Project Super Nex, Chapter Five: The Wariness of Wyatt

“What in the universe?”
Wyatt had finished a SPACE Union news article moments ago, slurping the last of the wheatfowl rice broth he ordered through Hot Beans, drumming his spoon on the takeout box. He rapped a fist on the granite countertop, scooted off the kitchen stool, tossed the spoon in the sink and the box in the recycling bin, and sat on an armchair in the living room.
He dialed up Xavier and waited through a two-minute ad about how Web will soon protect Cosmotic with a thorough data-gathering program. The first thing he said when Xavier answered was, “Did you know about this article pre-publication?”
“No, Wyatt, and let me tell you how sorry I am about this. The Advisors are occasionally guilty of flaming people they dislike, although much less than Warbearer. Still, when Parthos wrote this article, he didn’t warn any of us. Advisor Birnlee of Network Linking has been working hard over the past couple hours to erase it from SPACE Union’s database.”
“But why did Advisor Parthos post this article in the first place?”
Xavier quietly groaned. “Well, you know about his criticism of Project Super Nex. He
hasn’t stated his motives yet, and I will personally ask him, but for now I can only guess that he wants to divide the public’s opinion of the virus.”
Wyatt’s fingers drummed the back of his phone. “But we defeated those Grimhets.”
“Exactly. You’re showing evidence that the virus works, that SPACE Union will win if they have thousands of soldiers with your powers. This is what Parthos latched onto, making people think that we’ve presented false hopes for years, that the Ovsecuu battle is the latest one, that it could be a promotional stunt. He was always the conspiracy theorist. Foxer put him on probation. Speaking of which, the Overseer wanted me to tell you that he needs to speak you in person. So does Olympus. Both meetings on neutral ground — Alphacos Pillar.”
“Alphacos is the universal capital of SPACE Union. How is that neutral?”
Xavier made a hesitant noise. “They might mean neutral for their Intentions.”
Wyatt massaged his tight neck. “When do they wanna talk?”
“Whenever you’re free, sometime today. The twenty-second floor.”
“Tell them I’ll be there in an hour.”
After they said goodbye, Wyatt spent a minute staring out the window at the green rays of light that cut up the clouds more thickly than last night. Then he changed out of his T-shirt and boxers, looking nice in his plain gray shirt, a casual jacket, and pants. The repair shop in his neighborhood also called to tell him that his mobular was fixed, so he picked it up. It was in perfect condition, a low Toyen four-seater with headlights running around the oval-rimmed front grille, and he drove it to the crossmob station for a trip to the planet of Bicap.
When he descended into Prutte — a city on the side of the planet opposite Steurap, Rad-Bio’s birthplace — snowflakes were breaking off the clouds and skimming through the air, rebounding off skyscrapers and crossbuses, circling mobulars. Boxy buildings floated in the sky on maglev platforms, tethered to nearby structures by translucent power cables.
Along the avenue on which Wyatt was driving to the center of the city, flags and banners with emblems for the six Intentions of SPACE Union fluttered from balconies and windowsills. There was the tigon facing you with its full mane, orangish-yellow and black stripes, and its front right paw raised with bared claws for Warbearer; the arisberry-sprig-tied scroll for Cerebral; the bronze clock that Bridger wore as a collar pin for Quantax; the alkún, a lime green-plumaged kingfisher with a shaggy, shiny blue crest, for Halcyonic; black-purple flames spiraling out of a gray blob for Torchen; and a long telescope reflecting a silver dragonfly in its lens for Web.
Then there was Alphacos Pillar, a skyscraper of artistically meshed steel and glass that stood 800 stories high in the center of Prutte, capped by a sleek belfry with fifty carillons playing a lush melody at the top of every hour. Four strings of pale greenish-red light looped around the spire, each one turning to a different side for a day and then flipping the other way the next day. When Wyatt parked his mobular and strode up to Alphacos, the wind picked up, jingling bells on the sidewalk benches, dotting snowflakes on all surfaces like warm white freckles. Embossed into the entrance archway in bold letters was Alphacos Pillar, the Capital of our long-lived SPACE (Starsapien Peace Advancement for Celestial Entities) Union.
Wyatt strode down a ten-foot-wide, fourteen-foot-tall hallway with three statues on either side to represent the six Originators, the founders and first Overseers of SPACE Union. They were sculpted so exquisitely that it wouldn’t have been too surprising if they stepped off their plinths one day and turned into reincarnations of the legends. Past the hall, in the oblong lobby, the walls were designed to look like they were stacked out of cubes jutting out at varying lengths, looking like the Intention emblems from a distance. Loops of light like the ones up on the belfry rotated from the conical ceiling, reflecting millions of glimmers like a chandelier.
Wyatt took the elevator up twenty-two floors to a small antechamber. Books with ruffled leather covers and tablets with polished touchscreens filled the shelves in the walls. A set of shiny steel columns with olive branches twining around the metal and sculderture bases guarded the doorway, similar to Cerebral Foundation’s entrance. He flashed his Rad-Bio ID badge at a computer monitor, which lit up with two circles and slid open the door for him.
He stood there for a moment to take in the pure, scientific pursuits bustling through the laboratory. One Cerebral researcher compiled a list of written reports and photos on her tablet. A second entered digits to complete an algorithm that calculated asteroids’ paths around Cosmotic’s world circuits. A third stood on one of the maglev platforms twelve feet overhead and thumbed through a crackly green encyclopedia.
As Wyatt drank in the sight of the hardworking researchers, Xavier called out, “Wyatt!” He jogged up to the lab tech, nimbly weaving his large frame past workstations. “The professor isn’t here yet, but Overseer Foxer is waiting for you in there.”
Wyatt followed Xavier’s arm-sweep to an ajar door on the lab’s other side. “Thanks. How is Rad-Bio doing so far?”
“We’ll talk later, he’s getting impatient for you.” Xavier motioned to the door again.
Wyatt crossed the lab, craning his head at a laugh of a uniquely bright lilt. Sidney was chatting with Cooper at the railing of a maglev platform. Her eyes flicked down at Wyatt, and she beamed. “Good morning, Durrell!”
Cooper whipped his head around, shaking his head, blinking funny like his eyes went blurry. “Hey, jet-boot man!”
Wyatt slowed down his walk. “Hey, you guys. I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Why would you? Unless you’re tracking us. It’s effortless to do that these days.”
“Heh heh, Sid, you’re the one who love, love, loves tailin’ people.”
Wyatt started walking fast again. “I have to go meet Foxer. But if — ”
“Of course, don’t let us hold you up,” Sidney interrupted.
Cooper added, “We might be here when ya come out!”
Wyatt saluted at them before he knocked on the ajar door. It silently swung open. Foxer was standing there, one arm hung at his side, the other extended to hold the doorknob. He was in the robes he wore at the Super Nex demonstration, but the collar was pulled over the lower half of his tan face and a sash was tied around his waist to cover his daggers.
“You wanted to see me, Overseer,” Wyatt said in his most even tone.
Foxer nodded, closed the door behind Wyatt, and walked back to a white ottoman with silver trimming. When he sat, Wyatt glanced around the bare cubbyhole and sat on the other ottoman. Set up on the low table between them were two squat glasses and a small bottle with a dusty Dinisis label; the vintage was 2399. Foxer twisted off the cap with a crack, poured himself a glass, and gestured the bottle to Wyatt.
“No.”
“Good,” Foxer said tersely, a chill seeming to gust through his collar and swirl around the room. He replaced the cap, pulled his collar down, and sipped his glass. After swallowing, his eyes wandered to the side and he said, “You are comfortable with your newfound abilities.”
“Why wouldn’t I be? I know what they are. I’ve observed them for years. It’s not as if I was in a freak accident and gained completely alien abilities, or as if this is exhilarating for me.”
Without his head moving, Foxer’s eyes shot at Wyatt. “Observation and animation are two different things.” When Wyatt shook his head, Foxer leaned forward. “You recorded various details about the trial participants and how they controlled Super Nex. You studied the virus’s composition. You did your homework. Now, you are a participant. You can’t observe yourself.”
Wyatt’s eyebrows tightened. “I don’t understand where this is going.”
“You can’t execute your energy while analyzing it from a distance. You need as much time as the others to familiarize yourself with Super Nex. You could pose a danger — ”
“Did you know about Parthos’s article?”
Foxer sipped the Dinisis again. “Without him, we would not be laying this matter on the table. In the end his article is a wholly beneficial action.”
“The last thing we need is people slamming us with things like ‘Why are you letting this guy run around with Super Nex energy?’ or ‘He’s Grimhet’s next target, stay away from him.'”
“If you are concerned about the Starsapien viewpoint, you will enlist yourself in a shelter program. You will be trained in the same manner as the other participants.”
“I’m following a lead on Grimhet. I don’t have time to be sheltered.”
“Even though Starsapiens fear you? Some may even be in awe of you.”
Wyatt let out a bitter little laugh. “I can’t believe you’re speaking of our society as if we’re still living in the Reverence!” He quickly stood up from the ottoman. “I’m no different from the trial participants. I trust that the majority of Starsapiens are able to see that.”
When Wyatt turned for the door, Foxer said, “You still need to speak with the professor.”
“Have a good day, Overseer.” Wyatt didn’t look back as he let himself out.
On his way to the maglev platform where Sidney and Cooper were still talking, Xavier walked alongside him, holding a cloth sack printed wth colorful flower bulbs. “How did the meeting go?” He frowned when Wyatt shrugged. “That bad?”
“He advised me to go to this shelter, learn how to control my energy. It puzzles me that he’s not forcing me to go there.”
“The Advisors held a vote about the issue. Four to two in your favor.” Xavier spun his hand in the air when Wyatt looked at him. “I voted for you, obviously. The professor’s waiting up there.” They stopped at a set of maglev slabs reaching up to the platform like a flight of stairs. “Again, I’m sorry about the article — ”
“You don’t have to apologize. It’ll blow over.” Wyatt climbed the stairs, and Xavier ambled away, holding up the flower-printed sack to his nose for a sniff.
Wyatt passed more workstations, including one where a researcher was poking a wire at a circuit chip covered in a quantum dot grid, on his way to Sidney and Cooper. “Hey, I can’t stay for long, I’m about to meet Olympus, but I wanted to say hi again.”
Sidney tittered. “It’ll be great if you stay the next time you pass us.”
Cooper said, “Always chug-chug-chuggin’ along, aren’t ya?”
“I would say so, yes,” Wyatt dryly replied, leaving them humored as he made his way toward Olympus. She was watching a researcher peer into a microscope and manipulate the ooze-blotched plates under the lenses.
When she saw Wyatt, she told the researcher to note the discolorations and that she would be back soon, then strode up to Wyatt. “You met with Owen?”
“Yes, he said — Am I able to relay the meeting?”
“He filled me in on the topic.” Olympus guided him to an empty corner of the platform, a breathing space away from the rest of the active lab. The only thing here was a yellowed paper framed on the wall, scrawled with hundreds of cramped symbols.
“Do you mind if I ask you . . . what you think of, of my position?”
Olympus’s head turned a little, her long nose pointed directly at the door to Foxer’s cubbyhole; he had not left yet. “I told Owen not to make you anxious. He had to let — ” She reached into her pocket to click off her buzzing phone, then turned back to Wyatt, sympathy in her eyes. “Admittedly, we’re opinionated about what approach is best for this matter. He wants to lock you up until Rad-Bio comes up with an antiviral. I, on the other hand, want you to show your abilities to the universe, show the cynics that they can have faith in Super Nex.”
Wyatt smiled as if bearing the pain of bee stings in his cheeks, which was paired with the ridge in his brow. “I appreciate your support, but you’re saying I have to concern myself — ”
“Because you do. That’s the one thing Owen and I agree on. Like it or not, you live in one hut out of billions in the broad forest, not in the highest seclusion of an ivory tower. People will talk about you — they are talking about you — and you have to respond diplomatically. You have to show them you’re considerate of their worries.”
“Isn’t that the responsibility of SPACE Union?”
“Normally, yes. But this situation is far from normal. And that’s why I want you” — she drew her phone and tapped something on the screen — “to enlist yourself for this.” She handed him the phone, which had a map titled Journey 56876: Infest. A dense asteroid belt encircled a world circuit of grayish-brown planets.
“Doesn’t Grimhet have a base here?” Wyatt inquired, double-tapping the screen to zoom in on one of the planets. “Torchen debated the matter last year against Warbearer.”
“The crimsons won, predictably, and they’re signing up as many people as possible to invade M67.” Olympus swiped the screen, and a hologram of the desolate planet popped up between her and Wyatt, slowly rotating on a tilted axis. The wrinkles of mountain chains and valleys covered its grayish-white terrain. The thickest valley curved across the face in a frown. A beard of brown clouds swirled below the triple chin.
“Did they solve that problem with the graviton asteroids?” asked Wyatt.
“Janus and his Advisors are using artificial negamatter to fuel antigravity shielding for the Journeyers, the spaceships we’ll be sending. They won’t emit gravity waves, therefore remaining undetectable to the asteroids. The rest of the path goes straight to M67.” She took her phone back and swiped the screen. The hologram didn’t disappear. She swiped it again and again. The bright call of a trumpet resounded from the phone. Researchers were looking over with curiosity and irritation at the disturbance.
“‘Plum Prose,'” Wyatt commented after Olympus shut off the song and the hologram. “My mom said she sang it a lot while pregnant with me.”
“Studies do show that Colking Nathan’s songs are unusually relaxing to fetuses,” said Olympus, rechecking the map on her phone. “Mr. Durrell, if you were to join Journey: Infest, not only do we have a high chance of obliterating Grimhet on M67, you would reassure Starsapiens that Project Super Nex will live on. Reading about your fight in Parthos’s article reassured me.”
Wyatt involuntarily glimpsed down at his left hand, which was turning up to display the cobalt dots in his palm, dimly glowing between the tiny scars. His eyes lifted back up to look at Olympus, and he slowly said, “Is it okay if I think about it?”
The hope in her eyes faded, and she said with some discomfort, “It’s tomorrow.”
“I have to think about it,” he told her more firmly, trooping around her in the direction of Sidney and Cooper, who had been joined by Penelope.
“You’re everywhere, Wyatt,” said Penelope, her bun shaking to and fro with her head.
Shaking the bangs out of his eyes, Cooper said, “Yeah, jet-boot man’s all over the place!”
“You know his name is Wyatt Durrell?” Sidney said, half-smiling with raised eyebrows.
“But ‘jet-boot man’ rolls out my flappers better than ‘Super Nex warrior’.”
Wyatt held back a smirk. There was even a sense of humor in their clothing. Printed on Cooper’s shirt, which had its sleeves ripped off at the shoulder, was a tigon sleeping in a cave, and hundreds of small, yellow-throated birds surrounded it. One of them had a speech balloon that read, We shall begin the Face Your Predator class. The salmon blouse under Sidney’s violet cardigan read, If you’re mad at me, go cry out your feelings at that club meeting on the corner of Suck My Sludge Street and Up Your Oil*hole Avenue. Penelope was dressed in the same kind of tunic shirt and pants she used for Rad-Bio, but they contrasted with her steel-toed combat boots.
“What did Foxer and Olympus have to say to you?” Penelope asked.
Wyatt paused, glancing back at Foxer’s cubbyhole, and then gave concise summaries of what the Overseers told him. Sidney spoke first after she, Cooper, and Penelope darted their eyes at each other and frowned. “We know how you’re feeling . . . since we’re also going to M67.”
Wyatt’s head moved back an inch like smoke was puffing in his face. “Really? Even — ”
“Even me,” Penelope cut off, crossing her arms. “Apparently, my field accomplishments are more than enough qualification. It looks like Warbearer’s getting desperate.”
“Heck yah!” Cooper bellowed, catching glares from researchers. “All the cubs Marsden’s postin’ ‘cross Cosmotic, worried ’bout Grimhet vortexes, but she’s only choppin’ the tail!”
Wyatt asked, “What do you mean? How many soldiers has she deployed?”
“70,388, last I checked.” Penelope’s voice sounded like two rocks pounding each other.
“I understand she wants to take precautions,” said Sidney, fiddling with something small bulging underneath the chest of her blouse, “but she has to place her attention on Journey: Infest. Almost eighty percent of the army consists of conscripted soldiers. Not enough crimson blood.”
Wyatt’s voice was hollow. “Eighty percent?”
Sidney nodded, bright eyes fighting the darkness clouding the rest of her face. “Including us, the zero-point-zero-zero-zero-one percent. That’s why we have to go at this with all we’ve got, to take down Grimhet and that wormy Gargant one more notch.”
Cooper wiped the sweat off his forehead. “Hoo-boy, don’t honk his name so loudly.”
“Why? Nobody from Torchen — ” Sidney stopped when Cooper pointed at two people in black uniforms with purple trimming and peaked shoulders. Glimmering amethysts shone all over their loosely-wrapped shawls, matching the color of the spirally motifs painted under their eyes. They had accepted packages from a Cerebral researcher, and they were looking at Sidney with nothing more than thoughtful gazes before swiveling away.
“Don’t concern yourself with them,” Wyatt told Sidney. “They know where he stands.”
“Jet-boot man, wanna ‘splain why Overseer Oly’s been staring at you for the past coupla minutes?” Cooper loudly whispered, eyes widening.
“Because she’s waiting for Wyatt to give her his answer!” Penelope tapped his head. “Think with your brain! No, clean off the sludge, then think with it.”
“I have to go, but I’ll be back,” Wyatt said, hurrying off to Olympus, who was watching the researcher at the microscope again. She looked up when he stated, “I’m in.”
“I knew you would make the right decision, Mr. Durrell.”
He stood there, waiting for her to say more. When she didn’t, he asked, “Uh, do I — ”
“You’ll receive an email with the pertinent information.” She stuck out a hand, and he hesitantly shook it. “Since the Crimson Commander isn’t here, I will be the one to say, ‘Claws over your flaws, wear your fur, gush your blood.'” She made a two-fingered claw and brought it sideways across her throat — an ancient Warbearer gesture, the Drossel slash.
“I will proudly do so,” Wyatt replied, copying the gesture.
By the time he doubled back across the platform, Sidney was by herself, checking her phone. “Look at this,” she said to Wyatt, showing him a short clip of a quill-tailed squirrel bouncing between arisberry shrubs.
Wyatt said flatly, “Oh. Another squirrel video.” Noticing how Sidney was scrunching up her face like she saw ooze dribbling out of his mouth, his voice rose to a range of awkward peppiness. “It’s a trend? It makes everyone happy? Look, that squirrel just picked off a bunch of berries?”
It was difficult for Sidney to talk through her breathless laughs, but she eventually got all the words out. “That is — the worst — voice of feigned — intrigue and — excite — ment I have — ever — ever heard!” She propped her elbow on the railing and put her head down in the crook to muffle her laughter, still holding the phone in her other hand.
Wyatt silently looked around, but no one was watching the unusual scene. Then he said, “Yes, I don’t care for squirrel videos. Why does that amuse you?”
Sidney stood up and took in a deep breath, laughing much more softly. “I don’t know why I find it amusing that you’re the only person I have met who dislikes these videos, but I do.”
Wyatt tried on a smile, but it fell fast. He lifted his left hand and pretended to itch his shoulder, but he did that only to watch the wisps float out of his fingertips. When he looked back at Sidney, who had watched his furtive movement with a burst of interest, he said, “I did it. Told her I’ll join the Journey. Will this be your first time?”
“If you’re asking about Journeys, yes. If you’re asking about general field action, no. I’ve been a Web operative since nine and a Halcyonic omniscire since twelve.”
“You work for two Intentions? Few people have the time or energy to do that these days.”
“Well, I had a lot of time and energy back then, so . . . But most of my time is spent on Web now.” Her eyes flickered to his hands, and her smile broadened. “You’ll be a huge help tomorrow. Show Grimhet they can’t mess with Super Nex! You know that’s true.”
Wyatt’s face was unmoving. “Sure.”
And just like that, her smile collapsed. “That’s not good enough. You have to picture it in your head. Picture the Journeyers landing on M67, all us soldiers destroying Grimhet, the whole Journey’s an unqualified success. Picture it, because that is what happened.”
“Sidney, I know what you’re doing, but we have to be realistic. We need to think — ”
“No, Mr. Durrell. Journey: Infect was a victory for us. You know that.”
“Yes, and I’d like to know just as much that Grimhet didn’t steal the virus.”
“It doesn’t matter. They can open one vortex or one hundred, but it doesn’t matter. Look at how the population of Octoberry Trails is adapting to things. You can be like them.”
Wyatt’s eyebrows arched several ways as he thought back to Marsden’s Octoberry Trails remark at the Gnomivy survey, which Penelope refused to clear up for him. He asked, “What happened there, on Octoberry Trails?”
“Oh, um . . .” Sidney covered her mouth with one hand, then pulled it down and looked at him with pained eyes. “You were at Gollinger Park as the vortex — ” She stopped with Wyatt’s sharp nod. “And vortexes opened in four other sectors. Eleven vortexes total. Web is enacting these data filters around the moon to restrict flow of the news, keep it contained.”
“Does that apply to you?”
“Operatives are licensed to reveal intel as they see fit, so no. You assumed Super Nex would make Grimhets run faster, get stronger, project solid energy constructions, right?”
Wyatt kneaded a fist into his tightening shoulder. “All those lovely superpowers.”
Sidney laughed quietly. “But instead they’re using the virus to poke open more vortexes, keep them stable for longer periods of time, release higher amounts of Grimhets.”
“And what about the people on Octoberry Trails who know about this?”
“They signed an SRGD.”
“Oh,” Wyatt said, ridges running through his brow.
She added, “A sub rosa Grimhet document. It submits them to a state of confidentiality and temporary monitoring.” She glimpsed at the cubbyhole door, and in a quiet voice that made her accent more conspicuous she said, “If my sources are correct, Halcyonic Overseer Tobet Barton is about to meet him here, somewhere in the Pillar.”
Wyatt bit his lip. Halcyonic was the Intention that studied the heavenly deities of Teönor, or the “azurexe plane” as Barton himself preferred to call it, and supported Cosmotic’s mosaic of religions. What possible reason could he have to meet Foxer, the Overseer of an intelligence-gathering Intention, in person?
Processing all this, Wyatt had to close his eyes. But he opened them almost immediately
when Sidney asked, “What is Cooper doing?”
Wyatt snapped up his head. Cooper was chatting up a Cerebral researcher with her braids dyed autumn orange and platinum blond. She held open a gold-lettered book in one hand and typed the passages on a computer monitor with the other hand.
“The last par’graph in that chapter’s a boom,” he said, resting an elbow on the edge of the workstation, planting his other hand on his hip. “‘Born from dusk, sink into dawn, straddle the string of gloaming and know the welcoming sheet of darkness and the breaking dot of light.'”
The Cerebral researcher did not take her eyes off the monitor. “What a crisp recitation.”
“Completes crisp, but silky words don’t flow to my brain box. Still love t’read them.”
Wyatt and Sidney watched his flirtation from afar until Penelope interrupted him with the bom-stomm, bom-stomm of her boots. Sidney winced as if Penelope had slapped Cooper. “He’s in for it,” she told Wyatt. “She doesn’t like him fooling around with that researcher.”
Wyatt asked, “Why’s that?”
Sidney’s mouth twisted sideways. “It’s not my story to tell.”
Watching Penelope wag a finger at Cooper and the researcher, Wyatt walked past Sidney and motioned to the stairs. “Maybe I should rest up for tomorrow.”
“That is a great idea.” Sidney drew her sweets case and popped a star-shaped tart of lime cream into her mouth. She held the case in Wyatt’s direction. “Want one?”
“No, thanks. See you tomorrow, Sidney.”
“See you, Durrell!”
Wyatt looked at the sweets again, then pivoted away and climbed down the stairs. He stole a glance at the cubbyhole door, which had not opened since his meeting with Foxer.
****
As Wyatt finished his dinner and a Universal Scientifics episode about how Nexbrug’s negamatter loops could become a fuel source in the near future, he lifted his head and smelled the air. The heavy odor of grease and smoke was succeeded by a crack of darkness splitting apart the center of the living room, warping everything towards itself. Wyatt’s hands glowed, but the thickening darkness sucked his wisps away. Then it collapsed and released the room from its grip, throwing Wyatt to the floor, leaving behind a tall figure of dignified grimness.
Wyatt stood up fast, even though he knocked his knee into the corner of a coffee table. “What do you — ” He looked at the deep wrinkles all over the face, the bulges of whites and grays on top of the head, the hyacinth pinned to the jacket. “Gargant.”
“Thank you, Wyatt. Aside from my former clan of alchemic venturers, few of your species recognize my appearance these days. Have you educated yourself on Grimhet?”
“My mom and dad helped me burn you in effigy when I was seven.”
Gargant’s grimace lifted up into the poor man’s smirk. “A mediocre shielding practice. Burning effigies only heightens my awareness of those blinkered cowards. I can visit anyone. I avoid doing so ordinarily. I’m making an exception for you.” Gargant motioned an open hand, and Wyatt stared at the deformed pinky and ring finger, twisted into spirals.
“Why do you want my powers? The virus doesn’t satisfy — ”
“I am not here to drain your energy, Wyatt. I am also not here to kill you or kidnap you.” Gargant took two solid steps toward Wyatt, who projected a forcefield to block him. This only made his grimace deepen. “You need to be warned about the Journey tomorrow. It isn’t worth your energy. Your army, no matter the tally, is doomed. You must preserve your soul.”
“You want to persuade me to not go tomorrow?” Wyatt shook his head, determination hardening his eyes. “Here’s what I think of that.” He pushed his hands into the forcefield, but at that moment Gargant pulled his arm far back and then thrust it forth with a yell, shattering the Super Nex energy with a clenched fist. A shockwave of black grease propelled Wyatt across the living room, splattering all over the furniture, the walls, and the floor.
Fury flashed in Gargant’s eyes as he watched Wyatt groan and get up. “Your eyes don’t glow cobalt,” he commented, cupping a hand over the blue bruises of Super Nex energy on his fist. “They remain goûldhäesel — golden-hazel.”
Breathing in, breathing out, Wyatt held up his hands, ready to attack. “Get out of my home, Gargant. You’re wasting your time.”
Gargant’s grimace broke into a jagged smile. “It is because of my Grimhets that you have been so fortunate to gain these powers in the first place. You must feel grateful.” Exhaling a light sigh, he took two steps back into the crack of darkness parting around him. “Use your energy wisely, Wyatt. The Journey will not be nearly as swift as you hope.”
The darkness sucked him in and warped the living room around itself. Wyatt had already put up a forcefield, though, so he wasn’t thrown to the floor again when the darkness collapsed.

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