May 31, 2005
"Now you speak!" said Lex aloud.
The data available to me, said the voice of Brol-Ez, suggested that your opponents somehow 'fed' off the energy of our interface. Thus I remained silent until I was certain all danger had passed. The voice sounded contrite.
So Isobel allowed Lana to give Clark the other crystal because she got all the power she needed from you? Lex thought about Isobel's sudden ability to conjure storms when her earlier spells had been far more limited in scope, not to mention Genevieve's unexpected fire starting abilities.
That is the conclusion I reached. You and your foil did well in combatting the two, despite their unforeseen powers.
Lex smiled, silently agreeing. He exchanged a few more comments with Brol-Ez, promising to return with Clark in a few weeks for further discussion. But for now, he wanted to get back to enjoying the trip.
They were at Mile 98, almost half way through the Grand Canyon. They were also two days behind the original schedule, thanks to helping with both the clean-up from the flood and the subsequent police investigation.
To say their account had been met with skepticism was an understatement, and Lex feared Genevieve might get away with little more than a wrist slap for violating restricted air space. Her story – that she'd intercepted a terrorist threat directed at Lex Luthor and had gone to get her son out of harm's way –was far more palatable than the limited amount of truth Lex had felt capable of sharing. The justice system just wasn't prepared to handle time travelling witches and super powered aliens – improving the process would require a lifetime of work. Lex was eager to start.
But not yet. Lex brought his attention back to the task before him: Crystal Rapid.
Crystal had been formed in 1966 in a flash flood and for a long time had been considered just barely navigable. Time had brunted some of its fury, but even now it was considered one of the two wildest rides in the Grand Canyon. It started with two 'must miss' holes on the centre right, and ended with an enormous rock garden that could easily punch a hole in a boat or leave one stranded. There was a safe path through by hugging the shore on the right, but the river was so narrow that there was little margin for error.
Lex took a deep breath as the he reached the first waves. The current was immensely strong and was trying to sweep him towards the first hole – he had to paddle hard to maintain his line. He also had to work hard to maintain his balance given the waves rushing at him from all angles. Somewhat ruefully, he remembered his disappointment when he'd scouted the rapid with the rest of the group. He'd read a lot about Crystal, and it had all looked so much tamer at first glance than he'd expected. Which only proved how misleading initial impressions could be.
Lex finally cleared the first hole and relaxed for a few seconds before the current once again tried to sweep him off path, this time into the second hole. Back stroke, hard back, high brace, sweep stroke, forward stroke, low brace, back stroke, hard back, bow draw, forward stroke… and suddenly Lex was past the worst of it. In response to the cheers from a group scouting on the shore, he raised his paddle and gave a whoop in celebration.
For the next minute, the rapid was relatively quiet. Lex took the opportunity to rest a bit, and then started to play with the waves. He started with some small turns, and then gradually deepened his edges until he went into a flat spin. He pulled out and then tried a cartwheel, but his timing was slightly off. He found himself upside down in the water and had to quickly align himself for the roll back to the surface.
He had only a few more seconds to catch his breath until reaching the final section of Crystal, the wave train to the side of the rock garden. His line was good so he was able to stay well clear of the boulders on his left, and instead simply enjoyed the roller coaster-like ride. It seemed to last forever. It was over all too soon.
With another whoop of triumph, Lex pulled into the eddy beside Karyn and Clark. They exchanged grins and Karyn handed him a plastic cup filled with bubbly water. "ABC!" she toasted.
"ABC!" responded Clark and Lex. The acronym stood for 'Alive Below Crystal', a time-honoured reason to celebrate. Lex tossed back the water with relish.
"That was intense!" said Clark. "That first hole really wanted to get a hold of me." He and Lex took turns describing their journey through the rapid.
"Speaking of Crystal," said Clark, sobering slightly, "what do you think we should do about it?"
Lex touched his shirt pocket, in which the water crystal rested, and smiled. "Keep it secret. Keep it safe," he replied.
"Geek," said Clark, smiling at the Lord of the Rings reference. "Does Brol-Ez agree?"
Lex's eyes went unfocused for a moment as he communed with the interface. "Pretty much. Apparently, the crystals can be combined to create a Kryponian archive, but doing that would actually drain you of your powers for a few months – apparently that's one of those checks and balances the ancients designed. And Brol-Ez is still concerned that the Jor-El simulation has been contaminated. So…"
"So you're both going to think about it some more," concluded Clark.
"At least sometimes, discretion is the better part of valour."
"Not in my playbook," replied Clark with a grin.
"I know," said Lex. "And that's why you need me."
Genevieve stood before the small mirror in her prison cell. It was a nice cell, filled with sunlight and an entertainment centre and a fairly comfortable bed. But it was still prison, keeping her from where she needed to be.
She'd spent the last ten hours being interrogated by agents from the Department of Domestic Security. Unlike the first set of policemen she'd talked to, these agents had been deeply suspicious of her story. Too many people had seen her battling with Isobel, and seen the fires go out as soon as she was thrown in to the river. So she was being blamed for it all, while Lana got off scot free. The worst part was that she could not even implicate that scheming hussy without further incriminating herself.
She didn't doubt that she would be freed eventually – proving a charge of witchcraft under a modern judicial system would be well-nigh impossible. But the DDS could keep her locked up for years on a series of lesser charges if they put their mind to it. And she didn't have the time to spare, not when she was so close.
She remembered the power she'd started absorbing as soon as she'd arrived in the Grand Canyon. It had been intoxicating, and she could finally understand in a visceral way why her ancestors had been seeking the crystals for generations. Before, the hunt had been almost a game – now, it was more important than anything else in her existence.
Certainly more important than her snivelling son. Jason had chosen his side, and it had not been hers. Now, he was worse than dead to her.
She raised a scrap of a shirt that her lawyer had brought in at her request. Jason had been wearing the shirt on the day that a brutal tackle had destroyed his knee and a possible football career. A heady aura of pain, fear, anger and despair clung to the shirt – excellent emotions to conjure with. She started speaking in Latin while she lit some heavily scented candles. She raised the scrap to the wick and smiled as it caught fire.
She looked up into the mirror. A younger woman, similar in appearance but garbed in an elaborate robe, gazed back. Genevieve recognized her as Gertrude, her ancestor from the time when Isobel had been burned as a witch. "We have a common enemy," said Genevieve. "We have a common goal. Can you help?"
Gertrude nodded and twisted her lips in a feral smile. "I know how to get it back."
This story was inspired by visits this summer to the Grand Canyon (a follow up to a trip from a few years ago where I hiked down to Havasu Falls), and another to the Ottawa River for white water rafting. I thoroughly recommend both experiences.
I've long dreamed of riding the rapids through the Grand Canyon, and the research I did for this story only deepened that desire. I decided to deepen the experience for the characters of this story by having them use kayaks, which bring you much closer to the action and provide less room for error (and thus more room for dramatic license).
The risks I've described – kayaks rolling, rafts flipping, creeks flash flooding – are all very real. Crystal Rapid formed in a flash flood similar to the one I've described. For an excellent account of river trips through the Colorado and the attendant risks, I highly recommend The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon, by Kevin Fedarko.
- For general rafting information
- For how to row the rapids
- For geological formations
- For everything else: Wikipedia!