"You know, there's more dignified things to do with a magic lasso," Wonder Girl said sternly, whirling the lasso over her head as she studied the table that stood thirty feet away from her. An empty soda bottle sat upright in the center of the table.
"Geez, Donna, would you concentrate on what you're doing," Changeling said with frustration, "I've got fifty bucks riding on this."
"You ain't exactly hurting for money, green boy," Cyborg said from behind him, "Your father's got as much money as God. What are you worryin' about?"
"Ah, why don't you shove it up your..."
"Gar," Donna yelled, glaring at Changeling with shock.
Changeling cleared his throat meekly, flashing her an apologetic smile. "Uh, beautiful day outside today, huh?"
Donna shook her head in disbelief at him, then turned back to the table. She focused on the bottle, gauging the distance and height of it. Memories of Paradise Island flashed in her mind, weeks of physical training under Diana. The world would forever call Diana Wonder Woman, but in those days, Donna had seen a side of Diana that wasn't so wonderful. She was a taskmaster, always pushing her on, even when she felt close to collapse.
Perhaps she wanted to prepare Donna for everything she would face in man's world. She'd succeeded better than she would ever know.
Donna tossed the loop of the lasso with surgical precision, landing it at the center of the table. With one swift movement, she snatched the loop tight around the bottle and yanked it from the table. The bottle crashed to the floor, shattering into a dozen pieces as Gar jumped up and down like a hyperactive cheerleader.
"Yes! In your face, Victor," he yelled, turning to Cyborg and holding out his palm, still jumping up and down, "You owe me fifty dollars, my man."
At that moment, there was a massive explosion, causing the floor to tremble violently, throwing Changeling to the floor as Cyborg and Wonder Girl fought to keep their footing.
Seconds later, Kid Flash appeared in a blur of motion.
"We've got a visitor, guys," he said rapidly, "Meet out back."
Cyborg shrugged at that. "You heard the guy, let's move," he said, quickly leaving the room.
"Hey, don't forget you owe me money, man," Changeling yelled, running after him.
Wonder Girl collected her lasso, securing it to her belt as she exited the room. As she walked into the main hall, she saw a lone man sitting at the conference table. Donna studied him as he laid his briefcase on the conference table and tapped on it impatiently.
His dark hair and moustache were both expertly trimmed and he was impeccably dressed, with suit that appeared to be custom-made and quite expensive. Despite his professional demeanor, he seemed a bit anxious, as if he wanted to be anywhere else but here. She felt a bit sorry for him, and walked over to him with a sympathetic smile.
"I hope the explosion didn't rattle you too much," she said, "That sort of thing happens a lot around here."
"I just hope it doesn't hurt the property values," he said with a gallant smile, holding out his hand, "You're Wonder Girl, aren't you? Wonder Woman's little sister?"
Donna rolled her eyes at that. "Well, I haven't figured that out yet," she said, shaking his hand, "And you are?"
"Anthony Stark, but my friends call me Tony."
"The President of Stark International on this side of the city?"
"You just purchased a major computer network from my company. I always like to visit a new customer, to make sure they're satisfied with our service."
"You picked a wonderful time to visit," Donna said with a smile.
Tony chuckled at that, studying her with a twinkle in his eye. He was amazed by her crystal blue eyes, her impossibly dark hair and luscious figure. Don't say it, Tony, she's half your age.
"Would you have dinner with me," he asked abruptly.
Donna stepped back from him, surprised. Part of her was thrilled by his offer, but something about him unsettled her. She found his brusque manner a little distasteful. He seemed to be the kind of man who cared for no one but himself, collecting women and objects like bottles, throwing them aside or recycling them at his leisure.
"That's rather sudden, Mr. Stark," she said, hesitating a moment, "I'm sorry, but I really can't do that. I have to go now."
She turned and quickly walked away as Tony sighed and looked down at his briefcase.
He studied it, wondering if he should help the Titans with whatever caused the explosion. He decided against it. Things seemed to be back to normal now, and he had a lot of contracts to go over. He reached into the briefcase, pulling out a small stack of papers, and began scribbling on them.
He glanced back at the door with a smile, Wonder Girl still filling his thoughts.
Robin studied the tiny spacecraft that had crashed behind Titan's Tower. The craft was still smoking, it's engines pulsating a dim orange, getting dimmer by the second as the ship continued to leak energy. The ship itself was interesting, but the being that came out of it was even more so.
"I fear the craft didn't crash here by accident," a haunting female voice spoke from behind him, "She knew about us, and purposefully came here for help."
"We don't know that for sure," Robin said, turning to face Raven, "I'm not even sure if that alien's female."
Raven stared at him a moment, still and silent as a graveyard. Her hood covered her face, revealing only her intense dark eyes. She seemed to burn right through him, as if she were gazing into his soul. Robin never thought he'd meet anyone more disconcerting than Batman, but sometimes he thought Raven could give Bruce some lessons on "the scare factor".
"She's Durlan," Raven replied, her voice quivering slightly, "And she's terrified. Terrified enough to risk killing herself to get here. I can still feel it emanating from her, Richard, even from here. Her fear is... overwhelming."
Her legs buckled as she grabbed a tree to steady herself. Instantaneously, Kid Flash appeared, gently taking her arm to support her.
"Are you okay," he asked with deep concern, "You feel cold, Raven. Let me take you inside so you can rest."
Raven raised her head, causing her hood to fall back, freeing her long mass of dark hair. Her hair spilled down her back like tendrils of shadow as she gazed at him with a weak smile. She patted his arm as if comforting a small child.
"I will be fine, Wallace," she said, "Please help the Durlan girl, she needs us now."
"No, I'm not leaving you," Kid Flash said with concern, "Not like this."
Robin smiled as he watched the two. Wally had always been girl crazy, the type of guy who never had a relationship that lasted longer than a week. But Raven had gotten to him somehow, touched his heart deeply, and he was hopelessly stricken with her.
He walked over to Wally, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Stay here with her, Wally. Make sure she's okay. The rest of us can help the Durlan girl."
Wally mouthed a silent "thank you" to Robin as he turned back to Raven.
"Here, have a seat," he told her, "you'll be more comfortable."
Raven reluctantly sat down, Wally kneeling beside her.
"Can I get you some water," he asked with concern, "How about a cold clothe for your head?"
"No Wally," she said, chuckling softly, touched by his concern. "You're all I need right now."
Wally gently brushed a few strands of hair from her face as he clasped her hand. At his touch, Raven felt something deep inside her flare to life. It was a bittersweet feeling, strong desire mixed with deep pain, causing her heart to ache.
I love you dearly, Wallace, she thought as she turned her head away from him. A single tear fell from her eye. But I could only bring you pain and sorrow, so my heart must forever be closed to you.
A few yards away, Starfire, Cyborg and Changeling tended to the Durlan girl awkwardly, unsure of what to do for her.
Robin walked toward them as Wonder Girl exited Titans Tower, flying up next to him.
"Tony Stark's a jerk," she grumbled.
"Why do you say that," Robin asked curiously, "He seemed okay."
"He said I was beautiful."
"Then he asked me out to supper."
Robin shot her an amused smile, but Wonder Girl rolled her eyes and shot ahead of him.
The Durlan girl appeared to be the equivalent of a teenager, with long orange hair falling about her reddish-purple skin and short antennae. She laid back on the ground, trembling slightly, her eyes wide open with fear.
"How's she doing," Robin asked grimly.
"She was beaten up pretty bad, but Raven healed her most of the way," Cyborg said appreciatively, "The witch did good."
"She's scared of something," Changeling said, rubbing the girl's hand, "She's trembling something awful."
"Let's get her inside," Robin said, "Maybe she'll feel more comfortable out of the Sun."
"I'm not going back in there with that man," Wonder Girl said sternly.
"What man," Starfire asked innocently, "Tony Stark? He's a nice man."
Donna clenched her fists, her face turning red with annoyance.
"Listen, Donna, you and Cyborg stay out here," Robin smiled, "Check out the girl's ship, see if it's salvageable. Changeling, pick up the girl and take her into the Tower. But be gentle with her."
Changeling shape-shifted into a gorilla, gently lifting the girl in his arms and walking inside the Tower, Robin and Starfire close behind.
Tony Stark watched Changeling walk by, the alien girl in his arms. He jumped up and stopped Robin.
"Robin, about the new computer system we installed yesterday," he began.
"Mister Stark, another time would be better," Robin said tersely, "There's a lot going on now. We've got to find out why this alien girl's here, and if anyone's looking for her."
"I understand. I'll call my pilot and have him come pick me up."
Robin nodded and started to walk forward.
"That girl," Tony added, "I've never seen anything like her."
"I'm sure your bodyguard has, Mister Stark. She's Durlan."
Durlan, Tony thought as Robin walked away, that's a new one. He thought back to what Robin said, and wondered if there might not be someone out there in the depths of space, looking for her.
The Gordanian slave ship Resfalon exited hyperspace, appearing at the edge of our solar system in a flash of light. The ship was relatively small compared to other slave ships, but had the same design. It was an elongated oval shape, its hull a dark emerald and ridged with thick layers of titanium. The ridges looked like scales, giving the Resfalon the appearance of a titanic beast rumbling through the cosmos.
Aboard the Resfalon, Strike Commander Belurce tore at a massive hunk of raw meat, savoring the taste as yellow blood dripped from the meat, running down his green chin and dripping onto his scaly chest. Like all Gordanians, he was lizard-like in appearance and huge, roughly 7 feet tall and a mass of muscle.
Above all else, he took pride in his fighting skills. His men relied too heavily on their weapons, whereas he had always concentrated on hand-to-hand combat. He trained under martial arts masters on a dozen worlds, learning a variety of combat styles and techniques. No one dared challenge him, for his fighting skills were nearly legendary on his homeworld.
He chewed the meat vigorously, relishing its sweet flavor, sweet as the power of command. Gaining command had been the struggle of his life. The Citadel was an empire spanning hundreds of star systems, and Command rank in the empire had always been reserved for the upper class. Belurce had been born to a poor family on a small Gordanian colony. With grim determination and guts, he had spent years struggling, disciplining himself, sacrificing, all for this moment, when he would rise through the ranks to earn a slave ship of his own.
When he finally made the rank of Commander, he looked forward to patrolling the borders of Citadel space, engaging in battle with interstellar pirates and warlords. He craved the ecstacy of battle, the rush of combat.
Unfortunately, his first assignment was a disappointing one. Come to an insignificant world called Earth and recapture two females: a Durlan girl and a Tamaran woman. Where was the excitement of that? The challenge? He hoped future missions would prove more stimulating. If not, he had friends outside the Citadel, friends who could put his skills to better use. Though he had fought to gain a high rank in the Citadel, he never felt terribly loyal to the empire. Perhaps one day soon he might explore other, more challenging opportunities.
There was a chime at the door of his chambers. He heard several raised voices on the other side, as his personal guards argued with someone.
Belurce sighed, walking to the door. He had been assigned an "assistant" for this mission, a Skrull Ambassador who was familiar with Earth, and quite powerful in his own right. On the long trip here, he had also proven to be extremely annoying.
Belurce opened the chamber door, as the Skrull turned his arms into massive rock-like limbs, preparing to swat the guards aside like insects.
"I wouldn't do that, Ambassador," Belurce grumbled ominously, "It would make me... angry."
Super-Skrull turned around to face Belurce, and glared at him with slight contempt.
"The Citadel assigned me here, Commander," he said, "If you harm me, you'll have to answer to High Command."
"I'll do more than harm you. This is my ship, Ambassador, and we're a long way from Citadel space. Who knows what tragic accident could happen to you on the way back?"
Super-Skrull laughed at that, a laugh filled with poison. His hand ignited with fire as he raised it to Belurce's face. "Or to you, Commander. I don't intimidate as easily as your men. Remember that."
Belurce and Super-Skrull stood eye-to-eye, neither flinching, neither giving ground. Belurce's guards stepped back a few paces, bracing for a major battle between the two.
Suddenly, a deep voice sounded from Belurce's gauntlet. "Commander, we're approaching Earth, and we have the Durlan and Tamaran on our scanners."
Belurce, not looking away from Super-Skrull, raised his gauntlet to his mouth. "Activate the cloaking array, Sprett, then enter orbit. Prepare two groundships and have Squadron HN board them."
There was a momentary pause on the other end. "But Commander, Squadron HN are the elite. Surely a simple mission such as this could be handled by the lower ranks."
"Do as I command, Sprett," Belurce growled, "The Ambassador and I will be down shortly."
"This isn't over, Commander," Super-Skrull spat, "You've made a mockery of me from the first day I came on this vessel."
He looks around, studying the ship as a collector would study a new purchase. "The Citadel favors my talents highly, and have offered me a Command position. Perhaps I'll make this vessel my new home."
Rage boiled inside Belurce, but he controlled it. He had learned that bursting into anger was a sign of weakness, and he refused to give the Ambassador the satisfaction of an emotional outburst.
He smiled at Super-Skrull, purposefully showing his razor-sharp fangs. "After you, Ambassador," he said, every syllable laced with a threat.
Super-Skrull turned and headed for the docking bay as Belurce paused a moment, laying a firm hand on the shoulders of his personal guards.
"Don't worry, my friends," he said reassuringly, "He's powerful, but he's unwise and undisciplined. I need him now, but I assure you, before we return to the Citadel, he will be dead."
The guards nod, grabbing Belurce's arm in a silent gesture of understanding. Belurce then turned and headed for the Docking Bay, noticing Earth as he walked by one of his ship's many windows. He paused a moment, studying the blue sphere that was teeming with life.
A lovely world, he thought. A shame we won't be able to stay longer. I hear humans taste delicious, with the right spices.
In the Med area, Changeling hovered over the Durlan girl as she sipped on a bowl of chicken soup. Her sigh was the only indication she enjoyed it, as she remained silent.
Robin and Starfire stood nearby. Starfire studied the girl sympathetically.
"She probably feels just like I did when I first came to Earth," she whispered, "Alone, bewildered, scared. X'hal, I wish there was something I could do for her."
Robin slipped his arm around her waist, pulling her close to him. "She'll be fine, Kory. I don't think Gar's going to let her out of his sight. I just wish she'd say something, talk to us. If she can even understand us."
Kid Flash and Raven entered, Raven looking stronger now. They walked over to join Robin and Starfire.
"What's going on," Kid Flash said curiously, looking over at Gar and the girl.
"We're just waiting now," Robin said, "We've wrapped her arm up, fed her, but she hasn't spoken a word yet."
"Let me try to talk to her," Kid Flash said, walking over to her. He bowed a little, looking into her purplish eyes.
"We'd like to talk to you," he said slowly, dragging out each word, "Can you speak our language?"
The girl studied him with puzzlement, as if he were some bizarre alien creature.
"Way to go dork," Changeling said with a snorting laugh.
"Well at least I tried to talk to her, instead of just sitting here mooning over her. Stop drooling over her, Gar."
Changeling jumped up from his chair angrily. "Shut up! I was just trying to take care of her! You're the one who's drooling around here. I'm surprised Raven's not dripping wet by now, you hanging over her all the time."
Raven and Starfire gasped at that, as Robin grimaced.
"Come on you two, you're scaring the girl," he said sternly.
The Durlan girl's eyes widened as she shrank back on the medical bed, as if trying to retreat from the two.
Changeling gently grabbed her arm, sitting down next to her and flashing her a smile. "It's okay," he said soothingly, "I'm not going to let anything harm you."
The girl smiled at Gar, then suddenly threw her arms around him and gave him a hug. She held on to him tightly, as if he were the only person left in the universe.
"You're...choking....me," he said, as the others erupted into laughter.
The Titans defense alarm suddenly activated, wailing all about them as the surveillance monitors flared to life.
Robin ran over to them as Kid Flash shook his head at Changeling with a good-natured smile.
"Listen, Gar, I'm sorry man," he said, "I think we're all on edge today."
Gar pried himself out of the girl's grip, shooting Wally a "thumbs up". "No problem."
"What in the name of...," Robin said as two crafts appeared on the monitors, swooping from the sky and heading straight for them.
Cyborg's voice chimed in. "You guys see what I'm seein'," he said, "We got trouble here."
Everyone but the girl raced over to the monitors, where Robin was punching in commands to the system, trying to get information about the crafts.
"I see them, Vic," he said, "The computers can't identify them."
Starfire studied the screens as the craft grew larger and larger. Suddenly, she screamed, stepping back in horror.
The Durlan girl, seeing the images on the monitors, screamed as well.
"They found me," she spoke with horror.
Everyone turned to look at her.
"You do speak English," Changeling said with amazement.
Robin grabbed Starfire. "Kory, do you recognize those ships," he said.
"They're slave ships," she said, her eyes still focused on the screen, "Not the kind that I escaped from, but similar in design. The Citadel's come back for me, they're going to enslave me again."
"Like hell they will," Robin said, heading for the exit. The others followed close behind, save for Changeling. He walked over to the girl, flashing her a smile.
"Stay in here," he said with a snap of his fingers, "We'll take care of these guys, no problem."
The girl forced a smile, but a feeling of doom and hopelessness overwhelmed her.
Changeling turned and walked away, feeling equally uneasy, despite his confident words.
James Rhodes, Tony Stark's pilot, had arrived at Titans Tower when the craft appeared in the sky.
Tony studied them for a moment. He had seen hundreds of alien vessels in his life, but these were new to him.
"Head back to the city, Jim," he said, clenching his briefcase, "I'm going to help out here."
"I'll call Jarvis," Jim said, "Get the Avengers here."
"I already tried. They're all out. Now get out of here, Rhodey. Those craft mean business."
Jim reluctantly nodded, powering the helicopter and taking to the sky, racing away from the island as Tony ran to a nearby patch of forest, quickly changing for the battle to come...