Alex crumpled into the corner, wrapping her arms around her knees, and pressed her head into the cold concrete. Images flashed before her eyes, screaming, dying, her father charging ahead with the new plague-weapon he'd developed, weaponizing his peacetime research on alien bio-technology, trying to stop the Kryptonian onslaught. And then the crack and the splat. Her dad was gone, and Alex was soaked in something hot and viscous.
She'd killed one, stabbed a green knife through his suit into his chest, felt his shock, his stiffening, his death under her hands. But it was too little too late. Others grabbed her. A cruel smile on a face that hovered before her. The harsh tones of Kryptonian. «I'm impressed. Not all humans are mice.»
Then nothing but this cold concrete cell.
«What are you doing here!»
Alex wished her father had never taught her Kryptonian. All of this would be simply noise that she could sleep through then.
«What are you doing?» A familiar voice, cold and angry. "This is an illegal prison."
«They are prisoners of war. I can do what I please with them. Do not come here if you cannot afford to make a purchase.»
«The house of In Ze can purchase your whole establishment. But I will allow my sister to take you down according to the laws of Krypton.»
Alex heard the click of boots coming down the hallway. They paused at each cell. Alex lowered her feet, pushing herself, despite her injuries, to sit up straight, fix her gaze on the woman whose face was all she associated with the memory of her dad's death.
Those eyes, just the same, hard and cold and uncannily pale passed over her and then swiveled back. «You.»
Alex didn't move, didn't blink.
The woman smiled. «This one, I claim for the House of In Ze.»
«What right have you to claim it?»
«She killed my husband.»
«You hated your husband.»
«Fine. The human's yours. Take it.»
The bars swung back and the woman strode in, not in a sleek fighting suit this time, but robes. Alex struck at her, but she evaded it easily, and Alex over extended, jarring the wound in her side. She gasped, and fell, but before she landed the woman caught her and scooped her up. «Did you not even give these prisoners medical attention?» She cursed at the other Kryptonian.
«I did if they asked. That one didn't say nothing!»
A scoff, and Alex was being carried away, down the hall, in arms so strong she could not think of escape.
So she didn't. She lay her head against her new jailer's shoulder and slept.
Astra kicked open the door to the In Ze mansion and listened for any sign that her sister had emerged from her room. She could hear the thump of her heartbeat, still in the same place as always. She shook her head, hosting the half-dead girl up higher on her shoulder, and glanced about for a place to put her. It was her brother-in-law's own hubris that made him stay on Krypton when they all knew it was going to explode. He thought he could hold it off, fix it. He hadn't.
«Who is this?» Kara, her delightful niece, raced up, staring at the occupant of Astra's arms. Astra spotted a likely couch, one that wouldn't stain too badly, and stomped over there, laying the human down.
«This is the young woman who killed your uncle Non.»
«Oh,» Kara said, eyes wide. She lifted her hand, and then stopped herself. At ten she was far too old to suck her thumb, though she still was inclined to. Alura was far too gentle a parent. «Why is she here?»
«If you kill a member of a clan, you owe this clan a life debt. She is ours now. Her service, her life, and her body belong to us.»
«Mama says that's barbaric.»
Astra grinned. «It's still the law.»
Kara wandered over to the girl's head. She pushed her shorn hair out of her face. «She's pretty.»
Astra appraised the half-dead pallor and bruises speckled over her jaw. «We'll see. Perhaps we'll get some use out of the body part of the equation. But before then, we'd better make sure she doesn't die.»
Astra stripped off the filthy shirt and tore the flimsy trousers. An ugly pus-filled gash gaped in the girl's side. Kara gave a little gasp.
«What do you think we should do?» Astra asked her. How far had her fool of a father gotten in her education?
«Clean it,» Kara said, her eyes still wide, her hand over her mouth. «And, maybe the regeneration machine?»
«Won't work on humans. But that would come in handy for certain.»
Astra contemplated the girl's tattered body. She'd better heal quickly. It would be a shame if she died after all this trouble.
«You need to get out more.»
Alura raised her head slowly from her book. «Out? Onto this barbarian world? No thank you.»
She was tired of her sister's interference. Perhaps it meant that she cared, but caring had caused this trouble in the first place. And what need was there of a judge in a world won by conquest?
«I taught your daughter what a pustule was the other day. You should take more of an interest, or I'll corrupt her thoroughly.»
Alura shook her head. «I trust you. I know you love Kara.»
Astra snorted. «That's why I'll corrupt her. I'm not an excellent influence on children. But, perhaps our new pet will be.»
Astra grinned. Obviously she'd only mentioned it to catch Alura's attention. «We have a human. She's a little weak, still healing up. But rather lovely, and angry. Perhaps you can let her comfort you through your grief.»
«She killed Non. I suppose I owe her a debt.»
«So you've taken her as a slave?» Alura felt the familiar heat rise up, the frustration and annoyance with her carelessly cruel sister.
«Better a slave in our house than free out there.» Astra strode closer to her desk. «But you'd know that, if you could break out of your grief and just look at what's happening. You were a leader on Krypton. We need leaders now.»
«Krypton is dead,» Alura said, the pain in her chest opening up like a cavern. «What care I for Earth?»
«You only care for yourself.»
Alex blinked sticky eyes open and met blue ones, wide innocent eyes in a child's face framed by tousled blonde hair.
«Hi,» the girl mouthed.
Kryptonian. Alex pinched her mouth and turned away.
«Do you need water? Or medicines? I'm Kara.»
Alex's throat was dry and grating, and her whole body ached. Carefully she shuffled back to look at Kara. She nodded. Kara nodded furiously back, and then zipped off, flying to fetch water and medicines.
«Aunt Astra said you could have two of these if you woke up. And here is water. I like water so much! Aunt Astra and Mama won't drink it, because at home you couldn't. But it is over sixty percent of this world! Water is great!»
Alex groaned, her head throbbing at the excitable child speech. She took the pills and dry swallowed them, then followed it up with the whole glass of water. This was already better than the cell, but god, she hurt so much.
«Go back to sleep now,» Kara said, tugging a blanket Alex hadn't noticed up around her shoulders. «The big hole in you is not so infected, but it is not healed yet.»
She petted Alex's hair, which was disturbing--would she press too hard? would she snap Alex's neck?--until the rhythm became steady, and Alex found herself yawning, and dozing off again.
You should have done more. You should have fought harder. If you weren't so scared you would have been at his side--you would be dead, probably. But better dead than this, then having to live after you've lost your entire world.
Alex jarred awake. She lurched forward, and her stomach screamed in pain. But not as much as it had before. She could move without feeling like she was going to pass out.
Alex looked over to see the woman who had come for her in tight black tank top and rugged combat trousers moving in a smooth set pattern--some kind of kata or tai chi, but the forms were not any Alex knew. Her hair was swept up and back and a light sheen of sweat glinted off her skin in the dim light from a solitary lamp on an empty bookshelf.
Alex grimaced, realizing that this was some random McMansion that had once belonged to real people, and the aliens had taken it over. She turned her glare back to the woman who had moved into a weird twisted position, like yoga gone wrong. "Who are you?" she snapped, using English. "What do you want with me?"
The woman straightened and picked up a towel, wiping her forehead with it. Her eyes lingered on Alex as her mouth stayed shut. Had she understood anything? Then she spoke, the words accented, but not Kryptonian. "I am General Astra In Ze."
"General? You lead the invasion?"
"Invasion? Such a harsh term. We were but refugees, fleeing our dying planet." She smiled. "Well, until the people of Earth decided to repel our ships. Strangely, after feeling the touch of your yellow sun, my soldiers were eager for battle. It was a decisive victory."
"I know. I was there."
"And that is what I want with you. You murdered my husband, so I have decided to take care of you."
A chill rolled through Alex's stomach. "Take care of me? What do you mean by that?" It was a gangster version of 'off', but she'd been given medical attention, a blanket. What did these aliens want with her?
"You are spoils of war, brave one. To kill one of my clan puts you under life's penalty. You belong to the In Ze now. So we will take care of you, and you will do what we wish you to."
"Like hell I will."
The woman grinned. "And we will do what we wish to you also."
"That's definitely on the table." The woman, Astra, paced over to the couch like a jungle cat. She stroked Alex's cheek with one long finger. "We'll wait 'til you're better, though. We don't want you to pull something."
Alex couldn't draw breath, couldn't do anything but fight the ball of rage in her chest. "I will kill you," she growled out. "You were the fool who brought me into your house. And I will kill you, just like I killed your husband. I will kill you and all your family. Even that little girl. Even--"
Alex's voice cracked. Astra held her face between both hands. She pressed just a little too hard and Alex could feel the bones in her face creak with the strain. "Say that again. Say that you are going to kill my niece."
Alex could not.
"Good," Astra whispered softly. "Because if you ever even lay a hand on her--not that she couldn't break you in half without even trying--you will know what true suffering is."
Barely able to breathe, unable to move her head, Alex tried to convey her understanding with her eyes. Astra's grip lightened just a touch.
"I know it is hard to see right now, but this is a kindness. We will take care of you, and all you must be in return is obedient."
"I-- I killed your husband."
Astra released her face, and she smiled. "Yes. I'm grateful."
The light clicked off and Alex was left in darkness. Inside she shook. Surrounded by Kryptonians. They could break her without a thought. They had reason to. But she wasn't dead. They were looking after her. Until she was better. And then what? What 'obedience' did they have in store?
A kindness, General Astra had said. What kind of kindness? Kryptonians didn't know the meaning of the word.