Mike stared at the man who had introduced himself as the Angmari deserter Tyler Marius. "I don't know what you're trying to pull . . ." he began before an invisible force shoved him back a step.
Tyler Marius winked at him. "This is no scam, friend. It is an opportunity that many would kill for. Invite your friends over to hear my offer."
Mike's brow hunched down over hard eyes.
"Never mind," the Angmari said, "they are coming on their own."
Varanelli marched straight at Spencer. "What are you doing over here?" Regretting the necessity of stepping in to defend someone he hated, Mike took a step to put himself between the women. Then he realized Varanelli had stopped moving forward and wore a perplexed expression. "What the . . . ."
The man waved at her. "Hello, friend. Allow me to re-introduce myself. I'm Tyler Marius: Angmari traitor and your would-be tutor in the three talents. Would you care to have a drink on me while I give my recruitment spiel? If you aren't interested at the conclusion, you are under no obligation to join. Though I can't see why you wouldn't want to get in on the ground floor of the movement I'm starting."
Varanelli pointed to her legs. "Are you doing this to me?"
"You are as intelligent as you are beautiful," Tyler Marius proclaimed. "Should I purchase a round of drinks before we begin?"
"I do not want what beer is on offer," Srinivas said.
"I'm not drinking tonight," Jimmy said.
Tyler Marius pointed to the rest of them in turn. Varanelli and Smith both refused. Spencer and Sergeant Pain accepted. Mike hesitated for a second, reluctant to make the same choice as the two people he liked least in the group, before remembering that no one had come to his party to buy him drinks. "I drink fast, so get me two."
"Well, friend, it is your party."
As Tyler Marius went to the bar, Varanelli smacked Mike on the arm. "Is he what he claims to be?"
"You know as much as I do," he said.
"This does not seem like a likely thing, with Angmari fleet being reclusive," Srinivas said. "And why come to Pittsburgh for recruiting?"
Mike frowned. "Uh, you came to Pittsburgh."
"Not the same thing."
Jimmy cleared his throat. "Look, Mike, I don't think I want to stick around for this. I've got that fight coming up."
"That's cool. I get it. Thanks for coming out for me, Jimmy."
The wiry black man got three steps towards the door before sliding back towards the group as if being pushed by an immense, invisible hand. Everyone turned to look at Tyler Marius, whose back was turned to them as he handed cash to the bartender. Jimmy whistled. "Got to say I'm impressed."
Tyler Marius returned to them with four beers floating alongside him. The bartender came over to join them, squinting around as if looking for a hidden camera somewhere.
"Thank you all for your attention," the man began. "As I previously mentioned, I am . . . was . . . a member of the Angmari fleet. I jumped ship a few days back. And yes, that expression should be interpreted literally. I exited a spaceship in orbit and flew down to the surface. Sans spacesuit. I imagine this revelation gives rise to two questions. First, how did I accomplish such a thing without dying? That will be addressed shortly. Second, and far more pressing, why did I do such a thing?"
Tyler Marius smiled around at them. "Any guesses? No? Well, I had a disagreement with fleet leadership concerning our long term strategy. They want to bottleneck access to space and the talents so that they can control the shape of the society to come. It's actually not a terrible idea by itself. Awakening people randomly can lead to a lot of unnecesary conflict and strife. However, there are time constraints that fleet leadership refuses to take into account. An enemy fleet is maybe a decade behind us. We need to prepare this world to defend itself. Which is why I came down to recruit an Army.
"Now, a dutiful citizen of the world would volunteer out of an obligation to protect this beautiful planet. I'm not naive enough to expect anyone to actually do that. So to sweeten the deal, let me detail how I survived my fall to Earth." Tyler Marius held his hand palm up to catch the salt shaker that shot up from the table. "Talent number one is known by the name kinetics. It is quite simply imparting motion to matter. Easy enough to understand, unless you are a physicist. So I didn't crash into the ground because I controlled my descent with my kinetic talent. But that does not explain how I survived the lack of atmosphere in space or the radiation exposure. I had to use a second talent, which we call teleotics. This is the ability to tip probability towards certain physical configurations. For example, if I don't want to be cut by glass, then I simply harden my skin with the template of unbroken cellular walls and the bonds between lipids become unbreakable." He lifted the top half of the salt shaker free of its bottom, revealing a jagged edge which, upon contact with his palm, produced no damage. "The third talent we call noetics. It provides some mental abilities.
"Master these talents and you might as well be a god in comparison to the men and women around you. Capable of flight, impervious to bullets, immune to disease, effortlessly brilliant. Who wouldn't want to take my deal and become a powerful protector of this beautiful world?" Tyler Marius clapped his hands together. "Now, who among you is interested in this once in a lifetime opportunity? The best chance you will ever have to change your fortune for the better. To become someone of consequence." His penetrating eyes panned over his audience. "So who wants a taste of true power? I can temporarily charge you up with precursor to let you play around with the talents."
"I want it," Specialist Spencer said.
Mike's jaw tightened as Tyler Marius stood close to Spencer, pausing there until the woman's mouth opened in a shocked O.
The bartender responded next. "Give me this taste of power."
Smith walked forward eagerly to claim his turn. Then Sergeant Pain insisted he had to go next. Srinivas hesitated briefly when Tyler Marius glanced his way, then shrugged and stepped forward.
"I have a question," Jimmy said.
"Ask away, friend."
"Will this have any negative impact on my mind or body? I have a fight coming up."
Tyler Marius blinked. "A fight? I'm not sure I follow you."
"A mixed martial arts match."
"Ah, I think I understand. Fighting for entertainment purposes was illegal in Angmar, but other countries would have pugialistic contests. Taking a charge of precursor will in no way hamper your ability to perform as an athlete." The smug smile grew on the man's face. "If you trained a little with me, you could attune yourself and become unstoppable in your matches."
Jimmy eyed the Angmari man briefly before nodding. "Juice me up, then."
Like everyone before him, Jimmy startled into an expression of surprised awe when he received Tyler Marius's gift.
Varanelli glanced to Mike before holding out her hand, mouthing can't hurt, right?
And then he was the only one present who hadn't accepted a charge. Mike let the moment stretch, then chugged the remainder of his second beer. "Sure, what the hell."
No sooner had he consented than something exploded into existence within his mind, a gloriously potent ball of superheated liquid metal that simultaneously exerted contradictory forces upon him. It felt like it wanted to inflate him like a balloon until he popped, but also gave off the vibe that it could just as easily freeze him into immobility. It wanted to be active, to do something, yet he had no idea how to anything more than marvel at the raw power kindled to life within him.
Mike became aware that he looked just as gobsmacked as everyone else had upon their introduction to the precursors.
Tyler Marius laughed. "So, who wants to join?"
"I'm in." It took Mike a moment to realize the words had come from his mouth. He nodded to himself and said it once more, this time with conscious intent. "I'm in."