Bruce isn't happy.
Clark's not surprised, exactly, but he does wish Bruce would be unhappy less--noticeably. A bottle of vitamin fortified water--what else can you expect from Bruce?--and the crackers Lois always carries are settling uncomfortably in his stomach, but at least he feels slightly less as if he should be on IV in a hospital.
The plane is new. For one, good passenger compartment. The downside, it looks a lot like the expected passengers would be bad guys, and Clark's just not sure how he feels about watching the cockpit through bars, even if the door's open.
It just feels like he's giving Bruce a little too much of a psychological edge, and Bruce has plenty edge already.
"Clark Kent." He hasn't gotten over that yet. "I don't believe this."
"Yeah. Welcome to my other life." Bruce has always made Clark want to do really stupid, alpha-male things, like grunt and ask how much he bench-presses, but Bruce, he knows, can pretty much bench-press the average cow. Clark's seen Bruce's home gym. In other words, Clark's officially out of his league in human terms these days. "Um. How much farther?"
He wonders if the question is beginning to annoy anyone. At this point, he's beginning to annoy himself.
Lois passes him the water bottle and checks his temperature with the inside of her wrist. "You seen cooler. How do you feel?"
"Like crap." Clark would like nothing more than to drop his head in her lap and tell her and Bruce to do this. Oh well. "Any more aspirin?"
"Yes, but you'll make yourself sick if you have any more." Cassius this time, curled up in a far seat, looking a little better. Exposure to Bruce's almost violent good health probably restored him somewhat. Clark doesn’t know of any illness that would dare come near the man.
"Great." Rubbing his forehead, Clark forces his eyes fully open, taking long breaths. "Okay. We don't have cold-weather gear--"
Of course Bruce does. Do you have some convenient nuclear weapons as well? Clark just really doesn't want to know.
"Anyway. Lex isn't going to implement the blowing up of the Fortress until he's got them isolated and away from any hope of getting back to their ship. So. A little leeway, timewise."
"Do we know how far they'll be scanning for other life forms?" Bruce asks.
Well, no, and that's a problem. Clark looks around the tiny compartment, eyes narrowed in thought. "Bruce, I know you have an uplink here somewhere. Even if the Fortress can't scan them, it may have an idea of what Kryptonians would be using." Are there other aliens? Maybe they borrowed from some other planet. Oh fuck, he's not going to make this more complex. "Where's a laptop?"
"You think I keep it in the passenger area?" Bruce sounds really amused. Oh fuck you. Of all people, Bruce should get this. The man's been in bed with Catwoman, after all. He's really in no position to judge. "Just a second. I'll hook it through the plane's computer."
Clark sighs softly. So much for private conversation. "Tell me when you've got access."
Sighing, Clark lets his head fall back.
"I can't even figure out what he's going to do," Clark says to the ceiling. "He's trading *me*, and I'm not even there to trade. They may take that badly and--" Just kill him right off, deal broken. They didn't *need* Lex for anything else. But Lex would have thought of that. Frowning, Clark tries to figure out what Lex *didn't* think of, besides the obvious.
It's like walking blind through a maze backwards. Lex is *good* at this sort of thing. But Clark's good at it, too.
"He'll want isolation," Lois says thoughtfully, and Clark turns his head enough to look at her. "So they can't run."
"If he has Kryptonite, they can't."
Lois gives Clark a long, amused look. "When your life's on the line, you've trotted yourself along or you'd be dead more times than I can count." Good point. "Inner room."
"Probably the main access chamber. I--"
"Clark, we've got a connection. The Fortress wants identification."
Clark raises his head. "Hey, Fortress."
"Kal-El, you know my voice, so don't start the high security shit. How the hell did Lex Luthor gain access?" Clark's got to know.
The AI's pause is long.
"There is no one by that designation--"
"Right." Clark sees Lois looking at him. "He told it he's not there and it believed him."
"Do I want to know?"
Clark closes his eyes, shaking his head. "The AI is still a computer, dependent on its programming and what it's told. Just like we rely on our senses to tell us. He must have gotten to the core programming. Not a huge surprise--he's been working on that for years." And with the added incentive of three Kryptonians who might use the Fortress for interesting pursuits? Oh yeah. Sighing, Clark makes a note to find out how Lex got the programming skills to do it. "Okay, scan for non-human lifeforms. Check--" Clark takes a breath, trying to work astrophysics in his head. "I'm thinking ship."
"Ship?" The AI sounds interested. "What--"
The pause this time sounds unhappy. "There are no other--"
"Except off-planet, apparently, and by the way, thanks for the warning on that one that you didn't deliver. There's a ship and three of them. Do a complete sweep--if they're planning on a midnight landing, they should be in really obvious range here."
Clark takes another drink from the water bottle pressed into his hand.
Well, wasn't that easy? And does the AI sound guilty?
"Can you tell me what kind of range their sensors would have off-planet? And what they'd have on-planet, for that matter." Giving the water bottle back to Lois, Clark concentrates. He just can't face throwing up again. Illness just sucks.
Of course. Because that would be easy. "Okay. Do an internal diagnostic and find out what the fuck Luthor fed you to shut down your internal sensors. He's in there and I need to know where. Hurry."
The AI makes a sound that might be offended, but Clark really doesn't care. "Bruce, kill the uplink. They might be able to sense that. Hell, for all I know, they can sense us already. Find me--Jesus--" He can do this. Breathing out, Clark gets upright and rubs a hand over his forehead. "Bruce, this beats radar, right?"
Which--really doesn't help. This is going to be by luck alone. "I need to get into the Fortress and I need you close enough to pick me and Lex up before it blows. The weather conditions are bad--lets assume that they're not that good at filtering through interference."
"You know what assumptions--"
Oh fuck you. You try rewriting someone else's plan. "I am so open to any suggestions you have here. And no, calling in the Justice League isn't going to work, but the second I go in, you get them on alert. If this doesn’t work, three of me are going to be wandering around free on this planet with their very own spaceship. Lex probably informed whoever his contact is with the government, but that leave the rest of the planet to find out the hard way." Not that Clark plans to fail.
Bruce doesn’t answer and Clark looks down, trying to find his bag. "Lois--"
"Here." She drops it in his lap. "Bruce has cold weather gear. He's been kind enough to allow me to use it."
Clark looks at her. "You're kidding."
"Oh, because you can walk upright so well?" She snorts. "I'll stay out of the way, but you're doing what I think you're going to do, falling over in front of them isn't going to help the impression."
Clark feels something tighten in his chest, and reaching out, he grabs both her hands. They feel--fragile again, like they hadn't since he'd changed. This sudden, vicious reminder of how fragile she really was. "Lois--"
"Clark." She grins, bright and fast, before finding her feet, and he watches her move toward the back compartments, opening the barred door. "Get changed, Smallville. Be right back."
Clark glances to the front of the plane. Bruce is driving like it's any mission in the world, except it's nothing like it. Levering himself to his feet, he navigates his way to the cockpit, sitting gingerly in the copilot's seat. "Where's Dick?"
"Informing the Justice League and getting ready for your worst case scenario," Bruce answers shortly. "We should bring them all in."
Clark hesitates. "Bruce, if push came to shove and I'd gotten delusions of taking over the world, there's no way you all could have stopped me. Even with your Kryptonite weapons."
He gets a flickering look that's as good as confirmation. "You know about that?"
"Surprisingly, I do get the idea of security." Clark remembers being comforted in some strangely masochistic way when he'd found out. If--if this hadn't worked, if he'd gone crazy, maybe Bruce could have slowed him down. Bruce and Lex together could maybe have even stopped him. "This will work."
"The way Lex is doing it will work, too," Bruce says, but Clark sees the tightening of the man's mouth. Clark's never quite understood how Bruce and Lex relate--less than friendship, more than polite acquaintances and occasional business partners, some shifting surface of a relationship that's survived longer and more consistently than Lex and Clark had. Leaning into the seat, Clark tries to gather his thoughts, watching Bruce sort through his own.
"If it fails--" Clark pauses, glancing back at Cassius briefly. Still curled up tight and small in his seat. Maybe he hasn't recovered from unshielded access to the world yet after all. "Cassius needs to be shielded behind lead--Lex took care of him and you have to, too. There's--other things that have to be handled. He'll tell you everything you need to know."
Bruce gives him a look. "Now you think you'll fail?"
Clark thinks about it, tapping his fingers into the console, avoiding the dangerous looking and unlabeled buttons that litter the surface. Clark would give a lot to see what this thing can do.
"Have I ever?"
Bruce gives him a look. Clark wishes he's lose the cowl, just for the ride. It's just--creepy. It was creepy when he was Superman, too.
"You never tried to do it as a human, either."
Clark shrugs. "If I were Superman, I'd be a lot more worried about my chances." Standing up, he grabs for the seat at a start of dizziness, waiting patiently for it to pass. "Have some faith in your species. How fast is your take-off?"
Bruce frowns a little. "How close are you cutting it?"
"Fine as a hair. Be ready. I'm going to go change. I'd tell you to get out of range, but you won't listen, so just keep the uplink once we get there. When the AI starts sounding panicky, that probably means move. Uplink now. AI should at least have figured out how Lex has been playing with it. With any kind of luck, you can get access to internal sensors here after we go in, at least observational."
Bruce nods. "It's ten to midnight," he says quietly, and Clark swallows, looking out at the Fortress coming up in the arctic night. He hasn't come back since the day he left as human, and he'd thought that would be for the last time.
It's--a patently surreal sight, to see the small ship appear, gunmetal grey and strangely innocuous as it makes landing. The Fortress's roof has plenty of room, the ship settling in as if it were meant to be there, making Clark suspect this was Kryptonian after all.
Bruce is recording everything.
"They're not making any sign they know we're here," Bruce remarks as Lois helps Clark get parka and snow pants on. Weird feeling pants. Makes Clark want to ask about Bruce's obsession with latex, but this probably isn't the time. "Hmm. I wonder--"
"Drop us off and move fast. Is there any chance you can tell when they've left the ship?"
"Monitoring." The pause lasts forever. "Okay, they're in."
"Let's hope the ship doesn't do automatic scans." Sitting down, Clark looks at Lois. "You know--"
"Don't bore me. Just tell me what to do."
Clark nods. "Computer, where's Luthor located?"
"Main access chamber."
Clark nods, getting a visual. "Three doors, below ground level, no outer walls. That's the most inner room. Good choice. If he can bring all the doors down, he might even contain the explosion a little." A very little. Clark wishes he'd had time to look over the specs on the actual weapon Lex was planning to use. The China versions he and Bruce had studied were only rough drafts.
"How will you get in?" Lois now, fixing her hood. "You said your DNA scan--"
"Well, I never actually tested that," Clark answers. There's a sharp pain behind one eye that keeps distracting him. "Voice print should be enough. If it comes to that--Bruce, what are you packing?"
There's a little start and Clark laughs. "Come on. I know you take them everywhere, in case of sudden meltdown of Superman."
"Weapons locker." Bruce really doesn't like being aware he doesn't have that many secrets. Clark would almost pity him if he had time. Rubbing his forehead, he looks around the room, but Lois is already on her way, opening the locker and packing whatever looks interesting in his now-empty bag. "Medical supplies are in the cabinet over from that."
"Blow that ship," Clark says. "Give us ten minutes, then fire and run--with any luck, that will ignite Lex's bomb if we can't do it from inside. If we're not out by then, we're not going to be out, and get everyone awake and ready. Those weapons you saw at NASA, Lois--"
"Ground weapons. That's what I found out," Lois says quietly. "All key positions in the United States. Kryptonite-based, if I'm right. They're ready."
Clark nods. "Open her up, Bruce."
Bruce hesitates. "No closer?"
"They haven't figured out we're right here so far and this is close enough." He hopes. Whatever was in that water's giving him something. Or maybe this is adrenaline, like that day with Lex in the gym, and Clark grins through the sudden start of energy that somehow kicks the illness to the curb and leaves it there for a bit. He only needs a few minutes.
The Arctic sucked when he was Superman, but Clark would know his way blindfolded and handcuffed. It's not too far, and he keeps an arm around Lois, closing his eyes against the cold briefly. The outline of the Fortress is grey and distant, but that's an illusion of wind and bad eyesight.
A lot of really strange thing are running through his head on some kind of fast forward. Fifteen and meeting Lex for the first time, the woodchipper and Dad's face, more almost-near-misses than he can count. How it felt the first time he ran above the speed of the wind, the first time he flew, the first time he broke the sound barrier. His first kiss with Chloe. With Lana. With Lex.
Lois is moving like she's used to being in snow and ice, no problems there--he's so glad she's never lost her training, so glad she's here at all, and he squeezes once, hoping she can feel it through the insulated material. There's a comm unit tucked into his ear, and into Lois', but those will stop working the second they get in the Fortress.
When Clark gets to the wide door, he looks at the sensors and waits, imagining he can feel them sweep him, though that's impossible. "Identify Kal-El." When the doors open, Clark takes a breath and speaks into the comm. "Start time now. Ten minutes, Bruce."
When the door close behind them, Clark leans into the metal and lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding.
"Thought so," Lois murmurs, losing the hood. "Where from here?"
"Right, right, left, and down. It's below ground level." That could also help containing the explosion. "Lex will have put the charges around the main room and below. He's either using a timer or doing it himself. If it's a timer, we just have to move fast. If it's not, we disable the Kryptonians and drag Lex out."
"If the Fortress blocks comm signals, will a remote detonation take?"
Clark smiles grimly. "When Bruce blows that little ship up there? Won't matter. Chain reaction. We just have to be *out* before it does."
Lois nods and unzips the bag, efficiently sorting through what she'd found. A few things that look like guns, a few things that don't look like anything Clark's ever seen, and what appears to be an M-16. "He never shows me his coolest toys," Clark says, kneeling. "How much of this can you use?"
Lois' eyebrow raises. "All of it, of course. Dad was thorough and I keep up with technology. Pick something you can hide easily. I'll come in on the--west side?"
"That'll be left, left, right. The doors will open for me but not for you, I think, so be ready. Get going." Reaching over, he grabs her hand. "If--in ten minutes, get *out*. No matter what happens, get yourself out, promise me--"
"You owe me stockings." Lois looks at him with a kind of amused affection. "You and Luthor die, we all do. That's your incentive. Go." Waiting while Clark chooses one of the smaller handguns--where does Bruce get these things *made* anyway, and how does he explain wanting kryptonite-based bullets?--Clark strips down and watches Lois sling the bag over one arm, the M-16--Jesus, Bruce, they need to talk soon--disappear down the corridor.
Clark shrugs at the feel of the cape and tucks the gun in against his back. He's still running off whatever Bruce has in that water, and he has a little less than nine minutes to win.
Really, he's been in tighter situations.
Grabbing the wall briefly for balance, Clark starts moving.
*edited mistake in text 1257 PM