Season 6, following my story "Ever the Same"
Rating: Adult. If you're under eighteen, please go elsewhere now.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Read the previous chapter here.
Read the story from the beginning here.
The woman looked up, her eyes blazing. "There is nothing to talk about," she spat out. "It is impossible that you could be what you claim to be. You are not even Kryptonian, not with a name like Chloesullivan. It is not a Kryptonian name."
"The crystal disagrees with you," Chloe said, nodding toward the object.
A little crease appeared between the other woman's eyebrows. "There must be something wrong with it. It should not have restored your natural form unless you were an El."
Since El was a dirty word here, the smart thing to do would probably have been to agree that she wasn't an El. But Chloe refused to disavow Clark that way. She stared down at the other woman as haughtily as she could manage, feeling the sun beat down on her bare shoulders. She'd had her form restored, but without clothing, and this desert was no place to be without clothing.
"I am lifebonded to a member of the House of El," she said.
The woman's eyes went wide, and she spoke in an intense whisper. "Where are you from?" she demanded. "Where?"
The woman's mouth fell open, and she stared at Chloe. At last she spoke, her voice soft and almost reverent.
"You are lifebonded to Kal-El," she whispered.
The pain was truly horrific now, and it wouldn't stop, wouldn't give him a second's respite. It rolled over him and through him in excruciating waves, and his body rebelled. His muscles twitched helplessly, and his stomach heaved and rolled with nausea. He was vaguely aware he was lying in a pool of his own vomit, but he didn't care. The pain was all he was concerned with right now.
He was pain.
There was nothing else to his existence, nothing but the emerald glow. Nothing but agony ripping through his muscles and nerves and internal organs, like sharp-edged blades tearing his body to shreds. The pain was so terrible now, so all-consuming, that he thought he was going to die of it.
He certainly hoped so.
"Yes," Chloe said warily. Admitting she was lifebonded to the son of the man who'd built this place didn't strike her as the smartest thing she could do, but she wasn't going to lie about being bound to Clark, either. "How do you know of Kal-El?"
The woman rose to her feet, her lovely face glowing. "I knew Jor-El," she answered.
Chloe stood warily, watching the other woman with caution. She could still feel blood trickling from her lip where the other woman had backhanded her. "I guess he's the one who put you in this prison."
The woman's eyes blazed as if Chloe had insulted her. "It is a prison, but I am no inmate. Jor-El created this place to hold criminals from the twenty-eight known inhabited galaxies."
Chloe's eyebrows shot up. She wasn't an astronomer, but she did know that galaxies were enormous, and there were immense gulfs between them. If Kryptonians had been able to travel between galaxies-- well, they were a lot more advanced technologically than she'd realized.
She'd thought that perhaps this place had been created only for Zod, the way a small pocket universe had been created for Clark, and only for Clark, by one of Fine's crystals. At the most, she'd assumed there was only a small handful of criminals here. But it seemed that this Zone must be far more vast than she had imagined.
"This is a pocket universe," she said. "Isn't it?"
It was the other woman's turn to lift her eyebrows in surprise. "Yes. It is a place outside the normal flow of space-time."
"So if this is a prison, you're a prisoner."
"I may be trapped here, but I'm not one of the prisoners." She studied Chloe, then seemed to come to a decision. "My name is Raya."
"What, am I supposed to just take your word on it that you're not a prisoner, Raya? Am I supposed to just trust you, after you attacked me?" Chloe winced, feeling the blood still trickling down her back. "I'm running a little low on trust lately."
"Good," Raya answered. "In the Zone, trust can get you killed... or worse. The most vicious offenders were condemned for eternity, their corporeal bodies destroyed, their essence haunting the wasteland."
"Right. Phantoms. Like I was."
"Yes." Raya studied her. "The crystal is the only thing they fear. Jor-El gave it to me."
Chloe tilted her head. "Then you and Jor-El were friends?"
"I was his assistant."
Chloe looked at the beautiful young woman, who looked hardly any older than she herself did. "What, when you were five?"
"I told you," Raya said impatiently. "This is a pocket universe, and time is meaningless here."
That was understandable, based on what Chloe knew. Clark had been trapped in a pocket universe with a speeded-up timeline. Apparently this shard of reality was the opposite. Time ran more slowly here.
Raya went on. "I worked with Jor-El, and I wanted to stay by his side in the final hours. I begged him to allow me to remain, to help him until the end. But he wouldn't hear of it. He thought I'd have a better chance in the Zone."
Chloe glanced around, at the vast emptiness. "Did he and Clark's-- I mean, Kal-El's mother come, too?"
"No. He wouldn't stop trying to save Krypton, and Lara wouldn't leave his side." She lifted the crystal, which glinted in the too-bright sunlight. "This is all I have left of Jor-El. Every day...he still saves my life."
Chloe heard the reverence in her voice, saw the woman's eyes soften, and she realized that this woman had loved Jor-El.
Well, she could relate to that. She herself had been in love with a member of the House of El for years, after all. Apparently the El men were easy to love.
"What I don't understand," Raya said, "is how you could be in the Zone, and in a disembodied form."
Chloe sighed, looking down at her body. It looked perfectly solid, but she knew it was no more real than her phantom form had been. Her real body was still on Earth, wreaking God only knew what sort of havoc, with Zod at the helm. "Zod took my body."
Raya looked horrified. "Zod? Zod is on Earth?"
"Yes. And when I left, he and Fine were fighting Clark-- Kal-El, I mean. I have to get back, Raya. Clark needs my help."
Raya swallowed. "Zod will kill him, Chloesullivan."
"Yes, I know. Somehow I have to get back and help him." A thought occurred to her, and she stared at the other woman intently. "If you were Jor-El's assistant... then do you know a way out of this place?"
"Son of Jor-El." The voice only barely registered on Clark's mind through the green haze of pain. It spoke in a low, seductive murmur. "You can make the pain stop, if you want."
"Yes." His voice was a desperate whimper. "Please."
"You knelt before me earlier, but you did not truly give me your allegiance. We both know that. What I want from you is your heartfelt fealty. I want you at my side, Kal-El. I want the son of Jor-El to help me conquer this world."
Vaguely, he knew that he didn't really want to help conquer Earth. But he had no morals or scruples or ethics left. They'd all been washed away in the unremitting pain.
Anything, anything, was preferable to this never-ending torment.
He shuddered violently as another wave of pain rolled over him, this one worse than anything he'd experienced before. He wanted to scream, but couldn't. A tortured moan rose from his raw throat, and the low, soft voice continued to speak.
"It can get worse, Kal-El. Much worse. But swear to me your fealty... and it will stop."
"Yes." He sobbed helplessly. "Make it stop."
"Will you help me conquer your world, son of Jor-El?"
"Just make it stop. Please."
"Will you stand by my side as my loyal servant?"
He clenched his fists against the agony and spoke in a hoarse whisper.
"I'll do anything you want."
Read Chapter 5 here.