by Immortalwildcat, Martin Maenza, and HarveyKent
Aboard the Justice League of America’s satellite headquarters, high in stationary orbit around the planet Earth, a lone figure kept watch. For three weeks, the planet below had been plagued by a rash of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, cyclones, and ice storms. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people had mysteriously disappeared from all corners of the globe. Even those close to Earth’s protectors were not safe: some of their own family members and friends were among the missing. The League and all of their fellow super-heroes, and even some of their foes, had been engaged in keeping the people as safe as possible. Some had encountered an increased alien presence during that time, some of it friendly, most of it hostile. For example, Green Lantern had thwarted a group of Khunds in the woods of Oregon, and they had reportedly been working in tandem with the Dominators. (*) Now, sitting before the bank of screens and controls in the JLA monitor room, he tried to spy the connections between the events of recent weeks. He was frustrated, for he should have been on the forefront of the action, but he was stuck here, watching and thinking.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Green Lantern: Reunited, and it Feels So Good.]
He was known by several names: Kal-El, Clark Kent, the Man of Steel, Daddy. But to the world at large, he would always be Superman.
“Damn it, I can’t remember when I’ve been this helpless!” he said, bringing a closed fist down on the arm of the chair. Where normally such a blow would pulverize the metal arm, now it merely bent it down several degrees. “That battle with Lobo two weeks ago did more damage to me than I thought. (*) I should have completely healed by now, but I’m hardly at one-quarter of my usual power.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman: Solitude Interrupted.]
A long tone sounded from the monitor board. He turned to answer it, relieved to find that it was a representative from the British prime minister, reporting that the Paladins had the flooding of the River Thames under control. It had actually been necessary for Superman to look up information about the team when the first reports of the flooding came in, along with a request for their help. “The low-spectrum solar energy that Lobo bombarded me with reduced all of my powers, not just my strength, flight, and invulnerability. And I’ve tried everything short of diving into the sun to flush it from my system.”
Another signal caught his attention. He shunted that signal to the main display. “Good morning, Green Lantern! Or should I be calling you Hal?” he said as the unmasked face of Hal Jordan appeared on the screen.
“If you need to contact me on the ship, use the call sign Darkstar One,” replied Hal. “For simplicity, we’re all using the Darkstar call sign.”
“Any trouble getting the equipment from the Fortress?”
“No trouble at all. We appreciate your help, Superman.” Hal referred to his fellow Earthbound Green Lanterns, who had found their rings completely powerless over fifteen days ago. Now, they were preparing to take to space in a fleet of borrowed ships, most of them crafts that Superman had kept at his Arctic fortress. “I just wanted to let you know we’re preparing to leave for Oa on Sunday at oh-ten-hundred hours.”
“Noted and logged, Darkstar One. May Rao go with you.”
The image opened up to show several other beings, many of different races, standing around Hal Jordan. They all wore a similar uniform, black jumpsuits with red and gold trim. On the upper left of each being’s torso was an embroidered emblem of a black star within a green circle. As they all saluted him, Superman smiled and considered the idea that the Darkstar symbol might soon be as famous across the galaxy as his own stylized S-shield.
Just before he cut off the connection, Superman was startled to see most of the monitor room’s displays go to all static. The connection to Green Lantern and others that were relayed through the Justice League’s own communication devices remained clear, but all regular satellite video and audio feeds were interrupted. The Darkstars somehow knew it, too, as he saw them break for their ships, finding many of them disabled.
“Superman, what’s going on? I’ve lost touch with the Naval patrols that were evacuating Reykavik!” Aquaman’s voice was calm and sure, yet perplexed. “Local whales see that they are there, but the radio link’s gone dead.”
“I don’t know, Aquaman. We’ve lost signals all across the board.” Superman’s fingers flew over the controls, checking dozens of other sources. He found one operable signal.
“Justice League satellite, this is Queen Hippolyta. Do you read me?” The voice was a soothing, almost lyrical alto. Superman activated the link.
“Your Majesty, this is Superman. How can we help you?”
“Superman, two of our sisters, those most afflicted with the curse of Cassandra, have awakened just moments ago with portents of a great doom! I had hoped to reach my daughter Nubia to warn her, but our mental radio is not functioning properly.”
“I understand, your Majesty,” replied Superman. “We are having similar problems here. Nubia is currently in Mexico quelling a volcano, but I will relay your message to her. She will reply through this communicator as soon as she’s able.”
“Thank you, Superman, and may the gods aid you and your companions in the upcoming battle.” The signal was switched off, leaving Superman to ponder her last words as he responded to other requests for information.
The next signal to catch his attention was on a military channel. “Repeat, this is General Harold Stoutenger calling the Justice League, priority code gamma omega alpha.”
“I read you, General. What have you got?” Superman recognized the lean, gray-haired man as the head of ground operations for the United States Air Force.
“We’ve lost all radio communications, radar functionality, and IFF signals. We’re totally blind, here, Superman! We can’t see what’s up there, we can’t talk to our own men who are off the deck, and we can’t identify the ones that we saw before the blackout. The only thing we have are calculated vectors based on last known speed and bearing.”
“I can put you in touch with a couple of League members who can, uh, contact the pilots directly, General. They should be able to get your flights down safely.”
“Thank you, Superman. Something to consider, though. If this is worldwide, could it be a smokescreen for slipping something across a border somewhere? A sneak attack?”
“A sound line of reasoning, General. We’ll look into it. I’ll be in touch.” As the call ended, Superman set to work routing all radar systems and proximity detectors into a single alarm relay. If any of them started working again, they would instantly notify him of any rogue air activity.
Five minutes later, all of the blocked communications were restored. The alarm that Superman had set up went off immediately. He started narrowing down the location of the detected launch as his displays came back online. No sooner had the monitor images stabilized, however, than they were overridden by a single broadcast image.
“Rabble of Earth, heed this warning! It will be your only one!” To Superman’s ears, it came through in hundreds of different languages. Obviously, a computer-based translator at work here, he thought. The speaker was a squat, green, lumpy-skinned being clad in golden armor. Gordanian, thought the Man of Steel as he spied a massive projectile plummeting through the atmosphere toward Chicago. He looked at the status list for League members, and a ghost of a smile played across his handsome-yet-battered features. He toggled a switch on the control panel. “Firestorm, priority one! Get to Chicago and stop the bomb that’s dropping on the city!”
“We have just demonstrated our ability to disrupt your planet’s communications. Now, observe the ease with which we wipe one of your so-called cities off the face of the planet!”
The screen shifted to a view of the planet from space, the western hemisphere. A red circle appeared on the screen in the Northeastern United States. The screen wiped to an enlarged view of the region. Superman’s face took on a puzzled look, as the view was obviously shifting away from Chicago. The screen then wiped again to a view of Upstate New York. The next view showed a city, the image dominated by a large, domed stadium in the southeast and a greenish-brown lake to the north. A much-larger lake was just visible to the northeast of the city.
Superman recognized it right away — Syracuse, New York, population two-hundred and ten thousand in the city, roughly one-point-three million in the metropolitan area. Even as he saw, in one screen, Firestorm transmuting a massive, bulbous rocket into a glittering cascade of fireworks, Superman realized they had been duped. “League! Anybody! Try to stop whatever they’re firing with!” he cried into the microphone, sending it out to all devices.
He himself was racing for the teleporter when he heard the sound of the explosion from the monitor room’s speakers. He looked, first at the monitors, then with his weakened telescopic vision from the satellite’s view ports, at the twenty-mile-wide crater that now marked the center of New York state.
The Gordanians released the communication channels, which erupted in confusion and outrage. “Justice League, any of you not already at the scene, converge on the city of Cortland, New York, to start rescue operations,” came the order from Superman.
The images fed to the satellite by surveillance satellites painted a grim picture. There was no chance for anyone who had been within a ten-mile radius of the center point. This was, according to maps overlaid on the visual image, a landmark called Clinton Square in downtown Syracuse. That encompassed most of the city itself, and quite a lot of heavily populated suburban towns. Soon, the Justice League was on the scene.
“Some sort of phased energy weapon from the looks of it. Light-based, and thus traveling at the speed of light.” Superman shook his head as the Martian Manhunter reported in from the sky over Syracuse.
“How the devil do we stop something like that?” asked the Atom from the suburb of Camillus, where he was helping clear debris and locate injured people on the outskirts of the strike zone.
“We trace it back to the source,” replied Wonder Woman, “and we strike back!”
“Any luck on that, Superman?” asked Steel as he lifted a damaged bus off the house where it had landed after the blast.
“Actually, they may have made it too easy,” said Superman. “We had radar contact with their decoy bomb for nearly thirty seconds, giving us a bearing. And the National Security Agency has already released satellite footage to us showing the light beam from three different angles, so we have a pretty good bearing on that. Now, let me feed it into the computer, and–” At that point, most of the communication screens erupted in static again. “They’re jamming us again. But I have a location, and our own systems are mostly functional, so let me see if I can get an image.”
“Sounds like some type of microwave barrage,” said Steel. “Most of the new telephone systems are down, though some old land-lines are working. Radar systems, cellular and mobile phones, radio and television broadcasts. They’re all susceptible to that.”
Hawkman’s voice came across the circuit. “Fortunately, Thanagarian communications are all tachyon-based, so the League’s systems should be immune from this form of attack.”
“It’s good to have someone familiar with the technology on the team, Steel. Stand by; I may need your help up here.” Superman again worked the controls of the monitoring equipment that had been cobbled together from a blend of Thanagarian, Kryptonian, and Martian technology. Highly advanced tachyon particle echo-locators swung around to map the region of space defined by the triangulation program that Superman had run on the measurements of the two trajectories. As the detectors within the devices detected the minute changes in the cycling tachyon beams, they built up an image of what they found in space, less clear than a video image, yet far more clear than any Earthly telescope could hope to see at the great distances involved.
“Great Krypton,” said Superman in a hushed voice, startling all of the League members who were listening in.
“Superman, what is it?” asked Hawkman.
“It’s an armada of ships like I’ve never seen before. Just inside Mars’ orbit. Thousands of them, with dozens sloughing off and heading toward Earth as we speak! And at the center… Dear Rao, I thought it had been destroyed!”
“Superman! Are you there? What do you see?”
Three hours after their initial contact, the aliens started their invasion in earnest. Large troop ships, each with an escort of six or more nimble fighter craft, descended upon several cities around the globe.
On the outskirts of Gotham City, three large estates overlooking the ocean were destroyed to clear a landing field.
In Brussels, Belgium, a centuries-old cathedral was vaporized as hundreds of the city’s residents prayed within for deliverance from this strange menace.
The people of Salisbury, Rhodesia, and Asuncion, Paraguay, were overwhelmed by the forces that moved to take over their homes.
In Mexico City, San Francisco, and Tokyo, the aliens met spirited resistance.
No official word was released from China or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but restored satellite tracking showed ships landing within those countries.
The Justice League, the Global Guardians, the Outsiders, the Titans, the Paladins, the Forgotten Heroes — all over the world wherever they could, these fabled teams and other heroes fought, trying to prevent landings, trying to contain the alien troops when they were down, rescuing those caught in the path of their onslaught.
These are their stories.
In Star City, the sound of fire trucks blared as the hook-and-ladder trucks raced by. Ever since the Gordanians broadcast their message, the streets had been in chaos. Rioting and looting was on the rise as many people tried their best to get their hands on everything they could before the world ended.
On a rooftop, a blonde woman in a dark blue jacket and fishnet stockings shook her head. “Sometimes I just don’t get it,” Black Canary said. “If the end of the world were near, there are more important things to think about than material needs.”
A man dressed in a green archer’s suit with blonde hair, mustache, and beard put his hand on her shoulder. “You’re preaching to the choir, pretty bird,” Green Arrow said. “Think you can hold down the fort until I get back?”
“I think so,” Black Canary said. “If not, I know where to get some help from friends.” She turned around and embraced her partner and now fiancé. “Do you really need to go?”
“Superman’s been acting like a one-man monitor board,” Green Arrow said. “And though he’s Mr. tough Kryptonian and insists he doesn’t need any rest, he’s still pretty beat up from that fight with Lobo. It’s the least I can do to spell him from duty for a couple hours.” He started to step away from her and toward one corner of the rooftop.
A tube suddenly appeared out of nowhere as he approached. His JLA signal device was tuned to the transporter tube. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Green Arrow replied as he stepped into the tube. There was a hesitation, a slight bit longer than normal, and then he vanished.
Black Canary frowned. She had wanted to tell him that she loved him before he left. She reached for her communicator and opened the channel to the satellite.
“Superman here,” the Man of Steel answered. “What can I do for you, Dinah?”
“Can I speak to Ollie, Clark?”
“Ollie? He’s not here.”
Canary’s eyes grew wide. “What do you mean? He just beamed up.”
There was a pause. “Dinah, we’ve been having some system problems here. An alien ship opened fire on the satellite a few minutes ago. I was able to run them off with the defensive systems, though. Let me run a diagnostic on the transporter logs to find out what’s going on.”
There was another pause. A prayer ran through Canary’s head.
Superman came back online. “Dinah, I show a transmission from the Star City tube, but something interfered with the beam. He’s not here!”
“Well, where is he, then?” she asked in a panic.
“Dinah, I don’t know.”