Talmadge reunited with Buddy, Alexa, and Ryan at the side of Zero’s collapsed body, in front of the XM1202. They all fell to the ground in exhaustion, lying next to their fallen comrade in hopes that they could continue resting as payment for a job well done.
For what felt like hours the group sat in silence before the quiet was finally broken by the sound of sobs.
“Alexa?” Buddy asked in concern.
“I just realized my dad is actually gone, like, forever gone.”
“Holy crap,” Ryan said as a tear formed in the corner of his eye, “with everything that was happening, I completely forgot.”
“He’s really gone,” Alexa said again, letting out yet another loud sob.
“Did he, you know,” Ryan asked slowly, “did he feel any pain?”
“I doubt it,” Buddy said softly, “it all happened pretty fast down there. He died a hero, though, even if Arthur did come back.”
“Yeah,” Talmadge began, “what’s up with that? He stole his son’s body? Does that mean that Jeff guy’s really gone for good?”
“And what about everyone else that was down there in The Bunker?” Alexa continued. “Did they die as well?”
“Oscar’s last wish was for me to teleport everyone within The Bunker to safety,” D.A.W.N. answered. “However, the systems reported no additional life signs within, outside of our own.”
“I didn’t see anyone when I was down there,” Buddy added. “Maybe they were all gone before it happened.”
“But Carl,” Ryan asked, “what about Carl?”
“Carl wasn’t there,” D.A.W.N. offered. “He had been sent overseas months ago to assist in developing the new teams Arthur was creating.”
“Do you know where?” Ryan asked, his face straining to remain stoic.
“Unfortunately, I don’t. Arthur was rather careful about allowing me access to any of the data regarding the additional bunkers.”
“That will have to be for another day,” Buddy cut in. “Right now, I’m a bit more worried that Zero hasn’t moved a muscle since we sat down.”
“I’m fine, chum,” Zero said weakly, “just exhausted.”
“I hear you there, pal,” Buddy responded. “Talk about a long day at the office.”
“So, what do we do now?” Talmadge asked. “I mean, you know, with the world saved and everything?”
“Well, we should probably do something about the army,” Buddy said as he gestured to the large group of people standing motionless in the middle of the crater which had once been the Sun City Convention Center.
“That should be easy,” Ryan answered. “Just a couple flips of the switch on the old Mind Wiper. I’ll take care of it later.”
“What about the city?” Talmadge continued. “I mean, it’s destroyed, thousands are dead, if not more, aren’t people going to want to know what happened?”
“’Tis not our job to tell the story,” Zero replied. “We merely live it.”
“You’d be surprised at the types of things those news reporters will come up with to explain away some of this stuff,” Alexa smirked.
“Actually,” D.A.W.N. chimed in, “there is a news report regarding the battle currently playing on one of the local radio stations, if anyone’s interested.”
“Really?” Talmadge said excitedly. “We’re on the news?”
“Possibly,” Alexa smiled. “All depends on what story they want to tell. Remember, people don’t know about superheroes.”
“Should I play it?” D.A.W.N. asked.
“Go for it,” Buddy answered. “This should be interesting.”
“crshhhh—still coming in. Latest reports state that the death toll is well in the thousands. A more interesting piece of the story that’s come out so far is the speculation that one of the key figures in this battle against whatever sparked the massive fire, is that of retired professional boxer Buddy Jackson, known worldwide as Big Bold Buddy Jackson. Witnesses state they spotted the retired fighter with a group of other people, all exhibiting extraordinary abilities as they waged battle across our fair city. This crazed speculation comes hot on the heels of earlier video footage showing Mr. Jackson as part of a publicity stunt for an as-of-yet-unnamed film at Super-Con just earlier today.”
“Obviously fans are excited about the return of this well-known icon to the public eye,” a female voice on the radio stated. “It’s amazing what some folks will do to keep from believing in the reality of such a tragedy as what our city has faced today.”
“Our hearts go out to everyone who has–”
“You can turn it off now, D.A.W.N.” Buddy cut in.
“I thought for a second they were actually going to believe in superheroes again,” Zero said sadly.
“No dice, chum,” Buddy replied. “Of course, at some point someone’s going to want to know what happened. I can’t imagine swamp gas will be a good enough explanation.”
“That’s Murphy’s problem though, right?” Ryan asked.
“Right, Murphy can deal with that.”
“Speaking of Murphy,” Alexa cut in. “Whose bright idea was it to send Artie along with him? Those two haven’t exactly got the best history together.”
“Perhaps that shall just mean we will be given the opportunity for future adventures, young Alexa,” Zero smirked.
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“I think there’s a lot more to Arthur that we need to figure out in general,” Ryan joined. “The Mind Wiper shows tons of previous redactions. Doesn’t that scare anyone else?”
“You’ve still got the device, right?” Buddy asked.
“Yeah, it’s right here,” Ryan said, lifting it off the ground. “You guys think Arthur was using the device to keep re-writing history?”
“If you’ve still got the device, we can look at it later. For now, day saved,” Buddy said quietly.
“Right,” Alexa said with a sense of comfort. “Day saved.”
“Which means there’s only one thing left to discuss,” Zero added.
“Zero, we’ll have plenty of time to go through your specs later,” Buddy said as he closed his eyes. “For now I just need to get some sleep.”
“That is not at all what I am talking about, chum,” Zero said as he got to his feet. “Margaret stated that if we were to return home in time for dinner, she would provide us with raspberry pie.”
“Maggie!” Buddy said, sitting upright. “Is she—“
“Don’t worry, champ,” Alexa smiled. “I checked on her ages ago, made sure she got somewhere safe. She was nowhere near the fire.”
“Oh,” Buddy said as he sat back down. He quickly sat up again. “The diner!”
“Yeah,” Alexa frowned. “That’s gone.”
“She’s going to kill me,” Buddy leaned back again.
“Did she have any pie?” Zero asked.
“As a matter of fact, she did. She wanted me to let you know, Zero, that she made one special for you.”
“I knew she still loved me,” Zero smiled. “I shall find my dear Margaret and show her that I’m okay.”
“You sure you want to do that considering your current shape?” Buddy asked. “Seems like something you might not want to just spring on her.”
“Do you believe it will change her feelings for me, chum? Because if it did, I—“
A loud boom sounded from overhead as the clouds opened up and revealed a circular metal object floating in the sky.
A light shone from the bottom of this foreign craft and lit upon Zero’s body, slowly lifting him off the ground.
“What the hell?” Buddy yelled, jumping to his feet lamely and grabbing onto Zero. “Don’t tell me alien invasions are something the mind wipe took out, too,” he continued in complaint as he tried to pull his friend back down to earth. Instead, he felt himself being lifted. Hands grabbed at his ankles and he looked down to see that he and the rest of The New Defenders were being pulling toward the space craft like some odd game of Barrel of Monkeys.
Within seconds, they all found themselves inside an alien spacecraft, alone in a dark room. Finally, a door on the opposite side of the room slid open and three gray-skinned beings with large heads entered.
“Release the prisoner,” one of the aliens said.
Buddy stood exhausted, but defiant. “Under what authority?”
“Under the authority of the United Federation of Planets,” the alien answered. “This man is wanted for the destruction of planet X4-3.B.”
“What?” Buddy yelled, placing himself between the aliens and Zero. “This has got to be some sort of joke right? Part of the Super-Con?”
“They’re right, chum,” Zero stood. “And I’m responsible.”
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