by Martin Maenza, Starsky Hutch 76 and Brian K. Asbury
“Well, are we on today or not, Mr. Edge?” a brown-haired man in a dark gray suit asked the head of the WGBS television station in Metropolis as the two men encountered one another in the hallway.
“Damned if I know!” Morgan Edge snapped. “Ever since those blasted aliens showed up over two weeks ago, it’s been a zoo around here! The news staff is jumping left and right with plenty of updates, but who knows whether the signal will be getting through or not? Its a damn crap shoot!” The man was obviously agitated, as evidenced by his increased smoking.
“I have some theories about all this,” Roy Raymond said. “Maybe there’s more to this–”
“Oh, don’t start with your theories, Mr. TV Detective!” Edge snapped. “I don’t have time for them right now! You just be ready to go on the air, as long as the signal can get out.” Edge started down the hallway.
A lovely young woman with wavy red hair was on the news set getting ready for the evening broadcast. A red-haired male with freckles waved at her from the sidelines. Lana Lang motioned him over. “Hey there, Jimmy,” she said. “What brings you here?”
“You know me, juggling two jobs,” Jimmy Olsen replied. “Figured I’d put in another Mr. Action piece if Morgan wants it.”
“He just might,” Lana replied. “Say, are things as crazy over at the Planet as they are here?”
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” the photographic reporter replied. “With the broadcast media being affected with periodic blackouts by the aliens, Perry figures that print media needs to step up the pace. We’re doing extra editions most days of the week.”
Lana nodded. “That’s got to be keeping everyone busy. Say, how’s Clark? I heard he’d moved. I haven’t spoken to him in a while.”
“Me neither,” Jimmy said. “In fact, I haven’t seen him around the Daily Planet at all for a while now. Maybe he’s sick or something.”
Hmmmm, Lana thought. “Maybe, Jimmy.”
At WKBT, Boston’s news leader, a black-haired man straightened his tie in his dressing room. “The show must go on,” the investigative reporter said. It had been a few years now since he moved here from Gotham City, and the change was agreeing with him. He rose from the table and stepped out into the hallway.
“Make sure you get my good side, Mikey,” the man joked to the cameraman.
“The signals out again, Mr. Ryder,” Mikey replied.
“Aw, you’ve got to be kidding,” Jack Ryder said.
“Yep. Guess you get a night off. Not much we can do about it, huh?”
Jack furrowed his brow. “I guess not. We’ll, I’m out of here, then.”
The reporter headed down the hall, looked around to see if anyone was watching, and then ducked into a supply closet undetected. “Yeah, not much some of us can do about it,” he said, opening the window.
He then clicked a small point on his palm, activating a device imbedded into his system. In an instant, gone was the sharp suit and tie and normal everyday appearance of Jack Ryder.
In its place, a yellow body-suited costume with green trunks, red gloves and boots, and a furry red collar. Jack’s skin was now yellow, too, and his hair long and emerald green. The figure leaped out the window as easy as pie and stood perfectly balanced on the narrow window ledge.
“We’ll just see if the Creeper can be of any help! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” And with a haunting cackle of a laugh, the macabre hero was off into the night.
Rynoc and Zirral watched from the window of their dwelling as the Citadel fighters continued to rain fire upon the dwellings of the settlers of Kuraq. The Okaaran held his pregnant wife as she flinched every time one of the blasts struck something flammable and created an explosion.
“When will it end?” the beautiful blonde Tamaranean wailed. “Why haven’t we driven them away yet?” Normally, she was one of the toughest fighters he knew, but her pregnancy had placed her in a very emotional state.
“There are too many of them for our fighters. We drive one wave off, and another shows up. I don’t believe they will quit until we are all dead,” Rynoc said. “I should know. I was among them until an hour ago.”
“But you came to check on me,” Zirral said. “You shouldn’t have. I’ll be fine.”
“I know you will,” he said. “But it is no longer just you I am concerned with, so I had to see for myself to make sure. I’ll join up with them again later. And if I have to personally fight my way through the Citadel forces and take Hokum’s head from its shoulders to keep you and our child safe, I will.”
Zirral placed a hand on her stomach and then looked at her husband and smiled. He smiled, too, and began to lean in to kiss her. Their intimate moment was broken as another burst through their front door.
“Damn it all! Will this never let up?” the scaly intruder said.
“Don’t you ever knock?” Rynoc asked.
“Knock?” Ulhan said, puzzled.
“When you enter another’s dwelling?” asked Rynoc.
“So sorry. This concept of individual ownership or privacy is still alien to me,” the renegade Gordanian said. “Besides, I am far too preoccupied with my impending doom to care.”
“I can see why,” Zirral said.
“I am sure you can, female,” Ulhan said. “If we allow Kuraq to fall, my hide shall surely decorate the wall of the Gordanian Fleetlord’s personal quarters.”
“Then we shall have to see to it that Kuraq does not fall,” Rynoc said. “Artin has sent a distress call out to Primus and the others. When they receive it, they’ll return with aid.”
“If they are still alive,” Ulhan said dismally.
In the space stalag beneath the surface of Pluto, the mood of the human prisoners continued to drop. Periodically, their alien captors would come to the large cage and drag one of the people off down a hallway. Eventually, bone-chilling screams could be heard as the aliens did unimaginable things to the taken person. Sometimes they would see the bodies come back. Other times, they just came for another.
Carlotta Rivera, the gorgeous international model, gently stroked the hair of Moshe Levy, the young boy from Israel. She spoke in hushed tones that the boy seemed to understand. An elderly black man approached them. “You know Hebrew?” Amos Monroe asked her.
Carlotta nodded. “He’s away from his family. He’s too young to understand what’s going on.”
“I don’t think any of us quite understands all this,” Amos said. “And that’s what’s so damn frustrating.”
Snapper Carr sat with the blonde-haired Sapphire Stagg-Mason. “Where’s the Justice League? Where’s the Outsiders?” she said. “Can’t anyone help us?!”
“We can only hope,” Snapper said, trying to sound encouraging, but his heart just wasn’t in it.
“Don’t give up hope yet, kid,” a voice said behind him.
Snapper turned to see a man in a convict’s uniform. He recognized the face and knew whom the man had been associating with earlier. “Go away, Lilac! Hang out with your own kind.”
The man who looked like Louie the Lilac bent down and leaned closer to Snapper’s ear. “Kid, don’t judge this book by its cover,” he said in a whisper. “I’m actually Christopher Chance. Some folks like to call me the Human Target. I’ve worked with a few of your JLA buddies before — Superman and Batman. I’m one of the white hats, chief.”
Snapper tried to hide his surprise. Why was Chance here, disguised as one of the criminals from Arkham? He’d been brought in with the Penguin and the Mad Hatter. “OK, fair enough,” the young scientist said. But he wondered how a master of disguise would be of any use to them now.
Then a pair of aliens came up from the hallway carrying a stretcher. Snapper took notice and was surprised by what he saw. The person on the stretcher was human and breathing shallowly, but his skin was now a metallic type of covering. “That’s Fritz — the ski instructor from Germany!” They took the changed man named Fritz Klein off to another location down another hallway.
He wasn’t sure whether he was happy to see the man alive or not. It did confirm one thing for him, though; the aliens were doing experiments on the humans. That’s why they had been randomly selected and brought here. Whatever the aliens did, it caused a change in Fritz. Snapper dropped his head. This didn’t bode well for them.
“Snapper, look!” Sapphire exclaimed as she tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up to where her manicured fingers pointed.
A number of armed Gordanian guards were hustling two prisoners in from a landing bay. One was an African-American male in a blue and black costume with yellow lightning-patterned trim. The other was a brown-haired male dressed in brown and yellow-orange. Both were bound in chains at their hands and feet, limiting their movement. Around their necks, they wore collar-like devices with glowing green indicator lights.
“It’s Black Lightning and Geo-Force!” Sapphire said. “My Rex — Metamorpho to you — is a teammate of theirs!”
Snapper frowned. “Well, it looks like they’re prisoners like the rest of us,” he said. If the aliens were experimenting on the humans, he wondered what they would do with super-powered test subjects. His only hope, though, was perhaps the rest of the Outsiders might be able to locate their taken teammates. Batman was with that team now, and Batman still worked heavily with the JLA, too. During his time as JLA mascot, Snapper was very impressed with how Batman, a normal human with no super-abilities, could be such a valuable asset to a group that included Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and so many others as its members.
Maybe, just maybe, a rescue might happen after all. But how long would that take, and how many of their number would be subjected to the experiments by the aliens before then?
Crossing the cometary halo at the fringes of the solar system came a small vessel moving at multi-light speeds and cloaked against detection. In the control room, a tall humanoid man with a distinctive wedge-shaped hairstyle anxiously studied the monitoring equipment. Nearby, a young, green-skinned man was calmly punching numbers into a handheld computer console.
The tall man looked back at him. “I don’t know how you can sit here like that when we could be picked up by Warworld at any minute.”
Vril Dox did not even glance up from his hand console. “Oh, do stop fussing, Bek. Our cloaking-field generator is state of the art, as you know perfectly well. We have as much chance of being detected as Warworld itself has of spontaneously exploding.”
Garryn Bek walked up to his chief. “I’m your head of security, Mr. President. You pay me to fuss. And I say again, this is a crazy risk you’re taking. Earth is under massive attack by at least a half-dozen different races, one of which is the Dominion — who, I would remind you, you went out of your way to thoroughly piss off not so long ago. If they detect us, they’ll take great delight in taking you prisoner and subjecting you to the most horrible–”
Dox held up his hand. “You’ve made your point, Garryn. No need to go into graphic detail.”
Bek sighed. “Exactly. You know the danger, yet you still insisted on leading this expedition yourself! Damn it, I could have led the mission with an elite corps of–”
“Precisely,” Dox said smoothly. “You would have come in with guns blazing. The mission called for a small, specialized force and a cool head at the controls.”
“I can do cool,” said Bek, slightly miffed. He sat down. “Although I’ve got to admit, nobody does cool better than you. You’re the original ice man, Mr. President.”
“Just Vril or Dox while we’re out here, Garryn. I left my presidential office behind on Colu.”
“Whatever. I just wish you’d tell me why this mission is so damned important to you that you have to come out here in person and put Colu at risk of losing its head of state. Just what is this Luthor to you, anyway? He’s just a human, for Grok’s sake! They’re primitives compared to most of the rest of the galaxy!”
Dox finally put down his pad and looked his security chief directly in the eye. “Luthor has some highly specialized knowledge which I must obtain, Bek.”
“Well, we know about his sojourn on Lexor and how he rediscovered their ancient technology, but–”
“This has nothing to do with Lexor. Advanced though the ancient Lexorians were, they were a long way behind what we have on Colu now.” He looked away. “The knowledge Luthor has that I am interested in is something he obtained elsewhere. Something that directly concerns me.”
Bek waited for an answer, but none came. “OK, I give up,” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “Have your secrets. I just hope you stop keeping me in the dark once we’ve found Luthor — assuming we do find him. If he and Stealth are really prisoners of this Garguax, I wouldn’t hold out too much hope. From what I’ve been able to find out about Garguax, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s eaten them!”
Dox chuckled. “I hardly think so. Gross Garguax may be, but I don’t think cannibalism is one of his vices.”
“Even so…” Bek sighed again. He came closer to Dox and lowered his voice. “And another thing — why wouldn’t you let me bring proper troops? Why did you hire these grok-bokking mercenaries?”
“You’ve got a problem with them, Bek? You have to admit, my fellow Coluans make poor soldiers. These are much better for a small, hard-hitting strike force.”
Bek glanced nervously toward the man in the pilot’s seat. “Yeah, but your choices?! Garv I’ve no problem with — hiring him as your personal bodyguard was the smartest thing you’ve done lately. But the rest? A Khund, a Durlan, and a powerless Green Lantern? What were you thinking of?”
“I heard that.” The pilot, a big ruddy-skinned man sporting a Mohawk-style haircut, turned to face them. “We Khunds have excellent hearing, Mr. Bek, as well as being superlative warriors — something I’ll be happy to demonstrate on you if you need proof!” He smacked one fist threateningly into his other hand.
“And I, too, heard.” Cold steel suddenly appeared at Bek’s throat. He gulped as he realized it was a sword blade. He had not even heard its wielder enter. How could anyone that big move so quietly? he thought.
The woman behind the blade growled. “For your information, security man, Boodikka is anything but powerless. My ring may have ceased to function, but I was renowned far and wide as a soldier of fortune without peer long before I became a Green Lantern. President Dox is a smart man — he hires only the best, and you had better acknowledge that if you want to keep your head.”
Dox smiled. “Calm down, Boodikka. I’m sure Bek meant no disrespect. As he said, he’s paid to fuss.” The warrior woman lowered her blade but continued to glower at Bek.
Bek rubbed his throat nervously. “OK, OK, you’ve made your point. Boodikka I’ll take. I’m sure there’s no one better. But my point is still that we have a Khund and a Durlan on board, and they’re among the alien races besieging not only Earth but a score of other worlds as well.”
“You doubt my loyalty, you dog?” growled the pilot, standing up, his hand hovering over the blaster at his hip. “Not all Khunds support this invasion, mud-worm. My clan has never been in favor of the alliance with the Dominion, nor that with the Psions. Neither can be trusted. And there is something else behind this sudden aggression. Something that hides in the shadows. No true warrior should stomach that. My people should be fighting these cowardly manipulators, not the Earthers. There is no glory in slaughtering primitives!”
“There you are,” said Dox, calmly. “Amon Hakk has his reasons for signing up. And he is quite trustworthy.”
“So you sold him on this theory of yours that some unknown race is manipulating the Alien Alliance?” Bek said, still watching both Hakk and Boodikka warily.
“I’m convinced of it,” Dox said. “Just as I’m convinced that the war will come to Colu, sooner or later. That is why I need the information that Luthor has. It may be the key, not only to improving our own defenses, but to securing valuable allies.
“As for the Durlan,” he added, “he has his own reasons for joining us. Like Amon Hakk, he is unhappy with his people joining the Alliance. And he and I also go back a long way. He owes me a favor — a big favor.”
“Still…” mused Bek.
“Enough, I think,” Dox said, waving him down. “Resume your controls, Mr. Hakk. Let’s make good speed to Earth’s Moon and secure Stealth and Luthor before someone else beats us to it!”