"The Cydonia Chronicles"
"The Devil, You Say"
By David Marshall
The Skies Above the Southern New Jersey Hills, 1966
The summer wind rushed against Blue Beetle’s face as he soared above the rolling, forested hills of southern New Jersey with his teammates. The Titans were searching for a village belonging to the so-called “Hill People” - a reclusive backwoods community accused of kidnapping the adult female population from the nearby town of Cydonia.
“Are you sure we’re hip to the right path?” Traci asked.
Blue Beetle tightened his grip on his girlfriend’s slender waist. “Aelita’s mom said the village was a half day north by foot.”
“We passed that a long way back, leader man” said Aquagirl who was carried by Osiris. “Unless Aelita’s old lady has some crazy big feet!”
“I don’t trust that woman or her Jezebel daughter,” Traci huffed. “Don’t you find it suspicious that it was Aelita’s mom who escaped to tell us where to find these Hill People?”
“I don’t trust anyone here,” Aquagirl added.
Traci nodded in reply.
“Like, it doesn’t take the wisdom of Zehuti to smell something fishy,” Osiris added.
The Titans continued north but saw nothing resembling a village.
“Maybe we’re spinning the wrong record, dude,” said Static. He and Ravager were perched upon the door he ripped from a police car in Cydonia.
Blue Beetle came to a halt and hovered by him. “Spill the word, my brother.”
“We’re trusting our peepers but our senses can jive us,” Static replied. “Let your scarab do the heavy lifting.”
“What do we have to lose?” Blue Beetle asked. A small reflector dish emerged from his right wrist. He pointed it northward and swept the area. “Nothing but a few outdoors types camping in the wilderness and a lot of wildlife.”
“Try pointing that fancy compass to the south,” Ravager advised.
Blue Beetle veered the reflector toward the south. “Well, what do you know?”
“Jinkies!” Ravager shouted. “Did you find it?”
“There’s a large cloaked area two miles to the south,” Blue Beetle replied.
“Large enough to cloak a village?” Traci asked.
Blue Beetle nodded. “Those cats aren’t as backward as we were led to believe.”
“That’s our cue, gang!” said Aquagirl. “Can I say it this time? Can I?”
Blue Beetle nodded. “Let it fly, sister!”
“Titans together!” Aquagirl shouted enthusiastically.
Blue Beetle led the Titans to the suspicious coordinates and they landed at the foot of a steep hillside. Exposed sedimentary rock pockmarked the imposing terrain and disappeared beneath a tangle of laurel halfway up the incline. A dried streambed snaked down the hill and left behind a deep gully that exposed the roots of a crooked walnut tree that looked ready to topple at any moment. It was a terrible spot to build anything, let alone a village.
Blue Beetle scanned the area again and found nothing, not even the cloaked signature he discovered before. “I don’t understand. This should be the spot.”
“I think you need a new dish, dude,” said Aquagirl.
Traci pushed her boyfriend aside. “I’ve got this one, handsome.”
“I thought your magic only worked in populated areas?” Ravager asked.
Traci extended her hands. Bands of pink energy crackled around each one as she sought to make contact with the hidden village. “Exactly! These “Hill People” may fool our eyes and they may fool pretty boy’s tech suit but they can’t fool my magic!”
After a couple of fruitless minutes of searching, Traci looked disheartened.
“Well?” Ravager asked with a roll of her eyes. “We haven’t got all day.”
“Please, I need to concentrate,” Traci whispered. “If the village is here its voice will be a whisper compared to that of an urban area.”
The Titans honored Traci’s request for silence but watched her with hopeful anticipation. Soon a sly smile spread across her face. “It’s here! I found it!”
“I so don’t get her powers sometimes,” Aquagirl whispered to no one in particular.
“That makes two of us,” Ravager replied, making no effort to keep her voice down. “But as long as she gets them, I won’t complain.”
The rugged hillside flickered away and in its place stood a massive, mirrored dome similar to the technology that kept Gorilla City hidden from the outside world.
“Did you do that?” Static asked.
Traci forced a nod, even as her hands shook from the strain. “I think I can convince the dome to roll out the welcome mat now that we’ve exchanged the proper pleasantries.”
Energy signatures danced across the surface of the shimmering dome like comet tails and raced toward the ground. Then with a loud, vacuous “pop” the dome disappeared and left the Titans face-to-face with an angry mob of creatures straight from a child’s worst nightmare. Their red, glowing eyes were narrow and sat close to their flat, flared nostrils. Their mouths were lined with rows of large, jagged teeth and belched smoke with each breath. The creatures stood between four and five feet tall and were covered in drab olive scales. Large bat-like wings adorned their backs.
“What the devil?” Blue Beetle asked.
“I think you hit the nail on the head, boss man,” said Static. “I think we’ve discovered the source of the Jersey Devil tales.”
“Ravager unsheathed her sword. “I know all about devils. I’m the daughter of one.”
“Stand down, Rose,” Blue Beetle ordered. “We don’t know their intentions.”
Ravager sneered. “Their intentions look clear to me.”
Blue Beetle stepped forward to meet the creature in front whom he assumed was their leader. “I am Blue Beetle, leader of the Teen Titans. We come in peace.”
The devil leader opened his mouth and extended a fiery welcome.
“Jaime!” Traci screamed.
Blue Beetle’s armor extinguished the fire with mono ammonium phosphate before it could harm him. “Why is it the easy way never works?” Blue Beetle sighed. “Hit them hard, Titans!”
Osiris plowed into the Jersey Devils like a runaway steam train, scattering them in every direction. They recovered quickly and swarmed him under but he threw them off like a prisoner breaking his bonds. One of the beasts bathed Osiris in fire but the flames were little more than a nuisance to the spawn of Black Adam. “That’s a crazy hot campfire you make dude but I have walked in the blaze of Prometheus himself!” Osiris grabbed the fire-breathing devil and tossed him into a cabin. The cabin crashed down on him.
The devils surrounded Traci and cut her off from the others.
“Traci! Hold on, baby! I’m coming for you!” Blue Beetle shouted over the din. A concussive blast shot from his hands and cleared a path to her but a devil jumped on his back and wrestled him to the ground before he reached her. The beast’s claws did little damage to Beetle’s armor but he couldn’t shake the hissing monster.
“I can fend for myself!” Traci shot back. “You worry about that handsome face of yours! You wouldn’t want to mess it up for Aelita, would you?”
A blast of air shot out the back of Blue Beetles armor and sent the devil flying. “Really? We’re going to do this here? When I’m trying to help you?”
“Keep your favors to yourself!” Traci replied. A tiny, leather-winged imp wrapped around her leg. She tried to shake it loose but it latched on tightly and sunk its razor-like teeth into her thigh.
Traci yelped in pain and tried to pry the creature loose but it wouldn’t budge. Its sharp teeth were buried in the soft flesh of her leg. She grabbed the devil by its wing stubs and yanked them apart with all her might. The tiny appendages spread farther than nature intended and the imp released its hold on her with a pitiful cry. She jerked it away and held it at arm’s length. The tiny devil snarled and lashed as it tried to wriggle free. She flung it into a nearby water trough. “Well isn’t this a barrel of rabid fun?”
A trio of angry devils raced to check on the fallen little one. They plucked it out of the water and turned their attention to Traci.
“Oh crap! Oh crap! Oh crap!” Traci exclaimed as she eyed the approaching devils. “I’m guessing one of you is Junior’s mom? Handsome little hell-spawn!”
Traci reached out to the village for help. A toolshed assembled itself into a rustic samurai and withdrew a shovel from beneath its tunic. It swung wildly at the surprised creatures and forced them to retreat.
Ravager propelled herself into the fray with a dizzying series of backflip twists and somersaults. She landed near a well at the center of the village and slugged two devils then lunged toward another. A flying roundhouse kick finished the unprepared beast. With blinding speed, she ducked the lashing claws of another snarling monster and grabbed a wooden pole threaded through the handles of two water pails. She slid the buckets off the pole and twirled it masterfully before striking with a reverse thrust that felled the devil who whiffed moments before. She shoved one end of her weapon into the ground and tripped another foe, sending him down the well. Dropping her weapon, she leaped into the air and grabbed the wooden roof that covered the well and delivered twin kicks to the ugly kissers of a couple more beasts. A layout flip landed her on the back of another devil sneaking up on Aquagirl. She flipped it to the ground and pummeled it into unconsciousness. The devils were ill-prepared for the sheer brutality of Slade Wilson’s offspring.
Aquagirl’s strength wasn’t on the scale of Osiris’s but it was formidable enough to frustrate the devils until one finally slipped through her defenses and sliced through the soft flesh of her exposed back with its razor-like claws. She cried out in pain and fell to her knees. The devils quickly overpowered the fallen Titan.
Riding above the action on the police car door, Static zapped the ghastly beasts with his electrical powers until he saw Aquagirl fall. “Hold on, Lorena! I’m coming!”
He never reached her. A laser blast slammed into his makeshift ride. The car door was hurled into the woods and ricocheted from one tree to another before breaking apart into scrap metal. Static slammed into a tree and dropped to the ground.
“Laser fire?” Blue Beetle asked. “Where’d that come from?”
An attack drone lumbered into the fray from the northwest with guns blazing. Its large, spherical body flowed like liquid mercury and sat atop bipedal legs that maneuvered surprisingly well in the thick foliage. It blasted the smaller of the village’s two water towers. The tower fell with a thunderous crash but the reservoir was empty.
Osiris slammed into the drone like a missile and was sucked into its gelatinous body. A moment later he emerged and dropped to the ground coated in the same black and silver substance that comprised its body. “So cold! Make it stop!” he begged.
The battle was turning in the devils’ favor. The three remaining Titans bunched together defiantly and waited for the devils to press their advantage.
“What now leader man?” Ravager asked. “It’s just me, you, and your girlfriend.”
“Aelita is here?” Traci huffed. “Where?”
“Give it a rest already!” Blue Beetle cried.
“What’s our play?” Ravager asked.
Blue Beetle’s armor suggested a thermonuclear detonation. For once he seriously considered its advice. “You know that sword I tell you to never use?”
Ravager nodded. “What of it?”
“Now would be a good time to forget everything I’ve ever said about it,” Blue Beetle replied.
Ravager unsheathed her weapon.
The devil leader morphed into a simple hillbilly and held up his right hand. His troops stopped immediately. “This fight is over! Take your fallen comrades and leave at once!”
“Shapeshifters,” Ravager whispered. “That explains why the Cydonians thought they were simple hill folk.”
Some devils drug the fallen Titans between the two factions and dropped them at Blue Beetle’s feet. All three were unconscious. Blue Beetle scanned them with his armor. Aquagirl had lost a lot of blood. Static sustained massive head trauma and had four broken ribs, a broken collar bone, and a broken jawbone. Even the armor was at a loss for what ailed Osiris.
“Not without the women of Cydonia too!” Blue Beetle replied.
The devil leader crossed his arms defiantly. “They took our Queen Mother. We took their women. They are spoils of war.”
“What do you mean?” Blue Beetle asked. “Who took your Queen Mother?”
“It is of no concern to you,” the devil replied. “Go now while you still can!”
Blue Beetle made his stand. “Not going to happen until you level with us, man!”
The devil lowered his straw hat to shade his eyes and searched Blue Beetle with a steely gaze.
Blue Beetle lowered his armor and stood before the devil leader as a boy with no protection. “We mean you no harm. I am Jaime Reyes, the Blue Beetle.”
“Jaime! What are you doing?” Traci cried. She rushed toward her boyfriend.
Blue Beetle ordered her to halt. “De-escalating the situation! Titans, stand down!”
The devil leader waved his troops to their knees with a gesture. The battle drone melted to a silver puddle on the forest floor.
“My real name is unpronounceable to the human tongue,” the devil leader replied. “For the sake of diplomacy you may call me Brother Stephen.”
Blue Beetle nodded. “You said the Cydonians took your Queen Mother?”
The devil leader removed his hat. “While foraging for food one day, one of our young men was cornered by local hunters and forced to defend himself.”
“He killed them?” Blue Beetle asked.
Brother Stephen nodded. “Following the incident, Cydonia sent out a hunting party and they stumbled upon our village. There was a great battle. Both sides suffered heavy losses but the humans captured a flank commanded by our Queen Mother. The savages drowned our people in the river you call the Delaware. We found one survivor. He confirmed our Queen Mother’s capture and died two days later,” Brother Stephen explained.
“Well, this changes things,” said Traci.
“If true,” Ravager added. “Something doesn’t add up. How did a bunch of rubes go toe to toe with you and capture this Queen Mother of yours? We saw what you’re capable of.”
“Their weapons are much more deadly than you know,” Brother Stephan replied. “As are ours.”
“Let’s suppose for one minute we believe you…” Blue Beetle started.
“I assure you my words are true,” Brother Stephan answered. “We want to be left alone to live in peace, hence the temporal distorter to conceal our village from prying eyes.”
“And they found you how?” Traci asked.
“I do not know,” Brother Stephen answered. “Perhaps they aren’t as they seem either.”
“So the whole New Jersey Devil myth?” Blue Beetle asked.
Brother Stephen smiled. “Earthmen are a superstitious lot.”
“You’re not from Earth?” Traci asked.
Brother Stephen shook his head. “We’re war refugees from beyond the stars.”
“The Titans are not your enemy,” Blue Beetle replied. “We were misled.”
“A deceitful lot the human race,” said Brother Stephen.
Blue Beetle nodded. “Says the being with the forked tongue.”
Brother Stephen knelt over the fallen Titans and passed his hands over their wounds, healing them instantly. With another wave of his hands the liquid metal that coated Osiris oozed away and joined the drone puddle. Another gesture and Traci’s wounded leg healed.
“If we return your Queen Mother will you release your prisoners?” Blue Beetle asked.
Brother Stephen pondered the bargain for a moment then nodded. “That is an agreeable solution.”
"Do I have your word the prisoners will not be harmed until we return your Queen Mother to you?” Blue Beetle asked.
Brother Stephen nodded. “You do indeed.”
Blue Beetle grabbed Traci in his arms and shot skyward. “Time to beat feet, Titans!”
The Titans joined him in the air once more.
Half An Hour Later, Above Cydonia
The silence below made Blue Beetle uneasy.
“It’s too quiet,” Aquagirl whispered.
Blue Beetle nodded. “Looks like a regular ghost town.”
“A ghost town in shambles from our last visit,” said Ravager. “You’d think they’d have crews out cleaning up the mess.”
The town bore witness to the Titans earlier battle with the local police and a Revolutionary War-era reenactment militia equipped with weapons that put the U.S military to shame. The proud monument that once stood on the square lay demolished on the street where Osiris left it. Some of the buildings were burning from stray laser fire and belched black smoke into the air. A broken main gushed water like a geyser. A police car missing its driver’s side door was parked at the south end of the square. Its red and blue lights still flashed hypnotically.
“What say we land and check it out?” Static asked.
The Titans descended but were halted by a volley of laser fire. Blue Beetle shielded his vulnerable teammates within his force field leaving only the invulnerable Osiris to fend for himself.
“There’s the welcoming committee we know and love!” Traci trumpeted. “Welcome to Wackoville, population everybody!”
On the ground below, farmers dressed in overalls and straw hats stepped from behind any cover they could find. Their pitchforks fired lasers from the tines.
“Okay that’s just not right,” said Ravager. “Something’s extra screwy here, gang!”
“Something’s been screwy ever since we landed in this nutty ‘burg!” said Osiris.
“What’s the call boss man?” Ravager asked.
Blue Beetle surveyed the situation on the ground below. Ordinary men from all walks of life joined the pitchfork mob, armed with occupationally-appropriate weaponry. “We fight and make them tell us where they’re hiding the Hill People’s Queen Mother.”
A butcher hurled meat cleavers into the air. Osiris raced to meet the cutlery and jutted out his chest to let the knives slam into the bright yellow lightning on the front of his sleek, black costume. The weapons sliced into his olive skin and he yelped in pain. He ran his fingers through the crimson stains on his costume and raised them to his mouth. “Blood? That’s impossible!”
“Heads up, big guy!” Aquagirl cried. “There’s plenty more where that one came from.”
Knives filled the air and went after Osiris. He tried to dodge them but they followed like heat-seeking missiles.
“Everyone bunch tight,” Blue Beetle ordered while extending his shield as far as possible. “My shield can take just about anything.”
“You sure about that?” Aquagirl asked. “Osiris was supposed to be invulnerable too.”
Under cover of Blue Beetle’s force field the Titans landed in the midst of the impossible chaos on the Town Square and were attacked immediately.
A newspaper boy on a bicycle raced to join the menagerie gathered on the square. The basket between his handlebars was stuffed with the local daily. He launched a rolled-up edition with an arm Don Drysdale would envy. Blue Beetle ducked. The paper sailed over his head and exploded against the local bank. A large gaping hole in the side of the building bore witness to the destructiveness of the blast.
“Those are some explosive headlines!” said Static.
Blue Beetle sighed. “Someone had to say it. Someone just had to say it!”
“Hey, give a man an opening like that and he can’t help but take it,” Static replied. “What are we going to do about the power of the press?”
“Leave Beaver Cleaver to me!” Traci replied. A brick pavement on the square adorned with the names of donors from decades past stacked itself into a wall before the boy’s bicycle. He tried to stop but it was too late! He crashed into it.
“Good job, sweetheart!” Blue Beetle shouted.
“You sure you’re calling the right girl sweetheart?” Traci asked.
“We can’t fight each other while we’re fighting the bad guys,” Blue Beetle argued. “We have to stay on the same page.”
Traci shook her head. “No, thank you. The skank page isn’t for me.”
“I’m not into Aelita,” Blue Beetle shot back but he couldn’t get her pretty red hair and freckles out of his mind. Oh, those adorable freckles. “I swear!”
The Minutemen returned and joined the fray. Static used his electromagnetic powers to unscrew a fire hydrant and flood the streets on the northwest end of the square. Together with the broken water main, the hydrant was making the square a sloppy, wet mess.
“Now you’re spinning my record,” said Aquagirl. She stepped into the mists and soaked up the strength within. She and Static lit into the Minutemen.
Officer Edison came running with a contingent of local policemen and blew three loud blasts on his whistle. The shrill tones forced the Titans to cover their ears. Blue Beetle’s armor measured the blasts at over ten thousand decibels of pure white sound.
Blue Beetle had to silence the piercing cacophony before Edison damaged everyone’s eardrums. The armor suggested decapitation but Beetle opted for a less-lethal tactic. A tuning fork shot out of his armor and set off a dissonant tone in Edison’s direction. The competing sound waves slammed into one another and the shock waves knocked Edison and his fellow officers to the ground. The theater marquee crashed down on them and buried them in rubble.
More Cydonians joined the attack. A baker lobbed his rolling pin down the street. It gathered mass as it advanced. It was soon as big as a steamroller and headed toward Static. He blasted it apart.
A small, balding accountant met Ravager’s advance. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said. “You’re out of your league, little man!”
The milquetoast clicked the end of a ballpoint pen as Ravager was about to leap. Ink erupted from the pen and spilled onto the street. Ravager lost her footing and fell. She tried to stand agaub but fell once more.
“Save your energy young lady,” the accountant advised. “The viscosity of my special ink makes it impossible for one to stand.”
Ravager nearly made it to her feet but fell again. She slammed her hand into the muck in frustration. “The impossible is what we do and when I get up from here…”
The chaos around the Titans made no sense. Where did the Cydonians get their crazy weapons? Why were they at war with a group of aliens behind the Jersey Devil myths? Who was the Queen Mother the aliens claimed the Cydonians held prisoner?
Some men rushed to help the police officers trapped beneath the fallen theater marquee. Others picked up the fallen letters from the theater marquee and raised them to hurl at the Titans. It was only a brief flash but Blue Beetle swore he saw the words “H-E-L-P M-E” spelled out in the fallen letters before they flew toward the Titans. He had a hunch but only Osiris possessed the raw power to prove his theory. “Osiris! Forget the knives! The theater is the key! We have to get inside!”
“Easy for you to say!” Osiris yelled. “You’re not the one being chased by Norman Bates’ kitchen counter!”
“Trust me on this one, big guy!” Blue Beetle yelled back. “Head for the theater!”
Osiris circled around and charged toward the theater. The knives broke off their pursuit and formed a line to block him. They hovered in front of the building like sentries daring him to cross their line of defense.
“I was right!” Blue Beetle yelled over the fray. “We have to get inside somehow!”
Traci joined Blue Beetle. “Always Osiris this, Osiris that! He isn’t the only one with power you two-timing snake!” She gestured toward the theater. A pair of massive brick hands broke loose from the facade and swatted away the pesky knives chasing Osiris. Next they reached to the sidewalk below and peeled the building from its foundation like someone jerking a shirt over his head.
The militia and the farmers turned their attention to Traci.
“Everyone cover Traci!” Blue Beetle shouted over the bedlam. “Let’s see what they’re hiding from our peepers!”
Inch by inch the building ripped away from the ground. The lightning rod and television antenna crumpled to the street and sent the townspeople running for safety.
“You’re doing it!” Aquagirl cried to Traci.
“Keep it up, babe!” said Blue Beetle.
Sweat beaded up on Traci’s brow as she struggled to control the building’s will. At last it toppled itself with a mournful groan.
The town flickered and was gone along with the era of peace and love.
Blue Beetle sat up and shook the cobwebs loose. The Titans were trapped in a holding cell in a cave deep beneath the mountains in Utah. His teammates were sprawled around him. All but one. “M’gann?”
Bits and pieces of what seemed like a dream flooded Blue Beetle’s memory but he couldn’t be sure. There was a town and Jersey Devils and …a girl. The thought of Aelita being a product of his imagination left him with a deep sense of loss. She could have been a love interest if not for…
Blue Beetle crawled over to Traci, feeling more than a little guilty. He shook her gently. “Traci, wake up baby.”
Traci didn’t respond at first but began to stir with a few more nudges. “Jaime?”
“Take it easy,” Blue Beetle suggested. “The cobwebs will shake loose momentarily.”
“My everything hurts,” Traci complained.
While waiting on Traci to gather her senses Blue Beetle tapped into his armor’s biosynch for clues. “Armor, processes my dreams during the last twenty-four hours,” Blue Beetle ordered. “Analyze any images or patterns that may stand out.”
“The dream about you and the celebrity, London Vegas stands out!” his armor replied.
Blue Beetle stole a glance at Traci and waited anxiously. “No, not that one! The one involving the Titans.”
“Analysis complete,” the armor replied. “Your body was forced into REM sleep by external forces. You bypassed the NREM stage altogether. You were asleep for…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Blue Beetle huffed. “That creepy Goth chick Cerebra tucked us in with her crazy mental powers but what about my dream? Any discernible patterns?”
“Searching,” the armor replied. After a few seconds it chirped again. “Aelita is a character from the 1923 Russian science-fiction novel of the same name, also known as “The Decline of Mars”. It was written by Alexi Tolstoy. Her last name “Welles” likely comes from H.G. Welles, author of “War of the Worlds”. Cydonia is a region on the planet Mars. Marvin is the name of a popular cartoon character associated with the planet Mars. Deimos is the name of a Martian moon. The movie playing at the theater was “Abbot and Costello Go To Mars”.”
“Is there a relevance to missing letters on the signs?” Blue Beetle asked. “Every fourth one?”
“Mars is the fourth planet in your solar system,” the armor replied. “Officer Edison is likely a reference to Thomas Edison who filmed what is considered the first science-fiction movie ever, “A Trip To Mars” in the silent era. He was also the hero of the 1898 space opera “Edison’s Conquest of Mars” by Garrett P. Serviss which is considered by many to be the first true science fiction novel. Mayor Bradbury is likely a reference to…”
“Ray Bradbury, author of the “Martian Chronicles,” said Blue Beetle, finishing the armor’s sentence. “I get it now. The Martian references were likely M’gann trying to communicate telepathically.”
“What happened?” Aquagirl asked as she rose to her knees. “I was dreaming.”
“Cerebra,” Ravager replied, also awakening from her slumber. “I had a crazy dream myself…”
“We were a hippie-era super-hero club and traveled to a New England town where we fought Jersey Devils and farmers in overalls with laser pitchforks?” Blue Beetle asked.
Ravager shook her head. “No, I watched my brother Grant die over and over again.”
“Oh,” Blue Beetle replied. “Sorry.”
“Where’s M’gann?” Static asked.
Blue Beetle shook his head. “She was missing when I awoke. My guess is the Five took her.”
A piercing scream filled the cavern from deep within its darkest depths.
“M’gann!” Blue Beetle cried.
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