by Martin Maenza
In the top floors of a downtown Los Angeles building owned by billionaire Loren Jupiter, a group of young teenagers settled into their new surroundings. “This is so cool,” said a teenage girl with large, red-feathered wings folded neatly to her back, as she put more clothes into a small dresser. “It’ll be just like summer camp.”
“Totally, Carrie,” replied a dark-haired, albino, white-skinned teenage girl in a blue tank top and shorts. “Without the totally gross bugs, though.” Toni Monetti finished hanging some outfits in the closet of the small bedroom the girls would be sharing.
A third teenage girl with a crystalline complexion lay on the top bunk bed. “You two have such pretty things,” said Audrey Speares, the one called Prysm.
“Yeah,” Toni replied in her New Jersey accent. “My father was a real bastard, but his money was good. I tell you, there were times that I’d totally rather hang out at the mall than be stuck under the same roof with him.”
Carrie, the girl known as Redwing, finished unpacking and zipped up her suitcase. With a gentle flutter of her wings, she hovered into the air so she could easily place the bag on the top shelf of the closet. “I didn’t go out much in public,” she said sadly. After they returned home from New Chronus, Carrie Levine’s family were torn about what had happened to their little girl. While they were relieved that she was home and alive, the farmers from Pennsylvania were still worried what folks might think. Her mother home-schooled her for a time until the Titans showed up and offered to let the girl go away for a few months to be around others like her.
“Me neither,” Prysm said. While she liked being around the other two girls again, the orphaned girl felt a bit awkward about her appearance, more so than either Toni or Carrie did. People tended to have a more extreme reaction to a girl with crystal skin than they did to an albino girl or a winged girl.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Toni called.
A young black man stood in the doorway with his eyes shielded. “Everyone decent in here?” Isaiah Crockett asked.
“Of course, silly,” Carrie said as she touched down to the floor. “We wouldn’t invite you in otherwise.” Suddenly, the whole building shook. Carrie grabbed onto Isaiah to catch herself from falling. Her body brushed very hard against the young man. “Oh! What was that?”
“Probably just a slight quake,” the teen male known as Joto replied. “I hear L.A. gets them all the time.”
“Well, that’s gonna totally freak me out,” Toni, also known as Argent, replied. “Glad you took the top bunk, Prysm.”
“I’m OK with that,” she replied, climbing down from her perch.
“Well, we better hurry down to the gym,” Isaiah said. “Miss Clay told us to be there promptly at eleven for our morning workout.” He started to lead the group toward the stairs to the next level.
“Workouts? How fun? Not.” Toni turned to Carrie. “And here you thought this would be like summer camp.”
Redwing smiled. “It’ll be fun. You just have to think positively.”
A heavy bag hung on a chain from the ceiling. The blonde-haired, golden-skinned alien teen named Arisia punched at it a few times as her trainer looked on. “That’s it,” Lilith Clay said with encouraging words. “Left, now right. Good. Now, really let go!”
Arisia spun around on her heel and nailed the bag with a mighty kick. It swung out fast, then came flying back. She put up both arms and stopped it cold. The alien breathed heavily, and some sweat was forming on her brow.
“Good job,” Lilith said, tossing her a white towel.
Arisia wiped her face with it before placing it around her neck. “That’s tough,” she admitted. Up until recently, she never concerned herself with all the physical fighting efforts.
As a Green Lantern, her power ring had done most of the work, albeit her willpower guided the emerald energy that the ring brought forth. Even when she first started training with Mal Duncan earlier in the year, she didn’t take the workout sessions seriously. But all that changed a few weeks ago when her power ring ran out of juice. Her fellow Green Lanterns had been trying to find out what was happening with their rings. In the meantime, Arisia had to find other ways to get by.
“You’re doing good,” Lilith said with an encouraging voice. “Really good. Just keep it up.”
Arisia nodded. “I’m going to, like, hit the showers, OK?”
“Go for it,” Lilith said. She heard noise coming from the hallway, and she knew it had to be the others. The red-haired woman was starting to feel a little more comfortable around the foursome, despite the fact that seeing them reminded her of Lord Chaos, who in turn reminded her of Azrael and then how Eros had manipulated he and her with his powers of love. (*) Lilith couldn’t begrudge Mal for suggesting that she help train the teens; this was a good way for her to face her frustrations and move past them. She hoped, anyway, that it would help.
The four entered the room. “Are you ready for us, Miss Clay?” Isaiah Crockett asked.
Lilith nodded. “Any time.”
Before she could finish her thought, the building shook once more. Everyone fumbled for something to brace themselves upon. Lilith dropped down to the mats. Isaiah caught Prysm and then Redwing, trying to keep them both up.
“Miss Clay, look out!” Argent called as she thrust up her hand. A silvery blast shot from her palms and nailed squarely the weight bag that was swinging back around to hit the unsuspecting Lilith. The blast knocked it clear off the chain and into the wall.
As the shaking stopped, the woman approached her students. “Is everyone all right?” she asked.
“Was that another quake?” asked Redwing.
“Could be,” Isaiah said.
“Or an aftershock,” Prysm added.
“Definitely another quake,” Lilith said, having spent some time living in California a number of years ago. “I’m thinking maybe we should postpone your first session.” The kids began to smile a bit. “At least for now. We can always pick them up a little later when things settle down a bit.”
Three-hundred-and-seventy-five miles up the coast in San Francisco, similar tremors were being felt across the city. On Haney Street where the STAR Labs facility was located, it was no different.
A blonde woman dressed in a form-fitting purple tights tried to catch herself as the next wave shook the building in its foundation. Instead, she missed the table edge and dropped to the floor. “Stupid suit!” Frances Kane exclaimed as she tried to rise up to her hands and knees. “This material doesn’t give at all.”
An African-American woman in a white lab coat released the desk she was holding to steady herself, righted a chair, and sat down. “It’s not meant for comfort,” Karen Duncan replied. “It’s meant to help me measure the extent of your powers.”
“I know, I know!” Frances said as she was finally able to stand. “I don’t mean to complain so much. It’s not that bad, really. I think it — combined with these damn earthquakes — has just got me rattled, is all.”
“When you live out here a long time, you get used to them,” Karen said.
“Get used to them?” Frances asked. “I doubt that!”
“They’re just a part of the way of life here.”
“Well, I could never get used to them.”
“You’re from where — the Midwest, Fran?” Karen asked. The blonde nodded. “Well, we get earthquakes here like you might get tornadoes out there. You just learn to make adjustments for what Mother Nature throws at you.”
Fran shook her head. “Well, all the same, I’ll pass.”
Another dark-skinned woman rushed into the lab. “Karen, you won’t believe what I’ve heard on the radio,” Dr. Sarah Charles said.
“About the quake?” Karen asked.
“Quakes,” Sarah corrected her. “The news is saying that all of California is experiencing seismic activity. And it’s more likely to get worse before it gets better.” The whole building shook again as if to punctuate the point. “See?”
“Great!” Frances said from the floor where she’d fallen again. “Just what we need!”
“There’s another problem, too!” Sarah said. “Traffic on the bridges is backed up. Folks think they can drive to someplace safe, and that’s caused some jams.”
“Oh?” Karen’s eyes grew wide with concern.
“The news is saying some of the bridges might not be able to take it!” Sarah said. “If they collapse…”
Without hesitation, Karen whirled around and faced Frances. “We’ve got to help!”
“We?” Fran asked. “We who?”
“We,” Karen said, pointing to herself and Frances. “Me and you.” Before Fran could protest, Karen pulled her off down the hall.
“Come on, folks, hurry!” the blue-and-white-costumed heroine said as she held open the front door to the museum. One of the tour guides, a mother with two infants and some smaller children, rushed past.
“Wow!” a little girl said, pausing to look at the platinum-haired beauty. “You sure are pretty.”
“Thanks, honey,” Dove replied as she shooed the child past. “Please, head outside with the others.” The ground rumbled with a slight aftershock, causing a bit more of the plaster dust in the lobby to spread. “Come on, come on,” she said softly to herself.
A red-and-white-costumed male figure appeared at the far end of the hallway, and he rushed toward her. “We’re good!” Hawk called out.
“Are you sure?” Dove asked as she moved toward him.
“That’s the last of them,” Hawk said. Another woman and three children hurried past Dove for the exit. “Good thing we were nearby, eh? So much for a relaxing day at the beach.”
“I hear the water’s crummy today, anyway,” Dove said, smiling.
The whole building abruptly began to shake again.
Hawk stumbled to regain his balance. He looked toward the lobby to where the last of the civilians were exiting. He saw Dove and heard a loud grinding sound. Glancing up, the hero noticed a huge section of the ceiling was about to fall.
An image flashed into his mind: the image of his brother Don, dressed in a similar costume, as he stood near a building wall a few years ago. It was the final days of the Crisis. Hawk saw that his brother was about to be crushed and called out to him. The wall didn’t kill Don, but a deadly shadow demon did. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986).]
It was déjà vu all over again.
His mind snapped back into focus with urgent need. “Dove!” Hawk cried out as he leaped forward.
“What?” the heroine said. Her partner slammed into her squarely, knocking her to the ground but away from where she was standing. A second later, the portion of the ceiling hit the marble floor and shattered.
Dove blinked as she saw the rubble on the floor. “Wow,” she said softly. “That could have been me.”
“Yeah, it could have,” Hawk said as he rolled over.
Suddenly, there was another, louder creaking sound. The supports for the upper floors were about to give way. “Dove! Move!” Hawk cried out, but it was too late.
The whole lobby of the building came crashing down around them.