by Starsky Hutch 76, Immortalwildcat and Libbylawrence
Deep in the woods of the mountains of Oregon, three large, ragged, pink-skinned figures trekked in search of food. They were cut, bleeding, and half-crazed with starvation. “I almost had one of those small furred creatures, if it had not been for your verkashttig clumsiness!” one of them cursed as he swatted a thin tree limb out of his way.
“Do not take that tone with me, worm! I outrank you!” the second ragged Khund exclaimed, tramping along behind him.
“Rank? What meaning do ranks have now?! We are all going to die on this accursed mud-ball because we did not have the good fortune to receive honorable deaths in battle! We will die in these woods and our souls will linger here for all eternity! We are damned! Damned because we lost our base in battle to those damnable Earthlings and failed to die in the process!”
“How can I ever face my family back on Khundia?!” the third Khund exclaimed. “The disgrace of it all…”
“You two sound like a couple of females,” the second Khund snorted. “I, for one, am not ready to give in. I am a warrior!“
“A warrior who is every bit as lost as the rest of us,” the first Khund growled. “Or haven’t you noticed?“
“Silence,” the second Khund hissed. “I hear something.”
The three of them did their best to hide their enormous masses behind trees. As they watched, a small boy came into view singing the theme to the Just’a Lotta Animals cartoon. With him was a white dog, followed by a smaller shaggy white dog. “A stripling!” the third Khund said. We could eat him!”
“And his little dogs, too!” The first Khund said eagerly.
“No, you may not!” the second Khund said irately.
“You think just because you outrank us you can have them all for yourself?” the first Khund said as if he was ready to fight.
“Bah!” the second Khund said. “And this is why I outrank you! That boy can lead us out of these woods! Eat him now, and we’ll still be lost and starving a few days from now!”
The other two Khunds nodded, ashamed at their stupidity.
The three of them stepped out into the open where the boy could see them. They held their hands up to show they were no threat. They moved slowly, lest the boy become frightened and scream and run. To their surprise, the boy smiled. “Hi! I’m Kent. What’s your names?” the boy asked.
“Errr… hello, stripling. I am Gothar,” the highest-ranking Khund said. “And these are my… uh… friends, Jobac and Mutar.”
“We are lost,” the third Khund said. “We haven’t eaten in days.”
“I have food back at my house,” Kent said. “Do you want something to eat?“
The three Khunds looked at each other and then turned to the boy and said at once, “Yes, please!”
As the three Khunds walked behind the boy and his dogs, the first Khund said to the second, “The stripling… he wears the standard of Superman and a small cape.”
“Do not be alarmed,” the higher-ranking Khund said. “It is the custom of the children of this world to dress like the champions of this world and pretend to be them, reenacting their victories. It means nothing.”
As Kent opened the door to the cabin where he lived, the three Khunds quickly rushed inside. They stopped short when they were greeted by more dogs who barked menacingly at them. “It’s OK,” Kent said, shooing them back.
“Where do you keep your food?” Gothar boomed.
“In the refrigerator,” Kent said, pointing into the kitchen area.
Gothar rushed over and flung open the refrigerator door, practically ripping it off its hinges. The other two Khunds raced over and joined him. They began gabbing anything edible they could get ahold of and shoved it into their mouths, making savage guttural sounds as they ravaged the contents of the appliance.
“It’s not lunch time,” Kent warned. “You’ll spoil your appetites!“
“I have not eaten in two weeks,” the first Khund guffawed. “It cannot be spoiled!”
Suddenly, John Shakespeare walked through the front door of the cabin with his hunting rifle slung over his shoulder. He gasped at the sight of three ragtag Khund warriors savaging his refrigerator.
His entrance did not go unnoticed. Before he could train his hunting rifle on the three, the Khundish commander slammed into him, knocking him into the wall. The alien caught the rifle and shoved him into a chair.
“Hey!” Kent exclaimed.
“You, hu-man,” the Khund said, leveling John Shakespeare’s own rifle at him, “you have transportation, yes?”
“Y-yes,” John stammered.
“You will take us to a city where we can be reunited with the invasion force. Or your child shall become an orphan.”
“You’re a bad man!” Kent exclaimed from behind the Khund.
“Silence, stripling,” the Khund commanded.
“I thought you were nice, but you’re bad!“
“I said silence!” the Khund boomed, turning around. When he turned, he let out a gasp. The boy in the Superman T-shirt and cape was floating in midair, his eyes glowing red and trained angrily upon him. The other two Khund warriors were backed against the wall by a pack of angry, floating, half-Kryptonian puppies.
Things were finally starting to get back to normal in Fox Hollow, Oregon. The sheriff and deputy both sat at their desks with their feet propped up as they watched the newscasts from around the world and were thankful that their town was once again what the rest of the world would have labeled as sleepy. For once, world events had hit them first and then moved on, instead of the other way around.
They were jarred from their relaxed state by a series of sharp knocks at the front door of their station. “Get that, would ya, Barn?” the sheriff said.
“Why do I have to get that?” the deputy protested.
“Because I’m the sheriff,” the sheriff said.
“If I had a dime for every time I heard that one,” the deputy grumbled, rising from his chair. He walked to the front door, threw it open, and let out a gasp at the sight of three Khunds, looking much the worse for wear, bound hand and foot and laying in a heap on their doorstep. “Boss! Call the FBI! Call somebody! You gotta see this!” the deputy squawked. He looked up and let out another startled gasp at the sight of a small caped boy flying off into the distance.
Not far from the sheriff’s station, tabloid reporter Ron Troupe witnessed the scene and snagged a quick photo of the flying boy. He had thought this trip would be a bust, since whatever excitement there was had passed, and the townsfolk seemed unusually tightlipped. Instead, he just might have broken the biggest story of the year outside of the invasion itself. “Super… boy?” he mused.
“OK, Metal Men, everybody look for a high spot that we can anchor to for the swinging hammer maneuver!” called Dr. Will Magnus as he veered their ship away from the approaching Khund destroyer.
“I don’t know if it will come in low enough, Doc. We can only reach so high with that.” Gold was surveying the land, hoping against hope for a tall peak that might put them close enough to the menace.
“G-G-Gold! I read someth-thing in a science j-journal last week that we m-m-m-might be able to use!” said Tin as he spied a flat-topped rise just outside of the city. He pointed it out to Doc and said “T-t-take us down there!” Five sets of metallic eyebrows lifted as the timid little tin man started taking charge of the team. Iron gave Lead a nudge with his elbow as a smile creased his dark features.
Moments later, the six metallic warriors and their creator poured out of the craft. Tin started shouting orders. “Tina, we’ll use y-you for the b-base. We nuh-need two rails, kind of like train tracks, a-angled up in the air. You’ll need to keep them absolute-lutely straight, but you’ll also need to be able to turn to track that b-big b-beast up there!” The platinum doll of the team knelt on the ground, extending her arms upward. Forty feet up, she bent them downward and planted her hands on the ground.
“Iron, you’re g-going to ride those rails like a t-train car. You’ll need to c-c-carry Lead.” Tin turned to the short, stout Lead. “You’re the am-m-mo for this. A big ball up there on Iron.”
As they took their places, Tin turned to Gold and Doc Magnus. “G-gold, you have to form a c-c-coil around Tina and Iron. All the way up.”
“Interesting, Tin. A huge electromagnet.” Will Magnus puffed on his ever-present pipe and looked over the construct. “What are you going to use for power?“
“I’m a step ahead of you, Doc!” said Mercury, returning from the ship with an length of wire that trailed behind him. “The power inverter in the saucer will give us 220 volts of alternating current.”
“Thanks, Mercury!” said Tin as he placed the leads of the wire within Gold’s reach. “But I d-d-don’t think you’re going to like our part in th-this.”
“Let me guess — I need to grease the skids for Iron, right?” said the liquid metal man.
“No, we’ve got to catch him!”
Several moments later, Dr. Will Magnus stood by at the switch in the saucer and called, “Everybody ready?”
“Ready!” came the reply in six distinct voices.
Platinum extended her fingers and moved her arms slightly to the right. Her head, at the base of the rails, allowed her to sight their target as it crossed their firing zone. “You said to fire right at him, and not ahead of him, right, Tin?” she asked.
“Right. This w-will go too fast to worry about leading the t-t-target!” replied Tin from his position at the top of the ramp.
“On your mark, Tina!” called the scientist.
“Now!” cried Platinum. The word wasn’t even out of her mouth when she felt the thrum of an electrical current around her. Gold’s extended body practically sang with the energy as it shot up the length of him. The electrical wave caught the ferrous body of Iron, shooting him forward up the ramp at a speed he had never experienced. He let out a whoop as he moved forty feet in less than two seconds. At the top, he smacked into a barrel-like container that absorbed a portion of his momentum. The rest of it was absorbed by the liquid within the barrel, which expanded to the sides as it was compressed front-to-back.
“YEEEE-OWW!” screeched Mercury as his body splattered out through the splits in Tin’s barrel-form.
“Holy smoke, would you look at that!” said Gold in a low voice. They all turned to look at their target.
Above them, the Khund destroyer was losing altitude. A huge, gaping hole was clearly visible through the center of the ship. The metal of the ship was glowing red-hot from the frictional forces of the impact. Visible beyond the ship, a ten-foot diameter lead ball was still visible, arcing upward.
“Umm, Tin, I think it worked, but how do we get Lead back?” asked Iron.
“Don’t worry, his signal is still coming in on the communications panel,” replied Doc Magnus. “Nice work, Tin!”
“Th-thanks, Doc, but could you do me a favor?”
“Well, you created us. Now, could you create an aspirin that will work on us?”
“So, that’s the situation, gentlemen. The President and the Vice President refuse to leave Washington, so you are going to be their special guard detail during this crisis.”
The speaker was a heavyset, dark-skinned woman. Across the table from her, four men sat with surprised looks on their faces. Three of them turned to look at the fourth.
“What do you say, Kirk? Is this legit?” Floyd Lawton, alias Deadshot, was a handsome man with oily black hair and a matching mustache.
“If it comes from Ms. Waller, it’s legitimate.” Paul Kirk, a rugged-looking man with haunted eyes looked at the woman across from him. “Even if she chooses to spring it on all of us at once.”
Ben Turner and Slade Wilson, the other two at the table, gave each other a knowing look. They both knew, as did Lawton, that Paul Kirk was supposed to be their leader, while Amanda Waller was supposed to handle the administrative paperwork of the Extreme Justice team. There’s going to be trouble soon, thought Wilson.
“Will we be working out of the Treasury Building for the duration, then?” asked Turner, a martial arts expert known as the Bronze Tiger.
“Actually, they want this place evacuated along with most of the other government buildings. We need a place for you to stay, though. You will be watching out for the Prez and Veep when they are outside of the White House, but the Secret Service isn’t prepared to let a trio of known assassins into the Executive Mansion.” This elicited some laughs around the table.
“If I can make a phone call, I may be able to arrange something,” said Wilson, alias Deathstroke the Terminator. Waller nodded, and he retreated to a corner of the room. Five minutes and one hushed conversation later, he returned. “All set. We can move in anytime after oh-eleven-hundred tomorrow.”
“In that case, you’ll leave here tomorrow morning, drop your gear, and meet the Presidential detail to arrange security for his address to Congress tomorrow night.” With nothing further to add, Amanda Waller hefted herself out of her chair and made her way to the door.
Paul Kirk followed and caught up with her. “What’s going on here, Amanda? Why wasn’t I informed before this meeting?”
“Because you are the field leader, Manhunter. Your team isn’t in the field yet. Therefore, you have no authority, and no need to know.” A response was forming in his throat, but she stopped and turned to face him before he could voice it. “The President, and Rick Flag, for that matter, may trust you with sensitive information, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re just another of Task Force X’s convicts, working off your debt to society. You may claim to be the clone of some hero, but I never heard of no Manhunter, and a bunch of guys looking an awful lot like you did a real number on a couple of places in Europe and Asia a few years back. It may have been your time with that so-called Society of Super-Villains that put you in Task Force X, but to me you’re a two-bit terrorist wanna-be! Got it?“
She turned and stalked off, leaving a confused Paul Kirk in the hallway.
As firemen labored to control a blazing building, a large section of wall began to break away, looming menacingly above them. Screams echoed from the watching crowd as the wall crumbled down toward the brave men below. Seconds before they would be crushed by the impact, a flying figure swooped down and caught the wall in his bare hands, shoving it back away from the fleeing men below.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it!” said the young man with brown hair who had saved them. “I also made a sweep of the building. It’s empty now!”
“Thanks, Starman! You sure saved us a lot of time and danger!” said a fireman.
Starman smiled and replied, “My pleasure. You guys are the true heroes.”
Carefully moving the piles of brick aside, Starman used his energy-based powers to fuse the rubble in a tight mass. As he looked around, he saw more flames spring up above. He flew closer and smothered them with a hastily grabbed tarp. The aliens have been driven away from here for now, but the damage they’ve done has been more than enough to keep me hopping, he thought as he flew off and zoomed over the desert toward the small but comfortable Payton home. I’ve put out more fires than I care to remember!
Starman frowned as he landed and changed clothing quickly behind the house. Altering his features, he resumed the normal look of Will Payton as he ran up the steps and knocked on his sister’s door. She’s crying. I hope Mom’s OK! he thought as he waited for her to answer.
“Jayne, it’s Will. What’s wrong?” he asked.
Soon Jayne Payton opened the door. She looked weary, and her eyes were red as she wiped at them and fell into his arms. This was odd for the normally demonstrative girl. “Will, I’ve been waiting for you,” said Jayne. “Mara said she would call you, but now that you’re here, there’s no need!”
“Right. Mara’s busy with Captain Comet’s team,” replied Will, referring to his girlfriend Mara, alias Dolphin of the Forgotten Heroes. “What’s wrong? Is Mom hurt? The aliens didn’t attack the factory, did they?”
Jayne shook her head. “Nope. Mom got called in. They’re really busy now that there’s a war on, but that’s not the problem. Will, you remember when you introduced me to Dr. Danvers at the lab in California? Well, I later met his assistant Lucas Carr. We hit it off. He and I just connected. He’s smart and funny and eager to please. We even have science in common.”
Will frowned. “Sure. Snapper’s a good guy. I love it when he falls into that weird, Beatnik slang of his and tells me about his JLA days. I didn’t know you even met him. I like working with them at STAR Labs. Is he OK? Clearly, you’re upset about something.”
Jayne sighed and said, “Will, he and I have become very close. You’ve been busy lately, so you didn’t know that he’s come here for a visit once or twice. And I’ve been out to see him, too. I wanted to tell you, but I wanted to wait and see how the relationship progressed first. He’s become very important to me, but now — he’s been missing for two weeks!“