Willow Taylor stepped onto the ramp of the jet, tuning back in to Ms. Dawn’s ongoing speech.
“Here, in this isolated mountain fortress I’ve create, we can be truly safe from those little-minded ‘ordinary’ brutes who would extinguish any spark of excellence they might encounter. Insula Primalis is one of the most isolated locations on the planet, with an environment well-suited to provide the Citizens of the Sun with anything we require…”
Willow nodded sagely at appropriate points and focused her attention on her surroundings. After the descent (she had pressed her face to the window, soaking up the aerial view of the rainforest below), they had landed in an enormous warehouse-like space, cut from the living rock of the mountain. Several sleek, menacing black jets were neatly lined up along one wall, but the hangar seemed practically empty. Willow idly wondered if Ms. Dawn (calling her Citizen felt like a line from a cheesy Cold War movie) had plans for expansion, or if most of the supers here just flew everywhere under their own power.
Beardo there looks like he’d fly about as well as a tub of bricks. She snuck a glance back at their silent pilot, who was doing mysterious pilot-y things with the control console of the small jet. His long ponytail, impressive musculature, and—yes, that’s really a shield—curious accessories made him look like an out-of-time Viking. Citizen Norse? Citizen Longboat! Citizen—
With a start, Willow realized that Dawn was looking at her, evidently expecting a reply of some kind. She tried to mentally replay the last few seconds of the blonde woman’s monologue without success. The silence stretched on for agonizing seconds, and Willow began to hope that the imposing red-clad woman would simply disintegrate her with one of those energy blasts and be done with it. “Um…”
“Yes, perhaps that would be a bit too much for an initial encounter. Very well, I’ll have you shown to your assigned quarters for now. You are at liberty to explore the base, though the power-generation station, private quarters, and armory are off-limits. Meet some of the other Citizens, converse, learn. You’ll find that there is no better place for a gifted individual like yourself.” Dawn graced Willow with a smile that was only slightly more predatory than maternal and beckoned to Citizen Pilot-Viking. “Citizen Anvil—“
I think I liked “Citizen Longboat” better.
“—please escort Ms. Taylor to the guest quarters.” The tall woman turned back to Willow. “I have some business that requires my attention, but we will continue our conversation at dinner this evening. For now, consider this your home.” With a brief nod, Citizen Dawn zoomed out the open hangar door, trailing a faint aura of golden light as she flew. Willow blinked.
* * *
She had been walking along behind Citizen Anvil for several minutes through the stone corridors of the mountain base before Willow become conscious that neither of them had said a word to each other. As usual, she had been too caught up in her own thoughts to observe even the most basic niceties. No doubt, he now thought she was insufferably rude. Or openly hostile. He’d probably report it to Dawn. She’d be kicked off the base. Quick, think of something to say, dummy! Um. Right. How about—
“Is Anvil your real name?”
Willow cringed internally. Her bearded porter merely glanced over his shoulder at her and silently shook his head.
“Do you use your real name with the other guys here?” She was committed now. Having found a conversation to start, she would follow it for as long as she dared. “I mean, you can’t go around saying ‘Citizen Anvil’ all the time, right?”
Citizen Anvil shrugged noncommittally.
With that, Willow had run out of things to say. She spent the rest of the trip studying the overhead ducts and wondering why they hadn’t encountered anyone else. The base even felt empty… unused, like a hotel room or a brand new car. I guess Dawn really does expect to do a lot of recruiting. The silent pilot and the silent would-be recruit walked deeper into the mountain complex, where the vast weight of stone overhead could almost be felt. Willow had never suffered claustrophobia, but this seemed like it would be a good place to start.
They entered a residential-looking area, with individual doors set into the stone walls of the passage. Some of the doors had name plates; a few even had small whiteboards with messages scrawled in dry-erase marker. It looked more than a little like one of the dormitory halls in Meg-U. Great. With any luck, I’ll end up next to the room with the drunk sorority chicks. Again.
As they rounded the corner, Willow laid eyes on her third Citizen. A young woman, probably within a few years of Willow’s own age, was emerging from one of the dorm rooms, carrying a plate of chocolate chip cookies. She was blonde. And sun-tanned, the effortless tan of someone who probably jogged on the beach every morning (Would that be safe here? Do dinosaurs like the beach?). She looked like a cheerleader. She moved like a cheerleader. Willow knew, before the other girl opened her mouth, that she would have a bubbly, perky, effervescent voice.
Willow immediately despised her.
“Oh!” The blonde girl chirped. “I was just about to go see if you’d gotten back, Lucas!” She looked Willow over, and her smile got even wider. “You must be Willow Taylor! It’s so great to finally meet you; I’ve heard all about you from Citizen Dawn, poor thing! I’m Citizen Spring, but call me Brooke.” Spring hugged Willow carefully around the plate of cookies. “It would be awesome if you decided to stay, because there just aren’t enough girls here—apart from Sweat and Tears, and I’m not sure they really count—“
What. “Sweat” and “Tears?” Are those people, or hygiene products?
“—and I’m sure you’ll love it here, too.” Brooke paused briefly, possibly for breath. Willow used the opportunity to try and detangle herself from the conversation and Brooke’s hug.
“I’d love to chat with you about the Citizens, Brooke, but Anvil here was showing me to my room first. Once I settle in, I’ll come find you.”
“Okay, great. These are for you—“ Spring handed the cookie plate to Willow—“and we’ll chat more once you get rested up a bit. I’d love to hear about how you discovered your powers—I accidentally brought my kitty back to life after she got hit by a car—“
Is she for real?
Willow smiled and nodded as she and Anvil—Lucas?—continued down the hall. The guest quarters were in an adjacent corridor, and it looked like she was the only guest at the moment. Citizen Anvil opened the door to room G14 and preceded her in, setting Willow’s luggage down inside. Apart from the stone walls, it distinctly resembled a dorm room: single bed, dresser, desk and chair, basic fixtures and tiny bathroom unit. At least the designers left out the obligatory Pink Floyd poster.
With a silent nod, Anvil left, pursued by an awkward “Thanks!” as Willow remembered she should say something to him. Sighing deeply, she closed the door and flopped onto the bed, covering her face with her arm.
After a few minutes of letting her mind wander (What happened to the contractors that built this place? Is there a Citizen Plumber?), Willow sat up with a grunt and fished her phone out of her pocket. The battery was dead. That was unsurprising; Willow had yet to find a phone that would keep a charge for more than a few hours.
Pulling the phone’s charger out, she plugged it into the wall socket near the bed. She doubted she’d be able to connect to the base’s wireless network, but Willow hoped that Dawn would give her an opportunity to call her brother and let him know she was okay. She’d already missed two days of work, and she suspected that no phone call would save her job at this point. Well, that job sucked, anyway.
The phone beeped. She had a new voicemail. Willow’s eyebrows rose; she was literally inside a mountain. How is that possible? Frowning, she played the message.
“Willow, this is Dr. Meredith Stinson; I talked with you about your ‘problem’ before. I don’t have much time since whatI’mdoingisillegalandprobablyreallydangerous, but I needed to warn you that some bad people are looking for you too. They’re called the Citizens of the Sun and believemewhenItellyouthattheyr’ebadnewsWillow. If you get this message, please come to Freedom Tower; we can keepyousafeandexplainmore. Be careful, Willow, these guys don’t play around.
As the message ended, Willow stared at her phone.