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The Search for Sam, Page 11

Pittacus Lore

Page 11

 

  I’m stunned. “That’s where he is?”

  “Well, I can’t be sure he’s still there, but it’s my only guess. It’s only a day or two days’ trek from here. ”

  I’m confused. I thought we were just running from the Mogadorians, but this whole time Malcolm’s been leading us to his home. “But our path, it’s been so random. ”

  “I’m still trying to keep the Mogadorians off our tail. That we continue to evade detection is even more important, the closer we get to Sam. ” He sits up, giving me a solemn look. “You don’t have to come into town with me. It could be dangerous. For all I know the Mogadorians are waiting for me there. ”

  Malcolm looks at me, waiting to see how I’ll react. Under his gaze, I feel it: that familiar twinge of fear in my gut. My typical reluctance to enter the fray.

  But there’s something different about me now. I have One’s Legacy—my Legacy. I don’t feel as powerless as I used to.

  If anything, I feel a strange itch to see what I can do with my new ability. Months ago, One tried to rouse me back to the Loric cause and I balked. It took her creating an epically complex psychological trick to get me to leave the aid camp.

  But I don’t need much persuading from Malcolm.

  “Let’s go,” I say.

  Paradise, Ohio, is a classic small town. A harmonious blend of farmland and suburbia, a far cry from the tacky faux-luxe of Ashwood’s McMansions. Walking with Malcolm along the road leading through the town, sticking to the other side of the tree line to stay out of view, I take a deep breath.

  Yeah. I like it here.

  Just as Paradise’s main drag comes into view down the road, Malcolm starts leading us away, deeper into the woods. We walk for a mile through the trees. We pass houses out here in the woods—some prosperous-looking farmhouses, some busted-down-looking shacks. We avoid all of them, beelining through the woods to avoid being seen by anyone.

  “What’s he like?” I ask. As we’ve been traveling, I’ve told Malcolm almost everything there is to know about me—about how the son of a respected Mogadorian leader came to be the traitor that I am now. But there’s so much about Malcolm that’s still a mystery to me. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because he doesn’t like to think about it himself.

  Still walking and staring straight ahead, Malcolm smiles sadly. “I don’t know,” he says.

  “You mean you can’t remember?”

  “No, not that. My memories of Sam haven’t faded at all. It’s just—” He stops. “I can’t say what he’s like now, not when I haven’t seen him in all this time. I’ve missed everything. He was just a kid when I got taken. He was smart, and he was kind. A great kid. ” He laughs. “He was Sam. ”

  “What happens when we find him?” I ask.

  Malcolm’s expression darkens.

  “I just need to see him. To know he’s okay. You and I, we’re marked for death by the Mogadorians. I know I can’t exactly be a father to him under those conditions, but I need to see him at least once. After that …” he says, his voice trailing off.

  I finish his thought. “After that we go back on the run. ”

  Malcolm nods. “It won’t be safe for us to stick around. ”

  I feel a strange twinge of relief at that thought.

  “We’re close,” he says, quickening his stride.

  I see a house up ahead, through the trees.

  “That’s it,” he says.

  As we walk, the texture of the dirt beneath our feet begins to shift. I look down: it’s burned. Scarred. My antennae go up, preparing for a possible attack.

  The closer we get, the worse it is. More scorched earth, more fallen trees. There’s been a battle here.

  “Malcolm,” I say. “The Mogadorians have been here. ”

  But of course he’s already noticed. He’s speeding up, racing towards the house. I keep pace behind him, worried what we’re running into.

  But when he runs up to the house’s side door and bangs on it, and a shocked-looking woman steps outside, eyes bulging at Malcolm, I stop running. Malcolm’s given me no instruction; I have no idea what’s going on.

  I hang back.

  Malcolm holds the woman by the shoulders, talking to her, asking her questions. The woman’s expression of shock and wonderment begins to melt, giving way to something else.

  Anger.

  She slaps him. Then slaps him again. Soon she’s unleashed a barrage, and Malcolm just stands there, absorbing each and every blow. I can’t hear her from where I stand, but I know what she’s saying. “Where were you? Where were you? Where were you?”

  She falls to her knees on the porch and begins to sob. Moments later, Malcolm joins her.

  I wait. Malcolm has been inside with the woman for an hour now. We exchanged a look before he headed inside with her. I nodded, giving him the sign that I’d be fine out here on my own.

  Kicking the scorched dirt, I’m anxious, keyed up. To judge by the tracks, by the burned patches of earth, there was some kind of conflict here not long ago. Mogadorians could be close.

  I have One’s Legacy now, I remind myself. Even if I come face-to-face with a Mog force, I’m not powerless anymore. I can fight back.

  The more time passes, the more I worry about Malcolm. To come all this way and discover that something has happened to his son would be devastating.

  Malcolm finally emerges from the house. He walks with a hard-nosed determination, strutting right past me and back into the woods.

  All he says is “Come. ”

  I follow him across the backyard to a large stone well.

  “It’s open,” he says, shaking his head.

  “So?” I ask. “Malcolm, you have to tell me what’s going on. ”

  Without answering, Malcolm climbs into the well and disappears.

  Again, I follow.

  I make my way down a long, narrow ladder and finally arrive at the bottom of the well.

  “Malcolm?” I ask. No response. I feel my way along the walls down a narrow passageway, which slowly gives way into a room.

  A large halogen lamp lights up, illuminating the space. Malcolm holds it, and swings it around the room.

  I follow the arc of the beam. Bare walls, some computer equipment in the corner. A shelf with supplies: water bottles, canned food—

  Startled by what I see, I gasp. Against the wall, close enough for me to touch, is a massive skeleton.

  The skeleton’s head is tipped downwards in an angle of dignified, almost lordly resignation. But it’s still a skull, with deep hollow sockets pointing right at me. I yelp, backing against the opposite wall.

  “The Mogadorians didn’t find this place,” says Malcolm. “If they had, they wouldn’t have left it like this. They would have destroyed this skeleton, or taken it. But the well was open. Someone’s been here. ” Malcolm resumes poking around in the chamber. “The tablet’s gone. He must have come here, and then after …”

  “Malcolm,” I whisper, hoping he will calm down and explain himself. “I’m in the dark here,” I say. “Quite literally. ”

  He ignores my joke.

  “My wife saw Sam with some other kids; she said there was a battle. By what she described, those other kids had to be members of the Garde. Sam was with them, fighting by their side. ”

  I experience a brief chill of excitement at the thought that the Garde was here only a short time ago. The Garde. My people. My new people.

  “In my absence, I guess he took up my cause, and wound up in battle with Mogs and … now he’s gone. ”

  Malcolm stares at me, a haunted look on his face.

  “My son Sam is gone. ”

  Malcolm’s wife won’t let him in the house again. She’s too angry.

  As a result, we’ve camped out in his underground bunker, stretching out on the bare stone floor. I’ve slept in some pretty rough quarters since going on the run with Malcolm, but I’ve never faced a challenge quite like
trying to fall sleep under the hollow nose of an eight-foot-tall skeleton.

  Malcolm explains that she is crushed by grief for her missing son. That as angry as she is with Malcolm for disappearing, the worst part is him finally reappearing only weeks after Sam disappeared—too late to save him.

  She blames Malcolm for whatever’s happened to Sam. And Malcolm says she’s right to blame him.

  “It was my fault. I was so excited to make contact with the Loric, I didn’t even consider the consequences. Once I saw what the Mogadorians were capable of, I realized my role as a Greeter might be a danger to my family, but it was too late. Before I could do anything to protect them, I was taken. ”

  Malcolm theorizes that, haunted by his disappearance, Sam began to unravel some of the mysteries of the Mogadorian invasion. That he somehow forged an alliance with members of the Garde.

  And that at some point in the past few weeks, in battle near his house, he was captured by the Mogs, and either killed or detained.

  When Malcolm says this, my mind races back to the memo I encountered while snooping around the underground server in the Media Surveillance facility. The memo was already a year old when it declared all future detainees and captives were to be routed to the Dulce base in New Mexico. If Sam was captured weeks ago, there’s a good chance he’s being kept there.

  I stare at Malcolm, stretched out on the floor, his back to me.

  “Malcolm,” I say.

  He rolls over and turns to me. I can see from his gaze that he’s lost in doubt and guilt and grief. Clearly the search for his son is what’s been driving him since we escaped from Ashwood.

  “I think I know where your son is. ”

  CHAPTER 13

  I stand back as Malcolm opens the garage door. Inside, covered in dust, is an old Chevy Rambler. “I can???t believe it’s still here,” he says, diving towards the passenger door.

  We are at a storage facility on the outskirts of Paradise. Malcolm explains that he paid for this garage space many years in advance, keeping the car fueled up and ready should he ever need to skip town on short notice. In fact, he was headed for this garage when he was abducted by the Mogadorians years ago.

  I’m impressed with his recall. “Your memory’s improving. ”

  “Yeah,” he says, smiling slyly. “It seems to be. Must be all of your annoying quizzes. ” I laugh as he turns to the car’s glove compartment, pulling something out. He holds it out of the car door for me to see.

  A spare pair of prescription glasses.

  “Jackpot,” he says, triumphantly. He wipes the lenses with the tail of his shirt and slips them onto his head.

  He sits back in the passenger seat, looking at me through the windshield.

  “I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to be able to see clearly. It’s been so long,” he says.

  He lets out a contented sigh. “Amazing. ”

  “I didn’t even know you needed glasses. ”

  “Big-time,” he says. “This is actually the first time I’ve seen your face as anything but a big smudge. ” He squints up at me. “I can definitely see the Mogadorian thing, now. Yeah, definitely something evil about your face. ”