SOMEWHERE OVER CALIFORNIA
“IT’S NOT RESPONDING.”
Sam looked at Six, a worried expression on his face. Moments ago, they’d discovered that the pilot of the jet taking them to the Human Garde Academy in California had vanished into thin air. Now, the plane’s controls were locked. And if Sam couldn’t fix them, the flight was going to end much sooner than expected.
He closed his eyes and concentrated—hard—on connecting with the plane’s flight navigation system. His mind reached out, searching. He sensed a vague buzzing, like voices coming from far away. He tried to reach them, but couldn’t make sense of anything that was being said.
“It’s like they’re speaking a foreign language,” he told Six, his voice tight with frustration. “Right when something starts to make sense, the language changes. The messages are all scrambled.”
This had never happened to him. Ever. He could always connect with a machine’s internal circuitry and talk to it, tell it what to do. Now, though, he found nothing. It was as if the plane’s memory had been completely erased. Or he had been locked out. He attempted once more to reach the plane’s electronic central nervous system.
“Well?” Six said.
Sam shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Nothing?” said the girl with turquoise-colored hair standing behind Six. “Translation—we’re going to crash.”
“We’re not going to crash, Nemo,” Six said sharply. She looked at Sam and lifted her eyebrows, silently asking, Are we?
“Of course we aren’t,” Sam said, trying to sound confident even as the plane’s nose suddenly dipped and an ominous popping sound came from the engine on the right-hand wing. The Gulfstream listed, then seemed to drop more quickly.
“Go strap yourself in,” Six ordered Nemo. “Max and Rena too. Now.”
Sam sat down in the pilot’s seat. Six took the copilot’s position.
“I think we’re going to crash,” Sam said quietly.
“All right,” said Six. “Plan B.”
She took out her phone and dialed Peter McKenna, the man for whom the pair had recently started working, investigating Garde-related incidents. When McKenna answered, Six said, “We have a little problem.” She explained as quickly as she could what was happening.
“You’re going to need to switch to manual control,” McKenna said calmly. “I’ll walk you through it. Start by disabling the computers completely. They’ve been compromised.”
Step-by-step, he took Six and Sam through the process of turning off the plane’s electronic systems. “Sam, can you control the plane’s mechanics now?” he asked.
Sam reached out, this time with his hands. He gripped the plane’s yoke and pulled back. He sensed the plane adjusting, and then the nose lifted.
“It’s working,” he said. He looked over at Six and grinned. “Looks like all those hours I spent playing Birds of Steel will come in handy after all.”
“Don’t get too comfortable,” McKenna said through Six’s phone. “This is the easy part. You’re still going to have to land her. We’re going to set a heading for Petaluma Municipal Airport. It’s a little less than an hour until you get there.”
Another popping sound came from outside, and the plane shuddered.
“Something is happening with the engines,” Sam said. “Something not good. We might not have an hour.”
“Then let’s get started,” McKenna said.
After running through the procedure with them until both Sam and Six could recite the steps from memory, McKenna signed off to call the airport and make arrangements for their arrival. “I’ll call back when I’m done,” he promised.
“I assume this means we’re not crashing?” Nemo said. She and Max were standing in the open cockpit doorway. Behind them, Rena peered over their shoulders with a worried expression.
“Nope,” said Sam. “Well, probably not.”
“Too bad,” Nemo said. “I was kinda hoping we’d get to use the inflatable slide.”
“I don’t think this plane has one of those,” Max said seriously. “Are you sure everything is okay?” he asked Sam.
“Absolutely,” Sam assured him.
“So, what happened to that Kirk guy?” Nemo asked.
“Good question,” Sam said. “We haven’t had a chance to think about that yet. You know, what with all the not-crashing and everything.”
“Did you see what happened?” Six asked Nemo.
Nemo shook her head. “I went to ask him if I could have a soda,” she said. “I couldn’t find him anywhere. He was just . . . gone.”
“People don’t just disappear from planes while they’re in the sky,” Max said firmly.
“Maybe he jumped,” Rena suggested. “He could do that, right?”
“Theoretically,” Sam said. “But we’d know if a door had been opened.”
“Maybe someone like Ghost came on board and took him,” said Nemo.
“Could they really do that?” Rena asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” Six said. “Teleporting to and from someplace that’s moving is difficult. Doing it from seven or eight miles up? While traveling six hundred miles an hour? It seems impossible. I’ve never seen anyone do that.”
“What other explanation is there?” Sam said.
“How about we figure out what happened to James once we’re safely on the ground,” Six suggested. Looking over her shoulder at Nemo, Max, and Rena, she added, “You three go sit down.”
“Okay, Mom,” Nemo said sarcastically. “Come on, guys. Let’s get out of here before she makes us clean our rooms.”
“I think I like her,” Sam said to Six as the three retreated to the main cabin.
“Don’t tell her I said so, but I think I do too,” said Six.
“Probably because she’s a lot like you,” Sam suggested.
Six shot him a glare. “Just fly the plane,” she said.
Twenty minutes before they were scheduled to arrive in Petaluma, McKenna reconnected via Six’s phone. “Everything is set,” he told them. “Weather is calm. They’ve cleared the runway. Emergency services are standing by.”
“Emergency services?” Sam said.
“Standard procedure in situations like this,” McKenna said. “You’ll be fine. I told air traffic control that I’ll talk you through it. Now let’s fire up the plane’s EVS. It will help you land in the dark.”
Fifteen minutes later, as the plane skidded to a stop on the tarmac, Sam breathed a sigh of relief. “You were right,” he told McKenna. “That was nothing.”
“Except for the part where the landing gear is on fire,” Six remarked, looking out the window as a fire truck, its lights flashing, raced towards them.
Not long after, they were allowed to exit the plane. At the foot of the stairs were two familiar figures: Dr. Malcolm Goode and Nine. Sam embraced his father, who hugged his son tightly and said, “Not bad for a first landing.”
“Don’t I get a hug?” Nine asked Six.
“Don’t you need two arms for that?” Six replied.
They both laughed as Six wrapped her arms around him. “It’s good to see you,” she said.
“Aww,” Nine said, squeezing her tightly. “You missed me.”
Nine let go of Six and turned to the three young teenagers standing together and watching the reunion. “You’re not wearing uniforms, so I’m guessing you’re not the cabin crew,” he said. “That means you must be Nemo, Rena, and Max.”
Nemo only grunted, but Max rushed forward and held out his hand. Sam, watching, thought that the young man acted as if he were meeting a favorite celebrity. He also couldn’t help but notice Nemo reacting to Max’s enthusiasm with distaste.
“Come on,” Nine said after shaking Rena’s hand as well. “We’ll ride back to the HGA. You all must be exhausted. McKenna and I have arranged for some people to look over the plane and see what they can find out.”
“HGA?” Nemo said. She glared at Sam and Six. “We were supposed to be going to New York. You said—”
“This wasn’t the plan, Nemo,” Sam interrupted. “Not at first, anyway. But then we got some new information.”
“And then Kirk disappeared and we were going to crash,” Six added with less patience. “You think we planned that?”
Nemo shook her head and said nothing.
“Are we good?” Nine asked.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “We’re good.”
They walked to the parking lot, Nemo silently bringing up the rear.
“A van?” Six said when she saw the vehicle Nine was leading them to. It had the Human Garde Academy logo painted on the side.
“What?” Nine said as he slid the door open. “It’s perfect for taking the kids to soccer practice and picking up groceries.”
The ride to the Human Garde Academy took almost ninety minutes. It was close to midnight when they arrived, and Max and Rena were already asleep, their heads tilted to the side. Nemo was hunched down, her head covered by her hoodie; but given how suspicious she seemed to be of everyone, Sam suspected she was wide awake, watching everything that happened.
“We’ll put you up in the dorms,” Nine said as he pulled the van into a parking spot. “Tomorrow, you can have the full tour. Oh, and we can talk about who it was who tried to kill you.” When no one laughed, he added, “Seriously, you couldn’t be any safer if you were locked inside a vault. Someone would have to be insane to try to mess with you while you’re at the Academy.”
“Sam, you can bunk in my place if you want to,” Dr. Goode said.
“That would be nice,” said Sam. “We can catch up.” He turned to Six. “Do you mind keeping an eye on these three?” he whispered.
“No problem,” Six said. “But next time, you get to babysit the kids while I go out with the girls for drinks and boy-watching.” She squeezed his hand. “Go on. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Nine escorted Six and the three teenagers to the guest dorms, while Sam walked with his father to one of the town houses that acted as faculty housing.
“It’s nothing fancy,” Dr. Goode said as he opened a door and motioned for Sam to step inside. “But it’s all I need.”
Sam sank wearily onto a couch while his father took a seat in a chair. “So,” Dr. Goode said. “Anything exciting happen lately?”
Sam sighed. “It’s been a long couple of days,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that a week ago, Six and I were sleeping in a tent and not worrying about anything. Then again, I guess that’s kind of par for the course when it comes to Garde life.”
“Never a dull moment,” his father agreed. “And things are good with you and Six?”
“Yeah,” Sam answered. “They are.”
“You sure?” his dad pressed.
“No, they’re great,” Sam said. “I’m just not positive we’re totally on the same page right now about what we’re going to do. You know, with the rest of our lives.”
“It may not seem like it, but you’re still a teenager, Sam,” his father said, laughing. “You have a lot of time to figure that out.”
“I know. It will be fine.”
“I was surprised when Nine told me you and Six were coming. He didn’t say why, though. What’s going on?”
Sam didn’t know how much Nine actually knew about the situation either and found himself wondering what he should—or could—tell his dad. What he and Six were doing for McKenna was supposed to be a secret. Not even other Garde were supposed to know about it. That had changed now, but how much? Sam felt weird keeping information from his father, but he also didn’t want to put him in the middle by having him know more than Nine might.
“We’re following up on leads about kids with Legacies,” he said, keeping it vague.
“Like the three you brought with you?”
Sam nodded. “What about you?” he asked, changing the subject. “Is everything going all right for you here?”
“It’s great,” Dr. Goode said. “I love working with the kids. We’ve got a diverse group. Lots of different Legacies.”
Sam yawned. His father laughed. “I know it’s not as exciting as jetting around the world,” he joked.
“I’m sorry,” said Sam. “I haven’t gotten much sleep lately, and—”
“Let’s get you to bed,” his father said, standing up. “I’ve got a guest room, although I mostly use it as a library. Sorry about the boxes of books.”
He showed Sam into the room, which was indeed filled with cardboard cartons. His dad cleared three of them off of the bed. “Bathroom is down the hall,” he said. “Get some sleep. Nine will probably try to have you up at dawn for a morning swim.”
“He’s on his own for that,” Sam said. “I didn’t bring my swimsuit.”
“Good night,” his father said. He paused in the doorway. “It’s really great to see you, son.”
“You too,” Sam said.
Minutes later, he was asleep.
Much too soon, Sam was awake again as the smell of coffee filled his nose. He opened his eyes. Six was standing in the doorway, a cup in her hand.
“Rise and shine,” she said.
“I’ll rise,” Sam said, sitting up. “But I think shining will take a little longer. What’s going on?”
“Rena, Nemo, and Max are getting a tour of the Academy,” Six told him. “Nine is waiting to talk to us.” She handed him the coffee. “Maybe this will help.”
Minutes later, the caffeine coursing through his system, Sam walked into Nine’s office with Six. “Wow,” he said when he saw the large, light-filled room. Its windows looked out onto a grassy lawn, and beyond it the Pacific Ocean was visible in the distance.
“Not bad, right?” said Nine, grinning. “You sure you two don’t want to rethink taking staff positions here?”
“We’re good,” Six said. “This is okay, but our new place has a penthouse view. Plus, you can get takeout in ten minutes. Here, we’d have to wait at least, what, two hours?”
Nine raised an eyebrow. “Sounds fancy,” he said.
“Speaking of our new home,” Sam said, addressing Six, “Have you spoken to McKenna this morning?”
“I did,” she replied.
“Any sign of James?” Sam asked.
“No,” said Six.
“I had Lexa and some of her people look over the plane,” Nine said. “They found a device that was scrambling the signals to and from the onboard computer. That’s why you couldn’t interface with it. It’s a sophisticated piece of equipment. We’re reverse engineering it now.”
“People?” Sam said. “We?” He looked at Six again.
“We’re working together with Nine and his . . . people,” she said, sounding unenthusiastic. “On this, anyway.”
“McKenna thought it would be a, how did he put it? A mutually beneficial arrangement,” Nine said. “He likes big words, doesn’t he?” He leaned back in his chair. “So, could this Kirk guy be in on what happened?”
“I guess anything is possible,” Sam said. “But I really doubt it.”
“Why?” said Nine.
Sam shrugged. “I just don’t think he would do something like this.”
“Okay,” Nine said, sounding dubious. “Then why would someone take him? He doesn’t have a Legacy, does he?”
“No,” Sam said.
“So why take him and leave five people who do? What reason could someone have for wanting to kill the rest of you?”
“Maybe they weren’t trying to kill us,” Six suggested. “Maybe they were just trying to scare us.”
Nine considered the suggestion. “Again, why take him then?”
“Because he was the pilot,” Sam said. “Isn’t that reason enough?”
“They could have just killed him,” Nine said. “Are any of the three kids healers?”
“No,” Sam told him. “But there was a healer in New Orleans. They got her already.”
“They,” said Nine. “You’re assuming the same people who took her sabotaged the plane.”
“Who else would it be?” Six countered.
“The Foundation,” Nine suggested.
“I think I’m missing something here,” Sam said. “What’s the Foundation?”
“The people who took our student Taylor Cook and the other healers you were investigating,” Nine told him. “That’s what they call themselves. You really need to get up earlier. Six and I already talked about this.”
“From what you told me, the Foundation sounds way more sophisticated than what Dennings is doing,” Six said. “I mean, they might be connected somehow, but at the moment I think we should assume they’re two different problems. The immediate question is what we’re going to do with these kids.”
“What do you want to do with them?” Nine asked. “Technically, they’re supposed to come here.”
Six snorted. “Since when have you been concerned with technicalities?”
“Are you suggesting that I lack respect for law and authority?” asked Nine. “I think I’m offended.”
Six sighed. “You know how I feel about this,” she said. “What am I supposed to do, tell them that I agree with them but have to play by the rules? None of them want to be here.”
“Well, Nemo doesn’t,” Sam reminded her. “I don’t think Rena feels that way. And I think Max could easily change his mind if—”
A commotion in the hall outside interrupted them. A moment later, the door burst open and Rena came in. She was followed by Max and Nemo, who were arguing. Rena looked at Sam and Six and shook her head. Lastly, a girl with blond hair came in. She had an exasperated expression on her face.
“Come on, Nemo,” Max said. “This place is great.”
“Whatever, Max,” Nemo shot back. “Just because you have a crush on Legacy Barbie here.”
“Hey,” the blond girl said. “Leave me out of this. I just gave you the tour. That’s all.”
“Hi,” Ellie said edgily. She looked at Nine. “Can I go now? Please.”
“Sure,” Nine said, and Ellie left.
“So,” Nine said to the trio of teenagers. “Did you enjoy the tour?”
Max and Nemo scowled at one another and said nothing. Rena said, “It’s an impressive place.”
“You’re welcome any time you want to come,” Nine told her.
“Considering there’s a law that says we have to come here, that’s really big of you,” said Nemo, glaring at Nine.
Nine smiled at her. “Six and I were just talking about that.”
“I bet you were,” Nemo said.
“And I was saying to Six that a setting like this isn’t necessarily right for everyone,” Nine continued.
“Oh yeah?” said Nemo.
“Oh yeah?” echoed Six.
“It’s great for students who want to learn to make the most of their Legacies,” Nine said, ignoring them. He looked at Rena. “And someone like that would be welcome here anytime.”
“Thanks,” Rena said. “But before I can think about that, I want to help get Yo-Yo away from the people who have him.”
“Her friend,” Sam explained. “It’s a long story.”
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Rena said. “And I have an idea. I don’t think you’re going to like it, though.”
“What is it?” Sam asked her.
Rena took a deep breath. “I want to go back,” she said. “Back inside.”
“No,” Six said immediately.
“I said you weren’t going to like it,” said Rena. “But hear me out. I can pretend that I tried coming here for a little while, decided I didn’t like it, and ran away. I can go back and say you all were horrible to me and tried to make me do things I didn’t want to do.”
“That’s exactly what they are trying to do,” Nemo muttered.
Rena ignored her. “You’ve got all kinds of spy gadget stuff,” she said. “You can fix me up so you can keep an eye on me. I’ll go in, get Yo-Yo, and see what I can do about Edwige and Ghost while I’m at it. You remember Edwige and Ghost, right?”
“Of course we remember them,” said Six. “And we’re working on it.”
“Well, I’m suggesting a way to work on it a little bit faster,” Rena told her.
“It’s still a no,” Six said. “We just tried using surveillance equipment, remember? Dennings figured it out.”
“Maybe you need better equipment,” said Nine. “We’ve been working on some things here that—”
“You stay out of this,” Six said.
“Just saying that I think it’s a good idea,” said Nine, crossing his arms over his chest.
Nine looked at Rena, then back at Six with a smile on his face. “She would be if she enrolled at the Academy.”
POINT REYES, CALIFORNIA
“JACKASS!” SIX SAID, SLAMMING THE DOOR.
Lexa looked up from her seat at her desk. “Nice to see you again too.”
Six dropped into a chair and uttered a groan of frustration. “Not you,” she said. “Him.”
“Help me out here,” said Lexa. “Are we talking about Nine or Sam? Or maybe somebody else?”
“Both of them, actually,” Six answered. “Nine is the one I want to smack at the moment, but it’s Sam’s fault we’re here at all.”
“Got it,” Lexa said, returning her attention to her computer screen for a moment to check something before turning back to Six and asking, “What did he do this time?”
“He’s going to get them killed,” said Six.
“Rena,” said Six. “Probably Ghost and Edwige and Yo-Yo, too, once Dennings figures out what’s happening. And he will figure it out. Sending Rena in there is ridiculous.”
Lexa nodded. “Got it,” she said.
“So, you agree with me then,” said Six. “He’s out of his mind, right?”
“Actually, I still don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. But I assume it has to do with the kids you picked up in New Orleans. As for Nine being out of his mind . . .” She shrugged. “Speaking of kids, did you ever find that girl from the videos?”
“Yeah, that’s Rena,” Six confirmed. “And I’m not real happy with her right now either.”
Lexa picked up the cup of coffee resting beside her keyboard and took a sip. “Sounds like everybody’s on your bad side today.” She looked at her watch. “And it’s not even ten o’clock yet. What’s going on?”
Six told her everything. “It’s not like I don’t want Rena to stay here,” she said, wrapping things up. “I’d like all of them to stay here, if that’s what they want. And Max probably will. Nemo, who knows what will happen with her. But Nine is encouraging Rena to do this totally stupid thing, and he’s only doing it to piss me off.”
“Mm-hmm,” Lexa murmured.
“What?” said Six.
Lexa held up her hands. “I didn’t say anything.”
“I know that sound,” said Six. “That’s the sound you make when you don’t agree but don’t feel like getting into it with someone.”
“Just like that,” Six said, pointing a finger at her. “You think he’s right.”
“I didn’t say anybody was right,” Lexa argued. “But maybe it’s not such a bad idea. This Rena, can she handle herself?”
“No,” said Six. “I mean, yes, she’s tough. But Denning isn’t going to believe for one minute that she ran away from us. I mean, why would anyone do that?”
“I can’t imagine,” said Lexa.
“Fine,” said Six. “Maybe it is believable. It’s still a terrible idea. She could get hurt.”
“Somebody can always get hurt,” Lexa reminded her. “Let me ask you this. If Sam was being held by somebody you knew was hurting him, wouldn’t you do anything you could to get him out?”
Six narrowed her eyes but said nothing. Then there was a knock on the door.
“Somebody around here who knocks?” Lexa said. “Must not be Nine. Come in!”
The door opened, and Sam’s head appeared in the crack. “Hey,” he said, sounding uncertain. “Can I come in?”
“No,” said Six.
“Yes,” said Lexa.
Sam walked inside and shut the door behind him. He eyed Six warily as he passed by her, went over to Lexa, and gave her a hug.
“That’s more like it,” Lexa said. “Now sit.”
Sam sat. “So,” he said.
“Lexa’s on your and Nine’s side,” Six said.
“Oh,” said Sam. “I didn’t realize there were sides. I thought we were all working together now.” He waved at Lexa. “Welcome to the team, I guess.”
“Someone is a little bit mad that Nine is acting like Nine,” Lexa told Sam.
“I am not mad!” Six objected.
“She’s mad,” said Lexa.
“Noted,” said Sam. Then, to Six, he said, “Nemo says she wants to leave. Now.”
“I think I’m with her,” said Six.
Sam nodded. “I’m kind of getting that. But here’s the thing. Rena wants to stay. Max does too. That leaves Nemo the odd one out. And you’re the only one she trusts. Well, sort of trusts. So I was hoping you could maybe talk to her.”
Six stood up. “Fine,” she said.
“Great,” said Sam. “She’s stomping around the grounds somewhere. Max is tailing her to make sure she doesn’t take off, so she shouldn’t be too hard to find.”
“There are cameras all around this place,” Lexa said. “I’ll find her.” She turned to one of the handful of monitors set up around her desk. It displayed video feeds from around the campus. “There she is,” she said, pointing to the screen. “Heading for the beach. But once she leaves the lawn, alarms will sound.”
Lexa hesitated, then nodded. “I can disable the security temporarily,” she said.
“Thanks,” said Six.
She exited the office, leaving Sam and Lexa to catch up. She went outside. It was gray and cold, and the air smelled like the ocean. A light rain was falling as she walked around the grounds of the Academy and across the expansive lawn, and headed towards the coast. After a few minutes, she saw Max ahead of her. She increased her pace, catching up to him.
“How is she?” Six asked him.
He pointed ahead. “She’s not stupid. She knows I’m following her. But I can tell she doesn’t want to talk to me.”
“She probably doesn’t want to talk to me either, right?”
Max shrugged. “Probably not.”
“You head back to the Academy,” Six told him. “No point in everyone getting wet.”
She walked on. After a minute, she saw Nemo. She was walking down a path that led to the beach. Unless she started swimming, there was nowhere for her to go, so Six took her time following her. She considered turning invisible, but Max was right—the girl wasn’t stupid. Nemo would know they wouldn’t let her get too far out of their sight. Now wasn’t the time to try to fool her.
Nemo paused, bent down, and removed her sneakers and socks. She carried them in her hand as she walked to the edge of the surf zone and stood there. A wave came in and broke, rolling up the sand. Water covered Nemo’s feet for a moment before retreating. She stood there, staring out at the gray-green ocean as rain dimpled the surface. Six walked up and stood beside her. She left her shoes on.
“Thinking about swimming to Hawaii?” she said to Nemo.
Nemo didn’t say anything for a minute. Another wave came in. Six stepped just out of its reach. Nemo didn’t move.
“This is prime great white territory,” Nemo said. “From here down to Monterey Bay. They come to breed, and because there are a lot of seals to eat. They call it the Red Triangle because a huge percentage of shark attacks on people occur here. But they only bite humans because we look like seals when we’re in wet suits.”
“You like sharks?” Six asked.
Nemo nodded. “They’re cool.” She looked over at Six. “Doesn’t mean I want to swim with them, though. I can breathe underwater, but I still look like a seal to a hungry great white. Maybe if I had animal telepathy. Does that work on fish?”
“You’ll have to ask Nine,” Six answered. “He’s the animal whisperer.”
“What’s the deal with the two of you?” Nemo asked.
“He’s like the bossy big brother who’s always trying to one-up you.”
Nemo snorted. “So that’s why you’re so pissed off that he agrees with Rena.”
“And because he’s trying to be the boss,” Nemo suggested.
Six started to deny it but then said, “He does that. It’s annoying.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Nemo smile a little. But the girl didn’t say anything in response. Instead, she turned and walked a little farther down the beach, to where a large rock jutted out of the sand. She climbed it and sat down. Six followed her and sat beside her.
“The Farallon Islands are out there,” Nemo said, pointing. “There’s nothing else, really, except more great whites. A couple of scientists live at a research station there, studying them.”
“How do you know so much about sharks?” Six asked.
Nemo shrugged. “I’ve read a little,” she said, obviously trying to sound casual about it.
Six suspected there was more to her interest. “Maybe you should consider being a marine biologist. That breathing-underwater thing would come in handy.”
“Actually, that’s kind of how I figured out I had a Legacy,” Nemo said after a moment. “My family was vacationing at a lake. I was swimming and wanted to see if I could dive to the bottom. I held my breath and swam down. It wasn’t that deep—maybe ten feet or so. I was lying there, and I started watching some little fish swim around and wondering what they were. Then I realized I’d been there way longer than I should have been able to stay and still wasn’t running out of air. At first, I thought I was just really good at holding my breath. Then I figured it out.” She looked at the ocean. “I haven’t gone swimming in the ocean yet, though.”
“How come?” Six asked.
Nemo shrugged. “It’s just so . . . big,” she said.
She’s afraid, Six thought. Good. I can work with this.
“Sam made me try scuba diving when we were in Thailand,” she said. “No sharks, but we saw eels. They were cool.”
Nemo rewarded her with a genuine smile. “That sounds like fun,” she said. Then the smile faded, and she looked sad again.
“Max wanting to stay here doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be your friend, you know,” Six said, guessing what she was thinking.
Nemo nodded. “Yeah, I know.”
Before Six could continue, her phone buzzed. She took it out and looked at the screen. There was a text from Sam: THEY’VE LOCATED KIRK.
Six texted back: ON MY WAY.
“I’ve got to get back,” she told Nemo. “And you really shouldn’t be sitting here in the rain. So how about this—you come back with me. You don’t have to stay here permanently. That’s a promise. We’ll figure something out. For now, though, be nice to Max. He needs you to be his friend.”
She felt Nemo tense up.
“And maybe I’ll talk to Nine about going with you underwater, so you won’t have to worry about anything,” Six added.
“Deal,” Nemo said.
Rena and Max were hanging out talking to some students, and Six left Nemo with them, then went back to Lexa’s office. Sam was still there, and on one of Lexa’s monitors, McKenna was talking to them.
“What’s going on?” Six asked.
“We’ve received a signal from Kirk’s implant,” McKenna said.
“Implant?” said Six. “What implant?”
“He was—is—part of a program testing implants in military personnel,” McKenna explained. “Among other things, the implant acts as a locating device. Somehow, the signal was either inoperative or blocked. But now it’s working.”
“So, where is he?” asked Six.
“Montana,” McKenna replied.
“Great,” said Six. “When do we go get him?”
When nobody answered her, she looked at Sam and lifted her eyebrows.
“That’s what we were talking about when you came in,” Sam said. “We think it might be a good idea to move forward with Rena’s suggestion.”
Six grunted. “Of course you do,” she said. She turned to look at McKenna. “You too?”
“We still don’t know who took James,” McKenna said. “But as we’ve discussed, the logical conclusion is that it’s someone connected to the operation Dennings is running. Since you discovered their previous location, they had to move to another one. If that’s where Kirk is, this is our chance to find them.”
“Right,” said Six. “But we can do that without sending Rena in. Sam and I can go.”
“Yes, you could,” McKenna agreed. “However, there are other considerations.”
“Like what?” Six asked.
“The possible connection to the Foundation,” McKenna said. “From what we know, they’re operating a kind of black market in those with Legacies.”
“Right,” said Six. “But I thought we figured that they weren’t the same people Dennings is working for.”
“I don’t think they are,” McKenna confirmed. “Despite its methods, the Foundation presents itself as an altruistic organization whose intention is to do good.”
“By kidnapping healers?” Six said.
“Indeed,” said McKenna. “Nevertheless, that’s how they apparently see themselves. Whoever is behind what Dennings is involved in, it’s more like organized crime. Purely for profit. At least, that’s my theory. However, that’s not to say that they’re not connected. Which is why I think sending in someone who can get a more thorough look at what’s going on there could be helpful. If you and Sam go in, you could probably retrieve Kirk and the kids who are there. But if Rena goes in and convinces Dennings that she’s there of her own free will, she’ll be able to feed information back to us that might help on a larger scale.”
“Or get herself killed,” Six suggested. “He had no problem shooting Ghost or Evella. And is there an update on Evella, by the way?”
“She’s going to be all right,” McKenna said. “I’ve had her moved to a private hospital, in case Dennings or the people he works for try anything more. And your point is taken. However, I think he knew Ghost would be healed.”
“I’m sure that made being shot a lot better,” Six snarked.
“You saw how he seemed to remove that girl’s Legacy when she lost the fight,” McKenna continued. “If he in fact did so, that has enormous implications.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” said Six. “It would change everything. Someone with that kind of technology, power, whatever could do a lot of damage, especially if they got their hands on untrained kids.”
“Exactly my point,” said McKenna. “So if Rena can get inside and find out more about that, it would prove very, very useful.”
“Or we could get in, get Dennings, and make him talk,” said Six.
“As I’ve said before, I don’t think he is the real power behind his organization,” McKenna said. “And I don’t think whoever is would let Dennings live long enough to tell us anything. We already know they have people with Legacies working for them, and we know they’re more than willing to kill if they think they’re in danger of being found. They would have no problem eliminating someone like Dennings.”
“Or someone like Rena,” Six pointed out again. She was out of arguments, and she still didn’t like what they were suggesting. She settled into a sullen silence, while Sam and Lexa looked at her uneasily.
“I’ve spoken to Nine about equipping Rena with—”
“Nine?” Six interrupted. “Now you’re talking to him without involving me and Sam?”
“Nine is familiar with the Foundation, due to Taylor Cook’s experiences,” McKenna said. “We’ve agreed that—”
“So now we’re working for Nine,” Six said flatly. “I get it.”
“You’re not working for me, Six” Nine said from behind her. “You’re working with me. You know, like you told Sam earlier today.”
She glared at him as he took a seat.
“Sorry I’m late,” Nine said. “I had to meet some of my students about an extracurricular project they’re working on. Where are we?”
Six listened as McKenna explained what was going to happen. She didn’t say anything. Obviously, the choice had been made. She didn’t like it and thought they were making a mistake sending Rena back inside. But now she had to focus on keeping the girl as safe as she could. Still, the whole thing bothered her.
She had already said no to working at the HGA, and now here she was doing exactly that. Well, not exactly working for them. As Nine had so characteristically pointed out, she was now working with them. And them was Nine and Lexa, two people she cared about very much, even when they made her crazy. So why was it irritating her so much?
She wasn’t sure. She’d told Sam she was okay with it. But was she really, or had she just been trying to convince herself she was? Right now, she didn’t have time to work it out in her head. She had to focus on the mission ahead of them. She glanced over at Sam. He was watching her. He smiled. It made her feel better. Not great, but better. She pushed the worrisome thoughts away and turned her attention to McKenna. Everything else could wait.
POINT REYES, CALIFORNIA
NEMO CLUNG TO THE STALK OF KELP, KEEPING herself from floating to the surface fifteen feet above. It swayed gently, moving her back and forth, and she wasn’t sure if the nausea she felt was from that or from a combination of excitement and nervousness.
“You’re doing great.”
Nine’s deep, soothing voice crackled through the tiny waterproof earpiece tucked inside her ear canal. The thick neoprene hood she wore encased everything but her face, keeping her mostly dry, if not terribly warm. The water was a chilly fifty-five degrees, and her wet suit was exactly that—wet. The ocean seeped in through the wrists and ankles. Nine had warned her that it would be cold, but the first plunge underwater had nevertheless been a shock. She was still getting used to it.
She was also getting used to all the gear. In addition to the wet suit, she wore gloves, fins, and a weight belt that helped her stay underwater. It had been a lot easier swimming in the lakes she had swum in before, where all she had on was a swimsuit.
Beside her, Nine floated effortlessly in the water without holding on to any kelp. His body was perfectly horizontal, and his arms were crossed over his chest. He wore the same getup that Nemo did, but with the addition of a buoyancy vest, air tank, and regulator. He also had on a mask outfitted with a transmitter that allowed him to talk to her. Nemo, in contrast, wore only a pair of swim goggles that allowed her to see underwater. Her mouth and nose were uncovered.
“Relax,” Nine reminded her.
That’s easy for you to say, Nemo thought. She couldn’t talk underwater and had to respond to Nine using the hand signals he’d taught her earlier in the day. Now she gave him the OK sign to let him know she understood.
“When you’re ready, you can release your death grip on that poor kelp, and we’ll try swimming.”
Very funny. Now I know why you make Six crazy. She looked at Nine and flipped him a signal she was sure he would understand, even though it wasn’t one they’d practiced. His laugh flooded her ear.
Nemo steadied her breath. This required fighting against her natural instincts, but she did it. Now she concentrated on keeping her body horizontal. When she was more or less there, she let go of the kelp. For a moment, she feared she would either sink or fly to the surface, but she stayed where she was.
“Excellent,” said Nine. “Now, let’s try swimming. Remember, slow, easy strokes. This isn’t a race.”
Nemo moved her feet and shot forward. She panicked and clutched at more kelp, then calmed herself and tried again. This time she moved slowly and steadily.
“Nice correction,” said Nine, coming up to swim beside her. “Let’s take a little tour.”
The rain that had darkened the sky earlier in the day had given way to sunshine, and it filtered down through the water, illuminating the kelp forest as it passed through the golden-brown leaves.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Nine asked.
Nemo nodded. It was more than beautiful. It was like nothing she had ever seen. She’d practiced her Legacy in lakes, but that had been nothing like this. This was the ocean, and it was huge and wild and dangerous. The thought of sharks was never far from her mind, although Nine had assured her that not only did they not swim within the kelp forest that grew in the shallower water, they could be controlled by his Legacy.
“Come look at this,” Nine said, angling towards the bottom. All Nemo saw was some rocks and shells scattered around on the sand, but she followed as Nine went to a rock that looked just like all the others and hovered in front of it. Nemo joined him. Nine pointed to something no more than three inches long. It was covered in brownish spikes tipped in yellow, and at one end was what looked like two spiral horns. Nemo had no idea what it could possibly be, if it was some kind of anemone, or plant, or what. Then, ever so slightly, it moved, and she realized it was crawling across the surface of the rock.
“It’s called a nudibranch,” Nine told her. “A sea slug.”
Nemo had never thought of a slug as something beautiful before, but the nudibranch was gorgeous in a strange, alien way. She watched as it moved what she assumed was its head back and forth.
“More than seventy percent of Earth is covered by water,” Nine said. “And this is just one of the millions of things that live here. Most people will never see one up close like this. It’s like you’re an astronaut visiting another planet.”
Says the guy who’s from another planet, Nemo thought.
“Looks like we have company,” said Nine.
Nemo looked up just in time to see something the size of a dog dart past. Then another one came by, and she realized that they had been joined by sea lions. The playful creatures swam around them, blowing bubbles. One of them dove down, picked up an orange starfish in its mouth, and came up to Nemo. It hovered in front of her.
“He wants you to take it,” Nine said. “It’s a game they like to play.”
Nemo reached out and took the starfish in her hand. The sea lion swam away, while another continued to circle them. Nemo held out the starfish, and the second sea lion took it in its mouth, spiraling away in a rush of bubbles.
“Looks like you’ve made some new friends,” Nine said. “You ready to go back up? You don’t want to stay under too long or you’ll get hypothermia, even in that wet suit.”
Nemo was not ready to go up, but she nodded. There would be other times. Now that she’d experienced the ocean, she knew she would be back again and again.
Which is exactly what Nine knew would happen, she thought as she followed him up towards the sun. Part of her hated him for introducing her to the magic of the kelp forest. Not that she had to stay at the Academy to go swimming. She could do that on her own. Still, it might be nice to have someone who knew what they were doing to show her what else she could do.
Her head broke the surface. Nine already had his mask off. “Pretty awesome, isn’t it?” he said.
“Did you make them do that?” she asked.
Nine shook his head. “That was all them. If you want, next time we can go into more open water and I’ll see about getting one of your shark buddies to do a swim-by. Sound good?”
“We’ll see,” Nemo said. “Maybe.”
“Maybe,” Nine echoed, rolling his eyes. “Come on. Let’s swim in and get something warm to drink.”
They swam to shallow water, then stood up and walked the rest of the way. Nemo couldn’t believe how heavy she felt now that she was back on land. Compared to floating in the water, walking felt like trying to move through mud. When she reached dry sand, she took off her weight belt and dropped it with a sigh of relief.
“It’s easier in warm water, of course,” Nine said, shucking off his air tank and lowering it to the ground. He pulled his hood off and shook the water from his long, dark hair. “Not a lot of people can handle diving in this type of water. Cold. Low visibility. Sharks.”
“I get it,” Nemo said. “We’re badasses. You can knock off the hard sell.”
“No hard sell,” said Nine. “What would I need to sell?”
Nemo barked a laugh. “This place?” she suggested. “The whole Human Garde thing?”
“Maybe I was just testing you,” Nine retorted. “To see if you’ve got what it takes.”
“Like I said,” Nemo replied. “Hard sell.”
“You’re a lot like Six,” Nine remarked. “No wonder I like you.”
“And no wonder you annoy me,” Nemo shot back, but not meanly. Despite all her reservations, she was starting to like Nine too.
“Let’s go tell everyone what we saw,” Nine suggested. “And see how Rena’s coming along with her mission prep.”
Mission prep, Nemo thought. He makes everything sound so dramatic. Then again, wasn’t what Rena was doing a big deal? Going back into a dangerous place to help her friend. She was brave, that was for sure. Would Nemo do the same if it was Max who was being held? She was still really mad at him, but she thought she would. No, she knew she would. That’s what friends did for each other. So then why are you planning on running away and leaving him here? she asked herself.
“Oh, shut up,” she snapped.
Nine looked at her.
“Not you,” said Nemo. “I meant, um, somebody else.”
Nine cocked his head. “I’d say it was nitrogen narcosis, but you weren’t breathing air from a tank.”
“Like I said, not everything is about you,” said Nemo, picking up her gear and trudging across the beach.
Half an hour later, showered and dressed in warm clothes, she walked into a classroom where Rena, Six, Sam, Lexa, Nine, and Sam’s father were gathered. Max wasn’t there, and she wondered if he was off with Ellie again. She felt a sharp pang of jealousy at the thought, but this disappeared as she watched what Rena was doing.
Rena was standing behind a table on which were arranged half a dozen dolls, action figures, and stuffed animals. She was holding a clown doll in her hand and staring at it with a look of concentration on her face. A moment later, the clown shuddered, as if waking up. Rena set it on the table, and it stood on its own feet, swaying slightly. It turned its head from side to side, the permanent grin painted there seeming to laugh at them all. The sight of it made Nemo shiver. She hated clowns.
“Tell it to juggle those balls,” Nine said.
Rena nodded. She stared hard at the clown, which leaned over and picked up three small plastic balls that were lying on the table. It hefted them in its hands, then tossed them in the air, and started juggling.
“Great,” Nine said. “Now try to make it do something unclown-like.”
“Like what?” Rena asked.
“Tell it to strangle the Superman action figure,” Six suggested.
“Like a clown wouldn’t totally commit murder,” said Sam. “No, see if you can get it to do something like ride the horse there.”
“A clown could ride a horse,” Six objected.
“Yeah, it could,” Sam conceded. “But it’s not generally part of the standard clown repertoire. Let’s just try.”
Rena looked at the clown. It dropped the balls it had been juggling and walked over to a plastic horse that stood a few feet away. The horse’s usual rider, a cowboy figure, lay on its side next to it. The clown stepped over it and approached the horse.
“Tell it to get on,” Sam instructed Rena.
The clown hesitated, as if it was unsure what to do. It reached out and touched the horse’s neck. Then it pulled its hand back and just stood there.
“It won’t,” Rena said. “I can feel it resisting.”
“Push it,” said Nine.
Rena’s forehead wrinkled as she concentrated. The clown didn’t move. “It’s not going to do it,” Rena said.
“That’s fascinating,” Dr. Goode remarked. “It’s like it won’t do anything a typical clown wouldn’t know how to do.”
“I told you that’s how it works,” said Rena. She sounded tired, as if trying to get the clown to do what they asked had worn her out. “I can only make them do what they’re supposed to. Paper butterflies fly. Ballerina dolls dance. Soldier dolls fight. Teddy bears . . . teddy.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Six. “They’re just plastic dolls, or paper animals, or stuffed toys. They don’t have brains. They shouldn’t be able to think about doing or not doing something. They should do what you tell them to with your thoughts.”
“Maybe it’s how you’re telling them what to do,” Nine suggested. “Maybe you can teach them to do other things. It would just take time.”
Rena shook her head, and the clown doll collapsed. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I don’t make them do anything. I give them the energy, power, whatever to do what they’re already designed to do. I can direct them a little, tell them where to go and such, but they only do what they do.”
Nobody said anything. Rena sighed. “It’s like voodoo dolls,” she said.
“Voodoo?” said Nine, laughing. “As in magic?”
Rena nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “As in magic.” When Nine smiled, she continued. “What? You think what we all can do isn’t magic? Suddenly getting superpowers? Breathing underwater? Walking through walls? Flying?”
“It might seem like magic,” Nine said.
“We don’t know exactly how the Loric energy works yet,” he answered. “But I wouldn’t call it magic.”
“Mm-hmm,” said Rena. “Well, let’s get back to voodoo dolls. The way they work—and they do work—is that when you make them, you think about the person they represent. If you can, you put something of that person into them. Hair. Fingernails. A piece of fabric from their clothes. But you don’t need to. It helps, but they work even if you don’t. And they only work on the person they’re supposed to represent.”
“I’m not following,” said Sam.
Nemo spoke up. “What she means is, the doll is made to do one thing. It’s about the person who makes it as much as it is about the doll.” She looked at Rena. “Right?”
Rena smiled. “Exactly right. They call it sympathetic magic. A voodoo doll is made to do one thing—affect a particular person in the way you tell it to. If I make one of Sam, I can’t use it on Six. It won’t work, no matter how many pins I put in it or workings I do with it.”
“And you think it’s the same with the action figures, or stuffed animals, or origami things?” asked Nemo.
“That’s what I think,” Rena said.
Six picked up the clown doll. “Okay. I get what you’re saying. But do you think the people who work on assembly lines painting these things or filling them with stuffing really think about them all that much, enough to give them some kind of identity or purpose? Or what if they’re made by machine? Machines don’t think about it at all.”
Rena shrugged. “Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it just is what it is. You paint a doll like a clown, and it’s a clown. You make a dragon out of papier-mâché and sticks, and it’s a dragon. What I do know is that when I make a certain kind of doll with a particular purpose in mind, it works a lot better. That’s why I started making my own.”
“Have you ever seen a Legacy like this?” Dr. Goode asked the others.
Nine shook his head. “No,” he said. “But we’d never seen technopathy before Sam manifested it either. When you think about it, what Rena can do is a little bit like that. I still wonder if her skill can’t be refined.” He looked at Rena. “We’ll work on that when you come back from your mission.”
“About that,” Nemo said.
“Don’t you try to talk me out of it too,” Rena said. “You know if this was one of your friends—”
“One of my friends is in there,” Nemo said, cutting her off. “Ghost. And I’m not going to try to talk you out of it.” She took a deep breath. “I’m going to come with you.”
POINT REYES, CALIFORNIA
Lexa reached out, balanced a single contact lens on the end of her finger, and gently pressed it to Rena’s eyeball.
“Good. Now let’s see if it’s working.”
She walked back to her desk and typed rapidly on a keyboard. A second later, the screen filled with an image of the room.
“Look at Six,” Lexa said.
Rena turned her head. On the monitor, Six’s face came into view.
“That’s amazing,” Six said, the on-screen image of herself speaking in unison with the real thing. “How is there a camera in there?”
“Science,” Lexa said. “But yeah, it’s pretty cool. There’s an image pickup sensor and a built-in transmitter that sends the signal out so we can see what the wearer is seeing. A feed comes directly here, and you can also get it on a handheld monitor. The only thing is, they don’t work well in low light, so if the wearer is in the dark, so are we.”
“Does it feel weird?” Six asked Rena.
The girl shook her head. “Like a normal contact lens,” she said.
“I want one!” said Nemo, who was standing next to Rena.
“Don’t worry,” Lexa said. “I’ve got one for you, too.”
Rena swiveled her head around, causing the image on the monitor to change. She looked at Nine, who waved, and then at Sam, who gave a thumbs-up sign. Then she turned back to Lexa. “What else have you got?”
“These,” Lexa said. She held up a small medallion and what looked like a single stud-style earring. She walked over to where Rena and Nemo stood. She handed the medallion to Rena. “I noticed your St. Therese medal,” she said. “This one is just like it, only it has a listening device built into it. It will pick up voices from up to twenty feet away.”
Rena pulled a necklace out from beneath her shirt and took it off, replacing it with the one Lexa had given her. “It’s exactly like it,” she said, looking at the nickel-size medal.
“I figure if Dennings noticed you wearing it before, he might not think anything of it,” Lexa said. She turned to Nemo and held up the small silver stud. “And this is to replace the one in your nose.”
“We have to assume that Dennings will search you for devices,” Lexa said to the girls. “Hopefully, he won’t look too carefully at these.”
“What if he does?” Nemo asked, securing the back to her piercing and turning it in her nostril.
“Then you tell him we made you wear them,” said Nine.
“But our story is going to be that we ran away from here,” Rena said. “So why would we be wearing anything you gave us?”
“An excellent point,” said Nine. “If it comes to that, you tell Dennings that you do want to run away but that we kept such a tight leash on you that there was no way you could. So you agreed to pretend to run away and spy on him in order to actually run away.”
“In that case, why wouldn’t we just take out the contact lenses and throw the jewelry away once we were away from here?” said Nemo. “That’s what I would do.”
“Yes, you would,” Nine agreed. “Unless you were afraid that not going along with us would result in some terrible consequences.”
“Like what?” Nemo pressed.
“Look,” said Nine. “No matter what you tell Dennings, he’s going to be suspicious. He’s already been found once. But from what you’ve told me, he’s someone who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. That’s what we’re counting on. He doesn’t really care whether you’ve run away or not. He only cares that he’s got you.”
“Thank you,” said Six. “Like I’ve been saying all along.”
“Unless—” Nemo said thoughtfully.
“Unless what?” said Sam.
“Unless we tell him right up front that we have these,” said Nemo. “Or one of us does, anyway. Or maybe not tell him outright but somehow let him know, like we’re afraid to say it out loud. That way, we look like we were forced into it and are asking for his help.”
Nine looked thoughtful. “That’s not a terrible idea,” he said.
“Can I see you outside?” Six said to him. “You and Sam.”
She walked out of the room and into the hallway. When Sam and Nine joined her, she turned on Nine.
“Are you insane?” she said. “That’s a terrible idea. All of this is a terrible idea.”
“I know you’re not exactly thrilled about it,” Nine said. “But—”
“But nothing,” Six said. “These are kids, Nine. And we’re throwing them into the fire.”
“Rena is the one who suggested it,” Nine reminded her.
“That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea!” said Six. “Rena wants to save her friend. She isn’t thinking about what could happen.”
“I don’t know,” Sam said cautiously. “She saw what he could do in Texas, remember? She’s already been in the fire once, and she came out of it in one piece.”
“Because we went in and pulled her out!” said Six.
“Which we’ll do again if we have to,” Nine said. “They’re both going to be implanted with microchips that will allow us to track them. If they get into any trouble—”
“When they get into trouble,” said Six. “Let’s not even pretend that they’ll be able to get in there, find Yo-Yo and Edwige and Ghost, and get out again without anything happening. Something is going to happen.”
“And when something happens, we’ll be there to help them,” Nine said.
Six looked at Sam. “Are you going to back me up here?”
Sam took a breath. “I know what you’re saying,” he replied. “And I agree with you that there’s a very likely chance that something will happen that will require us to go in.” He hesitated.
“But?” said Six.
“But I think it’s our best chance of getting inside the operation before even more kids are hurt.”
Six started to reply, but Sam continued.
“We don’t know what condition Kirk is in,” he said. “So even if Dennings has him, we don’t know if he can do anything. And we don’t know exactly how many kids he has with him already. But we know there are a lot of them.”
“And you think it’s worth risking two more kids to maybe find them and maybe get inside?”
“I know what I would do if it was you in there,” Sam said.
“That’s not the same, and you know it,” said Six. “You know how to use your Legacy. You’ve got experience.”
“I didn’t when all this started,” said Sam. “Not when I saved John from the Mogs. Not when I promised to help you all fight. Then I was just ordinary.”
“You were never ordinary,” Six said. “And you had me and John and Nine and everyone else to help you when you needed it.”
“And Rena and Nemo have you and me and Nine to help them when they need it,” Sam said.
“And Lexa,” Nine added.
Six let out a groan of frustration. “All right,” she said. “I’m going to be outvoted anyway. But when this all goes to hell—”
“Then we’ll let you say you told us so,” said Nine.
“Like she wouldn’t anyway,” Sam said.
Nine looked at Six. “Those girls need to think you believe in them,” he said. “Okay?”
Six nodded. She did believe in Nemo and Rena. She believed that they wanted to help their friends. She also remembered that wanting to help hadn’t stopped Sam from ending up in a Mog prison and that she and the other Garde hadn’t been able to keep him out of there. True, Dennings wasn’t a Mog, but he was potentially just as dangerous. She kept these thoughts to herself, though. All she could do was prepare and protect Nemo and Rena to the best of her abilities.
“Let’s go back in, then,” Nine said, heading for the door to Lexa’s office. “Smiles, everyone. Remember, we’re one big, happy family.”
Sam put his arm around her. “Funny. I think I heard him saying something like that to Lexa about you earlier.”
Back in the office, Rena and Nemo were practicing picking up conversations with their jewelry microphones. When Six and the others came in, Nemo said, “Are you done arguing?”
“We weren’t arguing,” Nine and Six said in unison.
Nemo looked at Rena. “They were arguing,” they said in unison.
“Is everything working the way it’s supposed to?” Six asked Lexa, changing the subject.
“Yep,” said Lexa. “And until it doesn’t, we’ll be able to see what they see and hear what they hear.”
“All right then,” Six said. “Now what?”
“Now Rena texts the number she used before to reach Dennings’s people,” Sam said. “And then we wait.”
Six turned to Rena. “Might as well do it now.”
Rena took out her phone and pressed some buttons, calling up the number. “What do I say?”
“Here,” Nemo said, taking it from her and starting to type. Her thumb and fingers flew over the keys. Before Six could tell her to wait a minute, she hit send. “There,” she said. “Done.”
“What did you say?” Six asked her.
“I asked if he wanted to Netflix and chill,” Nemo said, handing the phone back to Rena. “What do you think I said? I said I wanted to talk to him about something important. Well, I guess it’s Rena who wants to talk to him.”
Nine looked at Six. “She’s like a mini you,” he said. “It’s like you have a kid, only she’s almost the same age as you are.”
“So more of a twin, then,” Nemo suggested. “Anyway, that’s what I said. Was that wrong?”
“No,” Six answered after a moment. “It’s fine. But next time, maybe run it by us first.”
There was a dinging sound. Rena checked her phone. “Looks like next time is now,” she said. “He responded. Well, somebody responded.”
“What did they say?” Sam asked her.
“It says, ‘I’m listening.’ What do I write back?”
Nemo reached for the phone, but Rena held it out of her reach. Nemo rolled her eyes.
“Tell him you need to talk,” said Nine. “In person.”
Rena typed. She wasn’t nearly as quick as Nemo had been, but a minute later she hit send.
Again, the response came quickly. “He wants to meet,” Rena said.
“Where?” Six asked.
“How far is that?” Six asked Nine.
“If you drive, probably around four hours,” Nine said.
Six looked at her watch. It was 1:27. “Tell him you’ll meet him at seven,” she said.
“Wait a minute,” said Nine. “You can’t just drop them off like you’re dropping them off at the movies or something. They’re supposed to be runaways, remember? How would two kids who were running away travel?”
“I’d steal a car,” Nemo said immediately.
“Bus,” Rena countered. “It’s the cheapest, and you’re not going to get pulled over by some cop who runs your license plate.”
Lexa, typing away on her keyboard, said, “Bus from San Francisco takes about the same amount of time. If we drive them, they can be on the three thirty-five and be there around eight o’clock.”
“Perfect,” said Nine. “Text him back,” he told Rena.
As Rena typed, Nine said to Sam and Six, “You two can follow in one of our cars. Once they make contact and find out what’s next, we’ll go from there.”
“And what will you be doing?” Six asked him.
“I have things to attend to here,” Nine reminded her. “Lexa and I will be backup support.”
Sam looked at Six and nodded. “Sounds like a plan,” he said.
“What about clothes?” Nemo said. “We don’t have anything but what we’ve got on.”
“Probably best to keep it that way,” said Nine. “If you’re running away, you’re only going to have what you’re wearing. Unless you want to take an HGA sweatshirt.”
“I’ll pass,” said Nemo.
“Let’s get going then,” said Six. She looked at Nine. “Can I borrow the car, Dad?”
Fifteen minutes later, the four of them were in a Ford Explorer, headed for San Francisco. As Sam drove, Six lectured Nemo and Rena on what to say and what to do. Finally, Rena said, “I think we’ve got it.”
Six sighed and settled into her seat for the rest of the ride.
When they got to the bus station, she and Sam bought tickets for the girls, then walked them to the waiting bus.
“We’ll be following you to Reno,” Six said. “Nothing bad is going to happen. And if you need to end this at any point, you just say so and we’ll move in.”
Rena hugged her. “We’ll be fine,” she whispered into Six’s ear.
“I’m not really a hugger,” Nemo said.
“Shocking,” Sam said. “How about a fist bump?”
“That I can do,” said Nemo, raising her fist and tapping it to his outstretched one. Then she looked at Six. “Seriously,” she said. “We’ll be okay. But thanks for worrying.”
“Get on the bus before I change my mind,” said Six.
With the girls on board, she and Sam returned to the Explorer and waited for the bus to leave.
“This is a whole new side of you,” Sam said.
“What are you talking about?” said Six. “I don’t have sides.”
Sam snorted. “You’re practically a dodecahedron,” he said. “And I mean this mother-hen side. You’re worried about them. It’s sweet.”
“Take that back!” Six said.
Sam reached out and took her hand. “It’s sweet,” he repeated. “I like it.”
“I don’t,” Six said. “This is exactly why I didn’t want to get involved with the Human Garde. Too much can go wrong.”
Ahead of them, the bus’s lights went on. The door shut, and the bus pulled away.
Sam squeezed Six’s hand. “We’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t,” he said as he started to follow.
SAM PUSHED OPEN THE DOOR OF ROOM 11 OF THE Mountain Do Motor Inn and darted inside. He shut the door behind him and set a bag of food from the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant on the small table that stood beneath the room’s single window, which, if the curtains were open, would offer a spectacular view of the parking lot.
“Dinner’s here, Mrs. Hubble,” he said, using the name under which he and Six were registered.
“Great,” Six said, coming over to inspect the bag. “I’m starving.”
“I can’t believe how cold it is out there,” Sam said. “My hands are freezing.”
Six pulled out a plastic container and handed it to him. “Here,” she said. “Hold the egg drop soup for a few minutes. That will warm you up.”
“Ahh,” Sam sighed. “Better. The girl at the restaurant said we’re in for more snow. I guess this is unusual for this time of year.”
“Thank you, climate change,” Six said, tearing open a packet of soy sauce with her teeth.
“What did I miss?” Sam asked as he sank onto the room’s only bed. The mattress groaned in protest.
“Not much,” Six said, pouring the soy sauce over a carton of pork with black bean sauce and poking into it with a fork. “The guy they sent to meet Rena and Nemo is grilling them, trying to trip them up. But they’re sticking to the script.”
She indicated the television. On the screen was an image, fed from the laptop on the bed, of a coffee shop. Rena and Nemo were seated at a table, across from a bearded man wearing a red-and-black-checked lumberjack coat and a red knit hat. Because the image was being fed through the contact lens cameras each girl wore, they only saw what Nemo and Rena were looking at.
“Whose camera is that?” Sam asked.
“Nemo’s,” Six answered. “You can switch between them, but they’re showing the same thing right now, so there’s not much point.”
“Those things are amazing,” said Sam. “Lexa really hooked us up.” He turned up the volume and listened as the trio talked. The microphones implanted in the jewelry each girl wore was also working perfectly.
“You expect me to believe they just let you walk out of that place?” the man said. “After what went down in Texas?”
“They didn’t let us do anything,” Nemo said, her voice dripping with hostility. “That’s the point.”
“They wanted everything their way,” Rena added, perfectly playing her role as the more levelheaded one. “I don’t like that. Besides, I want to see my friend Yo-Yo. Make sure he’s okay. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, even back in Texas. And Nemo wants to see her friend Ghost.”
The man nodded at Nemo. “What is it you do again?”
“Breathe underwater,” Nemo said.
The man snorted. “That’ll come in real handy around here,” he said. “And you make toys come alive?” he said to Rena.
“Something like that,” Rena confirmed.
The man shook his head. “I don’t know why the hell Dennings is taking a chance on you two,” he said. “Personally, I think you’re more trouble than you’re worth.”
“I guess it’s a good thing you’re not in charge, then, isn’t it?” Nemo said.
The man pointed a finger at her. “Watch your mouth. You ain’t there yet. I’d be more than happy to leave your asses right here.”
“Whatever,” Nemo said.
“She’s pushing it,” Sam remarked.
“You sound surprised,” said Six.
“You still think we shouldn’t have let her go, don’t you?” said Sam.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Six answered. “She’s there. Now we just have to hope this guy buys their story.”
A day had passed since Rena had boarded the bus in San Francisco. In Reno, they had met with a woman who grilled them just as the man in the coffee shop was, asking the same kinds of questions he was asking. Then they had been driven to a rest area and put into a van.
And then they had disappeared.
Sam and Six, watching the camera feeds and following the van at a discreet distance, had seen the feeds turn to static. Not knowing if the tech had failed or if Rena and Nemo had been physically injured or even killed, they’d panicked. But a minute or so later, the feeds were restored, and Nemo and Rena were staring at a stocky, pug-nosed teenage boy with buzzed blond hair who was holding on to them. They had been teleported to a new location, presumably to prevent anyone following them from knowing where they were going.
Fortunately, their microchips pinpointed their position in Montana. Six and Sam, who had trailed them the whole way, quickly detoured to an airport, where McKenna arranged for a private jet to take them to Montana. There, they had holed up at the motel nearby to monitor the situation. Given that James Kirk’s tracking device was putting him in the same general vicinity, they hoped this would be the final stop.
The man in the coffee shop stood up. “Come on,” he said.
“Here we go,” said Sam.
The man walked out of the restaurant. Nemo and Rena followed. Nemo turned to look at Rena, and for a moment Rena’s face was looking out at Six and Sam. She looked exhausted.
The man walked to a pickup truck. “Get in,” he ordered.
Nemo went in first, with Rena following. The man got in on the other side and started the truck.
“Where are we going this time?” Rena asked.
“Find out soon enough,” the man said as he pulled out of the parking lot.
“Should we follow them?” Sam asked Six.
Six shook her head. “I think this is it,” she said. “Besides, these roads are so deserted, it would be hard to stay out of sight. Let’s wait and see where they end up. Then we can go in.”
The truck wound its way up into the mountains, turning off the highway onto less-traveled roads until finally it was on what wasn’t much more than a dirt lane twisting through the forest. Eventually, after almost two hours of driving, even this ended, and the man pulled the truck over.
“Get out,” he said.
The two girls got out. Because of the darkness in the woods, it was difficult to make out much more than shadows. Nemo and Rena stood together. “Now what?” Rena asked.
“Now, we walk,” the man told her.
“Into the woods?” Nemo objected.
“Into the woods,” said the man.
“I’ve seen this movie,” Nemo said. “We’ll get ten yards in there, and you’ll shoot us or something.”
The man laughed gruffly. “You think we’d waste all this time just to kill you?” he said. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pistol, waving it at them. “But don’t try anything stupid.”
He disappeared into the trees. Rena and Nemo followed. The snowfall wasn’t deep this far into the forest, but it was thick enough to make walking difficult, especially as they were going uphill. For the next ninety minutes, they hiked farther and farther into the wilderness. The sound of their labored breathing filled the motel room.
“I feel guilty sitting here in a warm room while they’re out there,” Sam said, turning the sound down. “It’s like watching a horror movie.”
Six, who was testing the small receiver on which the girls’ transmitters could be followed, set the device down. “There are all kinds of hunting cabins in those mountains,” she said. “It’s easy to disappear in there. My guess is that Dennings has found something like that. What we don’t know—yet—is whether he’s moved the whole operation here or just part of it.”
“I don’t think even he is stupid enough to risk having us catch him with all those kids again,” said Sam.
“Agreed,” Six said. “And that’s what worries me. Why is he so willing to take these two in after what happened? And if Kirk is really here, what’s he doing with him? I don’t feel good about any of this.”
On the television, the hikers stepped out of the trees. They were standing at the bottom of yet another mountain. Snow fell lightly but steadily. Halfway up the mountain, lights burned in the darkness.
Nemo groaned. “More walking?”
“Relax, princess,” their guide said. “Your chariot is here.”
He pointed to an ATV parked at the edge of the trees. “Get on,” he said.
“You’re only supposed to put one person on the back of those,” Nemo objected as the man straddled the front seat and started up the four-wheeler.
“Then you’d better not fall off,” the man said. “I ain’t a taxi service, so if you don’t come now, you walk the rest of the way.”
“Come on,” Rena said to Nemo. “We’ll be all right.”
The two girls climbed onto the ATV. Reluctantly, Rena put her arms around the man in front, while Nemo squeezed in behind her and slipped her arms around Rena.
“Hang on tight,” the man said, laughing, as he gunned the engine.
Viewed through Nemo’s camera, the landscape bounced and shook as the ATV moved up the mountain. Its tires threw snow and dirt up in the air, and the girls grunted every time the vehicle leaped over a bump or slid sideways.
“I think I’m getting motion sickness,” Sam said, watching their progress.
Nemo closed her eyes, and for a few minutes the screen was black, and all they heard was the sound of the ATV’s engine. Then that came to an end. Nemo opened her eyes. They were parked next to a lodge. The three riders got off the four-wheeler, and the man led Nemo and Rena to a set of wooden stairs.
At the top, they entered through a doorway and went into a large, open room. The building was a cabin, and the walls were bare logs. Timbers crossed overhead, supporting the ceiling. Everywhere Nemo looked, her camera sent back images of animal heads mounted on the walls: bears, elk, deer, and mountain lions stared back with glassy eyes. There were birds, too, and fish, along with hunting rifles and traps. At one end of the room, a huge stone fireplace blazed with a crackling fire. The room was also lit by a huge chandelier made from deer antlers. Large windows provided a view of the woods below, which now were silvered with moonlight.
“Somebody likes shooting things,” Six remarked.
As Rena and Nemo looked around, Jagger Dennings came walking into the room. He strode over to the girls and stopped.
“Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again so soon,” he said to Rena.
Rena shrugged. “Me either,” she said. “But you know how it is. Things change.”
“Yeah,” Dennings said. “They do.” He gestured around the room. “Although I guess I should thank you and your Garde friends. Because of them, I got to move into this place. A little nicer than the other one, don’t you think?”
Rena shrugged. “It’s pretty sweet. Smaller, though. Doesn’t look like there’s room enough for everybody.”
“Why’s that?” Rena asked.
“Let’s just say we’ve refocused our business model,” Dennings replied. “Nothing to worry about, though. We can still use someone like you.” He turned his attention to Nemo. “And I see you’ve brought along a friend. You didn’t like what the HGA was offering either?”
“Not much,” Nemo said.
Dennings continued to look at her without saying anything. Nemo stared back. Finally, Dennings said, “Well, I’m sure we’ll find something to do with you.” Turning his attention to Rena, he said, “That reminds me. I’ve got somebody who’s been waiting to see you.” He turned and called over his shoulder, “Sparky! Come on out. Your friend is here.”
A young man appeared in the doorway. Tall and thin, with dark skin and close-cropped hair, he seemed nervous. He hesitated before running into the room and heading for Rena.
“Yo-Yo!” Rena shouted, and opened her arms. She hugged her friend for a long time. As she did, Six and Sam saw his mouth moving.
“Switch over to Rena’s feed,” Six said.
Sam did. By then, Rena and Yo-Yo had parted.
“I’ll back it up a little,” Sam said.
They watched Yo-Yo’s mouth moving again. This time they heard him speak.
“You shouldn’t have come back,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“I love a reunion,” Dennings said, clapping Yo-Yo on the back. “You and your friend have a lot of catching up to do, eh, Sparky?” To Rena he said, “Sparky here has some big news. Really exciting news.”
“Yeah?” Rena said. “What’s that?”
Dennings beamed. “He got his Legacy back. Well, Drac gave it back to him, after he showed us he deserved it.”
Rena looked at her friend. Yo-Yo was still looking down at the floor.
“Come on, Sparky,” Dennings said. “Show her.”
Yo-Yo lifted his hands and cupped them in front of his body. He stared at the space between them. A few seconds later, a spark appeared, and a small flame burst to life. Yo-Yo held it in his hands as it burned.
“Look at that!” Dennings said. “Good as new!”
“What’s this about?” Sam said to Six. “Why does Yo-Yo look so scared?”
“I don’t know,” Six said. “But I don’t like it.”
Back in the lodge, Yo-Yo pulled his hands apart, and the flame disappeared. He put his hands at his sides and hung his head again, as if using his power was somehow embarrassing or shameful. Dennings put an arm around the boy’s shoulders, making Yo-Yo flinch.
“Pretty great, huh?” he said to Rena and Nemo.
“How’d you do it?” Rena asked.
Dennings held up a finger and wagged it. “That’s a secret,” he said. “The important thing is that Sparky here is back in business. And just in time.”
“In time for what?” Nemo asked.
Dennings took his arm from around Yo-Yo’s shoulders. “To play a game,” he answered. “You two like games, right?”
Nemo looked over at Rena. “Depends on the game,” Rena said.
Dennings nodded. “Sure,” he said. “I get it. I promise you, this game is a good one. It’s kind of like hide-and-seek. You’ve played that one, right, when you were kids? It’s easy. Somebody hides, and somebody else tries to find them. You don’t get found, then you win. In this case, if you don’t get caught, I let you back in.”
“And if we do get found?” Rena said.
Dennings frowned. “Well, then, I’m afraid you’re out of the game.”
“What’s he setting them up for?” Sam said. “I don’t like this. At all.”
“Why does Yo-Yo need his Legacy back to play?” asked Rena.
“Let’s just say it could come in handy,” said Dennings. He looked at his watch. “The seekers should be here in a couple of hours. Then we can start.”
“Who are these seekers?” Rena asked. “Other kids with Legacies?”
“No,” Dennings answered. “No Legacies to worry about.” He smiled, but there was nothing friendly about it. “But you’ll want to make sure they don’t catch you. Now, let’s go over the rules. You’ll get a fifteen-minute head start. Then the seekers will come after you. They’ll have twelve hours to find you.”
“Twelve hours?” said Nemo. “You expect us to hide out there in the cold woods all night?”
Dennings nodded. “You can always use Sparky’s Legacy to start a fire to keep warm,” he said. “Of course, that would probably give your location away. It’s up to you. The game ends at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. Like I said, if you haven’t been caught, you’re in.”
“How many seekers are there?” Rena asked.
“Good question,” said Dennings. “Two. And to make things a little fairer for you, I’m adding one more person to your team. Cutter, bring their other teammate out.”
The man standing behind the girls left the room. He returned pushing someone in front of him. The man’s hands were tied behind his back, and he stumbled as Dennings’s henchman shoved him to his knees.
When he looked up, Sam and Six were looking at the face of James Kirk.
THE MOUNTAINS OF NORTHWEST MONTANA
“I’VE GOT TO GET THESE CUFFS OFF,” JAMES Kirk said.
They were running through the snow, or trying to, but Kirk kept tripping and falling. Already, five of their fifteen minutes had been used up. Soon, the seekers would be after them.
“Let’s keep moving,” Nemo said. “If we just keep going, we can get out of here and back to the highway.”
“It’s too far,” Kirk said. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. That’s the whole point. This isn’t about hiding. This is about fighting back. But I need my hands free.” He nodded at Yo-Yo. “See if you can melt them.”
He turned around so that the plastic zip tie securing his wrists together was facing Yo-Yo. The boy reached out and placed his fingertips on it. “This might be a little warm,” he warned.
A spark appeared, turning into a small flame. Kirk gritted his teeth as the plastic heated up. As soon as it was soft, he pulled his wrists apart. He scooped up some snow and rubbed it on the burns. “Thanks,” he said.
“Now what?” Rena asked.
Kirk looked around. “We go farther up,” he said. “It’s harder for us, but it’s also harder for someone chasing us to have to climb.”
They started to move. Dennings had sent them out without anything but what they had on them, which wasn’t much. Rena and Nemo hadn’t been planning to hike around in the woods and were trying to sell their runaway story, so they had dressed regularly and didn’t really bring anything with them. Rena’s sneakers were already soaked through.
“Do you two have any way of communicating with Six and Sam?” Kirk asked as they made their way through the forest.
“Yeah,” Rena said. “We’ve got mikes and cameras.”
“And tracking devices,” Nemo added.
“Can they talk to us?” asked Kirk.
“No,” Rena said. “But they can hear everything we say.”
“Okay,” said Kirk. “Sam and Six, I don’t know our exact location, but I’m guessing you can follow our tracking devices. I’ll try to keep us away from whoever is following us long enough for you to get here. Dennings kept me in solitary, so I don’t know how many people are up here. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.”
“Why’d he take you, anyway?” Nemo asked. “And how?”
“Same way he got Ghost and disappeared back in New Orleans,” Kirk answered. “Someone with a teleportation Legacy. One second I was sitting in the cockpit, and the next I felt a hand on my shoulder. By the time I turned around, I was in the back of a van and someone was sticking a needle in my arm. I woke up in a cell in the basement of that lodge. The only reason I know where we are is Dennings talked about it. Almost like he wanted to be sure I knew.”
“Was Ghost in there with you?” Nemo asked him.
“I don’t know,” said Kirk. “Like I said, I was kept away from everybody. I don’t think so, though. I get the feeling there aren’t that many people here. Yo-Yo, do you know?”
“They just brought me here yesterday,” Yo-Yo said. “Told me I was getting a second chance to prove I belonged with them. They’ve been doing that—bringing kids here a few at a time.”
Rena, already having a difficult time breathing while moving, asked, “Who are these seekers, anyway? People who work for Dennings?”
“I don’t know,” Kirk said. “This is the first I’ve heard of them.”
“They don’t work for Dennings,” said Yo-Yo. His voice was tight. “They pay him.”
“You mean they’re his bosses?” said Kirk.
“No, his customers.”
Kirk stopped. He looked at Yo-Yo. “What are you saying?”
“I need to know what we’re up against here,” Kirk pressed.
Yo-Yo licked his lips. “I don’t know, exactly,” he said. “But I heard some things. There are people paying to play this game—people who want to see if they’ve got what it takes to catch kids with Legacies.” He hesitated. “And I heard something else. Heard it’s not exactly hide-and-seek. Heard it’s more like hunting.”
“Hunting?” Rena said.
He nodded. “You see all those trophies hanging on the walls in that place? This here’s a place where people come to hunt game. And right now, I think they’re hunting us.”
“And what happens if they catch us?” asked Nemo.
Yo-Yo didn’t say anything.
“Yo-Yo?” said Rena. “What happens?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I heard different things.”
“Like what?” said Nemo.
“Like some of the kids who got sent here didn’t come back,” Yo-Yo told her.
“All right,” Kirk said. “I think we should keep moving. Who these people are doesn’t really matter at this point. What does is that they don’t catch us, right?”
“And how do we make sure of that?” Nemo asked. “None of us can turn invisible, or teleport, or fly. The only one with a useful Legacy is Yo-Yo, and like Dennings said, we can’t use it without giving our location away.”
“We’ll worry about that when we have to,” said Kirk. “Right now, let’s get some more distance between us and them. Do any of you have a watch?”
“I do,” Rena said. She looked at it. “It’s been ten minutes.”
“We won’t get far in five more minutes,” Kirk said. “So let’s make them count.”
“Maybe we should split up,” Nemo suggested.
“No,” said Kirk. “I take it none of you has wilderness training. But I do. Follow me.”
They pushed on. The ground was getting steeper as they rose up the mountain. Making things worse, the snow had stopped and the clouds had dispersed. The moon, full and silver overhead, illuminated the woods where its light slipped in through the branches of the fir and pine trees. It was beautiful, but it also did very little to hide the four of them as they sought out a place to hide.
They were still climbing when a sound rent the air, a blast from an air horn.
“They’re coming,” Yo-Yo said. “The hunters.” His voice shook with fear.
“What if we climb up in the trees?” Nemo suggested.
“Then there’s nowhere to go if they find us,” Kirk pointed out. “We need to stay on the ground.” He looked around, surveying the forest. “All right. Here’s the plan. We hide. We wait for whoever is coming to move past us up the mountain. Then we head down and figure out what’s next.”
“Maybe we could get back to the lodge and take the ATV,” Rena suggested.
“We don’t have the key,” Nemo countered.
“I can start it without a key if we can get to it,” said Kirk. “But that’s later. Right now, we need to get under cover. We also need to make them think we’re still going up.”
“How do we do that?” asked Rena.
“You three hide,” Kirk said. “Get behind or under anything you can find. Use pine branches to sweep away your footprints. I’m going to keep going so that there are tracks for them to follow. Once they’ve gone past me, I’ll come back this way and we’ll regroup and plan our next move.”
He looked around at the three teenagers’ faces. “It’s going to be fine,” he said. “Just keep calm.”
“What if they find us?” Yo-Yo said.
Kirk pointed at Yo-Yo’s hands. “Then you send a fireball at them and run,” he said. “Now, go.”
He turned and left them. Rena pointed towards a part of the forest where the trees grew more densely. “Let’s go that way,” she said. “There’s more cover. I’ll go last and wipe away the tracks. Try to step in each other’s footprints so there aren’t as many of them.”
“How are we going to erase our prints?” Nemo asked.
“I’ve got an idea,” said Rena.
Yo-Yo went first, taking big steps as he moved deeper into the darkness of the trees. Nemo followed. “Hey, longlegs,” she said. “Can you shorten up the steps? Some of us don’t walk on stilts.”
Rena, going last, paused and concentrated on the snow. She focused her telekinesis and pushed, urging the snow to fill in their footprints and smooth them over. It mostly worked, and she hoped it was enough to fool their pursuers. At least the moonlight was shining on the prints Kirk had made leading up to and away from the hiding spot. That might save them.
The three of them found a place where two trees had fallen over. Although their branches had long since lost the needles that once covered them, the trunks were thick and provided something for them to hide behind. Nemo, Yo-Yo, and Rena crouched there in the snow, waiting. Afraid of making any noise, they didn’t talk, and for a while the only sound was that of the wind moving through the branches of the trees.
Then they heard the soft crunching of footsteps on snow.
Rena, who was in the middle, reached out and took Yo-Yo’s hand in one of hers and Nemo’s in the other. She squeezed them gently, her heart racing. When a bird somewhere in the forest hooted, startling her, she bit her lip to keep from crying out.
Two shadows detached themselves from the darkness and moved into the moonlight.
“What did he say they could do?” said a man’s voice.
“Fire,” answered a woman. “That’s the boy. One of the girls breathes underwater. The last one I didn’t quite get. Something about bringing dolls to life.”
The man snorted. “Not much of a challenge,” he said. “Except maybe the fire kid. We should have asked for a discount.”
“I think that’s why he threw in the military guy,” the woman said. “At least he’s got survival training.”
“Looks like they all stayed together,” the man remarked. “That’ll make it easy.”
“And boring,” said the woman. “What’s the fun of catching them all at once? I told you we should have gone on a big-game safari hunt instead.”
“Anyone can do that,” said the man. “Come on. The tracks go this way. Might as well get it over with. Didn’t Dennings say if we catch them within two hours we get half our money back? We could still take that safari after all.”
The two figures disappeared into the trees. Rena felt her heart slow a little, and she was able to breathe more easily again.
“Now what?” Nemo whispered.
“We wait for Kirk,” said Rena. “That’s the plan.”
They waited. The cold had soaked right into their skin, and crouching behind the trees was uncomfortable. After what felt like an hour, Rena looked at her watch. Only ten minutes had passed.
“Where is he?” Yo-Yo said.
His voice was too loud, and Rena shushed him. A moment later, a light flickered over their heads. Someone had turned on a flashlight and was now shining it around the trees.
“I hear you,” said the voice of the man they’d heard before. “Nice trick, trying to make us think you’d gone on ahead.”
The three teens froze, saying nothing.
“Come on out,” the man said. “Game’s over. Let’s all go back to the lodge and get warmed up. No sense freezing to death, kids.” He laughed, and the sound sent shivers down Rena’s spine.
Yo-Yo squeezed Rena’s hand, and she realized they were all still linked together. She looked at her friend. He shook his head no. His eyes were wide, filled with terror.
“All right,” the man said. “If you want to keep playing, we can play.” A second later, a dull thud sounded, and snow tumbled down from a branch above where Rena, Nemo, and Yo-Yo were hiding. Rena looked up and saw an arrow sticking out of the tree trunk a few feet above their heads.
“I’ll count to three,” the man said. “If you’re not out by then, we’ll do this the hard way. One.”
None of them moved. It was as if time had stopped. Rena felt her friends’ hands in her own, but her body wouldn’t move.
Rena felt Yo-Yo’s hand slip from hers. She turned her head and saw him starting to stand up. He had brought his palms together, and a ball of light was forming between his fingers. The glow was already spreading as the ball of fire grew stronger.
“Yo-Yo,” Rena said.
It was too late. Yo-Yo stood up, revealing himself.
“Three,” the man said, just as Yo-Yo flung his hands out. A fireball shot forward. The sound blasted through the night. A tree somewhere in the vicinity of the man burst into flame. Then Rena heard herself scream as an arrow whizzed past her head.
Another fireball was forming in Yo-Yo’s hands, and he flung it at their attacker as Nemo and Rena stood up and looked around, trying to see what was going on.
“That’s more like it!” the man shouted.
“Run!” Yo-Yo told the girls. “I’ll take care of him.”
“No,” Rena objected. “We stay together.”
The boy raised his arm to lob another fireball. Then he gave a shout of pain, and the ball flickered and went out. Yo-Yo hunched over, clutching his hand to his chest. “Get down!” he shouted at the girls.
“Are you okay?” Rena asked, kneeling behind the trees again.
“It grazed me,” Yo-Yo said. “Hurts like a son of a bitch.”
He showed her his hand. Blood was dripping from a slice on the side of his palm. Rena knew they had to bind it up, but before she could do anything, another arrow thwacked into a tree beside them.
“We’re sitting ducks here,” Nemo said. “We’ve got to move.”
“What’s going on?” The voice of the woman they’d heard before rang out. She sounded excited.
“They’re pinned down in there,” the man said triumphantly. “I think the fire starter is wounded. What did you find?”
“Nothing,” the woman said.
Rena’s hopes rose. She hadn’t caught Kirk. But where was he?
She got her answer a moment later when he emerged from the shadows behind them. “We need to make a run for it,” he said. “Yo-Yo, can you do your thing?”
“I think so,” Yo-Yo said.
“Then now’s the time,” said Kirk. “Biggest ball you can make. Throw it right at them, then we’ll run back the way we came.”
Yo-Yo nodded. He held his hands together. The wounded one was still bleeding, and it shook as he focused hard on the empty space his fingers made. There was a spark, then another. Then a ball the size of a grapefruit bloomed, swirling with orange and red flames.
“Don’t miss,” Kirk said.
Yo-Yo stood up and threw the ball of fire. It struck something and burst into flames. There was a scream. He had hit the man.
“Run!” Kirk shouted.
The four of them darted away from the tree. The man, who was on fire, was staggering around as the woman yelled for him to drop to the ground. Nemo, Yo-Yo, and Rena dashed into the trees. Kirk, bringing up the rear, shouted at them to hurry.
Rena heard a grunt. She turned and saw Kirk stumbling towards her. The front of his jacket was open, and on his chest a stain was blooming around the shaft of an arrow that protruded from his body. Then there was another whistling sound, and another stain. Kirk jerked and his mouth opened, blood spraying out and covering the snow.
He lurched forward. Rena held out her hands. Kirk clutched at her, his fingers grabbing at her necklace. He fell, and the necklace was pulled away with him. He didn’t get up.
“Rena!” Yo-Yo shouted. “Come on!”
Rena looked down at the body in the snow. She bent to retrieve her necklace, and an arrow whizzed over her head, making her fall back without the piece of jewelry. She got to her feet, turned, and ran into the darkness.