She had traveled from a past so ancient that even its pale echoes had become legends, into a present which had forced her to slay the twisted form of her dearest love before defeating her most dire foe. Finally, she had come to accept her place, until once again things changed. The land she found herself in was teasingly familiar, yet it had all the characteristics of the futuristic New World to which she had become accustomed.
Lady Ystina, the Shining Knight, rode her winged steed Vanguard over the skies of Great Britain. She became filled with a rage, which part of her knew was not her own, and set to siege.
He had escaped prison after prison, and the last one had been the most challenging of all. It had taken him years until all his pieces had been in place, and finally with the help of the young man known as Faceache he had managed to free himself. He knew the chaos that would ensue as all those science heroes and science villains that had been hidden away, now ventured once more into the world. He would revel in that chaos, and he knew that he would come out on top. And then reality shifted briefly like the sensation of superimposing one photographic image atop another.
The Spider perceived deep in his bones that something was different. The taste of the air, the colours on the streets, all just slightly varied. Then he saw a woman in gold, riding in the air atop a brilliantly white winged horse, and the master manipulator felt himself manipulated as his arm drew forth to leash her and draw her down.
It was a future so distant he was no longer sure it was a future. A future so distant that it seemed to fold back on itself and on its own past. His mind had been enslaved and his perceptions dulled.
But in the centuries of his existence, he had escaped certain death and destruction countless times, and he found it within himself to resist the magicks which bound him and to find his way back to the era he had departed from.
He saw a man and a woman engaged in battle which neither seemed to understand, and for a reason beyond his ken, he joined them.
Once, he had simply been called monster, but he had more recently taken on the name of the man who had created him: Frankenstein.
FDC presents "The Nuclear Knights of the Septagram Table" by Mikel Midnight
London, 1941: beneath the watchful eye of the moon, the Blackhawks stood in front of a rooftop skylight, peering beneath them at the old man in his antiquated clothing. "That's Dr. Nebogipfel?" Baker enquired. The underworld scientist was a small-bodied, sallow faced little man. His lank black hair hung unkempt before his grey eyes which gazed forth from under his phenomenally wide and high forehead. His henchmen appeared stolid, wearing the types of clothes commonly seen on the lower elements of the British criminal classes.
Lt. Theodore R. Gaynor nodded, his eyes also taking in their teammates. "I radioed Blackhawk for his orders. The four of us will spearhead the attack; the others are on their way and will follow us down."
"I assume Blackhawk wants him captured alive," Zeg said pensively. "The weapons he's developing for Britain's criminal element could be handed over to the government ... or taken back to the Island."
"Quite," Gaynor agreed, and then slammed the butt of his pistol through the skylight glass. The quartet crashed through, their scream of HAWK-AAA echoing through the room.
Curses filled the room, but the henchmen, while outnumbering the Blackhawks nearly two to one, did not have the numbers necessary to defeat the black knights. In the midst of the battle, Baker saw Nebogipfel reach for a glass canister off his laboratory table, quickly backing away towards the saddle-shaped seat of an odd machine in the corner of the room. The scientist tossed the canister into the center of the room, where it shattered on impact, the chemical explosion releasing a noxious gas with a ka-floosh. Prepared, Baker held his breath, covering the lower half of his face as he staggered towards the other man, attempting to tackle him off the machine. But his opponent had already activated its control dial, and Baker saw their surroundings disappear into a blur of rainbow-like colours.
"I don't have enough blood on my hands? You just had to interfere?" Nebogipfel kicked away at Baker, who struggled against him. While much stronger than the other man, his exposure to the fumes had dulled his senses, and he found the shifting surroundings disorienting while his opponent seemed accustomed to them. The scientist pulled back quickly on the lever, and the rainbow effect stopped; he then took advantage of Baker's surprise to finally eject him, and before the man could once again attempt to capture him the machine disappeared once more.
Baker cursed at his ill luck, and looked around at his surroundings. While recognisably the same room he had entered earlier, it was completely empty. The lab equipment was gone, as were his teammates and Nebogipfel's henchmen. Everything was covered with dust. The windows were boarded over. He looked up; the skylight had been repaired. What was going on?
From outside, he heard the familiar sound of a police siren. He reached for the boards, tearing them away from one of the outside windows, and peered through the cracked glass.
He witnessed a sextet of colourfully garbed figures, all engaged in an inexplicable battle with each other. He thought he recognised one who appeared to be the Shining Knight, given his gleaming gold armour and white winged horse. There was a second man also clad in armour of battlefield grey, a young woman in a colorful medieval garment, a masked man in a red hood with a bow and arrow, an older man clad in what seemed to be black tights with a curious piece of equipment strapped to his torso, and an immense man with green-tinted skin who resembled none other than Boris Karloff in his most famous role.
As confused as Baker was, he was first and foremost a warrior. He wrapped his jacket around his fist and shattered the remains of the window, then scrambled through onto the street. The Shining Knight was leashed by the man in the red hood and the man in black, struggling against the cords which bound his arms while his horse reared mid-air against its binds. Baker felt disinclined to brutalise an older man, despite his apparent strength, so he tackled the man in red, causing him to release his grip.
The Shining Knight soared free, while he and his opponent wrestled. Finally the masked man spoke. "That uniform ... you're one of the Blackhawks! What the bloody hell are you playing at?"
Baker paused, surprised. "I don't know who you are, but I know the Shining Knight, and if you're attacking him ..."
The man grunted. "I'm the Bowman ... the ace archer of Scotland Yard ... and whoever that woman up there is on the flying horse, she's a criminal, and definitely not the Shining Knight. Are the Blackhawks here? Or did you come alone for the sole purpose of aiding and abetting supervillains?"
"Woman?" Baker's head swam. "I've obviously misjudged. Let me help you up, sir."
The two men rose to their feet. "Those two," the Bowman said, pointing them out, "the Knight and the Squire, are with me. The other three seemed to appear out of nowhere, and are spending their time fighting with each other, vandalising things in downtown, and fighting with us. The big green bloke wrecked my Arrowcar. So whose side are you on?"
"I ... I don't know where the rest of my squadron is," Baker replied, "but the Blackhawks have always been on the side of right. Ian Holcolmb-Baker stands with you."
The Bowman donned his weaponry once more. "Watch out for the OAP," he said, pointing to the older man, "he's out for the others but he's not with us, and he'll attack you viciously if you approach him, and he's stronger than he looks." The gold woman's sword effortlessly sliced through the sides of buildings like butter, scattering bricks, and then the man in black attacked the monster. "Give a hand to my friends against the green bloke, I have to rein in that horse one way or the other."
Baker brandished his revolver once more, and approached the combatants. The Knight and Squire were holding the monster off with swords, while the man in black was bearing some peculiarly designed weapon of his own. Baker fired at the green man. The impact forced the monster to recoil, and the man in black fired some sort of steel web over him. But the monster responded only with rage, massive fists tearing through the web and knocking down his opponents. Baker felt a blur of red pain, and saw a large antique handgun drawn from a holster at his opponent's side and aimed towards his skull.
Mumbling an apology, the Bowman fired an arrow at the horse's flanks. He needn't have worried, as a swing from the gold woman's sword cleaved it in twain. Her face contorted in fury, she directed the animal to swoop towards him, her own sword swinging wildly.
The man in gray armour staggered to his feet, struggling to bring his own sword to bear against the green man once more, when the monster stopped, withdrawing his weapon. "A Blackhawk," he muttered, in an inhumanly deep voice. "The Knight and the Squire. You, I do not know of," he said to the older man. He cast his eyes to the glimmer of gold he'd seen in his peripheral vision. "YSTINA," he bellowed.
The woman seemed to respond to the sound of her name. At once her face calmed, and she looked around, confused, pulling on her steed's reins so that he flew by overhead as the Bowman ducked. She turned to face the source of the sound. "You called my name, monster? Are you the one who brought me to the Isles of Britain?"
The Knight scowled, sword still at the ready, Squire similarly armed and by his side. "Do you have a name then, yourself?"
"My apologies, Knight of the realm. I was not myself. I have taken the name Frankenstein, for obvious reasons. This fair warrior is Ystina, who has been called the Shining Knight." His intelligent eyes took in their surroundings. "It appears we have been the victim of some sort of hypnotism or mind control, as I am not partial to mindless rages, and have fought a long battle to free myself from just such control already. Allow us to make amends."
Squire glanced askew at her mentor. "I'd believe him, sir," she said. "There was some flux of information about him which was almost subliminal ... I didn't notice it when we were fighting ... but now that it's gone the change is very noticeable. Like the way he's acting, I mean."
The Spider assessed the other six carefully. The Knight was a capable fighter but there was an undercurrent of weakness about him; possible an addiction? His Squire showed less skill with the sword, but despite her deferential manner, had the more assertive personality. The Bowman was more experienced than they, and exuded strict professionalism. The woman was the most proficient with the sword, but he gathered her skills had been tested more in the tourney than in the battlefield; still she had some dark air of adolescent tragedy about her. The man who had been referred to as 'a Blackhawk' was the deadliest of all of them, clearly a professional soldier, yet there was something odd and old-fashioned about his body language; moreover he appeared disturbed and uneasy in his surroundings. Well, he thought to himself, I have fought alongside a Society of Heroes before; since apparently I have fallen among such again, perhaps I should use this opportunity to re-establish myself as a hero once more, rather than returning to my criminal roots as I'd been considering following my escape. "I call myself The Spider," he said. "I have been ... fighting crime for many years, albeit working underground. I'm not surprised if you haven't heard of me."
"My name's Baker," said the man in the black uniform. "Pardon me, Bowman, but you said you thought the Blackhawks might be on their way? I am a little lost here ... so you have a contact with him?"
The Bowman furrowed his brow, "With her, you mean?"
Baker paused. "Blackhawk. Janos Proshaka."
The Bowman glanced at the Knight and Squire uneasily. "The person who's been running the Blackhawks for years is Zinda Blake. Lady Blackhawk."
"A girl?" Baker sucked in air through his teeth. Where had Dr. Nebogipfel taken him? "I have plainly missed some things. I don't have a radio available to me. Can this Lady Blackhawk be contacted?"
"My plane can take you to Blackhawk Island easily enough if you can provide directions," the Knight said. "I'd be more than happy to give you a lift."
Years ago, having conquered the criminal scene in London, the Spider crossed the ocean and easily done the same in the city of New York. But a new universe was a different matter. None of his contacts would know him, if they existed at all, and there may be other, subtler differences he was not aware of immediately. He needed the company of these others, for now, to act as his guides. "There has obviously been some local phenomenon which has displaced many of us," he observed. "I propose we operate together, for now, until the source of this displacement makes itself known. Is there room in your aeroplane for all of us?"
Baker demurred. "I can't give away the location of the Island, it's ... "
The Spider looked at him intently. "You are a man out of time, and most of us are from different universes entirely. All we wish is to go home, and hopefully together we will find a way to do that. Your secret will be taken with us where it will do no harm."
Baker found the Spider's words and gaze mesmeric, and he felt unable to resist the man's suggestion. "I ... see your point ... "
The sleek aircraft descended on Blackhawk Island, the Shining Knight riding Vanguard alongside, the Spider with his jetpack alternately hitching a ride and flying under his own power. He missed the autonomy of his helicar, but he knew he would have time to build a new one in this new world.
As they dismounted onto the landing strip, Baker felt increasingly uneasy. The sleek jets which were parked around them bore little resemblance to the Grumman Skyrockets with which he was familiar. "The headquarters building is this way," he pointed out to the others.
"Let's go pay them a visit," the Knight said, preparing to lead the way. He felt that as 'Britain's Batman' he ought to take charge, and the visitors had remained largely quiet since their externally imposed rage seemed to have elapsed. The Bowman was a decade older, he knew, being a near contemporary of the original Knight whom he had squired under, his late father Percy Sheldrake; still, the man often deferred to him strategically.
"Something's wrong," Baker hissed. "Not just that so much has changed. I need to scout things out."
The Shining Knight drew her sword once more. "And we are to remain here, when danger is afoot?"
Baker looked over at her. Where did he belong now, on this oddly changed future Blackhawk Island with its unknown inhabitants, or with these misplaced costumed misfits and monsters? For all he knew the Blackhawks of this era had donned individualised colourful costumes and armed themselves with super-science. "No, you're not. I am going to head to the headquarter building ... that structure over there. The rest of you are free to explore and look for anything odd. Just keep in mind," he grinned, "the Blackhawks are possibly armed and not liable to take too fondly to intruders."
As Baker approached the square administrative building, he saw his anticipations realised, as the entrance door had been torn off its hinges. He examined it carefully. There seemed to be signs of immense and powerful handprints. That confirmed in his mind that he'd been right to invite the allies to accompany him.
Silently, he entered the main command room. Thanks to his exposure to some of the Knight's equipment he recognised the communications and computer equipment; the structure of the interior itself appeared to not have been remodeled, for which he was grateful. Assuming any added security functions would have been disabled by the intruders, it meant he'd be able to explore quietly.
The most secure section was the brig; if there had been an escape, or if the Blackhawks of this decade were being held by an intruder, that would be the logical place. His intuition seemed correct when he saw the doorway which led to that underground section had been similarly torn asunder. Quiet as a hovering bird of prey, he slipped down the familiar stairwell.
The brig was as he remembered it, but instead of iron bars, the inhabitants seemed to be imprisoned behind vertical rays of coherent light. Two were young men, one red-haired and the other very pale blond; a third man was older, and could have been a relative of Hendrickson from his own team. All three wore midnight blue headbands and bodysuits, with gold gloves and boots, and had holsters on their belts. The fourth prisoner was a young woman, blonde and glamourous, and dressed in a uniform of black leather which resembled nothing other than a distaff version of the uniforms the Blackhawks of his own era wore; she was obviously the so-called 'Lady Blackhawk.'
In the hallway of the brig, evidently mid-gloat, was a bald man who appeared to be about the size of a midget, wearing a red and orange outfit and riding on the shoulders of an immense gorilla. Baker heard him ranting that it had taken him ten years to find the island, but now it's his, and their new home will be in a ray cell. He'll keep them alive as hostages. Baker knew he had to come up with a way to save them, but what could he do against 21st Century weaponry? He padded quietly back up the stairwell to discuss the situation with the others.
Baker returned to a scene of chaos. The Knight and the Squire were pitting their swords against the fangs and claws of a pair of jungle cats. The Bowman was backing away, aiming his arrows at an advancing crocodile. Frankenstein was caught in the web of a giant tarantula, whom the Spider was battling in an attempt to free him. Gauging from their size and ability to challenge the costumed types, the animals all appeared to be genetically enhanced. Baker cursed, drawing his handgun, and ran to join his besieged companions.
Strategizing en route, he directed himself towards an immense snake which was coiled around the Shining Knight. As she struggled to free her sword, the hovering Vanguard sounding almost hysterical with fear. Baker zigzagged towards them, shouting and waving his arms enough to attract the attention of the snake.
The creature lunged towards Baker faster than he anticipated, and he rolled to the ground. "Hell, bloody hell," he said as he felt the corner of the creature's muzzle strike a glancing blow to his arm and saw his revolver slide across the ground away from him.
He lunged towards it, and in his peripheral vision saw the shadow of the giant snake rearing before him. Vanguard swooped down, kicking at the animal with flashing hooves, and Baker lunged for his firearm. "Bull's eye," he muttered, firing at the reptile's right eye.
It recoiled in pain, and loosened its coils enough for the Shining Knight to free her sword arm. She slashed downward, slicing through the scales. Once, twice, and the immense head tumbled off, leaving the thrashing body behind. Covered in gore, she squirmed out from the tentacles. "I thank you for your help, Baker, though I assure you I am no helpless maiden and do not require chivalry."
Baker twitched his head. "Chivalry, hell. I need your sword. Come with me."
She followed him across the island to another structure, older than the administrative building, with peaked roofs. "Hopefully, they're still maintaining the
Blackhawk Museum behind the company barracks; it should contain what we need to deal with the criminal in charge of this menagerie." Moreover, he thought, I ought to be right at home there, being a museum piece myself.
She followed him though the comfortable-looking living quarters and into what appeared to be a souvenir room and armory. Baker recognised many of the antiquated machines as being ones from his own era, though there were others which were still more advanced than to what he was accustomed. His face broke into a grin as he found what he was looking for. "The Hawk-Sub!"
The pair rolled the craft out of the museum. "Thankfully," he told her as they launched it, "time has not destroyed the undersea cavern beneath Blackhawk Island." The craft floated through the dimly lit tunnel, Baker using his intimate knowledge of the island to place him. "There," he said. "We are right beneath holding cell 147. Think that sword of yours can carve up through it?"
She pursed her lips. "'tis not the same as the legendary shovel that King Arthur had possessed, but it will do the job." Following his directions, she began hacking her way through the floor of the ray cell.
There were shouts of surprise as the gold sword carved through the stone flooring. "Greetings from the court of Arthur," he heard the armoured woman say, and he could hear the wry grin in her voice. As she hoisted herself up through the floor, he followed suit.
The blonde woman spoke first, her expression showing her bemusement. "You certainly don't look like one of Mr. Freek's abominations. I can see by your outfit that you are a Blackhawk."
Baker grinned, "I see by your outfit you are a Blackhawk too."
The older man's eyes tracked between the two of them, like someone watching a tennis match. Finally, he said: "We see by our outfits that we are both Blackhawks." He turned to Ystina, "If you get an outfit, you can be a Blackhawk too." He started to laugh, the other five people in the room looking at him perplexedly.
The woman held out her hand, palm down. "Zinda Blake, Lady Blackhawk. I can't say I've had the pleasure."
He took her hand in his own and bowed his head slightly. "Ian Holcolmb-Baker, at your service."
She furrowed her brow. "I know that name. You're British. Baker? Any connection to the one who disappeared in 1941?"
He nodded. "The very same. I admit, I wondered what people thought had become of me. I seem to have become a ... displaced person. Allow me to introduce Ystina, the Shining Knight."
Zinda returned the nod in greeting, "It seems time displacement is an occupational hazard in our profession; we'll have to have a long talk about it, when this is all over." She extended a gesture to take in her teammates. "The current squadron of Blackhawks ... Ra'Gan, Tor, and Xeo. You remember Hendrickson, I'm sure; the excessively self-amused Xeo is his son."
"Mr. Freek is the name of that gloating bald midget?"
"He's not really a midget," Ra'Gan shrugged, "more of a mad scientist rendered little by an unfortunate accident ... not that it matters. I'm impressed by your rescue plan, Baker, but we'll need to arm ourselves in order to regain control of the island."
"Regain control?" A voice from outside the cell interrupted the conversation. Mr. Freek had returned, and sat aiming an oddly-designed hand weapon at the prisoners. "It's taken me too long to achieve what I have today; a blast from my D-Gun will disintegrate anyone who tries to make a move without my express permission." He shouted suddenly in pain as a concussive explosion knocked the weapon from his hand.
Frankenstein appeared in the hallway, bearing a large antique pistol, "A blast from my steam-gun will put paid to trespassers," he growled.
Mr. Freek held his damaged hand. "What monster is this? Destroy him, Bruto!"
The Blackhawks watched the spectacle before them, too astounded to even complete their escape as the giant gorilla roared into action, going toe-to-toe with his master's opponent, the tiny mad scientist still hanging on him. The two immense monsters of science, created more than a century apart, struggled with each other, the sounds of bestial roars and Teutonic curses filling the room, with the furious voice of Mr. Freek urging on his champion.
Finally, tradition overcame novelty as Frankenstein's powerful hands cut off the air through Bruto's throat, and the gorilla fell to the floor, burying his owner beneath him. He rose to his feet and approached the ray cell. "The release code is two zero six zero," Zinda Blake said.
As the beams faded, Baker enquired, "How did you escape the web?"
"It was the Spider's idea," Frankenstein replied. "We baited him with the crocodile that was bothering the Bowman, and Knight and Squire threw one of the jungle cats into the other."
"Clever," Zinda smiled, "I think I'd like to meet this man. And yourself, Baker? What are you going to do?"
He paused. "I don't know yet."
The dozen heroes gathered afterwards in the Island's mess hall, once the scientist and his creations had been secured.
"If what you say is true, I find myself displaced for the second time," Ystina said, "and without the friends I had made after I followed Queen Morgaine to this perplexing era."
The Spider nodded. "We've all lost friends, whether in this displacement or due to the natural course of time, which is why I propose we hang together, motley crew that we are. I know I am tired of fighting alone."
"It's better than hanging separately," Frankenstein agreed.
Zinda looked at Baker. "Have you made up your mind yet?"
"I stand with my fellow dp's," he said. "I know you suffered through the same time travel trick I have, Zinda, and I thank you for your offer, but after my family was killed in the Blitz I signed on to the Blackhawks to avenge their deaths against the Nazis. But time has seen to that."
Zinda looked amongst the assembled group, and then her features were illuminated by a sudden smile. "Knight, Bowman, do you have a place to host this party of yours?"
The Knight sighed, "I would have once. The Sheldrake fortune is mostly gone, at this point." The Bowman shook his head.
"I have an offer for all of you ... especially you, Baker. The Blackhawks own an abandoned headquarter in one of the Orkney islands northwest of Scotland. It's fairly well equipped with buildings and defenses, although not exactly up to date. I suggest your team operate out of the island, act as caretakers for the site, and Baker can function as liaison officer between the Blackhawks and ... whatever you choose to call yourselves."
"That's very generous, Zinda," said Baker.
"The famous Shining Knight of our own world was once a member of a team called the Seven Soldiers of Victory," Tor reflected, "and there are seven of you ... "
"I would be honored to follow in his footsteps," Ystina said as she fed a carrot to Vanguard.
"The Seven Soldiers of Victory it is, then," the Squire said cheerily.
"A toast then," said the Spider, raising his glass, "to all our separate pasts ... and our common future."