Buddy walked out of the hospital feeling he had forgotten something important. He walked down the steps to the sidewalk and was greeted by Alexa Rose. Buddy looked at the young woman in confusion. He then found himself staring at her. She was gorgeous. Her long blond hair reached down–
“Hey, champ. You awake in there? Did you do it?”
Buddy blinked his eyes and looked at Alexa again. He now remembered who she was, but was having difficulty remembering what she expected of him. “I’m sorry, you’re Alexa, right?”
“Uh. . . yeah. You just left me about half an hour ago. Not too many people forget me that quickly.”
“Right. . . sorry, mind’s feeling a little fuzzy at the moment.”
“Okay. . . so you ready to go? We’re kinda working on a tight schedule here.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. I was supposed to go talk to that guy, wasn’t I?”
“What? You haven’t done that yet? What have you been doing for the last half hour?”
“Well, umm. . . .I’m not sure.”
“You didn’t happen to run into a couple of Feds while you were in there, did you?”
“Yeah, that’s right, Agents uhh. . . Kent and Parker, but I don’t remember–”
“Dangit. okay, we’ve got to get you back to HQ. First, gimme the pen you’ve got in your pocket.”
“I don’t have a pen. . . “ Alexa reached toward his chest and grabbed the pen.
“Alright, back in a jiff. You stay right here, okay?” Alexa disappeared from view. He heard a voice coming from the street.
“Quick, get in the cart! I’m pretty sure they noticed me.” Alexa yelled with intense urgency in her voice. Buddy complied with her request quickly. He didn’t understand what was happening, but couldn’t help feeling there was some sort of danger in his immediate future if he didn’t do as she asked.
The vehicle lurched forward as he stepped into it, causing him to tumble backward into the seat. By the time he got himself straightened out he was back in the parking garage.
“Alright, come on, Arthur’s going to want to get you checked out right away.” Alexa grabbed Buddy’s arm and pulled him into the building, past the fountain and the reception desk, and into the elevator.
She shoved past Jeff and flung open the red-leather doors, marching into the room, with Jeff hot on her heels complaining about his sign-in process.
“Artie, we’ve got a problem. A big one.”
“Ms. Rose, to come in here so rudely had better mean what you are feeling is so urgent that it falls within the realm of an apocalyptic nature.”
“I tried to stop her Daddy, but ever since Buddy came–”
“Jeffrey, let Ms. Rose explain herself first. If it’s not urgent, maybe then we can revisit the whole sign-in process issue you are having.”
“Artie, this is big. Sergeant Duff found Zero and his goons did their memory voodoo on Buddy.”
“Ahh. . . well now, that is a matter of great importance. You were right to move quickly.” Alexa shot a grinning glance at Jeff.
“Look, guys, I don’t know what’s going on here. Could someone tell me something? Anything?”
“Buddy, look at me. What’s the last thing you remember before you saw me outside the hospital? Think very carefully, it’s very important.” Alexa grabbed Buddy’s shoulders as she talked, shaking him as she asked the question.
“Okay, well. . . it’s a little hard to tell. Uhhh. . . I remember going into the hospital. Umm. . . The doctor, he came in and talked to me for a bit about. . . something. I think I remember going in to see that guy I saved, but I don’t remember actually talking to him. The next thing I remember is waking up in a chair. A nurse came in and directed me on how to get back outside.”
“Artie, this reeks of Parker. I thought he was working for us!”
“I’m sure he had his reasons, Ms. Rose.” Arthur reached into his desk and pulled out a hypodermic needle. He handed it to Alexa.
“Okay, fine, whatever. But couldn’t you get him to fake something like this? Buddy, this will sting a little.” Alexa injected Buddy in the arm.
“Ow! What the hell are you doing to me?”
“I’ll give Parker a call and see if I can’t set up a meeting with him to discuss this. It has been quite some time since he last checked in and it is extremely worrisome to me that he didn’t alert me to the fact that Sergeant Duff is aware of Mr. Hamilton’s return. Now, Mr. Jackson, you will begin to feel a strong sense of disorientation. I would suggest you sit down while we determine the best next course of action.”
“I don’t think I’ve felt not-disoriented all day,” Buddy quipped.
“Understandable. All the same, although the injection Ms. Rose gave you should counter the effects of what Agent Parker did to you, it has been known to wreak havoc with a person’s sense of balance.” Buddy sat down, suddenly feeling as if his legs were about to give out under him. “Now, are you aware of the agents in question placing any form of device on you. On your head, perhaps?”
“Um, yeah, they gave me an ear piece.”
“Drat. Jeffrey, would you retrieve Carl for me? We obviously have more of an issue to deal with than I could have imagined.” Jeff left the room without a sound, obviously attempting to return to his father’s good side.
“Oh, yeah, Artie. I got the video for you. But I saw him myself. He’s the real deal.” Alexa handed him the pen device. He placed it inside his desk.
“I’ve reviewed the feed already, Ms. Rose. It does indeed appear that Mr. Hamilton is once again among us. Would you be so kind as to return to the hospital and determine what Sergeant Duff’s next intentions are with him? I would be disappointed to lose track of him so soon after his unanticipated return. Also, I would greatly appreciate if you could put Mr. Smith and Mr. Frederick on alert before you go. I shall be visiting them shortly.”
“Sure thing, Artie!” Alexa exited.
The room was silent for a short moment before Buddy erupted.
“Okay, so, seriously, what in the world is going on here? You guys have been dragging me around from place to place using that crazy rickshaw thingie out there. Now you’re injecting me with random fluids and talking some nonsense about some sort of government conspiracy or something. It’s almost like I’m living in one of Sal’s stories.”
“Ah yes, I had almost forgotten you knew him. Sal Credenza is the man of whom you speak, correct?”
“Yeah. . . “
“You have no idea how much I’ve missed him these past few years. How is dear old Sal?”
“Um. . . old and crazy? You know him?”
“Of course, he is my uncle. My poor demented uncle Sal. He was one of the first to realize what the government was planning, back before they did it. He was actually the man who designed the Mind Shield Device. Unfortunately, he was detained at the time of the Mind Wipe and fell victim to the same curse as the rest of you. All the same, he has proven quite useful in keeping an eye on you.”
“Wait, so now you’re saying you’ve been stalking me? What the hell is going on here?!”
“I suppose the time has finally come for me to enlighten you on who I am and what I do.”
“It is most definitely that time.” Buddy said, sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms.
“You see, Mr. Jackson. At one point in time, it was not I, but you who was considered our fair city’s protector.”
“Sheesh, now I know this’ll be good.”
“Oh, it’s true, Mr. Jackson. Your boxing career. You remember it well, do you?”
“I don’t know how well I remember it. You know what a few hundred slugs to the head can do to the brain.”
“Have you not ever questioned why the memories of your past are so uncertain, my dear boy? Do you not wonder why everything before five years ago is so blurry in your mind?”
“I drink a lot. This morning’s pretty blurry.”
“Fine, I understand. However, does it not seem odd that feelings that should be so strong in your mind, such as the emotions you would feel every time you entered the ring, are, well, to put it simply, not there?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Buddy shifted in his seat.
“I have a feeling you do, Mr. Jackson.”
“Fine, maybe there’s times where it feels almost like I’m remembering someone else’s life instead of my own, but seriously, it was a long time ago. Memories fade.”
“It wasn’t that long ago.”
“Okay, sure, but what of it? It’s still my life. I’ve just lost most of it due to concussions and alcohol poisoning.”
“It’s a little less simple than that, Mr. Jackson. The memories you have, as much as you can call them memories, are in actuality, fabrications, simple rewrites of the years of your life someone does not want you to remember.”
“Yeah, right. Someone just re-wrote my brain. I’ll remember that the next time someone asks me to sign one of my old boxing photos.”
“Oh, Mr. Jackson, I can understand how you might question the idea of someone being able to alter your memories, but for someone to be able to alter a photograph, well, they teach that sort of thing to high school children nowadays. I would consider a photograph a highly questionable form of proof of anything.” Arthur reached into his desk drawer and searched for something.
“But it’s not like I’m the only one who remembers it. Hell, I get people coming up to me all the time telling me that how they remember Big Bold Buddy Jackson.”
Arthur placed a framed photograph on the desk in front of Buddy. Next to the framed photo, he placed the picture Buddy had signed earlier in the day. Buddy leaned forward and grabbed the picture frame. It was almost an exact duplicate of the picture still on the desk. This picture also had Buddy’s signature on it. In it, Buddy was standing over an opponent he had recently defeated. Both his positioning, as well as the positioning of the man he had defeated were not changed from the photograph he knew. He was very familiar with this pose as he had signed more than enough copies of the boxing photo over the years.
Yet, this new picture was not taken in a boxing ring. Buddy was standing in the middle of a destroyed building. Wall fragments, smoke, and random debris framed his body inside the photograph. What was even more amazing to Buddy was his own image within the photo. He was no longer wearing boxing gloves, but had bare fists. His shorts had been replaced by tights. In fact, he was fully covered, from head to toe in a green spandex uniform. On his chest were the letters BH and over the costume he wore a thin, form-fitting, green-leather jacket. Buddy looked at Arthur, speechless.
“Pretty impressive, isn’t it, Mr. Jackson.”
“Impressive? No, this is just creepy. Why in the world would you want to change my picture to look like this? And on that note, why would you frame it?”
“Sure, it is indeed possible that I had the photograph altered, but is that not your signature?”
“Sure, but that doesn’t mean anything either. Anyone could have forged that. I used to forge my parents’ signatures all the time, and I was pretty damn good at it too.”
“But when you look at it, do you not feel nostalgic for something? Doesn’t something about this picture make you feel comfortable, as if you are returning home?”
“Even if it did, that still wouldn’t prove anything.”
“Perhaps not, but I believe I have something that will.”
Arthur stood and walked around the desk to the door. He opened it and gestured for Buddy to follow. Buddy shrugged and allowed Arthur to lead him across the room and into the elevator. The doors to the elevator shut and Arthur pressed the green button. The elevator began its descent.
Go to Chapter Ten