Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

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

Chapter Twenty-One

The ship's artificial intelligence 'felt' a moment of satisfaction. The alien invaders were being successfully repelled from all areas of the ship. The strange being who could wield the very power of creation had been neutralized. The disruptive activities of the smaller biological life forms who'd infested its Forward Command Center and dared tamper with its Command Programs were being nullified. But…

There was a wraith-like life form that somehow seemed to disappear from the ship's sensors. Logic dictated that this unknown menace bespoke of future problems.

Perhaps these beings were not of the Krghlm after all. Perhaps they were of a race that was even more dangerous…


"Robbie! Robbie, come in! Speedy! Kid Flash!" Wonder Girl looked close to tears. "It's no use. They're not answering. We've got to transport them out of there--now!"

"Keep your tiara on, young lady," Green Arrow said gruffly. "We'll get them out. You just find 'em and lock on to 'em…I'll do the rest!" With that, the Emerald Archer hurriedly made his way aft towards the Avenger's transporter chamber.

Blinking rapidly, Wonder Girl nodded curtly. She was determined not to humiliate herself in front of a member of the JLA. Robin had ordered her to keep her chin up and take charge if anything happened to him.

"Well, it looks like I'm the one in charge now," she whispered. Her chin quavered slightly. "Get a grip, girl," Wonder Girl said harshly. "Who's the Amazon warrior here?" Feeling properly chastised, WG turned back to her search.

The Titans were each equipped with a wrist communicator, which the transporter should be able to lock onto. Each communicator gave off a unique signal with which one could identify the wearer. All Wonder Girl needed to do was find the signatures.

Earlier she'd found her friends and locked on to them, but now their signals were being blanked out. Hurriedly running a diagnostic, Wonder Girl searched for any signs of biological life-forms on board the ship…


"How's Robin?" Kid Flash asked. Two pairs of deeply troubled green eyes locked above the unconscious Boy Wonder. "He's been out for almost twenty minutes now."

Speedy shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

"Not good, Twinkletoes," he said helplessly. "His breathing's rapid and shallow, and his pulse seems awfully weak."

Speedy worriedly studied his friend and rival. Robin hadn't stirred since he'd been struck on the head. Despite his injured arm, Speedy managed to drag the Titans' unconscious leader to relative safety. He'd wrapped the Boy Wonder in his own cape to offset the dangerously frigid temperatures in the room.

He also tore off a piece of cloth from his own shirt and quickly wrapped Robin's bleeding forehead with the makeshift bandage. Due to the lack of gravity, the Teen Caped Crusader's blood eerily formed into small droplets and steadily broke away, floating around the room. Speedy swallowed in distaste.

The cold was steadily growing more and more intolerable. Speedy could actually see his breath now, and he'd lost almost all feeling in his hands and feet. He noticed that ice crystals were forming around Robin's mouth and nose and considerately wiped them off.

Speedy felt exhausted, like he hadn't slept in over a week. He had a pounding headache and seemed unable to catch his breath. He looked around the chamber. Signs of their earlier struggles were visible everywhere.

As he struggled valiantly to keep from dropping off to sleep, recollections of their battle assailed him.


//ERROR…SEARCH PARAMETER INVALID. RETRY? CANCEL?//

WG sighed. She'd been searching for almost twenty minutes now. The last contact she'd had with her teammates indicated their condition was Yellow, not serious enough to warrant an immediate rescue, but sufficient enough that she should've kept a closer eye on them.

She felt tears beginning to sting the backs of her eyes again.

"I've failed them," Wonder Girl whispered.

"Somehow I doubt your teammates would agree with you, young lady." GA stood, arms crossed in the open hatchway. "Those boys set a lot of store by you, little Princess. More importantly, they respect you and know that you'll always do your best by them."

Wonder Girl felt the tears spill. "But I can't find them…Robbie trusted me to come through for them and I've lost them. I've tried everything, GA…I-I've failed them."

"Perhaps I may be of some help?" Both GA and WG turned towards the sound of the new voice…


Speedy's sleep was disturbed by the echoes of a battle lost, the frightening silence of a fallen teammate, and the relentless hammering of his own heart! They weren't going to make it! Robin was down and Speedy didn't feel up to the challenge of leading. He'd failed yet again…

"Twinkletoes! Robin's down!" Speedy called. He'd managed to pull his unconscious leader to cover. "How're you doing with the weapons?"

"All done," Kid Flash said. He was suddenly crouched next to Speedy.

Speedy felt his heart jump. He rolled his eyes and let out a long sigh. Before Speedy could comment, however, Kid Flash apologized.

"I'm sorry it took me so long, Quiver-breath. But we're losing oxygen, and I'm losing most of my energy because of it."

Speedy listened from where he'd been crouching behind the Command Console. The Forward Command Center was strangely quiet. He quickly surveyed the room and immediately spotted the smoking remains of the now-disabled recessed weapons. He also noted that the flying projectiles had finally ceased their merciless attack. Relief washed over him.

"We've gotta get out of here, Twinkletoes," he said. "Pretty soon the cold's gonna become unbearable. And Bird-boy needs medical attention." Speedy pulled out three explosive-tipped arrows from his quiver. Gingerly testing his injured arm, he winced at the searing pain.

"Hey, Arrow-head," Kid Flash protested. "You shouldn't mess with that arm. You could injure it further. Look, I'll try to vibrate through the hatch and take out the internal locking mechanisms."

Speedy reluctantly nodded in agreement.

Kid Flash launched himself towards the hatch. At any other time, he might've been having fun in zero-g. As things stood, their situation was too serious for joking around. The others were depending on him.

Stopping in front of the hatch, Kid Flash concentrated on its 'feel'. Believing he understood the vibration pattern of the heavy door, Kid Flash quickly began to vibrate up to its matching speed. Once the junior speedster could see that he'd reached the harmonic speed with the locked hatch, he attempted to walk through it.

An invisible energy shield instantaneously repelled Kid Flash. The Fastest Boy Alive was suddenly thrown clear across the Forward Command Center and slammed--hard--against the opposite bulkhead. Because he was still protected by his personal aura, Kid Flash escaped serious injury.

"I think that went well," Kid Flash muttered. Speedy snorted.

"Yeah, Twinkletoes. Real well. If it'd gone any better, you'd be somebody's pancake breakfast splattered all along that wall." Speedy stood slowly and awkwardly readied an explosive-tipped arrow, the combination of the room's unbearable cold and his injury slowing down his movements. Closing his eyes against the white-hot pain shooting up his arm, Speedy called on the teachings of his Navaho foster father, and willed his arm to draw back the bowstring. Taking careful aim, Speedy let fly!

The door's energy field held firmly.

Speedy sighed, a familiar feeling of failure overwhelming him. It seemed that they weren't going anywhere…


Batman moved cautiously through the miles-long labyrinthine air ducts. As he advanced through the ship's interior, he noticed moments of weightlessness and areas where he had trouble breathing. He had to backtrack on several occasions when his handheld instruments warned him of an airless vacuum up ahead.

Batman didn't understand how the ship's builders did it, but apparently it was possible for parts of the ship to function easily while adjacent to areas with no atmosphere. Batman assumed that there was some type of force field involved, but his instruments couldn't detect it. He decided to avoid the areas entirely.

Unbidden memories of his young ward kept invading his thoughts as he proceeded…

He recalled their first Christmas together when Dick, upset that a group of orphans who'd been displaced by a fire wouldn't be having a happy Christmas, took his own presents to the temporary shelter where the children had been moved to.

He recalled the look of happiness on Dick's face when another boy opened the gift that Bruce had spent so much time searching for: a miniature carousel comprised of prancing horses, lions, tigers, and elephants. As the miniature circus parade went round and round, the carousel played an appropriate circus march.

He recalled the drive home with Alfred and Dick singing Christmas carols in slightly off-key harmony. He recalled Dick falling asleep across his lap finally, never letting go of his hand. Most of all, he recalled Dick's quiet, "Thanks for the carousel, Bruce," and his warm smile of happiness…

A half-smile formed on Batman's lips as the memories played themselves out in his mind. Abruptly, the smile left him. He had a job to do and no time to indulge in personal reminisces.

Calling his self-discipline to the fore, Batman tamped all extraneous thoughts of his personal life, and stored them in a safe place. When he had the time, he'd "retrieve" them, but for now, he had to concentrate on the mission at hand.

As he turned a corner in the air ducts, Batman felt the air around him sizzle, becoming super-heated as particle beams whizzed by in several near misses. The droids had found him! He was being targeted! Diving out of harm's way, Batman threw a handful of concussion pellets in the direction that the droids were advancing from.

Not waiting for the resounding explosion that shortly followed, Batman quickly grabbed his cape and wrapping over his head, he used it as protection as he launched himself at a closed grate. The impetus behind his momentum was enough to force the grate open.

When he hit the floor, Batman tucked and rolled, gaining his feet in an instant. Quickly inspecting the chamber he'd entered, he noted that he'd somehow managed to escape into what look like an armory.

"Fortune favors the foolish," he said ironically.

A further cursory inspection revealed what could only be a cache of shoulder-fired weapons. While Batman was morally opposed to guns in general, he saw nothing untoward in using the weapons against machines that were bent on killing him.

Picking up several, he finally settled on one that was fairly lightweight, and which he believed he could operate with minimal practice.

"And just to test my theory--" He aimed and fired the weapon at the armory's heavy door. Within the speed of thought, the door was vaporized. Not stopping to admire his handiwork, Batman hurried through the opening and ran down a long corridor.


"Garth!" Wonder Girl cried. "What are you doing out of bed?" Both she and Green Arrow rushed to the obviously weakened Atlantean.

"She's right, Aqualad," GA said gently, leading the young boy to a chair. "You shouldn't be on your feet." GA inspected the underwater dweller. "I'd say you still look a little 'green around the gills,' boy." The Emerald Archer smiled slightly to offset any sting in his words.

"I shall be all right, Green Arrow," Aqualad protested weakly. "But I must try to help you locate our comrades." He leaned his head onto GA's shoulder. "Water…please…"

Wonder Girl immediately jumped to her feet and made her way to the ship's galley. She was back in under a minute with a five-gallon container.

"Here, Garth," she said softly. "Drink this slowly."

Aqualad smiled in slight amusement. "Slowly?" he asked. "You mistake me for a surface dweller, Donna. Water is to me what air is to you. I require it at regular periods to re-oxygenate my blood cells." He drank gratefully with long, deep draughts. At last, having his fill, he put the container down. Sighing slightly, Aqualad set his chin in a grim line and sat up determinedly.

"As our friend Kid Flash told me earlier during our mission, Wonder Girl, I am the only Titan with even the slightest esper abilities…I wish to try to find our friends through their mental signatures."

"You can do that, son?" Green Arrow asked.

Aqualad shrugged his shoulders, wincing slightly from his injury. "I do not know, sir…Until I communicated with Green Lantern a few days ago, I'd never tried to mindspeak with anyone other than another Atlantean. I guess I won't know until I try."

GA let out a long slow breath, the only outer indication of his worry. "Very well, Aqualad. Give it a try, kid. But if you even look like the effort is going to put you back in the infirmary, I'll have to order you to abort. Do you understand?"

Aqualad nodded tiredly. He felt exhausted and his shoulder still felt like it was on fire, but he had to try to help his friends. Otherwise he'd never forgive himself…


The external ship repair droid advanced silently behind Green Lantern. Amber-hued grapplers reached out for the Emerald Warrior and grabbed him. Occupied with the ship, GL did not expect an attack from the rear. Now, the yellow mechanical arms held him helplessly immobilized.

GL struggled uselessly against his bonds, but because he was vulnerable to the color yellow, he was unable to break free of the droid's grasp. Still struggling, he found himself being taken back inside the ship. As he was relentlessly carried down several kilometers of corridor, GL finally saw a set of double doors appear up ahead.

As he drew nearer to the doors, GL was struck once again by the sheer magnitude of the ship. Looking up, GL tried to see how high up they went; however, they soon became lost in the gathering gloom of the upper reaches of the ship.

"Why would anyone build anything so vast?" he asked himself rhetorically. "It seems almost self-indulgent. I can therefore I will." He shook his head. He'd probably never know the whole truth.

When he arrived at the doors, he was gratified that a smaller, man-sized portal swung open. "At least, the builders were also a practical people," he concluded.

Entering, GL looked around the immense chamber. The huge room was practically empty, almost entirely without furnishings of any kind except for a single, man-sized apparatus in the middle surrounded by several instruments. GL noted the reflected light glinting off the metallic shackles.

GL felt the blood freeze in his veins.


Sitting less than a foot away from him, Kid Flash looked as bad as Speedy felt. Speedy noticed ice crystals on the speedster's cheeks and eyebrows. They were each struggling with exhaustion, and the insidious encroachment of sleep. They were both trying to keep one another awake, rousing the other whenever he seemed about to drop off.

"Twinkletoes," he gasped. "Can't you vibrate so's the cold doesn't bother you as much?"

Kid Flash shook his head, no. The effort seemed to take a lot out of him. If anything, he seemed to be even worse off than Speedy. He swallowed, and after several unsuccessful attempts finally spoke.

"We've lost too much oxygen here," Kid Flash explained. "My metabolism eats up a lot of energy even when I'm sitting still, but my body usually restores it naturally…Automatically converts oxygen into energy when it enters my bloodstream…But there's so little oxygen left in here that if I don't conserve what little energy I have left, I could end up like Robbie there." He grinned. "I don't think you want two unconscious heroes on your hands, do you?"

Speedy weakly returned his teammate's grin and shook his head, no. At this moment Robin stirred slightly in his arms.

"Uhhhhnnnn…" The Boy Wonder's eyes fluttered open. He lay still trying to focus on his surroundings.

"Hey, Bird-boy," Speedy said softly. "How'ya feeling?" Robin brought his hand up to his forehead, feeling the makeshift bandage. He tenderly touched his temple and winced.

"What happened?" Robin asked, groggily. He attempted to sit up, but Speedy determinedly held him down.

"Uh-uh, Bat-boy!" Speedy chastised. "You're not going anywhere. Just lie still."

Robin blinked, his eyes still unfocused. "Got to…find…Batman," he whispered, struggling weakly against his friend's restraint.

"I don't think so, Boy Wonder," Speedy said firmly. "Now lie still before I give you another conk on the head."

Robin looked confused, obviously not completely conscious. He gallantly fought to remain awake, but the combination of overwhelming cold and head injury slowly put him under once more. As he again lost consciousness, his delirium revealed his underlying worries.

"No…Gotta find Batman…depending on me…"

Speedy and Kid Flash exchanged worried glances.

"Funny," Kid Flash finally said. "I always figured that Uncle Barry would be with me…when it happened, I mean." Speedy needed no translation to know what his teammate meant by 'it'. Kid Flash was already thinking about dying.

"Well, I sure as heck never thought that it'd happen with me holding a guy in my arms," Speedy said ruefully. "I'da preferred to be in Wonder Doll's arms, myself, but then…I guess I'm kinda glad that she isn't here."

"Yeah," Kid Flash agreed. "And I guess I'm glad that Uncle Barry isn't here either…or Aunt Iris."

The two boys fell silent. Speedy looked down at his unconscious leader.

"Doesn't seem right somehow," he said tentatively. "I mean, Bird-boy being unconscious and everything…I think he'da preferred giving commands and stuff. You know--"

"--Finding a means of escape," Kid Flash interrupted, grinning. "Pulling one of those nifty toys from his utility belt. Somehow picking the locking mechanism in the hatch."

Speedy nodded in agreement. "Yeah…I guess if the Boy Wonder were awake, we woulda been outta here already, right?"

"Yeah," Kid Flash agreed sadly. "Yeah…we woulda been outta here…"


"Twinkletoes…?" Speedy croaked. "You've gotta…stay awake…"

"So tired…wanna sleep…" Kid Flash murmured.

All three teen heroes were lying huddled together for combined warmth. Speedy still held the unconscious Robin in his arms, and Kid Flash lay curled up next to them, his arm across the Boy Wonder's chest.

"Mustn't sleep…stay awake…" Speedy insisted. He reached weakly across the seemingly interminable space over Robin's chest to rouse Kid Flash, but instead he fell into a deep well of blackness…


He was walking. Where was he, he wondered? He looked around, confused. It was so dark.

He didn't feel frightened, he discovered surprised. Smiling slightly, he suddenly knew where he was. At this moment, the darkness lifted, and he saw his friends and family who'd gone before sitting around a large campfire.

They were performing a vaguely familiar ritual. The Blessingway, he remembered!

He was home, or as his people called it, Dinetah.

"Why do you walk this path, Roy Harper?" A shadowy figure, whose back was to the fire, spoke to him.

Speedy squinted slightly, but couldn't make out the figure's face.

"I've come home," he said simply.

"No, Roy Harper. Now is not your time to return to your Dinetah. You have many years yet to walk on the Earth." The figure emerged slowly from the shadows. Speedy recognized his foster father, Chief Brave Bow.

"Father! Please, don't send me back. I'm so tired. I want to come home."

"No, my son. Your lifeline weakens, but your will is strong. It is not yet ready to sever all its ties with the world. You have new friends whose Totems strengthen yours. You are now a part of them."

Speedy looked down in shame. "But I'm a failure. Even now, I have failed them yet again."

"You are not a failure!" Brave Bow replied sharply. "You are young. There is a difference. You and your companions have made mistakes, but you have learned from them, and the lessons learned have made you all stronger. Even now, together, you make a formidable force as powerful as any Blessingway or Enemyway ritual of the Navaho." Brave Bow made a blessing sign. "You must go back…Farewell, my son…"

"No! Father! Please, don't go--!"

The Dinetah faded from sight. Speedy found himself in total darkness once again…


"Roy Harper…wake up, Roy…Roy Harper, I command you to wake up!"

Speedy's eyes snapped open. Where was he? He looked around. He was in a large room comprised of purples, violets, and lavenders.

"Am I in some girl's room?" he asked hopefully.

Abruptly, the room went from soft lavenders to a blinding white.

"Hey! I was kidding! Okay?" He squinted against the bright luminescence. "Sheesh! Some people can't take a little joke." He paused, trying to see beyond the pure light.

"Hey, whoever you are! Where am I? I'm not dead, am I?" He'd read somewhere that people with near death experiences spoke about a blinding, white light that compelled them to enter.

Called to them…

"Roy…" Speedy again heard the voice in his head. He looked around, shading his eyes against the too-bright light.

"Hey! Who are you? I can't see you…D'you think you can douse the light a bit? You must have a helluva light bill, buddy!"

His comment was greeted by soft laughter. Did Angels laugh? He couldn't be sure, but he didn't really think so. Still, maybe this was what they meant about a Divine Comedy…

"It is good to hear you joke again, Roy Harper," the gentle voice said. "You have a strong will, my friend. That is why I am contacting you. Your life-force is very powerful. But there is also something else…powerful energies within you. You are like a bright beacon in a storm-tossed sea."

The voice paused, then continued regretfully. "Unfortunately, I cannot make contact with your two companions. Their life force weakens with each passing moment. You must help me, Roy Harper…for your sake and the sake of your friends."

"Why should I trust you? Who are you? Show yourself!"

"All will be revealed in good time, Roy Harper. Until then, you must trust me. I am a friend."

Speedy's entire being was suddenly suffused by a sense of warmth and friendship. And something else. Something he couldn't quite pinpoint. It felt… He paused confused. "…purple? Hey, was that your room I was in earlier? Look, about that 'girl's room' comment…I didn't mean any offense, buddy."

"None was taken, I assure you. That was not my 'room' as you put it, but rather my pure essence as it was manifested within your psyche."

"Huh?"

"As you perceived me to be." The voice paused. "I am sorry, but that is the best that I can explain it."

Speedy nodded.

"Okay, my purple friend. I'll trust you. For now. But if you do anything to hurt my friends, I swear there won't be anyplace safe for you, anywhere in this universe!"

"Fear not, Roy Harper," the quiet voice reassured him. "You have my word that I mean neither you nor your companions any harm."

Speedy nodded, albeit reluctantly.

"I need you to close your eyes, Roy Harper, and concentrate on your companions. Picture them as you saw them last. I need you to look around to where they're located. See them in their exact placement and relationship to other objects in the room. Can you do that?"

Speedy nodded, concentrating and doing as he was told…


Aqualad folded over and collapsed into Green Arrow's waiting arms.

"Garth!" Wonder Girl cried, immediately kneeling next to her friend. Aqualad weakly waved her away.

"I've found them, Wonder Girl," he gasped. "I know where they're located." He gave her their teammates' coordinates. "You must hurry, Wonder Girl…they are all three very weak."

Wonder Girl quickly returned to the Avenger's command console and Green Arrow rushed aft to the transporter chamber.

"GA, I'm sending the transporter control center the necessary coordinates now!"

"Got 'em, little Princess," Green Arrow responded tersely. "I'm activating the transporter recall now!" A few seconds later, his voice reported over the intercom. "I've got three life forms in the transporter stasis, Wonder Girl. I'm going to start rematerializing each one!"

"I'm on my way, GA!" Wonder Girl responded.


Chapter Twenty-Two

"Illogical!" The AI denied the truth of events before it. The small, inconsequential life-forms that it had successfully trapped in the Forward Command Area had inexplicably disappeared. Its loyal droids reported sightings of the elusive dark figure that somehow still haunted the ship's body.

But the one that wielded the strange emerald energy was now its prisoner. Soon, the emerald energy would be absorbed within the ship…


The nightmarish device gleamed with the color of burnished gold.

GL struggled futilely against the restraints. He stood in the middle of a large, dimly lit bay, held immobilized in an upright, spread-eagle position. Several probes attached to his forehead barely hinted at what was to come.

"This is ridiculous!" he yelled. "What kind of people are you? Sadists?"

No response.

GL looked around the empty chamber. The almost antiseptic barrenness of the room bespoke of ancient horrors. Old black and white documentaries of Nazi tortures flashed unbidden in his mind.

The beaded sweat on his forehead slowly trailed down his face. So far, nothing had been done to him, but the anticipation left a cold feeling of dread at the pit of his stomach.

Fighting against his manacles with a growing, desperate rage, he lashed out at his jailers.

"No! You're not sadists. Sadists have to enjoy hurting others. But you can't! You can't, because you're nothing but a machine!"

Without warning, the searing, white pain exploded in his head!

"ARGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG!"

An eternity later, the pain stopped, leaving him breathless, too weak to struggle. Gasping, barely conscious, GL felt his hold on reality slipping. He didn't know if he'd be able to withstand another jolt.

No! He was Green Lantern of Earth! Clenching his jaw GL waited for the next expected stab of pain.

Without warning, his very soul was suffused with pure, ecstatic joy: The joy of tasting ice cream for the first time in his life. The joy of flying with total abandon through fluffy, white clouds. The joy of being the sole witness to stars being formed and stars going nova.

The joy of endlessly holding Carol Ferris in his arms.

In an instant, the joy turned to pain.

Not a physical pain, but the gut-wrenching, soul-tearing emotional pain of loss: Carol turning away in disdain for yet another one of his failures. General Douglas informing him he'd been rejected from the astronaut program. Waking up after that terrible accident, knowing in his heart that he'd been responsible for the death of a passenger because he'd chosen to drive while drunk.

Battling the war within own his soul, GL cried out in defiant anguish.

"No! You can't hurt me with my own memories! I've lived it, remember?! It's in the past! The past can't hurt me any more!" He swallowed then added in a dry whisper, "It can't hurt me anymore."

But he was lying. More than the physical pain of torture, the spiritual wounds from being Human brought him to the edge of despair.

"No…" he whimpered. "Please, no…"

A white-hot spasm suddenly shot through his entire being. Unprepared, GL screamed in agony.

"ARGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGH…!!!"

But the machine's perfect logic proved no match against the imperfect human.

Against the influx of physical agony, GL rallied back. Without the blackness of his past failures haunting his soul, his powerful will broke free of all tangible fetters.

Stepping outside of his corporal self, GL clinically observed himself as he continued to undergo the unceasing torture. Knowing that the soul of Hal Jordan would not survive such abominations totally whole, the essence that was Green Lantern began the chant that always brought a renewed sense of self and power:

"In brightest day,
In blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship Evil's might,
Beware my power,
Green Lantern's Light!"

Then, he succumbed to blessed darkness…


"Superman!" Atom's voice came over the Man of Steel's headset. Superman blasted two more scouts with his heat vision and obliterated another with a powerful fist before he answered.

"Superman, here." He quickly scanned the space around Mars and its two moons, Phobos and Deimos. Empty space. About to turn away, his eye briefly caught what seemed to be sunlight glinting off a metallic object. Superman instantly concentrated his telescopic/x-ray vision on the spot. There! Hiding within the shadow of Phobos' massive crater was an enemy scout. He took off after it.

"Supes, I think we've done it. I don't know how…but I think we've done it. We've won. All that's left is the mopping up."

"That's some mop you're talking about, little buddy," the Flash quipped.

"Yeah, Mighty Mouse," broke in Black Canary. "I mean, there's gotta be at least a few hundred thousand of 'em left."

"Atom is right, Flash, BC," Superman replied as he sliced through the retreating enemy ship's engines with his heat vision.

The scout lost inertial control and careened towards the Red Planet, which was spinning coldly below. Superman's face remained carefully neutral as the ship burned up in the thin Martian atmosphere.

"Since the armada's programming reverted to its original practice fire mode," he continued, "the battle's been little more than a cakewalk."

"Well, excuuususe me if I'm not ready to ride in the ticker tape parade yet, guys," the Flash replied. "A few hundred thousand of these babies can still do a job on Earth."

"I'm with Twinkletoes here," BC added. "I'm not ready to quit just yet, either."

"I didn't say we're quitting, Dinah," the Atom said. "I'm only pointing out that we're finally ahead of the ball game here. And I don't know about you guys, but I'm growing just a little concerned about our teammates and the Titans."

"And your point is--?" the Flash asked.

"My point is that all of us aren't needed here anymore. I think that we can spare someone to get out to the galaxy's edge and give our friends a hand."

His suggestion was met with silence. Finally, the Flash spoke.

"Ray, nothing would make me happier than sending the cavalry to check on my nephew, but the safety of Earth is our prime responsibility right now. I know that Wally wouldn't want me to abandon our planet if there were even the slightest chance that it could still be in danger."

"And neither Ollie nor Roy will thank me if I abandon the fight in order to reach them," BC agreed.

"I have to agree with Barry and Dinah, Ray," Superman interjected. "I understand your sentiments, and I'm sure that all of the JLA members who have junior partners are grateful for the suggestion, but the Earth isn't entirely out of the woods yet. We can't risk sending anyone out to the galaxy's edge if he or she might still be needed here."

"In case anyone's wondering," Wonder Woman's voice broke in, "Arthur and I are in agreement with Barry and Dinah."

Atom sighed. "Okay, guys. Just thought I'd offer."

With that, the heroes returned to the grim task at hand.


"How are they?"

Wonder Girl was studying Robin's medbed readings. "All green, thank Hera," she whispered. WG turned and gave Aqualad a smile.

"They're all fine, Garth. They're close to regaining consciousness."

Aqualad returned her smile. "I'm glad." He closed his eyes against a wave of dizziness. Wonder Girl immediately ran to him.

"Garth! You should be in bed!"

Aqualad shook her off. "I'm fine, Donna. Really. I'm just a little tired." He paused, overcome by another dizzy spell.

"You're not well, Garth! Come on. You're lying down…and I won't take 'no' for an answer." Using her Amazonian strength for added emphasis, WG led her reluctant teammate to the remaining empty bed.

"We still haven't heard from either Batman or Green Lantern," Aqualad protested weakly. "I am the only one here who can find them without the need of electronic tracking devices. I can't go to sleep yet."

Wonder Girl smiled at her gentle, sea-dwelling teammate.

"I'll tell you what. You rest and drink plenty of water to restore your electrolytes. Then, if you're a good boy and make that red blinking light up there--" She indicated the medbed's diagnostic panel. "--become a green blinking light, we'll see about letting you save the universe. Okay?"

Aqualad's eyes returned her smile, and he nodded. "'Kay."

Within minutes, he drifted off into a quiet, restful sleep. Wonder Girl stood in the middle of the infirmary surrounded by the sleeping forms of her teammates. She suddenly had the feeling that she was a mother hen protecting her brood.


Batman heard the bone-chilling screams in the distance. Not hesitating, he took off at a full run. God, don't let me late, he prayed silently.

Abruptly, the screams stopped.

As he reached the end of the air duct, Batman stopped just inside, still within the shadows. Seeing the tortures being inflicted on the proud, heroic figure of GL, Batman felt a black rage take hold of his soul.

Every few seconds or so, GL's form would be hit by a sudden spasm. Finally, his head slumped over, obviously unconscious. Batman grimly took note of the gold apparatus that was holding the Emerald Knight prisoner and quickly assessed its weaknesses.

Not bothering for stealth, the Dark Knight kicked open the air duct's closed grill and jumped out into the open bay. Moving swiftly across the empty space between them, Batman hurried to his teammate's aid.

He was immediately targeted by the chamber's automatic defensive systems. Searing particle beams came at him from multiple angles. Batman instinctively dove, rolled, and leaped to avoid being fried. Taking the alien weapon he'd confiscated earlier, he placed it on its maximum setting and fired.

The next few seconds seemed to last hours. Exposed and unprotected, Batman had to be constantly on the move. As he'd fall and roll on the floor, he'd instinctively sight and fire at yet another wall-mounted weapon. But for each one he managed to take out, there were several more still locking onto him.

Batman knew that even he couldn't keep this up. But he'd be damned if he'd quit and abandon Green Lantern…


Robin stirred in his bunk. Wonder Girl moved quickly over to his side. Studying his readings, she was happy to see that he was coming to.

"Uhhnnnn…" he groaned. His eyes slowly fluttered open. He squinted against the light, but soon recovered against the glare. Wonder Girl brought a glass of water to his lips, and he drank gratefully.

"What's our status?" he whispered. "Report."

Wonder Girl smiled tolerantly. Putting the glass down, she saluted playfully, and giggling, mimicked her barely conscious leader. "'What's our status'? 'Report'! My, my. Don't we wake up a bit cross?"

Blinking blearily, Robin focused on his beautiful teammate. "Donna? Where are we? What happened?" He looked around confusedly. Noticing the others lying unconscious around him, he sat up suddenly and instantly regretted it.

"Let that be a lesson to you," WG said, in a no-nonsense tone. "Now, you lie back down, Boy Wonder, and I'll tell you everything I know…"


Batman withdrew a number of pellets from his utility belt and threw them towards the center of the room. Shielding his eyes from the incandescent flash-bang, he felt his way towards GL. The momentary flash temporarily overloaded the defensive array's tracking devices, allowing Batman precious seconds to free his teammate.

Hastily cutting through GL's manacles with a laser penlight, the Dark Knight threw the Emerald Knight over his shoulder and ran back to the air conditioning vent. Arriving just below the open grill, the two heroes were instantly beset by deadly particle beams once again.

Fending off the enemy with the alien weapon in one hand, Batman calmly reached into his utility belt for the last of the transporter recall patches. Protecting GL with his own body as a shield, Batman slapped the patch on his unconscious friend's upper arm and activated it.

At the same instant, Batman was struck a glancing blow to the head by a particle beam. As the universe around him reeled, Batman's final conscious action was protecting his friend even as GL dematerialized…


Almost as soon as Robin regained consciousness, the rest of the male Titans followed suit. Aqualad began voicing his protests at Wonder Girl's ministrations almost immediately.

"But I must try!" he argued.

"Aqualad, you're not strong enough," Wonder Girl said patiently. "The previous attempt took almost the last ounce of strength you had."

"You've tried everything else," Aqualad said reasonably. "None of our electronic tracking devices have worked. I'm their only hope."

"He's right, Wonder Doll," Speedy said quietly.

The others looked at him with varying expressions. Robin looked carefully impartial, Wally skeptical, and Green Arrow understanding. Wonder Girl, on the other hand, looked thunderous.

"Roy! How can you encourage Garth? Look at him…he's not well. The effort to rescue the three of you took everything he had."

"Maybe. But don't you think that Gillhead here has a right to make his own decisions?"

Wonder Girl looked at him as if she were ready to explode. But before she could say anything, Green Arrow broke in.

"Speedy's right. You're a team, yes, but each of you is an individual. As such, while each of you is responsible to the others, you're also responsible to yourselves." He paused and turned to Aqualad. "Son, are you sure about this? You're still pretty weak."

Looking paler than was normal even for him, Aqualad nodded, albeit weakly. "I-I think can." He looked at Speedy. "Roy, I-I'll need your help."

"My help? But--I don't understand, Gillhead."

Aqualad smiled. "When I made contact with you, Speedy, I saw that you have certain abilities unknown even to you. Perhaps these are a result of your mystical Navajo teachings. Whatever the reason, I was able to make mind contact with you easily and quickly." He paused and smiled. "You have a powerful personality even when you're unconscious."

Robin cleared his throat. "Aqualad, is there anything I can do to help? Batman's out there and I--" He dropped his eyes and shrugged. "--I just want to do something."

Kid Flash punched him lightly on the arm. "Hey, Robbie, it's okay. The Bat-guy's the best, remember?" Robin nodded.

"Robin, I tried to contact you first, of course," Aqualad explained, "but I couldn't break through your barriers."

"Barriers?" Robin asked blankly.

"Yes, you have some strong mind shields. Have you ever studied mind control techniques?"

Robin nodded. "Sure, ever since I was a little kid. Tibetan mind techniques are some of the first things that Batman ever taught me." He grinned, suddenly boyish. "Helped me get better grades in school, too."

"Bird-boy, is there anything that you haven't studied?" Speedy asked. Robin ignored him, instead concentrating on Aqualad.

"Aqualad, I'm not sure about these 'barriers' as you call 'em, but I do know that that if I can do anything to help, I want to--"

At this moment the transporter alarm went off.

"What the--?" Green Arrow muttered. He hurried to the command console. "Something or someone's activated a JLA transporter recall patch. The Avenger's transporter's intercepted the beam." As he spoke, GA adjusted the instruments. Apparently satisfied, he turned to the Titans. "Whatever it is, we have it in stasis."

Robin, who'd immediately run to the command console as soon as the alarms sounded, studied the stasis signature.

"I don't believe it," he said, turning and running back towards the transporter chamber. "It's GL! Come on! We've gotta get him out of stasis, ASAP!"

"GL?" GA called back, following the younger hero. "How in the world do you figure that?"

"I recognize the readings," Robin replied. He was concentrating fiercely at the transporter controls. "Believe me, sir…GL's unique signature is not something I'm likely to forget anytime soon." Without further comment, the Boy Wonder began rematerialization procedures.

Within seconds, the heroic figure of Green Lantern appeared before them. As soon as he was fully formed, GL collapsed inside the single chamber…


When he finally regained awareness, Batman found himself immobilized by the very apparatus that had held Green Lantern only moments before. He tested the restraints holding him.

"I see you have an efficient damage control crew," he said to the room at large.

No answer.

"I don't understand what purpose torture serves you," he continued. "You're obviously a non-sentient machine, incapable of gaining any sort of pleasure or satisfaction from watching living beings suffer--"

Pain exploded within his entire being.

However, having observed GL's torture, Batman was mentally prepared. He did not scream at the all-consuming agony, but it required almost all of his self-discipline.

Abruptly, the pain stopped.

Batman gasped at the sudden release. Closing his eyes, he searched for his center, a quiet, peaceful place where he could go temporarily to escape physical torment.

He didn't need it.

The next moment, his soul was suddenly suffused with unimaginable happiness: The happiness of his mother kissing him good night. The happiness of Alfred baking him a chocolate cake for his sixth birthday. The happiness of his father surprising him with a special trip to the movies to see his hero, Zorro!

Bruce Wayne felt the tears well and allowed them to flow freely. He was six years old again and happy. Truly happy…


"Speedy, I need you," Aqualad said. Speedy nodded reluctantly. They were standing next to Green Lantern's medbed.

"What do I do?" Speedy asked. Aqualad smiled gently, his violet eyes steadily holding Speedy's nervous green ones.

"Give me your hand," he said. Speedy looked about ready to balk, but instead nodded and held out his hand. Aqualad took it in his, and still holding the teen archer's eyes, quietly reassured him. "Don't worry, my friend. You have a very strong will. I know that whatever happens, your strength will be of great value."

Speedy smiled nervously and nodded.

"Now close your eyes," Aqualad instructed. "And do as I say…"


"Wake up!"

Speedy immediately opened his eyes. It was pitch black. He couldn't see anything. The junior archer felt an instant surge of fear, which quickly passed. He was a hero, after all.

"Where am I?" he asked. "Where did everybody go?"

"You're here," the gentle voice replied.

"Thanks. You sure cleared that up," Speedy answered.

The voice laughed softly. "You are quite droll, my impatient friend."

"Gillhead?" Speedy asked, unsure.

"Yes. It is I," Aqualad replied. "When I count to three, you will be able to see as well as hear…One, two, three! Behold!"

"Whoa!" Speedy uttered, amazed. "Where are we?" He was surrounded by verdant rolling hills. Everywhere he looked, he seemed to be surrounded by vibrant fields of green. "Even the sky's green," he whispered. "Toto, we're not in Kansas, that's f'sure."

"No, we are inside Green Lantern's mind. The multiplicity of hues of the color green is how his subconscious perceives the universe."

"Uh-huh. So, what do we do?"


"So, what do we do?" Kid Flash asked. Robin continued adjusting the transporter console.

"We do nothing. But as for me--" Robin smiled grimly. Success! "I'm going back for Batman."

"But, how--?"

"I traced the transporter beam to its point of origin. I'm going back there."

"But, Robbie, you don't know if Batman's even there anymore."

"Maybe not, but it's the best clue I've got. And if there's the slightest chance that I'll find him, I'm going."

"Then I'm going, too," Kid Flash said.

"Uh-uh, Flasheroo--" Robin began.

"You can't talk me out of it, Robin," Kid Flash said steadily. "Like Green Arrow said. We may be a team, but we're each responsible for ourselves. I'm going with you."

Robin held his friend's gaze and finally nodded. "Okay, Kid. You're in."

"If that's the case," a voice from behind added, "then I'm coming, too!"


"Bruce! Sweetheart, it's time to come in!"

Bruce heard his mommy calling him to dinner. He sighed. He'd just found the neatest thing, too. A hidden entrance to a stupendous cave! He'd followed a giant-sized bat to the opening and had spent the better part of the past hour clearing the overgrown brush and debris blocking the entrance.

"Aw, gee," he muttered. "I never get to have any fun." Ignoring the call, Bruce began the descent into the darkness below…

"Bruu-uuce!" He could still hear his mommy's persistent voice. Bruce looked up slightly bemused. He was way down here, on the other side of the Wayne's vast estate. How could he hear his mommy calling him…?

"Bruce! Young man, you are a disgrace to the Wayne name!" Dr. Wayne's deep tones rebuked his young son. Bruce looked up at his daddy.

He felt confused. How did he get here? He'd been way over there just a moment ago.

"Well? What do you have to say for yourself?" his father asked. "Look at you. Your new suit, it's ruined. And where have you been? Haven't your mother and I warned you about staying out of those caves below? They're dangerous!"

Bruce nodded, confused. How did his daddy know about the cave? He'd only found it just now?

"I-I'm sorry, Daddy." Bruce felt bad. He hated to disappoint his father. "I promise to be better." The tears began to fall of their accord.

Dr. Wayne smiled down at his little boy and picked him up. "Hey, none of that, chum. How many times do I have to tell you? Superheroes don't cry."

Young Bruce sniffed, wiping his eyes with his knuckles. Swallowing a couple of times he gazed solemnly into his daddy's eyes.

'Chum'?

His daddy never called him that before. No, he called Dick 'chum'! Who was 'Dick'? Bruce concentrated, struggling to remember. Bruce's eyes narrowed slightly. His daddy had never told him that he shouldn't cry. And what was a 'Superhero'?

Bruce studied his daddy closely. The same smile that greeted him every day of his life gazed back. Except…?

Except that the smile wasn't quite right. Daddy's eyes didn't have that special twinkle they always got when he smiled at him. No, Daddy's eyes looked cold and flat…almost like the glass button eyes of one of Bruce's stuffed animals.

Bruce began to struggle in his daddy's arms, shaking his head. "You're not my daddy!" he cried. "Let me go! You're not my daddy…You're not! You're not!"

Batman woke to pain!


Chapter Twenty-Three

The emerald energy being escaped! This was unacceptable! The ship's AI 'knew' anger! The Dark One was responsible and for that, it would pay. These biological life forms were extremely delicate…not at all like the Krghlm! The AI paused, momentarily confused.

Not like the Krghlm…?

ERROR…RETRY…ERROR…


Robin and Kid Flash whirled towards the sound of the new voice.

"GA!" they said together.

"But--" Robin began.

"No 'buts,' kid," GA interrupted with a slashing motion of the hand. "I know the Bat's your partner, but he's my teammate. And, well, I kinda grew to like the big guy on our trip here. He's okay." GA studied Robin. The younger hero's jaw set, ready to protest. "I want to help, kid…Please, let me help."

Robin's demeanor didn't change. A muscle jumped in his tightly clenched jaw. If anything, he appeared even more stubborn. However, he finally nodded. "Okay. But this is my game, and we play by my rules! Agreed?"

GA's eyebrows shot up in surprise. Up until now, Batman's junior partner had been studiously polite, almost deferential, to his elders. A new wave of respect for the Boy Wonder suddenly shot through GA. Obviously when it came to his partner, the kid could be a regular barracuda.

Just like the Old Man.

A grin flashed across GA's face.

"All right, kid. You're in charge. But don't be surprised if I, well, sort of 'overlook' a few orders now and then. I have a reputation to maintain, after all."

Robin glared. That's all he needed, an adult version of Speedy who'd never grown up. He nodded and began briefing his team.


"Hey! I can move my arm without any pain," Speedy said surprised. Aqualad nodded.

"Don't forget, Speedy. In this realm, we are not bound by normal physical laws. We are, after all, inside the human mind where possibilities are limitless."

"Yeah, sure," Speedy said, taking a practice shot. He aimed at a distant tree that he could've sworn hadn't been there a moment ago. The arrow stayed on target until the last possible second. Abruptly, it stopped in mid-flight, made two ninety degree turns, then flew back to him. He caught it in surprise.

"What the--?"

Aqualad laughed softly. "I'm sorry, my friend. But I had to show you what I meant about endless possibilities."

"You mean that you--?"

"--Changed the course of your arrow while in flight?" Aqualad interrupted. "Yes. And you can, too, as you shall soon see."

At this moment, the two teen heroes arrived at the edge of a deep chasm. The far side was too distant to jump, unless--?

Speedy looked down the bottomless drop and shuddered. He didn't think he was ready to test Aqualad's theory of "limitless possibilities" by trying to jump across that!

"If we only had a bridge," he muttered. Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, an old-fashioned, covered wooden bridge appeared. It gracefully spanned the distance across the dangerous chasm.

Aqualad smiled at him and took a step forward.

"I don't believe this," Speedy said under his breath. He regretted the words as soon as he uttered them. The bridge disintegrated at the same instant.

Aqualad was caught in midair, just stepping onto the bridge. The Atlantean went over the edge.

"Speeee-deeeeey…!"

"Gill-head!" Speedy hurried over to the edge in time to see his friend somehow grab onto a rock outcropping. "Hang on, Aqualad! I'm coming!"

Without stopping to think about what he was doing, Speedy fired off a rope arrow towards his friend, confident that he'd be able to reach him on time. Lashing one end of the rope to a sturdy rock (~Where did that come from, he wondered?~) Speedy adjusted the line over and under his shoulder and legs, and promptly rappelled down towards his teammate.

Within seconds, Speedy arrived near Aqualad and in no time had him safely secured to the line and ready to return.

"Can you hold onto me, Gill-head?" Speedy asked. He was worried about the teen Atlantean's shoulder. Aqualad nodded, climbing onto Speedy's back. Amazingly, Speedy had them both safely on top in near-record time. "Man, that was close," he gasped. "Gill-head, haven't you ever heard? Fish can't fly?"

Aqualad grinned broadly. "Oh, but they can, Roy…Look!" To Speedy's stunned shock, Aqualad stepped over the edge again.

"Gill-head!" Speedy stood rooted to the spot, unable to move. Finally, he reluctantly walked to the chasm's edge. Floating safely and just below eye-level was Aqualad, gently bobbing up and down. "What--?" Speedy's legs gave out under him, and he sat down abruptly.

Aqualad floated up to his teammate and sat down next to him. "I'm sorry I frightened you, Speedy, but I had to show you that our normal physical laws do not apply here."

Speedy nodded. He was still visibly trying to get his raging emotions under control. His hands shook slightly. Twice in the last few minutes, he'd thought he'd lost his friend. Finally, his concern for his quiet teammate changed to outrage, and before Aqualad could react, Speedy punched him solidly in the jaw.

Aqualad went down like he'd been shot.

"If that were true, Gillhead, then why did you have me climb all the way down there to get you? Why did you put me through this…this…whatever this istwice!?"

Aqualad felt his jaw and grinned ruefully. "I guess that's one physical law that still exists."

Speedy didn't return his smile. Aqualad dropped his eyes in momentary shame, but raised them again.

"I wanted you to have the confidence to act under these unusual circumstances. Even if you can't think logically, 'I can fly,' you can think, 'Hey, I've got this arrow to do such and such.'" Aqualad looked down again. "I'm sorry if I overstepped bounds, but I knew of no quicker way to drive the point across."

Still glaring at the Atlantean, Speedy nodded. "Okay, Gill-head, I'll accept your explanation for now. But you owe me, and when this is done, we're gonna have a little 'talk.'" He held his fist to Aqualad's slightly bruised jaw for emphasis.

The two junior heroes regarded each other for a moment longer, then both turned away, determined to continue their mission.


This isn't real, he insisted. This isn't happening. But there was nothing he could do to stop it from reaching its inevitable pain-filled conclusion…

A clear, moonlit night.

Steps echo on the hard, wet pavement.

Mommy's warm, comforting laughter caresses him.

Daddy's firm, strong hand squeezes his shoulder.

"Your birthday, Bruce…your wish."

The words resonate in the night. A strange foreboding overwhelms him.

No! It can't be happening!

A shadow appears. Moonlight glints off a metal object. A voice growls in the night.

Daddy yells, outraged.

"How dare you--?"

Mommy screams, "Thomas--!"

A shot!

Daddy looks surprised. He looks down at his chest at the rapidly spreading red stain. He collapses, facedown into a puddle.

A hand grabs Mommy's pearl necklace. It breaks into dozens of perfectly round luminescent moonlets. Each flies up in a soft arc, but soon begins an unearthly slow descent to the sidewalk below.

He watches, mesmerized, as each pearl pings when it strikes the sidewalk cement and bounces off in ever decreasing arcs into the night.

"You've killed him--!"

"Shut up, lady!"

A second shot. Mommy's voice is silenced forever.

As she falls, two red roses that she's been holding in her white-gloved hands, fall in tandem. As she hits the pavement, the roses gently rain down and come to rest on her still form.

Her pristine white gloves are soiled by the dirty rainwater.

He feels a growing agitation. This isn't happening. This isn't real. This is not happening. This is not real. This is not--!

So why does it hurt so much? Why won't the pain stop?

Your birthday, Bruce…your wish…

Dick! I need you, son…I can't do this alone…

Your birthday, Bruce…your wish…

The refrain reverberates in his head.

"Mommy…Daddy…" Bruce whimpers. "My birthday…my wish…my fault…my fault…Dick…help me…"


As soon as he materialized, Kid Flash zipped into action. He assessed the defensive array at supersonic speed, and in an eye blink, neutralized the wall-mounted particle weapons. A series of alarms began, strangely echoing in the cavernous bay.

At the same instant, Robin transported. Once fully formed, he sprinted, zig-zagging, towards Batman, noting aircraft carrier-sized bay doors along the starboard side. He readied three Batarangs while on the move, and threw them almost simultaneously--one, two, three--at the machine's control panel. They each exploded on contact, sending an impressive shower of sparks and smoke into the air.

Following Robin's explosive Batarangs, a volley of emerald arrows completed the job, destroying the machine's main console.

Several hidden wall units began opening. Through the corner of his eye, Robin caught what looked like short, stubby, metallic boxes. Droids! He noted analytically that the droids' sides were opening. What looked like robotic arms began emerging.

As soon as the arms were fully extended, deadly particle beams took aim at the Boy Wonder as he raced across the open bay towards Batman. Not stopping, Robin leaped onto the torture apparatus, and whipping out a pen-laser, began cutting through Batman's shackles.

Taking a quick look back, Robin saw Green Arrow calmly targeting the droids with arrow after arrow, while somehow avoiding getting hit in turn. Before Robin could blink, a scarlet and gold blur whipped through the open bay, knocking over several more of the metallic droids as they emerged from the walls.

Pausing only long enough to carefully lower Batman to floor level, Robin threw his massive partner over his shoulders in a fireman's carry, hooked his arms through Batman's utility belt, and began a staggering quick-walk, putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the monstrous machine.

The alarms in the background abruptly stopped. A new sound replaced it: a loud klaxon accompanied by a strobing red light. Robin almost dropped Batman in shock.

Kid Flash was immediately next to him. "What's happening?" the junior Speedster yelled.

GA ran up and joined his teen teammates. "Are you two boys all right?"

"Stick to the plan! Activate your auto-returns!" Robin ordered, ignoring both their questions. They only had mere seconds before--!

Too late!

The massive cargo doors he'd noted as soon as he transported onto the giant bay began to open. The enormous suction caused by atmosphere escaping into an airless vacuum immediately picked them up and hurled them to the open maw of space…


"Hello, boys!" Green Lantern lay on a chaise lounge, next to a swimming pool. He was dressed in green swimming trunks and an open, green, flower-print shirt. He wore green aviator glasses, and topped it all off with a green panama hat.

He gave them a friendly wave. "Here, grab a seat! Make yourselves comfortable." He called a beautiful young woman over to them. She was an exotic shade of green from head to toe: skin, bikini top, grass skirt, hair--everything!

"Olive, sweetheart! Get these two youngsters something cool…that's a darling." Olive soon returned with two tall ice-filled glasses of a strange emerald drink.

"What is it?" hissed Speedy.

Aqualad shrugged. "It's green," he said nonchalantly. He'd heard that once on Star Trek and had always wanted a reason to say it.

Speedy glared arrows at him, and hesitating slightly, took a sip from the mystery drink. Whatever it was, it was delicious! Minty, he decided. He drank it straight down. He hadn't known how thirsty he was.

"So, what brings you boys into my dream?" GL asked.

"You mean, you know--?" sputtered Speedy.

"Of course." GL sounded like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. "Why else would everything be such a tasteful shade of green? I love the color, but things can get rather monotonous after a while."

"Then why don't you…you know…wake up!" Speedy asked. "We really need you!"

"Sorry, kid," GL answered, sounding slightly regretful. "No can do. I've tried waking up, but every time I do, everything goes kind of black…or was it red? Not really sure."

GL's voice had taken on a faraway quality, and he stared off into the emerald-cool waters of the pool. Abruptly, he blinked.

"But it hurts…a lot. Couldn't take it anymore." He shrugged. "Everybody always said I was nothing but a loser anyway…I guess they were right."

"A loser?" Speedy asked, shocked. "You?! You've gotta be kidding!" Speedy was so outraged at the thought, he voice rose an octave. "GL, you're like…the greatest, man! Even GA says so…and he doesn't think of anyone except himself!"

"Speedy is correct, Green Lantern," Aqualad said. "You are counted amongst Earth's greatest heroes. Some would even venture to say that you are on equal par with Superman! Your power ring, and the powerful will with which you manipulate its awesome energies are beyond imaginable. Aquaman says that you haven't yet begun to tap its full potential."

GL grinned. "Arthur said that?" Aqualad nodded. "Well, I'll be…never thought His Majesty had anything nice to say about anyone." He laughed softly to himself as if digesting this bit of tremendous news. "Well, whadaya know?"

"Okay, look, GL," Speedy interrupted a bit impatiently. "Now that we have that out of the way, what do you say to, uh, waking up and getting on with the job?"

GL's light mood slowly faded. It was replaced by a look of deep regret. "I'm sorry, kid, but like I said…I can't break through this dream. Whatever happened to me, it was more than my subconscious could tolerate. It looks like I beat a hasty retreat here to my little emerald paradise. Nothing I've been able to do so far has allowed me to return to consciousness."

Aqualad studied GL in amazement. "But how can that be, GL? If you know that this all a dream, why can't you make yourself wakeup?"

GL's eyes darted away from the boys. His whole demeanor shrank in on itself, and an utter look of abject fear seemed to take hold of him.

"Because he's out there," GL whispered. "He's out there…waiting for me…"


As he careened towards certain death, Robin tried to save his team one last time. First he quickly attached his utility belt to Batman's with a metal O-Ring, thus ensuring that he would not be separated from his unconscious mentor.

Next, he took out a grappling hook, and not taking time to sight, shot a line towards Kid Flash. He saw it loop several times around the junior Speedster, and lashed it onto a metal eye-ring that he noticed in passing.

Grabbing onto the ring, he quickly hooked Batman's utility belt to it, effectively anchoring both himself and his senior partner for the moment. Without missing a beat, he shot a second grappling line towards Green Arrow.

GA was a bit farther out than Kid Flash had been, however. It would be a close call.

"GA!!" he screamed. "The line! Grab it!"

Green Arrow managed to right himself. He was mere moments from the opening into the blackness of space. Taking out an arrow, he took almost casual aim, and shot it straight towards the grappling hook.

"What are you doing?" Robin cried in shock. GA was going to knock the line off course!

However, rather than deflecting the grappling hook's trajectory, GA's arrowhead opened up at the last second, releasing a mini-grappler. It grabbed onto Robin's hook, and both Robin and GA pulled from their respective ends.

Success! GA's forward momentum towards the open bay doors halted. He quickly tied himself to the safety line and took a brief moment to breathe a sigh of relief.

"Thanks, kid!" he said weakly. Obviously not taking the moment to celebrate, Robin was instead waving madly at him. "What does he want now?" GA muttered. It took him a second to realize what the Boy Wonder meant. The transporter auto-recalls.

GA waved his understanding. Looking over to his far left, he saw the little Flash Kid, uh, Kid Flash doing likewise. "Robin's a born leader," GA said in admiration.


The alarms sounded throughout the Avenger. Depressurization! Wonder Girl flew forward to the Command console. What was going on?! Quickly checking her instruments, she was relieved to see that the problem wasn't inside the ship. Therefore, it must be another one of those emergency defensive moves of the giant alien.

A cold fear gripped her insides. Where were Robin, Kid Flash, and GA? She hadn't seen them since Aqualad and Speedy began their mind-journey.

Fighting off a sudden panic attack, WG forced herself to calmly perform her systems checks…

There! Transporter activity less than fifteen minutes ago.

"Destination…destination…come on!" she cried. The coordinates flashed before her. "Would they still be where they materialized?" she asked herself. "Don't be stupid, girl!" she chastised herself, rapidly typing in location commands. "Hurry, hurry, hurry…" she muttered. "Hera, help me! Please work…please work…please work…"

Beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep…! Transporter automatic-recall signals: three!

"Thank Hera!" Wonder Girl activated the transporter recall…


"Who? Who is out there?" Speedy cried. They didn't have time for this. Too much was at stake. He walked up to GL and grabbed him by the lapels. "Who is out there?! Tell me!"

GL rolled up into a fetal position and began sobbing. "He's out there! He's out there!"

"GL! GL!"

"Speedy! Wait!" Aqualad said. He came up to Speedy, and forced him to release GL. "Don't you see? No body is out there! Whatever happened to him, it was all in his mind. Something so horrible, so terrible that even he couldn't face it. Whatever it is, it's up to us to help him overcome his fears."

"But what could possibly be so terrible that a guy like GL couldn't face it?"

Aqualad shrugged. "Who knows what monsters lurk within the deepest recesses of the human mind? It could be a monster of his imagining…or of his past…or…"

"Or what?" Speedy asked.

"Or of something he has yet to encounter." Aqualad and Speedy looked intensely into each other's eyes, then as one turned towards GL.


Wonder Girl watched her transporter instruments closely: one, two, three signals. She had three signals in the transporter stasis. Working quickly, she set the panel controls and began the process of rematerialization.

She activated the first stasis signal. She watched anxiously as the scarlet and gold figure of Kid Flash formed. He stood, eyes closed for a split second. Blinking slowly, he opened his eyes.

He took a moment to check his hands, his torso, his head. He flashed a wide grin. "Hey! I'm all here! Way cool!"

Wonder Girl smiled back, but she didn't have time to chat and said so. "Please, step away from the chamber, Wally. I still have to get the others." Kid Flash nodded, suddenly all business, and stepped off smartly.

Next, the emerald colors of Green Arrow coalesced onto the transporter platform. He recovered faster than Kid Flash. Turning to Wonder Girl, he gave her the same devil-may-care grin that Speedy had. WG smiled back, unable to help herself.

She was about to begin the process of bringing in the third signal when, GA abruptly stayed her hand.

"Wait, little princess!" he called. "Let's check it first."

"But--" WG's confusion must have been telegraphed on her face because GA immediately stepped aside and pointed.

"Look!" He didn't offer further explanation. Uncertainly, WG walked over to the console and studied it closely. She squinted as she looked closer at the readings.

"Two--?" she asked. GA nodded.

WG closed her eyes momentarily. If she'd tried to process a normal transporter rematerialization for single being when there were actually two--! She didn't want to think of the possible consequences. Swallowing, WG adjusted her instrumentation for two separate human beings. Satisfied, she cautiously activated the reformatting buffer.

Instantly, a form took shape on the sole console's platform: Robin! He stood a second longer, blinking rapidly. Taking a step forward, he stumbled slightly. GA caught him immediately and helped him off the platform.

"I'm all right," Robin protested.

"Of course you are, kid," GA reassured him. "But we gotta get you off the platform so's we can bring in ol' Dark and Dreary."

His eyes closed in exhaustion, Robin nodded.

GA gave Wonder Girl the thumbs up. "Now or never, little princess." She smiled and nodding, activated the transporter for the final time.

Soon, the tall, forbidding form of the Dark Knight took shape. As soon as he solidified, Batman's imposing figure slowly crumpled…


"We'll have to go in and get him out," Aqualad said calmly.

"Go in 'where'? Get 'who' out?" Speedy asked.

"Go further into GL's subconsciousness, and get GL--or rather, the rest of him--out."

Speedy's look of complete incomprehension must've told the story. Aqualad sighed.

"But, I'm afraid that we may need more help." He shrugged. "I'm not sure if just you and I are strong enough or powerful enough to face the monsters of the deepest human subconscious. And if we're to ever have Green Lantern whole and well again, that's going to be our next battlefield."


"But I've got to see him!"

"Robin…look, kid, I know how you feel, but the little princess is doing everything possible right now," GA explained patiently. "You'd only be underfoot."

"But I'm his partner! I have a right to be in there!" Robin was as near to tears as the older hero had ever seen the boy. He felt his own heart catch in his throat.

The door to the infirmary opened at this moment.

"Robbie--" Wonder Girl began, but Robin ignored her. He took the opportunity to duck out from under GA's grabbing fingers and rushed in. Not paying attention to what was happening by GL's medbed, Robin hurried to Batman's side.

"Batman," he whispered. His senior partner looked very pale under his cowl. His contorted face seemed to bespeak of some bone-deep pain. Robin checked the medbed readings. His heart froze.

All readings were in the danger zone. Batman's life force was quickly slipping.

"NO!!!" he cried. Not caring who else was around, Robin threw himself on Batman's unconscious form. Hugging him tightly by the neck, Robin sobbed quietly, "No…Please, God, no…he can't die…"

The others in the room watched the heart-wrenching scene with various degrees of empathy.

Wonder Girl immediately turned to Speedy, who unknown to Robin had, along with Aqualad, emerged from his trance momentarily. Speedy held her closely. Green Arrow placed a comforting hand on his junior partner's shoulder.

Kid Flash made a move as if to go to Robin, but Aqualad held him back.

"We should leave them alone," Aqualad said softly. The others nodded reluctantly and made as if to leave.

"You can't die!" Robin cried in sudden anger. The others turned as one. "You promised me you'd come home…you promised!" He wiped the streaming tears. "When Mom and Dad died, you promised you'd take care of me…that you'd never leave me. You can't go back on your word!"

He stopped momentarily, too overcome to continue. Finally, getting his emotions under tight control, he spoke. "Alfred needs you. What will he do without you…? I need you, too. Who'll teach me stuff? I still don't know how to extract DNA…and I sure can't strike fear into the hearts of criminals like you."

He took hold of Batman's gloved hand. "I can't lose another father," he said softly. "I can't…please, don't leave me…please…" He held Batman's hand to his cheek and felt the tears start again.

Then, almost imperceptibly, he felt a slight pressure on his hand. Gasping, unable to believe what he'd felt, he waited. There it was! The slightest pressure on his hand, just enough to let him know that Batman was aware…that he was going to be all right.

"Batman?" he whispered, hopeful. The others noted the change in his voice. Wonder Girl quickly ran to the medbed and began running a new diagnostic program. She turned excited eyes to the others and nodded eagerly.

Batman was going to be all right!

Within a few minutes, Batman regained semi-consciousness. The others remained a respectful distance from mentor and student.

Batman's hand came up slowly and Robin placed his much smaller one in it. Batman gave his junior partner a heavily medicated half-smile.

"You came…for me…?" he whispered. Somehow it came out a question. Robin smiled through his tears.

"What are partners for--?"

CONTINUED!

 
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