“Thank you, Kelex, that will be all.”
Alura took the vessel and served the Dramian tea to Director-Major Lucille Lane, mission leader of the science expedition the Earthlings—no, humans, Alura thought—had mounted to explore their planet.
Lucy's smile was small, her head downturned and her eyes averted, but Alura wanted none of that. They had both experienced quite the evening at the Second Citadel’s welcoming social; the least she could do was ensure Lucille—no, Lucy—that she and her team were welcome.
The morning was bright in the modest apartment. The space was a far cry from the large living quarters she and Zor-El had once shared in Argo City, and Alura almost felt embarrassed to open her home to a guest with such little room in which to maneuver. But concessions had been made with the relocation to the colonies, and because of those concessions, a planet had been saved. They had been fortunate that Kelex was able to remain with their household ever since the move to the colonies, and there were many families with far more compromised conditions than hers.
But they had saved their planet, Alura reminded herself.
Why impressing an earthling with breathtaking views of the Moriellisan fields and Arcadian cityscapes seemed of utmost importance, Alura could not figure. But the notion had cartwheeled to the front of her mind after an evening spent with the Science Guild Officers and these explorers, after learning of Kal-El’s reputation on Earth and his… non-relationship with these human agents.
The DEO, Alura noted.
Alura took offense at being classified as extra-normal. Perhaps it was the humans that were extra-normal themselves? They certainly seemed it; mounting an expedition with little hope of success, prideful and fascinating beyond measure, open, social, inquisitive… light-years behind the developed minds of Krypton, but the humans possessed an ease and vivacity of spirit that at least supported their reputation as intriguing party guests.
“I had three cups of this myself this morning,” Alura offered, moving the towel over the handle of the kettle. The steam rose from Lucy’s cup in curlicued shapes of comfort, alleviating the perpetual throb still present in Alura’s frontal lobe. “It does… rather well with headaches.”
“Thank you,” Lucy brightened infinitesimally, gathering the courage to meet Alura’s glance while cupping her hands round the warming mug. “After last night, I certainly need it.”
“Our wines do not seem as strong upon initial ingestion,” Alura grinned. “However the morning after—”
“Sneaks up on you?” Lucy finished, tilting her head curiously before blowing softly against the surface of the liquid, ripples fluttering outward and smacking against the side of the mug. She took a sip and Alura had to tear her eyes away.
She’d already been caught staring at Lucy the previous evening; the guests had been gifted traditional Kryptonian robes, and it was somewhat difficult, in the crowd of explorers, scientists, and representatives, to tell one humanoid species from another. The members of the Science Guild had flocked toward the more problematic agent Astra had been escorting with the lower-level restraints, but Alura had orbited round Lucy just as these moon-like colonies orbited round a resting Krypton. Alura kept her distance until welcomed, but when she was…
Well, it was the most marvelous event to occur since their three-year departure from the planet’s surface. And it would do little good to not host the humans, to dismiss them, or worse, to seize them; there was no need for the Kryptonian diplomatic reputation to be seen as overly-suspicious and insular like the xenophobic Daxamites.
They had only just gotten a handle on the newly established colonies’ governments, Alura thought to herself (mentally justifying her rather… friendly behavior toward the Director-Major the previous evening).
Diplomatic relations had never been more paramount.
“The phrase is… apt,” Alura conceded, pouring a serving of her own tea before taking her seat in the less-than-expansive quarters she and the other representatives had been given upon their relocation to the Kryptonian moons. In the right light, she could see Krypton above her, still sick, but thanks to her sister’s unwavering efforts, still blessedly present. She took a sip of tea and sighed, wondering if her headache would fully dissipate if she drank gallons upon gallons of what Astra dubbed the morning after elixir.
“We are so very grateful that your outfit seemed to enjoy themselves last night,” Alura began.
“Probably a little bit too much,” Lucy said. “Your hospitality was wonderful, though. We… well, to be frank, Ms. El—”
“Alura,” Alura interrupted. “Alura In-Ze, or High Adjudicator, if you insist upon formalities,” Alura fiddled with the top of the kettle, fighting the flush rising high along the apples of her cheeks. “You had no trouble addressing me as Alura last night.”
“Oh I—well, ha,” Lucy tucked short dark hair behind her ears and laced her fingers together before her. “Like you said, uh…Kryptonian wine will make a socialite of anyone, even on new planets,” Lucy said. “But they… my team told me you were Superman’s aunt?” Lucy brought the tea up to her chest, inhaled, her nostrils flaring, her eyelashes curling, the soft ends of her hair, fluttering round her chin so delicately.
“Super—you mean Kal-El. Yes, I am,” Alura said. “But that is a complicated connection, Director Lane.”
“Lucy,” Lucy said. “If you’re Alura, I’m Lucy, and that’s the last we’ll say of it,” she grinned. “But from our records, you’re married to Super—uh, Kal El’s uncle, Zor-El, correct?”
“Was,” Alura said, satisfied that she did not think of Zor-El with any regret. “As you may know, Krypton was dying. It was why Lara sent Kal-El away in the first place.”
“We’d gathered that from some intel, but Super—sorry, Kal-El, on Earth… he’s less than forthcoming with information.”
“Any reason why I should practice the same caution?”
“He does not trust that we will use that information for good,” Lucy said frankly. “And after having worked with some departments back home, I don’t blame him for being wary. There are some military outfits on Earth, specifically… some I’ve worked very closely with, who would take advantage of any knowledge concerning extra-terrestrial life. But I’ve come to learn that ‘For good’ and ‘For the safety of the planet’ are occasionally mutually exclusive.”
Alura paused at that, for Lucy… well, Lucy looked rather young to have made such a distinction. To have been put into any sort of position by governing powers that might force her to make a judgment call based upon her perceptions of morality and ethics, and to note that she had come to such a conclusion that at times conflicted with her superiors or others with far more clout… it did nothing to staunch Alura’s rapidly-growing fascination with the human leader.
“You sound as if you came to that conclusion through first-hand experience.”
“You sound as if you sympathize,” Lucy returned, the grin deepening round the rim of her mug, her features blossoming, her gaze, sparkling and knowing and meeting Alura’s with such steady understanding any remaining embarrassment from her actions at last night’s gala evaporated as easily as the acid rains after the hydration resolutions were passed.
“You’ve heard pieces of the story, I gather,” Alura concluded. “A dying planet, a militant coup against the government—”
“Led by your sister?”
“Led by a general, who happens to be my sister, yes,” Alura amended. “She… her ways were extreme, and her measures—I did not approve, but I understand them now. After one or two significant protests and uprisings, she’d stirred enough popular support to call a session at the Citadel among the members of the High Council. The evidence was irrefutable. Kryton was dying, and we were signing our own death warrants.”
“But it’s not dead,” Lucy said. “I saw it last night, all purple and… lonely.” Lucy’s voice grew soft, melancholy perhaps, speaking of a planet to which she had no connection other than that which was mandated by her job. “It’s still there.”
“It is, by Rao’s grace and my sister’s stubbornness—”
“I think ‘tenacity’ might sound more marketable.”
“My sister’s tenacity nearly cost her her freedom. I would not go about indulging her occasionally extreme opinions.”
“She saved your planet,” Lucy countered. “Seems a bit of praise is warranted.”
“It was not without great sacrifice on both sides,” Alura said, twisting the silver element wrapped round the middle finger of her right hand.
“…and many others,” Alura said. “Scientists worked round the clock on the tightest deadline imaginable. Even then, some were lost to experimental procedures. We attempted…we attempted the impossible, Lucy. We moved the entire planet for roughly twelve amz--uhm, fifteen years, to a place where time would not pass, to a place where… where decay and destruction would never be allowed to occur. And those of us who remained on its surface did not age, but Krypton was powerless. No energy, no movements… it was terribly difficult to get anything done during that time.”
"You... you moved a planet?"
"We call it the Phantom Zone," Alura explained. "Time does not pass in its vacuum. And those who remain there..."
"You were there for fifteen years? How the hell--how did you blink a planet from one spot in space to another?"
"I think the best answer is that we did so with some terribly clever science."
“But you… you shut everything down right? Shut it down well enough that when you put Krypton back—I’m sorry, I’m just kind of having a hard time reconciling that you moved an entire planet to another galactic zone.”
“With the help of our brightest scientists and species far smarter than our own,” Alura conceded. “Astra and I have been traveling—it feels like half a lifetime. To propose that we move Krypton to the Phantom Zone to stall the implosion amounted to treason at the time we conceived the idea.”
“But you did it anyway,” Lucy said, moving her chair in closer and bringing her elbows up on the table.
She leaned forward, gravitating toward Alura, eager interest so startlingly difficult to hide. Alura had grown accustomed to the world of diplomats with faces of stone, but Lucy’s expressions were so genuine, she could not help but appreciate her forthright attitude.
“We did. But all of this,” Alura gestured absently to the apartment, to a depowered Kelex, to the modest arches and small window on the south side of the room, “pales in comparison to the splendor of Krypton. We are only here because we managed to shut down our energy plants and allowed Krypton to reclaim itself. Rao blessed us with great allies in this galaxy; ties that Astra forged on missions, ties with raw materials and energy sources and commodities that we exploited to build colonies that could sustain our populations here, while some of us gave up years as we remained in tents and shelters on the ground in the Phantom Zone. We saved ourselves. But these moons are overcrowded and tensions run high at all times, which is why when your outfit arrived—”
“Hey, that’s not the first time I’ve been forcibly seized and thrown into a cell,” Lucy cut her off, placing her hand atop Alura’s.
The warmth beneath her tapered human fingers was tenfold that of the mug. Then there was the added advantage of touching Lucy, which she had done with some liberality the previous evening. In her deep purple Kryptonian robe, Lucy had looked every inch the magistrate, and she had not once pushed Alura away. It was a curious, new feeling that Alura experienced, and she could not put a name to it. Perhaps it was something to ask her sister about, if the general-turned-life-of-the-party ever deigned to rise from her private chambers and greet their guest.
Lucy squeezed her hand once, in solidarity, in comfort, before biting her lip and dragging her fingers away, returning them to their place round the mug of tea. Alura was most grateful for the mug nestled in her own grip. If she had nothing else to do with her hands, she might do something profoundly foolish—like reach for the human who dazzled her like none other at the gala last night.
“Besides,” Lucy continued, “seems like fairly standard protocol in emergency situations. Alex, or uh, Agent Danvers… I’m sorry about her. She’s—” Lucy rolled her eyes and shook her head in exasperation, a look Alura knew too well, having lived with an older sister who felt that terrorist action against the ruling government was the best way to prompt a formal hearing instead of a Rao-blessed petition. “—she can get a little overzealous in the field. Diplomacy is not her first instinct.”
“Her immunity has been stalled in the high courts,” Alura said. “It should be resolved within the week, but attacking a Senator—”
“I know it’s not doing her any favors, but she really had no clue who that man was, Alura,” Lucy argued. “She just saw someone reaching for their piece and her instincts kicked in.”
“Side-arm… weapon,” Lucy amended. “She seemed to be playing well enough with your sister last night, though the cuffs did prevent her from visiting with too many more people.”
“Most everyone on your team seems perfectly capable for the expedition. Your Agent Danvers is smart, just… quarrelsome. She and my sister debated battle techniques for the majority of the night and I fear parted on poor terms.”
“There goes our character witness to speed up the immunity process,” Lucy huffed, knocking an absent knuckle against the tabletop. “If we’re going to get down to Krypton any time soon, we need Alex cleared. She’s the secondary scientist on the mission. We're still waiting to hear from your Guild Officers who'll be leading the team as the Kryptonian representative.”
“That might take some time, especially after you gave the Guild an excuse for a gala," Alura smiled. "Yet I have another query. You are a lawyer and a soldier. And Alex is a soldier and a scientist… are these dualities common on Earth?”
“Ha! About as common as twins on Krypton,” Lucy said. “We’ve all got our specialties. Alex actually focuses on alien biologies, so she can see how Krypton’s deterioration might have an effect on Kryptonian bodies, if she doesn’t piss off every Kryptonian she meets.”
“Oh god, sorry,” Lucy smirked again, hiding behind her mug. “Sorry, like… make them angry, you know? She’s combative, argumentative when she has to be. She’ll listen to sense, but here, in a new place, her guard is up and she’ll stick to what she knows. The same has to go with me. I can make judgment calls, but at the end of it all, I’ve only got 30 days to complete this initial mission before we can even think of mounting another.”
“… so you might return?”
“It depends on how much data Alex and the team can collect,” Lucy said. “Ours is a planet very similar to yours, Alura. That’s why we’re here. Seeing what we can do to stop Earth from dying before it’s too late. Of course, we’re not nearly as advanced as Krypton, so moving a planet to a galaxy where time doesn’t pass is beyond our means. Space colonies are…" Lucy trailed off momentarily in thought, sucking on the inside of her cheek and tapping her finger restlessly against the table. "They're expensive and controversial and our galaxy isn’t exactly conducive to—” Lucy shook her head, and placed the mug aside, sighing heavily. “Let’s just hope this is the first of many successful missions that will provide some much-needed insight,” she concluded.
“To a successful mission, then,” Alura nodded, returning Lucy’s concerns with a smile she hoped was reassuring.
It was her turn to reach out, shaking fingers be damned, and wrap her hand up in Lucy’s own. It reminded her of last night, when their guests had been invited to mingle with Kryptonian magistrates, when they’d been taken to the crudely fashioned but well-maintained council hall on the outpost. There had been wine, questions, stories, gasps, tales told of Kal-El’s celebrity on their planet and conclusions drawn about their arrival. There had been wonderful food, the rations suspended after word of teh visitors had spread. And there had been close conversations in dark corners and even a brief dance, one that left Alura breathless.
All evening, she had been fascinated by the twinkle in Lucy’s eyes, a twinkle made brighter by the wine, by the debates, and then darkened in the instant her hand gravitated to the small of Lucy’s back as she led her about the room, introducing her to each representative and councilor; a sea of faces, a barrage of questions, and yet Lucy elected to remain next to Alura for the duration.
Unlike her sister’s charge with the quarrelsome Agent Danvers, Lucy remained next to Alura by choice. No cuffs, no demands, but simple diplomacy. That is what Alura would call the warm feeling Lucy elicited in her chest when she smiled at her, when she inquired after legal rulings Alura had made, when she asked pointed questions about the settlement of the colonies, about the logistics of transporting billions of people off-world.
It changed her view of Earth in an instant.
“Kelex?” Alura asked, turning her attention to the robot she’d dismissed. “Is there a problem?”
“I’ve just received a transmission from the High Council’s daily convocation,” Kelex said. “It seems the human agent—one Alex Danvers—did not return to her monitored quarters after the welcome gala last night.”
“Dammit, Alex.” Lucy stood abruptly, removing a device attached to her hip and placing the curving black piece over her ear.
“Lucy, please,” Alura sighed, standing as well, their peaceful morning broken by the news. “Are you certain she was not merely detained by a representative? She seemed quite the intriguing guest for many—”
“General In-Ze was supposed to register her transfer with the guard at the councilor’s guest quarters. There is no record of the transfer.”
“Blehktl, Astra,” Alura swore this time, placing her hands on her hips. “Let me go and wake my sister who has chosen this of all mornings to remain indisposed in her quarters.”
“Hung-over, too, huh?” Lucy muttered, striding after Alura as she exited the main hall and veered toward the shared space they kept upon consolidation of housing on the colonies.
“If you mean sleeping off a poorly-advised night of imbibing one flask too-many, then yes,” Alura griped, beating none too gently against Astra’s bedroom door. Thank Rao Kara was off with the Science Academy’s research team and not home to see her mother, Grand Adjudicator and Fourth District Representative, pull High General Astra In-Ze from her bed like a willful adolescent. “Hear this, General! If you released that human explorer with no monitor after last night’s festivities, you will be the one answering to the Council. I have no intentions of cleaning up your—”
“Sister!” Astra muttered, flinging the door wide and scrambling to tie her black robe together, which looked to have been confusedly wrapped round her wrist instead of her body. “You… you’re awake!”
“Most of us have been for some time,” Alura said. “Now, before this whole mission is sabotaged by your carelessness, where did you take Agent—”
“Alex!?” Lucy squeaked, peering beneath Alura’s arm and toward the opposite side of the bed where… yes, tAgent Danvers’s brown hair and naked shoulder blades were clearly visible just opposite the mattress. A hand appeared next, dragging the linens over the side of the mattress rather clumsily, all the while Astra stood wrestling with her robe tie, her cheeks red as the Kryptonian sky at sunrise. Alura felt her cheeks flush with red heat as well as she tried to salvage what was left of the situation.
“Lucy, we should go—”
“Alura, I can explain!” Astra insisted, pushing the door to so that they were unable to see Agent Danvers struggling with the sheets at the bedside. “It started… well, she was being unnecessarily contentious, and, well, you know how I can be when the casks of Thryllfurd are brought out of ration storage. And I was preparing to release her to the monitor, but then her restraints needed some adjustments. It’s… it’s really faulty engineering to blame, Alura. It started with those malfunctioning cuffs, and then—well, it ended with the restraints as well, but that’s another—”
“Please stop talking,” Alura placed a hand over her brow and stared at her feet, sending a million silent prayers to Rao to thank him for Kara’s absence. “We can… discuss this later in a calm, reasonable—”
“AGENT ALEXANDRA ROSE DANVERS, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!” Lucy screeched from beneath Alura’s arm, trying to muscle past the pair of Kryptonian women so that she could implement some terrible violence against one of her agents (or so Alura believed; so much had happened over the past several days, the least of which was discovering her sister’s amorous encounter with the human agent).
“Just doing my job, Director,” Alex said, popping her head over Astra’s shoulder. Alura noted how the human placed a hand against her sister's hip with such possessive ease, and it did not sit well with her.
However, Astra softened at the touch in way she hadn’t since before the Kryptonian Exodus; she seemed so loose and light that Alura thought... well, maybe, perhaps, this hadn’t ruined whatever positive relations they’d already built with the humans.
“Ensuring my diplomatic immunity,” Alex smirked, wiping her thumb beneath her lip and leaning into Astra just enough to make Alura feel supremely uncomfortable.
“Sis-sister,” Astra rushed to speak, choking on her own tongue momentarily while Alex's fingers roamed up and down her side: “A-A-After further consideration, I think it would be best that Agent Danvers be granted full diplomatic immunity for her stay here on the colonies, and, be granted access to the research labs, military outpost—”
“—where your office is—” Alex whispered to Astra.
“—the military offices and residential quarters,” Astra amended immediately, “since her exploratory experiments offer significantly… pleasurable results for her team.”
“Do you mean… positive results?” Lucy muttered.
“She said what she said, Director,” Alex muttered, propping her chin on Astra’s shoulder.
“And on that note!” Lucy cried, slamming the door in Astra's and Alex’s faces, turning on her heel and stomping back down the hall, Alura trudging behind.
“I must apologize for my sister’s behavior,” Alura felt compelled to apologize on behalf of all Kryptonians. This was no way to treat a potential ally. “Ever since her husband was sentenced to Rozz for his radical crimes, she has been… well…”
“Don’t worry about it, Alura,” Lucy said, “I know Alex, and this is just as much her fault as General In-ze’s. I guess… I guess it works to our advantage, but now I’ve got to go do damage control with your Councilors.”
“I’ll escort you,” Alura said, moving to collect some of her things she would need for her day in the magistrate’s office. “And I will allow you to believe it is from my good nature alone, and not to escape the awkwardness that will surely ensue once my sister emerges.”
“Don’t you have to pick up your daughter?” Lucy asked. Alura could not explain the lightheartedness she felt that Lucy remembered, that Lucy might have been concerned for the alteration to her schedule. It felt… it felt like someone was looking after her for a change, and Alura had not experienced that in some time. “Kara, right?”
“She is on… I’m unsure what the Earth equivalent might be. A research expedition with the Academy, which will take several days. It is the level beyond basic Instruction, she… she will be a scientist, as her father before her.”
“So like, college field trip?”
“I… suppose,” Alura agreed, shutting the door behind her and stepping out with Lucy into the corridor, and ushering them forward toward the lift.
“It’s still remarkable that a woman like you has a kid old enough to be in college,” Lucy offered.
“I remained in a timeless state for years when I elected to stay on Krypton to oversee the depowering while we were in the Phantom Zone,” Alura reminded her. “I saw my daughter grow up through screens. I visited on holidays, but… there are a handful of us who look fifteen years younger than we should.”
“Astra included,” Alura confirmed, stepping onto the lift with Lucy.
“Well, I really can’t blame Alex,” Lucy said, staring out the glass window, taking in the basic architecture of the colonies. Nothing resplendent like their major cities, but serviceable. Safe. Completely necessary, and likely where Alura would live for the rest of her life, if projected timelines for rehabitation were accurate.
But somehow despite losing her home, she helped unite her people… grew closer to her sister, and was able to keep her daughter close as circumstance would allow. She hated to think… had she hesitated, would she and Astra still be on speaking terms? Would Kara still come home on her rotation of days when Academy classes were on break? Would her planet be back in its place in the sky, under Rao’s watch and under their care?
Alura shook her head to rid herself of such bleak suppositions.
“Blame her?” she asked Lucy instead, curious as to Lucy’s knowledge of Alex’s actions. She knew her sister extremely well, and to say this morning was a total shock would be putting it lightly.
Lucy huffed and eyed Alura, her eyes doing a quick scan of the standard Kryptonian robes. “Kryptonian colonies are not without mirrors, are they?”
Alura looked down at her chest, her forearms, trying to make sure she hadn’t spilled any of her tea that morning to cause such a critical review of her person. Seeing nothing, she circled back to Lucy’s comment: “My apologies, but I don’t know if I understand precisely what you’re saying.”
“Ignore me, Alura,” Lucy sighed, then grumbled to herself. “Though I bet Astra understood exactly what Alex was saying.”
“Alex said wha—? Oh, I—I mean…oh,” Alura finished, tightening her grasp on her own fingers.
Nothing about their conversation had been overt, but the looks, the wine, the heat... Alura recognized it for what it was. It had been some time since Alura had thought of passion, of lust, of whatever delirious state Astra found herself in last night, which led her to such a disheveled state this morning. Desire was not common on Krypton, certainly not encouraged, but Alura had felt it fleetingly with Zor-El, though that had been some time ago.
Astra, however… Alura is not sure Astra has ever loved or been loved like that before.
“I mean, Astra’s great and all,” Lucy explained, fidgeting with her communicator and pressing buttons that Alura found rather primitive-looking. “Just, not that she’s my type, not that I wouldn’t—uh, anyway, listen, we didn’t know what to expect when we came here, Alura,” Lucy quickly changed topics, and for that, Alura was grateful. “For all we knew from Kal-El, Krypton was a wasteland. But then to have been received as we were, so… so warmly, in large credit due to you, and Astra, I suppose—your planet is so advanced and your people so ethereal, I understand why Alex took her chance to sample some of the local culture while she had the time.”
Alura nodded, looking beyond at the sky, at Krypton looming large and bright, purple-tinted instead of golden red now the mines had been deactivated and the atmosphere was reconstructing itself.
“Astra can be… persuasive, when she wishes,” Alura said. “She is an adult. I just hope she does not throw herself into something that isn’t sustainable.”
“She is a beautiful woman, it’s easy to see why Alex… well,” Lucy stopped and followed Alura’s gaze, glimpsing Krypton above as well. “Alex has been through a lot.”
“Agent Danvers… she is true, is she not? To be so well-respected and committed to your organization?” Alura asked, and could not suppress the edge of wariness in her voice. “Astra has likewise endured great hardship.”
"Honestly? They sound perfect for each other," Lucy smiled briefly, but her expression fell as soon as it rose. Aside from the galaxies between them,” she added glumly.
“That is… most unfortunate, yes,” Alura answered.
They continued riding in silence until they reached the lower level where Alura called for a transport car. The entire way over to the Central Court, she thought of her sister, of Agent Alex Danvers, and of the very human Director Major Lucy Lane, riding beside her toward the Magistrate’s office.
“Alura,” Astra called from the living space, but Alura had no intention of talking Astra out of whatever foolish plan she had most recently contrived. She had spent the better part of the day in and out of offices explaining Astra’s behaviors as related to the humans’ expedition, and why concessions had been made without proper authorization regarding the one human “hostile”. She was able to meet up with Major Lane once more and escort her to the mid-day meal, but not without several entreaties on behalf of one Agent Alex Danvers, who waltzed into her hearing fifteen minutes late, Astra heavily flushed and trailing behind her.
“Alura!” Astra called again.
“Spare me your excuses, I’m in no mood for—what is this?” Alura asked, jaw gaping slightly at the banquet Astra had prepared on their meager center table.
The place settings were nothing so ornate as had been used after Astra’s induction into the military guild, but the warmth and resplendence conjured to life by the bobbing, illuminated spheres above and the burners resting below the off-world chaffing dishes gave the impression that they were hosting the Head of State for Lunari, or Treash, or some other intergalactic leader of great repute.
And Astra hadn’t bothered to tell her.
“Agent Danvers is returning for dinner,” Astra explained, moving round the serving table in their kitchen to place another utensil atop the place setting. “If… if you do not object. Do you think the humans would eat steamed torsin?”
“You’re cooking steamed torsin?” Alura asked incredulously, gazing into the serving dishes that had been left to warm. “In your battle suit?”
Astra flew back to the dehydration chamber to peek at whatever she was preparing, ignoring her sister. Alura wanted to chasten her, for they were operating beneath the same constraints on rationed foods and energy as were the low- and middle-borns; and yet, Astra had prepared the equivalent of a feast only celebrated during the Midsummer Holy Days.
And Alura very well might have cajoled her for her efforts, if her sister hadn’t looked so Rao-blessed happy.
“I’ve placed servings into the storage chamber for Kara once she returns next week—she will eat us both beyond the rationed proportions if we do not… never mind—do you think the suit is too formal? I could not wager a guess as to what humans constitute as appropriate for dining,” Astra answered, fiddling with the hem of her tight sleeve. Her eyes swept the table and she pivoted round the corner, grabbing a vessel and then placing it back down two centimeters to the left of where it was originally. If it wasn’t so disturbingly out of character, Alura might’ve found the action endearing.
“Are you well, sister?” Alura asked knowingly, the smile she kept hidden beneath her frustration emerging no matter how much she tried to suppress it. Astra seemed utterly giddy, nervous in a way she had never seen before. Her behavior was not quite as joyfully breathless as the memories of her returns from off-world missions, when Kara was there to greet her at the outpost (but it was remarkably close).
“I don’t know, I—I feel so strange, Alura,” Astra responded. “I’m nervous for no justifiable reason. She is a human who is leaving in 30 cycles; she’s purposefully contentious, and reckless and frustrating—”
“And attractive, from the little I’ve seen of her,” Alura finished for her sister, moving to place a reassuring hand against her shoulder. She leveled her stare at Astra while the latter took in the elaborate table-settings, then continued: “And confident, and brave, and clever, and quick… is it so beyond the realm of possibility that you might become infatuated with her?”
“It cannot be normal to feel this… this depth so quickly.”
“Perhaps not normal for you, but what of humans?” Alura asked. “We both know how our culture measures such connections; and you have seen much of the galaxies, sister; you return with such romantic notions of stars and democracies it is perfectly reasonable that you might do the same for a new… friend?”
“I do not think I would call her that, Alura. From all the aliens I’ve met in all the worlds…” Astra murmured, pacing uncertainly behind the table. “She…it has been only three days Alura, and yet I… what she says to me, how she says it, as if she presumes to know what I feel in that moment—”
“As you have done on countless occasions?” Alura prodded Astra. “Making erroneous suppositions based on your gut instinct? Perhaps not with… paramours, but with the Council? Certainly. Will you remove the torsin from the heat? It will char if you are not careful.”
“Oh… oh, yes! Thank you, Alura,” Astra said, stepping back into the kitchen. There was a bit of grumbling, the clanging of a dish, and then Astra’s ringing swear.
“Do you need assistance?” Alura chimed, pivoting from where she’d been rearranging the incorrectly placed serving pieces and dinnerware.
“You know I do,” Astra grumbled over her shoulder, wrestling the torsin atop their work space. “And I saw you move what I’d put in place.”
“I am only attempting to help you. I’ll prepare the lyggess-grain,” Alura said, smirking at her flustered sister as she leaned against the counter-top, observing her steaming dish. “It could use a few more moments in the hydrator, Astra.”
Alura took the pot Kelex had set aside and found their two-day ration of the lygess-grain on loan from the outpost moon that had once comprised Kandor. She hummed and lost herself in the ritual of preparation, recalling very early years before her time with the High Council where she cooked for her and Astra both—two overworked top-performers at the Academy who had only recently been relocated once they’d scored beyond middle-born testing records. She regretted not living longer with her sister when they were younger, before Astra’s commission with the Military Guild, and before she began her own work at the Justice Halls. Then, when Kara was born, Kelex and Zor-El handled much of meal times while she remained late in the Magistrate’s Offices.
There had never been much opportunity for her to engage with Astra in this way before, but with the establishment of colonial practices, they both found themselves in the kitchen in the evenings, unless Astra was scheduled for another rotation around the colonies. On those nights, Alura might find herself alone, reviewing trade notes and contracts while the rote of cooking soothed her mind. The steps helped her movements flow: a chop, a pour, a stir, a shake. She felt as if she were dancing with scents of home, scents that she recalled back on Krypton proper. She knew, somewhat in the abstract, that she would likely never get to return to Krypton and live the life she’d been so accustomed to. Millennia of damage could not be undone in decades, though the scientists were trying their damndest… and Kara was one of them.
Perhaps Kara’s children might, and Kara herself. Thanks to the years of stasis provided by the relocation to the Phantom Zone, Alura would be granted that time to see her own daughter’s children grow and learn of the mistakes of the past, and hopefully desire to correct them in the future.
She swirled a spoon as the grains grew fluffy, catching the tell-tale mumbling of her sister’s voice.
“What in Rao’s name am I doing?” Astra asked her, staring absently at the table once again. “This makes absolutely no sense. I’ve just returned from the Colonial Tour and I’ll be out with the regiments shortly… another deployment. She lives in another galaxy, Alura.”
“You are cooking a meal for a woman who makes you smile as I’ve never seen you smile before,” Alura answered her, retrieving a thickening paste and adding it to the container of grains. “You are making this far more complicated than it has to be.”
“She is phenomenal, Alura,” Astra said. “Her mind is… I almost wish I could recruit her as an advisor.”
“I suggest you begin with dinner before you extend the offer of employment, here. The visa process on the colonies is still under review.”
“She is so beautiful, Alura.”
“I’m sure she is.”
“…probably as beautiful as Major Lane.”
Alura stopped stirring momentarily as the grains thickened into puffy clouds of flavor. Why Astra would say something about… her… when Alura was taking her time to help with this unnecessarily elaborate dinner was just… just…
“I suppose,” Alura answered noncommittally, though exactly what she was supposing she could not articulate to herself.
“And a good conversationalist,” Astra continued, taking the bowl from Alura’s hands. Alura never realized she hadn’t resumed her stirring. “Which is why I invited her here tonight as well. I thought it might ease some of the potential unease should Alex say anything… well, I have discovered that humans are… refreshingly irreverent in their directness. And… quite vocal.”
“Thank you, Astra, that’s enough,” Alura jabbed her sister in the side with her elbow. “But you mean to say… Lucy’s coming here again, tonight?”
“It is my understanding that you’ve already spent much of the day together. Not to mention your fascination with her at the welcoming gala last night,” Astra said, placing the lygess in the middle of the table, and then looking over the illuminated centerpiece at Alura with an expression that suggested Alura had been caught doing something she shouldn’t have been. “You’re welcome, at any rate.”
“W-What are you implying?” Alura asked, rounding the counter and certainly not… not flustered by any means, but would it have pained her sister to extend her some common courtesy and notify her that they would be hosting guests earlier than… than minutes before they arrived?!
Astra huffed and gripped the back of one of the chairs before her, her shoulders slumping as some of the many thoughts she’d likely been dealing with over the past three days came tumbling out:
“I’m implying that both of us live in a new age, Alura. We are hardly beholden to the traditions of a planet that’s been through various states of upheaval in the past dozen ahmzeht. Not to mention that we both—we are not…” Astra tried to wrap her lips round words that did not seem to come easily. She paced over to the small storage shelves and removed a sash, one she had worn to the gala despite Alura’s protests. It had taken two deployments for Alura to get the stitching right, but by the time Astra returned, the In-Ze crest shimmered beautifully golden against the black material.
“We are not unimpressive,” Astra finally said, draping the sash round her shoulder. “Our minds, our… our bodies. The Phantom Zone did us both a favor in that regard. And companionship… I know you must suffer despite your strength, Alura. Non was not as dear to me as Zor-El was to—”
“Enough,” Alura said, abandoning the table and striding across the living space toward the windows, unable to escape the truths her sister spoke, but that did not mean she was particularly inclined to hear them. “Zor-El was… he was my best friend.”
“And Kara is the most precious thing to me. In this world, or any other.”
“I know,” Astra said softly, moving closer, draping one arm round her shoulder as Alura shrunk in on herself. “I am not asking you to wed the girl, Alura. I am just giving you the same advice you gave me. Let us not make it complicated. Let me remind you… you are allowed to be happy. Even if the people grumble, even if they blame you for the tough decisions you made, you cannot punish yourself for their foul tempers. Our planet lives, and it lives because of you.”
“Astra…” Alura choked, heat surging behind her eyes.
“Please don’t… you always do this when you’re happy,” Astra said, pressing a kiss against her sister’s head and then releasing her to her review of the window.
“General, High Councilor.” Kelex zoomed round the corner from his charging station and almost knocked into the serving table, so small was the space in their apartment. “The human guests have arrived, and they have been escorted by—”
“Very good Kelex, thank—”
“And that’s how my mother and Aunt Astra saved our entire planet from exploding,” Kara finished, rounding the corner with Alex at one shoulder and Lucy at the other.
“Kara,” Alura smiled, striding quickly across the room to gather her daughter in her arms.
“Surprise, mother,” Kara said. “Do you have room for another?”
“Yes, yes of course, but you were not scheduled to return for several days, Kara. How were you able to secure release from the assignment?”
“I’m still technically on assignment,” Kara answered. “The Guild made their elections and… well, they tasked me with leading the Human Expedition to the surface!”
“You won the election?” Alura asked again, tears resurging despite her best efforts to keep them at bay.
“I did!” Kara beamed, accepting a tight hug from Astra as Lucy and Alex both looked on happily, if a little out of place.
“My, my apologies, Agent Danvers, Director L-Lucy, that is, sit, please,” Alura said, wiping hastily at the tears pouring from her eyes while Kelex floated about in the kitchen beyond. “It is just… this is a great honor for one as young as Kara.”
“The Science Guild is lucky to have her,” Astra praised. “She is brilliant.”
“Must run in the family,” Lucy chimed in, glancing quickly at Alura.
“I’ll say.” Alex spoke this time, which had the entertaining effect of making Astra redden all the way to her ears.
Seeing all of the women in her household, happy, together, laughing and enjoying themselves, Alura decided that she might as well join in.
“Kelex, can you find the Cask of Irrilesian?”
“Alura,” Astra said.
“Mother, no,” Kara insisted. “That is for when we return—”
“We are returning,” Alura said, standing from her spot at the head of the table. “Through you, Kara. And that return is strengthened by our alliance with new friends.” Kelex brought forth the bottle from the deepest recesses of storage and distributed the gleaming goblets of Windrock bronze, rumored to have been melded with the hearts of their stars.
“To… happiness,” Alura said, hoisting her goblet above the table and locking her gaze with each woman eating. “In this moment I am… I am grateful, and joyful, and unapologetically happy for all we have achieved. I hope that your mission is a success, and that you find the resolution you seek.” Four other arms followed with goblets in hand as they echoed her toast: “To happiness,” they chorused.
“To happiness,” Astra whispered to her sister, grabbing her hand beneath the table as Kara stabbed the carving knife into Astra’s perfectly cooked torsin.