I Am Number Four: The Lost Files: Last Defense, page 1part #14 of The Lost Files Series
Excerpt from The Fate of Ten Prologue
About the Author
Books by Pittacus Lore
About the Publisher
THE MOG SKIMMER RISES ABOVE ASHWOOD ESTATES and shoots off towards the horizon. Six, Marina and Adam are on board. A handful of kids—teenagers, technically, but still children to me—ready to cross the continent in search of a place called the Sanctuary. Somewhere they only know about because years ago, during one of the many gaps in my memory, I told the Mogs it existed and that it was important to the future of the Loric.
I hope for our sakes that this is true. Earth is facing invasion, and we need all the help we can get.
I’ve been racking my brain trying to remember anything else about this place that’s apparently so important to the Loric. Any details at all. But I come up with nothing, and there’s not really time to dwell on recovering these memories. I have so much else to worry about. The most important thing is my son, Sam. He’s putting himself in danger. Again. He’s about to head to New York with John and Nine and a few of the FBI agents who’ve joined our side in order to stop a corrupt politician and expose the Mogadorian threat.
As I watch the skimmer disappear against the morning sun, I wonder what kind of father lets his only child get wrapped up in so much violence and death. I lose myself in this question, unable to find a suitable answer, until John Smith’s voice breaks my daze.
“Damn, this place looks like a war zone. I thought we’d gotten most the fires out last night.”
I turn and find him stomping on a blackened spot on the grass, a wisp of smoke drifting up around his shoe. Behind him stands Adam’s childhood home, the front windows knocked out from yesterday’s fighting. Now it’s our makeshift base of operations.
“I think the remodeling you guys did is actually an improvement,” I say, and then motion to a house towards the end of the block that’s been completely demolished. “I always hated these kinds of cookie-cutter houses.”
I’m attempting to keep things light to hide my worry about everything that’s to come. To put on a brave face.
“If I were you I wouldn’t mind seeing this place go up in flames either.”
He locks eyes with me and smiles, but I can tell he’s sizing me up. As the unofficial leader of the Loric, John must think it’s his job to worry about everybody. And it makes some sense that he’d have his sights on me. It wasn’t long ago that I was in captivity in the facilities located far below our feet—the tunnels, research labs and operating tables found underneath Ashwood, where the Mogs’ brutality was allowed to incubate and flourish. If not for Adam I would have died here. Or worse. I can’t fathom what “worse” might have been in my case, but I have no doubt that the Mogs are capable of something more terrifying than death. If anyone here is going to freak out, I’m the likely candidate.
Still, it makes me feel terrible somewhere deep in my gut, like I need to prove my worth to the cause. Maybe I wouldn’t feel that way if it hadn’t been me who spilled so many Loric secrets to the Mogs, even if it was against my will. That’s one of the worst parts about not remembering so much of the last decade: all I have to show for those missing years is betrayal, pain and the knowledge that my family was out there without any idea of what happened to me the whole time.
I shake my head, trying to refocus my thoughts. One of the side effects of having my mind tampered with by the Mogs is that I’m easily distracted, prone to chasing long-forgotten memories like rabbits through Wonderland.
“I guess you’re right,” I say.
“You should try to get some rest,” John says, a slight crease forming between his eyebrows. “Try not to overwork yourself. When was the last time you slept?”
“Who needs sleep when I’ve got coffee and Mogadorian home movies to watch?” I ask with a limp smile. I’ve been going over videos found in the archives below Ashwood since we took the suburb yesterday.
“Thanks for helping out with that. Who knows what we could learn from those files? You’re the only one here we can completely trust with important stuff like that. Even if Walker’s men are on our side now.”
He means this as a compliment, I’m sure, but there’s a subtext to his words. He may not even realize it, but he’s reminding me that there’s no room for me on this upcoming mission. Someone needs to stay behind and sift through the data, and I’m just an old man who’s pretty good with a rifle, not a fighter like they are. My place is here. He’s a remarkably charismatic leader for his age. I have to keep reminding myself that he’s really just a teenager, at the point in his life where he should be learning precalculus or chemistry. All these kids act like they’re ten years older than they actually are (except, perhaps, for Nine, whose personality seems to have stalled at the age of thirteen).
John nods to a large hawk perched on a tree limb above us.
“The Chimærae are patrolling the area in case the Mogs realize that no one’s checking in with them from Ashwood and decide to investigate.”
“If the Mogs really are gearing up for an invasion, they’ll likely have more important things to worry about than Ashwood,” I say.
“Still, they’ve got your back. Plus . . .” He takes a look around, making sure there’s no one in earshot. “Walker and her crew are helping us out for now, but I feel better knowing the Chimærae will protect you just in case anything happens. They’ll look after you until we get back. Do you know how to whistle?”
“Good. Gamera up there is your new personal bodyguard. You whistle and he’ll come running. Or flying, or whatever.” He shrugs a little. “That was Sam’s idea. He thinks you’ve got a soft spot for Gamera since you named him. Anyway, I told all of them to stay out of sight for the most part. Walker’s agents know what they are, but if anyone else shows up they’ve got instructions not to morph in front of them. The fewer people who know about the Chimærae, the better.”
The front door springs open, and Sam starts down the porch holding a plate piled high with yellow disks. One of them hangs out of his mouth, flapping as he jumps down onto the lawn.
“Dude, they’ve got frozen waffles in there,” he says to John as he chews. “I don’t know if they were Adam’s dad’s or if the Feds brought them or what, but there are like ten boxes in the freezer.” He shakes his head. “All these waffles and no syrup. The monsters.”
“Sweet,” John says, reaching for one.
Sam shirks away, twisting around so the plate’s out of reach.
“These are mine. Go get your own. I’d hurry too. Nine keeps challenging the FBI dudes to arm-wrestling matches, and I’m pretty sure Walker is about to sedate him or something.”
John shakes his head and looks at me again.
“Remember: just whistle.” Then he heads inside.
“Did you like that?” Sam asks, his face lighting up. “The whistling, I mean. It was totally my idea.”
“That’s what John said. Brilliant.”
He grins and holds out the plate.
I raise my eyebrows. “I thought those were for you.”
“Just eat some waffles, Dad. I doubt you were raiding the fridge during your all-night cra
As if on cue, my stomach grumbles.
“See?” He pushes the plate into my hands, taking two more waffles for himself. “They’re making coffee inside, but these agents are just as addicted to it as you. I tried to get a cup, and one of them actually growled at me.”
“Sam,” I say. I don’t want to spoil his mood, but our time together is getting short. “I know this isn’t news to you, but this trip to New York might get pretty dangerous. If Setrákus Ra is planning on making a public appearance and it goes wrong—”
“I know,” he cuts me off. “I’ll be careful. If we get into a fight, I’ll leave the heroics to the actual alien superheroes as much as I can. Don’t worry about me. Just see if you can find something here that’ll help us take down these Mog shit heads.”
I give him an exaggerated sigh.
“What would your mother say if she heard you talking like that?” As if cursing even registers as a problem at this point in our lives. I’m honestly not sure where this reaction comes from. I guess part of me is still trying to mask my concern, as if letting these kids know how scared I am about them—about Sam—going to the front lines might somehow destroy their seemingly limitless capacities for bravery.
“I’m kind of more afraid that when I get home after all this is over, Mom’s going to chain me up in my room and never let me see the outside world again. Oh, speaking of, maybe I should call her on the drive and let her know I’m still alive.”
I think of my wife. The last time I saw her—when I showed up after years of being gone only to discover that Sam was missing too—she wasn’t exactly thrilled to hear that I blamed my disappearance on aliens. Since then she hasn’t been too keen on talking to me.
“Do that,” I say. “Just remember that her phone is probably tapped, so no details. I’ll . . . I’ll wait until I have something good to tell her. Then I’ll call.”
“That reminds me—here,” he says, holding a black satellite phone out to me. I pat my pockets, realizing I haven’t been carrying mine around. Sam continues, “Yes, this is yours. Adam was messing with it. Apparently Earth’s understanding of communications systems is really basic. This is supposed to get a signal, like, anywhere. Or so he says.”
“Excellent,” I say. “We should all start carrying these.”
Sam shrugs. “I guess. But you know how much fighting we get into. Electronics don’t really last that long around us. That’s why I’m giving it to you. I’ll talk him into making me one whenever he gets back.”
The door opens behind him and John comes out, followed by Nine, Agent Walker, and a few other Feds I haven’t been introduced to yet.
“All right,” Nine says with a smirk. “Let’s go knock some evil politician heads in the Big Apple.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Keep that phone with you, Dad. I’ll call you when I have news.”
He tries to give me a quick side hug, but I pull him in closer.
“Good-bye, son. Be careful.”
“I will. I’ll see you soon.”
And just like that, he’s gone.
These kids all think they’re invincible, but they’re not. Even some of the Garde, with all their abilities, have been killed. For a second I wonder if I can talk Sam out of going. Call him and tell him to get dropped off at a gas station or something where I can pick him up. He could help me sift through the years of Mogadorian data stored in the underground facilities. But I know he’d never agree to that, and I’m pretty sure I don’t have the authority to flat-out forbid him from going. He’s already made so many tough choices on his own without me. Why would he listen to me now?
GOD KNOWS I’D PROBABLY BE MORE ALERT IF I had a few hours of sleep, but I can’t imagine closing my eyes and drifting off while Sam is en route to New York. Not when there’s work to be done. So instead I manage to snag a cup of coffee from the pot in the kitchen and head back into the bowels of Ashwood. With any luck, I’ll find some kind of secret weapon that’ll take down the Mogs. Or at least some information we can use against them.
Anything to make me feel like I’m actually contributing.
A long stairwell leads into the tunnels from a back room in Adam’s home, plaster and brick giving way to concrete and eventually smooth metal walls as I descend. Everything is hard, gray and clinical. The hairs on the back of my neck start to prickle the farther down the steps I go, though I’m not sure if it’s because the air is getting cooler or because terrible things happened to me here, even if I barely remember any of them. Gamera follows close behind me in the form of a dragonfly hovering over my shoulder. I nod to the Chimæra. It’s good to know my son is watching out for me, of course, but at the same time it makes me feel like a failure. I should be the one protecting him.
The underground portion of Ashwood Estates is a labyrinth. A sublevel snaking through the entire community with tunnels that stretch on in twists and turns for what seem like miles. As if that weren’t confusing enough, several of the passageways and rooms are completely caved in—something we have Adam to thank for, that eternity ago when he freed me from captivity here and let loose his newfound earthquake Legacy. Who knows what hides behind the collapsed hallways, what knowledge we lost when equipment was smashed? If we weren’t on the brink of losing the Earth, maybe we’d have time to find out.
There are plenty of rooms still standing, though. Laboratories and detainment cells, for example. I pass them, eyeing strange devices and surgical tools that send shivers down my spine. This place is still dangerous to me. Not just because of the questionable structural integrity, but because of the feeling I get when I walk through its hallways: the faintest wave of recognition followed by a stabbing pain in my head. There is something in the smell of the place—musty, charged with electrical equipment—that is familiar, like all the memories I’ve forgotten are just out of reach, waiting to be reclaimed. These tunnels fill every cell of my body with dread.
Fortunately, most of that subsides when I reach the facility’s archives. I don’t think I ever entered it during my imprisonment, because I can breathe a sigh of relief when I step through the doorway. That’s not to say the room is exactly cozy, nothing like the dusty libraries full of books and overstuffed chairs from my days at the university. This archive is just as uninviting as the rest of the underground level. Monitors and computer terminals line steel tables, their keyboards an unfamiliar shape and covered in markings I don’t understand. Cabinets full of servers and hard drive storage banks line the walls, humming in tune with the fluorescent lights overhead. There’s even a shelf holding a row of blasters on the far side of the room—the Mogs can apparently never be too far away from their weapons.
I stretch, my back cracking, and take a seat at one of the metal chairs in front of a computer terminal. This is the little space I’ve made my own over the last day: a computer, a handheld electronic tablet, a notebook, a small duffel bag full of tools and documents that might prove useful and a graveyard of dirty mugs. I put on a pair of headphones and flit through the list of Mog recordings on the screen until I find where I left off. Then I start watching.
Apart from being ruthless warriors, the Mogadorians also seem to be absurdly thorough when it comes to recording themselves, though I’m not sure whether this is strictly for some kind of historical record or is the by-product of a fascist regime wanting to keep track of its many moving parts. I fast-forward through dozens of videos, almost all of which are in the Mogadorian language and useless to me now that Adam is gone. Occasionally I find one in English, but those are mostly communiqués between human MogPro associates that contain either nothing useful or information we already know. I log anything of the slightest interest in my notebook. The whole process is mind-numbing, and at some point my eyes must start to glaze over, because I don’t realize someone else is in the room with me until there’s a hand on my shoulder.
I spin around, almost falling out of my chair as I try to get to my feet
The man behind me is an FBI agent wearing a black suit. He’s younger than me, maybe thirty, with olive skin, short dark hair, and several days’ worth of stubble. On the stool beside me, Gamera has taken the form of a cat, eyes locked on the agent, ready to pounce and morph. The animal must have realized his usual turtle form might draw unwanted attention from the agents.
The man holds out a hand.
“Agent Noto. Walker”—he hesitates slightly—“insisted that I might be a valuable resource to you.”
I wave my hand towards the feline at my side.
“I’ve already got a bodyguard.” He doesn’t find this funny. I continue. “I’m sure your Bureau skills will be more useful up there instead of watching me sift through alien data files.”
He smirks a little, but it’s hard to tell if it’s out of annoyance or amusement.
“I assure you I’m more than just a gun, Dr. Goode.”
It’s been so long since someone called me “doctor” that the word sounds strange attached to my name. I almost can’t believe there was a time when students and colleagues called me that on a daily basis.
“In the past I served as a liaison to the Mogadorians. Before we realized what their true intentions were.”
“Ah. So you have a good idea of who we’re dealing with.”
“I can even understand some of their language. Though I admit that I’m probably on the equivalent of a kindergarten level when it comes to reading it.”
Finally, a windfall.
“Please,” I say, shaking his hand. “Call me Malcolm.”
He takes a seat on the other side of the desk and I get him caught up, pointing him towards a set of files to examine. I try to explain that we’re looking for anything useful, even if that’s a vague description. He seems to understand. We work in relative silence for hours, talking only about our findings, comparing notes. It’s fruitless work. I don’t uncover anything particularly helpful, and Noto’s progress is slow. He often spends fifteen minutes on a file before realizing it’s an order for more food supplies or inconsequential reports on traffic around Ashwood.
PITTACUS LORE SERIES:
Other author's books:
- I Am Number FourThe Power of SixThe Rise of NineThe Fate of TenThe Legacy Chronicles - Into the FireThe FugitiveUnited as OneLast Defense
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