Aboard the satellite headquarters of the Justice League of America, a bored young man sat watching the multiple monitor screens, waiting for anything that might require the League’s assistance. As he watched a potential hurricane move away from Cuba and start to dissipate, one of the screens lit up.
“Increased sunspot activity detected; anticipated duration is six hours,” murmured Steel as he noted the alert in an open computer log file. “Let’s see… that’s going to cause trouble with the short-range and long-range scanners, as well as a lot of the communications systems planet-side.” He leaned back in the chair and ran a gloved hand through the wavy reddish-brown hair that showed above his mask. “Man, I’m talking like someone from one of those old science-fiction novels that Granddad was always trying to get me to read. Maybe that’s what I’ll do tonight — just forty-five minutes ’til J’onn comes up to relieve me.”
Twenty minutes later, two of the monitor screens lit up, and an alarm tone sounded from the console. Steel saw that one of the screens was showing a radar plot of space around the Earth, extending out past the lunar orbit. On the plot, a dotted line showed a trajectory leading directly toward Earth. The second screen provided a textual description.
Incoming ship, dropped to sublight speed within orbital path of Mars. No response received to any standard hailing signals.
“An incoming bogie, hmm? Well, let’s see if I can’t rustle up a welcoming committee.” Steel entered commands at the radar console, magnifying the image further. As he worked, he activated the League’s alert system, sending a low-priority signal to all the members’ signal devices. This was essentially a stand-by signal, alerting the members that something was happening and that more information was coming.
For fifteen minutes, he followed the progress of the incoming ship as it orbited the planet. When it started its descent, tracking computers noted its velocity, heading, and angle of descent, and a screen showed a map with the probable area of impact highlighted. This area became smaller as the ship descended farther.
Steel heard the hum of the League’s teleporter, and glanced back to see J’onn J’onzz entering the monitor room. “I received the signal and thought I would come early to relieve you in case you wish to respond to the emergency yourself,” said J’onn, his deep voice resonating in the confined space of the monitor room.
“I’m not even sure it’s an emergency. So far, it’s just an unidentified ship, but — aw, cripes!”
“What is it, Hank?”
“Sunspot activity! Ground radar and the satellite sensors have all lost track of it!” Quickly, Steel explained about the earlier warning and reviewed the records of the incoming ship. “And according to the last information we got, it’s coming down somewhere in the Southeastern United States.”
“So,” asked J’onn, “what priority would you classify this incident now?”
“Always the mentor, eh?” said Steel. J’onn merely nodded. “Incoming alien, intent unknown, no hostile moves — I’d call it a three if we knew where they were going, but since we have to hunt for them, I’m calling it a two.” Steel punched a button on the console, opening a line to the recording device in each member’s communicator. While he gave a brief description of the situation, the teleporter came to life as Justice Leaguers started to arrive. He was just finishing when one of the phone lines buzzed. J’onn answered it, hanging up after a brief conversation.
“The ship has been located.”
“There it is — Willett, Alabama.” Green Lantern pointed toward a small cluster of buildings around a crossroads. “Looks like the sheriff’s office there next to the gas station.” He guided the platform bearing Black Canary, Green Arrow, and Steel down to the ground as Superman, Hawkman, and Hawkwoman landed next to them. As they looked around to get their bearings, a heavyset man with thinning brown hair who wore brown pants and a khaki uniform shirt came walking out.
“Well, damn! When Eddie said to call for you folks, I thought he was crazy, but you really came!” He strode up to Superman with his hand out. “I’m Sheriff Carl Porter, and I jest want to say that it’s an honor to meet y’all.”
“Thank you, Sheriff, but if you don’t mind, Steel is our point man on the mission.” Superman indicated the younger hero clad in red, white, and blue. “He has the information about the ship he was tracking.”
The sheriff turned toward the young hero, looking him up and down. “Steel, eh? Can’t say as I’ve ever heard of you, son, but if Superman and these other folks trust you enough to put you in charge, I ain’t about to argue with them. Why don’t you come on in to my office, son, and I’ll fill you in on what Eddie’s found. Then you can figure what y’all want to do from there.” He turned back toward the others. “Y’all will have to excuse us. My office ain’t much bigger than a closet, so’s unless you want to stand around in the jail cell, you’d best wait out here. Billie and George are still open for dinner at the Dixie Cup, there, across the road.” With that, he led Steel to the building next to the gas station.
“Good Lord, talk about your podunk towns!” exclaimed Green Arrow once Sheriff Porter was out of earshot. “Feels like I’m stuck in Mayberry.”
“Ollie, behave yourself!” admonished Black Canary as she elbowed him in the ribs. “He’s just cranky because I dragged him away from a boxing match on TV.”
“I must admit, I don’t think I’ve seen a town this small in my years on Earth,” admitted Hawkman as he scanned the few buildings nearby. “It appears remarkably efficient, though. That building across from us appears to be a grocery store, hardware store, clothing store, post office, and bus station, all combined together.”
“Guy that runs it probably keeps adding new lines to keep from dying of boredom,” muttered Green Arrow.
“I like it,” said Superman. “It reminds me of the general store my parents had in Smallville, after Pa gave up running the farm. In fact, this town is a lot like Smallville, too. Quiet. I miss that sometimes.”
“I don’t,” said Green Lantern. “We lived in a couple of small towns when I was growing up, a couple of times when Dad didn’t want us living in the on-base family housing. Only good thing about those small towns was the girls.”
“Don’t let Carol hear you say that,” commented Hawkwoman. “So, do we try the diner? While we wait for the local authorities to approve what we’re already planning to do?”
Superman shook his head. “Let’s not shake up the local folks any more than necessary. Steel shouldn’t be long.”
As if on cue, the door of the sheriff’s office opened, and Steel came jogging toward them. “Got the location!” he said when he got close. “Two miles east of here, just north of highway 38. Oh, and one other thing: there’s already a super-hero on the scene, and we’re to meet up with him there.” Steel’s mouth bent in an odd grin as he mentioned this.
He had been driving into town when the ship came down in the woods near Ed Jenkin’s old place. Years ago, he and Ed had hunted in those woods, but that was before Ed moved to Huntsville. Now, he crouched in a ditch, watching as a pair of large, green-skinned humanoids pulled a hose from their massive ship to the stream running through the valley. He adjusted the cowl again as he turned his head and glanced back toward the road. He’d told Carl to send any help he got out here to meet by his truck, which he’d left at the side of the road. Having secured the hose to a stake to keep it in the water, the two creatures lumbered back up the ramp and into the ship. Shortly after that, Eddie heard a muted rush of wind, followed by the sound of footsteps behind him. He turned and found himself facing a colorful group of costumed heroes.
Like me, he thought.
Superman smiled in understanding as Green Arrow choked back a laugh. Eddie was dressed in a black cotton warm-up suit with white stripes down either side, the stripe highlighting the prominent bulge of his stomach in tight-fitting pants and jacket. The black hood of the jacket had been modified with a band of not-quite-matching black cloth that stretched across the upper half of his face, with eye holes cut into it. A white starburst emblem was sewn on the left side of his chest.
“You, ah, must be Flea Flicker,” said Steel, stepping forward. “Sheriff Porter told us we’d find you here.”
“Yeah, that’s what I told my broth — err, the sheriff.” Flea Flicker glanced back at the stream. “A couple’a them boys just dropped a tap into the water, here. Ain’t seen any more then them two.”
“What did they look like?” asked Steel, as Green Lantern ran a sweeping beam of emerald energy over the ship.
“They was about the size of a bear, standing upright. Dark green skin, lumpy, kinda like alligator hide.”
“Gordanians,” said Superman, Steel, and Green Lantern simultaneously.
“Friends of yours?” asked Flea Flicker, hopefully.
“No,” replied the Man of Steel, staring intently at the massive ship. “This looks like one of their mining ships. I can’t see all of the interior, though. Lead shielding, probably around the engine compartment and power plant.”
“That’s odd,” commented Hawkwoman. “They usually don’t send in mining ships until a planet is conquered.”
“Maybe you and Hawkman should take a look around, make sure this was the only ship that came down. The satellite sensors took a beating with that sunspot interference.” Steel was relieved to see Superman nodding in agreement. “Anything on your scan of the ship, Lantern?”
“Looks like it took some heat damage coming down. I don’t think this was a planned landing.” A tendril of green energy plunged into the stream near the hose placed by the aliens. “Their power source may be damaged. That hose is circulating cool water into the ship, and discharging hot water with traces to tritiuim…”
Seeing the conversation turning to technical matters that were beyond him, Flea Flicker walked over to Black Canary and Green Arrow. “So, what’s the deal? They do the planning, and we wait for orders?”
“‘We’?” sputtered Green Arrow. “When did you become a memb–?”
“What Green Arrow is trying to say, is we don’t encourage folks who aren’t experienced super-heroes to take part in battles.” Black Canary’s gloved hand covered the emerald archer’s mouth. “Maybe if you were to tell us a little about yourself…”
“I wasn’t never much of what you’d call an overachiever. Got through school, mostly playing football. Made the all-state squad my senior year as an alternate. Spent six years in the army, two tours over in ‘Nam. Took a couple of bullets during the second one, and they sent me home. Been working down to the lumber mill since ’74.
“Last summer, I was driving home from Memphis, and I got zapped out of my truck and into some kinda lab. Buncha skinny green dudes with other humans strapped up in machines. I found out later that they’d took us to Pluto!”
“So you were among the prisoners rescued from the Psions?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 3: The Return.]
“Yeah, I guess that’s what they called them green gomers. Before we got rescued, they hooked me up in onna them machines. They said they was trying to give me the ability to blast things telephonetically — no, that ain’t right. Teletinetic–”
“Telekinetically?” asked Canary.
“Yeah, that’s the word; I never can get it right.” Flea Flicker gave a sheepish grin. “They said it was a mental thing, and, well, I ain’t never been what you’d call your mental giant, so…”
“So it didn’t work, is what you’re saying?” asked Green Arrow.
Flea Flicker straightened up, looking somewhat defiant. “Oh, it worked!” he said. Then his shoulders slumped down to their customary position. “Just not quite what they intended, I guess.”
“How about a demonstration?” asked Black Canary, reaching behind Green Arrow to pull an arrow from his quiver. She held it to one side and said, “Now, try your power on this.”
Flea Flicker squinted a bit, and Black Canary felt the arrow move, as if someone had tapped it with their finger. “That’s all right, you don’t have to hold back,” she said.
“I wasn’t,” came the reply. “That there is as good as it gets.”
Hawkman and Hawkwoman descended from the sky, Hawkwoman moving to inform Steel and Superman of the results of their search as Hawkman came over to join Black Canary, Green Arrow, and Flea Flicker.
“Hey, Hawk! Wait till you get a load of this!” said Green Arrow, barely able to keep from laughing out loud. “Go ahead, show him. Pop him in the beak!”
“What in the world are you–?” Hawkman paused as he felt a tap on the beak of his helmet.
“That’s this guy’s power! Can you believe it?” crowed the emerald archer.
“Perhaps it isn’t as impressive as most, but you might want to consider this — he would qualify for membership in that Legion you met from the future. Would you?”