The old man was sitting in his rocking chair on the front porch of the small farmhouse, enjoying the fresh Spring weather. Occasionally puffing on the well-worn brass and wood pipe, he was reminiscing of times past, when several children came tumbling up the front steps gathering around him.
“Grandpapa! Grandpapa! Tell us a story!” they cried joyfully.
The old man smiled at the children gathering around him. “Very well, everyone find a spot and get comfortable. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who lived in a far away castle surrounded by…”
“No, no!” shouted the children, “We want to hear about your adventures!” Said a young girl with bright red hair sitting on his knee.
The old man grinned. He knew the children would be asking this, no matter how many times he told it, they always asked. “Oh? Do you want to hear about the time the tractor’s steering broke causing me to crash into the barn? Or perhaps the winter storm a few years ago when the horse broke loose and I had to go out hunting for him?”
“No!” shouted the young children. A young boy standing next to the rocking chair said “Tell us about your fight with the Clockwork King, Grandpapa!” “No,” said a girl sitting on the railing, “Tell us about how you found Grandmama and rescued her from her sisters!” The tiny girl sitting on the old man’s knee tugged gently on his beard “I want to hear about when you first went to Paragon City, Grandpapa.”
The old man thought for a moment, and looked into the girl’s vibrant green eyes. “Well now, that’s a very old story that you’ve all heard many times. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
All the children agreed. This was the tale they wished to hear again.
The old man thought back, many years, and another dimension ago, how the story began…
Detective James Frietag had worked the “Extranormal Crimes” beat in Paragon City for the last 22 years. It didn’t help much that EVERY crime in the fabled “City of Heroes” could be described as “extranormal.” But sometimes, a case came down that was outside of what the large population of super-powered citizens could handle. That’s when his department was called in to investigate.
"Okay Charlie, let's go over this again. You're not a registered Hero, but you used the city's emergency teleportation system. Now I have two questions for you. One, how did you do it, and two, why? Are you working for the Rikti?" Officer Frietag asked the slightly bewildered man lying in the hospital bed.
"Officer, I do wish you would stop calling me 'Charlie.' My rightful name is Professor Charles Winthrop III, and I demand to be released immediately! I must check up on Mary, and return to my workshop!"
Frietag looked thoughtful for a moment. If this guy's story checked out with the eggheads over at Portal Corporation, then he had a longer trip "back to his workshop" than he thought.
"Tell me this, Charlie…" Frietag was enjoying calling the man by this diminutive… "What year is it, again?"
The man on the bed stared at Officer Frietag as if he had grown a second head "Why, it is the year of our Lord, Eighteen Hundred and Eighty Three. Are you daft, man? I am starting to suspect that you aren't an officer of the law at all, and that I have accidentally been taken to a madhouse! 'What year' indeed!"
Before Frietag could respond, a young man wearing a lab coat and carrying a clipboard leaned through the doorway of the room. "Officer? I need to speak with you for a moment. We got the results back that you asked for."
Frietag stepped out into the hall after telling Professor Winthrop to "Stay put, or else," and asked the technician, "So is this guy a nutcase, or what?"
"Unfortunately we can't use Portal Corp's 'dimensional watcher' technology to confirm a person's sanity, Officer, but we did find out that the gentleman in that hospital bed is telling the truth." the technician said.
"What?? You mean this guy really is from 1883?" Frietag exclaimed.
The technician glanced at his clipboard before answering… "Not exactly, sir. He IS from 1883, but not OUR 1883. You see, he comes from an alternate dimension's version of 1883, where the fictional 'steampunk' technology really existed. We set the watcher to the same frequency as the equipment he appeared with, and were able to record the last 16 minutes of his existence there. I have it on this portable DVD player if you'd like to see it."
Frietag took the proffered DVD player and watched the video. At first the screen was awash in random swirling colors.
After a few moments, these resolved to show what appeared to be a cross between Frankenstein's laboratory, and a cabinetmaker's shop. Standing in the midst of all the brass and metal instruments were a woman in a long blue dress, and a man wearing a long sleeveless leather coat, who was instantly recognizable as the gentleman currently lying in the hospital bed.
"Oh Charles, I'm so terribly afraid! You know what the manual said about using non-standard parts while assembling the Interocitor!" the woman exclaimed.
Professor Winthrop turned away from the large console he was working on to say, "Mary my dearest, I am quite certain the Amalgamated Interocitor Company merely said that to make certain their customers stay loyal. Besides, it would take days to get a new Cathermin tube. Not to mention the expense! I have calculated that I can replace that overpriced tin can with a part machined by myself."
"But Charles," the woman asked, "are you certain you can get the new part to have an inindium complex of +4?"
"My dear, I have been an inventor for nigh on 30 years now. Ever since I was a wee lad and created my first clockwork teddy bear. Please have more confidence in my scientific abilities!" the Professor said as he finished hooking a cylindrical object to the console.
After a few more minutes of wiring various other components to the console, the Professor stepped back, and while wiping his hands on a towel said, "Finished! My dear, once we activate the Interocitor, we will change the world of science forever!"
Mary, looking unsure of the large machine, said, "But Charles, what exactly does the Interocitor do?"
"Why, there's no limit to what it could do. Assembling a row of brick houses in less than an hour would be as easy as a child playing with building blocks." the Professor said, with a faraway look in his eyes.
"Charles, do you really think Man is ready for this kind of power?" Mary asked, tears of delight brimming in her eyes.
Instead of answering, the Professor simply grasped a large multi-colored knob on the front of the machine, turning it to the left. A large triangular screen on top of the console began to pulsate with strange colors while a high pitched hum filled the air.
The Professor wrapped his arm around Mary's shoulders as they watched the machine.
"It's working, Mary! It is actually… Wait!" he exclaimed, as the swirling colors suddenly brightened and the hum grew to an ear-piercing screech.
Suddenly, before either the Professor or Mary could react, the machine exploded.
The screen of the DVD player went blank.
"What? Is that it? This 'Interocitor' they built exploded, and he ended up here?" Frietag asked the technician.
The technician consulted his clipboard again, before answering. "Well, as far as we can tell, yes. The 'Interocitor' malfunctioned, and transported them across dimensions to our world. Once the professor landed in Atlas Park, the emergency transport system detected certain devices he had on his person, and mistook him for a Hero in trouble."
Frietag frowned, "Well, then I guess the Chief was right. I guess we get to see if this guy has the makings of a Hero, at least until we can find a way to send him home."
"A wise choice, Officer," the technician remarked, "especially considering that we have no idea how to send him home, yet."
"Yeah, at least it'll help him stay out of trouble. And I'm sure D.A.T.A. can help him adapt to present day. I'll call Rick Davies in a…" Frietag stopped talking for a moment, "Wait a minute! You said 'transported them'. Are you telling me that the girl is still out there somewhere?"
The technician looked pensive for a moment, "Well, we aren't exactly sure. But a dimensional rift with the same signature as his was located…"
Officer Frietag grabbed the technician by the collar "Why didn't you say so before? We need to send a medical team to bring her here immediately!"
"Well, sir, there's a slight problem with that…" the technician sputtered.
Frietag growled "Do tell. Why haven't we sent anyone to help her yet?"
The technician, shaking and sputtering, finally managed to squeak out, "Her rift signature places her somewhere on the Rogue Isles, near Recluse’s compound.”
Professor Winthrop had been in Paragon City for just over a month since the Interocitor had exploded, sending him screaming through dimensions from his alternate-history Earth to this world, and he was slowly starting to come to grips with the situation.
Upon being released from the hospital, he had been issued a “Temporary Hero License” and been given living quarters at the Department of Advanced Technological Application’s labs in Atlas Park. They hadn’t asked much of him in return, which he found surprising, but they were very interested in his ability to tinker with the odd bits of hardware he found laying around.
Rick Davies, Director of the Department, whom the Professor actually enjoyed visiting with, was paying him another visit.
“So, Professor, what have you come up with this time? Is there anything I can get you?” Rick asked, eyeing the metal-covered mannequin the Professor was attaching several unidentifiable bits to.
The Professor paused for a moment in his work, smiling at Davies, “No thank you, Rick. I have almost finished here. As for what I have tinkered together this time, I have decided that since your fantastic city seems to think of me as a Hero, I should at least make the attempt to ‘play the part’ so to speak.
“To that end, I have been constructing a suit of armor to ‘even the score’ as I believe I overheard one of your technicians say.”
Davies ran a critical eye over the decidedly “Victorian” style of body armor hanging from the mannequin in front of him. “Okay Professor, I’ll bite. What does this armor do?”
“Simply put, aside from enhancing my body’s strength five-fold, the steam-powered body-armor will be capable of harnessing and unleashing static electricity in large quantities for several purposes,” the Professor said, as he attached a large, flat tank to the back of the armored suit.
“Steam-powered?” Davies asked, incredulously, “But Professor, we have made such great advances in miniaturized power sources since your time! Why not go with micro-atomic, or Kheldian Crystal, or…”
“No, no, my dear young man,” the Professor interrupted Davies, “You have all these wonderful advances, but I prefer working with a medium in which I am well-versed. Much easier to repair this way, in case of damage on the field of battle. Besides, I do have a few pieces of that damned Interocitor with me, and they should prove quite capable of making
my armor even more efficient.”
Davies looked thoughtful for a moment. “Speaking of that, Professor, my teams have found some more debris from where you first landed in our world. We analyzed them, of course, but can’t really tell much about them. And I was kind of hoping you could shed a bit of light into how they work?” he asked, as he reached the Professor a handful of small objects that looked like marbles with metal rods pushed through the centers.
“Ah, yes!” the Professor exclaimed, “The very parts I need for the electrical generators! These, my young friend, are ‘bead condensers.’ Basically, they take any form of energy, and convert it into electricity. On a rather large scale too, if I remember correctly.”
“Yes, as we found out, just before Lab Bay Six was blown apart from the energy discharge.” Davies said, as the Professor installed the components into the gear-shaped shoulder pads of his armor.
“Oh my. Was anyone injured?” the Professor asked, looking concerned. “It seems that everything about the Interocitor is cursed to do nothing but harm.”
Davies smiled at the Professor’s sudden empathy, which was quite out of character for the slightly uptight, and very British, gentleman. “No, Professor. Six is an automated testing lab we use for unusual or unknown devices. We managed to pump thirty thousand kilowatts into one of those ‘bead condensers’ before it discharged. The three hundred thousand kilowatts it sent back out was quite impressive, too! Can you tell us exactly how they manage to do that?”
The Professor looked sad for a moment before answering, “Unfortunately, no. All that I can really say of them is that they are part number AB-619 in the ‘Electronic Service Unit 16’ catalog. Now if we could happen to find a copy of that book, perhaps I could give you a better answer.”
Davies, apparently lost in thought, wandered around the mannequin, examining all the components the Professor had integrated into the rust and steel colored battle suit. “Well, Professor, I’ve got a team over at the Portal Corporation working around the clock on trying to find a copy of the book for you. If we can get it, perhaps you could use it to build another Interocitor and eventually return home.”
“That would be most excellent my young friend,” the Professor said as he tinkered with what appeared to be a large pair of metal boots, “but there is no way I could return home again without finding Mary first. Has there been any news on her whereabouts?”
“Very little actually, Professor,” sighed Davies, as he examined a piece of metal hose that ran down the back of the armor to the legs. “But from what the Freedom Corps have been able to tell us, at the same time you appeared in Atlas Park, she appeared in Cap Au Diable. Unfortunately, before any of the Longbow agents could get to her, a group of Lord Recluse’s men snatched her away.”
The Professor laid his tools down on the bench, looking grim. “Then I must go straight away to rescue her.”
Davies laid a sympathetic hand on the Professor’s shoulder. “Until we know for certain whether or not your suit can handle battle, I’d suggest staying away from the Rogue Isles, sir. That’s a very dangerous place that even the great Statesman doesn’t visit often.”
The Professor, summoning every bit of control he could muster, turned towards Rick Davies. “So what do you advise me to do, Richard? Shall I stay here in the relative safety offered by D.A.T.A. and allow my fiancée to be killed by this Lord Recluse?”
Before Davies could answer, a voice called from the doorway of the lab, “No Charlie. We expect you to fight Lord Recluse and get Mary back.”
The Professor and Davies both turned around, startled. Standing in the doorway, his arms folded casually against his chest, was Detective Frietag.
“Inspector Frietag, my good man!” the Professor exclaimed, rushing forward to shake the Detective’s hand.
“Told you before Charlie, I’m a Detective, not an Inspector,” Frietag returned the Professor’s handshake warmly, a smile playing across his stern features.
“And as I have told you, Inspector, my name is Charles, not Charlie,” the Professor replied good-naturedly.
Rick Davies watched the two men bemusedly. The Professor was the only person who could make the “Detective with an Iron Face” come close to smiling.
After a few more “friendly” exchanges, the Detective resumed his stern posture. “What it comes down to Charlie, is you have to learn to walk before you can run. I know you’re a brilliant egghead scientist, but how are you in a fight?”
The Professor thought for a moment before answering. “Well, I can certainly hold my own in a fair stand-up boxing match, but I don’t believe Lord Recluse and his men would be willing to follow the Marquess of Queensberry rules, would they? Hence the reason I have designed and built this battle suit.”
“So when will the suit be ready, Professor?” Davies asked.
The Professor resumed tinkering at the workbench, “Just as soon as I finish installing these bead condensers into the electrical generators, Richard.”
As the Professor installed the casings for the generators on the shoulders of the battle suit, Frietag’s police radio gave a sudden squawk, and the Detective listened intensely to the radio broadcast.
“Looks like you’re getting it finished just in time, Charlie.” the Detective grimaced, “A villain named Comatorium is robbing the Atlas Park bank. Think you’re up to stopping him as a test of this steampunk tuxedo?”
The Professor hurriedly began changing into the rust colored body armor as he replied, “Well Inspector, I’ll certainly try my best.”
Davies appeared lost in thought for a moment. “Wait Professor! If you go out there to fight a villain, you’re going to need a name! The press will be calling to find out who the newest Hero in Atlas Park is, and you certainly don’t want them to know your real name.”
As the last pieces of the Professor’s costume settled themselves into place, he flipped a switch on the belt of his new body suit. A chugging sound issued from his back, and wisps of steam rose from the joints. “Well then, I suppose you can call me ‘Steampunk Charlie’ for now.”
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