Jacqueline Falsworth's face was sorrowful. "I'm sorry. It was never meant to end like this."
Byron Falsworth glared at her. "Our father was an old man. He had no business pretending to be a mystery-man. I don't know what sort of Elektra complex you felt compelled to act out by allowing him to go back into costume, but you can't be too surprised by how it ended."
"I really did love him you know, as much as you did." Jacqueline walked out on the back porch, into the forest behind Falsworth Manor where the Invaders' flagship lay waiting.
Byron glared at the black-clad figure as it faded into the shadows, and watched a few moments later as the silver vehicle rose into the night and flew silently into the Western sky. "Not enough", he whispered to himself. Lost in thought, it took him a while to hear the soft tapping on the door frame behind him. "Byron? That was the last of them?"
He beckoned at his wife. "Come here, Elaine. Yes, Jackie was the last ... and good riddance to her. How's Roger holding up?"
Elaine Aubrey smiled and walked over, hugging her husband tightly. "He's doing okay, considering. I'm glad now that he never got close to your father, much as I hate to say it. It's been hard on him since his own father died. He's not resented you for marrying me, thank God, but if he had lost someone else close ... "
He nodded. "Keen Marlow's shoes were big ones to fill; I'm glad I've been able to be as much a father to Roger as I have been. Well, now the boy and I have something else in common. We'll have to sit down and have a long talk about this."
Elaine said, "Any idea of when we might be able to go back home? He misses his friends, and he's also missing a lot of school."
"Soon, I promise. The solicitors are still working out the details of how to divide up the Estate, and then we can go back to London."
"Are you okay?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I was so in love with the idea of mystery-men when I grew up ... I had whole scrapbooks full of my father's exploits as Major Commonwealth. I used to run around with a big stick and pretend it was a Star Sceptre." He chuckled softly to himself. "But I thought that was all in my father's past, and that he had turned to scientific research. That was enough for me. I hardly believed it when he donned the costume again at his age ... and I was afraid for him, but somehow I never prepared myself for his actually dying."
She granted him a little half-smile. "Well, soon you'll be back in the city with me and Roger, surrounded by typewriters and the smell of printer's ink, and away from all this fog that's driving us both a little crazy."
He nodded. "Where is Roger?"
"He's upstairs in his room, reading." She gestured abstractly. "I think he's working through 'The Chronicles of Cuchulain' right now."
He rolled his eyes. "I think we'll have to have a talk about that, too ... it's an exciting book but hardly history."
She nudged him in the ribs. "Such a journalist ... you think Roger doesn't know that? Why do you have to approach everything as a teaching exercise?"
"Force of habit." He smiled, relaxing for the first time in too long. "Tomorrow I'll talk to the gentlemen at Edwards & Abbs and we'll finish the paperwork and you'll be home before you know it. I'll ring back at the office and ask when it will be convenient for him to pick us up at the airport."
He stepped out of the taxi into the bright glare of the summer sun. He blinked, shaded his eyes, and stepped through the door
He gave his name to the man at the front desk, who nodded to two gentlemen in dark suits seated in a corner. They stood and walked over to approach him. "Byron Falsworth?"
He turned at the sound of his name, eyes still not adjusted to the dark of the office, the faces of the men before him obscured as he fought to make out their features. "Yes, that is I. Can I help you?"
The taller of the two men put a hand on Falsworth's shoulder. "We are with Special Branch, Sir. You are under arrest."
Falsworth blinked, disorientating rising out from the shadowy corners of the office. "What ... why? what is the charge?"
The other man responded in a monotone. "Treachery, in the form of participating in an Axis propaganda conspiracy to steal the Crown jewels."
Falsworth tried to push the other man's hand off his shoulder. "That's insane! What do you mean by coming here like this? I want to speak to my solicitor."
The larger man grabbed Falsworth's hand and twisted it painfully behind him, cuffing his wrists together. The smaller man said, "Your solicitor is currently out of his office. There will be time for phone calls later, Sir. I'm sure the judge will make some arrangements. In the meantime, your uncle Jonathan has been notified, he will watch over your wife and child for you and make sure all is in good hands."
Falsworth tried to wrestle free when he heard the name of his uncle, aka Baron Blood, the darkest scourge of the London underworld. "My uncle? No! That's impossible! He's dead!"
The man said, "I understand this has been a trying time for you Sir, and you are a bit disoriented, but I had a meeting with the gentleman just last night. I can assure you, Jonathan Falsworth is very much alive."
He sat in the dankness of the cell, alone. Three days ... no contact, barely a word. He'd not been allowed to contact the solicitor or even speak to his wife. She must be insane with worry. My God, what is to happen to me? he thought. The firing squad, hanging?
He was distracted from his glum thoughts by a scraping sound at the small cell window. He could scarcely comprehend the sight of a pair of pale hands, twisting at the bars. To his horror the stone surrounding the bars began to give way, and the form of a man somehow appeared in his cell.
He backed away. "Who, what are you? What's the purpose of this?"
The dark figure smiled, revealing visible fangs. "It was just possible you might have managed to evade the charges, Byron. Your solicitors have been very persistent."
He looked around wildly. "So you've come to kill me then?"
The figure walked slowly towards him. "There will be no pain. Think of it as a sort of ... euthanasia."
He screamed in a panicked voice, "Guard! Guard!" The figure laughed. "The appropriate palms have been limned with silver. We will be left to our solitary contemplations." The strong, pale hands reached for his shoulders.
He backed away. The figure pursued, and he tried to block him with the small table. The figure laughed. "Metal and steel are naught to me, as you have seen. Do not make your last moments graceless ones, Byron."
He pushed the table at his opponent's face, and the figure grabbed the corner of the table, pushing it to one side, and grabbing Falsworth's shoulder with the other hand. Falsworth screamed as he felt the bone grinding against the clamplike hold. The figure hefted the table into the corner where it splintered.
Falsworth tried to brace his free hand against his opponent's throat, and by slamming his fingers into the figure's adam's apple, made it recoil. He grunted with pain as he fought his way free from the grip loosened by surprise, and rolled off into the corner.
The figure coughed, and advanced on Falsworth, his face darker. Falsworth grabbed a broken leg from the table and, with almost hysterical force, rammed the splintered end into his opponent's heart.
There was a strangled cry and the figure flung himself at Falsworth, who matched the opponent's death scream with a cry of pain as his ruined shoulder was slammed into the stone wall. Finally, the figure relented, and lay collapsed at his feet.
Falsworth gasped with pain. Slowly, he caught his breath. "All right Uncle Jonathan, I wasn't sure you were really behind this, but you've overplayed your hand. Now it's time to put all our cards on the table."
He braced himself against the stone wall and shimmied out through the window, skulking off into the night.
Falsworth Manor lay dark, a ghostly silhouette in the night. Byron Falsworth ran his hand over the stylised symbol on the front gate. "Elaine," he whispered.
He paced silently along the outer perimeter wall. There was a rustling sound behind him, and he found himself confronted with two pale men dressed in black. "If it isn't the prodigal son," one sneered. The other laughed. "You shouldn't have come here, little lord Byron. There's nothing for you anymore."
Falsworth fought back a retort, and charged at the nearest man, a wooden stake in his hand. The man caught his wrist and threw him off to the side with ease. "You must have watched too many of those Hollywood films when you were in America," he said. "We're not so easy to kill as all that. You always were an embarrassment to your father, you know. Leaving the county, abandoning your responsibilities to the estate to play at being a newspaper publisher. You're not half the man he was. Stop embarrassing yourself further and let us help you."
As the man advanced on Falsworth, the latter drew a pistol and shot at him. The man stumbled back, but was otherwise unaffected. "That was just rude." The other man appeared suddenly in the darkness behind him. "I think we should teach you some manners."
Suddenly there was a gust of wind, and a wall of flame appeared out of nowhere, blocking the vampires from their intended victim. Falsworth heard a whoosh of air and a silver disc shot out of the dark, decapitating his attackers. As they fell to the ground, ball of fire burst over the bodies, incinerating the vampires from the inside out. "My God," Falsworth said, backing away from the debacle.
A hand ruffled his hair and a young woman stood before him, clad in black, the stylised lettering over her heart interpretable as 'X-13' for those in the know. Aside her appeared a pair of men who alighted from the sky, and another man in red, white and blue whose outfit clearly indicated him as a patriotic representative of the United States. Jacqueline Falsworth said, "Hello Byron, it looked as if you needed some help."
Falsworth hugged the woman. "My god ... I can't believe it ... I never thought I'd see you. Or I'd be afraid ... I was afraid you might come to arrest me."
Agent X-13 hugged him tightly. Afterwards, she drew back, biting her lip and looking at him with sad eyes. "I was afraid you hated me, after those words we exchanged after the funeral."
"I'm sorry I was cruel." He smiled dismally. "We grew up together ... you should have known better."
Her face turned serious. "Besides that, your arrest made the news. I decided the Invaders could be spared for a few weeks if necessary ... this was a family problem. I'm sure you know my companions, Major America, the Human Torch, and Namor McKenzie as well."
He turned to the other two. "Only by reputation ... though of course my father spoke often of the original Major America, whom he fought next to alongside the rest of the Freedom's Five in the last war."
Major America nodded, "And my father always spoke glowingly of Major Commonwealth. We're at your disposal, Byron. How can we help you?"
Byron pondered. "First thing, I need a weapon more effective than this pistol?"
Agent X-13 said, "I have something you can use … if you accept it." She opened a long case she'd carried by her side, and held up to him a glittering, golden staff: the Star Sceptre.
"Good," Byron said fiercely. "Fit me up, and we'll see what we can see."
Namor bent the bars on the gate surrounding the castle aside, and the team crept silently inside. Byron whispered, "They undoubtedly expected me to have been an easy kill, and so they won't be expecting a commando raid. But you best be keeping the flame turned down at least until we get inside."
Human Torch glared at him. "Of course. We're not idiots." They made their way to a hidden crawlspace. Byron whispered, "This will take us through to the main hall. I want to search for Elaine and make sure she's safe. You others have to follow my directions to my father's lab. All the secrets of his stellar technology is there and we have to recover it, and make sure that Baron Blood hasn't been able to follow up on his plan to export it to Berlin."
They nodded, and Byron stalked up the hallway, moving through the shadows to what had been his bedroom. The others continued down to the cellar.
Byron went from room to room, using the secret passageways he had explored so often as a child. Finally, he found his way to the room he had been almost afraid to enter ... the room in which he and his wife had spent their time away from London. She lay there, quietly.
"Byron!" she cried out as he came into view. He ran to her, and she sat up and clutched him tightly. "God, god, I thought you were dead!"
He wiped the tears from her cheeks. "I thought you were dead, too. Where's Roger?"
She sobbed. "I don't know. They took him from me to use as a hostage ... they wanted me to tell them where your father's lab was. Byron, I didn't know!"
He caressed her hair. "Shhhh, it's all right. I didn't come alone ... I brought some ... friends of the family with me. We'll find Roger and everything will be okay."
He took her hand, and gently guided them down to the main room, where he led her to an ancient grandfather clock. Behind the clock face was a star scene ... he placed his fingers, one on each star, and there was a *click* as a hidden door opened to reveal a stairwell.
The couple walked down the winding stairs, then stopped, aghast at the sight that lay before them. Roger Aubrey stood chained to the wall, pale and looking as if he hadn't eaten in days. On the floor lay the bodies of Major America, the Human Torch, and Namor, obviously unconscious, darkly clothed men standing above them.
A man in a bodysuit of complementary shades of violet stepped forth. Baron Blood said, "You are every bit as gullible as your father ever was, Byron. Thank you for taking advantage of my henchman's providing a way for you to escape from gaol, and having your friends show us the location of your father's laboratory. We had been searching for ages."
Byron gasped. "You … You'll never get away with this!"
The Baron laughed. "My brother's stellar weapons are already being sent to Berlin. Soon, a blitzkrieg like the wrath of Woden and Donar themselves will descend on Britain!"
Byron said, "I don't know what you're talking about. Please ... you have what you wanted, just let me and my family free and we won't bother you any more."
Baron Blood said, "It's a bit too late for that. Pity, now that you've given us all what we need so early there's no reason to keep the brat alive." He walked to the unconscious Roger Aubrey. Elaine screamed, "Nooo! please!"
Byron quickly sent a beam of stellar energy piercing Baron Blood's wrist, catching him by surprise. The Baron screamed, and then grabbed the Star Sceptre with his other hand, shattering it. "Both of your deaths would have been painless. You have lost your chance." He turned and lunged straight at Byron, and then found himself knocked to the side by a bolt of flame ... Byron turned to see the Human Torch standing, soon joined by the rest of the Invaders. Agent X-13 smiled grimly. "He's not the only one capable of springing surprises, you know."
Baron Blood shouted, "Attack them you cretins!" and the heroes found themselves swamped beneath the vampiric minions. Agent X-13 fired in circles, silver bullets eliminating an opponent where she could, confusing her foes. Major America struck out with his shield, his strength combined with his battle skills used to devastating effect. The Human Torch harried the remaining with his fireballs, forcing them to incinerate as they landed in their victims.
Byron, his wife in hand, forced his way through to his stepson. "Elaine, help me with these ropes ... " she nodded and the two of them eventually freed the lad. "I'm going to get us out of here."
He shouted, "Namor, clear a trail!"
Namor McKenzie nodded, and forced his way to the family, and they followed him out to the doorway. As they made their way out, Namor asked, "Byron ... your father's lab ..."
Byron looked mournfully at the devastation being wrought by the battle. "Destroy it. This place means nothing to me now, and I don't want the Baron to have anything more to steal."
The Human Torch nodded sadly, and returned to battle. Byron carried Roger out to the main grounds. "God, I can hardly believe it's over ... "
Elaine said, "It's never over," and slammed Byron in the side of the head, forcing him to drop her son.
Byron gasped in shock. The drop jolted Roger awake. "Byron? You shouldn't have come back ... that's not my mom ... I think my mom is dead ... " The boy started to cry.
Byron narrowed his eyes. "Listen ... we don't have to do this ... fight like this ... I know you're just under Jonathan's mental control ... you can fight it off ... "
Elaine sneered. "He was right ... you are an idiot." She shot at him, knocking him backwards with enormous force. He wrestled with her, trying to keep her from his throat but unable to attempt to hurt her. Finally she forced his arms down above his head. "I always could wrestle you down in bed," she said, as she licked her lips and plunged her fangs into his throat.
Her attack was cut short by a howl, as she arced her head up ... Byron with shock saw the jagged metal her side, and looked up to see Roger Aubrey holding the other end of the Star Sceptre he had dropped when he'd stumbled. "Roger ... ?"
Elaine moaned in pain. "Son ... "
Roger screamed at her, tears rolling down his cheeks. "You're not my mom, my mom is dead!"
Byron flung Elaine off him, and grabbed the protruding Sceptre, thrusting it deep into his wife's heart. She howled like a demon, before falling back, withering before their eyes.
Roger sobbed hysterically. Byron saw the corpse illuminated by a golden flicker, and looked up to see Falsworth Manor in flames. A trail of flame arced across the sky to where he was standing ... ending in the Invaders.
Jacqueline Falsworth saw the impaled, crumpled shell of what had been Elaine Aubrey. "Oh my God, Byron, I'm sorry, we had no idea ..."
Byron shook his head. The others offered what consolation they could, feeling helpless in the face of such a horror.
Jacqueline Falsworth says, "What are you going to do now?"
Byron shook his head. "I don't know. I'm leaving here, definitely ... Roger has to go home."
She knelt by him. "Join us, Byron ... we can always use another hero."
Byron looked at the remains of the Star Sceptre. "Maybe ... maybe our father was right in a way, evil like this shouldn't go unopposed. But not here ... I don't think the Invaders needs another patriotic hero. I don't know ...."
Major America nodded, a hand on his shoulder. "The Invaders will always have a place for you."
He nodded in return. "We'll see."
The next day, the skies as grey as they were inappropriately bright on the day of his father's funeral, Bryon Falsworth sat behind the wheel of his car and began the long drive to Darkmoor.