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The first arc of the story is up, our Kara has left her pod and left the comfort of the shire. We're diving into the hero's journey now.
Stay tuned for the rest of "Crashing To Earth", my lovelies!
Argo City, Tower of the House of El
The pod’s engine hums to life, a faint silvery glow coming from deep within the coils. Zor-El laughs at the ceiling, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. To think his classmates used to laugh at him for his interest in gravity-fields and vintage spacecraft. They laughed.
His brother is still at the med-center with his wife and their newborn nephew. Leave it to Jor-El and his wife to have a natural childbirth…even when he was a boy he had to do everything his own way.
Zor-El hasn’t seen his own wife in two days. Alura insisted on staying in the Tower of Justice as long as she could to write the emergency declarations. As far as he knows, only six people believe Krypton has hours to live and each one is doing everything they can to save the legacy. Kara is too young to help and Kal-El should spend every instant he can with Lara.
“Kolex, diagnostic on the propulsion core.”
“Kolex, diagnostic on the propulsion core.”
Instead of Kolex's voice, a strange recording plays. It carries the tell-tale reverb of something passed through the universal translator.
“Aye, aye, Captain. Is there anything else we can do? “
“Cross your fingers. Kirk out. Death, destruction, disease, horror. That's what war is all about, Anan. That's what makes it a thing to be avoided. You've made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you've had no reason to stop it. And you've had it for five hundred years. Since it seems to be the only way I can save my crew and my ship, I'm going to end it for you, one way or another.“
“Is Kara all right?” he asks Kolex. Since Kara is his favorite topic, that should get Kolex’s attention. He doesn’t answer but a powerful hand grips his shoulder.
Zor-El whips around, holding the cutting torch tight. It’s not exactly a weapon but on full power it’s close enough. Instead of an intruder, he finds Kolex, his lift-jets wobbling and his head jerking back and forth. He seems to be suffering a software crash.
“Kolex. Is Kara hurt?”
Kolex tilts his head down. He looks ridiculous, mostly because Kara insisted on putting the actor’s mask on the robot. Something her friend found at one of the archeological digs, thousands of cycles older than Argo city. Kara was right. Putting a clay mask on a robot is hilarious.
“Kara is unharmed. She is asleep. Her biorhythms are within healthy ranges, although I am detecting rapid changes in her circulatory and endocri-”
“Stop!” Zor-El shouts. “That’s normal for her now.”
He remembers when she was nothing more than a squealing mess in her mother’s arms, still sticky with fluid from the birthing machines. The reminder that his little girl is becoming a woman hurts bad enough. With it comes the reminder that he won’t be there to help her. Krypton has hours left, perhaps two days.
Whatever life brings her, he will not be there to guide her through it.
He can only pray that Rao’s light protects her and perhaps one day someone on that far-off world lights her soul on fire, as Alura did the moment they met.
“Father Rao, let her have that. Guide her towards love,” he prays. “She is a child, innocent of her fathers’ sin.”
Kolex has stopped twitching but he hasn’t performed the diagnostic. This the first time in decades where Kolex has not replied. Zor-El taps Kolex's sensor housing.
“Kolex, explain your failure to run a diagnostic.”
“My apologies. I believe the quantum uplink to central command was contaminated.”
“Lady Kara had requested I perform a scan of broadcast signals from Earth. We re-tasked an idle satellite from the colonization period. Due to some difficulties with the cadence and pacing of the creature in the recording, the translator mainframes were over taxed, which caused my incorrect reply. I am tracking 528 other broadcasts but Kara had asked to replay that one earlier today while she was studying."
He chuckles, putting his free hand on Kolex’s shoulder. Leave it to his little girl to find out about the top-secret evacuation and ‘appropriate’ ancient space hardware to spy on the planet he selected for her. Leave it to her robot to spoil her and distract her when she should be studying.
Calling up his wrist computer, he types up an order for the city’s central computer. Kara will need Kolex, especially if she doesn’t have her parents. She will need a friend with her and unlike her parents, Kolex can be condensed into a processing core and power supply no bigger than Kara’s fist. His body is not what makes him Kara’s friend: it’s ten cycles and thousands of hours she spent tinkering and reprogramming and more than a few pranks they played.
Kolex will go with her, whether he likes it or not.
Telling him out loud would risk a mutiny from Kolex – or a tantrum, given Kara’s sloppy programming – and it would mean Kolex’s last recording of him is a forced shutdown: a reminder of his servitude. After twenty cycles together in this lab, that wouldn’t be fair. Machine or no, Kolex has been his right hand since the day he joined the Science Guild. It will be kinder to let central control do it by remote override.
“So she had you distract her from her studies?”
“Sounds like something she would do.”
Kolex goes completely still, the way he does when all his processors are overworked.
“Lady Kara did do it, sir. Therefore, your hypothesis is already proved. I fail to see how your conjecture adds to our knowledge.”
Zor-El sighs and waves the unlit torch at the other pods.
“Just go check the other pods, please. I need to see if they can be salvaged.”
Four more pods sit in the makeshift hanger. He doubts that more than two of them can be repaired, given the damage they took over centuries in storage. Even if he does repair another he can’t imagine convincing Alura to go without him and he’s not about to leave her here to burn. If they cannot share escape, they will share death.
He goes over his checklist.
Kara has an escape pod with a working faster-than-light drive. A data crystal, survival canister and outpost kit are already in the cargo casket.
He has dinner on the table for his wife, in case she comes home before it’s all over.
Which means the lab downstairs is all that needs dealing with.
He puts his hand over the scanner, bracing himself for the prick of the stylus. As soon as the scan completes, the laser cauterizer seals the wound. One by one, six massive locks discharge their magnets and roll into their sockets. The blast door swings aside and he follows a trail of emergency lights into the depth of the bunker. Each step brings back a memory of some awful project, hideous creature or lethal prototype he created. A thousand things he can never atone for.
(Ninety seconds after the destruction of Krypton)
Three memories roll inside Kara’s mind, over and over.
Her mother kissing her cheek before shoving her into the pod.
Her father’s smile as he took his wife’s arm.
Her own scream as the explosion killed them.
She can’t breathe. Every time she tries, her throat seizes up. The cockpit around her is blurry and her arms feel heavy. Something slices into the side of her neck and she feels a chill spread through her body.
With a gasp, Kara draws the deepest breath she can, the frigid air from the oxygen tanks scraping across her aching throat. In the corner of her eye, she sees the med-probe retract, sizzling as it burns off a pinkish stain. It must have directly oxygenated her blood.
She wonders where her father even found this pod. It’s ancient. The onboard intelligence is only capable of obstacle evasion and navigation and the hull bears dozens of welds and seams where her father and Kolex repaired holes or spliced in better parts.
She hadn’t even thought of Kolex. Another voice she will never hear again.
“He’s gone too,” she sniffles. “Goodbye, Kolex.”
She turns her head, sending a flash of pain down her left side. Probably the drugs from the medical system. According to the life support panel, it had to inject a paralytic. Kara supposes she did try to claw her way out.
“What?” she sputters. “Kolex! You’re alive?”
“No. I am a machine.”
Kara snorts. Kolex is easily the funniest robot she ever met.
“I mean, you’re with me?”
“Correct. Your father instructed central command to shut me down and detach my core from my chassis. It appears I am in the cargo casket behind you.”
Kara sighs. At least she will have someone to talk to.
“Can you do something about this mess of a computer?”
“Stand by,” he replies. His voice isn’t right though. Too flat, too hard. Probably coming from a micro-speaker rather than the verbal interface system of the chassis.
“Sensors online. Communications online. Navigation locked out. Your father’s orders.”
“Can I see?” she croaks. “Krypton, I mean.”
“As you wish.”
The monitor on the left panel lights up, showing the cloud of rubble and superheated ore that was once her home. The right panel shows ejecta and debris raining down on Daxam. Another arm of debris is snaking towards Rao, dropping highly enriched fuel crystals into the stars’ outer layers. Projected on the cockpit glass is a recording from her father. The room he recorded it in is one she’s never seen before but the shaking of the walls tell her it was recorded not long before the explosion.
“I wish that we could go with you. There’s no time to fix another pod. Your cousin will be safe, I know it. You-”
“You are the best of us, Kara, my little star. I don’t know if any others will survive but I cannot imagine a better woman to tell our story. To tell Krypton’s story. The planet we’re sending you to-“
Kara wishes he would have let her help. Did he really think ‘the best’ would never find out about his little plan? If he would have told her where the pods were locked up, she would have been there day and night trying to repair them.
“Kolex, skip any description of Earth.”
“…and Krypton is gone now. According to our simulations Rao itself will go nova after it absorbs the exotic matter in the debris. But the light will shine down on Earth for many years. When you look up from Earth, think of Rao’s glow as your mother and me, watching over you.”
“Remember us, Kara.“
Deep Space | Unknown Vessels
Four black specks cast their tiny shadows over methane storms that dwarf planets. Cables unspool from some hidden mechanism, dumping electrical waste into the planet’s outer atmosphere. Small, still and silent, the vessels are unseen by the passing refugee flotilla.
The vessel tailing the rag-tag fleet is an old heavy cruiser from the wars centuries ago, the Flames of Kandor. Kryptonian cadets are taught about every battle that ship ever fought. Pilots and commanders drill against the Flames and only graduate when they can destroy her in every conceivable engagement.
Four computers debate their next move. Three of them may be submerged and hidden below the gas but they see through each other’s eyes and they think as one.
[Alert: Unidentified spacecraft in vicinity.]
[Analysis: Ships are of Daxamite design. Charging defense fields.]
[Analysis Update: Distress calls from Krypton playing on all channels.]
[Conjecture: Daxamite attack on Krypton.]
[Action: Attack and evade.]
A swarm of missiles breaks the upper clouds and strike Flames’ largest engine, shattering the heat shield. Superheated debris slices into maneuvering thrusters, hull plating and finally fuel lines. Explosions tear the ship apart, hurling jagged scraps of plating into the nearest civilian vessels.
Three hundred years after the bombardment of Kandor, the dead are avenged.
The attackers warp out as soon as they clear the clouds, leaving a trail of plasma among the debris and frozen corpses.
Deep Space | Kara Zor-El
Kara rubs her face with the back of her fist. Tiny flecks of blood smear across the dry and cracking skin of her hand.
All that from the crying? She supposes it would explain her parched throat and itchy face. If she can’t get a handle on her emotions, Kolex will probably sedate her and forcibly rehydrate her while she sleeps.
“Kolex, are there any other messages? Other survivors?”
“Stand by, my lady.”
The pod is not silent, which is terrifying. It hums and clicks and wheezes, betraying the age of the systems. The cruise ship that she and her aunt took to Starhaven was silent because everything was flawlessly maintained and every bit of floor was carpeted.
Astra would be alive! Kara realizes, feeling warmth in her chest for the first time in days. Her aunt is serving a life sentence for terrorism in Fort Rozz but all the prison barges are administered by other species in other systems. Unless something happened, she is alive.
“I have detected no new signals, only automated beacons.”
“Thank you,” she croaks.
She sucks in a breath, hoping she won’t break down again.
“Lady Kara? If it would improve your emotional state, I can play a message I received from your mother.”
It’s probably the same goodbye she’s heard a thousand times but even so, it is her mother’s voice. She takes a deep breath, forcing her sobs down so she can focus on her mother’s last words.
Except it isn’t the message her mother recorded from Kara’s bedroom. This was recorded in her office and her mother is in her adjudicator's robes.
Kara jerks her head up, tears forgotten. This is something she hasn’t heard before.
“Children of Krypton, I address you as Alura of El, High Adjudicator and as the last member House Ina and House Zenn. By the time this transmission reaches the network, Krypton will be destroyed and Rao will be dying. Billions will be dead.”
“Greed destroyed us and it destroyed Krypton. Greed that went unchecked because of the arrogance of the Great Houses.”
“As head of council by default, I hereby discontinue the guild system. I hereby discontinue the Seat of the Nameless and implore the Nameless to create Houses as they see fit. The council votes from Great Houses without surviving members will be reapportioned.”
“I hereby vacate the sentences of any Kryptonian inmates in our custody. I hereby cancel all debts, private and public, to any entity based on Krypton.”
“We are all equals now: colonist and Argonite, high-born and nameless, criminal and adjudicator. If we cannot better ourselves and deal fairly with one another, we will die out."
“Survivors from Krypton itself will be few. The council has designated the following rendezvous points for survivors. Any refugees will arrive there. Treat them as you would your family, I beg of you.”
“We are all Rao’s children and we will not vanish so easily. The void has taken Krypton and it will soon take Rao. But it has not taken our people. We will endure. May Rao’s light shine through you.”
Her mother reaches out to turn the recording device and Kara reaches towards the projection, desperate to touch her one last time. Before her fingers can brush the hologram, it cuts out. It must have been filmed until the very last moment. Her mother died filming that, pleading for help from rim-rats and Nameless who she never would have looked at in Argo.
“Kolex! Astra’s been pardoned! We can go find her!”
She doesn’t even have to think about it.
“Set course for Vhoc’s Gate Prison.”
Rao’s Shadow, what system is that in?
“Davarr system,” Kolex adds.
“What would I do without you?” Kara sniffs.
“Die of thirst, apparently. Setting course now.”
The navigation computer boots up and starts to plot a new course but shuts back down.
“Our course is still hardware-locked, Lady Kara. It cannot be changed without partially disassembling the propulsion system and performing repairs. Which would need to be done from outside the hull.”
Kara drums her fingers on the controls.
“Something which I will not allow you to attempt, young lady.”
He used a recording of her mother’s voice for ‘young lady’ because he knew it would stop Kara.
“We’re not going to a rendezvous, are we?”
“No. We are course-locked for Earth.”
“Your father’s. My hypothesis is that your mother was merely concerned about Earth’s habitability, not the possibility of reunion with survivors. Kara?”
Even through these awful speakers, Kara can hear Kolex’s sadness. It may be only software to emulate emotion for the comfort of living things but it works. She feels better with him here than she would alone.
“Additional orders from your father were just executed. There is an auto-surgery suite in the pod which has just activated and medical procedures are being streamed into it. They are encrypted and am performing them but I do not know their purpose. Please forgive me.”
Kara screams. Not from the sting of the injector in her neck but because this is her father doing this. One last experiment? One last project that he ‘couldn’t talk about’ for the Military Guild?
“Nothing to forgive, Kolex. This wasn’t you.”
As her vision spins and fades, she sees four flashes of pale blue light, two to each side of the cockpit. Starships leaving warp. They’re not much larger than hers. Their hulls are flat black and their engine vents are tiny slits.
Before she can hail the newcomers, the sedative takes her.
July 14 2002, Earth | Mari McCabe (“Vixen”)
Geosynchronous orbit, 1500 kilometers over Metropolis
The Justice League’s “Lighthouse” Space Station
The control panel is beeping faintly but he doesn’t notice. Batman is asleep. The fight last night took everything he had and between the bruises, the blow to the head...it was too much. He is slumped over the keyboard, snoring into his mask.
A woman strolls past his post, bare feet moving across the steel plating without so much as a rustle. The only sound she makes is a contented moaning sound as she pops another cookie into her mouth. This is a hug in food form.
You are something else, Ma Kent.
“These are fricking amazing,” she mumbles.
“Hey Bats, you ever try these?”
He doesn’t answer. He is sprawled against the control panel while the monitor above him blinks ‘signals detected’ over and over. His cape is snagged on the chair’s hinge and the spines on his armored gloves are digging into his face.
She pulls a phone from her jeans and snaps a photo. She considers streaming it but that’s probably not a good idea. Revealing too much about this place would get someone killed and she can’t count on the bad guys to focus on the joke instead of analyzing the equipment in the background.
He needs to wake up and do his job. A good old-fashioned roar to the face should do it.
She breathes deep and stills her mind as the spectral forms of various beasts swirl around her. All the creatures that ever walked the earth.
Perfect, Vixen decides. A tigress. She feels the cold as her alter ego goes plunging through the Siberian snows in pursuit of a wounded elk. Her lips darken and curl into a smirk even as fur spreads across her face and her hands sprout claws.
At least this time she avoided growing the tail. Grandmother was right, practice helps.
She clears her throat, bends down beside Batman and roars as loud as she can.
Her deals with the joke about as well as she expected, swinging blindly at her before he’s really awake. She intercepts the blow with ease, curling her fingers around his fist so that her newly-grown claws almost touch his skin.
“Asleep at the post, eh?”
“No, Vixen. I was meditating.”
“Ancient technique from Nanda Prabat, I’m sure. Mistakes happen, Bruce.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Really? I mean, it’s not like Batman falls asleep on lookout duty. So that had to be Bruce Wayne. Anyway...”
She sets her plate down on the console.
“Saved you a couple of cookies. We animal fetishists have to stick together.”
The tiniest smile flickers crosses his lips. Amazing. How many times has he actually smiled while suited up?
“Just eat it. Even you are not paranoid enough to reject Martha Kent’s snickerdoodles.”
Vixen walks off. Her still-enhanced ears catch Bruce muttering something appreciative so she puts a little extra sway in her step.
As she starts up the ladder, it his. The tension starts deep in her belly, coiling tight. Before long it feels like her skin is buzzing. One of the guards passes her and just the smell of sweat on the man’s uniform creates a sharp throb between her legs.
Not good, she realizes. This is the problem with channeling big cats.
She’s not sure she could break the link now if she wanted to. Her mind is as much the tigress’ as her own and the tigress has only one goal: find an equally powerful creature and fuck it senseless.
“Hawkgirl better be off duty,” Vixen mutters.
She would rather not traumatize some rookie sentry and the last time she went out while channeling an animal in heat, she did something stupid in public and hurt someone she loves. There were some very uncomfortable de-briefs the next day. Not to mention an apology to Kendra.
Vixen sprints up the stairway to the sleeping quarters and throws her shoulder against the bunk room door.
Thank the ancestors.
Kendra is alone, her freckled face halfway hidden behind a spy novel. Her wings droop behind her and the smell of peppermint oil is thick in the air. A hairbrush sits on the bedside table with curly strands of red hair trapped in it and a few dozen dull gray feathers are in the trash can.
She doesn't look up until a growl escapes Mari’s throat. Lifting her gaze, Kendra swallows hard. She reaches for the hem of her sweatshirt but before she can start, Mari’s clawed fingers hook into the fabric and she slashes down, ripping it open.
“I want to hear what happened, Mari,” Kendra chuckles. “after.”
As herself or as “Vixen” or maybe the tigress, Mari lunges at her mate and spins her around, pressing her against the cabin wall. Her tongue traces between Kendra's shoulder-blades up to the base of her skull, wide and strong and sandpaper rough.
"Uhh," Kendra groans. "Surprised I didn’t lose any feathers just from that."
“I trust you. But careful with those claws, baby.”
Mari braces herself on her elbow so that she can run the smooth side of her claws along Kendra’s scalp. Using the back of her fist Mari presses upwards between Kendra's thighs. Sucking in a sharp breath, Kendra goes on tiptoe to lessen the blaze she just felt.
“Y-y-yes,” Kendra pants. “I mean no! Just do it slower. Slower, like that.”
“Ease up, darling. I’ll take care of you.”
Kendra relaxes, letting her weight push Mari’s fist into her mound. Her hips have a mind of their own, rolling back and forth to get more. More is all she can think about. More velvet-furred skin dragging along her clit. More hot breath on her neck. More snarls and hisses in her ear. More of Mari’s powerful body pinning her to the cold steel of the wall.
“Come for me,” Mari huffs in her ear.
It’s too much. Lightning gathers in between her legs before exploding up her spine. All the air leaves her lungs in a scream and she sags into Mari’s arms. Time doesn’t pass any more and the universe is gone. All that exists is the places they’re touching.
Kendra laughs as Mari presses wet kisses down her bare back.
“Shh, shh, shh,” Mari coos. “I wont drop you, Kendra.”
The link is fading. The claws that had been ghosting across Kendra's scalp are shrinking back and the fingers between her legs are smooth now. Her shoulders ache and her left wing is numb from being jammed up against the wall.
“Ready to stand?”
After checking that she can still work her toes, Kendra nods.
“Mari, what the hell did you do? Not that I’m complaining.”