The elevator made a dinging noise to state it had arrived at its destination. The doors opened and Arthur stepped out, gesturing to the room in front of them.
“Welcome to the barracks, Mr. Jackson. This is the real heart of the operation.” Buddy stepped out and saw what looked like an over-sized gymnasium.
The exercise he saw before him was like nothing he had ever seen before. There was a group of men playing basketball in mid-air, never touching the ground. There was a boxing match where the two opponents stood at opposite ends of the ring flinging lightning bolts at each other. There was a man at one of the weight benches bench-pressing a Cadillac. Hundreds of men and women were exhibiting abilities well beyond that of any mere mortal man. Buddy was unable to comprehend everything occurring before him. He was so preoccupied with the scene, he didn’t notice he and Arthur had been joined by three very imposing men.
“Mr. Jackson, I’d like you to meet a couple associates of mine. You have, of course already become acquainted with my son, Jeffrey.”
“Yeah, we’ve met,” Buddy responded quietly, barely able to take his eyes off the action of the room. Jeff scowled at him.
“These other two gentlemen are Mr. Smith and Mr. Frederick. Their primary function within the organization is to be my personal bodyguards for whenever I leave the complex. However since, as you are no doubt aware, I don’t leave this building very frequently, they generally spend a great deal of their time down here in the barracks leading the training exercises.” The men Arthur gestured to were two very muscular men who, like Jeff, towered over Buddy. They both wore the same black suits and earpieces everyone else in the building wore.
“Hey there,” Buddy said as he nervously reached out his hand to greet them.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Jackson,” Mr. Smith said, accepting the handshake.
“A great honor, sir,” Mr. Frederick agreed.
“There will be more time for the three of you to get acquainted in the future, I’m certain, however right now we are running a rather tight schedule. Perhaps we could work out a few moments for you to give Mr. Jackson a tour of the barracks after the dust of our current situation has settled.”
“That would be great, Mr. Flores,” Mr. Smith said.
“It sure would,” Mr. Frederick agreed.
“Now, Mr. Jackson, if you would please follow me, we must meet up with Carl in the lab. He should be awaiting our arrival.” Arthur led the way. They went left from the elevator and followed the wall until they came to a hallway leading out of the main room. They walked down the hallway.
As opposed to the rest of the building Buddy had seen so far, the decoration of this area was much more subtle, if it could be considered to exist at all. In place of extravagance was only simplicity. The walls were merely concrete blocks. Where on the other floors there was an exuberance of color, here was gray. Arthur came to the third door on the right and knocked twice. He opened the door and the group entered.
Arthur turned and spoke to Mr. Frederick and Mr. Smith softly. “Why don’t you two stay outside for the moment. I sincerely hope we won’t require your services.” The two exited the room and Arthur shut the door.
The room they entered was filled with all sorts of gadgetry and electronic equipment. The walls were covered with wires and blinking lights and the air sang with the sounds of equipment beeping and whirring. In the far right corner of the room sat a metallic chair. Draped across the chair were several sets of electrode cables and a conical device. Typing rapidly on a computer console next to the chair was a small and spindly man wearing a white lab coat. He didn’t notice them enter.
“Carl, have you prepared the device for Mr. Jackson yet?” The man in the corner of the room jumped at the sound of Arthur’s voice.
“Oh, Father, I didn’t hear you come in. You made it just in time.” Carl walked toward the group, his attention focused on Buddy. “Is this him? Is this really the infamous Buddy Jackson?”
“Buddy, I’d like you to meet my other son, Carl. If it weren’t for him, I don’t believe my empire would be anywhere near as great as it is today.”
“You mean if it weren’t for Carl and me, right Daddy?,” Jeff whined.
“Don’t embarrass yourself, Jeffrey,” Arthur said, brushing the brute to the side.
“Don’t let him fool you,” Jeff whispered to Buddy, “I’m just as important as Carl. Don’t forget it.”
“Jeffrey!” Arthur reprimanded Jeff, then turned to Carl. “So, Carl, is the device ready for Mr. Jackson?”
“Yes, Father, it should be back online now. All functions appear to be operational once again. Things should work much better than they did with the last patient. Although, I really haven’t had the time to test the machine fully, you know, with all the additions I’ve made.”
“Do you believe the risks are great enough for us to require delaying the process?”
“Risks?” Buddy asked.
“The risks should be relatively minimal at this point, Father, but they do exist. If we had the time, I would suggest we wait, but–”
“Hey, we can wait,“ Buddy interjected. “If there’s any sort of risks, we can wait all year if we need to.”
“Mr. Jackson, it is imperative we do not delay any longer in resurrecting your abilities. Please, place yourself within the device.”
“Look, you’ve told me some great stories and all and I’m really happy for the souvenirs you folks made for my tour of the place and everything, but there’s no chance I’m stepping into that thing.”
“Come on, Daddy,” Jeff smirked, “he doesn’t need to do it if he’s too scared. We don’t need him anyways. I can take his place.”
“Jeffrey, don’t be silly. You know Mr. Jackson is of extreme importance.”
“Don’t worry Buddy, if the chair doesn’t work, the worst thing that could happen is for you to experience a mild and temporary case of amnesia,” Carl reassured.
“Mild amnesia? You’re already telling me I’ve forgotten my entire life and now you’re saying you could take away my real memories? Forget it.”
The door swung open and Alexa burst into the room.
“You boys should really leave a girl a note when you go traipsing around the complex. I may be fast, but it takes even me a while to search this place.”
“Well, you could ask D.A.W.N.–” Carl began.
“Ms. Rose, you really should control yourself. It is generally not considered good mannered to enter a room so abruptly. You seem to have been forgetting such etiquette as of late.”
“Sorry, Artie, but we’ve got even more big trouble. Way bigger than before. Duffy’s goons are onto me. I’m not sure how, but the second I went to the hospital, they appeared in front of me from out of nowhere. I started running, but everywhere I went they followed me. I’ve never seen anyone able to keep up with me like that.”
“Drat, I was afraid this might happen. It appears they captured your bio-rhythm signature when you entered the hospital earlier today. Once they have obtained that, they can find you almost anywhere.”
“Almost?” Buddy asked.
“Yes, outside of this complex, there are only a handful of other places in the world able to block their bio-rhythm device. As long as you are within the confines of this building, you should be safe.”
“On that note, Mr. Jackson, when you were talking to those government officials earlier today, were either of them wearing a device of some sort, perhaps something that looked similar to a wristwatch?”
“Yeah, I remember one of them had one that kept blinking. Thought it looked weird, but I try not to judge.”
“Just as I thought. The device is specifically tuned to seek out those who have the biological rhythm standard with those of abilities such as our own. It was originally used to seek out and gather all of those individuals who were still active after the Great Mind Wipe. We lost a great many people to that device. It’s safe to assume they have your rhythm on file as well now, Mr. Jackson. So, for the time being, I think we’ll have to keep you confined within the complex.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I’m not staying anywhere, especially not if that chair over there is a part of it.”
“D.A.W.N., could you please gather Mr. Fredrick and Mr. Smith, so they may assist Mr. Jackson in preparing for his procedure?”
“I’m dreadfully sorry I have to do this Mr. Jackson, but with this new information, it is most certainly past the time for pleasantries.”
Mr. Frederick and Mr. Smith entered the room.
“Mr. Jackson, I’m going to have to ask you to place yourself within the chair,” Mr. Smith insisted.
“Yes, please sit in the chair,” Mr. Frederick agreed.
“Oh, come on,” Buddy pleaded, “you can’t just bring in the big guns and force this kinda crap on me, can you?”
“I would really hate to have to force you to do anything,” Mr. Smith said.
“Yeah, we really are big fans of yours,” Mr. Frederick agreed.
“Great, then we’re agreed. How about you two direct me back to the elevator then?”
“Mr. Jackson,” Arthur began, “these two are indebted to me and will do whatever I wish of them. Your attempts to circumvent that will end in vain.”
“Yeah, sure, but I’m the big important Buddy Jackson, or whatever, right? Surely that means more than whatever Arthur does,” Buddy said, backing away as the two large men advanced on his position. His voice sounded anxious.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Jackson,” Mr. Smith said.
“Mr. Flores is right, we owe him everything,” Mr. Frederick continued.
“I really hate to have to do this,” Mr. Smith said as he grabbed Buddy’s arm. Buddy flailed in an attempt to release himself form the man’s vice-grip as Mr. Frederick wrapped his hand around Buddy’s other arm. The two began dragging Buddy toward the chair in silence.
Jeff joined the two as they pushed Buddy into the chair, shoving Buddy’s head back as he placed the conical device onto his victim. A devious smile stretched across Jeff’s face.
“I really am sorry, Mr. Jackson. It really was a pleasure getting to meet you,” Mr. Smith said.
“I hope we can forget all about this later,” Mr. Frederick continued.
The men held Buddy down as Jeff tightened the straps around his arms and legs.
“Look at the legendary Buddy Hero now,” Jeff said sneeringly.
“Jeffrey, there is no need to be snarky,” Arthur reprimanded. “Thank you gentlemen. I understand how difficult that must have been for you. Now, Ms. Rose, do you believe you could extract Mr. Hamilton and return him here without any complications? We can wait no longer to bring him in. With Sergeant Duff now searching for us, it is only a matter of time before they use Mr. Hamilton as a trap or to push us into a corner.”
“Artie, I’ll be there and back before they even realize he’s gone.”
“Perfect.” Alexa disappeared in a great wind. The door slammed behind her. “Now, Carl, turn on the device.”
“Who do you think you are?” Buddy yelled as Carl pressed several buttons on the console next to the chair. “You can’t do this kinda crap anymore. If this stupid machine works the way you say it will, I’ll kick all of your–” Carl pressed the final button and Buddy slumped over. His body lost all firmness and became still.
“Mr. Frederick, please escort Mr. Jackson’s body to the recovery room. I believe he may be out for a while.”
The federal agents walk into the prison they call a hospital room, as they have done many times over the course of the past three days. These two men, one never talking and one never ceasing, have been the bane of my existence since my release from that dank cavern.
Each and every time they enter with the same threats of never allowing me to leave this putrid environment unless I give them the information I do not have. Each and every time they walk into the room I know I am in for another round of mental torture.
This time, however, I have the upper hand.
This time, I know their weakness.
This time, I will escape.
They walk towards me as they have done so many times before.
“Mr. Memphis, it’s time to talk,” Agent Kent says, always looking entirely too happy to exert his form of pressure upon me. Parker, however, is the one that truly concerns me. I know I need to shield my thoughts from him or my plan will be foiled before it begins.
He looks at me, rather, looks through me, and I fill my mind with images of rainbows and unicorns, knowing such images will only serve to confuse him. I stand and throw my hands to the air.
The feeling is like nothing I could have ever imagined. The power of the earth surges through my veins and courses through my fingertips. My skin burns with the fire of a volcanic eruption. The pain is intense, but somehow soothing.
My blood courses through my body with the heat of a thousand suns. I am no longer a man, I am the fire elemental.
I am fire incarnate!
I point an index finger at each of the agents. The look of crippling fright covering their faces amuses me. The fire itches at my fingertips, begging for my command. It pleads to be set free.
I can hold it back no longer. A thick stream of flame blasts from each fingertip. The flames hit each of the men square in the chest with such force they are both knocked to the ground. A warm feeling of relief overtakes my body as the flames are released.
I feel my focus waning, I feel the anger subsiding.
Not yet! I cannot allow this comfort to foil my plans.
I run past the men who are now writhing on the floor and approach the door standing between me and freedom. I call upon the flames again and they melt the door to the floor, leaving only its hinges in place.
I run from the room and up the flight of stairs to the darkened room above. I run past the recording equipment and into the hallway. The heat emanating from my body warps everything I pass. Door frames melt, the floor sags beneath me, and all manner of equipment falls to the floor, as though trying to escape the power at my command.
I enter the door immediately across the hall and find the nearest window to the outside world.
The glass shatters around me and turns to liquid. The flames once again scream to me for freedom. I relinquish control and my body explodes with fire.
My free fall to the street stops.
The feeling is exhilarating. Not only do I own the power of fire, but also power over the air itself.
The wind blows around me, only serving to further feed the flames. This is like nothing I have ever felt before, but is also, for some reason, familiar.
I feel alive!
The feeling of flames caressing my skin makes me feel whole, a feeling I have not felt since I awoke in that cavern. None of that matters now. I know my place in this world.
I am God!
The men appear in the window behind me, shouting something I can’t hear over the noise of crackling heat. I shoot straight into the sky, knowing that as long as my feet stay above ground, I am safe from whatever hell those two have planned for me.
Go to Chapter Twelve