Epilogue: Fusion Fallout
For more than thirty hours, Wally just slept.
He vaguely remembered babbling to Number One about 981's idea of supplies and outdated glow sticks as he was supported into the hold of the August. He saw the Professor looking very pale and Number Three looking like she wanted to launch a world-class fuss over him. Lacking the energy to resist, he let her. Fatigue eventually overrode concern, especially after the medics put a soft pillow under his head and a warm blanket over him. Soon after that, exhaustion and pain killers had dragged him down into sleep where his dreams were dominated by the color green.
He woke up once for a few minutes and recognized the room as DexLabs Medical. He had no memory of coming here; he must have been asleep or unconscious when he arrived. A gurgling sound caught his attention and he looked to see Kuki sitting next to his bed blowing bubbles into her drink through a straw. Her dark eyes seemed to light up and she grinned broadly to see him awake.
"Wally! I was so worried!"
He tried to answer, but his brain was fuzzy and mouth was dry and he only made a nonsensical noise that delighted Kuki.
"Thirsty?" she asked, offering the drink. "I have lemonade."
When he moved to reach for it he found his hands were bandaged and stiff. Kuki raised the bed up slightly and held the cup for him. The drink was sweet and tart and cool and the best thing he had ever tasted. After a few swallows he tried his voice again.
"Thanks. Thanks for finding us."
"Drink some more," she said, pressing the liquid on him. "You were pretty amazing against all those Fusions. The Professor told us."
Memory rushed in upon him like a wave. It was a little galling that the Professor had woken up before him, all things considered. "How is he?"
"He needs lots of rest, but Seventy-Seven says he'll be fine. He's home now. He wanted to come visit you, but he's not allowed to move for a few days. You'll have to go see him."
Wally nodded, pleased at the prospect. "He was pretty useful for a grown-up."
"He called you a hero. He said you saved his life."
The admiration in her face as she said this gave him pause, and try as he might his tired brain could not come up with a witty reply. A hero? He was a fighter, a brawler. That's what he did. Hardly the stuff of heroism in his mind, but Kuki seemed to be in complete agreement with Professor Utonium. If only for her sake, he wasn't going to argue. Seeing that he was drifting off again, Kuki began telling him a fairy tale, her voice expertly pitched to lull him back to sleep. He had no idea of what the story was about and he didn't remember nodding off on her, but this time the green in his dreams was of a completely different shade. Darker, richer – the same shade, in fact, as Kuki's sweater . . .
When he woke up again his head was clearer and his whole body was stiff and sore. It was to be expected; he'd had quite the donnybrook. He carefully stretched, mindful of his bandaged hands, then rubbed the sleep from his eyes as best he could with his fingertips. The motion dislodged a Rainbow Monkey plush toy, obviously left behind by Kuki. Not wanting to be seen with anything so silly, he turned to toss it on the chair.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Beetles."
He froze, surprised to recognize that voice. Dexter sat in the chair where Kuki had been. He was quite possibly the last person Wally would expect to be sitting at his bedside. He had never seen the owner of DexCorp International up close before and he was amazed to see that Dexter's hair really was that red. He chucked the Rainbow Monkey behind him where it landed with a squeak. Having no idea of what to say, Wally finally settled for a quiet,
Dexter nodded in acknowledgement of the greeting, seeming to recognize Wally's confusion. "I hope you're not in any discomfort. I understand that you injured your hand."
He had to wade through accent, but he got the general idea of what was being said. He displayed his heavily bandaged hand. "Naa. It's nothing bad. Just stiff."
"I wanted to thank you in person for everything you did to protect my father. He was very impressed not just by your piloting and fighting skills, but also the aptitude and degree of caring you displayed while tending to his injuries. He said you made an excellent medic."
Not used to such glowing reports, Wally shrugged slightly. He didn't want to dismiss the praise, but he wasn't sure how to respond. "He talked me through everything."
"And you weren't afraid to do it. Further, he said using the magazines as a splint was your idea. You did such a good job the medics didn't remove it until Dr. Cardon put the Professor's leg in a temporary cast. There was no need." Dexter gave him a small smile. "Don't be surprised if he pushes you towards becoming a medic or even a doctor some day."
"Me? A doctor?" A snort escaped him at the notion.
Dexter cocked his head, curious. "Why not?"
"You gotta be smart to be a doctor."
"You must also be smart to be in the Kids Next Door or pilot a ship or win a fight against impossible odds. The Professor would not have said you made an excellent medic if he didn't mean it, Mr. Beetles. Don't sell yourself short."
It was a lot to consider. Quietly he promised, "I'll think about it."
"Good," Dexter replied, genuinely pleased.
He drew a deep breath, wondering if he should say anything about the possibility of a traitor. It occurred to him that anyone as brainy as Dexter would have already have thought of everything he might say, and he hesitated.
Dexter wanted him to speak. He was waiting for Wally to speak.
"This FusionFall," he said softly. "It wasn't random."
The younger boy's features hardened. "Continue," he ordered.
"Hardly anyone knew about your dad visiting NIMR. We were so far from everything when that fall hit - I swear, that place made Nowhere look busy. It hit us at just the right time in just the right spot to make it really hard to find us. Besides, a whole FusionFall for one SHORTbus? No. They were targeting the Professor."
"So what you're saying is . . . ?"
"We've got a traitor, mate."
For a long moment Dexter just stared at him. Wally was beginning to wonder if Baby Einstein was about to tell him that he was off his gourd when the younger boy abruptly said in hushed and hurried tones,
"I ask that you say nothing about this, Mr. Beetles. Not even to Number One. You're absolutely correct in your surmise. I suspected as much when we lost Townsville. With the weapons and forces we had at our disposal, we should not have lost that city." He glanced over at the door, lowering his voice still further. "Commander Tennyson and I are working on the problem. Number One and Mandy are aware of our suspicions. Promise me you'll say nothing and do nothing until we call upon you."
It was a relief to know that someone else not only shared this information, but believed the same thing. There was such focused intent in Dexter's eyes that there was no room left for doubt as to his sincerity. Plus he was being offered a piece of the action when it came. Wally nodded, saying,
"Promise. I can keep my yap shut."
"Thank you." Dexter looked down, remembering something and moving onto a safer topic. He picked up a slim magazine from his lap. "Oh! My father asked me to make sure you got this. He thought you might need something to entertain you."
He handed over the latest issue of Spore. Wally grinned as he studied the noir cover. "Ripper!"
"The ending will shock you," warned the Boy Genius. "Not even I saw it coming."
"You read this?" gaped Wally. Utonium was hard enough to believe. He never would have pegged Dexter as a fan of comic books.
Dexter gave him an incredulous look. "Half of DexLabs reads it. Mr. Green and Sgt. Morton go head-to-head once a month over whether or not Arsynergy is a monster or an alien and DexCorp's production plant has a betting pool over how many times Dr. Riley can be cloned over the course of this story arc."
"Wow. I'm surrounded by nerds." He caught himself too late. "Uh . . ."
Not in the least offended, Dexter actually grinned. "You have no idea." Standing, he straightened his lab coat. "I'll leave you to it, then. I'm sure my father will want to discuss your reactions and opinions. Thank you again for all you did for him. You have my undying gratitude. I hope that someday I'll have the opportunity to repay some small part of what I owe you."
Wally wondered if he was for real, and then figured he had to be. Dexter had proven long ago he could walk the walk. Yeah, he meant it.
Something in his expression caught Dexter's interest, because the younger boy looked at him expectantly. "You have something in mind, Mr. Beetles?"
"Well, call me Wally, for starters. And . . . do you know anything about glow sticks?"
The question caught Dexter off guard if that arched eyebrow was any indicator. "I might. Why?"
"The ones we had on that SHORTbus were for crap. Think maybe you could turbo charge some?"
Unknowingly, he had just set one of the most formidable minds on the planet on a mission. With a sly-eyed smirk Dexter turned to leave. "I'll see what I can do, Wally."
"Thanks, mate," he said, unaware of the forces he had just set in motion. "And thanks for the comic book."
Dexter nodded and left him to his reading and recovery, his heavy boots making no noise as he exited the hospital room. Settling down into the pillows, Wally propped his head up on the Rainbow Monkey and rested the book on his knees, studying the cover of Spore and weighing what it had come to mean.
This was his secret, something he had in common with the likes of Professor Utonium. And not just the Professor, but Buttercup and Dexter and Mr. Green and Sgt Morton and lots of other super-smart, super-capable people that worked here. Maybe, just maybe, he had a bit more in common with them than just a comic book.
Maybe he really was a hero.
- fin -