Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 
JLA/Titans: Invasion!
by Syl Francis

Chapter Six

The ship's AI issued the necessary launch order. The launch room was suddenly racketed with klaxons warning the ship's long-dead crew of the impending decompression. The waiting, pilotless scout ships were ejected out of the launch deck by automatic, unmanned catapults. As the small armada of scouts cleared the mother ship's outer shields, plasma-powered impulse engines fired automatically.

Commands that were originally pre-programmed into the scout ships' Target Acquisition Centers before the dawn of time began running defensive firing drills. AIs that had been asleep for eons assessed their scouting mission. Third planet from the M-type yellow star located at approximately twenty light years above the galactic plane and 28,000 light years from the center cluster…


"Ray, I don't know what you expect me to do!" the Flash protested. "I mean, Batman and I are hardly pals! Why don't you talk to him, since you're so interested in Robin's welfare?"

"Because, Barry, I don't have a kid sidekick! Besides, if Bats gets upset because we're sticking our noses in where they don't belong, you can run a lot faster!"

The Flash stuck his fingers in his ears, and starting walking around the room. "I'm not listening to this! Iris warned me about hanging out with a theoretical physicist! She says you're all crazy, and you'll probably wind up getting me killed!"

Atom laughed. "Iris never said that! She likes me. By the way, Jeannie wants to know when you two would like to get together for dinner again?"

"Geez, Ray," the Flash said removing his fingers from his ears, "I don't know…social stuff is Iris' department. I'll have her give Jean a call, okay?"

"You do that, buddy," Atom said, smiling. "Now, where were we? I was telling you that you're the best choice to approach Batman because you two have sidekicks in common…And don't you dare stick your fingers in your ears again! I swear, Barry, you're worse than the Titans, you know that?"

"But, Ray…buddy…the fact that Batman and I both have sidekicks doesn't alter the fact that he and I aren't exactly on friendly terms. He'll find this intrusive and rightly so!"

"I know that, Barry," Atom agreed reasonably, "but you're still in a better position to relate to him than I'd be able to. Besides, Wally isn't just your partner. He's your nephew. That counts for something, I think."

"Yeah, to me!" the Flash said. "Wally is like a son to me. When I began dating Iris, I met the little guy, and…I don't know. He had and still has a terrible relationship with his father. He needed a friend."

"Wally got more than that, Barry. He got, as I've heard him say time and time again, 'the world's greatest uncle!' The boy loves you."

The Flash smiled fondly. "The feeling's mutual, I assure you. When I married Iris, Wally was sort of part of the package deal. Almost like I got two for the price of one. Now that he's Kid Flash, we've grown even closer."

"Then, you can relate to Batman!" Atom reminded him.

"And how do you reach that conclusion, Doctor Palmer?" the Flash asked sarcastically.

"Elementary, by dear, Doctor Allen," Atom returned easily. "I didn't just overhear Batman and Robin talking, Barry. I overheard a father talking to his son. As hard as it may seem to believe, the Bat-guy loves that boy. I wouldn't doubt it if in real life they are father and son. I think that would certainly explain Batman's almost unbending attitude in public. It's probably just a mask to hide his obsessive overprotectiveness of Robin."

The Flash nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I think I see what you mean. It would also help explain Robin's unquestioning obedience. He's used to having Batman as the authority figure." The Flash shook his head suddenly. "But I still don't see what it has to do with me. Whatever they were arguing about, it's none of our business! You shouldn't have eavesdropped, and I shouldn't have listened to you!" He paused and mused pensively. "Besides, I don't think I'd be fast enough if Batman ever decided to take me down."

Atom smiled. "Come on, Barry…you know you want to! You can't stand by and watch that little guy hurting, anymore than you can ignore Wally's needs when he's had an argument with his father. You're a Dad at heart, Barry. You may not have any children of your own yet, but it doesn't change facts. And the facts clearly state that you can't not stick your nose in."

"That's a double negative," the Flash chastised automatically. Atom grinned broadly. He knew he'd gotten to his friend.

The Flash grimaced sourly, but he knew that Atom was right. He couldn't stand by and not stick his nose in. He only hoped he'd be fast enough to get out of the way when Batman tried to bite it off.

"Okay, Doctor Palmer, but this hick from the Midwest ain't facing the Dark Knight by his lonesome. This was your idea, so you're coming with me."

"Me? What do you need me for?" Atom asked.

"In case I need to throw something really small with a lot of mass to save my neck!"


Speedy glared at Superman through eyes shining with unshed tears. Finally, he dropped his gaze, and felt the tears start spilling. Superman's words rang in his ears…

"…You will be alone. All alone."

"I am alone," Speedy whispered. "Everyone I've ever loved has left me. Anyone I try to love leaves me eventually." He looked forlornly at the Man of Steel, and pointing at the earth spinning below, he asked, "If there are billions of people living down there, Superman, why can't I hold on to just one?"

Superman placed a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. "Son, the only person who can answer that question is you. Love and friendship don't come free. You have to work for them, and then once you earn then, you have to fight to keep them. And I don't mean with these--!"

Superman took Speedy's closed fists in his powerful hands. Speedy nodded reluctantly. Superman moved towards the edge of the observation deck. He placed his hands on the transparent titanium wall and stared thoughtfully at the panoramic view before him. How do I get through to him, Superman wondered? He sighed then tried another tack.

"Son, do you know what's the hardest substance I've encountered in my journeys? The one thing that even I can't punch my way through?"

Speedy shook his head. He couldn't imagine anything that Superman might have encountered that he couldn't disintegrate with just one super-powerful punch! Realizing that Superman had his back to him, Speedy answered. "No sir, I don't."

"Pride, Son…silly, unbending, overbearing pride. The kind that says 'I'm right, and everyone else is wrong, so why should I change?'" Superman turned to face the young teen. "Speedy, pride is an admirable character trait in a man, but not if it isolates him from his friends and his family. Being right can sometimes be extremely lonely." I should know, he added silently, thinking of Batman.

Speedy studied Superman for a few moments, looking for signs of deception. What did Superman mean, he wondered? What did he want him to do? Speedy walked past Superman and unconsciously imitated the Man of Steel's earlier pose by placing both of his hands on the transparent titanium and gazing, unseeing at the earth below.

"Think about what I said, Son…and Speedy, you're never alone as long you're a part of our family. Remember that." With that Superman left the junior archer alone to his thoughts.


Black Canary was packing her suitcases when Green Arrow walked into their quarters. He stood, leaning casually against the door to their bedroom without speaking. GA loved to watch her, even now when she was spitting mad and looked like she'd thoroughly enjoy tossing him on his rear, he enjoyed watching her. God, but she was beautiful! GA swallowed, then spoke quietly.

"Dinah, I deserved everything you said. I'm a lousy father, I admit it." GA waited, but Black Canary ignored him and continued her packing without pause. GA walked to the bed and sat down next to the suitcase.

Black Canary was forced to go around him to reach the open case. Green Arrow gave her his most rakishly charming smile. She paused for moment, glared daggers at him, then calmly moved to the other side of the bed, turned her suitcase around and proceeded with her packing.

"Aw, Pretty Bird, please talk to me. I admitted I was wrong! What else can I do?"

Without saying a word, Black Canary calmly picked up a framed eight by ten photo of Ollie. Then, quicker than lightning, she turned and threw it against the wall. The force of the impact shattered the glass frame into a million pieces. Green Arrow sat back, stunned by the violence of her reaction.

"That's what I think of your apology, Oliver Queen! It's as worthless as that empty smile of yours! It's a smile that's full of promises that can turn a girl's head, but which in the end amount to nothing."

Black Canary paused, looking contemptuously at Green Arrow.

"But this isn't about me, Ollie…and it isn't about you. It's about a young boy whose heart you've broken. A young boy whose head you also filled with promises! Promises of a father's love and protection! Promises that like everything else about you were empty and meaningless!"

Black Canary picked up her suitcase and started walking out. When she reached the bedroom door, she stopped keeping her back to him.

"I'm not the person whom you should be apologizing to, Ollie. Roy's still somewhere on this space station--alone, frightened, his heart breaking. And if you don't do something soon, you're going to lose him, too." Black Canary started walking out, but paused again. "If you don't set things straight between you and Roy," she said, her voice breaking, "I'll hate you forever, Oliver Queen!"

Long after Black Canary left, Green Arrow sat alone on the edge of the bed he'd shared with her.


"You said there was a new development?" the grim voice uttered from behind caused the Flash to jump.

How does he do that, the Flash wondered for the hundredth time? He turned and smiled at his taciturn teammate. "Uh, yeah, Batman…new development. Uh, right, Ray?" the Flash looked around for the Mighty Mite. "Ray?"

Why the little--! Atom had disappeared. I'm definitely killing him, the Flash promised himself. I'll use the fly swatter…I swear, this time I'm doing it. Then I'll turn myself in to the Central City PD!

"Well?" Batman asked impatiently.

"Well?" the Flash asked uncertainly. "Oh! Yeah, the new development…uh, wait a minute, I just had the new readouts somewhere. I'm sorry about this Batman, but Atom had the readouts, and you know what the little twerp is like. Probably took 'em with him! Has no consideration for others who have work to do!"

The Flash emphasized his words to make sure Atom knew exactly how he felt at being left alone with the Dark Knight. Batman raised an eyebrow at the Flash's uncharacteristically insulting words. Everyone knew that the Flash and Atom were close friends and colleagues in their civilian identities as well as in their superhero personas.

"We were just going…uh…over the readings," the Flash was stumbling for words. He was not very good at acting or adlibbing. Ray, when I get my hands on you, I'll squeeze so hard, you'll--

"--Why don't you run a new batch?" Batman's gravelly voice interrupted the Flash's ruminations.

"What?"

"I said, why don't you run a new batch? If Atom took the readouts, he must've needed them for a reason," Batman said. He almost sounded reasonable. "Here, I'll do it." Batman walked to the terminal station and began typing rapidly.

All the Flash could do was stand helplessly by. Once the system ran the data, the analysis would show no new development, and he'd be toast. Well, maybe now's the time, he thought to himself. Yeah, right now would be a good time. The Flash opened his mouth to speak, but was beaten to the punch.

"Batman, while we wait for the readouts, Barry and I would like to talk you on a more personal topic." Atom was standing on the Cray monitor over Batman's head. He gave the Flash a sheepish shrug. "Right, Barry?"

Batman stood up and faced both of his teammates. Even in the well-lit computer lab, Batman somehow seemed to fade into the nonexistent shadows. To the Flash, Batman's forbidding presence in the middle of the room was about as inviting as a secluded cemetery on Halloween night. The Flash swallowed.

This isn't a good idea, Ray, the Flash urged silently. "Uh, yeah, right, Ray," he said aloud, nodding vigorously.

Batman stood like a stone wall, waiting.

Stonewall Batman, the Flash thought hysterically. Oh, God! Let me get through this without getting killed.

"Uh, Batman," the Flash began tentatively, "I wanted to talk to you about--"

"We--!" interrupted the Atom. "We wanted to talk to him…"

"Right…We…that is Ray and I wanted to talk to you about…" the Flash stopped unable to continue.

"What Barry's trying to say, Batman, is that he and I…we, that is--"

"You've said that, gentlemen," Batman said quietly.

"Right!" the Flash took a deep breath. "Batman what Ray and I want to talk to you about is--"

beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep…

The Scarlet Speedster was suddenly interrupted by the JLA's supercomputers' warning signals! The data request that Batman had input a few moments before had been correlated and was being sent out. The Flash zipped towards the Cray. What he read made his blood run cold…


Robin removed his hand from his forehead, but he definitely had a headache coming. He looked at his three teammates with an "I'm dead" expression. Then he exploded.

"I don't believe this!" Robin shouted in outrage. "Where were you people raised? Haven't any of you heard of knocking? You don't just walk into people's quarters unannounced! Especially people whose secret identities you haven't been told! That's trespassing!"

Aqualad gave Robin an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, Robin. I knew that we shouldn't enter, but someone--" Aqualad gave Kid Flash an annoyed shove, "--said that an open door means, 'Please, come in!'"

Kid Flash shrugged. "Well, it does!" He looked around at the others' crossed arms and threatening looks. "Well, in Blue Valley it means come in…honest! Scout's honor!" Kid Flash began to look upset. "Robbie, I'm sorry if I did something wrong, honest! But back home we never lock our doors unless we're gonna be out of town or something."

Kid Flash looked pleadingly at the others. If he'd done something wrong, he hadn't meant to. What was the big deal anyway, he wondered? As soon as Kid Flash asked himself the question, Robin's appearance finally sank in. Robin didn't have his mask on! Oh. Kid Flash began sidling towards the exit.

"Oh, no you don't, Flasheroo!" Robin said, grabbing the junior speedster by the arm. "You got me into this, now you're gonna help me figure a way out of it!"

"But what can we do, Robin?" asked Wonder Girl. "There is no way out of this…I know you, Robbie. You'll never tell a lie, so all you have left is the truth."

Robin sighed. "You're right, Wonder Girl. There's no helping it, I guess. What's happened, happened." He looked at his feet for a second. Suddenly shrugging, Robin invited them to the kitchen. "Come on, let's find something to eat." The others nodded.

"But Robin," Aqualad began. "There is still hope. We still do not know your secret identity. We may know what you look like, but what are the chances that we shall ever bump into you while in our civilian identities?"

"Hey, that's right," Robin agreed excitedly, hope dawning. "I mean, I'm just a kid, anyway. It's not like you're ever gonna see me on TV or anything, and we don't exactly go to the same school. There's almost no chance that you'll ever--"

"--Hey, Robbie, you have the same literature textbook I do," Kid Flash broke in. "What are you studying right now?" He began to open the textbook.

"Kid Flash, don't--!" Robin began, but it was too late! Kid Flash opened the textbook to the inside cover and immediately saw the label that Alfred had affixed so meticulously in all of young Master Dick's schoolbooks. Kid Flash read out loud, "This book belongs to Richard J. Grayson, Wayne Manor, Gotham City." He looked up at the other three.

"Who's Richard J. Grayson?" Kid Flash asked innocently, smiling brightly. Robin slapped his hand to his forehead; Wonder Girl placed a comforting hand on the Boy Wonder's upper arm; and Aqualad just stared at Kid Flash as if he were some new type of land dwelling fish he'd never seen before. The junior Scarlet Speedster's sunny smile faded uncertainly.

"What'd I say?" he asked.


"Oh my God," whispered Atom. "There must be thousands…"

"Hundreds of thousands," added the Flash in a voice as subdued as his friend's.

"What's their ETA?" Batman's menacing tones broke in.

"What?" Atom asked unable to think clearly.

"What is the invading force's Estimated Time of Arrival?" Batman asked enunciating each syllable carefully.

"Oh! Their ETA! Of course…I knew that!" replied a flustered Scarlet Speedster. He was still stunned by the implication of what he was reading. An invasion force comprised of literally thousands of ships the size of the Empire State Building, powered with some kind of plasma/impulse star drive, much more advanced than anything the earth's governments would be able to defend against. And if the readouts were correct, the ships were definitely armed.

"ETA to outer solar system…one-hundred fifty hours…that's about six point two-five days," the Flash said a bit more calmly. "From there to earth is anybody's guess, depending on whether or not they can maintain their star drive within the confines of a star's gravity well."

Batman nodded. "Understood. Assemble the troops, gentlemen. We have a planet to defend." Batman turned to go, then stopped suddenly and turned back to face the two superhero scientists. "By the way, what is it that you two wished to speak to me about?"

The Flash and Atom both stopped their frenzied activities and shared a mutually inscrutable look that somehow still managed to convey vast amounts of information between them. As one, they turned and faced the Dark Knight.

"It can wait," the Flash said cheerily.

"Yeah…wasn't important," piped in Atom. "Later!" They both turned back to the task at hand.

Batman squinted behind his mask and managed not to shake his head. Amateurs, he thought.


Chapter Seven

The fleet of unmanned scout ships continued on its relentless approach to the third planet from the target star. Every few time units, as the original builders measured time, the scout ships would turn starboard along the x-axis, drop 10,000 kilometers on the z-axis, then reverse the procedure. As the armada "sailed" the deep oceans of space, its individual ships appeared to be taking part in an elaborately choreographed waltz.

Until the dance reached its pre-programmed climax, and the members of the dance chorus opened fire on the audience. For every few time units, as the ships completed their dance routine and returned to their starting places, the scouts would once again test their defensive posture. First, forward shields would go up, then starboard, port, and aft. Finally full shields would come online, and the Target Acquisition Center's AI would take command of the ships' guidance control. The AI would then run through its test fire sequence…


"What'd I say?" Kid Flash repeated. He looked at the name printed inside the literature textbook again. His eyes widened. "Oh."

"Are all land dwellers as dense as you, Wally, or are you just a special case?" asked Aqualad.

Kid Flash swallowed nervously. "Uh, Robbie…"

"Never mind, Wally…never mind," Robin said, feeling suddenly tired by the whole ordeal. He took his textbook back. "Yeah, I'm Richard J. Grayson. But everybody calls me Dick." He shrugged. "Not much point in pretending you never saw it." He sighed. "I'm dead anyway…once Bruce finds out."

"Bruce?" Kid Flash asked. Then recalling the entire legend inside the textbook (Richard J. Grayson, Wayne Manor, Gotham City), his eyes widened again as everything fell in place. "You mean, as in the Bruce Wayne of Gotham City? Like in Wayne Enterprises?"

Robin nodded. "Yeah, I might as well tell you everything…but, guys, this is Top Secret! You can't tell anyone…ever! Even your own partners!" The others nodded solemnly.

"You can trust us, Robbie!" Kid Flash said confidently. "I'm great at keeping secrets! Honest!" They all gave him neutral looks. "Hey, don't go by this! I swear…mum's the word! Cross my heart!"

Robin shook his head. I'm dead, he thought. He turned his back for a second. "I'm gonna have to tell Bruce…like Donna said, I can't not tell him. That would be the same as lying, and believe me…you don't just lie to Batman!"

Kid Flash swallowed at the inconceivable idea. Batman could probably read your thoughts before you said them, he thought. Just like Uncle Barry or Aunt Iris could. They always knew when he was telling a whopper, which is why he could never get away with anything at home.

"Come on," Robin said. "I'll tell you over lunch. I'm starving…what with Speedy, then Batman, now this! I never had a chance to finish my breakfast!" The young superheroes hurried to the kitchen to search for sandwich makings. To their delight, they found several different luncheon meats, some of Alfred's tomato basil soup in tightly covered containers, and a wide assortment of breads.

"Wow!" Kid Flash cried out, impressed by the variety available. All he and the Flash had was cold pizza. The two speedsters mostly took their meals in the JLA cafeteria.

"Alfred takes care of us," Robin explained. "I'm not sure how or when this stuff got transported here, but, well, I'm not surprised." He shrugged. Alfred's loyalty and determination to ensure his two charges ate properly were just a part of life, part of the natural order of things.

"Who's Alfred?" asked Aqualad, as the teens settled down to eat in the small dining area.

"Alfred's our butler," Robin replied between bites. "But he's more than that. He takes care of us. I guess I love him as much as I love Bruce…or as much as I loved my own parents."

"Your parents?" interrupted Kid Flash. "You mean, Batman isn't your father?" He winced suddenly. Both Aqualad and Wonder Girl kicked him under the table. What'd I say, he asked silently? They each gave him disgusted looks.

Robin shook his head sadly. "No, Bruce isn't my real father. He took me in when my Mom and Dad were killed. He said that he would never replace them, or try to be my--" Robin's voice faltered. "--my father. But he's been a great pal, honest! He's trained me…taught me all kinds of cool stuff. And I've shown him a thing or two about acrobatics, but--" Robin's eyes dropped momentarily. "--but, no. He's not my father."

The other Titans sat momentarily in an awkward silence.

"I don't know who my parents were," Aqualad said quietly, his violet eyes looking profoundly sad. "Arthur found me one day and took me in. He is a good friend and mentor. I never had anyone before him…I guess that I shall always be grateful to him for giving me a home."

"And no one knows anything about me," Wonder Girl added sadly. "Diana found me in a burning building when I was just a baby. She took me to Paradise Island where Queen Hyppolyta adopted me. I love my Amazon sisters and my adopted Amazon family. But I wish, more than words can say, that I knew who I was and where I came from."

Robin reached his hand across the table and placed it on Wonder Girl's. He gave her hand a light squeeze in sympathy. Wonder Girl looked up gratefully, blue eyes shining. Robin gave her hand a final squeeze then returned thoughtfully to his meal, his mind on Wonder Girl's story about being found in a burning building. He wondered if the building was still standing. If it was, then maybe he should--

Kid Flash cleared his throat, interrupting Robin's thought processes. "I don't have that kind of problem," Kid Flash said tentatively. "It's funny, 'cause I know who I am, and who my family is…and I almost wish I didn't." This last was added with a dark, bitter scowl.

"My father hates my guts and thinks I'm a real loser…my Mom, well, she's okay, but she can't stand up to my Dad." Kid Flash stared soberly at his sandwich for a moment. Suddenly his dark mood lifted and was replaced with his usually sunny smile.

"The luckiest day of my life came when Aunt Iris brought her new boyfriend, Barry Allen, home for dinner. No! That's not right! The luckiest day of my life came the day Aunt Iris married Uncle Barry. If I could have just one wish, I'd wish more than anything that Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris could be my real parents. I think I love them more than anything else in the whole universe!"

They all looked at each other in quiet wonderment. Was it possible that they each suffered and hurt from such similar circumstances? Did they each yearn for the one thing none of them could have, or thought was beyond their reach? The one thing that kids around the world took for granted, the love and comfort of a mother and father?

It was an unusually solemn group of young heroes who quietly finished their lunch…


As he ate, Robin couldn't help feeling somewhat guilty about Speedy. Where was the junior bowman? He looked around at his friends, again wondering at their eerie similarities. He was grateful for their support, but he didn't feel right about Speedy's absence. Finally, Robin broke the silence.

"Where's Speedy?" he asked.

The silence stretched. In fact, the room seemed to grow even quieter, if such a thing were possible. Robin looked at each of his teammates, assuming the role of leader once more.

"Where's Speedy?" he repeated. He looked first at Wonder Girl, who was studiously avoiding his eyes…Aqualad, who dropped his in shame…and Kid Flash, who tried to hold Robin's steady gaze, but didn't have enough will power and soon looked away.

"Okay, let me rephrase the question," Robin said, a hard edge entering his young voice. "What happened after I left the gym?" Dead silence. "Uh-huh. I thought so. You stuck your noses where they didn't belong, didn't you? Just like when you came barging in here without permission, you all probably said something to Speedy. Am I right? Well?"

"Aw, Robbie, come on," Kid Flash said a bit defensively. "What could we do, huh? Let the junior jerk think he could just shove us all around and become the big bad leader of the Titans? No way! Whatever we said to him, he had it coming! In spades!"

"I agree with Kid Flash, Robin," Aqualad added. "Although, I am not certain of everything he just said. However, the gist is correct. Speedy did not have any right to demand that you quit the team…that is a decision for all of us to make together! Furthermore, his actions of late have been both childish and detrimental to the team as a whole. I feel that we acted well within our purview as Titans to have registered our protests at his somewhat untoward behavior."

Kid Flash stared open mouthed at the Atlantean's speech. Finding his voice, the young speedster, nodded his head in agreement, and pointing at Aqualad added lamely, "Yeah! What he said!"

Robin eyed them both coldly. Without his mask, they could see Robin's blue eyes burning intensely, his anger and disgust evident. Kid Flash suddenly wished that Robin would put his mask back on. Geez, the guy's scary no matter what he's wearing! Or isn't wearing, Kid Flash amended.

Finally, Robin turned to Wonder Girl. She turned to face him slowly, raising her chin defiantly, the picture of a haughty Amazon Princess. They both stared at each other, neither saying a word for a seeming eternity.

Kid Flash and Aqualad exchanged uneasy glances. Robin and Wonder Girl were best friends. Her relationship with Speedy was the first evidence of a possible rift in their friendship. Neither the junior speedster nor the teen Atlantean dared breathe lest they break the standoff between Robin and Wonder Girl and somehow make matters worse.

"Roy had no right to say the things he did." Wonder Girl broke the silence first. "He has no right to decide who my friends are! And you--!" Wonder Girl's beautiful wide blue eyes narrowed into enraged slits. She suddenly jumped up from her chair and pointed furiously at Robin. "--You had no right to quit the Titans! You're our leader…and a leader doesn't quit just because one of his teammates doesn't like him!"

Wonder Girl's hot, angry words hung in the air, ringing with accusation. Robin stood up, too.

"You know that's not why I quit, Donna," Robin replied quietly. "You of all people should know better."

Wonder Girl stepped away from the table, and crossed over to the living room. "Well, I don't," she said, choking. The tears that had been threatening since she'd yelled at Speedy weren't far behind. "I thought you were my friend…I thought you cared about me. But you were willing to throw it all away…for what? Some misguided sense of chivalry?"

Robin walked up behind her, and gently took her in his arms. "I'm sorry, Donna. I do care about you. You know that. Please don't cry…You know I can't stand it when you cry." He reached for a box of tissues. "Here."

Wonder Girl sniffed her thanks.

Robin sighed. "Okay, I admit it. I handled the whole thing badly. It's just that I know you like Harper, Donna. Our friendship seemed to be getting in the way of that. I couldn't stand watching him hurt you…not over me! You're my best friend. So, I--"

"--So, you decided to step aside?" Wonder Girl looked hurt, angry, and amused all at the same time. "I admit that Roy's attitude was hurtful, and I didn't know how to handle it. I'm not sure I'll ever understand it…but that's something that I have to work out with Roy."

Wonder Girl suddenly took a few steps away from Robin. She stood looking forlorn in the middle of the living area. Taking a deep breath, she turned to face Robin again.

"Dick, you're my best friend, too. You're like a brother to me…and as you can imagine, we don't have very many of those on Paradise Island!"

She and Robin shared a secret smile remembering their earlier kiss. On impulse, Robin walked up to her and tipped her chin up with his forefinger.

"Is that what I am, Donna?" Robin asked quietly, disappointment in his eyes. "Is that what you want me to be? Your brother?"

Wonder Girl nodded reluctantly, feeling tears that never seemed from far from spilling threatening again. "Yes," she whispered softly, allowing him to caress her cheek gently. Robin's eyes smiled warmly, willingly accepting the role she'd assigned him in her life.

Wonder Girl spoke again, this time chastisingly. "Do you think for one second that it was fair of you to just quit and walk away? Not just from our friendship, but from the Titans and our family? Because isn't that what we are? A family?"

Wonder Girl addressed this last question to all of them. Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Robin slowly nodded. They were a family. As kid sidekicks to the World's Greatest Heroes they each lived a singular and exciting life. But it had its serious drawbacks, loneliness being the most prevalent.

When they formed the Teen Titans, they'd each discovered that they weren't alone anymore. That there were others just like them, who felt thrilled to share the dangers with their adult partners, but because they were still teens faced problems unique to themselves. Problems that their adult partners never experienced. Problems that only another teen could understand.

"You're right, Donna, we are a family," Robin said smiling. He waved Aqualad and Kid Flash over to them. When they were all standing together he added, "But we're missing a member of our family, aren't we?"

The others dropped their eyes, unable to agree with him. Exasperated, Robin said simply, "You know guys, my Mom used to always say that while you can choose your friends, you're stuck with the family that God gave you. If we're really a family, and not just friends, then Roy Harper, warts and all, is a part of us…If we're a family."

Robin placed his hand straight out in front of him, palm down. Slowly, one by one, the others did the same.

"TITANS TOGETHER!!"

"Let's go find our missing teammate, Titans!" The others smiled at Robin. The one true Titans' leader had spoken.


Before the Titans left Batman and Robin's quarters, Robin stopped at Batman's private workstation, which the Dark Knight kept in his bedroom. Robin felt a little guilty about breaking Batman's security protocols.

"Oh well," Robin muttered in self-justification, "if Bruce didn't want me to break his security codes, he wouldn't've taught me how to do it!"

Robin quickly ran a personnel search of the JLA satellite, looking for Speedy's unique signature among the other heroes. There were only five people currently onboard who were under five feet eight inches, and at the moment three of those were hovering over Robin. Therefore, the fifth one had to be Speedy…there!

Robin quickly typed in a few more commands and instantly accessed the exact location.

"Forward Observation Deck…Level One-A!" Robin read aloud. "Let's go!" The Teen Titans searched for and quickly found the special express elevator, which went directly to the observation deck. They all piled in and quickly made their way up through the massive satellite's multiple levels.

An instant later, the elevator doors opened to…EMPTY SPACE! Wonder Girl gasped. Robin experienced a moment of vertigo, which quickly passed. Aqualad and Kid Flash stood back stunned by the awesome sight.

And standing there, seemingly in the middle of open space, was Speedy!

Robin swallowed a couple of times, then closing his eyes, he took a tentative step forward. Intellectually he knew that the observation deck wasn't open to space, that it was probably protected by the same material that the JLA lounge's viewing ports were composed of, but it was still somewhat disconcerting to step out into…nothingness!

Carefully, placing his foot down, Robin was rewarded with a solid floor. Not opening his eyes, he took a second step. When Robin knew that he was standing outside of the elevator and in the middle of the observation deck, he finally opened his eyes. And kept on opening them, until he thought his eyes would fall out of their eye sockets! Robin stood enthralled by the indescribable vista spread out before him.

He couldn't speak…such beauty required a total reverential silence on the part of a mere human boy.

"There aren't words for it, are there?" asked Speedy quietly. Robin shook his head, no. "I've been standing here for about an hour, trying to make sense of it all…my life, me, you, the Titans…everything. And it all seems so unimportant." Speedy turned to face Robin. "I was wrong…and I've been a jerk. If you, Donna, Wally and Gillhead never speak to me again, nor want to have anything to do with me, I'll understand." He turned back to the panoramic view of the universe.

"As someone recently told me," Speedy added in a quietly subdued voice, "the problems of one kid don't amount to a hill of beans when you look at the big picture!"

"Hill of beans, huh?" Robin smiled. "I guess that someone likes old movies, too."

Speedy turned to him with a questioning look.

"'Casablanca' was one of my Dad's all-time favorites!" Robin shook his head. "Never mind, it isn't important. What is important is that we're all together again." He walked over to Speedy and held his hand out in a peace offering.

Speedy stared at Robin and the others disbelievingly. Even after he'd acted like such a jerk? He looked carefully at each in turn…was it a trick? Speedy read hope in Wonder Girl's shining eyes…friendship in Aqualad's…there was a careful neutrality in Kid Flash's eyes, as if withholding judgement.

And Robin's? Speedy couldn't read Robin's eyes, because the Boy Wonder was wearing his mask. Still, hesitating, Speedy was about to take the proffered hand, when Robin did something that was even more shocking.

Reaching up suddenly, Robin removed his mask! Standing there, unmasked, his piercingly dark blue eyes studying his hotheaded teammate, Robin once again offered his hand.

"Hi, we've never been properly introduced…I'm Dick Grayson. Pleased to make your acquaintance." Robin smiled broadly. Speedy's eyes became as huge as two green marbles. Speedy took Robin's hand in both of his, shaking it vigorously.

"Dick Grayson! We-we've met before! When Ollie and I…in Gotham City last year…a-a charity benefit! Y-y-you were there…w-w-with Bruce Wayne!" Speedy's eyes widened further, his dark red eyebrows disappearing into his hairline. "Bruce Wayne! That means that Bruce Wayne is--"

Robin quickly clapped his hand over Speedy's mouth. "Not so loud, junior bowman! We never know who's listening…anyway, yeah…I'm who you say I am…and you know who is…well, you know."

Speedy looked nonplussed. "But why tell me…or show me? I mean…I thought--!"

Wonder Girl walked up to Speedy and took his arm. Speedy happily hugged her to him. Robin felt a momentary stab of jealousy, but let it pass. He smiled, instead.

"You thought we'd just drop you? Let you off the hook?" Robin asked. "No way, Harper! You're part of the family…and like it or not, this family takes care of its own. We're gonna have differences, 'cause that's the way it is with families, but we're all part of each other. Right guys?"

Aqualad and Kid Flash gathered around them, nodding in agreement. "That's why our motto is 'Titans Together' and not 'Titans Only Some of the Time' or 'Titans When We Feel Like It!'" Robin grinned at Speedy who returned it, happy to back in the fold.

"By the way," Robin said chagrinned. "The secret identity thing…do me a favor and don't tell anyone, okay? I don't exactly have Batman's permission to spread it around. As it is, I may not be the Titans' leader after this mission. I have a feeling that Batman's gonna clip my wings and ground me for life."

As the junior heroes started loading onto the express elevator, Speedy asked derisively, "You mean, goody-two shoes Robin, the Boy Wonder, broke a rule?"

"Don't make me hurt you, Speedy!" Robin threatened.

"I can't believe it! Junior Birdman did something that'll get 'im grounded!"

"Quiet, Quiver-breath!"

"Make me, Twinkletoes!"

"Insults can only lead to unfortunate altercations--!" Aqualad began.

"--Shut up, Gillhead!" both Speedy and Kid Flash shouted together.

"Jerk!" "Hayseed!" "Arrowhead!" "Dork!"

As the elevator doors closed on the Titans, Robin and Wonder Girl shared a smile. Everything was back to normal!


"The only option I can see, Superman," Green Lantern said, "is for either you or I or the both of us to go out and make First Contact."

"Looks to me, GL, that the time for talking is over," interrupted Green Arrow. "That little armada that's coming our way outnumbers us by about a few thousand to--"

GA paused and quickly counted the heroes sitting at the conference table: Superman, Atom, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Black Canary (GA hesitated on her face for an instant), Batman hiding off in the shadows somewhere, and himself.

"--to eight!" Green Arrow finished.

"Make that thirteen!" The JLA turned around towards the sound of the impossibly young voice. Robin and the rest of the Teen Titans were standing at the entrance to the conference room in various stances of proud defiance.

In the shadows, Batman smiled beneath his cowl. The other JLAers looked on the Titans with a mixture of pride and amusement, but none dared show the latter. None, that is, except Green Arrow. He burst into laughter at the incongruity of five kids helping stop an alien invasion.

"Tell me another one, Boy Wonder!" Green Arrow guffawed. "What help could you kids possibly be against thousands of alien ships?"

"Maybe none, sir, but we'd like to help anyway," Robin said quietly. Then giving GA a devilish smile he added, "Besides I finished my homework, and it's not my bedtime, yet! I think an alien invasion will help pass a boring afternoon." He turned to the other Titans. "Don't you guys agree?"

"Yeah, there's nothing on TV anyway," Kid Flash added straight-faced, "and besides the satellite has lousy reception!" The others nodded in mock agreement. "So we decided, what the hell--!"

"Wallace! Watch your language, young man!" the Flash chastised instantly.

"Sorry, Uncle Barry," Kid Flash said unperturbed. "But, in light of the fact that we could be facing the end of everything as we know it, 'What the heck' just didn't seem strong enough."

Wonder Girl giggled behind her hand. She caught her sister's imperious look and stopped immediately. As soon as Wonder Woman looked away, Wonder Girl snorted helplessly.

"What's the matter, Ollie?" Speedy broke in dangerously. "You afraid we might show up the World's Greatest Heroes? Look at you, all of you! The famous Justice League of America! You're no closer to a solution than you were when you first discovered this so-called 'space anomaly.' Are you?"

Green Arrow jumped up, kicking his chair back in the process. Mentor and sidekick faced off each other, neither willing to back down. Robin walked up to Speedy and gently laid a hand on the junior archer's arm.

"It's okay, Roy," Robin said quietly.

Stepping confidently forward, Robin addressed the JLA directly. Gone was the trepidation he'd experienced the first day onboard. How long ago had that day been, he wondered?

"We know that we don't have the JLA's combined power, but the Titans have done pretty well for themselves since we formed. We may be a little light on the superpowered stuff, but we make up for it in teamwork…in covering each other's weaknesses. Like you've taught us."

Robin turned and addressed Batman directly. "Like you've taught me, sir." Batman and Robin held each other's steady gaze a moment. Batman nodded imperceptibly at his protege. Robin's face didn't register how he felt, but to the others present, he seemed to grow a foot.

Atom and the Flash exchanged slightly chagrinned looks. Apparently, they'd been concentrating on trying to fix the wrong partnership. They both turned and glared at Green Arrow.

Robin turned back and faced the JLA again. When he spoke, the Boy Wonder's pride was almost palpable in his young voice. "If strength lies in numbers, then the Titans would be proud to add theirs to the JLA's." When Robin finished, his words were met with complete silence from the senior heroes. Had he failed, Robin wondered disappointedly?

Finally, Superman winked at the Titans' leader and gave him a thumbs up. At this sign of approval from the Man of Tomorrow, the Titans exploded in celebration, giving each other high fives and back slaps. They were in!

"This is way cool, Gillhead!" Kid Flash shouted, giving the Atlantean a friendly shove.

"Indeed, Wally," Aqualad agreed, shoving back. "Way cool."

Speedy proffered his hand to Robin. Robin clasped it in his immediately, then called the others forward to the do the same. The JLA watched with pride as their young proteges cried out their motto once more: "TITANS TOGETHER!"


"MONITOR DUTY?" Kid Flash protested. "That's what they make all the newbies do! Uncle Barry told me!"

"We might as well watch the paint peel off the walls," Speedy groused. "It'd be just about as exciting."

"They also serve, who stand and wait," Robin broke in unconcernedly. "Don't worry, our turn will come."

"What makes you sure, Robin?" Aqualad asked curiously.

"Yeah, Robbie," asked Wonder Girl. "What makes you so sure?"

"Come on guys…that's an unimaginably-sized armada of ships heading our way. You think that the JLA won't need us to help fight them, if it comes to that, eventually?" The others looked at him, their expressions clearly stating that the thought had indeed not occurred to them.

"Look, I know they have Superman, and I guess you don't need very many heroes as long as the Man of Steel is on your team! They also have GL and that power ring of his, not to mention Wonder Woman. But the others? Don't get me wrong. I don't discount them…especially Batman. In fact, I'm surprised Batman hasn't figured out how to stop the invasion, yet."

Robin grinned with obvious pride in his mentor. "And the others are no slouches, either, in the superhero department! But like Green Arrow said…there are only eight of them!" Robin shrugged. "The way I see it is, it's not a question of if they'll need us, but how soon!"

"Robin's right," Batman said from the doorway. The Titans, who'd been sitting around the JLA monitors in various states of casual slouching, quickly jumped to their feet. All except Robin, he'd actually been sitting in front of a monitor typing in commands while he talked.

"What do you have, partner?" Batman asked quietly. Robin felt himself glow with pride. Batman was talking to him like an equal in front of the Titans. Robin typed in a few more commands, hit enter a couple of times, then sat back and waited. Finally, the JLA supercomputers began signaling that they were sending the data he'd requested. Robin hit the print button, and the information he wanted started spewing forth.

"The ships are approximately carrier-sized, with plasma/impulse engines…which you already knew…Batman, here's something new! Weapons are being fired in a set pattern almost like clockwork." Robin shrugged feeling uncertain over such an obvious tactical error on the part of a more advanced enemy. "Maybe they're on some kind of pre-programmed firing sequence. We could time the firing order, and maybe use it to our advantage!"

"Good thinking, chum," Batman said giving him a half-smile. Robin's face lit up nova-bright. "They appear to be some kind of plasma-based weapons system…probably powered by the engines." Batman and Robin exchanged a knowing glance…another piece of information they could use to their advantage!

"Batman, what I don't understand," Robin said slowly, feeling his words, "is that if these invaders are so much more advanced than us, how can they be making such basic errors in tactics? D'you think it's some kind of trick?" Batman looked long and steadily at his young partner.

"That's a very good question, chum. A very good question." Batman turned to go. "Keep up the good work, Titans. This information could prove valuable." Before walking out, Batman surreptitiously placed a hand on Robin's shoulder, squeezing gently, then was gone.

Speedy watched the interplay between Batman and Robin from the sidelines a bit jealously. Speedy had always been nervous about meeting the Dark Knight. Batman just seemed so forbidding, like something out of your nightmares! But watching Batman with Robin work together made Speedy start reassessing his initial evaluation of Gotham's protector.

There was nothing about how Batman acted around Robin that stood out and shouted, THIS IS MY KID AND I'M PROUD OF HIM! But maybe it was the very subtlety of the Dynamic Duo's relationship. Speedy recalled how Batman had chewed Robin out in public because the other Titans had been acting like immature kids.

Speedy thought then that Batman was being unfair and acting like a jerk, but now he saw that Batman respected Robin as the Titans' leader.
So, Robin's earlier butt chewing by Batman wasn't because Batman was a jerk, but because Batman felt that leaders should always be in command.

Speedy remembered Robin's words to Wonder Girl when she'd protested against Robin getting into trouble: "That's okay…I'm responsible." Leaders were responsible for everything their teammates did or failed to do, and Robin was taking responsibility even back then.

Speedy suddenly found himself wondering what it must be like to live under all of the restrictive rules that Robin had mentioned earlier. Most of all, he wondered what it must be like to live with and work with a man who was so obsessed with protecting you that he always expected you to be in command of yourself, your teammates, and your surroundings.

"It must be great," Speedy said out loud. Wonder Girl turned and looked at him curiously.

"What must be great, Roy?" She came up to him and laid her head gently on his shoulder.

"You, of course, Wonder Doll," Speedy said smoothly, holding her closely to him. "You're the greatest, did you know that?" She rewarded him with a smile that only a teenaged girl in love for the first time in her life could give.

Kid Flash elbowed Aqualad and pointed his chin at the two young lovers. "Mush!" he said disgustedly in low tones. Aqualad grinned in amusement. He might not know much about land dwellers, but he was learning quickly. And what Aqualad had garnered so far told him that his friend and teammate, Kid Flash was afraid of girls. Wonder Girl especially.

"Come, my fleet-footed friend," Aqualad invited. "Let's see of what use we may be while on this 'monitor duty' that you to detest so much!"

"Aw, come on, Gillhead! Robbie doesn't need us! He's got the whole thing under control…I mean even Batman said we were doing a good job!"

"The key word is we, Wally!" Aqualad returned. "We haven't done a thing, yet we share in Batman's praise for Robin's work. It's time that we did something to deserve any accolades received."

"Garth, I wish you'd speak in English," Kid Flash complained. "I can't hardly understand half the things you say!"

"The feeling, I assure you, is mutual," Aqualad muttered. "Come. Let us assist Robin. I am most curious about his talking with his fingers."

"What? Talking with his fingers? Gillhead, Robin's typing for crying out loud! That thing in front of him…the thing with all of the letters…is called a keyboard, and you type into it! I thought you had computers in Atlantis!"

"Yes, but our data retrieval systems in Atlantis are accessed by…other means," Aqualad explained enigmatically. Kid Flash looked at him nervously. Just when you start getting comfortable around a guy, he starts acting weird on you!


Chapter Eight

The scout ships' almost limitless power was derived from the dark matter that comprised over 99 percent of space. This was then converted into dense, hot plasma contained in vast magnetic fields, which powered not just the ship's mighty star drive, but also its weapons systems. This made the armada of small ships, formidable indeed, for each ship was armed with literally an unlimited capacity for destruction with no living intelligence to temper its hand…


"Bruce?" Bruce turned to see Dick, hair tousled, standing in the bedroom's open door, rubbing his eyes sleepily.

"Dick, what are you doing out of bed? It's past two in the morning."

"I wanted to talk to you," Dick said yawning. Bruce could see that his ward had been asleep, but must've awakened when he heard Bruce come in. Bruce immediately walked over to Dick and began steering him back to his own room.

"Okay, we'll talk, chum, but it's back to bed for you!"

"'Kay," Dick muttered, barely keeping his eyes open. He'd had a long day, and gladly obeyed when Bruce ordered him to bed promptly at ten p.m. The Titans were relieved from monitor duty by the Flash, and they'd all gone to the JLA Lounge to talk. Batman stopped Robin half-way there and said only one word…

"…Curfew!" Batman's voice was unyielding. Robin's eyes widened. He couldn't believe it! Curfew? While they were on a mission with the JLA?

"You're off duty now," Batman explained, although Robin knew he didn't have to. "You know that when we're on the job we grab sleep when it's available. It may be the last full night's sleep you get for a long, time, chum." Batman gestured with a slight nod of his head. "Bed."

Robin looked long and hard at Batman but finally nodded. He admitted to himself that he was exhausted and could barely keep his eyes open.

"Yes, sir," Robin said. "May I say good night to my friends?" The Dark Knight gave him a curt nod. Robin walked over to his team. "Gotta go, guys. I'll see you in the a.m. Remember we have duty from six till one tomorrow, so don't stay up too late."

"Yes, Dad!" Speedy and Kid Flash shouted. Robin smiled, waved good night then followed Batman…

Tucked back in bed, Dick yawned sleepily. Bruce ruffled his ward's hair playfully, then sat back patiently.

"Now, what is it that can't wait until morning?" Bruce asked.

Dick smiled sleepily. "It is morning!"

"Touche, chum. So what's so important that it can't wait till a lot later in the morning?" Bruce asked with a half smile.

"It's Roy," Dick answered quietly worried.

"Roy? I thought you two ironed out your differences, Dick. I don't understand."

"It's not about Roy and me, Bruce," Dick replied, sitting up on his elbows, his dark blue eyes looking beseechingly at his guardian. "It's about Roy…and Mister Queen."

Bruce became very still. "Go on, chum. What about Roy and Ollie?"

Dick shrugged. "I'm not sure, Bruce. It's just that…well, did you know that Roy doesn't have any rules? I mean, sometimes I feel really jealous, you know? Roy says that he has no set bedtime and can go to bed at any time he wants! And no curfew! He can stay out as late as he wants, no questions asked!" Dick's voice registered his shock at such an inconceivable amount of freedom.

"Roy has no special homework time! He can do his homework if he feels like it, or he can blow it off! Can you b'lieve that? He can just blow off his homework! Mister Queen doesn't care!"

Dick's blue eyes took on a bright shine, a reflection of his excitement over never having to do any homework. Imagine living like that…doing what you wanted when you wanted. Then his eyes grew worried again. That kind of freedom came at a price, though, and Dick was mature enough to realize it.

"But it doesn't sound like a lot of fun, Bruce! Roy says Mister Queen leaves him alone for days, even weeks at a time! And it isn't like when you go away…I have Alfred to look after me. Roy doesn't have anybody, Bruce! He's left alone! By himself! And he's only a year older'n me!" Dick's forehead furrowed with concern for his friend.

"Bruce, I'm really worried. Can't you do something? Talk to Mister Queen maybe? It just isn't right, Bruce! Roy's just a kid! He needs somebody to take care of him! Like you and Alfred take care of me!"

Bruce felt his chest tighten at Dick's last comment. What could he do, he wondered? He'd be involving himself in Ollie's personal family business. Something that Bruce, himself, drew lines on the sand with and refused to allow anyone to cross. Bruce gave Dick a confident half-smile, then drew the covers closer around his boy's neck.

"Okay, chum. I'll talk to Ollie, but I can't make any promises."

"I knew you would, Bruce! And I'm not worried, 'cause I know that if you talk to Mister Queen, everything will be all right." He gave his guardian a sleepy smile, and slowly began to drop off, a heavy weight off his shoulders.

"Good night, chum."

"G'night, Bruce."


Atom and the Flash were monitoring when the Titans reported in.

"Look, kids, we've got it," Atom said. "Why don't you go explore the station or something? I promise, if we need you, we'll holler!"

Robin and the rest of the Titans looked at each other in mild annoyance. They'd just been dismissed from what was essentially bonehead duty. The Titans had only served one tour on monitor duty, and the JLA was already replacing them.

"'Go explore the station, or something!'" Kid Flash mimicked. "What does he think we are? Tourists?" The young speedster looked disgusted. "And Uncle Barry! He just let that super-gnat talk to us like that! Boy!" He kicked at an imaginary tin can.

"Chill, Twinkletoes," Robin said. "Haven't you heard? If you get a bunch of lemons, make lemonade!"

"Huh?" Kid Flash and others looked at their young leader curiously.

"Like the man said," Robin began "let's 'go explore the station!'"

The Titans followed their leader, albeit a bit reluctantly.


"Whoa…" whispered Kid Flash, his eyes huge at what lay before them. "Where are we?"

"Great Hera!"

"Suffering swordfish!"

"Way cool, Batboy!" Speedy said. "How'd you know of this place?"

"I read the satellite's specs," Robin replied sardonically. "Anyway, I thought since we might have to fight a space battle, the Titans should do a little training…just in case!"

"You mean, fly one of these?" Kid Flash zipped excitedly through the myriad JLA cruisers sitting quietly in the launch bay.

"No, I don't mean fly one of these," Robin answered. "At least, not literally."

"What do you mean, Robbie?" asked Wonder Girl.

"The flight simulator. I've clocked about two hundred hours on the sim back in the cave, and--"

"You Batguys have a flight simulator?" Speedy asked amazed.

"Of course, how else can we stay current? I mean, we don't fly the Batwing every night! That's how Batman trained me." At their looks, he added exasperatedly, "Well, how else could I have earned my pilot's license? You don't think Batman just handed me the Batwing's controls and said, 'Here kid…Go for it?'"

The others stared at him.

"You have a pilot's license?" Kid Flash asked in small voice.

"Batboy, what other little secret talents do you have?" Speedy asked. His voice actually sounded admiring.

"I don't know…just whatever's necessary for the job." Robin gave his teammates an "It's no big deal" shrug. "Anyway, I've logged a coupla hundred hours on the JLA cruiser. In the sim, anyway, not the real thing. But it's just like the real thing…believe me! The couple of times I flamed out, I really expected Batman to carry me out in pieces!" He grinned at his team.

"So, who wants go first?" The Titans practically buried Robin as they all rushed forward.


"All right, team…let's see what we've got. Wonder Girl, it's my understanding that you've clocked some hours on Wonder Woman's invisible plane?"

Wonder Girl nodded. "Yes, Robbie, but Diana's plane isn't like one of these! It's powered entirely by will power. There aren't any manual controls, per se. The plane is a sort of extension of Diana's psyche. It listens to me only because Diana commanded it to."

"Gotcha, WG," Robin nodded, "but you at least have an idea of flying…and I don't mean the kind of flying that you can do on air currents without a plane, either! Aqualad, you've operated underwater submersibles haven't you?"

"Indeed, Robin," Aqualad nodded. "But I do not understand how that might be of help?"

"Well, flying a spacecraft is similar to operating an underwater craft. You have a definite movement in two dimensions like surface craft have, but more importantly you also have the added up and down dimension. So, underwater, just as in space, your movements are three-dimensional. You must remain aware of your X, Y, and Z-axis at all times." He looked at the others. "Follow me?"

Speedy nodded curtly, Wonder Girl a little uncertainly, Aqualad calmly, and Kid Flash looked lost.

"What's an axis?" Kid Flash asked. Robin sighed.

"What's the highest math level you've taken, Twinkletoes?" Robin asked gently.

"I'm repeating pre-Algebra," he confessed, eyes downcast.

"Hey, that's okay, Wally," Robin reassured him, his hand on the other boy's shoulder. "I can always use someone else on weapons, and you sure have the fastest reflexes of any of us! Right team?"

"Right!" "No, prob, Flasheroo!"

Kid Flash gave them a bright smile, completely clueless as to what Robin or the others were referring.

"Now, before I let you enter the sim, I'm gonna give you a down and dirty briefing on aerodynamics, the problems with Newton's Laws, and why falling is a good thing in space!" Giving his team a cursory nod, he turned and led them all into the JLA pre-flight briefing room.


"Are there any questions?" Robin asked. The others shook their heads blearily. It was past lunchtime! Robin had lectured since almost seven that morning. They'd sent Kid Flash on a breakfast run, and he'd returned with enough milk and donuts to give them all cavities for life. Robin noticed that his gloves still had powered sugar residue on the fingertips.

"Okay, why don't we take ten…when we come back, I'll take each of you through the sim. I'd like all of us in the crew sim. That way, we can start learning to operate one of these things as a team, rather than as individual fighter pilots."

"But, Robin, wouldn't our firepower be increased if we all learned to pilot one of the cruisers individually?" asked Aqualad.

"That's a good question, Garth. I think it all depends on what we want. Do we want to be a team, and cover each others' weaknesses, or do we want to seek some kind of personal glory?" He looked at the others as if the question was one they'd each have to answer for themselves.

"The way I see it, none of is good enough to pilot one of these crafts on our own…at least not yet. But we each have strengths that can be integrated so that we can at least operate one viable fighter. I already have a pilot's license, and I've clocked the most hours on one of the sims. Even if I weren't the Titan's leader, I'd still say that I was the only choice for pilot." Robin's tone wasn't boastful. He was merely stating a fact.

"Wonder Girl has flown before and she has a natural instinct for maneuvering in three-dimensions. She's the perfect choice for co-pilot. What she's done before with mental commands, I can help her translate to the hand controls. Aqualad, has operated underwater vessels and he's a natural at navigation." Robin looked at Aqualad, then added with a slight grin, "We'll count on you not to get us 'Lost in Space!'" Aqualad looked at Robin strangely, clearly not understanding the joke. Robin cleared his throat. "Never mind." He pointed at Speedy and Kid Flash.

"Speedy's deadly accurate with just about anything that he can point, shoot, or throw, which makes him the natural choice at the weapons station! And like I said before, Wally, too, because of his reflexes; furthermore, because of his speed, Kid Flash can also double at communications and sensors, and just about anything else that we can't cover."

Robin looked at each member of his team. "So you see, 'Titans Together' is more than just a motto! It's how we fight." He held their gaze a moment longer, then smiling dismissed them. "Take a break, Titans!"


"Forward sensors detect five…no six…make that ten bogies!" the junior speedster's young voice cracked under the pressure. "Ten bogies on a heading of…six-oh-four-MARK-eight!"

"What's their ETA," Robin asked patiently. This was the third run and Kid Flash still forgot to give all of the necessary information.

"ETA is…where is it?" Kid Flash muttered nervously, anger directed at himself. "So stupid, stupid, stupid…There! ETA is twenty-minutes forty-five seconds!"

Kid Flash was interrupted by the sound of klaxons going off inside the simulator. EndEx!

"Already?" Kid Flash asked dazedly. "But we just found them!"

Robin removed his headset and placed it carefully on the control console. "Okay, team! Briefing room for a fifteen minute hotwash!" A hotwash was a debriefing where each team member was given an opportunity to give his or her personal assessment on their performance as a team and as individuals.

Robin's announcement was met with groans from the others. This had been the pattern for the entire afternoon. The teens would go through a SimEx, then discuss their performance during a hotwash immediately following EndEx. This way their actions were still fresh in their minds, and they were able to recall what they did and why they did it. The first two hotwashes had almost turned into heated arguments between Kid Flash and Speedy, but Aqualad and Robin were able to defuse the situation each time.

"I don't get it, Boy Wonder!" Kid Flash complained. "We just got started and the program calls it quits!"

"We've been at it for almost an hour, Fleetfeet," replied Robin with a smile.

"No kidding! An hour?" Kid Flash sound amazed. "Wow! It seems like we just got started!"


"All right, team, overall there was a definite learning curve on that one! We took a little longer to find the enemy, but we were also given much more difficult search parameters that time. Twinkletoes…good job on sensors! I checked the JLA's best time on this particular little SimEx." He paused dramatically. "We beat them by eight point three seconds!"

The others cheered at their accomplishment. Speedy slapped Kid Flash on the back.

"Great job, hayseed!"

"Thanks, Arrow-boy."



"WG! Break right!" The Titans felt themselves being spun violently to the right, until the inertial dampeners kicked in. "Another one like that--" Suddenly, Robin's console exploded in his face, and an automated voice came online.

"Pilot dead. Co-pilot take control." Robin lay back, eyes closed simulating death. He knew this was going to happen, of course, since he had selected the SimEx specifically to give Wonder Girl the training necessary to take over in case it were ever needed. However, he hadn't counted on Wonder Girl's reaction.

"Robbie! Great Hera! Robbie! Roy, Wally! Help him! He's hurt! He's hurt!" Suddenly the ship was rocked by plasma-based fire from the enemy vessels, and the sim spectacularly went up in a show of pyrotechnics!

When the smoke finally cleared, Robin opened one eye and looked up at Wonder Girl. "Not exactly the reaction I expected from an Amazon warrior princess!" She gave him a chagrinned look. Robin sat up suddenly. "Well, before we go anywhere or do anything, it looks like we're gonna have to apply a little elbow grease here."

The Titans all looked around the simulator. The smell of burnt circuits permeated the small enclosure. The bulkheads were blackened by smoke residue, and the teens themselves had various degrees of soot on their faces and uniforms.

"Hell of a simulation," Speedy muttered.


"Okay, team…I think that's enough for now. I say we take a dinner break, then report back at nineteen hundred hours." Robin looked around at the blank faces. "Sorry, seven p.m." The others nodded tiredly. As Wonder Girl passed him, Robin stopped her. "WG, can we talk?"

Wonder Girl gave him a guilty look, but nodded.

"Roy, can I take a rain check for dinner?" she asked. Speedy ran his fingers lightly down her cheek and nodded smiling. Wonder Girl returned the smile. Since Roy and Dick had reconciled their differences she and Speedy had had no further arguments.

Robin led Wonder Girl back into the debriefing room. They sat down across from each other and neither said a word for a long moment. Finally, Robin broke the silence.

"Care to talk about it?" he asked. Wonder Girl looked down at the conference table unable to meet his intense glance. Swallowing a couple of times, she got her nerves under control and began to speak. Once she started, the words just sort of seemed to spill out of her.

"Robbie, I blew it! If I'd really been in command of the ship at the time, I could've gotten the entire team killed!" She looked ready to burst into tears. "I can't have that on my shoulders. Robbie you've gotta replace me with one of the others. I just can't cut it!"

Robin studied the young Amazon wondering what was the best tack. Coming to a decision, he nodded. "All right, Wonder Girl if that's how you feel." Wonder Girl nodded, her eyes downcast. "I mean, if you don't think that you can carry your weight, well, yeah, I guess I don't want you on team at all." Wonder Girl looked up startled, her blue eyes hurt.

"Robbie, I didn't say I wanted off the Titans, just--"

"--just didn't want your responsibilities, is that it. Just let you hang with the boys, and knock out a few crooks with your mean right hook, but don't expect you to grow as a superhero. Don't expect you to develop into someone who can rival Diana as an Amazon warrior in Man's world?"

"No! Robbie, that's not true! I just know my limitations! When I saw you lying there hurt, maybe dead…I couldn't function. I froze! All I could think of was that you were hurt…my best friend…my brother!" Wonder Girl's tears started then. "Robbie, I don't have very many people in my life whom I love…truly love. I couldn't bear to lose you. Not now…not when we just found out what we mean to each other!"

She cried softly for a few minutes unable to speak. Finally, gaining control of her voice, Wonder Girl continued.

"What if something like this really happens? What if you or Roy or one of the others is seriously injured or killed during a mission? I don't know if I could continue…I just don't know!"

Robin stood up and walked around to her side of the table. He gently took her hand and pulled her up to him, holding her closely until her sobs quieted. Taking the end of his cape, Robin lightly wiped Wonder Girl's tears. As he did so, he was rewarded with a tremulous smile from Wonder Girl. He leaned back slightly and returned her smile still holding her closely.

"Donna, there's nothing I can say that'll make this any easier for you. The only advice I can give is what I live by. I know that without me and Batman doing what we do, the crazies and wackos that Gotham just seems to be a magnet for would eventually overrun the city. Maybe, we'll never win our war against those who prey on the innocent, but I know that win or lose, we'll continue that fight. And if anything should happen to one of us, then I'd expect the other to go on, in memory of the one lost." Robin dropped his hands and moved a few paces away from his friend.

"The same is true for us, Donna. Maybe what we do won't make any difference. Maybe this is the end of everything like Wally said. But that doesn't mean that we just quit and don't try to do something. Donna, if something were to happen to me, then I'd want you to go on, because that's what I'd do. To quit because one of us falls would be the greater tragedy, because then the other's sacrifice would've been for nothing." Robin walked back to Donna, and again took her in his arms.

"Donna, you're an Amazon warrior. You've been trained in the arts of war. You know more about tactics and strategy than any of the rest of us combined. We need you on our team, Princess. I need you on my team. Because if anything should happen to me, then there's only one person that I'd trust to take over as team leader." He smiled and touched her playfully on the nose. "And that's you, my little Amazon sister!"

Wonder Girl's luminous smile finally broke through her tears. She threw her arms around Robin's neck, and forgetting her strength again squeezed a little too hard.

"Donna," Robin choked. "My neck…" Wonder Girl immediately let go and clapped her hands over her mouth. Robin collapsed onto the nearest chair. He rubbed his neck ruefully, looking at his "little sister." Finally, they both burst into laughter again. "Great, I've been an only child all of my life, and as soon as I get a sister, she almost kills me!"

Wonder Girl looked like she was going to hug Robin again, but he jumped to his feet, and effortlessly vaulted over the conference table in one graceful move. Landing on the other side, he smiled wickedly at Wonder Girl and playfully held his hands out in a warding sign.

"Oh, no, you don't WG…you'll have to catch me first!" With that he turned and ducked out the exit. When Wonder Girl ran out after him, she couldn't spot him at first. Movement up on the rafters caught her eyes. "You'll never catch me!" Robin's playful taunt echoed through the cavernous launch bay.

"Oh, no?" Wonder Girl giggled. She reached her hand up, searching for an air current.

Anyone passing by in the next few minutes would've been rewarded by the unusual sounds of what sounded like children's voices raised in playful laughter…

CONTINUED!

 
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