Authors: Pittacus Lore
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Fantasy, #General, #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Fantasy & Magic, #Science Fiction
I don’t know if I can
I’m too weak to speak, so I don’t say it out loud. I merely think it. But One can
hear me. She can always hear me.
to,” she says. “You have to wake up. You have to fight.”
I’m at the bottom of a ravine, my legs twisted beneath me, a boulder pushed uncomfortably
between my shoulder blades. A stream laps against my thigh. I can’t see anything because
my eyes are closed, and I can’t open my eyes because I don’t have the strength.
But to be honest, I don’t want to open my eyes. I want to give up, to let go.
Opening my eyes means facing the truth.
It means realizing that I have been washed onto a dry riverbank. That the wet I feel
on my legs is no river. It’s blood, from a compound fracture of my right leg, the
bone now jutting out of my shin.
It means knowing that I’ve been left for dead by my own father, some seven thousand
miles from home. That the closest thing I have to a brother, Ivanick, is the one who
nearly killed me, pushing me brutally off the edge of the steep ravine.
It means facing the fact that I am a Mogadorian, a member of an alien race bent on
the extermination of the Loric people and the eventual domination of Earth.
I clench my eyes shut, desperately trying to hide from the truth.
With my eyes still closed, I can drift off to a sweeter place: a California beach,
my bare feet digging into the sand. One sits beside me, looking at me with a smile.
This is One’s memory of California, a place I’ve never been. But we’ve shared the
memory for so long during that three-year twilight that it feels as much mine as hers.
“I could stay here all day,” I say, the sun warm on my skin.
She looks at me with a soft smile, like she couldn’t agree more. But when she opens
her mouth to speak, her words don’t match her expression: they’re harsh, stern, commanding.
“You can’t stay,” she says. “You have to get up.
My eyes open. I’m in my bed in the volunteers’ sleeping quarters at the aid camp.
One stands at the end of the bed.
As in my dream, she’s smiling, but now it isn’t a sweet smile. It’s a teasing smirk.
“God,” she says, rolling her eyes. “You sleep a lot.”
I laugh, sitting up in bed. I
sleep a lot lately. It’s been seven weeks since I pulled myself out of the ravine
and other than some residual weakness in my right leg, I’ve made a full recovery.
But my sleep schedule hasn’t adjusted: I’m still sleeping ten hours a night.
I look around the hut and see that all the other beds are empty. My fellow aid-workers
have already risen for morning chores. I get to my feet, wobbling briefly on my right
leg. One smirks again at my clumsiness.
Ignoring her, I slip into my sandals, throw on a shirt, and exit the hut.
Outside, the sun and humidity hit me like a wall. I’m still sticky from sleep and
I’d kill for a shower, but Marco and the other workers are already elbow-deep in morning
chores. I missed my chance.
The first hour of the day is devoted to housekeeping around camp: cooking breakfast,
doing laundry, cleaning dishes. After that, a jeep will pick some of us up and take
us deeper into the village. We’re currently working on a water project there, modernizing
the town’s antiquated well. The others will stay behind in the classroom next to camp,
teaching the village children. I’ve been trying to learn Swahili, but I’ve got a ways
to go before I’ll be ready to teach.
I bust my ass at the camp. It gives me great pleasure to help the villagers. But mostly
I work as hard as I do out of gratitude.
After dragging my busted body out of the ravine and a quarter mile through the jungle,
I was eventually discovered by an elderly villager. She mistook me for an aid-worker,
my cover while tracking down Hannu, Number Three. She went to the camp and returned
an hour later with Marco and a visiting doctor. I was brought back to camp on a makeshift
stretcher; the doctor reset my leg, stitched it up, and put me in a cast I’ve only
Marco gave me a place here, first to recover and now to volunteer, without asking
any questions. All he expects in return is that I do my chores and that I fulfill
the same labor requirements as the other aid-workers.
I have no idea what story he’s constructed in his head to account for my condition.
I can only figure that Marco must have guessed correctly that Ivan was the one who
did this to me, based on the fact that Ivan disappeared on the day of my accident
without a word to anybody at camp. Perhaps Marco’s generosity is motivated by pity.
He may not know exactly what happened, but he knows I was forsaken by family. And
since Marco is more or less right, I don’t mind him pitying me.
Besides, the funny thing about being forsaken by my family, by my entire race?
I’ve never been happier.
Renovating the village’s well is sweaty, tedious work, but I have an advantage the
other workers don’t. I have One. I talk to her throughout my work, and though my muscles
get sore and my back aches, the hours fly.
Mostly, she motivates me by teasing me. “You’re doing that wrong.” “You call
trowelling?” “If I had a body, I’d be done with that by now.” She mocks my efforts,
reclining like a sunbathing lady of leisure at the edge of the work site.
You wanna try this?
I bark back in my mind.
“Couldn’t,” she’ll say. “Don’t want to break a nail.”
Of course I have to be careful not to actually
to her while I work, not in front of the others. I’d developed a reputation as a
bit of a weirdo, for talking to myself in my first few weeks here. Then I learned
to silence my side of the conversation with One, to merely think
her, instead of actually speaking. Thankfully my reputation has recovered, and the
others no longer look at me like I might be a total lunatic.
That night I have kitchen duty with Elswit, the camp’s most recent addition. We cook
, a simple dish of corn and beans. Elswit shucks and scrapes the cobs of corn while
I soak and rinse the beans.
I like Elswit. He asks a lot of questions about where I come from and what brought
me here, questions I know better than to answer with the truth. Fortunately he doesn’t
seem to mind that my replies are either vague or nonexistent. He’s a big talker, always
racing ahead to the next question without noticing my silence, always interjecting
tidbits about his own life and upbringing instead. From what I’ve gathered, he’s the
son of a very wealthy American banker, a man who does not approve of Elswit’s humanitarian
Living up to my father’s standards was difficult enough when I was a child, but after
my experiences in One’s mind, it became impossible. I had grown soft, had developed
sympathies and concerns that I knew would be impossible for my father to understand,
let alone tolerate. Elswit and I have a certain amount in common. We’re both disappointments
to our fathers.
But I quickly realized the similarities between us don’t stretch that far. Despite
Elswit’s claims of “estrangement” from his family, he’s still in touch with his wealthy
parents, and still has unlimited access to their wealth. Apparently his father has
even arranged for a private plane to pick him up in Nairobi in a few weeks just so
Elswit can be back home for his birthday. Meanwhile my dad thinks I’m dead and I can
only guess he’s happy about it.
After dinner I have a well-earned shower and get into bed. One’s curled up in a rattan
chair in the corner. “Bed?
” she teases.
I give the room a once-over. No one’s around, so it’s safe to talk out loud, as long
as I keep my voice down. Talking out loud feels more natural than communicating silently.
“I want to get up with the others from here on out.”
One shoots me a look.
“What? My cast’s off, my limp’s almost gone . . . I’m recovered. It’s time for me
to pull equal weight around here.”
One frowns and picks at her shirt. Of course I know what’s bothering her.
Her people are out there, earmarked for extinction by my race. And here she is, stuck
in Kenya. Moreover, she’s stuck inside my consciousness, disembodied, with no will
or agency of her own. If she had her wish, I know she’d be somewhere else—
else—taking up the fight.
“How long are we going to stay here?” she asks, somberly.
I play dumb, pretending I don’t know how she feels, and shrug as I pull up the covers
and turn over on my side. “I don’t have anywhere else to be.”
It’s the night I tried to save Hannu. I’m running from the aid camp into the jungle,
towards Hannu’s hut, desperate to get there before Ivan and my father do. I know how
this ends—Hannu killed, me left for dead—but in this dream all of the naïve urgency
of that night comes back to me, propelling me forward through the vines and brush,
the shadows, the animal sounds.
The communicator I swiped from the hut crackles at my hip, an ominous sound. I know
the other Mogadorians are closing in.
I have to get there first. I
I arrive at a clearing in the jungle. The hut where Hannu and his Cêpan lived stands
right where I remembered it. My eyes struggle to adjust to the darkness.
Then I see the difference.
The hut and the clearing itself are completely overgrown with vines and foliage. Half
of the hut’s façade has been blown out, and the roof sags heavily over the missing
section of wall. The obstacle course at the edge of the grounds that Hannu must have
used for training is so overgrown I can barely tell what it is anymore.
“I’m sorry,” comes a voice from the jungle.
I whip around. “Who’s there?”
One emerges from the trees.
“You’re sorry for what?” I’m confused, out of breath. And my feet hurt from running.
That’s when it clicks. “I’m not dreaming,” I say.
One shakes her head. “Nope.”
“You took over.” The words escape my lips before I even understand what I’m saying.
But I can tell from her face I’m right: she took over my consciousness while I slept,
leading me out here to the site of Hannu’s death. She’s never done this before. I
had no idea she even
do this. But her being is so intimately enmeshed with my own at this point, I shouldn’t
be surprised. “You hijacked me.”