The Paladins: Albion’s Call, Book 3, Chapter 6: Rocket Red’s Glare

by Brian K. Asbury

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Salaak flew high above the castle, his ring generating a bubble in which sat Cameo and Lodestone. “Just what are we looking for?” the alien Green Lantern said, a note of irritation in his voice. “The Dominators are hardly likely to have left the time-field generator in plain sight.”

“My eyes can see stuff other people can’t,” said Lodestone. “Y’know, magnetic fields ‘n’ stuff.”

“Any electronic device produces a magnetic field,” Cameo said, “and electromagnetic radiation seems to get through the time distortion, albeit Doppler shifted. If there’s any unusual magnetic phenomena down there, Rhea should be able to see it.”

They were now directly above the battlements where the Knight and Firebrand stood, frozen in place. “They seem to be looking down at something in that courtyard,” Cameo said, “but I don’t see anything there. Can you follow their gaze, Rhea?”

“Let’s see,” said the red-haired girl. She removed her tinted shades and peered down. “There!” she suddenly cried, pointing. “There’s an archway down there, opposite where they’re looking. I can see a sorta weird… I dunno, a sorta rippling in the magnetic field there. It isn’t very clear.”

“It may well be what we’re looking for, though,” said Cameo. “All right, Salaak. This is where I get off, I think.”

The four-armed Green Lantern glared at her. “And just what do you intend to do when you get down there?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet. But unless you have any better suggestions…?”

Salaak gave a complicated shrug and willed an opening to form in the green bubble. Taking a deep breath, Cameo stepped through it. “Wish me luck, folks.” As she started to fall, she twisted her rings and transformed into her two-dimensional energy form. Her drop slowed until she was falling as gently as a leaf toward the periphery of the energy field.

Then she was passing through it, looking up as she fell to see both Salaak’s uniform and power-ringed bubble suddenly turn to blue from her viewpoint. “Well, this feels weird,” she muttered to herself. “It’s like falling through syrup.”

She drifted down past the battlements where her two comrades stood, finding that she could guide her flight somewhat by turning and spreading her limbs. The fall seemed to take a long time, but eventually she alighted on the flagstone floor of the courtyard. “Talk about one small step for a man…!”

Looking up, she waved one glowing white arm, hoping that Salaak and Rhea Jones could see her through the distortion. As she watched, the blue light of Salaak’s ring-bubble began to move away. “Looks like I’m all alone, then,” she said. “Except for you two, of course,” she added, looking up at the two unmoving figures on the battlements. She scanned around. There was something glinting with a metallic sheen in the archway that Lodestone had picked out. Looking up again, she confirmed that the Knight and Firebrand were, indeed, staring in that direction.

However, she also realized that the light was fading. Dark clouds were moving in from the north, suggesting a change in the weather. Better get a move on, she thought. If it started to snow, which was likely given the time of year and the altitude, the time-distortion field could quickly become covered by a thick dome of the stuff, blocking out all the daylight. That would make searching extremely difficult.

She started for the archway, hoping to find answers there.

***

Meanwhile, Salaak and Rhea had started back toward the others when the American girl suddenly cried out, “Salaak, we’ve got company!”

“What? Where?”

Lodestone pointed toward the east. “There!” she said. Salaak followed her gaze. In the distance, a number of flying objects could be seen, heading directly toward them. “I see at least ten, maybe fifteen. And they’re all puttin’ out way strong magnetic fields.”

“Aircraft?”

“Nope. They’re too small. I think they’re, y’know, people in some kinda powered armor.”

“This does not bode well,” said Salaak. “I think we had better regroup with the others.” He accelerated their flight toward where they had left Godiva and the others. As they approached them, it became apparent that they, too, had seen the incoming flyers.

“What do you think they are?” Godiva asked.

“We don’t know,” Lodestone said. “But if a mess o’ guys in flying armour are heading our way, are they likely to be friendly?”

They all looked at one another. “Anyone know if this is a typical Dominion tactic?” said the Squire.

“They tend to let others fight their battles for them,” Stealth said. “During the invasion of Earth they employed Khunds, who use armor, and Thanagarians, who fly, but I can’t think of any of their allies who match this profile.”

“I think we’re about to find out,” Godiva said. The first rank of the newcomers was now descending toward them and close enough for them to see that their armor was colored red and white, and each bore a number.

“Do we attack?” the Squire said.

“Not unless they attack first. Let’s find out who they are and what they want.” The others nodded, although Salaak did not look happy with the situation. But then, Godiva thought, he never exactly looked happy about anything. It couldn’t be easy, with a face like that, of course…

Jets screamed as the lead flyer descended to the ground before them. Godiva noted that her companions were adopting fighting stances. The Bowman had an arrow nocked, the Squire was holding one of his special daggers, and Lodestone had a purple glow around her. Stealth looked more relaxed, but that could be deceptive, given her catlike speed and reflexes. As for Salaak — well, who could tell?

The armoured man finally landed, the whine of his jets dying. It could now be seen that a hammer and sickle emblem was prominently visible on the breastplate of his armor, as well as the number one. He spoke in a commanding tone.

Everybody exchanged puzzled glances. “Sounds like Russian,” said the Bowman. “Anyone understand Russian?”

“My ring will translate,” said Salaak.

The armored man held up his hand. “No need. I speak English quite well.”

Godiva stepped forward. “Well in that case, let me explain what–“

“You are illegally trespassing in a country allied to and under the protection of the Soviet Union,” said the armored man, not allowing her to finish. “We are the Rocket Red Brigade, and we have been sent to apprehend you.” He looked toward Salaak. “As you have a Green Lantern with you, I am prepared to be lenient and allow you to depart quietly. However, should you resist, I am authorized to employ whatever force is necessary to neutralize you.”

“You don’t understand,” said Godiva. “I am Godiva of the Global Guardians, and most of my companions belong to a British team called the Paladins. We’re here because–“

“I am not interested in why you are here,” snapped Rocket Red #1. “My orders are to remove you from Vlatava. You have ten seconds to comply, or I shall instruct my men to open fire!”

“Now wait a minute,” said Godiva. “I don’t think you understand what’s going on here…”

“I do not want to know what is going on here, lady. Comply with my orders or face the consequences.”

“Now just a minute,” Lodestone cried, pushing forward. “We ain’t gonna abandon our friends just ’cause some commie tin man tells us to. The Knight, Firebrand, an’ Cameo are all in there,” she said, pointing to the energy barrier, “and no way are we leaving without them!” The others nodded their agreement.

“I have had enough of this,” said the Rocket Red leader. He looked up at his hovering comrades who, in response to an unspoken command, began to swoop down toward the group of heroes.

“I, too, have had enough,” said Salaak gruffly. His power ring flared, erecting a protective green dome around them. At the same time, Godiva’s hair snaked out, wrapping around Rocket Red #1’s legs and yanking him off-balance, causing an energy bolt from his gauntlet blaster to go wild. A split-second later, two arrows flew with unerring accuracy at the armoured Russian’s hands, bursting on impact and coating his blasters with a quick-drying resinous gloop.

“Try to fire again, my friend, and you’ll be risking losing your hands,” the Bowman of Britain said.

“Bah! I do not need my blasters to fight decadent Western interlopers such as yourselves!” Rocket Red said, regaining his feet with some difficulty.

“Well you’ll need more than, y’know, hot air, Ivan,” Lodestone said. She gestured with her hands, and the restraining bolts holding the Russian’s armour all opened up at once. The armour fell apart, the pieces clattering at his feet.

Godiva withdrew her hair. “Give it up, please,” she said. “We don’t really want to fight you. We’re not your enemies — the creatures who created this barrier are your enemies!”

“You think the Rocket Red Brigade is beaten just because you have rendered me ineffective? Think again!”

Suddenly, a yellow-tinged bolt of electricity arced down through Salaak’s shield and struck the Squire a glancing blow, sending him flying into the Bowman. A second bolt also penetrated the shield and hit Salaak himself. The alien Green Lantern dropped to the ground, his power-ringed shield vanishing instantly.

“One thing we do know is how to neutralize a Green Lantern,” said Rocket Red #1 with a smirk.

Godiva reacted instinctively, expanding her hair and hardening it into a huge golden dome to replace Salaak’s green shield. Lodestone also added her own power to reinforce it. Bolt after bolt struck the dome, but the combination held.

Stealth, meanwhile, took the initiative and bounded forward, grappling with Rocket Red and wrestling him expertly to the ground. “Call them off, Earthling. I’m only going to ask nicely just this once!”

Rocket Red struggled, but could not break the grip of the deceptively strong alien woman. “This is stupid,” she said. “Can’t you see that there’s a serious problem here? That energy barrier freezes time, and the castle and half the village are caught in it. We should be joining forces to figure out how to remove it, not fighting one another.”

“And how do we know you have not caused this thing to appear yourselves?”

“Don’t be stupid. Lodestone just told you that three of our companions are trapped inside it. That castle belongs to a villain named Count Vertigo. He has been working with aliens called Dominators — surely you’ve heard of them?

“Mother Russia was threatened by these aliens and their minions in the great invasion, yes. But you also are clearly not human, woman. Even the Green Lantern who helps you is an alien.”

“So? Try putting your prejudices aside and thinking. Alien does not necessarily equate to enemy. Is that other Green Lantern who helped you build these tin suits your enemy?”

“How do you know about that?”

“I get around,” she said with a smile.

Meanwhile, the Rocket Reds were now battering physically upon the heroes’ makeshift barrier. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take, even with Rhea’s help,” Godiva said. “Tom, how’s David?”

“Unconscious, but just stunned, I think. Not badly hurt. Salaak’s out cold, too.”

“Well you better do something to bring him round,” Lodestone said. “I dunno what they’re doin’ out there, but it’s kinda feeding back into my magnetic powers, and it hurts like hell!”

“It must be some kind of electromagnetic pulse weapon,” Tom Archer said. “Rhea, can you tell me where the Rocket Reds are?”

“Yeah, but what good does it do?” said Lodestone, wincing. “If Godiva an’ me make holes for you to fire arrows through, they’ll be able to shoot through them, too.”

“Maybe. But I want to try something,” said the Bowman. “Point one of them out, please.” Rhea did so. Tom drew back the Thunderbow and willed an arrow of the imagination to form. As he released it, he tried to picture it passing harmlessly through his companions’ barrier. Much to his relief, it did so. An explosion and a scream followed.

“You did it!” shouted Rhea. “That one got blasted clean off the dome!”

“OK,” said Tom. “Point out the others, then. One at a time.” Rhea pointed again, and he fired another mystic arrow, with the same result. Four more followed.

“The rest just took off,” said Lodestone, “but I can still see ’em.” She pointed, and the Bowman fired yet again. “Got ‘im!” Rhea said gleefully.

Stealth, meanwhile, was still holding Rocket Red #1 down. “I think it’s time you called the rest of them off,” she said. “We wouldn’t want them to get hurt, now, would we?” She passed him a throat mike that had fallen away with the rest of his armor.

Rocket Red #1 reluctantly took it and spoke words in Russian into it. “I have told them to stand down until I say otherwise,” he said.

“You’d better be telling the truth,” said Godiva. She retracted and softened her hair, the scorch marks vanishing from it as she did so. “Now,” she said to the Russian, “I think it’s time we all had a friendly talk.”

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