“Alright Zero, it’s down to you and me. You gonna fold already or—“ Buddy was cut off as an alarm sounded through the base. He set his cards down and sighed in exasperation. “Guess you’re safe for the moment, pal. What’s going on, D.A.W.N.?”
“There is a Level 5 Meta-crisis occurring downtown, Buddy. A man calling himself Dominion is literally ripping the street apart.”
“Ooh,” Zero grinned. “Is he big? It’s been a while since we’ve been up against someone big.”
“On screen,” Oscar yelled, jumping to a nearby computer console.
“Sure thing, Oscar,” D.A.W.N. replied. An image appeared on the large screen at the end of the room. On it was displayed a small man wearing a black form-fitting suit with a large red D embroidered on the chest. He was floating above the street pulling asphalt behind him.
“Darn,” Zero spoke dejectedly. “Why can’t they ever be big?”
“Looks like a simple cease and desist against another crackpot wannabe,” Buddy said, standing in front of the team. “Who wants this one? And don’t even think about volunteering Zero. I don’t want you thinking you can get away from giving me all your money that easily.”
“If you take a look at the table, chum, I believe you’ll see that it is not you but I who currently holds all the chips.”
“Not for long, chum.”
“Actually,” Rose spoke, raising her hand. “I wouldn’t mind going. Piper, you want to do a girl-team up with me?”
“Totally,” Piper responded. “You boys okay with us taking on the mean old man out there alone?” Rose and Piper stood, linked arms, and peered at the rest of the group.
“As long as you make sure to bring my fiancé back alive,” Oscar laughed.
“Perfect,” Buddy spoke, returning to his seat. “It’s hero time and all that.” He waved his arm in their direction and picked up his cards, shooting Zero a serious look.
“Make sure to deal us in next hand, alright?” Rose joked. “We’ve gotta raise up some real dough if Oscar here is ever going to be able to take me on that amazing honeymoon he keeps promising me.”
Oscar walked to Rose. “My sweet,” he said, kissing her on the hand as he took a knee, “I will give you the moon.”
“I believe you may all be taking this situation a tad too lightly,” Petru spoke, leaning forward in his chair. “Did you not take notice of D.A.W.N.’s statement that this was a level 5 Meta-crisis? We’ve never had such a high danger level before.”
“Mr. Ivanovich has a point,” Arthur said as he joined the group from his table on the other side of the room. “Are none of you aware of whom this individual is?”
“Nope,” Piper said. “But I’ll let you know all about him after we get back.” She grabbed Rose by the hand and they both exited through the elevator.
“Anyone else turned on by that?” Buddy asked.
“Hey now,” Oscar quipped, “one of those is my future wife. Only I get to fantasize about what she might be up to with Piper.”
Petru stood and walked to the elevator.
“Hey, XT, where you heading off to?” Oscar asked. “I didn’t mean to offend you or anything.”
“It is not that. I do not believe we should allow our friends to enter this battle alone. I shall accompany them.”
“That’s a good plan, Mr. Ivanovich,” Arthur agreed, joining him at the elevator. “I know a thing or two of what this gentleman is capable of. I’d hate to see the situation turn sour.”
“Well now you’re just making me feel lazy,” Zero responded. “Shall I come along as well?”
“Don’t worry about it, Zero. Having four Defenders on the case is more than enough already. And, you’ve still got money on the table.”
The elevator arrived and Petru and Arthur disappeared within, both looking rather somber before the doors closed in front of them.
“Those two were really being some Debbie Downers, huh kids?” Oscar asked.
“When are they ever not?” Buddy laughed.
“Perhaps they were just thinking of our best interests. D.A.W.N. did state this was a level 5,” Zero explained. “In fact, I still think—“
“Psh,” Buddy shrugged. “What does D.A.W.N. know? I mean, she’s just a computer.”
“Hey,” Oscar smiled. “She’s a whole helluva lot more than that. D.A.W.N. represents a whole new future of artificial intelligence. She is capable of producing an endless amount of strate—“
“Sheesh, Oscar, enough with the investor talk. I get it, she’s pretty darn awesome. I just wish she could make a good cup of coffee every once in a while.”
“Are you still going on about how strong I made your coffee this morning? I’m sorry, Buddy, I had assumed you to be more of a man than you truly are.”
“I believe you have just been bested by a computer, chum.”
“Hey!” Buddy laughed. “Just like that Russian fellow ,huh?”
“I hope you aren’t comparing me to that imbecile game-bot Deep Thought,” D.A.W.N. warned. “He’s an idiot. I went on a date with him not too long ago. He spent all his time talking about how he was able to compute a 39 move checkmate. Then I showed him a 37. I never got credit for that one.”
“D.A.W.N.,” Oscar began, “you never went on a date with Deep Thought. You can’t even leave the complex. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure Deep Thought developed the 37 move check mate back in 1988, twelve years before you were even created.”
“Shut up,” D.A.W.N. responded simply.
“Enough with the chess crap already,” Buddy interrupted. “Can we just finish this damned hand al— “ The alarm sounded, again cutting Buddy off. “Seriously, what the hell?”
“Man down,” D.A.W.N. explained. “Well, two women actually.” The screen at the end of the table lit up and Tad Wilkington appeared behind his regular news desk.
“Breaking news. Pink Bandita and Yellow Jacket were recently spotted confronting a new super-villain who has been calling himself Dominion. They arrived on the scene shortly after he ended a press conference by bursting into flames. We are awaiting confirmation, but it would appear that these two members of The Defenders of America have been seriously, if not critically injured. The Channel 1 News Chopper is currently en route to give us a visual of the scene.”
The screen turned off. Oscar stood and ran toward the elevator as it opened in front of him. Rose stood in the doorway, holding Piper in her arms.
“Rose!” Oscar exclaimed in a sigh of relief.
“Don’t worry sweetie,” she responded calmly as the elevator doors opened to show Rose holding Piper. “The dude just caught us off guard. He’s definitely got a kick to him. Anyways, just had to rush Piper back here before heading back in to battle. He used some sort of flame attack. She didn’t get burned, but, well, she’s alive, but unconscious.”
“Okay, I’ll take her to sick bay,” Oscar replied taking Piper from her arms. “You be safe, honey.”
“Aw,” she said, kissing him on the forehead. “What kind of fun would that be?” They entered the elevator together.
“Alright,” Buddy clapped his hands, “so, the time has come. Fold or call?”
“What?” Zero asked, his eyes still on Piper as Oscar carried her out of the room.
“The game. You aren’t going to fold, are you?”
“I’m sorry, chum, but don’t you think we should be heading into the fray?”
“What? No. You heard what Rose said. Piper got sucker punched and Petru and Arthur are still heading out there. That’s three of the best still involved in this battle. Should be over any minute now.”
“But wouldn’t it be smarter to overpower this fiend and ensure no further injury is obtained.”
“Naw. You know Piper, she likes to go in a little too headstrong at times. She just didn’t look before she leaped. You heard Rose yourself, she’s fine.”
“I believe she merely stated Piper was not dead, Buddy, not that she was. . . fine.”
“Stop worrying, Zero. Delegate. That’s what you have to do in a business like this. We can’t take down every bad guy. It would be bad for morale.”
“If you say so, old friend.”
“I do. Now—“ The alarm sounded again. “Come on, D.A.W.N., let me win this already.”
“Sorry Buddy, looks like Rose has been incapacitated now.”
“Damn, I forget how fast she is sometimes. Alright, what’s the status on Petru and Arthur?”
“They are still en route. Should be arriving shortly.”
“And Rose, is she in any immediate danger?”
“It does not appear that this Dominion has any further interest in her. He tossed her aside and is continuing his rampage. With that being said—“
“Great, we’ll finish this hand and then we can get out there. Sound like a plan, big guy?”
“Are you certain you wish to leave Rose to the fates like this, chum?”
“You heard the computer-lady. She’s fine. What? Too afraid of losing to take a second to state your next move?”
“I just want to ensure the safety of our team.”
“We’re the Defenders, pal. They’re as safe as they’re gonna get.”
“And we’ll depart as soon as we finish this hand?”
“The second you hand your money over to me.”
“Alright, fine, chum. I’ll call your—“ The alarm sounded through the room once again.
“Seriously, D.A.W.N.! Give me just five minutes or something. Thirty seconds even!”
“I’m sorry, Buddy. Petru and Arthur arrived on the scene. Petru is struggling to maintain control of the situation and I have somehow managed to lose track of Arthur. I do believe you’ll need to depart immediately.”
“Dammit!” Buddy yelled. “Are you sure?”
“Come on, Buddy,” Zero argued, placing his cards on the table and running for the elevator.
“Fine,” Buddy groaned. He walked to Zero’s chair and reached toward the cards.
“Now!” Zero yelled.
“Okay,” Buddy said, begrudgingly running to the doors.
The pair stepped into the elevator car and the doors shut behind them.
“So, what did you have? Nothing, right?”
“Now is not the time, chum. We have at least two of our comrades out of commission, one missing and another in the heat of battle.”
“Right, but, I mean, you couldn’t have had anything better than a pair, could you?”
“Can you notify Red of our departure?”
“Oscar’s already aware and suiting up as we speak.”
“Come on, Zero. You’ve gotta at least give me a hint.”
The elevator doors opened. Zero stepped into the ornate foyer and began running toward the exit. “Come on, chum. Battle’s afoot!”
“Okay,” Buddy spoke, running after him. The two exited into the parking garage and jumped onto a pair of motorcycles which had been placed near the doors. They sped toward the exit point of the garage.
Once they reached the exit, they hopped off their bikes.
“Alright,” Buddy said, “which way?”
Zero pointed to the west. “From the video footage, it would appear he was near Graham St.”
“Alright,” Buddy said, lifting his friend over his shoulder. “Hold on.”
Buddy ran toward the side of the building and leapt in the direction Zero had pointed. At the apex of their jump, he could see the man in question.
“Looks like we could use a little re-direct, pal.”
“On it,” Zero replied. The two were surrounded by a purple bubble and pushed in the appropriate direction. Buddy let Zero down as they floated to the scene.
“Whoa, he’s done some pretty quick work out here, hasn’t he?” Buddy said as he noticed the damage surrounding the man who was now in flames. The air was filled with smoke and several buildings in the area had already been completely flattened. Buddy heard a helicopter in the distance as they landed softly on the ground directly in front of the man who called himself Dominion.
“Ah, Buddy Hero,” Dominion jeered. “So kind of you to join the battle. I had wondered how many of your little friends I was going to have to destroy before you would come to see me in person.”
“Look, Dominion is it? You caught me at a really bad time. If you want me to sign an autograph for you, I’ve got a book signing next week for my new autobiography. Why don’t we just reschedule this little meet for then?”
“Silence!” Dominion yelled, raising a finger and pointing it at Buddy. The fingertip held one single flame rising off the top of it. “I do not care to listen to your prattle. Prepare to pay for the sins of you and your ilk!”
“Alright man, you want it? You got it. It’s Hero Time!”
Buddy ran toward the man as a blast of fire escaped his fingertip hitting Buddy square in the chest, sending him backward and directly into Zero. Buddy stood, brushed himself off and turned his eyes back to Dominion.
“Now you’ve just pissed me off, pal.”
“I can tell you one thing, oh man of evil,” Zero added, “you don’t want to piss off Buddy Hero.”
Dominion merely laughed as he raised his hands into the air. They lit up in flames as the ground began to shake. Moments later, fire fell from the sky, bombarding the ground around them.
Zero closed his eyes and turned a faint shade of purple. The rocks merely bounced as they collided with his frame. He moved forward toward Dominion slowly.
Buddy swung his fists madly at each meteor flying in his direction. Sparks and a distinct smell of sulphur rose around him. Dominion’s laughter gained volume.
“How do you like my gift?” he asked. “This is but play compared to what I have in store for you next.”
Buddy looked all around him, now allowing the brimstone to collide with his frame instead of expending any further energy against them. Not very far away he noticed a tanker truck covered in signs stating FLAMMABLE. He looked to Zero.
“Zero, distract him for a minute, will ya?”
“Of course, chum. I’d be delighted.” Zero walked toward Dominion. “Hey, Dominion. I have something for you!” Zero lifted his hands to the air and a wind of purple blasted from him, pushing Dominion over.
Dominion returned to his feet, eyes glowing with rage. “Your simple tricks will not keep me down for long, Kid Zero. You will need much more than a light push to defeat me!”
“Oh yeah?” Zero asked. “Perhaps you would prefer something slightly more direct?” Zero moved away from Buddy as he sent several rocks flying through the air toward Dominion. The rocks fizzled before reaching their goal.
Buddy turned and walked to the tanker truck and lifted it over his head. In one swift movement he tossed it at Dominion. The truck moved faster than Dominion could respond and collided with the small man, exploding into an enormous fireball just as a helicopter flew overhead. Buddy saw the chopper spinning out of control away from him heading directly toward a building.
“Zero,” Buddy yelled. “Can you handle Dominion?”
“On it, boss,” Zero spoke, running to the center of the recent explosion.
Buddy jumped at the helicopter, grabbing its landing platform in midair and holding it above his head as he met with the ground. He placed it softly to the earth. He looked back at Zero and saw his friend covered in flames exchanging blows with Dominion.
Buddy crouched low and leapt at the flaming demon, tackling him to the ground. The earth sizzled beneath them.
“Do you not know who I am, Buddy Hero? Have you not heard the pleas of the innocent, crying out against you?”
“Bub, all I know is you’re putting a hell of a lot of people at risk. It’s my job to stop you.”
Dominion exploded with fire, creating an intense pocket of heat around the two. Buddy held on tight to the man struggling beneath him as he looked to Zero.
“Hey, chum,” Buddy yelled, “Think you can provide an atmosphere slightly less fire-friendly?”
Zero, still covered in flames, closed his eyes and instantly a purple bubble appeared around Buddy and Dominion. Suddenly, Buddy felt his lungs bursting, screaming out for air. The flames around Dominion extinguished quickly and the small man went limp. Buddy felt an arm grab him and pull him away. Suddenly, air rushed into his lungs and his brain went fuzzy.
“You alright there, chum?” Zero asked.
“Yeah,” Buddy spoke through gasping breaths. “Just. . . a little. . . winded.”
“The bubble should hold him, if you want to check on the others.”
“Sounds good,” Buddy said, moving slowly to the chopper.
Buddy opened the door to the vehicle and peered inside. “Everyone alright in here?” he asked the three occupants. All but one were knocked out, appearing to have hit their heads while the vehicle was out of control. The other was crying uncontrollably. “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to stay still until we can determine what injuries you’ve got, okay?”
“You guys couldn’t have saved me a little bit of the fun?” Oscar spoke from above them.
“Sorry, Red,” Zero said, bringing Dominion over to Buddy. “This was just an old Buddy Hero/Kid Zero kind of team up. Perhaps next time we’ll require the services of The Red Rocketeer.”
“Sheesh, and here I got all dressed up for nothing.”
“Alright kids,” Buddy spoke. “Looks like we’ve got a few wounded here. You want to give them a once-over Oscar and make sure none of them are going to die on us?”
“Sure thing, Buddy,” Oscar said as he made his way to the downed vehicle.
“Zero, you think the cops have a good enough spot to hold on to this lunatic or are we going to have to keep him down in The Bunker?”
The pair looked at the prison Zero had created and noticed it was empty.
“Chum,” Zero spoke softly. “I’m beginning to believe that there’s nothing on this earth that can contain this vile villain.”
“Well, not much we can do about that now, pal,” Buddy said as he clapped Zero on the back. “At least everyone’s safe.”
“Where’s Rose?” Oscar asked from inside the helicopter.
“Or Petru and Arthur?” Zero added. “Shouldn’t they all be around somewhere.”
“Dammit, good question. I can’t imagine they got too far off. I’ll get on the horn with D.A.W.N. and see—“
“No need Mr. Jackson,” Arthur spoke, walking toward them. “I have already located Petru and Rose and have had them sent on to Sun City Medical to get checked out. I may be no medical expert, but neither appeared to be critically injured.”
“Looks like these folks are going to need to get looked at quickly,” Oscar spoke. “My suit is only picking up faint vital signs on the pilot. The other two have several fractures and at least one concussion.”
“Arthur?” Buddy spoke.
“I’m on it, Mr. Jackson.” Arthur walked to the helicopter and his body grew until it was 5 stories tall. He grabbed the vehicle with his now giant hands and walked away.
“Okay,” Zero began. “I believe that takes care of everything, chum.”
“Nope, still one more thing we need to resolve, old friend.”
“I can’t imagine there would be anything else. I suppose the wreckage may be something of an issue, but that’s hardly any of our—“
“What the hell kind of hand did you have?”
“Oh. Sorry, chum. Royal flush, all hearts.”
“No freaking way. I don’t believe it.”
“Believe it chum. That pot is mine.”