Sleep did not come easy for Buddy that night. He and his sister had been directed to a group of rooms adjacent to the grand foyer which were generally reserved for high profile visitors. They had not been used since before the collapse of the Defenders.
Although the rooms were so luxurious that even the royal family would feel at home, Buddy could not get comfortable. Maggie pestered him about the situation for quite some time after they had retired, but even after she finally gave into the call for sleep, Buddy could not find rest.
He tossed and turned for hours. The night seemed to drag on for an eternity. And so it continued until finally the lights turned on and D.A.W.N.’s voice rang through the room.
“Wakey wakey sleepyhead. It’s time to get up and meet with Arthur.”
Buddy didn’t say a word, he stared at the ceiling. He heard Maggie stirring from her bed in the other room, muttering something to herself that he couldn’t quite make out before she stormed into his room.
“I just want you to know I’m still not happy with you,” she said before she disappeared again. Buddy soon heard the sounds of a shower starting up.
He slowly rolled off the bed and tried rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Would you care for some coffee?” D.A.W.N. asked.
“Yeah, actually, that would be nice.” A slot opened in the wall opposite the bed and a steaming cup was pushed out onto the dresser. Buddy stood and walked to it. “Thanks, D.A.W.N.”
“It’s my pleasure, Buddy. Is there anything else I can get for you this morning?”
“Any way you can get me a happy sister?”
“Maggie seems to be enjoying her shower currently. I would expect her to be in a much better mood after she comes out.”
“Would you care to take a shower as well?”
“Guess I probably should, huh?”
“I wasn’t going to say anything.”
D.A.W.N. led Buddy to one of the other bathrooms and he reveled in the perfection of the high pressure water he was greeted with. After he finished cleaning himself, he shaved and, for the first time in months, found himself looking and feeling like a real human being again.
“I have laid out some clothes for you on the bed,” D.A.W.N. said.
“Great, I could use a fresh set.”
“That is an understatement, Buddy.”
Maggie had finished her morning ritual long before Buddy escaped his immaculate bathroom and was, according to D.A.W.N., already on the red level with everyone else, waiting for Buddy. Buddy dressed quickly and made his way as well.
Once he exited the elevator, Arthur immediately began talking. Maggie, Zero, Alexa, Jeff, and Carl were all in attendance.
“Now that Buddy is here, the time is upon us to officially prepare for battle. Damon Memphis was an elusive opponent when the Defenders faced him ten years ago, we can only imagine how much more difficult this fight will be a decade later. As such, we will need to have a strategy. We will need to be organized.”
“Is this speech going anywhere?” Maggie asked, hand raised.
“Of course, Ms. Jackson. It is time for us to open the doors to the war room. If we are to be fully prepared for this battle, we will need all of the tools of the Defenders at our disposal. So, if you would all be so kind as to follow me, we will begin to form our plan of action there.”
“War room?” Maggie asked. “What kind of place is this?”
“It’s a very special kind of place, Ms. Jackson. A place that is generally not open to civilians. Don’t make me regret allowing you down here.”
“I think I’m regretting being allowed down here.”
“Look, Maggie,” Buddy said, walking to her side, “there’s no reason to bore yourself with this stupid meeting. Heck, if I had the option, I know I wouldn’t be going. There’s a whole lot of cool stuff around. Why don’t you go explore or find a spot to get comfortable.”
“All of the amenities of our complex are open to you, Ms. Jackson, of course.”
“Right,” Buddy continued. “Look, as far as I can see, we’ll probably be down here for a while, you might as well just make yourself comfortable.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Buddy. I’m coming whether I’m invited or not. If these freaks are going to make you go out there and get yourself killed, I want to be around to make sure I get the first hit.”
“That’s the spirit, Ms. Jackson! If my men shared even a portion of your enthusiasm, I’m sure Mr. Memphis wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“Oh, this Damon guy’s not the one who needs to be worried. If Buddy’s going to put his life on the line because of all the nonsense you’ve been putting into his head, I’m going to need to be around to knock some sense into him. And then, of course, I’ll have to deal with you.” Maggie smiled slightly at this.
“Maggie Jackson,” Zero exclaimed. “The woman with more spunk than a spunk machine.”
“And who the hell are you?”
Arthur led the group into the elevator and looked at Buddy. “Mr. Jackson, if you would be so kind. The War Room floor is one of the floors we have yet to have been able to bypass the security on.”
“I can handle that,” Zero said as he reached over Buddy and pressed his palm against a nondescript panel situated alongside the standard elevator buttons. The doors shut and the elevator rose. The doors opened and revealed a hallway with eight doors. There were cobwebs covering the hallway and the strong odor of mildew. Arthur led the group to the end of the hall to a black door with no markings on it. Zero swiped his hand across the panel beside the door to wipe off a thick layer of dust and placed the palm of his hand on the pad. The door slid open. He walked through, followed by the rest of the group.
Inside the room was an oval-shaped stainless-steel table. It had an insignia painted on it. The insignia consisted of a giant shield. Across the top of the shield was a blue border which held seven stars of seven different colors. The bottom of the shield had alternating vertical red and white stripes. Across the shield the words Defenders of America were printed.
“DOA, huh? Seems kinda fitting,” Buddy said, laughing to himself.
“That joke never gets old,” Zero laughed as he sat in a purple chair which had the letters KZ inscribed on the back.. “I think. Why is it funny again?”
“I agree with you on something, Buddy,” Jeff laughed.
“I know, right? DOA? Who comes up with this crap?”
“Oh, you did, chum!” Zero exclaimed. Jeff burst into laughter.
“Jeez,” Buddy responded, “no wonder the government wanted to get rid of me.”
“Gentlemen, please. If we could take this moment a tad more seriously. We are in the midst of a crisis. We must dedicate all of our energy in determining the best course of action for us to respond to it.” Arthur sat in the chair placed at the head of the table. The chair was situated above the shield’s crest. It was green in color and as opposed to the metallic nature of the other chairs in the room, was covered in a leather-like material.
Zero looked at Arthur to debate his choice of seating, but said nothing. Jeff sat at his father’s right hand-side in a blue chair with the letters FM on it. He placed his elbows on the table and folded his hands. Buddy sat in an orange chair with the letters XT, Maggie, a pink chair with the letters PB, Alexa, a red chair with the letters RR, and Carl, a yellow chair with the letters YJ. After they had all arranged themselves around the table, Arthur spoke.
“D.A.W.N., the image please,” Arthur yelled. A three dimensional image appeared in the middle of the table. The image was of the man Buddy had seen the previous evening.
“As most of you are aware, the image in front of us is of Damon Memphis, also known as Dominion. For those of you who are not familiar with this man, he is classified as a class 48 meta-human, capable of producing unspeakable destruction with little more than a thought. His powers, although not completely known, due to our inability to restrain him for any length of time, include the ability to completely engulf himself in flames, call upon fiery boulders from the sky, and to produce loyalty from those around him, even if they are deeply opposed to him and/or his principles. Other speculated abilities include teleportation, shape-shifting, matter-generation, matter-manipulation, self-duplication, regeneration, inter-dimensional travel, immortality,–”
“Alright, we get it, this dude’s got some powers. What’s the plan, already?” Buddy asked impatiently.
“It may prove to be important to know what we are up against before leaping into action, Mr. Jackson.”
“Oh, we’ve fought Dominion hundreds of times,” Zero began. “We never needed a plan before. That’s just not the Defender way.”
Maggie sat forward in her chair. “If this Damon guy is as strong as you’re saying, shouldn’t you get the army involved or something?”
“Maggie, there’s no country in the world that has an army strong enough to take on Damon Memphis,” Jeff snarled. “Just thinking there’s someone out there better equipped than we are is insulting.”
“Look, pal–” Buddy put his hand on Maggie’s arm. She stopped mid-sentence.
“Ms. Jackson has a good point, although the United States Army may not be the best choice for increasing our numbers, this is one of the options I would like to discuss while we are in here. I believe the standard policy for these sessions was to brainstorm a plan of action, making certain, when available, the team would not go into the fray unprepared. So, with that being said, I am opening the floor to suggestions.”
“Wait, Artie,” Alexa jumped in, “are you saying you don’t have any ideas on how to take this chump out? You normally have a whole pile of plans laying around for any possible situation.” She looked shaken.
“Unfortunately, Ms. Rose, this circumstance is one even I did not foresee occurring. Reactivating Mr. Jackson has been the furthest I have been able to get in my contemplation of the issue.” The room looked expectantly at Buddy.
“Hey, I’m the new guy, remember? How would I know what to do?”
“Well, you’re supposed to be the Buddy Hero, aren’t you?” Jeff sneered. “Isn’t the whole reason you’re here because you’re supposed to come up with some plan that will once again save the world?”
“Jeffrey, we’ve already discussed your poor attitude.”
“But, Daddy. . . “
“No, Jeffrey, no more excuses. I want you to go back to your office and think about how you’ve been treating Buddy.”
“But Daddy, even Maggie got–”
“No more buts, Jeffrey.” Jeff got up from his chair slowly and exited the room.
“Look, maybe I was Buddy Hero, but that isn’t me anymore. I don’t know the first thing about what you people do. Hell, I don’t even have any powers.”
“This is pathetic,” Maggie laughed. “I expected this to be more than just a bunch of boys sitting around the table whining about who’s going to think of something. You need an idea, what about that kid who saved Buddy the other night?”
“What kid?” Zero asked, sitting forward in his chair.
“What did you say his name was, Buddy? Reed?”
“Yeah, Ryan Reed. He’s always got some sort of gadget on him.”
“Are you talking about Oscar Reed’s son?” Carl asked, perking up in his chair.
“Sure, maybe. He gave me his card.” Buddy reached in his pocket and pulled out the card. “Yeah, Ryan Reed, from Reed Pharmaceuticals.”
“Is it possible?” Carl asked, looking at Arthur.
“It is indeed possible the Reed family has been operating under the pretense of being affected by the Mind Wipe device when, in fact, they weren’t. The question is, if they are still active, how is it they have kept themselves hidden for so long?”
“Are we talking about Red?” Zero jumped up. “My old pal The Red Rocketeer?”
“The Red Rocketeer?” Maggie asked, not in any way attempting to hide her chortling. “Do you all have those goofy names like in the comic books? This is just ridiculous. What’s yours, Buddy? The Blue Plate Special?” Maggie poked Buddy in his gut as she laughed.
“Ha ha,” Buddy pretended to laugh.
“But Reed was just a gadget junkie, wasn’t he?” Alexa asked. “Isn’t that what we’ve got you around for Carl?”
“Gadgets are a hobby of mine, Alexa. Oscar Reed invented the concept of using technology to combat crime. If people say it’s impossible, he takes it as his personal agenda to prove them wrong. I don’t even compare. I mean, he’s the one who developed the teleporter.”
“Well then, it would appear we have the beginnings of a plan,” Arthur chimed in. “Why don’t you go and visit Mr. Reed and see if he may be able to offer us some sort of technical assistance in this matter.”
“When do we leave?” Zero yelled, obviously excited.
“Well, Mr. Hamilton, seeing as Mr. Jackson is the original leader of your little band of heroes, I think it only appropriate for him to be the one who speaks with your former associate.”
“Me? Why me? I don’t even know the guy. Plus, if you remember, there’s some mad man out there planning on fricasseeing me the next time he sees me. I think it’s ‘only appropriate’ I keep my hide underground and safe from the human barbeque pit.”
“I agree. Why should Buddy have to be on messenger duty?” Maggie asked.
“Well, I could definitely go and talk to him. You know, tinkerer to genius, or whatever,” Carl offered.
“Mr. Reed has obviously kept himself hidden for good reason. I don’t believe it will be as simple as having someone walk up to him and ask him kindly to rejoin the good fight. Unfortunately, we don’t have the necessary time to beat around the bush. I believe it is in our best interest to start with our most convincing argument possible. In this case, I believe that argument is Mr. Jackson himself.”
“But what do I even say to the guy? I mean, I really have no clue who he is.”
“Well, if I remember good ol’ Red, he’s going to be extra careful who he talks to about all of this. He’s not going to let just anyone know he knows.” Zero smiled while thinking about his old comrade.
“My thoughts precisely, Mr. Hamilton. We will need to approach this very delicately. He needs to feel as though he is talking to the Buddy Jackson he used to know. He needs to feel comfortable enough around you to reveal to you he’s still active.”
“But how am I supposed to pretend we’re old pals if I don’t remember anything about him?”
“Good point. With that in mind, Mr. Hamilton, perhaps you should accompany Mr. Jackson. With your memory still intact, you should be able to assist in the facade. Make the preparations and let Ms. Rose handle the transportation.”
“Whatever you need, Artie.” Alexa seemed tentative in her response.
“Wait a second, what about those agents?” Buddy asked. “Kent and Parker. Won’t they be able to find us the second we’re outside the door?”
“That is an excellent question, Mr. Jackson. However, as you may remember, I said that there were other places outside of this building in which you would be safe. It just so happens that Mr. Reed’s home is one of those locations.”
“Oh, cool. Seems pretty lucky.”
“Red is already prepared for this kind of stuff, chum. It doesn’t surprise me.”
“And with that, I believe we can consider this meeting adjourned for the time being. You all know what to do. Now, Ms. Jackson, I imagine you are still not feeling all that confident regarding this new information. I would like to amend that. If you would accompany me, I believe I can ease some of the concerns you might have.” Maggie looked at Buddy, the look on her face saying a much more vulgar version of what she actually said next.
“You aren’t really going to leave me with this mob boss guy, are you?” she whispered.
“Oh, Ms. Jackson, I assure you there is nothing to be concerned about.”
“Look, Mags. I’ll just be gone for a bit. Relax. Everything will be alright,” Buddy said, not believing a word of it.
“Please, Ms. Jackson. I would so very much love to enlighten you on the exploits of Buddy Hero.”
“Buddy Hero? You mean that was his nickname? I saw it downstairs and thought it was too crazy to be true.”
“Oh yes Ms. Jackson, that is the moniker your brother used to be known by. And I think you’ll also enjoy seeing him in his spandex uniform.”
“You’re right. This I’ve gotta see.” Maggie walked to Arthur’s side.
“Right this way, Ms. Jackson.”
“Please, call me Maggie.” They exited the room. Buddy looked at Zero.
“That’s going to be trouble, right?”
“Chum, you have no idea.”
Go to Chapter Seventeen