“Self-replicating?” I stared at the cloud of spores obscuring the baseball diamond.
Supers emerged from it, most of them covered with a light dusting of spores. By most, I meant almost everybody but Jaclyn. Jaclyn wasn’t covered because I’d designed her suit to be as close to frictionless as I could.
The other two exceptions were Bullet and Theo. Bullet flew out. He wasn’t covered with spores because he floated upward in a bullet-shaped force field. Theo was spore-free for a more obvious reason—almost anything that touches superheated plasma burns.
The rest of the supers, all of them Coffeeshop Illuminati, seemed to be acting normally. They didn’t seem to be controlled by Hunter. They were running in all directions, showing no coordination at all.
Also, the spores seemed to be inert. At any rate, none of them seemed to be growing and using their hosts for food, turning them into mini-mushroom dinosaurs.
Even Hunter, Gifford, and Gordon seemed to be covered, making it unlikely to be part of a prearranged plan.
“Yes,” Haley said, “he wouldn’t shut up about it for an entire Stapledon weekend. He kept saying how it would up his power level. It was so irritating.”
In the middle of her charred circle, Meteor stared out at the horde of mushroom zombies forming in the forest behind us, muttering, “This is too big.”
“Self-replicating anything is a terrible idea,” I said, “I haven’t made any of my armor pieces self-replicating. There’s always the risk, even if you’ve programmed them perfectly, that they won’t replicate themselves perfectly. Once that happens, maybe the whole world turns into grey goo.”
“I know,” I could imagine the narrowed eyes that went along with Haley’s tone of voice, “You told me and I told him.”
“He didn’t listen,” I watched as Cassie shot the first of a new group expanding out of the soil.
“I know,” Haley said again. “He’s an idiot… Oh, and Dark Cloak says he can have a fairy cat get Stephanie out.”
“A fairy cat?” I would have said more but at that moment a black cat stepped out from behind a bush and jumped onto Stephanie’s restrained body, avoiding the goobot strands with uncanny grace.
Then, the cat sat on her chest, staring at me. Then both the cat and Stephanie faded away. Only the cat’s glowing amber eyes remained visible as it disappeared, staying for a moment after it was gone.
I opened my mouth to tell Haley that I believed her now, but my attention moved from Stephanie’s disappearance back to the baseball diamond.
The cloud of spores had cleared. Gordon had shot into the sky where he and Bullet appeared to be engaged in a dogfight, a dogfight made more complicated by the figures in the air around them. I didn’t care enough to identify them at the moment, but they made it impossible for either Bullet or Gordon to take each other out.
I wasn’t paying much attention to them because I was paying attention to what clearing the air had revealed.
The T. Rex had fallen apart. Mounds of mushrooms grew on the pieces and around it on the diamond and the grassy areas around it. The mounds on the T.rex pieces were growing faster. Two were already six feet tall or higher. Feeding my suspicions, they attacked each other.
Nearby, Gifford hovered near Hunter, directing winds with his hands and shouting downward at Hunter at the same time. What they were talking about wasn’t obvious with Vaughn’s thunder and lightning going nearby, but if I had to guess, my bet was a short conversation about how Hunter had lost control.
With everything going on, I’d lost track of the conversation I’d been having with Haley.
“Yes,” she said, “a fairy cat. Dark Cloak says it got her out.”
“Right,” I blew away a cluster of mushroom zombies with a boombot, worrying that I’d need to conserve them, and added, “I saw her disappear, but I think it’s all about to get much worse. I think Hunter lost control of at least some of them.”
One of the new T.rex (what’s the plural of T.rex?) jumped up and attacked a group of mushroom zombies that were heading in Hunter’s direction. The T.rex gave him long enough for Gifford to blow Hunter into the air, holding both of them 50 feet above the ground and out of the creatures’ reach.
Meanwhile, the T.rex bit one of the mushroom zombies in half, spreading spores everywhere—including into the nearest T.rex mounds.
Part of me wanted to know whether Hunter’s zombies could cross-pollinate between the two species, but another part of me very much did not want to find out the answer.
I fired off two boombots into the nearest T.rex mounds to the destroyed zombie, letting out a breath as they exploded. I hoped the fire was hot enough.
Finally having the presence of mind to consider ending the conversation with Haley, I said, “Hey—”
She said, “I have to go. Zombies are leaving the park.”
“Crap!” I glanced toward Hunter. He was still floating in the air and shouting with Gifford. Didn’t they have comms? “I’m going to see if Hunter can do anything.”
Our connection clicked shut and I told the implant to call Hunter’s comm.