The rise of the fat mogul (the defenders saga book 2) (page 3)

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“Okay, fine,” Ryan conceded.  “But you're going to have to give them something, otherwise I think our new friend Dennis here is going to be hanging on to us for the foreseeable future.”

“Your brother is quite keen, Ms. Rose.  If you have any information that we may be able to utilize in locating Arthur Flores, we may be able to ignore the discussion of your recent whereabouts.  For now.”

“Fine,” Alexa gave in reluctantly.  “Like I said, I had been meeting with Artie for a few weeks after we fought Damon.  It wasn't much, just little bits of chit chat.  He told me that he felt he needed to hang low since the government did the whole Mind Wipe thingie again, especially since you were already investigating him.”

“We’re already aware of the fact that he is in hiding, Ms. Rose.  That’s why you’re here.”

“I don’t know what else to tell you.  The last time I talked to him, he sounded like he was afraid for his life.  In fact, after that moment, he locked me out of The Bunker because he was certain that I would be, well, talking to you, I guess.”

“Are you aware that in the past three months there has been a dramatic increase in missing persons in the Sun City metropolitan area?”

“No,” Alexa answered.

“Would it interest you to know that each of these missing people were on our watch list for exhibiting apparent meta-human abilities?”

“Are you saying they were supers?” Buddy asked.

“Yes, Mr. Jackson, they all had appeared to have been developing abilities that would commonly be called superpowers.  In fact, if we hadn’t already been keeping tabs on them due to this, we wouldn’t have even been aware of their disappearance.  For some odd reason, we’ve found during our investigations that even their closest family members appear to have no knowledge of them ever existing.”

“And you think Flores is behind all of this?” Ryan asked.

“Yes, we do.  In fact, we have very little reason to believe otherwise.  We just have nothing to solidify our assumptions.  Would you have any information that might be able to help us make our case, Ms. Rose?”

Alexa was silent.

“Ms. Rose?”

“He didn't say anything about it since the whole thing with Memphis, but. . .well--”

“Please continue, Ms. Rose.”

“Okay, fine.  The whole snatching meta-humans thing and erasing the memories of those around them, that's nothing new.  In fact, that's how he built up his army in the first place.  I mean, he usually tried to snatch people who had no family to worry about, homeless folks, orphans, you know the idea.  But, well, there was always this contingency plan in place, this crazy Hail Mary idea he had in the situation that anyone ever figured out what he was up to down in The Bunker.”

“And that plan was?”

“First, I just want to say that I was never all that crazy about this idea.  In fact, I thought I had talked him out of it ages ago.  But, I guess he must have been more afraid of what you guys might do than I thought he was.”

“The plan, Ms. Rose?”

“Okay, well, first, I want you to know that I’m not a rat, so when I say Artie’s got an inside guy within this department, I have no interest in selling him--”

“Oh, we are already fully aware of Agent Parker's involvement with Arthur Flores, Ms. Rose.  Please continue.”

“Oh, um. . . okay.  Well, anyways, they knew you guys had a list of people with powers.  So, the idea was that if it was ever necessary, they would go out and snatch up every last one of them, wipe their minds clean, and train them to be a part of his army.  If what you're saying is right, he's preparing for war.”

“War?” Zero responded excitedly. 

“Why would he be preparing for a war?” Buddy asked.

“I don't know,” Alexa responded.  “But if he's activating his backup plan, he thinks something big is coming.”

“That doesn't make any sense, sis.  I mean, he had over a thousand people working for him already.  Why would he need any more?”

“Probably depends on what he thinks he’s going to be fighting against,” Alexa answered.  “How many people have gone missing?”

“From our records, which are nowhere near complete, we currently have over twenty thousand people unaccounted for within Sun City alone.”

“20,000 people!” Buddy exclaimed.  “There are 20,000 people with superpowers in this world and we're still forced to stay in hiding.”

“Actually, Mr. Jackson, I said that there were 20,000 people missing within Sun City.  There are over 50,000 people we believe to have been abducted by Arthur within the country.”

Zero giggled.

“Holy crap,” Ryan yelled.  “Where the hell would he be keeping all of these people?  The Bunker is huge, but I don't see how he could possibly fit that many people down there.”

“That is but one of the many questions we have regarding all of this.  I believe we can easily assume he has many more people currently under his control than we can account for, considering the current moratorium on discussing meta-human affairs internationally.  I mean, unless there’s some reason to believe he would not want to recruit from overseas.”

“I can’t think of any,” Alexa answered.  “In fact, a few years ago, I did catch him doing some research on locations for building additional Bunkers in Europe.”

“You’re going quite a long way toward verifying some of our greatest concerns, Ms. Rose.”

“Those concerns ain’t nothing,” Alexa continued.  “If Artie’s preparing for war, which it certainly sounds like he is, he’s got it planned down to the finest details.  Not only that, he’ll have backup plans for his backup plans.  If there’s one thing you can be sure about with Artie, it’s that he’s prepared.”

“So,” Buddy asked, “is that all you need from us?  Just looking for validation of your fears?”

“Oh, that can't be all, chum,” Zero disagreed.  “He's looking to have The New Defenders act as the front line against this super-powered army.  Right?”

“Unfortunately, I’ve already been far too open about our current situation,” Agent Murphy apologized.  “Any further details about how we intend to move forward are listed as being on a need to know basis only.”

“So,” Zero responded dejectedly, “you’re done with us?  No battles or anything?”

“This is, at the moment, nothing more than a fact-finding mission,” Murphy replied.

“Are we done here?” Buddy asked.

“I suppose so,” Murphy said reluctantly.  “I really have no reason to keep you all here any longer.  However, if you do find yourselves coming across additional information, I would be willing to make it worth your while.”  Agent Murphy stood and handed Buddy a business card.  “You can call me any time, night or day, should you remember anything that might be useful.  I’ll have Agent Kent deposit you back where we had found you.”

Murphy left the room, immediately followed by the return of Agent Kent.  Without a word he touched Alexa's shoulder and disappeared in apop.  He reappeared and continued the process until it was just him and Buddy left in the room.  Kent paused and stared at Buddy for a moment.

“So, what's the deal with Murphy?  Does he really not know any--”

Kent touched Buddy's arm and in apopthey were back on the street where they had found Bumblebee.

 

“--thing about what. . . Damn, I don't think I'll ever get used to that.”

Kent paused again, looking at Buddy as if he wanted to say something, but then disappeared with anotherpop.

“Sheesh, that guy really doesn't like to talk, does he?” Buddy asked.

“What the hell just happened in there?” Ryan asked.  “I'm not crazy, right?  That was Damon.”

“Of course that was Damon, Little Red.  The question is, why does he not know that?”

“If that's the only question you boys have, you're doing a lot better than me.”  Alexa looked to Buddy.  “You seemed to have some clue of what's going on.  Care to clue us in?”

“Not here.  I'm not even sure where, but definitely not here.”

“Oh, come on dude,” Ryan argued.  “You can't leave us in the dark like this.  Have you been holding back on us?”

“Look, not here. Plus, I'm not the only one who's been holding back information.”  Buddy looked at Alexa.  “You've been visiting Flores and haven't told us?  What the hell is that all about?”

“I'm being totally honest here; I haven't seen him for months.”

“Ah, but sweet Alexa, the man who doesn't seem to know he's Damon Memphis stated you've been continuing to go off every week.  If you haven't been visiting Flores, whom have you been sneaking off to see?”

“Can't a girl have a little bit of a personal life or do you want to read my diary, too?”

“Fine,” Buddy conceded.  “But if I end up having to sit in that ugly conference room ag--”

“There you guys are!” a voice yelled from nearby.  The group turned and saw Bumblebee approaching their location.  “I'm not sure what happened.  One second I was here with all of you, the next I was all the way across town.  I thought I had lost you!”

“He's back,” Zero muttered under his breath.  “I think we should return to--”

“So, what are we up to next?  Patrol?” Bumblebee asked excitedly.

“Look kid,” Buddy began slowly.  “I can see your heart's in the right place and all, but I just don't think we're operating on the same wavelength.  You understand?”

“No,” Bumblebee said flatly.

“What he means,” Alexa continued, “is that we're not quite what you think we are.  It might be best if we just cut ties here and forget this ever happened.”

“What?  Are you saying I'm not good enough for you guys?”

“That is precisely what we are saying,” Zero answered.

“Zero!” Alexa rebuked.  “That's not at all what we're saying.  It's just that we're involved in something much more dangerous than I think you're ready to deal with.”

“Right, I get it.  Don't worry about it.  I work better alone anyways.”  Bumblebee walked away with his head low.

Alexa opened her mouth to speak as Zero placed his hand on her shoulder.  “Don't, Alexa.  He'll get over it.”  Alexa glared at Zero, who stared right back.  The two stood locked in optical combat until Ryan finally cut in.

“Alright kids,” Ryan said as he clapped his hands. “Where to?”

“Back to Maggie's?” Buddy asked.

“Don't you think we should start to do some digging on the whole deal with Flores?” Ryan responded.

“And why the hell would we want to do that?” Buddy asked.

“I don’t know,” Ryan responded.  “Seemed like it would give us something to do.”

“Little Red’s right,” Zero agreed.  “This is just the type of thing we’ve been looking for.”

“Right,” Alexa stated, “except it means getting into bed with Memphis, something I’m in no hurry to do.”

“Exactly,” Buddy joined in, considering the implications of this new version of his old nemesis.  “I think we’d be better off at least getting a good night’s sleep before we decide to jump over onto Damon’s team.”

“Agreed, chum!  First thing tomorrow morning, we decide on the fate of Dominion’s bed!”

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

“She's ready to see you now,” said the woman in blue scrubs.

Damon stood up slowly and followed the doctor out of the waiting area and into his wife's recovery room. 

The pale-faced patient looked up and smiled weakly as he entered.  “Damon,” she said softly.

Damon walked to her side and grabbed her hand as he kissed her forehead gently.  “Tess,” he paused, “sweetheart.”  A tear fell from his eye.

“Is it that bad, Damon?” she coughed.

“It's not good.”

“But there's still hope, right?  I mean, with God anything is possible.”

“Yes, of course,” he agreed slowly, “it's just that--”

“Do not worry about anything,” she quoted, “instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God's peace.”

“I know, darling.  I know.”

“Then you shouldn’t look so concerned.  The doctors had said I wouldn’t wake from my coma, right?  God’s plans are higher than ours.”

“I don't know what I would do without you.”

“Should that day come, the LORD will provide a path for you, like He’s always done.  Even now He is putting things in motion that will provide for your future.  Have faith.”

“I do.  It's just that I feel as though He may be testing my faith right now and I'm not sure what path He would want me to take.”

“Are you talking about Arthur Flores?”

“Yes,” he said as he bowed his head.

“Can I see?”

Damon looked up questioningly before he brought a finger in front of his face.  It lit on fire. 

Tess's eyes grew bright with surprise.  “This is most certainly a gift to praise the LORD about.”

“But, don't you think--”

“I think that John the Baptist foretold this very gift, Damon.  'I baptize you with water, but he who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.'”

“Perhaps you're right.”

“You know this.  This is the Word of God.  The real question is, what do you intend to do with this gift?”

“God's will, of course.”

“He couldn't have given you such an amazing gift without having some amazing purpose in store for you.”

“That is precisely what vexes me.”

“Don’t worry.  I feel confident His plan will be revealed soon.”

“I pray you’re correct.”

“Damon?” Tess asked as her eyes clenched tightly.

“What is it darling?  Are you okay?” 

One of the machines behind her began beeping and immediately a swarm of blue-clothed individuals ran into the room, shoving Damon out the door.

“What is going on?” he screamed as they pushed him out of the way.

“Sorry, sir.  You’re going to have to wait outside.”

“I demand to know what is happening to my wife!” he yelled as they tried closing the door in front of him.  He held onto the door and struggled to keep it open until he felt a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“Reverend,” the man connected to the hand said calmly.  “There’s nothing you can do now.”

*******

“You alright there, Buddy?” Maggie asked, looking up from her book and noticing her brother was still staring at the same wall he had been looking at the last time she turned the page.  “I know we said we’d have a relaxing night at home, but I didn’t expect you to shut down quite so hard.”

“I was just thinking about something.”

“Damon?”

“It’s not that.  Well, not exactly.  I don’t know.  It’s nothing.”

“Are you having more of those memories?” Maggie asked, putting her book down on the coffee table in front of her and sliding down the couch closer to the chair Buddy was sitting on.  Buddy was silent.  “What’s happening in them now?”

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Buddy said solemnly.

“I’m sorry, Buddy.  It can’t be easy to relive the life of a man as crazy as that.  Especially considering how he feels about you.”

“It’s not that.  At least, not exactly.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay,” Maggie said as she sat back in the couch.  “But, if you ever want to talk, you know I’m here, right?”

“I know.”

“Have you told anyone else about it?  Alexa maybe?”

“I haven’t even told any of them what happened between me and Damon, much less that I’m currently living his life in fast forward.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.  Just never seemed like the right time.  I mean, how do you tell someone that you currently have the memories of one of the scariest men that have ever walked this earth rolling around in your brain?  I’m pretty sure I know how I’d react, and it wouldn’t be very accepting.”

“I don’t think you give your friends enough credit.”

“Maybe not.”

“It’s alright to be scared, you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re scared that you’re starting to become Damon.  Aren’t you?  I know I would be.”

“I don’t know.  Maybe.  There’s really only one thing I know for sure.”

“What’s that?”

“I want him out.”

Maggie got up from the couch and sat down on the armrest to the chair Buddy was currently perched on. “Can we agree for a second that I know you better than anyone?  That, if there was anyone who knew what was going on in your head better than you, it would be me?”

“Sure.  I guess so.”

“So, if I were to say that I’m not worried, would that make you feel any better?  I mean, you haven’t given me any reason to believe that you’re anyone other than the same old dumb brother you’ve always been.”

“Yeah, but--”

“You can still separate the pieces that belong to him and the pieces that belong to you, can't you?”

“Yeah, I guess, it's just that--”

“Right, so, as long as you know who you are, there's nothing Damon can do to change that, whether or not he's hanging out inside your head.”

“You're probably right.”

“Of course I am,” Maggie laughed.  “And now you know a lot more about what made him who he is, meaning that if he ever does pop back into our lives, you’ll have a better idea of how to deal with him.”

“Maybe I am just getting myself all worked up over nothing.”

“I know you are.”

“I mean, I already don’t really know who I am, because of that stupid Mind Wipe thing.  I question which memories are real as it is.”

“I wish I could tell you that I know how it feels.”

“I know.”

“How about this?” Maggie grinned.  “If you ever get to the point where you don’t think you can handle it anymore, you let me know.  I’ll take care of it.”

“Perfect,” Buddy laughed.  “Great to know I’ve always got my big sister to back me up.”

“And don’t you forget it.  Now, why don’t you get to bed, you could probably use the rest before work tomorrow.”

“Yeah, about that. I had been meaning to tell you.”

“Oh, no, Buddy.  Not again.”

“Yeah.  Turns out working as a moving guy isn’t quite as easy as we had thought it would be.”

“Who caused the trouble this time, you or Zero?”

“Well,” Buddy stumbled over his words.

“Buddy…”

“Look, we got a little over-ambitious.  No one was around, so we decided we could probably get things done faster if we, well, you know.”

“What happened?”

“Let’s just say that super strength does not always mesh well with priceless pieces of art.”

“Buddy!”

“I know, I’m sorry.  It was completely my fault.”

“That’s the fifth job you guys have lost together now.  You need to find some steady work.”

“I know, sis.  I’ll get out and find something first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Actually, I might have something for you,” Maggie said as she sat back down on the couch.

“Yeah?”

“Ever heard of SuperCon?”

“Sounds familiar.  One of those nerd conventions, right?”

“Yeah.  It’s actually the world's largest comic book convention and it’s located right here in Sun City.  Now that I'm the sister of the world-famous Buddy Hero, I've managed to make Maggie's the official caterer for the event.”

“World-famous?”

“Okay, sure, maybe no one actually knows you exist, but still, it seemed like a good enough excuse to go after the contract, not that I need any excuses with finances being the way they are.  It’s a pretty big deal.  I even had to hire on three more people just to handle the crowds.”

“Cool,” Buddy said as his mind trailed off to other things.

“Anyways, I could definitely use another pair of hands on the line and since you said you’re free tomorrow--”

“What?” Buddy snapped back into focus.  “Oh, no, I just remembered.  I promised Ryan I'd help him test. . . something.”

“You could have just said no, you know,” Maggie frowned as she stood.  “You don’t have to lie to me.”

“No, seriously sis, I'd love to help, but--”

“Forget it.”

“I’m being honest here.  Ryan asked if I could help him test this new upgrade he’s been working on, something that he thinks could be useful in, well, something.  I don’t remember exactly.  I think it had something to do with mirrors.”

“After all those years of watching you drink yourself stupid, I’m happy to see you finally found something that makes you happy, so, don’t misunderstand me.  But, you need to find a job.  There’s no easier way to say this.  We need the money.”

“Well, you know, it would be pretty easy to rob a bank, knowing that--”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.  Why don't we just put that idea under Plan B.  Just promise me that if something comes up where you could be getting paid to traipse around in those tights of yours, you'll jump at the opportunity, okay?  Our house is starting to feel a little cramped with you, me, Alexa, and Zero all sitting around the same dinner table.  And the food bills aren’t getting any cheaper, either.”

“You know me, sis.  The second someone gives me the opportunity to sell out, I'm there.”

“Perfect.  Well, I have to be at the convention before the sun comes up tomorrow morning if I hope to have a chance to find a place to park and unload all my stuff.  You gonna be up for a bit?”

“Yeah, probably.  I was thinking about going out on patrol again to try and clear my mind.  You got any clue where Alexa's gotten off to?  Thought she might like to join me.”

“She hasn't been home at all today.  I just assumed she was off doing something with Zero.”

“Those two?  Together?  Alone?  Don't bet on it.  Besides, I think Zero said he was heading off to the library to play some catchup on world history.”

“Great,” Maggie groaned.  “Just what I need.  Another week filled with him spouting off random bits of celebrity gossip from ten years ago.”

“It could be worse,” Buddy smiled.  “Remember when he found out about 9-11?  I’d take talking about who is cheating on who over that discussion any day.”

“Did you try calling her?”

“I texted her.  That’s usually more than enough.”

“I can check my room and see if she left her phone.”

“Her? Without her phone?  I don't think so.”

“Okay, well I’m going to sleep.  If you find Alexa, tell her I need her to be ready to go by 4am.”

“For what?”

“For SuperCon, dummy.”

“I'm serious, Maggie, Ryan asked me if I would--”

“G'night.”

“Good night.”

Maggie walked out of the room and Buddy was left alone.  He sat in place for a moment, eyes returning to the blank wall before he finally stood and walked to the door.

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