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Interlude Eighteen Point One: What the Beggar King Did

(From Issue Eighteen):
Marious caught a flicker of motion and saw a strange figure race from behind a dumpster. Dressed in patchwork motley and tall boots, the man ran to the truck while FistFighter's view was blocked, dropped to the ground with admirable agility and slid underneath ...

	*		*		*		*
The Beggar King wondered what he had been thinking as he tried to hold on to the truck. Above him were sounds like a fight, but after a few moments, they ceased.

The truck drove on, seemingly aimlessly, as the Beggar King tried to keep track of where he was.

After a couple of stops, the Beggar King managed to work the discus loose. It was not sharp, but was of an interesting design. It felt heavy, and there was some odd weighting inside, he also saw what were clearly electronic appurtenances like antennae and so forth poking out. There were holes in the top and bottom as well, that went straight through, sort of, with something like little fans or turbines in them.

"Hmm... I wonder if these are guided in any way." Beggar King thought to himself. "Perhaps if I reverse the polarity of the neutron flow, I can use it as a signal device and call the owner to me. Or maybe I'll just push random buttons."

The Beggar King snickered to himself at the thought. He knew little of electronics and the device was mostly useless to him as such. He instead tucked it into his vest and continued to look for a method to disable the vehicle.

The Beggar King continued to try to disable the vehicle, but with no tools and no superstrength, became frustrated. Instead, he held on tightly as the vehicle moved on.

A few turns later and the truck was on the highway out of the city. Soon they were heading into the mountains. The truck exited the freeway and began to head over a series of back roads and then eventuall went off road completely before coming to a stop in a field. From his position under the truck, the Beggar King could see what looked like a large metal cylinder a short distance away, large enough to be a vehicle or building.

The Beggar King heard voices as the truck was unloaded of its human cargo. The crowd began to move away and he dropped down to get a clearer view.

The four villains and their prisoners were walking toward a large and odd-looking vehicle. It was a squat cylinder, not quite saucer shaped but reminiscent of one. It was supported by three legs and five large motors or jets of some kind extended from the bottom, spaced around the outside. Between the jets, in the center, was a shaft which reached down almost to the ground. A stairway wound around the outside, but the villains led the scientists to a door in the shaft, which proved to be an elevator.

As the Beggar King watched, all eight people entered the elevator and, presumably, began to ascend.

Somewhere along the trip, the Beggar King began to believe he had somehow jumped the wrong train. Now, many miles outside of his city home, he was sure of it. Never one to miss an opportunity for an adventure, he decided to try to free the prisoners. First thing would be to find a way in. The elevator seemed obvious, but he did not want to trust himself to something so easily controlled. He decided to try his luck on the staircase.

Completely forgotten was his plan with the discus. He had no idea what would help it's owner find this place. For that matter, he had no idea even if the owner would be looking to claim it. Instead, he tucked it into the folds of his clothing as best he could. He was not a track and field star, but the device might come in handy anyway.

He examined the area surrounding the strange structure then began to climb the stairs.

The area was a clearing deep in the woods, in the middle distance mountains were visible. After his quick scan he moved to the central shaft and began to climb the stairs. After several circuits around the shaft, the stairs passed through the base of the vehicle. After another half a circuit he found a door on the side opening away from the shaft, and the stairs continued upwards. Examing the door, it appeared to be a fairly standard stairwell door, the kind that are intended to allow access from the building with "No Rentry on this Level." However, this feature had been defeated by the use of duct tape on the lock.

Examing the door, it appeared to be a fairly standard stairwell door, the kind that are intended to allow access from the building with "No Rentry on this Level." However, this feature had been defeated by the use of duct tape on the lock.

Max pulled the wax pencil out of his pocket. With bold letters, he wrote "THIS WAY TO BAD GUYS" on the door. He opened the door and stepped inside.

Max was in a curving hallway. In the opposite wall to his left he could see a door marked "Brig," to the right one marked "Gym."

Max flexed his right bicep and gave it a squeeze. Deciding he needed no exercise at the moment, he opted for the door marked "Brig" instead.

The door was a slick automatic one that opened at the touch of a button. Behind it was an empty room. To the right was anothe door. The room itself was dominated by a security console on the back wall. Two large monitors showed what were presumably cells. One monitor seemed to be malfuctioning and showed only a green glow, but the other showed the kidnapped scientists.

Max thought that it could not be that easy. Then he shrugged and decided not to insult providence. He looked at the control board to see if the controls were decipherable. He thought it would be really nice to tell where the bad guys were. Besides, the green glow worried him for some reason.

The security console only seemed concerned with the brig, and had no easily discoverable access to the rest of the ship. As he looked, he heard some footfalls in the corridor and voices talking. They seemed to be approaching.

Max looked around for a place to conceal himself.

There seemed to be a place behind one of the consoles, a little access crawlway. He dove behind it. A moment later two villains entered, the ones called FistFighter and Firebrand. They were each carrying something that looked like a large metal plate, perhaps an inch thick, with two handles mounted on one side. FistFighter walked up to the console and punched out some thing on the panel. The door in the right wall slid open and the two men passed through.

Max slipped out of his hiding place and went back to the monitors. These bad guys were up to something and he wanted to know what.

He actually could see though the doorway and it was fortunate that the men had their attention firmly away from Max. They were in a short corridor with two doors on the left side, and stood in front of the further one. The men nodded at each other and worked some kind of control on the devices they carried, which began to hum. FistFighter punched a panel by the door and it slid open. A green glow spilled out of the door and into the space between the two villains, where it seemed somehow contained. Almost like a liquid, the radiance was sucked into a roughly spherical space between the two plates the men held. After a moment, FistFighter pressed the wall-panel again and the door slid shut. Max had only a moment to decide what to do next.

Max dove back to his hiding place.

The men passed back out through the door and then out into the hall, leaving the access door open. Max slipped out and could peek through the open door to the brig.

The villains carried their burden to the right, past a door marked "storage" and up to a door marked lab. Another push on the access panel and the door opened and the men entered.

With the villains gone, Max set back about his task of freeing the prisoners. He slipped into the brig to attempt to open the door to the cell.

Max got back to the console to see if he could find a cell release and had just given up and was about to go to the cells themselves, when he heard the villains returning. He popped back into his hidey-hole. The villains approached the console and did something, then went back to the cells. He heard a door open and FistFighter say, "Tolliver and St. Vernon, come with us."

A few moments later, the villains returned to the room leading the captured scientists. They headed back out to the hallway with their charges. Max slipped out and saw them enter the same lab that Fistfighter and Firebrand had taken the glow into.

Curiosity was beginning to get the better of Max. He forced himself to remain focused. He slipped back into the Brig and looked to find away to free the prisoners. Besides, one of these propeller heads might know what was going on.

He wasn't able to decipher the controls on the console so went to look at the cells. There were two and each had a panel by the door that looked promising. He pressed the panel and it beeped softly and flashed red, but no door opened.

"Damn," Max muttered under his breath as frustration took hold. "Why didn't I pay more attention to 'Prisoner Rescue' in hero class?"

Red was usually a bad sign on a security panel, so Max headed back out for his hole. Perhaps he could get somewhere through the access shaft he had found.

The access shaft deadended behind the control panel, giving access to some cabling and so forth, but not going any further.

Max new the feeling of the Hand of Fate pushing him forward. With few options remaining, he slipped back out into the corridor to look around.

"What's behind door number two?" He asked the silence.

A quick scan around the level revealed only the brig, the storage room, a gymnasium, two labs and a corridor that led out to what looked like a pair of four man escape pods. He heard sounds coming from one of the labs.

The noises coming from the lab seemed normal, or least not a crisis, so he checked out the other room. The storage room contained food supplies mostly, although there was a reasonable quantity of high-tech hardware as well. The quiet lab was empty of people, but had a fairly complete chemical set up, all securely strapped down. The escape pods seemed pretty straightforward, no real controls just a big red button labeled "Eject" and a joystick. The gym was fully outfitted with the latest in workout gear and included both a speed bag and body bag for punching and kicking.

At the occupied lab, he listened again and heard only quiet sounds as one might expect. The door had an awkward looking device fitted to it that Max decided was some kind of locking mechanism. He realized that none of the other doors had locks that he could see, just the panel to press to open and close them. This lock looked jury rigged and had a single two-position toggle switch.

"Time to play fun with locks," Max said as he flipped the switch to the unlocked position.

The lock buzzed for a moment and then Max tried the door. It slid open and he saw the two scientists look up from a table where they were standing over some papers, head together. In front of them were the two plates, stuck in some kind of mount, and between the plates the green glow was very much in evidence.

"Gentlemen, freedom awaits, if you wish to take the risk." Max said to the two men.

"Who are you?" asked one of the men.

"I'm offering you a chance at freedom. Does it matter if I'm Duke Maximillian Immergrün, Tommy the Cat or some guy named Lester?"

"It matters to us," said a voice behind him.

He turned to see that Firebrand and Fistfighter had returned and so focussed had he been on the scientists he had not heard them.

Max turned to see the two villains before him. With a pained expression, he fwapped himself on the forehead. Regaining his composure, he stood tall to his full five feet, eleven inches. With practice, near theatrical diction, he spoke.

"Gentlemen. I am Duke Maximillian Immergrün, called the Beggar King." Max bowed slightly. "I would say that I'm at your service, but I fear I owe no service to kidnappers and thieves."

Hoping that a diversion might help his case, Max scooped the discus from inside his coat. Spinning as quickly as he could, he flung it frisbee fashion toward a bank of equipment in the lab.

"No, not that!" cried one of the scientists as the discus smashed into a bank of equipment.

"What in the name of ..." said FistFighter as the lights in the room dimmed and an arc of electricity flashed from the equipment to the glow contained between the two plates. In a flash, green radiance backed down the arc and the equipment bank threw off a shower of sparks. Max was caught in the full force of the spray and was driven to his knees.

"Get out!" shouted Fistfighter at the scientists, running toward Max. Firebrand had already fled the scene. Fistfighter hered the scientists clear and turned to Max. The equipment bank exploded, sending another spray of sparks into the room and landing a heavy panel across Max's back, pinning him to the floor. Max could barely see Fightfighter and realized that from Fistfighter's vantage point, he must seem to be totally crushed. He tried to call out, but seemed slightly paralyzed. Then all was black.

		*		*		*		*
A voice called to him, he opened his eyes and saw the figure of a man outlined in green. "Come on now, give me your hand." Max extended his hand and the man took it. The man started to rise into the air and Max went with him. Up, through the floor and then through someone's bedroom, then through the ceiling and into a control room of some kind. "You should be safe here," said the man releasing Max. He went to look at some monitors. "They are hiding out there. Good, they should be afraid."

"Who are you? Am I dead?" Max asked as he took in his surroundings. "I honestly expected heaven to be less... clinical."

"Who am I?" The man considered this for a long moment. "It's hard to recall. John? John. Yes, John French. I'm John French. You're on the top deck of whatever this craft is."

Max stood and his foot sank a few inches into the deck. He pulled it out, the deck was solid.

"Then to the second question, Master French. Am I deceased? Should I be looking for a harp and start with the hosannas?" Max pointed to his foot sliding into the very solid deck.

"I don't think so," said French. He turned to look at Max. "Oh, that. I get that, too." He stuck and arm through the wall. "Maybe it rubbed off on you." He thought for a moment, "That is unusual, though, isn't it? Perhaps there is some modification of the binding forces operating on the nucleii at the sub-atomic level, resulting in ..."

Max lost track of what French was saying at that point, as it became extremely technical and abstruse. After another moment French concluded, "I think that's most likely, don't you?"

Max nodded, blankly. "Yes, of course. That must be it. So, if I'm not dead... and the kidnappers are still here... I think I still have a duty to fulfill. Before I do that, however, let me ask a few more questions... with your permission, of course."

"Kidnappers? Yes, of course! Kidnappers. We must deal with them, eh, Protector?" French looked Max. "You're not Protector, are you? Sorry. Questions, yes, by all means."

"How did you come to be here?" Max started.

"Why should they be afraid?" Max followed up.

"Who?" said the man.

"The kidnappers. You said that they were afraid and they should be. Why should they be afraid?"

"I don't know. I'm mad at them, maybe they're afraid of that."

"Reason enough to flee, I'd wager," Max responded. "Do you think so?"

Max continued his questioning, "Protector?"

"Where?" he asked looking around. "We could use a hand."

Max looked around with him. He raised a finger to interject but decided to let it go. It was becoming obvious that the man was a bit scatter-brained.

"So, dealing with the kidnappers... does this panel have an buttons that would make them go frizzt?"

"Good question, I don't know, do you?" French looked at the console. "It might also hit those scientists behind the truck with them."

"Ah, yeah. That's true. I guess we have to fwack'em the hard way. Hey, if we move this knobbie or jiggle this thingie, think it might move the camera around? Be nice to know if the fifth one was hiding somewhere." Max counted out on his fingers. "Yep, I remember seeing five at the convention center. Only four hiding there. Means the last one is hiding somewhere."

Max played with the controls for a moment and got the camera to track around before deciding that if there was a fifth he wasn't anywhere they could see him.

"Right, then. Time to go on the offensive. This isn't neccesarily your fight, son," said French. "And these boys look dangerous."

"You're right," Max said. "It's not my fight. Doesn't mean I'm not going to stick around for it though."

French readied himself for combat, which meant he looked like he was ready to dive through the wall.

Max headed toward the door. He stopped halfway there and decided he had nothing to lose by trying to follow his new friend.

Last Updated 12 December 2001