by Immortalwildcat and Martin Maenza
The first sign of the attack was a pair of three-thousand-pound blocks hurtling through the air toward the Khund ship. One overshot its target by about thirty yards, and the other struck the tail of the ship hard enough to tear off a navigational fin and turn the ship around by about five degrees.
The large Khundish sentries, who had regarded their duty as an unnecessary chore mandated by inflexible regulations, scurried to find signs of the incoming attack. Within the ship and the temporary buildings that surrounded it, alarms sounded, and warriors who had sat idle for too long sprang up to grab weapons and respond to the threat.
“Outside! Now! Grab your disrupters and man your posts! A bunch of these pathetic humans are attacking!” One of the Khund commanders strode through the corridors of the ship. “No, Kisshgoth! Don’t bother with the power armor! These are humans!” At his prodding, the proud Khund warriors exited the ship and ran to the defensive perimeter to defend their positions.
As the commander stepped out of the hatch, he heard a whistling sound above him. He looked up to see a twisted mass of metal soaring through the sky, just before it struck him and the ship, killing him instantly. As his precious fluids spilled on the Terran soil, the commander realized that his death was not an honorable one. His name would go down in the annals of shame back on Khundia, and those related to him would carry that burden for the rest of their days, which would no doubt be short ones.
“OK, north gun overcompensated, but not by much! Struck the edge of the ship. Need to fire about fifteen yards farther out! South gun is incoming, and… hit!” The voice of Superman crackled in the small radio next to Kari Limbo. She relayed the information along via citizen’s band to the launch positions.
“Kari, I have reports that the last volley struck the ship. Can you confirm?” came the voice of Carol Ferris from the northernmost catapult.
“That’s right; it struck the edge of the ship. Disabled one of the hatches, according to our eye in the sky. Can you adjust fifteen yards to the east?”
“We’ll try! These things don’t have the finest controls on them. I’m going to try increasing the thrust instead.” Carol told the operator lifting the weight that pulled the launching cart to raise it an extra ten feet. He nodded. “OK, let’s see how that flies!”
Kari relayed that information back to the JLA Satellite. Unseen by her, Superman smiled as his mind ran through the calculations. “That should nail them!”
Below, as they saw the Khunds exit their ship, drivers started their trucks and moved toward the encampment. Small cranes swung into action as they approached the defensive line, swinging bundles of logs like clubs at the Khund warriors. The wooden beams nailed the unsuspecting warriors squarely, knocking them back like bowling pins.
Behind the cranes, men and women armed with rifles, shotguns, pistols, axes, and clubs appeared. They fired at the warriors, hoping to keep the battle at range. The Khunds scrambled to regroup.
Two trucks bore the latest in lumbering automation, thirty-inch circular saws mounted on jointed, movable arms. The whirling steel blades swung out and tore into the seasoned Khund warriors with a ferocity even they had never seen before. That battle was fierce, but these people were fighting for their lives and to protect their community. They knew it was a do-or-die situation.
As the bulk of the Fox Hollow force tore into the Khund’s defenses, a small team skirted around the battle to make their way into the ship. Once up the gangplank, they made their way to the bridge. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to make heads or tails of their systems, but I’m hoping we can find out what the Khund’s overall plan is,” remarked Hal Jordan.
“Sounds like our folks are doing pretty well out there,” said Marty Sullivan, the burly diner owner who had been Carol Ferris’ boss for the last half of a year. “Jess is reporting that they’ve split the line and are working outward! They weren’t counting on a couple-hundred angry folk with fire in their eyes!”
“Looks like this is the place,” said Red Crawford, glancing through an open doorway. There were only a few Khunds manning the controls, and the eight men rushed in. They managed to kill and disable all but one of the aliens.
“Phaugh! You only think you’ve stopped us! But are you ready to die for your victory, as we are?” The Khund commander slapped a control in his chair’s arm. “All that will be left of your home will be a smoking crater!” This was the last thing the alien said before he was silenced by a gunshot to the neck.
“Damn it! Sounds like some kind of self-destruct!” said Jordan, as klaxons started sounding around the ship. On the view screens they could see the remaining Khund warriors outside, turning in surprise at their ship. A set of figures appeared on all of the screens, the leftmost figure changing every three seconds. “A countdown?”
“Looks like it, and I don’t know how long we’ve got,” replied Red.
“These look like helm controls. Maybe I can take it out of here!” Hal studied the panel with an experienced eye of a trained pilot. As he pressed one set of switches, the ship’s engines roared to life. “Got that one right!”
“How about lift and thrust?” asked Red. “Steering isn’t so important right now!”
“Dual lever controls — I’m guessing one for each side of the ship. This one in the center looks like an elevation control.”
“You know, they hit the tail with one of the early catapult shots,” cautioned Red. “The controls are going to be rough at best!”
Hal Jordan grinned. “I’ve driven worse.” As he turned back to study the controls, he told Red to take the others out. “Take care of Carol, Red.”
“No, you take care of her, Hal.” Red raised his pistol and brought it down on the back of Hal’s head. He caught Hal as he fell, lifted him, and passed him to Marty. “You’re in charge now, old buddy. Get him out of here.” Marty nodded in grim silence.
As the other men made for the door, Red turned back to the controls.
The burly diner owner managed to carry the brown-haired man out of the ship and to the edge of the clearing before the man started to stir. “Ugh…” Hal groaned. “What hit me?”
“Easy,” Marty Sullivan said, putting him down on the ground.
Carol saw this from the north tower and called out. “Marty! Is Hal all right?”
“He’s fine,” the diner owner said.
Hal shook off the daze from the blow. “What…? Where’s Red?”
Marty solemnly looked back over his shoulder as the ship lifted into the air.
“Red!” Hal yelled, his voice muffled by the blaring engine of the craft.
Red Crawford worked the controls of the craft. Indeed, it was difficult as he had surmised. But it was something he knew he had to do.
Higher and higher the craft rose as the countdown on the display continued to change. That was Fox Hollow down there, his home — all the people he cared about, all the people who made him feel so welcome after he arrived so many years ago. A tear formed in his eye. He couldn’t take the moment to brush it away; he needed to stay focused on the controls.
Up, up the ship rose.
“This is for you, Marie,” he said softly. “And you, too, Carol.”
The early morning sky over Misty Hollow was lit up by a crimson ball of flame. The gleaming ship of the Khund exploded high over the battlefield.
Everyone turned up, briefly, to see the explosion. Some were surprised, and some were shocked. But the people of Fox Hollow were not ready to give up yet. The battle would be won, and they would take back their land.
Hal Jordan watched as the ball of flame burned itself apart. “Damn it, Red,” he muttered to himself. “That should have been me!” He reached into his pocket for something to dry his eyes and found something else.
“What’s this?” he said as he pulled a small envelope out. Hal realized all too quickly what this was and who it was meant for.
By the end of the day, the town of Fox Hollow had taken back the territory being used by the Khunds. While a few of the townsfolk suffered some minor injuries, they had been blessed to have had no fatalities.
The same could not be said for the Khund.
Besides the loss of their ship due to their own actions and Red’s selfless sacrifice, the alien squad lost many of their own at the hands of the humans. The Khund’s own arrogance had played a big factor in that, assuming wrongly that a town of humans would be a match for them. Those who were not killed directly in battle took their own lives. While they preferred to die in an honorable death, they knew there would no honor if word returned to Khundia of their failure. It was better to meet death than to live with the shame and ridicule of surviving a losing battle.
There would be a major clean-up to do and equipment to analyze. Hal hoped to find some answers in there as to why the Khund were setting up operations in the back of nowhere. But first he wanted to rest and get a good evening meal in his stomach. He also wanted to help Kari comfort Carol at this time of loss.
Carol Ferris sat on the porch of Jess Borden’s boarding house, rocking back and forth on the swing. She stared out vacantly at the setting sun. Her fingers fidgeted with the engagement ring that still sat on left hand finger.
Hal stepped out on the porch and cleared his voice softly. He didn’t want to startle her. When Carol looked up, he said, “Brought you some tea.” He indicated the mug in his right hand. His left held a cup of coffee for himself.
“Thanks,” Carol said softly as she took it from him.
Hal joined her on the swing. For a moment he said nothing. They both sat quietly, listening to the crickets as they began to chirp.
Then Hal reached into his pocket and produced a small envelope. “Carol, this is for you, I think,” he said, handing it to her.
She took the small white envelope that was a bit wrinkled and turned it over. The letter C was inscribed on the outside in Red’s handwriting. She looked up at Hal, tears in her eyes, and unable to say a word.
“He must have slipped it into my pocket,” Hal explained, anticipating the question. He knew Carol well enough to do that. “I think he wanted you to have it in case…” His voice trailed off.
Carol sniffled, then tore the seal on the envelope. Pulling out a sheet of paper, she began to read the handwritten note:
My dearest Carol,
I don’t know what we will be facing in the upcoming battle against those vile aliens, but I wanted to put these words down on paper to you in the event that I don’t get a chance to speak them to you in person.
I love you with all my heart. I know that sounds so simple, but it means so much. You’ve changed my world, and I am so thankful for that.
From the day we met, I knew there was something special about you. In helping you settle in here, I grew very fond of you. It didn’t matter to me who you were or where you came from. Even now, as I know more about the real you, I realize that my love doesn’t change.
I also see that you are a woman of intelligence and wit. You’re destined for great things. I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in your way or hold you back none. A small lumbering town like this is no place for a worldly woman such as yourself. Please don’t let me stand in your way.
I hope that, after all this is over, no matter what happens, you will look upon our time together with fond memories and smiles. I cherish the time we had together. You will always hold a very special place in my heart.
By the time Carol finished the letter, tears were streaming from her eyes. The thought that she would never hold Red in her arms again, nor be able to tell him that she loved him hurt so much. She turned and saw Hal. His face showed the concern of a loved one; he hated to see her hurting.
“Oh, Hal!” she cried, and buried her face in his shoulder.
Hal gently put his arms about her and patted her back gently. “Shhh,” he whispered. “It’s OK, Carol. You just cry.” And he held her in his arms well into the evening.