by Brian K. Asbury
Perry Redhawk sat alone in his room, brooding over a sheet of unusual plastic material upon which strange characters played. He had not read the account of their flight since his father, Lord Redhawk, had died. He considered himself a man of Earth, not of the old world, and to the best of his knowledge, the others had the same opinion of him. Only Raven Black had treated him as belonging to their kind — and now Raven was gone.
He made a gesture over the fabric, and the alien lettering disappeared. Pushing it into a drawer, he moved to the window to see David Sheldrake, the Earl’s fifteen-year-old nephew and heir apparent to the Wordenshire estate and title, striding confidently across the lawns toward the castle. Perry sighed and reached to remove his broadsword from the wall brackets that held it. It was time for his young charge’s training session.
As he began his descent to the great hall, Perry became aware of a commotion below. There was clattering and raised voices. What the hell?
He broke into a run, burst into the hall — and pulled up short. A glowing circle of light, some seven feet in diameter, pulsated along one wall. Six men in black jumpsuits were in the room. One was holding a curious golden box that seemed to be generating the circle of light, while the others surrounded the Earl. The biggest was lifting him bodily from his wheelchair, while the rest held handguns.
“He’s not the one we’re after,” said one of the gunmen.
“Mebbe not, but ‘e knows where we can find ‘im, don’cha, old man?” the big man holding the Earl grunted.
“Let him go!” hissed Perry, stepping into the room.
The first man who had spoken held up a small glass device. “He’s the one. Get him.”
The big man dropped Percy Sheldrake and advanced as the guns of the other four swivelled to point toward Perry — who was no longer there.
Perry vaulted to one side, hurling his sword as the first of the intruders fired. The gun held by one of the other men shattered as the sword flew through on its way to embed itself within the oak panelling of the hall. The man yelped and staggered back, his wrist broken.
The remaining gunmen held their fire as their oversized comrade lunged for Perry. Perry feinted to his left, dropped onto his back, and kicked up with both legs as the big man, off-balance, lurched toward him. Ribs caved in and there was a whoosh of expelled air as the big man staggered back. However, two of his comrades had by now closed. One made a grab for Perry. “Give it up, sunshine. You’re outnumbered, and you just disarmed yourself.”
“Did I really? Well, here’s a surprise for you!” Perry held out his right hand — and suddenly he held his sword. His assailant’s eyes bulged with shock, then closed as Perry brought the pommel up to connect with the point of the gunman’s chin. In the same movement, he brought the blade around to slice through the second man’s gun, then put his lights out with a bone-crunching left cross.
“And then there were two,” Perry panted as he rose to his feet.
The man holding the golden box shuffled madly on the spot. “Do something!” he yelled at his remaining companion, the one who had spoken first.
That man turned his gun back on Percy. “That’s enough!” he growled. “Put down that sword and surrender, or the old feller gets it right between the eyes.”
Perry stared helplessly, knowing that he could neither close the distance nor hurl his blade before the black-clad man could pull the trigger. But then there was a flash of light from the French windows. The gunman squealed and dropped his weapon as a foot-long dagger impaled his wrist.
“David?” said a surprised Perry as the teenager followed his hurled weapon into the room.
The gunman said nothing as a suddenly free Percy detached one arm from his wheelchair and clobbered his assailant over the head with it. “Not bad for an old feller,” he said as his man went down.
The last of the intruders took one look at this and fled through the circle of light. Both Perry and David made to follow, only for the circle to vanish as they reached it.
There was a cough from across the room. Both turned to look at Percy, who said: “Now will you take my advice?”
“So who are they?” David Sheldrake said as he re-entered the room. Fifteen minutes had passed since the battle, and the five remaining intruders were now trussed up on the floor. Perry was kneeling over their leader, staring into his eyes. The black-clad man was muttering something under his breath.
“Shh. Perry is just finding that out,” said David’s uncle, accepting the cup of tea that his nephew had just brought him.
“Cool,” David said. “Good thing Chivers was in town picking up your laundry, wasn’t it? If he’d seen this, you’d be looking for a new butler.”
“Chivers has seen worse, believe me. But this is a bad business. In all the years your cousin and I were the Squire and the Knight, the castle was never penetrated by our enemies. And especially using high-tech equipment like this.”
“Ordinary guns, though,” muttered David.
“Yes. Puzzling, isn’t it, considering the weapon which killed Perry’s friend Raven was some sort of energy-projection device? It’s almost as if whoever is supplying this equipment only trusts his agents so much and no further.”
“I’d concur with that.” Perry stood up, releasing a glassy-eyed intruder, who slumped back to the floor. “These people are just the hired help. Mercenaries in the pay of an organisation called England for Humans. The teleportation device was supplied by someone called Mr. D. As was this.” He held up the small glassy gizmo that the lead invader had earlier pointed at him. It was coruscating wildly.
“What is it?” asked David. Perry declined to answer, but tossed the device toward his young friend, who caught it deftly. It immediately stopped flashing.
“It apparently senses whether someone is human or not,” said Perry, a disgusted look on his face.
“But it went crazy when you held it… Jesus! You’re an alien?“
Perry again did not answer. He began to stride toward the door. “Where are you going?” asked Percy.
Perry stopped and looked down at the floor. “You win,” he said. “As you always do. You persuaded David and me to become the Knight and the Squire when the Martians invaded, and I’ll don the armour once more. I’m not asking David to join me, though.”
“You don’t have to!” whooped a jubilant David. “I’ll get my costume.”
“You don’t mind me being an alien?”
“Mind? It’s the coolest thing I ever heard! I did wonder how you did that hypnotism trick! Wow! I only wish I could tell my mates at school about it!” He ran past Perry and out of the door.
Percy looked curiously at his friend. “Have you somewhere to go?”
“Yes. I got an address out of that fellow, where I can find members of this England for Humans group. I’m sure someone there can be persuaded to tell me who this Mr. D character is, where I can find him, and, most importantly, why he’s hell-bent on trying to kill me and my people.”
Perry sighed. “Look, I’m sorry about this. I have to get out of here, anyway. They can track me with devices like that one, and they’ll be back; depend on it. It seems I have no option but to don the armour and go after them first. You’ll be safe here, I’m sure. It’s not you they’re after.”
“Perhaps not. But you do know that, when this is all over, you’ll always have a home here.”
“Because I saved your life?” Perry snorted. “I made up for that this afternoon by endangering it again, Percy. I’ll be back, but only to return the armour.”
“We’ll see,” said Percy. As Perry made to continue toward the door, a thought suddenly struck the crippled Earl. “Wait.” Perry stopped and turned to face him. “If you’re determined to tackle these people, you might need some help. I have to call the police anyway to pick up these ruffians, but there’s someone you might care to contact.”
“You have failed me.”
The voice that addressed the two standing men was hollow and sibilant, evoking an inexplicable primal urge to run in both of them. Yet both stood their ground before the wooden screen that hid the speaker from their view.
“It wasn’t our f-fault,” stammered the younger man, who was clad in a black jumpsuit whose hood was now pushed back from his fear-stricken features. “W-we were told there would be no resistance. Th-they weren’t expecting us. It was s-supposed to be a surprise.”
“Yet there wasss resssissstanccce.”
The older man, heavyset and grey-haired, spoke up, a tone of disgust in his voice. “A crippled middle-aged man and a teenage boy. I agree with you, sir. They cocked it up completely.”
“Sssilenccce. I wasss not addresssing you! Ssspeak, boy. How did you fail to kill your target?”
“He w-was some sort of c-combat expert.” The young man turned to his older companion. “You didn’t s-see him, Morgan. He t-tore through the others like they w-weren’t there. And he had some sort of m-magic sword. He threw it away, but it r-returned to his hand, and…”
“I have heard enough. Missster Morgan!” The older man started at the sound of his name. “You ssshould have obtained intelligenccce on this target before sssending in your mercccenariesss.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. It won’t happen again. And I’ll see that this whelp is punished for his failure. He left one man behind who wasn’t even unconscious.”
“Steve was wr-writhing in agony with a shattered wrist, and he was too f-far from the gate for me to grab him and p-pull him through. If I’d hesitated, the mark and the k-kid would have caught me. I’d have l-lost the g-gate projector.”
The two standing men turned to face the third visible occupant of the room who, slumped on a stool in the corner, had taken no part in the proceedings thus far. His head now rose, an expression of pleading on his face. “Please. Must I?”
“You mussst. Do my bidding.”
The man known as Billy the Bard, who was presently clad in a costume that would not have looked out of place in Elizabethan England, rose to his feet and withdrew a device from his doublet that looked for all the world like an electric shaver.
“No!” said the young black-garbed man. “P-please! It w-wasn’t my fault. Look, I’m only t-twenty. I can’t d-die yet. I’m too y-young!”
The Bard raised his weapon. “‘Why, he that cuts off twenty years of life cuts off so many years of fearing death,'” he muttered. His thumb stabbed down on the trigger button.
And a large hole appeared in the forehead of the man named Morgan. The young man stared in horrified fascination, scarcely believing that he was still alive, as Morgan toppled to the floor.
“Thusss die all who fail me,” said the voice of the individual hidden behind the screen. “Now go and deal with the nexxxt target. The one you failed to kill has sssurvived for now, but hisss time will come!”
Ken Hanson sat lost in thought at his desk at Scotland Yard, the computer screen in front of him displaying Sandie Bremmer’s findings from the investigation in Stratford-upon-Avon, including the coroner’s report. The facts, however, made sparse reading: an alien of a previously unknown species masquerading as Raven Black, a respected British Shakespearean actor, assassinated in spectacular fashion on stage by a Shakespeare lookalike using a Khundish energy weapon.
Beyond that, he had precious little information. Billy “the Bard” Palmer was nowhere to be found, and the organisation claiming responsibility was so new that he had practically no intelligence on them. Godiva was off somewhere using her own contacts to try to track down these England for Humans people, but her search had been so far as fruitless as Hanson’s own.
He considered that she needed help. But from where? The status of the Global Guardians was uncertain at the present time. Their Paris Dome headquarters had been all but destroyed when the Martians strafed the French capital. It was being rebuilt, but in the meantime it was difficult to contact the Guardians — especially as the whereabouts of their leader Doctor Mist was currently unknown.
He sighed. Part of the mission statement for Project CINEMA given to him by Home Secretary Douglas Hurd was to investigate the feasibility of a domestic team of meta-humans to defend the British Isles in time of need — a sort of Justice League of Britain. The problem was that the U.K. was not exactly teeming with masked adventurer types. He pressed a key on his computer keyboard to review the list. The Knight and the Squire had been stalwarts for years, but had only been seen in action once since the Crisis — and in view of the fact that both wore new costumes now, there was much speculation that these were not the originals. The Yard had had a means of contacting the duo, but they had not so far responded.
Then there was the Bowman of Britain. Never the most active of heroes, at least publicly, the Bowman had nevertheless done his duty when the combined attack on Britain from the Martians and the Atlanteans had come. Unfortunately, his bold action in helping panicky citizens escape from the attacking aliens had led to his taking the brunt of one of their ray-blasts himself. He had survived, but he had lain in intensive care in a Cardiff hospital ever since. Hanson had been monitoring his progress, but the prognosis was not good.
Jack O’Lantern he immediately rejected as a non-starter. The chances of a known Irish Republican sympathiser agreeing to work with a government-sponsored British super-team were on a par with a pantomime horse winning the Grand National.
That left three newcomers — one of whom was as yet unknown to the public. It was hard to get any information at all on this Lionheart character who had appeared during both of the recent alien attacks, and as for the so-called Beefeater, every report Hanson had read on him so far indicated that he was a moron — a publicity-seeking grandstander dressed like a refugee from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, who seemed to have survived the two conflicts only due to seemingly leading a charmed life.
“Absolutely not!” he muttered to himself as he considered the final name on his list. This was the most promising of them all — and the most powerful by far. But how could he persuade her to go public? MI7, by all accounts, were very keen to keep hold of her for their own purposes, but perhaps…
The telephone suddenly rang, and he lifted the receiver to hear the welcome tones of a former colleague, now retired — his predecessor in this office. “Yes, Jack, what can I do for you? Really? He contacted you directly, you say? And they’re on their way here right now? Excellent!”
He put the phone down with a smile on his face. Things were looking up, after all.