by Martin Maenza, Immortalwildcat, Brian K. Asbury and Starsky Hutch 76
“Order! Order!” The Secretary-General of the United Nations pounded his gavel on the podium before him. The main hall of the U.N. Building was buzzing with activity and conversations as this emergency meeting came together; everyone wanted to know what was going to be done about the latest crisis facing the planet. None wanted their country to be attacked next by the Gordanians.
“We have to address their concerns, sir,” Undersecretary Wagner suggested to his senior colleague.
“I’m well aware of that,” the Secretary-General replied. “But we can’t get anywhere with everyone talking at once.” He pounded the gavel again. “Order, people! We must have order!”
“Sir, I wish to address the floor!” the representative from Australia said. He was given the nod to continue as the rest simmered down. “Given the attack and the potential for impending invasion by alien forces, Australia requests special protection. Our country is barely recovering from the occupation by alien forces last year. (*) If it happens again, our economy will be ruined!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Strange Visitors.]
The representative from Belgravia turned to the representative of Burundi; the latter nodded in agreement.
“Perhaps that hero Captain Comet can lead the charge once more,” the representative from Bjorland offered.
“Did he not do a good job last time?” the representative from Harovia added.
“I would not agree,” the representative from Zambesi said. “Had he done a good job before, would not these same aliens be attacking our world again?”
“We need the Justice League on this!” the representative of Lavonia said. “They are truly the world’s greatest heroes! They should lead the charge.”
“Their kind has aided my country before,” the San Felipe representative said.
“And mine,” the Tropidor representative said.
“Many of us have been blessed by the aid of these heroes,” the representative of Khimyo said.
The representatives from Poseidonis, Tritonis, and Paradise Island did not add to the ringing praises, even though two of their very prominent citizens were members of that illustrious team at one time or another.
“This is a global matter,” the representative of Oranga said. “We must rely on the heroes from all over to come to the call of aid.”
“Yes,” the Maldacian representative said. “Like the Global Guardians.” The Balkania representative nodded in agreement.
“And others!” the Markovian representative said.
“And the Bushrangers can help, too!” the Australian representative said. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: The Bushrangers: Call the Dogs of War.]
“The who?” the Vlatavan representative asked.
“Bah!” a lone, descending voice called out. All turned as the Quraci delegate pressed his way to the front of the crowd. “This so-called invasion! It’s a farce! A fabrication by all you western nations!” The crowd began to rumble with outrage and side discussion.
“You’re crazy,” the United States representative said. “A city in New York state has been wiped off the map! How can you justify that?”
“A ploy at best.”
“You’re crazy!” the U.S. representative asserted again.
“Am I?” the Quraci retorted. “As recent as the last few weeks, my peace-loving peoples have been attacked by unmarked missiles and other bandit-style raids! I tell you, these are the work of the western dogs. And now you try and set up a ruse with this invasion… my people will not stand by idly while our homelands are destroyed!”
The crowd continued to grow restless.
“Order! Order!” the Secretary-General shouted again, banging away once more. “We cannot address the issues at hand if things degenerate every few moments!”
Near the back of the room, a large gorilla merely shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. Humans! he thought to himself. They chatter about like squawking birds and are unable to pull together when a common threat faces them! What Grodd hoped to gain by sending me as a delegate here is beyond me. Still, the gorilla would report in to his leader back at Gorilla City when the first opportunity arose.
A small craft landed near the edge of ground zero; the familiar T logo signified who was arriving on the scene to assist in the rescue operations. The first to exit the Titans jet was a dark-haired young woman in red, followed by a green-skinned young man and a half-man/half-machine African-American.
Artemis glanced around at the destruction. She had to swallow hard as the gravity of the situation hit her head on. She noticed a dark-skinned woman approaching her in a familiar red, white, and blue costume; this eased her slightly. “Hola, Nubia!” she said, embracing the woman.
“Hola, Donna,” Wonder Woman replied. “I wish it were better circumstances.”
“Agreed,” Artemis said. “You know my teammates Cyborg and Changeling?”
The dark-skinned warrior greeted the two. “We are glad to have your help.”
“Superman contacted us,” Cyborg said. “Asked us to come give a hand, given we’re one of the closest teams.”
“Just tell us what to do,” Changeling said. The youth was typically the jokester, but a situation like this warranted a more serious tone. The green-skinned youth realized many of those that survived the brutal attack would be without homes or loved ones. Children would be lost without their parents. Tragedy had a tendency to force one to focus.
“J’onn, help has arrived!” Wonder Woman said as her teammate approached.
“I know,” the Martian Manhunter replied. “I was just speaking with Superman. He needs you and I to get to the coast of China immediately!” Nubia nodded; that was all she needed to hear. She had grown to trust J’onn’s and Superman’s leadership skills.
“May the speed of Hermes be with you,” Artemis called her Amazon sister before Wonder Woman and J’onn J’onzz flew off.
The young girl flailed helplessly in the raging river, fighting for her life. A poor swimmer, she had been unable to make any headway against the torrent, and she was reaching the end of her strength. Her head went under again and, despite herself, she took in more of the dirty river water. Gasping, battling for her very survival, she managed to break the surface again, coughing up the polluted, muddy muck that was ultimately going to kill her. She knew, deep down, that this was the last breath she would ever take. The next time she went under would be her last.
Then, suddenly, she felt herself being lifted clear of the clammy waters. Wha–? She blinked her eyes to clear them and realized that there were what appeared to be fibrous golden tendrils wrapped around her, pulling her into the air and away from the watery death that, just seconds ago, had seemed inevitable. She looked up to see a sleek, silvery craft hovering in the air above her, the signature transport of the Paladins. Standing in an open hatchway in its side was a tall woman clad in what appeared to be a blue and white bathing suit with matching boots. It was the woman’s impossibly long hair that was lifting her clear of the Thames. “G-Godiva?” she gasped, recognizing Britain’s best-known super-hero.
“And the Squire,” said a grinning youth, who reached past Godiva to take the girl’s hand and pull her into the craft. He was clad in a red and yellow outfit that had a distinctly medieval look about it. She found herself being led gently to a seat, and a blanket was wrapped around her. “Don’t worry,” the Squire said. “We’ll soon have you back on the ground. There’s an ambulance waiting to take you straight to hospital.”
“Th-thank you,” replied the girl.
“Don’t mention it.”
Another voice sounded from the front of the craft. “Can you see any more?”
“No, Knight,” said Godiva, who was still standing in the hatchway and peering intently down into the swollen river. “This part of the river seems clear now.”
“OK,” said the Knight. “Well, I’ll take her up towards Teddington after we drop this young lady off, but the water’s visibly subsiding now. I think the crisis is past.”
“Let’s hope so,” said Godiva.
Meanwhile, downriver at Woolwich, a hooded man in red, white, and blue stood atop one of nine massive concrete pillars straddling the mighty Father Thames. He, too, was peering into the water using powerful binoculars. “The level is definitely falling,” he said. “It’s down at least a meter in the last ten minutes.”
“Thank God for that,” said a young Afro-Caribbean woman clad in black and white, who had just emerged from a control room set in a huge silvery arc that sat astride the pillar. “I just spoke with the engineers. They say the barrier seems to be functioning normally now.”
“Good. Looks like Firebrand has cleared all the debris at last, then.” He set down his field glasses and waved toward a red-haired teenage girl who was hovering in the air above the center of the river. The girl, who was wearing a largely orange and green jumpsuit that was a little more bulging in the middle than normal, gave a great sigh of relief and began to drift down toward them.
As she did so, the water erupted near to where the Bowman and Cameo stood, and a shimmering fireball emerged from the river. It rushed toward them, then touched down lightly on the concrete by their side and transformed into a lovely young woman — another redhead, but clad in red, white, and black. “I blasted all the crap out of the system,” she said. The Barrier should work OK now.”
“Geez, am I glad to hear that,” said Lodestone, alighting on the concrete and almost falling over. The Bowman took her arm to steady her. “I don’t think I could have held the gates together magnetically for much longer!”
“Don’t worry, you did a sterling job,” said the Bowman. “With the Thames Barrier clogged by the sudden violence of the flash flood as it came upriver, it would have been far worse if you hadn’t been able to stem the tide at least partially.”
“Yeah, but, y’know, I hope this hasn’t affected my baby.” She patted her slightly swollen abdomen. “I haven’t used my powers this much since I found out I was pregnant. (*) We dunno what this much magnetism might do to him — or her.”
[(*) Editor’s note: see The Paladins: Interludes and Examinations.]
“That’s OK,” said Cameo. “We’ll get you checked out by a doctor when we get back. But I’m sure your baby will be all right.”
Before Lodestone could answer, Firebrand spoke. “Heads up, kids, we’ve got company.”
Indeed, two figures were streaking through the sky toward them. The Bowman of Britain instinctively reached for his bow and nocked an arrow. Cameo twisted the rings on her fingers and transformed into her glowing white energy-form. Firebrand hustled Lodestone into the entrance to the control room. “In your weakened condition, love, I think you’d better leave this to us.”
The two flyers were now descending, and they could see that one was clad in a black and silver suit emblazoned with the three golden lions of the crest of England. “Lionheart!” muttered Firebrand, scowling. “Oh, goody!” The second figure, however, was a stranger. Short and stocky, he was completely enclosed in a metallic-looking suit whose surface seemed to be molten. Heat radiated from him, causing the three Paladins to step back instinctively.
“It’s OK,” said Lionheart, raising his hands in a gesture of peace as he cut his jets and landed. “We’re not here to fight. I just wanted to make sure everything was under control here.”
Despite Lionheart’s words, Firebrand still looked ready for action, her hands balled into fists around which flames danced. “Well, fine. It is. We got the Barrier working again. So where were you?”
Lionheart sighed. “We’re on the same side this time, Firebrand. (*) Calm down.” He nodded toward his companion. “This is Prominence. He and I have been busy doing the same job as your teammates upriver — rescuing people from the floods.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Paladins: A Knight’s Tale.]
“Prominence, eh?” said Firebrand, eyeing the newcomer. “Another of Stacker’s lackeys?”
“That’s enough, Firebrand,” said the Bowman, finally asserting himself and interposing his body between his teammate and the new arrivals. He looked Lionheart in the eye. “Does your agency have any intelligence on what caused this flooding? It somehow doesn’t seem a natural phenomenon.”
Lionheart looked astonished. “You mean you don’t know? You haven’t heard what’s been happening around the world?”
“We’ve been busy,” said Cameo, “and our radio link to the Rook has been out. We haven’t had time to catch up with–”
The sentence wasn’t finished. A low roaring suddenly filled the air, and the quintet of heroes turned their faces skyward. “I think we’re about to get even busier,” said Firebrand.
Not too long after, on the coast of China, a large group of squid-like beings were emerging from the ocean and attacking the land. The people ran in panic, trying their best to flee from the terrible-looking alien creatures.
Overhead, a bald man dressed in blue robes with yellow lightning bolt trim flew overhead. “I have never seen anything like those!” the Asian hero remarked. He opened his throat, releasing a sonic burst at the leader of the pack. The squid-men shook it off without a thought. “Amazing!”
“Not really, Thunderlord,” a deep voice from the sky said in perfect Chinese.
The hero looked up to see two figures approach from the sky. “The Manhunter from Mars and Wonder Woman!” he exclaimed. “You recognize these?”
“They are Sslithiss from the planet Karna in the Vegan system,” the Martian replied as he struck a blow with his fist. “Given that they come from the same world as the Gordanians, it is not a surprise to see them. Still, we must stop them quickly.”
“I follow your lead, J’onn!” Wonder Woman said. She quickly dived into the fray, enjoying the chance to let loose on anyone related to the destruction they’d been dealing with over the last few hours. Though her Amazonian sisters taught her the importance of compassion, she much preferred to let her muscles do the talking for her.
“Good to see you again, Nubia,” Thunderlord said in English. “Have you spoken with Mbulaze recently?” Nubia knew quickly that he referred to his fellow Global Guardian, Impala, who hailed from South Africa.
J’onn J’onzz raised a slight eyebrow but continued to fight the forces. Just then, he heard the sound of screams. “I’ll see to the people,” he replied and rocketed off.
A crowd was cornered by some of the Sslithiss. Quickly, J’onn subdued them with his vast array of Martian talents. “You must find shelter,” he told them in Chinese. Then he took a good look at the woman. Two were Asian, but one was dark-skinned.
From her hair, her face, and a tell-tale necklace she wore around her neck, J’onn knew in an instant who it was. “Mari…?” he said in English.
The woman looked at him, slightly perplexed. “Do I…?”
“Mari — Vixen! It’s me, J’onn!” the Martian exclaimed.
Thunderlord approached. “Who is this, Manhunter?”
“One of our lost teammates,” the Martian Manhunter replied, still in awe. “And it seems she’s somehow found her way home.” (*) But from her demeanor and her responses, J’onn realized that her memories must be somewhat cloudy. Still, the burning questions in his mind were how his long-thought-dead teammate was now back alive and where had she been for almost two years. He’d have to get answers later, after the current crisis was dealt with.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Suicide Squad: Path of the Immortal, Chapter 11: Horror Unleashed.]
“I hate this. I really, really hate this,” Superman muttered to himself as his gaze drifted over the many screens before him in the monitor room of the JLA Satellite. Normally, he’d be right in the middle of things when the world was in the midst of a crisis. Instead, he was on extended monitor duty thanks to the injuries he had received at the hands of Lobo. Superman was one of the first casualties of the current invasion.
“At least Green Arrow wasn’t one,” he said to himself. There had been a split second there where he had been convinced that Oliver Queen’s atoms had been scattered across the galaxy. It was a relief to hear his voice again over his JLA communicator. Even more so when it became apparent that Adam Strange needed his help on Rann.
Normally, that’d be me flying out to help, Superman thought. Or Hal. Even the Green Lanterns had experienced their own setback, though they seemed to be making the best of a bad situation with their special Darkstar unit. Yes, everyone was doing his or her bit to help save the Earth while he warmed a bench — or in this case a console — and it was driving him crazy.
He realized what he was feeling was self-pity, and that was another thing he hated. He wasn’t the type to sit around feeling sorry for himself. If there was a wrong, he righted it. That option was denied him, though. If only there was something to take his mind off of the way he was feeling.
The distraction he was looking for came in the form of a distress signal. It came not from Earth but distant space. And it wasn’t meant for the satellite. The signal was directed toward his Fortress of Solitude, but since he would be in the satellite for the foreseeable future, it was routed to him there.
Superman pushed a button, and the signal came to life. “SKKKSSS — emergency! Superman! We need your help! SKKKSSS — under attack! — SKKK-iac has found us — SKKKS — Rao help us!”
His eyes were wide as the message stopped. It was obvious where that message had originated. The invasion had spread farther than anyone had imagined. Rokyn — the closest thing he had to a homeworld — was under siege, and there he sat practically an invalid. He had to do something, though. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to sit around and figure out what that was.
Superman’s gaze quickly passed over the rosters of active and reserve JLA members as well as every other team and solo hero on Earth. Everyone was occupied. “This looks like a job… uhhgn… for Superman,” he grunted, rising on his crutches to head for the transporter.