The rise of nine, p.34
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       The Rise of Nine, p.34

         Part #3 of Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore
Page 34


  ‘As far as I’ve figured out,’ Nine turns to explain to me, ‘these fat guys are angry at these little guys. The little guys were hitchhiking and caught a ride with one of them, promising money they didn’t have. So now, the fat guys are trying to beat up the little guys with their puny girl arms. ’

  I turn to the truckers, the fat guys, and try to make nice. ‘Okay, well, none of this has anything to do with us, and we need to get on the road. So, guys, let me apologize for my friend, who clearly doesn’t know when to mind his own business. ’

  ‘Yeah,’ the bearded trucker growls at Nine. ‘Just get the hell out of here, punk, and let us deal with these lowlifes. ’

  I take my first real look at the hitchhikers. They smell like they’ve been on the road for a while. They couldn’t be more than eighteen, probably younger. As the truckers move towards them menacingly, they glance at each other with real panic in their eyes. Next thing I know, Nine is stepping in front of the little guys and saying, ‘I don’t care who promised what to who. You touch these kids again and I’ll break all your goddamn arms. ’

  I squeeze in between Nine and the three now truly pissedoff truckers, holding both sides back. Bernie Kosar barks threateningly. ‘Okay, okay, just stop. ’ I turn to Nine, willing him to listen to me. ‘We can’t do this right now. We have somewhere very important we have to get to. Now,’ I say. I dig into my pocket and turn to the truckers. ‘Listen, how much did these guys say they would give you?’

  ‘A hundred bucks,’ the one wearing the aviators says.

  ‘Fine,’ I say, pulling one of the bills out of my pocket. The truckers’ eyes widen at the sight of such a big bill and I instantly know things just got worse.

  ‘Why would you give anything to these guys, Johnny?’ Nine asks.

  I feel the meaty hand of a trucker on my shoulder. He squeezes my shoulder as he says, ‘Did I say a hundred bucks? I meant a thousand. Johnny. ’

  ‘That’s crazy!’ one of the hitchhikers shouts. ‘We never said we’d give you any money!’

  I spin back to the truckers, waving the bill like it was flag. ‘A hundred bucks, guys, just take it. Consider it a tip for good service, or payment in lieu of a beating, I don’t really care what you call it. Just take it!’

  ‘I said a thousand,’ the man on the left says, spitting again, this time directly on the top of my shoe. ‘Are you deaf?’ A low growl starts deep in Bernie Kosar’s throat.

  Nine moves forward, but I push him back and turn to face him. ‘No! It’s not worth it, man!’ I put my face right up in his. He has to understand how serious I am. I will not let him do this. ‘Please. Think of what Sandor would want you to do. He’d want you to walk away. need you to walk away. ’ I whisper.

  ‘You guys aren’t getting shit!’ Nine yells over my shoulder at the truckers.

  I use my body to shove him backwards, towards the car. I spin around just in time to see the bearded trucker pull a knife out of his pocket. ‘All of your money. Now. ’ The other two men step up to flank me.

  ‘Listen,’ I say, lowering my voice, trying to get control of the situation. ‘You will take the hundred bucks and you will walk away. If you don’t, I’m not going to hold my friend back anymore. Believe me, you don’t want that. You have no idea what he can do and you don’t want to know. ’

  I’m not entirely surprised when the answer comes in the form of a fist. It comes from my right and I easily dodge it. I grab the trucker’s wrist, and throw him down. BK looms over him, still growling, and the man shrinks back.

  ‘My turn!’ Nine says gleefully, pushing me out of the way.

  The bearded trucker swings his knife wildly at Nine, who steps lightly out of range. On his next swing, Nine ducks under the blade and hooks his arm beneath the man’s armpit, slamming him to the ground. He kicks the knife out of the trucker’s hand and it goes skidding under a truck. ‘Dude, you should listen to my wise pal over there. You seriously do not want to mess with us. ’

  ‘All right, all right. We’re done here,’ I say, placing my hand on Nine’s shoulder. ‘And now, we’re all going to walk away. Let’s go. ’

  I hear the hammer of a gun click. We freeze. The trucker with the aviator glasses waves a . 50 -caliber Desert Eagle at us. I don’t know everything about guns, but I know this one packs a very big punch. He sounds pretty serious when he asks, ‘Which of you wants to die first?’

  Of course Nine steps forward, crossing his arms over his chest. ‘Me. ’

  He raises the gun towards Nine’s face and laughs at what he thinks is just bravado. ‘Don’t tempt me, punk. Killing you would be the highlight of my day. ’

  ‘Well, then, shoot. No reason to put off the highlight of your day. You don’t look like you get a lot of them. ’ Nine says. I sigh, knowing this is all going to end badly. And after, there will be attention we don’t need.

  At this point things begin to move really fast. First, a sudden and very loud blast from a nearby truck startles the gun-touting trucker, who fires off a shot. Nine stops the bullet with his mind, just inches from his nose. With a grin and a tilt of his head, he spins the bullet midair and sends it racing back at the shooter. He sees the bullet coming his way and turns tail and runs as fast as his legs will take him.

  I turn to look at Nine. This guy is having way too much fun. I know what he’s going to do and I know it is a bad, bad idea. ‘No. Nine. Don’t do it,’ I say, shaking my head, knowing he is going to do it anyway.

  Nine laughs and feigns innocence. ‘Do what? This?’

  He and I both turn to look at the bullet that is still hovering where Nine stopped it near the trucker. He gives a little chortle and sends the bullet racing after the fleeing trucker, right into his ass. He goes down, screaming his head off. Nine turns to the other truckers, including the one BK has decided to let off the ground. They look like they are about to pee in their pants they’re so scared. Nine smiles at them and I know he’s still not done messing with their heads. He says to the two truckers, ‘You know what? I think you two should make up for your rude friend. Here is what you are going to do. You are going to reach into your pockets, very slowly, and take out your wallets. Then, you are going to give every dollar you have to these nice guys here. You know, for their trouble,’ he says, motioning to the hitchhikers. ‘I don’t think you want to hear what I’ll do if you do not cooperate. Quickly. ’ Both truckers nod and reach into their pockets.

  The hitchhikers look totally stunned by all they’ve just seen. ‘Uh, thanks, man,’ one of them says.

  ‘No problem,’ Nine says as the money is exchanged. Everyone’s hands but ours are visibly shaking.

  ‘Just so you know, we never promised that guy any money. They were trying to shake us down. We’re absolutely broke,’ the other says.

  ‘I believe you. And, you’re not broke anymore,’ Nine says, smiling. ‘Let’s just say, I know what it’s like, on the road and on the run. It can be hard for a kid to figure out a way to get some cash. ’ He turns to me for confirmation. I smile at the kids but look back at Nine and make it clear I am more pissed off than I’ve ever been. He shrugs. ‘Hope the next ride you catch goes better!’ He turns and walks away, and BK and I follow.

  We get to our car, climb in, and pull away in silence. After a minute or two, Nine reaches over and flicks on the radio. He drums his fingers on the wheel in time to the song.

  ‘What the hell were you doing back there?’ I yell, punching his shoulder. ‘And don’t give me any crap about the poor little boys and the mean, mean trucker men, either! You’re just entertaining yourself and showing off! And you know what? That’s putting us both in danger, not to mention keeping us from getting where we need to go. C’mon, Nine! Get it together!’

  Nine is gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles are white and I can see his jaw is clenched so hard his muscles are twitching. ‘I was not showing off and I was not entertaining myself. ’ I wait for him to continue, to ex
plain, but it’s clear he is not going to say anything else. What does he have to be mad about?

  ‘What, you were just standing up for two humans who were getting pushed around? Even though you said humans aren’t worth the time or energy?’ He flinches when I throw his words back at him.

  ‘I don’t like bullies. No one has a right to take or to hurt, just because they can. I wasn’t going to let them do that. And I made damn sure they wouldn’t do it again. ’ His voice is flat. He looks over at me, at the surprised look on my face, and turns back to the road. ‘Don’t know why you look so shocked. I’m a humanitarian, man. ’

  I shake my head. Every time I think I have Nine figured out, he does something to turn it around and I end up liking him even more. I shrug, lean my head back, and turn to watch the landscape whip by the window. I drum along with the music on my armrest. ‘I didn’t know, that’s all,’ I say.

  He relaxes into his seat and smiles in a satisfied way that is more like the Nine I’m used to. ‘Yeah, well, now you do, man. Now you do. ’


  My head is in Sarah Hart’s lap, the real Sarah Hart, and she strokes my hair with her fingers. I stare blankly at the ceiling. I reach up and touch my neck. The cut that runs all the way around it is deep. I want to sit up, but my bruised ribs and knees won’t allow it.

  I’m humiliated by how easily I was overtaken by Setrákus Ra. How weak I was in the face of his tremendous strength. I’ve killed so many Mogadorian soldiers. I’ve cut off their heads while mowing them down with weapons I controlled with my mind. Since I received my Legacies, I have always been ready to fight, no fear, no matter who or what I faced. Until now. Setrákus Ra tossed me around by my pendant like I was a rag doll. I was helpless against him. He even made my Legacies disappear. I had the opportunity to kill Setrákus Ra, to save Lorien and end the war, and I was swatted down like an annoying gnat.

  ‘Six? Can you tell me if John is still alive?’ Sarah asks cautiously. ‘I know you’re in pain, but can you tell me that?’

  ‘Yes. He’s alive,’ I whisper. I can feel her sigh with relief against me.

  After a pause, she asks, ‘Are you okay?’

  ‘I don’t really know,’ I say. I turn my head so I can look up into Sarah’s tired eyes. I try to smile. I’m exhausted. My eyelids are already fluttering when I open my mouth to speak, ‘He was you, he tricked me into thinking he was you, the monster. ’

  Sarah takes this in without any sign of confusion. She shakes her head and looks away. ‘I know. He showed me. A couple days ago he came into my cell. I thought he was there to take me back to the room where . . . ’ She trails off for a minute, then clears her throat and straightens up. ‘This room with all these machines and strobe lights. I feel like I’m crazy in there and everything hurts. It’s hard to explain. But he wasn’t here to take me anywhere. He just stood there, not saying anything. Then he started jerking around, like he was having a seizure. Then he started to shrink, and, bam! – it was like I was looking into a mirror. When he finally did speak, it wasn’t his voice. It was mine. I tried to hit him and rip out his eyes, but he beat me so badly that . . . Well, the first time I could stand was when I caught you when you were thrown in here. ’