by Brian K. Asbury
“So,” said the Bowman of Britain to Sir Douglas Fitzwarren, “after I got the tipoff about these two being after the Ashes, I hurried straight over here. I’m sorry I was too late to stop them entirely, but at least they didn’t get what they came for.”
“And at least one of them is in custody,” said Firebrand brightly.
“Yes, but suppose that other fellow comes back?” said Sir Douglas, who looked as if the bottom had fallen out of his world. “And look at the mess! We’ve a test match here next week!”
“Just no pleasing some people, is there?” muttered Rod Reilly from behind Firebrand’s back.”
“Granddad, shush!” hissed Firebrand.
“Any idea who those characters really are?” asked the investigating inspector, who had pulled Mister Fyre’s mask away and was staring at his face in puzzlement. “I don’t recognize this one.”
“My informant only told me that they were after the Ashes, and they had super-powers,” said the Bowman. “I’ve no idea what the source of those powers are. But I agree — I’ve never heard of anyone using these names or powers before. They’re obviously either new to this game or have always operated covertly before. Probably the former, I’d think.”
“Well, everybody’s got to start somewhere,” said Firebrand. “Can’t always expect to fight villains you know from somewhere else!”
The inspector glared at her for a moment, and said, “You’ve no idea where this Floode chap went, then? You didn’t try to follow him?”
“Down a toilet?” Firebrand said.
“Even if we could have followed him,” said the Bowman, “the sewers under here are an incredibly complex labyrinth. He could have gone anywhere.”
“I see,” said the inspector. “Well, we’ll take over here. Thank you for your assistance.”
“You might want to get in touch with Detective Chief Superintendent Hanson at Scotland Yard,” said the Bowman. “If Fyre’s powers are innate, he’ll be trying to use them to escape as soon as he wakes up. Hanson’s CINEMA squad has special restraints which will neutralize his powers.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” said the inspector, rather stiffly. “Now, if you all wouldn’t mind clearing the room, I’d like to have my forensic people go over the crime scene before it gets even more contaminated than it already is.”
“But what if that maniac comes back for the Ashes?” squealed Sir Douglas.
“I hardly think that’s likely, sir,” said the inspector. “But I’ll station some men here to guard the place until you can reestablish your security.” With that, he hustled everyone out of the room, except for Firebrand and the Bowman, who headed towards the window. “Just a mo — where do you think you’re…?”
There was a blinding flash, and they were gone.
Seconds later, they reappeared on the roof of a nearby high rise block of flats. “Hellfire!” exclaimed the Bowman. “Do you have any idea how disorientating that is?”
Firebrand grinned. “As just about everybody I transport complains about it, you could say so.” She stepped away from him and looked down at the cricket ground a street away. “I thought it would be an idea to get us out of there.”
“Not that good an idea. They needed us to make statements back there, you know.”
“Oh, fiddlesticks. Everybody in the room saw those two clowns try to steal the Ashes. Getting statements from us as well would just be overkill. And anyway, that pompous plod made it plain he didn’t like us. He was probably relieved that we left.”
The Bowman stood watching her for a moment. “That isn’t all, is it?”
She turned back to face him. “Let’s just say I prefer to keep a fairly low profile at the moment. I’d rather not hang around discussing the time of day with the boys in blue. You never know who else might turn up.”
“Like your old friend Edward Stacker?”
She nodded. “I’ve been pretty much staying out of sight for the last few months, on the advice of your boss Lord Percy. He felt that if I kept my head down, Stacker would lose interest in me eventually. He’s got other projects on the boil, it seems, without chasing down his failures.”
The Bowman nodded. “You heard that he tried to ‘retrieve’ you?”
“When we were in Vlatava? Yes, I heard he tried to sic Lionheart on me, and when I wasn’t there he abducted Percy instead. I have apologized to Percy for that. I didn’t intend for my feud with my old boss to drag anyone else in.”
“It wasn’t your fault. But Stacker seems to have gone quiet since then. We haven’t heard anything of him, or Lionheart, for months.”
“So.” They stood on the rooftop, staring at one another, for long moments.
“So do you need a lift anywhere?” Firebrand said at length. “Or shall we just stay up here till the test match starts next week? You’ve got to admit — it’s a lovely view over London!”
Sandie Bremmer glanced across at the silent girl in the left-hand seat. Normally if she had given Rhea Jones a lift, she would have expected the usually bubbly American girl to be letting loose with a constant stream of chatter. Today, however, Rhea had said barely two words since she had got in the car. True, Sandie herself wasn’t feeling much in the mood for talking, given the task ahead of her in breaking the news to the team about Count Vertigo, but she would have appreciated the distraction.
“We’re here,” she announced, turning the car into the long driveway that wound through the castle grounds.
“Mmmph,” mumbled Rhea in lieu of acknowledgment. Great mood, thought Sandie. And you’re going to be even more cheerful when you hear that the guy who kidnapped you and made you fight for him is getting off scot free.
Sandie pulled the car up in front of the enormous Victorian stately home that bore the name of Wordenshire Castle, noting that Godiva’s car was also in the drive, and so was Tom Archer’s. Good. With any luck, everyone was here. At least that would mean she only had to give them the bad news once.
Exiting the car, Sandie made her way through the front door and across the entrance hall, Rhea following sullenly behind. What in the world is the matter with that girl? she pondered. Hearing voices coming from the drawing room, she made her way there, to see, indeed, the entire team assembled. The red-haired Firebrand was also there, much to her surprise. Has she decided to join the team at last, she wondered?
Dorcas Leigh, alias Godiva, was talking at the present time. “And so, I’m delighted to announce I got the job. The definitive history of the great Crisis, from the super-heroes’ perspective — author, yours truly.”
“Congratulations, Cas!” said Perry Redhawk, the Knight, coming forward to pump her hand. The others echoed the sentiment.
“Of course, this means I’m going to have to do some globetrotting to interview as many heroes as possible who participated in the Crisis. And… uh… I’d really like to include you, too, Percy — if it’s not too painful for you.”
All eyes moved to Percy Sheldrake, the original Knight, whose son Cyril had died at the hands of the Anti-Monitor’s shadow demons. “It’s all right,” he said at length. “A lot of good people gave their lives in the Crisis. It’s time their sacrifice was recognized.”
“I’ve an announcement to make, too,” said Perry. “I’m going to make the shuttle we acquired from the Dominators officially available for team use, so I’ll be giving you all some training in how to fly her.”
“Given up trying to get it to go faster than light, then?” asked Tom Archer, the Bowman of Britain.
“Let’s just say that events have transpired which have taught me that I should have other priorities. The Knight and the Squire are going to be patrolling much more than we have done recently, and as a team we need to be more mobile, to be able to respond to emergencies everywhere, not just here in the London area.”
“Including the Midlands…” muttered Dorcas.
“Sorry, what was that?”
“Nothing,” she said. “I’ll explain later.”
“And talking of announcements,” cut in Firebrand, “I’ve decided to stick around here for a while. I had a long talk with Percy and Tom about it before the rest of you got here. I don’t want to go on hiding from Stacker for the rest of my life, and if I’m with a team, he might feel less inclined to try and take me back again.”
“That’s great. Welcome to the team, Becca,” said Dorcas.
“It’s only a trial basis, though,” Firebrand added. “I’ve never been that much of a joiner. I might not really fit in with a team.”
“Oh, I’m sure you will,” said Sandie, entering the room at last.
“Sandie! Rhea!” said Percy, wheeling his chair towards them. “We didn’t realize you were back. Did you hear–?”
“Yes, we heard,” said Sandie. “And while we’re all making announcements, I have one of my own. It’s not something you’re going to like, though. Earlier today…”
“I have something I wanna say, too!” interrupted Rhea.
“Rhea, if you’ll just–”
“No! Sorry, Sandie, but I gotta say it now, while I can. If I wait for you, my, y’know, nerve might go. I gotta say this now!”
“OK…” Sandie stood back. Everyone was staring at Rhea in amazement. They had never seen her like this before. And, thought Sandie, whatever Rhea is going to say, the thought of saying it has her terrified. Her hands are trembling, and she’s sweating like it’s a hundred degrees in here, even though it’s quite cool.
“I’m pregnant!” Rhea suddenly blurted.
“Whaaat?” The room suddenly burst into uproar, with everyone talking at once.
“I’m pregnant!” she repeated, much louder. “And the father…”
There was sudden silence. “The father, Rhea?” said Dorcas. “Who is it?”
Rhea stared at her, ashen-faced. “Well, that’s just the problem, Cas. One helluva big problem. The father of my baby isn’t human!”