The guard, p.1
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       The Guard, p.1
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         Part #12 of Lorien Legacies: The Lost Files series by Pittacus Lore
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The Guard


  CONTENTS

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Excerpt from The Fate of Ten Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Back Ads

  About the Author

  Books by Pittacus Lore

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  CHAPTER ONE

  ON LORIEN I LIVED IN MY GRANDFATHER’S house on the outskirts of the city, the dormitory of the defense academy, a basement apartment across from Eilon Park—even a Kabarak in the Outer Territories for a few years after my brother died, when I was happy to be lost and disconnected from Capital City and everything it stood for. None of those places exists now that the Mogadorians have destroyed my planet. Now I have only Earth, a world where I am not just a stranger, but one of the last of my people.

  I’ve been on this planet almost two years, but I’m not sure it will ever feel like home. It almost did in a rented cabin in upstate New York for a brief period of time a few months ago. Thanks to the Mogs, that home no longer exists either.

  It seems like all of my homes are eventually destroyed. Death tends to follow me wherever I go, taking those I care about most. And so I’ve made it a priority to stay alone, away from others.

  That’s how I end up buying a secluded piece of land I’ve never set foot on in Alabama.

  It’s dusk when I first see the property with my own eyes, parking in front of the huge wrought iron gate that opens up to a tree-lined drive. The name Yellowhammer Ranch is spelled out in rusty letters arching over the top. The gate looks imposing, but it’s mostly ornamental. As a security measure, it’s laughable. There’s not even a lock on it. The fencing on either side is just as bad, consisting of a few strands of barbed wire: a barrier that will keep out nothing but stray animals. I wonder if the former owners actually felt safer because of these crude strings of metal. Possibly, I suppose. But then, they probably never imagined that their enemies would come from the sky instead of the winding dirt road that leads to the ranch.

  I know better.

  Still, the gate and fence aren’t completely useless. They’ll both come in handy when I install perimeter security cameras. Maybe a few remote-operated weapons too, just in case any Mogadorians manage to find me here.

  With a little push, the wrought-iron gate moves, squeaking on old hinges. I get back inside my SUV and drive over the cattle guard. The actual house is located a short drive past the gate and is mostly obscured by rolling hills and trees. It’s all thick beams of wood on the outside. I ignore the carport off to the side and drive onto the grass, straight up to the porch. The lawn is yellowed and rises just above the ankles of my black boots when I step into it. I circle the house once, taking in the area, keeping my eyes peeled for anything that seems out of the ordinary or that might pose especially glaring security problems. There’s nothing around for as far as I can see in any direction other than more barbed wire and empty fields and an old barn out back. I’m alone here. No one to disturb my work. No attachments other than to my mission.

  At least if this place goes up in flames too, no one will be hurt but me.

  I step over a broken stair at the bottom of the front porch and walk to the wooden door, where there’s a big envelope hung up by a thick strip of clear tape. I pull it down and slide out a small stack of paperwork that proves I’m now the owner of Yellowhammer. None of the documents actually has my name on it—I haven’t given anyone my real name, Lexa, since I discovered that Mogadorians were on Earth hunting down the Loric. Not that it would mean anything to a Mog if he heard it, anyway—I’m not Pittacus or one of the other Elders. But I am careful. Yellowhammer Ranch is technically now owned by a shell corporation I set up, a subsidiary of another organization of my inventing, all of the paperwork looping together in a way that could never be traced back to me.

  Lately I’ve started to collect identities. I’ve been dozens of people in the past weeks, sometimes in real life and sometimes in the virtual world. I was Julie when I bought the big black SUV in Pennsylvania. I borrowed a man named Phil’s IP address when I attempted to hack into the CIA’s intranet. I think it was Lindsey who purchased all the firearms in Kentucky and Patti who bought all the computer equipment in Tennessee. I take the names from waitresses, magazine covers and overheard conversations, changing aliases daily, sometimes hourly. Organizing information and data has always been a strong suit of mine, and I bounce between these identities without faltering, storing Julie and Lindsey and Patti away in the back of my head when I’m done with them in case I ever need to use them again.

  The people I buy things from at pawnshops and computer stores never suspect I’m not who I say I am. Or if they do, they don’t say anything. It’s amazing how few questions get asked when you’re willing to overpay in cash. And, thanks to the fairly primitive internet firewalls and security systems used by banks on this planet, money is easy to come by if you’re someone who’s good with ones and zeros and moving them around like I am. In the past few weeks I’ve skimmed minuscule amounts of currency from millions of bank accounts across the world. Money is one of the few things I have a lot of. Money and questions and anger.

  I tip the envelope farther, and a set of keys falls into my open palm.

  The ranch was trickier to come by. I knew I wanted somewhere far away from crowded areas, or even the nearest town if possible. Remote places like that were easy to locate, but it took me awhile before I found someone willing to part with their property in a hurry, and without ever even meeting me face-to-face. All I needed was to wire some money and forge a few signatures, and suddenly I owned a piece of this planet.

  I take another look around the porch, and I can’t help but think of how much Zophie would have liked this place. She spent many nights at the old cabin in New York out on the veranda with a cup of tea, staring at nothing in particular. Probably thinking of her brother, Janus. Back when there was still hope that he was alive.

  A shallow ache rises in my chest. It’s a feeling I’m familiar with, the hurt that comes when thoughts of Zophie or Janus or my brother, Zane, settle in my mind. No matter how hard I try to numb myself and keep memories of them buried, they always manage to find me again. I remind myself that it’s not sadness I should be feeling, but anger. That, at least, I can use. It’s what fueled me on Lorien when I wanted nothing more than to take down the Elders and uproot our society. Now, rage against the Mogadorians is what keeps me going half the time. A burning desire for vengeance in the name of everyone I’ve lost.

  But to make the Mogs suffer, I have to get to work. And so I swallow hard, shake my head a few times and unlock the front door.

  Inside, the house is dusty, all the furniture covered with white drop cloths. The skull of a big, horned animal hangs over the fireplace mantel. Why the people of Earth choose to decorate their dwellings with the corpses of animals, I have no idea. Killing for sport was an unthinkable crime on Lorien, but based on a few appalling stories I’ve overheard at hunting-supply stores in my travels here, I gather it’s not exactly uncommon on Earth. I can only imagine what Crayton’s reaction would be if he were with me, knowing his fondness for Chimærae. There’s a pang in my chest as I wonder where he is now. Are he and Ella safe? How big has she grown in all this time since I last saw her?

  Again I push these thoughts out of my head and keep going.

  I pull one of the white cloths off a table and toss it over the skull, obscuring it. Then I explore the other rooms. The refrigerator in the kitchen has a huge freezer, meaning my
grocery trips to the towns half an hour away can be infrequent. The hall closet can serve as my miniature armory, where I can stash a few of the weapons I’ve picked up lately. I leave the furniture in the spare bedrooms covered and scope out the office located at the end of the one hallway running through the house. This will be where I spend most of my time—the sanctuary in my new base of operations.

  I start to unload my SUV.

  Until recently I traveled light, mostly because Mogs had destroyed almost everything I had on this planet while I was out chasing a lead on the Garde. For a few weeks I traveled aimlessly, making my way across the United States, an outsider in a world not my own. I thought about searching for the rest of my people: the Garde and Cêpans from the other ship. According to Janus, they’d scattered. That’s what he’d said shortly before the Mogadorians executed him on camera and sent me the video. The evidence I’ve discovered online seems to back this up. I’ve found hints of them here and there: pictures of an older man and young boy with a Loric chest trying to find passage to another continent, reports of tattooed men chasing a kid in Canada. I’m not sure why they’ve split up, but for the most part they’re covering their tracks well, staying off the grid. I guess their Cêpans are competent, for the most part. Being impossible to find bodes well for their survival, but not for me finding them.

  There’s some bigger game at play here, but I can’t figure it out. Why are the Mogs after these kids? What’s so special about them? Why spend resources trying to destroy the last of the Loric?

  These are the questions I’ve been trying to answer, all while doing my best to help the Garde stay out of sight. If I see something on the internet that sounds like it could be related to them, I try to wipe it away or bury it in broken code. But staying on the move has made this difficult to do. That’s why I’m here now, at Yellowhammer. It’s a base of operations for a coming war. Because, if the Mogs are here on Earth, it’s probably only a matter of time before they do to this planet what they did to my home.

  Most of the boxes I have are full of computer equipment I’ve purchased on my trek across this country. Once everything is piled up in the back office, I begin to piece things together, breaking down machines and wiring them in more efficient ways, building a system that will incorporate the highly upgraded laptop I created in Egypt using Loric data pads. The custom laptop is fine, but the machine I’m building will allot me more processing power and storage space. The work is tedious, but I remain focused. Night falls and then the sun rises. I pause only a few times for water and to stretch my legs.

  When my head starts to pound from concentrating for so long, I take a break and walk around outside, taking note of all the places where I can add some cameras and heighten security once the computer is up and running—something a little more substantial than barbed wire. This place will take a lot of work, but by the time I’m through it will be a fortress of knowledge and power. I plan to collect every scrap of information I can about the Mogs. Those bastards who destroyed my planet, who murdered my friend, will pay. I’ll figure out what they’re up to and help the other Loric bring them down. Somehow. Someway.

  I pull open the half-rusted doors of the big barn out back. They squeal as if they haven’t been moved in a long time. Light filters through a missing section of roof, illuminating a few bales of hay and a scattering of tools hanging on one wall. The place isn’t much—in fact, it looks as though one good shove could send it clattering to the ground—but it’ll do.

  With any luck, soon I’ll have a ship in here. The one that brought the chosen Garde and their Cêpans to this planet—maybe the last Loric ship in the universe for all I know.

  Because whatever it is that the Garde are here to do, they’ll need all the help they can get. They’re being hunted. We’re being hunted. And when they’re masters of their Legacies and decide it’s time to strike against the Mogadorians, they’ll need the ship.

  Hell, I’ll fly them to the Mogs myself.

  CHAPTER TWO

  ONCE MY DESKTOP SUPERCOMPUTER—OR AT LEAST what passes for one on this planet—is set up in the office, I get straight to work.

  I start with the information I have from Zophie and Janus. It’s not much, but that’s what I’m here to fix.

  Since tracking the Garde has proved to be nearly impossible, I take a different approach. A lifetime ago when we were still drifting through space in a refurbished ship, Zophie mentioned that Pittacus Lore had set up a contact for the chosen Garde here on Earth. If I can find that person, I may be able to get a better sense of what’s going on. He or she might even know where Janus’s ship is.

  And there’s always the possibility that maybe Pittacus survived the fall of Lorien. Who knows where the Elders were when our planet was destroyed? Maybe he’s even here, on Earth. His contact might know.

  So I focus my investigation on a simple question: How would Pittacus Lore go about recruiting a human to help the Loric?

  I spend countless hours thinking about this, trying to get inside the head of an Elder. Would he have sought out a great thinker? Or a military leader? Or perhaps he would have chosen someone with extreme wealth who would have the resources to protect the last of our kind. These inquiries only lead to more questions, though: What Earth languages did Pittacus speak? How many contacts might he have had on this planet? In my time at the Lorien Defense Academy, I worked on improving technologies for Earth but never thought to ask how those technologies were given to the beings here. For the first time in my life, I regret not sticking it out at the LDA after my brother’s death. If I had, maybe I’d have more information to work with now.

  I barely sleep and rarely leave the back office. With blackout curtains on the windows, I hardly even notice whether it’s light or dark outside. Eventually I realize I may be looking at this the wrong way. Maybe Pittacus didn’t find a contact on Earth. Maybe someone on Earth found him.

  This is something I can use, something narrower. I start looking into Earth initiatives to contact other planets. There are relatively few, and I’m struck, not for the first time, by how strange it must be to think your small world of dirt and grass and water might be unique in its ability to support life. Over the course of a few days I follow leads that go nowhere. I break into email accounts and track the browsing histories of a dozen astrophysicists, cosmologists, astronauts—even a few crackpot conspiracy theorists. I uncover nothing that even alludes to Lorien or Pittacus Lore.

  Finally, I stumble across a promising candidate. I find information about a man named Malcolm Goode, who was outspoken in his belief of extraterrestrial beings—so much so that it apparently cost him his job at a place of education that sounds not unlike the LDA. More important, he published several articles detailing his attempts to broadcast messages to other planets.

  His research and methods, while primitive, are sound.

  Once I have a name and a little bit of history, it’s not long before I find Malcolm Goode himself. He appears to be living in a small town in a state named Ohio. I do more digging and find a few email addresses linked to his name. From there it’s hardly any work to hack into his accounts, where I sift through the everyday correspondences of what seems to be a very uneventful life.

  Except for one email I discover that leads me to a private online forum. It has been inactive for years, and the correspondences all seem innocuous. Still, I dig around, until I find a deleted post still lurking in the lines of code that make up the message board:

  Hello? Malcolm? Is anyone still on here? Has there been any more contact from the Pittacus? -Ethan

  I consider trying to contact Malcolm online or over the phone, but I figure that if he is the person Pittacus talked to, he’s probably been sworn to secrecy. I don’t want to risk having him disappear on me, so instead I load some gear and weapons back into my SUV and drive from Alabama to Ohio for most of the next day. I hate leaving Yellowhammer unfortified, but tracking down this lead takes priority. Besides, I can’t imagine I’ve done a
nything there to set off alarms for the Mogadorians.

  Not yet, at least.

  Malcolm lives on the outskirts of a town called Paradise. When I arrive, I park down the street and watch his house for a while, trying to get an idea of who this man is. Through my binoculars I see him pass by the windows, along with a woman and young boy, about six or seven years old, if I had to guess. His wife and son, I assume—I remember mention of them in some of his emails. I watch him water some flowers in the front yard, then wash and dry dishes in the kitchen. His existence seems perfectly ordinary—so normal that I’m concerned I’ve got the wrong guy entirely.

  When his wife leaves and the boy runs out into the backyard to play, I make my move. I pull in behind a truck in Malcolm’s driveway and park. A few seconds later I’m standing on his porch, knocking on the door. I keep one of Raylan’s blasters tucked into the pocket of my long, black coat. I’ve taken to carrying it with me wherever I go, just in case.

  Malcolm Goode answers the door with a smile. His hair is a little unkempt, dark and wavy. His eyes are bright, brows raised in anticipation.

  “Can I help you?” he asks, pushing thick glasses up his nose. He’s on the scrawny side, and I’m much taller than he is. Good—if this goes badly and he ends up less than pleased that I showed up on his doorstep, I’ll have that advantage on him.

  I get straight to the point.

  “I’m here about Pittacus Lore.”

  He pauses before responding.

  “I think you have the wrong house.”

  “We both know that’s not true,” I say, but not in English. I use the language of Lorien. It feels so strange on my tongue at first—I haven’t spoken the words of my people in months. Malcolm twitches as I speak. His eyes go wide for an instant, and then he blinks a lot, staring at me in a mixture of confusion and astonishment. This is exactly the type of reaction I’m looking for.

  “What language is that?” Malcolm asks quietly, unconvincingly. “I’ve never heard it before.”

 
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