Buddy awoke to something heavy landing on his head accompanied by the commanding voice of Zero yelling at him once again to get out of bed.
“Come on, Buddy, we’ve got to suit up!” Zero yelled as he rummaged around in the closet.
Buddy groggily lifted his head out from what had landed on him and noticed the bright green sheen of the Buddy Hero uniform. He groaned and let his head fall back onto the pillow roughly.
“What are you doing, chum? Time’s a wastin’! We have to get down to that convention immediately or else we don’t stand a chance!”
“A chance for what?” Buddy whined as he pulled the pillow over his face.
“To get in, of course. The lines are out into the street. And do you want to know the best part?”
“Everyone there is in uniform. And I mean Ev. Ree. One. Sure, it would appear some of them shop at the same location as that Bumblebee person, but many of them have uniforms which could even put ours to shame.”
“What a shame,” came Buddy’s muffled voice from beneath the pillow.
“So, come on, get up!”
“What time is it?”
Buddy removed the pillow from his face roughly, letting it drop to the floor. “I said, what time is it?”
“Four a.m., chum, and the lines aren’t getting any shorter, I promise you.”
“Come on, Zero, I’ve only gotten like a half hour of sleep here. How did you even get there and back so fast?”
“Never mind that. Get up, get your suit on, and let’s go!”
“You called Alexa, didn’t you?”
“Unimportant. What is important is that you get your uniform on immediately. We need to be on display like the rest of the heroes out there. I may have even noticed some villains.”
“You know they’re all in costume, right?”
“Uniforms, chum. And yes I know. I just told you.”
“No, you don’t understand. Those kids, the ones you saw all dressed up, they’re just dressed up to look like their favorite characters from movies and stuff. They’re wearing costumes.”
“Nonsense. I saw one man wearing a suit of hardened, blaster-proofed battle armor. Who goes about in battle armor unless they are planning on entering into battle?”
“The same people who go to Super-Con.”
“Precisely my point, chum.” Zero kicked the bed and began walking out of the room. He was now in full uniform, complete with the large gaucho hat he preferred to wear when possible. “Get up!”
“You better have some coffee ready for me!” Buddy yelled after him.
“Long time no see,” Alexa said as Buddy exited the apartment building a few minutes later. “Hurry up. Your sister’s gonna kill me if I don’t get there soon.”
“Where is your uniform, chum?”
“Where’s my coffee?”
“We can find some at the convention. Now about your uniform.”
“Sorry, pal. There’s no chance in hell I’m going to be caught out in public in that thing again.”
“But,” Zero stammered, uncertain how to respond to a comment he found so completely incomprehensible. “Maybe you don’t understand. It’s no longer in tatters from your battle with Dominion. I repaired it months ago. It is important we display ourselves appropriately for the occasion.”
“I think you’re doing enough for the both of us, chum,” Buddy grinned.
“Come on,” Alexa urged, gesturing to the rickshaw behind her, “let’s get going already. Can’t leave Maggie waiting. And, from the looks of it, you two are going to have to do some major humping if you hope to be able to get in those doors and find Talmadge.”
“Talmadge?” Zero asked as he stepped into the vehicle. Buddy stepped in behind him and closed his eyes as he rested his head against the cushioned interior.
“Yeah,” Alexa answered. The world quickly morphed around them until they were outside the Sun City Convention Center. “Didn’t Buddy tell you? We’ve gotta find that Bumblebee kid. He’s supposed to be at the Con.”
“For what possible purpose would we want to find him?”
“To help us break into The Bunker. Jeez, Buddy, didn’t you tell him anything?”
“I just wanted some sleep,” Buddy whined, keeping his eyes closed in an attempt to get further rest.
“What’s going on now, chum? We’re going to break into The Bunker? Don’t tell me you have decided to take Dominion up on his offer and actually get him intelligence regarding Flores.”
“Well, it’s not that–at least not exactly.”
“Not exactly?” Alexa asked.
“Well, I was thinking that since we’re already going to be down there, it couldn’t hurt to do a little bit of reconnaissance and maybe pick up our government check, you know?”
“No, I don’t know,” Alexa responded sharply. “What makes you think Damon will actually follow through? It all seems like some crazy plot of his to–”
“Look, Lex,” Buddy said, leaning forward, looking Alexa deep in her eyes, and speaking in a hushed tone, “I should have told you last night, but believe me, I know for a fact that this guy is not Damon. He looks like Damon, he used to be Damon, but that guy he used to be, he isn’t there anymore.”
“Fine, but you didn’t have to come up with that whole BS story about wanting to help my dad in order for me to come along. If you need money, I can get you money.”
“It’s not about the money, alright? At least, not entirely. And, I’m sincere about wanting to help your dad. I just thought maybe we could kill two birds with one stone, you know? It’s not like it won’t involve us if what Murphy was saying is true.”
“Oscar is in need of help?”
“Seriously, Buddy, you need to inform your friend every once in a while,” Alexa said as she shooed them out of the rickshaw. “I’ve gotta meet Maggie by the service entrance. If you two actually manage to get yourselves into this place, come and find me, okay? I might need to be rescued from my spot behind the serving line.”
Alexa and her rickshaw disappeared in a soft breeze.
“So tell me, chum, what sort of assistance does Oscar need?”
“Nothing to worry about, Zero. He just needs something from The Bunker and I promised we’d get down there and help him. You in?”
“Of course I’m in, Buddy. Adventure is what I live for. So, how do we get in, and what does this all have to do with this Bumblebee fellow?”
“All in good time, my friend, but now, we need to get ourselves into this geek-festival and find me some caffeine. Any ideas?”
Buddy looked to the building in front of them–more specifically, at the crowd surrounding the building in front of them. First he noticed the sheer number of people. Then he noticed the atmosphere. People were dressed in all different manners of attire. Some wore elaborate replica costumes of characters from recent movies, others wore shabbier versions of the same. Even more were wearing items looking similar to characters Buddy was familiar with, but were somehow different, such as the zombified starship captain, or the sexy cyborg.
The area looked more like a hobo encampment than what Buddy would have expected for a line for a convention. Tents, sleeping bags, and grills littered the area, as well as growing piles of trash from the food products people had been consuming over the indefinite period of time they had been staying in their location. Toward the front of what Buddy assumed to be the actual line, he noticed a large pyramid of soda cans someone had erected outside of their large tent. It was currently surrounded by three people sitting in lawns chairs as someone, using a step stool, cautiously attempted to place a new can on top.
“What the hell is this place?” Buddy asked as his nose picked up the scent of a freshly brewed pot of his favorite morning beverage. He sniffed deeply as he followed his nose.
“I don’t get you, Zero,” Buddy frowned as he took a sharp turn to the left and resumed sniffing wildly.
“You disagree? This place is filled with people who worship the likes of us. Of course, what they worship are merely fictional representations of us, but still, it’s almost like the old days sitting out here. People used to line up like this for a chance to meet us, you know. Now they line up for a chance to get to meet people who draw pictures of us. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it does leave hope that one day things may return to the way they were.”
“I kinda like things how they are now. Patrols are nice, relaxing moments to just enjoy the peace and quiet.” Buddy jumped in excitement as he eyed a white coffee maker seated just outside a green pup tent. He ran toward the fabled device of liquid infusion. Zero was hot on his heels, oblivious to Buddy’s quest.
“Patrols should not involve any form of peace or quiet, chum. Patrol is action and adventure.”
“All the same,” Buddy replied as he looked all around the steaming coffee pot for some sort of container with which to hold the beverage he intended to retrieve, “you think we’d see any action and adventure if we had crowds like this following us around all the time?”
A white plastic mask, attached to a similarly clothed body, peeked out from the tent. It immediately disappeared without a word and reappeared just a moment later with a small white cup in its hands. It held it out to Buddy.
“Thanks!” Buddy replied gratefully as he took the cup and began filling it.
“Crowds could indeed cause such trouble,” Zero continued as though the interaction had not occurred. “That is why so many of us chose to utilize secret identities. Well, that, and to keep our loved ones safe, of course.”
Buddy took a careful sip of the torrid drink before responding, his lips being singed by the heat. “Sure, the old Clark Kent deal, right?”
“Nevermind. Okay, so, I guess we’ve gotta talk to someone about getting some passes.”
Buddy walked through the crowd, hoping to find someone who looked like they could carry on a real conversation.
“You know,” Buddy began, “this really isn’t all that different from any tailgate party I’ve ever been to.”
“Really?” Buddy said, pausing to blow on his coffee. “I’ve got to get you out more.”
“I believe, old chum, that we are out as we speak, and, if I’m not mistaken, about to embark on yet another epic adventure, certain to–”
“Right, right, I mean, get you out to do something other than, well, you know, this. If I didn’t know any better,” Buddy said, gesturing at the uniform Zero wore, “I’d say you belong here with the rest of these kids.”
“I believe I do belong here, chum. This is the place where superheroes and their fans collide. Where else should I be?”
“Forget it. Hey, look, that guy up there looks like he’s wearing a name tag. Maybe he knows what’s going on.” Buddy quickened his pace toward the blond haired individual he had pointed at, careful to avoid spilling his treasure as he did. “Hey, kid,” he yelled. “Do you work here?”
Zero, catching up to Buddy, spoke, “Looks like he’s some sales adviser for Foree Electric, chum. No dice.”
“Well, you could probably help out anyways, right?” Buddy glanced at the name tag, “Shaun?”
The man just looked at Buddy with large bugged-out eyes.
“Okay, sure. So, anyways, we were told you needed to have passes to get into this here Super-Con thing. Is this the line to get passes, or is there somewhere else to go for that?”
The man continued staring.
“Are you okay, sir?” Zero asked, waving his hand in front of Shaun’s face.
“Oh, don’t mind him,” said a voice from behind them. Buddy turned and found a rotund individual bounding up beside them who happened to be wearing the same outfit as the man in front of them. “He’s just prepping for the zombie stare-off event. He’s the best. I heard he once stared at the same exact piece of toast for 67 hours. He had wanted to go for 69, you know, ‘cause that’s awesome and whatever, but I guess his mom got mad and ate the damned thing.”
“Oh,” Buddy responded. “Okay, so,” looking at the new man’s name tag, “Um, so you’re Shaun too, huh? Okay. Well, anyways, can you help us out?”
Shaun Number Two laughed. “Yeah, can’t help but find a few of us at these things, even with how long it’s been since it first came out.”
“Okay, sure. Can you help us out though?”
“We need passes for this Super-Con thing. Is this the line to get passes, or do we need to go somewhere else?”
“Dude, you don’t have passes and you want to get into the Con?” He laughs harder. “Hey, Cleveland,” he yells across the crowd. “These guys are wondering where they should go to get some passes.”
A rumble of chuckles erupted from the crowd.
“Excuse me,” Zero spoke harshly, “but I hardly see what should be so funny about us attempting to join you all in these festivities. Is this some sort of exclusionary event?”
“Oh no, dude, not at all, people of all races and creeds are allowed at the Super-Con. The thing is, they are all here already, dude. The thing’s sold out. I haven’t even seen any scalpers and I’ve been here since Tuesday.”
“That’s dedication,” Zero cheered.
“Thanks. It’s become somewhat of a tradition. We come out here every year and camp out for the week before. It’s pretty much the only way you’re able to get passes for the good presentations.”
“I thought you said this wasn’t the line for passes,” Buddy asked.
“Well, it’s not the line to get passes to get in. It’s the line to get passes for the presos, dude.”
“Are you stating that you need passes in order to get passes?” Zero asked incredulously.
“Oh yeah man. They used to just have lines outside of the different halls and stuff where people would get in first-come-first-served and all that, but this year they finally changed things up. Sure, you can only get passes for a couple of shows, but really there’s only one or two anyone really wants to see anyways.”
“This is appearing to become more and more of a hassle, Buddy old chum.”
“We’re not here to see any of these presentations, Zero, we’re here to find that Bumblebee kid. And the only way I know to find him is within those doors.”
“Are there any other ways to get into the event?” Zero asked Shaun Number Two.
“Well, there’s the normal way, right, to get a pass and whatnot. Then, I guess, there’s the service entrance, but you kinda need a pass for that as well, and security over there is even tighter than at the front door. To get a pass for that you need to be a vendor or someone working the event. Otherwise, I guess you could try breaking in, but I’ve never known anyone who has been able to do that. And there’s definitely been more than a few who have tried.”
“The service entrance!” Buddy exclaimed. “Maybe someone didn’t show up for working with Maggie.” Buddy pulled his phone out of his pocket and stepped away from the group.
Zero gave one final look at Shaun Number Two before following. “Thank you for the information, sir. We are indebted to you.”
“Not a problem, dude. Hope you guys get in alright. It’s a ton of fun.”
“Thank you again. Oh, and you’ve got some red on you,” Zero said, pointing at Shaun Number Two’s shirt pocket.
Shaun laughed, “Good one, man. Nice to see another fan!” Zero followed after Buddy, Shaun Number Two yelled after him. “BTW. Nice costume dude. Founding Fathers for life!”
Zero shook his head as he caught up to Buddy.
“Hey sis, just calling to see if you still need any help catering today. Give me a call when you have a chance.” Buddy pulled the phone away from his ear sadly.
“No luck?” Zero asked.
“Doesn’t look like it. I’ll try calling Alexa.” Buddy swiped his fingers across his phone agitatedly. “Stupid smart phones!”
Zero looked up at the roof of the building.
“Hey, Alexa!” Buddy said cheerfully.
“Make it quick, Buddy. Your sister’s got me working at top speed, well, you know, top speed for normal people, and the place hasn’t even opened up yet.”
“Hey, so, looks like me and Zero are going to have some trouble getting into the convention. What are the chances you would be able to go and take a look for Talmadge?”
“Pretty darn slim, Buddy. Like I said, I’m running around like a mad woman already, and the place hasn’t even opened. I’m barely able to keep myself from doing it all at super speed as it is.”
“Why couldn’t you? I mean, you are at a superhero convention, seems like something like that would bring in extra business.”
“Alexa, get off the damned phone already!” Buddy heard Maggie yelling.
“Sorry, Buddy, gotta run. Sorry I can’t help you.” The phone beeped, stating Alexa had hung up on her end.
“That did not sound too promising either, old chum.”
“Nope, could barely keep Alexa on the phone. That’s a first.”
“So, what do you think we should do?”
“According to Shaun, it seems like there’s only one option left.”
“But Buddy, we’re the good guys, I don’t think–”
“Exactly, we’re the good guys. That’s what this thing is all about, right? Seems to me that means we should be the guests of honor.”
“That’s a rather thin excuse for breaking the law, Buddy.”
“Too bad, Zero, old chum,” Buddy said as he gulped down the rest of his coffee. “Looks like Buddy Hero and Kid Zero are breaking into Super-Con!”
Go to Chapter Nine