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 heat was oppressive and exhausting. Chloe put one foot in front of the other doggedly, trudging over the sandy terrain slowly and painfully. She was thirsty, her muscles ached, and the too-bright sun beat down relentlessly. She wore the same sort of loose robes Raya wore, protecting her pale skin from the sunlight, but beneath the fabric sweat beaded on her body.
"If there's a gateway," she said, "why haven't you used it yourself? You can't want to stay here."
Raya shrugged. "True. I would have escaped long ago, if I could have. But the gateway won't open for anyone who isn't a member of the House of El. Jor-El kept it secret, a sort of back door, in case anyone tried to imprison his family here."
Chloe mulled that over. "Why would he have to worry about that?"
"He was a great man." Raya's voice was reverent. "And like all great men, there were those who wished him ill."
Chloe frowned. She wasn't a big Jor-El fan, although she realized the real Jor-El might not have borne a lot of resemblance to the AI she and Clark knew. But it occurred to her that Raya's story didn't quite add up. "So he sent you here, trapped with the criminals for all eternity, without any way of escaping?"
"There was no time to add my genetic coding to the gateway." Raya's voice was curt, almost angry. "Krypton's last day was upon us even before Jor-El expected it. Jor-El did all that he could. He sent me away, and in so doing saved me."
She'd been trapped here for a long time. Perhaps time had no meaning here, but Raya must have felt the passage of the years, their heavy weight slowly crushing her.
Chloe wondered how desperate Raya was to escape this lifeless, barren world, a world of rude shelters and glaring sunlight and phantoms attacking every time she stepped outside. A world of thirst and starvation and pain. A world that on some level, she must resent being trapped in.
It made her wonder just how pure Raya's motives were.
Raya suddenly gave a yell of pain. Chloe had just enough time to realize that a dart of some sort had lodged in the other woman's shoulder, before a thin cord wrapped around her own neck. She fought frantically, trying to fight off the person who'd sneaked up behind her, but she couldn't draw a breath.
Within seconds she'd collapsed to her knees, struggling to hold onto consciousness as gray spots danced in her vision.
A huge, ebony-skinned man with emerald green eyes stood in front of her. He pulled her headdress off and looked at her for a long moment, studying her.
"A newcomer," he said. There was a terrible metallic sound as he drew a long, wickedly sharp knife and held it aloft. "Let us dispense with her. There is already too little here for the rest of us."
"Nam-Ek! Wait!" Raya had been flung aside in the struggle, but now she struggled up to a sitting position and held out a hand. "Don't kill her."
The man she'd addressed as Nam-Ek turned his head and regarded her contemptuously through impossibly green eyes. His voice was deep and resonant. "Why should I spare her life? She is nothing. Nothing at all."
"She is a great deal more than nothing." Raya got to her feet and stared back, coolly regal. "She is an El, and she can open the gateway. I was bringing her to you." Her mouth curved in a bitter, mirthless smile that made Chloe's blood run cold despite the oppressive heat. "She can free us all."
"I was told you wish to speak to me."
Lex Luthor spoke with curt impatience as he stalked into the room. He was using an old LuthorCorp warehouse as his headquarters, and to Clark's sensitive nostrils, the place reeked of blood and human sweat and of rank fear. It smelled of desperate defiance.
Lex was flanked by two brunette women. Clark stared for a long moment. Their long hair was scraped back, and they both wore tight black jumpsuits, but he recognized them instantly. He blinked at them, relieved to see them alive, but bewildered to find them here.
At last he managed to find words to address them. "Lois," he said, inclining his head. "Lana."
"They're my bodyguards," Lex said. "And those aren't their names, not anymore. They, and the rest of my people, have taken on names to remind us of the best qualities of humanity. Their names are Hope and Mercy."
The women stood on either side of Lex, eyeing Clark coldly. Lois was a third degree blackbelt, and Lana had been studying martial arts for the past three years. He thought they'd make pretty good bodyguards, at least against humans.
And he wasn't surprised to find Lana by Lex's side, frankly, because he knew Lana and Lex had been spending a lot of time together. They'd been growing closer, becoming friends, even before he and Lana broke up.
But Lois? As far as he knew, she didn't like Lex at all.
He reminded himself that right now, Lex was fighting for the survival of humanity. No matter what he'd done in the past, right now Lex was on the side of truth and justice. So finding Lois at Lex's side really shouldn't surprise him. Lois had her faults, but she fought for what she believed in, and always had.
Clark shoved away his confused, jumbled thoughts, pushed away the shock of seeing Lois and Lana unexpectedly. He turned his attention to Lex, studying the man he'd known for years, the man who'd once been his best friend, and who now was his greatest enemy. At least, the man who had been his greatest enemy until Zod came to Earth.
Now, Clark thought grimly, they had a common enemy.
Lex looked battered, as if he'd been fighting hand to hand in the battles against Zod's soldiers. One of his eyes was blackened, and there was a poorly stitched wound along his temple that would eventually leave a bad scar. But he still carried himself like a Roman emperor, and his silvery eyes blazed with contempt as he stared at Clark.
Clark had to fight not to lower his head and cringe under Lex's scrutiny, not to mention the cold scorn in the eyes of the women. He was terribly aware of the collar around his neck, the humiliating collar that proclaimed he was Zod's servant. With an effort, he met Lex's gaze.
"I come with a proposal for peace," he said.
"Peace." Lex snorted, a sound of unmistakable disdain. His hands were shoved firmly into his pockets, as if he was fighting the desire to physically attack Clark. "What you call peace, I call the ultimate subjugation of the human race."
"You can't win, Lex." Clark spoke as firmly as he could manage. He knew Zod was watching this exchange via transmission from the collar, and he knew that if he didn't convince her he was her loyal minion, he'd find himself on the floor screaming. And that was something he wanted to avoid at all costs. "All your rebellion is doing is hurting people. You're killing your own people. Surrendering to Zod would save lives."
"You can't be serious." Lex stared at him for a long moment, as if he'd never seen him before. "I know you're one of them, Clark. I've known for a while. But was this always your plan? Were you never anything more than an advance scout for an alien army?"
Shame coiled in Clark's belly, making him want to throw up. The one thing he hated, more than any other, was being called one of them. As if he were less than human, as if he were automatically suspect. As if he were a monster, rather than a man who'd always done his best to protect friends and strangers alike.
But the truth was, Lex had a right to feel the way he did just now. Clark was on Zod's side, however involuntarily. He lifted his chin, doing his best to avoid showing how much Lex's words had slashed into him.
"All I want," he said steadily, "is to avoid any more unnecessary loss of life."
Lex snorted again. "Of course. Because you and your people have shown such a high regard for human life. Tell me this, Clark. If I surrender, what will happen to humanity? Am I really supposed to believe Zod will leave us alone, and allow us all to live peaceful, fulfilling lives?"
Clark remembered the words spoken by another Zod he'd met in another timeline: Krypton... I intend to rebuild the rest of the Earth in its image. Soon, this entire world will resemble that snowy paradise. He had no reason to believe this Zod's plans were any different.
And if Zod so radically altered Earth's climate, what would happen to humanity?
Anxiety rioted in his brain, but he shoved it aside for now. The awful truth was, there was nothing he could do to stop Zod. Even if the collar was somehow miraculously removed, he couldn't kill Zod. Not as long as Zod wore his lifemate's body.
Right now, the best he could do was try to save as many lives as possible, and hope that he could somehow find a way to stop Zod in the end.
"If you continue to fight," he said, "they'll be wiped out. All of them, Lex."
"Better to die free than to live as slaves."
The words were spoken by Lois-- no, Hope. Clark looked at her again, seeing that she was almost as battered as Lex, her face bruised, a badly stitched slash marring her forearm. But she glared at Clark as if he was a piece of decaying garbage.
"I always thought you were on our side, Smallville."
Lana-- Mercy, he reminded himself-- spoke, and her voice dripped with contempt, too.
"He was never on our side."
"Apparently not." Lois looked revolted, and her voice grew even colder. "Thank God Chloe can't see you now."
All of a sudden he felt about two inches high. He wished he could melt through the floor and disappear. Lex had once been his friend, and Lana had once been his girlfriend, but Lois-- Lois was family, his lifemate's cousin. Her disapproval hurt like hell.
And it hurt even worse because it echoed his own thoughts. He should be on their side. He wanted to be on their side. Because his loyalties didn't lie with the invader from Krypton, but with the humans that inhabited this planet.
He should be fighting for the world he'd grown up on, doing battle against this alien invasion to save his people. His people.
And instead, here he was, arguing for something he didn't even believe in... all because he was a goddamned coward.
No, he reminded himself. The only way to end this was to kill Zod-- and he couldn't. He simply couldn't. His most basic Kryptonian instincts didn't allow it. And Zod had known that, which was doubtless why she'd picked Chloe's body to begin with. He didn't have any chance of besting her in a fight, and now that he wore the collar he was essentially at her mercy. If he showed defiance, she'd simply kill him.
The best he could do was to try to save as many people as possible, and hope in the end he could somehow figure out a way to defeat Zod.
He had the bleak feeling that he was rationalizing. He remembered Lois' words, Better to die free than to live as slaves, and he admitted to himself that he should have just defied Zod, and let her kill him.
But screaming in agony for hours or days, while she killed him with painstaking, methodical slowness, had simply been too terrifying a prospect for him to face.
"I'm just trying to get you to see this is fruitless," he said, his voice rising in anger. The anger was directed more at himself than at Lex and the women, and he knew it. "You can't win against Zod's superior technology, or her army. Surrender is the only thing that makes sense at this point."
Lex looked at him a long moment, his gray eyes blazing. "I have a message for your leader," he said at last.
"So do I," Lois-- Hope-- said. "Tell her to go fuck herself."
Lex held up his left hand, and Lois fell silent. "Tell Zod," he said, his voice chillingly cold and resolute, "that we will fight to the death. Every man, woman and child will willingly die before we allow this planet to be taken over by alien monsters."
Alien monsters. Clark winced at the term.
"If you won't surrender," he said, "then I'm under orders to take you back to Zod."
Lex gave a sudden, humorless smile. "Go ahead and try, Clark."
Clark strode forward, and suddenly a terrible feeling of sickness filled him. His ears buzzed, his head swam, and his stomach squirmed with nausea. He instantly recognized the symptoms as kryptonite exposure.
Clark staggered backward. Blinking against his blurred vision, he saw that Lex had pulled his right hand out of his pocket and was stalking toward him, his arm extended, his hand balled into a fist.
On his outstretched hand, Lex wore a kryptonite ring.
Read Chapter 9 here.