by Immortalwildcat and Martin Maenza
Two men rode along the eastern ridge of Misty Hollow, ostensibly surveying the new tree growth on the ridge. In reality, both of them were focused on their own thoughts.
Did I do the right thing, seeking after Carol like this? asked Hal Jordan of himself. She seems to have made a nice life for herself up here. Do I have any right to ask her to give that up, no matter how much Ferris Aircraft needs her? How much I need her?
I can’t kid myself, Red Crawford thought. Look at this guy: handsome, charming, daring. Guy acts like there’s nothing in the world that can faze him. Even this whole business with Carol’s memories, he’s treating it like something that happens to people every day. If Carol has someone like that waiting for her, what is there that could make her want to stay with me?
For both Hal Jordan and Red Crawford, it was a tense period of waiting. It had been over an hour since they had left the object of both their affections, Carol Ferris, in the care of the psychic who literally held Carol’s past in her head. Neither of them could pretend to know what Carol would decide for her future, once she was fully aware of her past.
“I still can’t believe this was all stripped bare just a couple of decades ago,” commented Hal, hoping to get some semblance of conversation going.
“Yeah, when I came out here, it was still mostly young growth. Now, they could almost start harvesting some of these.” Red looked around him as his horse moved forward. “We’ve been lucky out here, no blights, no fires, no — oh, hell!”
“What’s the matter?” asked Hal, pulling up on the reins to bring his horse to a halt alongside Red’s mount.
“I may have spoken too soon. Take a good look down there.” Red pointed to a spot about a mile to the east of the ridge. Through the trees, a slender tendril of black smoke rose into the clear sky.
“Looks too small to be a wildfire, unless it’s just started.”
“Doesn’t look right for a cooking fire, though. And look,” added Red, pointing just to the left of the smoke. “I don’t know if you can see it, but there’s a stretch of trees there with the tops snapped off. Looks like something crashed down there.”
Hal nodded his head. “Could be a small plane. We’d better check it out. You know a trail down there?”
Red wheeled his horse around. “Follow me!”
As Red Crawford led the way down a twisting trail through the young-growth forest, it soon became apparent that the source of the smoke was neither a campfire nor a downed plane. They were halfway down the slope into the valley when they started hearing the sounds of heavy machinery. They tethered the horses to a tree and proceeded on foot.
“I should have heard if there was any development or lumbering going on out here. Fox Lumber owns most of this land.” Red kept his voice low and waited until they had stopped before speaking. “Besides, the roads into here have been closed off for years. Main access to this valley was still closed off yesterday. I could see it from the highway as I went up to the ridge where they’re cutting.”
Hal pointed down at the ground. “Take a look at those tracks. Four wheels, side-by-side.” He then pointed to the other side of the wide, cleared trail. “Looks like another matched set over there, about twelve feet away. I’ve never heard of anything making tracks like that. And whatever it is, it’s taking out a lot of underbrush.”
“Whoever it is, they’re clever. This is a firebreak, thirty feet wide. Yeah, you’ll get some brush growing up in here this early in the summer. They’re due to come and clear these breaks in the next week or so.”
They kept to the edge of the firebreak as they slowly worked their way toward the source of the noise. Soon, they heard voices.
“Grellzt jukin! Dlooort mfinir edniquit lnrrzt!”
“Perrltknuz ufnut ingnogof brrezt!”
“What the hell language is that?” whispered Red. “Sounds like something I’ve heard before, but I’ll be damned if I can remember where.”
“I think I’ve heard it before, too,” replied Hal. He started to raise his hand toward the sound, then remembered that his power ring was useless. “I may have a friend who can help,” he said, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a small electronic device about the size of a Zippo lighter.
“What’s that, one of those new cellular phones?” asked Red.
Hal smiled. “Something like that.” He flipped open a cover and pressed a combination of buttons. “I’ve got a code thirteen, plus possible hostile entities in earshot, so watch the volume, OK?”
“I read you, Hal. I heard you had some problems. What can I do?” Hal smiled hear the voice of Hawkman from the JLA Satellite.
“Can you patch this feed into the computers, see if it can wangle a translation?”
“Affirmative. You’re patched in now.”
Red watched as his companion held the device out toward the voices they were hearing.
“Glizznt obfon hrejtek loonkun.”
“Wrrent urfsned asklan rtlust.”
Hal drew the device back and held it in front of his face. “Did you get anything from that?”
“It came back as ‘Auxiliary batteries are prepared for transport,’ and ‘Make sure they fall in with the third column.'”
“What language is it?”
“Hal? Where in the seven hells are you? That was Khundish!”
“Great Guardians! What have we gotten into?” Hal turned to a very puzzled Red. “We’ve got to get out of here, right away!”
Red shook off his confusion, nodded once, and started leading the way back to the horses.
The two men returned back to the hollow just as the two women were finished folding up the blanket. Kari Limbo noticed the concerned look on their faces. “Hal, what is it?” the psychic asked.
“We need to get out of here, now,” Hal Jordan said firmly. He offered his hand to help Kari up in the saddle.
“What is it?” Carol Ferris asked as she joined Red on Cambridge. “I hope you two didn’t have a disagreement over me.”
“No, honey, we didn’t,” said Red, glancing at the woman who put her arms about his waist. He could see she still wore the diamond engagement ring on her left hand, which he had placed there yesterday. That made him feel a bit better. “Are you all right?”
“I know where I came from,” she said softly as her voice trailed off.
“But…?” Red asked.
“We can talk about it later, OK?” All Red could do to respond to Carol’s words was nod. The two horses started back toward town.
Kari leaned in to Hal. “You sounded urgent,” she said. “Why?”
“We’ve got trouble brewing nearby,” Hal explained.
“What kind of trouble?”
“The Khund,” he said.
Red’s horse moved adjacent to the other as they rode. “Now, I don’t mean to pry or nothin’, Hal,” he said, “but that’s the second time you’ve said that name in the last half-hour. There’s something going on, and I think you have an idea what it is.”
“Red,” Carol said, “I’ve known Hal a long time, and if there is a situation, then he’s the right man to handle it.”
“I agree,” Kari said.
“Easier said than done, ladies,” Hal said, tipping his head toward the ring that sat on his hand.
Kari knew what he was referring to. “Oh,” she said. “Right. I had almost forgotten.”
“I feel like the odd man out here,” Red said. “You mentioned earlier that you’re a pilot, Hal. Am I right in guessing it’s for the government or something? Those some kind of military friends you were talking to earlier?”
“Something like that,” Hal said. “I really should alert them, though; see if they can provide us some help.”
“Help with what?” Red asked.
Hal decided there was no way to hide all of this, especially when it came to the threat at hand. “You have to trust me on this one,” he said. “What you and I stumbled upon back there was an encampment being set up by an alien race.”
“Alien race?” Red said.
“Hal, who?” Carol asked.
“The Khund. They’re a warlike race from a world shrouded in perpetual darkness and night. They’ve pretty much destroyed their ecosystem, and tend to go after neighboring worlds in their pursuit of raw materials to fuel their continuous wars. I’m just rather surprised to find them all the way out here.”
“You pulling my leg, Hal?” Red asked again.
“He’s not,” Carol said firmly. “I believe him.”
Again, Red said nothing further, but continued to watch the woman he fell in love with over the past few months. Obviously, her faith in this man was solid and assured. Deep down, that concerned Red as he worried about whether they had a future together.
“Hal, can you call in some help?” Kari asked.
“I was just about to,” he replied as he removed his JLA communicator from his coat once more. Activating the device, Hal attempted to contact the satellite once more. After a moment of hushed conversation, he closed it again with a concerned look upon his face.
“What’s wrong?” Kari asked.
“Seems the others have their hands tied up at the moment,” he said. “We’re on our own for right now.”
Red shook his head. “Well, if there is an alien scouting group out there, and your friends, whoever they are, aren’t able to help us, then I know of some folks who can!” The foursome galloped back to Fox Hollow.
Noontime in Fox Hollow followed a routine. At noon, the whistle at the lumber mill would blow, and those working in the mill and the yard surrounding it would shut down their equipment and leave for lunch. Many brought their own lunch and congregated in a large, combination lunchroom/meeting room/congregation hall for a local church and town meeting hall that Fox Lumber had built in conjunction with the town several years earlier. Others would depart for one of the half-dozen diners and restaurants around the town. Because of this, the biggest “rush hour” in the small, woodland town was at noon, rather than before or after work.
Horses were usually not a part of this rush hour. This day, however, several of the lumbermen stopped and stared as a pair of horses raced in from the east, passing cars stopped at traffic lights and weaving around parked cars, each carrying a pair of riders toward the big firehouse at the center of town.
“I hate to do this, but it’s the quickest way to get everybody together,” said Red Crawford as they dismounted and headed for the door.
“What are you doing?” asked Kari Limbo, puffing as she tried to keep up with the others.
“Sounding the alarm for a forest fire. That’s the only surefire way to get everybody’s attention in this town.” Red opened a door labeled dispatch and stepped inside. “Sadie, sound a code five! Misty Hollow!”
“Five? Red, I haven’t heard anything from Troy and Wally out at the watch towers. Are you–?”
“Hit the alarm, Sadie. I’m on my way to the hall!” Red turned around and led the foursome back to the street. “Might as well take the horses again; the road will be even worse.” His words were drowned out by a low, warbling horn on top of the firehouse. As they mounted their horses, they could hear other horns taking up the call.
They were met by anxious faces at the big hall at the lumber mill. In timber country, a fire was the greatest of disasters, and every resident of Fox Hollow was prepared to battle it if needed. Red and Carol spoke to those they knew, telling them that it wasn’t a fire, but a possibly worse disaster.
Within twenty minutes, most of the residents were assembled. At one end of the hall was a podium, and Red and Hal Jordan both stood there waiting. When he gauged the time was right, Red spoke up. “First of all, you need to know that there is no fire. However, we–” He indicated Hal, Carol and Kari. “–have discovered a menace that could be even worse than a fire for this town. While riding out at Misty Hollow this morning, we discovered an alien ship there. This man, Hal Jordan, has some experience with alien visitors, and has informed me that this ship is from a warlike race that is hell-bent on the destruction of other species and planets.”
This caused an uproar among the crowd. Many were upset that they had been called away from their homes, jobs, and other pursuits on false pretenses. Many were doubtful of both what had been found, and the conclusions raised by Hal Jordan about that discovery.
Carol Ferris, whom most of the townspeople knew as Carrie Ford, stepped up to the microphone. “Many of you know me from the diner where I work. We have talked, and I consider many of you to be friends. I ask you to take my word on this: Hal and I both have, umm, extensive experience with matters like this. The identity of these aliens has been confirmed by the Justice League.”
“Yeah, and how the hell did you get in touch with the Justice League?” asked one doubting member of the crowd.
“Before coming here, I was a part of Ferris Aircraft in California, and Hal and I have both worked on technology projects for the League in the past. Because of this, Hal has one of their communication devices, so they can reach him on an as-needed basis.” At her nod, Hal reached into his jacket and pulled out his JLA communicator.
“Yeah, so why don’t the JLA come and deal with these Martians, or whatever they are?” asked another.
The question was answered by someone else in the crowd. “Don’t you watch the news? All them heroes are tied up with those quakes down in California and over on the East Coast, and the freaky storms up and down the Mississippi Valley.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Titans West: Shake, Rattle and Role.]
Red spoke up again. “That’s right. This time we can’t count on any costumed heroes to help us. It’s up to us to do it for ourselves. I know a lot of you guys out there are veterans, and we ain’t got no shortage of heavy equipment and people who can modify it and use it. So, what do you people think? Can the people of Fox Hollow stop a bunch of bug-eyed monsters from outer space?”
Red’s challenge was met with a roar of assent.