“I’m so sorry about this, Wyatt. This could have been a triumph, a down-to-Vestral triumph, but now we’ve lost so many good Starsapiens, and all for what?”
“For an insignificant mission,” said Wyatt in his darkest tone, almost a growling one, and his eyes flicked up at Xavier. “A thoughtless, frivolous, shallow, insignificant mission.”
Xavier, sitting diagonally across from him in a chair with a sloped back, made a relaxed spin of his hand as if to whip up the air. “No, we learned M67 isn’t worth pursuing. It has its purpose. One more item for SPACE Union to cross off its checklist.”
Wyatt shut his eyes. “Moments ago you saw how few of them returned, how spiritless they looked. You don’t think you could’ve learned everything by sending drones?”
“Our drones aren’t fit for traversing onto a Grimhet-infected planet. Web is still designing goop-proof armor that’s light enough for the drones to — ”
“Xavier, you normally do well with placating people, playing the mediator. It’s how you convinced SPACE Union to let you direct Web’s funds into Project Super Nex, how you promoted the virus when Starsapiens were most skeptical of it.” With a sigh Wyatt gripped the armrests, hoisted himself out of his chair, and scanned the 3-D models of world circuits hung from the lobby’s glittering ceiling. “But this time, at this time and place, after everything I’ve seen, what could’ve happened to . . . I don’t have the slightest desire to eat your cotton candy.”
Xavier stood up, gesturing his hands up and down at Wyatt. “As upset as you are, you know in your heart that the only way to make progress against Grimhet is to make progress. If you sign up for more missions and fight Grimhets throughout Cosmotic, you’ll inspire our fellow venturers to think outside the universe — ”
“I have to go, excuse me.” Wyatt walked past Xavier, crossing the lobby to reach Cooper and Sidney, who had emerged from the elevator. “How are you doing, guys?”
Sidney, reaching for a reddish-purple bruise on her hand, said, “As well as we — ”
“We feel dumpy, how ’bout that?”
She shot Cooper a sideways look, but Wyatt gave him a serious nod. “Honesty’s good. Because we have no reason to pretend to be lighthearted about these senseless . . . things.”
“Durrell, when you’re lighthearted, you walk around with the light in your head, letting yourself wander, be overly-carefree. When you’re optimistic, you hold out the light in front of yourself and focus on breaking up the darkness ahead. Do you see the difference?”
Wyatt did nothing but blink at her, his mouth flat. Cooper tilted over to Sidney and loudly whispered, “Gee, Sid, I think he wants y’off the soapbox.”
“Of course he does,” Penelope interjected, having come out of the elevator with Gene and Corbin moments earlier. “He hates listening to that crap when he’s grumpy.”
“No, Mr. Durrell, you should accept her perspective,” said Gene, motioning to Sidney.
Corbin agreed, “Yes, it isn’t useful to sit down and brood. We have to keep fighting.”
“That’s what I will do, but without SPACE Union’s interference.”
All at the same time Sidney cocked her head, twirled a wisp of hair that had fallen over her ear, and fidgeted with the thing bulging under her blouse. Today she was wearing one with the phrase Oh, is that so??? printed in messy purple lettering. Cooper, on the other hand, wore a shirt with Catastrophic Gladiators! in silver-edged, golden type arched above a cartoonish gladiator wielding two hammers, an elk head molded into his iron breastplate. The face in the thick helmet seemed to have borrowed Cooper’s lopsided grin, kiddish eyes, and leathery skin.
“Is that you, you’re the gladiator?” Wyatt asked.
“Completes!” Cooper clasped his hands behind his head and puffed out his chest, making Penelope roll her eyes, Sidney chuckle and smirk, and Corbin and Gene shake their heads.
“That game is the most moronic thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Penny, I could whoosh through the cosmos, and you’d call that moronic.”
“Pardon,” said Gene, plucking at the hairs behind his ear, “but why is Xavier regarding us with furtive stares while speaking into his phone?”
Wyatt didn’t look back. “Pulling strings, most likely, to sign us up for another mission.”
“By the by, may I inquire about the latest update on Project Super Nex?” Corbin asked.
“It’s not good news.” Wyatt swiveled, and the others followed his pace across the lobby, nodding to Xavier and saying hi along the way. “SPACE Union is rushing to retrieve as many of the trial participants as possible, but it doesn’t change the fact that some have gone missing.”
Penelope stepped in front of Wyatt, hands on her hips, nostrils flaring. “Say that again.”
“Some of the participants have gone missing.”
After Wyatt walked around her, Gene sniffed, “If you harness the infamous Super Nex energy, you cannot possibly ‘go missing.’ You would leave a strong signature — ”
“That’s the thing. Their signatures are everywhere. Xavier said Foxer’s baffled, that he’s ordering all his operatives to track down the participants, against the views of his Advisors.”
Corbin said, “It would be logical to believe Grimhet abducted them.”
Cooper made a snort. “Why? They got the virus in their goopy feelers.”
“Because they love rubbing this crap in our faces,” Penelope growled.
Still fidgeting with the bulge under her blouse, Sidney asked, “What about the antiviral?”
“It’s nowhere close to being finished,” Wyatt answered, speeding up his walk.
The exit led from the lobby to the garage, filled with mobulars belonging to employees of Bicap’s satellite station. When Wyatt asked what the others would do for the rest of the day, Gene motioned a hand between himself and his brother, replying, “Our time will be occupied by a Cerebral conference to canvass our experimental SATOWPs with other technologists.”
Sidney tilted her head sharply at the brothers. “Sat-ow-pes?”
Gene lifted his chin. “Satellite Auxiliary Transmissions for OtherWorldly Protocols.”
Corbin lifted his chin, not as much as his brother. “It’s our interpretation of the outmoded system SPACE Union built for their once-active pursuit of alternate dimensions.”
Gene took his brother’s hand and rose it over their heads. “Our aspirations are alpine!”
The others stared at them, hesitating to say anything that could dim the twinkle in their eyes. Then Cooper said, “You’ve gotta change the name, Little T’s. Lovin’ the main idea, though.”
Sidney added, “Yeah, SATOWP makes me think of those Setow terrorists.”
Wyatt started, “What if you start with ‘Transmissions’, so it’s T, O, W, and then — ”
“No! SATOWP! A flurry of galvanization struck my brother and me on that sunrise, that splendiferous sunrise, and we laid out the core for our design, and the acronym is part of the core, so do not naysay our intelligence!”
Everyone stared at Gene, his face pale, eyes almost twinkling to the point of craziness, fist shaking in the air. Then Corbin wrapped an arm around him and said, “Perhaps it’s time for us to make our leave. Have a good day, Starsapiens. Take caution, please.”
After Corbin pivoted around with Gene and shuffled him through the garage, Penelope clucked her tongue and muttered, “Always the conferences.” She turned to the others and said, “Marsden wants to consult with me for Warbearer files, pronto. I’d rather work with germs.”
Wyatt raised his eyebrows. “Why does she want to consult with you?”
“Didn’t say why. But when she called me, there was her voice, her trademark voice, her hardboiled voice that might as well say, ‘I need your help, so hand over your balls.'”
“Ooh, still kowtowin’ t’her?”
“Roosevelt, zip, zip, zip the lips.”
Wyatt said, “What about you, Sidney? What’ll you do?”
“You don’t want to know,” she said, chortling behind closed lips.
His brow furrowed warily at her. “Okay, then.” He turned to Cooper. “You?”
“Cleaned off my plate, the meats and fruits and nuts. I’ll plop down a slice of strawberry pie to wrap it up. An’ we’re turnin’ to your day. Do ya wanna — ”
“Let me guess, he’ll go to Octoberry Trails to clear his mind of these nuisances.”
“Actually, Penelope, I was thinking of Flordubul,” Wyatt said.
“I knew it, you’re so predictable. Do we have to remind you of a little thing that happened when you wanted to clear your mind a couple days ago? It’s called ‘The Super Nex Infection’!”
“Ha ha, nobody calls it that,” Cooper said.
“Look, I can handle myself.” Wyatt held up his hands, making them glow with energy.
“Wait, the green dumbbell? Claw me, too many orbits since I stashed there last!” Cooper thumped Wyatt’s shoulder, flashing a crooked grin. “Hey, is it okay if I ride along wi’ya?”
“Well, I was — ” Wyatt closed his mouth, regarding the boyish eagerness in Cooper’s wide eyes. “Um, it’s okay.”
“Oh Teö, the two of you together? Here’s a tip: don’t bump into any Grimhets.”
“They’ll be okay, Penny!” Sidney turned to Wyatt and Cooper, pinning them with a sudden, no-nonsense look. “She’s also right, don’t bump into any Grimhets.”
”I still can’t believe them, jet-boot man! They’re cray-cray! Oh crappers, I quoted Sid.”
“When does Sidney ever say ‘cray-cray’?”
“I don’ know, whenev’ she feels cray-cray.” Cooper made a snickering sigh, swatting away some yovir-lined branches swaying over his head. The yovir were flowers in this part of Flordubul — Foris Garlen Bhendill, or Foris for short — with ivory lines zigzagging over their almost-transparent petals, sweet-smelling enough to attract a fair amount of yellow luxmoths with mottles of white and light gray.
“And I’m rollin’ over a tiny thought,” Cooper said, finishing his grumbles about Sidney and Penelope’s lack of trust that he and Wyatt can stay safe, “ya know, about the whole Rad-Bio break-in. How’d the pulps do that? What happened to the spiffy security?”
Wyatt bit his lower lip. “I wish I knew. There were the anti-oil ducts — they weren’t closed — which made it easier for vortexes to open. Nothing else was out of the ordinary.”
“Did someone mess with the system? Ya know, a double-agent?”
“Grimhet only consists of Gargant and his beasts, and none of them are intelligent.”
“Whoo, man, might wanna rethink lobbin’ garl cloves at them. Gargant did recharge Torchen when he was Overseer all those years and years ago. And the beasts bow to him — ”
“Gargant isn’t intelligent,” Wyatt stated. “He made many selfish and irrational decisions during his life, and when SPACE Union finally caught up to him, he received his judgment.”
“Hey, don’t ever tell myst-seekers that. Freye’d especially be hurt — ”
“No, she may be Gargant’s descendant, but she isn’t blind to the truth. She’s aware — ”
Cooper clapped a hand over Wyatt’s mouth and made a loud shushing noise. He jabbed a finger at the air, indicating a cluster of willows. From somewhere behind there came the faint, Grimhet-type grunts and clacks. Then the willows melted and dissolved into goop and dust. Two Gorulies, a Rampa, and a Hagga emerged into the space.
”How d’ya do, pulps?” Cooper greeted, shooting a finger-pistol at them.
The Grimhets lunged aside to dodge Wyatt’s forcefield. Both Haggas were subsequently crushed into chunky masses of scales and ooze thanks to Cooper’s telekinetic hammer heads. He stomped on a Goruly’s foot, making it yowl, and then rammed it into a tree with his hammer heads. The other Goruly and the Rampa punched at Wyatt’s forcefield from either side, but his orbs repelled them into the shrubbery, where Cooper’s hammer heads finished them off.
Wyatt drew long breaths, flexed his fingers, and sat on a boulder nestled in the soil. “I’ll give them credit for the foresight,” he said, glimpsing up at Cooper’s ruddy complexion.
“Sid and Penny’d never let us live it down.” Holding both hammers in one hand, Cooper looped the thumb of his other hand under his sleeve and pulled it up to wipe his forehead.
Wyatt checked his monitor. The stat read 93. He looked up at the muted rustling on his right, and Cooper immediately swung his hammer heads that way. A Hagga’s tail popped up from the bushes and batted them back. They rebounded off Wyatt’s forcefield and clattered to the soil.
“C’mon!” Cooper yelled, knocking on the forcefield when the Hagga slowly slunk away.
Wyatt arched his eyebrows like he heard Cooper speak gibberish. “You wanna follow it?”
“Heck yeah! Why, you’re not the teeniest bit eager to go on the sly? C’mon, jet-boot man, we gotta go while my blood’s pumpin’, or else I’ll see how insane this is.”
Wyatt inched the forcefield forward. “If we do this, could you not call me jet-boot man?”
“Then your wish is granted.” Wyatt dissolved the forcefield and jumped into the bushes, Cooper right behind him. They followed the trail of snake scales and dust, dashed through a long tube of woven papuros stems that arched over a ravine, stopped to watch the Hagga slither up a forty-foot-high head carved out of a recess in a massive block of stone.
“Classic,” Cooper moaned as the Hagga wiggled into one of the triangular eyes, shedding a bunch of scales on the stone around it. “Classic for it to hide up there.”
“Torchen used to hold meetings here,” Wyatt said, tugging at his monitor, staring up at Geanthoff, the head that was sculpted with a wide grin as if hearing the funniest joke ever told. Some of the insignias on its face resembled the decagram — a rune made from two squares and an obtuse triangle superimposed over each other. Others looked more like coins engraved with strings of fire or winged orbs with slitted eyes and sagging frowns. A pair of pierced ears stuck out from each side of the head. A statuette-sized humanoid body was molded underneath its neck. Six smaller heads encircled the sculpture, embedded into the burnt umber rock platform.
“What’s ya gut tellin’ ya, Wy?”
The smoke trailing out of Geanthoff’s eye thickened, making Wyatt tug at his monitor again. “My head is telling me to avoid entering that thing. We don’t know what Torchen stores in there or the security it set up.”
“But your gut, what’s your gut tellin’ ya?” Cooper rapped a fist against his own belly.
“My gut . . . it isn’t telling me anything. I don’t normally depend on that kind of urge.”
“Oh, jet-boo — uh, Wyatt, you’re missin’ out on the good stuff.” Cooper turned away from Wyatt to make a face, then turned back and whirled a finger around his stomach. “Your gut’s smarter than your brain. But you gotta draw the line between your gut and your cold sweats.”
“Well, we keep talking about it, it’s making my curiosity brew.” Wyatt built jet-boots for himself and Cooper so they could fly up into Geanthoff’s eye, narrowing their own eyes against the mist blowing into their faces. Wyatt held out his glowing hands to light up the passage, flying into the downhill path with Cooper for half a minute before their heads poked out of the wide opening. They had a clear view of the conveyers belts, crates, computers, balconies, stairways, walkways, and mechanical arms. People and animals from Torchen lore were painted all over the walls, some of them more vividly preserved than others. The largest one was a twenty-foot-tall painting of a man with black- and gray-patched hair framing his young face, smiling as if pleased about whatever his clasped hands were holding beneath his pointed chin.
“Huh, they set up another heavy base?” Cooper asked as Wyatt ripped the lid off a crate and reached in his left hand for the bundles of gray-filigreed, multi-lensed magnifying glasses.
“Lugen, I think these things are called. Torchen probers use them to investigate — ”
“Hey!” Cooper yanked Wyatt back by his arms. Even then, the tip of Wyatt’s forefinger brushed past one of the lugen, sending an ache into his wrist. He rubbed it and fiddled with the monitor as Cooper scolded, “Do not reach into stuff like that! Including creepy, Grimhetized, occultish stuff!”
“You told to follow my instincts, and they told me to reach in — ”
“I told ya to follow your gut, not let cursed junk squeeze your brain.” Cooper jerked away when one of the lugen zipped out of the crate and onto Wyatt’s palm. “Gotta pry it off!”
“It stings,” Wyatt said, wincing. He stole a glance at the gray blotch in the lugen’s upper lens. His free hand ripped it off his palm and tossed it into the crate. A sensation of dense aches and muted spikiness shot up his arm, very different from the surge of power when he gained his Super Nex abilities. His body emitted a shockwave that blasted Cooper into a machine. He thudded to the floor, grunting in pain.
Wyatt curved his quivering arm toward his stomach and wrapped his other arm around it as if to shield it from harm. The rush of power faded away before he outstretched his affected arm and flexed his fingers. A small spark of solid blueness burbled from his palm and dripped to the floor. A grayish-blue hairline of light shot up to the ceiling and spiraled into a vortex.
“Woohoo, who’s bustin’ the party?” Cooper said with his own style of macho sarcasm, standing up, stretching his arms, enlarging his hammers.
”I am glad to meet you again,” said a sickly sweet voice from inside the vortex. His lined hands extended from it first, followed by the rest of his seven-foot-tall body.
Wyatt held up his open hands and asked, “What are you doing here?”
Gargant floated downward until his feet touched the ground. His head bulges and his facial wrinkles were not as pronounced as usual. He gestured an arm around the room, eyes drifting upward as he quietly asked, “Can you feel the might of Torchen’s history all around you?”
“You’re a nagger, ya know that? Ya gnaw away at us, nothin’ but a big pain in the ass.”
“I have arrived to discuss matters with Wyatt again, not you.” Bulges swelling, wrinkles deepening, Gargant clenched his hand to cut off the vortex above him, then thrust an arm to fire narrow twirls of smoke at Cooper. He sped off in a zigzag, and Wyatt’s forcefield absorbed some of the smoke, but one of them exploded into the stalky legs of a tall canister. It toppled over with metallic groans and made Cooper lunge to the side, into the path of another twirl.
“Cooper!” Wyatt yelled when the smoke surrounded his body, vanishing with a buzz that the clattering and rumbling of the fallen canister drowned out.
“I moved him to the woodlands outside.” Gargant levitated closer to Wyatt and projected a whirlwind of dust to trap him. He tried to split the dust apart by projecting his own energy from the interior. Gargant went on to say, “The Drakoline were once extinct, yet you met them earlier today. It opens your mind, learning how the Super Nex energy meshes with us and allows us to open new gates. I never experienced this freedom during my Torchen years, during all the time I wasted on such an improvident civilization. There’s no need for you to waste your own youth in the same manner. If you were to join Grimhet, you could absorb — ”
”I refuse to join you.”
“You are simply viewing your circumstances in a shortsighted manner, Wyatt. I lured you here so that you could witness the powers from our latest version of the virus.”
”What are you talking about? What latest version?”
“They manifested in the vortex you opened for me. Normally, your capabilities wouldn’t extend to such lengths. Unfortunately, you’re not appreciating the energy.” His smirk fell when Wyatt’s forcefield shattered his whirlwind. This allowed him to start flying upward with his jet-boots. But Gargant ejected a thick line of dust and lashed him to the floor by his ankles. While he struggled against the smoke that was encircling him, Gargant’s smirk returned. “If you will attend a gathering here at noon tomorrow and delve into Grimhet, my generous donation — ”
Wyatt’s forcefield, which finally scattered the smoke from his body, rapidly expanded toward Gargant. This made him levitate sideways inside a spinning cube of smoke, which Wyatt boosted into with his forcefield. He funneled his Super Nex energy around Gargant, constricting him. During this distraction Wyatt fired orbs at the ceiling. While using a forcefield to block the falling rocks, he glimpsed down at an amber key on the ooze-stained floor. He pocketed it without another thought and flew up into the new tunnel. His continuous stream of orbs carved it out until beams of light shone through an opening up top. He zoomed into the sky a split-second later, arcing forward to fly over the forest.
Gargant flew out next and snared Wyatt’s ankle with a lasso of solidified dust, almost flipping him backward. When he started to pull him backward inch by inch, grunting in effort, Wyatt built a long sword and sliced off the rope. He twisted around in midair and flung the sword at Gargant, who ejected a burst of dust to dissolve it. However, Wyatt’s dense orb cluster blasted him into the forest below. An ashy cloud puffed up from his crash-landing.
Wyatt took one breath before he flew away and scanned the forest, taking a minute to hear Cooper holler from below, “Wy! Wyatt, down here!”
Wyatt stopped and waited for Cooper to fly up to him with his jet-boots. “Are you okay?”
“I’m in the pink. Surprisingly. I mean, I thought Gargant would whisk me off to some wasteland. And you, you’re in good spirits?”
“Without a doubt.” Wyatt flicked a thumb against his other palm, making the skin flicker. “But Gargant claimed that the virus has been updated and I made contact with it, and he offered for me to join a gathering tomorrow. And I found a Gigalek key.”
“Whoo, lotsa news. Maybe we should scram before the ol’ rat ‘tacks us again.”
Along the flight back to their mobulars, Wyatt went into more detail about Gargant’s claims, concluding, “If they’re going to be inside Geanthoff, Web could send in operatives to infiltrate it.” He waited to call Xavier until he and Cooper landed.
“An infiltration,” Xavier said, after Wyatt laid out the situation for him. “This could be the right . . . Yes, this sounds like a good idea. In fact, could you come over to the Foundation? And Cooper Roosevelt, is he still with you?” When Wyatt said yes, Xavier asked, “Does he have time to join you? Let’s break this down in person — ”
Wyatt held his phone away and asked Cooper, “Do you want to come with me — ”
Cooper flashed a thumbs-up. “Yeppers.”
“We’ll be there,” Wyatt said into his phone. “See you, Xavier.” He hung up and turned to Cooper. “Unless you overheard him, you don’t even know where we’re going.”
“Naw, I’m tossin’ my socks today.”
“I could have asked you to go with me anywhere, could I?”
A lopsided grin, albeit a small one, sneaked onto Cooper’s face. “Yeppers.”
It was Xavier who pressed Foxer to give permission for Web Foundation to be rebuilt as a satellite station orbiting Alidiska Maj, after an army of Anarkos protestors destroyed the original Foundation. Xavier wanted an up-close way to study the planet and its fragment, Alidiska Min, which had split off decades ago and settled into its own orbit. The satellite used a navigational system to shift around the fragment, never colliding with it. Alidiska Maj looked like a dismal ball of grayness dotted with lightning storms of neon greens and purples. More of the lightning split up the spiky mountain chains and dormant volcanoes on Alidiska Min.
After they parked their mobulars in the garage and started their walk to the Foundation ahead, Cooper commented to Wyatt, “M67’s much more fun to look at than that Maj blob.”
Wyatt craned his head up, peering out the clear vividome covering the satellite. Nothing was stirring on Maj’s gray surface at this moment. Min, the arrow-shaped fragment, was on the side and would orbit behind Maj in a few hours. Wyatt shrugged and said, “We should take solace in that fact. Mundanity is a rare trait for anything Grimhet-related.”
Wyatt and Cooper passed a few sectors of translucent white storage depots before they arrived at Web Foundation in the central space. Thousands of rectangular and squarish blocks were stacked into a fifty-foot-wide base with twenty-four broad arches supporting the rim, comprising the first three floors. Then the blocks rose to a conical tower, veins of silver running thick and thin all the way up to the flared top. Five dragonfly drones circled up there, buzzing their two-foot wings, watching everything around the Foundation.
Xavier met them in the lobby and led them to the third floor. Right after he opened the door to his office and waved in the guests, a small flower with prickly petals floated past Wyatt and made him sneeze into his elbow. “Many favors!” Xavier and Cooper said at the same time.
“Thank you,” Wyatt said in a tight voice, clearing his throat and sniffing.
“I’m sorry, my aeroflorae are more high-spirited today,” Xavier said, handing Wyatt a small napkin. “Here, wipe this antiallergenic over your eyes and nose.”
Cooper tapped one of the many other aeroflorae, a wooden egg sprouting fine branches off the bottom, as it bobbed through the air. Dull clicks echoed from the egg, making Cooper tilt back and shake his head. “Rarely see people growin’ these plants anymore.”
“Yes, Mr. Roosevelt, it truly is a shame how little appreciation Starsapiens have for them, such peaceful plants. They’re some of the most tranquil beings in all of Cosmotic! I know I’m being immodest, but they deserve it, especially the paxe sprouts I started feeding last week.”
While Xavier chattered on about his aeroflorae, he sailed around his office and sprayed them with liquified vitamins. Finally Wyatt held up his hand and said, “Xavier, we do need to talk about Geanthoff. You wanted our advice on the infiltration.”
Xavier’s eyes darted sideways at Wyatt. “I did, didn’t I?” He put down the spray bottle and hurried to his desk, where he typed a password into the holographic keyboard and opened a screen with Marsden’s face on it. “Overseer, they’re ready for you!”
“Are you telling the truth?” she asked, looking directly at Wyatt and Cooper.
Wyatt began, “Xavier, why is she — ”
“I’m speaking to the two of you. Are you telling the truth about Geanthoff?”
Wyatt and Cooper glanced at Xavier in confusion, but he made an energetic wave of his hand, encouraging Wyatt to say, “This gathering, it could very well be a trap.”
“It could be. However, you and the other agents are qualified for the infiltration. The other Overseers and I are unanimous on the matter.”
Cooper’s eyes bugged out. “Us an’ . . . the others?”
Xavier said, “Overseer Foxer did initially hesitate to lend us his operative.”
Flicking the hammers on his belt, Cooper tilted over to Wyatt and said out the corner of his mouth, “‘How late’d we get to the movie theater?”
”Then it’s decided,” Marsden declared, her head turning away from Xavier in the screen, regarding Wyatt and Cooper again with her red eyes. “The six of you will infiltrate Geanthoff at noon tomorrow. Collect intel on everything. Do not take mercy on those monsters.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to you — ” Xavier stopped when the screen shut off. He made a little Huh! and swiveled in his chair, waving an arm at Wyatt and Cooper. “She wanted Penelope to partner up with Sidney at first, but I convinced her the rest of the agents would play — ”
“Who else did you sign up, and why didn’t you ask us for permission?”
Xavier pushed his foot into the floor, moving his chair back from Wyatt’s intensity. “Um, you two will meet me here, tomorrow morning, and so will Sidney and Penelope and the Thistle brothers. As Marsden told you, all the Overseers are in agreement — ”
“What the heck, Wiley? Didn’t feel like givin’ us a kind little heads-up?”
“You would have said no, and I knew that would have been the wrong decision for you to make. Think about it, we’re not putting an entire army at risk, we’re focusing on a small team, the six of you, good people who’ll do a good job with this infil. Talking Foxer into letting Sidney join you was hard. On the other hand Marsden’s eager to send in Penelope, quite eager.”
Pressing his lips together, running a hand through his hair, Wyatt waited a bit to say, “Sly, Xavier. Backing us into a corner like this. You got what you wanted.” He jammed a hand into his coat. “Here, you’re getting even more than you asked for.” He tossed two Gigalek keys at Xavier.
“Two more keys?” Xavier gazed at them in his palms. “From Geanthoff?”
“One of them. A Grimhet in Gnomivy had the other one, during the survey.”
Cooper said, “Gah, can you tell me what good these wacky keys do?”
“I’m sure everyone would like to know the answer to your question,” Xavier responded, slipping the items into the hip pocket of his trousers. “Of course, that includes me.”
After Xavier walked them out of the Foundation, said goodbye, and left them on the entrance ramp, Cooper asked Wyatt, “When’d you meet Gargy?” Wyatt started to shake his head and furrow his eyebrows, but Cooper said, “I heard him. ‘I have arrived to discuss matters with Wyatt again, not you.’ And he poofed me outta the chamber.”
“He came to my house. Tried convincing me to not go to M67.”
A trumpet of laughter burst out of Cooper. “Gargy’s a weirdo, huh?” He thumped Wyatt’s back, almost pushing him over. “A tyrant with an oilsack for a heart, but a weirdo.”
“Yeah,” Wyatt said in a low voice, breathing in, tapping his monitor to check the health stat. It flashed 96. Wyatt breathed out.
”I hope you are putting thought into these plans, Naazang. All this Gigalek you somehow obtain from Web’s reserves, the Geanthoff gathering — ”
“Everything has been calculated,” Naazang interjected, calmly staring at Gargant across the dining table. He forked a slice of slimy meat into his mouth and slowly chewed on it.
“You always say that,” Gargant growled, sawing through his own hunk of slimy meat.
“Only because it is the truth, the infallibility of truth. You will realize that after the events unfold.” Naazang dabbed at his lips with a gray-stained napkin, tossed it onto his plate, and rose from his chair. “Sleep well, Gargant.” Then he strode out of the dining room, leaving Gargant alone.
“I’m so sorry about this, Wyatt. This could have been a triumph, a down-to-Vestral triumph, but now we’ve lost so many good Starsapiens, and all for what?”