Alison Double's skull reflected the moonlight from outside Braddock Manor. The zombie that had been Brian Braddock had wondered whether the interior of a telepath's skull would taste any different from a normal person's, and was disappointed to learn it did not.
The area surrounding the Manor had become depopulated, and London itself had not been good hunting for some time. He supposed he could fly to America, but he contemplated the standard diet in that country and curled his lips. Still hungry, he rose to his feet and walked into his laboratory. Widget was there, partially disassembled. Braddock took out his tools and finished the job of wiring the alien robot into a control belt, while the entity squealed in pain. Finally, he strapped the belt around his waist, punched in a random set of coordinates, and disappeared.
Nighthawk brachiated up to the rooftops of Cosmopolis. The deadly clown, Whiteface, ran ahead of him while laughing maniacally. Mounted atop the building which housed Monarch Playing Cards was one of the giant advertising props which had become fashionable of late. Whiteface released a hinge which held in place a simulated playing card deck, tilting it over so that his pursuer was almost buried under a barrage of enormous cards. Nighthawk scrambled atop them, and Whiteface reached down to grab hold of the joker card, yanking it up and causing his opponent to lose his balance. "What a card," he gloated, "always been my favorite."
By the time Nighthawk recovered his footing, Whiteface had leaped over to the Regency Bicycle Works. He unlatched the immense bicycle and hopped atop it, bearing down on the caped crusader. Nighthawk's eyes widened, and he tried to evade the vehicle, finally drawing forth and firing a harpoon gun, tangling the cord in the wheels before they crushed him. Whiteface tumbled forward onto the roof and rolled, continuing on his escape while the other detangles himself.
Atop the roof of Acme Pencils, Whiteface brandished a giant drawing utensil as if it were a pike. Nighthawk took hold of the other one, and the two engaged in a duel for several seconds, before he struck the villain's weaponry out of his hands. "Enough of this," he said, jumping forward and striking the evil clown on the jaw, causing him to tumble to the ground.
Nighthawk began binding his opponent when he heard a shrill scream and the sound of gunshots. He glared at Whiteface and headed to the location of the sound, peering over the side of the building to see a man and a woman, prone and blooded on the ground, and a police officer in the grip of a tall, powerful-looking male figure clad in tricoloured armour. He swung down to the street level, just as he heard the officer's neck crack with sickening noise.
As Nighthawk landed, the figure turned around. Beneath the helm his face was pale and rotted. "What … what are you? Some sort of creation of Doctor Zombie and Ursula Undead?"
Braddock considered his response. Giving the name Captain Britain would only confuse his costumed assailant, whom he presumed was some local variant of Nightraven. He tried to recall the Corp member assigned to this Earth; he believed it was Captain Cornwall. After some thought, he gave a ghoulish smile. "You can call me … Justicer Death."
"Justicer? That seems an odd name for someone who has just slaughtered three innocent people."
Braddock's smile broadened. "Only the living commit injustice, so all life has been declared a crime. The punishment is death. Besides that … I'm hungry!" He flew towards Nighthawk like a bolt of deathly lightning.
Nighthawk was prepared. He had fought foes with more than human speed before, and he knew as well that Doctor Zombie's minions were recurring threats. From his utility belt he drew forth a canister of Anti-Zombie Spray, and released an emission directly into Braddock's face.
Braddock's flight was halted and he crashed to the ground. He felt rigor mortis starting in his muscles as they began to contract and stiffen, and he wondered whether this was going to be his final end. Through force of will, he brought himself back to his feet, fighting the paralytic effect as he began to shamble inexorably back towards Nighthawk. A shadow crossed over his face, and he looked up with terror to see a giant pencil descending from the skies, a maniacally laughing clown riding atop it. Nighthawk reached for him, attempting to pull him away before impact, and Braddock felt the carved wood impaling through his chest, and in panic activated the device on his belt which controlled Widget.
There was a flash of light, and as the pencil clattered to the ground the alley of Cosmopolis soon found itself empty of anyone living or undead.
Nighthawk looked around, trying to get his bearings in his new environment. He had experienced inter-dimensional travel before, when the Grandmaster and the Scarlet Centurion had arranged a battle between the Squadron Supreme and the Institute of Evil. He fired a grapple-hook to the top of a nearby commercial building, and climbed upwards to get a better view of his surroundings.
He looked down to see a blur of blue as Henri Huang ran through the city streets at a speed which would have rivalled the Whizzer's.
They called him Meanstreak, and the dial on his forehead which pumped the accelerator chemical into his bloodstream allowed him to run as fast as thought itself. It was dialled up to 4 now, its highest level, as he sought to escape the woman clad in familiar tricoloured armour soaring in the air above him.
Justicer Bull swooped down, aiming her sidearm as she attempted to track his path. Justicer Bull attempted her stunner beam, knowing he could not outrun the speed of light, but the beam malfunctioned and her gun sparked and sizzled in her hand. She cursed and threw her sidearm at him in frustration.
Meanstreak dodged it easily, but she was already prepared with her second sidearm. She fired a ricochet bullet ahead of him, and it bounced off a nearby building and into his path, striking him in his shin. He howled in pain and fell to the floor.
Justicer Bull descended, and quickly reached for his dial, turning it down to zero. She pointed her gun at his head. His eyes opened wide and he raised his hands slowly, pleading, "Don't … " With a smirk, she turned the gun behind her, firing back over her shoulder. The projectile ricocheted off the building on the other side of the street, rebounded off the building before her, and then slammed into his other shin. He screamed in pain.
"Justicer Cadbury," she said into her communicator, "Perp grounded at corner of Thomas & Davis, send cleanup crew." Any further words were interrupted by a cloaked figure which descended from the skies.
"That was torture," Nighthawk said angrily.
"That was subduing an illegal parahuman" she said, eyeing his skintight costume marked with an identifying logo, and the mask which concealed his facial features. "And you're violating several laws just by dressing that way." She reached for a pair of handcuffs.
Nighthawk raised his hands. "I'm a visitor here, and will come peaceably," he said, "the cuffs are not necessary."
Justicer Bull drew forth her gun, using it as a bludgeon to knock the dynamic detective unconscious. She leaned over to secure his wrists, and then removed his mask, revealing the face of Kyle Richmond. She furrowed her brow, trying to place him, and then as the cleanup crew arrived, instructed them to take him in for questioning.
Elsewhere in Brit-Cit …
Her name had been Psi-Justicer Grey, and she had worked under the auspices of the Chief Examining Magistrate. She had been puzzled by the barrage of balloons which had floated up to her as she engaged in one of her rare city patrols, but before she had been able to reach out telepathically to discern their meaning, they had burst, releasing poison gas. She crashed her airsled to the ground, choking in pain. She barely felt the teeth enter her flesh before she expired.
Justicer Death cracked open one of her shin bones and sucked at the marrow. "Are you sure you don't want a piece?" he said with a grin.
Whiteface swiped a finger through the pooled blood at his feet, then sucked on it thoughtfully. "Needs sugar," he said, then broke into giggles. "See, I told you, the big pencil thing was nothing personal. Nighthawk is mine to kill and I got jealous is all; besides, ghouls and stakes just seem to go together like … like … bats and belfries!"
"That's a comparison you'd best get over soon," Justicer Death grunted, "unless you want to be my next meal. So. You said you wanted to be my … manager?"
Whiteface looked at an advertising poster on the wall. He felt an immense mirth rising inside him, but before he broke into hysterical laughter he sang out, "There's no business like show business!"
Back in the Justicers' interrogation room in the Old Bailey, Nighthawk awakened to find himself bound to a chair. Justicer Bull sat at a table opposite, facing him. "You have a right to know the charges facing you," she said. The contents of his utility belt were spread over the table, as well as his gloves with their artificial claw tips. She held up each device, fascinated despite herself at their cleverness and miniaturisation, and enumerated how many years of punitive stasis he would be condemned to for each one.
"I was brought here by circumstances beyond my control," Nighthawk scowled. "I am not an … intentional emigrant, or even visitor. How can I be expected to know your laws as a stranger?"
"Violation of immigration statutes," Justicer Bull notes as she makes an additional entry to his list of crimes. "Your claims are irrelevant; ignorance of the law is no excuse. You will be able to leave punitive stasis once you've served your twenty year sentence."
"I haven't been found guilty yet, and I'm already condemned," Nighthawk protested. "I demand an appeal to your highest authority!"
"It is within my capacity as a Justicer to arrest, try, and condemn you," Justicer Bull informed him. "I am the law."
Nighthawk snorted in frustration. "Is there any chance I could speak to someone with a little intelligence?"
At that moment a woman entered the room. She was voluptuous and attractive, with hair apparently dyed deep purple, clad in an outfit of silken pink and purple pastels. "Somebody looking for me?" she asked.
Justicer Bull immediately rose to attention. "Chief Examining Magistrate!"
She smiled, and approached Nighthawk. "Let me scan your thoughts," she said, and he felt a touch on his mind as light as if a butterfly had alighted there. The Magistrate furrowed her brow, and then frowned deeply. "Oh, he's … Justicer Death? He's like the Lord High Justicer … or that alternate Captain Britain, who had visited our world once before … but he's horrible, death incarnate. And there's a mad clown … Whiteface?" She turned to Justicer Bull. "If those monsters are loose in Brit Cit, they need to be dealt with immediately … and this man, Nighthawk, knows Whiteface's m.o. well. We will need his assistance."
"Whether he is from another dimension makes no difference," Justicer Bull shook her head, "creep broke the law, he's doing time."
"You know we have been making modifications to the law since that crosstime Excalibur visited our reality level and saved us all from the Darkchilde. That's one of the reasons we established the Psi-Justicers, to make use of those with psionic assets. I've scanned his mind and will vouch for his conduct in apprehending these perps."
Justicer Bull visibly ground her teeth for a long moment. "Yes Ma'am," she said finally, and knelt down to release the caped crusader. Nighthawk rose to his feet, rubbing his wrists. "I could have snapped those bonds at any time, you know," he said with a smirk, then turned to the Magistrate. "But thank you."
"I am hereby deputising you. You can thank me by making my city safe," she replied, then exited the room.
"Come on, tough guy," Justicer Bull grunted, and allowed Nighthawk to don his weaponry once more before leading him out. She stopped by the Justicers' armaments room to pick up additional ammunition, and while she did so, eyed Nighthawk speculatively. "I don't much want to carry you around like so much luggage," she grunted, and handed him a small device of Otherworldly design. "This is one of the units which attaches to my armour and allows me to fly. Hopefully you can use it to keep up."
Nighthawk grinned widely, "Like Cap'n Hawk?" He ignored her blank look, and reached behind him to attach the antigrav unit to his utility belt. Experimentally, he rose several inches into the air, and lowered down. "Let's go."
As they later ascended into the sky, the dynamic detective in his black-cloaked costume made a stark contrast with the cadre of Justicers in their brightly tricoloured armour, the others riding astride a number of airsleds. "So you have fought both of these perps before," Justicer Bull said, "where are they liable to strike first?"
"I don't know Justicer Death so well," Nighthawk considered, "but Whiteface has a tendency towards grand gestures, preferably something which will appeal to his sick and ironic sense of humour. Sometimes, that's been his downfall: he's obsessed with the idea that we're two sides of the same coin, and deep down need each other. As a result he frequently develops elaborate plans to challenge me and show off his cleverness; but that can makes him predictable."
"Cadbury, head to the entertainment district. Look for any place that has clowns, and conduct searches." Justicer Cadbury grinned, performed an elaborate bow on his airsled, and gestured to a squadron of his fellow Justicers, who accompanied him to the centre of town.
Nighthawk attached telescopic lenses to the eye sockets of his cowl, peering at the vast cityscape below. He had never seen anything like this place, where it appeared urban development had gotten totally out of hand, and the skyline was filled with towering city blocks. He pointed at a billboard below, "What's 'Living Death'?"
Justicer Bull swooped down to examine the sign, then returned to the level Nighthawk was hovering at. "They are apparently musicians. So far as I know they are not breaking the law, so the Justicers are not concerned about their activities so long as their audiences behave themselves."
It was apparent to Nighthawk that his companion had no outside interests which might distract from her job. "If Whiteface is collaborating with a zombie, or whatever Justicer Death is, a show by a band who called themselves Living Death would be exactly the sort of avenue he would choose to create chaos."
"They're performing at the Megasphere," Justicer Bull said with a frown, "which will hold 10,000 people. That's a lot of chaos." She arced mid-air and changed direction, heading to the venue. Nighthawk, less gracefully, followed behind.
Soon, they arrived at the immense structure. Justicer Bull nodded towards her remaining squadron, and they spread out to surround the Megasphere, disembarking their airsleds to hammer at the doors futilely. "Welded shut," Justicer Bull observed with a scowl. "What the hell is going on in there?"
"Allow me," Nighthawk said, removing a vial of acid from his utility belt, and applying it to the doorframe.
"No time for that," Justicer Bull said. Since the Lord High Justicer's revision of the Treason Act, she had been inducted into the Justicer Britain Corps, and her standard armour had received numerous upgrades which augmented her physical strength considerably. She swung a leg forward in a roundhouse kick, shattering the acid-weakened frame and caving the door in.
The interior of the sphere had become a world in itself akin to Justicer Death's Earth-2149 in miniature. Multi-coloured balloons bobbed along, releasing dangerous narcotics when popped. The band and its crew and hangers-on had all been transformed, and they had joined with Justicer Death in his attack on the audience, some of whom had themselves transformed by now to add to the carnage. The smell of fresh and rotting meat filled the auditorium, and throbbingly loud music competed with the screams of pain and terror.
The muscles on Justicer Bull's jaw tightened. "Curtis and Foreman, start evacuations," she barked out to her fellow Justicers, "Pepper and Henry, arm up with exorcist bullets and keep them covered." She spied the figure she recognised as likely being Justicer Death, and flew towards him, unleashing a barrage of exorcist bullets in his direction.
As zombies fell beside him, Justicer Death's force field turned out to be proof against Justicer Bull's attack. He seemed almost amused by her attempts, and rose up into the air to meet her.
Justicer Bull immediately recognised her opponent as a counterpart of the Lord High Justicer, and knew if he was a member of the Corps that his physical strength would likely match or exceed her own. She could only hope that her own force field would be proof against his cannibalistic hunger, and loaded her handgun with a round of armour piercing bullets.
Nighthawk soared towards the top of the Megasphere's dome, when a razor-sharp playing card whipped past him, striking one of the aerial balloons. Cursing himself for his carelessness, he quickly reached into his utility belt and slipped an air filter over his face. He scanned the area in the direction the card had been hurled from, and soon located his nemesis, standing in one of the rafters. "Even by your standards, Whiteface … "
"I received all sorts of inspiration from Justicer Death," Whiteface interrupted him, laughing. "And this magnificent city … Brit Cit … it's like a vast carnival for me … it's made for a fabbo clown such as myself! Oh hey … nice wings, by the way."
Once, Nighthawk might have replied with a sarcastic rejoinder, "All the better to … " but after witnessing the obscene massacre below, he was only the grim avenger of the night. He bared his artificial claw tips, and flew with jetlike speed towards his opponent.
He was closing in on his prey when Whiteface knelt down to scoop up a mewling baby, which he had stolen from one of the victims attending the performance. "You can stop me … or save her!" He tossed the child into the auditorium.
Nighthawk did not hesitate, drawing a miniature harpoon gun from his utility belt and firing it into Whiteface's shoulder, immobilising the evil clown while simultaneously diving after the baby, praying that the Justicers' antigrav unit proved equal to the task. He wrapped the child into his arms and descended to ground level, handing his precious cargo to Justicer Foreman.
Justicer Death was a counterpart to the man who had trained Cassandra Bull, and for all of her experiences at the Academy of Justice and on the streets of Brit Cit, she had never before encountered an opponent who seemed to predict and block her every defensive move. When she felt his hands tearing away at her armour and his teeth enter the flesh of her belly, her screams had been lost amidst the medley of chaos surrounding her.
Nighthawk was fast, but Justicer Death was prepared now for the threat of his Anti-Zombie Spray, and he batted his new attacker away effortlessly. The caped crusader rolled to his feet and then fumbled with his utility belt as Braddock looked on, giving Justicer Bull enough time to load a high-ex bullet into her sidearm. The concentrated round exploded against Justicer Death, who had not prepared himself, and the impact recoiled against Justicer Bull, knocking her several yards back.
He ascended next to her, kneeling down to examine her wounds. He had gambled that she would have enough self-possession to fire at Justicer Death if he kept the creature distracted, but now she looked burnt and broken. He sprayed a numbing antiseptic on her wounds, and she reached up, clutching at his arm. "Avalon," she gasped out, straining to form the words, "must … get me to … Avalon … else I'll … become like … him."
Justicer Foreman had joined them, his face distraught. He had never seen his comrade so badly hurt, and had almost considered the woman impenetrable. "I don't know," he said, shaking his head, "Avalon?"
The dynamic detective thought for a moment, and walked over to the prone corpse of Justicer Death. Some of the circuitry of his armour did not match the rest, and although he was unaware of the connection between them, neither did it match the armour of his impromptu allies; and he had seen the creature reach for the mechanism strapped around his waist before he and the others had been transported to this mad world. Carefully, he detached the device from around him, and walked back to his fallen ally. "I don't know how to … "
He was interrupted by a cry from Widget and the final words of his sentence were spoken elsewhere.
Nighthawk stood in the rough-hewn castle as the elfen creatures lowered the woman into the cauldron. The white-bearded man, his robe and cap ensigned with astrological symbols, stood off to the side, directing them. "Thank you … Merlin," he said. The man certainly resembled the Merlin that he and Hyperion had encountered when the pair had travelled to Camelot in their own Earth's historical period, but he was privately unsure why the ancient wizard would be so familiar with the intricacies of inter-dimensional travel.
"No, my thanks are to thee, Nighthawk," he said. "These armoured knights are my champions now that mighty Camelot has fallen, and 'tis not seemly for one of them to challenge another and wreak havoc in their lands. The undry cauldron has the power to heal the maiden knight, and I myself shall retrieve this … so-called Justicer Death, and return him to where he belongs."
Nighthawk watched as the liquid seemed to immerse the unconscious woman, the magic infusing her body. "And you'll be able to return me to my own time and place, as you did once before?"
Merlin smiled and nodded, "And you may keep the wings with which my champion gifted you … small token for the help thou hast given my realm in the past and the present. Thou shalt find as well that the device therein is within thy understanding."
"My thanks," Nighthawk said. "And the villain Whiteface?"
"He shall be returned along with thee, to be deposited in whatever form of dungeon most suits him."
"My thanks again. And if you don't mind my saying so, I think after this I would prefer to stay in my own time and city of Cosmopolis ,,, all these cross-time capers don't suit me at all!"