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United as One, Page 2

Pittacus Lore

  I just want to finish this.

  I’ve been awake since—well, I’m not exactly sure when. I know I should try to sleep, but every time I close my eyes I see Sarah’s face. I see her face back on that first day at Paradise High School, half hidden behind a camera and then smiling as she finishes snapping my photo. And then my imagination takes over, and I see that same beautiful face pale and bloodied, lifeless, the way she must look now. I can’t shake it. I open my eyes and there’s a twisting pain in my gut, and I feel like I’ve got to curl up around the hurt.

  Instead, I stay awake. This is what it’s been like for the last few hours, alone in this strange place, trying to wear myself out to the point where I’ll be able to sleep like, well . . . like the dead.

  Practice. It’s the only hope I have.

  I sit on the bed and look at myself in the mirror that hangs over the bureau. My hair is getting a little long, and there are dark circles around my eyes. These things don’t matter now. I stare at myself . . .

  And then I disappear.

  Reappear. Take a deep breath.

  I go invisible again. This time I hold it for longer. For as long as I can. I stare at the empty space in the mirror where my body should be and listen to the paper numbers on the clock tick by.

  With Ximic, I should be able to copy any Legacy that I’ve encountered. It’s just a matter of teaching myself how to use it, which is never easy, even when the Legacy comes naturally. Marina’s healing, Six’s invisibility, Daniela’s stone gaze—these are the abilities I’ve picked up so far. I’m going to learn more, as many as I can. I’m going to train these new Legacies until they come as naturally to me as my Lumen. And then I’m going to repeat the process.

  All this power, and only one thing to look forward to.

  The destruction of every Mogadorian on Earth. Including and especially Setrákus Ra, if he’s even still alive. Six thinks she might have killed him in Mexico, but I won’t believe that until the Mogs surrender or I see a body. A part of me almost hopes he’s still out there so that I can be the one to end the bastard.

  A happy ending? That’s out the window. I was stupid to ever believe in it.

  Pittacus Lore, the last one, the one whose body we found hidden in Malcolm Goode’s bunker, he had Ximic, too, but he didn’t do enough. He couldn’t stop the Mogadorian invasion of Lorien. When he had the chance to kill Setrákus Ra all those centuries ago, he couldn’t do that either.

  History will not repeat itself.

  I hear footsteps in the hallway that stop right outside my door.

  Even though they speak softly and even though I’m listening through a reinforced steel door, with my enhanced senses, I can still hear every word Daniela and Sam say.

  “Maybe we should just let him rest,” Daniela says. I’m not used to hearing her speak in such a gentle tone. Usually, Daniela’s a mix of abrasive and gung ho. In just a couple of days, she’s completely left behind her old life and joined our war. Although she didn’t have much choice considering the Mogs burned her old life to the ground.

  Another human swept up in our war.

  “You don’t know him. There’s no way he’s sleeping in there,” Sam replies, his voice hoarse.

  Sitting in this stale room, reflecting on the past and the damage I’ve caused, I started to wonder: How would Sam’s life be different if Henri and I had chosen Cleveland or Akron or somewhere else instead of Paradise? Would he still have gotten Legacies? I’d be worse off, maybe dead, without him. That’s for sure.

  Sarah would still be alive, though, if we’d never met.

  “Uh, okay, I’m not really talking about him getting a good night’s sleep. Dude’s a superhero alien; for all I know he sleeps three hours a night hanging from the ceiling,” Daniela replies to Sam.

  “He sleeps same as we do.”

  “Whatever. Point is, maybe he needs some space, you know? To work his shit out? And he’ll come to us when he’s ready. When he’s . . .”

  “No. He’d want to know,” Sam says, and then knocks softly on my door.

  I’m off the bed in a flash to open the door. Sam’s right about me, of course. Whatever’s happening, I want to know. I want to be distracted. I want forward momentum.

  Sam blinks when the door opens and stares right through me. “John?”

  It takes me a second to realize that I’m still invisible. When I appear from thin air in front of them, Daniela stumbles back a step. “Goddamn.”

  Sam barely arches an eyebrow. His eyes are red rimmed. He seems too worn-out to be surprised.

  “Sorry,” I say. “Working on my invisibility.”

  “The others are about ten minutes out,” Sam tells me. “I knew you would want to be there when they land.”

  I nod and close my door behind me.

  The illusion of a motel disappears as soon as I’m outside my room. The hallway beyond, more like a tunnel really, is all austere white walls and cold halogen lights. It reminds me of the facility underneath Ashwood Estates, except this place was built by humans.

  “I got a VCR in my room,” Daniela says, trying to make conversation as the three of us walk down one of the identical hallways in this mazelike complex. When neither Sam nor me immediately responds, she presses on. “You guys got VCRs? Shit’s crazy, right? I haven’t seen a VCR in years.”

  Sam looks at me before answering. “I found a Game Boy wedged under my mattress.”

  “Damn! Want to trade?”

  “It’s got no batteries.”

  “Never mind.”

  I can hear the distant hum of generators, the buzz of tools and the grunts of men working. The one drawback of Patience Creek being so under the radar is that a lot of its systems aren’t what you’d call updated. For security reasons General Lawson had decided they should run a stripped-down operation here. With everything going on, there’s not exactly time to call in civilian contractors. Still, there’s got to be almost a hundred army engineers working around the clock to bring the place up to date. When we arrived late last night, I saw that Sam’s dad, Malcolm, was already here, helping a crew of electricians install some of the Mogadorian tech recovered from Ashwood Estates. As far as the army is concerned, Malcolm’s basically an expert on the extraterrestrial.

  Sam and Daniela’s conversation has trailed off, and I quickly realize that it’s because of me. I’m silent, eyes straight ahead, and I’m pretty sure my expression is stuck in neutral. They don’t know how to talk to me anymore.

  “John, I—” Sam puts a hand on my shoulder, and I can tell he’s going to say something about Sarah. I know what happened to her hurt him bad, too. They grew up together. But I don’t want to have that conversation right now. I don’t want to give in to grieving until this is over.

  I force a halfhearted smile. “Did they give you any tapes for that VCR?” I ask Daniela, clumsily changing the subject.

  “WrestleMania III,” she says, and makes a face.

  “Hell yeah, I’ll be by to pick that up later, Danny,” Nine says, emerging from one of the many hallways with a grin.

  Out of all of us, Nine looks the most rested. It’s only been about a day since he and Five brawled all over New York City. I healed the big goon back in New York, and his own superhuman stamina has apparently done the rest. He pats Sam and me hard on the back and joins our procession down the hallway. Of course, Nine acts like there’s nothing wrong at all, and, honestly, I prefer it that way.

  As we pass by, I glance down the hallway Nine came from. There are four heavily armed soldiers there, standing guard.

  “Everything squared away?” I ask Nine.

  “Yeah, Johnny,” Nine replies. “They got some pretty whacked-out prison cells in this place, including one that’s straight up padded walls. With Chubby tethered to some cushions and strapped into a straitjacket, he ain’t going anywhere.”

  “Good,” Sam says.

  I nod in agreement. Five is a complete psychopath and deserves to be locked up. But if I�
�m being brutally practical about winning this war, I’m not sure how long we can afford to keep him in a cage.

  We round a corner, and the elevator bank comes into view. Overhead, the halogen lights buzz loudly, and I notice Sam pinching the bridge of his nose.

  “Man, do I miss your penthouse, Nine,” Sam says. “Was the only hideout we ever had with mellow lighting.”

  “Yeah, I miss it too,” Nine replies, a note of nostalgia creeping into his voice.

  “This place is already giving me a serious migraine. Should’ve gotten some dimmer switches to go with those VCRs.”

  There’s a crackle of electricity over our heads, and one of the bulbs flickers out. The hallway lighting is suddenly a whole lot more tolerable. Everyone except for me pauses to look up.

  “Well, that was weirdly timed,” says Daniela.

  “Better, though, isn’t it?” Sam says with a sigh.

  I hit the button to call the elevator. The others gather around behind me.

  “So, they’re, uh . . . they’re bringing her back here?” Nine asks, his voice lowered, being about as tactful as he can manage.

  “Yeah,” I say, thinking about the Loric ship right now descending towards Patience Creek, filled with our friends and allies, and the lost love of my life.

  “That’s good,” Nine says, then coughs into his hand. “I mean, not good. But we can, you know, say good-bye.”

  “We get it, Nine,” Sam says gently. “He knows what you mean.”

  I nod, not prepared to say anything else. The elevator doors open in front of us, and when they do, the words come spilling out.

  “This is the last time,” I say, not turning around to face the others. The words feel like ice in my mouth. “I’m done saying good-bye to people we love. I’m done with sentiment. Done with grieving. Starting today, we kill until we win.”


  TWISTED METAL SHRIEKS BY OVERHEAD. CLUMPS of dirt and ash batter my face, the wind whips at what feels like one hundred miles per hour, and I throw everything I have into it. Blaster fire sears across my legs. I ignore it. A jagged strut from an exploded Mogadorian Skimmer crashes into the dirt next to me. Only a few feet closer and I would have been impaled.

  I ignore that too. I’ll die here, if that’s what it takes.

  Across an empty pit where the Sanctuary used to stand, Setrákus Ra staggers up the ramp of his warship. I can’t let him make it back on board the Anubis. I shove out with my telekinesis, and I don’t care about the consequences. I hurl every goddamn thing at him, and he pushes back. I feel his power strain against mine like two invisible tidal waves crashing together, sending up a spray of metal parts and dirt and stone.

  “Die, die, die . . .”

  Sarah Hart is next to me. She screams something into my ear that I can’t hear over the roar of the battle. She grabs my shoulder and starts to shake me.

  “Die, die, die . . .”


  I gasp and wake up. It isn’t Sarah shaking my shoulder. It’s Lexa, our pilot, seated behind the controls. Through the windshield, I can barely make out the peaceful countryside zipping by underneath us. In the glow of the control panel, I can see a look of concern on Lexa’s face.

  “What is it?” I ask, still groggy as I gently push her hand away.

  “You were talking in your sleep,” Lexa replies, and goes back to looking straight ahead, our flight path mapped out on the screen before her.

  My feet are up on the dashboard, my knees tucked in close to my chest. My toes are all pins and needles. I set my feet down on the floor and sit up straight, then strain my eyes into the darkness outside. Just as I do, the countryside drops away and is replaced by the blue-black water of Lake Erie.

  “How close are we to the coordinates Malcolm sent us?” I ask Lexa.

  “Close,” she replies. “About ten minutes out.”

  “And you’re sure we lost them?”

  “I’m sure, Six. I ditched the last of the Skimmers over Texas. The Anubis broke off before that. Seemed like the warship didn’t want to keep up the chase.”

  I rub my hands across my face and through my sticky tangle of hair. The Anubis stopped chasing us. Why? Because they had to rush Setrákus Ra somewhere? Because he was dying? Or maybe already dead?

  I know I hurt him. I saw that metal bar pierce that bastard’s chest. Not many could survive that injury. But this is Setrákus Ra. There’s no telling how fast he heals or what technology he’s got at his disposal to nurse him back to health. It went straight into his heart, though. I saw it. I know I got him.

  “He has to be dead,” I say quietly. “He has to be.”

  I unstrap from the copilot’s seat and stand up. Lexa grabs hold of my forearm before I can leave the cockpit.

  “Six, you did what you had to do,” she says firmly. “What you thought was best. No matter what happens, if Setrákus Ra is dead or alive . . .”

  “If he’s alive, then Sarah died for nothing,” I reply.

  “Not for nothing,” Lexa says. “She pulled you out of there. She saved you.”

  “She should’ve saved herself.”

  “She didn’t think so. She— Look, I hardly knew the girl. But it seemed to me that she knew what was at stake. She knew that we’re fighting a war. And in war there are sacrifices. Casualties.”

  “Easy for us to say. We’re alive.” I bite my lip and pull my arm away from Lexa. “You think— Shit, Lexa. You think any of that cold-ass pragmatic talk is going to make it easier for the others? For John?”

  “Has anything ever been easy for any of you?” Lexa asks, looking up at me. “Why would it start now? This is the end, Six. One way or the other, we’re closing in on the end. You do what has to be done, and you feel bad about it later.”

  I exit the cockpit with Lexa’s words ringing in my ears. I want to feel anger. Who is she to tell me how to act? The Mogs weren’t hunting her. She hid for years without ever trying to contact us. She only showed up now because she realized how desperate our situation had become, that it was all hands on deck. Telling me what to feel.

  Thing is, she’s right. She’s right, because the truth is, I wouldn’t change what I did. I’d take my shot at Setrákus Ra, even knowing what would happen to Sarah. Potentially billions of lives are on the line.

  I had to do it.

  In the main cabin, someone has used the touch-screen walls to command cots to emerge from the floor. Those are the same cots we slept on all those years ago when we first came to Earth. I carved my number into one of them.

  Sarah’s body rests on that one, because the universe has a sick sense of humor.

  Mark sits next to Sarah’s cot, chin against his chest, asleep. His face is puffy, and he’s covered in dried blood, like pretty much all of us. He hasn’t left Sarah’s side since it all went down. Frankly, I’m glad he’s finally asleep. I couldn’t handle many more of the accusatory looks the guy has been throwing around. I know he’s angry and hurting, but I can’t wait to get off this cramped ship and away from him.

  Bernie Kosar lies on the floor next to Mark. He watches me emerge from the cockpit and quietly stands. The beagle comes over and nuzzles against my leg, whining quietly. I reach down to scratch absently behind his ears.

  “Thanks, boy,” I whisper, and BK whines again, softly.

  I move farther back. Ella is curled up on one of the cots, her face turned towards the wall. My gaze lingers on her for a second, just long enough to make sure that she’s still breathing. Ella was the first person I watched die yesterday, except she somehow managed to come back to life. When she tossed herself into that pillar of Loric energy at the Sanctuary, she broke the charm that Setrákus Ra had placed on her. Apparently, there are side effects to bathing in a bunch of Loric energy and briefly dying. Ella’s returned to us as . . . well, I’m not entirely sure.

  At the very back of the ship, I find Adam sitting on the edge of another cot. Looking at the dark circles around his eyes and his increasingly pal
e skin, I know for sure that Adam hasn’t slept. Instead, he’s been keeping his eye on Marina. She’s strapped down on the same cot Adam sits on, her eyes closed, her face horribly bruised, blood still crusted around her nostrils. Setrákus Ra smashed her into the ground over and over, and she hasn’t regained consciousness since. She’s holding on, though, and hopefully John will be able to heal whatever’s wrong with her.

  Adam manages a weak smile as I sit down across from him. Another one of our wounded friends is bundled in his arms. Dust was nearly killed back at the Sanctuary. Although he’s still twitchy and weak, Dust has regained some of his movement and has at least managed to change his shape into that of a wolf cub. Not exactly ferocious, but a step in the right direction.

  “Hey, doc,” I say to Adam, keeping my voice quiet.

  He snorts. “You’d be surprised how little practical medical training we Mogadorians receive. It’s not a priority when most of your soldiers are disposable.” Adam turns his head to regard Marina. “Her pulse is strong, though. Even I can tell that.”

  I nod. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. I reach across the gap between us and scratch Dust on his nose. One of his back legs starts to pump in response, though I’m not sure if it’s from enjoyment or the lingering effects of his electroshock.

  “He’s looking a little better,” I say to Adam.

  “Yeah, he’ll be howling at the moon in no time,” Adam replies, looking me over as he does. “What about you? How are you feeling?”

  “Like shit.”

  “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more,” Adam says. When the battle at the Sanctuary came to an end, it was Adam and Mark who got Marina onto Lexa’s ship before Setrákus Ra could finish her off. That’s how it came to be me and Sarah facing Setrákus Ra alone.

  “You did enough. You saved Marina. Got her back here. I . . .”

  My gaze involuntarily drifts towards Sarah. Adam clears his throat to get my attention back. His eyes lock onto mine, wide and steady.

  “That wasn’t your fault,” he says firmly.