By Jenni Debbage <email@example.com>
Submitted December 17, 1997
Summary: Lois and Clark investigate a series of child abductions that leads them to a new confrontation with the New Kryptonians — and endangers the life of their first-born child. The first story in the author's "Kent Family" series.
The morning budget meeting of The Daily Planet had been a stormy one, overrunning its usual time slot by a good half hour. During the past couple of days good storylines had seemed hard to come by and more than one reporter was unhappy with their assignments, some even inferring that there was a certain bias towards favoured reporters who, at this moment, might or might not be up to the job. Clark had felt an unaccustomed surge of temper at their insinuations. Though Lois might not be at her best at this time, she could still very easily outwrite the other Planet reporters. He used his super hearing to check whether Lois was calling him, but all was quiet. So he thought he might take the time to talk to Perry White (Editor-in-Chief of the Planet) about taking some paternity leave to help Lois through the birth of their first child and the following early weeks of the baby's life.
Lois's first intentions had been that her pregnancy and subsequent birth would hardly disrupt her career, but even she had to recognise this was not a practical or healthy proposition. The situation had come to a head a few weeks back when Clark had been out on Superman's early morning patrol. Stepping out of the shower, Lois had slipped on the damp bathroom floortiles. It was not a bad fall, in fact she had sunk almost gracefully to the ground, but she had strained her back and with her added bulk had found it difficult to pull herself upright. She had not wanted to call for Clark's help as this was not really an emergency and he might be into something important. Instead she had wrapped herself in her terry robe and waited for his return, anxiously contemplating his reaction. He would of course blame himself for not being here when needed. And she had been right. It made no difference that apart from a slightly pulled back muscle she and the baby had been unhurt. He had given up his regular patrolling and most of his Superman activities and had for a few days given a very good impersonation of a limpet. His constant attention had threatened to drive her crazy until her mother-in-law (thank God for Martha) had taken her son aside and explained that Lois's health was more endangered by his suffocating fussing than by a slight fall. It was then that Perry White had stepped in with the timely suggestion that Lois should take advantage of modern technology and carry on her work from home. She could visit the newsroom if and when she felt up to it. The couple had, for different reasons, seized the opportunity; and after a few days of ironing out certain teething problems, they had developed a fairly comfortable routine and tranquility returned to the Kent household. Superman had not, though, resumed his patrols, relying on his powers and his uncanny sixth sense to warn him of disasters. These serious catastrophes he still elected to attend to but the more routine matters could be dealt with by the emergency services. The excitement of impending fatherhood was still with him, but as the pregnancy progressed it was increasingly tinged with anxiety. This was a very special baby; the first of its kind, perhaps the first of a new species of human. However, those were fears for the future. Right now, he just prayed that mother and baby would come safely through the birth.
Meanwhile, the current working plan was that Clark would attend these early morning meetings, allowing Lois to rise at a leisurely pace more suitable for a lady in her 'condition'. He would receive their instructions and generally catch up on office work and news and, most importantly, the newsroom gossip. Clark was never comfortable with that part, but Lois loved to hear all the gory details. He also felt his participation wasn't neccessary, as Lois, if she missed making it into the newsroom for a couple of days, spent an inordinately long time on the phone talking with Laurie, Perry's very efficient assistant. She probably had a lot more juicy tidbits to impart to her friend. Whatever, it kept Lois happy and that, at the moment, was very high on the list of Clark Kent's priorities. Perry returned to the editor's office, having fielded the complaints from his disgruntled staff. "Waiting for me, Clark?" Clark followed him into the office and closed the door.
"You know you could save yourself a lot of grief if you just shared out our storylines."
"Yeah, and have Lois go ballistic on me if you went home without an assignment." Perry settled himself behind his desk and picked up a photograph of his two brilliant investigative reporters. "How is she coping with … taking things easy?"
The thought of his wife taking things easy made Clark smile. Lois was a certified workaholic but even she had had to yield to nature and slow down.
"You'd be surprised, Perry, it's not easy to rush around when you're as big as Lois. I think she'll be glad when it's all over."
"Over!" the Chief laughed. "After the birth is when you're problems really begin. Wait till you have sleepless nights and dirty diapers to cope with, and that's just for starters. Having children is easy, bringing them up is the difficult part."
The Editor of the Planet had not had too much success with child raising. He was a brilliant newspaper man but his family had suffered at the expense of a highly successful career. His wife had divorced him, though just lately it appeared they might be trying to patch things up, and he saw little of his two sons, one of whom had ended up in prison, possibly in a misguided attempt to impress his father. Clark reminded himself that even though his two very different careers used up a great deal of his time, his wife and child would always be his top priority.
Jimmy Olsen, photographer, computer buff and the Chief's favourite prodigy, stuck his head round the door and announced there was an important phone call the Chief might want to take. Clark waved goodbye and went to leave the office but Perry gestured him to wait. The phone call certainly seemed to be a harbinger of bad news as Perry's face grew more somber. After a moment he put down the phone.
"Change of assignments," he announced. "That was our source down at MPD. Seems there's been a kidnapping. Six year old girl, Pamela Dee. No apparent motive. Mother's a single parent, a waitress with no other means of support. So unless it's a case of mistaken identity a ransom is definitely out of the question. I want you and Lois on the case right away."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea, Chief. Lois is only three weeks away from having her own baby. Perhaps she'd be too close to this to be objective."
"That's exactly why I want her on this story. You can't be objective about something like this. Besides she'll have an added incentive to crack this case. You go home, talk to Lois about this. If she feels she doesn't want to do it, I'll understand. Give her my love."
"O.K., Chief. See you tomorrow night for supper."
"Is Lois still up to that? I wouldn't want to put her about."
"Are you kidding. I'll be the cook and the washer up. Besides Lois looks forward to your visits, says it's the only time these days when she gets to talk to someone else other than me or her obstetrician," and with that he left the office.
Because he'd been away longer than he liked and he didn't like leaving Lois for long, Clark decided that by using the Planet's roof as a launching pad Superman could risk being seen entering his house. It only took a second to be home, but as it was daylight he chose to land in the partial privacy of the small back garden and enter through the dining room. He spun into his normal clothes as he walked through to the lounge and looked arround for Lois. She seemed to be asleep on the couch but her eyes opened and she smiled a welcome as he crossed the room and kissed her.
"How are you feeling?" he asked as he slid his arms around the place that used to be her waist. The baby gave a solid kick. "Hey, even I felt that." He picked her up and sat down with her on his knee.
"You should feel it from the inside. Now I know how a punchbag feels," she reproved, patting her stomach gently, as if to reassure the baby that she was willing to endure any discomfort. "What happened at the Planet? And what's our new story?"
He quickly reviewed the case and she immediately became the consumate professional he knew her to be. Gone were the ponderous movements as the surge of adrenalin spread through her body. She snatched up her notepad and pen, never far from her side even at this time, and began listing sources to be checked.
"Who's in charge of the case?" she asked.
"Lieutenant Zymak." He'd established this with Jimmy before leaving the office. "Which is good news for us because he shouldn't object to our snooping." The policeman was a friend who they'd worked with before and he'd probably appreciate their co-operation.
"Just give me a few moments to change." And with that she levered her cumbersome body up of his knee and took herself upstairs.
Clark picked up the phone and dialled police headquarters to check on Zymak's whereabouts, then he called Jimmy at the Planet for an update on the information he'd requested. He was reviewing the news he'd gotten from Jimmy when Lois came carefully back downstairs. She had dressed in a neat trouser suit that did its best to disguise her bump but unfortunately failed.
"Do you think that I'll ever be thin again?" she inquired of her husband.
Clark laughingly gave her a gentle hug and the reassurance she so obviously needed.
"Besides, I kinda like you the way you are."
Lois grimaced and decided to ignore the flattery. "Where are we headed? Have we any leads?"
"Well it seems that our young abductee was a pupil at the 'Metropolis Academy for Gifted Children'."
"An accomplished violinist to be exact."
"So we start at the school, then pay a visit to the mother." Lois picked up her bag and briefcase, lifted her overcoat from the coatstand and headed for the door. Before she got there Clark stopped her and, after helping her on with her coat, turned her to face him.
"Honey, this may be more than a kidnapping. The abductor maybe some kind of weirdo. We may not find this child alive. Are you sure you're up to this?" His concern for her was patent.
"All the more reason for us to get on with the investigation." Her determination was also obvious. "If I find it too much I'll let you know." And she was out the door heading for their first port of call.
The school was a stately old building which in the last century had been home to one of Metropolis's richest families. However, fate had not been kind and the family had in the last thirty years withered down to one sole survivor, who had bequeathed the house and its grounds for the purpose of teaching children with outstanding abilities. A trust fund had also been set up to fund the school. Many children like Pamela, who were extraordinarily gifted but because of their poor background would never achieve their full potential, trained here under the care of masters.
Here they found Lieutenant Zymak questioning pupils and teachers alike, but he had come up with few leads. The children had been at playtime in the garden, supposedly clearing away the fallen leaves, and the teacher in charge had been attending to another pupil who had had a slight mishap with a garden rake. Consequently, she had seen nothing unusual, in fact had not noticed the little girl's absence until the class was called in at the end of playtime. The remaining children were now on the terrace with other members of staff and a few concerned parents who,on hearing the news reports, had hurried to the school to make sure of their child's safety.
Lois and Clark walked amongst these children listening to the things they said. Sometimes children opened up to each other without an audience of grownups. Suddenly Clark stopped and Lois could tell by his expression that he was on to something. She waited patiently while he listened, not an easy task for Lois, as patience was not one of her virtues. His attention was focused on a small group of children at the other side of the lawn beneath the high garden wall and near to the area roped off by the police which was obviously the crime site. He took her arm and casually walked her towards the group. There were six children in a huddle by the wall, the leader seeming to be an older boy of about twelve or thirteen who seemed to be holding his own investigation with greater success than the police.
"She was crouched there under the tree. She was picking up some nuts or something," a smaller boy was telling his friend. "Suddenly the men in the black suits appeared. Two of them. They asked her name. She answered and then they just went."
"Went where?" the older boy questioned eagerly.
With a shrug the other boy looked toward the sky.
"They flew?" That was said with amazement. "But Superman is the only one who can fly and he wears a blue suit."
"I would have known Superman," he answered disgustedly. "Everyone knows Superman and it wasn't him."
Clark was engrossed in the youngsters' conversation and Lois's patience finally ran out. She shook his arm and demanded to be told what he had overheard.
"They flew away," she said incredulously after he had relayed the story. "But only Kryptonians can fly and they've all gone home. Haven't they?"
The older boy started speaking again and Clark held up his hand to signal Lois to keep silent, but he walked closer to the group so that she might also eavesdrop.
"Tony," the older boy said very earnestly, "are you sure that's what you saw, or is this just another one of your crazy stories."
"I knew no one would believe me, that's why I didn't tell the cops. No one ever believes me."
"Tony, have you ever heard the story of the boy who cried wolf?" This time it was a girl who asked the question. "You're always telling tall tales and this is probably another one. Pamela is our friend and you shouldn't make up stories about her kidnapping."
"It's *not* a story. It's the truth. I saw them. I really did. I'm telling the truth," the youngster cried, sounding almost hysterical.
"The trouble is, Tony, I'm not sure you can tell the difference between what's real and what's just in your crazy head." That was from the older boy.
Tony obviously resented the inference because he hit out with all his small strength at the other boy then turned to run from the garden, bumping into Lois as he went. He was only a small boy but he caught Lois unawares and off balance and she would have fallen had Clark not supported her. She smiled her thanks and went to follow the boy but Clark restrained her.
"I don't think we'll get much out of him until he calms down. Let's find out a little bit about him from his friends."
He crossed to the remaining children.
"Hi guys, I'm Clark Kent and this is Lois Lane. We're reporters for the Daily Planet. Mind if we ask you a few questions?"
"We know who you are," the boy said insolently. "We've read your stories. They're not bad." This from a boy of twelve was more than Lois was prepared to tolerate.
"Excuse me, but they're a lot more than not bad," she expostulated. "Most people consider our work to be highly commendable."
"That all depends on the people," the boy came back.
Clark could see that Lois was ready to do battle in defence of their work. She was immensely proud of her career, with justification, and this young boy's derogatory manner hit where it hurt. However, if they were to get any information here, antagonizing the youngster was certainly unproductive. He gave Lois a warning glance tempered by a gentle squeeze of her hand.
"Of course," he interrupted, "everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But we would still like some information and we'd be glad of your help. We don't have any leads, the police are baffled; but we are just as anxious to find your friend as you. Anything you can tell us may just help."
The boy reluctantly nodded an affirmative. He clearly distrusted authority, but he was also extremely worried about his missing friend.
"My name's Mark and this is Rachel." He mumbled the introduction, gesturing to the girl who had reproved Tony and ignoring the other members of the group who were younger than the other two and probably of less importance in the pecking order. "We don't know much but we'll answer your questions if you promise to get Pamela back safely."
"We can't promise that, Mark, but we will do our best. And if we can't return her safely we will try to bring who ever is responsible to justice," Lois spoke, having regained her equilibrium, and deciding that under the circumstances she could excuse the boy's bad manners.
"The boy who ran off. I think he's called Tony. He said something about seeing two men in black suits fly off with Pamela. You don't believe him. Why's that?" Clark asked.
"You eavesdropped?" Mark sneered disapprovingly.
"It sort of goes with the territory," Clark apoligised.
"Then you also heard that Tony lives inside his crazy imagination. He's forever making up stories, only to Tony they're not stories. He believes they actually happen."
"Poor Tony," the girl called Rachel joined in, "he's probably the brainiest kid in school and the most crazy. I wouldn't put too much store on what he says he saw. He finds it difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality."
It was strange. Rachel could not have been much older than thirteen, but you got the impression just speaking with her that you were talking to an adult.
"Are all the children here exceptional?" Lois inquired.
The girl nodded. "Tony's a mathematical genius. Mark knows everything there is to know about computers and more." Putting her arm around a very small dark haired girl, she introduced her to the reporters. "And Molly here has an amazing memory. She forgets nothing she ever sees or hears."
"And what's your field of excellence?"
"Oh, I'm here under false pretences. I just paint a little."
"So you just paint a little?" Mark laughed. "Ms. Lane, you should see her paintings. They're terrific."
"I'm sure they are and I hope when we've sorted this mess out you'll allow me to see them."
Lois had begun to relax and was finding, to her surprise, that she was actually enjoying talking with the young people. These were perhaps extremely clever kids, but they were, after all, still children and she sensed a loneliness in them that stemmed from their extraordinary abilities. Abilities that set them aside from the rest of their peers, and she recognised in these children the same isolation that her husband must have experienced as a child. For surely there had never been a more unusual child on this Earth as the baby who had arrived from the stars in a space ship thirty years ago. Thank goodness that he had been found by Jonathan and Martha, who had proved to be such loving and supportive parents, so that Clark had grown up unashamed of his differences and confident in his power, using those powers for the good of all mankind. She fleetingly rested her hand on her swollen stomach in a gesture of protection. This baby would have all the love and understanding that two people could give to a child, plus a father who could appreciate and guide all the strange powers that he may have passed through his genes to his offspring.
Clark had continued speaking to the children.
"You know, we hear what you say about Tony, but we'd still like to talk to him. Perhaps there is a grain of truth in his story."
"Well he's probably off hiding somewhere, licking his wounds," Rachel answered. "You probably wouldn't get anything out of him right now, but if you leave a contact number we'll let you know when he's ready to talk."
Lois fished a business card out of her handbag, one with their home telephone number written on the reverse side, and passed it to the girl.
"If any of you think of anything that might be relevant give us a call."
"Thanks for the information," Clark added and offered his hand to Mark, who shook it reluctantly. "And if we dig up any leads we'll be sure to let you know. Come on, Lois, we'd better talk to Lieutenant Zymak."
But their conversation with Zymak was even less productive than their chat with the kids. The police had searched the garden with a fine tooth comb and found absolutely nothing. The kidnapper had left no trace, not even a foot print. Which was only to be expected, Lois remarked later on their way to visit the mother, if the perpetrators had flown.
They found Ms. Dee at her home being looked after by a neighbour. The poor woman was distraught and completely baffled by the kidnapping. Pamela was clearly the product of a misspent youth so there was no outraged father who could have snatched the child for his own. It was also obvious that Ms. Dee had no means of paying any ransom so that ruled out monetary gain as a motive, which left you with the unwelcome thought of sexual motivation. Ms. Dee might have been a wild child but there was no doubt that she loved her daughter and worked hard to give her a decent life. She had been so proud when Pamela had been granted a place at 'The School for Gifted Children', thinking that with such a good beginning her child would have a much better life than she had known. Now she might not even have a life at all. The thought overwhelmed the poor mother and Lois and Clark left her being comforted by her friend.
As they left the house Lois's energy levels were clearly waning. Clark placed an arm round her shoulders and announced he was taking her home. It spoke volumes for her state of mind that she did not object. They returned to the Jeep and Clark helped Lois into the passenger seat then slid behind the wheel, started up the engine and waited for a gap in the busy traffic before pulling out into the main stream and heading for home.
"I'll write up the preliminary report on the kidnapping from home and wire it through to Perry, though I think that for the moment we should keep quiet about the involvement of the other children. No point in alerting the kidnapper to a possible witness."
Clark agreed with a nod but said nothing as he concentrated on manoeuvering around a double parked delivery van on the traffic-jammed streets. He only hoped that the snarled-up traffic would not require the help of Superman. Fortunately an MPD squad car turned up and after a short time the queue of cars began moving again. He hated driving in Metropolis. It really stressed him out. Lois, meanwhile, completely oblivious to the traffic chaos, continued voicing her thoughts.
"Besides, we don't know how reliable Tony is. Then I'll phone Bobby Bigmouth (their most trustworthy snitch). See if he has any angles on this thing out on the street, and Superman can search for Pamela."
"Lois, it's a big city and I don't have any leads. A search could take all night. I don't like leaving you for so long."
"I'll be fine and I promise I'll scream for help if I need you. You have to look, Clark. She's only a little girl and she deserves our best shot."
He knew she was right. So he dropped her at home and, with a warning not to overwork, dove straight up into the sky to begin his search. Using his X-ray vision and his super hearing he searched every deserted building from highrise to derelict. He searched the waste ground, the parks and the river and along Hobbs Bay, but to no avail. The girl was either being held in a lead lined prison or she'd been taken from the city, or she was … he just didn't want to think about the other possibility. Dawn was creeping over the horizon when he eventually gave up and went home.
The phonedex and Lois's notepad, with a list of the names of all their sources, each one systematically scored through, abandoned on the coffee table suggested that Lois had had no more success than he. He was tired, not physically, but certainly mentally. His concern had been for Lois, worrying that she, carrying her own baby, would not be able to cope with an investigation into the abduction of a child. In fact he too was finding this case very hard to handle. He kept thinking about his child and how he would react to its loss. A photograph of Pamela was lying beside Lois's notepad. He picked it up and stared at the picture of a very ordinary little girl with a violin across her knee. But this wasn't just an ordinary little girl, this was a very talented little girl and his instincts told him that her special talent had a great deal to do with her kidnapping. The words 'BLACK SUIT' and 'THEY FLEW' came back to haunt him. They sent a shiver down his spine as if someone had walked over his grave. Boy, he really was tired, he was growing fanciful, time to get at least a couple of hours sleep. He went upstairs to join Lois in bed.
Morning brought back his sense of balance if no more leads. Breakfast over, Lois and Clark discussed their comparative searches over a final cup of coffee, neither one bringing any results.
"So Bobby said he'd keep us informed if anything turned up, but it seems that the normal criminal is as outraged by this as anyone else and as baffled," Lois concluded. "Clark, did you check those abandoned fallout shelters? They're lined with lead."
Metropolis had in the fifties built three shelters for its more important citizens to take refuge in should there be a nuclear attack. However, they had fallen into a state of disrepair as the atomic threat had receded. About a year back, Tempus, one of their more evil-minded adversaries, had used one of these shelters to imprison Lois.
"I checked, Lois," Clark told her. "I checked everywhere I could think of. I don't think she's in the city. They're holding her somewhere else."
"Reporter's instinct?" she inquired. "You think she's still alive?"
"I think that this wasn't a random kidnapping. It was well planned. Whoever took her chose her for her abilities and if that's the case I'm sure the kidnapper wouldn't go to all that trouble just to kill her."
"I'd like to think you were right, Clark, but there are a lot of strange people out there. Maybe this weirdo gets a kick out of destroying other people's talent. I'll check with Zymak this morning and have him fax us a list of sexual offenders. See if anyone remotely fits the profile."
"Actually honey, I asked Jimmy to do that yesterday. I'm sure he has that information by now, but call it a hunch, I'm sure we'll draw a blank."
The telephone rang and Clark answered.
"Clark, this is Dr. Klein." He sounded completely distracted. "We need your help right now. There's been another kidnapping. One of our physicists here at Star Labs just called. His son was kidnapped during the night. They saw and heard nothing, in fact they didn't realise until this morning when he didn't come down to breakfast. They checked his room and he was gone. No sign of a struggle or anything. Just a missing boy."
"Dr. Klein, please hold for a moment," Clark quickly brought Lois up to speed. "Dr. Klein, did this boy perhaps have any special talents?"
"How did you know? Tony has inherited much of his father's genius … "
"Tony!!!" Clark interrupted, "the boy was called Tony. Was he also a pupil at 'The Metropolis School for Gifted Children'?"
"Yes, he was. Please, Clark I'd appreciate your help with this. Tony's father is a friend as well as a colleague."
Clark asked Klein for some more facts about the boy, then hung up. The phone rang again almost immediately. This time it was Rachel, the young girl from the school. Clark passed the phone to Lois as she seemed to share a certain empathy with the girl. Rachel was almost hysterical.
"Is it true Ms. Lane? We just heard. Tony didn't show up this morning. Has Tony vanished too?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so, Rachel. We just received a phone call from a friend of the family. Tony was abducted from home sometime during the night. And as with Pamela it appears that there are no clues to his whereabouts. Clark and I are on our way over there right now but we'd like to talk to you and the others. Could you meet us at the school, say around lunchtime?"
Clark took the phone from Lois.
"Rachel, I don't like to scare you, but could you round up all the children who were with you in the garden yesterday. Keep them all together and stay with an adult at all times, at least until we talk to you. Please, Rachel, get Mark to help and don't go near any strangers no matter how plausible they may seem."
"Do you know who's doing this?" she asked.
"No, but I have a theory. We'll talk to you at lunchtime. Stay together and you'll be all right."
Lois waited until he hung up.
"Would you mind filling me in on this theory of yours?" And when he looked rather doubtful she went on enlarging a theme of her own. "You think someone is stealing clever children for some purpose. And you were particularly interested in what Tony saw. You think he was telling the truth. Which means that the kidnappers have learnt new skills or they are Kryptonians. And if they are from Krypton what are they doing here and why haven't they contacted you?" Lois was doing her manic thing again. Clark caught her wildly waving hands and sat her down at his side.
"Lois, I don't know if any of what you said is true, but I have strange feelings about the whole thing. We have to be calm and check this out as rationally as possible, starting at Tony's house, then the school. Now, I have an idea of what I'm looking for, maybe we'll get lucky. Unfortunately, we've lost our one eye witness … "
"Perhaps not!" Lois interrupted, "doesn't Molly have perfect recall?"
"She forgets nothing she sees or hears. Lois, you are amazing," and he leaned over and kissed her.
"Maybe we should phone Jimmy and get him to run a check on any similar abductions, perhaps in other localities. If Kryptonians are responsible they wouldn't be restricted by distance."
"You really are amazing," and he kissed her again. "Let's get to work. We've a lot to do before we meet the kids. Perhaps we should contact Zymak and have the school placed under protection."
"What could the police do against Kryptonians?. Besides, they seem to be keeping a low profile. I don't think they'll show up at the school again."
They both felt a great deal better even though there were a great many questions left unanswered, the main one being, if Kryptonians were involved, what did they want with earth children? For now their investigation had a direction, and if they were right they might be able to retrieve the missing children.
Pamela was feeling very scared and lonely. The strange people who had brought her here had not harmed her, had even treated her with kindness, but she missed her mom and her friends from school. She had been overjoyed when, early this morning, Tony had been brought to her. He was her special friend and they had spent the rest of the morning discussing what had happened and, more importantly, what was happening at home. Tony was thrilled by it all. His abduction by beings that could fly and his arrival at this gigantic flying craft were like a dream come true for a small boy who lived within his imagination. This was much more than he could ever have imagined.
"Are we inside a flying saucer?" Pamela asked.
"A very big flying saucer," he assured her. "And I'll tell you something else. No one on earth knows it's here. They must be using a cloaking device which means that the people here must be much more advanced than the people of earth."
A boy who fuelled his imagination by reading everything he could find on space travel and alien beings and whose favourite T.V. channel was the Science Fiction one, he found nothing untoward in being abducted by aliens. Pamela, however, was not so enthusiastic. She didn't mind visiting but now she wanted to go home.
Two men dressed in long, flowing robes watched them through an observation portal. Dr. Darius had been placed in charge of the abducted children's health, both mental and physical, and he took his responsibilities very seriously. He was not, though, totally sure of the depth of commitment or the motivation of his companion, the leader of this most important expedition. If he were honest, he would have to admit to neither liking nor trusting his senior. However, for now he was quite pleased by the boy's reaction. Deciding to abduct the male child from the same locale as the girl had been a risk, but one the Council had decided was necessary. The boy had unfortunately witnessed the girl's kidnapping, and if he had had a chance to pass on the knowledge of what he had seen, then there was one person in Metropolis who might consider it more than an overactive imagination. The whole mission was a terrible risk and one not taken lightly. There had been lengthy discussions back on New Krypton concerning the ethics of the mission. Many members of the Grand Council had strongly disagreed with the final decision, but it had been a question of the survival of their race. This mission might be far from honourable but if they wanted their people to live and prosper then it was expedient.
Soon they would have their full complement of children. They had arrived at earth's orbit a few months ago and slowly put their plan into action. Researching the backgrounds of certain children, seeking those who had very definite skills. Skills that would make them feel less out of place amongst the more advanced beings of Krypton and skills that would help them develop and shape the future of their adopted world. Then, having identified the children, they had begun the abductions, always making sure they left no clues and choosing the abductees from various places around the world reducing the risk of exposure. Now they could move on to the most important part of their quest … the acquiring of their new Lord … the future Ruler of New Krypton.
In the last attempt to woo Kal-El back to the planet of his birth they had not considered the years he had spent on earth or the strength of the relationships he had formed. Kal-El had Kryptonian instincts but they were tempered by all that he had learned growing up on earth. It had been unreasonable of them, even foolish, to think that thirty years spent away from his home and his people would not influence his character. Zara maintained that his exile on earth had made Clark a better man. That was debateable, but it had certainly separated him forever from his birthright. However, now there was a new heir soon to be born and that was the ultimate aim of their journey … to take the children and the son of Kal-El and his Earth wife back to New Krypton.
In the royal apartments, in another, grander, part of the space palace, a dark-haired man and a beautiful, rather exotic woman stood by a panoramic window gazing out over the eastern seaboard of America at the city of Metropolis. Zara ought to have been the wife of the hereditary ruler of Krypton but, since the said ruler had relinquished the throne and annulled the childhood betrothal, this lady was now leader of her people.
The couple were in their early thirties and dressed richly but uniformly in black, the only colour being in the bright, almost glowing, edging of their clothes, blue for him and deep red on the collar and cuffs of her jacket. They looked in silence, each engrossed in their own unhappy thoughts. Zara had been upset by the whole mission but the final act, the kidnapping of Lois and Clark's baby, depressed her totally. From the outset she and Trey and a few loyal supporters had argued fiercely against the proposals of the scientists, to strengthen the weakened Kryptonian gene pool with the children of Earth, but they had been over-ruled and the plan had been put into action. Now there were over two hundred of earth's offspring imprisoned in the palace and immediately after the treasured baby was acquired they would return to New Krypton with the precious cargo.
The man by her side was Ching, now promoted to commander and husband and consort. He took a more pragmatic view of their mission and, though he was saddened by the hurt they were causing the families of this world, he believed in the continuance of his race and in the scientists' conclusion that an infusion of new genes would ensure that survival. It was his dearest wish to have his own child but doctors had already ruled out that possibilty. Sadly, a great many of his contemporaries, both men and women, were infertile.
When it was known finally that the old planet Krypton was without question doomed to destruction, hundreds of young Kryptonians had been taken aboard a space craft and begun their exodus to find a new home. They had journeyed through space for many years, suffering many hardships. The space craft had been bombarded by meteor storms, massive solar flares and many other strange phenomena that even now couldn't be explained. The researchers presently believed that it was the radiation and who knows what other toxic rays they had been subjected to during that long voyage that had caused the infertility in so many of these travellers now grown to adulthood. Not all of the people on that journey had suffered impotency, but few babies had been born on New Krypton and as the years passed the numbers had declined. Scientific studies had been ordered and it soon became clear that not enough offspring were being produced to make the continuance of the race viable. The scientists were even now seeking a cure for the mass infertility but with little success. Then had come the final blow. Zara and Ching had been given permission to marry and shortly afterwards came the discovery that Zara too was unable to conceive. Zara, the last survivor of the one remaining royal house, would be the last of her line, the final member of the Royal House of Krypton.
Except for the House of El, whose heir had never travelled on that ill-fated space craft, but who had been sent by his parents directly to the safe haven of Earth. Jor-El had been against sending the space craft off into space with few charts and no destination. He had withheld his child from the expedition, while, using the space probes sent out earlier into the heavens to seek out other civilizations, he searched the galaxies for a compatible home and had eventually discovered planet earth. His delay had practically cost his son's life, for they had barely time to launch the tiny space ship, before the final explosion destroyed Krypton forever.
And now it seemed that those who had survived were also doomed to failure. All the hard work to carve out a home on this new planet would have been for nothing. This time the end would not be a quick explosion but a slow withering away of a whole people. Many solutions were suggested, including finding a new home, but the fact remained that they carried the seed of their own destruction within.
Then had come the transmission from the spy satellite left behind orbiting earth. The House of El was not barren. Lois Lane, the Earth woman chosen by Kal-El to be his wife, was with child. Soon an answer to Krypton's problems began to evolve, tentatively at first but with growing enthusiasm as the people realised the extent of the solution. If the remaining healthy Kryptonians could successfully breed with Earthlings then the future of the race was secure. The situation, of course, was not ideal. The pure blood lines would be diluted, but under the circumstances the introduction of new blood could be tolerated. And if children were chosen as subjects then they could be trained and moulded to Kryptonian ways. Zara and Ching could adopt Kal-El's child and raise it to rule New Krypton in the time-honoured fashion and eventually the Earthlings would be completely integrated with the noble race of Kryptonians.
This was the great plan and now it was almost complete. All were awaiting the news of the arrival of the Kents' infant then they could end their quest and return home with their prize.
The only person who was waiting in dread for the final event was Zara and, because he felt her pain, Ching too was unhappy. She had been asked to stay behind on New Krypton but she was adamant that she must be onboard ready to receive her adopted child. She had no firm plans but she felt that she must attempt to rescue the abducted children and in particular ensure that Lois and Clark's baby remained safely with its parents. She knew she had Lord Trey's support in any action she might decide was necessary but was not sure of her husband's backing. He loved her, but he believed in the rights of his people to survive and soothed his conscience with the thought that the parents left behind could have other children.
Back on Earth, the two reporters had visited Tony's home and found the police and forensic team as mystified as before. No clues were found at this scene either. A fact, Lois said, that only enforced their theory, as no Earth criminal could be so thorough. They passed on their regrets to the worried parents and assured them that they would do their very best to get to the bottom of the mystery. Then, as they could learn nothing new, they went to meet the children.
At the school, Mark, Rachel and company were waiting in a state of anxiety to hear what had happened to Tony. Not wishing to upset the other pupils, the teachers had given out very little information about the boy's absence.. But, as in any other institution, the grapevine had been working overtime and rumour created fear more surely than the truth. Their little group was waiting for them by the gate, and the moment Lois and Clark arrived the kids descended on them, demanding answers to their questions. Clark brought order to the chaos by demanding silence, which he surprisingly got.
"Tony has been abducted under the same circumstances as Pamela, which suggests that perhaps there was more truth to his story than you guys thought. So we want to know everything that Tony told you."
"Molly," Lois said gently, placing her arm around the little girl's shoulder, "perhaps you might remember what Tony saw."
Molly nodded her head and Clark asked the children if there was somewhere they could talk in private. Mark led them indoors to an empty classroom. >From the instruments lying about it was obviously a music room. Rachel crossed to an abandoned violin.
"This was Pamela's. She could play beautifully. It's hard to imagine she may never play again."
"Rachel, you must not lose faith," Lois whispered. "Your friends may still be found and returned home safely."
"You do know who's behind this," Mark cut in. "Where are they?"
Clark gave Lois a warning glance.
"We don't know for certain and we don't want to make allegations we can't substantiate, but if we're right, your friends are probably alive and if they are alive then we can bring them home. Firstly you have to tell us everything you know."
Molly was as good as the others had said and Tony must have found her a less critical audience than the rest of the group, for he had given her a very detailed description of the two kidnappers which she now recounted word for word. Rachel sat quietly sketching while the girl talked and when Molly finished the story she slipped a rough sketch of the two men into Lois's hand. They thanked the children for their help and left, promising to keep them informed of developments.
Once in the car, Lois showed her husband the drawing. Clark drew a deep breath. It was only a rough drawing of a second hand description but he recognised the men as two of the royal bodyguards assigned to him when, for a short while, he had rejoined his birth race. Sometime ago he had chosen to return to New Krypton in order to prevent civil war, but his plan had gone awry. He had been misunderstood and mistrusted and had it not been for the timely intervention of Lieutenant Ching he would have been executed. Fortunately the true villains had been destroyed and, with a great sense of relief, he had watched the Kryptonians return home. Now, it seemed, they had come back to once again wreak havoc on his world. During the previous visit he had been confused, feeling he owed some duty to his biological parents and his blood kin. This time there was no confusion. He knew where his loyalties lay.
During the drive back to the office, Lois began to squirm uneasily in the passenger seat.
"Honey, are you all right? Are you in pain?" Clark asked, full of concern.
"My back hurts, that's all," she assured him. "Maybe you could give it a rub when we get back to the Planet." She accompanied her suggestion with a pull down of non-existent glasses(their secret signal for his visual powers). "A little heat treatment would be very welcome."
"Maybe we should scrub round going back to the office and take you straight home."
"No way, partner. We're practically at the bottom of this case and I'm not giving up now."
"Lois, we may have found out that Kryptonians kidnapped the children, but we don't know where they're being held or have any idea how to rescue them."
"It's my bet that they have them in that floating palace and that it's cloaked just like before. Shouldn't you be able to find it?"
Clark shook his head. "I suppose I could try contacting the ship telepathically but that would let them know we're onto them and they might just take off home with the kids on board. And another thing, we don't know why they're doing this."
"I remember they said I wouldn't survive on New Krypton. So why would they want to take Earth children there?"
Clark shook his head again. "I have no idea. I suspect the only way to find out is to talk to someone in the palace."
Lois tried to ignore the discomfort in her back and to keep the extent of that discomfort from Clark. If he knew she was in pain he would take her home immediately, and she had no intention of giving up on the investigation now. There had been quite a few disagreements between the couple about Lois's health and Clark's worrywort attitude since they had first discovered she was pregnant. From the beginning, Clark had been adamant that Lois must receive proper medical care even if it meant the discovery of his secret identity. They had considered taking Dr. Klein or her father into their confidence; but, as she didn't really relish the thought of either of these men as her doctor in such a personal situation, and as she had definite fears of facing pregnancy, she allowed herself to be persuaded to register with an obstetrician and take their chances. So far it had paid off and nothing untoward had been discovered.
"Do you think Zara might be aboard?" she queried, her thoughts returning to the case. "You could try contacting her telepathically."
They had reached the Daily Planet garage and Clark slid the Jeep smoothly into Lois's parking bay. She gingerly tried to clamber from the car without giving away her true state of health; however, Clark was too observant where Lois was concerned and he was at her side in Superspeed and scooped her up to carry her to the elevator.
"I don't think you're up to this but let's go find out what Jimmy's been able to dig up before I take you home." This was the only concession he was prepared to make to her professionalism.
Jimmy was onto them the minute they hit the newsroom floor. He was bursting with news.
"You know you asked me to check on other similar abductions. You guys will not believe what I've discovered." It seemed the young man planned on dragging out his information to create some suspense.
"Get on with it, Jimmy." Concern for Lois was making Clark edgy.
"There have been five other abductions here in the States. Two on the West coast. One in Dallas, another in Boston and a final one in New York. All have the same M.O. and they all involve gifted kids. I went on checking and there have been four in Canada, two in Mexico and South America can account for another five." By now he had a captive audience. "Finally I contacted my Dad at the National Intelligence Agency. He told me that they have thirty-six similar crimes reported from various countries and there's more coming in. Their guess is that there's probably more from other regions like China and the Asian Block who wouldn't necessarily report to them."
"What would Kryptonians want with all these children?" Clark mused almost to himself.
"You think Kryptonians did this?" Jimmy's eyes opened wide with surprise.
"That's our theory but we don't have any proof. Jimmy, have any of those police forces turned up any leads?"
"Nope, and your theory is the only one I've heard, apart from the usual kooky reports of alien abduction, which isn't far from your call."
"Jimmy, keep this to yourself," Lois whispered, "we've just talked to Superman and we showed him this sketch, which our eyewitness says is of the kidnappers." She handed him the drawing.
"Superman recognised the two men as part of his Royal Bodyguard from the time he spent on board their craft." The younger man shot Clark a skeptical look so he added. "You know he has a photographic memory or something."
Jimmy took a moment to study the drawing and then scurried away with an admonition not to go anywhere.
"Clark," Lois was still speaking in a whisper. "You have to talk to Zara, try to find out why they're doing this."
"I'm not sure that, if I contact Zara telepathically, someone else might overhear. And if they discover we're on to them there's no telling what might happen."
"They wouldn't harm the children. Apart from Nor and his followers, the other Kryptonians were a peaceable people."
"Who were very prone to takeovers," Clark added pointedly. "Anything could have happened in the past couple of years. Perhaps some other war mongerer like Nor has taken over."
"Then you have to find the palace." Lois was interrupted by Jimmy, who returned in triumph.
"Check it out!" and he placed a photograph on the desk in front of his friends. "When Zara and Ching took me onboard the space ship I managed to take some shots. Most were destroyed but I salvaged a few."
The picture they were looking at was of a line of men dressed in black, flanking Zara, and there by her right shoulder was one of the men in Rachel's sketch. They had a positive I.D. Lois looked determinedly at her husband.
"No … Definitely not." He answered her unspoken suggestion. "You might be trying to pretend that you're alright but I know you're in pain and I'm not leaving."
Lois started to deny the allegation, then changed her mind. The pain was much worse and it was no longer focused in her back. It seemed as if her whole lower body was being gripped by massive cramps.
Oh my God! Were these contractions she was feeling? She watched the realization dawn on her husband's face.
"I'm taking you straight to hospital." His tone suggested he would brook no interference, but his wife as always had other ideas.
"The baby isn't due for another three weeks and I don't want to go to hospital if it's a false alarm."
"I'd rather that than have you give birth here in the newsroom." Jimmy's glance had been passing between his friends but at Clark's last statement his mouth dropped open in shock
"You mean the baby's coming now," he stammered.
A fresh wall of pain hit Lois so unexpectedly that she hardly had time to stifle the scream that bubbled to her lips and she grabbed Clark's hands so hard that he wouldn't have been surprised to see blood even from his toughened skin. The newsroom staff sensed an event happening here in their own office and they began to gather round Lois's desk. The women, particularly those who'd been through the ordeal, offered advice as they came. Meanwhile, the commotion brought Perry White from his office. His experienced eye immediately took in the evolving situation and he bustled over to take control. A fact that Clark appreciated, for his brain had suddenly turned to marshmallow.
"Come on you people Lois doesn't need an audience," and he snapped his fingers authoratively and watched the crowd disperse. "Jimmy, get Clark's keys and bring the car directly to the elevator." The two younger men did as they were bid and Jimmy hurried off. "Clark, let's get Lois out of here," he finished, patting her shoulder soothingly.
Lois's pain had receded, leaving her breathless, but with Clark's help she managed to stand. As she did so a pool of water spread out at her feet. Lois and Clark froze in panic but Perry kept his cool.
"Your water has broken," he announced, "but that means we haven't got much time. Let's get this show on the road."
Between them they safely escorted Lois to the hospital, where the professionals took over, and before long she was installed in the labour suite at 'Metropolis General'. Dr. Peters, Lois's obstetrician, was called in and she assured the couple that although the birth was not imminent she confidently expected them to be parents by morning.
Left alone in the hospital room, an uneasy silence ensued, both feeling overawed by what was about to happen. Clark cast about in his mind for something to say that would break the deadlock.
"How do you feel now?" he asked inanely.
Lois jumped right in. "Much better now that I'm dry."
"I'm sorry, I couldn't help, you know," and he motioned pulling down his glasses to use his heat vision.
"Oh that, no of course. I'm sure Perry would have noticed."
Clark nodded agreeably. This was crazy. This was probably the most momentous occasion in their lives together and they were talking like strangers but somehow he just couldn't get his brain in gear and he sensed that Lois was having similar difficulties. In fact at present Lois was dealing with another contraction. He decided to forget small talk, and just held her hands and encouraged her to use her breathing technique they'd learned in class.
The contractions were growing stronger and more frequent and Lois prayed to her unborn child to hurry along before she became too exhausted and before her fears completely overwhelmed her. All through her pregnancy Lois had stifled the awful thought that her baby would be some sort of freak.
They had been afraid that they might not be able to conceive. So Superman had approached Dr. Klein of Star Labs, who had run numerous tests and had concluded that biologically Superman and an Earth female were incompatible for the purpose of conception. In desperation they had asked her father for a second opinion, but he had only corroborated the test results. She remembered the terrible devastation they both had felt at the news. Yet even while they were grieving for a child they would never have, their baby had been growing inside her womb. Only now there was a new fear. What if that biological incompatibility emerged in their child? What if their baby proved to be a monster?
Lois was seized by a giant vice and pain like she had never before experienced racked her body. Clark immediately rang the emergency bell and the room was suddenly filled with medical staff. Now all Lois's thoughts and fears were swept away in the physical trauma of giving birth. Now there was only relentless pain and constant effort, the doctor's calm voice telling her what to do, and Clark's loving face and gentle hands willing her on. She knew he wanted to help her in her struggle but this was her job. This time it was his turn to stand aside and watch.
At ten minutes after midnight Dr. Peters helped Clark cut the umbilical cord and he placed his baby son into Lois's arms. Both new parents glowed with happiness and relief. Their child was normal. He looked like every other baby. No, that wasn't so. He was more beautiful than any other baby, but then didn't every first time Mom and Dad feel that way?
Sometime later, having made all the dutiful phone calls, accepting the messages of love and best wishes from his parents and assuring them they would be passed to Lois, and having to persuade Ellen Lane that it would be better if she postponed her visit till morning as Lois was feeling quite exhausted, Clark stood by his son's crib and gazed at the sleeping infant. He stretched out a gentle finger and touched his son's downy cheek. The baby skin was smooth and unwrinkled. The thick dark hair, the high cheek bones, the golden skin were all his legacy to his son and he wondered what other strange powers he might bequeath to this child. He had thought Lois asleep on the bed behind him so he was startled when she slipped her arm around him and came to stand by his side.
"He's beautiful and he looks so like you," she whispered, so as not to wake her child. "He's everything I could have wished for."
"Clever Lois." Clark dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "You were so brave."
"I didn't feel it. In fact I was terrified." She walked to the other side of the crib and faced him across the baby. "I know we never spoke of it, but all the time I was carrying him part of me was afraid that he would be … abnormal. And I know that you had those fears too."
He nodded his head in agreement.
"Lois, all the medical experts agreed that we could never have a child. When I found out we were pregnant I was scared for our child, in some ways I still am. But when we chose to marry and try to have a family we knew we were stepping out into the unknown. Being afraid is natural and sometimes wise, but we can't let it overpower us. We have to raise our child in the most normal way that we can, for who can tell how he might develop in the future."
Lois took Clark's hands, holding them above their sleeping son.
"I'm not afraid for our child, Clark," and it was true. There was no longer any fear in her heart. Only an all-consuming love and a confidence in the future. "He is part of me and most importantly part of you. I know he'll grow to be just as good and kind and as super as his father."
Clark leaned over the crib and kissed her. Lois could no longer contain herself, with a huge smile directed at her husband, she pulled down the light blanker that covered her baby and began her examination.
"Look, Clark, he has ten little fingers and ten little toes."
"Yes, Lois, and two eyes a nose and a mouth," he laughed and as Lois lifted the baby's robe, "and yes he is a little boy."
Lois giggled. "He's just perfect. Our own little miracle."
She lifted him from the basinette to cradle him in her arms, just as the baby opened his eyes and his mouth to scream very loudly. Lois took fright and would have dropped her precious bundle had it not been for Clark's quick hands steadying her.
"What's wrong with him?" she asked breathlessly as he continued to cry.
"It's my guess he's hungry."
Lois's mouth formed a perfect O and her eyes widened. This was something completely new and she wasn't sure what to do. Help, however, was at hand as the nurse came into the room.
"Time for baby's first feed," she announced authoritively. "Don't worry, Lois, it's not as tricky as you might think."
She helped the new Mom prepare herself and settle the baby at her breast. After the first abortive attempt he was soon suckling contentedly. Lois was replete with happiness. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined life could be so good. In fact, a long time ago she had thought that marriage and a family were certainly second best compared to her career. Thank goodness Clark had come into her life and forced her to re-examine her ideas. Now she had the best of both worlds. Life was wonderful. She looked towards her husband and knew as he watched them that his thoughts mirrored her own.
"Has baby got a name?" the nurse asked, breaking in on the couple's silent communication. "Or will I just write 'Baby Kent' on his name tag?"
"No … no. He has a name." Lois made a decision. "His name is … 'Joel'."
Clark, who had been watching the baby, lifted his eyes to Lois. This was news. They had never spoken of names during the pregnancy. Indeed, neither had liked to mention the future, but now these restraints were gone. The future was no longer something to fear.
"Joel," Lois said again. "For your father."
Joel was the closest Earth name to Jor-El that Lois could think of. Clark came across the room and settled himself on the bed beside his family.
"Joel," he repeated. "Joel Lane Kent. Yes I like that name."
And so little Joel Kent made his entrance into the world.
Early next morning, Lois astounded the ward staff by announcing her intention to discharge herself and her son from hospital as soon as the doctor's morning rounds were complete. Dr. Peters tried vainly to persuade her to change her mind but, when asked if there was any medical reason why mother and child should extend their stay, she had to admit that as they both appeared to be in excellent health her wish that they remain in her charge for at least another twenty-four hours was purely precautionary. She did not, of course, realise that Lois was troubled that any additional time spent in hospital increased the risk of discovery that her child might not be quite like other children. Martha and Jonathan had tried to assure their daughter-in-law that as a baby and a toddler Clark had appeared a perfectly normal, healthy child with no signs of unusual abilities, but in this case Lois was not prepared to take any risks.
The charge nurse, a matronly type woman in her late fifties who had from the first fallen under the spell of that 'darling baby', bustled over to appraise Clark of the situation the moment he dropped by after breakfast. She hoped he would be able to convince his wife to stay in the safety of the hospital for one more day; however, she was duly disappointed for, apart from assuring himself that his family were medically fit to be discharged, he made no objection. His parents had arrived in Metropolis the evening before and eagerly volunteered to help take care of Lois and Joel. And in the event of an emergency Lois's father was a brilliant, if a very unorthodox, physician. Hopefully his father-in law's services would not be required, but if the need did arise he would prefer that the secret of his identity remain within the family.
After spending a short visit cuddling both Lois and Joel and surprising the nursing staff with his dexterity in changing for the first time his son's soiled diaper, Clark left to look in at the office to see if any new information regarding the abductions had come to light. Before he left he promised Lois he would return at lunch time to take mother and son home. Meanwhile, his Mom and Dad would look in on her during the morning to help with all the necessary preparations involved in bringing home a day-old baby. As he kissed his wife goodbye his mother-in-law arrived, full of objections to her daughter's intention to return home thirty-six hours after the birth of her first child. He gladly made his escape from the impending argument, cravenly ignoring Lois's appeal for support and closing down his super hearing to the list of reasons the older woman was now expounding to his barely contained spouse. There were definite thunder clouds looming in that direction.
The Daily Planet workforce had lookouts posted and everything was prepared, ready to surprise Clark the minute he stepped from the elevator. The newsroom was festooned with balloons and banners congratulating the new father on the birth of his son and the cheers and best wishes that met him when he walked in touched his heart. There were bouquets of flowers and piles of baby presents, all to be transported home to Lois. The champagne corks popped and everyone toasted the baby's health.
When the hubbub had died down and he had shaken more hands than he could remember Clark excused himself and marched Jimmy into the editor's office.
"Sorry I took yesterday off," he apologized to the two men, "but to tell the truth I wouldn't have been much use here."
"Well of course not," Perry concurred. "Your mind was full of Lois and the baby. Perfectly understandable. How is our new Mom this morning? She was certainly radiant when we visited last night."
The thought of Lois brought a smile unbidden to Clark's face.
"Actually she's busy preparing to leave hospital. I'm picking her up at lunchtime."
"Isn't that a bit too soon? Not that it's any of my business, but I doubt if that will please her doctor," Perry asked worriedly.
"Well, you know Lois, once she's made her mind up there's no moving her. I think she feels isolated in hospital. She may have just given birth but that's no reason to be off the case for longer than a day. Besides, my parents can't wait to lend a hand at home and babysit their grandchild. And Lois's parents have offered to help."
Reflecting on the scene he had left behind at Met. General, Clark was doubtful of just how much assistance his mother-in-law might be. Ellen Lane lived in a constant state of anxiety, and as much as Lois loved her mother, she found her continual fussing extremely gruelling. Having just given birth her own nerves were none too steady. There was a possible storm brewing in that direction if the two women were left to their own devices. The situation needed careful monitoring. He decided that being a new father took up all his attention and that for the present Superman was definitely otherwise engaged.
Perry and Jimmy brought him up to date on the story, which wasn't difficult for there had been no new cases reported and all the old trails had gone cold. Perhaps the Kryptonians had finished the job and gone home, in which case there was nothing Superman or anyone else could do and the fate of an unknown number of Earth children was sealed. It galled him to think that there was no way he could help those bereft families who were left behind to mourn.
Floating high above the Earth, the news spread quickly through the Royal Palace. The child they had been waiting for was born. Kal-El's woman had given birth to a male heir. There was great excitement throughout the palace. Special hand-picked teams had been sent to reconnoitre the situation and they reported that mother and baby had left the hospital and were safely back home, closely guarded by husband and family.
The Kryptonians would have preferred to steal the baby from the more impersonal location of the medical centre where they could have merged with the other staff and visitors who frequented the busy building. Having to take the child from his home and from under the nose of his Superman father posed a number of problems.
Their personnel had the same powers here on earth as Kal-El. But he had spent years on this world perfecting his skills and honing his strength. In hand-to-hand combat, as he had proved in the past against Nor, he was invincible. And in that duel he had been disadvantaged, having to use a form of combat completely new to him against an opponent considered to be a master of his craft. He had defeated Nor, even holding to his strange beliefs that every life was precious and not to be sacrificed if humanly possible.
There was a second, perhaps greater, problem. Kal-El might have decided to live on Earth, but he remained their chief lord, head of the Royal house of Krypton. For a Kryptonian to raise a hand in force, unless sanctioned by the law, against their leader was high treason. They would have to watch and wait for an opportunity to win their prize.
Meanwhile, Zara anxiously paced back and forth across her bed chamber, aware that time was running out. If she wished to save the children then she had to act quickly. It didn't help knowing that Ching was watching her closely, particularly since she didn't know whether he would help or hinder her actions. If she could only contact Kal-El telepathically and warn him of the danger, then with his help they maybe able to return the children to their homes. But all telepathic communications between the palace and the Earth's surface were being monitored. She could, with complete concentration, block the monitor but such a block was a difficult operation and could only be held in place for a few minutes. Besides, they could still trace the source of the transmission even if they could not overhear the actual message. If she gave her intention away too soon then they would place her under lock and key and set a guard about her and her ability to help would be gone.
While contemplating her options, Lord Trey contacted her, asking her to meet him on the promenade deck. Such a request meant he had some information to impart which he didn't wish to be overheard. The promenade deck was a large leisure area set aside for all members of the ship's company in which to relax and meditate. It occupied the topmost tier of the craft and its walls and roof were fashioned into a great dome of glass protected from the hazards of space by a giant force field (Kryptonian space travel having advanced a hundred-fold since that long ago children's exodus). Around the dome was a steel walkway with access to various arbours set among the container planted garden in which to enjoy a quiet mind game or to read a favourite book or just to sit silently and view the heavens. It was also large enough to find a private spot where one could talk without fear of eavesdroppers. She hurried to meet with him and found him waiting in some anxiety.
"Zara," he spoke quietly, "it appears that the ground crew have been able to establish a viewport in a house close by the Kents' residence which means that their every move is now being spied on. Our people are moving in and I can't see what can be done to stop the abduction."
"I have to make sure that I am a member of the ground crew assigned to the task As the child is to be mine I will insist on being there in person to take him in charge."
"You put yourself in danger, Zara," he warned. "To thwart the procurement of the child will be an illegal act."
"Nevertheless, Trey, I will not stand by and watch our people commit such an immoral deed. We agreed that we would do our utmost to prevent the baby being stolen from his true parents."
Trey hurriedly assured her of his support. He only wished he felt more confident of the outcome.
Commander Ching entered the walkway and sauntered round the edge, casually glancing into the seated areas. When he spied his quarry he quickened his pace a fraction and crossed over to where they sat in deep conversation.
"There you are, my dear, what plots are you hatching here?" he said blithely. "Looking forward to the moment when you hold our child in your arms?" He spoke lightly, as if he never dreamt that he seriously believed they had ulterior motives, but Zara could not be sure that there was not a warning hidden beneath his inconsequential words. He slipped an arm around her shoulders and leaned closer. "I know that the circumstances are not as we would wish," he whispered, "but I believe there is no other way."
She smiled into his eyes but gave no answer. Indeed she had no answer to give.
Lois lay relaxing on the couch, reflecting on the immense changes in her life over the last few days. Joel was a very contented baby who hardly ever cried except to warn his mother when he expected to be fed. Indeed, he already slept through most of the night, only waking once for his feeding. But her nerves had not yet become accustomed to motherhood and sometimes she would wake in the dark and stand by his crib just listening to his breathing, assuring herself that he was perfectly healthy. Then Clark would join her and they would stand, their arms around each other, happily watching their son as he slept until Clark decided that her nerves were sufficiently calmed and she could return to bed to sleep.
Now she was tired and still a little sore. Her father had visited earlier and insisted on examining both mother and child and though no-one would admit it, especially the mother herself, everyone felt relieved when Sam pronounced himself satisfied with their progress. She smiled as she watched Clark bathe his son, impressed by his concentration and surprised once more that the strongest man on earth could be so tender. He had soaped Joel on the bathmat, gently cleaning all those delicate little places, most at risk in new born babies, with the medicated solution provided by the hospital and was now rinsing him down in the baby bath placed on the coffee table in front of her.
Joel decided he liked the warm water that his Daddy gently washed over his small body. He had made a discovery. If he kicked his legs and waved his arms about in the water then the warm wet stuff sprayed about the room.
Ellen Lane walked into the living room, picking up toys and baby clothes as she came. At that moment Joel kicked his little legs hard and banged his arms on the surface of the water. He squealed in delight at the resulting splash. Lois laughed as she curled herself into a ball to avoid the spraying water, but for Clark, supporting his son's body in the bath, there was no escape. Water dripped from his hair and face. His glasses were completely obscured by water droplets. Ellen frowned at these antics.
"You're supposed to be washing your son, Clark, not the coffee table or the carpet. The proper place to bathe Joel is upstairs in the bathroom."
"Mother," Lois said choosing to misunderstand her suggestion, "Joel is much too small for a full sized bath, unless of course Clark is in there with him."
The picture of her large son-in-law naked in the bath with his offspring clearly embarrassed Ellen.
"Lois!! You do have some ridiculous ideas," she stammered.
"Actually, Mother, last night we all three bathed together," Lois said wickedly, rendering her mother speechless.
"I've just made us all a nice pot of herbal tea," Martha announced as she walked into the room. She had obviously overheard the altercation. Placing the tray on a side table, she scooped her grandchild out of the bath and, wrapping him in a towel, began to pat him dry. "Ellen, why don't you take the bath away," she suggested kindly. "Then we can all have a cup of tea."
Ellen decided on a strategic withdrawal and she lifted the offending bath and marched from the room in a fit of pique. Lois heaved a sigh.
"I may sound ungrateful but I wish she wouldn't interfere."
"She's only trying to help, my dear, just as I am. You shouldn't tease her."
"I know, but your suggestions are helpful and you don't nag." Lois' voice sounded tired and strained.
"Well, I hope not," Martha too sounded a little unsure, "but you would tell me if I upset you."
"Martha, you have not upset me, nor I think ever could," she tried hard to placate her mother-in-law. "You always seem to know the right thing to do and say."
Clark had dried himself off with his heat vision. This was just the situation he had forseen. Lois needed the older women's help but they were all in too close contact for peaceful co-existance.
"Honey," he said sitting beside her on the couch and trapping her trembling hands with his own, "you're exhausted and you've been couped up in this house since we brought Joel home. Why don't you and I take a little stroll? You could do with some fresh air. Mom and Ellen can take charge of Joel for a short while."
Martha was quick to concur and between them they persuaded Lois to take a short break.
The air was sharp and cold but the late afternoon sun was shining softly as the couple walked a few blocks down the street towards Centennial Park. Lois's body felt heavy with fatigue, but it was good to be out in the world and if tiredness overtook her then she knew Superman would appear to fly her safely home. For the moment, they enjoyed being alone together. Had they known that their absence from the family home had been duly noted by the unseen watchers and that it had set in motion a chain of events that would rob them of their child ,they would not have felt so happy in their stolen moments. But they were oblivious of the message sent to the alien ship, reporting that Kal-El and his wife had left the baby in the care of two elderly Earth women, and that a specialised team was being assembled to dispatch immediately to Metropolis. In fact, it was Clark's opinion that the Kryptonians had concluded their business on Earth and were probably on their journey back home. Meanwhile, the park beckoned and Lois, knowing that her son would soon require feeding, determined to enjoy her interlude of freedom.
But all was not well in the Kents' home. Ellen, returning to the living room, was shocked to find the couple missing. Martha vainly tried to explain that Clark, thinking Lois needed a break from the confines of the house, had taken her to the park.
"You mean she needed to escape from my presence," Ellen stated emotionally. "She never did consider my opinion to be worth much."
"That's not true, Ellen," Martha tried to calm her friend. "It's just that her nerves are frayed. She only gave birth five days ago and her hormones are in overdrive. Lois isn't quite herself at the moment."
The other woman would not be consoled. "This isn't a new situation Martha. Lois has never valued my advice and I can't blame her. I never was the type of mother she wanted. That's why she turns to you so often."
Martha protested but Ellen wouldn't listen.
"Jonathen will be home soon and I'm sure you can take care of Joel on your own perfectly well for a short while," and with these parting words she grabbed her coat from the stand and practically ran from the house leaving Martha completely dumbfounded.
Joel sensed the tension in the room and his little face puckered in distress. Martha's attention immediately turned to her grandson and she hugged him close in an attempt to console him. Soothing Ellen's sensibilities would have to wait. The little boy found he liked being hugged so he cried some more and his grandmother rocked him back and forth, crooning to him softly.
In the park, Clark heard his son's cries, but they did not appear too distressful and he trusted his mother to care for the baby. Besides, he wanted Lois to have as much relaxation as possible and he realised she would return to her son immediately if she knew he was in tears. So he decided to say nothing … a decision he was later to regret with all his heart.
Zara was very pleased. Having found an unexpected ally in the Commander, she had convinced the Council that she should be a member of the procurement team. So now as she stood with the others on Lois and Clark's terrace she prayed that the rest of her plan was going as smoothly. The only fact that disconcerted her was that Ching had chosen to join her, but she could only pretend that she was pleased by his presence, as to do otherwise would simply cause suspicion. The team slipped silently inside the house and found Martha cradling the quieted baby. The Earth woman recognised the uniforms at once and she opened her mouth to call for Superman, but the Kryptonian guards were faster and one firmly clamped a hand over her opened mouth as another snatched Joel from her arms.
Zara now had to take a risk that the monitors were not tracking Earth-bound messages. Clark was shocked when he heard Zara's voice inside his head and blown away as the sense of her words seared into his brain. Lois watched the horror spread across her husband's face and grabbed for his arm.
"What's wrong? What are you hearing?" she demanded. "Clark tell me."
She realised the measure of his dread when without answering her he swept her up into his arms and flew with her back to the house, not even taking the time to change into Superman. Fear of discovery was eclipsed by fear for his son's safety. They arrived back at the house as Jonathan was letting himself in the front door. The incredible speed of their arrival, the lack of the blue suit and the expressions on both their faces all told him something was dreadfully wrong. They rushed inside to find Martha standing in the doorway between living and dining room, a look of stupefication on her face.
"Mom," Clark crossed to her. "Mom, what happened?" When she didn't answer he gently shook her arm. "Mom, you have to tell us what happened."
The glazed expression left her eyes as she turned to her son.
"They took him. I had him in my arms. He'd been crying, you see. He took fright when Ellen slammed the door. I'd just gotten him quiet again when they came in through the garden. The same people who came to Smallville and created all that trouble." Her version of events was garbled but it was clear that Joel was gone.
Lois uttered a strangled sob and sank to the floor in a dead faint. Clark would have appreciated oblivion in that moment but there was no time, she was already striving to regain conciousness. He gathered his wife in his arms and laid her on the couch. His heart went out to her as she sobbed into his shoulder. To have struggled so hard to bring her baby into the world, only to have him wrenched away from her just five days later, was more than flesh and blood could bear. But Lois was made of sterner stuff. To combat the creeping numbness that threatened to engulf her body and mind, she found and nursed her anger, stoked the fires of her rage.
So it was, when Zara returned to the scene of the abduction, she found a mother prepared to battle anyone in this world and beyond to win back her child. With the attention of everyone focused on Lois, Zara was able to slip into the room unnoticed by all except that mother who sprang from the couch and lunged at the Kryptonian female. Lois forgot all of Zara's powers. She only knew that this was a member of the alien race who had stolen her baby. As a modern woman Lois believed in the art of self defence and had trained in one or two martial arts. These were the skills she now employed on Zara, and with such force that she sent the alien crashing to the ground. For a few seconds Clark watched, stupefied, then it came to him that Zara was not retaliating. She was defending herself from the worst blows but made no move to fight back. Superman moved in to separate the two women but Lois was so incensed that she turned her attack on him. Of course she couldn't physically hurt him, but to subdue her without causing her injury when she was in such a state of high tension, took all his resolve. At last he managed to hold her so that she could no longer move her limbs. Her head was just beneath his and he shouldn't have been surprised, but was, when she snapped her head back and up, slamming her skull into his chin and causing him to bite his own tongue which really did hurt. However, that last move seemed to drain her lust for physical action and she collapsed like a rag doll in his grasp. At once Clark was afraid that she had been injured by her hard contact with him but her heart beat was strong though faster that normal.
Zara approached the couple apprehensively and cleared her throat with a nervous cough.
"I'm sure you all must hate me for what has occurred and you have no reason to trust me but believe me I am here to help." She spoke with as much sincerity as she could muster. "I have always considered this mission unjust and immoral. Unfortunately, I and my supporters are in the minority."
"And the mission is to kidnap earth children, including my son?" Clark couldn't hide the hostility he was feeling. "You Kryptonians are so arrogant. What in any world do you imagine gives you the right to steal other people's children? And why would you want to?"
"Necessity is the answer to both your questions," a male voice answered and all eyes swung towards the man entering from the terrace.
Ching came to stand by his wife, taking in her dishevelled appearance, he raised a questioning eyebrow. "I suspected from the first that you had sabotage in mind. Is Trey also a fellow conspirator?"
Lois's spirit was beginning to revive and once again she joined the fray, however this time verbally.
"Necessity could never condone what you have done. Where have you taken Joel and what do you intend doing with him?" she demanded.
"Don't be afraid, Lois, he won't be harmed. Neither will the other children," Ching answered. "They will all be taken back to New Krypton and raised there as adopted members of our race."
"They'll die on New Krypton!" Clark exploded. "You told me that I had to leave Lois behind when I returned with you. You said she would never survive on your planet."
"We lied. It was the opinion of the Council that Lois would only prove a distraction for you while you re-established your life as a Kryptonian. They decided she must remain on earth and the lie seemed a convenient way of avoiding an impending argument," Ching explained.
"Convenient for who? You knew how I felt about Lois and that I could never, never be happy without her. Where do you people get off making decisions about other people's lives."
"We had no way of understanding the depth of your feelings for Lois," Zara stated softly. "We had no yardstick with which to measure Earth people's capacity for love. You should pity us. We are taught from childhood about the importance of the rule of law and of duty and commitment to the common good of our people but no-one ever mentions love or desire."
"And this is the kind of world you would take my son to?" Lois whispered sadly.
"This isn't some genetic disorder, Zara," Clark growled. "I too am Kryptonian and I believe in the law and duty but I've learned that the greatest commitment of all is love."
His arms tightened around Lois as he spoke and when she lifted her face to his he kissed her with such tenderness and passion that envy sprang unbidden into Zara's heart. How she longed to share such a love. Even Ching felt shamed in the presence of such deep emotion. It might be that the noble race of Krypton had something to learn from these more primitive earth humans.
"Perhaps when you learn of our plight you may be more understanding of our actions," Ching offered in expiation.
"We're waiting, but I warn you, we're a little low on understanding right now. So I'd advise you to talk fast." Clark was fighting a strong impulse to handle Ching in the same way Lois had done with Zara.
"It all started years ago when we travelled, as children, through space searching for a new home," Zara told them. "We didn't know it then but on our journey our bodies were exposed to many noxious elements that were to render the majority of our people infertile when they grew to adulthood."
"At first we didn't appreciate the extent of our problem," Ching took up the story. "There were a few babies born to us, but as the years went on the numbers diminished until it became clear that something was dreadfully wrong. Scientists began running extensive tests and eventually the terrible truth was revealed. Our race was facing extinction."
"Couldn't your scientists find a cure for the infertility?" Martha asked, her kind heart touched by their sad situation.
But Clark didn't wait for the alien couple to answer. "Where do our children fit into this equation?" he demanded, but he was afraid he already knew the answer and, as had happened so often in the past, Lois had reached the same conclusion.
"You're intending to breed the earth children with the few Kryptonian offspring who are not infertile," Lois said incredulously. "And our son is to be raised as the future ruler of your planet." A note of hysteria had crept into her voice.
"I'm sorry, Lois, but Ching and I cannot produce the heir required by law and Joel is a member of our Royal House."
"And that gives you the right to steal our child?"
"No! I have never thought so," Zara cried.
"Believe her, Lois. Zara has done all she could to prevent this. Even to the extent of defying an edict issued by the Grand Council. Zara has placed herself in danger of a charge of high treason."
Lois threw her hands in the air in exasperation. "You people are mad. Have you not problems enough without threatening to impeach your ruler?" She stamped her foot. "I will not let my son be raised in such a crazy society. Clark, we have to stop this."
Superman had been thinking hard for some minutes. It seemed to him that there was a basic flaw in the Kryptonian plan.
"What makes you think that earth humans can successfully breed with your people?"
"You need to ask that," Ching laughed derisively. "Surely your son is living proof that it is possible."
"Our son is a miracle. All our top medical researchers have categorically stated that Superman and an earth woman cannot reproduce. It appears biologically impossible. Joel maybe the only child we will ever have and who knows how that incompatibility will effect him as he grows. Your so called solution to your problem may not be a solution at all."
"And yet Joel is alive and well." Ching refused to accept Clark's statement. "Your doctors maybe wrong. You could be lying to us."
"Superman never lies," Lois added helpfully.
Superman had learned something about himself. He had fought all his life to defend the truth. Lying had been an anathema for him. But to save his son from transportation to New Krypton he was prepared to employ any means. "Check it out with your own scientists. I'm sure there must be some onboard. And if they find our guys are wrong then Lois and I will be overjoyed."
"Meanwhile, we're wasting time. You say you want to help us, then take us to our son," Lois pleaded. "Or has your space craft already left for home?"
"No. Our ship will not be able to escape earth's orbit for the moment. I believe Lord Trey has already seen to that." Ching watched his wife's face as he spoke.
"Then you do know our plan."
"I know you, Zara. I was sure you couldn't sit idly by and let something you consider so wrong to just happen."
"Then why didn't you denounce me?"
"You may doubt me, but you are my wife and I love you. I could never do anything to harm you."
"Very touching," Lois couldn't resist a sneer. "But if you have a plan, Zara, you'd better tell us now."
It appeared that there was no concrete plan. Zara and her small band of followers had joined this mission with the vague hope that the opportunity for sabotage would present itself. Clearly, though, the path to follow must be to smuggle Lois and Clark into the floating palace, and for that, Ching's services were invaluable. He was now a Commander and amongst the Military personnel in the palace he was a highly respected and popular officer. Moreover he had never voiced, as had his wife, dissatisfaction with the mission, in fact had seemed to give it his support, therefore he was not viewed with suspicion. Commander Ching had access to all parts of the palace and could move freely therein.
Uniforms were procured for the earth couple, though not the eye-catching outfit Kal-El had worn previously as Ruler. Zara had, however, thought to bring it with her on the assumption that at some point it might be politically advantageous to negotiate from a position of high power. For the moment, though, it remained hidden safely in a secret cache on the space craft.
Lois, if she had been feeling fashion concious, would have been disappointed with the somber grey, loose flowing robe she had been given, but Zara assured her that this was the costume of the ladies-in-waiting and she would not look out of place accompanying her 'Lady' around the palace. The anticipation of seeing Joel again was recharging her energy. She knew he must be hungry, for her body told her that it was already past his meal time. Zara hadn't the heart to tell her that while she could easily gain access to the other children, seeing Joel might prove to be more difficult. He had his own suite of rooms and his own set of high born nurses. Zara could only hope that her own position had not been completely compromised and that she could command entry into Joel's presence for herself and Lois.
The plan was sketchy but all four were determined on victory. Now that Ching had decided where his loyalties lay he threw all his determination into the succour of the children.
They said their goodbyes to Martha and Jonathen, assuring them they would return as quickly as was possible, and left the solid earth behind them, flying in close formation so that if their approach were watched by any over zealous sentry it would not be noticed that Lois was being supported by the two men who flanked her. Her robe billowing about her as they sped through the cold air aided the deception.
Ching chose an entry port used mainly by the military. He didn't anticipate trouble. The scientists had been eager to use their prolonged stay above this world as a period of exploration and discovery and so had distributed land teams throughout the many countries of Earth. There was much coming and going of those personnel and Ching confidently expected to merge with the flow. The soldiers working at the entry chosen saluted when they recognised their Commander alight with his companions then returned to their given tasks. The four hurried into the corridors of the Palace. This was a part of the ship Clark had never seen, far from the highly ornate Royal apartments and Throne rooms. Looking at the sanitised decor, he decided that he could be forgiven for believing he was on the set of a 'Star Trek' movie.
Now on board, the four split up. Ching and Clark were to seek out Trey and make sure the ship remained in its present orbit. The two women went straight to the children's quarter. Even without super hearing Lois could hear her baby son's screams. Zara, inexperienced in the problems of babies, was shocked.
"Something must be terribly wrong with Joel. Perhaps the artificial atmosphere of the palace is making him ill. Lois, I would never forgive myself if our actions caused him harm."
It was tempting to pay off a few scores and leave Zara thinking Joel was sick. Just a few short days ago, when she had heard his first cries, that had been her fear, but during these passing days, with Clark's sensitive hearing to guide her, she had learned to recognise the varying tones and nuances in the screams. These current cries were of anger and frustration, and the ache in her breasts gave her a very good notion of why her baby was feeling so annoyed.
"Don't worry Zara. It's way past time for his feeding. I daresay he's starving."
"The doctors prepared a special formula for him to keep him healthy and to promote growth."
"My baby is not a house plant and he very likely hates your special formula," Lois snapped. She felt her temper rise at the calm and clinical attitude these aliens had obviously adopted when planning the theft of her child. "Joel is breast fed, Zara. I don't suppose that's approved of on New Krypton, too intimate, but on Earth we believe that it's an important part of the bonding proccess."
Zara looked dismayed and Lois realised that venting her anger on her only Kryptonian ally, and one moreover who was unused to dissension, was not a wise move. She touched Zara's hand briefly and smiled her apology. "Don't pay me any heed. Sometimes I get a little crabby."
The eager smile she received in answer told her that her outburst was overlooked.
Meantime, they had arrived at the entrance of the Royal nursery to find sentries posted on either side of the portal. The guards snapped to attention at Zara's approach and she signalled them to open the doors. For a few seconds no-one moved and she feared that her true intentions had been discovered, but after a pause they bowed low and the doors slid open. Zara marched inside, hurrying to keep ahead of Lois as the nursery staff would certainly notice the breach in protocol if Lois overtook her superior. Or perhaps not, for all was chaos in the room. The head Nanny was pacing the room with a very noisy, red faced baby in her arms. She was followed by one of her cohorts who was brandishing a feeding bottle, entreating the other woman to try once more.
"It's no good, Rana," she had to shout to be heard above the baby screams. "We're both wearing evidence that he can't stomach the stuff," and she gestured to the marks of babysick that stained their clothes. "Send it back to the nutritionists and have them try again."
"And in the meantime, do you intend to let the child starve?" Zara questioned as she took centre stage in the chamber, desperately signalling with her eyes for Lois to stay quiet. "Give him to me."
"Lady Zara, forgive me, but you have no experience of children. It is better that we take care of him." To enforce her words the older woman tightened her hold on the baby, who in protest of such treatment raised the decibel level.
Zara spoke scathingly. "I see no evidence to support that claim. The child is obviously distressed." She held out her arms. "Bring him to me and then leave, all of you." All the authority of her ancestors was in her voice and the women had no choice but to obey. Reluctantly the nurse handed over her charge, then stalked from the chamber mumbling audibly her intention to complain strongly to Dr. Darius about Zara's untimely interference. This threat did not unduly distress Zara as she knew the Doctor would place the child's welfare above the woman's wounded sensibilities.
The moment the room was empty Joel was transferred to his mother's arms. The baby seemed to recognise the familiar touch, for his screaming changed to a sad whimper. Lois wasted no time in giving him what he most wanted and soon even the whimpering stopped as he settled down to the serious business of feeding. Having experienced the terrible agony of losing her son, suckling him again felt so wonderful. Outside in the passageway the band of grey gowned governesses were surprised by the sudden silence. Rana made to re-enter the nursery to discover the cause but the guards had heard Zara's royal command and barred the way, thankfully for the preservation of the secret of Lois's true identity.
Ching and Clark had rendezvoused with Trey in one of the smaller council chambers. He was attended by a senior technical officer, one of the expert techno/engineers who actually flew the ship and kept the life support systems in working order, which was no small feat in a ship of such giant proportions. Trey was disconcerted by Ching's arrival but somewhat relieved when he noticed the Commander's companion. He raised his hand in greeting but finished his conversation with the engineer before dismissing the man and waited for him to leave before turning to Kal-El and kneeled with head bowed in the ceremonial, time honoured greeting to his sovereign. Clark returned the greeting swiftly; he had no time to waste on ceremony.
"Lord Trey, what is our current status?" He slipped naturally into his role of Commander-in-chief. "I've been told that you have somehow engineered to hold this ship in earth orbit."
"Indeed sir, the officer who just left is the chief engineer; fortunately he is a member of our group," he added conspiratorially, "Unfortunately, he has just reported on his staff's failure to find the fault that is preventing us from returning home."
"Good. It has to stay that way, Trey, until we can reunite all the children with their families."
"Yes sir, I agree, but the Council will not willingly let you take the children. They believe the children are our only hope."
"That seems to be a misconception," Ching informed him. "They tell me that Kryptonians and Earthlings are not compatible for reproduction."
"That can't be true!" Trey expostulated. "What about your son?" he asked, turning to his ruler.
"It's a long story, Trey, but believe me, Joel is a fluke."
"Fluke?? … I'm sorry but I do not understand the term. What is a … fluke?"
Clark cast about for an explanation, one the Kryptonian would understand. "A lucky chance," and when Trey nodded, "A chance in a million."
"Then there is no hope for us," he reflected sadly, "our race is doomed."
This puzzled Clark, "But I thought you didn't approve of the abductions?"
"I don't," he reassured his leader, "and I will do everything in my power to aid the rescue. But I had hoped that when the children were safely home that the people of Earth would hear our entreaties and perhaps acquiesce to help us voluntarily."
Clark understood what Trey was saying. The older man was hoping for volunteers to return to New Krypton and it amused Clark to think of the varied types of human adventurer who would offer their services for the chance to explore a new world, with the added bonus of acting as some form of stud. Somehow he thought New Krypton would never be same again. But his moment of distraction was short lived and he once more turned his attention to their task.
"Actually, I do have some ideas on that, but the immediate problem is to convince your people that the kidnappings were completely futile. If proof is required then your scientists may run whatever tests they want on Lois and myself, Joel too if necessary, as long as the tests aren't harmful."
"Then you choose to negotiate the children's release?" Ching asked.
"I think that has to be our first option. I'm assuming that the majority of the onboard personnel would oppose us."
"Yes," Trey nodded his agreement. "I'm afraid our group of supporters is small and very few are from the military. Most never expected to fight. Even with your help we could never hope to win an armed struggle."
"Then we talk first, but if the Council won't listen, we've given away our only advantage … surprise," Ching said.
Clark accepted the criticism. "You're the military commander, Ching. I'm open to suggestions."
"Let me talk to some of my men. See if I can't drum up more support."
"We need all the help we can get and if you can win any over then have them replace the sentries guarding the children, especially those watching the royal nursery. I'm in favour of settling the situation peacefully but it won't hurt to take out some insurance."
Ching made the customary obeisance than left to meet with certain of his soldiers whom he felt might be open to persuasion.
Alone in the council chamber ,both men felt decidedly uneasy in each other's company. Each remembered that their last encounter had been less than successful. Trey was embarrassed to think that he had presided over the tribunal that had so readily sentenced Kal-El to exile and disintegration. He had allowed himself to be duped by a cunning and vicious madman, simply because that madman had been raised a Kryptonian and Kal-El was of unknown quality, having grown to manhood here on Earth. In short, he had allowed racial discrimination to colour his judgment and had it not been for Ching, he would have sanctioned a terrible injustice.
Clark, on the other hand, was reminded of a period in his life that had brought him nothing but confusion and frustration. When he had first encountered fellow Kryptonians he had experienced a warm feeling of kinship. All his life he had wanted to be 'normal' and to fit in with the other beings of Earth, but of course apart from his family, he never had and it was so good to feel that he was not alone in the galaxy. Yet these ambient feelings had soon dispersed as he had tried to live with his people and to adjust to the customs and laws of New Krypton. His upbringing on Earth and his subsequent beliefs in democracy, equality and a degree of tolerance was definitely at odds with a culture that believed in a class ridden society of the rights of birth and breeding and one, moreover, that placed little value on understanding and the rights of individuals to live their lives as they chose provided they caused no hurt to others. Beliefs that had been instilled in the young Clark by parents who lived their lives by these standards and who taught by example.
Thirty years spent living on Earth had rendered him incapable of ever rejoining his native race. He had known his decision to remain on Earth had been judged critically by this elder statesman who had been raised on a diet of tradition and duty, and now, thrust once more into his company he felt awkward and unusually tongue-tied. But Clark was wrong in his assumption of Trey's feelings towards himself. Much time had passed and on reflection Trey only felt an abiding sadness that his planet had lost, in this young man, a leader of great stature and wisdom, but now perhaps they had a chance to redeem past mistakes.
However,the time for unpleasant reminiscences was over and Trey had important information to relate, only he wasn't quite sure how to begin.
"My Lord, there is something you should know about this mission," he started hesitantly, "something I feel sure you will not be pleased to hear, yet it is vital that you be told."
"Then you had best waste no time," Kal-El suggested encouragingly.
"When last we met I was Chief Councillor of New Krypton. Unfortunately I no longer hold that position."
"Blotted your copy book, Lord Trey? I find that very hard to believe."
"I should think so, sir," the older man said indignantly, "and I think when you have heard me out you will agree that I acted with great propriety."
"Will this take long, Trey?" Clark was growing impatient. He wanted to find his wife and child.
Trey cleared his throat audibly. "I'm afraid it will take some moments but it is imperative that you know who commands this mission. Please, my Lord." And when he was given permission to go on, "Zara, I'm sure, will have given you the reasons behind the Kryptonians' actions; she will also have told you that both she and I spoke out in 'Council' against the plan. There was much argument amongst the Elders, in fact they could make no firm decision as they were unreconcilably divided. Finally it was decided that given the importance of the subject, a 'Grand Council' would be convened ."
"Grand Council?" Clark asked.
Trey sought for an example for a few moments. "A Grand Council is an assembly of certain members of our people, rather like a parliament, only our members are not elected but are there by right of birth."
"A bit like the British 'House of Lords'," Clark suggested.
"Yes indeed," Trey was pleased by his leader's quick understanding. "However, a Grand Council is only called in extreme circumstances, but our plight was considered just that. Once the Council met the debate began and it quickly split into two factions, those for and those against. Zara led our group, which was sadly by far the smallest. The opposing faction was led by a man called Caine, a member of our aristocracy, though not of the highest birth. He was also a Major in our military service."
"Have I met him?" Kal-El was beginning to be intrigued. Trey was obviously leading somewhere and his reporter's instincts started to tingle.
"No, when last you were here on board, Caine was on a journey of exploration. We often send space craft on exploratory missions in the hope that we might find an uninhabited planet suitable for colonization. New Krypton has always been considered a temporary home. However, with this development a new home may no longer be required." There was sadness in the older man's voice at that last statement and instinctively Clark tried to comfort his elder statesman.
"There is always hope, Trey and there is time to find a solution."
"Yes, of course, and there will be time for discussion when the children are safe. But I digress. Major Caine became the leader, in the Grand Council, of the pro-abduction faction. He is a strange solitary man, a very efficient soldier according to his colleagues in the military and, he was soon to prove, a very capable orator. He quickly won over those who were doubtful of the ethics of the proposed plan, convincing them that under such tragic circumstances we might be forgiven our transgressions and that, as the children would not be harmed but rather brought to a civilization more advanced than the one they had been taken from and raised as our very own offspring, we were in effect acting in the children's best interests. I find it astounding what people will believe when it suits their purpose," he shook his head slowly in reflection, then continued more brusquely. "So when the vote was finally taken the pros won by a landslide, and as any decision voted for by the Grand Council becomes law forthwith the plans for the mission were immediately put into action. It was then that Caine showed his true ambitions. He demanded my expulsion as Chief of the Elders, by reason of me voting against the decree. He maintained that anyone who did not believe wholeheartedly in the mission should not hold such an eminent position of power. To my misfortune he had sufficient following in council and I was dismissed from office. In fact it was only because of the high esteem that most of our people still have for Lady Zara that I was allowed to accompany her on this voyage as her friend and advisor."
A sense of dread had been growing in Clark as he listened. "Who is this Caine?"
There was a long pause. "He is the half brother of Lord Nor," Trey said, confirming Clark's apprehension. "They shared the same father but Caine's mother was one of our … concubines." The fastidious older man was clearly embarrassed by this admission. "As he was born out of wedlock he was excluded from the higher echelons of our nobility, a circumstance that must have rankled him secretly. Now he has obtained the power he must always have coveted and don't doubt he has the power. He persuaded the Council that this mission would only be safe in his hands and that it was imperative for the continuance of our race that he be promoted not only to mission Commander but to Chief Elder of New Krypton."
"Your old position."
"I'm afraid so."
"And you're afraid that Caine is using his power to fulfil his own ulterior motives?"
"Which are? No, don't answer," Kal-El raised a hand. Clark always used his hands when he talked, a circumstance he had to be very careful to avoid when he donned his Superman persona. Here, however, it was safe; they already knew his true identity and he felt the need to give full vent to his emotions. Sometimes, Lois said, his hands spoke louder than his words. Now his hand went up to stroke his chin, an unconscious gesture he often made while he thought, especially if the thoughts were unpleasant.
"You believe that Caine is here to take revenge on the Earth as a whole and on me in particular because he blames us for the death of his brother."
"Caine was the younger sibling and, though I know little of the family, I have ascertained that Lord Nor was held in high esteem by the younger boy. Their father, like myself and a few others, was one of the councillors chosen to accompany the infants when they left our old home; but his wife, however, was left behind. Treachery must run in the family for while he happily abandoned his wife he smuggled onboard his … " Trey cleared his throat, "'pleasure woman' in the guise of a children's nanny. Anyway, it seemed that, though he was much interested in the woman, he had little interest in the illegitimate offspring she soon bore him, preferring to devote all his attention to his heir. However, Nor appeared to cultivate his younger brother's affection. Affection, that from a lonely and ignored child, soon evolved into hero worship, a situation Nor wholeheartedly encouraged and when both boys were left orphaned in quite sudden and sordid circumstances(the couple managed to kill each other in a drunken rage) Caine clung to his brother as his saviour."
Clark, in a different situation, would have been intrigued by this insight into the private lives of this long dead couple who clearly had not shared the high ideals he associated with Kryptonian culture. Perhaps the people of Krypton had just as many skeletons in closets as did Earth humans.
"Geesh!! It certainly explains why Nor was so anti-social," Clark mused. "And Caine, from what you tell me, is exactly like his brother."
"Exactly!! And he has managed to attain more power than his brother ever had."
"Are the children in danger?"
"I don't believe so," Trey replied thoughtfully. "Caine, even as Chief Elder, must act within the law. These children are supposed to be our salvation. He could hardly appear to hurt them."
"But when it's discovered that they are not the solution," Clark persisted.
"Kal-El, I'm sure our last encounter scarcely endeared you to us but we are not soul-less monsters. We would never allow innocent children to be harmed," Trey reassured his Lord. "Caine's revenge would have been in the misery he left behind on Earth."
"And my son, Trey?" Clark could not rid himself so easily of his anxieties.
"I promise you, Lord Kal-El, that he will be returned to you safely."
"And I promise you, Lord Trey, that nothing and no-one will stop me from taking him home."
Both men were interrupted by a telepathic communication from Zara. It appeared from her message that all was not well in the royal nursery. Kal-El was almost out the door at superspeed, but Trey raised a warning hand. He had known Lady Zara from babyhood, was her tutor and councellor and her friend, so he had instantly recognized her subterfuge. On a visit to her adopted son she had found the nursery in chaos, the child screaming hysterically and the appointed nurses seemingly unable to console him. Fortunately, Zara had been accompanied by one of her ladies-in-waiting who had developed an empathy with the baby, because she had quickly quietened his cries and he was now feeding contentedly. However, Zara felt that the situation could not be allowed to continue and would Lord Trey please attend her forthwith to advise her on replacing the original nurses.
Clark could no longer restrain himself and he left to trace the source of the message. Trey quickly followed to show him the way, thinking it would not do for Kal-El to be found searching the corridors. They arrived outside the nursery at the same time as Ching, who was leading a platoon of his loyal soldiers. These men were not totally convinced by Ching's arguments, but because they respected and trusted him they were prepared to follow him until such time as his theory could be proved.
Ching introduced his men to their hereditary leader and as one they snapped to attention and saluted their Lord. Normally Clark had little patience with such protocol, but he realised that these men were risking a great deal, so he returned their salute and smiled his thanks. Smiles were obviously a rarity amongst the Kryptonian military, especially one as warm and endearing as Superman's, for the soldiers were surprised but found themselves instinctively responding in kind. Some of them had witnessed his now famous duel with Nor, how he had fought and defeated a known champion and these seasoned warriors admired his prowess.
The guards at the chamber doors were replaced by two of Ching's chosen men, with the others requested to await orders.
That done, Clark entered the chamber and was immensely relieved to find Lois gently rocking her son's cradle as he slipped happily off to sleep. The opening door disturbed this process but not upsettingly. Joel seemed curious to discover who came to stand by his mother and gave what passed as his baby smile when his unfocused gaze rested on his father; then his eyelids fluttered down and with a satisfied gurgle he fell asleep. Lois put a finger to her lips, hushing the others, and led them away from the crib. Once sufficiently out of range, she quickly demanded to be told what, if anything, had been decided and almost broke her own request for quiet when Clark passed on the information about Caine. The new mother had been buoyed up, firstly by her need to locate her son and then by her joy at finding him but now she was running on empty. Clark recognized that her nerves were stretched tighter than he had ever seen before, and almost on cue she began frantically demanding suggestions for their escape. Usually on such occasions he would have known better than to offer her physical comfort, because Lois never did appreciate being treated as a weak minded female. She liked space and the chance to work through her stress and the manic thing was just her way of dealing with anxiety. But this motherhood situation was new to her and, though she hated to admit it, at this point she felt very female and vulnerable and when her husband gently took her into his arms she gave only a token push at his chest then leaned comfortably against him.
"Zara," Clark said after a few moments spent rubbing his hands across Lois's back, "do you still hold enough power to call a tribunal?" After she nodded her assent he went on. "We have to put our case to the Council, but first we have to talk to your doctors. If they can confirm our scientists' diagnosis then surely we will be allowed to go peacefully."
"Darius is probably the man to speak to," Trey announced. "He has been assigned the charge of the children's well-being and I believe closer contact with them has pricked his conscience. When last I spoke with him he did not seem quite so sure of his convictions."
"Kal-El, may I suggest that now is the time for you to assume your ancestral role."
As Zara spoke she crossed to the baby's cradle, a large, ornately carved wooden structure (certainly not something Lois would have in Joel's bedroom back home),but now Lois studied it more closely. The crest etched in the sides of the cot and again at the head was the crest of the House of El … Superman's 'S'. Zara now bent to one of the side crests and pressed thrice in a certain rhythm. The crest slid away to reveal a small compartment and from inside Zara withdrew Kal-El's black suit.
Clark took the suit from her hands reluctantly. He had promised himself that he would never again don this suit and with it his hereditary rank. Lois smiled her encouragement; she sensed his displeasure but realised, as did he, that this was the only way home for them. He speedily changed and as his spinning came to a halt and he stood arms folded across his chest her heart skipped a beat in appreciation. The black suit with the metallic blue crest definitely showed off his magnificent body to perfection.
"Let's go talk to Doctor Darius," he announced and frowned when Lois bent over the crib to pick up Joel. "Lois, the guards on the door are Ching's men. You and Joel would be safer if you stayed here."
"Stay here and not know what's happening. No way!"
Since Clark had known his request for Lois to remain behind was a forlorn hope, he gave up the argument and simply helped her wrap Joel warmly in a blue cot blanket, similar to the one in which he had been cocooned on his long ago journey to Earth.
"Just make sure he stays quiet."
"He's asleep," she countered indignantly, scorning the suggestion that any son of hers would he so inopportune as to cry out of turn.
The group found their way by less frequented passages to the medical wing, half of Ching's men leading the way and the others covering their backs. However, no one challenged them; indeed, they saw very few of the ship's company. So far their luck appeared to be holding, but Clark realised that sooner or later their presence was bound to be discovered. He only hoped they would have time to prepare their defence before they were dragged before Caine and his cohorts. He was not afraid of challenging Caine but he didn't wish to fight the whole Grand Council. Besides, the children's future and those Kryptonians who had thrown their lot in with him depended on his winning and Clark was a firm believer in the pen being mightier than the sword.
They found the Doctor hard at work in his laboratory, assisted surprisingly by a young boy whom Clark recognized from the Metropolis school. A small girl sat silently watching and he rightly guessed that this was Pamela. Tony's face immediately lit up when the group entered and he left the console he was sitting before (possibly a Kryptonian equivalent of a computer) and ran across the room to Clark.
"Superman, you came," and he flung his arms round his hero's legs and shouted excitedly to the girl in the corner. "You see, Pamela, he's here. I told you he would come to save us." Tony's life was full. He had visited a space ship, met really awesome aliens, some of whom he had even liked, and now his hero had appeared to rescue them.
Superman scooped Tony up in his arms and lightly placed him back on his high stool. "We'll talk later, Tony, but first there are some important matters I have to discuss with Doctor Darius."
Trey made the formal introductions between the two men and again Clark had to restrain his impatience as the doctor bowed before him. The man was younger than Clark expected; somehow he had surmised that a man in his position would be of Trey's generation, but Darius must have been an adolescent when he had left Krypton. However, he put his thoughts aside and began to relate the tale of the incompatibility between the two species, but the doctor interrupted.
"Indeed, my lord, my investigations would seem to verify the Erth scientists' results. Of course these are early stages but it was young Tony here who first suggested the idea to me." Tony beamed brightly. "He's a very clever boy. He started asking questions about alien physiology, our genetic make-up and our blood composition. It made me curious, so using Tony and Pamela as guinea pigs, I compared Earthling genetics with our own and Tony checked my figures. We concluded that, although there are many, many similarities, certain inherent differences preclude, 99% of the time, interbreeding between the races."
"But there is that one percent chance," Ching seized on that fact.
"Yes, Commander Ching, an infinitesimal chance, but for the long term survival of our race we need to produce hundreds of babies, not just the odd one or two. That would only prolong the agony for those few left at the last."
"Then if the Earth children cannot in sufficient numbers successfully interbreed with our own people then there is no justification for their abduction?" Zara asked of the assembled company.
"None at all," Dr. Darius answered sadly.
Silence reigned in the room as everyone came to terms with the implications of the doctor's results. At least for Lois and Clark that one percent explained Joel's existence, but would he ever have the chance to experience the joy of sibling relationships?
Then Clark, much to his wife's amazement and admiration, assumed again his sovereign aura.
"Dr. Darius, I have asked Zara to convene a tribunal here in the palace. We intend, in the light of this new evidence to propose the release of all the Earth offspring. To corroborate our testimony, would you be prepared to make a statement of your findings to the tribunal?"
"Yes of course, sir, anything to help straighten out this mess."
"Good. And thank you." Then, turning to the others, he continued with his instructions. "Zara, Lord Trey, now I think would be a convenient time to call that tribunal or Grand Council, which ever you feel will best serve our purpose."
Both acceded and quickly left, intent on their task.
"Commander, if you would, acquaint your men with the doctor's conclusions and suggest that they spread the word amongst their colleagues. Perhaps the military may not be so ready to fight in defense of this mission if they know it is based on a misconception."
Ching agreed and hurried away to do Kal-El's bidding. After relating his orders Clark dropped his commanding persona. There was little he could do until the hearing where he hoped he would be given the chance to address these people. He wanted to discuss with Lois just what he planned to say but their first priority was to visit the children. Leaving the doctor to prepare his statement, he took Tony and Pamela by the hand and with Lois following they went to find the other kids.
Tony, who at Darius's insistence had been given a tour of the palace, now led the way back to the children's quarters. The chamber he took them to resembled a large dormitory in an old fashioned, austere boarding school. The furniture was sparse, consisting mainly of narrow bunk-beds ranked along both walls, with a long table and chairs running down the centre of the hall. Lois surmised that the Kryptonians had gotten hold of a Charles Dickens novel and had designed the room accordingly, not realising they were a hundred years out of date.
Many of the kids recognized Superman by sight and even those who lived in obscure places without the modern advantages of television and newspapers had heard of his exploits. They rushed towards him as he walked into the hall, shouting their joy at seeing a familiar face and one, moreover, that was famous for helping those in trouble. For their part, Lois and Clark were surprised by the number of diverse nationalities represented here on this alien craft and Clark's knowledge of foreign languages was certainly convenient now. They spent sometime answering the youngsters' questions and calming their fears, assuring them that they would soon be back in their homes, but unfortunately the children's quarters was under surveillance and thus the couple's presence onboard was revealed.
The doors at the far end of the dormitory crashed open and a platoon of black-suited soldiers marched menacingly into the chamber, scaring the children who tried as one huge body to huddle closer to their hero. The soldiers lined up either side of the door, creating a corridor down which swept a tall, aesthetically thin man also dressed in black with a small badge of his family emblem pinned to his shoulder — the same badge that had been worn by Nor and his ruffians. The man halted at the head of his troops, surveying the Earth couple with a vicious smile.
"Lord Kal-El, I presume," he said in a smooth, cultured voice, reminiscent of his brother.
Lois gave an involuntary shiver as she recalled the insane jealousy and hate that Nor had harbored against her husband. Did this Caine feel the same, and did he too plan Kal-El's destruction? Her heart dropped like a stone at his next words.
"I see you are intent on freeing these children, even though I am sure you are aware that to do so contravenes Kryptonian law."
Kal-El stood protectively before his band of youngsters, annoyed that he had been careless and so had been discovered. However, he did not betray his feelings but folded his arms across his chest in his normal stance, presenting a pose both of patience and invincibility.
"An immoral law that I could never agree with, Caine, and would never comply with."
"So you know my name, which means you have already contacted your co-conspirators. Once again, my lord, you show contempt for the laws of your ancestral home. Your attempt at rescue is an offence punishable by banishment and disintegration."
"Your brother tried that once before but as you see I am still here."
"And he is dead," Caine snarled. "Dead at your hands."
"No!" Lois cried, desperately afraid that history should try to repeat itself. "No! The kryptonite gas killed Nor. Kal-El tried to save him, even though he didn't deserve such consideration."
"Kal-El ordered the strike."
"That's not true. The gas was as deadly to him as to the others."
"And yet only he survived."
"Lois!" Before she could answer Clark's voice cut across the chamber like a whipcord. "This argument is futile."
Lois was taken aback by her husband's attitude. It seemed that with time this role of absolute ruler came more naturally to him.
"Caine, to save you the trouble I have convened a tribunal. Lady Zara and Lord Trey are at present preparing the ground work for the hearing."
This information appeared to disconcert the Kryptonian commander for a few seconds, and his eyes flashed his frustration but he recovered quickly.
"Don't expect your fellow conspirators to save you this time, Kal-El. Zara and Trey are known to indulge in traitorous sentiments about our great mission. I intend that they share your punishment." Caine snapped his fingers imperially toward the officer standing a pace or two behind. "Major Romal, place these two … earthlings under close arrest and have the baby taken back to the nursery."
Lois clasped Joel more firmly to her breast and Clark moved protectively closer.
Caine sneered, "Do you intend to fight for your child? Believe me, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to kill you here."
Both Lois and Clark realised that to incite a confrontation now was useless. They were outnumbered and Caine would gladly take the opportunity to be rid of them without witnesses, but Lois was loathe to give up her child to this abominable man. However, before the major could obey his orders, help appeared with the opportune arrival of Ching and his men. It seemed like an impasse. Kal-El certainly didn't wish there to be any kind of physical violence between the opposing troops here in the children's presence and with Lois and Joel so close at hand. So he was vastly relieved when Trey's telepathic message interrupted the stand off. The 'elder' requested all Kryptonians of Grand Council status to assemble forthwith in the throne room. The Hereditary Ruler of New Krypton, namely Lord Kal-El, had charged Commander Caine with conspiracy and with leading his fellow Kryptonians into disrepute and dishonour, motivated purely by his own aggrandizement and his thirst for revenge.
Caine's already pale face became ashen but behind his cold demeanour lurked a seething hatred. He had spent a great deal of time and effort on this plan and he was not about to stand by and have his power usurped. However, for the moment there was nothing he could do but comply. Once in Council he was certain his powerful oratory would again sway his people into doing his bidding and throw this upstart half-breed and his disgusting Earth woman on the dunghill where they belonged. His revenge on their son would have to wait The baby was for the moment protected by the Council, but once Zara and her followers were no more, he would assume the role of guardian and would have then ample opportunity to wipe out the House of El forever. It wasn't really a matter of much concern to him, the extinction of his race; he saw only in the predicament a chance to exercise his deep-seated vengeance against Earth and Kal-El and against the establishment of Krypton for all the insults and slights they had placed upon him because of his illegitimate birth. The fact that he had also gained the power he had always aspired to was an extremely satisfying bonus and it didn't upset him that his race was withering as long as he could control what was left of their lives. The Commander didn't appreciate that words were also Clark's stock in trade and his massive ego would not allow him to envisage defeat.
The children were left behind. They were clearly distressed by these events but were promised that their ordeal was almost over. Superman would defeat his enemies (didn't he always, Lois reminded them) and he would return to take them back home to their families. Tony was left in charge by Lois and Superman as the young boy seemed to have a remarkable capacity for optimism and he would not allow the group to sink into despair. Superman made a mental note that if … no ,when they got out of this mess, he would have to befriend the youngster.
It was a sombre cavalcade that made its way to the throne room. Ching and his troops led Lois and Clark into the huge public room. Lois still possessively carried her baby, refusing to give him up to any other, even though her arms ached with exhaustion. Caine with his cohorts had melted away from behind Kal-El's leading group, preferring to make their own entrance into the chamber.
The throne room was of vast proportions, with a high vaulted ceiling held aloft with wrought iron pillars that were scrolled with various family crests. At one end was a raised dais on which stood a large desk with high backed chairs ranged along one side and facing into the body of the hall. Lois remembered that the ornate furniture could appear and disappear at will and be replaced by the horrifying cage of execution. This room did not hold pleasant memories for her but she shelved her reminiscences away as she steeled herself to face the present crisis.
The great hall was filled to overflowing with a diverse number of Kryptonians. Nobles mingled with the scientific and academic communities. Doctors and lawyers were also well represented and a number of high ranking officers were sprinkled amongst the throng, in short all the important members of Kryptonian Society. Ordinary ranking soldiers aligned the walls, the Royal Bodyguard on duty.
Clark assumed correctly that given the numbers present, a Grand Council had been called. The hum of conversation hung in the air as the people speculated on the announcement made by Lord Trey, but silence immediately fell as the main protagonists entered.
Trey ushered Kal-El onto the dais and to the largest chair at the centre point of the table and took the seat on his Lord's right hand. Zara whispered to her husband, who looked surprised at her request, but who then stepped smartly up to the dais and seated himself next to Kal-El. Left standing just below the platform, Lois was feeling somewhat abandoned when surprisingly two cushioned chairs mysteriously appeared behind her. Zara joined her and the two sat down in the extremely comfortable chairs. Lois was grateful spiritually for the other woman's close presence and physically for the chance to rest her weary body.
Thinking to make an important impression on the assembly, Caine came last to the hall and was not amused to find his rival already ensconced on the throne. It was soon made plain to him that he, being the accused, must take his place in the dock. Clark's mind went back to the time when he had stood on that podium and had listened to the verdict and subsequent sentence. He was thankful that the positions were reversed but he almost felt sorry for Caine … almost, but not quite.
Lord Trey, re-assuming his role of most senior Elder present, called the tribunal to order and proceeded to read out the list of charges against the accused. The main one being that Caine, to further his own thirst for revenge, had led the people of Krypton to commit acts that were both futile and dishonourable, namely the theft of children from another world, causing severe suffering and hardship to both the children and their families.
Caine at once protested that the abductions had been sanctioned by a special Grand Council and were therefore lawful. Clark countered with the point that the Council had endorsed the motion without being aware of the true facts of the situation. The room was a buzz of speculation which Kal-El silenced with an autocratic clap of his hands. When quiet returned to the chamber he left his chair and walked round the table to stand at the front of the dais.
"People of Krypton," he pitched his voice so that he could be heard at all points of the chamber, "some of you will remember when last I stood in this hall. That day mistrust and prejudice were given free rein and grave mistakes were made. However, in the end good faith and good sense prevailed and I parted with you in peace. I ask you again to accord me that same good sense and faith." He paused for a moment to scan the chamber and was satisfied that he had their rapt attention. "The news that I bring you is not good but never the less it is the truth. You have been told that the people of Earth are suitable for interbreeding with your own kind and so can rescue the race of Krypton from extinction … This is not so." He paused again as uproar invaded the throne room. Trey used his gavel to bring order to the throng and finally their was silence. Kal-El resumed his speech. "As you all know, my wife recently gave birth to my son. The first child successfully born of a Kryptonian man and an Earth woman. This is unfortunately not a normal circumstance. Both Earth and Kryptonian scientists agree that such interbreeding is, in most cases, virtually impossible."
The hubbub began once more as the assembly reviewed this information. Words of disbelief were directed towards the dais.
"Are we supposed to believe this half-breed?" Caine shouted from the dock. "This man who so callously abandoned his own people?"
"You do not have to accept my word alone," Kal-El interposed, "you may listen to the findings of Dr. Darius, a fellow member of this mission."
The Doctor was known to be the Chief Medical Officer assigned to the abducted children. Darius was hurried forward from his position at the rear of the dais and after vowing to speak only the truth began reading his statement, softly at first so that the listeners had to strain to hear, but as he gained confidence so his voice gained strength. The crowd listened with mounting apprehension as he carefully explained the results of the medical tests he had run. When he finally finished by requesting his fellow medical researchers to verify his trials, most of the assembly accepted the truth of his testament.
But Caine was not prepared to give up his plan of retribution so easily. A quick assessment of the dismayed faces in the crowd informed him that the law authorising the kidnappings would shortly be revoked, a circumstance he was not willing to accept. Implacable detestation swelled in his whole being as he watched a satisfied Kal-El turn to his ministers to request the Earth children's release. The law makers were now on the side of his enemy but he would have his revenge, in the death of the man who killed his brother. The guards by his side were armed but distracted by the depressing information they had heard. He neatly killed the first with an expert blow to the throat that smashed the man's windpipe like a reed, then snatched the soldier's weapon as he fell. Before the second guard could defend himself the blade of his dead friend entered between his ribs and directly into his heart.
"Kal-El," Caine shouted, brandishing the stolen weapon and leaping onto the dais to place himself on an equal level as his foe. "Lord Kal-El, forget about the brats. I accuse you of the murder of my brother and challenge you to a dual to the death in reparation."
This was nonsense. Everyone knew that Kal-El had fought fairly in the duel between himself and Nor. Indeed, if there had been any nefarious moves, they had been committed by Nor. There was no case here to answer, but everyone realised that Caine had passed beyond reason.
The silence in the hall was tangible as Kal-El turned to face the ranting man. Ching came from behind the table and threw a small scythe like weapon (the same type Caine was wielding) into Kal-El's hands, just in time for him to parry a blow from his charging opponent. He knew his skin to be impervious to puncture, but would that still hold true here in the false atmosphere of the palace, where once his body had been uncomfortably close to complete disintegration? Certainly his foe was strong and fit, but there was no more time for speculation. He disliked the need for physical violence, though perhaps this time there was some justification and he had no intention of dying at Caine's hands.
The two combatants circled each other cautiously, seeking an opening. Caine lost patience and lunged towards his enemy, striking at Kal-El's weapon-holding arm and succeeded in slicing a cut lengthwise from elbow to wrist. That answered the question of his impervious skin. The sight of blood dripping from Kal-El's open wound emboldened Caine and he came forward again, arm outstretched, ready to strike the next blow, but this time Superman was prepared and he kicked hard at the extended wrist, numbing Caine's grasp and as the man lost power Kal-El took hold of his foe's forearm in a vice-like grip and twisted strongly. With a grunt of pain the Commander dropped his weapon but managed however to entwine his legs around Kal-El's knees and both men toppled to the floor.
Lois watched the alien try to kill her husband in horrified silence. She had barely maintained her disciplined quiet when she saw Clark's blood. The last thing he needed was to be distracted by her fears, but as the two rolled from the edge of the dais into the body of the hall, Lois gasped uncontrollably. Her tension communicated itself to Joel, who began to waken from his sleep of exhaustion.
The crowds close to the platform parted to clear the way for the struggling combatants.
As Superman fought to regain his balance he threw away the unfamiliar weapon. Even now, when his life was under threat, he refused to use an unfair advantage. A frustrated grunt of disapproval from Lois registered somewhere in his brain but was quickly ignored as he returned his attention to defeating this man.
Caine was the first to rise and he chopped hard with the edge of his hand at Kal-El's exposed neck but, though the muscles and sinews of steel prevented the blow from being lethal, Superman found himself momentarily stunned. At that Caine fell on his opponent, gouging his thumbs into Kal-El's eyes. The pressure was tremendous and Superman knew he had to do something fast before he passed out. Caine straddled his body and through a fog of red Superman watched a vicious grin spread across his tormentor's exultant face. With a gigantic effort he heaved himself off the floor and reversed their positions, pinning the other man beneath him. Kal-El's hands tightened round Caine's windpipe. It would be so easy to choke the life out of this arrogant man, but it was not his way to take a life no matter what the provocation. He threw the man to the ground and turned away in disgust.
Caine remained choking on the floor for a few seconds, but his was a desperate plight. He gazed around for salvation and found it in the shape of Lois, standing close-by with Joel in her arms. He sprang towards the Earth female and wrenched the child from her arms. Lois's scream caught Clark's attention and everyone in the throne room froze as Caine hoisted the infant high above his head and scanned the frozen tableau in the hall and in particular the hated man before him. Somehow Kal-El's sudden fear made him seem much more vulnerable.
Joel was now wholly awake. The sudden movement had startled him and he sensed instinctively the loss of the security of his mother's clasp. In his short life this was the second time he had been wrenched from the safety of his family, but he had no more tears. He lay as still as he could and simply whimpered. That barely audible sound broke Clark's heart but he stilled his rising panic and walked slowly towards them.
"Give the baby to me and you can walk out of here. No one will harm you." He kept his voice low so not to provoke a violent reaction.
"I'm afraid my fate is already sealed. I drew a weapon on my sovereign Lord." Caine spoke sarcastically, "A crime punishable only by death."
"Do not harm the child and I promise, you will be pardoned."
"But that is not within your power. The Council of Elders would invoke the full force of the law and insist on my execution."
Trey nodded his assent as Clark turned to question him.
"So you see I have nothing to lose. You, on the other hand, have a great deal. I may enjoy killing your child as once you killed my brother."
The atmosphere in the throne room was deathly. No one dared move for fear of pushing the already unsteady man over the edge and into the arms of insanity.
Caine lowered the baby and began to study the small form.
"Such a beautiful boy is the heir to the House of El," his silken voice dripped venom. "Such a tiny morsel of flesh to carry the hopes of an entire race. And such a noble head borne on such a slender neck." And with laughter bordering on madness his hand closed around Joel's throat.
Lois collapsed weeping to the ground while Zara gripped her shoulder in a gesture of support. Kal-El was aware of his wife's agony but his eyes remained locked on his deadly enemy.
"How much pressure do you think it would take to snap such a tender little neck?" Caine asked with deceptive innocence while beginning to tighten his fingers on the soft baby skin.
Superman snapped. A strangled no burst from his lips and rage such as he had never before known seethed in his heart. Witnesses ever after swore that his eyes glowed fire and in an instant a fireball struck Caine full in the face. For a few seconds the lifeless form hung upright in the centre of the chamber.
Ching was already moving and as the faceless body fell to the ground he snatched up the terrified choking baby. A baby with finger print bruises like a necklace about his small throat, evidence of Caine's madness.
The action released the courtiers in the throne room and a wave of shocked conversation ensued. The only people who remained still were the principle players.
Lois was staring at her husband. Never, since they had first met, had she known him attack anyone with the full force of his awesome strength. He stood immobile like some stone statue of a pagan god. She scarcely recognized the set jaw and the smouldering eyes and she found herself more than a little unsettled. Then, on a quick intake of breath, her Clark returned, the gentle reporter whose care was infinite. He took his weeping son in his arms and gently soothed the baby tears, then, raising Lois from the floor, he hurried them from the room.
Once in the ante-chamber his shoulders slumped.
"Damn them, Lois," he said with a mixture of sadness and anger, "Damn them for making me into some kind of monster." The last was spoken with self loathing.
"Caine gave you no choice, sweetheart. He would have killed Joel without compunction," she assured, wrapping her arms around her husband and son and hugging them close. "The man was as mad as his brother. Krypton will do better without him. The important thing is that Joel is safe. We have him back and all the children. Now we can go home."
The door from the throne room slid open and Ching and Zara tentatively entered. Not wishing to interrupt Lois and Clark's quiet moment of communion they stood handfast watching the couple. After a few minutes Kal-El raised his head.
"What do you want?"
His cold voice disconcerted Zara but her husband was undeterred.
"There is much to discuss, Lord Kal-El." Ching refused to abandon the title.
"I know, but not now. My wife and son are tired, as am I and I also require some medical attention."
He indicated the long cut in his right arm. The wound was still seeping a trickle of blood and it had not sealed as he had expected it to. Perhaps when he was back on Earth his body would return to normaln(normal for him). But he was exhausted.
"I'm sure we would all benefit from a time of reflection. I'm taking Lois and Joel back to Metropolis, to our family, who are probably frantic with worry by now. The children too must be returned to their parents. See to it, Ching." Kal-El cracked out the last order. "Tomorrow we will return to discuss the future. Doctors Klein and Lane will be with us. They are both brilliant researchers and will agree, if I ask, to co-operate with your own scientists. Perhaps between them they will discover a solution to your problem."
Kal-El's voice was unusually remote and autocratic and Lois recognised her husband's inner turmoil. He was trying desperately not to blame his own people for what he considered his fall from grace.
Lois turned to the alien couple who were clearly distressed by Kal-el's uncompromising manner.
"Earth medicine has made great advances these past years," Lois enjoined encouragingly. "Many infertile couples have been helped to have children." She squeezed Clark's uninjured arm as she spoke and looked pointedly at the Kryptonians. He caught her meaning and unbent a little.
"Lois is right. I'm certain that tomorrow we can find a way forward." He started to lead his family away, then thought again. "Zara and Ching, you both risked a great deal to help us. Without you we should never have succeeded in rescuing Joel. I am sorry if I have not seemed sufficiently grateful. Forgive me, I am not quite myself. I do thank you with all my heart."
The space couple smiled their relief and appreciation and, in a spontaneous gesture of danger shared and defeated, the two women hugged each other warmly. Clark, realising that Ching would never accept such a gesture, offered the other man his hand and was pleased when it was accepted.
The doors opened once more to admit an anxious Lord Trey ,who waited rather sheepishly in the doorway. He had obviously been sent to ascertain what was happening.
"Lord Trey," Kal-El began tiredly. "I'm sure you are here to remind me of my duty. Lady Zara will explain what has been decided. Negotiations with the people of Earth will begin tomorrow, but for the present I and my family would appreciate a night of rest."
"But of course, my lord," Trey acceded readily. "A chamber in the Royal apartments has been prepared for you. If you will allow me to escort you and your lady."
"Trey!!!" his lordship interrupted. Clark sighed audibly then went on. "Trey, as I told you once before, I belong here on Earth. Metropolis is my chosen home. My family and my friends are here. And my job. Everything I care for and hold dear is here on Earth." His arm instinctively tightened about Lois. "And it is where I intend to stay … Always."
"But your people, My Lord, what of them?" Trey asked.
"They are not my people. Perhaps by birth, but these ties have long been broken. I abdicate all rights to the throne of Krypton for myself and for my heirs." He spoke sharply in an effort to convince Trey of his resolve. However, watching the older man's crestfallen appearance, he regretted his harsh tone. "Lord Trey, please believe me when I tell you that I wish your people well and will aid them if I can, but I will never return to your world." He softened his words with a rueful smile.
Then Joel was settled gently back into his mother's grasp and Clark, bending his knees a little, scooped Lois into his arms, in that most comfortable way the couple had developed for flying together. They were going back where they belonged; to the people who loved them. His lips brushed her's and he whispered close,
"Come on, Wife, let me take you home."