Mister Darrus leaned over the railing, watching the asteroids as they grew smaller and began to arc away from his field of vision. The rest of the audience was moving from the seating while excitedly talking about the race, the crazy fan who’d just leaped onto a moving asteroid, and their predictions for which of the newcomers would qualify for the races. Soon, only Mister Darrus continued looking over the railing.
Mister Reese returned from the concession stand and leaned over the railing as well. He handed Darrus the pretzel that he said he’d get, and the two began quietly eating. Midway through his corn dog, Reese sighed.
“The shangmere who jumped onto the race course?”
“It was Nectra, wasn’t it.”
“Shame about that. I got the fried apricots she likes.”
“Sorry. I looked away for a second.”
“She shouted something about the signal moving really quickly, though. I don’t think she was trying to get away from us.”
“No. I think she’s doing her job.”
“Oh, that’s good then.”
Reese resumed eating. Darrus continued staring into the void of space.
“There really isn’t anything we can do until that asteroid gets back here at the end of the race, is there?”
“No, no there isn’t.”
“Mind if I have some of those apricot things?”
“Sure. Go for it.”
Zack stared into the face of the shangmere. She was standing still, staring at him with her giant eyes and a smile that was designed for ripping soft things apart, things like juicy fruits or human arms. The shadows in the asteroid’s cave and the leering, draculesque smile made it very hard for Zack to not see the resemblance to bats. He swallowed and sorted through all the motions it would take to reach one of the guns in his coat under his blanket.
“Hey to you, too,” she finally said.
“Hiiii,” said Zack, slowly scanning the cave behind her, measuring the distance to the nearest curve leading out to the asteroid’s surface.
“Heeeeey,” she responded. “This is awkward. Um… Right. Hi. So… you’re Zack Gamma?”
“No I’m not.”
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure,” said Zack.
“I’ve got a tracking device that says otherwise,” said the shangmere, reaching into a pouch that hung from her waist. She removed a small contraption that glowed with a sickly green light.
“Does your device measure… Zackiness?”
She blinked twice, a visually notable display with eyes like hers, and then started laughing. A genuine laugh that unnerved Zack just by being natural.
“That’s funny. It might be better to say that it measures… Gamma waves?”
“Because you’re Zack Gamma.”
“No I’m not.”
“I’m sorry, but you are,” she said. “There’s only so many people who’ve come into contact with Virellium, and that’s what this measures. It’s a small enough number that once I remove the Pyrhian variances it’s usually easy to track the exact history of every individual who’s touched it.”
“Yeah, they tip the scale sometimes. It’s a different kind of energy, but my detector picks up on it. There may be more to the old stories about Xol than we think, am I right?”
“Ye-es?” said Zack, stretching the word out to a second and even third syllable somehow. He’d successfully moved the hand behind his popcorn bowl beneath the blanket, and was hoping that he could reach the gun while this conversation was still merely awkward.
“Anyway, once I lock out the signals from the Pyrhians I can find all the people who’ve come into contact with Virellium. For just humans, that gives me twelve possible people in range, and eleven of them were known factors. If all the other humans aren’t Zack Gamma… then you are!”
She nodded eagerly. Zack frowned.
“Aren’t you supposed to say that more ominously?”
“The thing about me being Zack Gamma, you’re talking like you’re excited, not like you’ve cornered me.”
“I am excited,” she said. “I worked it out. Just one of life’s little brain teasers, and I had fun cracking it. How I feel about it doesn’t change the fact that you’re Zack Gamma.”
“Lady, you’ve got the wrong guy,” he said. “And I’ve never come into contact with Virellium in my life.”
“Oh, but you have,” she said, inching forward. “I can prove it.”
“With this,” she said, twirling the staff in her hand. “Don’t be scared. Virellium energy sticks around. And if I’ve finally found someone who’s come into contact with it, your energy should be enough to activate this for the first time in ages!”
Before Zack could reach for the gun, she pushed her staff forward and bopped him on the forehead. Zack’s head was pushed back an inch, leaving him more surprised than wounded.
“Hey!” he said.
“Shh! Watch it.”
She twirled the staff again, and Zack noticed a faint glow that moved along the metalwork. It had appeared to use simple workmanship before, but the designs of metal in the wood seemed to become livelier as they filled with a green glow. The light ran up the length of the staff, seeming to come from the place where Zack had touched it, swiftly moving to the opposite end. Then, at the top of the staff, the light emerged from within it. A pane of green and blue and violet and red shimmering light came out of the side of staff, continuing the workmanship in a single, arcing path. As the light finished, Zack recognized the familiar shape of a scythe’s curved blade, a scythe of Virellium Force Energy, suitable for reaping any harvest.
“Only eleven people to rule out, Zack,” said the bat person, the light of her staff making her already unsettling face more ominous. It cast a horrible shadow on the walls of the cave behind her, making her seem even taller and more spindly than she was. “You’re number twelve. I don’t like saying this, but it’s time for you to die.”