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Nines Legacy, Page 4

Pittacus Lore

Page 4


  I study his face. The bags under his eyes, the growth of beard hiding his scar; I try to find some resemblance to the young man I saw in my dream, but that person is gone. I never thought about the fact that Sandor had a life before he came here. I don’t remember Lorien—at least I thought I didn’t—but I know Sandor remembers it. He must miss it.

  I wonder if he still sees a giddy, mud-covered menace when he looks at me. Probably not.

  Sandor notices that I’m wearing my running clothes. We agreed to keep a low profile for a while, but I can’t stand another day trapped in here with just the Lecture Hall, video games, and overwatched spy movies to pass the time.

  “Going for your run?” he asks.

  I grunt a yes, acting casual as I slug back some orange juice from the container.

  “I don’t think that’s a great idea. ”

  I turn to face him. “What are you talking about?”

  “Need I remind you that last week you brought home a Mog from the lakefront? Maybe it’s time to change things up. ”

  I slam the refrigerator door harder than I mean to, rattling our vast assortment of condiments and takeout containers.

  “I’m not staying cooped up in here all day,” I state.

  “You think I’m not tired of looking at that sour mug of yours twenty-four/seven?” asks Sandor, arching an eyebrow. “Think again. ”

  He reaches onto the counter and hands me a laminated card.

  “I got you this. ”

  The card is a membership for something called the Windy City Wall. There’s an unsmiling picture of me in the bottom corner of the card next to my most recent alias—Stanley Worthington.

  “I thought it might be good for you to get out and meet some people that aren’t Mogadorian scouts. Lately you seem sort of . . . ” he trails off, rubbing his beard, not sure how to proceed.

  “Thanks,” I reply, and jog out the door before he can finish his thought, eager to escape. Neither of us have ever been much for sappy heart-to-hearts. I’d prefer to keep it that way.

  The Windy City Wall is a sprawling rec center about twenty minutes from the John Hancock Center. I probably passed it a hundred times before today, but I’d never once considered going inside. These kinds of places were reserved for humans. And besides, I had plenty of training equipment back home.

  After all these years, why had Sandor chosen now to sign me up for something like this? Now I wish that I’d let him finish his thought and tell me what I “seem” like lately.

  There’s a smiley tour guide at the front desk who shows me around the center. There are basketball courts, a pool, and a gym that I’m surprised to find is as well-equipped as ours. Besides all that normal YMCA-type stuff, there are also a variety of obstacles courses, with cargo nets and old rubber tires meant to simulate various natural obstructions.

  And then, of course, there is the Wall. It’s no wonder the rec center takes its name from it, because it’s absolutely huge, dominating an entire side of the building and rising up some forty feet from floor to ceiling. The rock is fake, and obviously there’s no blue sky in this warehouse-like building, but there’s still something majestic about the Wall. When my tour guide is done rambling, I head straight for it, and take my place in one of the lines, behind a bunch of kids that look just a little older than me.

  Above us, a boy that I take for about seventeen is stuck in the middle of the wall, casting around desperately for a handhold. He can’t find one, and after a few seconds of flailing he drops off, his descent slowed by a safety line and cushioned by a pillowy mat.

  “Is this your first time?”

  I glance over my shoulder. A tall blond-haired boy about my age is smirking at me. I nod.

  “Yeah. ”

  “This is the advanced end. You probably want to start with easy. ”

  “No, I don’t. ”

  The blond kid exchanges a look with a shorter kid next to him. The short kid doesn’t look as strong as his buddy, but he’s compact, which should make him a better climber.

  “You need a vest,” says the short kid.

  I laugh. The idea of me falling off this wall after the training I’ve had is ridiculous. I smile at the short kid, assuming that he’s joking even though both he and his friend are wearing vests.

  “I don’t need one of those. ”

  “Tough guy!” jokes the blond one.

  “No, seriously, it’s the rules,” says the other. “Even if you were Sir Edmund Hillary you’d need to wear a vest. ”

  I stare blankly at the kid. I have no idea who he’s talking about.

  “He was the first person to climb Everest,” the short one explains.

  “Oh,” I mumble. “The mountain. ”

  Both boys snicker. “Yeah, the mountain. ”

  The short kid nudges the tall one. “Why don’t you go get the new kid a vest?”

  The tall kid gives me a weird look, then jogs off to an equipment rack. I realize this is one of the longest conversations with human kids I’ve ever had. I wonder how I’m doing.

  “I’m Mike,” says the short kid, shaking my hand. “My friend is also Mike. ”

  “Is everyone in this city named Mike?”

  “That’s funny,” says Short Mike, but he doesn’t laugh. “What’s your name?”

  “Stanley. ” I don’t hesitate, producing my alias easily, as if it’s my real name—just like Sandor’s drilled me to do.

  Tall Mike returns and hands me a vest. I pull it over my head and they show me how to adjust the straps.

  “So Stanley,” continues Short Mike, practically interrogating me. “Where do you go to school?”

  “I’m homeschooled. ”

  “That explains your sparkling personality,” deadpans Short Mike.

  I think he just insulted me.

  Before I can respond, I notice her. She’s in the next line over. Maybe sixteen or seventeen, straight black hair, and eyes to match. She’s athletic looking, not like some of the flimsy girls I’ve seen jogging along the lakefront. She’s beautiful and she’s staring at me. How long has she been watching me? Has she been listening to my entire conversation with the Mikes?

  When she sees that she has my attention, the girl quickly looks away, her cheeks reddening. I can’t help it; I can’t look away. Eventually she glances back my way and nervously flashes me a tentative smile. I can only blink in response.

  Tall Mike waves his hand in front of my face.

  “What?” I snap.

  “It’s your turn, bro. ”

  I turn and see the climbing instructor sarcastically tapping his watch. I step forward and he buckles the safety cords to my vest. I’m barely listening as he explains where the best handholds are, my mind too busy trying to figure out why that girl was staring at me. Instinctively, I try to straighten my mess of hair. I don’t know what to think about that girl; on TV, there’s always music that plays when a guy makes eye contact with a pretty girl. I’d kill for some soundtrack now.

  I wonder if she likes guys from other planets who can climb walls really fast.

  Guess I’ll find out.

  The instructor blows a whistle and I leap onto the wall. The start of my ascent is clumsy. I should’ve listened when the instructor explained the handholds. Even so, I quickly find a rhythm and begin swinging my body up the wall.

  Is the girl watching? I have the unbearable urge to check.

  I glance down. She is. She’s standing right next to the two Mikes, both of them nattering at her. She ignores them, watching me. No. More than watching me. She’s studying me like I’m the most interesting book in the world.

  My palms are suddenly slick with sweat.

  That’s not good.

  I realize too late that I’ve worked myself into the same trouble spot as the first climber I watched. I’m about halfway up the wall, but there is no handhold close enough to reach above me, and backtracking is out of the question

  There’s only one handhold I can see. It’d be out of the reach of a human. With my strength, though, I can probably make it. I’ll have to jump for it.

  I hunker down on my footholds, putting as much weight as I can on my knees and hips, before springing upward.

  I grab the handhold and my sweaty fingertips scrabble across it.

  Then, it is gone. I’m falling. I can’t believe this, I’m falling. Defeated by a human wall and some sweaty palms.

  The mat cushions my fall. It isn’t my body that’s hurting, it’s my ego. I lay on the mat, not wanting to get up and face the eyes of the rec center.

  Her eyes.

  Tall Mike peers down at me.

  “Guess you did need the vest,” he says with a smirk.

  Short Mike helps me off the mat, telling me it was a good first try. I’m barely listening. My eyes sweep the room, looking for the girl.

  She’s gone.

  Chapter Nine

  I keep my head down when leaving the Windy City Wall. I’ve spent pretty much my entire life in anonymity, but even when I’ve been on the run from killer aliens, I’ve never wanted to avoid attention as much as I do now. I know it’s ridiculous—kids must fall off that wall all the time—yet I’m sure that everyone in the gym is secretly laughing at me.

  I take the long way back to the John Hancock building and then walk past it. I keep replaying my fall in my head. I imagine seeing myself from that girl’s perspective; flailing, sweaty, legs kicking uselessly at air. I pass the entire day in a daze, beating myself up, and the sun is setting when I finally decide to go home.

  Sandor is in the living room when I return home, lounging in a leather recliner with some boring-looking book about advanced engineering in his lap.

  “Perfect timing,” he says when I enter, waving his empty martini glass at me.

  He doesn’t notice my slumped shoulders as I cross to the room’s fully equipped bar. I pluck Sandor’s empty glass from his hand using my telekinesis. Then I levitate bottles of gin and vermouth, mixing them through ice. The most difficult part is using my telekinesis to get the olives on the little plastic sword.

  I can mix a cocktail with my mind, but I can’t climb a damn wall.

  When I’m finished, I walk Sandor’s martini over to him and flop down on an adjacent couch. He tastes the drink, smacking his lips.

  “Pretty good,” he says. “So, how was it?”

  “Fine,” I grunt.

  “Just fine? You were there all day. ”

  I hesitate before telling him more, but I need to confide in someone, and Sandor has way more experience with the humans—with girls—than I do.

  “I fell off the wall. ”

  Sandor chuckles, not looking up from his book. “You? Really?”

  “I wasn’t paying attention. I mean, I guess I got distracted. ”

  “You’ll get it next time. ” He shrugs.

  “There won’t be a next time. ”

  I’m silent, one arm draped across my face. Sandor must realize I’m holding back details because he finally closes his book and leans forward.

  “What happened?” His voice lowers. “Did the iMog detect something?”