‘Why …’ I try to gather my thoughts. ‘What do you mean, it’s for the humans?’

Setrákus Ra gestures towards my plate. ‘Eat and I will answer your questions. That’s not unreasonable, is it? I believe the humans call it quid pro quo.’

I look down at my plate and the pale blob waiting for me there. I think about Six and Nine and the rest of the Garde and wonder what they would do in my situation. It seems like Setrákus Ra wants to spill his guts, so I should probably let him. Maybe while he’s trying to subtly win me over, he’ll let slip the secret to beating the Mogadorians. If that even exists. Either way, taking a bite of the boiled slug on my plate seems like a small price to pay if it means gathering some important information. I shouldn’t think of my situation as being held prisoner; it’s more like I’m on a mission behind enemy lines.

I’m a freaking spy.

I pick up my knife and fork, cut a small square off the edge of the meat and plop it into my mouth. There’s hardly any taste at all, it’s almost like chewing a wadded-up ball of notebook paper. It’s the texture that really bothers me – the way the meat starts to fizz and melt as soon as it touches my tongue, breaking down so quickly that I don’t even really chew. I can’t help but think of the way Mogadorians disintegrate when they’re killed and have to stop myself from gagging.

‘It isn’t what you’re used to, but it’s the best the Anubis is equipped to produce,’ Setrákus Ra says, almost apologetically. ‘The food will improve once we’ve taken Earth.’

I ignore him, not really caring about the finer points of Mogadorian cuisine. ‘I ate, now answer my question.’

He inclines his head, looking charmed by my directness. ‘I chose this form because the humans will find it comforting. It’s what I will wear to accept surrender of their planet.’

I gape at him. ‘They’re not going to surrender to you.’

He smiles. ‘Of course they will. Unlike the Loric, who pointlessly fight against impossible odds, the humans have a rich history of subjugation. They appreciate demonstrations of superior force and will gladly accept the tenets of Mogadorian Progress. And those who don’t will perish.’

‘Mogadorian “Progress.” ’ I spit the words. ‘What are you even talking about? You’re going to make everyone like you? A mon –’

I don’t finish my question. I was going to call him a monster, but then I thought back to my vision. I callously ordered Six’s execution right in front of John, Sam and a crowd of people. What if something like Setrákus Ra is already lurking inside me?

‘I believe there was at least one question in all that vitriol,’ Setrákus Ra says. He maintains his infuriating smile, made even worse now that he’s wearing a handsome human face, and gestures towards my plate. I shovel down another bite of the horrible food. He clears his throat like he’s about to give a speech.

‘We share the same blood, granddaughter, which is why you will be spared the fate of those Garde who foolishly oppose me. Because, unlike them, you are capable of change,’ Setrákus Ra explains. ‘I may have been Loric once, but over the centuries I have made myself into something better. Once I control the Earth, I will have the power necessary to change the lives of billions. All they need do is accept Mogadorian Progress. Then my work will at last bear fruit.’

I squint at him. ‘Power? From where?’

Setrákus Ra smiles at me, touching the pendants that hang around his neck. ‘You will see when the time is right, child. Then, you will understand.’

‘I already understand,’ I reply. ‘I understand that you’re a disgusting, genocidal freak who gave himself a bad Mogadorian makeover.’

Setrákus Ra’s smile flickers and for a moment I wonder if I’ve pushed my luck too far. He sighs and drags his fingers across his throat, the skin of his assumed form parting to reveal the thick purple scar around his throat.

‘Pittacus Lore gave me this when he tried to kill me,’ he says, his voice cold and level. ‘I was one of them, but he and the other Elders cast me out. Banished me from Lorien because of my ideas.’

‘What? Did they not want to elect you supreme ruler or something?’

Setrákus Ra passes his hand across his throat once again and the scar tissue disappears.

‘They already had a ruler,’ Setrákus Ra replies, his voice dropping lower, as if the memory makes him angry. ‘They just refused to admit it.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

This time, he doesn’t make me take a bite of food. He’s on a roll now. ‘My dear, the Elders were ruled by the planet itself. Lorien made their choices for them. Who would be Garde and who would be Cêpan. They believed we should live as caretakers and let nature determine our fates. I disagreed. The Legacies granted by Lorien are simply a resource, like anything else. Would you let the fish in the ocean dictate who is fit to eat them, or allow the iron in the ground to decide when to be forged? Of course not.’

I try to digest all this information and compare it with what I learned from Crayton and his letter.

‘You just wanted to be in control,’ I say after a moment.

‘I wanted progress,’ he counters. ‘The Mogadorians understood. Unlike the Loric, they were a people ready to be elevated.’

‘You’re insane,’ I say, pushing my plate away, done with this whole question-and-answer thing.