by Brian K. Asbury
The moustachioed man in the wheelchair sipped his tea and stared across his desk to the framed photograph sitting there. “Am I doing the right thing?” he said aloud. “I thought, Cyril, my son, that when you died I would put all this behind me forever. No more heroics — no more putting on a fancy-dress costume and roaring into action as Britain’s answer to the Batman.
“And in the strictest sense I have kept my word. I’m crippled, son. The monsters that killed you failed to take my life, but my spine was damaged in the battle. I haven’t walked since, and probably never will again. At least, not unaided. Oh, the new armour that Perry and I have created could have enabled me to become mobile again — the strange alien technology he salvaged from the wreckage of his father’s house could have accomplished that — but my heart was never really in the project, Cyril. My foolish desire to be a hero killed not just my only son, but also any illusions that I could ever measure up to what people like Batman and Green Arrow have achieved.”
He sighed. “But does that mean I have the right to others to take our place? Perry’s a strange fellow, Cyril. Only half-human, or so he claims. He saved my life, you know — found me when I was dying, took me to a hospital, stayed with me through my delirium and grief… and afterwards, I discovered that he had lost everything he ever had in the Crisis — his home, the electronics company he ran — everything. So I offered him a job helping me out here. That was when he confessed to me who — or rather what — he really was. And I told him about our double life, son, and he offered to help me try to rebuild what we had.”
His eyes turned to a second portrait on a shelf across the room. “He also became close to David, your cousin. David’s mother died about a year ago, you know. Leukaemia. So, because his father’s work takes him out of the country most of the time, I offered to let David stay here. After all, with you gone, son, he is the heir to the earldom. He’s keen on gymnastics and the martial arts, and Perry offered to train him.
“And then came the news that Britain was under attack on two fronts — from Atlantis, and, would you believe, from invading Martians. The servos in the armour which would have enabled me to walk weren’t ready — so David persuaded Perry to don it and go into action against the invaders as the Knight. With him, much to my exasperation, as his Squire, wearing a variation on your old costume, which he’d been working on in secret. I still don’t know how he found out about it all — but according to Perry, he acquitted himself well in the role.
“However, Perry was adamant that this had been a one-off incident, and that the armour was for me. I always knew in my heart, though, that it wasn’t to be. Perry designed the armour and is the only man fit to wear it. There are devices built into it, Cyril, that we never even dreamed of when we were the Knight and the Squire. And he has special powers, too — a legacy of his alien heritage.
“No, I’m sure he’ll make a fine Knight — a better Knight than I ever was. It’s David I’m worried about. He’s smart, he’s fit and athletic, and he’s a superb fighter, both unarmed and with sword and dagger. But he’s just a normal human being, Cyril, just like us. And look what happened to us.”
He sighed again and picked up his cup. “I pray to God, my son, that I’m doing the right thing in allowing him to do this. I’ve buried one Squire. I have no wish to bury another!”
London’s Dockyards district was undergoing a massive programme of redevelopment. Warehouses and wharf buildings were being bulldozed on a daily basis, redundant since increasing containerisation of cargoes had streamlined the whole business and vastly reduced the amount of space required to load and unload ships. Soon the new buildings would go up — offices and luxury flats — and make the area a haven for yuppies and the other nouveau riche of the Capital. For now, though, many of the old warehouse buildings still stood, forlorn and derelict.
In one such building, a bearded man angrily stabbed his cigarette out on the scarred surface of a table that had seen better days. “What the hell’s going on, Cairns? This is putting the whole project in bloody jeopardy.”
“Calm down,” said the shaven-haired man named Cairns. “We’re getting results, aren’t we? Two alien scum dead in just a few days.”
“Yeah, but listen to Tony, Cairns,” said a third man, smaller than the rest, who fiddled nervously with his greasy moustache as he spoke. “There’s super-heroes involved now. Nobody mentioned chuffin’ super-heroes comin’ into the picture. And where’s Morgan? Nobody’s seen him for days.”
“Morgan’s not in charge anymore, Tash,” said Cairns.
“So who is? You?” Cairns nodded. “Oh, yeah? Who says?”
“Mr. D says,” said Cairns.
The one black man at the table, who had been silent thus far, now spoke up: “And who appointed Mr. D as God, then, man? An’ how come none o’ us has ever seen him, huh?”
Cairns sighed. “I haven’t even met him myself, Winston.” There was uproar from the other three.
“Then why the hell should we take orders from him?” said Tony. Tash and Winston grunted their agreement. “This is our movement — our party. We set it up to get rid of the stinking alien scum, not to take orders from some bloke who won’t even show his face.”
Cairns snorted. “Before you shoot your mouths off any more, take a look at this.” He produced a photograph from his pocket. “Billy the Bard gave me this when he told me Mr. D had said I was to take charge.”
The others scanned the photo. It showed the man they knew as Morgan lying face up in a pool of blood, a gaping hole in his forehead.
“Bloody hell!” gasped Tony. The others reacted in equally shocked fashion.
“As you all know,” Cairns said, “Morgan was more than capable of taking care of himself. But this Mr. D has access to some nasty high-tech hardware. Unless we want to end up like Morgan, we have to play ball with him. At least for now.”
“But what’s his game? He was supposed to be helpin’ us, not takin’ over the whole show himself.”
“I don’t know,” said Cairns. “But I’m seeing him tomorrow night. Maybe I can clear up exactly what’s going on.”
“I don’t know. Billy’s picking me up here at eight.”
“Well just you tell him what’s what, man. England for Humans is our baby — not his!”
And in the shadows, an armoured man smiled and exchanged a satisfied glance with his teenage partner.
“There didn’t seem much point in following any of them, or even trying to apprehend them. They appeared to be pretty much run-of-the-mill thugs,” said the Knight.
“Perhaps,” Ken Hanson mused, “but even so, I’ll run the photographs you took past our CID files. After all, if these people are behind the England for Humans movement, they need keeping an eye on.”
“I’ll bet they’re all guilty of something, anyway,” chipped in the Knight’s youthful companion. “Race riots, soccer hooliganism — whatever, you know?”
“I daresay. But it might be more helpful to keep them on the loose and under surveillance unless they’re wanted for something serious,” said Hanson.
“Well, at least we know that the Bard is meeting up with the one called Cairns tonight,” said the Knight. “That was my main reason for leaving them alone. I don’t want to tip any of them off to the fact that we’re on to them. And it’s the Bard I want.” He slapped one gauntleted fist into his other hand.
Hanson stared at the tall armoured man thoughtfully. There’s something going on here that I haven’t been told about, he thought. This new Knight has a personal stake in this business in some way. I wonder…
The three were walking along the corridors at New Scotland Yard, causing numerous officers and other staff to stop and goggle at the pseudo-medieval garb of the two neophyte heroes who accompanied the Chief Superintendent. “This way,” Hanson said at last, opening a door. They stepped inside, revealing a room equipped with several workbenches. A pretty young black woman clad in a lab coat was hunched over a curious device on the nearest one. Next to her, a statuesque blonde woman sat perched on a high stool.
“Any luck yet, Sandie?” asked Hanson.
Sandie Bremmer shook her head. “I can’t work out whether whoever built this thing shut it down by remote control, or whether it just took a knock when the bloke who was working it got flipped by Godiva.”
“Sorry about that,” said Godiva. She noticed for the first time who the newcomers were, and vacated her stool. “Hi, I’m Godiva,” she said, extending her hand to the older of the two. “You must be the Knight — the new Knight, that is.”
“Just the Knight,” said the armoured and visored Perry Redhawk, returning her handshake.
The youthful Squire cocked his head on one side. “You sound normal,” he said, grinning. “Funny, everybody says you talk like Dick Van Dyke!”
“And hello to you, too,” said Godiva, a strand of her miraculous hair snaking out to pull his hood down over his eyes. She laughed. “Actually, I’d heard the same thing. That’s why I decided to drop the fake Cockney bit.” She looked at Hanson. “And that’s precisely the last time I’m going to explain that to anyone.”
Hanson approached Sandie’s workbench, ignoring the Squire’s struggles to free himself from his own hood. “Sandie, here, has been working on the device the Bard used to generate a sort of space warp when he killed Dr. Swann at Oxford,” he explained to the Knight.
“Yes. The men who attacked Wordenshire Castle used a similar device. Perhaps the same one.”
“Hmmm… about that,” said Hanson. “Just who were they after at Wordenshire Castle? Our informant never said.”
The Knight turned to Godiva. “We’re setting up an ambush to capture the Bard and hopefully get him to take us to whoever’s behind all this,” he said. “Are you game for joining us?”
“I certainly am,” replied the blonde beauty. “I’ve a score to settle with that Shakespeare-quoting lunatic.”
And behind them, Hanson folded his arms. I see, he thought. Nifty change of subject, my friend. I wonder when we get to find out just what your game is?
Ken Hanson peered out of his office window down into the vehicle pool below, where an unmarked white van was pulling away. On board were several plainclothes officers, as well as Sandie Bremmer and Godiva. A couple of other cars were also on their way to the disused warehouse in the Docklands, while the Knight and the Squire were making their own way there.
He moved back to his desk. Paperwork! Ha! If ever there was a downside to his rapid promotion through the ranks, this was it. When he should have been accompanying his men and the three super-heroes to apprehend the Bard, here he was, stuck in his office because the Assistant Commissioner had called an expenses meeting, and he had a report to prepare. So much for the glamour and prestige of the job.
As he sat down, the telephone rang. “Hanson. How can I help you?”
“Detective Chief Superintendent Kenneth Hanson of Scotland Yard?” said the voice at the other end — an American accent, and the speaker sounded as if he were reading it from a card.
“Yes. Who is this, please?”
“Uh… my name is Firestorm. I’m calling you from the Justice League satellite.”
Hanson almost jumped out of his seat. “Ye gods!”
“I’ve got a call for you. This is kinda wild, but it’s from Adam Strange on the planet Rann. Do you want to take it?”
Hanson could only gargle incoherently. “What? Yeah, Professor, I heard. I guess it’s not every day somebody gets a phone call from outer space. I’ll just put him through.”
There was a click, and a second voice came over the phone. “Superintendent Hanson? This is Adam Strange. Remember, we met at Oxford after Dr. Swann was murdered?”
“D-Doctor Strange?” stammered Hanson, struggling to regain his composure.
“Adam. Look, I’ve got some information for you that might be able to throw some light on why Dr. Swann and that actor guy were killed — and who’s behind all this.”
“Really?” said Hanson. He sat upright in his chair. “Uh… Dr. Strange…”
“OK, Adam. Firestorm said you were calling from outer space. Was he just joking, or–?”
Adam laughed. “No, Superintendent. He was telling the truth. I’m on a planet called Rann, orbiting the star we call Alpha Centauri on Earth. And you can’t imagine how tricky it is organising a communications link between the two of us.”
“I’ll bet,” said Hanson, still not quite sure whether to believe it or not. “Er… excuse me for asking, but how did you get there? I mean, just yesterday, you were…”
“In England. I know. It’s a long story, Superintendent. I’m sorry I had to dash off like that, but it had to do with my getting here. You could say I had to catch my ride.”
“Right. I see. And now you have some information for me.”
“That’s what I said,” said Adam Strange. “So here’s the story. According to a friend of mine who I met during that Alien Alliance craziness, the DNA report I borrowed from you is a close match to the inhabitants of a planet called Cairn. It’s a world that was founded some centuries ago by settlers from Hawkman’s homeworld.”
“A-ha,” Hanson said. “My forensic investigator, Sandie, said the DNA was similar to the Thanagarian type. But she also said it wasn’t an exact match.”
“No. Apparently, conditions on Cairn caused the original settlers to mutate slightly. That’s why they’re not quite Thanagarian anymore. But they’re still as long-lived as Thanagarians, and have other qualities in common with them.”
“OK,” said Hanson thoughtfully. “So that’s who they are. But what are they doing on Earth? And who’s trying to kill them?”
“My… friend… wasn’t a hundred percent certain about this,” said Adam, “but he thinks the Cairnians on Earth may be an exiled group called the Children of the Wing. The bird names are apparently characteristic of that group.”
“Yes. It seems Cairn is very close to Dominion space. You remember the Dominion?”
Hanson rubbed his chin. “Not from actual experience. The super-heroes said the Dominion was behind the big invasion, but they didn’t turn up in person. They sent their strong-arm thugs like the Khunds to do their dirty work for them. And Thanagarians, too, if I remember correctly.”
“Yes, but this has nothing to do with any of that. Around seventy or eighty years ago, the Dominion was threatening to annexe Cairn. To appease them, the Cairnians agreed to virtually turn their planet into something pretty unpleasant — a huge narcotics farm.”
“The Dominion use a number of drugs of different kinds, both to keep themselves amused and to keep their slaves subdued and submissive. They needed somewhere to grow them, and Cairn’s climate was perfect. Trouble was, the Cairnians couldn’t resist trying the drugs themselves, and pretty soon half the planet was hooked on them.
“That was where the Sons of the Wing came in. They were traditionally a spiritual group who revered their Thanagarian ancestors and who also practised various mystical techniques to develop their mentalist skills — kind of like Buddhist monks on Earth. But they were outraged at what was happening. They decided it was time they acted to save their planet from becoming one huge drug den, so they started a campaign of destroying the drug crops and attacking the Dominion ships which were coming in to harvest them.”
“I think I can guess the next chapter in this story,” said Hanson. “The Dominion took exception to this and sent in the heavy brigade, right?”
“Right. The Sons of the Wing fought bravely, but were no match for the weaponry or the sheer numbers of troops that the Dominion could send in against them. Eventually, reduced to just a couple of hundred in number, the Sons commandeered a spaceship and fled the planet. No one has heard anything of them since.”
“Until now,” Hanson said. “They fled to Earth, right? They look like us, so they could hide pretty effectively among us. So what’s gone wrong? Who’s killing them, and why?”
“Again,” said Adam, “my source could only speculate. But he believes that somebody among the Alien Alliance detected that the Sons of the Wing were here during the invasion.”
“That’s likely. A young woman who could have been one of them disappeared when the U.K. was shrunk and transported up to one of the invading ships.”
Adam sighed. “In that case, we’ve got a big problem, Superintendent. The Dominion is notoriously unforgiving. Not only won’t they rest until all the Sons of the Wing are dead, but they could intend to make Earth suffer for harbouring them!”