In this explosive conclusion to The Orphan Trilogy, the ninth-born orphan’s dramatic story resumes five years after book one, The Ninth Orphan, ends.
THE ORPHAN UPRISING (The Orphan Trilogy, #3)
A man and a small boy knelt before a large, golden Buddha statue inside a temple and recited an affirmation in well-practiced unison.
“I am a free man and a polymath. Whatever I set my mind to, I always achieve. The limitations that apply to the rest of humanity, Do not apply to me.”
A hundred flickering candles added to the tranquility of the setting. They’d been lovingly prepared by an elderly Buddhist monk who sat cross-legged just inside the temple door as he waited for his two guests to finish their devotions.
The distant sound of children playing outside carried to them on a gentle tropical breeze. Unfortunately, the breeze did little to alleviate the humidity, which was already oppressive even though the sun had not long risen. The temple’s occupants were drenched in sweat, but they were used to it: heat and humidity were part of everyday life in the Pacific Islands.
Finally, the guests arose and walked hand in hand toward the exit. The man was Sebastian Hannar, or Number Nine as he’d been unceremoniously labeled by the Omega Agency when he was brought into the world thirty-six eventful years ago; the boy was his five-year-old son Francis. They enjoyed the temple’s peaceful atmosphere and the togetherness they experienced within its confines, and so such visits had become a regular occurrence of late.
The affirmation they’d just recited was similar to one that Nine had been forced to recite every day of his life alongside the other twenty-two orphans raised at Omega’s Pedemont Orphanage in Riverdale, Chicago. Since breaking free of the agency five years earlier, Nine had changed the affirmation’s opening line from I am an Omegan and a polymath to I am a free man and a polymath.
Although the affirmation reminded him of a past he’d rather forget, it also served to remind him that not everything he’d experienced at the orphanage had been bad, and many of the lessons learned could be applied to everyday life.
As father-and-son approached, the elderly, bald-headed monk stood to receive them. Luang Alongkot Panchan, a native of Thailand, couldn’t help thinking how alike Nine and Francis were. Living in the tropics had darkened their skin so that they were hard to distinguish from the Marquesas Islanders who made up the bulk of the population in this remote corner of French Polynesia.
When the pair reached Luang, they bowed to him. He and Nine exchanged pleasantries. The ninth-born orphan treated the kindly monk with respect bordering on reverence. He viewed Luang as his adopted spiritual master.
Nine’s startling green eyes locked with Luang’s all-knowing eyes. There was much between them that was unsaid. Over the years, they’d come to know each other so well they could communicate without even speaking. Nine felt it was as if his friend could look into his innermost being and know him better than he knew himself.
Luang could see that Francis was straining to get outside and play, so he stepped aside and smiled at Nine. “Remain in light, my friend,” Luang said, bowing deeply with hands clasped in prayer.
“And you, my friend,” Nine said responding in kind.
The former orphan-operative allowed Francis to pull him by the hand outside. Though it was still early morning, the sun’s rays hit them like a furnace, serving as a rude reminder how hot it could get in the islands.
A cluster of frangipani trees some fifty yards away beckoned them, and the pair hurried toward the trees and the heavily pregnant woman who waited for them in the shade. She was Nine’s French-born mixed-race wife Isabelle, the mother of Francis.
“Race you!” Francis challenged his father.
“You’re on!” Nine said. “On three. One, two–”
The boy knew this game well and set off before Nine finished counting.
“Three, go!” Nine said. “Hey!” He took after his son whose athletic little legs were pumping like pistons. Nine quickly made up the lost ground, but slowed to make a race of it.
By now Francis was shrieking with laughter, alerting his mom to the imminent arrival of the two favorite men in her life.
“Faster, Francis!” Isabelle shouted in French.
Before the boy could reach his mom, Nine scooped him up with one arm and collapsed, panting, beside Isabelle. They were all laughing now.
As soon as he’d regained his breath, Nine kissed his wife tenderly. “Miss me?” he asked in English. As they’d done since first meeting, they effortlessly switched between English and French whenever they conversed with each other.
“Yes and so did our daughter,” Isabelle chuckled, rubbing her pregnant belly. This time she, too, spoke English, but there was no hiding the strong French inflection.
Nine placed his palm on her belly and immediately felt the baby kick. At the same time, he observed his wife lovingly. What a goddess. He never tired of her beauty. Thirty-three-year-old Isabelle’s French-African heritage combined with her strong accent gave her an exoticness that excited him even in her current state. Nine was convinced she looked more radiant than ever. It was obvious that motherhood and years of island living agreed with her.
“I’m thirsty,” Francis announced, breaking the mood.
Isabelle laughed and immediately produced a tumbler of freshly squeezed pineapple juice from a cooler, which the thirsty boy gulped down.
Squeals of delight carried to them from a nearby grove of coconut trees. Local island children were playing tag while their mothers looked on. The children didn’t seem to notice the heat. Beyond them, fishermen could be seen casting their nets into the turquoise waters of the bay. It was an idyllic scene so typical of this part of the world.
Francis recognized a couple of the children. “Can I go play, mama?”
“Of course you can, but don’t outstay your welcome!” Isabelle chuckled in French.
Francis ran off to play. His doting parents watched as he unabashedly introduced himself to the children and joined in their play.
“He makes friends so easily,” Isabelle said.
“Yes he does,” Nine agreed. “He gets that from you.”
“And from you,” Isabelle countered.
Nine shook his head. “No he has made more friends in the past year than I did in the first thirty years of my life.”
“Well, there’s a good reason for that, my love.” Isabelle kissed him tenderly.
“I guess.” Nine smiled. His eyes were drawn to the ruby that hung from the silver necklace Isabelle wore. He had inherited it from the mother he’d never known and had given it to Isabelle as a declaration of his love for her.
Isabelle noticed the object of his attention and reflexively touched the ruby. For some reason, its touch brought her comfort, as it had Nine when he’d worn it.
“Well, I must love you and leave you,” Nine announced.
Isabelle watched as her husband donned a pair of running shoes in preparation for his daily training run. “Don’t overdo it in this heat,” she warned.
“I mean it, Sebastian!”
“Don’t worry.” Smiling mischievously, Nine set off at a gentle pace. As always, he would pick the pace up as soon as he was out of his wife’s sight.
Isabelle’s concern was not without good reason. Nine had developed a heart condition, which his specialist had diagnosed as a relatively common complaint called stenosis – a narrowing of one of the heart valves.
The former operative had become aware all was not well soon after he and Isabelle had arrived in the tropics from France. Chest pains had prompted him to seek professional advice. The specialist had prescribed physical activity and a heart-smart diet, but warned an operation would be required if Nine’s condition deteriorated. That had been four-and-a-half years ago, and so far so good. Sensible food and exercise had seen no recurrence of chest pains. Even so, Isabelle had insisted Nine keep to the recommended schedule of quarterly visits to the specialist. A major inconvenience considering the specialist was based in Tahiti, nearly a thousand miles away.
A caring Isabelle watched Nine as he jogged away. She noted for possibly the hundredth time how different he was to the man who had abducted her while on the run in Paris. Apart from a few gray hairs around the temple, she thought he looked as youthful and vibrant as ever. There was a certain calmness surrounding him – proof of the peace he’d found. Proof also that he’d finally banished the inner demons that had plagued him since his unusual and some would say abusive upbringing at the Pedemont Orphanage.
Once out of sight of Isabelle, Nine strode out. Though not in the same peak condition as when an elite operative with the Omega Agency, he was still a fine physical specimen – a shade over six foot and toned like an athlete. He moved like an athlete, too. Soon he was breathing hard and sweating even more profusely.
As he ran, Nine reflected on how content he was with his life. After many years as a virtual prisoner of the Omega Agency, constantly traveling the globe and killing at the whim of his Omega masters, he finally had the life he’d always wanted – a family and a normal existence. It was, he reminded himself, a far cry from the dark days working as an operative. An assassin more like it. He used to have nightmares about those days, but no more.
After he’d broken away from Omega, he and Isabelle had fled France and settled on an isolated and unoccupied island he’d inherited in the Marquesas Islands, effectively getting off the grid. Their stay there had been short-lived. The onset of Nine’s heart condition and other circumstances had conspired to prompt their relocation to the main settlement of Taiohae, on the island of Nuku Hiva, elsewhere in the Marquesas group.
A difficult pregnancy with Francis meant Isabelle had required ready access to medical assistance – assistance that wasn’t available on their former island paradise. And she and Nine also wanted Francis and any future offspring to receive proper schooling.
So the move to Taiohae had been almost inevitable. It had worked out for the best. The couple, who married soon after they relocated, had been readily accepted by the locals and had made many good friends. Francis had also adapted well to life at school. The boy spoke French and English equally well, and could even communicate with the islanders in their native tongue.
In material terms, life was treating the family pretty well, too. Some shrewd offshore investments had seen Nine increase his not-inconsiderable wealth several times over, so money wasn’t a problem.
Nine was following a well worn path that took him high into the steep hills overlooking Taiohae Bay. He could just make out his wife and son down near the waterfront. Francis was playing an impromptu game of soccer with his newfound friends while Isabelle and the other mothers sat in the shade, looking on.
The sweat was pouring off him as he ran up a steep incline. Sudden shortness of breath prompted him to slow to a walk. He thought nothing of it, putting it down to the heat. You’re getting old, Sebastian.
Still looking down at Taiohae Bay, he noticed an inflatable craft approaching the distant waterfront at speed. It was manned by two men and appeared to have come from a floatplane Nine had seen touch down on the water a short time earlier out in the bay. He watched as the inflatable nosed up onto the beach and two men jumped out. They began walking purposefully toward where Francis and the other children played.
Something about the pair bothered Nine. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it didn’t seem right. Even from a distance, he could see the two weren’t your average tourists. Besides the dark sunglasses they wore, there wasn’t a camera, sun hat or beach towel in sight. They looked more like business executives in their white shirts and long, dark trousers. One even wore a tie.
Nine found himself growing apprehensive as he continued to watch the pair closely.
THE ORPHAN UPRISING (The Orphan Trilogy, #3) is exclusive to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BFC66DM/