It was the bombing of his government office that convinced Jor-El that he had to send his son off-planet to a trusted business associate until the situation on Krypton stabilized. He was willing to risk his life to stand up to the threat Zod represented and his wife believed in what they were doing but they wanted Kal-El to be as far away from this as possible. While he was a little nervous since he had only known her a few years, the fact that she was already taking good care of a child that wasn't biologically hers helped to reassure him.
He sat in his home office, turned on his holographic projector and waited for the link to connect.
A hologram of a red-haired woman dressed in a business suit stood before him. "Jor-El."
"Mrs. Luthor," said Jor-El. "I asked you to take some time in considering my proposal. Are you sure you can . . ."
"I'm sure," said Martha. "I'll be glad to take him in."
"I've told you how yellow sunlight affects my people. Kal-El may be quite a handful after a few days."
"Yes, and I'm sure the countermeasures that you've told me about will be enough."
"This should only be for a short time . . . until things become more stable," he said. "I wouldn't send him so far away if I wasn't worried about his safety. I don't want my fear to compromise my actions."
"I understand. His staying at my house won't be a burden. My son would enjoy having a playmate. He's actually been asking for a brother for a while."
"I've set up an account in Switzerland for his care and return to Krypton. If there is any need for more funds . . ."
"I'll be sure to tell you if there's any need but I'm sure that you've put in more than enough. And it's not like I don't have my own resources," she said. "When will Kal-El be coming?"
"Within one of your months."
"Kal-El is coming to live with us?"
"Yes, he will be living for about a year, maybe longer."
"He's from outer space?"
"He's from another planet called Krypton."
"Does he have tentacles?"
Martha laughed. "No, he doesn't. He looks just like you and me. I have a little hologram of him I'll show you later."
"How old is he?"
"His father says that he's about your age. He says he's taught Kal-El some English so you two will be able to talk to each other."
"What's his planet like?"
Martha thought for a few seconds before saying, "Going to Krypton is a lot like going to a foreign country. It takes a while to learn the language and the customs but I found them to be a lot like people here. Overall, it's quieter, less crowded and colder there. The sky is a different color and they have two moons. It's a bit like stepping into the future over there since they're so technologically ahead of us."
"Can I go there?"
"Not right now, maybe later."
"Do you think Kal-El likes Warrior Angel?"
"I doubt he knows much about it but you could teach him all about it when he gets here. However, you might have to be patient with him because he's going to be homesick."
"It's when you're away from home and you miss your family and the house you live in."
"Why aren't his parents coming?"
"His parents have to stay behind because they have work to do that's very important but a bit dangerous and they don't want Kal-El to get hurt."
"They aren't sick, are they?"
Martha looked at the little bald boy sitting before her and felt sad that he'd even think that. It was no wonder, though, considering that his father had died of liver cancer and his mother from heart problems. As for himself, his baldness had been caused when a disabled Kryptonian warship had appeared out of warp and blown up over Kansas. "No, no they're not, Lex."
"Do you think he'll like macaroni and cheese?"
"We'll see when he gets here."
"Kal-El, wake up, it's snowing," said Lex. He had waited up only to have Martha walk in, tired and carrying a sleeping boy with dark hair in her arms. She had taken the boy upstairs, got him to change into his pajamas and put him to bed in the guest bedroom that she had set up for him. This was the first time that Lex had laid eyes on him in the light of day and he couldn't stop looking. He reached out and shook his shoulder. "Hey, hey."
"Snowing?" said Kal-El as he opened his bright green eyes and saw the bald little boy in sky blue pajamas sitting on top of his bed, looking back at him. He looked outside the window and saw white powder was falling from the sky.
"Who . . . are you?" said Kal-El, looking confused and a little cross at being awakened.
"I'm Alexander Luthor but you can call me Lex," he said, suddenly feeling a little shy. "My mommy picked you up."
"Let's make a snowman."
"What's a snowman?"
"Let Lex show you what one is, Kal-El," said Martha. "But first let's get the both of you dressed first."
After they were dressed in layers of clothes and boots, they ran out into the backyard where everything was now coated in white.
"Is there any snow on Krypton?" said Lex.
"There is but I never got to play in it because it wasn't safe for me to play outside."
"That's just wrong," said Lex.
Martha watched as Lex showed Kal-El how to make a snowball and the entertainment value of throwing it at someone before they finally decided to make a snowman. She sighed, wondering what Lionel would have thought of this situation if he was alive. He would probably have tried to squeeze every single ounce of advantage he could from the situation, she thought. She had loved him but wasn't completely blind to his propensities. Still, she missed having someone to talk to and depend on. "Mabel," she said to the maid.
"Yes, Martha," said Mabel.
"Could you bring three cups of cocoa with a bit of whip cream on top? I think that the boys will want something hot to drink after playing out in the snow."
"Very good. Shall I bring some currant scones as well?"
"That's a good idea."
By the time they finished making the snowman and ran inside, there was three cups of cocoa on the table as well as a plate with several warm scones. "Cold, cold," said Lex, shivering as Martha helped to take off his jacket.
"You're not cold, Kal-El?" said Martha, noticing that he wasn't shivering.
Kal-El shook his head no.
After she finished helping to take off their jackets and boots, they sat down and began drinking their cocoa.
"Well, Kal-El," said Martha. "I want to welcome you to our city of Metropolis and to our home. We're both glad to have you here."
"Thank you," said Kal-El, smiling and showing off his dimples.
There was something very charming about the little boy, a sweet alchemy of cuteness and shyness and vulnerability that drew her to him. She had to stop and scold herself that he was only a temporary visitor though the visit would be a rather long one. And she noted by the way that Lex was beaming at Kal-El that she wasn't the only one taking a shine to him.
"I took a few days off for the holidays and because of your arrival so how about we go out to the museum and take you skating."
"Lex?" said Kal-El as the limousine driver drove them back home after a day of fun. It turned out that Kal-El liked dinosaurs, ice skating and Earth specialties like hot dogs and ice cream. He had been very surprised to find that cars on Earth ran on wheels instead of hovering above the ground and TV programs on Earth were still being shown on flat screens.
"Yeah," said Lex.
"What happened here?" said Kal-El, petting Lex on the head.
Lex defensively put his hands on his head. "I lost my hair."
"Kal-El, maybe you should . . ." said Martha.
"There was an accident," said Lex.
Kal-El kissed Lex on top of his head. "I like it."
Lex rubbed the spot he was kissed and scowled. He swatted Kal-El who just smiled back at him.
Martha was about to order that lunch be prepared when she felt her cell phone vibrate. She flipped it open and saw that the holographic projector she had gotten from Krypton was informing her that Jor-El was trying to reach her. She turned to the maid and said, "Get Kal-El and bring him to my office, his father wants to talk to him."
Martha walked into her home office downstairs and turned on the holographic projector. A tall dark-haired man stood dressed in robes of primary colors. His wife, also dark-haired, stood next to him. "How is our son?" said Lara.
"He's doing well," said Martha. "He should be here shortly."
Kal-El was shown into the room. "Udah, Umah," he yelled, running towards them and trying to grasp them only to see his hands go through the projections.
From seeing his shoulders sag and his head slump forward, Martha could see that he was crushed.
His parents quietly talked with him in Kryptonian. With her imperfect knowledge of the language, she got bits and pieces of what they were talking about. Kal-El asked when he could come home. Jor-El telling him that he had to stay with the Luthors for now and that he couldn't come home yet. Lara reassuring him that they wouldn't have sent him away if they could've kept him with them. After a while, Kal-El started to cry and ran out of the room.
The maid said, "I'll get him," before closing the door.
Martha said, "Is there anyway that you or one of you could move here to be with him? If it's a matter of paperwork, my father's firm could file it and get it through in a matter of . . ."
"I can't leave Krypton. I'm one of the main organizers of the Truth and Freedom party. If I were to leave the planet, it would damage its standing in the coming elections and I can't let Zod," he said, referring to the leader of the Strength and Unity party, "get any stronger than he already has."
"As for me, I'm afraid that if I were to resign from my present post as scientific advisor to the Prime Minister, someone affiliated with Zod would fill my post. Also, it would weaken my husband's position. What we're doing is trying to make Krypton a planet worth returning for our son. Either of us leaving would postpone that day, maybe forever."
"I . . . see," said Martha though in truth, she had a hard time understanding. "You will be in contact with him regularly?"
"Yes," said Jor-El. "We plan on speaking with him every week. If it get to the point that our contacts becomes erratic, please believe that the situation has become much worse.
"I've visited your planet but I didn't realize that things were so bad," she said.
"I'm guessing that you were restricted to the area close to the designated economic zones. I'm sure that you saw a lot of police officers and soldiers patrolling the area."
"Yes, I do remember that," said Martha, remembering the large numbers of men and women in uniform, outside the square near her hotel on Krypton.
"I'm hoping that improvement will be coming shortly," said Lara though her grim expression belied her words.
Kal-El shook his head. "No." Lex had asked him to try some the previous night and he had enjoyed it.
"How about Warrior Angel?"
Kal-El shook his head again.
Meanwhile on the television, Warrior Angel and Devilicus were fighting a common enemy called The Doll Master who used energy strings and mind control to make other people fight them while he tried to make his get away.
"Can Warrior Angel defeat anyone?" said Kal-El.
"Then why hasn't he defeated Devilicus?"
"Well, sometimes he does. Devilicus was in Tartarus a few episodes ago," Lex said referring to the name of the maximum security prison that was deep underground where Devilicus served out his various prison sentences.
"Then what is he doing there?" said Kal-El, pointing at the screen as Devilicus shot rays of fire out of his eyes. .
"Warrior Angel decided to let him out so they could fight together against their common enemy."
Kal-El sighed because he was so confused.
"Do you have comic books on Krypton?"
Kal-El thought for a bit. "Some stories have pictures like the legend of Naman and Segeeth."
"Really? Can I see them?"
"But you can't read Kryptonian."
"You could read it to me and teach me to read it."
Kal-El smiled at that. "OK." He zipped to his room and zipped back with a big book of Kryptonian mythology.
"That's so cool," said Lex, his eyes shining with appreciation.
"No, going fast like that."
Kal-El giggled as he held the book in front of his face.
Damn it, thought Martha as she freshened up her make-up, took one last glance in her compact mirror before shutting it and throwing it into her desk drawer at work. I hate doing PR.
"Perry White is here," said her secretary.
"Let him in," said Martha wearily. Perry White was the reporter from the Daily Planet. She had never particularly liked that newspaper. In fact, she thought it was a little more than The Inquisitor with a more sedate style and a couple of Pulitzers.
"Hello, Mrs. Luthor," said Perry, looking rather smug and self-satisfied.
"Hello, Mr. White," she said.
Noticing that she wasn't smiling, Perry said, "Relax, I left the hatchets at home."
"I still remember articles in your newspaper wondering whether Lionel and I hooked up prior to Lillian's death."
"I didn't write those particular articles," said Perry.
"But your newspaper published them."
"I'm not personally responsible for what the gossip columnist writes. And you should know a marriage little more than a year after her death was bound to raise eyebrows."
"And I remember that you were investigating to see whether or not my company was doing various unethical experiments."
"And I admit that you've been running a clean operation though I can't say the same for your late husband. Now can we proceed with the interview?"
"I hear that your company has been doing well despite the restrictions that have been imposed on interplanetary business with Krypton."
"We're still profitable. Luthorcorp beat the analysts' projections by a percentage point. We're hoping that this is merely a temporary setback"
"I heard that you have a new addition to your family."
"Can we go off record?"
"All right," said Perry, turning off his recorder.
"I'm taking in the son of a friend and exposing the identity of the child's parents isn't something I want to do at this time."
"Are the parents in some sort of trouble?"
"They haven't done anything legally wrong if that's what you mean. They sent their son to me for his own safety. I'm willing to answer questions regarding everything else."
"Do we have an understanding?" said Martha coolly.
"Yes, we do. Though I hope I won't be blamed if the Inquisitor happens to start nosing around the same area of inquiry."
"Oh, I'll think of something."
Looking at the frosty expression in her eyes, Perry sensed that while Lionel was an iron fist, Martha was an iron fist in a velvet glove. He smiled. "Let's go back on record."
"Kal, this is your new tutor," said Martha. The last time she had conversed with Jor-El and Lara regarding his education, she was told that information was often downloaded directly into a student's brain. Once done, much of the education consisted of learning to use and interpret the data. So they weren't too worried about him being behind in his studies. However, since he was to be on Earth for an extended period of time, they acknowledged that he needed to be taught about the planet he was living on and in the way that people were educated there.
"Yes, a personal teacher," said Martha. "We're going to give you a test to see what you already know and she'll teach you what you need to learn. Once we're sure that you understand certain things, we'll send you to the same school Lex will be going to in the fall.
After a day's worth of testing, the tutor Annabelle Chang said, "While I have to send the tests in to be processed, it would appear that he's actually several grades ahead when it comes to math and science. However, there are some rather unusual deficits in his vocabulary and occasionally, he uses a foreign language that I'm really not familiar with. It's not Spanish, Cantonese or . . . Is it Arabic or Russian?"
"Can you get him up to speed with his vocabulary?"
"Yes, that shouldn't be a problem. He really has quite an amazing memory. All I had to do is one run-through with some flash cards and he picked up quite the entire batch of words. I think I'll enjoy tutoring him."
"I'm glad to hear that. I'd also like Lex to attend the tutoring sessions as well. It would be good for the both of them to study together."
However, once they started the drive to the actual town, the boys calmed down and looked out at the scenery. "What's that?" said Kal-El, pointing at the fields of gold outside.
"Wheat," said Martha. "I think."
"We eat that?" said Lex.
"A part of it. Grain is harvested, separated from the inedible parts then turned into food like bread."
"Are we going to see cows?" said Kal-El.
"Maybe," said Martha. "We'll definitely be seeing farmers and their vegetables."
"Oh," said Kal-El.
"Kal-El?" said Lex.
"Are there cows on Krypton?"
Kal-El shook his head. "There are grekaro but we don't drink their milk, we just eat their meat."
"Do they moo?"
"No, they honk."
Once their driver parked the BMV near the farmers' market, Martha took the boys out. Despite efforts not to stand out, their casual wear drew attention to them. Their jeans and jackets had designer labels and were brand new in stark contrast to the worn clothes the farmers were wearing.
"Lex, Kal, hold hands," said Martha, knowing that Kal-El was less likely to zip around since he knew Lex couldn't keep up with him.
They stopped before a stall and Martha admired the apples when she heard someone say, "Hello, are you staying here for a while?"
She looked up to see a ruggedly handsome blond farmer smiling at her. "Oh, the kids and I are just visiting for the day. I'm Martha. This is my son Lex and this is . . . Kal," she said. "I guess we really don't blend in. I was just trying to show the boys where our food comes from."
"I appreciate the effort," said Jonathan.
"My boys especially like apples and they've been asking to see some cows."
"I happen to have some dairy . . ."
"Jonathan, don't flirt with the customers . . ."
Martha and Jonathan turn to see a dark-haired woman holding the hand of a little dark-haired girl.
Jonathan smiled a little crookedly at Martha. "Oh, this is my fiancee Nell Potter and the little girl is her niece Lana Lang." He turned back to Nell and said, "Nell, don't be jealous."
Nell narrowed her eyes. "Aren't you Martha Luthor, head of Luthorcorp?"
Jonathan blinked in surprise. "You're Martha Luthor?"
Martha sighed, "Yes, I just wanted to take my boys out for an outing without flaunting the fact . . ."
"My name is Lana Lang," said the little girl to the two boys. She was wearing a pink dress with matching headband and was fingering her necklace, a coquettish smile on her face..
"Hi," said Lex.
Lana walked straight towards Kal-El only to have him abruptly take a few steps back. He yelled, "You make me sick!"
Lana scrunched up her nose, turned to her aunt and yelled, "He's being mean to me!"
"That was rude!" said Martha until she noticed that Kal-El really did look sick and actually a little green.
"Mommy," said Lex. "He looks like he's going to barf."
Martha picked up Kal-El, took Lex's hand and said, "Excuse me. He may be having a reaction to something nearby."
Nell bent down and sniffed. "Lana, you've been into my perfume again!"
"That's probably it," Martha said, improvising an explanation, as she continued to hustle the kids away from the situation. "Certain scents make breathing hard for him."
"I'm sorry about . . ." said Jonathan.
"He just needs a little air," she said.
When they were twenty feet away, Kal-El said, "I'm OK now."
Martha looked back and realized that the necklace the girl was wearing had a green fragment of Kryptonite. It must be wreckage from the starship that exploded over Kansas. Why in the world is she wearing it around her neck? What a dreadful thing to give to a child, she thought.
As she got near her car, she heard, "Please wait."
She turned around to see Jonathan looking apologetic. "I'm sorry your son reacted like that. Is he all right?" Honest concern was on his face.
"Yes, now he is."
"I happen to have some cows on my farm . . . If you like, I could give you and your boys a personal tour . . ."
Martha looked over his shoulder and saw Nell frowning. "I don't think it's a good idea. I better go." With that she got in the car and had the driver drive off.
"Martha," said Kal-El as he walked into her home office as she looked at some contracts.
"Kal-El, it's past your bedtime."
"Udah and Umah haven't called in a long time," he said as he padded over to her.
She put down her papers. "I know. I've tried to call them several times this week but I haven't been getting an answer. I even left a message to both of their offices but I haven't heard back yet."
"Do you think something happened?"Kal-El started to look a little scared.
"I don't know, dear heart," she said. She had been trying to use what connections she had to find out what was going on. "I know that elections are coming up in a week. Perhaps your parents will be in contact with us after they are over." However, she knew that there had been outbreaks of violence at rallies held for both parties.
"When I go back home, will you and Lex be coming with me?"
"I'm afraid not."
"I don't want to go back then," he said.
"No!" he said. "It's not fair."
"You won't need us. Your parents . . ."
"No!" he said before running off.
She got up from her desk and looked throughout the entire house only to find him sitting next to Lex on his bed, speaking Kryptonian to Lex and Lex responding back in Kryptonian that he would always take care of him and be there for him. Quietly, she stepped back and went back to her office.
"I'm sorry," said Jor-El. "I know that it is well past midnight where you are."
"I'm sure that you wouldn't have called if it wasn't important. Should I wake up Kal-El?" said Martha, noticing that the background wasn't his home office or Lara's laboratory this time.
"There's no time," said Jor-El. "Before election results were announced, Zod and his forces have taken over the capital. He's about to announce that all communication and trade between our two planets will be severed. Diplomats from your planet have already been scheduled to leave tomorrow. Also, anybody who refuses to kneel to his authority will be crushed."
"Therefore we need to ask you a favor," said Lara.
"Go on," said Martha.
"I don't see that Kal-El will be able to come back anytime soon. We've already asked a diplomat friend of ours to personally deliver several items of ours for him and to defray the cost of raising him. I'd like you to adopt him."
"His home from now on is going to be on Earth. If he comes back to Krypton now, he'll have the rather nasty choice of living with parents who are going to be on the run or picked up by Zod to be used as an `example.'"
"You mean he'd kill Kal-El?"
"No, he'd personally turn him into his biggest follower and have him denounce us," said Jor-El with a grimace. "If you can't, could you please expedite the adoption of him to another . . ."
"I'll adopt Kal-El though it's going to be hard to explain . . .."
"I've already sent a message for our son through different channels so he'll understand that this is not an unilateral decision on your part," said Lara. There was the sound of a knock on the door. She turned to look back then looked at Martha. "I'm sorry but I have to end this transmission."
There was a click and Kal-El's parents were gone.
Martha slumped in her chair.
Standing in a hanger in the middle of a deserted part of Kansas several miles away from Metropolis, Martha was staring at the remains of the Kryptonian ship that had blown up over Kansas fifteen years ago. Ever since Krypton had cut off trade and communications with Earth after the ascension of Zod, the spaceships that had connected their worlds had never come back, leaving humans again earthbound. Ever since then, the government had made it a top priority to retro-engineer a functioning spaceship. Both Luthercorp and Wayne Enterprises had been hired to work together on this problem.
"Martha . . ."
"Hello, Lucius," Martha said as she turned to welcome the head of the research and development division of Wayne Enterprises.
The man sighed. "All these years and we've found out so very little about how it really works."
Martha smiled, "I wouldn't say that. We know that the ship was built out of a quasi-sentient metal alloy and some of the physics and mathematics behind interstellar flight. Not to mention that some of the spinoff products have been quite lucrative for all parties involved."
"Still, we don't have a working ship."
"It's just a matter of time," said Martha.
"How are the boys?"
"They're doing well in school and staying out of trouble but they're an age where you long for the time when you could just put them in a corner and do time-outs . . ."
"Yes," said Lucius. "I know how difficult the teenage years can be."
"Are you speaking of Bruce Wayne?"
"Shh, don't tell him."
As he slowed down, he looked up at the stands and enjoyed the cheers. However, he noticed that there was someone missing. Where's Lex, he thought.
Coach Jerry Stevens ran up to him and said, "You see, Kal. You just need to apply yourself. You could totally kick ass if you just try more often."
"Coach . . . It's not something I can do every time, "Kal said. The coach was persistent in wanting him to pushing himself harder. Jerry once had Olympic dreams but had failed to realize them. As a result, he was always on the lookout for anybody with talent.
"But you could do it more often. Anyway, joining the team for pizza?"
"Um," said Kal. "Sorry but I have to go home."
Wearing nothing but a black Speedo, Lex sat on the edge of the mansion's indoor pool with his feet in the water, a little tired from having done several laps.
"I looked for you in the stands but you weren't there."
Lex turned around to see Kal in green bathing trunks. "I thought that after the race, you'd be going out with your friends. Last time I tagged along, I didn't see that they had much enthusiasm for my company."
"I wanted you there. They just have to know you better. Besides, it's been a while since we spent some time together . . ." said Kal as he sat down next to Lex at the edge of the pool.
"It's not that surprising," said Lex as he shrugged. "You've become quite the popular guy." He and Kal had stuck together throughout grade school. Things changed when Kal suddenly had a growth spurt during junior high. Kal entered high school well over six feet tall with clear golden skin and sharp cheekbones, looking more grown-up than many of the seniors. Lex had grown as well but not as much. "People are drawn to you. You're charismatic."
Kal punched him in the shoulder. "Come on."
"Especially with the ladies," said Lex, making a face by puckering up.
Kal pushed him into the water and jumped in. They both laughed a little while splashing water at each other. After a few minutes, Lex said, "Stop, stop . . ."
Kal stopped and looked at Lex, wet and smiling and catching his breath. He saw Lex wipe the water off his head with both his hands and how his nipples were erect from how cool the water was. He waded over to him . . .
"Dinner will be served in fifteen minutes."
Kal turned to see the maid standing in the doorway to the pool and scowled. When he turned back, Lex was already climbing out of the pool.
"We've learned the basic principles about how the ship works but we still can't make another based on what we know," said Martha.
"Is there any way that you could repair the one you have?"
"Parts of it work but we don't have the tools or the spare parts to fix what's wrong with it. We have an idea of what caused it to break apart but . . ." As far as the research scientists could figure out, the ship's quasi-consciousness had a break down and the ship had literally fallen apart.
"What would you do once you make one?" said Kal, wearing a bright green top and darker green pants.
"I guess we've have to test it to make sure it was safe to travel in. We'd do short test runs with animals before graduating to human volunteers. We'd probably try going to the moon, then Mars then further out. But it won't be happening for years," said Martha. And that's being optimistic, she thought. She looked at Kal carefully to see how he was reacting to it but didn't see a change in his expression. She wondered a little at this. He almost never talked about going back but she didn't know if it was because he had given up on the idea or that he didn't want to go. And to be honest with herself, she didn't really want him thinking in that direction. "I do have some other news."
"Oh?" said Lex.
"Lucius said that Bruce Wayne might stop by in Metropolis to take a look at the project next month. If he does, I've decided to invited them over for dinner."
"Really?" said Lex excitedly.
Kal gave Lex a sharp look. "What's so great about him?"
"After a year in Princeton, he disappeared for five years, traveling the world incognito, before he came back. I have a lot of questions for him," said Lex.
Martha raised an eyebrow. "I hope that you are not planning a similar `vacation.'"
"Don't worry, if he does, I'll be sure to come along to keep an eye on him," said Kal.
"That's even worse," scoffed Martha. "And unlike Bruce, I expect the both of you to finish college and not waste your time being billionaire playboys who get in the papers for falling into a nearby fountain with a pair of starlets."
"Yes, Mom," said Lex.
Kal sat down on his bed and called up Cherry Summerland, the girl he was supposed to go out with the same day his mother was inviting Bruce and Lucius for dinner.
"I can't go . . . My mother has a dinner guest that she insists I meet. You can keep the front row ticket though. Take a friend."
"What some old rich fart?"
"Actually, it's Bruce Wayne."
"Bruce Wayne!" she squeaked. "He voted Most Eligible Bachelor in Metropolitan magazine! He's so . . ." Then she stopped, realizing that she was seriously pissing off Kal with her chatter about how cool some other guy was. "Well, ah, have a nice dinner and tell me how it is."
"Yes . . . I'll be sure to do so," said Kal dryly. "Bye."
In a way, he was glad to have to cancel going to the concert with Cherry because while she was nice and pretty, he really didn't like her that way. It was just that she really liked this band and he could get her a good seat. All his buddies on the track team really thought she was hot and that he should go out with her.
He knew that Mom had actually worried about this a bit. After Jor-El and Lara had asked her to adopt him, she had her scientists do a complete work-up with the results stating that his body fluids were completely non-toxic to human beings. However, she had still wondered if his alien status would prevent him from feeling attraction to other people. The problem, however, wasn't that he didn't feel attraction to humans. He did, it was the human that he was feeling attraction to was . . .
"So, was she mad?"
Kal turned around to see Lex walk up to him. "Nah, she actually was excited as you were. Bruce, oh, Bruce!" Kal said, pitching the last sentence in a falsetto.
"Knock it off!" said Lex as he sat down and gave Kal a little elbow in the ribs.
"What . . ."
"So what if I'm a little excited? He sounds like a cool guy."
"I'm not cool anymore?" Kal said, pouting.
"You'll always be the coolest to me. Is something wrong, Kal?" said Lex
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. It's like you're doubting me all of a sudden. Is there something you'd like to say?"
"I don't know . . ."
Lex put his arm around Kal's shoulders. "Hey, listen. I'm here for you. I always will be. As for Bruce . . . for all I know, he might find you to be more interesting than me . . .so maybe I'm the one who should worry."
Kal smiled at that. "I don't think you have anything to worry about . . . Hey, I've been practicing . . ."
Lex's eyes lit up. "Flying?"
"So when are you going to take me flying, Kal?" whispered Lex into his ear. While Martha knew about Kal's strength and speed, the flying was something they had decided to keep between them.
"Soon, very soon," said Kal in a low voice. After Martha had taken a long, long train ride home with the boys after the visit to Smallville, she had decided to have them take a short course of therapy to desensitize them to flying in the helicopter. Also, Lex's love for Warrior Angel comics made him thrill at the kind of flying superheroes did even when he wasn't that fond of the more mundane kind.
"You're not going to take anybody else flying before me?"
"Are my parents coming to take me back?" said Kal. After so many years, the thought made him uneasy instead of jubilant. "Why didn't you say anything before?"
"Unfortunately, they can not come to take you back home. However, I am the way that you may return to your native world. I was set to fully awaken only in emergencies or when I received word that certain events have come to pass."
"How do I know what you're saying is true?"
"I am the Fortress of Solitude that has been handed down throughout the generations of the El family. I have no interest in bringing harm to its heir. Your father would not give his son a means to his own doom."
"Then tell me why my parents can't come here."
"Your parents died during the last stages of the rebellion. I am sorry to tell you this, Kal-El."
Kal-El was left speechless.
"That is why I will leave the decision over whether you'd like to go back to Krypton up to you." With that the voice stopped.
"Luthercorp," said Kal. "I've got something to tell you."
"The crystal my father had delivered to me after Krypton sealed itself off . . ."
"The one on your desk?" Lex said as Kal landed on the roof of Luthorcorp.
Kal put Lex down and Lex unwrapped his arms from around his neck. "Yeah. It told me that Zod's in prison and that it's safe to come back if I want."
Lex felt the chill in the night air once he had left the `field' around Kal that seemed to protect him. "Does this mean that you're going back to Krypton? Are your parents coming back to . . ."
"The crystal told me that they died before Zod was overthrown."
"Kal, I'm so sorry," Lex said, wrapping his arms around him.
"I can't believe it. It doesn't have any reason to lie to me but I can't believe it. I really want to go there and see for myself if it's true. If they did die then I . . . want to pay my respects to them . . ." Kal said as he turned to face Lex. "I don't know how long I'll end up staying there or what's going to happen once I get there but . . ." Being this close to him with their arms around each other and not knowing when he was going to ever see him again, he leaned forward and kissed him. He felt Lex freeze for a second before he felt himself being pulled closer and Lex's hands splayed on his back. When the kiss was over, their faces remained close and their eyes were shining.
"Take me with you!" said Lex breathlessly.
"Take you with me?"
"I'm not going to let you go alone and get stuck there. Besides, Krypton? Come on, a trip to another planet?" This time it was Lex kissing Kal, nearly bringing him to his knees.
"Mom's not going to like this," Kal sighed.
Martha was extremely flabbergasted when she found out that she had a functioning Kryptonian ship under her roof for more than a decade. "That crystal is actually a ship?"she said, pointing at the crystal Kal was holding in his hands. This was one of those times when Martha briefly wondered whether the occasional fantasy where she owned a little cottage in the country and lived the quiet life was worth pursuing.
"According to the Fortress of Silence which is a translation of the ship's name, the crystal is just its toehold in our dimension while the rest of it is in a pocket of subspace for storage until it's needed. It makes it much easier to keep and carry," said Kal. Seeing his mother's shocked expression, he said, "To be honest, I didn't know all this until it told me two days ago."
"It actually spoke to you?"
"Lucius and the others are not going to believe this . . ."
"Can we not tell them?" said Kal. "I'm afraid that if they find about the ship, they'll take it away and do tests on it for years. I need it right now."
Martha sighed. "How can a spaceship be launched without being noticed? Also I can't help but feel bad for the others going over the same data over and over again when I have the answer. Why is it telling you that it's capable of interstellar flight now?"
"It told me that . . . I can go back if I want. It said that Zod's been defeated and that . . . my parents are dead."
"Jor-El and Lara are . . . I'm so sorry, Kal"
"I'll ask the Fortress to help salvage the wreck," said Kal. "Also it said it knows how to cloak its departure. Lex and I will . . ."
"Wait a minute, you're both going?"
Lex and Kal looked at each other. "I'm going with him," said Lex. "He needs me and I want to go."
"Wait a minute, we need to stop and think about this . . . This is not like asking to take the Porsche out for a spin."
The crystal glowed and shimmered with an internal light. "I'm afraid that decision is really up to Kal. If he wants to go and see his people then I will not let anything or anyone stop him."
Martha was quiet for a moment, wishing that she had thrown the crystal into a safe in a foreign country or had it buried deep in an abandoned salt mine. "So, I'm being overruled."
"Mom, come with us!" said Lex.
"I can't. I just can't up and disappear for an unspecified amount of time. Even when we went on vacation, remember all the times that I was called about some emergency at Luthorcorp? And that's when I had everything planned. And if I don't stay behind, who is going to cover for your absences? I also have the project to deal with and it would look extremely strange if even the government couldn't find where I was." Martha furrowed her brow. "Am I supposed to sit down, nod my head and be quiet?"
The Fortress said, "While they're on Krypton, they can contact you through the holographic projector in your home office. I understand why you are worried. However, I am a sentient being that has been a loyal part of the El family for generations and would not send the heir of the family to his death or harm anybody close to him. Also as a Fortress class ship, please believe me when I say that in terms of capabilities I am one of the fastest and most powerful ever created. Krypton has finally become safe enough for him to return and I will use all my powers to protect him and who he chooses to take with him. Kal-El will still retain all the powers given to him by the yellow sun for months even after he leaves Earth. He is as safe as he's ever going to be and you know that this day was going to come, eventually."
"I want to pay my respects to Udah and Umah but you're always going to be Mom," said Kal-El.
"You two had better not be gone for five years," she grumbled.
Kal smiled. "We won't be."
They had gone north, into the Canadian wilderness, far from any sign of civilization. "Is here OK?" said Kal to the crystal.
"This is fine," said the Fortress. "Nobody is around for ten miles around."
Kal threw the crystal and it landed a hundred feet away from them. When it touched the ground, the crystal grew quickly into a crystalline ship several stories tall. An opening to the inside appeared
"Amazing," said Lex. He took a step forward then realized Kal was standing still. "Kal?"
"Now that it's right in front of me, I'm . . . scared."
Lex stood in front of him. "Do you want to go home instead? We could do this another time." He put his hands on Kal's face.
"No, I really should go and I've already said goodbye to Mom so . . ."
Lex slipped his hand into Kal's and they walked toward the ship.
Once the ship slipped back into "normal" space around Krypton, it showed Kal and Lex a picture of the planet below. It was a beautiful planet that reminded them of Earth though there were obvious signs that there had been widespread destruction. The Fortress did some closeups on some sections of the continent showing land pockmarked with a sterile white desert and craters.
"I'm sending identification information," said the ship. After a pause, it said, "I have permission to land. Landfall will be within the hour."
"Nervous?" said Lex.
"Yeah," said Kal.
"I'm nervous, too."
The second they stepped off the spaceship, Lex noticed that the air smelled different and that the light from the sun was tinted red. The sky was a deep purple color and there were two moons in the sky, neither of which looked like the silver orb that hung in Earth's sky. It didn't feel like early summer but late autumn. This really wasn't Kansas, anymore.
Kal and Lex looked around to see a vast circle of people standing around their landing pad. "Isn't that your father's name?" said Lex.
"Yes, it is."
Lex looked around and realized that their spaceship was the only one of its kind there. There were other more (to his eyes at least) conventional spaceships but nothing like the Fortress. He saw a few members of the crowd point behind them and turned around to see that the Fortress was collapsing back into the form of a small crystal.
Within minutes, a silver hovercraft came towards them with the crowd parting before it. The door opened and a beautiful statuesque blond beautiful woman came out, dressed in blue, red and gold. "Kal-El?"
"Yes," said Kal-El.
"I am your cousin Kara Zor-El." She made a small bow.
"So, it's true . . . They're dead," said Kal.
"Yes, I'm sorry to say so, but yes," said Kara.
Kal sighed. "How did it happen?"
"There's a reason why everybody was chanting his name and why they were hoping you were your father. They died saving the world by piloting their ship into the path of a weapon that would have utterly destroyed Krypton. For a second, they were hoping that they had somehow cheated death when they saw you step out of the ship."
"They must be rather disappointed," said Kal.
Kara frowned. "Your return is not a disappointment by any means," she said sternly.
A servant came by and began putting various Kryptonian specialties like cookies, stews and a steamed grain that reminded him of barley on the table. "I assumed that you would be hungry from your journey. I hope these are to your taste since I know it's been a while since you've last eaten them."
"I'm sure they'll be fine," said Kal-El. He took a cookie and found it crispy and a little spicy like a ginger cookie.
"I've already got the tailor to start making you both some clothes. Kal-El, it's nice to see you home."
"Well to be honest, it's been a long time since I called Krypton home." He was beginning to feel rather uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going.
"Your exile must have been excruciating."
"Actually, it was quite pleasant due to the people who took me into their home and their hearts," he said, glancing at Lex, hoping that he wasn't horribly offended. He noticed that Lex's face had become mask-like, something it did when he was trying not to show how irritated he truly was.
"Well, the important thing is that you're here now."
Kal-El frowned quizzically at that. "I'm here to pay my respects to my parents' graves and see for myself what's happened to the world I left behind. Lex has been interested in visiting here ever since I taught him the language."
"You're Jor-El's heir. That means that you inherit your parents' property, their status but also their responsibilities."
"Responsibilities?" said Kal-El.
"You should know that even with Zod's overthrow, electing new leaders and representatives won't be easy. A lot of the older leaders were killed or are now too traumatized by their imprisonment. The Truth and Freedom Party isn't what it used to be."
"That's understandable. But I'm not sure what that has to do with me."
"I need your help in reviving your father's party."
"I have no idea what to do."
"This is a lot to ask of him, especially considering he has just come back after a decade long exile," said Lex. "We don't know what has happened while he's been away."
Kara paused. "You're right. You didn't see the things that I've seen. I'll have my servant bring you up to date with some holograms."
"What have you seen?"
Kara sighed. "After Zod took over, we ended up scattered around the planet. Your father and my father led separate parts of the resistance movement. I wasn't much older than you, Kal-El. My family's tutor took me to her family home on the moon and kept me hidden until Zod was finally taken into custody. I didn't get to see much of my own father."
"How is he? He didn't . . ."
"He's been working as the prime minister during this transition period but I've told him that you are here. If he had known you were coming, he would have been here to welcome his brother's son. If you are interested in learning more about your parents, he and many of the old guard would be the best people in that regard. If he's not at the government office, he's at the Party headquarters."
"Sounds like you don't see much of him," said Lex.
"He's a very important man."
The rest of the dinner was fairly quiet.
After the servant had left after showing them where Kara's holographic projector was and how to reach an offworld address, they waited. The machine buzzed intermittently until a hologram of their mother appeared in front of them. She was wearing a nightgown; apparently she had been about to go to sleep.
"Boys, are you all right?"
"Yeah, Mom, we're fine," said Lex.
"I'm so relieved."
"How was dinner with Bruce and Lucius?" said Lex. "I'm sorry we missed it."
Kal snorted at that.
"Sadly, Bruce couldn't come. Lucius said something about a sports injury. Nothing too serious though. So, it was just me and Lucius," said Martha. "I told him that since school was over, you two had decided to visit some friends up North. How is Krypton?"
"It's different than what I imagined even though I didn't know what to expect," said Lex. "We've met Kal's cousin Kara."
"What is she like?"
"She's . . . been a good host," said Kal. He knew that she meant well but he had found her hard to get along with since he found her manner brusque and dismissive, especially towards Lex.
"And about Jor-El and . . ."
"What the Fortress said is true."
"I hoped that it was mistaken. Jor-El and Lara were good people. I'm sad to hear that. Please send the family my condolences."
"We will. You better go to sleep. This is a weeknight, isn't it?"
Martha made a face. "I'm the one who's supposed to be the mother here. I better let you go.."
After the communication had ended, they went back to their room where a servant was waiting for them in front of the door to their room. "Is there something you need to tell us?"
"Yes, I am here to take your measurements," she said.
"To get you some decent clothes, of course." The servant took out a small wand that shone a light that seemed to wrap itself around Kal before she turned to use it on Lex. "The ones you came with are completely unsuitable."
Lex raised an eyebrow. "Unsuitable . . ."
"Well, Kryptonian fashions are different . . ." said Kal.
"While your clothes are being made, Kara would like you to see these." The servant handed Kal a small metal box. Kal opened it up and several octagonal disks.
One memory chip answered Lex's question about why their ship was the only one of its kind at the spaceport. The rest of the ships had been destroyed in the war. Zod had contaminated most of the ships with a Brainiac virus that made the ships' AIs subservient only to him. Towards the end of the war, Zod had decided that if he couldn't rule Krypton then he was going to take it down with him. So he commanded his entire fleet of ships to go outside the solar system, circle back at the speed of light and hit the planet, causing the major tectonic plates to buckle and crack from the impact.
Several of Zod's own technicians thwarted part of his plan by using a counter program so that many of the ships plunged into the sun instead. The other ships that would have hit Krypton were intercepted by drones programmed by Jor-El going light speed in the opposite direction, causing their mutual destruction. However, one slipped through the defenses and was minutes away from Krypton when the Jor-El and Kara had piloted their ship directly into its path. That night was called "The Night the Stars Exploded."
Unfortunately, Zod had also infected the matrixes where the ships were developed. This meant that they had to be thoroughly destroyed to prevent any further contamination. It wasn't simply the facilities that had to be decontaminated but also the surrounding area around and beneath the buildings. New matrixes had been created but the process of creating a ship from scratch would take decades.
The Fortress that Kal had carried with him from the spaceport spoke up for the first time since its landing on Krypton. "If you are going to explore the planet, I would like to come along. There are some things I'd like to show you."
"Should I dispose of the clothes you were wearing?"
"No, no, we need them back. Just clean them," said Kal.
"After you have finished dressing, please come down to breakfast," she said.
Kal laid out the clothes he had been given on the bed. He was amused that they reminded him a little of the clothes in the Warrior Angel Comics that Lex enjoyed so much. They appeared to be form-fitting with detachable capes. He slipped into the one meant for him.
"Hmm, interesting . . ."
Kal turned around to see Lex awake, sitting up and raising an eyebrow. "She brought you some clothes as well." He held up the red and black suit created for Lex.
Lex cast his critical eye on his outfit and said, "I think I got the better of the two suits."
After they had finished eating, the servant told Kal that he could borrow one of Kara's hovercraft that could run on automatic pilot. After escorting them to where it was parked, she left to finish her other duties. Once he and Lex were inside, he quietly asked that he be taken to where a marker above an empty grave was standing at the Memorial Garden of the Fallen. The automated hovercraft finally stopped in front of the large field that was dotted with acres of black markers. Kal blinked several times and said shakily, "It didn't feel real until now."
Lex put his arms around him and gave him a comforting hug. "Sometimes, it takes a while to hit you."
"So many people died," Kal said. "There are thousands of markers out there. And this isn't the only cemetery."
They quickly found the marker that had Jor-El and Lara's names, that stood above an empty grave. Lex looked around. "It looks like they don't lay flowers on graves."
"No, it's not the custom," said Kal. "The custom here is to burn a letter with everything you want to say and that anything written on them will reach them." Kal took out an envelope and set it inside the little urn on top of the marker and lit it on fire with a touch of his heat vision.
As the fire turned the paper into ash, Lex said, "What did you write about?"
"I wrote about life on Earth, about you and Mom, I told them that . . . they made the right choice, that I thank them for sending me to your family," said Kal as he took Lex's hand in his. "I could've been one of those people lying underneath a marker."
They went back to the automated hovercraft. "Where would you like to go next?" it said.
Lex said, "Kara said that some of your parents' old friends are still alive. Maybe they could tell you more about your parents."
Remembering how people chanted his father's name, he hesitated before saying, "Maybe I'll talk to them tomorrow. Right now, I think I want to see if my parents' house still looks the way I remember."
As the hovercraft flew them toward their destination, Kal said, "When I left Krypton to go to your house, I didn't have that many memories of my life here. Most of what I remember is my parents talking in another room with other adults, bending down to telling me to be a good boy and leaving to take care of business. After Mom told me that I was to stay because my parents couldn't come back for me . . . I kept waiting. After a while, they started to fade away."
When they got there however, they found that the house was already occupied by another family. Two children were playing in the front yard while their mother was watching them from her chair on the porch. "Maybe you could ask them for look inside because you used to live there?" said Lex.
Kal shook his head. "No, they probably took down everything and it's their house now, anyway. Lex?"
"I'm glad you're here."
Lex smiled. "I wouldn't be anywhere else."
They went for a walk through the park across the street from his former home. It was an enormous one that encompassed a small lake, a vast playground and multiple footpaths that took them past various eateries, museums and public works of art. A gardening robot quietly and efficiently sucked up the fallen leaves off the grass, making the park immaculate but somewhat sterile looking.
"My mom said that if things had been different, she would have taken me with her on one of her business trips here," said Lex.
"We could've met on Krypton."
"But you wouldn't have moved here."
Lex shook his head. "No."
"I doubt we could've played out here. My parents were afraid that I would be kidnapped or hurt back then. But now . . . things feel a lot different from back then." Kal sighed. "Where do you want to eat? It's almost lunch time."
"How about one of those places over there?" said Lex, pointing to a nearby eatery.
Once they walked in, the host seated them at a table near a window with a lake-side view. They looked at the menu which offered grekaro cooked several different ways. As they were about to order, the waitress said, "Are you Kal-El?"
"Um, yeah, I am," said Kal, looking rather surprised at being recognized.
"I heard about your arrival on the network. I can't believe I'm talking to the son of Jor-El. I can't imagine being isolated that long from . . ."
"If you don't mind, I'd like to order something," said Lex.
She shot him a rather displeased look but said curtly, "Your order?"
After she took their orders, Lex raised an eyebrow.
Kal shrugged helplessly, looking rather chagrined..
Lex smiled. "Maybe she was trying to flirt with you," he whispered, knowing that Kal could hear him without obviously saying it into his ear.
Kal gave him a quick shake of the head no before ducking his head in embarrassment.
"Is it safe to go near that area?" said Kal.
"Yes," said the Fortress.
"Then why isn't anybody else there?" he said, noticing that even animals seemed to avoid this area and that there was no visible plant life.
"Because it's basically a graveyard. The craters and the white deserts are where the matrixes and Zod's laboratories were completely sterilized. Nothing will grow here for a few more years. Nobody wanted to build over and live on such a desolate area. Eventually, though, nature will reclaim this area and it will be like nothing had ever happened," said the Fortress.
A thought came to Lex. "You're the only survivor, aren't you?" said Lex.
The Fortress was quiet for a moment. "Yes, I suppose I am. The same exile that protected Kal-El was what kept me uncontaminated and safe."
The hovercraft stopped several yards away from the edge of the desert. Lex hesitantly reached down and let the white salt-like sand slip through his fingers. "They are making more ships," said Lex. "You won't be alone forever."
"Yes, but all the ships created before me are gone. Some of them were from the Golden Age of Discovery thousands of years ago. The ships didn't simply allow Kryptonians to travel the stars but were repositories of knowledge and history. He not only tried to destroy Krypton's present, he succeeded in destroying much of its past. It's not without reason that Zod and his minions were imprisoned in the Phantom Zone," said the crystal.
"I'm sorry," said Kal, trying to grasp what had been destroyed.
"Well, what is done is done. After you are finished with viewing this area, I was wondering if you would like to tour the new matrixes. While the hovercraft was driving you here, I contacted the head of the Transportation Department and got permission for us to tour the facilities. It's usually open to only people with the proper clearance but that was waved for us."
"That sounds fascinating," said Lex, sounding truly enthused.
"Yeah, let's go," said Kal, after taking one more look at the wasteland.
The Fortress said, "There are several footpaths leading to the facility. Just walk down one of them. Once you get close enough, the facility will inform you of your clearance status. Walk slowly into the wall and an opening will form in front of you."
They did as it said and after the facility confirmed their clearance status, the wall opened up for them. As they walked in, the opening behind them instantly closed and appeared to be a solid wall once again.
Once inside, Lex said, "What would've happened if someone unauthorized tried to break in."
"I believe there would be most unpleasant consequences especially if one was claustrophobic . . ." it said. "The director of this facility will be here momentarily."
Within seconds, a tall, blond and overly cheerful man came into view riding a small version of the hovercraft. "Greetings, Kal-El and . . . friend" the man said, noticeably searching mentally for a name but failing. "I hope that you've brought the Fortress with you."
"Yes, I . . . have," said Kal. "Let me introduce you to my friend, Lex Luthor. He's from Earth. Thanks for allowing us to come in."
The man bowed his head toward Lex. "My name is Jen-Doh, manager of this facility. Please take a seat."
After taking a service elevator down, they were shown several robots tending several vats of clear liquid; each vat seemed to be the size of an Olympic swimming pool. "What are they doing?" said Lex.
"They're tending the matrix where the crystals are being developed. Once developed, we plan on arranging them into an artificial neural net," said Jen-Doh as he drove by slowly.
"It sounds like you're trying to create a brain."
"We are though on a much larger scale. The problem with the procedure is the low rate of success and lack of a template. What we're aiming for is not simply a high-level computer but an actual consciousness. We can't let you into the actual room because we're trying to keep the environment sterile and the atmosphere in the production area is too hot and toxic for Kryptonians to tolerate for any length of time."
The director showed them another room. It had several men and women looking at various designs and diagrams and holograms. "They've been looking over some of the old patterns and deciding which of these are the most feasible. I'd introduce you to them but I'm afraid of interrupting the creative process at the moment."
He drove them to another room. Inside the room were several scientists that were looking over an irregularly shaped crystal the size of a car. "Is that a ship?" said Kal.
"No, it's actually a prototype that failed," sighed Jen-Doh. "What they're doing is basically an autopsy to see why it failed to form properly. There are many others like it as well." To illustrate his point, he drove them to other rooms where other failed prototypes were being examined. Some looked burned or melted. Others were in pieces.
Lex said, "How do you travel between the main planet and the moons?"
"We do have old-style `dumb' transport ships that can travel to the moons and back but we are otherwise restricted to this solar system. It takes an AI to do the necessary higher dimensional calculations necessary for interstellar travel."
"I can't imagine the amount of effort and time it took to create a fleet in the first place," said Lex.
"You have to understand that while originals were made this way most of the ones that were destroyed were offshoots of previously existing ships."
"Are you saying that basically the ships cloned themselves?"
Jen-Doh nodded. "As ships gained in complexity, they often decided to improve upon themselves. One eventually figured out a way to create a copy of itself that was much more powerful and versatile. Not only that, but that ship eventually taught the other ships how to do so. The ships began swapping improvement ideas and programs amongst themselves. This enabled the ships to create future generations and even allow for evolution. After several generations, the ships had altered greatly from their original designs and it became easier to depend on the ships' ability to reproduce to supply our need. That is why I need to ask you a great favor."
"What kind of favor?" said Kal.
"You are in possession of the only known Fortress class ship left. I am requesting on the behalf of Krypton that my facility be allowed to study it."
Kal suddenly felt uneasy and looked at Lex, who frowned. Lex said, "We'd like to help in any way we can but we'd like to know exactly to what extent you're . . ."
"I'd like to use it as the new template for ships, study its formation and see if the Fortress can create several offshoots of itself."
"You're not going to take it apart, are you?" said Kal.
"No, no, I have no plans on destroying it. I don't particularly want to join Zod and his followers into the Phantom Zone," he said, looking shocked and alarmed at the very idea.
"That sounds like it'll take a lot of time," said Lex.
The director blinked in his direction. "Oh, I see . . . I reassure you that we can wait until you are returned to your home world before studies begin in earnest." Then he turned his attention to Kal. "Kal-El, please consider our proposal. If you like, you can oversee our operation. If it is a matter of compensation, I'm sure that our budget can fully cover . . ."
"I think that you should be asking the Fortress."
"I did," the director said. "The Fortress said that it would only do so if you were agreeable."
Kal frowned. "I . . . would like to think about this."
The director looked rather disappointed but put on a smile anyway. "Please inform me of your decision as soon as possible." He coughed in his hand and said, "Next is an interactive presentation on the principles of higher dimensional math and physics behind interstellar travel."
That night they stayed in a luxury hotel room in the city of Kryptonopolis. After giving Kara's servant a message that they would be staying there due to how far they had traveled, they had settled in. Outside their window was a vast skyline that showed a massive sprawl of buildings that reminded Lex of some of the metropolises around Earth except the architecture was distinctly different from any type that he had seen on Earth. The buildings weren't made of glass, concrete and sharp angles but crystals, curves and colors. There was also the bay where the water reflected the color of the sky. He stood by the window, looking out at this in awe, knowing that he was the first person from Earth to see this. While other people had been to Krypton, this had not been a city open to outsiders at the time.
He pointed out at the horizon. "Hey, take a look."
They went out on the hotel room's balcony and watched the sunset. The sky was a riot of color that reminded Lex of an abstract painting he had once seen at the Guggenheim. "It's beautiful," he said.
"I don't think some of these colors exist on Earth," said Kal.as he stood behind Lex and put his hands on his shoulders
"If they did, I didn't know about them," said Lex.
"What do you think about Krypton?"
"It's really amazing, Kal. . ."
"You don't look so happy," said Kal as he stood behind Lex and put his arms around his waist, pulling him close.
"I get the feeling that people around here don't think that highly of Earth." Lex had tried to be a good sport about it but when the concierge of the hotel had remarked on how honored they were to have Kal and how absolutely beneficent it was of him to have shown his friend the wonders of Krypton . . . it was starting to become wearying.
"Look, I'm sorry that people have been rude . . ."
"It's not just that. I've dealt with worse," said Lex. "It's that . . ."
"That . . ."
"They're all assuming that you're here to stay. Even Kara seemed to think that this wasn't just a visit. Are you tempted to stay here?"
"God, Lex . . ."
"They're offering the world to you on a plate. You're popular back home but here it's on a totally different level. Your uncle is Prime Minister not only of the planet but two inhabited moons. Everybody . . ."
"It doesn't matter . . ."
"I remember when we were little, you used to cry that you wanted to go home . . ."
"That was a long time ago . . . Besides it was my parents I missed. Now that they're gone . . . Krypton is like a place that I visited in a dream once . . ." He turned Lex around and caressed his face. "Everybody here wants me to be someone I'm not. I want to be with the one who knows me the best." He put his hands on Lex's hips and pulled him close so he could feel the sincerity of his affection and kissed him, just slightly teasing the upper lip with his tongue to show that he wanted a bit more. He felt Lex's hands caressing his chest before he felt them at the base of his spine.
"If we keep going, we'll mess up these nice clothes," said Lex as they started to grind against each other.
"I guess that's why we should take them off," said Kal as he quickly detached the capes from their clothes and let them slide to the floor. He stepped back and pulled down the bodysuit slowly, revealing how hard he was as the suit finally slid to the floor. Lex was about to slide his off as well when Kal whispered in his ear, "No, let me take it off you." He kissed Lex where his neck and his shoulder met. As he slid the costume off, Kal kissed and licked his way down. He toyed with the nipples with his tongue, lapped at his abdomen, dipped his tongue into his belly button, kissed the inside of his thighs before finally letting the rest of the suit pool at Lex's feet. He pushed Lex on to the bed, crawled up on it himself only to find Lex putting his hands over his crotch. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, just . . ." Lex's embarrassment was all over his face.
"Don't worry, I've seen it before and I liked what I saw." Kal gently took his hands and pushed them off to the side before stroking and petting him. "If I didn't, I wouldn't be doing this, would I?"
"God, Kal," Lex said as he buried his face into his shoulder.
As they lay on the bed kissing and rubbing their bodies against each other, Kal said, "Lex?"
Kal whispered in his ear what he really wanted to do.
Lex hesitated slightly before nodding yes.
Kal took a nearby bottle from the night stand next to the bed and poured some body lotion over his hands before returning to his ministrations, reaching behind Lex and slowly working a finger inside . . .
"I'm sorry to wake you, Kal-El. This is Kara."
"Oh, hi, Kara," said Kal, stifling a yawn.
"I've set up an appointment with my father for later this afternoon at the 16th hour. I'm sure that you'll be on time if you leave in a few hours."
"Thanks, we'll be there."
"How have your travels been?" The tone of her voice was one used by someone trying to be friendly but not knowing exactly how to proceed.
"I've learned a lot. Lex and I have really amazed by what we've seen of Krypton . . ."
"When you return, I promise that I shall be a proper hostess and show you . . .
"Mmm . . . Kal," murmured Lex as he kissed Kal several times on the neck and cheek while only being somewhat awake. "Good morning."
"Uh, Lex, I'm talking to Kara . . ."
Lex's eyes opened wide. "Oh, I'll just . . ." He got out of bed and walked to the adjoining bathroom.
There was an awkward pause before Kara said, "I will see you later tonight."
"Kal . . ."
"Goodbye." With that he turned off the communicator.
"I'm sorry, Kal," said Lex as he stood in the doorway of the bathroom.
"There's nothing to be sorry about," Kal said as he got out of bed and walked towards him. The smell and the signs of what happened last night still clung to both their bodies.
"When we get home, what are we going to tell Mom about . . . this?"
Kal put his hands on Lex's shoulders and bent his head down so they touched foreheads. "We don't tell her, at least not for a while. But we'll make her understand eventually, we will. Now how about we get cleaned up, all right?" He pulled him in for a kiss.
After one kiss led to another then another, Lex said, "We better actually get into the shower. We have somewhere to go today, right?"
After the servant bot delivered their breakfast of soup and flatbread, it took away the clothes they had taken off last night to be cleaned. After they ate, it came back with their clothes fresh and dry.
The hovercraft took them to the Capital Building where the office of the Prime Minister was. A guard escorted them through the marble halls with pictures and holograms of past Prime Ministers to his office. Once there, the guard announced them, opened the door and closed the door behind them. Zor-El was standing, leaning against his desk, his hands in front of him.
Zor-El reminded them both of an older version of Jor-El. There were a few more lines on his face and touches of grey in his long dark hair but the resemblance was strong. Instead of the family colors, he wore the uniform of his office, dark purple and silver. His gaze was warm and welcoming. "I'm sorry that I wasn't there to welcome you when you came to Krypton but I am free this afternoon."
"Kara told us that you were a busy man so we appreciate it," said Kal.
"You're my brother's son who has come back after years in the wilderness. It is not a favor but my duty and pleasure to welcome you back. Let's step out of the office and go to my private study."
After they went to a side room and sat down, Zor-El said, "Why don't you tell me about your life on Sol?"
Kal blinked in surprise. "You're the first person who's asked me that question."
"You don't want to answer?"
"I just don't know where to start."
"Why don't you tell me about your friend Lex and his mother that you stayed with? The school that you attend."
Kal thought for a second before starting to talk about how he came to Earth and how he built his first snowman. He talked about how he felt the yellow sunlight fill him with warmth, strength and energy. He talked about how Lex had been his best friend since the beginning and how grade school had turned out to be quite the challenge. He talked about how Martha had taken the both of them around the world on vacation. He told tales of how his powers would suddenly appear, much to his and Lex's amazement and Martha's chagrin as various items around the house like the curtains and various priceless vases would meet an untimely end. Kal talked about the colleges that he and Lex were thinking about going to together and how Luthorcorp would change the world for the better.
As Kal talked about his life on Earth, Lex smiled affectionately at him. Hearing the joy and the warmth in Kal's voice helped unwind the tight feeling in his chest ever since he noticed the strong resemblance between Kal's father and his uncle. He had been afraid that it might pull Kal towards staying. He turned to see Zor-El and noticed that while he was smiling, there was a quiet melancholy in his green eyes. I'm sorry, thought Lex, but you just can't take him that easily.
"It sounds like life there has been good," said Zor-El.
"It's been good, really good," Kal said, meaning every word. He flashed Lex a smile before turning his attention back to Zor-El.
"I'm glad. If my brother was alive, he'd be relieved to hear that . . . Kara told me that you had a lot of questions to ask me."
"I saw some of the holographic histories about what happened and I know that almost everyone on Krypton see my parents as heroes. I've seen the tributes to them and I guess what I'm looking for is someone who knew them as . . . people."
Zor-El looked thoughtful. "Jor-El and I are fraternal twins though many people have commented on our strong resemblance to each other. Growing up, he really was quite the rebel while I was the quiet one. He never accepted what other people believed easily. He didn't think that the old ways were the best and he wasn't afraid of saying so. Once he didn't put on his school uniform but wore Terran clothes instead. Our father was rather humorless and strict so he sent Jor-El to Earth for a while to punish him. He was taken back to Krypton after our father found out that he actually enjoyed his time there."
"Being sent to Earth was punishment?" said Lex.
Zor-El looked a little embarrassed. "It was almost fifty of your years ago. He was dropped off with no money or any sort of help. He was expected to survive on his own or send an apology home . . . It would be like if you were dropped in a foreign country and were stripped of your belongings. He spent several months wandering . . . what's it called, the Western Middle of your country . . . He told me about the people he met like the House of Kent, the energizing effects of the yellow son, and the occasional romance . . ."
"Sounds a lot wilder than how everybody else describes him."
"He was once a young man like the two of you," said Zor-El. "As was I. Despite his behavior, he was accepted into The Academy, our planet's foremost university. That's where he met Lara, Kal-El's mother. She was not the rebel your father was but she was not someone who took things lying down. She was just more . . . talented at doing what she wanted without getting into trouble. She had a reputation of being very hard to woo. However, that just made her more interesting to your father. When your father first asked if she would accompany him to an exhibition by the famous artist Jer-Zel, she refused, saying that she doubted that he was someone capable of sustaining a relationship. She had a point as he had acquired a . . . reputation. He asked her what would change her mind. Since Jer-Zel's favorite subject was flowers, she gave him a small Ghirika seedling and told him that if he could get it to bloom, she'd go out with him. A Ghirika plant is one of the hardest plants to cultivate but he did it and handed her an utterly beautiful blossom. She kept her word."
Kal smiled at that story.
"Is there anything you'd like to know in particular?"
"There's one question I always wanted to ask them . . . I need to know. Why was I the only one sent to Earth? Or were there others that I didn't know about?"
"To be honest, nobody thought that the war would be so long. I didn't. Everybody else sent their child either elsewhere on the planet or to one of the moons. Nobody wanted their child to be that far away from them. Jor-El and Kara were the only ones who had suspicions that it might last much longer than anybody else thought. A lot of people lost their families. It wouldn't work if there were too many children sent to Earth because it would attract attention. And finally . . . I didn't want to accidentally exile my child on that planet."
"My planet is not some . . ." said Lex, his voice brittle and sharp.
"I do not mean to cause offense," said Zor-El. "You must know the side-effects of the sun on Kal-El, do you not?"
"Yes, but . . ."
"Unlike Jor-El, I did not know someone trustworthy enough and with enough resources to raise a child who could be so difficult. I think it would've been too much to ask Martha Kent to take two children in, especially considering that we didn't know each other personally. If her mother and I were the only ones who knew that she was on Earth and we died during the war, there would be no one to come for her. We didn't know that my brother had sent the Fortress with Kal-El to ensure his return so we thought that there would be no other way back. And as it appears . . . If she had remained there for too long, I might have ended up losing her anyway."
"Losing . . ." said Kal.
"It's become the place where your heart is, your true home. Here, you feel like a stranger. I can tell by the way you spoke about your life there."
Kal nodded slowly. "That's where my life is now, where everybody I love is. Moving here would require me to start from the very beginning. And I know when people look at me, it's not really me they're seeing but my father. I'm nowhere near the man my father was."
"True in a sense but really that's a blessing. The older generation always scolds the younger generation for not being as good as they are while forgetting that it is often the fault of the older generation for the predicaments they found themselves in. The reason that you aren't the hero as your father was is because the times haven't needed you to rise to the occasion like he did. I wouldn't want times to be as bad as they were simply so you could prove your worth. It's up to the younger generation what the future holds. They must make their own way. I . . . feel sorry for Kara . . . Her generation already had the burden of rebuilding their lives and she took on the extra burden of rebuilding Krypton. But I know it's her choice just as it's your choice to return to the world that raised you."
"So, you don't expect me to . . ."
"No, Kal-El . . . I may have wanted you to stay here but . . I'd be asking you to undergo another kind of exile. That's not what I want to do to you. While I had hoped that you could join me and Kara in our work, it appears that you've found a life elsewhere that suits you. However, if that ever changes, know that the door to the House of El is always open for its son."
Zor-El turned to Lex. "As for you, Alexander Luthor, and your mother, I have been remiss in not thanking you before not for keeping my nephew safe and happy all these years. The door to our house will be open for you as well. After seeing how the young man my nephew has become, I believe my brother and his wife couldn't have chosen a better guardian."
"Thank you," said Lex, feeling moved at the genuine emotion in Zor-El's voice. "I know she'd be happy to hear that."
Zor-El took out a small book with several thing metal octagonal disks and said, "These disks are from our House's personal archive. Each disk hold pictures, holograms and other data about my brother and his wife. I hope that they prove illuminating."
"Thank you," said Kal. "I'll return them as soon . . ."
"No, they're yours."
"I've already made copies for our archive. If you start a branch of our House on Earth, you should carry some of knowledge of our family history with you."
"I . . . I . . . wish I could do more than . . ."
"You already have done enough . . . You returned even if it was only temporarily. I'm sure that this is not the last time that we will see each other again."
It was only then that Kal wept.
They came back home to Earth after having a quiet farewell dinner with both Kara and Zor-El. Kara had been unhappy that Kal had decided not to stay but had accepted his decision after her father had told her he had given her cousin his blessing. At that time, Kal told everybody what he had in mind . . .
"Are you sure about this Kal?" said Lex as they stood in the Yukon snow, looking at the Fortress that had brought them back to Earth.
"It says that it won't be back for years since it has to replenish enough matrixes to create a fleet of ships for the entire planet. You won't be able to visit Krypton for a very long time."
"I know but they need the Fortress more than I do and it's the least I can do to help. I waited for more than a decade to see Krypton the first time. I can wait another decade if that's what it takes."
Lex turned to face the Fortress, a frown on his brow. "Are you sure you're going to be safe in his hands?" While Lex thought the director of the facility was perfectly sincere, he didn't want Kal's ship to end up like the many dead crystals he had seen during their tour.
"I'm sure," said the Fortress. "In fact, Kara will be overseeing the project to make sure that I'll be treated properly. Besides as the director of the facility himself said, he has no desire to end up in the Phantom Zone. Kal-El, I have something for you."
A small crystal about the same size as the dimensional node appeared before Kal. "What is this?"
"It's a seed crystal. I have been thinking about Lex's mother and her friends working on that salvage operation for the past decade. It will bind together the remains of the ship and depending on the amount of damage, it may be that the ship will be ready for interstellar travel within a few years."
"Why are you giving this to me?"
"Because it's my duty to protect and watch over you even if I also owe a duty to the House as a whole and to Krypton as well. If you didn't have the powers of the sun then I would not have even considered leaving. Once the ship has finished repairing itself, it will serve in my stead and inform me if you and your family are in the kind of trouble that would require my intervention. Besides, you shouldn't have to wait that long to visit Krypton again. I don't want so much time to pass that you completely forget your heritage."
"I won't forget, not after all this," said Kal. As he held the crystal in his hands, he said, "Are you sure it's all right to give this to them? I'm wondering if they can handle this."
There was an actual note of bemusement in its voice. "I assure you that the ship will not be their mindless servant and will inform them if they are making grave errors in judgment. Besides the salvage will help introduce a little diversity considering that the Krypton's new fleet will be based on solely my template. Any differentiation will be most welcomed. Goodbye, Kal-El."
After the ship flew up into the sky, Kal picked up Lex in his arms and said, "Now, let's go home."
Now the official story of how Earth discovered the interstellar drive was that due to the brilliance and ingenuity of its scientists, it had managed to repair the severely damaged ship. Of course that was a bald faced lie even if it was one that got into the history books.
Upon receiving the gift from the Fortress, Martha had to figure out a way to present it without a lot of questions being asked. She ended up sending the archaeologist Luke Hancock on an expedition to Honduras and China where some ancient Kryptonian artifacts had been found previously and asked him to `discover' it. Once he `sent' it to her, then she suggested that it might be useful in repairing the ship. The other members of the research team had been dubious but Lucius had pointed out that there was no sign of progress on any other lines of research.
When the crystal had come into contact with the remains of the ship, it immediately started to create a network of crystalline fibers that formed a framework that incorporated the pieces. "Well, I'll be damned," said Lucius softly.
"I think some champagne is in order," said Martha.
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