The Paladins: Albion’s Call, Book 1, Chapter 4: Strange Days

by Brian K. Asbury

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“Don’t say anything. I know,” said Godiva as Ken Hanson walked into the room. “I made a right mess of this, didn’t I?”

“I didn’t say anything,” Hanson replied smoothly. “I’m sure you did the best you could. Are you all right? I heard you were hurt.”

“Nothing worse than a few bruises,” she said. “Unlike those poor men they carted out of here in a body bag just now. Damn! How did I screw up so badly? I should have clobbered Palmer straight away instead of concentrating on Dr. Swann. I just didn’t expect him to be so bloody powerful. You said he was just a small-time protection racketeer.”

Hanson shrugged. “He was. But he’s hardly the first petty criminal to progress to using high-tech weaponry and a costumed alias.”

“Maybe. But would somebody please explain where somebody like Billy the Bard got stuff like that from?”

“Possibly,” said the pretty young black woman kneeling by the remnants of the shattered lecture hall desk. She straightened up and approached the blonde super-heroine, now clad in her familiar blue-and-white costume, and the senior detective from Scotland Yard. “According to the JLA scanner,” she said, “the slings and arrows bomb was of Citadel manufacture. Also, although I can’t get the device that apparently opened a space warp up for the intruders to work, the scanner says it’s of Thanagarian origin.”

“More alien stuff,” muttered Godiva. “It’s beginning to look like our boy Billy found a load of ordnance left behind after the invasion. What about Swann? Was he an alien, like Raven Black?”

Sandie Bremmer nodded. “I only got a brief chance to look him over before the local police took him away, but I’d say so.” She turned to Hanson. “Sir, on my way over here, I took the liberty of getting our computer people to run a cross-check on an idea I had.”

“Oh?” said Hanson.

“It struck me as a bit of an odd coincidence that both victims here had bird names — first Raven, now Robin Swann. And also, I’ve now got the full autopsy and DNA analysis done from the first victim.” She fished some papers out from her coat pocket. “The results confirm that Black was not an exact match genetically for any known alien type, but in fact his DNA was about ninety-seven percent compatible with the Thanagarian type.”

“He was Thanagarian, then? The same race as Hawkman?” said Godiva.

“No. But certainly related. So anyway, I asked for a check to be made on anyone with bird names who had died recently under mysterious circumstances worldwide. Interpol came up with three: a Canadian named Swift, who was struck by lightning and burned to a crisp on a day with clear blue skies; Captain Condor, an Australian naval captain who was swept overboard from his ship in calm seas, and his body never found; and a Greek girl surnamed Falconis who died in a mysterious house fire.”

“Interesting, but it could be pure coincidence,” said Hanson.

“Or, it could indicate some worldwide conspiracy to kill certain people with bird connections in their names throughout the world. If, indeed, there are hidden aliens among us, it could explain a great deal. And there’s one other thing, too. During that period of the alien invasion when the U.K. was spirited away wholesale by the aliens and placed in a bottle…”

Hanson suppressed a shiver at the thought. The population of Great Britain had not actually been aware at the time that they had been abducted, so smooth had been the transition and the artificial environment into which they had been placed, but it still gave a good many people nightmares to think about it, including himself.

“…a young woman named Maggie P. Starling vanished from the middle of a crowded office and has never been seen again. All of the other deaths have been since that event.”

“Suggesting what?” said Godiva.

“Well, I think it suggests that the aliens who shanghaied the U.K. somehow spotted some of their own among us and decided for some reason to eliminate them.”

Hanson considered this. “It might explain the sudden transformation in Billy the Bard, I suppose. And we know that he’s not the only one attacking supposed aliens in the name of the England for Humans movement…”

“He isn’t?” said Godiva.

Hanson slapped his forehead with the heel of his hand. “Sorry, I forgot you didn’t know. There’s been another attack, at a stately home in the Home Counties — Wordenshire Castle.”

“Never heard of it. Who’s the victim?”

“We’re not sure,” said Hanson, “as on this occasion the would-be assassins were not successful. But they did admit they were working for England for Humans, and they used a device not unlike that machine there…” He pointed to the space-warp generator left behind after the attack on Swann. “…to gain entry.”

“When was this?”

“Just this morning. Billy the Bard doesn’t seem to have been involved this time, but the attackers wore outfits similar to the one worn by the young chap who came through with the Bard here.”

“And who was killed by one of Palmer’s exploding darts,” said Godiva.

“Precisely. But we did get a lead from the men. Some — ah — allies of ours are checking it out now.” There was a ringing tone from his briefcase. “In fact, if I’m not mistaken, that should be them now.”

He withdrew a device the size of a house brick from his briefcase and extended its aerial. “One of these days they’ll make these things small enough to be genuinely portable. Calling something this size and weight a mobile phone is a bit of a joke, frankly. Hello?” He beckoned to Godiva to come close enough to hear. She did so.

“This is the Knight speaking,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “We’re at the address now. There’s no one here at present, but there are clear signs that the organisation does use this place as a meeting room. The Squire and I are going to find somewhere to hide up, and we’ll wait to see if anyone turns up here tonight. If not, I’ll install some electronic surveillance equipment.”

“I hope we won’t have to wait, Knight,” said Hanson. “I’m in Oxford. There’s been another murder. Godiva was on the scene, but she was unable to prevent it. Look, you should know that the perp was a fellow called the Bard — same one who killed Black. He has some pretty potent weaponry of alien manufacture, so watch out for it.”

“I will. I’ll contact you later.”

The phone went dead. Godiva looked at Hanson with narrowed eyes. “The Knight and the Squire?”

“Yes. I don’t mean to tread on your toes here; I know this is your case. But they offered, and I figured we could use some extra help.”

“Oh, I don’t mind help,” said Godiva. “But I’ve met the Knight through the Global Guardians. That wasn’t his voice.”

“Ah,” said Hanson. “No. That’s another thing. This is a new Knight and Squire — not the originals. But it’s OK. They’ve been vouched for by no less a person than the original Knight.”

“If you say so. But to return to the matter at hand, what about Sandie’s theory of a global conspiracy to kill off hidden aliens?”

“Well, it would help if we knew who these aliens actually were.”

“Perhaps that’s something I could help with.”

The three turned to see a tall, handsome blond man framed in the doorway. He had spoken with an American accent.

“Who on earth are you?” asked Hanson.

“You might call me an expert on aliens,” the man replied, smiling. “My name is Adam Strange.”

A young man dashed breathlessly up and grabbed Adam Strange by the sleeve of his suit. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, addressing Hanson in a pronounced North Country accent. “He slipped past while I was on the blower to my gov’nor. Come along, sir.”

Hanson held up his hand. “It’s OK, Sergeant Lewis. I know of Dr. Strange from the Justice League of America’s files.”

“Well, if you’re sure, sir,” said Lewis, releasing Adam’s sleeve.

“I’ve heard of him, too,” said Godiva, smiling reassuringly to the young detective. “You’ve worked with the JLA on a number of occasions, haven’t you, doctor?”

“Call me Adam,” said Adam. “Yes, I have. And when I heard you were here and there was a rumour that alien technology was involved, I wondered if I could be any help. I can’t give you a lot of time — I have, er, an appointment in a few minutes — but I’ve a lot of experience with extraterrestrial hardware, so if I can maybe help to shed light on what you’re dealing with?”

“By all means, Dr. Strange,” said Hanson. “That’ll be all, sergeant,” he added to Lewis. “You can tell your chief inspector that we’ll be finished here shortly.” Lewis nodded and left. “How much did you hear of what we were talking about, doctor?”

“Adam. I heard you say the victim of this attack was an alien, and you couldn’t identify his race. I’ve got contacts who could help with that.”

“We did check with the JLA’s database,” said Sandie. “All it could tell us was that these aliens are closely related to Thanagarians, but with a few differences.”

“Have you got anything written down that I could pass on to some friends of mine?”

“I’ve got the autopsy report on the first victim right here,” Sandie said. “It includes a full DNA analysis, but…” she looked doubtfully at Hanson.

“It’s all right, Sandie, I’m sure we can trust Dr. Strange. And you have another copy, I presume?” Sandie nodded. Hanson took the papers from her and passed them to Adam. “Will this help, doctor?”

“Adam. Yes, I’m sure it will.” Adam looked at his watch. “Hell! Gotta dash.” He made for the door. “I’ll be in touch!” he yelled over his shoulder as he broke into a sprint and left the startled trio behind.

I’m cutting this very fine, he thought, as he barged past the police constable guarding the main entrance to the building. He looked at the numbers counting down on his watch. Eight, seven, six, five… I’m not going to make it! he thought as he accelerated for the centre of the courtyard formed by the college buildings.

Three, two… He made a last spurt. One… Adam hurled himself forward in a desperate dive, and the zeta-beam struck, right on schedule.

“Adam, darling! Are you all right?” asked a concerned Alanna as she helped him up.

“Yes, I’m fine, honey. I just had to run for the bus,” a grinning Adam said, planting a kiss on her warm, full lips. It was several moments before he noticed Alanna’s scientist father hovering in the background. “Sardath, how are you?”

“I am fine, Adam. Welcome back to Rann.” He gestured, and a small robot trundled up, carrying Adam’s Rann clothing and jetpack. “I am glad that you found the exact coordinates in the northern hemisphere that we calculated the zeta-beam would hit when it bounced back from the atmosphere.”

“Yes; I’d hate to have been stuck in the South Atlantic waiting for a beam that would never come. I see you repaired the holes from our last adventure,” said Adam. He suddenly remembered the papers in his hand. “Sardath, I need a favour. Could you contact someone on the planet Colu for me? I think he may be able to help some friends on Earth with their enquiries.”

***

The planet Colu:

“If you are not with us, then you are our enemy!” The huge armoured man pounded his gauntleted fist down onto the desk before him. Curiously, it resisted the onslaught without so much as a scratch.

“Is that so?” said the young man on the other side of the desk. He looked, for all intents and purposes, human — except that his skin and hair were bright green, and the whites of his green eyes were yellow. “And what, pray, Ambassador Bugrak, makes you think that I am impressed in the slightest by such an outburst?”

“You should be!” growled the Khund ambassador, glaring at the other. “The might of our alliance is unparalleled. We will grind your pitiful planet into little more than meteor dust if you do not either join us or pay tribute.”

The young man steepled his hands. “Colu will do neither, Ambassador. We do not fear the alliance between the Dominion and the Khund Empire. After all, less than a year ago your coalition also included the Citadel and the Daxamites, not to mention a renegade Thanagarian faction who signed up with you in the hope that you would aid them in conquering their own world. Yet between you, you could not even conquer one backward planet in an obscure sector of the galaxy. The Earthers repelled you with ease.

“Well, my friend, we did not fear you then, and we certainly do not fear you now that your additional allies have deserted you. Go back to your homeworld and tell them that Colu bends the knee to no one. And please also convey this to your Dominion friends, because frankly, I can’t be bothered to make the effort twice.”

The big Khund bristled at this. “Upstart! You lie! You feared enough to give us hostages against your neutrality.”

The young man smiled. “I gave you one hostage — myself. And my reasons for doing so were twofold. One: to spy upon you, as I knew I could break out of your prison system with ease. And two: to give my people time enough to strengthen our planetary defences — which they have done in the interim. Please scan them as you leave the planet. You’ll find they are more than adequate to destroy the entire combined Khund and Dominion fleets, and then some.” His smile broadened. “The Computer Tyrants may have held this world in thrall for centuries, but they left behind some impressive technology. Even their creation Brainiac has found that out to his cost on the occasions when he has dared to show his mechanical face around here.”

Bugrak snarled. “Very well. I go. But what about the other prisoners you freed? We want them back!”

The other shook his head. “I will give you nothing. The others who escaped with me are under my protection. Now go, please. Don’t force me to have you escorted off the planet.”

The Khund paused as if to make some final retort, then thought better of it, turned on his heel, and stormed out. As he went, another man of the green-skinned race entered, older, skinnier, and with greying hair. “What is it, S’mitt’rs?” said the seated man.

“A message, President Dox, sir,” said the newcomer. “From your friend on the planet Rann.”

Vril Dox scanned the sheet of printed foil handed him by his secretary. “Interesting,” he mused. He put the sheet down and turned to S’mitt’rs. “Tell Garryn Bek I wish to see him,” he said. “I have a feeling this is going to be of some interest to him, also.”

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