‘Through the back. Isn’t that how you do it, Father?’
Adam holds the General’s broadsword in two hands – it’s almost too heavy for him – and yanks it out of his father’s back. He drove it straight through the General’s chest, the glowing blade piercing that Mogadorian armor as if it were made of tinfoil. I was too busy fighting for my life to notice the force field come down. Luckily, the General was, too. He stares at Adam, stunned. The General must realize his mistake – all the Mogs know the voice command to bring down the force field, but one of them wasn’t fighting on his side.
The General gropes at the wound on his chest and for a moment I think he’s going to keep coming. But then he staggers, reaching out to grasp at Adam, almost as if he wants to hug him. Or maybe strangle him. It’s hard to tell.
Adam steps aside, a detached look on his face, and allows the General to fall face-first on to the pavement. Beyond the court, the fighting is over, the Mogadorians all dead. Back in Adam’s front yard, Sam kneels over a wounded Chimæra. Malcolm stands a few feet off from us, on the sideline, watching the scene with the General, a look of concern on his face. I pick myself up and stand next to Adam.
‘Adam, are you …?’ My voice is hoarse, throat raw and sore. Adam holds up a hand, cutting me off.
‘Look,’ he says flatly.
At our feet, the General begins to disintegrate. It doesn’t happen quickly like I’ve seen with the many vatborn scouts and warriors I’ve killed. The General decomposes slowly, parts of him flattening out faster than others. In some spots, his flesh melts away but not the bone beneath, leaving a skeletal elbow jutting up from the ground next to a rib cage, all attached to a half-disintegrated skull.
‘You can see where Setrákus Ra augmented him,’ Adam says, his voice almost clinical as he explains. ‘Healed wounds, cured diseases, improved his strength and speed. He promised immortality. But the unnatural parts disintegrate, like the vatborn. The rest, what’s left, that is trueborn, real flesh.’
‘We don’t have to get into this now,’ I manage to say, still trying to catch my breath. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the information. It’s just that Adam’s dad is lying dead at our feet and he’s giving a lesson in Mogadorian genetics like nothing happened.
‘They’re too far gone to realize it, but this is the fate Setrákus Ra offers my people. Ashes and spare parts,’ Adam says, staring at his father’s remains. ‘I wonder how much more would be left if the Great Leader had never poisoned his body and mind.’
Adam lets go of the sword and it thunks heavily to the ground. I put my hand on his shoulder, the revulsion I felt for him over the last couple of days forgotten. He just saved my life and killed his own father to do it.
‘Adam, it’s okay,’ I start, not really sure what to say in this crazy situation.
‘I hated him,’ he replies, not looking at me. He stares at the burned uniform, piles of ash and random bones that used to be the General. ‘But he was my father. I wish things could have ended differently. For all of us.’
I crouch down over the General’s remains and carefully remove the simple black leather sheath that he wore across his back. It’s a little singed but still holding together. I pick up the sword from where Adam dropped it, sheath it and hold it out to him.
‘I don’t want that,’ Adam says, staring at the sword with a look of disgust.
‘Things can end differently,’ I tell him. ‘Use this in a way that your father never did. Help us win this war and change the fate of both our people.’
Adam hesitates for a moment before accepting the sword from me. He holds the blade in both hands and stares down at it. After a long moment of contemplation, Adam slings the sheath over his shoulder. He grunts at the weight but manages to stand up straight.
‘Thank you, John,’ he says quietly. ‘I swear to you, this blade will never again be used against a Loric.’
Sam walks over to us. ‘You guys all right?’
Adam nods. I touch the skin of my throat, which already feels swollen and puffy from where the General strangled me.
‘Yeah, I’m good,’ I reply, then look to Adam. ‘Are we done, though? Or are there more coming?’
He shakes his head. ‘I shut down communications right before my – right before the General caught up with me. There won’t be any reinforcements.’
‘Nice,’ Sam replies, looking out at the empty windows of Ashwood Estates. ‘So we just took over a Mogadorian base.’
Before I can bask in any sense of accomplishment, I notice a dark look on Adam’s face. He’s no longer staring down at his father. Instead, his eyes are turned towards the horizon, like he’s expecting to see something bad headed our way at any moment.
‘What is it?’ I ask him.
‘There was something else,’ he says slowly, choosing his words carefully. ‘I was only on the communications network for a few moments, but I picked up some chatter. Troop movements. Mass relocations of trueborn to the West Virginia fortress. Deployments of warrior groups to population centers.’
‘Whoa, whoa,’ I say, holding up my hands. ‘What does all that mean?’
‘Invasion,’ Adam replies. ‘Invasion is imminent.’
Setrákus Ra has some of his minions stick me in a cold room without any windows. No more polite conversations over nasty dinners, I guess. It’s so small in here that I can stand at the center, stretch out my arms and almost brush the opposing walls with my fingertips. There’s a little dome-shaped protrusion in the middle of the ceiling. I bet it’s a camera. Against one wall is a small metal desk with a chair that looks like it’s designed for maximum discomfort. On the desk is a copy of The Great Book of Mogadorian Progress.