Sam gives me a worried look and I realize how cold I must sound, like war with the Mogadorians on Earth is inevitable, like there’s nothing we can do at this point to keep people from getting hurt. In truth, I’m not sure that there is a way to resolve this without bloodshed. The war is here and it’s going to be fought. But I need the others to keep up hope.

‘It doesn’t have to be that way,’ I add. ‘We’re going to stop Setrákus Ra before this goes any further. But you have to help us.’

Sanderson nods, his eyes fixed on the stage. ‘You want me to go through with it.’

‘Draw him out, just like he wants,’ I say, pulling up the hood on my sweatshirt. ‘And we’ll take him down.’

‘You’re powerful enough for that?’

As I look over at Sanderson to respond, I can see the same question in Sam’s eyes. He wasn’t at our last fight with Setrákus Ra, but he knows it didn’t go well. That was with the whole Garde – now it’s just me and Nine. Well, and all the guns Agent Walker can bring to bear.

‘I have to be,’ I tell Sanderson.

As we get closer to the front of the UN and the stage, we pass by a guy dressed like a bike messenger surrounded by a few news cameras. It’s noticeable because he’s the only thing commanding any press attention around here besides the giant Mogadorian warship. I focus my senses to hear what he’s saying.

‘I swear, the guy fell out of the sky!’ the bike messenger exclaims to a skeptical press corps. ‘Or maybe he floated down, I don’t know. He hit the ground hard, but his skin was, like, covered in armor or something. He looked all sorts of messed up.’

Nine’s hand clamps down on my shoulder. He heard it, too, and he’s so distracted that he stops telekinetically pushing people aside. The agents escorting us shuffle and groan as the crowd surges in, but they manage to keep them back.

‘You heard that, right?’ Nine asks, his eyes practically glowing with bloodlust.

‘He could just be some nutjob,’ I say, referring to the bike messenger, although I don’t really believe it. ‘This kind of thing definitely brings them out.’

‘No way,’ Nine says, excitement in his voice. His eyes dart around the crowd with a renewed interest. ‘Five is here, man. Five is here, and I’m going to smash his fat face in.’


I feel numb.

In the docking bay, I catch a glimpse of myself in the pearl-colored armor paneling of the small ship we’ll be taking to Manhattan. I look ghostly. There are huge bags under my eyes. They dressed me up in a new formal gown, black with red sashes throughout, and pulled my hair back in a ponytail so severe that my scalp feels like it’s peeling away from my skull. Princess of the Mogadorians.

I don’t really care. I’ve got a cloudy feeling, like I’m just floating along. A part of me knows that I should be focusing up, getting my head straight.

I just can’t.

The entrance to the transport ship opens and a small staircase unfolds for me to climb up. Setrákus Ra gently places his hand on my shoulder and urges me forward.

‘Here we go, dear,’ he says. His voice sounds far away. ‘Big day.’

I don’t move at first. But then a pain starts up in my shoulder where I was stabbed. It feels like little worms wiggling around under my skin. The ache only subsides when I put one foot in front of the other, climb up the steps and flop into one of the vessel’s bucket seats.

‘Good,’ Setrákus Ra says, and follows me aboard. He sits down in the pilot’s seat and the ship seals up behind us. His human form has been restored after his scuffle with Five, and he’s dressed himself in a sleek black suit with crimson flourishes. The color scheme doesn’t complement the fatherly human face he’s wearing – it makes him look stern and authoritative. I don’t tell him that, both because I don’t want to help him and because it seems like too much effort to talk.

I wish I could just sleep through this.

They did something to me after the gash opened up on my shoulder. I was in and out of consciousness from blood loss, so my memory is foggy. I can remember Setrákus Ra carrying me down to the medical bay, a place on the ship I hadn’t had the bad luck to explore until then. I remember them injecting my wound with something black and oozing. I’m pretty sure that I screamed from the pain. But then my wound started to close. It wasn’t like the times I’d been healed by Marina or John. In those cases, it felt like my injuries were knitting back together, like my flesh was regrowing. Under the Mogs’ ‘care,’ it felt like my flesh was being replaced by something else, something cold and foreign. Something alive and hungry.

I can still feel it, crawling around beneath the perfect, pale skin of my now uninjured shoulder.

Setrákus Ra flips a few switches on the console, and our little spherical ship powers up. The walls become translucent. It’s the Mogadorian version of tinted glass, though – we can see out, but no one can see in.

I turn my head to study the docking bay that’s crowded with combat-ready Mogadorians. They all stand perfectly still, hundreds of them arranged in orderly lines, all of them with their fists clenched over their hearts. They’re saluting their Beloved Leader as he sets out to conquer Earth. I look at their pasty, expressionless faces and their dark, empty eyes. Are these my people? Am I becoming one of them?

It seems easiest to give in.

Setrákus Ra is about to get us moving when a red light flashes on one of his video screens and a shrill buzzing sounds. The noise wakes me up a little. Some unlucky underling is trying to call Setrákus Ra right in the middle of his big day. Setrákus Ra’s jaw sets in annoyance at the incoming message and, for a moment, I think he might ignore it. Finally, he jabs a button and a frazzled Mogadorian communications officer appears on-screen.