“Well, well, well, what have we here?” Jeff said as he approached the group backing away from the blazing fire. “Looks like you’ve made something of a mess, Buddy.”
“What are you doing here, Jeff?” Buddy asked. “Shouldn’t you still be in prison?”
“What?” Jeff asked. “Oh, you mean that little dungeon the MHDT placed us in? Come on Buddy, you should know better than to think they could keep me and my whole army contained for long.”
“Of course. The Flores’ have allies everywhere,” Oscar sneered.
“Who the hell is this geezer,” Jeff laughed. “You bringing the old team out of retirement, Buddy?”
“Dammit, Jeff,” Buddy snarled. “We’ve got more important things going on right now than dealing with you.”
“Oh, I don’t think so, Buddy. You’re about to find out I’m the most important thing for you to have to deal with right now. You see, I don’t like it when something gets in the way of what I want.”
“If you want to use the back door to The Bunker,” Ryan offered, “feel free, dude. No one’s stopping you.”
“Oh, believe me, I would. But it seems someone has had the audacity to turn off the main power grid for that particular entrance. I’m sick and tired of you all thinking you can stop me from doing what I want. Train-Wreck, show Buddy what happens when he meets up with an unstoppable force.”
The ground thundered as Jeff’s request was answered by a seven-foot tall man who stepped forward slowly. The man was covered in muscles from head to toe, which he made sure to show off by stretching them before crouching down into a ready position. Buddy looked on with fear. He crouched down to the ground as well, to steady himself against the impending blow.
Train-Wreck leaped forward into a slow jog, which effortlessly became a full-blown sprint as he built his momentum. His speed continued to increase as he closed the gap between him and Buddy. Buddy jumped into the air at the last second, causing Train-Wreck to blast past him, taking out three trees before he was finally able to slow himself down and change direction. He snorted in rage.
Buddy smiled as he took off his jacket. He walked to the left, holding it out beside him, shouting “Toro, Toro!” as he waved it. “Andale!” he laughed.
Train-Wreck growled as he stumbled forward, snarling and grunting as he once again picked up steam and aimed himself at Buddy. Buddy took four steps backward as the beast of a man rumbled toward him and gave a big grin before he once again leapt into the air out of harm’s way.
Train-Wreck barreled directly into the flames and plowed into the figure of Damon. The monstrous man could be heard screaming in agony as the fireball flew into the air away from the now aflame seven-foot body of a wrecking ball clutching itself in the middle of a puddle of asphalt.
Alexa appeared at Buddy’s side just as he landed.
“What the heck just–” she stopped herself mid-sentence as she saw the man crying out in pain.
“Hey Alexa,” Jeff grunted, “so nice of you to join the party.”
“Jeff!” Alexa screamed. “Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to send Damon out–”
“Actually,” Buddy cut her off, “that was my fault. I forgot Damon was back there.”
“Um, so, are you going to do something about that before he lands in the middle of some family’s living room and ruins their dinner-time television?” Alexa asked anxiously.
“Oh, crap,” Buddy said wide-eyed. “I hadn’t even con–” he cut himself off and jumped toward the now falling fireball.
The flames whipped in the wind behind the falling Damon, creating a fiery rainbow across the Sun City skyline. Buddy’s speed quickly cut the distance between him and the earthbound comet, catching Damon in mid-air before throwing him back skyward with as much force as he could muster. He watched as the fireball shrunk smaller into the evening sky and he fell toward the middle of Schuster Park.
He turned as he neared the ground in order to face his oncoming collision with the earth.
“Out of the way!” Buddy yelled at the crowd of people out enjoying the night’s movie in the park. There was a family of four lying on a blanket in the exact position where he saw himself about to land. “Mooooooove!” Buddy yelled.
Several people noticed as Buddy continued yelling and ran out of the way, but many, including the family directly in his flight path, did not. Buddy closed his eyes, not willing to see the splatter as he made contact and covered his face with his arms. His screams continued through the air until they suddenly began echoing around him.
Buddy opened his eyes and saw the family staring at him in shock. He was held within a purple bubble a mere seven feet from the ground. He waved to the family as the bubble lifted into the air. “Have a safe night, citizens,” he yelled as they disappeared from view.
When Buddy returned to the scene of the battle, he saw things had escalated quickly during the short period of time he was away. Zero immediately caught Buddy’s eye. He was not only awake, but also standing in the midst of three people who were currently calling out the earth against him. And he was holding his ground. Within seconds, Zero had already used their own projectiles of asphalt against them and knocked them unconscious before moving on to the next enemies.
Just off to the right from the very energetic Zero was a blur of red and black, which Buddy guessed must be Alexa facing off against yet another speed-enabled enemy. Suddenly, the form of Alexa sharpened into view as she sidestepped and held out her arm beside herself. A man clad in black also came into view, doing a back-flip through the air before finally landing hard on his back in front of Alexa.
Ryan and Oscar floated above the ground a few feet away, completely surrounded by men and women in black attire. The air around them was filled with lights and sounds as each of these members of the Meta Mob attempted to use their special abilities against the pair of Red Rocketeers. The men in red had their backs to each other as they fired some sort of liquid onto the crowd. As soon as the entire group of enemies was doused, sparks flew from the gloves of Oscar’s suit, electrifying all of them instantaneously.
Buddy couldn’t help but notice Talmadge was missing from the action as he landed beside Zero. He went to work, landing a punch in the face of the approaching rock-covered man, sending him backward in a crumbling heap.
Zero floated away, without a word, toward Alexa as the black-clothed speedster lifted himself off the ground. Alexa gave him a swift kick to the head before disappearing again and reappearing next to her father and brother as they floated above their conquest. Zero and Buddy caught up with her quickly. They all stood in formation as they awaited the rest of the attacking enemy.
“Good to see you’re feeling better, Zero,” Alexa smiled.
“I’m fine, Alexa,” Zero answered flatly.
“No time for chit-chat,” Buddy joined in, “let’s bust some heads, Defenders-style.”
“Sounds alright by me,” Alexa cheered and the three of them entered the horde of enemies leading with their fists.
Buddy lost sight of his companions as he entered the fray, but he also lost interest as he began battling baddies like it was something he was born to do. He laughed as he considered the idea that it was, in fact, something he was born to do. Ryan and Oscar were regularly shooting electrically charged rounds into the group of grounded bad guys as they fended for themselves against the ones in flight. Buddy found it easy to avoid these charges by picking up the nearest person in black clothing and throwing them in the direction of the whistling spheres before they hit the ground.
The sight of the flailing enemy gave Buddy great pleasure. He found it difficult to do much punch throwing from the center of the crowd, as the space was getting tighter and tighter while more and more people entered the battle. Each time he pulled his arm back to thrust his fist into someone’s face, he was caught against someone else who was flinging ice bolts with abandon, or being literally stuck to someone whose body had the viscosity of honey.
The wealth of abilities being showcased within the small area just outside the Sun City Convention Center would have been enough to give any of the nerds who had been claiming this area for themselves only a few hours earlier good reason to go home for a change in underpants.
There appeared to be no end to the ever-increasing numbers against them. Each time Buddy looked up to see how Ryan and Oscar were faring against their enemies, the sky seemed further darkened by people in black.
Buddy continued onward, laying flat anyone who came near him, using whatever means he found most amusing at that moment. He smiled as he plowed through dozens of people pretending to be a quarterback heading toward the end zone. He grinned as he took the insanity as an opportunity to get outside of his comfort zone and perform some poorly executed break dance moves, ensuring his flailing limbs made contact with as many people as possible in the process. He frowned as he realized all his efforts appeared to be doing very little toward the final outcome of the battle.
The air thundered loudly as clouds filled the sky. Buddy felt rain fall upon his shoulders as he caught sight of lightning striking overhead. He looked around to see what enemy may have been the source of this new storm front coming in so quickly. Just then an ear-piercing, high pitched squeal rose from above the thunder and the newly formed clouds were joined by a flock of dark colored birds.
As the birds neared, Buddy noted how insanely large they were, with wing spans easily exceeding twenty feet. He could just make out the shadow of a man riding on the back of the bird in the center of the coming action.
Like a plague of locusts, the birds descended upon their location. Over fifty birds entered the battle and just as quickly departed, each holding several of the black-clad enemies in their claws as they left for the horizon. For as many as were being taken away by the enormous birds, even more ran in fear.
Within a matter of only a few minutes, the area was cleared of all possible enemies and flapping feathers, except for one final bird, now perched on the fountain outside of the Sun City Convention Center. Buddy, Zero, Ryan, Oscar, and Alexa directed themselves toward the bird as Talmadge dismounted and landed roughly on the ground. The air crackled with lightning.
“What the hell is that?” Ryan asked over the sound of heavy rainfall.
“This,” Talmadge answered, “is Ba’a, one of the chequah. I guess they’re better known as Thunderbirds.”
“Umm….” Buddy stammered, still uncertain as to what had just happened.
“Are these cryptids?” Oscar asked, walking toward the bird with his hand out. “Is it safe?”
“Yes,” Talmadge answered, “and yes. Go ahead. These guys love to be petted.” Talmadge reached up and scratched under Ba’a’s wing.
“So,” Alexa asked, “where did you send those guys off to?”
Talmadge laughed. “The chequah thought it would be most amusing to take them off to their nesting territory.”
“Will they–” Alexa began.
“No, don’t worry,” Talmadge cut her off. “They won’t hurt them. But it should distract them for the time being.”
“Nicely done, chum,” Zero said as he patted Talmadge hard on the back.
“I hate to be the Negative Nancy, here,” Oscar disagreed, “but all you did was buy us some time. We are still going to have to deal with that horde of super-powered foes one way or another. And, in case none of you happened to notice, we weren’t really making much progress against them.”
“I don’t see how we could even stand a chance,” Buddy agreed. “The sheer number of people– Heck, I thought the battle against Damon was bad, and we were only dealing with a fraction of this. I’m honestly surprised the stunt with the birds scared them off.”
“We’re going to have to come up with something pretty awesome if we hope to ever be able to deal with the issue in a more final way,” Ryan suggested.
“Well,” Zero offered, “we could tell these amazing friends in feathers to not take it so easily on them once they reach their destination.”
“Zero!” Alexa rebuked. “We’re the good guys.”
“I know, Alexa. It’s just that I tire of all of this planning. I wish just once we could just go into action and stay there until fortune comes out on our side.”
“I think that just happened with Talmadge and his Thunderbirds,” Oscar responded. “But my daughter’s right, we need an idea that will deal with these people in a much less lethal manner. Remember, these kids have no idea who they really are. They’ve all been brainwashed by Flores. They could all be very good people on the inside, or, at the very least, completely innocent of this situation.”
“I know,” Zero said dejectedly. “So, what’s our plan?”
“Sounds to me like we need to go back to Plan A,” Oscar answered.
“Which is?” Ryan asked.
“We need to get ourselves down to The Bunker and have a little chat with Flores and see if we can’t get him to call off the hounds.”
“Umm, one slight problem with that, pops,” Ryan replied. “We almost died the last time we were down there. In fact, we had to bring back Dominion just to save our sorry hides.”
“Speaking of which,” Talmadge cut in, “what happened to him?”
“Well…” Buddy said as he kicked the dirt.
“What did you do with him?” Oscar asked.
“I didn’t really know what to do with him, so I tossed him out into space. It seemed like the safest place to keep him.”
“Buddy!” Alexa exclaimed. “You can’t just leave him out there to die!”
“Actually, my darling,” Oscar disagreed, “Buddy may have just found the perfect place to keep Damon for a while. We’ve seen no reason to fear he is capable of dying from lack of oxygen in the past.”
“Yeah, remember how we sent him to the bottom of the Mariana Trench?” Ryan asked excitedly.
“What?” Oscar asked.
“We can discuss war stories another time,” Zero cut in. “I believe Damon is fine where he is for the moment. Right now, I agree that we should find a way back into the Bunker.”
“I’m right there with you,” Buddy agreed.
“Okay,” Ryan joined in, “but the question is, how are we supposed to get down there?”
“Simple, my boy,” Oscar grinned. “We use Talmadge.”
Go to Chapter Twenty-Four