Biological Families – Chapter 24
The large heavy overhead door slammed down with a resounding crash; cutting off what little light had been provided by the sodium lamp mounted on the side of the nearby red barn. The last thing Lex saw was the malevolent expression on Jonathan Kent's face as he pulled down on the canvas strap attached to the door. With a queasy sensation in his gut, Lex had no doubt that at a single word from Lana, no Sliviuh, the farmer wouldn't hesitate to kill him.
As the back of the van descended into absolute darkness, Lex was still struggling to cope with all the sudden changes. One minute he was trying to stop the struggle between Roger Nixon and Jonathan Kent for possession of the video camera with its dangerous footage of Clark's spaceship. Then only a few seconds later, his whole life had been turned upside down. For suddenly the love of his life had somehow morphed into potentially mankind's worst nightmare.
She looked and sounded the same as she always had, so at first glance it had been difficult to believe. But there was something different about her eyes; something he had never seen before, not even during the two long weeks back in Rome when Laura had possessed her body. Now there was a new brutality and coldness. And along with the coldness was an undeniable sense of power. Most people might only see the strutting arrogance, but Lex had been brought up in boardrooms and other corridors of power. He inherently could sense the difference between those who only aspired to power and those who really had the gift. And this new 'possessed' Lana he had just experienced was no poser.
Ever since learning of Chloe's abilities back in Rome and experiencing some of them first hand, Lex had thought a lot about their implications. He knew taking control of key individuals to effectively control the world's important governments was within Chloe's grasp. Yet during the week he had worked with her to start the process of relocating many of her most futuristic R&D projects to Smallville, he had come to understand how she truly preferred to work behind the scenes. And while he could mentally grasp it, with mere weeks since her initial revelation he couldn't yet comprehend it in his gut. Chloe saw herself as, and effectively was, immortal. If things took a few extra decades or even centuries to accomplish by staying in the background, it truly didn't matter to her. Lex knew that even if his dormant 'bot system were to become fully active and under his control, it would still take him thousands of years to develop the ingrained patient Chloe possessed based on her own many millennia of experience.
Yet Lana, or the variation of Chloe that was in possession of her body, didn't have Chloe's inhibitions. She wouldn't work from the shadows like Chloe preferred, but would rather stand in the light. And having Chloe's immortality without her restraints was a very scary thought.
As Lex's thoughts ran to how he would proceed if he was in Sliviuh's shoes to hopefully get some ideas on how to stop her, it briefly felt like someone had touched his hand. Before his mind could even fully process that it had to be Chloe, he was almost blinded by a brilliant light. After blinking rapidly for several seconds, he realized the light was just normal daylight which was only blinding in comparison to the absolute darkness of the enclosed van.
Then as his vision cleared he realized it wasn't normal daylight and nothing about his surroundings was normal either. He was standing outdoors, but it most definitely wasn't the Kent farm or anywhere else in Smallville either. No, stretched out before him was a magnificent city unlike any he had ever seen before. Far overshadowing anything in New York, Gotham City, or even Metropolis, countless majestic towers stretched what had to be several miles up into the sky. And even the sky itself was different; a shade of green he had never seen before. Craning his head up, it seemed to shimmer and shine in a way that didn't feel natural even in this outlandish place. Twisting around to follow the shimmering sky behind him, he realized the shimmering was caused by a nearly transparent dome which stretched up from the ground not more than a hundred feet behind him before arching up to enclose the great city.
He finally noticed Chloe standing beside him and knew this must somehow be her doing, but he couldn't drag his eyes away from the rugged terrain which seemed to begin barely a few hundred feet beyond the edge of the high dome. Then he literally jumped back as the shadow of some great flying beast swept over them. It took him a moment to realize the creature was safely on the far side of the dome. And only then did its true size begin to sink in. The creature was covered with countless iridescent green scales and had to stretch several hundred feet from the nose to the tip of its giant tail. And the wings needed to support its vast weight seemed to stretch even further. More than anything, Lex quickly decided, the creature looked like one of the legendary Chinese flying dragons. Where in hell were they, he wondered.
Turning to Chloe, he discovered she had swapped the tomato-stained green evening gown for a form fitting spandex outfit of almost the same shade. The only adornment on her outfit was a large emblem he didn't recognize emblazoned across most of her right breast.
"Where are we?" he asked in a hoarse whisper, as though it would be risky to reveal their presence.
In a normal speaking tone Chloe responded, although she couldn't seem to keep her own excitement out of her voice. "We are on Krypton."
"Clark's home planet," she responded.
Lex glanced around with a new appreciation. So this was the high tech civilization which had created Clark's spaceship, he thought.
"How?" was all Lex could get out.
"When Clark's ship interfaced with my 'bot system, it downloaded tons of historical data about his planet. I used the data to create this simulation of Kryptonopolis in its heyday."
"This city was the ancestral home of Clark's family, the Els. Clark's birth name was Kal El."
"Kal El," repeated Lex as he tested out the sound of it. He wasn't sure if he could ever think of his friend by any other name then Clark. "Why have you brought us here, now?"
Chloe shrugged and then started walking in the direction of the heart of the great city. Once Lex had fallen step beside her, she responded. "There are things we need to discuss, but I would have to assume the van is bugged. So it is better we talk in a virtual reality place where we can't be overheard. I considered simply recreating your office at the mansion or The Talon, but thought this would be more interesting. Since time runs faster here than in the real world, we should have plenty of time to explore a little of Clark's world while we try to figure out how we are going to get out of this mess."
They walked in silence for several minutes before Lex asked. "I feel unusually light on my feet. Is the gravity lower here than on Earth?"
"No, actually it is quite a bit higher. The information I received from the ship didn't have any convenient conversion tables between Krypton units of measure and Earth units, but based on known universal constants and the atomic makeup of this planet, I estimate the gravity here is between twelve and fifteen times that of Earth. The Kryptonians are enough different from humans so that to them it feels like about what 0.85 G's would feel to us. However the difference in gravity alone isn't sufficient to explain Clark's level of abilities on Earth."
Lex nodded. "It also doesn't explain why Clark looks so human. I mean what are the odds a race that evolved under these much higher gravity conditions would end up looking exactly like us?"
Chloe appeared to ponder this for a moment.
"That's odd," she began.
Lex looked at her and then back to the alien city they were wandering through and had to wonder what would suddenly strike her as 'odd'.
"The ship dumped so much data into my system; I couldn't take it all in at once. My 'bot system organized it in a way that . . . Well, the closest thing that you can probably comprehend is an encyclopedia. The data is all there, but unless I think about a specific question, it isn't all just sitting in the front of my mind."
"And the odd part?"
"The historical data the Kryptonians have accumulated shows the earliest evidence of their presences on this planet occurs seventeen thousand years ago. Before that, nothing. Several of their scientists postulated that they were transplanted here from somewhere else about that time."
"And why is that any odder than anything else here?" asked Lex.
"Because give or take a few decades, their first arrival here coincides with the timeframe of the peak of my original civilization. Now it might be simply a coincidence, but until now a true high tech civilization only flourished briefly on Earth once before – exactly at the same time the Kryptonians first appeared on this planet. Since they look just like us, there must be some connection."
"Chloe, you have never said much about your original civilization. Did they have interstellar travel capabilities? Could they have reached Krypton – wherever Krypton really is?"
"A hundred eighty seven lightyears," responded Chloe. Then seeing the look of incomprehension on Lex's face, she expanded. "That's the distance from Earth to Krypton. I already was ninety-seven percent certain from the backtracking the trajectory of the meteor shower which marked Clark's arrival thirteen years ago, but it was nice to have it confirmed by star charts which were included in the Kryptonian data package.
"As to your other question," she continued. "By the end of my original civilization they were probably thirty or forty years more advanced than today, but as far as I know all the manned flights had stayed within the confines of our solar system."
Lex glanced over at her sharply. "Ah . . . 'stayed within the solar system' sounds like they had gone a lot further than just low earth orbit. I know you said metal attacking 'bots destroyed your civilization and in combination with the ice age destroyed all evidence of them. But certainly an installation on the moon, for instance, even if abandoned, would still be there in that airless environment. Yet we haven't found any evidence of an installation anything like that."
"Yeah, when telescopes became available again during the Atlantian era about seven thousand years later, I was surprised about that, too. Oh, I wasn't surprised that all the satellites in orbit, even the really big ones in geosynchronous orbit, had suffered sufficient orbital decay to reenter the atmosphere and burn up. But there were several large installations on the moon, on Mars, and in the asteroid belt. The ones on the nearside of the moon had been easily visible from earth with just a small telescope, which is why I was so surprised they were no longer visible a few thousand years later. As you say, they should have still been there."
"What do you think happened to them?" asked Lex, as he tried to accept the concept that a civilization which had existed seventeen thousand years earlier had been well on the path of colonizing the solar system; something the current day space program could only dream about.
Chloe shrugged. "I have been wondering about that for ten thousand years. With this new tidbit about the Kryptonians, I would have to guess that someone, meaning some outside agency, dismantled them and then hid all traces. Well, at least all traces on the moon and Mars. It is still possible that some of the facilities built out in the asteroids might still be there, however we won't know that until we mount an expedition out there."
Mounting an expedition to the asteroid belt, until a moment ago that thought had seemed like something for the distant future. But now Lex's whole perspective had been changed. Oh, he had known for certain that aliens existed since the night of Clark's revelation back at Chloe's palatial estate in ancient Rome. But the implications hadn't really sunk in until seeing this world and having this conversation with Chloe. There were aliens out there and they weren't all benevolent like E.T. Someone had removed all evidence of Chloe's original civilization. And while Chloe said the destruction of her civilization was due to a terrible accident, was she right? Could the same people, who removed the evidence, have actually been responsible for its ending?
Suddenly it seemed that mankind was playing on a much bigger field than any of them had realized. And being limited to one planet, hell, one solar system left them extremely vulnerable. Lex knew an expedition to the asteroid belt needed to happen sooner rather than later and it would be only a first step on the suddenly necessary path to the stars.
"Chloe, are you certain the 'bots that destroyed your old world were truly an accident? Could whoever removed the installations on the Moon and Mars have been behind it? Could someone have intentionally thrown mankind back to the Stone Age?"
Chloe pointed off to their left at a long, low building of gray stone. Once they had changed course in its direction, she responded. "Things were pretty crazy in those final days. The 'bot swarm was spreading at incredible speed. And as soon as it reached an area, all communications were lost. It started on the far side of the world and places simply fell off the grid and never returned. It wasn't even clear that it was metal destroying 'bots until it reached us."
Chloe paused for a moment as they reached the gray building. Lex knew it must be for his benefit that the writing above the door was in English. The 'Hall of History' was what it said in giant letters.
As they climbed the wide steps and walked inside, Chloe continued. "The story about the accident was just based on rumors I heard from other survivors. And even those rumors were something I didn't learn about until more than thirty years after the fact. At the time, they were the simplest explanation. But now," she shrugged. "I would put the odds at over eighty percent it wasn't a simple accident."
Dominating the first gallery inside the building was a giant statue of a man. The material looked like some kind of metal, but not quite the traditional bronze. It was at least twenty feet tall and stood on a raised plinth. On the plinth was an inscription – Erok El, Unifier of Urrika, Founder of Erkol, First King of Krypton.
"If whoever destroyed your civilization is still out there, what is to prevent them from doing it to us again?" asked Lex quietly.
"It's been a really long time, maybe they aren't there anymore," answered Chloe.
Lex snorted. "You're still here. And if your longevity is possible, well . . . if they have the ability to turn humans into people like Clark, assuming they have gone away forever doesn't seem like the prudent approach."
"So what are you suggesting?" asked Chloe.
"I am not absolutely certain yet. I just think we need to refocus some of the projects we were planning to prepare for possible alien intruders. At a minimum, I think we need to accelerate efforts on space drive technologies."
"Agreed," said Chloe with a simple nod. "I have a lot of data on the Kryptonians' space technology which should give us a big leg up."
Then as she led the way into the long central hall connecting the numerous exhibits of the giant museum, she changed the direction of the conversation. "But we probably should focus on getting out of the current situation first. Our vision of the future isn't going to have much value, if Sliviuh ends up in charge of everything."
Lex paused to look at her. "Any ideas on how we can stop her?"
Chloe stared at him for a moment with an expression that said she almost regretted turning the conversation in this direction. Finally with a sigh, she responded. "I think I need a drink first. Come on."
She turned and led the way around the next corner. As if by magic, a snack bar with a couple of tables suddenly appeared right in front of them. Of course, Lex realized, everything here was completely under her control, so if she needed a snack bar, there could easily be one.
Chloe stepped behind the counter and snagged a pair of mugs and a pot of some steaming beverage that looked like coffee. After depositing the mugs on one of the tables, she filled them and then slouched into one of the chairs.
"Where is everyone?" asked Lex sensing Chloe wasn't quite ready to continue on the topic of how to stop Sliviuh.
Chloe gave a simply shrug, as though her mind was focused on other things. "It takes a lot more effort to do people rather than just inanimate things like buildings. I didn't think it was necessary."
"Well, maybe it wasn't necessary, but without any people this place feels eerily tomb-like."
"I guess the lack of people seemed sort of appropriate since they are all gone. Of course, this place is gone, too."
Lex suddenly felt even more lost than when he had suddenly been transported from the back of the van to here. "Chloe, what are you talking about?"
"Krypton. It's gone. The planet was destroyed shortly after Clark's ship departed."
Lex knew Clark had always wondered why he had been sent here alone and why no one had ever followed. Clark hadn't had any idea about his past, but apparently Chloe did.
"The Kryptonians had a violent past. I guess from an outside perspective it probably wouldn't seem any worse than Earth's except they played with much, much scarier weapons. Anyway hundreds of years before Clark's time, someone set off a device which created a miniature black hole. Slowly it ate away the interior of the planet. As it grew, it started to have an effect on the surface of the planet. The two most pronounced effects were radiation from matter crossing over the event horizon and earthquakes from gravitational effects. The total effect was exponential in nature and the end came very abruptly with the planet breaking up and getting sucked into the black hole over a period of a few minutes. The burst of energy that was released was so extreme I originally thought Krypton's sun had gone supernova. However the information Jor El, Clark's biological father, included in the ship's database, as well as the sensor records of the ship itself, explained what truly happened."
Lex tried to understand what kind of person would try to destroy his own planet. But then he realized there were plenty of people on earth who would do it if given the chance. Just look at Hitler in his final days, if someone had told him there was a way to take the whole world with him when he committed suicide, he doubtlessly would have done it.
But the destruction of Krypton could wait for another day; it was certainly a topic better discussed when Clark was present, too.
Lex was about to bring the conversation back to the topic of stopping Sliviuh when he took his first sip of the dark liquid in his cup. It was hot like he was expecting from the steam rising from the top, but it didn't taste at all like coffee. No, the closest he could come to describing the flavor was 'root beer'. And 'hot' and 'root beer' were not a combination that should ever be uttered in the same sentence.
Setting his cup back on the table he asked while trying to maintain a benign expression on his face. "Ah, Chloe, could you make mine coffee?"
Chloe glanced down at his mug. "Sorry, Lex. I thought you might enjoy a native Kryptonian beverage." She waved her hand over his cup in a theatrical manner. "Give it a try now."
Lex took a hesitant sip and then recognizing the special blend The Talon stocked just for him, he took a deeper swallow.
With a nod of thanks, he set his cup down. Before leaping directly to the question of how they were going to stop Sliviuh, hopefully without hurting Lana, he asked the question that had been burning in his mind since the abrupt disappearance of Clark and his mother.
"Chloe, who is Alicia and how is she involved?"
Chloe hesitated for a moment. She and Alicia had a pact not to reveal each other's secrets. But their very survival and that of a free humanity was at stake.
"Alicia is a meteor freak, only a 'good' one. She has helped me on several occasions to defeat 'bad' meteor freaks."
"And how exactly did she 'help' you?"
Chloe took a sip of her Kryptonian coffee. "You remember the Necrodemis flower?"
When Lex nodded she continued. "The first victim was Alicia's best friend's uncle. Now Alicia and I have shared science class all year, but we didn't become close friends until after people started ending up in the hospital. Actually, while you may have thought Doctor Hamilton found the old book of Native American Indian cures, it was Alicia who did most of the work of tracking it down. Now, I had developed some suspicions that she was some kind of meteor freak, because on several occasions she seemed able to be in two places almost at once. But before I had her completely figured out, she stumbled across my own secret."
Lex thought Chloe was taking the long about way to get to Alicia's secret, but he was intrigued by her story. "Ah, how does one stumble across your secret? I have known you for months and I never would have guessed you were anything but normal."
"Jeez, Lex," said Chloe with a light chiding tone. "It is never nice to tell a girl she's just 'normal'."
Before Lex get out an apology, Chloe waved him down and continued. "No, it's okay. Anyway, it was because of a bit of vanity on my part. Or perhaps it is just the potential of a little danger and excitement that has driven me to leave the occasional clue behind. In this case it was an old portrait I should have had destroyed when one of my 'lives' ended and I moved on. Back in the 1890s and early 1900s, I was known as Lady Jane Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. A family portrait of me, my husband, and our children still hangs in the library at Chatsworth House, the ancestral family home in Derbyshire, England. I didn't realize it at the time, but my father-in-law, William Cavendish, the 7th Duke of Devonshire, had visited America in the 1880s and was the author of the book which contained the Necrodemis cure. Alicia had discovered the name of the book and its author and the trail to find a copy led her to the library with my portrait."
While Lex under other circumstances would have found this anecdote about Chloe's past fascinating, at the moment there seemed to be plenty of other more pressing topics. "So she discovered you were at least a hundred years old. What does it have to do with her ability and what just happened to Clark and his Mom?"
Chloe shrugged. "Nothing directly. Alicia had suspected me of being a meteor freak for a while, the same as I suspected her. But after seeing the old painting of me, she knew I had to be something else. Fortunately, Alicia got brave and confronted me by revealing her secret. Actually, she is pretty observant and had guessed correctly about several of the abilities my 'bot system gives me. Of course, she didn't have any inkling of their true source."
"Chloe," Lex began and a hint of exasperation had crept into his voice. "Quit hemming and hawing. What is Alicia's ability?"
Chloe looked back at Lex and grinned. "Come on, Lex. You must have guessed by now. Alicia is a teleport. She can move herself and anyone she touches instantly to any spot on the planet." Lex appeared to be staring at her blankly, so she added. "Surely, it can't any harder to believe than any of the other abilities we have come across like the guys who could walk through the solid steel walls of a bank vault."
But Lex's blank stare hadn't been because he couldn't understand the concept of teleportation, but rather it had been caused by the flood of ideas of what he could accomplish if he had control of that ability. However he quickly reined his thoughts back in. As Chloe had earlier said, if they didn't get successfully passed this current situation with Sliviuh, there wasn't much point in daydreaming about the future.
"Sorry," responded Lex. "I get the whole teleportation concept and it does neatly explain what happened to Clark. My mind had just wandered back to the topic of how we are going to stop Sliviuh. Do you have any suggestions?"
Chloe toyed with her mug a moment, but she couldn't but this topic off any longer, much as she would like to.
"The only practical solution I can see is the device in your pocket. If it appears like she is going to touch one of us, you are going to have to use it."
Lex stared at her for a moment wondering if she truly meant what he thought she did. Then he saw the first signs of tears glistening in her eyes.
"No, there must be some other way. I don't want it to wipe your memories, too. If she touches you, don't you think you can keep her from taking control of you? I mean you have all the same abilities she has."
Chloe shook her head. "No, Lex, you don't understand how addictive what she is doing is to me. The sense of power I feel when I share someone's blood and through it their memories, it is almost impossible to resist."
"But you did that with Lana and me back in Rome and it didn't affect you."
"That was different, Lex. You were friends and I was merely repairing your bodies. It is when I get started playing with people's memories that I get into trouble. And from what Clark told us about events back in the 1930s and what we have seen here in the last few minutes, Sliviuh has been fucking with a lot of people's heads. If she touches me and I get a taste of that, I am very afraid I am going to want start doing it, too."
Chloe took a moment to dab at her eyes and made no pretense of hiding it. "Lex, if the thought of Sliviuh attempting to run the world is scary, her and I acting together increases it by at least a factor of ten. You have to promise me, if it looks like she is going to touch me that you will push the button."
Lex watched helplessly as the tears ran down Chloe's face. "Chloe, what happens to you if I push the button? I mean when I used it on Laura, she reverted back to Lana and hopefully the same thing will happen with Sliviuh. But what about you?"
Chloe blinked rapidly several times and tried to put a brave face on it, but Lex saw how her lower lip continued to quiver.
"I don't know Lex. The 'bot memory system has been an integral part of me for so very long, I have no idea what memories are in my real brain. Maybe I'll be okay. Or maybe I will have a random scattering of memories from the passed nineteen thousand years. Or maybe I will be a blank slate. I simply don't know. But I have had a good long run and if it ends tonight, well, just make sure you stop Sliviuh and get Lana back."
Lex hated how this conversation brought back memories of the time Laura had had almost the same conversation with him before she pressed the button and purged herself from Lana's 'bot system. But this time they were talking about Chloe and there might not be any memories for her to fall back to. There had to be another solution, because if he wiped Chloe's mind, Clark was going to kill him.
"Chloe, when you were Sliviuh way back in history, you said you ruled the world for two hundred years. What happened? I mean, why aren't you still running the world? What stopped you? Can we do something similar to stop Sliviuh now?"
Chloe stared at Lex for a moment and he thought she wasn't going to answer, but finally she spoke.
"No. Well, we could, but you probably don't want to wait a thousand years to get Lana back."
When she didn't immediately continue, Lex prodded. "Ah, perhaps you could go into a little more detail. Maybe there is something we can use and it might be beneficial to have someone hear it who has a different perspective."
Chloe took a sip from her mug before responding. "Okay. The truth. I ruled the planet for two hundred eighty three years. And after awhile I got lazy or complacent or whatever the term is for an absolute monarch who has lost touch with his subjects and retreated into a sybaritic existence focused more than anything on his own pleasures. It shouldn't be a new concept; I mean many of the Roman Emperors ended up in more or less the same state, like Tiberius and his ultimate retreat to the island of Capri where he could focus on his sexual perversions to his heart's content.
"And I wasn't any more immune to that affliction than anyone else. After several hundred years, I had come to depend on my gift of controlling the minds and thoughts of everyone in my inner circle. Well, more than my inner circle, I had tampered with the minds of everyone who potentially could have contact with me. But I had made a few mistakes during my reign, one of which was the very public sharing of blood with individuals I intended to subjugate. It wasn't difficult for others, who I hadn't yet bent to my will, to surmise what was going on. Oh, they may not have understood the actual mechanism of the nanobots, but they could see the cause and effect of my sharing of blood.
"One of the other rules I had violated for the first time in thousands of years, was never maintaining the same persona for more than fifteen years. I had learned the hard way early on that to do so was to cause more harm than it was worth to myself or my friends and loved ones. But I was so drunk on my power I didn't bother with my normal minimal subterfuge of remaking myself as my daughter, niece, or granddaughter.
"So over time, a secret society slowly formed on the fringes of the Atlantian civilization. Their primary charter was to discover what I was and how I was able to control anyone with whom I shared blood. Hmm, in English their name would best translate as 'The Brotherhood of the Ancient Suns'."
Lex had been listening intently, although as yet Chloe hadn't said anything that appeared to be of any use. But then, suddenly, the name of this brotherhood seemed to ring a bell.
"Chloe, isn't that another name for the Illuminati?" When she nodded, he continued. "Have they really been around since the time of Atlantis? And their original purpose was to study you?"
"More than study me, they wanted to figure out how to duplicate my gifts," Chloe tried to smile, but it just made her look more forlorn, as though the loss of her memories was still a forgone conclusion. "But then who wouldn't want to live forever with the ability to control men's minds? Of course, they never think about the other aspects like watching your friends grow old and die. Or being forced to move on and leave everyone you love and care for behind before people begin to notice how you never age."
Lex could see that Chloe was spiraling into some dark, bleak place and they didn't have time for that. He needed to know more about what had happened to Sliviuh the first time, if he was going to have any hope of saving Chloe, as well as Lana.
"Chloe, what happened? Obviously, this brotherhood did something."
Chloe started to speak, but she had this far away look in her eyes like she was lost in her memories and it was purely incidental that she was saying them aloud.
"The Brotherhood's origin dates to a time about eighty years into my reign. By then it was obvious to everyone that I wasn't like anyone else, as I had to be at least a hundred years old, but still looked sixteen.
Chloe's mind drifted back to those long ago days and for a moment her story wandered off track. "I had been trying to force the level of technology forward since coming to power. However it was more difficult than I had suspected, primarily due to my complete lack of a technical background. Oh, I had come for an extremely high-tech civilization, but I didn't have any real understanding of the underlying science. I mean everyone today uses computers, but how many people could build one from scratch and by scratch I mean design every transistor, integrated circuit, harddrive read/write head, display unit, and so forth? I could do it now, because I have crammed an unbelievable amount of data into my 'bot memory system. But in the three days from when my 'bots were first activated to the total collapse of my civilization, well, I had a lot of priorities and unfortunately, scientific data collection wasn't one of them.
"So, I had to start at the most basic level and move forward slowly via a lot of trial and error just like everyone else. Steam power, assembly lines, and electricity were among the first improvements I implemented. We slowly moved forward to the technological equivalent of the Victorian Era, say late 1880's. Steam trains, telegraphs, and a scattering of telephones and electrical service was about as far as it ever got in Atlantis during my reign. Part of the problem didn't truly become clear until the real Victorian Age; a critical mass of population is required to generate an adequate positive feedback loop to make ongoing gains self-perpetuating and the planet in the Atlantis Era simply didn't have enough people. But Victorian era technology was a huge step up from the bronze age civilizations which had existed when I came to power and perhaps I simply stopped pushing for further progress."
With a conscious effort Chloe forced her monologue back more directly onto the topic of her rise and fall during the Atlantis era. "Anyway, it took eighty years from when I first gained control of Atlantis until I had control of the world. Well, technically, I only controlled the eastern hemisphere as the Americas were relatively devoid of people at that time and the great American Indian civilizations were still thousands of years in the future. So while my empire didn't control the world's complete landmass, it did control over ninety percent of the world's population, which is a significantly higher percent than any post-ice age empire can claim.
"I started from Atlantis, which lies on the floor of the since refilled Mediterranean Sea, and expanded north to the foot of the great glaciers covering the northern half of Europe. Then I turned south and conquered Africa. Finally, I moved east and spread my empire through modern Persia, then India and China. After eighty hard years of nearly continuous battle, the last to fall was the Kirghiz Empire located north of the Himalayas and east of China."
Abruptly, as she was describing the saga of her conquest of the world, the lunch counter, the museum, and the whole planet of Krypton vanished from in front of Lex's eyes. Almost instantly he found himself standing on a low bluff overlooking a broad valley where two giant armies were battling to the death. On the far side of the valley, situated on a higher plateau was a massive walled city, far greater than anything he had seen in his travels through Europe during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years of college.
"Chloe, where are we?"
Chloe pointed across the valley to the city which was perhaps a mile away. "That's Urumqi, capitol of the Kirghiz Empire. It was the last great citadel to fall before my conquest of the planet was complete."
Chloe held out her hand. "Give me your hand, Lex."
Lex did as she asked, but never expected what happened next. For as soon as her cool hand firmly grasped his, they lifted off the ground and flew in the direction of the most intense fighting.
"Ah, Chloe," gasped Lex as his stomach seemed to lurch when they cleared the edge of the bluff where they had been standing and abruptly the ground fell away from them by several hundred feet.
'It's not real. It's all just an illusion," Lex repeated to himself as they seemed to race forward.
They abruptly came to a stop and hovered maybe thirty feet above the ground. Below them the frontlines of the two opposing sides had just crashed together. At first the sound of braying horses, the ringing of steel on steel, and the screams of wounded and dying men were utterly overwhelming. This wasn't like watching some movie on a big screen, everything below them looked absolutely real.
Then for a moment it did feel like a movie – a movie where the sound system failed. The combat below them raged on, but an eerie silence had fallen over everything.
Chloe's voice was suddenly startlingly loud from directly beside him. "I thought you might want a glimpse of what we are up against. Of what I was like back when I was on the warpath. A taste of what Lana is capable of while she is possessed by Sliviuh."
Pointing slightly to their left, they swooped closer and Lex spotted the ancient version of Chloe. And she was a sight to behold in a black breastplate emblazoned with a silver idealized lion across the chest. A matching black helmet didn't prevent a long stream of blonde hair from streaming down her back.
However it wasn't her attire that held his attention. No, it was her fighting style that he found riveting. Part acrobatics, part martial arts, she leapt and almost danced across the tops of the armored cavalrymen she was battling. And with a blurring two-foot sword in each hand, she cut a swath of destruction through her opposition that was staggering to see. In the less than fifteen seconds Lex watched, she had to have dispatched more the twenty men. And along the way she had received several blows that would certainly have killed anyone else, but she simple shrugged them off and kept ripping a path of destruction that her own troops were quick to exploit.
Lex had witnessed a little of Chloe's abilities back during the battle on the bridge during their last day in ancient Rome, but it had been nothing like this. This Chloe he was now witnessing was the ultimate human fighting machine. No, Lex thought, she was the true embodiment of the mythical banshee, the female messenger of death.
Much of the time he still had difficulty thinking of Chloe as anything more than a Smallville High school girl. Oh, he was getting used to the idea of her near limitless wealth, as attested to by their recent business dealings. And he had mostly come to terms with her long life and with her mental ability to recreate places like the city from Clark's home world. But Chloe as world conqueror had somehow been the hardest to grasp. Oh, he had lingering faded memories of her life from the time when she had first introduced her 'bots into his body, now almost a month in his past. But now, after mere seconds of watching her in action, he was beginning to truly grasp what she was capable of achieving when she set her mind to some goal. And it scared the shit out of him.
He had long harbored dreams of someday being President, but those dreams paled in comparison with what Chloe or the Sliviuh personality in Lana's body was capable of doing. In that long ago era, she had far surpassed what even Alexander the Great had been able to achieve. And it was all done within the limitations of the arcane travel system of the time where the men she had placed in charge of the various regions of the planet probably went for years without any active direction from her. How much more effective would her gift of controlling men's minds be in the present where she could reach any point on the globe in a matter of hours? Or given Sliviuh's control of Alicia, a matter of seconds?
Lex suddenly understood more than ever the importance of stopping Sliviuh now, before she had time to spread her influence over the leaders of the world. For, even if she hadn't learned anything from her previous mistakes, it still might be hundreds of years before she began to repeat them.
Come on, Chloe, Lex secretly implored, give me some clue on how to defeat her without wiping your mind, too. Because he realized, if it came to it, he would sacrifice her to prevent the future he saw under Sliviuh.
Lex turned to where Chloe was hovering in mid-air beside him. "I think I am beginning to understand what we are up against if Sliviuh is allowed to proceed unchecked. But you still haven't explained how you were ultimately defeated back then."
Chloe stared at him for a moment and then nodded as though she saw something in his eyes that she had been looking for.
"This battle may look impressive, but it was merely a delaying action by the Kirghizi," she began with a nod towards the city in the distance.
"The Kirghizi leaders," Chloe continued, "Had been able to watch my progress as civilization after civilization fell before my troops. And they had seen how the surviving leaders turned into fanatical followers after my blood ceremonies. So in the end this battle was just a diversion to make me and my troops think we had defeated them while their leader, a man named Van Dahl, and his inner cadre disappeared into hiding."
Once again their surroundings abruptly shifted, but this time rather than an exotic location like Krypton or some ancient battlefield, Lex found himself sitting on the leather couch by the fireplace in his home office back at the mansion. Chloe was sitting across from him and still talking, as though these continual shifts in locale were all perfectly normal.
"I knew Dahl and his men were still out there, but with a thousand men who had gone through the blood ceremony in control of the former Kirghiz Empire, I didn't think there would be any serious problems and after eighty years of warfare, I was ready to retreat to Atlantis to enjoy life and focus more on my technological advancement projects."
Chloe paused for a moment as Lex rose and walked over to the mini-bar by the pool table and fixed himself a stiff drink. She followed him over and motioned that she would join him.
After talking a sip from the tumbler of scotch he handed her, she continued. "Although with ten thousand plus years of hindsight, I should have wiped out the Kirghizi to the last man. I mean their descendants, including the Huns, the Mongols, and countless others would come sweeping out of Eurasian Steppes every few hundred years to wreak havoc on the more civilized nations of the world. Life for everyone would have been better if they had never existed. But all you can ever do is what seems right at the time.
"Anyway, it was Dahl who founded the Brotherhood of the Ancient Suns and his descendants have been members of its ruling tribunal through most of recorded history."
Lex began to hope Chloe was finally getting to the information he might need to stop Sliviuh. "So, what happened two hundred years later to cause your downfall?"
"The brotherhood spent decades studying what they could about me while being extremely careful that they never came to my attention. They captured and studied a number of men with whom I had shared blood. They developed the compartmentalization concept still used by modern terrorists so if any of their members were captured and interrogated by me, they couldn't reveal much – not that there was much risk as only the most fanatical followers, who had readily agreed to commit suicide before I had a chance to share blood, were allowed within a thousand miles of me."
Chloe paused to take another sip of her drink before continuing. "As I said earlier, the longer I was in control, the further I drifted into a megalomaniac state where I expected everyone to obey my slightest whim and I depended on those who had undergone my mental subjugation to protect me. However even though I had exchanged blood with tens of thousands of my subjects, that still left millions more who had no reason to love me and with all of the cruel things I did, more and more of them actively came to hate me.
"The brotherhood took advantage of this growing hatred. While biding their time for the right opportunity to strike, they also compiled extensive lists of names of who had, or was suspected of having exchanged blood with me. Unfortunately, the telegraph and primitive telephone systems I had implemented were, in the end, used against me to allow them to coordinate a simultaneous attack against me and my blood-tainted followers all over the world.
"When the end came, they managed to gather a twenty-thousand strong force to encircle and attack my imperial enclave on the outskirts of Atlantis. No matter how fanatically dedicated my blood-enslaved followers were, the four hundred sixty in the enclave were no match."
Chloe paused and walked back over to the couch by the fireplace. Dropping down, she slouched in the seat and continued in a quieter, more subdued tone.
"I was captured and dragged away to a secret hidden fortress deep in the Himalayas. I was poked and prodded, studied and tortured for my secrets for years – years which quickly turned into decades and then centuries. But none of it ever did them any good. I mean you need a pretty good electron microscope to detect the nanobots. A Victorian era microscope is hard pressed to discern anything but the largest individual cells and nanobots are at least ten thousand times smaller.
"Eventually, they forcibly caused me to exchange blood with both voluntary and unwilling victims. I thought this was going to be my way to escape, but I never saw any of the ones I shared blood with again – and it didn't matter whether I tried to obviously or subtly alter their thought processes to do my bidding. In some of them I even implanted triggers that wouldn't activate for twenty years or more, but none of them, to my knowledge, ever made a rescue attempt. So I had to surmise all of the ones I infected were either killed or held under tight quarantine conditions for the rest of their lives.
"The brotherhood's studies of me continued at irregular intervals for almost three hundred years. Sometimes they would seem to experiment on me daily for months and then other times years would go by with no contact other than a food tray passed through the opening in my cell door.
"Finally, one day, the interrogations and experiments simply stopped. Oh, the food trays continued to be delivered, but I never saw anyone. I didn't see a single living soul until I escaped and that day didn't arrive for another six hundred thirty-seven years, five months and six days."
Chloe raised her gaze from the glass tumbler she had been slowly rotating between her fingers and looked Lex straight in the eyes. "Somewhere in those centuries of forced solitude the 'subjugate men's minds and conqueror the world' urges burned out. Perhaps going 'cold turkey' from meddling with other people's minds was the reason. Or perhaps it was being forced to relive old memories from lack of anything else to do that convinced me I had been happier before I discovered my ability to control others' bodies and minds. I don't know what, exactly, was the trigger, but when I finally escaped that locked cell, I simply no longer had the desire to control the world.
"Which was just as well, because by the time I escaped, the world I had left behind was already gone forever. The Illuminati in their enthusiasm to get rid of all reminders of me had utterly destroyed Atlantis. But even more importantly, during the thousand years I was held prisoner, the ice age had pretty much come to an end. And with its end all of the water, which had been stored in the form of ice in the glaciers, returned to a liquid state and was in the process of restoring the world's oceans to their current level. So, even if it hadn't been utterly destroyed, Atlantis would still have joined all the other great cities of that era at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. And along with the loss of the great cities had come the end of technological advances I had implemented. The world I returned to had barely one quarter of the population it had had at the peak of my control and what was left had slid back to a Bronze Age existence."
Lex was starting to think Chloe's initial assessment had been right – her original fall from power and subsequent personal decision to restrain herself from controlling people's minds held nothing useful as to how to quickly and easily restore Lana to control of her body and as a consequence stop Sliviuh's drive to regain control of the planet. However to give himself more time to think about what she had said, Lex decided it would be best to keep her talking.
"So, Chloe, did you ever cross paths with the Illuminati again?"
Chloe glanced at him as if wondering about this slight change in topic, before she went ahead and answered him. "Yeah, in the nine thousand years since I escaped from their clutches our paths have crossed on a number of occasions. Of course, you need to understand that the Illuminati were the only ones who after the collapse of the late ice age civilizations retained any of the technologies I introduced while I was in control of Atlantis. Knowing how to make a few things like homemade batteries, electro-magnets, lightbulbs and the like was more than enough to pass yourself off as a wizard or mage in primitive societies that existed for a very long time. Hell, they were still using parlor tricks they stole from me to intimidate or impress people as recently as two hundred years ago.
"But to get back to your question, yeah, it seemed like every few hundred years some particularly zealous, ambitious man would gain control of the Illuminati's tribunal and would start a new crusade to track me down. Their goal was always to capture me and then they planned to weasel out my secrets, as though they were in some way more capable then the ones who had actually captured and interrogated me the first time.
"Fortunately for me, most of their records from the earliest era were lost and they had only the vaguest description of me." Chloe paused for a moment and Lex saw the first small grin grace her face since they had sat down at the small table in the refreshment area of the Kryptonian museum and the conversation had turned to methods of defeating Sliviuh. "Okay, I'll admit I did infiltrate their organization early on and was responsible for the loss of much of their records. It simply seemed better that the only description they had of me was the oral tradition of a generally blonde girl who looked sixteen and who never aged rather than book after book of artist drawings of my face which had been secretly created during my long years in captivity."
"Ah, how did you infiltrate their organization? At least from what little contact I have had with their modern counterpart, they only admit men into their organization."
"Yeah, to the best of my knowledge the Illuminati have always been organized that way. It has been an ongoing feeble attempt to keep me out and away from their secrets. But in many ways they didn't seem to understand the true implications of my long life and how being able to pass for a man was an important asset for someone forever trapped in a young girl's body. With the proper clothes and haircut and after much practice at the vocal control necessary to slightly lower the pitch of my voice, I can readily pass for a man when necessary."
Abruptly, almost in mid-sentence, Lex felt their locale shift again and this time everything faded to black and then simply stayed there. However all was not silent like he had landed in oblivion, rather the darkness was filled with a loud 'beep, beep, beep' sound. It took him only a couple of seconds to recognize the sound as the back up warning alarm fitted onto all large commercial trunks. The LuthorCorp van they were riding in was backing up, which made it highly likely they had reached its destination. This sound must have been what caused Chloe to drop them out of the virtual reality world and back into the real world.
"How long?" Lex whispered.
"Twelve minutes fourteen seconds," came Chloe's reply as the beeping sound stopped and the van's engine was shut off.
"So we are still somewhere in or close to Smallville," mused Lex.
"Yes, we are at the LuthorCorp plant."
"What? So do you have like a built-in GPS unit?" asked Lex as he heard the lock on the rear overhead door of the van being removed.
"Unfortunately, no. However by listening to the engine and transmission sounds I can estimate the speed within a couple of miles an hour. And by feeling the turns and overlaying the resulting data on an internal street map I keep of the Smallville area, the probability we are now at the plant is 99.94."
As the door started to rise and the compartment began to be flooded with the yellow light of the security lights mounted around the exterior of the plant, Lex answered. "Oh, I am not doubting what you say, I was just curious about the mechanism."
When the door reached the fully up and locked position, Lex could see Jonathan Kent and Roger Nixon standing immediately outside with Lana, no he had to remember she was now Sliviuh, standing a few yards further away. However unlike when they had first boarded the van, he was no longer looking down at them, rather they were on level and it was apparent the van had been backed up to one of the many loading docks lining the east side of the fertilizer plant's main building.
Standing, Lex reached down and offered Chloe a hand up. As she rose to her feet, she leaned close and whispered in a serious tone, "Do what you must, Lex."
Lex tightened his grip on her hand once to let her know he understood and then he turned and led the way out. As he exited the van and stepped out onto the loading dock, he glanced in both directions. Five identical vans were currently occupying other spots along the length of the dock.
He had hoped Clark would return soon from wherever Sliviuh had had Alicia take him. And he had hoped Clark would spot the van as it headed away from the farm. But Clark hadn't returned in time and when or if he returned, the van would be nearly impossible to find with it being simply 'hidden in plain sight'.
He desperately needed to find a way to let Clark know where they were. Sliding his hands into his pants' pockets he immediately felt the small potentially lethal box in his right pocket and quickly moved his hand away. It wasn't time yet for that last resort option and hopefully it never would be. Then in his left pocket his hand closed around the keys to his Land Rover. It probably didn't have enough range to make any difference, but Lex immediately began tapping out the Morse Code for 'S.O.S.' on the door unlock button.
With Sliviuh leading the way, the small group quickly passed into the building proper and headed down one of the many corridors which penetrated into the bowels of the sprawling factory. They had walked in silence for six or seven minutes when it dawned on Lex where they were headed. He hadn't been down there since shortly after the incident almost two months in the past where, if not for Clark's no longer secret abilities, he would have fallen to his death. Level 3 – the secret underground facility where his father had been conducting meteor rock experiments related to crop growth, among other things. The facility his father had even kept secret from him.
When he had been forced down there the largest chamber, used for crop growth experiments, had been mostly empty. It was only later that he had had the opportunity to fully explore the level and had discovered the series of labs and cleanrooms which almost doubled the square footage of the secret level. The whole place had been effectively vacant. It had taken him almost two weeks of research to uncover that his father had moved everything out in the month preceding Lex's arrival to take charge of the plant. While he had uncovered when it had been emptied out, he never had been able to determine what his father had been working on or to where he had moved the operation.
The ironic part was with the employee buyout almost complete and the facility requirements for Chloe's soon to arrive nanotech projects becoming clearer, he had planned to come down here on Monday with the architects to determine what renovations would be required.
Lex was surprised when they walked right passed the passenger elevator leading down to Level Three. He was certain that had been their destination. About a hundred feet beyond the elevator, Sliviuh paused at what looked like a standard circuit breaker panel. She opened the door, reached in, and flipped one of the switches. Immediately a loud rumbling was heard. Lex watched in surprise as the front of a large storage tank with prominent warn placards about toxic chemicals rotated up and out of the way. The exposed passageway was large enough to handle one of the standard in-plant service vehicles. Lex involuntarily shook his head; how many more secrets had his father hidden in this plant?
Sliviuh again led the way while the two men with the guns brought up the rear. After passing through the large tank they reach a service elevator which was much larger than the one Lex knew about for entering Level 3. But now that he thought about it, that one could hardly be the only route into Level 3 as it was barely adequate for the staff needs let alone the movement of equipment and supplies.
This new elevator would certainly fill those needs except when it started to descend, it went down a lot further than the other elevator had. And when its doors finally opened, it let out into an area Lex was certain he had never visited before. Was this part of Level Three or something else entirely? Whichever was the case, the equally interesting question was - how had Sliviuh found it? Based on her comment she had arrived two days earlier. And from what he had seen, she was capable of achieving an amazing amount in a short period of time. So the question was, who had she uncovered who knew about this facility? Were some of the people here still on his father's secret payroll?
Sliviuh had apparently been watching Lex's face because as she flipped a switch which turned on overhead lights and lit the corridor that suddenly stretched at least several hundred yards before them, she remarked.
"So, Lex, I take it you didn't know about this secret Level Sixty-Nine your father built below Level Three? Level Three was focused on flora while this one was focused on . . . well, I think I will just leave that to your imagination for now." Then as she laughed at her own joke, she gestured for them to proceed down the long passageway.
They walked until the large freight elevator didn't look any bigger than a postage stamp held at arm's length. Then they turned right and walked several hundred feet down a side passage before making another right turn and entering a twenty by fifty foot alcove lined with doors on three sides. This room was painted a pale green rather than the industrial gray of the many corridors. In one corner was a built-in desk that instantly reminded Lex of the nurse's station at hospital. Like the rest of this level and Level Three, if they were truly separate installations, all of the equipment had been removed when operations had been shut down. But here at least the exposed cabling to hook up computers and other monitoring equipment had been left hanging in place.
As they paused to glance around, Sliviuh moved over to one of the doors and used a key to unlock it. Once the door had swung fully open, she stepped back and gestured for Chloe and Lex to enter.
They hadn't hesitated for more than a couple of seconds when a growled out remark from Jonathan Kent got them moving. As they entered the room, Lex wasn't certain what he expected to find. From the observation style window in the door and the nurse's station outside, he guessed his father had been using this area to experiment on people rather than plants. But if this room had been used for anything beyond simple observation, it was no longer evident. Like the rest of the facility it had been stripped of all equipment and furnishing. The room was somewhat larger than a standard hospital room being roughly twelve by eighteen feet, but it did have a standard closet and washroom off one side.
Lex and Chloe step well into the room before pausing. Lex had expected the door to swing shut and lock them in while Sliviuh finished dealing with Clark, so he was a little surprised when she appeared in the doorway.
She stared at them for a moment before glancing back to the men behind her.
"Jonathan, Roger, please proceed with phase three while I handle things here." Then she stepped into the room and pulled the door closed behind her.
When Lex realized Sliviuh was joining them in the room, he instinctively started to move to put himself between her and Chloe. But then he stopped as the pointlessness of it sank in. It would be just as disastrous if Sliviuh touched him as if she touched Chloe. He already had a set of 'bots in his body from their time in ancient Rome and if she touched him he would end up a mindless drone under her power like Clark's father or Roger Nixon. And if he was under her control there was no way he could use the device in his pocket to stop her.
So as he moved he raised his arm and forced Chloe to precede him towards the corner farthest from the girl, who from his perspective had been his girlfriend mere minutes earlier.
Sliviuh slowly shook her head as she moved further into the room. "Come on, Lex. Surely you know what is going to happen, so there is no point in postponing the inevitable. I have a place for you in my plans and your life wouldn't be that much different from what you remember."
Lex stared at her and swallowed hard. It was scary how casually she described taking complete control of his mind. He felt his right hand shake a little as he closed his grip on the device and slowly flipped up the protective cover on the big red button.
As Sliviuh crossed the intervening space, Lex spared a glance over his shoulder towards Chloe. Tears were streaming down her face, but when their eyes made contact, she said in a fierce whisper, "Do it, Lex!"
Sliviuh was just raising her arm to touch him when Lex pressed his thumb down hard on the button which triggered the special pulse of energy with the ability to zero out the storage memory of any nanobot within range.
Following an abrupt gasp he heard Chloe collapse to the floor behind him. But the device didn't appear to have the same effect on the dark haired girl standing before him. With a particularly cruel, evil grin on her face, she momentarily let her arm drop back to her side.
"Thanks, Lex. You just made the whole process of taking over Chloe a lot easier."
Lex continued to fruitlessly push the button on the device, as the girl once more raised her hand towards him. Damn, he should have realized she knew about the device from Lana's memories and would have some way to counteract the effect. But what other option had he had? He had learned about the situation with Sliviuh only a couple minutes before she had made her appearance in the storm cellar and since then she had been in perfect control of the whole situation.
And where the hell was Clark? He had known about Lana and Sliviuh for several days and the best solution he had come up with was a device that hadn't worked. For all his superhuman abilities, he apparently wasn't a match for a seventeen thousand year old girl with the equivalent of the world's most powerful supercomputer in her brain.
As the girl's hand rose to touch his face, Lex braced himself for the loss of his free will. He wondered briefly what it would be like. Would it feeling like he was trapped inside his body, but with no control over its actions? Or would his mind, as he knew it, simply cease to exist? He last thought as she made contact was that he wished she wasn't using Lana's body, as he didn't want his last memories of her to be corrupted. Lana had been the one good thing to ever happen in his life and now she was going to destroy him.
Therefore Lex was shocked when nothing seemed to happen to his mind or freewill at her first touch. Instead her hand slid around to the back of his neck and pulled him down into a ferociously aggressive kiss. This kiss wasn't like anything he had ever experienced with Lana before or even with Laura the one time they had kissed on the first day back in Rome when she had found herself in Lana's body. No, if a single kiss could qualify as a case of rape, this was it. Lex could feel blood welling from his lower lip where she bit down hard. Somehow with her intense drive to gain control of everything and dominate everyone, this physical approach without first fucking with his mind didn't seem like the Sliviuh he had expected.
When the girl's mouth finally released his, she pulled back a few inches and let out a small hiss of satisfaction. "I have been waiting months for this moment."
As Lex felt blood slowly trickle down towards his chin, he looked into her eyes. And what he saw wasn't the cold calculating light he had seen back in the storm cellar. No, what he saw now was something wild, almost insane. And that's when it clicked. This was how she had beaten the device in his pocket. It wasn't her. It wasn't Sliviuh. He had seen those eyes once before. They were the eyes of Tina Greer, the girl who could change her appearance at will and more than anything wanted to have Lana's life. And apparently Sliviuh had decided to give it to her. Obviously while he had been in the back of the van, the girls had traded places. So when he had finally been forced to use the device, Sliviuh had been safely out of the way. And of course the device wouldn't have any effect on Tina.
The whole situation seemed to become clear to Lex in a nanosecond. If her touch couldn't affect his mind, then he could use his greater physical strength to stop her. Quickly, Lex threw a hard left hook at the girl's face. It pained him for a moment as part of his head reacted like he had just been forced to hit Lana, but he fought the sensation down. He had to get free before the real Sliviuh showed up.
Unfortunately, the blow, which should have sent a ninety-five pound girl flying, merely rocked her back a couple of steps. Lex watched with a sinking feeling as she shook her head briefly before smiling.
"So you like it rough, Lex? Hmm, me too."
Then she reached out with one hand, grabbed the front of his shirt, and hoisted him into the air. With an ever widening grin, she easily tossed him the length of the small room. Lex thudded hard into the wall next to the closed door and slid to the floor with the wind momentarily knocked out of him.
He watched helplessly as Tina walked over and started to pat him down. Almost immediately she discovered what she was looking for and reached into his pant's pocket. Pulling out the device, she grinned at him as she closed her hand around it and clamped down. He clearly heard the sound of shattering plastic before she opened her hand and let the ruined bits and pieces drop to the floor.
Then as effortlessly as she had destroyed their one hope of defeating Sliviuh, she pulled him to his feet and twisted one arm roughly behind his back. Without bothering with the key, she ripped the door from its hinges and tossed it halfway across the large alcove beyond.
"Tina, you don't have to do this." Lex forced out in barely more than a whisper, as he fought to get his breathe back. "I can give you money."
Tina jerked him around so she could look him in the eye. "Tina is gone. She died back in the asylum. I am Lana, your girlfriend. And we are going to be so happy together, happier than we ever were before. Now let's go find someplace more comfortable to have a little fun."
Twisting his arm until it felt like the tendons in his shoulder would surely rupture, she forced him from the small room. As they exited, Lex managed one last look inside. Chloe still lay in a dishearteningly small heap in the far corner. If only he had recognized the look in Tina's eyes earlier, he wouldn't have had to push the button. Clark was so going to kill him.
Sliviuh watched from the safety of an abandon room on the far side of the alcove as Tina led Lex away. Everything had gone according to the plan. When she had arrived from 1936 Nazi Germany, her first thought had been to destroy the memory clearing device, as it seemed the only serious threat to her existence. But she had quickly used her 'bot system to run nearly countless scenarios and it had surprised her a little that this had been the solution with the highest probability of success. If she simply destroyed the device, there was a 42 probability another similar device that she didn't know about would be created. It also left a 26 probability that Chloe's willpower would be sufficient to prevent her from regaining her old body. Which meant, if she destroyed the device, there was barely a 30 probability of her both regaining her old body and being successful in her plan for world domination. But if the device was used to neutralize her old body, then her probability of success rose to 74. It had taken some careful timing to ensure the device was in a location where Clark would find it without letting him stumble across her prematurely, but it was beginning to look like the risk had paid off.
While waiting for Tina to get Lex and the device far enough away so she could safely make her move to reacquire her old body, she glanced back at the disembodied head and naked breasts of Nell Potter. Before sharing blood with her, all she had known about Nell had been from Lana's memories. And to Lana she had been a typical parental figure – sometimes loving and sometimes authoritative, sometimes generous and sometimes stingy, but never had Lana pictured her as a sexual being with her own hidden secrets and desires.
So when Sliviuh had obtained direct access to Nell's mind, she had been a little surprised about the long held desire the woman had had for Jonathan Kent. The two of them had grown up on adjoining farms and had gone to school together all the way through high school. Nell had always imagined they were going to end up married and happily together for the rest of their lives. But then Jonathan had gone away to college and met Martha and all of Nell's dreams had been shattered.
Sliviuh had needed a distraction to hold Jonathan and Roger's attention long enough to share blood once they bolted clear of the storm cellar and ran out into the woods, so she had decided since Nell had such strong feelings for Jonathan, he must have at least some for her. And what better way to grab the attention of two men then a naked woman. Well, make that a ghostly half naked, half invisible woman.
She had wanted to test Jeffrey Palmer's invisibility lotion for any bad interaction with the 'bots before using it on herself. Since she didn't have access to anyone else with an active 'bot system, the best she could do was test it on someone with a passive system. So Nell had become a guinea pig and Sliviuh had ended up watching the woman spread the lotion all over her naked body until only her breasts and face had remained visible. Even with her thousands of years of experience it had been a little unnerving seeing Nell's face floating in mid-air with her hair and the back half of her head completely invisible. When she had walked around behind Nell she wasn't sure what she would see – the back of her face seen from the inside, all veins, muscles, and exposed tissue? But instead she found from the back the woman was simply invisible. After walking back in front of Nell she had reached out and cautiously touched the woman's face. The 'bots in Nell's body had turned on the same as they always did when she touched someone she had infected. She had the 'bots perform a more detailed than normal self-diagnostic test and there was no indication their performance had in any way been degraded by the presence of the meteor rock enhanced lotion.
Therefore while Jonathan and Roger had brought Lex and Chloe back here to the LuthorCorp plant in the van, she had raced ahead to get to this spot where she could safely witness events between Lex and Tina as well as apply her own coating of the invisibility lotion. Fortunately, the invisibility lotion had always been just a backup in case Tina didn't manage to get Lex to use the device and then lead him away. It didn't look like it was going to be necessary, but she always liked to have as many fall-back strategies in place as possible. And there was still the possibility Clark might show up here unexpectedly before she was finished reacquiring her old body. She still shivered a little about the need to have walked down into the storm cellar herself, but she knew Clark had been on the lookout for meteor rocks and if she had sent Tina in her place, Clark would have spotted the subterfuge. So it had been necessary to get him out of the way before making the switch.
Enough fixating on the plan, she thought, everything is going according to schedule. Tina should have cleared at least two corners in the long corridor by now and she could safely enter the alcove, not that Lex could see her anyway even if he was still standing there.
Sliviuh reached down for the doorknob and missed it. Looking down, she suddenly realized how dependent people were on seeing their hands to know where they were relative to other objects. Feeling almost as though she was blind, she had to touch her hand to the door and then sweep it around until she finally made contact with the knob. Quickly she directed her 'bot system to overlay a pseudo-image of her body into her field of view. With a translucent version of her hand now visible, she turned the knob and stepped out into the alcove.
Briskly Sliviuh strode across the alcove towards the gaping doorway of the far room, only detouring slightly to avoid the spot where Tina had tossed its door. She smiled briefly as she wondered if Lex had figured out yet that the girl was Tina and not her, or that she had given Tina the Samson braid she had brought from 1936. Tina was going to have to keep Lex and possibly Clark occupied for awhile and she had decided the girl needed the strength advantage more than her.
Sliviuh had just reached the entrance to the room where Chloe lay when Lana struck again in another attempt to regain control of her body. If not for the translucent image of her hand the 'bot system was providing, as she staggered, she would have missed the door frame and fallen to the floor.
It was the most powerful attack Lana had launched to date and Sliviuh knew her control of Lana's body could now be measured in minutes, if not seconds. She had to get herself switched back into her own body before then or she would lose, perhaps forever, her rightful place in dominion over the planet.
After clinging helplessly to the door frame for too many precious seconds, she finally shuffled forward on wobbly legs. The fifteen feet to where her old body lay in a crumpled heap suddenly seemed like a thousand miles. Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen – she slowly counted off the intervening distance as she felt another attack from Lana approaching. Finally, while still almost five feet away, she stumbled and as she fell she stretched one invisible hand forward. Just as her body hit the floor, her fingers touched Chloe's.
The girl slowly came awake. Before she even opened her eyes she could sense she was out of doors. She could hear insects buzzing around and smell the odor of fresh green growing plant life. Opening her eyes, she found herself in the center of a large forest glade. About a hundred yards away, trees surrounded the glade on three sides. On the fourth side the grassy field slowly fell away into a small open valley beyond which stretched a range of snow-capped mountains.
The girl looked down at herself and found she was wearing a long green evening gown. It seemed vaguely familiar, but completely inappropriate for the current situation. Why was she wearing formal attire out here in the middle of the wilderness, she wondered.
Climbing to her feet, she slowly turned through a complete 360 degrees. When she didn't spot anything familiar, she wondered how she had gotten here. It was only then that it occurred to her she not only didn't have any memories of how she got here, but she didn't have any memories period. She had no idea who she was or where she lived.
The complete lack of memories should have frightened her, but for some reason it hadn't yet done so. She looked inside herself and though she couldn't remember anything, she knew in her heart she was tough and resourceful. She would simply move forward until her memories came back or she ran into someone who could explain the situation.
With another quick glance around, she turned and headed in the only open direction provided. The long encumbering gown she was wearing wouldn't lend itself to hiking through woods. And some instinct told her you should always head down hill or down stream when in search of civilization.
She hadn't moved more than five steps when an unearthly high pitched scream rent the air from the woods on her left. It was immediately followed by a bestial bass roar that seemed to shake the very ground. Then, when the roar ended, she realized the ground was literally shaking. Oh, not a continuous rumble, more like the pounding of some massive drum.
Immediately by instinct, she quickened her pace and turned her course in the direction of the trees in the opposite direction. She was too exposed out here and whatever was shaking the ground was definitely headed in her direction. Steadily watching over her shoulder, she was in the process of pulling the long gown up above her knees so she could move faster when the tops of the trees behind her began to shake. And by the way they shook from side to side, she knew no breeze was causing the action.
Suddenly, as another earth shattering roar filled the air, one of the trees right on the edge of the glade went crashing to the ground. Stepping through the broken foliage was a giant grey-green Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The girl momentarily ground to a halt in shock. What the hell was going on? T. Rex had been extinct for millions of years. She might not remember who she was, but she certainly remembered that dinosaurs were dead, buried, and had long since completed the process of transforming into petrochemicals. But even as she stood there, a second one came slinking out to stand beside the other. Their heads were down and their tails were raised such that their forty foot long bodies stretched out parallel to the ground. While their tails switched about, she heard loud snuffling sounds that she knew meant they were sniffing the air for the scent of prey.
She had no idea how good their eyesight was, but she quickly dropped to the ground to be a less visible target and began crawling for the trees still seventy five feet in front of her.
The ground continued to reverberate as the two massive beasts strode further out into the glade. She crawled as fast as she could, until she was forced to pause and look back when one of the beasts let out another mighty roar. The two dinosaurs were now standing near the center of the glade. The one that was roaring had its head raised high while its partner's head was down snuffling right at the ground. And by her best estimate, they were located right where she had first awakened.
Knowing the time for stealth was past the girl once more hiked up her gown and rose to make a dash for the cover of the trees, although she was beginning to wonder how much shelter they would provide. The T. Rexes could probably just bulldoze their way through in pursuit of her. And if this pair had appeared out of the trees on the far side of the glade, who knew what other dangers the trees in front of her might hide. But she didn't have any choice but try, as standing where she was would be simple suicide.
Between trying to scan the trees ahead and keeping watch on the dinosaurs behind her, she didn't pay enough attention to the ground immediately in front of her. As she ran, her left foot landed in a small hole in the ground and she went tumbling down. For a moment she lay there on her back trying to catch her breath and get herself ready for one final sprint to the trees.
Then, even as she felt the ground begin to shake again, indicating the dinosaurs were once more on the move, she saw something in the sky that was so unexpected it made the presence of dinosaurs seem perfectly normal.
Four figures were rapidly descending. It was hard to judge size and distance from her current position, but they didn't give the feeling of being simple birds. Then as their approach made them seem to rapidly grow, the girl realized none of them presented a traditional bird's silhouette. And not only weren't they bird-shaped, they weren't even all similarly shaped. In fact, she was almost startled when she realized only two of them even appeared to have wings and they both had wildly varying bodies.
The first winged figure finally resolved itself into a man sporting a pair of giant white wings that had to span almost twenty feet when fully extended. He was dressed all in white and was carrying a large staff adorned with a giant blue stone at one end.
The second winged creature wasn't a man, but rather some kind of four-legged beast. It seemed to be flying in formation with the man and from that the girl could get a sense of scale. And the creature was large. Its wings, which were the light brown shade of desert sand, had a span of at least forty-five feet. Its body quickly resolved into the shape of a giant cat. However, it wasn't until the creature did a graceful banking turn in her direction that she realized it was carrying a passenger on its back – a human shaped passenger dressed in shimmering golden armor.
She was just turning her attention to the other two, the surprisingly wingless figures when the winged man let out a mighty bellow that recaptured her attention. Immediately she saw what looked like miniature lightening bolts racing up and down his arm. After only a couple of seconds the lightening bolts made the jump to the body of the shaft he was carrying. It was only a few more seconds before they started to congregate around the blue gemstone adorning the upper end of the shaft. Abruptly the stone emitted a brilliant red flash and then as her vision cleared a beam of red light shot down and struck the nearest dinosaur in the neck.
The beast let out a mighty roar of pain and rage. As it lifted its head to snap at the almost solid beam, the brilliant light punched straight through its neck. Just as the smell of cooking meat reached the girl, the beam of light began to traverse across the neck of the beast like a giant knife blade. The beast twisted and turned, but the killing beam followed its every move. After only a few seconds, the beam reached the spinal cord. The giant T. Rex shuddered once before its right leg buckled and it went crashing to the ground not more the thirty feet from where the girl still lay frozen in shock at the completely unexpected chain of events which had transpired in the bare five minutes since she had awoken. However even before the creature's final collapse was complete, the powerful beam had severed sufficient tissue and muscle to cause the head to tear free and tumble to the ground separately. The head rolled in the girl's direction and came within fifteen feet before finally coming to rest.
As she stared at the decapitated head, which had fallen such that one eye seemed to stare at her in a malevolent way, the fallen beast's partner let out a ferocious roar and began charging in her direction. At first she thought it was trying to attack her since she was the only reachable target. And apparently her winged savior thought so, too, as the barely extinguished beam of light quickly sprang back into existence and was targeting this new adversary.
But just before the powerful beam of light struck the surviving dinosaur, it became obvious the girl wasn't its target, but rather its downed brethren. However its wildly charging approach had almost the same effect as it hit the fallen dinosaur with so much speed and force that it pushed the ten thousand pound remains a further fifteen feet in the girl's direction, leaving the nearest exposed foreleg seemingly just beyond her reach if she were to extend her hand. But despite their sudden close proximity, the remaining dinosaur gave her no notice as it sank its teeth into the exposed left rump of the fallen one. It had just begun to tear loose the first mouthful when the beam of light from the winged man connected. However this time, whether because he was rushed or some other reason, the beam missed the killing shot to the neck and instead struck near the root of the extended tail.
At first the dinosaur didn't pause from its feeding frenzy, but merely danced about swishing its tail as though to dislodge some giant annoying insect. The girl couldn't help but wonder if this strange land with its prehistoric monsters might also hold some giant prehistoric insects, too. As visions of humungous six-foot mosquitoes capable of drawing all the blood from a human body in a few seconds danced through her head, she abruptly realized that as it tried to get away from the attacking beam of light without giving up its dinner, the dinosaur was working its way around the fallen carcass and its giant extended tail was getting dangerously close.
The girl tried to scrabble away, but her legs suddenly seemed to be entangled in her gown's tight skirt. Then just as it seemed the heavy, coarsely scaled tail was going to hit her, the other winged creature descended to the ground directly on top of her. The giant cat-creature was suddenly straddling her body with its forelegs between her and the dinosaur. She felt as much as saw the shock of contact ripple down the cat's body as it raised one of its forepaws and deflected the dinosaur's wildly swinging tail.
The impact of the two large beasts seemed to dislodge the rider from the back of the winged cat. The girl watched as he tumbled to the ground. He hit the ground with a roll and in one smooth motion pulled a bright, glowing sword from the scabbard strapped to his broad muscular back. She barely caught a glimpse of a handsome face framed by shoulder length auburn hair before he was up and moving towards the still feeding giant reptile.
The combined actions of the winged man's staff, the walking man's sword, and the winged cat's claws were finally sufficient to drive the wounded, but still mobile T. Rex away from where the girl lay and on around to the other side of its dead companion. As the giant winged cat moved forward in pursuit, it carefully stepped past the girl. When she struggled up into a sitting position, the final two members of the flying quartet dropped lightly to the ground on her left side.
While trying to keep one eye on the still ongoing battle with the dinosaur, the girl glanced to her left. The first thing she saw were two pairs of long, graceful legs that had to belong to girls, not men. From her half seated/half reclined position the legs seem to stretch up and up and up. Finally both pairs of legs terminated in short skirts, one in a metallic red & gold and the other in a metallic blue & gold.
The nearer girl extended down a hand. "Here, let me help you up."
As the girl allowed herself to be pulled to her feet, she was able to get a better look at the pair of girls. The nearer one, who had provided the helping hand, had short jet black hair and looked to be about sixteen. The other girl had much longer hair tied back in a ponytail that was also very dark, but veered to the reddish end of the spectrum while the first girl's was the true black which ended up projecting almost a bluish shimmer. And the second girl, while three or four inches taller than the first, looked much younger – certainly no more than twelve or thirteen.
The three girls stood in silence for a minute as they all watched the final moments of the battle. The winged man's red beam was steadily cutting through the dinosaur's torso. The man with the sword was steadily hacking at the tendons supporting its right rear leg. And the cat, which the girl now realized was more specifically based on a lion's body, albeit three times the normal size and with wings, was using the wings to lift itself just high enough to be able to bat at the dinosaur's head with its heavily clawed front paws.
As the dinosaur collapsed to the ground and began its violent death throes, the girl with the short dark hair turned to the girl in the green gown. "It feels like I have been waiting almost forever for you to appear. But why did you have to pick this location? Dinosaur country is a dangerous place to be alone."
"Do you," began the girl hesitantly, "know who I am or how I got here?"
The black hair girl frowned. "Don't you know?"
When the other girl shook her head, she continued. "Your name is Chloe. Does that ring any bells?"
Again the girl shook her head.
"Damn, I was certain you would have the answers I need." After a brief pause, she continued. "My name is Lana." Then gesturing for the other younger girl to step closer, she added, "This is my daughter, Lena."
Just then the relative silence which had begun with the death of the second giant reptile was shattered by the bellows of three more T. Rexes entering the glade from almost the same spot the original two had emerged. Immediately the three combatants who had been approaching the three girls turned and prepared to continue the battle.
"Wait," shouted Lana. When the two men and the giant lion paused and turned to look at her, she continued. "You have had your fun. We need to focus on more important things."
Then, as the girl who now knew her name was Chloe looked on, Lana turned in the direction of the three new adversaries, raised her right arm with her palm extended outward, and spoke in a powerful commanding tone, "SLEEP!"
In immediate response all three dinosaurs seemed to lose their balance and tumbled to the ground with a mighty crash that seemed to echo off the surrounding trees. Soon all that could be heard was a rushing sound like three great bellows used in an old-fashioned blacksmith's forging furnace. Remarkably, the three great beasts were snoring.
Chloe looked from the girl named Lana to the slumbering dinosaurs and back to the girl. Wondering how Lana had done it, she raised one eyebrow in question.
"Magic," was the one word response. Then seeing the confused look on Chloe's face, she continued. "Some of us are endowed with powerful magical abilities here. Well, most places anyway. It is how Lena and I can fly without wings among other things. Now, as I was saying we have more important things demanding our attention than playing with dinosaurs."
As Chloe stood there trying to come to terms with all of the unexpected, seemingly impossible things she had witnessed in the ten minutes since she had first awoken, she couldn't help but follow Lana's gaze towards the three approaching warriors.
Chloe had not had a chance to get a good solid look at the men's faces with their abrupt arrival and instantaneous transition into battle, but now as they approached she had the opportunity. The nearer man, the one with the auburn hair and the shiny gold breastplate, didn't ring any bells with her still missing memories. But when she got a good look at the second one, the one with the large white wings and the face and body that seemed straight from some angel or mythical god, she felt an unexpected flutter in her heart. She knew him. She couldn't remember his name and the wings seemed all wrong, but she was certain she knew him.
Unable to stop herself, she found her body moving of its own accord. Quickly, she stepped past the first man and moved towards the second. Her heart was pounding as she reached the tall, dark-haired winged warrior. Gazing up, she felt almost hypnotized by his incredibly handsome face. From his startlingly blue eyes to the pearly white teeth that seemed to almost glow with an internal light, she was certain he was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. And though she had no memory of him, she simply knew to the core of her being that this man was her soul mate.
They stood there staring into each others eyes for hardly more than a moment when she saw a spark of recognition flare in his eyes. The polite, friendly smile he had been displaying during his approach suddenly grew into something more. Then before she could react, not that she would have resisted anyway, he swept her up into his arms and she found her feet suddenly dangling a foot from the ground. She moved to wrap her arms around his back, but found this position blocked by the juncture of his powerful wings with his broad back. Instead she raised her arms until her left hand was wrapped around the back of his neck and her right hand was tangled in his thick black hair. By some mutual unspoken agreement, their mouths were drawn together into a magical kiss.
Chloe didn't want the moment or the kiss to ever end, but eventually it did. Slowly, pulling her head back no more than the three inches necessary to be able to focus on his eyes, she whispered. "I don't remember your name."
No flicker of surprise or concern passed over his face. Instead he graced her with another of his impossible smiles before whispering back. "Ares." Then he leaned back in for a second even more passionate kiss.
Lana watched the almost erotic embrace between her long time traveling companion and the blonde girl. Except for the day when she had found Alexander or the day her beloved daughter was born, this was the happiest moment in the nearly two thousand years she had been trapped in this existence. For she knew Ares had been waiting for this moment almost as long as she had. For her it meant this endless quest was finally nearing its conclusion while for him it meant reuniting with his long lost love.
She felt Alexander step up beside her and wrap his arm around her waist. As she wrapped her right arm around him in return and rested her head against his shoulder, she extended her left hand out and interwove her fingers with Lena's. For a moment the three of them just stood there and basked in the happiness radiating from their old friend.
The spell which seemed to encompass the five was finally broken when Fah stepped near and exclaimed with her deep, yet feminine voice. "SHE has sensed our presence. It is time we were going."
Chloe turned within Ares' arms at this new and unexpected voice. She found herself gazing almost eye-to-eye with the large winged lion. But what she hadn't noticed before was that while the creature had the body and mane of a lion, it had the face of a girl – a greatly oversized face in proportion with its magnificent body, but the face of a girl none the less. And as she gazed at its face, there was something strikingly familiar about it.
Motioning for Ares to lower her feet back to the ground, she took his hand and then strode over to where the beast stood next to Lana and the others.
Gazing up, Chloe asked, "Do I know you?"
The hybrid lion creature tilted its head down; then merely stared at her with a quizzical expression on its face. Finally, it was Lana who spoke up.
"Chloe, this is Fah."
Chloe felt a faint tingling in her head as though the name Fah held some significance in her forgotten past, but after a moment it was gone.
She tried to turn her attention to Lana, but couldn't seem to pull her gaze way from Fah. "There is something familiar about your face," she finally said.
"Well, of course there is," responded Fah in her deep booming voice with a grin.
Chloe still hadn't figured out what it was when Lana interjected. "Here this might help."
Chloe turned just in time to see an object magically appear in Lana's hand. As Lana extended it towards her, Chloe recognized it was an ornately decorated hand mirror. Taking it, she saw Lana gesture that she should use it to look at her own reflection.
As she raised the mirror, Chloe realized she had no more memory of her own appearance than she had of her name or any other aspect of her past. It was with a mixture of fear and excitement that after a deep breath she moved the mirror so she could see her own reflection.
For a moment she drew a blank at the stranger's face staring back at her. She knew it was her face, but at first she felt no recognition as she took in the short, light blonde hair, the green eyes, and the way the gums above her upper front teeth were exposed when she tried a smile. Then suddenly it registered as her eyes darted back up to the face of the lion – they shared the same face. Oh, there were some differences most obvious of which was Fah's eyes - a bright unnatural gold without any surrounding whites and with vertical cat pupils rather than round human ones. But in overall appearance, the lion's face was a match to the one she saw in the mirror.
"How?" was all Chloe managed to get out.
Lana too was starting to sense HER presence and noticed the dinosaurs she had put to sleep were already beginning to stir. Fah had been right; they needed to continue this conversation in safer environs. If they were going to finally defeat HER, the battle needed to be at a time and place of their choosing and not HERS.
"There is no time now. We will explain everything when we get to a safer location." Answered Lana, finding she needed to raise her voice almost to a shout at the end as they were buffeted by a powerful wind that seemed to have sprung out of nowhere.
Chloe glanced around at the sudden change in the weather. Storm clouds were rapidly filling the sky and more and more bolts of lightening were stabbing down into the surrounding trees. Then her glance turned to the far side of the clearing and she saw the supposedly tranquil dinosaurs struggling back to their feet. Yes, she thought, it was definitely time to get out of there.
As she turned back toward the others, she saw the man with the golden breastplate, who hadn't even been introduced yet, scrambling up onto Fah's back. The two girls were already levitating and had risen more than ten feet off of the ground. As Chloe wondered how she was going to follow along, she felt Ares' presence suddenly behind her.
"May I give you a lift?" he asked. And then without waiting for a response, he swept her up into his arms and with a powerful stroke of his wings they were airborne.
And not a moment to soon, realized Chloe as she looked down and saw how a massive thunderbolt struck right were they had been standing.
The wind buffeted them back and forth as Ares climbed for altitude. Chloe knew she should be overwhelmed with fear as the ground dwindled away below them, but she wasn't. No, she felt perfectly safe and protected in Ares' strong arms. As they winged ever higher, she wondered towards what destiny she was headed.
Tina flung Lex down on the old mattress in the corner of the room before throwing herself down on top of him. As she forced another unwanted kiss upon him, Lex was annoyed at his body's reaction. He knew in his head it was Tina, but she looked like Lana, she sounded like Lana, she even smelled like Lana and he felt himself starting to get hard. As her hands started to rip his shirt off one button at a time, he tried to will his erection down.
They were still in the underground complex below the fertilizer plant, but when Tina had forced Lex out of the room where Chloe had fallen comatose, she had headed down yet another corridor Lex hadn't seen before. How big was this place he had wondered again as she marched him through twist after turn while holding his arm behind his back in a hammerlock hold.
When she finally moved her kisses to his right ear and freed his mouth, Lex tried to get control of the situation.
"Tina, you . . ."
But before he could get anything else out, the girl slapped her hand down hard across his mouth.
"DON'T YOU CALL ME THAT EVER AGAIN," she shouted. "I am Lana. You are my boyfriend. So start acting like it."
As she finished speaking, she removed her hand from his mouth and moved it down to join her other hand at his belt. Then, as though it was the easiest thing in the world, she ripped the heavy stiff leather into two pieces. After the brutal treatment she had given his belt, Lex was almost afraid of what she was going to do next, but she gently grasped his zipper between two fingers and the sudden quiet was only broken by the tick, tick, tick of the zipper being lowered one careful tooth at a time.
When the zipper was all the way down, Lex expected her to slide her hand inside and was steeling himself not to react. Or at least not react anymore than he already had. But with an impish grin that looked just like the real Lana, Tina instead reached up and grabbed the waistband of his pants and boxers on each side.
Pausing only long enough to say, "I've been waiting a long time for this, Lex," Tina gave a sharp, superhuman tug and pulled them both down below his knees.
She was just slithering back up his body when Lex noticed movement behind her. Forcing his eyes away from where her hand had grasped him, he looked up to see a sight he had been hoping for since he was back in the storm cellar – although he wished it had arrived ten seconds earlier.
"Sorry, am I interrupting? I can come back later," announced the deep male voice with the smallest touch of humor.
Tina stiffened and Lex grimaced as her grip tightened to a painful degree.
"Ah, Clark, I was hoping you would get here eventually," responded Tina after a moment in her best Lana voice, as she slowly removed her hand from Lex. "I was just getting Lex warmed up."
Tina climbed to her feet and took half a step to the side so Clark couldn't help but see Lex's naked body while she kept Lex firmly pinned in place with her right foot on his chest. Then she pulled the straps of her tank top down from her shoulders until the top slid down around her waist. After slowly licking her lips, she purred. "I hope you are ready for a nice little ménage à trois. I have been dreaming about having the both of you for months. How about you, Clark? Have you ever dreamed of sharing me with Lex? You know, rubbing your hard naked body against my front while Lex does the same to my back?"
Lex stared at the side of the girl's exposed breast and realized it wasn't helping his 'problem' any. Nor were the thoughts running through his head based on her comments. In his earlier pre-Smallville days he had slept with two women at once on several occasions, but he had never shared a girl with another guy. For just a moment the thought of sharing Lana with Clark did flash through his mind. Then he remembered his conversation with Chloe in the van on what was going to happen when they reached their destination and what they could do. Somehow ending up naked in a room with Clark and a topless Tina Greer with Lana's body had never come up during their conversation.
Finally getting his wits about him, Lex exclaimed. "Clark, she's not . . ."
But that was all the further he got before Tina executed a lightning fast roundhouse kick that caught Clark squarely on the chin.
Clark's body did a back flip as it went screaming across the room. Then just before he should have hit the far wall in an upside down position, he simply stopped in mid-air. He hung there for a fraction of a second before gracefully twisting around until he was right side up and facing them, but still hovering a good eight inches above the floor.
As Clark hung there for a moment, Lex noticed the three foot diameter hole in the ceiling above Clark that hadn't been there when Tina had first brought him into this room. Then, as he watched, a big glob of something glowing molten red dripped from the hole and landed sizzling on Clark's shoulder. He quickly realized this hole was how Clark had reached them; apparently he had burned his own passage directly down to this level with his heat vision thing.
Abruptly, Lex found his voice again. "Clark, she's not . . ."
And before he got any further with this second attempt at a warning, Clark blurred and then vanished. A second later Tina was lying on the mattress next to him with her top back in place, her arms tightly bound behind her back, her legs bound at the knees and ankles with about a hundred coils of some metallic cable, and with a gag in her mouth. Clark meanwhile was standing over them with a long braid of hair dangling from his right hand.
"Not Lana," said Lex finally able to complete his sentence. "She's Tina Greer."
"Yeah, I know."
"How did you know?" asked Lex as he struggled to get his pants pulled back up.
"Oh, several things, the first was the expression on your face."
Lex looked up at his best friend and quirked an eyebrow trying to look dignified, but finding it difficult having just been lying there almost completely naked.
"It was such a 'shocked to see me' expression. If it had really been Sliviuh's hand on your . . well," Clark paused for a moment to wave his hand in the general direction of Lex's groin before starting again. "If it had been Sliviuh touching you, you would have been totally oblivious to my presence." Clark shook his head, as memories of earlier events filled his mind. "When Whitney was dying back on the Nazi battleship, he had to have known Sliviuh could have saved him but she chose not to, yet his last words were still a request that I look out for her safety. If it had been Sliviuh touching you, you would have been in the same enthralled state."
In the few minutes they had been together back in the storm cellar and again with his appearance here, Lex had been struck by the sudden change in Clark. There was this new feeling of maturity about him as though he was no longer sixteen, but more like ten years older. Although maybe maturity wasn't quite the word he was looking for. No, maybe it was just the image of calm confidence in his strengths and abilities he now projected. Anyway, it was almost a relief to see a little of the old Clark show through when he couldn't bring himself to say cock or dick or penis and only point in the general direction to complete his thought.
Lex's thoughts were interrupted when Clark continued with just a hint of grin. "So the girl doing the efficient job of relieving you of your clothing couldn't have been Sliviuh and had to be someone else. After she kicked me, I took another look at her with my x-ray vision and saw the traces of kryptonite in her bones; I knew it had to be Tina."
"Kryptonite?" asked Lex trying to keep the conversation moving forward in a useful direction and away from his state of undress as he finally got his pants up and zipped.
"Ah, my new, improved word for meteor rocks based on what I now know about their origins."
Lex rolled off the mattress and climbed to his feet. For a moment he stared down at Tina who still looked like Lana. She had a combined look of hatred and madness in her eyes he had never seen before. A small shiver ran down his spine at the thought of the havoc they could create if both Sliviuh and Tina were running around looking like Lana at the same time. Lex raised a hand and ran it through his short stubbly auburn hair as the thought of two Lana's briefly morphed into a totally different ménage à trios than the one Tina had suggested. Then realizing what his hand was doing, he forced it back down to his side – playing with his still relatively new hair was a bad habit he didn't want to pick up.
Trying to bring his mind back to the current situation, Lex turned to Clark. Taking his first good look at his friend, Lex asked, "Where have you been? You look like hell."
Clark glanced down and seemed to notice the state of his coveralls for the first time. When Lex had awoken back in the storm cellar, Clark's gray coveralls had looked brand new. Now they were ripped, torn, and looked like they had been through a fire and maybe a flood or two.
"Sliviuh has been running me around and around the planet. My last stop was the Ulyanovskaya coal mining complex near Novokuznetsk, Siberia where she had ignited a methane gas pocket and trapped over a hundred twenty miners. Before that she blew the bottom out of the polar cruise ship 'Shokalskiy' fifteen miles north of the island of Spitzbergen up above the Artic Circle. She does seem to have a thing for blowing things up."
Clark paused for a moment to contemplate the highly visible series of feats Sliviuh had forced him to perform across half the planet. From the gaping hole leading to the ancient secret room under the Sphinx to the incident at the Eiffel Tower to the rescue of the ship in the Artic, his exploits were going to be all over the news within the next few hours and he was certain someone was going to be able to trace it all back to him and his home in Smallville.
"And it isn't over yet. In just over four minutes, she has arranged an explosion at a natural gas liquification plant in Bintulu, Malaysia. So I can't stay long."
"How did you find me?"
Clark shrugged. "I am a lot faster and more powerful now than Sliviuh realizes. On my way from Spitzbergen to Siberia, I looped passed Smallville and spotted your SOS, but didn't have time to stop."
For a moment Clark's mind returned to events up in the Artic Sea. When he had reached the Shokalskiy, she had already been settling heavily into the water. The crew and passengers had been about to abandon ship into the frigid artic waters - miles from land and the nearest help. As he had done with the great Nazi battleship, he had lifted the Shokalskiy, a bare quarter of the Hitler's length and a twentieth of her mass, into the air and had flown it the fifteen miles to the island and then deposited it almost a mile inland on the first large flat spot he had found. Unfortunately, even though he was almost due north of Paris where it had been the middle of the night, the Shokalskiy and the island of Spitzbergen were well north of the Artic Circle in a location with 24 hours of sunlight. There had been no hiding what he had done under the cover of darkness and he was certain someone had probably caught him, once again, on film.
Clark didn't see anyway he was going to be able to cover up all the superhuman things he had done in the past few minutes in locations all over the world, but that was a problem for later. First he needed to solve the situation with Sliviuh.
"Lex, where's Chloe? What happened with the device?"
Lex had been so focused on the situation with Tina, he had almost forgotten Clark didn't know about Chloe. He felt his face tighten as he tried to figure out how to explain the situation. Quickly he decided it was best to just blurt it out and try to move forward.
He nodded down to the still struggling Tina. "Sliviuh and Tina switched places without my realizing it. When Tina made a move to touch me, I was forced to use the device. Unfortunately Chloe was trapped right behind me. We had discussed it earlier and Chloe agreed it was better to wipe both their 'bot systems than risk Sliviuh getting control of her body, too." Lex paused and shook his head before continuing. "So I may have destroyed Chloe's mind without accomplishing anything to stop Sliviuh. I am so sorry Clark."
Clark turned pale, but he quickly seemed to get a hold of himself. "Where's the device? We have to try again."
Lex shook his head again. "I think Sliviuh was expecting us to use the device or else she wouldn't have substituted Tina. As soon as I used it, the first thing Tina did was to take from me and destroy it."
Clark nodded. "How is Chloe? Where is she?"
Lex found himself running his hand through his hair again. "When I pushed the button, she collapsed to the floor. She was still lying there unconscious when Tina dragged me here. I can lead you back to where I last saw her."
Clark started to nod and then stopped. "Damn, I have to go to Malaysia right now. Sliviuh's bomb could kill tens of thousands of people if it destroys the whole facility. Wait for me and don't do anything stupidly heroic. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Clark tossed the braid of hair, but before it even reached Lex, he had vanished.
The braid landed in Lex's hand and before his fingers fully closed around it, he started to feel its effect. The power surged through him and through him; quickly achieving a level he had never imagined. Was this how Clark felt, he wondered. It was suddenly as though he as strong as fifty, no maybe a hundred men. His mind raced back to ancient Rome where Clark had thrown the giant obelisk and he now almost felt like he could do the same.
With one last glance down at Tina he started towards the door knowing he was about to do the 'stupidly heroic' thing Clark had warned him about, but unable to stop himself. Wrapping the braid around his waist, his mind was already busy trying to figure out how to use his new-found strength to defeat Sliviuh. Oh, he couldn't simply kill her, as that would kill Lana too, but there must be some way to trap her until they came up with another plan to get her out of Lana's body.
"Don't let her touch me. Don't let her touch me," was the mantra he quietly whispered as he headed back in the direction where he had last seen Chloe.
Chloe stared into the large gilded mirror standing in the corner of the tent. She had been here for almost three months, but still didn't feel prepared. Certainly not like Lana, but then if she was to believe her, Lana had spent one thousand nine hundred fifty seven years on the road to this day. At first that had seemed impossible to believe. But the longer she had been here interacting with Ares, Fah, Lana, and the rest, and witnessing all the things that were possible here that she knew should have been impossible, the more she believed Lana's improbable tale.
Abruptly the tent flap lifted and the continuous low background rumble jumped to a full-fledged roar. Glancing towards the entrance, she recognized Lena as the flap dropped back down into place behind the girl. And Lena was just one more aspect of the impossible nature of this place. The girl's age appeared to be frozen at roughly thirteen, yet if she was to believe the rest of Lana's story, then she also needed to accept that Lana's daughter's true age was eight hundred forty three.
"Here, let me help you," exclaimed the girl as she bound across the room on her long, gangly adolescent legs.
As Lena stepped up behind her, Chloe found her eyes drawn back to mirror and the image it was showing. For just a second it struck her once again how life wasn't fair. Here was a girl who looked barely teenaged, but who already towered over her by at least five inches.
"I am so excited that after today's war council things are finally going to start moving into the final phase," said Lena as she adjusted the leather strap under Chloe's right arm which had been giving her so much trouble.
When Lena finished and took a half step back, Chloe rolled her right shoulder, raised and lowered her arm, and then rolled her shoulder again. The adjustment Lena had made had really helped. The leather padding under the breastplate had been pinching her right breast in a most annoying way. Now she could much more easily and freely move her arm.
Lena nodded and then turned to the nearby chest and extracted a leather thong. Chloe pulled her still relatively short hair back as Lena centered the magically endowed crest on Chloe's forehead and then tied the straps snuggly behind her head.
Looking back into the mirror, Chloe saw how her hair partially obscured the crest, but it didn't seem to affect its functionality as the jade and gold image of a mystical third eye began to integrate into her senses. At first she still saw the mirror throw back an image of herself dressed in the gold and jade breastplate and matching short green skirt. But slowly it faded to translucent until she could see straight through the mirror to what lay beyond. Oh, it wasn't as though she had developed true x-ray vision (where did that term come from she wondered for an instant), but it was as though she could see the auras of the individuals moving passed the outside of her tent. They were just indistinct colored blobs, but after the time she had spent practicing with the device, she was developing some skill at reading the wash of colors and what they conveyed about the person's mood. The hardest part had been the surprisingly large number of non-human creatures and people she had encountered; she was still struggling to quickly identify their underlying colors and the resultant impact on the hues of their moods and personalities.
"So, are you ready?" asked Lena as she seemed to almost bounce on her toes in her excitement. "The council should almost be ready to begin."
Chloe looked at the girl and couldn't help but see with the aid of the third eye the shimmer of blue surrounding the girl. She knew the blue was going to shift a lot more towards gray when Lena found out that Lana intended for her to remain safely behind.
Chloe closed her eyes for a moment to prepare for stepping outside the tent. The magical protections woven into the tent's cloth to help obscure her presence from their opponent's minions also, as a side benefit, limited the range of her third eye. But once outside she would be fully exposed to the auras of the millions of combatants assembled for this great campaign. When she had first tried on the powerful amulet, she had thought she was going to go blind from the overwhelming kaleidoscope of swirling colors and patterns. She had learned to control the third eye, but it was still rather daunting during the first moments of exposure.
Opening her eyes, Chloe smiled at Lena. "Yes, let's be on our way. We don't want to keep the others waiting." Then she strode forward in what she hoped was a brisk and confident manner.
Sweeping aside the woven tapestry covering the tent's opening, Chloe stepped out into the brilliant sunlit day. She paused for a moment to take in the view and to give her enhanced senses a chance to adjust.
Her tent was located high on the hillside overlooking the broad valley. The entire valley was filled from one end to the other with hundreds of thousands of tents to support the main army's encampment. Not that even this great mass of humanity represented the true extent of Lana's army, as she knew four other nearby valleys were also filled almost to capacity. Chloe still marveled that Lana had been able to pull together a fighting force over fourteen million strong, but then she had called in every marker, favor, allegiance, and promise accumulated over nearly two thousand years in this strange realm that seemed to exist in a distorted sort of space-time. For just a week earlier Emperor Han Tao-Ling, Fourteenth Overlord of Chin, and his million strong army had arrived from an empire that had been nothing but a dusty memory for more than a thousand years.
"Come on, we need to go," said Lena lightly touching Chloe's arm.
Chloe nodded and followed the winding course the younger girl set down the side of the steep hill. Even from here, she was catching glimpses between the intervening tents of the large gaudily festooned tent standing in the center of the valley which Lana used for the War Council meetings. And already she could see people passing through the surrounding honor guard to enter the tent. They were still a fifteen minute hike away and as she saw others making an aerial approach, either through their own abilities or via some winged beast, she wondered if they should have recruited Fah for a lift. But she quickly decided arriving in fifteen minutes would be good enough; these meetings always seemed to start with a lot of venting of problems and general frustrations before Lana reined everyone in and got down to business. Although since this was the last full assembly of Lana's generals before they scattered to their individual assignments, there just might be less carping than usual. Or not.
As they reached the valley's floor, Chloe noticed how most of the cooking fires were being doused and tents were being struck. At least this portion of the army would be ready to march as soon as the council broke up. Glancing down the valley to her right, she could see the cloud-shrouded peaks of Cocytus, their intended target. She couldn't suppress a shudder at sudden memories of the stories she had heard about the horrors to be found in that dark and forbidding realm. Hopefully, this magnificent army would be enough to breach its formidable defenses. Or at least be enough to distract their opponent's attention while she and Lana made an end-run to their true goal. For a moment she once again experienced a sense of déjà vu, as this plan seemed to almost bring back memories from her still lost previous existence.
"We're going to be late," exclaimed Lena, as she grabbed Chloe's hand and tugged her forward at almost a run.
With a sigh, Chloe picked up her pace to a trot. At once a straight path seemed to clear through the crowded field, almost as if by magic. And knowing Lena, there probably was a touch of magic in the air. Although with the way every man in the army seemed to dote on the girl as though she was his long lost daughter, Lena didn't need to expend much real magic.
In less than a minute they covered the half-mile which had originally separated them from the large blue and gold council tent, and Chloe was certain Lena had used some time-distance distorting magic. The girl's abilities were truly amazing, but then she had spent her whole life here and had obviously inherited most of Lana's gifts. For a moment Chloe found herself wishing she had some of those gifts, too, but it didn't seem to be the case. No, if she wanted to have near magical abilities, it would have to be through things like the amulet. And if she wanted to fly, she couldn't just levitate like Lana and Lena, but had to get a lift from someone like Fah or Aries.
Lena finally slowed to a walk about twenty feet short of the hundred man honor guard surrounding the tent. She tried to cross the remaining distance with a dignified stride, but it was impossible to keep the look of excitement from her face. Then disappointment briefly swept across her face as she stepped up to Sigurd Gudtormsen, the head of the guard. It looked like she expected a challenge, or a request for a secret password, or something, but the tall blond Viking with the large war-axe and shield hanging across his broad back just gave a terse nod before stepping out of the way. Chloe gave a brief return nod before following the girl into the tent's dim interior.
Inside they discovered the six main generals along with Lana, Alexander, and Ares sprawled on cushions in a loose circle around a central brazier that was trailing a narrow column of jasmine and sandalwood scented smoke up to a small central opening in the tent's roof. Arrayed behind the generals were another fifteen to twenty of their chief lieutenants.
As soon as they entered, Ares caught Chloe's eye with a broad grin. She felt a warm glow inside as a matching smile spread across her face. As she moved towards him, the brilliant white glow which she saw surrounding him through the power of the amulet once again threatened to overwhelm her. The aura which she saw around everyone else was always tinged with color, but only Ares' was always the pure white of perfect goodness. He glowed like a god among men. Her God.
"Now that everyone is finally here," began Lana, as Chloe settled herself comfortably within Ares' arms and Lena found a spot on the far side of her father. "Let me summarize the latest intelligence the scouts have brought back."
Lana gave a brief wave of her hand and suddenly four large maps hung in the air around the central fire so that everyone would have a clear view of at least one of them.
"Okay, as we have previously discussed, we will be using a three-pronged attack. The first army under the leadership of Emperor Tao-Ling will use the southern approach passing through the Elysian Pass and then across the Asphodel Valley before entering Cocytus proper. Now our latest information shows heavy troop movement into the valley and work has started to refurbish the old fortifications in the pass. Your forces should be able to get through with little difficult during the next week, but after that it will become much more difficult."
Chloe saw Lana glance over towards the oriental Emperor. When Chloe followed her gaze, she saw the Emperor nod.
"That is what we expected," began Emperor Tao-Ling and his two younger associates behind him nodded their concurrence. "My forces broke camp at dawn. The bulk of my army will be through the pass within four days."
The Emperor paused for a moment before continuing. "Any word from your scouts about the wyere-dragons? If they make a showing before we reach the pass while my troopers are strung out on the trail . . . Well, it could significantly slow our progress."
Lana shook her head. "No reported sightings, but unfortunately that means little. With their speed and range, the wyere-dragons might show up with almost no warning."
The Emperor nodded and a stoic expression spread across his face. "We will simply hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. I have dealt with them before and I do have a trick or two up my sleeve."
Lana inclined her head in acknowledgement. And as her hair slipped clear of her forehead, Chloe saw she was wearing a third-eye amulet which matched her own.
Lana gestured back towards the central maps. "Okay, that takes care of the southern flank. Now Alexander and I will be leading the main central force against the Gates of Malebolge. They are magically fortified which is why Ares, King Suleiman, and Asmodeus will be with the central group. The scouts in the hills before the gates estimate just over a million troops are massed behind the gates and they are being reinforced daily. More ominous, several different scouts have reported sightings of Aello and Ocypete, which likely means Podarge is in the area, too."
Chloe saw small jittery movements from several of the room's occupants. She also felt Ares' hand, which had be resting lightly on her left forearm, tense slightly. She had heard stories from several sources of the long ago encounter between Ares, Lana and the Harpyia. Everyone had walked away that time, but it had apparently been a close thing. She just hoped she and Lana could reach their goal before a full assault against the Malebolge Gates became necessary.
Lana's mind seemed to be on the same track, although she carefully didn't allude to their personal mission as she continued. "This sighting should be taken as a good sign. We want as much of the enemies' attention focused on the central force as possible to give the other groups a better chance to break through and encircle the enemies' primary force at the gate. The central army's first task is to make a lot of noise until our other forces are in position. Only then will the assault on the Gate be seriously prosecuted."
Lana paused as though waiting for questions. After a moment the silence was broken.
"You haven't yet said anything about the northern force. Were you waiting for me to ask, or is the news simply that bad?" asked a man with a noticeable drawl.
Chloe looked diagonally across the smoke rising from the brazier and saw the tall, lean, dark-haired leader of the third main branch of Lana's massive army. Here was a man who would have been noticed in any crowd. And even here he managed to stand out. For while everyone else was clad in bits and pieces of armor as well as other implements of war, this man wore none of it. No, he lounged back on a pile of cushions while wearing a white jumpsuit liberally strewn with crystal sequins. He was even wearing a matching short white cape.
"Ah, sorry, King Elvis," began Lana. "Nothing that dramatic, I should have been more specific; the scouts along the northern route have not yet reported back."
The fried peanut butter and banana sandwich in his right hand paused in mid-air, a little more than a third of the way to his mouth. "No reports at all? How many scouts did you send?"
"I sent six teams with four men each. And no, not a single man has reported back."
After taking a bite from his sandwich, Elvis continued. "And you don't find that ominous?"
"Of course, I do. We have known since the beginning with its approach barred by Cacus and the Malebranche, the northern route was the most problematic. But, Elvis, you have always said you were up for the task. Are you changing your mind?"
Elvis set his sandwich down, as though he had just been offended. "By the power of my blue suede shoes, no. I just would be happier knowing what I am getting my Caledonians into."
Chloe looked at this man who on the surface appeared to be the least war-like of any man in the tent. But she knew in his case the looks were deceiving. His followers, from the mysterious land of Caledonia, were by far the largest contingent of Lana's cobbled together army. And his followers were clearly the most fanatical, willing to do anything he asked. She had 'witnessed' one of his motivational sessions for his followers and it was unlike anything she had seen in the three months she had been here. Perhaps if her memories had returned she would have known whether she had seen its like before, but for now her memories continued to be a big blank. However if she had been required to describe his motivational session, she would have likened it to a musical performance. Elvis and his primary lieutenants had been positioned up in front of their troops on a raised platform that looked more like a musical stage than a simple podium for addressing the assembled ranks. And music had been what the session had been all about.
And Elvis had been like a maestro leading a grand orchestra as he used his music to control the emotions of his followers. He had started out with the inspirational 'Rip it up', 'Soldier Boy', and 'Wild in the country'. Then when the followers were at a near frenzy, he pulled it back a notch with 'Good Luck Charm' and 'Fever'.
Chloe had arrived right near the beginning with Lana, Alexander, and Lena. It had taken them awhile to work their way through the crowd, as Elvis' followers were so intend on their leader, they were slow to notice and clear a path. 'Fever' was just nearing its end when they reached the front and Elvis spotted them. With his eyes never seeming to leave her, he immediately transitioned to 'I was born about ten thousand years ago'. Chloe had felt a shiver run down her spine as the words had resonated in her mind. Why did they have such significance to her, she had wondered.
As that song was winding down, Ares had suddenly appeared in the sky above Elvis' assembled horde. With a couple powerful flaps of his wings, he dropped down to a graceful landing beside Chloe. And before Ares had even folded his great feathered appendages, Elvis had smoothly segued into 'Earth Angel'. No matter what circumstances arose the perfect melody seemed to be at the tip of his tongue.
Elvis then cranked it back up with 'King of the Whole Wide World', which started his followers to yelling and screaming. Soon this transitioned into a ground swelling chant of 'Blue . . . Blue . . . Blue'.
He appeared to bow his head for a moment, but then his pelvis began to twitch, his left foot began to tap, and his arms lifted into the air. Then as he began to sing 'Blue Suede Shoes', his entire outfit, including his shoes, magically shifted from brilliant white to a pure baby blue. As the crowd clapped and stamped their feet in time with the music, it became apparent Elvis was endowed with his own variation of magic. Quickly, as he shimmied and rocked across the stage, he began to levitate. Then a translucent sphere seemed to form about him and Chloe had the sense that this sphere was more than just for show; it felt like powerful magic which could block any attack whether physical or magical.
Chloe's thoughts were finally drawn back for the previous evening's events to the more immediate situation ongoing in the war council.
"Well," Lana began in response to Elvis' remark. "We will just have to hope some of them manage to get word back to us while we are on the move and before we cross the frontier into HER territories."
Lana paused and let her eyes roam across the assembled leaders. Chloe followed suit knowing this would be the last time they would be all together until after the coming battles. And as she realized the odds were at least some of them wouldn't make it through alive, she leaned back and pulled Ares' arm around her a little tighter.
"If there aren't any more questions," continued Lana. "I think it is time to break this up, as I am sure you all have pressing duties. If we all stay focused on the primary goal of defeating HER, I am sure we can achieve victory. Once again, thanks to you all for your support and good luck in the coming conflict."
All of the leaders inclined their heads towards the raven-haired girl before starting to rise to their feet. As they began to exit, Lana gave Alexander, Lena, and Ares a nod and they followed suit. After only a couple of minutes, Lana and Chloe were left alone in the tent.
"Whew, I'm glad that is over. I am really tired of all the meetings it has taken to get everything organized," began Lana. Then reaching behind her head she untied the leather strap which had been holding the third eye amulet in place on her forehead. As she dropped the mystical device into a pouch on her belt, she continued. "Ah, finally, I can take this stupid thing off. It always gives me a headache after awhile."
Chloe was glad to take hers off, too. "If it bothers you so much, why wear it? Surely you can trust all of the people who were at this meeting?"
Lana shrugged. "Normally, yes, we all go way back. But I have seen HER subvert people before and I had to know for certain no one had suddenly changed sides."
"I have heard the stories about you and Emperor Tao Ling. And I have heard the stories about you, King Suleiman, and the Jenn, Asmodeus. But I have never heard any about how you first met King Elvis."
Lana got a faraway look in her eyes for a moment. "There was a time when Elvis was almost like a father to me," she began. Then she shook her head. "But it is a long story and would be better told when there is time to share a bottle of wine or two."
Turning her full attention towards Chloe, Lana looked her firmly in the eye. "Now, are you ready for our part in all of this?"
Chloe didn't feel ready, but saying so wasn't going to do any good; this had to be done and they might as well get started. But suddenly she couldn't find her voice and in the end simply nodded.
"Good," said Lana. And Chloe saw a gleam in her eye that said Lana was really anxious to get started. But then Lana had been striving towards this moment for centuries.
"Gather what things you will need for the next five or six days and then meet me and Fah at my tent in an hour."
Chloe was nodding when her gaze was drawn to the opening in the tent. Through it, she could see Ares standing there talking to Alexander. "Ahh," she began.
Lana followed her gaze. "Okay, make it two hours."
The girls shared a quick grin before darting out of the tent and into the waiting arms of their men.
Fah landed with a gently thud that belied her massive bulk. Quickly the two girls slid off her broad back and landed softly on the rocky ground.
"We go on foot from here," whispered Lana, as though afraid the very rocks might have grown ears.
Chloe nodded as she reached up and retrieved their packs from where they were fastened to the special harness Fah wore for that specific purpose. She had known this moment was coming, but was glad Fah had been able to bring them this far. With two days of flying in a relatively straight line, they were now deep in HER territory. If they had had to come all this way on foot, it would have taken weeks.
Lana hadn't used any of her magical gifts since they had left the army's main camp. To do so would have meant prematurely making their opponent aware of their presences which would have given HER more time to prepare. It was just lucky Fah's wings and the resulting ability to fly fell into a different category which was much more difficult to detect. Well, that was the theory at least, although the exact limits of HER abilities were impossible to learn, which was why Lana had said all along that the final portion of the trek would have to be made on foot. However Chloe had no idea how Lana had decided this was the correct spot for the transition.
Chloe pulled a bow and a quiver of arrows from the first pack and tossed them to Lana before arming herself in a similar manner. They both were already carrying short swords, but Chloe knew she would feel more comfortable if they had weapons with a bit more range. Here in this wild hill country there were probably countless simple predators who would be more than willing to do HER work for her, if they were given an appropriate opportunity.
Lana took a quick swig from a waterskin before passing it on to Chloe. Then she rose to her feet and lifted the pack onto her back. Picking her way carefully, she started walking up the shallow one hundred sixty foot incline separating them from the next crest in what had come to seem like an endless stream of crests. Each new crest merely exposed another long valley and then a steep ascent to the next crest as they climbed from the foothills into the tall foreboding mountains.
As Chloe followed along behind Lana, her eyes swept from the steep cliff rising on their left to the more gently sloped hill on their right. Countless large boulders were strewn about, each providing ample shelter to hide a half a dozen of HER warriors or a large pride of lions or tigers. The place simply felt ominous. Chloe wasn't certain if it was the low-hanging gray clouds, the old skeletal human remains hanging from posts every thirty feet along their path, or simply the overwhelming sense of HER presence at this point so deep in HER territory.
On her arrival in this strange realm, Chloe had wondered about Lana's enemy. Everyone referred to her as HER and even when talking, people somehow still managed to make it sound like it was all in capital letters.
No one else would answer her questions, so eventually Chloe had asked Lana. Lana had responded that she didn't know her enemy's name. However based on her numerous previous experiences, she was certain that knowing her enemy's name would grant her a significant advantage.
Lana had also confided that she hadn't been aware her opponent actually existed in this strangely distorted world until after she had found Alexander – hundreds of years after her first arrival. No, in all the preceding centuries she had been merely trapped in a seemingly endless quest for little bits and pieces of her lost life – bits and pieces which never seemed to coalesce in a useful fashion. But then after the discovery of Alexander she had finally been able to sense HER presence; the one who had kept her trapped in this strange world for all these years. It had taken more centuries and centuries of effort to locate HER stronghold and then assemble a force sufficient to breach its defenses. And that was where things had stood when Lana sensed Chloe's arrival and somehow knew she was the final piece necessary to have a serious hope of defeating her eternal nemesis.
The two girls had been hiking for no more than two minutes when they crested the rise in the trail and everything changed.
When Fah had glided in for the landing, they could clearly see the small valley stretching beyond this valley through which the trail passed before climbing to the next pass. But now there was no valley before them. And no valley behind them where Fah had just landed. Nor even Fah herself, who hadn't been more than ten paces behind Chloe a moment earlier.
No, suddenly the two girls found themselves on a flat, gray plain which stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. Both girls spun around, trying to understand what had just happened. Quickly, their eyes darted towards the horizon, but it seemed to be impossibly far away, as though they could suddenly see for hundreds, no maybe thousands of miles and all they saw was bleak emptiness.
And when their eyes finally reached the horizon, it was almost impossible to look at, as it blended into the unnaturally bright white of the sky. As their eyes were drawn upward, it was as though the blazing white image of a full moon had been stretched to fill the sky from horizon to horizon. At first glance the sky seemed almost a uniform blinding white, but after a few seconds they could see a dusting of black specks which almost sparkled, although a black sparkle was almost beyond what one could imagine.
Finally, the two girls turned to look at each other and even their appearances looked subtly altered. It took a moment to sink in that the uniformly brilliant sky allowed no shadows to be cast and even something as simple as a face looked different without shadows to highlight its features.
"What just happened?" asked Chloe trying to keep the panic she felt out of her voice; something about this place was completely unnerving.
Lana took a couple steps closer so she was no more than five feet away when she answered and yet Chloe had a hard time hearing her as this strange place simply absorbed all sound. And that was when she realized part of the strangeness of this place was the total lack of background noise - nothing broke the uncanny silence, no animals, no birds, no insects, not even a whisper of a breeze.
"We have been taken somewhere," answered Lana who also was trying without complete success to maintain a calm demeanor. "The legends say the heart of Cocytus should be a frozen lake. They never mentioned any place like this. It has to be HER doing."
Chloe's eyes once again swept the wide, barren plain, which looked exactly the same in all directions. "What do we do now?"
Lana's eyes, too, swept around. "We either wait here to see what happens or we walk."
The mention of walking reminded Chloe of how they had just been flying. And flying reminded her of Lana's magical abilities. "Lana, does your magic work? SHE must know we are here, so there is no point of hiding them any longer."
Lana almost responded that she had run into automated magical traps before which had been left active and forgotten, but truly it didn't feel like the case here. So deciding it couldn't make things much worse, she concentrated on her ability to levitate. Normally, she barely had to think about it to feel her feet lift free of the ground, but now absolutely nothing seemed to happen. Quickly she tried several other aspects of her gift, but again she felt no response.
Shaking her head, Lana responded. "My magic is gone."
In her gut, Chloe was expecting this answer, but it still seemed to amplify the helplessness she was feeling and she hated to feel that way. And simply waiting here also felt like it would reinforce the feeling. After looking around them again, but seeing no clue as to which direction might lead back to where they had last seen Fah, Chloe lifted her arm and pointed in a random direction. "Let's try that way."
Lana took another look around, shrugged, and then strode off at Chloe's side.
They walked in silence for many minutes. Every once in awhile they would pause and look about them, but nothing looked any different. The horizon continued to look thousands of miles away in all directions. Even when they looked back they couldn't tell any difference, as they left no footprints in this strange gray soil which passed for earth. Now, for all they knew they could be walking in circles, but with nothing else to do, they simply trudged on.
Eventually, to break the monotony and the eerie eternal silence, Lana began to speak. She started with her earliest memories of awakening to find herself in 1890's Montana with no idea of how she had gotten there. Then she spoke of her first encounter with Chloe in Sally's bathing emporium and her introduction to the world of magic. She was disappointed when Chloe said she had no memories of such an encounter, but with nothing better to do, she forged ahead with her story.
It seemed like she talked almost non-stop for days or maybe weeks or months as she covered her many experiences over the past two thousand years, most of which were new to Chloe as the three months she had been in Lana's world had been focused on preparing for the upcoming battle. A battle which might have already taken place, Chloe realized as time stretched unending and unchanging on this seemingly infinite plane. And then she even began to wonder if that world of warrior heroes even continued to exist.
Abruptly, Chloe stopped walking and sank to the ground. Lana continued to walk for another ten paces before she even noticed her companion had stopped. Slowly she, too, ground to a halt and then turned and walked back. When she reached Chloe, she sat down heavily beside her.
"What's the matter, Chloe?"
Almost overwhelmed by despair, Chloe gave a slow shrug. "How long does it feel like we have been walking? A week? Two weeks? A month? At a steady three miles an hour, we would cover seventy miles a day, five hundred miles a week. So we should have covered at least a thousand miles by now. Do you see any change? I don't. And have you noticed how we haven't gotten hungry or thirsty? We could continue walking like this forever. So what's the point? We might just as well wait here. Either we are going to wait forever or something will change and this is as good of a place, as any."
Lana had been watching Chloe's face as she spoke and saw the tears beginning to well in her friend's eyes. And she knew Chloe wasn't saying anything she wasn't feeling herself. Slowly she worked her way closer and then wrapped her arm around her friend. For a very long time the two girls sat there slowly rocking as they held each other for support.
At first the sound was so quiet they didn't realize anything had changed with the eternal silence of the place, a silence that had previously only been broken by the sound of their own voices. But steadily it grew in intensity until it broke through the stupor into which they had fallen. And then it grew and grew until they were forced to cover their ears. And still it grew until the pressure wave felt like a solid force slamming into their bodies. A bell. It sounded like a giant brass bell at least a thousand miles tall. And when the gong struck its surrounding sonic-inducing enclosure, it sent out a reverberation which literally shook the ground.
The droning of the impossibly loud bell seemed to go on for hours. And with each toll it seemed to get louder and more powerful. After awhile the girls were forced to give up trying to protect their ears as the ground began to shake so violently they needed the use of their hands to maintain their balance even though they were already sitting down.
Abruptly the tolling of the bell stopped, but at first the girls barely noticed as the ground continued to shake and roll, throwing them madly about. If they hadn't started clasping each other's hands, who knows how far apart they might have drifted.
Then, as abruptly as the bell had stopped, so too did the shaking of the ground. For an instant total silence returned. The girls had just turned to look at each other with relief when the silence was rent by an unearthly howl which seemed to come from everywhere at once. The howling made their skin crawl in a way the bell and the shaking of the ground had never done. For this howl seemed to reach into their very souls and exclaim 'The dead are coming! The DEAD are coming!'
The girls were staring at each other and reading the dread and horror written in the expression on the other's face, when out of their peripheral vision they saw the earth around them begin once more to move. But this time it wasn't like the world-ending earthquake they had experienced earlier. This time it looked like something was trying to force its way up out of the ground. No, not something, but a million somethings or maybe a billion somethings.
Their eyes darted around the immediate area and they saw small piles of dirt being pushed up from the previously flat terrain. Then they saw claw-like hands begin to emerge into the open. These were quickly followed by arms and then tops of heads. As these were followed by shoulders and upper torsos, a voice seemed to start screaming in their heads, 'The dead are rising. The dead are rising. THE DEAD ARE RISING!'
The girls tried to scramble away, but the dead were rising all around them. They ended up back to back, their physical contact the only thing holding the absolute horror even slightly at bay. And then even that slim hold on their sanity came close to shattering as they began to recognize the decomposing faces of the nearest bodies. To their left Lana's aunt Nell rose laboriously to her feet on legs that were nothing more than fully exposed bones. To their right Chloe's father, Gabe, climbed from his grave with most of the flesh on the right side of his face torn away and his right eye dangling outside its socket and jiggling against the exposed bone beneath his cheek. And beyond them stood Lana's parents, Whitney Fordman, Pete Ross, Alicia Baker, and a host of other friends and acquaintances from school, The Torch, and The Talon. And every one of them was in an advanced stage of decomposition.
But the worst was what crawled out of the ground directly in front of them. In front of Lana a battered and wrecked Alexander crawled forth. His beautiful long auburn hair was missing massive clumps which allowed the white of his skull to gleam through. Both eyes and part of his nose were missing. His lower face was just an exposed jawbone with half the visible teeth broken in a jagged manner. And the rest of his body was no better with his left arm nothing more than a limply hanging assortment of bones with just enough flesh remaining to keep it attached at the shoulder. His belly had been cut open and loose entrails hung down passed his knees.
A broken and shattered Ares emerged from the ground in front of Chloe. One of his magnificent wings had been completely denuded of feathers and the other one was simply missing. His skull had been shattered and brain matter oozed down the side of his face and complete hid where his right ear should have been. His eyes were intact and open, but they were simply opaque gray orbs encrusted with the dirt of the surrounding ground. His always white tunic was now a decomposing mess of a matching gray with large gaping rents showing expanses of gray flesh and pearly white bones.
If the suddenly risen dead had paid the girls even the slightest notice, the girls knew they would have been reduced to screaming hysterics, but all their dead friends and relatives seemed to be totally oblivious to them. Slowly they all raised their faces to the sky and seemed to be searching for something, even those without any eyes.
Chloe and Lana clasped hands and forced themselves to their feet. Looking passed their nearby acquaintances they saw risen corpses were stretched beyond them in all directions as far as the eye could see. Having already trudged across that endless expanse for weeks, perhaps months, they knew it would take billions of bodies to fill. Certainly everyone who had ever lived had to now be standing before them. What was going on? What could it possibly mean?
Then the silence was broken by Alexander quietly saying through his once beautiful, but now shattered face, "She comes."
Quickly the chant was taken up by Ares and all of the rest of the nearby corpses. "She comes". And then it spread outwards in concentric circles and at each utterance it became louder and louder. "She comes." Soon millions and then billions of voices had joined in and then all endlessly repeated, "She comes."
Like thunder the words rolled back and forth across the endless plain. "She comes." Finally, Chloe and Lana were shaken from the desultory state into which they had fallen and both realized the 'she' had to be 'HER'. Lana's long time nemesis was approaching and she was coming as a god, perhaps the God. The girls looked at each other and saw true terror in the other's eyes. They had expected to do battle against an equal, not against this.
Then slowly, the voices of the dead were overwhelmed by a new more powerful sound. Like an ocean-sized waterfall, the roaring sound increased to an unbelievable magnitude. It seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, but mostly from above.
Lana and Chloe looked up into the brilliant white sky in the direction that all the nearby corpses had fixated upon. At first they couldn't see anything, but slowly an infinitesimal golden speck became visible in the glare of the white sky. Gradually the speck grew as the object slowly and majestically descended.
Eventually, after many minutes, the speck resolved itself into a golden throne, the most ornate object ever imagined. And surrounding it was a cloud of weaving, darting jewels, which the girls simply knew were an assemblage of angels. And the angels were singing HER praise in the most beautiful voices they had ever heard. It should have been impossible to hear their voices over the continued chanting of the dead and the roar of the throne's descent, but all three infinitely loud sounds could be heard simultaneously.
The throne continued its descent until it filled half the sky. It was clearly miles tall and sized for the one and only true God. The angels, too, began to resolve into individual beings and they were more dazzlingly radiant than anything a mere human could imagine. Each one of them seemed to be at least one thousand feet tall as they swooped down over the assembled dead before circling back to the golden throne next to which they looked as insignificant as gnats.
Slowly something about the movement of the angels, the descent of the throne, and the surrounding hordes of the dead brought out a feeling of déjà vu in Lana. Everything seemed so familiar. She searched back into her damaged memory, but nothing in the last two thousand years seemed to be the source. Against the overwhelming distraction of her surroundings, she fought to find the source of her feeling of recognition.
As she searched her memories, the throne finally paused in its descent to hover barely ten miles above the plain. Its occupant leaned forward ever so slightly, but all the girls could see was the glare of a black so deep it seemed to suck in all light like an infinite black hole. And that's when the final piece clicked into place in Lana's head. She had been through this before. It was the last thing she had experienced before waking in Montana with no memory of her past.
Lana tried shouting to get Chloe's attention, but it would have been impossible for Chloe to have heard her over the barrage of noise coming from the dead, the angels, and the throne even if she had pressed her lips against Chloe's ears.
Instead she began to tug violently against Chloe's arm, but for the longest time Chloe was trapped by the mesmerizing power of the throne's occupant. Finally, Chloe pulled her eyes away and began turning towards the frantic Lana.
Just as the two girls locked eyes, SHE began to speak and the words seemed to spring straight from the center of their souls.
- Judgment Day is at hand. Prepare to have your life and soul measured. Those few found worthy will spend all of eternity with me in heaven. The rest will be sent to the everlasting torment of the hell below. -
Lana watched as Chloe's eyes lost focus on her and began to once more drift upwards. They might only have seconds before everything was lost forever. Lana ripped her nails through Chloe's arms leaving trails of welling blood before dropping her hands to the pouch still hanging from Chloe's belt. With trembling hands and nearly overwhelmed by the roaring of HER voice in her head, she managed to get the magical amulet out and into Chloe's hand. Then she reached to her own waist and dragged forth her own third eye amulet.
Chloe still had a glazed look in her eyes, but she mimicked Lana's movement and as one they pressed the magical devices against their foreheads.
Instantly, the plain, the dead, the angels, and the throne vanished. They found themselves suddenly back in The Talon standing just inside the front door. And standing over by the coffee bar, they saw their nemesis. Although at first she was almost impossible to see as she was wrapped in an aura so pitch black and foul, it was difficult to see through it to the underlying body.
With unexpected confidence, Lana strode further into the room with Chloe at her side. As they moved, they tied the amulets firmly in place to free their hands.
"I know you," stated Lana clearly, quietly, calmly. "You're Sliviuh and you have been fucking with my body. I want it, no, I DEMAND it back. NOW!"
The face, which was slowly appearing out of the encompassing aura as they moved closer, laughed at her in an almost manic way. And as they closed the distance, Lana could see how it showed characteristics of both her and Chloe's faces.
"No," Sliviuh shouted. "The body is mine now. I will NOT give it up."
Then she, too, took a step forward. And as she did so, she raised her hands and two glowing swords appeared out of the concealing aura.
Immediately, Lana and Chloe drew their weapons and took a step to the right and left to clear some space to fight without hitting each other.
Sliviuh rushed forward on the offensive with both blades spinning so fast they looked more like a cheerleader's batons than swords. Chloe and Lana were briefly forced back by the intensity of Sliviuh's first effort and Lana even suffered a deep cut to her left forearm.
However Lana and Chloe quickly separated even further until they were coming at Sliviuh from almost opposite directions. Sliviuh was forced to retreat slightly to get both girls back on the same side of her. And that was when Lana knew they could take her. Oh, Sliviuh was good, no, better than good, and against either of them alone she would doubtlessly have won. But against their combined might she didn't stand a chance.
The sword battle raged on for many minutes and they all suffered many minor injuries, but at last Sliviuh realized, too, that together they were going to beat her. She went for one last 'all or nothing' shot, and missed. Instantly, two swords flashed into her chest and pierced her black heart.
Sliviuh's twin swords clattered to the floor and then she quickly followed. Her body crumpled forward, driving the swords even deeper until the blood-slicked points protruded eight inches out of her back.
Sliviuh was down, but not truly dead. No, as Lana's strength and memories came racing back, she knew Sliviuh would never be truly dead, as long as she herself continued to live. No, the best she could do was keep her chained up in a deep, dark corner of her mind and hope she never again would be able to escape.
Lana straightened up and was ready to leave what she now knew was a virtual copy of The Talon and return to the real world when she looked over at Chloe. Her blonde friend was standing there and still had a dazed expression on her face, as though the defeat of Sliviuh hadn't had the same restorative effect on her. Lana reached out and touched her friend's hand and through it her real mind and body, which were suddenly within reach with the defeat of Sliviuh. Surprisingly, she found Chloe's mind completely devoid of memories except those she had acquired during the three months she had spent in Lana's prison world.
With the return of her own memories of her life in Smallville, their shared adventure in ancient Rome, and of the 'bot gift Chloe had bestowed on her, Lana knew her 'bot memory system contained a backup copy of Chloe's memories from the last time they had touched. She might end up missing her memories of the last few days, but Lana could at least give most of her life back.
Quickly, Lana set about restoring what she could and as the exchange progressed she could see the light begin to shine behind the eyes of the virtual Chloe standing in front of her.
Lex raced down the corridors, retracing the path Tina had taken him on earlier. All the time he kept repeating his mantra, 'Don't let her touch me. Don't let her touch me.'
As he ran he knew he should have been winded by now, but the Samson braid he was wearing seemed able to send him a constant stream of strength and power. Never in his life had he felt this good, not even when Lana or Chloe had touched him and turn his dormant nanobots on.
Almost before he realized it, he had reached the alcove outside the room where he had last seen Chloe. The door from that room still lay out in the center of the floor. For a moment it seemed like hours since he had watched Tina casually tear it loose from its frame. Now that he was wearing the braid, he could understand her action. The braid was intoxicating, almost like a drug. He, too, felt the urge to use his greatly enhanced strength in some destructive way. But he forced the feeling down; he had more urgent matters to attend to.
With a feeling of trepidation he stepped over to the gaping doorway. What was he going to find? Would Sliviuh be kneeling over Chloe's inert form? Would she have already moved Chloe to some more secret, secure location?
He was almost startled to see Chloe lying in the same position he had left her twenty minutes earlier. Why hadn't Sliviuh done something to Chloe by now? What more urgent mischief could she be pursuing?
Wherever Sliviuh was, Lex knew he had to take advantage of this opportunity to get Chloe free. He had no idea how he was going to reverse the effects of having wiped her 'bot memory system, but he could worry about that once they were well clear.
He had only taken two steps into the room when he was hit by a blast of air and Clark was abruptly standing beside him. And then Clark almost instantly moved over to Chloe and was gently lifting her into his arms.
Lex slowly made his way over to his two friends and as he walked he got back to wondering how they were going to stop Sliviuh now that the device had been destroyed. He had almost reached Clark and Chloe when he heard a low moan that didn't seem to come for Chloe, who was slowly coming awake. Lex looked down slightly to Chloe's left, but at first he didn't see anything. Then he saw a pair of eyes blinking in his direction. No face, no head, no body, just a pair of eyes hovering about six inches above the floor. The eyes were a very dark green with flecks that made them almost look brown. They were eyes he had spent hours staring into from close range over the past few weeks. They were Lana's eyes.
He heard his name whispered and he recognized the tone. It was not a tone Sliviuh or even Tina would ever use. No, it was the special voice only Lana used. His Lana. He had no idea how she could have ended up lying on this floor invisible except or her eyes, but she was. Quickly he sank to his knees beside where her head must be. He reached down and felt her long luxurious hair. Then he gently slid his right hand under her head and gently lifted it.
It was briefly disconcerting to look passed her eyes and see his own hand, but he quickly remembered his previous encounter with his former housekeeper's son, Jeff. Carefully, he reached into his left pant's pocket and pulled out his kerchief. Gently, he wiped at Lana's face until most of her forehead, nose, cheeks, and mouth were visible. It still felt surreal to look through the gaps where the invisibility potion still clung to her face, but it was much better than just a pair of floating eyes.
He felt, rather than saw, her hand reach behind his head and slide through his short stubbly hair. Quickly he felt her grip tighten and she began to pull his face down.
"Lex, I have missed you for so long."
Lex thought with her week spent back in 1936 he knew what she meant. But he had no idea about the two thousand years that had gone by since then from her perspective.
However he didn't let those thoughts slow his movement as he bent down and kissed her deeply. For just a moment, as she sucked his tongue into her mouth, he wondered what it would look like with her mostly invisible head. But then for awhile he simply stopped thinking and focused on the moment.
Finally, after what felt like several minutes, Lex broke the kiss and looked over at his old friend. He needn't have worried about how his kiss with Lana might have looked; Clark and Chloe were too busy sharing a kiss of their own.
Apparently sensing his gaze, Chloe and Clark concluded their kiss and looked over.
"So, Lex, what's it like to kiss an invisible girl?" asked Chloe with a grin.
Lex had been casually caressing the invisible arm that was attached to the hand behind his head. Slowly as he slid it down to where it joined her shoulder, he realized not only was Lana invisible, she was also naked. All of a sudden he felt a tightness in his groin which was more pleasant than anything he had experienced with the Lana look-a-like Tina even when she had had his pants down around his knees.
With some difficulty, as his fingers swept across Lana's thankfully invisible left nipple, he forced part of his attention on what Chloe had said and then more importantly on to the implication of her saying it.
"Chloe, you're alright. How is that possible? I know the device wiped out your memories."
Chloe smiled at him and then in the direction of Lana's disembodied face. "Oh, I had a little help from a friend."
Lex watched as Clark again commanded Chloe's attention with another kiss. And then he felt Lana pull him back down for more of the same. Lex's last thought before he sank into the passion of the moment, was that things were finally back to normal or at least as normal as they would ever be in Smallville.
Epilogue Part 1 – Ch'uxuqullu, Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia - August 1st, 1937
Marion Jones set down the camel's hair brush she had been using to remove the last few bits of dirt and dust from the large fragment of pottery she had uncovered. Stretching her arms above her head she twisted her shoulders and her back to work out a few of the chinks. She was coming to the conclusion she was getting to old to be working down here in the trench for hours at a time. It wasn't like Hank hadn't brought along a group of eager young students who could do the preliminary back-breaking work. From the beginning Hank had suggested she take charge of the cataloging activities which could be done from the relative comfort of one of the large tents and now she was seriously thinking of taking him up on the offer.
Carefully and slowly she levered herself up from her kneeling position at the same time picking up the white towel she had been using to protect the knees of her khaki slacks. They had been on-site for three weeks now, but her body was still struggling to adapt to the thin air at this twelve thousand five hundred foot altitude. If she moved at much faster than a walk her heart would start racing like it normally only would when she and Hank were in some dangerous situation.
As she turned and looked down the hillside to the broad expanse of the surrounding lake, she reflected on how quiet this summer had been and mentally crossed her fingers that it would remain so. They had left the States in early June and had travel by ship to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Then they had transferred to a smaller riverboat for the trip up the Rio Parana to Asuncion, Paraguay. Then it had been three days on an old turn-of-the-century steam train to La Paz, Bolivia. Finally, it had been two days of driving on mountain roads in three hired trucks and two cars to reach the lake. Fortunately, the whole four week journey had passed with very little excitement and not a minute of peril.
Hank had last excavated near the lake in 1935 before the crazy year of 1936 when she and he had reconnected and then been involved with the whole Ark thing and then the even stranger events in Germany. During his previous trips to the area Hank had been working along the shore of the lake about ten miles further north. But based on her experiences with Lana, which now seemed like little more than a dream, she had suggested they explore this island before settling on a dig site.
They had chartered a boat to bring them, Hank's ten students, and Gretchen out to the island for a day of hiking. Marion had for some reason been expecting the place to be deserted like some old west ghost town, but they learned the shoreline was dotted with five modest villages. The ship put in at the one with a sturdy wooden wharf and they had simply walked ashore.
At once the place had felt vaguely familiar to Marion and as she had scanned the surrounding hillsides, she spotted several large rock outcroppings which seemed to orient her to the location of the Jaguar City of her memories. Hank must have recognized the expression on her face, as he quickly assented to follow her as she had headed out of the village and up an old, disused trail.
Now, Marion stood halfway up the hillside, knee deep in a trench in the spot she was certain was where the palace had been that Lana had taken her to and where she had first met the strange girl, Laura.
A flash of color in her peripheral vision caused her to turn and look further up the hill. In the distance she could see two people making their way down towards her. For just a second Marion felt a flash of panic at being out here by herself. Normally, a number of the students would be working here, too, but Hank insisted they all put in a minimum of two hours of classroom work every morning. Of course, she thought with a mental grin, he always somehow failed to mention that the students until after the trip got underway. And the mental grin was followed by a flash of annoyance for the brief sense of panic; she had been through a lot of tough situations in her life and a couple of people walking down a hillside shouldn't cause such a reaction.
Turning her attention to the approaching strangers, she quickly made out they were a man and a woman. The man was much taller than the woman. He had dark hair and was wearing a red jacket and a pair of blue jeans and was carrying a canvas knapsack over one shoulder. The woman had short blonde hair and was wearing khaki slacks and jacket much like her own.
The man started waving to her and that was when she recognized him. It was Clark Kent from the adventures in Germany almost exactly one year earlier. Then her heart seemed to miss a beat as she realized the woman with him was Laura, the girl from her dreams, or was it nightmares? However she quickly remembered that Laura only existed in Lana's mind and this had to be the other one with the same face and body. But at this moment, for the life of her, she couldn't remember her name.
Marion wasn't certain of her feelings at seeing them. If it had just been Clark, she would have been excited and glad, but the girl scared her. She still remembered what Lana was capable of doing with the merest touch.
"Hi, Marion," called Clark as he broke into a jog to cover the last thirty feet.
He quickly pulled her into a hug which Marion half-heartedly returned as she looked past his shoulder at the slowly approaching girl.
"Clark, it is good to see you again after all this time," responded Marion as she disengaged from the hug and took a step back to keep Clark partially between herself and the approaching girl.
She was trying to watch both the girl and Clark at the same time and only briefly glimpse the frown which creased his young face for an instant before his face brightened again.
"You would think I would be used to it by now, but in the excitement of seeing you again I forgot it has been a year for you while to me it has been less than ten days."
Just then the blonde girl joined them and casual wrapped an arm around Clark's waist.
"Oh," continued Clark, "You haven't met before. This is my girlfriend, Chloe . . . Chloe Sullivan."
Chloe raised her hand as though to shake Marion's, but then reading something in Marion's expression she let it drop back to her side.
"Hello, Marion. I am not here to cause trouble and won't touch you without your permission."
Marion released a breath she hadn't noticed she was holding, as Clark shot a look back and forth between the two women.
"Clark," began Chloe with a warm, relaxed smile. "Some things happened between Marion and Lana and Laura on the battleship. Things Lana or I can explain some other time. For now, it is simply best if she and I avoid touching."
Marion watched as some light seemed to dawn in Clark's eyes. For someone from the future, he was sometimes just as easy to read as any other guy.
"So to what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?" asked Marion starting to feel a little better. Then she remembered how trouble seemed to follow these guys and appended, "There isn't more trouble?"
Chloe shook her head. "No trouble for you here. There are a few problems back home and it seemed like a good time to get away for a few days and think some things through."
Marion looked at Clark, "Trouble?"
"Oh, just a few paparazzi hanging around my family's farm - twenty-four/seven."
Chloe saw Marion didn't have a clue what Clark was talking about. "What Clark means is there are a few members of the press hanging around his farm looking for a story. And he finds it sort of annoying."
Clark looked down at Chloe and wondered how she could make light of things which threatened his privacy and the safety of his family and friends. Well, okay, he had to admit things hadn't turned out as bad as they had appeared the morning after the events in the storm cellar when six network news trucks and at least fifty other reporters had shown up at his front doorstep; all of them waving blurry photos that looked vaguely like him.
But then having access to a time machine certainly helped in defusing the situation. Chloe and he had used the time machine to acquire another gown and tuxedo and then they had returned to the dance at the school mere seconds after they had departed for the storm cellar. Then while they had waited out the tornado warning in the school's storm shelter, Chloe had led Clark over to where acting Principal Anderson, who was running the high school until a permanent replacement for Kwan was found, and two of the school board members were standing. Clark hadn't particularly enjoyed the ensuing conversation where Chloe put on her 'Torch reporter' hat and began haranguing them about school policy. He understood she was building him an alibi with extremely reputable witnesses for the time when there were reports of his activity all over the globe, but it wasn't nearly as much fun as attending the dance with her should have been.
By the time the tornado warning ended and the dance was getting restarted, Clark thought he could see actual steam coming out of the ears of Ms. Anderson and the members of the board. He even thought for a moment she was going to tell Chloe to 'fuck off' to her face, but she managed to remember she was the principal and Chloe was a student and bit her tongue. Although with a frigid expression, she did tell Chloe the topic could wait until Monday and please go enjoy the dance.
Clark thought that was going to be the end of it, but obviously Chloe wanted to ensure everyone saw and remembered Clark was there for at least a couple of more hours, because she next did something Clark had never expected. As the band was cranking up the first number and while maintaining a firm hold on Clark's right hand, she had marched up the stairs to the stage, strode up to the leader and told him she would be singing with them. Without giving him any time to argue, she had grabbed the microphone from his hand, turned towards the audience and started to sing.
Someone had splurged, and Clark suspected it had secretly been Lex, and had hire a good band rather than just some home-grown band made up of Smallville students. But as soon as Chloe opened her mouth it was obvious she was way, way out of their league. Clark should have realized based on everything he knew about her thousands of years of life that she would be just as proficient at this as everything she could do. But he was as dumbfounded as everyone else in the audience as silence briefly fell except for Chloe's powerful and fluid voice that seemed like it could have filled the whole gymnasium even without the aid of the microphone. The first one to overcome his shock at her gift was the front man for the band and he quickly gestured for the rest of the band to 'kick it'. They had always been just a killer lead singer away from the transition from medium venue regulars to the big time. And with the girl's remarkable talents, he wasn't about to waste this opportunity.
Fortunately, except for the lack of a first class lead singer, the band was good. They could cover a lot of songs from fast to slow, rock to country, and no matter what they tried, Chloe was up for the challenge. And the whole time Chloe kept at least one hand on Clark so the entire audience would be witnesses to his presence for the duration of the dance.
So when the entire media circus had descended on the Kent farm the next morning, they had credible witnesses and even numerous videos clearly showing Clark had been at the school the entire time the strange events had been occurring in many faraway places around the world. And as quickly as it had appeared, the media frenzy had evaporated except for a handful of tabloid reporters.
Dragging his mind back to the conversation with Chloe and Marion, Clark responded. "Okay, so the trouble back home may not be that severe. Maybe I was just looking for an excuse to spend a little time with Chloe away from prying eyes."
Chloe grinned. "Do the prying eyes you're referring to belong to the reporters or to your parents?"
Clark's face turned a little red and it wasn't due to the combined effects of the bright sun and thin air.
Marion recognized Clark's embarrassment and wanted to change the subject. Unfortunately the first topic that popped into her head wasn't particular fun or upbeat.
"Chloe, were you good friends with Whitney, too? I am so sorry about what happened to him and that Hank and I couldn't do anything to help him."
"Yes, I am," answered Chloe. "And don't worry about not being able to help Whitney. He's okay and everything turned out fine."
"What do you mean he's okay? I saw him die."
"Well, when you have access to a time machine almost anything is possible. We managed to retrieve his body shortly after you last saw him and before he was truly and forever dead. We revived him and he is perfectly fine and back home."
Deciding the details weren't really important or possibly even comprehensible to Marion, Chloe didn't go into them. However when Chloe and Lana were stripping the effects of Sliviuh's programming out of Alicia's mind, she had discovered the girl had it bad for Whitney. And since Lana had moved on to Lex, Chloe had decided there wasn't any reason she couldn't take a shot at fixing up Alicia and Whitney. Whitney might still be bound for the Marines and a stay at Camp Pendleton out in California, but a long distance relationship hardly seemed like an obstacle with Alicia's ability to teleport.
So when the time came to retrieve Whitney from the sinking battleship, Chloe had brought Alicia along in addition to Clark. And after reviving Whitney, Chloe had insisted on an evening of pub-crawling in London before returning to the present. As she could easily predict from her vast experience, by the time the evening was over, things had begun progressing nicely between Whitney and Alicia. In the end, they used the time machine to drop Whitney by Camp Pendleton's front gate on the morning he was due to report even though home for the other three was more than a week further into the future.
As Marion stood there once more reeling from how strange the lives of these kids from the future were, Hank came up the hill from their main campsite leading Gretchen and his group of student volunteers.
"Clark," exclaimed Hank as he got close enough to make out who was standing with his wife. He broke into a jog and then when he reached them he pulled the younger man into a hug and clapped him repeatedly on the back.
"Clark, this is such a pleasant surprise. What are you doing here?"
Not wanting to go through everything they had just covered with Marion again, Clark simply answered, "Oh, we were just in the area doing a little camping and thought we would drop in and say hi."
Then Clark pulled back a little. "Hank, this is my girlfriend, Chloe."
With none of the hesitation Marion had showed, Hank reached forward and vigorously shook Chloe's hand. "It is nice to finally meet you, although I clearly recognize your face from that movie thing on Var El's ship."
"Ah, yes, Clark has been telling me about that, one more item on my list of things to do when I manage to scrounge up the necessary costume."
Gretchen, who had been hanging slightly back with the rest of the students, stepped forward. Clark was glad to see she looked healthy and a lot happier than when he had last seen her. But then he reflected, she had had a year to get over her father's death at the hand of the Nazis, an event which had occurred just hours before he had first met her.
"Clark, it is good to see you again."
"It is good to see you, too, Gretchen," answered Clark as he took in how a year in the States had removed almost all traces of a German accent from her voice.
"Ah, Clark, since Hank has already mentioned him, do you have any word on what happened to Var El after we all went our separate ways in Washington?"
Clark glanced over at the assembled students, who were still standing nearby and probably trying to figure out how two unknown Americans had suddenly appeared on an island in the middle of a large lake thousands of miles from home.
Hank apparently followed Clark's gaze for he quickly turned his attention to his students. "Okay, guys, these are some old friends of mine. There will be plenty of time for introductions during lunch. Now, how about you all get to work? We only have two more weeks before we have to head for home."
As they nodded and turned to pick up their tools from neat rows over in the corner of the dig area, Hank led his small group in the opposite direction.
Once they were well out of earshot, Clark answered Gretchen's question. "Var made it home safely. He had ten good years with his family. Then when he and his wife were attempting to make a return trip to Earth, they had an accident. His wife was killed and Var was badly crippled."
All three of the 1937 residents appeared about to make the standard comments of sympathy when Chloe spoke up. "Clark and I only just found out about it. One of the first tasks we plan when we get back home is to see if we can rectify the situation."
"Rectify?" echoed Gretchen who along with Hank had missed the earlier discussion about the revival of Whitney.
"Yeah, hopefully with a little thought and effort we can reverse her death just like with Whitney."
"Whitney's alive?" gasped Gretchen.
Chloe took one look at Gretchen's face and knew she had had at least a 'crush' on Whitney. And Chloe knew it wasn't hard too understand – Whitney was tall, blonde, handsome, and almost as much of a hunk as Clark. She knew enough about events back in 1936 to know Gretchen's father had been killed right before her eyes. Whitney hadn't died in front of her, but his death could still have been a devastating blow so soon after the loss of her father.
"Yeah, Whitney is alive and well." Chloe began. But before Gretchen had time to develop any false hopes, she added. "But he is back 'home' now and it is very unlikely you will ever see him again."
Chloe had expected to see a look of disappointment, but Gretchen just nodded. With Whitney's apparent death, obviously the girl had moved on with her life.
"Clark," began Marion drawing the conversation away from Whitney and back to Var El. "When you were standing by Var back on his ship and we were watching the movie thing from Chloe, I noticed a truly striking similarity between his profile and yours. I have wondered ever since, are you related?"
Clark hesitated for just a moment. Then he decided since they already knew about the time machine and the existence of aliens, what did it matter if they knew he, too, was an alien? "I didn't know for certain at the time, although I suspected we were from the same place. But I now know that, yes, we are related. Var is my great grandfather. And that's a large part of why I want to help him to recover from his injuries and see if we can retrieve his wife, my great grandmother."
Marion nodded as though she had suspected this answer all along.
"So Hank," began Chloe as she started walking away from the dig area and headed further up the slope. "How has the dig been going so far? Found anything interesting?"
Hank started following her and then so did the others.
"Oh, just the usual – broken pottery, cooking utensils, arrowheads, a few foundation stones, and the like. Plenty exciting for an old archeologist, but probably not for anyone else."
"Hmm, well I think it is time you do a little better. An old friend suggested you might be interested in a ten thousand year old sacred 'Golden Sun Disk of Lemuria' and I am here to deliver."
Hank's eyes lit up like he was about to receive his ten best ever Christmas gifts all rolled up into one. But Clark had been watching Chloe and surprisingly she had shot a meaningful glance at Gretchen and not Hank as she spoke. What new train of events was she setting in motion he wondered. And when would he find out he wondered, because Chloe tended to think in terms of decades and centuries the way everyone else thought in weeks or months.
As they continued up the hill to some secret passageway only Chloe knew, Clark couldn't suppress a grin. Since learning the secret about Chloe's long, long life, there hadn't been a single dull moment.
Epilogue Part 2 – Ennis, Montana – Three weeks after the events in the storm cellar
Lana stood near the top of the hill which gave a good overview of the small community of Ennis, Montana – population 857. She watched as Lex made his way down the steep incline to where the Range Rover was parked. She had asked for some time alone to think and Lex had graciously assented. The same way he had been handling her with kid gloves ever since 'The Night of Sliviuh', as he and Clark referred to it.
She looked out across the town in the fading afternoon light, but found nothing remarkable about it. It was a small rural town in cattle country about seventy miles northwest of Yellowstone. They had been here three days and had toured the small art shops and galleries, attended a rodeo, and even run in a half-marathon. The half had certainly been the highlight as they had run together and with a little boost from her 'bots they had set a blistering pace for the first ten miles. But then they had walked the final three as it would hardly be prudent for them to set new world records in some little backwater race. No, they didn't need to find themselves in a similar mess to what had nearly befallen Clark.
But she hadn't come to Ennis to look at art or run races; she had come here hoping to find answers. And so far none had presented themselves. Neither Chloe nor Laura had any recollection of having been here in the 1890s, as Chloe had been in England at the time. Nor did they have any recollection of having been here at any other time and with their 'bot enhanced memories, it wasn't something they would forget.
And since she hadn't been born until the 1980s, it was impossible that it was her memories she had accessed in creating the 1890s Ennis she had experienced in her virtual reality world. Yet it was obvious the virtual reality world had been based on the real thing, as the terrain matched and even a few of the older looking buildings were roughly the same. So where had the memories come from?
Slowly Lana shook her head. She might never know the answer. But was the source of the memories important or was she really looking for something else and that was just a convenient crutch?
If she looked deep inside, she knew what she was looking for was a way to break free of the melancholy state she had been in ever since the defeat of Sliviuh.
The first few days had passed by in a blur; no, a daze was certainly more accurate. Three days of the school year had remained before the summer recess. She had attended school, but it had felt completely weird. For with her 'bot powered memories, the near two thousand years she had spent in the virtual reality world seemed just as real as her previous life. Oh, thanks to the perfect recall provided by the 'bots, it wasn't like she had completely forgotten her original life, no, she still knew the names of all her teachers and friends. But in some ways those days truly felt like they were thousands of years in the past and no longer had the same significance they once had.
She had tried talking to Chloe about it since she had gone through something similar when she had had to relive the two thousand years from ancient Rome for a second time before rejoining them in Smallville barely a week earlier. But somehow it still wasn't the same. Chloe was going back two thousand years in a life that spanned nineteen thousand years; while Lana was trying to go back two thousand years in a life that spanned only two thousand sixteen years. It definitely wasn't the same.
Chloe had tried to be as supportive as she could and they had spent a lot of time together in those first few days. Oh, most of it hadn't been focused on Lana's mental state, but rather on the task of trying to clean up the mess Sliviuh had left behind. Sliviuh had not only enthralled a number of their family members, friends, and acquaintances like Clark's Dad, Nell, Alicia, Tina, Jeff, and even Roger Nixon, but also she had done it to a lot of strangers, too. It had been a delicate task to try and deprogram her victims and it was something neither of them could risk trying to often alone. For Sliviuh wasn't truly dead, but was merely trapped in the deep dark recesses of their minds like the proverbial 'Prometheus chained to the rock'. And when they used their gifts to meddle with people's minds, there was always the risk of unleashing her like Laura had done back on the battleship. And that was one genie neither Chloe nor Lana wanted to let out of the bottle anytime soon. So they had almost always worked as a team to ensure they had more than enough mental strength to keep Sliviuh safely in her cage.
But once all of Sliviuh's victims they could find had been treated and school had finally ended for the summer, Lana had felt even more lost than before. Finally, Lex had suggested perhaps a change of scenery would help and she had selected Ennis.
Now standing here looking down on the small town, Lana knew it wasn't the answer. The answer wasn't a physical location, because the problem wasn't physical problem. The problem was all in her head. For if she was really honest with herself, the problem was she missed her life in the virtual world. There she could fly, do magic, lead armies into battle. But here in the 'real' world her life was just so . . . small.
"Your life here will only be small as long as you let it be small," said a familiar voice from beside her.
Lana looked to her left and Laura was standing there. She was manifesting her original Chloe-like appearance rather than the winged Sphinx she had used for so long in the virtual world. Standing next to her was Ares with one of his arms draped casually around her. The 'bot system made them appear to be perfectly real to Lana right down to their hair ruffling in perfect sync with the breeze.
Laura wasn't supposed to access Lana's innermost thoughts, but at the moment she obviously was.
"What do you mean?" asked Lana hoping no one was watching her with binoculars or a telescope as she appeared to talk to the empty air.
"Perhaps you can't fly or do magic in the real world, but you aren't without gifts that will give you an edge over other people," answered Laura.
And then a new voice spoke from her other side. "And you are wrong to look on those thousands of years of memories of the virtual world as a handicap. Used correctly they aren't a disadvantage, but an asset. You learned a lot during those years. You are a much stronger person now than you were before. You HAVE led armies and it makes no difference whether they are virtual or real. You know how to be a leader, but it is up to you to decide whether you want to small or great in the 'real' world."
Lana looked to her right and Alexander stood there with his glorious shoulder length auburn hair and wearing a simple white tunic which showed off his warrior's physique.
Lana suddenly knew he was right; she was wallowing in her old existence rather than moving forward to create a new, improved destiny. But she also knew there was more to it than just that. There was the whole issue of Lex and Alexander. Or perhaps Lex versus Alexander. She loved them both, but if it came down to it, she loved Alexander more. They had been together almost every day for twelve hundred years versus the handful of weeks she had had with Lex. How could she keep both of them in her life? How could she even explain about Alexander to Lex?
"What do I do about Lex?" she asked her long-time husband.
Alexander put his arm about her and the 'bot system made it feel as real as the visual image of him standing beside her.
"You have to use his 'bots to bring him into the virtual world so the three of us can discuss it and see if we can come to some kind of an understanding," Alexander said. Then giving her arm a gently squeeze, he continued. "If he can't accept the situation, well, at least the truth will be out in the open and I think that will be best for everyone."
Lana nodded. She was finally able to admit to herself the 'Lex versus Alexander' question was the heart of her problem. If she could get passed that, one way or the other, she could finally move forward with her life.
When she had tried to make the break from Whitney after returning from Ancient Rome, she had procrastinated so long, things had almost ended in disaster. But that had been a sixteen-year-old Lana. Now it was a two-thousand-year-old Lana, a long time leader of men, who headed briskly down the hill to talk to Lex and take control of her destiny.
Epilogue Part 3 – Chloe's secret laboratory – 2:38 AM, seventeen hours before the events in the storm cellar
Sliviuh's fingers danced over the keyboard as she rapidly brought system after system online to fully activate the time machine. As she worked, the two paramedics she had enthralled in Metropolis pushed the gurney with its heavily restrained passenger into position.
Ever since Lana had nearly broken free in the hours immediately after her arrival from 1936, she had been thinking about a backup plan in case she failed to secure her old body before Lana regained control of this one. Since Lana was the only one to ever end up with an active 'bot system after the sharing of blood, Sliviuh needed some way of duplicating the effect with another body. The only thing unique about Lana versus everyone else she had ever shared blood with, including several residents of Smallville, was the meteor rock pendant Lana had worn for thirteen of her sixteen years. Prolonged, continuous exposure to the meteor rock had somehow altered her body so that the 'bots stayed active even after physical contact with Chloe's body had been broken.
Sliviuh knew she couldn't achieve a years long exposure to another body in the few hours she had left. Nor was it likely she would find someone else who had been wearing a similar piece of meteor rock jewelry in the time she had available. However an idea had occurred to her that had never been tried before. What if she made the transfer of blood and 'bots while being exposed to a truly intense field of meteor rock radiation?
Based on the effect she had seen when Clark went through the portal device versus what she knew of his response to an ordinary piece of meteor rock. The field within the portal had to be at least a thousand times more intense than a simple pile of the rocks. So what would be the response, if she made the transfer right in the middle of portal field?
Since this was the best solution she had come up with to end up with a backup body, she had to give it a try. And if it was a failure and the test subject either didn't respond or even simply died, well, what did the price of a single life mean to her?
The fine hairs on her arms started to stand on end as the portal machine reached full power and the green doorway began to form. Calmly she picked up the long sharp knife lying next to the keyboard and made her way over to the waiting gurney. Then waving the two attendants back, she personally pushed it forward until it was centered in the field with the far end almost protruding out into the destination room and the exposed near end still several inches within the lab.
Stepping up next to the gurney the portal's harsh green light drowned out all other colors, yet Sliviuh didn't feel any other effect on her host body. Looking down at the figure strapped to the cart, she worked the left hand free and then quickly slashed it and her own.
Squeezing the two blood-soaked appendages with a firm grip, she turned her mind inward and began the process of colonizing the other body with the nanobots. A handful of seconds passed as generation after generation of nanobots replicated and spread. Then abruptly the colonization process was done and the transfer of her memories began.
While they remained in contact the nanobot system in the new body would remain active and her own. But the true test would come when she ended physical contact. Knowing it was now or never, Sliviuh released her grip and turned to watch the other's face which was still washed by the green glow of the active Portal. Two nods, one shake, and then two more nods left her feeling triumphant. It had worked. Her mind had been duplicated and was still in charge of the other body. Now for the ultimate test. She pushed the gurney through the Portal and into the large bedroom suite beyond. Then when she was well clear of the field, she leaned over the other face once again. Two shakes, two nods, and three more shakes revealed the transfer appeared to be permanent. Quickly Sliviuh-One began unbuckling the restraints to release Sliviuh-Two.
Once Sliviuh-Two was clear, she watched as Sliviuh-One pushed the now empty gurney back through the Portal. And she knew even as she went, the version in Lana's body was busily erasing all memories of these events from her 'bot system. Once she and the two paramedics were back in Metropolis, no memories would exist in Lana's body to betray the existence of this duplicate, in case Sliviuh-One failed in her mission to reacquire her original body. If she was successful, Sliviuh-Two would eventually know and then could initiate contact. Two bodies would certain make maintaining control of the planet easier. Plus if the Portal duplication worked once, it should work again and again. The thought was utterly delicious.
Sliviuh-Two glanced around the large bedroom which would be her new home for awhile and then headed for the bathroom with its wall of mirrors. As she moved it took a moment to adjust to the size and gait of this new body which was so very different from her original or even Lana's.
Stepping up to the bathroom mirror she took in the great mane of dark brown hair. It had a scattering of silver, but she knew the 'bots were already busy returning this body to its prime. Then she reached down and felt between her new legs. A nice big fat cock hung there just waiting to be put to use. Oh, it was going to be such a rush to be a man after thousands of years in a feeble woman's body. She looked into the mirror at her new rugged countenance and couldn't suppress a smirk.
Oh, she was going to be a magnificent bastard, indeed!
Whew, when I started this all I had in mind was having Clark learn to fly and go up against a Nazi battleship, which seemed like a nice step up from battling Roman soldiers in the first story. I thought it wouldn't run more than fifty thousand words and was already thinking in terms of a second follow-on story arc to get it to a novel length. But now here we are three & a half years and three hundred fifty thousand words later. Wow.
Anyway, if you are reading this, I am assuming you have read the whole story. And unless you read a lot faster than I do, you must have invested fifteen or twenty hours of your time. So how about spending five more minutes and drop me a review? I would like to hear what bits were your favorite or what aspects you hated the most or if you would like to see another sequel.
Personally, I think my favorite part was the chapter where Clark and Whitney traveled down to Dresden to see the original Chloe. Almost no action in that chapter, but I really liked how the character interaction worked. My next favorite part was probably where Lana was battling the two henchmen in the ballroom of the chateau and she got her first real test of her abilities and her first taste of the virtual reality possibilities.
My least favorite bit – hmm, possibly the inclusion of Indiana Jones. Oh, the Samson braids made for some fun battles for Clark, but the biblical references from Indiana Jones and the pseudo-science/long timeline of Superman/Krypton portions of the story just never mixed comfortably to me. I know a lot of people didn't care for Sliviuh when I first introduced her and even I had some doubts, but the story seemed to need a strong protagonist to carry it to the conclusion. The first story definitely peaked in Rome and then sort of petered out at the end and this time I wanted the story to end with more of a bang. Plus to me this was mainly Lana's story and including Sliviuh gave Lana's character more room to grow.
As far as sequel possibilities, at the moment I am leaning towards a story set back near the end of Chloe's original civilization. I think for a change of pace it will mostly take place in outer space with Clark, Chloe, Lex, and Lana battling the alien race which destroys Chloe's civilization. And since Clark is the last son of Krypton it seemed like it would be an interesting juxtaposition if he was also somehow involved with the origin of the Krypton race. Plus there are plenty of other things to explore like what is the true origin of his suit. Anyway, those are my thoughts for a sequel at the moment, but then look at how far this present story diverged from my original thoughts, I never really know what is going to happen until I put fingers to the keyboard.
Thanks for reading and I hope you are having a great day!