by Martin Maenza
The passenger section of the private aircraft looked more like a large recreation room than part of an airplane. Comfy couches sat arranged around the edges in two semicircles with a walkway down the middle. The color scheme mixed forest green with pale yellows to give the area of the plane a relaxing atmosphere.
Seated around the room were Hank Hall, Dawn Granger, Mal and Karen Duncan, Charley Parker, and Arisia. Collectively, these six individuals made up the current roster of Titans West. Also seated with them was clothing designer Neil Richards, known in fashion circles as the Mad Mod.
“This is totally awesome!” Charley repeated once more. His friends were tiring of this observation, yet the blonde surfer continued to voice it nonetheless. “I still cannot believe we are traveling like this. This is, like, the final word on first-class accommodations!”
An older man appeared in the doorway in back, which led to the airplane’s rest room. “I am glad you approve, Master Charley,” he said. His hair was gray in color, and he wore a suit of gray over a black shirt with a banded collar. “I was pleased to hear that you could all accept Miss Arisia’s invitation.” The man gently tapped the young alien woman’s knee as he walked past.
Arisia smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Jupiter, for offering the use of the plane,” the golden-skinned teen said. “It’s nice for us all to have an opportunity to just sit back, relax, and talk.”
The red-headed man seated next to her chimed in. “Don’t need to thank ol’ Loren, love,” Neil Richards pointed out. “He had some business to attend to in the Big Apple, anyway. Might as well let us all hitch a ride, eh? Saves on petrol and whatnot.”
Loren Jupiter chuckled at the man. “Right you are, Neil,” he said. “But I do enjoy the opportunity to visit with old friends like Hank and Malcolm. Right, boys?”
Hank Hall barely looked past the issue of Sports Illustrated that his nose was buried in. Dawn gave him a quick elbow in the arm to get his attention. “Ow!” the brown-haired man said. “What’s that for, Dawn?” The blonde woman just rolled her eyes at his lack of social graces.
Loren Jupiter took a seat next to the Duncans. “And it is good to finally meet you, my dear,” the multi-millionaire said as he placed his hand on Karen’s knee. “Malcolm is an outstanding young man, and I am very proud of how he turned out. I am truly sorry, though, that I was not able to make it to your wedding a few years back.”
“Thank you, sir,” Karen said. “We completely understood that you had business to attend to.”
Mal chimed in. “Karen knows all about business, Mr. Jupiter,” the black man stated. “In fact, while the rest of us have plans to chill out a bit and do the tourist scene, Karen has already made plans to drop in at the STAR Labs facilities.”
Loren nodded. “I am sure you’ll be able to tear her away from her work for a bit, Malcolm.”
“Dude, don’t forget that Karen’s not, like, the only one mixing business with pleasure this trip,” Charley stated. “Arisia’s got that mega video shoot as Cindy Simpson, and I get to, like, tag along. It’s going to be totally awesome!”
The private jet continued on its course to LaGuardia Airport.
The next day, Charley Parker adjusted the special badge that hung around his neck, making sure it was clearly visible outside of the flowered shirt he wore over his white T-shirt. With camera in hand, he entered the closed-off section of the New Jersey mall. The security gave him a rather concerned look initially, but then waved him past.
Glancing across the way, Charley saw those he arrived with earlier. Neil Richards made the last-minute adjustments to Cindy Simpson’s outfit; the British designer insisted that she sport a Mad Mod original for video. He chose for her a blue shirt and skirt combo with a slight silvery pattern. The skirt had a rather high slit on the left thigh. Tall boots of the same blue color completed the outfit. Even as a well-seasoned member of the Green Lantern Corps, Cindy — AKA Arisia — seemed very excited about today’s activities.
But not nearly as excited as Charley. He clicked off tons of pictures as he walked around the closed set. Who knows when I’ll ever get another chance like this? he thought to himself. Gotta get it all totally down on film.
The camera continued to whir as Charley walked backward. “Gar is gonna be, like, totally jealous!” Suddenly, Charley felt something or someone bump into his back.
“Hey!” Charley exclaimed as he whirled around. “Watch where you’re–!”
Another voice began to say, “Hey, you big goat! You almost made me drop my–!”
Charley stopped in his tracks when he saw the individual he had run into. The young man was shorter than he, but dressed in an equally stylish pair of shorts and rather colorful shirt. What made the young man stand out was his complexion and wavy hair, both a solid shade of green. “Gar!” Charley exclaimed.
Garfield Logan blinked, now realizing who the long-haired blonde he bumped into was. “Charley!” he said. The two old friends embraced one another. Then they quickly parted, attempting to regain their macho-cool appearances.
“What are you doing here?” they asked one another in unison, then laughed.
“You first, green dude,” Charley said.
Garfield Logan switched off his hand-held video camera. “Kory got invited down to do this video shoot,” the teen said as he gestured across the way. There was the statuesque, bronze-skinned female primping her long, flowing brown hair. Given her unique looks, the alien heroine known as Starfire made little effort to keep a secret identity. She simply adopted the name of Kory Anders, which was a play on her native Tamaran name of Koriand’r. Next to her stood a dark-haired young woman with a camera hanging from around her neck. In both her heroic and secret identities, Donna Troy Long was a close friend to Kory. “Naturally, Donna tagged along as Kory’s personal photographer. I think she wanted to get some pictures for Terry’s daughter Jennifer.”
“And you, like, figured you’d tag along, too?” Charley asked.
“Well,” Garfield admitted, “I am a bit of a celebrity in my own right. I was on a television show a few years back, you know. Thought maybe I’d get asked to participate at the last minute.”
Charley laughed. “Yeah, right, dude! Like last time I checked, only real sci-fi geeks still watched Space Trek: 2020 reruns!”
Garfield suddenly changed shape in a flash and perched onto his old friend’s shoulder as a robin. “Funny thing,” the little green creature that was Garfield Logan said, “a little bird told me you still watch the show. Must make you one of those geeks, eh, Charley boy?” The blonde shoed his friend away, and Garfield returned to his human form, laughing. “So, why are you here? Trying to pick up a date or something?”
Charley Parker pointed across the way. “I’m here with her!” He indicated his female teammate.
The younger of the two recognized the teen Charley pointed to in an instant. “Cindy Simpson!” Gar exclaimed. “No way! How’d you hook up with a model like her? And will you introduce me?”
“Down, boy! Like, take a chill pill, dude! Cindy’s a friend.” Charley leaned in to whisper in the green youth’s ear. “In fact, she’s a teammate, too. That Cindy Simpson guise is, like, the cover for Arisia, Green Lantern babe and now Titans West member, too.”
Gar smiled. “Yeah? Cool! I just might have to come out and visit you guys, after all.”
“Definitely!” Charley said.
Just then, the director of the video shoot called out: “OK, folks, we need to get this show on the road. Extras need to report to the choreographer to make sure you have your steps down.” Both Kory and Cindy made their way over to join the others. “We’ll be ready to shoot the scenes for Betty Gilson’s new video Energized Youth in less than a half an hour.”
Both Charley and Garfield were excited. That meant the young singer-songwriter would be making an appearance soon. At age sixteen, Betty Gilson was one of the youngest singer-songwriters on the music scene today.
But these two were not the only ones anxious for Betty’s arrival on the set. Another set of eyes watched from the shadows of the walkway above.
Meanwhile, back across the Hudson River at the New York City facility of STAR (Scientific and Technological Advanced Research) Labs, two African-American women of similar age and interests chatted with one another.
“Thanks so much for bringing this by personally, Karen,” the woman in the white lab coat said. She was Dr. Sarah Charles, one of the facility’s experts on cybernetics. “You really could have simply mailed the information to me.”
“Not a problem, Sarah,” replied Karen Duncan. She was dressed a bit casually in jeans and a tank top. She shifted a bit uncomfortably; being in a lab much like her own without wearing her lab coat felt kind of odd. “I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I’d bring it by. Plus, it gives me chance to check out the site.”
Sarah put the envelope down on the table. “I appreciate that. The whole idea behind this is a bit scary. I’m not one to make such a big change without first researching it thoroughly. I don’t want any unexpected surprises cropping up.”
“I totally understand,” Karen said. “If there is anything at all I can do to assist you, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve read a lot about your work and had been hoping we’d get the opportunity to work together on something.”
“Oh, I am certain we will, Karen. I think that is inevitable.”
“Ahem,” a male voice said from across the room. The two women didn’t need to turn to know the source of the sound. It came from Victor Stone, the young half-man, half-machine called Cyborg.
“If you ladies are through chit-chatting, maybe we could get on with this,” Cyborg said. He lay on a large platform, reclined at a forty-five degree angle. Various cables and such connected the various ports in his shiny cybernetic armor to large equipment around the lab. He looked more like a science project than a patient at the moment. “If I keep getting slow service on my monthly system checks, I’m gonna have to start going to Quickie Lube.”
The two women laughed. “Relax, Victor,” Sarah said as she checked one of the readouts. “The diagnostic tests are almost finished. You should be out of here in an hour or so.” Sarah turned back to Karen. “That’s one thing I’ll miss when I move out to California — Victor’s sparkling personality.”
Karen nodded. “Well, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of interesting assignments for you at the San Francisco STAR facility. I am so glad you are coming aboard.”
“Me, too,” Sarah said. But as she glanced over at Victor Stone, she felt a slight twinge in her heart. Though the move was a great opportunity for her professional career, she was forced to sacrifice something in her personal life. She would truly miss Victor after she moved.
The trio arrived at the small landing platform on the Long Island shore. Dawn Granger looked out over the East River at the tall, six-story structure located on the island park before them. “Wow,” the young blonde said in amazement. “I have seen pictures of it before, but they did not do it justice. Titans Tower is certainly a unique landmark.”
“It most certainly is,” Mal agreed. “Even in the Big Apple with all its attractions, a T-shaped building has a good chance at standing out. I’ve only been inside once myself; Karen and I stopped in after Donna’s wedding to have a quick look around. Real nice setup they’ve got there.”
“Well, get ready to have a first-class tour,” Hank said. They walked down to the end of the platform and stepped onto the awaiting passenger T-barge. The brown-haired young man reached into his shirt pocket and produced a small white card. He quickly inserted it into the reader mounted on the post and pulled it back out. The light turned green, and the platform slowly moved out into the river to sail on its preprogrammed course. Hank flashed the card at his friends. “Membership has its privileges.”
The river was relatively calm that day, making the trip a fairly smooth one. A few seabirds monitored the progress as they flew overhead. In no time at all, the small craft completed its quarter-mile journey, docking on a similar platform on the lush island. The three friends quickly disembarked and started up the path to the headquarters of their fellow Titans.
As they approached the shiny building, a couple exited the front doors. One was a well-built man with long, flowing purple hair. What little of a costume he wore was accessorized with golden touches. White wings protruded from his back. The other was a strikingly beautiful red-head, adorned in a white tunic and shorts. She looked every bit like a goddess walking here on Earth.
The woman spoke first upon seeing the approaching party. “Mal?!” she exclaimed. “Is that you?“
“Lilith!” the black man replied. He ran up to her, giving her a great big hug that lifted her off the ground. “Girl, it’s great to see you again! You look fabulous.” He spun her around once before finally putting her back down.
The red-head smiled. “You are looking quite well yourself. By the gods, it has been ages! How are you?”
The winged Azrael glared silently as the old friends reminisced. He was very protective of Lilith and felt extremely upset when anyone else was having any form of intimate contact with her. Before today, he had not met this Mal person, but had already decided that he did not like him very much.
“Hey, red,” Hank called to Lilith. “I see you and the winged one here are still together. You sure do know how to pick ’em.”
Azrael snapped his neck around and glared at Hank Hall. The two met once briefly a number of months back; the winged man did not find his crassness at all amusing then, either. He made a mental note to himself that perhaps he needed to get Lilith away from her former friends.
Dawn interrupted Azrael’s thoughts by offering her hand as a gesture of friendship. “Hi, I’m Dawn,” she said. “And you are…?”
The winged man accepted the woman’s hand. “Azrael,” was all he offered. He then turned to Lilith. “My love, we really should be going!” His tone reflected both jealousy as well as impatience.
Lilith stopped chatting with Mal, looking kind of disappointed. “He’s right,” she admitted. “We do have an appointment to keep. I hope you all are staying long.”
“We’ll be around for five days or so,” Mal stated. “We can catch up later. And if somehow that doesn’t work out, you are always welcome to come visit us out in San Francisco.”
Lilith smiled. “I would like that.” She then said her goodbyes, and she and Azrael took off.
Hank watched them go. “Her taste in men must be slipping these days,” he said as he headed for the door. “She seems to have regressed to the big and dumb ones again.”
Dawn looked at him curiously.
Mal caught her glance, leaned in closer, and said in her ear, “Back when she was with Teen Titans West, Lilith used to date a Neanderthal named Gnarrk. After he was killed by the Injustice Gang, Lilith turned to Hank’s brother Don for emotional support. The two had gotten a bit serious in a rather short time.”
The blonde woman nodded understandingly. The topic of Don Hall came up once or twice between she and Hank before, and she knew that it was a sensitive one. She made a note to herself to have another conversation with him about Don at some point. It didn’t do him good to keep certain emotions bottled up inside.