A Tale of the Knights
Erika Harding jumped at the voice and light sparkled along her fingertips like static discharges. It was the resonant, yet emotionless voice of Knightron, her teammate. When not on active duty, he always called her by her given name rather than her codename, Solar Queen. Though used to the mechanized, slightly hollow voice of this longtime member of the team, the android had startled her.
“I am sorry I disturbed you.”
“No, it’s fine. I was just… thinking.” Staring out into space, more like. She rubbed her temple, blinked, and saw his silvery reflection in the glass of the window. She had been staring out into the night. She often found herself lost in thought these days. It wasn’t so much the stark, painful depression she had suffered through the first few months she lost her husband and teammates to the demons in Hell, but now it was more like a blankness, an emptiness, a place she withdrew into where she tried to reason out a solution. A solution which never seemed to come.
She sighed. “I thought you were downtown in the Shadow Zone.”
“I was monitoring the Darke Zone. I returned tonight for for a specific purpose.”
She turned to face Knightron. “Aggh!” she gasped, despite her usual control. She had been startled again to find the android was not alone.
Knightron resembled nothing more than a massive suit of Medieval armor. The very image of a shining, metal-encased knight, almost seven feet tall, Knightron always made a dramatic presence.
But the man with him had a far more shocking appearance. Not only did he look exactly like a long-dead, doughboy soldier from World War I, he was. The unhealthy, gray-skinned pallor pocked with yellow blisters and scars was not a mask or the special effects of makeup. Private Graves had died in 1916, gassed to death in a trench.
“Good evening, madame.” The soldier removed his steel Brodie helmet and inclined his head. Though perfectly mannered, his voice was still a nerve-jangling rasp from beyond the grave. Whether from the effects of the gas burning out his lungs or his being resurrected, or both, Graves had a spine-chilling voice.
As leader of the Knights, Erika was privy to data about all the former members of the team of superheroes. Private Graves had been a founding member of the team in 1940, prior to her birth. He had served with distinction alongside her husband and the other founders throughout World War II. After the horrific atomic bomb detonation in 1945 that had cost the team several members, Graves had stepped down to pursue other adventures. He had rarely been seen since. But she knew his history and his face from pictures. You could never forget his face.
She recovered from shock enough to fumble a greeting. “Uh, hello. I– you’re Private Graves. I would like to welcome you to our…,” she turned and her voice faded away. She glanced around at the room and then back towards Graves. “We… we don’t actually have our headquarters any more. This is our temporary–”
“I heard about the disaster,” Graves grunted. “Dr. Darke fucked around with Dhrell and that demon blew a hellhole right through the earth.”
She closed her eyes for several seconds and then reopened them. “Yes. Yes, there was an unfortunate disaster.”
Graves nodded. “Yeah, hell is always rather unfortunate. I knew your husband quite a few years back, Lady Light, and thought I could help. It’s why I came back.”
“It is?” She glanced at Knightron.
The android had been observing their interaction without moving. “Private Graves arrived at Darke Ground Zero at 3:23 –”
She raised a hand. “I don’t need the full details.” She looked at the undead soldier with a new appraisal. She had read reports of his battles. Her blue eyes widened.
“You are returning to help? To help us? To help the team?”
“Now, don’t get your knickers damp. Not much of a team player these days. I’m back to help solve this situation. End this hellbreach and slam that portal shut. I ain’t here to hold hands and sing Kumbayah around the campfire. I’m here to kill some demons.”
She smiled, nodding. Some of the burden seemed to lift from her shoulders. “Very well. You have good timing.”
“Yeah, me and trouble are old friends. We always know when to show up.”
“So I’ve heard.”
Private Graves swung and hit Knightron on the arm. “Hey, robot, go get the package like I said.”
Knightron walked out of the room.
Graves pointed after him. “That’s an amazing piece of machinery! Captain Redeagle always tried to build them robot knights, but they clanked and squeaked and had no damn personality. This one, though.” He whistled, which sounded unpleasantly like a cold wind through gravestones at midnight. “Course he told me on the way over here that Redeagle’s grandson is the one who actually built him. That’s quite an accomplishment. Seems damn near human.”
“He is,” Solar Queen agreed.
Momentarily Knightron returned from the hallway carrying a large covered tray.
Erika Harding raised her eyebrows. “What might this be?”
“This?” Private Graves rasped. “This is what we’re supposed to be fighting for, madame. Home, friends, family. But this here robot told me you’ve been, understandably, blue of late, and tend to forget the niceties of home and such. Can’t say I blame you. The world is a hell of place that rips the joy right out of you. So this here is a turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner. Or did you forget the date?”
It seemed, at least when she told the story later, that Private Graves smiled at her. At least his scarred face twisted up on one side and he revealed half of a death’s head grin to her.
She was speechless for a minute.
“Come on, now. I bought it on the way over after we met up with Gryphon. I don’t really need to eat no more. But all you fools do. We sent him to gather the others, since a flying lion can get around town quicker than me without a car. But, it’s gonna get cold if we keep standing around jawing.” He walked past her. “This place have a table and chairs?”
Then, for the first time in almost a year, the storm clouds of despair broke and Solar Queen smiled. It was something to behold. Whether it was her power or not, it was radiant. She truly was beautiful.