by Immortalwildcat, HarveyKent and Martin Maenza
“Sergeant Major! We must get out of here! The invaders, they come!”
“Stand your ground! If the engineers are correct, this is our one best chance of defending our land!” Sergeant Major Im Ho glared back at the lab assistant who had urged their departure. The younger man was shaking with fear as the sound of explosions grew closer. “I survived the Japanese occupation, and I survived the invasion by the Communists from the north! I will not flee while there is a chance of saving Korea from these creatures from the stars!”
All around him, white-coated scientists and gray-clad soldiers scurried around the room. At one end, a massive construct of steel and lead emanated a loud hum and a palpable feeling of power. The particle accelerator, he thought to himself as he watched the computer monitor before him, was meant as a means to study the nature and interactions of matter and energy. Now, thanks to a team of Korean and American engineers, they were about to focus the energies of the accelerator into a beam to knock the alien ships from the sky — or so they hoped.
“The force vector is shifting! Bring the deflector dish to bear on the first ship!” Im Ho cried. “Are the side dampers ready?”
There was no answer. He looked over to where the fearful lab assistant had stood near the accelerator’s power supply. The control console was abandoned.
“Ancestors! Where has he gone?” Im Ho motioned for one of his lieutenants to take his place. “I’m no scientist, but I hope I can set those controls correctly.”
Lieutenant Sang Park looked at the screen monitoring the accelerator’s power buildup glanced over at his commanding officer. “Power is reaching optimum point, sir!”
As Ho worked the controls at the power console, a loud rumbling erupted from beyond the back wall of the lab. The first part of his response was lost in the rumbling of coherent energy striking the metal and stone of the building. “That fool only set one of the dampers. I have to get the other one in place before you–” Outside, the attacking ship turned to another target, and the noise level dropped. “–throw the switch!”
Hearing only the last three words, Sang Park flipped the toggle to send the particle beam into the sky. The side of the particle accelerator dissolved in a glowing mass of plasma, which grew to encompass the power controls and Sergeant Major Im Ho.
The last thing Im Ho remembered was a great feeling of dread as he realized that his lieutenant had only heard part of his last comments and was switching on the circuits that would boost the power of the nuclear particle accelerator and channel its amplified energy out through a set of deflectors mounted on the roof of the university science lab. He didn’t even have time to scream as the leaden wall next to him seemed to disappear in a fog of glowing molecules.
He didn’t know how much time had passed since that moment. He was still trying to understand how he could be thinking about the event. Like many Koreans, he had turned from the animist beliefs of his parents and ancestors to follow the Western Christianity he discovered while studying electronics and engineering in the United States twenty years earlier. However, their descriptions of Heaven and Hell had not prepared him for the situation he was in now.
Im Ho looked around. He was suspended several feet off the ground in the opening of the ruptured accelerator chamber. Around him, people were frozen in place, looks of stunned disbelief on their faces. The only movement discernible to his eyes was in the chamber, where he could see the arcing paths of molecules that should have been moving too fast to be seen. There was a disturbance in the normally smooth patterns of those paths, as if something large had been swept up with them. Looking down, he saw the fading glow of tritium particles drifting down between himself and the chamber.
“It’s still running for the moment, but that will quickly spin out of control.” Turning, he saw the emergency disconnect for the power supply. He grasped it and pulled. It came out easily, but it seemed to take forever for the accelerator to shut down. He turned back to the others in the room, and the scene was somewhat different. It was if he had looked at one of the American store displays with posed mannequins, looked away for a second, then glanced back to find someone had moved each mannequin a little bit.
“Ooouuu–” The sound filled his ears. He tried to figure out where it was coming from, and realized that it was coming from Sang Park’s motionless mouth. As the glowing mass in the accelerator started to die down, Ho picked up his lieutenant and carried him from the room. He came back for each of the eight others who were in the laboratory and carried them to a faculty lounge down the hall. It occurred to him after the fourth or fifth trip that it was remarkably easy to carry these full-grown adults. On his last trip into the lounge, the sound issuing from Sang Park changed. “–ooouuuttt–”
Out. Was he telling me to look out? mused Im Ho. He sat and started piecing together the pieces of the puzzle that faced him. Everybody frozen but me. The high-speed particle paths visible to me. I wonder…? He moved to Sang Park’s side and lifted the young man’s arm. On his wrist was one of the new digital watches from Korea’s government-owned Samsung Electronics. He pressed one button, and it showed a stopwatch display. Pressing another, he watched as the numbers changed.
“One.” A pause of five seconds. “Two.” Another pause. “Three.” He released the arm and sat down.
“Those were hundredths of a second. Five seconds each.” He took a pencil from his pocket and wrote on a discarded napkin, doing the math. He didn’t even notice the smoke that started to rise from the paper. “Five hundred times normal speed.” Noticing the tongue of flame that was starting to form on the napkin, Ho smothered it with his hand. “Which means that, what, maybe ten seconds has passed since the accident?”
Ho got up and walked outside. The scene was one of chaos, frozen in time. Several alien ships hung in the sky over the city of Seoul. Like statues, people frozen in time stood in various impossible poses around the streets. A bolt of light was slowly advancing downward toward a clustered group of soldiers, some of whom Ho recognized. He walked over, carried each out of harm’s way, then came back with a large mirror that he obtained from the lobby of the building. He placed it in the path of the light beam, which had almost reached its target. He braced it with a car that he pushed into place, again marveling at how little resistance it presented.
“Not only am I moving at a speed near that of light, but my strength is also enhanced. Perhaps, just perhaps, I can do more in the defense of my nation than take up arms or aid in the development of weapons.” He recalled the American super-heroes who had occupied much of the media in the past fifteen years. “Like them, I can tip the balance toward good. Just as the extra neutron strengthens the hydrogen atom in the tritium isotope we used in the accelerator.”
Sergeant Major Im Ho turned to spy a patrol of Gordanians frown in their tracks as they advanced down the street. “Let’s see how these otherworld creatures stand up to the power of Neutron!”
“Good Lord… not again!” Gardner Grayle breathed in his helmet as he soared over the ruins of the city. This was worse than anything he had dreamed of during his years in the sensory-deprivation tank. The Atomic Knight’s beloved world was under attack by forces beyond its comprehension — invaders from space. When Grayle had been a child growing up in America in the 1950s, two intense fears had reached paranoia level — atomic war and invasion from space. A computer simulation had forced Grayle to live through one, and now the other was horribly, starkly real.
Grayle could scarcely believe it; and yet, the evidence was all around him. Alien foot soldiers swarmed through the ruined city, gunning down innocents in a bloody purge. Grayle’s eyes narrowed at the cruelty; he drew his own ray-blaster and returned fire. Three aliens went down before his counterassault. As one fell, however, his gun went wild and struck the concrete archway above a building entrance.
“Mommy!” a shrill, tiny voice cried out. The Atomic Knight’s head snapped around in the direction of the cry. A small child, a boy who could be no older than six, stood in the doorway too terrified to move. The crumbling archway was about to collapse, about to dump its load of stone on the boy’s head.
“No!” the Atomic Knight cried, swerving in midair. He had no time to grab the boy; the speed he had to pour on to reach the child in time would create an impact that would kill the child as surely as the falling rubble. There was only one way. The Atomic Knight put his own body between the boy and the rubble. Half a ton of stone struck his armored body, driving him to the pavement. The boy, frightened out of his paralysis, ran away from the building as fast as his legs would carry him.
Slowly, Grayle pushed the rubble off himself. The servo-motors in his armor had been damaged by the hit. He struggled out of the pile slowly, agonizingly, every move sending blinding pain through him. He looked up as he struggled to his feet and found himself staring directly into the barrel of a ray-blaster held by an alien foot soldier. He waited silently, tensely. The alien did nothing.
The Khund warrior hesitated before pulling his trigger. Why? This was the enemy; his job was to kill him. And yet this man had placed himself in direct danger to protect a child — a child he probably did not even know. The Khund had a son back on the homeworld, a son who had just entered the military, having reached the mandatory training age of four. That child, too, had been somebody’s son.
“Orlok!” the Khund’s commanding officer’s voice barked across the silent battlefield Instinctively, Orlok squeezed the trigger. A pencil-thin beam of light, blue-hot, bored through the Atomic Knight’s armor, right over the heart, and back out the other side. Gardner Grayle collapsed back onto the pile of rubble and did not rise again.
“Orlok!” the commander snarled, coming up behind the Khund warrior. “Why did you hesitate before executing that Terran slime?”
“Prolonging his agony, sir!” Orlok responded with a crisp salute. The commanding officer stared at him dubiously, then snorted with a dismissive wave.
“Press on!” the commander growled. The Khunds moved forward through the city.
Two figures opened the main door to the secret entrance of a hidden mountain cavern just outside of Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, and stepped inside. “It’s been a while,” one of them said as they passed the scanners in the main hallway.
“For me as well,” the other said with a deep voice. A blue cape brushed gently against the walls as they passed a spiral staircase and entered the dimly lit main meeting chamber. Dust covered the old oblong table and the ten chairs that sat positioned around it. “Brings back old memories, doesn’t it, Hal?”
The brown-haired man in a black jumpsuit with red and gold trim nodded. He thought of Barry, who had passed on, and Diana who was not a mere tot. “It does, J’onn, it does,” Hal Jordan said solemnly.
“We all miss them,” another voice said. Hawkman stepped from the shadows, followed by the cowled figure of Batman.
“Bruce, Carter, what’s this all about?” Hal asked. “And why are we meeting here instead of the satellite?”
“When Carter and Shiera got back from Thanagar, they filled me in on what they learned,” Batman said. “As soon as I heard that, I realized we have a bigger issue that we need to address! Shiera agreed to watch the monitors while we talked.” He motioned toward the table for them to sit. Instinctively, each went for the chair with his logo on it. They couldn’t help but notice which remained empty.
“Shouldn’t Superman and Aquaman be here, too?” Hal asked. “You seem to have all the founders present for this.”
“Clark’s off on Rokyn helping his people,” Batman said. “Even in his weakened state, he felt a duty to go.”
“That’s Superman for you,” Hawkman said.
“And Aquaman is busy fighting forces under the sea,” Batman continued. “I told him what I was thinking, and he concurs.”
“So, what are you thinking, old friend?” asked J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter.
Hawkman quickly explained what little information he’d gotten from Byth. “Someone else seems to be calling the shots behind this Alien Alliance. They’ve attacked Thanagar and Rann to keep our allies busy. And they seem to be the ones behind the attack on Oa as well.”
“Great Guardians!” Hal said. “The power rings were taken out first. It all fits! The group that’s making up the Darkstars tried to get to Oa, but we couldn’t get past the fleets in our star system! There are too many of them!”
“That’s due to the Warworld off Pluto,” Batman said. “As long as that’s intact, we’re sitting ducks!” He started to trace in the dust on the table top with his black-gloved hand. “As I see it, we need to mobilize three fronts — one to attack Warworld, one to go on to Oa, and one to keep the forces on Earth driving the aliens out.”
“We’ll have to gather as many powerful allies here on Earth as possible,” Hawkman said, “the Global Guardians, the Titans, anybody and everybody!”
“I’ve got that covered,” Batman said. He knew Lyla, the former assistant of the Monitor who now went by the name of Oracle, had a complete catalogue on every hero and villain on the planet and beyond. “The four of us will figure out who we need, and Oracle can help us locate them.”
“We have a plan we can work out and troops for the mission,” Hawkman said. “We’ll still need transportation.”
“There are plenty of ships that are space-worthy here on the planet,” Batman said. “I think we should have no problem commandeering enough of them.”
“But how do we get the plan out to all of them?” J’onn asked. “The communications systems on the planet are being controlled and monitored by the invaders. Though our JLA communicators are working, how do we get to the other teams and loners?”
“If we use common frequencies, we’ll tip our hand,” Hal said. “We need surprise on our side.” He turned to the Martian. “Perhaps telepathy?”
J’onn thought for a moment. “I don’t know to what extent the invaders have to monitor that type of communication. Even if they don’t, there is a lot of the planet to cover. I couldn’t do it alone. There are a few other telepaths, like Captain Comet, but that would take a lot out of us.”
Batman nodded. “We need J’onn and others to keep their strength up. Same with our magic-based allies. This fight is going to take a lot of fire power!” He stood and paced for a moment. The trio watched. Batman then stopped. “Actually, I can think of two people that just might be able to do the job the quickest and still be able to recover fast enough for the big battle.”
“Who?” Hal asked.
“You’ll see,” Batman said. “First, let’s draw up a list of what powers we’ll need. Oracle can help us fill in the names, too, and locate them. Then, we have to outline the plan so it can be delivered by our special messengers.”
The four Justice League members set to task to draw up the offensive plans.