“There,” D.A.W.N. said quickly. “Was that so hard?”
“Where are we?” Talmadge asked, looking off into the dark distance. The only light in the room came from the headlights of the XM1202, which showed just far enough to see a boxing ring in the distance.
“We’re in the heart of The Bunker,” Oscar answered. “The proving grounds, the gym, the barracks, whatever you want to call it. This, down here, is where all of the true work happened. This is where we would train, where we would sleep. We didn’t need any of that extra flowery crap down here, just space.”
“But, why are we down here?” Talmadge continued as a faint creaking sounded from above them. “Shouldn’t we be back above-ground, away from the collapsing building?”
“We should be safe, for now,” Oscar responded. “The structural damage is quite a ways up and should take a while before it causes us any trouble. We should have enough time to find Arthur, at least.”
“Per my biorhythm scanner, Arthur is immediately in front of us,” D.A.W.N. added.
“Dammit,” Oscar scowled. “That bastard’s probably shrunk himself down to the sub-atomic level. Maybe we won’t be able to find him in time.”
“So, what do we do now?” Buddy asked. “Just sit around until Arthur gets bored and jumps out at us?”
“Arthur will never show his face, not as long as he doesn’t have to. No, we have to do something much more drastic. D.A.W.N., do you think you can access The Bunker’s operating system and take back control?”
“Like I said before, I don’t think I can. But I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to try.”
“Do it,” Oscar replied. “Fast.”
“What are you up to, Dad?” Ryan asked.
“We’re going to lock Arthur up down here. Make sure he doesn’t have any power to do anything whatsoever.”
“Okay,” Alexa responded. “But what does that do?”
“I have a feeling we’ll find out pretty fast,” Oscar smiled.
“Ooh,” D.A.W.N. chimed. “That was a lot easier than I thought. I guess it pays to have been the sole operating system down here for so long. I’ve managed to regain control and I’m seeing severe structural damage to all floors. The entire building will collapse in on itself within the next ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes?” Talmadge yelled. “I thought you said we had time. You’ve got to get us out of here.”
“You’re right,” Oscar said softly. “D.A.W.N., please teleport them all back to the surface, yourself included. Oh, and Agent Kent should be down here somewhere. Find him and bring him topside as well, if you can. And anyone else you can find. Just leave me and Arthur.”
“But Oscar–” D.A.W.N. began.
“Do it, now!” Oscar yelled.
The room glowed blue and morphed back into the exterior of the Sun City Convention Center.
Buddy instantly jumped into action. “D.A.W.N., what the hell? Take me back down there now. We can’t let Oscar face off against Arthur alone. Not in his condition.”
“But, Buddy, Oscar explicitly told me to–”
“Take me down there, now!” Buddy screamed.
“Okay,” D.A.W.N. said softly.
Buddy glowed blue and found himself standing in the middle of the barracks, once again. He looked around in the darkness and saw the lights of Oscar’s suit, illuminating Oscar who was laid out flat on the cement floor. He ran to Oscar’s side.
“What happened? Are you okay?” Buddy asked.
“Arthur,” he said through a hard exhale.
“What about him?” Buddy asked. “Did you see him? Did he do this?”
“Oh, I did that, alright,” Arthur’s voice came from above Buddy’s head. “And I’ll do much more if you don’t return the control of this complex over to me.”
Buddy looked up and saw Arthur staring down at him. His head touched the ceiling twenty feet above them. He scowled down at Buddy in intense rage. His hands were against the ceiling, holding it up from collapsing on top of all of them.
“This ends here, Flores.”
“I don’t think so, Buddy,” Arthur laughed. “Don’t you see? Everything is going perfectly according to my plan. I was the one who brought Memphis back from the dead. I was the one who brought you back to fight him. I created Murphy–”
“We don’t have time for this,” Buddy yelled up to the crazed man. “This building’s going to collapse any minute now. If you just give up and call off your army, we can end this. We don’t have to fight anymore.”
“But this is the culmination of years of work, Buddy,” Arthur laughed again. “This is the precise moment I’ve been waiting for. Once you are removed from the picture, it will be only I who can save the world from Damon Memphis, only I who can be seen as the true protector of mankind.”
“This is crazy,” Buddy said as he looked around the room for something he could use to leverage this moment in his favor. “You understand that right?”
“Is it?” Arthur asked back. “Is it crazy to wish to be recognized for what I am, for what we all are?”
“And what’s that?”
“Gods!” Arthur said as the ceiling rumbled in his hands. The room tremored with his words as his eyes flashed brighter. “And once I’ve rid myself of the likes of you,” he smirked, “I shall be declared God Supreme!”
“Only one problem there, bub,” Buddy said, walking closer to the giant in front of him. “I’m pretty hard to kill. And if you let that building drop down on top of us, it’s got a better chance of killing you than little ol’ Buddy Hero.”
“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. I can’t be killed. Even if this body were to pass away, I will continue. I’ve made certain of that. And although you may not die with the collapse of this structure, I can rest assured that even the ineffable Buddy Hero doesn’t stand a chance in digging himself out from under over a half mile of rubble.”
“What do you mean you will continue?” Oscar asked, struggling to return himself to a seated position. Buddy ran to his side.
“Ah, Mr. Reed, the ever intrepid scientist, needs to know how everything works, does he? Unfortunately for you, I’m not a villain from a bad action movie. My master plan will not be revealed until it has been completed, which shall be long after you’re already dead, I’m afraid. Die happy knowing you allowed all this, that your silence created this beautiful moment.”
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” Oscar yelled.
“Oh, my dear, dear Oscar. If only you had been paying attention, you would know this is the only way it ever could have ended. This is how I designed it to be, right down to the death of both of you in this hole.”
“Well, Arthur, I guess you leave me no choice,” Oscar said, struggling to stand, but ultimately succeeding. “Buddy, you may want to stand back.” Oscar pressed some buttons on his wrist device.
“What are you up to now, Oscar?” Arthur growled. “Do you think you are going to save the day with some great heroic feat? We both know you’re too much of a coward to ever do anything that dare encroach on your own comfortable life. Every version of you I’ve ever fought against has been the same, too unwilling to do what needs to be done.”
“Every version?” Buddy asked.
“Ah, but you’ve never met the Oscar who knows he’s about to die, have you? D.A.W.N., activate new initiative Delta Omega Alpha.” A blue light glowed around Buddy as Oscar’s suit beamed a bright red. Just as the world melted away around Buddy, he saw a flame burst out from the Red Rocketeer, causing the entire complex to shake terribly. As Buddy reappeared on the grass outside the SCCC, he felt a violent rumble occurring beneath him.
Alexa ran to Buddy’s side and helped him regain his balance. “Where’s my dad?” she asked anxiously.
“No time,” Buddy yelled, pulling on Alexa’s arm as he yelled to the rest of the group. “Run!”
Buddy ran as fast as he could pulling Alexa behind him as the ground gave way beneath them. Alexa finally recognized what was happening below and removed herself from Buddy’s grip as she ran alongside him.
“Go,” Buddy yelled, “you’re fast, get out of here.”
“Not without you,” she screamed back.
Ryan lifted into the air, pulling Talmadge with him. The two hovered above the newly crafted sinkhole.
Buddy glanced over his shoulder and saw D.A.W.N.’s mobile unit being swallowed by the earth. He tripped over the cracking ground and lost his balance. Alexa grabbed his hand and he returned to his feet. Buddy leaped into the air and landed twenty feet away, just outside of what was now a giant crater where the Sun City Convention Center used to be, reaching several hundred feet deep. D.A.W.N.’s mobile unit glowed blue, disappeared, and reappeared behind the group.
“Whoa,” Buddy exhaled.
“Doesn’t look like we’re out of trouble yet,” Ryan said from overhead.
Buddy looked up and saw Jeff’s army headed in their direction, looking as ominous as ever.
“I thought the whole point in staying down there was so that you guys could end Artie’s connection with these guys,” Alexa stated.
“Yeah, that was the idea,” Buddy replied, “and I have a hard time imagining Flores actually lived through that.”
“So,” Talmadge asked, “what now? I definitely don’t think we can fight them all off.”
“Yeah, especially not now that we’re a couple men down.”
The army approached the hole in the ground and landed within, forming what appeared to be a search party. Methodically, the men and women scanned the earth and dug into it, hunting for something within the wreckage.
“What are they doing?” Ryan asked.
“If I had to guess,” Alexa offered, “I’d say they’re looking for something.”
“Flores?” Ryan asked.
“Vaporized,” Buddy answered. “They ain’t gonna be finding anything of him anytime soon.”
“Well, at least they haven’t noticed us. How long do you think that’s going to last?” Ryan asked.
“Well, they’ve got a long way to go if they’re going to dig all the way down to where Flores was,” Buddy answered. “So, Flores is out of the picture, what do we do about these zombified supers?”
“Where’s Dad?” Alexa asked, fear tinging her voice.
“Um,” Buddy stammered, “well.”
“It’s a simple question, Buddy,” Alexa stared as a tear welled up within her right eye. “Where’s my dad?”
“He’s in the same place as Flores,” Buddy said as he pointed to the center of the crater.
“But,” Alexa stumbled. “But—“
“You said Flores was vaporized,” Ryan said slowly.
“He saved the day,” Buddy added. “After all is said and done, it was your father who managed to take care of Flores.”
“What happened down there, Buddy?” Alexa screamed.
“I couldn’t stop him. I tried, but he had this whole thing set up where D.A.W.N. teleported me out right as he set his suit up to explode. I—“
“His suit exploded?” Ryan asked. “But I never set it up to be able to do that!”
“It was part of the initial design,” D.A.W.N. answered. “He didn’t want his technology to fall into the wrong hands. The whole Bunker was set up to do the same.”
“So, Dad’s—“ Alexa stopped.
“Sorry, kid,” Buddy said as he put an arm around Alexa’s shoulder. She buried her face into his chest.
“But the whole reason we went down there—“
“What the hell’s going on here?” Agent Kent yelled as he walked up to the group.
“Kent!” Ryan frowned. “You got out alive?”
“I guess so. What’s up with those black-suited freaks out there?”
“We were just trying to figure that out,” Buddy answered. “It seems like they’re under some sort of mind control. We had thought it might be from Arthur, but well–”
“Nevermind,” Kent cut in. “I don’t care.” And with a pop he was gone.
“Ass,” Buddy muttered.
“There is another option available, chum,” Zero’s voice came from D.A.W.N.’s external speakers.
“Zero!” Buddy yelled. “Are you alright?”
“Nothing time won’t heal. I’ve been trying to get out of this damned contraption for what feels like hours now, but D.A.W.N.’s keeping me locked inside.”
“It’s for your own good, Zero, darling,” D.A.W.N.’s soft voice chimed.
“Thank God, you’re still alive,” Alexa added.
“So, what’s the other option?” Ryan asked.
“Simple,” Zero answered. “Perhaps the true nature of their current hypnotized state does not derive from the Flores family at all.”
“Okay,” Buddy allowed, “so, where would it be coming from?”
“There is only one foul being I am aware of who can produce this brand of absolute loyalty in a person,” Zero answered. “Only one villain who has ever created an army of drones who would bend to his every whim.”
“You mean Damon?” Alexa asked.
“I do indeed, sweet Alexa.”
“But he wasn’t Damon until a little while ago.”
“Which would mean that Flores would have been in cahoots with Murphy, using him to brainwash his army,” Buddy mused.
“But aren’t they following that Jeff guy’s orders?” Talmadge joined in. “The same guy who attacked Flores just a few minutes ago?”
“That’s right!” Alexa exclaimed. “How could I have been so stupid? Jeff can take on the powers of anyone he chooses. He must be using Memphis’ powers to control them.”
“Dammit,” Buddy agreed. “That means we have to find Jeff, huh?”
“I’d be more than willing to take on that task, chum,” Zero’s voice came from within D.A.W.N..
“I’m pretty sure you’re locked inside D.A.W.N. for the foreseeable future, pal,” Buddy responded.
“Actually,” D.A.W.N. answered, “I am mending Zero as we speak. He might be in a fair amount of pain, but should be able to assist you in your crime fighting duties within only a few minutes.”
“You can do that?” Ryan asked.
“There is truly no limit to what I can do, Ryan, darling,” D.A.W.N. cooed.
“Great,” Buddy frowned in thought. “So, what’s our first priority? Seems to me that we have three issues to deal with, finding and disarming Damon, finding and disarming Jeff, and trying to keep that army over there from finding whatever it is they are looking for.”
“Alright, so, first question, D.A.W.N., where’s Damon?” Ryan asked.
“I don’t know, dear,” she answered.
“But you’re the one who teleported him!” Alexa yelled.
“I did, indeed, initiate the transport, but something whisked him away before I was able to complete it. I have no clue where he ended up.”
“Looks like the best course of action would be for us to split up,” Buddy took charge. “Talmadge, do you think you can get the Mole Men to help you dig through the wreckage of The Bunker and look for whatever it is the Meta Mob is looking for?”
“Maybe,” Talmadge agreed. “It would help if I had any idea of what we are looking for.”
“Knowing Artie,” Alexa assisted, “it would have probably been near him at all times, if not on him itself. I’d start there if I were you. I mean, it’s not like there’s much of The Bunker left to sift through. It’s entirely possible that whatever it was didn’t even survive the blast.”
“Perfect,” Buddy replied. “Ryan, you still have access to that meta-human tracking device you used to track Damon the last time he was around?”
“Of course,” Ryan offered. “I could probably use that to find out where Memphis got off to.”
“See if you can’t figure out what’s up with Jeff while you’re at it,” Buddy added.
“I can nab the rickshaw and get you over there in no time,” Alexa offered.
“Great idea,” Buddy said.
A loud hissing sound came from D.A.W.N.’s mobile unit as the door on the top of the vehicle popped open. The figure of Zero rose out of the opening, his entire lower half, half his chest, and his left arm gleamed with the shine of newly crafted metal.
“Is there not any assistance that I will be able to offer?” Zero asked proudly.
“Zero,” Alexa gasped. “What happened to you?”
“Alexa, my sweet,” Zero grinned, “my injuries were indeed grave, as you had stated on a number of occasions. However—“
“Zero was in bad shape,” D.A.W.N. cut in. “I had to remove a great deal of organic tissue and replace it with prosthetics.”
“What our metallic friend is trying to say is that she has made me bionic!” Zero’s smile grew bigger. “I’m back and better than ever!” He raised a fist, which spun wildly before morphing into an open cavity, which immediately lit up. Zero pointed it to the sky and a loud KRAKOOM sounded from it as it burst to life, shooting a ball of burning plasma into the air. “I’m ready for action.”
Go to Chapter Twenty-Seven