By the Dawn's Early Light

by Sandra

Part 1

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
-- Francis Scott Key, 1814

He'd been in the middle of a simple robbery bust when Oracle's tense voice had called to him.

"Nightwing! The JLA needs the Titans' help immediately! Contact me as soon as you've got your team together." She broke contact before he could reply, but the urgency of her message overrode any sarcastic thoughts he might have had.

Once they had gathered at the Tower, Oracle broke the bad news: Aliens had swept in to the solar system and launched attacks on Shanghai in China, Calcutta in India, and Mexico City. The JLA had detected the incoming bombs, and had managed to save Shanghai and Calcutta, but ...

"Mexico City's gone," Oracle's electronically-disguised voice said starkly. "It appears to have been a kinetic strike, so there's no danger of nuclear fallout, but the entire city is now a crater."

Nightwing was the first to recover from the shock. "And the aliens?"

"When we backtracked the bombs, we detected a large number of ships near Mars that are headed our way. The League is preparing to go out to meet them; that's why we called you -- we need you to join with us."

The Titans needed no discussion to make this decision. Dick looked around the room at his friends and saw the same look of determination on each face.

"Count us in."

It was not the first space battle in which the Titans had fought, but it was probably the largest. The combined forces of the JLA, the Titans, and other assorted heroes were sufficient to turn back the aliens' armada. Barely. Afterwards, at the insistence of both Batman and Nightwing, the exhausted men and women gathered at the Watchtower for an after-action debriefing.

"All right. Where do we go from here?" Superman asked. While not as physically exhausted as the others, he was spiritually worn-out. He had done everything he could to avoid killing any of the attackers, but he had soon discovered that the aliens preferred suicide to capture.

"We have to assume that they will be back," Batman stated flatly. When heated disagreements broke out among the League at his statement, surprisingly, it was Aquaman who added his voice to Batman's.

"That was no raiding force. Once they have reported back to their people, they'll be back. But this time, they'll be ready for us. We need to be ready for them."

"I agree. That's why we need to get the military involved in this. We can't carry the load alone." At Nightwing's statement, and the Titans' obvious agreement, the League members (including Batman) just stared at the younger team in shock. Taking advantage of the quiet, Nightwing continued his argument. "While we were out there, I had Oracle send everything we knew about these aliens to Princess Koriand'r. Oracle, could you playback the reply she sent, please?"

On the JLA's main screen, the former Titan appeared and said gravely, "Nightwing, I am sending you all that my people know about the race that attacked you. First off, they call themselves the Ch'ton." The screen split, showing the princess on one side and an image of an upright, vaguely-insectoid-looking alien on the other. "We've never had much contact with them, but what little we had was rather unpleasant. They have a very rigid social system and consider any non-Ch'ton to be fit only as slaves or ... food. If they've decided to colonize your planet, they will only be dissuaded by force. I'm sorry; I wish I had better news for you. Attached to this message is a data-dump with all of the technical information we have. If you need anything else, please let me know. Take care."

Nightwing spoke into the continued silence, "I haven't had a chance to look through everything Kory sent, but what I saw convinced me we can't win by fighting a purely defensive war. I also know from what happened out there today that we don't have the personnel to maintain an effective defense of Earth and go on the offensive against these Ch'ton. If we gave the U.S. military access to some of the technologies available to us, they could be of trememdous help." Nightwing paused for a moment, and then continued in a lower tone, "And in the end, I think we owe it to them -- it's their planet as well."

Before anyone else could speak, Oracle said, "I think you should see something." President Pete Ross appeared on the main screen. In the background, they could see the vice-president and the speaker of the House at what was obviously a hastily-called combined session of the House and Sentate. Oracle's voice continued, "This occurred about forty-five minutes ago."

President Ross began his speech. "Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and my fellow Americans. Mere hours ago, our world was suddenly and deliberately attacked by forces from beyond our solar system. While the Justice League of America was able to thwart the attacks over Shanghai, China and Calcutta, India, the aliens utterly destroyed Mexico City. We, along with people of every nation, offer our prayers and condolences to the people of Mexico. Moreover, we join with them in their desire for justice on those who performed this reprehensible and villainous attack. We also understand that all of us must stand together in this time of global peril.

"While we remain grateful and appreciative of the efforts of heroes from both this nation and around the world who are even now engaging the enemy in deep space, we owe it to those who died, and those yet to be born, to help shoulder the burden. As Commander-in-Chief, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated attack, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

"Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces -- with the unbounded determination of our people -- we will gain the inevitable triumph -- so help us God.

"I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack on a valued and friendly ally of this country, that a state of war now exists between the United States and these unknown forces." 1

Oracle's voice returned. "They voted for war. I also have reports that the U.N. General Session is meeting to vote on the same thing -- I expect it to be pretty much a formality. The Earth is now at war."

The arguments and discussion continued, but in the end, everyone accepted Nightwing's proposal. Arranging the transfer of potentially dangerous technology set off another round of discord until the Titans' Cyborg spoke up.

"Let S.T.A.R. Labs handle it," he said in exasperation. "They're already familiar with a lot of this stuff anyway; let them work up the basic specs in conjunction with the military, and they can farm it out for bids from there."

The group agreed on this plan and chose Superman, Batman, Nightwing, and Cyborg to see President Ross to brief him on their plans. Superman decided to end the meeting on this note of congenial agreement.

Six weeks later, the aliens came back. This time, the heroes were able to defeat the aliens without any further loss of civilian life. By the third attack, the United States had begun building warships in space. When the fourth attack happened, seven months after the initial surprise attack, the League and the Titans were no longer fighting alone.

The Navy had won the inter-service shouldering match over who would control the new ships. According to rumor, the Chief of Naval Operations asked the Air Force Chief of Staff what the Air Force planned to call the person in charge on the new spacecraft. The General supposedly said, "The Cap..." and then became quiet. The Navy then successfully campaigned to have the ships designed around the aircraft carrier model, arguing that it was similar to what the heroes were already doing, and it was a strategy its personnel was already familiar with. When it came to the new fighter craft though, the Joint Chiefs decided to throw the floor open to all the services. Any pilot from any branch of service could try out for the new positions.

Nightwing had worked closely with Cyborg to develop a fighter jet for space. Much of their design was based on the existing fighters used by the JLA and the Titans, but both men felt some modifications were needed for fighting the Ch'ton. During this process, Dick also worked closely with the military's test pilots who were being asked for their input. It took the fighter jocks awhile to accept him into their "club," but that changed once they saw the tapes of his and Vic's work in the third space battle.

The aliens' tactics were to use their small fighters to engage the heroes while the large ships tried to attack Earth itself. In response, the heroes used their fighters against the large ships, forcing the aliens to break off their attacks or else shoot their own ships. Superman and Green Lantern were responsible for making sure no one broke through to attack Earth. In the third battle, not only were Dick and Victor able to take out a large number of alien fighters, but they managed to take out one of the large ships as well.

As the war pervaded more and more of society, Dick started to wonder if he was really doing the most good as a crimefighter on Earth or even as one of the defenders in space. The JLA/Titans team was still needed as a defense of Earth, but on a much smaller scale now that the military was in a position to take the fight out of the solar system and towards the aliens' home planet. Just after the anniversary of the bombing of Mexico City, a solely military force engaged the aliens before they entered the solar system. Dick was not egotistical enough to think that his joining the military could win the war, but he began to think that he could do more good there. When he saw that the Navy was recruiting pilots, especially those with jet experience, he applied. Then he had to tell Bruce...

Bruce didn't shout at him. Or rail at him. Or try to persuade him not to do it. Bruce simply stood there and looked at him. Said, "I see." And then turned away. Said, "Well, good luck, then. I'm sure you'll do well." And that was it.

Dick did do well in flight school. He knew he could say that without boasting. For the first time since his parents were killed, Dick threw himself into performing his best as Dick Grayson. Or rather Richard Grayson. When he had joined the Navy, he decided to go by Richard to lessen the possibility that someone would connect him with his wealthy former guardian and try to keep him out of combat.

And he had made it. He had the wings and the ensign's rank to prove it. He had just received orders to ship out for the carrier Texas in four days' time. He had just one thing to do before he left, and that was why he was sitting in a car gathering his courage.

Taking a deep breath, he got out of the car, walked into the building, and rode the elevator up to his destination. Before he rang the doorbell, he quickly ran a comb through his hair and checked to see that his wing insignia and ensign's bar were straight. When the door opened though, he suddenly forgot his planned speech, his reasoned arguments, and fell back on an old, old dream.

Going down on one knee in his dress whites, he took a small box out of his pocket and offered it to the startled woman in front of him.

"Barbara Gordon, will you marry me?"

** End Part 1 **

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1 A good chunk of President Ross's speech has been lifted from FDR's "Pearl Harbor" speech. If you're going to swipe, swipe the good stuff. **g** (c.f. http://w3.one.net/~mweiler/ushda/infamy.htm for the full text of his speech -- well worth reading)