Chapter One: On the Road to the Tower
ruins of what was once Jump City.
Estimated date: 4 June 2771 C.E.
Acolyte Efim knew that the Five smiled equally upon any mortal who did his level best in an honest trade—no matter what trade he worked in. They had never revealed anything to the First Sibyl about members of the clergy being "better" than anyone else, nor said that such people would be easily forgiven if they strayed from the path of righteousness. In fact, there were several sins for which a layman might get off with a slap on the wrist for a first offense, but for which a cleric would be treated much more severely! And that was as it should be.
He knew all this, and yet he took pride in being a first-year student of theology in the College of the Captain of Preparation. If he did well in his studies, some day Efim would be a cleric of the Five, expected to teach and counsel others and to always set an example of correct behavior. And likely to be banished, temporarily or permanently, if he conspicuously failed in that duty.
Today it was his task to make a few repairs to the uninhabited shrine they simply called the Tower. He was always glad to have an excuse to go there, and walk alone through the same halls and chambers the Five had resided in, so many generations ago. (Sure, the Tower had been hard-hit by the Troubles, and since the resurgence of the Faith of the Five, most of the material in the floors and walls had probably been replaced at least three times over the centuries, and the carpets and tiles perhaps a dozen times. But so what? It was still the "same" building that the Five had called home during their mortal incarnations, wasn't it?)
He was about a mile away, picking his way through the half-demolished buildings of that portion of old Jump City, able to see the Tower clearly ahead of him, when something very strange happened. A whining noise seemed to be coming out of empty air, much louder than he'd expect from any insect. Then there was suddenly a huge black circle standing perpendicular to the ground, and it was surrounded by a ring of white flame. No feeling of heat in the air, though. Efim moved quickly and landed behind the remains of a brick wall, about two feet high and half-buried in mulberry bushes. Whatever was about to happen, a little camouflage couldn't hurt. . . .
When he poked his head around the base of the wall and peered through the foliage, he saw a bunch of robots were emerging from the black circle and fanning out as they advanced—and then several people came through, moving fast and furious.
A big guy with dark skin in the few places that weren't covered with (or replaced by?) gleaming white metal and blue circuitry.
A golden-skinned girl with dark red hair and a purple ensemble, with boots that came up past her knees.
A green-faced boy, pointy-eared, in a black and bright purple outfit—but even as Efim's eyes focused on him, the boy was changing into a green elephant and charging at the nearest robot.
A girl in a hooded cloak of midnight blue, with most of her face in shadow. Her bare legs were an unhealthy-looking grayish color. (Unless she was wearing some sort of gray tights? Efim couldn't tell right away.)
A staff-wielding boy with short black hair and a domino mask over a red and green outfit . . . and as he moved around, Efim could see the boy's cape was yellow on one side and black on the other.
They looked familiar, up to a point, although he had never seen those faces before. It was obvious whom they were imitating, but why bother? Actors from some sort of play or pageant he hadn't heard about?
What happened after that, happened very fast. Efim's gaze was caught by the golden girl as she flew up and threw balls of green energy from each hand, apparently doing enough damage to cause at least two of the robots to keel over. By the time he looked around at what the others were doing, several more robots were already down and staying down, and the dark-haired boy was swinging his staff in a way that made portions of his current target go Crunch. Some sort of black energy or force field or whatever had surrounded another robot and was throwing it through the air at two more . . . whoever these people really were, he got the impression they had a lot of practice at this sort of thing, so that they could go through the motions quickly without dithering over basic tactics.
Within a minute or so of when he had first noticed the big black circle (which had faded away by now), most of the robots were hors de combat and one with green stripes along its casing had scurried off while its brethren occupied the attention of these teenage pursuers. Considering that the humans were probably still full of adrenalin and might be trigger-happy, Efim decided to stay out of sight a minute or two longer until he could make up his mind just what they thought they were doing. No need to draw fire before they'd had time to calm down a bit!
The mostly-metal guy was frowning at a readout on his left arm. "This isn't good. I should be picking up GPS signals, but I'm getting zilch on the usual frequencies! No telling where we are!"
"Or when," said the hooded girl in midnight blue in a rather depressing voice. She pointed at the patchwork, oft-repaired structure of the Tower of the Five in the distance. Four heads swiveled to study it in silence for several seconds.
"No, no, no!" the green boy finally wailed. "We've been gone so long, somebody's probably looted my video game collection by now!"
"Okay, so there really is a silver lining," the girl in midnight blue conceded in the same tone as before. The green boy growled at her, making not the slightest dent on her self-possession.
The big mostly-metal guy was still fiddling with his arm, but didn't look happy enough to be having any good results. Without looking up from his tinkering, he said, "Guys, I've got a suggestion. The next time we fight a horde of killer robots and then see the last stragglers disappearing through a wormhole, what say we just let 'em go? Instead of jumping in after 'em and ending up who-knows-when-and-where?"
The green boy scratched his chin and pondered. "I think I could live with that."
"Friends!" the golden girl said in a scandalized tone. "You would not want on your consciences the blood of any innocent civilians who were standing near the other end of the wormhole as the robots emerged, would you?"
"Star's right," said the dark-haired boy. "Besides, we still had to retrieve the Omicron Detonator." He held up a shiny black case that he'd just extracted from one of the disabled robots. "Now that we've secured it, we can concentrate on the little problem of retracing our steps! Something generated that wormhole for those robots, after all—"
"With our luck, it was the one robot that got away," said the girl in midnight blue. Heads began to nod—apparently that would be just their luck, to have clobbered every robot except the one they desperately needed next.
This was getting ridiculous. They called the golden girl "Star," and they spoke as if they—well, it had to be a joke, a stunt, something like that! Efim finally decided it was time to announce himself. He stood up from behind the low wall, clapping. "Bravo! Good show!"
The golden girl's hands flashed green as she twirled in mid-air to face him. The others also tensed, he thought, but no one actually did anything. "Thanks!" said the green boy after a moment, grinning and showing some interesting fangs. "I guess you're grateful we didn't give those robots time to catch their breath and ferret you out?"
Efim blinked. "'Catch their breath'? Robots don't breathe."
"Dude," said the green boy in a long-suffering tone, "it's just an expression!"
"Well, anyway, when I said 'good show,' I meant it was a great performance. Were you rehearsing for a play? Or practicing your choreography for something that will impress backwoods yokels the next time you 'fight' these robots?"
The golden girl stared at him, very wide-eyed. "What do you mean?"
The big mostly-metal guy seemed more amused than anything else as he said, "What he means, Star, is that he thinks this little slugfest was just a fancy fake. With toy robots programmed to act dangerous and then fall down so we look good without really sweating for it."
The golden girl said indignantly, "Fake? We do not need to fake anything! The world has too much wickedness already, without our fabricating even more of it!"
"Dude! What she said!" the green boy agreed. "We've never been that desperate for excitement! Half the time, it seems like the excitement comes looking for us when we'd rather be doing something else!"
"Perhaps he just doesn't recognize us," the girl in midnight blue said reasonably. "The Tower looks very old—and fame is fleeting, as they say."
"Enlighten me," Efim invited. "Just who are you, then?" It was possible, he told himself, that they would admit they were only amusing themselves by imitating—
The dark-haired kid in the domino mask said matter-of-factly, "We're from the first decade of the Twenty-First Century. We're the Teen Titans."
Efim laughed for a few moments before catching his breath enough to speak clearly. "No, you aren't! I was afraid you'd say that! I suppose you worked hard on those costumes, but you're never going to fool anybody around here!"