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United as One

Pittacus Lore








  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  One Year Later

  Excerpt from I Am Number Four: The Lost Files: Hunt for the Garde Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Back Ads

  About the Author

  Books by Pittacus Lore



  About the Publisher


  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.

  A sanctuary.

  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.

p; “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.

  4:33 A.M.

  4:34 A.M.

  4:35 A.M.

  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 w
orking. 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.