A/N – Argh! It's like the fic that wouldn't die! Stabs fic Written for UnknownSource as a prize for winning the Odd Couples Contest. Sorry it took so long, babs.
Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Unseen: Door to Alternity by Nancy Holder and Jeff Mariotte.
In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster.
Everworld: Gateway to the Gods by K.A. Applegate.
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby.
Film: Lost in Space
© Scribbler, March 2005
It was strange glue that held us together,
While we both came apart at the seams. – 'Strange Glue' by Catatonia.
There is no accounting for love: no objective reason why we fall for one person and not another. The right mood, the right moment, the right state of mind during that all-important first encounter – take one away and there's no telling the differences wrought in, or by the others. A slight hesitation can mean missing the gaze of someone across the room, and continuing with your life, unaware that your possible soulmate just passed through your fingers. Stopping to peel gum from your shoe on your way to work can mean getting a later bus, while The One For You got the 315 you originally meant to catch. Buying milk from the corner store instead of the supermarket could mean decades of contentment with the clerk who served you, even if you'd never been to that store before, and never went back again.
Everything is arbitrary. Nothing is defined or pre-ordained by some higher power: A x B C and C + Z an endlessly happy couple. There are no rules to love, no regulations by which all living creatures capable of loving have to abide. If there were, then there would be no heartache, no star-crossed lovers, and no such thing as unrequited affection.
Like life, love is not fair.
And like life, love is not predictable.
Once upon a time there was a young girl called Tara Markov. She was a very pretty girl, born to a loving mother and an absent father who sometimes sent her letters. He also set up a trust fund for her, making sure she and her mother were always well provided for, and kept in a manner that encouraged a kind heart and a lively temperament in a daughter. She met him only once in her short life, but he seemed thoughtful and gentle, with a beard that tickled and eyes as blue as cornflowers, just like hers. Really, he was just the sort of man one hopes to have for a father.
However, despite a relatively idyllic childhood, all was not well. A coup in her father's country deposed him, and after a time the money he provided dried up. Trust fund inaccessible until she was twenty-one, Tara and her mother upped and moved the night before her sixth birthday, setting sail for America and the promise of a life somewhat like that they'd left behind.
America was a nice enough country. Not as rugged as the land she'd grown up in, true, but Tara came to refer to it as home. She learned the language, went to school, and became thoroughly entrenched in the trials and tribulations of the life of a pre-teen, and then a teenager, as laid down by the US government and Teen Queen Magazine.
Often she would indulge in the national pastime of watching superheroes on TV, cheering them on from the couch and cutting out newspaper articles to stick in a scrapbook. She told her mother she was going to chronicle the history of Superman, and present it to him one day when he was old and couldn't remember things so clearly. She had visions of walking up to a podium, presenting a crammed folder to a frail old man in a wheelchair, and having his rheumy eyes light up when he saw all the diligently preserved memoirs of his glory days. Heroes sometimes dropped in on her neighbourhood doing super-heroic things, but her heart skipped faster only when the red cape appeared.
She cried for hours when they announced he was dead. Her school held a memorial service, and she went up to the microphone to recite a prayer in her native tongue that made the kids in the front row roll their eyes. It was supposed to signify that Superman had not been just an American icon, but a symbol of peace and justice to the whole world. All it really did was get her a fat lip after final bell.
The Justice League carried on, of course, but there was always a sense of incompletion about their battles after that; as if everyone were just waiting for the familiar red cape and skivvies to come flying in at the last second and pull a deus ex machina. When Green Lantern died and his replacement was some white dude in a mask, there wasn't even half the media circus there might have been. When that big jerk, Joto, tried to be a Leaguer and ripped off half the Watchtower's technology to sell at intergalactic auctions, gossip columns snitched and snickered. When Hawkgirl stepped onto a prototype teleportation pad and disappeared back to Thanagar, all she got was a passing nod from the Daily Planet and a mini-feature on CNN.
Crises came and went. Heroes died and retired and were replaced. The roster of the Justice League remained constant, insofar as there was a League and there was a roster, but it was never quite the same.
Tara watched it all from the relative safety of her threadbare blue couch.
By her fifteenth year, the apocalypse had seemed to come and go so often that it was hardly a surprise for her to wake up one morning and find that the prefix 'post' could finally be applied to her world.
Aliens, people said. There was little information in circulation, especially when the major satellites were yanked down from space to cause craters in Arizona and the Pacific Ocean. Still, there was enough to find that out with minimal digging. Some people postulated it was all to do with the technology Joto sold off. There was an irony to the idea that nobody really appreciated.
Tara and her mother, plus as many other people as could make the trip, took whatever transport still worked and made their way towards Jump City, the nearest conurbation with a mostly-undamaged hospital and enough survivors to bury the dead. It was a mass migration that thinned out along the way.
Her mother died en route, spine crushed by a falling support beam. Tara stayed with the body long after the others had moved on, scrabbling out a shallow grave with her fingers and whatever tools came to hand. A broken plank of wood, a spoon, a plastic video cassette case – all of it was used and placed next to the mound of dirt afterwards, as a sort of tribute and marker, since there was no means for her to write any lasting pointer. She also put in the grave the body of a baby she'd found. Her mother loved babies, and Tara felt certain she would have rapped her knuckles if she'd thought her daughter would rather leave one at the side of the road than have her mother share her grave.
The baby's face was black and shrivelled with old death, its tiny body wasted. As Tara folded her mother's arms around it, the thought hit home to her: This really is the end of the world.
Later, when she developed incredible abilities to move earth and rocks with her mind, all she thought about was how useful it might have been then, when her skin was bleeding and her nails and cheeks were caked in filth and blood and tears.
She honed her abilities on the deformed creatures that preyed on survivors, learning how to kill without causing undue pain, and how to defend herself without really thinking about it. She developed fighting instinct – survival instinct. Her path to Jump was littered with stories of a girl who could find and call water from underground tributaries, who made the ground part before her, and who looked out for those who could not.
The stories talked her up a bit more than was comfortable, describing her like some untamed Valkyrie when she just dealt with trouble whenever she happened on it. And it didn't even have to be unlawful trouble, either, just stuff that didn't live up to her personal ethical code. Stealing from corpses – icky, but needs musts wants. Stealing from children, and you'd find yourself with a face-full of angry geokinetic. Kill or rape or… well, then you got yourself a whole mess of flying rocks and stuff. She tended to cause far more damage than she found, but in the newly broken landscape it was difficult to tell.
When she finally reached the city, she discovered a welcome wagon in the form of two-dozen waiting Misshapens, all eager for her blood. They may have known about the stories, but she'd never heard one speak, never seen enough to think they understood words anymore.
Misshapens were creatures that were not quite human, but which might once have been ordinary men and women. It was sometimes possible to see a spark of what they used to be; maybe in their death throes, or in the sibilant noises they used to call children into the dark. Yet most of their humanity had been sucked out of them, leaving behind only animal instincts and raw bloodlust. They ate flesh wherever they could find it, sometimes hunting, sometimes scavenging, and sometimes even digging up corpses. Atrophied fingers sharpened into claws made formidable weapons, as did fangs and horns and all manner of other appendages.
Tara wondered if they had once been like her, possessed of some special, inexplicable ability, until the aliens got their… well, pick a synonym for hands that suited them. Until they got their dexterous-prehensile-digits on the planet and poured chemicals into it that twisted them into monsters.
She was good. She was very good. But against two-dozen Misshapens, she was not good enough. That was when she learned that it was all well and good to be a saviour and a hero, but when you're in trouble you're pretty much on your own unless other people are willing to step in. A hero is a lonely guise.
That was how she met the Titans. Not the most splendid of introductions – dusty and torn and covered in blood. Some of it was hers, too, because it had been a nasty fight. There were clumps of blonde hair and tiny bits of scalp all over the place, but there were more patches of leathery skin and scales. Tara had never learned any formal fighting, but she'd had to defend herself against playground bullies and their ilk. When coupled with her jagged geokinesis, and those things she'd learned on the road, it made for an unorthodox but effective technique.
The first she knew of their presence was when a bolt of green energy scarred the earth in front of her, and a mound of dark telekinesis plucked a Misshapen off her back. The too-loud boom of a sonic blaster heralded several new bodies into the fray, and then she was back-to-back with someone who kicked and punched and strafed the oncoming creatures with exploding projectiles. She thought she could see a cougar snapping at the Misshapens' heels as they fled, but by that point she was sinking to the floor from a combination of fatigue and blood loss.
One of her rescuers picked her up and carried her in strong arms, though she fancied she could also feel the cool press of metal against her skin – especially the parts where she hadn't been fast enough to avoid acid saliva from the Misshapen with the frill. The burn was hot and kind of sticky. Something was running down her leg and into her shoe.
They didn't take her to a survivor compound, as she'd expected, but to an out-of-the-way place – a cave, of sorts. She didn't see the way in, since she was unconscious. She woke up to find someone gripping the ankle she'd fractured, and a husky alto telling her not to rush getting to her feet in the next ten minutes because it still needed time to heal. She tried to ignore it, of course, and found herself telekinetically plonked on her butt.
They introduced themselves one by one: Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy. Robin held sway over the conversation, obviously their leader, and grilled Tara on her powers and where she'd come from. She left out nothing. There was no point in protecting her father's reputation anymore.
She couldn't explain the geokinesis, though, and so Robin ordered for the one called Raven to 'scan' her, which was an interesting experience. Tara underwent it because she'd heard of the Titans before everything went bad. She trusted them. It was an implicit thing – Superman once went on the news commending the Titans for their work and integrity. She could do no less.
Raven pronounced her geokinesis a mutation, most likely caused by the low-level energy emissions from the alien strongholds. So far they knew of only a few – one in the Gobi Desert, one in the Sahara, and one in Arizona. Trends said that these same emissions had ravished crops and some water supplies, as well as all manner of other things humans needed to survive. Tara asked if they were planning to take down these strongholds, which incurred a sardonic eyebrow from Robin.
"We'd like to, but we're strictly small-time. The Justice League are the big-hitters. If they want us as back up, then they'll find a way to contact us. We can't risk a half-cocked frontal assault. It's the best way to get ourselves killed. And if we go jetting off to fight someplace else, what happens to all the survivors who're coming here? The Misshapens would have them for breakfast before we'd even gone half a mile."
Tara had looked at them, at these people who really weren't that much older than her, and yet had taken it upon themselves to play hero for this city's rapidly expanding population. Then she had swung her leg over the side of the cot, stood shakily, and said, "Let me fight with you."
Robin had raised his eyebrow again. "We don't have time to train a newbies."
"You don't have many allies to help you, either. I'm a resource. Use me."
And so they had.
They didn't take much convincing. Perhaps there was something she could have read into that.
It took a while for them to fully trust her, of course, but she integrated herself admirably. She watched them, learned from them, and sometimes they would break their word and help train her. There was an undercurrent of suspicion at first, but it was obvious they'd always meant to recruit her. Otherwise, why would they have taken her to their cave instead of a compound?
A codename was like a rite of passage. It emphasised her membership of their team. They called her Metahuman for a while, but she hated it, so she switched to Tectonic. It still wasn't working, though. Eventually Starfire redubbed her 'Terra' when she had to explain what 'terra firma' meant. It sounded a little like her given name, making it more personal than any other moniker. Nobody objected, so it stuck.
Terra and the Teen Titans. It was like slipping on a rubber glove and having it mould to the contours of her hand. Familiar, safe and somehow, weirdly, perfectly normal in the abnormally smashed world they'd come to live in.
To Be Continued…
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