Legacies RebornPittacus Lore
Excerpt from The Fate of Ten
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AS USUAL, BENNY IS AN ASS AND I CAN’T KEEP my mouth shut.
Lunch had been going okay. We’d walked to the diner a few blocks down from our apartment. Everybody in Harlem seemed to be out on the streets, enjoying the first warmish day in weeks. Mom looked radiant in her crisp white button-down. She’s always been able to make her work clothes look fashionable instead of like something she was forced to wear while serving fancy customers at a restaurant down on Wall Street that we could never afford to eat at. Benny, my stepdad, was quiet most of the meal, except for a groan here or there—based on his swollen eyes, I’m guessing he had a little too much fun out with his boys last night. All in all, things had been smooth sailing.
Then I had to go and ask if I could get some new headphones. Nice noise-cancelling ones that’d block out the world around me, or at least the noises in our apartment. That seemed worth fifty dollars to me.
The request doesn’t go over well.
“Sure, baby,” Mom says as she tries to nab the last grape from a side of fruit salad with her fork.
Benny looks like she’s just agreed to buy me a Lexus for my sixteenth birthday or something.
“Hold up, now,” he says. “What’s wrong with the ones you’ve got?”
“They’re busted,” I say, pointing to the headphones slung around my neck. “Only one ear works.”
“Then deal with one ear,” Benny says. He wolfs down the last bite of a burger. “Your mom works six shifts a week. Sometimes more. I support us too. What do you do?”
I almost laugh at the word “support.” Benny’s been off work for a few months now on paid “disability,” even though I haven’t seen anything wrong with him. It definitely hasn’t stopped him from drinking beer all day while shouting at our TV, driving me crazy.
“I put up with you,” I mutter, staring down at the half a waffle floating around a little syrup lake on my plate.
“Dani,” Mom says.
“What’d you just say?” Benny asks, his voice a low boom.
I bite my tongue. For Mom’s sake, I keep quiet.
“She’s having a great semester in school,” Mom says. “Lord, I’ll pay for the headphones. Don’t worry.”
“Oh really? Where’s this money coming from, then?” he asks.
“Benny, don’t spoil the meal. You know I set aside a little tip money for things like this.”
“At least she works,” I say. It slips out before I can stop it. Benny snorts and I can tell I’ve crossed the line.
When he speaks again, his voice is deep and full of anger.
“Listen here, you spoiled little—”
“Benjamin.” Mom cuts him off.
He looks back and forth between us, jaw flexing as he clenches his teeth. Benny’s pretty much always an asshole, but it’s when he gets quiet and silently rages that I know I’ve hit some kind of nerve. I haven’t seen him look this angry in a long time, and that’s saying something, considering we never see eye to eye on anything.
My body tenses up with anger. I want to hurl my plate at him, or flip this whole table over. I wish I could do something.
He stands up abruptly, his knees banging against the table and causing our plates to rattle. On his feet, he’s a behemoth, six foot two and thick from years of manual labor and Mom’s cooking. A couple of people look over at us, and Mom puts on a smile to show them that everything’s all right.
“You got so much spare cash lying around, then you won’t mind paying for this shit,” Benny says, waving at our table. And then he’s off and out the door.
Mom slowly takes her napkin from her lap and dabs her lips.
“You want dessert, baby?” she asks.
I shake my head and suck my teeth, looking across the room at nothing in particular. If I look at Mom I’ll apologize for what I said and take responsibility for starting the argument, and I don’t want to be sorry.
She shrugs and glances at her phone. “I gotta get down to the restaurant. My shift starts soon.”
“I’d hate for those rich-ass bankers to have to pour their own drinks.”
“Language, Dani,” she says. Then she smirks. “Besides, those rich-ass bankers are the ones buying you a black and white.”
And before I can protest she’s up and across the diner, chatting with our waitress at the bar as the woman makes me a to-go milk shake.
I walk Mom to her train. We cut through Morningside Park, which is kind of crowded because of the nice weather. There are all sorts of families grilling and having picnics. A bunch of kids playing pickup basketball on the courts. We don’t really talk—Mom just hums some song I don’t recognize and I try to cool off. We’ve done this a million times. Walking beside her always makes me feel better, no matter what’s been going on at home or at school.
But we can’t spend all day strolling around. Eventually she has to leave.
We come to the subway entrance.
“Text me which headphones you want, and I’ll go pick them up,” she says. “It’ll be our little secret.”
“Until Benny finds out,” I say.
“He won’t. He’s not exactly the most observant guy. He’ll forget all about them by tomorrow. Maybe we’ll do something fun if the weather stays. Just you and me. I’ve got the day off.”
This is what it should always be like. We don’t need anybody else in the world except each other.
“We’d be better off alone.”
“Dani . . . ,” she says.
“It’s true. We were fine before he came along.”
“Not always, baby,” she says. “You’re forgetting he’s the reason we can afford to stay in our apartment.”
“If that’s all it is, then I can get a job,” I say. “I’m almost sixteen. We can get along just fine without him.”
She smiles, but I don’t think it’s because I’ve just come up with some brilliant solution to our problems. We’ve had this conversation a hundred times before.
“He’s a good man,” she says slowly, patiently. “He’s just going through a rough patch.”
As far as I’m concerned, this “rough patch” has lasted for the last three years, ever since he moved in with us.
“Besides, you need to be focused on school.” She smirks a little. “I’m going to find some SAT vocabulary lessons for you to listen to on those fancy new headphones to make sure you’re putting them to good use.”
I roll my eyes. She kisses me on the forehead, squeezing my shoulder gently.
“I’ll see you tonight, Dani,” she says. “I love you.”
“Yeah.” I stare down at the concrete. “Later.”
“I love you too,” I say finally.
She smiles, and then disappears down into the subway.
Thinking about going back to the apartment makes my blood start to boil again, and with Mom gone there’s no one left to keep me calm. I know from past experience that it’ll be best if I give Benny a little while to cool down. Besides, I don’t want to be stuck in my room avoiding my stepdad when it’s so nice outside. So I walk for a while until I finally come to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I cut through the groups of people snapping pictures outside an
d go into the little park beside the church where this weirdo statue of an angel and a bunch of giraffes stands. I think it’s really called Peace Fountain, but I’ve always called it Big Crab because that’s what all the animals and the winged man are standing on—a Big Crab. That’s also what Mom called it when I was just a kid and she used to take me on walks through the university campus nearby and talk about how if I worked really hard I’d be one of the students there when I grew up.
Now I come here when I want to get away from everything else.
I grab a bench, stretch out my legs and cross my arms, enjoying the feeling of the sun shining down on me. Music blasts from one ear of my headphones. I try to completely zone out.
I don’t know how much time passes before my phone starts to vibrate in my pocket, the music in my ear suddenly replaced by a ringtone. I sigh, fearing that it’s Benny asking me where the hell I am, or if I’ll run by the store and pick something up for him.
But it’s Mom.
“Hey,” I say when I answer. “I thought your shift star—”
“Where are you?” she cuts me off. Her voice is short and on the verge of a yell. It startles me so that I don’t answer at first. She continues. “Did you hear me? Where are you?”
“At the Big Crab.”
“Dani, baby,” she says. She sounds like she’s about to start crying or something. “You need to go home. Right now. I’ll be—”
I don’t hear what she says after that, if she says anything at all. There’s some yelling and then a loud bang, and suddenly our connection is gone.
I try to call back, but I’ve got zero bars.
“What the . . . ,” I mutter, jumping to my feet. I pause for a few seconds, staring at my phone, my heart pounding against my ribs. I’m not exactly excited about going back to the apartment and spending the rest of the afternoon hearing Benny shout at sports teams. But Mom sounded so worried . . .
The sky becomes overcast, and all of a sudden I feel like something bad’s going to happen. I keep hearing the concern in Mom’s voice repeating through my head.
I start to run towards home.
As I dart through the park and past the short blocks to our apartment, I can tell something’s not right. I hear shouting from inside apartment buildings as I run past open windows. A couple of other people are sprinting through the streets, in a hurry somewhere. I speed up, continuously checking my phone to see if I’ve gotten a message from Mom or something.
Finally, I’m home. The metal security gate bangs behind me, loud, and I’m guessing every other apartment in our crappy building hears it. Someone yells from inside 1B as I run past the row of mailboxes in the entryway and then up the hard, worn stairs to our place on the fourth floor. I’m shaking as I try to get my key in the door, but I can’t tell if it’s because I’m completely out of breath and drained from running all the way here, or because I’m so spooked by Mom’s call.
I start yelling as soon as I get inside.
“Mom?” I ask. “Benny? What’s going on?”
Benny’s in his big blue recliner. There are a couple of empty beers on the coffee table, and I’m hoping that means he’s forgotten all about the headphones.
“Benny, Mom jus—”
He shushes me, waving a hand in my direction, not taking his eyes off the TV, where a blond boy with glowing fireballs in his hands is fighting a gross-ass giant.
Anger builds up inside me. Benny is watching some crappy sci-fi movie while Mom might be in trouble or something.
I’m about to start shouting at him when I recognize the United Nations on the screen. Then a reporter from one of the news stations Benny loves to yell at comes into frame. That’s when I realize that this isn’t some movie: it’s live.
NONE OF THIS SEEMS REAL.
A giant spaceship is hovering above Manhattan. It just rolled in out of nowhere. A freaking spaceship. I’ve tried to catch sight of it myself, but the only windows in our apartment face the building a few yards away from us, and all I can see when I look out are bricks and dirty glass and the little alley below us.
But it’s all over the TV. We sit glued to the screen. Benny keeps crossing himself and whispering prayers I didn’t think he even knew. He’s got a baseball bat in his lap and hasn’t moved for hours. I split my time rocking back and forth on the couch and pacing through the living room, constantly checking both my and Benny’s phones to see if either of them gets any service. We don’t really talk to each other except for when we hear a bunch of people running up to the roof. I start towards the front door, but Benny says “Stay here” in a way that has my butt immediately back down on the couch.
Besides, I keep waiting for the door to swing open and Mom to walk in. I don’t want to be up on the roof when she does.
Whatever this is, it’s not just happening here in New York, but in cities across the world. Some are calling it an invasion. Others war. None of it makes sense. It’s impossible to wrap my head around it. The weird-ass aliens with laser guns they keep showing on TV have just got to be CGI. Or this is just some big viral marketing campaign for a movie or something. I remember learning in school about some old radio broadcast back in the ’30s that was about aliens invading. People thought it was real, but it turned out to be a big hoax. This has to be like that, right?
Or at least, that’s what I keep trying to believe.
If this is a joke, it’s the best, most expensive damn joke in history. The news keeps showing footage taken from phones and tablets—I guess some people are managing to get a cell signal. A lot of it is shaky and blurry. Some of it’s a little more high quality. A few stations start showing a video pulled from YouTube. It’s got a girl doing a voice-over in it like some kind of PSA and talks about the blond boy I saw fighting on TV earlier—apparently his name is John Smith—and how he’s a good alien. And that a bunch of bad aliens are here to take over Earth.
This is the craziest shit I’ve ever seen.
Every time the security gate bangs, I jolt and stare at the door, hoping it’s Mom. But it never is. The dozenth or so time I hear it, the clanging metal is followed by the sound of some guy screaming.
“Holy shit, they’re here.” His cries echo up the stairwell, through the building. “They’re on the block! They’re on the block!”
I recognize the voice as the old man who sits on our stoop and sometimes talks to birds. I turn to Benny, but he just clicks his tongue and shakes his head a little.
“Dude’s losing it,” he says, not taking his eyes off the TV. “Those pale freaks ain’t gonna bother with Harlem. We’re safe here.”
He turns the news up louder. The station we’re watching is broadcasting live from Midtown, where most of the NYPD has been sent—it seems like the aliens are more concentrated there. Benny leans forward in his chair, muttering something I don’t hear. Somewhere on our block, a few car alarms start to go off. Even though he may be convinced no aliens are coming to Harlem, I get up and tiptoe over to the front door, moving the little slider out of the way so I can see through the peephole and into the small landing. But there’s nothing there—just the two doors of the apartments across the hall and the blinking light that’s needed to be fixed for months now.
Behind me, the reporter talks.
“The—the—the Mogadorians,” she says, and I roll the word around in my head. “They have taken to the streets en masse and appear to be, ah, rounding up prisoners, although we have seen some further acts of violence at—at—the slightest provocation. . . .”
“Jesus Christ,” Benny says.
I keep my eye up to the peephole, trying to catch anything out of the ordinary.
There’s a huge bang downstairs and the sound of wrenching metal, like the security gate’s being torn in half or something. I leap back from the door, screaming a little bit, and proceed to freak the eff out.
’s them!” I say, louder than I mean to. My heart is suddenly pumping a thousand beats a minute as I look around for some kind of weapon.
“Shut up!” Benny says, jumping out of his chair and muting the TV. I’m so scared that I hardly get angry at his words. When he sees my face, his expression softens and he lowers his voice to a whisper. “I mean, keep quiet. Damn.”
There’s screaming somewhere downstairs. Loud and panicked. Terrified. My breath catches in my throat as I take five steps away from the door all at once and back into Benny. There’s another scream, one that’s cut off suddenly. I start to shake. My breath comes out in quivery gasps.
Benny grips my shoulder and pulls me back. For a second I think he’s just dragging me away from the door. Then I realize he’s trying to get me behind him.
“Go hide,” he says, letting his arm fall away. I turn to him. There’s something in his eyes I’ve never seen before.
“Go on,” he says.
I start to think of the few places I could try to hide in our apartment—under my bed, the closet—and suddenly I feel like I’m five years old and playing games. But these alien freaks are definitely not playing. Our apartment is so small. If they want to find me, they will.
The screams are getting louder, closer. They’re moving up the floors. I can hear the doors being kicked in now, along with electronic noises like the ones we heard on TV—the sounds of their weapons.
What the hell is happening?
There’s shouting now, right outside our apartment. Deep, bellowing orders to open the doors. I stand frozen in our living room.
Benny takes his bat and walks slowly to the door, half on his tiptoes. He leans up against the corner in the entryway and raises the bat like he’s ready to hit a homer. He glances back at me, and his face contorts into an expression I’m more familiar with coming from him: anger.
“Wake up, stupid,” he says. “Go.”
He nods to the window on the other side of the living room, where the gauzy white curtains Mom loves are billowing out in the slight breeze.
The fire escape. He wants me to make a run for it.
I listen and bolt, and am halfway down to the next floor when I realize Benny is staying back to fend off the aliens and give me a chance to escape. He should be coming with me. What would Mom say if she found out I just left him behind?