Authors: J. F. Jenkins
By J.F. Jenkins
Published by Clean Reads
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright Â© 2016 JF JENKINS
Cover Art Designed by CORA GRAPHICS
The usual suspects.
ate to meet his superior
, Alan knew he wouldn't hear the end of it as soon as he stepped into the office. If there was one thing Sir Oriol seemed to derive a great deal of pleasure from, it was chastising Alan any chance he could. It didn't matter how small the offense. Then again, being late was not a small thing when it came to the Alturan Army of the Rosalotuve, otherwise known as the red tribe. Punctuality was important and expected. It wasn't Alan's fault he was late in the first place; not like the captain would care.
I'll refrain from bothering to explain. He'll probably accuse me of only making excuses, again.
Just because he didn't have as many mandated tasks as his shipmates didn't mean he wasn't busy. Alan had a team of teenagers to command and researchers to help guide.
A break from these jobs was welcome, all the same. Meeting his boss wasn't the most fun way to take one, but it was a change of pace and he wasn't about to complain. He liked to be kept in the loop. They hadn't had a private meeting in a while, so there was no telling what it would be about or how much information Alan was missing out on. As he raced through the halls of his space ship, Alan went over the events of the past few days to try and figure out how he'd messed up
time. His superior usually only wanted to talk when he wanted to chastise Alan.
I've got nothing. I've done nothing
, and that realization put him on guard even moreâthere was only one other reason his superior would meet with him.
He has a special project for me.
Since joining the military and the fight to protect Earth from his enemies, Alan had gone on a number of secret assignments for his boss. Not because of his special abilities or intense combat training, but because Sir Oriol didn't want to be seen using Alan's talents for the cause. Alan was the son of his rival, after all. Acknowledging Alan as useful would only pin another accolade on his father, and Sir Oriol would never stand for that. Yet, Alan did provide a lot of skills and insight to things the rest of his peers missed, and because of that, he got out of scrubbing toilets. Again, Alan wasn't about to complain. Despite being covered up like a blemish, he enjoyed having a purpose. He never much liked attention anyway.
When he entered Sir Oriol's office, he didn't see the usual smug smirk on the man's face. He saw wide eyes full of fear, and that made Alan apprehensive. If something scared one of the greatest commanders his tribe had ever seen, then it was worth being nervous over.
The wide eyes softened some as Sir Oriol returned his gaze to its normal, hard, expressionless state. “Alanmendiquixanimackle, thank you for joining me on such short notice.”
He's being polite. Is he sick? This has got to be some kind of a trick.
Alan straightened his posture. “Of course, sir, how may I assist you?”
“Sit,” Sir Oriol pointed to a chair in front of his desk.
Alan almost pinched himself. He'd never been invited to relax by his superior. Why was Sir Oriol being so nice? Frowning, Alan did as he was told.
Maybe he's delivering bad news. Has something happened to my parents? My sister?
He couldn't think of any other reason for the man's kindness. Someone was sick, possibly dying, and it was time for Alan to return to Altura. “What's wrong?”
“Perceptive and blunt as always,” Sir Oriol muttered. “The leak. That is what's wrong.”
Exhaling slowly, Alan tried to not show how relieved he was. The individual responsible for leaking information from the ship was indeed a huge problem. Every time there was a major mission, the enemy was one step ahead because they already knew what Alan's tribe was going to do next. If he was going to make any progress for his nation, something had to be done about the problem. On a more positive note, at least his family was still alive and well. No news was good news on that front.
Alan missed home, a lot. However, there was a lot still left to do on Earth before he felt ready to leave it. The more time he spent there, the more reasons he had to stay. He wouldn't be seeing his mother or little sister again for a few years still unless the war ended soon.
“What do you need me to do?” Alan asked, cutting to the chase.
If I can show him I'm not my father, or his enemy, then maybe we can accomplish more.
After a long moment of silence, Sir Oriol met Alan's gaze with his own. “You are the only person on board this ship who I know for a fact isn't the leak. I've already tested you to be positive you are not involved. That makes you the only one I can rely on to find him...or her.”
“Sir Tuliyogljaes has told me he isn't the leak as well,” Alan said, shifting a bit uncomfortably. “You're aware that his gift makes him unable to tell a lie, yes?” Sir Tuliy, or Jaes as he preferred to be called, was also Alan's best friend, roommate, and only peer he connected with from his home planet. Alan would defend his honor to the death. Besides, Jaes was also considered a prodigy. Sir Oriol
him. Wouldn't he rather work with a perfect soldier instead of his enemy's son?
He can trust Jaes. So why me?
His commander nodded. “I'm aware of your comrade's abilities, but not being the leak doesn't make him unable to sympathize with him or her. Recent events have me questioning my entire crew. Tuliyogljaes could easily be aiding the leak. I'm convinced he or she is not acting alone.” He folded his hands on his desk. “You live with Tuliyogljaes, however, so perhaps you can clear his name for me. It'd be good to have another ally I am certain I can trust.” Sir Oriol raised an eyebrow, as if to challenge Alan. “His behavior has been odd lately. Disappearing for long periods of time and no record of his leaving.”
Alan bit down on his lower lip. “Because he acquired my teleportation ability. His main power is to copy those of others in exchange for a boost of power. I let him have mine so that he could do more work. It's how he's been able to manage his charges, help unravel the formula for the drug being used on the humans, and everything else he's been tasked with on the ship.”
Sir Oriol only nodded in response.
Swallowing, Alan hoped he hadn't just gotten his friend in trouble. “He didn't want to say anything yet because he knew you'd work him even harder. In return, my teleportation has improved significantly. I no longer make noise when I do so, and I can go longer distances more often. It seemed like a useful trade for both of us in the long run. For our people.”
“Good to know, though it doesn't help his case much.”
“The enemy captives we took to rehabilitate a handful of days ago, when the process was interrupted and our system hacked, our prisoner returned to Earth by an unauthorized means of transportation. Too quickly for it to be one of our escape pods or any of our other methods of entering Earth's atmosphere. This leaves teleportation, and I only know of three, now four, people who can teleport. Two of them are not on this ship, which leaves you and Sir Tuliyogljaes. You are the only one I've eliminated as a threat.” Sir Oriol narrowed his gaze, darkly. “Can I count on you to figure this out? To give me proof? You are good at blending in, at being unseen. There has to be a way for you to search the areas I have missed. I have extended myself as far as I can go on my own. I need help.”
Did I hear him right? He needs
Alan had to fight the urge to grin. His commanding officer would not like that in the slightest. Instead, Alan nodded, though his mouth went dry as he chewed over the words Sir Oriol had said. Earlier, Alan had been certain Jaes was innocent. He'd said it as much himself and Jaes couldn't tell a lie. It was physically impossible for him to do so. Jaes wasn't a traitor; there was no way...
But could he be a sympathizer? I'll clear his name and then I'll get him to help me. Together we'll figure this out.
Alan saluted. “Yes, sir. I will find the leak so we can put an end to this once and for all.”
, hacker extraordinaire, saving the world one computer at a time. No, that's a stupid catchphrase.
Per usual, Gideon was bored out of his mind during study hall. There was plenty of homework to do, sure, but if he did it all in that one period of class time, what was he supposed to do during all of his other classes to pass the time? Pay attention? Lectures were even more boring. Everything his teachers preached was something he already knew or could look up at his convenience on the Internet, so why bother?
No, priorities dictated he find a cool slogan for his super hero alter ego...who still needed to be named. JD had given him that assignment to do before their next group meeting. A nickname was even more challenging than the catchphrase. And JD had tried to help, mandating he be called Hack, but the guy just didn't have good ideas when it came to coming up with alternate personas.
I mean, he calls himself Chihuahua Man. That's just awful. But it could be worse. Orlando got the name Llama Kid. No, Hack makes me sound like some kind of disease.
Something tells me I'm going to be stuck with it if I don't come up with a new one fast and make him think it was
idea. It seems that he's the final say in that department.
Gideon also had yet to come up with some kind of costume, but Orlando and Cadence had reassured him that part was optional. While JD and Orlando both had outfits they preferred to wear on the field, the girls tended to stick to regular clothing. The only items that had to be present during missions were the black masks the Alturans created for the purpose of the war; masks that could distort all of the physical attributes of the wearer. Clothing, hair, eyes, body mass, all became vague, and the brain instantly forgot the person underneath. It was only when the mask was pulled off in front of an individual that the mask's strange powers seemed to lose their effect.
Strange. So much of the Alturan war was, though. The little bits and pieces Gideon knew about seemed too bizarre to be real. Chemical changes in the body allowing for super powers, teenagers turning on one another to support alien ideals, aliens being on Earth in the first place. The whole thing was like some kind of science fiction nightmare. To make things more complicated, it was clear his new teammates didn't know what to think of him. Cadence in particular obviously didn't even want him around. Having come from the blue tribe, an enemy tribe at that, prior to joining with them, he wasn't surprised by their lack of trust. It sucked, though. A lot. Somehow he'd have to earn it. A logistic he was still trying to work out.
Being the science fiction geek that he was, Gideon spent a great deal of time researching these aliens in his spare time. Anything could be found on the Internet. It took some deciphering between the fact and the fiction, but Gideon was able to pick out a few key truths from all of the mumbo jumbo.
Alturans came from a distant planet several light years away. They referred to their nations as tribes and used complicated names for everything. Something about their language system created an intricate string of consonants and vowels when naming things. From personal experience, he knew they used colors instead of formal, official names so the “simple human mind” could keep up on who was who. He wondered what the everyday language on Altura was like. Was every word so complex or were some phrases simpler?
Some people claimed the Alturans were the stereotyped green men with tentacles from the movies. Gideon knew better than to believe that story. Every Alturan he'd come across was as human in appearance as he. The same shades of skin tone and the same eye and hair colors. When there had been a difference, they'd been minor. Two eyes, hands, and feet with ten fingers and ten toes. All the same. In fact, it was impossible to tell just by looking who was from Earth and who wasn't, which made the whole experience surreal.
Except for the super powers part. There were a lot of theories floating around the Internet as to why those existed. The most common were evolution and technological advances. Alturans knew how to unlock barriers in the brain, allowing them to function at full potential. They could also create technical replicas of abilities for anyone to equip and use. Fascinating stuff. Seeing these powers in action was what kept the whole thing real for Gideon. Not to mention the fact that he had a gift of his own to use at his convenience.
There was so much information for him to sort through. Did the Alturans even realize how much could be found on them? That their secret mission wasn't as secret as they thought? Most of it he gathered from conspiracy theory forums. Every so often, the government, clearly trying to cover up the truth, would pull one down. The average person didn't know. Gideon didn't always agree with the government on everything, but he backed up their attempts at keeping the public in the dark for the time being.
If he hadn't witnessed it first hand, he wouldn't believe it himself. Other life in space made sense. Other life in space, life similar to humans, from a planet identical to Earth in just about every way, coming all the way
Earth on the other hand, did not. Add on the fact that those aliens seemed to think it a great idea to use Earth as a battleground for their war was even more of a stretch.
In comparison to Altura, Earth was behind by a great deal in education and technology. It's what made him and other teens so easy to use. A fact that always bothered him. If he was going to be forced into the fight, he had to make sure he did it for the right group of aliens. Alan's tribe seemed to be that. Gideon knew the truth now, and for the time being, it was enough to keep him compliant.
Alan seems more interested in keeping me informed, unlike my old boss from the Blue tribe. I have so many questions, though.
He glanced across the room at Orlando Holmes, self-proclaimed loner and bad boy of Lunar Falls High School. The guy was definitely intimidating, wearing all black and sauntering through the school like he wasn't a new transfer student. A confidence Giddy envied. The more he got to know Orlando, however, the less scary he became. As far as Gideon knew, Orly was his only ally in the school. One ally amongst a lot of enemies.
Enemies who knew he had changed sides.
Of course, he hadn't intended to work for the bad guys in the first place. One night, back in October, his ex-best friend had invited him to a party. With promises of popularity and the chance to connect again, he blindly walked in on a science experiment gone wrong. The Doctor, a leader for a rival tribe, had orchestrated the party for recruitment. Gideon was given an ultimatum. Join, or else.
Or else was never an outcome he wanted to find out.
I should have run away or fought more instead of do the chicken thing and agree. Why did I go to that party in the first place? I don't get why he'd invite me in the first place. Maybe some kind of bizarre prank he played to earn more cool points with his buddies.
He gazed over at Orlando again.
At least I have a team of some kind. And I get to be called by name instead of “you.”
He shuddered. After what Sprout and her superiors put him through, he wasn't sure he could trust another faction ever again. As much as he wanted to count on Orlando, JD, and the others, he couldn't be too sure. He saw the way they gazed at him unsteadily at their meetings. Brief meetings, but informative ones, which was a nice change.
I know whom I'm working with this time. They treat me like a person. It's worth giving them the benefit of the doubt.
I'll prove to them we're all on the same side.
And he knew just how to do it.
One of the known members of a rival tribe was also in the room with him. Tait Darling, otherwise known as Sprout, just so happened to also be one of the leaders he used to submit to. She was nasty.
Sure, at school, she acted sweet and was the spitting image of perfect. Her blonde hair cut in a cute chin-length bob that bounced when she walked the school in her cheerleading uniform. At school, she was kind to her classmates, well liked by all. The girl was hard to hate. When it came time to get down to business with the war, she had no issue slapping people aroundâsometimes literally. Gideon still had scars from being attacked by one of her vines. Controlling plants didn't seem like a useful skill, but somehow Tait managed to turn it into a deadly weapon.
By digging for more dirt on her, he'd show his new team members whose side he was really onâand get to indulge in a little revenge. And he'd do it by hacking into her phone.
While everyone did homework around him, he pretended to sleep at his desk, listening to music. Thankfully, he had an awesome study hall supervisor. As long as he wasn't being disruptive to everyone working, he could do whatever he wanted. Napping was more than acceptable so long as he got up in time to leave for his next class. Mrs. Stewart even went so far as creating a small sleeping nook out of an extra closet. Unlike most staff, she understood the need for teenagers to get rest.
He'd have gone in there, but another student was already taking advantage of the luxury. So he made sure he was comfortable on his desk before beginning. With his eyes closed, Gideon was able to focus on his real work. Because of The Doctor's special drug he'd received the night of the party, Gideon gained the ability to communicate and enter a computer's system using just his mind. A handy trick, though it was one that left him feeling a little dirty. Computers were personal, phones doubly so. A mountain of knowledge in a small, plastic case. Information he found could make or break the war effort. And if invading someone's privacy for a small moment in time ended up saving even one life, it was worth the effort. Right?
Yes, it is. We all know she's bad news anyway. I'm not going to search for anything unrelated to the fighting anyway.
As he tapped into his power, all of the side effects came along with it. First was the drowsy, out of body experience that made him think he was actually floating over everyone. Once he got comfortable with that sensation he was able to open his eyes, figuratively. Gideon could see where he was, but he did so by seeing the electrical pulses of all the machines in the room. Small, blinking lights that flowed through strings of electrical cable or moved in small clumps as the user made their way around the room. After he got his “vision” back, his fingers began to tingle, and that was the sign that he was ready to connect to a device.
It didn't take long for him to locate Tait's cellphone in the room. Each phone was so personalized, the owner's identity stood out just as plainly as if he were looking right at them. The user settings were always telling of a person. For example, Tait had a sappy pop song for her ringtone, kept most of her preferences set to default, had one game, and a plethora of social media applications. She liked to interact with others on a regular basis and had a surprisingly optimistic viewpoint on life in her status updates. Whatever bitterness she contained in her soul, she only let it out during her work for the Blue tribe, it seemed.
Even without all of those clear signs, he'd known it was hers just from the electronic signals alone. Her personality was so deeply interwoven with the machine it was frightening.
People definitely get too attached to these things.
Now, let's see what she's been up to since her “rehabilitation,” shall we?
Rehabilitation, he scoffed at the idea. Alan's tribe, the red tribe, had attempted to wipe Tait's memories of the Alturan war and return her to “normal.”
They'd gotten ahold of a sophisticated device that was considered some kind of Alturan holy relic. This machine allowed users to connect with their brains, search through their entire lives, pick out the information it desired, and move it to storage on its hard drive. In the past, the Alturans used it to document vital events in history. Now, they were using it to safely lobotomize their enemies.
Only, someone else hacked the computer system during Tait's turn and the operation had to be shut down partway through. Supposedly, she didn't know enough to continue involvement with the war. The techs claimed they were able to remove all of the essential details revolving around how to use her abilities and whom she worked for. Gideon didn't buy it. He had been inside the computer at the same time, and none of her memories were being transferred from her mind to the system. Somehow, the program had been altered, messed around withâhacked. By someone who wasn't him and who wasn't an ally.
First, he searched through Tait's email. He wasn't expecting to find much there. Email was too easy for an outsider to observe. Careless. Sending a message through one of the school computers or at home would raise some eyebrows if anyone were to look over her shoulder. Most of its contents were school or cheerleading related. One brief message from Nathan caught Gideon's attention, but only because it was from Nathan. Tait shouldn't have been interacting with Nate in school since they were both in different grades. To be fair, however, Nathan was smart, and like Gideon, qualified for higher-level courses.
They might share a science class, and they're both popular, so it's possible they might have a few mutual friends. It's not completely ridiculous. But he was at that partyâ¦somehow he's involved too.
Gideon made note of the two's meeting time next week for a “special project,” and moved on to her text messages.
Like most teenagers, she sent thousands of them a day. Including during class. An active conversation was going on as he snoopedâwith Orlando, of all people.
“I'm thinking about dropping Spanish,”
“Because I suck at it.”
“It's going to ruin my GPA. I barely managed an A last semester. Class is breaking my brain.”
“I could help you. Study date?”