Willow considered the options, although the act of thinking made her think about this Daniel guy listening to her thoughts.
Suddenly, she felt something like a smile push at her consciousness.
It’s okay. I know how you feel. My Dad and my Grandfather are both telepaths.
She wasn’t sure why that was supposed to make her feel better.
Okay, so maybe that doesn’t help. But would it help to know I’m kind of a precog? I can help you make the choice by figuring out which one would be the most dangerous.
“Am I supposed to talk out loud to respond?” Despite how she’d used telepathy herself in the past, she was still feeling exasperated communicating this way.
A taller boy with curly brown hair stepped out from the group of pizza-eaters.
“Sure, let’s talk. It’ll be better this way.”
Willow felt herself relaxing now that she had a real face to talk to.
“If you can just imagine each of the scenarios, I can get a feel for which has the most danger.”
“Okay — wait. Danger for me, or for you?”
Daniel smiled. “Danger for all of us, but especially for you.”
Willow closed her eyes, and imagined.
She imagined Nick fiddling some dials, and giving her Perry’s location. She saw herself leaving this base and reappearing back home, and then jumping into the right book in the library.
She imagined herself getting the information about all the omnilocators, relaying it to Dave, and having him teleport each device back to HQ. Then began the task of hunting down Doc Omniverse again — this time, a more normal hunt, without all the extra players to worry about. She was surprised at how comfortable this made her feel.
Then she imagined herself telling Nick to send them all… where? Of course, she realized, they’d all need to go to Doc Omni’s holding area. The underground bunker they held him in back in her home universe was big enough for a crowd, and had all the security measures and power dampening in place to keep him and anyone else from leaving. She’d coordinate with Dave to get everyone at HQ ready to receive them, and then tell Nick to do his thing.
When she opened her eyes, she saw that Daniel had gone white, with sweat dripping from his brow. Haley was already moving toward them, a look of concern on her face, and Travis had somehow grown even bigger. Even Nick had looked up from his computer, peering sideways at his telepathic friend.
Daniel pushed his now-damp hair back with a shaky hand.
“I’m sorry, Willow, but none of those are very good options. They all have the potential to go very, very wrong.” He took a deep breath, clearly forcing himself to relax.
“But I still get the feeling they’re the best three options you have.”
Back among the pizza group, she saw a blond girl chuckle.
Willow took her own long breath.
“Well, if we can send them all somewhere, we should send them to jail. Our jail, I mean, the one meant for holding Doc Omniverse.”
Nick fiddled for another moment.
“Okay, I can do that. Is there someone on your side I can coordinate with?”
In her ear, Dave said, “Give him your communicator.”
As Willow reached to unhook the device from her ear, Nick held his hands up.
“I don’t need for that. I’ve already tapped your communication channel.”
“Oh… okay. In that case, Dave, this is Nick. Nick, Dave.”
Nick spoke to the air. “Hi, Dave.”
Dave’s voice came from the speakers around the main screen.
“Uh, hi, Nick. Oh, hey, if you’re on this channel, I can send you the coordinates in an out-of-band data packet. Uh… got that?”
Nick glanced at his console. “Yep, it’s here. No problem extracting the data.”
He turned to Willow. “Are you ready? You’ll have to activate your power, to go back to your home universe, and I’ll piggy-back on that, like a carrier wave, and route all the omnilocators to the coordinates Dave sent me.”
Willow blinked. “You’ll what? No, never mind. Let’s just get Doc Omni back where he belongs.”
Nick typed something on his keyboard and a countdown started on the big screen.
“Ready in 5… 4… 3… 2…”
Willow reached inside herself, and activated her power.
“Thanks, all of you,” she said, waving.
The crowd of young heroes dissolved into nothingness; in a moment, it would be replaced by the familiar sight of her library. Or maybe she would end up at HQ, along with everyone else being teleported there. That would be chaos. She steeled herself for action, just in case.
The blackness was split, for an instant, like a bolt of technicolour lightning. Then came a pulse of light, that seem to shift from red through to violet in the instant before it faded. She heard a hissing noise, which grew louder until it sounded like the nothingness around her was tearing apart, rending at the seams. The pulse came back, repeating, faster and faster, and the jagged lines of rainbow lighting appeared and spread and shifted and grew, until there was no blackness left, and all was chaos.
With a final blinding flash, she felt like she was pushed, by a giant hand or a wave of heavy air, and she was falling, falling backwards….
She opened her eyes, and found herself staring at a white ceiling, with fluorescent tubes and institutional acoustic tiles. She felt the cold, hard floor beneath her. She also felt Firedrake’s durite cuffs wedged into the small of her back.
With a groan, she rolled over and sat up.
“Where the heck am I?” she muttered. “This doesn’t look like Kansas.”
Then she smiled, realizing it didn’t look like Oz either. She’d been there enough times in the past to be sure she didn’t want to go back.
Dave’s voice buzzed in her ear. There was static, and his voice sounded slightly digitized, but it was clear enough.
“Willow? Can you hear me, Willow?”
“I’m here, Dave. Wherever here is.”
“I’m, uh… I’m tracking that now. The readings are a little obscure.”
Looking around, Willow saw a bed, and a desk with a chair. They both looked plain and durable. She got up and walked over to the desk, pulling the chair out to sit on it.
In her ear, she heard Dave muttering.
“What the heck is a Hydrargentium?”
“Pardon me? Dave, what are you talking about?”
“Nothing, it’s okay. I figured out where you are. You’re in a half-formed universe.”
Willow was glad she was sitting.
“This author, Hydrargentium, he — at least, I think it’s a ‘he’ — the only stuff I can find of his is online, and it’s all written in broad strokes. He writes these little snippets.”
“Dandy. I’ve never read it. Have you?”
“I’m on the site now.”
“Okay, well, you’ll have to read stuff to me if I want to get any powers, or jump anywhere else in these ‘snippets’.”
“It should. I’ve never tried it. But it doesn’t matter. Do we know where the others went?”
“Just about everyone with an omnilocator showed up here. We have them contained.”
“Just about? So no Doc Omni, right?”
“Yes, and there’s one other with-”
“Hang on,” Willow hissed. “I hear someone coming.”
Willow looked to the doorway, and saw a flying drone hovering silently in the hallway, its camera clearly trained on her.
She decided on the direct approach.
“Hey, how ya doin’?!” A cheery voice called back. “What’s- oof!”
Before Willow could respond, a tall hero dressed in blue stepped into the doorway, with another man in white spandex caught in a headlock under his arm.
“You’ll have to excuse Sparkleboy.” The man’s full lips showed a broad smile above his thick brown beard. “He’s not even supposed to be here.”
The man in the headlock, obviously Sparkleboy, reached out awkwardly to offer his hand.
The bearded man wiggled his arm a bit to get Sparkleboy’s attention. “You gonna be silent and stay out of this?”
Sparkleboy turned his attempted handshake into a thumb’s up sign.
“Alright. But be good. I mean it. Or Call-out’s gonna send you to Antarctica until we’re done here.”
Releasing the headlock, the big hero stepped into the room, offering his own hand to Willow.
“Hi. I’m Mason. I don’t think you’re from around here. So who are you?”
Willow stood up, shaking Mason’s hand. “I’m Willow. I’m from a different universe, and I’m trying to track down an escaped villain. Our systems show him in your universe.”
Mason nodded. “Direct and to the point.”
Behind him, two more people entered the room. One was dressed in black spandex, and the other wore army greens with a canvas vest.
Willow saw Sparkleboy open his mouth to speak. He stopped, however, when the man in the vest rested a heavy brown boot on Sparkleboy’s toes.
Mason pointed with a thumb over his shoulder.
“These are Ranger and Call-out. Ranger’s systems picked up an intruder here. With Mu’s help, we pinpointed the location, and Call-out brought us in.”
The man in black, somehow managing to look cool and stylish and grumpily irate all at the same time, waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.
“That’s all I am to them. Transport.”
The other man, who Willow figured must be Ranger, cleared his throat.
“Let’s stick to the point. Who are you chasing, and why?”
Willow felt relieved to have a single thing to focus on. Ranger’s intensity was more reassuring than off-putting.
“His name is Doc Omniverse. He has the same powers as me — he can jump through universes and borrow other people’s powers. And he’s trying to make it so that everyone in all the universes can do the same thing.”
“Oooh! Sign me up!”
“Shut up, Sparkleboy.”
“Doc Omni’s here, in this dimension, and he’s recruited help.”
“Ummm, it’s… wait a second.”
Willow held her hand up to the device in her ear. She wanted to make it clear she was talking to someone on the other end, and not just to herself.
“Dave? Are you still there?”
“I heard the whole thing, Willow. And I’ve been reading the snippets. These are guys some of the best.”
“You never told me who Doc Omni’s with.”
“Intel from the others we captured says someone named Doctor Apex.”
Willow looked at the assembled heroes. “Do you know who Doctor Apex is?”
“Ooohhh, that’s not good.
“I know, I know, shut up.”
Mason turned to face the blond hero.
“No, I want to know what you know. Why is that so bad?”
Sparkleboy’s shoulders snapped out of their droop, and his head bobbed from side to side as he talked.
“Oh, because, you know, Doctor Apex does that copying thing.”
Ranger’s intensity jumped from serious to laser-focused.
“You used to work for him?”
Sparkleboy shrugged. “Well, not worked, so much, but I did a couple of jobs for him. He likes contractors better. Sandblast and Killerwatt get a lot of work from him.”
“So why do you think he’s hooked up with this Doc Omni?”
“Sounds like Doc Omni’s got a lot of potential. Doctor Apex’ll copy that, getting more and more powerful as he goes along.”
Willow thought about that. Doctor Apex wouldn’t need an omnilocator then. Maybe he’d also be able to copy whatever Doc Omni planned to do to spread his own powers. Then there’d be two they’d have to stop.
Ranger seemed to have come to the same conclusion.
“We have to split them up. Otherwise, we’ll be trying to catch two universe-hopping nutjobs.”
He turned to Willow. “Can the people you were talking to pinpoint their location?”
“Umm, getting there,” Dave muttered in her ear.
“He says yes, soon.”
Mason turned to the others. “Alright, who’s going with? Ranger, me, Call-out, of course.”
“Not Sparkleboy. Ranger? Anyone else you think might be useful? Meyvn?”
“Yes. Definitely Meyvn. And I’ll call Smackhammer.”
Willow heard Dave swear. “They’re on the move! I think they’re going to jump again!”
Willow felt a strange tug, like gravity had jumped up a notch in the pit of her stomach. It grew quickly until it hurt, and her vision wavered as her eyes began to water.
This had never happened before.
“They’re leaving this universe!” she gasped. “And I think… I think I’m going with them.”
Immediately, she felt Mason’s strong hands on her shoulders. Ranger shouted something, but she couldn’t make it out. She felt something small and hard pressed into her hand.
Then came the blackness, and the pain disappeared. She couldn’t see anything, but she could still feel the object she clutched between her fingers.
Just as suddenly, there was light, and she saw two figures standing before her, with their backs to her. One was Doc Omni. The other she had to assume was Doctor Apex.