Hello to you all. For those who do not know, I am Balkoth. Returning readers, welcome back! It has been far too long. For new readers, welcome! I do hope that you enjoy and can take something special away from my work. Now, on to the story, right? You could skip down (some of you already have) but I like to waste some of your time before diving into a story.
This is a story I have mixed feelings about. I really like the idea. It has been done before (sorta). That said, in the spirit of breathing life back into the cliche, any reader can expect to see a few new things. My theory is that there are truly original ideas out there that are worth twice their weight in gold or other precious metal of your choosing. For every original idea, however, there is an idea that has been done before. Look around a library if you doubt me. All books are not 'original' in the sense that they are brand new. Many offer a new angle and that is what I aim for in this work.
I have here an idea that has been written over and over until it's sickening to even think about reading another one. But there is a perspective here you'll not find in a different story by a different author. Enjoy. And please, tell me what you think. As a general rule, I accept and respect all criticism and opinions until it is proven that such respect is unwarranted.
What is to follow is a large blanket disclamier:
Balkoth hereby affirms, by affixation of typed penname at the close of this statement, that Balkoth does not own the Teen Titans. The characters portrayed in this work are the rightful and legal property of Cartoon Network and DC Comics. Balkoth has never - nor will Balkoth ever - assert that these characters belong to any person(s) other than those previously mentioned. Any legal action against Balkoth for the production of this work is unwarranted; no profit is being made.
Characters and events portrayed in this work are fictional. Any resemblance to real people or events is unintentional.
Balkoth has created a number of characters for various appearances in this work. These characters are the product of personal probing, long debates against various alter-egos, careful planning, and hard work. Balkoth considers these characters an extension of Balkoth's own being or soul. Unlawful use of these characters by others in a context other than the original one is not appreciated.
This work, while stemming from a recycled idea and a pre-existing world created by others, is very much an original work of Balkoth's. Balkoth urges others to enjoy, comment, and assist in anyway that seems prudent. Replication of this work will be viewed in a most unfavorable light.Balkoth
Smile for the Camera
The sun was beating down on the city so fiercely that eight senior citizens had died of heat stroke earlier in the week. The heat wave was showing no sign of abating and the city was placing bans on lawn sprinklers and anything else dealing with water that came to mind.
Pools all over the city were packed to bursting until the temperature of the water was no better than the temperature elsewhere. Air conditioning units were working on and off throughout the concrete metropolis of Jump City. The lucky were sealed in their homes or apartments charging money for admittance. The unlucky and the poor stood in lines that stretched on for blocks just to get a bag of ice from a local gas station or grocery store. Cyborg and Beast Boy stood in one such line, tapping their feet impatiently and hoping that there was still ice when the store came into view, never mind when they actually got into it.
Sweat slid down Beast Boy's skin and glued his uniform to his frame as a half-hearted breeze made it painfully obvious that the person in front of him hadn't used deodorant that morning. Possibly not even that week. Cyborg just stared ahead with unblinking eyes while his internal cooling systems kept his circuitry from overheating. Beast Boy had been telling him all week that as long as he was installing stuff into the new tower and his own body he should add a giant fan. Cyborg apparently didn't like jokes about his mechanical body, even if Beast Boy had only been half joking when he'd said it. Or maybe was what had bothered Cyborg.
The oldest Titan stood at least a foot above Beast Boy and the changeling moved until he was standing in his new teammate's shadow. It didn't help much but there might have been a half-degree drop and that was fine by Beast Boy's standards. Then Cyborg moved up the cue, and Beast Boy was left in the blistering heat once more.
"Dude," Beast Boy whined as the forward movement stopped after about half an inch, "Can't we just… you know, cut everyone?"
"If you want to tell the hundred people in front of us that we're cutting, I don't know you," Cyborg said with boredom and irritation eating away at his words. Beast Boy glared defiantly at Cyborg. The action was undermined when he was forced to blink by a bead of sweat that slipped into the shelter of his eye.
"Look, Cyborg, just because you're made of metal doesn't mean you need to be as cold as it!" Beast Boy snapped, his friend's bluntness and the heat working in sync to release his simmering temper.
"And just 'cause you look like an idiot doesn't mean you should act like one. We can't just cut people. Robin sent us to get ice, not to bully the people we're supposed to protect," Cyborg said evenly. Then he went back to staring forward as if nothing had happened, obviously more in control of himself then his new teammate. Beast Boy just crossed his arms over his chest and looked anywhere but at Cyborg. After the line snailed forward another inch, Beast Boy picked up the dropped semi-argument.
"We're the superheroes. Don't we get any perks?"
"Perks like what?" Cyborg asked without looking down.
Beast Boy raised a fist and knocked loudly on Cyborg's chest plate, knowing that he couldn't reach his head. "Hello? How about being able to get ice during a heat wave without standing in line for two hours only to find out that there isn't any left?" Cyborg sighed and did not respond.
"You don't get to spend any more time with the ice princess. Between the two of you, we don't need ice." Beast Boy hadn't meant for Cyborg to hear him. He hadn't even really meant to speak the thought out loud but Cyborg rounded on him in an instant, his self-control finally snapped.
"One, drop the attitude. We have enough problems on the team without you adding more. Raven has a name – use it. She isn't just 'the ice princess.' You should be nice to her; she's just nervous about fitting in. Two, I'm not being mean to you, man, we just can't cut everybody – it's wrong." Cyborg kept his voice down as he spoke, and Beast Boy realized about halfway through that every additional word was spoken in a deeper, more menacing, tone.
Beast Boy craned his neck back to see Cyborg's face, fully intent on arguing with him. Nobody wanted to admit it but the Teen Titans were having trouble forming a team, and this heat wave was bringing out the worst in all of them. He was distracted by the fact that he could see Cyborg's face. At this time of day, the sun should have blinded Beast Boy when he looked up.
Cyborg was still talking, though he seemed to have calmed down after meeting no resistance from Beast Boy. Beast Boy didn't hear him. He just kept looking up into the sky. A sky filled with angry gray smoke.
"Cyborg," Beast Boy pointed at the smoke as it billowed upward to the heavens.
Cyborg stopped what was obviously a very earnest lecture to look where Beast Boy was pointing. Without another word, he grabbed Beast Boy by the collar and dragged him out of the line they had been standing in for the past two hours. Beast Boy tried to cry his protests but Cyborg cut him off. "We'll get ice later, man. We need to help with that fire."
Beast Boy followed in Cyborg's wake as they barreled down the streets in a sprint that neither of them would have been able to manage without Robin's insane training regimen. That was a detail they wouldn't be telling him, of course. As Beast Boy ran he started to sweat even more profusely than he had while standing in line. He hadn't thought anything except a melting snowman could release so much water so quickly.
When the building came into view, Beast Boy groaned. The fire department was already on the scene but the fire hydrant they had tapped into wasn't working, most likely cut off by a city official who wanted to fudge the water bans without getting caught. The building was suffering as a result: red-hot flames lapped at the bricks, charring them black and eating away at anything unfortunate enough to be dry or flammable on such a hot day. In short, there was very little that wasn't alight in a deadly display of dancing light.
As Beast Boy pulled his new communicator from his pocket, Cyborg rushed to the building and crashed through the door. After a few seconds, Starfire's face appeared on the screen. "Friend Beast Boy, you have gotten the frozen articles we require?"
Beast Boy fought the urge to shake his head at the "Friend" the strange alien girl tacked in front of everybody's name. Taking a breath to calm himself Beast Boy addressed the girl. "Not yet, we have to play hero first. Just follow the giant cloud of smoke." Beast Boy switched off his communicator and hastily shoved it into his pocket again.
The fire continued to rage as Cyborg pulled a few people off the lower levels and helped them outside. The upper levels were beyond his reach. The elevator was shorted out and the stairwell had collapsed.
Starfire arrived just as Cyborg exited with a teenage boy in his arms. The kid was babbling in a language that was barely recognizable as English and pounding against Cyborg's chest with petite, almost feminine, hands.
Beast Boy and Starfire ignored the boy as they watched the fire progress. A loud explosion rocked the structure as a window on the seventh floor was blown clear out of its frame, followed closely by forked tongues of flame and more smoke. They shared a small nod. Starfire flew over and hoisted Beast Boy off the ground. Just as they started to fly toward the bay, Beast Boy distinctly heard the boy yelling a name: Lynn.
Starfire darted across the city so quickly that even familiar landmarks were turned into indistinguishable blurs. Once they reached the bay, Starfire started to lower their altitude.
"You have a good grip?" Beast Boy yelled, hoping to be heard over the rushing wind. His only response was a painful squeeze that almost took off his arms. Starfire had a really good grip. Beast Boy closed his eyes, and started to chant to himself.
Think big. Think big. Think big. Think big.
After a painfully drawn-out moment, Beast Boy felt his body start to change. It grew in size and form. He sprouted fins and a tail, suppressed the desire to settle for a small fish, and continued to expand. Anyone happening to look out at the bay would see Starfire, a member of a new group of vigilantes, lowering a green humpback whale into the water. And then lifting it back out again.
Beast Boy couldn't remember ever doing something so hard in his life. He had never been able to turn into something as large, as complex, as a whale before. He'd managed a Tyrannosaurus Rex once while with the Doom Patrol, but the transformation had lasted less than thirty seconds. Now he was doing basically the same thing but having to hold the form for four minutes. Starfire was flying as fast as she could, but they were making progress too slowly for Beast Boy to maintain his transformation.
They got closer and closer and Beast Boy felt himself losing energy as the smoke started attacking his eyes. His vision was blurring; he wasn't going to make it. As if sensing his weakening resolve, Starfire squeezed again, this time reassuringly and somehow not as violently as she did with other physical contact. That was probably what had made it possible.
Starfire lowered their altitude again as they approached the fire. Beast Boy opened his mouth from shock as his stomach scrapped along the first rooftop and dislodged the first gargoyle, sending the figure to the ground where it would meet a violent end. Gallons of salt water sloshed out onto the street, causing a temporary flood before the storm gutters could do their job.
Liquid continued to spill out of Beast Boy's mouth as they approached the fire. Finally, the water started landing on the blistering flame. With an angry hiss, the blaze went out, shrinking inch by inch and disappearing flame by flame. Once Beast Boy's mouth was half-empty, Starfire flew up about four dozen feet and turned him upside down, emptying everything onto the sputtering building.
Beast Boy felt his body start to change again – shrinking this time. He lost his fins and grew fingers. Legs replaced his tail. By the time the transformation was complete Beast Boy was exhausted and unconscious. That was why he never saw the roof collapse.
The entire city was asleep. A light flurry had started an hour ago and snow was just beginning to latch onto windowsills. Dim light from the new moon fell onto the bay and spread across the water's surface. It was a cold night. Colder than most.
Silence pervaded in Beast Boy's room as the snow continued to fall. Beast Boy was, surprisingly, not asleep. His heightened hearing could pick out a continuous dripping from the sinks in the tower. Cyborg had gone around before going to bed and turned the facets on so that the pipes wouldn't freeze overnight. Beast Boy wasn't trying to hear the running water; that just made him need to use the bathroom. No, Beast Boy was counting the deep breaths of sleep from his teammates, all four of them.
With meticulous care, Beast Boy switched on his personal computer. The blue light shot forth into the room and sent shadows scurrying into their corners. Beast Boy paused and counted breaths. In truth, he was being paranoid. What Beast Boy was doing wasn't wrong. It was just that none of his friends would be overly fond of it.
Beast Boy grabbed his mouse and opened the Internet browser. With rapid keystrokes he entered a URL address. When Raven had insisted that Beast Boy needed to find a hobby other than bothering her she hadn't had this in mind. He knew that. Still, she hadn't been specific, so Beast Boy had started reading fanfiction about the Titans.
Beast Boy scanned through the new entries, pausing now and then to read a summary that caught his interest. He couldn't really place his finger on why he liked reading what people thought about him and the other Titans. If he had to guess he'd go with that it was funny. Most of the ideas and reactions that the authors on the web cite crafted were ludicrous. They had no clue what the tower was really like and their guesses were just crazy enough to be funny and sad at the same time.
Beast Boy stopped at a story that looked like it would be entertaining. He picked his ears up one last time, counted four deep breaths, and began to read.
Beast Boy lost track of time as he read through the story. Just as the tale started to wind down, the action reaching a peak, a soft knock came from Beast Boy's door. Beast Boy jumped and glanced quickly at the clock at the bottom of the screen. It was just early enough for Raven to be awake.
Beast Boy snapped his head around as his door start to hiss open. It was only with great effort that he didn't scramble to close the Internet browser and try to hide what he had been doing. Like that wouldn't have been suspicious.
"Beast Boy? Since when did you wake up early?" Raven asked with the smallest inclination of her head indicating that she wasn't completely awake yet.
Beast Boy spun his chair around completely and slapped his hands against his thighs. "I don't," he answered with a huge yawn, "I couldn't sleep."
Raven nodded and stepped completely into Beast Boy's room. "You didn't even try," she said after throwing a cursory glance at Beast Boy's sloppily made bed.
Beast Boy vented a nervous laugh as Raven drew her cloak closer around her, no doubt to keep in warmth. Somehow, he managed to make the laugh seem natural. Beast Boy motioned at his computer screen. "I started reading this and just got caught up in it. Hadn't realized it was this late."
"Early," Raven corrected Beast Boy without thinking. "What is it?" she asked while moving further into Beast Boy's room. Beast Boy felt himself break out in a nervous sweat. He ran a gloved hand across his brow but covered the move by then running his fingers nonchalantly through his hair. Raven was the least likely person to approve of his new hobby.
Then Beast Boy did something so insane it was brilliant: he rose from his chair in one fluid motion and closed the gap between Raven and himself. Trying to act completely casual, Beast Boy grabbed one of Raven's shoulders and dragged her over to the computer, hoping she wouldn't actually bother to read it.
"This is a blog I've been looking at. You've got to take a look, Raven. These people are geniuses! They've seen every episode of..." Raven slipped out of Beast Boy's grasp and took a step away from the computer.
"That's great, Beast Boy. I'm glad you're having fun, but please don't include me in it. Really. I was just curious when I saw a light in here," Raven said while navigating back to the door. Beast Boy allowed himself a small smile but remembered to call out his protests as the door slid shut again.
Once Raven got out of Beast Boy's room she sighed, relieved that she had just narrowly escaped torture beyond reason. She didn't know what Beast Boy had been looking at. If Beast Boy said the people were geniuses, thought, they were definitely people Raven didn't want to deal with. Raven walked down the halls as something in the back of her mind rattled around, feeling off but never quite clicking into place.
When Raven reached the doors to the living room she drew her cloak closer to her. By a bizarre chance of fate, Raven grabbed the same fabric Beast Boy had touched when he dragged her to the computer. It was still damp with his sweat. That was when the annoying thing that was out of place but didn't quite fit found its home. Beast Boy had been nervous the entire time Raven was in his room. He had no reason to be nervous.
Raven reached out with her senses, trying to get a read on Beast Boy, but there was nothing strange about the emotions he was broadcasting. She couldn't get anything more specific without him knowing she'd been prodding, at least not directly.
Raven stepped into the living room and swept over to the tower's main computer, forgoing her usual morning ritual of herbal tea and meditation before it got too loud to think. With deft fingers, Raven logged onto the main terminal and tried to trace Beast Boy's movements over the Internet.
Raven lost herself in her search. It was almost like active meditation. Beast Boy had been careful, a stupid move that made Raven even more suspicious, but the little green elf had covered his tracks well. Raven had always been better with computers and Beast Boy would soon be reminded of it.
The doors to the living room slid open for the second time that morning as Robin walked into the room, looking drawn and sleep-deprived yet moving as if he never needed sleep again. Raven didn't know he was there at first. She was too engrossed in the electronic tug-o-war Beast Boy had inadvertently engaged her in.
Robin popped open the fridge and withdrew a carton of orange juice. Had Robin been any other teenage male, he would have started drinking straight from the carton with the fridge door still hanging ajar. Robin being Robin, however, he closed the refrigerator door with a small snap and then unearthed a clean drinking glass from the mountain of dishes that had piled up next to the sink over the course of the previous day and never been cleaned.
Raven entered another command as Robin replaced the carton. "What are you doing, Raven?" Robin asked before taking a sip of orange juice.
Raven answered distractedly, not even knowing what she was saying, her fingers still flying across the keyboard while entering a final command. Robin started toward the computer as Raven's efforts finally paid off. Slowly, gaining speed with every millisecond, words were appearing on the main screen. Raven craned her head back to see the entire screen as Robin finally reached her.
"You never actually told me what you were doing," he stated lightly. Raven continued to read, too lost, too horrified, too paralyzed to realize Robin had even said something.
Just as Robin tilted his head back to see what was on the screen for himself, Raven spoke; "We have a problem." Robin read a few lines and decided he couldn't have agreed more.
Author's Note: Tell me what you think. It doesn't take long and thoughtful criticism is much appreciated. As are compliments and theories.