by Brian K. Asbury
Kansas City, Missouri:
Wayne Hawkins sauntered along the street with a lazy swagger, the chains and pins studding his torn leather jacket jingling as he walked. He again fingered the wad of cash in his pocket. This was just too easy, man. Wherever these crazy powers came from, they were a godsend to a smart street operator like Wayne. While anybody else ran the risk of being wasted by rivals for the turf, or the cops, Wayne knew that nobody could touch him — literally.
The mark he’d taken for the bundle of green now lining his pocket was just one more example of how easy it was now. The sucker had tried to make a fight of it — even produced a gun — but had fallen on his own ass, and the gun had gone off in his pocket. He’d been too busy rolling around in agony even to protest as Wayne lifted his wallet and relieved him of its contents.
Yeah, life was good, courtesy of… well, of wherever this cool hoodoo of his had come from. It had scared him at first, but it was gonna make him king of the street. He had plans — big plans — but first, a trip uptown to Rosa’s to sample some female delights.
He halted as he passed an alley in which stood a beautiful, gleaming motorcycle. There was a tattooist’s shop in the alley, and the bike’s owner was obviously inside. Wayne swaggered up to it and looked it over. No keys, of course, but his trusty pocket tool-kit could remedy that situation in a sec. He flipped out the bundle of wires and rods and set to work on hot-wiring it.
“Hey, you, ya little punk. What ya think you doin’?”
“What’s it look like, dude?” Wayne said casually, not even looking up to see who had spoken.
“Get away from my cycle, ya little–”
Wayne felt something whistle past his ear.
“Huh?” grunted the biker as his chain grounded into the alley floor.
Wayne straightened, a sneering grin on his face. “Gimme the keys, grease-ball, and ya won’t get hurt.”
The biker bellowed. “Why, you–!” He lunged at Wayne, only to miss completely and run straight into his bike, flipping completely over it and landing face down in the dirt.
Wayne casually strolled around to his side, flipping out his flick-knife. “The keys, dude.”
The biker tried to grab Wayne’s legs but instead head-butted the bike. He flopped down again, this time not moving.
Wayne bent to retrieve the keys to the motorcycle. “Easy as takin’ candy from–” He stopped. “What the hell?” A low hum filled the air, and a glowing circle of light suddenly appeared between the bike and the tattoo parlor.
“Oh, whoa!” said Wayne. “This is just too heavy. Whatever this–”
Suddenly, something emerged from the light. “Wayne Hawkins,” it intoned. “You will come with me. Do not resist.”
“Yeah. I’ll take a rain check on that,” said Wayne, moving onto the bike and fumbling to get the key in the ignition. Whoever this dude was, he could kiss his ass.
The figure moved out of the light with surprising speed and lunged for Wayne, who confidently expected it to miss. However, strong — incredibly strong — hands gripped Wayne’s shoulders and hauled him out of the saddle.
“This is impossible, man! Nobody can lay a hand on me if I don’t want–” Then Wayne got a good look at his attacker. It wasn’t human. It was a robot of some sort, and it didn’t seem to be affected by his powers at all.
He screamed as it dragged him into the light.
Notting Hill, London:
Dorcas Leigh turned over in her bed, trying to resist her brain’s inclination to wake up and stay in a state of blissful sleep. She had no idea what time it was, but she didn’t really care. Chasing jewel thieves around the streets of London in the dead of night did tend to take it out of the system somewhat. If she were to be fresh for her appointment this afternoon, she needed to catch up on her beauty sleep.
So what on earth was that infernal racket trying to rouse her out of her blissful slumber?
She pulled the pillow over her head and tried to will herself back into the land of dreams, but the more she tried, the more she became awake. This was becoming a hopeless cause, she finally admitted to herself.
“Hywl, for God’s sake, keep it down, will you?” she yelled. That was the trouble with having a eccentric gay Welsh artist occupying the lower flat. You never knew what he was going to get up to, day or night. But this was extreme, even for Hywl.
At last, she flung the pillow away and sat up. The noise was getting louder, she realised, and it wasn’t coming from downstairs. Something was going on in the street outside.
Reluctantly, she swung her bare legs off the bed. Retrieving a T-shirt from her chair, she pulled it over her head and walked unsteadily to the window, wishing that she had a machine gun handy to use on whoever was making all that noise.
Yawning, Dorcas pulled open the curtains — and stopped dead with shock as she looked down into the street.
There was Hywl, standing on the doorstep in just his underpants and looking in a state of utter panic — and facing him was a huge crowd of people of all ages, colours, and sexes, some with cameras flashing, and some even carrying banners bearing slogans such as We Love You.
And all of them — except Hywl, of course — were chanting, “We want Godiva! We want Godiva! We want Godiva!”
“Thanks for getting me out of that one, Ken,” said Godiva as she sipped her tea. “I thought I was in for a siege back there. And I’ve never felt so humiliated in my life!”
“Yes,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Ken Hanson, putting down the paper he had been scrutinising. “It must have come as quite a shock to find your real identity plastered all over the tabloids. How did this Evadne Starr woman come to work it out, anyway?”
Godiva sighed. “Evadne Starr is the pen-name of a woman named Janet Smith, and it wasn’t difficult. Remember when I went undercover at Bellamy College, Oxford, when we were trying to foil the Bard? I ended up having to fight him in my civvies because I didn’t have time to change. Well, I’d been speaking to Janet Smith earlier in the afternoon. She must have followed me and seen me using my powers.”
“And put two and two together.”
“Yeah. She’s obviously spent the time since then gathering as much information on both my identities in order to fill a dozen pages of this morning’s papers with just about my entire life story.”
She put her head in her hands. “Oh, God. This is dreadful. I had appointments with a couple of editors this morning to discuss features for their magazines, but I daren’t show my face now. And I shudder to think what my mum is going to say. She had no idea I was Godiva!”
“It gets worse, guv…” Sergeant Dennis Harris, Hanson’s assistant, had just walked into the office carrying a bundle of papers. He put them down one at a time on the table where Godiva and Hanson were sitting. “The Daily Mirror… the Daily Star… the Daily Mail… even The Guardian — they’ve all got you on the front page of their early afternoon editions.”
“Oh, God!” repeated Godiva. All of the pictures showed Dorcas Leigh, clad only in a crumpled black T-shirt and tiny peach-coloured panties, standing at her window looking dishevelled and shell-shocked. “Oh, God!”
“And then there’s The Sun, which claims to have exclusive nude pix of you on page three,” said Harris.
Godiva just groaned.
“It’s OK, though. I’ve checked ’em out. They’re obvious fakes — they’ve just taken a photo of a naked model and pasted your head on.”
“You could always sue ’em, miss…”
“That’ll be all, Harris,” said Hanson. The sergeant left the room. “Are you all right, Dorcas?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be all right again,” said Godiva. “Thanks to that bitch Janet Smith, my career is ruined, and I can never show my face in public from now on without some smart-arse shouting out, ‘Nice knickers, Godiva.’ And there’s no way I can ever go back to my Notting Hill place.”
“Then where will you go?”
“I don’t know. My mother’s place is out of the question until I’ve squared this with her. I just don’t know…”
“I could always give the Earl of Wordenshire a call for you. I’m sure he’d be delighted to let you stay at the castle until the hoo-ha over this dies down.”
“Would you? Oh, thanks, Ken, you’re a dear…” She hesitated. “Wait a sec, though — this isn’t a crafty way of getting me to sign up for this Paladins team you’re trying to put together, is it?”
Hanson smiled. “Nothing could be further from my thoughts, love. However, the Knight and Squire are based there — and Sandie Bremmer is staying with them as well, to get some training and get used to her new powers. It would be an ideal opportunity to see how well you work together with them.”
“I see…” Despite herself, she found a smile forming. “You’re a very devious man, Ken Hanson.”
“So, shall I give your flatmate a call and ask him to bring your things over?”
Godiva laughed. “All right. I’ll give it a try.”
Amsterdam, the Netherlands:
The huge diamond sat invitingly on a black velvet cushion, illuminated on all sides by spot-lamps positioned perfectly to highlight the facets of the enormous gem and thereby light up the entire chamber with its reflected brilliance. The Star of Galwayo was only on loan from the central African republic that owned it, and the Van Hoosen Gallery was naturally sparing no expense on security.
However, there were those who coveted the world’s third largest cut diamond greatly and would pay any price to obtain it; there were also those who were prepared to take the risks necessary to earn that price by stealing it.
One such individual was even now about to enter the central display chamber, despite the hour being after midnight and the gallery locked up tightly under the most comprehensive security that Dutch guilders could buy. To say that she moved with the lithe grace of a cat would be a terrible cliché, yet it would be nonetheless accurate. In fact, no cat could ever have moved as quietly as this golden-skinned beauty, who seemed to be simply ignoring the sophisticated ultrasonics that protected the gallery and its most precious exhibit.
Technology, in fact, seemed to be on her side rather than against her. Reaching the final door, she unclipped a strange device from the black leather utility belt; its practical simplicity contrasted strangely with the simple, yet elegant white minidress she wore. The device had been constructed from earthly components, yet its design was anything but terrestrial, based upon technology born of worlds and civilisations far across the galaxy from Earth.
Operating a switch, she made the door swing open in complete silence, revealing the precious diamond on its display plinth. She put on a pair of special lenses that made the lasers and infrared beams surrounding the plinth visible to her. Smiling, she pointed another device at the beams, and they moved aside, bent and distorted by an invisible field generated between them.
She replaced her equipment on her belt. Only the pressure sensors in the floor now stood between her and her goal, and they were no obstacle at all. Backing up along the corridor, she ran forward and took a flying leap toward the plinth — a leap that would have been quite impossible for anyone who was merely human. Her flight took her through the gap in the sensor beams and lasers, and with a final somersault she landed on the plinth itself with such skill and grace that it barely wobbled under the impact.
Grinning to herself, she removed from a pouch on her belt an exact replica of the Star — in terms of size and weight, of course, though hardly in value — and in a lightning movement switched it for the real thing.
Easy, she thought. Ridiculously easy. Foiling this primitive Earth technology was almost no challenge at all, but no matter. She wasn’t doing this purely for the fun. She needed money if she was ever going to build herself a ship capable of getting her off this backward mud-ball, and how else was she ever going to raise the kind of funds she needed?
She steeled herself to leap off the plinth and back to the safety of the corridor beyond the entrance door. However, as she did, the room was suddenly flooded with light. Oh, Grok! she thought. What’s this? Whatever this was just had to be setting alarms off all over the building!
She tensed again for her leap, but the light had now become a swirling vortex between her and the door. A space warp — someone had created a space warp inside this room.
Well, she thought, you’ve got two choices, girl — either stay here and be caught, because any second now this place is going to be swarming with security guards — or find out what’s on the other side of that warp.
She grinned again. Oh, well, Stealth, she thought, you only live once!
And she leaped.