The Paladins: Albion’s Call, Book 1, Chapter 7: Crawling from the Wreckage

by Brian K. Asbury

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The police officers waiting outside could only stare in horror as the entire warehouse collapsed in on itself. “My — God — Sarge! What happened?”

The sergeant snapped out of his horrified fascination and waved his subordinate away. “Get on the blower to the Super. Tell him what’s happened. Tell him we want backup. Lots of it. And ambulances and the fire brigade, too.”

“I just spoke to the Yard, Sarge. The Super’s been called out. Some trouble at Heathrow Airport.”

“That doesn’t matter! Get help! You hear me?”

“I hear you, Sarge.” The terrified constable dived back into the van.

The sergeant ran toward the settling pile of dust and smoke. He didn’t know what he could do, but he had to find out if there were any survivors and help them. As he approached, a brick flew toward him. Then another. “What the hell?”

He threw himself flat as a section of collapsed wall heaved itself up and away from the rest of the wreckage. He looked up to see something golden and flowing emerging from the hole. “G-Godiva?”

The golden-tressed heroine rose unsteadily to her feet. She had several cuts on her bare arms and legs, and her costume was torn in places, almost exposing one of her breasts, but she looked more or less intact. “Who’s there?” she said.

The sergeant rose to his feet. “It’s me — Detective Sergeant Harris,” he said. “Are you all right, miss?”

As he reached her, she gratefully allowed him to support her. He took off his jacket and put it around her shoulders. “Thanks,” she said, “but I’m OK, more or less. My eyesight’s a bit blurry, but I’ll live. What about the others? Did they get out?”

“No. You’re the only one.”

“What?” She pushed him away and, moving back to the wreckage, started to heft away huge chunks of masonry and brickwork with the power of her amazing hair.

“Should you be doing that?” said Sergeant Harris.

She ignored him and carried on. Then, suddenly, an area of shining silver and blue metal was exposed. “The Knight’s shield!” she exclaimed. She cleared more and more rubble from around it.

“It can’t be,” said Harris. “Look at the size of it. He’d never carry something like that!”

Godiva halted. The shield was, indeed, enormous. Yet it had to belong to the Knight. It looked exactly like the shield he carried, and even had his crossed-axes emblem. As they stared a it, it suddenly shuddered, then lifted. Godiva sent out tendrils of her hair to grip its edge and turn it over. Getting up from underneath it, grimy but otherwise apparently none the worse for wear, were the Knight and the Squire.

“Thanks for the helping hand,” said the Knight. “Handy thing, this,” he said, flipping a switch on the shield’s handgrip. It abruptly contracted down to its original size. “There was rather a lot of rubble weighing it down, though.”

“It was getting a bit hard to breathe under there, too,” said the grinning Squire. “Hey, where’s that girl — Sandie?”

“She wasn’t with you?” asked Sergeant Harris.

“No — oh, my God!”

Without another word, the three heroes set about clearing the rubble from the spot where Sandie Bremmer had been standing when the purple beam struck. However, there was no sign of the young forensic scientist — just an eerily glowing white silhouette on the floor.

“It destroyed her!” gasped Godiva.

“That maniac will pay for this,” a grim-faced Knight said. “Yet another life I have to pay him back for.” They turned away. “Let’s look for any sign of him under there — though I don’t expect to find any.”

“Wait!”

Godiva started. “Sandie?” They all whirled around, expecting to see the black girl. However, what they did see was the strange white silhouette shape rising from the floor.

“Please?” Sandie Bremmer’s voice issued from it. “What’s happened to me?”

“Sandie? Is that you?” gasped Sergeant Harris. “What in the name of God?”

The strange apparition staggered toward him. “Sergeant Harris — help me!”

He thrust out a hand to steady the eerie being. “No, wait!” cried the Knight. “It might be dangerous to–“

He was too late. As he touched the glowing woman-shaped silhouette, he screamed and collapsed to the ground. The creature with Sandie Bremmer’s voice recoiled.

The three heroes came forward cautiously, Godiva’s amazing hair probing ahead of them. “Sandie? If you are Sandie, please stay back. Let us take a look at him.”

If I’m Sandie? Of course I’m Sandie? What’s happened to me? Why did Sergeant Harris collapse like that?”

The Knight had removed one gauntlet and was examining the fallen detective. “He’s still alive, and his vital signs seem strong,” he said. “Whatever that was seems to have only stunned him. But stay back, please — further exposure may do him real harm.”

“I don’t understand,” said the silhouette.

The Squire was circling nervously around her. “She’s two-dimensional!” he observed.

“Jesus Christ!” exclaimed Godiva. “What does this mean, Knight?”

“I don’t know,” said the Knight. He adjusted a control at the side of his visor. “But the sensory equipment in my helmet is telling me that the creature in front of us is composed of pure energy of a kind I’ve never encountered before.”

“‘Creature’? Never mind creature! I’m Sandie Bremmer, not some monster! See? It’s me!

Godiva approached closer. “If you are Sandie Bremmer, then you’ve undergone some kind of bizarre transformation.”

“I know, I know! Do you think I can’t see that? For God’s sake, help me. You’ve got to change me back!”

“How?” said the Squire. “We don’t even know how you got that way in the first place.”

“It had to be a result of the Bard’s ray striking that Thanagarian space-warp machine you were carrying,” mused the Knight. “Somehow, it converted the mass of your body into this strange energy.”

“Then you’ve got to find him,” said Sandie. “If one of his machines made me this way, he must have another that can change me back.”

“That doesn’t necessarily follow…”

“Maybe not,” said Godiva. “But what other hope do we have? Knight, if your high-tech equipment can pick up different energy forms, what about the energy signature of the Bard’s weapons?”

“I don’t know. But I’ll try.” The Knight walked back toward the rubble, adjusting the controls on his visor and moving his head back and forth. “I’m picking up something.” He moved forward. “The Bard was about here, and there’s a very strong energy trace here. As if he teleported or used another of those space-warpers.”

“Then he definitely got away?”

“Yes, but…” He raised his head. “There’s another trace, very faint and a long way off, right across the city. It may be the other side of the warp.”

“Can you track it?” said Sandie.

“No,” replied the Knight.

“But we know a horse who can!” said the Squire, grinning.

***

“Ladies, meet Fess!” said the Squire.

“That’s not a horse — it’s a motorbike modified to look sort of like a horse,” observed Sandie.

“A legacy of your predecessor?” asked Godiva of the Knight.

“Yes. But greatly modified. For one thing, it has a powerful inbuilt computer brain with an infrared link to the instrumentation in my helmet. I’m downloading the data now.”

“Impressive. But why Fess?

“Not my idea to give the thing a name, I assure you.” He indicated a grinning Squire with his thumb. “It’s after a robot horse in some fantasy novel or other.”

“This is all very interesting,” said Sandie, her agitation showing in her voice. “But how does it help us?”

“Like this,” the Knight said, operating some controls that turned the bike’s speedometer, built into the neck of the horse façade, into a screen displaying a map. A glowing point flashed at a point on the other side of the Thames. “It’s worked,” he announced. “That’s where the Bard teleported to.”

“Let’s go, then,” said the Squire.

“Not so fast,” Godiva said. “We won’t all get on that bike, and I’m not even sure Sandie can ride a motorcycle in her — condition. I’ll go back for the van.”

“All right, but be quick. From the sound of all those approaching sirens, we’re going to be knee-deep in police and firemen any minute now. I don’t want to waste time with explanations.”

Godiva and Sandie ran back to the wrecked warehouse, where two plainclothes constables were nursing a recovering Sergeant Harris. “How are you?” asked Godiva.

“I’ll live,” Harris replied. “But what do I tell the Super? What’s happening now?”

“Well…” Godiva started to say. However, there was a sound of moving bricks, and part of the wreckage slid away to reveal the remains of a doorway. A man’s head emerged from it, followed by his body. He was dragging another man, who was clad in tattered Elizabethan costume. Suddenly he caught sight of Godiva, Sandie, and the policemen.

“Well! Some bloody heroes you lot are! You could have got us all killed, you bastards!”

“Oh, God!” muttered Godiva. “Cairns and the decoy. I’d completely forgotten about them.”

“So had I,” said Sandie. “But then, I’ve a lot on my mind at the moment. Can we hurry, please?”

“Of course,” Godiva said. “Get in the van. I’ll drive. Sergeant, you and your men might want to hold these people for questioning. They’ll probably need medical attention, too.”

“Where are you going?” asked Harris.

“Hopefully,” replied Godiva as she climbed in the cab, “to put an end to this nonsense once and for all!”

***

“How long are you going to ssspend bandaging that pathetic little cut?” the voice behind the screen said. There was a marked air of impatience in the tone. “You did not sssuccceed in your misssion. My inssstrumentsss ssshow that the target ssstill livesss.”

“If you prick us, do we not bleed?” said the Bard, making further adjustments to the dressing on his hand. “If you…”

“Thossse ridiculousss quotesss may impresss your enemiesss, but do not presssume to indulge yourssself in sssuch nonsssenssse with me!”

“Sorry. But I’m injured. The bloody maniac threw his sword at me.”

“I wasss monitoring the battle, remember? The cutsss on your hand were due to ssshrapnel from the Khund disssintegrator you were carrying. It wasss that which the sssword ssstruck. However, it isss clear that the sssword wasss no ordinary weapon.”

“It disss — I mean disappeared after I used it to smash that screaming dagger,” said the Bard.

“I know. The target has armed himssself with technology not only from hisss native world, but from elsssewhere, too. You mussst go back and eliminate him immediately. He could prove very dangerousss, essspecially allied with the woman.”

The Bard stood up. “Fine. But for all we know they’re not even at the warehouse — or what’s left of it — any more. The monitoring devices we hid in there aren’t working now. Everything went up with the space warper. I was lucky to get out in time.” He adjusted the positions of the various pieces of equipment on his belt. “Does your gizmo show where he is?”

“No, but–“

Whatever the entity known as Mr. D had to say next was cut off by an almighty crashing sound as the door to the office suite exploded inward, propelled by a mass of hair hardened to the texture of steel and shaped into a battering ram. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

The Bard grabbed a device from his belt and faced the furious Godiva as she stalked into the room, her incredible hair questing before her. He noted that she wore a man’s bomber jacket over her obviously damaged uniform.

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” he growled, and activated the device. A rotating black disc emerged from it, expanding rapidly as it approached Godiva and throwing out sparks. The long-tressed heroine sent tendrils of her hair to intercept it, only to gasp in dismay as those tendrils began to smoulder. She quickly retracted them.

Tricky little bugger, aren’t you?” she said, reaching out with her hair to grasp a long sliver of wood from the remains of the door and hurl it at the now-huge disc. The wood rebounded, denting the disc but not disabling it. “Damn!” she swore, and grabbed the door frame with her hair, wrenching it out from the plasterwork and thrusting it out before her like a shield.

The Bard smirked in triumph, but then a plate glass window behind him shattered, and through it swung two figures garbed like characters from an Errol Flynn movie. As they landed, the larger, armoured newcomer whipped out a sword, while his younger, doublet-clad companion unclipped a short club from his belt and extended it to the length of a quarterstaff.

The Bard, however, was not unprepared for this. He held up another alien device, looking for all the world like an old-fashioned car horn. “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks; rage, blow. You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!”

And as the Knight and the Squire advanced upon their costumed prey, a titanic blast of air began to issue from the device, blowing them helplessly back to the open window and an eight-storey fall to the street below.

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools!” crowed the Bard.

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