Too Many Long Boxes!

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

Chapter Nineteen

The ship's AI scrambled to find a way to destroy the intruders. The enemy dismantled one of its auxiliary power stations and managed to enter its Forward Command Center. Now the enemy was working to bypass the ship's Target Acquisition and Fire Control System. The AI needed to quickly and efficiently find a way to dispel the intruders from its midst, and to successfully eradicate their home world and all of the surrounding star systems before it was too late!

Batman hurried through the endless corridors within the cavernous belly of the alien ship. He climbed ladders, ran across ceiling-high catwalks, and took bullet-fast elevators. He felt worried. Even though the Titans dismantled what appeared to be the warp core of the ship, it seemed too small to effectively power a ship of this breadth.

No, a ship this size probably had secondary systems, Batman thought. If so, then there was a great danger that the ship was not disabled, because the power station that the kids destroyed was little more than one of the ship's numerous back-ups.

The World's Greatest Detective studied the schematic that he'd taken from Kid Flash. He grinned again. He felt very proud of Robin. Somehow his junior partner managed to access the ship's computers at the programming level, bypassing the Artificial Intelligence.

"Wish I'd thought of it," he muttered ruefully.

Glancing around to get his bearings, Batman oriented the schematic and headed towards a corridor lying at an oblique angle to him. Picking up his speed, Batman was soon jogging at a ground-eating pace.

Rounding a corner, he came to a full stop. The scale of what lay before him, caused even Batman to pause in wonderment: the ship's main power core!

The Dark Knight could literally feel the awesome power of the massive ship, throbbing with the energy of a thousand suns. Inside the containment field, the ship's power core radiated outwardly in a blue-white swirling maelstrom. Batman donned a set of goggles to dampen the blinding, sunburst illumination.

Batman looked up and followed the engineering marvel as it rose far as the eye could see, eventually becoming lost in the darkened, cavernous ceilings over head. Similarly, it dropped until it disappeared into the nethermost gloom.

"I think I've found what I was looking for," Batman said unnecessarily…

"Fall back to your secondary line of fire!" Atom's voice rang clearly through the open channel. "JLA! Fall back! We can't hold them here."

As soon as she heard the order, Black Canary broke off her attack, fired off her aft engines, and began a shoot and scoot retreat. An enormous scout relentlessly pursued her.

"Okay, ugly, I've just about had it with you," BC muttered. "Retreat? Like Hell!" Going into a 360-degree loop-de-loop, BC swung over and behind her pursuer, and opened fire. "Attack my home world willya? You've gotta get past me first!"

The enemy scout burst into flames before her in a kaleidoscope of fire and molten metal. BC flew straight into the debris field, her ship's shields glowing from the intense heat around her.

"Hah! Scratch one would-be world destroyer!" Black Canary went into an exuberant victory roll, and immediately piloted her ship back towards the primary line of defense. The place was overrun with skyscraper-sized enemy scouts. BC became suddenly embroiled in her one-woman battle against seemingly hundreds of the enemy.

"Dinah! What are you doing?" Atom's worried voice sounded stressed.

"Holding the barbarians at the gate," BC replied grimly. "What does it look like? I may not have heat vision, but I'm meeting all comers."

"Dinah, are you crazy? You were ordered to fall back!"

"Sorry, Tiny Tim," BC shot back. "Detective Drake's little girl doesn't know how to walk away from a fight. These invaders don't know who they're messing with!"

"Ease up on the showboating, Canary!" Atom angrily responded. "You need to fall back to the secondary line. You're fighting solo over there! The cruisers' shields aren't indestructible and neither are you! We can't afford to lose anybody because of personal grandstanding!"

"Personal grandstanding? Me? Listen, Mighty Mouse, you fight your way…I'll fight mine!" Black Canary was suddenly caught in a three-way trap. "Uh-oh, love to chat with you, Atom-Ant, but I gotta go." BC concentrated on evading the enemy's combined efforts. "Looks like somebody here doesn't like me," she muttered.

As she dodged the increased firepower aimed against her, Black Canary felt a momentary twinge at a sudden and unbidden memory of Green Arrow and their unhappy good-byes. "You're an idiot, Ollie, but I love you. If I get out of this alive, I guess I'll have to tell you."

Seemingly out of the blue her pursuers suddenly veered off their attack. All three turned as one and began firing on something else. BC brought her monitors to bear on the enemy's new target. As her screen focused on the newcomer, Black Canary's heart leaped: Superman!

"That Lois Lane is one lucky gal," she said under her breath.

"Why thank you, Black Canary," Superman's voice came over the open channel sounding slightly amused.

Black Canary blushed pink inside her cockpit. "Hey, no fair listening in on a girl's private musings," she laughingly protested. Then seriously, she added, "Thanks for the save, Superman. Anytime you need a Canary cry, just give me a call!"

"I'll do that," the Man of Steel replied seriously. "Oh, and Dinah?"


"I think that Ollie is the lucky one."

The two heroes parted ways and returned to the job of protecting their home…

"Let's see if we can convince this thing not to destroy our home," Green Lantern said. Robin and Kid Flash nodded in acquiescence. GL looked around, trying to find something to focus his attention on while he talked to the ship's intelligence, but all he saw were monitors, consoles and blinking lights.

Shrugging his shoulders, he began to speak.

"I am Green Lantern of Earth! I represent an organization comprised of men, women, and children who have currently banded together to defend our world against all enemies. We are known as the Justice League of America and the Teen Titans!" He paused to check for any reaction. There was none. GL continued determinedly.

"An armada sent forth from this ship is currently attacking our home-world's star system. I am here to ask that you…No! I am here to demand that you cease this unprovoked attack!"

GL's words were met with silence. Robin and Kid Flash stood to the side, watching as the Emerald Knight grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of response from their alien visitor.

"I must warn you…if you do not stop this senseless and unwarranted attack on our home system, we will have no choice but to destroy you!"


The cold, inanimate voice startled Kid Flash out of a year's growth. "Shades of Hal Two Thousand!" he gulped. "The thing spoke!"

Robin turned a sardonic look at his friend, 2001, A Space Odyssey was one of his least favorite movies. Robin rolled his eyes when he realized that Kid Flash seemed to be trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible by hiding behind the Boy Wonder. "No kidding, Flasheroo," he said, shaking his head.

"We are not of the Krghlm!" Green Lantern denied. "We are of Earth, the third planet from the yellow star system that your armada of ships is currently attacking. Our race evolved independently on our planet…we were not colonized either by the Krghlm or by any of the old races." GL began walking around the Command Console. He was in his element now.

"The Green Lantern Corps of OA knows of the Krghlm and of the swath of destruction that they visited upon countless of the early races. You have the technology to judge for yourself…You can see that our home system was not even formed yet when the Krghlm's star went nova, and they first began their relentless course of savagery and annihilation across the stars."


"No!" GL denied. "That's not true! The Guardians of OA couldn't assist you then, because they weren't strong enough. The Green Lantern Corps had not even been formed then. The Guardians were the last of their kind…a mere two dozen left of a mighty race that once roamed space as freely as you. But they were dying out. Each millennium brought the end of one more of their long-lived kind." GL's voice was pleading.

"When they discovered the secret of the emerald battery, their lives changed. They gained a purpose. They were appalled by what the Krghlm wreaked, not just on your people, but on many others. They swore to do something to forestall any such horror from ever being visited on the newer, younger races that were being born…Like ours."

Green Lantern stood with his arms out, asking for belief and understanding. "That's why I'm here. I am the Green Lantern of Earth, and all the inhabited star systems within my sector. There are more like me…we were brought together by the Guardians to serve and protect these diversified worlds…to keep the peace in our galaxy…with this!"

GL held out his closed fist. The ring pulsated green with the mysterious energy of the Emerald Battery, tapped from the very Source that set off the Big Bang. The ring's power radiated with the energy of Creation itself.


The ship's words were met with stunned silence.

"I think that went over well, don't you?" Speedy asked sardonically.

"Shut up, Quiver breath," Kid Flash hissed, annoyed.

Uncharacteristically, Green Lantern cursed under his breath, a string of colorfully non-repeating and highly descriptive words that he'd picked up in hangars from dozens of airplane mechanics. Catching himself, GL turned a slightly abashed look at the youngsters who were staring at him in wide-eyed, open-mouthed shock.

"Um, sorry, boys," GL said apologetically. "This thing's getting to me, I guess. It's being completely unreasonable, and I'm not sure how to handle it, short of destroying it. It obviously has intelligence, but we've no way of finding out if it's also sentient. This Primary Command it mentioned is undoubtedly some type of command-level program that gives it irrevocable standing orders to destroy the Krghlm. The ship's AI may be incapable of circumventing it."

"Maybe not, GL," Speedy replied. "But I think we can still stop the attack." The others turned quickly towards the junior bowman. He gazed back at them with his signature smirk.

"Oh, yeah, Arrowhead?" Kid Flash sneered. "And just how do you propose we do that?"

"Glad you asked, Hayseed," Speedy replied nonchalantly, smiling broadly. "I found the firing codes."

Batman worked swiftly and silently. The sheer size of the ship's primary warp core made his daunting task seem impossible. The traditional explosives wouldn't work here, he'd discovered almost immediately. The ship's power source was too well shielded.

"Probably double and triple shielded," Batman muttered. No doubt to protect it from outside attack. It was the ship's most vulnerable point, and once breached, it would go into an irreversible chain reaction that would end in a pyrotechnic display rivaling that of a million thermonuclear explosions. Enough to destroy the Earth a thousand times over.

Although, once was certainly more than enough, Batman thought ironically.

Thankfully, the shielding that protected the power core from outside attack also protected anyone standing within its vicinity from being instantly fried.

Furthermore, these energies being generated by the ship's engines appeared immeasurable. So far, none of Batman's instruments could even begin to gauge the radiation levels that the warp core was emitting. And somehow Batman had to cause the warp core itself to go into a self-destruct mode.

Consulting his ship's schematic, Batman made his way to a vast console with countless gauges, monitors, knobs, and other unrecognizable objects. After a moment's search, he found something that looked familiar, an instrument that resembled a computer's input device.

Walking over to that section of the console, Batman took a second to study the alien artifact. Deciding that there was nothing like taking the plunge, he reached out and lightly touched the instrument. Almost instantly, the console's many gauges and numerous instruments began pulsating with life.

Batman raised an eyebrow. Reaching a decision, he activated his JLA communicator and placed a call. "Batman to Robin. Come in."

There was moment's startled pause from the other end, but suddenly he heard his young protege's excitedly worried voice. "Batman! Batman, this is Robin! Come in! Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, chum," Batman replied quietly, momentarily savoring the sound of his young ward's voice. "But I need your help."

"Where are you, Batman?" Robin answered immediately. "I'll come right over."

"No! There's no need for that," Batman quickly said. "Are you still in the forward Command Center?"

"Yes, sir," Robin's eager voice responded. "But I'm not needed here, honest! Speedy and GL have the thing under control. GL's managed to communicate with the ship, and Speedy's decoded the ship's fire control protocols. They should have the armada standing down in another few minutes!"

"That's good to hear, Robin," Batman said calmly. "But I need your skills up there at the Control Center."

"Yes, sir," Robin sounded disappointed.

"Robin," Batman began tentatively, "you've done a fine job so far. I'm very proud of you, son."

"…" Robin's young voice came over a bit shakily. "Batman, about what I said earlier…I didn't mean it, sir! I'm really sorry--"

"Hey, partner, none of that now," Batman said with quiet reassurance. "We'll have plenty of time for talk later. You were right, Robin. This job is too big for one man alone. You're here now, and I need you. Let's get to work."

"Yes, sir," Robin said simply. "What do you need me to do?"

Batman thought he detected the slightest trace of a sniffle being bravely suppressed. He allowed himself a small, proud grin. The boy had grit.

"You downloaded the alien ship's schematic," Batman began.

"Yes, sir."

"Do you still have the handshake protocols that allowed you to do this?"

"Sure. The Avenger's shipboard computer still has it. In fact, we were just using it to develop a new-improved translator program. Let me check with Wonder Girl. Hold on a sec."

Batman waited while Robin switched channels on his Titans communicator. A few moments passed, then Robin came back on.

"Batman, WG's bringing the handshake program online now. Stand by." Robin's young voice was soon joined by Wonder Girl's.

"Robbie, I have it!" Wonder Girl said crisply.

"Great, WG…Batman, did you get that?" he asked.

"Yes, I did. Titans, listen carefully. I'm going to need you to communicate with the ship on the programming level. I believe that if we do that, its Artificial Intelligence will be unaware of what we are doing," Batman explained. "I'm fairly certain that that is why you were able to download the schematics. Your ship's computer spoke directly to the alien vessel's computer. The ship's consciousness remained unaware of what was transpiring the entire time."

"Whoa," Robin said in quiet awe. "We did that?"

"You sure did, partner," Batman assured him. "Now here's what I want you to do…"

"But if you do that, Speedy," GL protested, "the alien armada will still be able to fire on our people."

"I know that, GL," Speedy replied, annoyed, "but it's the best I can do under the circumstances. I can't order the armada to go to Cold Fire. Not yet anyway. But I can reprogram the Firing protocols so that they return to the default setting, for want of a better word."

"GL, why don't you do that nifty thing with your power ring that you did earlier and get us the protocols we need?" Kid Flash asked.

"I can't, son," GL admitted regretfully. "My ring was able to decode the strings necessary to bridge the language barrier, almost the same way as Tarzan and Jane were able to communicate." At Kid Flash's blank look, he explained further. "You know, point at something, say what it is in your language, then wait for the other person to say it in his language. Once we were able to establish minimum communications, the rest was easy." GL shrugged. "Firing protocols are different. That's getting into computer speak…unlike the translator program that you Titans were able to piece together, the Target Acquisition Computer doesn't work with spoken language, only in code."

"I'm sorry, GL," Speedy apologized. "But for now this is the best I can do."

"Don't worry, GL," Kid Flash added reassuringly, "as soon as Speedy can figure out a few more Fire Command and Control protocols, he'll be able to order the armada to go Cold." Kid Flash smiled. "He's kind of a jerk, but he sure knows his stuff when it comes to weapons and things like that." He easily ducked under Speedy's half-hearted, playful punch.

Not ready to take their word, GL turned away from the Titans and spoke into his JLA communicator. "Arrow, did you copy that?"

"Got it, buddy," Green Arrow's confident voice came over the communicator. "And let me assure you, pal…if Speedy says that the best he can do right now is to go to the default firing program, then I doubt if there's anyone there who could do better. That kid knows more about weapons and targeting than anyone alive…except for me, of course. Heh."

Speedy rolled his eyes at this last, but felt secretly pleased over his mentor's unsolicited compliment.

"All right, Ollie," GL said, unhappily. "Got everything set on your end for emergency take-off?"

"Waiting for the word, Fly-boy. The little Amazon Princess and I have everything under control. Oh, and tell the kids that their pal, Aqualad, is recovering nicely. He's already complaining about being in bed."

"Roger, Arrow. Green Lantern out." GL sighed. He would've preferred that they order the armada to go Cold, but if the default was the best they could for now, so be it. "Do it, Speedy. Let's get this alien armada to start telegraphing its moves."

"Yes, sir!" Speedy said, immediately turning to the Target Acquisition Computer and inputting the necessary commands that would revert the enemy armada to its original target practice pattern. After a few minutes, he looked up and smiled in triumph. "Order transmitted and received, GL! The armada should now be going into its little outer space ballet routine."

"Superman!" Atom's desperate voice came over the open channel. "I've got five on my tail. Can you help?"

"Sorry, Atom…got a few problems of my own!" Superman replied sharply. "JLA, Atom's in trouble…Everybody to him--stat!" Superman's usually quiet voice rang across the JLA open channel with a 'not to be ignored' command timbre.

As Atom desperately dodged and rolled, his mind flashed to the previous hours' nonstop battle. The heavily outnumbered JLA bravely fought against the relentless invader, but the overwhelming odds were finally taking their toll. Earth's heroes were steadily and rapidly losing ground. They'd already fallen back to their tertiary positions. Soon they'd be forced to fall back to the final line of fire.

If the alien armada broke through this final defensive line, then there would be nothing left between the invader and Earth.

As he continued the unremitting battle for his life, somehow escaping one deathtrap after another, Atom recalled the brief, heartstopping moments he'd lived through less than an hour ago when the Flash lost his ship. Too busy to go to his best friend's aid, the Atom watched helplessly as the Flash took a brutal pounding…

"Mayday!" the Flash's frantic voice rang across the open channel. "I've lost hull integrity…life support's gone…I'm rapidly losing atmosphere!"

As Atom fought on, trying to get through the enemy in order to reach his friend, he waited impatiently for the Flash's voice to come back. Silence. Atom began flying in quick, reckless maneuvers.

"Barry!" Atom called desperately. "Barry, come in! Flash, come in!"

At last the Flash came back on the air. "I'm all right, buddy. Close call though. I managed to get into an exo-suit in time." He gave a small nervous laugh. "They don't call me the Fastest Man Alive for nuthin' ya know."

"Hang on, pal, I'm coming for you!" Atom replied. In a wild frenzy, he fired off twin volleys of deadly plasma rays at two enemy scouts in quick succession, disabling one and destroying the other.

"Um, I'd love to be able to do that, Ray, but I've got a slight problem. That last hit I took? Well, it was a pretty bad one."

"How bad?" Atom felt a cold chill in the pit of his stomach. He quickly rolled right, firing as he moved. Another three of the enemy became stardust.

"Got a warp core breach, buddy," Flash replied quietly. "It'll reach critical mass in about another forty-five seconds."

"…" Atom swallowed. He was still surrounded by too many of the enemy. He knew that he wouldn't be able to save his friend. "Barry, I--"

"--that's okay, Ray. Tell Iris I love her and that I was thinking of her…And Wally…tell 'im that--" His transmission was cut.

"Barry!!!!" Atom screamed, his pain echoing across the emptiness of space. "Barry…no," he whispered. "You can't be dead…"

He wasn't. The Atom remembered gratefully how his friend and teammate was saved at the last possible instant by a quick-acting Black Canary who transported the Scarlet Speedster onto her own slightly worse-for-wear ship…

"Woo-hoo! Don't get your shorts in a twist, Atom-Ant!" Black Canary's exuberant voice shouted over the air. "I've got the Flash-man safely tucked away in my transporter stasis!" She laughed. "Can I keep him? Pretty pleeeease?"

"Don't let Iris hear you say that," Atom warned, laughing. "She'll scratch your eyes out!"

"Aw, you sure know how to spoil a girl's fun," BC replied good-naturedly. "And don't worry, Mighty Mite. We ladies all know that Barry Allen is the Most Married Man Alive!"

Black Canary's warm, bubbly laughter could be heard even as she turned to the cold business at hand: training her deadly weapons upon the enemy that almost killed their friend…

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Aquaman were not sitting idly by on the sidelines. Indeed, the JLA's own two Royals were fighting a steady, consistent space battle, successfully targeting one enemy scout after another. The Amazon Princess's uncanny warrior instincts saved each of her JLA teammates several times during the course of the battle. She even managed to assist the Man of Steel on at least one occasion.

Now, it was the Atom's turn to need help. "And I need it now," he muttered. The Mighty Mite could almost feel the enemy's particle beams as they just missed his ship on either side.

Suddenly, the space around him appeared to be covered with JLA cruisers. Silent explosions that were too close for comfort mushroomed outwardly towards him. Wonder Woman's voice came on the air.

"Cut right, Atom! Now!" Atom cut his cruiser to starboard. The space he'd just occupied instantly imploded in a subspace detonation. The very fabric of space around them seemed to fold in on itself, sucking in any debris in the immediate hot zone.

"Eeee-Haaaa!" BC's Wild West yell came over clearly through the Atom's intercom. "Hey there, Tiny Tim! Never fear! 'Cause Black Canary is here!"

BC's JLA cruiser buzzed the Atom's at near-light speed, dispersing the remaining enemy attack formation that was closing in on him.

"Oh, terrific!" Atom shot back. "I'm saved. Now all I have to do is survive the rescue." He quickly turned 180 degrees and followed in BC's wake, engaging the momentarily disoriented enemy. "Thanks, Diana…Arthur!" Atom called.

"You're welcome," Wonder Woman said with quiet dignity. As her cruiser pulled away, she waggled its wings at Atom in a silent salute.

"You owe us big-time, Ray!" the Flash called. "Hey, Pretty Bird, you take your steak rare?" Atom saw BC's ship open fire on the enemy. The deadly volley was being shot off with an almost faster-than-the-human-eye could follow sequence of salvos. The Flash was acting gunner's mate, of course.

"You betcha, Barry," BC said easily, answering his question. "By the way," BC added with open admiration, "that was great shooting, Fastest Man Alive." Then quipped, "But I think GA's a tad faster on the trigger."

"Oh, you do, do you?"

"Yep. Sure do."

"Dinah, you are living proof that love is blind," Flash teased.

"I'll say," the Atom chimed in.

"Hey, no fair," BC protested, laughing. "That's two against one." She paused to take out a few of the enemy that suddenly converged upon their position. Atom watched admiringly as her cruiser executed a series of complicated movements that were capped with an impressive array of strobe-like rapid fire. After four of the enemy ships went down expeditiously, BC came back online. "Well, maybe it's more like 'one-and-a-quarter' against one."

"Ouch!" Atom called back, pulverizing his own set of twin scouts. As he concentrated on the enemy around him, Atom suddenly heard BC's lively, but off-key singing over the JLA open channel.

"Short people got no reason to live--" she began. Atom snorted, almost getting hit as a result for his temporary loss of focus.

"I can't believe this!" he called. "I haven't heard that old ditty in years. You're aging yourself, Dinah!"

"I heard it on an oldies station my Mom used to listen to," she shot back good-naturedly. After she went through the entire song twice, BC began singing her own original, never-heard-on-the-radio bawdy lyrics.

Atom was soon laughing so hard, he quickly felt himself losing control. It took almost superhuman effort to evade the enemy's tireless pursuit. Just managing to pull his ship out of harm's way in time, he gasped helplessly in laughter.

"Whose side are you on, anyway?" he guffawed. "You almost got me killed." To his chagrin his 'best buddy' the Flash took up the silly refrain.

"Short people got itty bitty <censored>, and teeny weeny <censored>--"

"All right! I give up!" Atom could feel the helpless tears of laughter streaming down his face. "You've got two rare steaks on me! Just stop it. Please…I surrender."

His unrepententive teammates' voices rose even higher as they reached new lows of salaciousness. However, their momentary respite of levity proved short-lived and they soon found themselves back in an unending cycle of shoot, dive, dodge, and run.

"BC, behind you!" Atom warned suddenly. He saw that she didn't have time to maneuver out of the way. He quickly spun his ship around, bringing his weapons to bear on the enemy! As he was about to press the firing button, he caught sight of something different. Something odd. Huh?

"Flash…Canary, you see what I see?" he asked tentatively.

"What's that, buddy?" Flash asked.

"The armada…look at the ships. They're acting kinda weird. Almost like they're--"

"Almost like their dancing!" Flash interrupted excitedly. "Ray! They did it! Batman and Green Arrow! They must've managed to--"

"--They must've managed to return the armada to its original practice-firing pattern," Atom finished. "JLA! Our teammates came through for us. The armada's ships are telegraphing their moves. Let's go, team! We've got a planet to save!"

Chapter Twenty

The ship's AI 'felt' confused, caught in a logic loop. Its Primary Command program was explicit: Destroy the Krghlm! The inhabitants of the third planet did not provide the proper response codes when the ship initially tried to establish contact with them; therefore, the AI's primary programming deduced the third planet to be a Krghlm colony.

The invaders currently on board claimed to be a new race, not one that had been colonized by the Krghlm. Impossible! If a race was not of the Nul^~ht+n, then it was Krghlm.

This is how the ship's primary programming analyzed the current situation. How it had analyzed the situation in the past. How it would analyze the situation in the future.

And this is why the ship left behind a vast trail of burned-out civilizations while on its infinite trek across the universe…

Robin worked furiously on the equations as Batman recited them. With the translation program Robin and Wonder Girl successfully worked out, Batman somehow wrote an entirely new command-level primary program. In another few keystrokes, Robin would 'slave' the giant ship's computer to the Avenger's computer.

"How're you coming along, Robin?" Batman asked.

"Just about done, sir," Robin replied distractedly. "Got a few more lines of code left."

"Robin?" Batman began. "When we return home…" he paused. "Robin, when we return home we should…"

"Hm-mm?" Robin was only half-listening, completely immersed by the task at hand. Even now the Boy Wonder continued to work as he spoke. "Sorry, Batman. Didn't catch what you said. When we return home we should…'what'?"

"Robin, what I mean is that--" Batman's transmission began breaking up. His words became garbled. Robin strained to make out the words. "--different …together…more often…"

"Batman? Batman, you're coming in broken! Adjust your gain…see if that helps."

No answer.

"Batman?" Robin tried boosting his own communicator to maximum gain. Nothing. Not even static.

Robin knew that loss of communications did not necessarily mean that Batman was in trouble. However, Batman was currently located near the ship's warp core, an area with incredibly high-energy output. Even if heavily shielded, some of the power core's radiation could be inadvertently leaking. Robin began to feel a twinge of uneasiness.

"Robin to Batman. Come in, please. Batman--"

At that moment, the ship's emergency klaxons went off. Robin didn't need a universal translator program to let him know what was happening: Hull breach!

The giant ship was losing atmosphere!

"Emergency!" Robin called. "Hull breach. We're losing atmosphere, Titans. We've gotta get this thing sealed--ASAP!"

"I'm on it, Robin!" Green Lantern called out. His entire being was instantly covered in a protective emerald aura. As gracefully as if he'd been born to it, the Emerald Guardian lifted upwards and flew through the Forward Command Center's bulkheads.

"Wonder Girl!" Robin called.

"Here, Robbie," Wonder Girl's quietly efficient voice replied. "I'm attempting to run a diagnostics with the minimum communications we've already established between the Avenger and the alien ship--"

Green Arrow interrupted her.

"Boy Wonder, I can tell you with some certainty that this is not a hull breach. The giant cargo-hold landing bay doors have been deliberately opened. The sudden depressurization almost sucked us out into space. Somehow we managed to keep the Avenger in place while the rest of the cargo-hold's contents went flying out."

"Yes, sir," Robin said politely. "May I speak with Wonder Girl, sir?" Robin didn't have the time to try to issue orders to the JLA's most vocal and least cooperative team member. At the moment, the Teen Caped Crusader wanted his commands executed quickly, without being second-guessed.

There was a slight, surprised pause from the other end.

"Yeah, kid, hold on a sec," GA said, sounding vaguely annoyed. Wonder Girl came back abruptly.

"WG, run that diagnostics of the alien ship's systems as quickly as possible," Robin requested. "I'll do what I can from my end. And WG, be ready to yank us all out of here if necessary."


"Batman! Batman, come in," Robin called. "Batman, this is Robin. Come in, please."

No answer.

Robin's insides grew cold. He felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle. Not allowing himself time to worry, Robin turned to completing the task of inputting the new command protocols.

"Once these are in," he muttered, "Big Bertha here will dance to our tune."

"Big Bertha?" Kid Flash said behind him, startling Robin out of several years' growth. "I thought you said that was a big cannon in the First World War?" He paused reflexively. "Funny, I never knew that there'd been more than one World War."

"Flasheroo, if you don't stop sneaking up on people, I'm gonna put a bell on you!"

"You have something for me, boss man?" Kid Flash asked, ignoring Robin's threat. "I may not have a power ring, but I do have a power that's not in use right now."

"Before I send you anywhere, Flasheroo, I've gotta make sure we know what portions of the ship are safe to enter--"

Abruptly, Robin felt himself floating, weightless. The gravity was gone! Unprepared for the sudden change to zero-g, Robin's awkward struggles hurled him away from the Command Console.

"Oh, <censored>!" he muttered. It was a forbidden word that he'd heard GL use earlier. And if Alfred ever heard him say it, he'd probably wash out mouth his with soap, Robin thought guiltily. He struggled to regain his equilibrium in order to get back to the Command Console.

Kid Flash, himself struggling under zero-g, looked over at Robin admiringly. "If my Aunt Iris ever heard me say that, she'd wash my mouth out with soap--" His super-fast reflexes saved him from slamming into the bulkhead. "Whew. Close call." Then continuing where he'd left off, added, "--I don't care how fast I become. Believe me, my aunt's way faster!"

Robin smiled sheepishly at the junior speedster's words. He'd finally gotten his momentum under control and managed to right himself. "I guess being a teen super-hero doesn't carry a whole lotta weight in your house, either, huh?"

Robin casually pushed off the bulkhead, bounced off an opposite wall like a billiard ball, and headed straight for the Command Console.

Kid Flash responded with a broad smile. "Yeah, grownups sure are funny. Uncle Barry trusts me to bring down the bad guys and a bunch of other stuff, but when we get home, he still treats me like a regular kid."

"Yeah, know what you mean, Flasheroo. Do this…don't do that." Robin sighed. Then smiling impishly, repeated another word that he'd heard GL utter. Kid Flash's eyes widened in shock. Then, mirroring Robin's grin, he joined the game, voicing a word that made Robin blush.

Over on the side, Speedy amusedly listened to his teammates' forbidden fun, not a little bit enviously. What must it be like to have adults who punished you for using dirty words? He shook his head impatiently. "Aw, cut the whining, Harper," he declared in a low undertone. "Ollie's Ollie and he'll never change. No matter how many promises he makes."

He listened as Robin and Kid Flash giggled like small boys who knew they were doing something extremely naughty. Unable to tolerate the unbidden feelings of estrangement that were threatening to consume him once more, Speedy suddenly called out to Robin.

"Hey, Bird-boy! What the heck's goin' on? What d'you do? Cross-wire something?"

"This isn't anything we've done, Arrow," Robin replied. He'd grabbed a nearby handhold and started typing in the final lines of code with only one hand. "No, whatever's causing this…it's not us!"

"Then, who?" Speedy asked. He was struggling with weightlessness again; however, the lessons from their previous experience in zero-g taught him to move slowly and deliberately in order to avoid being slammed against the bulkheads.

"The ship!" Robin replied succinctly. "What else? We know it's intelligent and programmed for defense. It probably decided it's had enough of us."

"Well, then…we've gotta do something!" Speedy called out lamely.

"Yeah? No kidding," Robin said sardonically. "That's what I'm trying to do…Something!" Robin turned to the junior speedster. "Kid Flash! Get on the horn and call WG. See if she's found out which areas of the ship have lost life support. Also…" Robin paused, then finished hurriedly, "…ask her if she can detect life signs near the ship's warp core area."

"Life signs?" Kid Flash asked. "You don't mean--?" Kid Flash noted Robin's determinedly stoic features. Gone was the playfulness of just moments before. Batman, Kid Flash immediately surmised. Only Batman's safety could possibly make Robin look like this, like a scared thirteen-year-old boy. "I'm on it, Robbie."

As Kid Flash turned to make the call, the hatch leading to the Forward Command Center abruptly slammed shut and automatically sealed itself. Following instantaneously on its heels, the temperature in the room dropped to below freezing. And, as if to drive a nail into their coffin, the Titans next heard the unmistakable hiss of air escaping.

"Uh-oh," Robin whispered.

Then, all hell broke loose!

As he flew in the vacuum of space, Green Lantern left a beautiful emerald trail behind him. He never tired of the freedom, the silence, the peace. Space…he'd dreamed of being an astronaut as a kid, but when he volunteered for the astronaut program, he didn't make the final cut. Politics, sprinkled with a little bit of nepotism, kept him from his dream. The bitter memory still hurt deeply…

"I'm sorry, Captain Jordan, but the selection committee decided to cut you."

Hal felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. Cut? From the Space Program? Impossible!

"May I at least ask why, sir? Yesterday, you practically said that I was a cinch to make it."

"I'm sorry you got that impression, Captain," Gen. Douglas said dismissively, "but Space Command doesn't play favorites. You know that."

"Do I, sir?" Hal asked bitterly. He held the general's eyes in an intense glare. "Who made the final cut, General? Tell me that, sir!"

"Captain, you're very close to insubordination," Douglas warned.

"Okay, then, I'll tell you, sir," Hal replied, ignoring the general's warning. "Isn't it coincidental that a certain Senator Davis, who sits on the Space Command Appropriations Committee, just happens to have a son, Lieutenant Tom Davis, who also happens to be an astronaut candidate? A son, who happens to be my junior with less flying experience. And whom I've also happened to 'kill' during the last five air combat simulations. General, I can fly rings around Davis--and the rest of the candidates!"

Hal proudly stood to his full height, still holding the general's eyes. "General, I'm the best man qualified for the job, and you know it!" He paused, then added, "Sir."

Douglas didn't say anything. Hal continued to glare at the general, his personal disappointment and bitterness almost getting the best of him. Eventually, both men looked away in shame and self-disgust.

"I'm sorry, Captain Jordan," Douglas said, truly sincere this time. "But Lieutenant Davis was selected over you. I tried to stop it. Told the powers that be that it was wrong, that you deserved the slot. That you were the best man for the job. I was overruled."

Hal listened to Douglas' quiet recitation, his stomach twisted in knots. All he could see were his hopes and dreams being shot down. Next year, he'd be too old to apply for the astronaut program.

"I'll fight you, sir," Hal vowed, fiercely. "I won't go down without a fight."

"No, you won't fight this, Captain," General Douglas replied with quiet certainty. "I wish you would, but you're too nice a guy, too much the professional to complain." Douglas paused. "Which is exactly why you're the one who's being cut and not one of the others."

General Douglas looked angry and guilty at the same time. "Don't you get it, Captain? Space Command anticipated that you'd never raise a fuss and deliberately embarrass the Space Program." Douglas stood up, and turning his back to Hal, effectively dismissed him…

GL glided silently in the vast blackness that was the outer reaches of the galaxy. He flew a careful zig-zag pattern around the planetoid-sized alien vessel, a pattern designed to reconnoiter the maximum amount of area in the least amount of time. Soon, GL discovered what he assumed was the 'hull breach.'

The vast outer doors of the ship's gigantic cargo hold were wide open, looking like gaping maws. These openings included what GL assumed were the larger than life launch bay doors from which the ship's armada of scouts had been sent forth.

As GL inspected the titanic apertures, he began to feel a certain dreaded sense of misgiving. He shook his head at his conclusion, then nodded slowly.

The ship's multiple bay doors had been deliberately opened. GL felt his insides go cold. The ship was fighting back. If so, then GL's original assessment that it was possibly sentient was correct. And if he and the others were indeed fighting an intelligence capable of semi-independent thought, then their current predicament was even more hazardous than they'd previously believed.

"Robin! Robin, come in!"

No answer.

Batman grimaced at the useless communicator. Taking out a palm-sized device, he quickly ran a spectro-analysis of the warp core chamber. The reading was off the scale into the Red Zone.

"Hmmmmm. Not good." Batman studied his instruments with narrowed eyes. In a rare show of frustration, he gave the sensitive device a good shake and banged it across his palm for added measure.

Still bad.

"The question is--is the instrument functioning properly? Or is it being affected by a possible radiation leak? Something is certainly causing the communicator to be on the fritz."

Batman looked up at the raging storm of violent blue/white energies that comprised the ship's massive warp core.

"And if the electronics are being detrimentally affected," he mused, "then logic supposes that it isn't doing me any good, either." He raised a sardonic eyebrow. Good thing his costume was comprised of triple-weave Nomex/Kevlar fiber. It could withstand high-radiation levels, but the protection was limited.

Time to exit.


As he ran to the nearest hatch, Batman mentally reviewed the information he'd given Robin. The Boy Wonder now had most of the equations necessary to reprogram the alien ship's computer; however, Robin was still missing one-eighth of the equations. Batman decided to head directly to the Forward Command Center.

As he neared the open hatch, it suddenly slammed shut. "What the--?" Before he could finish the statement, a slight movement towards the farthest edge of his peripheral vision caught his attention. Spinning round, Batman quickly assumed a defensive stance. At the same instant, he heard the hatch's automatic seal fall in place behind him.

He was trapped inside the warp core chamber!

At this moment, Batman was startled by several knee-high mechanical droids advancing towards him. Not skipping a beat, Batman acquired and readied a Batarang, then waited tensely for the alien robots' first move. He didn't wait long.

Small robotic arms extended from the main body of each of the droids. At the end of each mechanical arm a deadly weapon appeared and opened fire.

Batman instantly hit the deck, rolling to safety. He had several near-misses. As he scrambled to safety, his JLA patch fell off his left arm. The robots immediately began to fire at the spot where the patch fell on the floor, instantly destroying it.

Batman quickly pulled out a handful of pellets and threw them on the deck immediately in front of the advancing robots. The pellets rolled for a few seconds, then when the robots were a few inches away, the pellets exploded in a blinding-white magnesium flash-bang.

This was soon followed by an opaque smoke under whose cover Batman searched for a means of escape. Feeling his way along the bulkheads, Batman found an air vent. On a ship this size, the air system had to be exceptionally massive to keep the atmosphere up to life-support levels.

Hastily applying a small dab of Plastique, Batman inserted a short fuse, lit it and stood back. It burned in a blink, melting the locking mechanism. As he was about to enter the ship's air-conditioning vent, the defense droids again advanced on the Dark Knight.

Remembering how the droids targeted his JLA patch when it fell off his sleeve earlier, Batman took out a second and third auto-recall transporter patch, activated them, and tossed them in opposite directions. The robots instantly turned and followed after them, firing as they went.

Grinning grimly, Batman took advantage of the droids' distraction and faded into the ship's interior…

Green Lantern cautiously approached the open cargo bay. He scanned the immediate area for any booby traps. 'Hanging' in space, GL concentrated his powerful will on the ship's hull, running a careful analysis of its sub-atomic make-up. He grinned.

"Where's the Atom when you need him?" he asked.

GL shook his head. The material was completely alien to him and to the Power Ring. It was made of an alloy his ring couldn't analyze. Plus it had yellow bands running through it, which basically nullified the ring's efforts.

As GL inspected the outer hull of the ship, he reflected on the irony of the situation. The ship's creators no doubt fought an eons-long war with their enemy, the Krghlm. They'd probably been the final line of defense for many of the old races, fighting and dying in an infinite number of alien Alamos, until at last the day came when there was indeed but one of their kind left.

In a last-ditch effort to continue the fight once their race died out, the last of the ship's builders in a final act of heroic effort programmed the giant vessel to seek out the last remnants of the enemy and destroy them.

Unfortunately, as the ship's intelligence evolved into quasi-sentience, its irrevocable Primary Command kept it from achieving true Free Will. Because of this, the massive Machine/Being was still more Machine than Being. And twice as dangerous, for its decisions were based on cold logic controlled by its programming, rather than tempered by compassion.

Considering the options open to him, GL's mind traveled back in time to his first contact with an extra-terrestrial, an encounter that literally changed his life…

The fateful day when he almost collided with what could only be called a UFO, Hal's life took an unexpected twist. The strange, badly disabled craft headed straight towards his jet, and Hal barely swerved in time; however, the prototype jet was unable to withstand the added g-forces that Hal's seat-of-the-pants maneuver placed on it. As a result, both his plane and the strange craft went down.

Hal managed to parachute to safety, landing a few meters from the crash site. Realizing that whoever or whatever was in the UFO could be seriously injured, Hal rushed to the craft to render aid.

Not bothering with his own safety, Hal quickly forced his way into the disabled ship. Fire and the acrid smell of smoke greeted him immediately. He had to find the pilot and any crew members, Hal thought desperately.

At that moment, something or someone 'spoke' to him.

"Where are you?" Hal called out, recklessly going through the ship. "I can't see you because of the smoke. Talk to me. I'll follow the sound of your voice."

"Thank you, Hal Jordan. You are indeed worthy." To Hal's astonishment, the 'voice' spoke clearly in his head, and somehow knew his name. "Follow the emerald trail, Hal Jordan. There is little time left."

"Okay, Toto, we're not in Coast City anymore," Hal muttered, nonplussed.

Hal immediately saw a faint, glowing green trail, leading toward the ship's forward section. Feeling a momentary twinge of apprehension, Hal swallowed and quickly followed the trail to its source.

What Hal beheld still filled him with awe to this day: For lying there in the pilot's seat was a hairless being with red skin dressed in an amazing green and white uniform. On his chest was the depiction of what looked like an old-fashioned lantern.

"I do not have much time, Hal Jordan," the strange being gasped. "I am Abin Sur. I am the Green Lantern of this sector of space, Sector 2814. The power ring has selected you as my successor. It is only due to providence…or perhaps to the Power Source itself…that we meet thus. I am to expire shortly. Before I go, I must complete my last mission…to turn the power ring over to you."

As the strange alien who called himself Abin Sur spoke in weak gasps, he removed a glowing ring from his right index finger. "Here," he whispered. "You must put this on."

Hal reached tentatively for the ring. He held it between his thumb and forefinger, mesmerized by its ethereal beauty. He turned it slowly, awed by its soft, green glow and hesitantly placed it on his own index finger.

"Repeat after me, Hal Jordan…" Abin Sur whispered in short, painful gasps.

"Please, you mustn't talk," Hal interrupted, suddenly remembering where they were. "I've got to get you of here. This thing's gonna blow!"

Abin Sur reached his hand out to Hal in a staying manner. "It matters not, for I return to the Creator. My time is almost up. Please, listen. You are now the Green Lantern of Sector 2814. The Guardians of Oa will explain everything. Concentrate on the ring, Hal Jordan."

"I don't understand," Hal said helplessly. "Please, let me get you out of here!"

"Hal Jordan!" Abin Sur's voice cut in sharply. "I do not have much time left…Concentrate on the emerald ring. Now!"

Hal nodded reluctantly and concentrated. As he did so, a thousand-thousand images flooded his mind. Images that he couldn't separate at the moment. Suddenly, an old-fashioned glowing green lantern much like the emblem on the strange pilot's chest appeared as if magic and hung in the air before him.

Abin Sur nodded. "You will understand soon enough, Hal Jordan. Until then, place your ring hand inside the lantern and repeat after me…"

Abin Sur's weak voice gained volume and grew in timbre as he led his successor, the new Green Lantern of Sector 2814 through the solemn oath:

"In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power, Green Lantern's light!"

Instantly, Hal was bathed in an emerald glow from the ring on his right index finger. As the glow completely engulfed him, Hal saw to his astonishment that his flight suit was now replaced with a green and white uniform identical to that of Abin Sur's.

"Congratulations, Hal Jordan of Earth," Abin Sur whispered. "Wear the ring with pride…you are a good man…I know because the ring selected you. I know that you will be an asset to the Green Lantern Corps." Abin Sur quietly died.

"Green Lantern Corps? Abin Sur! You can't leave now…there's so much I need to ask you!" The new Green Lantern saw that his predecessor was gone. "Rest in peace, Abin Sur." At that moment, Hal noticed that there was a dangerous rumbling coming from the alien ship's engines.

"I've gotta get outta here!" he said. Instantly, Hal found himself entirely cocooned in a soft greenish halo, and to his astonishment, he suddenly rose up in defiance of gravity and through the ship's bulkhead.

He quickly rose several meters above the alien ship…and above the Earth, he amended ruefully…and watched as the ship went up in a fiery explosion.

"Farewell, my friend," he murmured. "I don't entirely know yet what legacy you've entrusted me with, but you have my word, that I shall do my best to live up to that trust." Hal looked down at the ring, and grinned slightly when it seemed that it was pulsating in silent approval of the new Green Lantern's words…

The Titans found themselves surrounded by Pandemonium! Anything not nailed down became a missile aimed at them. Kid Flash with his super-fast reflexes managed to duck out from under most of the deadly objects. However, when he tried whipping up a whirlwind in order to send the items flying back, he only succeeded in hurling himself backwards.

"Flasheroo, ixnay on the speed tricks!" Robin hurriedly warned, somersaulting out of the way of yet another oncoming object. "Remember Newton's Laws. For every action--" He pushed away and ricocheted off of two bulkheads. "--there's an equal and opposite--" He caught one of the deadly missiles, spun round, and threw it at another projectile, which was heading towards Kid Flash, deflecting it. "--reaction!"

The momentum from Robin's throw caused him to be flung in the opposite direction. Kid Flash waved his thanks, while nodding his understanding.

"What's happening?" Speedy yelled. He was unceremoniously slammed with stunning force against the deck. A sudden, razor-sharp pain shot up his arm. "Uhhhnnn!"

"Arrow!" Robin called, alarmed.

At this moment, hidden portals lining the bulkheads began sliding open. Blinking red lights greeted the Titans as the portals' interiors became fully exposed. Robin's eyes widened.

"Incoming!" he screamed. Robin quickly dodged a sizzling red-hot beam and looped up and around a crossfire of deadly beams. He hastily took out a palm-sized mirror from his utility belt. Flipping in midair, he held out the mirror and immediately bounced one of the crimson rays at an open portal. The interior of the portal instantly melted in a dazzling display of sparks and smoke.

Grinning triumphantly, the Boy Wonder next angled the beam towards another portal, then another. Each time he aimed the enemy ray at a weapons portal, Robin met with equal success. Movement across the room caught Robin's eye: Speedy--struggling to avoid getting hit! Robin instantly turned towards his fallen teammate who was tenderly nursing his arm.

"Flasheroo! Can you knock out the ray guns?" Robin asked.

"I can try, Boss man," Kid Flash cheerfully replied and proceeded to move quickly, but not at superspeed around the Command Center. Superspeed in null gravity was only working against him. (What did Robin call it, he asked himself? Fig Newton's Law?) However, Kid Flash still had some of the fastest reflexes around and that certainly counted for something!

As he 'flew' across the dangerous open space of the Forward Command Center, Robin was targeted once again by the ship's deadly defensive array. Expertly dodging the multitude of scorching beams, Robin caught the distinctive smell of burning ozone around him from the many near misses. At last, reaching his injured friend, Robin quickly grabbed Speedy and pulled him safely to cover.

"Hurt much?" Robin asked, carefully checking Speedy's arm.

"Nah," Speedy replied, his pain-filled eyes belying his attempt at a nonchalant tone. He winced involuntarily as Robin gently ran his hands along his injured arm.

"Sorry," Robin apologized. Then, he breathed a sigh of relief. "Whew, not broken. But it's badly sprained. It's gonna hurt like heck for a few days." The next instant, Robin was struck with a powerful blow to the temple. Everything went black…

As he flew in the still silence of space, Green Lantern smiled. Who said nice guys had to finish last?

GL didn't consider himself much of a philosopher, but he did believe that things happened for a reason. Hal Jordan washed out of the Space Program because Fate had other plans for him. Whatever else happened, whatever the future might hold, GL felt fulfilled. Hal Jordan's life now held purpose.

As a Green Lantern he'd had the privilege of meeting more new races and working with a greater diversity of extraterrestrial life forms that rivaled even Superman's travels. GL hated the idea of being forced to destroy the last remnants of a long-dead race. Such an extreme measure would result in the irreplaceable loss of the long-forgotten knowledge of the ship's creators: their culture, language, art, science.

Unfortunately, the ship's builders had no doubt lived in such fear and hatred of the Krghlm that their final act was to program the ship to continue their mission of total eradication of their enemy.

"God knows how many other races were unable to respond to its initial greeting and thus met their end because of it."

How many more races would be annihilated by the ship because they couldn't answer its initial signal?

No! If the JLA couldn't reason with the ship's artificial intelligence, then they'd have to destroy it. The ship was impressive in its vastness, but it was a machine. It was built to serve a sentient life-form, not to pass judgement on other races' right to exist.

"The last of the Krghlm probably died out a millennium ago," GL mused. "This thing's been traveling for eons, destroying the very races it was programmed to protect. All because the newer races never heard of the long-dead Krghlm, the Nul^~ht+n, or their infinite war."

GL flew in close to the ship's hull, attempting a visual inspection of its outer shell. As he approached, unknown to him, several alien tracking devices followed his flight path. When GL was well within range, multiple high-energy weapons suddenly open fired.

"Son of a--!" GL rapidly swerved, avoiding a direct hit, but catching a glancing blow. The force of the particle beam physically threw him several hundred meters into space. Caught off guard, GL tumbled out of control.

"Whoa!" he whispered, once recovered and safely out of range. "Baby packs a wallop." He took a couple of minutes to catch his breath, then with renewed determination, GL flew a straight line back to the ship.

On the return trip, the Emerald Guardian intensified his protective aura, instinctively willing it to take on the form of an enormously sized knight's shield. The ship's deadly beams immediately began pounding the shield, and GL felt himself slowly retreating under their relentless onslaught.

Applying his powerful resolve with grim tenacity, GL willed the ring's ethereal Power Source to boost his ring's already fully charged capacity to even higher levels. GL felt himself pulling forth energies at intensities that were heretofore barred from him. GL wasn't certain, but he thought that he could almost feel a sense of amazement, even awe, from the Power Source.

As he neared the first point of attack, GL sent out his own walloping punch.

"This is for Earth!" GL struck at one of the enormous gun emplacements that was currently firing on him with a closed fist the size of an aircraft carrier.

"This is for my friends and family!" He knocked out another weapon with a green artillery piece the size of Mount Rushmore. GL grinned humorlessly as his 'cannon' fired a 'shell' in a dazzling show of counter-battery fire.

"And this is for me!" GL reached out with gigantic Paul Bunyon hands, ripped out a third particle weapon, and wielded it like a club, knocking out several more of the ship's implements of war. As he did so, he noticed with grim satisfaction that the rest of gun emplacements slowly and steadily began retreating into their storage silos.

One by one, for what seemed an infinite line as far the eye could see, GL noted massive weapons slowly returning to their bunkers.

"Now that's more like it," GL said, addressing the ship. "Maybe you're even ready to listen to a little reason." GL hung in space, feet spread shoulder width apart, hands on hips. "What say you'n me have nice chat? Like two civilized beings?"

He never saw it coming…


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