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.”