by Immortalwildcat and Martin Maenza
The next three days were spent in fevered preparation. Every mechanic, welder, and shop-fitter in town reported to the Fox Lumber equipment hangar, where they set to work modifying the heavy cranes, trucks, and tractors used by the company. Those who reported for work were surprised to be met by Carrie Ford, the soft-spoken waitress from Marty’s Diner, especially when she started barking out orders to them for refitting the cranes with pieces of rail from the lumber mills railroad siding. A couple of them quickly recognized the purpose of the rails that ran up one side of the crane, and they smiled and urged the others on.
A pair of tree-cutting machines, equipped with great circular blades mounted on hydraulically operated arms, were mounted on fast-moving trucks. Pairs of operators practiced working in tandem, one driving the truck, the other operating the blade, until they could attack, dismantle a vehicle, and retreat in a matter of seconds.
The local junkyard, working under the direction of Hal Jordan, started crushing all of the derelict cars that could be shoved into the compressor, and the two-thousand-plus-pound blocks were loaded onto caterpillar trucks that could carry them to the woods. Each night when the sun went down, convoys of these trucks made multiple trips out to Misty Hollow and the firebreak that Red Crawford and Hal Jordan had ridden through.
Kari Limbo met with and joined the Forest Service rangers who manned the observation towers around Fox Hollow and Misty Hollow. They had missed the first indications of the occupation of Misty Hollow, chalking it up to tricks of the natural mists that swirled around the woods there. Now, alert to the dangers, they were able to track the slow expansion of the Khund encampment. Kari’s clairvoyance, while erratic, gave them the edge necessary to maintain a constant surveillance without being noticed by the aliens.
Red gathered as many able-bodied men and women as he could find at the Fox Hollow school and started training them in combat tactics. Many of them were already trained, being ex-military themselves. In the football field of the local high school, they drilled in tactics for stopping large craft such as tanks and troop carriers, as well as hand-to-hand and small arms training. Guns and ammunition were plentiful in the sports shops of the town, which catered to hunters in the fall and winter. What concerned him was the lack of information about their foes.
“Look, Hal, I don’t care how you know it — we need every bit of information you can give us about these Khunds,” said Red over lunch at Marty’s on the third day of preparation.
Hal glanced at Carol and saw her nod her head ever so slightly. If he’s good enough for her to trust, that’s more than enough for me, he thought. “Red, I’ve dealt with the Khunds before on several occasions. I, ah, had to deal with them in space a couple of times, and twice when they were threatening a couple of planets in the Delta Fradian system.”
“In the what?” Red put his fork down and stared at Hal. “Hal, play it straight with me. Just what or who the hell are you?”
Hal answered by reaching into his pocket for something and then extending a hand out on the table. When he opened his fist, Red saw a ring that was dark green in color, shaped like a stylized lantern with a green gem at its center.
“Jesus H. Christ! You’re the–!” Red caught himself as he realized there were others within earshot, and lowered his voice to a whisper. “What the hell are we doing, making like a bunch of Army jury-riggers, with you here? You could take that whole camp down without blinking!”
“I appreciate your confidence, Red, and I wish it were possible. I don’t know how much you know about the Green Lantern Corps since a group of them set up shop here on Earth, but our power comes from a central power battery on a planet at the center of the galaxy. The day before Kari and I arrived here, that power source got shut off.”
“Shut off? How could that happen?” asked Carol.
“I don’t know, and I’m afraid it has something to do with our friends out in Misty Hollow. Khunds don’t usually go in for subtlety or espionage, so setting up an encampment like this is unheard of.”
Carol closed her eyes, thinking back on her own star-faring history as Star Sapphire. “Hal, before my attack and memory loss, I had been to Oa.” At Red’s stunned look, Carol turned, laid a hand against his cheek, and smiled. “I’ll explain later, dear.” Turning back to Hal, she continued, “There was no sign of trouble when I was there.”
“That would have been over a year ago, though,” added Kari Limbo. “Whoever is behind this, they are moving quickly. From what Hal and Carol told me about the Khunds, I was not expecting the kind of stealthy growth that we’re seeing out there. In just three days, they have erected a camouflage canopy over a part of the woods, cleared the areas under it, and constructed what we think is a landing field. They have brought out prefabricated buildings that look like barracks quarters for a large force. They have tapped into the power grid, and one of the rangers contacted the utility company. They’re seeing some massive power surges for this area, which coincide with the arrival of several batches of human prisoners.”
“Looks like it.”
“Come on guys, cut me a break here. I mean, I’ve seen enough weird stuff in my time that I can believe this, but I’m having trouble absorbing it all.”
“Don’t try, Red. When Hal first got that ring, I didn’t know, and it drove me nuts trying to figure out what was going on. Sometimes it’s just better to roll with the punches, you know?” Carol laid a hand on Red’s arm.
“Yeah, I’ve been there, hon. Didn’t think I’d need to again.”
Their conversation was interrupted by Jess Borden coming in the door. “Mike just called from the equipment yard. The catapult is finished.”
Hal looked at the others. “Is everything else ready?” They all nodded. “Then I guess it’s showtime.”
“Ixnay, Hal. These people have been burning it at both ends for three days. Unless those Khunds decide to break camp this afternoon, we’d be better off waiting till dawn. We just might catch them napping, and it’ll give our people a chance to rest up.”
Hal smiled at Red. “Anyone ever tell you that you’d make a good commanding officer?”
Red smiled back wolfishly. “Yeah, when I was commissioned.”
It was after ten PM when the preparations finished. Everyone in the town was excited about the next morning, full of an urgent sort of energy. Folks turned in hoping to get a few hours of sleep before the attack on the invaders was to commence.
At Jess Borden’s boarding house, Hal and Kari retired to the room they were given. “I’d better be going, too,” Red said.
Carol grabbed him by the arm and steered him away from the front door, shaking her head. “You shouldn’t be alone tonight,” she whispered, “and I don’t want to be either.” She led him to her room at the end of the hall.
“Carol, do you think this is a good idea?” Red asked.
“It’s never stopped us before,” Carol said as she quietly closed the door.
“Its not that,” Red said. “It’s just…”
“Well, it’s different now. Your friends are just a few doors down.”
Carol sat down on the bed and motioned for Red to join her; he did so. She took his hands in hers and looked deeply into his eyes. “Listen to me,” she said, sounding a bit more commanding than usual. “I know tomorrow’s going to be hard on us all. Those Khund aren’t a bunch of pantywaists. And I think you know that, too, right?”
Red tried to look away.
“Red Crawford, don’t go trying to be all coy with me,” Carol said. “I know what’s going through your head. You lost your wife and child many years ago to alien invaders, and you see this as some kind of way to make some retribution.”
Red swallowed. “Did Hal say something to you?” he asked.
“Yes, he did,” Carol said. “He felt I should know. He’s a good friend. And that’s OK that you feel this way. Believe me, I can understand that. I know all about men who feel an obligation to duty and responsibility. I was raised by one.” She also dated one, Hal, for many years, but she didn’t feel the need to mention that. “I understand your reasons for making your decisions, just as I know you’ll understand the reasons I have for making my decisions.”
Red bowed his head. “After all this is over, you’re planning to go back to California, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Carol said, “but not for the reasons you think. I need to see my father, make sure his health is well. He’s had some problems. I also need to see to some business.”
Red started to turn away. “I see…” he said dejectedly.
Carol tipped his face toward her. “No, you don’t see! I’m not planning on staying there. I’m planning on coming back… to you.”
The words hit Red like a bolt out of the blue. He wasn’t expecting to hear this at all.
When Hal and Kari arrived and recognized Carrie as Carol, he had felt the first of the threads untying. When Kari helped Carol remember who she was and where she came from, more threads of the rope seemed as if they were fraying. When Red learned that Hal was really a big super-hero, well that pretty much was it, as far as he thought; how could a woman like Carol chose a nobody like Red over a man like Hal?
Red had been gravely mistaken.
He embraced Carol with a great big hug, followed by a passionate kiss. She returned it in kind, and the couple laid down on the bed. They would get very little sleep that night, but somehow they would find the energy they needed for the battle ahead of them in the morning.
On the Khund homeworld, in their ruling halls, and on the bridge of all of their ships, was a listing of all of the great Khund military victories.
The battle that took place on Earth in Misty Hollow, Oregon, would never be enshrined on that list.
Two hours before dawn, the resistance force left Fox Hollow and slowly made its way to the protected woods of Misty Hollow. The going was slow, because much of their armament was converted forestry equipment, which was built for sturdiness rather than for speed. The engines rumbled low to keep the movement masked as much as possible. Great care was taken with the pair of modified cranes that was to provide their primary air cover.
A half-hour before dawn, the forces were in position about the perimeter. Dozens of walkie-talkies and citizens-band radios lay silent, awaiting a command from the two men responsible for the day’s efforts. “Looks like everybody’s ready, Red,” said Hal Jordan, looking over the visible positions through a pair of high-powered binoculars.
“Good. The Khunds are relying on solar panels and batteries for their power. With any luck, they’ll be low on power for their weapons. That, and the element of surprise should give us an advantage.” Red looked over at the man he had only known for a few days, one he’d come to respect during that time. “Give the call.”
“One second. Let me see if I can bring in any last-minute help.” Hal pulled out his JLA communicator and activated it. “Come on, anybody listening up there?”
“I’m here, Lantern. What’s the situation?” came a voice known all around the world.
“Superman! We could use some help down here! We’ve got a Khund ship in the woods of Oregon, and my power ring is still dead.”
“I hate to say it, but that may be the least of our problems. Hawkman filled me in on your situation, but the whole League is tied up with a series of unexplained earthquakes, tidal waves, and weather situations around the world. Things seem to be going to hell in a hand basket all at once.”
“What about you? If things are so bad, how come you’re sitting it out?”
“I’m recovering from a battle I had the other day.” Superman paused to let the implications sink in; his friend of many years would not need an explanation on this one. If Superman was sitting on the sidelines, Hal knew it had to be something serious. “Yeah. I’m out of action for a while yet. But maybe I can still lend you a hand. How are you set for artillery?”
“We’ve got a couple of jury-rigged catapults.”
“Good. I’ll zero in with the satellite’s sensors, and help you range in on your targets.” The Man of Steel used the satellite’s surveillance systems to get a better picture of the situation. “Let’s see, OK. I’ve got you — those must be your catapults — and there’s the target. Your northernmost gun is about four-hundred and seventy yards away from the ship; southern gun is four-hundred, eighty-seven yards. Bearing is zero-three-one degrees from the north gun, zero-two-seven degrees for the south gun. How are they equipped for range finding?”
“Basic elevation, with a couple of engineers on each one to calculate changes on the fly.”
“So you’ll need at least one shot for range finding. I’ll stand by for your mark.”
“Supes, do you mind if I hand this over to someone else to relay your data? I’m going in with the ground forces.”
“Will he mind the fact that he’s taking orders from Superman?”
“I don’t think so. And it’s a she, by the way.” Hal jogged over to the base of a fire-watch tower and climbed up the ladder mounted on one leg. At the top, he found a group of observers, led by Kari Limbo. “Here, Kari. You’ll have a little help with targeting the catapults.” He left before she heard who was directing her, but he did hear the exclamations of her group when she passed the information along. Kari had met Superman before, so he was confident that they’d work well together.
Back at his post with Red Crawford, Hal nodded. “Let’s do it.”