[Lorien Legacies 05.4] The Lost Files: The NavigatorPittacus Lore
Excerpt from The Revenge of Seven
About the Author
Books by Pittacus Lore
About the Publisher
I’M WOKEN UP BY TWO POUNDING BANGS THAT reverberate through my basement apartment. There’s shouting somewhere outside on the street. A single thought shoots through my brain: They’re here.
My survival instincts take over. I jump out of bed and start shoving anything particularly damning out of sight, hiding data pads and electronic storage devices filled with stolen files in secret drawers and compartments I’ve built into my furniture. My heart pounds, but I move calmly, methodically, zoning in on my task. I’ve always worked best under pressure. It’s a skill that comes in handy when you do what I do.
I’m leaning over my main computer when a few notes from a guitar or synthesizer filter in from outside, followed by the sound of a cheering crowd. It’s only then that my brain starts to logically assess what’s going on. I pause to take stock of the situation, my fingers hovering over a keyboard, ready to wipe a hard drive full of incriminating data logs. There hasn’t been any more banging or knocking. There’s no official from the Lorien Defense Council bursting through my door. Just some music and the sounds of people . . . laughing?
It’s only then I remember it’s the day of the Quartermoon celebration.
The music riff stops. I pause and listen for a few seconds before closing my fingers into a fist and creeping over to one of the small windows located near the ceiling of my apartment. I step up on a chair and peel back a blackout curtain just a hair so I can peer outside. Across the street, Eilon Park is packed with people, its location on the outskirts of the city making it the perfect place for those living in more rural areas to congregate in celebration. A kaleidoscope of lights blinks over the dancing crowds, painting them in neon colors. Somewhere a stage must be set up. There are two more powerful bangs that once again rattle my apartment—a bass drum, I realize this time—before a band breaks into some synth-heavy song to the obvious delight of everyone in the park.
Part of me feels stupid for being scared by a drum, but mostly I’m angry. Not because my sleep was cut short—it’s dark out, which means it was time for me to wake up, anyway—but because this sort of government-sanctioned celebration is just one of the many ways that the Elders keep the Loric masses placated. They put on all-night parties and erect flashy monuments and light displays they call Heralds, and we are supposed to thank them—to recognize these events as signs that all is well on Lorien. All is perfect.
But it’s not.
My feet step back onto the cold stone floor. My heart is still pumping in my chest, and I try to slow it down by breathing deeply and stretching my limbs. The tips of my fingers drag across the ceiling as I stretch. On the streets of Capital City—on the rare occasions that I’m out in public during the day—I tower over most of the population, especially other women. Despite my height I rarely feel claustrophobic in my apartment, which is just one big room. If I ever did feel cramped, I could just clean up a bit, since most surfaces are piled high with books and electronics in various states of repair or modification.
I slip on black pants and a T-shirt before returning to my main computer. My adrenaline is still pumping. Best to put this energy to use.
“Talk to me,” I say, logging in to my terminal. “What have you got for Lexa today?”
I open up a few of the data-collecting programs I’ve designed and find a treasure trove of intercepted messages, alerts and intel. The most useful type of currency: information.
A few weeks ago the Grid, which controls and monitors basically all communications and municipal functions in Capital City, had started to malfunction in various locations throughout my neighborhood. Usually the Grid is impossible to hack—even for someone as skilled as I am—but when my own scanners had alerted me to the issue, I saw an opportunity. A chance for me to gather confidential communications—to show the people of Lorien that there are pockets of corruption in our government and secrets that the Elders and high-ranking officials keep from us. I was able to get to one of the Grid workstations before the Munis lackeys got around to fixing it. I did their job for them—adding a bit of my own hardware to the system. Since then, the “impenetrable” Grid has been mine for the perusing.
And I’ve been stockpiling all kinds of data.
This is supposed to be one big, happy utopia. At least that’s what the Elders—and therefore everyone who buys in to them being all-powerful and all-knowing—want us to think. In order for Lorien to be “perfect,” all of us have to abide by certain rules. We fall into categories, which make us easier to classify and control. Garde and Cêpan. If you have Legacies, you’re a soldier. If you don’t, you’re a Mentor or Munis or bureaucrat. You’re told to follow certain tracks, and if you don’t—if something happens that sends your life careening off your destined path—or if you question the system too vocally, then the rest of the Loric don’t know what to do with you. If you aren’t working in an expected role, you are flawed. You are different, which isn’t a good thing. You might as well be actively working against the rest of the planet.
Granted, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Not for the sake of anarchy but for freedom. What most people don’t know—or choose not to believe—is that there are some of us who don’t agree with the way things are run. We’ve realized that, while this may look like a model society, the cost is our free will.
Some of us have lost too much to Lorien. I’ve lost too much. And I want to see it changed. We need reform. We need revolution.
The sounds from the celebration across the street are so loud that my apartment has become an echo chamber of cheers and electronic music. I try to focus as I sort through the various communiqués my programs have intercepted throughout the day. Mostly they’re harmless—orders for Munis workers, notes from schools about absent students, traffic statistics. What I’m interested in are the encrypted files. Those are the ones that get personal. You can tell a lot about people based on the words they don’t want you to read. I’ve come across a lot of interesting tidbits—cheating spouses, conned business partners, less-than-scrupulous teachers at the Lorien Defense Academy. There are many people who would pay me well for the information. Or to keep it from going public. I know because, in desperate times, information has kept me fed and paid my rent. What I’m really looking for now, though, is something that will expose corruption in the Lorien Defense Council or the Elders—something that will force the people of Lorien to take a hard look at the way our government is run.
I know it has to be there. I just haven’t found anything heinous enough yet. But I will. I have to have faith in that. It’s the goal that keeps me going, that gets me out of bed. Besides, I’m not just doing this for myself. I’m also doing it in his memory.
I’m doing this for my brother.
My apartment shakes. A little stream of dust filters down from the ceiling. There are some heavy fireworks being
shot off elsewhere in the city.
They’re really going all-out with the celebrations this year.
An alert pops up that my decryption software is having trouble decoding a message that’s just been intercepted from a communications channel I didn’t know existed. I’m surprised my monitoring programs even picked it up. Either I’m getting much better at keeping tabs on Capital City or the higher-ups are getting really sloppy.
Whatever the case, an encrypted message broadcast on a hidden channel like this is bound to contain something important.
I run a secondary decryption program, and an unintelligible mess of symbols and letters slowly begins to form words. While it runs, I try to figure out who sent the message and to whom. The former is a bust, leading me back to a computer terminal and address I don’t recognize, though I log it so I can track it down later. I have better luck with the receivers. It appears to have been transmitted to only nine ID bands—all belonging to people whose names I don’t know. Not a problem. I run a cross-check against the LDC’s database of every registered citizen—a database that could really use better firewalls—and sure enough, the names have one big thing in common: they’re all Mentor Cêpans.
Curious. Why would nine Mentor Cêpans be contacted via an encrypted message during the Quartermoon celebration, a night when most people like to pretend they don’t have a care in the world? I wonder if it’s a matter concerning them, or their Garde—what unnecessary risks they’re asking those gifted with Legacies to take now.
I switch back to the decryption program. It’s still working, but I can pick out a few words. “Airstrip.” “Garde.” “Loridas.”
My entire body freezes.
This has something to do with the Elders. I’ve been trying to track down more information about their current locations ever since I intercepted a Grid message a few days ago mentioning they were all off-world. Why? What are they up to?
I grin as I lean back, putting my hands behind my head and rubbing them over my buzz cut. Regardless of the message’s content, something like this—something straight from the Elders—will definitely be valuable. People get obsessed over the details of the Elders’ lives. I could have just intercepted Pittacus Lore’s grocery list, and I bet I could sell it for enough credits to pay my rent for a month.
There’s a sound from across the room. My modified identity band—which looks more like a silver cuff now that I’ve integrated a communications system into it—vibrates on the table. Zophie’s name flashes on the surface. I don’t answer but slip the cuff onto my wrist, wondering why she’s contacting me. Possibly for another museum gig, I suppose. Zophie’s from what others would call “a good family,” which really just means that they’re wealthy and spend a lot of that money at charity galas and stuff like that. We were at the Lorien Defense Academy at the same time, friendly but not exactly friends. She was always with a pack of other students, but I preferred solitude, even then, back before everything changed and I went off the Grid. Later—years after the incident—we met again at a Kabarak in the Outer Territories, where I was reconfiguring a computer network. By that point she was heading the Department of Otherworld Studies at the Loric Museum of Exploration. She’s the one who brought me back to Capital City to work on a restoration project at the museum, refurbishing the onboard systems of an old fossil-fuel spacecraft. It was good money—enough to upgrade most of my computer equipment, which inevitably led to where I am now. But we haven’t spoken at all since my last day at the museum, and that was a few years ago.
Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe she just had too many ampules and wanted to wish everyone in her contacts a Happy Quartermoon.
The sounds of the crowds crescendo across the street. I continue trying to ignore them as I crack open a can of liquid stimulants and take a seat in front of the computer again. More of the message has been decoded, but it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. Something about a prophecy coming true and the end of Lorien and . . .
“Evacuation?” I mumble to myself.
My ID band buzzes. It’s Zophie again. I sigh and am about to answer when I realize that the music from the celebration has stopped. The crowds are still noisy, but their shouts are morphing. They’re no longer sounds of jubilation or celebration but of fear and alarm.
What the hell is going on out there?
I rush over to the window and pull back the curtain. I can just see a bit of the sky.
There’s a surge in the panicked screams from the park, but since the small window is at ground level, the people sprinting past on the sidewalk mostly block my line of sight. My apartment shakes again, more violently this time. I see the light a few seconds before I realize what it is. Fire. Fire coming towards me in a huge wave, engulfing everyone in its path: men, women, children. I manage to take a few steps away from the window before the glass breaks and half the ceiling falls down around me.
I COME TO, CHOKING ON SMOKE AND DUST. MY ears ring. I can hear the sound of people yelling, but their voices are far away and fuzzy. At first I can’t even tell where I am—it seems like a small, unlit room thick with haze—until I recognize the arm of a sofa that’s in flames a few feet away from me. I’m still in my apartment. Only, the ceiling has mostly caved in and there are smoldering planks of wood where my computer equipment used to be, and I’m half buried in debris. My first instinct is to try to collect some of my personal belongings, but I can’t stop coughing and my head is pounding, and I know that what I need to do is get up, out into some fresh air. It’s too dangerous to stay here. And so I use the flaming couch as a point of reference and start towards the place where my window should be. I climb on all fours up a pile of rubble until I’m finally breathing in cleaner air and collapse on the lawn. My lungs are on fire. My dark skin is covered in ash and dust.
It’s only then that I realize most of my building has been blown away, the apartments above mine completely obliterated. Razed, along with the rest of the structures on my block. I’m probably only alive at all because I was in a basement. Still coughing, I roll onto my stomach and look towards the park where the crowds had gathered for the celebration.
Only, there isn’t really a park anymore. The trees are gone. Small fires dot the charred grass, smoke spiraling up towards a crimson sky. There are scores of blackened clumps throughout the park too. I tell myself they’re tree stumps or the remains of the stage I never saw—anything to keep my mind away from the idea that these mounds were recently dancing around with their hands stretched up to the sky while drums and synthesizers blared.
My stomach lurches. My mind races, trying to make sense of the world I’ve climbed up into, which seems so different from the one I was just living in. What’s happened? What caused this? I wonder if there’s been some kind of gross miscalculation of celebratory pyrotechnics. Or if a Garde’s new power has overwhelmed him, turning an unsuspecting kid into an untamable inferno and wiping out an entire block.
The streets fill with people, all shouting, adding to my confusion. They’re singed and bloodied. Some huddle over unmoving bodies on the ground. Others stumble unevenly before collapsing.
I realize that my identity band is vibrating—for all I know it’s been going off constantly since I woke up. It’s Zophie again. Not knowing what else to do, I accept her call.
“Lexa!” Her voice pours out of a hidden speaker on the side of the cuff. “Hello? Are you there?”
“Zophie,” I murmur. My ears are ringing.
“You’re okay! I thought you . . . Everything is so messed up.”
“What’s going on?” I ask, getting to my feet. It’s the first of a million questions that are threatening to pour out through my lips. “My neighborhood . . . Eilon Park. Something’s happened here.”
“No. It’s everywhere. We’re being attacked. And not just the city. The planet. They’re hitting us hard, Lexa. Their targets are strategic. . . . I think Lorien is falli
ng. Everything we’d been warned about—it’s all coming true.”
The prophecy. My mind races back to the message I was decoding before everything turned to fire and ash. For generations, the Elders have been warning us that one day Lorien would face destruction and death. Some kind of global calamity. It’s the entire reasoning behind our society’s setup—with our super-powered children trained to be soldiers against some unknown enemy. I’d always thought it was a scare tactic. But as I stumble forward, stepping past the remains of a man dressed in the colorful robes of the Quartermoon celebration, I realize I might have been wrong.
“Lexa,” Zophie continues before I can ask anything else. “You have to come to the museum. Right now. It’s the only way you’ll be safe. I need you. I have a plan.”
“What?” I ask. My brain isn’t functioning on all cylinders. I’m not sure if it’s shock, or the cave-in, or both. “What are you talking about?”
“Just meet me there. I’m on my way now. As fast as you can, Lex. Run. Don’t let anything stop you.”
There’s some kind of interference on her end of the line, and then the connection drops out. I look down at my cuff, thinking about who I should contact if the world really is going to shit. Who I should check in on. That’s when I realize I have no one else to call. For the past few years I’ve been alone, refusing to get too close to anybody. Secluding myself. Making sure I had no strings, no one tying me down.
No one to worry or care about.
I look to the sky. The smoke from my neighborhood has created a layer of smog far above me, all but obstructing the Quartermoon and whatever else is out there causing this.
Who is attacking Lorien? Why? How could—
Beside me, the scarce remains of my building collapse farther, filling my basement apartment with fire and debris. I stumble away, coughing through the miasma of dust and ash that’s kicked up.
This stirs something in me. A switch is flipped, and before I know it I’m running. On instinct. It’s not until I’m at a full sprint that I realize my body is following Zophie’s orders and that I’m headed towards the museum. My home is destroyed. My planet, flawed as it may be, is under attack. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. I just have to focus and keep moving, heading towards the next goal.