Buddy was directed back to the grand foyer to a bank of telephones in order to contact Ryan. He removed the business card from his pocket and dialed the number.
The phone rang.
It continued ringing.
Buddy decided no one was going to answer and just as he moved to hang up, he heard the sound of the other end of the line being picked up.
“Yeah?” came a raspy voice on the other end of the line.
“Um, yeah. Is this the number for Ryan Reed?”
“Yeah,” the voice responded, sounding as though it took all its energy to push out that word.
“Okay, great. Can I talk to him?”
“Yeah, man, you’ve got him.”
“Oh, hey, are you sick or something?”
“No man, it’s just early. What time is it?”
“I don’t know, around 10.”
“In the morning?”
“Ugh.” A loud groan came from the other end of the phone.
“Sorry, is this a bad time?”
“No, no, it’s fine. Who is this?”
“This is Buddy Jackson. We met the other day, you know, when you fell on me.”
“Dude, we just had that epic battle last night, of course I remember you. Should’ve known it was you. Sorry, I’m a little haggard from being out late last night for the battle’s after party.” Ryan’s voice began to regain the tone Buddy remembered as Ryan got more excited.
“Yeah dude, you know, after you do something awesome like that, you need to go out and party, right? You should’ve been there. It was off the hook. So, anyways, what’s up man?
“Well, look, I really need to meet with your father. Is there any chance you could hook that up?”
“Well sure, man. I can definitely hook you up. You thinking about taking me up on that job offer?”
“Not exactly. When do you think you could set it up?”
“I dunno, man. Probably in a couple of weeks or something. He’s a pretty busy guy and doesn’t keep much for business hours.”
“What if I said I really needed to talk to him today? Preferably as soon as possible.”
“Whoa, I dunno man. I mean, it’s already, like, 10, right? The old man’s probably at work or something.”
“What if I said it had to do with the man you helped me out with last night?”
“Oh, yeah, Dominion. Figures. I see what you’re getting at. Sorry, dude, but I don’t think he’s gonna be interested.”
“This is very important, Ryan. I need to speak to your father as soon as possible.”
“Look, dude. You can head on over to my house, he’s been working from home a lot lately so he’s probably there. But he’s not going to be too happy to see you, especially if you’re talking about Dominion.”
“What does that mean?”
“Never mind. Look, head on over to the pad and I’ll see what I can do to help you out, alright?”
“Okay, where’s that?”
“Number 1 Reed Place. It’s pretty hard to miss.”
Buddy hung up the phone and turned around to see Zero walking toward him from the elevator. He was wearing a purple spandex suit with a long floor length cape. On his head was a large black hat with a flat top and a brim, like a Spanish gaucho hat. The brim hid his eyes. Buddy looked at him and chuckled.
“What?” Zero asked.
“What are you wearing? You look like you’re going to try out for a Mexican TV show or something.”
“This is my uniform. If we want to convince Red to return to the team, we must do so effectively.”
“In that? You really want to wear that out in public?”
“I used to always wear this out in public.”
“Hey, man, look, I’m sorry. I’m know I’m not used to the spandex and capes and whatever else, but don’t you think that’s a little much? I mean, I thought we were supposed to keep a low profile, especially with those feds looking for us.”
“Ah, yes, you’re right. I had forgotten about that. Too bad, I was looking especially good in this today.”
Buddy held back another chortle. “Yeah.”
Zero changed his outfit into something more suitable for the task and they immediately departed for their destination. When they arrived, they found themselves in front of a castle. Buddy exited the rickshaw, stared at the massive structure in front of him, and came to the conclusion he was not properly prepared. Zero stepped out of the vehicle and walked up the stairs to the front door. Alexa looked at the doors anxiously.
“Hey, Zero, you’re sure you know this guy, right?”
“Sure thing, Buddy. This is definitely Red’s place. It looks exactly like something he would have designed.”
“Now that’s pretty freaking epic. Buddy Hero and Kid Zero are really back together again? It makes me feel like a kid.” A figure spoke as he walked up the paved driveway, nearing the parked rickshaw. Alexa jumped and turned around to look.
“Holy crap, Ryan! You scared me. Where did you come from?”
“Wait, you two know each other?” Buddy asked.
“Really? Your friends need a favor from Dad and you don’t even tell them?” Ryan mocked.
“Tell us what?” Zero asked.
“She’s Oscar Reed’s daughter, dude.”
“You’re Red’s daughter?” Zero asked. “I was at your christening!”
“But, isn’t your last name Rose?” Buddy asked.
“Yeah, well, I kinda changed it when…” Alexa trailed off.
“Why didn’t you say something? This should be a whole lot easier than I thought!” Buddy felt relieved knowing he would not have to be the focal point of the meeting.
“Well, guys, it’s not exactly as simple as you might think,” Alexa said sheepishly.
“What’s not simple, sis? The fact you and Dad haven’t talked in years, or the fact that you know he’s going to flip out when he sees you?”
“Look, Ryan, will you get them in to see Dad or not?”
“Well, now that I know you’re involved I think I’m going to have to be a lot less willing to cooperate. I’m already in enough trouble with Dad as it is.”
“Ah, the sweet sounds of sibling rivalry. It doesn’t get any sweeter than that,” Zero laughed. “Unfortunately, now is not the time. We must speak with your father.”
“Why do you always have to be such a freak about everything, Ryan?” Alexa exclaimed. “Come on, guys. I didn’t want to have to do this, but if my stupid little brother is going to keep acting like a jerk, I’ll take you inside.” Alexa walked up the stairs.
“You’re wasting your time, dudes.” Ryan ran up the stairs and stood between them and the door.
“Why don’t we give him the chance to make his own decision,” Buddy asked, taking charge of the situation. Alexa opened the front doors and gestured for the group to enter. Ryan followed, grumbling as he shut the doors behind him.
Buddy’s jaw dropped as he entered the foyer. The first thing that caught his eye was an enormous chandelier hanging from the ceiling covered in glittering glass. The room was littered with the extravagant excesses of fortune. Buddy was overwhelmed by the gold encrusted marvels filling this homage to wealth. Yet, Buddy was more amazed by the size of the room than he was by anything else. Each footstep he took echoed through the cavernous entryway. He was awakened from his shock by an elderly gentleman walking into the room. He looked annoyed at the presence of guests.
“Ah, Master Ryan, I see you are awake much earlier than usual again today.”
“Hey, Bosley, what’s happening?”
“What important task do you have for me, sir?” The sardonic tone of his voice dripped with contempt for the young man.
“I’m sensing some attitude Bozers. Look man, I just need you to go get my dad cause these two want to chat him up. You think you can handle that?”
“Of course, sir. I would love to do nothing more than to pull your father away from the important business of saving the world so he can talk to the couple of vagabonds you have brought in from the street.”
“Who are you calling vagabonds?” Zero asked.
“My deepest apologies. Upon further inspection, I can see you are most definitely not vagrants, but some sort of wealthy individuals who have merely come across a string of bad luck and have arrived to beg for their dinner.”
“Seriously Boz, just get my dad, the whole butler with an attitude thing has been overplayed.”
“Of course, sir. I would not wish to become a stereotype.” Bosley left on a spiral staircase at the other end of the room.
“That butler of yours, old family friend?” Buddy asked jokingly.
“No clue where my dad found him but he absolutely hates me. Look, my dad’s not going to be too keen on seeing you guys, so I’m gonna jet for a bit and let you all get re-acquainted. You three just hang out down here and I’m sure he’ll be out soon.” Ryan started toward the stairs.
“Actually, if it’s alright, I’m going to wait outside. Now’s probably not the best time for a reunion with my Dad, you know, if you want to talk to him or whatever.” Alexa went back to the front door and quickly exited the room.
Buddy and Zero walked deeper and inspected the paintings on the walls. The paintings all contained apocalyptic imagery. Angels and demons and fire all melded into a blur of catastrophe.
They came across a painting with a figure in the middle of the chaos resembling Damon. He was standing on a mountain of skulls burning in flames. Flaming stones fell from the sky all around him and he was surrounded by little demons. The sound of footsteps came from the top of the stairs.
“Gentlemen, it doesn’t matter what you have in mind to discuss, without an appointment, I really–” Oscar Reed stopped as he saw the two men who had been waiting for him. He was dressed in a lab coat, wearing a pair of safety goggles on his forehead. This man was a tall, but lanky individual. He had short red hair and on the tip of his nose sat a pair of eyeglasses. His pause was short but noticeable. He quickly regained his composure and continued where he left off. “–can’t stay long. I keep a rather busy schedule, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
“Red, mi amigo. Long time no see.” Zero said, moving quickly towards the stairs Oscar was descending. Buddy grabbed his arm.
“Zero, we’re supposed to take it easy on the familiarity,” Buddy whispered.
“But the picture. Red must know,” Zero whispered back. He continued toward the stairs.
“I’m sorry. I’m quite certain you have me mistaken for someone else,” Oscar said as he reached the landing at the end of the stairs.
Bosley reappeared. “Excuse me, sir, would you like me to escort these gentlemen out of the building?”
“No, Bosley, I’ll take care of these two myself. You can return to whatever you were doing.” Oscar watched as Bosley left the room. “Now, gentlemen, if you would follow me, I’ll show you the back exit of the building. I would prefer any arriving guests not see you as you exit the premises.” Oscar walked toward a door housed underneath the staircase he had descended. Buddy and Zero followed, with Buddy pleading his case.
“Mr. Reed, I apologize for coming unannounced and all, but we really need to talk to you.” Oscar led them through the door and they entered a lounging area with leather recliners and a full bar. Oscar shut the door behind them before speaking.
“Buddy Jackson. Since when do you grovel?” Oscar asked, laughing and patting Buddy on the back.
“See I told you he remembered!” Zero exclaimed.
“Glad to have you back on planet Earth, Zero, old chum, although I fear for what that means. Sorry for the display back there. Bosley is a government spy, here to make sure I am not still an active member of the meta-human world. The government began to question my knowledge of the erased history after some of the side effects of our drugs came to light.”
“No worries, chum. We have had plenty of our own dealings with the feds in the past, right Buddy?”
“Uh, yeah, sure.”
“Buddy, you can drop the act. There’s no need to feel uncomfortable around me, not with our history. C’mon, give an old friend a hug.” Oscar moved in to give Buddy a hug.
“Yeah, sorry, it’s just , umm. . . I’m not used to seeing you out of uniform, you know.”
“What are you talking about? We used to play golf together every weekend. You’ve probably seen more of me in my street clothes.”
“Yeah, Buddy, what’s wrong with you?” Zero asked, nudging Buddy in the shoulder.
“Oh, yeah, well, what I meant was–”
“Don’t worry about it, brother. Why don’t we have a drink while we catch up.” Oscar reached behind the bar and grabbed three glasses and an unlabeled bottle of brown liquid.
“Well, Mr. Reed,” Buddy said.
“Oh, don’t call me that. I don’t think you’ve ever called me that. Call me Oscar, or Red, or anything, but not that. You boys drink scotch, right?”
“Anything you’ve got is fine by me, Red,” Zero responded.
“Oscar, we’re not really here to catch up. We’ve got a favor to ask you.”
“I assumed as much. I know you weren’t around, Zero, but Buddy, I expected you to come visit sooner. I figured you must have been hit by the redaction just like everyone else.”
“Uh, yeah, I know. But, well, I guess I,” Buddy stammered.
“Jeez, Buddy. He didn’t avoid it, Red. He’s blank. He thinks he used to be a boxer or something.”
“Ah, well now, that makes sense. So, if you don’t remember our history, you’re being quite forward in coming to see me to ask for a favor, aren’t you? What makes you think I owe you anything?”
“Mr. Reed, I have absolutely no reason to believe you owe me anything. I have absolutely no reason to believe you can even help me. But I do know we’re in trouble and when I say we, I don’t just mean me and Zero, I mean all of us.”
“Now we get down to it, don’t we? You’re referring to the return of Damon Memphis, aren’t ya? Yeah, I saw the video too.”
“Yeah and when he found me last night, I knew I was going to be a goner.”
“Wait, so you’ve already squared off against Dominion and came out of it just fine? Good work, pal. Where is he?”
“Well, you see, I was screwed. But then Ryan came through with that goo stuff and saved the day. So, when I mentioned–”
“Ryan, you mean my son Ryan?”
“Yeah, sure, that short kid who is always wearing a trench coat.”
“Are you telling me my son stole the Flame-Retarding/Heat-Activated Hardening Foam from my lab and used it against Damon Memphis?”
“I guess so, yeah.”
“That damned kid. I’ve told him hundreds of times he is not to go around pretending he is some sort of superhero. Can you imagine what would happen if–”
“Sir, I’m telling you your son is already a hero. He saved my life.”
“That’s irrelevant. This is my son we’re talking about. If the Meta Police Squad were to find out about this he would be locked up instantaneously, even without any meta-human abilities. I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me.” Oscar walked to the door. Buddy grabbed his arm.
“Oscar, I don’t mean to be so forward here, but we really need to talk to you. Like you said, Damon’s back. And from what I’ve been told, you were an important piece of the puzzle in catching him the first time.”
“It’s out of the question.” Oscar opened the door.
“You haven’t even let me ask the question yet,” Buddy pleaded.
“You’re going to ask if I will help you stop Damon Memphis. My answer is no.” Oscar walked through the door and yelled, “Ryan!” Buddy and Zero followed him.
“But–” Zero said.
Oscar stopped and turned to look at Zero. “There are no buts, Zero. Don’t you see what’s happening here? I’ve got a family and a business. If I were to come out as an active superhero today, I could lose all of that without any notice. I can’t risk it. Hell, I risked enough already by having my family avoid the Great Redaction in the first place.” Oscar turned away from Zero and yelled louder than he had previously. “Ryan!”
Zero stopped and thought about how to respond to Oscar’s denial. Ryan appeared on the landing at the top of the stairs.
“Ryan, come down here,” Oscar said sternly.
“Dad, come on, if you–”
“Ryan. . . “ Ryan walked to his father and stood in front of him. The confident attitude he had shown earlier was replaced by a small child being reprimanded. “Ryan, these fine men here told me you were out using company equipment, my company’s equipment, without my authorization, is that true?”
“Well, yeah, but-”
“What have I said about using our prototypes?”
“Tell me what I’ve said about using our prototypes.”
“Never use prototypes outside of the ReedCol Complex. But seriously, I mean, it’s my design and I–”
“And why are we never to use prototypes outside of the Reed Pharm Complex?”
“Because it would allow our competitors to know what we are working on and then we would lose our competitive edge. But this was imp–”
“And what have I said about pretending you’re a super-hero?”
“Never act like-”
“I said never go out pretending you’re a superhero because you’ll either get yourself killed or arrested. So, tell me. What were you thinking?” Oscar was very angry. Buddy thought if this lasted much longer, Oscar would be taking Ryan over his knee.
“Look Dad, I knew Damon was back when I saw the news report. I couldn’t let him come back and not be prepared. So I used your old tracking mechanism for seeing where the metas were and adjusted it to search for Damon. When I saw he was coming back into town, I knew I had to do something.”
“You were in The Red Rocketeer Chamber?”
“Well. . . yeah.”
“I locked that room up years ago. How did you even–”
“Seriously, Dad? I mean, sure, you installed a beautiful little piece of electronic security, but come on, a self-replicating randomization cryptography method for the password? I got past that right after you put it up.”
“Ryan. . . “ Oscar was having an internal struggle between the pride he felt at his son’s ingenuity and the anger he felt at being disobeyed. His anger over the situation surpassed the pride very quickly.
“Hey, I’m glad we could see this piece of parenting gold and everything, but we really don’t have the time,” Buddy interjected. “Oscar I have to ask you one more time, but then I’ll leave it. Will you help us out or not? We could really use your brains, because we’ve got absolutely no idea how to face-off against this Damon guy.”
“Dad, they want you to join the team again? That’s awesome.”
“Ryan, we’ve gone over this hundreds of times. The government doesn’t want us so there is absolutely no point in risking our lives if we’re only going to be tossed in prison afterward.”
“The man’s got a point,” Buddy said, looking at Zero.
“Buddy,” Zero responded sharply.
“I’m just saying. . . “
“I’m disappointed in the both of you,” Zero reprimanded. “I know you’re forgotten everything, Buddy, but I can only forgive so much. The world needs us. Without us, people like Dominion would have already committed numerous atrocities time and time again. This world would be a war zone. You two are talking like you’re ready to give up on everything.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Zero. If it weren’t for me working with the U.S. Government to make The Defenders legal they would have never had to modify the memory of every single living human being on earth. They would have told us to cease and desist before anyone really cared about what we were doing in the first place. Because of my inclusion in the ranks of you self-appointed gods I became directly responsible for one of the worst things to have ever happened to humanity, the destruction of knowledge. Do you have any clue how much information was lost because of The Great Redaction? Even if we were ever able to openly discuss meta abilities again it would take ages to get back all we have lost.”
“Wait, you’re saying the worst thing that has ever happened to humanity is we’ve lost a little bit of scientific research? What about the Holocaust or the Crusades or pretty much anything else causing millions of lives to be lost?” Buddy asked.
“Hey, I agree, those acts of mass murder were truly horrendous events in the history of mankind. But if you could comprehend the massive number of lives we could be saving today if it weren’t for the government’s decision to rewrite history, there would be no question as to the catastrophic nature of this act. Before the Great Redaction we were in the midst of a medical revolution. The amount of knowledge gained through the study of meta-human physiology caused us to completely re-write the book on the human body. We were on the verge of wiping out disease entirely. Just think about it, a world without cancer, AIDS, heart disease, or even the common cold. You think we lost a bunch of people to the Holocaust, just consider for a moment the amount of people the government has sentenced to death by moving us so far backward in medical science.”
“But you still remember, don’t you? Why can’t you just start the revolution back up? Heck, I’m sure you’d get a few Nobel Prizes if what you’re saying is true.”
“If only it were that simple, Buddy. Sure, I started up Reed Pharmaceuticals in an attempt to move the world back in that direction. But I can only do so much. I was only a footnote in the original research. Because I had decided to dedicate my life to prancing around in tights as one of your Defenders, I had very little time to get involved in any scientific research. The medical sciences were never my expertise in the first place, and without being able to even mention the basic idea of meta-human physiology, even if I did bring in the right medical scientists, they wouldn’t be any help. Even with the small movements I’m able to make based on my own knowledge, I spend most of my time re-writing my research so the government doesn’t believe I’m aware of the possibility of super-human abilities. I am currently the only person left who has any idea there is a cure to disease and if I were to be locked up for something as stupid as conspiring with you there would be no possibility of ever getting that back.”
“But, Red,” Zero piped in, ”you could make being meta legal again. If we take down Damon, the government would have no choice.”
“Unless they enact another redaction. Just think, they have us perform their dirty work for them to get rid of Damon and all they have to do is a minor adjustment to the world’s memory to be rid of us completely once again. And this time I might not be so lucky as to remember. Or, even worse, they could put us in some secret dungeon somewhere, forgotten even by our captors. I can’t risk it. In fact, I’m risking quite a lot in even talking to you, since you’re so hell-bent to continue on this path.”
“But, Red. . . “
“Zero, I’m sincerely sorry. You know how much you mean to me, but I have to think about the greater good here. I have to think about all of the people I can save with my research. I wish you well on this endeavor to defeat Memphis, but I really can’t be involved this time. Please show yourselves out. Ryan, you’re coming with me. We have to discuss your unauthorized use of company technology further.” Oscar led Ryan to the staircase he had arrived on. He directed Ryan to go up the stairs in front of him. When he was halfway up, Oscar stopped and turned to look at Buddy and Zero. “It really has been wonderful to see you both. Hopefully we can do this again sometime under better circumstances.” He continued up the stairs and disappeared from view.
“Well, that was a giant waste of time,” Zero said, as they walked toward the door.
Go to Chapter Eighteen