“Welcome to City Hall,” our ex-mayor said. “I may have said those very words to two of you only a few years ago.”
Daniel gave a short nod, “I think you did. A few things have happened between now and then.”
At that Bouman laughed, sounding like a normal human being. If there were some area of his mind that the fungus had warped, Bouman could still manage normal human responses.
I checked out the other three supers and felt a little more sick at every single one. The first two were no surprise. I knew they were in the same unit as Bouman.
Yellow Mask didn’t have mushroom tendrils connecting her to the wall, but she did have a thin layer of mushroom skin on her face and exposed skin—not on the namesake yellow mask that covered her upper face.
That led to a double take on my part. I’d assumed that Yellow Mask was a guy, but I hadn’t known. If I’d made a quick call to Mateo (Blue Mask), he’d likely have corrected me on that among other things.
Her wide brimmed yellow hat and jacket made me think of Zorro and black and white movies about swashbucklers—which meant she wasn’t different from the other members of the Mask family in costuming.
Next to her stood a creature best described as a yeti, a mountainous humanoid creature with white fur. The creature wore a white and blue leotard with a flag on it. I didn’t know his codename, but I did know his real one—Logan. He’d used the Cabal’s formula to release super powers and turned into this thing at our senior prom in high school.
I’d never seen him again, but I’d heard he’d been inducted into the military and it appeared to be true.
The final member of the group made me think of Travis. Back when we’d first fought the Cabal, their second in command inherited the title Prime. Travis had fought him and been hurt. We’d made a deal with Prime to take what was left of their group and leave us alone for a year. After that, we expected them to come back, but they never did.
I probably should have guessed what happened based on how we’d found former Cabal soldiers working for different people over the years, some of them for the government, others for supervillains.
They must have gotten caught or fallen apart. However it happened, Prime was now on Bouman’s team and standing in front of us almost exactly as I remembered him—bald shaven, built like a weightlifter, and taller than the Rocket suit.
He wore a blue costume with a flag on it like Logan and our ex-mayor. Also, much like the rest of his team, a thin layer of mushroom skin covered his own skin. I couldn’t see his eyes.
Bouman didn’t look at us so far as I could tell since his eyes were hidden by mushroom flesh.
All the same, he addressed us, “It’s been a long time and a great deal has happened to all of us. I confess that I don’t recognize all of you. I remember the Rocket, the Mystic, and Accelerando, but I didn’t know the rest of you at all until my mission briefing. Major Justice wasn’t as thorough as I’d like—not that it matters.
“I owe all of you, but not in a negative way. It’s all positive. If I hadn’t lost, I’d still be working for the Cabal today. In a sense, I now owe you doubly. Not only did you defeat the Cabal, but coming here released me to help the collective just when it needed me most.”
Part of me wondered if Bouman and Scott realized that they were talking like they’d been assimilated into the Borg. It probably wasn’t intentional. Neither Scott or the ex-mayor seemed likely to be Star Trek fans.
Amy looked at Bouman, “If you owe them, is there a chance that you’ll gather up your assembled fungus creatures, leave, and politely let everyone go?”
Behind me Dayton snorted. Through my HUD, I could see him cover his mouth. He’d tried to muffle it and almost succeeded.
Bouman smiled, “As your friend guessed, I’m afraid I can’t do that. I have responsibilities. As Scott told you, the collective minds we serve want to survive and they’ve tasked me with getting them that chance.
“No, I’m going to have to give you the chance to help me and if you do, I’ll do my very best to help you. I know what you want. The government’s activated human extinction protocols and even the Wizard’s Council have gotten off their butts and decided to help. You want to stop us, to keep us in here until you can destroy us somehow. I’m not sure how, but you’re smart and well trained. I’m sure you have a plan.
“You should be able to guess that we do too. We control almost everyone in this city now and the few we don’t control, we can kill. I’m asking you to release even the tiniest bit of us from the Council’s wards. It doesn’t have to be a person—just a bit of dust. We’ll do the rest.
“In fact, we’ll make it easy for you. We’ll give you a hard fight, but lose. No one will ever have to know that you let us out. I can edit the memories of my friends to forget this deal and let the fungus kill me. Your hands will be clean.
“That’s if you say yes. If you say no, we’ll kill anyone of your families we can reach. Don’t forget. Major Justice knew who you were and passed it off to the trustworthy. Others of you have never had a truly secret identity.”