by Brian K. Asbury
The sign read Fina Fayre for Fina Shopping. However, the Fina Fayre chain of supermarkets had gone out of business at least ten years before, and according to passersby whom he had quizzed under the pretence of being a property developer, this particular branch in one of the most run-down areas of London’s docklands had stood empty ever since.
Well, that was what someone wanted the local people to think, at least. Perry Redhawk knew that there was at least one person in that building right now; the portable scanner sitting on his lap in the cab of the van did not lie. And there was a strong possibility that there were any number of other people in there, too, including one who was very important to Perry.
Not for the first time, he considered switching his communications equipment back on and calling the other Paladins to storm the building in force. However, if his suspicions were correct — and he was pretty sure that they were — then he needed to take care of this matter personally before involving anyone else.
He looked back over the seat into the back of the van. In the place normally occupied by Percy Sheldrake’s wheelchair stood a distinctive motorcycle modified to resemble a horse, and beside it were the pieces of his armour and his various weapons. He hoped it would not be necessary to use them, but it was a slim hope. If the person he was stalking was who he thought it was, he would not give in without a fight.
He turned his attention back to the scanner. The trace had not moved. He wondered what the others were doing now, apart from wondering the same about him, of course. On returning to Wordenshire Castle from their adventure in Eastern Europe, the Paladins had discovered that Percy Sheldrake, the Earl of Wordenshire and their backer and coordinator, was indeed missing. Someone had forced entry to the castle through a back door, disabling the alarms by means of some sort of electromagnetic pulse. Percy had not given up without a fight, as evidenced by several broken crossbow bolts on the floor of the communications room, but the intruder had obviously prevailed.
Sandie Bremmer — Cameo — had immediately left for London to consult with her boss, Ken Hanson, and had taken with her Tom Archer, the Bowman of Britain, who had his own connections to Scotland Yard. Godiva and Firebrand had also taken off to consult their own sources of information to see if they could come up with anything that might identify who was responsible for Percy’s abduction.
That had left Perry and the two teenagers, David Sheldrake, AKA the Squire, and Rhea Jones, alias Lodestone. Perry had Chivers, the butler, pack the two of them off to bed, despite David’s protests (Percy was, after all, his uncle), as there was little they could do until somebody came up with some information. And besides, David was due back at school the next morning.
Perry, however, had not followed them. On a hunch, he had scanned the communications room for any anomalous energy traces, and had found something that had disturbed him — something very familiar, something he had not encountered since the Crisis.
Which was why he was sitting here, making a lone surveillance of an abandoned supermarket and wondering if his quarry was ever going to come out and confirm his suspicions as to his identity.
He glanced back at his armour once more. Perhaps, he mused, there was a way he could lure his man out into the open. All it would take was a few modifications to Fess’ onboard transmitter.
The costumed man leaned against the wall, trying to be as patient as possible. He didn’t really know what was going on in the room, and it wasn’t really his concern. Having been unable to retrieve his designated target, he had done the next best thing. It did not please his superiors overmuch, but that was not really his problem, either. Interrogation was not his area of expertise, and neither was it to his taste. Leave that, he thought, to those who enjoy it.
A faint noise broke him from his reverie. He straightened, pricking up his ears. There it was again. It seemed to be coming from his helmet, sitting by his side on the floor.
He picked it up and placed it on his head. There was a faint buzzing coming from its circuitry. A glitch in the programming somewhere? He removed it and opened an access panel, examining an LED readout inside. His face creased in a frown. Everything was functioning within operational parameters, but there was definitely interference coming from somewhere and causing feedback within the communications circuits.
Closing the panel, he replaced the helmet on his head and opened the comms. “Hello? Is there anyone there?”
The buzzing continued, but otherwise there was silence. Well, he thought, let’s see where this interference is coming from.
Unclipping a small device from his utility belt, he snapped it into place on the back of his right gauntlet in place of the energy-shield generator that normally sat there. Switching it on, he made some adjustments and studied the ensuing display carefully. Someone was beaming an interference signal into this building from outside. Was it an attempt to scan the building?
He headed for the exit that would take him into the small courtyard that had once served as a staff car park for the supermarket. Once in the open air, he activated the jets in his boots and soared upward, landing in moments on the roof and scanning around. There was no one in sight.
So, whoever was scanning the building was doing it from a distance. He examined the display on his monitor again. The signal was faint, but there was a clear direction. Making a mental note, he took to the air again, landing atop another building some two hundred yards away. Again, he took a direction from the signal monitor. Mentally triangulating the two, he estimated that the source of the interference was somewhere near the river.
This whole area of the docklands, once a thriving district that employed hundreds of workers, was run down, derelict, and scheduled for redevelopment. Soon, the politicos claimed, it would be alive again with shops, homes, and new industries replacing the defunct dock facilities that containerization had forced out of business a decade before. Right now, however, it was a warren of deserted offices and warehouses, not to mention the odd rusting hulk of a barge still bobbing above the water on Father Thames. It was an ideal place for someone up to no good to be hiding.
However, between his high-tech scanner and the fact that the buzzing in his helmet was getting louder as he moved closer to the source, he did not think it would be difficult to track down whoever was responsible for this.
His jets roared into life once more, and he streaked into the air toward the convergence point near the river. Whoever was nosing around where they had no business would soon find out that they had Lionheart to answer to.
Just a score of seconds later saw him over the river and scanning for anything unusual. It did not take him long to find what he was seeking. The hulk of an old coal barge was rusting in the water at a derelict wharf, and standing on the dockside was a man in armour.
He maneuvered himself down to land some twenty yards away from the other man. “I might have known it would be you,” he said.
The Knight sighed. “And I was hoping that it wouldn’t be you in that suit, Richard. However, it seems my fears were justified.”
Lionheart took a step closer. “Well, Perry, you obviously remember my voice. But how did you know where to find me?”
“It wasn’t difficult. The energy sword and shield leave very distinctive traces, which were still detectable in the comms room at the castle long after you left. Once I knew who — or at any rate what — I was looking for, it wasn’t that difficult to track you.” He sighed again. “Why did you do it, Richard? What’s Percy Sheldrake to you?”
Lionheart shrugged. “To me, personally? Nothing. I can’t say the same for you, though, old friend, considering you seem to have taken over his alter ego — albeit with a lot of enhancements. I’ve got to admit that came as a surprise to me, Perry. I really couldn’t have imagined you going in for the super-hero game yourself — and with a kid sidekick, at that! Incredible!”
“The ‘kid sidekick,’ as you call him, happens to be a very competent partner. But don’t change the subject — where’s Percy? What have you done with him?”
A laugh escaped from the other man. “First, tell me why, Perry. Sheldrake, I can understand — he comes across as just an overgrown Boy Scout. But why you?”
“More or less by accident, if you must know. This armour was supposed to be for Percy. Servos in the legs would have enabled him to walk again. However, when that attack came from the Martian/Atlantean alliance, the armour wasn’t quite ready. England needed its heroes, so I stepped in as the Knight — temporarily, or so I thought. (*) Unfortunately, other matters keep cropping up which make it difficult for me to step down. Otherwise, the job is really Percy’s.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Between Sea and Sky, Chapter 2: War of the Worlds 1986.]
Lionheart chuckled. “Well, that’s what you say, anyway. Admit it — it gives you a thrill, doesn’t it? It’s addictive — and I should know!”
“Yes… for you, I believe it is,” said the Knight. “You put in your first appearance at the same time in that outfit, didn’t you — defending the ports on the southern coast and helping to get civilians to safety? Good work, from what I heard.”
“Thank you. You and the kid acquitted yourselves well here in London, too, by all accounts — although there was some media speculation about whether you were the same Knight. If you’d wanted people to think you were Sheldrake, you should have worn that ridiculous false moustache of his.”
“There are limits, Richard,” said the Knight, smiling. He cocked his head to one side. “I never suspected that Lionheart was you, although really, thinking about it, it should have been pretty obvious. You were always rather obsessive about this family legend of yours, that you were descended from the illegitimate son of King Richard I.”
“It’s true, and one day I’ll prove it.”
“I wish you luck. In the meantime, I want Percy Sheldrake, Richard, and if I have to go through you to get him, so be it — old friend or not.”
“If that’s what you’re intending, it’s you who will need the luck. You have no idea what this suit can do!”
“What makes you think that? Don’t forget that I designed much of its capabilities, including the technology behind the energy sword and shield and the jet boots. I wasn’t very happy when you walked off with them, Richard.”
Again Lionheart shrugged his broad shoulders. “At the time, as I recall, none of it actually worked. And after our business was destroyed in the Crisis, it was only fair that I take my share of it — half of it was mine, after all.”
“Half of the money was yours, Richard. The technology was my father’s legacy to me. But I don’t really care about that anymore. You can keep the equipment, since you managed to get it to work, somehow. Just give up Percy, and I’ll leave you in peace.”
Lionheart ignored the last. “There’s far more stuff gone into this suit than just what I salvaged from our electronics business, Perry. The best of British technological expertise went into knocking it into useable shape. And since then, it’s been enhanced with other equipment salvaged from the Atlantean attack on Southampton. It’s more than a match for anything you might have built into that armour of yours.”
“Well,” said the Knight, “it seems we’re going to have to put that to the test. I don’t really want to fight you, but the Richard Plante I knew was a good man and a war hero. Whatever has compelled you to sink to kidnapping, I have no intention of letting it continue, battle-suit or no battle-suit.”
He held out his hand, and his sword appeared in it. Lionheart whistled in appreciation. “Impressive!”
“Save it, Richard,” said the Knight, adopting a fighting stance. “Prepare to defend yourself!”
With a roar of jets, Lionheart took to the air as the Knight charged toward him. “Are you barmy, Perry? I don’t want to bloody well fight you!”
“It’s a little late for that!” said the Knight. “If fighting you is what it takes to free Percy, then so be it!”
Lionheart sighed. “Fine. Brandish your sword all you want, but you can’t do much if you’re down there and I’m up here.”
The Knight made no reply, but put away his sword and drew his mace. “Like that makes any difference?” said Lionheart. “Look, Perry, even if I came down there and fight, you’re no match for me. This suit does more than just fly — it enhances my strength and has a built-in energy-shield — the one you did the initial work on, remember? And I won’t even mention the energy sword and the blasters!”
Again, the Knight offered no response. He pointed the mace toward the hovering Lionheart and, to the latter’s surprise, the head flew from it, trailing a light but strong cable. Before the startled ex-SAS commando could react, the cable had wrapped around his legs. “What the hell–?”
The Knight thumbed a stud on the shaft of his weapon, and the cable started to retract, lifting him off his feet. Lionheart’s jets screamed in protest as they tried to compensate for the added weight of an armoured man. “You cretin!” he screamed. “Are you trying to kill us both?”
Off-balance, the jets propelled the rapidly descending Lionheart, and the equally rapidly ascending Knight, toward the river. Desperately, Lionheart tried to activate his force-field to force the strands of cable apart, but his suit’s automatic systems were diverting power to the struggling jets. He tried to reach down to disentangle himself by hand, but this only threw him even more off-balance, and suddenly the jets were actually driving him down instead of up. And meanwhile, the Knight was almost within reach of him.
Then, suddenly his battle-suit’s overloaded jets spluttered and died. Both men plunged into the river.