The rise of nine, p.18
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       The Rise of Nine, p.18

         Part #3 of Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore
Page 18


  ‘Seriously?’ Nine says with a pleased smile.

  The brunette bends down, looking curiously at the intricate carvings on the lid of my Chest. I hate that she’s so close to it. ‘So, what’s inside? Pirate treasure?’

  We should not be talking to them. We shouldn’t be talking to anyone. We’re no longer just teenagers trying to blend in with the humans around us. We are alien fugitives who just destroyed a fleet of government vehicles. There’s a bounty on my head and I bet they’re putting one together for Nine right now. We should be hiding in the middle of nowhere, back in Ohio, or even out west. Anywhere but sitting on a packed train in the middle of Chicago, flirting with girls! I open my mouth to say that the Chests are empty, to make them stop asking questions and leave us alone, but Nine talks first. ‘Maybe my friend and I could swing by your place later this evening. We’d love to show you what’s inside then. ’

  ‘Why don’t you just show us now?’ the brunette asks with a pout.

  Nine looks left and then right. He’s really hamming it up. ‘Because I don’t trust you yet. You two are kind of, ah, suspicious. You know that, right? Two beautiful girls like you, you’re right out of a spy movie. ’ He winks at me. It suddenly dawns on me; he’s just as bad around girls as I am. He overcompensates and looks kind of ridiculous doing it. It makes me like him more, even if he is totally embarrassing us both.

  The girls look at each other and smile. The blonde digs into her purse, scrawls something on a scrap of paper and hands it to him. ‘The next stop is ours. Give me a call after seven and we’ll think about hooking up with you guys somewhere later. I’m Nora. ’ I’m stunned his stunt worked.

  ‘I’m Sarah,’ the brunette says. Of course that’s her name. I shake my head. If that isn’t a blinking sign that we must end this conversation now, I don’t know what is.

  Nine reaches his hand out to shake theirs. ‘I’m Tony, and this handsome stud next to me is Donald. ’ I clench my teeth and give them a polite wave. Donald?

  ‘Cool,’ Nora says. ‘Well, talk to you later. ’ The train stops and they get off. Nine leans over and waves to them through the window. After the train pulls out of the station, Nine chuckles to himself. He is looking very smug.

  I elbow him in the ribs. ‘Are you nuts? Why would you deliberately draw that kind of attention to yourself – to us? You had no right to drag me into your stupidity. And, why in the world would you do anything to encourage them to look at our Chests? Let’s hope any girl stupid enough to buy your crap is too stupid to think too hard about any of it!’ I liked him a whole lot better when he just looked like a loser.

  ‘Calm down, Donald. You think you could keep your voice from squeaking so loud? It’s no big deal. Nothing is going to happen to us here. ’ He leans back, hands folded behind his head. When he speaks again, though, he doesn’t sound so puffed up. ‘Sandor would have been so damn proud of me just now, you know? I bet you’d never know it, but normally, I’m crazy nervous around girls. And the more I like them, the worse it is. No more. After what I’ve been through this past year, nothing really scares me anymore. ’

  I don’t respond. I slump down in my seat and watch the city get taller and taller, the architecture more interesting. There are playhouses, shops and beautiful restaurants all wrapped in glass. Some of the buildings shine so bright in the sun I have to shield my eyes. Cars clog the roads below us, their honks reaching us up on the track. No place could be more different from Paradise, Ohio. Our train stops and starts up again through two more stations, then Nine tells me to stand up. We’re next. A minute later we’re walking east on Chicago Avenue, each of us carrying our Chest under an arm. Lake Michigan is straight ahead.

  When the crowd around us thins, Nine says, ‘Sandor loved Chicago. And he thought it was smart to hide in plain sight in a city like this. No chance of sticking out, always a crowd to disappear into, that kind of thing. I mean, think about it, where are you more anonymous than in a busy city?’

  ‘Henri would never have allowed it. Being in a city like this would have freaked him out. He hated being anywhere he couldn’t keep an eye on anyone who might have an eye on us. On me. ’

  ‘And that’s why Sandor was the best Cêpan that ever lived. He had rules, of course. First and most important, “don’t be stupid. ” ’ Nine sighs. Amazingly, he has no idea how infuriating, how insulting this talk about Sandor is.

  I’m pissed and I don’t care who knows it. ‘Oh, yeah, if Sandor was so great, why did I find you in a Mogadorian prison cell?’ I feel horrible the minute I say it. Nine misses Sandor, and we’re in the last place they spent real time together, where Sandor told Nine he was safe. I know how powerful that kind of assurance is.

  Nine stops dead, right in the middle of a busy corner with people streaming past us. He steps up to me until our noses are inches apart. His fists are clenched, not to mention his teeth. ‘You found me in that cell because made a mistake. It was my mistake, not Sandor’s. And you know what? Where’s your Cêpan? You think yours was so much better than mine? Wake up, idiot! They’re both dead, so I really doubt one was so much better than the other. ’

  I feel bad for what I said but I’m sick of Nine trying to bully me. I push him away. ‘Back off, Nine. I mean it. Just. Back. Off. And stop talking to me like I’m your little brother. ’

  The light changes and we cross the street, both of us fuming. I follow him onto Michigan Avenue and we walk in silence. At first I’m too angry to pay attention to my surroundings, but slowly I become aware of the skyscrapers above me. I can’t help it. This city is awesome. I look around. Nine sees me admiring the city, his city, and I can feel his mood softening.

  ‘You see that big black one with the white spires on top?’ Nine asks. He looks so happy to see this building I forget I’m pissed at him. I look straight up. ‘That’s the John Hancock Center. It’s the sixth tallest building in the country. And that, little brother, is where we’re headed. ’

  I snatch him by the arm and pull him to the side of the sidewalk. ‘Wait a minute. That’s your safe house? One of the tallest buildings in the city is where you think we’re going to hide? You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s nuts. ’

  Nine laughs at the incredulous look on my face. ‘I know, I know. It was Sandor’s idea. The more I think about it, the more brilliant I realize he was. We stayed here for over five years, no problems. Hiding in plain sight, baby, hiding in plain sight. ’

  ‘Right. Are you forgetting about the part where you got caught? We are not staying there, Nine. Not a chance in hell. We need to go back to the train, figure out a new plan. ’

  Nine rips his arm out of my grip. ‘We got caught, Donald, because of someone I thought was my friend. She’d been working with the Mogs and I was too stupid to notice. She betrayed me and I couldn’t see beyond her nice ass, so Sandor was captured. I watched him being tortured, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The one person I loved more than anyone in the world. In the end, the only thing I could do for Sandor was put him out of his agony. Death. The gift that keeps on giving. ’ His sneer can’t hide the pain in his voice. ‘Fast-forward one year and I see your ugly face outside my prison cell. ’ He points up at the John Hancock Center. ‘Up there, we were safe. It’s the safest place you’ll ever be. ’

  ‘We’ll be trapped,’ I say. ‘If the Mogs find us up there, there’s nowhere to run. ’

  ‘Oh, you’d be surprised. ’ He winks and then walks towards the building.

  All of a sudden I am very conscious of just how many people are going by us. I’m nervous as hell, without a single clue where else I should be or go. One thing I know for sure, the Mogadorians keep getting better at blending in, so I have zero confidence we’d even know it if one just brushed by. This thought terrifies me so much I literally twitch as it occurs to me. And I have to assume there are thousands of cameras all over Chicago, and with the Mogs and the government working together, the Mogs probably have acc
ess to them. Great. We’re on some predatory Candid Camera and there is nothing we can do about it. Inside, anywhere inside, is going to be safer than standing around out here. I put my head down and follow Nine.

  The lobby is amazingly luxurious. There’s a grand piano, leather furniture, and sparkly chandeliers. At the far end I see two security desks. Nine hands me his Chest and takes off his cap. One of the security guards is a large bald guy who is seated behind the desk, until, that is, he sees Nine. Then, he lets out a howl and leaps to his feet.

  ‘Hey! Will you look at who the cat dragged in! You don’t write, you don’t call, where the heck have you been?’ the man asks, shaking Nine’s hand, his other hand clutching his arm. He just stands there, beaming at Nine. The long-lost son returns, and all that, I guess.

  Nine is grinning at him with real affection and puts his other hand on the man’s shoulder, ‘Oh, I think a better question is, where haven’t I been?’

  ‘Next time, tell us when you’re taking off. I worry! Now, where’s that uncle of yours?’ He looks over Nine’s shoulder, as if expecting Sandor to come up behind him.

  Nine doesn’t miss a beat. ‘Europe. France, actually. ’ No flinch, nothing. He’s good. I know how hard this must be for him.

  ‘He got some kind of visiting teaching gig?’

  ‘Yup,’ Nine says. He nods at me. ‘It’s a long gig, he’s thinking about maybe even taking a permanent spot, so I’ve been staying with my friend Donald on the south side. We need to hang upstairs for a while so we can work on a history project. Check out these boxes, man, we have work to last us months!’

  I look down at the Chests in my arms and the security guard stands aside and lets us walk past. ‘Sounds like you guys have yourselves a plan. Hey, nice to meet you, Donald. Good luck with your project!’

  ‘Same here,’ I say. ‘And, thanks!’ I’m trying to sound friendly, but it’s hard. Nine is clearly fine with this guy knowing his comings and goings, noticing his absence, setting up a lie it might be hard to back up later on. But I hear Henri’s voice in my head, warning me this is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. I try to shake off the nerves making my stomach do flips. Second-guessing things won’t help.

  We make our way to a small elevator bank and Nine presses a number. The light above one of the sets of elevator doors brightens with a big arrow pointing up.

  ‘Oh, hey, Stanley?’ The security officer jogs over just as we are about to step through the elevator doors, his keys jingling on his belt.

  I look at Nine with a smirk. ‘Stanley?’ I mouth. That’s worse than Donald!

  ‘Not now,’ he mumbles back.

  ‘I’ve got a bunch of packages for you. We’ve been holding them in storage. We didn’t know where you were and you didn’t leave a forwarding address. You want me to send them up?’