Inside the vehicle were four identical reclining bucket seats, each one with a computer station next to it. In the middle of the floorspace was a larger version of the same seat, with computer screens built into the arm rests. On all of the walls were digital representations of the world outside the vehicle. Super-imposed on the images were various types of data including face recognition, structural composite information, and indications of dangerous items in the surrounding area.
Ryan typed away excitedly at the workstation located in front of the chair he was seated in. Zero was leaning back in the chair he had claimed for himself, smiling a grin of excitement. Jeff had positioned himself in the center chair. He had a look of great contentment on his face as Buddy entered. When Alexa entered, she chose one of the empty seats and sat on the edge of it. Buddy stood in place, trying to grasp his current situation. As Alexa sat down, the three seated occupants, other than Jeff, turned their chairs to look at Buddy.
“Hello Buddy, I’m so excited for our adventure!” D.A.W.N.’s face appeared on all of the screens in the vehicle. Buddy jumped.
“Oh, jeez, you scared me again. Hi D.A.W.N.”
“D.A.W.N., take us to Maggie’s Diner, ASAP,” Jeff said, using his deep voice. There was a short pause, then a groan and, “Please.”
“It would be my pleasure, Jeffrey. However, before we can depart, I must ask that all riders please take their seats and buckle their safety belts.” Buddy found D.A.W.N.’s cheerfulness easing some of the tension he was feeling. He took his seat and buckled the belt around his waist.
“Okay D.A.W.N., we’re secure. Engage!”
Buddy chuckled. The harder Jeff tried to sound important, the more difficult Buddy found it to take him seriously. Jeff shot him an angry look.
“As we depart the station, please remember to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times,” D.A.W.N. took on the affectation of a recorded message. “Por favor, mantenga los brazos y las piernas dentro del vehiculo.” The vehicle lurched forward and began driving around the parking garage going down into the lower levels.
“I’m fairly certain our arms and legs are incapable of being outside the vehicle,” Zero said, looking at Buddy questioningly.
“Just kidding, folks. A little transportation humor for you,” D.A.W.N. said. “Now is this anyone’s first time into the fray? Because it most certainly is mine.” D.A.W.N. chuckled as she sped up. The vehicle was aimed at a wall with no other exit visible. Buddy clutched his chair’s arm cushions and his entire body tensed.
“D.A.W.N., you know there’s a wall right there, right?” Buddy asked. His eyes closed, bracing for impact. He opened one of them to survey the damage, opening it only a second before impact occurred. The screens glitched, filled with fuzz, and the vehicle’s cabin interior glowed with a blue light. Just as quickly as the light appeared, it disappeared and the screens came back on.
Buddy’s body slowly released the tension and he felt himself, ensuring he was still alive. He saw blue sky in the screens and became aware they were on the top floor of a parking garage. He looked at Alexa.
“I guess you don’t get a good look at how the teleporter works when you travel by me, huh?” The vehicle moved at high speed toward the edge of the garage and plowed through the wall separating the parking spaces from the open air. The front end of the vehicle tilted toward the ground, showing Buddy the ten stories separating them from it, which were flying past rapidly. The entire group leaned back in their chairs. Jeff looked exceptionally frightened, causing Buddy to wonder if this was his first time going into battle as well.
“D.A.W.N., what the hell do you think you’re doing?!?” Jeff screamed.
“Sorry, my calibrations appear to be a smidge off. Just let me adjust the ballast. There.” The vehicle immediately righted itself, but the sensation of falling was persistent. Just as Jeff was about to yell at D.A.W.N. once again, the vehicle hung in mid air, bounced twice, as though hanging from a bungee cord, and then fell roughly another foot. It immediately began moving forward at high speed.
“That was fantastic!” Ryan exclaimed.
“That’s one thing you could call it,” Jeff grumbled, still clenching his armrests.
“So, uhhh, do we have a plan or anything on taking out Damon, yet,” Alexa asked. “I feel like I must have missed something in the War Room.” Her face was pale and she looked as though she might lose her lunch.
Zero reached for his safety belt to unlatch it.
“Unh uh,” D.A.W.N. said and an image of a wagging finger appeared on all screens. “Please stay in your seats until the captain has turned off the fasten seat belt sign.” An image flashed showing two hands holding separate ends of a seat belt with an arrow between them.
“You’re right, D.A.W.N. Safety first!” Zero said.
“Hey, yeah, what is the plan?” Ryan asked. The group looked at Buddy. Jeff cleared his throat, expecting the attention to turn to him.
“Hey, don’t look at me, I don’t even have my powers back yet.”
“Oh, yeah, almost forgot,” Ryan began. “I figured there was a possibility you didn’t have your powers, since you had such a hard time with Damon last night. I brought along some Probutall for ya, just in case.”
“Look kid, I realize my life might not be all that peachy right now, but I don’t think an anti-depressant is really the way to deal with a maniacal super-being hell-bent on destroying whatever is left of my life..”
Ryan laughed as he dug through his duffel bag. “Oh, no. Probutall was never intended to be used as an anti-depressant. My dad developed it as a way to try to bring out the latent abilities super-powered individuals had lost due to the redaction. It’s only a temporary fix, but it should bring you back to full strength for the next couple hours at least.”
“You’d think there’d be quite a few baseball players all over that stuff,” Buddy said. Ryan handed Buddy a pill bottle.
“There is,” Alexa responded. “It’s been a real problem. Dad’s had a heck of a time trying to keep it out of the news.”
“I bet.” Buddy took three pills out of the bottle, tossed them in his mouth, and swallowed.
“Oh, umm, you’re really only supposed to take one,” Ryan said.
“What’s the worst could happen? Will I get extra super special strong?”
“The worst? Spontaneous combustion. The human body sometimes has trouble dealing with the excess energy the pill produces.”
“Oh,” Buddy choked.
“However, most people just fall into a coma and suffer severe memory trauma.”
“Ah, well then, not too much different from everything else lately.” Buddy sat back in his chair.
“Wow, Carl must have really done a number with the ballance on the XM1202. I know the stabilization system on it was supposed to be the main selling point of the vehicle, but it barely feels like we’re moving at all.” Ryan went back to excitedly playing with the workstation at his chair. Buddy noticed they had garnered the attention of several police vehicles.
“Ah, the police!” Zero exclaimed “They must be escorting us to the action!”
“Doubtful,” Alexa responded.
“Did you not say that Fat Mogul runs the police in this town?”
“I love that I’m not the only one around here who has no clue what’s going on,” Buddy laughed.
“Flores had to shut down,” Ryan added. “Government’s investigating them. From what I’ve gathered, he’s being investigated for people like us.”
“Ah,” Zero stated, “Well then, who are these gentlemen on our tails?”
“They are the National Guard,” D.A.W.N. answered. “They are being used in Flores Security’s absence. I’ll just log into their call center and call them off.”
“Great, just what we need. A bunch of toy soldiers hoping to see some action.” Zero scowled.
“Hey, man, didn’t the National Guard save your butts back in the battle against the Grave Digger?” Ryan asked.
“Due only to a technicality, young Red. We allowed the Guard the win so they would be responsible for holding him captive. He has a certain. . . smell about him that is rather difficult to remove.”
“Hey,” Buddy said, as he reached over to touch Alexa’s leg, “you alright? I don’t think you’ve been this quiet since I met you.”
“Yeah,” she said, silently. “I’m fine. It’s just that, well, I’m not usually running into fights. One of the nice things about being as fast as me is I can always be running away.”
“I know the feeling. The only fights I remember ever being in were all for entertainment. It feels like this is my first fight too.”
“Yeah, but you’re Buddy Hero. I mean, you invented the whole fighting bad guys thing, even if you don’t remember it. When you’re at full power, nothing can take you down. All someone has to do to me is stick out their leg at the right time.”
“That brings up a good point,” Buddy responded. “When we get there, why don’t you and Ryan stay in here. This really isn’t the place for a couple of young kids like you. Carl did say this thing was weaponized, right?”
Jeff, who had been eavesdropping on the conversation, cleared his throat and scowled at Buddy. “I believe I can take over from here, thank you. Carl said there were weapons on this vehicle, right?”
“Oh, yeah, this thing is fully loaded,” Ryan replied. “I’ve been checking out the specs since I got in here and I still haven’t seen all she’s got.”
“Would you care for a full listing of my armaments?” D.A.W.N. offered.
“Yeah!” Ryan responded.
“No,” Jeff said loudly. “You two can figure that stuff out once we get there. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to come up with something. Meanwhile, I’ll take care of Damon”
“Wait, are you trying to say you actually plan on keeping me in here while you’re out fighting?” Ryan looked mad. “I came on this trip to see some action, not to be babysat by a computer.” Ryan looked to Buddy for support.
“Look, kid, he’s right. We don’t need a couple of youngsters getting killed just because I pissed off some super-powered freak ten years ago. Plus, you’re the only one who really knows all this techie stuff. Figure out what Carl put in this lady-tank that can help us take out Damon.” As Buddy finished talked, they turned a corner and found Damon, covered in flames, floating above the wreckage that had at one point been Barber Street. D.A.W.N. stopped.
“We have arrived at our destination. Can I offer anyone a fresh hot towel before they disembark?”
Zero unbuckled his seat belt and jumped to his feet. Buddy felt all eyes on him.
“Aren’t you going to say it, chum?”
“The battle cry!”
“You used to have a catchphrase,” Alexa explained, “something you’d say right before going into battle. It was kind of a big deal.”
“Yeah, you know, like for good luck or whatever,” Ryan added.
Jeff also looked at Buddy as though he were expecting it, but trying to look like he wasn’t.
“Okay,” Buddy said tentatively. “What was it?”
“It’s hero time!” the group said in unison, including D.A.W.N.
“Alright,” Buddy said, clearing his throat. “It’s, um, hero time.”
“Really?” Alexa asked.
“Yeah, is that it?” Ryan joined in.
“What? I said it.”
“Ah, but chum, there was no heart in it. Try again, but this time, heart!”
“It was pretty crappy, Buddy,” Jeff added. “It’s more like this,” he continued, shifting his form into that of Buddy’s. “It’s hero time!” he screamed, jumping to the ladder and exiting the hatch. Zero shrugged, gave Buddy a sideways glance, and followed. He quickly peered back into the hatch and looked down at Buddy.
“Hey, you coming or what?”
Buddy contemplated the possible outcomes of his next decision. He knew he needed to get out of the vehicle and face his apparent arch-nemesis. Yet, he also knew he had absolutely no clue what this man was capable of or the limitations of his own abilities. He stared at the screen immediately in front of him and saw Damon had already turned to direct his attention at D.A.W.N.’s exterior. The second the hatch had been opened Buddy’s options for turning back had completely disappeared.
Yet, he couldn’t move. He stared at this embodiment of pure evil hidden within human form. This evil monstrosity of a man stared right through him even though Buddy knew he was still out of sight.
He thought back to a time when the only thing on his mind was how he wanted to get out of his sister’s house. He remembered how happy he was to have the excuse of visiting the man he had saved in order to escape. It seemed so long ago since the world was so simple.
He thought about Maggie and saw her smiling face in his mind. Seeing her face made him think about the diner and how much it meant to her. He then came to the realization that Damon had no intentions of stopping at the diner. He was planning on destroying everything, Maggie included.
Buddy looked through the screen and saw his sister’s restaurant was one of the only buildings in the area still standing. Damon had obviously left the destruction of this piece of architecture for Buddy to witness first hand. He knew he had to save that building in order to save the world. He knew he had to become the man everyone thought he was. He knew he had to finally give in and become Buddy Hero.
He unbuckled his belt, stood up, and looked at Zero, “I sure hope you know what I’m doing.”
“Chum, you’re Buddy Hero, that’s all I need to know,” he smiled and reached down to help Buddy up the ladder. The sound of destruction outside the vehicle was deafening. And louder than that was the voice of the man they had come to defeat.
“–know it’s you Buddy Hero. You can’t hide in there forever,” Damon taunted.
Zero jumped to the ground and landed next to Jeff, who had been trying to get Damon’s attention. Buddy stuck his head out the opening and looked straight at the man who had called him out. A fireball whizzed past his ear and landed behind his head. In one swift movement, Buddy jumped out of the hatch and hit the ground. Buddy looked at Damon, a feeling of empowerment coming over him.
“Dominion, I order you to stop this act of destruction, or else prepare to face justice through the power of the Defenders.”
Damon laughed. “I see you have not lost your sense of humor, hero, even if you have lost your memory.”
“And you, Damon, still the same old sense of fashion, I see. Isn’t that the same thing you wore last night? Walk of shame, I suppose.”
“Your jokes are pointless, Buddy Hero, as is everything else you do. I am already the victor here. You may as well lay down at my feet, for I have the power of God at my disposal and he has judged you to be condemned.”
“Forget about Buddy, Damon,” Jeff said, voice loud, but shaky, “What’s the phrase, judge not, lest ye be judged yourself?” Buddy laughed at Jeff’s banter as Jeff’s body melted and reformed into the image of Damon. Buddy was really enjoying the back and forth they had going on. It was just like every comic book he had ever read.
Jeff then engulfed himself in flame and began rising into the air. Buddy watched with excitement. This was really happening. They were fighting the super-villain.
Damon looked at Jeff with disgust. “Blasphemy,” he screamed as he raised a finger and pointed it at his doppelganger. His finger erupted with a giant fireball, which landed directly into the chest of the imposter. The fake-Damon’s body flew through the air until it was stopped by the side of a building. The body bounced and fell to the ground, re-forming into the image of Jeff as it fell.
“Behold, they will come upon you as wolves in sheep’s clothing, but you shall know them by their actions.” Damon seemed annoyed with the distraction of Jeff and turned his attention back to Buddy. Buddy’s excitement quickly faded. This was no comic book, this was life and death. This was real. “It is a disappointment that you do not remember me, Buddy Hero. Justice will not be as sweet since you are no longer aware of your crimes against God.”
“I don’t need to remember your ugly mug to know that you’re no good, Damon,” Buddy yelled. “This isn’t justice, this is evil. Don’t you realize this? You’re destroying the lives of innocent people.”
“Innocent? ‘Many will follow their shameful ways and bring the way of truth into disrepute.’ This has been foretold. You have been judged for eternity.”
“Cease this chatter, villain,” Zero yelled. “Or are you too scared to fight?” His body floated into the air.
“Zero. . . “ Buddy whispered as he grabbed Zero’s leg.
The ground around Zero shook in his wake and several pieces of granite from the nearby destruction lifted into the air around him. With a wave of Zero’s arms, the rubble flew away from him toward the floating, flaming man. The flames around Damon’s body grew larger and melted the projectiles before they neared him. Damon laughed again.
“Oh Kid Zero, the ever faithful disciple of evil. Have you yet to understand? The evil which supports your power only serves to fuel mine. ‘For corruption begets corruption’, yet corruption can also destroy corruption and I am that destruction. Your reign is over–”
“Blah blah blah,” Zero interrupted. “Enough with the sermon.” He again waved his arms and sent Damon’s body flying heavenward before sending him back to the ground at top speed. Damon continued talking as though he had never stopped.
“No longer shall the Lord allow such false gods as yourselves corrupt what he has made. He has given me my calling and the power to burn a fire that is not of this world. I am tasked with the destruction of this world and there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
“Oh, I’ll stop you,” Zero laughed. His arms waved again and a mountain of rubble flew high into the air and landed on top of the figure of Damon. The rocks soon melted around him and Damon’s form reappeared.
“You certainly are tenacious, Kid Zero. Your time is nearing. But first. . .” Damon turned to the diner and raised his hands to the air.
Buddy recognized he could stand still no longer. He bent his knees so his body was as close to the ground as possible and leaped into the air toward Damon as Zero lifted many more pieces of debris into the air around him.
Buddy’s body slammed against Damon and they both flew high into the air away from the battlefield. As they rose, Buddy saw the roofs of the city’s tallest buildings. Just as he reached the apex of his jump, Damon wrestled free of Buddy’s grip and hung in the air as Buddy’s body began its plummet.
Buddy screamed at Damon as the fiery figure lifted his hands to the air. Buddy felt more helpless than ever before, unable to redirect himself, only falling. The ground came to meet him quickly and no matter how much he tried he couldn’t twist his body to change position.
He hit the ground in a stupendous belly flop. He felt the ground bend beneath him as it gave way to form a Buddy-sized hole in the asphalt. As quickly as Buddy landed, he jumped to his feet to perform the jump again, heading toward the lighted figure above. He leaped into the air and found himself in the company of an assortment of objects filling the sky. Thousands of boulder-sized flaming meteors were headed to the area he had been only seconds prior.
Buddy flew toward Damon at high speed and prayed that damaging him would somehow cause the rocks to stop falling. Rage filled his mind as he watched the first impacts with the ground occur at his sister’s business.
Time seemed to slow as he sped through the air. He received a bird’s eye view of the final destruction of Barber Street and all he could do was watch as it melted away.
He skin felt hot with rage. Damon’s form neared and Buddy screamed. The two heavenly bodies collided and began their descent to the ground.
Buddy held tight to Damon, ensuring this time he would not escape. Damon responded by laughing maniacally. The ground neared quickly and Buddy rolled their bodies to ensure Damon would be the first to make impact.
“It’s no use, I am–” Damon became engulfed in a blue light and disappeared right as Buddy crashed into the ground. He stood quickly, searching for his foe.
The world spun around him as he straightened his body. His legs gave way, as did Buddy, once again, to the comfort of unconsciousness.
Go to Chapter Twenty