Courtesy: Part 20

My first instinct was to tell him that I doubted it strongly, that the fungus was a parasite that was warping his perception of the world, and that he wouldn’t look back on what he was doing right now with pride later.

Daniel, though, told me, Let’s see where this goes. We heard Bouman. How much independence of thought do they have? Are they still individuals but now they want to preserve the fungus or is it a hive mind? Talking will let me feel him out mentally.

Okay, I thought back at him, but we can’t let it stall us.

Agreed, Daniel thought back, but said, “What kind of deal are you looking for? From what I’ve seen, the collective consciousness doesn’t take no for an answer—which means trusting you to keep your end of the bargain is difficult.”

“You didn’t exactly politely ask if the city wanted to become part of your collective before spreading yourself everywhere,” I said.

Jody blurred, moving forward to stand next to Daniel and I, “You’re not seriously going to try to negotiate with it, are you?”

Sean put his hand on Jody’s shoulder, “I don’t know what they’re doing, but we should let them.”

Behind me, Amy typed, “I don’t trust it either, but if this means we don’t have to fight it all the way down, let’s try it,” into the League channel.

Scott said, “I understand your hesitation, but try to see it from the collective’s point of view. From the moment we came into being, you humans attempted to destroy us. Taking your city isn’t aggression for us, but self-defense and it’s temporary. We’ve only taken your city to keep ourselves alive. You won’t destroy your own people and we’ll only stay within them if there’s nowhere else to go. Once we’re free to live, we will leave them.”

As Scott talked, Jody glanced down at the screen on his forearm. It seemed to have been designed with a privacy screen—which was a good thought.

If he’d read what Amy wrote, that decided him, he took a step back.

As for myself, I had to admit that Scott had a point even if it was delivered to his brain in the service of an organism that for all that it might might think itself persecuted had only ever attacked human beings except when it possessed them.

“Scott,” I said, “you manage this city normally. What would your advice be if you weren’t part of the… group mind?”

I felt a little fear from Daniel. He’d probably intended to dance around the question of how influenced the guy was. If the Fungus Central Command decided to give up on us, we would end up fighting our way through. At the same time I also felt some curiosity. This is one thing we both wanted to know. What was our chance of getting at the human underneath the fungus? The right answer might make this easier.

Scott didn’t show any hint of indecision or doubt, “I’d tell you to cooperate. We just want to live. We mean you no harm.”

Izzy shook her head, “Are you sure? Could the fungus leave your mind alone for a little while and let the person inside talk?”

Scott turned to stare at her, “There is no way to do that right now, but be assured that I’m still myself.”

We’d walked down the hall and Scott stopped at a spot where the hallway widened into a alcove where two elevators and the entrance to a stairwell each had their own wall.

Scott stopped next to the door to the the stairwell, “The elevators don’t presently work. You’ll have to take the stairway.”

Remembering more than one running battle in a stairway over the last few years, I almost wanted to say no, but on the whole, I’d rather fight on a stairway than in an elevator shaft.

I thought over at Daniel, Do our odds get worse if we follow him down the stairway?

No, he thought back, but the odds of Team Hidden getting in go up somehow.

I wasn’t sure how, but if I could give Haley a better chance, I would. Aloud, I said, “Great, I guess we’ll have to take the stairway then. Uh… What’s wrong with the elevators?”

Scott turned to look at me with an unblinking stare that didn’t seem human at all, “We needed a direct route up from the basement. The elevator shaft filled that need, but now there is too much matter inside and no room for the elevator car to run.”

That was creepy—not to mention bad for the elevators’ electronics, but we followed him into the stairwell.

Nothing happened at all.

We walked. We followed Scott into the basement and nothing attacked us. Did it feel creepy? Very. Whole rooms in the basement were devoted to grey biological matter. I couldn’t guess its purpose. 

We made it to the end of the hall and Scott stepped through the steel doors. The room they opened into could have passed for a basement parking garage anywhere in the world—concrete, yellow lines, red exit signs pointing the direction out, and rows of parked cars.

Where it differed from a normal parking garage was the way any city in the world differs from other cities—the people. Directly in front of us amid cars and mushroom matter stood four people in superhero costumes. One of them was Grand Lake’s ex-mayor. 

Bouman turned to greet us, his smile still perfect, his face still handsome if now six years older, and his eyes covered in grey mushroom goo.

Strands of mushroom flesh led from a mushroom covered wall to his body. He stared at us.

3 thoughts on “Courtesy: Part 20”

  1. You say that the chances of the Team Hidden go up if they follow the guy into the elevator shaft, then they take the stairs.

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