by Brian K. Asbury
“We were just unlucky, I guess, to run into a bunch of soldiers while we were looking for you, Jeff,” explained Bonnie Baxter, who had now changed into a fresh green Time Masters uniform. “We needed to get help from somewhere, of course, to raise the Time Sphere back up from the bottom of that lake, but what we had in mind was an obliging farmer with a team of horses, not a troop of Puritan thugs who were so scandalized by the fact I was wearing pants instead of a skirt that they wouldn’t listen to a word we tried to say to them.
“It didn’t help, either,” she added with a sigh, “that Steve picked a fight with their officer. After that, there was only one inevitable outcome.”
Jeff Smith grimaced. “That goddamn maniac! First he gets in a sword fight with Sir Walter Raleigh, then this! Gee, that clown’s got all the survival instinct of a depressed lemming!”
“He was trying to ‘defend my honor,’ Jeff,” Bonnie said.
“Yeah, yeah. We know what that means, don’t we? He’s had the hots for you since he first saw you back in B.B. Koenig’s office in Hollywood!”
A cough interrupted them. “I’m sure you can sort that out later, friends,” said Cameo. “But right now, we need to figure out a way to find your friends. That has to take priority here.”
“Of course,” said Bonnie. “Damn, if only they had their belt radios!”
“If our belt radios hadn’t shorted out after we had to swim for it, we wouldn’t have gotten separated in the first place,” said Jeff. “Our translator disks are based on more advanced technology, of course, but the radios are just good ol’ 1964 transistorized models. Remind me when we get back to talk to Rip about finding some way to waterproof them.”
“Tell me about it,” said Lionheart. They all turned to look at him. “First time this suit got wet, it shorted out, too. Bloody boffins. They never think of these things!”
“Yeah, well… none of this is helping us,” said Cameo. “Look, you’ve got all sorts of scanning equipment on board. Isn’t there something that might pick out your friends from all the others on the battlefield?”
Jeff shook his head. “We’ve a pretty sophisticated infrared scanner that can pick up a human being from animals at a distance, but human beings in this period are the same as ones in ours. There’s no difference.”
“Er… there is one minor difference,” said Lodestone.
“Yeah. Men tend to be shorter in this era,” said Jeff. “But unfortunately we can’t scan for height.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” said Lodestone.
“What did you mean, Rhea?” asked the Bowman.
“Magnetic fields,” she replied. “I can see ’em, y’know? And people here have ones that are a bit stronger than people from our time.”
“That’s crazy,” Firebrand said. “Why should that be?”
“No… no, it makes sense,” said Cameo, suddenly excited. “I think Lodestone’s on to something here.”
“What do you mean?” asked Bonnie.
“The Earth’s magnetic field fluctuates over time. In our time it’s getting weaker. Here, three-hundred years in the past, it’s stronger. Therefore, it makes sense that our personal magnetic fields, having developed in a weaker planetary field, are also a bit weaker than those of people native to our time.”
“So if we can pick out people on the battlefield with weaker magnetic fields,” said the Bowman, “they’ll be Rip Hunter and the others.”
They turned to Rhea Jones once again. “So if we fly over the battle,” said Bonnie, “will you be able to pick out Rip, Corky, and Steve?”
Rhea shook her head. “I doubt it,” she said. “I’d have to get pretty close to do that. The difference is only slight, y’know. It was just an idea…”
“Well, it still might be worth something,” said Jeff. “We do have scanners that can measure magnetic flux — but they weren’t designed for something like this. Even turned up full, I doubt they’d have the sensitivity to do the job.”
“Maybe I could modify them,” suggested Cameo. “Especially if I can link them in to the more advanced circuitry in Lionheart’s battle-suit.”
Lionheart stepped back. “You are not messing with my suit!” Richard Plante declared.
“Do you want to get out of here or not?”
He became aware that everyone was watching him intently.
“Put it this way, Plante,” said Firebrand in a sweet-sounding voice with undertones of menace, “if the circuitry in your suit represents the only way we can get home, we’re going to use it whether you like it or not.” She raised one hand, and flames crackled around it.
“Are you threatening me?”
She raised one eyebrow.
Lionheart snorted. “Oh, very well!” he harrumphed. “But you put it back the way it was afterwards, OK?”
“I’ll be as careful as I can,” said Cameo.
“Wait a sec,” the Bowman said. “I hate to rain on everybody’s parade, here, but that battle is going to start in less than an hour from now. How long is this likely to take?”
“Ah. That could be a problem. I don’t know. A while, probably.”
Jeff and Bonnie grinned at each other. “It’s not a problem at all,” Jeff said. “This is a time machine, remember? Take all day if you need it — I’ll move the Time Sphere back a few years, and we’ll pass the time back then. When we’ve finished, we’ll just shift back here, and only a few seconds will have passed in this time.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” said Cameo. “Let’s do it!”
Hundreds of horsemen, their breastplates gleaming in the early morning sunshine, thundered towards a small hedged enclosure on the right wing of the assembled Royalist armies. Oliver Cromwell’s bold move was calculated to use John Okey’s formidable dragoons to punch a hole through the King’s infantry and drive through to harry the enemy from the rear.
However, Cromwell had reckoned without the equally bold Prince Rupert, who staged his own cavalry charge to come to the rescue of his infantrymen and drive Okey’s dragoons back. Little did any of the combatants know that, hovering above the battlefield, concealed by a self-generated cloud, was a metal sphere that was a product of a time over three-hundred years in the future. And in its cramped confines, a number of figures studied a bank of monitors calibrated to show up the magnetic fields of the men battling for their lives below.
“I think we’re scanning the wrong part of the battlefield, Jeff,” Bonnie said. “I don’t see anything but a whole sea of red. If Rip, Corky, or Steve were down there, they’d show up blue.”
“If this is even working!” grumped Lionheart, whose battle-suit was now incorporated into the Time Sphere’s circuitry.
“It should be working,” Cameo said. “We did calibrate it by flying over that village back in 1643, remember?”
“Then where are they? Damn it, we’ve been shuttling back and forth for over two hours now. The battle’s well underway, for God’s sake, and still no sign of them!”
“Those are big armies down there, and we can only scan a small area at a time,” Jeff said. “Look, pal, I’m as anxious as you about this — even more so, because Rip and Corky are my friends — but we simply can’t do it any quicker.”
“Can I just suggest something?” said the Bowman. “Ignore the cavalry. If Rip and Steve really have been press-ganged into the army, surely it would be the infantry.”
“Well, Rip is a pretty good horseman, and Steve’s appeared in lots of westerns…”
“Yes, but probably with stunt doubles to do his riding for him,” said Bonnie. “And also, if they’re reluctant draftees, they’d hardly be likely to be given horses, would they? He’s right, Jeff. Swing the scanner way over here, to the Roundhead infantry.”
There was an agonizing silence for several moments, and then they saw it. “Look!” said Firebrand. “That’s a splash of blue, isn’t it?”
“It might be.” Jeff zoomed in. “Yeah… yeah! Two splashes of blue! Son of a gun, Rip, you’ve managed to keep that lunkhead Steve Cleaves close to you!”
“Maybe,” said Bonnie. “But in that case, where’s Corky? Or maybe one of those traces is Corky, in which case, is the other one Rip or Steve?”
“We’ll worry about that in a sec,” said the Bowman. “Ready, Jeff?”
Jeff closed a switch. “Opening the door now, Bowman. You sure you’re OK with this?”
“Absolutely.” He stepped onto the bottom rung of a rope ladder starting to extend from the bottom of the door well. “Lower away.”
The ladder slowly winched out, carrying the blue-clad Bowman of Britain through the concealing vapor cloud. As he emerged beneath it, he tugged on a cord to halt his descent and unslung his bow. Selecting two special arrows, he let fly with them. As they struck the ground among the combatants, smoke began to issue from them.
He smiled as the ladder began to descend again. With all the other smoke on the battlefield, no one would attribute anything unusual to a little more to cover his arrival. And, using the modified scanners, the others would be able to place him right above Rip Hunter and Steve Cleaves.
He could now see vague shapes moving in the smoke. “Rip Hunter!” he cried out. “Rip Hunter! Can you hear me?”
A second or two passed before an American-accented voice answered. “Yeah? This is Rip Hunter! Who’s that?”
The Bowman dropped from the ladder and headed towards the voice. Several men were milling about, indistinct in the smoke, but two stood out as being taller than the rest. One, however, seemed to be supporting the other. “I’m a friend! Jeff sent me!” he called out as he approached them. They suddenly hove into view, and Tom Archer could see that one was, indeed, holding the other up.
“Whoever you are, give me a hand,” said the American. “Steve took a musket ball on the helmet. I don’t think he’s hurt, but he’s only half-conscious.”
“OK.” The Bowman grabbed Steve’s free arm. “This way — although I dunno how we’re going to get him on that ladder like this.” Rip nodded and allowed the masked man to lead the way.
However, just as they reached the ladder, there was a surge of bodies towards them. “Back!” someone yelled. “Back! ‘Tis Prince Rupert’s cavalry! They’ll trample us all!”
Before the Bowman could react, a crowd of men slammed into the three of them and knocked them apart. He went sprawling, losing sight of Rip and Steve in the smoke, and as he struggled to try to regain his feet, he heard the ominous sound of many hoofbeats thundering towards him.
This is it! thought Tom. This is finally the end! There was no way he could possibly get out of the way in time, nor any way he could expect help from his fellow heroes in the Time Sphere hovering above. It was unlikely that they were even aware of his peril.
He steeled himself as the thundering hoofs of the Royalist cavalry became so loud that they blotted everything else out. And now he could see them even through the smoke, practically on top of him.
And suddenly there was silence.
“What the hell?” he said aloud. He looked up. One of the horses — a massive stallion — was literally above him, poised to slam its front hooves down on him.
Except that it was frozen in place, like a scene from a paused video.
His head reeling, he scrambled to his feet. “Rip? Rip Hunter?” There was no reply, and the reason why became evident as he found Hunter and his movie-star companion just a few feet away, frozen as still as the charging horses. “What the hell?” he repeated. This didn’t make sense. It was as if time had suddenly stopped.
“I do not know thee, yet thou bearest the mystic Thunderbow — a weapon which, when last I laid my eyes on it, was safe in my sanctum between this world and the next. Explain thyself, mortal!”
Tom started at the voice. He whirled around. “Herne?”
The hooded figure in green robes who stood before him did not move. “Thou clearly knowest me, then? How is this, when thou art a stranger to me?”
Tom’s gulped. It was really him. Herne the Hunter, the legendary wizard, or maybe demigod — he wasn’t sure which — who had healed him from his near-fatal injuries months before and presented him with the enchanted Thunderbow, an ancient weapon that was capable of generating magical arrows of the imagination as well as firing the trick arrows that he had crafted in honor of his hero, the American crime-fighter Green Arrow. But of course! he thought. Herne is immortal, or at least claims to be. He would naturally exist in this time as well as in the twentieth century.
He pushed back his hood and removed his mask. “My name is Thomas Rhys Archer,” he said. “I’m also known as the Bowman of Britain. I’m from the future, and I carry this bow because you gave it to me — will give it to me, that is — over three-hundred years from now.”
Herne’s face was invisible beneath the hood, but Tom could sense that he was frowning. The mystic figure raised his right hand and pointed towards Tom a brown palm that seemed to have an almost woody texture. There was silence for a moment.
“A strange tale, my son, yet I sense that thou speakest truly. Thou art indeed one who belongest not in this time and place. How camest thou to this predicament?”
“It’s a long story,” said Tom, “but suffice it to say, I think that it was an accident. My companions and I were helping to protect England from invaders. It was necessary to employ somewhat drastic measures to repel them, and the backlash flung five of us back in time to here.”
“I see,” said Herne thoughtfully. “And yet it was not thy peril that drew me here, but that of the Thunderbow. Fortunate for thee that I chose to intervene to prevent it from being trampled into the dust by these mortal warriors.” He paused. “But thy presence here is contrary to the natural order of things. Thou and thy companions must immediately depart back whence you came — or suffer the consequences!”