Damon hastily entered the cathedral and slammed the door shut behind him. He could still hear the throngs of people screaming at him from outside in the pouring rain. A riot was occurring just beyond these sanctuary walls and he was the central figure. A figure which some loathed and many more considered beloved.
He breathed rapidly as he locked the doors behind him and fell to the ground against them. Tears streamed down his face as he realized what he had just done, what he had been responsible for…No, Damon thought to himself, not what I was responsible for. What he made me do!
Damon stood as the heat from his body evaporated the water from his drenched clothes. With a new intensity, he unlocked the doors and flung them open to the raging mob battling among themselves outside.
Cackling with madness, he screamed to the people who had followed him here. “People of Sun City, your time has come. I say to you tonight, Buddy Hero shall see his end. Buddy Hero shall be no more! And you, oh you mindless fools, you too shall pay for his crimes. This whole city shall burn for what has been done this night. This whole world shall be destroyed to complete God’s Will.”
And as soon as he said it, his body alit with flames once again and he flew into the night sky.
“Buddy,” Oscar yelled. “You alright there pal?”
“Dad!” Alexa shouted at her father as he landed beside her. “What are you doing out of bed, or in that hideous costume?”
“Uniform,” Zero corrected.
“Hideous?” Oscar asked. “I don’t know, I’ve always thought it was rather stylish.”
“For the 50’s, perhaps,” Ryan laughed.
“Hey now, kiddo, you’re the one who’s been redesigning this costume–”
“Sorry, uniform, for me. If there are any issues with style, they’re completely your fault.”
“Hey yourself, pops. All I’ve done is upgrade the systems and add a little extra oomph to the firepower. The design is entirely you.”
“Fine. I’ll take the blame, I don’t care. I still think it looks rather spiffy.”
“Spiffy,” Alexa scoffed. “A word to match your look, I guess.”
“Can we get off current fashion trends?” Zero asked.
“Good call, Zero,” Buddy agreed. “What are you doing here, Oscar? I thought we had agreed to meet up tonight.”
“Well, I had thought I’d go ahead and dust off the old Red Rocketeer Chamber in preparation for tonight’s little adventure and noticed a high density of meta-human activity happening over here. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. That and I thought I might as well check to make sure the back door was still here.”
“Here?” Buddy asked.
“Yeah, of course. Don’t you guys think it’s a little odd that there’s a statue of us old fogeys sitting here in the middle of the convention center?”
“Actually, I think it’s weirder that I’ve never noticed it before,” Buddy responded.
“Funny thing about that. I had managed to set up an SEP field around the damned thing just before The Great Redaction. Apparently it worked on those government cleanup folks.”
“A what field?” Buddy asked.
“It’s not actually anything more than a style of camouflage which basically makes things that are completely obvious appear to be nothing of concern, like how people paint buildings blue to blend in with the sky or green to blend in with the trees, so you just don’t notice them. In this case, check out the color of the statue. It’s the same color as the ceiling, right? That alone keeps it from standing out too much, even though it’s such a giant piece. Add to that the noise emanating from it.”
“What noise?” Zero asked.
“Yeah, you don’t even notice it, right? It’s barely audible, just within the range of human hearing. Even I don’t fully understand why it works, but it keeps people from wanting to look directly at it. And then there’s one more thing. If you look closely, you’ll notice that there are spotlights spread out all around the ceiling. These are aimed just off the corners of the piece, meaning just looking at it hurts the eyes. That’s all an SEP field is, a bunch of little tricks to make people not want to look too closely at something.”
“Okay, so, you’ve managed to make something that big all but invisible,” Buddy concluded. “But why?”
“Ah,” Oscar clapped his hands. “That’s why we’re here. It’s the back door to The Bunker. Even if those government types had wanted to remove the thing, they wouldn’t have been able to. It’s locked down pretty tight to a structure which stretches all the way down to the depths of The Bunker.”
“I guess that explains the whole Founder’s thing then,” Buddy added.
“The what?” Oscar asked.
“God, anyone got any ibuprofen?” Bumblebee asked as he joined the group. “I’ve got a headache that could kill an elephant.”
“Who’s this?” Oscar asked.
“This,” Zero gestured to the yellow man beside him, “is the completely useless idiot who calls himself The Bumblebee.”
“Hey!” Bumblebee whined.
“You’ve added a new member to the team that you haven’t told me about?” Oscar asked, sizing the odd young man up as he did.
“Talmadge Jones, Dad,” Alexa answered. “He’s the guy we were out here looking for.”
“You were looking for me?” Talmadge excitedly asked.
“Oh, that one,” Oscar understood. “I guess I thought he’d be taller.”
The sound of sirens filled the room as several police vehicles appeared at the hole in the wall.
“Oh good,” Oscar laughed. “I was hoping they would get here quickly.”
“You called them?” Buddy asked. “Why?”
“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, this place isn’t exactly structurally sound at the moment. Yet all those people over there still seem to think that they don’t need to leave. And once we can get them out of here, we can begin our task.”
“Good call,” Zero agreed, directing himself toward the newly arriving vehicles. “I’ll go see if they could use my assistance. I have come to the understanding that the newly-formed Sun City Police Department has yet to learn how to efficiently deal with crowd management.”
“I should probably go check on Maggie and see how she’s doing,” Buddy added as he walked off.
“Perfect,” Oscar clapped his hands again. “I’m going to go take a little look around. I’ve wanted to come to Super-Con for years! Might as well use the excuse now, right?” He walked away, “Oooh, the new Shirts vs. Skins series is out!”
Agent Murphy appeared alongside Agent Kent. “Hey now, where are you kids going?” he asked jovially.
“Memphis!” Zero yelled, returning to the area. Oscar continued on his way.
“Mr. Hamilton, how nice to see you again, even if you refuse to remember my name.”
“Right, Murphy, sorry,” Zero said through clenched teeth.
“What do you want, Murphy?” Buddy asked.
“Oh, nothing too much. I just wanted to thank you folks for the kind presents you left at my doorstep, and,” he said as he pulled several round discs out of his briefcase, “to return these. I presume they weren’t cheap.” He held his hand out and looked from person to person to see who they might belong to.
“Thanks,” Ryan said as he reached forward and collected them.
“How did you know where we were?” Buddy asked. “Or that it was us who brought them to you?”
“Well, honestly, I had no real reason to believe anything regarding who had delivered such a wonderful gift to me, but I definitely had a hunch. As far as knowing where you were, well, let’s just say that whenever a call goes out over the police scanner stating the arrival of denizens with extraordinary abilities, we generally heed the call.”
“Okay,” Buddy responded. “Thanks for returning the gizmos.”
“It’s the least we could do, considering how useful your present should turn out to be.”
“So, are they restrained?” Zero asked.
“Thanks to my predecessor’s efforts, we have quite the effective containment unit to utilize for the likes of them. They shall remain in my custody until I have had the opportunity to properly interrogate them.”
“Alright,” Alexa replied. “Well, thanks for keeping them for us. See ya around, I guess.”
“Oh, but Ms. Rose, surely you don’t think that you’ll be getting rid of us quite so easily. An army led by the son of the very man we’re looking for attacked this very location, a location you four just so happen to be already located within. I don’t suppose you have happened upon any additional information you would like to share with me, have you?”
“Nope,” Ryan harrumphed. “We were just here enjoying the festivities.”
“Are you certain you don’t have anything you could add to the question of why these men attacked here of all places?”
“We’re sure,” Buddy stated. “So, if you don’t mind, we’d really like to get on with exploring the convention. Did you know they have a whole wall dedicated to those video game things?”
“From the looks of our friends in blue, the event seems to be shutting down for the day. If you, in fact, are only here for the convention, it would appear you have no further business within these walls.”
Oscar reappeared. “Hey kids, I was just over by the–” he stopped short as he recognized Agent Murphy. “Oh, um, I see you’re busy, nevermind.”
“Oscar Reed,” Murphy smiled. “I had thought I had caught a glimpse of you earlier. Now, this is curious. Why would the head of a multinational research and development firm be traipsing around here of all places, and in costume, nonetheless?”
“Actually, that’s Doctor Reed, if you don’t mind, and, I’m wearing a uniform, if you will. And why wouldn’t I be here? I love this kind of stuff. I mean, where else can you find these?” he asked as he held up a signed copy of Awesome Comics #1. “I had to pay a pretty penny for it, but seriously, I’ve been on the lookout for one of these for forever. It’s the perfect addition to my collection.”
“Excuse us, folks,” came a voice over the intercom system. “My name is Officer Castle, with the SCPD. We’re going to need you all to go ahead and evacuate the building due to some, um, dangerous situations occurring within the structure of the building. If you could all exit in a quick and orderly manner, it would be greatly appreciated. If you need assistance in getting out of the building due to sustaining injuries, please stay where you are and one of our boys in blue will be over to help you shortly. Thank you.”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go ahead and take a look around myself,” Murphy said with a smile. “I should probably attempt to discern what may have been of such great interest to our common friends. Thank you for all of your help.” Murphy walked away with Kent following on his heels.
“That was weird,” Ryan said after Murphy was out of earshot.
“Yeah,” Buddy agreed. “Seems like a pretty dumb idea of yours to send them all off to Murphy. The last thing we need right now is Memphis hot on our tale as we make our way down to The Bunker.”
“Sorry,” Ryan shrugged. “I thought it would be easier to make them his problem instead of continuing to fight them all here. And I didn’t know we were going to have any reason to stick around.”
“I can’t believe that’s really Damon Memphis,” Oscar said. “I know you folks told me something had changed in him, but I honestly didn’t believe you. Any clue what happened to him yet?”
“Long story,” Buddy answered.
“Yeah, a story you still haven’t told us,” Alexa added. “Which I believe you promised to do when we were talking last night.”
“Right, but I just don’t think this is–”
“Enough stalling, chum,” Zero said sternly. “Spill.”
“Alright, fine. Just make sure Murphy doesn’t sneak up on us. I don’t really want him to hear.”
“Seems odd,” Oscar said, “but sure.”
“Okay, so, you know when we fought Damon a few months back?”
“Yeah, yeah, come on already,” Ryan pestered. “Get to explaining.”
“Okay, fine, so, when I was in Damon’s head, we kind of had a little battle.”
“You mean a battle of wits?” Zero asked.
“No, like a real battle. It was like we were actually fighting, kind of like in the old days. In fact, for a few minutes there, I actually remembered what it was like to be me, you know, the old me.”
“Weird,” Oscar added.
“Yeah, I know. But it got weirder. At one point, I was actually seeing through Damon’s eyes, his actions felt like my own. It hurts to even think about remembering how that felt. Anyways, long story short, I finally gained control of him and was actually able to move his body and talk through his mouth and all that stuff.”
“I’m still not too certain I see how this applies to why Damon thinks he’s Murphy now.”
“Jeez, just wait a minute. I’m getting to it, okay?”
“Well, get to it faster,” Alexa pressed. “He’s coming back.”
“Alright, fine. So, basically, I was in there, I could see all his memories, and somehow I was able to take them out of his head and put them into mine. I stole his memories, just like he stole mine.”
“So, what happened to them?” Oscar asked.
“Happened to what?”
“His memories. You’re saying he doesn’t have them anymore. Did they just disappear or–”
“I have them. They’re all up here,” Buddy said, pointing to his head.
“Um,” Alexa added, “is that safe?”
“Yeah, chum, I would think that having such memories in your head may cause you to, well, become the next Dominion.”
“I don’t know what it means for the future, okay? All I know is that it took care of Dominion when we needed to be rid of him. And I much prefer Agent Murphy to–” Buddy stopped himself as Murphy appeared at his side.
“To whom, Mr. Jackson?” Murphy grinned. “I appreciate the sentiment, but I feel I should be allowed to know whom I’m being compared to.”
“Um, well,” Buddy stammered.
“Sergeant Duff,” Alexa covered. “He was saying how much easier you are to work with than trying to hide from Duff.”
“Ah, I see. Yes, my predecessor definitely had some issues with his manner of engagement. I appreciate your feedback and am heartened to know that I have, in some way, succeeded where he could not.”
“Yeah, well,” Ryan continued, “it’s a whole lot easier to be likeable when you’re stalking, instead of capturing and imprisoning.”
“I can see how that minor change could be positive.” Murphy grinned again. “So, have you folks come up with anything regarding why our mutual friends would have decided to pick this area, of all places, to make themselves known? May I remind you how I will make it greatly worth your while if you can offer up any form of information which turns up useful for my cause?”
“I would think giving you thirty of the men you are looking for should be worth enough already.”
“Ah, yes. Don’t worry; I have already wired a fair sum of money into each of your bank accounts for that wonderful present. I’m certain you will all be very happy with the reward. But, I assure you I can make things even more worth your while, should you be able to assist me any further.”
“We’ll be sure to keep you in mind,” Buddy frowned.
“Be sure that you do,” Murphy grinned again. Kent touched his shoulder and with a pop they disappeared.
“God that guy can really get on your nerves,” Ryan scowled. “That creepy grin of his almost makes me wish we had Dominion back.”
“I know what you mean,” Buddy agreed. “But, all the same, at least this guy isn’t threatening to destroy the entire world and blaming us for it–at least not yet.”
“Buddy!” Maggie yelled as she ran to join the group. “Buddy!”
“Whoa Mags,” Buddy laughed as she reached his side out of breath. “What’s going on, sis?”
“I don’t know what happened, but I was just checking our bank account, to see if we had enough money to pay off the rental company for the tables and equipment, seeing as it looks like we’re not going to make much money off the Con now.” She stopped in an attempt to catch her breath.
“And,” she said while taking in a deep breath, “somehow there’s an additional twenty thousand dollars in there. I figured it had to have been some sort of bank error, but when I called, they said the money was transferred into our account directly.”
“Sounds like your old buddy, Damon, is pretty darn true to his word,” Oscar smiled.
“Yeah, a little too true, if you ask me,” Buddy responded.
“What are you talking about?” Maggie asked.
“Well, you know how you told me I should look into finding ways to subsidize my super-hero efforts?”
“Yeah,” she responded slowly.
“It looks like I’ve found it.”
Damon stood in front of the Sun City City Hall building, wearing a black form-fitting suit with a large red D on it, behind a pulpit set up on the building’s steps. A large crowd of people holding microphones and cameras surrounded the area in front of him as he spoke.
“We shall no longer allow our protest to be passive. God has commanded me to be his sword and has given me the power to destroy the evil Buddy Hero once and for all.” Damon burst into flames and rose above the steps. He called out, “Buddy Hero, come and face your judgment!”
The crowd screamed in torment as the flames reached out to them and engulfed them all completely. Then there was silence, nothing but the sound of Damon’s evil cackle.
Go to Chapter Fourteen