After only a minor amount of debate, Buddy and Alexa convinced Maggie to enter the rickshaw. They quickly arrived at the parking garage.
“What the hell was that?” Maggie yelled. She jumped out of the vehicle as though it were possessed.
“Well, umm,” Buddy stammered, “it’s a–”
“It’s just a rickshaw,” Alexa completed Buddy’s sentence nonchalantly. “Come on, we have to go talk to Artie.” Alexa walked towards the entrance of the complex.
“Oh no,” Maggie continued. “I’m not going anywhere with you until you tell me how in the world I ended up here. We were just at my apartment a few–”
“Maggie, relax,” Buddy responded. “If you come inside, I can explain everything. I promise you’ll be safe.”
Maggie stared hard at Buddy briefly and then looked to Alexa, who was waving them in her direction.
“Okay, Buddy, I’ll trust you. But you had better have a damn good explanation.”
“Well, it’s an odd one anyways,” Buddy laughed. He pulled Maggie in Alexa’s direction and they entered the grand foyer. Maggie’s contesting was silenced.
“Pretty cool, huh Mags.”
“What have you gotten yourself into, Buddy?”
“I’m not really sure. But, it’s pretty darn cool at least, right?”
“Come on you two, we can give Maggie the tour later. We really need to tell Artie what just happened.”
“What did just happen?” Maggie asked as they walked to the elevator on the other side of the room.
“Well, I’m not sure where to start,” Buddy began.
“It’s pretty easy, Maggie. Buddy’s being chased by some government agents. They think he’s responsible for something he didn’t do. Speaking of which, how did you manage to get away from them?”
“Well, they kinda ran.”
“Wait, why are there government agents after you? What kind of government agents?”
“That’s hard to explain, Mags.”
“Why’d they run, Buddy?”
“I guess because Damon showed up.”
“Damon?” Maggie asked, flustered. They had now reached the elevator, Alexa pressed the call button.
“Did you say Damon attacked you, Buddy?” D.A.W.N.’s face appeared on the screen next to the elevator. Maggie jumped and let out a short scream.
“Don’t worry Mags, it’s only D.A.W.N.”
“Are you okay, Buddy? You look okay, but you never really know, do you?”
“I’m fine D.A.W.N., really.” The elevator doors opened and the group stepped inside. Alexa pressed the red button.
“So, I slept right through Damon? What happened? Did you take him out? I mean, I guess since we’re on the run, probably not, huh?”
“No, I didn’t stand a chance. It’s a good thing that Reed kid showed up. If it weren’t for him, I’m sure we’d both be toast by now.”
“Are you talking about Ryan?”
“Yeah, you know him?”
“Yeah,” Alexa groaned.
“Okay, I’m pretty sure I was promised some sort of explanation about what’s going on here.” The elevator doors opened and Alexa gave the standard two knocks on the red door.
“Well,” Buddy began. The red door opened and Jeff stood in the doorway. Alexa pushed past him, Buddy started doing the same, but Jeff stood his ground. “Oh, come on Jeff, didn’t we already go over this?”
“Who’s that?” Jeff asked accusingly.
“My sister, now let us through.” Alexa appeared back in the doorway.
“Sorry Buddy, but Jeff’s right this time. Artie wouldn’t be too happy to see a civilian down here. Maybe you two should head down to the green level. You can try to explain everything to your sister there.”
Jeff smirked at the two as he shut the doors in front of them.
“What the hell was that?” Maggie asked.
“Jeff,” Buddy responded. “He’s not too big a fan of mine.” Buddy pressed the green button and the elevator began its descent.
“And who is this Artie that is so important to your friend?”
“Arthur Flores, Mags.”
“Arthur Flores? The Arthur Flores?”
“Yeah, The Arthur Flores.”
The elevator doors opened and the broken fog jets spewed liquid into the air. After they stopped, Buddy stepped into the lounge. Maggie followed slowly, her eyes focused on the puddles of fog liquid soaking into the green carpet.
“Okay Buddy, seriously, what’s going on here?”
“Well, sis, to put it bluntly,” Buddy paused, trying to figure out how to phrase his next words, “Well, this is me, I guess,” he said, gesturing to the room.
Maggie looked up and saw the details of the room, the action figures, plush dolls, posters, and finally the mural. She walked to each item, inspecting each one closely, but silently; until finally she spoke.
“What the hell is all of this, Buddy?”
“This is me,” he started, “I guess. I mean, this is who I used to be.”
“This,” Buddy said as he picked up one of the action figures, “a superhero.”
Maggie laughed, “Yeah right.”
“No, seriously, Maggie. At least, that’s what they’re telling me. I was a superhero. A pretty good one too, if they’re telling me right.”
“No, really, what’s going on here? Are you working on a comic book or something?”
“Really, Maggie. I’m a superhero.”
“Um. . .no, you’re a drunk. You used to be a pretty good boxer, but you’re not a hero.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too, but according to these people, that’s all been faked by the government because they got pissed or something.”
“Are you insane? I was at your fights. I remember your fights. I was the one who had to clean you up after each and every one of them. I vividly remember wiping the blood away from your face while you recovered. You can’t tell me that’s fake, that’s my life.”
“Look, Mags, I know it’s a lot to take in, believe me. It still seems crazy to me too, but after what’s happened the last few days. . . well, I don’t know what else to think.”
“But, Buddy, it’s not true. You know it’s not true.”
“Look around you Maggie. How do you explain all of this cool stuff?” Buddy grabbed 3 of the plush dolls and shoved them into Maggie’s arms.
“You’re not Superman, Buddy, you’re my little brother.”
“What about a video? Would that make a difference? D.A.W.N.?”
“Yes, Buddy? What can I do for you?”
“What do you think a video’s going to prove, Buddy? I have a hard time believing you can show me anything I haven’t already seen at the theater. Hell, Buddy, I’ve probably already seen it in 3D.”
“She’s got a point,” D.A.W.N. agreed.
“Aren’t you supposed to be on my side, D.A.W.N.?” Buddy looked around the room. He saw the doors he had removed from the elevator still sitting in the corner of the lounge as he had left them.
“Okay, what about this? Try explaining this one away.” He bent over to pick up one of the doors. Straining, he lifted one side of it, readjusted his grip and began his attempt to lift the object over his head. His back throbbed in pain. He bent his knees and placed his head under the door, making himself into a human lever. His breathing was labored and his face turned bright red. He felt the weight of the door overwhelming him. He had to jump back quickly as the door fell, giving Buddy barely enough time to narrowly escape it’s path to the floor.
“What are you doing?”
“Just wait, okay. I did this earlier.”
Buddy lifted the door and propped it against the wall, still straining with the weight of the object. He pulled his arm back and swung at it. His hand hit the door and bounced off. Buddy shook his hand in agony. The pain coursed up through his shoulder blades.
“What are you trying to prove?” Maggie looked concerned.
“Seriously, Maggie, I punched through this exact door right before I came home. I knocked it right off of its hinges. I don’t know what’s wrong.”
The elevator doors opened and Arthur walked through, followed by Alexa, Carl, Zero, and Jeff.
“Mr. Jackson, you look winded.”
“And sweaty,” Jeff added.
“Is something the matter?”
“Yeah, something’s the matter. I was trying to show Maggie how strong I am, now that you folks did your sciencey mumbo-jumbo on me, but it’s not working. I had the same problem with Damon. What’s going on?”
“Ah, yes. Well, Mr. Jackson, the effects of the chair device are generally spotty at first. We’ve had patients who have had to wait weeks, or even months, after they used the device before they exhibited even a portion of their previous ability. The mind is a hard nut to crack, as they say. But having already exhibited some of your previous strength is very promising.”
“What?” Buddy asked incredulously.
“What he’s saying, Buddy, is that your strength could go in and out for a while. We kinda jump-started your brain, you know, like you would with a car battery. But, unlike a car, the brain still needs time to rebuild the connections to the part of it holding your special abilities. Your body is healing right now and that takes time. Most of our patients require quite a lot of time in rehab before they are able to fully recover their powers.” Arthur nodded as Carl spoke.
“But there’s some crazed maniac out there who’s ready to put me up on the barbeque. Now you’re telling me I don’t have any way to protect myself?”
“Like it would matter anyway, Buddy. You’re toast whether you’ve got powers or not.” Jeff grinned brightly.
“Jeffrey, we are going to need to have a chat later about how you’ve been treating our guest.” Arthur looked sternly at him. Jeff hung his head. “Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson, our timing in bringing you back into the fold was not planned out in advance. Truthfully, we had no intention of ever seeing Mr. Memphis again, which means we did not have any plan of action in place in case such a situation ever were to arise. If our common foe had not re-emerged, I’m sure we would have been able to allow you to continue on in your normal everyday life, never knowing about the world that used to be. However, since Mr. Memphis is back and you are his prime target, we decided it would be proper to warn you of your impending doom and perhaps assist you in protecting yourself, especially since you had done such a great job of protecting the world in the days now forgotten.”
“Oh, yeah, thanks. You never want to be surprised by someone who’s coming to roast you. You want to be ready so you can splash some marinade under your arms first.”
“I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy Buddy Hero’s ever-sarcastic tone. It truly is a pleasure to have it grace my ears once again, Mr. Jackson. Unfortunately, this is neither the time for sarcasm or regrets. We are faced with an incredible danger. Mr. Memphis appears to still be within the prison you encased him in, but there is no telling for how long.”
“Wonderful,” Buddy said.
“I believe the best course of action for everyone at this moment is to get as much rest as possible. The morning is likely to bring about battle. We will all need to be alert and ready when it comes.”
“Battle?” Zero exclaimed. “Now you’re talking my language!”
Go to Chapter Sixteen