Courtesy: Part 54

At that moment, I heard a noise or more accurately many small taps and thumps. A quick look around me explained it. The humonsters were back. They’d scrambled over the mounds on either side and came down in front of us, behind us, and to the sides of us lying on top of the mounds.

I’d last seen roughly 25 of them scrambling for cover among the mounds, but here there were 50, maybe more.

They opened their mouths and shouted, “Don’t move!”

Thanks to my HUD, I could see that the volume was more than twice what they’d done earlier. It rolled over the sound of my buzzer like it didn’t exist.

I could feel the command take hold and I couldn’t move—for a second. Even as I went to plan B, activating bots and readying them for firing with my implant, I felt warmth and the beat of someone’s heart (probably Amy’s) as a red glow burst out of me.

At the same time, similar glows burst out of Amy, Daniel, Alex, and Jenny (all of her), freeing all of them. Kals and Katuk hadn’t trained with us and didn’t have our triggers, but Kals was fine, making some a sound with her mouth.

As for Katuk, my implant threw up an alarm, showing him as controlled. I’d known that Xiniti had been affected by Dominators in the past, but not as easily as humans.

Remembering how small a percentage of the Human Ascendancy’s population seemed to be Dominators, it wouldn’t have surprised me if the Xiniti simply never had to deal with that many Dominators at once. Still, at that moment, I wasn’t doing too much speculation about the reason, I had another problem.

Our failsafe allowed us to retreat or try for a Hail Mary before going comatose and this wasn’t a situation where we could retreat.

I started firing off boombots at the humonsters around us, trying not to get too close to us. I was getting low, but there wasn’t any point in saving them for a later date.

Even as the first two bots streaked away, one heading for the humonsters ahead of us and the other for the ones behind me, Daniel lifted Alex and began to move him over Amy, Kals, and the group of Jennys toward the glowing, strangely intricate mound.

Showing that between whatever was left of Arete and the Fungus Collective someone was paying attention to our defenses, the humonsters shouted, “Do nothing,” at a volume that matched what they’d managed before. Alex fell on top of the Jennys—none of whom disappeared. That was bad because Jenny’s trigger was supposed to discorporate any affected copies so she could send more in.

This meant that the command had penetrated deep enough that it affected her, all of her. Alex wasn’t moving either and neither were Amy or Daniel.

The only spark of hope I had was that Kals hadn’t stood there when Alex fell, she’d dodged out of his way.

I say all that as if everything was fine with me. It wasn’t that simple. I hadn’t gone unscathed by the humonsters’ attack. Their command cut into my mind as effectively as the first one had, triggering my second failsafe—which wasn’t exactly like everyone else’s.

Instead of going comatose, mine triggered an ability I’d been working on with Kee, having mentioned the Dominators to her. Her comment had been, “We can’t let them control you. The potential consequences are catastrophic.”

She’d taught me how to use the energies available to me as a proto-Artificer to project enough of my consciousness outside my body to be unaffected by Dominator vocal attacks, cleansing my physical body of their effects. I’d constantly run energy through myself in a much more sustainable way than I’d been able to in the past.

Assuring me that, “It’s a great exercise for a being at your level of development,” she’d also added, “but don’t do it for too long unless you have no choice. And don’t pull too much power in. Sip it. Pull in too much and you’ll exhaust yourself like you did the first time.”

Why shouldn’t I use it except briefly? Why not trot it out the second I’m aware there are Dominators in the area? The constant problem with using Artificer abilities—the possibility of attracting the attention of other Artificers, specifically the Destroy faction which would end the world. Even worse, knowing now that Lee hid one of their weapons here, I might also arm the Destroy faction with a weapon that could end the Live faction’s chance to teach other sentient races enough for them to be able to fight back.

In short, you could make a reasonable case for the idea that even saving my own life might not be worth the risk of using it.

Unfortunately for the universe, I valued my family and friends’ lives enough that I was willing to take that risk.

So, when Arete’s minions shouted their command, I let the trigger put my mind into contact with all of myself, drawing on power I still didn’t fully understand, letting the coolness of it flow into me and through me. On the edges of my consciousness, I felt the “Artificer Superhighway,” a place that allowed faster-than-light communication between the universe’s elder races.

I kept my consciousness out of it and kept on firing off boombots, targeting humonsters. I needed to come up with something I could make work with just Kals and I.

Maybe she could pull Alex or Amy out of their stupor.

6 thoughts on “Courtesy: Part 54”

  1. Maybe it was mentioned earlier, but couldn’t Nick just start playing some very loud music to drown all the hostile voice commands while the team communicated over comms, implants, texts and/or hand signals?

    1. They are all wearing helmets. Just use noise cancelling for outside sources and they’d be fine. They could still be on the League coms together, they’d just be deaf to anything happening in the world.

      And even that could be be helped to some degree, like marking sound sources on their HUDs, perhaps with a speech-to-text module that shows them subtitles.

      I’m a bit disappointed with Nick here that he didn’t come up with better countermeasures earlier.

      1. Well, I think the point is that he did come up with counter measures built into their helmets. He just never considered the idea that a Dominator would be able to produce enough sound to overwhelm those counter measures, let alone the idea of dozens of Dominators yelling commands in perfect sync.

        Hg

  2. “…before going comatose and (this) wasn’t a situation…” Seems to be missing a “this”.

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