by Starsky Hutch 76 and CSyphrett
All eyes were on the entrance to Stellar Studios as Sir Justin landed astride Winged Victory. Everyone had begun to move forward, when they were all at once startled by the arrival of a second armored figure astride a winged stallion built entirely of flame. As soon as the second knight, obviously female, landed, the stallion flickered away, and she landed to her feet.
“Whoa,” Syl Pemberton said, watching her as she landed.
“Ain’t that something?” said Greg Sanders as the last flames died away.
“I’m guessing that’s his daughter,” Pat Dugan said.
“Yeah,” Roy Harper agreed. “And you don’t have to be Batman to figure out who the mother is.”
Greg Sanders walked up to Sir Justin with his hand outstretched in greeting. “Howdy, stranger! I ain’t seen you in a coon’s age! And this purty young filly must be your young’un!”
“Aye, friend Greg,” Justin said, clasping his hand. “Tis indeed my daughter, Brandy.”
“Or, as I’ll be calling myself in action, Knightfire,” she added proudly with her English accent.
“She insisted upon accompanying me upon this perilous undertaking,” said the Shining Knight. “And since her mother sided with her, t’would be folly to refuse.”
“I’ve been there,” Pat laughed, thinking of his own wife and child.
“There was no way I was going to miss the excitement,” the armored girl said.
“You’ve got that right,” agreed Billie Gunn.
“Well, now that the gang’s all here, let’s get down to business,” Syl said.
“Aye, let’s. The discovery that our comrade-in-arms is alive has fired my very blood for action,” Sir Justin said, withdrawing his sword. “And I have a length of cold steel I wish to share with his captor.”
“That’s my dad,” Knightfire said. “Always with a flair for theatrics.”
“We’ll all get a shot at whoever or whatever is behind this, that’s for certain,” said Red Arrow. He turned to Patriot and said, “Syl, let’s take everyone on over to the viewing room and let them see what we saw.”
The group assembled in one of the many viewing rooms at Stellar Studios. Patriot hit a remote control, and the recording from the security cameras played, displaying once again the phantom-like presence that had visited once before.
“That’s Wing, all right,” said the Vigilante. “A durn sight bigger’n he used to be, but it’s him.”
“Aye,” said the Shining Knight. “Verily, it looks as if our lost friend is asking of us the boon of freedom.”
“Well, we’re sure as hell going to give it to him,” said Pat. A murmur of agreement passed through the group.
“So now that we are all assembled,” Sylvester said as they exited the screening room, “let’s take a couple of minutes to go over the situation. As you saw, Wing has been appearing here in the studio. Roy and I believe that he is still alive. And from the reactions of the rest of you, I’d say it’s unanimous. Pat seems to think that the cosmic converter belt is helping him to get here sporadically. The plan is to go where he is and bring him back. Any questions?”
“One: Are you nuts?” asked Billie Gunn. “You don’t even know what you’re going into.”
“It’s what we do, lass,” the Shining Knight said. “If courage be madness, the world wants for madmen.”
“So, any questions other than that?” Syl said with a smile.
“When do we go, pard?” asked Greg, strapping on his pistols.
“As soon as everybody’s ready,” said Syl.
“Let us be about it, then,” said Sir Justin, standing beside his daughter.
The group dispersed to take care of any preparations. Billie dumped her jacket with her bag and wandered out of the room. She knew this was a raid, and all she had was a service gun and a backup. Some vacation this was turning out to be.
Every studio had a props department, so she went in search of it. Maybe they would have something she could use. She wasn’t walking into a gunfight with a crummy knife.
“Time to suit up,” Pat said, heading to a large trunk.
“That’s pretty big for your Stripesy togs,” Patriot said.
“That’s because they’re not in there,” Pat said. He opened it to reveal an impressive red, white, and blue battle-suit. It consisted of a chest plate, helmet, boots, gloves, and other high-tech armaments. “It’s just a little something I put together with bailing wire and chewing gum.”
“Yeah, right,” Patriot said. “You’ve never been one to do things halfway.”
“Where we’re going, today wouldn’t be a good day to start.” After slipping on a blue bodysuit, he put a part of the armor around his forearm and flexed it. An impressive-looking gun popped out of a hidden compartment. “Seems to be in working order,” he said, continuing to don his suit.
“So what do we call you when you’re in action now?” Patriot asked. “Stripesy doesn’t exactly describe you anymore in that high-tech gear.”
“I thought I’d pay tribute to our pal and fellow All-Star Squadron member,” he said, slipping on the helmet with transparent faceplate. “You can call me Americommando.”
“What’s the deal, Danny?” Billie Gunn said, standing at the back of the group. She kept Danny Leong between her and the winged horse. Horses were not on her list of favorite animals. Of course, she didn’t like any animals all that much.
“Pat has his machine ready to go, Billie,” said Danny, pointing to a round box with a pole sticking out of it. “So we’re ready to go, too.”
“You have to be kidding me,” she said, jacking a round in the Jatimatic.
“Stay close and keep your eyes open,” said Danny, holding two batons in his hands.
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” said the policewoman.
Pat flipped the switch on the contraption he had cobbled together — based on plans for the Justice Society of America’s transmatter cube — to trace Wing’s quantum signature from his visits to Stellar Studios. Green lightning flared to life around the top of the pole in the middle. The lightning started marching around in a circle, hovering in the air. A picture formed in the center of the circle.
“We’re going there?” said Wilhelmina, eyebrows raised as she gestured to the menacing landscape on the other side of the portal.
“You can always stay behind,” laughed Danny.
“Yeah? Well, you can always go to the Devil,” said Wilhelmina, vehemently and coldly.
Danny drew back, startled by the look on her face. He had forgotten how bad her temper was until it resurfaced through her veneer of civility. It wasn’t a mistake he was likely to make again.
Sir Justin led the way on the back of Winged Victory, guiding it down the raised platform. His enchanted armor gleamed in the shifting green light. The winged horse stepped through the portal, eyeing it warily. The fact that it went through the crackling rift was a credit to its rider. Knightfire quickly followed.
Americommando and Red Arrow stepped through next, while Patriot hovered above them. The ace archer had his bow drawn and ready with an arrow. Americommando’s weapons were also at the ready.
“Let’s go,” said Greg Sanders, behind the red kerchief of the Vigilante. He walked through the door in the air, hands on his belt buckle. He seemed to be whistling under his breath.
Wilhelmina Gunn unfolded the safety lever of the Jati as she and Danny, in his Dragonmage outfit, walked through the gleaming circle together. She took a deep breath at the landscape stretching out in front of her.
Velvety skies were poked by pinholes as it reached from horizon to horizon. The ground was cracked red stone with a layer of swirling dust on it. A small mountain reached up from the flat plain. It appeared to be the only landmark within sight.
The adventurers started forward.
“Ah, Wing,” said the Nebula-Man, his voice seeming to come out of thin air. “Your rescuers are here, finally.”
There was a sudden jerk, and Wing How felt his manacles pull him into the wall. The stone became semi-liquid, squeezing him through its substance and carrying him out of the dungeon. He emerged slowly from the floor, still chained to it by the cuffs around his wrists. His captor stood at a strange television screen, studying the unfolding scene intently.
“It seems there are eight soldiers now, Wing,” the Nebula-Man said. “How good of your partners to bring more company with them. More playmates for our games.”
Wing recognized the Shining Knight and the Vigilante right away. Another was an archer dressed in red, making the prisoner think that he was Roy Harper. He was an older Speedy than when he’d last seen him in 1948 when they had first encountered the Nebula-Man. Two others were dressed in red, white, and blue. He figured they were the former Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy. The other three were unknown to Wing.
“The one woman without a costume might make a suitable object of interrogation, don’t you think, my friend?” the Nebula-Man said, waving his hands.
The eight Soldiers of Victory approached the mountain in the middle of the plain. A castle straight out of nearly every fantasy epic ever made rested on the peak of a precipice in the distance. It looked like those that could fly would have to carry those who couldn’t.
As the heroes paused to come up with a plan, winged creatures suddenly descended from the heights. Dark fur bristled as flying monkeys descended on the group with clubs in their hands.
“It looks like we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Patriot said.
“At least they’re not throwing crap,” Americommando growled as the dropping creatures fell on the adventurers with high-pitched screams. He held up his arm, and an electric current shot out at the three approaching him.
Billie Gunn opened up with the Jatimatic, spraying the sky. She had separated from Dragonmage to get some room to move. Suddenly, the ground opened up under her feet and sucked her down. None of the others noticed she was gone in the commotion.
“Flying monkeys?! Real Wizard of Oz-style flying monkeys?!” Red Arrow exclaimed, aiming an explosive arrow at one and firing. The monkey was engulfed and then disappeared from sight.
“I don’t think these things are real,” Patriot said, seeing what had happened once the archer’s projectile struck home.
“They’re probably a construction of the energy of this dimension,” agreed Americommando.
“Cool,” said Knightfire, creating a crossbow of flame. “That means the kid gloves are off.” She fired three times and took out three flying monkeys in bursts of flame.
“‘Cool’?!” the Shining Knight exclaimed at her, smiling. “Daughter, thou hast attained a surprisingly good knowledge of colloquial modern English and American slang in the last year since we brought you to the twentieth century.”
“Hard to get by at school without it, Dad,” Knightfire said, grinning.
The Vigilante ducked as a baton sailed past his head. “Lose something, son?” he said, tossing it back to Daniel Leong.
“Thanks, pops,” the young man said as he caught it and spun around with the same motion to stike the same flying primate who’d knocked it out of his hand. “And that’s Dragonmage when we’re in action.”
“Right, pard’ner,” the Vigilante chuckled as he fired above him at more of the airborne army.
Leaping over one monkey, Dragonmage twisted below another and swung one of his batons as hard as he could against the skull of a third. The flying monkey squeaked as it hit the ground. He used it as a springboard to catapult himself out of the immediate fighting. He surveyed the scene quickly before he became entangled with more of the strange troops. He realized instantly that Billie Gunn had vanished during the fighting. He grimaced under his war paint. There was only one place she could have gone.
Dragonmage used a monkey to vault upward, landing on a small shelf, which he used to leap up to a small handhold, and he parleyed that into a swing to the top of a projecting boulder. He started climbing up the side of the mountain as fast as he could grab it with fingers and toeholds. Hopefully the others would keep the monkeys busy while he moved ahead.
Billie Gunn looked around her, disoriented by the sudden change. A young man in a tattered uniform was chained to the floor, and a thing that looked like a man-shaped field of stars regarded her. The chained man opened his mouth to shout something. The policewoman didn’t stop to dwell on her situation; she cut loose with what she had left in the Jatimatic.
The bullets hit the starry thing that looked like a man squarely in the chest, making him flinch, even though he was unhurt by the enfilade. There was but a split second to act. Billie Gunn shifted her aim, pulling the trigger. The chains on the captive came loose in a sparkling display.
“I see you are more resourceful than I gave you credit for,” said the Nebula-Man, wiping the bullet wounds away with ease.
Wing How leaped from his spot, displaying the skills his masters had trained him in years before his arrival in America. Swinging with locked hands, he sent the creature to its knees. Another spinning, roundhouse kick sent the energy-being flying backward in surprise. “Run!” the hero exclaimed.
The two of them ran from the room as the Nebula-Man climbed to his feet. He laughed quietly at their efforts as he watched them flee. The game was afoot.
“What’s going on?” said Billie Gunn, shoving Wing around the corner. “Twenty-five words or less.”
“He controls everything in this dimension, hates the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and wants to play with us before he kills us,” said Wing, taking a deep breath. “How’s that?”
“Clear and concise,” said Billie, scanning the halls. “You Wing?”
“Yes,” said the hero. “Who are you?”
“Billie Gunn,” said the policewoman.
“Billy Gunn is an old man, not a dame,” said Wing.
“He was my great-grandfather,” she said, leading the way down the empty corridor. “Don’t get too personal, buddy. I just rescued your butt from the Wicked Witch of the West.”
“I’m not out of here yet,” said Wing, following behind her slowly. “Where’s Lee? I didn’t see him earlier.” The sounds of his unanswered question echoed ominously in the corridor.
Dragonmage quickly scaled the mountain’s side. Regions that would seem far too steep or without a visible handhold he managed to scale effortlessly. His goal was the top of the wall, and nothing would keep him from it. All he had to do was scale the last few yards and then get a grip on the large stones that seemed to make up the substance of the wall.
When he finally reached the top, he looked back at the enormous distance he had gone. In a short span of time, he had traveled a distance that it would have taken a normal man hours to cover. But then, he was not a normal man.
As he began to scale the castle, he felt the false stone shift under him. He recognized the forming of a hand trying to seize his body. He pushed away from the stone, using it to lever himself upward in a flip. Other hands grew out of the mountain. He leaped up, riding the hands like steps.
Dragonmage reached the top of the artificial mesa, where the hands tried to hold him there. Flipping over the growing hands, he seized the outer wall of the castle and started climbing with his usual skill. The wall shifted, trying to embrace his hands and feet. He moved quickly and relentlessly toward his goal.
He flipped over the top of the wall and then slid down the other side, holding himself against the stone. He hit the ground and rolled head over heels to his feet.
Dragonmage was inside; now all he had to do was find his lost allies and their singular enemy.