Hal-Lorr was suddenly aware of his lungs breathing and his heart pumping. And he knew that the rate of both had jumped exponentially in the last three seconds.
Bar stood shivering at the end of Faora Hu-Ul's arm. She regarded him with the smile of a hangman who loves his work. She stood in her green jumpsuit, as superbly curved as a swimsuit model, with a face as lovely as Kara Zor-El's and light brown hair done in a bouffant style.
Hal flashed on the fact that Faora had been badly burned her last time out, and must have healed and regenerated while in the Zone. He also flashed on the fact that Faora had killed 23 men--each at the point she got bored with him.
"Such a nice little boy," purred Faora. "And you were so nice to help your little friend here get us out of the Zone. Yes. But you were also a bad little boy to try and keep him from doing it, weren't you?" Her mouth still smiled, but her eyes flashed green fire. "And you were very, very bad to hurt that projector. Faora doesn't like that at all." Her fingers were pressing into Bar's jaw. Bar was whimpering.
"Stop!", hollered Hal, jumping to his feet. Faora shot him a death's-head look. He backed against the wall. He never took his eyes off her.
Jax-Ur snapped, "Let the brat go, Faora. One thing I've learned: kids make the best hostages."
The woman's hand snapped open. Bar-Bann dropped like a plummet, landing on his ass, sitting up. He rubbed his jaw where the bruises were starting to form.
Two others were in the room besides the rest. One, in a slightly weathered military uniform, stood straight and indomitable, with an aura of command, despite his criminal past. Another, who had unkempt red hair, looked the most sinister of the three males, despite the fact that he was a biochemist, not a murderer. They were General Dru-Zod and Professor Va-Kox, respectively.
Beside them and Faora, the bald, mustached Jax-Ur looked like a favorite uncle. But the glint of ruthlessness in his eyes indicated that he, too, belonged among this company.
"A bit disappointing, really," said Zod, his arms folded and looking at nothing in particular. "All the other times we were Out, we experienced that pleasant rush of power. There's nothing like the ability to crush mountains in one's bare hands."
"One makes do with what one has, General Zod," said Va-Kox, shifting his gaze from his cronies to the boys. "I'd say we have a couple of bargaining chips, to begin with."
Bar croaked, "Mister...please...we haven't done nothin'..."
"Oh, I'd say you did quite a lot," said Faora, looking at the boys coolly.
"And all because we put it into your brain," added Jax-Ur, stepping behind Faora and putting his hand on her shoulder. She whipped her head around to look at him. Quickly, he removed his hand.
Hal found his voice. "Then it was you. You made a mind-link with me. You told me how to build the Zone projector."
"Oh, I wouldn't take too much credit, my boy," said Jax-Ur, bending down to put his grinning face only inches away from Hal's. (Hal shrank back.) "You had the intelligence to figure it out. I just showed you a few paths to follow. Thankfully, you had enough latent psi potential to be a good contact. We owe you a lot."
Jax-Ur's hand whipped out, buried itself in Hal's shirtfront, and dragged the boy up towards him. "But don't let that make you feel secure. You wanted to see the Zoners. All right, let me give you a guided tour."
Jax laid a firm hand on Hal's bicep and pulled him before Faora,
who was leaning against the wall and smiling. "This is the lovely
and talented Faora Hu-Ul. She's one of the deadliest martial artists
of dear, departed Krypton. She was also one of the most beautiful
women on the planet. Some likened her to a black widow spider on
Earth, but that was such a cruel thing to do, and untrue. Actually,
she mated with her men many times apiece before she killed them.
because, after awhile, each of them just ran out of tricks."
Faora's mouth twitched.
"And this is the famous General Zod. Well, boy, where's your salute?"
Hal hesitated. Jax's fingers tightened on his arm. Hal yelped, then gritted his teeth and pounded his free arm once against his chest in the Kryptonian military salute.
"That's better. Now, General Zod here was a true military
hero, veteran of many campaigns, pioneer in tactics, innovator in weaponry.
He even had statues erected to him in his lifetime. But then there
was the matter of him having his scientists create unliving duplicates
of himself, Bizarro-Zods if you will, and trying to take over some of those
himself rather than take their wasteful and inept orders. It didn't quite work out, and the people of Krypton were quite nasty to him. They forgot all of the wars he'd won, all of the honors he'd been given, and they sent him to the Zone. I ask you...is that gratitude?"
Hal felt Jax's hand tighten a little on his arm. "No. No, it's not," he said, quickly.
"The youngster shows some promise," noted Zod, his hands clasped behind his back.
"Thank you, Zod," said Jax-Ur. "And now here is my good
friend and colleague, Professor Va-Kox. He was one of the foremost
biologists of our late world, a great teacher at Erkol University, a true
gentleman and scholar. But there are always nasty politics to be
dealt with in any university, as you'll come to know. And some of the professor's colleagues were most disturbed that he'd polluted a lake with a formula of his own devising. It turned watery lifeforms into the most interesting sort of monsters. It also poisoned quite a few bathers and boaters, and they all died. It seemed the professor just hadn't gotten the right permission to try his experiment before he did it. But you know how people are. And those upstarts at the university wouldn't say a word in his behalf at the trial, and they sent him to live with us."
"It would have worked," said Va-Kox, miffed. "If only I'd had the right venue for experimentation, I could have made it work. If I ever get the time here..."
"...You'll make it work," said Jax. "I know."
"Which leaves only one of us left," muttered Faora.
"Yes, and that's me," said Jax-Ur, towering over the boy.
Zod said, "Allow me to do the honors, sir. Dr. Ur here was, in his early days, what you might call the white sheep of a rather darkened family." (Jax smiled, tightly.) "His father was the inventor of a gun that disintegrated living beings. Only one was made, and Vas-Ur was killed by a more conventional weapon, after he had committed a score of murders."
"Dear old dad," said Jax. "Please continue, General."
"Jax's grandfather, Mal-Ur, was, like Professor Va-Kox, a daring biologist. He destroyed all life in a lake of Krypton, including, again, some lives which were human. Unlike our friend the Professor here, Mal-Ur's objectives were not to mutate sea life. He was trying to perfect the ultimate biological weapon. A parent of one of Mal-Ur's victims caught up to him and another great mind was lost to history.
"Then there was Can-Ur, a man who established a form of authoritative government which might have caught on, had he not a penchant for clubbing his opponents to death with an antique war-mace. The neighboring nations' governments thought little of that, and ended his experiment in authoritarianism...along with his life.
"But enough of ancestry. Mr. Ur, our present ally, was determined to break with tradition, became an upstanding practical physicist and rocket scientist, and was instrumental in the design of Krypton's first spacecraft, in conjunction with others, among them, Jor-El. Mr. Ur's affectation was for studying the radiant gems of the Jewel Mountains. While experimenting with a laser that used one of these great jewels for its focussing element, Mr. Ur miscalculated the power of his ray, and blew one of Krypton's moons to bits. The 600-plus colonists who inhabited that moon died. Several hundred others perished as well, when some of the fragments rained down upon Krypton.
"Since Mr. Ur's experiment had not been approved by our rather
narrow-minded Science Council, and since the killings had not been deliberate,
he was only sentenced to the Phantom Zone for 30 years. It was as
much to save him from a lynch mob, and to prevent an uprising
against a local government for even giving him a trial rather than shooting him on the spot, that this was done.
"And as you might have guessed, this chain of events indicated to Mr. Ur that he should have been in the family business all along. Within days of his arrival in our Zone, we recognized his flame of genius, nurtured it, and soon were proud to recognize this man as our de facto leader. Since then, he's been Out many, many times, implemented many operations against Kal-El and his allies, and, thanks to this, has seen his sentence increased from 30 years to Eternity.
"But, you must understand, youngsters, Eternity means very little to a Zoner. We simply bide our time, and wait, and make our plans for the next time we get Out.
"And have you noticed something? We're Out again. And we intend to stay that way. Thanks for your help."
There was a long pause, as the four Zoners looked silently at their two frightened charges. The only noise for a good while was breathing.
Then a slight chime went off, and a small light above the door flashed.
"What do you know," said Jax-Ur. "Daddy's home."
"Fair is fair!", said Kara, matching her tone to that of Helen Slater.
Of course, her dialogue was in Kryptonese, and they'd computer-animate
the lips of the characters to match it, later on. Her mouth was scanned
by low-level beams to ensure that the lip movements would precisely match
the dialogue. Post-production people would also add in a few body-language
touches here and there to approximate the gestures of the Kryptonians,
interwoven fingers to indicate a conversation or argument was over.
Kara doubted this one would be a big hit. But Helen was a friend. Ever since Kara and Kal had taken a look at a first print of that Supergirl movie, exercised their rights of denial, gone in there with better scripters and some free super-aid in making the movie, and turned a golden turkey into prime filet.
"Okay, Kara, that's a wrap," said Ghi-Sonn, through her earpiece. "We'll get the next segment after lunch."
She stood up, sighed, and peeled off the earpiece. Luckily, she liked voice work. It paid well, especially for those Supergirl cartoons she did the vocals for. Nar-Es was still mother-henning her, but she insisted he wait outside and observe her through the window of the engineers' booth. He'd become a professional stage mother.
The engineers spilled out of their booth, heading for the commissary. Nar-Es rushed up to Kara. "What'd I tell you, Kara? Your pipes are going to make this one a hit!"
"This one is going to be a miss, my pipes or not," said Kara. "But at least I'm getting paid for it. Come on, Nar, I've got a half-hour to eat and you can jabber at me all the way."
Ghi-Sonn stopped Kara and shook her hand. "Good work on the voiceover. I think this one's going to tank, too, but favors are favors." He turned to the engineers. "Anybody seen Rol-Lorr? It's been an hour already since he went home for eats."
"Have not, chief," said Na-Min, one of the sound techs. "Want me to give him a hum?"
"He isn't here in thirty minutes, I give him a scream," said Ghi-Sonn. "Go lunch, Karaish. Got a lot of work to do."
Rol-Lorr was pinned to the wall of his dining room, the edge of Faora Hu-Ul's hand at his throat. He was sweating.
"Let the boys go," he said, with an effort. "I'll do whatever you want, just let the boys go. You don't need them."
Jax-Ur faked surprise. "Oh? We don't need them? All right, Zod...kill them!"
Zod's hands tightened on the boys' necks. "NO!" screamed Rol-Lorr, trying to push against Faora's arm with his hands. "I mean...I mean, don't hurt them!"
Zod's hands relaxed again. Both boys were almost ready to dump in their pants. Vakox stood ready with a blaster he'd confiscated from a cache in the home. Hal had told them the combination to it, rather than see Bar's eyes get torn out by Faora.
Rol-Lorr looked like a man on the edge of a precipice with a sword prodding him over.
A hum came from the wafer in his pocket. Faora snapped her gaze to it for a second. "Somebody's calling him," she said.
"Answer it...very carefully," said Jax.
Rol's shaky hand went to his pants pocket, came out with his wafer. He spoke into it. "Rol...Rol-Lorr," he said.
"Lorr, what's going on there? You got digestive tract problems again?" said the voice of Na-Min. "The boss is about to declare a tactical strike on your garage if you don't show up in fifteen minutes."
Jax-Ur, standing close to him, put his hand over the wafer in Rol's hand. "Tell him you'll be there," he said. He withdrew his hand.
Rol, breathing heavily, said, "Fifteen minutes. Right. I'll be there."
"Okay. And Rol, as a friend, I'm telling you...cut out the drinks with lunch, okay? I can't cover for you every time," said Na-Min.
"Yeah. Yeah. Right. Bye," said Rol, and thumbed the wafer off.
He looked at Faora and Jax-Ur.
"Kara Zor-El is working at your studio today," said Jax. "I've always wanted to get her autograph."
Faora smiled hungrily.
The gate guard checked out three people in the hovercar with Rol-Lorr. Two men, one woman. But there were no weapons that showed up on the sensors. Nonetheless, Rol sounded a bit tense.
"You feeling okay, Rol?" said Kin-Sol, the guard. All he could see of them in the viewer was Rol's face and some of the guy beside him. The other guy was bald, and was smiling easily. Kin-Sol himself was safe in a command post far from the gate. The entry mechanisms were on servos. Nobody could shoot their way in or out.
"I'm a little tense, Kin," said Rol. "Rough lunch."
Kin's eyes narrowed just a trifle. His own sensory system was giving a yellow light to the stress he picked up in Rol-Lorr's voice. Quick decision time. Should he hold the car there and have them given a quick once-over by the studio cops? Or was Rol just tense because he knew Ghi-Sonn the Collar-Grabber was going to tear Rol's tunic to pieces for being late, as he'd just informed Kin over the comlink?
Better to let Rol take the chief's wrath alone, rather than cut them both in for trouble.
"You say you'll vouch for the people with you, Rol?" said Kin, in a neutral tone of voice.
"I'd trust them with my son's life," said Rol. Kin saw the whiteness of Rol's knuckles on the driving wheel.
Kin made the decision. He thumbed a button that removed the tractor beams holding Rol-Lorr's hovercraft in place, and tapped in the vehicle and time of admission.
After Rol-Lorr's face faded from the viewer, Kin touched another area of his console. Big Yi-Koon, the head of internal security, appeared in a viewscreen.
"Check out Rol-Lorr's vehicle after he parks," said Kin. "Detain those three with him and check them out. Something smells."
"Done," rumbled Yi-Koon.
Rol's green hovercraft hummed into position in the parking space and came to rest on the flat surface which popped up hydraulically beneath it. Two metal arms on either side popped up to hold the front and back ends in place. The top of the car retracted into the front and back hoods, and the four occupants got out.
Faora, Jax, and Zod had gotten newer outfits at a clothing store on the way to the studio, with a little help from Rol and his credit wafer. Their old togs, somewhat out of fashion now, would have marked them for identification as easily as tie-dyed shirts, Nehru jackets, or bell-bottomed trousers on Earth. Faora was wearing shades and had her hair tied back. Nobody much recognized Zod without his uniform. And Jax was wearing a tourist's short tunic and calf-length shorts to go with the rube's accent he was adopting.
"I'm's excited as a lightnin' monster from Wegthor t' be in this here movie studio, Cousin Rol," grinned Jax as they got out.
"Shut up," snapped Rol, tensely. He couldn't get the image of Vakox, sitting at his home with a gun trained on the two boys, out of his mind.
Four guards were striding up to them. Faora shot a glance at Rol. She didn't have to say anything.
Rol's mouth had suddenly gone dry as the sun's surface. "I don't know what this is about. I didn't say anything, I swear it, I don't know where--"
"Silence," said Zod, very softly and very hard. Rol stopped talking. "Keep cool, you three. Body language is a tell. Relax and keep loose. If you betrayed us, Rol, you will live long enough to see your son shot. But you, and he, may be safe."
Jax had to prop Rol up with an arm around his shoulder. "Easy, cousin, those after-lunch drinks're gonna get you," he said, loudly.
Yi-Koon, multiplied six times, would probably be as heavy as the hovercar that brought them in. He and the three men on his squad held stunguns strapped to the top of their wrists, and a quick flex the right way would activate them.
"Good afternoon, tanthi and tyntho," said Yi-Koon, seeming to cast a lot of shade. "The front has asked us to make a routine check. Please show us the wafers."
Rol passed them his wafer, slick with palm sweat. "These people are my guests."
Yi-Koon took the wafer, inserted it into the slot atop a metal box in his belt, and took it out when it confirmed Rol's identity with a beep. "I'm going to have to ask for their wafers, sir."
Jax looked surprised. "Aw, Cousin Rol, you said we didn't have to bring those things along with us. I thought you were a big shot here."
Rol breathed heavily. "Yes, Yi. This is...my cousin Xaj, and that's his daughter Fara and her husband Urd. They're just in from one of the frontier provinces." He smiled, and hoped it looked casual.
The men with Yi-Koon didn't have to be given a verbal to know that their boss had just told them to get ready for action.
"You know the rules, tantho Lorr," said Yi, as softly as he could, with a voice that would scare off dogs. "Nobody gets in without identificiation. I'm afraid I'll have to hold your friends here till they're checked out."
Faora huffed. "This is ridiculous," she said. "My dear cousin Xaj, you told me that this little studio was above such practices. Really, the Ladies of Lurvan will be extremely eager to hear of such behavior when I get home."
Zod sighed helplessly. "Fara, please." He turned to Yi-Koon. "What can I say? Farmer's daughter, you know."
Yi was trying to say, "Not sure I do, tantho," when Zod snagged his stungun wrist and smashed a knee hard into his crotch. A klurkor blow stretched him out unconscious almost before he could double up.
Jax swung Rol-Lorr in front of him as a shield as one of the three other guards set off a stun-beam in his direction. Rol's consciousness faded in the soporific blast. Jax had learned more than a few fighting tricks during his time in stir. Within seconds he had broken the man's arm and smashed him unconscious against the side of the car.
They got off lucky compared to the other two.
Without even taking off her shades, Faora did an incredibly quick flip-over, contacting the ground with her hands and launching herself over, her legs spread in just the right position to kick both remaining guards in the face. Their stunblasts went wild. Faora leaped to her feet, smashed their heads together, and dazed both her opponents. She flung one to the ground, ripped the stungun from his hand, and turned her attention to his fellow.
A quick knife-palm strike to the solar plexus rendered her foe a gasping wreck. She turned her opponent towards his fallen partner, making sure he could see what she was doing.
Then she wrapped her body about the gasping guard like an anaconda, positioned her hands in just the right way, and broke his neck.
The guard on the ground moved his bowels.
Faora flung the man from her. He hit the ground roughly, his head bouncing once as if it belonged to a disjointed puppet. She didn't deign to look at it. She knelt on the fourth guard's chest. One of her hands was drawn back, two fingers held forth menacingly.
"Where is Kara Zor-El? Where?"
He coughed. "Think she's at lunch. Comissary."
"You've been a good boy," smiled Faora, and her hand descended.
He saw no more.
Several seconds later, he breathed no more.
Kara Zor-El was sitting across from Nar at a table near the door, wolfing the last of the croissant and talking with her mouth full.
"I want to play the priestess in that next one," she said. "I know it's against type, but I've got to expand my range, show 'em I'm versatile. By the time I'm forty, I want to be able to do those Plen-El historical romances."
Nar looked at her, head between his fists. "Ar! Karaish, Plen-El is for school books, not for box office. The Jor's and Jara's, they come in from a tough week, they want to go to a show and see somebody kickin' Sheol outta the bad guys. Don't give 'em what you want, give 'em what they want."
Kara swallowed, gulped her iced drink and went on. "Who's to say I can't do both, Nar? I can do the kick-'em-ups and do the serious stuff in between. Let me give you the example of Harrison Ford."
Before she could get to explaining Indiana Jones, or even the state of Indiana, they heard a commotion outside the door. Both of them turned towards it.
The door retracted into its space in the wall. A man and a woman were revealed, holding a pair of stunned guards, whom they dropped unceremoniously to the floor.
Before they could bring their weaponry up, the two internal guards were stunned unconscious by stolen guns.
Kara leaped into action before she could think of it, jumping from her chair at the two figures.
Faora, still in her shades, swung her arm like an iron bar and clouted Kara on the side of the head, sending her careening into the wall. She bounced off, hurt and surprised, and barely had time enough to bring her head up and look at her attackers.
One of them was familiar enough. And she knew the other, even with the dark glasses.
The villainess brought up her stungun and extinguished her foe's consciousness.
Slumping down, she heard, "So happy to see you again, Kara," as if from a great distance.
Then a quick fade to black.