Buddy and Zero walked out the door and joined Alexa, who was standing next to the rickshaw.
“Your dad says ‘Hi’,” Buddy laughed.
“Yeah, I’m sure.“
“Oscar seems like a really nice guy, you know, other than not wanting to help us out. Why don’t you want to talk to him?”
“Just drop it, Buddy, we’ve got more important things to deal with.”
“I’m sure Alexa has her reasons, Buddy.”
“I’m just saying it might be a good idea to at least try and talk to him.”
They heard a loud thud come from the far end of the building, followed by a rustling in the bushes. They all turned to the direction of the noise and saw Ryan emerge from the foliage. He ran toward them.
“Great, you’re still here. I’m coming with.” Ryan was out of breath. He was carrying a duffel bag with several oddly shaped metallic objects sticking out of it.
“Says who?” Buddy asked.
“Says you,” Ryan responded. “Look, you guys need someone who can come up with a plan to take out Dominion, right? I’m the guy who can do it.”
“No way,” Alexa said. “No way in hell.”
“Shut up, Alexa,” Ryan snapped back. “This isn’t the time to be jealous.”
“Yeah, jealous. Every time–”
“Hey, hey. Hold on a second here. Look, kid,” Zero said, “I know you’re Red’s son and all, but we really don’t need some goof-off youngster running around with us. I can’t spend my time making sure you don’t get killed.”
“Dude, I know you’re old and all, but I’m not as young as you’re making me out to be. I’m old enough to drink, join the army, and vote. I’m definitely old enough to help you fight that flaming freak.”
“And what makes you think you won’t just end up being Memphis’ next piece of charcoal?” Alexa sneered.
“What makes you think you won’t? Plus, I’ve got the goo gun.” Ryan lifted one of the metallic pieces out of the duffel bag and showed it to everyone.
“Kid, you’re not even a super,” Zero said. “This would be a suicide mission for you. You may have out-smarted Dominion last night, but he’ll be ready for your little trick the next time he sees you. Flaming fingertips isn’t the only item he’s got in his bag of tricks you know.” Zero brushed Ryan off and climbed into the rickshaw.
“The kid has a point. He was totally prepared for Damon last night, which means he’s way more prepared for all of this than we are.”
“That means absolutely nothing, Buddy. It was luck. The kid came out ready for a fire fight. What if Damon had decided to use his flaming rock trick? The kid would’ve been a pancake within seconds.” Zero sat down in the rickshaw considering the conversation over.
“Well, yeah, I could have.” Ryan suddenly realized how much danger he had been in. “Look, I’ve done a lot of research on Damon, I know I’ll be able to help out. Just give me a chance.”
“We don’t need any more kids tagging along,” Zero said.
“I’m still technically the head of the Defenders, right?”
“I suppose that would depend on–”
“Did the Defenders ever officially close up shop?”
“Did I ever get taken out of my position?”
“Of course not, chum, you would never–”
“Well then, as the leader of the Defenders of America, I say we bring the kid down to the base and see what he’s got for us. Ryan, hop in the wagon, we’re going on a trip.” Buddy got into the rickshaw first and saw there wasn’t enough space for the three of them to sit side by side. Ryan stood on the foot rest of the vehicle, curious as to where he should position himself. Buddy gave an exasperated sigh.
“Alright kid, sit on my lap,” he said reluctantly. “But if you ever tell anyone about this. . .”
Ryan sat down as Buddy talked and Alexa immediately took off. The world melted and reformed back into the parking garage of Flores HQ. Just as they arrived, Ryan jumped off Buddy’s lap and onto the ground.
“Whoa, I can’t believe it. My dad told me about this place, but it’s way more awesome than I ever could have imagined.”
“Jeez Ry,” Alexa laughed. “This is just where we park the cars.”
Zero and Buddy got out of the rickshaw as well and they all walked toward the door. The nagging question on Buddy’s mind finally rose to the surface.
“So, the government really erased everything, even all the stuff Oscar was talking about with cures to cancer and everything? Seems harsh, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t think they really cared what all was lost in the redaction,” Ryan answered, “as long as no one remembered supers existed. I remember Damon’s followers really being for it, since they wanted to wipe the ‘corrupt meta menace from the face of the earth’, but no one believed anyone would actually do it.”
“I remember right before I was sent off with Damon, we were all brought in for questioning before the Grand Jury. They were throwing around words like crimes against humanity. It was a crazy time, chum. We had saved the world from that nut job and they wanted to hang us.” Zero grew angry.
“Sheesh. . . I mean, even beyond asking why they would do something like that, I just don’t see how it’s even possible to change history without caring for what’s lost.”
“Well, it’s not all that unheard of,” Ryan added. “I mean, if you take a look at the internet today, you see it happening all the time. There’s so much crap out there people have just made up that some of it starts to become fact. And if the world considers it fact, well, then history books will eventually follow suit, whether or not its true.”
“I can’t see that happening. I mean, surely someone would step forward, wouldn’t they?”
“Our knowledge of history inevitably changes, through urban legends, rumors, or whatever else. For instance, most of the world believes George Washington cut down a cherry tree. It might not seem all that important, but little things like that can make a difference.”
“I’m not sure I agree with you on that.”
“Fine, doesn’t really matter. We know right now, for a fact, that history has been changed, we just have to deal with it.”
Just as they approached the door, it flung open and Maggie came running out at high speed. She was followed soon after by Jeff, Carl, and Arthur. Maggie ran past Buddy, not noticing it was him at first. She stopped in her tracks, turned around, and looked at Buddy with such a look of fear that Buddy thought she was running from the men who had left the building behind her. He looked at Arthur sternly.
“Buddy! He’s going to destroy the diner. He’s there right now waiting for you. Don’t let him destroy my restaurant, please.”
“Whoa, whoa. Calm down, sis. Who’s going to destroy the diner?”
“That Damon Memphis guy everyone’s all worried about. They just showed him on the news. You’ve gotta do something, Buddy, please do something. The restaurant is all I’ve got.”
Buddy looked at the rest of the group to gauge their response to this turn of events. Arthur and Carl stood in place, awaiting Buddy’s reaction. Jeff looked as annoyed as he had since Buddy first met him. Alexa ran to Maggie’s side. Zero and Ryan, however, were already making their way to the rickshaw. Buddy started after them.
“Wait, Buddy,” Maggie yelled, “you can’t go out there in that thing. That guy’s out there wreaking havoc on everything. You’ll get yourself killed before you even step out onto the street.”
“Your sister is right, Mr. Jackson. Ms. Rose’s transportation device will do you no good in this battle. However, I do believe Carl has been working on something that is a tad more defensively inclined.”
“Thank God I finally have an excuse to start bringing out the big toys.” Carl reached into his pocket and pulled out a device consisting of a touch screen and a couple of buttons. His fingers slid and tapped across the screen and with a flourish of the arm, he made a final tap.
Just as his finger hit the pad, a loud noise was heard coming from below the group. It sounded like a giant motor had been brought to life several floors below. The original noise was followed with several loud revving noises, quickly accompanied by the sounds of tires screeching against the pavement. The noise grew in volume.
Across the parking ramp from where the group stood, two bright lights became visible, heading toward them at an incredibly fast speed. Buddy jumped out of the way, grabbing Maggie as he went down. He looked up to see only Carl and Arthur standing in the spot the vehicle was heading. A smile covered Carl’s face. The monstrosity of metal was bearing down on their location so fast there was now no way Carl or Arthur could move out of the way in time.
“Move!” Buddy yelled. The room filled with the noise of the sharp squeal of rubber tires pulling against the concrete. The sound lasted only a second. When the area finally cleared of the smoke created by the burning rubber, Buddy got up and saw Carl and Arthur still standing in the same position, laughing loudly. The smiles on their faces were even larger than before. A tank-like vehicle was now idling silently in front of him.
“What in the world was that?” Buddy asked.
“You really think I’d bring the car up here to have it run us all over? Jeez Buddy.”
“I’m gonna kill y–” Buddy said as he lunged toward Carl. Maggie held him back.
“Holy crap, dude, is this a modified XM1202? I mean, it’s almost unrecognizable, but it looks like the same basic frame design. I thought they canceled that project.” Ryan ran to the vehicle and began inspecting every crevice.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Carl asked. Ryan was too preoccupied to respond.
“It’s Oscar Reed’s son, Ryan. Oscar wasn’t too keen on helping us out, so I made an executive decision.”
“Who gave you the right to make executive decisions?” Jeff squeaked.
“Jeffrey, remember what we talked about inside.”
“Yes Daddy, sorry.”
“I believe your decision may have its merits, Mr. Jackson. Good work.” Jeff whimpered at hearing the vocal pat on the back Buddy received. “Carl, please continue.”
“Well, I don’t have much time to get into the design specifications of the vehicle, with Damon being mid-destruction right now. But let me tell you, this baby is packed to the teeth with all sorts of sweet treasures. If you want to save Maggie’s Diner, you’re going to have to move quick. And outside of Alexa, there isn’t much in this world able to get you there quicker than this.” By this point, Ryan was already climbing the side of the vehicle and opening the hatch on the top.
“Seriously, dude?” Ryan asked rhetorically while shooting a quick glance to Carl. “It’s like a freaking lounge in here.”
“Oh, yes, we definitely spared no expense on the level of comfort inside the vehicle. There are view screens on each wall, making the interior feel much less like a coffin than the original XM1202 did. All of this was able to be done without sacrificing any of the speed of the vehicle. In fact, this vehicle can run circles around the XM1202. All it took was some simple modifi–”
“Great, perfect,” Zero cut Carl off. “Don’t need anymore science lessons, let’s get out there and bash this guy, already, before he takes out the rest of downtown.” He climbed up the side of the vehicle and disappeared inside. Buddy looked at Maggie. She looked scared. Jeff followed Zero into the vehicle and looked out upon the group before descending into it.
“We shall embark upon this journey, not for accolades, not for glory, but for justice. Do not fear, this mission is in my hands. I will ensure everyone makes it back in perfect condition. You can take my word on that.” He disappeared into the vehicle.
“You’d think he was running for president or something,” Buddy said to Maggie. Maggie looked at him with tears in her eyes. “Sheesh, Mags. I never knew you cared so much about the diner. I thought you were against me getting involved with all of this.”
“Buddy, they showed me a lot of stuff while you were gone. They even showed me some of the bad stuff. It all makes sense now. I had always known you were meant for something important. I just never realized you were meant to save the world.”
“I always figured I’d be responsible for the opposite.”
“I’m serious, Buddy. This is right, this is you. But if you don’t come back alive, and I’m out both a brother and a diner, I’ll–”
“Don’t worry, Maggie. If these folks are right, I’ve done this a million times. What could possibly go wrong?”
“That’s what concerns me.” Buddy gave his sister a soft kiss on the forehead and turned away. He climbed up the side of the vehicle, took one last look at Maggie, and disappeared inside. Alexa looked softly at her.
“Maggie, don’t even give it a second thought. If it weren’t for Buddy, this planet would’ve been destroyed hundreds of times over already. If anyone can take care of Damon, it’s him.” She ran up the side of the vehicle, entered the hatch, and closed it.
Go to Chapter Nineteen