by Brian K. Asbury
Doctor Mist turned away from the computer screen to face the tall, curvaceous woman behind him. Her incredibly long golden hair seemed to be waving gently in the wind, although, of course, there was no wind here in the Dome.
“Well, that’s your personal data file updated,” he said. “Thank you, Godiva, for coming along here to help. I know you’re busy these days with your new Paladins team in Britain.”
Godiva grinned. “It’s not ‘my’ team, Doctor Mist — I’m just one of the players. If the team is anybody’s, it belongs to the original Knight, whom we now call the Rook. He coordinates our efforts, and it’s his home we use as a base.”
“And yet he cannot now take any direct part in your activities as a team,” said the bearded leader of the Global Guardians. “How tragic. I wish I could help him in some way — he had a part to play in the founding of this organization.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: The Global Guardians: Times Past, 1982: Heroes of the World, Unite!]
“I know. Nowadays, though, he says he prefers to take a back seat and let his protégé, the new Knight, carry on the tradition he established. He doesn’t have to: the new armor that his successor wears was really designed for him. It contains power-assisted servos which would enable him to walk or even run in it if he wanted, even with his spinal injuries.”
“To be honest,” said Godiva, “I think he lost the will for being a super-hero when his son, the original Squire, died. (*) He still sees a need for heroes, but I think he feels that if he were to take up arms himself again, he’d be constantly reminded of his loss.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Paladins: A Knight’s Tale, Chapter 3: A Time of Crisis.]
“As I said, a tragedy,” Doctor Mist said sadly. “The world needs men like him. Still, you have some good people on your team. The new Knight and Squire are worthy successors to the originals, and you also have the Bowman of Britain — a man I have met on several occasions and found most agreeable. Then there’s this new girl Cameo, and that American youngster, Lodestone…”
“Good people — very true,” agreed Godiva. She looked around at the control room that was the heart of the Global Guardians’ headquarters. “It’s marvelous that you’ve finally managed to get this place up and running to full capability, though. And we’ve got teleporters, too. That’s something the Paladins don’t have!”
“Courtesy of the Justice League,” said Doctor Mist with a smile. “After the Dome was damaged so heavily during the invasion by the Alien Alliance, it has been difficulty getting everything back together, considering how disparate our membership is. Funding has also not been easy to obtain, either. But we have had help from some unexpected sources, Godiva.”
He smiled again. “I cannot say more for now — but I hope to announce soon that the Global Guardians is not only once again an effective force against evil, but that we have a number of exciting new recruits to the team and a much-expanded organization.”
“I’m pleased to hear it,” said Godiva. “Perhaps you can tell me all about it next time I come along. However, right now I’ve got to dash.”
Doctor Mist raised an eyebrow. “Anything the Guardians can help with?”
“Not exactly — an appointment with my publishing agent this afternoon in London. I’ve got to get on the shuttle at De Gaulle at half-twelve if I’m to make it back on time.”
Doctor Mist laughed. “Unnecessary, my dear. We can send you through to the Justice League’s London teleport tube in the blink of an eye.”
She stared at him for a moment, then struck her forehead with the heel of her hand. “Am I stupid, or is it this hot Paris weather addling my brain? I was just admiring the bloody teleporter a minute ago!”
“We all have lapses, my dear,” said Doctor Mist. “I have still a lot of work to do here on the database,” he added, remaining in his seat, “but Tuatara and Bushmaster helped to set up the teleporter. I’m sure they’ll give you a hand with setting the coordinates.”
“Thanks.” Godiva looked at the wall clock. “Actually, I think I’ll get going right now. It’ll give me time to get showered and make myself properly presentable before my appointment.”
“An important engagement, then?”
“I’ll say. I thought my secret identity being blown open would scupper my writing career, but in fact it’s had the opposite effect. This is a biggie, though — a major publisher wants me to write a book about the Crisis and how it affected the super-hero community. They figure, as one of them, I’ll be able to get closer to the main heroes who were involved in it and get some really topnotch interviews.”
“It sounds a huge project. I, and the rest of the Guardians, will be happy to contribute if you so wish.”
“Thanks,” said Godiva. She kissed him on the cheek and walked into the ready room, where the New Zealander Tuatara and Venezuelan Bushmaster were engaged in a game of chess. A quick word resulted in Tuatara offering to assist.
As he got up from his seat, he said jokingly to Bushmaster, “And no moving the pieces around while I’m out of the room, ‘kay?”
“As if I would do such a thing, my friend,” Bushmaster said, holding up his hands in a gesture of innocence.
“Yeah, well, don’t forget you can’t fool the eye, mate,” said the trinocular New Zealander.
“I wouldn’t try,” said the grinning Bushmaster. “Just so long, of course, that you do not use the eye to see into the future and predict my moves…”
Godiva listened to the banter with amusement, knowing that, for all their pretend squabbling, the two men were fast friends. Tuatara nodded and beckoned her to follow to the teleport room. As she did, however, a third man entered from the outside and crossed over towards them.
“Godiva! I was hopin’ to catch ye before y’ left,” he said, with a soft Irish brogue.
She turned to him. “What can I do for you, Jack?”
“Just thought I’d give ye a bit o’ advance warnin’,” said Jack O’Lantern. “I’m likely t’ be in y’r neck o’ the woods in the near future. You’ve heard o’ these murders in the Midlands?”
“Any specific murders, Jack?”
Jack O’Lantern shook his hooded head. “Typical o’ the English. Y’r only interested if it’s yer own!”
“There’s no need to take that attitude, Jack,” said Godiva, annoyed. “Just explain what the problem is.”
Jack cleared his throat. “Six Irishmen have been murdered in the last three months in Birmingham and the surrounding district. Good God, girl, don’t ye read the papers?”
“Certainly I do, Jack. I’ve read about the killings, of course, but I don’t interfere with police business unnecessarily. Besides, I’m London-based, and I’ve no reason to get involved in a case in the Midlands — not unless there was something about it that called for super-hero involvement.”
“Well, I’ve every reason to believe that there is, girl. So, if ye won’t investigate, I’ll have t’ do it myself. D’ ye get my drift?”
“I do, Jack. When I get back home, I’ll look into it, all right?”
“You see that ye do, girl.” He turned away. Godiva moved to follow Tuatara to the teleporter. She would contact Ken Hanson when she got back to London and see whether there was anything about these murders that did justify her — and perhaps the other Paladins — getting involved. But there was something in Jack’s body language as he departed that made her wonder if he just might involve himself in the affair anyway, whatever she did.
As he struggled for breath, the Bowman reached back to his quiver. If only he could grab his electric-shock arrow and set it off, perhaps the current would stun Mister Floode back to his human form; true, he would also stun himself, but it might give others a chance to deal with the villain.
The effort proved unnecessary. There was a loud report, and suddenly he found himself flying across the room, the watery form of Mister Floode whipping from him. Fortunately there was enough soft furniture in the room to cushion the impact as he landed. Picking himself up as hurriedly as he could, he whirled about, still clutching the shock arrow. Even without his bow, he could still hurl it by hand if necessary.
To his surprise, he saw a curvaceous figure in a red, black, and white jumpsuit perched in the window. “Firebrand!”
The red-haired heroine grinned at him. “You OK, Bowman?” He gave her a thumbs-up. As he did, Mister Floode re-formed, and a wave of water shot towards Firebrand. She gave a sweeping gesture with her right hand, and the wave was met by another wave, this time of pure force. Mister Floode broke up into a million droplets and scattered all over the room.
Firebrand dropped all the way into the room. “Give it up, loser!” she said. “If turning into water is the best trick you have, you’re on a hiding to nothing.”
“You’re not going anywhere, either,” said the Bowman, spotting Floode’s partner Mister Fyre crawling out from the mass of foam towards the exit. He tossed his arrow, which impacted accurately between Fyre’s shoulder blades. The red-clad crook convulsed once, then went down splat into the foam again.
“Nice work,” said Firebrand. “But where’s his wet friend?”
“That’s puzzling,” the Bowman said, crossing the room and picking up his fallen bow. “He doesn’t seem to have re-formed this time.”
“Perhaps this might change his mind.” Spectral flames danced around Firebrand’s hands, and heat radiated from them, melting away the remains of the Bowman’s fire-prevention foam. “OK, Mister Wet, or whatever you call yourself — show yourself, or I’ll evaporate you!”
There was no answer.
The Bowman bent to examine the carpet. He looked up to see that a couple of the braver officials were peering around the door to see what was happening. “You!” he said. “What’s under this carpet? Is this a wooden floor, or concrete, or what?”
“Wood,” said the suit. “Why?”
The Bowman ignored the question and turned to Firebrand. “I think he’s run out on us,” he said. “He’s soaked himself right through this carpet and down through the cracks between the floorboards.”
There was a sudden crash from below them. “Falling plaster!” said the Bowman. “He’s just burst through the ceiling into the room below us.”
“In that case…” Firebrand grabbed his arm. They vanished in a explosive fireball, which flared through the open window and down through another window into the room below, where it re-formed into the two heroes.
“Gahhh!” exclaimed the Bowman. “Must you do that without warning?”
“There was no time,” she said. “Damn it, where is he?” She crossed to a pile of broken plaster in the middle of the room. “D’you think that was just a bluff?”
“No,” said the Bowman, indicating a rapidly dwindling wet patch near a side door. “There he is!”
Firebrand shrieked in anger. Flames crackled around her once more, and a bolt of electricity shot from her outstretched fingers, blasting a hole at the base of the door. They ran towards it.
“I don’t think you got him,” said the Bowman, easing what was left of the door open.
“So where is he? What’s under this floor?” She raised her black-gloved hand. “Might be quicker to just blast our way through!”
The Bowman grabbed her wrist. “I hardly think so,” he said. “I don’t think there’s another floor under this one. And you didn’t notice what was on this door, did you?”
He pointed to a small aluminum plaque with a silhouette of a standing man on it. “A toilet? He fled into a toilet?”
The Bowman went into the small room, holding the door for Firebrand to follow. “Er…?” she said.
“I think you’re allowed in here under the circumstances,” said the Bowman with a smile. He entered all the way and looked around. There was the usual array of urinals and washbasins, a hand drier, a couple of cubicles…
Suddenly, the sound of flushing came from behind one of the cubicle doors. The Bowman tried it and, finding it was locked, shouldered it down. Firebrand peered in around him. “I don’t believe this! He flushed himself?”