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Issue Eighteen, Fraternity Hazing, Part II

"We'll never catch up with the truck at this pace," Defender said. "Champion, do you have personal transportation?"

"No, I came to the convention by taxi... parking at these things is hell otherwise. Do you have a car nearby? If not we'd better hail a cab..."

Defender thought for a moment about his car parked nearby. If it had not been registered in his real name then it might be an option. The motorcycle was a little too far away. Looked like the two heroes would be hailing a cab after all.

"We can take my car," said a voice behind them. They turned and saw Jenny Peters, camera in hand. "Smile." Flash. "I'm parked over there."

"You realize that this is a bad idea, Ms. Peters?" Defender asked with real concern in his voice.

"What do you mean? Looks like great way to get a scoop," she said. "But if you don't want to catch the badguys, hey, that's OK, too." She headed for her car, confident the heroes would follow.

"Ms. Peters. I'm concerned with your safety." Defender called out after her. "I know you want the story. And I respect that."

Defender waited to see if she stopped walking toward her car.

"I'll be fine," she tossed over her shoulder as she walked, "I'll stay out of the line of fire. And," she added, "if you can even find a cab, I'll just follow it anyway."

"Point taken, Ms. Peters," Defender said with a smirk. "Come, Champion. Shall we conserve natural resourses and accompany our headstrong reporter?"

Champion took the front seat so that he could help navigate. Peters drove well and soon the heroes found themselves heading out of the city to the west.

They lost time tracking and backtracking, but eventually found themselves on a bumpy back road leading into National Forest. The signal was getting stronger, so Champion felt they were getting closer. Jenny pulled up short at a chained off logging road, but there didn't appear to be any other way forward.

"Looks like we hoof it from here," Defender stated. "Ms. Peters, please don't leave your sense of self preservation in the car. Are you strictly a ground-pounder, Champion?"

Champion nodded and he and Defender set out up the logging road. They covered a few hundred yards before the road emptied out into a clearing. They took cover to check out the scene.

In the middle of the clearing was a large cylindrical vessel of some kind, with a number of large jets extending from the bottom, as well as some kind of boarding tube. Three legs supported the craft. Nearby was a truck, which appeared to be the one they had been tracking. Defender had to stifle laughter upon seeing the craft. When his companions looked sidelong at him, he shook his head in apology.

"Sorry," Defender began. "I'm beginning to think I should contract out to INS with as many aliens as I've run afoul of lately."

As they watched, an elevator door in the boarding tube opened and two scientists hustled out followed immediately by Firebrand. The three moved to put the truck between them and the vehicle and then turned back to watch it.

"Anyone else up for clobbering?" Defender asked. He started to move, then stopped. "Wait. They are hiding from something. This can't be good."

As they watched, Defender had a chance to examine the ship more closely. It was, he decided, of terrestrial manufacture although of an unusual design.

"Well, seems these aliens are of the human variety," Defender stated. "I mean, the ship looks like it was made here on Earth."

A few moments later, Fistfighter appeared at the base of the boarding tube, hustling the remaining two scientists toward the truck. A few seconds later Freebird flew out from between two of the jets and Fleetfoot raced down a staircase around the outside of the boarding tube. They all rendezvoused behind the truck and began to converse, although the heroes couldn't hear them.

"Four bad guys. Two good guys. And one spunky reporter. If only we had a holocaust cloak and a wheelbarrow." Defender shook his head. "What do you think? A little divide and conquer?

Champion said, "There must be some reason why they seen to have evacuated the contraption, and are huddling behind the truck. It may be in our interest to see why, if we can, before we intervene...

"Now, If I can get under the truck to recover my Discus, I can try and deal with the flyer, though if she tries to escape I can't see any way we can stop her... Defender, do you know of any good guys we can call on to help? If we can call on reinforcements I think we should do so now, In the meantime just observe, and if they try to leave before help arrives we go in all guns blazing...

"Ms Peters, when we do go in I suggest you stay here out of sight... these people are dangerous."

"No argument from me," said the reporter hunkered down out of sight but snapping madly with a small camera.

"Computer. Call Wanderer." Defender said quietly.

"Wanderer. We have left the city. Champion's discus has led us to a craft of Terran design. Our group of bad guys are currently huddling outside the craft as if the boogie man was inside. When you are ready, I'll give you directions."

Defender relayed directions and signed off.

"I think I might be able to find us some aerial back-up, but I make no promises. I'll be back in a second."

Defender stepped a little way away from Champion and Ms. Peters. Once he was clear, he spoke softly. "Computer. Call home. Mara? Hey. You would not believe where I am currently. I'll show you the video capture when I get home. Anyway, have you seen Ka-sador lately? I could use his help."

"He's in the kitchen, I'll get him," she said. A moment later, Ka-Sador was on the phone.

"He's in the kitchen, I'll get him," she said. A moment later, Ka-Sador was on the phone.

[HELLLLO], came the familiar voice of the alien.

"Ka-Sador, buddy," Defender said. "I could really use your help here. I've got four bad guys with at least one flier. They have some scientists kidnapped. If you are free, I could use the assistance."

[WHERE ARE YOO? SOUNDZ FUN] cooed the alien. After receiving the directions, Ka-sador realized he knew the place and made his way there as quickly as possible.

Defender, Champion and Jenny crouched down in the underbrush watching the villians and their prisoners crouched behind the van and waiting for reinforcements to arrive.

Defender was the first to notice the green glow high on the side of the vehicle. He informed his companions and they looked up just as a human-shaped green glow shot out of the side of the vehicle and arrowed toward the villians. A moment later another figure came through the wall of the vehicle, neither figure doing any damage as they passed through. The second figure followed the first down toward the van.

The lead figure shouted, "Now you shall pay for your perfidy!" and raised his hands and a blast of green energy arced toward Fleetfoot. Even surprised as he was, he managed to slide out of the way of some of the impact.

The glowing man who had spoken fired again at Fleetfoot and again. Warned this time, the quick moving villian managed to avoid the blasts.

The other man floated to the ground near Firebrand and swung a fist at him, which passed right through the villian. He tried again with the same effect. It was slightly amusing to watch Fistfighter block punches that passed right through his block and his body. A frown of concentration crossed the new arrival's face and he tried once more. This time the blow was solid surprising both the newcomer and Fistfighter who parried the blow and felt something solid for a change.

From this distance, and as the glow around him lessened, the figure on the ground could be seen to be the colorfully clad man who had rolled under the truck when it had left the convention center. (Let us call him the Beggar King, for now.)

Defender watched in confusion as the two figures attacked. He shrugged and said, "The iron is hot. Time to strike." He leapt forward, landing a moment later near the dodging Fleetfoot. He took a swing at the madly dashing villian but missed.

"Two can play at this game," cried Firebrand opening up on the flying man with his energy blast. Apparently, two couldn't since both blasts missed.

Fistfighter decided that since he could block punches from this new fellow, he could probably punch him, too, and put his thesis to the test.

His first punch landed but as the second came in, the Beggar King concentrated and it passed right through him.

Freebird took to the air and dove at the glowing man, passing straight through him as well. "Damn, are we fighting ghosts!" she yelled.

"No, you're fighting the Eagles!" said the glowing man.

Defender stopped dead in his tracks; that name he knew. Stuttering, "Com... Computer. Video capture. Now. On. Turn on, damn it."

He swung his head around to get a good look at the glowing man. He hoped the camera would get the details he was seeing from this distance.

That done, he took another swing at Fleetfoot but distracted as he was by the glowing man, he missed.

Champion moved up toward the fray as well.

The glowing man changed targets and returned fire at Firebrand who deflected the blast with one of his own before opening back up and hitting his target. The energy knocked the Eagle(?) back and Firebrand's follow-up missed.

Freebird soared after the tumbling figure and then soared right through him. "I can't touch him!" She shouted back.

"Then I'll take him," said Firebrand. "I have to do all the work around here."

Fleetfoot turned his attention to Defender, "So, slowpoke, you want to dance?" He peppered his target with lightning fast punches then blurred off to stand by the trees some 20 meters away. "Come and get me!"

Fistfighter, meanwhile, got a look of intense concentration on his face and set down to seeing if he could pummel the Beggar King.

Defender considered playing tag with Fleetfoot, but decided his aid could be better used elsewhere. The Eagle seemed to have his fight well in hand, so Defender leapt toward the unsuspecting Fistfighter.

At the last moment, the villian recognized his danger and slid away so the impact was only glancing.

Meanwhile, the Beggar King was a little wobbly on his feet. Not built to take such a beating, he made a production of a long, wide swing at Fistfighter. He obviouisly missed, but used the momentum of the swing to turn in place. He dove for cover, angling for under the truck. With the distraction provided by the arrival of Defender, he was able to get to cover.

Champion closed in on Fleetfoot and threw several punches, which Fleetfoot easily avoided. Then, out of nowhere, or so it seemed, an ebon form dove out of the sky and slammed into Fleetfoot. The villian was driven back a few steps and seemed staggered from the impact. He blurred away but was clearly not moving at his best. He started to race away, but was forced to divert when Champion took another swing. He headed toward the vehicle some 30 meters away.

FistFighter turned to face his new opponent and began ducking and weaving, laying in punches when it seemed appropriate.

The scientists meanwhile had all scattered and were running for the trees as fast as they could.

Firebrand took to the air and he and the glowing man faced off six meters up. Freebird floated gently up and away, toward the top of the vehicle.

"Okay," Beggar King said to himself. "I seem to be turning into a ghost, but only part of the time. If I'm dead, this is a lousy development. No time to think about that now. If I can go ghostly, then perhaps I can be of some use to these heroes."

FleetFoot made it to the vehicle and ducked behind a landing strut.

The winged alien crouched into an offensive position refined from years in the arena. Ka-sador surveyed the landscape and proceeded toward the vehicle where his wounded prey fled. Instinctively, his hand went to his belt to retrieve a bolo and it began to whirr.

He flew gently out and around and spotted his target. The bolo whistled on its way in an instant. Fleetfoot spotted his danger and blurred into motion. Two late! The bolo spun around and clipped him as it went past and he stumbled to a stop.

Defender absorbed another punishing blow or two from Fistfighter before seeing an opening and landing a vicious uppercut that laid the villian out on the ground.

A glowing figure rose through the top of the truck and came to rest there, identifiable after a moment as the Beggar King.

In the air, the glowing man and Firebrand dodged and darted rising slowly in altitude to a height of 25 meters.

As Ka-Sador began to close in on his foe, a song of triumph forming in his throat, a figure hurtled past him from on high. Freebird raced in and grabbed at Fleetfoot, but her compatriot was too slow and missed her outstretched hand. She braked and grabbed him under the arms.

Champion ran over to join Defender and helped to make sure that Fistfighter would be out for the count.

Freebird grunted as she lifted Fleetfoot and took to the air angling up and away from the fray.

From the vantage point of the truck roof, Beggar King could see the situation fairly well.

"The fiery lad seems to be evenly matched with the Eagle," Beggar King yelled. "Try to concentrate on bringing the other two down. Oh dear, I seem to be floating."

Ka-sador took to the air after the heavy-laden Freebird and readied himself for air combat.

Behind him, Defender gauged distances and leapt.

Ka-Sador closed in and executed a flying kick, Freebird tried to dodge, but laden as she was she was unable to do so. His second blow went high as he misjudged her motion.

Then Defender crashed into the pair. He grabbed hold of Fleetfoot and with a cry of frustration Freebird lost her grip. Defender and Fleetfoot dropped a few meters to the ground. Fleetfoot squirmed free on impact.

Freebird looked at the odds and decided to run for it. She took off for the woods.

Defender gave Fleetfoot a quick finger-bend wave. "Hi. Remember me?" He grabbed Fleetfoot who tried to skitter away, but couldn't avoid him completely. Two quick punches later and Fleetfoot was out cold. Defender picked him and jogged back toward the van.

Ka-Sador, meanwhile pursued Freebird. He caught up with her and launched a spinning kick. Freebird slipped away and was only hit a glancing blow. She continued to flee and Ka-Sador could tell that she had outpaced him.

"Yes, hit'em hard. Oh, that's nasty." Beggar King commented watching the battle in the skies. As Defender and Fleetfoot crashed to the ground, Beggar King motioned for Champion to join him.

"The fast one is down. Quickly, to your friend's aid." Turning his attention back to the flying figures. "Bird-man. Er... Frogboy has it in hand on the ground. That one is getting away. Get her. Good show, Eagle old boy. Try to drive him toward the ground."

That last comment was directed at the glowing figure above, who was cutting loose with blasts of energy at Firebrand who was, in turn, firing back with blasts of flame.

Firebrand fired a last blast at the glowing man, then turned to flee.

Defender set about finding something to tie up the captured villians with, while Beggar King made a few abortive attempts to fly, or so it seemed, before giving up and sliding down through the van to join Defender and Champion.

The glowing man flashed over to cut off Firebrand and tossed a quick bolt of energy at him. Flying across the sky at top speed, Ka-Sador sailed past Firebrand narrowly missing him.

High in the air, Ka-Sador and Firebrand danced around kicking and punching at each other, Ka-Sador using his armoured wings as a shield to block blows and the occasional blast of fire.

A blast of green energy from the glowing man, spun Firebrand around, knocking him away from the alien. Firebrand turned to flee, but was obviously woozy. He managed to deflect a blow from the pursuing Ka-Sador then another as the glowing man took another shot. But his luck ran out and a spinning kick from Ka-Sador finished him off.

On the ground the heroes cheered as Firebrand flipped over and began to fall.

Ka-Sador swooped after the falling Firebrand, caught him and then dumped him unceremoniously on the ground by the others before landing. Behind him the glowing man floated down and hovered a few feet off the ground.

The winged alien looked to the only face he recognized and asked, [DEFENDR HOO THEEZ PEEPLE?]

Defender motioned toward one of the new heroes. "Ka-Sador, I'd like to introduce Champion. He's relatively new to the Port Alexander hero scene. As for the other two here... I'm afraid I have no..."

"The name is Duke Maximillian Immengrun, called the Beggar King, and I am at your service. At least for a short time." The motley clad man extended his hand.

Defender turned toward the self-proclaimed duke. "Frogboy?"

Ka-sador snickered, repeating [DOOK] and extended his long limb to take the King's hand. He then looked toward the glowing man with curiosity, [WHY YOO HERE?]

"Should I be somewhere else?" The man shook his head, "No, no. I was captured, imprisoned! And now these have felt my wrath."

"Definately lots of wrath feeling on their parts," Defender said. "Who are you, sir?"

"Me? I'm ..." he pointed at the Beggar King, "He knows. Tell them."

The Beggar King bowed to the man. "Of course, how rude of me. Allow me to present Mr. John French. My partner in escape, as it turns out. Seems Mr. French was trapped inside the craft. Speaking of trapped, we should see about gathering up the scattered hostages and getting them and us home. I was supposed to check in with the Knights' Council this afternoon and they will worry if I am not present."

Defender nodded. "Ka-sador, perhaps you should take to the air to help round them up. I'll head off on foot in the direction they headed. Champion, could you watch our fallen foes?"

Defender paused for a moment, then called toward the bushes. "Ms. Peters. You can come out now. The danger has passed. If you all will excuse me."

Defender headed off after the scientists. Once clear of the general gathering, he signalled IPAC. "This is Defender. My I please be speak with Mr. Wilkins?"

Confused at what was going on, Ka-sador took to the air to get a better view and to assist Defender.

As Defender was waiting to be put through, a black van started to bump up the road, and with a pop of displaced air, The Wanderer arrived on the scene.

Jenny Peters had come out and was peppering the scientists with questions as she helped to round them up. "Mr. King, any idea what they wanted with you? Mr. Tolliver, how do you feel after your ordeal? Any comment, Mr. St.-Vernon? Mr. Orphelin, any words for the readers at home?"

The Wanderer rubbed his hands together and called out to Defender in a beaming tone, "Did you leave any for me?"

Defender turned to reply. "Strangely enough, no. In fact, I managed to whack two of them and didn't get knocked out once. I'm afraid I've not been myself lately."

Champion asked about his discus, "It was under the truck but now the tracer shows it to be in the vehicle somewhere."

Beggar King looked at Champion. "So, the discus was yours?"

When the hero nodded, Beggar King continued. "It came quite in handy. My thanks. Although, it seems to have been instrumental in my death."

"Did we lose any scientists?" the Wanderer inquired.

"Not sure yet. I was just heading out to look for them." Defender gazed back at Jenny Peters. "That and call IPAC away from the curious ears of our Ms. Peters. She seems to have an unnatural facination with what happens to the villians we take out of circulation."

"Miss Peters is a very freaky girl, the kind you don't take home to mother," offered the Wanderer before heading over to a vanquished villain.

"Who do you work for?" he demanded.

Fleetfoot looked at him, "We're independant operatives."

"You don't look smart enough to have planned this...although the results are right up your alley." he answered. "So your independent plan was to bring them to the forest and sing camp songs?"

"They wanted us to help them build a power plant," piped up one of the scientists. "They had a power source they didn't know how to use."

"Power plant?" Defender asked. "What would a couple of fashion victims like you want with a power plant?"

Fleetfoot looked at the heroes like they were idiots, looked back at the giant ship parked on the side of the clearing and looked back at them. "Gee," he said, "I wonder."

"I'm not done with you," said the Wanderer to Fleetfoot as he turned to the scientist who spoke up. "Did they tell you anything else? Do you want to go check out the ship with me?"

The scientist in question was Dr. Saint-Vernon. "They didn't say much. They had a power source they wanted to use to power their vehicle, but they lacked the skills to adequately capitalize on it. They grabbed Tolliver and myself to take a look at it. We weren't sure what it was, but on reflection, I think it may have been him!" He pointed at Mr. French.

Beggar King became angry at that thought. He floated over to Fleetfoot.

"How dare you treat my new friend in such a boorish manner! Cad!" With that, he back handed the villian. Instead of the solid, satisfying thwap everyone was expecting, Beggar King's hand passed right through the man's head. This seemed to confound the motley clad avenger.

"And... and let that be a lesson to you."

The four scientists looked in shock at the Beggar King's antics with Fleetfoot, then back and forth amongst themselves before Saint-Vernon spoke again, "Ah, I can't speak for my colleagues, but I am not inclined to return to the ship. Lord only knows what radiation or energies are still loose up there."

The other scientists rapidly concurred.

"I think these gentlemen are right," Defender stated. "With proper protective gear, checking out the vehicle would not be a bad idea."

"And if there are any other prisoners beyond these gentlemen?" Beggar King asked.

The Wanderer looked on with a pouty face. "Nonsense," he said, "this isn't a Public Service Announcement about safety. I'm going to wander over. HA!" And with an emphatic laugh, he disappeared and reappeared near the ship.

Ka-sador returned from his reconnaissance and landed near the man calling himself John French. With a sniff in the direction of the scientists, Ka-sador turned to the man [YOO ARE DIFFRENT, FROM THEY]

"Indeed I am," said the man. "For one thing, they're wearing suits and I'm wearing a lab coat. No, I'm not wearing a lab coat am I?"

Curiously, Ka-sador cocked his head to the side. [YOO GLOW AND NOT SMELL LIKE EARTHLANDR, WHY?]

"Interesting question, before I could answer that, I suppose I'd have to know how the others smell and what the difference is." He lifted an arm and sniffed at it, or at least that's sort of what it looked like -- he didn't have much in the way of identifiable facial features. "I don't smell anything. Wait! I don't smell anything anymore. What do I smell like?" He looked back at Ka-Sador, "What do I smell like? Ozone, I imagine from the ionization of the atmosphere around my highly charged coherent energy field."

A smile formed from Ka-sador's beak, [YOO ARE STRAYNGE. YOO TALK LIKE PERFESSOR ON GILLYGAN'S EYE-LAND, YOO SHOULD TALK TO FRENDT DEFENDR.] With a hop and a flap Ka-sador landed next to Defender.

[FUNNY MAN, TALK LYKE YOO] he told his friend, pointing toward the mysterious John French.

Defender was torn between his natural curiosity and concern for his own well being. Radiation was notoriously bad when mixed with nanites. He felt, however, that he needed to go in case the Beggar King had been correct. He started toward the ship and was surprised when the motley clad man stopped him.

"You sir are obviously needed here to ensure the safety of the scientists and that our captives stay captive." Baggar King bowed before the man. "I may be a Duke, but I can still serve the Greater Good. Allow me to accompany the Stranger into the ship."

"Wanderer," Defender corrected.

"Nah, figured I'd float," came the reply. With that, Beggar King floated toward the ship. "Pray dally for a moment, my good man and allow me a moment to catch up."

Defender was not sure how to take the strange man's words, but appreciated his efforts. He smoothed his hair and stepped over beside his partner, Ka-sador.

"Indeed." Defender regarded French then spoke to him. "Mr. French, I'm called Defender. It is a pleasure meeting you. When we first started fighting these villians, you said something about the Eagles. You were one of the Eagles?"

"Eagles? Yes! Eagles." He looked around, "Where's Protector? Isn't he with you? We could have used him."

"I'm afraid not. In fact, you are the first person connected with the Eagles that I've met. Do you have any memory of how long ago you were trapped?" Defender asked the man.

"I've been trapped?" There was a long pause. "Yes, it was ... it is hard to say. Time seems to have little meaning now. There was no way to mark its passing. What time is it now, I mean the date."

Defender told him.

"Then I've been trapped for ... nearly twenty years."

The van that had carried the Wanderer made it up over the clearing and disgorged its occupants, including Mr. Wilkins who came walking over to join the confab.

Meanwhile, over at the ship, the Wanderer was seeing what he could see. The ship had a boarding tube centrally located between a number of large jets. The tube had both an elevator and, running around it on the outside, a staircase.

The Wanderer waited for the Beggar King to arrive and then posed the question, "Shall we ride or walk? I do not want to offend your royalness."

"I take no offense in either fashion," Beggar King responded with a smile. "However, I've already taken the stairs, so why not try something new and interesting."

"Then the elevator it is!" exclaimed the Wanderer as he looked for the means to enter.

He pressed the call button and the doors opened obligingly. They entered and saw on the wall four buttons labeled simply 1,2,3 and 4.

"Decisions, decisions. Five is usually my lucky number. Duke, what is your pleasure?" the Wanderer offered.

"Shall we start at the bottom and work our way up?" Beggar King asked.

"A marvelous idea. Perhaps they have a restaurant at the penthouse," he said pushing button number one.

The doors closed, the elevator lifted, and the doors opened again. The pair stood in the center of a large control room that occupied the entire floor. Above them was an exit hatch, and the walls were covered with monitors and various controls. Framed in one of the monitors was the scene of battle and they could just see the van unloading the IPAC crews and Mr. Wilkins outside.

"We may not be alone," remarked the Wanderer. The alien stepped out, and examined the escape hatch to see if it was open or had been used recently.

It was open and led to the roof, but there was no one upon said roof.

The Wanderer looked around the control room and gazed at the monitors. "Let's see if there are any more windows into this ship?" He looked around for any buttons which might control other views throughout the ship.

There were a great many buttons. Dials, too. And sliders.

The Wanderer looked over the cornucopia of decisions and turned to the Beggar King. "Your majesty, do you want to push something, or wimp out and explore some more?" he said smiling.

Even as he spoke, the Wanderer poked at some controls that seemed to relate to the monitors. He found that he was able to reposition the exterior cameras, but that there did not seem to be any interior coverage.

After determining how to zoom in with the cameras using Jenny Peters as a unconsenting subject, the Wanderer stopped and turned to the Beggar King. "It looks like we're going to have to go deck by deck."

"If that is how we are fated then so be it." Beggar King said. "And please... 'Majesty' is way too much. 'Your grace' is sufficient if you must use formal address."

The pair returned to the elevator and pressed "2." The elevator let them out in a circular hallway running around the outside of the elevator shaft. There were five doors placed at equal distances in the outer wall of the corridor, and each door was labeled with a single letter A through E.

The Wanderer walked up to Door A and turned to His Grace, "A for Amazing. It sounds like just the door for you. Shall we?" He worked the controls and opened the door.

"They certainly make the decisions easy for us," Beggar King said. "Floors and doors labeled clearly. This was not a government job, I'd wager."

Door A led into a cluttered living quarters. One side had a kitchenette built in, there was a bathroom in the back, a bed on the back wall, and the rest of the room was given over to desks and worktables. Bits and pieces of gadgetry cluttered most of the available surfaces with scraps of paper with roughly sketched diagrams anchored underneath whatever was handy.

The Wanderer walked over to the worktable and looked over the sketches, grabbing the ones that looked the most gadgety. Perhaps, he thought, they would be fortunate to find some identification or other treasure. "Light reading material for the White Knight," he said to the Beggar King. "I figure we ought to grab the goodies before IPAC gets wise."

He then waited for the Beggar King to do his surveying before exiting onto Door B.

Door B opened onto a room identical in layout to the first, but with a definate woman's touch. It was tidy, women's clothes could be seen in the closet, and the work tables were in less disarray, although still covered with bits of equipment and papers.

Continuing their sweep, the pair found three more quarters on the floor. All were similar in basic layout but varied according to the personalities of the occupants.

Room C contained nothing in the way of doodads and technological gimcrackery, instead containing soothing paintings and a stereo system with a selection of calming music.

Room D had chemistry textbooks and a bound selection of monographs by Dr. William James. Neatly tailored suits filled the wardrobes. A small chemical lab occupied one table.

Room E had a rack with a bunch of multi-processor computers feeding a front-end workstation on a table which had a small but complete micro-electronics lab. The literature was a mix of weighty technical references on miniaturization and microchip construction and in-depth biographies and histories of exceptional athletes.

By this point, Beggar King was quite bored with the personal effects of the villains. Besides, he saw nothing that he nor his people could use.

"Perhaps," he said with a yawn, "their plan of conquest involved being bland and boring."

"Indeed," voiced the Wanderer. "This duty was more suited to eggheads like Defender or the White Knight. I'm a lover, not a scholar." The Wanderer walked back into the hallway and turned to the Beggar King. "Shall we rejoin the rest of our merry band? This place appears secure."

"There is one more place I would like to visit before we leave," Beggar King said. With that, he led the way towards the lab where everything strange had happened.

The pair took the elevator down to the next floor, where the Beggar King was able to point out the brig before entering the lab. "Our villainous rogues had the scientists locked up here." Beggar King said.

The lab was a shambles. Sparks still leapt about the room and there was an acrid smell in the air. Most of the equipment seemed to have shutdown but it was hard to tell if it was from automatic safety features or if it had been done by hand.

Beggar King looked around for anything out of the ordinary. He was not sure what he would find, even fearing seeing his body. In the back of his mind was a nagging question about what had happened after he had thrown the discus. (Which he also kept an eye out for.)

A quick look around revealed the discus wedged into a formerly fragile looking piece of circuitry. The piece now merely looked destroyed.

Feigning boredom, the Wanderer began to whistle as Beggar King looked around.

"There was... an explosion," Beggar King started. He steadied himself. "We had an 'oops.'"

The Wanderer stopped short, "An 'oops'?" he asked whirling about.

"Yes," Beggar King answered, mostly distracted. Beggar King was speaking in a normal tone for the first time. "Best I can tell, they had French somehow imprisoned in that. I had snuck in here to help free the captives. When they bad guys caught me, I hurled the discus... which should be around here somewhere... at some stuff as a diversion. It all went black after that. When I woke up..."

Beggar King stuck his hand through the nearest object... The Wanderer. "That started happening."

The Wanderer looked down at the hand passing through him. "Sir, kindly remove your hand from my body. We barely know each other, I have a reputation to uphold. If you wish to court me, I can assure you that I am not cheap....but fun," he said with a grin.

"Oh. Sorry." Beggar King pulled his hand back and floated over to retrieve the discus.

"You say things went black? Were you struck by something?" he asked. The Wanderer had had a similar experience when he went snooping where he wasn't wanted (See Issue 13: Bungle in the Concrete Jungle, Part 2) and wondered if there was a connection.

"There was a sort of energy burst... like lightning... I think." Without thinking, he slid through a table. "I feel like I should be chasing the One Ring. The Beggar King becomes the Beggar Wraith. How will that look on my resume?"

Satisfied with his search and much relieved that no evidence hinted at a lack of mortality, Beggar King settled next to the Wanderer. "When I woke up, there was French. He was glowing and scatterbrained. He lead me up and through the ceiling. My first thought was that I had expired in the explosion. No body here. I guess I'm still alive, but this is strange."

The Wanderer looked on with genuine sympathy at the man's dilemma. "Do you need me to carry your discus?" he offered. Then he looked around the laboratory with greater interest, perhaps there was something that could explain what had happened. Maybe the Beggar King's appearance startled whatever experiment was going on or some energy happy villian discharged and started the chain of unfortunate events. "Premature Light Refraction" he mumbled, prompting a curious grunt from the Beggar King. "Oh nothing," replied the Wanderer as he continued to giggle and search for clues.

Although it was not his area of expertise, the Wanderer was fairly certain that the lab was set up for work involving high energy particles. Some of the labels on the equipment were still readable: "Magnetic Bottle Power," "Beta emission counter" and a crank with a tag saying "Damping Rods."

Again with the high-tech mumbo-jumbo, the Wanderer was hoping that soon they would run into a marauding band of scantily clad Amazons so his expertise could be utilized. "I can't determine the focus of their experiments, but I know someone who can." He pulled out his communicator and hailed the Eagles' Nest frequency, hoping that the White Knight wasn't off re-wiring some circuitry.

After four rings, he was put through to the White Knight's voicemail.

"White Knight," he began, "remind me not to include you as a lifeline." The Wanderer gave a brief synopsis of what he saw in the lab and left details where they were before breaking the connection. "Looks like we can continue our investigation," he said to the Beggar King.

"I'm not sure what's left to see," Beggar King said, his bravado returning as they stepped from the lab. "I do agree that this is propeller head stuff and we should allow the propeller heads outside to tell us about it."

"I agree. I think the ship is safe for the brainiacs to investigate." The two heroes made their way back outside to check on the mop-up operation.

While the Wanderer and the Beggar King were investigating the ship, Ka-Sador and Defender were dealing with the villians, the scientists, Jenny Peters and IPAC.

The van had, in fact, contained Mr. Wilkins and an IPAC team in addition to the Wanderer. As the IPAC boys hustled the villians into the van, Jenny Peters peppered Wilkins with questions. "You seem to be in charge here, so just who are you? Where are you taking those guys? And what are you going to do with them."

"I am in charge and you can call me Mr. Wilkins. The answers to the rest of those questions are, quite frankly, not your concern. Bravo, would you escort Miss Peters out of the way while I chat with Defender and Ka-Sador." Over her protestations, Jenny was hustled away. "Now, what you can tell me about what's going on here?" asked Wilkins.

Ka-sador flexed his wings and looked to Defender.

Defender smirked and nodded to Ka-sador. "The folks you just hustled off grabbed some scientists from the Energy Conference. Champion there managed to lodge a tracking device on their van and we followed them up here. When we got here, the villians and scientists were hiding behind the van there. Something had happened inside that had them a little frightened it seems.

"About the time we decided to take them down, this gentleman," Defender said, motioning toward French, "and another came from inside the ship and began to attack the villains. In the insuing chaos, we took down three of the four. One managed to escape by air and headed in that general direction."

They joined Defender and Ka-Sador and added their details to the briefing that Wilkins was receiving. Champion noticed that the Beggar King was holding his discus.

"My apologies, Champion," Beggar King said. He handed the discus back to the hero. "It came quite in handy inside the ship."

As they were finishing up that, another van arrived and Wilkins excused himself, "I'll be back in a moment. I've still got a few things to say to you all."

Wilkins went to talk to the scientists and was joined by a man from the second van. After a minute or two, the other man began to lead the scientists back to the van.

Defender watched him walk away then spoke up. "This could be interesting. Ms. Peters is probably steaming by now. I'm sure she doesn't like being kept out of this all."

Wilkins returned to the heroes. "Where's the White Knight? I thought he was here?"

"He was otherwise engaged when the Wanderer tried to get in touch with him," Defender responded.

Wilkins turned to Ka-Sador. "You missed our meeting, Ka-Sador. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that something pressing came up. I'd like to have that meeting, though. It can be to everyone's advantage to have some co-ordination." He indicated The Wanderer and Defender, "They both find it helpful to be able to get a hold of us, and we find it helpful to be able to get in touch with them when neccessary." He turned to the other newcomers, "That goes for you two as well. We serve as central point to coordinate ParaNormal activity. When there's a crisis, it helps everyone to be able to get word to PNs who are able to handle the situation."

"Yes, dad," answered the Wanderer.

Wilkins was pretty aggressively trying to get Ka-Sador to come in and meet with IPAC, but Ka-Sador got edgy, hissed and then took off into the air and was gone. Wilkins turned to Defender, "That's your partner, eh?"

"He's shy," Defender answered with a shrug. "We work together in the 'Parts but I can't tell you a lot about him personally."

"Harrumph." Wilkins peered more closely at Defender. "You know how to contact him, right? And we can contact you. But what if you're incommunicado? Look, we're not the bad guys here. Try to make him see sense, that if we can get in touch with him and vice-versa we all win. We'd hate to have something go off the rails that he could have prevented, and we might be able to help him, too."

"I can't make you any promises," Defender said. "But I'll do what I can. He does have a lot going on and a lot of the time I can't get in touch with him. Besides, if you looked like that, wouldn't you be a little distrustful of other people? I can take off my mask and lead a relatively normal life. You can leave the badge in your sock drawer. To my knowledge, he always looks like that. Hard to blend in."

"I suppose so," Wilkins almost looked sympathetic. "And with those language skills, too. Alien, is he?"

Defender shrugged. "As I'm learning, anything is possible."

Wilkins cracked a small smile, that seemed genuine, "Me, too."

Defender offered his hand. "Take care, Agent Wilkins."

Wilkins shook the hand. "You boys be careful. And try to talk Ka-Sador in, will you?" Wilkins turned to supervise the pullout.

Defender went in search of Jenny Peters.

Jenny was fuming in the back seat of the car in which some of the IPAC folk had arrived. A jumpsuited IPAC team member was seated next to her, absorbing her abuse stoically but not letting her out of the vehicle.

Defender knocked on the window and waited for it to be rolled down. "Ms. Peters, are you ready to head back to town?"

"And how!" She turned to the IPAC agent, "I'll be leaving now."

The agent looked at her and then at Defender and decided not to force the issue. "Of course, Miss."

Defender was quiet until they reached her car. "Somehow I suspect you are going to blame me for that," he stated with a slight smirk.

"No," she said. "I'm only going to blame you if you don't spill the beans now. Who or what are those guys?"

"Cops... Feds... About all I know," Defender said, lying for the first time.

"But you turn your prisoners over to them?" she pressed. "And you don't wonder what happens to them?"

"I never said that I didn't wonder," Defender replied. "I only said that I didn't ask questions about things that were bigger than me."

"So ... you turn them over to these ... whatever-they-are's, and just let it go." Jenny looked sad, "I expected better from you, Defender." She started the car, "I'll drop you at the convention center."

"I'm sorry that you're discovering that I am just a man," Defender said. "Just because I'm physically gifted doesn't mean that I'm morally or socially superior. And like any other man, I defer to the authorities."

Defender was quiet for a moment, then decided to try another track. "What would you have me do?"

"Find out who they are, to start. You said 'authorities', but what kind of authority? Operating under whose authority? Last I heard, criminals were entitled to trials, not entitled to being 'dissappeared.'" Jenny softened a hair, "Why do you turn these folks over to them? You said 'authorities,' did they identify themselves and convince you of their legitimacy? Have you turned everyone over to them? How many?"

"I've seen badges. I've seen credentials," Defender answered. "I've usually deferred to the more experienced hands, like the Wanderer when these guys were around. Like I said, they're feds."

Defender considered the rest of what she said. "As for trials, who says the villains won't stand trial eventually. The law requires a fair and expedient trial. However, try to get a civil or criminal hearing in less than six months. And these men and women are criminals that the court system can't control.

"As an example, do you think that you could really stop me if I decided I wanted out of this car at this instant? If you were a regular police officer, could you really stop me with your handcuffs, 9mm or pepper spray? I've tried it. Hardened police handcuffs aren't anything more than a minor annoyance to me. The chain snaps with little effort while the cuffs themselves provide a little more resistance. But not much more. I've been hit by harder forces than bullets. I fell five stories with only bruises. And pepper spray... I had a Cuban baby-sitter."

Defender was glad to hear Jenny's little chuckle at that comment. He continued.

"Now imagine one of those energy projectors or mesamorphs in close proximity to an innocent jury. Do you want to be the bailiff who has to maintain order? Or the judge that passes sentence? Right now our courts are not equipped to handle these guys. Did you see that Beggar King individual? What normal prison will hold him?"

Defender allowed it all to sink in. "I don't know where these villains are being held, but I have to trust the system. Without trust in the system, we revert back to chaos and guys like me do what ever we want to people like that guy or that family or even you. I'm not saying it's wrong to question the powers that be, far from it. It's the brave and intrepid reporters and political analysts and the savvy voters that keep the system semi-honest. However, until I see some evidence of wrong-doing, I'm going to trust that these men have the best interests of my loved ones in mind when they take some meta-powered crazy off of my hands. If I do see wrong-doing then I'll deal with them as best I can."

"I'm sorry if I seem to lecture," Defender said finally, with a sigh.

Jenny was silent for a long moment. "I'm sorry," she said finally. "You are doing a tough job and I shouldn't attack you for that. But, I'm not as trusting as you are. Even if what you say is true, and it mostly is, why all the secrecy? I can respect your position, but you've got to respect mine -- the public has a right to know what's happening here."

"Remember the Gulf War?" Defender asked. "Remember the questions the reporters asked about where the troops were and when the attacks would be launched?"

"Well, the public did have a right to know that information, but not at the cost of lives. It was a decent bet that people watching those news reports were making phone calls to the Iraq government. Devolging the exact attack times would have endangered the success of the troops."

"If every newspaper in Port Alexander learns where these villains are being held, how long will it be before their powerful friends are knocking down the walls to set them free. I see the secrecy as a necessary defense. It helps protect the guards who must watch these villains. And it indirectly protects the people of the city by reducing the chances of an escape. At least that's what makes sense to me."

Defender smiled and put his hand on her shoulder. "And maybe I am too trusting. After all, I trust a reporter who is probably dying to see who hides behind my mask."

"We're not at war, Defender," said Jenny. "These people deserve a fair trial. Even if, IF, some things need to be kept secret, their fates should not be. Do you even know? What happened to those guys at Proust Aerospace? Blockbuster and Jumping Jack? Are they alive? In prison? Awaiting trial? Even if you can't tell me where they are being held, surely there's no reason, or not a good enough one, to not tell me that much."

"I'm just trying to give you possible reasons for the secrecy. Nothing more. As for Jumping Jack and Blockbuster, I don't know. I wish I could tell you more... tell you something to put your mind at ease. I'm afraid I've told you all I can. I'm sorry."

Defender watched side streets pass. "If it makes you feel any better, you've given me something to think about."

"That's a start," she said. "Here you are." She pulled up outside the convention center. "Don't be a stranger."

"Thank you, Miss Peters. Good luck with your story."

Defender walked back into the convention center in search of the room where he had stashed his other life. He had work to do.

Interlude 18.1: What the Beggar King Did
Interlude 18.2: The Doctor Is In
Interlude 18.3: Street Cowboy
Issue 19: MUSE-V is Down!

Last Updated 18 January 2002