouble."
Mila was quiet for a second. "You have a point, though her intelligence is usually quite good. I apologize. I should have taken into account that this would put you into a very awkward situation. I have been most rude."
"Well, I guess it would be a bit nerve-wracking for me not to agree with her considering that she's your boss and all," said Chloe.
"Thank you for understanding."
"What's wrong, Chloe?" said Lex as he watched Chloe dig into a bowl of rocky road ice cream at her usual seat in the embassy's dining area. Eating ice cream wasn't something she usually did, at least not three scoops worth with real whipped cream and brownie bits on top.
"I'm having a bad week and decided to give myself a treat. I've decided I'll work off my indulgence later." Chloe noticed how tired Lex looked. "I get the feeling that your week's been sucky, too."
Lex sat down in front of her and said, "The Council's reactions to my presentation this week was downright frosty. Instead of just being coolly silent, they've started to make sharp questioning remarks about every point I'm making. Kal-El and his cousin Kara had to tell them that their behavior has been unacceptable several times."
"Actually, I think I know why," said Chloe. She had no plans to tell him prior to this but knowing that it was already affecting his work had changed her mind. "I was asked by Lady Kara if there was something going on between you and the Emperor. I denied having any knowledge of it because it WAS the truth at the time. But, is it true that you two really are exchanging more than cultural information?"
"Actually, we were just friends until a few days ago."
Chloe groaned. "I think she found out somehow and it's gotten out or they suspect that's what's going on.. Lex?"
"Are you in love with him?"
"I . . . have feelings for him. I really do consider him a friend and I was attracted to him from the start . . ."
"Want some ice cream?" Chloe said, pushing the bowl towards him. "There's a spoon right next to you."
Lex smiled. He didn't particularly like this ice cream flavor but he recognized the gesture for what it was: an act of friendship. "I'll have a bite or two."
"I'm most honored at your request for my presence," said Lex, hoping that none of the irony showed in the tone of his voice as he stood in front of the two Council members as he stood in Lady Kara's living room.
Lord Zed and Lady Kara looked at each other than at him. "We are glad that you have come," said Kara.
"What is it that you'd like to talk to me about?"
"Lady Kara and various other members of the Council are making a personal request that you volunteer to go back to your home world. Do not worry, we are not asking that Earth's diplomatic presence on your planet or that any of the businesses be eliminated in any way shape or form. We do ask that you quietly allow someone to replace you."
"I understand that in many ways, Kal-El was the pursuer and aggressor in this relationship. Therefore, we are not saying that you are completely to blame. He is in many ways, an extremely attractive man," said Lord Zed.
"I hope you don't think I've been using this relationship to my advantage."
"I'm not accusing you of that but it would be naive to believe that your personal relationship wouldn't have become a factor eventually," said Lady Kara. "He's talked about himself to you?"
"Yes, he has."
"I wonder if you know that he ascended the throne when he was eighteen years old. He was just barely old enough to rule without a regent unlike his father, who ascended the throne when he was well in his thirties. Even after General Zod and his forces were imprisoned in the Phantom Zone and he was brought back from Earth, Kal-El was still closely guarded and only allowed limited contact with others for years after that. Perhaps we should not have forced such a burden so early on him after his father died. Before you came, I confess that we've often neglected to think of Kal-El as a person rather than just an Emperor. We plan to introduce him to . . ."
"Perhaps he'd like a say in what he'd like to do and who he spends time with. I know that it's not much of a consolation to the both of you but what I feel for him is real . . ."
Lord Zed said, "Be that as it may, it's not appropriate."
A servant stood in the room and quietly recorded the conversation for Kal-El's later perusal. Kara was not the only person with a spy in a royal relative's household.
Kal-El sat brooding in his bedroom. On the holographic display, the receptionist at the embassy had taken another message, visibly chagrined at not being able to do anything else. He knew that Lex was ignoring him on purpose. I wonder, he thought, what they said to him. And I think I know who `they' are.
"Your Highness, you have a visitor,"said his bodyguard.
"Who is it?" he said, though he knew it was.
"Lady Kara. Should I show her in or shall I tell her that you are indisposed?"
"Show her in."
The guard left the room.
"I'm wondering if you have anything to do with the Ambassador Luthor's sudden vow of silence. It makes it rather hard for our planets to interact if I can't even have a decent conversation with the other planet's representative," said Kal-El as he walked into the parlor where she was waiting. He skipped the customary greeting to show her exactly how unwelcome she was.
"I did talk to him a few days ago about my concerns. I believe he's taking the appropriate action."
"I thought you believed in the same things that I did. I thought you wanted Krypton to be more open to the outside worlds."
"I do believe in the same things that you do. I just don't agree with your methods. You're pushing too hard, rushing things."
"Rushing? My father spent his entire life trying to change things."
"Unfortunately, progress just happens to move like a glacier."
"I find that ironic considering that our planet resembles one. Krypton doesn't want to change. It refuses to change unless something drastic happens. It took the acts of General Zod for people to realize that their fear and hatred of people from off-planet was rooted in the same muck as his was and to open their arms, however, reluctantly to the outside."
"And you're thwarting that progress by behaving in this manner."
Kal-El turned away from her. "It's not like I was making much headway by behaving responsibly and showing the Council report after report of the decline of our planet. What I'd like to know is the reason everybody is having a problem. Is it because he's an ambassador? If so, I'm willing to wait until the end of his term to have anything other than official contact with him. Or is it because that it would be problematic for me to have a human consort."
Lady Kara was quiet.
"I thought so."
"Kal-El . . . Tell me to my face that our society would not be thrown into turmoil by such an announcement and I would have to call you a liar."
"If you want the world ruled according to how you see fit then you know what to do . . . I'm pretty sure that I can name some Council members who would prefer you as their Empress."
Kara stood up from her seat and scowled. "Kal-El, I do not covet the throne! You should know that I care for you deeply and I do not want to see something that is probably temporary make you do something that you can not take back. Why don't you understand that?"
"Kara . . . I wish you'd see that this feels like the first time I've ever made a real choice and I don't regret that choice. If that makes me unfit so be it." Kal-El sat down in his chair, tilted his head back and rubbed his face. He listened to the click-clack of her shoes on the hard wood floor as she walked away.
Once she was gone, he stood up and said to his bodyguard, "Take me to the embassy."
"I don't see anything particularly wrong with the leader of a world talking to the representative of a world that has an embassy here, do you?" said Kal-El close the door behind him. "You wouldn't like to create an interplanetary incident by kicking me out, would you?"
"I . . ."
"I know that Kara talked to you behind my back. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to make things difficult for you."
"I'd prefer to decide for myself. I'm the Emperor. I need to know these things so I can protect you. Also, I don't care for Kara and her friends acting on their own even if they think they are doing it for my good and the planet's. I could call it treason, making decisions behind my back like some shadow government. You should've come to me. It's not just a matter of them insulting you, they're also undermining my authority."
Lex got up and stood in front of his desk. "Kal-El, I'm sorry. They said that if I left quietly, they'd consider funding a colony on one of the planets you've been studying. I know how much you wanted . . ."
Kal-El shook his head. "Lex, even if they made such a promise . . . I don't want you to leave. It's not worth it. They'd tie it up with studies and studies and more studies then they'd bring up budget projections and all sorts of tactics until I give up . . . I've seen it before . . . Even before I left Krypton for my safety, I saw them mock my father behind his back as if he was Don Quixote. After my mother died, he had no one who really believed in him. Between that and having to answer to criticisms regarding the policies that opened our world to the outside and being blamed for the rise of Zod, he died a crushed man." He thought of the man on his deathbed, handsome still but aged beyond his years from the aftermath of all that had come to pass and the deaths of his wife and his brother, two of the people he loved most.
Lex gave Kal-El a hug and said, "I'm sorry about your father. I wish I could've met him."
"I wish you've met him, too," said Kal-El, leaning his head on Lex's shoulder and putting his hands on his back. "I know that a lot of them don't think I understand what it was like during the worst of the Terror years but the man who led the forces that finally captured General Zod was Kara's father, my uncle. And a lot of the people I knew lost friends and families. I've seen what it's like to lose people because of him. I don't want that to happen again anymore than they do."
"I know you don't."
"There's something that my father once said, however."
"There is never a right time for a revolution. History does not wait patiently to be made, it is created by those considered mad. It is only later that it's decided whether the people were mad or visionary. But sometimes I wonder if . . ."
"Kal-El, I've read the reports. I've studied it with several scientists I trust. You're not wrong. I would've told you if you were." Lex had seen the models. While the weather and ecosystem were still struggling to adapt and would for some time to come, the final collapse was going to be swift and irreversible . . . and deadly. The projections for the ending disaster varied depending on the variables fed into the computer models; so it was going to be hard to pinpoint when exactly it was going to occur though some of the more recent projections were talking mere decades. From what he seen of Kryptonian stubborness, they might not even cooperate with even a last minute evacuation.
"I wish I was wrong."
"Kal-El, I know this sounds terrible but maybe you can't save everyone. All we can do is save the people willing to listen, willing to be saved."
"I didn't want it to be that way." Kal-El leaned back so he could look into Lex's eyes.
Kal-El sought the warm, soft comfort of Lex's lips and pressed his body against his.
"Kal-El?" Lex mumbled as Kal-El turned his attention to Lex's neck.
"If we keep this up, our clothes are going to get rumpled and it's going to appear as if we're doing . . ."
"Doing . . ."
"Something that shouldn't be done in the United Earth Government's ambassador's office."
As if on cue, there was a knock on the door.
"Will you see me tonight?"
The secretary was not sure why the Emperor threw her such a sour look as he walked out the door.
"No, it didn't."
Mila put the coat away. "What will you do now?"
"Contact the ambassador's superiors. Even though Mr. Luthor promised to leave, the Emperor is so very . . ." Kara frowned.
"I was thinking of the word `persistent,' but he's that as well. I have other words in mind as well that are less complimentary" she said as she sat down on a chair near a dining table. "He even hinted at abdication."
Mila clicked her tongue in annoyance. "I doubt he'll go that far. He shouldn't worry you like that. If he lived through the Terror years like we had and lost the people that we had, he wouldn't . . ."
Kara frowned. "He suffered enough as it was, Mila. He was a little child far away from his home planet. If General Zod had won, the exile could have been permanent."
"But you know what it was like to be scared to go to school and watch the news . . . My sister died in one of the attacks and your father died leading the force that finally captured him."
"My father was his uncle, Mila. It's not like he didn't lose people as well," said Lady Kara sternly.
"I'm sorry, my Lady. I was not thinking . . ."
"Please do so in the future," Kara said. "I remember my father used to tell Kal-El's father to stop pushing people to go off-planet. He also believed that Jor-El was right but that nobody would believe him until it was too late. He didn't want to see my uncle destroy himself for nothing. My father was of the philosophy that perhaps that it was time for Kryptonians to become a part of the past; that perhaps Kryptonians' inability and lack of desire to adapt to the changes around them was a sign that our species' time had come and gone."
"Lady!" Mila looked horrified at how calmly she spoke about their people's extinction.
Kara caught the shocked expression on Mila's face and smiled wryly. "I'm sorry. I just feel rather depressed. I feel as Kal-El does that our people do need to think of their future beyond this planet. I don't want our people to become extinct. However . . . maybe this is horribly selfish of me, I do not want another family member chasing an early death by trying to save the world. After all, it's up to the people if they choose to live or die."
Mila turned to a servant and whispered for her to get some tea before sitting next to Kara and saying, "Does the Emperor know you feel this way?"
Kara shook her head. "About my feeling that perhaps our people's time has run out? No, if he knew, he'd fight even harder . . . That's the type of man he is."
"Lady Kara, is there anything that you want me to do that would make things better?"
Kara shook her head. "No, Mila. However, I think I will be somewhat relieved when Ambassador Luthor goes back home. I can only hope that once there is some distance between them, the closeness will fade as well." She sighed. "Perhaps I can parlay this into something negotiable. I might be able to say to the other Council members that this infatuation came out of a frustration with our inability to be flexible . . ." Kara rubbed her face. "Mila, draw me a bath. I believe I shall retire early."
"Yes, my lady."
Lex's expression was grim. "I've been called back to Earth. In fact, I really shouldn't be here as I was told to cut off all contact with you."
"Why?" said Kal-El.
"The United Earth Government feels that my presence on your planet is more disruptive than beneficial as they've asked that I return so another ambassador may take my place."
"The Council . . ."
"I suppose they couldn't wait for me to leave so they decided to expedite matters."
"Can't you stay here if you step down?"
Lex shook his head. "I believe in what you're trying to do. You're thinking about what's best for your people and I'm trying to do what's best for mine . . . " Lex stood up and took Kal-El's hands in his. "I wanted to say goodbye in person. I didn't think leaving a holographic message was right."
Kal-El looked deflated. "When are you leaving?"
"I was told to board a shuttle tomorrow."
"Then stay tonight."
"I . . ."
Kal-El wrapped his arms around and held him close, their cheeks touching. "Stay . . . Please stay."
The next morning, Kal-El woke up to the other side of the bed being empty and a note left on the pillow that said: "If I had waited until you were awake to say goodbye, I'd never be able to leave. I'm sorry, Kal-El. Love, Lex."
As the shuttle to Earth stalled during the short passage through subspace, Lex waited quietly for the ship's captain to announce that they had sent a message to both space ports and there would be ships towing them to the nearest port. However as the minutes went by without a reassuring announcement, Lex got up and went into the cabin.
The control panel to the shuttle was in disarray. Broken memory chips were on the floor. The pilot merely stared out at the inky blackness that was subspace.
"What is going on here?" said Lex.
The pilot turned around. "I'm sorry, Ambassador Luthor."
"Ms. Sullivan," said Kal-El to the reporter. "This is the Emperor Kal-El. I have a favor to ask of you."
"Go ahead, Your Highness."
"Have you heard from him? I was curious to hear if he had reached Earth safely. He told me that since you knew about the circumstances of his leaving it would be all right to talk to you about him."
"No, actually, I haven't heard from him. There's been some concern because the shuttle's been delayed."
Kal-El sounded alarmed. "You mean, it hasn't arrived?"
"That's what my friends at the office on Earth told me a few minutes ago. They asked me if there was any delay on my side."
"Well, if his shuttle was lost, surely there would've been a message by now. Unless . . . I will send out searchers for him. That corridor is well-traveled, they shouldn't have any problem finding him."
"I'll leave a message with your secretary if I happen to hear from him, OK?"
As Chloe put down the phone, she became apprehensive herself. No, she thought remembering what Lex had told her about the hostility of the Council members, they couldn't have . . . She picked up the phone and called Mila's number but nobody answered.
"Mila? What are you doing here?" said Lex. "What have you done to the ship?"
"I've destroyed the communication array. As for the flight plan, I filed an incorrect one. They're going to assume that a horrible `accident' has happened."
"Why? Are you a follower of General Zod?"
Mila snorted. "Don't even mention that name to me! I was one of the people who cheered when he was imprisoned."
"Because you're bringing down the house I serve . . . Between pitting Lady Kara and the Emperor against each other, creating problems for the Emperor, making him a laughingstock, and tempting him to the point of abdication, is it any wonder I am here? My life has been spent in service of their house. I won't have you cause them any more pain than they have already been through."
"I was planning on leaving and never coming back, Mila. I don't know why you felt the need to . . ."
"Because the Emperor didn't choose to give you up. He wasn't brought to his senses. He wasn't the one who ordered for you to leave. I'm not taking the chance that he will let his feelings override his good sense."
"You're also stranded here with me."
"I couldn't trust anybody else to do the job and I didn't want anybody else to die."
"You're a fool if you think that my government's willing to sweep my death under the rug and that the companies from Earth won't be spooked," said Lex, "Also, Kal-El's going to look at the one person who has campaigned against my presence on the planet and believe she's responsible. He's going to believe that Lady Kara ordered my disappearance, especially once he finds out that her assistant is missing as well. Once he knows that you were the pilot, she may end in the Phantom Zone for this. All the circumstantial evidence will point to her being involved."
"No . . ." said Mila, shaking her head slowly but looking uncertain. "I made sure . . ."
"You're not a career criminal. The police on your planet are probably searching right now for evidence. Without your testimony, assumptions will be made. Who else would have as much to gain? Now, I suggest you repair this ship and take us to the nearest port."
"I can't. I don't know how to fix the ship. I did bring enough medicine for both of us to have a painless death, however," she said, taking a hypo-syringe from her pocket.
"There's no sign of the ship, not even debris," said the captain.
"Did you try contacting them?"
"There's been no answer to our hails."
"Your Highness," said a police officer as he was escorted in by one of the bodyguards.
"We checked the logs. The pilot that usually flies this route did not fly this time. The name listed on the manifest is a fake."
Kal-el thought for a second before saying, "I want you to go to Lady Kara's house and have her questioned."
"She's to be considered a prime suspect in the disappearance of the ambassador. She helped spearhead a movement to send him away from Krypton. She was in league with Lord Zed. He should also be questioned. Be discreet but do not let them out of your custody or you will be arrested in their place. Also check the whereabouts of their servants."
The policeman saluted and left.
Kal-El wanted answers and he wanted them right now.
Of course, ships from both spaceports would be sent to look for them. However, since she had lied and taken a different route through subspace, their search would be futile. As the communications array was down, there was no way to send even a signal for anyone to home in on.
He looked through his luggage, hoping to find something that might inspire him and saw his laptop computer, capable of sending e-mails through the subspace net.
"Kal-El, the shuttle I'm on . . ." said the e-mail.
After Kal-El had read the e-mail, he typed backed instruction that in twelve hours, he should start sending messages every hour upon the hour so that there would be a signal to focus on. Once he sent the e-mail, he called in a servant. "Tara, contact the observatory and tell them to suspend mapping of the night sky and reprogram the computers to locate the source of this particular transmission. I also want three of the global satellites to also search for the location of this frequency in subspace. Once, you have a rough position of where the source is, I want you to notify me as soon as possible."
"Why are you letting me drink the water? I'm surprised you're not keeping all the water for yourself," whispered Mila. After she had time to think about how bad Lex's death would be for Lady Kara, a lot of the fight had gone out of her and she usually lay limp in one of the chairs. Lex didn't take any chances with her, however as she still had her hands tied behind her back most of the time so she couldn't suddenly attack him.
"What kind of monster do you think I am?" Lex chided.
"They might not come for a while. You'd stand a better chance of surviving until they come if you were the only one to drink. I wouldn't blame you for doing so."
"I'm not keeping you hydrated just to save you. I'm not interested in sharing a ship with a corpse. Besides, you owe your Lady an explanation and an apology for the trouble you've caused her and everybody around her. So, drink the water," said Lex. He held the bottle to her lips and the woman grudgingly took some swallows.
"How much longer do you think the air's going to last?"
"Well, there's only two of us and we're not exerting ourselves so hopefully we can make the air last long enough."
They were both startled by the sound of tapping.
"What's that?" said Mila.
"I'll take a look," said Lex as he walked to the airlock and saw it open to reveal two men in space suits. He gasped when one of the men too off their helmets and revealed himself to be Kal-El. "Oh, my God," said Lex before he was swept up in a bear hug that lifted him off the ground.
"I thought we wouldn't make it in time," said Kal-El, looking as if he was about to cry.
"Yes, my Lady," she said, dully. Already, captivity had started to dull her eyes.
"How are you?"
"I'm fine," she said. "I heard you were interrogated by the police."
"I was put under house arrest and they kept asking me where you were. I had no answers for them. I assumed you had gone to show Chloe around the city but they asked her and she didn't know where you were, either. Several other Council members were also questioned. I don't know how I can face them since it's my servant that put them in this situation."
"I know that I've shamed you. I can't apologize enough for that."
"Why, Mila? How could you do something that would get not only Ambassador Luthor killed but you as well. I don't understand."
Mila didn't say anything at first then seemed as if she was pulling words from deep inside of her. "While I was on the spaceship, I told them that I did it for your house and I was angry that he was making things worse for you and the Emperor. The truth is that I was afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Hearing you talk about the end of the world . . . It scared me. I never really thought much about the Emperor's dream of everybody going to another planet. I didn't care because I had no desire to do so and I knew that the Council would never agree to it. I didn't care as long as life as I knew it didn't change. I only felt bad for the Emperor because of the hard time other people were giving him. After the Terror Years were over, I just wanted to forget they ever happened. Life had finally gone back to normal. Then that man came and started messing things up again . . ." Mila started to cry. "I know that doesn't explain everything but this is the best that I can do."
"Mila . . . I . . ."
"I'm sorry," said a guard. "It's time for her to go back to her cell."
Kara looked at Kal-El and Lex as they stood together. "Are you sure this is what you want?"
The two men turned to each other, gave each other a little smile and looked back at her. "Yes," said Kal-El. "I've realized that I can't save everyone but the least I can do is establish a safe haven for the people who can be saved. We are going to find a way so that Krypton doesn't fade with its sun."
"Yes, Lady Kara."
"Are you sure you won't miss your home world?"
Lex thought for a second. "I would be lying to say that I won't miss Earth. On the other hand, creating a new world from the ground up with Kal-El . . . that's something I wouldn't miss for the world." He reached out for Kal-El's hand and their fingers interlaced.
Kal-El said, "Take care of Krypton for me. Maybe once they see that Kryptonians can be happy off-planet, more of them will emigrate."
"Perhaps." Kara looked doubtful, however.
As Lex and Kal-El walked towards the ship together, Kara found herself envious of them.
Chloe watched as the red sun set in the east, the sky full of wispy clouds. She had just uploaded her last column about how she felt about finding out that her friend and guide to Krypton had turned out to be behind the attempted murder of another friend to the Daily Planet server and had packed her bags for her shuttle tomorrow. The Kryptonian winter had just begun and she was glad that she'd come home just in time to miss it and see springtime in Kansas. She thought about the past year. She had loved going to somewhere and reporting about things to which few people had access. She had met a lot of people that she would never have met otherwise.
However, she was ready to go home.
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