Courtesy: Part 64

I thought back to the fight in the playground with the initial version of the mushroom zombies, trying to remember what Hunter had said that he’d done.

In that same moment, I had a flashback to talking to my grandfather in this space, gathering my thoughts to explain the logic of the design decisions I’d made. Knowing that Guardian had interned with the Heroes’ League at one point, he’d probably had the same sort of conversations except about tactics instead of design decisions.


Shaking off that memory, I said, “I’d have to output memories from my implant to prove it, but I get the impression it wasn’t entirely Hunter’s fault. On the one hand, yes, Hunter created self-repairing and evolving creatures with his power that could have destroyed the human race without testing what would happen if he released them, but also, Major Justice seemed to be involved in pushing him to do it.

“Arete on Major Justice’s team was a Dominator. Bullet and others in the Coffeeshop Illuminati were influenced by the Nine. From what I can tell, there are a bunch of old-guard supers on the edges of things that probably need to be checked for Dominator influence. In any case, it looks to me as if the Nine were trying for something embarrassing. I doubt they were trying to destroy humanity, but they may not have anticipated how far Hunter’s creations would mutate in the short time they existed.”

Guardian nodded and then he said, “You’ve got a Xiniti implant? So do I. Package up the relevant memories and send them to me.”

“Oh,” I said and accessed my implant. It confirmed that another member of the Xiniti nation sat on the stool next to mine. It made sense that he would be, but if he were, wouldn’t the entire original team have received them after they fought the Abominators?

That was a question for another time.

I started finding the relevant memories in the implant’s storage, including not only what Hunter had said about creating them to evolve, how Major Justice had told him where to release them, and the history Marcus found in our implants. The Abominators had given some of their human servants the ability to recreate alien creatures. It wasn’t unreasonable to think that Hunter had that power set.

If true, I couldn’t blame him for it.

I sent the ball of memories to Guardian along with references to the history Marcus mentioned.

Guardian’s eyes lost focus and he stared into nowhere, absorbing the mass of information.

Then he shook his head as if shaking off the knowledge, “I wish this weren’t true. When you’ve got something this big, people want a scapegoat. They don’t want to find out that random superheroes anywhere in the world might be able to do the same thing. It’s bad enough that he’s got the same powers as his mother. If we make a big deal of this, she’ll think we’re going after her and pull in her friends in the superhero community.”

What was I supposed to do with that? Should I be suggesting someone who could be blamed? Hunter needed help avoiding the Nine’s influence, but I couldn’t suggest more than that, “There’s Arete. If you want a scapegoat, he’ll do. He’s dead, so he won’t argue about it. The Nine aren’t going to show up to defend him. I’d bet that he doesn’t even have any known family members that will be hurt by association.”

Guardian grunted, “I hate this political shit. Arete will do, but we’re going to have to do it in a way that doesn’t make it obvious we know he was a Dominator. We’re going to have to disassemble Major Justice’s team, blame it on trauma, injuries, or something from this incident, and see if we can’t purge the Nine’s influence from them. Meanwhile, we’ll paint Arete as a power-hungry manipulator whose backroom politicking compromised the team’s effectiveness. It’s close enough to the truth.”

He frowned, “I don’t know what we do with the Coffeeshop Illuminati. I think we can get them deprogrammed if we do it one by one, but we can’t disassemble the team. They aren’t a Defender unit. They have their own funding sources separate from ours. I may be able to persuade Bullet to make them unofficially inactive for a month. That might be enough time. They’re better for photo ops than fighting anyway. I doubt anyone will miss them.”

Guardian stopped talking and sighed, “Don’t tell anyone I said that. I don’t need to make this worse. There have always been divisions in our community. Right now it’s impossible to tell the real ones from disagreements the Nine manufactured and we don’t need one more.”

A knock came from the doorway. Amy stood there in her normal form—not as Bloodmaiden. You’d never guess the short, red-haired woman in jeans and a t-shirt was an heir to an alternate universe British Empire, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need to talk to Nick privately.”

Guardian turned and nodded, ”I was done anyway. I’ll go.”

A silver line washed across his body and he disappeared. I hoped that I’d be able to say goodbye to Kals before he sent her home, but I supposed that leading a revolt against the Human Ascendancy might not allow her the time.

Shutting the door behind her, Amy said, “I got word from the North American Wizard’s Council. Ruthie Shaw told them to let us know that she’s getting together the original leaders of the Cabal. They’re willing to help us find Magnus.”

It felt like I’d last thought about her months ago, but images of meeting Ruthie in her house flashed into my mind. She’d seemed more like an irritable grandmother than an immortal, but we’d glimpsed a little bit behind the mask.

“Then I guess we’ll have to meet with her.”

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