Courtesy: Part 48

I looked him in the eye (to the degree that I could through a helmet) and said, “We’re all going to die and you with us. If you get out, that means the whole planet goes. Whether people I care about die because of the Nine or because the Xiniti make the sun go nova, they’re dead. So congratulations, you’ve made this whole situation so bad that you have no hold on us because we don’t have anything to lose.”

In the moment, I meant it, but I knew that if we got reports of our parents dying at the hands of the Nine and we survived, it wouldn’t feel like a victory.

Arete’s lip curled and his voice became louder, “This isn’t a no-win scenario. If the crisis ends and you declare victory, the Xiniti aren’t going to destroy the planet. So far as they’ll be able to tell, you won. All you need to do is surrender, let a few spores in, and become part of us.”

Turning his gaze to Katuk, he said, “That means you too. You’ll either become part of us or be destroyed.”

Katuk’s voice took on an otherworldly quality with hard consonants making a brief high-pitched ring. Having spent weeks in close quarters with him, I knew this could happen when the Xiniti were amused.

Knowing that the Xiniti had destroyed the Abominators after the Abominators found their home planet, inadvertently releasing them into the galaxy, I suspected that their amusement was something to avoid.

It never meant anything good when we’d played Monopoly.

Aside from that, Katuk showed no emotion, meeting Arete’s gaze, his wide, black eyes visible through his silver helmet, “You’re unfamiliar with the Xiniti. We don’t back down when we have a mission. We fulfill the task or die. We start the task regarding ourselves as already dead.”

Arete glanced over at me, the movement jerky. Integrating a human body part into a fungus body wouldn’t always work well.

I said, “It’s a very functional idea for a culture of soldiers. It makes it easy to do whatever’s necessary without worrying if you’ll survive.”

“And it makes them remorseless when you land on Boardwalk and it’s got four hotels,” Cassie said, her gun still pointed in Arete’s direction.

Arete’s mouth dropped open, asking Cassie, “You play Monopoly with aliens?”

Katuk talked over him, “You said it was only a game. It is more than that, illustrating cultural assumptions and showing that humans have emotional responses even to fictional experiences.”

“Arete,” I said, “you were killed, absorbed into a fungus, and you’re now part of a creature with multiple minds. Maybe you should teach them Monopoly. It won’t be any less weird.”

Sure, that was a bit of verbal nonsense, but it might buy us time—which we needed because Daniel hadn’t yet pointed us toward the fungus’ core.

Gritting his teeth, Arete said, “You’re not taking this seriously. Do I need to give you a reason to take it seriously? Well, here’s one, my troops will be down here soon. Then you’ll either die or become part of us whether you want to or not. If you’re willing, it will hurt less and everyone will live.”

He was wrong about that. I was taking this very seriously. A quick check of my bots’ cameras made me suspect that we needed to start destroying everything we could. His armies would be down here in less than a minute.

Off to my right, Haley tapped on the keyboard on her arm. Though I couldn’t see or hear the conversation, she had to be coordinating with the rest of the group outside the circle. They’d be facing the fungus army first.

Over the main League channel, Kayla said, “Justice Fist turned around. They’re coming back your way with the government unit. They couldn’t get out. When they got close, the fungus army appeared. Out.”

That wasn’t good news. I decided to try for a long shot, telling Arete, “I’m taking this seriously. What I don’t get is why your allies aren’t. If they allowed you to take charge because you’ve got the most experience manipulating humans, they should notice that when the humans are protected from your voice, you’re completely useless at it.

“More than that, if you sold them on the idea that the Xiniti won’t look too hard if everyone still looks and acts human, you were incredibly dumb when you explained that one right in front of one of the Xiniti. You may not know it, but Xiniti tech allows him to be in contact with the Xiniti base near Mars from here. From the base, they can contact all the Xiniti in the galaxy. This plan absolutely can’t work now.

“If you sold them on the idea that the Nine were powerful and we aren’t, you should remember this, the Xiniti sometimes listen to us. If the Fungus Collective were to put the other faction in charge again along with the old deal, we might be able to convince them that you should survive. They’ll scan us to be sure we’re not being influenced, but they’ll at least listen to us.

“They’ll never listen to the Nine.”

2 thoughts on “Courtesy: Part 48”

    1. You really gonna do me like that huh.
      Well if a chapter comes out tomorrow my bday chapter will go crazy.

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