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Return to Zero

Pittacus Lore



  Title Page

  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


  About the Author

  Books by Pittacus Lore

  Back Ads


  About the Publisher


  The last survivors of Lorien—the Garde—were sent to Earth as children. Scattered across the continents, they developed their Legacies and readied themselves to defend their adopted home world.

  The Garde thwarted the Mogadorian invasion of Earth.

  In the process, the Garde changed the very nature of Earth. Legacies, the extraordinary powers from the planet Lorien, began to manifest in human beings.

  These new Legacies frighten some humans, while others look for ways to manipulate the new Garde to their benefit.

  And while the Legacies are meant to protect Earth, not every Garde will use their powers for good.






  DANIELA GAZED UP AT THE HOLOGRAM OF THE globe as it did a slow rotation above the polished mahogany conference table. The lights in the briefing room’s domed ceiling automatically dimmed whenever the operations map was active, so she stood there bathed in the projection’s vivid blue glow. She traced her fingers across the back of one of the twenty vinyl chairs that surrounded the table. She’d been sitting right there, months ago, when she was assigned to Melanie Jackson’s “good works and public relations” team. Daniela still remembered the positive vibes in the air that day, how everyone was smiling, even her. Earth Garde was going to let her help rebuild New York City. Her home.

  Now, the room was empty. There was no briefing scheduled today and the mood around headquarters was decidedly uncheerful.

  Daniela shook her head and reminded herself that, despite recent craziness, life was pretty good. She cracked a disbelieving smile, the way she did whenever she considered how far she’d gotten from Harlem. Not like physically far, at least not at the moment. NYC was three hours away on the train, faster if Earth Garde assigned her a helicopter. And they often did. How baller was that? She should put in a request to go visit her mom once she wasn’t confined to headquarters anymore. It had been too long and her mom was probably worried. Especially if she’d been watching the news.

  Thinking about her mom, it was hard to believe the gulf between this life and her old one. Where had she been two years ago? Hooking up with boys in Harlem River Park? Getting fired from her job for being rude to customers? She certainly hadn’t been hanging around any high-tech military briefing rooms in state-of-the-art buildings just down the block from the Pentagon.

  The invasion changed everything, of course. She developed Legacies. She may or may not have robbed a bank. She met John Smith. She helped save humanity.

  And now? She’d been all over the world. Seen some crap straight out of those dorky sci-fi movies her stepdad—rest his soul—used to watch all the time. She’d made friends that weren’t even human. She’d helped rebuild what the Mogadorians had broken.

  Daniela liked to think she was making a difference. Even if sometimes all she did was sit on a beach and babysit Melanie. She frowned at the holographic globe. All the places she could go, all the good she could be doing. Instead, she was stuck at headquarters. Grounded. At least until the fallout from Switzerland blew over.

  It had seemed like a cake assignment at the time. Hang out at the mansion of the billionaire tech guru Wade Sydal, who, of course, was a family friend of the well-connected Melanie. Ride around on his new spaceship that he’d reverse-engineered from Mogadorian tech. Eat lobster.

  Daniela still hadn’t wrapped her head around how it all went to hell. Apparently, Sydal was involved with some shady people who helped him acquire black-market alien technology. Without telling them what he was up to, Sydal brought Daniela and her Earth Garde teammates Melanie and Caleb to Switzerland so that they could watch his back. The British lady selling him Mogadorian ooze had some mercenaries and Garde of her own—Nigel and Taylor—although they were actually double agents. Before the deal could even be completed, freaking Number Five and that maniac Einar showed up to do, like, a citizen’s arrest on all the adults. It all popped off. They fought, even more Garde showed up and they fought some more.

  “Bananas,” Daniela muttered.

  Sydal had been killed in the process of bailing on his Earth Garde escort like a scared little bitch. There were a ton of soft-focus tributes to him on TV. The official story was that Einar killed him, even though she was pretty sure one of the Brit’s mercenaries took out Sydal with a rocket. But no one around headquarters was interested in Daniela’s version of the events, especially not with video of Einar’s unhinged speech playing on cable news 24/7.

  Daniela surprised herself with how often she thought about Einar’s screed. He’d definitely come off like the type of dude who sent mail bombs from his basement, but some of what he said actually made sense, especially in light of the whole Sydal-being-corrupt-as-hell thing. Daniela didn’t know anything about cabals and conspiracies. No one filled her in on that stuff while she was acting as a glorified sidekick to the pretty face fronting Earth Garde. But it sure sounded like Einar and his people had some legitimate beef with how the Human Garde were being treated. He’d convinced some to run away with him, including Caleb, who Daniela didn’t think had ever broken a rule in his life, much less disobeyed the UN.

  Ultimately, Number Nine had let Einar and his followers escape. After one ugly battle, none of them had wanted to fight each other again. At the time, Daniela never considered rolling with Einar. Her gut told her to stick with Nine and his people. He wouldn’t steer her wrong.

  But Nine was back at the Academy with his students and Daniela was stuck here at Earth Garde headquarters with a bunch of adults who gave her the hairy eyeball and wouldn’t let her leave.

  Daniela breathed out a sigh through her nose. When would things get less complicated?

  When would they let her out of here?

  The globe rotated so Europe was facing Daniela. With the press of a button, she called up the operations overlay. A dot pulsed over Switzerland. Daniela poked her finger into the hologram and a text pop-up appeared:


  On the hologram, Daniela could check on the progress of all of Earth Garde’s operations. Sometimes the details were vague due to the limits of her security clearance, but she could still get a pretty good idea about what Earth Garde was working on. Right now, there were hardly any glowing dots on the map. There were on
ly a few dozen trained Human Garde to begin with and operations had been scaled way back since Switzerland. Garde like Daniela could rebuild all the world’s exploded landmarks and Melanie could smile all pretty for the cameras, but all it took was one unhinged Icelandic kid rambling about taking over the planet to shake the public’s confidence in their fledgling organization.

  “Didn’t hear them complaining when I was busting my ass laying down stonework for them,” Daniela muttered, thinking about all the foundations she’d supplemented using her stone-vision. She tapped a few buttons on a tablet computer mounted on the conference table. “Let’s see who still wants our help . . .”

  The glowing dots on the projection increased tenfold. Here were the open requests from countries for Earth Garde assistance. Waving her fingers through the map, Daniela accessed a few of them at random. Sickness in Kenya, an oil field under threat in Egypt, drug cartels in Mexico—all potential jobs for Earth Garde. More requests than they had personnel to handle.

  “Oh, Puerto Rico’s got a bridge near collapse?” Daniela asked the empty room. “I could help with that, if I wasn’t cooped up in here answering the same dumb questions over and over.”

  Officials had been interrogating her about Switzerland on pretty much the daily over the last two weeks. There were different faces from different governments and intelligence agencies, some of them were nice and some of them were gruff and one of them even tried to ply her with cookies like she was five years old, but their questions were all the same.

  “What happened in Engelberg?”

  “Do you know where the rogue Garde might be hiding?”

  “Do you think the Loric known as Number Nine had anything to do with the attack?”

  “Did Caleb Crane tell you he planned to defect?”

  With a frustrated swipe of her hand, Daniela gave the transparent globe a spin. The hologram blurred, blue lines flickering.

  Daniela always answered their questions honestly. Or tried to, at least. She really didn’t know much. The only time she bent the truth a little was when they asked about Caleb. Of course she’d noticed how strange he’d been acting. She knew that Caleb and his clique from the Academy were tangled up in some weirdness. She’d been assigned to help extract them from that crazy religious cult a couple of months back, hadn’t she? She remembered how, on the way to Switzerland, it had seemed like Caleb was trying to warn her that something bonkers might go down.

  But Daniela played dumb about that. She wasn’t a snitch. She liked Caleb. She’d survived alongside him, Nigel and Ran back at Patience Creek. Just because they’d chosen different sides back in Switzerland didn’t mean they were bad guys or defectors or terrorists or whatever else the so-so-serious diplomats and generals implied when they peppered her with questions.

  Daniela wondered, not for the first time, what Melanie might be telling the interrogators. Back in Engelberg, she’d been too shell-shocked to say anything when Nine had let Caleb and the others leave. But, on the flight back, Daniela had seen a dark look on Melanie’s face. “I can’t believe he let them escape” was all she’d said to Daniela.

  They’d been kept separate since returning—Daniela was stuck in the barracks, but she was pretty sure Melanie got to go back to her dad’s estate in Maryland. Or maybe Melanie was just avoiding her. She probably didn’t appreciate how Daniela had literally slapped some sense into her in the middle of battle. Daniela smirked at the memory.

  “Girl’s over there crying instead of using her superstrength,” Daniela mumbled with an incredulous shake of her head. “And I’m not going to give her a smack?”

  “You’re not supposed to be in here,” a voice answered.

  Daniela spun around just as a man in a very expensive suit entered the room. His brown hair was slicked back, his face bright and wrinkle-free, even though he was probably in his forties. He had a European accent that she couldn’t quite place. She’d seen him around before, in the halls of Earth Garde HQ. He was a diplomat or something. The guy carried a tablet computer, glancing down at it every few seconds, like he was too busy for this conversation.

  “I’m sorry—who are you?” Daniela asked with a cocked eyebrow, unable to keep the surliness out of her voice. Dudes who thought they were hot shit always brought it out of her. “Since when can’t I be in here?”

  The man crossed the room and turned off the operations map. The blue glow faded, the normal lights coming on.

  “We were actually just coming to talk to you about that,” the man said, a bit of impatience in his voice. “Had to search all over the complex for you, Ms. Morales.”

  The “we” he was talking about became clear as a trio of Peacekeepers entered the room. Daniela squinted at the soldiers. They were stone-faced, dressed in body armor and carrying those shock-collar Inhibitor cannons that Sydal Corp produced.

  A lump rose in Daniela’s throat. The vibe here was all wrong.

  Why would these guys be dressed for combat inside headquarters?

  “Am I supposed to know you, man?” Daniela asked the guy in the suit. She casually circled around the table.

  He smiled. “My name is Greger Karlsson. Usually, I work with your friend Nine at the Academy, but I’ve been asked to supervise the installation of Earth Garde’s new safety protocols.”

  “Safety protocols? What’s that got to do with me?”

  Greger glanced down at his tablet, double-checking some bit of data. “Now, according to your psychological profile, there’s a high likelihood of you interpreting what I’m about to tell you in a negative way. Let’s try to maintain a cool head and approach this matter with maturity, yes?”

  “I mean, you’re already pissing me off with that tone and we just met like thirty seconds ago, so no promises.”

  Daniela thought one of the soldiers almost cracked a smile at that. Greger continued on like he hadn’t heard her.

  “The UN has determined that, in light of recent events, measures must be taken to ensure Garde do not become a threat to the public. Going forward, it will be mandatory for all Garde to have an Inhibitor chip implanted.”

  Daniela’s eyes narrowed. She’d heard Ran say something about Inhibitor chips back in Switzerland. The government had apparently put them into her and Kopano without asking permission. She got the feeling Greger here wasn’t asking either.

  “You want to stick one of those things in my brain,” Daniela said. “And I’m supposed to be mature about that?”

  “It’s a very simple procedure. We have a healer on hand. Once it’s done, you won’t even know it’s there.”

  “I haven’t done anything wrong,” Daniela said, her voice rising. “All I’ve done is help people.”

  “Your model service is all noted in your file,” Greger said with a smile. “If that behavior continues, you’ll have nothing to worry about.”

  Daniela glanced at the Peacekeepers. “This is some stop-and-frisk shit, man.”

  “I don’t know what that means.”

  “Yeah. Of course not.” She edged farther around the conference table, making sure it was directly between her and the soldiers. “So, what? You put this chip in me and give me a shock whenever I’m late to a meeting?”

  Greger actually chuckled. “It’s not meant as a punishment, Ms. Morales. It’s a worst-case scenario. A last resort. The Inhibitor will only be used if your conduct becomes dangerous.”

  “And who decides that? You?”

  “No, actually, you’ll be assigned a trained Peacekeeper as a handler who will monitor your behavior and assist you in the field. We got the idea from the Loric themselves, actually. Back on their home planet, we understand that their Garde also had minders. They called them Cêpan.”

  Daniela took a deep breath. She was out of questions, except for the big one. Here we go. Moment of truth.

  “What if I say no?”

  “I’m afraid it isn’t optional. The agreement you signed with Earth Garde in conjunction with the Garde Accord gives us unlimited d
iscretion to implement safety measures necessary to protect the human race.”

  “Who’s protecting me from you?” Daniela asked sharply. “I’m part of the human race, too.”

  “That, Ms. Morales, is a matter of some contention.”

  Daniela’s hands shook. This creep just told her she wasn’t human.

  “Don’t you need my mom’s permission before you like cut my head open?”

  “Again, as per your agreement with Earth Garde, the organization has guardianship over you now, not your mother.” Greger smiled patiently. “Any other questions?”

  Daniela shrugged her shoulders, loosening them up. One of the soldiers behind Greger twitched, watching her closely. She was officially out of ways to stall what was about to happen.

  “Guess you’ve got it all figured out,” she said coldly. “One more thing, though. What did you say about my psychological profile? About how I’d process some totalitarian-ass news like this?”

  Greger glanced down at his tablet. “I said—”

  Daniela didn’t let him finish. With a burst of telekinesis, she flung the conference table at the Peacekeepers. Only one of them managed to get his weapon up in time, the electrified collar fired from his cannon deflecting harmlessly off the table. Daniela’s eyes sparked silver as she unleashed a current of stone-energy, cementing the table to the conference room wall, thereby trapping the Peacekeepers behind it. She stepped over the broken hologram projector, glaring at Greger.

  “Honestly,” he said, shrinking back. “This is futile.”

  “My ass,” Daniela replied. She snatched the tablet away from him and, in one smooth motion, backhanded the man across the face with it. He fell with an undignified shriek, clutching a broken nose.

  Daniela made for the door, already reminding herself of the HQ’s layout. There would be more guards throughout the building, but Daniela thought she could avoid most of them if she snuck down the service stairwell. The easiest way out from there would be through the cafeteria. She knew some of the workers down there liked to smoke on the back loading dock. They wouldn’t give her any trouble. But she needed to be quick.

  She stepped out of the conference room, turned down the hall and was immediately struck by a massive weight in the middle of her chest.