by Brian K. Asbury
Percy Sheldrake, Earl of Wordenshire, sat in his wheelchair and watched the squirrels frolicking among the tree branches that were slowly becoming denuded of leaves. It was a fine day, and he liked to sit here in quiet contemplation when the weather was dry, breathing in the fresh morning air of the castle grounds. Behind him, in the castle itself, he knew that his protégé Perry Redhawk was working on yet another of his machines, another amalgam of Earth and alien technology that he hoped would be able to track what had happened to their comrades.
But they had disappeared in the summer, and now it was the middle of autumn, and they still had no idea what had become of Cameo, Firebrand, the Bowman of Britain, Lodestone, and Lionheart. The question was occupying Perry’s every waking thought, it seemed. And even Godiva rarely visited now, engaged in her own search with the help of her Global Guardians colleagues. If there still existed a Paladins team, it was very much an inactive one.
It was all his fault, he mused. He had brought the team together, housed it, financed it, encouraged its members to work together. Certainly, Rod Reilly put the blame squarely on him, and so did Edward Stacker. Perhaps it would have been for the best if he had stayed retired. Perhaps…
A sudden humming noise made him look up. Barely twenty yards away, on the castle lawns, something was materializing. “My God!” he said. Are we under attack? he thought, then thumbed a switch on the arm of his chair. “Perry! Come out here quickly, and bring David with you!”
The object was now completely solid — a metal sphere on tripod legs. There was what appeared to be a round hatch on its side and at least two round windows. “Remarkable!” he breathed.
Perry Redhawk and Percy’s teenage nephew David Sheldrake were now running towards him from the Keep. They had had no time to costume themselves as the Knight and the Squire, but both bore weapons. “Percy!” cried Perry as he reached the wheelchair-bound man. “What is that thing?”
“I don’t know. Shall we investigate?”
Perry and David both nodded assent, and the three proceeded cautiously towards the object. Then, quite suddenly, the hatch opened, and a short ladder unfolded. A familiar figure emerged. “My God! Sandie! It’s Sandie!” exclaimed Perry.
Indeed, the new arrival was a black woman clad in a black and white costume. Sandie Bremmer gestured towards them. “Perry! Percy! Thank God you’re here. Quickly — we need help. It’s Rhea!”
They quickened their pace, hurrying to the sphere as a number of other figures emerged — most of them familiar, but also a tall blond man in a green and red jumpsuit they didn’t recognize.
“What happened?” said David. “Where have you all been all this time? We were so worried…”
“No time. We can explain later,” said the Bowman of Britain. He was carrying the limp figure of Rhea Jones in his arms. Her costume looked strangely baggy on her. “We have to get Rhea to a hospital. It’s her baby!”
“Her baby?” said Percy. “She’s lost her baby?”
“No… not lost…” Cameo said. She seemed to have difficulty in finding the words.
“She hasn’t lost her baby,” Firebrand finished for her. Her own voice was shaky, however. “It’s just… gone. One second she was pregnant, the next she wasn’t. It’s as if the baby has simply disappeared from her womb!”
To Be Continued