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Son of Zeus, Page 2

James Dashner

  “Stop.” Abraham Lincoln only said the one word, but it held so much power that Dak couldn’t have spoken again for a million dollars. Then the man came forward and knelt before Dak — quite the feat, long arms and legs folding up like a wooden laundry rack — putting president and boy on the same level. Then Lincoln reached out and took Dak by the shoulders.

  “Listen to me, son,” he said. “I can tell you’re a good soul, and I’m sure that somewhere you have very proud parents. If you say that you’re from the future, then I believe you. But if that’s true, then there’s a lesson I want you to learn. A lesson about destiny. My path has been laid before me. As has yours. Now it’s our job to walk it.”

  “But . . .” Dak started, but the look on Lincoln’s face stopped him cold again.

  The president smiled. “What’s your name?”


  “Dak? Unusual. But I like it.” Lincoln stood up, unfolding himself until he seemed to stand a hundred feet tall. Then, looking down at Dak, he said, “Now, go on and walk your path, Dak. Do good things. Make the world a better place.”

  Dak nodded, suddenly knowing, without a doubt, that Sera and Riq had been right all along. He sighed, feeling that too-close-for-comfort feeling. Not for the first time, Abraham Lincoln himself had saved the day.

  “Good-bye, Dak,” the president said.

  “Bye.” It was all he could get through his emotion-choked throat.

  Dak walked away from his hero, his heart aching, six words ringing in his head. Six words that he’d never, never forget.

  Make the world a better place.

  THE SUN had set by the time Dak came out of the theater, his shoulders slumped, a suspicious redness to his eyes. Sera wanted to scream at him, pound him, lecture him until the moon crossed the sky. But instead she walked right up and threw her arms around him, squeezing tight.

  “What happened?”

  “You were right,” he answered. “Both of you. We need to leave before the president gets shot.”

  Sera pulled back in surprise. “You didn’t tell him?”

  “Destiny” was his only response.

  Sera glanced over at Riq, who shrugged. At least he didn’t say “I told you so,” or look smug. The three of them had come a long way, leaving behind their childish ways. Mostly.

  “Let’s just get out of here,” Riq said. “This won’t be the best place to hang around in about an hour. And you both know what’s waiting for us now.”

  In answer, Sera reached down to her satchel, where the figure-eight shape of the Infinity Ring rested, hard and cold. Ready to take them to their final destination, where matters would be settled once and for all.

  “The Prime Break,” Dak whispered, as if the words were sacred.

  The three of them found an alley and walked into the safety of the darkness.

  Traveling through the wormholes of time was an experience that Sera would both miss and hope to never do again. She loved it in a way — doing something so scientifically revolutionary, so spectacular, so terrifying. But she also hated it. Every time her body ripped through the dazzling violence of a quantum disturbance, it was as if a part of it got left behind. Time ate away at her like it ate away the years.

  Nineteenth-century Washington, DC, exploded away from them, replaced by sound and sparks and streaking light and warping pain. Like always, just when Sera thought she couldn’t take one more second of it, they were thrown from the wormhole, spilling out and tumbling across the soft leaves of a forest floor near Corinth, Greece. Sera’s head whacked the trunk of a tree right at the end of her roll, a perfect ending.

  Dak must’ve seen it because he was at her side in a flash.

  “You okay?” he asked.

  She looked up at him. “Yeah, fine. Thanks for asking.” And she really meant it. Maybe Dak meeting Abraham Lincoln had been worth the extra trip after all. Suddenly he seemed . . . nicer. Wiser.

  Riq was sitting nearby, arms draped across his knees. “When you get back to the future and everything is hunky-dory and the Cataclysm is nothing but a nice Remnant, I have a feeling you two are going to get married.”

  Dak and Sera looked at each other, eyes widening by the nanosecond, then they both exploded in a fit of laughter.

  “Not quite the reaction I expected,” the older boy said.

  Sera got control of herself, but lost it when she made the mistake of meeting eyes with Dak again. After another round of the snickers, they finally stopped.

  Riq shook his head. “The amount of laughing just now was nowhere near proportional to the humor level. You guys are weird.”

  Dak stood up, then helped Sera do the same, just like a gentleman and his lady.

  “Riq, you’ve got a lot to learn about life,” Dak said.

  “Yep,” Sera added.

  His baffled look made him more likable somehow. He stood to join them just as Sera slipped the Infinity Ring back into her satchel.

  “So, what’s our mission?” Dak asked, bringing their duties back to the forefront. Suddenly, Sera couldn’t bring herself to smile and found it hard to believe she’d been hooting like a tickled six-year-old seconds earlier.

  “The Prime Break,” Riq answered. “Plain and simple as that. We need to stop Alexander the Third from being assassinated. Sorry we couldn’t do the same for Abraham Lincoln.”

  Dak looked at him sharply, as if he assumed the boy was mocking him, but the expression quickly softened. Riq had been genuine in respecting Dak’s all-out hero worship.

  “It’s a weird mission, you know?” Sera said.

  “What do you mean?” Dak asked.

  “It’s 336 BC. We’re in Greece. And we have a mission. But things are so different now. There are no Hystorians here. Or SQ for that matter. No Time Wardens. Aristotle doesn’t even know about the society that he created yet. Or, I guess, creates. It’s just strange to think about.”

  Dak’s eyes lit up like something had just clicked in his brain. “If we end up fixing all the Breaks, then Aristotle doesn’t even need to create the Hystorians, right? So how will our future selves know to come back and . . .”

  He trailed off, and Sera knew why. “Pointless to talk about,” she said. “It’s the old go-back-and-kill-your-own-grandma argument. Somehow, it just doesn’t work that way. Time lines, the river, boulders in the stream, all that. Let’s just focus on getting the job done. And trusting the Hystorians.”

  “First things first,” Riq said. “Dak, you’re the history dork.” He said the words the same way he’d compliment a nicely cooked steak. “Give us the scoop on what did happen to Alexander, and then we can figure out how to change things.”

  Dak looked like a kid who’d just been given an eternal hall pass at school. “Well, Riq, I’m a little rusty on the subject, but —”

  “Oh, please,” Sera inserted. “You know every little fact and figure. Spill it.”

  “Your wish is my command, my lady.” Dak straightened and looked off somewhere in the distance, as if he were recalling an actual memory. “A man named Attalas was behind the murder of King Philip and Alexander. Attalas wanted his grandson, Karanos, to be the next king of Macedonia, and Alexander stood right smack in the way of that. The man who actually did the deed was named Pausanius, a nobleman who’d become a close bodyguard of King Philip. Pausanius poisoned both Philip and Alexander while they were in camp with the army, preparing to march against Asia Minor. Philip wanted to conquer the whole Persian Empire eventually.”

  Sera felt her eyes starting to cross as her friend spoke. All she heard was a bunch of names and the drone of Dak’s teaching voice. Even after all she’d experienced, history just wasn’t her thing.

  “It should be pretty simple,” Dak continued. “If I remember correctly” — Sera almost groaned at that; of course he remembered correctly — “Alexander had made a surprise visit to see his dad that day — Alex was actually living with his mom somewhere else. She’d kinda been exiled, but that’s a whole ’nother st
ory. Anyway, all we have to do is make sure our boy Alex doesn’t make that trip. Then he won’t be killed. This might be our easiest Break yet!”

  “Don’t say that, you goofball,” Riq said. “You’ll jinx us.”

  Sera sighed, knowing without a doubt that the odds of things being easy were on par with the odds of Dak going on a no-cheese diet. “So when and where does the murder happen?”

  “Three weeks from now,” Dak answered, “way up near the northern border of Greece. Just a few hundred miles, NBD.”

  “NBD?” Riq repeated.

  “No big deal.”

  “Wait a minute,” Sera said. “Why are we that early, and so far away? Why did the Hystorians have us come to Corinth?”

  Dak’s face split into an all-too-familiar grin. “I think I know exactly why. Because there’s no way we can do this before talking to The Man himself.” He paused for a dramatic effect that certainly wasn’t needed. “Let’s go find Aristotle.”

  “YOU KNOW,” Sera said, “I’ve spent most of my life thinking I’d never hear the phrase ‘Let’s go find Aristotle.’”

  Dak was beaming on the inside, and probably on the outside, too. Ever since he’d first learned that Aristotle had been the one to start the Hystorians, he’d been waiting to say those exact words.

  “Well, it’s our lucky day, isn’t it?” he said, then he pulled the SQuare from his pants — he loved keeping it there for the sole reason that Sera made a disgusted face every time she had to touch it. “Now, let’s just check in with what our good friend Arin left us on here, if anything. Maybe she knew an exact time and place to find the dude.”

  “‘The dude’?” Sera asked. “That’s what we’re calling one of the greatest philosophers of all time, now? The dude?”

  Dak was fiddling with the SQuare and barely heard her. After he had logged in, a block of text popped up, with a complicated Art of Memory pictogram right below it. Of course, Dak thought. Of all the people they’d dealt with, Aristotle would be the one most likely to pass down a cryptic clue concerning the very Break that started it all. He was the source of the mnemonic learning system in the first place.

  Dak showed the screen to his friends.

  “Oh, boy,” Riq said. “That one looks like a doozy.”

  “Exactly,” Dak responded. “Which is why I’m going to take the first crack at it.”

  Sera reached out and ripped the SQuare from Dak’s hands. “Silly boys. How about we all do this together?” She sat down on the forest floor and held the device out on her lap for all to see.

  Dak crouched over her shoulder and peered down at the glowing screen. “Should I read the poem out loud?”

  “Go for it.”

  A tale I’ll tell to all the world,

  A tale not true to them unfurl.

  To hide the truth, to lead astray,

  Those who want the Breaks to stay.

  The murders both are vicious, cruel,

  An end unworthy, for wise nor fool.

  The one who hides behind the deed,

  Is one of evil, spiteful creed.

  Search the clue to you I give.

  Sift it, as sand through a sieve.

  Find the traitor, find the one,

  Who’d have our pattern ripped, undone.

  After Dak read it, he scanned through the words again, hoping that something would pop out at him. But it really just seemed like a prelude to the pictogram below it. That’s what they needed to solve

  “ ‘A tale not true’? So it wasn’t . . . what was his name?” Sera asked, looking over her shoulder at Dak.

  “Attalas,” Dak answered. “Looks like someone else was behind the murders.”

  Riq was kneeling next to Sera, intently studying the screen. “Maybe it’ll be obvious once we figure out the clue he left.”

  “Looks hard,” Dak said, half to himself.

  Riq nodded. “Like I said. A doozy.”

  After several minutes of studying the pictogram, Sera finally clicked off the power to the SQuare. “My eyeballs are starting to hurt. Let’s take a break and let it simmer in our heads.”

  “I recognize the images,” Dak said. “That’s Herakles and Perseus. But they’re mythological figures, not historical people. They obviously didn’t kill anybody. So what does it mean?”

  “I just thought of something,” Riq said. “Aristotle wrote this clue, right? And Dak thinks the first thing we need to do is meet the old man. So why even bother with trying to solve this. Let’s just go ask the source!”

  Dak’s first instinct was to take an opportunity to point out just how dumb Riq was. But he didn’t have the heart for it. After all, for a split second, Dak had actually thought the same thing.

  “He won’t know any more than we do,” he said. “He won’t know anything about the murders or who was behind them until it’s already happened. That’s the whole point of why we’re here.”

  Riq shrugged. “Yeah, but still . . . Once we explain who we are, why we’re here, and all that, we can show him what he created. Call me crazy, but I bet he’d be better at figuring out his own clue than we would be.”

  “But,” Dak countered, holding up a finger, “imagine how impressed he’d be if we solved it first.”

  “I think showing up with a time-travel device will be plenty impressive,” Riq replied. “But feel free to tell us the answer anytime you want. Maybe the Greek gods will help you out if you start praying to them.”

  Sera had gotten to her feet, wiping leaves and dirt from her pants. She handed the SQuare to Dak, who slipped it back in his secret pocket. He knew he must look dazed now, because the wheels had really started spinning in his mind.

  “Dak?” Sera asked. “You okay, there, buddy? You look like you’re gonna puke.”

  “No,” he replied absently. “I mean, yes. I’m okay.” He shook his head back and forth as if doing so would put all the pieces into place. Something Riq had said had triggered a disturbing line of thought.

  “Dak?” Sera asked again. “What’s going on? Seriously?”

  He looked at her, then at Riq, then back to her again.

  “I know who did it,” he said. “I know who the clue reveals — who was behind the murders.”

  “That was fast,” Riq said.

  Sera just raised her eyebrows, waiting for the answer.

  Dak felt sick even saying it. “His mom did it. Alexander the Third’s mom arranged to have them killed.”

  SERA STARED at her best friend, having a hard time believing what he’d just said. A soft breeze had picked up in the forest, bringing with it the smells of olives and pine. The day had gotten brighter, too, starting to get a little warm.

  “What . . . where . . . how did you come up with that?” she asked Dak. “Plus, what kind of mother arranges for her son to be killed?”

  The look on his face reminded her of a dam about to burst, trying to hold back too much. “Not many people know about Alexander’s mom. Her name was Olympias, and after a few good years with King Philip, they . . . went their separate ways. Which is a nice way of saying that he fell in love with Cleopatra and gave Olympias the boot. He exiled her. She and the kid were sent off to the countryside.”

  “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Riq said, rubbing his temples. “I might not be the historical genius you are — something you like to remind us about fifty times a day — but I know very well that Philip didn’t marry the most famous woman in Egyptian history.”

  Dak sighed. “Not that Cleopatra. She won’t be born for another few centuries. This is a Greek woman. Cleopatra Eurydice.”

  Riq nodded. “Oh. Yeah. Well, see? Maybe I’m good at history after all!”

  “Congrats,” Dak muttered, then turned his attention back to Sera as if she were the only one intelligent enough to continue the conversation. “Anyway, so her name is Olympias. What does that name make you think of?”

  “Greek gods and such,” Sera answered.

  “Exactly. And she only had one son. And he’s the so
n of a king. Slightly important to her. So guess what she always called him? Her . . . nickname for him, I guess.”

  Sera pictured the Art of Memory clue left by Aristotle, and then it clicked. She knew what Herakles and Perseus had in common — a father.

  “You can’t be serious.”

  Dak smiled. “Oh, I can be serious. She called the kid Son of Zeus.”

  “Wait,” Riq put in. “You mean she called him Zeus?”

  “No, she called him Son of Zeus. As in ‘Hey, Son of Zeus, time to get your jammies on!’ Or ‘Hey, Son of Zeus, it’s your turn to do the dishes!’ ‘Hey, Son of Zeus, could ya pipe down up there, I’m trying to take a nap!’ Son of Zeus.”

  Riq shook his head. “Talk about spoiling your kid. I bet he had a ton of friends at the schoolyard when his mom came by to pick up the Son of Zeus every day.”

  Sera had been leaning against a tree, but she straightened and held her hands up in a gesture that said she wasn’t quite connecting the dots. “The fact she treated him like some mythological hero only makes it more strange that she’d arrange to have him murdered. Right? Are we sure about this?”

  “I don’t know,” Riq said. “Maybe it has something to do with all that Greek mythology. Those gods were all family, and they were constantly trying to kill one another.”

  “We just need to find Aristotle,” Dak said, pointing off in a direction as if he knew exactly where they should go. “He’ll be at the League of Corinth, so I’m sure we’ll be able to find him with a little snooping around. I got a plaster bust of him for my kindergarten graduation, so I should be able to recognize his face when I see him.”

  Sera tried to hold in the laugh, but it came out anyway, sounding like a burp mixed with a cough.

  “What?” Dak said, his expression showing genuine offense. “It looked great next to the statue of Michelangelo’s David that I got for my preschool graduation. Duh.”

  And with that, Sera started walking in the direction her friend had indicated a few seconds earlier. She didn’t care where it led.