THIS ROOM REMINDS ME OF THE KIND OF PLACES that Henri and I used to stay in during the early days. Old roadside motels that the owners hadn’t updated since the seventies. The walls are wood paneled, and the carpet is an olive-green shag, the bed underneath me stiff and musty. A bureau rests against one wall, the drawers filled with a mixture of clothing, different sizes and different genders, all of it generic and dated. The room doesn’t have a TV, but it does have a radio with a clock that uses those old-school paper numbers that flip around, every minute punctuated by a dry slap. 4:33 A.M.
I sit here in the Patience Creek Bed & Breakfast and listen to the time pass by.
On the wall across from my bed, there’s a painting that looks like a window. There aren’t any actual windows, on account of the room being located deep underground, so I suppose the designers did the best they could. The scene in my fake window is bright and sunny, with tall, green grass blowing in the wind and the shape of a woman in the distance clutching a hat to her head.
I don’t know why they made the room look like this. Maybe it was meant to convey a sense of normalcy. If that’s the case, it isn’t working. Instead, the room seems to magnify every poisonous emotion you’d expect staying in a scuzzy
motel by yourself—loneliness, desperation, failure.
I’ve got plenty of those emotions on my own.
Here’s what this room has that some dump off the interstate doesn’t. The painting on the wall? It slides aside, and behind it is a bank of monitors that broadcast security feeds from all around the Patience Creek Bed & Breakfast. There’s a camera pointed at the front door of the quaint cabin that sits above this sprawling underground facility, another pointed at the serendipitously flat meadow with its hard-packed soil and perfectly maintained grass that just happens to be the exact dimensions necessary to land a medium-sized aircraft, and dozens of other feeds surveilling the property and what lies beneath. This place was built by some very paranoid people who were planning for a potential invasion, a doomsday scenario.
They were expecting Russians, not Mogadorians. But even so, I guess their paranoia paid off.
Beneath the unassuming bed-and-breakfast located twenty-five miles south of Detroit, close to the shore of Lake Erie, are four subterranean levels so top secret they have been virtually forgotten. The Patience Creek facility was originally built by the CIA during the Cold War as a place for them to ride out a nuclear winter. It fell into disrepair over the last twenty-five years, and, according to our hosts in the US government, everyone who knew about it is either dead or retired, which means that no one leaked its existence to MogPro. Lucky for us a general named Clarence Lawson came out of retirement when the warships appeared and remembered that this place was down here.
The president of the United States and what’s left of the Joint Chiefs of Staff aren’t here; they’re being kept someplace secure, probably someplace mobile, the location of which they aren’t divulging even to us allied aliens. One of his handlers must have decided it wouldn’t be safe for the president to be around us, so we’re here with General Lawson, who reports only to him. In our conversation, the president told me he wanted to work together, that we had his full support against Setrákus Ra.
He said a lot of things, actually. The details are fuzzy in my memory. I was in shock when we spoke and not really listening. He seemed nice. Whatever.
I just want to finish this.
I’ve been awake since—well, I’m not exactly sure when. I know I should try to sleep, but every time I close my eyes I see Sarah’s lifeless, the way she must look now. I can’t shake it.
Instead, I stay awake. This is what it’s been like for the last few hours, alone in this strange place, trying to wear myself out to the point where I’ll be able to sleep like, well . . . like the dead.
Practice. It’s the only hope I have.
I sit on the bed and look at myself in the mirror that hangs over the bureau. My hair is getting a little long, and there are dark circles around my eyes. These things don’t matter now. I stare at myself . . .
And then I disappear.
Reappear. Take a deep breath.
I go invisible again. This time I hold it for longer. For as long as I can. I stare at the empty space in the mirror where my body should be and listen to the paper numbers on the clock tick by.
With Ximic, I should be able to copy any Legacy that I’ve encountered. It’s just a matter of teaching myself how to use it, which is never easy, even when the Legacy comes naturally. Marina’s healing, Six’s invisibility, Daniela’s stone gaze—these are the abilities I’ve picked up so far. I’m going to learn more, as many as I can. I’m going to train these new Legacies until they come as naturally to me as my Lumen. And then I’m going to repeat the process.
All this power, and only one thing to look forward to.
The destruction of every Mogadorian on Earth. Including and especially Setrákus Ra, if he’s even still alive. Six thinks she might have killed him in Mexico, but I won’t believe that until the Mogs surrender or I see a body. A part of me almost hopes he’s still out there so that I can be the one to end the bastard.
A happy ending? That’s out the window. I was stupid to ever believe in it.
Pittacus Lore, the last one, the one whose body we found hidden in Malcolm Goode’s bunker, he had Ximic, too, but he didn’t do enough. He couldn’t stop the Mogadorian invasion of Lorien. When he had the chance to kill Setrákus Ra all those centuries ago, he couldn’t do that either.
History will not repeat itself.
I hear footsteps in the hallway that stop right outside my door.
Even though they speak softly and even though I’m listening through a reinforced steel door, with my enhanced senses, I can still hear every word Daniela and Sam say.
“Maybe we should just let him rest,” Daniela says. I’m not used to hearing her speak in such a gentle tone. Usually, Daniela’s a bit abrasive but she's grown to have a soft spot for Sam. In just a couple of days, she’s completely left behind her old life and joined our war. Although she didn’t have much choice considering the Mogs burned her old life to the ground.
Another human swept up in our war.
“You don’t know him. There’s no way he’s sleeping in there,” Sam replies, his voice hoarse.
Sitting in this stale room, reflecting on the past and the damage I’ve caused, I started to wonder: How would Sam’s life be different if Henri and I had chosen Cleveland or Akron or somewhere else instead of Paradise? Would he still have gotten Legacies? I’d be worse off, maybe dead, without him. That’s for sure.
“Look Sam, I’m not really talking about him getting a good night’s sleep. Dude’s a superhero alien; for all I know he sleeps three hours a night hanging from the ceiling,” Daniela replies to Sam.
“He sleeps same as we do.”
“Whatever. Point is, maybe he needs some space, you know? To work his shit out? And he’ll come to us when he’s ready. When he’s . . .”
“No. He’d want to know,” Sam says, and then knocks softly on my door.
I’m off the bed in a flash to open the door. Sam’s right about me, of course. Whatever’s happening, I want to know. I want to be distracted. I want forward momentum.
Sam blinks when the door opens and stares right through me. “John?”
It takes me a second to realize that I’m still invisible. When I appear from thin air in front of them, Daniela stumbles back a step. “Goddamn.”
Sam barely arches an eyebrow. His eyes are red rimmed. He seems too worn-out to be surprised.
“Sorry,” I say. “Working on my invisibility.”
“The others are about ten minutes out,” Sam tells me. “I knew you would want to be there when they land.”
I nod and close my door behind me.
The illusion of a motel disappears as soon as I’m outside my room. The hallway beyond, more like a tunnel really, is all austere white walls and cold halogen lights. It reminds me of the facility underneath Ashwood Estates, except this place was built by humans.
“I got a VCR in my room,” Daniela says, trying to make conversation as the three of us walk down one of the identical hallways in this mazelike complex. When neither Sam nor me immediately responds, she presses on. “You guys got VCRs? Shit’s crazy, right? I haven’t seen a VCR in years.”
Sam looks at me before answering. “I found a Game Boy wedged under my mattress.”
“Damn! Want to trade?”
“It’s got no batteries.”
I can hear the distant hum of generators, the buzz of tools and the grunts of men working. The one drawback of Patience Creek being so under the radar is that a lot of its systems aren’t what you’d call updated. For security reasons General Lawson had decided they should run a stripped-down operation here. With everything going on, there’s not exactly time to call in civilian contractors. Still, there’s got to be almost a hundred army engineers working around the clock to bring the place up to date. When we arrived late last night, I saw that Sam’s dad, Malcolm, was already here, helping a crew of electricians install some of the Mogadorian tech recovered from Ashwood Estates. As far as the army is concerned, Malcolm’s basically an expert on the extraterrestrial.
Sam and Daniela’s conversation has trailed off, and I quickly realize that it’s because of me. I’m silent, eyes straight ahead, and I’m pretty sure my expression is stuck in neutral. They don’t know how to talk to me anymore.
“John, I—” Sam puts a hand on my shoulder, and I can tell he’s going to say something about Sarah. I know what happened to her hurt him bad, too. They grew up together. But I don’t want to have that conversation right now. I don’t want to give in to grieving until this is over.
I force a halfhearted smile. “Did they give you any tapes for that VCR?” I ask Daniela, clumsily changing the subject.
“WrestleMania III,” she says, and makes a face.
“Hell yeah, I’ll be by to pick that up later, Danny,” Nine says, emerging from one of the many hallways with a grin.
Out of all of us, Nine looks the most rested. It’s only been about a day since he and Five brawled all over New York City. I healed the big goon back in New York, and his own superhuman stamina has apparently done the rest. He pats Sam and me hard on the back and joins our procession down the hallway. Of course, Nine acts like there’s nothing wrong at all, and, honestly, I prefer it that way.
As we pass by, I glance down the hallway Nine came from. There are four heavily armed soldiers there, standing guard.
“Everything squared away?” I ask Nine.
“Yeah, Johnny,” Nine replies. “They got some pretty whacked-out prison cells in this place, including one that’s straight up padded walls. With Chubby tethered to some cushions and strapped into a straitjacket, he ain’t going anywhere.”
“Good,” Sam says.
I nod in agreement. Five is a complete psychopath and deserves to be locked up. But if I’m being brutally practical about winning this war, I’m not sure how long we can afford to keep him in a cage.
We round a corner, and the elevator bank comes into view. Overhead, the halogen lights buzz loudly, and I notice Sam pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Man, do I miss your penthouse, Nine,” Sam says. “Was the only hideout we ever had with mellow lighting.”
“Yeah, I miss it too,” Nine replies, a note of nostalgia creeping into his voice.
“This place is already giving me a serious migraine. Should’ve gotten some dimmer switches to go with those VCRs.”
There’s a crackle of electricity over our heads, and one of the bulbs flickers out. The hallway lighting is suddenly a whole lot more tolerable. Everyone except for me pauses to look up.
“Well, that was weirdly timed,” says Daniela.
“Better, though, isn’t it?” Sam says with a sigh. I hit the button to call the elevator. The others gather around behind me.
“So, they’re, uh . . . they’re bringing her back here?” Nine asks, his voice lowered, being about as tactful as he can manage.
“Yeah,” I say, thinking about the Loric ship right now descending towards Patience Creek, filled with our friends, allies, and the love of my life.
“That’s good,” Nine says, then coughs into his hand. “I mean, not good. But we can, you know, say good-bye.”
“We get it, Nine,” Sam says gently. “He knows what you mean.”
I nod, not prepared to say anything else. The elevator doors open in front of us, and when they do, the words come spilling out.
“This is the last time,” I say, not turning around to face the others. The words feel like ice in my mouth. “I’m done saying good-bye to people we love. I’m done with sentiment. Done with grieving. Starting today, we kill until we win.”