We managed to escape reporters only because crossing the street had gotten Brooke out of range of the devices that stopped her from opening a gate.
We couldn’t go immediately because we couldn’t leave the mech operator — both because Alex wanted to make sure he hadn’t missed anything and because we didn’t want the mech operator to wake up and run off.
The Defenders took out the remaining Syndicate L people within a couple minutes. Blue Streak and several SWAT teams arrived while they were still fighting and joined in.
As for the press, they awed me. In Grand Lake I was always surprised at how quickly News 10’s chopper showed up, and, if not them, a few reporters from the Grand Lake Sentinel and the local TV stations. In Los Angeles, at least three (maybe four) helicopters showed up, several crews from TV stations, other reporters, and the paparazzi.
A couple photographers started walking up the street toward us. Glancing over at them, Jenny handed me the only surviving copy of my guitar. “We’d better go.”
I pulled the strap over my head. “I know.”
We got up from our seats on the curb.
Brooke and Alex had stopped arguing, and Alex was talking to Carlos as he messed with the mech. I’d already looked it over and hadn’t found anything technically interesting, but, I had learned two things. First that the mech and the powered armor shared enough similarities that I was almost certain the same person had designed them. Second, numerous small signs made me think that the mechs were being mass produced.
We stayed only long enough for the police to pick up the mech operator. Brooke opened the gate and we all walked through. Still tired, Jenny ended up hanging on to my shoulder as we stepped into the Junior Defenders room.
* * *
My last day in Los Angeles felt anti-climactic.
I slept over at Alex’ house because Brooke felt too tired to port me directly into my hotel room, and I wasn’t up for flying over there.
Waking up in one of the guest bedrooms, I found that I had a small headache and felt sore in more places than I’d expected. I got up and found my suitcase next to the bed. Apparently Brooke had felt less tired this morning.
I put on clothes and went down to breakfast.
In one corner of the huge, combined kitchen/family room/living room, Alex’ half sister and brother watched cartoons on the large TV. Alex and Brooke sat at the table eating french toast and sausage. Sylvia, Alex’ step-mom, stood behind the counter next to the stove, turning off the burners as I approached.
“Help yourself. Everything that’s left is on the warming tray.”
The pile of sausage, and french toast slices on the tray left me with no worries about whether I’d have enough food.
“Thanks.” I picked up a plate, served myself, and sat down near Alex and Brooke.
As I sat down, Brooke had actually just fed Alex a piece of french toast from her fork. It seemed a little more intimate than I really wanted to deal with at breakfast, but I supposed it could have been worse.
“Nick,” Alex said. “I’ve been thinking about last night, and we had some serious problems. The only thing saving us about half the time was your weapons. With Jenny multiplying the guitar, we did some serious damage to Syndicate L, but without it we’d never have gotten out. We ought to have you make stuff for us, you know, like your grandfather sometimes did for my dad.”
I wasn’t convinced that a lack of heavy weaponry was the major cause of the problems we had had the night before. Still, they could use heavier weaponry than they’d snuck out of the Defenders armory.
“Sure,” I said. “We ought to talk about what you want.”
“Yeah,” Alex said. “We need something that can take out mechs. My dad’s fought supers tougher than that, so we need something at least that powerful… And, while you’re at it, we need a communication system so we don’t have to use the Defenders if we don’t want to. Oh, and I don’t know exactly what, but other weapons too… Weapons that can be used for more than just blowing things up –”
“Alex,” Brooke said, “let him eat.”
“Sure,” he said.
I ate, thankful to Brooke for the chance.
She didn’t know how much I’d underestimated her. I’d dismissed her as a blond, cheerleader type when we’d first met, but she really deserved most of the credit for getting us out. She’d pretended to be paralyzed, managed to get Alex to heal us, and coordinated Jenny’s and my counterattack — all of it with telepathy so weak she had to touch us to make contact.
And now we were here, and, she was making eyes at Alex and giggling.
It made me wonder which side of her was real and which was fake.
Anyway, I ate.
Jenny came by before noon. We all talked for a while, but Alex and Brooke stepped out onto the deck, leaving Jenny and I alone together at the table.
Of any of us, she seemed the least tired. I asked her why.
“Oh, you know… The obvious. I put my equipment away and then I absorbed myself. This body didn’t fight Syndicate L last night. I always leave a version of myself home being normal when I’m out with Alex and Brooke. Like last night, my boyfriend took me out to dinner. He was really sweet about it.”
“Oh,” I asked. “Does he know about everything?”
She shook her head. “No, and I’m not going to tell him either. I try to keep all the parts of my life separate.”
“You’ve got a better chance at that than most people.”
“I know. That’s why my costume’s got a full face mask. My dad keeps on telling me that he doesn’t want me to grow up in ‘super-world,’ and that’s why we’re not living in this development with everyone else, and I go to a different school and everything… I don’t think it worked — I mean, look, I’m here all the time — but I try to keep a part of me in normal life. I think Alex and Brooke could both use a little more of it.”
She looked out toward the patio. Alex and Brooke were kissing.
“Does that count?” I asked.
“Only if they’re going out now,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to put up with that much PDA, and angst about whether or not they should date at the same time.”
My parents came about an hour later and we left for LAX. My mom asked me whether I’d had a good time, and I told her that I had. Even with the explosions, hanging around with Alex had still been more fun than sitting at a booth in the convention hall, trying to sell my dad’s books.