The rise of nine, p.9
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       The Rise of Nine, p.9

         Part #3 of Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore
 
Page 9

 

  ‘Be my guest. ’ Nine’s smile is menacing. ‘I’m having a sale. Two for the price of three. ’

  For a split second, Nine and I make eye contact. Then Nine sweeps his eyes over to the wall, where a moth is hovering near the ceiling. Bernie Kosar. I’m sure Nine also heard BK ’s orders to wait to see where this is going. I wonder if he’ll be able to control himself. One of the soldiers slaps a pair of handcuffs on Nine, and he quickly sits up again. I can see the handcuffs around his wrists are already broken. He’s only holding his hands together to keep up the charade.

  Nine’s just waiting for the right time to attack. I don’t know if he ever intended to do as BK asked. I pull my arms apart behind me, quietly and easily breaking my own handcuffs. Whatever is about to happen, I’d better be ready.

  A bunch of the men have surrounded Nine’s Chest. One of them is slamming the butt of his rifle over and over on the lock holding it closed, but it doesn’t have any effect. He smashes it a few more times anyway, clearly frustrated.

  ‘How about this. ’ Special Agent Walker pulls out a revolver. She fires at the lock and the bullet ricochets around the room, barely missing another officer’s leg.

  The broken-nose man grabs Nine by the back of his neck, pulls him to his feet, then shoves him forward. Nine can’t maintain the ruse of his handcuffs and braces his fall, landing on his hands and knees. Realizing Nine’s hands are now unrestrained, the man yells over his shoulder, ‘Somebody get me some more handcuffs! We’ve got a broken pair over here!’

  His chin tucked into his chest, Nine’s whole body vibrates with laughter. He pops his legs out and does a pushup. Then he does another one. An officer kicks his right hand out from underneath him, but Nine doesn’t miss a beat. He does another pushup with just his left hand. The officer kicks at his left hand, but Nine is too fast to let that knock him over. His right hand is down in a flash and his one-handed pushup shows off his perfect form. Four officers jump on him, each one holding a leg or arm, but Nine just keeps on laughing. Suddenly, I find myself joining him. His bizarre sense of humor is infectious. Man, I have to give him props.

  Special Agent Walker turns to me. I slowly pull my arms out from behind me, the broken handcuffs dangling from my wrists. I wiggle my fingers and casually place both hands behind my head and start whistling.

  She narrows her eyes and arranges her face in the most intimidating glare she has. ‘Do you know what happens to kids like you in prison?’ she asks.

  ‘They escape? Like I did last time?’ My eyes are wide and innocent.

  I hear Nine howling with laugher at my performance from under the pile of officers. I have to admit, Nine does bring a weird kind of fun to the proceedings. My smile breaks wide now. I know these men are just trying to do their jobs. They think they’re keeping their country safe. Right now, though, I hate them. I hate them for slowing us down and I hate this woman’s tough-guy act. I hate that they have Mog cannons. But most of all I hate them for working with Sarah to capture Sam and me last week. I wonder what they promised her to get her to turn me in. Did they play on her sympathies? Convince her she would save me, by letting them take us? Did they say she could visit me, while I paid the price for my socalled mistakes? I look over at Bernie Kosar, but I don’t see the moth anymore. That’s when a fat brown and white cockroach scurries up my leg and burrows into my jeans pocket.

  Nine will go along with this for a while longer, BK tells me. But I don’t know how much longer. Find out everything you can, quickly.

  The lead guy claps his hands to get the attention of the other men. ‘Okay! Let’s get these guys out of here before our friends show up. ’

  ‘Who are your friends?’ I ask him, though I’m already pretty sure that for some reason the U. S. government and the Mogadorians are working together. That’s the only explanation for why they’d be using Mog weapons against us. ‘Who don’t you want to show up?’

  ‘Shut up!’ Special Agent Walker yells. She pulls out a cell phone and dials a number. ‘We’re bringing him in, plus another one,’ she says into the phone. ‘Two Chests. No, but we’ll get them open. See you soon. ’

  ‘Who was that?’ I ask. She ignores me as she puts her phone away.

  ‘Hey, buddy, I thought you wanted to buy a vacuum,’ Nine says to me. ‘I really need this sale. My boss is going to kill me if I come home with a full box of Hoovers again. ’

  They pull Nine to his feet. He stretches his back and smiles, like a cat smug and full of mouse. ‘It doesn’t matter where you take us, there’s no prison that can hold us. If you knew who we are, you wouldn’t waste your time with this crap. ’

  Agent Walker laughs. ‘We know who you are, and if you were as smart or as tough as you think you are, we would have never found you in the first place. ’

  Officers pick up our Chests and walk out the front door. New handcuffs are slapped over our wrists. They use three pairs on Nine.

  ‘You have no idea what we’re capable of,’ Nine says in a sickeningly sweet voice as they lead us through the front yard. ‘If I wanted to, I could kill you all in a matter of seconds. You’re damn lucky I’m being such a good boy. For now. ’

  9.

  We’re at a gate. There is a narrow path beyond it and it goes straight up the mountain. Crayton asks me to cover the trail behind us while Six takes the lead with Commander Sharma. I wonder if his soldier’s betrayal has had any effect on him. I wonder if he will question the loyalty of his troops when he returns to his command. I can’t imagine asking him, not without somehow suggesting he should have known. Of course, maybe he should have.

  I’m carrying the small tree branch from my Chest. I need to figure out what it does. The first time I’d held thisZ – the first time I’d ever opened my Chest, back in Santa Teresa at the convent, when Adelina was still alive – I hadn’t had time to figure out what it did. But I did remember that when I’d held it out the window, I’d felt some kind of magnetic force. Almost instinctively, I rub its smooth, pared surface with my thumb. After a while, I notice it has an effect on the trees we pass. I aim and concentrate on what I want from the trees, and soon I hear the creaking of their roots and the clattering of their branches. I turn and walk backwards up the path, asking the trees on the edges to keep us safe, and they bend and twist into each other, making it impossible for anyone to follow. I want so much to be of help, I want so much not to be a curse, and to put my Inheritance to use to help us, that every time a tree responds a huge wave of relief washes over me.

  We walk mostly in silence. At one point, to break up the boredom of the hike, I tickle Six’s face by lowering a branch right in front her. She swats it away without breaking stride, too completely focused on what may lay ahead. As we walk I think about Six. About how fearless she was back with the soldiers. She’s always so calm, cool and collected. She takes command and makes decisions as if it were the most natural thing for her to do. One day I’ll be like her. I’m sure of it.

  I wonder what Adelina would think of Six – and about me now. I wonder how much further along I’d be if she had trained me. I know all those years in the orphanage without guidance from her means I’m not where I should be. I’m not as strong and confident as Six. I’m not even as knowledgeable as Ella. I try to bury my resentment and focus on Adelina’s final act of honor. She charged at the Mog fearlessly, armed with just a kitchen knife. I try to stop the memory before I get to the part where she dies. I almost never do. If only I’d had the courage to fight alongside her, or knew then how to use my telekinesis to unwrap the Mogadorian’s hand from Adelina’s neck. If I had, she might be walking with us right now.

  ‘We rest here,’ the commander says, his voice breaking through my reverie. He points to a couple of flat boulders bathed in the afternoon sun. Just beyond the rocks I can see a small stream of fresh water. ‘Not long, however. We need to make a lot more progress up this mountain before nightfall. ’ He looks up at the midafternoon sky.
r />   ‘Why? What happens at nightfall?’ Six asks.

  ‘Very strange things. Things you are not yet ready to see. ’ Commander Sharma takes off his shoes and socks, rolls up the cuffs of his pants in a fussy sort of way and wades into the stream.

  Crayton removes his shoes and socks too, and follows him. ‘You know, Commander, we’re already taking a pretty big leap of faith just following you up this mountain. The least you could do is answer our questions when we have them. We have a very important mission. And we deserve your respect. ’

  ‘I do respect you, sir,’ he says. ‘But I follow Vishnu’s orders. ’

  Crayton shakes his head in frustration and walks further upstream. I notice Ella has wandered away and is sitting alone on one of the boulders by the stream. She’s been wearing the dark glasses from my Chest the entire hike, and she takes this moment to clean them carefully on her shirt. Seeing my gaze on her, she holds them out to me. ‘I’m sorry, Marina. I don’t know why I hung on to them. It’s just that –’

  ‘It’s okay, Ella. They helped you see that attack before any of us could. We may not know their full power, but you seem to be doing just fine with them. ’

  ‘I guess so. I wonder if there’s anything more I can get them to do. ’

  ‘What have you seen as we’ve been walking?’ Six asks.

  ‘Trees, trees and more trees,’ Ella says. ‘I keep waiting for something to happen, or to see something unusual. I wish I knew for sure this meant there is nothing for me to see. ’ I can tell she is frustrated with herself, not the glasses.

  With the small branch in my hand, I bend a large tree over to create shade on the boulders. ‘Well, keep trying. ’

  Ella holds the dark glasses up to the light. As she turns them over it’s almost as though I can read her thoughts, thanking me for making her feel like she’s part of the team, doing some good.

  I look over at Six, who has stretched out on the ground. ‘What about you, Six?’ I ask. ‘You want to check out anything in my Chest?’

  She stands, yawns and looks up the path. ‘I’m okay, I think. Maybe later. ’

  ‘Sure,’ I say. I walk down to the stream and splash water on my face and on the back of my neck. Just as I’m about to take a drink, Commander Sharma wades out of the stream and says it’s time to go. We all get ready to continue up the mountain. I grab my Chest and balance its weight on my hip.

  Immediately, the trail becomes much steeper. It’s also surprisingly slick and absent of rocks, as if this path had been recently washed clear by a storm. We’re all having difficulty keeping our footing. Crayton tries running to gain some momentum, but he slips and falls in the dirt.

  ‘This is impossible,’ he says, standing up and brushing himself off. ‘We’re going to need to cut through the forest to gain any kind of traction. ’

  ‘Out of the question,’ the commander says, his arms out like a tightrope walker. ‘We will not conquer our obstacles by running away from them. Speed does not matter, just that we do not stop. ’

 
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