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United as One, Page 3

Pittacus Lore

  “Hearing that doesn’t make it easier.”

  “It still needed saying.” Now it’s Adam’s turn to break eye contact. He looks over at Ella’s huddled body and frowns. “I hope you killed him, Six. The thing is, knowing you, if you’d have known the consequences, you would have stopped.”

  I don’t interrupt Adam, even though what he’s saying about me might not be true. It’s weird to feel hope that I killed Setrákus Ra at the same time as the guilt for what happened to Sarah, all of it worsened by an undercurrent of dread that I accomplished nothing at all. I’m a mess.

  “I respect that about you guys,” Adam continues. “Most of you Garde, it’s like they built strength and compassion into you. It’s the opposite for my people. I . . . I would’ve pressed on no matter what happened.”

  Back at the Sanctuary, Adam had a moment when he’d got the drop on Setrákus Ra. This was back before Ella broke the charm that bound her life to her evil great-grandfather’s. Even knowing that it would kill Ella, Adam went right for Setrákus Ra’s jugular.

  “Your people,” Adam continues after a moment, “you consider the costs, you mourn your losses, you try to do what’s right. I envy that. The ability to know what’s right without—without having to fight against your nature.”

  “You’re more like us than you realize,” I tell him.

  “I’d like to think that,” Adam replies. “But sometimes I don’t know.”

  “We all regret things,” I say. “It’s not a matter of nature. It’s a matter of moving on and being better.”

  Adam opens his mouth to respond, but no words come out. He’s looking past me. A soft blue glow emanates from over my shoulder.

  I turn around to see Ella has sat up on her cot. She still crackles with Loric energy, her brown eyes completely replaced by roiling orbs of cobalt blue. When she speaks, her voice has that odd echoing quality, like it did when Legacy was speaking through her.

  “You don’t have to feel guilty,” she tells Adam. “I knew what you were going to do as soon as I got off the Anubis. I was rooting for you.”

  Adam stares at Ella. “I didn’t—I didn’t even know what I was going to do when you got off the Anubis.”

  “Oh, you did.”

  Adam looks away, clearly uncomfortable under Ella’s stare. If he’s relieved that Ella let him off the hook for what happened at the Sanctuary, it doesn’t show.

  “And Six.” She turns to me now. “As she left this world, Sarah thought about many things. Mostly about John and her family. But also she thought about you, and how she was glad you would be here to take care of John and the rest of us.”

  “You were in her head when she died?” I ask Ella, still trying to get a grip on her new and expanded Legacies.

  She pinches the bridge of her nose and shuts her eyes, which causes the room to get a little darker. “I’m still getting used to what I can do. It is hard sometimes to . . . tune out.”

  “Is that all she was thinking about?”

  The question comes from Mark. I’m not sure how long he’s been awake and listening to our conversation. He looks at Ella with desperate hope, and I notice that his lower lip shakes. Ella looks back at him coolly, and I wonder if some emotional wiring got fried during her encounter with Legacy.

  “What do you really want to ask me, Mark?” Ella says calmly.

  “I . . . nothing. It’s not important,” Mark replies, looking back down at the floor.

  “You crossed her mind, too, Mark,” Ella says.

  Mark swallows hard when he hears this and nods, trying not to show any emotion. Studying Ella, I’m not sure if she’s telling the truth or just trying to make Mark feel better. Her electric eyes are unreadable.

  “We’re here,” Lexa announces over the intercom. “I’m bringing us down.”

  Lexa lands the ship in a wide-open field next to a small log cabin. Looking out the window at the place, it’s hard to believe that this is where the government is planning its counterattack against the Mogadorians. I guess that’s sort of the point. With the sun just beginning to rise over Lake Erie, pink flares of light bend across the surface of the water. It’s a tranquil scene and would look totally like some hippie yoga retreat if not for the presence of the armed soldiers and their Humvees camouflaged in the tree line.

  There are two groups waiting for us outside the cabin and, even in my rattled state, it’s easy to read the situation based on the distance between the factions. The first group is our people—John, Sam, Nine, Malcolm, and a girl who I recognize from Ella’s telepathic summit but whose name I don’t know. Behind them, separated by about thirty yards, is a contingent of military personnel who watch our ship with keen interest. It seems to me that even though the military is working together with the Garde, they’re still very much keeping an eye on us. Together, but apart.

  In that group of soldiers, I recognize Agent Walker. As I watch, she nervously stubs out a cigarette and turns to answer a question posed by the older man standing next to her. He’s clearly in charge. The guy sports a silver buzz cut and a leathery tan, like they just pulled him away from the golf course. He looks like one of those senior citizens who’s still out there running marathons, all rigid posture and stringy muscles. He wears formal military attire covered with a stupid amount of medals. He’s surrounded by a half dozen soldiers with assault rifles—for our protection, I’m sure. Two guys in his retinue stand out; they’re twins if I’m not mistaken, and look to be about my age, too young to really be enlisted soldiers, although they wear the starched light-blue uniforms of cadets.

  I observe all this during the few seconds it takes Lexa to extend the exit ramp and power down the ship. Surveying our surroundings is a good distraction, a way to avoid looking at John. His face is a mask, his gaze icy, and I still haven’t figured out what the hell I’m going to say to him.

  Our battle-ravaged group slowly walks down the ramp. I hear mutterings from our military observers and can’t help noticing the cringing looks on our friends’ faces. We’re covered in blood and dirt, beat up, exhausted. Plus, Ella is giving off that faint glow of Loric energy. We look like hell.

  Malcolm’s got a gurney, and he pushes it across the grass to meet Adam, who is carrying Marina in his arms. It takes me a second to notice that Mark hasn’t gotten off the ship; he’s staying with Sarah’s body.

  Before I can stop him, Sam has me wrapped in a hug. Only when his arms are around me do I realize how badly I’m shaking.

  “You’re all right now,” he whispers into my tangled mop of hair.

  I steel myself, trying not to break down even though I very badly want to, and wiggle out of Sam’s arms. I look towards John, but he’s already standing over Marina, his hands glowing softly as he holds her head. There’s a look of deep concentration on his face as he heals her, and it takes so long that I start to hold my breath, worried that the damage Setrákus Ra inflicted is too great. After a long moment where everyone watches in total silence, John steps back with a drained sigh. Marina shifts a bit on her gurney but doesn’t wake up.

  “Is she . . . ?” Adam starts to ask.

  “It was bad, but she’ll be okay,” John replies, his voice completely neutral. “She just needs some rest.”

  With that, John steps away from the group and walks up the ramp of the ship.

  “John, hold on,” I hear myself say, even though I’ve got no idea what my follow-up is going to be.

  He pauses and looks over his shoulder at me, although he doesn’t meet my eyes.

  “I’m sorry that we couldn’t—that I couldn’t protect her,” I tell him, my voice getting shaky and, even though I’m mortified to hear it, a little desperate. “I swear I killed him, John. I put one right in his goddamn heart.”

  John nods, and I can see a vein in his neck twitching, like he’s trying to control himself.

  “We aren’t to blame for the actions of our enemies,” John replies to me, and the line sounds canned, practiced, like he knew this conversat
ion was coming. Without another word, he climbs the ramp and disappears into Lexa’s ship.

  A somber silence follows. The military personnel return to the cabin, which must have some pretty major underground levels to accommodate them all, and Nine starts to lead our group inside after them. I gaze after John, Sam lingering at my side.

  “I’m sorry, Six, but you didn’t.”

  It’s Ella. She stands next to me, looking up at me with those eyes empty of everything but swirling Loric energy. I must look shaky again, because Sam puts his arm around me, holding me up.

  “Didn’t what?”

  “Kill him,” Ella replies. “You hurt him bad, but . . . I can still feel him out there. Setrákus Ra is alive.”


  AS SOON AS I’M ON BOARD THE SHIP, BERNIE Kosar steps in front of me. His tail droops between his legs, and he stretches his front paws out, arching his spine low, his head down. It’s like he’s bowing to me, or expecting me to swat him with a rolled-up newspaper. From deep in his belly, he lets out a low, mournful howl.

  It takes me a second to realize why he’s doing this. Back in Chicago, the last time I saw Sarah, I’d sent BK with her. I’d told BK to keep her safe.

  Oh God, BK, it’s not your fault, I say to him telepathically. I kneel down, put my arm around his furry neck and hug him close. BK slobbers wetly against my cheek and whines. Tears string the corners of my eyes, the first ones that have come since I heard Sarah’s fading voice piped over my satellite phone.

  The tears aren’t for me. First Six, now BK—the guilt they’re feeling, it wrecks me. Sarah was their friend, too. They’re feeling this loss just like I am, and it’s compounded by the fact that they both think they let me down, that I’m going to blame them. I should’ve spoken to Six, should’ve said something more, but I just couldn’t find the right words. I should’ve told her that there are only two people I hold responsible for what happened to Sarah.

  Setrákus Ra.

  And myself.

  I’ve never been good at expressing those kinds of feelings, talking about myself, my fears and weaknesses. Really, there’s only one person I’ve ever felt truly comfortable opening up to about that stuff.


  I stand up, walk farther into the ship and see her. In the ship’s dim lighting, stretched out on a cot, a sheet pulled up to her chin—she could be sleeping. Her blond hair is fanned out on the pillow beneath her. Her skin is pale, so pale, the color drained from her lips. I walk forward feeling like I’m in a dream.

  Mark James is here, too, sitting next to Sarah’s bed. He stands up when I walk forward, and I’m vaguely aware of a murderous look on his face. For a second, I think he might get in my way. Looking at me he must think better of it, because he steps aside in a hurry. The anger in his eyes is replaced by curiosity, like I’m some strange animal.

  Or like I’m an alien, capable of things he can’t possibly understand.

  He doesn’t say anything when I kneel down next to Sarah. I pull the sheet back from her body, and it sticks to her side where the blood from her wounds has dried. She’s all torn up.

  I feel like I should cry. Or scream. But all I feel is empty.

  And then my hands reach forward, unthinking, acting on some combination of instinct and desperation. I press down on her wounds, her skin cold beneath my fingertips, and let my healing energy flow into her.

  When Sarah and Ella were riddled with blaster fire at Dulce Base, I managed to heal them. They were close to death, and I pulled them back. Maybe . . . maybe there is still hope now.

  My hands heat up. They glow. Sarah’s pale skin is suddenly tinged pink, and my heart skips a beat.

  It’s a trick of the light. My Legacy isn’t working. There’s no spark in Sarah left to rekindle.

  I let the power seep away. Now that I’ve seen Sarah’s wounds firsthand, the horrific visions that haunted me during the hours I’d waited are gone. It’s become reality. With shaking hands, I cover Sarah’s body with the sheet.

  The morbid details aren’t what I find myself focusing on. They aren’t what will stick with me. It’s her face—tinted blue in the muted light. She doesn’t look like she’s in any pain; there are no lines creasing the skin and her eyes are closed. Sarah’s lips are forever pursed into an almost-curious smile. I lean down and gently kiss that smile, not surprised by how cold her lips are. Then I put my head down, rest it on her chest. It probably looks like I’m listening for a heartbeat, but I’m just saying good-bye.

  I don’t cry. She wouldn’t want me to do that. But the insomnia I was feeling before, it’s gone now. I feel like I could finally rest, right here, with Sarah.

  “Is that it?”

  Mark. I’d completely forgotten he was in the room with me.

  I lift my head and turn around slowly, without standing up. Mark’s head is cocked; he stares at me, his fists clenching and unclenching.

  “What?” I ask, surprised by how tired I sound.

  “I said, is that it?” he repeats, the words harsher now. “Is that all you’re going to do?”

  “There’s nothing else I can do, Mark,” I reply with a sigh. “She’s gone.”

  “You can’t bring back the dead?”

  “No. I’m not a god.”

  Mark shakes his head like he expected that answer and is disappointed all the same. “Shit,” he says to himself, then looks me right in the eye. “What the hell are you good for?”

  I’m not going to do this with him. Not here. Not ever. I stand up slowly, take one last look at Sarah and walk wordlessly towards the ship’s exit ramp.

  Mark gets in my way.

  “I asked you a question,” he says.

  For a moment, his tone brings me back to Paradise High. I know this isn’t the same jock who tormented me and Sam—now he’s got a wild and haunted look in his eyes, unkempt hair and filthy clothes that would’ve embarrassed the hell out of the old Mark James. But he’s still a master of that alpha-male voice. It makes him seem bigger than he is in reality.

  “Mark,” I say warningly.

  “You don’t get to just walk away from this,” he replies.

  “Get out of my way.”

  He shoves me. The contact actually surprises me and causes me to stumble back a few steps. I stare at him.

  “You’re angry; you’re hurting . . . ,” I say to Mark, keeping my voice measured even though I want to scream at him. Like I’m not feeling the same way. Like I don’t want to punch through a wall. “But this—us? Fighting for no reason? That’s not happening.”

  “Oh, spare me your bigger-man routine, John,” Mark says. “I was there when she died. Me. Not you. She spent her final moments on the goddamn phone with you, giving you a pep talk. You. The guy who got her killed.”

  It stings to hear Mark say what I’d already been thinking.

  “We were in love,” I tell him.

  Mark rolls his eyes at me. “Maybe. Maybe you really were. But—come on. Mysterious new kid rolls into the small town, and oh, he’s got superpowers. And oh, he’s trying to save the world. What girl wouldn’t fall for that shit, huh? Hell, look at me, standing here. Look at dumb-ass Sam Goode. We all got sucked into your vortex of suffering.”

  “She didn’t fall for anything. I didn’t trick her.” My words are sharper now. He’s starting to get under my skin. “We were in love before—before she even knew about me and what I am.”

  “But you knew!” Mark yells, taking a step towards me. “You always knew what it meant to be around you and you—you went for her anyway! In all those towns you traveled to before Paradise, how many—how many other girls were there?”

  I shake my head, losing the thread of what Mark’s trying to prove. “There weren’t—”

  “Exactly! You kept it in your pants because you knew that being around you is a death sentence. Until Sarah. You just couldn’t leave her alone. You got selfish, or lonely, or whatever, and you—you got her killed. She’d be alive and happy if you had
just gone to another town, John. Yeah, this whole invasion would still be happening, but I got a feeling the Mogadorian warships are a long way from Paradise. Without you, without your needy bullshit, she at least would’ve had a chance.”

  I don’t know how to respond. Part of what Mark’s saying is true, but it ignores so much of what Sarah and I shared. Maybe it was selfish of me to involve her, except that every time I pushed her away she would come back. She made her own decisions. She was strong and made me stronger. And she was the first person on Earth who made it feel like I actually had a chance at a normal life, like there was something more than just endless running and fighting. Sarah gave me hope. But I don’t have the words to explain that to Mark, and I don’t even want to. I don’t need to defend myself.

  “You’re right,” I say coldly, hoping that’s enough to end this.

  “I’m—I’m right?” Mark asks incredulously, eyes widening. “You think that’s what I want to hear?”

  I sigh. “Mark, the truth is, I don’t care what you want. I never have.”

  He hits me then. I see the punch coming a mile away, but I don’t bother defending myself. It’s a short uppercut that catches me right in the stomach and causes me to suck in a sharp breath. It’s not the first time that Mark has punched me, and he hits hard—maybe a little harder than I remember. But I’ve taken a lot of shots over the last few months, ones harder than Mark could begin to imagine, and this one I barely feel.

  When I don’t react to the first punch, Mark tries another. His heart isn’t in it, though. He throws a haymaker at my head but seems to change his mind at the last moment, and his fist simply glances off the corner of my jaw. The force of his own punch carries Mark to the side, where he stumbles over one of the empty cots, landing in an awkward sitting position.

  He stays there, staring at the floor, and takes deep, heaving breaths. I can tell he’s trying not to cry.

  “Do you feel better?” I ask, rubbing the middle of my chest.

  “No,” he replies. “No, I don’t.”

  “What about when we end this war and destroy every Mog that stands in our way? Will you feel better then?”