Too Many Long Boxes!

End of Summer
JLA/Titans: Invasion!
by Syl Francis

Chapter Eleven

As the vast armada continued on its relentless trajectory towards the minor star system, the mother ship detected two small blips on its forward sensors that appeared to be on an intercept course with its scouts. The gigantic ship's AI immediately sent out a warning to the primary scouts, fifty ships that were deployed approximately twenty light years forward of the main body. These immediately veered off towards the new coordinates…

"Flasheroo!" Robin called. "You've gotta keep a close watch on our sensors. Superman and GL are the least of our problems. If they find us, the worst we can expect is to get spanked and sent to our rooms. If we run into the armada, we may not live to see our rooms again!"

"Yeah! And I bet Uncle Barry would sure feel sorry that he got mad at me for going on this mission," Kid Flash replied.

Robin sighed at the other boy's utter denseness. "Well, keep your eyes and ears open, Twinkletoes, so's your Uncle doesn't have reason to feel bad, okay?"

"Okay," Kid Flash answered happily.

"Five hours to Sol System's edge," reported Aqualad quietly.

"Thanks, Garth," Robin acknowledged. "Speedy!"

"Yeah?" Speedy was busy practicing with his sights.

"I'm sending a firing program to your target acquisition computer. I want you become familiar with it. ASAP!"

"Hey!" Speedy protested. "Who's the weapons expert here? I don't need any pre-programmed firing sequence to acquire a target. No way, Boy Wonder!"

"Harper," Robin's voice took on a dangerous edge. "You have two choices: Either follow my orders or get out of my way. I don't have time for arguments. Now what will it be?"

Speedy clenched his fist in disgust and looked like he was about to tell Robin where to go, when he noticed the other Titans waiting quietly, tensely assessing his response. He took a deep breath, slowly unclenched his fist, and nodded slowly.

"Okay, Bird-boy…you're the boss," Speedy said. He caught Wonder Girl's eyes. She was smiling proudly. Speedy slowly returned the smile.

"Good…when I call for fire, I want you to immediately go the programmed sequence," Robin ordered in a brisk, business-like tone. Then relenting, he added with a slight smile, "And, Archer, don't worry…you'll get your chance to go to free fire."

Speedy's grin broadened. "Hey, Robbo! You're all right!" Speedy turned and gave Kid Flash a high five. For the next few hours, the Titans became just a bunch of kids out for a joyride…

"Robbie!" Kid Flash called out. "I'm receiving a Priority One transmission from the JLA!"

"Put it on audio," Robin replied.

"…Please, Donna," Wonder Woman was pleading quietly. "This is not the way. You'll be killed. Dearest sister…please…I beseech you to return. Before it's too late." She suddenly broke off and was replaced by the Flash.

Robin turned to Wonder Girl. She was sobbing quietly in the copilot's seat. He reached across and gently gave her arm a squeeze. Wonder Girl quickly placed her hand on his and gave Robin a grateful smile.

"Wally! Hey, champ! You'n me…we're partners, remember? You didn't even say good-bye." The Flash's voice broke. "Wally, what will I tell your Aunt Iris if anything should happen to you? I promised her I'd take care of you. Wally, I couldn't love you more if you were my own son, you know that. Please…please come home."

The others turned to look at Kid Flash. The young speedster's face appeared stricken, and he looked ready to burst into tears.

"Garth," Aquaman's deep voice came on. "You are my right hand. I cannot rule without my most trusted advisor. Minnow, please return the craft to the satellite." Aquaman paused, then demanded in anger, "Garth! This is your King speaking! I command you to return this instant--!"

Aquaman was suddenly cut off. Aqualad dropped his head in shame. To disobey his king and the man who'd been like a father to him was more than the shy Atlantean could take.

"Red," Black Canary's tentative voice came on over the audio pickup. "Red, I know you're angry with me, but I swear I never meant to hurt you. I know that Ollie's a knucklehead sometimes, but he loves you…you know he does. Just like you love him. And Red, I-I never had little brother before…I'd never forgive myself if you got yourself killed because of me. I promise, Red…" Black Canary hesitated for a split second. "…I promise that I'm history. Just come back to us! Oh, Red, I love you, too."

"Robin," Atom's voice cut in. Robin's head shot up at his name. "Robin, I know you're listening, son. You're the leader. The others will follow you. I know that you're hurt and upset that Batman wouldn't risk you by taking you with him. But this isn't the way, Robin." Atom's voice took on a slightly desperate edge.

"You're responsible for the lives of the others now. If you children are hurt or killed, then Batman's sacrifice will have been for nothing. Robin, you know I'm telling you the truth. You're too much of a leader not to realize this. Please…Robin, you Titans aren't just nameless faces in a crowd. You're our children. Robin, for your sake and the sake of the others…please, turn the craft around!"

"Shut that damned thing off!" yelled Speedy. He jumped from his seat and made his way to the commsyst station, where he reached over and punched the off-switch. "What are they trying to do? Mess with our minds?" Speedy's voice broke and he immediately returned to his weapons station. "Dinah had no right to say anything…no right," he whispered, his voice choking.

Kid Flash sat hunched over his station, his hands covering his eyes. His slightly shaking shoulders showed that the junior speedster was quietly crying. Aqualad looked impossibly young and terribly lost. His violet eyes shining with unshed tears. Wonder Girl looked over at Robin trying to be brave, but her chin quivered nonetheless.

Robin looked at each of his teammates, in turn, and gritted his teeth at the only decision he could make. "We're turning back," he said succinctly.

"What?!" Wonder Girl protested. "Robbie, we can't!"

"Yeah, Bird-boy," Speedy broke in. "They're just tryin' to mess with our minds, man! They don't care about us…just their lousy reputations!"

"Hey! You watch your mouth, jerk!" Kid Flash jumped up and shoved Speedy unceremoniously. "I don't know what your problem is…but I love Uncle Barry, and he loves me! He'd never do anything to hurt me!" Kid Flash turned anguished green eyes on Robin.

"Robbie, I-I know how important this is to you, and I'll go along with whatever you decide. I'll be okay…honest." Tears that the junior speedster couldn't control fell of their own accord. "It's just that I didn't say good-bye, and if something happens…Uncle Barry will never forgive himself. Robbie, he's been like a Dad to me…I can't do that him!"

Robin set the Avenger on autopilot and stood up. There was just enough room for all of the Titans to stand inside the cruiser's small cockpit. They each stared at one another wondering what was coming next.

"I had no right to ask you to come with me. I should've anticipated this. Your families are back there onboard the satellite. Mine is somewhere out there." Robin pointed forward in the direction they were heading. "We still have about thirty minutes before we reach the edge of the solar system. If I turn back now, I'll have you home in time for supper." Robin gave them a smile that was more of a grimace.

"Robin, wait!" Aqualad said. "You are the leader, of course, and we will respect your decision. But we are also a team. You cannot arrive at such a momentous conclusion without consulting us. Aquaman seeks counsel whenever he is called upon to make a ruling that could be met with harsh opposition. He is our king, but as in all things, Arthur tries his utmost to rule both fairly and justly."

"Yeah, Robbie, before you take us back, why don't you ask us if we want to go back?" Kid Flash said, sniffling and wiping his eyes and nose inelegantly on his sleeve.

"Garth and Wally are correct, Dick," Wonder Girl agreed. "You should ask us how we feel before we abandon the mission."

Speedy nodded. "You already know how I feel! I say we go on! We're not a bunch of babies that need protection from the big, bad invaders. What's the point in being superheroes if every time the going gets tough, we get sent to the rear where it's 'safe.'"

Robin stood, arms crossed, feet shoulder-width apart, the picture of a junior superhero. He nodded slowly at their individual pleas and finally spoke. "All right, Titans. You each get one vote." He paused. "But the ultimate decision is mine. Do you agree?"

They each nodded their agreement.

"All right. All those in favor of going back to the Hall of Justice, say 'Aye!'" No one spoke. "All those in favor of continuing with this mission--" Robin was interrupted by the four resounding "AYEs!" from his teammates. Wonder Girl hugged Robin in happy celebration, then noticing Speedy's jealous scowl, she turned and hugged him, too.

Robin looked at each of his teammates in turn. "Are you absolutely sure you know what you're volunteering for?" At their solemn nods, he reluctantly agreed. "All right, we continue the mission; however, before we clear the solar system, I want each of you to record a message to your families. Tell 'em…tell 'em what you need to tell 'em to set things right. When we're ready to cross into deep space, we'll uncloak for a few seconds and send a short data burst. Okay…what are standing around for? Go record your personal messages! We're at ten minutes to leaving the solar system!"

The Titans all rushed back to their duty stations and began recording their messages. Robin returned to his pilot's station and quickly recorded a farewell message to Alfred…

Alfred, I guess you'll get this message if something happens to me. I couldn't let Bruce go off by himself and maybe get killed. I already lost one Dad, because I didn't do anything to prevent his murder, even though I knew that rat Zucco didn't belong there. I should've said something, but I didn't…and now Mom 'n Dad are dead.

I won't let Bruce die without trying to do to something about it. I'm going against direct orders, so don't be mad at Bruce. I-I love you, Alfred…I never knew my grandfather, but I know I would've wanted him to be like you…kind, thoughtful…a true friend. Please, don't be mad at me for leaving without saying goodbye. Love, Dick…

Robin decided to send it via Wonder Woman, since she already knew Batman's secret identity. He checked the ship's chronometer. Thirty seconds to solar system's edge!

"All right, people! Close out your messages and ship 'em to Flasheroo's comm board! Kid Flash, package them into a ten-second data burst and be ready to transmit on my signal! Ready?" Robin held his closed fist up. "NOW!" He brought his hand down in a sharp movement, and simultaneously turned off the Avenger's cloak.

Kid Flash sent the data burst as soon as Robin's hand came down. "Message transmitted!" he called out. Robin immediately recloaked the Avenger, and punched her into hyperspace.

The scouts' sensors instantly detected the unusual spatial readings on an intercept course with the main body of the armada. Ship AIs communicated instantly with each other, passing data between ships at faster than light speed. The forward scout ships veered suddenly towards an intercept point with the incoming unidentified craft…

Batman piloted the cruiser with minimal effort and almost no conversation. Green Arrow sighed to himself.

"I might as well be on a solo voyage," GA muttered. They'd been travelling for almost fifteen hours, and Batman had spoken about as many words in that entire period. Green Arrow smiled sourly and spoke aloud in a high falsetto. "Oh, I don't know what you're talking about, Ollie. I thought that so far we've had a very pleasant voyage."

GA paused and turned his head as if addressing another speaker. "Oh, yes, I totally agree. Quite pleasant. Jupiter looks lovely this time of year, don't you think?"

He turned his head again and brought his hands delicately up to the sides of his mouth. "Oh, and Saturn's rings…to die for!"

"Quite so! But that Pluto! Did absolutely nothing for me! Too cold and dark. Reminded me of someone I know…" Green Arrow continued in this vein for a few more minutes, but eventually tired of the game since he was obviously not going to get a rise from his taciturn teammate.

Instead, GA went back to monitoring his station. He dutifully adjusted a knob here and there. Nothing. Just empty space! GA sighed. He was back where he'd started. Before they'd left the JLA satellite, Atom and the Flash had modified the different stations onboard and somehow jumped several of the critical systems to only two consoles.

Therefore, while GA was sitting on the right-hand copilot's seat, he could monitor sensors, communications, engineering, shields and weapons, while Batman could pilot, navigate, and have auxiliary fire control, if necessary.

Of course, no one said anything to GA about traveling thousands of light years with Laughing Boy next to him. GA sighed again. He missed Roy's arrogant wit and Dinah's sharp rebuttals. "I wonder if I'll see them again," he thought.

"You will." Batman's quiet reply caught Green Arrow off guard.

"Sorry, Bats. I must've spoken out loud. I didn't mean to interrupt your interminable silence."

Batman turned and faced Green Arrow. "I asked you not to come," he reminded him.

"Yeah, I know. But why should I let you Bat-guys get all the glory?" Green Arrow returned facetiously. Then, more seriously, he asked, "What makes you so sure I'll see Roy and Dinah again?"

"I promised Robin I'd be back."

Green Arrow's eyes widened behind his mask. "Oh," he said. "And I suppose that you're a man of your word." Before Batman could answer, Green Arrow continued. "I promised Roy I wouldn't walk out on him again, and what did I do? I left and I didn't even say goodbye." GA dropped his eyes. "I just couldn't face him again. Not after…well, you know."

Batman made no reply. GA grinned sardonically. "You know, you could drive a guy nuts…or should I say bats? I spill my guts to you and get about as much response as an operator who's just placed you on hold. What are you made of anyway? Ice?"

Batman's answer sounded reluctant, as if it almost pained him to talk. "I see little point in commenting on the obvious. You have serious problems with your junior partner. Coming with me could have made the problem worse. Do you want me to tell you that Roy will understand? I can't do that…I don't you or Roy well enough to make that judgement. Only you can answer that question."

"You're right. I guess I just wanted you to blow some sunshine in my general direction." Green Arrow guffawed. "But I forgot who I was travelling with. Little Mary Sunshine you're not! God! Where's a funeral when you need a good laugh?"

Batman looked askance at Green Arrow, and to the archer's astonishment, allowed a half-grin. "You remind me of Robin."

"Oh? How's that? My youthful innocence and colorful costume?"

"Your nonstop irreverent humor."

"Oh, really? Well, I've got thousands more where those came from, Caped Crusader."

"Please, don't," Batman uttered.

"Are you kiddin', Bats? We're finally bonding, man! By the time we reach the end of the universe, we'll be buds…the new Dynamite Duo!" GA grinned broadly. "Of course, you'll have to do something about that Dark Knight look of yours…it clashes with my brighter colors." He paused for effect. "You know, Green Lantern could be a real possibility to pal around with. At least he has an eye for color."

"Spare me, GA. Spare me."

Green Arrow blithely ignored Batman's plea and proceeded to regale him with outrageously tall tales about his and Speedy's adventures in Star City…

The forward scouts targeted the unidentified craft. Two scouts peeled off, and splitting up, converged on it from two different directions. The lead scout transmitted a string of numerical sequences, warning the craft to heave-to. Its warning went on unheeded. Finally, the lead scout gave the order to fire!

The last thing Green Lantern remembered for some time was receiving a strange transmission over his headset…

"Atom! Can you translate?" GL asked. He was "stopped" in space outside the solar system, surrounded by a protective green halo from his power ring.

"Affirmative, GL, but it'll take time. Batman left us the translator program, but we're still pretty slow with it. The Flash is learning it faster than the rest of us, but even he can't do a real-time translation, yet."

"Okay, Ray…do your best! GL out!" GL turned to continue his search for the missing JLA cruiser, when two strange alien craft uncloaked less than 200 meters from him and quickly approached him, firing deadly plasma rays.

Green Lantern immediately ducked and rolled. He aimed his power ring and the full force of his immense will on the closest craft. His ring instantaneously scooped up the alien craft in a giant green bulldozer. However, in his single moment of being occupied with the first craft, the second zeroed in on its target and fired!

Green Lantern felt the universe suddenly go black…

"Speedy! How're you coming with that firing program I sent you?" Robin asked.

"Ready whenever you give the word, Bird-boy!"

"Aqualad," Robin addressed the Atlantean, "do you have the new course I asked for plotted, yet?"

"Aye, aye, Captain!" Aqualad reported happily. "I am ready to engage the new course any time."

"Uh, thanks, Garth," Robin replied shaking his head. "Kid Flash, your speed's gonna be critical. Your job's gonna be to maximize shields wherever we need them the most: forward, starboard, port, or aft. The computer is fast, but I think you're faster. I'm depending on you, Flasheroo. You think you're up to it?"

"Aw, shucks, Robbie! Kid's play…I promise! I won't let you down."

"I know that, Wally. I just wanted to hear you say it. Stand by the sensors so's you'll know instantly where we need shields the most."

Kid Flash nodded and gave Robin a thumbs up.

"Wonder Girl, you're my copilot. I'm gonna need you to help when I ask you to, and to be hands off at all other times. Also, because everyone else is tied up with critical jobs, I'm gonna need you to be my jack-of-all-trades. I'm jumping engineering to your console. Think you can handle that?"

"I think so, Robbie. Let's see…that's engines, auxiliary power, transporter, and cloaking device. Okay, I think I've got it…I'll just familiarize myself with the layout here."

"Robin! Forward sensors show two unidentified crafts uncloaking approximately five thousand kilometers forward!"

"ETA?" Robin asked patiently. Would Kid Flash ever learn to give a full report he wondered.

"They…they're not headed this way, Robbie. No wait! They're maneuvering…circling! Robbie, their weapons are armed! They're firing at something! It's so small I can't make it out!" Kid Flash listened into his headset and watched his monitor closely.

"Flasheroo, send me what's on your monitor!" Robin ordered. Kid Flash immediately complied, transmitting the image on his monitor to Robin's Command Console. Robin's eyes narrowed as he studied what was on the screen. He quickly typed in a few commands to magnify the unknown object that the unidentified craft were firing at. His eyes widened!

"HANG ON!!!" Robin cried. He punched his thrusters going into max FTL drive and held on for life. The dizzying warped effect of space being bent around them made the interior of the Avenger suddenly seem like the Titans had stepped into a funhouse of mirrors. The effect lasted only a split second…here and gone so quickly that the Avenger's crew wondered if they'd imagined it.

"Stand by weapons!" Robin ordered. "Fire!"

Speedy immediately initiated the firing sequence that Robin had programmed into his fire computer. The Avenger's main batteries immediately targeted the alien vessel on its starboard bow. To Speedy's undying admiration, the Avenger's target acquisition computer quickly targeted the enemy spacecraft's plasma engines and fired! A hit!

Robin rolled the Avenger through the quickly dissipating explosion. By taking out the engines, they'd also disabled the alien spacecraft's weapons. It was now "dead in the water."

The second vessel ascended on its z-axis on what looked like a loop. It went "up", then came "down" on the Avenger's aft side and opened fire. Robin concentrated on his flying and on holding his ship steady while the space around them was being bombarded with high-energy plasma particle beams.

"Wonder Girl, lock onto that target and stand by the transporter! Kid Flash, stand by to lower the shields on my order." They both nodded their acknowledgement. "Speedy when we lower the shields, go to free fire! Aqualad, I need you on auxiliary weapons in case Speedy needs help!"

"Hey, no need to be insulting!" Speedy protested, but he was grinning as he said it. "Gillhead, the red button is the trigger. You push that to fire and make a big bang, understand?"

Aqualad gave him a quizzical look. "But sound does not travel in the vacuum of space, Speedy."

Speedy closed his eyes shook his head. "Never mind, Gillhead. Never mind."

Aqualad turned back to his station with a secret twinkle. He caught Kid Flash's eye and winked at him. Kid Flash smiled. Whadaya know? Aqualad just did a funny! Kid Flash turned back to his station and waited for Robin's order.

"Okay, Titans!" Robin called over the intercom. "Ready…! Lower shields!" Robin's single order was followed by a succession of unspoken ones that were quickly carried out.

As soon as Kid Flash lowered the shields, Speedy changed to free fire, and began to engage the attacking spacecraft through a combination of computer assisted firing and sheer gut instinct. At the same time, Wonder Girl, who'd locked onto the alien crafts' target, activated the transporter and managed to grasp whatever it was from the jaws of death.

"Transporter complete!" she called. "What ever it is, we have it in our transporter buffer."

At this moment, Speedy successfully targeted the remaining alien spacecraft's plasma engines and fired.

"Woo-hoo!" Speedy cried triumphantly. "That's two down, Boy Wonder!"

"Shields! Cloak! Let's get outta here, people!" Robin said excitedly. He punched the Avenger to max FTL drive, and instantly, the two alien spacecraft disappeared from their sensors. Within seconds, Robin returned the Avenger to standard hyperdrive. By then, according to their instruments, they'd jumped over 300 light years.

"Whoowee!" Kid Flash yelled. "Man! That's really traveling, Robin. You've gotta teach me to fly one've these!"

"Great going, people," Robin said over the intercom. He took a moment to compose himself, then put the Avenger on autopilot and stood up. "Speedy, nice shooting, pal. Donna, Wally…great on the responses. Garth…your navigation is second to none."

Robin stood there quietly, unhappy about what he was to tell them. Sighing he plunged in, "Houston…we've got a problem."

Kid Flash looked at Robin perplexed. "Huh? Who's Houston?" he asked blankly. The others didn't bother to answer.

"The 'whatever it is' in our transporter buffer?" Robin said by way of introduction. "Well, he's about six foot two, has brown hair, brown eyes, weighs approximately one ninety, likes the color green, and has this awesome ring!"

"Green Lantern?" Speedy choked. "We have Green Lantern in the transporter buffer?"

"Uh-huh," Robin nodded.

"But, Robbie we can't leave him in there," protested Wonder Girl. "We don't know if a person's identity may be affected if left in stasis for too long!"

"I know that, Wonder Girl," Robin answered slightly annoyed. "You don't think I'd leave him there, do you?" Robin noticed that she didn't answer. "Look, guys, the problem is his ring. As soon as we rematerialize him, GL is gonna just take us home, like a bunch of truant kids." Jutting his chin out stubbornly, in a manner that they were all becoming familiar with, Robin added, "I didn't come this far, just to be taken back!"

"Robbie, couldn't we rematerialize GL, but somehow keep his ring in the buffer?" Kid Flash asked. "I don't know much about these things, but isn't there some way to determine such a thing?"

Robin stared at Kid Flash like he'd never seen him before. He stared at the junior speedster for so long, that Kid Flash began to flush with embarrassment. "Uh, look, Robbie, I guess it was a dumb idea…just shuck it to my lack of higher math skills," he added sheepishly.

Robin began to grin slowly. He walked up to Kid Flash and to the junior speedster's astonishment grabbed him in a bear hug. "I can't believe it! Flasheroo, you're beautiful, you know that? I could kiss you!"

A red blur was Robin's answer. Kid Flash zipped out of the way of the threatened kiss and hid behind Aqualad. "Oh, no you don't, Robbie!" Kid Flash protested. "I draw the line on kissing guys!"

Robin laughed. "Don't worry, Flasheroo! You're too ugly to kiss anyway. Wonder Girl, come on…let's see if we can determine a signature unique to GL's power ring." He paused, then said solicitously. "And WG, I promise that whatever we discover, I'll have GL out of stasis in under an hour, okay?"

Wonder Girl nodded.

Chapter Twelve

The scouts sent an alarming message back to the mother ship. The "unidentified craft" had actually been a sentient lifeform, protected by a powerful radiation shield that the being could manipulate. Just as they were about to overcome the threat, a small primitive spacecraft materialized and fired on the two forward scouts. The unidentified craft disabled the scouts' engines, and as a result the plasma weapons as well, since they were powered by the engines.

Before the forward scouts could take countermeasures, the intrusive craft transported the sentient lifeform onboard and jumped into some type of FTL drive. The FTL-powered craft might be quite primitive, but it was nonetheless highly effective.

"GL! GL! Come in! GL, come in!" Atom listened helplessly to the answering silence. "No use. We've lost contact." He exchanged worried looks with the Flash and Wonder Woman. Atom turned back to the commsyst microphone. "JLA to Superman, come in."

"Superman, here. Still no sign of the kids. What's your recommendation?"

Atom understood that Superman was giving the Titans' senior partners the option of ordering the Man of Steel to continue the search or return to base. Superman would willingly follow their wishes.

"Superman, stand by on that…We have another problem. We've lost contact with Green Lantern. His last known position was in search sector four point zero zero two Alpha November. He'd just reported receipt of an alien transmission. We translated it as fast as possible, but it looks like we might be too late."

"I'm on my way to GL's last known position," Superman replied. "What's the message say?"

"GL was being ordered to, for want of a better word, heave-to, and prepare to be boarded. He was apparently misidentified as a spacecraft." Atom sounded a bit uncertain. "It just seems odd that an alien technology as advanced as this could make such a huge error!"

"I'm almost at the coordinates you gave me," Superman replied. "I've been searching with my telescopic vision for any signs of GL, but I haven't found any yet…Wait! I see something!"

Atom and the other JLAers waited tensely for Superman to report anything further. When it seemed that Superman wasn't ever going to say anything again, his quiet confident voice came across the speakers.

"It looks like some kind of space battle was fought here," he reported. "You should see these things, Atom! They're as big as the Daily Planet building…maybe bigger. And these are the 'small' ships, people." Superman didn't say anything for a while. "I'm circling the ships and searching for any lifesigns," he said. "Whoever hit 'em seems to have aimed only to disable. The engines are so much slag now, but that's all the damage I can discern. The ships are just lying here…dead in space. I'm going in, Atom."

"We copy, Superman," Atom answered. "And big guy…ixnay on being the strong, silent type. Keep me informed on everything you see, no matter how insignificant!"

"You're the boss, Atom," Superman said indulgently. "I only aim to please."

Atom and the Flash exchanged smiles…

He was floating in blackness…no sound…no sense of touch or taste or smell. Where am I, he wondered? Is this death? Eternal nothingness? No, I can't be dead, he denied. I think…therefore, I am. Can the bull, Jordan! You've gotta get your bearings…Call out! See if there's anyone else here.

"Hey! Somebody…anybody! Is anyone else here? Where am I? Anybody! Please answer!" The eternal silence echoed back…

He looked down at his hands. His ring…where was his ring? He could sense it…somewhere nearby, yet inaccessible. He reached inside himself…visualized the ring…began to utter the words that could bring peace.

"In brightest day, in blackest night…"

"Now! Rematerialize!"

Wonder Girl immediately punched in the commands that Robin showed her, and instantaneously a bright shimmering glow lit up the single transporter chamber. Robin and Speedy stood close by on either side of whoever would materialize.

A familiar form quickly took shape, a tall, heroic figure in emerald and white. Green Lantern fully materialized and stood still in the chamber, his eyes closed. Suddenly, he began to weave and slowly toppled over.

Robin and Speedy quickly ran to GL and caught him. They struggled under what was essentially dead weight.

"Man, I never knew the guy was so heavy! He sure don't look it!" Speedy grunted.

"It's just that he's not helping us, 'cause he's unconscious," Robin explained, then added, "Batman's way heavier on account of his utility belt…and the Kevlar weave on his cape…and costume. GL's a piece of cake."

By then the two teenaged superheroes had managed to maneuver GL to a small corridor leading to the crew sleeping quarters and the ship's infirmary.

"Do you boys need a hand?" Robin and Speedy turned around and saw Wonder Girl standing with her hands behind her back. Robin's eyes narrowed. Was she smirking at them? Wonder Girl's eyes began to twinkle in amusement. Yep, definitely a smirk.

Robin and Speedy looked at each other then simultaneously shook their heads.

"Nah!" they said together. At this point, Speedy took a misstep and suddenly all three of them, Speedy, Robin, and Green Lantern began to fall over.

"Hey, watch where you step, Arrow-boy!" Robin called annoyed. He was struggling uselessly to maintain his feet.

"Sorry, Bird-boy, but this is one narrow corridor. It's barely wide enough for two people, much less three!"

Robin sighed. "Well, there's no helping it, Speedy. We've gotta get GL to the ship's infirmary. Make sure those plasma particle beams didn't cause any damage. Look, I've carried Batman before when he's been injured. I think I can handle GL if you help me get him across my shoulders."

"No way, Bat-boy! You're too scrawny! Heck, I outweigh you by a good fifteen pounds, and I'm also taller! I'll carry him!"

"Speedy, we don't have time for arguments! Now just gimme a hand!" Robin was growing annoyed at the junior Bowman's contrariness.

Wonder Girl observed the by-play between the two rival teen heroes with a mixture of amusement and growing exasperation. At this rate, Green Lantern could die of radiation poisoning. She walked towards them determinedly, and unceremoniously shoved first Speedy, then Robin out of the way. Over their shocked protests, the teen Amazon picked up the Emerald Knight as easily as if he were a child.

"Why don't you boys go ahead to the infirmary and make sure the medbed is ready for the patient?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am!" both Robin and Speedy gave her a mock salute, executed a perfect military about face, then double-timed to the infirmary.

"All systems are shut down, Atom," Superman reported in hushed tones. "No life support, no normal ship's functions, nothing! I've found no lifesigns anywhere! No food left half-uneaten, no indications that the crew quarters were ever occupied. And Atom…the ship's life pods are still in their dockets." Superman paused.

"I don't get it, Supes…there has to be some sign of occupation! They just fought some kind of space battle! You said that the damage to the engines is recent, correct?"

"Yes, the damage was caused well within the past couple of hours."

"The crews of those two immense vessels might have all transported to another ship," Atom speculated aloud. "But why would they abandon two ships that are so easily reparable?"

"Atom, my best guess is that these ships were never occupied by a living crew," Superman offered.

"You mean they were fully automated?" Atom speculated. "It would certainly explain the lack of lifesigns, but it only opens up more questions. Not the least of which is, 'Why?'" Atom paused, gathering his thoughts. "Superman, why would an alien visitor, who has clearly attempted to communicate with us and has even sent us what appear to be warnings about a dangerous space marauding race, send automated vessels as ambassadors to earth?"

"Because they're not ambassadors?" Superman wagered.

"Indeed. And if they're not here as ambassadors, then they could be precursors to--"

"--to an invasion!" Superman finished grimly.

"The initial diagnostics show that GL's injuries are superficial…I think," Robin said. "I'm not really sure…I mean I'm not a doctor or anything like that."

"What? You mean you Bat-guys don't have medical degrees, too?" asked Speedy sardonically. "Be still my beating heart. I may never recover from the shock!"

"Aw, cut it out, Speedy!" Robin said annoyed. "What's your problem anyway? I never said I was perfect!"

"No," Speedy admitted quietly. "No, Robin, you never have…I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it…just my big, fat foot sticking in my mouth as always."

Robin turned to Speedy and smiled, pleasantly surprised by the junior archer's admission. "That's okay, boy bowman. You should see me when I try to get into a verbal contest with Alfred. Heck, even Bruce doesn't dare try it too often." Studying the medbed's readings, Robin finally just shook his head and shrugged.

"According to the indicators, GL's in some kind of state of suspension. His heart rate is lower than normal…breathing is slowed…all vital signs are good if somewhat slower than normal. He doesn't appear to be in any danger, just in some kind of deep sleep. Maybe it's a result of his ring automatically protecting him when the plasma particle beam struck him."

"Robbo, don't take my next question wrong…I mean I'm not questioning your judgment. But what if GL needs his ring to come out of it?" Speedy's countenance clearly expressed his concern.

Robin sighed. "I don't know, Speedy. Let's keep a close eye on the medbed's readings. If there's no change in the next few hours, or, if there's a change for the worse, then we'll have no choice. We'll have to return GL's power ring no matter the consequences."

Robin and Speedy exchanged unhappy glances at this possibility. To have come this far to reach their mentors only to be sent back to the rear was not a prospect either looked forward to.

"You know something, Robbo?" Speedy asked.

"No, what?"

"Sometimes it sucks being a kid."

"So how do you do it, Bats?" Green Arrow asked. GA had been talking almost nonstop for the past five hours. It took Batman a second to realize that GA had asked a question that he didn't turn around and answer himself within the next breath.

"Do it?" Batman asked.

"Yeah, you know," GA explained. "The superhero bit…don the costume, face the villains, leap tall buildings in a single bound!"

"You have me confused with someone else."

"Okay, maybe not the 'leaping tall buildings bit', but what about the rest of it? I mean what got you started? You don't have an superpowers that I can see…No magic…No nothing." GA looked askance at Batman.

"Hell, except for the scary costume and attitude," GA continued, "you're just an ordinary guy. Like me. Well, maybe not like me exactly. I mean, the bad guys may not like running into me, but they don't exactly wet their pants when they see me…but you on the other hand…well, let's just say that I'm glad we're on the same team. Well, maybe 'glad' is a bit strong." GA added the last shrugging sheepishly.

When Batman didn't answer immediately, Green Arrow sighed exasperatedly. "Jeez, Bats! I thought we went through all this before! In order to have a productive conversation, after I say something, then you have to say something. Usually in direct response to what I just said. It's called 'dialogue'!"

Before Batman could reply, GA continued. By now, he was gaining momentum and waving his arms dramatically. "Lots of people do it…hell, I've even heard that there're some things called plays where people get in front of an audience and pretend that they're having a conversation! Now come on, Bats! If total strangers can pretend to be talking to each other, then a couple of teammates like you'n me on a long space voyage can at least have a real conversation!"

"In order to have dialogue," Batman uttered in his gravelly tones, "the first party in question needs to stop talking long enough to allow the second party time to reply. Of course, you've done exceptionally well for the past few hours in carrying on both sides of the conversation by yourself. I wasn't aware that I needed to add to it."

Green Arrow was so taken aback by what was probably the longest single speech that the Dark Knight had stated during the entire trip that he almost didn't respond. Finally, finding his vocal cords, GA cleared his throat then managed to stutter, "Um, uh, yeah, well…uh, you're right. The first party, uh, does kinda have to shut up now and then, I guess. Um, what were we talking about?"

"Depends…" Batman replied. "Are you asking about 'why I do it?' or about 'the art of conversation'?"

Green Arrow's confidence started coming back at Batman's question. Hey, this is all right. Looks like the Bats 'n me are really gonna have a talk! GA grinned rakishly at his new 'friend'. "The first part, Bats…why do you do it? With all the neat toys you have in your arsenal, it appears to me that you're a man of some personal means. Why do you go out every night and risk everything? What drives you to do it?"

"Why do you?"

"Who me?" GA asked, pleased at Batman's personal question. "Well, after my parents died and I found myself the CEO of Queen, Inc., I heard about a certain vigilante down Gotham way…"

Batman's mouth quirked slightly upwards as Green Arrow launched once more into an almost nonstop soliloquy about himself.

Everything was different. GL was suddenly surrounded by light so bright it hurt the eyes to look at it directly. Everything was white…an old song's refrain kept echoing in his head, "A whiter shade of pale…" What happened, he wondered? When was he moved from the darkness to the light? Not that he was complaining, but apparently he'd lost his tenuous link with his ring.

"Okay, Jordan, back to square one," he thought aloud. Or, at least, GL believed that he spoke out loud. "Let's get your bearings first. Let's see how large this cage is."

Green Lantern walked to the far wall, reaching his hand out to touch it. As his fingers reached for it, it seemed that the wall suddenly receded further out. "Hmmmm. Moving walls, eh?" he asked sardonically. "Shades of 'The Pit and the Pendulum!' Okay, two can play at this game. If Mohammed can't go to the mountain, then the mountain will come to him!"

GL looked down at his empty ring finger again. "All right, whoever you are! You've no idea who you're messing with! I'm a Green Lantern, and the Corps doesn't just pick a few good men! You may have stripped my ring from me, but I've still got free will. And as long as a Green Lantern has that, he's unstoppable!"

GL stood defiantly in the middle of the endless bright whiteness, and again began uttering the words of power, the words that only a few chosen could whisper and become embued with the power of the most awesome weapon in the universe!

"Dick!" Wonder Girl cried, forgetting momentarily to address her leader by his code name. "There's something wrong! Our readings are suddenly going off the scale! Engineering! Life support! Weapons! Everything is suddenly being activated and deactivated like crazy!"

"Show me!" Robin cried. Wonder Girl moved over so that Robin could check over her console. The readings were unbelievable. It was almost as if some outside power were suddenly controlling their vessel's instrumentation! Robin quickly checked over his own readings on the Command Console. Before he had time to react, everything went off the scale!

"HOLY--! EVERYBODY! HOLD ONnnnnnn!!" Robin barely had time to shout out his warning, when the Avenger suddenly went into max FTL drive. The ship's small cockpit seemed to go into some kind of weird Twilight Zone tailspin. Robin struggled to turn his head towards Wonder Girl. It seemed to take him an hour to complete the turn. WG looked like an out of focus videotape, her slow movements leaving a definite trail behind her.

Robin turned back to his Command Console and concentrated with all of his might to get the ship back out of FTL. Hard as Robin might try, he just didn't seem to have control of his hands. They refused to budge towards the Command Console.

As Robin struggled, refusing to surrender to the quirky laws of quantum physics, there was an abrupt scarlet and gold blur next to him, and the ship jumped back to normal space. The unexpected leap back to normal space left the Titans feeling woozy and disoriented.

"What happened?" Speedy asked blearily. "I thought someone had poured cement around me. Now I know how a cornerstone feels."

"I'm not sure, Archer," Robin replied. Looking up the junior Scarlet Speedster, Robin smiled his thanks. "Great going, Kid Flash. How'd you manage to do that? I felt like was swimming in molasses!"

"I don't know what happened, Robbie," Kid Flash answered. "I heard you call out to everyone to 'hold on', but I never noticed any change. I looked around and saw that all of you looked like you were frozen in your seats. Gotta admit, it scared me half to death! I hurried to you to see if there was anything I could do. I tried every switch on your Command Console, until I was able to hit the right combination." Kid Flash sighed in relief. "I guess I got lucky."

"No way, Flasheroo!" Robin said. "You did what you're best at! You used your speed and maybe saved us all! Quick thinking!" Robin paused looking up at the junior Speedster thoughtfully. "What I don't understand is how come you weren't affected by the FTL warping effect. The last two times we went through FTL did you notice the same thing?"

Kid Flash shrugged his shoulders. "Not sure, Robbie. The last coupla times we went through FTL, we were in and out of the space-time fold so fast that I hardly noticed anything. But this time…I definitely noticed. WOW! What a rush! I felt like King of the Speed Universe." He suddenly paused in his excitement.

"There was something strange about it, Robbie…I'm not sure what it was, but I'm gonna have to talk to Uncle Barry about it. It almost seemed as if I was being pulled somewhere…Like I was being called by someone I couldn't see. Oh well…weird I guess!" Kid Flash shrugged his shoulders, and his worried look was quickly replaced with his usual open, sunny smile.

GL felt himself being thrown back. He landed--hard--on his back. The wind was temporarily knocked out of him. As he lay there, he felt a grin start spreading across his face.

So…he'd struck a nerve. Somehow, he'd made his presence known to his jailers. It was only a matter of time before they had to come and check on him.

"You can take the ring away from the boy, but…" His grin broadened further. He might not have his ring physically on him, but he could sense it. "It's somewhere nearby," he said. "It may take a little more effort and will power to access the ring's power, but it's doable."

"Robin!" Aqualad called. "You won't believe this! We're over two thousand light years beyond our last known position! According to my calculations, we might have even overshot the first cruiser's flight path."

"Let me see," Robin said. Aqualad immediately sent Robin the necessary data to his Command Console. "Hm. I think you're right, A-lad. Batman isn't scheduled to make these coordinates for another four standard hours. Well, I say let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. We'll hold position and remain cloaked. Meanwhile, we need to run a diagnostic of all ship's systems to see what the heck happened back there."

The other Titans groaned. Robin turned and gave each of them a look that essentially stopped all complaints…

"I don't get it!" Robin cried out exasperated. He pinched the bridge of his nose in an unconscious imitation of Alfred. Robin felt a headache coming. "Everything checks out normal. Nothing's wrong! At least nothing obvious enough to show me what could've caused such a-a wacko systems breakdown!"

"Wacko systems breakdown?" asked Speedy, his eyebrows raised. "Is that a bat-technical term?"

Robin grinned embarrassed and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm stumped folks! According to the diagnostics, there is nothing detectably wrong with the Avenger's instrumentation. Of course, that means that something un-detectable may be the problem. Which puts us right back where we started!"

"Um, maybe not, Robbie," Kid Flash said tentatively. "'Member I said I felt something weird when we went FTL? Like something or someone was calling me? Pulling at me?"

Robin nodded.

"Well, that's not all I felt. I wasn't sure at first, 'cause everything was kinda new…I mean I hadn't had a chance to sorta assimilate the feelings. The first thing I felt was the most powerful. Something, a force of some type, was calling to me to reach unimaginably faster speeds. I've never felt anything like it before…it was like getting drunk or high, I think. I could feel myself being pulled towards it. But you guys needed me, so I was able to resist the urge. But, I can almost still feel it calling to me. It's not as strong now, but it's nevertheless there." The junior Speedster looked a little worried about his admission.

"Go on," Robin urged quietly. "This sounds important, Kid Flash."

Kid Flash nodded, then continued a little awkwardly. He was embarrassed to suddenly be the center of attention. "Well, along with this urge to go to who knows where, I could also feel something else. It felt really bright…I don't know…I kept seeing colors. White, especially…bright, bright white…almost blinding white. But somewhere in there was a tiny speck of another color. Not very bright or a lot of it, but it was there." Kid Flash paused as if afraid to continue.

"What color was it?" Robin asked, almost afraid to hear the reply.


All the Titans stood staring at each other in mute shock.

"Green Lantern," Robin whispered awed.

"Great Hera," Wonder Girl said softly. "Is it possible?"

Robin looked at her soberly. "This is Green Lantern we're talking about Wonder Girl. Anything is possible. His ring is still in the transporter buffer, but who's to say what GL is capable of? Batman says that Green Lantern is one of the most powerful of all the Green Lanterns in the galaxy. Come on, we've gotta get his ring back to him before something else happens!"

At that moment, something else did indeed happen…

Chapter Thirteen

The mother ship sent a shut down message to her forward scouts. She couldn't afford a functional vessel to fall into presumably enemy hands, especially an enemy who was so clearly advanced that he could survive the dangers of space without the protection of a ship.

Whatever possible descendants of the Krghlm her scouts had stumbled upon in this insignificant star system located in the minor galaxy's spiral arm, her mission was now clear-cut: Destroy all traces of the Krghlm!

"Are Batman and Green Arrow apprised of the Titans' disappearance?" Superman asked.

"We sent them a transmission, of course, but so far no reply. I think they'd probably jumped into hyperdrive shortly before we sent them word. The message probably hasn't even reached them yet; however, they're due to jump back to normal space in about another forty-two minutes to make radio contact."

"Thanks, Atom. I just hate for Batman not to know about Robin. If something happens to that boy…" Superman didn't finish the thought.

Atom's reply sounded slightly chastising. "Supes, I think we all know how Batman feels about Robin. But believe me, Batman is not the only senior partner here who loves his kid."

"…" Superman felt a bit embarrassed by the reminder. "Sorry, Atom, and to everyone else back there. I didn't mean…never mind. Superman out."

Atom, the Flash, and Wonder Woman stared at each other wordlessly.

"What will we do if something happens to the children?" Wonder Woman asked no one in particular.

The Flash didn't even want to think about it. He'd promised Iris that he'd take care of Wally. The Scarlet Speedster took a few steps away from the other two.

"Barry, are you okay?" Atom asked his friend.

The Flash shook his head, no, and then spoke quietly. "Kid Flash is still a relative novice when compared to the other junior superheroes, having come into his powers just a few months ago. But in that time, the boy's control has grown remarkably. Did you know that?" He asked proudly turning around to face his teammates.

"In fact, I'm certain that one day Wally is going to outdo me in every way possible. Kid Flash may still not be as experienced as I am, but because he received his superspeed powers at such a young age, by the time he's an adult, he'll already be a veteran speedster of many years."

The Flash smiled proudly. He didn't know why Fate had selected his favorite nephew for the mantle of the speedster. However, the Flash felt deep down that there was a greater power at work here, and that it was his job to prepare his junior partner to take over as the Flash when the need arose.

At this sudden thought, the Flash's smile turned somber. If that were the case, then Kid Flash was chosen by the "Speed Force," or whatever the power was called that made these selections, because of the high probability that he, Barry Allen, would meet an untimely end. Therefore, he was being given the opportunity to train his nephew to take up the mantle.

Sensing his friend's sudden change in attitude, Atom inquired concernedly, "Barry, you okay, bud?"

The Flash smiled gratefully and nodded his head, "Yeah, Ray. Just thinking about Wally's future potential. He's such a regular kid, you know? Before he got hit with this speed power his interests were baseball, Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, and food. Not necessarily in that order, either." The Flash smiled indulgently as he thought of his nephew.

"He hasn't lost his interest in any of the other things, but this power carries with it such a responsibility. It hardly seems fair that a small boy should be…cursed…with it!" The Flash's smile faded somewhat at the last comment.

"Barry, please don't be offended at this," Atom said tentatively, "but I've gotta say something that's been bothering me since the Titans came onboard the satellite. Is it right to endanger a child's life by making him or her a superhero's sidekick? Where did this propensity to draft children come from anyway? I confess that I'm simply stumped by the whole concept."

"I cannot answer for the others, of course," Wonder Woman began, "but Donna is not my 'sidekick'. She is my adopted sister. I bring her to Man's World on extended visits because she is only an adopted Amazon. Her true heritage is out here. Donna is a trained Amazon warrior, and therefore, I feel that she is up to the challenge of assisting me whenever she comes with me. I allowed her to join the Titans because she and Robin were good friends, and I felt that the experience of being with children her own age would also help her social development." Wonder Woman paused and smiled slightly.

"As my people have been granted immortality by our gods, one can see that there weren't very many children on Paradise Island for Donna to have as playmates. This is why it is so important for her learn to socialize with young people here in Man's World."

"I think that Speedy has taken your sister's need to socialize a bit to heart," Atom teased. "Of course, it may be my imagination, but it seems to me that most of the male Titans might have had opinions on the matter!"

Wonder Woman smiled sadly. "Yes, my younger sister's heart has chosen…perhaps not wisely nor well, but certainly openly and trustingly. I only pray that her heart is not broken in the end."

"Diana," the Flash began, "they're only kids. At this age, kids fall in and out of love every week. Heck, I remember I had a different girlfriend each week when I was Wally's age. Besides, at their age, going steady means holding hands and sitting together during lunchtime. Wally's still a little shy around girls, but I think he'll blossom soon enough. I just wouldn't worry about it or take it too seriously."

Recalling her younger sister's openness at describing her kiss with Robin, Wonder Woman smiled secretly. Young…yes. Innocent? Definitely. Yet, the children were each tentatively exploring that which the world had to offer, and discovering to their mutual wonder that there was so much more to life than fighting crime.

"Perhaps you are correct, Barry," Wonder Woman acquiesced. "However, Donna is no ordinary thirteen year old girl. Even now we are discovering abilities that lie dormant within her that our people have not seen in a millennium. Mother and I have not yet fully explained this to her. We wish her childhood to be as 'normal' as possible."

"'Normal childhood'!" the Flash said ruefully. "Now there's an oxymoron!"

The three heroes shared a smile, a momentary respite from the coming storm…

"Robbie! Robbie! Wake up! PLEASE! I need you! Wake up! I can't fight them anymore…I can't fight them anymore…"

Robin's awareness of the reality around him came about sluggishly. "Wha--? Wally?" Robin whispered. His eyes opened excruciatingly slow. "What happened? What's going on?"

"Robbie! Help me! HELP ME!" Kid Flash's anguished cry brought Robin to full wakefulness.

"Kid Flash! Wally!" Robin sat up where he'd collapsed on the ship's deck. Kid Flash was crumpled next to him, curled up in a tight ball. The other Titans were lying in varying positions on the deck, all unconscious. Kid Flash was shaking violently. In fact, to Robin's shocked senses, the junior Speedster seemed to be vibrating faster and faster, almost to the point of becoming an invisible blur.

"Wally! What are you doing?" Robin cried out loud. He scrambled towards his friend and tried to grab his shoulders. Robin's hands went right through Kid Flash! "Flasheroo! Listen to me! Whatever it is, you've gotta stop vibrating! Come on, Wally. Normal speed, Wally! Normal speed!"

"I can't! The voices…they're back!" Kid Flash cried out. "They're tearing at me! They're ALL OVER ME! Robbie, I can't stop…HELP ME! OH, GOD! HELP ME!"

Robin thought quickly. "Wally, listen to me," he said in quiet desperation. "Whatever or whoever is causing you to do this…you can beat them, buddy! I know you can! I want you think, Wally. Think about the most important people in your life…your aunt and uncle. Think about what they mean to you, and what you mean to them. You can't give up, Wally! You can't!! You're a Titan and Titans aren't quitters! Right?"

Kid Flash didn't respond. If anything he seemed to be disappearing even faster. "Wally! These voices…are they in your head? Or can you actually hear them? Wally, are these voices real?"

The junior Speedster did not respond. He was fading faster with each passing moment. In desperation, Robin assumed his Titan's leader persona.

"Kid Flash, I'm asking you to give me a report! When are you going to learn that I can't do my job properly until you learn to give a full report?"

Kid Flash stuttered a timid response. "I-I think they're real…but I can't tell. They just seem to be everywhere! I can feel them, Robbie. Please make them stop! MAKE THEM STOP!"

"Kid Flash if the voices are real, you can fight them! Use your superspeed, Flasheroo. If the voices are real then you should be able to see them! All you have to do is vibrate up to the same speed as their voice vibrations. It could be dangerous, but once you can spot them, you'll be able to counter vibrate and cancel them out. You know…the principle of white noise! Are you with me? Can you do it?"

In answer, Kid Flash began to vibrate faster. Robin watched, frightened yet mesmerized by the teen speedster as he almost disappeared from sight.

"I SEE THEM!" Kid Flash cried out triumphantly. "Okay, you Speed Force Demons, or whatever you are…TAKE THAT!!!" Robin took an involuntary step back when he saw Kid Flash begin to counter vibrate…

…A seeming eternity later, Kid Flash stood solidly in front of Robin. The young speedster looked down at his hands as if amazed that he was actually still there.

"I did it," Kid Flash whispered. He looked up at Robin and smiled proudly. "I did it!"

Robin grinned back. "You sure did, Flasheroo. You showed 'em who's the speed-meister!"

Kid Flash's smile wavered a bit. "I'll never forget this, Robbie…I'll never forget how you helped me."

Robin smiled and shrugged. "Hey! We're teammates, right?"

Kid Flash shook his head. "No, Robbie, not teammates…better than teammates! Friends…" he looked at Robin uncertainly. "…that is, if it's cool with you?"

"Way cool, Flasheroo," Robin replied. "Now, mind explaining just what the heck's going on?" Robin waved his arms, taking in the unconscious forms of the other Titans. "What happened? What's going on?"

Kid Flash shook his head. "I'm not sure, Robbie, but it looks like GL's sent us somewhere beyond the cruiser's max FTL limit. This time I felt something odd from the start. First off, all of you just fell on the deck. One second you were giving orders. The next, you were down. The others with you. I tried doing the same thing I'd done before…shut down the FTL drive, but I couldn't. In a few minutes I realized that we weren't going through FTL, we were…somewhere else." Kid Flash paused.

"That's when I noticed that the voices were back, only this time with more intensity. They kept referring to something called the 'Speed Force'. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but they made it sound like some kind of living entity that existed in a special speed dimension. Anyway…it must be some kind of narcotic for speedsters because they really had me going this time." Kid Flash hugged himself at the remembered pain and fear. "I almost couldn't fight them…I almost gave in."

Kid Flash dropped his head in shame.

"But you didn't, Kid Flash," Robin reminded him. "You did fight them…and you won! You should be proud of yourself."

Kid Flash rewarded Robin with a wide grin. "Thanks, Robbie. You're a real good friend."

Green Lantern felt exceedingly smug. His jailers were now getting a little taste of their own medicine. He wasn't exactly sure where his power ring was located, but he could feel it all around him. Wherever it was, it was close. That was his jailers' second mistake. Their first was imprisoning him without some kind of mental block.

"Look! I can continue like this for a very long time! Now, why don't you just give up? I'm sure the Guardians will be lenient…in their own way…for holding a member of the Green Lantern Corps!" GL waited. He was growing frustrated. "At least, show yourselves! I promise I'll return ship's control back to you if you at least agree to talk to me. My people don't mean you any harm…We do not wish a war with your people! Please! Talk to me!"

GL's increasing anger and frustration finally reached critical mass. "Okay, have it your way!" GL felt the power of the ring as surely as if he held in his hand. He began to exert his will to depths even he had never dared reach before…

"Okay, Twinkletoes," Robin interrupted his friend's heartfelt gratitude, "don't take this wrong, but we've gotta figure out a way to stop this. How do you know that it's GL doing this, anyway?"

Kid Flash grinned and rolled his eyes. "Look around you, Einstein! Notice the sickly green glow?"

Robin looked around and felt himself blushing. He gave Kid Flash a mock salute. "You win that round, Flasheroo," Robin admitted sheepishly. "Next question…how come I'm not out cold like the rest of the team?"

"I sort of brought you into my aura," Kid Flash explained. "When I saw that I wasn't gonna be able to beat the speed force demons by myself, I knew that I needed help. You're the smartest guy I know, so I picked you. I figured if anyone could help me out of the jam I was in, it'd be you."

Robin grinned proudly. "Thanks, Kid Flash. I think that's probably the nicest compliment I've ever been paid." Kid Flash flushed in embarrassment. "So, you took me into your 'protective aura'? What's that?"

"Uncle Barry explained it to me once. The aura is a kind of protective 'bubble' that surrounds us and protects us speedsters from the dangerous speeds we can achieve. It also makes it possible for us to speed up someone else's metabolism for a limited period."

Kid Flash grinned boyishly, enjoying the moment of being able to explain something to Robin for a change. "Anyway we can extend our aura a short distance, but we've never tried to protect anyone farther than a couple of inches or so. So don't try to get too far away from me, or I'll have to carry you!"

"Hey! Nothing doin'!" Robin replied. "I'll stick close. Don't worry about that! Come on! We've gotta get to the transporter chamber and get GL's ring back. This is so weird…it's like he's converted the whole ship into his power ring."

By this time, the two junior heroes had arrived at the transporter chamber, and Robin quickly reached the control console. As he was about to type in the necessary command codes to rematerialize GL's ring, Robin was suddenly lifted bodily by a giant green hand and thrown backwards. Kid Flash caught Robin in a scarlet and gold blur before the Titans' leader could crash against the bulkhead.

"Whoa," Robin whispered. "I think this is gonna be a little harder than it looked. Come on, Flasheroo. Let's study the problem."

GL felt them. His jailers were trying to circumvent his defenses. "Shield!" he cried out loud…

"What is that thing?" Kid Flash asked awed. A protective shield of pulsating emerald energy unexpectedly formed around the transporter control console. Kid Flash tentatively reached his hand out and touched it. He felt a definite shock, not deadly, but not pleasant.

"He's fighting us," Robin surmised. "GL is somehow fighting us…his subconscious is trying to protect him and his power ring." He paused then said sardonically, "I'm the smartest guy you know, huh? Well, separating GL from his ring is turning out to be just about the stupidest thing I've ever done!"

"You know, Robbie," Kid Flash speculated. "I think I can do it."

"Do it? Do what?"

"Cancel out the green shield." Kid Flash and Robin shared a thoughtful look.

"How?" Robin asked simply.

"Well…I know that just 'cause it's green doesn't mean that it operates under the same principles as the color spectrum, but it's still a form of radiation, right?"

"I think so," Robin said uncertainly. "I guess it is, although I've never been sure if operates under some kind of scientific principle or if it's some form of magic."

"Nah. I overheard GL and Uncle Barry talking one day. Doctor Palmer joined them, too. It was really highbrow stuff…quantum physics and bunch of other stuff I didn't understand. But one thing that GL made clear is that the Guardians of Oa may be more advanced scientifically than earth science currently is, but everything they do has a scientific basis. We just haven't reached that level of knowledge yet. And the way GL made it sound, our sun will burn out before we ever get that advanced!"

"Okay, Flasheroo," Robin said excitedly. "We've got something to go on then. So, let's take this by the numbers. First step is finding the right frequency of the shield and trying to counter it. Want to give it a try, Doctor Flash?"

"My pleasure, Professor Robin!"

"Can't see a way through it, Robbie," Kid Flash apologized. "It's like nothing I've ever run across. The faster I vibrate, the more solid it seems to become."

Robin sighed. "Probably some kind of electromagnetic field. The faster it vibrates the more the attraction between the charged particles at the subatomic level. Well, it was worth a try, anyway, Flasheroo."

"But I did see something else," Kid Flash added.

"Something else? Like what?"

"Not sure, really…it was like a very faint green trail. I almost couldn't see it, but at one point you stood right next to it, and I was able to make it out against the red of your costume."

"A green trail?" Robin mused. "Where was it coming from? Could you tell?" Kid Flash nodded.

"It seemed to be coming from outside the transporter chamber," he said.

"Think you can speed up and find it again?" Robin asked.

"Yeah, shouldn't be a problem," Kid Flash shrugged.

"Why don't you do that and follow it to its origin?" Robin said. "I think we're gonna find out that you probably stumbled onto GL's mental projections…his 'brainwaves' so to speak."

"Brainwaves?" Kid Flash asked weakly.

Robin nodded distractedly. This problem sure had him stumped!

"Brainwaves?" Kid Flash repeated.

Robin blinked at his teammate as if seeing him for the first time. He'd been absorbed with the problem at hand and analyzing possible courses of action. None of which will work, Robin concluded, feeling frustrated. I bet Batman would've solved the problem by now. He became aware that Kid Flash was still staring at him nervously.

"Yeah, like I said, Twinkletoes, the green energy trail you spotted is probably a mental projection of GL's brainwaves…got a problem with that?" Robin glared at the young speedster, his arms crossed.

Kid Flash gave a quick shake of his head.

"Uh, no. It's cool!" He denied. "But if I do as you ask, I won't be able to keep you my aura," Kid Flash warned. "I wouldn't dare vibrate up to the superspeed needed to find that mental trail with a passenger. It could kill you."

Robin shrugged. "I guess I'll just have to take another nap. Besides, if you run into any problems, I know you'll think of something!"

Kid Flash beamed at the compliment.

"You're the boss!" Kid Flash agreed. He immediately withdrew his aura from around the Boy Wonder, and Robin instantly lost consciousness. Kid Flash caught his friend easily and lay him down gently.

Kid Flash took a long, slow breath to calm his frazzled nerves and then began to spin…

"Gillhead! I need your help! Wake up!" Kid Flash impatiently tapped Aqualad none too gently on the cheeks.

The young Atlantean's long, dark lashes fluttered open, revealing confused, slightly out of focus violet eyes. "What is it? Where am I? What is going on?" he asked dazedly.

"I need you, Gillhead…You told me once that you Atlanteans were telepaths, and that you're able to withstand some pretty extreme changes in pressure, right?"

Aqualad sat up unsteadily, allowing Kid Flash to assist him. He held his hand up to his head. Everything was spinning around him. He felt completely disoriented. "Wally, I do not feel very well…I need water…hurry…" The teen from Atlantis was barely able to whisper his plea before he sank back into unconsciousness.

Frightened, Kid Flash zoomed in a red and yellow blur to the ship's galley and filled several containers with water. He zipped back to Aqualad, trailing a line of water-filled containers behind him. As he came to a stop, he again extended his aura to Aqualad, while simultaneously waving his arm in the direction of the water jugs. This action displaced the air around the containers sufficiently to keep them in the air. Finally, he slowed the air molecules around the jugs, and eased the filled containers to the floor.

Quickly, Kid Flash took the water and splashed most of it on Aqualad, reserving a few gallons for drinking. Kid Flash knew that the young Atlantean did not like regular tap water, but there was no helping it for now. Besides, the cruiser's water reserves were actually recycled and purified for reuse. Even Kid Flash thought the water tasted funny.

A few minutes later, Aqualad began coming to. Finally, he reached full consciousness. "Thank you, Kid Flash," Aqualad said gratefully. "I am all right now, although, it will take me several days to take the chlorine taste out of my mouth." He looked up at Kid Flash and quirked his mouth shyly. Kid Flash smiled back.

"I need your help, Gillhead," Kid Flash said seriously. "I need you to communicate telepathically with someone before it's too late!"

"But, as I informed you earlier, Kid Flash," Aqualad patiently tried to explain, "I can only communicate telepathically with another telepath…and I've only communicated thus with another Atlantean. I would not know how to communicate with an outsider!"

"Well, we don't have a choice, and we don't have time, so--" Kid Flash picked up his teammate and zipped to the ship's infirmary.

"Why are we here?" Aqualad asked confused.

"Here's the person I need you to communicate telepathically with," Kid Flash explained.

"Green Lantern?" Aqualad looked perplexed. "I do not understand!"

"It's hard to explain! Robin thinks that GL's turned the Avenger into his power ring. I followed GL's green mental trail from the transporter chamber to the infirmary. I was able to tap into his subconscious world, but I can't communicate with him. I just barely managed to escape, when I remembered that you're a telepath!"

"But I've tried to tell you--"

"Yeah, yeah! I know…you can only communicate with other telepaths from Atlantis. Well, Gillhead, you're the only telepath we've got, so you're elected! Besides, I think with your body's ability to withstand extreme changes in pressure, it'll be safe for you to accompany me up to the necessary speed."

"What? What are you talking about? Accompany you? Accompany you where?" Aqualad did not like the sound of that!

"Well, the best way to explain, I guess, is to show you!"

"Where are we?" Aqualad asked awestruck. They were inside an endless room lost in an eternal bright whiteness.

"Not really sure, A-lad," Kid Flash admitted. "I think we're inside GL's subconscious. Uh-oh! I have a feeling that we're about to find out!" He pointed dramatically at a figure enshrouded in an Emerald shield.

Before the teens could say anything, the Emerald Knight gestured dramatically, and both youngsters were suddenly held fast within the strong and painful grasp of two gigantic green hands that seemed to appear almost magically from the walls themselves. The junior superheroes were lifted as easily as a child's action figure.

"GL! Please! What are you doing?" Kid Flash managed to croak from between clenched teeth. The giant hand was crushing him in its vice-like grip. "Garth! You've gotta get through to him. I can't vibrate out of here!"

Aqualad was struggling helplessly within the gigantic hand's deadly purchase. He heard Kid Flash over the roaring in his ears, but felt himself blacking out. No! The others were depending on him! How often had he been relegated to the rear because of his need for water? How often had he felt left out of the others' easy camaraderie because he was so different?

No! If this were to be the end, then he'd go as a Teen Titan! Aqualad began to reach within himself. If he were going to communicate with Green Lantern, he'd need something extremely powerful to break through the Emerald Warrior's awesome will.

As he fell closer and closer into the black abyss of unconsciousness, Aqualad felt something new and intangible within the hidden depths of his psyche. Something swimming in dizzying shades of violet, purple, and lavender…something lying dormant, waiting…growing in power.

Aqualad felt the very air around him increase in temperature to a blistering red-hot, and then in the next instant plummet to subfreezing cold. Somehow, Aqualad realized, he was unaffected by the strange temperature variants. Feeling his remaining tenuous grip on reality slipping, Aqualad reached for a last act of sheer desperation: he tapped into the deep reservoir of violet energy he discovered and filled his being to overflowing. As darkness consumed him, Aqualad fired a lavender enhanced bolt of mental energy at Green Lantern…


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