Courtesy: Part 45

Cassie piped up before anyone else, “How do we trust you? You were literally trying to kill some of us less than a minute ago. Sure, you stopped, but what are we supposed to do with that? Right now you need us, but maybe in the future you decide that you don’t. What’s going to stop you from absorbing the whole world then?”

The boy frowned, “The Xiniti will burn this world. Isn’t that correct?”

“Right,” Cassie pointed at the mounds, “but we see what you’re up to. You’re making replacements for us.”

I thought about the mounds with fake people growing inside the birthing chambers. If the Xiniti didn’t make an effort to check if everyone was real and fungus could control real people without obvious growths, the Fungus Collective could rule the planet invisibly.

The boy froze—which was interesting by itself since it meant that it had absorbed involuntary human movements. Then it said, “I’m sorry. Originally, I did intend to create human replacements that I’d use to rule behind the scenes, but now I just want to survive.”

Over the comm, I asked, “Blue or Night Cat, is it easy to tell the difference between a human and fungus duplicate for you?”

I’d already checked with my sonar. The fungus needed a mechanical means to walk, but it didn’t look the same—too solid.

Izzy nodded, “Easily.”

Staring at the ground as if trying to avoid sensing too much, Haley said, “I can’t try smell through the suit, but they don’t sound right. I wouldn’t be able to tell otherwise.”

Not hearing our conversation through the helmet, the boy continued, “The Xiniti have observers on the planet. The Nine are aware of them. They know they haven’t found them all.”

Muttering into her costume’s mic, Cassie said, “I don’t trust this thing, but if it knows everything in Arete’s head, I’d consider a deal. I don’t think we’ve ever captured a cooperative member of the Nine.”

I could feel a moment of hope in Daniel’s thoughts as he told the League channel, “I don’t know how they subsume people into their larger consciousness, but the Dominators’ commands probably wouldn’t have any power over that many personalities.”

“Hey,” Cassie said aloud pointing her gun at Arete, “what do you know about the Nine? Do you know everything he knows?”

The boy stared at her, “Everything. He was an agent of the Dominators, tasked with infiltrating the superhero community. If you’re willing to ally with me, I can share all of his activities and contacts.”

I glanced over at Arete or at least at his head and his grey, fungus, replacement body, wondering how much of him was there.

Thanks to my implant, I could run through its footage of him. From that, I could see that the Fungus Collective had given him a body physically equivalent to the old one. I couldn’t speak to the details of what had been under clothes except to note that nothing major had been skipped—which felt a little uncomfortable, but whatever.

More interesting? He had the same look as when he’d been alive, watching the conversation, his eyes tracking each person as they talked, arms loose by his side, ready for action.

I had no way to tell, but Arete struck me as being alert and involved in the conversation even if he wasn’t talking. Was that a good thing? I couldn’t see Arete offering to give us his information on the Nine. So, I was probably being paranoid.

Amy must have been thinking along the same lines, though, because she stepped forward, Bloodspear in her right hand, her eyes never leaving Arete as she asked, “Is he okay with betraying the Nine?”

The boy didn’t even look at Arete, “He’s a small part of the collective whole. We are decided on our course of action. We mean to survive and the Nine mean nothing to us.

“I don’t deny that his memory and his personality show them loyalty, but the will of the collective whole decides what’s good for the collective and we don’t see anything that the Nine have to offer.”

Alex blinked and tilted his head as he looked over the child, “Nothing? I’m not saying that you should sign up with them, but I’m sure they’d love to have you.”

The boy gave a curt nod, “I’m sure they would, but we’d be little more than a tool to them and I’m certain they’d try to control us. You people, from what I understand, might not trust us, but I think we can earn our freedom with you.”

The ruby red glow of the gems on Amy’s armor seemed to glow a step brighter as she said, “I’ve got some experience with a collective of personalities. One personality can dominate the whole if it’s sufficiently strong or dedicated.

“What if I could show you how to bind Arete so that he had no chance of taking control?”

I may have been deluding myself, but I thought I saw the muscles on Arete’s jaw tighten. Even with my implant’s instant replay, it was hard to say.

4 thoughts on “Courtesy: Part 45”

  1. If the collective mind is more like enslavement (with the slaves being aware of it), this is a really problematic ally to have. Peace is still probably better than slaughter but this is asking for a escape from the deal by circumstances in most fiction.

    1. If it’s slavery, it sounds like slavery by democratic vote. A significant (or significantly strong) portion will have to impose will to make the collective do anything. Right now I think they all agree on “survive”.

    2. Ideally, if individual consciousness is retained, the individual members of the Collective should be allowed to “opt out,” with the collective freeing them. For those like Arete, opting out would be fatal, but that’s because they’re already dead and are on Fungus Life Support, but they should at least have the choice. That way only those who are voluntarily part of the Collective will remain, and it’s not really slavery if it’s voluntary (that’s hazier for those dependent on the Collective to be alive, but this isn’t a case of the Collective threatening death if you decide to leave – you’re already dead, but the Collective has given you a way to come back to life).

      The problem, of course, is how to get the Collective to actually honor an individual’s decision to opt out.

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