Months had passed since the end of the war against Lord Fuse. While the planet recovered slowly, the grand halls of DexLabs became significantly emptier. This had come as a great relief to its proprietor, Dexter boy genius, a man who had mastered every science except the social ones. The great hoards of children running around tended to grate his nerves. Their absence did not go missed.
"So why do I feel lousy?" Dexter though aloud. The words, while quiet, were not drowned out. He even managed to hear its faint echo.
Not everyone had left. His parents had taking a liking to life in DexLabs, regarding their old home as something of a curiosity. His family still pranked him whenever they got half a chance. He'd often wonder why they wouldn't light up while he was fighting a war for the sake of humanity. Expectedly their pranks had, in recent months, become far more elaborate. Luckily, he wasn't left with them. Many core team members had stayed around to help with the clean up, but the cleanup crews themselves had been in-sourced, and weren't the wide-eyed children and malevolently destructive teenagers he'd grown to know and tolerate.
The Utonium family naturally stayed. DexLabs wasn't far from Townsville, so even though the Powerpuff Girls had school, he was seeing them quite frequently. It was somewhat of a relief, if he were being honest. It was nice to be treated like the super special intergalactic warlord and arms dealer he'd become.
Sector V and Ben Tennyson had not stayed. Sector V he knew had business to attend to, and someone needed to reintegrate children back to a relatively normal life.
Ben's departure had been harder. Not that Dexter didn't understand that there were more alien threats ready in the wings to conquer the planet. He just sort of thought the two of them would be doing it together, "you know, cause we're best friends and all..." he trailed off when he'd realized he'd finished a though audibly. He looked around to make sure no one had heard him.
"He'll be back Dex," said a voice from around the corner. He too stepped into the main balcony, overlooking the command room of DexLabs.
"Waaah, Professor! You didn't hear anything!"
"For what it's worth, I miss everyone too."
Dexter sighed that sigh everyone does when people finally have to admit sad truths to themselves.
Recognizing that sound Utonium continued, "If it's any consolation, there's a pretty good chance the world will need saving again."
The tiny misanthrope inside Dexter hoped this would be true sooner rather than later.
It was several weeks later that Ben arrived. Dexter had organized his greatest discoveries by how much they revolutionized Earth's technology or chronologically, whichever was more alphabetical. The very first thing Dexter did when Ben arrived was hug, what amounted to, Ben's lower torso. Dexter might have been heads and shoulders above everyone intellectually, but was small enough he could still, had he ever decided to, climb in the ball pit at Chubby Cheese's.
"Oh man, Dex, I didn't know you felt that way about me."
Dexter let go and said, sheepishly, "Sorry it's just, er..."
"I missed you too, buddy. So, what'd I miss?"
Dexter elaborated on the clean up. He told how Townsville Park had basically been closed to the public. Apparently the fissure had unearthed some interesting strata, with a matrix full of prehistoric fauna. He detailed the systematic recall of the Null Void Guns from all, now former, employees of DexLabs.
Their conversation moved to Dexter's work bench. Ben plopped himself down on the nearest sturdy looking object, with reckless disregard for what it might do to a human body.
"Sounds like you've had your hands full," Ben assumed.
"Not as much as you might think," Dexter's inflection fell to a sharp whine. "I must admit, I've become very restless lately." Dexter's eyes turned to his work, as they often did when dealing with emotions.
"Man, you really did miss me, didn't you?" Ben conjectured.
"Is that all you ever think about? It's not just you, you know!" Dexter shouted in his speaking voice. Ben looked at Dexter with the quizzical head turned he'd once learned from a dog. "I see my joke fell a little flat," Dexter said with a nervous chuckle.
"Come on, what we need to do is call up some old friends and hang out," Ben suggested, "What do you say?"
"I don't know," said Dexter, "but what, what if they don't want to talk to me?"
"Why wouldn't they? You know, aside from you being bossy, and a pain, and self-centered?"
Dexter shot back a deadpan grimace.
"Well, I suppose we could do a video phone date?"
Dexter's voice sounded more nasal than verbal, before squeaking out, "I suppose…"
The video screen in Dexter's lab came to life. While it was of the highest definition, only so much could be done about the webcam on the other end. The two ends of the feed stared at one another for a few moments before anyone spoke.
"Good going, Lunkhead, you broke it," said the shortest of the three people on the monitor, the former king of the cul-de-sac.
"No, it's working, hey guys!" said Ben, looking at the screen and not the camera, which was somewhat to his left. Dexter grabbed him and rearranged him properly.
"Salutations, Ben… why are you calling from Dexlabs?" said the be-socked Edd.
"AHEM," said a voice decidedly off-screen. A Dexbot brought a box for Dexter to stand on, so the boy genius would be seen as well as heard.
"What's the egghead doing on here?" asked Eddy.
"Quiet Eddy; so, Dexter, how have you been?"
"I've been… fine…"
Awkward silence fell over the group. Edd sweated sweat of nervousness. Ed sweated too, but mostly because that was what he felt like doing.
Ben nudged Dexter's shoulder, "Go on; say something."
"Ah, yeees, thank you for helping me test my new web relay system," Dexter smiled a nervous smile. It wasn't anything to get up in front of an army and give a rousing speech, but when it came to reconnecting with friends, he was at a bit of a loss.
"Oh, well, call again!" said Double D.
The connection ceased and the monitor turned off. Ben turned around to Dexter, templing his fingers and pointing.
"Do you," Ben had to search hard for the right words, as doing so was unusual for him, "mind telling me what that was?"
"Ah heh, conversation?" Dexter said with a nervous chuckle.
"Uh, no, no that wasn't," Ben sighed and tried again. "Alright, let's try this again. This time I want you to ask a question."
Another call was made.
"Yeah, what is it you want, Dextah?" snapped Wallabee Beatles.
"To… talk?" Dexter said.
"Well, make it snappy, we've got work to do."
"Eeeaaauh, I'll call back."
Again the screen turned off. Ben sighed. This was going to be harder than he thought.
After an incredibly unsuccessful half hour of calling up basically anyone who was available to talk to Dexter, Ben decided it might be more productive if they tried learning interpersonal communication skills from cable television. It certainly wasn't his best idea, but it was nowhere near his worst.
"News… We're going to watch the news…" said Ben with disdain for Dexter's selection.
Dexter lifted a finger, "It is important to be well informed on current events, Benjamin."
Recalling the frequency of the times he had run into battle before knowing how, or even if, he could defeat his enemy, Ben said, "That's… not a bad point, but does it have to be cable news?"
"Tonight, on the Harangue Nation," the television blared.
"Not this clown. Why in the world do you watch this guy?" Ben asked, the distaste clear in his voice.
"I don't, normally," the disdain for giving Will Harangue's parent network any ad revenue apparent, "but I was told I might want to watch tonight."
"and DexLab's CEO Dexter. Is this boy genius all wrong for America?"
And then it became clear.
Will Harangue started, "Our top story tonight, Dexter: Boy Genius or Boy Menace? Joining us in this discussion is General Julius Steel of the United States Armed Forces, Mr. Boss, the CEO of adult interests, and Mayor, the mayor of Townsville, the hometown of DexLab's headquarters, thank you all for coming."
Everyone one of the three said some variation of, "It's great to be here!" that sounded, somewhat, like, "Egggarrbeaah."
"General Steel, we'll start with you. It's been five months since Planet Fuse left Earth thanks, almost entirely to the efforts of 13 year old multibillionaire Dexter and the actions of secretive, extra government services. Can you tell us the Armed Forces' position on this matter?"
"Thank you, Harangue. I would like to take this opportunity to make it clear that Dexter is a war criminal. He waged war without declaration on an entire race using an army of minors. Why, he's no better than warlords in Uganda who kidnap children to serve in their armies."
"Thank you, sir. Mr. Boss, could you tell us your position on Dexter's rise to financial power?"
"Certainly, Will. Dexter is a menace. His company took business from legitimate, established companies, by competing in a global and galactic arms market, rather than going through the proper channels and selling his technology to the Pentagon or other companies, so, you know, we could sell them to the Pentagon for him, and certainly not reverse engineer his advances for our own financial gain."
"Thank you. Mayor Mayor, could you tell us how DexLabs has affected your city?"
"Wooah, well, golly. Business is a-boomin'! Our schools are state of the art, and all of our public utilities are more efficient than ever thanks to…"
Mayor paused as a red clad arm shoved another note card in his hand, "the taxes paid out by DexLabs. It's probably the best thing that's ever happened to Townsville. Definitely makes the weekly destructions easier to deal…"
"Cut his mike! Cut his mike!" shouted Harangue, "I'm sorry folks, I didn't realize we'd have a biased individual on this program. This wasn't fair to you, and I take full responsibility."
The television was turned off. Apparently there's just a level of despair the human body can take, and it had been reached.
"Is that what's been getting to you, Dex? Look I know how much it sucks to get harangued by Will Harangue, but who honestly cares what he thinks?"
"It's not what he thinks, Ben, it's what others think of me."
"What? That you're a renegade billionaire war criminal?"
"Well, sort of, yeah," Dexter sighed, "It's just am I a good person?"
"Not that you don't have some personality problems, but you aren't evil, Dex. I bet you anything, in 30 years, you'll be a national treasure."
"You think so?" A knowing grin crossed Dexter's face. "Why don't we find out, old chum?"
Dexter had his driver take himself and Ben to Genius Grove, the location of his old house, and old Lab. The lights inside had been off for a while now. The lightswitch creaked when flipped, illuminating the livingroom he hadn't seen in some time. Dexter ran up the stairs just like he used, making the run much faster than when he was younger, thanks mostly to his, admittedly paltry, height.
The bookcase slid open, and the lights in the lab turned on. Dexter saw a silhouette against the sterile light. "Deedee!" he shouted, "Get out of my laboratory!" But it was just Ben, who had turned into the necrofridgian, Big Chill, so he could simply phase through the walls, enter the lab, and get a rise out of his friend.
"Wow, do you say that a lot?" Ben conjectured.
"Nevermind that. Okay, I need you to help me find something that looks like a grandfather clock, okay?"
It wasn't that hard of a search, really. Unlike most of Dexter's greatest creations, this one didn't wind up in some decrepit part of the infinitely large laboratory. Time travel was an incredible feat, and unlike most scientists, Dexter never really worried that his inventions would fall into the wrong hands.
After a bit of testing to make sure nothing was broken, Dexter spoke, "Okay, Ben, we're just going into the future for a short jaunt, we'll see how cool I…"
"We are, and then we'll head back home, full in the knowledge that no one will harangue us."
"Wait, won't we not be in the future? I mean, we're going to the future now, so won't we not exist in the future until we get back?"
"No, almost certainly we'll still be in the future. No worries there."
As soon as the two had stepped in the portal, they had stepped out. The room looked much like it had when they left, aside from disrepair. They left their house, noting that there was no lighting. This wasn't incredibly unexpected. Why pay for an electricity bill if you aren't living somewhere?
It wasn't explicitly obvious something was wrong until they stepped outside. Around them, the soil was as red as clay and fired, too. "But I don't understand; where is everything?"
"You did it! You finally did it!" Ben shouted, never missing a good time for references, "You blew it all to Hell!"
"I hope I didn't do this," said Dexter, sheepishly.
"How could you have? You're here!"
"Time travel doesn't work like that, Tennyson. Maybe I am a warmonger…"