Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

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

Chapter Fourteen

The armada of scouts quickly began rearranging their formation patterns. Whereas before they'd been deployed as scouts and therefore grouped in small units of fifty, now that they'd received new mission orders, to eradicate all biological life found on the third planet. They began clustering into company-sized elements of 500 ships. These, in turn, were formed into larger battalion-sized units comprised of fifty companies.

Fifty battalions made up a brigade, and fifty brigades, a division. The armada was comprised of over a thousand divisions…


"How long ago did they hijack the cruiser?" Batman's cold, gravelly voice was enough to send a chill down anyone's back.

"Approximately thirty hours ago," Atom replied

"That could place them anywhere from five hours to five minutes behind us," Batman said. "Depending on the speed they're holding. If they jump into FTL drive, there's no way gauge their present location." Batman sat stiffly at his Command Console.

"That's not our only problem, Batman. We've lost contact with Green Lantern…Superman spotted two damaged vessels at GL's last known coordinates. The ships appeared to be fully automated…no signs of a living crew! And, no signs of GL either. We've no way of knowing what happened, exactly, but the damage to the engines was caused by the same type of weapons on our cruisers."

"You're saying that the alien vessels were destroyed by weapons similar to what's on our cruisers. In other words, you believe that the Titans fought against those two vessels?"

"At this juncture, Batman, anything's possible, of course," Atom replied cautiously, "but who else could it have been? Remember that it was Robin who first noted the distinct firing pattern that the aliens were utilizing. He probably just programmed the Avenger's fire control center to take advantage of it." Atom shrugged helplessly.

"If it makes you feel any better, Superman didn't find any signs of the Titans' cruiser other than the space battle, and the kids seem to have won that round!" Atom smiled broadly at this last comment.

Before Batman could respond, Atom threw in the final bombshell. "But just when you think that things can't get any worse, our long range sensors indicate that the incoming vessels are rearranging their formations. Looks like a definite attack pattern…in several waves."

There was a long silence over the open channel.

To the casual observer Batman appeared poised, if grim. Certainly there were no overt signs of anything even resembling concern; however, GA had been closely studying his menacing traveling companion, and while Batman's worry might be difficult to detect, it was discernable if one knew where to look.

A tension between the shoulder blades, a tightening of the jaw, a facial muscle that suddenly jumped, and an even grimmer demeanor, all overtook Batman's already dark and terrifying character.

"Batman," Wonder Woman's beautiful visage suddenly filled Batman's command monitor. "I…I have a message that Robin left. He gave instructions that I send it to…a mutual acquaintance in the event that he failed to return. I thought you might want to hear it." She looked across the intervening light years that separated them, and smiled tremulously.

"They're going to be all right, Batman…I know they are. The Titans may be young, but they've each received the best training possible. And Robin's a fine, level-headed leader." Wonder Woman smiled bravely, her eyes shining with unshed tears. "They're going to be all right," she repeated. "We have to believe that…" The Amazon Princess' voice broke at last, and she looked away momentarily.

"Please scramble Robin's message and send it to my personal channel," Batman requested quietly. Wonder Woman nodded sadly and did as asked. "And Diana," Batman said hesitantly. "Thank you."

"May the Gods be with you," Wonder Woman said in farewell. "JLA out."

Green Arrow studiously avoided meeting Batman's eye. It seemed that there were now two partnerships in jeopardy. He decided to try to lighten the mood.

"Kids these days! Can't live without them…can't shoot them! You do everything possible for them, and how do they repay you? By running off to the far reaches of the galaxy to get themselves killed. What's a parent to do?"

Batman whirled on GA and grabbed him by the collar, and in a move of barely controlled violence, Batman threw Green Arrow against the bulkhead. "Don't ever say that to me again! Not EVER!" Spinning on his heel, Batman was about to stalk away, when he slowed to a halt.

GA saw the Dark Knight's shoulders slump slightly, then straighten again almost immediately. Batman turned and faced Green Arrow, his expression inscrutable. "I…I'm sorry…I…There's no excuse--!"

"That's okay, Bats," GA said, weakly waving Batman's apology aside with a lopsided grin. "What's a knockdown, drag-out amongst friends? Hell, Pretty Bird's thrown me around more often than I can count. And for far less than that!"

Green Arrow grimaced and tried painfully to regain his feet, but slipped and fell again. Laughing feebly, GA added gamely, if haltingly, "I think I'll just sit here for a sec…I'm kinda gettin' used to being slammed against walls. You should try it…great for the lumbago…"

Batman reached his hand out and offered it to Green Arrow. Hesitating, GA looked up, surprised at the gesture. Grateful, he took the proffered hand and allowed Batman to help him to his feet. The two heroes held each other's gaze for several seconds.

Eventually, when it was obvious that the Emerald Archer could stand on his own, Batman turned and walked back to his pilot's seat. He sat down and methodically began to power the vessel back up, again. In order to communicate real-time with the satellite, they'd had to drop out of hyperspace to sublight speed.

Green Arrow silently watched Batman work for a few moments. "I'm worried about them, too," he said quietly. Batman's hand hesitated for an instant, then moved on to complete his adjustments.

"Strap in," Batman ordered. "Hyperspace in thirty seconds and counting!"

"Aye, aye, Cap'n!" Green Arrow said easily.

As they waited tensely for the hyperdrive to activate, the two surrogate fathers' thoughts turned respectively to the boys who'd somehow won their hearts…


Awareness came slowly and painfully to the Titans. As each opened his or her eyes, they experienced a sense of vertigo and an inability to tell up from down. The reason was soon obvious. They were floating freely about the cruiser, bumping and scraping against the bulkheads.

"Yeowch!" cried out Speedy. "What's goin' on? What happened?" Speedy moved awkwardly and instantly found himself out of control. He slammed against the deck, bounced off and saw that he was about smash headfirst into the ceiling.

Not panicking, Speedy managed to bring up a mini-crossbow, aimed and fired off a mini-arrow that trailed a thin length of nylon. The arrow flew true and wrapped itself around a piece of metal piping in the corridor. Speedy pulled the nylon rope taut, and his trajectory was immediately stopped. He took a moment to breathe a sigh of relief.

Speedy saw Wonder Girl "sitting" cross-legged in mid-air, holding her hand to her forehead. She'd obviously just slammed against something hard, too. "Hey, Wonder Babe," Speedy called. "You okay?"

Wonder Girl nodded, albeit slowly. Any unexpected moves could send her careening against the Avenger's metal sides.

At this moment, a green, red, and yellow streak torpedoed its way down the corridor. Every few feet, he'd ricochet off the bulkheads like a billiard ball. "Gang way!" Robin shouted as a warning and almost collided with Speedy.

"Hey, watch it, Bird-boy!" Speedy complained. "What's goin' on? Wonder Doll and I just woke up in the middle of the corridor, and we're floating in case you hadn't noticed."

"I noticed," Robin replied. "'Scuse me. Gotta get to the infirmary!"

"Why?" Speedy asked Robin's quickly retreating back. Robin easily latched onto something projecting from the ceiling. Speedy saw that it was piece of piping so small that he'd've missed it even he'd known it was there. How did Robin do it, Speedy asked himself?

"Look, we don't have time to talk!" Robin's voice showed an uncharacteristic agitation. "I need you two to go forward and try to get our power back. We're operating on emergency generators right now. About all that's working is life support." Robin was about to turn and continue down the corridor, when he remembered something else. "Oh, Speedy, WG, before you restore power, give us a warning…once the power comes on, the ship's artificial gravity will resume. We've gotta be prepared, otherwise, we could end up as bright red splotches on the deck below."

Robin smiled apologetically at Wonder Girl's grimace.

"Sorry, WG. Hey, you get extra credit if you can determine where we are." Before Speedy could say anything in protest, Robin gave an almost imperceptible flick of his wrist and just seemed to fly off.

Speedy didn't move for a moment. He just watched the Boy Wonder with a mixture of something akin to awe and a little jealousy. Sighing, Speedy turned his body around carefully in the direction of the control cockpit. Remembering the bumps and bruises he'd just acquired, Speedy pushed off a bit more cautiously than Robin. "Boy Wonder. Ha! More like, Boy Show-off! If I could do the things he does--!" Speedy wasn't given the opportunity to finish the sentence.

"If you could do the things Robin does, then you wouldn't be Speedy, would you?" Wonder Girl asked, her wide blue eyes looking at him guilelessly. Speedy smiled at her gratefully. He noticed that she wasn't struggling with weightlessness anymore. Instead, Wonder Girl seemed to take to it as easily as she did her gliding on air currents.

Speedy sighed. Why did he always feel like he was running a race and somehow managing to keep a steady last place?


Robin held the precious green power ring in his gloved left hand. He swallowed nervously. The ring was quite ordinary looking. Almost cheesy…like those fake plastic rings you got inside a box of cereal. But closer inspection showed that it was…something else. Robin could actually see the ring pulsating with a strong and steady emerald glow.

As Robin hurried from the transporter chamber to the infirmary, he could feel the ring's power increase the closer he got to his destination. Now, standing right outside the infirmary's sealed hatch, the ring was literally pulling at him, demanding to be let inside. So far, Robin had been able to keep the ring from flying out of his hand, but he knew that as soon as he opened the hatch, any control he had over the ring would come to an end.

Working quickly, Robin undid the outside latch. He was proud of Kid Flash…whatever the junior Speedster had done, he'd had the presence of mind to try to protect the others from GL by sealing off the infirmary. When Robin finally unsealed the hatch, he almost fell over the threshold…no, he was almost pulled over the threshold by Green Lantern's power ring.

Robin decided that the better part of valor was in order. He opened his hand, and the ring went flying, towards the unconscious form of GL, trailing a miniscule green comet tail.

Robin, meanwhile, managed to float over to Kid Flash and--.

"--Aqualad?" Robin was surprised to find the teen from Atlantis in the infirmary with Kid Flash. "I can hardly wait to hear this story!" Robin carefully brought his two teammates down from the ceiling where they were each floating unconscious and quickly strapped them both onto a medbed.

"You'll both be safe once the gravity comes back on," Robin explained unnecessarily. He activated each medbed to see if either of the boys had a serious injury. Aqualad's medbed immediately began to indicate that the water dweller was in distress!

However, Robin wasn't entirely certain because the medbed was giving off some rather strange and erratic readings. Robin studied carefully, then quirked an eyebrow. According to the readings, Aqualad was pregnant!? Robin quickly adjusted the controls and took note of the new readings. He hurried to the intercom.

"Speedy! Wonder Girl! I need one of you to get me water…lots of it! Aqualad's in trouble! Hurry!"

"On my way!" Wonder Girl's quiet, self-assured voice came over the intercom. Robin smiled in silent approval. It looked like the teen Amazon had found her confidence while on their extended field trip.

Robin turned towards the teen Atlantean once more. Again the indicators over the medbed were giving off some rather bizarre readings. He made a mental note to himself to research the JLA medbed's programming. It seemed to be having problems with the Atlantean physiology.

Robin grinned. Aqualad pregnant! If Speedy ever got wind of this, he'd never let the shy water breather live it down. The poor kid would probably not come up to the surface again until he turned thirty!

"Uhhhnnnn…"

Robin turned towards Green Lantern. The Emerald Warrior looked like he was coming to. In fact, GL's ring somehow managed to slip itself onto his right center finger and was even now bathing GL in some kind of a healing aura.

Robin kicked off over to Green Lantern's side. GL wasn't awake yet, but according to the medbed's readings, he wasn't far from it. Robin checked the indicators closely to ensure that they were probably accurate.

Wonder Girl's entrance with several large containers filled with water caught Robin's attention. They hurriedly drenched Aqualad, or rather, they tried to. Because the gravity was still not on, the water came out of the containers in big, clear globules. Robin and Wonder Girl found themselves having to gently redirect the water bubbles to Aqualad's sleeping form.

"WG! You get that one! I'll get this one!"

Wonder Girl nodded wordlessly, concentrating on the task at hand. Both Titans went after their fugitive water globs with an earnest frame of mind.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the slightest touch only resulted in a big glob, becoming several smaller "globlets". If it weren't for the seriousness of the situation, Robin would probably be giggling like a small boy.

"Robbie, it's no use! We've gotta get the gravity back! Why don't I go forward and see if I can help Speedy?"

Robin nodded in agreement. "Go!" Wonder Girl left immediately.

Chasing the water globs reminded Robin so much of one particular Saturday afternoon that he and Bruce spent together at Gotham City Central Park. Just the two of them…

As fate would have it, that afternoon started out less than ideal. Dick overheard Alfred insisting that Master Bruce spend some quality time with young Master Dick. Dick's first reaction was that he didn't want to go on an outing with Bruce if his guardian was forced into it.

The day was saved, however, when to Dick's delight they discovered that Alfred had included a bottle of "Magic Bubbles" with their lunch. Bruce claimed he'd no clue what to do with the bottle of mysterious liquid, but Dick certainly did! As a toddler, he'd spent many hours chasing the bubbles his Mom blew for him.

Dick quickly introduced Bruce to the magical art of bubble making. That afternoon would always hold a special place in Dick's heart…

But now! They needed to get that water to Aqualad. If the medbed's readings could be trusted they showed that Aqualad's vital signs were getting critical! And Kid Flash! Why was he still unconscious? His readings were normal. Would it be safe to try and wake him? To what purpose? What could Kid Flash do?

"…" Robin pushed off and hurried to Kid Flash's side. Gently, so as not to cause him any distress, Robin began to gently tap his teammate on the cheek.

"Kid Flash! Flasheroo! Wake up, Twinkletoes! I need you, Flasheroo! Wake up!"

Kid Flash's eyelids began to flutter. His medbed readings indicated that Kid Flash was close to regaining full consciousness. Robin's "gentle" ministrations became a little more desperate.

"Kid Flash! Come on, Flasheroo! I need you! I need your speed! Wake up!"

At last, Kid Flash's eyes opened fully. He lay there slightly dazed, his confusion obvious. He groaned, bringing his hand up to his head.

"Ohhhhh…did you get the license plate of that truck?"

Robin grinned, his relief that Kid Flash was all right washing over him. "Yeah, but I don't think they'll sue."

"Robbie…what happened?" Kid Flash croaked, his voice barely above a whisper.

Robin's grin faltered somewhat. "I was hoping that you'd be able to tell me! But look, we don't have time. Wally, you think you can do a little superspeed for me? You feel up to it?"

"I think so," Kid Flash replied. He sounded so tired and weak that Robin doubted the junior Speedster would be able to do as he asked.

"Here, let me help you sit up…and watch the quick movements. We still don't have any gravity, so you could end up on the other side of the room."

Kid Flash nodded his understanding. He sat up slowly, spotted the floating water globules, and blinked his eyes without comprehension. Feeling his equilibrium returning, Kid Flash slowly got to his feet, still watching the floating water bubbles as if mesmerized.

"I hate to ask, but what--?" Kid Flash didn't finish his sentence. He just pointed at the water globs with his chin.

Robin grinned embarrassed. "That's the superspeed thingie I need you do. Can you somehow make those water globs stop…well, globbing…and make them splash down on Aqualad? He's really in trouble."

They both looked at Aqualad's vital signs. It was bad.

Kid Flash didn't need a second request and vibrated his arms to the necessary speed. He concentrated on manipulating the air molecules around the floating globs, carefully gathering the water over Aqualad. With a final flourish, Kid Flash did something with his fingers and "fooled" the water into believing that the supersonic vibrations he was subjecting it to was actually gravity.

The water molecules began to fall in a gentle rain over Aqualad, bathing him in a soothing spring shower.

Aqualad's redline medbed readings slowly fell to normal green. Kid Flash brought his arms back to normal and stood quietly over his soaking wet, but healthy teammate. Best of all, Robin noted privately, Aqualad wasn't 'pregnant' anymore.

"Good job, Kid Flash. Whatever happens, Flasheroo, it's been a real honor to have served with you. You're a great teammate and a loyal friend."

Robin held his hand out to Kid Flash. Kid Flash stared at his friend and leader, momentarily stunned by the accolade. Then bursting into a luminous smile, he took Robin's hand and shook it proudly.

At that moment, Speedy's voice came over the ship's loud speakers.

"Attention on board! Attention on board! Thirty seconds to artificial gravity! Hang on to something, guys, 'cause it's gonna get bumpy in a few secs!"

Although, both Robin and Kid Flash were already on the floor, the sudden return to Earth-one gravity could possibly cause them to end up taking a nasty fall and perhaps injuring themselves.

Robin immediately took out a grappling hook from his utility belt, quickly threw a batline around a metal pipe running along the ceiling, and hooked himself to it. Robin then pulled himself a few feet above the floor. Turning, he smiled and once again held his hand out to Kid Flash.

"May I have this dance, Flasheroo?"

"Oh, Robbie…You say the sweetest things," Kid Flash joked in a high falsetto. Robin grabbed him by the wrist in one of the grips his father had taught him for the trapeze. Almost as soon as his hand closed around Kid Flash's wrist, the gravity came back on.

Robin's safety line kept them from hitting the floor unexpectedly. Robin's arm suddenly felt like it was being pulled out of its socket. He quickly lowered them both to the deck below.

"That was fun," Kid Flash observed ironically. "But next time, I get to lead."


Chapter Fifteen

As the armada entered the star system's gravity well, the mother ship transmitted a power down order. As one, the thousands of ships dropped down to normal space and sub-light speed.

The Earth's first line of defense, her greatest heroes, prepared to meet the greatest threat their home world had ever faced…


"Speedy! Wonder Girl! Great going!" Robin's voice rang with boyish admiration over the intercom. Speedy and Wonder Girl's eyes met and smiled at their leader's exuberance. "So…do we know where we are, yet?"

"Uh, not yet, Boy Wonder," Speedy said. "But not to worry. I can find a bullseye with my eyes closed. I'll have our location to the nearest, uh, nebula…or whatever, in two shakes."

Wonder Girl rolled her eyes at this. Astro-navigation did not sound like Speedy's strong point.

"Robin," Wonder Girl interrupted, her voice crisply businesslike, "we have no known point of reference at the moment. Our sensors indicate that we may be several million light-years from home." Wonder Girl paused. There was shocked silence over the intercom. "Robbie, somehow we seem to have been transported outside of the Milky Way Galaxy."

"Are you certain, WG?" Robin asked in a small voice.

"Not really," Wonder Girl admitted. "But I'm pretty sure."

"Okay, Wonder Girl, Speedy. Just do your best. See if you can get us a location. If we at least know where we are relative to home, we should be able to lay a return course. Robin out."

"Lay a course home, he says," Speedy said sarcastically. "By the time we get home, our great-great grandchildren will be dead!"


"Uhnnn-nnn…" Robin turned at the groans coming from Green Lantern's medbed. Simultaneously, Aqualad began stirring.

"Flasheroo, check Aqualad. I'll see to GL!" Robin stated. Kid Flash nodded and zipped in a scarlet and gold blur to their teammate's bedside.

Robin approached Green Lantern's medbed with caution. Hopefully, the Emerald Warrior would wake up as his old self again; however, Robin took precautions. He quickly unclasped his yellow cape and surreptitiously readied a Batarang for throwing. GL's ring was vulnerable to the color yellow. Robin stopped approximately three feet from GL's side and waited.

GL groaned again and brought his hand up to his forehead. He opened his eyes slowly and lay there in a daze.

"Uhnnn-nn…Where am I?" Green Lantern croaked in a dry whisper. Kid Flash was instantly at GL's side with a glass of water.

"Kid Flash! Don't!" Robin cried out in warning. But it was unnecessary. Green Lantern drank gratefully, then turned his head and waved the glass away.

"Thanks…" GL managed. He sat up slowly, his eyes blinking in the garishly bright interior lights of the ship. GL brought his hand up to his head again. "Anybody get the license plate of that truck?"

Robin and Kid Flash grinned broadly. Kid Flash giggled. "That's what I said! Must've been some traffic pile up!"

"Are you all right, sir?" Robin asked.

"It depends, kid," GL grinned lopsidedly, pain creasing his soft brown eyes. "If by 'all right', d'you mean, will I live?…Then, yeah, I guess I'm all right." He groaned suddenly and lay back down. "But I don't think I'm gonna enjoy myself for a couple of days."

Robin and Kid Flash rushed to his side. "I don't understand, sir," Robin said worriedly. "The medbed shows normal readings!"

"Physically, Robin," Green Lantern explained tiredly, his eyes closed, "I'm all right. But that alien particle beam packed a wallop and a half. It's thrown my equilibrium off…I feel like I'm on a sea voyage, and I'm a rookie sailor."

"But, GL, the medbed would indicate that kind of reaction…that's physical and has tangible causes. Unless your vertigo is psychological…then, well, maybe you can just tell it to go away?" Robin finished this last in the form of a question.

"Tell my body to stop feeling like a seasick sailor?" Green Lantern asked doubtfully.

"Well, sir. If it's psychological, then the effects are strictly mental. Batman told me once that you have one of the strongest wills in the galaxy. Seems to me that a will that powerful should be able to tell its inner ear that the vertigo you're experiencing is all in your head? Can't your power ring do that?"

"You know something, kid?" Green Lantern whispered tiredly, his eyes still closed. "You're a lot like your mentor…that's kind of scary for a boy your age." However, GL went still and an almost invisible green haze seemed to suddenly envelop him. Within seconds, GL blinked his eyes open again and a slow smile spread across his features.

GL sat up on the edge of the medbed, then taking a slow, deep breath, stood gingerly. He flexed his arms, stretched, tested his balance. All normal. He turned and grinned at the Titans.

"Robin, you just keep on being like your mentor," GL said gratefully. "Thanks, kid." He looked around at the infirmary. "So, can someone fill me on the situation?"

Robin and Kid Flash exchanged slightly guilty glances. They'd separated a Green Lantern from his power ring. Obviously, that had been a serious tactical error.

"Perhaps, I may be of help," a voice behind them volunteered. Aqualad was sitting up on his medbed. Kid Flash zipped over to his friend.

"You okay, Gillhead?" he asked worriedly.

"I believe so. Thanks to you…Twinkletoes," Aqualad said, shyly addressing Kid Flash by a nickname for the first time. Kid Flash grinned good-naturedly and punched the Atlantean on the shoulder.

"What happened after I passed out?" Kid Flash asked seriously.

"I'm not certain about everything…the details are somewhat jumbled, and there are some aspects that I just cannot seem to grasp. However, GL was…" Aqualad paused and glanced guiltily at the Emerald Warrior.

Green Lantern stepped forward confidently. "Go on, son," he encouraged. "I was what--?"

"You were trying to kill us, sir." Aqualad dropped his eyes in shame, as if he himself had been responsible for such a thing.

"I was WHAT--?" GL's astonishment registered across his handsome features. Robin stepped up to him. He straightened to his full height and faced the senior hero. The junior detective's dark head didn't quite come up to chest level with the Emerald Knight.

"Sir, it's all my fault--" Robin began.

"No, Robbie, it was my idea, remember?" Kid Flash interrupted. Robin glowered at the junior speedster, giving him a look that stopped him in his tracks. Kid Flash backed off, his eyes widening.

"After we destroyed the alien vessels' star drives, we transported you onboard," Robin explained to GL. "I gave the order to separate you from your ring. So, I'm responsible--"

"You separated me from the ring? But, that's impossible! As long as a Green Lantern is living, he or she cannot be involuntarily separated from the power ring!"

Robin shrugged. "I don't understand it then, sir. But when I rematerialized you onboard, I kept the ring in stasis in the transporter buffer. I had to do some quick reprogramming, but because the ring has such a unique signature, it was actually relatively simple to keep it dematerialized."

Green Lantern stared nonplussed at the junior Caped Crusader. "Well, I can't explain it…yet! But go on. Aqualad says I was trying to kill you. What happened?"

Robin continued. He explained all that had transpired. How GL's subconscious had taken over the Avenger, disrupting the ship's controls. Robin filled GL in on everything that happened up to the point that Kid Flash left him behind unconscious in the transporter chamber.

"That's all I know. When I came to, the emerald shield around the transporter console was gone. We were dead in space…operating on emergency power only. I quickly rematerialized the power ring and brought it back to you." Robin turned to Kid Flash. "Your turn, Flasheroo."

Kid Flash quickly provided the details as he knew them. "When the giant hands grabbed us, I couldn't vibrate out of them. I don't know why though. I mean, my costume's yellow. I should've been able to, but the faster I vibrated, the tighter the hold on me."

"Maybe, 'cause it was all in GL's mind," Robin offered. "More of a dream than reality. So the physical laws that the power ring usually obeys weren't in effect."

GL's eyebrows went up in admiration. "That's as good a theory as anything else, son."

Kid Flash caught Aqualad's eyes. "Your turn, Gillhead."

Aqualad's violet eyes widened in wonder at the memory. "I am not entirely certain of what truly happened. I remember being determined not to give up. The Titans were depending on me. I am the only one who has even the slightest esper abilities." Aqualad paused in reflection. His head dropped in momentary shame.

"I remember feeling like I was a failure. Always being held back in reserve because of my need for water. Not being able to join the Titans in many of your dry-land activities. Feeling like a stranger in strange land, at times."

Robin and Kid Flash exchanged shocked expressions at this revelation. "But Garth, that's not true!" Robin protested. "You're an equal member of our team!" He wanted to add, "Heck, I'm the liability…with no superpowers." Instead, he added, "We'll discuss this later. Right now, we need to figure out what happened."

Aqualad nodded mutely, then continued his tale. "I'm not sure what is a dream and what is real…so I'll just relate what I remember." The others nodded…


Speedy sat back and watched Wonder Girl work. He had no clue what she was doing, but admired her intense concentration. Wonder Girl noticed Speedy's gaze and smiled at him.

"Are you just going to sit there, or are you going to try to help me figure out where we are?" she asked.

"I figured I'd just sit here and cheer you on," Speedy said. "I'm afraid that I played hooky the day they taught astro-navigation in science class."

Wonder Girl grinned at Speedy's nonsense.

"It's quite simple, really," WG explained. "Well, maybe 'simple' is a bit of an exaggeration. For several years now, astronomers have been able to identify and measure spatial phenomena that have unique signatures: quasars, black holes, entire galaxies. If I can find two known astronomical bodies through their signatures, then I should be able to at least approximate our location."

"Hmmmmm. I'm afraid that I must've been absent during that class, too," Speedy replied. "Maybe I should actually attend school more often. See if my bozo teachers can learn me something."

"Learn me something?" Wonder Girl repeated, glancing askance at Speedy.

"Just a joke, Wonder Chick," Speedy said slightly annoyed. Then under his breath, muttered, "I swear…you sound more and more like Batboy with each passing moment."

"I would consider that a compliment," Wonder Girl said quietly, "except that I know it was not meant as such." She shook her head at Speedy, then returned to the task at hand. "I thought that by now you'd learn that we each have our strengths and weaknesses. Robin depends on each of us to do our part because we're a team. He knows that Amazonian science is far superior to that of Man's World, which is why he gave us this task."

"Us?" Speedy asked derisively. "Don't you mean, you?"

"Roy, Robin also believes in you. You may behave like there's nothing between your two ears at times--"

"Ouch…gee, thanks--!"

"--but he realizes, as do I, that it's all a big act! Roy, Robbie and I both have faith in you. I only wish that you could have faith in us…and in yourself." Wonder Girl held Speedy's gaze steadily. Finally, Speedy dropped his eyes and nodded reluctantly.

"How can I help?" he asked simply. Wonder Girl smiled happily.

"Well, I need you to man this monitor. If you see any shift in the quantum energy sensors from say…here to…here--" Wonder Girl indicated the change in levels, "--give a yell. Got it?"

"Got it!"

The two Titans promptly went back to work.


"…The last thing I remember was calling on this mysterious purple essence growing within me," Aqualad explained haltingly. "I am sorry. I am unable to say it in clearer words." He looked at the others helplessly and shrugged.

Green Lantern held his chin between his thumb and forefinger. He spoke quietly to the shy teenager. "You say this 'purple essence' felt like some kind of powerful force growing within you?"

Aqualad nodded, wide-eyed.

"You've never had any indication of such power before?"

"No, sir. Never," Aqualad replied, shaking his head for added emphasis.

Green Lantern shook his head. "I wish your mentor was here at the moment. Maybe he'd be able to put some kind of light into it. I mean, Aquaman might be aware of others like you. I'm sorry, Aqualad. My purview is outer space. I'm ashamed to admit that I know very little about the denizens of the deep."

Aqualad dropped his eyes, almost in shame. "Even amongst our people, I am different," he said quietly. "My eyes seem to frighten others, and therefore, many Atlanteans believe me to be cursed. Before Aquaman found me and fostered me into his Royal household, I was completely alone. I had never even seen others of my kind. My sole companions were my pet walrus and other sea creatures." Aqualad shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps, I am cursed."

"That's silly!" Robin protested. "Of course, you're not cursed. Different maybe…but so what? We're all different in one way or another. Look at Kid Flash…not many like him running around loose." He grinned, then added, "Thank goodness for that! Anyway, you can't get more different than him!"

Kid Flash grinned, then zoomed around his team leader and friend in a mini-whirlwind, all within the space of an eye-blink. When Robin's vision cleared, his uniform had been turned around backwards.

"Hey!" Robin laughed, startled. Next thing he knew, Kid Flashed zipped again. Robin stood still, blinking. His uniform had been re-straightened. "Okay, Flasheroo," Robin smiled evilly. "You know, of course, that this means war. You'd better not go to sleep tonight."

Kid Flash's eyes widened at Robin's threat. He swallowed, then looked like he was trying to find the nearest escape hatch.

Robin grinned. "Never mind, Flasheroo. I won't hurt you…much." Kid Flash blanched. Robin turned to Aqualad, all business. "Sorry, Garth. Look, we don't know if this strange power is real or not. So much of what happened to us these past few hours has the quality of dreams." At the others looks of confusion, Robin tried to explain further.

"Well, look at GL's ring. When you two entered GL's dream world, the ring stopped behaving according to the physical laws that control it. It wasn't stopped by Kid Flash's yellow uniform." Robin shrugged. "I don't know, Aqualad. Maybe, since you were already in a kind of magical dream world, you were able to conjure up a power that could work under the dream's metaphysical laws."

Aqualad nodded reluctantly. "Perhaps you are correct, Robin. Everything that happened does have a strange quality of non-reality. And yet--" Aqualad paused, his eyes taking on a faraway look. "And yet, there is also an underlying quality of truth."

At the others' look, Aqualad shrugged. "I don't know…what I felt…it just somehow seemed right. As if it were an ability I've always known about, but didn't know how to call upon." Aqualad shrugged helplessly. "I know…it does not make sense."

"No, son," Green Lantern disagreed. "It makes a lot of sense. Sort of like the first time I made mental contact with the power ring. It felt right…like something I'd always known was within me, but--" GL shook his head. "You're right, Aqualad, it is difficult to put into words."

Kid Flash suddenly spoke up.

"Kind of like the Speed Force that wanted me to join with it. I knew deep down inside that I shouldn't…that it would be the worst thing I could possibly ever do. But still, somehow I knew that joining it was something I'd wanted to do all of my life." He turned to Robin. "You saved my life, Robbie. Like I said, I'll never forget that."

"It seems that this little space jaunt has turned into a real trip of self-discovery," Robin said ironically. "D'you think that maybe we could discover a way back home?"

Green Lantern grinned. "Like I said, Robin…you sure do remind me of your mentor. You cut straight to the chase. Okay, question: What was our heading before we went dead in space? And what's our current position?"

"We were headed towards the space anomaly," Robin said. "Tailing behind Batman and GA. At the speed we were going, we should've been about a standard hour behind them. That's when you…or your ring…took over the ship." Robin shrugged. "As for where we are right now…" He was interrupted by an urgent call from Wonder Girl.


"Show me!" Robin ordered curtly. Wonder Girl nodded and moved over quickly. Speedy watched their interaction with growing jealousy. Robin and Wonder Girl just seemed so right together. They worked like they could read each other's minds…as if they didn't need words…as if they belonged together.

The others crowded around, falling into their positions naturally, waiting for whatever information Wonder Girl discovered.

"Speedy, please!" Wonder Girl called. "I could use your help."

Speedy immediately hurried over to the monitor he'd been manning for the past half-hour.

"As I was saying," Wonder Girl continued, "this signature is definitely from an identified quasar at the edge of the known universe…and this one…" she paused excitedly, "…this one has the unique signature from our own galaxy's center!"

"If we triangulate," Robin concluded, "it places us at…" he paused, then finished awed, "…one hundred million light-years from our last known position!"

"Whoa," whispered Kid Flash.

"Suffering swordfish," added Aqualad.

"Guess we won't be home in time for dinner," quipped Speedy.

Robin swallowed. He stood very still for a long moment. He was the leader. It was his fault that they had all been brought to this. Therefore, it was his responsibility to get them all back.

As he stilled his mind and quickly began going through and eliminating their options, Robin deliberately tried not to think about Batman and the parting words he'd had with him. More than anything, Dick wanted to take back those stinging words and tell Bruce how much he loved him.

Now's not the time, Grayson, he chastised. Let's get these kids home to their families first!

"Okay," Robin said, sitting down at the Command Console and beginning to type furiously. "We're here…" he typed, "…and our last known position was here." Robin typed some more.

As the others watched and listened silently, Robin worked furiously at the Command Console computer. "WG, I need you to input the following figures…" Robin called out a string of numbers, letters, variables, and other figures that the rest of the Titans didn't recognize. "Let me know when you're done," he added.

"Gotcha," Wonder Girl replied. Both teens worked quickly and efficiently for the next few minutes, Wonder Girl calling out the results of Robin's queries, and Robin reevaluating the results. Eventually, after a long tense moment, Robin and Wonder Girl smiled at each other.

"Robbie, that's it! You did it!" Wonder Girl showed her exuberance by hugging Robin in her excitement. Robin allowed himself a small smile.

"No, WG, we did it!" He looked around, taking in the rest of the Titans. "We all did it!" Unable to help himself, Robin's smile broadened into a wide grin. "We're going home, people!"

The other Titans cheered at his words. All, that is, except Speedy. Wonder Girl's hugging Robin did not escape Speedy's notice. As far as he was concerned, the better man had won. Wonder Girl and Robin were obviously meant for each other. Speedy would do the honorable thing and step out of the way.

"Great going, Batboy," Speedy said. "So, when do we get started?"

"How about now?" asked Robin. "Ladies and gentlemen, please return your seats and tray tables to their upright position!" The others grinned at him. "Strap in Titans, 'cause the ride's gonna get bumpy!"

The Titans quickly took up their customary positions inside the command section, dutifully bringing their systems back online, and ensuring that their seatbelts were secure.

"GL, I know that you don't really need to secure yourself, but feel free to take any of the unoccupied seats." Green Lantern nodded. "Okay, team, in order to return to our last position, we have to go into max FTL--"

Robin's announcement was met with groans from the other Titans.

"Sorry, guys, but we need the speed, and max FTL is the only way to achieve the necessary faster than hyper-light travel. The good news…we'll get back to the Milky Way Galaxy. The bad news…we gotta spend a longer than recommended amount of time in FTL--"

He was interrupted again by protests from the others.

"But, Robbie," Kid Flash cried, "if we go into FTL for an extended period, the Speed Force will try to pull me in again."

"Yeah, and I thought that long exposure to FTL was bad for you, Short Pants. Like smoking or hard drugs," added Speedy.

"Yeah, but we have a secret weapon," Robin said. The others looked blankly at him. "We have the most powerful weapon in the universe right here on board…plus, we have the one person in the universe who really knows how to wield it properly." Robin looked over to where the Emerald Knight was sitting. "Right, GL?"

Green Lantern grinned. "What do you need me to do, Robin?"

"I need you to surround the Avenger in a protective bubble. A sort of 'cocoon' that will protect us from the FTL effect. In other words, the Avenger will undergo FTL, and we will travel through a 'tunnel' in space, cutting through the real space/time continuum. In effect, 'stopping' time on the outside. However, by you providing us with this protective envelope, we won't feel the same 'out of time' warping effect that we experienced on the way out here." Robin looked at Kid Flash. "And Flasheroo won't be drawn into the Speed Force either."

The junior speedster flashed Robin a grateful smile.

"I think that you have an exceptionally sound plan, Robin," Green Lantern declared. "When do we get started?"

"Ready, team?" Robin called. At their nods, he cried out, "Let's do it, then!"

"Titans TOGETHER!"


"I don't get it," Green Arrow complained. "Those kids should've been here hours ago! Are you sure you calculated their ETA accurately?" GA closed his eyes in self-chastisement. "Forget I asked," he muttered. "I can't believe I said that."

"They're in trouble," Batman muttered grimly. "Robin wouldn't miss his ETA otherwise."

"Uh, not necessarily, my dark and dreary friend," GA said brightly. "The kid could've just decided to go around us! You know…take a detour."

"We would've spotted the star-drive's ion trail," Batman countered. "Robin might be able to navigate using the Orion Arm's star systems to camouflage his trajectory, but there are certain areas of open space where he'd have to travel without benefit of cover. Besides, as much confidence as I have in the boy, he's not an experienced starship pilot. The simulator is not the same as the real thing."

"No," GA conceded, "it's not." But then, he added to himself, you trained that boy. I have a feeling that counts for a lot. Unlike my so-called training of my junior partner.

"We need to continue," Batman finally said. "I'll send their last known position to the JLA satellite. They'll have to send someone to investigate."

GA looked at Batman as if he'd grown an additional set of pointed ears.

"Bats, you didn't just say what I just heard you say! No way, are we abandoning the Titans! If the kids are in trouble then it's up to us to help them!"

Batman didn't bother to reply. He continued resetting his coordinates, readying to get underway.

"Listen, you cold bastard!" GA yelled hotly. "Those are our kids out there! Mine and yours and Barry's and Arthur's and Diana's! We can't let them all down! They're all depending on us. What's the matter with you? Do you have ice in your veins? Don't you even care about Robin? How can you be so cold? That kid worships the ground you walk on."

Batman didn't reply. GA stared at him nonplussed.

"Strap in," Batman ordered. As Green Arrow reluctantly did as told, he noticed something strange. The right side armrest on Batman's command chair was inexplicably bent out of shape. GA's left eyebrow shot up to his hairline. The Bat cold-blooded? He shook his head. More like Batman felt too much.

As they prepared to jump into hyper-light, GA reflected that this decision would eat at Batman's conscious for the rest of his life.


The sleek, JLA cruiser seemed to appear out of no where, which technically speaking is exactly what it did. As the Avenger jumped out of max FTL, the Titans took a moment to catch their breath.

Before them, hanging in the darkness of the outer reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, was the 'space anomaly'.

Maintaining full shields, Robin maneuvered the Avenger in a 360-degree loop around the gigantic ship. The Titans watched wide-eyed as the ship spread out mile after mile below them.

"That's the ugliest lookin' hot rod I've ever laid eyes on," claimed Speedy.

"What do you make of her, GL?" asked Robin.

"Enough gun emplacements to take out most Earth cities," he assessed critically. "Several veins of yellow running along its outer hull. I think that I should be able to work around them, however. As humongous as this thing is, I don't think I'll have any problems finding a way in." He paused. "Wish Supes was here, though."

"Don't worry, GL," Robin said quietly. "Batman should be arriving soon."

Green Lantern gave the Boy Wonder a warm smile. Impulsively, he reached over and tousled the boy's head.

"Yes, he sure will, won't he?" GL asked fondly. Becoming businesslike, he intoned, "Okay, Titans, here's where we part ways for a while. I'm going outside to reconnoiter. When Batman arrives, point him in my direction…and at that time, you kids go home! Do you understand me? There are a lot of people who are deathly worried about you. Whatever happens, you Titans are to stay out of it. Is that clear?"

The Titans exchanged rueful glances, then each in turn nodded reluctantly in understanding.

"Good," GL said, giving them each a warm smile. "Robin, Titans, it's been a pleasure teaming up with you. You kids have made your mentors and the rest of the JLA proud today."

As he spoke, Green Lantern enveloped himself in an emerald field. As the field grew in strength, he waved jauntily at the Titans, then walked through the Avenger's portside bulkheads. The Titans watched, open-mouthed with awe, as the Emerald Knight simply 'stepped' outside into the cold vacuum of space.

"So what do we do in the meanwhile?" asked Speedy as soon as GL was gone. "Sit around and twiddle our thumbs?"

"No way, Boy Bowman," replied Robin. "We go in and scout out the place…try and make first contact with whatever intelligence is controlling that thing. When Batman and GA arrive, we give them a full briefing on our findings."

"But Green Lantern ordered us to--" Aqualad began.

"And I've no intention of obeying that order, Gillhead," Robin said harshly. "But this doesn't mean that you have to tag along. This whole enterprise is strictly voluntary!"

"I was not implying that we should quit," Aqualad protested. "I was only pointing out that if Green Lantern doesn't want us to pursue this goal, then he has the capability to stop us."

"I know, A-lad," Robin acknowledged tiredly. "I know. But there's nothing and nobody who's going to keep me out of this."

"I'm with you, Robbie," broke in Kid Flash. "Heck, it's just one ship. I say we go in, demand that they take us to their leader, and order them to surrender. Simple. Mission accomplished."

Kid Flash looked at the others for approval of his plan. They just stared at him as if he were a bug that needed squashing.

"Hey, it's a great plan!" he protested. "Tell 'em, Gillhead." Aqualad simply shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"Look, even though Twinkletoes here has proven yet again that he's an idiot, he does have a point," Speedy offered.

"I do?" Kid Flash asked surprised. "Hey, who's an idiot?"

"What do you mean, Archer?" asked Robin.

"I mean that stopping this thing from obliterating the Earth should be our primary mission. Deadly force should be in effect. I mean, we are at war, aren't we?"

"Not necessarily, Speedy," Robin said. "So far, we have a deadly misunderstanding and a failure to effectively communicate. Our primary concern should be to establish contact, learn everything we can about them, and somehow stop them from attacking Earth. Hopefully, steps one and two will lead naturally to step three."

"Yeah, and hopefully step three won't lead to us being waxed once and for all!" added Speedy sarcastically.

"Robin," Wonder Girl said quietly, "you know that whatever you decide we're all behind you."

Robin smiled warmly at Wonder Girl. He reached his hand out to hers, giving it a grateful squeeze.

"Thanks, Donna," he said softly, breaking his 'no first names' rule. "I really appreciate that." Turning to the others, Robin once more assumed the mantle of the Titans' leader and began crisply giving orders.

"Take your places, everybody. Whatever's waiting for us on the other side…we're going in!"

CONTINUED!

 
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