Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
We're your first, last and only line of defense
Against the worst scum of the universe.
-Will Smith, "Men in Black"
"About time you stepped up, Kent."
Clark Kent pulled back his arm and hit a slimy, blue-skinned alien. The creature went sailing backward and hit the ground, unconscious.
"Cut me some slack, Ollie," he said mildly, turning to confront the next alien. They'd dubbed the invaders Blues, for obvious reasons. The Blues were only about three feet high, and not very intimidating in appearance, but there were an awful lot of Blues, and only five of them. And the world would be in serious trouble if they didn't manage to repel this invasion. So they would. They had to. "I spent all last year cleaning up alien criminals. Aliens that I set loose. Aliens that I was to blame for."
"Well, you can't blame yourself for these guys." Ollie Queen, aka the Green Arrow, drew back an arrow, aimed, and let it go. It sang through a group of aliens, missing all of them-- deliberately, because Ollie never missed by accident. He wasn't superhuman, but his archery skills were extremely well developed.
The arrow's point dug into the grassy turf, and it began to release a cloud of the only substance they'd yet found that could knock the Blues unconscious, a compound called Vyocidin. A crowd of Blues collapsed around their ship, and Clark wrinkled his nose at the vapor's odor. His sense of smell was far more acute than a human's, and he didn't like the scent of the spray much better than the Blues did. It was highly effective, but Ollie's people had only been able to manufacture a small quantity of the stuff thus far, and they didn't have enough to take out a thousand aliens. So they had no choice but to battle the creatures the old-fashioned way-- hand to hand.
"These guys are total wimps compared to some of the aliens I tackled last year," Clark said, grunting as he clobbered another one. It went flying.
"Yeah, but you didn't have to fight a thousand of the others at once. That kind of changes the odds a bit."
"Just a bit." Clark was dressed in black from head to toe, just like the other men he was fighting with. They were a small group of men with varied talents who called themselves Justice. Ordinarily they wore brightly colored costumes, but tonight they'd had to sneak up on the Blues under cover of darkness, so they'd worn black. Black leather, rather to Clark's disgust. He wasn't sure what it was with Ollie and his leather fetish, and figured he probably didn't want to know.
No wonder Ollie had fallen for his friend Lois Lane-- she liked leather, too. He remembered seeing her in a red, skin-tight leather outfit last year, and shuddered. He was more of a flannel guy, personally.
But since flannel didn't usually come in basic black, he'd pulled on the black leather without argument.
"It's good to have you here, Boy Scout," Ollie said, letting another arrow fly.
Clark punched another alien. He was being careful not to kill them, just knocking them out. A short distance away, Arthur Curry, otherwise known as Aquaman, was dealing out blows of his own. Bart Allen, aka Impulse, who could move even faster than Clark could, was collecting the unconscious bodies and putting them into a kind of holding structure Vic Stone-- Cyborg-- had created. Cyborg had hacked into the aliens' systems, using the cybernetics implanted in his head and a computer port on the ship's hull, and figured out how to confine them in their own forcefields outside the ship. So far there were about three hundred of the aliens unconscious in there, by Clark's rough count, and the inert blue bodies kept piling up.
"I wish you wouldn't call me that," Clark complained, picking up one alien and tossing him, so that he knocked down four others. Alien bowling. Cool. "It's stupid."
"It is not. It fits you perfectly, and you know it."
"That's exactly why he doesn't like it," a feminine voice said in their ears.
"Hey, Watchtower," Ollie said. "How are we doing?"
"I'm tapped into Cyborg's camera." Chloe Sullivan's voice sounded very clipped and professional. Chloe was Clark's best friend, and ordinarily she was a journalist for the Daily Planet, but she'd taken to moonlighting with the Justice boys on occasion. Clark worried about her, but tonight she was safely out of the action, to Clark's relief. She was monitoring them from what served as Justice's headquarters, Ollie's tower in Metropolis, a hundred miles from here. "Looks like there are about four hundred left."
"Hell, that's nothing," Ollie said, shooting another arrow. "We should be able to get out of here in time for dinner. A late dinner, sure, but still..."
"I am not a Boy Scout," Clark grumbled, slamming a few more aliens to the ground. One fired a rather nasty-looking weapon, and Clark stepped casually in front of Ollie, shielding him from the laser beams it fired. His body generated an electromagnetic protective field, and the beams didn't hurt him. They didn't even tickle. "I'm not."
"Sure you're not," Chloe answered in his ear. "You're bad to the bone. Totally."
"Yeah, right." Beside him, Ollie snorted. "What have you done bad lately, Kent?"
"Hey, I'm bad." Clark bristled. "I kick ass in fights."
"Well, sort of," Ollie said. "But you try not to hurt anyone if you can help it. I don't think that's exactly bad. More like slightly naughty."
"I can fly." He'd only learned to fly in the past three months, and he was still very proud of the ability. "That's badass, right?"
Ollie rolled his eyes. "Peter Pan can fly, too."
Clark growled, annoyed by the way Ollie poked fun at his newest and coolest ability, and dug a little deeper for examples of badness. "Last month I returned a library book a week late..."
Chloe burst out laughing in his ear, and he scowled more darkly than before. More laser beams were fired, and he moved fast, shielding Arthur-- AC-- from them.
"Hey, Cyborg!" Ollie yelled over the sound of alien gunfire. "They figured out how to get their weapons up and running again. Shut them down again, will ya?"
"I got it, I got it!" Vic Stone was still plugged into the alien ship. He frowned in concentration, and the laser beams fizzled out. Clark glanced down and saw that the beams hadn't even damaged his leather costume, because it was skintight, and thus protected by his electromagnetic field.
Fabulous, he thought wryly. Wouldn't want to get holes in the leather. God forbid.
"Two hundred and thirty left," Chloe's voice said. She'd recovered her professional tone, although he could still hear the humor lurking in her voice. He'd known Chloe a long, long time, and he knew everything there was to know about her, and he could tell when she was still laughing inside.
She was still laughing inside at him, and that irritated him.
"Look," he said grumpily, knocking out the Blues around him, "I just don't want to be called Boy Scout. Okay?"
"I told you," Ollie answered, firing an arrow. "You miss the meeting, you get called what we decide. Next time, don't miss a meeting."
"I'm not even a member of this stupid outfit," Clark grumbled. "I'm more like a consultant."
"You really ought to join," Ollie said. "The pay is better, plus you get health insurance. Dental, too."
"Yeah," Chloe said dryly in their ears. "Because the Boy Scout has such a big problem with cavities."
Clark was invulnerable everywhere, so cavities weren't really an issue for him. And he didn't need health insurance. But he liked the idea of working with Ollie, Bart, AC and Victor to help protect the world. The problem was that he had plenty to cope with in his own neck of the woods. There were lots of issues he needed to address in his hometown of Smallville, and in Metropolis, the big city where he went to college.
He couldn't bring himself to roam the world with Justice when there was so much that needed doing, right in his own part of the world.
Of course, sometimes something big came up, like this invasion, and he was perfectly willing to help out with it, because if aliens took over the world, that would affect Metropolis and Smallville, too. But ordinarily, Metropolis and his hometown were his first priority. Someone had to take care of them.
He bared his teeth, even though he knew Chloe couldn't see him. "Don't... call... me... Boy Scout."
She laughed again, to his annoyance. "Well, if you can come up with something better--" Her voice broke off suddenly, then she spoke, sounding much more serious. "Green Arrow," she said, addressing Ollie, who was the leader of the group. "All but twenty of the aliens have been confined, but power levels are spiking in the ship."
"What's the cause?" Ollie demanded, still shooting arrows toward the remaining Blues.
"Not sure. But it looks like power is building up..."
"Shit." Ollie raised his voice. "Cyborg! What the hell is going on?"
Vic looked at him, his one dark eye full of panic. "I think some kind of self-destruct mechanism got triggered, Arrow. This thing's gonna blow. Soon."
"Damn it," Ollie said. "Watchtower..."
"Radiation levels are rapidly approaching dangerous levels," Chloe said, apparently still working from Cyborg's readouts. "You guys need to get the hell out of there. Now."
"Run," Ollie said tersely.
The four members of Justice ran like hell.
"Chloe." Clark didn't move. He was staring at the pile of unconscious aliens, still confined in a forcefield near the ship, unable to escape from the growing radiation. "If it blows up, what's going to happen?"
"A big bang, Boy Scout. I'm not sure how bad, but we're talking about the strength of a nuclear bomb, at least. You guys are in the middle of nowhere, but the fallout might be enough to drift and possibly endanger populated areas."
Crap. The aliens were in danger. People were in danger.
He headed for the ship.
"Clark!" Her voice rose in panic, and she forgot to use his code name. "You're going the wrong way!"
"The radiation won't hurt me." He reached the hatch. It was locked, so he wrenched it open, then plunged into the dark interior of the ship. It was designed for three-foot aliens, not six foot three aliens, so he dropped to his knees and crawled forward. "Help me out here, Chlo. Is it the engine that's going to blow?"
"I think so." He imagined her looking frantically over the information she'd downloaded before Cyborg had severed his link. "Yeah, it looks like it. The ship only has one level, and the engine room is about fifty meters ahead of you."
He was there almost instantly. In superspeed, even crawling could be done quickly. He wasn't an expert on alien propulsion systems, but it was obvious where the engine core was. It was about the size of a small car, and it was glowing so brightly it hurt his eyes, and getting brighter every second.
"How do I turn it off, Chlo?"
"How on earth should I know?" She sounded frantic. "If Cyborg couldn't figure it out, I sure the hell can't. Listen, Clark, we don't know if you can survive an explosion of that magnitude. Get out!"
He thought of the aliens, confined and helpless. He thought of Justice, who might not have been able to get out of range. He thought of the radiation from an explosion drifting and making people sick. Killing people.
Maybe even people in Metropolis, which was only a hundred miles from here.
"No," he said softly. "I have to stop this somehow, Chlo."
He looked wildly over the dark screens, trying to figure out where the freaking off button was. But since he didn't read Blue, or have a background in Blue engineering from the Blue Technological Institute, he was pretty much shit out of luck.
"Chloe. Is there any way to just get that core out without it blowing up in the process?"
She paused, and he imagined her looking rapidly over the schematics. "Uh, maybe. It looks like it's designed to be ejected from the ship if it overloaded. There are locks holding it in place around the top and bottom."
He found the locks and broke them as easily as if they were paper, rather than some dense alien alloy. The radiation from the engine felt hot on his skin, but it didn't really bother him. A little radiation was not a problem for him, as long as it wasn't kryptonite radiation.
An explosion of nuclear magnitude-- well, that could be a problem for him. He really wasn't certain he could walk away from that. He was reasonably invulnerable to damage, but he wasn't sure he was that damn invulnerable.
"Okay," he said, two seconds later. "I've got it loose. I'm taking it up and getting rid of it."
He'd once ridden a nuclear missile out into orbit, ripped out the warhead, and thrown it out into space, where it had exploded harmlessly. He figured this engine core could be dealt with the same way, except since there was no missile, he had to take it up on his own. Fortunately he'd learned to fly in the past few months, so he shouldn't have a problem.
Unless the thing blew up while he was flying it up, anyway.
He put his fists up and jumped up, making a nice big hole in the top of the vessel, then grabbed the glowing engine. It was awkward to handle, but he managed to get a grip on it and sped upward as fast as he could. He didn't want to know what might happen if this thing exploded while he was still in the troposphere.
To his immense relief, it didn't. He got beyond the Earth's atmosphere, holding his breath without difficulty, and hurled the engine out into empty space with all his strength. It sailed far, far away, and a moment later he saw an explosion, snuffed out almost instantly by vacuum.
He flew back down into the atmosphere, more slowly, but instead of heading for the ship, he aimed for the Justice headquarters. He was probably radioactive as hell, and Ollie had a decontamination chamber set up at HQ, because Ollie was the kind of guy who planned for everything. He flew in through a secret entrance, stripped off his leather outfit, discarded it, and went through the decontam process. Afterward he found another costume that fit-- damn it, more black leather-- and stepped outside the decontam chamber.
Chloe flung herself against him.
He'd figured she was still up in the tower, so he hadn't expected to see her, let alone be tackled by her. He took a step backward so she didn't hurt herself against his invulnerable aura, and put his arms around her gently. She didn't usually hug him this way, and he was a little, well, surprised. Not at all upset, just surprised.
"OhmyGodIthoughtyouweregoingtogetyourselfkilled." Her voice was high-pitched and frightened, and she buried her face in his shoulder.
He didn't mind. He held her a little more tightly.
"A little radiation can't hurt me, Chlo. You know that."
"But a nuclear explosion might." She shook violently against him, and he realized she'd been really terrified for him. For some reason, that warmed him.
"It might," he admitted. "But I got the engine out to space before it could explode. No big deal."
"No big deal?" She lifted her head from his shoulder and glared at him. "No big deal?"
"Uh..." He recognized from the tone of her voice that he was in deep shit, and he hastily rephrased. "I just meant, uh, all's well that ends well. Everything turned out okay, Chlo. I'm fine."
"One of these days," she said, in a low, dangerous voice, "you're going to get yourself killed."
He looked down into her eyes. "Chlo," he said, gently, "I didn't have any choice. If I'd let the ship explode, all those aliens would have been killed."
"They were trying to invade the Earth!"
"Still, I didn't want them to die. And besides, the fallout from the explosion could have made a lot of people sick, maybe killed them. And it might even have killed Ollie and the others. Come on, Chlo. Don't be mad. I did what I had to do."
She glared at him a moment longer, then the anger drained out of her eyes. "I know you did," she said softly, stepping away from him. "You always do."
He hated losing the warmth of her arms around his neck, and the heat of her body against his, but he understood why she needed to keep her distance. The more he accepted his destiny, the more he dedicated himself to saving people and battling against villains, the more dangerous his life became. He understood that it was hard to watch someone you cared for risk their life on a daily basis. It was hard enough for her to deal with that as a friend.
If they ever became more than friends, it would be even harder for her.
He didn't want her to suffer every time he was in danger, so he hadn't pushed the matter. It was probably better if they kept their relationship at the just friends level. But that didn't stop him from feeling a little ache of loneliness deep inside as she stepped away from him.
"You'd better get back," she said, turning her back and heading back to her post in the tower. Her voice no longer sounded panicked, and she'd recovered her normal snark. "The boys are doing cleanup, and you're standing here loafing."
He watched her until she disappeared around a corner, then headed for the concealed exit and flew out of it. Two seconds later, he was back on the site, a hundred miles from HQ. Since the ship had no power without its engine, the forcefields had gone down. Impulse was busily constructing a physical prison to keep the aliens confined until the authorities got there. He moved so fast that even Clark could barely see him.
Clark landed and strode over to Ollie. "Hey."
"Hey." Ollie looked him over. "You look okay."
"I stopped by HQ and went through decontam. I'm safe. Probably cleaner that the area around the ship is. You guys should be wearing radiation suits."
"The levels are within tolerable limits. Cyborg checked before we came back into the area." Ollie studied him, his eyes serious. "You could have been killed, Clark."
"Maybe." Clark shrugged. He had no way of knowing if an explosion of that magnitude would do him in or not. But he hadn't had a lot of choice.
"You are really something else," Ollie said, and his voice was full of a grudging admiration. "You didn't even think twice about it. You just went right in there."
"I had to," Clark said simply.
Ollie shook his head. "I have to admit," he said, "when you wouldn't sign up for Justice I thought maybe you were kind of a wimp. But you're not a wimp, Kent. And you're not a boy scout, either."
Clark gave his cockiest grin. "I told you. I'm a badass."
Ollie rolled his eyes again. "Quit standing around and get that bad ass of yours to work, then. Impulse needs some help making sure the aliens don't get out before the Feds get here. Give him a hand, Superboy."
Clark headed for the enclosure. "I don't want to be called Superboy, either," he said over his shoulder. Six years ago, Chloe had written an article about a kid who'd temporarily gotten Clark's powers in an accident. She'd called the kid Superboy, and Clark had told her the name was kind of lame. He still thought it was lame.
"Picky, picky," Ollie answered. "What's wrong with Superboy?"
"He's not a boy," Chloe's voice said in their ears. "That's what's wrong with it."
Clark heard the unmistakable admiration in her voice, and he liked it a lot better than her earlier laughter at his expense. He remembered her flinging herself into his arms, and he grew warm all over. He tried to forget the feel of her body against his, but couldn't, quite.
"Yeah," Ollie agreed. "I guess he's not a boy any more."
"So that'd make him Superman," Chloe said.
Ollie lifted a blond eyebrow questioningly at Clark. "Does that work for you?"
Clark frowned. It sounded kind of egostistical, and wasn't a name he would have chosen for himself. He was just a guy who had abilities that seemed perfectly normal to him. He didn't think of himself as super. But he had to admit it was nice that Chloe thought of him that way.
Besides, it was a hell of a lot better than Boy Scout.
"It's better than the alternative, I guess," he said at last.
"Fine," Ollie said. "Whatever. Quit wasting time and get moving, Superman. There's work to be done."
Superman grinned over his shoulder at his friend... and got to work.