"Alex Luthor said that Supermen and Luthors would never get along, even though they needed each other to survive."
Cos looks up from his rack of tiles. "You're not a Luthor."
"I'm a Dox," Querl says, calculating the number of c's left. "On most planets, there's not much of a difference."
"A-ha!" Cos hurriedly lays down L-G-I-C around an O. "28!" he crows smugly.
Querl hm's as Cos collects his new tiles. "Besides, I rather think the more pressing issue is that you're not Kryptonian."
"Why, because you couldn't have blown up my planet?"
"There's no real evidence that was version 1.0's fault, not to mention the small fact that I'm not related to him." He lays down Q-U-I-X-O-T-I' against Cos's C. "Technically. 126," he says and smirks.
Cos throws up his hands. "Do I even need to be here for this game?"
Querl ignores him and adds up his score.
>>got a new phosphorylation sequence for you to look at
The message appears in a small comm window in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Querl lets it sit unanswered for an hour, then flexes his fingers.
>>What makes you think I'd be interested in that?
>>i saw you speak on cellular proteomics last year at the commons in metropolis
Querl had, in fact, been a speaker last year, but he had been in what the humans would quaintly called disguise.
>>you were in disguise
>>I was using technology based on a post-translation, pure amino-acid sequence to prove a point that no one got.
>>that's what i said
There's a pause.
>>and it wasn't no one
"Who is that?"
Querl keystrokes and the monitor goes blank.
Salu regains normal size, hopping up onto the control board and sprawling her legs across his knees. "You're all flushed."
He suffers through the application of the back of one cool hand to his cheek before twitching away, catching a glimpse of his face in the screen, two burning spots of white high up on his cheekbones. "I thought you were staying on Imsk tonight."
"I got bored." She sighs and rearranges her bare feet in his lap, nudging at his wrist.
He rolls his eyes and cradles her heel in his palm, pushing his thumbs hard into her instep.
She groans decadently and Querl thinks of the words on his screen. Phosphorylation.
Her toes poke him in the chest and he blinks. "Are you finally getting laid?" she asks.
Querl makes a vaguely disgusted face. "I was in the middle of a flight modification."
"Is that what the Coluans are calling it?"
"For the rings."
"Who is it? Jan?"
He shoves her feet of his lap.
She eyes him and hm's, hopping down off the control panel. "Fine." She heads for his private bathroom, pulling off her top. "Ayla's taking me out tonight."
"Does she know that yet?" he mutters and keystrokes again. The signal that had been there is gone even though their conversation is still in tact. He literally has to bite his tongue against an audible noise of impatience.
"You'd better not be implying anything about my virtue, Dox," she calls over the running water.
He wills the signal back but nothing happens. Instead, he deletes the conversation and pulls up the flight-ring schematics.
"What you need-- I'm turning in my tiles, these are awful." Cos tips his rack into his palm and scrounges for seven new ones.
"I don't think we should play with that rule."
"You can't pick the rules you want to play with."
"No wonder this game was banned." Querl feels his eye twitch. He moves an e to the end of his rack.
"What you need is a Luthor of your own."
It's exactly what Querl had been thinking, and the fact that Cos says it out loud so casually makes Querl want to smash things.
He spins the board towards him and fills in the blanks at the edge of the board with his letters. Manipulating Cos's moves has been crushingly predictable.
"Demythologizers," Jo reads, leaning over Cos's shoulder on his way through the rec room. "Sweet."
"One thousand, six hundred eighty-two."
Cos is gape-mouthed, seemingly unable to speak.
Jo slaps him on the back. "Angry scrabble. Just say no, dude."
Querl stands and pushes in his chair. "I think that's game."
"There are still tiles left!" Cos calls, when Querl is halfway to the door.
Behind him, Jo laughs. "Come on, Fearless Leader. Let's get you a beer."
Querl has his mainframe attuned to the signal the messages were coming from, and he's plugged in when the user logs onto his database, his presence pinging in Querl's cortex before Querl receives a message.
The actual message is some time in coming. Querl watches the signal, imagines his dendrites riding the undulation of it in his white matter.
>>okay i'll go first. even though you ditched me yesterday
The message tugs at the roots of his neurons and Querl has to yank the fiber optics cable out and then remind himself to breathe.
>>Unforseen extenuating circumstances
>>excuses. Where we we?
>>I think you were about to attempt to impress me with your knowledge of phosphorylation.
>>i can impress you with more than that
Querl taps his fingers on the keys, but doesn't type.
>>i need your help. with an invisibility serum. i'm halfway there, but i can't finish it
A quick dip and balance of his seratonin makes Querl feel suddenly out of sorts, his heart pounding.
>>No one's been able to manufacture an invisibility serum that won't kill you.
There's a pause, and Querl feels a smile tugging at his mouth before the answer even appears on the screen.
>>i'm lyle. by the way
Finding Lex Luthor's most direct living descendant is proving to be more difficult that anticipated, Querl dictates to his log through his data port.
There are variables he hadn't thought of – name changes, impostors, and Luthors from other dimensions, to name a few. He's up for three days rearranging numbers and unknowns to find a formula that will do the work for him.
He has no genetic signature, is mainly the problem.
Second only to the fact that he's on this quest in the first place.
Stumbling into the remnants of Brainiac 13, a failed future experiment of what could potentially be his own creation, is the break he needs.
He logs into his mainframe for the first time in three days, and plugs in.
Querl's ports crackle, but they hold.
Lyle is waiting for him.
Cham snorts and a second later sticks a hand between Querl and his book. His skin is cool to the touch, thick, like armor. Querl's not sure he's ever touched Cos's skin before, but if he had to make a guess as to what it would feel like, this is it.
"Do your organs change, too?"
Cham/Cos shrugs. "Does it matter?"
Querl sighs heavily and turns a page. Lex Luthor has just won the presidency of the former United States of America. "Zoonian"
Thick, soft hair grows over Cham's arms and his shoulders double in width. Querl's fingers twitch on his book.
"Londo has a more pungent smell."
Cham's nose wrinkles in his borrowed face. "I guess that answers your question about organs and whatever."
Luthor stares up at him from the photo of his induction to the office of the President. "Kryptonian," he murmurs.
"Bo-ring," Cham sing songs and a red cape settles around his shoulders. "You know, Durlan historians think Kal-El had genetically-modified shape-shifting abilities coded into the life-support system on his rocket."
Querl lays his book across his lap and looks up. Cham had let his antennae poke through the perfectly shiny black hair, and the orange stalks sway delicately, sniffing their new surroundings.
Superman smiles benevolently. "So he'd fit in with whatever species inhabited the planet he landed on."
"That's ridiculous. Jor-El knew exactly what planet he was sending his son to."
"How do you know?" Cham mimics the cover of Querl's book. "Just because Lex Luthor says so?" Lex frowns, auburn eyebrows furrowing in a thick line. "He didn't know everything."
"He knew enough."
Lex's bald head sprouts red hair and Cham sits on the edge of Querl's chair. "You can't trust humans. They're the most selfish species." He takes Querl's hand and puts it on his chest. Querl can feel every rib through the thin shirt and the thinner skin, a human heart thudding irregularly against his palm. "Because they need to protect themselves. They're all soft and, I dunno. Breakable."
Cham turns back into the self he usually wears. "You know?"
Querl clears his throat and opens his book. "Yes. I do."
Querl can't help the smile that stretches his mouth, even though it feels completely foreign.
>>Of course it does.
>>i appreciate your confidence
>>I meant since I was the one helping you.
>>*laughs* and i couldn't have done it without you
There's a pause, and Querl feels the need to plug in, even though he knows there's no way to know what Lyle is thinking. And it's odd, because he knows what he's going to see next, with no logical train of thought to lead him to it; a queer, anxious churn starts in his belly, tingling down his legs and into the soles of his feet.
>>come and see me
He has entire databases to run through, a thousand years of the Metropolis census.
Lyle's signal holds its breath.
Querl twitches when Salu alights on his shoulder.
"This again." She slides down his arm and lounges in the crook of his elbow. "You're obsessed, you know? You'd probably never get anything done if you weren't, I guess."
"Mm." He was so close. Brainiac 13's records were still intact, even after his destruction, and Lena Luthor's genetic signature permanently hardwired into his databanks combined with his connection to the Metropolis census, and the Luthors were always on the map, so to speak.
"Don't you have a door to catch in, like, three hours?"
"I already had my REM cycle."
"You've never taken time off." She grows to Querl's size and squints. "Is this, like, Coluan mating season?"
"Stop." Stop. He's an idiot. And if he's an idiot, woe is the rest of this godforsaken team.
He pauses the searches and pulls up a find node.
2986. Norg, he types. Lyle.
"Let's play Bottle City of Kandor," Salu laughs. "You be Brainiac and I'll be bad girl Kara Zor-El." She does a little mincing circle in the air, the tips of her boots dragging on the floor.
He hits enter. "Hysterical."
"Thank you." She leans forward, smacking a kiss on his forehead; she smells like the crypto-engineered African violets Val grows in the south greenhouse. "When do I get to meet him?"
It pings back.
And Lyle appears on the network.
"Never." Querl plugs in the fiber optics to let Lyle's signal stretch across his thalamus.
She sulks so impressively, the thought has crossed Querl's mind that it's an extension of her powers. "Why, is he hideously deformed? Powerless?" She pauses and her smirk is almost gleeful. "Stupid?"
"No." Lyle is poking around Querl's white matter cautiously, leaving a trail of markers to show where he's been, so Querl knows he's only seeing what Lyle is seeing because Lyle is letting him.
"Took you long enough," Salu reads from the monitor. "What does that mean?"
Querl grins smugly. "He's a Luthor."
"This is crazy," Lyle gasps, biting off a groan as Querl scrapes his teeth over Lyle's left nipple. It's something Querl is growing increasingly fond of, less than 48-hours after the first instance, this reaction to something so ordinary, a reaction for which he has no frame of reference.
"Mm, I think it makes perfect sense." Querl frames his hands across Lyle's soft belly and runs his thumbs deliberately into the dip of his navel. His pelvis seems delicate under his palms.
Lyle twitches hard and laughs. "Only because I'm a Luthor."
Querl snorts. "I hope I don't have to actually disabuse you of the notion that this will be the point at which I declare my undying love for you." Lyle is like a furnace, his throat scorching against Querl's thin-skinned lips. "Or your species in general."
"You're obsessed," he breathes, his hips twisting in Querl's grasp.
"I've heard that's my one redeeming quality."
Lyle smirks and nestles his palm into the v of Querl's thighs. "I can think of another."
Querl rolls his eyes, suppressing a shudder at the fission that travels up his spine from his prick to the base of his neck. "Are all humans so unsubtle?"
"Yes." Lyle lets his knees fold under him, releasing the catch on Querl's civilian trousers. "But we refer to it as precision."
"Your one redeeming quality," Querl replies and lets himself sink a hand into Lyle's soft, dark hair, finer than his own, as Lyle draws out Querl's prick.
Lyle smirks, looking up from under thick lashes, his breath hot and wet between Querl's legs. "I dunno, I can think of another."
"Idiot," Querl murmurs and then he loses track of his speech center.
A week later, he touches the tiny furrow in Lyle's brow after he falls asleep.
Lyle makes an odd bleating noise and then turns on his stomach, the pillowcase where his mouth was translucent with drool.
He leaves a note next to the ring on Lyle's bedside table.
If you can handle operating as the second smartest being in a room it says. If he joins, Querl muses while he tugs on his boots, they'll have to confer about coding the ring into Lyle's specific protein modification sequence to make it easier to affect when he's invisible.
When he joins.
He lets himself drop from Lyle's twenty-first story window. He waits to engage his ring, free-falling for five seconds, ten.
"What is that?"
Querl squints overly hard at the words he's just spelled and says it slowly, phonetically. "Crwth."
Cos frowns and puts his hands on his hips in a typical I-am-being-a-non-threatened-leader pose, which Querl is not at all surprised he can pull off sitting down. "I can read. What are you doing?"
"Are you formally challenging me?"
"Okay." Cos scrubs a hand over his face. "What I meant was, what's with the pity-scrabble bullshit? Only words with consonants? Five-letter words with four vowels in them?"
"It's on a double word score."
"That's not the—" Cos stops and narrows his eyes. "What happened?"
"I'm feeling vaguely magnanimous. I didn't think that was against the Legion Code of Conduct. Seeing as I wrote it."
"I thought it was against the Brainiac 5.0 Code of Conduct."
"Don't be inane, there is no Brainiac code of conduct."
"Yes." There's a bloom of what Querl theorizes is joy in his chest when Cos's face goes blotchy and red and annoyed.
He decides he could rather get used to humans. Soft and breakable, but sometimes, really quite clever.
The recruit alarm sounds and Cos looks at Querl with wide eyes.
"Pick-up," Querl says casually.
Cos frowns, activating his costume so it forms over his civilian clothes. His hair is still wet from his shower, shiny black with a small, crooked spit curl curving over his forehead. "We'll talk about this later."
Querl smiles and knows Cham is wrong because Alex Luthor was right.