“What?” Buddy asked, deciding he could not bear being stared at any longer.
“I know you don’t realize it, but this is a pretty important moment here, big boy,” said Alexa. “Not only are we facing the possible return of Damon Memphis, the man who wants to destroy the earth, but also possibly the return of Buddy Hero, the man who can single-handedly save the earth from destruction. I mean, this could be the return of a living legend, Buddy.”
“I don’t think you can be called a living legend if no one remembers you.”
“Au contraire, old chum. Legends are often forgotten, but their mark on the world remains. You, my friend, are the sole reason this world still remains. That’s the stuff legends are made of.”
“Whoever you think I might have been, I’m no hero.”
“Buddy, you don’t get it. You were the hero.” Alexa said. “You made people actually want to better the world they lived in. You gave people hope. That’s something the world could use a heavy helping of right about now. We need Buddy Hero.”
“What if I don’t want the world to need me?”
“Who wouldn’t want the world to need them, chum?”
“Who would? Even if everything you’ve told me about my past is somehow true, that’s still not me. Maybe it’s what I used to be, but it’s not me anymore. I’m no role model, I’m unemployed, homeless, and usually drunk. And guess what, I kinda like it.”
“I don’t think you under–” Alexa began.
“I can’t have people relying on me for every little problem. I have enough problems of my own. How can I help them when I can’t even help myself, huh?”
“You’re over-thinking it, Buddy,” Zero offered. “Don’t think, just do.”
“That’s just the point. You want me to do. I don’t do. I don’t do anything. I don’t want to do anything. I’m not the man you think I am, I’m just not.” Buddy’s face turned red with frustration. He looked at the device in his hands and threw it on the floor. He ran to the elevator doors and pressed the call button. Zero and Alexa followed him.
“Buddy . . .” Alexa said, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Leave me alone. I just want to go home. Find someone else to be your hero.” Buddy pressed the call button repeatedly and let out a cry of frustration.
“But chum, there is only one Buddy Hero.”
“Why the hell does it have to be me?!?” Buddy yelled as he raised his hands in the air. He brought them down to pound on the doors. They folded under his hands like paper. The fog jets shot hissing streams of liquid into the air. Behind those streams was the smiling face of Carl, accompanied by Jeff, who scowled. Buddy stopped and stared at the hole. Zero and Alexa joined him with their mouths open.
“Well, I guess that answers the question of whether or not the process worked.” Carl said.
“Um. . . Sorry.” Buddy said with a look of embarrassment on his face. He pulled the doors open so Carl and Jeff could walk through. The doors came out of the wall and Buddy was left holding them in his hands. He dropped them in surprise.
“You had better be sorry, Buddy,” Jeff spoke as he walked through the opening. “You think you can just come into my house and start tearing things apart? This is unacceptable. I’m telling Daddy and he’ll have you out of here so fast–”
“Oh, don’t listen to him, Buddy,” Carl interrupted. “The fog from those doors had been annoying me for quite some time. You’ve saved me the trouble of having to get them removed.” Carl walked into the room.
“Seriously, this is the guy you want leading the charge against Memphis? Will this be before or after he tears down the entire building?”
“Jeffrey, you know why he’s here. Quit pretending you’re in charge.”
“I am in charge, Alexa!. You think you know everything? My dad runs this company and I’m his firstborn son, that means everything here will be mine someday. Here you are with the ‘great’ Buddy Jackson, thinking he’ll somehow save the day. You realize the last time he was active he managed to cause the entire world’s memories to be erased, don’t you?” He looked Buddy deep in his eyes. “That’s right, Buddy, you’re the real problem, not Memphis.”
“Look, junior, I don’t know who you think you are, but I’ve about had it with you and your entire family today.” Buddy suddenly felt ready to punch a hole through anything causing him any more trouble.
“You think you’re such a big deal, Buddy? Well you’re not. I can be just as great as you. Hell, I can be you, if I want.” Jeff’s body melted. The defined lines of his face and body blurred and moved around as though he was not even there. When the definition came back to his form, Buddy felt like he was looking into a mirror. He suddenly didn’t feel quite as empowered.
“Whoa, what the–” Buddy exclaimed. Buddy was now looking at an exact duplicate of himself, as though there were two of him in the room. Buddy’s doppelganger smirked.
“Oh, yeah, guess you didn’t know that I can be whatever I want to be, huh Buddy?” the doppelganger said in Jeff’s voice. “Freak you out a little bit?” Jeff jumped at Buddy. “Boo!” he laughed. “What do you think my dad will say when he sees you come into his office and start tearing it apart? Or when you punch him right in his fat face? I can’t imagine he would be too–”
“Jeff, cut it out. There’s no need to–”
“Shut up Alexa, this is between me and Buddy. He’s been walking around here like he owns the place all day. You want to be me, Buddy? Fine. Then I’ll be you.”
“Wait, so, you’re some kind of shape-shifter or something?”
“Jeez, of course I’m a shape-shifter.”
“And this is supposed to scare me?”
“It had better scare you, Buddy. Because at any moment I could make you disappear and no one would have to know. I could take your place as Daddy’s new favorite. I could be the one everyone looks to for saving the world.”
“Jeff, seriously, no one’s here to replace you,” Carl reprimanded. “And there is definitely going to be no one disappearing, okay? Go get the video started and let everyone in on what’s been happening.” Mirror-Buddy turned and glared at Carl. The two stared at each other, neither looking willing to give. Finally Fake-Buddy’s shoulders slumped. He re-formed into Jeff and walked to the nearest television. The rest of the group followed and sat on the couch in front of the TV.
“D.A.W.N.” Jeff said.
“Yes, Jeffrey. What can I do for you, honey?”
“Carl, seriously, what did you do to her? I’m getting sick of this motherly crap.”
“I thought it would be a nice change, you know, get a little bit of love into the building.”
“You’re such a geek, Carl. D.A.W.N., load up the video of the hospital incident from the 5 o’clock news.”
“What’s the magic word?”
“Jeffrey. . . “
“Please load the video, D.A.W.N.” Jeff said sounding very annoyed.
“See, that wasn’t that hard now was it?” The television came to life, showing the face of Tad Wilkington behind his usual news desk.
“This afternoon was quite the sight at Sun City Hospital today, at least for some folks, as a man who jumped from one of the third story windows suddenly burst into flames. The unidentified man then managed to defy the laws of gravity and speed off through the air heading north. As you can see by this viewer-submitted video, we’re dealing with something quite extraordinary. Is this a new first for humanity, or is it merely a publicity stunt. You be the judge.”
The screen changed to a grainy shot of two people talking in front of a building. A shattering of glass was heard and the camera panned up. A man could be seen falling for a brief second before being enshrouded in flame. He hung in the air for only a short moment before the flames burst brighter and he shot away through the air. All that was left of the man was a trail of smoke leading off toward the horizon.
“D.A.W.N., pause the video,” Jeff said.
“We sent our on-location reporter Jenny Grace out to the hospital to hear what the man on the street has to say. Jenny?”
“D.A.W.N. pause the video, please.” Jeff whined, sounding like a little boy who wasn’t getting his way.
The image on the television froze on a female reporter pointing her microphone in the face of a man with a large beard wearing a football jersey.
“Was that him?” Alexa asked.
“Who?” Buddy asked.
“Yes, Ms. Rose, that was him. We were able to confirm it earlier this afternoon.” Arthur Flores stepped out of the elevator.
Everyone turned at the sound of his voice. Buddy saw Agent Parker standing behind him. A chill crawled up his spine as his focus went to Parker’s dark eyes. Buddy turned his face away quickly, hoping to keep from ever having to return to the dark room Parker had previously placed him in. Arthur turned around and shook the federal agent’s hand and turned back to the group as the doors shut with Agent Parker still behind them.
“According to Agent Parker, they were interrogating him at the time of his escape, just a few rooms down from where you were being held, Mr. Hamilton.”
“Who?” Buddy asked again.
“Sergeant Duff wasn’t entirely certain that this was indeed Damon Memphis when they were interrogating him, but, well, any questions they may have had about his identity were completely removed by that little spectacle of his. Apparently they found him in the mines that had collapsed a few nights back. He couldn’t remember anything except his name. The question is, how did he end up there? If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Hamilton, the reason your whereabouts have been unknown for the last 10 years was because you were accompanying him to his off-world prison, isn’t that correct?”
“My tale begins ten years ago as my ship left orbit-” Zero began.
“I’m sorry Mr. Hamilton, but we really will require you to get down to the important bits on this. No flourish, please.”
“Are you sure? This is a harrowing tale of loneliness and misfortune. I know you’ll like it.”
“Yes, I’m certain.”
“Okay. We landed on the distant planet Red called Gamma Omegon 3 not all that long ago. In fact, it was only a few days before I came back to earth. I had been told the planet was empty, yet when we arrived, we were instantly attacked. Attacked by the insidious monster you faced off against on the day of my return, Buddy.”
“I don’t know if you can say I fought it,” Buddy responded.
“Oh you fought it, chum. You fought it well. This was the same thing I saw when I awoke from hibernation. Yet, before I was able to act, Dominion was out of his cell and on the offensive. When he became fire-y, so did the ground. That’s the last thing I remember before landing back home.”
“Are you saying the planet exploded?” Alexa asked.
“It would appear so, fair Alexa.”
“I’m sorry, but doesn’t anyone else wonder how he got back here so fast? I mean, surviving an exploding planet is one thing, but how fast would he have been going to get back here like he did?”
“Actually,” Carl began, “I may have the answer to that question, Buddy. I’ve been doing a bit of research over the past few years, and there are many things about Damon that I had difficulty explaining, until I came up with the theory that he has the ability to travel between dimensions. If my theory is correct, Damon could quite easily have traveled such a large distance within a small amount of time. It’s not impossible to believe that Zero would have been caught in his wake. If this is true he could–”
“How these things occurred are insignificant at this point, Carl. What is important is that we now know, beyond a shred of doubt, that Damon Memphis is back among us. With that knowledge finally in hand, we can afford to stall no longer. Agent Parker said Mr. Memphis had some mild amnesia, but with his powers returning it is only a matter of time before his memory comes back as well. And when it does, we will need to be ready.”
Buddy stood up from his chair. “Look guys, I’d love to stay and play, or whatever, but I really need to get home and see my sister before I do any world saving.”
“I understand, Mr. Jackson.”
“Really? I had expected a bit more–”
“Carl explained your concerns to me. You are no prisoner here. Ms. Rose, would you please escort him home. A good rest will be very important for all of us. I would love it, Mr. Jackson, if you would be willing to reconnect with us in the morning.”
“I’ll have to think about it.”
“Very well. My allowance for your departure does come with a warning, however. You must be on guard. Damon Memphis is not one to be trifled with. If his memory returns, it is very likely that he will be looking for you first.”
“Yeah? People keep saying that. And why me, exactly? Why not Kid Zero over there?”
“The reason’s are too many to list at the moment, Mr. Jackson. However, to look at things simply, you were the man who was responsible for his final capture. Along with that, you are also the sole person he considers responsible for the fall of mankind. In fact, he believes you to be the symbol of the end of days, the Anti-Christ.”
“So, this is all a crazy religious thing?”
“There is much more to it than that. However, let’s just say Damon’s motivations for his hatred of you are quite deep-set.”
“Alright, so, super-powered crazy person hates me. If I see him on the street, I should really hope he doesn’t recognize me, right?”
“Mr. Jackson, you are, quite simply, the sole obsession of the man. If he finds you, you should expect to experience the most dreadful amount of pain and torture any one person in mankind’s history has ever experienced. Damon is dangerously unstable. Even I would not want to imagine what sorts of terror he has planned for you.”
“Ha, just like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, right?” Buddy laughed. No one joined in. “Alright, so stay away from all Bible-thumping flying flaming dudes, got it.”
Go to Chapter Fourteen