Other civilizations do exist. Some seek to destroy you. UNITED AS ONE by Pittacus Lore is the epic conclusion to the thrilling, action-packed I Am Number Four book series. The Garde did not start this war, but they will do whatever it takes to end it once and for all…Read the first four chapters and find out what happens next when it’s available on June 28.
The girl stands on a rocky precipice, her toes curled over the edge. A dark chasm opens up in front of her, and a few pebbles dislodge beneath her feet and fall away, disappearing deep, deep down, into the shadows. Something used to be there, a tower or maybe a temple—the girl can’t remember exactly what. She stares down into the bottomless hole before her, and, somehow, she knows this place was once important. A safe place.
She wants to step back from the steep drop-off. It is dangerous, teetering here on the edge of nothingness. Yet she finds herself unable to move. Her feet are rooted to the spot. She feels the rocky ground shifting and crumbling beneath her feet. The pit before her is spreading. Soon, the edge she balances on will break and she’ll fall, swallowed up by the darkness.
Would that be so bad?
The girl’s head hurts. It’s a distant pain, almost like it’s happening to someone else. It’s a dull throb that starts at her forehead, wraps around her temples and down her jawline. She imagines her head like an egg that’s begun to crack, the breaks in the shell fanning out across the entire surface. She rubs her hands over her face and tries to focus.
She vaguely remembers being thrown down on the craggy ground. Over and over again, swung by her ankle with a force too powerful to resist, her head smashing and rattling on the unforgiving rocks. It’s like it happened to someone else, though. The memory, just like the pain, seems so far away.
In the darkness, there’s peace. She won’t have to remember the beating or the ensuing pain or what was lost when this bottomless pit was blasted into the earth. She’ll be able to let go, once and for all, if she just slides the rest of the way over the edge and falls.
Something pulls her back. A knowledge, deep inside herself, that she shouldn’t run from the pain. She should charge back towards it. She needs to keep fighting.
There’s a flicker of cobalt blue in the darkness below her, a solitary ember of light. Her heart flutters at the sight. It reminds her of what she fought to protect and why she’s so hurt. The light begins as just a pinprick, like she’s looking down at the night sky and its solitary star. Soon it expands and zooms upwards, a comet coming right for her. She wavers on the edge of the chasm.
And then he’s floating in front of her, aglow just like the last time she saw him. His curly black hair a perfect mess, his emerald-green eyes fixed on her—he is exactly how she remembers him. He smiles at her, that devil-may-care smile, and holds out a hand.
“It’s okay, Marina,” he says. “You don’t have to fight anymore.”
Her muscles relax at the sound of his voice. The darkness stretching out below her doesn’t seem so ominous anymore. She lets one of her feet dangle over the abyss. The pain inside her head seems even more diminished now. Further away.
“That’s right,” he says. “Come home with me.”
She nearly takes his hand. Something isn’t right, though. She looks away from his eyes, his smile, and sees the scar. A thick band of upraised purple tissue that wraps all the way around his neck. She jerks her hand back and nearly stumbles over the edge.
“This isn’t real!” she yells, finding her voice. She gets both her feet planted firmly on the rocky ground and pushes away from the darkness.
She watches as the curly-haired boy’s smile falters, turns into something cruel and mean, an expression she never saw on his actual face.
“If it isn’t real, why can’t you wake up?” he asks.
She doesn’t know. She’s stuck here, on the edge, in this place in-between with the dark-haired boy—she loved him once, but that’s not really him. It’s the man who put her here, who beat her so badly and then destroyed this place that she loved. And now he’s desecrating her memories. She locks eyes with him.
“Oh, I’m going to wake up, you bastard. And then I will come for you.”
His eyes flash, and he tries to put on an amused expression; but she can tell that he’s angry. His perverse trick didn’t work.
“It would’ve been peaceful, you little fool. You could’ve just slipped down into the darkness. I was offering you mercy.” He begins to recede into the chasm, leaving her alone in this place. His words float back to her. “Now all that awaits you is more pain.”
“So be it,” she says.
The one-eyed boy sits on his backside in his prison of pillows. He hugs himself—not by choice; his arms are secured inside a straitjacket. His one eye stares dully at the white walls, everything padded and soft. The door has no handle, no discernible way to escape. His nose itches, and he buries his face in his shoulder to scratch it.
When he looks up, there’s a shadow on the wall. Someone is standing behind him. The one-eyed boy flinches as two powerful hands set down on his shoulders and squeeze them gently. The deep voice is right in his ear.
“I could forgive you,” says the visitor. “Your failures, your insubordination. It was, in a way, my fault. I should not have sent you to these people to begin with. Asked you to infiltrate them. It’s only natural that you would develop certain . . . sympathies.”
“Beloved Leader,” says the one-eyed boy in a mocking singsong. He strains against the straitjacket. “You’ve come to save me.”
“That’s right,” the man says with a voice like a proud father, ignoring the boy’s sarcastic tone. “It could be like it was before. Like I always promised you. We could rule together. Look at what they’ve done to you, how they treat you. Someone with your power, and you let them lock you away like some kind of animal. . . .”
“I fell asleep, didn’t I?” asks the one-eyed boy flatly. “This is a dream.”
“Yes. But our reconciliation, that will be very real, my boy.” The strong hands fall away from his shoulders and begin to unbuckle the straitjacket. “It is a small thing I want in exchange. A demonstration of your loyalty. Simply tell me where I can find them. Where I can find you. My people—our people—will be there before you even wake up. They will set you free and restore your honor.”
The one-eyed boy doesn’t really listen to the man’s proposal. He feels the straitjacket begin to loosen as the buckles are unsnapped. He concentrates and remembers that this is a dream.
“You tossed me away like garbage,” he says. “Why me? Why now?”
“I’ve come to realize that was an error,” the man says through his teeth. It’s the first time the one-eyed boy has ever heard the man apologize. “You are my right hand. You are strong.”
The one-eyed boy snorts. He knows this is a lie. The man came because he thinks the boy is weak. He manipulates. Probes for weaknesses.
But this is just a dream. The one-eyed boy’s dream. That means his rules.
“What do you say?” the man asks, his breath hot against the one-eyed boy’s ear. “Where did they take you?”
“I don’t know,” the boy answers honestly. He doesn’t know where this padded cell is actually located. The others made sure he couldn’t see. “As for . . . what did you call it? Reconciliation? I have a counteroffer, old man.”
He imagines his favorite weapon, the needle-shaped blade that attaches to the inside of his wrist, and just like that it exists. He pops it, the deadly point punching through the fabric of the straitjacket, and swivels around to stab the blade right at the man’s heart.
But the man is already gone. The one-eyed boy grunts bitterly, disappointed at the lack of satisfaction. He takes a moment to stretch his arms. When he wakes up, he’ll be in this very same place, except his arms will be bound again. He doesn’t mind the padded cell. He’s comfortable, and there’s no one around to bother him. He could stay here for a little while, at least. Do some thinking. Pull himself together.
When he’s ready, though, the one-eyed boy will go ahead and let himself out.
The boy walks across a football field at the beginning of winter. The grass, brittle and brown, crunches beneath his feet. To his left and right, the metal bleachers are completely empty. The air smells like fire, and a gust of wind blows ash against the boy’s cheeks.
He looks at the scoreboard up ahead. The orange bulbs flicker and pop, like the electricity is coming and going.
Beyond the scoreboard, the boy can see the high school, or at least what’s left. The roof has collapsed, blown in by a missile. All the windows are shattered. There are a couple of mangled school desks on the field in front of him, all hurled this way by whatever force destroyed the school, their glossy plastic tops wedged into the ground like tombstones.
He can see it, on the horizon, hovering over the town. The warship. Like a muscular scarab made of cold gray metal, it prowls the skyline.
The boy feels nothing but resignation. He made some good memories in this place, at this school, in this town. He was happy here for a while, before everything went to hell. It doesn’t matter what happens to this place now.
He looks down and realizes that he’s holding a torn scrap from a yearbook in his hand. Her picture. Straight blond hair, perfect cheekbones, those blue eyes. A smile that’s like she’s inviting you in on some private joke. His stomach clenches at the sight of her, at the memory of what happened.
“It doesn’t have to be this way.”
The boy whips around at the sound of the voice—melodic and calming, totally out of place in this burned-out setting. A man walks across the football field towards him. He’s dressed unassumingly, a brown blazer over a sweater, some khaki pants and loafers. He could be a math teacher, except there’s something regal about his posture.
“Who are you?” the boy asks, alarmed.
The man stops a few yards away. He holds up his hands like he doesn’t want any trouble. “That’s my ship back there,” the man says calmly.
The boy clenches his fist. The man doesn’t look like the monster he caught a glimpse of in Mexico, but here, in the dream, he knows that it’s true.
So he charges forward. How many times has he run down this field, an opposing player in his sights? The thrill of sprinting across the dead grass lifts the boy’s spirits. He punches the man, hard, right in the jaw, and rams him with a shoulder tackle on the follow-through.
The man falls to the ground and lies there on his back. The boy looms over him, one fist still balled, the other clutching her picture.
He doesn’t know what to do now. He expected more of a fight.
“I deserved that,” the man says, staring up at the boy with watery eyes. “I know what happened to your friend, and I . . . I am so sorry.”
The boy takes a step back. “You . . . you killed her,” he says. “And you’re sorry?”
“That was never my intention!” the man says pleadingly. “It wasn’t me who put her in harm’s way. But all the same, I’m sorry she was hurt.”
“Killed,” the boy whispers. “Not hurt. Killed.”
“What you consider dead and what I consider dead . . . those are two very different things.”
Now the boy is listening. “What does that mean?”
“All this ugliness and pain, that’s only if we keep fighting. It’s not my way. It’s not what I want.” The man continues. “Did you ever stop to consider what I might want? That it might not be that bad?”
The man hasn’t tried to get up. The boy feels in control. He likes that. And that’s when he notices how the grass is changing. It’s coming back to life, emerald green spreading out from the man. In fact, it seems to the boy that even the sun is starting to shine a little brighter.
“I want our lives—all our lives—to get better. I want us to grow beyond these petty misunderstandings,” the man says. “I’m a scholar, first and foremost. I’ve spent my life studying the miracles of the universe. Surely, they’ve told you about me. Lies, mostly, but it is true that I have lived for centuries. What is death to a man like me? Merely a temporary inconvenience.”
Without realizing it, the boy has begun to nervously rub the scrap of paper he’s holding between his fingers. His thumb brushes across the girl’s jawline. The man smiles and nods at the torn piece of yearbook.
“Why . . . why would I trust you?” the grieving boy manages to ask.
“If we just stop fighting, if you listen for a while, you’ll see.” He sounds so sincere. “We’ll have peace. And you’ll have her back.”
“Have her back?” the boy asks, stunned, a surge of hope rising in his chest.
“I can restore her,” the man says. “The same power that brought your friend Ella back to life, it is now mine. I don’t want to fight anymore, my young friend. Let me bring her back. Let me show them all how I’ve changed.”
The boy glances down at the picture in his hand and finds that it has changed. It’s moving. The blond girl pounds her fists against the inside of the photograph like it’s a glass wall and she’s trapped behind it. The boy can read her lips. She’s pleading for his help.
The man holds out his hand. He wants the boy to help him up.
“What do you say? Shall we end this together?”
This room reminds me of the kind of places that Henri and I used to stay in during the early days. Old roadside motels that the owners hadn’t updated since the seventies. The walls are wood paneled, and the carpet is an olive-green shag, the bed underneath me stiff and musty. A bureau rests against one wall, the drawers filled with a mixture of clothing, different sizes and different genders, all of it generic and dated. The room doesn’t have a TV, but it does have a radio with a clock that uses those old-school paper numbers that flip around, every minute punctuated by a dry slap.
I sit here in the Patience Creek Bed & Breakfast and listen to the time pass by.
On the wall across from my bed, there’s a painting that looks like a window. There aren’t any actual windows, on account of the room being located deep underground, so I suppose the designers did the best they could. The scene in my fake window is bright and sunny, with tall, green grass blowing in the wind and the indistinct shape of a woman in the distance clutching a hat to her head.
I don’t know why they made the room look like this. Maybe it was meant to convey a sense of normalcy. If that’s the case, it isn’t working. Instead, the room seems to magnify every poisonous emotion you’d expect staying in a scuzzy motel by yourself—loneliness, desperation, failure.
I’ve got plenty of those emotions on my own.
Here’s what this room has that some dump off the interstate doesn’t. The painting on the wall? It slides aside, and behind it is a bank of monitors that broadcast security feeds from all around the Patience Creek Bed & Breakfast. There’s a camera pointed at the front door of the quaint cabin that sits above this sprawling underground facility, another pointed at the serendipitously flat meadow with its hard-packed soil and perfectly maintained grass that just happens to be the exact dimensions necessary to land a medium-sized aircraft, and dozens of other feeds surveilling the property and what lies beneath. This place was built by some very paranoid people who were planning for a potential invasion, a doomsday scenario.
They were expecting Russians, not Mogadorians. But even so, I guess their paranoia paid off.
Beneath the unassuming bed-and-breakfast located twenty-five miles south of Detroit, close to the shore of Lake Erie, are four subterranean levels so top secret they have been virtually forgotten. The Patience Creek facility was originally built by the CIA during the Cold War as a place for them to ride out a nuclear winter. It fell into disrepair over the last twenty-five years, and, according to our hosts in the US government, everyone who knew about it is either dead or retired, which means that no one leaked its existence to MogPro. Lucky for us a general named Clarence Lawson came out of retirement when the warships appeared and remembered that this place was down here.
The president of the United States and what’s left of the Joint Chiefs of Staff aren’t here; they’re being kept someplace secure, probably someplace mobile, the location of which they aren’t divulging even to us allied aliens. One of his handlers must have decided it wouldn’t be safe for the president to be around us, so we’re here with General Lawson, who reports only to him. In our conversation, the president told me he wanted to work together, that we had his full support against Setrákus Ra.
He said a lot of things, actually. The details are fuzzy in my memory. I was in shock when we spoke and not really listening. He seemed nice. Whatever.
I just want to finish this.
I’ve been awake since—well, I’m not exactly sure when. I know I should try to sleep, but every time I close my eyes I see Sarah’s face. I see her face back on that first day at Paradise High School, half hidden behind a camera and then smiling as she finishes snapping my photo. And then my imagination takes over, and I see that same beautiful face pale and bloodied, lifeless, the way she must look now. I can’t shake it. I open my eyes and there’s a twisting pain in my gut, and I feel like I’ve got to curl up around the hurt.
Instead, I stay awake. This is what it’s been like for the last few hours, alone in this strange place, trying to wear myself out to the point where I’ll be able to sleep like, well . . . like the dead.
Practice. It’s the only hope I have.
I sit on the bed and look at myself in the mirror that hangs over the bureau. My hair is getting a little long, and there are dark circles around my eyes. These things don’t matter now. I stare at myself . . .
And then I disappear.
Reappear. Take a deep breath.
I go invisible again. This time I hold it for longer. For as long as I can. I stare at the empty space in the mirror where my body should be and listen to the paper numbers on the clock tick by.
With Ximic, I should be able to copy any Legacy that I’ve encountered. It’s just a matter of teaching myself how to use it, which is never easy, even when the Legacy comes naturally. Marina’s healing, Six’s invisibility, Daniela’s stone gaze—these are the abilities I’ve picked up so far. I’m going to learn more, as many as I can. I’m going to train these new Legacies until they come as naturally to me as my Lumen. And then I’m going to repeat the process.
All this power, and only one thing to look forward to.
The destruction of every Mogadorian on Earth. Including and especially Setrákus Ra, if he’s even still alive. Six thinks she might have killed him in Mexico, but I won’t believe that until the Mogs surrender or I see a body. A part of me almost hopes he’s still out there so that I can be the one to end the bastard.
A happy ending? That’s out the window. I was stupid to ever believe in it.
Pittacus Lore, the last one, the one whose body we found hidden in Malcolm Goode’s bunker, he had Ximic, too, but he didn’t do enough. He couldn’t stop the Mogadorian invasion of Lorien. When he had the chance to kill Setrákus Ra all those centuries ago, he couldn’t do that either.
History will not repeat itself.
I hear footsteps in the hallway that stop right outside my door.
Even though they speak softly and even though I’m listening through a reinforced steel door, with my enhanced senses, I can still hear every word Daniela and Sam say.
“Maybe we should just let him rest,” Daniela says. I’m not used to hearing her speak in such a gentle tone. Usually, Daniela’s a mix of abrasive and gung ho. In just a couple of days, she’s completely left behind her old life and joined our war. Although she didn’t have much choice considering the Mogs burned her old life to the ground.
Another human swept up in our war.
“You don’t know him. There’s no way he’s sleeping in there,” Sam replies, his voice hoarse.
Sitting in this stale room, reflecting on the past and the damage I’ve caused, I started to wonder: How would Sam’s life be different if Henri and I had chosen Cleveland or Akron or somewhere else instead of Paradise? Would he still have gotten Legacies? I’d be worse off, maybe dead, without him. That’s for sure.
Sarah would still be alive, though, if we’d never met.
“Uh, okay, I’m not really talking about him getting a good night’s sleep. Dude’s a superhero alien; for all I know he sleeps three hours a night hanging from the ceiling,” Daniela replies to Sam.
“He sleeps same as we do.”
“Whatever. Point is, maybe he needs some space, you know? To work his shit out? And he’ll come to us when he’s ready. When he’s . . .”
“No. He’d want to know,” Sam says, and then knocks softly on my door.
I’m off the bed in a flash to open the door. Sam’s right about me, of course. Whatever’s happening, I want to know. I want to be distracted. I want forward momentum.
Sam blinks when the door opens and stares right through me. “John?”
It takes me a second to realize that I’m still invisible. When I appear from thin air in front of them, Daniela stumbles back a step. “Goddamn.”
Sam barely arches an eyebrow. His eyes are red rimmed. He seems too worn-out to be surprised.
“Sorry,” I say. “Working on my invisibility.”
“The others are about ten minutes out,” Sam tells me. “I knew you would want to be there when they land.”
I nod and close my door behind me.
The illusion of a motel disappears as soon as I’m outside my room. The hallway beyond, more like a tunnel really, is all austere white walls and cold halogen lights. It reminds me of the facility underneath Ashwood Estates, except this place was built by humans.
“I got a VCR in my room,” Daniela says, trying to make conversation as the three of us walk down one of the identical hallways in this mazelike complex. When neither Sam nor me immediately responds, she presses on. “You guys got VCRs? Shit’s crazy, right? I haven’t seen a VCR in years.”
Sam looks at me before answering. “I found a Game Boy wedged under my mattress.”
“Damn! Want to trade?”
“It’s got no batteries.”
I can hear the distant hum of generators, the buzz of tools and the grunts of men working. The one drawback of Patience Creek being so under the radar is that a lot of its systems aren’t what you’d call updated. For security reasons General Lawson had decided they should run a stripped-down operation here. With everything going on, there’s not exactly time to call in civilian contractors. Still, there’s got to be almost a hundred army engineers working around the clock to bring the place up to date. When we arrived late last night, I saw that Sam’s dad, Malcolm, was already here, helping a crew of electricians install some of the Mogadorian tech recovered from Ashwood Estates. As far as the army is concerned, Malcolm’s basically an expert on the extraterrestrial.
Sam and Daniela’s conversation has trailed off, and I quickly realize that it’s because of me. I’m silent, eyes straight ahead, and I’m pretty sure my expression is stuck in neutral. They don’t know how to talk to me anymore.
“John, I—” Sam puts a hand on my shoulder, and I can tell he’s going to say something about Sarah. I know what happened to her hurt him bad, too. They grew up together. But I don’t want to have that conversation right now. I don’t want to give in to grieving until this is over.
I force a halfhearted smile. “Did they give you any tapes for that VCR?” I ask Daniela, clumsily changing the subject.
“WrestleMania III,” she says, and makes a face.
“Hell yeah, I’ll be by to pick that up later, Danny,” Nine says, emerging from one of the many hallways with a grin.
Out of all of us, Nine looks the most rested. It’s only been about a day since he and Five brawled all over New York City. I healed the big goon back in New York, and his own superhuman stamina has apparently done the rest. He pats Sam and me hard on the back and joins our procession down the hallway. Of course, Nine acts like there’s nothing wrong at all, and, honestly, I prefer it that way.
As we pass by, I glance down the hallway Nine came from. There are four heavily armed soldiers there, standing guard.
“Everything squared away?” I ask Nine.
“Yeah, Johnny,” Nine replies. “They got some pretty whacked-out prison cells in this place, including one that’s straight up padded walls. With Chubby tethered to some cushions and strapped into a straitjacket, he ain’t going anywhere.”
“Good,” Sam says.
I nod in agreement. Five is a complete psychopath and deserves to be locked up. But if I’m being brutally practical about winning this war, I’m not sure how long we can afford to keep him in a cage.
We round a corner, and the elevator bank comes into view. Overhead, the halogen lights buzz loudly, and I notice Sam pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Man, do I miss your penthouse, Nine,” Sam says. “Was the only hideout we ever had with mellow lighting.”
“Yeah, I miss it too,” Nine replies, a note of nostalgia creeping into his voice.
“This place is already giving me a serious migraine. Should’ve gotten some dimmer switches to go with those VCRs.”
There’s a crackle of electricity over our heads, and one of the bulbs flickers out. The hallway lighting is suddenly a whole lot more tolerable. Everyone except for me pauses to look up.
“Well, that was weirdly timed,” says Daniela.
“Better, though, isn’t it?” Sam says with a sigh.
I hit the button to call the elevator. The others gather around behind me.
“So, they’re, uh . . . they’re bringing her back here?” Nine asks, his voice lowered, being about as tactful as he can manage.
“Yeah,” I say, thinking about the Loric ship right now descending towards Patience Creek, filled with our friends and allies, and the lost love of my life.
“That’s good,” Nine says, then coughs into his hand. “I mean, not good. But we can, you know, say good-bye.”
“We get it, Nine,” Sam says gently. “He knows what you mean.”
I nod, not prepared to say anything else. The elevator doors open in front of us, and when they do, the words come spilling out.
“This is the last time,” I say, not turning around to face the others. The words feel like ice in my mouth. “I’m done saying good-bye to people we love. I’m done with sentiment. Done with grieving. Starting today, we kill until we win.”
Twisted metal shrieks by overhead. Clumps of dirt and ash batter my face, the wind whips at what feels like one hundred miles per hour, and I throw everything I have into it. Blaster fire sears across my legs. I ignore it. A jagged strut from an exploded Mogadorian Skimmer crashes into the dirt next to me. Only a few feet closer and I would have been impaled.
I ignore that too. I’ll die here, if that’s what it takes.
Across an empty pit where the Sanctuary used to stand, Setrákus Ra staggers up the ramp of his warship. I can’t let him make it back on board the Anubis. I shove out with my telekinesis, and I don’t care about the consequences. I hurl every goddamn thing at him, and he pushes back. I feel his power strain against mine like two invisible tidal waves crashing together, sending up a spray of metal parts and dirt and stone.
“Die, die, die . . .”
Sarah Hart is next to me. She screams something into my ear that I can’t hear over the roar of the battle. She grabs my shoulder and starts to shake me.
“Die, die, die . . .”
I gasp and wake up. It isn’t Sarah shaking my shoulder. It’s Lexa, our pilot, seated behind the controls. Through the windshield, I can barely make out the peaceful countryside zipping by underneath us. In the glow of the control panel, I can see a look of concern on Lexa’s face.
“What is it?” I ask, still groggy as I gently push her hand away.
“You were talking in your sleep,” Lexa replies, and goes back to looking straight ahead, our flight path mapped out on the screen before her.
My feet are up on the dashboard, my knees tucked in close to my chest. My toes are all pins and needles. I set my feet down on the floor and sit up straight, then strain my eyes into the darkness outside. Just as I do, the countryside drops away and is replaced by the blue-black water of Lake Erie.
“How close are we to the coordinates Malcolm sent us?” I ask Lexa.
“Close,” she replies. “About ten minutes out.”
“And you’re sure we lost them?”
“I’m sure, Six. I ditched the last of the Skimmers over Texas. The Anubis broke off before that. Seemed like the warship didn’t want to keep up the chase.”
I rub my hands across my face and through my sticky tangle of hair. The Anubis stopped chasing us. Why? Because they had to rush Setrákus Ra somewhere? Because he was dying? Or maybe already dead?
I know I hurt him. I saw that metal bar pierce that bastard’s chest. Not many could survive that injury. But this is Setrákus Ra. There’s no telling how fast he heals or what technology he’s got at his disposal to nurse him back to health. It went straight into his heart, though. I saw it. I know I got him.
“He has to be dead,” I say quietly. “He has to be.”
I unstrap from the copilot’s seat and stand up. Lexa grabs hold of my forearm before I can leave the cockpit.
“Six, you did what you had to do,” she says firmly. “What you thought was best. No matter what happens, if Setrákus Ra is dead or alive . . .”
“If he’s alive, then Sarah died for nothing,” I reply.
“Not for nothing,” Lexa says. “She pulled you out of there. She saved you.”
“She should’ve saved herself.”
“She didn’t think so. She— Look, I hardly knew the girl. But it seemed to me that she knew what was at stake. She knew that we’re fighting a war. And in war there are sacrifices. Casualties.”
“Easy for us to say. We’re alive.” I bite my lip and pull my arm away from Lexa. “You think— Shit, Lexa. You think any of that cold-ass pragmatic talk is going to make it easier for the others? For John?”
“Has anything ever been easy for any of you?” Lexa asks, looking up at me. “Why would it start now? This is the end, Six. One way or the other, we’re closing in on the end. You do what has to be done, and you feel bad about it later.”
I exit the cockpit with Lexa’s words ringing in my ears. I want to feel anger. Who is she to tell me how to act? The Mogs weren’t hunting her. She hid for years without ever trying to contact us. She only showed up now because she realized how desperate our situation had become, that it was all hands on deck. Telling me what to feel.
Thing is, she’s right. She’s right, because the truth is, I wouldn’t change what I did. I’d take my shot at Setrákus Ra, even knowing what would happen to Sarah. Potentially billions of lives are on the line.
I had to do it.
In the main cabin, someone has used the touch-screen walls to command cots to emerge from the floor. Those are the same cots we slept on all those years ago when we first came to Earth. I carved my number into one of them.
Sarah’s body rests on that one, because the universe has a sick sense of humor.
Mark sits next to Sarah’s cot, chin against his chest, asleep. His face is puffy, and he’s covered in dried blood, like pretty much all of us. He hasn’t left Sarah’s side since it all went down. Frankly, I’m glad he’s finally asleep. I couldn’t handle many more of the accusatory looks the guy has been throwing around. I know he’s angry and hurting, but I can’t wait to get off this cramped ship and away from him.
Bernie Kosar lies on the floor next to Mark. He watches me emerge from the cockpit and quietly stands. The beagle comes over and nuzzles against my leg, whining quietly. I reach down to scratch absently behind his ears.
“Thanks, boy,” I whisper, and BK whines again, softly.
I move farther back. Ella is curled up on one of the cots, her face turned towards the wall. My gaze lingers on her for a second, just long enough to make sure that she’s still breathing. Ella was the first person I watched die yesterday, except she somehow managed to come back to life. When she tossed herself into that pillar of Loric energy at the Sanctuary, she broke the charm that Setrákus Ra had placed on her. Apparently, there are side effects to bathing in a bunch of Loric energy and briefly dying. Ella’s returned to us as . . . well, I’m not entirely sure.
At the very back of the ship, I find Adam sitting on the edge of another cot. Looking at the dark circles around his eyes and his increasingly pale skin, I know for sure that Adam hasn’t slept. Instead, he’s been keeping his eye on Marina. She’s strapped down on the same cot Adam sits on, her eyes closed, her face horribly bruised, blood still crusted around her nostrils. Setrákus Ra smashed her into the ground over and over, and she hasn’t regained consciousness since. She’s holding on, though, and hopefully John will be able to heal whatever’s wrong with her.
Adam manages a weak smile as I sit down across from him. Another one of our wounded friends is bundled in his arms. Dust was nearly killed back at the Sanctuary. Although he’s still twitchy and weak, Dust has regained some of his movement and has at least managed to change his shape into that of a wolf cub. Not exactly ferocious, but a step in the right direction.
“Hey, doc,” I say to Adam, keeping my voice quiet.
He snorts. “You’d be surprised how little practical medical training we Mogadorians receive. It’s not a priority when most of your soldiers are disposable.” Adam turns his head to regard Marina. “Her pulse is strong, though. Even I can tell that.”
I nod. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. I reach across the gap between us and scratch Dust on his nose. One of his back legs starts to pump in response, though I’m not sure if it’s from enjoyment or the lingering effects of his electroshock.
“He’s looking a little better,” I say to Adam.
“Yeah, he’ll be howling at the moon in no time,” Adam replies, looking me over as he does. “What about you? How are you feeling?”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more,” Adam says. When the battle at the Sanctuary came to an end, it was Adam and Mark who got Marina onto Lexa’s ship before Setrákus Ra could finish her off. That’s how it came to be me and Sarah facing Setrákus Ra alone.
“You did enough. You saved Marina. Got her back here. I . . .”
My gaze involuntarily drifts towards Sarah. Adam clears his throat to get my attention back. His eyes lock onto mine, wide and steady.
“That wasn’t your fault,” he says firmly.
“Hearing that doesn’t make it easier.”
“It still needed saying.” Now it’s Adam’s turn to break eye contact. He looks over at Ella’s huddled body and frowns. “I hope you killed him, Six. The thing is, knowing you, if you’d have known the consequences, you would have stopped.”
I don’t interrupt Adam, even though what he’s saying about me might not be true. It’s weird to feel hope that I killed Setrákus Ra at the same time as the guilt for what happened to Sarah, all of it worsened by an undercurrent of dread that I accomplished nothing at all. I’m a mess.
“I respect that about you guys,” Adam continues. “Most of you Garde, it’s like they built strength and compassion into you. It’s the opposite for my people. I . . . I would’ve pressed on no matter what happened.”
Back at the Sanctuary, Adam had a moment when he’d got the drop on Setrákus Ra. This was back before Ella broke the charm that bound her life to her evil great-grandfather’s. Even knowing that it would kill Ella, Adam went right for Setrákus Ra’s jugular.
“Your people,” Adam continues after a moment, “you consider the costs, you mourn your losses, you try to do what’s right. I envy that. The ability to know what’s right without—without having to fight against your nature.”
“You’re more like us than you realize,” I tell him.
“I’d like to think that,” Adam replies. “But sometimes I don’t know.”
“We all regret things,” I say. “It’s not a matter of nature. It’s a matter of moving on and being better.”
Adam opens his mouth to respond, but no words come out. He’s looking past me. A soft blue glow emanates from over my shoulder.
I turn around to see Ella has sat up on her cot. She still crackles with Loric energy, her brown eyes completely replaced by roiling orbs of cobalt blue. When she speaks, her voice has that odd echoing quality, like it did when Legacy was speaking through her.
“You don’t have to feel guilty,” she tells Adam. “I knew what you were going to do as soon as I got off the Anubis. I was rooting for you.”
Adam stares at Ella. “I didn’t—I didn’t even know what I was going to do when you got off the Anubis.”
“Oh, you did.”
Adam looks away, clearly uncomfortable under Ella’s stare. If he’s relieved that Ella let him off the hook for what happened at the Sanctuary, it doesn’t show.
“And Six.” She turns to me now. “As she left this world, Sarah thought about many things. Mostly about John and her family. But also she thought about you, and how she was glad you would be here to take care of John and the rest of us.”
“You were in her head when she died?” I ask Ella, still trying to get a grip on her new and expanded Legacies.
She pinches the bridge of her nose and shuts her eyes, which causes the room to get a little darker. “I’m still getting used to what I can do. It is hard sometimes to . . . tune out.”
“Is that all she was thinking about?”
The question comes from Mark. I’m not sure how long he’s been awake and listening to our conversation. He looks at Ella with desperate hope, and I notice that his lower lip shakes. Ella looks back at him coolly, and I wonder if some emotional wiring got fried during her encounter with Legacy.
“What do you really want to ask me, Mark?” Ella says calmly.
“I . . . nothing. It’s not important,” Mark replies, looking back down at the floor.
“You crossed her mind, too, Mark,” Ella says.
Mark swallows hard when he hears this and nods, trying not to show any emotion. Studying Ella, I’m not sure if she’s telling the truth or just trying to make Mark feel better. Her electric eyes are unreadable.
“We’re here,” Lexa announces over the intercom. “I’m bringing us down.”
Lexa lands the ship in a wide-open field next to a small log cabin. Looking out the window at the place, it’s hard to believe that this is where the government is planning its counterattack against the Mogadorians. I guess that’s sort of the point. With the sun just beginning to rise over Lake Erie, pink flares of light bend across the surface of the water. It’s a tranquil scene and would look totally like some hippie yoga retreat if not for the presence of the armed soldiers and their Humvees camouflaged in the tree line.
There are two groups waiting for us outside the cabin and, even in my rattled state, it’s easy to read the situation based on the distance between the factions. The first group is our people—John, Sam, Nine, Malcolm, and a girl who I recognize from Ella’s telepathic summit but whose name I don’t know. Behind them, separated by about thirty yards, is a contingent of military personnel who watch our ship with keen interest. It seems to me that even though the military is working together with the Garde, they’re still very much keeping an eye on us. Together, but apart.
In that group of soldiers, I recognize Agent Walker. As I watch, she nervously stubs out a cigarette and turns to answer a question posed by the older man standing next to her. He’s clearly in charge. The guy sports a silver buzz cut and a leathery tan, like they just pulled him away from the golf course. He looks like one of those senior citizens who’s still out there running marathons, all rigid posture and stringy muscles. He wears formal military attire covered with a stupid amount of medals. He’s surrounded by a half dozen soldiers with assault rifles—for our protection, I’m sure. Two guys in his retinue stand out; they’re twins if I’m not mistaken, and look to be about my age, too young to really be enlisted soldiers, although they wear the starched light-blue uniforms of cadets.
I observe all this during the few seconds it takes Lexa to extend the exit ramp and power down the ship. Surveying our surroundings is a good distraction, a way to avoid looking at John. His face is a mask, his gaze icy, and I still haven’t figured out what the hell I’m going to say to him.
Our battle-ravaged group slowly walks down the ramp. I hear mutterings from our military observers and can’t help noticing the cringing looks on our friends’ faces. We’re covered in blood and dirt, beat up, exhausted. Plus, Ella is giving off that faint glow of Loric energy. We look like hell.
Malcolm’s got a gurney, and he pushes it across the grass to meet Adam, who is carrying Marina in his arms. It takes me a second to notice that Mark hasn’t gotten off the ship; he’s staying with Sarah’s body.
Before I can stop him, Sam has me wrapped in a hug. Only when his arms are around me do I realize how badly I’m shaking.
“You’re all right now,” he whispers into my tangled mop of hair.
I steel myself, trying not to break down even though I very badly want to, and wiggle out of Sam’s arms. I look towards John, but he’s already standing over Marina, his hands glowing softly as he holds her head. There’s a look of deep concentration on his face as he heals her, and it takes so long that I start to hold my breath, worried that the damage Setrákus Ra inflicted is too great. After a long moment where everyone watches in total silence, John steps back with a drained sigh. Marina shifts a bit on her gurney but doesn’t wake up.
“Is she . . . ?” Adam starts to ask.
“It was bad, but she’ll be okay,” John replies, his voice completely neutral. “She just needs some rest.”
With that, John steps away from the group and walks up the ramp of the ship.
“John, hold on,” I hear myself say, even though I’ve got no idea what my follow-up is going to be.
He pauses and looks over his shoulder at me, although he doesn’t meet my eyes.
“I’m sorry that we couldn’t—that I couldn’t protect her,” I tell him, my voice getting shaky and, even though I’m mortified to hear it, a little desperate. “I swear I killed him, John. I put one right in his goddamn heart.”
John nods, and I can see a vein in his neck twitching, like he’s trying to control himself.
“We aren’t to blame for the actions of our enemies,” John replies to me, and the line sounds canned, practiced, like he knew this conversation was coming. Without another word, he climbs the ramp and disappears into Lexa’s ship.
A somber silence follows. The military personnel return to the cabin, which must have some pretty major underground levels to accommodate them all, and Nine starts to lead our group inside after them. I gaze after John, Sam lingering at my side.
“I’m sorry, Six, but you didn’t.”
It’s Ella. She stands next to me, looking up at me with those eyes empty of everything but swirling Loric energy. I must look shaky again, because Sam puts his arm around me, holding me up.
“Kill him,” Ella replies. “You hurt him bad, but . . . I can still feel him out there. Setrákus Ra is alive.”
As soon as I’m on board the ship, Bernie Kosar steps in front of me. His tail droops between his legs, and he stretches his front paws out, arching his spine low, his head down. It’s like he’s bowing to me, or expecting me to swat him with a rolled-up newspaper. From deep in his belly, he lets out a low, mournful howl.
It takes me a second to realize why he’s doing this. Back in Chicago, the last time I saw Sarah, I’d sent BK with her. I’d told BK to keep her safe.
Oh God, BK, it’s not your fault, I say to him telepathically. I kneel down, put my arm around his furry neck and hug him close. BK slobbers wetly against my cheek and whines. Tears string the corners of my eyes, the first ones that have come since I heard Sarah’s fading voice piped over my satellite phone.
The tears aren’t for me. First Six, now BK—the guilt they’re feeling, it wrecks me. Sarah was their friend, too. They’re feeling this loss just like I am, and it’s compounded by the fact that they both think they let me down, that I’m going to blame them. I should’ve spoken to Six, should’ve said something more, but I just couldn’t find the right words. I should’ve told her that there are only two people I hold responsible for what happened to Sarah.
I’ve never been good at expressing those kinds of feelings, talking about myself, my fears and weaknesses. Really, there’s only one person I’ve ever felt truly comfortable opening up to about that stuff.
I stand up, walk farther into the ship and see her. In the ship’s dim lighting, stretched out on a cot, a sheet pulled up to her chin—she could be sleeping. Her blond hair is fanned out on the pillow beneath her. Her skin is pale, so pale, the color drained from her lips. I walk forward feeling like I’m in a dream.
Mark James is here, too, sitting next to Sarah’s bed. He stands up when I walk forward, and I’m vaguely aware of a murderous look on his face. For a second, I think he might get in my way. Looking at me he must think better of it, because he steps aside in a hurry. The anger in his eyes is replaced by curiosity, like I’m some strange animal.
Or like I’m an alien, capable of things he can’t possibly understand.
He doesn’t say anything when I kneel down next to Sarah. I pull the sheet back from her body, and it sticks to her side where the blood from her wounds has dried. She’s all torn up.
I feel like I should cry. Or scream. But all I feel is empty.
And then my hands reach forward, unthinking, acting on some combination of instinct and desperation. I press down on her wounds, her skin cold beneath my fingertips, and let my healing energy flow into her.
When Sarah and Ella were riddled with blaster fire at Dulce Base, I managed to heal them. They were close to death, and I pulled them back. Maybe . . . maybe there is still hope now.
My hands heat up. They glow. Sarah’s pale skin is suddenly tinged pink, and my heart skips a beat.
It’s a trick of the light. My Legacy isn’t working. There’s no spark in Sarah left to rekindle.
I let the power seep away. Now that I’ve seen Sarah’s wounds firsthand, the horrific visions that haunted me during the hours I’d waited are gone. It’s become reality. With shaking hands, I cover Sarah’s body with the sheet.
The morbid details aren’t what I find myself focusing on. They aren’t what will stick with me. It’s her face—tinted blue in the muted light. She doesn’t look like she’s in any pain; there are no lines creasing the skin and her eyes are closed. Sarah’s lips are forever pursed into an almost-curious smile. I lean down and gently kiss that smile, not surprised by how cold her lips are. Then I put my head down, rest it on her chest. It probably looks like I’m listening for a heartbeat, but I’m just saying good-bye.
I don’t cry. She wouldn’t want me to do that. But the insomnia I was feeling before, it’s gone now. I feel like I could finally rest, right here, with Sarah.
“Is that it?”
Mark. I’d completely forgotten he was in the room with me.
I lift my head and turn around slowly, without standing up. Mark’s head is cocked; he stares at me, his fists clenching and unclenching.
“What?” I ask, surprised by how tired I sound.
“I said, is that it?” he repeats, the words harsher now. “Is that all you’re going to do?”
“There’s nothing else I can do, Mark,” I reply with a sigh. “She’s gone.”
“You can’t bring back the dead?”
“No. I’m not a god.”
Mark shakes his head like he expected that answer and is disappointed all the same. “Shit,” he says to himself, then looks me right in the eye. “What the hell are you good for?”
I’m not going to do this with him. Not here. Not ever. I stand up slowly, take one last look at Sarah and walk wordlessly towards the ship’s exit ramp.
Mark gets in my way.
“I asked you a question,” he says.
For a moment, his tone brings me back to Paradise High. I know this isn’t the same jock who tormented me and Sam—now he’s got a wild and haunted look in his eyes, unkempt hair and filthy clothes that would’ve embarrassed the hell out of the old Mark James. But he’s still a master of that alpha-male voice. It makes him seem bigger than he is in reality.
“Mark,” I say warningly.
“You don’t get to just walk away from this,” he replies.
“Get out of my way.”
He shoves me. The contact actually surprises me and causes me to stumble back a few steps. I stare at him.
“You’re angry; you’re hurting . . . ,” I say to Mark, keeping my voice measured even though I want to scream at him. Like I’m not feeling the same way. Like I don’t want to punch through a wall. “But this—us? Fighting for no reason? That’s not happening.”
“Oh, spare me your bigger-man routine, John,” Mark says. “I was there when she died. Me. Not you. She spent her final moments on the goddamn phone with you, giving you a pep talk. You. The guy who got her killed.”
It stings to hear Mark say what I’d already been thinking.
“We were in love,” I tell him.
Mark rolls his eyes at me. “Maybe. Maybe you really were. But—come on. Mysterious new kid rolls into the small town, and oh, he’s got superpowers. And oh, he’s trying to save the world. What girl wouldn’t fall for that shit, huh? Hell, look at me, standing here. Look at dumb-ass Sam Goode. We all got sucked into your vortex of suffering.”
“She didn’t fall for anything. I didn’t trick her.” My words are sharper now. He’s starting to get under my skin. “We were in love before—before she even knew about me and what I am.”
“But you knew!” Mark yells, taking a step towards me. “You always knew what it meant to be around you and you—you went for her anyway! In all those towns you traveled to before Paradise, how many—how many other girls were there?”
I shake my head, losing the thread of what Mark’s trying to prove. “There weren’t—”
“Exactly! You kept it in your pants because you knew that being around you is a death sentence. Until Sarah. You just couldn’t leave her alone. You got selfish, or lonely, or whatever, and you—you got her killed. She’d be alive and happy if you had just gone to another town, John. Yeah, this whole invasion would still be happening, but I got a feeling the Mogadorian warships are a long way from Paradise. Without you, without your needy bullshit, she at least would’ve had a chance.”
I don’t know how to respond. Part of what Mark’s saying is true, but it ignores so much of what Sarah and I shared. Maybe it was selfish of me to involve her, except that every time I pushed her away she would come back. She made her own decisions. She was strong and made me stronger. And she was the first person on Earth who made it feel like I actually had a chance at a normal life, like there was something more than just endless running and fighting. Sarah gave me hope. But I don’t have the words to explain that to Mark, and I don’t even want to. I don’t need to defend myself.
“You’re right,” I say coldly, hoping that’s enough to end this.
“I’m—I’m right?” Mark asks incredulously, eyes widening. “You think that’s what I want to hear?”
I sigh. “Mark, the truth is, I don’t care what you want. I never have.”
He hits me then. I see the punch coming a mile away, but I don’t bother defending myself. It’s a short uppercut that catches me right in the stomach and causes me to suck in a sharp breath. It’s not the first time that Mark has punched me, and he hits hard—maybe a little harder than I remember. But I’ve taken a lot of shots over the last few months, ones harder than Mark could begin to imagine, and this one I barely feel.
When I don’t react to the first punch, Mark tries another. His heart isn’t in it, though. He throws a haymaker at my head but seems to change his mind at the last moment, and his fist simply glances off the corner of my jaw. The force of his own punch carries Mark to the side, where he stumbles over one of the empty cots, landing in an awkward sitting position.
He stays there, staring at the floor, and takes deep, heaving breaths. I can tell he’s trying not to cry.
“Do you feel better?” I ask, rubbing the middle of my chest.
“No,” he replies. “No, I don’t.”
“What about when we end this war and destroy every Mog that stands in our way? Will you feel better then?”
Marks looks up at me, and what I see on his face surprises me. It’s pity. I realize what I just said wasn’t really a question for him. It’s a question for me. I’m a little afraid to find out the answer.
“That won’t bring her back,” he says.
I don’t respond. I take one last look at Sarah and walk back towards the ship’s exit. In the doorway, I pause and half turn.
“Will you do something for me?” I ask him, my voice low, all the feeling sapped out.
Mark works his thumb across his raw knuckles. “What?”
“I’m going to get our military friends to loan us a vehicle. We’re only a few hours away from Paradise. Would you . . . ?” My voice catches, and I brace one hand on the cool metal of the doorway. “Would you bring her home?”
Mark snorts. When he speaks, that bitterness is back in his voice. “Sure, John. I know you’re busy, so I’ll do the hard part for you. Should I tell her mom you say hi?”
I close my eyes, take a deep breath and let it go.
“Thank you, Mark,” I say without feeling, and then I’m leaving him and Sarah’s body behind. I stride down the ship’s ramp and across the lawn, heading back to the unimposing cabin that currently hides humanity’s best hope for survival. The sun is coming up, a bright orange slash on the horizon, heating the cool blue of the lake. I think of Sarah’s pale face, her icy lips, and then I remember how the sun would filter through her blond hair and she would’ve turned to me during a moment like this and squeezed my hand in that way of hers, and we would’ve shared it together.
I put the memories away. Bury them down somewhere deep. I head inside the cabin with one purpose and one purpose only.
I used to think there could be more for me than running and fighting.
Now all that’s left is killing.
When I wake up, it takes me a moment to realize where the hell I am. Some bad motel art stares down at me from the wood-paneled walls. I’m all tangled up in a scratchy sheet. Must have been tossing and turning like crazy. It feels like I’ve only slept for a few hours.
The Patience Creek Bed & Breakfast. An old spy hangout from the Cold War era. Sam filled me in on the details while he half carried me through the halls. I was so spent and delirious, I’m a little amazed that I retained any of what he’d told me.
He’s next to me. On the other side of the bed. Already awake and sitting up, his feet on the floor, back to me. He hasn’t noticed that I’m stirring yet. Sam scratches his neck and yawns. He took off his shirt to sleep, and I watch him reach out towards the worn gray T-shirt where it hangs over the back of a chair, concentrate and float the shirt towards him with telekinesis.
I smile drowsily. It’s hard to believe this is the same kid who bumbled around the halls of Paradise High School nearly getting himself killed the night we first met. That wasn’t so long ago, but so much has changed. Sam’s still skinny and a little on the gangly side, yet there’s a scrappy layer of muscle on him now. And then there are the scars, fresh pink and upraised on his wrists and forearms, the results of Sam’s time getting tortured by Setrákus Ra.
I put my hand on Sam’s back and trace down the bumps of his spine. He jumps, loses his concentration, and his T-shirt flops out of the air.
“Good morning,” I say quietly. “It is morning, right?”
“Almost noon,” Sam replies as he turns around to look at me with a smile. His eyes linger on me for a moment but then he catches himself, flushes and shyly looks away.
It occurs to me then that I’m not wearing any clothes.
Now I remember what happened. After Ella broke the news to me that I didn’t kill Setrákus Ra, I about broke down. Once Sam got me to his room, he strongly encouraged that I take a shower, and I did, washing off the gray-green dust of what used to be the Sanctuary along with Sarah’s dried blood. I remember very clearly the way that the grime pooled around my toes and circled down the drain. I inhaled steam and pressed my forehead against the cool tiles, let my skin wrinkle and turn bright red from the heat.
And then, at some point, I crawled into bed. Sam had tried to stay awake, I think, but he couldn’t pull it off. He hadn’t left me anything clean to wear, so . . .
“I put some clothes on the desk,” Sam says cautiously.
“Oh, I guess you did,” I say out loud. A loose-fitting flower-print tunic and some jeans that looked dangerously close to bell-bottoms wait for me across the room. I guess we’re picking from whatever leftover garments are floating around the hideout. At least they’re clean.
“I, uh, well, you just kinda fell asleep in here . . . ,” Sam proceeds awkwardly. “I didn’t want to wake you up. Sorry if it’s— Uh, anyway, we can get you your own room. . . .”
“It’s okay, Sam. Relax,” I reply as I sit up, not feeling very modest. I sidle over to him, drape one arm over his shoulder and hook the other around his waist, hugging him close. His skin is warm against mine.
“After what happened, I thought you would . . . I don’t know. Push me away again,” Sam says quietly, half-distracted, probably on account of me kissing the back of his neck.
“Nope,” I reply.
“Good,” he mumbles.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t the most appropriate time. I’ve still got a lot on my mind and on my conscience, but if I learned anything from John and Sarah, it’s that you have to embrace these moments, not run from them. You never know when it might be your last chance.
Of course, we’re interrupted about two minutes later by a knock on the door. Sam leaps off the bed like he’s going to get in trouble, pulls on his shirt and goes to the door. He looks back at me, and I smirk, pulling the sheet up to my chin.
Sam opens the door a crack. I’m surprised to see the young buzz-cut twins who I noticed when we arrived, the ones who were with that General Lawson dude who Sam told me is in charge.
One of them just stares at Sam, completely deadpan. The other, a little friendlier but still economical with his words, announces, “There’s a meeting.”
“All right,” Sam replies. “We’ll be out in a minute.”
The twins raise an eyebrow in unison at Sam’s use of “we.” He shuts the door in their faces.
“Guess we’re on,” he says to me.
“Back to the war,” I reply with a bittersweet smile.
As I begin to get dressed, I nod my head in the direction of the door. There’s a lot about our situation that I still don’t know. Better to get my questions out of the way before we head off to this meeting with the military.
“What’s with the twins?”
“Caleb and Christian.” Sam tells me their names and shrugs. “They’re a couple of military school kids. They’re LANEs.”
“Yeah, they seemed like lames.”
Sam laughs. “No, not ‘lame.’ ‘LANE.’ L-A-N-E. Not sure why I’d expect you to know brand-new acronyms that the government just invented. It means Legacy-Afflicted Native Earthling.”
“Afflicted?” I pause while pulling on my shirt. “They make it sound like a bad thing.”
“Yeah, they use ‘augmented’ instead of ‘afflicted’ when you Garde are around, but my dad saw one of the internal emails.” Sam shrugs apologetically, like he’s the ambassador for all humanity. “I guess the people in charge aren’t entirely sure yet if Legacies are a good thing for a bunch of human teenagers to develop. They’re concerned there could be drawbacks or side effects.”
“Yeah, one of the side effects is that it makes it a lot harder for the Mogs to shoot you in the face.”
“Come on, I know that,” Sam replies. “For your average human, though? This is a lot to take in. I mean, we’ve got two brand-new types of intelligent life to wrap our heads around, and that’s before we even get to how you Loric mutated us.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“Mutated in a good way,” Sam adds.
“So what do those twins do?” I ask, circling back.
He shrugs. “Only telekinesis, as far as I know.”
I’m fully clothed, but I’ve still got more questions. I stand in front of the doorway with my hands on my hips.
“So that Lawson guy. What’s his deal?”
“He was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs back in the nineties, I guess. Retired.”
I give Sam a blank look.
“Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is, like, the highest military posting in America. Reports directly to the president, yadda yadda yadda.” Sam rubs the back of his neck. “I didn’t know what it was either, and I was actually born on this planet.”
“Okay, so what happened to the current chairman?”
“He was MogPro. They brought Lawson back because he’d been retired so long, no one bothered corrupting him. He’s like the human version of this place.”
“Speaking of MogPro, I saw Agent Walker hanging around last night, too,” I say, a little edge to my voice. “You trust her? You trust this Lawson guy?”
“Walker’s all right. She fought alongside us in New York. As for Lawson . . .”
Sam frowns. “I don’t know. Hard for me to trust any kind of organization after MogPro, but they’d have to be crazy to turn on us now—”
While Sam speaks, an old TV set perched on a stand against the far wall suddenly comes to life with a burst of static. We both turn in that direction.
“What the hell?” I ask.
Sam rubs his temples. “This old place is wired weird or something. That TV’s probably filled with spiders.”
“Or hidden cameras.”
Sam smirks at me. “I hope not. Anyway, I don’t think they’re organized enough to be spying on us yet.”
Sam wanders over to the TV and hits the button to turn it off. Nothing happens.
“See? Broken,” he says, before smacking the side of the TV. “Come on!”
When Sam speaks, all the electronics in the room—the TV, the nightstand lamp, the ancient rotary phone—they all flare to life for a second. A burst of static from the TV, a flicker of light from the lamp, a shrill ring from the phone. Sam doesn’t notice. He’s too busy unplugging the TV from the wall, which finally turns it off.
“See? Crazy. Whole place is nuts.”
I stare at him. “Sam, it’s not the wiring. It’s you.”
“You did that just now with the electronics,” I tell him. “I think you’re developing a new Legacy.”
Sam’s eyebrows shoot up, and he looks down at his hands. “What? Already?”
“Yeah, they come on quick once the telekinesis manifests,” I reply. “You saw that kid in Ella’s dream-share thing. The German.”
“Bertrand the Beekeeper,” Sam says, reminding me of his name. “Daniela got one, too. I guess I didn’t think it would happen so soon for me. I’m still getting used to being telekinetic.”
I don’t know who Daniela is, but I nod along anyway. “The Entity knew the world needs protecting in a hurry.”
“Huh,” Sam says, mulling this over. “So, it’s something to do with electronics.”
He turns back to the TV and thrusts his palms at it. He succeeds in emitting a telekinetic burst that knocks the TV off its stand and to the floor with a loud crash.
“Well, you’ve got the telekinesis down at least.”
Sam turns to me. “If you’re right, how do I get it to work?”
Before I can tell Sam that I have no idea, we’re interrupted by another knock on the door. A second later, one of the twins’ muffled voice reaches us.
“Uh, whatever you guys are doing in there, could it wait? General Lawson told us if we didn’t round everyone up by oh-nine-hundred, it’d be our asses.”
I exchange a look with Sam. “We’ll talk about this later,” I say.
He nods, and we open the door to join the two sullen military cadets. As we head down the hallway, Sam stares at every overhead light like an enemy that needs to be conquered.
What did you think of the excerpt of United As One? Tell us your thoughts on the chapters you just read in the comments below! Can’t wait for more? Buy a copy from your favorite indie bookstore or online here!
📧📥 Want more chapter samplers delivered directly to your inbox? Sign up for the Epic Reads First5 newsletter and we’ll send you the first 5 chapters from a new book each week, one chapter a day!