The man was frantic as he ran through the building, tremors shaking the large structure as the floors cracked and walls buckled, a sweltering heat bringing sweat to his red face as he cradled a small child against his chest, her cheeks flushed and her green eyes wide with fear as she desperately clung to him. Plaster cracked and windows shattered, heavy smoke making the view beyond the building hazy and indistinct, a grey smear as the whole city was consumed with raging fires. Millions were dead already, some over the previous years as famine swept through the world, the oceans drying up, the planet growing increasingly hotter as its resources were swallowed up, and some over the past few days as hurricanes tore cities apart, searing hot fires consumed buildings and large storms covered continents, with their battering winds, cracks of blue lightning and booming peals of thunder. It had been a long time coming, that much the man knew, but his pleas had fell on deaf ears. Those of him and his colleagues. He’d taken matters into his own hands instead.
Running through the chrome and glass building, showers of powdered cement raining down on the shoulders of his white lab coat as the building was torn apart by the unparalleled storm raging outside, the world crumbling as it took out its anger on the greedy humans that inhabited it, the man ran up staircase after staircase. Lightning had struck the skyscraper next to the energy lab he owned, and he’d seen the billowing clouds of black smoke consume the building. It hadn’t been long before more fires had spread, earthquakes cracking open chasms in the streets below, swallowing people, cars and buildings as they widened, until entire blocks crumbled as the foundations buckled. He’d felt the first tremors as the structural integrity of his building had been compromised, large generators in the basements sparking a fire that had blossomed in the sub-levels, before exploding and taking out the bottom levels of the towering building. He’d raced for his living quarters on the top few levels; for his daughter.
Now he ran for the top level, hoping that he hadn’t been too late, that the storm hadn’t ruined his one chance to save his daughter. The stairs shook beneath his feet, his knees jarring every time a particularly aggressive one wracked the crumbling building, and he held on tighter to the handrail, his teeth grit and shoulders hunched over in protective determination. His wife had died a few weeks prior, the sickeningly polluted air making her lungs fail, and the grief was etched into the lines of his face as he cradled all he had left of her. He’d promised to protect their daughter, no matter what. He’d keep his promise, if it was the last thing he did. He didn’t hold much faith that he would survive anything beyond that, his eyes widening as a red flash of lightning painted the smoky world beyond the spiderwebbed windows a dangerous orange.
He didn’t hear the windows shatter over the sound of the cracks of thunder and the screaming wind, but pain lanced across the back of his shaved head as glass sliced into his skin, the force of the battering wind pushing him forward, until he stumbled and fell, trying to protect his daughter as his knees fell hard against the concrete steps. Not wasting any time, he lurched to his feet, hoisting the little girl up higher on his hip, feeling her tremble in his arms, and redoubled his efforts as he charged up the stairs. His stubborn determination had been one of his admirable qualities as a scientist, his intelligence even more so, but that hadn’t meant anything when he’d started demanding changes in the way people lived. His talks on climate change had been futile. The people had run earth into the ground anyway, so consumed by greed and their own entitlement that they’d dismissed his, and other scientist’s concerns as fearmongering. How wrong they’d been.
Finally he burst staggered up the last few steps, his chest heaving painfully as he sucked in ragged lungfuls of dry air, bursting through the door to the top floor and lurching as his vision flickered. The damage wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d been expecting, the windows along one wall spiderwebbed with cracks, but mercifully still intact, and the floor still in one piece, although he had no idea how long it would last. Probably not long. The thick walls muffled the sounds of the storm slightly, and he wiped one sleeve across his forehead, gasping for air as he moved towards the pod situated in the middle of the room, a flickering light overhead intermittently illuminating it. The power was still struggling to remain on, most likely with the help of the massive wind powered generator on the roof, as there was certainly no shortage of winds strong enough to power it at the moment.
Fumbling for the panel on the bonnet of the small, rocket shaped pod, he pressed his hand against it, the top, windowed section disengaging with a quiet hiss, opening up to reveal the dark leather seats and a panel of buttons and lights that winked on, one by one. Holding his daughter close for a few moments, he kissed her dark hair and set her down on the seat, reaching for the straps as he buckled her in securely, his eyes pricking with tears.
“Papa,” she whimpered, her heavy brow puckering in a frown as she looked up at him with scared green eyes.
“Hush now, Lena,” he softly murmured, giving her a gentle smile as he ran a hand over her hair. “Everything’s going to be alright.”
He’d done his research. There was a planet revolving around a red sun, an inhabitable population of intelligent beings, if his information was correct. She’d be safe there. She wouldn’t be destroyed along with the rest of Earth. It was the only guarantee he had that she’d survive, that he could fulfil his promise to her mother and keep her safe. She was the future of them all. If he could get the backup pod to work, the prototype he’d been tirelessly working on so that he could accompany her and raise her himself, he would follow behind her soon, but the world’s core had given out quicker than he’d anticipated. The chances were that he was too late. This would be the last time he saw his daughter, and his heart ached as he looked at her huddled in the vast space inside the pod. She was barely four, still so young - too young to witness the destruction of a world - but she’d survive it.
“Goodbye, my darling girl,” he said, his voice thick with emotion as he leant down to kiss her cheek, ignoring the girl’s pleas as she tried to reach for him, the buckles restraining her as she started to struggle and cry.
Shutting the top of the pod, he trapped her within it and pushed a few buttons on a panel to the side. The pod maneuvered itself as the stand it rested on extended, pushing it upwards, while a large, circular section of the thick ceiling opened. Immediately, a forceful wind found its way into the room, bringing dust and debris with it, and Lionel swallowed a lump of fear as he watched the pod’s engines sputter to life, holding onto the stand with the panel as the wind buffeted him, threatening to toss him to the ground.
He watched with wide, hopeful eyes as the orange glow of the engines grew brighter, until the centre was so hot that it was a blinding white, making his eyes water as he shielded his sight. Blinking back tears, he watched as the pod was launched through the hole with a barely audible whoosh , and his daughter was gone from him. Wasting no time lingering on the worry that consumed him, thinking of the pod battling its way through storm clouds, hurricanes and lightning, as the pressurised capsule kept his daughter in a slumber, the scientist fought against the strong winds, reaching for the pod help up on some jacks, the front panel open and spewing wriggling wires, waiting to be fixed. He was too afraid to close the hole in the rood, lest it get blocked, barring him from following after Lena, and he hunched over the nose of the pod, his fingers urgently reconnecting cables and tightening bolts with practiced ease, sweat dripping down his face as he worked as quickly as he could.
It was still another hour before he’d done as much as he could, the planet crumbling into further chaos around him as he diligently worked. Pushing a button to lower the jack to the ground, his muscles strained as he heaved at the heavy piece of machinery and no small scientific masterpiece, the metal grating along the floor as he used a chain and a conveyor belt to drag the hulking mass over to the launch station. With a shaking hand, he disengaged the top part and climbed into the seat, strapping himself in and pushing a button on the dashboard, listening to the pod seal itself, locking him in. Immediately, it began to pressurise, the air feeling close and cold, his ears popping as he pushed at more buttons. The launch platform raised him up, the nose of the pod pointing upwards, towards the grey, wreathing mass of clouds visible through the hole, and he slammed a hand down on a button, his stomach lurching as he was shot out of the hole. The storm swallowed him up, flashes of lightning coming dangerously close, and slowly but surely, he found himself growing sluggish as he was put into cryosleep, his last glimpse of Earth being a mass of black clouds and veins of red lava as the planet split apart into fragments.
She woke at the jolt of passing through the atmosphere, her eyelids dragging open as a dull throb behind them made her want to keep them closed, fear washing over Lena as she whimpered for her dad. He wasn’t there, and she found herself sobbing as she sluggishly struggled against the restraints, her childish mind unable to comprehend what was happening. All she knew was that she was falling, fast, and it was cold and her ears felt funny inside the pod.
Through the clear windows of the pod, she watched as a planet of white and orange grew closer and closer, until it was so close that she could see wisps of clouds, brown mountain ranges capped with snow, and ice floes in the ocean. The little girl was scared at the sight, unsure of what she was seeing, her loud cries only heard by herself, before she cut off a moment later as something rammed into the side of the pod.
Stunned by the impact, cracking her head against the window to her right, Lena fell silent, the coppery taste of blood filling her mouth as she accidentally bit her tongue. Blinking owlishly with round green eyes, she quietly watched in frozen fear as the mountains reached up for her, and moments later, she crashed into the side of one of them, snow sliding down to partially cover the windows. Trapped inside the pod, her view blocked by a blanket of fresh snow, the little girl passed out, fear and claustrophobia taking hold, until the darkness dragged her under.
A scraping side woke her, and Lena sluggishly blinked as she watched a black shape wipe across the windscreen. The motion occurred again, and again, until enough of the snow was gone for Lena to realise that it was a gloved hand. A shadowed face loomed over her, the features indistinguishable against the backdrop of strange orange sunlight, giving everything a strange tint, and then the face pulled back. A pitiful whimper escaped from between trembling lips, and Lena sat strapped to her seat as she felt motion, and was jerked free of the patch of snow, and dragged along the rocky crags of the mountain, jerked about as the bottom of the pod scraped against the stone. Her eyes were sore from crying, her chest heaving, and the little girl too small to understand anything that was happening.
The odd orange tint disappeared as she was swallowed by the black jaws of an elegantly shaped metal contraption, finding herself sliding up the ramp and coming to the stop in the bowels of the small ship. The clanging of metal signalled the closing of the ramp, and a dim red light suffused the interior of the sparsely decorated ship. The dark figure was back again, and a pair of goggles were pushed up to reveal the flushed cheeks and green triumphant eyes, as a black swathe of material was pulled down to uncover the mouth and nose. The woman smiled as she sank down to her knees beside the pod, removing one glove to press it up against the glass.
Huddled in fear, Lena was silent, her teeth chattering slightly at the coldness inside the pod, and her body trembling due to the shock of it all, although she didn’t even know what it all was. She just wanted her father. Or her mother. She hadn’t seen her mother in a while, and she didn’t know why, but she wanted one of them to hold her like they usually did. Instead, she was inside the strange place, with a strange woman, who climbed to her feet a moment later and took a seat behind a dark dashboard, a wide tinted window looking out over the mountains, and holograms flickering to life as she turned the ship on.
Helpless, there was nothing to do as the ship became airborne, angling its nose towards a glittering metropolis in the distance. The speed at which they flew was stomach lurching, the barren landscape speeding past them in hues of brown, orange and a blue so deep that it was nearly black. The planet was strange, mostly covered in ice and barren rock, lumbering animals visible upon occasion out in the far reaches away from civilisation, the glittering city in the distance coming into view. It was nestled on a flat plain, ringed by snow capped mountain ranges on three sides in the distance - one of them being the one they’d just come from - and a sparkling harbour of dark water on one front. Spaceships zipped around, and the buildings rose in imposing towers, made from a strange dark metal and another material that had an almost crystalline quality to it.
They glided through the flow of traffic with practiced ease, the woman maneuvering through the narrow avenues between buildings, mindful of other pilots, as the whole city was bathed in an orange light, a burning red sun beating down on them from overhead. The dark buildings looked like they were wreathed in fire, and as they made their way deeper into the jungle of the inner city, Lena was lulled to sleep by the soothing motion. She didn’t see the other spaceships racing out to where she’d crashed, the robotic sentries gliding around, or the uniformed guards prowling the slums of Kandor City. She was taken straight to the top of one of the thousands of towering structures, the spaceship coming around in a wide circle, before making a careful entrance through the opening in the side of the glittering building.
With a hissing, mechanical sound, the ramp lowered with a dull thud, and the woman rose from her seat, moving over to the pod, before she glanced out of the opening, her eyes landing on the young boy standing at the bottom, an expectant look on his face as he spoke in a strange language.
“Is it her?”
“Help me with it, Lex.”
The boy ran up the gentle incline, a crisp, deep green tunic bearing a shield-like crest on his chest, almost looking like it has an ‘L’ inside it, and stared down at the sleeping child encased within the pod.
“Be careful,” the woman warned, before she took one side and tried to push it down the ramp.
They struggled in vain for a few minutes, puffing and sweating as they tried to get the pod to move, the mass of metal and machinery too heavy for them to move without any aid of machinery. Luckily, she’d had the rope and the crank to get it onto the aircraft, but the same couldn’t be done for the reverse. She couldn’t arouse suspicion by requesting help either, because sentries would be out looking for the thing that had crash landed up in the mountains. It was a miracle the woman had made it there before any of them, the secret atmospheric sensors she had luckily alerting them before the pod had crashed, giving her enough time to speed through the city and take the roundabout way back into Kandor, flying under the radar with signal blanketing equipment she’d designed.
When it became apparent that they couldn’t move the pod, they both took a step back, and the woman looked down at her son, a troubled look on her face as she jerked her head down the ramp. “Go and fetch your father.”
Lena was still sleeping inside the pod, having not moved so much as an inch to jolt her awake, exhausted after all the crying, and the woman crouched down beside her, staring down at the pale face of the little girl, dark eyelashes brushing high cheekbones and her lips slightly parted as she shallowly breathed inside the pressurised capsule. It wasn’t long before the quiet whirring reached her ears, and the woman rose to greet her husband.
“Lillian,” Lionel hoarsely said, his face more lined from the passing years, his skin an ashen grey as he sat strapped into the wheelchair. It was all sleek, polished metal, digital screens and holograms available at the tap of a finger on the arm of the chair. It was still for the moment, and the man in it looked hopeful, although his face was still drawn with pain, giving him a haggard look. “Is it her?”
“It is,” Lillian agreed, her shoulders slumping slightly with relief, knowing that it had weighed heavily on her husband to not know what had happened to his daughter. Ten years had passed since he’d crashed onto Krypton himself, with no sight of his daughter anywhere they looked. “I can’t move the pod. She’s safe inside while it’s pressurised, but if we get her out ...”
Looking at his son, Lionel pressed a finger against the scanner on the arm of the wheelchair, urging it forward. “Here, son, take the X-Kryptonite.”
Hurrying over to his father, Lex pushed up the sleeve of his father’s jacket and slid off a black metal bracelet glowing a vivid green from the vein of crystal embedded in it. Carrying it over to Lillian, the boy hung back in the shadowy interior of the ship, leaving his mother to approach the pod. Placing a hand on the panel at the nose of the pod, it scanned the handprint, recognising a human lifeform, and disengaged. With a gasp, the little girl came to life, the change in pressure hitting her like a tonne of bricks as she slumped in her seats, a choked sound getting caught in her throat.
The too big bracelet was quickly slipped around a tiny wrist, and Lillian urgently pushed it all the way up her arm, trying to ensure that it didn’t fall off, and lifted the trembling girl from the pod. Quickly scrambling out of the aircraft, Lillian carried her over to Lionel, who let out a choked sob, wishing for nothing more than to make his broken arms work so that he could reach out for her and hold his daughter.
Stirring in the strange woman’s arms, Lena whimpered, before her green eyes landed on Lionel, and her heart seized. “Papa!”
“Lena,” Lionel sighed with relief, a smile splitting his wan face.
Their happy reunion ended there as the little dark haired girl spasmed with pain. Gravity seemed to slam into her, a lot heavier than that of Earth, and the girl let out a sharp cry of pain as she gasped for air, her entire body feeling leaden as her human physiology was attacked by the different atmosphere on Krypton. Within minutes, she was screaming with pain as the weight of the gravity pressed down on her organs, beginning to fail, and her weak human bones cracked. Lillian didn’t dare to put her down, knowing that the weight of her body pressing down on her legs would cause them to splinter, her spine to compact, possibly disabling her, so she carried the screaming child into the massive apartment, the glowing bracelet on her arm doing what it could to stifle the painful effects of the planet to the strange lifeform thrust upon it.
It wasn’t a planet for humans.
if you don't recognise words it's bc they're kryptonian months, creatures, measurements, or mean mother/daughter
Doctor Lionel Kieran had landed on Krypton 69 Belyuth 9977, crashing into the frozen wasteland of the planet’s northern reaches. At the time, one of the most influential members of the Science Guild had gone on an expedition north, leaving the continent of Urrika behind, and the safety of her home in Xan City, to venture in the wild frozen wastelands in search of a substance called Kryptonite. Lillian Ter-Thor was the daughter of House Thor, a leading member of the Science Guild, and one of the greatest scientific minds on the planet. She’d been hoping to mine the colourful crystals hidden beneath Krypton’s icy exterior, and utilise it to make medical and military breakthroughs. She believed that the crystals could have many uses, if they figured out just how exactly it worked. So far, the tiny slivers found had been ineffective, and she’d travelled north in her aircraft to brave the the raging snowstorms in search of it.
Instead, through a heavy snowstorm, as she huddled inside the warm aircraft, she witnessed a pod crashing into the bed of ice through the wide windscreen, the ripples of shock felt even inside the craft. If she hadn’t seen the dark figure cut through the blanket of whiteness, Lillian would’ve dismissed it as one of the planet’s tectonic plates shifting, causing an earthquake and fracturing the thick beds of ice. But she’d seen it, and in a rare moment of foolishness, the young woman had pulled down her goggles, zipped up her thick, padded coat, and lowered the ramp of the aircraft. Attaching herself to the length of rope, she shivered at the strong wind blowing snow inside with a flurry, and battled against it as she walked out into the dimness. Krypton’s first moon, Wegthor had already risen, and the faintest sliver of red bathed the frozen wasteland a fiery orange as the red sun disappeared over the horizon.
Wading through snow and stepping over slick patched of black ice, Lillian made her way towards the rent in the ice, large pieces jutting up at odd angles, and clambered over the edge of the crater. Sliding down the uneven chunks of ice, feet skittering as they scrambled for purchase, her hands tightly grasping the rope life a lifeline, Lillian made her way down to the hulking mass sitting in the middle of the white ice. It had already accumulated a layer of snow, but it was definitely made of metal - none that she recognised - and was a lot smaller than one of the Kryptonian spaceships. Dropping to her knees, she drew in a burning cold breath, reaching out with a thick gloved hand to wipe away a layer of frost creeping across the glass, her breath catching as she took in the gloomy figure of a man inside the pod. He was unconscious, perhaps even dead, and she felt her heart pound in her chest. Unhooking the rope from her belt, Lillian hooked it onto the pod and scrambled back up the steep incline, using the rope to help, and jogged as quickly as she could back to the aircraft. Slipping on the slick metal ramp, she jabbed at a few buttons on the large dashboard, lights blinking and metal whirring, and had the crank turning as the aircraft started to heave the hulking mass back towards the ship.
Waiting patiently, the dark figure looming closer through the encroaching darkness, barely a shadowy lump on the horizon, she fought back nervous excitement. It could’ve just been a foolish explorer, out in the wastelands for their own reasons, much like she was, or it could be something else. The thought of some alien having landed right in front of her was a golden opportunity. He looked like them, from what little she’d been able to see.
It was a slow and steady progress, hauling the pod onboard the ship, and as soon as the metal thudded into place, Lillian brought the ramp back up, sealing them inside the warmth as snow melted into little puddles on the floor. Eagerly yanking at the top of the pod, she was met with disappointment as it didn’t budge, and quickly pulled out a tool kit, getting to work on it, while the man slumbered inside. By the time she figured out how to get it open, she’d worked up a sweat in her thermal clothing, her cheeks flushed as she let out a quiet sound of triumph, the top of the pod lifting with a small hiss as it re-pressurised.
Only a few moments passed before she realised her mistake. The man was screaming and thrashing in the leather seat he was strapped too - the hide of some foreign animal - his face paling as a sheen of sweat covered on his forehead, wide green eyes locked onto Lillian’s as his face twisted with fear.
“Lena,” he rasped.
“I’m Lillian, of House Thor,” she politely informed him, in between his loud groans, teeth ground together so hard that she thought he might crack them.
He broke off into a babble of unintelligible words, with one word repeating itself over and over again. Lena. She assumed it was a name of some sort, perhaps his, and soothingly murmured in Kryptonian as she tried to help him out of the pod. He weighed a tonne, and Lillian was red faced and frustrated by the time she got him out of the pod, his whole body collapsing beneath him as he hit the metal floor with a loud thud. Writhing around on the floor, struggling to breath, she realised that he definitely wasn’t from Krypton, and the planet didn’t want him there.
Reversing her efforts, she settled him back in the pod and frantically pushed the top closed, sealing her subject inside it and listening to the small hiss with satisfaction as it re-pressurised itself. He seemed to relax slightly - not much, but a little - and she crouched in front of the clear glass, staring at him with interest. He had light brown hair, a strong nose and jaw, and a gold ring on his left hand. He wore a ragged white coat, the style unlike anything Kryptonian, and Lillian couldn’t help but feel like she’d just found something that had made her trip worthwhile. It wasn’t Kryptonite, but it was a chance for even further scientific study.
She took him back to Xan City, packed up her things, and moved them to Kandor, putting a whole continent between them in case anyone raised any questions. With her connections, it wasn’t hard to falsify an identity to him. Lionel had a fake identity marking him as one of the Rankless, and with Lillian’s help, was elevated to a new standing. She knew about the other planets and universes, strange languages and stranger looking people - she’d even been to a couple herself - and it didn’t take long to figure out through their unintelligible conversations that he was a human, from Earth. As a member of the Science Guild, she’d never focused on languages or culture. Her calling had been chosen for her before she was even born, and foreign languages were lost on her.
Slowly, she had to teach him Kryptonian, and he taught her English in return. Most of Lionel’s time was spent in his pod, at the top of one of the towering skyscrapers in Kandor, while Lillian tinkered away, trying to find a way to help him. The conclusions she’d come too, after being granted access to files about Earth, was that Krypton was bigger than his planet, the gravity much stronger and the atmosphere colder. His human physiology wasn’t made for Krypton, and every test she ran just showed more broken bones, lungs struggling to breathe, and his spine slowly compacting. Even the pod couldn’t save him from that.
Pursuing her interests in Kryptonite, Lillian had accidentally stumbled upon a form of it that affected Lionel. It had taken a lot of effort to find enough Green Kryptonite to experiment with, but she worked tirelessly as she grew closer to the human she kept in her apartment. Eventually, she made a breakthrough. She called it X-Kryptonite, the glowing green substance somewhat strengthening his fragile bones and lungs, and made it into bracelets for him. He was paralysed, barely able to use his hands, but the effects of the crystal made it possible for him to sit in a wheelchair, instead of staying strapped into the seat in his pod.
One sun cycle after he’d crashed on Krypton, Lionel was Ranked by the Voice of Rao, the High Priest of the sun god, at Lillian’s request. He was given a new name, one he willingly took, and started going by Lu-Thor, earning himself entrance into the Science Guild, alongside Lillian. Despite his sickly state, he worked beside her, lending his brilliant scientific mind as they tackled the Kryptonite together. They fell in love as they bonded over her work, surprising them both, as Lionel had started off as her lab subject. Standing on the Jewel of Truth and Honour, they were wed late in the month of Eorx, exchanging bracelets, with Lillian giving Lionel one of the ones she’d made him with the X-Kryptonite. A year later, they had their genetic material collected and taken to the Gestation Chamber, where a child was developed for them in the Birthing Matrix. Four loraxo later, on 54 Ogtal 9979, their son was born. They named him Lex-Thor, and his father loved him, but he never quite let go of his daughter.
Ten sun cycles after Lionel had landed on Krypton, nearly fourteen Earth years, Lena’s pod crashed onto the planet. It was the sixth lorax of the amzet, on 36 Norzec 9987, when she landed and Lillian went to fetch her, and a lot had changed in that time. The father that she’d known was almost indistinguishable from any of the other Kryptonians, aside from his wheelchair and premature aging, with his new Kryptonian name and the sleek fashion choices they made. She was kept a secret at first, hidden away inside their private quarters atop one of the skyscrapers the Ranked lived in, cared for by the strange woman she didn’t know, while her father sat beside her. She was given a fake ID too, as a rankless who had been taken in by House Thor as an act of charity on the Nova Cycle celebration, a rebirth for the child. Instead of Lena Kieran, she was named Lena Lu-Thor, the youngest daughter of House Thor.
Lillian was gentle as she cared for her new daughter, kneeling in a shallow pool of water for hours on end as the buoyancy of the liquid bore Lena's weight for her, freeing her body from some of the stress of Krypton’s gravity field. Lena stopped being scared of her very quickly, letting the woman attach monitors and green glowing devices to her as she floated in the clear waters, the only time she wasn’t screaming with pain. When it was bad, Lillian would murmur quiet things to her in a language the child didn’t understand, her fingers soft as she ran them through the silky tendrils fanning out in the warm water. With the scientific breakthroughs Lillian had made for her husband, Lena fared better than he had when he’d first landed on Krypton. Ten sun cycles had given them much time to figure out ways to help combat the different atmosphere of the planet, and Lena spent most of her time in the pool of water, yellow light beating down on her as her body absorbed the artificial radiation that would’ve been provided by Earth. Alongside the X-Kryptonite, it alleviated the symptoms a little, but not much. Still, she was never paralysed like her father, just chronically suffering from the weight of the planet beneath the red sun.
Time passed by slowly, the Kryptonian months stretching on for longer than the Earth ones, although the years were shorter, and Lena adjusted quickly to her new life. Her father was there, and that was all her childish mind cared about. The rest of the time was a blur of pain and new things. She was spoken to in that bizarre language, until she started to pick it up, the woman who was constantly by her side taking the place of the mother she’d left behind. Her memories of Earth were hazy enough as they were, and with time, they grew even dimmer. With a new brother to tell her stories, she was fed on tales of this new planet, and all thoughts of her old life faded.
She was raised as if she was Kryptonian, although her parents gently had to remind her frequently that she wasn’t. Too young to understand at first, Lena didn’t know why she couldn’t leave the apartment, or why she always had to sleep in a shallow pool of water, a flat, hard bench beneath the surface for her to lay on, or could barely leave the water regardless. When she was out of the water, she yearned to run around, as she had before in her father’s lab, but she didn’t know why her legs wouldn’t work anymore, each step nearly impossible to lift her foot, and her knees buckling beneath the pressure of her body weight when she stood. At times, it felt like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.
It was a harsh world too, and her parents wanted to protect her from it as much as possible. Krypton had once been a lush paradise, much like Earth, with so much green and plantlife, but war and time, as well as the planets cycles of large climate events, had left it mostly frozen with ice, or with rocky stretches of land surrounded by bitterly cold seas. The cities were few and far between, governed by the one nation, and Lena didn’t know how lucky she was to have found herself as one of the Ranked. She’d never met anyone else, locked away in her pressurised room with its dark, sterile walls and glistening pool of crystal clear water, medical machines that were far more advanced than anything on Earth, so she didn’t know how isolated the planet was. Or about the Class System. She’d never been taken down from their lofty perch amongst the rich and privileged, to walk amongst the poverty stricken Rankless District. The sheltered life was a blessing and a curse, and she fought it as she grew older.
“But why can’t I go outside?” she’d ask Lillian, while her mother helped feed her the root vegetables the Labour Guild grew in large, underground warehouses. “I’m nearly eight sun cycles now, ieiu. I want to explore the world!”
Lillian let out a small laugh of amusement, stroking Lena’s damp hair, her eyes sparkling slightly. They’d become a reserved group of people, with few displays of affection, but her mother was always gentle with her, and when Lena had been younger, she’d often climb into the pool to cradle her close and tell her stories. “Exploring, inah? And what happens when you make it onto the Gorv Ocean and a Pryllgu jumps up out of the water and snatches you in its mouth? Huh?”
Lillian reached out to tweak Lena's chin as the child pouted, a frown puckering her forehead.
“But I want to see birds!”
“Birds?” the older woman laughed, her green eyes crinkling at the corners. “You’d be luckier to see a Nightwing, inah.”
As far as wildlife went, most things on Krypton would try to kill you, including the plants, and the only thing that didn’t was a shaggy haired beast called a Zuurt, that the Labour Guild reared on the barren plains for meat and its hide. She still pleaded with Lillian as often as she could manage though, sometimes finding herself too breathless and wracked with pain to do so, a small device covering her nose as fresh oxygen was forced into her lungs. Lena pleaded with her father too, although she usually had to settle for listening to him tell her stories about Earth from where he sat in his wheelchair, speaking in English as he told her about their own Gods, so different from Rao and the others the Religious Guild spoke of, but similar too. He told her of blue skies and a yellow sun, so many languages all crowded onto the tiny planet, foods she’d never get to taste, and giant monuments she’d never see.
When her father died two sun cycles later, his body succumbing to the added stress the planet had put on it, Lena missed those stories more than she’d ever thought. They were the only things she had left to remember him by, as well as the golden ring he’d always worn, given to him by her birth mother. It was wrought in the shape of a woman’s face with snakes in place of hair. She wore it on a chain around her neck, and was prone to clenching it in a fist as she brooded. Sometimes not even Lex could break her out of one of her depressive episodes, bitterly confined to the water, or a wheelchair as she wistfully stared out of the windows, looking down at the dizzying drop to the slums below. It was beautiful when she looked out at the spires of dark, shiny skyscrapers, the hazy orangeness from the red sun making the building reflect it, giving the effect that they were all on fire. Lena would often wonder what it would be like to stand at the bottom, so small in comparison as she stared up at the colossal buildings.
Instead, she spent her childhood indoors, Lillian tutoring her in all manner of subject, but mostly science, as she tinkered away at a new project. Most of them usually revolved around finding ways to ease Lena’s pain and discomfort, typically through modifying the X-Kryptonite, but also developing medications that kept her docile and numbed, or new equipment. Her mother gained notoriety from her new creations, earning herself a seat on the Science Council after being deemed one of the top ten scientist’s on the planet. It didn’t stop her from focusing all of her efforts on her family, and even Lex had joined the Science Guild and taken up helping her create new things. Lena had secret wishes to join too one day, and obediently learned from Lillian, or begged Lex to tell her what he’d learnt as he set up a board with little runestones, a near daily ritual between the two. Lena bested him nearly every time, her intelligence easily rivalling his, even if he was eight sun cycles older than her.
He was patient, always, and one of the few spots of brightness in Lena’s otherwise dark life. But even Lex couldn’t fully take away her pain, and neither could Lillian, no matter how much she tried. Even with the enhanced effects of X-Kryptonite, her body cracked beneath its weight, and she spent hours lingering in uncomfortable pain, her face ashen from a lack of sunlight and drawn with pain. She was barely ten, and she’d suffered more than anyone had any right too. Even on a planet that had nearly managed to eradicate all diseases and illnesses, there was nothing to cure the fact that Lena didn’t belong there. She wasn’t a Kryptonian, and no matter how often she wore the sleek, plain clothes with the House of Thor symbol on it, or spoke Kryptonian and memorised passages from The Book of Rao, she never would be Kryptonian.
Slowly but surely, the planet was driving her into an early grave, just like her father.
The years slipped by quickly, but nothing changed for Lena. Every day was much the same as the last. In the mornings, her mom would come in with the aid of one of their little robot assistants and help her from the pool of warm water. She’d be strapped into her wheelchair and taken to the bathroom to wash up, before being helped into dry clothes. It was one of the brief daily moments where Lena wasn’t soaking wet, and warm blankets had to be piled around her shoulders and on her laps to stave off the shivers from the naturally colder climate of Krypton. A red sun didn’t give off as much warmth as a yellow one, and the apartment was usually stuffy as hot air flowed out of the vents. Still, she never seemed to be warm.
Afterwards, Lillian would help her eat, taking the fork from her when Lena’s arm grew too leaden to make it to her mouth, and she’d grimly sit there and let her mother feed her the mixture of grains and vegetables that was their main food staple. Then came copious amounts of pain medication, taking the edge off of the dull, throbbing pain that seemed to permeate her entire body whenever she was out of the water. Gravity had a way of clawing at her body, adding pressure to her fragile bones as it willed her to crumble to the floor. On good days, nothing broke, but on bad ones, her ribs would splinter, her legs would fracture, and her entire head would be consumed by a pounding headache that made her feel like her head was about to explode.
Mornings were never fun for Lena. She’d sit in the chair, staring out the window at the smoggy orange view of a jungle of skyscrapers, small airships soaring between the spires of buildings or weaving between them with grace and speed. In the distance, she could see the mountains, their peaks wreathed in wisps of reddish clouds and cascades of snow covering their rocky sides. Every day, she’d sit there and imagine what her life would be like if she could go out there. Few people had ever seen her outside of her family - just the occasional scientist of friend of Lex’s, staring at her as if she was some oddity - and she knew that they would treat her as if she was diseased.
Kryptonian’s had few illnesses, and everything from broken bones to scrapes, bruises and internal bleeding, were nothing but mild irritations. But there she was, bound to a wheelchair, if not the water, with occasional help of a small oxygen filter strapped to her face, her body frail and lean as she succumbed to the effects of the planet. The people she met never knew the real reason why she was so sick - it had been attributed to Thalonite Lung and a rare bone disease that Lu-Thor had reportedly suffered from too - and they were cautious as they stepped around her, as if they didn’t want to get too close, unless they caught what she had.
She preferred it when it was just her mom and brother in their apartment. At least they knew the truth, and while they still treated her like she was a fragile doll, they never kept their distance from her. They were constantly there, if anything, sometimes to the point where it drove Lena mad. They would tinker away at one of their projects on the floor of Lena’s room, explaining the mechanics behind it while Lena completed her school work on the holographic projector imbedded in the wall so she could easily access it from the pool of water. Sometimes Lillian would let her help with hers, with Lena’s aptitude for science obvious from a very young age, and her mother would listen to her input, a proud smile on her face when Lena got something right. She should’ve been in the Science Guild - would’ve been, if things had been different.
At night, she’d let the buoyancy of the water carry some of her weight, floating slightly while straps held her in place, her head firmly wedged between the curved edges of the headrest and a dozen monitors strapped to her, measuring different bodily functions. Lillian would read new scientific articles to her, or quietly watch the latest news updates on the transparent holographic screen, staying until Lena drifted off to a fitful sleep with the aid of some painkillers.
Kryptonian’s were never an overly affectionate people, living mostly isolated lives, even within their cities, but Lillian tried for Lena’s sake. She was different from them, she’d grown up with adoration and love, and her father had never let the societal expectations of Krypton take that away from them, and since his death, Lillian tried to do that for her too. She was always there, smoothing back her hair in a tender gesture, sometimes making up a bed for Lena on their sofa, gently tucking her in, and occasionally sitting with her as she read over articles or blueprints, Lena’s head in her lap as she lightly dozed.
Sometimes it was almost too much for her. In her bad moods, Lena didn’t want her mother to hold her and tell her that everything would be okay, she just wanted to be left alone. It was frustrating to constantly be dependant on someone else sometimes. She couldn’t just leave . She couldn’t walk away from an argument, or pull away from Lillian’s motherly attention, and as she grew, she found it even more maddening. More and more frequently, she found herself bickering with her mom, who tried her best to be calm and patient, and even at odds with her brother, who she’d always been so close too. Slowly but surely, she found her moods lasting longer and growing darker as the tiny flicker of hope burned even lower. Lena knew that she was going to die.
“You have to eat your lunch, Lena.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Letting out a huff of frustration, Lillian let the spoon fall back into the watery broth, a disapproving look on her face as she stared at her daughter. Her light brown hair was swept up into a neatly swirled bun, her clothes neatly pressed from her quick trip to meet with another scientist at the Science Guild, the guild’s sigil emblazoned on the front of her tunic. She’d arrived back a little while ago and immediately checked on her, making sure that she was okay. Lena had been consumed by her secret research on different suns.
“Lena, I’m trying to be patient, but it’s running out. Eat your soup! You can’t just starve yourself, it’ll only make you sicker.”
“You’re making me sicker,” came Lena’s surly reply, a petulant look on her face as she pressed her lips together in a thin line, refusing to let Lillian spoon more soup in. “You’re smothering me. I don’t need you to look after me. I don’t need to be locked up in here!”
“I’m doing this because I love you! I promised your father that I’d keep you safe. Always.”
“You’re not keeping me safe!” Lena snapped, her pale cheeks flushed slightly as her anger bubbled up. “You’re killing me! I’m going to die, mom. Dad only got sixteen years here, so by that logic, I only have seven years left. I don’t want to spend them cooped up in here. It’s not a matter of if , but when.”
Her eyes shone with unshed tears, her fact taut with pain and anger, and limp strands of wet hair clinging to her cheeks and forehead. Deep shadows ringed her eyes, and her sunken cheeks spoke of the toll the atmosphere was taking on her body. Lillian knew the symptoms. She’d gone through this with her husband, watching him slowly deteriorate as the planet killed him, little by little. Lena was faring better than him, having grown up under the effects of the red sun on Krypton, and her human body, as well as the medical and technological advancements Lillian had made over the years. But still, the strain was visible on the plains of her face. She tried to keep up a brave front, unwilling to bend her pride and let the pain get the better of her, but it was there, in the tightness at the corners of her eyes, and the permanent downturned corners of her mouth as she grit her teeth together.
“Listen to me,” Lillian quietly but firmly told her, taking Lena’s flushed cheeks in her warm hands, a spark of determination in her eyes as she loomed over her. “You are not dying. Not anytime soon. I will find a way to help you, inah. I won’t stop until I do, but you must let me keep you safe until I do.”
“But I don’t-”
“You can’t leave, Lena! You can’t walk ,” Lillian impatiently replied, her lips pressed together in a thin line of grim resolution. “Your spine will compress, your legs will stop working, your lungs won’t work properly outside of the apartment, okay? Where are you going to go? Hm? You can barely feed yourself without your hands shaking. Your body is too fragile for you to go outside.”
Blinking back tears, Lena angrily curled her hands into fists and lashed out at the water, splashing water everywhere, including over the front of her mother’s tunic. Lillian just sighed, clucking her tongue disapprovingly as she wiped at stray beads of water, a stern look on her face as she stared down at her daughter.
“You’re acting very childish, Lena.”
“Because you’re treating me like a child. If I was on Earth, I’d be eighteen! An adult. I want to join the Science Guild, like you! I want to walk below in the Rankless District. I want to collect Kryptonite samples with you on one of your trips. I want to see trees.”
Expression softening slightly, Lillian gave her a pitiful look, full of sadness and regret, and reached out to brush tendrils of damp hair out of Lena’s pale, pleading face. “Enough of this, Lena. I’ll have no more talk of it. You might been an adult on Earth, but you’re on Krypton, and it’s not safe. I know it feels like a punishment, but it’s for your own protection. It’s not just your health either; you’re supposed to be thirteen , but your human body ages quicker than ours. If people find out that you’re human, they’ll want to experiment on you. They’ll lock you up, take you away from me and Lex. Maybe one day-”
“I’m tired. I’d like to sleep,” Lena hoarsely replied, her voice thick with emotion as she avoided looking at her mom, her eyes filled with tears as she tried to fight them back.
She’d heard all of these arguments before, and she didn’t want to hear the empty promises her mom made to try and make her feel better. Lena knew, deep down inside, that Lillian would never let her leave. She did it out of love, but that love was slowly killing Lena inside, just as much as the red sun was killing her body.
Sighing, Lillian climbed to her feet, resigning herself to the fact that her daughter was too stubborn to listen to reason. Dimming the lights, she left Lena alone. As much as she hated it, it was peaceful in her pool of water. Laying on the dark stone bed carved out of the rock of the pool, her head resting against the padded headrest, her body felt weightless and the pain was only a dull throb. With the lights a dim blue glow, barely enough to outline the shadowy furniture of the room, Lena felt as if it was the middle of the night, the whole world quiet around her as she trailed her fingers through the warm water, ripples radiating out from the disturbances and cutting through the quiet humming of the medical machines.
Despite the permanent exhaustion, just another toll of the planet on her body, Lena didn’t sleep. Instead, she stared up at the dark ceiling, imagining what the world was like beyond the hazy view from the apartment windows. She’d seen pictures, of course, but it wasn’t the same. She wanted to feel the heat of the Fire Falls on her skin, to watch the Blood Blooms flowering near the top of the cliffs. She wanted to be the one to find and explore the Valley of Juru, to walk through the twisted trunks of rare dark trees and see if magic was real. Go to the Jewel Mountains and take in the glassy mounds of ice that made it look like the whole mountain range was made of crystals. Instead, she was locked in her suffocating room, the walls seeming to press in ever so slightly every day.
Still wallowing in self-pity, she was disturbed a few hours later by the sound of the door hissing open as it parted, revealing a shadowy figure. Touching a panel on the wall, Lex brightened the dim lights, bathing the room in a blue light as he smiled at her. He wore green and purple, the colours of the House of Thor, having clearly just come home from the his work with the Science Guild, and his green eyes crinkled at the corners as he watched her weakly push herself up ever so slightly. There were days when Lena hated the sight of him, when she was bitter and angry and would look at him and see everything that she could’ve been. They had the same eyes, from their father, yet her brother was strong and healthy, and her body was turning on her, weakening and breaking on her. If her father had left Earth when he’d realised they were doomed, she wouldn’t have been born yet. She could’ve been born on Krypton, to Lillian, and been able to do all the things she dreamed of doing.
The crushing weight of her situation slammed back down on her as she tried to sit up, gravity fighting against her stubborn willfulness as she forced her body to fight against the leaden feeling in her torso. Tutting disapprovingly, Lex quickly crossed the room, his boots clicking on the polished stone floor as he walked over to the tub, kneeling beside the shallow pool and gently pushing her back down against the slightly sloped rock bed.
“You mustn’t strain yourself, ie.”
“I’m not,” Lena bristled slightly, her heavy brows furrowing into a deep frown, her chest rising and falling rapidly as she shallowly breathed. “I’m trying to sit up . Am I not allowed to do that anymore? Am I supposed to spend the rest of my life staring up at the ceiling? It’s not exactly an inspiring sight.”
Lex glanced up at the neat finish of the grey stone ceiling and let out a quiet chuckle, before looking back down at his sister. Arms folded across her chest - she could manage that - Lena pursed her lips slightly as she pouted, angrily looking up at the ceiling as if proving her point.
Sighing, Lex settled down on the floor, resting his arm on the edge of the giant tub as he gave her a pointed look. “Well I came here to show you something, I thought it might cheer you up, but if you’re just going to sulk …”
Turning her head, Lena arched an eyebrow, a flicker of curiosity in her green eyes as she looked at him expectantly. “Well, what is it?” she begrudgingly asked, knowing that her curiosity was greater than her frustration. She so rarely got to experience anything new that even Lex’s inventions were a welcome moment of distraction for her.
With a flourish, her brother produced a large white bloom from behind his back, a smile lighting up his face as he carefully placed the flower in the inky water, watching it bob slightly as Lena shifted. “It’s a Dar-Essa flower.”
“It’s beautiful,” Lena murmured, her voice hushed in awe as she reached out to delicately touch one of the petals.
The flower started spinning as she prodded it, twirling with the current of the water as she watched. A feeling of lightness swept through her as she looked at the flower, such a rarity on a planet with little arable land. Flowers were typically grown in labs, with the fertile manufactured soil that scientists had created, and rarely in the wild. Only the hardier specimens grew naturally, ones full of poison or danger, but this one was beautiful and harmless. It purely existed to be admired.
“Where did you get it?”
Flashing her a sly smile, her brother rose his eyebrows slightly, “I stole it.”
“Lex-Thor! You did not .”
Laughing, he shrugged, a careless gesture as a faint smile lingered on his lips. “Kandor has a new resident. Kara Zor-El.”
“Mhm. Daughter of Alura and Zor-El. She’s supposedly quite bright. After everything with her family, she decided to leave Argo City and join our sector of the Science Guild. She brought a Dar-Essa plant with her, and happened to leave it unattended while I was walking past. I didn’t see the harm in taking one flower.”
He gave her a brazen smile, reaching out to create ripples in the water, the flower bobbing precariously with the movements. Reaching out, Lena cupped it in her hands a brought the flower up to her face, breathing in the sweet smell of it. Her lips curled up into a slight smile, a rarity for her, and she seemed to relax as she let out a small sigh, placing the flower back down in the water.
“I watched her family’s trial,” Lena eventually said, her words absent minded as she toyed with the flower, enraptured by it. “They just wanted to save the planet.”
“Wha- don’t tell me you think they were right ,” Lex laughed incredulously.
Scoffing, Lena gave him a reproachful look, “of course I don’t! They killed people. That program of theirs, Myriad, would’ve caused chaos. But still … my planet was destroyed because everyone ignored dad. Everyone here is ignoring it too.”
“Krypton is fine,” Lex dismissively replied, “besides, that program wasn’t going to help, was it? That woman’s sister was in the Military Guild, and they only know how to do one thing. All of them, their whole house, were in on it. They knew what they were doing.”
“Not their daughter.”
“Well … no. She’s only got two sun cycles on you. Too young to be a part of their coup.”
“It’s sad,” Lena murmured, “she must be so alone.”
Snorting derisively, Lex pushed himself to his feet, casting Lena a look of faint amusement, “she should be grateful she wasn’t made Rankless and barred from the Science Guild.”
Lena was silent, caught up in her own thoughts, and didn’t bother replying. Her brother knew nothing of loneliness. She dimly acknowledged his parting words about going to his lab, and Lena distractedly nodded, staring down at the pure white flower as she thought about the girl. Kara Zor-El. The House of El has always been one of the most prominent ones in society, possibly even more of a force than the House of Thor, given their generations of famed scientists. And now it was all next to worthless, both sons having gotten caught in the middle of a ploy to install a program that would take over the minds of all of Krypton’s citizens. Not even a month ago, they’d all been found guilty by the High Council and brought into Kandor, locked away in Fort Rozz, to never see the light of day again.
She shivered at the thought of being locked into a tiny cell and left to rot. Even her room and the rest of the lavish apartments seemed like a luxury compared to that. But a prison was a prison, and Lena spent the rest of the day brooding over the state of the near-barren planet and her own situation. She couldn’t fix any of it.
By the time she reached twenty sun cycles, Lena had already outlived her father, missing him every day as she was left to linger a little while longer on the planet. Despite sixteen years on Krypton, she still hadn’t actually seen any of the planet, had no friends, no life outside of the careful routine of her daily life. The driving force in her life was her scientific work. Ever since she’d set her mind of trying to find a way to cure the effects of the planet on her body, she’d spent every possible waking moment working on her research. She kept it to herself mostly at the beginning, quietly doing her research while she told her mother and brother she wanted to rest, but slowly, she revealed her plans, to a certain extent, asking Lillian to get her the materials she needed, getting Lex to lend her some of his tools and share his workspace.
It took her a year to complete her prototype gauntlets, absorption plates forming to her forearms and hands, compressing the bones and blood vessels and keeping them from fracturing under the pressure of gravity. She tinkered away at it with determination, making moulds and welding pieces the durable metal mined on Krypton, and by the time she was seventeen, she had matching greaves, a breastplate and pauldrons. It was the first thing she’d ever made, and she wore them at all times, not just because she was proud of them, but because it helped. The low-magnitude high-frequency vibrations the pieces of equipment emitted reduce the stress fractures, and promoted healing, meaning that Lena was in less pain. She spent less time in the water and more time in her chair, working on improving it. After seeing the initial results, Lillian helped her too, a proud gleam in her eyes as she helped Lena draw up better blueprints, made proper moulds and took precise measurements of Lena.
The second results were better. Each piece was a snug fit, holding her body together, reducing the pressure on her organs so that it didn’t feel like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. Lillian had the genius idea to lace each part with X-Kryptonite, the small dose of it irradiating her body, infusing her bones and muscles with strength and making her more invulnerable. It was thanks to that suit that she was still alive longer than anticipated, although it didn’t heal her.
It wasn’t her only plan though, not her main one, and she kept that one to herself. She didn’t think Lillian would approve. Creating a blue star beneath a red sun wasn’t exactly easy. Years of research had led her to believe that exposure to a blue star would radiate her body and potentially reverse the effects of Krypton’s red sun. She just had to figure out how to do it. As far as Lena could tell, it was a photonucleic effect, from moving between the influence of different coloured stars. Synthesising a blue star would essentially be the complete opposite of what the radiation from a red star was doing to her body. Instead of the crippling gravitational pull, making her bone density increase to the point where she could barely lift her arms, could barely breathe with all the strain on her lungs, her muscles atrophying and her bones fracturing. Instead, she’d become harder, more durable as her body changed to better suit the environment.
In her father’s old files she’d dug up, Lena had read his hypotheses about how the reverse effects would be had on a Kryptonian beneath the Earth’s yellow sun, and had come to her own conclusion that if he was right, then why couldn’t the same be done for a human under a blue star? It was twice as hot as a yellow star, had a strong absorption line of light, a higher mass and emitted intense ultraviolet light. For all intents and purposes, it was like a stronger sun. Lena believed that if she could synthesise it, the photonucleic effect of the star’s radiation would cause her body to develop an enhanced stability. The nucleus of her cells would form a temporary shell to shield it from external harm from the outside of her body to the inner most cells of all her organs. The effects would be something like a momentary comatose state, too brief to notice and over in less time than it would take her to draw a breath. Every electron in every molecule of her body would jump outward by one quantum level. From her advanced study of physics and biology, she’d expect to see the nucleus of all molecules unbind, the subatomic particles loosening, expanding the binding space between them, until the physical space of the molecules seemed to grow. There would be no actual growth, but the physical space that the solid parts of them took up would increase exponentially, without increasing her actual mass. She would look exactly the same, but her body would be different beyond imaginable.
Of course, it was all hypothetical as she tinkered away at her project. Part of the reason why she pursued, no matter how many failed attempts or dead ends, was the tiny sliver of determination to prove that she was just as smart as the rest of her family, that stubborn streak instilled in her by Lillian that made her unwilling to give up on her dream of one day leaving the apartment, and the other part was sheer desperation. She was sick of this, and the armour she’d made herself had given her a slight reprieve, but it wasn’t enough. She needed more . And although she knew her mother and brother loved her, they would never help her with this one. If it went wrong, she could quicken her slow journey towards death, she could infuse her body with too much radiation, burning her to the point where her paper thin skin blistered and scarred, if it didn’t outright kill her. It could increase her risk of cancer if the dosage was too high, and the Kryptonians wouldn’t have a cure for such a human disease. The list of possible side effects were endless, a daunting list, full of pain and the promise of death, but Lena was already guaranteed that anyway, so what could it hurt?
By twenty-three, she managed it. A tiny lamp of flickering blue energy. The moment she saw that flickering blue light, she almost wept with relief. Years of research, planning and experimentation had led her up to this. Hours of fiddling with tools in her leaden hands, heavy pressure behind her eyes making her vision blur and painful migraines shoot through her head as she concentrated on the tiny print of her blueprints, careful theft of supplies from her mother’s workshop … it had all led to that moment.
A wave of exhaustion washed over her, on par with the intense feeling of joyful relief, and it was soon swept away as she freed the small ball of energy from the clamp. The moment she took it in her hand, nestling the band of silvery metal in her palm as blue light bathed over her, she felt her body change. It was sudden and intense, and Lena held up a hand, flexing her fingers at the strange surge of strength and durability that swept through her. For the first time she could remember, she didn’t hurt .
An excited smile on her face, she navigated her wheelchair away from the desk, wrapping her fingers around the pulsing blue ball, and hesitantly moved one foot from the footrest on her wheelchair. There was no resistance, no leaden weight trying to pull her back down - in fact, it was the opposite, as if she was featherlight - and tears pricked Lena’s eyes as she let out a quiet gasp, her face splitting into a smile. Pushing herself to her feet in a swift movement, she found herself standing. She’d never stood on her own two feet before. Her spine would’ve crumpled like paper, compacting and potentially severing the nerves of her spinal column. Yet she was standing, unaided, cupping the flickering synthetic energy in her hands as it washed her wan face blue. A look of awe dawned on her face, and she breathed in deeply, letting out a breathless laugh at the easiness of it.
A knock on the door snapped her out of it, and Lena quickly dropped back down onto her wheelchair, her feet finding the footrests, her hand darting out to cut the electrical currency powering the lamp, before the mechanical hissing sound signalled the doors parting and her mom stepped into the room. Exhaustion and pain slammed down on Lena with such intensity that her vision darkened for a moment, and she blinked back black spots as she let out a hiss of pain, doubling over as she gasped for air.
“Lena?” Lillian’s anxious voice dimly rang in her ears, sounding distant and tinny. “Lena, what’s wrong? Where does it hurt?”
Shaking her head, Lena squeezed her eyes tightly shut, her skin prickling with a sheen of sweat as adrenaline coursed through her body, quickly trying to adapt to the sudden changes of the red sun atmosphere. For a moment it had been blissful triumph, and now she felt even worse than before.
“Everywhere,” she choked out, fingers curling around the arms of the armchair as she ground her teeth together.
The lamp lay abandoned on the desk, and she desperately wanted to reach out and turn it back on, to let it ease her pain, send the thrilling feeling of strength coursing back through her body, but she knew she couldn’t. Lillian would be scared of what it could do to her. She’d want to test it herself, make sure that it was safe, that it was a proper working solution, not the basic prototype that Lena had made from scraps. Her mom’s hands were warm against her forehead, and Lena looked up at her, face twisted with pain as she stared into green eyes, seeing her mother’s fear that she was dying. Reaching out, Lena feebly took hold of her hand and then promptly vomited into her lap.
She blacked out after that, waking up in the wet warmth of the pool of water, wearing a deep purple tunic and all of the pieces of equipment she’d designed. The muggy feeling in her head let her know that her body was coursing with drugs, had no doubt kept her under for a long while - longer than she thought, by the feeling of the feeding tube up her nose - and she was bitterly relieved for it. The feeling of pain slamming into her after a moment of heaven had been nearly unbearable. Over the years, she’d acclimatised, up to a point, but having that much pain course through her body had been a shock to her system.
“You’re awake. Good.”
Head lolling to the side, Lena peered up at her brother, a faint smile curling her lips as her eyelids dragged closed. “Mm. It hurt.”
“You’ve had mom worry sicked, ie. She thought you were dying.”
“Mm, I saw it in her eyes,” Lena thickly replied, letting out a wispy sigh as her limp body further relaxed.
He sighed, dropping to his knees beside the pool and reaching out to scoop her wet hand up from the water. Holding it tightly between his own, he looked at her with worry etched into the lines of his face, making Lena let out a shaky laugh. “I’m fine, Lex.”
“No you’re not,” he murmured, a sad look softening his features, “it’s too much for you, isn’t it?”
“It’s okay though,” Lena assured him, eyes shining with a film of tears as she extracted her hand and gave his a reassuring pat on the back. “I’ll fix it. I just need more time.”
“Of course,” he lightheartedly agreed, although she could see it in the false brightness of his smile and by his tone that he didn’t believe her. “And mom … any day now, she’s going to have something that works. It won’t be long.”
He gave her another dose of pain medication after that, leaving her mind swimming in a peaceful haze while she lay submerged in the water, before slipping out of the dim room to fetch Lillian. Lena was all but oblivious to her mom’s presence, each attempt to keep her eyes open a struggle, and she drifted in and out of consciousness as she listened to the gentle murmuring of her Lillian’s voice as she spoke to her, removing the feeding tube and the IV cannula, checking the silent monitors and the data they’d collected. It was of little concern to Lena, and she was unconscious before her mom even left.
She was lightly dozing, her chest rising and falling with each shallow breath, unaware of the woman sitting on the floor, head resting against the stone edge of the low pool as her shoulders hunched over in defeat. Lillian didn’t know how to save her anymore than she’d been able to save her husband. But she didn’t need to; Lena was going to save herself.
A few weeks slipped by before she got to test out her lamp again, this time waiting until her mother and brother had both gone out for a meeting with the Science Guild, leaving one of their robotic servants to watch over Lena. It hovered a few feet off the ground, patiently waiting for instructions, and she swiftly unstrapped herself from the rock bed, gritting her teeth together as she dragged herself out of the water and fumbled for her wheelchair. It was a struggle, and in the end, she ordered the little robot to fetch the lamp for her. Half submerged in the water, soaking wet as water streamed from her dark locks of hair, she held the dull ring of metal in her hand, before summoning the holographic screen from the projector in the wall. With a few quick taps, she was holding a glowing ball of blue energy, her body coursing with unbridled strength and power.
Nimbly climbing to her feet, Lena almost launched herself into the ceiling with the force of the movement. She was used to fighting against gravity, and had overestimated the energy needed to raise her limbs, grazing the rough hewn stone ceiling, before falling back down to the floor. Drops of water sprayed everywhere from the giant leap, and Lena crouched on the floor, hand braced against it as she clutched the lamp close in the other hand. She was strong, she could feel it, and her eyes lit up with a challenge at the thought of how strong she could be. She could be weightless, able to fly, strong enough to punch through walls with her durable skin, hot enough to possibly even channel the heat of the radiation. She just had to synthesise a bigger ball of energy first. If you wanted to light up a whole room, you didn’t use one tiny light, you used a massive one, or loads of little ones. Lena needed a bigger lamp.
Leaving a wet path leading towards her mother’s lab, Lena pulled up the blueprints on a holographic screen and spent the next few hours tirelessly working on recreating the energy of miniature blue star. This time, she was doing it on a bigger scale - not by much, but she needed to see how far she could push this. It could be the thing that saved her.
It took weeks before she finished the bigger model, stealing moments when her family wasn’t home so that she could feed off the energy from the small lamp she’d made, growing sicker when she had to turn it off and fight on without it. Her moods were dark and bitter in the midst of the pain, and she could see the shifting unease on her mother and brother’s face whenever they’d share a look, wondering how long she had left. Lionel had been dead far sooner than this, and they could see the beginnings of what he’d gone through in the sunken eyes, gaunt cheeks and pallid skin of Lena. She wasn’t quite there yet, but soon, she’d further sicken. The intense bouts of pain spoke clearly of that. They didn’t know that it was of her own doing, forcing her body to go through excruciating withdrawal from the blue star energy as it acclimated itself to Krypton again. Still, even she knew that kind of stress couldn’t be good for her body.
Over the course of her experimentation, she turned twenty-four. There was unrest on the planet at that time, the Rankless rising up against the Ranked, Guilds fighting, a forgotten rebel organisation called Black Zero rearing its head again. Part of it was the aftermath of what the House of El had done, sowing seeds of discord and instilling fear in citizens, and Lena was occasionally grateful for the fact that she was far removed from the political strife and danger. From what Lex said, the Military Guild were even busier than usual these days, Kandor’s law enforcement, the Sagitari, finding themselves patrolling more often. Her brother’s work had taken a turn towards weapons of late, developing new blasters and high-grade military armour to outfit the soldiers with. Lena disapproved of it, but he was good at it, smart and creative, and it was the purpose that the Voice of Rao gave him. Even she couldn’t argue against that.
Still, she couldn’t help but wish that there would be no need for weapons, or soldiers. If she could’ve helped, she would’ve. It crossed her mind that perhaps she should’ve focused more of her time on developing more fertile soil, cross-breeding their food sources, creating more renewable sources of energy. Things that could make a difference to Krypton. Instead, she fixed herself, and that in itself was the single most life-changing thing she could’ve done for the planet. Lena just didn’t know it at that time.
In stolen moments, she ran tests on her blood, bringing her cells close to the synthesised blue star energy, peering through a microscope at the sturdy metal desk as she observed the changes done to her cells. It was just like she’d imagined from her inferred conclusions of her father’s rambling notes. Her cells hardened, growing more durable, taking on a different quality. It was fascinating to see, and Lena was almost sad at the fact that she had no one to share it with. All the stuff she had discovered had been carefully documented, but she wanted to proudly show it off, to let the planet know that she was smart, was a true genius and worthy of the House of Thor. The research she was working on was possibly some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs the Science Guild would ever have seen, maybe even better than her mom’s work, and instead of presenting it to them, she was hidden in their lofty apartment, tinkering away in the vast lab in secrecy.
Until the day she finally set foot outside. It was a hazy day, the orange paling as a snowstorm was swept in from the barren Outlands, fierce winds screaming through the shiny skyscrapers, and Lena was relaxing in her pool of water, her mind distractedly going over her most recent blueprint for a bigger energy generator. She’d made a bigger lamp, and her calculations had been perfect, down to the number, but her cells hadn’t started to be damaged by it yet, which led her to believe that it could be slightly bigger and even more so successful. So far, the latest design allowed her to be infused with the photonucleic effect from up to twenty feet away, although distance weakened it. She was running through the newest calculations in her mind when the door hissed open and her brother walked in.
He wore his Science Guild tunic, his dark hair neatly slicked back and an excited look on his face. Today was the day he was going to Argo City, with a few dozen other guild members, to present his latest blaster design to their sector of the Science Guild. It had been well received by the Sagitari, and if the Science Guild in Argo City could manufacture their own there, they could outfit their regiments of the Military Guild with them as well. It would help manage the few uprisings in their own districts too. Despite his excitement, he picked up Lena’s broodiness, and settled down on the floor, careful not to wrinkle his clothes as he arched an eyebrow.
“What’s bothering you?”
“Liar,” Lex chuckled, gently tapping her on her forehead, “your thoughts are written right on your forehead, like a Thought-Beast, ie.”
Giving him a thin smile, Lena rolled her eyes slightly, “it’s nothing, ue. I’m just … calculating things.”
“Ah,” he murmured, before climbing to his feet and leaning over her, pressing a tender kiss to her cheek, “well don’t trouble yourself too much with it; you need to rest.”
Nodding, she murmured her goodbye and watched him leave, wishing more than anything that she was going with him. The best she would be able to manage was waiting for him to come home and tell her everything. It was frustrating to say the least, especially now when she potentially had a way to help herself. She wasn’t sure if it would work as well outside, where the air hadn’t been pressurised slightly for her, like Lillian had done so in their apartment, but she had high hopes that it would.
She was still brooding over the math and logistics of it when Lillian came to help feed her lunch a short while later, a watery soup steaming in the bowl as she sat down on the low stool beside the tub. A wide window gave them a spectacular view of the needle-like buildings rising up from the rockbed of the planet, snow-capped mountains looming in the distance, before giving way to the snowy wastelands beyond. Everything was painted orange, as usual, although the red sun was faint today, a flurry of dark snow and wispy clouds obscuring it. Lena obediently let her mom spoon the soup into her mouth as she wallowed in her own thoughts.
“Look,” Lillian suddenly interrupted her, pointing towards the window, where a large, dark aircraft - bigger than the typical ones used by the citizens - drifted into sight a few blocks away, making towards the rocky mountain range as it intended to fly over them. “He’s on his way. I wonder what they’ll think of his blasters.”
There was a hint of pride in her voice, and Lena’s heart sunk a little, knowing that no matter how much Lillian loved her, she’d never have cause to be that boastful about her. What had she done that was so wonderful? What had she done that she could tell her about?
“He’ll be great,” Lena murmured.
“Mhm. Now, you should rest. Do you want the window darkened?” Lillian asked, climbing to her feet and walking over towards the window, a panel beside it used to turn the window solid, as if it was a part of the natural wall of the apartment.
It made the apartment seem dark and suffocating when it was shut for too long, but Lena knew that she wouldn’t sleep if it was open. She’d just spent hours daydreaming about what it was like outside.
“Oh Rao,” Lillian suddenly exclaimed, the metal bowl clanging to the ground, a few flecks of soup splashing onto the stone floor as she pressed a hand against the window, almost as if she was trying to get through it.
Struggling up slightly, Lena gave her a startled look, “what? What is it?”
“The aircraft! It’s going down,” her mother choked out, turning to look at her with wide eyes, her face pale and stricken with horror.
The only thought that crossed Lena’s mind was that her brother was on there. Her brother who told her tales about legendary Kryptonian heroes, looked over her blueprints when she was younger and told her she would most definitely make it into the Science Guild with them, stayed with her through hours of unimaginable pain. And he was going to die if it crashed.
Mouth dry with fear, Lena struggled with the straps, frantically scrambling to undo them as Lillian turned her attention back to the window, one hand clapped over her mouth as she watched the dark shape skim lower and lower.
“Mom! Help me. Help me out of this,” Lena urgently shouted.
Turning to look at her, Lillian blinked rapidly, coming back to herself as she rushed over to her daughter, trying to ease her back down against the carved bed. “Lena, don’t. You have to stay still, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
Grabbing hold of her arms, Lena gave her an earnest look, an almost maddening gleam in her eyes as she held fast. “Mom, I can save him. Please.”
“Wha- you can’t walk , Lena.”
“Get me a robot. Hello? Excuse me, Droid, I need the blue sun lamp.”
“The blue what?” Lillian exclaimed.
The little robot that was stationed in her room, just in case she ever needed anything, quickly came to life, opening up a cupboard in the panelling along one wall and pulling out a band of silvery metal. It whizzed over to Lena and handed it over to her, and she quickly tapped it to life - one of the upgrades she’d made - watched as electricity crackled and a blue light blossomed in the middle of the band. Watching with her mouth hanging open in surprise, her pale face bathed in an eerie blue light, Lillian speechlessly stood by as Lena easily tore the metal restraints off with her bare hands, climbing to her feet in a blur, the lamp clutched tightly in her hands, and blurred through the apartment.
She barely waited for the air hanger door to open, waiting until it was parted just enough for her to squeeze through, before she took a deep breath, hoped that she was right in her flying abilities, and shot through the widening gap, leaving a shell-shocked mother behind. She was wearing a black tunic, the Thor sigil hidden by the bulky breastplate she was wearing, and a handful of people knew who she was and what she looked like, which meant that she was largely anonymous. Not for long though, as she shot through the sky, the weightlessness of it making her stomach plummet as wind tugged at her, caressing skin that hadn’t seen fresh air in decades. Her lungs sucked in grateful deep breaths of fresh air, the taste of fumes and snow on the air, and Lena pushed herself onwards, weaving in and out of sparkling buildings with uncoordinated movements. Control didn’t matter in that moment, only getting to the aircraft as quickly as possible.
It was there, in the distance, which she was rapidly crossing in a blur, a blue light feeding her body with energy as she raced towards it. The aircraft spiralled towards the ground with a plume of black smoke drifting up from the engines, and Lena pulled up underneath it, gritting her teeth as she thrust her hands out, denting the metal with the force of her strength, blue energy crackling as she fought to keep a hold on the sun lamp and slow the descent of the aircraft.
With some difficulty, she managed to safely guide it down to the pillowy piles of fresh snow in the foothills of one of the mountains ringing Kandor, letting it settle into the snow before she stepped back, not even winded by the effort of it, while a ramp lowered and pale, trembling figures stepped out into the biting cold, rattled by the near-death experience and confused at how they’d survived. And then they saw her, the lone, dark figure standing in the flurry of snow, a blowing blue light held in her hands as the wind tossed dark, frozen hair around her head. Only Lex knew who she was, his lips parted in surprise as he numbly stared at her, a look of bewilderment in his green eyes as he gave her a questioning look.
Without any explanation, Lena shot off back into the sky, a smile splitting her face as she raced back towards the city, passing by skimmers flying towards her to rescue the would be victims. Filled with a sense of purpose and pride, she clumsily flew back towards the cluster of dark towers, eyes bright and cheeks flushed with a healthy glow, and for the time in her life, Lena felt truly alive.
She was hurtling towards the looming skyscrapers so fast that she was little more than an indistinguishable blur, barren brown earth and patches of white ice rapidly flashing by beneath her, adrenaline coursing through her body at what had just happened. Lena couldn’t keep the smile off her face. And then she was falling. At first, she didn’t know what was wrong, her flight faltering as she tried to maneuver her way between the glossy buildings, and then she slammed into the side of one of the buildings, cracking rock and the crystal windows with the force of her body crashing into it. The blue light of the sun lamp guttered in her hands, and she felt the blood drain from her face as she lurched forward, her body immune to the pain of the crash. Something was wrong.
It was just a prototype, and she knew the risk of using it would be great. She could’ve fallen two hundred feet to the ground as soon as she’d stepped out of the apartment’s hangar, she could’ve died a dozen times as she raced towards saving her brother, but the risks had all been worth it. And now the thrill of it all, coursing through her body as she buzzed with triumph, turned to ice in her veins. The ground raced up to meet her, and then dipped away again as the blue light infused her with power, struggling to stay on as she raced towards her apartment building.
Dipping again, she slammed into the roof of an aircraft, rolling along its surface as it shot past, and then plummeted twenty feet, before soaring again. Her mouth way dry with fear, her knuckles white as she clutched the device carefully in her hands, just tight enough not to snap the hard metal she’d built it with, yet needing the comfort that its presence could offer. It occurred to Lena that if the light went out, she’d fall, until she hit the ground, and when she collided with it, her body would be pulverised by the pressure of gravity combined with the steep drop. She’d be dead, without a doubt. But the apartment was still a mile away, rapidly approaching, but not fast enough. The sun lamp didn’t have that long. She was falling too quickly.
And then another aircraft was coming straight towards her, completing a hairpin turn as a ramp descended, revealing the dark confines of the ship. Unable to stop herself, Lena went flying straight into the mouth of the aircraft, her feet scrambling on the slick metal deck as she tried to skid backwards, through the closing jaws of the aircraft. Her wide eyes flickered back and forth, looking for an escape route, before she was jolted back to reality by a familiar sharp voice.
“Lena,” Lillian barked, swivelling the command chair around to give her daughter a thunderous look. “What in Rao’s name-”
Weak with relief, Lena let out a choked laugh as the blue sun lamp fizzled in her hands and died out. With a dull thud, it clattered to the deck of the aircraft, and she stood for a few moments, the power of the radiation coursing through her body, her healthy body, before pain slammed into her. Her whole body buckled beneath it, a scream falling from her lips as her face twisted with pain, her legs snapping first as hairline fractures threaded their way up through the bones, her body compacting on itself.
Knees slamming down hard on the metal, Lena went sprawling forwards, her wrists giving way beneath her weight as another scream got choked off by a sharp intake of breath. Her vision blurred, black spots visible as her eyelids fluttered, and her ears rang, the distant sound of her mother’s voice faintly registering in Lena’s mind. She couldn’t move, couldn’t make her voice work as she drew in ragged breaths, face down on the floor as she slid along with every movement of the aircraft.
She wasn’t sure how long it was, although it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, before the gentle jolting feeling of the aircraft touching down made itself dimly aware through the haze of pain that overwhelmed Lena. Her whole body hurt. Each breath was a struggle, her head throbbed, pressure building behind her eyes, she could barely see or here, let alone move. A crumpled pile near the rear of the ship, she lingered on the threshold of consciousness, feeling the vibrations of hurried footsteps, before gentle hands carefully ran over her. Feeble cries of pain fell from her lips at the probing touches of her mother’s skilled hands, a cold sweat covering her body as she drew in painful breaths, eyes screwed tightly shut as Lillian felt out cracked ribs, innumerous black bruises.
Stubbornly holding onto consciousness, she waited as she listened to her mother bark frantic orders to their robots, medical equipment sped through the apartment, before Lena was rolled over. A garbled groan rose at the back of her throat as bright white light swam into dizzying focus above, indistinguishable smudges moving around above her, and she felt the pinching and prodding of equipment being strapped to her. A strong feeling of nausea welled up inside her as she was gently laid on her back, restraints holding her in place so that she didn’t damage her spinal column, and Lena let out a quiet whimper as hot tears fell from the corners of her eyes, tracing their way down her temples. Body arching as much as it could, she convulsed, vomiting all over her chest, hearing a cry of panic, before something soft mopped at her mouth, chin and neck. Her lips tasted the coppery telltale signs of blood, and she felt something warm trickle from her nose. Everything faded to black after that, the last thing she saw being the oxygen mask closing over her mouth and nose, the tickling feeling of the gas worming its way through her bloodless lips and up her nose.
The next time she woke, she was back in her pool of water, the lights off, the window concealed, and the temperature of the water cranked up so hot that wisps of steam curled up from the surface of it. Lena’s mouth was dry, her throat aching as she let out a feeble cough, and her head felt heavy as she blinked slowly. The stale taste of bile and blood coated her tongue, and she grimaced in distaste. She couldn’t feel much of the rest of her body, and she was dimly aware that it was probably for the best. She didn’t know what condition she was in. The last thing that Lena remembered was the blue light winking out of existence and her whole body crumpling beneath her. It didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
“Thank Rao, you’re awake,” Lillian’s relieved voice broke the silence, the words holding a hard edge to them as she appeared beside the pool, her face drawn with weariness and her eyes swimming with fear.
Blinking slowly, Lena let out a hum of agreement, trying to clear the foggy thoughts from her mind as she shallowly breathed. Her limbs felt even heavier than usual when she tried to move her hand, in vain, and she found that she couldn’t even turn her head to the side, a stiff neck brace holding her in place, as well as the rest of the restraints. She had the sense that she’d been out for a while.
“Five days,” Lillian stonily replied, before falling silent.
“Is fine - thanks to you.”
The silence washed over them, and Lena found herself wishing that her mother would get her lecture over and done with. It would fall upon deaf ears anyway - Lena didn’t regret her decision one bit. If that fleeting moment of freedom was all she would get, then she would cherish it forever. The feeling of wind biting her cheeks, grabbing at her hair and clothes, the smell of fumes and fresh air mingling with the smells of the city, the weightless feeling of soaring between buildings … it was all worth it. Most of all, saving Lex.
“Well?” Lena mumbled, her voice a hoarse rasp from disuse.
Spluttering, Lillian made a sound of disapproval at the back of her throat. “Well? Well? Is that all you have to say for yourself, Lena Lu-Thor?”
Shaking with a quick laugh, Lena let her eyelids flutter slightly, the effort of keeping them open too much to bear at that moment. “I have a lot to say, ieiu. I just don’t think you want to hear it.”
“What could possibly have been going through your head when you decided to use that- that thing ? Hm?”
“I know you’re mad-”
“Mad? Mad? I’m furious! I’ve spent so long trying to keep you safe, trying to keep you alive, and this whole time you’ve secretly been building that energy generator so that you could throw yourself into danger. I’m furious, Lena. I’m furious because as a mother, it’s my job to be smarter than you and keep my children safe, and this time … you were better than me on both accounts. I’ve never seen the likes of that thing . I don’t know how you did it, but it’s a rare day when even I’m surprised.”
Choking on a laugh, Lena’s bloodless lips curled up into a smug smile, her ashen cheeks dimpling as she glowed with pride. “It was brilliant, wasn’t it?”
Gentle hands brushed her hair back, and her mother carefully kissed her on her forehead. “Don’t you ever do anything like that again, okay? You are brilliant; you didn’t need to risk your life for me to know that.”
“You have thirty-six broken bones, Lena. You could’ve paralysed yourself. I’ve spent days trying to undo all of the damage you did. I was so sure that this time I wouldn’t- I was scared. I thought I was going to lose both of my children in the same day.”
“But I saved Lex.”
Letting out a heavy sigh, Lillian reached out to tenderly stroke a sallow cheek, and Lena tried her best to catch a glimpse of her mother’s face. From what she could see, she looked troubled. “I know you did, ukiem, but I wouldn’t want you to trade your life for your brother’s.”
“I wouldn’t be giving up much,” Lena mumbled, a bitter feeling welling up inside as self-pity washed over her.
“Hey now, I know it’s hard for you. I know how hard it can be, I watched your father go through all of this too, but I’m trying, okay? I’m trying to find a way to help you.”
Gritting her teeth in frustration, Lena made a low sound of annoyance. “I found a way, mom. I did it myself. It works .”
“You almost killed yourself,” Lillian flatly replied, “whatever it is, yes, it works, but it’s not reliable.”
“It’s a blue sun. I synthesised the energy of a blue sun . I took dad’s notes and I figured out the solution by myself . I’m smart, every bit as smart as you, and I know that it works. I know it does. I’ve spent years on this.”
Letting out a humourless laugh, Lillian shook her head. “All those times you were worse, I thought you were just getting sicker. That it was all too much. Instead, you were experimenting on yourself with this blue sun, weren’t you?” She took Lena’s silence as confirmation, tutting disapprovingly. “You don’t know what this could do to your body. I’m talking long-term. That much radiation could-”
“It could what?” Lena sharply asked, “kill me? I’m already dying, mother. At least if I die this way, it’ll be on my own terms. Free. For those few minutes, I was free . And if I’d died because of it, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I still would’ve risked it. Look at my blueprints. Try it out. You’ll see that it works.”
“You fried it on your little adventure, and your blueprints are encrypted. I tried to fix it to use it on you. I thought it might help heal you quicker, but I couldn’t figure out how you did it.”
Feeling somewhat proud of the fact that Lillian hadn’t cracked her password. “It’s the chemical formula for Kryptonite,” she confessed, “go through the files. You’ll see that it works. I’m right.”
“You’re always right,” Lillian quietly laughed, reaching out to touch one of the circular disks stuck to Lena’s temple. A rush of calm swept through her body, and it took her slow mind a moment to realise that Lillian had triggered one of the pain medication ports. Before she could even protest, sleep was creeping up on her, her vision blurring as her reply died on her lips. “But you need to rest.”
She slept then, for what felt like a long while. The next time she woke up, it was to dim blue lights and the feeling of strength running through her veins. Blue sun lamps. It took Lena a few moments to realise that her mom had made them, or her brother. They’d read her blueprints and used the plans to engineer their own version of her creation, the blue rectangles of light replacing the old yellow sun lamps that Lillian had crafted for her. The effects of those ones pales in comparison to the blue ones. Lena could feel it. The aches and pains, which had become constant companions over the years, were nonexistent, her broken bones had been mended, and when Lena raised her arms, accidentally tearing the newly replaced metal restraints due to her unfamiliar strength, her pale exposed forearms with free from and bruises. The skin was flawless and impenetrable, harder than any metal found on Krypton, the ashy grey pallor having been replaced with a healthier glow.
Sitting upright, the screeching sound of metal tearing splitting the silence as she broke free of the rest of her restraints, Lena smiled to herself, holding her hands up in amazement. She felt better than ever. It must’ve been at least a day or more since she’d been exposed to the radiation, her body brimming with newfound power. She’d never been under its influence for longer than a couple of hours at a time, and coming down from that high had always been a staggering blow. Lena couldn’t help but wonder how bad it would be this time. But for now, she told herself to enjoy it. The unbridled feeling of power was intoxicating, and Lena eagerly clambered out of the tub, moving so quickly that it was still a shock to her.
She didn’t go flying into the ceiling this time, but she felt weightless as she lightly landed on the stone floor. Water streamed off her, creating a puddle beneath her as it ran down her skin in rivulets, her sodden clothes clinging to her. Stripping them off, she walked over to the towel folded on the low stool beside the pool of steaming water, wrapping it around herself and walking over to one of the panels in the wall. Clean clothes were hanging up, and she fetched a deep green tunic, a pair of fitted black leggings and shiny black boots. Dark, wet hair tumbled around her shoulders, clinging to her skin in places, and she rubbed it dry with the towel, walking towards the door and throwing it open.
Walking through the apartment, she felt the effects dim slightly, although it didn’t slow her at all, her footsteps firm as she entered the living area. Lex was sitting on the black sofa, a wrench in hand as he assembled a laser core for one of his blasters, a pair of goggles protecting his eyes as the news played on a large projected screen on the wall across from him.
“The suspected nightwing hasn’t been seen since saving all passengers aboard the aircraft, ” the voice concluded.
“Nightwing?” Lena hoarsely asked.
With a clatter of metal crashing to the floor, Lex jumped to his feet, cursing as he held a hand against his chest, green eyes wide with surprise. “Rao, Lena, don’t do that.”
She gave him a smile, strolling across the room with her arms folded over her chest. He paused for a moment, a wary look on his face as he gave her a once over, giving way to awe as he took in the fact that she was standing on her own two feet. She’d never so much as stood before, let alone walked. She’d barely been allowed to sit up in her wheelchair. It was a shocking sight for her brother, but probably not quite as shocking as seeing her standing in the middle of the snowstorm, glowing blue as the fierce wind tossed her hair about.
“It works ,” Lex finally whispered, his voice full of awe as he slowly let the wrench fall to the ground, slowly moving towards her with a burning look of curiosity in his eyes. “I mean, mom said, but … you did this?”
“Jealous you didn’t think of it yourself?” Lena asked, raising her eyebrows as a cocky smile curled her lips.
“A little,” Lex admitted.
Stopping in front of her, his eyebrows drew together in a look of concentration, reaching out to pick up her hand in his own, his fingers finding her steady pulse - beating stronger than it ever had before - before he gave her a gentle push. She didn’t move so much as an inch. He tried again, and Lena caught his wrist in her hand before he could lay a finger on her, a cool look on her face as she gave him a smirk.
“Well … I guess that’s one way to cure yourself.”
“And to save you.”
He laughed, wrapping her in a tight hug - the kind of hug that her body had never been able to bear before - and Lena froze for a moment, before letting herself relax into his embrace. She hugged him back, squeezing him a little too tight as he made a choked sound in complaint.
“Thank you,” he whispered, giving her another squeeze as he rested his chin on top of her head. “You’re a hero. You saved all those people on board.”
Pulling back, she smiled up at him, arching an eyebrow questioningly. “Oh? So it wasn’t a nightwing then?”
Letting out a derisive snort, Lex shook his head, walking back over to the sofa and dropping down onto it with a dramatic sigh. “For such an advanced species, some of us are quite thick. Of course , the only plausible reason why the aircraft didn’t crash is because some ancient mythological flying beast saved us. Honestly, you’d think that someone would’ve caught more than a blurred image of you. It’s almost insulting. All that risk, and no one even knows it was you.”
“Don’t encourage her,” Lillian chided her son as she walked into the room, a disapproving look on her face as she looked at Lena. “Lena, sit down. Those lamps work, but I don’t trust them. I don’t want it failing again and you ending up unconscious for a week. Or worse.”
Rolling her eyes at her brother, who gave her an amused look, she walked over to the sofa, nudging him out of the way and sitting down next to him, legs stretching out to rest on the edge of the crystal coffee table. “Don’t worry, I’ll get working on them soon. If I want to make sure it doesn’t die while I’m mid-flight, I’ll need to find out where I went wrong last time.”
Spluttering, Lillian gave her a look of outrage. “Absolutely not!”
Frowning, Lena pursed her lips, giving her a sulky look. “But I saved all those people! You heard Lex - I’m a hero , mom.”
“You’re sick, is what you are,” Lillian curtly replied, “medicating with the radiation of a sun doesn’t change the fact that without it, you’re still sick. You can’t risk your life saving other people when you’re own life is at risk. You have a good heart, Lena, but you need to look after yourself first. No more flying. No more heroics. Please, promise me.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?” Lena snapped, “I can leave now. I won’t be a prisoner here any longer.”
“You’re supposed to be in a wheelchair.”
“Then I’ll sit in a chair! I don’t care. I just want to live . I don’t want to spend every day shut up in here. Look at me! I can walk. I could bring this building down if I wanted to. I’m far from dying right now. You’ve looked at my blood results, right? You’ve seen what the blue sun radiation does to my cells? As long as I keep a lamp with me, I’m practically indestructible! Think of the people I could save, of what the Science Guild-”
“You want to join the Science Guild? Fine. I’ll get you a place there. But you are not to go flying around like some silly hero from one of those tales your brother filled your head with.”
A look of surprise flitted across Lena’s face, and a look of hope dawned in her eyes as she smiled up at Lillian. “You’ll get me into the Science Guild? Really? You mean it?”
Sighing, Lillian considered it for a moment, before nodding. “If it’s what you really want.”
Flying to her feet, Lena moved in a blur, throwing her arms around her mom and holding her tightly, her cheek pressed against her shoulder as she smiled brightly. “Thank you, thank you! I’ll make you proud, I promise I will.”
Shaking with laughter, Lillian fondly patted her on the head, mildly surprised by the display of affection, and softly returned the hug, as if her daughter was still fragile and easily breakable. She’d spent so many years devoting her time to looking after her, fulfilling her promise to her late husband and ensuring that the little girl she’d taken in as her own lived to see another sunrise, and now she felt almost useless. Lena didn’t need her anymore. It put Lillian in a strange predicament, yet she was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief, comfort and joy. Her daughter was safe now.
“You always have.”
True to her word, not a week later, Lillian had secured Lena a place in the Science Guild. When her mom came home and told her, she could’ve cried, filled with a sense of purpose and excitement for the second time in her life. The first had been the day she’d saved her brother, and her briefly lived stint as a hero, but seeing as she’d been banned from further heroics, the Science Guild was a dream come true. For as long as she could remember, Lena had wanted to join, to be just like her father and mother, and then her brother as he’d grown up and been admitted to the Guild. She’d always held onto the fantasy that she’d be allowed to join, not realising that being confined to her pool of water, with brief respites in a chair, were all her future held for her. She’d been ten when she’d realised that her mother never encouraged her wishes to join the same way she did Lex, because Lillian was above lying to her children, but couldn’t bring herself to dash Lena’s hopes at such a young age. She’d figured it out herself though, because she wasn’t getting better.
But things were different now. Her own research had led her to a way to give herself moments of freedom from the crippling pain, and if she could find a way to sustain it, she’d be allowed to leave the apartment. Lena could go to the Science Guild, spend her days working at a lab as she tinkered away at projects, shaping the future of Krypton with her work, just like her mother had. It was everything she’d spent years thinking she’d never have, and now it was within reach. But first, Lillian had sternly explained that she’d have to undergo testing. First, she’d have to let her mother help her stabilise the blue sun lamps, so that they wouldn’t fail, and she wouldn’t be left stranded in her chair in the middle of a city she’d never been out in. She’d have to invest hours in training, so that she wouldn’t accidentally shoot across the room when she reached out for something, or pulverise tools into lumps of twisted metal with her bare hands, instead of delicately trying to put a device together. The strength and power were unfamiliar still, and if she wanted to blend in, she had to master them.
With stubborn determination, Lena threw herself into it. She allowed Lillian to poke and prod her with needles, finding that when she was irradiated, her skin was impervious to everything they could think of, unmarred and with a remarkable healing factor. Her strength was tested, so strong that she had been able to squash the hardest metal Lillian had on hand with very little effort, so strong that she’d kill someone with one wrong movement, or crush their bones if she lost control. Her hearing was so sharp that she able to pick out her brother’s voice from within the Science Guild, miles away from their apartment, her eyesight so keen that she was able to see the herds of Zuurt’s roaming around on the barren plains outside the city limits.
Then there were the actual sun lamps. After much deliberation, sparking numerous debates and arguments about whose calculations were more accurate, they’d come to the conclusion that a larger sun lamp developed a more unstable core. That was why it had died when she’d been flying back from rescuing Lex. To combat that, they made multiple miniature versions, so small that they were scarcely larger than Lena’s thumbnail. They’d be easier to hide too, especially if she was wheelchair bound outside of the apartment, and would be less likely to malfunction from overheating or overuse.
Her entire room radiated blue light, and she slowly adjusted to her newfound physiological changes, and she could see the jolt that ran through her mother and brother whenever they came into her room, as the blue star radiation washed over them even more intensely. Although they never even broached the subject with her, Lena knew that they were also wondering what her discovery could do for Kryptonians. People would be invincible, able to fly wherever they wanted to, complete physical work with ease. But there was an unspoken risk, which Lena was only risking because the thought of staying trapped in pain until she finally died was even more unbearable. Her mother and brother wouldn’t risk their health for what the sun lamps could give them though, so they devoted their time to helping her instead.
Still, it was weeks of fine tuning the blueprints, math and science behind the devices, before they came to a result that worked best. Small devices, emitting high doses, but more stable overall for the smaller scale. Quantity had been deemed a better fit here, rather than one massive core, and if one broke, at least Lena would be able to continue as normal with the others. Part of Lillian’s tests had included the smallest level of radiation her body could run off of without the crushing pain swooping back in, and when her mother was finally sure, she begrudgingly admitted that Lena was ready.
The morning that she was finally allowed to leave the apartment, journey to the Science Guild and meet the greatest minds on the planet, work on her projects in the vast labs, browse the endless files available in their great digital library, Lena could hardly contain her excitement. She was beaming all through breakfast, feeding herself oats as quickly as possible while Lillian tutted and rolled her eyes, even as her lips twitched with a slight smile at seeing her daughter’s unbridled happiness for once.
After breakfast and showering, Lena changed into a thin fitted jumpsuit, the fabric flexible and durable, clinging to her body in a way that would compress her bones and muscles, keeping them in place with pressure if the sun lamps should fail. Lena had helped Lillian create it, with little ports for the lamps to slot into place. There were three on her chest, just below her shoulders and on her sternum, two above her hip bones, on her shoulder blades, the base of her spine, her wrists, ankles and other places. Out of sight places, where they wouldn’t be seen, and wouldn’t accidentally be bumped. The tiny holes cut into the jumpsuit allowed direct skin contact with the radiation, the sun lamps backed with a heavy duty metal so that no one would see the blue light. And then came the newly redesigned armour Lena had manufactured for herself years ago. It had been slimmed down, as thin as possible while maintaining its durability, hugging her forearms and calves like a second skin, the breastplate and pauldrons all but unnoticeable as it was strapped into place. Lastly, she changed into black pants and a deep plum coloured tunic, hiding it all from sight, the high collar and long sleeves a good disguise for what lay underneath.
Allowing herself to be strapped into her wheelchair, under the pretense that she still needed it due to a rare genetic condition that Lu-Thor had also suffered from - although it was completely unrelated, because she was adopted, as far as anyone else was aware - Lena fidgeted, waiting for everything to be double checked, before her mother was sure that everything was okay. Lillian had been fretting around her all morning, anxiously worrying over Lena’s first day, going over the back up plans, making sure her communications system was working and that Lena had both X-Kryptonite bracelets on as a precaution. Eventually they couldn’t put it off any longer, and the three of them left together, Lena shifting excitedly in her wheelchair, fighting the urge to break free of the straps and run to the elevator, barely able to control herself as her patience wore thin.
They’d decided to go together - Lillian so she could ensure that Lena got there safely, and Lex so that he could see Lena’s face the first time she entered the Guild - and as the elevator smoothly dropped, lowering them towards the floor of the city, Lena couldn’t stop the nervous, excitable chatter that fell from her lips. She asked a dozen questions about the place, although she’d heard all the stories over the years, and seen hundreds of photos of it, and her mother patiently answered them all, while Lex shared secret smiles with her, a glimmer of eagerness in his own eyes.
Coming to a stop on the ground floor, Lena wheeled herself out of the elevator with the touchpad on the right arm of the chair, her mother close behind, giving her a quiet warning not to get too far ahead. Lena was barely paying attention, a look of awe dawning on her face as she craned her neck, looking up at the towering peaks of the dark buildings. She’d stared out at the view for years from her room and various points in the apartment, and even flown between the spires of the skyscrapers on her one-time trip outside, but that far below, grounded in the shadows of Kandor City, it was a whole other world. People hurried past, dressed in the finery and colours of their houses if they were Ranked, in Guild uniforms of their respective professions, or if they were Rankless, muted colours of blacks and greys, the clothes worn and ragged from use. She frowned at that, watching as the citizens mingled, winding their way through the maze of streets unfamiliar to Lena. Armed Sagitari soldiers patrolled in pairs, a man dressed in a tunic with the Lawmaker’s Guild sigil on its chest hurried past, and a mother in a yellow dress with the sigil of House Ur on her chest ushered a small child along with her.
Staring around in wonder, Lena couldn’t help but smile, taking in everything through the faint orange tint from the hidden red sun. The air was polluted further down, the smell of the factories and bars, homes and stores, and the general smell of thousands of people living together all mingling, and she let her chair wheel its way after her brother as she looked at everything with interest, drinking it all in. Lillian stayed close to her side, a look of indifference on her face as she went to work, and Lena couldn’t help but wonder what it felt like to consider everything around them so normal, so boring. The further they passed away from the clean streets near their building, the more crowded the streets became, stalls set up selling communication devices, expensive bolts of cloth on display outside a seamstresses, children running through the streets laughing, foods roasting as vendors clamoured for the attention of Kryptonians going about their daily life. And above them, hovercrafts, skimmers and spaceships all flew past, some of them so fast they were little more than a tiny blur passing high overhead, and Lena had the tingling sensation of flying, fighting the urge to launch herself up there and join them like one of those birds her father told her they’d had on Earth.
Everything was new and fascinating, and Lena wanted to stop and stare at everything, wanted to give in to the beckoning and calls from the vendors and shopkeepers, trying to prey on her as they hawked their wares. They had a purpose though, and Lena was just as excited to set foot inside the Science Guild as she was about seeing the city from below, and eagerly trailed after her brother as she navigated her way between people wandering about on two legs. She drew numerous strange looks, the concept of illness an all but forgotten thing to Kryptonians. Thalanite lung and a few other rare diseases plagued them, but cases were so few and far between that to see Lena in a wheelchair was an oddity that people couldn’t help but stare. Trying not to let it get to her, although she became very self-conscious of her own appearance for the first time in her life, having never been around so many people, or felt the crowds pressing in as she tried to worm her way through gaps in the steady stream of people, and she was glad for Lillian’s hand resting on her shoulder, ensuring that she didn’t lose track of her as they passed through a large square. It was a lot to process, and Lena could understand why her mom had been so insistent on keeping her safe in their home. If she got stranded out in the city, without her powers and wracked with pain, she’d be at a loss.
Eventually the crowds thinned out as they neared the large platforms where hulking buildings were crafted out of metal and crystal, shining in the orange daylight. Ordinarily, they’d rarely go down to the bottom-most level of the city, where the Rankless lived, and would stick to the slick metal bridges that criss-crossed between the gleaming towers, elevating the Ranked and the Guild members as they went about their business in the upper levels of Kandor, but Lena had wanted to fully experience everything on her way to the Science Guild. As she wheeled up the slope towards the hulking mass with the crystal domed roof that made up the Science Guild, she saw in stark contrast how different things were at that level. The light was brighter, not having to filter down past so many bridges, the shadowy criss-crossing making everything dimmer, and the streets were carefully paved, kept clean and in perfect condition, intricate patterns carved into the stone. She knew from aerial photos that they were the sigils of all the Guilds, and she let her gaze wander over all of the colossal buildings.
Making their way towards the one with the Science Guild’s logo carved above the yawning jaws of the massive, open doorway, Lena felt her excitement rekindle, speeding up slightly in anticipation of going inside. Guild members hurried across the large, open square elevated in the midst of the city, colourful robes denoting their Guild or House, and she joined in with the gentle flow making their way towards the domed building. Lex turned to give her a wide smile as they entered the shadow cast by the building, and Lena gave him a slightly nervous one in return, taking a deep breath to steady herself as she continued.
Passing through the tall doors, taking in the carved symbols, runes and numbers on the towering metal doors, Lena looked around in awe as she slowed just inside the doorstep. The domed roof towered high above, made completely of crystal as it let in orange sunlight, stone floors stretched out in every direction, hallways branching off the central chamber, and curved, sweeping staircases wound their way up to the second, third and fourth floors, everything shrouded in mystery and hidden secrets as she looked around. The middle of the foyer was dominated by a towering metal statue of a man, Telle, the God of wisdom, and Lena looked up at the stern, knowledgeable look on the statues face. This place held all of the answers she’d dreamt of, so many things waiting to be discovered, new information to be read, and she couldn’t wait. Letting out a slightly breathless laugh, she smiled at her mother and brother as they gave her a knowing look. She wondered if this place had been as breathtaking to them when they’d first stepped inside.
“Now, you’re free to work on anything you want to,” Lillian reminded her, “any project. So if you need tools and equipment, you can check it out at the labs. You’ll be charged for anything that you need, but only if you sell one of your creations. There’s the digital library, if you need resources, and some of those files can only be accessed in that room on the projectors. The cafeteria is on this floor, and remember to be there by midday for lunch, okay? You too, Lex.”
“Yes, yes,” Lena sighed, having already gone over this three times this morning, “I’ll be there for lunch.”
Giving her a stern look, Lillian pressed her lips together in a thin line, a faint flicker of worry in her eyes as she stared down at her daughter. “If anything, anything , happens, anything goes wrong, or just- anything , you call me, okay? My comms are on, I’ll come right away, just tell me where you are.”
A smile softened her face, and Lena nodded, “I will.”
“Okay, well, give me a kiss.”
“Mom! People are going to stare,” Lena muttered, ducking her head as Lillian tried to kiss her on the cheek, a rare display of maternal affection, even for her mother. Tutting, Lillian briefly stroked her hair and gave her a stern look.
“Behave. Don’t make me regret this.”
“I’m not a child anymore.”
Rolling her eyes, Lillian made a shooing motion. “Go on, off with you then.”
Without another word, she turned around and strode off, nodding at familiar faces as she went towards one of her own projects she was working on. Lena watched her leave, finding it odd that so many people were deferential and respectful to her, almost treating Lillian reverently as she swept by in her black robes. Turning to give her brother an expectant look, Lena beamed up at him.
“I’m meeting a friend to work on a mod for my blasters. I’ll see you at lunch?”
She’d been expecting him to stay with her, or at least show her around first, and a brief flicker of surprise ran across her face, before she composed herself. “Oh, yeah, yeah, of course. See you at lunch.”
Giving her shoulder a squeeze of encouragement, Lex gave her a bright smile and walked off, his boots loud against the stone floor as it echoed off the high ceiling. People cast her furtive glances as she looked around, rolling herself forward, their hushed whispers unintelligible but audible in the echoey room, but she found that she didn’t mind it so much. The House of Thor was a renowned family in the scientific world, and of course people would show an interest in the reclusive youngest daughter finally coming out to join society. It was the natural curiosity instilled in all of them, and Lena gave people quick smiles as she passed them by, meeting their stares with her own.
Unsure what to do, she set off exploring. Wide, arched hallways led away from the foyer, so she picked one at random and set off down it. First, she found the forges, the smell of fire and metal assaulting her sensitive nose as the scanner accepted her registered handprint and the doors parts. Guild members were busy working at the furnaces, the din of hammers ringing off metal echoing in the long room as shapes formed beneath their heavy blows. The sizzling of water cut through the rhythmic hammering as someone occasionally put their metal into one of the metal vats of cold water. Their faces were hidden by masks and hands covered with thick gloves so that they wouldn’t injure themselves, and Lena wondered if the heat would have any effect on her. Their research led her to believe not.
Continuing onwards, she came to a room where a group of people were welding and using blow torches or lasers as they worked on metal. The next hall had a smattering of members working with crystal, blowing little clear orbs to life, perfect for light bulbs and Gods knew what else. She poked her head into all manner of rooms, finding chambers where a senior Guild member was giving a seminar on physics to young students who were yet to fully join the Guild, people were hunched over microscopes, the light dimmed, or one where a young girl was dangling from the ceiling, wearing a pair of anti-gravity boots. There were so many wonders that Lena wanted to see them all.
She found the digital library, rows and rows of data stored in heavy machinery, with clusters of desks or seats and benches spread throughout the cavernous room. It was deathly quiet in there, and Lena was free to roam the aisles as she took in the towers covered in ports. All she’d have to do was find the topic she wanted and scan the band on her wrist, downloading everything the library had on the topic, and browse it as she pleased on a projected screen. Taking the liberty of downloading a few things on various subjects to peruse later at her pleasure, she carried on her way.
A lot of the rooms were locked, she found as she wheeled her way through the warren of rooms. It turned out that certain labs or conference rooms had to be booked out, vast rooms with private furnaces or equipment offering privacy to those who didn’t want to share in the communal areas, and she was ushered out of a few rooms that she managed to get into, and completely barred from others that wouldn’t open beneath her touch.
That was how she accidentally stumbled upon a room with a solitary figure with a plant on the table in front of her. The doors parted when Lena touched her hand to the scanner, and the young blonde woman jumped slightly at the quiet hiss, turning as she pushed a pair of goggles up onto her head and blinked owlishly at Lena, who lingered awkwardly just outside the doorway.
“Oh, sorry to disturb you, I didn’t realise there was anyone in here,” Lena said.
Pausing for a moment, the other girl gave her an uncertain smile. “It’s no problem. People rarely come to the botanical labs, so it was a fair bet.”
“Botanical labs, huh?” Lena mused, looking around the space. There was a wall of tools that Lena had read were for cultivating land and plants, little pruning shears, trowels and hoes.
Shaking herself out of her curious inspection of the room, Lena gave the woman a sheepish smile. “It’s my first day.”
“Would you like to come in and look around?”
“I don’t want to bother you.”
“It’s no bother.”
Hesitating for a moment, Lena nodded and wheeled herself in, aware of the woman’s eyes on the chair, watching her as she let herself in. The door hissed shut behind her. Truth be told, Lena had little interest in botany, although she adored flowers, and was eyeing up the specimen on the table with interest, noticing that it was like the one Lex had stolen a flower from for her, but this woman was the first person to actually have a conversation with her since arriving, and Lena was starting to feel a little lonely. She’d expected someone to talk to her, even if it was only to ask her what she was doing there. She might as well make the most of the girl with the flowers while someone was being kind to her.
“You like flowers?”
Face lighting up with a smile, Lena nodded, nearing the desk, but hanging back slightly, not wanting to infringe on the woman’s careful work. “Most people think they’re pointless if they don’t have a use, but they’re so beautiful to look at.”
“I agree,” the young woman quietly laughed, her blue eyes crinkling slightly at the corners.
Returning the smile, Lena glanced down at the deep blue tunic she was wearing, taking note of the sigil emblazoned on her chest.
“Oh! El,” Lena said, her voice coloured with surprise, “you- you’re Kara Zor-El.”
The blonde woman’s smile died slightly, her face tightening as she pressed her lips together, the corners still curled up just a little at the corners. She picked up a pair of pruning scissors and cut a leaf from the plant, pulling a small microscope closer as she placed the leaf on a tray and pinned it in place. “Yes.”
“I think I owe you an apology,” Lena said with amusement, the woman giving her a wary look as she looked down at her from the stool she was perched on. “My brother stole a flower from your plant, you see. He knew that I liked pretty plants, and, well, I don’t get out much, so … he wanted to give me a gift. Sorry.”
Despite the cautious look in her eyes, Kara let out a laugh of surprise, her lips curling back up into a proper smile as she tilted her head to the side, looking down at Lena with confused curiosity. Her eyes darted down to the sigil on Lena’s chest, recognition dawning in her eyes.
“Thor. You must be of some relation to Lillian Lu-Thor then.”
“I’m her daughter,” Lena said, giving her a warm smile as she extended a hand, “Lena.”
Blonde eyebrows rising slightly, Kara took a thin gardening glove off and reached out to take her hand, giving it a quick shake before withdrawing it, almost as if she was unused to such friendly, casual contact, afraid that Lena would bite. She couldn’t have known that Lena was as unused to the casual contact herself, that her mother and brother had to be so gentle whenever they touched her, because there were days when even the touch of clothing had felt like sandpaper against her fragile skin. She didn’t know that it was thrilling for Lena to be able to shake a hand, to talk to someone outside of her family.
“I didn’t know she had a daughter,” Kara finally said, breaking the stretch of silence. “I’ve met her son, clearly, but …”
“Ah, yes, well, I’ve been unwell,” Lena said, patting the arm on the wheelchair, giving Kara a lopsided smile as her cheek dimpled. “It’s been … a bit of a pain. Quite literally.”
Giving her a grim smile, Kara nodded, “I hope someone finds a way to help you.”
“Oh,” Lena scoffed, waving her hand dismissively, “don’t worry, I’m going to do it myself.”
Kara’s laugh echoed off the walls as she stared down at Lena, her eyebrows rising momentarily, “you’re very ambitious. You should be upstairs with the elite. They’re all revolutionists who’re going to change the fate of this planet.”
“And you’re not?”
“With flowers? No, I don’t think so.”
“My father believed that Krypton was in more danger than we thought. Burning through natural resources too quickly, ignoring the worsening weather. I mean, who knows, maybe one day you’ll create a more fertile soil before we use up all of our food sources and starve.”
Kara fixed her with a blank look for a moment, before her face hardened and she abruptly turned away, her jaw muscles working as she hunched over her microscope. “If you think you’re being funny, I don’t find it amusing.”
Spluttering, Lena’s eyes widened with surprise and her forehead creased slightly as she frowned. “Sorry, did I say something to offend you?”
“You clearly know who my family is. What they did. What they believe.”
“And I can’t entirely say they were wrong,” Lena shrugged, “but that’s beside the point. I judge people based on their own merits. Or I would if …”
Lena’s cheeks reddened slightly with embarrassment as she stared down at her lap, “well, it’s not exactly as if I have people knocking down my door to be friends, is it? This is the first time I’ve been well enough to- to go outside. But, I mean, look at me. I’m the weird girl who has a rare disease, and everyone’s been staring at me all day. In fact, you’re the only person who’s talked to me all day. So yeah, I get it. People judge you when they don’t know you.”
Looking slightly ashamed, Kara gave her an apologetic look. “Sorry. I just- well, you’re the first person who’s talked to me too, since I got here. Talked to me nicely , at any rate. My family’s not exactly well liked anymore, and most people think I shouldn’t even be allowed to wear our crest.”
Lena felt a tiny bit guilty as she thought about Lex saying the exact same thing, and she gave Kara a half-hearted smile. “Well, then you just have to prove them all wrong. Make a name for yourself in the Science Guild, rebrand your family name. They’ll all feel stupid then.”
Letting out a weak laugh, Kara shrugged, reaching out to touch one of the blooming flowers on the growing plant. “I’m not sure that pretty flowers will do the trick.”
“You never know,” Lena said, her lips curling into a smile as she looked up at her, “maybe one day you’ll cultivate a flower so beautiful that they’ll all be so enraptured by it that they’ll forget they’re supposed to hate you.”
With a snort of laughter, Kara shook her head, before giving Lena an almost suspicious look. “And what about you?”
“I don’t need the flowers for that.”
Smiling, Kara picked up the pair of shears and snipped a white flower from the plant, before sliding off her stool and crossing the few steps separating them both. Pausing for a moment, biting her bottom lip, she extended the flower, a dimpled smile on her face as she shrugged slightly. “A bit of bribery never hurt anyone,” she stage whispered, a faint note of amusement in her voice as she gave Lena a conspiratorial wink.
Taking the fragile flower off her, Lena smiled, holding it closely to her chest as she bit her bottom lip, trying not to smile as she ducked her head down, the sweet smell enveloping her as she stroked the thin petals.
“Thank you,” Lena shyly murmured, a warm feeling spreading throughout her at the small act of kindness. It meant more to her than Kara would ever know. Just then, her comms started to beep, a reminder about lunch, and she gave Kara a smile. “I, uh, I should leave you to your work then.”
“I hope it’s not the last time we meet,” Kara said, a hopeful look in her eyes, “I don't know if you’re not much of a botanist, but, you know, if you ever feel like learning a little bit more, or just come and see some beautifully pointless flowers … I’m always here.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said, before wheeling herself backwards and spinning the chair around.
The doors parted for her and she paused outside, smiling as Kara gave her a small wave as she climbed back onto the stool, and started retracing herself through the warren of hallways. It was nearly twenty minutes later when she finally found the cafeteria, spotting her mother sitting alone at a table, no one bold enough to try and sit with her, and Lena smiled as she navigated her way towards her, an almost smug look on her face as she met her mom’s expectant gaze. Climbing to her feet, Lillian helped settle her at the side of the table with no seats, a tray of food already waiting for her, before she sat back down.
“Well? How is it?” her mother anxiously asked, a nervous look in her eyes as she gave her a searching look.
Smiling brightly, Lena twirled the white flower. “I made a friend.”
A few weeks passed by in a blur, with Lena spending most days at the Science Guild, taking up research of her own, tucked away in a forgotten corner of the massive building. She’d been reluctant to intrude upon Kara again after the first day, knowing that she was busy with her own work with plants, but at the end of her first week, she’d been making her way towards her usual lab she hid herself in when they bumped into each other in the hallways. Kara had brightened at the sight of her, and Lena likewise felt a warmth spread through her at the sight of a friendly face. She’d accompanied Kara to her lab, both of them catching up with each other, and Kara had invited her inside, pulling out a tray of soil and setting up her work station.
Lingering longer than she’d intended to, Lena left with a smile and with a promise that she’d see her again soon. It seemed like Kara was just as grateful for the company as she was, and Lena realised that it wasn’t an intrusion for her, it was a welcome distraction from her loneliness. After that, she saw her nearly every day, sometimes the two of them walking towards their labs as they arrived at the same time, and others, Lena would sit in Kara’s lab and study the latest flowers, seeds or soil samples she was working on. They talked about science mostly, but they got to know each other too over the following weeks. It was almost shocking how easily they became friends, and Lena always left Kara with a rosy glow about her.
She told Lillian and Lex about her, unable to lie to them even if she wanted to, because she couldn’t keep the smile off her face whenever she met them for lunch, or met her mother at the end of the day. As far as they knew, Kara was just a woman working with plants, and not a member of the House of El, and neither of them asked her to elaborate further. It wasn’t like Lena was lying, but she just thought it would make things easier if they didn’t know the truth just yet. She had every intention of telling them, she just wanted to keep Kara to herself for a while.
It was easy to do so, considering the fact that once Kara entered her lab, she didn’t leave it again until she was leaving, as far as Lena was aware. When Kara beat her to work in the mornings, Lena would pass by the door with the red occupied light lit above it, and when she left to meet her mother at the end of the day, it was usually still lit. She never left it for lunch, and Lena frequently had to excuse herself when the beeping reminder came through that it was time to make her way to the cafeteria. Lillian had insisted on keeping up the tradition of them all eating lunch together, although Lex complained about it, and even Lena regretted it at times when she had to drag herself away from her conversation with Kara.
She was in the vaulted lab with her again on the fifth day of the week, taking a break from the delicate work of designing blueprints for her latest project, her head starting to ache from straining her eyes after hours of staring at the projected plans, when Lena’s comms device beeped, interrupting her conversation with Kara once again.
“Lunch time?” Kara asked, accustomed to Lena’s disappearances to meet with her family.
With a grim smile, Lena nodded, and Kara gave her a warm smile in return. “Okay, well, enjoy. Maybe if you’re not busy, I’ll catch you later?”
Laughing, Lena gave her an exasperated look. “You’re staying here again? Don’t you ever have lunch? All of this research isn’t good for you, you need a break.”
“Of course I have lunch! I just … I take it in here. You know, out of sight, out of mind, and all of that. People seem to forget that I exist if they can’t actually see me.”
Face darkening with a frown, Lena gave her a concerned look. “Are people bothering you?”
With a tight smile, Kara gave her a pointed look, “people don’t easily forget something as big as what my parents did.”
“Who is it? Maybe I can help. I can- I can talk to them.”
Laughing, Kara gave her an amused look, a muddy trowel clutched in her hand as the soil sample sat abandoned on the counter. “Talk? I was always told to fight my battles with words instead of violence. So far talking hasn’t worked.”
“Well your mom wasn’t wrong,” Lena hedged, giving her a slight shrug.
“Ah, no, that was actually my adoptive mother that taught me that. She’s also a lawmaker, but stuck to the law and rules, as opposed to trying to brainwash everyone and inciting riots.” Her lips curled up into a wry smile, a slight look of bitterness running across her features, before they softened again. “Her name’s Eliza. House Vers.”
Nodding, Lena gave her a small smile, “a noble house.”
“A small house,” Kara laughed, “where an outcast can be ignored, for the most part. And when they didn’t ignore me, my sister would ignore her mother’s lesson and beat them up for me. There was a bit of a fuss when she joined the Military Guild. Fighting is for words, not fists, Eliza always used to say, whenever one of us would come home with cuts and bruises. And my sister would always argue back that sometimes the fists hurt more.”
“I have to agree, I’ve always thought that actions spoke louder than words. Physical pain can teach more lessons that one expects,” Lena murmured in agreement. “Although I’m not really in a position to kick the asses of whoever’s bothering you.”
Letting out a soft sigh, Kara shook her head, turning back to her work as she carefully tilled the sample of soil contained in the shallow box. “It’s my fight, and besides, I’m content with my lot. It could’ve gone a lot worse for me.”
Sitting silently in her chair for a few moments, watching Kara work at the soil, typing quick notes up on the projected screen, taking tiny samples to observe under a microscope, dropping a few drops of water onto it and watching the effects. The silence stretched out between them, and Lena shifted slightly in her chair, a perturbed look on her face as she watched the other woman work.
“Have lunch with me,” Lena eventually blurted out, feeling her cheeks redden slightly as Kara turned to give her an accusing look of surprise.
A sheepish smile on her face, Lena shrugged. “I mean, my mom will be there, and so will my brother, but you could ... join us for lunch. Maybe. If you wanted to. No one would bother you with all of us there. Especially because … you know, my mom, and all of that. And I’ve told her all about you, so she wouldn’t mind at all.”
That last part was partially a lie. Lena had told Lillian about her friend, and Lex too, but she’d conveniently forgot to mention her name or her family. Not that her family would outright demonise Kara, especially not to her face, but Lena knew that her mother would have a few choice words of caution, especially given Lena’s circumstances, and she didn’t want to hear them. Kara was the only person that had been nice to her. What harm had that done? It had done the opposite, if anything. Lena laughed more, a near-permanent smile on her face whenever she dropped by Kara’s labs. She was plied with flowers, different colours and sizes, depending on what Kara was working on that day, and Lena’s mind had the freedom to stretch its legs, racing to keep up with Kara’s quips or her scientific talk. She felt challenged and happy for the first time in forever. If she could impart a little bit of that onto Kara, then she would.
“I don’t want to impose.”
Scoffing, Lena brushed her concerns aside, giving her a wide grin. “You’re not. My mom’s just a bit overprotective and makes me have lunch with her every day that I’m here. Honestly, it’ll be nice to have someone else there.”
Biting her bottom lip, and apprehensive look on her face, Kara gave her a hesitant look. Smile widening, Lena gave her a hopeful look, green eyes wide with pleading look as she tried to coerce her into leaving the lab. After a few moments, Kara sighed, her shoulders slumping in defeat, and gave Lena a small smile.
“Okay. If you’re really sure.”
“Of course,” Lena beamed at her, jerking her head towards the door. “Come on, before the Zuurt burritos are all gone.”
Smiling, Kara set down all of her tools and pulled her goggles off the top of her head, shedding gardening gloves and a thick brown apron. Carefully stowing her samples, she neatened herself up as much as she could and then followed Lena towards the door. Wheeling herself out into the hallway, Lena waited as Kara locked the door, the room still booked out for her use, and then they set off down the hallway.
It was different being out in the wide hallways with Kara, keeping pace with Lena’s wheelchair as they passed closed doors, a few other guild members passing by, giving them curious sidelong glances as they swept past. Feeling a little bit shy, Lena was quiet as she made her way down the familiar hallways, heading towards the cafeteria with a somewhat wary Kara in tow. Seeming a little nervous, Kara was brimming with energy, looking fidgety as she played with the cuffs of her tunic, until she started to babble.
“So I was thinking about crossing a strain of beets with one of the roots we have to try and create a new food source. They’re both hardy foods, and the starch will help them keep longer, and it would be great to grow out on the fields because they don’t need much nutrients in the soil to help them grow. And they can survive the cold really well. I was going to start splicing the DNA from them both next week and working to combine them. I’ve tried integration before, where I plant them together and let them fuse, but I was thinking that if I could combine the genetic sequences of the plants into one of the seeds, then it might have different results. The last ones were a little sour and I’m not sure where I went wrong, but hopefully it works with the new strains I’m using.”
Looking up at her with amusement, Lena listened to her ramble, watching the way her eyes darted around her, looking out for people to avoid as she anxiously scanned the hallways, and she gestured broadly with her hands as she spoke. Smiling slightly to herself, Lena watched her with rapt attention, taking in the steady stream of conversation as she made sense of it. Despite her nervous ramblings, it was clear that Kara was excited about it, her face lighting up as she continued her tirade, and Lena drank in the sight.
“Sounds exciting,” Lena commented.
Trailing off, Kara looked down at her and blinked in surprise, almost as if she’d forgotten that Lena was there, before a nervous smile flitted across her face. Shrugging nonchalantly, Kara buried her hands in her pockets and looked back up at the hallway. “I know it’s not the most interesting-”
“It’s very interesting.”
Laughing, Kara ducked her head down, smiling as she shook her head slightly. “It’s boring . It’s not … what did you say you were trying to develop?”
“It’s not that . But I mean, we need food.”
“So it’s far more important.”
Letting out a derisive snort, Kara gave her an exasperated look, “the only things people think are important are things that haven’t been created yet. More food? I may as well resign for the Science Guild and take up farming in the Labour Guild, as far as most people here are concerned. I’m wasting my time.”
“Well they’re wrong.”
“Yeah. So, will you be incubating them in here with your new soil until they grow big enough to transfer outside?”
Face brightening, Kara launched back into her explanation, and Lena felt warm inside as she watched her talk. Their conversation trailed off as the doors of the cafeteria loomed before them, and Lena gave her an encouraging smile, before steeling herself to brave the wary glances thrown her way. With her wheeling herself in, they might not even pay Kara any attention, and a wry smile curled Lena’s lips as she entered the long room. It wasn’t like they hadn’t all seen her before, but it was still a rare sight to see a Kryptonian with a sickness, let alone confined to a wheelchair, and the novelty of it hadn’t worn off yet for the other guild members, much to Lena’s irritation.
Making for the usual table her mother had an unofficial claim on, Lena jutted her chin forward, navigating her way between the tables as the flow of chatter washed over her, and the smell of food mingled with the ever-present smell of sulphur, metal, soot and grease from all of the inventors and creators wedged into one space. Lillian looked up at her approach, a tender smile lighting up her face as she dismissively waved at the projector screen she’d been poring over as she waited. Lex was late again, but there was a tray waiting for Lena, laden with Zuurt burritos and a mix of lentils and grains. She smiled at her mother as she wheeled herself into her usual spot at the chairless end of the table, and Kara hovered nervously behind her.
“Ieiu! This is my friend, Kara,” Lena happily announced, turning to smile up at Kara. “I invited her to have lunch with us.”
“Oh,” Lillian softly exclaimed, her eyes lingering the El crest on Kara’s tunic, before she gave her a slight smile, “it’s lovely to meet you. Lena’s told me so much about you.”
“It’s lovely to meet you too,” Kara greeted her, her voice quiet and surprisingly shy to Lena.
Pausing for a moment, Lena smiled at Lillian, “I’m going to go with Kara and get her lunch. We’ll be right back.”
Her mother nodded, and Lena backed herself away from the table, before she smiled up at Kara and jerked her head towards the short queue waiting to buy lunch off the cooks. Moving away from the table, Lena wound her way through the room with Kara quickly following at her heels, almost seeming relieved to be away from Lillian. As they joined the end of the queue, Lena looked up at her and raised her eyebrows at the accusing look in Kara’s eyes. It wasn’t angry, but it wasn’t entirely too pleased either.
“You didn’t tell her who I was, did you?”
Scoffing, Lena rolled her eyes, “of course I told her about you. She just said I’ve told her all about you.”
“Yes, but you didn’t tell her who I was,” Kara replied, stressing the who part as she gave Lena a pointed look. A sheepish smile grew on Lena’s face as she gave Kara an apologetic look. “Lena!” Kara grumbled, a frown puckering her brow as she pressed her lips together in a thin line.
Laughing, Lena looked up at her with amusement. “What? I told you, I like to judge people based on who they are themselves, not their House or their family or anything else. So I told my mom and my brother all about you, and they’re happy I have such a nice friend, and that’s not going to change because they just found out your family name is El.”
Silently picking up a metal tray as they neared the stack, Kara was silent, standing in front of Lena as she waited for her turn. Cocking her head to the side, Lena looked up at her with worried green eyes, biting her lip as she tried to read the expression on the blonde’s face.
“Are you mad at me?” she eventually asked.
Blinking in surprise, Kara laughed, looking down at her as her eyes crinkled at the corners. Wrinkling her nose, she shook her head, her eyes sparkling with humour. “No, of course I’m not. I just … what if they don’t like me?”
“I do, and you’re my friend, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?”
“Lena, your mother is one of the most powerful people on the entire planet. It matters a little bit.”
Shrugging, Lena gave her a half-hearted smile, “yeah but she’s not like that as a person. She tells me bedtime stories and helps me get dressed in the morning. She spends all of her free time working on things to help me. She’s not just a Councilwoman. Besides, what’s there not to like?”
Spluttering, Kara gave her an incredulous look, “uh, I don’t know, maybe my massively criminal family that are all rotting away in this very city.”
“You were a child , Kara. And that wasn’t you . Why should you be blamed for what they did?”
Shrugging, Kara silently shuffled along with the line, helping herself to a meagre lunch as she dropped the subject. Lena felt frustration well up inside at the fact that she couldn’t make Kara understand, but then it occurred to her that perhaps she was the one who didn’t understand. Her interactions with Kara had been limited to the confines of the lab she was working in, passing through on her way to conduct her own research and experiments. She’d never witnessed any of the bad things that came from Kara being an El, and she felt pity wash over her as she watched Kara collect her food. Perhaps Lena was being too flippant about the whole thing, assuming that the long stretch of time that passed had diminished the hatred towards her parents. They’d used their resources and powerful influence to try and stage a coup, and that wasn’t easily forgotten. Not to people with long lifespans.
When Kara looked down at her, giving her a warm smile, Lena returned it, if not a little more subdued, wishing that she could help in some way. They made their way back to the table, and Lena took in the sight of her brother sitting at the table, leaning towards their mother as they talked in hushed tones. Lena tried to block out all of the noise in the cafeteria to listen in on what they were saying, but Lillian cut off as she noticed them returning. Straightening up, Lex arranged his face into a polite smile as Kara trailed behind her, holding her tray in her hands. Reclaiming her spot at the end of the table, Lena gave her brother a strained smile, her eyes holding a warning. Rolling his eyes, Lex turned his attention to Kara as she sat down across the table from him and Lillian, with Lena sitting between them on the edge of the table.
“Kara, is it?” Lex greeted her, extending a hand across the table, “a pleasure to meet you. Lena’s told me a lot about your work with botany.”
“I think she’s the only one who finds it interesting,” Kara weakly joked, a hesitant smile on her lips as her eyes flitted over to Lena.
“Nonsense,” Lillian scoffed, “I read all of your father’s papers on genetic engineering of our edible food sources. My late husband was a very rabid believer in the sustainable future of Krypton. Famine was one of his biggest concerns, and I spent hours joining him in his research. Your father was one of the foremost thinkers in that area. It was, ah, very illuminating.”
Shifting uncomfortably, Kara gave her the faintest hint of a smile, “I’m afraid mine’s a bit more disappointing. My research has strayed off towards flowers. They’re not going to help a famine, but they’re nice to look at.”
Letting out a loud laugh, Lex arched an eyebrow slightly, “well now I see why you and Lena get on so well. She’s always been fascinated by pretty things.”
Fighting back a blush, Lena gave him a droll look, before the conversation flowed onto other scientific topics. Lena listened for the most part, keeping a watchful eye on Kara as she fretted about her mother of brother putting their foot in it and making things uncomfortable. Neither of them did though, her brother surprisingly on his best behaviour as he kept his usual flippant comments to himself, while Lillian was as professional as always. Her mother even deigned to share a few snippets of her own research with Kara, giving hints about how her latest project was going. By the time Lillian excused herself, they’d all been having a lovely conversation about one of Lillian’s reports on kryptonite, which Kara had much praise for, and Lena felt herself relax slightly as lunch came to a close without incident.
Lillian parted with a stern order for Lena to finish her food before leaving, and a polite farewell to Kara, before she left. Lex was quick to follow her lead and disappear, called away to his own research with his friends, leaving Kara and Lena alone in the cafeteria. Obediently eating the rest of her lunch, Lena watched as Kara picked at her own, keeping her head down and shoulders hunched as she tried to stay invisible. It wasn’t long before a few of the younger members of the Science Guild closed in, nasty looking smiles on their faces as they dropped down onto the vacant seats around the table, lounging comfortably at ease.
“Now why would the Councilwoman want to have lunch with a traitor?” one of the men asked, a contemptuous smile curling his mouth as he stared at Kara.
“Because I invited her,” Lena quietly replied, calmly cutting up her food as their attention flickered to her.
With a snort of laughter, the guy angled his body towards her, propping his elbow up on the table and his chin in hand as he gave her an almost incredulous look. The sigil on his chest was for House Ur. Looking up, Lena met his brown eyes and arched an eyebrow as she carried on eating, Kara seeming to shrink further down in her seat.
“Ah, the cripple. You know, I see why she kept you locked away in your house for all these years. It’s an embarrassment. All the scientific advances she made, and she got stuck with you .”
Letting out a snort of laughter, Lena’s eyes hardened, and she carefully placed her knife and fork down, giving him a tight smile, before she struck out, knocking his arm out from under his chin and gently assisting gravity as his face whacked the edge of the table with a sickening crack. It was a casual gesture, taking no effort at all on Lena’s part, and she took some satisfaction out of the fact that she might be confined to the chair to keep up pretenses, but she could just as easily knock the Kryptonians about if it came to it. Staggering backwards off the stool, the young man gave her a shocked look, red blood spurting from his nose as he clamped a hand over it, making a garbled sound of surprise.
“You- you can’t hit me,” he spluttered, spraying drops of blood on the tabletop as his expression darkened. “I’ll tell the Council about this.”
“What? That a cripple hit you?” Lena coolly replied, her face hardening, “go ahead. Let’s see who it embarrasses more.”
Giving her a scathing look, to which she gave him a smile in return, he turned around and stalked off, head tipped back as he pinched his nose between his fingers, his friends reluctantly trailing after him as they left the table. Returning to her food, Lena took another bite and met Kara’s wary gaze, shrugging as she smiled.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Kara said in a low voice, a frown furrowing her brows as she stared at her.
Snorting with laughter, Lena gave her a bright smile, looking almost smug, “it’s not like I’ll get in trouble with the Council. My mom’s on it. It’s her I’m worried about. She won’t be very pleased about it, but oh well. It's done now.”
Sighing, Kara shook her head, “what happened to words?”
“I told you, actions speaks louder. Hopefully they’ll leave you alone now.”
“And you? That word they called you-”
Carelessly shrugging, Lena gave her a grim smile, “it’s nothing I haven’t heard already since coming here. They think they’re being subtle with their whispers, but this place actually echos quite a bit. Did you know that the youngest member of House Vex designed a bomb that could destroy the core of the planet? The Guild took her designs and scrapped them, and put her on probation. I heard two Councilmembers talking about it the other day. You’d think they’d be a bit more secretive, but apparently not.”
“Really?” Kara asked, drawn in by the secret information.
Nodding, Lena set her cutlery down and put her tray in her lap, wheeling herself away from the table. Dropping her tray off at the station where robots were clearing food scraps and sorting cutlery and trays into stacks, Lena started to wheel herself back out of the cafeteria, Kara following behind her as all thoughts of the fight were forgotten. They made their way through the warren of hallways, back to Kara’s lab, and Lena let herself be distracted by the samples Kara had, listening to her rattle off a string of facts about them, and even being gifted with a rare red blossoming flower, the slightly spicy smell of the flower enveloping her in its heady scent.
They were laughing over a funny comment Kara had made when the door hissed open to reveal an imposing figure standing in the doorway, hands on her hips and a hard look of anger on her face. Lena’s laughter died on her lips and she gave Lillian a sheepish smile, guilt welling up inside, even as she felt herself foolishly grown emboldened by her actions. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t deserved it.
“Ieiu,” Lena warmly greeted her, trying to downplay the fact that she was in trouble. She held up the red blossom with a mild look of delight on her face, “look at this flower that Kara’s growing. She thinks that the anther can be dried to be used as spices, and the leaves brewed-”
“Get your things and follow me,” Lillian tersely interrupted.
Quietly sighing, Lena gave Kara an exasperated look, rolling her eyes, and watched the blonde woman’s eyes widen slightly as she looked away, her lips pressed together in a thin line to stop herself from smiling. Lena smiled despite herself, until she turned to face her mother again, and quickly hastened to look apologetic and chastened. “My things are at the lab I was working in.”
“Then why aren’t you there working?” Lillian asked, a pointed look on her face. Beckoning, she stepped out of the room, “quickly now. I don’t have time for this.”
Shoulders slumping, Lena muttered under her breath as she made her way over to the door, stepping outside and moving out of the sensor so the door could slide down into place. Bracing herself for her mother’s angry words, Lena set her shoulders and started making her way down the hallway. She’d picked one of the larger labs, a furnace, anvil, scarred work tables and a variety of tools hanging on the walls, and they made the trip there in silence, with Lena growing tenser with each passing moment that her mother didn’t berate her. Lillian rarely got cross with her, but she could feel the disappointment radiating from her as she kept pace with Lena. No sooner had the door to Lena’s lab slid down behind them did Lillian break her silence, much to Lena’s displeasure.
“I left you alone for a moment and you were fighting .”
A wry smile curling her lips, Lena gave her mom a droll look. “I’d hardly call it fighting, ieiu, all I did was tap him.”
“If you’d tapped him too hard, you could’ve shattered all of the bones in his arm,” Lillian snapped. “I agreed to secure you a place here under the agreement that you would be discrete . That you wouldn’t start trouble or draw attention to yourself. And in one day, you bring the daughter of House El to lunch and leave Guild member with a broken nose. That, I would say, is the opposite of discrete.”
Temper flaring up, Lena jutted her chin forward, a stubborn look on her face as she frowned. “He was saying cruel things. About me, and Kara and you. ”
“I don’t care what he was saying,” Lillian hotly replied, “you rise above it.”
Silently grinding her teeth together, Lena stared down at her lap, fiddling with her fingers as she avoided looking at her mom. Sighing, Lillian walked over to her, dropping to her knees in front of Lena and reaching out to touch the back of her hand. Looking up, Lena found the anger fading from her mom’s eyes, the hard lines of her face softening as she gave her a grim, knowing look.
“Inah, I know what they say about me. And you. And your friend too. I wed a man who couldn’t feed himself by the end of it, and I have a daughter who they think is exactly the same. The things they say are new to you, but I’ve spent a long time listening to the whispers, and your friend, Kara, probably has too. You mustn’t rise to them. I know it’s hard to swallow your pride, but you have to let it roll off your back. Focus on your work. Prove yourself better than them where it truly counts.” She curled her hand around one of Lena’s and gave it a gentle squeeze. “If you resort to fighting everyone who says a bad thing about someone you care about, you’ll be fighting for the rest of your life.”
“And what if that’s what I want?” Lena asked, a slight challenge in her voice, “what if I want to protect the people I care about? Fight against all the bad people in this city. I could do it, you know. No one would be able to stop me.”
“No,” Lillian sharply told her, a flicker of fear in her eyes as she tightened her grip on Lena’s hand. “Don’t give anyone cause to try and hurt you. All it would take was your sun lamps to be broken, and you’d never get back up again. I’ll have no more talk of this. No more heroics, okay? Big or small. Now, come on, get your things, inah.”
Giving her a puzzled look, Lena frowned. “My things?”
Rising to her feet, towering over her as she fixed her with a hard stare, suitable for a Council member, and making Lena feel like a berated child, Lillian crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ve convinced the Science Council to let me take care of this, as a small favour, so your punishment is left up to me. You’re suspended for a week, which means you’re barred from entering the building and using its facilities.”
“But-” Lena spluttered, a wounded look flitting across her face as she tried to argue.
“No, Lena, you have to learn that there are consequences for your actions. You’ve spent most of your life away from society, but there are rules and they’re there for a reason. You have to understand how these things work. If you break the law, you accept the punishment. I’ll walk you home.”
Fighting back the frustration that welled up, making her want to argue and vent her anger, she clamped her teeth together and carefully gathered all of her things up, safely stowing them in the bag she’d brought with her. Her mother waited patiently, and when she was ready, Lena rolled towards the door, silently fuming as she was escorted through the buildings and out into the orange sunlight.
She didn’t speak the entire walk home, taking the route above the Rankless District for the sake of speed so that Lillian could get back to her work, and she wallowed in her self-pity as they crossed bridges, making their way through the towering buildings of the inner city. She didn’t even slow to admire the different architectural designs differentiating buildings belonging to different guilds, as she usually did on her walks home, trying to prolong the time she got to spend outside.
When they made it back to their building, she went straight upstairs, seen safely inside by Lillian, before unbuckling herself from the wheelchair and stalking off to her room on her own two feet, her mom calling after her. Ignoring her, Lena locked herself into the dim blue confines of her room and listened to the sound of Lillian leaving a few minutes later. Crossing over to the blank stone wall, she pressed a button to reveal the window, and spent the rest of the afternoon sulking as she stared out at the sight, sitting in a chair and working on her calculations as she watched skimmers and jets shoot past and the bustling city below.
It was late when Lillian came home, looking exhausted as she ran a hand through her dark hair, her robes billowing out around her. Lena wasn’t mad at her, not really , but she didn’t think it was fair that she was being punished for being provoked by a bully, and it was her mother who was punishing her, so she studiously ignored her as the two of them ate dinner together - Lex had gone out with friends - no matter how many times Lillian tried to start a conversation with her. Eventually her mom gave up, and Lena felt guilt creep up on her as she took in the frustration in her mother’s eyes. She had always tried her best when it came to Lena. Hours of researching and inventing spent trying to relieve her pain, years spent loving and raising her as her own, always protecting her and making sure that she was looked after properly.
Feeling ashamed, Lena kept her head ducked down as she mumbled an apology. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
One of their robots cleared their dirty plates from the table, and Lillian climbed to her feet, rounding it and pausing behind Lena to rest a hand on her shoulder for a moment. Feeling the frustration and tension seep out of her taut muscles, Lena slumped slightly, somehow feeling even worse by her mother’s easy acceptance of the apology.
“Come on, I’ve got something to show you.”
Climbing to her feet, Lena followed Lillian through their apartment and into one of the workshops, gears, wrenches and offcuts of metal strewn throughout the room as various half-finished projects were propped up on stands. Moving over to one of the tables, Lillian brought up her latest blueprints for the blue sun lamps, having made some more changes to it. This time, she was considering different settings, so that Lena could essentially walk around at nearly the same strength and speed as a Kryptonian, just staving off the effects of the planet’s atmosphere, right up to her being irradiated with the blue star’s power, on the off chance that she would need to protect herself at full capacity. Lena begrudgingly admitted how impressive they were, and Lillian ventured the offer to let her help her with them.
They spent a couple of hours working on adjusting the miniature lamps she already had, and Lena was feeling better by the time they called it a night. There was nothing better than the feeling of building something with her own two hands, in her opinion, except flying. Fingers covered in grease, delicate springs and screws all carefully secured into place, and the fiddly little gears and levers were all combined to create the casing of the lamps, and she couldn’t help but smile as she tested it, cycling through the different strengths and feeling the energy course through her, gradually dimming until it made her uneasy to feel so close to weakness. Feeling satisfied with a job well done, she went to wash up for the night, and was getting ready for bed when she heard her mother approaching, her footsteps audible to Lena’s sensitive ears, even through the closed door. She would’ve heard her anyway when the door hissed open.
Waiting for her mother to talk, she set about removing the pieces of armour, one by one, carefully arranging them on the mannequin, and ensured that all of her sun lamps were attached to her, and the ones lighting up her room were sufficiently strong enough on the off chance that some of them failed during the night. She no longer slept in the pool of water, although it was still there, glistening blue from the lights and making the room smell slightly damp.
“Something’s bothering you,” Lena observed, pulling back the blankets and perching on the edge of her bed, while Lillian hovered in the doorway.
With a quiet chuckle, her mother stepped into the bedroom, vastly different with the addition of a proper bed, a desk and a few other useful items that Lena could actually use herself now. Perching on the edge of the bed beside her daughter, Lillian let out a quiet sigh.
“It’s nothing, really. I just wish you’d told me your friend was Kara Zor-El.”
“Why?” Lena challenged her, “would you have told me I wasn’t allowed to see her anymore?”
Giving her an exasperated look, Lillian reached up to brush Lena’s hair out of her face, a loving look in her eyes as she fixed her with a pointed look. “No. You have a good heart, and that makes me so proud, but it’s never going to be easy for you. There’s already all of the judgement of you being seen as sick, and the expectations of you being a part of House Thor, and I just … that girl-”
“Yes, Kara , is lovely, and so very sweet. There was talk of her for years before she joined the Science Guild, how she was a prodigy, destined for great things. And she’s working on flowers , Lena. She doesn’t want to do great things anymore, because she’s been bullied into silence by people who would’ve just as happily seen her dead. And I’m not saying she’s a bad person, but she’s not good for our house’s reputation. She’s an outcast and-”
“So am I,” Lena sharply replied. “I’m an outsider as a human, and no one knows that, no, but I’m just as much an outsider because I’m sick. Because unless I’m irradiated, I can’t get out of bed, or lift a finger. And they don’t know any of that, or what’s wrong with me, because they just see the chair and they don’t want to talk to me because it frightens them. A Kryptonian being sick? That’s a good enough cause to reject me just as much as if I was the daughter of known criminals.”
Sighing, Lillian gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze, “I know it’s frustrating for you. The real world is far more different than you’d imagined it, and people are cruel, but you are smart and brilliant, and they’ll forget about the chair when you show them your work on whatever it is you decide to do.”
With a grim smile, Lena met her mother’s eyes, “nanites. I’m working on nanites. They’ll reduce pollution, clear the air, get rid of the airborne viruses and diseases killing plants and animals. The air’ll be toxin free. And that’s just the beginning.”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” Lillian quietly encouraged her, a glimmer of pride in her eyes as she squeezed Lena’s shoulder again. “And you should focus your attentions on that.”
“Instead of making friends? Actually talking to someone outside of this family for once, because Rao knows no one else will talk to me, unless they’re brave enough to come up and ask what’s wrong with me or what you’re working on so they can steal your research.”
Letting out a withering sigh, Lillian fixed her with a steady look, one eyebrow raised slightly. “But she’s pretty.”
Fighting back a blush, Lena stubbornly jutted her chin forward. “And?”
“Just don’t go making any trips to the Jewel of Truth and Honour, or the Genesis Chamber just yet,” Lillian laughed, stroking her daughter’s hair and pressing a kiss to her temple. Jostling the mattress as she climbed to her feet, Lillian walked over to the door, pausing to look over at Lena, a grim smile on her face. “You can’t be honest, Lena, and it’s not fair to lie to her. Just think on that, okay? And get some rest.”
“Goodnight, ieiu,” Lena murmured, shifting to slip beneath the covers, pulling the blankets up to her chin as she burrowed into their warmth.
The door hissed shut as her mother left, leaving her staring up at the dim blue lights as she let her mind run free. More often than not, her thoughts were about Kara, and she felt troubled as she ran over her mother’s words. Her and Kara had become close friends already, and yes, Lena was keeping a secret from her, but it didn’t affect their friendship in any way. It changed nothing. Yet she couldn’t help but think about it as she stared up at the ceiling, finding sleep hard to come by as her troubled mind kept swirling with thoughts and ideas. It was a long time coming, and she almost thought she could see a hint of orange outside of her window when her leaden eyelids finally drifted closed, her mind shutting down as her breathing slowed.
For all her brooding that night, she still hadn’t managed to solve any of the problems that plagued her, and was even less sure of where she stood with Kara after her mother’s cautious words. Still, the red blossom she’d been gifted was bobbing in the pool of dark water, amidst a dozen other flower cuttings, adding to the sweet aroma of the room as Lena fell soundly asleep.