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Issue #7


volume 2
Issue #1
Issue #2
Issue #3
Issue #4
Issue #5
Issue #6
Issue #7

 

 

7 SOLDIERS OF VICTORY

#7

FDC presents "Doomsday Plus Seven" by Mikel Midnight

Scarlet Hawk looked at the wristwatch-like device in his hand. "Something this size is a time machine?"

Jimmy Watson nodded, "It's linked up to a hyperdimensional computer, all pilot research by the 'Mark Tyme' project. All that's needed is to attach one of these 'magic patches,' actually a micro-thin skin of Gryptonian between two layers of cloth, to your uniforms, and the computer will do the rest."

Squire bounced on the balls of her feet, clearly anticipatory. "I can't believe we're going to travel into the future!"

The Shining Knight grinned at her wryly, feeling at home with the scientist's Welsh accent. "Some of us already have, you know."

"Just remember this is no pleasure jaunt," the Bowman said. "Derek Bradbourne and Richard Plante were both good at their jobs; whatever's caused them to lose communication isn't likely to be trivial."

"Why such an ... odd year as 4003?" the Spider asked. "Why not an even two thousand years, if that was the era you're interested in?"

"I wish I had a good answer to your question," Jimmy Watson replied, "except to say that chronospace is not evenly textured, nor is it contoured in a way which maps intuitively into our calendar rotations. Some dates just seem to be more easily accessible than others."

Frankenstein scowled, remembering the farther distant era he had escaped from before finding himself in this alternate Earth which was nearly identical to his own. "The future has no fear for me," he said, grabbing one of the magic patches from Jimmy Watson's hands and affixing it to his jacket lining.

"We'll all have faced worse," the Knight said, taking another one of the patches. "Let's proceed."

The remaining members followed suit, and then Scarlet Hawk pressed the activation button. Jimmy Watson beheld a blinding flash of light, and the team found themselves cascading down through the eerie rainbow effect that Ian Holcomb-Baker had once beheld. The Seven Soldiers of Victory looked around. They were in an uninhabited forestry; it appeared to be amidst the ruins of Cardiff.

Squire shuddered, taking hold of the Knight's arm. "Cyril, I don't think I like this ... "

The Shining Knight knelt down, running her fingers through the rocky ground. "Are all our battles to be for naught? This appears less populated than even lost Carcosa."

The Spider frowned. "Remember what Jimmy Watson told us: this is just one possible future we are in. Perhaps we can even find some way to prevent its occurrence."

"Then how do we know this is the same possible future that Bradbourne and Plante are in?" Squire asked.

"Jimmy Watson said they could compensate for any divergence drift, if I recall his terminology correctly," Scarlet Hawk said. "I suppose we'll just have to take his word for it."

"It's a good thing George Cross isn't here," the Knight said quietly, "this would break his heart."

"These plants look strange ... I don't know how much species drift should have occurred after two thousand years, but some of the changes are consistent with radiation-induced mutation," the Bowman said. "At any rate, nothing's gained by standing around talking. Knight, how should we work this?"

"It's unfortunate we couldn't take the Hoverer or Vanguard," he said, "but the Spider's jet pack still ought to work." He turned to Alfred Chinard. "We'll head south-southeast, opposite the wind, but you get above the treeline and take an aerial view and let us know whether there's anything worth seeing."

The Spider saluted and rose into the air, jetting around in circles before quickly returning back to earth. "We're not the only ones here alive," he said with a raised eyebrow, "which is presumably good news. There's an aircraft coming this way from the west. They no doubt spotted me."

"Where there is life, there is hope," Frankenstein said. "Let us see what they think of visitors from their past."

The futuristic jet plane began a slow descent in a clearing near where the Spider had hovered. The Knight beckoned to his allies. "Weapons sheathed, but be wary. We have no idea what to expect, or what customs they may have evolved by now."

The septet approached the jet as the hatchway opened, and four figures clad in skintight black uniforms descended: a clean-shaven man with blond hair in a military cut; two women, one with long brown hair, the other with Asian features and black hair; and a second man, much larger than the others, bearded and with furs augmenting his uniform.

The clean-shaven man looked at the Soldiers with wide eyes. "My god," he said in an American accent, "they could be superheroes, almost, aside from the big green guy ... does one of those in the helmets look like Peacemaker?"

Scarlet Hawk harrumphed. "You're Americans?

The man shook his head, "Not all of us. My name is Captain Boyd Ellis, of the United States Air Force; as is my fiancée, Jill Malden," he nodded in the direction of the brown-haired woman. "Our fellow traveler Ikei Yashida is from Japan, and Kuno is from Greenland. We've been ... seeing what's left of America ... but had heard rumors that there was some new construction in London, so we crossed over to check it out." He looked over the Soldiers' distinctive uniforms, many of which bore designs suggestive of a military force. "Are you affiliated with the London group?"

"No, we're ... actually here looking for some lost friends of ours," the Knight said. "Although from what you say, London seems like a good place to start.

"Kona knows this old one," the large man said as he stepped down and approached the Spider, warily. "Before his long sleep, Kona saw old one in his dreams, when he walked through land of graves."

The Spider's eyes widened, for once his composure shaken. "I beseeched you to direct us to Carcosa, though you did not, then, know the language that I spoke." He shuddered, haunted by memories of that dim land, and looked from Kona to the other members of the group while he exerted his logical sense to suppress his emotional reaction. "I couldn't help noticing that you're using a lot of 20th century idioms. And you spoke about 'the United States Air Force' ... but also 'what's left of America' ... has the country truly been that static for two centuries?"

Ellis looked uncomfortable at the question. "No ... not in the way you mean," Yashida spoke next. "We're actually from the 21st century, ourselves ... we were aboard a Saturn VI rocket in the year 2012 when the war broke out ... one of our assignments had been to test an experimental cryogenics system for long-distance interstellar travel. We put ourselves on ice until the radiation had subsided to safe levels ... we crash landed in Greenland which is where we found Kuno ... he's a Goth from the 3rd century who had been frozen in the tundra, so we had a lot in common ... and so you see we're a fairly motley crew."

The Shining Knight eyed Kuno with curiosity, silently mouthing Yashida's description to herself.

"We have a lot in common, then," the Knight said. "We're equally, as you put it, motley. We time traveled here directly from the same era as you, though some years before. Our friends are from the same era."

"We have just come from a meeting with another time traveler," Malden said, "from an alternate future to this one. This seems to be a popular vacation spot."

"An alternate future?" Bowman asked. "So this devastation isn't inevitable?"

"It is for us," Ellis said sourly, "for whatever reason the three of us lucked out and became trapped on this path. We can't exactly go back to 2012."

"Unfortunately, I agree," Scarlet Hawk said. "You'd either be trapped in a radioactive hell, or else exist as nothing but quantum ghosts."

"It appears we're after the same thing then," the Knight observed. "We ought to combine our forces in this savage land. Unfortunately, we were not able to bring our own transportation with us; does that jet plane of yours have room enough for an additional seven?"

"That big green friend of yours will be a little cramped," Malden grinned, "but I think we can make it work."

Frankenstein scowled, unamused. "I have borne worse than that in the slave pits of Mars, and in the London underground during rush hour."

The paired teams maneuvered their way into the jet plane, and with Ellis at the helm they rose once more into the skies, overlooking the overgrown landscape.

"Captain," the Knight said as he joined him at the co-pilot's seat, "What happened in your timeline in 2012? If there's some event we can avert, some pitfall we can avoid … whose finger pressed the button which sent nuclear death on its way and triggered the holocaust which almost completely wiped out life on our planet?"

"We never got all the details straight … as you can imagine, there was a lot of confusion at the time, and there weren't many records after the fact which survived," Ellis said. "Best as we were able to make out, a Latin American dictator named Rykos launched nuclear missiles at New York and Moscow, and managed to fool the U.S. and the Russians into believing the other had launched a first strike. By the time the American and Russian governments discovered his ruse, they had already retaliated, and the automated missile systems couldn't be countermanded."

"My god," Bowman responded, "it's like Red Alert all over again … "

"Still, two thousand years is an immense length of time, by human standards," the Spider mused, "it's surprising more of the Isles aren't populated by now."

"Don't forget that most of the planet had been poisoned," Yashida said, "and there must have been many generations of harmful, if not fatal, mutations induced by the radiation. We have encountered some marvelous things in our time here, including new divergent species."

Squire eavesdropped, eyes scanning the horizon, only half listening in to the debate around her. "That looks like the pretty familiar London skyline right there," she pointed, "and it looks like they've got a regular dust-up going on as well."

As the jet plane approached the outskirts of the city, they witnessed a skirmish between what appeared to be the city's defenders, humans clad in armour, against a wave of approaching marauders clad in forest gear and riding what appeared to be giant lizards. As they flew closer, it became clear that the attackers were nonhumans, with scale-like green reptilian skin.

"Are the battle lines to be this clearly drawn?" asked Frankenstein. "Have we traveled hence to defend the great city against advancing monsters?"

"We've been defending humanity since we arrived here," Malden said. "Come on Ikei, it's time to suit up and even the odds here a bit."

The other woman gave Malden a solemn nod and a thumb's-up gesture, to which the Shining Knight raised a curious eyebrow as the pair unstrapped from their seats and climbed down a hatchway into the lower part of the vehicle.

Ellis decelerated and directed the jet plane downwards, so that it split the battle lines, causing the lizard men to back away and the armoured humans to retreat partway to the barricades surrounding London.

From a hatchway at the bottom of the jet plane, soared a two-person glider guided by Malden and Yashida. They hovered over the battlefield like a great silver bird of prey, directing particle beams to scatter the invaders.

"Kona goes to war; today is a good day," he said as the team prepared to exit the aerocraft. Ellis opened the doorway and the Goth led the remaining eight members of the party into the midst of the lizard men.

The lizard men's strategy fell into disarray, yet still they battled on tenaciously, unwilling to retreat. The Seven Soldiers and their newfound allies altered the balance of forces, but the defense was still hard-fought.

Squire saw one of the city's defender's fall, one of the lizard men approaching to finish him off, and she approached her opponent from behind, slamming him on the side of the head with the flat of her sword, and then again as the man tumbled down. Warily, she approached the blue-clad human, checking to see whether he was alive. He mumbled something incomprehensible ... stroy nemy? Her fingers brushed over his helmet, and she felt a chill down her spine at what her ability to read information patterns by touch indicated to her. Carefully, she slid the helmet off the man's head, and tilted her ear into the man's helmet.

She was correct, as always: it was equipped with earphones that repeatedly replayed the message: "Destroy the Enemy! Destroy the Enemy! Destroy the Enemy!"

"Cyril," she whispered to herself. Ducking and weaving, she made her way through the battlefield towards her partner. Immediately, she held his back, falling into battle formation. "Cyril," she said, their twin swords flashing. "Something's wrong. I don't know if we're on the right side of this battle."

The Knight looked around, "I think we've got them on the run," he said. "I've no desire to shed blood, here, anyway. Let's gather the team together, and you can tell us and Ellis' crew what you uncovered."

The Spider examined the helmet curiously as Squire described her story. "A rather primitive brainwashing technique," he said, "and must certainly reduce their ability to react to their surroundings."

The Knight looked around. "We've got a lot of ground to cover. I don't want folks going off on their own, but we ought to divide forces. Beryl, you and Ystina come with me and take north-northwest, following the lizard men. The rest of you, cover south and east to circle around and try to infiltrate the city."

Scarlet Hawk grinned, "Y'keeping the gels to yourself, then?" He beckoned with his right arm towards the southeast, "C'mon blokes, let's go see what we can see."

Frankenstein looked characteristically sullen, and Bowman sighed heavily, earning him a curious glance from the Spider.


The Secret City:

The armoured trio traveled north, following the trail of the giant lizards through the wooded areas surrounding London. They were fascinated as they examined the greenery, as the shape and colours had changed much more in the two centuries between their common time and this one, than it had between Ystina's time and Cyril's and Beryl's era. As they passed by a number of odd, tulip-like shrubs, the plants began to emit a dark, sky-obscuring vapor-cloud. The trio were temporarily blinded, and they quickly backed into a protective formation, blades drawn.

"Cyril?"

"Shhh ... " the Knight whispered. "Ystina, still with us?"

"Aye," she replied quietly. "Is this an attack, or something natural?"

"I can barely see the tip of my sword," he admitted. "Let's keep going in the direction we were, and we ought to be past these clouds soon."

They'd moved on only several yards when the clouds dissipated, revealing them to be surrounded by a dozen lizard men, bearing ray guns.

"Do you speak English?" the Knight enquired.

The question seemed to startle the others, and they conversed with each other in an unfamiliar, sibilant tongue. They did not lower their weapons, however, and the Knight looked over at his companions. "Follow my lead," he said.

He addressed the lizard men once more. "I don't know whether you can understand me, but I want you to know we are not allied with the Londoners. We aided them, but due to a misunderstanding." He set his sword down on the ground, and stood with his hands raised in the air. The Shining Knight hesitated, reluctant to part from her weapon, but eventually did so, as did the Squire. The Knight stood for a moment, hands raised in the air, and then finally removed his helm.

The lizard men appeared shocked at the gesture, which only confirmed his inclination that he was on the right path. Slowly, he knelt down, and gave a low toss of the helmet at the feet of the lizard men who stood before him. One of them picked it up gingerly, and tilted his ear to the interior of the helm. He passed it then to another one, who judging by the metal ornaments he wore may have been some kind of superior officer. The apparent leader examined the helm carefully, also listening. He hoped they lacked the technical savvy to notice the circuitry which connected to his squadron of miniaturised spitfires, and would neither damage it nor confuse it with the brainwashing mechanism to which the London defenders seemed to be subjected.

Whatever the extent of his investigation, the leader seemed satisfied. He tucked the Knight's helm in a pouch slung alongside his saddle, and directed his lizard men to retrieve the humans' weapons, snorting with very human laughter as they had difficulty with the Shining Knight's supernally sharp sword.

The Knight's gesture may, he thought, have earned them a degree of lenience, as they were not bound as the lizard men proceeded to march the humans farther north. They camped overnight during the long trek, and the humans were offered a spicy, dried meat that they could only presume was from the giant lizards, or else some variation thereof.

By the next afternoon, they had arrived at what appeared to be a settlement. The structures, though built of wood and woven branches, had a vaguely Arabic look to them, which matched the lizard men's loose clothing, and looked designed to be transient. They were led to a central building, larger than the others, and left inside to wait.

As the trio chatted quietly to themselves, comparing notes about their observations surrounding them, they were soon interrupted by another lizard man, who entered the room accompanied by an immense pair of armed guards. The guards stood by the entranceway, as the man raised an empty hand towards them. "I am Barasha," he said in hissingly accented English, "I lead the Harahashan, whose soldiers have allowed you to live despite your apparent alliance with the Londoners. Where hail you from?"

The Knight glanced at his companions, equally bemused by the use of understandable English. "My name is Cyril; my companions are Beryl and Ystina. We thank you for your generosity in allowing us our lives, as I can see the strength of the Harahashan warriors. We hail from ..." he waves his right hand vaguely, "the far land of Wales to the west, though some of our companions are from farther west than that, across the ocean."

Barasha looked positively gleeful. "The name Ystina is unknown to me, but not that of Cyril Sheldrake or Beryl Hutchinson." To their astounded faces, he laughed. "Don't flatter yourselves, there have been no legends of your campaigns which have survived the centuries. We just have more information than you might think." He nodded to the guards, who again drew aside the tarps at the door, and a pair of humans entered, clad in outfits similar to that of the Harahashan.

The Knight's mouth fell open in surprise. "Derek! Richard!"

"Well met, Cyril," Richard Plante laughed, as he and Derek Bradbourne greeted the Knight and the Squire with fond embraces, and bowed in greeting as he introduced them to the Shining Knight.

"We'd started to wonder whether 'Mark Tyme' was going to send anyone after us," Derek said. "Our patches were damaged in our first battle against the Scarlet Centurion's men, and ... "

The Knight waved a hand to interrupt. "The who?"

"Barasha told us you'd allied yourselves with the Londoners," Richard blinked. "I thought you knew ... "

"We saw only men in battle against ... those who didn't appear to be such," Ystina demurred. "It seems we all made an error of judgment."

"Are we not men?" Barasha glared at the armoured woman.

"I suppose it's a mistake we might have made, had our travels been different," Richard said. "As best our research has been able to establish, the Harahashan are not reptiles at all, but humans who have been forced to mutate in order to adapt to the harsh conditions of this world."

Squire furrowed her brow. "But the Londoners ... they look like we do ... "

"The radiation did not fall evenly," Derek said. "I think they are mainly emigrants to the area."

"Although much of the construction has been done with enslaved Harahashan," Barasha said with a scowl.

"So what can you tell us about this Scarlet Centurion character," the Knight enquired.

"Not much is known," Barasha said. "He arrived in our lands seven years ago, using machines none of our people had seen, and his army of pink-skinned slaves and soon enslaved Harahashan, to construct his giant city on the ruins of the old."

"We think he's probably from uptime or downtime," Richard said, "unless he's some sort of quisling for the Mole Men."

The Shining Knight hissed. "The Mole Men? The Tylwydd Têg? What do they have to do with all of this?"

"They're the ones who started World War Three in the first place," Derek replied.

"Wait ... what?" Squire looked back and forth between the two men, baffled. "I thought it was a South American despot named Rykos ... "

"That's what everybody thought at the time," Richard said, "and Rykos was no saint. But it was the Mole Men who sent a powerful energy-pulse up from their underground dwelling that triggered Rykos' missiles in the first place."

"They introduced those darkness-creating plants, the ki-moli, to make the surface world more accessible to them," Derek continued. "Fortunately, they had underestimated our resources. A small army of surviving metahumans beat them back ... but there was no way to undo the damage they had caused."

"We have a lot of work to do when we get back," the Knight murmured. He looked to his allies. "We didn't come here alone, though. The rest of our team as well as some others went to investigate London."

Barasha hissed. "Your team is in danger."

"He's right," Richard said. "A lot of his strongest warriors have been enslaved by the Centurion. We've done our best to aid the Harahashan in upgrading their weaponry, but ... "

"Weaponry ... are your own suits of armour and weapons still functional?"

Derek nodded. "We've avoided cannibalising them as long as possible. The Crusader and Lionheart are still at your service."

"You're saying we might need to stage a rescue," the Shining Knight said. "How to approach without being seen? Those great lizards the Harahashan ride into battle are not the most subtle of beasts."

"That is a problem your fellow downtimers have been inspired to solve for themselves," Barasha grinned.


The Chronic Argonauts:

Scarlet Hawk and the Spider, each using specialised equipment, effortlessly scaled the wall surrounding the city, while their compatriots watched from below. The streets behind the walls was indeed recognisable to them, but presented a London as it might have been seen one and a quarter centuries before their own time.

Scarlet Hawk raised an eyebrow. "That's not what I expected to see. The Scarlet Centurion is some sort of antiques collector?"

"I would say it was a function of the limits of his technology, except the details are too precise," the Spider mused. "This is a clear reproduction of London circa ... 1880, I would guess."

"I suppose all the brainwashed slaves doing construction down there don't fit in with the period detail. Otherwise, what you say does make it sound like a fellow time traveler. Let's head back down and report."

Frankenstein scratched his head. "It sounds like a place in which I would be at home. Would my pallor allow me to pass as one of the lizard men, do you think?"

"Your pallor, certainly," Yashida said, "but I'd never met anyone taller than Kuno before ... and didn't think I ever would. I'm not quite sure what we ought to do about the two of you."

"It takes years of training to learn how to compress the spine and alter the posture to effect the disguise of being less than one's actual height," the Spider reflected, "but perhaps we can come up with something. The armour those soldiers are wearing; it's fairly bulky. If we stripped them down to just the outer shell, and clad our two large fellows in them, it might ameliorate some of the problem."

"That seems far-fetched," Ellis said dubiously, "But Kuno and ... er ... Frankenstein are too important as assets to leave behind. Unless anyone has any better ideas ... ?"

Thus it was that the Bowman set his snares under cover of night, and several of the city's guards fell to the tips of arrows equipped with sleeping gas capsules or hypnotising subsonic emitters. The Spider's and Jill Malden's deft fingers worked on dismantling the suits of armour and refashioning them to something which, at a surface glance, would act to properly disguise two of their teammates.

So attired, the eight visitors from the past explored the streets of London. Frankenstein alone could testify to the veracity of the duplication, although it was certainly cleaner than the London he knew, and the variances in building materials and techniques were evident. And the London of his era did not have chain gangs of human slaves and lizard men working on construction crews throughout the city. The language spoken on the streets was also barely recognisable as a deteriorated English, with dropped syllables and deleted prepositions, making the talk surrounding them just on the borderline of comprehensibility. The vehicles on the roads were curious things, internal combustion engines but in random styles which seemed part horse-drawn carriage, part automotive styles ranging over a course of decades.

"This place is horrible," Yashida whispered, "even the brutish U.S. military survivors we encountered had not developed a culture as awful as this. It's like a scene from some dystopian novel."

Their attention was drawn to a flickering light which filled the outside wall of one of the buildings, and which seemed to be emitted by a project on the roof of the building opposite. The bustle along the streets paused, and a palpable air of anticipation was felt in the crowd. A quick survey indicated this was not an isolated occurrence, but rather one taking place in public squares throughout at least the center of the city. A darkness formed in the flickering light and coalesced into the image of a man clad in varying shades of red, a helmet concealing his facial features, and loudspeakers announced the presence of the Scarlet Centurion.

"The Scarlet Centurion?" Scarlet Hawk sniffed. "I suppose he is the penny-ante fuehrer of this joint."

The image started to rant, in the same degraded language as the surrounding Londoners, though some of the Soldiers noted a slight difference in accent, though difficult to place. As he continued to rant, his face was replaced by images of hordes attacking the city, what appeared to be shots of razed farmlands, and wounded guardsmen. Interposed were a series of faces ... lizard men of various ages ... and the recognisable visages of Derek Bradbourne and Richard Plante ... each face slowly morphed as it remained on the screen into something goatlike and sinister. The crowd shouted their rage at the pictures, some going so far as to throw rocks or bottles at the walls on which they were projected.

"A dystopian novel is right," Bowman muttered, "we're right in time for the two-minute hate."

"More than that," the Spider said. "It may be an indication that the men we came to find are still alive ... or at the very least, that they've been here fairly recently."

The conversation was interrupted as a trio of armed guardsmen approached the gathering. The foremost of them waved his rifle in their direction. "Why n'goat? Why n'goat?" The man's other arm gestured towards the projection, which had by now ceased its narrative. He eyed Frankenstein and Kuno curiously.

"The goat? sacrificial goat? scapegoat?" Frankenstein scowled beneath his helmet, "I tire of this symbolism from tyrants, even in this degraded tongue."

The guardsman, visibly infuriated by the Soldier's response, swung the butt of his rifle around, catching the other one the jaw and knocking the faceplate off his helm. The man's eyes bulged as he saw the pale green visage within, and he and his compatriots backed away quickly. He pulled out what appeared to be a walkie-talkie from a side holster, and spoke into it quickly. "Eight Truders! Zards! Corner Weisinger Way & Meskin Court!"

Any further commentary was cut short by Scarlet Hawk's throwball, and the fleeing others were felled by Bowman's arrows. Ellis facepalmed. "So much for skulking and skullduggery." He scanned the surrounding streets, the onlookers curious or hostile. "Split up ... my team this way down sidestreets, you other four backtrack ... we'll try to reconnoiter with the Knight's team and report on what we found."

The three astronauts and their antiquitous companion began to duck and weave as the security vehicles arrived, sirens blazing. A shadow fell over the city streets as the two-woman glider, summoned by Jill Malden, began to hover into view. As the quartet struggled, a baton struck Yashida in the skull, stunning her. The glider paused, as if puzzled, then turned on autopilot and returned to the jet plane. Kuno roared his fury, massive fists striking down several of the guardians before he found himself falling prey to their greater numbers, Ellis and Malden falling alongside him.

Meanwhile the archer and the pilot, the monster and the master manipulator, plowed a dangerous path through London with arrow and throwball, steam gun and web gun. It was almost enough.


When The Earth Blacked Out:

They awoke, disarmed and disheartened and enchained.

Frankenstein tested his strength unsuccessfully against the chains which held him. "I tire as well of my journeys to the future always ending with those who would bind me to their will," he said dourly. "I ... apologise if my speaking out of turn led to our capture."

Ellis shook his head, "It was my plan, my responsibility. We didn't know what we would find. We ought never have entered in force; it drew too much attention and virtually guaranteed our capture."

The Spider inclined his head in the slightest nod. The presence of Kuno, after their surreal encounter in Carcosa, had left him preoccupied, else he'd simply had gone his own way and infiltrated the city himself. Even then, had a stray shot not disabled his jet pack, he would have fled the final battle; he could easily escape now, but to what end? His pride forbade him from returning to the 'Mark Tyme' project alone and empty-handed, but there was no value to him in conquering a barren Earth such as this one. His internal reverie blocked out the surrounding conversation, but was interrupted by the arrival of a powerful-looking man, his features concealed behind a masklike helmet, his armour in shades of red and black emblazoned with an hourglass at its center. "So, my fellow downtimers have come to track me, after all that I've accomplished."

Scarlet Hawk's muscles tensed. Under his breath he whispered to Bowman, "I know that voice ... it's Nebogipfel ... it's the underworld scientist who stranded me in your decade ... but he looks completely different ... "

"The one who labeled himself the Scarlet Centurion, is it?" Frankenstein rumbled, "Accomplishments built on the backs of slaves are worth naught more than the hellfire which will inevitably consume all tyrants."

"I have sampled but the smallest section of the timestream, from 1862 and forward to 17901 AD, but even within that gap I have seen that slavery is a constant of the human condition. Having seen how the city of London had fallen, it befit me to see it rise again."

"Kuno is warrior, not slave, let me out and fight you, I will show you!"

"You collaborated with criminals back in 1940," Scarlet Hawk spat, "and it doesn't look to me like the company you're keeping is any better now."

"Nineteen forty? How would ... oh my, you wouldn't be one of those Blackhawks? The one who had disrupted my operation and then tagged along when I chose to withdraw from that era?"

"Ian Baker of the Blackhawks, at your service."

Jill Malden watches the exchange, fascinated. "So you two are ... eh ... arch-enemies of a sort, then?"

"Hardly that," Scarlet Centurion sneered. "I have projects scattered throughout the timeline now; Baker simply interfered with one of them, just as the eight of you seemed intent on doing so. I have collected a fair number of brainwashing techniques in my travels, and I look forward to using some of the ones developed for the more recalcitrant prisoners on ... eh?"

The lights in the room seemed to dim, as tendrils of black smoke seemed to seep in through the small open windows. Scarlet Centurion paced over to the window and glared out at the obliviating darkness. "That is not a natural fire ... that is the ki-moli ... I can't believe the lizard men would ... "

He was interrupted by a shearing sound of metal on metal, as the tip of a golden sword cleaved through the bolted wooden door to the room. It clattered to the floor and riding in above it was the Shining Knight, astride a giant mutated dalmation. "Not the lizard men alone. Surrender, your time has come."

Scarlet Centurion glared at Baker, and a shimmering light appeared in his right hand to be replaced by a futuristic firearm. He barely had time to aim it before Ystina's mount clamped its immense jaws on his arm. He howled in pain.

"By book or by sword," its rider said, and her sword sliced through the Scarlet Centurion's chest. Sparks flew out, and he fell to the ground lifelessly. She stared down at it. "Eh? Another clockwork man?"

"That just means the real Nebogipfel is still elsewhere in the timeline," Baker said. "Ystina, if you wouldn't mind?"

She smiles, and dismounted to slice through the door of the cell and, more carefully, the heavy irons holding them captive.

"I take it that means you contacted the lizard men," Bowman said, "and all of you are all right?"

"Quite so. They are valuable allies and great warriors." She smiled. "Still, we have a city to retake, and your strengths are needed."

"Kuno was born for such battles," he grinned widely, "lead on, golden warrior."

The eight were led from gaol to witness their five armoured comrades astride others of the immense dogs, leading an army of Harahashan who poured in through the city gates. Under the leadership of Barasha and the knights, they focused their attentions on freeing their captive brethren and rounding up the city's guardsmen. The struggle for London was hard-fought and many Harahashan and guardsmen lost their lives before the invaders' final victory. Boyd Ellis too was struck down by crossfire, as he sought to protect some of the noncombatant citizenry.

The celebration of the victors was marred by Jill Malden's sobs. "I can't believe we survived thousands of years ... so many things here ... just to lose him like this ... "

"He was great warrior. Kuno be honored to light his pyre, it will burn until end of time." Malden nodded numbly.

"I am sorry for your loss," the Knight said helplessly. "I know you had originally planned to remain here, but if you now want to reconsider ..."

Yashida shook her head. "This is where we belong, now."

"I understand," the Knight said, "and empathise. In fact, my mounted companions and I have agreed to stay here for a while, to help rebuild London."

"What?" Bowman looked at him, astounded, and then at the Shining Knight, Squire, Crusader and Lionheart as they nodded their assent. "We came here to do a rescue operation, and now we will not only be going back empty-handed, but half our number will be joining them in exile?"

"We won't be here forever, Archer," Squire smiled. "We're all equipped with functioning magic patches, now. Just ... a couple of months. We just disposed of the only leadership most of these people have ever known, and that Nebogipfel-bot seemed to be the person running things. Barasha is a good tribal leader but he has never run a city before. They're going to need some modern-day ... um ... historical perspective just to get on their feet."

"Contact the Hood or the Bat Squad if you find yourself short on manpower until we return," the Knight said.

"We will make do," the Spider said. "Well met, Kuno, perhaps we will run into each other again ... in time."

"I will miss you, dear monster," Ystina said to Frankenstein with a smile, "be well, and guard the Isles in our name."

"I will," he replied, and the remaining four Soldiers vanished in a blinding flash of light, once more returning home.


NOTES:

When I went looking for 41st century events, a cursory skim of the Earth-4 timeline led me to infer the Doomsday +1 series took place near the 41st century rather than the late 20th. By the time I realised my mistake, I had the episode plotted and didn't feel inclined to swap everything over to Kamandi's timeline, so just did a work-around. It's not as if Doomsday +1 is canon to DC anyway, so not much harm is done, although in fact the series would have fit in with the OMAC/Atomic Knights/Hercules Unbound timeline extremely well with only minor tampering.

The two-woman glider that Jill and Ikei use, never actually appeared in the comic to the best of my knowledge, but was featured in the classic Neal Adams poster of the company.

And yes, I acknowledge that all the 'revelations' near the end of the story were completely obvious.

The DC Universe of characters, which includes 90% of all the ones written about on this site, their images and logos are all legally copyrighted to DC Comics and it's parent company of Time/Warner. We make absolutely no claim that they belong to us. We're just a bunch of fans with over active imaginations and a love of writing.