by Brian K. Asbury
“We could always try bartering,” suggested Colin Privet. “I’ve got my tools.”
“A few spanners are hardly going to be fair exchange for a Green Lantern — even as tatty a one as G’nort. Might be worth a shot, though.” The Beefeater straightened up and looked Manga Khan in the eye-slits. “Er… your lordship, it’s so nice to meet someone of such refinement and breeding…”
“Yes, I’ve always thought so,” said Manga Khan. “However, don’t change the subject. The Green Lantern will cost… what’s the going rate, L-Ron?”
L-Ron fiddled briefly with an electronic pad. “Ah… fifty squongs twenty-six, M’lord. Add five per cent export duty, and that comes to…”
“We haven’t got any ‘squongs,'” the Beefeater butted in. “Could we trade something instead?”
“Such as?” asked Manga Khan.
The Beefeater looked down at the sceptre in his hand. It had been his father’s — the weapon of the first Beefeater, partner of General Glory in World War II and Defender of the Free World. Or, at least, that was the story.
It was all he had. It was what made him a hero.
But what kind of hero was he if he let a Green Lantern languish in captivity?
Drawing himself up to his full height, he stuck out his chest proudly and held up the sceptre. “This is my golden sceptre of power,” he declared. “Will you trade the weapon of a super-hero for this Green Lantern?”
There was a moment’s dramatic silence before Manga Khan spoke.
“Sorry. Got one.”
“There’s one just like it in the hold. I’ve been trying to find a buyer for ages. Nobody wants it.”
“It’s old hat, you see,” explained L-Ron. “Last century’s technology. Today’s heroes want something less flashy, more functional. So, sorry, Lord Manga doesn’t want it.”
“I don’t believe this!” said a staggered Beefeater. “Here I am, prepared to make the ultimate bloody sacrifice, and you throw it back in my face!”
“Actually,” L-Ron pointed out, “the ultimate sacrifice would be to give your life to save your comrade, but we don’t want that, either. Not much call for human life energy out on the Galactic Rim.”
As the Beefeater was about to phrase an earthy reply, Privet suddenly grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him to one side. “I’ve got an idea,” he said, beginning to whisper in the Beefeater’s ear.
“I’m getting bored now, L-Ron,” said Manga Khan. “And it’s almost time for my posing practice. Is this going to take much longer?”
Suddenly, the two humans broke out of their huddle. The Beefeater looked at Privet uncertainly. The little man nodded, and the Beefeater addressed Manga Khan once more. “If you’ll just excuse me a sec, I have a suggestion which can satisfy all parties. Just need to confirm something first.”
“Very well, but don’t take much longer. Posing skills tend to atrophy if not practiced regularly, you know. And I’ve a soliloquizing class at seven!”
The Beefeater nodded. He turned to face Loof and Fpok-Bmud, who were still standing there uncertainly. He smiled. “Tell me, gentlemen,” he said. “What was that you said earlier about owing me your lives?”
An observer on Earth’s Moon, had there been one, would probably have been surprised to see streaking past it an emerald-green bubble containing an antique sailing ship, upon whose deck stood three figures — one of them engaged in the act of stretching his leg behind his neck to scratch his right ear.
“I can’t believe you did that, guys!” said G’nort. “You think maybe we should go back an’…”
“No!” chorused the other two.
“It was the best solution all round to the situation,” said Colin Privet. “Honestly, everybody was very happy with it.”
The Beefeater stepped in. “Listen, doggy, it’s all done and dusted. I’d rather eat my own head than go back to that madhouse of a spaceship. Now, just concentrate on getting us home.”
“But you sold them!”
The Beefeater stared at him challengingly. “Your point?”
“You sold Loof and Fpok-Bmud to Manga Khan! They were the guys we came out to rescue, and you sold them!”
“Yes, and a lousy bargain we got, too! I still think we should have bought a spaceship instead and left you to rot there!”
“Now, now, Mr. Beefeater,” said Privet. “That wouldn’t have been very nice, now, would it? And in any case, without G’nort, how would we have got the Golden Hind back where it belongs?”
The Beefeater looked down at the wooden deck. Well, there was that, he mused. He was supposed to be Brixham’s protector. It would hardly have been appropriate in that case to leave the town’s biggest tourist attraction floating in orbit around Jupiter. Still, a spaceship would have been nice. With his own spaceship, he could have really established himself as a super-hero. Instead, what had he got? A flea-bitten mutt whose membership in the Green Lantern Corps surely beggared belief.
“Seriously, though, it was the best solution,” Privet repeated. “After all, we had nothing else to barter with that Manga Khan wanted.”
“But how could you sell them? You didn’t own them!” protested G’nort.
“Ah, but I did,” the Beefeater said smugly. “Sort of. They said they owed me their lives.”
“We simply applied a very literal interpretation to that statement,” added Privet. “In some societies, if you save someone’s life, that means you own them.”
“But… but… it’s wrong, guys! You can’t sell people! It’s slavery! What am I gonna tell the Corps when they find out I let you sell two guys who were asking for our help into slavery?”
The Beefeater let out a sigh. “Firstly, you flea-bitten mongrel, they aren’t really alive — they’re robots. Secondly, both Manga Khan and they were happy to go along with it. He didn’t really want them as prisoners — there’s no profit in it. However, if he owns them, he can sell them back to their people and make some cash out of the deal. Get it?”
“And my fixing his toaster for him helped clinch the deal,” added Privet. “It only needed a new fuse, as it happened.”
“Oh, just shut up and steer,” said the Beefeater. “We’d like to land on Earth, please, not crash into it.” Something suddenly occurred to him. “You know, it took nearly ten hours to reach Manga Khan’s ship when we set out. We’ve got back in — what? — around ten minutes? Why the hell did it take so long before, if you can do the trip in that time?”
“Er… I wasn’t sure where I was going,” admitted G’nort. “But my ring-a-ding-ding knows the way now. Easy as pie getting back.”
“Hmmm…” muttered the Beefeater dubiously. He decided to shut up and let G’nort concentrate on reentry. They were already inside the Earth’s atmosphere, and it looked as if it was getting pretty hot out there.
A few minutes later, they were streaking through clean air across the Atlantic Ocean. “You’re sure you know where to take us back to?” asked the Beefeater.
“Sure. Ring-a-roonie never forgets!” said G’nort, who seemed to be cheering up somewhat. Well, the Beefeater considered, dogs tended to have a fairly short span of attention. He’d probably forgotten about their selling Loof and Fpok-Bmud already.
He peered through the green bubble at the coastline looming closer. “That’s sure to be the River Dart,” said Privet excitedly. “Yes, that’s Dartmouth ahead! Only a few more miles, and we’ll be back safe in Brixham!”
“Thank God for that,” the Beefeater said. As the words left his mouth, however, he suddenly had a sinking feeling as he remembered something. He had been away for nearly twenty hours — since early afternoon of the previous day. He had been absent from the hotel overnight. His wife was going to go ballistic.
“Er… while we’re over Dartmouth,” he said, “could we just stop a minute or two to admire the view? I’ve always wanted to see the place from the air.”
“Sure thing,” said G’nort, although Privet looked puzzled. The green bubble came to a halt over the river. Heaven only knew what any local residents who happened to be looking up must have been thinking, but that paled into insignificance beside the reception he would get from Lisa when he finally got home. What could he possibly tell her? Think! Think! Come on, Michael, he thought. You’ve won yourself some thinking time — so use it, man!
“Are we going to be hovering here for long?” Privet asked G’nort, glancing at his watch as he did so. “I need to get back and open up the shop. It’s way past opening time.”
In response to this, G’nort looked pensive. “Time? Time… yeah. Y’know, I gotta feeling I’ve forgotten to do something in all this excitement, guys…”
Suddenly, the glow of his ring died, and the green bubble around the ship winked out.
“Oh, yeah…” he said. “That was what I forgot to do…”
And the Golden Hind plunged down towards the water.
Ken Hanson stared into the slightly murky waters of the River Dart. “I knew this was going to be one of those days when we started out,” he said to Sandie Bremmer. “The media are going to have a field day over this. ‘Would-be super-heroes destroy local heritage attraction.'”
Out on the river, a salvage boat was already dispatching frogmen to dive down and check out whether anything was recoverable, but by all accounts the falling Golden Hind had hit the water pretty hard. It would surely have broken its back. “They’re going to blame us,” he said. “I just know they’re going to blame us.”
“We could always try to hush it up, guv,” suggested Sergeant Harris. “Y’know, claim it’s a matter of national security or summit. Official Secrets Act and all that.”
“Probably too late for that,” said Sandie. “The best thing we can probably do is get Fecktiffe and the others out of here before the press get hold of them. I don’t think we can cover up the fact that the replica Golden Hind from Brixham Harbour just fell out of the sky and sank, but at least we can leave it as an unexplained mystery.”
“If we do that, Sandie, we won’t be able to prosecute Fecktiffe and the others.”
Sandie shrugged. “The alternative is giving super-heroes a bad press, sir, and that wouldn’t be good for the Department, especially in view of the noises Eddie Stacker is making about our refusal to hand Firebrand over to him. He’d just love an excuse to get Britain’s super-heroes under the control of his outfit.”
“Over my dead body,” growled Hanson. He glanced over to where an extremely soggy and sorrowful-looking trio were receiving attention from paramedics. “All right — get those three misfits into an ambulance and out of sight.”
Harris bustled over to do just that. “I want you to get onto the Green Lantern Corps,” Hanson added to Sandie. “Get one of them over here pronto to collect that… thing, whatever he is.”
“His name’s G’nort, sir,” said Sandie. “He says he lost track of time, and his ring’s charge ran out.”
“I don’t care,” said Hanson. “I just want him out of my sight, OK?”
“Right away, guv’nor,” Sandie said.
Hanson gave a last glimpse across the river to the salvage operation. “What a mess,” he muttered. And not even the satisfaction of hauling that idiot Fecktiffe through the courts over it. He turned towards the ambulance, intending to board it himself and give the three soggy idiots the third degree. Harris was just pushing the Beefeater through the door, ignoring the fact that the would-be hero was trying to fire his waterlogged sceptre at him and getting nothing but a feeble gurgle from it.
Then a smile came unexpectedly to Hanson’s lips. A car had just pulled up on the quayside. The driver was being turned back by police officers, but Hanson waved to them, indicating that they should let her through. After all, it was only fair that Lisa Fecktiffe should be allowed to see her husband.
He started to whistle cheerfully as he strode towards the ambulance. Perhaps this wasn’t such a bad day after all. He wouldn’t want to miss this touching family reunion. Not for the world.
Sometimes, he thought, justice takes the most unexpected forms…