Titans West: Sounds of War, Book 1, Chapter 1: Just Cause

by Martin Maenza

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The front door opened to a small, five-room apartment located not too far from one of the universities in the Los Angeles area, and in stepped a tall, thin, young woman with light skin and short, spiky blonde hair. In her hands she held the handles of a couple of sacks made of material.

A brown-haired young man dressed in shorts and a tank top was stretched out on the couch. He glanced away from the Calculus textbook resting on his chest and smiled. “Need a hand with that stuff?” Hal Jordan asked.

“You don’t have to, like, get up,” Cindy Simpson replied as she nudged the front door closed with her brown-sandal-wearing right foot. “I’ve got it totally under control.” Without the prying eyes of any neighbors, she concentrated her will, making a ring on her right hand turn visible. Then, with a surge of energy, two glowing emerald hands formed from the ring and lifted the two bags full of groceries with ease. As she walked to the kitchen counter, the hands followed and placed the bags down for her to unpack. They then dissipated as quickly as they had appeared.

“Did you pick up any soda?” Hal asked.

“I did,” Cindy replied. “But it’s still a bit warm. There’s some diet in the fridge still cold, you know.”

Hal frowned. “Pass.” While he preferred root beer, he would drink colas as well. But only the regular kind — not diet. “Diet leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

“Whatever,” the young woman said. She continued to put items in the fridge: some fresh fruit and vegetables, some hamburger, and some chicken. Then she turned to the counter, opened it, and placed a few small boxes of cereal, rice, and other foods on the tall shelves next to the dishes. Cindy then folded up the cloth sacks and placed them in the drawer underneath.

That’s when she noticed something. “Hal,” she called from the other room. “We lose power earlier or something?”

“Yeah,” he called back, his nose back in his book. “Just a brief surge is all. Lasted about five seconds or so. Why?”

“The clock’s out on the microwave. What time is it?”

Hal glanced at his watch. “5:45.”

“Oh,” she said as she punched in the time. Cindy then stepped into the other room. “I didn’t realize it was so late already.”

“Something going on tonight?” her roommate asked.

“Yeah,” Cindy replied. “Didn’t I tell you? Hank wanted to call an emergency meeting of the team.”

“Emergency meeting?” Hal asked curiously. “Did he say why?”

“Just a sec,” Cindy said as she crossed the room and headed for the hall that led to the two bedrooms. “I need to, like, take care of something first.”

Hal got up from the couch and started to follow her. As he reached the doorway to her bedroom, the room was filled with a slight green glow. Standing before a verdant metal lantern was Cindy, her ring finger thrust forward to touch the device. She was focused, concentrating as she spoke the rest of a familiar oath. “–no evil shall escape my sight, let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power–“

Hal Jordan smiled a bit whenever he got to witness one of the Green Lanterns speaking the oath while recharging his or her power ring. Over the years, he occasionally observed his namesake cousin doing the same thing. Now that he was dating her and living with her, this was a much more common sight.

When she finished her oath, she willed the ring to change her appearance to that of her native Graxos IV form: exactly that of an Earth human but with orange-tinted skin and slightly pointed ears. Her pink polo shirt and matching skirt were replaced by a white top and green skirt and boots. “Oh,” she said slightly but pleasantly surprised. “Didn’t see you there.” She picked up the lantern, placed it on her dresser, and the power battery immediately faded from view. “We probably should be heading out.”

“Right, sorry,” Hal said. “I’ll just go grab my costume and stuff, and we can go.” The young man cut back down the hall, past the bathroom that the couple shared, and went into his room. From the bottom drawer, he pulled out a blue costume with yellow trim and a belt. In a couple minutes, he was dressed in his Air Wave costume and joined his roommate in the family room again.

Shall we?” he asked.

Arisia’s ring surged and wrapped the two in a protective energy shell. Then, with a flash of light, they passed through the roof of the apartment like a pair of phantoms and rocketed high into the atmosphere before skirting north toward San Francisco.

“So, any idea why Hank is calling an emergency meeting?” Air Wave asked again.

Arisia bit her lip. She didn’t want to lie to her boyfriend and tell him no. She did have an inkling about it. “Well…” she started to say.

***

A short time later, the couple appeared in the spacious quarters underneath the Gabriel’s Horn nightclub on Lombardi Street in the city by the bay. As Arisia and Air Wave stepped into the main room, a voice called out from the metallic conference table around which the group sat.

“Like, there they are now,” called out a young man dressed head to toe in shiny armor. His helmet had a feathery side to it, and behind him were folded a large set of wings. “We were getting bummed thinking you weren’t, like, gonna show.”

“No chance of that happening, Eagle,” Air Wave said as he took the open seat next to the guy. “We’re team players through and through.”

Arisia smiled and sat on the other side of her boyfriend. She nodded and smiled. “Charley. Lisa.”

Golden Eagle nodded and smiled back. Next to him was a blonde-haired woman. At first Charley Parker felt a bit awkward being in the same room with both Arisia and Lisa Morel. After all, before he got involved with Lisa, he had a slight crush on the Green Lantern as well. Luckily for him that relationship never progressed beyond the just-friends phase, allowing him to become more involved with the oceanographer with whom he now shared a bed. And now that Lisa was a part-time member of the team as Oceana, it was good that everyone got along. Charley didn’t need any more drama in his life.

An African-American couple entered the room. Mal Duncan carried a cooler; his wife Karen carried a small pile of plastic cups. “Who wants drinks?” the man offered. Through the overflowing ice in the top of the cooler, various cans of soda were visible.

“Thanks, Mal,” Air Wave said as he grabbed a cola for himself and a diet for Arisia.

A woman with curly purple hair and white pasty makeup looked up from the magazine she was reading. Harlequin was dressed in a costume of purple and green with black and white checkerboard patterns down one leg and one arm. She wrinkled her nose and then started to read again.

“Is everyone here now?” called a boisterous male as he turned from the computer. The brown-haired Hank Hall stood up and approached the group. He glanced at the last two arrivals. “Glad you kids could make it.” Air Wave and Arisia ignored his remark.

“Hank, why don’t you tell us what this is all about?” another blonde-haired young woman asked. Dawn Granger stepped over to the table and took an empty seat next to Mal and Karen.

“I’d be more than happy to,” Hank said. He put both arms down on the table as he leaned forward. “We’ve left some business unattended for too long, and I think it’s high time we did something about it!”

“About what?” Mal asked.

“It can all be summed up with one word,” Hank replied, “Sonar!

There was a little murmuring about the table as the other members of Titans West started to talk amongst themselves.

“You’re talking about Bito Wladon, the little dictator from that postage stamp of a European country named Modora-Granaco, right?” Harlequin asked aloud.

Hank did a double-take. “Yeah, clown-gal!” he said. “But how did–? That is, you–?”

“Well, duh, Hank,” Harlequin replied snidely. “Just ’cause I haven’t been around here as long as the rest doesn’t automatically make me the dumb one, you know!”

“I didn’t say that,” Hank said, back-pedaling. “But how did you know–?”

Harlequin rolled up the magazine by her side and swatted him with it. “I do read, Hank! Keep up with current events and all! Sheesh.”

“OK, OK,” he said, his arms outstretched and palms open as if to keep a snarling dog at bay. “Sorry, Duela.”

Mal finished suppressing his laugh. “So, Hank, what’s the deal? No one’s heard much from the guy since he left the States again and headed back to Europe a year ago. He certainly hasn’t committed any crimes since then.”

“That’s debatable!” Hawk answered. “The rest of the world might’ve been fooled when he offered up his nation’s resources to help during the big alien invasion over the summer, but I didn’t buy that stuff for one minute!”

“But he did help defend Europe,” Dawn interjected.

“Right! Sure! But where’d he get this army from?” Hank asked. “Suddenly a little podunk country is equipped with dozens upon dozens of guys in souped-up armor, armor which, in fact, we saw him working on with another scientist here in California last year! (*) How did that happen? Where did it all come from? Why have an army like that at your disposal unless you plan to do something with it?”

[(*) Editor’s note: See Titans West: Sound Decisions.]

“Hank, we discussed this last year,” Karen reminded him. “What goes on in another country, how they spend their money, is not the concern of our country unless it poses a threat to someone. And even then, something like this isn’t necessarily in our jurisdiction. Perhaps someone better equipped and sanctioned, like the Justice League…”

“This is our business!” Hank barked. “We were there when Sonar started this little project of his, so it should be us who follow up on it!”

“Hank, if we go in there without just cause, we could start an international incident,” Dawn advised. Having a mother who worked in diplomatic circles and having been shunted around to various countries about the globe during her youth, the young woman knew that things like this could be very tricky at even the best of situations.

“We’ve got some just cause!” Hank said. He glanced across the table.

Mal caught the look that the young man passed to Arisia, who was now looking down. “Oh, no,” the black man said, shaking his head. “What did you two do?” His tone was that of a father speaking to children, whom he just found in the middle of the kitchen with a mess all over the floor and walls.

“I just asked Arisia to help me with a little reconnaissance, is all,” Hank said in a matter-of-fact way.

“Reconnaissance?” Dawn asked.

Air Wave turned to the alien Green Lantern. “I thought you had a modeling shoot in Europe last weekend.”

“I did, I did,” Arisia said in her defense. “I just, like, took a little side trip, is all.”

“Hank!” Karen exclaimed. “You didn’t ask her to spy on Modora, did you?”

“Modora-Granaco,” Harlequin corrected knowingly. “The two small countries merged last fall into an only slightly larger one after Bito Wladon wed Cassandra De Granaco in a rather small ceremony performed on the border between their two little kingdoms.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Titans West: Confidants and Robbers, Chapter 3: Let No One Tear Asunder.]

“Really?” Lisa Morel looked at her curiously.

Harlequin winked. “There was a small paragraph in Newstime about it. Very low key and very rushed, according to reports.”

“So I asked Arisia to check up on the guy,” Hank said, defending himself. “What about it? The Green Lanterns have battled the guy a number of times.” He turned to the alien who nodded in his support. “So what’s the big deal checkin’ up on a known criminal?

“Hank, Modora is outside of our jurisdiction,” Karen said. “Unlike the League, we don’t have U.N. sanctioning.”

“The G.L.s answer to a higher command,” Hank said. “Right, Arisia?”

“Yes,” she replied. “The Guardians.”

“And do the Guardians authorize you to investigate any situations you want?” Karen asked.

“If it were in our sector of responsibility, totally,” Arisia replied. “Though since they, like, left the universe and only recently came back, we’re, like, still free to operate wherever we want. Which is why there are, like, a whole bunch of G.L.s operating here on Earth.”

“Well, here on Earth we have rules and laws we have to follow,” Karen reprimanded.

Mal tapped her on the hand. “Easy, baby,” he whispered in her ear. “She’s still a kid.”

Hank didn’t pay them any mind. “Be that as it may, I think you’ll all agree after seeing what Arisia saw that it is time for us to take some action. Arisia?” He walked over to the light switch and dimmed it.

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