by Martin Maenza
A few hours prior, at one of the shopping districts in town, five teenagers moved about one of the high-priced clothing stores. As they walked around, they created somewhat of a stir amongst the other customers. Many people looked up as they passed then moved away.
“I don’t think this is a great idea,” Isaiah said, dressed in shorts and a polo shirt.
“I’m with you,” Carrie said. She wore long dark cape over her clothes, in part to hide her telltale wings. Still, since she was nervous, they would twitch underneath the material.
“Oh, come on, you two!” the white-skinned Toni said, dressed a black halter top and matching shorts. “I’d expect Isaiah to be complaining ’cause this is a clothes store, but let’s have a little fun. You guys all agreed to being tired of being cooped up and studying all the time.”
“Won’t Lilith be mad?” Carrie asked.
“I don’t think so,” said Arisia. “After all, since I came along to supervise, she should be totally cool with it.”
Audrey, dressed in jeans and a long sleeve T-shirt, looked around, taking it all in. For a moment, she was able to ignore the stares at her glassy complexion. “These things are so pretty,” she said as she touched one garment, a silky blouse.
Toni made a face. “Ewww, the color combos on that one are so mega-harsh,” she said. “You really like that?”
“Oh.” Audrey frowned slightly. She did not realize that, since the nature of her powers rendered her color-blind.
A hand snatched the hanger and pulled the top away from Audrey’s hand. “Excuse me!” a rude woman said, dressed in a tailored suit. “I don’t believe your kind are welcome here!”
“Our kind?” asked Arisia with a concerned look. “And just what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” the saleswoman replied.
“Miss Holland!” a male voice said sternly. “What’s going on here?” A young man in a brown suit approached the group.
“These…” She gestured to the group. “…are loitering.”
“We’re shopping!” Toni corrected her.
“Hmmph!” Miss Holland replied.
“That will be quite enough,” the man said. “Please go help someone else, Miss Holland.” He emphasized the word help. She stormed off. The man turned back. “I’m the store manager. I apologize for my employee’s behavior.”
“She shouldn’t judge people by their age,” Arisia said.
“Or, like, how we dress!” Toni added.
The manager looked them up and down. “I agree,” he said, “but you are a rather different-looking group.” He noticed that some of the girls had picked out a number of items. “Are you seriously interested in buying all of those?” He raised a curious eye at them.
Ten minutes later, the five left the store empty-handed.
“I’m not shopping there again!” Toni fumed.
“I thought it had some pretty things,” Audrey said.
“Toni, I would have, like, lent you some cash if you wanted,” Arisia said. “I know you’re good for it.”
“Oh, it’s not that!” Toni said. “I was just, like, so embarrassed when my father’s credit cards did the decline thing. I’ve always been able to shop with them before.”
“He probably cut you off when you left New Jersey,” Carrie said.
“Gee, Red, you think?” Toni said sarcastically.
“Come on,” Arisia said. “Let’s, like, go get some ice cream or something. I’m buying.”
“Oooh, goody,” Audrey said.
“Ice cream?” Toni asked. “What happened to the whole model diet? Totally throwing that out the window?”
“I’ll worry about that another time,” Arisia said.
Just then, a loud explosion and a clanging alarm came from across the intersection. “Look!” Isaiah said, pointing to the First Regional Trust building. “Sounds like someone’s robbing that bank!”
Arisia furrowed her brow. “Let’s go check it out, guys!” She led the group toward the commotion.
When they arrived upon the scene, the five saw a muscular man with a blonde crew cut, whose eyes were covered by dark blue shades. His torso was covered in red with a white star insignia on the left side, and his gloves and protective leg armor and boots were blue with white trim. He was amidst the rubble of the demolished bank wall, scooping up the contents of the vault. “Gotta love America! The land of opportunity!” the man sneered.
“Hold it right there, mister!” Arisia shouted, getting his attention. Instinctively, she thrust out her right hand, then realized that her no-longer-functioning power ring was back at her quarters. When it seemed like the power was going to be out for the long haul, she had taken it off and put it away for safekeeping.
The man in costume looked at the assembled group. “Well, now,” he said, “what’s a bunch of freaky-looking kids gonna do to me? Go away! It’s too early for Halloween.”
“Last chance to drop that money and put your hands in the air!” Arisia warned. The man let the bags fall and slowly raised his arms. The other kids were surprised, yet pleased that this was going so well.
The costumed man smiled, slapped his two hands together hard, then thrust them out in front of him toward the group. A concussive blast launched from his palms, screaming through the air toward the Titans in training.
“Scatter!” Arisia called, diving for cover. Isaiah grabbed Audrey and moved. Toni threw up a silvery protective shield. Carrie released her cape and took to the air.
The man was surprised, but only slightly. “So, you kids think you can play, huh? We’ll just see about that!” He slapped his hands together again and fired more blasts at them. He laughed as they scrambled.
Arisia quickly sized up the situation. This guy obviously was packing some power, but their group wasn’t without its resources. Granted, if she had her power ring, taking him out would have been simple. Still, they might be able to pull it off if they worked together.
She ran to join two of the others. “Joto, I’ll watch Prysm,” Arisia said. “See if you and Argent can hit him from two sides. That seems like our best option.”
“Right,” the young man replied. He then ran around to the left, dodging behind objects on the street as he worked into position. Toni was keeping the shots from hitting her, but her shield was having difficulty holding against the stronger bursts. “Argent! Double time, girl!”
The teen nodded. “Gotcha.” She directed some of her plasma energy into silvery daggers and launched them toward the criminal. At the same time, Isaiah used his heat wave powers to blast the pavement beneath the man’s feet.
“Hey! Hey!” the man exclaimed, feeling the warmth and jumping to the side. The silvery daggers pinged off his protective costume and stung. “You little punks need to be taught a lesson!” He stomped his feet a number of times while clapping his hands together repetitively. He then twisted his torso and brought his arms about together and turned a full arc.
A wave of invisible force energy spun off him and slammed around and out. The wave first knocked Joto backward and then came around to hit Argent squarely, too. Both young heroes were tossed backward into the ground.
“Leave ’em alone, you creep!” Redwing squealed as she dived down from above. She started hitting him over and over with her bare fists about the head.
“Owww! Hey!” The man reached up unexpectedly and grabbed the girl by the wrist. Then, thanks to enhanced strength from his costume, he yanked hard and slammed her down to the ground. “Stay down, birdie-girl!”
He noticed the remaining two still standing near one of the walls of a nearby building. Arisia stood before Prysm as if to protect her. “OK, ladies, your turn to try your luck!” he said. “Though I seriously doubt you freaks will be able to do much better than your friends, here.” He started to move closer in a menacing way.
“If I were you, I’d just back off,” Arisia said boldly. “We’re with Titans West, and any moment now, you’ll, like, have a whole crew of heroes on your tail!” Her voice sounded confident; she hoped her bluff would work and send the guy off running.
“Yeah?” the man said. “Well, let ’em come! Then, when I wipe their butts clear across the city, they’ll see why I’m called Major Force!”
Major Force. The name rang in Arisia’s ears like a tolling bell.
Major Force — the name of the villain that Kyle Rayner, that Green Lantern from a possible future, had mentioned on the tape he had left for the Green Lanterns over a year ago. Major Force was the name of the man who had killed Arisia in Kyle’s time. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Time, See What’s Become of Me? and Titans West: Girl Talk.]
That tape had correctly predicted they would battle Parallax, albeit it wasn’t Hal Jordan. (*) Could any of the other things from Kyle’s future come to pass?
[(*) Editor’s note: Green Lantern: Enter Parallax.]
Arisia hesitated for a moment, more in surprised shock than in any form of fear. And the hesitation was long enough. Major Force had summoned up another concussive blast and opened fire at the girls.
“Duck!” Prysm cried out. The two dropped to the ground as the blast impacted with the building behind them. The mortar, brick, and steel exploded upon the impact, sending down a shower of materials upon the girls. A chunk nailed Prysm in the skull, knocking her down. Metal shrapnel grazed Arisia’s head, and then a larger portion of the wall fell upon her torso and arm. The two were pinned quickly.
Major Force laughed. “Told you! I’m more than you can handle! I win!” The sounds of police sirens were rapidly approaching. “Uh-oh. Time to hit the road, kids!” He scooped up the bags of his ill-gotten gains and started to run off. The police continued after him in pursuit.
The other three teens rose to their feet and saw their friends injured under the rubble. “Oh, no!” Carrie exclaimed. “We’ve got to help them!” The three worked hard to move away the larger pieces from off the beaten bodies.
“We’ve got to be careful,” Isaiah said. “They look pretty bad.”
“We’ve got to call an ambulance,” Carrie said.
“No!” said Toni. “With everything that’s going on, if we, like, take them to a regular hospital, they’ll be treated as if they were, like, the alien scum that’s been attacking the planet!” Using her silvery energy, she started to form a stretcher underneath them. While it was hard, she was able to keep it together with enough concentration. Carefully, she lifted the two girls into the air on hovering platforms. “Come on — we’ll get them back to base!”
Isaiah nodded. While he didn’t totally agree with Toni’s plan, he knew that it might be for the best. Especially given how they’d been treated in the clothes store earlier. “Let’s move!”
Mal Duncan finished his coffee as the teens finished their tale.
“We’re really sorry, Mr. Duncan,” Isaiah apologized. “We didn’t want any of us to get hurt.”
“I know, son,” Mal said. “You all aren’t to blame.”
“And we did drive that jerk off!” Toni added.
“But he still got away,” Carrie said, pouting.
“Kids, don’t worry about it,” Mal said, trying to sound encouraging. He could tell by their expressions that this was hard on them, and they felt really bad about what happened. No point in making a lesson out of it; they already learned it themselves. “That’s why you guys are here — to train to use your powers more effectively. We’ll just have to work a bit harder on drills is all.” He started to rise from the couch. “Now, let me go in and check on the others.”
The three teens tried to summon smiles but were not successful. In their baptism by fire, the young Titans had gotten burned.