“We should step into a different hall, or better yet, a classroom.” He pointed down the hallway to our left. “How about that one?”
It didn’t look bad.
Earthmover had molded the whole installation out of rock, and he (or someone who worked for him) had kept an eye on aesthetics. The track lighting illuminated reddish-orange rock. Paintings and photos on the walls showed pictures of the West—the Rocky Mountains, the city of Denver at night, desert thunderstorms, and mesas. There were several doors in the hall, and windows let us look into each of them from the hall.
“This way,” he said and walked through the closest door.
Alex had chosen a classroom next to the outer wall of the foothill. Windows looked out on brownish green grass, rocky foothills and dark mountains in the distance.
When I stepped inside, Alex shut the door behind us. “So, did you get to talk to him after you fought?”
Right. Kid Biohack’s video stopped when we stepped into the van. “Yeah. He’s interesting.”
Alex grinned. “’Interesting,’ as in he’s a whiny narcissist?”
“That might be a little harsh.” I couldn’t say I liked Kid Biohack, but narcissist was further than I wanted to go.
Shaking his head, Alex said, “I don’t think so.”
He glanced toward the windows and their view but didn’t look out for long. “I never liked that guy. His family, at least part of it, lives in the San Diego compound. His name is Parker Carmona. He’s from an unpowered branch of his family, and grew up in the compound after his powers showed up.”
“How do you know him?”
Shrugging, Alex checked the door. “The way you’d expect. My dad’s been bringing me around whenever he has a bunch of people to heal. Plus, we visited compounds socially sometimes. Everyone stays on good terms with the healer, right? Anyway, his family’s a bigger deal than you’re aware of. You’ve probably heard of Ultimate Man and Ultimate Woman. They keep those names going. Do you know what his powers are?”
It was my turn to shrug. “Kind of? The way I understand it, he can choose whether he’s strong, invulnerable, agile, or fast? Or alternately, he can go for all of the above, but not be amazing at any of them. Something like that? I haven’t had time to go deeply into it.”
Nodding, he said, “That’s pretty good as far as it goes. It’s a little more complicated than that. What he’s got is adaptable muscles, bones, nerves, and skin that can be controlled by chemicals that he produces. The chemicals aren’t special in themselves, but they trigger reactions in his body, right? Over time, people in his family get better at it. It’s a skill and they get better at what they do the most. So over time, their base strength becomes higher than it was when they started and ramps up faster. Some of them specialize in an area or even a couple areas, and others stay flexible.
“But that’s not what you should be worried about. You should be worried because his family’s all over, and it’s not obvious that they’re related to him by their powers.
“My advice is to keep him at a distance, but don’t piss him off.”
I sat down on one of the desks. “Does this advice come from experience?”
Alex grinned. “Do I seem like the kind of guy that might piss him off?”
Remembering how Alex’ idea of fun had been playing pranks on organized crime the last time I’d visited him, I said, “Maybe.”
He started laughing. “Right. You know me. Anyway, yeah. I may have screwed up once or twice. Look, I’ve never liked the guy, and when he decided that L.A. was the place to be, I wanted to punch him. Let’s say that maybe one night last summer we let our inner bastards out. Well, I may have left the guy a withered mess who was too weak to do anything. Then I healed him right up again. And no one cared. Well maybe they did care, but they didn’t do anything about it because I’d fixed the guy right away, and because someday soon they might need me or my dad.”
I nodded along as he talked. “I get it. You can get away with a fight like that, but I can’t. It’s okay, though. We didn’t hurt him much at all.”
Alex shook his head violently. “You’re missing it. He’s got family all over, and you don’t know where they are. Plus, you pissed off some seniors connected to the Coffeeshop Illuminati, and they have relatives all over too. If you get enough people strongly enough against you, you’ll find that you don’t get backup as quickly as you want. Maybe you won’t get pulled out or get medical attention? It’s hard to say, but I’ve heard of life-threatening responses like that. It almost never goes all the way to letting people die, but I’ve heard it’s been close.”
I stood up, pushing myself off the desk. “That’s crazy. Almost letting someone die because you disagree with them? That’s not worth it.”
Alex nodded. “You’re right, but it gets the point across. Anyway, let’s get breakfast.”
I followed him out, still thinking about all of it. We didn’t depend on other groups much, but if we’d need help, we’d definitely need it.