‘I’ll give you two,’ Adam replies. ‘First, if the rest of the Garde are in danger or captured as you suspect, then their continued survival hinges on luring you in. They are useful only as bait.’

‘You’re saying it could be a trap,’ I reply through gritted teeth.

‘If they are captured, then yes, of course it is a trap. On the other hand, if they are free, what good will your heroic intervention do? Aren’t they highly trained and perfectly capable of getting themselves out of trouble?’

What can I say to that? No? Six and Nine, pretty much the two most badass people I know, aren’t capable of escaping from Florida and tracking us down? But what if they’re down there waiting for us to come get them? I shake my head, still feeling like I want to throttle Adam.

‘So what’re we supposed to do in the meantime?’ I ask him. ‘Just sit around and wait for them?’

‘We can’t do that,’ Sam jumps in. ‘We can’t just leave them. They have no way of finding us.’

Adam spins his laptop around so I can see the screen.

‘Between kidnapping Ella and killing a Garde in Florida, my people will believe they have you on the run once again. They won’t be expecting a counterstrike.’

On the laptop, Adam has pulled up satellite photographs of an expanse of suburbia. It looks like a totally generic, wealthy community. When I look a little closer, I notice a paranoid number of security cameras mounted on the imposingly tall stone wall that encircles the entire property.

‘This is Ashwood Estates, just outside of Washington, D.C.,’ Adam continues. ‘It’s home to the top-ranking Mogadorians assigned to North America. With the Plum Island facility wrecked and the Chimærae recovered, I think we should focus our attack here.’

‘What about the mountain base in West Virginia?’ I ask.

Adam shakes his head. ‘That is a military installation only, kept out of sight so my people’s forces can mass there. We’d have a hard time taking it down now. And anyway, the real power, the trueborn Mogadorians, the leaders – they reside in Ashwood.’

Malcolm clears his throat. ‘I tried to relay everything you told me about trueborns, Adam. But maybe it’d be better if you explained it?’

Adam looks around at us, a bit apprehensive. ‘I don’t know where to begin.’

‘You can skip the whole Mogadorian birds-and-the-bees speech,’ Sam says, and I stifle a smile.

‘It has to do with the bloodlines, right?’ I say, prompting him.

‘Yeah. Trueborn are the pure bloodlines. Mogadorians born of Mogadorian parents. Like me,’ Adam says, slouching a bit. His trueborn status is no great point of pride. ‘The others, the vatborn, are the soldiers you’ve fought most often. They are not born but grown, thanks to the science of Setrákus Ra.’

‘Is that why they disintegrate?’ Sarah asks. ‘Because they’re not, like, real Mogs?’

‘They’re bred for combat, not for burying,’ Adam replies.

‘Doesn’t sound like much of a life,’ I say. ‘You Mogs worship Setrákus Ra for that?’

‘As the histories contained in the Great Book tell it, our people were dying off before the so-called Beloved Leader came along. The vatborn and Setrákus Ra’s genetic research saved our species.’ Adam pauses, a sneer forming as he thinks this over. ‘Of course, Setrákus Ra also wrote the Great Book, so who knows.’

‘Fascinating,’ Malcolm says.

‘Yeah, definitely more about Mogadorian breeding than I ever wanted to know,’ I say, turning back to the laptop. ‘If this place is filled with high-ranking Mogs, won’t it be heavily guarded?’

‘There will be guards, yes, but not enough to make a difference,’ he replies. ‘You need to understand, my people feel safe here. They are used to being the hunters, not the hunted.’

‘So what?’ I continue. ‘We kill a few trueborn Mogs and that’s it? What difference does that make?’

‘Any losses in trueborn leadership will have wide-ranging impacts on Mogadorian operations. The vatborn are not particularly good at directing themselves.’ Adam traces his finger across the immaculately kept lawns of Ashwood Estates. ‘Plus, there are tunnels beneath these houses.’

Malcolm walks around to our side of the table, crossing his arms as he looks at the images. ‘I thought you destroyed those tunnels, Adam.’

‘I damaged them, yes,’ Adam replies. ‘But they stretch far beyond the rooms we were in. Even I am not entirely sure what we might find down there.’

Sam looks from Adam to his father. ‘Is that where …?’

‘It’s where they held me,’ Malcolm answers. ‘Where they took my memories. And where Adam rescued me.’

‘It’s possible we could find a way to restore your memories,’ Adam says, sounding eager to help Malcolm. ‘If the equipment wasn’t too badly damaged.’

What Adam’s saying makes sense, but I can’t quite bring myself to admit it. I’ve spent my entire life running and hiding from Mogadorians, fighting them, killing them. They’ve taken everything from me. And now, here I am, making battle plans alongside one. It just doesn’t feel right. Not to mention we’re talking about a full frontal assault on a Mogadorian compound with none of the other Garde backing me up.

As if on cue, Dust wanders over and sits down next to Adam’s feet. He reaches down to absently scratch behind its ears.