Setrákus Ra raises his hand and waves to the people. It’s a royal thing, courtly and showy. When he speaks, his voice booms like he’s hooked up to a microphone.
‘Greetings, people of Earth!’ he bellows in perfect English, his voice firm and reassuring. ‘My name is Setrákus Ra and this is my granddaughter, Ella. We have traveled a great distance to come humbly before you with wishes of peace!’
The crowd actually cheers. They don’t know any better. Setrákus Ra gazes beatifically across all their upturned faces. But when his eyes settle on the old man standing on the stage, I feel a tension go through his arm.
‘Hmm,’ Setrákus Ra says under his breath. Something isn’t right. The greeter isn’t what he expected. Or maybe there were supposed to be more humans waiting onstage with outstretched arms. Maybe there were supposed to be bouquets of flowers.
Undeterred, Setrákus Ra draws himself up a little taller and proceeds down the rest of the steps.
‘We have much to offer your people!’ he continues in his booming, charitable voice. ‘Advancements in medicine to heal your sick, farming techniques to feed your hungry and technology that will make your lives easier and more productive. All we ask in return, after our long journey, is shelter from the cold of space.’
I glance over the crowd to see if any of them are buying it. I end up locking eyes with a young guy in the front row, pushed up right next to some TV cameras, his dark eyes seeking mine. He wears a hooded sweatshirt, long black hair spilling out from inside, and he’s tall and athletic, and –
In my condition, it actually takes me a moment to recognize him. Not so long ago, I balanced on his shoulders and he taught me how to fight.
Seeing him, knowing that I’m not alone, that all isn’t lost just yet – it makes me snap back to my senses. The pain in my shoulder increases exponentially, like something is trying to crawl its way out of me. Whatever’s inside me doesn’t want me to use my Legacies. I ignore it and reach out with my telepathy.
Nine! His cane! It’s how he changes forms! Get his cane and smash it!
A feral grin spreads on Nine’s face and he nods to me. My heartbeat quickens.
Next to me, Setrákus Ra’s posture has stiffened. My hand is trapped in the crook of his elbow. He knows that something is up, yet he proceeds with the show all the same.
‘I expected more of them to be here on this momentous occasion, yet I see one of your leaders has come out to greet me!’ Setrákus Ra extends his hand to the old man. ‘I come to you in peace, sir! Let this cement the friendship between our two great races.’
Instead of clasping Setrákus Ra’s hand, the old man takes a step away. There’s deep fear in his eyes, but it’s not run-and-scream fear. It’s cornered animal fear. The old man has a microphone of his own and, as the TV cameras swing in his direction, he begins to yell.
‘This man – this thing – is a liar!’
‘What –’ Setrákus Ra takes an aggressive step towards the old man, and I’m loosed from his elbow. For the first time since I’ve been in his company, the Mogadorian leader actually looks surprised.
Surprised and furious.
A murmur of uncertainty passes through the crowd. The old man shouts something else – I hear the words ‘enslavement’ and ‘death,’ but otherwise I can’t really hear him. No one can. Setrákus Ra has used his telekinesis to crush the old man’s microphone.
‘You must be confused, my friend,’ Setrákus Ra says through gritted teeth, still trying to salvage this farce. ‘My intentions are pu –’
Setrákus Ra is suddenly knocked off balance. I know why. A telekinetic attack. I watch as his golden cane is ripped out of his hand. Nine plucks it out of the air as he hops on to the stage, grinning at Setrákus Ra.
I sense movement to my left. I turn my head to see John also hop on to the stage. They’re flanking him, just like we practised in the Lecture Hall. Peppered throughout the crowd, I see men and women in dark suits, all of them slyly pulling firearms into view. The crowd is beginning to buzz as some civilians – the smarter ones – begin to back away from the stage.
It’s a trap, I realize gleefully. The Garde are here!
Now, Setrákus Ra really looks surprised. And, dare I say, a little frightened.
‘You have been led astray!’ Setrákus Ra screams, pointing his now empty hands at Nine and John. ‘These boys are fugitives! Terrorists from my home world! I don’t know what they’ve told you –’
‘We haven’t told them anything,’ John says, interrupting. His voice doesn’t carry like Setrákus Ra’s, but people in the crowd crane their necks to listen. ‘We’ll let them make up their own minds. A genocidal maniac is easy to spot.’
Do it now! I urge Nine telepathically.
‘I wonder what will happen if I do this?’ Nine asks, fiddling with Setrákus Ra’s cane. Before Setrákus Ra can lunge in his direction, Nine raises the cane over his head and smashes it down on the stage. The obsidian eye in its center explodes in a cloud of ash.
Things happen quickly after that.
Setrákus Ra’s body begins to thrash and spasm. The handsome human form he’s been so attached to begins to slough off him, like a snake shedding its skin. The real Setrákus Ra – pale verging on bloodless, ancient and hideous, tattooed across his bald skull, a thick scar around his neck, clad in spiky Mogadorian armor – stands revealed on the stage.