“Uh…give me a minute, Willow. I’m having trouble getting a lock on him again,” Dave said, his words trailing off as if keeping his machine working took all his concentration.
Willow sighed and ran her fingers across her bookshelves, anxious to get going again, but let her hand drop a moment later. In the past when she’d needed to find him, along with skipping through a number of the universes that Doc Omniverse seemed to like to frequent, Willow had often done something that she’d forgotten to this time. With a determined look on her face, she threw herself in her one easy chair and closed her eyes.
While they’d been growing up together, she’d never had any trouble figuring out what he wanted, whether it was his favorite stuffed animal or just some quiet time. If she could figure out what he was after this time, Willow knew she could just go to him, instead of being one step behind him.
She put one hand to her forehead, but the only thing she could think of was the fun she the two of them used to have as kids, flying with the fairies, sword fighting on the deck of a pirate ship, or following treasure maps through the jungle. It hadn’t been until later, in school, that the trouble had started. He’d always been a few years younger than her, and though she knew he looked up to her, Willow hadn’t been able to convince him that he shouldn’t tell anyone else about all the fun they had, running through their favorite stories and interacting with the characters they loved best. Angry when they’d called him a liar, he’d remained defiant as a group of his classmates began to target him, and things had escalated until that awful day-
“I’ve found him again!” Dave called out, and Willow shook her head, trying to bring herself back to the present moment.
“Where?” Willow asked, standing again, hand outstretched towards her bookshelves.
“I don’t think you’re going to like this,” he replied. Willow wondered if Dave had hung up on her until he continued several long moments later. “He’s gone into the Super universe.”
Willow’s hand dropped halfway back to her side before she caught herself and reached out for the first volume of the series instead. “You’re right, I don’t like it, but there’s nothing to be done about that.”
She looked down at her brightly colored gear, swished her cape out, and sighed. Willow knew her outfit would stick out like an elephant at a mouse convention there, but Doc Omniverse would likely have moved on if she took the time to change. As she opened the book she’d grabbed, Willow took in a gasp of air as a memory came back to her of how many times, when they were kids, he’d said to her, “I just wish everyone could go along with us.”
Willow’s shoulders slumped as she thought about that for a moment and realized she may have figured out what he wanted, given her knowledge of the series. She straightened up a breath later, though, because she’d come up with a plan. Turning the pages, Willow smiled as she came to a part near the end of the book where the regular team borrowed a man with the powers she needed.
As the glow subsided, Willow brought her hands up, pointing her index finger at the tallest pen in the coffee cup that housed her collection. The flash of light that came from her hand didn’t just vaporize the top of the pen, it also burned a hole in the wall behind. With an annoyed hiss, Willow closed her hands into fists, then surveyed the damage with a frown, noting that it looked like she could see daylight at the other end.
“I’m not getting my security deposit back on this place, that’s for sure,” Willow murmured.
“Is this really the time to be worrying about that?” asked Dave, causing Willow to take a step back since she’d forgotten for the moment that he’d been listening. “We don’t know how long he’s going to be there, and-”
“Relax, tech-boy,” Willow broke in, relishing an opportunity to annoy him in return. “He’s going to be there a little while, and I’m about to head in anyway.”
She chuckled under her breath as she heard him grumbling, but put away the first book of the series and grabbed the second, this time grabbing the tape dispenser from her desk nearby to weight the book down as she opened it and put it on the floor.
“Wait, so you figured it out? So, what is he after?” Dave asked, the irritation still clear in his voice.
“I think he’s tired of being alone,” Willow replied as she took the dive.
As the world seemed to freeze around her, Willow reminded herself of the plan. Use the energy beams coming out of her hands to distract Doc Omni, then slap the cuffs on him. Weak, another part of her brain commented, while Willow tried hard to ignore that and focus on the world appearing around her. She put her foot forward as she felt a breeze move past her and felt uncertain spring sun on her face. Willow had landed on a loading dock, and had begun heading into the building as she dodged two people who came bolting outside, leaving the dark facility behind them clad in nothing but hospital gowns.
“Willow, what did you mean by that? I mean, aren’t villains alone most of the time-”
“Dave, I’m going to have to switch you off for a while,” Willow replied. “I’m going to need to focus here, and I can’t have you wisecracking in my head, too.”
Not listening to the complaints that came a breath later, Willow took the earpiece off and slid it into a pocket. The part about focus wasn’t untrue, but the real reason was that in order to wrap this up satisfactorily, Willow knew she might have to say some things she didn’t want anyone else to hear.
She reached the door at the same time as a couple coming outside. The man wore a hospital gown as the others had, but seemed out of place otherwise, his skin bronzed instead of the paleness that spoke of enforced inactivity, a long black braid reaching down to the small of his back. A woman talked to him in low tones as they came onto the loading dock, loose blonde hair falling over her shoulders, their attention only on each other. Both of them towered over Willow by more than a foot, and seemed correspondingly broad. Keeping her head down, Willow passed by, intending not to bother them, but the makeshift backpack the blonde held on her back caught her attention.
A woman sat in the backpack, with hair the red you’d find in a crayon box and green eyes somewhere between neon and spring, and she glanced at Willow in surprise. She stared at Willow’s costume, focusing on the mask and cape and frowned in concern, then opened her mouth to speak. Lex, Willow thought, probably trying to warn me. With a smile, Willow put her finger to her lips, then turned to go, hoping she’d conveyed that she knew what she was getting into. A rapid last glance showed her that her literary hero had shrugged and turned back around, being carried back out into the sunshine with her friends. Sighing, Willow headed into the half-darkness of the building instead.
Currently only lit by emergency lighting, it made it that much easier to see what she’d been looking for, several yards ahead, past an open warehouse-type area. The jagged hole in the ceiling was well-lit, seemingly with the same spring sunshine she’d seen outside, but it looked much brighter in the dark of the building. Hurrying along, she tried to ignore the crushed and mangled bodies of the inmates as well as the guards, and the bullet holes in the walls, but she didn’t seem to be able to stop herself from looking in the room set up like a morgue. The shapes on the slabs didn’t have human silhouettes on the whole, and a number seemed to be covered with scales, feathers, or bark. Pulling herself away as fast as she could, Willow began to run.
It wasn’t until she heard the small sounds of tinkling glassware that she slowed. The sound of gunfire was far enough away that she’d been able to pick it out, and when she poked her head into the room she thought it had come from, she gasped as she saw a man’s back and knew it was him, picking through sets of test tubes.
“How did I know you’d come out here, Jen?” he said without turning.
“Perry, come on. Let’s get out of here, it’s not a good place.” Willow put out her empty hand, hoping he might take it, but preparing to use it otherwise, if need be.
“Oh, but it is,” Perry replied, his voice even and calm.
Willow kept a slight smile on her face, hoping to appear welcoming, but he scowled at her. “Can’t you almost smell all that power around us? Hundreds of different types right here for the taking.”
“Perry, you know what they do to people like us here! They experiment on us and kill us!”
“No,” he said, moving forward as he swung a bag over his back, his face turning to anger. “No, that’s not true, Jen. There is no one like us.”
“You know what I mean, Perry.”
“No, I don’t Jen. Ever since you betrayed me-”
“Perry, I was fourteen years old. What was I supposed to do?” Willow asked, feeling all of the old guilt rising up like a tidal wave.
“You could have come and smuggled me books and we could have run away together!” he shouted. Willow closed her eyes and turned her face away, not wanting to see his expression as he yelled at her. “Instead you let Mom and Dad lock me away in that place. I didn’t see a book for years, Jen, or should I say Willow?”
“That’s Doctor Omniverse to you,” he replied. “But I wouldn’t worry about remembering that, Willow, because I don’t think you’ll be able to track me so easily in the future, not when there are more people who can do what we do.”
“Please, don’t do this,” she said, reaching out for him with one hand while reaching back for the handcuffs with the other, but before she could make another move, he disappeared.
With a sigh, Willow felt her whole body droop. The faint sound of Dave’s voice coming from her pocket roused her a moment later, and Willow fished out the earpiece, hoping maybe being needled by her tech might make her forget some of the feeling of failure washing over her.