by Brian K. Asbury
“Oh, if only we had bicycles…” said Colin Privet wistfully.
“What?” the Beefeater said, stopping dead in his tracks.
“Bicycles,” repeated Colin. “They’d get us through these endless winding corridors much faster.”
The Beefeater raised his eyes to the ceiling, and only narrowly avoided a drip catching him squarely in one eye. “Privet, these corridors are ankle-deep in muddy water. At least, I think it’s water,” he added, noting how his shoes were smoking slightly. “Can you imagine how hard we’d have to pedal to make progress on bikes?”
Privet seemed not to be listening. “You can’t beat bicycles. There’s nothing quite so beautiful as a gleaming new bicycle. You know, I just dream of the day when cars will be banned from Devon, and we’ll all be riding around on gleaming, sleek bicycles. That will be a great day for the environment, Mr. Beefeater.”
“Ye-e-esss,” said the Beefeater. “And it won’t be a bad day for the man who owns the only cycle repair shop in Brixham, either. Yes, very nice, Privet. A new golden age, I can see. And there’ll also be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, Johnny will sleep in his own little bed again, and God will stop making those little green apples…”
“There is no need to be sarcastic!”
“Oh, you’re absolutely right. Sarcasm will get us nowhere. So what would you prefer? Cynicism? Irony? Satire? Or shall I just punch you in the mouth and save the strain on my ears?”
Privet blanched. “Really, Mr. Beefeater…”
“If you’re going to insist on jabbering incessantly, ‘Bicycle Repair Man,’ then at least come up with some sort of practical suggestion which will help us out of this mess we’re in!”
“I think I can help you there!”
“You do?” said the Beefeater, staring at Privet in astonishment.
“I didn’t say anything!” said Privet.
There was a faint cough. “It was me,” said a voice.
Both men looked around in puzzlement. “Where’s it coming from?” said Privet.
“Silly, brother. They can’t see you!”
“That’s a different voice,” Privet observed.
“I know they can’t see me. Be quiet. They look confused enough as it is.”
“Well, sorry! I’m only trying to help!”
“Well, you’re not helping, all right? This is hard enough as it is…”
The Beefeater cleared his throat. “Harrumph… excuse me? Who’s there?”
“And where are you?” added Privet. The Beefeater shot him a withering look.
“Ah… hello. Can you hear me?” said the first voice.
“Of course we can bloody hear you!” snapped the Beefeater. “Or perhaps you think we’re receiving you by telepathy! No, better still, by miniature radio receivers implanted in our skulls.” He slapped his forehead. “Damn it, of course! I forgot about the little fish in our ears that pick up communications from the ether…”
“Are you sure you want these two to help us?” said the second voice.
“Who else do you see?” said the first. “The Green Lantern has been captured. There isn’t anyone else.”
“I suppose they’ll have to do, then…”
“Do you mind?” yelled the Beefeater. “I don’t know who you are, but could you please argue with one another on your own time?”
“Sorry,” said the first voice.
“That’s better. I mean, saying ‘they’ll just have to do’?! That’s charming, I don’t think.”
“We did say we were sorry,” said the second voice.
“I should think so, too. Now who are you — and where are you?”
“We’re about twenty zpospels from your current position, talking to you on the internal tannoy system. Manga Khan thinks it’s on the fritz in this part of the ship, but my brother and I fixed it.”
“Sorry,” said the voice. “I don’t know what units of measurement you use where you come from.”
“We’re from Earth,” said Privet, trying to be helpful.
“Earth?!” The two voices erupted in an excited babble. “Do you know the Metal Men?” said the first voice.
“They’re our heroes,” said the second. “They saved our lives.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Robots for Sale,” Metal Men #16 (October-November, 1965).]
“No, sorry, I don’t — look, never mind that!” snapped the Beefeater. “What do you want?”
“We’re prisoners here,” said the first voice. “We’re being held against our will, but we’re innocent, honest.”
“Really. Look, sirs, we can see you’re lost. Help us get free, and we’ll help you get out of here, too. Our ship is in the docking bay: if we can reach it, we can all escape.”
The Beefeater and Colin Privet stared at one another. “That’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard all day. All right, how can we help you?”
“There’s an access panel twenty-one zpospels from where you are. Er… keep walking, and I’ll tell you when you’ve reached it.”
The Beefeater shrugged and started forward, with Privet slogging after him. After about twelve yards, the voice ordered him to stop. “It’s on your right.”
“Left!” said the second voice.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry. Left! I always get those confused!”
“Gordon Bennett!” muttered the Beefeater. He examined the panel. It looked simple enough, but there was one problem. “I’d need a large Phillips screwdriver to get this off,” he said.
“I’ve got one!” declared Privet. The Beefeater stared at him in amazement as he set to work on the panel. Within two minutes he had it off, revealing a short tunnel beyond which had a grille at the other end.
“Righto,” said the Beefeater. “Out you come, then!”
“We can’t,” said the first voice.
“You’ll have to come in and free us from our chains,” said the second.
The Beefeater sighed.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” said Privet.
“So have I,” the Beefeater agreed. “But what the hell? It’s par for the course for this bloody awful day!” He got down on all fours and began to crawl down the tunnel, clutching his sceptre tightly and hoping that, if he needed it now, it would actually work for once.
Reaching the other end, he tentatively pushed against the grille with the sceptre. It swung easily outwards. Now, he thought. Let’s have a look at these clowns before I commit myself. If they turn out to be slavering, man-eating alien monsters, I can bugger off back down the shaft before they can…
However, at that point, Privet’s head bunted him in the rear, and he shot forward through the open grille, landing in a large room filled with what appeared to be assorted junk. He looked up and saw who — and what — the two inhabitants of the room were.
“My God!” he exclaimed. “What are you?” He blinked. This wasn’t what he was expecting at all. Well, truth to tell, he hadn’t been even remotely sure what to expect, but if he had been, this wouldn’t have been it.
“Are you all right?” said one of the creatures.
Before the Beefeater could reply, Colin Privet came tumbling out of the tunnel and landed on top of him. “You blithering idiot!” screamed the Beefeater. “What’s the bloody matter with you?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Beefeater, I just wanted to…” The sentence trailed off as Privet looked up at the room’s other occupants. “What — what are they?“
“I wish I knew!” The Beefeater’s gaze moved back to said occupants. They appeared to be robots, but not robots made from shiny metal and plastic, like the ones they had seen when they came on board.
Oh, no. These robots, which stood slightly taller than the Beefeater’s six foot three, appeared to be made of wood. In fact, they weren’t even made of purpose-cut wood. Their heads and torsos seem to have been cobbled together from barrels, with various bits stuck on the head barrel to give the appearance of ears and noses. Spindly legs and arms protruded from the torso barrel, terminating respectively in clumsy-looking feet, yet many-jointed and quite dextrous-looking fingers.
“Oh, sorry,” said one of the wooden robots, trying to move towards them but finding its progress hampered by chains. “I’m Loof.”
“And I’m Fpok-Bmud,” said the other.
“Are you,” said the Beefeater, in more of a statement than a question. There was something about those names…
“Er… pleased to meet you,” said Privet, regaining his feet. “My name is Colin Privet. I repair bicycles. And this is…”
“I can introduce myself, thank you,” said the Beefeater, standing up and pushing Privet rudely to one side. “I am the Beefeater, England’s greatest champion.”
“Oh,” said Loof. “Wonderful. Isn’t that wonderful, Fpok-Bmud?”
“Very much so,” said Fpok-Bmud. “Wonderful indeed. We are honoured, the Beefeater.” He paused. “Where’s England?”
“It’s–” began Privet.
“Never mind!” snapped the Beefeater. “Look, I think I’ve had quite enough of this place. You say you have a ship, and you know how to get to it from here?”
“Yes,” said Loof.
“Good. Then lead the way, if you please.”
Loof and Fpok-Bmud stared at one another. Then, as one, they lifted up their arms and rattled their chains. “We can’t,” said Loof.
“Lord Manga chained us up,” said Fpok-Bmud.
“Why?” asked Privet.
“Because we couldn’t do the job he hired us to do,” said Loof. “I told him, didn’t I, Fpok-Bmud, that we specialized in repairing robots, but would he listen?”
“He wouldn’t listen at all,” Fpok-Bmud agreed miserably.
“Look, I’m not interested in why you’re here,” said the Beefeater. “You could have strangled Manga Khan’s pet hamster, for all I care…”
“He hasn’t got a hamster,” said Loof.
“I think L-Ron has a pet rat, though, if that helps,” said Fpok-Bmud.
“He has. Its name is Harold.”
“For God’s sake, stop blithering like the bloody chipmunks and shut up while I free you from those chains!” shouted the Beefeater.
“Yes, sir, eht Retaefeeb,” said Fpok-Bmud.
“Eht Retaefeeb?” said Privet. “That’s ‘the Beefeater’ backwards, isn’t it?”
“Sorry,” said Fpok-Bmud. “Force of habit.”
“Turning people’s names back to front,” said Loof. “Always doing it. Embarrassing sometimes!”
Privet seemed to be thinking about this. “So, if you habitually turn names around, then yours must be really…”
“And you shut up, as well!” screamed the Beefeater, becoming progressively redder. “Why is it nobody ever does as they’re blasted well told anymore?”
“Sorry,” said Loof.
“Zipped up,” said Fpok-Bmud, literally zipping his mouth up.
The Beefeater glared at Privet. “I didn’t say anything!” said the little man.
“Just as well.” The Beefeater raised his golden sceptre and switched it to on. Taking aim at the chains holding Loof, he took aim and fired.
He fired again, or tried to. The weapon steadfastly refused to discharge even the tiniest of splutters.
Sighing, he lowered the sceptre and turned to Privet. “You haven’t got a file somewhere about your person, have you?” he asked.
“OK, try that,” said Fpok-Bmud, handing back the sceptre to the Beefeater. The latter took it and stared at it dubiously.
“What have you, er, actually done to it?” he asked.
“Oh, just fixed the firing mechanism,” said Loof. “It was sticking, wasn’t it, Fpok-Bmud?”
“It surely was,” said Fpok-Bmud cheerfully.
The Beefeater continued to examine the weapon with a look of deep suspicion in his eyes. He had already reached the conclusion that these two refugees from a bierkeller were morons — especially when Privet had pointed out what their names were when spelt backwards. It also didn’t help to learn that they were members of a race of spacefaring robots called the Srelbmub — he’d figured out what that was backwards, too.
“You can use it to free us, now,” said Loof.
“Please,” added Fpok-Bmud.
“Look, are you sure?” said the Beefeater. “This thing has never been all that reliable.” And, frankly, he added mentally, you two don’t look as if you’re capable of fixing a sandwich, much less a deadly weapon.
“Well, you’re never going to find out unless you try it, are you?” said Privet, who was looking increasingly nervous. It had finally penetrated through to him that they were potentially in mortal danger, especially if Manga Khan’s forces were to realize they were trying to spring their prisoners.
The Beefeater gave him a stony glare. “You keep out of this. You have no idea what this sceptre can do if it goes wrong.”
Fpok-Bmud moved closer. “Interesting tegdag, though — I mean, gadget. Where did you get it?”
“It belonged to my father,” said the Beefeater, puffing himself up. “He was the original Beefeater, and partner to General Glory himself.”
“Who?” chorused the other three. The Beefeater felt himself deflate. Typical! Nobody seemed to believe that the original Beefeater even existed. And yet, here was his weapon, as tangible proof.
He hefted it in his hands. He had never really thought about it, but where had his father got the sceptre from? That idiot Hanson at Scotland Yard had tried to laugh it off as a prop from Maurice Fecktiffe’s amateur dramatics days, but the fact remained that it did work. Well, all right, it had worked once. And on that occasion it had nearly killed him. But it certainly wasn’t a fake. And if these bumblers really had repaired it…?
Raising the weapon, he aimed it at the chains binding Loof’s arms. “Wait!” cried the robot. “Make sure it’s set on rewop pol!”
“Low power. He means low power,” said Fpok-Bmud. “If you set it on maximum, it could blow us all up!”
“Oh,” said the Beefeater flatly. He stared at the weapon again. “There are variable power settings?”
“Good God!” muttered Privet. “Didn’t you know? What kind of super-hero are you?”
“I won’t tell you again!” snapped the Beefeater, swinging the sceptre towards Privet, who ducked behind a packing case and cowered there, quivering.
“It’s here,” said Loof, pointing. “You turn that ring there. Right to increase the power, left to decrease it.”
“Thank you,” said the Beefeater. He turned the ring all the way to the left and aimed it again. “Wait a sec,” he said, a sudden thought occurring to him. “Given your ludicrous tendency to get things back to front, are you absolutely sure that’s the right way round?”
Loof and Fpok-Bmud went into a huddle. Seconds later, Loof turned again to face him. His face was made of wood, but the Beefeater could have sworn he was blushing. “Er… left, not right.”
“You turn it left to increase the power, not right. Sorry.”
“That’s what I meant. Left, right?”
“No, not both!”
“Not left and right!”
“Well, if it’s not left or right, what’s left?”
“That’s right. Left!”
“Aaarrrggghhh!” the Beefeater screamed, moved the ring to somewhere in the middle, and fired. There was a blast of energy, and Loof’s chains disappeared. So did part of the table behind him. “Oops!”
Loof stood quivering on the spot. “Thank you…” he said in a very small voice.
“Er… me, now,” said Fpok-Bmud. “But please turn the intensity down a bit. That was just a tad extreme!”
“Which way to do that?” asked the Beefeater. “Left or right?”
“Yes. Definitely. Right.”
“Just checking,” said the Beefeater, with an evil grin on his face. He turned the ring a little to the right and fired again. A somewhat smaller blast shattered Fpok-Bmud’s chains.
“Well, I’ll be…” said Privet, crawling out from under cover. “It works!”
The Beefeater rounded on him. “Works? Of course it bloody well works, thank you very much for your vote of confidence. Didn’t I tell you it would?”
“It didn’t until they fiddled with it.”
“It was stuck, that was all! Tell him!” he added, turning back to point the sceptre towards the two robots.
“Yes, indeed. Stuck!” said Loof in a strangled voice.
“Well,” the Beefeater said smugly. “That’s that, then. Let’s get out of here and find your spaceship.”
“Thank you,” said Loof.
“We are eternally grateful,” said Fpok-Bmud.
“Indeed. We owe you our lives.”
“Our lives are yours, mighty hero.”
“Yes, yes!” snarled the Beefeater. “Save it for later, for God’s sake, or we’ll be here all day.” He turned the sceptre up to full power and blasted a hole in the wall big enough for them to get through without having to climb back through the duct. He pointed. “Are we going, or what?”
“Indeed,” said Loof.
“Then lead the way!”
The four of them stepped through the hole and back into the corridor. Loof and Fpok-Bmud immediately set off at a brisk trot, seeming to have a pretty good idea of where they were going. Sure enough, just a few minutes later they arrived in a hangar where a bizarre-looking wooden spaceship stood.
“Our ship!” announced Fpok-Bmud.
“Thank God for that. Well, let’s get to it and get out of here and back to Earth.”
“Just a sec,” said Privet, tugging on his sleeve. “What about your Green Lantern friend? The dog-man, or whatever he is?”
“What about him?”
“Well, we’re not just going to leave him here, are we?”
“That is the idea, yes.”
“Well, that’s not terribly heroic, if I might say so.”
“No, you may not say so!” snapped the Beefeater. “He got into this mess himself, he can bloody well get out of it himself.” He sighed. “Look, if it’s bothering you that much, we’ll get in touch with the Justice League or somebody when we get back, all right? They can sort out this mess. It’s right up their alley, bloody posers!”
“If you think that’s best…”
“I do. Now come on.” He nodded to Loof and Fpok-Bmud, who closed the distance to the parked ship…
…and then suddenly they were surrounded by robots, each one training a deadly looking weapon on them.
“Oh, sod…” said the Beefeater.