Part Two: Invitation
"Abigail Lincoln! Mail call for Miss Abigail Lincoln!"
Bounding up from her desk, Abby crossed her room in two strides and opened the door to see her father waving an envelope playfully. He eyed her askance, holding the envelope out of reach over his head.
"Would you happen to know the location of a certain Miss Abigail Lincoln?" he teased.
She struck a pose and feigned thoughtful consideration. "Would that be a tall, attractive, highly intelligent young lady with a devilishly handsome doctor for a father?"
"That'd be the one," he instantly allowed, handing over the envelope with a grin. "It's a perfect day. You going out?"
"Yeah, just meeting up with Hoagie and Nigel. We're just gonna hang out at Hoagie's."
"You have fun," he called fondly as she headed for the stairs.
Walking along the sidewalk on her way to Hoagie's house, Abby examined the envelope. She rarely got mail, and she was intrigued by the high quality of the paper and the embossed figure-8 logo on the back of it. The design seemed vaguely familiar - she knew she had seen it before. It was addressed, but there was no stamp. Had it been hand-delivered? Why? Giving in to her curiosity, she carefully opened the envelope. Pulling out the card within, she walked and read.
Dear Miss Lincoln,
You are cordially invited to the premier screening
of the new action-adventure motion picture
Code Name: Kids Next Door - Fusion Invasion
to be held at DexLabs Corporate Headquarters in Downtown
at 2:00 PM on Saturday, September 7th.
Refreshments, pizza, and ice cream to follow.
"Ice cream?" she wondered aloud. "I'm there."
Now she recognized the logo. DexLabs. They made the coolest hover boards and she was hoping and praying for one for Christmas. She had already dropped some major hints, but it was never too early to get to work on her parents. She considered. Today was the seventh, and she had enough money for bus fare to Downtown . . .
"Hmm." It seemed odd to premier a movie at a corporate headquarters, but if she remembered aright from all the gushing Hoagie did, that Dexter kid that owned DexLabs was afraid of going outside. Maybe the film was coming to him. Weird title for a movie. Why invite her? Could they have gotten her name through her school? Maybe Hoagie would have a clue. She'd ask.
When she got to the Gilligan house, it was in an uproar of sorts. Hoagie was in in full-bore science nerd fanboy mode and Nigel, sitting on a lawn chair in the driveway, was getting quite a show as his best friend had a DexLabs-inspired meltdown.
"DexLabs! DexLabs! Nigel, we have to go! We can't miss this! Abby!" he called, catching sight of her as she ambled up the driveway. He waved a card at her. "Tell me you got invited too!"
"Got mine right here," she said, displaying her invitation. Nigel silently held up and identical envelope for her to see.
"Good! We can't miss this! It's too important!"
"It's a movie premier. Calm yourself, Hogarth."
"No!" He gestured wildly. "There's more to it. Look!"
He handed her an envelope. For a moment she thought it was an invitation just like hers - the card and the envelope were the same. Opening it, she saw a handwritten note dated four years previously.
If you're not busy later, please join me for lunch. I have a favor to ask of you. I'll meet you at noon in the main atrium.
Prof. P.L. Utonium
"Who's Ben?" she wondered, looking up with a frown. "And who's Professor Utonium?"
"Look at the name on the envelope, Abby," Nigel said.
She turned it over and let her shock come through as she slowly read, "Ben . . . Tennyson? The Ben Tennyson? Ben10 Ben Tennyson? Alien dude hero guy?" She looked between her two friends. "Hoagie, why . . . how do you have a note written to Ben10 on DexLabs card stock?"
"I don't know," was the tense reply. "It was in the box of stuff I keep hidden so Tommy won't get his paws on it. Abby, I have a handwritten note from Professor Patrick Lawrence Utonium!"
"Who is?" she prompted.
"The guy that made the Powerpuff Girls! He's the president of DexCorp International. How can I not remember getting hold of this note with his signature?" Hoagie demanded of them both.
Nigel gave her a knowing look over the brim of his sunglasses. It was too far-fetched to think Hoagie would forget such an acquisition and they all knew it. "Something is going on here."
She nodded, understanding. "Something strange."
They all turned at the familiar shout as Wally and Kuki came down the sidewalk toward them. They were holding hands, and in their free hands were familiar envelopes. The Australian held his up expectantly.
"Aye, you all up for free pizza?"
Abby looked at her own invitation, intrigued and suspicious. "I hope I'm dressed for a movie premier."
"Think they'll come, Dex?"
The young scientist gave off his compulsive tinkering on the device he'd already fine-tuned ten times today and stepped away. He joined Ben where the older teen stood surrounded by holographic screens projected in the air by Computress. They all showed the main entrance of DexLabs from a variety of angles. People and talking animals and various sundry creatures milled about in the bright sunshine of late summer. Though the war was over, there was still a tremendous amount of work to get done. Reconstruction and recovery and clean up still lay before them, daunting tasks, but welcome.
"They'll come," Dexter said, trying to sound more confident than he felt.
Not fooled for an instant, Ben glanced down at him. "What if they don't?"
He shrugged. "I'll send Sgt. Morton to kidnap them. It's for their own good."
Ben chuckled, assured. "Think it'll work?"
"Of course," was the defensive - and thoroughly predictable - reply. "It's actually quite simple to block a person's memory. It's a cascading set of triggers that redirect thought patterns away from whatever it is you want to hide."
"Pff. Kindergarten stuff," was the sarcastic comment.
Dexter elbowed him in reply. "The KND have perfected the process. It can be reversed. There are several occasions when decommissioned operatives have been re-commissioned and they retain full memory of their service until such time as they're decommissioned again." He clasped his hands behind his back, still watching the screens. "Within the past ten years or so, however, the KND have occasionally gone a step further and actually erased the memories of certain operatives. Usually they reserve such extremes for particularly troublesome individuals."
"You think they listed Sector V as particularly troublesome?" he asked, imitating Dexter's thick accent as he quoted him.
"It's distinctly possible. Operatives aren't usually resistant to decommissioning, but then the KND has never taken part in a world war or had teenagers for a command team." He paused, collecting himself. "In the aftermath of my Fusion kidnapping me and . . . and probing my mind, Dad and I did a lot of research in the recording and preservation of memories."
"That can't have been easy. How'd you figure that out?"
Dexter shrugged. "Figuring out the mechanical aspect wasn't hard at all."
Knowing better, the brunet asked, "So what was the hard part?"
He made a wry face and admitted, "Thinking about it at all. Since the Fusion was a copy of me, it wasn't difficult for me to apply the same thought process he did to create the probe in the first place."
"More like inevitable. If you can read something, you can record it, memories included, and if you remove something, it can be replaced if you don't wait too long."
"You've tried it?" squawked Ben.
Dexter nodded. "Numerous times."
He stared, floored. "On who?"
He stared harder. "How can you tell if it worked?"
"Oh, I just gave him some of my memories for a week. It was the most useful he's ever been in the lab."
"Did he even know what he was getting himself into?"
"When has that knowledge ever influenced his cognitive or decision-making processes?"
"Good point. But . . . it fried your brain. Granted Billy hasn't got much to lose . . ."
Instinctively he raised a purple-gloved hand to his temple, to the deep scars he would bear all his life. "It only hurt me because the Ur-Dexter enjoyed torturing people. The process is relatively painless."
"So you've got Sector V on floppy disk?" he asked, trying to restore his friend's good mood.
"Do you even know what a floppy disk is, Mr. Tennyson? In essence you're right, though. They're using up a shocking amount of memory, but this is just a wake-up call for me to expand Computress' capacity." He shrugged and looked smug and happy all at once.
"There's a bright side to everything."
"Plus, if the KND try to pull anything and repeat the decommissioning, I can just restore their memories again."
"Sneaky. Gotta wonder why they even bothered. Seems a pretty cheap shot to me."
"I think it's a knee-jerk reaction. Their long-held beliefs are being threatened and challenged. Change is difficult, and Sector V stands as testimony to how erroneous and outdated the attitude about teens and adults really is. The KND command is simply circling the wagons against an enemy that's not there."
"Hey!" He smacked Dexter on the arm and pointed. "Look!"
Five familiar figures stood at the far end of the square. Computress zoomed the cameras in to show Nigel, Hoagie, Kuki, Wally, and Abby clustered together and looking about with great interest. Dexter and Ben exchanged a quick grin, and then Dexter held his hand up.
"Comm cube! Sgt. Morton!"
A glowing cube appeared over his hand projecting an image of his security chief.
"We've got them on camera, sir," said Morton. Despite his stoic demeanor, it was clear the sergeant was immensely pleased. "I'll do the meet and greet."
"We'll join you in ten minutes."
They were silent for about thirty seconds, watching the screens. Ben fidgeted and rocked back on his heels.
"Feels like ten minutes to me."
"Yeah, let's go."
They almost ran to the elevator.
"Is it me, or is everyone staring?" wondered Hoagie.
"It's not you," confirmed Abby. She looked around the entrance to the building with admiration. "Man, this place is nice."
"I hope we get decent seats," Wally muttered, still laboring under the belief that they were here for a movie.
"I like the waterfall," announced Kuki, heading toward the indoor fountain for a better look.
Nigel stepped away from the group following Kuki, drawn to an abstract sculpture to the side of the fountain. It looked as if it was bursting straight out of the marble tiles of the floor. Upon closer inspection he saw the sculpture was made entirely of gears and machine parts from a weapon of sorts that looked as if they had been blown to bits from the inside before being welded together. At the base was a small plaque reading Kurze Kanone 001. He stared, letting his gaze wander through the plant-filled entrance. All was light and airy and chrome and glass. This place felt . . . right. Welcoming. He belonged here, but why? He touched the sculpture, wondering aloud,
"Why does this seem familiar?"
"Because you've seen it before."
Somehow the words didn't surprise him, though the speaker did. He turned and faced a tall man in dark gray body armor. Blond hair peeked out beneath his baseball cap, and he had a stiff, no-nonsense air about him. Instantly Nigel knew this was not someone to cross, and he hastily removed his hand from the Kurze Kanone, just in case.
"Welcome to DexLabs, Mr. Uno," said the man. "I'm Sgt. Morton, Chief of Security."
"You know my name?" Nigel asked cautiously.
"I know you, sir."
"It's a long story and not mine to tell, sir. You'll get all the details soon. I can say that I'm glad you're back."
"Back?" echoed Nigel. "I've never been here before, sir."
"Really?" challenged Morton softly. Nigel shook his head. Grown-ups. Suddenly Morton frowned and called over Nigel's head, "Hey! Gilliagn! Do not mess with that comm unit!"
Caught in the act, Hoagie snatched his hand away from the impressive array of buttons he'd been about to push, astonished that anyone here knew his name. With a grumbling sigh the sergeant turned as one of the elevators pinged. Nigel followed his gaze as the doors opened. He found himself gaping in shock as he recognized the young man that stepped out: Ben Tennyson, Wielder of the Omnitrix and one of the planet's foremost heroes. He felt his friends step closer and they all stared right along with him as Tennyson broke into a broad grin and waved, hurrying towards them.
"Izzat-?" Wally began.
"Hi, guys! Good to see you!" Tennyson smiled at all of them in genuine pleasure. "I wasn't sure it would work, but I'm really glad you all came."
"Hi!" waved Kuki, clueless but enthusiastic.
"What is going on here?" puzzled Abby, summing up all of their reactions in five words.
"Oh, sorry. I'm Ben. Ben Tennyson." He looked behind him and gestured. Another boy, smaller, younger, more reserved, stepped up to join them. Ben's presence was so boisterous that this little nerdy redhead in lab coat and glasses had been overlooked until he made his presence known. Instantly Morton moved to stand just behind him, protective and alert as a watchdog. Ben fell silent, deferring to his companion. Bright blue eyes studied them briefly, just as they studied him.
"Miss Sanban," he said in a slightly childish voice, his thick accent setting him apart from anything the five friends had ever encountered before. "Miss Lincoln. Mr. Gilligan. Mr. Beetles. Mr. Uno," he finished with a slight bow. "Welcome to DexLabs. Thank you for accepting my invitation."
"'Scuse me, but . . . who are you?" exclaimed Hoagie, unable to contain his curiosity.
"I'm Dexter," was the simple reply.
"You own this place," Abby said softly, hazarding a guess. "Right?"
"Correct, Miss. I'm the founder and Chief Executive Officer of DexLabs and DexCorp International. Welcome to my home."
"How do you know our names?" asked Hoagie.
"Though you don't recall as much at the moment, we've been friends for several years," assured Dexter, producing quizzical looks all around.
Nigel's confusion was complete and there was a hint of desperation in his voice as he asked, "Please, Mr. Dexter. Very little of what's happened today makes sense. We all received hand-delivered invitations to here. You all know us and I feel as if I should know you but . . . that's impossible. None of us have ever been here before. Hoagie found a note in his possession to Ben Tennyson from a Professor . . . Professor Utonium."
"Ha!" exclaimed Ben in triumph. "Told you he'd have it, Dex!"
"Benjamin, shush." He address the group of teens. "Professor Utonium is my father and . . ." He flashed a quick look at Wally. "A particular friend of Mr. Beetles."
"Him?" blurted Hoagie, scandalized and jealous even though he had no basis for the feelings. He pointed at the lanky blond boy beside him.
"Me?" Wally also pointed, horrified that he could be friends with anyone that had the title 'professor.'
"You're both big fans of Spore," Dexter explained, then turned his focus back on Nigel. "Mr. Uno?"
Sensing the truth of the matter was within his grasp, Nigel studied Dexter in return. He considered, knowing his friends were waiting for him to take the initiative and ready to follow his lead. These people knew their names, knew them. The admiration and respect they held for Nigel and his friends was evident, as was their hope of being believed. It seemed hopelessly far-fetched, but after all the oddities of this day, somehow it made sense, too.
Pulling out his invitation, he read the unfamiliar title. "What is this . . . Code Name: Kids Next Door?"
"The answer, Nigel, is even more fantastic than the question," Dexter said. "The answer is . . . you. All of you. You are the Kids Next Door. You're heroes and soldiers. The world owes you an immense debt, as do I. You won't remember - yet - but the five of you entrusted me with something very precious and of immense value not just to you, but to me and Ben and the whole world. I'm grateful and proud that you relied on me for this, and I would very much like to return what's yours." As he spoke he extended his purple-gloved hand palm up to Nigel, inviting him to trust, to come closer, to believe.
They exchanged surprised glances, not sure of what to make of this but intensely intrigued as much by Dexter's speech as at Ben10's happy smile. Abby nodded her support and nudged Nigel. He hesitated the briefest bit, and then spoke for all his friends as he placed his hand in Dexter's and found the words they all wanted to ask.
"What exactly did we give you?"
Dexter smiled, closing his hand as he said, "The past eight years of your lives."
- fin -