She was nowhere. Except for Perry, Willow could see only blackness. Strangely though, she could see Perry–in full color no less–even though no light source existed.

It was less as if she were stuck in a dark room, and more as if she were stuck in some kind of computer simulation.

Alternately (and given everything she’d experienced she couldn’t rule this out), it could be the work of an exceptionally lazy writer who couldn’t be bothered to describe anything.

Either way, she might be stuck here with Perry forever.

As a test, she tried to step through to the Cape High universe. It didn’t work.

She didn’t mind the thought of staying here as much as she might have. If she could talk with Perry, really talk without interruptions, maybe she could bring him around.

Then she touched his hand, or tried to. She couldn’t. She felt coldness where she saw his hand and it didn’t feel like a hand. It felt like a force shield or maybe a stasis field. Either way, it didn’t matter.

This… was not the way she wanted to spend eternity. If she had to spend years this way, she would go crazy.

There had to be something to try though, some way to get out. She might be able to take on somebody’s powers. It didn’t seem likely, but it was worth trying. The question was whose?

She sat there, thinking, deciding eventually that more than anything else she’d need luck.

The creature appeared in her peripheral vision. Years of experience with violence led her to stand between it and Perry, hands and feet in a fighting stance. Her first glimpse of it made her rethink how wise that was.

Its body was indescribably wrong, existing (she felt fairly sure) in more dimensions than she could see. Amid features that she couldn’t even process, teeth, scales and wings stood out–at least for a moment.

Then the creature changed, reforming into a human with light brown skin, and shoulder length, black hair. He wore a worn, green army jacket and blue jeans. He appeared to be in his early thirties.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said. “It’s not my name, but you can call me Lee.”

“What are you?” She doubted that she could call up new powers now, but if she got him talking, she might have time to try.

He smirked. “I don’t think you want the answer to that question. I’m here to talk about you. Well, you and the guy down there. While we talk about you, I’ll have to talk about myself a little. OK?”

“Sure,” she said. In a moment she could pull an ereader off her belt, and then she might be able to send the two of them somewhere else.

“Great.” He glanced downward.

Had he guessed what she was thinking? She forced herself to stay calm.

“Cards on the table time,” he continued. “I’m a friend of Nick’s grandfather. He was an unpowered inventor type just like his grandson. I made promises to him that are much harder to keep when someone decides to destroy reality. I like a desperate battle against long odds as much as the next guy. And sometimes, maybe once every eon or so, it’s nice to lose, and lose badly.”

“But,” and here his tone lost any trace of amusement, “during the years we fought the horrors Dr. Omniverse unleashed, it stopped being fun. Half the time I was fighting relatives which meant it was a fair fight, and I loathe fair fights. Worse, of course, there was the fact that I couldn’t keep certain promises. I’m not going to let that happen again. That’s why I’m talking to you now. I want you to know that if he starts where he left off, I’m going to stop him as quickly as possible.”

She’d stopped reaching toward the ereader as he’d talked, and so she caught what he meant. “That’s my brother. I’m not going to let you kill him.”

“I know,” he said. “I fought alongside both of you. That said, I doubt the version of him that I knew would mind if I did.”

She bit back her most natural response. She could believe the version of Perry she’d met would approve. He’d killed himself coming to tell her what she needed to know.

All she said was, “But you won’t kill him now.”

He smiled at that, and she would have bet that the smile was genuine–even if it was a little too wide.

“No. Now another aspect of me is telling Nick your location so that he can pull you out of here, and send you home. Do you want to take Perry along, or leave him here? Your choice. If you leave him him here, he’ll stay here forever, but he’ll be alive. Take him back to your world, and the field around him will degrade. You’ll have a few hours before he can do anything, but that should be enough. Of course, after that anything can happen.”

“I’m taking him,” she said. It wasn’t even a question.

* * *

Hours later she walked out of the facility. Gray concrete like many other prisons, it held worse criminals than most, and extended deeper into the ground than any others.

“So this is it,” Dave said.

She started. He’d been quiet for the last few hours. They hadn’t said much after she’d reappeared in her home universe.

Having passed the guards, gates, and towers, she stood in the parking lot. It was more out of habit than need. Her car was at home, and she’d been planning to teleport home.

“That’s right,” she replied. “I’m sending all of this back. It’s not my property, and it’s not as if you need to talk me through visiting the grocery store.”

Her stomach growled at that. When had she last eaten? Maybe she could call for Chinese take-out.

“Hah. Yeah. True. I just wanted to say that it’s been amazing tagging along even if it was only virtual tagging along. Really, it’s been the thrill of a lifetime. Is this a typical day? Because if it is, I’m amazed you’re still alive. I take that back. I’m amazed that anyone’s still alive.”

“It’s not typical,” she said. “It’s still scary and dangerous normally, but not this scary and dangerous.”

They’d built the prison in a desert. She couldn’t see any evidence of humanity beyond the prison and the empty highway in front of it.

Scattered blades of grass bent in the wind, and she could smell scrub pines. Something about the place, or something about the moment made the scene seem beautiful. It could, she supposed, be as simple as going through all that and surviving, but she felt like there was something more.

“Well,” Dave said, “it’s been great working with you, and if you ever need help finding him again, I’ll only be one special delivery away.”

“I hope I never have to chase him again,” she said, but realizing that might be misinterpreted, she added, “but there’s no shortage of people to chase. I’m sure we’ll talk. We might even meet in person.”

After they’d said goodbye, she took one last look at the prison before teleporting out. She needed to fix it in her mind. She’d be visiting regularly.

The End

(for now)