Courtesy: Part 22

Sean’s comm started ringing. He stared down at the screen. Thanks to the Rocket suit’s sensors, I’d zoomed in on the screen and read it before I even had time to consider the question of his privacy.

It said, “Mom.”

Bouman nodded, “You’ll want to get that.”

Sean all but snarled at him, “I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to scare me. Mom’s either one of you by now and she’ll say anything or she’s surrounded. Either way, I can’t stop you from doing whatever you want to her, but if you kill her, you don’t have any hold on me at all.”

Out of place with the threat, Bouman’s tone was calm, “That’s true, but we can kill her to prove that we’re serious and then move on to someone else, someone who cares.”

At that, Sean’s fists clenched and his body began to shake as if he didn’t know what to do next, attack, run to save her or answer the call.

Dayton put his hand on Sean’s shoulder, muttering, “You’re doing the right thing.”

Bits of concrete fell from above us—not big pieces, dust and bits no larger than a quarter. I understood why without even thinking about it. The garage was built from concrete strengthened with metal—which Sean’s magnetic powers affected.

“Calm down, big guy,” Dayton continued.

Jody stared up at the ceiling, his body blurring around the edges, saying what everyone had to be thinking, “Dude, we’re in here.”

At about the same time, Daniel, whose mind was on other things, spoke into my head, I haven’t been getting much through Bouman’s mental shields. He’s got a lot of power to work with now, but at this moment I’m sensing emotional leakage. Even if you can’t see it, he hates this. He doesn’t want to be used this way. I’m watching for an opening. I’ll see what I can do if I get one.

I wasn’t sure that Daniel could realistically hope to telepathically outmaneuver a fully activated version of the Bouman’s powers backed up by whatever he got out of the fungus, but if he thought so, he had a reason. Good luck, I thought back.

I hope luck won’t be a factor, Daniel thought back.

Just past Daniel, Izzy glanced up at the ceiling—probably checking its integrity. She muttered something to Jaclyn who shook her head.

“You know,” Jaclyn said, “if you get the Power so worked up that he accidentally pulls City Hall down on us, the Fungus Collective will have to get a new publicist and whoever it is probably won’t be as good at it.”

Bouman cracked a smile, “You make a good point. We’re here to make a deal after all. Think of what I just said as an illustration of the fact that we’re serious. We don’t have any wish to harm anyone, but we want to survive. Help us survive and we’ll be good to you too.”

At that, Sean’s comm stopped ringing. The best case scenario there was that Sean’s mom was no longer under threat, but more likely, she’d been taken. Now that having her call Sean didn’t help, she’d been told to stop and all that mattered was serving the fungus.

It also told me that the fungus had an efficient communication system, reacting as if one organism even from a distance.

Though useful to know, that wasn’t the biggest question on my mind. We needed to decide what we were going to do next. Our goal was to be obvious and distract so that Team Hidden could get in and put Alex in place to wipe out the core and send the equivalent of self-destruct code. That would be easier if they could teleport in, something Bouman was likely preventing.

Hopefully the self-destruct code would act instantly, but we probably shouldn’t assume.

As I thought that through, Amy and Jaclyn kept up the distraction. Amy seemed to be doing most of the talking—which made even more sense when you knew that she’d been raised in a royal family with a worldwide empire on her home world. Of course, the hundreds of previous lives she had access to, all of which were spent hunting monsters that threatened humanity, might have been even more relevant.

“You’re going to have to sweeten the pot on this deal,” Amy said. “You get to survive, but how do we know that you won’t show up a few days later and start this all over somewhere else? We can’t let you take over  a city like this again. How do we know that you won’t?”

I missed Bouman’s reply because Daniel spoke in my head, I’ve got him. It’s not perfect. It’s an opening, not a knock out. It’ll get me in the door to start the fight, but after that, I’ll be too busy to fight physically. You’ll have to keep me alive, but I think I can take out Bouman without killing him and maybe distract the whole organism.

What are you going to do? I thought back.

It’s complicated and impossible to explain if you’re not telepath, but we’ll just say that Bouman’s strength is massive, but he’s still self-taught and there are chinks in his armor, among them, his guilt. I see where the fungus connects to him telepathically and I think I can camouflage a bomb as his thoughts and send it through him. 

Interesting idea, I thought, how?

You, kind of, he said, I made a “recording” of you when you were feeling down and telepathically painful to be near. Technically, it’s a combination of you and Lee. I’ll drop a bit of mind-altering elder god madness into the fungus’ brain hidden under a layer of angst. It will have no choice but deal with it. The only question is when to do it.

Knowing that I’d weaponized my thoughts before, I decided not to complain that Daniel was.

I’ll check how Haley’s doing, I said.

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