Buddy awoke and found himself lying in a bed placed in the center of a small room. The room had white walls, but no windows. The only other thing in the room was a gray door. Buddy sat up and thought about the chair which was undoubtedly the reason he found himself here.
He knew it was ludicrous, but he couldn’t help entertaining the idea that the machine they had forced him into had somehow changed him. That, against all reasonable thought, his body now related differently to the laws of nature.
He stood and looked at the bed. The mattress was resting on a lightweight metal frame. He knew he needed something much heavier to convince him the experiment had done anything. He rolled up his shirt sleeves and looked at his arms. He could see no noticeable difference there. He was still as flabby as usual.
An image appeared in his head. He pictured men in tights bending steel bars as though they were made of rubber. He looked at the bed once more, pondering whether or not he was ready to give in to the delusional tales he had been told and attempt to perform such a feat. When he decided it couldn’t hurt to try, a voice filled the room. Buddy jumped away from the bed, afraid he had been caught.
“Good afternoon, Buddy. I’m glad to see you’re feeling better so soon,” D.A.W.N.’s voice said.
“Oh, D.A.W.N., it’s you. You scared me half to death.”
“There’s no reason to be afraid of me, Buddy. I was designed to look after you, don’t you remember?”
“Well, um, no, actually. But I’m glad to know you’re on my side. So, where am I exactly?”
“You’re in the barracks. I let Carl know you’re awake. He should be in shortly.”
“Great,” Buddy grumbled. Although he was curious of the results of the experiment, he wished he had somehow managed to escape from the Flores family and return to a version of his life not involving government conspiracies, outside of the ones told by Sal. “So, uh, that chair thing. Did it work?”
“You’re asking the wrong artificial intelligence, Buddy. I think Carl is planning on giving you an exam now that you’re awake. He should be able to determine the results rather quickly.”
“Great, let’s get out there and see him then.” Buddy went to the door. It was locked. “Why’s the door locked, D.A.W.N.? Am I a prisoner?”
“The door has been locked under Arthur’s direct order. He seemed to think you might be a little upset about the whole misunderstanding with Mr. Smith and Mr. Frederick.”
“Misunderstanding? He had those two manhandle me into the electric chair.”
“Oh, there’s no need to get so dramatic. It wasn’t an electric chair, just a chair which happened to have electricity flowing through it. Why don’t you lay down until Carl gets here? You look tired.”
“I don’t want to lay down, I want to go home.” Buddy felt anger growing within him. No matter what the truth of all this nonsense was, he was tired of being jerked around by the Flores family. He was tired and wanted to go home. As Buddy was about to start pounding on the door to declare his right to freedom, the door opened and Carl Flores stood in the doorway.
“Buddy, great, you’re up,” he said as he adjusted his eyeglasses. “Would you come with me please?”
“Carl, after all I’ve gone through today, unless you’re telling me you’re taking me home, I’m not going anywhere.”
“Now Buddy, that’s no way to talk to Carl. Carl’s your friend.”
“Shut up, D.A.W.N.”
“I realize how questionable my father’s methods are, but you have to understand what we are up against. A war we thought we had won ten years ago has been brought back to our doorstep. I know it hasn’t started yet, but it will. We will need to be ready when it does. Also, whether or not you remember him, when Damon Memphis comes back, the first thing he’s going to do is come looking for you.” Carl spoke both with passion and fear. Buddy was uncertain how to respond.
“Look, Carl, it’s nothing against you or anything, but you guys kidnapped me, you realize that right?”
“Alexa said you came without ques–”
“It doesn’t matter how I came, you brought me here and performed some sort of crazy science experiment on me against my will. I just want to go home.”
“I’m sure we’ll be able to allow that soon enough, Buddy. But first, I need to run some tests to see how your body is responding to the procedure. Maybe I can talk my dad into letting you go after that.”
“You’ll let me go home?”
“If it were up to me, definitely. As it is, I’ll certainly put in a word to my father. He tends to listen to me. At any rate, you’re not supposed to be a prisoner here. You’re our guest and should have the ability to leave at any time. But not until I’ve had the chance to run my tests.”
“Alright, but after the tests, I’m outta here, okay?”
“Perfect.” Carl walked out the door. Buddy followed into the familiar gray halls of the barracks.
“So, Carl, uhhh. . . what is this place exactly?”
“Oh, this? This is the barracks. You can see the sleeping quarters for the men coming up on the right.” Buddy looked to the right as they passed the door Carl gestured to. Inside he saw bunk beds reaching far off into the distance. Inside the room were a few dozen men rough-housing with each other.
“No, I mean this whole building. What is it?”
“Well, before my father moved in, this was your home. You and Zero Hamilton built this with the rest of the Defenders as a safe house during the ‘golden years’, you know, before the Great Mind Wipe. I believe you called it The Bunker, although I hardly find that a fitting name for this palace.”
“What is it called now?”
“Flores Headquarters, I suppose. My father mostly uses it as his base of operations for all of the things he does that he wants to keep secret.”
“You mean like his super-powered army?”
“That is one of the many things he would prefer to keep out of the public consciousness.” They reached the elevator and entered. Carl pressed the green button. The doors shut.
“So, it’s a secret lair? How do you keep the public from just walking in off the street? Is it at the bottom of a volcano or something?”
“Having a base in a volcano would not be very practical, Buddy. You see–”
“It was a joke, Carl.”
“Ah, yes. Well, anyways, the reason people don’t just stumble upon us down here is that we’re approximately half a mile underground. That tends to be enough of a deterrent for most people.”
“A half mile? How in the world do we get down here then?”
“Well, I’m sure you wouldn’t be very interested in the specifics, but it involves teleportation. We have a secret entry point on the surface and there’s some interesting security procedures in place that ensure only the people we want to have enter are able to.”
“Wow, that’s, umm, cool. I think. You must be pretty smart then, huh?”
“I wish I could take credit for the design. In fact, all of this was installed by you and The Defenders. It’s rather fitting that you ended up creating the perfect location for my father to rebuild his empire.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I should probably let him explain that to you.”
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. The green doors parted and hissed fog into the elevator as before. On the sofa in the center of the room Buddy saw Alexa and Zero talking. They both stopped and looked at Buddy.
Carl entered the room and gestured to the sofa. “Please, Buddy, have a seat. I had the testing equipment brought here so you could feel more comfortable during the examination than you would in the lab. It will take me a few minutes to finish setting up, so go ahead and make yourself at home.”
Carl walked to the corner where a rolling cart with a computer and a random assortment of equipment had been placed. Buddy took Carl’s advice and went to the sofa. He looked at the floor and hoped Zero would take it as a sign he didn’t want to talk. A voice came from above their heads, causing Buddy to jump.
“Buddy Hero and Kid Zero back together again. We should take a picture!” D.A.W.N. exclaimed.
“Jeez, D.A.W.N., don’t you have some way of warning a guy you’re going to–-”
“She’s right,” Zero jumped out of his seat. “This is the perfect time for a picture, chum!”
“I’m not in the mood,” Buddy responded.
“Mood?” Zero responded cheerfully. “What kind of mood must you be in for a picture? Just say ‘Cheese!’ and the world’s a better place.”
“I’m just saying, now’s not the best time.”
“The best time? Has something gone awry, old friend?” Zero asked. “What could there be in this world capable of vexing the incomparable Buddy Hero?”
“Sheesh, Buddy Hero,” Buddy exclaimed. “You’d think that if I were going to be some awesome amazing super-hero or whatever that I could at least have a cooler name than Buddy Hero.”
“What’s wrong with Buddy Hero?” Zero asked. “I think it’s a name that strikes fear into the hearts of all who would oppose him.”
“You would,” Buddy laughed. “I suppose it was you that came up with the stupid name, huh?”
“Oh no, old friend. Were not I who named you, that privilege could only have belonged to the man who started it all.”
“What?” Buddy asked.
“He means you came up with the name,” Alexa helped. “It’s a pretty well known fact that you named yourself. Something about how you wanted to befriend justice or something.”
“Ah, yeah,” Buddy nodded, “that sounds way cooler.”
“What has climbed inside of your backside, chum? You seem much more uptight than the old Buddy Jackson I remember.”
“Nothing, don’t worry about it.”
“No, he’s right, Buddy,” Alexa agreed. “You’ve been quite the lame-wad. You’d think you’d at least be a little excited to have your old pal back.”
“Excited? For what? That I apparently was best friends with a mental case before I lost all memory of everything that ever happened to me? Or that our reunion involves me being kidnapped?”
“Mental case?” Zero asked.
“Yeah, you know, nutter, insane-o, wack-job.”
“These all sound like things you would call a crazy person, chum.” Buddy sighed.
“That’s really not a nice thing to say, Buddy. After all, Zero is having just as tough of a time as you are. He did spend the last ten years in space. I mean, think of all that’s changed in the last ten years. Oh, and, you know, no one remembers him.”
“Oh, tis nothing to fret about, milady. I shall regain my public’s love again shortly.”
“Fine, but I can’t imagine it helps anything to have your best friend treat you like an idiot.”
“I will admit that this particular item does tend to sting.”
“Fine, I’m sorry. I’m just pissed about. . . nevermind, it doesn’t matter.”
“Wonderful. So, best friends again?” Zero stood up and extended his hand toward Buddy. Buddy reached up lamely and shook.
“Perfect. And now that we’re talking again, I feel that I should express my gratitude to you for saving me yet again the other night.”
“What do you mean?”
“Upon my return, I appeared to have sustained some pretty severe injuries. If you hadn’t gotten me to a hospital, I surely would have perished.”
“Oh, yeah, that. Sure thing, not a problem.”
“So, what’s the plan, Buddy? Are we ready to take on Dominion again? Shall we assemble the rest of the Defenders?”
“Well, yeah, about that. Carl said he was going to talk to Arthur about letting me leave.”
“Arthur?” Zero asked.
“Yeah, Arthur Flores. This is his place, I guess.”
“Are you referring to THE Arthur Flores, as in the infamous mafia lord criminal known as the Fat Mogul? Don’t tell me you are both working for Fat Mogul?”
“Ha, I forgot that’s what they used to call him. Yeah, we work for Artie.”
“Really Buddy? After all that occurred between us and the evil genius that is the Fat Mogul, you are a part of his organization? Honestly, he is responsible for the majority of our enemies.”
“Well, it’s not like I actually work for him. . . anymore. I mean, I was on his police force until the government shut it down. I never even met the guy until today.”
“Fat Mogul runs the police force too? I understand that they have erased everyone’s brains, but did they also manage to melt them? How is it possible that Fat Mogul could become the police chief? Crazy pills?”
“Artie was pretty brilliant on this,” Alexa answered, “if you ask me. You see, right after the Wipe happened, Flores convinced Sun City to privatize their police force. It ended up being the perfect cover for everything else he does.”
“But, he’s the leader of the Mogul Mob,” Zero insisted. “He runs the underground!”
“I don’t know anything about this Mogul Mob or whatever,” Buddy responded, “but I can say that everything about Flores Security definitely seemed on the up and up while I worked there.”
“Well,” Alexa interjected, “it’s not entirely on the up and up.”
“What is his dark plan, Alexa?” Zero asked, leaning in. “Tell me everything.”
“I’m not sure if I can tell you everything. But I mean, it’s pretty simple to figure out. Artie uses the fact that he runs the police force as a way to cover up all of the illegal activities he’s involved in. People can call the police all they want, Artie just gets someone to erase their memories of ever getting mugged, or robbed, or whatever. I mean, seriously, he runs this place. Nothing happens without him controlling it.”
“I get it now,” Zero chimed in. “You two are infiltrating Fat Mogul’s ranks in order to take him down from the inside! Brilliant, chum. So, what’s our next step? Explosives?”
“I don’t know what Alexa’s deal is,” Buddy responded, “but I’m just here because I stupidly told him I was going to help him out. I have no plans, no ulterior motive. I just want to go home.”
Zero looked over his shoulder at Carl, looked back at Buddy and winked. “I understand.”
“Sorry to interrupt, but I’m ready for you now, Buddy.” Carl said, looking over from the corner. Buddy shook his head at Zero, trying to let him know that he had the wrong idea. Zero smiled blankly as Buddy stood and walked to Carl.
“Okay, Buddy. This will be pretty simple. There’s no reason to expect any noticeable increase in strength yet, so we are going to perform a procedure very similar to a body-mass index scan. I’ve modified a standard BMI scanner to measure the amount of metabolized energy currently in your system. If the process was effective, we should see a much higher number than normal. All I need you to do is to step into these metal slippers on the floor here and hold onto this.” Carl handed Buddy a metallic object. “The process shouldn’t take any more than five minutes. We should get our results almost immediately after.”
“So, you just want me to stand here holding this doo-hickey up in the air for the next five minutes?”
“You’ve got it, Buddy. Now, make sure to hold as still as possible, you might feel a little jolt. Are you ready?”
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”
“Okay, great.” Carl pushed the button on the monitor and a loud whirring sound filled the room. As the device in Buddy’s hands lit up, he felt a sharp jolt course through his body. The jolt caused his entire body to tense. After several seconds his body relaxed itself again.
“This isn’t so bad. It’s almost like one of those electro-massages, you know?”
“Perfect. Now, I have another patient to attend to quickly. I’ll be back very shortly. Just keep holding the device and the computer will beep when it has completed the scan. You should then feel the electric charge subside and you can set the device back onto the table.”
Carl walked out of the room. Zero and Alexa stared at Buddy. They looked anxious.
Go to Chapter Thirteen