"The Cydonia Chronicles"
"One Minute, Man"
By David Marshall
Coney Island Beach, 1966
“Come on, Jaime!” Virgil pleaded. “We need you my brother!” The Teen Titan known as Static tapped the volleyball over the net. It wasn’t often the Titans ditched their costumes for swimsuits and hit the beach. “The chickadees are giving us the business without you!”
Lorena handled the volley easily and bumped it over to Traci. She in turn set up Rose for the spike. And spike it she did! The ball plummeted into the white sand between Amon and Virgil. The girls squealed with delight.
Virgil pointed to the ball lying between them. “Dude! That was totally yours!”
“No way, cat!” Amon shot back. He drew a favorable line in the sand with his right foot. “This side of the net is my pad. The ball is on your side!”
“You say I’m not being square with you?” Virgil yelled back.
Amon got in Virgil’s face. “Trust me, dude! You’re the biggest square I know!”
Lorena and Rose forced their way between the quarreling teammates.
“Boys, stop! We have the sun, the beach, our blankets, and a transistor radio! What does it matter who wins a silly volleyball game?” Lorena asked. “Even if we were winning!”
“And we have bikinis!” Traci added, pointing to her bare midriff. “And this year’s styles show our bellybuttons!”
Amon didn’t look convinced. “Well, he started it!”
Virgil pushed his way past Rose. “Did not!”
“Did too!” Amon shot back.
Traci grabbed Virgil by the arm. “Come on, Virg. Don’t let him get under your skin.”
Rose dropped to the blanket and flipped on the transistor radio. “Oh, I love the Beatles! Let’s dance!” She grabbed Virgil by the hand and started gyrating wildly. Her platinum-white hair flew in every direction as she bopped to the groove of “Drive My Car”.
“You call that dancing?” Virgil asked.
“It’s fab,” Rose replied. “Hop to the groove, man!”
Lorena grabbed Amon, who was the best dancer among the boys, and joined in.
Jaime had little time for volleyball or dancing. As president of the Teen Titans Superhero Club it was his responsibility to read their fan mail each week and find kids who needed help. Among the usual requests for autographed eight-by-ten glossies and interview requests from teeny-bopper magazines was a troubling letter from a girl in Cydonia, New Jersey.
Traci joined her boyfriend on the blanket. She grabbed a bottle of baby oil and rubbed it into her arms. “Looks like you need some too, lover boy!”
“Huh?” Jaime asked. “Oh, no I’m good thanks.”
Traci poured oil into her hands and rubbed it into Jaime’s shoulders anyway. “Why so gloomy today, handsome?”
Jaime held up the letter. “This chick in Jersey has a problem only we Teen Titans can handle! Her old lady has disappeared!”
Traci looked mortified. “Bummer!”
“And it gets worse,” Jaime added.
“How could it get worse than that?” Traci shrieked.
“She’s not alone,” Jaime replied. “Every adult female in town has disappeared over the last few weeks, from the grooviest grandma to the hippest hippie!”
“Hey gang! Beat feet and get over here!” Traci called to her fellow Teen Titans. “We’ve got ourselves a case!”
The rest of the Titans stopped dancing and gathered around.
Jaime read the letter aloud and turned to his teammates. “Well gang, what do you say? Do we mind our potatoes or not?”
“You know the rules,” Rose answered. “We’re not like those commie Reds! Let’s put it to a vote gang!”
The tally was unanimous. The Teen Titans were Jersey bound!
In the Skies over Cydonia, New Jersey
“We’re coming up on Cydonia now,” said Blue Beetle. He sat at the controls of the brand new helicopter the Justice League presented to their protégées.
“Good!” Ravager complained. “We’ve been cooped up in this thing long enough!”
“I could have flown us here faster on my own,” Osiris huffed as he crossed his arms. “All I had to do was get underneath the ‘copter and flex my muscles!”
“Without sending our new ride to Shredsville?” Traci asked. “It’s way groovy, but I’m not sure it was designed to handle that kind of speed.”
Osiris puffed out his chest. “True, I’m too fast for my own good.”
Aquagirl rolled her eyes. “Too fast for modesty too, apparently.”
“Besides,” Traci added. “A couple of hours from Coney Island isn’t shabby.”
Static sat in the co-pilot seat next to Blue Beetle. “It was far out of our mentors to present us with this new ride, huh?” Static asked.
“My apologies, bro,” Blue Beetle replied. “My mind was in Katmandu.”
“Jaime my brother, take a load off,” said Static. “I’m all ears, man.”
Blue Beetle spotted the abandoned airfield described in the letter. The runways were a patchwork of cracked, sun-bleached asphalt save for one that had been converted into a drag strip. The tower was a burned-out cinder block shell spray-painted with peace signs and anti-war slogans. An office building and a small hangar sat at opposite ends of the property. Both were in a state of disrepair. “Something feels wrong about this.”
“Are you saying we shouldn’t help them?” Static asked.
Blue Beetle lowered the helicopter to a concrete pad next to the tower. “I don’t know, man. Maybe I’m just flaking.”
An eager crowd of young people waited to meet the super-powered celebrities as they exited the helicopter. The Titans exchanged pleasantries with them and signed a few autographs.
Finally Aquagirl spoke up. “Which one of you is Aelita?”
A girl pushed her way to the front. She was about the same age as the Titans and pretty with a shag of red hair and a swath of sun-kissed freckles across her nose. Her blue miniskirt showed off her shapely legs and her white blouse hugged her in all the right places. If Blue Beetle didn’t already have a girlfriend he would have asked for her number. “I’m Aelita.”
“Um… sorry about your mom,” Blue Beetle stammered. He didn’t want to look away but remembered his girlfriend was present. “All of your moms, I mean.”
“Thank you,” Aelita replied with a flirty smile as she pushed her bangs out of her hair. She grabbed Blue Beetle’s right hand. “I’m just glad you came. We didn’t know where else to turn.”
“What about the fuzz?” a noticeably jealous Traci 13 hissed.
Static slapped Blue Beetle’s back. “Busted, bro!”
Blue Beetle definitely didn’t need Traci jealous over nothing. It was nothing, right? He pulled his hand away from Aelita. “Yes, what about the police?”
“It’s like they’re brainwashed or something,” Aelita replied. “A lot of weird things have happened lately. We kids don’t know who to trust any more. Do we gang?”
The crowd replied as one with a resounding, “No!”
“That’s easy,” Osiris replied. “No one over thirty!”
“You can’t trust the man,” Static added.
The answers drew cheers from the crowd.
“What did you mean about the police being brainwashed?” Blue Beetle asked.
“We’ve reported our missing moms to them many times,” Aelita explained. “They take the information and promise to help but when we ask about it later they act as if it was the first time they’ve heard anything about it.”
“Aren’t your fathers missing their wives?” Aquagirl asked.
“You’d think so,” Aelita replied. “But they don’t seem to notice them missing either.”
“Any idea who may have taken them or where they may be?” Static asked.
Aelita shrugged. “We have a theory but …. “
“Like, it’s those kooky Hill People man,” said a scraggly-looking beatnik type in a green tee-shirt and brown pants. “Everybody knows those cats are flaky!”
“Hill People?” Blue Beetle asked.
“The Titans have no time for old wives’ tales, Marvin” Aelita replied.
Old wives’ tale or not, Blue Beetle was happy to hear any theory. “Come on, cats. Spill the beans. It’s all we have right now.”
Aelita rolled her eyes but continued. “They’re local folklore legend, a village of crazed hillbillies who supposedly live in the mountains and eat little children who misbehave. Nothing more than a parenting ploy to keep the little ones in line really. There may be a moonshiner or two in these hills but that’s about it.”
Blue Beetle looked past Aelita to Marvin. “Any proof these Hill People are responsible?”
The haggard-looking young man shook his head. “No, man. Just a feeling. You know?”
“So where do we start?” Aquagirl asked. “The woods?”
“Perhaps a look around town?” Aelita suggested.
“Sounds like a ticket to Dead Endsville,” Traci sneered.
Blue Beetle shot his girlfriend a stern look. “Or a perfectly logical place to begin. Lead on, Aelita.”
The Titans piled into the backs of teenager’s hot rods and rode into town. Blue Beetle, Traci, and Aelita made their way to Marvin’s jalopy. It was a dark green hot rod convertible with an exposed engine and grill shell. The tiny front tires were a stark contrast to the oversized rear ones. It was trimmed out in shiny chrome everywhere.
“Nice wheels,” Blue Beetle complimented. “What is this, a Dodge Roadster?”
Marvin nodded and roared the engine. “Good call, man. It’s a ’23 Roadster Pickup mounted on a ’27 Model T Frame. The bed is from a ’37 Ford. I put the rumble seat in myself. Got a Banjo rear end and the engine is from a ’61 Thunderbird.”
Blue Beetle nodded and piled into the rumble seat. “Cool, Daddy-o!”
Aelita hopped into the seat beside him.
“Have you flipped your wig, sister?!” Traci asked. “That hunk’s my boyfriend!”
“I thought it would give us a chance to talk about the case and everyone could hear me better if I sat in the back rather than trying to turn around and yell,” Aelita explained.
“Whatever!” Traci huffed. “No monkey business though!”
“Aelita’s a good skirt,” Marvin beamed. “Your boyfriend is safe. Besides, you get to ride up front with me, chick-a-dee!”
Traci rolled her eyes and hopped into the bucket seat on the passenger side. “Yay!”
Ten minutes later, the convoy of hot rods rolled into town and parked. Blue Beetle climbed from the rumble seat and looked around the tiny town. They were on the town square according to the name of the restaurant on the east end of the roundabout. Blue Beetle thought it odd that the square was actually a circle, but let it pass.
The picturesque downtown was postcard quaint. The courthouse dominated the view on the western end of the square. It was the only building on its block. The inscription above its entrance was dated 1782. It bore the distinction of being the only building taller than two floors, but topped out at just three.
A cloister of artisan shops dotted the north end of the square. The most prominent store fronts belonged to a piece-goods shop, a glassblower, a basket weaver, and a candle maker. The smallest storefront belonged to a soda shop named Deimos.
The southern-most part of the square contained a discount movie theater advertising “Abbot and Costello Go To Mars” on the marquee, a homemade jewelry store, a pawnshop, and barber shop and beauty salon owned by an elderly couple, and a market.
The restaurant on the east end was called the Town Square Diner. Its patrons eyed the Teen Titans with smug, condescending looks reserved for those they expected to make trouble. Everyone in the restaurant was conspicuously male.
A statue of George Washington towered over the center of the square. The Father of the Country rested his left leg on a log and peered out over the town through a looking glass. A brass plaque was attached to the base of the log but the words were too small to read.
“Far out little town,” said Aquagirl. “Revolutionary ties?”
Marvin nodded. “Washington wintered here one year during the war. Legend says the Colonial Army camped on the square, but local historians believe it was closer to the river. Either way, he gets a statue and we throw a parade and festival in his honor every fall.”
“The river?” Osiris asked. “The Delaware?”
“That would be the one, cat!” Marvin answered.
“Hey guys,” said Static. “What’s up with all the missing letters on your signs?”
“What do you mean?” Aelita asked.
Static pointed to the Town Square Diner. “It says Tow Squre Dinr”.
“It’s an old town,” Aelita replied. “Letters on these old neon signs burn out all the time.”
Aquagirl pointed to theater marquee. “But the theater marquee is missing letters too!”
The marquee read, “Abbt and Cosello Go To Mar”
Every building on the square was missing letters. Even the theater marquee, which was changed by hand, wasn’t immune to the missing letter syndrome. Neither was the handwritten menu posted in the diner window.
“And did you notice it’s always the fourth letter missing?” Traci asked. “This gets weirder all the time.”
A shrill whistle pierced the air.
“Hey you kids! What are you doing here?” shouted a rotund police officer whose angry bulldog jowls glowed apple red. He made a beeline toward the teenagers and looked even more perturbed when he arrived.
Blue Beetle stepped forward. “Pleased to meet you, officer. We’re the Teen Titans and we’re here to investigate the rash of disappearances around town.”
The police officer looked perplexed. “Are you on drugs, kid?”
“No sir,” Blue Beetle replied. “Drugs are bad.”
“Then you’re here to sell drugs,” the officer continued.
Traci intervened. “No sir. We’re here about the missing mothers.”
“No idea what you’re talking about,” the officer replied. “Who invited you?”
“I did,” said Aelita.
“Why didn’t you come to the police if you believe someone is missing?” the officer shot back.
Aelita buried her face in her hands and sighed. “I… have… spoken to you, Officer Edison. At least a dozen times since my own mom went missing.”
Officer Edison wasn’t buying it. “I would remember if you told me your mother was missing, Ms. Welles. Mayor Bradbury won’t be pleased you invited all these strangers to town.”
“Perhaps if we spoke to your mayor we can straighten this mess out,” Blue Beetle offered.
Officer Edison poked his finger in Blue Beetle’s chest. “Not going to happen, fancy pajamas!”
“We’re here to help, man” Blue Beetle added. “We don’t want trouble.”
“Then I’d suggest you go back to wherever you came from,” said Officer Edison.
“We’ll cut out as soon as we find everyone that’s missing,” Static argued.
Officer Edison looked confused. “Someone is missing?”
Aelita whispered in Blue Beetle’s ear. “See what we’re dealing with?”
“I’m going to give you kids to the count of five to load up in those hippie hot rods of yours and stop making trouble,” said Officer Edison. “One… two… three…”
At the count of three a Minuteman militia appeared from behind every bush, every tree, and any possible hiding place one could find on the square.
“Um… guys… am I the only one who sees the 18th century soldiers in tights pointing muskets at us? Aquagirl asked.
“Nope,” Static replied. “I’d flip my powdered wig if I had one!”
“Four…” Officer Edison continued.
The Minutemen raised their guns to their shoulders and readied them.
“Beetle?” Ravager asked. “What’s our play?”
“Everyone but Titans to the cars now!” Blue Beetle ordered. “Osiris, help me lay down some cover!”
While the rest of the Titans packed the town’s teenagers into the convoy of hot rods, Blue Beetle and Osiris took to the air and charged toward the soldiers. Faced with such a low-level threat, Blue Beetle was shocked that his armor covered him with its force field.
“Go!” Traci yelled as she beat on the trunk of someone’s Shaggin’ Wagon. “Get out of here! Meet us out at the drag strip!”
Hot rods laid rubber and peeled down Main Street with tires smoking.
“Five! Open fire!” yelled Officer Edison.
Laser fire erupted from the barrels of the Minutemen’s antique black-powder guns. The laser blasts slammed into Osiris’s chest and sent him flying past Blue Beetle and into the ticket window of the theater on the south end of the square.
“What the…” Blue Beetle asked. His armor was right in covering him with its force field.
George Washington broke free from his perch on the monument in the center of town and joined the Titans’ cause. He dived into a flank of Minutemen and sent several flying with his granite-hard fists. Those he hit slumped to the brick sidewalk.
“Way to go, Traci!” Blue Beetle shouted over the fray. “That’s my girl!”
“Am I?” Traci shot back. “Or perhaps you’d like me better with red hair and freckles?”
“Come on, sweet cheeks. Don’t be like that!” Blue Beetle replied. “You know I only have eyes for you!”
Laser fire took Washington’s head off and he fell to the sidewalk.
“Crap! Why couldn’t the other forty-three presidents have camped here too?” Traci sighed. With the Father of the Country out of commission, she unleashed her power on the fire hydrants. One by one they erupted and shot powerful streams of water at the Minutemen flanks.
Aquagirl took advantage of the water and dove headfirst into it. She leapfrogged a burst of laser fire and rolled to the sidewalk where she tore up a chunk of concrete to use as a shield. Blocking laser fire with her new shield, she charged the Minutemen. “This is what happens when I have a tall glass of water!”
The Minutemen scattered like bowling pins.
Osiris recovered and flew back into the fray. He was not a happy camper. He tore up Washington’s vacated pedestal and hoisted it over his head. With a mere shrug it sailed through the air toward the startled Minutemen. They abandoned their positions and fled.
The battle on the square attracted the attention of the local police force. Shrill sirens filled the air as they hurried onto the square and joined the Minutemen. They took refuge behind their car doors and opened fire.
Static turned his attention to the policemen. Using his electromagnetic powers he ripped loose the driver’s side door from one of their cars and willed it to him. He hopped onto it and rose into the air. He surfed over their heads and drew their fire. While their bullets careened off the electromagnetic field that held his ride aloft, he ripped loose the large green and white awning from the side of the market and trapped them beneath it.
Ravager rushed into battle with her sword drawn. Blue Beetle had talked to her about the sword on a number of occasions but she wasn’t inclined to listen. She assured him she wasn’t a killer but the weapon still made the Titans’ leader uneasy.
To her credit she used it to deflect laser fire as she rushed a group of Minutemen hidden behind a rock wall that ran up and down the east side of the square. When she finally reached them the first one charged out at her. She sliced his gun in two and then kicked him into several of his fellow soldiers racing to join him. A second one snuck up on her and grabbed her from behind. She planted her sword into the ground and pushed it forward like a lever. Just when it appeared it could bend no further she released it. The sword sprung back to an upright position and whacked her attacker in the face. She back-flipped onto his shoulders and rolled him to the ground.
Blue Beetle’s armor was going crazy. It suggested a missile strike but he dismissed the recommendation. He was tired of it trying to bring a gun to a knife fight. “Armor, do you have anything like a BB gun?”
His armor cycled through a catalogue of weapons and flashed them before his eyes. The suggestions were perfect for battling Mongul or Starro, but for a group of misguided human beings the armor was way off-base. “Jeepers creepers, armor! Can’t you read my mind?” Blue Beetle asked.
A Gatling gun-style pellet-cannon emerged from Blue Beetle’s left forearm and sprayed the Minutmen with rubber BBs. They abandoned their position and fled down a street named Founder’s Avenue. Beetle took to the air and gave chase until the street was cleared.
“Score one for my new Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!” Blue Beetle crowed. “Perhaps I should patent it?”
Once the street was cleared of tri-cornered hats, Blue Beetle joined his fellow Teen Titans on the square. They too had won their battles.
“This is too far out!” Ravager insisted. “Like, since when did Minutemen fire lasers?”
Blue Beetle shook his head. “I don’t know but we need to find Aelita and her gang! Everyone who can fly, grab someone who can’t!”
Moments later the Titans were in the air and headed toward the abandoned airfield on the outskirts of town. The trip didn’t take long. The kids of Cydonia were gathered there already and swarmed the Teen Titans when they landed in their midst.
“See what we mean?” Aelita asked. “It’s like they’re zombies!”
“Where did the Minutemen come from?” Static asked.
“Like… they’re the local militia, man!” Marvin replied. “They do Revolutionary War re-enactments and raise money for the Children’s Hospital in Newark!”
“Or at least that’s all they used to do,” Aelita added.
“Their peashooters fire lasers?” Static asked.
Aelita and Marvin shrugged their shoulders and looked at the other kids who were also drawing blanks. “No idea where those came from,” said Aelita. “Maybe it’s a commie plot!”
“I don’t like that we tore the town square apart,” said Blue Beetle. “Too much collateral damage.”
Ravager shrugged. “There goes the key to the city.”
Blue Beetle found no humor in their situation. He leaned against a black ’55 Chevy Bel-Air with orange and yellow flames painted along the side and sighed. “We blew it! There’s no way we can get back into town now without guns blazing.”
Traci put her arm around Blue Beetle’s shoulder and leered at her rival, Aelita. “They had us surrounded on all sides, hot stuff! We did the best we could under the circumstances. We had to defend ourselves.”
Blue Beetle reached for Traci’s hand and squeezed it. The encouragement was welcome. Perhaps she wasn’t so mad after all.
Aelita rushed to Blue Beetle’s side and grabbed his other hand. She jerked him free from Traci and threw her arms around him. “I’m sorry I drug you into all of this!”
“What the…” asked a startled Traci. “That’s it!”
Aquagirl grabbed Traci and held her back. “She’s not worth it. Give Beetle a chance!” She emphasized the last sentence for Blue Beetle’s benefit.
Blue Beetle shot Traci an apologetic look and pried Aelita loose. “I’m all ears!”
“The Hill People!” Aelita exclaimed. “If the police won’t help us then maybe we can find their village!”
Traci rolled her eyes. “I thought you said they didn’t exist.”
Aelita would not be denied. “No one knows for sure. Some hunters swear they’ve seen them roaming the woods.”
“So they’re like some kind of Bigfoot or something?” Ravager asked.
Aelita shook her head. “No, they’re people but they keep to themselves and never come out of the mountains. Grown men tremble when they speak of them.”
Traci laughed. “What a waste of time! I don’t know what’s happening in your screwy little town, sister but it’s Splitsville for me! I’m not tracking some backwoods hillbillies on the word of some freckle-faced harpy who…”
A cry for help cut Traci’s rant short.
Two hundred yards away a woman ran from the edge of the woods. She fell when she looked back over her shoulder but kicked and clawed until she found her footing again. The Titans and their new friends rushed to meet her.
“Please help me,” the woman cried as she approached. She was dirty from head to toe. Muddy, matted bangs fell into her eyes. Her bloody bare feet and bruised legs poked out the bottom of a knapsack dress.
Aelita broke toward the woman and fell into her arms. “Mom!”
Blue Beetle twisted his face and turned away.
Traci saddled up next to him. “I thought you’d go ape that Little Miss Marker found her old lady. What’s wrong?”
“Am I that transparent?” Blue Beetle asked.
Traci took his hand again. “Only to me.”
Blue Beetle sighed. “It’s groovy that Aelita has her mom back but I have the feeling we’re being played.”
“By who?” Traci asked. “And how so?”
“I don’t know the answer to either question,” Blue Beetle replied. He approached Aelita’s mom. “Excuse me, ma’am. I’m Blue Beetle, the leader of the Teen Titans. Would you mind if I asked where you’ve been?”
Aelita’s mother released her daughter’s embrace. “The Hill People’s village to the north. It’s about half a day by foot.”
“So they do exist!” Marvin exclaimed. “I knew it!”
“Were there others?” Aquagirl asked.
The woman covered her mouth with shaking hands. “The others! Please you must help them before it’s too late!”
“Is anyone in immediate danger?” Traci asked.
The woman took a deep breath and nodded. “They’re going to marry the most useful of us for breeding stock. The rest…” She mimed a gesture of someone having their throat cut.
“What’s our move, Beetle?” Static asked.
“Everyone that’s not a Titan, wait here,” Blue Beetle ordered. “I think it’s time we sent out a search party!”
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