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Six's Legacy

Six's Legacy

Page 5


But it’s not for me to play games of no value.

I feel envy creep up my throat like bile. It’s a new sensation for me. I am usually resigned to my fate. But something about this time on the road, about the near miss with the Mogadorians, has opened me to hating these girls with their easy lives.

But I choke it down. I need to save my spite for the Mogs.

That night we allow ourselves to watch a little TV before bed. It is a luxury Katarina usually denies me, as she thinks it rots my brain and dulls my senses. But even Katarina softens sometimes.

I curl up next to Katarina on the queen bed. She’s turned the TV to a movie about a woman who lives in New York City and complains about how hard it is to find a good man. My attention wanders quickly away from the screen to Katarina’s face, which has gone soft with attention to the film’s plot. She has succumbed to it.

She catches me looking at her, and turns red in an instant. “I’m allowed to be sappy sometimes.” She turns back to the screen. “I can’t help it. He’s handsome.”

I look back at the TV. The woman is now yelling at the handsome man about how he’s a “sexist pig.” I’ve seen very few movies in my life but I can already guess how this one ends. The man is handsome, I suppose, though I’m not as transfixed by him as Katarina is.

“Have you ever had a boyfriend?” I ask her.

She laughs. “Back on Lorien, yes. I was married.”

My heart seizes, and I blush at my own self-absorption. How could I have never asked her this before? How could I not have known that she had a husband, a family? I hesitate before asking another question, because I can only assume her husband died in the Mogadorian invasion.

My heart breaks for my Katarina.

I change the subject. “But since we’ve been on Earth?”

She laughs again. “You’ve been with me the whole time. I think you’d know if I had!”

I laugh too, though my amusement is mixed with sadness. Katarina couldn’t have had a boyfriend even if she wanted one—and it’s all because of me. Because she’s too busy protecting me.

She raises an eyebrow. “Why so many questions all of a sudden? Do you have a crush? Seen any cute boys out on the soccer field?” She reaches over and pinches my side, tickling me. I squirm away, laughing.

“No,” I say, and it’s the truth. Boys practice out there some days and I watch them, but usually just to measure their athleticism and reflexes and to compare them to my own. I don’t think I could ever like any of them. I don’t think I could love anyone who wasn’t locked into the struggle with me. I could never respect someone who wasn’t part of the war against the Mogs, to save Lorien.

Back on the TV, the woman is standing in the rain, tears streaming down her face, telling the handsome man that she’s changed her mind, that love is all that matters after all.

“Katarina?” I ask. She turns to me. I don’t even have to say it out loud; she knows me well.

She switches the channels until we find an action movie. We watch it together until we fall asleep.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The next day after drills and studies I make it back out to the orchard. It’s a warm day and I dodge from the shade of one tree to another as I stroll. I walk over mushy, sweet-stinking apples, feeling them turn to goop beneath my feet.

Despite the heat of the sun, the air is crisp and pleasant today, not too hot or cold. I feel weirdly happy and hopeful as I tramp around.

Katarina is booking us plane tickets to Australia today. She thinks it’ll make as good a hiding place as any. I’m already excited for the journey.

I turn, ready to walk back to the motel, when a soccer ball comes rolling past me, scudding over broken apples. Without thinking I leap forward and hop on it with one foot, stopping it in its tracks.

“You gonna give that back or what?” Startled, I turn around. A pretty girl with a chestnut ponytail stares at me from the edge of the orchard. She’s dressed in soccer clothes and her mouth is open, smacking on bubble gum.

I step off the ball, pivot around it, and give it a quick kick, right to the girl. I use more strength than I should: when she clutches it with her hands, the force of the impact nearly sends her off her feet.

“Easy!” she yells.

“Sorry,” I say, instantly ashamed.

“Good kick, though,” says the girl, sizing me up. “Damn good kick.”

I am on the field moments later. The girls’ team was short a player for scrimmage and the gum-chewing girl, Tyra, somehow convinced the coach to let me play.

I don’t know the rules of soccer but I pick them up soon enough. I owe Katarina for that, for keeping my brain sharp enough to process rules quickly. The coach, a dour, squat lady with a whistle in her mouth, puts me in as a fullback and I quickly establish myself as a force. The girls on my team catch on fast and soon enough they’re putting up a wall, forcing the other team’s forwards to run past me on the right side of the field.

Not one of them gets through without losing their hold on the ball.

Before I know it I’m covered in sweat, blades of grass sticking to the sweat on my calves—fortunately, I wore high socks today, so no one can see my scars. I’m dizzy and happy from the sun and the appreciative cheers of my teammates.

There’s a reversal to my left. Tyra’s seized the ball from a charging opponent before getting chased by another member of the opposing team. I’m the only free player and she manages to kick the ball right at me.

Suddenly, almost the entire opposing team is on my tail. My teammates chase after them, trying to keep them away from me, as I make a mad dash with the ball towards the goal. I can see the goalie steeling herself, ready for my approach. My opponents break free of my blocking teammates. Even though I am still nearly half the field from the box, I know it’s my only chance.

I kick.

The ball swings in a long, curving arc, propelled like a jet. I acted too fast, too thoughtlessly, and have aimed right at the goalie’s position. I’m sure she’ll catch it.

She does. But I’ve kicked the ball with such power that it lifts her off her feet and the ball goes out of her hands, spinning against the net behind her.

My teammates cheer. Our opponents join in; this was only a scrimmage, so they can acknowledge my skills without sacrificing too much pride.

Tyra gives me a pat on the shoulder. I can tell she’s excited about having been the one to coax me out of the orchard. The coach pulls me aside and asks where I go to school. She clearly wants me for her team.

“Not from here,” I mumble. “Sorry.” She shrugs and congratulates me on my playing.

I grin and walk away from the field. I can tell the girls are eager for my friendship, standing in a cluster and watching me depart. I imagine a different life for myself, a life like theirs. It has its charms, but I know my place is by Katarina’s side.

I walk back to the motel, doing my best to wipe the grin of victory off my face. I feel a childish urge to blab about the game to Katarina, even though she told me not to play. In spite of myself I find I’m running back to the room, ready to start crowing.

The door’s unlocked and I swing it open, still grinning like an idiot.

The grin doesn’t last long.

There are ten men in the room—Mogadorians. Katarina is tied to the motel’s desk chair, her mouth gagged and her forehead bloody, her eyes filling with tears at the sight of me.

I turn to run, but then I see them. More men, some in cars, some just standing there, all over the parking lot. There must be thirty Mogadorians total.

We’ve been caught.

CHAPTER TWELVE

My hands are cuffed and my legs are bound in rope. Katarina’s are too, though I can’t see her. The Mogadorians threw us in the back of a big rig’s trailer, tied together, so the only proof of Katarina I have is the place where our spines touch.

The trailer bucks wildly and I know we are on the highway, going somewhere fast.

Katarina is still gagged, but they never bothered to gag me. Either they sensed I would stay quiet to keep Katarina safe, or they figured the roar of the road would swallow any sound I made.

I don’t have any idea where we’re being taken or what the Mogadorians plan to do to us once we get there. I assume the worst, but I still murmur soft, soothing things to Katarina in the dark of the trailer. I know she’d be doing the same thing for me if she could.

“It’ll be okay,” I say. “We’ll be okay.”

I know we won’t. I know with sick certainty that this journey will end in our deaths.

Katarina presses her back against mine, in a gesture of love and encouragement. Hands tied and mouth gagged, it’s the only way she can communicate with me.

It’s dark in the trailer save for a small sliver of light shining through a break in the trailer’s aluminum roof. Sunlight dribbles in through the crack. Sitting in the dark, musty chill of the trailer, it is strange to think it’s day outside. Ordinary day.

I’m achy everywhere, sore from sitting and too uncomfortable to sleep. In my exhausted delirium, I have the ridiculous thought that I should’ve stayed behind with the soccer girls. At least long enough to have some of the Gatorade the coach offered me.

Something murmurs inside the trailer. A low, guttural growl.

There is a cage, tucked up against the front of the trailer. I can dimly make out its thick steel bars in the dark.

“What is it?” I ask. Katarina mumbles through her gagged mouth, and I feel bad for asking her a question she can’t possibly answer.

I lean forward, as far as I can, pulling Katarina with me. I can hear Katarina protest from beneath her gag, but curiosity pushes me forward. I stretch into the darkness, bringing my face as close to the steel bars as I can.

Another rustle in the dark.

Another captive? I wonder. Some kind of beast?

My heart fills with pity.

“Hello?” I speak into the void. The person or creature makes low whimpers of distress. “Are you okay?”

Jaws snap with sudden force against the bars of the cage, eyes the size of fists flashing red in the dark. The breath of the beast sends my hair back. I pull away in terror and disgust, the smell so revolting I almost retch.

I try to scoot away, but the huge beast, unappeased, keeps its head pressed to the bars, its red eyes fixed on me. I know that were it not for the bars, I’d be dead already.

This is no captive. No fallen ally. This is a piken. Katarina told me about these beasts before, savage accomplices and hunters for the Mogadorians, but I had taken them for fairy tales.

Katarina helps me nudge us back towards the rear, giving me more space to pull away from the beast. As I back farther away, so does the piken, disappearing into the dark of its cage.

I know I am safe for the moment. But I also know this animal, this foul, fearsome creature, may be pitted against me in the coming days or weeks. My stomach turns in fear and helpless rage: I don’t know whether to vomit or pass out or both.

I nestle my damp head against Katarina’s, wishing this nightmare away.

I fall into an agitated half-sleep, awoken only by Katarina’s voice.

“Six. Wake up. Six.”

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