‘I am neither of those things,’ he replies, patiently. ‘I am a realist. A futurist. I altered my genetics to become more like them, so they would accept me. In return for their fealty, I helped their population grow. I brought them back from the brink of extinction. Joining the Mogadorians gave me a chance to continue the experiments that so frightened the Loric. Now, my work is almost finished. Soon, all life in the universe – Mogadorian, human, even what’s left of the Loric – will be improved under my gently guiding hand.’

‘You didn’t improve life on Lorien,’ I snap back. ‘You killed them all.’

‘They opposed progress,’ Setrákus Ra states, like the death of a whole planet is nothing.

‘You’re sick.’

I’m not afraid to talk back to him. I know that he won’t hurt me – not yet, at least. He’s too vain for that, wants too badly to convert another Loric to the cause. He wants things to be just like in my nightmare. Since I woke up here, he’s had a team of female Mogadorians attending to me. They dressed me in this long, black formal gown, very similar to the one I was wearing in my vision. It itches like crazy, and I have to keep tugging at the neckline.

I stare openly at his hideous face, hating myself for trying to find some resemblance. His head is bulbous and pale, covered in intricate Mogadorian tattoos; his eyes are empty and black, just like the Mogs; his teeth are filed down and sharp. If I look hard enough, I can almost see the Loric cast to his features, like crumbling architecture buried beneath the paleness and gross Mog artwork.

Setrákus Ra looks up from his food, meeting my gaze. Facing him head-on still gives me a chill and I have to force myself not to turn away.

‘Eat,’ he says again. ‘You need your strength.’

I hesitate for a moment, not sure how far I should push my insubordination, but also really not wanting to sample the Mog version of sushi. I make a point of dropping my fork so that it clatters loudly against the side of my plate. It echoes in the high-ceilinged room – Setrákus Ra’s private dining area – which is only slightly more furnished than the other cold rooms aboard the Anubis. The walls are covered in paintings of Mogadorians bravely charging into combat. The ceiling is open, providing a breathtaking view of Earth, the planet imperceptibly rotating below us.

‘Do not push me, girl,’ Setrákus Ra growls. ‘Do as you’re told.’

I push my plate away from me. ‘I’m not hungry.’

He studies me, a condescending look in his eyes, like a parent trying to show a bratty child how patient they can be.

‘I can put you back to sleep and feed you through a tube, if you’d prefer. Perhaps you’d be better mannered when I next woke you, once the war was won,’ he says. ‘But then we wouldn’t be able to talk. You wouldn’t be able to enjoy your grandfather’s victory firsthand. And you wouldn’t be able to entertain your futile notions of escape.’

I swallow hard. I know we’ll be going down to Earth eventually. Setrákus Ra isn’t going to have his warships orbit Earth for a while and then float peacefully away. There’s going to be an invasion. I’ve been telling myself that once we land I’d have a chance to run for it. Obviously, Setrákus Ra knows that I’d rather die than be his prisoner or his co-ruler or whatever he’s got in mind. But, from the smug look on his face, he doesn’t seem to care. Maybe he thinks he can brainwash me before we return to Earth.

‘How am I supposed to eat with your nasty face right there?’ I ask him, hoping to see his self-satisfied look falter. ‘It’s not exactly appetizing.’

Setrákus Ra stares at me like he’s trying to decide whether to leap across the table and throttle me. After a moment, he reaches to the side of his chair where his cane is propped. Ornately carved from a shimmering golden metal with an ominous black eye on the handle, it’s the same cane I saw Setrákus Ra use during the fight at Dulce Base. I brace myself for an attack.

‘The Eye of Thaloc,’ Setrákus Ra says, noticing me eyeing the staff. ‘Like Earth, it will one day be part of your Inheritance.’

Before I can ask a follow-up question, the obsidian eye in the cane’s handle flashes. I flinch, but it quickly becomes clear that I’m not in any danger. Instead, it’s Setrákus Ra who begins to convulse. Bands of red and purple light project from the Eye of Thaloc and scan over his body. Although I don’t exactly know how, I can sense energy moving from the cane into Setrákus Ra. He writhes and contorts as his skin peels away from his body, expanding outward and shifting, like a bubble forming in candlewax.

When it’s over, Setrákus Ra looks human. Actually, he looks like a movie star. He’s assumed the form of a handsome older guy in his mid-forties, with immaculately arranged salt-and-pepper hair, soulful blue eyes and just a modest amount of stubble. He’s tall, but no longer intimidatingly so, and he’s wearing a stylish blue suit and pressed dress shirt, casually open at the collar. Of his previous appearance, only the three Loric pendants remain, their cobalt jewels matching his shirt.

‘Better?’ he asks, his usual scratchy voice replaced by this man’s smooth baritone.

‘What …?’ I look at him, dumbfounded. ‘Who are you supposed to be?’

‘I chose this form for the humans,’ he explains. ‘Our research shows they’re naturally drawn to middle-aged Caucasian men of these specifications. Apparently, they find them leaderly and trustworthy.’