Arlington National Cemetery, Washington DC

Five Days Later

"There were a good many heroes in this war," said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who stood behind a lectern. A few feet away lay the flag-draped casket of Lieutenant Commander Crash Corrigan.

He continued. "Those in uniform, doctors and nurses who tended the wounded, firemen who rescued those in need, ordinary citizens who took up arms to defend their homes and neighbors. Not only in the United States of America, but all around this world, and all around the planet Mongo."

Flash maintained his stoic look as he and the other Defenders of Freedom sat in the front row. They were joined by Barin, Aura, Thun and Vultan. Queen Fria, much as she wanted to come, sent one of her generals in her stead. Barin wanted at least one monarch on Mongo to oversee the planet's recovery from the robowarrior invasion.

Flash gripped Dale's hand as Roosevelt went on.

"We are here on this sacred ground today to honor one of those heroes. Very few men can claim they have saved the world even one time. Lieutenant Commander Crash Corrigan could make that claim twice. It was thanks to his courage that the Atlantean tyrant Unga Khan's plan to destroy the surface world failed. Then Commander Corrigan was asked to join the ranks of a special group of people in our darkest hour. He did so without hesitation. He journeyed far beyond the world he knew, and laid down his life so that millions, billions would be spared living under the iron boot of the greatest dictator this galaxy has ever known. In doing so, Commander Corrigan exemplified all the traits of an officer of the United States Navy. Honor, courage, commitment."

When Roosevelt finished, the honor guard marched near the casket and halted. Seven men in Navy dress blues fired their rifles. Flash saw a gray-haired woman jerk at the report, then lean against a distinguished-looking older gentleman. A thin young woman in the dress uniform of a U.S. Navy nurse laid a hand on the older woman's shoulder.

That was Corrigan's parents and younger sister. Flash bit his lower lip and stared at the green, perfectly manicured grass around his feet. Even after five days, he still had this dark, empty feeling inside.

It was probably nothing compared to the grief the Corrigans were experiencing.

The honor guard fired their rifles twice more. A bugler played taps. Two sailors then picked up the American flag from the casket, folded it and handed it to an officer, who presented it to the Corrigan family, "On behalf of a grateful nation."

It should be on behalf of a grateful world, thought Flash. Two grateful worlds, in fact.

The mourners slowly made their way past the casket. Next they went up to the Corrigans to express their condolences.

"I was with your son when he . . ." Prince Thun paused. "When he met his end. He was a great and honorable warrior who will forever be remembered by my Lionmen."

"Thank you," said both retired Admiral Edward Corrigan and Lieutenant, Junior Grade Carrie Corrigan. Crash's mother, Sally, simply nodded.

The Phantom, Diana, The Shadow and Templar were all ahead of Flash. That at least gave him time to come up with something meaningful to say to the Corrigans.

His mind was still a blank when he stepped in front of them.

"Um, Admiral, Lieutenant, Mrs. Corrigan. Um, your son was . . . he was an outstanding man. One of the bravest men I've ever had the privilege of knowing. He was a credit to the Navy, to the entire world."

"Thank you, Captain Gordon," said the admiral. "Crash always had a great admiration for you, for what you did to save our world from Ming the Merciless previously."

Flash just nodded. Corrigan never let on to that fact. The man was probably too much of a professional to do so.

Flash stepped away from the Corrigans. He dared not look at them. He couldn't help but wonder if they were silently cursing him, asking, "Why didn't you kill Ming before this?"

Hell, he had thought that many times over the past few days. He should have made damn sure Ming had died when he entered that chamber under his palace two years ago. Then the robowarrior invasions of Earth and Mongo never would have happened. Millions would still be alive.

Crash would still be alive.

The Defenders all gravitated to a bench near one of the walking paths. Donovan stood with his hands behind his back, staring out at the rows of white tombstones.

"I lost my fair share of men in Mexico and in the Great War. It never gets easy, especially when you're the one who sent some young man into harm's way."

"Corrigan knew the risks," said The Phantom. "He knew them the day he enlisted in the Navy."

"You're right, Phantom." Donovan turned to him. "It still doesn't make it easy, does it?"

"No, it doesn't."

Silence descended upon them. It was about a minute before Templar finally spoke. "Perhaps this is not the best time to bring it up, but what happens to us? I mean, the Defenders of Freedom?"

"I have been talking it over with The President," said Donovan. "We're still concerned that our Mongonoid allies haven't been able to find so much as one of Ming's charred toenails in the wreckage of his escape pod."

"I'd like to think he was blown into pieces so small we can't find them," said Diana.

"I'd like to believe that, too," said Flash. "But knowing Ming like I do, I wouldn't be surprised if he somehow survived that crash."

"Meaning he might still be roaming around outer space." Tracy shook his head. "There's a comforting thought."

"It's not just Ming we need to worry about," Donovan told them. "Outer space is infinite. Who knows how many thousands, even millions, of planets are out there. How many of them spawned someone as evil as Ming? Even here on Earth we have our share of would-be conquerors. Japan's been fighting in China for almost a year, and I have a bad feeling they want the rising sun to stretch from one end of the Pacific to the other. And you can't tell me that joker Hitler over in Germany isn't going to cause trouble somewhere down the line."

"And by studying the wreckage of robowarriors and Mongonoid rocketships, they could build an arsenal of highly advanced weapons," added Zarkov.

"That possibility has not escaped me," said Donovan. "That's why we can't afford to make the Defenders of Freedom a one-time thing."

The Phantom raised a hand. "As much as I appreciate the potential threats we face, I have responsibilities to Bangalla that must be attended to."

"The man's got a point," said Tracy. "I don't think we can sit around in some clubhouse and wait for aliens Earthly dictators to show up and start causing trouble. I still got a bunch of thugs back in Chicago I need to throw in the clink. Flash and company will probably be busy getting things squared away on Mongo, The Shadow probably has a bunch of crime bosses to deal with in New York, and Simon . . . for Pete's sake, Simon, I still have no idea what you really do."

"Why not call me a repairman." Templar smiled.

Tracy cocked an eyebrow. "A repairman?"

"Yes. There are all sorts of . . . situations that need to be fixed. I fix them."

"That's as close to a real answer as I'm going to get from you, isn't it?"

Templar's grin widened. "You are correct, my dear inspector."

Tracy just shook his head.

Donovan held up both hands. "I understand all of you have your individual responsibilities. I'm not trying to prevent you from doing them. You're free to go your separate ways. But should we be faced with another threat to the entire world, I'd like you folks to answer the call."

Flash looked around at the others. "I think I can speak for everyone when I say we're more than willing to do that."

They all nodded or said, "Yes."

"The only thing is," Flash continued, "after everything we've been through, I think maybe we should rename the group to something more . . . all-encompassing. Something that reflects what our mission truly is."

"And do you have a name in mind?" asked Donovan.

"I do." Flash paused. "I think from this day forward, we should be known as . . . the Defenders of the Earth."

THE END


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed it. Check out my original alien invasion book "Dark Wings," available on Amazon and as an ebook from Smashwords. Also, read my newest novel "Sea Raptor," available on Amazon & Kindle in August 2014.