Courtesy: Part 49

Arete shook his head, “You’re bluffing. There’s no way this Xiniti could pass that on to the rest. There’s no Xiniti Mars base and even if there were there’s no way they’d find out for hours.”

I don’t know how often you encounter people whose understanding of the world is so far from yours that you absolutely despair of bridging the gap, but I hope it’s never for anything important.

In that moment though, I barely knew where to start. I tried, “Look, there is a Xiniti base at the LaGrange point near Mars. It takes the speed of light more than three minutes to get there. If you’re communicating back and forth to a Mars rover it might take 15 to 45 minutes to communicate back and forth, but that’s partly just technology and it’s not technology we’re using.

“The general public doesn’t know this, but an ansible near Earth provides faster-than-light communication to the Xiniti or wherever. Without question, the Xiniti high command knows about this by now. They may even be launching ships by now.”

“You’re lying! You’re making this up to make us surrender so you can kill us. This conversation is over. You’ll tell the truth when we open your armor—wait…” 

He stopped and said, “You know what, I’ll believe you if one of you turns off your buzzer and let me ask you the same question.”

From behind me, Kals said, “No, don’t. I know what I could do with that opening.”

Off to my left, Katuk said, “The Rocket isn’t lying and he’s correct in guessing that the Xiniti nation is readying rapid response ships in case you aren’t contained. Comparable creatures have absorbed the populations of multiple planets.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I noted that Alex’ hand had moved, pointing his pistol at Arete.

Behind us came a sound that reminded me of smacking lips and splashing noise. Not needing to turn my head to see what was happening in my helmet’s screens, I saw that the mounds containing “people” had opened.

For a moment they looked like they had in the birthing chambers—like your average office worker, child, middle-aged parent, or grandparent. Then they changed, their clothes and skin turning into a hard, shell-like substance, their mouths widening until half of their faces could open, revealing jagged teeth.

Even though I doubted that teeth could go through my armor, I reminded myself that their Prime-clones had been a real threat and that they evolved.

As I noted that there were a lot of them, Tara talked over the main League channel, “I’ve been watching through the bots. If we want to have a chance to survive, we need to move into the circle with you.”

“You’re going to be fighting on both sides,” I said.

Her voice flattened into the True’s monotone, “You’re not fighting yet and we still have a better chance to win.”

I didn’t have time to respond to her because Arete chose that moment to say, “I gave you one more chance. Now it’s time to die—”

He sounded like a poorly-written Bond villain and I wanted to tell him so, but I didn’t get the opportunity. Katuk shot him.

By shot him, I mean a spot formed out of nothing on Katuk’s armor, the silver giving way to a glowing, white dome. White light, crackling with sparks, burst outward, hitting Arete, turning his fungus body to a piece of human-shaped ash, and charring his head.

Katuk didn’t just shoot him. He annihilated him, leaving ash and a shattered, blackened skull.

I turned to look at Katuk and he answered my unspoken question, “It seemed like a good first step.”

Cassie turned around, pointing her gun at the figures behind us, all of whom had frozen, “You beat me to it. Mr. Sparkles was disappointed. Do you think they’re dead?”

I shook my head, “There’s no way we could be that lucky. My bet is that they’re electing a new leader or something.”

Over the Rocket suit’s PA, I said, “Hey Fungus Collective, assuming you’re listening, we’re willing to negotiate, we weren’t willing to negotiate with him. The first deal you offered us was one we could consider. That worked out better for everyone including you.”

Next to me, Haley, watched the frozen… humonsters (for lack of a better name) as if they could attack at any time.

I checked the body or abandoned avatar I’d thought of as “the boy.” It didn’t move or show any sign of moving. I considered asking Daniel how it was going but didn’t bother. He could do without the interruption.

Except… Daniel thought back and not just to me—to everybody, I’ve had to do it differently than I expected. They can block direct prescience, so I’ve had to think sideways. There’s a mound across and to the left of the pool. We need to get Alex there. That won’t be it, but that’s the start—

Interrupting Daniel’s thought, all of the humonsters started to talk as one voice even if it was at different pitches.

“Did you think you destroyed me?” Even at different pitches, I recognized the voice as Arete’s, “Did you think you could make the Collective reject me? I’m part of it and we are one—as you will be. Now, serve me!”

As strange as it sounded from many mouths, the command became stranger as it took on the tones I recognized from hearing Julie, Kals, and various people we’d met in space use them.

Produced from a choir, the noise overwhelmed the sound of my buzzer. I could hear it, but only a little, and for the first time since I’d perfected the design, I could feel pressure to obey.

7 thoughts on “Courtesy: Part 49”

  1. Well, I managed to get this one up on time, more or less—with only 5% of battery life remaining on my iPad as I finished.

    That, of course, means that as I’m trying to post will be the moment that my cat appears, blocking my view of the screen and trying to get me to pet him.

    Top Web Fiction

  2. At closest approach Mars is about 5 light minutes from Earth. The Mars-Sun Lagrange points will be about the same for L1 & L2 (just a couple million km difference; 7 light seconds) and L3-5 will be exactly the same. They’re never within 3 light minutes. When they’re on opposite sides of the Sun they’re about 21-22 light minutes apart, and obviously radio waves will need to take a longer route when the Sun’s in the way.

    1. To be clear, that longer route shouldn’t exceed 30 light minutes if you have radio relays at the Earth – Sun L4 & L5, and given that Earthlings are flying spaceships around I can’t see how they wouldn’t.

  3. Crazy to think this all started with the one guy who’s name I can’t remember didn’t lost control if the fungus despite multiple warnings and now has resulted in the deaths of hundreds maybe even thousands of people through fungus assimilation even if the fungus people aren’t dead it can’t be nice to go from one feeble human mind to massive fungus hivemind

      1. There was a web serial (title had Citadel in it, I think??) in which one of the Heroes could produce microbes and overdid things a bit trying to take down a high strength, high regeneration villain that was killing everyone. Pumped him full of so many extremely deadly diseases that when he finally dropped, his remains caused a deadly multi-plague that wiped out thousands of civilians. She was stripped of her Hero status and forbidden from ever using her powers again on threat of execution.

        1. Citadel seems right. That would fit.

          I don’t know if you’ve ever read any books in The Rook Files series by David O’Malley, but a fair number of characters are referenced in the third book with powers that cause more problems than they’re worth.

          For what it’s worth, I recommend the series highly.

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