Author's Notes: Yeah...I have no excuse. Over two months is shoddy and awful of me and I apologize deeply to any of you who may still be reading this. Long story short, a mix of loss-of-motivation and trying to finish my final term of college got in the way of ficcing, and massively so. I'd like to promise the next chapter will be up in a much more timely manner, but every time I do, I end up disappointing, and for that I am sorry. I WILL try my damndest, however, to not take so long from now on. For now, I hope an extra-long chapter will at least partly make up for it.
Thresholding by CidGregor
Disclaimer: I do not own the Teen Titans.
This fic is dedicated to Post, for all he has contributed to its existence. (Fuck WoW, go Starcraft 2!)
"Skkntt—Cyborg, come in."
The temporary Titan leader reached across his control panel and clicked open his communicator. "Cyborg here, go ahead."
"Captain Amato here, sir."
"Man, there's no need to call me sir. If anything I should be callin' you that."
"Not necessary, sir, you're technically civilians."
"Then technically, I ain't your boss, so knock off the sir stuff."
Cyborg rolled his eyes for a moment before returning his attention to his flight. "Never mind, what's going on?"
"Our ships have moved as close to the Brazilian shores as possible, but we're too far out to do any sort of visual recon without sending out some fighters, and we're understandably hesitant to do that. We haven't got a clue what these Gordanian things are capable of."
"No problem, Captain," Cyborg assured him. "I'll take the T-fighter in for a sweep, see what I can see."
"I don't see no one else here, Captain."
"That's not entirely true, sir."
Cyborg blinked confusedly for a second, but realized Amato's meaning a second later when a friendly green blip appeared on his radar screen. And just as it did, a Navy F-18 fighter swooped into view, flanked by three others in a diamond formation.
"That you, Captain?" Cyborg asked in surprise.
"Affirmative. No time to sit on our hands and think about what to do any more. That tower sure as hell ain't Times Square, and that ball on top of it for damn sure ain't for New Years."
"I hear ya," Cyborg chuckled humorlessly, frowning. "You sure you guys are up to this? None of us know what we're getting into, it's gonna be a risk."
"I hate to show up a Teen Titan, but I'm a little more concerned about you. You sure you can fly with us old coots?"
The humor in Amato's voice, by contrast, was real, and managed to draw a smile out of Cyborg. "Giving up on the 'sir' crap already?
"Didn't seem worth the effort on someone who can't legally VOTE, ya beatnik kid."
"Oh, is THAT how it is?" Cyborg laughed. "All right, ya geezer, you're on. I'll show ya what a beatnik kid can do."
"Hah…youth is wasted on the young," Amato countered smoothly. Then, to his wingmen, "Fire it up, boys, let's spy on our new guests!"
Cyborg grinned and settled himself in the middle of the F-18s' diamond formation, and slowly his face hardened once more as they soared across the beach line of northern Brazil and sped southwest toward the crash site. It was easy to pinpoint; a large area of land ahead of them spewed smoke, thick and black as the rainforest around the landing site burned steadily to the ground.
"Ah, man…" Cyborg murmured. "I'm not even a tree-hugger and this still pisses me off. The hell do they think they are coming down here and--"
"Easy, kid, don't go off joinin' PETA just yet," Amato interrupted him, and he swore he could hear the smirk on the Captain's face.
"Man, are you psychically channeling Beast Boy or something? Cuz that ain't funny. You're tryin', but that ain't funny."
"Sorry, I must be too old to stay 'with it,' dawg."
This time Cyborg snorted with laughter. "Oh, you did NOT just--"
WRII! WRII! WRII!
The laughter faded instantly. "Dammit, they know we're here, man!"
"Break formation and kick it into high gear, boys, don't give 'em a chance to blink!"
Cyborg punched the afterburner and dove low, skimming the tree line as he approached. In a handful of moments the smoke curtain was upon him, looming like a great black wall.
"Passing through the smoke screen!" Cyborg announced just as he blew through. For a brief moment he was plunged into darkness and his instruments were blinded as thoroughly as he was. And then he was through…
And his eyes bulged.
The land around the crater was scorched. The trees were either barely-standing, blackened husks of their former green, luscious selves; or little more than fallen logs, quietly smoldering into ashes. He couldn't count the number of dead animal carcasses that lay strewn across the now-dead plains, some little more than unrecognizable piles of flesh, others stripped down to the bone, and surely countless more that had been completely incinerated. He was nearly sick.
"Note to self; respect Beast Boy's vegetarianism more. A LOT more…" he murmured.
"Watch yourself, Cyborg, they're targeting you!" his com-link screeched.
Cyborg quickly refocused himself and saw that Amato's warning was correct. Looking beyond the dead ring of earth, his eyes found the crater itself, and mounted around the lip of the crater was a series of hastily-constructed – but no less deadly – laser cannons. And the ones nearest to him were swinging their barrels upward to aim right at him.
Cyborg grunted and jerked his craft hard right, and the first of the lasers sailed past him. He dove lower, skimming the dead surface now.
TSEWW! TSEWW-TSEWW TSEWW TSEWW!
More lasers blasted toward him, but he simply pushed his T-fighter faster, and the lasers speared clean over his head. An instant later, he had his shot.
"Boo-ya," he grinned, and thumbed the joystick trigger.
Two quick blasts of his fighter's sonic cannon launched forward at the nearest laser cannon, striking the immobile target dead-on. But rather than explode as Cyborg had expected, the cannon stood defiantly, damaged but far from destroyed.
"Cyborg, pull up!"
He didn't need to be told twice. He yanked back on the joystick, soaring over the cannon just as it fired again and grazed the underside of his ship. Then he was past the line, and flying straight at the huge, haphazardly built tower with the great crystal orb hovering just above it.
"Anyone got any idea just what the hell that thing is?" Cyborg asked of no one in particular.
"It ain't the New Years crystal ba--"
"You made that joke already."
"Heh, just testing ya, kid," Amato chuckled.
"Well whatever it is, I'm taking it out!" Cyborg announced, blowing past it briefly before arcing sharply around and coming back toward it.
"Hey, check it out! The laser cannons stopped shooting at him!" one of the wingmen announced.
Cyborg had barely noticed, he had to admit, but the lasers had indeed stopped lancing past him, and lone Gordanians in jetpacks were rising to meet him instead.
"Damn, he's right…what gives?" Amato asked aloud. "Why'd they downgrade?"
"Close quarters," Cyborg realized. "They don't wanna shoot their own tower down!"
He didn't have time to observe much more, however, as the jetpack-clad aliens brandished wicked-looking spears crackling with blue-white energy. He swerved quickly to dodge the first few spears that swung at him, but the next line managed to rake a spear across the underside of his fighter and tear open a hole in the fuel tank that miraculously didn't explode on contact.
"Dah! I'm hit!" Cyborg exclaimed. "I'm losing fuel!"
"We've learned enough, get outta there, Cyborg. My men'll cover you!"
"Not yet, I can use this!" Cyborg insisted. He swung low once more, pushing toward the line of laser cannons that refused to fire at him for fear of damaging their tower, and in the blink of an eye had sailed over several of them, carpeting them in the leaking fuel.
"Light it up!" Cyborg shouted as he made his retreat.
"Don't have to tell me twice, junior!" Amato shouted back. "Yeee-haaaawww!"
Cyborg craned his neck to watch as the Captain's fighter unleashed a quick, controlled burst of machine gun fire, and in an instant three of the laser cannons exploded into flames.
"Boo-ya!.!.!" Cyborg exclaimed. "That should keep 'em busy for a bit!"
"Good work, Cyborg…we got some good intel to report. Every edge we can get will help."
"We may not have a clue what that tower thing is, but we have a good idea how fragile it is," Cyborg agreed. "Let's hurry back, before I run out of fuel to leak."
The fivesome of fighters reformed together a moment later, screaming back toward the coast as fast as their jets could carry them.
Raven had thought, perhaps foolishly, that after seeing the near-end of the world at her father's hand, she would be prepared for the sights she would surely see when she reached the devastation in central Italy.
Clearly, she was wrong. Seeing people turned to stone was nothing compared to seeing them in the bloody, mangled messes they were here.
"Dear Azar," Raven whispered, hovering over one such person, or what was left of him. The whole left side of his face was blackened with third-degree burns. His body was bloodied and scarred in more places than she could count. His legs were…gone. Just gone.
The man murmured something in Italian. Gurgled, more like.
Raven leaned closer. "I…I'm sorry…I wish I could do something for you, but…"
But the man slowly shook his head, and somehow smiled. "Ora sono con Dio…" he whispered. And even as he spoke she could feel the words echo in her head: I am with God now…
Raven could scarcely believe how calmly he spoke. It was astounding to her…that this man, who almost certainly was in agony, could be facing certain death with a smile.
Rest…Go with God. "Riposa…vai con Dio," she whispered back as she felt his life fade. She could think of little else to say.
Raven tensed as a nearby explosion shook the ground beneath her. She whipped her head around; a Gordanian mobile laser cannon, ten feet tall and blood red, had obliterated a small building the next block over, and a few of the invading lizards were marching alongside and in front of the rolling death machine, killing anything that crossed their paths.
Raven took one last glance at the man beside her, but there was no trace of life force left in him. With an involuntary shudder Raven flew away from him and toward the strike force. She had to stop it somehow--
From above her, a red and blue blur suddenly plowed into the top of the mobile cannon, crunching the alien metal into scrap. The foot soldiers charged in on their attacker, but they too were abruptly slammed to the ground by an even faster blur of red and gold. A second later the blurs showed themselves to be Superman and the Flash, dusting their hands.
"Well, that was easy enough," Flash said lazily. "These guys aren't so tough."
"Don't get cocky," Superman countered. "We're not through yet."
Raven floated down beside them. "The town's in bad shape," she reported. "Lots of wounded. Lots more dead. I can't imagine the situation is any better in the surrounding areas, either."
"Probably not," Superman agreed. "The league is forming a perimeter around the crater to push them back out of the cities, but they've still managed to dig themselves in at a couple of key locations."
"Which means they can use our own buildings as bunkers," Raven realized. "And their residents as hostages."
"Which is why we'll need your powers above all else. You can teleport into those fortifications without being seen, save hostages, and heal them if need be almost all at once. Can you focus on that for us?"
"I'll do my best."
"Good. Then let's get started--"
Another explosion rocked the ground beneath them. Another mobile laser cannon rolled into view, leaving a collapsing building in its wake. And this one, to Raven's horror, was not empty.
No order needed to be given. The trio of heroes bolted for the building, Flash zipping in and zipping out with survivors over his shoulder while Superman flew toward the cannon and Raven teleported as many people as she could manage from the wreckage, healing their lesser wounds along the way.
Raven spun toward the sound, and gasped. One Gordanian was backing away from the scene even as Superman shredded the second cannon, and pinned by its arm was a young woman, its claws pressed against her neck as it dragged her backward and held her to its chest as a human shield.
Raven shook with some mix of anger and fear. "You coward…"
The Gordanian only snarled viciously and kept backing away while the woman screamed and her eyes pleaded with Raven to save her. But the Gordanian's hold on her was far too careful. Raven couldn't make a move fast enough before the invader could rip her throat out.
And then, to her horror, a group of Gordanians marched up behind the one with the hostage, and suddenly it saw its strength of numbers. It locked eyes with Raven, and a sick smile appeared on its reptilian face.
Raven's eyes shot open. "NO!"
The Gordanian jerked its claw, and the woman's neck was instantly a bloody mess. She collapsed to the ground in an instant, facedown in a rapidly-spreading pool of red, her life force gone almost instantly.
Raven had perhaps a half-second to gag and gasp in disgust and very nearly throw up before the group of lizards rushed her, trampling the dead woman carelessly. The murderous Gordanian led the charge, raising its bloodied claw rip her open just as easily…
A black burst of energy surged from Raven's fingertips and struck the attackers, throwing them all back several feet.
"You find amusement in brutal slaughter, do you?" Raven hissed, her eyes flashing. She closed them for a long moment, shaking…her body seemed to grow, until she towered over her attackers, her cloak flowing across the ground and covering the street with tendrils of darkness that lapped at the lizards' feet…
And when she opened her eyes again, there were four of them. Deep, blood red. Given in to violence and anger. Almost smiling with evil intent.
"Let's see how you like it!"
Her cloak flew open, dozens of dark tendrils surging forth. They ensnared the entire force of Gordanians, who were dragged kicking and screaming into the depths of the blackness inside the gaping maw of her cloak.
"SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!.!.!" came the collective, echoing wail of the aliens, tortured and pained by things in the darkest corners of Raven's mind, until even their cries for mercy fell silent.
It was a long moment before Raven regained full control and drew back, white-faced but pitiless, and hurried onward. And as she fled her cloak drew back into itself as well, leaving behind a pile of Gordanians frozen on the ground, eyes wide and empty and dead.
"No mercy…" a voice echoed in the back of her mind. A red and sinister voice. And for perhaps the first time in her life…Raven nodded in agreement.
Beast Boy was already shaking in his boots.
Just not at what he thought he would be shaking at.
"Um…wanna take it easy on the hook hand, there?" he asked with a nervous chuckle. For indeed he was staring down the length of a long, wicked blade shaped like a hook, attached where a hand should be to the left arm of Aquaman, who glared down at Beast Boy from beneath a mess of blonde hair hanging over his bare chest.
"Silence, stowaway," he ordered. "You are not welcome here. The penalty for the crime you have committed is steep."
"Penalty?.!" Beast Boy blurted out. "But I didn't do anything--"
"I said silence!"
"But if you just give me a second to explain--"
The long and deadly hook slammed into the hull of Aquaman's personal vessel just millimeters from Beast Boy's right temple, slicing a few hairs from his head.
The Titan gulped. "Shutting up now…"
Aquaman just continued to glare. "I do not know how you managed to sneak aboard my flagship, but we do not take kindly to stowaways here. Especially not during this time of war, when anyone may be an enemy spy. You had best be able to explain yourself, boy."
Beast Boy stared nervously back at him, remaining silent.
"…Oh, you want me to talk now?" Beast Boy caught on.
Aquaman twitched. His hook hand swung again, and this time Beast Boy had to duck to avoid it opening his head like a tuna can.
"DAH! Well jeez, make up your mind why don't you?.!" Beast Boy snapped.
"You have tried my patience, boy, and patience is not something I am known for. Throw him in the ejection port!"
"Pfft, big deal," Beast Boy brushed him off. "I'll be right back inside in no time."
"Why you insolent little--!"
"Father, that's enough!"
Beast Boy looked up at the sound of the new voice and smiled; he'd recognize that pretty-boy tone anywhere. "Aqualad!"
Indeed, Aqualad was striding into the room at that very moment, offsetting his father's gold and green garb with his own blue and black. He looked unchanged in the years since Beast Boy had first met him; in fact, if anything, compared to the Atlanean whom Starfire and Raven had shamelessly oggled once upon a time, he looked even more pretty-boy-ish now. On some very small level he was almost glad Terra wasn't there at the moment.
"Let him be, father," Aqualad urged. "He's a friend. An ally. I've worked with him before."
His father sneered a bit at the two teenagers, but it seemed to Beast Boy that he would listen to his son for the moment. He might even apologize.
"Be that as it may, he is a stowaway, and stowaways are not welcome on my ship!"
…Well, he'd been wrong before, Beast Boy thought with a sigh to himself.
"Father, this is one of the Titans. They're heroes in the surface world. I'm sure he's here to help us." Aqualad turned to Beast Boy, nodding at him. "Isn't that it?"
Beast Boy nodded back in a hurry. "Yes! Exactly! Helping hand, that's me!"
Aquaman didn't appear convinced. "We do not need help from the surface dwellers. We will protect our oceans on our own."
"Father, you said yourself we are in a war, it would be foolish to not make use of every advantage we have," Aqualad urged.
"I fail to see what help this child can offer."
"Hey!" Beast Boy snapped.
"Leave him in my charge, then," Aqualad said. "He won't be any bother to you, and he and I have worked together before. We'll be quite efficient, I promise."
"Nnhhh…fine," Aquaman gave in, "but pray to Poseidon he does not hinder us, or I will not be feeling so merciful." Without another word he whirled around and marched to the door, where his entourage flanked him and escorted him out of the room.
"Heh…thanks for the save," Beast Boy said, turning to his friend.
"No problem," Aqualad responded. "I was right in saying you're here to help, wasn't I?"
"Heh, that's me. Beast Boy, at your service."
"That's good to hear. Despite what my father says, we'll need all the help we can get. The Gordanians aren't as numerous down here as they are up in your world, but there's enough of them to have us worried. Take a look."
Aqualad gestured out the window nearest to them. Obediently Beast Boy stepped up to it and peeked out; indeed, not far away at all, embedded in the southern stretch of the Great Barrier Reef, was the Gordanian asteroid, and the towering obelisk protruding from its center. Above it hovered the strange green orb, and all around it and the asteroid, Gordanians in jet-suits and watercraft swarmed, guarding the structure from any sea creatures that were unlucky enough to venture too close and be vaporized.
Beast Boy winced at the sight. "It's horrible…"
Aqualad nodded and gave a solemn bow of his head. "There were at least a few Atlanean casualties in the impact…distant scouts, nowhere near the city itself, but tragic nonetheless. Not to mention the immense loss of marine life."
"And the reef," Beast Boy added. "…I always wanted to see it. Thought someday I could dive down here with Terra and you could show it to us…"
Aqualad seemed genuinely surprised. "I…didn't know surface dwellers appreciated it."
"Yeah, well….guess it doesn't matter now," Beast Boy sighed.
Aqualad laid a brotherly hand on his shoulder. "In time it will re-grow, more beautiful than ever. And until then, we will scrape that alien pond scum off its face until there's nothing left of it."
Beast Boy nodded his agreement. "You can bet your Atlantean butt we will."
"If only we had some idea what that tower was supposed to do, maybe we could figure out a way to stop it…"
Beast Boy's eyes narrowed suddenly. "…Maybe you can."
Aqualad looked right at him, immediately curious. "How?"
Beast Boy pointed at the tower. "If we had something small enough get past the Gordanians without being noticed, it could get inside that tower, it might be able to find something out about what it does. Like…blueprints or something."
"It couldn't be done," Aqualad countered. "Believe me, I've though of it before, but even if I did successfully direct a small enough sea creature inside, it wouldn't be able to actually do anything once it got there. They wouldn't be able to breathe out of the water."
Beast Boy nodded. "No, they couldn't. But I could."
Aqualad's eyes widened sharply. "Of course…of course! With your powers you could morph into anything you'd need to get in and out of there!"
"But Beast Boy, that's extraordinarily dangerous…you'd be in there completely alone. If you're caught, you won't have a chance."
"I can take care of myself."
"Are you sure?"
"Hey, if you've got a better idea, I'm all ears."
Aqualad was silent for a moment. "I guess I don't. Alright, I'm with you…get out there and do what you can. I'll keep in contact with you telepathically, but I'll only be able to while you're in morph. You're on your own once you're human."
"Gotcha. Any chance your pop'll get pissed at me again?"
"I doubt father will like it much, but he won't turn down the potential advantage."
Beast Boy smirked a bit. "Heh…better than having him take my head off with that can-opener he calls a hand."
Aqualad smirked right back. "I don't doubt it." The smirks held for a few moments more before his expression turned serious again. "Be careful out there."
"Don't worry…I'll come back." He glanced down at his hand, clenching his fist together…save for the pinky.
Special thanks to DasteRoad for Italian language translations.