Steel had been immobile, his metallic skeleton and costume held in place by a powerful magnetic field, for fifteen minutes. Unable to turn his head, he had seen the last Gordanian guard enter the chamber. Something didn’t seem right about that last guard; his legs seemed to be just hanging loose from his armor. The guard seemed to be studying the cells, each in turn. At one point the guard turned, and Steel spied a second pair of legs under the bulks of the Gordanian’s body, legs clad in black jersey running pants with a white stripe running up the side.
As Steel tried to figure out what Flea Flicker was doing, he saw the disguised hero turn toward him. Suddenly, he was free of the unseen magnetic bonds that held him. He heard the faint click of the cell door being unlocked. Glancing to either side, he realized that he was the only one of the prisoners who had been freed. Balling his fists, he was determined to change that situation.
Just as he threw open the front of his cell, he saw Flea Flicker throw off the Gordanian hide he’d been wearing, fire two shots from a Gordanian pistol he’d picked up, and leap out into the middle of the room with what, in Steel’s opinion, was the most unique battle cry he’d ever heard.
“Die, you gravy-sucking alien pigs!”
Sheriff Carl Porter pulled up behind a group of cars parked near the old Jenkins farm and spied several familiar faces in the group. He also noted that they were all armed with shotguns, large-caliber rifles, and a variety of pistols. He spied Mark Grey and waved him over. “I don’t care what my brother told you is going on; you tell them boys to make damned sure they know what they’re aiming at before they shoot. You understand me, Mark?”
“Yeah, I do. What’s this he said about the Justice League? That was a joke, right?” asked Mark as he loaded his 30.06 shotgun.
“No joke, and I’m hoping there’s more of them on the way.”
“They’re coming.” Carl turned at the unfamiliar voice, finding himself face to face with a scarlet-clad young man he’d seen many times on television. “Are you in charge here, Sheriff?”
Before Carl could answer, there was a loud crash of rending metal, and a crumpled electronics console went flying through the air over the group of local hunters.
“I guess I am Mister… um, Flash. And I guess it’s time for us to move in,” said Carl, reached into his car for the shotgun stored under the dash.
As they dashed down to the ship, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, and Firestorm flew in above them.
Inside the ship, the prison chamber was in ruins. Superman and Steel stood side by side, shoving, punching, and throwing Gordanians out of their way as they moved toward the passageway. Behind them, Green Arrow had Black Canary slung across his shoulders. She stirred and lifted her head. Sensing this, Green Arrow shouted a warning to the two in front of him. Steel crouched down, avoiding the worst of the sonic cry that came seconds later.
Above them, Hawkwoman held her husband’s hand as she flew, guiding him toward another exit. “I’m glad your antigravity harness still works, love. You might not be able to direct your flight without wings, but it’s not hard to tow you behind me.”
“Let me lend a hand,” said Green Lantern, and a set of glowing green wings formed on Hawkman’s back. “Not sure if I can duplicate all of the controls, though.” Behind him, an unconscious Flea Flicker lay in a glowing green bubble.
Hawkman flexed his shoulders and felt the wings respond. “Close enough!” he declared, releasing his wife’s hand. “I don’t suppose you could spare the energy for a quarterstaff, could you?”
“Actually, this one will cost you a buck-twenty-five!” replied Green Lantern with a grin as a six-foot-long rod of emerald light appeared in his teammate’s hands.
“You’re dethpicable!” answered Hawkman, swinging the staff down at the head of a Gordanian who was entering the chamber.
“Remind me to smash the VCR when we get home!” cried Hawkwoman as she lifted another Gordanian into the air and sent him crashing into a knot of his shipmates.
As the captured Leaguers fought their way out, a section of the ceiling above them vanished in a cloud of water vapor. Four surprised Gordanians came tumbling down from above.
“Hey, hot-head!” bellowed Green Arrow, spying the colorful figure of Firestorm up above. “I’m out of arrows down here!” He popped open a panel on his quiver and pulled out an odd-looking device. He quckly unfolded it, revealing a small, but functional bow.
“How many?” asked Firestorm, flying low near the bowman.
“Dozen boomers, dozen knockouts.”
Firestorm concentrated, recalling the arrows he had studied during several training sessions in the JLA Satellite. Atomic fire lanced from his fingertips, blowing debris into the air. It sparkled for a second, then two dozen arrows dropped into Green Arrow’s waiting hand. He slid most of them into his quiver, pinched one of the fletching arrows on one of the two that he still had in his hand, then nocked them on the bow. He turned to fire behind him, one arrow arcing away from the other. They struck the ground ten feet apart. The resulting explosions knocked a dozen aliens into each other.
Superman spotted a particular Gordanian and leaped into the air to pursue him. Grabbing the ship’s commander, the Man of Steel held him aloft for the others to see. “Order them to hold their fire!” he directed the alien officer.
“Pfagh! Everybody knows you Terran heroes don’t have the spine to kill your foes! Why should I submit?”
“Because, while you’re right that I won’t kill you, do you really want to know how much pain you can survive without dying?” asked Superman as his grip on the Gordanian tightened painfully.
“Besides,” spoke a voice from behind Superman, accompanied by the sound of a cocking shotgun, “around these parts, we’se used to killing animals, ain’t we, boys?” asked Sheriff Carl Porter, standing in a doorway with three other local hunters. “Now, where the hell is my brother?”
“Relax, Sheriff; we have him,” answered Steel as Green Lantern moved the now-stirring local hero forward. “He was knocked out during the fight.”
“Stand down!” bellowed the Gordanian leader, relaxing in Superman’s grip. “After all, we’re only here because the solar activity fouled up our navigation systems.”
“Let me guess, Eddie,” drawled Sheriff Porter as Flea Flicker got to his feet. “Bungled things up royally again, right?”
“Well, it’s like this…” started Flea Flicker before Steel interupted him.
“Actually, Flea Flicker saved us all. He hung back during the initial fight, then slipped into the ship to free us all.”
“Indeed,” added J’onn J’onzz, landing next to Steel. “He also alerted me, so I could call in some of our other members for a secondary attack, and it appears he also drew on the local resources for assistance.”
“Not bad for a rookie,” added Green Arrow.
“Well I’ll be damned,” replied the sheriff, pushing his hat back on his head. “Maybe that costume wasn’t such a crazy idea after all, Eddie!”
A few hours later, while Green Lantern and Firestorm stayed behind to give the Gordanians the required assistance in leaving the planet, the remaining Justice Leaguers relaxed in the Dixie Cup diner with Eddie and Carl Porter.
“So lemme see if I got this straight: they landed here because their ship was damaged by sunspot activity?” asked Carl.
“Right,” answered Steel. “But, being who they are, as soon as they saw Superman and myself, they attacked.”
“They say where they was headed?”
“Alpha-Centauri system. We probably don’t want to know why.” Steel took a drink from his glass, then asked Eddie, “So, why did you open my cell first? Just because I was the leader for this mission?”
Eddie shook his head. “No that weren’t it. Looked like Superman was weakened by the red light, and Green Lantern by the yellow. Figured if I shut down their cells, the lights would go off, and them green gomers would notice it. Hawkman and Hawkwoman would’a needed to get their wings back on.” Hawkwoman smiled and nodded in understanding. “Miss Canary, there, they had that doohickey on her; I didn’t know if opening her cell would unlock that thing. And no offense, Green Arrow, but I knew you were out of arrows, so you’d be only a little better off in there than I was.” Eddie took a drink from a beer can. “You, I seen you tossing them big guys around like they was nothing, and it looked like they was using magnets to hold you. I figured switching off your cell would free you up right away.”
“While you played Rambo to distract the Gordanians,” added Green Arrow.
“Right. But this don’t make sense.” Eddie looked around at the JLA members. “If they landed here because of a breakdown, how come they had those blasters ready to hit your weak spots? And why did they have those cells set up for each of you?”
The League members looked around at each other for a second or two, then Superman, J’onn J’onzz, and the Flash took off faster than the eye could follow.
“Aww, man, Batman is never going to let us hear the end of this,” muttered Green Arrow.
Ten minutes later, Superman, the Martian Manhunter, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Firestorm entered the diner together. “I guess we did our job too well,” commented Firestorm. “We already had the ship underway when these guys showed up. They jumped to hyperspace as soon as they cleared the atmosphere.”
“They apparently were aware that we might realize their story was false,” intoned J’onn. “I have already advised the Atom to program the satellite’s monitoring system to notify us if that ship reappears within this star system.”
“You know what?” The assembled heroes all turned toward Sheriff Porter. “If I was part of one of the biggest groups of heroes around, I think I’d always expect that someone was out to get me.” Carl stood up and grabbed his hat from a hook on the wall. “I suppose that’s ego for you. I’m kinda impressed that you folks don’t think that way; you assume that other folks are basically honest, even when they’re your enemy.” He walked over and opened the door, then turned back toward the group. “Here’s hoping that never changes.”
“Commander Brgzl, he is calling.” The tone of his communication officer’s voice left the Gordanian commander with doubt as to he was.
“I’ll take it in my quarters,” replied Brgzl, turning to leave the bridge. Moments later, he stood before the view-screen in his cabin.
“So?” asked the hulking, shadowed being on the screen. “How did you fare against the League?”
Brgzl gulped, and his head bowed. “We were defeated, my Lord.” He trembled, expecting an angered outburst, if nothing else.
“Not unexpected, Commander. I saw to it that your ship was outfitted with weapons and systems that could indeed inflict damage on the League, but you are, after all, still Gordanians. Without the drive and initiative of a true conquering race, one can hardly expect you to prevail over the Justice League.”
Brgzl’s mind whirled, trying to decide whether he had just been insulted or not, as the other creature continued. “Rest assured, your efforts were not in vain. Recorders within your ship, and on the exterior as well, have captured everything that happened this day, and the recordings are even now being downloaded to me.” The figure leaned toward the camera, so that for the first time Commander Brgzl was able to see the deep violet hue of his lord’s skin, the spined fin rising from the top of his head, and, oddest of all, the closed third eye in his forehead.
“My Lord, we stand ready to face the League again upon your orders!”
“You will, Commander, you will. And Despero swears, when you do, you shall not do so alone.”