Not Exactly Hogwarts: Part 4

I took the catmecha down off the side of the highway, landing in the parking lot of some massive medical complex. I changed the mecha back into the shape of a van, drove around the parking lot, changing the van’s color and model a couple times when I thought no one was looking.

I’d put in the specifications for 20 different models and years of vans. The ability to adjust the van’s looks made it the perfect car for blending into the crowd.

We left the parking lot looking like a 70’s era Dodge van with an airbrushed picture of a woman in a chainmail bikini fighting a dragon on the sides.

It fit into Colorado traffic better than you might think. The painting was still tacky, but the van’s age didn’t stand out as much. In Michigan, cities put down salt to melt snow. That virtually guaranteed that no car over the age of twenty would run because they’d be turned into rust first.

I’m exaggerating there, but not much.

Jaclyn leaned forward, looking at the picture of the van as it displayed on the dashboard.

“Wow,” she said. “I’m so glad you tinted the windows.”

Haley shook her head. “Where did you find the painting? You didn’t pay for it, did you?”

I laughed. “No. There’s a bunch of sites with 1970’s van artwork. I figured that we might need a distinctive look sometime, and this qualifies.”

“No kidding,” Vaughn said. “We’re going to be lucky if the police don’t pull us over on general principles.”

Cassie raised an eyebrow and grinned at him. “What principle would that be exactly?”

Vaughn grinned back. “I’m thinking that it’d be because there’s no way you could like that painting if you weren’t high.”

“I think I’d agree with them,” Jaclyn muttered.

We got on the highway at the nearest entrance, and there weren’t any more stops and the traffic spread out.

Of course, it still wasn’t like driving in Michigan. We could see mountains in the distance to the right much of the time. Personally, I couldn’t get over how bare the landscape seemed. There weren’t many trees, and the trees that were there were small.

Grasses and small bushes covered most of the ground.

Still, it didn’t take long to get to Castle Rock from there.

It turned out that Castle Rock had been named after an actual rock that resembled a castle. It was located on a hill near the downtown.

We didn’t actually go downtown, but we could see it in the distance.

We went further south, driving through residential neighborhoods that could have fit in just about anywhere. Most of the neighborhoods we drove through appeared to have been built in the last ten or fifteen years. Green lawns and big houses appeared to be everywhere.

However few trees the neighborhoods had, they could have fit in in the suburbs of Grand Lake. I wondered if they used the same designs for any of the houses.

Vaughn looked up from his phone to say, “Nick, it says here that a lot of the regular people in Castle Rock work in Denver’s tech sector. At least that’s true outside the Compound. Inside, who knows?”

He was right. Some compounds interacted with the community around them. Others were islands, creating a completely parallel system inside the compound for anything they might need locally.

This even included schools, and in northern cities, snowplowing.

I simultaneously got the logic behind it, and felt like it was wrong headed at least, possibly dangerous.

Supers created the compounds as safe places to raise children and live where they didn’t have to worry about all the problems celebrity and vigilante justice brought with them.

In the compounds, kids with powers could be kids. They didn’t stand out. At the same time, all the community’s resources could be used to protect a hero’s family from attack without having to worry about how normals were going to handle the response.

You could argue with their logic, of course. My grandfather didn’t like the idea at all.

It was easy to see when we passed outside the city of Castle Rock’s authority. The manicured lawns stopped, and the place’s natural plant life took over.

It wasn’t that the Castle Rock Compound was any better about the environment than the city near it. They’d just constructed a buffer zone around the compound. The native animals and plants could live happily around the compound’s edge until the next attack.

In the meantime, they grew next to a wall several times as high as my van. Whoever had designed it had decided that the wall couldn’t look like a prison. Instead it had been painted white and give the texture of adobe–as if it were a piece of well kept up Spanish Colonial construction.

By the time we reached the wall, I’d swapped the van’s model and paint job again. Now the van had turned white and claimed to be owned by Castle Rock Plumbing.

Following the directions I’d been given, I avoided the front gate. Camera crews, paparazzi, and trucks with satellite uplinks crowded around the front. The Douglas County Sheriff’s department provided security.

Following a dirt road alongside the wall, I drove the van for half a mile until we reached another gate.

No one stood there. In keeping with the Spanish Colonial theme, it had an arched door which at least appeared to be wooden.

I knew better.

Ignoring the “Authorized Vehicles Only” sign on the door, I pulled the van up, and pulled out my League phone. Dialing security’s number, I said, “Five for the Heroes League at the service door.”

Then I sent my security key. Within a few seconds, the door opened.

I drove the van in, and the door shut behind us. Following the instructions they gave me over the phone, I didn’t stop in the dark room past the door. I drove a couple car lengths, passing out through the next door, and into sunlight.

Whoever had designed the entrance had to have planned for this moment knowing that it wouldn’t just be a service entrance, but actually the first look guests might have at the complex.

I’d been aware that we were driving upward as we drove along the wall. I hadn’t realized how high.

We were on the second level of the compound. To our left lay the majority of it–the wall, and the houses that it protected, big two story houses like the houses outside.

We looked out over it.

To our right were fountains, wading pools, and decorative plants. Past the fountains were shops, all of them in the Spanish Colonial style.

It made me think a little bit of Disneyland, and a little bit of a mall.

Next to me, Haley stared out her window, and said, “Wow. Where are we supposed to be?”

Behind us, Jaclyn and Cassie leaned forward, trying to get a good look.

From even further back, Vaughn said, “Next time I get a window seat.”

19 thoughts on “Not Exactly Hogwarts: Part 4”

  1. Nice bit on the social politics and consequences of gated communities. The big problem of reinforcing a ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. I guess Nick and crew will be seeing what it does to their relationship with the larger community?

    Typo(s):

    “but that’s we could see it”, should include a ‘where’?

    “You could argue their logic”, missing ‘with’?

  2. Hmm, this is a concept I’ve never quite found convincing in other superhero web serials* and novels. That is, I question the notion that there are enough superheroes around and that they’re active enough to form their own housing complexes and communities. It seems like there wouldn’t be enough people for them to fight. I mean, for every superhero you need dozens of menaces worthy of a superhero, right?

    I know this is hardly the first time you’ve introduced this idea in the story, but it always makes me wonder. About the ‘supervillains’ especially. No gated communities to protect their families. Do a lot of them succeed? I guess Rook has been out there for decades, presumably rich and powerful. Oh well.

    *To its credit, ‘Worm’ eventually explained itself by making the very source of powers tend to push people to violent confrontation.

    1. Matthew: My assumptions may be different from yours here. It sounds like you’re assuming that avoiding supervillains is the primary reason superheroes would move to gated communities. I’m assuming that while that’s in there, the bigger motivator would be 1) becoming a celebrity and not always wanting to deal with normal people as a result. 2) Keeping a secret identity is hard. If you’re outed, living someplace like a compound would be less of a hassle. 3) Plenty of normals tangle with superheroes in this universe. If you want to equal the odds, you might go after their family somehow.

      Also, I tend to imagine that normal people (when organized) are tougher to take on than you’d think. Thus, your average superhero would probably spend a lot more time dealing with unpowered menaces than powered.

      I mention that for what it’s worth. You don’t actually have to agree.

      1. I definitely agree, especially with people like Nick and pre-Impregnator Ray. They blur the line between normal and super, though I’m pretty sure Nick does have a power, given that the complexity of his devices have increased practically exponentially. Remember when he was doing mostly high-end mechanical stuff, mostly derived from tinkering with the original Rocket’s work? He’s moved on, alright, even if he’s kept the aesthetic.

  3. This doesn’t have anything to do with this chapter specifically, but I’m starting to see Nick’s brain as a combination of all the best parts (and lots of the quirky parts) of Nikolai Tesla, Leonardo DaVinci, Jonathan Ive, Jeffrey Grossman, Richard R Ernst, and Peidong Yang.

    Also, I think Nick has most of what he needs in terms of offense and defense, but he is lacking in tactical devices. A good chemical device like an adhesive, lubricant, or corrosive, or even a super-strength tranquiliser that works on all standard earth creatures as well as the majority of mutants and Extra Terrestrials. That last one would be a lot harder than the other three as it would probably need to be a cocktail with chemical sensors and triggers that allow it to self adjust to the intended target, but it would be invaluable once he finally got it down. He would probably have to ask for blood and tissue samples from everyone in the Stapledon program as well as well as the Xinti and any aliens he might find hiding away on earth. Now that I think about it, it’s not even Nick’s style (for now). It will probably be AT LEAST another two years until he can seriously start considering the development of such a substance, but the basic three are definitely within range (adhesive, lubricant, and corrosive) as well as the already invented and well documented Chlorine Triflouride. This stuff would NOT be safe to store in the suit, but he could carry it around in a specialized gun.

  4. It sounds like Nick might be overusing his new toy. Anyone who does notice a van changing colour and style is much more likely to remember it!

  5. Given the name of Book 6, I’m looking forward to seeing what the compound kids are like. Especially after seeing what others such as Patriot Jr?, Alex and Brooke. I even more exciting about seeing how they contrast to League and their lifestyle.

    Hopefully this comment will get posted. My internet being going haywire over the last few hours.

  6. I was rereading some of Book 2 earlier and I realised we still haven’t found out what happened to Logan. I know it was mentioned a later book, but even then we weren’t told.

  7. I’m seeing three major “factions” of young superheroes here. There are the legacy heroes who grew up in the communities like Alex or Carlos, the new supers like Rod or Sean just coming into their own, and maybe “military” supers, who only have really exercised their powers in a military setting. Logan, perhaps? If that’s the case, the Heroes League would sit right in the middle with their legacy contacts, the normal childhoods they got from the mental block, and their grandparent’s military origins.

  8. @Cultist: Assuming the formula for the burrito gun is documented he already has an adhesive. And the nanos have already proven themselves to be fantastic as a corrosive-like substance. The Omni-Drug though, I can’t see him creating it. Even if feasible it would be impossible to predict every meta-biology’s reaction which means potentially lethal which is exactly not what he’d be striving for with such a weapon.

    Actually, his nano-bots are mucho scary. Program them to drill through non-living matter until it hits organic tissue then consume all organics up to a specific volume then stop. He could stop most armored villains permanently and collect the armor for study with minimal damage to their systems.

    Oh God, I do hope Jim never wants to do a “Dark Rocket” scenario. Nick seems to think of himself as the weakest member in a lot of ways but with his tech savvy and Lee’s training he could literally kill the entire Legion without breaking a sweat simply by planning for it.

  9. As inconspicuous as possible, chainmail bikini girl fighting a dragon. inconspicuous, bikini, dragon. Nick, nick, nick, nick.

  10. It’s only slightly unnerving reading this, where I live on the southern edge of castle rock, right where the compound has been described to be. Also, our traffic isn’t that bad, at worst its a 30 minute drive from the ikea to southern castle rock, and that’s taking into account construction and not taking I 470 ( the toll road)

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