The sodden, downcast Enforcers rematerialized in the control room of Final Horizon. "Huh?!" Bril blurted once he realized where they were. "What the eff are we doing here?"
"Change of plans, Matt," Teion told him hurriedly, passing out towels.
"Not again," Matt complained.
"Sorry," Teion said sympathetically. "We've discovered a Scrath war fleet closing in on us. It's assumed they're after the Queen. Half of you have got to stay here and help us fight while the rest go back in time."
Matt froze. "Oh this is just wonderful!" he yelled. "It's the last thing we needed."
"Somehow, the last thing you need is the first thing that bowls you over," Ayala growled, shaking out her hair.
"I could've gone without hearing that, NRG," Bril snapped heatedly.
"Sorry," NRG murmured contritely.
Bril sighed. "All right: I vote that Chamber, Rainmaker and myself stay to fight. I have the most experience with those bugs, and their powers could be a valuable asset. Superboy and NRG can make the jump," he decided.
"What?!" Kon-El spluttered. "But you're the time-traveler! What if 'Yala and I need your help?"
"You two make a good team," Matt argued. "You'll be fine." He tossed Ayala the mini-'puter. "This might help," he added.
"Uh, Matt, I have to agree with Kon and Ayala," Teion said cautiously.
"It's FINAL, Teion!" Matt shouted, skewering Teion with a nasty glare, then looking at a holo-screen projecting destination readings. "Supes and NRG: You two are going to materialize in the evening of November 21, 1963. JFK will be shot the next day. From what NRG and I heard from the Scraths a couple hours ago, they're going after Lee Harvey Oswald. Trust me, there is only one assassin -Oswald- unless the Scraths get to him. I'm afraid this is what caused the Grassy Knoll theory." Matt looked at them, slightly calmer.
"If I can make it there, I will. If not, good luck and hope for the best when you get back here."
"All right man," Superboy said. NRG nodded at her teammates, and hit the button marked "transport." They disappeared in a swirl of reddish light. Chamber felt like asking why the computer's teleport was different from Matt's natural one, but held his tongue, so to speak.
Matt spun, morphing into a flight suit. "Are the Hydras warmed up?" he asked Teion. The black youth nodded.
<Whoa, Matt,> Chamber interjected, <we've been listening you talk about the Hydras, but we have no clue what they are.> Rainmaker nodded in agreement.
Matt simply motioned for them to follow. They quickly walked into a hangar full of sleek fighters. There were many different colors, and each separate color seemed to be grouped together, almost in squadrons. Of all the fighters only one was green. That was the one Matt headed for. "These are the Hydra tri-environment fighters. They're equipped for space, atmospheric, and underwater combat. They were designed by my father before his murder, and modified for usage in the timestream. These are the deadliest weapons ever designed by a human. And the green one is mine." He nodded at the others. "You won't be flying any of these, though. Teion and the two of you will lead the force that will attack the fleet from here. You'll be most effective from that way. Good luck guys." As he spoke those words, he slipped on a helmet and hopped into the fighter's cockpit. Teion asked Jonothon and Sarah to follow him, and they rushed out of the hangar to prepare to fight.
Dallas, Texas, November 21, 1963
The light faded from Superboy and NRG's eyes. They each blinked several times, and found blasters pointed at their heads. Two Car'nocs stood in front of them. Ayala visibly recoiled, but calmed down. "'Least they don't have us at 'tail' point," she decided.
"Hello clone, Hispanic," a voice behind them said. "I'm so happy you came to watch Oswald's assassination. My name is Farac. I'll be your host."
He walked in front of them, a human man, about six foot nine with dark gray hair. He wore a pale gray Armani suit. "I'll also be your executioner," Farac finished.
"Crap," Superboy muttered. "I sure could use that heat vision right now."
Something behind them hit them over the heads, knocking them out cold.
"Hydra Squadrons, prepare for takeoff," Teion ordered over the comm system. He turned to Chamber and Rainmaker. "Bril is going to lead the attack, but it's up to you two to watch everyone's backs while I coordinate strategy," he explained. "Are you up to it?"
"Yes," Sarah declared, taking her position at a radar screen.
<Ready when you are,> Jono projected. He sat down at a holo- screen to watch the action up close.
"All right," Teion said quietly, and again addressed the Hydra-fighters. "Good luck out there. Hydras, take off in five, four,
three, two, one!"
Inside the hangars, hundreds of thousands of engines screamed as the Hydras shot out the doors and into the place beyond the atmosphere: Space.
The battle had officially begun. Bril smiled in feral anticipation. "Only way you bugs are getting my base is over my dead body," he vowed. "Just try to get past me!"
"Pssst! Supes! Kid! Wake up already."
Kon-El groaned, slowly opening his eyes. Blackness met his vision.
"Ayala? Why can't I see?" he wondered.
"Same reason I can't," Ayala replied. "It's darker than my dad's toast in here."
"In here?" Superboy repeated.
"Yea, we're in some sort of holding cell," Ayala informed him. "I checked by feel."
Superboy sat up and reached out blindly, expecting to feel a wall, but met up with Ayala's face instead. "Sorry," he mumbled, taking his hand away and trying again. His fingers met a cold, slick, metallic surface. "I wonder what kind of metal this is," he mused, standing and testing the wall's strength. "Maybe I could break through it."
"I certainly hope so," NRG sighed. "I tried an energy discharge, but it just absorbed it. I tried kicking a way out, too, but that just hurt my foot."
Superboy drew back his fist. "Look out," he warned, and threw a punch that would have toppled the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There was a resounding CLANG! and a mighty vibration that threw the two captives to the floor, but other than that, nothing happened.
Ayala picked herself off the floor and said something in Spanish.
"Wha'd you say?" the Kid asked, getting up and rubbing his knuckles. "It'd make Matt faint from shock," Ayala snorted. "Well, since strength doesn't work, try the heat vision thing."
"I don't know how it works," Kon-El told her. "Only thing I've ever had like it before was a pair of glasses."
"Que.... never mind." Ayala thought about that. "The vision worked last time, when the situation was desperate," she pondered. "This sitch is pretty desperate, if you ask me."
Superboy sighed. "All right, all right." He stared at the wall, trying to trigger the heat vision. Nothing happened. "I don't get it," he growled in frustration. "It should be working!"
Then he felt a warm hand on his back, just below his neck. A surge of power flowed through him. "Try it now," NRG urged.
The Kid concentrated hard, summoning the power, one he'd never had before. Two blinding red blasts lanced from his eyes and bored a huge gap in the mysterious metal, reducing it to so much slag and revealing the outside: An old warehouse. "I did it!" Superboy cried triumphantly. "Let's get outta h-"
Ayala slapped a hand over his mouth. "Shut up!" she hissed. "I sense Car'nocs near the way out."
Superboy pushed her hand away. "Then we won't take that way out," he stated, and scooped his teammate up in his arms. Instinctively, NRG clasped her hands over the back of his neck and hung on as Kon-El soared upwards.
"They're escaping!" a Car'noc howled. "Stop them!"
"Whoa!" Supes yelled as a thick laser beam zoomed past him. "That was way too close."
"Then get us the hell outta here already!" NRG snapped.
"I'm trying!" Kon-El snarled, dodging another shot. For the next few minutes, Superboy was forced to use aerial acrobatics that defied all laws of physics.
Finally, realizing this wasn't getting them anywhere, NRG squirmed out of his grip and plummeted to the ground, landing on the Car'noc leader. "Adios," she said cheerily, and sucked out his energy. Swiftly she rechanneled it at the laser pistols every other Car'noc held, and shorted them out. With a whoop, Superboy rocketed down and slammed into another Car'noc, creating a domino effect that smashed all the aliens into the ground. "Yeee-hah!" he shouted. "That's why you don't mess with the 'S'!"
"Errr.... Or the energy."
Chamber watched the battle intently. So far, the QSA had lost nearly an entire squadron of Hydras in the hours that they had fought, although the losses were scattered across the group. The Scrath forces kept coming, though. The Hydras had destroyed over two hundred Scrath fighters, but there were several hundred more, or so the tactical readouts said. One Hydra fired a torpedo into a dense cluster of fighters, setting off a chain reaction that destroyed all of the fighters in the group. The remainder of the squadron followed close behind, backing up the first pilot and taking out the remaining Scraths. "Take that ya stupid aliens!" hollered the first pilot. Jono recognized the voice, although it took him several seconds to place it.
<Jubilee!> Jono spun to a tactical screen behind him and called up info on the squadron Jubilee was in, Red Squadron. The names of the pilots scrolled across the screen: There were about five names he didn't recognize, but he saw the names of Jubilee, Paige, Emma, Sean, Ev, Angelo, and M! Red Squadron was made up of Generation X! Jono spun to Teion. Teion!> he projected urgently, <what do you know about Red Squadron?>
The black youth wrinkled his forehead at the question. "Uh, a bunch of refugees from a world the Scraths ravaged, a former super team, in fact.
They said only one of their members was killed in the assault: A kid named Jono...." Teion's eyes widened as he realized who he was talking about. He was so shocked by the realization that he almost missed a cry from Black Squadron.
"Black Six to Final Horizon," the pilot cried, "incoming Scrath troop transport!"
Teion cursed, pushed away from his station and leapt out of his chair. He opened a closet on the other side of the room. He stepped out with a wicked-looking gun in his hand. "The Scraths just made this a ground war," he declared into his radio, "Red and Blue Squadrons come in, and get ready for a fight!" Teion looked at his companions. "You up to this?"
<Oh yeah!> Jono rumbled, eyes glinting in fury.
Ayala whipped out the mini-computer as they soared over Dallas, and let loose with some Spanish oaths as she checked the readouts. "It's almost time!" she yelled at Superboy, even though he was carrying her and could hear very well. "We may already be too late!"
"Doubt it!" Kon-El called over the wind. "Farac seemed too arrogant to do this without us there. This will give us an advantage, I bet."
"I'm not a gambler, Kid! I have a friend who is, but I'm not!"
"Neither am I!" Superboy replied, grinning. He sped ever faster, hoping to stop Farac from assassinating an assassin.
Teion lead Sarah and Jonothon outside the hangar, where the Red and Blue Squadrons where coming in for landings. "Get ready!" he commanded, and cocked his gun. "Chamber, Rainmaker, stand on either side of me. This is gonna get messy."
"Here they come!" a Blue Squad pilot shouted, and leaped out of his Hydra with gun in hand.
Teion sighted along his gun barrel. "Ready!" he barked. The fighters knelt in firing position, and Sarah and Jono primed their powers. "Aim!"
The force steadied themselves and aimed.
"Fire at will!" Teion called, and loosed a blast at the first Scrath ship. The air erupted into laser fire, and flashes of super-powers, as the entire group concentrated on incoming Scrath squadrons. Then the members of the Red Squadron soon began to notice the energy signature of their former teammate. Everett leapt over the heads of others to Jono. When he confirmed who he had seen from several yards away, he started yelling at the other mutant.
"Chamber, is it really you?" Ev cried.
<Yeah,> Jono growled, a sudden question popping into his head: If Bril had Generation X here, why did he assemble the Enforcers?
Before Jonothon could ponder it further, a Scrath fighter plowed through the QSA pilots and crashed into the hangar. Jono and Sarah both reacted instinctively, rushing for the downed ship. Before they could get very far into the hangar, however, a portal opened in front of them. They rushed through it, unable to stop, and found themselves in front of a stasis field, with a small scorpion-like creature inside.
<It's the queen!> Jono projected to Sarah.
"Correct," a voice said in the shadows of the room. Two human figures stepped into the light. One was a nude human. Jono guessed it was the Scrath that had just crashed into the hangar, and since clothing aren't coded into DNA....
The other, the owner of the voice, was vaguely familiar to Jono. He suddenly recalled where he had seen her: Emma's computer files. It was Clarice Ferguson, nicknamed Blink by the Gen Xers she'd met. A deep fear settled in Jono's gut. He knew if the Scrath impersonating Blink had been well-trained in her powers, then she was almost evenly matched with him!
"Blink" smiled. She seemed to know that as well.
"There!" NRG exclaimed, pointing down. "There's the Car'noc and Oswald, down in that alley. Drop me when we're over Farac, okay?"
"Drop you?!" Superboy yelped. "No way! You'd get hurt-"
"Remember what I did at the warehouse?" NRG growled.
"Then let go, pronto!"
Supes sighed. "All right," he said reluctantly. "Bombs away!"
He released his hold and NRG fell from the sky. Farac broke her fall, however. "Get off me, you damn human!" he ordered, throwing himself against a wall.
NRG grunted, losing her breath as she felt the full impact before taking it into herself. "Muy estupido, Farac," she rasped, channeling the stored force through the alien's body. "As you so conveniently forgot, I absorb energy from impact." With that, she reversed the process and drained Farac nearly dry. Nearly, because she didn't want an alien hangover this time. With a discordant shriek, Farac converted into a small scorpion-like creature.
"Way to go!" Superboy praised, coming in for a landing as he finished off the Car'noc with a well-placed Dumpster.
"Thanks," Ayala replied, wearily wiping her forehead. "Give me a hand up, willya? I'm kinda dizzy." She swore silently. She had still gotten a blasted hang-over.
"Sure," Kon-El said, and reached a hand down. But as soon as NRG clasped it, a searing sensation crashed over him and he hit the pavement too.
"Por Dios! I didn't mean to do that!" Ayala yowled, kneeling beside him. "Kid? I didn't knock you out, did I?
"No," Superboy gasped, slowly sitting up.
"Uh, I don't mean to sound rude, but would you two mind explaining what the hell just happened?" Lee Oswald interrupted, coming forward to stand above them.
"Just forget it," Superboy wheezed.
Oswald's eyes glazed over. "Okay," he said in a dull monotone.
Superboy snapped to. "Okay? Whadda ya mean, okay?"
"I will forget," Oswald responded in the same tone of voice.
Superboy didn't know what the heck was going on, but he decided to wing it. "Good. Now just run along, do whatever it was you were gonna do, and forget you ever saw this, all right?"
"All right," Oswald answered, and robotically walked out of the alley.
"Dude," the Kid whispered. "That was so weird."
"I'll say. It's like you took over his mind," Ayala remarked thoughtfully.
Kon-El abruptly remembered the burning feeling he had gotten after he'd tried to help NRG up. It was almost as if she had channeled more alien power into him.... Okay, he was going to have a long talk with Bril or a scientist when he got back to Final Horizon and find out just what was happening to him.
Chamber stood eye-to-eye with the Blink impersonator, although they were a room away. As the two mutants stared each other down, the nude Scrath slipped on a QSA pilot's jumpsuit. Rainmaker stepped forward, and the other Scrath put his hand out.
"Don't think Taera here is the only Scrath with mutant powers," he said. To punctuate the comment, he waved his hand and a fissure opened beneath Rainmaker. Sarah created a wind that blew her away from the fissure, but Chamber could see from the corner of his eye that the bottom of the fissure was filled with molten rock.
"Don't push it, Cartu love," Taera said to her companion. "I'll just kill them and rid ourselves of half our problem."
"Brilliant," Cartu complimented. Then he took Taera in his arms and kissed her passionately. "You humans have no idea what you have," he continued after he pulled away from the kiss. "Your hormones create much more incredible emotions than any other race of beings ever to exist. I guess Them are close though. Look at Bril. We must get a Them's DNA sometime. You know, we Scraths have never acquired any."
<You know, let's discuss this over some bleedin' tea and crumpets!> Jono exclaimed sarcastically.
"I'm sorry," Taera pouted. "I'd love to see how well you'd do compared to my other concubines, but we have orders to kill you." With that Taera raised her arms to spatially displace Chamber and Rainmaker.
It was a fatal error. Jono let loose with a massive bio-blast, and Rainmaker followed up with a mighty hailstorm. Neither Scrath had much time to blink, but Taera was able to teleport herself before she suffered the same fate her lover did. When the spots cleared from Jono's eyes, he saw the stasis field was gone, the Scrath queen and Taera with it, and Cartu was dead on the ground.
Jono voiced a particularly creative string of curses.
Bril rocketed between two exploding fighters with a wild whoop. The battle had been going much better, thanks to the QSA gradually gaining an edge. The Red Squadron and Blue Squadron soon rejoined the pitched space battle, redoubling their efforts.
<BRIL!> someone screamed.
A startled Bril almost lost control of his Hydra, but quickly corrected that and managed to keep from getting blown up. <What? Who called?> he sent back.
<It's Chamber! You wouldn't believe what Rainmaker and I found!> the telepath projected.
<Whatever it is, I can't deal with it right now,> Bril retorted. <I'm in the middle of a space-war, in case you didn't notice!>
<You can deal with it now,> Jono insisted. <Sarah and I just offed this Scrath called Cartu, but another Scrath called Taera got away. And get this: SHE'S IMPERSONATING BLINK!>
<Blink?! Blink? You're serious?> Bril projected in confusion. He had checked her out telepathically when the alternate Gen X had joined the QSA, and had found no alien thoughts.
<I'm BLOODY serious!> Chamber snapped. Suddenly, all thoughts halted, then resumed a minute later. <Matt, Teion says the Scraths are pulling out.>
Bril cursed. Chamber was right. The Scraths were starting to retreat back to the timestream. Matt hastily hit the switch that activated his comm.
"Teion, track the retreating Scrath ships!" he yelled. Switching to telepathic channels he started back with Chamber. <Jono, they got what they wanted. So what was it?>
The following words were black and heavy with dismay. <The Queen, Matt. They got the bloody queen.>
Superboy and NRG returned to Final Horizon to find the evidence of the battle that had just taken place. The hangar they materialized in was covered in debris, and the numerous fighters had landed outside so repairs could be made to both the hangar and the sleek ships. "Wow. It looks like a hydrogen bomb got activated in here," Ayala said in amazement.
Superboy let that slide as he saw Bril nearby in what he considered to be normal clothes, jeans and T-shirt. He was picking up steel beams, and using his magnetic powers to "weld" them back into place.
"Matt, hey!" the Kid called at the hero. Matt lifted his chin to acknowledge him, since a two ton beam was in his hands.
"How'd it go?" he inquired as he flew into the air and successfully fitted the beam back into place.
"Quite well," Ayala reported. "We stopped Oswald's assassination.
But when we did, Superboy did something he couldn't do before."
"Your telepathy?" Bril asked.
NRG and Superboy's jaws dropped in unison. "How'd you know?!" the Kid spluttered.
Matt sighed. "SB, I shouldn't be telling you this, but twenty years down the road, you become an incredibly powerful telepath, thanks to the catalystic powers of the alien energy." Kon-El's jaw dropped further, if that was possible possible. "If you want it this premature event checked out, have Joseph over there-" Joseph waved. "-take you to the Med Bay. If not, we could use some help."
Abruptly, Teion walked into the room brusquely. Chamber and Rainmaker followed close behind. Teion ignored everyone except Matt. "I tracked them," he stated, thrusting a sheet of flimsy in his face. "They appeared outside Earth's atmosphere at ten o'clock PM eastern daylight time, on December 31, 1999. One ship descended to New York City. Seventeen beings were aboard."
Matt's face turned ashen.
"Why then?" Sarah asked.
"I was born January 1, 2000, at the stroke of midnight, in New York City," Matt said gravely. "They're trying to erase me the instant I was born!"
Next: The final battle! Bril versus the Queen! Chamber versus Taera! And the birth of a meta!