The New Titans: Aftermath, Chapter 2: Inferno of Hate

by Libbylawrence

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Meanwhile, back on Paradise Island, the days had passed all too soon in sunshine, laughter, and healing. When the Longs left the Amazon islands, they left with new hope and comfort. When they reached their suburban home, they were tired but happy.

Donna Troy Long smiled as Terry Long caressed her cheek. “You know, we do have a chaperone,” she said.

Terry frowned. “What? Why, Jen, here, knows her old man is a lovesick fool! Plus, she knows he might buy her that Jem doll she’s been wanting if she plays it cool when we old folks get frisky.”

Their laughter was interrupted when the phone rang. The commanding tone of Dick Grayson was on the other end of the line. “Donna? I’ve located her. I know you just got back, but we figured you’d want in on this.”

Donna smiled grimly. “I do. Thanks, Dick. I’ll meet you at our usual spot.”

Terry frowned as he noticed Donna carry out the red, gold, and blue costume the Cheetah had dressed her in when last they fought.

“Why the pseudo-Wonder Woman costume?” he asked.

Donna said, “I think it’s only fitting that I bring the Cheetah in while I’m wearing the very outfit she wanted to kill me in. I want to do it for Diana, too. She battled Cheetah before I ever did. If Debbie Domaine wants to fight a Wonder Woman, then, by Hera, that’s who she’ll fight. Nubia will understand.”

Terry hugged her and said, “Be careful. I know your abilities. I know how much your friends care. Still, be careful!”

***

Artemis, Nightwing, Changeling, Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven met and were soon flying across the country via the Titan jet. Artemis was grim as she thought about the upcoming confrontation.

“You know, seeing you in those hot pants makes me appreciate the word wonder in your old name,” said Gar.

Donna smiled only slightly. She was in no mood to even try to banter with her friend.

Starfire said, “Donna, I want you to know I’m here for you. I’m here not just for this battle but for afterward, too. I recall after a combat with the Warlords of Okaara, I used to feel more restless than before the match began.”

Raven crossed her legs and touched Donna. “I also want to help. Let me take away your stress and pain. Let me take it upon myself.”

Donna kissed her and gently removed her hands. “No. I want to feel what I am feeling. I need to do so. There’s no need to suppress or remove my honest emotions. Still, I love you for trying to help.”

Nightwing said, “There’s the boat below us. Looks like we’re a bit late! Some costumed figure is hovering over the yacht. He’s firing energy blasts down to it!”

Starfire jumped to her feet. “X’Hal! Let me deal with him. If he is an ally, then he will allow us to handle the Cheetah!”

Artemis said, “He’s powerful. Notice how those blasts literally boil the waters around the yacht?”

Cyborg said, “Got a name for Mr. Clean?”

Nightwing shook his head. “No record of him in our system. He’s either new or really obscure.”

Gar changed to a bird and said, “I know, I know! You want me to scout around!” He flew down from their craft and swooped low over the large yacht. The crew were fighting blazes on the deck with panic and haste. Changeling landed in human form and said, “Who is that nut?”

A man with a beard shook his head. “He’s the bane of all who care for the Green! He’s called the Protector! I thought he was an urban legend!

Artemis had soared down as well, and now she stood defiantly with both hands on her hips, looking for all the world like the original Wonder Woman. “Where’s the Cheetah? I know this is her boat!” she said.

A growl from above led her to gaze up. She saw the sultry Cheetah crouching in her feline manner on the shadowy top of the cabin. The wind swept her flowing brown hair back, and she glared out through the long strands with a savage gleam in her blue eyes. “Wonder Woman! At last, I can claw you to death!” she shouted.

She pounced on Artemis, and they rolled around the deck together in a desperate struggle.

Gar shifted to bear form and kept her crew away. “I’m tougher than the average bear, so keep back, or I’ll make picnic baskets out of you!” he said.

Meanwhile, Starfire had soared out of the T-Jet to face the Protector. “You must stop attacking the ship! We seek a dangerous criminal below!” she said.

The Protector eyed her curvy form with casual interest. “Oh, I know. I’m here to kill the Cheetah, too!”

Starfire said, “We don’t kill! Rest assured, she will be brought to justice!”

The Protector said, “No. Not good enough. I’m paid to kill tree-hugging loons like her!” He grabbed Starfire’s arm and twisted it suddenly.

She kicked him below the belt and gasped as her foot ached. “You’re like solid steel!” she gasped.

He slapped her into the ocean below with a roundhouse right. “Me? I’m even tougher than steel! I can make my body be anything I want!” gloated the Protector.

Nightwing saw it all and said, “Raven, get her quick!”

Raven vanished from the T-Jet to reappear in midair below the jet. She gasped as Kory crashed into her, but with all her remaining strength, she managed to teleport once more to the jet. “Azar! I fear Kory nearly broke my arm!” she said, pressing her hands on the alien princess and smiling as Kory opened her green eyes.

“Raven, thanks! Now, let me up! I want to make that cocky creep pay!” she said.

Nightwing said, “No! He has strange powers. Just keep him busy. Don’t get too close!”

Cyborg said, “Let me do a little meet and greet — and beat!” He extended on arm on thick cables and lowered himself down until he hovered in the path of the Protector.

“Well, a Tin Man! You know, I can be metallic, too!” he said as his body changed and gleamed silvery in the sun.

Shoot! Maybe I can make scrap out of this jerk! thought Cyborg. He fired his finger laser and winced as the Protector took on a mirror-like shine and deflected the blast away from his body.

“No good. Now, it’s my turn!” the Protector said as he moved with surprising speed and blasted Cyborg with red energy.

Vic Stone gasped and hauled himself into the jet. He was in pain, and he wondered just how powerful this man could be. “Radiation! That creep tried to cook me alive in my own metal shell!” he groaned.

Starfire said, “We can’t allow him to destroy that ship — not with Artemis, Changeling, and the crew aboard. He seem determined to take them all down just to get the Cheetah!”

Nightwing said, “Raven, do you sense anything from him?”

Raven nodded slowly. “I do. His emotions surge with each change. Just before he changes his body to metal or energy or that mirror-like glass, his passions soar.”

Nightwing nodded. “Excellent. Do as I say. Starfire, blast him with a star-bolt. Raven, as soon as you sense him getting ready to change via an emotional surge, yell out. Cyborg, on Raven’s signal, hit him with your white sound blaster.”

They nodded and obeyed their leader’s orders.

Meanwhile, on the boat, Gar continued to hold back the crew as Artemis fought for her life.

“You witch! You killed an innocent woman for spite! You won’t hurt anyone again!” said Artemis as she slammed both palms into the Cheetah’s chin.

The Cheetah snarled and raked a claw across Artemis’ chest. “I’ll start by ripping you open! I want to see if you are all made of sugar inside, too! You are sickening sweet on the outside!” she growled.

She rolled over and sent Artemis crashing through the cabin walls. Before the Amazon princess could move, the maddened Cheetah was on top of her, and she pressed both feet into Artemis’ back.

Artemis groaned as her agile foe clawed at her with fury. “You know, after I slay you and your friends, I’ll hunt down the other Wonder Woman! Why, maybe that island of yours will keep sending new Wonder Women until I’ve skinned them all!” she laughed.

Artemis was bleeding from several cuts. Her back was raw from the lacerations, and her chest was scarred as well. Still, she continued to fight onward. “No! By Hera, no!” she shouted and rolled over. She received a gash across her side but ignored the pain to slam her fist into the Cheetah’s snarling face.

She sat up and brought both hands up into the Cheetah’s stomach. Then, she caught her in a bear hug and crushed her with her own considerable power. “This ends here!” she said between gritted teeth.

The Cheetah struggled, but as Artemis held her off the floor and her legs kicked helplessly in the air, she began to slow her efforts. She rammed her head into Artemis’ own face, but with her claws pinned against her own sides, she could not fight with any real skill.

Above the yacht, the Protector reeled as Starfire sent a star-bolt into his chest. He said, “Try that again, babe!”

Kory released another bolt as Raven felt the emotional surge within the foe. “Now!” she cried.

Cyborg fired his white sound blast directly at the Protector at the precise moment; his body switched to the reflective glass form that deflected Kory’s bolt. The sound shattered him into hundreds of pieces as an expression of shock crossed his face. “Nooo!” he gasped.

“Did I just kill him?” Cyborg said.

Nightwing yelled back. “No, he has total control of his body. He’ll reassemble in time! I got the profile on him finally from Superman’s Fortress computer. Took me a minute or two to get access. Superman battled him before. He’s called the Protector — a mutant who defends polluting companies.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: The Protector, a mutant powered by pollution, fought Superman in “Krypton — No More,” Superman #307 (January, 1977) and “This Planet Is Mine,” Superman #308 (February, 1977).]

Starfire yelled, “The yacht’s really blazing now! I’m getting Artemis!”

She swooped down and saw Changeling helping the crew into lifeboats. “Starfire! The whole yacht’s going up! Get Artemis out!” he cried.

Starfire kicked her way through the shattered wooden walls of the cabin to see Artemis squeezing the Cheetah in a wrestling hold. “Artemis! We must leave!” she cried.

Artemis hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “She’s out cold! Let’s get out of here!”

As they started to leave, the Cheetah suddenly slipped free and jumped back into the blazing cabin. “I’d rather die than be caged again!” she hissed.

Before Artemis could follow her, the yacht exploded. Starfire snatched her friend by the arm and rode out the wave of energy that sent them flying. Changeling had carried the crew away in whale form.

Nightwing piloted the T-Jet closer, and the friends regrouped. “The Protector will regroup. Raven’s sure he is alive,” said Nightwing.

The empath nodded. “I feel his anger. He is scattered across the ocean below, but he lives.”

Cyborg said, “What about the Cheetah?”

Artemis sadly shook her head. “She was so feral. She nearly clawed me to death. In the end, I felt no real satisfaction at beating her. She killed herself by running back into that inferno.”

Starfire shrugged. “Her madness reaped a fitting end.”

Cyborg said, “Hold it! I’ve been in this business long enough to know that if there’s no body, then she’ll be back!”

Nightwing shook his head. “Wrong. The Coast Guard just called us. They’ve fished her body out of the ocean. She was burned badly, but the hair, the face, the costume all combine to make it pretty clear that she was the Cheetah.”

Artemis said, “I know this is crazy, but all I feel is sorrow. I want to cry for some reason.”

Raven took her friend in her arms and held her as they piloted the jet back toward home.

***

Elsewhere, a sultry woman reclined on a divan. She was clearly Debbie Domaine, the Cheetah.

She gazed at a photo and smiled. “Poor, dear Claudia. She responded to my cyber-conditioning perfectly. She acted as if she was poor, mad me well enough to fool those dolts. Shame I had to activate the explosive I’d placed aboard the yacht in order to rid myself of the Protector and the Titans. Still, she was only a look-a-like cousin, not a cat or plant. No real loss.

“Now to get my revenge on Nubia and my other enemy,” she purred idly and batted at a ball of string.

The End

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