by Brian K. Asbury
“Rook to Knight. Rook to Knight. Come in!” There remained only static from the bank of communications equipment, despite Percy Sheldrake’s efforts to adjust and boost the gain.
“It’s no use,” said his nephew David, standing behind his wheelchair. “Something happened, then. It’s cut them off.”
“I always suspected you were a bright kid,” muttered Stealth. “Any ideas what it could have been?”
“None,” said Percy, leaning back. “But that statement Perry made about the castle, that the Dominators had somehow trapped it in a way which endangers this entire locality does not bode well.”
“You think they tripped a booby-trap, then, unc?” said David.
“It looks that way,” Stealth said. Her expression was grim. “And whatever it was, if it was capable of taking down someone as powerful as Firebrand, we’re going to have a fight on our hands if we’re to rescue them.”
Tom Archer, now clad in his Bowman of Britain costume, spoke for the first time. “Now, let’s not jump to conclusions. It may just be that communications got cut off, and there could be a number of explanations for that, ranging from jamming through to them being simply too busy to talk.”
“Implying that they might be engaged in a fight?” said Stealth.
“Like I said, we don’t know that.”
“Well,” Rhea Jones butted in, “one thing’s, y’know, for sure. They need our help. We can’t just sit here on our butts. We’ve gotta get out there!”
“Rhea’s right,” Stealth said. “Well, Percy? Where’s that transport you were talking about?”
Percy turned his chair around to face them. “It’s on its way. However, we should wait for everyone to be here. Godiva rang a while ago to say she was en route, but I asked her to swing by New Scotland Yard and pick up Sandie. They’ll be at least another half-hour.”
“We may not have a half-hour!”
“I know, Stealth, but it can’t be helped. And you have to see the logic in wanting to be at full strength.”
There was a momentary silence before David spoke. “Speaking of full strength, unc, what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Are you going to come with us?”
Despite himself, Percy let out an astonished laugh. “David, I’d just be in your way! I’m in a wheelchair, for heaven’s sake!”
“So what? We’ve got Perry’s armor. He designed it for you originally, remember? With the servos in the legs, you’d be able to walk again, no problem!”
Tom came forward. “Is this true, Percy? If it is, then you have to come along. You always were the best hand-to-hand fighter I ever met, and no one can equal your prowess with a sword.”
Percy held up his hands. “David has a good point, but there are several reasons why I can’t use the armor. It’s adjusted for Perry, who happens to be both taller and slimmer than I am. I don’t know how to adjust it.”
“I do,” said David. “It isn’t difficult.”
“Secondly, a lot of the controls are in the helmet, and Perry has that.”
“The walking servos are automatic. You don’t need the helmet.”
Percy cast his nephew a withering look. “And finally and most importantly, I have been confined to this wheelchair ever since the Crisis. I’m very much out of shape, and furthermore I haven’t practiced with the armor. I’d probably fall flat on my face the first time I tried to walk in it!”
“Enough, David. I’m not coming with you. I’d be a liability. No, my place is here now, coordinating things as the Rook. Perry is the Knight now, not me.”
“OK,” said Stealth, “but that still leaves the problem of getting there.”
Percy looked out of the window. A green glow was visible in the distant sky, and getting nearer. “I think that problem is about to be resolved,” he said.
“I appreciate the lift, Cas, but wouldn’t it have been better if you had gone straight to the castle instead of picking me up? If Perry and Firebrand are in trouble, surely time is of the essence?”
Dorcas Leigh changed gear as she maneuvered her Range Rover off the motorway and onto the exit road. “Maybe, but Percy was adamant that we were all needed — and you’ve got to admit, Sandie, that your powers have certainly proved useful to the team so far.”
“They didn’t prove very useful yesterday against Count Vertigo,” Sandie Bremmer said glumly. “He made me look stupid.”
“They made us all look stupid, Sandie — even those of us with far more experience than you. That group was put together with that express purpose — each one of them was intended to defeat a specific member of our team. If the Bowman of Britain hadn’t shown up, they’d have wiped the floor with us. In fact…” She removed her sunglasses, displaying her bruised face. “…some of us feel as though they did. I hope Hanson has thrown the book at that little swine Karma.”
“Not exactly…” said Sandie.
“What?!” exploded Dorcas. “I thought he said he was wanted in the States for murder!”
“Apparently,” Sandie explained, “it’s doubtful that that would stand up in a court of law. Wayne — Karma — claims it was an accident, and there’s some evidence to support that.”
“So he’s getting off scot-free? I don’t bloody believe it!”
“No, not that, either. An American agent claiming to represent someone named Amanda Waller requested that Ken hand him over to her. They’re recruiting for some U.S. government-funded super-villain rehab scheme — you must have heard of that team of ex-villains that Captain Comet used to lead, the Rehab Squad. They were very active and prominent during the alien invasion.”
“I see,” said Dorcas, a wicked smirk playing about her lips. “So what you’re saying is that Karma has effectively been drafted, is that it?”
“More or less.” They both burst into laughter.
Fifteen minutes later found them in the countryside and driving between the wrought iron gates that framed the entrance to Wordenshire Castle. At the end of the drive, Dorcas pulled up, and they both got out. “Let’s hope we’re not too late, and they haven’t gone without us,” she said.
They walked up to the ornate front door and used Sandie’s key to gain entrance. “Hello? We’re back! Anyone here?”
Percy Sheldrake’s voice echoed down the corridor. “We’re in the communications room, Dorcas. Come on through.”
The two women moved down the corridor and turned the corner, heading for a door at the other end. The door was open, and there seemed to be a strange green glow emanating from it. “I wonder what that is?” said Sandie.
They approached the door, only to find themselves confronted by an alien monster. Clad in green, it had multiple arms and a purple-hued head out of a nightmare. Letting out a shriek, Sandie twisted the rings on her hands to transform into Cameo, while Dorcas willed her long, golden hair to grow, reach out, and snare the creature.
Startled, the alien jumped back a step. Green light flared from one of its hands, forming a shield around itself, but Godiva’s hair passed straight through it and entangled him in its living strands.
“Whoa! Ladies! Stop!” This was Percy Sheldrake, hurrying up to them in his wheelchair. Behind him, in costume and looking fairly bemused, were the Bowman of Britain, the Squire, Lodestone, and Stealth.
“Percy, what in the world–?” said Dorcas.
“Cas, let him go, please,” said Percy. Dorcas looked doubtful. “He’s a friend. Honest!”
She retracted her hair. The alien looked angry but did nothing.
“I take it,” said Percy, “that you’ve never met Salaak before?”
Recovering from his initial surprise, Salaak, the Green Lantern from planet Slyggia, found his voice at last and launched into a tirade against his attackers. “You blithering idiots! Is this how you treat a guest here? Give me one good reason why I should condescend to remain here and give the benefit of my power and experience to idiot humans who attack before they think?”
Godiva held up her hands. “I’m sorry, ah, Green Lantern. I wasn’t expecting you… I mean, we didn’t recognize…”
“‘Didn’t recognize’…?” blustered Salaak. “What do you call this?” He pulled at the Lantern symbol on his uniform. “Or this?” he added, his power ring blazing with emerald light.
“Well, it’s not exactly a standard Green Lantern outfit, is it?” ventured Cameo quietly. “It was an easy mistake to make…”
“An easy mistake if you’re a complete moron! I come here at the request of somebody who is supposed to be one of this country’s greatest heroes and who turns out to be a hairy-faced human in a wheelchair, and am greeted by insults and an assault on my person, and you tell me it was an easy mistake to–”
“Now just one minute there!” Rhea Jones suddenly rounded on the alien Green Lantern, her own powers flaring into a dark purple aura that shaded her face ominously. “You can shout at the rest of us, but don’t you dare talk about Percy that way. He’s a great man, and, y’know, he’s been good enough to give us all hospitality here, and where I come from, that calls for respect. You hear what I’m sayin’?”
“No! You listen, pickle-face. There’s more important stuff goin’ on here than your bruised ego. Godiva apologized to you, and that oughtta be good enough. If you ain’t man enough to accept that gracefully, then butt outta here an’ send us a real Green Lantern. ‘Kay?”
Salaak’s alien eyes blinked in confusion, uncertain as to how to cope with this verbal onslaught. “I, er… what do you mean, a real Green Lantern? What do you think I am?” He looked around for support, but found none.
Percy wheeled his chair forward. “All right, enough, please, everyone. Salaak, I apologize. I should have warned the ladies that you were here. Your, ah, imposing appearance evidently took them by surprise.”
“Yes,” said Godiva. “Again, I’m sorry, Green Lantern.”
“I should think so!” said Salaak, with little grace, but he cast a cautious look in the direction of the still-fuming Rhea as he said it.
“That’s all settled, then,” Percy said. “The two of you should get into costume, and I’ll give you a quick briefing on the situation before Salaak flies you to Vlatava.”
“I’ll fill ’em in, if you like,” volunteered Rhea. “Don’t like the atmosphere much in here, anyways.” Percy sighed but nodded, and the three women left the room.
As they departed, David Sheldrake sidled up to Stealth. “Hey, did you catch that? What’s between Rhea and Percy? Does she fancy him or something?”
“I’ve really no idea,” Stealth whispered back. “But that little outburst was interesting, wasn’t it?”
“She’s way too old for him, though.”
“So? I’ve been on Earth long enough that nothing about human mating customs would surprise me. For example, it’s plainly evident that you find me sexually alluring, David, but you don’t seem inclined to do anything about it. Why is that?”
“Er… ‘scuse me,” David mumbled, turning bright red. He backed off and made a pretext of asking the Bowman about something. Stealth chuckled and turned back to Percy and Salaak, who were discussing the coming mission.
A brilliant emerald-green bubble shot up from Wordenshire Castle at incredible speed, reaching the stratosphere in seconds and causing several of the people standing inside it to gasp in astonishment.
One, in fact, almost had a far worse reaction. Rhea Jones clutched her stomach and started retching violently. Muttering under his breath, Salaak created a sick bag with his power ring and passed it back to her. “Humans! No decorum!” he growled.
“I hardly think that’s fair!” Godiva said. “You might have warned us that you were going to do that. I almost lost my lunch myself.” The others muttered agreement.
“You wanted transport,” said the bristly Green Lantern. “You’ve got transport. Straight up, straight down seems the best policy to avoid being noticed by paranoid human military. If you don’t like it, I’ll gladly create an exit door for you. But it’s a very long way down…”
“All right, let’s stay civil, everyone, please,” said the Bowman of Britain. “You do know where to find Vertigo’s castle, I trust?”
“My ring can find it easily,” Salaak replied, “having been shown its location on the map.”
Stealth, meanwhile, was helping Rhea. “You OK now, honey?”
Rhea, having stopped retching, nodded, although she looked somewhat off-color. She waved the bag around uncertainly. Salaak, seeming not even to look in her direction, waved his ring hand, and the bag snatched itself from her grip, passed through the wall of the protective bubble, and disgorged its contents into space.
“Urrgh, gross!” muttered the Squire, watching it do so. “That’s one small step for a puke bag, one giant leap for–”
Cameo clamped a hand on his shoulder. “That’s enough of that, I think. It’s bad enough having to see it without you making jokes. You know, I thought my first trip into space would be something wonderful — this, I didn’t expect!”
Stealth laughed. “When you’ve been in space as often as I have, you get used to it. I’ve seen much worse things dumped into space.”
“Does the phrase too much information mean anything to you, Stealth?”
“No. Should it?”
“Will you humans shut up your ceaseless inane chatter?” snapped Salaak. “I’m trying to concentrate here. Beginning our descent now.”
“Watch who you’re calling human, honey, if you don’t want a few of those arms broken,” said Stealth sweetly.
Salaak ignored her as the bubble descended through the clouds — mercifully not as suddenly as it had ascended — toward a snow-covered landscape. “Wow!” said Rhea. “It’s almost, y’know, like a fairy tale.”
“A fairy tale with monsters in,” said Godiva. “Look, there’s the castle. That’s where the Knight and Firebrand were when we last heard from them.”
“I see it,” said Salaak. He steered the bubble toward the castle.
Suddenly, the bubble hit an unseen obstruction. Startled, the alien Green Lantern let his concentration lapse, and the bubble vanished — sending the sextet of other heroes tumbling down toward the jagged rocks at the foot of the mountain.