Living on an incredibly advanced alien space ship had its advantages. Rapid travel to pretty much anywhere and giant TVs with all the channels in the galaxy included. Jason's favorite thing about Starfire's spaceship (aside from its incredible weapons arsenal) was its computer. He wasn’t much of a tech geek, he left that to Replacement Robin, but the computer sensors could pick up strange readings from anywhere on the planet. A lot of those readings indicated JLA or Teen Titans fights. And then the ship was able to take over satellite images which was how Jason had discovered his favorite past time: watching other heroes fight their ridiculous fights and turning it into a game with Roy and Koriand'r. Which was why, when the computer started beeping, Jason bolted over to it as quickly as he could, grinning maniacally.
"Come on, baby, give me something good. Roy, make us some popcorn!" he called, tapping away at the computer so he could get control of a satellite. "Oh, North Pole," he grinned, intrigued.
"Please be Powergirl, please be Powergirl," Roy declared, hopping up and down.
Kori rolled her eyes, "She's impervious to the cold. You're not going to see pointy nipples, Roy."
The red head's face fell, instantly crushed. "You always destroy my dreams, Kori. Why?"
"Because I enjoy it," she replied easily.
Jason snorted and then grinned when he finally got control of the satellite camera and directed it at the North Pole. But when the image came up, there was nothing there. "Huh," he said, looking at the large screen feeling rather disappointed. "There's nothing there."
Koriand'r moved to the computer and looked over the information, "The magnetic pull of the North Pole could be giving us false readings," she suggested.
"Maybe," Jason agreed, "But wouldn't it have happened at least once before? Why suddenly happen now?"
Kori conceded the point. "What do you think?"
A thought struck Jason and he turned to his teammates. "Penguins."
Roy blinked at him, "Horseshoes. What's your point?"
Jason rolled his eyes at his dumbass best friend, "No, you idiot. Let's go check out the readings ourselves. And we can also go see the penguins."
"What are penguins?" Kori asked, but Roy anticipated her question and pulled up a Wikipedia article on his phone. They'd discovered over time that it was the most efficient way to brief Kori on Earth things she wasn't familiar with, as the articles usually answered all the obscure questions she always asked that Jason and Roy never knew the answers to. He passed the phone to Kori and turned his attention back to Jason.
"There aren't penguins at the North Pole, you moron."
"What?" Jason protested. "Of course there are."
"No, they're at the South Pole. Come on, man. This is grade school stuff."
Jason rolled his eyes, "Elementary school dropout, remember? And Batman's education regiment did not include Arctic birds."
"Antarctic," Roy corrected again. "I know you got some middle school in too. And you can't tell me Batman's education regime didn't include penguins. You literally have a villain called The Penguin."
"Yeah, and he's a tool. Penguins are cute fluffy birds that slide through the snow on their stomachs," Jason argued.
"Roy is correct. Penguins are only found on the continent of Antarctica. There are none at the North Pole," Koriand'r broke in. "But they find mates and bond for life," she noted. "Adorable. I approve of penguins as a species."
"Irrelevant," Roy decided. "The readings are at the North Pole, not over Antarctica."
"Fine, then let's go check out the readings and find some polar bears. Then we can go to Antarctica and see the penguins. They have polar bears in the North Pole, right?"
"Polar bears?" Kori asked, and Roy took the phone back to switch to an article about polar bears. "Ah. Fluffy. Also adorable," she noted, looking at the picture.
Jason smirked victoriously and Roy shrugged, "Sure, let's go to the North Pole and check out the mystery readings, but if this turns into a clusterfuck, I blame you," he declared, pointing a finger at Jason.
Jason basked in his victory, but knew way better than to say something as stupid as "What's the worst that could happen?" He'd died and come back to life. He knew the answer to that question already.
Two hours later they were royally, unbelievably fucked and Jason was cursing up a storm, because honestly, what the fuck even? Only they would stumble across three telepathic aliens that subsisted off the pain and fear of others while simultaneously destroying entire planets in one go.
"Aliens," Roy cursed, running a hand through his wild, red hair. "Fucking aliens. I hate fucking aliens."
"Hey!" Koriand'r snapped, offended.
"Obviously you're an exception, Kori," Jason spoke, quick to placate his fellow Outlaw because she could easily kill him and Roy with her pinky. "But can you really blame him at the moment?" Jason certainly couldn't.
Koriand'r considered their current position of being far outclassed and currently the only thing standing between three planet eaters and the whole of the Earth. "Okay, fine," she retorted, sounding remarkably human. Prolonged exposure to Jason and Roy had helped her blend culturally far more efficiently than all those years with the Teen Titans. Jason wasn't quite sure what that said about him and Roy, but he doubted it was good. Then again, there was little good to say about them in general.
"It wasn't my intention to save the world today," Jason declared suddenly. "I did not wake up thinking I wanted to save the planet. How the fuck did this happen?" he was pretty sure it was Roy's fault. Things usually were, so blaming Roy was generally a good policy.
"I want the record to show that I was against this from the beginning," Roy declared, as if he could hear Jason's thoughts, and if it didn't look like Roy was slowly bleeding out, Jason would have punched him for being contrary. As it was, he was barely standing himself. Even Koriand'r was beat to hell.
"Shut up, Roy," Kori snipped, understandably grumpy. "Not the time."
And it wasn't. They had to figure out a plan. The Planet Eaters, aware of the vast divide of powers between them, had granted them a short window of time to decide whether they would flee the planet or stay and defend it. The fact that they were even giving them the option to run and leave their planet for dead was rather charitable, as the planet eaters had them dead to rights. Still, Jason didn't really like the idea of leaving his planet to die.
"Okay, let's count it down," Jason said because he was a cynical, masochistic bastard. "Arsenal: possibly bleeding out, second degree burns, broken wrist, broken brain."
"Rude," Roy declared, because Jason was the one with the potential head injury, not Roy.
Jason continued, undeterred. "Starfire: broken leg. Which is terrifying."
Roy shuddered beside him because it was completely true. Koriand'r's alien physiology made her incredibly durable by Earth standards. If she was injured, then the two humans without powers were generally fucked.
"And Red Hood," Jason continued. "Three broken ribs, broken ankle, head wound, and significant laceration beneath lowest ribs on the left side."
"Shit, Hood, why didn't you say anything?" Roy immediately demanded.
Jason kept going. "On top of which, we are the only things standing between these Planet Eaters and the planet we all currently call home. And not all of us are even technically standing."
"Geez, Jay. Thanks for summing that up for us," Roy said bitterly.
Again, Jason ignored him. "So the real question here is, what are we going to do about it?" Because fleeing had never really been an option in any of their minds. It was silent for a moment and Jason sighed, wondering, not for the first time, if Batman was the only one who taught his protégés critical thinking skills. He might hate Bruce, but he wouldn't deny that the members of the Bat Family were generally more competent than anyone else he'd worked with. Dick had basically led the Teen Titans and Tim had done the same after him. Although it could have been that Koriand'r and Roy had been members of the Teen Titans and were used to the status quo of bats being in charge, because they just stared at him expectantly. Jason sighed and rubbed a hand over the face of his helmet.
"Okay, so our resident expert on intergalactic history, we have three Planet Eaters on our hands. Who would it take to stop them?" he asked, turning to Starfire.
"Superman and Martian Manhunter," she replied immediately. "But even they would struggle."
Jason nodded. Made sense. They were primarily telepathic creatures. The Martian Manhunter would be able to deal with them that way, and Superman would be able to stop them physically.
"Alright, this is what we're going to do," Jason said, and he dialed into the emergency line on the comm—a line that put him straight through to the Watchtower.
"Who is this?" Martian Manhunter's voice demanded on the line.
"Yeah, this is the Red Hood," he began darkly. "I know I'm not a member of the JLA, and how did I even get this line, all that. Not important. We have much, much bigger problems right now. You can track my coordinates, correct?"
J'onn J'onzz replied, "I'm putting a trace on it now." Then, "What are you doing in the Arctic Circle?"
"Freezing my balls off," he replied shortly. "But also, three Planet Eaters have landed here, and obviously Starfire, Arsenal and I are a little out of our league. So here's what's going to happen, J'onzz. We're gonna hold 'em off, keep 'em here. But you and Superman need to get here fast, because there's only so long we're going to be able to keep 'em occupied."
"Hood, they're telepathic feeders of pain and fear… you know what that will mean."
"Yeah, it's gonna suck balls," Jason declared grumpily. "But do you have any better ideas? Yeah, I didn't think so. Just hurry it up," he snapped, and cut the transmission.
"Uh, Hood, you know you're wanted by the League, right?" Roy reminded him.
"No, Arsenal, I forgot," Jason shot off, sarcastically. "But if the options are free with a destroyed planet, or imprisoned by the Justice League, I think imprisoned by the League wins."
Kori put a hand on his shoulder in silent solidarity.
Jason sighed and looked at his two teammates seriously, "You know what this means, don't you? How we're going to have to stall them?"
"Fuck, Jason," Roy hissed as he realized it for the first time. Koriand'r, true to her nature, had already caught on.
"It's temporary," she said. "For the Earth. For our home."
"God, you're so fucking noble. I hate you both," Roy spoke grumpily.
"Man up, Roy. We'll live," Jason said as Kori pushed herself up gently into the air. "You ready?"
"Fuck," Roy swore darkly. "I fucking want a drink after this, okay?"
"No way. You've been clean way too long. We're not going to let you ruin that," Koriand'r declared firmly.
"You're the worst. Both of you," he said darkly.
"We love you too, Roy," Jason said, patting him on the shoulder as they moved to the door of the ship. "Now try to be enticing, okay?"
"Fuck you," he retorted darkly.
The door opened letting in the bitter wind and deadly cold. The three Planet Eaters were waiting. You will not take the opportunity we offered you? The one in the middle, the largest spoke.
"We talked it over and decided not to," Jason declared firmly, and then he took the red helmet off and dropped it into the snow beside him. "But if you're hungry, we offer ourselves up as a snack."
You, pathetic human? Perhaps the Tamaranean, but your pathetic lives are so short. What do you know of pain and sorrow? You couldn't possibly be enough to even taste.
Jason's eyes narrowed, "Fucking try me," he snarled in response, bringing childhood beatings to mind. His father, his mother's dealers, his father's murder, his mother's overdose, nights scared for his life, freezing out on the street, beaten by thugs again and again every time he got the slightest bit ambitious—every time he tried to survive.
The Planet Eaters stirred.
He turned his mind to the League of Assassins, being tortured, strung up, beaten and left to die, being thrown into the pit, being injected with toxins that attacked the pain sensors and turned his mind to fire. Being beaten over and over and over again until he couldn't remember why—until he could barely remember his own name.
The Planet Eaters hissed and moved forward.
Jason figured it was time for the hook, and he turned his mind to the Joker and the crowbar, being betrayed by his birth mother and brutally beaten to death. Waking up in his coffin, alone, terrified, in agony and clawing his way out.
I want him! The Eater on the left demanded, gliding forward.
No! He's mine! The leader in the middle snarled, making the other two flinch back. Jason's mouth warped into a twisted grin. It was a bitter victory.
You will be delicious, it spoke in his mind, long fingers moving to wrap around his head. Jason let him. And then, suddenly, he was plunged into the earliest memories of his father, feeling and experiencing it all like it was the very first time—trapped in his four-year-old body, unable to control his actions as the belt came down again and again and again, buckle catching on his shoulder and back and thigh as he cried, but resolutely did not move so he could continue to shield his unconscious mother.
It got worse.
The Planet Eater wanted to feed on all of it. Every single awful memory Jason had, and he had a lot. It went in order, taking Jason back through his childhood and the violence and death, pausing to take an extra-long time on his death and resurrection, then through the horrors of the League of Assassins. Jason was strapped to a table, seizing through the effects of the serum they used as the highest form of punishment (barring death) yet again. He was busy screaming his voice away when it all suddenly went black.