by Martin Maenza
Standing in the secret sub-basement of the Gabriel’s Horn nightclub in downtown San Francisco, a young woman with brown hair glanced around at the equipment while an African-American woman powered up one of the devices. “Wow,” said Duela Dent as she rubbed her hand gently across the smooth surface of the meeting table with the stylized double-T logo carved in the center. “This stuff sure brings back a lot of old memories.”
“It should,” said Karen Duncan as a platform to her right started to hum softly. “Dick kept most of this stuff in mothballs for years. When Cyborg’s father built that new tower for them in Manhattan — completely furnished, no less — the team had no need for this older stuff.”
“So you guys took it?”
“More like my sweet husband asked for it,” Karen said with a smile. “He couldn’t see it going to waste. That’s when he had it all shipped out here, and he, Hank, and Charley set it up about a year or so ago. And that’s pretty much how Titans West came together.”
Duela looked at one of the uniquely scalloped chairs and smiled. “Its good to have the comforts of the past around,” she mused. She then looked up and noticed what Karen was working with. “Say, Kare, what’s this?”
“This,” Karen said, rising from her seat and reaching for a small overnight bag, “is our ride.”
“Ride?” Duela said with surprise. “How’s that?”
Karen took her hand. “This is the latest in handy, dandy teleportation technology. A present from Arisia and one of her alien Green Lantern pals.”
“Teleportation? Alien?” Duela asked with a hint of concern. “Is it safe?”
“Absolutely,” Karen said. “Mal uses it to go back and forth between here and L.A. all the time. It’s a real time-saver, let me tell you.”
“What’s the bag for, then?”
“Another of my hubby’s preparations,” she said. “He thought I might need an overnight bag for my trip.” Karen escorted her old friend to the pad.
In an instant, the two vanished in a flash of light. The machine, as programmed, then powered down and shut itself off.
In a gleaming skyscraper of glass and steel towering high above the Los Angeles morning smog, the two women materialized on a similar platform to the one they had just stepped on back under the club. Karen Duncan shifted her shoulders slightly and stepped down from the pad. “Here,” she said, offering her friend a hand.
Duela Dent was bent over slightly, her hand to her stomach. “Urp,” she belched. “Shouldn’t have had that double-cheese, bacon Boy-muffin, especially if I’d known we were having our bodies scrambled like eggs.”
“You’ll be fine,” Karen said. “The first couple times are all you need to get used to it.”
Duela cleared her throat and stepped down. “I hope you’re right.”
“She is,” a female voice called from the doorway. The two women turned to see a familiar friend, a red-haired woman dressed in a green dress with a slit skirt.
“Red!” Duela cried as she hurried over to the woman. “How you doing?”
Lilith Clay tried to smile but was having a hard time. “I’m OK,” she said halfheartedly.
Karen put down her bag and gave her friend a comforting hug. “Lilith, I’m sorry about you parents,” she said in a sincere tone. “You holding up OK?”
Lilith nodded. “I’m keeping busy,” she said. “It’s better that way.”
Duela watched the exchange and then slapped herself in the head. Stupid, stupid, Duela, she chastised herself silently. How could you forget that Lilith’s folks were killed in a fire a few weeks back? (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Titans West: Saturday Night, Sunday Mourning.]
She regained her composure and went over to hug Lilith when Karen stepped away. “I’m sorry, too,” she said.
“Thanks, both of you,” the red-head said. “What brings you here?”
“Actually,” Karen said, “I got a telegram the other day alerting me that I need to be in San Diego this afternoon for a reading of a will.” She saw that the mere mention of the word seemed to cause a reaction in Lilith’s tired-looking face. “Getting a flight so short notice would have been costly, so Mal arranged with Mr. Jupiter for me to borrow one of his cars. And driving from here to there is a lot quicker. Cuts the trip down from eight hours to just a bit over two.”
“Oh,” Lilith said. “That makes sense. Are you going with her, Duela?”
The brown-haired girl shook her head. “Nah, this is something from Karen’s past,” Duela said. “I was actually hoping that I could stick around here for the day. It’s been a long while since you and I were able to talk, know what I mean?” Duela had a certain look in her eye.
Lilith pretty much knew what she meant. The two hadn’t known each other that long. They met briefly a number of years back, and then earlier this year, Dick had asked her to help Duela sort through some personal stuff. The two only had a couple sessions in Titans Tower back east when Duela felt like she needed a break. Lilith guessed she wanted to continue now. She took a deep breath. “Yes, I guess that’s fine,” she said. “I have the kids coming in for a training session in a bit first. We can talk after that.”
“Sounds good,” Karen said as she picked up her bag. “Lilith, she can help you with the training, if you want.” She turned to her other friend. “You’re in good hands, Duela. I’ll see you all tomorrow.” The black woman then exited the room and made her way to the elevator. Her next stop was the parking deck.
It wasn’t too long before Karen was through the tail end of morning traffic and driving south down Interstate 5. I felt bad bringing up the will reading in front of Lilith, she thought to herself. Just one of those awkward moments, I guess.
She frowned slightly as she kept her eyes on the road about her. Still hard to believe that Blake is gone, she thought. He was so young, too — barely forty. What a waste! A brilliant man killed in an automobile accident. With some sadness, her thoughts began to wander back in time.
The year was 1981, and freshman Karen Beecher was attending Manhattan University, where she was studying science. The bright young woman had just turned nineteen at the beginning of the calendar year and was already recognized as one of the most promising students in the class. Though she was attending school on an academic scholarship, she still was looking for something to supplement her expenses.
“How about somethin’ in the cafeteria?” her friend Sandra asked as they stood in front of a bulletin board with various cards of information tacked to it.
“No,” young Karen said as she scanned the offerings with an intent eye. “I want something more.” She paused for a second to read, smiled, and snatched a card. “Here!”
“What is it?” Sandra asked, looking over Karen’s shoulder at the card in her hand. “Lab assistant?”
“Yep!” Karen said. “This is exactly what I was lookin’ for!”
Sandra rolled her eyes. “OK, bookworm,” she said. “Have fun meetin’ guys there!”
Karen shook her head. “You know I’ve got a man,” she said with a smile.
“Don’t you think you can do better?”
“No way,” Karen said. “Malcolm Duncan’s sweet, kind-hearted, and treats me well.”
“Maybe,” Sandra said as some guys walked by. She craned her neck and followed them go, watching them move. “But there are some fi-ine guys on this campus, too. Speakin’ of, I better get to movin’.” She flipped her scarf back across her neck and prepared to head out into the snowy January quad.
“You go, girl,” Karen said with a smile as she watched her friend follow after some jocks. She then turned back to the card and checked the info again. “Better get over to the science wing before someone else takes this.” She hurried off herself.
Karen knocked on the door outside the office door, which was cracked open. “Come in,” a male voice called. The young woman stepped inside to see a white man in his early thirties with wavy brown hair sitting behind a pile of papers on his desk. “Yes, can I help you, miss?”
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Karen Beecher. I’m a first-year science major.” She held up the card from the bulletin board. “You’re lookin’ for a lab assistant, right?”
The man stood up. “Yes, yes I am,” he said, holding out his hand. Karen shook it. “I’m Blake Mansfield.”
She wasn’t familiar with the man at all other than perhaps seeing him pass in the halls talking with other instructors. “Pleased to meet you, Professor,” she said.
He held her hand for a second while maintaining eye contact, then released it. “Not professor, Karen,” Blake said. “Actually, my title is doctor. I’m a research scientist over at STAR Labs across town. I’m doing some doctorate work here at the university, and my good friend Dean Hastings was insistent that I help him out by teaching some this semester, too.”
“Oh,” Karen said. She was a bit taken aback that he was good friends with the Dean of the College of Science.
“So, you’d like the assistant’s position?”
“Yes, sir,” Karen said confidently.
“And you’re a freshman?”
“Yes, sir,” Karen said, then added, “but I hope that won’t be an issue. I’m very quick at picking things up. I’m confident I can do the job, whatever it entails.”
“Well, I hope it doesn’t bore you too much,” Blake Mansfield stated. “A lot of it is going to be note-taking, filing, cross-checking information, stuff like that. Are you OK with that?”
“Yes, sir,” she said firmly.
“Might require some late hours or weekends, as well,” he said. “Is that going to be problem?”
“Not at all, sir,” Karen said. In fact, she knew school was going to keep her busy. Plus, she knew that Mal had been spending a lot of time lately watching over the Teen Titans’ old headquarters while the team had been broken up. This would keep her attention away from worrying about him so much. “I can fit my schedule to the workload.”
Blake Mansfield smiled. “Sounds like I have a new assistant, then.”