Dr. Watkins made a moving speech about the need for reliable and renewable power for the future and then the crowd broke for lunch. The schedule was loose for the rest of the day, cocktail parties and so on. The real meat of the conference began the next morning with Dr. David Bricket of Solar Research Associates presenting "New Directions in Solar Power" and followed up in the afternoon with Richard King of King Design Bureau speaking about "Miniaturized Power Sources and Micro-batteries."
Carla DiFricatti continued her coverage, "We'll be leaving you now, but we'll be back at 2PM for the only other item on today's agenda, a press conference with Simmon Marius and PAC President Gordon Lee where they will announce the new Heritage Professor of Geological Sciences. Back to you, John."
* * * *As 2pm rolled around the assembled media and campus community milled about until the Rector of the Port Alexander University Board of Visitors took the podium and did the usual welcoming and introductions. She then spoke about the Heritage Professorship and how it came to be, turning things over to its benefactor, Port Alexander businessman Simmon Marious.
The tall, private Mediterranean millionaire and president of IO Mining uneasily addressed the onlookers. In quiet tones, the shy Marious expressed from a prepared statement his fondness for education in general and the geological sciences in particular. "As a man who has derived much from the earth, I know the importance of sharing its riches with everyone. It is for this reason that I chose to endow this professorship to Port Alexander University. There were many highly qualified individuals representing the best minds in the field who expressed interest in this position. And after a series of lengthy interviews, we are fortunate to be able to introduce to you an individual who best exemplifies the areas of teaching, scholarly research, and community service to enrich not only Port Alexander but the entire world. President Lee, would you please introduce the newest member of the Port Alexander University faculty, the Heritage Professor of Geological Sciences?"
Marious shyly smiled as he shook President Gordon Lee's hand and comfortably faded into the background. Lee spoke, first thanking Marious for his generosity, and then describing the search process before saying, "And it is my pleasure to introduce to you Dr. Linda Wilhelms, the Port Alexander University Professor of Geological Sciences."
A trim woman, perhaps in her mid-30s took the podium, shook hands with Lee and Marious and then said a few words thanking them and the press. She outlined the basic course of study that she woul be developing and then answered a few questions. The conference broke up early enough to allow everyone to get to the cocktail reception the University had provided.
* * * *Richard King's lecture was going well. An engaging speaker, the athletic looking thirtyish man moved about the stage with a very slight limp as he made his points. His work with micro-batteries was innovative and all the scientists in the audience were paying close attention.
At least they were until there was a flash of light and crack as a bolt of fire smashed a table on one side of the ballroom.
Standing near the table were four figures, dressed in similar costumes, red with yellow trunks, boots, gloves and a large F emblem on their chests, masked as well. One was a woman, the other three men, and one of the men had a small ball of flame dancing in his hand. It was he who spoke, "Listen up! If you all just pay attention and behave yourself, no one has to get hurt."
The woman floated a few meters into the air, "Will the following men please come over here? Doctors Barry St. Vernon, Jacob Tolliver and Ian Orphelin. You won't be hurt gentlemen."
On the podium, King spoke into the mic, "Please, everyone remain calm ... I think we had better co-operate with these ... err ... people."
Turning to the speaker, he carefully moves his hands way from the lectern and his body and says "What is the meaning of this interruption? What do you want with my fellow scientists?"
"Shut up, you," said the man with the flaming hand.
"Wait a moment," said one of the others. There was a blur of motion and he stood by King, "Why don't we take this one, too. He's good. He can help Orphelin."
"Good idea," said the woman. "Come along, Mr. King."
On the fringes of the crowd people had already begun to drift away. A door burst open and a security guard stepped in, "What's going on here? What?" he saw the villians and went for his gun.
A burst of flame leapt from the man's hand and struck the guard, knocking him to the ground. "Firebrand, no!" said the woman, but too late.
The blast pushed the crowd over the edge, in a blind panic the scientists spilled out the doors, mobbing each other as they did so. Only a few remained, Mr. King on the podium and two others that had been cut out of the crowd by the other man and woman. The woman swooped down on the crowd and grabbed one more man, "No, Dr. Tolliver, you're coming, too."
Firebrand said to the man near him, "All right, FistFighter, let's go." Then he bumped open the nearby emergency exit.
FistFighter started herding the two scientists out the door. "FleetFoot, Freebird?" he called.
"Coming," said the woman, carrying the scientist with her above the heads of the crowd.
"Come along, Mr. King," said the man, presumably Fleetfoot. "No time to waste."
"Err... yes, ok... I'll co-operate," said King. He started to walk towards the door, then staggered clutched his bad leg, falling against the display table on which the microbatteries he had demonstrating were laid.
"Sorry, sorry," he said as Fleetfoot grabbed him and hauled him to his feet, "My leg has never been strong since the accident... I think I must be in a bit of shock ..."
Simmon Marious, caught up in the stampede of people rushed away -- right into the escape path. Like a deer caught in headlights he froze and reacted, "S-s-stop!" he stammered.
FistFighter shoved him aside, out the door, "Out of the way." Marious stumbled a bit and then was clear. Outside in the alley, he saw a truck, with the back door open and another man in a similar outfit in the back. FightFighter hustled his two men in and went around to the driver's seat.
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.
Freebird floated out the door with her cargo and handed him off to the man in the back. "Gently Fanatic," she said to the man. "We don't want them harmed." The wild-eyed man grunted.
A few seconds later, King and FleetFoot were out the door and Firebrand was behind them.
Defender dashed out, carried away by the rest of the panicking crowd. However, the first open door he found was good enough. Civilian clothes gave way to battle suit as quickly as he could change clothing. Civilian clothes stashed in his brief case, he slipped back out into the hallway, heading toward the four fiends.
"Computer. Start video capture. Enable uplink. Dial beeperphone. Wanderer." Defender voiced as he raced against the crowd.
The truck engine started and the the vehicle began to move away. The strangely dressed man was nowhere in sight, but Marious could see a trailing bit of motley on the ground.
Defender burst out the door and looked down the alley, which was by now empty of pedestrians. At the end of the alley he saw a truck making away and guessed that thev villians were within. He leapt toward the vehicle.
"Defender, Wanderer here. Above you on the roof," the beepherphone in his ear crackled to life.
Defender and the Wanderer saw a figure lean out of a doorway as the truck approached and throw something at the tires. It missed, and ricocheted off the ground and under the truck.
As the truck raced past that door way, the figure leapt out and grabbed the side swinging to the roof. Both heroes recognized the man now from descriptions in the paper. A hero called The Champion who had been fighting the drug trade on the streets.
A moment later, Defender landed on the roof of the van next to him.
Their arrival on the had obviously not been unobserved. The back door of the truck opened and Freebird floated out and up the level of the roof. Behind her, Fanatic pulled himself on the roof, his features contorted with rage.
Defender gestured for Fanatic to come and get some and Champion held his ground. The truck swerved in and out of traffic adding a horrible complication to the scene.
Fanatic obliged Defender by screaming inarticulately and swinging madly and mostly ineffectually.
Freebird flew up and then dived down toward Champion. She smashed into the hero, failing to do much damage as he sidestepped out of the way. But even the glancing blow was enough, when the truck lurched, to send Champion flying off the side and into the road. He broke his fall gracefully and rolled to his feet, but watched in frustration as the truck and the fight moved away.
Freebird recovered from the dive and swooped back around to take a shot at Defender. He shifted at the last second, and miraculously clung to the top of the truck as he did so. That did, however set him up for a punch from Fanatic. Defender raised his arms and blocked.
Defender punched back at Fanatic missing wildly and straining his leg as he did so. His followup, though landed solidly. Fanatic staggered back and went off the truck.
Atop the truck, Defender crouched down as Freebird prepared to buzz him again. She swooped in and missed then came around and tried again.
On the ground behind the truck, Champion had looked around and popped a manhole cover up out of the road. It wasn't exactly a discus, but it would do. He estimated the range to the truck and decided it was too far away, Fanatic on the other hand, looked just right. He spun around twice and launched the manhole cover discus style at Fanatic. It caught the villain in the back.
Fanatic looked around angrily and spotted the hero. He charged down the road at him howling, leaping the last few meters toward Champion. Champion flipped gracefully out of the way, landing near the berserk villain.
Inside the truck, Richard King saw a chance he thought. Shouting, "Hold on!" he dove toward the passthrough to the front and for the steering wheel.
"No, Doctor," said Fleetfoot, blurring forward to block his way. "None of that." He slammed the door of the pass through shut. He blurred to the back of the truck. "Sit down and behave and no one will be hurt." He looked at the back and saw Fanatic charging Champion. "Damnation!"
King charged him, trying to push him out the door while he was distracted. He laid his hands on the villain, but the superhumanly quick reflexes of Fleetfoot rendered his attack useless. Fleetfoot slipped over and the shove only pushed him against the wall.
"Sit down, Doctor!" snapped Fleetfoot, accompanying the words with several sharp slaps. "We are not playing around, sit down or you will be hurt."
Dr King slumped back into his seat sobbing... "I'm sorry... I panicked... ever since the accident... I... please don't hit me... I'll co-operate"
On the roof, Defender grabbed at Freebird as she swooped about. She darted and dodged about to avoid him.
"Nimble little minx, aren't you," Defender said as Freebird slipped just outside his reach.
He continued to try and catch her, and finally laid a hand on her. "I really hate striking women," Defender said as he struck the villian. "But, these are more liberal times." The blow rocked the woman, who responded by flying straight up.
Freebird flew over the truck biding her time for a moment. Then she dove down quickly, narrowly missing Defender.
Suddenly a blast of flame smashed into Defender from behind. FireBrand, leaning out of the truck cab window had seen a target and taken a shot.
"Where'd you come from?" Defender shouted as he attempted to avoid Firebrand's attack to no avail. The blast scorched him and the impact drove him off the top of the truck. Freebird shot back into the back of the truck, and the rear door slammed shut as Firebrand made a rude gesture out the window at Defender.
"Say that to my face, you prissy little..." Defender yelled after the retreating vehicle. He took a moment to get his bearings, then headed back toward the last place he saw Champion.
* * * *Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...
Fanatic and Champion squared off. Pulling back his right fist Champion launched a devastating Uppercut at Fanatic, crying "This should put you 'Out for the Count'!" The blow went wide as Fanatic growled and charged in low.
Adopting a pugilistic pose, Champion fired off some rights and lefts, landing several solidly on his foe, who grunted and swung back. Champion shucked and jived like Ali, and avoided most of the damage.
Fanatic took a mighty swing but stumbled on the open manhole cover and fell to his knees. Champion closed in and just as Fanatic rose, fired a quick right. Fanatic staggered back a step. Champion landed a left, then another right, and Fanatic collapsed.
That is how the Wanderer found them a few moments later.
"Bravo! quite impressive," said the man in the wide-brimmed hat. "I don't believe we've met, I'm...," the man disappeared from sight and reappeared within an arm's length with hand outstretched,"...the Wanderer."
"Pleased to meet you professionally at last... I'm The Champion. I saw you at the SuperCon the other week, but I was in Mufti at the time."
"I think we had better restrain our friend here, and ask him where his colleagues are going..."
A few moments later, Defender approached, looking a touch dejected. He rubbed at his fresh bruises as he joined the two heroes.
"Computer. End video capture. Sleep." Defender directed. "Well, we got one anyway."
"True," says Champion, "and I think I may have a way of locating the Van... My Discus appears to have become lodged in the undertray of the Van. Within it is a microtransciever, used to home in on the one in my wristband, allowing it to return to my hand by adjusting the gyroscopic flight controls within the discus. However, It does mean that I should be able to adjust my wristband to home in on the discus, leading us to the Van."
"Good show!" exclaimed the Wanderer. "I just love you techno-babble guys, you and Defender should get along marvelously. I shudder even thinking about you two and White Knight in a bull session," he added fanning himself.
"But first things first." The Wanderer pulled out his beeperphone and placed a call to IPAC.
"IPAC Control, how may I direct your call?"
"Wee Mr. Wilkins, please," chimed the Wanderer. "Tell him it's his plumber."
While Wanderer regaled this Mr Wilkins fellow with tales of plumbing related woe, Champion pulled a small set of electronics tools from his Utility Belt, and started adjusting the Wristband.
"Very funny," came Wilkins voice, sounding not very amused.
The Wanderer filled Wilkins in, and Wilkins said he had a team on the way to take care of Fanatic. By the time the Wanderer had finished his call, the Champion had made the mods he needed to his wrist unit.
"Wanderer. If you will baby-sit our friend here, Champion and I will start tracking down his discus. I'll beep you as soon as we know where it is." Defender suggested.
"And I will fly like an eagle to join you when I'm free," said the Wanderer in agreement.
"Ok, let's see where this leads..." Champion switched on the homer and swept his arm around, trying to lock in on the signal.
He quickly picked up the signal, the truck was somewhere off to the west and continuing to move in that direction. The heroes started out on foot but realized that they would be outpaced by the truck quickly and wondered what to do ...
Issue 18: Fraternity Hazing, Part II