by Brian K. Asbury
They came screaming out of the sky — wave after wave of sleek silvery fighters, strafing the streets and buildings of London with blasts from their plasma guns. The city had never seen anything like it since the Blitz of 1940, and at that time it had been much better prepared to resist an attack.
Still, London was not without its defenders. The floods that the aliens had caused to soften up the natives had caused Britain’s super-heroes to be already on the scene, and, though they were all tired from their efforts in rescuing flood victims, they quickly rose to the new challenge.
Meeting the attack head-on were three flying figures, one seeming to be nothing more than a blazing fireball. Firebrand, in her energy form, zipped back and forth across the sky at incredible speeds, unable to bring the full range of her powers into play without becoming human but still able to inflict considerable damage on the invaders simply by colliding with them.
Joining her in the sky were two other flying heroes. The black-and-silver-clad Lionheart fired volley after volley from his suit’s blasters at the aliens, while interposing himself as much as possible between them and their targets, allowing his force-shield to take the brunt of many of their blasts, and absorbing the energy to recharge his own weapons. Elsewhere in the sky, the solar-powered newcomer who called himself Prominence employed heat-based attacks on the attacking ships, with some limited success.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the red-white-and-blue-garbed Bowman of Britain made use of an ancient supernatural power to penetrate the defenses of the high-tech alien ships. Using the mystic Thunderbow, he unleashed a volley of arrows of the imagination at the invaders, cutting right through their shields to target their engines, bringing a number of the fighters down to plunge headlong into the dark, swollen waters of the Thames.
The fighters were not the only problem, however. A number of troop carriers set down in the recently cleared areas of the Docklands earmarked for redevelopment and disgorged troops of green-skinned, reptilian Gordanian warriors. They were met by a quartet of heroes. The attackers soon found out that the Knight’s high-tech armor was impervious to their blasters, while their fire simply passed harmlessly through the two-dimensional form of Cameo. The glowing heroine’s own attacks on the Gordanians, however, were not so easily repulsed, as she phased through one after another of them, leaving each one she touched screaming in pain, every circuit in his armor and weaponry fused into uselessness.
Meanwhile, the Knight laid into the invading troops with sword and mace, while on the fringes the amazing hair of Godiva acted both as a shield against the Gordanians’ blasters and as a weapon to whip the reptilian warriors off their feet and hurl them as missiles against their comrades.
The fourth ground-based defender wisely hung back from the fray, judging that his acrobatic skills and martial arts would stand him in little stead against the much-stronger and better-armored aliens. However, he lobbed in his patent sonic daggers amongst them and found, to his delight, that they had a devastating effect upon the Gordanians’ sensitive hearing. A whole wing of the attackers dropped their weapons and fled, clutching their ears in agony as the Squire pursued them, recovering his daggers and pitching them again at the fleeing enemy.
However, valiant though all this was, it was not enough. In a hastily rigged command center set up beneath the Admiralty in Whitehall, Ken Hanson studied the monitors before him and turned to a former colleague. “They’re still getting through, Dabney. The Paladins and Stacker’s pair are doing well, but they’re not enough. There are just too many ships attacking all at once. The police are lending a hand, of course, and the army are getting their troops in as fast as possible, but to be honest, fighting alien monsters is not something we’re trained for.”
Major Dabney, himself a former inspector with the Metropolitan Police, stroked his pipe thoughtfully. “How long before the RAF fighters get here, old boy?”
“Not long, according to Air Commodore Payne, but we don’t know whether the weapons we have will even scratch those alien ships. Damn it!”
At the mention of his name, Air Commodore Patrick Payne, V.C., renowned as one of Britain’s finest fighter pilots of World War II, limped across to join the two detectives. “I think you’ll find our boys have a few tricks up their sleeves, gentlemen. As we proved in the Falklands, the Harrier jump-jet can perform tricks that most fighter pilots don’t expect.” He sighed. “However, you’re right. It would be bad enough if the alien attack were confined only to London, but we’re getting reports of a similar attack on Glasgow — and there are no super-heroes up there to hold off the aliens while our armed forces rush to the scene.”
Hanson had turned back to his monitor briefly. Now he returned to the other two men. “Well, I do have a little bit of good news on that score, thank goodness. Jack O’Lantern has apparently appeared in Glasgow and is engaging the enemy with the aid of a couple of his Global Guardians colleagues — I don’t have any information on who, exactly, but any help is better than none.”
“I thought he was based in the Republic of Ireland, old boy?” Said Dabney.
“He is. But there have been no reports of any attack on Ireland yet, so it looks as though he decided to help out over here instead. The bad news is, however, that we’re unlikely to get any further help. There are attacks like this going on all over the world. All of the other super-heroes are already tied up dealing with them. Some haven’t even been seen since the attacks began. There’s no sign of Superman, nor of any of the Green Lanterns.”
“Bloody hell!” swore Dabney. “You don’t think the aliens have already taken them out, do you?” Hanson shrugged.
“What about that other fellow — the Beefeater?” suggested Payne.
“You’ve got to be joking!” said Hanson. “I’d rather rely on Dabney’s Bat-Squad to deal with the aliens! No respect meant, Dabney.”
“None taken, old boy, none taken. Mick and Margo have proven to be resourceful companions in our various adventures, but this is somewhat out of their league. I’d rather leave this to the professionals.”
“Very wise,” said Payne. “But frankly, gentlemen, unless we have a breakthrough soon, it doesn’t look good for London.”
In a grounded vessel that might have been mistaken for one of the invaders’ own ships, a young woman sat slumped in the control chair. So far she had not lent any aid to her comrades’ defense of London, and guilt was gnawing at her. She spoke into the microphone on the console. “Percy, I can’t, y’know, just sit here. The aliens are everywhere. Perry and the others need me!”
The screen before her showed the image of a kindly but resolute mustachioed face. “You’re exhausted, Rhea. Holding together the Thames Barrier against the floods while Firebrand unclogged the debris from around it to enable it to operate properly… well, I know full well how much that took out of you. You said yourself that you’ve never had to operate your powers on that kind of level before.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. That Barrier was big! But I’ve been sat here for half an hour now while the others are gettin’ shot at. I gotta do something, Percy. I’m goin’, y’know, stir-crazy in here!”
Percy Sheldrake sighed. “Rhea, remember there’s also your baby to consider.”
Rhea’s hands went instinctively to the slight bulge in her abdomen. “I’m pregnant, not sick!” She stood up. “You can’t treat me like an invalid just ’cause I did something stupid!”
“No!” Rhea said firmly. “When I’m wearing this costume, I’m not just little Rhea Jones from Louisiana — I’m Lodestone. I’m a super-heroine and a Paladin. You an’ the others’ve been good to me. I ain’t gonna let you down when you need me most!”
“Rhea!” began Percy. But it was too late. Rhea was already exiting the shuttle.
As she emerged into the open air, she looked and listened all around. Off to one side, gunfire barked relentlessly. In the sky, the blazing figure of Firebrand roared back and forth, a fiery missile striking ship after ship and battering them back. The smaller figures of Lionheart and Prominence could also be seen battling the invaders in their own fashion.
Suddenly, she felt that she was just little Rhea Jones from Louisiana. I’m only seventeen years old, she thought. What can I do?
Well, a harder voice within herself answered, you have the power of Earth’s magnetic field to call upon. You can use that power to enhance your strength — to fly — to erect a magnetic shield — to manipulate things magnetically. You can surely make a difference, damn it!
She squinted up at the ships with her uniquely enhanced vision. The ships seemed to be surrounded by extremely powerful magnetic fields. Maybe that was how their shields worked — but maybe with her magnetic-based powers, she could negate those shields.
Lodestone launched herself into the air, using the Earth’s magnetism to propel her faster and faster toward the nearest ship. Summoning that power into her muscles, she shot straight through the ship’s shields and punched the hull with all her might.
A huge crack appeared in the hull — and then the ship stalled in midair and plummeted toward the ground. “What the–?!” she exclaimed. The magnetic field surrounding the ship had completely gone. I must’a disrupted it when I went through the shields, she thought.
She reached out with a magnetic tractor beam to deflect the falling ship away from buildings and into the river, then turned toward the next. However, before she could move, another flying figure soared up to her.
“What did you just do?” demanded Lionheart. “It’s taking everything we have to shoot down those ships, and you take out one with a single punch!”
“I dunno,” said Rhea. “My own magnetism seemed to knock out the ship’s, and without its magnetic field, it couldn’t fly!”
Lionheart punched the air. “Yes! That’s it!”
“That’s how they fly. No jets or rockets — some sort of magnetic propulsion system. Hold on, babe, I want to try something!” He jetted off toward the nearest attacker, which was giving his colleague Prominence a hard time. The rookie hero looked somewhat worse for wear, with patches on his fiery suit dark and even holes. Lionheart blazed past him and fired his electromagnetic pulse weapon at the ship, full-power.
The ship faltered and then fell out of the sky. Again, Lodestone reached out with her powers to direct it to fall harmlessly into the water. “Gonna have a second Thames Barrier down here at this rate,” she said.
Lionheart was frantically shouting into his helmet radio. “Perry! Get your troops together. We’ve got to talk — now! I know how to take these greenies out all in one go, but I can’t do it myself.” He turned to Lodestone. “Follow me, red. You too, Jim,” he added to Prominence.
Seconds later, they alighted on a battle-scarred site in the Docklands, blasting a few straggling Gordanian troops down as they landed. They were joined by a grateful Knight, Squire, Godiva, Bowman, and Cameo. “We’ve pretty much mopped up the advance wave with the help of the police and the army,” said Godiva as they came together, “but there are apparently lots more troop carriers on the way.”
“And we’re knackered already,” said the Squire, dropping down on the edge of a broken wall.
“Doesn’t matter!” said Lionheart. “Where’s Firebrand?”
“I’m here, Plante!” The fiery heroine flashed down from the sky and resumed her human form. She, too, looked tired. “What do you want?”
“You’re the key!” said Lionheart excitedly.
“The key to what, Richard?” demanded the Knight. “Look, while we’re talking, the attack isn’t letting up, you know. Why have you called us together?”
“Because I know how to take out these ships in one fell swoop,” said Lionheart. “Your girl Lodestone gave me the answer. She discovered that a strong enough magnetic effect will knock the engines of these ships dead. My E-M disrupter will do the trick, but I can only take out one at a time, and it takes several minutes to recharge. That’s why I didn’t use it before.”
Rhea looked horrified. “I don’t think I could manage a pulse big enough to take out all of the ships at once. I’m nearly, y’know, played out as it is.”
“No. But I could do it!” They all turned to look at Firebrand.
“Are you sure?” asked Godiva. “It’s hardly your specialty.”
“I can generate any kind of energy if I concentrate hard enough,” Firebrand explained. “And quantity is no problem. The power comes from direct conversion of my body mass into energy.”
“But you don’t have the fine control that Rhea has,” Cameo chipped in, a look of alarm on her face. “If you tried to generate a pulse that big, it would just be wild. You’d knock out every piece of electrical equipment in London. If it didn’t take out the invaders, you’d leave the city helpless.”
“I could direct it for her,” said Rhea. “Just, y’know, aim it at the ships.”
“You’d also have to hit them hard enough to knock them back into the English Channel,” the Bowman said, speaking for the first time. “If they fell on the city, you’d be doing their work for them.”
“I think I can do that.”
“OK, then,” the Knight said. “We need to warn the Air Force to stay away. We don’t want their fighters caught in the backlash.”
“The aliens are jamming long-range communications,” Lionheart pointed out.
“They can’t jam the communicator in our shuttle,” the Knight said. “It’s of Dominion design.” He started for where the shuttle was parked. “Give me a couple of minutes. Squire, you’re with me!”
“Don’t argue, lad. Just come along!” They both broke into a run.
“It’ll take me a few minutes to build up intensity, anyway,” said Firebrand. “You sure you can handle this, Lodestone?”
“What do you want the rest of us to do?” asked Godiva.
“We need to protect them while Firebrand builds up the power,” said the Bowman. “And right now. Incoming!”
They turned to face a trio of fighters heading in toward them. Lionheart and Prominence fired their energy weapons, while the Bowman let fly with mystic arrows from the Thunderbow. Godiva, meanwhile, formed her hair into a shield around the younger women.
“Wish I’d gone with Perry,” said Cameo. “There’s nothing I can do here.”
“Don’t worry,” said Godiva. “Just conserve your strength till you are needed.”
“Sure, but — oh, my God!” Cameo pointed at a growing black shape in the sky. “What the devil is that?”
“Looks like the mother ship’s arrived at last,” said the Bowman.
“Or a monster troop carrier.”
“Either way, we’re in big trouble if that thing gets in close,” said Lionheart. “How much longer, Firebrand?”
Firebrand had struck a pose and seemed to be straining every fiber in her body to build up power. “Just a few more seconds…”
“We might not have a few more seconds!”
“There’s no point in releasing this energy before I’m ready. It won’t be enough to take out all of them.”
“In a few seconds, Firebrand, it won’t matter. Do what you can now!”
“Just shut it, Plante, will you? I know what I’m–”
“Oh, my God!” shouted Cameo. “I think it’s firing! Firebrand!”
Then all hell broke loose. The huge ship fired, but at the same time Firebrand finally erupted in a massive burst of energy, which Lodestone channeled toward the attacking fleet. Godiva was thrown back by an enormous static discharge through her hair and only barely managed to escape injury. The rest of her comrades seemed shrouded in an electrical storm.
“Sandie! Rhea! Tom! Any of you? Are you–?”
A figure staggered out of the light, fell to the ground, and lay still. “Prominence?” Godiva rushed to the rookie hero and turned him over. His armor was completely black. “Oh, God, no…”
Then she was thrown back again by an even more violent blast. She lay still, stunned for a moment, before realizing that everything had gone quiet. She sat up and saw that the attacking ships were gone from the sky.
However, apart from the prone and blackened figure of Prominence, her fellow heroes were also nowhere to be seen.