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JLA/Fembots Chapter 1: Man of Steel, Woman of...Also Steel

The subway platform was crowded, as such places will inevitably be during rush hour. Millions of people lived in Metropolis, each with their own places to go and their own things to do, tracing an unimaginable, unintelligible cluster of paths through the city. A very considerable proportion of these lines converged and ran together at bus stops and subway platforms, tracing the same path along a predetermined route before branching off again in every conceivable direction.

Most of these people took little enough notice of their travelling companions, being engrossed in newspapers or books or radio broadcasts or MP3s or text messages or just their own internal preoccupations. Even those who did glance around, observing the mass of humanity, could scarcely hope to see a face they'd seen before, or one they might hope to see again.

The sounds of the subway tunnels were not deafening, but were so many and varied that they blended into a particularly impenetrable orchestra of white noise. What little could still be heard of the sounds from the open street above, wafting down the stairwell to the platform, harmonized with the rest of the instruments. Only a singularly loud or unusual sound from above might reach the ears of those massed together down here awaiting the right train.

The sound of brakes screeching a block and a half away was not loud or unusual enough to attract very much attention. Really, only one individual down here could discern that one sound amidst so many others.

No one particularly noticed when that individual reacted to the sound, though. He was only one face among the dozens, scores, hundreds, and not an especially notable one. He was tall and heavily built, but his posture and body language somewhat mitigated the effect of his size on his personal presence. He appeared like one who might have been an impressive athlete in his youth but had gone a bit doughy as a result of age and a more sedentary lifestyle. Yes, that was likely--he looked like he might now be perhaps an accountant or a mid-level office drone of some description. His mode of dress was a tad formal for a world that had embraced the concept of 'business casual'--a respectable navy-blue suit, with a white shirt and dark tie (possibly black striped with red? Who knew? The tie was exactly that unexceptional). His dark hair, slicked back in a conservative style, and his horn-rimmed glasses (perhaps the most fashionable accessory he affected--though they gave the impression of having been worn so habitually for so long that they had accidentally coincided with the latest style) added to the effect, to the idea that he was no one in particular to be noticed.

This was just as well, since his fundemental unremarkability meant that no one took any special notice when he suddenly vanished.

He hadn't simply blinked out of existence, of course; he had moved. He had simply done so far more rapidly than the eye could possibly follow. Persistence of vision was nothing to the speeds at which he had suddenly moved. Something more capable than the human eye, some kind of ultra-high-speed surveillance camera, might have caught his departure. There was no such device present here, though, and so it went completely unnoticed when he ran from the midst of the crowd toward the stairwell.

At the base of the stairwell, he had flung himself upwards, catapulting over the heads of the commuter crowd, and he hadn't come back down. In the middle of his initial arc over the teeming masses, he had begun divesting himself of his clothes, compressing them with unimaginable force into a series of small, flat parcels and stuffing them rapidly into a pouch in the red cape that unfurled itself as he stripped away his slightly ill-fitting dress shirt.

Thus, a streak of red and blue speared upwards out of the stairwell and arced back down to street level. The streak resolved itself into the form of a tall, powerfully built man in blue tights and a red cape--which now insinuated itself underneath the chassis of the late-model luxury import that had imprudently wandered past a stoplight into the midst of a busy intersection and the path of a Metropolis Transit Authority bus.

The automobile was propelled upwards, balanced on the figure's neck and shoulders, safely out of--indeed, above--the bus' path. It then sailed over the intersection, where the blue-and-red clad figure alighted on a comfortably empty expanse of street. The man gingerly deposited the vehicle, front first, onto the pavement. He stepped back to gently lower the vehicle's rear wheels.

The driver of the vehicle--a fashionably dressed young professional type--sat dumbfounded, cellular phone to his ear. He had seen the bus rushing directly at him, aware only too late of his error, and now was sitting in the clear but with no inkling as to how that had come to pass. He blinked several times in rapid succession, trying to make sense of what had happened. A disembodied voice vied for his attention from the phone's speaker.

A tap at the driver's side window cut through the young man's confusion. He glanced over, then almost automatically depressed the window control. The window whirred downwards.

"You know, City Council passed an ordinance outlawing the use of mobile phones while driving," said a clear, calm voice.

The voice belonged to the blue-and-red clad figure, who was hovering alongside the car.

"Don't worry. It's not like I can give you a ticket for it. Though a police officer could, and in all honesty should. I'm going to assume that you've learned your lesson, though, and leave it at that. Okay?"

The voice on the other end of the phone brayed for attention. The young man looked to the man hovering outside his car, then looked to the phone, then back again. He instantly snapped the phone shut and deposited it on the passenger seat. "Y-yes. Yeah, absolutely! You're right!"

The hovering figure smiled. "That's the spirit. Remember, it's not just dangerous for you--you're putting other people at risk, too."

"No, you're right! I won't answer the phone when I'm driving, I promise!"

"Glad to hear it. Drive safely now, all right?" The hovering figure winked at the driver, and then propelled himself forward and upward over the busy rush-hour traffic.

"I will, Superman! Thanks!"

Superman soared upwards to a safe altitude, then accelerated past the sound barrier. Counting off fractions of a second, he waited for the sound of the sonic boom to reach street level before moderating his speed to the barely subsonic and circling the block. With practiced ease, he dove back down into the subway--fast enough for people to be unable to focus, but slow enough to avoid kicking up too much of a disturbance.

He was ready to withdraw his street clothes from their pouch and change again, but he saw that the few seconds he'd spent aboveground were enough for the train to arrive, accept its influx of passengers, and start down the track once more. With a shrug, he launched himself down the tunnel. Mere moments later, he caught up with another train just arriving at his stop With one last burst of superspeed, he pulled his suit, shirt, and tie on once more and dropped into the midst of a crowd of disembarking passengers.

Thusly did Clark Kent emerge from the subway a half a block from his home, arriving (he had to admit) a bit earlier than common sense could account for but still seemingly in accord with the usual flow of commuter traffic. He made his way up Clinton Street to number 344, and favored the doorman with a nod and a smile. "Afternoon, Harry," he said.

"Hello, Mr. Kent. Long day?"

"Oh, about like you'd expect, you know."

"I hear you. Say hello to the missus for me."

"Will do, Harry," Clark nodded, and made his way to the elevator.

As the elevator crawled upwards, Clark leaned against the back wall and relaxed, enjoying thoroughly the mundane slowness. Even given his superfast shortcut through the subway tunnel, it had been a good ten minutes since he'd left the Planet building. He'd made very good time, but he was completely aware that he could have gone door-to-door in ten seconds without any special effort.

But apart from the fact that it did his dual identity a world of good for Clark Kent to be seen commuting like any other common Metropolitan, he honestly enjoyed the chance to take things slow. Too much of his time was spent rushing about at superspeed, lending a hand to those who needed it, and it was a genuine relief to take a few minutes and just be part of the human race now and then.

The elevator came to a halt, the doors opened, and Clark sauntered out and turned left toward his apartment. He whistled a snippet of "Roll Over, Beethoven" as he neared the door and pulled out his keys. He could hear movement within the apartment--good, Lois was home already. She'd been out of the office all day, ferreting out some leads on a story, and obviously must have decided not to bother going back to the Planet.

Clark opened the door. "Hi, honey, I'm home," he called out, fully aware of how corny it sounded. It was exactly the kind of thing people would expect Clark Kent to say, a bit cliched and clueless and out of touch--and the kind of thing that Lois would take in together with the mischievous twinkle in his eye that invariably accompanied it.

"Be out in a second, Smallville, just doing something in the kitchen," the reply came.

A little odd; Lois, for all her many and varied talents, was not much of a hand in the kitchen. But Clark sniffed at the air anyway, a reflex borne of a lifetime's habit of trying to anticipate what Ma might have been fixing for supper. The unmistakable aroma of Boeuf Bourguignon reached his nostrils. Had Lois gotten some takeout from somewhere, and popped it in the oven to reheat? The last time she'd tried to make Boeuf Bourguignon, she'd come within a hairsbreadth of burning down the whole building.

At that moment, Lois came around the corner from the kitchen. She smiled at her husband.

Clark froze.

Or perhaps, more accurately, everything else did. His superspeed had kicked in almost reflexively. His perceptions raced; the world around him, including Lois, had been effectively put on pause.

It was hard to say if it was something he'd heard that first put him on guard, or what he'd seen when he caught sight of Lois.

Clark's senses, of course, were enormously powerful, and as a result he perceived things in a way few others could. What he saw, what he heard when he was in his wife's presence went far beyond what ordinary humans might see and hear. As much as the mere external appearance or the sound of her voice, there were things that automatically stood out to Clark when he observed Lois Lane. There was a distinct 'aura' of body heat patterns, of electromagnetic emanations from her nervous system. There were the usual patterns of her respiration, of her heartbeat.

The woman who came around the corner into the living room was--in the merely mundane visible detalils--a perfect double for Lois Lane, her voice a perfectly accurate impersonation. Even the thermal and electromagnetic patterns were a reasonable approximation, as were breathing and pulse. But they weren't quite right, either--and there were other things. Little fluctuations in the electromagnetic patterns, for one; and more damning, subtle sounds. Clicks of relays, whirrs of actuators, the soft pulsing of hydraulic fluid.

He focused his x-ray vision on the thing that looked like his wife, although before he even did so he was completely convinced of what he'd see.

He was not disappointed.

Beneath the surface, this 'Lois Lane' had an endoskeleton of carbon-fiber composites rather than bone; 'muscles' of some kind of advanced polymer instead of organic tissue. And there were microhydraulics, electronics, and other advanced technology all through her body.

This was not the woman he'd kissed goodbye this morning when she'd left the office, not the woman with whom he'd chosen to share his life.

This was an android. An impossibly complex one, one that would have fooled almost anyone... anyone, perhaps, but the Man of Steel.

Still super-speeding, Clark's mind ran through a myriad of thoughts and scenarios. Foremost among them was instant, fully-formed determination that he would find his wife, his real wife, as soon as possible and that whoever had gone to the trouble of replacing her with this machine was going to regret their actions very bitterly.

Close behind that came the realization that whoever had sent this thing here clearly had no idea who Clark Kent really was. If they had, they would have known that the android hadn't the faintest chance of fooling him.

All right, then, he thought. Whoever sent this doesn't know I'm Superman. So, this thing doesn't know that I'm Superman, either. Is there some kind of communications link that someone could be watching?

He listened carefully, glanced around the android. He neither heard nor saw any abnormal activity in the radio-frequency band.

Fair enough--no communication at the moment. Still--gotta play it safe...

"Smells delicious, honey," he said, leaning in for a kiss as he slowed down to a more normal speed. Hopefully, the android wouldn't have taken notice of his pause--it had not been more than a few milliseconds in duration, after all.

"Well, I can't take too much credit for it," 'Lois' said. "All I did was call into Louis' Bistro and then stop by to pick it up. You remember what happened last time I tried to cook something."

Clark smiled, while inwardly taking note of the fact that someone had done their homework. Weird that someone can get that detailed in imitating Lois but still not manage to know my secret identity. He considered the situation for a few milliseconds, wondering if he should just play along with the scenario for the time being. It was at least a little tempting... Louis' Boeuf Bourguignon was easily the best in the city, after all. But every moment that he put up with this charade was a moment that the real Lois was in potential danger. Got to find an excuse to get out of here. A few dozen scenarios raced through his mind. Clark found it vaguely amusing to dredge up long-forgotten excuses from back in the day, from before he and Lois were married, from before Lois had any inkling of his dual identity. Finally he settled on a course of action.

Clark's heat vision was an odd ability. It was not exactly an expulsion of stored solar energy via his Kryptonian optic nerves and not exactly a sophisticated pyrokinetic excitation of molecular motion, but some odd combination of the two. In one important way, it hewed closer to the latter interpretation--he could wield it with almost surgical precision on any target he chose, without affecting any intervening material unless he so desired. This was a useful fact just now.

Through the expedient of his x-ray vision, Clark was able to focus precisely on the Boeuf Bourguignon in the oven and heat it to exactly the temperature he wanted. Wisps of black smoke began to curl around the oven door.

"Uh, Lois... maybe you should, ah, check on dinner..." he said, playing mild-mannered Clark to a degree he normally no longer affected in Lois' presence.

The android frowned a little (just exactly the way the real Lois would have done in this situation) and turned toward the kitchen.

Clark waited until he was sure he was safely out of the android's line of sight. He couldn't be certain how good the machine's visual faculties were, but he didn't want to take any chances that it might be able to track his movements at superspeed. In literally the very instant it was safe to do so, Clark dashed across the living room to the old roll-top writing desk he'd brought with him from Smallville. He found the current month's electric bill, tore off the payment stub, and stuffed it into the return envelope. He then dashed off a check and placed it in the envelope. He sealed the envelope, affixed a stamp, and then slipped the whole affair into the inner pocket of his suit jacket before returning to his original position.

Now dropping back to normal speed, Clark took a few steps into the kitchen. The android Lois had flung the oven door open, grabbed a pot holder, and pulled the foil take-out tray to safety. "Dammit! I must have lost track of how long I put it in for..."

"Oh... uh, well, I'm sure it'll still be okay..." Clark said. "Won't it?" He played his part to the hilt, exactly balancing the supportive optimism Clark Kent's wife should reasonably expect with just enough emerging disappointment at the fact that his favorite dish had been burned beyond recognition.

"I don't know," the android said doubtfully. "Looks like I torched it pretty good. Maybe I should throw in the towel, give up journalism for culinary arson... I could probably make a fortune fixing county fair bake-offs..."

Clark's assumed optimistic expression flickered for the briefest of moments as he noted how carefully this machine's creator had recreated Lois' sense of humor. The thought of Lois--the real Lois--in some unknown but presumably mortal peril was exquisite torture. It was all he could do to keep from rocketing straight ahead, right through the android and the wall beyond, and flying off in search of his wife.

Instead, Clark waited precisely seven seconds before suddenly 'noticing' the electric bill payment in his pocket. "Oh! Uh, gosh, Lois... I forgot to drop the electric bill in the mailbox," he said, sheepishly withdrawing the envelope. He fidgeted briefly, looking from the bill to Lois to the smoking ruins of dinner and back again. "I'm just going to run downstairs and mail it before I forget again... I think there might be a few minutes before the last mail pickup..."

The android smiled, and it was Lois' long-suffering but affectionate I-love-my-husband-even-though-he-has-to-run-off-all-of-a-sudden smile exactly. Normally she smiled like that because Clark had to fly off to save someone or to avert some horrible disaster, and she knew and understood. Clark was deeply unnerved. It was one of Lois' unmistakable mannerisms. Was this machine, and whoever had programmed it, really ignorant of Clark's secret?

Clark leaned in and gave the simulation of his wife an awkward peck on the cheek before turning and nearly stumbling out of the apartment.

Once the door clicked shut, no more than twenty-three milliseconds elapsed before Clark was down the hall, into the stairwell, and up onto the roof. It was Superman, in full costume, who stepped out of the rooftop access door and then flung himself up, up and away on a desperate and utterly indefatigable quest to find his wife and--God help them--her abductors.

JLA/Fembots Chapter 2: A Hole in the Sky

Formally speaking, the establishment was known as the Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch. More familiarly, it was known as the Happy Bottom Riding Club, or simply Pancho's.

It was not the original, which had burned down in the early '50s (somewhat suspiciously, given that at the time the establishment's legendary owner Pancho Barnes had been involved in a serious legal dispute with the Air Force over a proposed runway expansion). But some enterprising individual had, in recent years, decided to revive the name and the location as a tribute to the heady days of yore, when test pilots from Edwards Air Force Base made a habit of pushing the envelope, of strapping themselves into hurtling masses of jet-powered machinery with the intention of poking a hole in the damn sky.

The original Pancho's had been what it said on the tin--an honest-to-God dude ranch, with all the amenities (though it was the bar and restaurant that really attracted business). The present incarnation was basically just a bar, the owners having decided to cut straight to the heart of the matter and provide someplace for jet jockeys to hold beer call.

Beer call was precisely what was in session at the moment, and it was in full swing. It was a hallowed occasion, taking place more or less daily, and vitally important to the psychological well-being of those men (and indeed, nowadays, women) who wore the Blue Suit. It enabled those intrepid aviators to, as they put it, 'maintain an even strain'.

It was a tolerably wild scene, the truth be told, though not (according to legend) a patch on the kind of sessions that had taken place five or six decades earlier. Still and all, it would have been looked at as a little crazy by anyone with a sense of maturity and decorum that had evolved very far beyond college-fraternity levels. One pilot had commandeered the weathered piano in the corner and was doing a creditable Jerry Lee Lewis impression, and he was surrounded by four or five compatriots who were providing suitably raucous backing vocals. Another group of pilots was intently watching a particularly hard-fought game of eight-ball, upon which no small amount of money had been wagered.

In another corner of the bar, several more pilots were attending with equal interest as one of their number held court. He was relating an anecdote which was now reaching its inevitable climax. The pilot poured back a generous draught from his condensation-soaked beer mug before uttering the punchline:

"....we-eell... I don't recommend it, you understand, but it can be done!"

His courtiers howled with laughter, each mentally adding the unspoken coda ...provided you have the right stuff, you miserable pudknocker.

The president over the current proceedings leaned back in his chair, smiled enigmatically, and drained the rest of his beer. He unconsciously brushed aside a lock of brown hair that persisted in dangling rakishly over his right eyebrow. He was a good-looking sort, in his late thirties, perhaps, with an air of old-school cool that many observers thought carried more than a hint of resemblance to a young Paul Newman.

"Goddamn, Highball," a pilot roared. "I can never get tired of hearing that story!"

"Yeah, well," Highball smiled. "I doubt Trainor would say the same." He regarded his empty mug. "Whose round is it, anyhow?"

A certain amount of animated discussion ensued at this question. Highball found himself wondering if a satisfactory answer would be forthcoming anytime soon. Then, suddenly, his expression flickered for a moment. Before anyone noticed, he rose from his chair. "I gotta make a little strafing run, here... try and figure out who's stuck before I get back, huh?" He made his way toward the men's room.

It had not been the pleading of his bladder that had prompted him to excuse himself, however--it was a faint alarm-shock coursing through his nervous system, originating on the middle finger of his right hand and radiating outward. Once he was in the restroom, and satisfied that he was alone, he brought his right hand before his face.

"Go ahead," he said, in a tone of voice far more sober and alert than his previous demeanor might have suggested.

A soft green glow arose, and where the middle finger of his right hand had been unadorned a moment previously Highball now sported a gleaming green metal ring. The ring's face was decorated with a starkly simple graphic icon--a circle with a horizontal bar above and below. A quiet, measured synthetic voice emanated from the piece of jewelry.

"Code thirteen-sixty-two. Location: low Earth orbit."

"Time to clock in," Highball--Captain Hal Jordan, USAF, according to his service record--muttered softly. Though he held a commission in the Air Force, that storied body was not the only organization of which he was an officer, and the blue suit was not the only one he had the privelege and honor of wearing. There was another uniform, of another color entirely...

The ring's soft glow grew a bit brighter, becoming a conical flashlight-beam. The beam stopped a foot and a half or so from its source, and seemed to melt a hole in the very air itself.

Jordan reached through the hole with his left hand. The hand came back holding a good-sized roundish object, hanging from a semicircular handle. The object, which shone with an even brighter verdant light, seemed to resemble as much as anything a green lantern.

The hole sealed itself up. Jordan thrust his right hand, ring-first, into the aperture on the front of the 'lantern'.

The lantern shone more brightly still, and Jordan spoke in a solemn, measured tone:

"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!"

Green brilliance spilled forth from the lantern, washing out the comparatively sickly fluorescent lighting of the men's room. Jordan's blue jeans and bomber jacket seemed to burst into green flame, burning away to leave him clad in a close-fitting uniform of black and green; a lick of flame played across his face and left a green domino mask in its wake. In the center of his chest, the ring-icon of circle with crossbars above and below seemed to shine a few inches above the surface of the bodysuit.

Jordan shone the ring's beam again, re-opening the hole in the air, and deposited the lantern into its transdimensional storage pocket once more. The green conflagration settled down into a glowing, flowing sheath of plasma that surrounded his body; he was lifted up off the floor. He angled himself toward the wall. His will told the sheath of plasma what to do, and as he reached the wall the plasma told the wall's constituent molecules to move slightly out of phase with those of his body.

A contrail of green light arced up over the high desert and into the night sky.

And so the senior Green Lantern of space sector 2814 rocketed upwards out of the atmosphere. As his altitude reached the point where temperature and pressure began to drop below levels the ring considered healthy for its bearer, the plasma-sheath solidified enough to maintain life support--sealing in air and heat, and recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen.

(It was not a true 'plasma' in the sense of being ionized matter; indeed, it was not matter at all, nor indeed energy precisely. It was a field of pure consciousness made manifest, innumerable quanta of the fundemental force of sentience. The quanta that composed the field were the particles that carried out the interaction between consciousness on the one hand and time, space, matter, and energy on the other. This was the product of the impossibly advanced science of the Guardians of the Universe, who had long since conquered the secrets of the mind itself. Under most circumstances, with most sentient beings less advanced than the Guardians, the quanta of consciousness carried information about the universe to all living minds. The Guardians had come to a complete understanding of this process and learned how to make it work in the other direction--to cause the quanta to carry instructions on how to behave to the universe from a living mind. The Power Rings they had created for their Green Lantern Corps served as a kind of psionic prosthesis, to allow less-developed minds to make use of this power. It transpired that quantum consciousness had its own spectrum of different frequencies, just as electromagnetic radiation did. The frequency that the Guardians had chosen was that of pure willpower, unadulterated by other emotional states. The quanta of consciousness are short-lived, and when focused in coherent form tend to degenerate into electromagnetic radiation. Quanta in the willpower band degenerate into visible light in the green portion of the spectrum.)

"All right, ring, point me in the right direction," Jordan said quietly. The verbal request was wholly superfluous; the ring had already detected Jordan's desire to be navigated to the crime scene and adjusted his trajectory accordingly.

A thirteen-sixty-two, as Jordan was perfectly aware, was the incursion of a spacecraft originating from another sector into an officer's assigned jurisdiction. There was no law in the Book of Oa prohibiting trans-sectorial spaceflight, of course, but it was a situation that required the investigation of the sector Lantern as a matter of course. Jordan's partner, John Stewart, was looking into something in the Rigel system; Jordan, being the nearer of the two officers assigned to sector 2814, was therefore obligated to look into the matter.

"Ring, I'm not seeing anything," Jordan said.

"Contact is obscured by total EM cloaking," the ring's voice droned. "Tracking via gravimetric distortion."

"Show me."

A searchlight-beam issued forth from the ring and 'painted' the contours of spacetime around the invisible spacecraft. With visual contact now established, Hal took a more active role in directing his flightpath. He dove toward the center of the green-lit framework of gravitational curves. Presently he passed through the outermost extent of the cloaking field, and was able to see his quarry.

The spacecraft was tolerably big; not notably so--in his time, Jordan had more than once encountered spacegoing vessels that were, for all intents and purposes, planets with engines. He ballparked it at roughly the size of an aircraft carrier. Its design was... unusual. It had an almost organic curvature to it. Almost feminine, in its way. At a glance, the engines looked like gravity polarizers--at low power, they could 'sail' the ship around through interactions with existing gravitational fields, attracting or repelling as needed to move the ship at sublight speeds. At higher power levels, they could tear right through the normal geometry of spacetime and plunge the ship into hyperspace for superluminal flight. Nothing too fancy--his ring's propulsion system did basically the same thing.

Jordan continued on his path, phasing effortlessly through the ship's hull. He set down in the middle of a long corridor and looked around. Much as with the outside, the ship's interior had a decidedly organic look to it despite being constructed from gleaming metal.

The ring's life-support field faded away to standby power, having detected suitable environmental conditions. There was a perfectly comfortable shirt-sleeve environment within the ship. Well, whoever's driving this thing isn't too alien, apparently. At least they breathe the same stuff that I do. Gravity seems about Earth-normal, too.

"Any life signs?" he asked.

"Life signs negative," the ring said. "Vessel appears to be automated."

Jordan lifted gently off the deck and glided down the corridor toward what looked like some kind of door. At his approach, the rounded portal irised open. He drifted through the aperture.

He found himself in a cavernous bay, lined with several levels of what looked like catwalks. Along the catwalks were a series of softly glowing cylindrical chambers.

Jordan drifted closer to one of the chambers and alighted on the deck once more. He looked the chamber over.

No clue. The only thing that stood out about the cylinder was that it seemed to be about the right size to acommodate a full-grown human being.

Hal was about to will the ring to analyze the structure when the cylinder suddenly opened, its front half revolving to one side to expose its contents.

Its contents were an extraordinarily beautiful woman.

She was tall, just a bit short of six feet, it seemed. In spectacular physical shape, to say the least, with a lean, toned figure and breasts that could scarcely be described as anything but perfect. At the juncture of her lithesome thighs was a perfectly groomed strip of golden pubic hair. The hair on her head matched, falling in loose waves just a bit past the shoulder. Piercing blue eyes, full lips, a perkily upturned nose.

"Hello," she said. In perfect English, with a decidedly neutral midwestern American accent.

Out of pure reflex, a confident, lopsided grin appeared on Hal's face. "Hi there," he said.

"You are an officer of the Green Lantern Corps," the woman said.

"That's right," Hal said. The grin faded by a notch or two. How does she know that? She looks human. Very human. Very nicely human. Must be from a species that gets around, if she knows about the Corps.

"The Green Lantern Corps could create unwelcome interference with the mission at this juncture," she said. "That cannot be permitted."

Hal was just registering the fact that her statement, though delivered very calmly and without rancor, carried an implicit threat when another thought entered his mind. Didn't the ring just say that it couldn't detect any signs of life?

He was just beginning to tense himself, to will his ring's defensive field into being, when the woman's right arm swung around with shocking speed and force. The edge of her hand impacted the side of his head. A flashbulb seemed to go off behind his eyes.

Hal crumpled involuntarily. As consciousness winked out, he caught a glimpse of blonde hair.

Yellow. My one weakness...

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