Xavier Institute, Westchester, New York, September 7, 2008

The autumn air was crisp and cool as the afternoon sun shone over the Xavier Institute, newly rebuilt from the attack a few months previous, with building supplies still dotting the beautiful landscape of the front and back yards. Within the Institute, everything was quiet, as the students had gathered in the living room, watching the news, waiting for the special report to begin.

Scott "Cyclops" Summers, the 18-year-old leader of the X-Men, was sitting on the couch, in his usual blue jeans and brown sweater, his ruby-quartz shades over his eyes. Sitting next to him was his much-beloved girlfriend Jean Grey – who had recently given herself the codename "Phoenix" – also 18, in her usual light rose long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans, her emerald eyes closed contentedly as she leaned on Scott's shoulder, her ruby hair lightly brushed over her shoulder. "Hey, Kurt," Scott called out, "is Amanda and her family watching the news, too?"

Standing a few feet behind them, clad in light brown slacks and a white t-shirt was 17-year-old Kurt "Nightcrawler" Wagner, with his image-inducer switched off, in his true form, complete with blue fur, gold eyes, and tridactyl hands and feet, looked up from the phone, where he'd been talking to his girlfriend, Amanda. "Ja, zhey're vatching it, now." the German-born youth replied. He gulped. "'Mandy said zat her parents are still a bit nervous about her dating a mutant."

Jean smiled. "Don't worry, Kurt; the second they meet you, they'll love you!"

Kurt smiled. "Zhanks, Jean."

Sitting on the floor near the TV was 17-year-old Kitty "Shadowcat" Pryde, in her usual blue capris, white t-shirt and light pink sweater, her chestnut hair in its usual ponytail, her baby-blue eyes sparkling happily as she leaned back into the embrace of her boyfriend 18-year-old Lance "Avalanche" Alvers, in his usual black t-shirt, brown vest, and blue jeans. Lance smiled to himself, absently running a hand through his brown hair as he savoured having Kitty this close to him. Kitty's smile was interrupted by a worried frown. "Guys, I hope Clark doesn't miss this! I mean, he and the League pretty much saved Genosha! They all should get to see this!"

Chuckling, Lance answered, "Don't worry about Big Blue, Pretty Kitty; I mean, with those eyes and ears of his, he can see the whole thing from space!"

Kitty smiled. "True!" she agreed.

In the corner of the room, 17-year-old Rogue, in her usual short black skirt, black tank-top and semi-transparent green blouse, sat at the poker table across from her sort-of-boyfriend, 18-year-old, red-and-black-eyed Remy "Gambit" LeBeau, clad in his usual black t-shirt, black jeans, and brown trenchcoat.

Rogue's green eyes danced with merriment, brushing a strand of white-streaked auburn hair out of her eyes…before showing her cards. "Full House, Cajun."

Remy chuckled. "As always, chere, y' be more den a match fo' Remy."

In her seat next to the couch, 18-year-old Alison "Power Girl" Blaire sat with her guitar in her lap, clad in her pink tank-top and blue jeans, her long, strawberry-blonde hair tied in a ponytail. The young part-Kryptonian mutant's sapphire eyes narrowed in deep thought, as she absently strummed her guitar…before smiling to herself, and jotting a few music notes down on her incomplete sheet music, adding the next few notes to her latest song.

Just then, Evan "Spyke" Daniels, a 17-year-old African-American youth with cru-cut-short bleached hair and dark eyes, walked into the living room, clad in his usual light-brown khaki pants and white sleeveless t-shirt. "Is the news on, yet, guys?" he asked.

Jean smiled. "No, Evan; you didn't miss anything."

Sitting in the chair to the left of Scott and Jean was 17-year-old Wanda "Scarlet Witch" Maximoff, the newest addition to both the Institute and the X-Men team. Wanda was clad in her usual black leather pants and dark red vest, her favourite Egyptian ankh-pendant around her throat. Her blue eyes were lightly narrowed as she read her latest book on Wicca, pausing to brush a strand of her mid-length, red-tipped raven hair out of her eyes; some time after she'd formally joined the Institute, she'd decided to let her hair grow out, a bit.

Scattered about the room were the rest of the Institute's students, the New Mutants. Bobby "Iceman" Drake, in his blue t-shirt and jeans, and Jubilation "Jubilee," Lee, clad in her usual light mauve t-shirt, violet slacks, and light-yellow sweater, had both just walked in from the kitchen after getting a couple of sodas. Sensing that the drinks weren't quite cold enough, the 15-year-old sandy-blond-haired youth quickly assumed his frozen-form, and exhaled over both sodas, chilling them, before returning to normal, earning a giggle from the 15-year-old pyrotechnic.

Sitting on the edge of the stairs, in her blue jeans and dark-rose short-sleeved blouse, was 17-year-old Tabitha "Boom-Boom" Smith, her CD player on her lap as she listened to her favourite tunes…seconds before she got up, walking over to where one of their instructors, the blue-furred, ape-like Dr. Hank "Beast" McCoy, in his usual black sweater and brown slacks, was playing chest with the silver-coloured Mark, A.K.A. "Android," who was currently clad in a white t-shirt and blue jeans. "How's it going, Hank?" the blonde pyrokinetic inquired.

Hank sighed. "Not quite so well." he answered, as he moved a rook to take Mark's queen. "Now, believe that should be..!"

Mark smiled…before moving a knight to take the queen. "Checkmate." Mark said, in his soft, electronic voice.

Hank sighed. "That's five out of five games; far from my usual proficiency."

"Please note, Dr. McCoy, that it has taken me a progressively longer series of moves to achieve checkmate. You are improving."

Hank chuckled. "True, but I'm still no match for your brute-force."

Tabitha blinked. "Come again?"

"To solve new problems, computers utilize a process known as brute-force." Mark explained. "If a computer system does not inherently 'know' a given solution, it is programmed to try every possible solution until it finds the best outcome, given the parameters. Given current Earth-based computing technology, as problems become more complex, with more possible solutions, brute-force becomes increasingly more time-consuming, but eventual success is a mathematical certainty."

Hank chuckled. "Of course, with Mark's billions of nano-computers, calculating possible chess-moves is a cake-walk!"

Tabitha smiled. "Yeah, I guess so!"

By then, blond-orange-streaked-haired Ray "Berzerker" Crisp and Brazilian youth Roberto "Sunspot" DeCosta, both 15 and clad in shorts and sleeveless t-shirts, walked into the Institute, having finished their basketball game. Seconds later, they were followed by numerous copies of 12-year-old, brown-haired, hazel-eyed Jamie "Multiple" Madrox, in his usual grey t-shirt and brown slacks, with one copy holding a frizbee. As Jamie's copies all recombined back into one Jamie, a reddish-brown-furred wolf walked in after him…before it quickly shifted into 15-year-old Rahne "Wolfsbane" Sinclair, in her usual brown khaki pants and green tank-top, her light-red hair tied in two short pigtails. Seconds later, they were followed by 15-year-old Sam "Cannonball" Guthrie, in his usual black t-shirt, blue jeans, and blue vest; the three of them had been playing catch, a few minutes previous, since the weather had been nice.

Outside the Institute, Ororo "Storm" Munroe knelt by her garden as she finished planting her flower-bulbs for next spring, clad in her simple gardening trousers and a white t-shirt, her long, cloud-white hair – a sharp contrast to her chocolate skin – tied back by a bandana. A few feet to her right was 15-year-old Amara "Magma" Aquila, helping her by pulling the few remaining weeds. Amara's long, dark chestnut hair, matching her tawny complexion, was tied back in a ponytail, keeping it out of her brown eyes as she dug out the few stubborn weeds with a trowel, her gardening trousers and green t-shirt growing thicker with dust as she helped her instructor.

In the living room, standing to the side, a few feet away from the students, Logan, or "Wolverine," leaned casually against a nearby wall, calmly sipping a beer. The Canadian-born mutant was in his usual faded jeans and white t-shirt, watching the TV with his usual semi-indifference. "Hey, Chuck." he called out. "It should be on in a few."

Smiling to himself, Professor Charles Xavier, the Headmaster of the Institute, in his usual blacks slacks, black long-sleeved shirt and brown sweater, rolled his wheelchair into the living room. "This will certainly be a momentous occasion," the bald telepath mused, "wouldn't you agree, Raven?"

Walking into the living room after Charles, the Institute's newest instructor, the former S.H.I.E.L.D. informant Raven "Mystique" Darkholme nodded in slightly-disbelieving agreement. The azure-skinned, red-haired, amber-eyed metamorph was clad in black slacks and a black tank-top, accentuating her lean frame. "One year ago, if anyone had told me that mutants would have their own nation, let alone that said country would be represented in the UN, I would have called them insane." Raven said.

Charles chuckled. "Yes, we've certainly come a fair way, these past few months."

"But not too far." Logan said. "Just take a look at those 'F.O.H.' bastards."

Scott sighed, nodding glumly. "Yeah." he agreed; it was a harsh fact that, despite their best efforts, along with those of the League, mutants were still viewed with hatred by some people.

'But not all people.' Jean telepathically interjected through their link. 'A lot of people have started accepting our presence, Slim – just as many as those who hate us.' She smiled. 'Between us and the League, with any luck, we can change even more people's minds.'

Scott smiled at that; over the past few months since the Justice League's inception, the X-Men had worked with them on numerous mutant-related crises. 'It's nice to know we're good for something.' he mentally quipped, earning a chuckle from Jean. Aloud, he added, "I hear we're expecting a few new students."

Jean nodded. "Yeah; I think they're coming later today." she answered. "Right, Professor?"

Charles nodded. "Yes, Jean; our new students will be arriving, later this afternoon." he said. "With any luck, Clark will have finished his daily patrols with the League and can join us in greeting them."

Lance grinned. "Yeah, they're probably gonna want to meet the 'Man of Tomorrow'."

Evan chuckled. "Gotta admit, that JJ guy coined a cool nickname for CK."

"Speaking of which, I was just saying that I hope Clark doesn't miss this." Kitty said, still a bit worried.

"Don't worry, Kitty." Ororo said, as she and Amara walked in, having caught the tail-end of the conversation. "I'm sure that Clark won't miss anything."

"Yeah!" Jamie agreed. "Clark and the League are probably just out catching a falling airplane, or something!"

Bobby chuckled. "Probably, squirt." he said.

Looking up from her book, Wanda smiled, and said, "Hey, Blondie, any news from the Boy Scout?"

Smiling back, Alison shook her head. "Sorry, guys; Clarkie's been incommunicado, all day."

Sam whistled. "They must be busy."

"Aye." Rahne agreed, in her Scottish lilt. "'Tis no small task, to monitor an entire planet for trouble."

"Isn't their new headquarters up-and-running, yet?" Jubilee asked.

"I'm not sure." Scott answered. "Last time I asked, they were just putting the finishing touches on it; it might be…"

Amara looked confused. "Could they not have simply used Clark's Fortress?" the Nova Roman girl inquired.

Alison shook her head. "No, 'Mara; the League wanted their HQ to be in neutral territory, to reflect their intention to help the entire world, and the Fortress is technically on Atlantis' turf." she explained. "They also didn't want to rely too much on Kryptonian technology, especially given what Clark said about Krypton's ancient law of non-interference." She smiled. "Clark and the League are trying to provide an example."

Suddenly, Alison's cell-phone started to ring, and she promptly answered it. "Hello?"

"Hi, Ali."

At the sound of her boyfriend's voice, Alison instantly smiled. "Clarkie! Hi, baby!" she exclaimed. "How are you?"

Remy chuckled. "Merde, dat homme got good ears." he quipped.

"Oh, I'm fine, taushi." Clark answered Alison. "Mr. Jameson just has me covering the arrival of the new Genoshan ambassador here at the UN Building; I'm on my way there, now."

Alison nodded; shortly after things had started to settle into something resembling a routine, Clark had approached the owner of the Daily Bugle newspaper, J. Jonah Jameson, asking to work part-time as a reporter with the paper, so that he could continue working in the field he had come to love, as well as gaining valuable experience for the dissertation he would likely have to write, this year. "That's great, tausha." Alison replied. "And what about your…other job?"

Clark chuckled. "So far today, the League and I have had to extinguish a forest-fire in Brazil, break up an arms-deal in Northern Ireland, rescue an oil-tanker in distress in the Pacific, and intercept a drug shipment coming through Miami, as well as that potential nuclear meltdown in Iran, a few days ago."

Alison laughed. "Sounds like you guys were busy!" she exclaimed.

"So, what have Clark and the League been up to?" Jamie inquired.

Alison smiled. "Oh…just a normal day."

Tabitha arched an eyebrow. "You do realize that Big Blue's concept of a 'normal day' could make most people run screaming from the room, right?"

At that, Clark chuckled on the phone. "Oh, and in case Tabitha asks, 'normal' isn't something I'd use to describe my day!"

Alison giggled. "No kidding!"

"Anyway, taushi, how's your new song coming?"

Alison smiled. "It's going fine, tausha; I was just putting the finishing touches on it." she replied. Her smile grew. "It may not be quite as big a hit as 'True Blue,' but I think it'll sound great!"

Clark chuckled. "Taushi, any song from your voice sounds great."

Alison laughed. "Flatterer!"

"Query: when will the Genoshan ambassador be arriving?" Mark asked.

"He should be arriving at the airport fairly soon, Mark." Bobby answered.

"So, after you cover the Ambassador's arrival, do you have any plans?" Alison asked.

"Well, I'll still have to do one more patrol to do with Wally and J'onn." Clark answered. "And, after that, we had a little surprise for you guys."

Alison smiled. "Well, just don't forget that we're still expecting some new students today, baby; the Professor said that he'd like all of us to be there!"

"Oh, I haven't forgotten, taushi; I'll be there, don't worry!"

By then, the special news report had started, showing the image of an anchorwoman standing outside the UN Building, where a large crowd had gathered. "This is Leanne Mitchell with Channel Six News, reporting live from the UN Building in New York, where the new UN Ambassador to the newly-formed nation of Genosha is scheduled to arrive within the hour!"

"Hey, it's starting!" Roberto exclaimed.

"Ever since its discovery – and rescue by Superman and the Justice League – the previously all-mutant nation of Genosha has undergone a rapid face-lift." Leanne continued. "Several weeks after the Sentinel Incident, the country officially opened its borders to non-mutants as well as mutants. Several weeks after that, the country held its first free elections, before petitioning for recognition by the UN…and now, their Ambassador is set to arrive from the airport within the hour!"

Smiling, Alison said, "I guess you need to get to work, baby; I'd better let you go."

"Okay, Ali; I'll talk to you, soon." Clark answered. "Hey, maybe after we meet the new students, we could…" but he paused, his voice growing distant. "Uh-oh."

Alison knew that phrase all too well. "What's wrong?" she asked, concerned.

"No time to explain, taushi." Clark answered. "We've got trouble. I'll call back as soon as I can."

"Okay." Alison replied. "Just be careful, okay, Clarkie?"

"I will, Ali. Love you."

"Love you, too." Alison answered softly, before the call ended.

As Alison switched off her cell-phone, Rahne looked concerned. "What's wrong?" she inquired.

"Clark must have heard something." Alison replied.

"Uh, boy." Ray groaned. "So, what's the problem?"

"He didn't say." Alison replied…before her half-Kryptonian hearing started picking up what Clark must have heard; a transmission on an Ultra-High Frequency channel, detailing…

Alison's eyes went wide. "Oh, no…"


New York City, New York

The afternoon sun was shining over New York City as the limousine carrying the Genoshan Ambassador drove through the city, heading for the United Nations Headquarters, flanked by four escort vehicles. Inside the limo, the Ambassador – Gregory Michaels, a 28-year-old Caucasian mutant with the ability to alter the pigment of his skin – sat, reviewing the numerous important documents that he would need, before nervously smoothing out the wrinkles in his navy business suit.

It had been a bit difficult, petitioning the UN for representation in the General Assembly, but finally, all of their hard work had paid off. With any luck, this would help mutant/human relations around the world…

Suddenly, an explosion rocked the road ahead of them, nearly sending Greg tumbling from his seat, his entire skin turning white with surprise as the limo and the escort-cars screeched to a stop, before he heard the sounds of gunshots…

"Out of the car, mutie!!!"

At that shout, the door was pulled open, and Greg was dragged roughly out of the vehicle by black-clad men armed with automatic and semi-automatic weapons – although one was carrying a grenade-launcher, which had clearly been the explosion he'd heard…

…but all of them were wearing black armbands with the letters 'F.O.H.' written on them in white.

Greg's eyes widened; these were the Friends of Humanity, the notorious anti-mutant, human-supremacist group. Looking around, Greg suppressed a gulp as he saw that the security detail – who'd only been armed with light weapons – had been rounded up by two dozen of the soldiers.

As his comrades dragged Greg out of the car, the lead soldier simply sneered at him…before slamming the butt of his rifle across Greg's face, sending him sprawling, dazed. After hitting the pavement, Greg could vaguely feel them pick him up, and load him into a vehicle…and then…oblivion.

"Mr. Ambassador, sir! Are you alright?"

When Greg came to, he was sitting on the cold concrete floor of an old warehouse, along with the dozen guards that had been assigned to him, their wrists bound, with numerous armed guards around them, all wearing 'F.O.H.' armbands. "Ugh…yes, I'm okay." Greg answered. "Where are we?"

"Not sure, sir." one security guard answered.

Greg's eyes narrowed worriedly. "And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why, does it?" he asked rhetorically.

"Not bad, mutie."

Turning, Greg spotted the lead soldier, flanked by two more. "Take him." he said to his comrades; promptly, the two armed thugs walked over, roughly picking Greg up and dragging him to another part of the warehouse…where a web-camera had been set up.

"So," Greg inquired, "any particular reason why you guys haven't killed me, given your 'policies' on mutants?"

He was answered with a rifle-butt to his side. "Today, mutie, we're going to send a message to your filthy kind, as well as any that side with you." the leader snapped.

As Greg was tossed in front of the web-cam, the leader nodded to the soldier operating it, telling him to start broadcasting; Greg suppressed another gulp – he knew this was going to be bad.

He was right.

"People of planet Earth," the leader said into the camera, "we are the Friends of Humanity. Our mission is to protect the human race – the decent, hard-working men and women that have made our people great – from the unnatural filth that currently infests our planet. We will not rest until every freak – mutant, alien, or otherwise – is purged from our world."

His eyes narrowed. "However, despite our efforts against the mutant menace, there are those more complacent, less willing to take a stand against this threat; bleeding-heart liberals who have not only allowed these muties to gain a foothold on our planet, but have actually given recognition to this 'freak-state'!"

"Well, we intend to correct that little mistake."

The leader turned, and aimed his revolver at Greg, whose eyes went wide. "Take a good look, muties of the world," he snarled, "because this is exactly what we plan to do to the rest of you! This is what we think of your 'freak-nation'! Your 'Ambassador' dies today; without question, without compromise!"

Turning back to the camera, the leader continued, "As for the fate of the traitors who tried to protect the mutie, that depends on the bleeding-heart species-traitors; in exchange for the safe return of these men, the U.S. government is to release an equal number of our brave fighters – who were rounded up by either the U.S.-backed 'Avengers' or by the 'League' of that God-damned alien – among them Dr. Bolivar Trask, the genius who developed our mighty defenders of humanity, the Sentinels. We will wait one hour; if the traitors do not comply by then…they will have condemned their lackeys to death."

The leader glared into the camera. "Any attempt to circumvent us will mean the immediate execution of every traitor we captured; their lives mean nothing to us – if you side with the enemy, as far as we're concerned, you're the same as they are!" His eyes narrowed hatefully. "Do you hear that, alien?! If you and your 'Justice League' try anything, every single one of them will be executed!"

With that, he turned to Greg, drawing his revolver and taking aim. "For humanity!!" he declared; as his finger tightened on the trigger, Greg closed his eyes…

…as he faintly heard a sonic-boom in the distance…


A few minutes earlier

The skies over New York City's main sea-port were completely silent, the tranquility broken only by the intermittent cawing of seagulls…

Suddenly, a red-and-blue blur streaked across the sky, shaking the air as it passed by, causing the gulls to squawk in utter surprise, as the blur soared into New York City, heading for the old warehouse district…before it slowed to cruising speed…

…revealing a tall, powerfully built young man of 21, clad in a blue bodysuit, accentuating his muscular arms and legs, as well as his chiselled torso, with tight red shorts, red boots, a yellow belt, and a long, red cape, with the crest of a stylized 'S' emblazoned in red upon the chest of the suit, within a red-outlined yellow diamond. His sky-blue eyes were narrowed in determination, and his short, black hair was slick against his head, with only a few spiky tufts arcing down across his forehead, blown to the side as he soared across the city, his ultra-sensitive hearing tracking the live web-cast going out over the air-waves, now…

"Boy-Scout calling Javelin-1." Superman said into his earpiece, linked to his belt-buckle communicator. "I've got a fix on our perps; they're broadcasting from a warehouse on the west side."

"We see them." came Batman's voice over the air-waves. "The Javelin's sensors show about two-dozen heat-signatures, with about another dozen under guard."

"The hostages." Superman agreed, his eyes flashing electric-blue as he used his X-Ray vision, looking far ahead to see through the warehouse walls. "I see them. Anything we need to be careful of?"

"I've got about ten more in a nearby warehouse." Batman replied. "I'm also getting intermittent electromagnetic signals scattered around the holding area; they've littered explosives around the warehouse. They appear to have the same arming frequency…"

"Meaning that one trigger could detonate them all."

"Or disarm them." Batman added. "This type of signal looks like a remote-detonation rig; those few in the nearby warehouse could be a safeguard, in case something goes wrong. We could access it from the Javelin, but without the right code, we could just as easily set them off."

Superman smiled wryly. "So, I guess you and J'onn will be having a little chat with those guys."

"Wonder Woman and Flash are en route, Boy-Scout; if you three and the Pooch attack quickly enough, they'll be too disoriented to call for backup…"

"…giving you more time to shut off those bombs." Superman finished. "We're on it, Black Knight."

"Superman," came the calm voice of J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, "I've just gotten a telepathic fix on our perpetrators: they have an escape route planned, with several vehicles waiting near the docks, along with several guards." J'onn paused. "They also plan to detonate the bombs even if their demands are met…with the other hostages inside."

Superman's eyes narrowed. "You copy that, Green Lantern?"

"Loud and clear, Blue-Boy. Hawkgirl, Aquaman and I will block off their escape route."

"Understood." Superman answered. "Okay, people, lives are at stake! Let's hit them hard and fast!" As he ended the transmission, he slowed his flight…allowing Krypto the Superdog – a sleek, white-furred dog with slightly floppy ears and a fairly bushy tail, with a high-tech collar around his throat, a red, nano-fiber cape extending back from the collar – to catch up with him, flying alongside his master. "You ready, boy?"

"Arf!" Krypto barked happily, always eager to help.

"Good to hear!" Superman said, smiling. His eyes narrowed as his eyes got a fix on the lead F.O.H. soldier…just about to shoot the Ambassador…

"Follow me, boy!" Superman instructed, as he accelerated to top speed, moving at Mach Five, soaring towards the warehouse, leaving a sonic boom in his wake…

The lead soldier's finger had just tightened on the trigger…the gun roaring as the bullet left the barrel, streaking towards the Ambassador…

Instantly, Superman burst through the warehouse's roof, darting in front of the Ambassador just before the bullet hit him, causing the bullet to bounce harmlessly off his chest.

As the lead soldier's eyes went wide in surprise, Superman's eyes narrowed, before he fired an invisible eye-ray, superheating the revolver, causing the soldier to howl in pain, dropping the weapon.

Snarling in anger, the two soldiers flanking the leader started to draw their weapons…but their aim was wrecked as Krypto flew in after his master, tackling into one soldier and sending him sprawling, before growling in feral fury as he pounced on the other, biting his arm, forcing him to drop his weapon.

Hearing the commotion, a half-dozen light-armed F.O.H. soldiers emerged from further into the warehouse. Before they could open fire and endanger the Ambassador, Superman put himself between them and the Ambassador, before he deeply inhaled…and unleashed a blast of his gale-force breath, sending all six of them sprawling. Seconds later, another dozen emerged, following their comrades, armed to the teeth, ready to open fire…

Just then, another blur smashed through the roof of the warehouse, before stopping to hover above the assembled soldiers, revealing itself as a fairly tall, elegant-yet-athletically-built young woman, with long ebony hair, and bright blue eyes, clad in an armoured garment that looked like a hybrid of plate armour and a one-piece swimsuit, the upper half coloured bright red, with a golden-metal 'W' crest across her ample chest, with the lower half a dark blue, dotted with white stars, a golden metal strip encircling her waist, joining the two halves. A single-star-design, golden tiara encircled her forehead, with silver metal armlets around her wrists, and simple sandals upon her feet, with a shining golden lasso clipped to her waist.

Her eyes narrowing, Wonder Woman drew her lasso, gave it a quick spin, and threw it, snagging one soldier, before spinning him around and tossing him into the others, sending six of them sprawling. The remaining six took aim at her, and opened fire; with precision timing, Wonder Woman blocked each and every shot with her armlets…

…and then, their guns were suddenly gone, as a crimson streak darted in, zipping among them at inconceivable speed, snatching their weapons away before they could even blink, before coming to a stop…revealing a young man of around 20, of a lean, athletic frame, clad in a full red bodysuit, with a red cowl hiding the upper part of his face, with twin lightning-bolts on the sides of the cowl, and a lightning-bolt crest upon the suit's chest.

The Flash grinned. "Sorry I'm late." he quipped. "There was a fire over in British Columbia, a minute ago; couple firefighters needed evacuating!"

Superman chuckled. "Better late than never."

Touching down, Wonder Woman saw the remaining six starting to recover from the shock of being disarmed. "Our friends here do not seem to have gotten the message."

Superman's eyes narrowed. "Well, then," he said, "let's explain it to them." With that, as the soldiers charged, he inhaled, and released a burst of absolute-zero-degree air from his lungs, aiming not at the soldiers, but at the floor just ahead of them, freezing it solid.

As the soldiers blindly rushed at them, they blundered onto the ice, starting to slip and slide wildly, going from a paramilitary force to a bunch of goofballs in trouble.

With their foes momentarily disabled, the three heroes and canine companion moved in to finish the job. As Superman closed on one soldier, the soldier took a swing at him…and howled in agony as his fist smacked harmlessly against Superman's invulnerable frame, before falling to the ground, moaning in agony. Spotting another F.O.H. goon coming at him, Superman merely flicked him in the chest with his finger…which was more than enough to send him flying, utterly dazed.

Taking advantage of Superman's attack, Flash darted towards the ice at high speed…and stopped running the instant his feet hit the ice, letting his momentum carry him through, as he zipped towards one soldier, before slamming him with a punch…sending him sprawling into the path of the goon that Superman had sent flying, causing them to crash into each other. Reaching the other side, Flash turned and darted back onto the ice, sliding straight for the two soldiers as they were trying to get up, his momentum turning him into a bowling-ball as he tackled into them, knocking them out as he slid to the other side, not a hair out of place.

As one soldier came at her, Wonder Woman blocked his initial swing, countering with a punch of her own, sending him flying into another, knocking them both down. As they started to get up, Wonder Woman drew her lasso and threw it, snagging them both, before pulling on the shining rope, yanking the two racist goons off of their feet and whirling them around, before giving her lasso the tiniest flick, causing it to release them, sending them flying to the side, landing hard, out cold, as the lasso-end floated lazily back into Wonder Woman's hand. Turning, she spotted one more soldier coming at her…but the soldier suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, howling in pain, before staggering away…revealing Krypto, holding the bitten-off seat of the soldier's pants in his mouth.

With the F.O.H. forces dispatched, Superman quickly moved to check on the Ambassador, helping him to his feet, easily snapping the plastic cord on his wrists. "Are you alright, Mr. Ambassador?"

"Ugh…yes, yes I'm fine." the Ambassador replied.

Flash whistled. "Well, you Genoshans really know how to throw a party!"

The Ambassador chuckled…before his eyes went wide. "My security detail is still being held nearby..!"

"We'll rescue them, Mr. Ambassador." Wonder Woman assured him. "You needn't worry…"

"You God-damn freaks…"

Turning, they all saw the lead soldier stagger to his feet next to the wrecked web-camera, holding his hand, burned from his gun. "We told you to stay away!!" he roared, before taking out a hand-held detonator trigger. "Well, now you'll see just how serious we are!!!"

And with that, before anyone could stop him, he thumbed down the trigger…


A few minutes earlier

"I don't like this, man…"

In an abandoned warehouse a few blocks away from where the majority of their squad was holding the mutie ambassador, the ten F.O.H. soldiers on stand-by could do little but wait. "What's to understand, Frank?" the soldier in charge grumbled. "We're just supposed to wait here in case something goes wrong, simple as that."

"Hey, I get that, chief." another soldier said. "It's just that…Sarge specifically told those 'Justice League' freaks to stay away…and with that alien's hearing, that sorta thing's practically an engraved invitation…"

The first soldier smirked. "…and if they come, we blow 'em all to hell." he said. "If we're lucky, we'll take most of 'em down with us; if not, we'll still be sending a message to all freaks – take down the big ones, and the fight goes out of the rest…"

Suddenly, the lights all went out, blanketing the entire warehouse in darkness.

"What the..?!" one soldier shouted.

"Everyone, cool it!" the lead soldier snapped. "It's just a power-surge; this warehouse is just old, that's all…"

But he was cut off as an overhead light fell from the ceiling, crashing onto the head of one soldier, knocking him out.

"Holy..!!" Frank cried.

The leader scowled. "It was just an accident, Frank…"

"No way was that an accident!!" Frank cried. "It's Him!!"

The leader sneered. "Who? The alien?"

"No…the Bat!!" Frank cried. "That lamp was aimed right at us, chief!! The Bat's here, and he's toyin' with us!!!"

At that, every other soldier went silent. The leader snarled; he had to squash this now. "Alright, that's enough!" he snapped. "If there's anything here, we'll take care of it...!"

His bold words turned into a scream of horror as an unseen line pulled tight around his feet, yanking him off the floor and pulling him up towards the shadowed rafters, out of sight. Instantly, the remaining eight soldiers turned their weapons up towards the ceiling, ready for an attack from above.

For several agonizingly long seconds, there was silence…and then, a shadow dropped towards them at terrible speed, landing hard at their feet.

It was their leader.

As the eight now-terrified soldiers pondered this dark omen, it was only out of the corner of their eyes that they saw the demonic shadow drop, landing without so much as a sound…but as they saw him, they all froze.

He was tall, all muscle, like some terrible hybrid of man and bat. His main body was grey, with a black bat-crest upon his chest, and a yellow belt – full of all sorts of nasty gadgets – around his waist. His hands were black, ending in terrible claws, and his boots were black, with a pair of black wings folded around him like a cloak. His head was the most terrifying of all: completely black, with spiky bat-like ears at the top, with the only trace of humanity being the human mouth and chin, jutting out like an afterthought…and his eyes…his eyes were a narrow, lidless, soulless pair of dead white orbs, glaring at them with nothing but a hunger for vengeance.

None of the soldiers dared to make a move against this demon…for there was no doubt in their minds that he was exactly that; he had come from hell

…and he was going to take them back with him..!!


Seeing the F.O.H. soldiers freeze up at the sight of him, Batman narrowed his eyes, serving to terrify them even further…before he threw a razor-sharp Batarang with deadly accuracy; the bat-shaped boomerang whirled through the air, striking three soldiers in a perfect arc, causing them to drop their weapons, before whirling back to his hand. Sparing not even a second, Batman closed on the nearest soldier, slamming him with a punch to his solar plexus, doubling him over, before following with a knee to his face, dropping him like a sack of potatoes.

Batman then rolled towards another soldier, automatically rising into a fighting stance; to the soldier, frightened and hindered by the darkness, it would have appeared that he had just vanished and reappeared right in front of him. Before the soldier could react, Batman slammed the side of his abdomen with a hammer-fist strike, followed by a low-sweep kick, shattering his knee. The soldier howled in agony, but Batman silenced him with an elbow-strike to the face, followed by a back-fist to his temple, knocking him out.

As the soldier fell, Batman turned, his honed senses having picked up the desperate cry of a third soldier rushing at him, nearly overcome with fright, swinging his rifle-butt at him. Batman easily leaned away from the strike, before blocking the follow-up strike and driving his fist into the man's armpit, striking a nerve cluster and rendering the arm useless. As the soldier dropped his weapon, Batman grabbed him by the collar and, exactly as he'd planned, threw him towards a nearby wall.

As the soldier stumbled towards the wall, a muscular, green-skinned, semi-transparent arm phased itself through the wall to grab the soldier by the collar and yank him into the wall, knocking him out…seconds before a very tall, powerfully built, green-skinned, red-eyed humanoid being clad in blue shorts, blue boots, blue cross-belts and a blue cape walked through the wall, before becoming fully solid.

The Martian Manhunter's red eyes narrowed as another soldier ran at him, not moving an inch, as he simply altered the density of his body, becoming harder than the hardest stone; the soldier's punch connected solidly on his face…before he howled in agony, staggering back. Snarling, the soldier drew his revolver, taking aim; the Manhunter simply gestured at his foe, his eyes glowing bright white…as the revolver's barrel jammed. Before the soldier could recover from the shock, the Manhunter telekinetically grabbed him and pulled forward, where he slammed him with a punch, sending him flying.

Seeing two more soldiers closing on Batman, the Manhunter's eyes glowed white as he extended his hands towards them, clenched his fists, and quickly crossed them; the two thugs were suddenly levitated off their feet…before they slammed into each other, knocking each other out. Turning towards his teammate, Batman fixed him with a mildly annoyed glare, before turning to the last soldier, closing on him; the soldier blindly swung at him, but Batman blocked his punch, whirling his arm into a lock and smashing his elbow, before jabbing his thumb into a nerve cluster to the right of his throat, instantly knocking him out. With the immediate threats neutralized, Batman turned to the one dispatched thug that was regaining consciousness; it was time for a little chat.

As Frank staggered to his feet, his eyes widened in horror as he saw the Batman stalking towards him…and then, the Batman started to change; his hands turned into deadly, dripping claws, his eyes starting to glow a malevolent red, his mouth growing terrible fangs…

'He is a demon!!!' Frank mentally wailed…not even noticing the white glow of the Manhunter's eyes.

In seconds, the Bat-monster had closed on him, grabbing him by the collar and lifting him off of his feet with unholy strength. "Please, please, please don't hurt me!!!" Frank bawled.

The Batman's demonic eyes narrowed. "You weren't planning on sparing any of your prisoners!" he snarled, in a ground-glass-on-sandpaper voice, growling like a wind from hell. "Why should I spare YOU?!!"

Frank's eyes widened in horror; the Batman knew!! "I'll do whatever you want!!" Frank cried.

"Your friends set up bombs around this area, set to go off with one command!" the Bat-monster roared. "The disarming code has to be sent on a specific frequency; WHAT IS IT?!!"

Frank gulped. "I…I can't…"


"It's 456 MHz!!" Frank wailed. "It's just a standard disarming command; any standard transmitter can send it! Send the command on that frequency, and the bombs will go dead! I SWEAR!!!"

Snarling, the Bat-monster simply slammed Frank against the ground, knocking him into sweet oblivion…but that was fine with him; anything to get away from the Batman.

His interrogation complete, Batman turned to the Manhunter. "You altered his perceptions."

"We needed him to be forthcoming." J'onn replied. "Since he was already terrified of you, I simply amplified his fears."

Batman's expression remained in its neutral semi-glare. "I could have handled those two."

J'onn chuckled. "I know." he said. His expression turned grave. "I will return to the Javelin, and broadcast the disarming signal."

Batman nodded. "I'll meet up with Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash; follow us as soon as you can." With that, the two of them hurried off.

As he phased himself back through the walls, heading for the Javelin, J'onn's thoughts remained grave; he only hoped Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Hawkgirl were faring as well…


As the six F.O.H. soldiers stood guard around their three minivans at the docks, the mood was a tense one. "Hey, guys?" one called out, glancing towards the water. "I think I saw something, down there…"

Another soldier just sneered. "Again?" he mocked. "Jeez, man, that's the second or third time, just now! Thought you said you hadn't hit up before we started this operation!"

"I didn't, man! Something's down there!!"

A third soldier just shrugged. "That's what Mr. Creed gets for lettin' junkies join up." he muttered.

"Alright, can it, all of ya!" a fourth barked. "We've got to be on our toes for when the others give the order to pull out, 'cause as soon as they do, we're gonna light this place up..!"

Suddenly, the dock under their feet started to give way, collapsing into the water and taking one of their vehicles with it. Most of the six managed to scramble clear, but two were dunked into the sea.

"Dammit!" one soldier cursed. "Should've known better than to rendezvous here…"

The remaining four waited for their two comrades to surface…but they never did. "Hey, guys?" one called out. "You okay?

Only silence answered that call…seconds before the two soldiers were tossed right out of the water, sent sailing through the air by an unknown force, to land hard, right in front of them. The impact of landing knocked one out, but the other managed to retain consciousness. "I told you something was down there..!"

At that, something leapt out of the water, landing in a graceful crouch upon the docks, before standing up…revealing itself to be a tall, well-built young man, with green eyes, mid-length sandy-blond hair, and a thin goatee beard, clad in green pants and an orange vest.

Seeing the semi-incredulous expressions of the F.O.H. thugs, Aquaman smirked. "Sorry; pool's closed."

Snarling, the soldiers started to draw their weapons as one charged at Aquaman, who blocked his punch, before grabbing him and tossing him into three others, knocking him and and sending the other three sprawling. As the three goons started to get up, they were suddenly levitated into the air by a bright green energy-field, before they were slammed into the second van, knocking them out, as a tall, athletically built African-American man, with dark eyes glowing green, a bald head, and a thin beard framing his mouth, clad in a black bodysuit with shoulders trimmed in green, and the crest of a green lantern upon the chest, suspended in the air by the same green energy-field, emanating from the green ring upon his finger, floated into view.

With those three goons dispatched, Green Lantern turned his attention to the vehicle, before focusing, generating an energy-beam from his power-ring, which cleanly bisected the van, rendering it useless. Turning, he saw the first two goons, the ones Aquaman had dunked, recover and make a beeline for the third van, darting in and gunning the engine. Firing a beam from his ring, Green Lantern managed to blow out one of the van's tires as the van rounded a turn…but it wasn't enough to stop it. "Hawkgirl! Intercept!" Lantern called out.

As the last two soldiers drove off, they breathed a sigh of relief…which turned into a gasp of horror as they saw a winged silhouette diving out of the sky towards them, which revealed itself to be a fairly tall young woman of elegant-yet-athletic frame, with fairly long, red hair under a hawk-like helmet, and fierce green eyes, clad in a yellow tank-top, tight green pants, and military-style black boots, brandishing a large, silver-metal mace, crackling with energy…with a pair of large, graceful, white-grey-feathered birds' wings extending from her shoulder-blades.

As she dove at the van, Hawkgirl's eyes narrowed, before she flared her wings, slowing her descent, readying her mace…and with a fearsome war-cry, she smashed the Nth Metal weapon into the vehicle's hood, utterly demolishing the engine, bringing the van to a screeching halt. Touching down with avian grace, Hawkgirl readied herself as the last two thugs poured out of the van, drawing their weapons; flapping her wings, Hawkgirl flew over the two thugs, landing behind them, and unleashing a sweeping strike with her wings, slamming them into the van, knocking them out.

With the last two soldiers dispatched, Hawkgirl let out a relieved sigh, as she twisted the handle of her mace, partially retracting it, causing its crackling energy to dissipate. Seeing her two teammates walk over, Hawkgirl smiled. "All clear."

Green Lantern smiled. "Nice work, everyone."

Aquaman chuckled. "Well, seeing as how we haven't blown up, I'm guessing Bats and J'onn were successful."

Hawkgirl nodded. "We'd better rendezvous with Superman and the others; they might need backup."

"Agreed." Green Lantern said. "Let's move." With that, the three of them hurried off, to rejoin their comrades.


The lead soldier's eyes practically glowed with hate as he thumbed down the detonator-trigger…

…and nothing happened.

Superman couldn't help but chuckle as he saw the utterly comical expression on the soldier's face, as he thumbed down the trigger again, and again, but still with no result. "You didn't really think we'd be dumb enough to come in here without a plan, did you?"

At that, the lead thug's expression twisted in hateful rage, before he rushed at Superman…who caught his fist effortlessly, giving his wrist the tiniest flick, sending the soldier toppling heels-over-head, to land flat on his back, out cold.

"Well, that takes care of that." Flash said.

"Not quite." Wonder Woman corrected. "We still have to rescue the Ambassador's security detail."

"Agreed." Superman said. "Mr. Ambassador, you'll have to come with us, but stay back; we'll handle this." With that, he, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Krypto all hurried further into the warehouse, followed by the Ambassador.

Within seconds, they had reached the holding area for the security detail; as they entered, the six soldiers keeping the detail under guard all brought their weapons to bear on them…seconds before the shadowy figure of Batman crashed through a window, landing on his feet and letting a Batarang fly, knocking the weapons out of two soldiers' hands. Before the soldiers could react, the Martian Manhunter phased through a wall, telekinetically yanking the guns away from the other four. Seconds later, another window shattered as Hawkgirl dove through it, landing on her feet, as Green Lantern levitated himself and Aquaman through the window, touching down next to Hawkgirl. The soldiers were surrounded.

"Give yourselves up." Superman ordered. "Your explosives have been neutralized, and your getaway has been cut off; you've got nowhere to go." At that revelation, the soldiers momentarily glowered at them…before their shoulders slumped in resignation.

With the crisis averted, Superman let himself exhale in relief…until his ultra-sensitive hearing picked up something. "Behind us!!"

At once, the entire Justice League turned, to see one lone F.O.H. soldier – a kid, no older than 16 – holding a knife to the Ambassador's throat, while aiming a mortar-launcher at the rest of them. "Die, freaks!!" the kid shouted, tears of pure hate and rage in his eyes. "DIE!!!" And with that, he fired.

The instant the kid's finger pulled the trigger, the League all moved at once: Green Lantern raised an energy-barrier to protect both the security detail and the surrendered soldiers from the blast, while simultaneously covering his teammates; the Manhunter tried to telekinetically pull the knife away from the kid, as Flash raced towards him to get the Ambassador's throat; Hawkgirl and Aquaman, shielded by Green Lantern, raced towards the kid, to tackle him once the Ambassador was clear, while Wonder Woman let her lasso fly to immobilize him; and Batman let a Batarang fly at the grenade, to knock it away, as Superman tried to get a fix on it with his eye-rays…but it was going to be close..!



Author's Note:

And here it is, everyone: a little preview of my upcoming story: The Last Son, Book Three: Changes. Consider it my gift to all of you for your patience, especially for fans of Books One and Two, who have been so patient with me; I hope you all enjoy it!

That said, I plan to officially start Book Three very early in the new year; I'll probably just take a week or so off, to get fully charged to start. Don't worry; it won't be long, now!

On a side note, in case anyone was wondering, in Book Two, I know I didn't make it clear that J'onn had TK, but I've only just recently learned that, in "The Batman" series, he has telekinesis. Plus, when you think about it, it explains his flight; self-telekinesis. Just wanted to make that clear; thanks for understanding!

And finally, I want to wish you all, again, a happy holiday season! See you all in 2008!