CHAPTER THREE: ALIENS IN THE BACKYARD

Queens, New York City, New York, September 19, 2009

As the mid-afternoon sun began to wane over Queens, the everyday bustle of New York began to rapidly pick up, amplifying the din of the city a thousandfold. Most citizens were put-off by the noise…but for two in particular, the added cloak of sound worked just fine.

"What's the matter, Smallville? Runnin' out of steam?"

At his end of the outdoor basketball court, a few feet from his basket, Clark, in a light-blue sleeveless t-shirt and navy sweat-pants, hustled to intercept his opponent. "Boy, are you lucky I can't use superspeed out here, Stone!" he quipped.

Grinning back, Victor "Cyborg" Stone, in black shorts and a grey sleeveless hoodie, simply bounced the ball once with his cybernetic arm. "Whatever you need to tell yourself, Kent!" With that, he dribbled to Clark's left, prompting Clark to move to block, only to spin around to the right and dart to the basket, leaping up to dunk. "Booyah!" he cheered. "4-2, CK!"

Taking the ball as it dropped through the net, Clark started dribbling as Victor moved back to his defensive zone. "Huh; I don't remember having this much trouble playing, before."

Victor snorted. "Uh, that's 'cause you're used to playing against Lex!" he replied…but he blanched the moment the words left his mouth. "Aw, dang, Clark, I didn't mean to…"

"We can talk later, Stone!" Clark declared, moving up to Vic's zone. "Right now, I'm going for game!" Crouching low, Clark volleyed for a 3-point shot, forcing Victor to leap to block…but when the shot never came, Victor realized his mistake: instead of shooting, Clark had put extra spin on the ball so that it arced back to him instead, forcing Victor to waste a block, and giving Clark the opening he needed to race to the net for a reverse-dunk. Hanging from the net momentarily, Clark grinned. "Tie-game, Vic!"

Vic arched an eyebrow. "Dang, man; you're gettin' sneaky."

Clark dropped down. "Comes from hanging with Batman on a regular basis."

Vic shrugged. "There's that," he agreed. "Love to know how he pulls that vanishing-act."

"You and me both."

Victor looked regretful. "Still, man, sorry I mentioned Lex, just then; bad timing."

"It's okay, Vic," Clark answered. "I plan to stop by to see him, later, today; I was going to ask you, Arthur, Wally, and Oliver to come, but Lana didn't think that was a great idea…"

"…because we might overload him," Victor finished. "I get it, man; once Lex starts getting his memory back, then we can start dropping by." He chuckled. "You knew him longest, so if anybody can jump-start that brain of his, it'd be you."

Clark smiled. "Thanks."

Vic's grin turned teasing. "So, you and Dorky are officially news, huh?"

Clark half-chuckled. "Shut up."

"Hey, I'm not razzin' you about it, Smallville; after everybody givin' you grief about Crazy Z, it's about time you got some good press, again!"

"Thanks, Vic, but I'd prefer to think that said press was based on our dealing with an invasion rather than who I'm dating," Clark replied. "Speaking of which, our invitation to the League is still open…"

"Appreciate it, man, but I'm okay right here on the ground," Victor answered. "I'm happy just helping folks out on the street-level, for now."

Clark nodded. "Yeah, I thought I saw you around a few reconstruction-sites we helped out at," he remarked. "Are you still a private-eye, too?"

"That, and I've been helping out at a local youth-center," Victor replied. "I met up with the folks running it on one of my cases, and it just went from there."

"Sounds good," Clark replied. Spotting a group of kids approaching, led by a young woman, he gulped. "Uh, Vic? Maybe we should table the shop-talk for now."

Looking over his shoulder, Victor grinned. "Nah, no worries, CK! It's cool!" Turning around, he called out, "Fox! Hey, Foxy, over here!"

Responding to his call, the young woman – around a year younger than Clark, tall, lean, and with long, dark-honey-coloured hair and green eyes, in slim, slightly tattered jeans, a white tank-top and a dark jacket – smiled and walked over, her half-dozen charges following her. "Stone! How many times have I asked you not to call me that?"

Vic laughed. "Aw, you know you like it, Macks," he teased. "Anyway, you know that old pal of mine I mentioned?" He gestured to Clark. "Fox, Clark Kent, the ringleader of us six knuckleheads back in Smallville; CK, this is Mackenzie Fox – she's one of the folks running that youth-center I told you about."

Meeting Clark's gaze, Mackenzie smiled gently. "It's…it's nice to meet you, Clark."

Clark smiled back. "Likewise," he replied. "Is your center nearby?"

Mackenzie nodded. "We're just a few blocks from here," she said, pointing down the street. "It's been tough, but it's worth it."

Clark felt a twinge of sadness at that, as he wondered how many other problems went unnoticed while he and the League were busy elsewhere. "Tough neighbourhood?"

"There are worse ones; there've been some issues with drugs and gangs," Mackenzie admitted, "but the real kicker is that most of the kids we take in…have problems that most other kids don't have."

It was only then that Clark got a good look at the kids Mackenzie had brought. One normal-looking little boy had fished out a basketball, while another boy – with fish-like fins on his head – tried to block him as he dribbled down the court. On the sidelines, a red-skinned little girl and a little boy with a third eye in his forehead cheered their friends on. "They're mutants?" Clark asked.

"That, or they got abilities some other way," Victor said. "We take in anyone who needs help, but we seem to be the only one in Queens that accepts kids like them."

Clark's face fell. "But…I thought the Xavier Institute…"

"…handles the powerful mutants," Mackenzie finished for him. "Somebody explained to me once how metas – meta-humans – get classified by how powerful or destructive their abilities are: there's Gamma, the lowest level, then Beta, Alpha, and then Omega, the really scary kind." She smiled faintly. "I know Professor X means well, but he must've set up his detection-system to catch Betas and Alphas; Gammas don't really show up on his radar that much. Still, it kinda works out well for us; we wouldn't be able to really handle too many Alphas, or even Betas…and God help us if we ever came across an Omega with an attitude."

"No kidding," Victor agreed. "You, Luke, and Jessie have your hands full as it is!"

Clark was amazed. "Wow." He was about to ask Mackenzie how she'd and her co-workers had started the center, but the beeping of his communicator under his clothes stopped him: a Beacon-alert.

Victor noticed it, too. "Work paging you?" he covered.

"Yeah; last-minute deadline," Clark replied. "I've gotta go." He turned to leave, but tossed a friendly smile over his shoulder at Mackenzie. "It was nice meeting you!"

Mackenzie smiled back. "You, too!" With that, Clark hurried off.

The nearest empty alley was mercifully within the first block, allowing Clark to easily shed and stash his street-clothes out of sight, revealing his uniform underneath. Quickly taking to the sky, Superman returned the hail. "Superman here, Watchtower. What's the situation?"

Sentrius' computerized calm answered him. "Commander El, my sensors detected two step-through resonances in high proximity to Earth's orbit, several minutes ago."

Superman grimaced. 'Oh, not again!' "Have you warned them off?"

"Affirmative, Commander. One has stood down, but the other was critically damaged in a firefight; it is currently in catastrophic re-entry heading towards Gotham City. Estimated time to impact is two minutes. Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are already en route."

"Understood, Sentrius; send all additional information to my communicator!" Superman replied. "Superman out!" Ending the transmission, he quickly clipped his communicator back to his belt, before accelerating hard, racing up through the clouds, to catch the wayward ship before it crashed into New York.

XXXXXXXX

Earth orbit, a few minutes earlier

High above the luminous blue of the planet Earth, the black of space was briefly lit up by the flash of step-through, as a sleek, serpentine vessel emerged into normal space. Mere moments later, a second spatial resonance flared, depositing another ship – a curved, boomerang-like vessel – in hot pursuit.

"Admiral, sir! We have the Gordanian vessel in torpedo-range! Request permission to open fire!"

Standing aboard the bridge of the training-vessel-turned-pursuit-craft, glancing around the crew of talented – yet far too green – naval cadets, Admiral Lord Aelfyre Whitemane of the Kymellian Commonwealth, a tall, white-coated equine humanoid of middle years, in his dress uniform of a silver-black bodysuit, looked grim. "Hold steady, Cadet; for now, hail them and order them to heave-to! In the meantime, I need a damage-report and a coordinate-check; following that ship through a blind step-through jump likely hit us as hard as it hit them! If we've landed in hostile territory, we'll need to be ready!"

To his trainees' credit, the response came fast. "No major systems reporting in damaged, Admiral! We took a few minor dings, but nothing we need worry about!" one cadet responded. "Judging from their trajectory, I'd say the Gordies took the worst of it; if they don't pull out, they'll fry!"

The sensors-officer quickly followed suit. "Admiral, we have a position; we landed in the Sol System – specifically, right above Earth!"

Aelfyre breathed a sigh of relief as he heard that. With the revelation of a Kryptonian survivor – as well as the fact that said survivor had moved Krypton's legendary Sentrius Battlestation here – that meant they were in potentially friendly space…provided they had a chance to identify themselves.

The comms officer spoke up. "Admiral, we're being hailed; I'm putting it through, now!"

A computerized female voice replaced the cadet's. "Attention unidentified vessels; this is Battlestation Sentrius. You are encroaching upon Earth sovereign space. Identify yourselves and heave-to, or you will be fired upon."

Aelfyre thought fast. "Are we close enough to the Gordanian ship to get a life-signs scan?"

"I believe so, Admiral; just give me one…yes! I'm seeing one Gordanian bio-signature still active aboard the bridge, as well as two non-Gordanian signatures in a large cargo-hold amidships!"

"Good. Now, we'd best respond to Sentrius before she gets cross," Aelfyre replied. Once the channel was open, Aelfyre answered the Battlestation's warning. "Attention Battlestation Sentrius; this is Kymellian Training-Craft StormHerd, Admiral Lord Aelfyre Whitemane commanding! We are in pursuit of unmarked Gordanian vessel caught trespassing upon Confederate sovereign space; we arrived here by following said vessel through a blind step-through jump! As per your instructions, we are standing down pursuit, but the Gordanian vessel was critically damaged in the jump; we are teleporting aboard to render aid!"

"Understood, Admiral; we are deploying craft to assist you, estimated arrival-time three minutes. Please proceed with caution."

"Acknowledged, Sentrius. We thank you."

As the transmission ended, the comms officer looked nervous. "Admiral, sir…w-we don't have any training or experience with ship-to-ship rescue ops, let alone jumping onto a hostile vessel…"

"…which is why none of you will be participating in such an operation, cadet," Aelfyre replied. "I will be going myself."

His eyes going wide, the helmsman jumped from his seat. "W-What?" he cried. "M-Milord, you can't possibly..!"

Aelfyre fixed him with a stern glower. "As you were, Cadet Whitemane!"

Stricken from the admonition, Cadet Kofi Whitemane, sharing his father's ivory coat but getting his ebony mane from his mother, sat down reluctantly. "F-Father, you…you shouldn't go alone; let some of us help…"

With a mildly exasperated sigh, Aelfyre let some of the sternness fade from his face. "I am not an untrained cadet, son; I will be fine," he answered. "My orders stand."

His discipline returning, Kofi nodded. "Yes, Admiral."

Satisfied, Aelfyre turned to the rest of the crew. "Once I am aboard, your orders are to stand by until Sentrius' forces arrive; if I have not requested an evacuation by then, you may inform her of the situation." As his crew saluted, indicating they understood, Aelfyre took a deep breath. "Cadet, you may activate teleporters when ready."

"Aye, Admiral; teleporting in 3…2…1…now!"

At the cadet's last word, the silvery teleporter wave engulfed Aelfyre, taking him from the shining bridge of the StormHerd to the dank, humid bowels of the Gordanian vessel. Emerging from the teleport, Aelfyre found himself in the middle of a long corridor with numerous sparking consoles, both its walls lined with force-field-barred doors.

Holding-cells.

Looking through the cells, Aelfyre felt horror grip him, as found every occupant shot dead by a Gordanian weapon. 'A slave-ship; they killed their hostages to conceal their crime…'

Fresh fury filled Aelfyre's veins at that realization. 'The Confederacy will hear of this; these monsters will NOT escape justice!' he quietly vowed, as he began to race down the corridor…but a sudden pounding sound stopped him. Turning, Aelfyre's eyes went wide as he found one survivor amongst the dead captives: a young, orange-skinned humanoid female – a Tamaranian girl, only a few years older than his own son – with long, brilliant ruby hair, and glowing emerald-green eyes, clad in a scanty, reflective-purple garment that barely covered her ample curves and lower regions. As the girl pounded on her cell's force-field, chattering frantically in her native tongue, Aelfyre quickly moved to the access-panel…only to find it damaged beyond repair. Quickly tapping the Universal Translator on his uniform, Aelfyre raised his hands to reassure her. "Please, miss, calm yourself! I intend to free you, but the console is damaged; I will have to do so from the bridge!"

The girl started to calm down, as she responded, her speech somewhat stilted by the Translator. "Not Gordanian?"

Aelfyre shook his head. "No; Kymellian," he replied. "What has happened here?"

The young woman suppressed tears. "Gordanians come to Tamaran; would attack if we not give slaves," she said. "My family and others agree; they take us, and…and do things to us."

Aelfyre felt his heart wrench. "And then they killed all the others here."

The Tamaranian nodded. "I not know why I not killed, yet," she murmured. "Maybe things they do to me work; not work with others."

Aelfyre was confused. "What do you mean?" he asked, before he suddenly felt the ship tremble – re-entry. "T-That does not matter, right now; I promise, I will get you out of here!"

The girl smiled. "Thank you." With that, Aelfyre raced off, heading for the bridge.

Reaching the bridge in minutes, Aelfyre quickly moved to the main control-console, fighting his rising gorge as he stepped over the corpses of the crew, all killed by the spatial surge of firing the step-through drive without proper calculations. He tapped a few keys, powering up the interface, and deactivated all the force-fields in the prisoner holding-area. He was about to shut down the system and start looking for the other survivor, but he caught sight of their database, and started to skim through…

…at which point his eyes nearly bugged out of his head in pure, utter horror. 'Maker, preserve me…t-they were trying to..!'

"You should have let us be, Kymellian!"

Aelfyre instantly recognized the hiss of the Gordanian vocal tract, as he looked up to spot one of the tall, muscular lizard-humanoids – the lone survivor – clad in the plate-armour of a lead officer, with a metal canister clipped to his belt, and a laser-weapon in his claws. "Who else have you told of our operation?"

Aelfyre remained calm, his eyes narrowed. "Enough that there will likely be reinforcements here in minutes, Gordanian," he replied. "You saw what system we landed in! If you think that battlestation will let you run, you're mad!"

The Gordanian smirked, his forked tongue flicking out and in. "It might if I had a Kymellian Admiral for a hostage."

Aelfyre readied himself. "Bold words, lizard, but what makes you think you can fulfill them?"

The Gordanian laughed. "This!" With that, he popped the top off of the canister, allowing a viscous dark liquid to bubble out and cover him completely; the moment the liquid touched him, the Gordanian grew to half again of his normal height, his muscle-mass more than doubling, as his teeth and tongue tripled in length, while his eyes became pupilless, lidless white blotches on his snakelike head.

Alarmed, Aelfyre could only gape. "What in the Emperor's name..?"

"SSNNRRRREEEERRRARRRGGHHH!"

The bestial roar of the transformed Gordanian took Aelfyre by surprise as he barreled into him. Pushed backwards, Aelfyre strained against his opponent, but to no avail – the Gordanian's new strength far exceeded his own.

Fortunately, strength was not all that he had.

Focusing, Aelfyre activated one of his people's innate powers, dropping his body's density down to that of a gas and turning him into vapour, allowing the Gordanian to run through him and crash into the consoles behind him, which caused sparks to burst forth from them…and pitching the ship into a near-lethal trajectory towards Earth.

As he re-formed himself, Aelfyre almost tipped over, his hooves sliding against the slanted floor, until he enshrouded himself with a white-black aura, negating gravity around himself. "Listen to me, you fool! This ship is going to crash; if we don't get out of here, we're all done for!"

Aelfyre didn't know if the Gordanian was beyond reasoning or verbal ability, but the effect was the same. Roaring again, the transmuted reptile darted at him, claws flashing, but Aelfyre darted clear at blinding speeds, leaving a spectrum-trail in his wake. The mutated Gordanian recovered fast, and leapt at him again, but Aelfyre unleashed an antigravity wave, lifting the Gordanian off the floor and causing his own momentum to slam him into the wall. Incensed even further, the Gordanian drew his sidearm, opening up on Aelfyre with a blistering torrent of laser-fire. Darting out of the way of the initial barrage, Aelfyre took refuge behind a damaged console, before shutting his eyes, focusing hard…and then stepping back out into the oncoming fire.

With all that he had, Aelfyre kept his focus as he willed his body to absorb the laser-beams, his frame glowing gold as the incoming energy was drawn into him, his brows twitching slightly as he fought the burning sensation racing through his innards, until he had enough – rolling clear, Aelfyre took aim, and unleashed the stored energy in one massive surge, blasting the Gordanian clear off his feet, and sending him sprawling, on the verge of unconsciousness.

Taking a deep breath, Aelfyre tried to regain his balance when the entire ship shook, almost knocking him off his feet. 'Maker, I did not think I'd hit him THAT hard!' he thought, before realizing that the impact had come from outside the ship – specifically, from outside the bridge, behind him. Curious, Aelfyre moved to the Sensors station, bringing up a vid-screen of the outside…and immediately did a double-take. 'By the Emperor…is this Jor-El's ghost?'

Rubbing his eyes before he looked again, Aelfyre realized his error; there was a young man, clad in a red-blue version of the Kryptonian Defence Force uniform, flying against the ship as he pushed it into a stable re-entry, but he was much too young to actually be Jor-El, despite the resemblance. 'Of course; this must be Jor's son!' Aelfyre thought, as a smile crossed his face. 'Jor, only you could have devised a way for your son to escape..!'

SSCCRRRRRRRUUNNCCCHHH!

The sickening sound of metal wrenching and twisting away from metal shook Aelfyre out of thoughts of his old friend, prompting him to check the ship's status. 'Maker…this vessel's going to rip itself apart, directly amidships!' His horror kicking his fight-or-flight into overdrive, Aelfyre pored over the specifics of the readout: the ship was going to rend itself in two, directly between the bulkheads of the prisoner's holding-cells.

The Tamaranian girl would either be sucked into the black, or cast into the heat of re-entry.

His eyes narrowed, Aelfyre raced to the ship's teleporter-systems, frantically trying to get the emergency beam-out online; the system was functioning – barely – but it lacked power. His hands racing, Aelfyre rerouted a fraction of the ship's waning reserves to the teleporter, which caused the whining of the vessel's hull to grow to a full groan…seconds before it gave way.

Outside, the ship literally ripped itself in half, with the forward section, guided by the young Kryptonian, now careening off wildly without its rear bulk to drag it, while the aft section pitched east, glowing red with heat. The Kryptonian raced to catch up with the fore section, trying to steady its descent…and causing him to miss the green flash of light from the teleporter as it deposited Aelfyre, the unconscious Gordanian, and the alarmed Tamaranian into the open air.

Rolling wildly through the air, Aelfyre summoned his gravity-powers, righting himself and grasping his two charges, trying to slow their descent. Enshrouded in white-black, the Gordanian and Tamaranian's descent both slowed, but the Tamaranian, simultaneously overjoyed by her new freedom and alarmed by the situation, suddenly pulled away, flying far from Aelfyre's grip, out of control towards the falling forward section.

Aelfyre half-smiled. 'Well, at least one of their prisoners survived,' he mused. 'Regardless, once I land, I will have to contact Jor's son, and inform him of…'

And then a wild crosswind knocked into Aelfyre, shaking his control enough for the Gordanian to slip free, falling towards one of the large cities looming below, while Aelfyre was knocked towards the outskirts. Gritting his teeth, Aelfyre summoned all his strength, trying to slow his fall; he had already dropped below terminal velocity, but he was still going to hit hard…

…and then, as a pleasant-looking human outskirt-settlement raced up to greet him, he knew no more.

XXXXXXXX

Gotham City

The mid-day bustle of Gotham City was gradually dimming as dusk began to creep into the horizon, but the daily noise instantly came to a halt as a thunderous boom echoed high above the city, prompting the citizenry to look up…where they spotted the massive, flaming hulk of wreckage as it dropped from the stratosphere at terminal velocity. The sight of the burning mass instantly sent them into a panic, as they ran for their lives, trying desperately to escape…

…until another thunderclap echoed.

Streaking across the Gotham skyline, Superman raced towards the fiery wreckage, regaining his hold on the vessel's forward section and pushing with all his might; slowly, the wreck turned, until its width was facing down, increasing its drag and cutting its speed…but not by enough to stop it.

Not alone, at least.

Seconds after Superman made the initial intercept, Green Lantern moved in, enshrouding the wreck in green and pulling it to the side, altering its course, while Wonder Woman flew in to grab hold and push with Superman, doubling the effort to slow the wreck. Gradually, the wreckage's velocity began to drop, as its trajectory inched away from Gotham towards the open water. Once the wreck was about a mile above the water, Wonder Woman darted clear, while Green Lantern shifted his beam to pull against its weight, as Superman kept pushing, right up until it hit.

SSSSPPLLOOOOOOOOOSSHH!

The wreck impacted the water with terrible force, sending waves out to wash over Gotham's piers, soaking everything not tied down…but no more than that. As Green Lantern and Wonder Woman touched down on the nearby pier, the water nearby swelled, before a soaken Superman flew up and out of it, touching down next to them, sporting a grimace. "Blleeecch!" he sputtered. "I gotta get some mouthwash before we head out – Gotham's water-treatment system needs a major overhaul!"

Green Lantern suppressed a chuckle. "Better not tell Alison that, anytime soon."

"I assume everything is under control."

The voice of the Dark Knight made Wonder Woman jump, prompting her to spin around to frown at her teammate. "That is becoming most tiresome, Batman!"

Standing directly behind Wonder Woman, his arms folded, Batman never let his expression change. "What are we dealing with?"

His eyes flaring electric-blue, Superman swept the wreckage with his X-ray vision, and then infrared. "It looks like a Gordanian reconnaissance vessel, although the cargo-hold – or what's left of it – has had some hefty modifications," he observed. "I'm not spotting any life-signs – can you spot anything, Lantern?"

Passing an emerald scan-beam over the wreck, Green Lantern shook his head. "There's no-one home, Superman," he replied. "I've got a few residual heat-traces, but that's it. The crew must have bailed before impact."

Diana looked confused. "How did it get here?"

Green Lantern re-checked his scan-data. "From the looks of the hull, this ship was in a fight, and had to make an emergency jump," he said. "A blind jump – no wonder it's all torn up; without precise calculations, a spatial jump can rip a ship in two!"

Batman frowned. "We should pull the flight-recorder, and find out what happened."

Superman nodded. "Agreed; we'll signal Sentrius to send a few ships to tow this wreck back into orbit. Once we retrieve the emergency backup, we can send it into the sun."

Wonder Woman looked worried. "Wait, didn't this vessel break apart, in orbit? What became of the other half?"

Checking his belt-computer, Superman smiled. "Already taken care of, Diana; Kara and J'onn got the call on that one. The aft section is floating in the New York bay, awaiting pick-up. No survivors there, either."

"Good to hear," Green Lantern said. "Well, it looks like this one's in the bag; what say we..?"

And then a red-orange blur raced by overhead, darting towards Gotham.

Batman's eyebrow ticked. "I thought you said there were no survivors."

Superman sighed. "What do I know?"

Batman was instantly all business. "The three of you will have to pursue this unknown from the air; I'll contact Robin and Batgirl and have them assist with the intercept. I'll follow when I can." No-one argued, as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern all went airborne, racing after the bogey, while Batman ran to the Batmobile parked in the shadows.

Flying after the orange streak, Superman caught up to it instantly, closing on it enough to realize it was a person – specifically, a young woman. "If you can understand us, please land on the nearest rooftop!" he called out. "We want to help you!"

Evidently, the young woman heard him, although she likely didn't understand, given her furious expression. "Tou mec regrunaes nir!"

Both the language and the girl's orange skin confirmed it. 'A Tamaranian,' Superman realized, forcing him to switch languages. "Tec regruno nir; tec aydarames…"

"Nar! Mec malvarte dicaes!" With that, the Tamaranian woman made a hard turn, causing her pursuers to shoot past.

As Wonder Woman and Green Lantern came to a stop in midair next to him, Superman grimaced. "Obviously that wasn't just a regular recon vessel."

Wonder Woman arched an eyebrow. "You understood her?"

Superman nodded. "Basically, she said she wouldn't let us take her back, I told her we wanted to help, and she called me a liar."

Green Lantern's smile was wry. "Yeah, that's pretty much how most First Contacts go."

"This is no laughing matter, John!" Diana admonished. "That girl is undoubtedly frightened on a world that is entirely foreign to her; we must calm her down!"

Sparing a glance in the direction the Tamaranian had flown, his eyes electric-blue as his telescopic vision tracked her, Superman went pale. "In that case, we'd better move – things are about to get worse!"

As he and his teammates raced after their quarry, Superman saw a cowl-and-scalloped-cape-clad figure – with a flash of red hair peeking out from the back of her cowl – zip across a rooftop ahead of the Tamaranian. Taking aim with her grapnel-gun, Batgirl fired a grapple-line, snagging the Tamaranian's ankle perfectly. "I got her, guys!" Batgirl called, moving to secure her line to part of the roof. "I got – WHOOOAAAAACCKK!"

With a shriek, the Tamaranian woman raced ahead, yanking Batgirl – along with the section of pipe she'd secured her line to – off of the rooftop, leaving her dangling behind in midair. Several more rooftops ahead, a crimson figure with a black cape and eye-mask raced to the edge; with expert aim, Robin threw a trio of flash-bang charges at the Tamaranian, before leaping into mid-air and firing his own grapnel-line; the charges detonated around her, stunning her as Robin's line snagged her other ankle, causing his and Batgirl's combined weight to drag her to the ground.

Letting out a relieved sigh as her feet touched solid earth, Batgirl glanced to her partner. "Took your sweet time, bird-boy."

Robin rolled his eyes. "Hey, I still had to tune up my bike, after somebody took it for a joy-ride..."

"Tou…tou KLORBAG VARBLER-NELK!"

The Tamaranian girl's shouting accusation drew Robin and Batgirl's attention in time to spot her hands and eyes starting to glow a brilliant emerald…right before twin beams of green energy lanced from her eyes, prompting the two of them to leap clear. Almost falling on her butt, Batgirl gaped. "She's got laser-eyes? Why didn't Batman tell us?"

Drawing and extending his bo-staff, Robin readied himself. "You know him," he muttered. Slowly, he walked towards their agitated attacker. "Look, lady, will you take it easy? We just want to…"

His words fell on deaf ears; shrieking with fury, the Tamaranian clenched her fist, condensing the glow of her hand into a solid energy-bolt, and let it fly. His eyes going wide, Robin quickly used his staff to pole-vault himself over the blast…only to meet the girl's fist on his land, which snapped his staff in two before impacting his chest, sending him flying across the street. Tumbling across the concrete, Robin quickly did a handspring, coming back up on his feet with a deadly scowl. "That was my lucky staff, you psycho!" he shouted. "Okay, missy, you asked for it!"

Reaching for his belt, Robin drew a cluster of flash-bangs and let them fly, where they detonated right in front of his attacker. With the Tamaranian reeling, Robin darted straight at her; recovering faster than Robin had gambled, the Tamaranian readied another blast, but Robin had already somersaulted over her. Firing off a kick to the back of her knee-joint, Robin quickly grabbed both her wrists once she was staggered, before planting his foot just below the back of her neck and pushing down, slamming her against the pavement. "I suggest you cool it, lady; you're not overcoming your own center of grav – AAAACCK!"

He was cut off as the Tamaranian suddenly flew straight up, pitching them both wildly and causing Robin to lose his grip and sending him tumbling towards the street. Recovering fast, Robin fired a grapnel-line and swung clear, but the girl closed on him, energy-bolts at the ready; her hand was up to throw when a solid emerald hand grabbed her by the wrist, spoiling her aim. Enraged further, the Tamaranian glared at Green Lantern, her eyes flaring green as she launched another eye-beam, but Wonder Woman quickly moved to intercept it, deflecting the blast with her armlets and allowing her teammate to force their attacker back onto the ground.

As Green Lantern's construct deposited her on the street, the Tamaranian girl was about to fly back into the air, when the roar of an engine drew her attention, just before the sleek Batmobile raced out of the shadows; popping open the canopy, Batman leapt out, lobbing a trio of smoke-grenades at the Tamaranian, blending into the fog easily while the Batmobile's autopilot brought it to a perfect stop. Sputtering, the Tamaranian struggled to see through the haze, shrieking with alarm as a black-gloved hand grabbed her wrist, twisting her arm into a submission-hold, before angrily striking back with her free elbow…only to hit nothing, the pressure on her arm instantly gone. Squinting, she spotted a shadow in the distant haze, and formed two more energy-bolts in her hands, letting them fly, but the shadow slipped away…and reappeared right next to her. Shrieking with fury, she let loose a flurry of punches, but Batman wove out of the way of every single one, countering with a precise finger-stab to the side of her neck that numbed her right arm completely, followed by a push-kick that she was barely able to block.

Knocked out of the clearing haze, the Tamaranian fought to catch her breath as Superman descended in front of her. "Tec aydarames, mor tec polorin milyss nenpersames!" he thundered. "INMOS DECISTAREK!"

For a moment, it seemed his command to stop had shaken her, but the young woman readied another pair of blasts…until she glanced at his uniform's crest. Blinking, she looked at him carefully…then at his crest…and then at him again.

Her eyes wide with mortal terror, the Tamaranian gasped, dispelling her blasts as her hands flew to her mouth, before she dropped to her knees, bending forward to touch her forehead to the ground, in complete supplication. Confused, Robin walked over. "Wow. What'd you say to her?"

Superman was equally perplexed. "I just said we wanted to help, but we couldn't let her endanger the city, so I ordered her to stop," he said. "I didn't say anything that would…" But then it hit him, prompting him to slap his forehead. "Oh, no."

Landing beside him, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern walked over. "Problem?" Green Lantern asked.

Wonder Woman looked wary. "Is there a reason she is bowing to you?"

Superman grimaced. "I'm afraid so."

The Tamaranian confirmed his fears. "X-X'Hal, mircen!" she pleaded, sitting up, her green eyes teary. "N-Nec saperam!"

Green Lantern blinked. "Hold on…I don't know a lot of Tamaranian…but isn't "X'Hal" their name for..?"

"…God," Superman groaned, burying his face in his hand. "The people of Tamaran, when my people explored their planet, were found to be markedly similar to Kryptonians – they'd even begun to show similar levels of physical strength and the ability to fly; add to that fact that they were in the midst of a massive upheaval like our Age of Wars, and we had to observe them. In the last days of their war, we established an observatory on Tamaran, hoping we'd gone unnoticed…but obviously we haven't."

Walking over, Batman arched an eyebrow. "She thinks you're a god." His voice was flat. "I thought you said her people were something like yours."

"On a physical level, yes," Superman answered. "But the Tamaranians didn't come out of their war as luckily as my people did – based on the last surveillance my people did, a few years before the Shi'ar invasion, a lot of their culture, and practically all of their technology was literally wiped out."

Wonder Woman began to understand. "So when your people arrived, they could have been mistaken for gods."

"Unfortunately."

The entire time, the young Tamaranian had been watching their exchange nervously, trying to discern what was going on, but with no luck. She glanced to Superman with a terrified gulp, and then to Batman with another tremble; glancing at Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, she scrunched her nose, before looking at Batgirl with a frown…and settled her gaze on Robin, as she stood up and strode towards him.

Robin was instantly wary. "Guys, she's up to something!" His warning proved true, as she closed on him, and grabbed him by the collar. "What the hell, lady? What are you – MMPPHLLGGMMPHH?"

Robin's shout of alarm turned muffled as the Tamaranian pressed her lips to his, holding a kiss for several seconds, and then letting go, leaving Robin gasping for air. "What the HELL?"

The Tamaranian blinked. "This is your language?"

Now it was Robin's turn to blink. "Huh? You talk, now?"

The young woman looked around. "You are able to understand me?"

Wonder Woman was more than perplexed. "Well…yes!"

Green Lantern scratched his head. "Damn, I've heard of short learning-curves, but she takes the cake! Did she really learn English in less than an hour?"

"In a way," Superman said. "In my people's studies of Tamaran, we learned that the Tamaranians also possessed a limited kind of "tactile telepathy" that enabled them to, with effort, read the surface-thoughts of others after making skin-to-skin contact…which evidently extends to learning languages."

Batgirl had been snickering up until then, but that revelation made her burst out laughing. "Oh my GOD, that's CLASSIC!" she guffawed, falling onto her butt as she held her sides. "She…she literally tried to suck your brain out through your mouth!"

Robin scowled. "Next time, warn a guy before you try that, lady."

The Tamaranian frowned back. "You attacked me."

"Yeah, well, you broke my lucky staff; consider us even."

Raising his hands, Superman quickly interrupted. "This isn't helping."

The sound of Superman's voice made the Tamaranian cringe with terror, as she whirled around and knelt, almost in tears. "Oh, please, please, please do not be angry with me, o Sky Lord!" she wailed. "I swear I did not know it was you! Please, have pity!"

More than a little embarrassed, Superman gently took her by the shoulders and guided her back to her feet. "Miss, please stop!" he urged. "No-one is angry with you."

Robin rolled his eyes. "Yeah, speak for yourself, Big Blue."

Batman never so much as turned his head, keeping his tone flat. "Robin."

Robin sighed. "Fine. Sorry."

As the Tamaranian kept her eyes respectfully lowered, still quivering with fright, Superman tried again. "What's your name?"

"K-Koriand'r, Great One." She sniffled. "P-Please, do not punish me; had I known it was you, I would have never fled or attacked..!"

"Right now, young one, we are more concerned with how you came here," Diana soothed. "Were you aboard the Gordanian vessel?"

Koriand'r nodded. "I and many others," she replied, cringing. "They…did things to us."

Superman caught on. "They experimented on you, didn't they?" he asked. "That's how you have the ability to project energy-bolts."

Suppressing a sniffle, Koriand'r nodded again. "Yes, Sky Lord," she murmured. "When the ship began shaking, they killed everyone but me, and would likely have killed me, had the hooved man not arrived."

Green Lantern blinked. ""Hooved man"?"

"I saw him as the ship was falling; somehow, he got the two of us, and the Gordanian captain out of the ship," Koriand'r finished. "I flew away, but I managed to see him slowing his fall."

Batman folded his arms. "So we have one Gordanian and one unknown possibly loose somewhere over the United States."

"Possibly," Superman agreed, "assuming they survived…"

He was cut off by the beeping of his communicator, prompting him to answer. "Superman here."

"Commander El, we have a situation," came Sentrius' report. "Several minutes ago, a Gordanian ship jumped into Earth orbit…"

"We have the ship now, Sentrius; it's all under control."

"I am aware of that, Commander, but I believe the situation is more complicated than that," Sentrius continued. "Immediately following the Gordanian ship, a Kymellian scout-ship jumped into Earth-controlled space in pursuit of it; upon my hail, it stood down pursuit, but its commanding officer, Admiral Lord Aelfyre Whitemane, teleported aboard to render assistance. Is the Admiral presently with you?"

Instantly, it all clicked into place. "The hooved man…no, Sentrius, the Admiral is not here; we have reason to believe he executed an emergency teleport into open atmosphere with one of the crew," Superman answered. "We'll need to organize a search immediately; contact the rest of the League, and chart probable landing-zones based on the trajectory of the ship."

"Acknowledged, Commander; in the meantime, it may be prudent for several of you to return to the Watchtower, as several Stealth-Speeders are escorting the Kymellian ship here to dock, and many of the cadets aboard, including the Admiral's son, are quite distressed."

Superman sighed. "Understood, Sentrius; we'll be by within the hour. Superman out."

Wonder Woman noticed his worried expression. "Bad news?"

"Possibly. Koriand'r's hooved rescuer was a Kymellian Admiral."

Green Lantern grimaced. "Damn!" he muttered. "We'd better find him, fast!"

Batman arched an eyebrow. "He could have survived a fall from ten thousand feet?"

"Kymellians have several innate abilities, the power to nullify gravity among them," Superman explained. "He could have slowed his descent enough that he'd survive…but he wouldn't have walked away unscathed."

"Sounds like a search-and-rescue op is in order," Robin observed, before pointing to Koriand'r. "So what do we do with her?"

Superman sighed. "Well, the Watchtower isn't exactly the best place, since we'll be housing several Kymellian cadets," he mused, "and the Fortress is out of the question…so it looks like the Institute is the only reasonable alternative."

Batman nodded. "Robin, you and Lantern will accompany Koriand'r to the Institute; Batgirl and I will remain on-site to commence the initial search here."

Robin frowned. "Why're you sticking me with babysitting?"

Batgirl giggled. "Because she likes you."

"Shut up."

Superman turned to Koriand'r. "Koriand'r, we're going to do everything we can to get you home, but until then, you'll have to stay with some friends of mine; is that alright?"

Koriand'r bowed. "I-I would be honoured to be guest of your friends, Great One!"

Superman groaned, his hand moving to his forehead. "Will you please stop calling me that?" he asked. "I am as mortal as you are."

Koriand'r blinked, dumbfounded. "But…but you are one of the Star-People! Masters of the Shining Palace!" she exclaimed. "It…it would be blasphemy to not address you as such!"

Green Lantern chuckled. "Superman, I think this is going to be an uphill battle."

"Probably," Superman agreed. "Let's just hope finding the Admiral will be easier."

XXXXXXXX

Power residence, Queens, New York, a few minutes earlier

The afternoon air was crisp as a light breeze rustled the leaves, blowing through the Queens suburb, dying away as it reached the back yard of the newly-occupied house on the end of the block, its final wisps ruffling the twin blond pigtails of the 8-year-old girl absently skipping rope in her pink-white t-shirt and red shorts to pass the time.

After several more minutes, Caitlin – preferring "Katie" – Power brought her jump-rope to a stop, sighing to herself as she looked forlornly up at her big sister's window, catching glimpses of Julie dancing with her headphones on. That was all she wanted to do, lately: either dance, listen to music, go to the mall, or talk to her friends online about dumb boys…instead of play with her like she used to. Her only options right now were either Alex, who meant well, but always had lots to do at school, or Jerky Jack…

THUD!

The sound of something crashing hard into the bushes behind her startled Katie out of her thinking. Curious, she walked towards the broken bushes, and peered over the brambles…before her eyes went wide.

"Julie, Julie, Julie, Julie, Julie!"

Frantic, Katie raced into the house, rushing up the stairs towards her big sister's room and throwing open the door, where 15-year-old Julia Power, in her black miniskirt and pink t-shirt, was dancing to one of her Alison Blaire CDs, her headphones over her mid-length auburn hair, her green eyes closed as she danced.

Normally, Katie would have asked if she could dance, too, but she was too freaked-out. "JULIE!"

Her eyes scrunching from her sister's yell, Julie took off her headphones to glare at her. "God, Katie! What is it?"

Running to the window, Katie pointed towards the yard. "There's a horsey in the bushes, and he's hurt!"

Blinking, Julie followed her to the window, and looked out…only to see nothing. "I don't see anything, Katie."

"Yeah, 'cause he's down in the bushes!"

Julie sighed. "Katie, even if a horse was sitting down in the bushes, we'd be able to see him from here…"

"He's not sitting, Julie!" Katie insisted. "And he's not a regular horsey: he's got hands, and some kinda spacesuit..!"

Julie's eyes narrowed again. "I don't believe this: you barged into my room to try and get me to play make-believe?"

Katie sniffled. "I-I'm not making this up, Julie! He's real, and he needs help..!"

"Out!"

As her sister angrily pointed to the door, a dejected Katie shuffled out, trying very hard not to cry. 'So much for Julie,' she thought glumly. 'That just leaves…'

"Hey, Katie!" The sound of her other brother's voice drew Katie's attention to the right, as 12-year-old Jonathan Power, a bit taller than her, with short, spiky brown hair and brown eyes, in a blue t-shirt and shorts, ran up to her, holding a camera and a bowl. "Snack time!"

Taking the bowl, Katie scrunched up her nose as she found it full of baked beans. "What's this for, Jack?"

Jack grinned. "My latest video-stunt!" he declared. "I just need somebody to eat two whole cans of beans, and then use their farts to launch 'em off a ramp!"

"EEEWWWWWW!" Katie shouted, shoving the bowl back into her brother's hands. "I'm not helping with your stupid stunts, Jack! There's a space-horsey in our yard that needs help!"

Jack chuckled. "Riiiiiiight."

Katie huffed. "It's true!"

Jack's snickers grew. "Sure it is, Shorty."

"Don't call me Shorty!" Katie yelled. "Fine! Be a jerk, Jerky Jack! I'll do it myself!" With that, she stormed off.

Emerging into the front yard, Katie sat down on the front step in a sulk. 'What am I gonna do? Julie doesn't believe me, and Jack's being…well, Jack!' she thought. 'How am I gonna help that horsey..?'

"Hey, guys! I'm home!"

Her expression brightening, Katie bounced to her feet, racing to greet her oldest sibling. "Alex!"

Walking through the front gate, 17-year-old Alexander Power, fairly tall and wiry, with short blond hair and amber eyes, in his usual jeans and white t-shirt, grinned as he reached down to ruffle his baby sister's hair. "Hey, Munchkin."

Katie half-pouted at her big brother's greeting. "Don't call me Munchkin."

Alex chuckled. "Okay, okay," he relented. "Sorry I'm a little late; I was checking out some of the after-school programs…"

"Alex, there's no time!" Katie insisted, grabbing her brother's wrist and tugging him into the back yard. "There's some kinda space-horsey in the yard, and he needs help!"

Alex blinked. ""Space-horsey"?" he repeated. "Katie, if this is some kinda game…"

His voice trailed off as Katie pulled the bushes back, revealing the white-maned, equine humanoid being lying there, clad in a space-suit, out cold. "Whoa…"

Katie sniffed. "I tried telling Julie and Jack, but they didn't believe me!" she cried. "Alex, if we don't do something, h-he could die!"

His expression going firm, Alex raced into the house. "Julie, Jack, get down here!"

By the time Katie caught up to her brother, an exasperated Julie and a semi-bloated Jack, in the middle of munching on beans, had come down. "What is it, Alex?" Julie asked.

Jack swallowed. "Yeah! I was in the middle of something!" he said, before scowling at Katie. "Thanks for nothing, Shorty."

Katie went red. "Stop calling me..!"

"Guys!" Alex shouted. "Didn't either of you listen to what Katie was saying?"

Julie rolled her eyes. "You mean how there's some kind of space-horse in our back yard?" she replied. "You actually believed her?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah! She probably just made that up to get out of helping with my fart video!"

Alex's eyes narrowed. "What fart-video?"

Jack gulped, and quickly looked away. "Nothing. I didn't say fart-video."

"Yes you did!" Katie accused. "You wanted me to eat a whole bunch of beans, and then launch myself off a ramp by farting!"

Alex glared at Jack. "Is that true?"

"Uh…"

Alex groaned. "Putting aside how wrong it is to put your baby sister through such a dumbass stunt, Jack, you can't launch anything off a ramp with farts."

Jack looked down at the ground. "Could if you lit 'em on fire."

Katie looked horrified. "WHAT?"

Alex shook his head. "Trying to come up with a word besides dumbass…"

Julie's hands went to her hips. "Bottom line, Alex, is that I didn't see any horse out in the yard!" she said. "It's just Katie's imagination, again!"

Alex frowned at her. "Oh, really?" he asked, before he walked into the yard to point at their inadvertent guest. "Does he look imaginary to you?"

Annoyed, Julie followed him out, but her annoyance quickly turned to awe. "O-Oh my God…"

"See?" Katie exclaimed. "I told you!"

Following his siblings, Jack peered around Alex to gawk at the equine alien. "Wow!" he declared. "Forget stunt-videos; we could document a first contact! Internet fame, here we come!"

He was about to race into the house to grab his camera, but Alex's hand quickly snagged his collar. "This is serious, Jack; we don't have time for your scams!"

Katie looked at how still the alien was. "H-He's not moving," she murmured. "You don't…he's not…d-do you think he's..?"

Julie hugged herself. "God, Katie, I don't know…"

And then the equine being gasped for breath.

Jack stared. "Okay. That's one question answered."

Stirring, the alien horse opened his deep black eyes, taking another breath as he tried to stand up; he managed to get one hooved leg on solid ground…but when he put pressure on the other, he let out a sharp cry of pain, falling forward, prompting Alex to rush forward and support him. "Easy, there," he cautioned. "I don't know how big a fall you took, but I'm guessing it was a major one."

Julie looked stricken. "Alex, you do know he can't understand you, right?"

Before anyone could reply, the horse spoke. "T-Thank you."

Jack did a double-take. "Whoa! How'd you do that?"

The horse coughed. "Translator." He tried to stand again. "Must…must warn…danger…"

Katie moved to his side to hold his hand. "Don't worry, Mister Horsey – we'll help you!"

Alex looked worried. "I'm not disagreeing with you, Katie…but how? We aren't set up to help Earth horses, and if Mom and Dad see him, they'll freak and call the police, or the army!"

Katie wilted. "Oh, yeah." Then she brightened again. "We could call Superman and the Justice League! They'd know what to do!" Taking a deep breath, she yelled into the sky as loud as she could. "Superman! There's an alien horsey in our backyard, and he needs help..!"

Scandalized, Julie clapped her hand over Katie's mouth. "Katie, are you insane?" she cried. "Y-You can't just yell out for Superman like that!"

Katie frowned. "Why not?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "Do you really think he'd believe some kid talking about an 'alien horsey,' Shorty? Get real."

Sensing that Katie was about to get mad, Alex jumped in. "Julie and Jack have a point, Katie – without evidence, the Justice League wouldn't believe us," he said, thinking fast. "What we need to do is get proof to them without Mom or Dad knowing."

Katie calmed down. "Okay," she agreed. "Do they have a telephone number?"

Jack snorted. "Yeah, right; if they did, Julie would've had the line blocked, last year."

Julie went red. "I so would not!"

"Oh, yeah?" Jack laughed. "Then how come you still have a poster of Superman on your ceiling..?"

"Shut UP, you little troll!"

Alex looked like he had a headache. "GUYS!" he shouted. "Not helping!"

Katie brightened. "What about Mister X's school? They work with Superman and the League all the time!" she declared. "All we gotta do is put Mister Horsey in a big coat, shades, and a hat, and we can take him on the bus with us!"

Alex suppressed a chuckle. "That kind of disguise only works in cartoons, Katie," he said, before he looked thoughtful. "But that other part might work: if we can get him to the Xavier Institute, Professor Xavier and the X-Men would be able to get word to the League!"

Jack crossed his arms. "How, Alex? Like you said: we can't take him on the bus."

Alex grinned as he fished out his wallet. "I just got my driver's licence, remember? I'll just borrow the car from Mom and Dad, and "take you guys to the mall" for an hour or two…"

He was interrupted by the sound of a car pulling up out front. "It's Mom and Dad!" Julie cried. "What do we do?"

"We gotta hide him!" Jack exclaimed, looking around…and settling his eyes on Katie's old play-house. "We can stash him in there!" Promptly, Julie moved to help Alex carry the wounded alien into the play-house, settling him down as best they could, before hurrying back out.

They emerged not a moment too soon; opening the back door, 45-year-old Dr. James Power, tall and lean, with light red-brown hair that matched his thin beard, and green eyes framed by glasses, still in his lab-coat over his button-up shirt and slacks, walked into the yard. Seconds later, their mother, 39-year-old Catherine Power, willowy, with short light-blond hair – like Katie's – and blue eyes, in her usual dress blouse and business-suit skirt, followed him. "Everything alright?" James inquired.

The four of them quickly nodded. "False alarm, Dad," Alex said. "We thought we heard some animal loose in the yard!"

Jack nodded. "Yeah, but it turns out it was just Katie playing make-believe."

Katie pouted. "At least I wasn't trying to use my butt as a ramp-rocket!"

Catherine frowned as she looked to her younger son. "Jonathan, I hope you're not trying to make another one of those ridiculous web-videos again," she warned.

Jack gulped. "No, Mom; no more videos for me."

"Good."

Alex grinned sheepishly. "Uh, Dad?" he asked. "Can I borrow the car for a couple hours?"

James arched an eyebrow. "For what?"

Julie jumped in. "Alex said he'd give me a lift to the mall," she said. "I need to pick up a new outfit."

Now Catherine looked mildly suspicious. "Didn't you get one last week?" she asked, fixing a mildly-disapproving eye on her daughter's too-short skirt. "Come to think of it, I remember telling you not to get that skirt, young lady."

"MOM..!"

Sensing an argument brewing, Alex defused it fast. "Actually, I kinda needed to pick up a good science-reference for an assignment, Dad; Julie was just gonna tag along for the ride."

James beamed. "Well, son, if you need a good reference, why not just ask your old man?" he asked. "My work at the university is cutting-edge; my project is practically on the verge of creating antimatter..!"

Alex chuckled. "Thanks, Dad, but I'm gonna need a reference I can understand. Sorry."

"Oh." James was mildly deflated. "Well, then, of course, you can use the car…as soon as I get the department's prototype out of the trunk; still need to make some adjustments on it by tomorrow."

"In other words, after dinner," Catherine corrected. "Right now, you can help set the table in the meantime." Smiling at her husband, she added, "Speaking of which, James, I could use a hand with the vegetables…"

"Oh. Right."

As their parents headed inside, Katie blinked. "Wait…what did Dad say he was working on?"

"Antimatter, Katie," Alex replied.

Katie was still scratching her head. "So why's it matter so much?" she asked. "If it's antimatter…it shouldn't matter."

Julie sighed. "Katie, that's not what…oh, forget it," she said. "At least we can use the car."

Jack grinned. "Oh, yeah: road-trip to the Xavier Institute!" he declared. "Hey, maybe we'll actually see some of the X-Men and the League! Think they'll give us autographs, or maybe give us some pointers on breaking into the super-hero biz?"

Alex rolled his eyes. "Jack, did you fall on your head doing that last video?" he asked. "Do we look like superheroes?"

Katie nodded. "Yeah, Jack! We're just gonna get Mister Horsey some help!" she agreed…though her thoughts slightly agreed with her brother: being a super-hero would be pretty cool.

Too bad it wouldn't happen; it wasn't like people were giving superpowers away, right?

XXXXXXXX

Xavier Institute, Westchester

Everything hurt.

Pain was all she knew as she was wheeled into the bad man's lab, strapped to a gurney, cringing as the white light stung her eyes. Frantic, she tried to get free, but it was no use, even with her new powers…

"Less than enthusiastic, Clarice?"

Clarice froze as she saw him in his lab-coat, holding a syringe. Smiling that toothy grin, Sinister – though she didn't know that was his name, yet – drew closer. "I believe I can understand your trepidation – my experiments on myself were…somewhat less than pleasant," he admitted. "But this work is vital, my dear; we are both expanding the knowledge of the X-Gene, everyday!" He tapped the syringe, clearing it. "I do hope that helps, but if not…well, you know the saying about breaking eggs."

As he drew ever closer, Clarice felt her eyes water. "N-No, p-please..!" she cried, but it was no use, as the needle plunged into her neck…

With a shriek, Clarice sat bolt upright in her bed, her eyes darting around…only to find herself in the Xavier Institute, in her room, still in her PJs from the morning's check-up.

The check-up she'd run from.

Hugging herself, Clarice scrunched her eyes shut; she knew the blue furry man – Dr. McCoy – was only trying to help, but…just going to the infirmary had looked so much like the lab, she'd freaked out and barricaded herself in her room. 'He probably thinks I'm crazy,' she thought glumly. 'And maybe I am…'

"Lantern? Robin? Is everything alright?"

Hearing a familiar voice from her window, Clarice gingerly peered out through it, glancing down at the front yard, where a plain-clothes Supergirl, along with a young, olive-skinned lady in a long dark robe and veil, were meeting Green Lantern, a young man in a red-black uniform, black eye-mask, and yellow-black cape, and a beautiful orange-skinned, flame-red-haired young woman, in some kind of violet swimsuit-like garment. "Yeah, Kara, everything's fine," Green Lantern said, "except for an AWOL Kymellian Admiral somewhere over the Eastern Seaboard."

Supergirl's eyes went wide. "What?" she cried. "W-We have to find him!"

Looking slightly uncomfortable at the newcomer – or possibly her choice of attire – the robed woman spoke up. "And your friend..?"

Beaming, the orange beauty darted forward to hug her. "Greetings, friend! I am Koriand'r of Tamaran! I embrace you!"

Gasping for breath, the robed woman managed to choke out. "I am…happy to meet you…as well, Koriand'r," she wheezed. "My name is…Sooraya…"

Kara sighed. "Koriand'r? I'm sure you mean well…but on Earth, we try not to squish our friends."

Squeaking with horror, Koriand'r released Sooraya. "P-Please forgive me, Ladyship! I will restrain myself, in the future!" she cried. "I-I did not hurt you, did I, friend Sooraya?"

Regaining her breath, Sooraya shook her head. "No, not really."

"Joy!"

Robin rolled his eyes. "Oh, now you're all friendly? As opposed to ten minutes ago?"

Koriand'r frowned back at him. "Now you're not attacking me."

Green Lantern put a hand to his forehead. "I'm not gonna have to separate you two, am I?"

"Funny, Lantern."

Looking about, Koriand'r settled her gaze on Clarice's window. "Um…Lady Kara?"

Kara groaned. "It's just Kara, Koriand'r."

Koriand'r kept looking. "Why is there a purple person watching us, Ladyship?"

As the others all looked up towards Clarice's window, a panicked Clarice, by sheer reflex, ducked out of sight, forming a portal-pulse in her hand and tossing it at the floor, where it expanded into a circular rift in space. Gingerly, Clarice poked her head through, to see if she could hide there…

…and found her head poking out of the floor under a desk. Looking around, she found herself in some kind of classroom, with three other students there – two girls, and one boy – as well as the glasses-wearing young man – Scott, if she remembered – standing by the blackboard. "Okay, everyone," Scott said. "Today's lesson is an introduction to tactics; any questions before we begin?"

The tall blonde woman raised her hand. "Why are we the only ones here?"

"Everyone else has already taken a lesson like this, Dinah; it helped us a lot, and I'm sure it'll help you, too."

The Japanese girl raised her hand. "So will we be learning mission-strategy, Scott-san?"

"Almost, Hisako," Scott corrected. "Tactics focuses on the overall plan for any given mission, while strategy centres around on-site plans; strategy can change on the fly, but tactics generally remain the same."

The guy groaned. "So after we get this, then can we get a mission?"

Scott sighed. "We'll talk after the lesson, Rudy," he said…before he glanced under Dinah's desk. "I was just about to start, Clarice; did you want to join us?"

Dinah blinked. "Huh?" Leaning down, she looked under her desk. "Hey..!" Flinching, Clarice yanked her head back into her room, sealing her portal behind her, before tossing another pulse, and leaping through the portal as it formed.

This time, Clarice emerged under a covered table, in an apparently empty room: the kitchen. Closing her portal, Clarice hugged her arms and legs to herself, hoping nobody would come in…but her luck quickly ran out, as three sets of footsteps padded across the checkered floor. "I still say this place beats the Boarding House, Pietro," one voice said, as the heaviest set of footsteps lumbered to the fridge, starting to rummage around.

A second voice chuckled. "You're just saying that 'cause of the free eats, Fred," Pietro quipped. "I'm just not completely fussy about marching to Xavier or Super-Dork's drum, 24/7."

The third voice spoke up. "You sure about that, Pietro?"

At that, two more sets of footsteps walked in, accompanied by a familiar voice. "Hello, friends!"

Pietro let out a half-strangled squawk. "Uh…o-okay, Todd, I might've been kinda hasty…"

Keeping mildly-terrified eyes on the pair of orange-hued feet walking around the table, Clarice kept silent as Koriand'r spoke again. "And what room is this? Some kind of food-storage chamber?"

"That's close enough," came Kara's voice, which turned disapproving, "although I'm pretty sure it's supposed to have enough food for everyone, Fred."

Fred stopped his rummaging. "But I was hungry…"

Koriand'r stopped moving. "Wait…Lady Kara, is there someone else here?"

Kara also went still. "Actually, yes, Koriand'r; I'm hearing another heartbeat…there!"

Panicking, Clarice tried to form another portal, but it was too late; the tablecloth was lifted up, and a glorious, orange-gold face peeked in at her with a smile. "Hello, friend!"

As Clarice cringed, Kara and Todd both peeked in at her. "It's okay, Clarice," Kara soothed. "You can come on out."

Todd grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, the only dangerous one here is Freddy, and he's just dangerous to a fridge."

"Hey!"

Suppressing mild trembles, Clarice inched out from under the table, slowly standing up, which allowed her to see the eight of them – Green Lantern, Kara, Pietro, Sooraya, Koriand'r, Todd, Robin, and Fred, holding a massive hoagie with a big bite in it – crowded around. "H-Hi."

His smile turning sheepish, Fred broke his sandwich in half, and handed the bite-free half to her. "You hungry?" he asked. "I guess this is a bit much for one guy."

Clarice just stared.

Fred blinked. "Too much?" he asked. "Okay, I can make you another, if you tell me what to put on it." He leaned back into the fridge. "Okay, we got ham, turkey, lettuce, tomato, mustard…"

"Muss…tahrd?" Koriand'r repeated. "What is this "muss-tahrd"?"

Robin snorted. "It's pronounced mustard, lady."

Reaching into the fridge, Fred pulled out a yellow bottle, and popped it open. "It's just something you put on…well, anything, really."

Curious, Koriand'r took the bottle, and gave it a testing sniff, before dabbing a bit of the yellow liquid on her finger to taste it…and beaming. "Mmmm!" At once, she yanked the stopper off…and took a huge gulp.

Todd's eye went wide. "Holy crap."

Robin arched an eyebrow. "I guess that's one way to use it."

Fred was dismayed. "Hey! Save some for later!"

Her ruby lips daubed yellow, Koriand'r put the bottle down. "Glorious! I have never tasted so delicious a beverage!" she declared, before handing the bottle to Clarice. "Friend, you must try some!"

Cringing, Clarice shook her head. "N-No, thank you."

Noticing her hesitation, Koriand'r tilted her head. "What is wrong?" she asked. "Do I frighten you?"

Robin crossed his arms. "Yeah, like having mustard on your lips is intimidating."

Koriand'r was about to retort, until she realized Robin was right. "Oh!" Quickly, she licked it off. "A most astute observation; thank you for telling me!"

Pietro looked ready to keel over. "Is anyone else gonna touch on how hot that just was?"

Koriand'r looked confused. "Hot?" she asked. "No, friend, the mustard was quite cold; is it better warmed?"

Kara was trying not to laugh. "That wasn't what he meant, Koriand'r," she managed to say. Calming, she added, "In any case, Clarice here has…had a rough time."

"Oh." Koriand'r turned back to Clarice, still perplexed. "How so?"

Robin put his hand to his head. "So much for tact."

As Clarice hugged herself, Kara moved to her side, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "That's not for us to say, Koriand'r," she said. "It's Clarice's choice."

Koriand'r looked mildly stricken. "P-Please forgive me, friend Clarice! I did not mean to pry!"

Clarice trembled. "T-That's okay."

Green Lantern turned to go. "If that's everything, I'd better be going."

Kara nodded. "You'll notify Aly, Kal, and I when you find the Admiral?"

"Count on it."

As Green Lantern left, Robin looked mildly perplexed. "So you know this Admiral, or something?"

"Not personally," Kara admitted, "but the Kymellian Commonwealth was one of Krypton's closest allies and friends." Her eyes narrowed. "If anyone can help us ferret out who helped the Dheronians, they can."

Robin's expression turned grim. "Oh."

Now it was Koriand'r's turn to look confused. "Ladyship?" she asked. "Of what do you speak?"

Kara sighed. "Koriand'r, that's gonna be a long story…"

XXXXXXXX

Undisclosed location

"Do we have eyes on any bogeys?"

In a dark chamber lit only by numerous computer-consoles, dozens of engineers worked furiously, monitoring data-feeds across the United States. "Negative, Director; we're detecting no potential hostiles, other than the one that came down over Gotham City. It looks like the Justice League bottled this up, pretty fast."

In her usual indigo business suit, NSA Director Amanda Waller looked on warily. "Make sure of that," she warned, before turning to her two cohorts. "Ross: is our team ready to deploy?"

Brigadier General Thaddeus Ross, in uniform, nodded. "I can't say I'm fussy about our recruits, Waller…but given the short notice, I suppose we can't complain, too much," he replied. "It might have been different if you'd brought me in on this earlier, Waller."

Amanda frowned. "Given that we couldn't be certain how much Lassider would leak, Ross, it was necessary; we're fortunate that he kept quiet," she answered. "Is there any word on the incident in Egypt?"

Thaddeus shook his head. "Nick's clammed up about it; can't get a word out of him," he said. "'Course, we still got that one threat to deal with."

Next to them, in his grey business suit, his red hair tinged grey, Henry Gyrich scowled. "I still can't believe the President went along with allowing those creatures to keep access to that weapon..!"

"With the Kryptonian bamboozling the U.N. like that, Gyrich, he didn't have much choice," Ross grumbled. "Right now, you just focus on getting our little operation the clearance we need."

Henry nodded. "By now, Robert should be drafting the papers to present to the Senate; between him and Senator Rusk..!"

"Director Waller, we have a contact!"

Amanda instantly focused on one video-screen, showing a glowing red, inhuman shape moving swiftly. "Where?"

"New York, ma'am; Queens, to be precise!" The screen zoomed out, showing another glowing silhouette, surrounded by several human heat-signatures. "We're getting another one, Director; it's in a residential district! The first one's headed right for it!"

Her eyes narrowed, Amanda turned to Ross. "Get the Squad ready to deploy."

Ross had already taken out his cell-phone. "Thunderbolt to Squad-Command; respond."

"Heeeey, Rossy! I was wonderin' when you were gonna call!"

Thaddeus rolled his eyes. "Focus, Wilson. We've got a job for you."

"Sweeeeeet! What's the author got lined up, this time?"

Ross groaned, putting his hand to his eyebrows. "Enough with the babble, Deadpool; we're sending you the coordinates, now. You're to deal with the two bogeys we've tracked."

"Oooh, an E.T.-hunt, huh? Cool by me; dead or alive?"

"Cadmus mandate, Wilson: just make sure any tech they've got makes it. Alive is preferable, but if U.S. citizens are in danger, you pop 'em," Ross said. "Just keep the collateral damage to a minimum…and make sure Zmeck understands that; psychotic S.O.B.'s crazier than you."

"I doubt that, Rossy, but okay! I'll keep Major Pain in line!" came the reply. "Between me, him, Shots, Robin Hood, and the newbie, we'll have your aliens bagged and tagged in time for dinner! Peace out!"

As the line went silent, Ross groaned. "Heaven help us, but we've contracted a pack of lunatics."

Amanda nodded soberly. "Until we get a success – and a seal of approval – they're all we've got," she replied. "Hopefully, they'll be enough to pull this off…"

XXXXXXXX

Field House, Bayville University

"So, how are you and lover-boy holding up?"

Standing on her yoga-mat in one section of the Field House's main gymnasium, in her light blue yoga-pants and pink tank-top, her hair tied back in a ponytail, Alison sighed as she stretched. "As well as can be expected, Lil."

In similar attire, Lila slightly flinched. "That bad, huh?"

Taking a deep breath, Alison began the first move of their yoga-session, letting out some of the tension that her morning classes had left her with. "Reporters, paparazzi, you name it; it was my first year at Bayville High, all over again."

Lila followed suit, matching her motions. "Any chance you can get Big Blue to get them to back off?"

Alison held back a faint smile. "He actually volunteered, but I said it'd make things worse," she answered. "Thankfully, Aunt Bridget made a few calls and got most of them to back off; remind me to hug her, next time I see her."

"Gotcha." Lila giggled. "And how did Cole take it?"

Alison had to work hard to keep her smirk under control. "Taryn told me she'd heard Adrienne pitched a full-out hissy-fit," she whispered. "Neither she nor any of her Sigma Delta Kappa sisters have so much as come near me, since."

"Yeah, and you're gonna lose sleep over that!" Lila chuckled. "Please tell me you're going to rub it in her face at some point? Maybe have a make-out session with Big Blue just as Cole walks around the corner?"

Alison flushed. "Li-la!"

"Just saying!" Lila said, before her expression turned serious. "So…you and the big guy are okay?"

Alison blinked. "Why wouldn't we be?"

"Well…he hasn't been around all that much, lately," Lila pointed out. "Bobby's been handling a lot of X-Force's sessions, and he's been doing great, but…"

"He's been busy with his new job and trying to track down Apocalypse, Lila," Alison admonished. "Once he sets a new equilibrium, things'll get back to normal."

Lila half-chuckled. "Whatever that is."

Suppressing a laugh, Alison was about to respond, when a somewhat familiar voice interrupted her. "Um…excuse me?"

Turning around, Alison spotted a young, red-haired woman, a little bit younger than Lila, in exercise shorts and a white tank-top, inched towards them, looking mildly nervous. "I-I-I hope you don't mind, but…most of the gym is in use, so I was wondering..?"

Recognizing her, Alison smiled. "…if you could work out with us?" she finished. "Sure!"

The young woman beamed. "R-Really?" she asked. "T-Thanks!" Pausing, she flinched. "Oh, God, I'm sorry; I-I didn't introduce myself!" she cried. "I'm Mary-Jane, but you can just call me…"

"…MJ; we know," Alison said, looking around to make sure no-one was listening. "I remember you from when…your boyfriend got caught in Zod's crosshairs."

Understanding, MJ nodded. "Y-Yeah, I remember, too," she said. "That day, I didn't know whether to be relieved he was okay, or mad at him for doing something so stupid!"

Lila giggled. "Well, Aly, you sure know that feeling!"

Alison sighed. "MJ, I know exactly what you mean – my boo practically makes a career out of scaring me half to death with his boneheaded moves," she agreed.

Mary-Jane suppressed a faint smile. "So I've heard."

At that very moment, Alison's gym-bag began to beep, prompting her to fish out her communicator. "Hello?"

"Hey, taushi, it's me."

The sound of her boyfriend's voice instantly brought a smile to Alison's face. "Hi, baby," she cooed. "I was just talking about you…which I'm sure you heard, already."

Clark chuckled. "Unfortunately, no; I'm still at the Watchtower, smoothing things out with these Kymellian cadets. Admiral Whitemane's son is particularly peeved we still haven't found his dad."

Alison nodded. "You'll find him, tausha; I know it."

"Thanks, Aly; I just hope it's…huh? Hang on, taushi." There was a moment's pause, before Clark's voice turned urgent. "Aly, we've got trouble: I just heard back from Victor – he's found the Admiral…but so has one of the Gordanian crew!"

Alison was instantly all business. "Do you need me out there?"

"Definitely, taushi; from what Vic's saying, this guy's hopped up on something, and there are civilians in the area! Arrow, Flash and I are already en route!"

"Got it, baby; I'll be there as soon as I can!"

As Alison switched off her communicator, Mary-Jane looked worried. "Trouble?"

Alison nodded. "Duty calls," she sighed. "We're gonna have to reschedule our workout, Lils."

Lila shook her head. "Not a problem, girl," she replied. "You just get out there and kick butt!"

Alison smiled. "Thanks!" Grabbing her gym-bag, she hurried out, looking over her shoulder as she ran. "Nice meeting you, MJ!"

MJ smiled back. "Likewise!" With that, Alison darted for the nearest door, making for the nearest change-room with an outside window as fast as she could.

XXXXXXXX

Queens, a few minutes earlier

"Thanks again for helping us on this, Vic."

In his black jeans and grey sweater, with the hood partially covering his cybernetic eye, Victor walked through the Queens suburb, his communicator to his ear as his eye scanned the neighborhood, checking for any unusual heat-signatures. "Don't mention it, CK; if this guy can help track down the skels that had Krypton whacked, I'm all in."

"Right now, the most important thing is finding Admiral Whitemane and getting him help," Superman replied. "From what his son said, the Admiral's equipped with translator tech, but there's no way to know if it survived the fall; if you find him, and he doesn't understand you, just hail the Watchtower, and put him on the line so I can talk to him."

"Gotcha." Victor looked around. "So this is where the big gal figured he landed, huh?"

"It looks like it, Vic; of all the possible landing-sites Sentrius tagged, yours was the most probable, though we have got the League and most of the X-Men checking the others."

Victor whistled. "Well, if the guy had to pick a drop-zone, he couldn't have picked a better one; this place is more than a little on the swank side, CK," he mused. "Hope he's not spooked by a machine-man stopping by; you know how folks tend to get nervous around me."

"I wouldn't expect too much trouble from the Admiral, Victor; plus, Ollie and Wally should be arriving to assist you within five minutes."

"Good to hear, Smallville; we should be able to cover more…hold on." Victor's eye-readout started beeping, showing a spike in residual heat from one of the nearby houses…originating from the sky. "CK, I may have something here; I'll call when I know more. Cyborg out." Switching off his communicator, Vic ran towards the house.

Reaching the front yard, Victor was about to round the fence, but the sound of voices made him crouch down, out of sight. "Are you sure about this, Alex?"

"It's the only thing we can do, Julie. We can't leave this guy here, and the hospitals won't know what to do with him; the Xavier Institute is his best shot."

The first girl's voice answered him. "I know, I know. It's just that…what if some of the League – or maybe even Superman – is there, and I show up looking like this?"

A younger girl spoke up. "Julie! Mister Horsey doesn't have time to wait around for you to pick a new outfit!"

A younger boy snickered. "Shorty's actually right, Jules; besides, I don't think Superman's gonna drop Alison Blaire for you."

"JACK!"

"STOP CALLING ME SHORTY!"

With a sigh, Alex spoke again. "Guys!"

Victor had to chuckle to himself. 'Bingo!' As casually as he could, he stood up, and strolled into view. "You kids need a hand?"

The four kids all froze, with the younger two quickly darting in front of something wrapped in a blanket they'd been about to load into the back seat of a car. "W-Who are you?" the older girl – Julie – asked.

"A Good Samaritan," Victor answered. "Just curious, since I hear that alien horses have been dropping out of the sky, lately."

The younger girl's eyes went wide. "You know about Mister Horsey?" she exclaimed. "'Cause he's really hurt, and we have to get him to..!"

"KATIE!" the younger boy – Jack – shouted.

The oldest kid – obviously Alex – raised his hands. "Sorry, pal, but we don't know anything about that; we're just taking a trip to the mall."

Victor shrugged. "Okay; no problem." As if he was about to go, Victor turned around, fishing out his communicator. Hailing the Watchtower, he loudly spoke into it. "Hey, Supes? False alarm – thought a bunch of kids found him, but it was a dead end."

Superman sounded confused. "I thought you had a heat-lock on him, Vic; what happened?"

Victor suppressed a chuckle, keeping his voice low. "Just play along, CK," he whispered. Out loud, he added, "Yeah, you don't need to drop by; nothin' to see here."

Julie paled. "You…you have Superman on the line with you?" she cried, frantically trying to smooth out her hair. "You KNOW him?"

Stricken, Katie pushed her way forward. "Superman, you gotta help! Mister Horsey got real hurt when he fell from the sky, and we were gonna bring him to Mister X's school so you could help him..!"

Jack groaned. "Way to go, Captain Blabbermouth!"

Victor smirked. "Hold on, Big Blue." To the kids, he added, "Care to try again?"

Alex sighed. "We're busted, guys," he said. "Jack, Katie, show him." Moving clear, Jack and Katie stood by as their big brother pulled back the blanket, revealing the semi-conscious form of a spacesuit-clad, equine humanoid being. "We found him in our back yard; we were trying to help, honest..!"

"Take it easy, man; nobody's mad at you," Victor soothed, before he aimed his communicator at the humanoid. "Big Blue? You're on the air."

Loud and clear, Superman's voice echoed across the airwaves. "Brother in bonds, I greet thee thrice," he intoned. Seconds later, he added, "Fraetor servak, tor velorae."

The alien instantly perked up at that, as he sat up with a wince. "Your grasp…of Kymellic is excellent, friend, but it will not be necessary; my translator is functional."

Superman's smile was evident. "It's good to hear you, Admiral; we've all been concerned, especially your son."

The Admiral coughed. "You may tell Kofi that, besides a bruised lung and a fractured thigh-bone, I am well," he answered. "And what may I call you, son of Jor-El?"

Superman was silent for a few seconds. "I am Kal-El, Admiral; it's an honor to meet you."

Jack was bug-eyed. ""Admiral"?" he repeated.

Superman chuckled. "Is this one of the kids who found him?" he asked.

Alex gulped. "Yes, sir; that's my brother Jack. I'm Alex, and these are my two sisters, Julie and Katie."

"Well, Alex, on behalf of myself and the rest of the League, I'd like to thank you all for helping our friend, here," Superman answered. "On that note, please allow me to introduce His Grace Lord Admiral Aelfyre Whitemane of the Kymellian Commonwealth Defence Fleet."

Coughing, the Admiral started to stand up. "You have my thanks as well, children," he added. "Now, if you do not mind, I will take my leave…"

"Kids, what time did you plan to…what on Earth?"

Victor turned towards the house, where he found two adults – the kids' parents – standing there, gawking in utter bewilderment at him and the Admiral. "Justice League business, sir," he said, thinking fast. "It's all under control."

The mother's expression turned stern. "Alexander, does this have anything to do with you wanting the car?"

Alex gulped. "Uh…"

Jack flinched. "Maybe?"

Aelfyre quickly stepped in. "Good woman, your children were only attempting to render assistance to me; had they not done so, my injuries could have rapidly deteriorated."

Katie nodded. "Admiral Horsey was really hurt when he fell from the sky, Mom! We had to do something!"

The father was still in mild shock. "Then…you're..?"

"A friend," Aelfyre answered. "One that has no wish to intrude upon your hospitality any further."

Moving in to loop Aelfyre's arm over his shoulder, Victor nodded. "You folks don't need to worry about this; we've got it in hand." Putting his communicator to his ear, he added, "Big Blue, you'd better tell Aly's Aunt to drop by my location; we need some feathers smoothed over…"

He froze as his optic implant started to beep again, showing another approaching heat-signature, much larger than the Admiral's. "Hold on." Victor looked to the Admiral. "Were there any more of your people aboard that ship when you bailed?"

Aelfyre shook his head. "No; there was only the Tamaranian girl…and one of the Gordanian crew, equipped with some sort of bio-augmentation system!"

Victor grimaced. "Oh, crap…Watchtower, did you get that?"

"Loud and clear, Vic; Aly and I are en route to assist, and Arrow and Flash should be there in a few minutes! If this guy's hostile, you'll need to hold him back until then..!"

"SSNNRRRREEEERRRARRRGGHHH!"

The sound of that guttural roar drowned out the rest of Superman's warning, prompting Victor to look up at the Powers' roof, where a large, muscled, black-skinned lizard-thing was perched, waiting to pounce. "Yeah, I think we can rule out that "If" part, man."

Roaring again, the augmented Gordanian struck, leaping straight at Victor and slamming him to the ground with a tackle, causing Aelfyre to get thrown to the side. Landing on his feet, the Gordanian caught sight of the Power family, and started to stalk towards them, claws bared, and fangs dripping…

Taking a deep breath, Aelfyre aimed his hands at the family, and let loose a black-white energy-pulse, instantly turning them weightless as he yanked them to the side, evading the Gordanian's charge…before he let out a cry of pain, sagging back to his knees. Regaining focus on his true target, the Gordanian roared, racing towards Aelfyre and grabbing him by the throat, opening his maw for a fatal bite…

Getting back on his feet, Cyborg was instantly ready, morphing his arm into his sonic cannon. "Suck on this, buster!" he shouted, before he opened fire, blasting the augmented lizard with a wall of pure sonic force. Howling with agony as the sound ripped into him, the Gordanian dropped Aelfyre, collapsing as part of his black coating started to melt away, revealing his true, green-scaled self.

Jack grinned. "Cool!" he exclaimed. "That was so awesome! Can I get one of those?"

Cyborg grinned. "Sorry, little man, but no dice," he answered. "Take it from me: you wouldn't want one, if you knew how I got it…"

"Wow, this sure makes my job easier!"

Hearing that semi-manic voice prompted Cyborg to turn, where he found a red-black-clad, hooded man, armed with a katana and a pair of revolvers, leaning by the fence. His thoughts flashing through some of the League's case-files, Cyborg glared at the newcomer, recognizing him. "What do you want, Deadpool?"

"Oh, not much: a new bouncy-castle, one or two nacho-cheese chili chimichangas – you know, the usual," Deadpool answered, before his masked eyes narrowed. "But right now, I'll settle for Scale-ass and Hooves, there; fork 'em over so I can go home."

Katie was instantly irate. "Y-You leave Admiral Horsey alone!"

Deadpool laughed. "Aw, ain't you cute, Pigtails!" he chortled. "Word of advice, though: never yell at a masked guy with guns and a sword, especially if he's nuttier than a squirrel's breakfast buffet-table."

Cyborg re-armed his sonic-cannon, levelling it at Deadpool. "I know you didn't just threaten a little kid in front of me, Wilson."

Deadpool groaned. "Seriously, Tin-Butt? We have to do this?" he griped. "Can't you just be a pal? I got bills to pay!"

Cyborg had just about had enough, as he got a solid target-lock on Deadpool…when a surge of purple-black energy slammed into him, blasting him across the Powers' yard and into the street, while a tall, well-muscled man, made seemingly of red-yellow metal, with a crest of a combined 'M' and 'F' etched onto his chest over his heart, walked into view. "Time for talking's over, Wilson; now we do this my way."

Deadpool was irate. "Zmeck! What the hell?" he fumed. "Didn't I tell you to cool it? Every pot-shot you fuck up shrinks my profit-margin!"

"That's Major Force to you, Wilson," the metal man growled. "And unlike you, I'm in this for my country, not my paycheck."

Deadpool glowered into empty space. "Seriously, Author? Of all the nut-jobs you could've stuck on my team, you pick the one that shoots dark quantum energy?"

Walking past the Power family, Major Force paused to glare at them. "You two saw nothing," he warned. "This whole Charlie-Foxtrot was just a gas-line breaking, got it?" He glowered at the kids. "And that goes double for you brats."

Taking a deep breath, Alex glared back. "And if we don't?"

Major Force's lidless gold eyes narrowed, as he clenched his fist, causing it to glow black-violet. "Then you got a problem, junior."

Looking up, Katie grinned. "Actually, Major Foil-Jerk…you do!"

Major Force arched an eyebrow. "And just why's that – MMMRFFGGRGG!"

Major Force's remark was stifled as a glue-filled arrow splatted over his face, leaving him stumbling around blindly while a Javelin flew by overhead, allowing Green Arrow to leap out, taking up a cover-fire position on a nearby rooftop. Spotting him, Deadpool was about to return fire, but he was summarily bowled over by a crimson streak, as the Flash raced over to Cyborg, helping him back to his feet. "You okay, man?"

Cyborg groaned. "Took you guys long enough."

Deadpool was fuming. "Okay, Author, how long are you gonna keep this nick-of-time schtick going? Does Darko and his fire-planet have to show up for you to start mixing shit up?"

Julie blinked. "What? What are you talking about, you psycho?"

Deadpool blanched. "Crap. Spoilers." He waved his hands rapidly. "F-Forget I said anything!"

Snarling, Major Force managed to tear the glue-arrow off of his face, powering another quantum surge as he did. "Wilson! Get our cover-fire on the horn!" he yelled, taking aim at Flash. "I'm taking this little punk out!"

Major Force's hand flared dark purple as the dark quantum blast raced from his fingers towards Flash, who was already in motion, pushing Victor out of the way before he darted clear. "Dude. You have got to work on your aim," Flash quipped, as he came to a stop right next to Force. Growling with anger, Major Force unleashed a glowing backhand strike…which Flash easily ducked. "Seriously, man: get your eyes checked! You couldn't hit the broad side of a..!"

Roaring, Major Force unleashed a wide-field quantum blast, gouging a crater out of the Powers' lawn and sending Flash flying. But the blast didn't stop there; it kept going, racing towards the Power family..!

His eyes wide with horror, Aelfyre reached towards them. "NO!" Summoning what energy he had, he engulfed them in a null-gravity field and pulled, yanking them clear of the blast, just enough so that it dissipated right in front of them…before he collapsed on the ground, his vision blurring.

Deadpool groaned as he surveyed the damage. "Great; so much for my bouncy-castle," he groused, moving towards the fallen Aelfyre. "At least I can still pick up a new – WHOOP!"

Reacting fast, Deadpool ducked under a blast from Cyborg's sonic cannon, as Cyborg darted ahead of him. "I don't think so, pyjama-boy."

Between the near-miss and the shot at his duds, Deadpool was pissed. "Okay, Patchwork: no more Mister Nice Merc!" Drawing his katana, Deadpool punctuated his threat with a vertical slash, which Cyborg blocked with his cybernetic arm, chipping the outer casing…and leaving his lower body unguarded. "NUTCRUSH!" Deadpool roared, as he fired off a low kick, forcing Cyborg to block low, at which point Deadpool unleashed a blindingly fast backspin slash; frantic, Cyborg twisted low, as the blade's edge sailed inches over his nose, evading death by the narrowest margin. But Deadpool wasn't done: spinning his momentum into a back-kick, he knocked Cyborg back, drawing his machine-gun in the same motion. "Patches, say hello to my little..!"

Sklutch!

"…FUCK!" Deadpool cursed, as Green Arrow's shot speared right through his palm, forcing him to drop his weapon. "Barty! Shots! Any fucking time, now!"

As Deadpool tried to pull the arrow out of his hand, Cyborg readied his sonic cannon…before a distant gunshot echoed in the distance, as something pierced his cannon, shorting it out. His eyes going wide, Cyborg darted behind the nearby car. "Arrow, we've got a sniper! Can you spot him?"

From his vantage point, Green Arrow scanned the skyline. "There's too many spots, Cyborg; I can't narrow down – WHOA!" His remark was cut off as he leapt out of the way of an arrow, seconds before it pierced the spot he'd been in. "Correction: we got two snipers, and one of 'em's muscling in on my turf!"

Cursing enough to make a sailor blush, Deadpool managed to rip the arrow out of his hand, flexing his fingers as his healing factor re-knitted his fist-bones. "Okay, now," he mused, picking up his automatic. "I think we were just getting to the part where I blow your fucking brains out, Robochump!" Taking aim at Cyborg, he started to squeeze the trigger…just as a thunderclap echoed in the distance.

Deadpool's eyes widened. "Oh, son of a…"

Darting out of the sky, Superman landed in front of Cyborg, snatching Deadpool's bullet out of the air, before his eye-rays seared through the barrel of his weapon, melting it to slag and scorching Deadpool's hand. "Everything okay, Cyborg?"

Grumbling, Cyborg was trying to repair his cybernetic arm. "Peachy," he muttered. "I'd be fine if it wasn't for those darn snipers."

Superman nodded. "Leave them to Aly, man; we'll handle the chumps on the ground."

Blowing on his singed fingers, Deadpool gulped. "Uh…okay, Zmeckster? Gonna need a new plan, here…"

"Speak for yourself, Wilson!" Major Force boomed, stomping towards Superman. "I gotta bone to pick with this rotten little draft-dodger!" With a roar of anger, Force let loose another dark quantum blast, which took Superman full in the chest, leaving him woozy and giving Force enough time to grab him and slam him to the ground with a suplex.

Landing hard on his head, Superman was briefly dazed, but recovered in time to roll clear of Force's boot-stomp, coming back up on his feet. "And you are..?"

"A real hero, you smarmy punk!" Force snarled, charging at him with a quantum-charged haymaker. This time, however, Superman was ready – leaning out of the path of the Major's fist, he grabbed Force and whirled him around, before tossing him straight up into the air for fifty feet…to land flat on his back, seconds later.

While Superman dealt with Major Force, Green Arrow had been trying to get a clear shot at Deadpool, only to be forced back behind cover by a barrage of bullets and arrows. As a final arrow lanced towards Green Arrow's feet, it was intercepted by a wall of golden light, as Power Girl landed in front of her teammate, her eyes flaring blue as she scanned the horizon, spotting two heat-signatures in the distance. "Okay, Arrow: your copycat is to the west, on a rooftop about a mile away!" she reported, before looking away. "The other guy is…is…"

Her eyes went wide. "Holy crap – he's ten miles away!" she exclaimed. "He's…he's got some kinda cybernetic eye; that must be how he targets…but how the hell could he make those kind of shots..?"

"Worry about that later, Diva!" Green Arrow interrupted, readying an arrow. "You take the long-distance guy; the copycat's mine!" With that, he leapt out from behind his cover, rolling to the side and letting his shot fly; unfortunately, said copycat – a man in a black sneak-suit and an armored vest, wielding a similar longbow – must have had the same idea, rolling to the side and loosing another arrow, which met Green Arrow's shot dead-on, piercing its head and triggering its net, sending both projectiles spinning to the ground. Seeing the long-range marksman ready another shot, Power Girl took aim as best she could, and let loose an eye-ray, which lanced across the skyline…and sliced through the chimney just to his left. Quietly cursing her lousy aim, Power Girl took to the air, racing through the sky towards the gunman…only to find the rooftop he'd been using completely empty.

He'd gotten away.

With Superman briefly distracted, Deadpool started to inch towards the fallen Aelfyre. 'Brother, so much for a simple grab-job…CRAP!' Quickly, he aimed his automatics at the recovered Flash, who was racing towards him at top speed; suppressing panic, he squeezed off several shots…which the Scarlet Speedster easily evaded. With a low snarl, he aimed wider, and unloaded a full spray, which also missed. "Aw, come ON!"

Ducking low, Flash rolled the motion into a sliding kick, slamming Deadpool in the chest and knocking him back into the nearby house wall. "Looks like you need to work on your aim, Wilson."

As his ribs started to knit back together, Wade dragged himself to his feet, as he got an idea. "Way I see it, Quick-Draw, my aim's just fine." With that, he raised his automatic…and pointed it at the still-dazed Power family.

Flash was horrified. "NO!" By the time his shout echoed, he was already in motion, racing to throw himself between Deadpool's gun and his target…

Bang!

Deadpool's shot was true, piercing Flash's leg and sending him falling to the ground just as he'd pushed the Power family clear. "Oh yeah!" Deadpool exclaimed. "Called it!"

From his vantage point, Green Arrow saw his teammate fall. Loading another arrow, he tried to get a clean shot at Deadpool, but the other archer forced him back behind cover with several shots of his own. "Superman! Man down!"

Turning, Superman quickly saw Flash lying on the ground, and moved to intercept Deadpool…but he was stopped by a metal hand grabbing his shoulder. "We are NOT finished, you little snot!"

The recovered Major Force quickly punctuated his roar by throwing Superman clear across the block, where he crashed into the asphalt, skidding several times before coming back up onto his feet, while Force launched himself into a quantum-powered leap, landing a few feet away, cratering the concrete as he landed. Eyes narrowed, Superman readied himself. "And what exactly is your problem with me, pal?"

"Letting an alien dictator loose? Dereliction of duty? Costing this country a decisive tactical advantage with that space-weapon? Take your pick!" Major Force finished his tirade by firing another dark-energy surge, but Superman darted skyward, evading the shot. Not about to let his quarry escape, Force launched himself into the air at Superman, slamming him with a quantum uppercut. Superman stumbled back, but recovered in time to block Force's follow-up punch, countering with a lightning-fast flurry, which he shifted into a neck-grab that let him yank the Major in close for a knee-kick right to the chin, stunning him enough to finish him with an eye-surge that sent him falling to the ground.

With Flash downed and Cyborg incapacitated, Deadpool strolled towards the injured Aelfyre, but a glint of metal from the Powers' car caught his eye. Curious, he walked over to the open trunk, to look inside. "Well, whaddya know! I just might get my bouncy-castle after all!" He switched on his communicator. "Wile E. Coyote calling ACME Corporation: I'd like to place a pick-up order, and it'll be a little bigger than expected! I've got a down-payment, and it's kinda hefty, so I'll be bringing a couple hired hands!" He scowled at the airborne Superman. "I've also got a roadrunner problem, so bring the exterminator, will ya? Over!" He switched his communicator off. "Zmeckster! Barty! We're buggin' out!"

"The hell we are!" Major Force boomed, getting back on his feet. "We're not pulling out until this little traitor's dealt with!"

"Wise up, Zmeck! We got most of what we came for, plus a little bonus!" Deadpool shot back. "Right now, we got evac coming, plus pest control! We can salvage this, as long as nobody fucks it up! Now give us some fucking cover-fire!"

Just as Deadpool spoke, two black silenced helicopters appeared on the skyline, making a beeline for the Power residence, at the same time that two black vans pulled up in front of the house. The choppers acted first, firing two missiles that burst in mid-flight, dispersing a cloud of smoke over the residence that sent the Power family into a coughing fit. With cover supplied, the team of black-clad goons that spilled from the vans had the perfect chance to grab the Admiral, the confused family, and the device in the trunk, leading them towards the vans.

Spotting the attempted kidnapping, Superman darted towards the vans, but the chopper-pilots had anticipated his move. Locking onto him, they fired off a barrage of missiles, forcing him to detonate them early with a precision eye-ray, which gave Force an opening to blast him in the back with another dark-energy blast. "Now! Hit him with everything you've got!" Obeying Force's order, the choppers unloaded on Superman, blasting him with missiles, vulcan-cannons, and incendiary rounds, all of which sent him crashing into a vacant lot.

Getting back on his feet, Cyborg raced to intercept the goons taking the Powers away, but one drew a revolver, opening up on him and forcing him to duck. Rolling behind cover, Victor frantically futzed with his damaged arm. 'Come on, come on, tell me I've still got…YES!' As the vans started to pull out, Cyborg took aim, and fired. His shot rang true, pinging against the bumper of the second van.

Smirking behind his mask, Deadpool holstered his weapon. "Well, chumps, it's been real!" he chortled. "As much fun as it'd be to stick around, I don't get paid by the hour!" Waving to one chopper, he reached for the cable it was lowering. "See you in the next action-scene! Always tip your waitress!" Once Deadpool was airborne, Major Force wasn't far behind, launching himself into the sky after the choppers, while the black-clad archer slipped into the shadows, disappearing after his comrades.

With their attackers gone, Cyborg raced to the groaning Flash's side, ripping a length of cloth from his sweater to use as a tourniquet on Flash's leg. "Just hang in there, man – we'll get you out of here in a second!"

Flash winced. "Hey, no rush, Vic; I'm pretty sure it didn't hit anything major," he wheezed. "How about Big Blue? That tin-can guy smacked him kinda hard, there."

Right as he'd spoken, Power Girl flew back into earshot, touching down, her expression horrified. "Flash, what happened?"

Flash stiffened as he tried to move his leg, realizing how majorly stupid an idea that was. "Word of advice: never assume Wade Wilson won't shoot at civilians."

Power Girl frowned. "Got it."

Retracting and stowing his bow, Green Arrow hopped down from his perch. "Any luck with our other marksman?"

Alison shook her head. "I tried to fry his weapon, but making a ten-mile shot is still a bit much for me. By the time I got there, he'd bailed." She looked worried. "Is Kal..?"

Another groan echoed from the vacant lot as Superman dug himself out of the crater he'd been blasted into. "Ugh, and I thought taking a dip in Gotham Harbour was – Flash!" His nausea gave way to alarm as he rushed to his wounded teammate's side, switching on his communicator. "Superman calling Watchtower: we need medical e-vac, pronto! Flash is down!"

Sentrius' all-too-calm voice answered him. "Understood, Commander. Has the Admiral been secured?"

Superman sighed. "Not by us," he muttered. "Apparently, we weren't the only ones looking for him. We were just ambushed by some kind of special-ops team…lead by Deadpool, apparently."

Sentries paused for a half-second to access her updated records. "This is most disconcerting, Commander. Given the circumstances, it would be prudent to commence a planet-wide search to re-establish a lock on the Admiral."

Cyborg grinned. "Don't bother, lady; already on it!" he said. "Captain Crack-shot may have fried my arm-cannon, but he didn't take out my tracking-bug! I tapped one of those vans with a beacon before it drove off!" He held up his sparking arm, showing a computer-map of the city, with a red dot moving through it, heading out of town. "The second they set up shop, we can nail 'em."

Superman grinned. "Good thinking, Vic," he said. "Sentrius, hail as many of the others as are available. We're going to need reinforcements; these new guys are no slouches."

"Affirmative, Commander."

Green Arrow raised a hand. "As much as I hate to rain on our collective parade, that's only half the problem," he said. "Cyborg, didn't you report that there was another bogey after the Admiral? Because I only saw those guys take the Admiral."

Looking around, Cyborg's eyes went wide as he realized that the black-coated Gordanian was gone, too. "What the…he was just here!"

Green Arrow put his hand to his forehead. "He probably snuck off while we were dealing with Wilson and his flunkies."

Superman nodded. "Yeah, but that's not the big question: where'd he go?"

XXXXXXXX

Undisclosed location

The setting sun had already turned the sky pinkish by the time the black vans rolled through the gates of the secret government facility, while the stealth choppers touched down on the landing-pad. The pilots promptly disembarked, moving to assist the grab-teams as they hustled the bewildered family into the main complex, and the wounded alien into the holding-facility…

…which meant that no-one was watching the choppers – specifically, the choppers' ventral hulls.

Mentally dispelling his biosuit's optical camouflage, turning the artificial skin back from grey to fluid black, Commander Sn'rth of the Gordanian Armada slunk across the compound towards the walls of the main complex, his suit's adhesive fingertips easily letting him scale the walls. Once he was on top, he ducked out of sight, as his mind raced. He had to find some way to silence that blasted Kymellian before he talked…

'The ventilation shaft; we can access the entire facility from there.'

Suppressing a mild hiss of disgust, Sn'rth forced that foreign thought away. 'Blasted bio-engineers – they were supposed to have handled this suit's personification issues.' Focusing, he crept to the shaft, and extended one claw through the grate. The second he did, the bio-suit extended a long, gooey tendril through the grate, creeping and stretching through the shaft, bringing his senses with it, letting him scout the entire facility…

"Alex, what's going on? What'd those guys do with Admiral Horsey?"

Sn'rth scowled to himself as the four human brats came into view through one grate. "I don't know, Katie," the eldest male replied. "We just have to sit tight, for now."

The other male gulped. "Alex, don't you even watch spy movies? This is right at the part where the bad-guys drag the hero and sidekicks out of prison, rattle off their evil plan, and then show them exactly how they're gonna do the hero in!"

The adolescent female rolled her eyes. "Then you've got nothing to worry about, Jack."

As the younger male sputtered angrily, Sn'rth rolled his eyes, sending his bio-probe further down the shaft, until a familiar voice caught his attention. "We ain't gonna ask you again, Hooves."

Intrigued, Sn'rth inched his probe to the nearest grate, through which he spotted the masked human and his metallized cohort…with the Kymellian sitting at an interrogation table, looking rather worse for wear. "How many more times must I repeat it?" the Kymellian insisted. "I was in command of a training-vessel which followed a Gordanian slave-ship through a blind step-through jump! I was aboard that vessel to render assistance to any survivors when it crashed!"

The metal man snorted. "Yeah, and I'm Queen Elizabeth," he scoffed. "If you're here by accident, why do you speak perfect English? Only someone who'd been doing recon on Earth for months could pull that off."

The Kymellian winced, his eyes scrunched. "Not if they had a Universal Translator!" he retorted. "There is no invasion here, fool! You must release me! I have important information to deliver to Sentrius' Commander!"

The masked human groaned. "Bad move, Hooves – for Zmeckster, Supes is a real touchy subject."

"Can it, Wilson," the metal man snapped. "So, you're pals with the Kryptonian, huh? That's a pretty damn big coincidence, if you ask me."

Sn'rth suppressed a snarl. He'd gotten here just in time; if the Kymellian told anyone of his people's plan..!

The masked human chuckled. "Save it, Zmecky; even if Hooves here wasn't pals with Supes, he's not gonna flip for your sweet-talking. Better to hold out 'till Waller gets done with Doctor P and his kids."

The Kymellian paused. "What? You…you apprehended the children?" he exclaimed. "Why? They did you no harm!"

The masked man shrugged. "Eh. The author decided to revamp part of the classic storyline on how those kids get involved."

The Kymellian blinked. "What does that mean?"

"Damned if I know, Hooves," the metal man groused. "Better worry about yourself; if that Doc's smart, he'll cooperate with his research."

Sn'rth had heard enough. Mapping the path to that chamber, he was about to recall his probe, but his bio-suit interrupted. 'Wait. We should investigate this.'

Sn'rth mentally snarled. 'The Kymellian is the objective! He must be taken out!'

'You can deal with him later. Right now, that other human has this group just as concerned about him as they are about the Kymellian…and that is worth investigating.'

The logic of that stalled Sn'rth's fury. 'Very well. Two minutes, but no more.' With that, he directed his probe elsewhere, scanning the innards of the facility…until he hit pay-dirt.

"You've no right to keep us here!"

Following that female shout, Sn'rth's probe peered through another grate, where the brats' parents sat across from an older, uniformed human male, and a violet-clad, short, heavyset, dark-hued female. "Mrs. Power, no-one's holding you here," the short female soothed. "You and your children had come in contact with an extraterrestrial being; we apprehended you as part of standard quarantine procedure. We've just gotten the bio-scan readings back, and you're all clean – you can leave whenever you wish."

The other female folded her arms. "Then why are we still here?"

"We have a little business proposition for your husband," the uniformed male said. "Doc, your university project's getting low on funds, right?"

Doctor Power blinked. "How did you..?"

"Once we realized who you were, we looked you up," the short female explained. "Very interesting stuff; you're trying to study the conditions leading up to the Big Bang, correct?"

Doctor Power started to smile. "Yes! Exactly! Our team had even developed a miniature supercollider that could produce the needed collisions at a fraction of the cost!" His smile drooped. "Storing our prototype in the trunk probably wasn't the best idea…"

The suited female smiled. "Normally, no, Doctor, but in this case, it was," she said. "With your permission, we'd like to fund your research."

Doctor Power's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "R-Really?" he exclaimed. "That's…that's wonderful..!"

Mrs. Power wasn't sold. "And what's the catch?"

The uniformed male smirked. "Way I see it, that gizmo gives off antimatter as a by-product."

Doctor Power blinked. "For several seconds, antimatter is created, yes," he said. "It exists for several fractions of a second before it contacts normal matter and is annihilated."

"Think you could find a way to collect it before that happens?"

Mrs. Power folded her arms. "Why?"

"Missy, in case you didn't notice, this whole damn planet's got a Big-Bang-shooting gun aimed at it. I figure the guy aiming it'll be a lot less likely to pull the trigger if he sees we've got one, too."

Doctor Power froze. "You…want to weaponize our research..?"

"That's only one option, Doctor," the suited female corrected. "From what I could tell, antimatter offers a potentially limitless way of producing cheap, clean energy; if you and your colleagues agree, we could have a corner on the next green-energy mega-project. America's dependence on fossil-fuels could end overnight."

Doctor Power was silent at that revelation, which made his mate anxious. "James…"

"I can tell you need some time to think about this," the suited female said. "Right now, the two of us were going to have your kids released and sent up here; after that, we can discuss this further."

Quickly, Sn'rth partially retracted his probe, his mind racing at what that human had just articulated. The Power human's device, if modified, could be used to power weapons capable of rivalling even Sentrius.

His people's own project could have just been rendered moot, if he could secure the human…but how? He needed some way of getting to the human and escaping before anyone could stop him…

"So did you two get anything out of that alien?"

Drawn by two new voices, Sn'rth guided his probe to another grate, where the masked and metal humans were below, talking to two others: one clad in black, with a long-bow and quiver, and the other in a long trenchcoat, with an armoured bodysuit under it, and one eye replaced by an electronic prosthesis. "Nah; Zmecky here went all Bad Cop on me!" the masked human complained. "You all know I make a crappy Good Cop!"

The metal man rolled his eyes. "Hear anything from the higher-ups, Deadshot?"

The one-eyed human shook his head. "Negative, Force; Waller and Ross are still talking with the doc and his missus."

The metal man folded his arms. "What's the holdup? We caught their kids harboring an E.T., dead to rights!"

The masked man laughed. "Oh, come on, Zmeckster: the pigtailed kid probably took one look at Hooves and thought "My Little Pony!""

The archer looked uneasy. "Wilson's crackpot ideas aside, Zmeck, we're not supposed to be blackmailing U.S. citizens with their kids. Isn't the idea of this whole organization about protecting this country from alien hostiles?"

"Yeah, Barton…and we can't do it if we have to deal with bleeding-hearts not willing to man up and do their duty!"

The masked man was still chortling. "You realize you're talking to a guy who's read too much "Last of the Mohicans," right, Zmecky?" he asked. "Why else would he take a callsign like "Hawkeye"?"

The archer snorted. "Says the guy who's modeled himself after some Vietnam burnout."

The masked man was instantly irate. "You shut your fucking mouth, Barton!" he exploded. "Slade Wilson is the biggest badass EVER! We're talking Chuck-Norris-class, here! Punks like you should be thankful to even be mentioned in the same BREATH..!"

"Okay, Wilson! We get it!" Deadshot yelled. "No more smack-talk on Deathstroke; we get the idea!"

The masked human started to calm. "Good."

The metal man looked around. "So once we get the doc on board, we're buggin' out of here, right?" he asked. "'Cause if Fury gets wind of us holed up in one of his spaceship-bunkers, we're screwed."

The masked man looked petulant. "I still say we oughtta borrow one of these things. It's not like Fury'll miss just one – they've been droppin' like flies ever since Supes' pet battlestation put the smack to those Kree and Skrull guys!"

Sn'rth needed no more than that, quickly withdrawing his probe. This facility was a storehouse for salvaged Kree and Skrull technology, including ships.

And he had access to a human device capable of generating antimatter power. All he needed to do was retrieve it, get to a ship, install it, fly out, and jump clear before Sentrius had a chance to lock onto him.

With a serpentine smirk, Sn'rth pried open the grate, and slunk iinside, re-tracing his probe's path. His operation's goal had been to gain a decisive tactical advantage over Thanagar…

…and now, one was within his reach.

XXXXXXXX

Xavier Institute

It hadn't taken long for Clarice to hide herself away while Kara had started telling Koriand'r about the Dheronians.

Sitting in a back-corner of the big jet in the lower levels – the Blackbird, she thought she'd heard someone call it – Clarice hugged herself, still trying to calm her anxious thoughts. She felt bad for running away, after the others had been so nice, but standing there with everyone watching her had just been too much.

Besides, hearing about the shadowy invaders that had killed Superman's people reminded her way too much of Sinister.

The very thought of her former tormentor made tears come to Clarice's eyes, causing her to rub the injection-scar on her neck. Wincing at the sting that always came with touching it, Clarice huddled deeper into herself. At this rate, she doubted if the memories would ever go away…

"Finally, we got a mission!"

Her eyes wide with alarm, Clarice pushed herself all the way into the shadows as footsteps echoed through the boarding-ramp, before Cyclops, Robin, Koriand'r, Armor, Black Canary, and Mimic all boarded the Blackbird. "I wouldn't get too excited just yet, Rudy," Cyclops warned, sitting in the pilot's seat. "Judging from what Sentrius warned us about, we need to be on our toes."

Grinning, Mimic leaned back in his seat…which was just in front of Clarice's hiding-spot. "Aw, you worry too much, Summers."

Black Canary glared at him as the Blackbird's engine roared, pushing the stealth-plane into the air once its hatch closed. "And you're not worried enough, Jones."

Mildly perplexed, Armor raised her hand. "Scott-san? Sentrius-taichou mentioned that this mission was about the occupants of the ship that crashed," she wondered. "Did she say what had happened, exactly?"

"I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, Hisako, but from what I gathered, an unknown black-ops squad intercepted and took Admiral Whitemane before Superman and the others could reach him," Cyclops answered. "Hopefully, we can get an update on that, on the way over."

In the co-pilot's seat, Robin looked annoyed. "Did we have to bring her?" he asked, thumbing at Koriand'r.

Recognizing his intent – and annoyance – the Tamaranian bristled. "I will not abandon the one that saved me to so horrid a fate!"

Switching on the Blackbird's radio, Cyclops opened a channel. "Blackbird calling Watchtower: we are en route and requesting situation report. Over."

Batman's dour voice answered him. "This is Watchtower, Blackbird. Superman, Power Girl, Cyborg, and Green Arrow have tracked the abductors to a facility in the New York countryside; Hawkgirl and Spider-Man are also en route. Be advised: a civilian family has been abducted with the Admiral, reasons unknown."

Cyclops nodded. "Understood, Batman. Any leads on who we're dealing with?"

The Blackbird's view-screen switched on, as the Dark Knight forwarded two files to them. "Only two have been identified: one is Wade "Deadpool" Wilson," he said. "Wilson possesses a healing factor of similar type to Wolverine, and has undergone extensive paramilitary training of unknown origins, including hand-to-hand, sword-training, and marksmanship. He is highly dangerous, and highly psychotic."

Black Canary arched an eyebrow. "How nuts are we talking, here?"

Batman's tone was deadpan. "The only criminal with comparable psychoses is the Joker."

Mimic winced. "Yikes."

The second profile became visible. "The other description is consistent with Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot. Like Wilson, Lawton has a paramilitary background, though his training was mostly sniper-based; prior to going rogue, he had the highest recorded kill-ratio of his unit. After hiring himself out as an assassin, Deadshot had himself fitted for an optical implant that serves as an onboard, computer-guided sniper-scope: with that prosthesis, Lawton can fire any shot from almost any distance, and hit with almost perfect accuracy."

"So we'll need either Superman or Power Girl to block his shots until we can get close enough for a takedown," Robin observed. "And we have no hits on the others?"

"We have one potential lead: prior to disengaging, Deadpool referred to one of his cohorts as "Zmeck,"" Batman answered. "Combined with a rant he sent at Superman suggesting his military background, our most likely suspect is Clifford Zmeck, ex-U.S. Army Sergeant, dishonourable discharge; his record shows his last operation led to excessive loss of civilian life during his last tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was court-martialed and jailed up until 2007…and then he disappears."

"So, two highly-trained assassins, and one potential Army washout that we know about," Cyclops muttered. "Great."

Several minutes later, Clarice felt the Blackbird slow its flight, silently touching down. Remaining still, she watched the others file out of the cockpit – once the coast was clear, she inched out of her hiding-spot, and crept to the exit-hatch, peering around the corner to listen.

The Blackbird had touched down on a cliff next to two Javelins, overlooking a two-mile-long facility several miles in the distance, surrounded by woods. Superman was at the cliff's edge, his eyes narrowed as he peered at the facility. "Okay, I'm seeing one main level above ground, and several sub-levels below ground," he reported. "The top level appears to be just for show – most of the activity is going on underground."

"Sounds like a standard M.O.," Cyclops mused. "What are our options for entry?"

Superman winced. "Limited. I'm seeing multiple overlapping patrols, all operating on a clockwise-counterclockwise rotation," he answered. "Aly and I could buzz the top level and try to draw them out…"

"…but if whoever's running the show is going dark, that'd just spook 'em and make 'em run, probably taking the Admiral and the Power family with 'em," Robin finished. "Plus the fact that we'd end up setting off a crapload of alarms trying to get to the lower levels."

Power Girl sighed. "Great."

Hawkgirl looked incensed. "Have you spotted the Gordanian, nearby?"

Taking a second look with his thermal vision, Superman shook his head. "No dice, Hawkgirl. Either he's not around, or the bio-augmentation he's using is masking his heat-signature."

"Assuming he gave off much of one," Spider-Man interjected. "'Cause, you know, lizards are cold-blooded, so I'm assuming space-lizards are, too."

Koriand'r looked perplexed. "Surely such fortifications would have secretive entrances in case of emergencies?"

Cyborg shook his head. "Nothing we've seen yet, Red," he answered. "Unless somebody here can make back-doors out of thin air, we're goin' in the hard way."

Mimic groaned. "And we can't get Nightcrawler or Leap back here, anytime soon?"

"Wouldn't work: Kurt and Lila both need line-of-sight in order to teleport," Green Arrow replied. "He's out."

At those last remarks, Clarice went dead-still, her eyes wide as her memories took hold of her…

She was running across a steel floor, crying as lasers shot at her, tripping and scrambling back to her feet before dashing to the safe-spot in the middle…and screaming with anguished frustration as glass walls slammed down to block her. "P-Please, Sinister, I want to stop! I can't do this, anymore..!"

"If you want to finish, Blink, you're going to have to use your portals."

Clarice whimpered. "I-I can't..!" she wailed, but her cry turned into a scream as she bolted around the corner to dodge another round of fire. Looking ahead, she saw more laser-turrets pop up, taking aim at her heart…

Pure desperation gave her a strength she didn't know she had. Frantically clawing at the air, she ripped a violet hole in space, just enough for her to run through. Leaping into the portal, she landed inside the safe-zone, curling up into a ball as she sobbed, waiting for the end…

"Simulation complete."

As the test-chamber powered down, Clarice tried to calm herself, but failed miserably once she heard that voice. "Wonderful, Blink. You did very well, today: a full minute faster than last time. Here's your reward."

At Sinister's words, a panel opened up in the floor in front of her, as a bowl of cereal rose up from it. Clarice was ashamed, but she couldn't help it: she was so hungry. Scrambling to the bowl, she started wolfing it down, freezing only at Sinister's next words. "Let's try to be just a little faster tomorrow, shall we?"

…and then she was back in the moment, mildly hyperventilating. If the others realized that she was here, and that she didn't do anything, they would…they might..!

She'd stepped forward before she'd even realized it. "I can help."

Startled, everyone all turned to face her. "Clarice?" Cyclops asked. "When did…how did you..?"

"I-I can get you all inside!" Clarice insisted. "I don't need to see where I'm going, so I can do it!"

Armour looked worried. "Clarice-san, you do not have to…"

"I do it all the time! Watch!" Concentrating hard, Clarice started to probe with her ability, searching for a spot to connect to. Once she found it, she reached out, her hands glowing as she poked her fingers into thin air…and pulling the air apart, opening a violet-rimmed hole in space, leading into a metal corridor. "H-Hurry!"

Superman wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Okay, guys, you heard her! Everyone through!" Quickly, the entire team raced through the open portal, emerging in the corridor, with Clarice being the last through, releasing her focus once she was in, letting the hole close.

With everyone safely through, Clarice dropped to her knees, gasping for breath. "S-See?" she puffed. "I told you I could do it!"

Superman smiled. "Thank you, Clarice – you may have just saved the Power family's lives, today." Turning to the others, he added, "Okay, guys, we're going to need a floor-plan. Cyborg, is your arm in good enough condition to hack this place's map?"

Looking over his arm, Cyborg shrugged. "Unless they're completely anal-retentive about security, I should be okay," he said. "Just don't expect me to get off too many shots with my sonics."

"Fair enough; you, Aly, Robin, Mimic, Koriand'r, Canary, Clarice, and Cyclops will head to the nearest terminal. Once you've hacked the map, you should be able to locate the Power family," Superman said. "The rest of us will get the Admiral: I can make out his vital signs from here."

Mimic blinked. "How?"

"Kymellians have a six-chambered heart, Jones. Human hearts just have four," Hawkgirl said.

"Oh."

Superman spoke again. "Be careful, guys: we're dealing with two professional marksmen. If somebody starts taking shots at you from a distance, either take cover or put up a barrier."

"And what about you? That "Major Force" guy's dark quantum blasts – your words – were hitting you pretty hard!" Power Girl said. "What if he corners you?"

Superman tapped his belt. "There's a good chance my nano-suit can take those shots, Aly…or at least blunt them enough for me to take him down."

Power Girl folded her arms. "But you're not sure."

Spider-Man spoke up. "Hey, Diva, who's sure of anything in this business?" he quipped. "Can we get moving, now? Because if anybody's watched sci-fi movies, the odds of getting jumped by aliens goes up exponentially the longer the heroes are alone in corridors like these!"

Cyclops chuckled. "Movie-trivia aside, Spider-Man's right: we need to get moving." Nobody argued that point, as they split into their two groups, heading in opposite directions deeper into the complex.

XXXXXXXX

A few minutes earlier

"Alex, can you see anything?"

Glancing back at Katie, Alex shook his head. "Not a thing, Katie."

Julie was irate. "This sucks! We didn't do anything!"

Moving next to his brother, Jack tried to jump high enough to look out of their cell. "They're bad guys, Julie. They don't care." After a few unsuccessful jumps, he gave up. "You'd think they'd have stopped to run off their plan, by now, though…"

Spotting movement, Alex backed away. "Careful what you wish for, Jack!" he warned, just as two armed, black-clad men opened the door, keeping their weapons trained on them, while two more roughly tossed Aelfyre into the cell.

Katie ran to Aelfyre's side, horrified. "Admiral Horsey!"

With a deep breath, Alex faced their captors. "What's going on? What do you want?"

The lead gunman snorted. "Right now, we want you to keep quiet, brat," he snapped. "Just sit there and play nice until we're all done." With that, he slammed the door shut.

Julie was furious. "Let us out of here, you creeps! You can't just keep us here!"

Jack rolled his eyes. "Pretty sure they can, Jules…"

"Guys!" Katie cried. "Admiral Horsey's hurt! We gotta do something!"

Groaning, Aelfyre propped himself up on his elbows, sitting upright. "I will manage, child," he coughed. "What of all of you? Were you harmed?"

Alex shook his head. "No, sir. They just tossed us in here. The only time we saw anybody was when…well, when they dropped you in here."

Aelfyre looked worried. "They posed no questions to you regarding me?"

"Nope," Katie said.

Aelfyre's wary expression grew. "Then they must be holding your family for some other reason," he mused. "Are either of your parents privy to some secret research?"

Jack snorted. "Yeah, like Dad's cool enough to be working on some government secret project. All he's got is that prototype thing he had in his car."

Aelfyre's eyes narrowed. "What "thing," child?"

Katie shrugged. "I dunno; all Dad said was something about anti-matter."

Aelfyre's eyes nearly bugged out of his head. "WHAT?"

Katie blinked. "Is that bad?"

"Child, if misused, such technology could obliterate the entire planet!" Aelfyre cried. "And if the leaders of this organization would employ such madmen, the potential for misuse is near incalculable!"

All four Power children were silent, until Jack spoke. "So…that's a "yes"?"

Gritting his teeth, Aelfyre tried to stand, only to fall back on his butt. "Children, you must stop this."

Julie was aghast. "Admiral, are you nuts? We're just kids!"

"Loathe though I am to place you in danger, there is no choice," Aelfyre continued. "If I do not act, your world could be destroyed."

""Act"? Dude, we're all locked up!" Jack said. "There's nothing we can do!"

"As it stands, no," Aelfyre agreed, "but if I impart some of my powers to all of you, you stand a chance."

Katie's eyes went wide. "Huh?"

Alex was just as dumbfounded. "You can do that?"

"It was how my people came to possess these abilities," Aelfyre said. "Aeons ago, my people were once deaf to our world's anguished screams, just as yours are now. Fortunately, we realized our folly, and developed cleaner technologies, initiatives to return what we had taken from Kymellia." He smiled, as he started to glow. "In the following years, we began to develop unusual abilities: mastery over gravity, travel over land and through air as swiftly as light, control over our mass, and the power to absorb and redirect energy – all of which defied evolutionary explanation. It was as though Kymellia herself – grateful that we had saved her – was thanking us."

Katie started to smile. "It sounds like magic!"

Aelfyre chuckled. "And perhaps it is," he answered. "And now, just as they were given to my people for saving our world, I give them to you, to save yours." As he spoke, his glow turned brilliant, expanding to fill the entire room…

…and when the light faded, the four Power siblings were now clad in skintight spacesuits of similar style to Aelfyre's, with Alex clad in silver, Julie in red, Jack in blue, and Katie in yellow. Alex was dumbstruck. "W-What the..?"

Jack was more enthused. "Awesome! We're superheroes!" he cheered. "What powers did you give us? C'mon, spill!"

"I but imparted each of my abilities to each of you," Aelfyre replied. He looked to Alex. "To you, young man, I gave the ability to control gravity."

Alex looked at his hands. "So…I can go zero-g?"

Aelfyre nodded, before turning to Julie. "Young lady, my people's swiftness is now yours to command."

Julie started to smile. "Light-speed, huh?"

Aelfyre looked to Jack. "Your power, lad, is that of your own mass: to disperse your density to that of a cloud, or concentrate it to a pinprick."

Jack grinned, as he flexed his arms. "Oh yeah! Call me the Mass Master, guys!"

With a warm smile, Aelfyre looked to Katie. "And to you, little one, I grant perhaps the most potent of all my people's gifts: the power to absorb and wield any energy cast against you."

Katie was ecstatic. "Awesome!" she exclaimed, as she darted to the door. "Stand back, guys! I'll blast us out of here!" With that, she aimed her hands at the door…

…and nothing happened.

As Katie pouted, Jack burst out laughing, while Alex suppressed a guilty grin. "Sorry, Little Miss Energizer, but from what the Admiral said, your powers need to be charged up – batteries aren't included."

Katie folded her arms. "Phooey."

Julie turned back to Aelfyre. "So how do these powers work?"

"To explain every nuance and technique would take more time than I believe we have, child," Aelfyre admitted. "The best I can do now is tell you that each ability works best when you are clear and focused."

Jack frowned. "That's it?"

"It's more than we had, Jack," Alex admonished. "Okay, then: how do we get out of here?"

Julie chewed her lip. "That door doesn't look all that high-tech. It probably opens from the outside."

Alex got an idea. "Wait…Jack, you can turn into gas, so you can get out from under the door!"

Jack grinned. "On it!" he declared, as he scrunched his eyes, concentrating. "Okay…hrrrgg…that's not it…oooggg…nope…hnnnn…hey, I think I..!"

POOOOOOOOOT!

Jack's smile faded as his rear trumpeted thunderously. Aghast, Katie plugged her nose. "EEEEEEWWWWWWWW!"

Julie went green. "Jack, that's disgusting!"

Alex waved his hand to waft away the fumes. "How many bowls of beans did you have?"

Jack sulked. "So I tried to do that stunt on my own, and I needed to generate some gas for it! Sue me!"

Alex stopped. "Uh, Jack?"

Jack kept going. "I don't see you guys doing anything to try and best out!"

"Jack?"

"Maybe it'd be different if we got a user's manual with these powers..!"

"JACK!" Alex shouted. "Look at yourself!"

"Huh?" Confused, Jack looked down…and grinned as he found a vaporous cloud where his body had been, with his head in the center. "Awesome! I was just thinking about gas, and this happened!" he exclaimed. "Guys, check me out..!"

"Okay, okay, Gas Master – you're awesome! We get it!" Alex said. "Now can you get us out of here?"

Jack frowned. "Sure, and it's Mass Master." With that, Jack wafted under the door, his gaseous form flowing easily through the cracks, to emerge behind it. Seconds later, the door opened, revealing a now solid-state Jack. "Ta-da!"

Julie smiled. "Guess you can do something right, after all."

"Hey!"

Alex sighed. "Julie. Not now." Moving to Aelfyre's side, he looped the Admiral's arm over his shoulder, helping him walk out. "Any ideas on what to do next, sir?"

Aelfyre looked stricken. "For one, you should not waste time with me!" he insisted. "I will only slow you down, and time is of the essence!"

Alex frowned. "We're not just gonna ditch you, Admiral…"

"What are you brats doing?"

Grimacing, Alex spotted four armed guards emerging into the main corridor ahead of them. "Aw, crap."

The lead guard drew his weapon. "Frank, get reinforcements down here: the ET's loose!"

Seeing one guard start to take out his communicator, Alex thought fast. "Julie, once the first guy's down, grab that walkie-talkie! If he gets a message out, we're toast!" he said. "Jack, we'll need you to do the opposite of what you just did to gas out: you're the bullet, and I'm the gun!"

Jack scrunched his eyes. "Okay, okay…shrinking, shrinking…getting smaller…" he muttered, as he started to shrink, his mass concentrating into its most compact form, until an inch-sized Jack remained. "How's this?"

"Perfect!" Alex declared, as he shut his eyes. 'Okay, clear and focused…make Jack weightless…cancel out his gravity…'

"Whoa!" Jack exclaimed, as he started to float, carried by a white-black aura. "Alex, whatever you're doing, it's working!"

"Good!" Alex said. "Now make like a cannonball!" With that, he focused on the armed guard, which sent his brother rocketing towards him, smashing into his target's chest with the force of a wrecking-ball, sending him crashing into another soldier, knocking them both out.

Her path cleared, Julie raced towards the guard about to call for help, focusing on moving as fast as she could – her feet lifted right off the ground as she flew at him, her path leaving a glittery rainbow-trail behind her. The guard was dumbfounded at the sight, momentarily forgetting his call, until Julie was inches away. "Command, we have a situation..!"

Stricken, Julie's focus wavered, which removed her ability to brake – her momentum crashed her into the guard, which knocked him back into his comrade, knocking them both out and leaving her bruised. "Ow."

Equally dazed, Jack returned to normal size, his steps wobbly. "I hear that."

Alex looked worried. "Julie, did any of them get a signal off?"

Julie steadied herself. "One was about to, but I'm pretty sure I got to him before…"

"What the hell?" came the irate shout of the metal man – Major Force – as he and a black-clad bow-wielding agent emerged from another corridor.

Jack gulped. "You were saying?"

The bow-wielder had already nocked an arrow, taking aim. "That'll be enough out of you kids, alright?" he warned. "Don't do anything stupid."

Alex tried to calm himself, working on the best way to use his gravity-powers to take their attackers out. "Like incarcerate innocent people?"

Force's pupilless eyes narrowed. "Like harbor a potentially hostile ET, junior," he growled, his fists starting to glow. "I've had just about all I'm willing to stand with you brats..!"

His threat was cut off at the end by a thunderous boom, right before a red-blue blur slammed into him from an adjacent corridor, driving an iron-hard fist right into his face. As Major Force was sent toppling, to slam into a wall, Superman came to a stop, looking to the four of them with concern. "Is everyone okay?"

Julie's face instantly went red. "S-S-Superman! I-I…o-ohmygosh, I can't believe…I-I mean…"

"I'll take that as a "yes,"" Superman said. "Admiral, my apologies about the reception."

Aelfyre winced. "Unnecessary, Commander El; I had already assumed this organization was atypical."

His arrow ready, the archer was trying to decide on the best target, when another arrow whizzed by his ear, forcing him to roll to the side. As he came back up on his feet, he turned and let his arrow fly at the rest of Superman's team, but Armour raced to the front, focusing as she generated her energy-shell, repulsing the arrow while Spider-Man flanked around her, firing a web-glob. Leaping backwards, the archer flipped over the web, and landed on his feet, bow ready to fire…with Green Arrow right in front of him, equally ready to shoot. "Gotcha, copycat."

Spider-Man relaxed his readied web-shooters. "Well, that was relatively easy, for once," he muttered. "Big Blue, we got any more incoming?"

Superman's eyes flared electric-blue. "Negative, Spidey; I'm not seeing any heat-signatures inbound."

Spider-Man let out a relieved sigh. "Good to hear, big guy! So, now can we..?" He stopped in mid-sentence. "Oh, crap: spider-sense is going wonky…"

Green Arrow and the black-clad archer were still staring each other down. "I suggest you put that down," Green Arrow said, "because when you blink, you will become a pincushion."

"Funny, junior," the archer shot back, "because I was about to tell you that."

Green Arrow snorted as he glanced at his foe's bow. "What, a recurve? You're using an old-school frame like that?"

"If it works."

Green Arrow took a second look. "So, what's the draw-poundage? 30?"

"40," came the reply. "Gives you better range."

Arrow's eyes narrowed. "Tires you out faster, too," he countered. "That won't do much in a short-range fight."

"Long-range works for me."

Arrow smirked. "Unless you miss."

The archer snorted. "Why do you think they call me Hawkeye?"

"Too much Last of the Mohicans?"

Hawkeye sneered. "Says the punk dressed up like Robin Hood."

Green Arrow's eyes narrowed at that, until he glanced behind Hawkeye. "You know, you might want to turn around."

Hawkeye shook his head. "Junior, do you really expect me to fall for a sad trick like –HUUURK!"

His statement was silenced by a black glob that snaked from behind him and engulfed his head, as the dark-skinned lizard-creature dropped down from a panel in the ceiling. Grimacing, Green Arrow let his net-arrow fly, but it was snagged by another gooey tendril that shot from the creature's flesh, snapping it in two. Angered, the creature pulled back and slammed Arrow with his prisoner, wielding Hawkeye like a mace, before tossing him away.

The second she saw it, Hawkgirl went on the attack. "Gordanian SWINE!" she exploded, flapping her wings to boost herself into a flying kick, slamming the augmented Gordanian in the head. As the alien lizard stumbled back, Hawkgirl unleashed her mace, bashing the Nth Metal weapon into its flesh once, then twice…each time doing no damage, as its liquid second skin quickly repaired itself. On the third strike, the Gordanian caught the mace, engulfing it and lifting Hawkgirl off the ground, but before he could strike, Spider-Man fired a web-glob into the Gordanian's face, blinding him while he fired two web-strands at the walls, boosting himself into a slingshot-manoevre…only to have his flying kick stick into the lizard's chest.

Spider-Man groaned. "Great. Just call me Briar Rabbit." As the Gordanian tore off the web, Spider-Man fired another web-line, using it to pull himself free, landing on the ground. Snarling, the alien lizard glowered at him, before its gaze turned almost hungry…

His eyes flaring crimson, Superman fired an eye-ray at the Gordanian, searing its arm and freeing Hawkgirl. Howling with pain, the Gordanian took one look at him, and then bolted, scrambling back into the air ducts as it raced off. Superman was about to give chase, to track it with his thermal vision, when he was tackled by a recovered Major Force. "Should've known that air-strike wouldn't kill you, draft-dodger!" he snarled. "Fine by me!"

Regaining his footing, Superman broke Force's hold, reversing the attack into a throw, tossing Force clear. "Explain this to me, Zmeck: how exactly does kidnapping an entire family with absolutely no connection to Admiral Whitemane fit into your little club's goal?"

Force was back on his feet in seconds, charging a quantum blast. "That egghead was sitting on something that could level the playing field against threats like you!" he thundered. "But you'd know all about that, wouldn't you?"

At that, Major Force let his blast fly, but Superman had already tapped his belt-buckle, extending his silvery nano-suit; on contact, the blast pushed him back…but it didn't stun him, though it took a considerable chunk out of the suit's structural integrity. "So that's it," he growled. "You think that just because you toss on a military uniform, or get jacked up on some state-funded Frankenstein experiment, you think you can do whatever you like as long as you or your superiors justify it?"

His eyes narrowed. "Well, guess what, Zmeck: now I have a problem with you."

Before Force could counterattack, Superman was on him, his fists blurring as he pummeled Zmeck, leaving punch-sized dents in his metal skin, finishing with a right-cross to his face, flattening his nose. As the Major stumbled back, Alex saw his chance: focusing, he pointed at Force, levitating him off of the ground. "Julie, now!"

Julie was instantly in motion, flying at Force to kick him in the face, knocking him into a wall…while Julie was left hopping, clutching her foot. "Ow, ow, ow…"

Her attack hadn't had the desired effect, as the irate Major got back up. "You rotten little..!" He never bothered to finish his curse, as he powered up a hand-blast.

Superman went pale. "NO!" Darting ahead of Julie, he braced himself to block the shot…but he needn't have bothered.

"LEAVE MY SISTER ALONE!"

At that shout, Zmeck's blast was deflected in mid-air, pulled out of its trajectory by an invisible force. Confused, the Major turned towards its new target…and found Katie, who was now glowing purple-black – his purple-black. "What the..?"

Pointing her hands at Zmeck, Katie unleashed a quantum surge twice as potent as his, sending the Major smashing through two walls, before she collapsed. "Katie!" Julie cried, racing to her sibling's side. "Oh my God, are you okay?"

Holding her stomach, Katie sniffled. "My tummy hurts…"

Her brothers weren't far behind. "Holy…Katie, that was awesome!" Jack cheered. "You rock, Shorty!"

Katie pouted. "Stop calling me Shorty."

Bewildered, Spider-Man scratched his head. "Okay…since when did these kids get powers?" he asked.

Superman started to turn to Aelfyre. "I think I might know," he said. "Admiral, tell me you didn't do a Power-Transfer!"

"Only a partial one, Commander: I merely imparted a diluted copy of each of my abilities to them."

Superman groaned. "Admiral, in your condition, that could've killed you!"

Aelfyre was firm. "There was no other choice, Commander! There was too much at stake!" he insisted. "Both your team and these children must retrieve their father's prototype before it's too late!"

Frowning, Hawkgirl hefted her mace. "I'm sorry, Admiral, but that will have to wait until after we deal with the Gordanian."

Green Arrow retracted his bow. "So where was he headed?"

"The vehicle-bay."

Everyone turned towards the woozy Hawkeye. "That thing, the Gordanian…when he grabbed me, his suit – or whatever – got in my head. It could see what I knew, and I could see what it knew," he muttered. "It wanted to know where we were keeping Doc Power's prototype…and where this base stashed its Kree and Skrull tech."

"Okay, so it needs a ride out of here," Spider-Man observed, "but…why would he need an Earth gadget?"

Aelfyre winced as he straightened himself. "The children's father devised a new type of particle collider; one capable of generating antimatter!"

Superman was bug-eyed. "What?" he cried. "Oh, Rao…if he tries to hook that up to a Kree or Skrull generator without proper shielding..!"

Aelfyre nodded. "Precisely."

Jack blinked. "Uh…I'm guessing that whatever would happen is bad?"

"Kid, if that lizard gives your Dad's gizmo a power-boost, he could make a new Big Bang," Green Arrow said. "And guess what planet's at ground zero?"

Jack paled. "Oh."

"Yeah."

Superman switched on his communicator. "Superman calling Cyborg: we've found the Admiral and the kids, but we also found the Gordanian! He's heading towards the vehicle-bay, and we've just found out why the Power family was grabbed: the father had an antimatter-generating collider in his car…which is stashed in the bay! If the Gordanian grabs it and hooks it up to a Skrull or Kree ship..!"

"We get the picture, big guy: bad news to the extreme!" Cyborg answered. "We just got the parents clear, so consider us on it!"

"Understood!" Superman answered. "We're en route to assist! Superman out!" Switching off his communicator, he turned to the others. "Let's move, guys!" No-one argued, as they all raced after the Gordanian.

XXXXXXXX

A few minutes earlier

"Is it just me, or are you guys getting the feeling that Supes stuck us with the boring job?"

At Mimic's complaint, Black Canary rolled her eyes. "Seriously, Jones: enough already."

Cyclops nodded. "Without this intel, we're all flying blind, Rudy. Tactics, remember?" He looked to Cyborg. "Any luck?"

Huddled over the wall-mounted terminal, his arm linked to the console, Cyborg squinted as he entered one command after another. "Almost…gotcha!" Pulling his arm away, he brought up a holographic map of the entire facility, showing two blinking dots. "Okay, the Power parents should be in an office just a few meters south of here. I'm not seeing a lot of security, but we'll still need to watch it."

Koriand'r's eyes narrowed. "Why would we hesitate? Should we not punish these Auron-bedamned wretches for their crimes?"

"The "punishing" can be saved for later, Koriand'r," Power Girl said. "Right now, we need to find the Power family and get them out – if we go too noisy, these guys could get spooked and run."

Koriand'r flinched. "M-My apologies, Ladyship."

Cyclops chuckled. "She still thinks you, Kal, and Kara are gods?"

Power Girl folded her arms. "Unfortunately."

Mimic smirked. "Well, in your case, I can see why she'd make that mistake," he said, which just earned an eye-roll from Alison.

"Guys," Cyclops interjected. "Like Koriand'r said: we need to get moving." No-one else argued, as they headed further down the corridor.

Once they'd reached a corner, Cyclops peered around it, spotting the office in question…guarded by two armed soldiers. "Okay, we need to take those two out fast before they get off an alarm," he whispered. "Mimic, if we give you an opening, can you stun them enough for the rest of us to close in?"

Mimic flexed his fingers. "Piece of cake."

"Good." Cyclops turned to Power Girl. "Aly, we're gonna need a flare."

Smiling, Power Girl raised her fingertip, where a tiny light-orb rested. "Taken care of."

"Okay," Cyclops said. "Clarice, think you can form a portal right over those guys?"

Trembling, Clarice nodded. "I-I'm pretty sure I can!"

"Good. Aly, once that portal's open, toss in your flare. Rudy, you'll go through next and stun 'em, and the rest of us will follow," Cyclops finished. "Okay, Clarice: you're on!"

Scrunching her eyes, Clarice reached to the floor, dug her fingers into it, and pulled open a portal, looking down on the two guards. At once, Power Girl tossed her flare through, which erupted in a starburst of light, leaving both soldiers blinded and stumbling. Quickly, Mimic hopped through, landing between them and giving each of them a tap, causing them to both tense and then sag back, utterly disoriented. By then, the others had leapt through, at which point Cyborg grabbed one guard and tossed him into the other, allowing Cyclops to take them both out with an optic-blast.

With the guards disabled, Mimic opened the office door, sporting a smile. "Anybody call for a rescue?"

Bewildered, the couple inside – Dr. and Mrs. Power – walked out. "Who..?"

"Sorry about the delayed reaction-time, Dr. Power," Cyborg greeted. "Pretty sure we got it right, this time."

Mrs. Power looked stricken. "O-Our children are still in here! We have to find them!"

"We're already on that ma'am," Cyclops reassured her. "The rest of our team is looking for them, now…"

"Superman calling Cyborg!"

Superman's voice echoed from Cyborg's communicator, prompting him to put it through. "We've found the Admiral and the kids, but we also found the Gordanian! He's heading towards the vehicle-bay, and we've just found out why the Power family was grabbed: the father had an antimatter-generating collider in his car…which is stashed in the bay! If the Gordanian grabs it and hooks it up to a Skrull or Kree ship..!"

"We get the picture, big guy: bad news to the extreme!" Cyborg answered. "We just got the parents clear, so consider us on it!"

"Understood! We're en route to assist! Superman out!"

Dr. Power was horrified. "T-That thing can't be after the prototype! It only generates one or two microcollisions..!"

"…on your university's power-grid," Power Girl finished. "What would happen if it got hooked up to a bigger power-source, like an alien battle-cruiser?"

Dr. Power paused, doing the calculations in his head…and went pale. "Oh, dear God!"

Black Canary groaned. "Of course."

Mrs. Power was near tears. "P-Please, you have to get our kids out of here!"

"We will, ma'am, but right now, we have to get you two out of here," Cyclops said. "Aly, you think you can escort the Powers to the Blackbird..?"

"I-I can do it!" Clarice interjected. Focusing hard, she quickly formed another portal, leading onto the Blackbird, and leaving her panting. "S-See?"

Mimic blinked. "That works, too."

Dr. Power was both amazed and sceptical. "This defies all conventional physics…"

"Doc, we've found that this sorta thing works better if you don't stop to think about it," Cyborg advised. "We're gonna get your kids back, so would you please move?"

Cyclops nodded. "Stick to the Blackbird, and don't come out; we should be along shortly."

Dr. Power was reluctant, but he finally nodded. "Alright." With that, he and his wife walked through, allowing Clarice to shut the portal.

Bringing up his holo-map, Cyborg highlighted the main vehicle-bay. "Okay, the bay's not far; if we hustle, we can beat Scaly there."

Mimic grinned. "Or we could let Blink here do her thing."

Seeing Clarice about to agree, Cyclops interrupted. "Not an option, Rudy. She's already tired: one more portal could leave her vulnerable if this goes bad. It's just a quick jog, so let's hustle!" With that, they hurried down the hallway towards the vehicle-bay.

Within minutes, they emerged into a huge chamber, filled with both Earth-based fighter-craft…and larger, more bulbous vessels, all of varying size and in varying states of battle-damage. "Guess this is it," Mimic mused. "So…anybody think to ask what this thing looked like?"

Cyclops grimaced. "Dammit…Power Girl, can you see anything?"

Power Girl's eyes flared as she scanned the room. "I see junk, junk, and more junk, Scott. It might help if I knew what I was looking for."

Cyborg thought for a minute. "Well, the doc probably built it on a university budget," he said, "so try looking for something that looks like my arm."

Power Girl scrunched her nose thoughtfully as she resumed her scan. "Okay…I think I see something: it's just behind that big Kree cruiser with the broken…" Her eyes went wide as her hearing caught a gun-safety click off. "DOWN!"

Quickly, Power Girl enshrouded her comrades in a light-dome, deflecting the high-powered bullet that came racing in from the shadows, as an all-too-familiar figure strolled into view. "Gotta say, you schmucks are persistent," Deadpool remarked, popping a fresh magazine into his automatic, "but, then again, the author'd probably get cussed out online if he made you give up easy, huh?" He seemed to stare into dead air. "Not that it'd kill you to let guys like me win, for a change…"

Koriand'r blinked. "Um…is he mad?"

"I'm pretty sure that doesn't even begin to cover it, lady," Robin muttered, as he looked around. "Blaire: are you sure you've got eyes on the device?"

"Positive."

Robin readied his grapnel-launcher. "That bullet was a long-range caliber, which means Deadshot's here," he said. "Batman and I have dealt with him before, so I can deal with him, or at least get him into the open. Can the rest of you handle Wilson?"

Cyborg armed his sonic cannon. "That's a given, Bird-Boy."

Robin frowned at the shot. "Once Lawton's down, make for the collider." With that, he aimed up, and fired his grapnel, pulling himself up and out of the light-dome. His gaze drawn upwards by the movement, Deadpool barely had time to dive out of the twin optic-surge and sonic-blast that Cyclops and Cyborg launched at him. With Deadpool off-balance, Black Canary rushed him, leaving the dome – and prompting Power Girl to raise a bevy of light-screens to block the salvo of sniper-shots that raced in from Deadshot's vantage-point – to unload a lightning-fast punch-flurry…only to have Deadpool block every strike, countering with a knee-kick to her abdomen while he reached for his sword…

With expert aim, Cyclops blasted the blade out of Deadpool's hand, giving Dinah enough time to recover and level Wilson with a sonic scream…before she had to leap behind cover to dodge another burst of sniper-fire. "Dammit, bird-boy, where's that cover?"

Robin was already on the move, racing through the shadows as he leapt from one craft to another. With one leap, he cleared an F-22 just as Deadshot fired on his position, to duck behind the dorsal fin of a Kree fighter. 'He's already fired 10 bullets, and that caliber ammo has a 15-round magazine – five left.' Zipping from his cover, Robin fired his grapnel, pulling himself up on top of a cruiser, dodging another shot. 'Four.' Darting to the edge, he crouched low, scanning the bay for any trace, before pulling back, in time to dodge a third shot. 'That's three. If he can get me from up here, he's gotta be high up.' Creeping back, he slid down the cruiser's starboard hull, keeping in the shadows as he resumed his scan. 'That battleship looks like a good spot, but I'd better be sure…'

Drawing a Birdarang – his own touch on his mentor's weapon – he let it fly, clanging it against an F-16's tailfin…which prompted a shadowy silhouette to move atop the battleship, before a bullet pierced the tailfin. 'Bingo!' Robin thought. 'Okay, Lawton, now you've got two left. Do I hear one?' Firing his grapnel, he snagged the wing-fin of another fighter and pulled it, prompting Deadshot to open up on it. Drawing another Birdarang, he threw it at the canopy of a Skrull fighter, at which point Deadshot's last shot pierced it. Cursing, the silhouette ducked down, to reload…giving Robin the opening he needed.

As Deadshot drew another magazine, Robin fired his grapnel, swinging in to knock him off his feet with a flying kick, his sniper-rifle skittering away. "Let's see how tough you are up-close, Lawton!"

Deadshot's eye narrowed. "Tough enough to pluck your feathers, bird-brat!" he spat, raising his arm…as a pistol-barrel extended from his gauntlet. Robin was barely able to leap out of the way of the glove-shot, which gave Deadshot enough time to draw a revolver. Cocking it, he took aim at Robin…

"Look out!"

Koriand'r's shout came seconds before her green bolt blasted the weapon out of Deadshot's hand. Reacting fast, Robin fired his grapnel, snagging Deadshot's coat and yanking him into a clothesline, knocking him out. With Deadshot down, Robin glared at the floating Tamaranian. "I had that under control."

Koriand'r huffed. "You are welcome, human."

By then, Deadpool had gotten back to his feet. "Okay, you stupid brats, I'm through fuckin' arou – AACK!" His expletive died as he took one step, right into a portal that sent him tumbling out of the ceiling…and back into the entry portal, sending him looping through, accelerating faster and faster each time. "How…"

Zip!

"…the…"

Zip!

"…fuck…"

Zip!

"…did…"

Zip!

"…that…"

Zip!

"…happen?"

On that last loop, Clarice gestured, banishing her portals, leaving Deadpool in midair…to smash into the ground at terminal velocity. At first, Clarice was horrified, until Deadpool moved. "Ow."

Clarice was trembling as she backed away. "I-I didn't mean to..!"

"Easy, Clarice," Cyclops soothed. "I wouldn't get bent out of shape over him; he's walked away from Wonder Woman punching him out. He'll live."

Scanning the upper levels with his cybernetic eye, Cyborg powered down his arm-cannon. "Looks like we're clear," he observed. "Okay, Aly: where'd you spot Doc P's gizmo?"

"This way!" Power Girl exclaimed, racing further into the bay. Within minutes, she had led them to an open section…where a recently-opened crate lay. "But…but it was here!"

"Could these guys have moved it?" Black Canary asked.

Mimic happened to look to the left. "Uh, guys?" he asked. "Somebody moved it, but I don't think it was these guys…"

Following Mimic's gaze, they spotted the augmented Gordanian as it leapt out of the back hatch of a Kree fighter – where a small silver unit had been MacGyvered into a panel – to tackle into Cyborg, following with a whip-tendril that knocked Cyclops, Mimic, and Clarice back, frcing Power Girl to shield herself and Dinah with a barrier as she hailed the others. "Kal, we've found the Gordanian! He's already grabbed the collider! Any ideas how to shut him down fast?"

"Aly, whatever bio-augmentation system he's using is likely heat- and sound-sensitive; it retracted both from my eye-rays and Cyborg's arm! A double-whammy should do the trick!"

"Got it!" Power Girl looked to Black Canary. "Dinah, with me!" At once, she fired a wide-field eye-ray, encompassing the Gordanian's entire body, while Canary unleashed another scream. Convulsing from the twin impacts, the Gordanian was slammed into a Skrull fighter as his bio-suit was stripped away, until he collapsed on the ground, with his suit, now the size of a golf-ball, lying congealed and still next to him.

The second she saw the exposed Gordanian, Koriand'r's eyes flared with fury. Shrieking like a harpy, she dove on him, grabbing him by the throat and slamming him against the fighter, forming another energy-bolt in her free hand. "Now, lizard," she hissed. "Now you will pay for what you did to us..!"

"Put him down, Koriand'r."

Power Girl breathed a sigh of relief as Superman and the other team caught up with them, but Black Canary was less enthused. "About time."

Seeing Superman, Koriand'r looked confused and hurt. "B-But…Great One, you know what he did!" she murmured. "H-He and his crew…they tortured us..!"

Superman nodded gently. "Admiral Whitemane told me, Koriand'r," he answered. "He saw the flight-logs; we all know what the Gordanians did to you."

Koriand'r teared up as she readied her strike. "Then you know why he has to die..!"

"What of the others like you?" Aelfyre asked.

Koriand'r paused. "W-What others? Only I survived…"

"…from that group, yes," Aelfyre agreed. "The logs I saw detailed many groups like yours, child. You came from but one. The others are still out there."

Superman gestured to the Gordanian. "He will face justice for his crimes, Koriand'r, make no mistake," he said, "but he knows where the others are. Kill him, and you condemn all of them to the same fate you faced. Is that what you want?"

Her expression stricken, Koriand'r shook her head. "N-No." With that, she lowered her hand, her bolt dispersing…before she levelled the Gordanian with a right-cross, knocking him out.

At the others' expressions of mild surprise, Koriand'r only shrugged. "You only said not to kill him, Sky Lord."

Superman sighed. "I did, didn't I?" His exasperation turned to alarm as he spotted the glow from the fighter. Darting towards it, he quickly yanked the wires linking the collider to the ship, but the glow kept growing. "Oh, Rao, it's already starting to overload!"

"Can you stop it?" Cyclops asked.

"Not without making it worse!" Superman cried. "This unit uses electrostatic forces to keep matter and antimatter apart in order to study the collision-products before they self-annihilate; there's not enough power in the normal shielding to contain this much antimatter! The only way to strengthen the shielding is to use more power, which will only generate more antimatter!"

Mimic gulped. "So, how big a boom are we talking? A house? A city block?"

Superman grimaced. "Rudy, there's enough here to level the entire eastern Seaboard!" He gathered the device into his arms. "I have to get this out of here..?"

"No."

Aelfyre spoke before Power Girl could even object. "Give it to me," he said, standing clear of Alex. "Clear a path to the sky above, and stand well back."

Alex blinked. "Admiral, what are you doing?"

"When the device's shielding fails, I will absorb the energy of the blast, and channel it into space, where it can do no harm."

Cyborg froze. "Whoa, Admiral. You're in no shape to…"

"I will do as I must, young man, regardless of my "shape.""

Katie was near tears. "I-I can do it!" she said. "You gave me that kinda power too, remember?"

"Yes, but you have not had the training needed to handle this much energy, little one," Aelfyre admonished. "You would never live through it."

"And you will?" Superman countered. "Admiral, even without your injuries, this kind of an energy-transfer could kill you! I have time to get it into space..!"

"No, Kal-El of Krypton, you do not," Aelfyre said. "I can feel the energy building; the shielding will fail within the minute. You would never escape the blast." His eyes narrowed. "Every second we delay gives me less time to prepare. Now give it here."

Superman frowned, but he handed the collider to Aelfyre. "You guys heard the Admiral: everyone back!" he ordered. "Aly, we need to cut a hole in the ceiling, fast!" Aiming their gazes upward, he and Power Girl fired eye-rays into the metal ceiling, converging and then spreading out, melting a wide hole in the ceiling, then the next floor, then the next, and the next…

His eyes scrunched as he focused, Aelfyre gasped as the collider's shielding failed, the matter-antimatter reaction melting the device instantly as the explosion grew in his hands…and then shrunk, its energy completely absorbed into Aelfyre's body. Aelfyre's veins popped against his skin, his eyes scrunched and his jaw clenched with agony, his every movement anguished, but he still plodded beneath the hole being formed above him. Superman and Power Girl had only just finished when Aelfyre raised his hands up…and unleashed a massive beam of pure white energy into the night sky, sending it streaking far, far out into the black void.

As the beam died away, its energy expended, Aelfyre's eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed, prompting Superman to catch him, switching on his communicator. "Sentrius, signal the Argo, and have it meet us at the Watchtower with as many nano-medical gel-packs as possible, and signal the Javelin for immediate med-e-vac! The Admiral's heading for a crash!"

"Acknowledged, Commander."

As Superman lifted the unconscious Admiral into his arms, Katie spoke up. "W-We're coming, too!"

Cyclops shook his head. "No dice, you four. Your parents are waiting, and they're worried about you."

"But..!"

"He's in good hands, guys," Cyborg said. "Once he's out of the woods, we'll let you know somehow. Right now, you need to get home." He paused, reconsidering as he noticed their morphed attire. "After you get a change of clothes, of course."

Alex looked worried. "Are you going to tell our folks about…what we can do, now?"

Superman looked at the others briefly. "That's not our secret to tell," he admitted. "We'll have to discuss what you plan to do with those powers, but for now, it's up to you whether or not you want to tell anyone about them."

By then, the Javelin was hovering over the hole in the ceiling, prompting Superman to fly aboard with the Admiral, while Clarice opened up another portal for them to escape with. Once they were all outside, Black Canary groaned. "Well, that was fun."

Mimic, however, was elated. "Oh, yeah! First victory, guys!" he cheered. "Justice League, here we come!"

Green Arrow snorted. "Getting a bit ahead of ourselves, aren't we?"

Armour blinked. "Are missions always like this, Alison-san?"

Power Girl was about to shake her head…until she thought about it. "Actually, Hisako, a lot of them are."

Dinah sighed. "Good to know."

XXXXXXXX

Watchtower

It had been a long half-hour.

After arriving at the Watchtower with Admiral Whitemane – and trying to reassure the Admiral's panicked son who had beamed aboard from the StormHerd – Superman had quickly moved Aelfyre to the infirmary, applying the gel-packs from the Argo as fast as possible while performing what he knew of Kymellian first aid. All that remained now was for him, as well as the others, to wait.

By then, the rest of their team, and the League, had assembled in the Monitor Womb with him, waiting for the packs to do their job. "How bad was he?" Wonder Woman asked.

Superman sighed. "If we'd treated him with Earth medicine, he'd have died," he answered. "It looked like we got him here in time, but he just transmuted the energy from a matter-antimatter reaction."

Spider-Man gulped. "Heavy."

Batman was calm. "What about that facility? Was there any sign of who ran Deadpool's team?"

Cyborg shook his head. "Not a trace. Whoever ran that show walked the second we showed up."

"Maybe, but Dr. and Mrs. Power gave us one clue," Power Girl said. "They said they spoke with a U.S. general…and a shorty, heavyset African-American woman." Her eyes narrowed. "It sounds like Waller and her country-club are at it, again."

"Then we'll need to keep an eye out for them," Batman said, "as well as keep surveillance on the Power family; these people do not like to leave witnesses."

Cyborg smiled knowingly. "I think I have an idea about that."

Glancing to their newest teammates, Cyclops smiled. "Good job out there, guys."

Clarice looked nervous. "W-We did good?" she asked. "W-We don't have to d-do it again?"

Diana's eyes went wide. "Hera, child, why on Earth would you think that?"

Clarice cringed. "Y-You…at that school, you have that room…"

"…for training, Clarice," Cyclops corrected. "We are not like Sinister; nobody's going to make you jump through hoops."

Dinah snorted. "Tell that to Logan."

Hawkgirl frowned. "What about the Gordanian?"

Sentrius answered her, never moving from her monitor station. "A Green Lantern patrol is already en route, Colonel Hol. The Gordanian will be jointly transferred to Confederate and Thanagarian custody for interrogation."

Koriand'r bowed. "We thank you, oh wise and mighty oracle!"

Sentrius paused, turning around. "Communication dysfunction; invalid recognition tag used."

Superman waved his hand. "Long story short, Sentrius, she thinks Kryptonians are gods and our installations and creations – including you – are temples. We're working on fixing it."

"Understood, Commander."

Glancing to Koriand'r, Robin scratched his head. "I guess you want to go home, too, right?"

Koriand'r looked pensive. "There is no hurry."

Robin arched an eyebrow. "Why not?"

Koriand'r looked away. "If possible, I would prefer to establish communication with Tamaran before my return is discussed."

Green Lantern thought for a moment. "Tamaran is a bit out of the way, but we should be able to get comms out there within a few weeks."

"I thank you."

Turning to her cousin, Kara looked stricken. "Kal, when you spoke with him, did the Admiral have any information on the Dheronians?"

"I never had a chance to ask, Kara," Superman replied. "We were a bit pressed for time – he never got the chance to finish relaying the intel he'd gathered…"

"Commander, I am detecting an increase in the Admiral's brain-activity. He is conscious…and asking for you, as well as Citizens Ka-Lir and Zor-El."

At Sentrius' update, the three of them hurried to the infirmary, where Kofi was waiting by his father's bedside. His eyes slightly groggy, Aelfyre was lying in a medical cot, clad in only his boxer-like undergarments, his leg and ribs dotted with semi-translucent blue gel-packs. Seeing them, Kofi quickly rose. "C-Commander El!" he greeted, saluting. "O-On behalf of myself and the Kymellian Commonwealth, I thank you for…"

"Be still, son," Aelfyre murmured, waving Kofi back with a shaky hand. "Formality is not needed here."

Superman recalled Aelfyre's earlier comment. "You knew my father, sir?"

Aelfyre nodded. "Years back, before the Shi'ar Siege; we met at a lecture he gave at Capital University," he replied. "Sadly, I fear we cannot talk of such pleasnant times." He sat up. "Earlier, I told you of the research the Gordanians were undertaking."

"Their genetic and augmentation programs, yes."

Aelfyre looked grim. "What I did not mention was the ultimate aim of such vile research," he said. "They had hoped to duplicate your people's solar powers, enough to bypass your technology's genetic safeguards."

Kara gasped. "T-They were…trying to get around our Bio-Coding?"

Aelfyre nodded. "They used other species to perfect their process, with the Tamaranian girl as their main subject."

"It never would have worked," Superman said. "The Bio-Coding reads markers in sections of non-coding DNA specific to Kryptonians. The Gordanians would have had better odds trying to win an Earth lottery jackpot ten weeks in a row."

"Even so, they still would have tried to create a legion of shock-troops with your people's powers," Aelfyre said, "built upon the blood of legions more innocent souls."

Power Girl looked grave. "Could the Dheronians' benefactor be behind this, too?"

Kofi looked confused. "What?"

"Admiral, we, too, have had some distressing news," Superman said. "Krypton's destruction was no accident. It was orchestrated by an unknown individual, who supplied advanced technology to one of our oldest enemies, the Dheronians."

Aelfyre grimaced, his eyes scrunching shut. "Maker, be merciful…"

"Whoever helped them was capable of constructing entire fleets, as well as transporting them across the universe instantly," Superman said. "Admiral, if you have heard of anything..!"

"If I had, you would know of it," Aelfyre replied. "Sadly, I know of no such group with these capabilities." Sighing, he leaned back. "It is almost too dire to be a coincidence: first Azerath's destruction…then Krypton…and now, New Genesis and Oa both warn of old things stirring in the dark."

"What "old things"?" Supergirl asked.

"Nothing by name," Aelfyre answered. "Merely whispers of echoes; if this is your conspirator, it knows enough to hide well." Sitting back up, he extended his hand with a smile. "But know this, children of Krypton: so long as you and your allies stand with the light, Kymellia and her Commonwealth stand with you."

Superman smiled back, and shook it. "Thank you, Admiral."

Aelfyre chuckled. "And of the four Power children?"

"We'll be keeping an eye on them."

Kofi frowned. "Father, are you certain that performing a Power Transfer on them was wise? What if they misuse your gifts?"

"I feel confident that they will not, son," Aelfyre answered, "provided they find guidance from the right friends."

Power Girl lightly giggled. "We'll see if we can help with that."

Superman nodded, before his expression turned serious. "If that's all, sir, I'm afraid I have to get going," he said, turning to go. "I have an appointment with a friend that I need to keep."

XXXXXXXX

LexCorp HQ, Metropolis

"Mr. Luthor, your 9:00 appointment is here. Also, there is a Clark Kent to see you."

Sitting at his desk, still in his motorized wheelchair – until he finished physio – Lex Luthor switched on his intercom. "Send Mr. Kent in, Mercy."

Several minutes later, his office door opened, and Clark – his best friend, from what he'd heard – walked in, wearing khakis, a button-up shirt, and a vest, his glasses over his nose. "Hey, Lex."

Trying to smile, Lex nodded in greeting. "Clark." He felt a bit bad for so flat a greeting, but it was all he knew to do.

It was yet another downside to having massive gaps in his memory.

Shaking his head, Lex came back to the moment. "Any reason you wanted to see me?"

Clark's smile became a bit strained. "I wanted to see how you were doing."

"Oh. Right." Lex shrugged. "Well, physiotherapy is going well. The doctors say I'll be up and about in a month or two, with the progress I'm making."

"That's good," Clark said. "And…how about the other stuff?"

Lex sighed. "If you mean my memory, it's the same as that day you stopped by," he answered. "I'm picking up bits and pieces, but if you're expecting me to suddenly be all buddy-buddy with you again, you're asking a bit much."

Clark's face fell. "Oh."

Lex felt guilty. "I'm sorry if that was harsh, Clark, but it's the truth."

"You're right, Lex; you're right," Clark agreed. "I guess it was too much to hope for, right now." He smiled. "How about we just be pals as-is, and go from there, memories or no memories?"

Lex smiled back. "Sounds like a plan," he agreed. "So…any ideas?"

"Well, it's not an idea for right now, but we used to play the odd round of basketball," Clark said. "I can get some of our…some of my pals down for a three-on-three game."

Lex chuckled. "Six musketeers, huh? Sounds good!" As Clark brightened, he paused. "What?"

Clark shook his head. "Nothing."

As Lex's pager beeped, Lex sighed. "Sorry, Clark, but I have a meeting; can we talk later?"

"Sure, Lex; no problem," Clark said. "See you."

As Clark left, Lex rolled to his personal elevator, shut the door…and inserted his key, opening a secret panel with one button. He pressed it, letting the elevator take him down to the secret level he'd had built over the past few weeks.

The secret soundproof level.

Emerging in a darkened, high-tech operations-center, with only a skeleton-staff, Lex rolled towards his two guests. "Judging by your expression, our little first flight was a dust-up, Waller."

Frowning, Amanda Waller nodded. "We were expecting a bit of friction, Luthor."

""A bit of friction," Waller?" Henry Gyrich snapped. "We had to evacuate an entire facility, we lost access to both a promising human resource and two aliens, and you and Ross were both seen!"

"By face only, Gyrich; the Powers didn't get our names," Amanda retorted. "If they become a problem, we'll deal with them. For now, they're low priority."

"Fine, then," Lex said. "But I want to know how we plan to deal with the Kryptonians and their little club with the suckers you've been hiring. If you want me bankrolling this op, I'm gonna have to see a potential return."

"Our recruiting is ongoing, Luthor. Wilson, Lawton, Zmeck, and Barton were all we could get on short notice," Amanda said. "Right now, they're the best we have, but…"

"Hey, Walls! What's a guy gotta do to get some chimichangas down here?"

Amanda's eye ticked as she turned around. "How did you get this frequency, Wilson?"

An unrepentant Deadpool stared back from multiple view-screens. "You know, Walls, you really oughtta put better locks on your office," he remarked. "Oh, and me, Zmecks, Shots, and Little John bugged outta there just fine, thanks for asking!" He looked past her. "Oh, hey, Baldy's back! I was wondering when the author was gonna bring you in!"

Lex arched an eyebrow. "What's he talking about?"

Amanda's glare was murderous. "Get off this channel, Wilson, or you're gone."

Deadpool laughed. "Or what, Walls? You'll get somebody else to run this show? Like who?"

"Like me."

At that gravelly voice, echoing from the shadows, Deadpool froze, causing Amanda to smirk. "As you can see, Deadpool, I already found a replacement leader."

"Well, who? Who could possibly…oh. Oh my shit. Oh my shit. Oh my shit."

The owner of the voice – tall, leanly muscled, in a black bodysuit with a full cowl and an orange half-mask, armed with twin katanas, twin revolvers and automatics – walked into view. "So that's him, Waller? That's the punk Weapon X named after me?"

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

Deadpool's squeal drowned out any reply Amanda planned to make. "SLADE WILSON! OH MY GOD!" he cried, before turning his gaze slightly into empty space. "Author, dude, I take back EVERY bad thing I said about you between scenes! You brought in DEATHSTROKE! I LOVE YOU, MAN!"

Amanda chuckled. "So your new CO meets your approval, then?"

Slade – Deathstroke – glared at Deadpool. "Do we have a problem here, junior?"

Deadpool instantly saluted. "No, SIR! I am ON your frequency!" he declared, before adding, "Dude, you even got the Ron Perlman voice! THANK YOU!"

Deathstroke put a hand to his temple. "Just report in at 0500, boy."

"Yes, sir!" With that, Deadpool signed out.

Slade sighed. "Colourful bunch you got here, Waller."

Amanda smiled. "Honestly, I'd expected Wade would be the one to give you trouble."

"Beautiful." Slade looked around. "And this is what we have to work with."

"For now," Henry said. "General Ross is presently covering up our military foul-up; Senator Kelly is garnering support for Project: Cadmus; and Dr. Storm is awaiting recall."

"Sounds like you need results."

Amanda nodded. "Think you're up for it, Wilson?"

Deathstroke chuckled darkly. "Waller, take it from me: once I've whipped this Suicide Squad into shape, that E.T. and his club won't know what hit 'em."

XXXXXXXX

Power residence, September 20

"So, Lex is still fuzzy, huh?"

With the morning sun shone in the sky, Cyborg casually strolled through Queens, his phone in his ear. "Pretty much, Vic," Clark answered. "He mentioned six musketeers briefly, but he didn't get the significance."

Victor smiled. "Sounds like his head's working on a reboot, man. Give him time." Spotting the Power residence, he added, "I'm gonna have to call back, Clark. Catch you later."

"Later, Vic."

By the time Victor hung up his phone, he could see the four Power kids, in regular clothes, starting to head to the car, with Alex driving. "How's everyone holding up?"

Startled, the four of them turned towards him, calming once they recognized him. "Okay, we guess," Alex said.

Katie gulped. "Is Admiral Horsey..?"

"…on his way back home, safe and sound," Victor assured her. "So, what'd you all decide about your folks?"

Julie sighed. "We can't tell them."

Alex nodded. "The best we can do is keep our heads down, for now; if we let on about our powers, those guys could come after us."

Victor shrugged. "There's a third option."

Jack perked up. "Yeah?"

"I know a few people that know a thing or two about folks with…unique talents," Victor said. "Ever since the Justice League came together, it's occurred to me that, just maybe, a few kids with gifts could do some good, too."

Julie looked sceptical. "Seriously?"

Victor smiled knowingly. "It's worked before."

"So…what, then?" Katie asked.

"If you're interested, I could help you guys get a handle on those powers," Victor answered. "At the very least, you could better keep an eye out for trouble."

Julie paused. "I don't know," she said. "I mean, no offence, but being normal is tough enough…"

"We're not normal, Julie; not anymore," Alex countered. "Admiral Whitemane stood up and took an antimatter blast for all of us, which could've killed him if he hadn't powered us up. I don't think we should sit around on our duffs and waste that." He nodded to Victor. "I'm in."

Jack grinned. "Yeah, like I'm passing up a chance to be a superhero!"

Katie beamed. "Me, too!"

Sighing, Julie half-smiled. "Okay, okay…"

Victor laughed. "Good to hear!" he said. "So, any ideas on code-names?" Looking around, he armed his sonic-cannon, and then powered down again. "I go by Cyborg: name says it all."

Alex thought for a moment. "Call me…Zero-G."

Julie paused. "Lightspeed."

Jack flexed. "Duh! I'm the Mass Master!"

Katie thought hard. "Um…um…oh, I know! I'm Energizer!"

Victor chuckled. "Cool: a regular power-pack deal!"

"Yeah…yeah!" Alex agreed. "You can call the four of us…Power Pack!"

Victor grinned. "Okay, then, Power Pack," he said, "here's what we need to do…"

XXXXXXXX

Former Cadmus installation

In the ruins of the vehicle-bay, repair-work, supervised by General Ross, was well underway. S.H.I.E.L.D. technicians were hard at work, re-patching the hole seared through to the sky, while engineers took stock of the damaged vessels, sorting the salvageable from the scrap.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle, no-one noticed a lone glob of what appeared to be gelatinized grease lying on the floor…as it started to crawl away.

It had never anticipated the power of these "heroes" of Earth. Their power had far exceeded its old host.

It needed a new host…and it knew exactly who to choose.

It would take time to get to this "New York City," but it would be patient.

And with that, the symbiotic glob inched away, making for the nearest vehicle, to hide itself aboard…and await its chance…

XXXXXXXX

Author's Note:

I am SO, SO sorry for the long delay, everyone. This semester, I over-scheduled myself, and didn't leave myself enough downtime. The end result? Too many assignments and too little time. Thankfully, next semester looks a little better. Thank you for your patience!

Also, the character of Mackenzie Fox isn't mine; she was suggested to me by KingofJokers23. She'll be back, in the future! Thanks for the idea!

Coming Soon:

In the midst of Apocalypse's latest gambit, the X-Men's beloved Professor gets some extremely surprising news, leaving him racing to aid a family he never knew…

but he's not the only one.

Can our heroes stop En Sabah Nur's deadly plot?

Or will a Second Horseman rise?

Find out, in "For We Are One," coming to your computer soon…