“I absolutely won’t do anything of the sort, Mr. Flores,” the reverend spoke firmly. He stood in his rectory wearing a black robe as Arthur Flores stood in the doorway.
“Too bad for you it doesn’t matter what you want,” Flores grinned as he pressed a button on the silver orb in his hands. A flash of white light filled the room.
Damon Memphis stood, wearing a large D on his chest, in a line with Buddy, Zero, Oscar, and several other costumed fellows. Before the group of brightly clad individuals was a man on a ladder holding a camera. The group appeared jovial as they posed in their most playful of superheroic ways.
“Say cheese,” said the photographer as another flash lit up the scene.
Two young boys sat next to each other on the front steps of a dark blue farm house.
“Say, Art,” said the boy on the left, “can you imagine what it would be like to fly?”
“Do you want to fly, Denny?” asked the boy on the right.
“Yeah, don’t you?”
“No, but I’m going to make you fly.”
Another bright flash of white before it all faded away to black.
“Buddy!” Alexa shouted as her face came into view.
“Hey,” Buddy said, jumping in response to the sudden noise, “relax already. I’m fine.”
“God, you had us scared there,” Alexa said, sounding out of breath. “What happened?”
“I, um, I don’t know,” Buddy answered, looking confused.
“You collapsed and have been out for over half an hour,” Ryan answered.
“So, it worked?” Buddy asked.
“How the hell should I know?” Ryan asked. “I didn’t even tell it to do anything. Do you feel different?”
“I don’t know. I mean, the only reason I ever knew anything was off before was because I’d have flashbacks,” Buddy answered.
“Well, did you have any flashbacks?”
“I don’t know. Actually, I, I really don’t know. I’m trying to remember what any of those flashbacks were. I think it might have worked.”
“Awesome,” Ryan cheered.
“What about Damon and Jeff?”
“Mapu and Pachu are still in position on top of them.” Talmadge answered from his position several feet away.
Buddy looked off in the distance, surveying the smoking remains of the south side of Sun City. Over five square miles had been flattened into nothing more than smoking ash. “How many people do you think died in that?” he asked.
“In the fire?” Alexa asked.
“Yeah. How many?”
“Don’t worry about that, Buddy,” Ryan responded. “It will only–”
“Well, based on the space and the fact that it’s a residential area, and that the fire occurred during the early evening when most people would be at home, I would have to guess that–”
“Talmadge,” Alexa interjected. “Shut up.”
“So, what do we do now?” Buddy asked.
“I’d say the first step should be that we go and check in on Damon and Jeff, see what happened to them,” Alexa answered.
“Does the device give us any ideas of what might have happened?” Buddy asked.
“I’ve been looking at it ever since it went out,” Ryan answered, “and here’s what I’ve come up with. For whatever reason, it had a default program which ran automatically.”
“Artie,” Alexa groaned.
“That’s what I’d guess,” Ryan answered. “All the same, it seemed to have had a focused effect, seeing as Buddy was the only one of us it knocked out. Perhaps it really wasn’t all that bad, if it took Damon and Jeff out of your head.”
“If it’s Artie,” Alexa replied, “it’s bound to be bad.”
“So,” Buddy replied, “I guess that just leaves us with checking in on Damon and Jeff to see what might have happened to them, right?”
“That’s as good of an idea as we’ve come up with,” Ryan answered. “I should probably mention something before we do that though. This device has gotten a lot of use over the years. Like, I mean, looking at the logs, I’d say it’s been used over a hundred times easily. I don’t know if that–”
“Sounds like a great question, but one that should wait until later,” Buddy answered. “Right now, the top of my priority list is making sure the world’s not going to be melted into slag.”
The group cautiously made their way toward the last known location of Damon Memphis. As their feet fell, they heard the earth shuddering nearby in response to their weight, sounding as though a step in the wrong direction could cause the whole thing to fall apart.
When they arrived at the side of the Cherufe, Talmadge stepped in front of the group and closed his eyes.
“Barg har fleem buggle doop.”
“Same to you,” Buddy said.
Mapu, the largest of the rock people, stood up, revealing the small frame of the man who had been brightly burning only an hour before. The Cherufe stomped off loudly, making use of a nearby newly created sinkhole to return to their home underground.
Damon coughed loudly and sat up. Buddy ran to his side and placed a firm grip on his arm.
“Damon,” Buddy said strongly.
“No,” Damon said, “I’m Murphy, remember?”
“You’ve tried that one before,” Buddy spoke. “Tell me what happened to your wife.”
“My wife?” Damon asked, his eyes wild with fear. “Did something happen to my wife?”
“This is pointless,” Alexa shouted. “Asking him questions isn’t going to prove anything. If this is Damon, I’m guessing he’d be lighting up like a supernova already.”
“According to the MMU, he’s registering as Dennis Murphy,” Ryan added. “For as much as that means.”
“To be honest, the fact that we aren’t already frying like bacon makes me feel pretty confident we’re safe here,” Buddy joined in.
“Okay, perfect. So, if he’s Murphy, what happened to Jeff?” Alexa asked.
The ground rumbled beneath them again, culminating in a crash as the earth exploded and a figure erupted from within.
The figure laughed loudly as it stretched out to full size. It continued growing well above the heights of the trees which used to populate the area, effortlessly reaching the heights of the sky scrapers in the distance.
“Artie?” Alexa screamed. The figure stopped and turned its attention directly onto the group below.
“Ms. Rose!” Arthur’s voice boomed through the air. “Surprised to see me?”
“It can’t be!” Buddy exclaimed. “I saw him die.”
“Oh, but you did, Mr. Jackson,” a large toothy grin appeared on his enormous face. “But thanks to you, I have been resurrected!”
“This isn’t possible!” Alexa screamed.
“Oh, but it is, Ms. Rose. You see, one of the greatest benefits to having a son who is able to change his form into that of whatever he wishes, is that you don’t have to change your outward appearance when you take over his body.” Arthur laughed as the outline of his body shifted, melting and reforming into that of Jeff. His cackle grew larger.
“I don’t get it,” Buddy replied.
“It’s simple,” Ryan answered. “He’s the reason the MWD went off on its own. He pre-programmed it to re-write Jeff’s mind with his own, essentially making his son’s body the new body of Arthur Flores.”
“You killed your own son?” Talmadge asked.
“Oh, his body is very much alive,” Arthur said as he returned to his normal form. “It just serves a new master.”
“But why?” Alexa asked. “I know you and Jeff never got along, but surely even you aren’t capable of this type of—“
“You have absolutely no clue of what I am capable, Miss Rose,” Arthur cut her off. “You know nothing.”
“I think I know an awful lot about—“
“You were nothing more than a pawn in my master plan. You were a necessary evil to keep the one man who managed to avoid my rewriting of history from suspecting what I was truly up to. And speaking of Oscar Reed, you see, he wasn’t the only one suffering from a life-threatening disease. I too saw the end of my life nearing, saw it coming a great many years ago in fact, and had to prepare.”
“So you chose to steal your son’s body?!” Buddy screamed. “You’re a monster.”
“You have no idea,” Arthur grew in size again, reaching the height of over one hundred feet tall. He reached down and swiped his hand at the group, lifting them all up into the air on his palm as he brought them to his face.
“You won’t get away with this, Arthur,” Ryan threatened.
“Oh, won’t I?” he giggled. “My idiot son’s ability could have allowed him to be the most powerful person to have ever walked this planet, even stronger than Dominion could have ever hoped to be. But he was too dull, too dumb to understand his true potential. All he cared about was garnering my favor and taking over the family business, a business which existed only to allow for this precise moment. He was too simple-minded to understand how easy it would be for him to control the entire world.”
“You’re a madman,” Talmadge yelled.
“And you’re nothing,” Arthur yelled back. He brought his other hand up and flicked Talmadge with his pointer finger. Talmadge flew off into the evening air.
Buddy looked at Alexa. “I don’t think I’ll be fast enough.”
“On it,” she said and immediately disappeared.
“And then there were two,” Arthur giggled further.
“You know what, Arthur,” Buddy asked. “I’ve dealt with the likes of you before.”
“Oh yeah?” Arthur laughed further. “And what did you do with them?”
“You’re about to find out.” Buddy looked over at Ryan and whispered. “Do you think you can keep him distracted for a few minutes while I do my thing?”
“Do it.” Ryan lifted off into the air and shot directly toward Arthur’s eye. Arthur leaned back instinctively, swatting at Ryan as he would a fly. Buddy jumped out of Arthur’s hand just as it began dropping. He landed on the shoulder as Ryan shot up the man’s nose. A light flickered inside the cavernous nostril as Arthur yelped in pain. Buddy jumped up onto Arthur’s ear lobe, took one final look out and stepped inside.
“Flores,” Buddy yelled into the long tunnel ahead of him. The room shook violently as a finger began poking at the entrance. “Don’t like getting bugs in your ears, huh?”
Arthur said something, which reverberated through the fleshy walls, but was too muffled to make out.
“No clue what you’re trying to say, so I guess this will be a one-sided conversation. I’m going to make this simple for you. Give up, or I start breaking things in here. The last time I did something like that, well, let’s just say that the recipient of that attention didn’t last long.”
More muffled talking from Arthur.
“Oh, and one more thing, I would highly suggest not shrinking down while I’m in here. It could give you quite the headache.”
The finger moved away from the ear canal and Buddy stuck his head out in an attempt to hear Arthur’s response.
“I’ll never give in to the likes of you, Buddy Hero. Don’t you understand? I’m invincible. There is nothing you can do to stop me. Do you understand? Nothing!”
Buddy casually walked back into the ear canal and came across a thin piece of skin stretched from the top to the bottom of the tunnel. Buddy smiled. “I’m not much for human anatomy,” he said, “but I’m pretty sure this is what doctors like to call the ear drum. I was also never a very good drummer, but I have to imagine that the acoustics in here are too amazing to not give it a try.”
Buddy began rhythmically pounding on the membrane, filling the tunnel with a deep booming noise. At the same time, the room began rocking wildly from side to side, a muffled howl joining the percussion. Buddy grinned brightly.
“Give up yet?” he yelled into the taut membrane. The tunnel tilted down, away from the interior of the canal, causing Buddy to slide away from the inner ear to the daylight. He caught hold of some nearby residue as the entire tunnel shook violently in its attempt to expel him. Buddy dug his hands into the side of the canal and pulled himself toward the ear drum before finally using his might to fling himself into the thin membrane separating him from the inner workings of Flores’ auditory system.
Buddy hit the membrane and broke right through into the inner ear, landing just on the other side. The ear drum resealed immediately behind him. He looked around in the dark region of the interior of Arthur’s head.
“Talmadge,” Buddy spoke out loud, hoping the kid could still hear his thoughts. After a moment’s pause, he decided he wasn’t being heard. He found himself wishing there were some sort of computer system inside this room, as it would seem much less complex than what he was really seeing, not to mention how it would provide some light.
Then Buddy remembered he was still carrying his cell phone and pulled it out of his pocket, pressing the button on the side which caused it to light up. The room illuminated brightly with the small screen’s light. He found an intricate system of tubes and bone systems running through the small room he was in. Some looked moderately familiar from an ages old anatomy class he took, others seemed almost other-worldly in their design.
Buddy considered what the ear was designed to do, how he remembered it was used for more than just hearing. After a brief moment of consideration, he came across the memory of how it was also involved in balance. Of course, with Arthur’s ability to heal any damage Buddy made to his system, he would have to act smarter than just destroying everything in sight. That would also mean he would need to know exactly which area to attack to cause the greatest immediate response.
“If only Ryan or Alexa were in here, I bet they would know exactly what to do,” Buddy thought to himself. He then laughed as he realized he was holding his cell phone in his hand. He opened his contact list and found the number for Alexa, deciding she was the one most likely to answer, and clicked the appropriate buttons for his phone to call the number.
The phone rang several times before finally going to the automated message. “Hey, it’s Alexa. If you know me, you should know better than to call. Text me! Beep.”
“Dammit,” Buddy thought as he pressed the button to disconnect the call. He slid his fingers across the screen again until he located Ryan’s number.
The phone rang only once until, “Buddy, we’re really busy right now,” he said, out of breath.
“Yeah, I know,” Buddy agreed. “I just need to know what part of the ear to piss off so that Arthur loses his balance.”
“How the hell would I know that?” Ryan screamed back as a whizzing noise filled the speaker.
“You’re supposed to be all smart and whatever, right?”
“I’m currently trying to keep a one hundred foot tall giant maniac from destroying what’s left of Sun City so you can do whatever stupid trick you think will save the day. Maybe you could just take a second and search the web to get the answer for yourself?”
The phone beeped stating the call had been disconnected.
“Dammit!” Buddy yelled into the phone. “Dammit, dammit, dammit!” he continued as he stomped on the ground in frustration. He wanted to throw the tiny device across the room, but restrained himself after he realized it may be the only possible way for him to figure out how to defeat the monster known as Arthur Flores.
Buddy opened the web browser on his phone and typed, “How to use someone’s ear to make them fall over.” The phone returned over a billion results, with titles such as “How to remove something stuck in a child’s ear”, “Proper care of newly pierced ears”, and “New method for keeping ear bud headphones from falling out of large ears.”
“Well, that’s no help,” Buddy muttered to himself as he typed in a new search phrase. “What gives the inner ear its balance?”
The results from this search included titles like, “Balance Disorders”, “The Anatomy of the Ear”, and “Dizziness: Causes”. Buddy clicked on the anatomy link and immediately became frustrated.
“This is like reading an entirely different language,” he yelled as he threw the phone down onto the floor and stomped on it. “I’m done with research, it’s hero time.” Buddy looked up above his head to the series of tubes which went in semi-circles above him. “I’m no doctor, but I bet screwing with those things will make something happen.”
Buddy jumped up, grabbed hold of the tubes, and pulled them down with him as he landed back on the floor. The ground immediately began tilting beneath him, followed by the entire head shaking uncontrollably.
“Looks like I’ve found the right spot,” Buddy grinned. He held the two tubes in his hands and neatly tied them together into a bow. Buddy found his feet no longer touching the ground as he was thrown against the far wall.
With a sense of sudden and urgent panic, Buddy leaped toward the ear drum, bursting his way through into the outer canal. He ran along the canal as it twisted beneath him, reaching the lobe in a matter of seconds. He found himself disoriented as he looked out to the spinning world. He forced himself to jump as hard as he could into the air outside and heard a roaring thud behind him as he left the interior of Arthur’s head.
As Buddy landed on the nearby ground and rolled into a tree, he caught a glance of the body of Arthur shrinking down to normal size behind him. Buddy jumped to his feet and quickly leaped to Arthur’s side, landing on top of him and pulling his arms behind his back.
“Find Murphy!” Buddy yelled to Alexa who stood in watch nearby. She immediately disappeared and returned just as fast with Murphy in her arms.
“Here he is,” she said softly.
“What the—“ Murphy asked.
“Can you lock Flores up and keep him from getting out, or do I need to find another spot to put him?” Buddy screamed.
“Um, yes, I believe we can do that,” Murphy stuttered. “I’m not sure how the people removed themselves from lock up previously, but I can place him within my personal care, only accessible by me.”
“Okay, do that. How do we get him there?” Buddy said urgently as Arthur struggled beneath him.
“I can use the teleportation discs,” Ryan said, pulling one of the discs out of the compartment in the leg of his suit. He threw it down to Buddy as he fiddled with his wrist device. “Same location as last time?” he asked Murphy.
“That should do,” Murphy said quietly. “As long as you can transport me there as well.”
“Easy as pie,” Ryan said, throwing another disc in Murphy’s direction. Both Murphy and Arthur disappeared in a blue light.
Go to Chapter Thirty-One