“Another four doors, just as before. One door will give you a chance to escape, the others will test your will and your shape. I urge you choose wisely, trespassers or saint, the trials ahead are not for the faint.” D.A.W.N. paused briefly and then continued. “Really, Oscar. You are really stretching with these rhymes.”
“Hey,” Oscar rebutted. “I was more focused on developing the funhouse than the stupid rhymes that went with it. At least I thought to add something a little fun to the whole event.”
“So, there are four doors to choose from,” Ryan asked. “And we still have no clue which ones are which, right?”
“Yeah, sorry,” Oscar replied. “I can’t believe I’m still drawing a blank on that.”
“No worries,” Alexa said quickly. “I’m on it.” She turned around and opened the door behind them. The room beyond was dark and silent. “Looks like Talmadge had the right idea. Just pick a door and go through.” She stepped her foot across the door’s threshold. Shink. Two shiny sheets of jagged metal snapped tightly together, filling the door frame. Beyond the metal, the sound of grinding could be heard.
“Alexa!” Oscar yelled.
Buddy ran to the doorway and began punching on the torture device which blocked their view of the events occurring behind them. The metal gave way slowly.
“Chill out, dudes,” Alexa said from behind them. “You don’t think a girl knows to get clear the second she hears a couple of spring loaded traps let loose?”
“Thank God,” Oscar said, as he let out a sigh of relief. He ran to his daughter and wrapped his arms around her. “I told you to be careful.”
“Well, what the heck was that all about? Seems like something more suited for a video game where you’ve always got extra lives than it is for a back door to your own damned place.”
“It’s difficult to explain, sweetheart, but suffice it to say that we were up against some rather dangerous individuals. I couldn’t risk any of them bypassing any of my security measures. All the same, I’m glad you didn’t get hurt.”
“Yeah, Alexa, don’t do anything like that again,” Buddy added.
“It would appear,” Murphy joined in, “that we have found the one door we do not wish to enter. I would think we are free to choose any door we wish now, am I correct, Mr. Reed?”
“Doctor Reed,” Oscar corrected with a grimace. “And yes, it looks like we found the most dangerous option. But we’re still not out of the woods. There’s still the possibility of choosing the nightmare-level door, which, believe me, is not something you wish to visit.”
“Okay,” Murphy responded. “So, we still must choose our door with caution. If only there were some method to know which door is the most appropriate option.”
“Actually,” Talmadge chimed, “I think I might have a way.”
“What’s that?” Oscar looked intrigued.
“Well,” Talmadge said slowly, “I’m not sure I know how to explain it, but when I picked the last door, it was almost like I was being led to it, like somehow I knew that was the door we needed to go through.”
“I’m sorry if I don’t sound confident,” Buddy said, “but I don’t think we want to put our lives in the hands of how you feel about a door.”
“I’m with Buddy on this,” Zero agreed. “Although I always appreciate a good headstrong approach to most any obstacle, hunches can be quite dangerous when presented with pure life or death situations.”
“I don’t know,” Oscar disagreed with a smile on his face. “You might be surprised with how often hunches are based on more than just a gut feeling, Zero. Talmadge, are you getting a vibe on which door we should choose now?” Oscar asked.
“Anyone got any better ideas?” Oscar asked the group. “I designed the damned place and I certainly don’t.”
The group shook their heads.
“Well, then,” Oscar beamed. “I suggest we follow the kid.”
Talmadge closed his eyes and nodded his head slowly before opening them. He confidently walked across the room to the opposite door from the one they had entered.
“Hey, kid,” Oscar said, grabbing his shoulder. “You sure you’re not just picking at random?”
“If I was, would it be any better than any other option?”
“I guess not.”
“This is the one, I’m certain.”
“Okay, kid. You lead the way.”
Talmadge grabbed the door knob and twisted slowly. Pushing the door in, he turned to the group. “Okay,” he said, “here goes nothing.” He stepped through and the lights inside turned on silently. The rest of the group followed him in.
The sight before them was one of a massive complex of buildings. These super-structures rose above and away from them as far as the group could see.
“Whoa,” Buddy said. “How the heck did you fit all this down here, Oscar?”
“It would take too long to go through all the technical specifications,” Oscar began explaining. “But it’s basically a holographic projection. There’s quite a bit more to it than that, but, well, yeah. Maybe some other time I can—“
“Welcome, one and all, to the trial of the Fat Mogul!” D.A.W.N.’s voice echoed through the blue-colored sky.
“The Fat-who?” Talmadge asked.
“The Fat Mogul, also known as Arthur Flores, leader of the Meta Mob, which just so happens to be that same group who attacked the Super-Con upstairs,” Ryan answered.
“Oh,” Talmadge responded slowly. “Wait, you mean THE Arthur Flores?”
“The one and only,” Alexa chirped.
“He was one of these super-hero types like you guys?”
“Tis true he was one of us for a time, young Bee,” Zero added. “Yet, he turned out to be one of our most devious foes in the end. I shudder to see him included in this pantheon of heroes.”
“Yeah,” Oscar agreed, “when that all played out, I was ready to wipe him out of everything, but it all happened so damned quickly. And, you know, it takes time to redesign a statue, not to mention the series of complex entrance trials. All the same, this should be a fun one, if I remember correctly.”
“Fun?” Buddy shrugged. “Sure.”
“D.A.W.N.?” Oscar asked. “You got our clue for us?”
“You’ve chosen wisely with the door in the center. The trial before you is the best you could enter. The oddly named hero we call the Fat Mogul, has an odd power with which he could grow small. This same trait allowed him to be, as small as an ant or as big as a tree. What you see before you may appear quite vast, and you’ll quickly find that you’ll lose yourselves fast. Another gem is yet hidden among these skyscrapers; this story has become a detective caper. But time’s running out, you mustn’t hesitate. For all will explode when the timer hits eight.”
A loud air horn sounded and clocks lit up on buildings all down the street ahead of them, counting up.
“What the hell?” Kent asked. “Murphy, I know this will come off as insubordination, but I can’t waste any more time on this crap. I’m heading back topside to see if I can’t do more with a simple interrogation of those idiots in our holding cell.” He said as he disappeared with a pop.
“I had feared Agent Kent would be one to give up quickly,” Murphy spoke.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Oscar laughed. “He won’t get far. The entire Bunker system is set up to keep people from teleporting in and out, unless they’re using The Bunker’s own teleporter. He won’t have gotten very far.”
Kent reappeared with another pop. “Dammit, what the hell? I just reappeared on top of one of these buildings. What’s going on here?”
“Sorry, dude,” Ryan laughed. “You’re trapped in here like the rest of us.”
Kent stormed off. “I guess I’ll have to start looking for the stupid stone then.”
“Kent’s got a point,” Oscar agreed. “It will be smart for all of us to split up, that way we can cover more ground. I’d say we go off in pairs.”
“I shall accompany my associate. I’m going to have to have a chat with him about his recent act,” Murphy said as he followed Kent.
“Son,” Oscar asked. “You wanna do a Red Rocketeer team-up? Could be fun to get up in the air together.”
“Sure,” Ryan agreed. The two lifted into the sky simultaneously.
“How’s the arm treating you, Zero?” Alexa asked.
“Which one?” Zero laughed before responding with a more serious expression. “Nothing that’ll keep me down, why?”
“Just needed to know if you were going to need extra protection. Since you don’t, I’m pairing up with Buddy,” Alexa said, grabbing Buddy’s arm. “Seems like a perfect time for you to show Talmadge the super-heroing ropes.”
“I understand, dear Alexa,” Zero said, gazing unhappily at Talmadge. “Alright, young Bee, I suppose we shall have to be off on foot to start, huh? Perhaps you can use that odd talent you have for choosing doors to find this sparkling gemstone.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Talmadge answered.
“Perfect. You lead the way, then.”
Talmadge closed his eyes and led Zero away from Buddy and Alexa.
“Well, what should we do, now that we’re alone?” Alexa asked Buddy with a smirk.
“Hey now, what have I told you about giving a guy the wrong idea?”
“Sheesh, settle down, Tiger. You know I love you.”
“Kid,” Buddy said, reaching over to give her a light tussle of her hair, “you have no idea how happy any man would be to hear those words come from your mouth.”
“And they only come out for you,” she giggles.
“Seriously, you had better be careful with that kind of talk, missy.”
“Aw, come on, Buddy. You know I’m just teasing you. But, it’s not like it would be so horrible if something were to happen between us.”
“Lex, I’m a man, so I have to be honest in saying that there is absolutely no reason I would ever be able to turn you down if you ever showed that type of interest in me for real. But–”
Alexa leaned up and kissed Buddy on the cheek. “I know, big boy, don’t worry about it. We’d never work anyways.”
“Yeah, and why’s that?” Buddy slapped his beer belly proudly.
“Oh, no, I don’t mind the belly. I just couldn’t date someone I work with.” She laughs again.
A loud crashing noise came from above them, causing the duo to look up and see six men jump out of a nearby building’s windows.
“Looks like we’ll have to hold off on the flirting for now,” Buddy smirked. “It’s hero time!”
“God I love it when you say that,” Alexa pretended to swoon.
The men landed in a circle around Alexa and Buddy and stood there without a word.
“Umm. . . isn’t this about the time when you guys should be, you know, smashing and whatnot?”
“This is creepy,” Alexa said as she stared at the man in front of her. “Do you think we just beat them up and go on our way?”
“Shouldn’t we wait to see if they’re bad guys first?”
“They aren’t even real, Buddy. Let’s just bash their heads in and go find that stupid gem already.”
Buddy advanced on the man directly in front of him, pulled his arm back and planted it in the middle of the man’s face. He stood solidly as a creaking noise began around them and the ground started to rumble.
“What the–” Buddy began as the ground shook beneath them. The men grew in size simultaneously, as Buddy and Alexa stood and watched. The man Buddy hit raised his foot above them, blocking out the sunlight. The foot stomped down at them swiftly. Alexa disappeared from Buddy’s side as he was flattened to the ground.
Struggling under the weight of the massive black boot now resting on his head, Buddy maneuvered his body so that his feet were out from under him and he was lying on his back. With one strong push, Buddy kicked his legs out at the tread of the shoe and the foot flew up into the air.
Buddy stood quickly, looking in every direction for Alexa. The ground rumbled further, marking the re-approaching giant. He crouched low to the ground and leapt into the air, landing on the man’s head, finding himself in the midst of a pile of long black hair.
The man’s hand swung wildly at Buddy, as he held onto the thick dark strands as tightly as possible. Buddy felt the hair getting bigger in his hand.
“What the hell is going on here?” Buddy asked no one in particular.
He heard a voice in his head. “Holy crap! They’re getting bigger!”
“Um, yeah,” Buddy yelled in confusion as he tried swinging through the hair toward the ear canal. “Who is this?”
“Buddy?” the voice replied.
“Yeah, now who the hell is this and what are you doing in my head?”
“Umm, it’s Talmadge, and I could ask you the same question.”
“I’m a little busy right now,” Buddy said as he punched through the thick hair at the head of the man. “You guys have any clue what’s going on?”
“No, but we found the gem.”
“Awesome. Nab it and let’s get out of here, before I become microscopic.”
“That’s the problem, Buddy. We’re shrinking too, or everything’s getting bigger, or whatever. The gem’s out of reach and we’re under attack. Zero’s already been knocked out cold, I think. I can’t find him and I don’t know how much longer I can hide here before they find me.”
“Dammit,” Buddy yelled as he saw Alexa building a tornado around one of the other men, causing him to spin in circles. “Why the hell does everything have to be so damned difficult around here?”
“Oh crap,” Talmadge’s voice screamed in Buddy’s ear. “They’re coming!”
“Great, so, once again, they leave it up to the great Buddy Hero to save the day.” He landed roughly on the outside of the man’s ear canal. An enormous finger appeared at the same spot and pushed him deeper into the flesh-walled tunnel. Buddy kicked at the fingertip, which did nothing to stop its attempts to fish him out.
The finger closed off all outside light, but the room flashed with a faint blue glimmer. Buddy, deciding he couldn’t get out the way he got in, walked deeper into the cave to find a single solitary computer terminal.
“Of course this thing’s gonna involve a computer. Why am I in here instead of Ryan?”
Buddy sat down at the chair in front of the flashing monitor and pressed a key on the keyboard. The screen came to life; an eight-bit image of a city-scape appeared with the words Flores Enterprises emblazoned across them.
“Talmadge, pal,” Buddy said out-loud in desperation. “If you’re out there, I could definitely use some assistance.”
“Buddy?” the voice reappeared, sounding out of breath, which Buddy couldn’t help but think was odd for a telepathic conversation. “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m scared.”
“Keep it together, kid. I think I might have found part of the puzzle. Do you know anything about computers?”
“Of course I do, but now is not really the time to–”
“Shut up and listen. I’m inside one of those giant guys’ heads and I found a computer. I’m sitting here in the dark with nothing but a screen saying Flores Enterprises. What the hell do I do?”
“Is there a menu or something?”
“No there’s no freaking menu! I already told you, it just says Flores Enterprises, and there’s a blocky picture of a bunch of skyscrapers, that’s it.”
“Oh, okay, you mean like an ASCII image?”
“I don’t know. Sure, why not?”
“Does it look kind of like something you’d see on an old video game?”
“Yeah, just like that!”
“Okay, great. So, that means that there’s any number of ways you could get into the system. I guess I’d– Oh crap!”
“Talmadge!” Buddy yelled, his voice echoing off the dark corridors of the man’s ear. “What do I do?”
“Help!” Talmadge’s voice screamed in Buddy’s head.
“I can’t help, I’m stuck in this robot’s freaking head. I need you to help me.”
“No, I mean, try typing help.”
Buddy slowly found his way around the keys to type the intended four letters. As soon as he pressed ENTER, the screen went blank and a whirring noise sounded at his feet.
Shortly, the screen flashed and filled with words.
“Talmadge,” Buddy whined. “I need more help here.” There was no response. “Alright, I guess I’m on my own.” Buddy read through the items on the screen out-loud. “Information, Directory, System Power, Tools, Graphic User Interface, About–What the hell does all of this stuff mean?”
Buddy slammed his fists against the keyboard, shattering it into pieces.
“Well, I have a hard time believing that’s going to help anything.”
He stood up and looked around the poorly lit room.
“There’s gotta be a light switch around here somewhere or something, right?”
Buddy went to the nearest wall and began feeling around for a light. He followed the wall around the room, finding nothing which would aid in illuminating his situation.
“Okay, this is going from hopeless to just pathetic. I should be out there smashing things, not hiding inside some robot’s brain meddling around with some stupid computer.”
“Buddy,” the voice reappeared. “There’s only 30 seconds left until the clock hits eight. You better do something.”
“Argh!” Buddy screamed in frustration. He ran to the computer, picked it up and threw it across the room. The box lit up with sparks and fizzled out quickly.
“What’d you do?” Talmadge’s voice asked.
“Um,” Buddy answered reluctantly. “I just broke the computer. Sorry.”
“No, that’s good. Do more! We’re getting bigger!”
Buddy looked around and found that the room was, indeed, getting smaller. A large grin grew upon his face as he ran to the other side of the room where a wall filled with tiny red lights stood. He rammed into it with his shoulder. A loud fizt sounded as he bolted toward another side of the room where he saw yet more lights.
Each act of destruction made the room appear smaller, making Buddy’s treks to the next set of lights that much faster. Within seconds, Buddy found himself having to bend over to avoid banging his head on the ceiling, until finally, he was so cramped, all but the smallest movements were impossible.
“Talmadge, you had better do something about that damned jewel now or I think I’m going to be nothing but another squashed bug inside this dude’s ear.”
The force against Buddy was incredible. The walls cracked around him as his frame grew larger and larger. The ceiling gave way and his head burst through the top of the android’s skull, causing Buddy to be lost in a sea of dark greasy hair.
“Taaaalmadge!” Buddy yelled into the skyline.
Three tones sounded through the air and everything melted into a series of blocks. Buddy fell roughly to the ground as his captor dissolved, showing the entire group standing around his immediate area. Talmadge held a blue gem in his hand.
The room was black, but lit from somewhere. Thirty feet away from where the heroes stood, the door opened.
“Congratulations, heroes!” D.A.W.N. said. “You have passed the Fat Mogul trial. Please exit to your left.”
Go to Chapter Nineteen