I Am the Traitor, page 22
I move in close to Tanya and Howard, the three of us staring at the soldiers, who stare back at us.
“This is bad,” Howard says under his breath.
“Stay calm,” I say.
“We can’t take them all on,” Tanya says.
She’s thinking the same thing I was. But I can’t give in to negativity. Attitude is everything in a fight.
“We’ll take them out one at a time,” I say. “Stick together. Fight for as long as you can.”
Tanya glances at me. I see the doubt on her face, but she’s putting up a brave front. Maybe for Howard. Maybe for the both of us.
One of the older boys steps out from among the soldiers. He is perhaps fourteen years old, still lanky in his movements, but I can sense that he is well on his way to being an assassin.
The boy looks back at Mother’s body on the ground.
“You killed her,” he says.
“I did,” I say.
“And I heard you say that Dr. Abram is dead, too.”
I prepare for him to strike, but he does not.
“What are we supposed to do now?” he says.
The question confuses me. I look at the young soldiers around us. They lean in, listening, faces curious.
Is it possible they’re not going to fight?
“You’re free.” I say it loudly so I can be heard around the yard. “All of you.”
“Free to what?” the boy asks.
“Free to go.”
“Our real parents are dead. Where are we supposed to go?”
Howard puts a hand on my arm, urging me to look to the right. The kids are coming forward, forming up beside us.
I look out at the faces of the assassins-in-training. They are a part of The Program, but not all of it. There are dozens of child hackers spread out in a network across the country, secretly embedded in society.
I start to formulate a plan for dismantling The Program.
Maybe Howard can send a message to the hackers, dissolving the network and instructing them to reintegrate into the real world. They might be able to do so without anyone knowing.
What about the soldiers around me?
I could call the authorities and tell them the story of a military-training facility gone awry, spun into treasonous acts by an insane commander. But what credibility will I have now that I’ve been labeled a terrorist?
And what would happen to these kids, their families missing or murdered by The Program? Will they be treated like children or terrorists?
Maybe they can be adopted and find new lives, new families, new hope for the future.
Or maybe they will be pariahs, lost in a society that will forever brand them as child killers.
I glance up to find a small, blond-haired girl looking at me. She is maybe eight years old, the toughness in her eyes undermined by a trembling lip below. She’s trying her best not to cry.
She gathers the courage to come forward, craning her neck as she looks up at me.
“Tell us what to do,” she says.
I look at the faces around me.
They are children. They are soldiers.
And now they are homeless.
Tanya pushes in closer to me.
“We’re all they have,” she whispers.
“It’s true,” Howard says.
The Program no longer exists, but someone has to take responsibility for these soldiers. Maybe there is a new mission for them. A mission with a different purpose.
For that to happen, someone has to pick up the torch and carry it in a different direction.
My mind is whirling.
“What now?” Tanya says.
I look at her and Howard standing with me. I gaze at the soldiers waiting in front of us.
I make my decision.
“Is there a cafeteria around here?” I ask Tanya.
“On campus.” She indicates one of the buildings in the area we left a short time ago.
I raise my voice so the soldiers can hear me.
“Is anyone hungry?” I ask them.
Heads nod down the line.
Howard smiles. Tanya reaches over and takes my hand.
“Follow me,” I say to the soldiers.
And they do.
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It’s been a long and wonderful journey bringing this trilogy into the world. I haven’t done it alone.
It began with my agent Stuart Krichevsky, who believed before anyone else and did what he does best. Many thanks to him, Ross Harris, and Shana Cohen at SKLA. They’ve been with me every step of the way, and I can’t thank them enough.
Thanks to my editor Kate Sullivan and publisher Megan Tingley, who championed the series and invited me into the LBYR family. I will be forever grateful to them and to the team at LBYR, past and present, who have supported the books: Andrew Smith, Lisa Moraleda, Melanie Chang, Victoria Stapleton, Leslie Shumate, Faye Bi, Jenny Choy, Amy Habayeb, Kristin Dulaney, and many more.
Very special thanks to my editor Pam Garfinkel, who swooped in like an action hero to save the day on Book 3. She even made it look easy.
Thanks to the good folks at Orchard UK and the many international partners who have brought the series to readers around the world.
I want to give a special shout-out to Lauren Fischer and Rich Tackenberg, best friends who have cheered me from the sidelines, read my books, listened to my hopes and fears, and refilled my coffee cup on Saturday mornings. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Finally, I’d like to thank the readers, bloggers, teachers, librarians, and booksellers who have read and shared the books. If you’re reading this now, you’ve likely followed the assassin’s journey from the very beginning. Bravo to you.
And now, my friends, it’s time for me to get back to writing.
THIS USED TO BE MY HOME.
I DRIVE TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER.
I PUSH THROUGH HERMETICALLY SEALED DOUBLE DOORS INTO THE PSYCH BUILDING.
“STOP!” A MAN SHOUTS.
MIKE TAKES OFF THE CAMPUS COP JACKET AND HANGS IT ON A METAL FENCE POST.
I PRESS DOWN ON THE GAS, AND THE ACCORD RESPONDS WITH A ROAR.
I WAS LOCKED IN A SMALL ROOM.
“YOU REMEMBER THAT DAY, DON’T YOU?” MIKE SAYS.
IT TAKES A LITTLE OVER AN HOUR TO GET TO CAYUGA HEIGHTS.
MIKE OPENS HIS BACKPACK.
IT SEEMS LIKE A NORMAL KITCHEN IN A COUNTRY HOUSE.
I EDGE FORWARD, MOTIONING HOWARD AND TANYA TO FOLLOW.
HOWARD AND TANYA ARE IN THE BACKSEAT.
BACK AT THE TABLE, TANYA IS NOSE-DEEP IN A PLATE OF WAFFLES.
I GET US AWAY FROM THE DINER, AWAY FROM WHERE WE HAVE LAST BEEN SEEN.
I KEEP US NINE MILES OVER THE SPEED LIMIT.
TANYA’S EYES ARE PUFFY FROM CRYING.
A CAR ACCIDENT.
THE ARTICLE CALLED IT FITCH’S BRIDGE.
THE STATE POLICE BARRACKS ARE IN A SMALL, BROWN-BRICK BUILDING OFF WATKINS ROAD.
THE WATER IS BORDERED BY THICK PINES ON ALL SIDES.
CHILDREN CRY IN THE FOREST.
I’VE SLEPT TOO LONG.
A NIGHT’S SLEEP HAS DONE WONDERS FOR HIM.
WE PASS A CONVENIENCE STORE THAT LOOKS PROMISING.
I WAS RIGHT.
THE LAST THING THEY WOULD EXPECT IS FOR US TO DRIVE UP TO THE GATE.
THE NEXT MOMENTS WILL BE CRITICAL.
SILBERSTEIN USES A BADGE TO UNLOCK THE SECURITY DOOR.
THREE GUARDS WITH GUNS ON THEIR BELTS.
THERE IS BLOOD.
TANYA HAS PULLED THE CAR UP TO THE DOOR.
MOTHER LOOKS OUT AT ME FROM THE IPHONE SCREEN.
FIVE HOURS IS A LONG TIME.
I TURN ON MY PROGRAM PHONE.
MY EYES ARE OPEN.
I DO NOT DREAM.
WE LIE IN BED AFTER, WRAPPED IN EACH OTHER’S ARMS.
I WALK INTO THE KITCHEN.
I PASS THROUGH THE GARAGE.
MOTHER SOUNDS WORRIED.
I USE EVERY INCH OF THE THREE MILES I’VE GIVEN MYSELF.
HOWARD ISN’T IN THE GARAGE.
THE ELECTRIC DOORS OF A KMART SLIDE OPEN.
THE SMOKE DRIFTS IN WAVES, MOVING ACROSS THE STORE ON AIR-CONDITIONED CURRENTS.
DARK FIGURES MOVE THROUGH THE SMOKE.
COPS ARE DESCENDING ON THE AREA FROM EVERY DIRECTION.
IT RINGS FOUR TIMES.
IT’S EARLY EVENING BY THE TIME WE ENTER THE SARATOGA SPRINGS CITY LIMITS.
I NOTE THE SECURITY CAMERAS SUSPENDED ABOVE THE GATE.
THE MAYOR TAKES ME INTO THE DEN.
THE SOUND OF THE DOOR WAKES ME.
THE BEEPING OF A HEART MONITOR PULLS ME TOWARD CONSCIOUSNESS.
I FEEL THE WARMTH OF THE SUN ON MY FACE.
I’M NOT IN A HOSPITAL.
WE STEP INTO A LARGE, EMPTY GYMNASIUM.
I STAND ALONE ON THE STAIRS OUTSIDE THE GYM, TRYING TO UNDERSTAND WHAT I’VE JUST SEEN.
I STEP INSIDE.
MOTHER IS ALONE, WAITING FOR ME ACROSS THE CAMPUS LAWN.
TANYA GUIDES ME INTO THE BASEMENT OF A NEARBY BUILDING.
THIS USED TO BE MY HOME.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Zadoff
Cover design by Tom Sanderson
Cover image © NikKeevil/Arcangel Images
Cover © 2015 Hachette Book Group, Inc.
All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at email@example.com. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.
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The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
First ebook edition: June 2015
Allen Zadoff, I Am the Traitor
ALLEN ZADOFF SERIES:
Other author's books:
- I Am the MissionMy Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies
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