by Martin Maenza and Immortalwildcat
The commandeered craft rounded the Moon, only to see an equally massive body before them. The Warworld was easily the size of Earth’s orbiting satellite, but the imposingly sinister construct was entirely artificial in nature. Its structure consisted of elements and alloys from many solar systems, and it was armed to the teeth with weapon towers and the like.
“Whoa!” said Steel as he watched out the window of the craft. “That thing looks like the Death Star!”
“And no doubt one-hundred times worse!” Firestorm said. “You up for this, Skywalker?”
“I’m just glad I’m not going solo, Solo!” Steel retorted.
Firehawk shook her head. Boys. Then something caught the corner of her eye — something soaring over the skyline of the deadly planet. Not something, but more of a swarm of somethings. “What are those?” she inquired. “Winged Gordanians?”
“I recognize those!” the Nuclear Man said. “Those are–”
On Metropolis-One, the sight was also seen. “–Parademons!” Superman exclaimed.
“Parademons?” Superwoman asked. “From Apokolips, right?”
Superman already motioned to another of the heroes in the ship. “J’onn, come take the helm! I need to go check out what Darkseid’s foot-soldiers are doing here!” The Martian Manhunter quickly phased through his friend and moved into place to steer the ship. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this!”
Superwoman followed the Man of Steel to the hatch, and in a moment the two were streaking across the deadly spires of Warworld in pursuit of the armored warriors with wings. “Do you think Darkseid’s behind this whole invasion?”
“I don’t know!” said Superman grimly. “But we’re about to find out!”
The pair swooped down and were met by laser fire from above. “Incoming craft!” The heroes started to move low and quick, easily eluding those that fired upon them. Superman glanced back. The laser blasts came from other alien ships.
And what he saw next surprised him even more.
“Yes, Kristin,” Superman said. “Look!”
A swarm of Parademons had cut back and engaged the ships in battle. Though the ships had greater weapons, the warriors of Apokolips easily outnumbered them. They buzzed and threw themselves into the craft like kamikaze fighter pilots. They tore at the metal platings, trying to get inside to the pilots. Having been trained to serve Darkseid with unwavering loyalty, they gave their lives as they were instructed.
The alien crafts that had been attacking went down uncontrolled, crashing upon the surface and killing both attackers and attackees.
A loud commotion came from the artificial planet’s surface ahead of Superman and Superwoman. The two heroes in blue and red rushed to the site of the battle, only to find yet another surprise.
A massive figure with a large mane of thick black hair pounded away, using his large Beta-Club at an equally powerful-looking, yellow-skinned brute with a high brow. A female with a stony complexion dressed in blue also pounded on the alien brute with her mighty fists.
“Karen!” Superwoman gasped upon recognizing the female as Karen Sorrell, the former heroine called Powergirl.
Superman kept his composure as he scrutinized the situation. “She’s Pandora now, remember? Very much Darkseid’s daughter, I see! But why are she and Kalibak fighting Mongul?”
The stony woman looked up from battle and spotted the newcomers. “Well, well, well,” Pandora sneered. “If it isn’t Kal-El and his little chippee girlfriend! I can’t wait to pound them after we take care of this cretin!”
“Aaarrrgh!” Mongul growled. “I shall kill you all now that I have a powerful body again! I owe that much to this Alliance for what they did for me!” He swung his might fist toward Kalibak, knocking the Apokolips brute backward into a crumbling wall.
“Pandora, aid me!” Kalibak grunted as he rose to his feet. “I cannot topple this one alone!”
“I want revenge!” Pandora cried, eyeing the Kryptonian.
“Pandora! Kalibak!” another voice called. It came from the green-and-yellow-costumed energy siphon named Mantis. “Remember Darkseid’s orders!” He clicked a device on his belt, opening a Boom Tube portal. “Now that they’ve arrived, we’re to go! Be quick!”
Mantis sent out a signal to the remaining Parademons and then stepped into the shimmering, thundering portal. The flying fighters began to swoop in and vanish as well.
Pandora turned from the portal to the heroes and back again. “Damn it!”
Kalibak was already trudging toward the Boom Tube. “You may have been put in charge of this mission, but I won’t have you lead me to capture or death! Stay if you want, and incur Father’s wrath!”
Pandora stomped her foot, then rocketed off. “Ugly’s all yours, Supes! I hope you survive so that we can meet again! I want the pleasure of killing you both!” As she crossed over the Boom Tube, the portal closed behind her.
“Get back here!” Mongul shouted. “I’ll crush you and all of your kind!”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Superwoman said. “What was that all about?”
“No time for that now!” Superman said, eyeing Mongul. “We’re going to have our hands full if whoever is behind this could revive Mongul!” And with that, the Man of Steel launched into the fight.
“OK, let’s look alive, gentlemen.” In the inner courtyard of the Pentagon building, the four brightly garbed figures took their vantage points. Though far from the podium that had been erected for the President’s address, for any of them it was just a short sprint if they were needed.
A few minutes later, a recording of Hail to the Chief started playing, a door opened, and several men dressed in black suits issued forth. Within the cluster of Secret Service agents, the President strode out to the podium. There were several television cameras and microphones set up in front of the podium to carry his address out to the American people.
“My fellow Americans, I stand before you this afternoon, here in the heart of the headquarters of the United States’ Armed Forces, to tell you that the people of this great nation, and the people of the world, remain unbowed in the face of the alien onslaught. Our forces, combined with the super-powered heroes of the world, continue the great fight against this threat from the stars. In the last few hours, we have heard that some of the heroes have left Earth to take the battle to the heart of the invasion forces. Those left behind continue to defend you, the ordinary citizens, from the marauding hordes.”
As the President continued, Paul Kirk and his small team stayed alert. This scenario had been repeated several times during the past three weeks, with the President making every effort to reassure the American people. He had spoken from the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, and other well-known landmarks around Washington, D.C. The Pentagon speech was the easiest to arrange, since the President was spending most of his time in the heavily fortified command center several hundred feet under the Pentagon. The White House had already been targeted by alien missiles several times, and while the attacks had been successfully diverted by teams of super-heroes, the White House was considered too high a risk for the Chief Executive.
Now, as the President wound up for the stirring conclusion to his speech, which would be an appeal to the people to hang tough, stick together, and trust in the forthcoming victory, the sky was split by the sound of a dozen small turbine jets and the blasts of a half-dozen laser rifles slicing through the air. Secret Service agents dived to cover and move the President as six Gordanians clad in full battle suits soared down from above.
“X-Justice, defensive positions!” screamed Manhunter as he sprinted toward the cluster of the presidential detail. The rest of the Task Force X team moved to positions along the pathway between the podium and the out-of-place-looking concession stand in the middle of the courtyard.
Reaching his position, the orange-and-silver-clad Deadshot dropped to one knee. He reached to his waist and grabbed a special ammunition magazine, slamming it home in his left gauntlet. Pressing a stud on the wristband, a portion of his armored costume swung down and telescoped to reach the ground. Using this to steady the weapon, he placed his right hand over the left wrist. Quickly sighting on the first of the advancing aliens, he fired. The explosive round struck its target, and the Gordanian blew apart over the crowd.
Deathstroke, the international assassin also known as the Terminator, used his staff to vault over a phalanx of fleeing cameramen. Landing on the paved walkway, he drew a pistol and took aim. Three bullets flew between cracks in a Gordanian’s battle-suit, two of them shattering knees, and the third tearing through the alien’s neck. “Damn it all, no major blood vessels there!” he murmured as he ducked to one side to avoid a plasma blast from his opponent. “Damned thing is too stupid to die when it should!” Replacing the pistol in its holster, he jumped up and used a Marine who was opening fire on the aliens as a springboard. The jump was impossible for an ordinary human, but the combination of years of intensive training, plus the enhanced capabilities that came from having ninety percent of his potential mental facilities made available to him, made Slade Wilson more than human. The jump carried him thirty feet through the air to land on the startled Gordanian. Steel flashed, and thick ochre flowed from the creature as it fell. The Terminator dived from the plummeting body, landing near the President.
Ben Turner, who had been called the Bronze Tiger by some, stood motionless, watching the flow of the Gordanians’ tactics. Spying the pattern, he interposed himself at a point where two of them would pass near each other. As they were inevitably destined to do, they came at him from two different directions. Rather than veer off, they both sought to take him down. His eyes shifted quickly, from one to the other, waiting for the right moment. With a loud cry, Turner jumped up and kicked with one leg, punching out with the other. Driven by an inner force, both blows struck and shattered metal forged millions of light-years away. Circuitry sparked and rockets sputtered to a halt. Turner spun in the air, pulling himself clear of the two Gordanians as they dived into the ground. There, conventional forces gathered to finish them off.
Closest to the President, the Manhunter pulled an antique pistol in one hand and a broad, flat-bladed dagger in the other. “Keep him behind me!” he cried, trying to keep himself between the Chief Executive and any attackers. One of the Gordanians flew at him. His finger squeezed the trigger of the 1916 Mauser once, twice, three times. Bullets flew off the armor of the creature, but he did get its attention. He fired again, and it raised a hand preparing to fire back at him. He had noted that their hands were bare, and he took that second to let the dagger swing loose on his wrist by the H-shaped framework that held it, and plucked a pair of shrunken from the cowling that he wore over his shoulders and chest. With deft flicks of his wrist, the metal stars shot through the air to embed themselves in the alien’s hand and wrist. The Gordanian let loose with a howl of rage.
“Human scum! You think I am bothered by a puny little pinprick? I’ll tear you apart with my bare hands.”
“That’s what I’m counting on,” muttered Manhunter, firing twice more as he flipped his left hand to bring the blade back up into his hand. One of the shots missed entirely, while the other bounced off the alien’s breastplate. It came in close, reaching for Paul Kirk’s throat. He brought his left hand up, the flat blade sliding between the segments of the battle suit. A cry of pain escaped his opponent as he felt warm liquid rush over his hand. He brought the pistol up and fired once between the eyes of the Gordanian.
Looking around, he spied the last Gordanian making a wide arc to come at the President over the center of the courtyard. The Secret Service detail was nearly to the concession stand there when the Gordanian opened fire. Manhunter and Deadshot both opened fire at the creature, nine-millimeter rounds striking armor and exposed skin as agents, civilians, and military personnel fell around them.
It prepared a final shot at the exposed President. Seeing the tableau before him, Slade Wilson made a most un-Terminator-like decision. With his superhuman reflexes and speed, he hurled himself between the Gordanian and the President. He felt the heat of the blast as it struck his back, even as Ben Turner grabbed a pole from an overturned pavilion tent and hurled it into the alien’s left eye.
Manhunter turned to see the President of the United States kneeling over the body of a man who, until a year earlier, was the deadliest assassin on the planet. A startled cry rose from the crowd as Deathstroke moved, trying to raise himself up onto his hands and knees. He collapsed back to the ground, head turned to one side as Manhunter scrambled over to kneel next to him.
“I swear to God, Kirk, if any of those damned Titans hear that I did this, I’ll kill you!”
The craft containing the heroes of Earth rocketed past a large blue orb, heading toward the final planet in the solar system. Cyborg sat at the controls, which he was now very accustomed to. A red-and-white-garbed young man sat next to him in the cockpit. “Dad, are we there yet?” Hawk said sarcastically.
The man-machine chuckled. “Almost.”
“Darn! We just passed Uranus. We should have stopped to check for Klingons.”
“Ouch! And here I thought Changeling’s jokes were bad.”
A woman in blue and white stood behind them. “Ignore Hawk, Vic,” Dove said. “We all do.” Then she leaned in to her partner in crime-fighting. “FYI, Hank, that was Neptune we just passed.”
“I know, I know!” Hawk said. “Sheesh, you guys need to lighten up a little.” He got up and headed to the back with the others.
Dove sat down in the vacated seat. “Don’t mind him,” she said. “He tends to crack jokes a lot more when he’s nervous about things.”
“Believe me, I understand,” said Cyborg. “I think we’ll all be a lot better once we get to Pluto.”
In the back section, Batman used tools from his utility belt on a small device. The robot Gold, the swords-woman Katana, and the element man Metamorpho all looked on. “Any luck, Batman?” the Metal Man asked.
The Caped Crusader finished the last modification, closed the device, and switched it on. When an indicator on the LCD started to pulse, faintly at first but then slowly growing stronger, he smiled. “Yes, I think so,” Batman said. “Looks like Black Lightning and Geo-Force’s signalers are still responding, which is good. As we get closer to Pluto, we should be able to find them. Now we just have to hope that all the prisoners are together to make our job easier.”
Metamorpho turned away. Katana saw him do so and moved over to him. In a lowered voice she said, “Rex, are you OK?”
“I’m fine, Tatsu,” he said solemnly. “It’s just…”
“I mean, its good to know Jeff and Brion are OK,” Metamorpho said, “but I’m awful worried about Sapph. I just hope she’s OK, too.”
Katana put her arm about her colleague’s shoulder. “If she is alive, we will find her and bring her home.”
Batman rose and headed to the cockpit, his cape swirling behind him. The others watched him go, drawing confidence from that which he radiated. Poking his head into the front cabin, he asked, “We doing OK here, Cyborg?”
“Just fine, sir,” Cyborg replied. “Given this engine, we should be there within an hour or so.”
“Any signs of opposition?” Batman asked.
“No, not really. It’s as deserted as a country road out here.”
“I deduced as much,” Batman said with a nod. “With Warworld so close to Earth and that being the source of the invading ships, I wasn’t expecting we’d see many craft out here. If we’re lucky, the only defense the aliens had around Pluto was that big battle planet. If that’s the case, it just might make our getting in a whole lot easier.”
“What about getting out, Batman?” Dove asked. “If the aliens have taken hundreds of people from Earth as we’ve surmised, how will we get them all home?”
“We’ll just have to see, Dove,” Batman said. “We’ll just have to see.”