Courtesy: Part 4

That’s what we needed a new mystery attacker, “Do you know what it is?”

Izzy shook her head, “I don’t even know if it’s coming in this direction. It feels extremely spread out.”

“That’s not good,” I said. “I think we need to be ready to take to the air at any second. If there’s even a hint that it might be coming this way, tell everyone.”

The curl of her lips hinted that I might have said something obvious, but she only said, “Relax, I’m watching.”

Over the comm, Kals said, “Katuk, I need to get out there.”

Katuk replied in a raspy tone that I’d come to associate with him being agitated, “I am worried as well, but my people have entrusted me with your care. As a symbol of the resistance, you are worth too much to lose here.

“And besides,” he added, “we are the only protection for the Rocket and his mate’s progenitors. Outside of us, they have only themselves and a woman holding a gun that fires either food or small donkeys at enemies. I suspect this is metaphorical or my implant’s translation is in error.”

Haley’s icon lit up, “The Rocket and I are dating, but I’m not his mate and the Burrito Gun is a weapon with attacks that look like food, but aren’t. We never fire live animals at people.”

Katuk’s icon became active, but it took a few seconds before he said, “Are your opponents hungry? Is the fake food some kind of trick?”

Kayla broke in, “We’re going to have to take this discussion off the main channel.”

Kals’ and Katuk’s icons winked out, leaving us standing on top of the shattered road without distractions. I decided to at least try to reduce one more variable.

Hoping that Major Justice was enough there to answer a question that worried me, I said, “We know you’ve got military supers out there somewhere. I don’t want more mushroom zombies to show up and then get attacked by supers—especially now that you know the Nine have been using you. Could you call them in and tell them what’s going on? Maybe even not to attack us? If the mushroom zombies aren’t gone, we’ll need all the help we can get.”

Major Justice stared at me and said, “I… I don’t know.”

Then he looked back at his team, his face devoid of expression except his eyes which glistened even if there were no tears.

A woman stepped out of his group. Dressed in camouflage like the others, she had a light brown complexion and short, dark hair. Armed only with a blade short enough to be long knife and long enough to be a short sword, she kept her hands away from the weapon as she walked toward us.

I knew her codename. It was Switchboard. She could communicate over long distances in some way that wasn’t telepathy.

She shook her head and words tumbled out of her mouth, “I can’t raise them. I could talk to them until the fight, but I can’t any more.”

Her eyes drifted toward Arete’s burnt and still burning body. She jerked her head away to look at me. Right. She knew him, or the version of himself he wanted her to see, anyway.

We needed to do something with the body, but I didn’t have a body bag on me. We hadn’t made that part of our standard equipment and with Travis’ death, maybe we needed to think about it. We had them in the jet, but I wasn’t going to reveal the jet until I had to.

I pushed all of that out of my mind, asking Switchboard, “I know you don’t use telepathy, but what do you need to connect? Something visual? A feeling? Do you have a special sense for it? What has to change for you to lose your connection?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know how it works. I create small portals in between people—not enough to walk through, but enough for sound. I used to think I connected to someone visually, but I haven’t been able to connect to Major Justice in a month or two. I don’t know why.”

I had a wild speculation and if I was right, I knew why she couldn’t connect to both Major Justice and the military supers. It might not be telepathy, but whatever she connected to had something to do with the person’s patterns of thought or identity. Major Justice had been manipulated by the Nine, specifically by Arete. He’d started criticizing us after we’d destroyed one of the Nine’s facilities a couple months ago. 

Maybe Arete’s work on his head had eroded enough of him around then.

As for the military supers… Maybe they’d been triggered by a command from Arete just before they disappeared. On the other hand, I thought back to the mushroom zombie’s attempt to hit me with its spores.

It couldn’t get through the Rocket suit, but not everyone was using my costumes.

5 thoughts on “Courtesy: Part 4”

  1. If switchboard’s power just straight doesn’t work on people mid controller by the nine, then she has a very reliable way to screen for people under their influence. That seems like a big deal

    1. It sounds like she figures out a connection with someone and then the Nine’s influence breaks the connection. So she couldn’t be used to validate a random person she’s never interacted with before, but if she connects to someone and then later loses the connection it’s evidence of something.

      Of course, people can change in non-mind control ways, and she herself could get mind controlled.

  2. I’d add some punctuation to the first sentence, another comma or a colon perhaps.

    The ending, with the suggestion that there are a bunch of mushroom-controlled supers out there now is worth an eep.

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