by Brian K. Asbury
“Oh, boy, this is welcome. Thanks very much,” said the green-clad American as he tucked into a hunk of bread and cheese. “This is the first food I’ve had in two days. I guess the guys holding me captive didn’t believe in wasting supplies on their prisoners.”
“Well, you’ll be glad to know that we liberated the food from some of their fellow soldiers,” said the Bowman. “So consider it what they should have given you, anyway. You say your name is Jeffrey Smith?”
The black-haired man nodded. “Jeff to my friends. And speaking of whom, you haven’t seen them, have you?”
“People presumably wearing the same uniform as yourself?” Jeff nodded between bites. “I’m afraid not. Don’t tell me you’re lost in this time?”
“The way you say that kinda suggests that you are, too,” said Jeff.
“Oh, great,” Lionheart said. “All that effort, and we’re no better off. He’s stuck here, too!” He stalked off away from the campfire.
“Who’s your cheery friend?” asked Jeff. “Sorry — that was uncalled for. Yeah, I guess you could say I’m stuck here. Although I’ve got three friends who should be around somewhere, hopefully looking for me — actually, three friends and an idiot we got stuck with bringing along for the ride.”
“Well, let’s hope we can help you find them,” said Cameo, speaking for the first time since they arrived back at their camp. “They have some sort of time machine, do they?”
Jeff nodded again. “The Time Sphere. Rip and I built her a few years ago… or a few centuries in the future, I should say. Trouble is, I don’t know what sort of shape she’s likely to be in. We crash-landed here, and I got separated from the others.”
He studied the faces of the four members of the Paladins surrounding him (Lionheart was by now a little distance away). “Say — I maybe should have asked — what century are you guys actually from? You look like super-heroes, but none I’ve ever seen.”
“We’re relative newcomers,” said the Bowman. “Except for me, that is, and even I’ve changed my costume lately, so you probably wouldn’t recognize me, even if you have heard of me before. I’m the Bowman of Britain. This is Cameo… Lodestone… Firebrand. We’re members of a British team called the Paladins. Our irascible friend over there is Lionheart. He isn’t actually a member of our team, but he got caught in the blast that knocked us back here in time.”
“Yeah,” said Jeff uncertainly. “Sorry, don’t take offense, but I’m afraid I still haven’t heard of any of you. You are from the twentieth century?”
“Yes. Are you?”
“Uh-huh. From 1964.”
There was a brief pause. “Well, that, y’know, explains why he doesn’t recognize any of us,” said Lodestone.
“It does? How so?”
“We’re from 1987,” explained the Bowman. “Twenty-three years in your future.”
“Right. Still, that should be no problem, if we can recover the Time Sphere and fix it.”
“Which means finding your friends,” said Firebrand, coming nearer the fire. “So tell us about them, please.”
“OK,” said Jeff, wiping his mouth. “Well, first off there’s Rip — that’s Dr. Ripley Hunter. He’s about the same age as me, a little shorter maybe, with blond hair. Then there’s Bonnie, Bonnie Baxter. Very pretty, dark hair. Her brother Corky’s with us, too. About fourteen years old, yay high, red hair.” He indicated with his hand. “The fourth one isn’t exactly a friend — he’s a movie star we had along for the ride. We were dumb enough to let a big-time Hollywood producer persuade us to take Steve Cleaves back to Elizabethan England to research the role of Sir Walter Raleigh in an upcoming movie blockbuster. Big mistake. That dumbo got us all into real trouble.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Rip Hunter’s Royal Wedding,” Rip Hunter, Time Master #24 (January-February, 1965).]
Lodestone’s eyes lit up. “Steve Cleaves? The Steve Cleaves? Wow!”
“Yeah. Well, at least you seem to have heard of him, even if you haven’t heard of us Time Masters.”
“That’s what you call yourselves?”
“It’s what Corky dubbed us, and the name kinda stuck, dumb though it is.” He looked from one to another of them. “Well, if Cleaves is still around in 1987, that bodes well for us getting out of here — or at least for Rip and the others having gotten out. You better not tell me any more, though — knowing too much about your own future isn’t healthy.”
The Bowman nodded in agreement, although inside he was cheered by knowing that he had actually seen the movie Jeff was talking about, albeit on TV, which confirmed that Steve Cleaves, at least, had returned successfully to his own time.
“Anyway, to cut a long story short,” said Jeff, “a few months back we were on a trip to Nazi Germany, and the Time Sphere got damaged. (*) We fixed her up, but I did tell Rip I wasn’t sure about one of the power coils, and we ought to replace it. We never did get around to it, though — too busy with other missions.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Adolf Hitler’s Greatest Secret,” Rip Hunter, Time Master #20 (May-June, 1964).]
“And it failed on this trip?”
“Yeah. Cut out as we started back from the sixteenth century. We materialized in midair over a lake, and we had to use the emergency escape hatch in the Sphere to get out. I got a cramp, though, and in the confusion I ended up on the lakeshore on my own. I’m pretty sure the others got out, but where they went I don’t know. I had a belt radio, but it got waterlogged and wouldn’t work, so the same probably happened to the ones the others had. I was trying to find them when I ran into a bunch of the King’s soldiers, and they brought me here and interrogated me. I don’t think they really know what to make of me.”
“That’s understandable. What do you think Dr. Hunter and the others would have done in the meantime?” asked Cameo.
“Hopefully found some way to retrieve the Time Sphere from the bottom of that lake and fix her up, instead of wasting time looking for me,” said Jeff. “But I don’t hold out much hope. Even without the radios, our translator disks–” He indicated the device at his throat that had earlier been referred to by one of the soldiers in the tavern as an amulet. “–have a tracer function. And they’re waterproof. If Rip managed to get the Time Sphere working again, he’d have homed in on me. The fact that he hasn’t is worrying.”
“In that case,” said the Bowman, “I don’t think we can afford to waste too much time. At first light we have to try and find Dr. Hunter and the others, before either side in this Civil War finds them!”
Two figures soared high above the English countryside in the early morning light. To anyone on the ground observing them, they would have been little more than specks, probably high-flying birds. However, had anyone turned a spyglass upon them, they would just about have discerned that they were, in fact, human figures — a man in black and silver, wearing a helmet embossed with a stylized lion’s head and the three lions of England emblazoned on his chest, and a young (and very pregnant) red-haired woman clad in a costume that was predominantly green and orange. They crisscrossed back and forth as if looking for something.
“We’re too high, y’know,” said Lodestone, who was struggling for breath a little in the rarefied atmosphere at this height. “I can’t see anything from up here.”
“Well, we can’t go any lower,” Lionheart said, adjusting his flight to get closer to the young mistress of magnetism. “Flying people are not exactly the norm in this time period. Like your friend the Bowman keeps reminding us, we don’t want to end up being written about in the history books.”
“Oh, c’mon, Lionheart. Who’d believe it, even if they saw us?”
“Lots of people, in all likelihood. They still believe in witches in this century and will continue to do so for some time. I don’t think the infamous Salem witch trials in your own country have happened yet.”
“No, that was 1692.”
“I’m impressed. You do know some history, then?”
Lodestone flared. “I’m not completely ignorant, y’know. The only reason I didn’t finish high school was ’cause of these freaky powers I got. But even when I was being poked and prodded by the military, I still got some schooling. I might not know much about English history, but so what? How much about American history do you know?”
“Quite a bit, actually,” said Lionheart rather more quietly, the ferocity of her response having taken him aback. “Look, I’m sorry, I just assumed… but you said ‘poked and prodded by the military’? What do you mean? They experimented on you?”
“Sorta. They wanted to know, like, what made me tick. Look, I don’t wanna talk about this right now, OK? Let’s find that sphere thing and get out of here.” She accelerated towards yet another small lake. “I still say we’re too high,” she said to Lionheart as he caught her up. “The Earth’s magnetic field is a tad stronger in this time, but I still can’t make out much at this height. If there’s a big mass of metal down there, I can’t pick it out from up here.”
Lionheart made no reply, but suddenly peeled off towards the lake. “Hey!” she said, moving after him. “What’s up?”
He seemed to be adjusting a control on his helmet. “I think I’ve got something,” he said.
He nodded. “One of the modifications Stacker’s people made to this suit over Perry’s and my original design was the inclusion of devices aimed at tracking hidden alien spacecraft. One of the Martian spaceships they cannibalized equipment from included a tachyon scanner.”
“Uh… I know I said I’m not completely uneducated, but science isn’t my strong suit, Lionheart. You wanna explain what that means?”
“It’s simple enough. The engines of ships designed to travel faster than light emit faster-than-light particles called tachyons. The Martians use a scanner which detects tachyons to track each other in space.”
“And you’ve got one of those gizmos in your helmet, right?”
“Right. And it’s picking up a definite tachyon trail — something that shouldn’t exist in this time.”
“You think it’s from Jeff’s Time Sphere?”
“It makes sense. I’m no scientist, either, Lodestone, but a time machine would also use tachyons to break the time barrier, wouldn’t you reckon?”
“Looks like we’re going lower after all, then.” He swooped down towards the lake, which was surrounded by woodland that looked to be deserted. About a hundred feet from the surface, he kicked in his braking jets and hovered.
“The tachyon trail definitely enters the water here,” Lionheart said as Lodestone joined him. “See anything now?”
Rhea Jones concentrated, shifting her magnetically sensitive eyes into focus. “Yeah… yeah! There’s definitely something there — big, round, and metallic. It’s in pretty deep water, but I think that’s it, Lionheart.”
“So what do we do now?”
“It’s no use to us down there. Can you pull it up with your magnetic powers?”
Rhea looked doubtful. “I dunno. Like I said, it’s in deep. I’m not sure I can grab it from this distance.”
“How close do you need to get?”
“I could try hovering just above the water, but I’d have to use a lot of power. It’d help if you could hold me aloft, so I could concentrate everything on the one task.”
“OK. But I’ll warn you — this suit isn’t designed to carry passengers for any length of time. The jets have tripped out before under a double load, and they’ve already been strained by my carrying the Bowman last night.” He eyed her pensively. “However, you don’t look that heavy, even with Junior, there. Let’s give it a try.”
They dropped lower, hovering just a few inches above the surface. Lionheart grasped her firmly and upped the thrust of his jets to maximum. Rhea ceased flying under her own power and let him take the strain as she focused all of the magnetic power she could draw from the earth down into the water and the metallic bulk she could sense there.
“Got it… but it’s heavy, Lionheart. Not sure I can do it from this distance.”
“Try. It’s our only hope. But just remember, there’s nowhere in this time I can recharge the power-cells in this suit. If I run out of power, that’s your lot! End of game, no saving-throw!”
“Never mind. Concentrate.”
She did so, and felt the object beneath the water shift, wobble, then move, slowly, towards her. She strained with every iota of power she could muster to bring it closer and closer to the surface. A sudden buzzing sound, however, almost made her drop it.
“Ignore that!” snapped Lionheart. “It’s just my suit telling me the batteries are getting low. I’ll be on reserve power soon, so please get on with it!”
“Yeah. Well, it is getting easier the closer it gets, but it’s heavy, and…”
“Don’t talk. Just do it.”
She nodded, concentrating even harder and feeling the Time Sphere accelerate faster and faster. She could almost see it now as it rose towards the surface. Another buzzer sounded. “Reserve power,” said Lionheart. “Another few seconds is all we have.”
“In that case…” said Lodestone. Redeploying some of the magnetic energy at her disposal, she shifted and grabbed Lionheart, taking the strain and pulling both of them into the air. As they rose up, the Time Sphere appeared just below the surface and finally broke through. With some effort, she directed them towards the shore, finally depositing the Sphere on dry land and themselves beside it. As she finally relaxed, she dropped and doubled up.
“Are you OK?” asked Lionheart.
“Yeah… think so. Just a strain is all. Could’ve done with bringing it closer before I took the whole load.”
“Well, just rest for now. Remember your condition.”
“I’m pregnant, Lionheart, not ill. I’ll be OK. And if I don’t fetch the others, who will? You can’t if you’re out of power.”
“I’m not totally out, but you’re right. I haven’t enough juice left to fly back to where we left the others.”
“Then just give me a few minutes to get my second wind, an’ I’ll do it.”
“OK. But be careful.”
“Lionheart,” said Rhea with a smile. “I was being hunted by the U.S. Military for nearly five years. I didn’t survive that long by not being careful, y’know!”