I used my implant to connect to our comm channel, asking, “Night Cat, how close are you to being in position?”
“Pretty close,” Haley said. “I don’t think that we’re dead center, but we’re maybe a floor away. After that we’ll have to move inward.”
I checked her camera. Through a silver haze that made me think of a camera filter, I saw a concrete ceiling and floor, parked cars, and grayish-white masses joined together by runners that crossed under the cars and over concrete barriers.
I didn’t see any people, but the masses had grey tendrils like all the other tendrils we’d seen.
“If you can bring down the teleportation block,” Haley continued, “Portal can send Paladin any time.”
“We’re about to try that,” I said. “The Mystic’s about to implant a recording of my brain and Lee’s into the fungus’ consciousness. So, it might go crazy. Also, I don’t know if you’ve been listening in, but it’s likely that the Power’s mother is in some level of danger and so is anyone else whose parents are in reach of the fungus.
“It might get really weird and bad soon.”
Haley frowned, “Do you have any ideas that won’t make it weird and bad?”
I considered that, responding with, “Weird and bad is as good as it gets. What’s with the fuzz around you?”
“Dark Cloak. It’s not as good as invisibility, but we used that earlier. This is close,” she paused and added, “good luck. Stay safe.”
I almost pointed out that it was too late to stay safe, but I’d try to stay alive—except then I thought about Travis. I said, “I’ll do my best. You stay safe.”
We left it there. The channel had to stay open. Besides, the whole point of our group was making so much noise that they were left alone.
I told Daniel, It sounds like you can drop it in whenever it works best for you, but giving them warning would probably be good.
I felt Daniel extend his connection to everyone in sight—Izzy, Jaclyn, and Amy—I’m about to drop a kind of psychic bomb into the Fungus Collective through Bouman. Be ready.
I felt everyone’s assent and spoke into the general comm channel, “We’re about to release the bomb.”
From Marcus’ camera, I could see Haley tense. At the same time, Bouman was saying, “… There’s no way to trust anyone completely, but you can trust us. Our will to survive will force us to keep your secret. Above all else, we don’t want to be destroyed and we know now that you humans will stop at nothing to defend yourselves—“
That was the moment when I felt careful concentration from Daniel followed by relief. I didn’t need to hear his whispered thought, It’s in, but it did avoid ambiguity.
Not that there was any ambiguity in what came next.
It was funny in a way. I’d used the alien nature of certain elements of my consciousness to hurt telepaths before, but I didn’t have the control to point it where it needed to go.
Daniel knew what he was doing. The biggest effect I’d ever managed out of exposing a telepath to my mind on my own was shock, pain, and distraction. With Daniel’s help, I’d left a telepath unconscious, drooling, and out of the fight.
This was somewhere in between.
As Bouman talked to Amy, his jaw dropped and he stared into space for a moment before shaking his head. Pointing his mushroom flesh covered eyes in Daniel’s direction, Bouman said, “That felt strange. Did you do something?”
Daniel’s eyes gave our former mayor a quick once over, “I’m not sure what you mean. What happened?”
Nearby, Yellow Mask moved her rapier into position in front of her as the massive, white furred form of Logan and the Cabal’s former leader, Prime, came to attention. All three of them looked around with their mushroom flesh covered eyes, seemingly aware that something had happened, but not knowing what.
Bouman ignored Daniel’s question, turning his head slowly until he stared sightlessly at me, “Did you do something?”
At the same time, I felt light mental touches to my consciousness—the kind where the telepath is scouting the brain’s defenses, but isn’t yet trying to get in.
I said, “If you mean, did I do something to you? I can’t. I don’t have mental powers.”
As I said it, I concentrated, using one of the skills I’d been learning from Kee. Though Daniel had long ago set up defenses in my brain, this tapped into energies that I had access to as a “baby” Artificer, making interacting with my mind uncomfortable for human telepaths.
Daniel glanced my way as I did it, feeling something even though my brain didn’t react to him as an intruder.
Bouman, however, shuddered, jerking himself backward as if he’d touched a hot stove burner. The mental touches stopped.
Then he said, “You’ve changed a little since we’ve last met. I don’t know what you’re doing, but if this is the precursor to some attack, you need to remember what I said before. We control the city. Attack us and we’ll attack you and everyone you care about.”
Then he and his entire team started screaming uncontrollably while the mounds of mushroom flesh in the garage near us quivered, tendrils waving in spasms.
For an instant, I wondered if my defense had hurt Bouman, passing along the pain to the creature he served, but then I realized the obvious—Daniel’s poison pill had made it into the Fungus Collective’s mind.
Time to build on the distraction. Haley’s team needed all the help they could get.