by Philip-Todd Franklin
At the General Assembly chamber at the United Nations in New York City, a large screen upon the wall went dark as a man began to speak. Javier Pérez de Cuéllar of Peru, the Secretary-General of the U.N., was an elderly white-haired man dressed in a black and white suit.
“Distinguished members and non-member observers, what you have just witnessed is a copy of the last transmitted signal to either originate or reach the United Kingdom in over four hours. Since then, a great wall of darkness has seemed to surround the whole of the British Isles and most of the English Channel as well. As last reported from the American ambassador and confirmed by my own government, contact has been lost with any ship or plane that has tried to cross into the area contained by the curtain of darkness. At this time, all travel to the British Isles has been suspended, and a complete investigation into this Morgana le Fay has begun within special chambers. I am afraid that this is all I have at this time.”
As de Cuéllar began to walk away from the podium, the chambers erupted into chaos as many of the delegates began to speak at once, each trying to be heard over the other. Within the scrambling and screaming could be heard a note of fear — a very real fear that if such a thing could be done to England, it could be done to any other nation, if something wasn’t done about it.
De Cuéllar slowly made his way over to the American ambassador to the United Nations, a woman dressed in a light blue dress that stopped just short of her knees; she had bright red hair and dark grey eyes. As she noticed the Secretary-General making his way toward her, she disengaged herself from the ambassadors of Canada, China, and Iceland. As they met halfway, she looked up into his tired eyes and tried to give a gentle smile of encouragement but just couldn’t seem to achieve anything that didn’t feel forced.
“Have there been any new revelations, Ms. Curtis?” asked de Cuéllar, the weight of the current time of chaos bringing a chilling memory of the red skies of a year ago and the painful loss of several Peruvian citizens to the shadow demons of the time.
She shook her head and softly sighed. “I’m afraid not. My government has been trying to contact some of the action-heroes to see if any of them would be able to check out the situation, but at the present, all ways ordinarily used to contact them have failed. It would seem that since the Russian ambassador has refused to appear at this assembly, his own government either doesn’t want to get involved or already is, but I can’t find any proof of that, either. I wish I had more encouraging words to give you, my friend.”
De Cuéllar said, “It is OK, Ms. Curtis. We’ve had to function without action-heroes before, and somehow we shall do so once again.”
At the same time, within the Oval Office of the White House, the president of the United States of America was listening to a special report from a government official whose robotic hand identified him as Sarge Steel, director of Checkmate.
“Mr. President, the Sentinels of Justice are busy on a case,” said Steel. “I’m afraid I don’t know exactly where they are or when I’ll be able to contact them again, but I’ve left messages for them to contact me ASAP. Their current case has kept them very busy, and the latest report I received was that they had a lead on where the Atomic Knights were coming from, sir.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Atomic Nightmare.]
“Even Captain Atom?” asked the president.
“I’m afraid so, sir. We haven’t been able to reach the Paragons in Europe, either, nor the People’s Heroes in Russia, but we’ll keep trying. I could put one of my L.A.W. teams into action, but none of my agents has dealt with something on this type of scale before.”
A grave look crossed President Ronald Reagan’s face as he processed this news. “So what you’re telling me, Sarge, is at the moment we don’t have anyone else to investigate that strange darkness surrounding Great Britain, nor to find out what happened to the two airliners lost after entering that darkness?”
“Sir, I can’t even make contact with Miss Wright, my counterpart at in the British Secret Intelligence Service,” explained Steel.
The President sighed and rose from the chair behind his desk. “So it would seem that we’ve lost all forms of contact with Great Britain. Is there nothing else we can do now?”
“Well, sir, there is one thing,” began Sarge Steel. “If I was a praying man, I would start doing so as of now, sir, because the way it sits and how I see it, this new player is nearly as bad as the Reds in Russia… only this time we don’t have any aces to play against her.”
Within a small cottage in the countryside just an hour away from London, a worried mother stood holding the phone receiver in one hand and a very damp dishcloth in the other. She spoke into the receiver in an uncharacteristic worried tone, something that Elainia Knight hadn’t shown to anyone, not since the night she had walked out on her husband Roger Knight, taking their two young children with her. “Operator, what do you mean the lines are down going into London? I’ve got to reach my ex-husband immediately, and this is a major emergency.” She mentally added, As loath as I am to need his help.
The operator said, “Madam, I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience, but the service is not responding. If there is anyone else–“ The line suddenly went dead in the middle of the conversation.
Elainia stared at the phone and then said, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Her son Arthur and daughter Michael softly moaned, their eyes closed and sweat rolling down each of their feverish faces.
Dropping the receiver, she continued to caress the foreheads of her teenage children with the cool, wet dishcloth. What am I supposed to do now? she thought. They are both very ill, and it seemed to come just so quickly. And now, not only am I unable to contact Roger, I’m cut off from anyone else, either.
As Elainia had these thoughts, the lights flickered once, then twice more before going off for a final time, plunging the cottage into darkness.
At that moment, Roger Knight was deeply engrossed by the many different ancient-looking items that were strewn about the chamber in the so-called Cave of History. I’ve never seen most of this, yet some of it is noted within great-grandmother Knight’s diary, he thought. That looks like the sword of Sir Kay. He beheld a sword that was broken in two.
He continued to look round the chamber, taking in all of the different-looking suits of armour and many types of mediaeval weapons. His train of thought was broken just as he was beginning to reach for a mace.
“Dr. Knight, I believe that it’s finally time for us to talk,” said a voice at the entrance to the chamber.
As quickly as he could, Roger spun round, and complete shock was written upon his face. “Matthew, my boy? Is that really you? I know I left you lying upon the ground with some rather deadly nicks and cuts all over you.”
“Yes, it is me, and I’m whole and hearty as can be, if that’s easy enough for you to believe,” said Matthew Stone. “And if you hadn’t guessed it a moment ago, I was going to tell you that yes, that was me also in the white armour, fighting for both our lives.”
“Why is it that I should need my life saved, young Mr. Stone?” asked Roger. “What kind of Pandora’s box have I opened that should warrant my life’s end?”
Slowly entering the chamber and taking in most of the surrounding artefacts as he made his way toward Roger, Matthew responded, “Actually, sir, my own name is not as I had told you when we first met back in Glasgow. Matthew is honestly my first name, sir, but my last name is not Stone. My own ancestral name is le Gros, and I am of the line of a famous knight of Arthur’s Round Table. My most-known ancestor would have to be the knight Perceval le Gros, otherwise only known as–”
“Sir Perceval,” finished Roger, the world’s foremost expert in Arthurian lore. He was looking at his younger companion as if he had never really seen him before. “Why did you not tell me this when we first met? Did you think me as daft as my ex-wife did?”
“I’ve never thought you daft, sir, but it was only a few days ago that I found out the truth of your identity,” said Matthew. “I only knew you were searching for evidence of the true king of Britain. For all I know, you could have been working for the very woman who sent the dark-armoured attacker against us.”
Roger scrutinised his companion and said, “Believe me when I say that I’ve no idea who sent the ruffian against us, and between him and the explosion we had, I believe I’m just lucky to be alive. Now what is this all about you being a descendant of a well-known fictional character? What proof do you have, my boy, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Matthew looked at his companion for a moment, trying to gauge just how he felt Roger would react to the very evidence that he was going to put forth.
In a darkened government office in a nondescript building in London, a petite and lovely blonde woman was sitting behind a desk, staring at a computer screen that only moments ago had been active with many different files. She held the receiver of her desk phone, having only seconds ago been in contact with a government agent who had been giving her an eyewitness description of what had taken place at the Parliament building. The television in the corner had also been giving an update on the woman and her four black-armoured guards when it also went gone dark.
“What is happening?” Angela Wright of MI-13 said to herself. “The way things are, I can’t even contact any of the Union. How can I help when I’m in the dark as I am now?”
Morgana le Fay was sitting within the Chamber of the House of Commons. After her unscheduled press conference and show of power, she had retired to the Palace of Westminster. It hadn’t taken her long to pick the very room she wanted as her throne room. With a little magic she was able to transform the furniture within the chamber, and shortly she was sitting upon a raised golden throne. Two of the black-armoured figures were standing in the chamber with her.
One of them turned and spoke to Morgana. “Mother, why did you only send out Samuel and Percy? Don’t you think that Mordred and I can handle anything?” The other armoured figure turned and looked at Morgana at hearing those words.
“Jason, it’s not that I have no faith in the two of you,” said Morgana. “It’s just that your brothers have a little more experience within their required duties. Nevertheless, don’t worry — there will still be plenty for you and Mordred to take care of for me, and even now I’m sure the cattle outside the castle would try to attack if they could get their courage up. I know I’ve finally taken what has always been rightfully mine, but at the moment my total control is not complete.”
“Don’t worry, mother,” said Mordred le Fay. “No-one would dare attack with us guarding you, not that you would be defenceless on your own.”
“Shut up, you little suck-up,” growled Jason Lincoln. “Mother, I don’t know what you see in that–”
“Quiet!” Morgana shouted, raising her arms and staring hard at her son; he quickly stopped speaking. “I will not have you belittling your brother. I don’t care if you are older than he is by five years or five hundred years. You will treat him with the same respect you give me and just as he shall give you, or you will feel my wrath. Am I understood?”
Both Jason and Mordred quickly nodded their heads, and Morgana continued. “It won’t be long, and soon you two shall have all the pretty little wenches your hearts could ever desire, not to mention a share of the spoils to rule over. With my idiot half-brother Arthur long dead and gone, there truly is no-one left to confront me. For once, I finally win.” She smiled brightly at the picture forming within her mind’s eye.