Damon sat at his wife’s bedside. He spoke with tears in his eyes, hoping some part of her could hear him.
“I don’t know what to do anymore, Tess. Mr. Flores seemed to have a point when he suggested I should warn the people of the danger of their ways, yet I see no difference. Once I used my gift to prove my message came from God, the pews began to fill again, but I fear only to see the miracles, not to hear the words.
“Not only that, but I was so certain using my gifts in such a way would bring you back to me. Yet it seems that no matter what I do, you just keep getting worse.”
Damon laid his head against his wife’s shoulder, a whimper escaping his chest before he finally looked up to the sky.
“I’ve done all I can, LORD!” he screamed into the air. “I’ve warned the people of their ways, warned them of their idolatry. Can I be blamed they choose to worship me because of my gift? Shall I be punished simply because they will not heed your words? Or is the issue truly that I have not yet gone far enough with what you have given me?”
One of the machines in the room let out a loud, sustained beep. Damon looked at the machine with disgust as a nurse burst into the room.
“I’m sorry, sir, you’ll have to—“
“I have to do nothing!” Damon spit, flames flickering from his nostrils as he breathed heavily in anger. “You shall not separate me from that which I love. Not you, not anyone.”
The nurse ran screaming from the room. Soon after, an alarm alerted through the halls.
“Is this what you want, LORD? Shall I rain down destruction to save that which I love?”
A loud crash sounded as three bodies entered the room, breaking down the door and surrounding wall as they did.
“Calm down, Damon,” Buddy said calmly. “I know you’re angry, but we don’t want any trouble.”
“What are you doing here?” Damon seethed. “How dare you enter the resting place of my beloved? How dare you curse her with your presence? You, whose own existence threatens hers.”
“Can I take him out, chum?” Zero asked at Buddy’s side.
“Stand down, Zero,” Oscar said from inside the Red Rocketeer suit. “This guy won’t harm anyone.”
“I won’t harm anyone?” Damon screamed. “Oh, you have it wrong, you defenders of demons, for I shall harm everyone. I’ve seen the will of the LORD, and it means but one thing for you,” Damon’s entire body burst into flames around him. The ground beneath him melted from the heat. “Prepare for hell, Buddy Hero; for that is all you’ve got left to look forward to.”
The crowd was hushed as Buddy and Zero shoved their way closer to the thirty men currently descending from the ceiling. The room felt quiet, even amid the murmuring of attendees as they pulled out their cell phones and tablets to take video of the action.
“Is this for the new American Hero movie?”
“No way, man, this is for Dead X Mutant Squad 3!”
“They’re doing a DXMS3?”
“Yeah man, don’t you keep up on the blog? They’ve been talking about it all week!”
The men hung in the air as one moved ahead of the rest. “All citizens must evacuate the area; this building has now been claimed in the name of the Metas!”
The crowd erupted into cheers as more cell phones and tablets were raised in the air to get footage of the event.
Buddy stopped and looked at Zero. “You don’t really think this is a publicity stunt, do you?”
“I’d tend to agree with Maggie. From the way they responded to us landing on the roof, I have a hard time believing they would be too happy with someone destroying it.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Buddy agreed as he pushed harder to reach the front.
“This is your final warning. If you do not evacuate the premises, we will be forced to use extreme measures.” The man gestured to two large men behind him. The one on the left pulled out two katanas, one in each hand, sparks flying between them like a Jacob’s Ladder; the man on the right was surrounded by what could only be described as a storm cloud. Simultaneous lightning bolts escaped from these men, hitting the roof just above Buddy and Zero, causing large chunks of the ceiling to fall to the ground.
The people immediately beneath the destruction screamed as they rushed to escape danger. Most of the audience was still enthralled by the action. Buddy and Zero rushed to remove the rest of the endangered audience members to safety. Just after the debris hit the ground, Buddy heard cries for help coming from within one of the nearby slabs of broken concrete. He ran toward the source of the screams and found a young woman whose leg was trapped underneath a nearby display which had fallen under the weight of the rooftop detritus. Buddy flung the damaged roof off her and pulled her to safety, passing her off to a group of people nearby.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She stood up slowly and patted herself down. “I think so,” she said, blood dripping from a cut on her cheek.
“I’d suggest getting out of here quickly,” Zero spoke. He looked to the rest of the onlookers. “The same goes for all of you!”
The crowd cheered yet again.
“Get out!” Buddy yelled.
“You heard the man,” came a voice from the left of Buddy. Buddy looked and saw the familiar yellow glow of The Bumblebee, perched heroically atop the highest pieces of rubble. “The Bumblebee commands you to get out!”
“Talmadge!” Buddy yelled. “You, too. Get out of here!”
“Shut up with the nonsense, you need to–”
“Is that the infamous Buddy Hero I see?” the leader of the black-suited army asked from above Buddy’s head. He looked up in shock as the man descended to his level. “I should have guessed I’d find you here among the rest of these wannabes.”
“Do I know you?” Buddy asked.
The form of the man became blurry and a face appeared which Buddy recognized all too well.
“Surprised to see me again, Buddy?”
“What the hell are you doing? Don’t you see what kind of danger you’re putting all these people into?”
“These peons are inconsequential. I have much more important matters to attend to.”
“You selfish prick,” Buddy cried out. “What are you and your father up to now? You know you’ve got–”
“I have no idea what my incompetent father is doing,” Jeff said as his face disappeared and returned to the blank dark mask. “And you don’t need to know what I’m doing.”
“God, I forgot how damned annoying you are,” Zero added.
“Silence!” Jeff yelled. “If you don’t get everyone out of this building in the next thirty seconds, I’ll have my men here begin removing them for you. And I assure you, you do not want to know what methods they will be using.”
“But that’s imposs-”
“I don’t care what’s possible, just do it!”
Buddy turned to the crowd, which had yet to dissipate. “You heard the man, get the hell out of here!”
The crowd burst into even louder applause, even the woman who should have been seriously injured under the fallen ceiling was in the front row with her eyes glowing in excitement.
“Zero, there’s no chance we can push all these people out of here in thirty seconds. You got anything?”
“I can put up a force field to keep them safe, but that’ll leave you alone to fight the goons.”
“And me,” said Alexa, appearing next to them.
“What took you so long?” Buddy asked.
“I had to convince Maggie it was alright to leave my post. She was really adamant that we needed to do a good job. Once she realized the line was empty and wouldn’t get full again until this was dealt with, she reluctantly gave in.”
“And there’s definitely no chance I’m missing out on this one,” Ryan said, appearing in full Red Rocketeer uniform from above.
“Don’t forget me!” Bumblebee added, placing himself into a battle pose.
Buddy sighed. “Alright Zero, you protect the civilians. The rest of you,” he paused as he glanced at Bumblebee, “stick with me. We can’t take them all on, so let’s focus on Jeff. Maybe if we can take him out the rest will run with their tails between their legs.”
“Time’s up, Buddy Jerk-o!” Jeff sneered. “Crackle, Surge,” he said, gesturing to the two men who had caused lightning only minutes before, “do your thing!”
Lightning arced between them, crackling the air around them and producing enough heat for Buddy to feel it 10 feet below them. Buddy thought he noticed a grin on their faces as the bolt arched away from them toward the crowd. It grew in length and intensity as it neared the people who were now cheering so loudly the room shook.
“Ryan,” Buddy yelled over the noise. “On my mark, you take the one on the right.”
“Sure thing boss,” Ryan yelled back.
“Alexa, how’s that whirlwind thing you’ve been working on?”
“I think I’ve got control over it now.”
“Okay, you see if you can’t suck Jeff down to ground level.”
“Will do, chief.”
“Alright, on the count of three. One, two–”
“Hey, what am I supposed to do?” Bumblebee asked.
“Don’t get killed,” Buddy screamed at him. He looked at Ryan and Alexa, “Three!”
Buddy leapt into the air directly toward the man on the left of the growing lightning bolt, noticing Ryan’s pack flare to life as he plowed into the one on the right. Buddy hit the man hard, flying into the wall with the man between him and the crumbling concrete. Glass shattered around him, covering his shoulders as the two fell to the floor. Buddy picked up the limp man he had tackled and ran to the nearby Ryan, who now had his target held to the ground with some sort of netting. Buddy dropped his prey at his feet.
“Can you restrain this guy too? I’m on Jeff.” Buddy left before Ryan had a chance to answer.
“Easy as cake,” Ryan said, pressing a button on his wrist as yet another net flew from his shoulder pad, wrapping the man tightly. Stakes struck out from the ends of the net, attaching the man to the floor like his companion. Ryan looked up with pride and saw a funnel of debris spinning behind him. The bottom of the funnel was a red blur, which Ryan recognized as the sign of his sister’s amazing talent. He ran to Buddy’s side.
Looking into the funnel, Buddy saw the form of Jeff growing larger and larger. The exterior of his frame protruded boney spikes and an evil laughter filled the room. The foot of Jeff swung out and made contact with the red blur, sending Alexa flying through the air toward the back of the room.
“Zero!” Buddy yelled.
“On it,” Zero replied as Alexa was surrounded by a purple light and slowed to the ground.
“Your puny tricks won’t work on me, Buddy,” the booming voice of the enormous Jeff snarled. “You aren’t under my father’s protection anymore,” he laughed. “Now I can show you what I’m really made of.”
Jeff’s foot swung back and then moved forward at great speed, hitting Buddy with a loud thud. He planted his feet and grabbed hold of the enormous shoe which threatened to flatten him. After gaining traction, he jumped into the air, throwing Jeff backward. The giant man crushed the wall behind him and caused entire sections of the building to collapse in on itself.
“Ryan!” Buddy yelled. “Use the knockout gas!”
Ryan flew over to the downed monster who was now struggling to regain his posture and a red cloud exited from a port in the right arm of his suit, which covered Jeff’s face almost immediately and brought him back down to the ground. Jeff’s size returned to normal. Screams burst from the crowd as further pieces of the building landed around them. Zero caught the rubble using additional zero-gravity fields and carefully placed them on the ground. Although many attendees screamed as they fled in terror, many more stayed and cheered in excitement, oblivious to the true nature of the event unfolding in front of them.
“Damn you, Buddy!” Jeff screamed as Alexa reappeared at Buddy’s side. “That’s the last straw!”
“Is that all your gas can do?” Buddy yelled to Ryan.
“Sorry, boss. I haven’t had the chance to test it on supers yet, just some of the lab chimps.”
“Men,” Jeff shouted at the twenty-seven men still floating in the air, “attack already!”
The army descended to the ground and advanced on Buddy.
“Zero,” Buddy yelled, “I’m gonna need you over here.”
“But–” Zero debated.
“No buts, it’s hero time, pal! Formation Alpha!”
Zero, Alexa, and Ryan ran to Buddy’s side, placing their backs to each other. Bumblebee, now understanding the code phrase, ran to join the team, squeezing himself between Buddy and Zero as he entered the pose.
The crowd erupted into another bout of cheers.
“The Founding Fathers!” came a loud yell. Flashes filled the room as the audience became eager to document the recreation of the room’s central landmark, just as the battalion of black-suited men approached the quintet.
“You guys ready for this?” Buddy asked.
“I was born ready,” Bumblebee screamed in delight. Zero groaned.
A fireball screamed past Buddy’s arm and landed directly on Ryan’s back, fizzling out on his metal armor.
“Holy shi–” Bumblebee yelled as he pulled out his cattle prod. He ran toward the man who had brought fire from his hands. “Face the might of my stinger, evil scum!” he yelled, sparks flying from the stick. He thrust the Stinger into the man’s chest.
The man laughed and shoved him out of the way, continuing his slow advance toward The New Defenders. Bumblebee fell to the ground and landed on his own weapon, which brought him to a state of convulsions until he finally fell over on top of himself. There he stayed, lifeless and limp.
The army paused five feet from the heroes and formed a line two men deep in front of them.
“Is he–” Alexa asked.
“He’ll be alright,” Ryan spoke, looking over his shoulder at the fallen comrade. “He’ll be hurting when he wakes up, but alright.”
“What are they waiting for?” Buddy asked.
“Perhaps they wish for us to make the first move?” Zero responded.
“What the hell are you waiting for?” Jeff screamed. “Attack!” Jeff ran at Buddy, his form changing into a duplicate of the green-clad hero as he threw his fist into Buddy’s face. Buddy was sent flying into the crowd.
“Hey now,” Zero shouted, “that’s not fair, evildoer.” He closed his eyes and a wave of purple flew out from in front of him, flattening the entire horde.
Ryan handed a pair of ear plugs to Zero and Alexa as he floated into the air. “You may want to wear these,” he smiled. The pair filled their ears with the orange plugs they had been handed and Ryan pressed a button on his wrist. Two panels opened up on his chest revealing speakers beneath. He pressed another button and a high-pitched squeal filled the room, causing everyone to fall to their knees. Ryan pressed another button, opening a compartment on his left calf. He reached in and threw a box to his sister.
“Get one of these on each of them, now!” he yelled. Alexa caught the box and instantly disappeared, appearing only a second later on the other side of Zero. She looked up to her brother and gave him a thumbs-up. Ryan pressed another button on his wrist, the room filled with blue light, and the army disappeared.
The crowd soared in excitement, filling the air with a cacophony of applause. Ryan grinned as he landed next to his friends. Buddy pushed his way through to the front of the line.
“Oh, it’s all over already?” he asked.
“Not yet!” a man yelled from the edge of the crowd as his image blurred and turned into Jeff.
Buddy frowned as Jeff ran at him. “Seriously?” Ryan threw a small metallic object at Buddy who caught it and slammed it into the center of Jeff’s face. A flash of blue and Jeff was gone.
“You like that?” Ryan smiled. “Worked with my dad on a new version of the teleporter. They’re all sitting right outside Agent Murphy’s office right now.”
“Nice,” Buddy said as he raised a hand toward the short man who had saved the day. Ryan extended his hand, slapping their palms together as the room filled with flashes once again.
They heard a groan nearby as the yellow visage of Bumblebee rolled over onto his back. Alexa ran to his side.
“Did we win?” he asked.
“Yep, Talmadge, we won.”
“Awesome,” he said as his head fell back against the ground.
“Hey,” a voice came from above, “you guys didn’t leave any of the fun for me?” Buddy looked up and saw Oscar flying in through the open wall, wearing his version of the Red Rocketeer uniform.
Go to Chapter Thirteen