Courtesy: Part 50

It would have been over right there if it had never occurred to us that someday we might be exposed to a Dominator and be without a buzzer.

The bad news, of course, was that we hadn’t had access to Kals or anyone with Dominator training. We did have Julie, but unlike the Dominators in the Human Ascendancy or serving the Nine, she hadn’t been taught from childhood. She’d picked up what she could by experimentation and what the teachers in the  Stapledon program knew the Dominators could do.

Still, it was something—enough to practice with.

All Arete’s minions had said was, “Serve me.”

The great thing about that statement was that it wasn’t an actionable command. If he’d said, “Serve me dinner,” it would have been specific. “Serve me” was abstract.

You could almost completely ignore that.

We’d done one better than that in our preparation. The Nine had trigger commands. We’d built in a few ourselves, all of them around the theme of, “If you’re being commanded to do something, pretend to comply and watch for your shot.”

It wasn’t perfect. Kals would have come up with something better and a skilled Dominator could probably work around it if they knew it existed. Well, maybe. We’d supplemented Julie’s commands with Amy’s magic and modifications to our telepathic blocks.

We could only hope that Arete wasn’t skilled enough to handle it.

My major worry was that Kals didn’t know about it (unless Julie told her) and that not everyone involved in this fight had access to it.

I could solve part of that. Fighting my need to comply, I told my implant to send Kals my memories of the system’s design. I wasn’t rebelling against his commands. I followed Julie’s commands and got Kals the information she needed to know.

Meanwhile, the situation had kept on moving.

None of us had attacked the humonster choir and Izzy asked, “How do we serve you?”

Hopefully, that meant that she was following our implanted commands instead of Arete’s.

Kals sent back a reply through her implant, It’s crude, but not bad.

Through the humonsters, Arete said, “Bow.”

Except for Amy, we all bowed. Not wanting to make myself immobile, I bowed from the waist up and noticed that everyone else was too.

The humonsters started laughing, all of them with a wheezing, dry laugh that made me think that their equivalent of lungs either didn’t quite work right or was completely different in design.

“Hold still,” Arete said through his proxies. “No one moves until I tell you to.”

Feeling the words wash over me along with a need to obey, I kept my mind on Julie’s command, “… pretend to comply and watch for your shot…” I felt my anxiety go up in the face of possible conflicting commands, but I reminded myself that this was the one I wanted to follow.

A group of humonsters stepped forward, throwing me down and Haley with me.

They didn’t get anywhere near Amy. The red accents on her armor glowed brighter and she held the Bloodspear at the ready.

One of the humonsters stopped in front of her, but out of direct reach of her spear, for all the good that would do. “I can feel you,” it said, its high-pitched voice a strange combination with Arete’s baritone.

The humonster’s voice rang with compulsion, “You’re on the edges of our mind. Join us.”

Amy responded, but not with her voice. Much like Arete, she responded with a choir of voices, but not in the same way. Though the sonar only showed the presence of one person standing there, I could see multiple faces and bodies, all of them in the same armor and holding the Bloodspear. All of them talked at once. I couldn’t hear Amy’s voice within the crowd.

“We will not join you, fungus creature. We were created to slay monsters and will slay you from the inside if we must.”

Then she stared at the closest one, spear at the ready.

Arete said nothing for a few seconds—which I hoped meant that the Fungus Collective was rethinking its support of his ideas. I knew better when he continued to speak. If someone who was born yesterday was supposed to be naive and innocent of how the world works, the Fungus Collective had been born less than an hour ago and spent most of it fighting us.

The humonster, its teeth flashing in the bioluminescent glow around us said, “You’re alone. You’re the only one we can’t command. You’ll join us or you’ll fight all of your friends first. Heroes’ League destroy her.”

Tara talked slowly as if fighting Arete’s commands, “We’re coming too. They’re letting us in.”

I checked their cameras as I pushed myself up. The group outside was walking into the circle, trailed by the Prime clones they’d been keeping under control and National Guardsmen in power armor. Behind them came Prime, former Mayor Bouman, Yellow Mask, Logan, and Justice Fist. They must have been caught on their way here.

Haley had already flipped to her feet, but neither she nor anyone else was hurrying to attack. That gave me hope that we were all still on the same side.

As we all began to circle Amy, Daniel spoke in everyone’s heads, Alex needs to wither a mound across the circle from us. It’s in the second ring.

4 thoughts on “Courtesy: Part 50”

  1. Ah, the good old “But I have a previous order” defense. I remember it was a thing Nick and Daniel used against Bouman when he first tried his tricks. I think Nick broke Bouman’s nose.

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