“Found him!” the technician crowed. His voice was loud enough to make Willow jump.
“Great,” she said. “Maybe you can tell me without blowing my ear out?”
Her foot tapped on the floor a couple of times and she made a face. “So are you gonna tell me?” she demanded.
“Oh! Right! I mean, umm… He’s moved again…”
“Yeah. You said that already.” Willow had lost patience at this point, and it was reflected in her voice. She flicked her fingers at the window in annoyance, the last remnants of the telekinesis power used to open the room to a cooling breeze.
“I’ve got a fix on him. It’s stable at the moment. Emergence universe. He has access there to almost any mutation you can imagine.”
She slipped a thin volume from the shelf, flipping through the pages in a rapid scan to find what she was looking for. There it was! She ran her fingertips across the page, reading the name of the hero who changed his appearance and fought beside some of the most respected heroes of the world described in the book. That was who she needed to mimic this time. Changing her look might get her close enough to her prey.
Bonus, she thought, I’ll be there with some of the big heavy hitters. They can help me catch Doc Omni!
“Okay, tech boy,” she began. The earpiece crackled in response.
“Whatever. I’m going in.”
She placed the book on the floor, open to the page she sought, and concentrated as she absorbed the power. As her eyes closed and she leaped for the book, the pages fanned in the breeze from the open window.
The incursion sequence gave her a moment to examine her surroundings: a cluttered office smelling of dust, musty paper and ages old overcooked coffee. Most definitely not the alleyway she had expected, and certainly not surrounded by the hero group she had hoped for. She felt her form changing, the skin flowing like melted butter and suddenly hardening with a fresh tension that sent a shiver down her spine. Her mouth felt different and she opened and closed it a few times. She raised a hand toward her face, her breath catching in her throat as she saw a hand that was not her own. The stubble on the squared jaw reinforced the realization that she had taken the form of a man.
“Wow,” she breathed as time seemed to once more advance. The doorknob was rattling and Willow whirled to face the portal, aware that she had no escape route.
Framed in the opening door was a brunette woman in a severely-cut business suit. Her gaze was imperious, and her head tilted to the right for a moment as her eyes settled on Willow. Those same dark orbs flared wide in sudden recognition.
“How did you get in here?” she asked, looking behind her down the hall and then closing the door to isolate herself with Willow.
“It’s not what it looks – ” Willow began, pausing as the sudden depth of her voice surprised her.
“Of all the places you could arrive, you choose Drake’s office?” the woman asked. She smiled, a flash of teeth against glazed lips. “One would think that you would have better taste.”
Willow shook her head and raised a hand. “Ma’am,” she began, trying to come up with the words to explain what was going on. She missed the flash in the brunette’s eyes and the sudden change of posture before everything took on a dreamlike quality. The woman’s voice seemed to drift into her ears.
“You may look the part, but if there’s one thing Manifest would never call me, it is ma’am.”
“Willow!” Dave shouted in her ear, cutting through the haze. “That’s Colleen Hart!”
“Director of Metahuman Affairs,” Willow murmured with a slow nod of her head.
“I am,” Hart agreed. “And who might you be?”
“She controls pheromones,” the tech declared through the earpiece. “She can make you do anything she wants!”
“I’m Willow,” admitted the young heroine, the words tumbling from her lips almost without conscious thought. “I’m trying to catch a supervillain escapee, and I don’t have much time.”
Hart chuckled, an unpleasant sound that made Willow wince. The woman sighed audibly and a moment later things seemed to return to normal around Willow.
“Ordinarily, this is where I would have you arrested and thrown into a deep dark hole just for showing up here in the manner that you did,” Hart said. Her words were casual, delivered in a manner that left no doubt that she could and would do exactly that.
“Look, I just need to find him,” Willow replied. “If I can get close, I think I can take him out, and that’s why I look like this. I figured he would never suspect me in this form.”
“You are a shifter, then?”
“Well, it’s a little more complex than that. I can mimic powers, just like Doc Omniverse can. That’s why I’m the one chasing him. Well, that and…”
Her words trailed off and Hart looked at her for a moment, eyes narrowing and then relaxing.
“I get it,” she said. “The past is a hard thing to leave behind.”
Willow did not miss the way Hart looked at her when she said that. The faraway gaze, the slight upturn at the corner of her lips, and the breathy way she mentioned the past spoke volumes.
“I needed to be able to change forms, and Manifest was – ”
“Yes. I remember.”
“Getting us nowhere fast,” prompted the tech. Not for the first time, Willow wished she had a mute button.
“Thanks, Dave,” she muttered. Hart arched a brow.
Willow turned her head, displaying the earpiece. “Dave is in my world, helping me find Doctor Omniverse.”
“Your world. I see.”
“Yeah. I’m not from around here.”
“Clearly. How is it we can help you?”
“Dave, where is he?” Willow asked. There was silence in the earpiece for a moment.
“Moving again. Almost lost the lock. He’s strong again, Willow. Massively strong. As in, bench press the planet kind of strong!”
Willow relayed the information to Hart, who shrugged when asked whose power he might have copied. “Could be from quite a few people on our rolls. Strength is a fairly common boost.”
“I’m gonna need something to beat that, then,” Willow mused. “Changing shapes is fine to get close, but if he can squish me like a bug, there’s no point.”
Hart nodded and opened a drawer of the desk. “Drake keeps extras of these,” she said, extending a pair of handcuffs. They were made of a dull metal that barely reflected light from its matte surface. “They’re durite – strong enough to restrain almost anyone. Maybe they’ll come in handy.”
Willow smiled and pocketed the cuffs. Before she could properly thank the brunette, Dave was shouting in her ear again.
“He’s on the move! Showing an imminent excursion – he’s leaving this universe!”
Rolling her eyes, Willow wondered why he could not just stay put for a while. “Thanks,” she said to Hart. “I’m off.”
With that she vanished from the room, leaving a rush of displaced air behind as she emerged once more in her own room. She looked around, happy that she had no visitors present to see the tall man she currently was. With a flicker of thought, her features ran, shifted and changed once again. With a sigh, she put the Firedrake book back onto the shelf.
“Tell me where I’m going, Dave.”