by Martin Maenza
Things in Brixham were going about fairly normally. Sure, we knew that the invading fleets were circling the planet — the BBC made certain to keep the population informed of that. But we had no idea that the entire nation had been shrunken by the invaders, for whatever nefarious plan they had in mind.
As I said, everyone was going about their normal existence until one person started to stir things up a bit. I saw a small crowd gathering, so I joined in to see what all the fuss was about.
Before the group on the pedestal of a statue in the park stood a man in a costume. He was dressed very much like one of the guards at Buckingham Palace, but he also wore a mask and waved around a shiny metal weapon that looked much like a sceptre.
“All right, everyone!” the gangly man said in a semi-commanding voice. “Don’t panic!”
I leaned in towards a woman in the crowd and whispered, “Who’s that?”
The woman smiled with her crooked smile and said, “Calls himself the Beefeater. Fancies himself as a super-hero, he does.”
“Please, be quiet!” the Beefeater barked, having noticed our whispering. “This is all of the utmost importance. You’d do well to listen to what I have to say. There’s a bloody invasion going on, and our glorious nation is a target!”
“Yeah, right,” one young man in the crowd said.
“Guy’s bloody daft,” one of the others said. They started to depart.
“But — but — but — you must listen to me!” Beefeater demanded. “I’m a super-hero! I have the mask and the costume. See, I know what I’m talking about.” There was more snickering from the crowd as others departed as well. “Wait! Wait! Come back! I have proof! Radio transmissions. I’ve picked up radio transmissions!”
“Go on, you kook!” one burly guy said as he pushed Beefeater from his post. “Get on with ya, before we ring up the authorities!”
“You can’t do this to me! I’m friends with the mayor!” he shouted in vain to his ever-dwindling audience. Beefeater picked himself up off the ground and brushed himself off. “Right. Typical stupid cows!” He watched as the remains of the crowd wandered off, ignoring his words. “See what happens when the ugly spacemen come pounding on your doors to whisk away your children in the night! Then you’ll be begging for my help! Crying, ‘Oh, Beefeater! Save us!’ We’ll see what happens then, won’t we?” He looked about the ground for his sceptre. “Oh, bloody hell! Now where’d that get off to?”
“Here you go,” I said, handing the man his object that had rolled towards my feet when he was pushed over. “Are you all right?”
Beefeater looked me up and down, then took the metal sceptre. “Right, thanks,” he said. “At least someone knows how to respect authority.”
“And that,” Dawn said to her friends, “was my story from the invasion. Not too exciting, eh?”
“Well, that’s OK, dear,” Karen said as she started to clear the dishes. “You weren’t very active then, were you?”
Mal glanced at his watch. “I hate to eat and run,” he said as he rose from the table. “But I need to get down to the club to open up.” He leaned in and gave his wife a kiss on the cheek. “Fantastic dinner as always, honey.”
Karen smiled. Her husband sure did like her cooking. “I’ll see you later, baby,” she said, picking up another few dishes and adding them to her stack. “I’ll be back in a minute after I get some coffee made.” She retreated to the kitchen.
Dawn leaned over to Hank Hall. “You’ve been quiet all night,” she said to the brown-haired young man. “Something wrong?”
“Don’t want to talk about it.” Hank tossed his napkin on the table and started to wander toward the other room.
Dawn followed after him, knowing that something was bothering her friend. “Hank, what is it?” she said. “Something about the invasion talk bothering you?” She reached to him; he shied away from her touch. “There is something bothering you. What is it?”
Hank turned and stared at her. He could tell by her stance that she was only trying to help. “I suppose you’ll keep nagging me about it until I tell you, right?” Dawn nodded. “OK, I’ll tell you. But it stays between us, got it?” She nodded again.
Hank began to tell his tale. “OK, here’s the deal. I had just left the New Titans on the East Coast a few weeks or so earlier. We’d finished taking down Brother Blood, and I was getting tired of hanging out with them. I needed some space to figure out where I wanted to go with my life. I knew it wasn’t going to be with Nightwing and his crew, that’s for sure.
“I was hitchhiking across the country at the time the invaders came to Earth. A trucker had just dropped me off in a small town out in the Midwest. He was continuing on south while I was bound for the coast. He left me in what looked like a peaceful town. Turns out, things weren’t all that peaceful.
A crowd of folks were heading for this guy’s house. They had flashlights and tools and stuff. Reminded me of something out of an old movie. I didn’t like the looks of it, so I followed them. They got to this shack at the edge of town and began pounding on the door.
A man answered, and one person in the group grabbed him. “There he is!” “Kill him!” “The freak!” That was just some of the stuff they shouted. Me, I didn’t know what was going on, but the fight was way uneven. I figured maybe the guy might need some help.
I dove into the group and pushed my way to the man. “Back off!” I told the angry townsfolk. I don’t know what it was, maybe the look in my eye or the sneer on my face, but the crowd started to back off a bit.
“We’re warning you, freak!” one of the folks said. “Get out of our town now!” They then dispersed, figuring I was protecting the guy.
The man brushed himself off, then started back towards his house. “Thanks,” he said. Then he added, “Can I get you some dinner for your trouble?” I took him up on the offer. The place was small but all right. Certainly something to get by in.
“What was all that about?” I asked once inside. “Why were they after you?”
“Oh,” the man said. “They just think I’m one of those aliens or something. They don’t seem to like strangers in these parts.”
“Sounds like it’s their problem,” I said.
“It is,” the man replied. He got a bit closer. “Let me tell you something, though — they’re right!” Suddenly, the guy’s features began to change before my very eyes. He started to look just like me. “I’ve been found out, but no matter. I’ll just become you, whoever you are.” He lunged at me, trying to choke me. “Of course, you’ll be dead, so it won’t matter much, human!” He was strong. His grip was like a vice.
While I still could, I uttered the word “Hawk!” and transformed. With the costume came greater strength. I was able to break his hold on my neck. “I don’t know what you are, but you picked the wrong person to mess with!” We exchanged punches. He seemed to be able to give as good as he got. Still didn’t know how he could make himself look like me, though.
“I don’t have time for this!” the man said. He changed shape once more to look like some kind of robed being with weird tentacles for a face. “We advance scouts have rendezvous points to get to! The last thing I want is to be stuck on this mud-ball!” He started to change again into a hulking brute. With his huge fist, he knocked me back into the wood table, smashing it to bits under my weight. “Time for you to die!”
He, it, whatever, lunged for me. I wasn’t thinking, working only on instinct. I grabbed the broken table leg near my side and jammed it up into the creature’s chest. “Back off, ugly!” The sharp point of the wood pierced its skin. Between its momentum and my strength, the leg continued to go through its chest and out the other side of his back. Nasty-colored blood spilled all over.
The creature fell forward. I rolled away in the nick of time. As I got up, it began to change back to the robed form. I figured that’s what it must normally look like. It wasn’t moving. The threat passed, and I changed back to my civilian self. The thing, whatever it was, had to be dead.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Hank said. “I had to get out of there, but I didn’t want the townsfolk to find out what had happened. I made it look like an accident, burning the shack to the ground with the body inside. I slipped away into the night and never looked back.”
Dawn Granger just looked at her friend. She could tell that the incident troubled him terribly. “Oh, Hank,” she said, putting her arms around him. “You were fighting for your life. That alien creature would have killed you.”
“I know,” Hank said. “I know. I told myself that over and over again. It was either it or me. Still, I’ve never killed anyone or anything like that in my life. I — I — didn’t like it.”
Dawn held him closer. “Hopefully you won’t ever have to do it again,” she said.
Meanwhile, across town at the waterfront where the houseboats docked, a blonde woman dressed in a long blue skirt and light blue sweater paced around the deck. This new houseboat was her home, after her old one was destroyed a month earlier. She glanced at her watch — 20:15.
Lisa Morel sighed. I should never have gotten my hopes up, she thought to herself. She started for the door to go inside.
Suddenly there was a slight increase in the wind. She turned to see a winged form descend to the deck, the moonlight glinting off his armor. “Like, sorry I’m late,” the Golden Eagle said.
Lisa Morel began to smile. Karen had come through in arranging a date with her knight in shining armor. “No problem,” she said. “Shall we go inside?”
The Golden Eagle held the door and allowed her to enter first. He followed her inside, where she had a table set with candles and wine. Underneath the mask, Charley Parker was amazed by how much trouble the woman had gone through to set up the date.
Lisa went to the table and poured him a glass of wine. “I hope you like red,” she said, handing the hero the glass.
“Totally,” the Eagle said. And for the first time tonight, he stopped thinking about the fact that the young woman was interested in his heroic identity. He decided to just go with the flow to see where the night would take them.