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Nines Legacy, Page 9

Pittacus Lore

Page 9


  One of the ball bearings strikes me in the hip, but I catch the others and hurl them back the way they came. The turrets in the wall hiss and pop when the ball bearings reenter their barrels the wrong way. There’s a short puff of smoke and then they hang dormant.

  “I get a vote,” I tell him. “And I vote we stay. ”

  “That’s impossible,” Sandor replies. “You don’t understand what’s at stake. You’re not thinking clearly. ”

  Three drones deploy from the floor. I’ve never fought that many at once before. One is the propeller-powered toaster that just days ago we were trying out on the roof. The others I haven’t seen before. They’re the size of soccer balls, metal plated, with scopes attached to the front.

  The toaster bobs in front of me, distracting me as the other two flank me. When they’re in position, the soccer balls emit two bursts of electricity, jolting me.

  I retreat toward the back of the room, the drones zapping at me. My ears are ringing from the last shock. The drones close in, pursuing me. I’m running out of room.

  Before I realize what I’m doing, I run up the wall. My aim was to flip off the wall, to land behind the drones, but something is different. I don’t feel gravity pulling at me. I plant my feet.

  I’m standing on the wall. Except for a sudden feeling of vertigo, it feels no different than standing on the ground.

  My Legacy. I’ve developed one of my Legacies.

  Staring at me, Sandor is too stunned to adjust the course of the drones. The toaster crashes into the wall. From above, I swing my pipe-staff down on the two floating soccer balls, destroying them both.

  Sandor lets out a cry of triumph.

  “Do you see?” he shouts. “Do you see what you’re capable of? My young ward gets an upgrade!”

  “Upgrade?” I growl.

  I run up the rest of the wall and onto the ceiling. The room turns upside down. I sprint across the ceiling that’s now the floor to me, gathering up a head of steam. When I’m right above Sandor and the Lectern I jump, twist in midair, and bring my pipe-staff shearing down on the Lectern.

  The control panel explodes in a waterfall of sparks. Sandor dives aside, grunting as he lands hard on his shoulder. My pipe-staff has carved deep into the front of the Lectern, practically cutting it in two. It lets out a series of ear-splitting mechanical squawks, and then the Lecture Hall goes dark.

  “I’m not one of your gadgets,” I shout into the darkness. “You don’t get to just control me. ”

  Starbursts of light flash across my vision as my eyes try to adjust to the darkness. I can’t quite see Sandor, but I can hear him shakily climb to his feet.

  “I don’t—I don’t think that,” Sandor says. I’m thankful I can’t see his face, the hurt plain enough in his voice. “Everything I’ve ever done, all these years—” He stops, searching for words.

  As I come back down to earth, the memories of the night come back to me. I realize what I’ve done.

  “Nine. . . . ” I feel Sandor’s hand on my shoulder. “I—”

  I don’t want to hear this. I shrug his hand roughly away and run.

  Chapter Eighteen

  The sun is beginning to rise. The air is still cool, chilling my skin under my sweat-dampened T-shirt. I fled the John Hancock building with nothing but the clothes on my back—the same clothes I wore on my ruined date the night before—and my cell phone and iMog tucked into my back pockets.

  A part of me knows that I’ll need to go back to Sandor eventually. But right now, I’m ignoring that part as hard as I can.

  I want to know how long I can last out here on my own. The day is just beginning. I can do anything I choose with it.

  I feel like Spider-Man, using my newest legacy to stand on the outside of an anonymous Chicago skyscraper, fifty stories up. Beneath my feet, inside the windows, the office building’s automatic lights are coming on. I gaze down at the streets below, the city just starting to wake up.

  Thanks to my antigravity Legacy, I’m seeing Chicago from angles I never imagined.

  I sprint across the skyscraper’s windows, then jump across the narrow gap between buildings. On the next building I jog upward, bounding over a stone gargoyle until I’m balancing right on the roof ledge. I walk across the ledge, my arms spread out like a tightrope walker, even though there’s no chance of me losing my balance. Hundreds of feet above the ground and it’s as if I’m on the sidewalk.

  This would have come in handy that first day at the Windy Wall.

  Across the street, I catch sight of an executive type settling in behind his desk with his morning coffee. That’s my signal to rein it in. I don’t need Sandor around to tell me it’d be a bad idea to be seen strolling around on the sides of buildings.

  I hop onto the roof. For a while I just sit and watch the sun coming up. I’ve got no place to be. It’s peaceful. When the sun hangs in full view above me, the noise of the city below increasing to rush hour decibels, I decide to check my cell phone.

  Three voice mails and four text messages. All of them from Sandor.

  I delete them.

  Suddenly I’m very tired. I didn’t sleep at all last night. It’s a nice day and there’s a sense of calm on this rooftop. My eyelids start to feel heavy.

  I curl up in a shady spot near the edge of the precipice. The roof is hard but my body is too exhausted to do much complaining.

  For some reason, my mind drifts to the dream I had of Lorien. I think about the way I flung myself at Sandor, getting us both all muddy, and the way he lifted me into the air afterward, grinning. That was a nice memory. I hope I dream it again.

  I don’t dream at all. It’s a deep sleep, and when I finally wake up the sun has almost set. I slept away the entire day. My body aches, both from the exertion of the night before and from passing out on a slab of hard rooftop.

  Groaning and stretching, I sit up. I decide to check my cell phone again, even though I know what’s waiting for me.

  More voice mails and texts from Sandor, the texts increasingly panicked as he begs me to let him know where I am, that I’m all right. My stomach turns over with guilt. I’ll let him know eventually, I decide. I just need more time.

  And then I see it. A single text from the only other number programmed into my phone.


  “Maybe we can try again if you promise no cars. ”

  I leap to my feet, punching the air in celebration. After everything I put her through last night, even after the whole thing with the kiss, and she still wants to see me again. That has to mean something, right? With one simple text Maddy has reassured me that the connection I felt between us is real.

  Even knowing that it can never be simple and easy between us, that eventually this brief freedom I have will be gone and I’ll be swept back up in my destiny—even knowing all that, I still have to see her. I know I can set things right between us. And maybe I can have just one perfect, normal moment.

  I bound across the rooftops as the sun sets, a shadow above the heads of tired commuters. I chart a course across walls and windows and power lines, heading for Maddy’s house.

  I’m cautious during my approach. The Mogs were following me last night, so they’re obviously onto me. I need to make sure they’re not still lurking around. They could be anywhere. I prowl the surrounding blocks, sticking to the rooftops, one eye always on my iMog.

  There’s no sign of any danger.

  From across the street I scope out Maddy’s house. I feel sort of like a stalker. The sight of parents would be almost as bad as the sight of Mogs. Showing up unannounced might not go over too well with Maddy’s folks. I don’t want to have to throw pebbles at her window.

  I climb up the building opposite Maddy’s, careful to stay hidden, and watch her windows. She told me that her parents travel a lot. It looks like I’ve lucked out and that’s the case tonight. The only movement I see in the apartment is Maddy, lounging on a co
uch with her laptop.

  It feels gross to spy on her longer than necessary, so I walk back down to the street and approach her building the normal way.

  A few seconds after I buzz her, Maddy’s voice pipes uncertainly out of the intercom.


  “Hi,” I say into the mic. “It’s Stanley. ”

  There’s a lengthy pause, long enough for me to consider that this was a stupid idea. She could be peering down at me right now, hoping that I’ll slink off into the night and leave her alone. Or, worse yet, she could be calling the cops.

  I’m relieved when the door finally buzzes, letting me in.

  Maddy’s apartment is on the third floor. I bound up the stairs. She’s waiting for me in the hallway, dressed in baggy pajama pants, a tank top, and an unbuttoned cardigan sweater.

  “Are you okay?” Maddy asks as soon as she sees me.

  I realize how I must look. I’m wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday and in the time since then I’ve endured my most intense Lecture Hall workout ever and slept on a rooftop. Belatedly, I run a hand through my hair and try to brush some wrinkles out of my T-shirt.

  “I’ve had a really bad twenty-four hours,” I tell her honestly.

  “I think I know what you mean. ” She gives me a nervous little smile. “So . . . ”

  “I’m sorry to just show up,” I explain, in a rush to defuse the awkwardness. “I just—I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see you again and I wanted to apologize in person. ”

  “Thank you for coming,” Maddy says, a note of relief in her voice. And then she’s hugging me, her face pressed into my chest.

  I let myself enjoy that moment, trying to commit to memory how her body feels pressed against me, wrapped in my arms.

  “Don’t take this the wrong way,” she whispers, “but you kind of smell. ”

  Just as I thought, Maddy’s parents are out of town. She invites me in, joking that breaking their rule about having boys over while they’re away is nothing after flagrantly violating their stance against high-speed car chases. I laugh, but I also notice the bruise peeking out from under Maddy’s sweater where the seat belt dug into her shoulder and I feel guilty all over again.

  Maddy insists that I take a shower. She gives me a pair of her Dad’s sweatpants and a faded NASA T-shirt and sends me into the bathroom to get cleaned up.

  I linger in the shower. The water is hot and feels good on my sore muscles. For a while I let myself imagine that I’m just another teenager grabbing a shower after sneaking over to his girlfriend’s house while her parents are out of town. Not that Maddy is my girlfriend, but she could be.

  It’s strange to be in a house like this. Obviously it doesn’t match the John Hancock penthouse in opulence, but it makes up for that in coziness. Unlike where Sandor and I have been staying, Maddy’s house actually feels lived in. The furniture is broken in. There are pictures of Maddy and her parents everywhere. Knickknacks and trinkets clutter bookshelves, mementos from trips taken as a family. There is an entire history here. I’m envious.

  Maddy is waiting for me in her bedroom when I get out of the shower. I realize it’s the first time I’ve ever been in a normal kid’s bedroom. There are pictures of Maddy and her friends, school trophies, posters of movie stars on the walls. It’s so different from my utilitarian room, filled with just video game systems and dirty laundry.