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The Rise of Nine

Pittacus Lore

Page 1


  A. Seriously? I look at the boarding pass in my hand, its large type announcing my seat assignment, and wonder if Crayton chose this seat on purpose. It could be a coincidence, but the way things have gone recently, I am not a big believer in coincidences. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marina sat down behind me in row seven, and Ella made her way back to row ten. But, no, the two girls drop down beside me without saying a word, and join me in studying each person boarding the plane. Being hunted, you are constantly on guard. Who knows when the Mogadorians might appear.

  Crayton will board last, after he’s watched to see who else gets on the plane, and only once he feels the flight is absolutely secure.

  I raise the window shade and watch the ground crew hustle back and forth under the plane. The city of Barcelona is a faint outline in the distance.

  Marina’s knee bounces furiously up and down next to mine. The battle against an army of Mogadorians yesterday at the lake, the death of her Cêpan, finding her Chest – and now, it’s the first time in almost ten years that she’s left the town where she spent her childhood. She’s nervous.

  ‘Everything okay?’ I ask. My newly blond hair falls into my face and startles me. I forgot I dyed it this morning. It’s just one of many changes in the last forty-eight hours.

  ‘Everyone looks normal,’ Marina whispers, keeping her eyes on the crowded aisle. ‘We’re safe, as far as I can tell. ’

  ‘Good, but that’s not what I meant. ’ I gently set my foot on hers and she stops bouncing her knee. She offers me a quick apologetic smile before returning to her close watch of each boarding passenger. A few seconds later, her knee starts bouncing again. I just shake my head.

  I feel sorry for Marina. She was locked up in an isolated orphanage with a Cêpan who refused to train her. Her Cêpan had lost sight of why we are here on Earth in the first place. I’m doing my best to help her, to fill in the gaps. I can train her to learn how to control her strength and when to use her developing Legacies. But first I’m trying to show her that it’s okay to trust me.

  The Mogadorians will pay for what they’ve done. For taking so many whom we’ve loved, here on Earth and on Lorien. It’s my personal mission to destroy every last one of them, and I’ll be sure Marina gets her revenge too. Not only did she just lose her best friend, Héctor, back at the lake, but, like me, her Cêpan was killed right in front of her. We will both carry that with us forever.

  ‘How is it down there, Six?’ Ella asks, leaning over Marina.

  I turn back towards the window. The men below the plane begin to clear away their equipment, conducting a few last-minute checks. ‘So far, so good. ’

  My seat is directly over the wing, which is comforting to me. On more than one occasion I’ve had to use my Legacies to help a pilot out of a jam. Once, over southern Mexico, I used my telekinesis to push the plane a dozen degrees to the right, only seconds before crashing into the side of a mountain. Last year I got 124 passengers safely through a vicious thunderstorm over Kansas by surrounding the plane with an impervious cloud of cool air. We shot through the storm like a bullet through a balloon.

  When the ground crew moves on to the next plane, I follow Ella’s gaze towards the front of the aisle. We’re both impatient for Crayton to board. That will mean everything is okay, at least for now. Every seat is full but the one behind Ella. Where is he? I glance out at the wing again, scanning the area for anything out of the ordinary.

  I lean down and shove my backpack under my seat. It’s practically empty, so it folds down easily. Crayton bought it for me at the airport. The three of us need to look like normal teenagers, he says, like high school students on a field trip. That’s why there’s a biology textbook on Ella’s lap.

  ‘Six?’ Marina asks. I hear her buckle and unbuckle her seat belt nervously.

  ‘Yeah?’ I respond.

  ‘You’ve flown before, right?’

  Marina is only a year older than I am. But with her solemn, thoughtful eyes and her new, sophisticated haircut that falls just below her shoulders, she can easily pass for an adult. Right now, however, she bites her nails and pulls her knees up to her chest like a scared child.

  ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘It’s not so bad. In fact, once you relax, it’s kind of awesome. ’

  Sitting there on the plane, my thoughts turn in the direction of my own Cêpan, Katarina. Not that I ever flew with her. But when I was nine years old, we had a close call in a Cleveland alley with a Mogadorian that left us both shaken and covered in a thick layer of ash. Katarina moved us to Southern California after that. Our crumbling, two-story bungalow was near the beach, practically in the shadow of Los Angeles International Airport. A hundred planes roared overhead every hour, always interrupting Katarina’s teaching, as well as the little free time I had to spend with my only friend, a skinny girl next door named Ashley.

  I lived under those airplanes for seven months. They were my alarm clock in the morning, screaming directly over my bed as the sun rose. At night they were ominous ghosts telling me to stay awake, to be prepared to rip off my sheets and jump in the car in a matter of seconds. Since Katarina didn’t let me stray far from the house, the airplanes were also the sound track of my afternoons.

  On one of those afternoons, as the vibrations from an enormous plane overhead shook the lemonade in our plastic cups, Ashley said, ‘Me and my mom are going to visit my grandparents next month. I can’t wait! Have you ever been on a plane?’ Ashley was always talking about all the places she went and things she did with her family. She knew Katarina and I stayed close to home and she liked to brag.

  ‘Not really,’ I said.

  ‘What do you mean, “Not really”? You’ve either been on a plane, or you haven’t. Just admit it. You haven’t. ’

  I remember feeling my face burn with embarrassment. Her challenge hit its mark. I finally said, ‘No, I’ve never been on an airplane. ’ I wanted to tell her I’ve been on something much bigger, something much more impressive than a little airplane. I wanted her to know I came to Earth on a ship from another planet called Lorien and the trip had covered more than 100 million miles. I didn’t, though, because I knew I had to keep Lorien secret.

  Ashley laughed at me. Without saying good-bye, she left to wait for her dad to come home from work.

  ‘Why haven’t we ever been on a plane?’ I asked Katarina that night as she peered out the blinds of my bedroom window.

  ‘Six,’ she said, turning to me before correcting herself. ‘I mean, Veronica. It’s too dangerous for us to travel by plane. We’d be trapped up there. You know what could happen if we were thousands of miles in the air and then found out Mogs had followed us on board?’

  I knew exactly what could happen. I could picture the chaos, the other passengers screaming and ducking under their seats as a couple of huge alien soldiers barreled down the aisle with swords. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to do something so normal, so human, as to fly on a plane from one city to the next. I’d spent all my time on Earth unable to do the things other kids my age took for granted. We rarely even stayed in one place long enough for me to meet other kids, let alone make friends – Ashley was the first girl Katarina even allowed over to our house. Sometimes, like in California, I didn’t even attend school, if Katarina thought it was safer.

  I knew why all this was necessary, of course. Usually, I didn’t let it bother me. But Katarina could tell that Ashley’s superior attitude had gotten under my skin. My silence the following days must have cut through her, because to my surprise she bought us two round-trip airline tickets to Denver. The destination didn’t matter – she knew I just wanted the experience.

  I couldn’t wait to tell Ashley.

  But on the day of the trip, standing outside the airport, Katarina hesitated. She seemed nervous. She ran her hand through her short black hair. She had dyed and cut it the night before, just before making herself a new ID. A family of five walked around us on the curb, dragging heavy luggage, and to my left a tearful mother said good-bye to her two young daughters. I wanted nothing more than to join in, to be a part of this everyday scene. Katarina watched everyone around us while I fidgeted impatiently by her side.

  ‘No,’ Katarina finally said. ‘We’re not going. I’m sorry, Veronica, but it’s not worth it. ’

  We drove home in silence, letting the screaming engines of the planes passing overhead speak for us. When we got out of the car on our street, I saw Ashley sitting on her front steps. She looked at me walking towards our house and mouthed the word liar . The humiliation was almost too much to bear.

  But, really, I was a liar. It’s ironic. Lying was all I had done since I’d arrived on Earth. My name, where I was from, where my father was, why I couldn’t stay the night at another girl’s house – lying was all I knew and it was what kept me alive. But when Ashley called me a liar the one time I was telling someone the truth, I was unspeakably angry. I stormed up to my room, slammed the door, and punched the wall.

  To my surprise, my fist went straight through.

  Katarina slammed my door open, wielding a kitchen knife and ready to strike. She thought the noise she’d heard must be Mogs. When she saw what I had done to the wall, she realized that something had changed with me. She lowered the blade and smiled. ‘Today’s not the day you get on a plane, but it is the day you’re going to start your training. ’

  Seven years later, sitting on this plane with Marina and Ella, I hear Katarina’s voice in my head. ‘We’d be trapped up there . ’ But I’m ready for that possibility now, in ways that Katarina and I weren’t.

  I’ve since flown dozens of times, and everything has gone fine. However, this is the first time I’ve done it without using my invisibility Legacy to sneak on board. I know I’m much stronger now. And I’m getting stronger by the day. If a couple of Mog soldiers charged at me from the front of the plane, they wouldn’t be dealing with a meek young girl. I know what I’m capable of; I am a soldier now, a warrior. I am someone to fear, not hunt.

  Marina lets go of her knees and sits up straight, releasing a long breath. In a barely audible voice, she says, ‘I’m scared. I just want to get in the air. ’

  ‘You’ll be fine,’ I say in a low voice.

  She smiles, and I smile back at her. Marina proved herself to be a strong ally with amazing Legacies on the battlefield yesterday. She can breathe under water, see in the dark, and heal the sick and wounded. Like all Garde, she also has telekinesis. And because we’re so close in order – I’m Number Six and she’s Number Seven – our bond is special. When the charm still held and we had to be killed in order, the Mogadorians would have had to get through me before they could get to her. And they never would have gotten through me.

  Ella sits silently on the other side of Marina. As we continue to wait for Crayton, she opens the biology book on her lap and stares at the pages. Our charade does not demand this level of concentration and I’m about to lean over and tell her, but then I see she isn’t reading at all. She is trying to turn the page with her mind, trying to use telekinesis, but nothing’s happening.