Too Many Long Boxes!

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

Chapter Sixteen

The last surviving starship of a lost race, long-destroyed by the murderous Krghlm, experienced a momentary 'twinge' of fear. The ship's artificial intelligence deployed its entire armada to the distant yellow star earlier. Now, its sensors detected an intruder in its vicinity. An intruder so small it barely registered. Nevertheless, the ship recognized the alien's signature as the one that disabled two of its scouts.

The ship's artificial intelligence immediately sent out an intruder alert throughout its length. As the ship slowly responded by powering up to full defensive status, a small blip encroached its shielding through a long-forgotten, eons-old emergency escape hatch…

"There she is," Green Arrow intoned unnecessarily. Batman ignored him as usual and continued preparing for boarding. When he finished shrugging into the JLA exo-suit, Batman turned impatiently to his unwelcome companion.

"Are you coming?" he asked, pointedly holding out a second exo-suit. GA looked at the Dark Knight and grinned sheepishly. Batman was ready to go, while he'd been gaping at the sight of the tremendous ship, like some green kid. GA took the suit and donned it clumsily.

"Who made these things, anyway?" he groused. "It has more clasps, snaps and zippers than--"

"--Here. Let me," Batman interrupted. Before GA could react, his grim partner had him suited up properly. "Let's go." Batman immediately walked to the transporter chamber.

Before stepping into the sole chamber, Batman quickly punched in several coordinates into the control console. Without a word, he turned to GA and slapped him on the arm.

"Don't lose that," he growled. He stepped onto the transporter portal and vanished. GA looked at his upper arm where Batman left a small triangular patch with the JLA logo. A transporter automatic recall device, GA realized. He felt chagrinned.

"I wouldn't have thought of it," he sighed. He looked at the transporter chamber. He hated the damn things. Hated having his essence turned into so much plasma. "Okay, Doctor McCoy," GA grumbled, paying homage to Star Trek's famous doctor, "let's get going!" Without further hesitation, GA stepped onto the portal and followed Batman into possible oblivion.

"I should be in Atlantis with my people," Aquaman said angrily. "I am a creature of the sea. Out here, I am less than useless."

Wonder Woman glanced at him askance.

"We can only do our best, Arthur," she said gently. "You know that. I may not be a product of Man's World, but that doesn't make my love for my home world any less. If we cannot stop this invasion, then my beloved home on Paradise Island, as well as yours beneath the Seven Seas will cease to exist. We are not many, but we must nevertheless draw a line on the sand out here."

Aquaman glowered at the Amazon Princess.

"You are correct, Diana. However, it does not make my decision to be apart from my Queen and my people any less difficult. They tolerate my role as a member of the JLA, but they do not understand. Nor do I at times. Especially now. And young Garth. He is my right arm…whatever shall I do without his good counsel and companionship?"

Wonder Woman placed a comforting hand on Aquaman's arm. "He will be all right, Arthur. They all will. We must continue to believe that. We must."

Aquaman looked deeply into his beautiful teammate's eyes, seeking doubt or possible hesitation. All he saw was strength and courage, as well as the confidence to continue the battle despite the long odds.

Aquaman placed his hand on hers momentarily and smiled warmly, a first for him.

"Thank you, Your Highness," he said, his eyes twinkling.

"You're welcome, Your Majesty," she replied, smiling in turn.

"What do you have, Supes?" the Atom's voice crackled over the small headset.

"Do you want the bad news or the really bad news first?" Superman asked wryly.

"…" Superman could hear a throat being cleared over the open channel. "Uh, how about the not-so-bad news first?"

"They're hanging at the edge of the solar system, just on the other side of Pluto's orbit," Superman reported.

"And the 'really bad' news?" Atom asked tentatively.

"They're arming their plasma warheads even as we speak."

"I suppose a preemptive strike is rather pointless at this juncture?" the Flash cut into the conversation.

"I don't think that even I could be of much use, Barry," Superman admitted. "But that doesn't mean that I won't try. Pa always told me that a man can do anything he sets his mind to."

Flash gave a small laugh. "'Pa', huh? Remind me to say thanks to your 'Pa' when this is over, Clark."

"Thanks? For what?" Superman asked, genuinely puzzled.

"For you, you Super-dope!" Flash yelled. Superman blinked in surprise. A few seconds later, Flash added, "Be careful, Supes. We'll stand by for your call."

"Roger. Superman out." Superman turned his x-ray and telescopic vision on the waiting armada. "Talk about an impossible mission," he muttered.

The Avenger powered down and came to a soft landing. The small cruiser sat quietly for a few moments, then its outer hatch opened, almost tentatively. Five figures moved out quickly, keeping to the shadows.

At an intersection in the endless corridors, the group split into two. Two shadows zipped suddenly towards port within the blink of an eye.

The remaining three continued forward. Suddenly, one of the three rose, in defiance of the artificial gravity. Simultaneously, several deadly particle beams fired upon the small group.

"Take cover!" called Robin. He saw Wonder Girl dodge under two beams that had her targeted. Aqualad meanwhile was running and diving to avoid being hit. Robin looked around the corridor, his sharp eyes taking in every minute detail. Spotting a likely target, he quickly took out a Batarang and let fly!

Instantly, his Batarang found its mark and one of the particle beams was instantaneously silenced. "WG!" he called. "To me! Hurry!" Wonder Girl immediately turned towards Robin and dove in his direction. At the same moment, Robin began sprinting. He lifted his arms to indicate he wanted her to pick him up. Wonder Girl complied immediately.

"Over there! Quick!" Robin cried, pointing. Wonder Girl instantly flew him in the direction he'd indicated. Getting a good position, Robin threw another Batarang. Abruptly, a second particle beam was silenced.

"Down!" he ordered, pointing towards Aqualad. Soon, the three teens were behind protective cover. "Okay, I count three more particle weapons," Robin reported. "Aqualad, I need you take that one out." He pointed towards the far left of the corridor. "WG, you take that one over there." This time he indicated one nearer the ceiling. "I'll take this one." He looked at his friends. "Ready?" They nodded. "Let's go!"

Speedy watched openmouthed as Kid Flash zoomed in a blur of red and gold, taking out the deadly beams that ambushed them. In less than a second, all of the particle weapons were knocked out.

"I'm beginning to feel useless again," Speedy muttered.

"Why's that?" asked Kid Flash behind him. Speedy spun around, his heart pounding rapidly.

"Don't do that!" he gasped in protest.

"Don't do what?" asked Kid Flash innocently. Speedy sighed. Robin hates me. That's the only explanation possible. Why else would he team me with brainless here?

"Never mind, Twinkletoes," Speedy said. "Come on let's look around. Robin said that the power core should be in this area--"

"Found it!" Kid Flash said, tapping Speedy between the shoulder blades. Speedy whirled around, his heart in his throat.

"Don't--!" Speedy bit off what he was about to say. What was the use? The Kid was only doing his job. Unfortunately, he was just too dumb or innocent to know that his disappearing/reappearing act was giving Speedy a twitch!

Kid Flash was staring at Speedy with wide eyes. "Your face is all red. Are you feeling okay?"

Speedy nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Yeah, Twinkletoes," he rasped. "I'm just hunky-dory…Why don't you show me what you found, okay?"

Kid Flash gave his teammate a bright and eager smile. "All right!"

Before Speedy could respond, he felt himself being moved at supersonic speeds into the bowels of the ship. Robin, I'll get you for this, he promised darkly.

Robin's third Batarang found its mark. One more particle weapon down, he thought with self-satisfaction. He heard a yell behind him. Wonder Girl! She was in trouble. He looked up toward the high ceiling where she was dodging the beam in a sort of deadly mid-air ballet.

Wonder Girl expertly deflected the beam with her bracelets, but before she could recover, she was instantly targeted again. Robin could see that she was quickly tiring out.

Taking out his grappling gun, Robin shot out a line and instantly lifted to her aid. His bat line found the only protrusion in the corridor's ceiling, the particle weapon's metallic bracket, and looped several times around it.

As he rose, Robin took out two pellets from his utility belt. Coming up and swinging over the weapon, Robin tossed the pellets at the particle weapon as he passed above it. The results were instantaneous. A bright flash, followed by a brief acrid burning smell, hinted that the weapon was now so much slag.

The pellets were comprised of a corrosive acid encased within an explosive outer shell. The force of Robin's throw caused the outer casing to explode on impact in a bright flash; this in turn, released the corrosive acid contained within the shell, an acid which could eat through titanium steel.

As his pellets found their mark, Robin released his line, somersaulted in midair, and landed gracefully. He looked up and waved at Wonder Girl. She waved back and blew him a 'Thank you' kiss. They both turned and looked over to where Aqualad was having his own battle.

They both hurried to the Teen Atlantean's aid.

Aqualad was in trouble. He'd tried several stealth approaches towards the deadly weapon, but was thwarted at each turn. He was beginning to panic in despair. He wasn't good enough, he told himself. He was a fish out of water. How could Robin expect him to be able to do this?

Aqualad didn't have any of those handy throwing weapons that Robin was armed with. Nor did he have any arrows. He couldn't fly and he didn't have superspeed. What good was he?

Aqualad felt a cold fury building inside himself. He was angry at Robin for entrusting him with a solo mission. He was angry at himself for wanting to quit and proving once and for all just how totally useless he was away from the sea.

"No!" he cried. "I won't quit. I won't let my friends down." With a renewed determination, Aqualad ran out into the open, immediately drawing the weapon's fire. As he ran, he was momentarily distracted and thus failed to duck and roll on time. He felt the beam's burning energy cut through his left shoulder.

"No!" he cried out once more, feeling himself falling into dark oblivion. As he fell, his surging fury suddenly manifested itself within him in a churning purple rage. In one last burst of angry effort, before darkness claimed him, Aqualad sent out a powerful bolt of violet energy from his normally gentle eyes.

"Aqualad! Look out!" Robin called out in warning. Too late, the teen from Atlantis was hit. Robin searched his utility belt for another Batarang. He was still too far. Robin poured on the speed. He had to get within throwing range. He looked up.

"WG!" he called. "Can you fly him to safety?" At that moment, the remaining weapon targeted its beam at the flying Amazonian Princess. Wonder Girl immediately began to fly an evasive pattern. Robin meanwhile had to somersault to avoid getting hit.

Not missing a beat, Robin regained his feet and continued on his way to Aqualad's aid. What he saw, pulled him up short. To Robin's amazement, something totally unexpected occurred. A kind of purple beam of pure energy seemed to shoot out of Aqualad, effectively disabling the last weapon.

Robin stood nonplussed for a moment. Then realizing that Aqualad was hurt, he hurried to his teammate's side.

Turning the unconscious Aqualad over onto his back, Robin quickly examined him. The shy teen was badly burned on his left shoulder.

"How bad is he?" Wonder Girl asked worriedly.

"As bad as can be expected," Robin grunted in return. "However, the beam's clean energy seems to have cauterized the wound. This could reduce any chance of infection."

Robin quickly took out his first aid kit and bound the wound as well as possible under the circumstances. When he was done, he turned to Wonder Girl.

"Donna, you're the strongest one, and you can fly. You've gotta get Garth back to the Avenger's infirmary and do what you can for him."

"But Robbie, what about you? I can't leave you out here alone. It's too dangerous!"

Robin laughed. "Are you kidding? I've grown up in Gotham City, remember? This alien spaceship's a walk in the park compared to that. Heck, even the weapons are a lot cleaner."

He grinned at his friend with false bravado. Seeing her real concern, Robin dropped his eyes. Looking up slowly, he held his hand out to her cheek.

"Hey, we've got a job to do, remember? Aqualad did his part, now we have to do ours. We can't quit now."

With a heartbroken cry, Wonder Girl reached across and hugged him. "Oh, Robbie, please be careful. I couldn't bear it if something were to happen to you."

"Heh," Robin laughed softly. "I don't think I'd much like it myself." Wonder Girl released him with a slight push.

"Oh, you," she said, laughing slightly.

Growing serious, Robin continued, "But if something did happen to me, then I'd expect you and the others to carry on. Promise me, Donna, that if something does happen to me, you will carry on as Titans leader."

Wonder Girl looked at him startled but nodded reluctantly. "I promise," she whispered.

Holding her hand, Robin stood. Pulling her to him, he hugged her closely. "Take care of Garth," he whispered fiercely.

Robin released her and quickly turned, continuing on his mission to the ship's control center. He'd wanted to say so much more to Wonder Girl, but what was the point? Donna liked Roy and that was that. Dick Grayson was relegated to the position of best friend and brother in her heart. So be it.

If Robin were to meet his end here, then he would face it as a man. Like Batman taught him. As he ran down the endless corridors and climbed an infinite number of ladders between decks, Robin's mind turned towards his mentor.

Whatever happened, Robin wouldn't let Batman down.

"The atmosphere is safe for humans," Batman reported. He immediately began removing his exo-suit. Green Arrow followed his example. "Don't forget the transporter automatic recall tab," Batman reminded him.

GA nodded, feeling like a kid sidekick. He was beginning to have a tremendous amount of respect for Robin. How did the kid put up with Ol' Smiley? GA had to admit, though, that as little as Batman said aloud, it was obvious that his mind was working overtime. He always seemed to be five or six steps ahead of everybody else.

GA looked around. According to Batman they were amidships, near the power core. Their job was to attempt to disable the ship's warp core, and hopefully stop its relentless advance towards their solar system. Their secondary target was the ship's control center. Their mission was to establish contact with the ship's intelligence and somehow convince it to stop its attack on the people of Earth.

If that failed, then they were to destroy the ship, not just disable it.

As they made their way down the endless corridors within the bowels of the ship, the two men noticed definite signs that someone had been there ahead of them. There were numerous objects that appeared to be defensive weapons that had been inexplicably bent out of shape.

Other signs that someone was ahead of them soon manifested themselves. Bulkhead doors whose internal mechanisms were removed and laid out on the floor were left swinging carelessly open.

GA and Batman exchanged glances. At last, GA found incontrovertible proof that someone was there before them: a red arrow! GA examined it closely. It was one of Speedy's explosive-tipped specialties. Apparently, the micro-warhead failed to explode. GA looked it over closely. There! The detonator was defective.

He shook his head. "How many times have I told that kid to check his arrows before he puts them in the quiver?" He looked proudly over at Batman. "They're here. The Titans are here. Can you believe it?" He narrowed his eyes. "When I get my hands on that Speedy, I'll--"

But he was talking to empty air, because Batman was already gone.

Batman moved quickly. More quickly than stealth recommended, but he didn't care. Robin was here. He was here on the ship. Momentarily forgetting his mission, Batman thought back to his parting words with his ward. Whatever happened, Batman had to ensure that Robin, no that Dick, knew just how he felt about him.

He'd tried to tell Dick before he'd left, but as always when it came to matters of the heart, Bruce Wayne put his foot it and botched it badly. He had to set matters straight between them once more.

As Batman rounded a corridor he came upon Speedy and Kid Flash. The two youngsters were seriously studying the readings of what Batman assumed to be the ship's warp core.

"Where's Robin," he growled. Both Speedy and Kid Flash jumped as if shot. Batman couldn't tell which one was trying harder to hide behind the other. He repeated his question, impatiently. "Where's Robin?"

"Really, Bats, they're just kids. Why don't you growl at someone your own size?" GA asked drolly. He looked a bit uncertainly at Speedy. "Hi, kid. I see you Titans beat us here." He held his hand out. "Roy, I know that I should've said something before I left, but--"

Speedy didn't listen to the rest. Instead, he ran to GA and unselfconsciously hugged him. Then, in sudden anger, he reared back and punched him.

"You lied to me! Again! I love you, Ollie, but it's over! If we get back home, I'm leaving!"

GA ruefully rubbed his chin where Speedy had connected, hard! "You know, I'm getting just a little tired of being everybody's favorite punching bag. We'll talk about this later, Roy. Now isn't the time. But when we get back--not if--we'll talk…You, me, and Dinah! She's part of this, too. And no fists!"

Seeing that the happy reunion was over, Batman once more asked about his partner. "Where's Robin?"

Kid Flash zipped over to him. In his excitement, the junior speedster spoke at supersonic speed. "RobbieandAqualadandWonderGirlhaveallgoneforwardtothecontrol centertotrytomakefirstcontactwiththeship'sintelligence!"

Batman scowled at Kid Flash. "Speak at normal speed," he said menacingly. Kid Flash's eyes widened and he unconsciously stepped back. Realizing that he was unnecessarily frightening the youngster, Batman relented and spoke surprisingly gently. "Kid Flash, I can't understand you when you speed-talk. Please, repeat what you said at normal speed."

Kid Flash nodded nervously, cleared his throat, and repeated his earlier statement. "Robbie and Aqualad and Wonder Girl have all gone forward to the control center to try to make first contact with the ship's intelligence!"

Batman nodded. "Thank you, Kid Flash." Batman was immediately rewarded with a bright, happy grin.

Batman turned to Green Arrow. "GA, do you think that you and the Titans here can figure out the warp core's control sufficiently to program it to self-destruct, if necessary?"

Green Arrow was about to reply with a distinct negative, when he was interrupted by Kid Flash.

"Oh, Speedy and I have that under control, sir. Robbie kinda told me what to do, and I've done it."

Batman looked skeptical. "What did Robin tell you to do?" he asked.

"Oh, he told me to vibrate to the core's matching internal electromagnetic shield's vibration level, walk through the protective core shielding, and pull out anything that looked important…Like these!" Kid Flash pointed to several exceptionally large devices whose purpose Batman could only guess at.

"'Anything that looked important'…Just how did you determine what was important?" Batman asked.

Kid Flash shrugged. "I just do," he said. "Doesn't everybody?" The others looked at him strangely. "By the vibration," he said, as if explaining the obvious to a child. "The speed of the vibrations. The tone they emit…I don't know…It just sort of lets me know." He looked at them helplessly. "I don't know how else to explain it."

Batman nodded. "And Robin knows that you have this ability to differentiate the importance of objects by the vibrations they emit?"

Kid Flash nodded eagerly. "Sure he does! In fact, Robin is the one who showed me I could do it. He comes up with these ideas all the time. If he sees me doing one thing, like manipulating the air molecules surrounding an object so's I can lift it, then he'll tell me something like, 'Well, if you can do that, then it should be relatively simple for you to do this!'"

Kid Flash waved his arms dramatically to emphasize his point. He gave a slight, excited laugh and continued.

"And then Robbie'll have me do something with my superspeed that I've never even thought of! I think Robbie must be just about the smartest kid on the whole planet. And I'm his best friend." He added this last bit with a tinge of pride and awe.

Batman surprised them all by giving Kid Flash a half-smile and placing his hand on the boy's shoulder. "I'm glad that Robin has a friend like you, Kid Flash."

The junior speedster blushed a bright pink.

"Since the Titans have already incapacitated the warp core," Batman said by way of helping the boy recover his composure, "I recommend that we make our way to the forward Command Center."

"Superman?" Atom's voice came through sounding worried. "Superman, we're detecting activity from the armada. Looks like the ion-impeller drives are coming back online. What can you tell us?"

Superman quickly checked the nearest scout's engines. Sure enough, they were coming online. He shook his head. Apparently, he'd have to use force after all.

"Supes?" Atom's worried voice buzzed in his ear. "Supes, are you there? Superman, are you--?"

"I'm all right, Atom," Superman said quietly. "It looks like you people better start moving up. I think a movement to contact is a better tactic than a static defense. Fan out for widest possible spread. I'll try to disable as many of the enemy as superhumanly possible before they enter the Sol System."

"Understood, Superman," Atom replied. "JLA out."

Superman turned sadly towards the alien that had suddenly become 'the enemy'. "What a waste of new knowledge," he murmured in quiet anger. "What a waste of new resources."

Superman turned his heat vision on the first target. He intensified his concentration, until a white hot jagged hole burned through the ship's defenses. It exploded in a pyrotechnic mushroom display of an ion-impeller/warp core rupture.

Superman was already gone, engaging the next 'enemy'. "What a waste of potential new friends."

The space immediately outside the Sol System burst in an aurora of mini-suns suddenly rising in a false dawn. But there was no birdsong, no joyful music to meet this new day, for in the silence of space the only sound one could hear was the horror screaming in one's own head.

Chapter Seventeen

The ship's intelligence 'felt' its fear increase. The fear of the unknown. The fear of the alien. The fear of the invader. For now, several of the ship's defenses had been breached by the unknown alien invaders. And several of the ship's defensive weapons had been nullified. Furthermore, several biological life-forms were moving steadily forward…

Robin ducked, ran, somersaulted, came up and threw. "Stee-rike!" he called. "Woo-hoo! The crowd goes wild as Grayson once again shuts out the entire lineup!" Robin back flipped in triumph, a purely boyish expression of exuberance. He'd cleared another corridor of particle weapons. "That's thirty down and an infinite number to go!"

Laughing devilishly, the Boy Wonder climbed yet another set of rungs. According to the schematic he'd downloaded from the ship's central computer, the control center should be on the next level.

"And the defenses will probably be even tougher," Robin muttered. "Oh, well. As Dad used to say, 'It's show time!'"

"This way!" called Speedy, pointing in the opposite direction that the senior heroes were headed.

"And how are you so sure?" asked Green Arrow skeptically.

"'Cause Robbie gave us a map," piped up Kid Flash. "Look!" He held out a ship's schematic as proof.

Batman and GA exchanged rueful glances. Batman reached for the diagram that the junior speedster was holding.

"Let me see," Batman ordered. He took the schematic and studied it closely. "How did Robin--?"

"How did Robbie get it?" finished Kid Flash.

"He tapped into the giant ship's central computer somehow," interrupted Speedy. "I don't know how. He and Wonder Girl did some fancy typing…calling numbers and other things out to each other…then, before we knew it, our ship was talking to the giant ship…Robin called it a 'handshake'…and it gave us what we asked for."

Green Arrow looked askance at Batman. "Gee, Bats, why didn't you think of that? Looks like the kid is outdoing the old man, eh?"

Batman didn't bother to answer. Instead, he studied the ship's plan and started down the correct corridor. As he walked, he allowed himself a small smile. Robin was doing himself proud on this mission. He was demonstrating a sound and mature leadership ability that seemed to maximize his teammates' capabilities.

And as GA said, he was outdoing the old man.

"Where are the others?"

Wonder Girl whirled at the sound of the voice by the open hatch. Green Lantern! Her eyes widened.

"Great Hera!" she exclaimed. "Green Lantern, you startled me!"

"Wonder Girl, where are the others?" GL repeated. "I thought I told you kids to stay out of it, because this was too dangerous." He caught sight of Aqualad and hurried over to the boy's side. GL checked the medbed readings.

"How is he? What happened?" he asked.

Wonder Girl told the Emerald Knight how Aqualad had been injured. "He seems to be all right, but I can't be one hundred percent sure. These medbeds aren't programmed accurately for Atlantean physiology."

"I know. I've raised the same concern a number of times at our JLA meetings. I'm supposed to be the resident 'expert' on space survivability," GL said ruefully. "However, Aquaman refuses to provide us with the appropriate data necessary to program them accurately." At Wonder Girl's look of incomprehension, Green Lantern smiled. "Aquaman does not wish to give us 'surface dwellers' sensitive information about his people. The kind of information that could easily be used against them in time of war."

Wonder Girl nodded. She'd been raised a warrior and knew something about withholding sensitive information from allies and keeping one's enemies close. "I can understand the reasoning," she said. "However, it doesn't do poor Aqualad any good."

GL studied the sleeping youth. The boy's pained grimace indicated that he was suffering despite the medication that Wonder Girl had started. GL spread his hands over the quiet form, and concentrating began to envelop the boy inside a protective emerald aura. As the aura's green glow grew in intensity, Aqualad's pain-filled scowl began to soften, until finally, he lay sleeping soundly and restfully.

"What did you do?" asked Wonder Girl.

"Something your young leader, Robin, taught me." He smiled at her surprised look. "I just helped Aqualad focus his will on the pain he was feeling. Now, whenever the boy feels the pain returning, he'll be able to see it clearly and step aside from it."

"Robin taught you to do that?" Wonder Girl asked amazed.

"Well, not that exactly, but the same principle. I've just sort of learned to adapt it to different needs." GL smiled down at the beautiful slip of a girl whose strength could topple a mountain.

"And now, it's best that I go and find your friends," he added. "I've got to try to make contact with the ship's intelligence, before it destroys the earth. Take care of Aqualad."

Wonder Girl nodded absentmindedly. "Make contact," she murmured. Her eyes suddenly widened. "Make contact! Of course!" Taking one last look at her unconscious teammate, Wonder Girl rushed to the control room…

"Evasive action!"

Wonder Woman immediately cut the JLA cruiser hard to starboard, then followed through by dropping 10,000 kilometers 'down' in a spiral spin along the ship's z-axis. She instantly fired the ship's forward thrusters and came up behind the enemy scout, firing with point-blank accuracy.

The cruiser's fire control computer targeted its main batteries on the enemy scout's most vulnerable point, its impeller star-drive engine compartment. As Wonder Woman concentrated the deadly plasma particle beams on the alien's defensive shields, the earth's defenders were soon rewarded by yet another silent explosion in the blackness of space.

"Barry! On your tail!" Flash heard the Atom over the ship's open channel. The fastest man alive instantly rolled his cruiser out of harm's way, his control super fast.

"Thanks, Ray," Flash called, gratefully. As he spoke, Flash brought his weapons to bear on the enemy scout and fired. "Scratch another enemy ship!" Flash yelled over the JLA open channel.

"Yeah, now we only have a few hundred thousand to go," the Atom replied wryly.

"So, what are you trying to say, buddy?" asked Flash, laughing. "You wanna live forever?"

"No, just long enough to see this year's Freshman class conquer Physics!"

"Then, let's go!" Flash replied. "We got us a few hundred thousand ships to take down!"

Wonder Woman turned a rueful glance towards Aquaman. They'd overheard their teammates' inane bantering over the JLA open channel.

"Those two!" Aquaman huffed disapprovingly. "They jest during battle as if it were but a game to them. If they were officers in my army, I would reprimand them for such untoward behavior!"

"Oh, Arthur!" Wonder Woman sighed. "Get a grip!" At the King of the Seven Seas' raised eyebrow, she smiled and shrugged. "I overheard Kid Flash say that to Speedy a few days ago. I believe it means 'to lighten up' or 'stop being so serious'!"

"I am quite aware what the vernacular you've uttered means, Princess," Aquaman said stoically. "I was merely unaware that a warrior princess such as yourself would use such vulgarisms."

"Chill, Arthur," Wonder Woman warned, concentrating on her piloting, "or I may have to hurt you!"

Aquaman's eyebrow shot up even further at her threat. "Women!" he muttered under his breath. They belonged at home, not in the midst of a mighty battle.

"Diana!" Black Canary's voice came over the intercom. "I need help! He's on my tail and I can't shake him!"

"I see you, Dinah!" Wonder Woman called. "Hold on! We're on our way!" The Amazon Princess began calling out orders in rapid succession. "Arthur, the main batteries…that means 'weapons', Your Majesty…man them." At Aquaman's look of surprise, she barked impatiently, "Now, Arthur! Move your royal tush, man. We've got a teammate in trouble."

As Aquaman jumped to do as ordered, Wonder Woman shook her head. "Who thought that placing a Princess and a King in the same ship was a good idea?" she muttered. She was beginning to think that Aquaman was right…perhaps he was less than useless in space.

Black Canary zigged then zagged then zigged again. The bogey was still on her tail. The cruiser rocked back and forth in wild gyrations as the enemy's shots barely missed on either side. Suddenly, BC felt herself being slammed forward into the Command Console. Her seat restraints saved her from a head injury.

A hit! She'd been hit. Quickly running a diagnostic, BC commanded the ship to immediately follow its programmed damage control procedures. Fires in the aft section were instantly doused. A hull breach was quickly vacuum-packed by foam sealant. The ship's shields automatically strengthened the weakened area of the hull.

BC checked her diagnostics a second time and breathed a sigh of relief. "Today is not a good day to die," she muttered irately. "I haven't yet given Ollie a piece of my mind for leaving on that foolish suicide mission! When I get my hands on that idiot--!"

Another shudder through the ship instantly interrupted her angry musings and brought Black Canary back to the problem at hand. She continued taking evasive action, bringing to bear all of her specially hewn warrior instincts, which had been developed from years of Martial Arts training.

Suddenly, a second ship appeared on BC's monitor. It gave off a JLA friendly signature! Almost at the same time, a targeting signal from her relentless pursuer began its deadly warning buzzer. The enemy ship had successfully targeted her cruiser.

"Diana!" Black Canary's voice called desperately. "Whatever you're gonna do…Do it!! The bogey's got me on a weapons lock!"

"Arthur! Now! Fire!" Wonder Woman called.

Aquaman instantly pressed the firing button. They were rewarded by a blinding flash of a mini-sun across their monitors, which automatically darkened to prevent sensory overload, then came back on line. Flying before them, in a sea of space debris, was their sister JLA cruiser.

"Dinah!" Wonder Woman radioed. "Black Canary, come in!"

"Whoo-wee!" Dinah's exuberant voice rang joyfully over the intercom. "That was some fancy firing there, Warrior Princess! Remind me to buy you a drink when we get back home!"

Wonder Woman smiled. "Don't thank me, Dinah," she said. "Thank Aquaman. He fired the weapons."

"Well, Hell's Bells," called Black Canary, "will life's wonders never cease? I owe you a drink, your Majesty! Just name your poison!"

Aquaman's eyebrow shot up. "Why would I want to ask you for 'poison', Black Canary?"

"…" They heard a long suffering sigh come over the intercom. "You talk to him, Diana. You're also royalty. You speak the lingo. Me, I'm just a little ol' girl from the city. Black Canary out."

Wonder Woman turned to Aquaman. He gave her a bland look devoid of all emotion. About to open her mouth, Wonder Woman instead shook her head. "Never mind," she said, turning back to her Command Console.

As soon as the Warrior Princess turned her back to him, the King of the Seven Seas allowed himself an enigmatic smile.

Superman's battle seemed to be a relentless video instant replay. He'd concentrate his heat vision on a ship's engine room, burn a searing hole through its shields and its hull, then ratchet his special vision power to temperatures that rivaled the sun's.

This was invariably followed by the enemy ship's star-drive reaching core overload, resulting in a brilliant explosion.

As he worked, Superman felt himself growing numb with fatigue. Not a physical exhaustion, he knew, but a numbing feeling in his soul. To destroy, to kill…his adoptive parents, the Kents, taught him that one should always value life…all forms of life, no matter how small or different.

In his travels Superman had encountered many different life-forms. Many were openly friendly. Many were reticent at meeting newcomers. Most were outright suspicious of strangers. And unfortunately, the majority of the latter met the stranger at the door with weapons.

Not exactly how Ma and Pa raised him. They'd always invited friends and total strangers to the house for a hot meal and a friendly conversation. The Kents willingly shared their bounty in times of hardship with their neighbors, and vice versa. Clark was taught to always offer a hand to a man who was down, and to always use his incredible gifts to help his fellow man.

Certainly his Pa taught him that a man defended himself when all else failed. But fighting was always a last resort. One should try to talk first. If this failed, then one should try to walk away from a fight. If this failed, then one should only fight in self-defense, and stop fighting as soon as his opponent was down.

"We didn't even get to talk," Superman said sadly. "Because we couldn't understand the question." He paused as he destroyed another enemy ship. "Bruce, you're our last hope."

"Robbie! Robbie, come in!"

Robin dodged, rolled, leaped and threw with all his might. He somersaulted in midair, allowing his momentum to carry him to the next target. Finding cover, Robin paused momentarily to answer Wonder Girl's call.

"Robbie, please--!"

"Robin here, Wonder Girl," he gasped. "What can I do you out of?"

"…?" His facetious question was met with startled silence.

"Never mind, Wonder Girl," Robin said. "What do you want? I'm a little busy right now."

"Robbie, I just figured out how we can make contact with the ship!"

"Yeah? That's real interesting, Wonder Girl, but if you'll excuse me for just a sec…!" Robin suddenly dove out from under the beam's deadly energy. Taking out a set of explosive bolos, he twirled them to maximum velocity, then threw them at the particle weapon, which was already readjusting its sights on him.

The corridor resounded with a loud, reverberating BOOM!

The force of the explosion knocked the Boy Wonder off his feet, slamming him into the corridor's wall. He lay there momentarily stunned.

"Robbie? Robbie, are you all right?" Wonder Girl's tremulous voice came over their Titans' wrist communit. "Robbie? Please come in!"

Robin blinked his eyes to clear his vision. There was a loud, resounding ringing in his ears. His head felt like he'd been kicked. At last, he heard his teammate's voice, which by then reflected her increased agitation.


"--I'm here, WG," Robin said painfully. "I'm okay…just had the wind knocked out of me." Note to self, he added ruefully. Don't use the explosive bolos in an enclosed environment again. He looked around the corridor. The bolos had managed to take out the five remaining particle weapons in his path. "And just about the entire corridor," Robin added wryly.

"Robbie, I think I've figured out how to make contact with the ship's intelligence," Wonder Girl began again.

Robin took a deep breath, concentrating on what Wonder Girl was saying to him. "Sounds great, WG," he said shakily. "How?"

"We've already established communications, remember? When we downloaded the schematics. If we can somehow tap into its 'meta-conscious', we should be able to establish a rapport."

Robin sat where he'd been thrown, still not entirely at one hundred percent awareness of what they were discussing. Concentrating on what Wonder Girl was saying, Robin finally began to comprehend the ramifications of her words.

"Of course," he whispered, the pieces coming together. "WG, you're a genius!" he said smiling. "Okay, here's the plan. You start trying to establish communications with the ship's intelligence from your end. I'll continue on my way to the ship's Command Center and attempt to make contact from there. A two-pronged attack should improve our chances. Copy?"

"I copy, Robin," Wonder Girl replied. "Robbie? Be careful."

"Hey, 'careful' is my middle name!" he replied laughing.

Wonder Girl giggled. "Robin the Boy Wonder, you don't know the meaning of 'careful'!"

Robin laughed in turn. "Like I told Batman, guess I'm just a slow learner. I've gotta go now, WG. As soon as I enter the control center, I'll start looking for some kind of input device. You go ahead and start running the 'handshake' program. That should give you a foot in the back door."

"Right," Wonder Girl replied. "I'll get on it ASAP. Take care, Robbie. Wonder Girl out."

As soon as Wonder Girl signed off, Robin began his final leg to reach the ship's control center.

When she'd signed off with her friend and teammate, Wonder Girl was suddenly struck with another idea. She smiled to herself. "Keep this up, Donna Troy," she muttered, "and Dick will think you're vying for his job as leader."

The teenaged Amazon Princess rushed to the ship's transporter room and quickly began to input a series of commands. First, she scanned the ship for signs of her teammates. Locking onto their individual signals, she immediately programmed the transporter room for automatic recall, just in case.

Simultaneously, while scanning she found GL's unique signature. Grinning mischievously, Wonder Girl programmed his recall as well. "GL will be fit to be tied if I dare transport him again, but what the heck. This is a Titans' mission, so we gotta do what we gotta do.

About to turn away from the transporter console, Wonder Girl spotted two additional signatures, she hadn't seen before. They were giving off a JLA signal, she realized elated! They must be Batman and Green Arrow. They'd arrived and were presently onboard the ship!

Tamping her elevated spirits, Wonder Girl added their signatures to the Avenger's already overloaded transporter. While the single transporter could only materialize one individual at a time, it was capable of transporting multiple persons and keeping them safely in the transporter buffer in temporary stasis.

Satisfied with her efforts, the Teen Warrior Princess hurried back to the Avenger's control center.

Batman moved quickly through the ship's endless corridors. Green Arrow, Kid Flash, and Speedy followed him. As he strode rapidly down the miles of corridors, Batman tried not to think about Robin. The boy had certainly proven himself on this mission.

Why couldn't Batman have encouraged Robin prior to taking his leave? Why did he have to belittle the boy's courageous efforts by saying that as the 'adult' he couldn't 'risk' a 'child' by taking Robin along? Why did he always say the wrong thing to his own son, Batman raged silently?

When Speedy punched Green Arrow by way of greeting, Batman felt it in his own soul. For Speedy's angry, open feelings of hurt and betrayal were an echo of Robin's own look of hurt at being dismissed as a mere child.

Things were going to be different, Batman vowed. When he found his boy, he'd make it up to him. "And things will be different," Batman said to himself.

"What?" Green Arrow asked. "What'd you say, Big Guy?" No answer. "Hey, Roy how'd you Titans beat us here anyway?" GA asked as a way of making small talk. No answer. GA sighed. At least when Batman and Speedy hit him, GA knew that they were paying attention to what he was saying. This cold shoulder stuff was growing real old, real fast.

"Hey, Flash Kid," GA began.

"Uh, sir, that's Kid Flash," the teen speedster corrected timidly. GA's famous temper made the boy a little nervous. GA wasn't anything like his Uncle Barry.

"Yeah, GA," Speedy derided. "Can't you even take the time to bother to learn the Titans' names?"

"Sorry, Kid Flash," GA apologized sincerely. "I know how hard it is to get name recognition." GA recalled how the newsmen at first dubbed him 'Batman with a bow and arrow.' Then, later how they kept confusing him with Green Lantern.

"S'okay," Kid Flash said shyly.

"Tell me, kid," GA began again. "Just how did you Titans get here ahead of us?"

"Well, sir, it's a long story, and I'm not exactly sure how we did it, but maybe you'd better ask him! He can probably 'splain it better than I ever could!" Kid Flash pointed suddenly to something or someone behind them.

Batman, GA, and Speedy all turned as one. Green Lantern was at that moment flying towards them from down the corridor…

Chapter Eighteen

The ship's intelligence was nearing a state of 'panic'. Its scouts were increasingly coming under attack by unknown forces, and its own personal defenses were now completely destroyed. Worse, its forward hatches had just been encroached. The ship's intelligence knew cold, numbing fear…

"I'm in!" Robin cried out elatedly. He did it! He'd traveled halfway across the galaxy and successfully made it into the mouth of the lion's den. Maybe Batman would finally notice that he wasn't just a little kid any more. Maybe Batman would see that Robin was an equal partner worthy of assisting him on all his missions.

Yeah, maybe Batman would break into song the next they were fighting the Joker, Robin thought darkly.

"Okay, can it, Grayson," Robin muttered. "You may be in, but you haven't beat this thing, yet!" Robin paused and looked around the darkened control room. He took out a penlight and began searching for a light source.

As he swung the pencil-thin beam around, Robin realized that he was inside a large room. It held a variety of control consoles whose functions Robin could only vaguely guess at. Several dials and meters on the consoles showed an incredibly old technology, almost vacuum tube era, while others rivaled and surpassed the best and latest that WayneTech had to offer.

Robin took a deep breath, got his bearings, and began walking towards a likely candidate for the main control console. He shrugged. He knew that the ship was fully automated; however, at some point in its history, it must've had a live crew. Otherwise, why did it have an atmosphere or artificial gravity? Whoever or whatever the crew had been who'd manned the ship, they'd been very close in physiology to Earth human.

Robin noted that the consoles were all built at a height that allowed a normal-sized adult human male to man them. While the ship itself was gargantuan in size, most of the objects necessary to enhance the crew's standard of living were not. For example, the rungs on the ladders between floors were not spaced far apart for a giant, but rather for a normal-sized human.

The same with the corridors. They weren't humongously proportioned, but rather about what one could expect to find in a large skyscraper.

Therefore, Robin surmised that the likeliest console the human-like builders would have designated as the Command Console should be the large circular one in the center of the control room. Whoever the long-dead commander of the vessel had been, he or she (if the alien crew was divided into male and female, Robin added to himself) stood inside the semi-circular opening within the Command Console itself.

As Robin approached it, he walked around it curiously, looking for an opening or some other means to let himself into the Commander's station. Not finding a means of entry, Robin placed his hand on the console, intending to vault over it. As soon as Robin touched it, however, the console began to glow and an opening instantly appeared.

Robin stared for a second, taken aback, then recovering his composure, he walked into the Commander's station. As soon as he entered it, the console closed around him.

"Okay, Grayson, you've made it this far…now what?" Robin carefully touched the console before him with his forefinger. As soon as he did so, the dials and monitors before him came to life. Several monitors began giving him live pictures from within the ship; others were obviously for monitoring the space outside the ship.

A movement in one of the internal closed circuit monitors caught his eye…Batman! and Green Arrow! They were with Speedy and Kid Flash. Batman had made it here safely, Robin thought happily. He was all right.

"Gotta talk to him," Robin muttered. He was about to contact him through his Titans wrist communicator, when Green Lantern appeared.

"Just got word, gentlemen," GL said without preamble. "The Sol System is under attack by the enemy armada. Our remaining teammates are barely holding their own. We've got to end it here and now. They need us back home."

Batman and Green Arrow nodded in understanding.

"If they've already launched their attack, then it's too late for us to talk with this thing!" GA said, hotly. "We've gotta blow this monster out of space!"

"I'm in agreement with Arrow," GL said. "The others are outnumbered by several thousand to seven. They'll never be able hold off the enemy's forward advance."

"If that's true, then there's little point in our rushing back, is there?" Batman replied. "All we can possibly do is add emotional support. The difference between several thousand to seven and several thousand to ten is negligible. Our best bet still lies in establishing contact with the vessel's intelligence."

"I agree with Batman," piped up Kid Flash. At the JLAer's looks of surprise, the boy blushed crimson, and he dropped his eyes. "Well, Uncle Barry always says that we should do everything possible to talk out our differences first before we turn to fighting."

Batman gave the youngster a half-smile.

"Listen to your Uncle Barry, Kid Flash. He's a good man." The others gave Batman looks of stunned surprise.

"I do believe that's a compliment I just heard uttered by our enigmatic Dark Knight," GA said in awe. "Why am I not surprised that he wasn't talking about me?"

"Don't worry, GA," Speedy began. "When the Bat wants an example that he doesn't want us to follow, I'm sure your name will figure prominently." Speedy grinned sardonically at his mentor. GA responded by giving his junior partner a sour grimace.

"So, what's the plan, gentlemen?" asked GL.

"We'll attempt to establish contact," Batman replied. "If that fails…we destroy it." This last was uttered with grim finality. The senior heroes nodded in agreement.

The two Titans glanced at each other in silent awe. Speedy tapped his teammate on the sleeve.

"Hey, Twinkletoes," Speedy said in a low voice, "what say you'n me zip on forward and--"

Kid Flash gave Speedy a bright smile, and before the junior bowman could complete his sentence, dropped him off at the Command Center's forward hatch.

"--meet up with Batboy?" Speedy finished, chagrinned. "I really wish you'd stop doing that, Twinkletoes!" Speedy was gasping for air and holding onto his chest as if stemming the onset of a heart attack.

"What?" Kid Flash asked confused. "Stop doing what?" He paused. "Are you okay?"

Speedy brought a shaky hand up to his forehead and wiped the cold beads of sweat that seemed to have appeared out of their own volition.

"Never mind, Twinkletoes," he muttered. "Never mind."

As his two teammates entered the Command Center, Robin gave them a distracted wave.

"See you made it," he muttered. He was working intently at the Command Console. Every now and then, he'd call out a string of numbers, listen intently, nod, and continue on whatever he was doing.

"Okay, WG, gotta go for a couple of secs…Speedy and Flasheroo just ambled in, and I'm about to put 'em to work." Robin turned to them.

"Flasheroo, I need your speed," he called. Come on--" Robin felt a sudden breeze next to him. "--over here," he finished. Someone tapped Robin between his shoulder blades. The Titan leader whirled around in surprise. He glared daggers at his teammate. "Do that again, Flasheroo, and I may forget we're friends."

"Now you know what I've been going through for the past coupla hours," Speedy said smirking. He leaned against the bulkhead, his arms crossed.

Kid Flash flinched slightly at Robin's threat. He looked so hurt that the Boy Wonder relented. "Oh, forget it. Look, I'm sorry. You can't help your speed. In fact, I really need it right now."

Kid Flash gave Robin a pleased smile. "How can I help?" he asked.

Robin and Kid Flash immediately put their heads together and went to work.

Speedy watched as his teammates worked intently on whatever they were doing. As always, he felt left out. On a whim, he activated his wrist communicator and called Wonder Girl.

"Hey, Wonder Doll, ya busy?" he asked.

"Wonder Girl here," the teen Amazon Princess replied. "Is that you, Robbie?"

"No, Babe," Speedy said, slightly annoyed. "It's me, Speedy."

"Speedy," Wonder Girl's pleased smile could be felt in her tone of voice. "What are you doing? What do you need?"

"Nothing. And you," he replied.

"What? I don't copy," Wonder Girl said, sounding confused.

I don't copy, mimicked Speedy darkly. She's even beginning to talk like Bird-boy.

"Speedy, I'm really busy right now," Wonder Girl said a bit briskly. "What did you want?"

"Nothing, Wonder Doll," he said sounding tired. "I'm sorry I bothered you." He cut the communications and turned to where Robin and Kid Flash were still deeply immersed in their 'Grand Doings'.

"Hey, Bird-boy," Speedy called out, "ya got anything for me? I'm beginning to feel as useful as a second string on my bow."

Robin didn't look up. "A second string?" he asked distractedly. "Sounds nice…No, Flasheroo, like this--" he proceeded to show Kid Flash a complicated series of numerals. Kid Flash nodded, then picked up the speed until his hands were a mere blur.

Speedy meanwhile gave up trying to make small talk and simply wandered around the Command Center. A tap between the shoulder blades caused him to begin a slow burn. That did it! So help him, he was going to punch the junior speedster's lights out!

Speedy whirled around, his fist ready to deliver. He was met, not by Kid Flash's slightly vacuous smile, but by Robin's grim look.

"I need you--" Robin ducked, grabbed Speedy's wrist, and threw him head over heels halfway across the Command Center.

"Hey! What was that for?" Speedy protested.

"I might ask you the same question," Robin replied quietly, his voice deadly. "You were about to take a punch at me."

Speedy looked up at Robin from where he'd landed! He shook his head. This mission was just one humiliation after another.

"I wasn't going to hit you," Speedy tried explaining. "I was gonna hit him!" He pointed in Kid Flash's direction.

Robin looked at Speedy skeptically, a single eyebrow raised. "Oh really? And how were you going to accomplish that marvelous feat? By tactile telekinesis?"

"Huh?" Speedy asked, clearly not understanding.

"The power of mind over matter. Using your sense of touch to over come greater obstacles," Robin offered as explanation. "By punching me out, you'd somehow transfer the force over to Kid Flash."

Speedy shook his head, his confusion having grown even more. "Robbie, I don't have the slightest idea what you're jabbering about. I thought you were Kid Flash pulling his 'sneak up on people' dirty trick. I was mistaken, that's all."

Robin stared at his rebellious teammate a little longer, then finally nodded his head. "Okay, I can understand that. The Kid gets to me, too, on that one count." He walked over to Speedy and offered him a hand up. "Come on, Arrowhead, I need your knowledge of weapons."

Speedy looked up at Robin's outstretched hand. Nodding slowly, he smiled slightly, feeling back in fold again. "You've got it, Batboy," he said, taking Robin's proffered hand.

"GL, you're our resident space expert," Batman said. "You have the greatest experience with contacting alien races. Going forward and making contact should be your mission. GA, in case things don't go down in our favor, you need to find us an escape route. You and I have our auto-transporter recalls, GL has his ring. But the kids…"

"Hey, speaking of the kids," Green Arrow spoke up. "Where'd they go? They were just here a second ago!" The others looked around.

"Kid Flash," Batman said succinctly. "The boy probably just zipped himself and your junior partner out of here."

"Speaking of the Titans," GL began, "they have their hijacked JLA cruiser inside one of the cargo bays. Wonder Girl is nursing Aqualad over there. That may be your primary escape route, Batman. GA, you could go there and prep it for an emergency take-off."

"Can do," GA replied easily. "And Bats here? What're you going to be doing meanwhile?"

"I'm going back to the engine room," Batman said quietly. "If all else fails, I'm making sure that this tin can doesn't ever wreak havoc on any other civilization in the universe."

The two Emerald Warriors stared at the Dark Knight for a long moment. Finally, Green Arrow nodded. "Sounds like a plan."

All three men rapped their fists together in a show of JLA camaraderie. "Let's go!" As they were about to part ways, Batman hesitated.

"Hal…Ollie…" Batman's use of their first names stopped them both in their tracks. They stood and waited patiently for whatever he was going to say. "Robin…if anything were to happen to me…" He stopped. Finally, he said quickly, "Take care of my boy for me." Batman turned and disappeared into the ship's vast body.

"What do you want me to do?" asked Speedy.

Robin smiled. "Disarm the enemy," he said enigmatically.

"Huh?" Speedy gave Robin a blank look.

"I want you to figure out a way to send a signal, via the ship's Target Acquisition and Fire Control Computer to the armada. I want you to order the armada to stand down. Immediately."

"Heh. You don't ask for much, do you?" Speedy said weakly.

Robin shrugged. "If you don't think you can do it, just say the word. But don't take too long to decide," he warned. "At thousands to seven odds, I'd say that even the JLA is hopelessly outnumbered."

"I didn't say I couldn't do," Speedy protested. "Did I say I couldn't do it? Sheesh!" He immediately turned to the nearest console and began running a systems check.

Robin gently placed his hand on Speedy's elbow. "That's the life support station, Archer. The Target Acquisition Computer is over here." He pointed Speedy in the right direction.

"I knew that," Speedy blustered. At Robin's look, he insisted, "I did."

Robin nodded. "Of course," he said seriously. "Now get to it!"

Speedy immediately began to run a diagnostics of the ship's fire control system.

"Hey, Batboy," he called. "What if the armada's fire commands aren't being sent from the TAC, but rather from the Command Console?"

"That's what I've got Flasheroo checking. So far, all we've found is command and control. The final command to go 'hot' was given by Command; however, the patterns, targeting, and rates of fire aren't controlled from there. At least, we haven't found any indication so far."

Speedy nodded. Robin might be a geeky kid in an elf suit, but he knew his stuff. Didn't Batboy ever make mistakes, Speedy wondered? Robin could really give a guy a complex.

Speedy's concentration was suddenly broken by a jubilant cry from the Command Console…

Kid Flash worked at supersonic speed. Robbie's lessons on computer programming, coupled with the young teen's innate ability to see the complete puzzle before he had all the pieces finally paid off.

When the junior speedster ran through hundreds of possible numerical combinations, he suddenly began to see a plausible pattern. Slowing slightly to sub-sonic speed, Kid Flash ran through the same sequence again. Not trusting his findings, he did it again. And again. With the same results.

Grinning in triumph, Kid Flash suddenly called out, "Robbie, I think I've got it!"

"You've got what?" All the three teens turned to the sound of the new voice at the Command Center's open hatch. Green Lantern!

Robin rushed over to Kid Flash's side. "Show me," he ordered calmly.

Green Lantern levitated over to where they were. He 'stood' in mid-air, above the Titans' shoulders, observing what the youngsters were doing.

"Look," Kid Flash said, running the numerical sequence once again. Robin watched as the string of numbers began to coalesce into something that seemed to make sense.

"See? This marker here…and this one here. It's repeated again several lines further down. When I run it through the translator, this is what I get…"

Robin and Green Lantern watched, fascinated, as they read for the first time, a coherent message from their intergalactic visitor:


"This is what it was trying to tell us from the beginning," Robin said awed. "That its intentions were peaceful. But, because we couldn't translate their message accurately…"

"Because we couldn't translate their message, the earth is in danger of annihilation," finished GL. He sighed, then turned to Kid Flash with admiration. "Good work, Kid Flash. Your uncle will be proud of you."

Kid Flash beamed with pride. "Robbie and Wonder Girl are really the ones who did it. They figured out the first numerical sequence that I started working with. They started with the partial translation that Batman was able to decipher earlier…the one about the Krghlm…"

"…However, Batman's earlier translation was too sketchy, with more unknowns than deciphered strings. Therefore, we used only the string that we assumed meant Krghlm…" interrupted Robin.

"…After that, I ran thousands of variations at superspeed, until I got the right combination," finished Kid Flash.

"So we've been able to translate the ship's initial message. Can we talk to it now? Can we establish contact?" GL asked.

"I think so, sir," Robin replied. "But it'll take a while. This translation of something the ship sent took Flasheroo several minutes. The reverse…well, that will probably take a little longer." Robin looked helpless. "See, this isn't the complete message, just the opening greeting."

Robin dropped his eyes as if he'd failed somehow. "The message we've translated doesn't use all of our alphabet. It just repeats the same symbols. Our next problem is sending a coherent message that makes use of all the alphanumeric symbols we have."

"Wait," GL said, forestalling further efforts from the Titans. Concentrating on the communications console, GL aimed his ring's powerful beam on it. The console was instantly enveloped in a pulsating emerald glow. Immediately, Kid Flash's translation of the alien's message began to change.

As if by magic (and Robin was inclined to believe that the ring could very well be such), the untranslated portion of the message began to change. Soon, the entire message could be read.

Robin and Kid Flash stood with mouths gaping. "I don't understand, GL," Robin said. "If you could do that, why didn't you just do it from the start?"

GL shook his head. "I couldn't translate it earlier, Robin. At least, not until I saw the message you Titans successfully broke. Just like you said about the earlier translation having too many unknowns. I couldn't see the pattern before, but, when I read yours, I was able to formulate a mental picture and translate the rest." He smiled. "The best part is that now we can communicate effectively…"


Return to the Top of the Page

Now that you've read this piece,
discuss it in the Fanzing Forum!

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 2000 by Syl Francis
Fanzing is not associated with DC Comics.
All DC Comics characters, trademarks and images (where used) are ™ DC Comics, Inc.
DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.

Fanzing site version 7.4
Updated 7/27/2010