Home > Last Defense (Lorien Legacies: The Lost Files #14)(8)

Last Defense (Lorien Legacies: The Lost Files #14)(8)
Pittacus Lore

Someone is shouting, but I can’t figure out what he’s saying, the sound distorted in my head. I feel myself falling forward and then before I can make sense of what’s happening, someone’s pulling me, dragging me.

Another slap to the face. This definitely isn’t Anu or Zakos: they both preferred needles and blades over getting their hands dirty with human subjects.

Slowly everything comes into focus, and I start to remember what’s going on. I prop myself up on my hands and knees in a soft patch of grass, coughing, trying to catch my breath. My lungs feel like they’re full of smoke and fire. The first things I see are the helicopter and skimmer, scorched mangles of twisted metal a hundred yards away. Lujan and Briggs stand over me, the latter leaning against a tree, taking as much weight off his injured leg as he can. Both their faces are smudged with something dark. The edge of the warship is overhead, blotting out the sky.

As I continue to gasp for air, my head spins. Getting to my feet is a wobbly process, Lujan stepping in to keep me from falling over. Finally, though, I feel grounded enough to assess our surroundings. That’s when I see it, lit up in front of us and blazing against what is now almost full-on night.

“That’s . . . ,” I start, but I can’t finish the thought. I’m too overwhelmed by the realization of where we are, of what’s happened.

“The Washington Monument,” Lujan says. “We’re lucky we went down here, otherwise we might have had civilian casualties. We’re not far from our destination.”

The fact that crash-landing in the middle of half a dozen national landmarks is considered a good thing is probably more telling about the current state of the world than it should be.

“The others?” I ask, remembering the men on board.

“They didn’t make it,” Briggs says.

There’s something else nagging in the back of my mind, but my thoughts are a jumble. Blood drips down my face from my left temple. I must have hit my head in the crash. As if I didn’t have enough brain damage already.

“We need to move,” Lujan says. “Now. There are hostiles patrolling the city, and there’s no way they missed our crash.”

That’s when it hits me.

“My bag!” I shout as I rush towards the wreckage. Gamera’s inside. What happened to him?

“You can’t—” Briggs starts, but I ignore him. As far as we know, there are only a handful of Chimærae in existence now, and I won’t let one of them—my bodyguard—be burned alive.

Lujan intercepts me, grabbing the back of my shirt with a firm grip and spinning me around before I can charge headfirst into the clearing.

“Listen, Goode,” he snarls. “Briggs risked his life pulling you out of there, and I’ll be damned if I let you die of smoke inhalation or an explosion or get captured while trying to rescue your luggage. Our mission is to get you to the bunker, and that’s what we’re going to do come hell or high water.”

“You don’t understand . . . ,” I begin, but then I hear a familiar screech in the air—the sound of a bird crying out. A big hawk is perched on a tree limb overhead, staring at me. It stretches its wings out as if to signal me.

I shake my head a little, relieved. Obviously I’ve underestimated how resilient these animals are. Lujan stares at me like I’m an idiot and then pulls me back towards Briggs.

“With any luck we can make it the rest of the way without raising any alarms,” Lujan says.

“I wouldn’t exactly say luck has been on our side tonight,” Briggs mutters.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“Union Station.” Lujan takes his sidearm out and checks to make sure that it’s loaded. “There’s transport there that’ll take us to a secure location.”

“The trains are still running?”

“No train the public knows about.”

My mouth falls open a little. I remember reading conspiracy theories about secret tunnels that led to and from places like the White House and the Capitol, all connecting through DC’s Union Station. I didn’t realize they actually existed.

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised.

Briggs steps forward with wide eyes.

“Sir,” he whispers while taking the assault rifle from across his back. I turn and find another skimmer approaching the wreckage, a few miles off.

“Move,” Lujan says, pointing in the opposite direction. “If they’re smart they’ll be looking for survivors.”

He leads us through the National Mall, keeping to the trees lining the side instead of the open middle area. They offer a little overhead coverage but aren’t dense enough to hide us completely if the Mogs bring in a skimmer with a spotlight on it. At least the foliage makes a great pathway for Gamera, who jumps from limb to limb as a bushy-tailed squirrel. It’s a small miracle that we have at least some cover of darkness, but there’s enough ambient light around that we’re not exactly invisible. The US Capitol stands less than a mile ahead of us, its white facade gleaming in the darkness. It’s eerily quiet, especially for where we are. I’d feared the cities would be overrun with frantic people and military—or worse, squadrons of Mogadorians.

“Where is everyone?” I whisper as we pass a series of museums. “Isn’t this place usually filled with tourists? What happened to all of them? Why wasn’t there immediately some kind of response team when we almost crashed into the Washington Monument?”

“This area was a priority evacuation zone,” Lujan explains. “Blocks surrounding the White House and the Capitol have been cleared. After the resistance in New York turned into widespread destruction, the official military stance became to neither engage the Mogadorians nor interfere with the patrols they sent down from their warships. People are being dragged from their homes in Manhattan. We’re trying to keep that from happening here too.”

I swallow hard at the mention of New York and tap my pocket to make sure my satellite phone is still there.

Is Sam safe?

“And what’s the unofficial stance?” I ask.

“What does it look like? We’re covertly pooling our assets and readying countermeasures. Why do you think you’re here?”

We’re almost to the Capitol when Briggs starts to fall behind. There’s blood leaking from the bandage around his leg.

“Shit,” Lujan says when he notices. “How bad is it?”

“Go on without me.” Briggs leans against a tree. He’s sweating profusely now, his adrenaline probably beginning to wear off. “I’ll be fine here. Any of ’em come across me, I won’t engage.”

Lujan stares him down for a few seconds and then nods.

“We can’t just leave him here,” I protest.

“Our mission is to get you to the bunker safely,” Lujan says for what feels like the tenth time since I met him. He’s already starting to jog away.

“Well, I’m not going without him.”

The colonel turns to me, sneering a bit.

“At this point that’s not your decision.”

I look back and forth between the two of them, but neither seems like he’s going to budge on this. So I keep talking.

“You don’t know the enemy like I do. That’s the whole reason the president wants me, right? If we leave Briggs here and the Mogs find him, what do you think will happen? A wounded, lone soldier near the wreckage of one of their ships? Best-case scenario they kill him immediately. More likely they’ll take him prisoner. I’m guessing he knows where we’re going. You’d be leading them straight to the president.”

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