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Alcatraz 2 Chapter One

So, there I was, slumped in my chair, waiting in a drab airport terminal, munching absently on a bag of stale potato chips.

Not the beginning you expected, is it? You likely thought that I would start this book with something exciting. A scene involving evil Librarians, perhaps—something with altars, Alivened, or at least some machine guns.

I’m sorry to disappoint you. It won’t be the first time I do that. However, it’s for your own good. You see, I have decided to reform. My last book was terribly unfair—I started it with an intense, threatening scene of action. Then, I cut away from it and left the reader hanging, wondering, and frustrated.

I promise to no longer be deceptive like that in my writing. I won’t use cliffhangers or other tricks to keep you reading. I will be calm, respectful, and completely straightforward.

Oh, by the way. Did I mention that while waiting in that airport, I was probably in the most danger I’d ever been in my entire life?

I ate another stale potato chip.

If you’d passed by me sitting there, you would have thought that I looked like an average American boy. I was thirteen years old, had dark brown hair. I wore loose jeans, a green jacket, with white tennis shoes. I’d started to grow a bit taller during the last few months, but I was well within the average for my age.

In fact, the only abnormal thing about me were the blue glasses I was wearing. Not truly sunglasses, they looked like an old man’s reading glasses, only with a baby-blue tint.

(I still consider that this aspect of my life to be terribly unfair. For some reason, the more powerful a pair of Oculatory Lenses is, the less cool they tend to look. I’m developing a theory about it—the Law of Disproportional Lameness.)

I munched on another chip. Come on. . . . I thought. Where are you?

My grandfather, as usual, was late. Now, he couldn’t completely be blamed for it. Leavenworth Smedry, after all, is a Smedry. (The last name’s a dead giveaway.) Like all Smedries, he has a magic Talent. His is the ability to magically arrive late to appointments.

While most people would have considered this to be a large inconvenience, it’s the Smedry way to use our Talents for our benefit. Grandpa Smedry, for instance, tends to arrive late to things like bullet wounds and disasters. His Talent had saved his life on numerous occasions.

Unfortunately, he also tends to be late the rest of the time too. I think he uses his Talent as an excuse even when it wasn’t to blame; I’ve tried to challenge him on this fact several times, but always failed. He just arrived late to the scolding, and so the sound would never reached him. (Besides, in Grandpa Smedry’s opinion, a scolding is a disaster.)

I hunched down a little bit more in the chair, trying to look inconspicuous. The problem was, anyone who knew what to look for could see I was wearing Oculatory Lenses. In this case, my baby-blue spectacles were Courier’s Lenses, a common Lens that let two Oculators communicate over a short distance. My grandfather and I had put them to good use during the last few months, running and hiding from Librarian agents.

Few people in the Hushlands understand the power of Oculatory Lenses. Most of those who walked through the airport were completely unaware of things like Oculators, silimatic technology, and the sect of evil Librarians who secretly ruled the world.

Yes. You read that right. Evil Librarians control the world. They keep everyone in ignorance, teaching them falsehoods in place of history, geography, and politics. It’s kind of a joke to them. Why, else, do you think the Librarians named themselves what they did?

Librarians. LIE-brarians.

Sounds obvious now, doesn’t it? If you wish to smack yourself in the forehead and curse loudly, you may proceed to do so. I can wait.

I ate another chip. Grandpa Smedry was supposed to have contacted me via the Courier’s Lenses over two hours before. It was getting late, even for him. I looked about, trying to determine if there were any Librarian agents in the airport crowd.

I couldn’t spot any, but that didn’t mean anything. I knew enough to realize that you can’t always tell a Librarian by looking at them. While some dress the part—horn rimmed glasses for the women, bow-ties and vests for the men—others looked completely normal, blending in with the regular Hushlanders. Dangerous, but unseen. (Kind of like those troublemakers who read fantasy novels.)

I had a tough decision to make. I could continue wearing the Courier’s Lenses, which would mark me as an Oculator to Librarian agents. Or, I could take them off, and thereby miss Grandpa Smedry’s message when he got close enough to contact me.

If he got close enough to contact me.

A group of people walked over to the area where I was sitting, draping their luggage across several rows of chairs and chatting about the fog delays. I tensed, wondering if they were Librarian agents. Three months on the run had left me feeling anxious.

But that running was over. I would soon escape the Hushlands and finally get to visit my homeland. Nalhalla, one of the Free Kingdoms. A place that Hushlanders didn’t even know existed, though it was a large continent that sat in the pacific ocean between North America and Asia.

I’d never seen it before, but I’d heard stories, and I’d seen some Free Kingdom technology. Cars that could drive themselves, hourglasses that could keep time no matter which direction you turned them. I longed to get to Nalhalla—though, even more desperately, I wanted to get out of Librarian controlled lands.

Grandpa Smedry hadn’t explained exactly how he planned to get me out, or even why we were meeting at the airport. It seemed unlikely that there would be any flights to the Free Kingdoms. However, no matter what the method, I knew our escape probably wouldn’t be easy.

Fortunately, I had a few things on my side. First, I was an Oculator, and I had access to some fairly powerful Lenses. Second, I had my grandfather, who was an expert at avoiding Librarian agents. Third, I knew that the Librarians liked to keep a low profile, even while they secretly ruled most of the world. I probably didn’t have to worry about police or airport security—the Librarians wouldn’t want to involve them, for that would risk revealing the conspiracy to people who were too low-ranked.

I also had my Talent. But . . . well, I wasn’t really sure whether that was an advantage or not. It—

I froze. A man was standing in the waiting area of gate next to mine. He was wearing a suit and sunglasses. And he was staring right at me. As soon as I noticed him, he turned away, looking too nonchalant.

Sunglasses probably meant Warrior’s Lenses—one of the only kinds of Lenses that a non-Oculator could use. I stiffened; the man seemed to be muttering to himself.

Or talking into a radio receiver.

Shattering Glass! I thought, standing up and throwing on my backpack. I wove through the crowd, leaving the gate behind, and raised my hand to my eyes, intending to pull off the Courier’s Lenses.

But . . . what if Grandpa Smedry tried to contact me? There was no way he’d be able to find me in the crowded airport. I needed to keep those Lenses on.

I feel I need to break the action here to warn you that I frequently break the action to mention trivial things. It’s one of my bad habits which, along with wearing miss-matched socks, tends to make people rather annoyed at me. It’s not my fault, though, honestly. I blame society. (For the socks, I mean. That breaking the action thing is totally my own fault.)

I hastened my pace, keeping my head down and my Lenses on. I hadn’t gone far before I noticed a group of men in black suits and pink bow-ties standing on a moving airport walkway a short distance ahead. They had several uniformed security guards with them.

I froze. So much for not having to worry about the police. . . . I tried to hold in my panic, turning—as covertly as I could—and hurrying in the other direction.

I should have realized that the rules would start changing. The Librarians had spent three months chasing Grandpa Smedry and myself. They might hate the idea of involving local law enforcement, but they hated the idea of losing us even more strongly.

A group of Librarian agents were coming from the other direction too. A good dozen warriors in Lenses, likely armed with glass swords and other advanced weapons. There was only one thing to do.

I stepped into the bathroom.

Numerous people were in there, doing their business. I rushed to the back wall. I let my backpack fall to the ground then placed both hands against the wall’s tiles.

A couple of men in the bathroom gave me odd looks, but I’d gotten used to those. People had given me odd looks for most of my life—what else would you expect for a kid who routinely broke things that weren’t really that breakable? (Once, when I was seven, my Talent had decided to break a pieces of concrete I stepped on. I left a line of broken sidewalk squares behind me, like the footprints of some immense killer robot—one wearing size six sneakers.)

I closed my eyes, concentrating. Before, I’d let my Talent rule my life. I hadn’t known that I could control it—I hadn’t even been convinced that it was real.

Grandpa Smedry’s arrival three months earlier had changed all of that. While dragging me off to infiltrate a Library and recover the Sands of Rashid, he’d helped me learn that I could use my Talent, rather than just be used by it.

I focused, and twin bursts of energy pulsed from my chest and down my arms. The tiles in front of me fell free, shattering when they hit the ground like a line of ice cycles knocked off of a railing. I continued to focus. People behind cried out. The Librarians would be upon me any moment.

The entire wall broke, falling away from me. A water line began to spray into the air. I didn’t pause to look at the shouting men behind, but instead reached back and grabbed my backpack.

The strap broke loose. I cursed quietly, grabbing the other one. It broke free too.

The Talent. Blessing and curse. I didn’t let it rule me anymore—but, I wasn’t really in control either. It was like the Talent and I had joint custody over my life; I got it on every other weekend and some holidays.

I left the backpack. I had my Lenses in the pockets of my jacket, and those were the only thing of real value I owned. I leaped through the hole, scrambling over the rubble and into the bowels of the airport. (Hum. Out of the bathroom and into the bowels—kind of opposite of the normal way.)

I was in some kind of service hallway, poorly lit and even more poorly cleaned. I dashed down the hallway for several minutes. I think I must have left the terminal behind, traveling through some access tunnel to another building.

At the end of the tunnel, there were a few stairs. I heard shouts behind me, and risked a glance. A group of men were barreling down the corridor toward me.

I spun and tugged on the doorknob. The door was locked, but doors have always been one of my specialties. The knob came off; I tossed it over my shoulder in an off-handed motion. Then I kicked the door open, bursting out into a large hangar.

Massive airplanes towered over me, their windshields dark. I hesitated, looking up at the enormous vehicles, feeling dwarfed as if by large beasts.

I shook myself out of the stupor. The Librarians were still behind me. Fortunately, it appeared as if this hangar were empty of people. I slammed the door then placed my hand on the lock, using my Talent to break it so that the deadbolt jammed in place. Then, I hopped over the railing and landed on a short line of steps leading down to the hangar’s floor.

When I reached the bottom, my feet left tracks in the dusty floor. Fleeing out onto the runway seemed like an easy way to get myself arrested, considering the current state of airport security. However, hiding seemed risky as well.

That was a good metaphor for my life, actually. It seemed that no matter what I did, I ended up in even more danger than I’d been in before. One might have said that I constantly went “Out of the frying pan and into the fire”, which is a common Free Kingdom saying.

(Free Kingdomers, it might be noted, aren’t very imaginative their idioms. Personally, I say “Out of the frying pan, and into the deadly pit filled with sharks who are wielding chainsaws with killer kittens stapled to them.” However, that one’s having a rough time catching on.)

Fists began to bang on the door. I glanced at it, then made my decision. I’d try hiding.

I ran toward a small doorway on the floor of the hangar. It had slivers of light shining in around it, and I figured it led out onto the runway. I was careful to leave big, long footprints in the dust. Then—my false trail made—I hopped onto some boxes, moved across them, then jumped onto the ground.

The door shook as the men pounded. It wouldn’t hold for long. I skidded down next to the wheel of a 747 and whipped off my Courier’s Lenses. Then, I reached into my jacket. I had sewn a group of protective pockets onto the inside lining, and each one was cushioned with a special, Free Kingdom material to protect the Lenses.

I pulled out a pair of green-Lensed spectacles, then shoved them on.

The door burst.

I ignored it, instead focusing on the floor of the hangar. Then, I activated the Lenses. Immediately, a quick gust of wind blew from my face. It moved across the floor, erasing some of the footprints. Windstormer’s Lenses, a gift from Grandpa Smedry the week after our first Librarian infiltration.

By the time the Librarians got in the door, cursing and muttering, only the footprints I wanted them to see were still there. I huddled down beside my wheel, holding my breath and trying to still my thumping heart as I heard a fleet of soldiers and policemen pile down the steps.

That’s when I remembered my Firebringer’s Lens.

I peeked up over the top of the 747 wheel. The Librarians had fallen for my trick, and were moving along the floor toward the door out of the hangar. But, they weren’t walking as quickly as I would have wanted, and several were glancing around with suspicious eyes.

I ducked back down before I could be spotted. My fingers felt the Firebringer’s Lens—I only had one left—and I hesitantly brought it out. It was completely clear, with a single red dot in the center.

When activated, it shot forth a super-hot burst of energy, something like a laser. I could turn it on the Librarians. They had, after all, tried to kill me on several different occasions. They deserved it.

I sat for a moment, then quietly put the Lens back in its pocket, instead putting my Courier’s Lenses back on. If you’ve read the previous volume of this autobiography, you’ll realize that I had some very particular ideas about heroism. A hero wasn’t the type of person who turned a laser of pure energy upon the backs of a bunch of soldiers, particularly when that bunch included innocent security guards.

Sentiments like this one eventually got me into a lot of trouble. You probably remember how I’m going to end up; I mentioned it in the first book. I’d eventually be tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, cultists from the Librarian Order of the Shattered Lens preparing to spill my Oculator’s blood in an unholy ceremony.

Heroism is what landed me there. But, ironically, it saved my life that day in the airport hangar. You see, if I hadn’t put on my Courier’s Lenses, I would have missed what happened next.

Alcatraz? a voice suddenly asked in my mind.

The voice nearly made me cry out in surprise.

Uh, Alcatraz? Hello? Is anyone listening?

The voice was fuzzy and indistinct, and it wasn’t the voice of my grandfather. However, it wascoming from the Courier’s Lenses.

Oh, bother! the voice said. Um. I’ve never been good with Courier’s Lenses.

It faded in and out, like someone speaking through a radio that wasn’t getting good reception. It wasn’t Grandpa Smedry, but at that moment, I was willing to take a chance on whomever it was.

“I’m here!” I whispered, activating the Lenses.

A blurry face fuzzed into existence in front of me, hovering like a hologram in the air. It belonged to a young woman with dark tan skin and black hair.

Hello? she asked. Is someone there? Can you talk louder or something?

“Not really,” I hissed, glancing out at the Librarians. Most of them had moved out the door, but a small group of men had apparently been assigned to search the hangar. Mostly security guards.

Um . . . okay, the voice said. Uh, who is this?

“Who do you think it is?” I asked in annoyance. “I’m Alcatraz. Who are you?”

Oh I. . . . the image, and voice, fuzzed for a moment. . . . send to pick you up. Sorry! Uh, where are you?

“In a hangar,” I said. One of the guards perked up, then pulled out a gun, pointing in my direction. He’d heard me.

“Shattering Glass!” I hissed, ducking back down.

You really shouldn’t swear like that, you know . . . the girl said.

“Thanks,” I hissed as quietly as possible. “Who are you, and how are you going to get me out of this?⁠”

There was a pause. A dreadful, terrible, long, annoying, frustrating, deadly, nerve-wracking, incredibly wordy pause.

I . . . don’t really know, the girl said. I—wait just a second. Bastille says that you should run out somewhere in the open then signal us. It’s too foggy down there. We can’t really see much.

Down there? I thought. Still, if Bastille was with this girl, that seemed like a good sign. Though Bastille would probably chastise me for getting myself into so much trouble, she did have a habit of being very effective at what she did. Hopefully that would include rescuing me.

“Hey!” a voice said. I turned to the side, staring out at one of the guards. “I found someone!”

Time to break some things, I thought, taking a deep breath. Then I sent a burst of breaking power into the wheel of the airplane.

I ducked away, leaping to my feet as lug nuts popped free from the airplane wheel. The guard raised his gun, but didn’t fire.

“Shoot him!” said a man in a black suit, the Librarian who stood directing things from the side of the room.

“I’m not shooting a kid,” the guard said. “Where are these terrorists you were talking about?”

Good man, I thought as I dashed toward the front of the hangar. At that moment, the wheel of the airplane fell completely off, and the entire front of the vehicle crashed down against the pavement. Men cried out in surprise, and the security guards dove for cover.

The Librarian in black grabbed a handgun from one of the confused guards and pointed it at me. I just smiled.

The gun, of course, fell apart as soon as the Librarian pulled the trigger. My Talent protects me when it can—and the more moving parts a weapon has, the easier it is to break. I rammed my shoulder into the massive hangar doors and sent a shock of breaking power into them. Screws and lug nuts fell like rain around me, hitting the ground. Several guards peeked out from behind boxes.

The entire front of the hangar came off, falling away from me and hitting the ground outside with a reverberating crash. I hesitated, shocked, even though that was exactly what I’d wanted to happen. Swirling fog began to creep into the hangar around me.

It seemed that my Talent was getting even more powerful. Before, I’d broken things like pots and dishes, with the very rare exception of something larger, like the concrete I had broken when I was seven. That was nothing like what I’d been doing lately: taking the wheels off of airplanes and making entire hangar doors fall off. Not for the first time, I wondered just how much I could break if I really needed to.

And how much the Talent could break if it decided that it wanted to.

There wasn’t time to contemplate that, as the Librarians outside had noticed the ruckus. They stood, black upon the noonday fog, looking back at me. Most of them had spread out to the sides, and so the only way for me to go was straight ahead.

I dashed out onto the wet pavement, running for all I was worth. The Librarians began to yell, and several tried—completely ineffectively—to fire guns at me. They should have known better. In their defense, few people—even Librarians—are accustomed to dealing with a Smedry as powerful as I was. Against others, they might have been able to get off a few shots before something went wrong. Firearms aren’t completely useless in the Free Kingdoms, they’re just much less powerful.

The shooting—or, lack thereof—bought me just a few seconds of time. Unfortunately, there were several Librarians in my path.

“Get Ready!” I yelled into my Courier’s Lenses. Then, I whipped them off and put on the Windstormer’s Lenses. I focused as hard as I could, blowing forth a burst of wind from my eyes. Both Librarians were knocked to the ground, and I leaped over them.

Other Librarians cried out from behind, chasing me as I moved out onto a runway. Puffing, I reached into a pocket and pulled free my Firebringer’s Lens. I spun and activated the Lens.

It started to glow. The group of Librarians pulled to a halt. They knew enough to recognize that Lens. I held it out, then pointed it up into the air. It shot a line of red firelight upward, piercing the fog.

That had better be enough of a signal, I thought. The Librarians gathered together, obviously preparing to rush at me, Lens or no Lens. I prepared my Windstormer’s Lenses, hoping I could use them to blow the Librarians back long enough for Bastille to save me.

The Librarians, however, did not charge. I stood, anxious, the Firebringer’s Lens still firing into the air. What were they waiting for?

The Librarians parted, and a dark figure—silhouetted in the muggy fog—moved through them. I couldn’t see much, but something about this figure was just plain wrong. He was a head taller the others, and one of his arms was several feet longer than the other. Its head was misshapen. Perhaps inhuman. Most definitely dangerous.

I shivered, taking an involuntary step backward. The dark figure raised one arm, as if pointing a gun.

I’ll be all right, I told myself. Guns are useless against me.

There was a crack in the air, then Firebringer’s Lens exploded in my fingers, hit square on by the gunman’s bullet. I yelled, pulling my hand down.

Shoot my Lens, rather than me. This one is more clever than the others.

The dark figure walked forward, and part of me wanted to wait to see just what it was that made this thing’s arm and head so misshapen. The rest of me was just plain horrified. The figure started to run, and that was enough. I did the smart thing (I’m capable of that on occasion) and dashed away as quickly as I could.

Instantly, something seemed to pull me backward. The wind whistled in my ears oddly, and each step felt far more difficult than it should have. I began to sweat, and soon it was tough to even walk.

Something was very, very wrong. As I continued to move, forcing myself on despite the strange force towing me backward, I began to think that I could feel the dark thing behind me. I could sense it, twisted and vile, getting closer and closer.

I could barely move. Each. Step. Got. Tougher.

A rope ladder slapped against the pavement a short distance in front of me. I cried out and lunged for it, grabbing ahold. My weight must have told those above that I was on board, for the ladder suddenly jerked upward, towing me with it, ripping me free from whatever force had been holding me back. I felt the pressure lighten, and I let out a relieved breath, glancing down.

The figure still stood there, indistinct in the fog, only a few feet from where I’d been. It stared up as I was lifted to safety, and the ground disappeared into the fog.

I let out a sigh of relief, relaxing against the wood and rope. Just a few moments later, my ladder and I were pulled free from the fog, bursting out into open air.

I looked up, and saw perhaps the most awesome sight I’d ever seen in my entire life.

|   Castellano