Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1) (29 page)

BOOK: Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1)
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The piano sound was much louder here, and Baggs realized that he had found the room in which someone was playing. Not wanting to be seen, he crept along the passage wall and then slowly peered around the threshold. His plan was to glance in, see what was going on, and then contemplate whether or not he should keep exploring. This plan was thwarted, however.

             
As soon as Baggs’s head came around the corner, the music stopped and he locked eyes with a little girl who was sitting on the piano bench. Baggs had seen Byron Turner’s wife taking walks with her daughters in the exercise room some evenings, and he recognized the little girl. He even knew her name; he had heard her mother call it when the girl traipsed too far away from her mother.
Gigi.
He thought that it was strange that he had retained the information while exerting his body so much, but he had.

             
The girl was not like her sisters or her mother.

             
Byron Turner had three daughters and a wife, Cindi. His wife and two of his daughters were exactly what a politician would want from a family. They were beautiful, charismatic, energetic, and personable. Baggs thought that they would look great in photos. They were always dressed well, and they shared a small and athletic figure.

             
Then there was Gigi. Baggs gathered that Gigi was the oldest of the daughters, roughly twelve or thirteen years old. She was gangly and awkward. She had a nasally laugh, was clumsy, and would often stare off into space while people talked to her. Baggs wondered,
is Turner embarrassed of her.
Despite her age, she had had plastic surgery. Her nose was small, her lips were full and pouty, and she had fake breasts.
Don’t they want to wait a while for those to naturally grow in?
It was strange to Baggs that they sexualized a child so much.

             
No matter how many surgeries they put her through, she was still a bit awkward. Her neck seemed too long, her posture was stooped, and you couldn’t give her a surgery so that she didn’t laugh in that odd manner.

             
She had things that her sisters did not, though. Even though she was half black, she had piercing blue eyes, like deep water. The effect of them was startling. As Baggs peeked around the threshold, his eyes locked onto her blue ones and he jerked back, nervous.

             
Maybe she didn’t see me,
he thought.

             
But the piano had stopped, and he heard the bench scooting backwards. From the other room, Baggs could hear Gigi’s footsteps as she walked toward him.
What will happen to me if they catch me out here at night?

             
Gigi appeared in the doorway, smiling up at Baggs. “What are you doing up?” she asked.

             
The K9 looked up at Baggs too, as though waiting for his answer.

             
When he spoke, his voice was lower than it ever had been; Baggs suspected that this was a result of whatever they were injecting him with. He still hadn’t gotten used to the change. “I…uhh…couldn’t sleep.”

             
“Are you James Baggers?”

             
“Yes.”

             
She smiled at him and clasped her hands in front of her body. She was wearing pajamas with Nikki Wild on them. Baggs noticed this and was hit heavily with nostalgia, thinking of Maggie standing on the couch, belting to a Nikki Wild song she had listened to on the library’s radio.

             
“My daughter likes Nikki Wild,” Baggs said.

             
Gigi’s eyes widened—they were fairly wide to begin with and when she held them open she looked like a bug. “She does? Has she ever met her?”

             
“Er… No,” Baggs said. He was often times frustrated when adults didn’t understand that poor people didn’t have the same opportunities as the rich, but he forgave Gigi Turner for her ignorance. She was still so young.

             
“Has she ever been to a concert?”

             
Baggs shook his head. He looked left and right. The giant corridor was still deserted.

             
“Why hasn’t she ever been to a concert?” Gigi asked.

             
“Can’t afford it.”

             
Gigi cocked her head. “What do you mean?”

             
“It costs CreditCoins to go to a concert, and we don’t have enough CreditCoins to send her.”

             
“Oh,” Gigi said. She looked sad for a moment, but then her eyes lit up and she said, “Shade told me that you play piano. Will you play a song for me?”

             
Baggs looked around once more and found that they were utterly alone. “Won’t it wake someone? Aren’t your parents asleep somewhere?”

             
“They’re on the opposite side of the house, five kilometers away. They won’t hear.”

             
Five kilometers,
Baggs thought.
My God, this house is enormous.

             
“I guess I could play a quick song for you,” he said. He hadn’t played in a week, and he was itching to press on the keys. Gigi walked with Baggs and the K9 through the threshold towards the polished grand piano. It was situated in the center of a room that also housed a large HoloVision box with a gaming console attached to it, couches, and a drum set. Baggs was beginning to contemplate why the Turners let their children wander the house at night with Outlive contestants sleeping in the dormitory when he saw another K9 resting on the couch. This one looked more like a panther than a dog, and was camouflaged against the black leather sofa.

             
Baggs and Gigi sat down at the piano.

             
“What are you going to play?” she asked.

             
“I’m only going to play one song, then I’ve got to go back to bed,” he said.

             
“Okay. What song?”

             
“Moonlight sonata,” he said. He had been having strange dreams lately in which the song was playing and skeletons dressed in cloaks were fighting with strange swords in some mansion. Softly, he began to play the keys and rock back and forth to the undulating song. The melody seemed dark, tragic and hopeful all at the same time. To Baggs, it was like a flood slowly filling a town; gradual but unstoppable. It was one of his favorite songs.

             
The piano was magnificent; the sound that came off of it was amazing. Gigi sat and gazed down at his hands as they moved over the keys. He did miss some notes because of the injury to his left hand, but he kept on playing. He thought that he would never play perfectly again.

             
When he was finished, Gigi clapped loudly in the candle-lit room. “That was magnificent! Wow! Teach me, please!”

             
“I really got to go,” Baggs grumbled, although he didn’t stand up. He was having a good time.

             
“Oh, don’t go! What happened to your hand?”

             
Baggs swallowed and looked down at his broken wrist. Some of the muscle had returned with the workouts, and his left arm was now almost as big as the right. Still, though, the deformed but healed radius fracture stuck out through the skin. He looked at Gigi’s big, blue eyes. He trusted her, for some reason. He liked her. She reminded him of Maggie in the way that she talked. “I was carrying my youngest daughter, Olive, on my back and running. Looking back on it, it was kind of dumb. She liked to play this game called ‘pony’ which is where she got onto my back and I ran, braying through the streets.”

             
Gigi laughed.

             
Baggs smiled. “She liked it a lot. Well, we were doing this on her birthday, seven weeks ago now. As I was running, I tripped, fell, and planted my hand down. My bone just snapped.”

             
“That’s so sad.”

             
Baggs went on telling more of the story, even though he knew he should be getting back. “That’s why I had to enter Outlive. Like Shade told you, I was a pianist. While my wrist was healing in the cast my agent had to reschedule all my gigs. When I got my cast off, he didn’t have anything scheduled for me for months. My family and I had run out of money. We were going to starve and I couldn’t find another job. So I had to enter.”

             
Gigi looked outraged. “This agent of yours wouldn’t book anything for you, even though he knew your financial situation?”

             
Baggs shook his head. “He didn’t know, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. He’s kind of an ass.”

             
Gigi smiled.

             
“I can’t play at concert level anymore, anyways, with my hand broken and all.”

             
“What doctor fixed your hand? I’d sue him!”

             
Baggs thought,
her father probably talks about suing people all the time. In fact, he probably does sue people all the time.
“I didn’t have a doctor. I couldn’t afford one.”

             
“No,” Gigi said, having trouble believing what she had just heard.

             
“Yes. I couldn’t afford a doctor.”

             
“Then who fixed your arm?” Gigi looked appalled. Baggs guessed that she didn’t know that people went without medical care because they couldn’t afford it.

             
Baggs laughed. “This kook that lives in an apartment below ours. His name is Mr. Krass.” Baggs held up his arm and laughed again. “He didn’t do a very good job!”               Gigi laughed too, and Baggs realized that he was having the most fun he’d had since Mr. Krass had cut his cast off.

             
“So you entered this death game because you needed the money? Seriously?”

             
“Yes,” Baggs said fervently. “When you’re poor like that, you’re trapped. There are no jobs for people who aren’t educated, and I’m sure you know that your education is costing your parents a lot of money.”

             
“My school costs money?” she asked.

             
“Yeah, a boatload of it.”

             
“How do your daughters go to school?”

             
“They don’t.”

             
She put her hand over her mouth, appalled. A clock was ticking on the wall and Baggs looked up at it, seeing that it was already four in the morning. In two more hours, he’d have to wake up to work out. “I’ve got to go,” he said, and stood up this time.

             
“Okay,” she said. “I hope you do well, James Baggers, in the contest. I hope that you get to see your family again.”

             
“You’re a sweet kid,” Baggs said back. “I hope I get to see them too.” He felt a lump forming in his throat as he passed through the threshold and walked back toward the dormitory. The white K9 followed closely behind him. He got back to the bedroom, slipped into bed, and lay there thinking about how little some people knew about what it was like to be poor in this age of humanity. It was strange that on the day that he had hyperventilated on his rooftop because he thought he might have to enter Outlive, Gigi Turner didn’t even know that some people couldn’t afford school.

             
The clock ticked on the wall, and though Baggs had planned on coming up with some sort of idea to stop Turner from killing him if he survived Outlive, he spent his time thinking about Gigi.

He fell asleep after an hour and, again, he dreamed of skeletons fighting with swords while the piano played in the background.

 

 

 

14

 

             
Baggs sat at one end of the long table and Larry Wight sat beside him.

             
In one hour, a helicopter would be taking the Outlive contestants to the Colosseum. It felt unreal to Baggs that they would be leaving so soon. In not long, he would be standing on the sand, holding a sword, battling for his life in front of 200,000 spectators.

             
But now, he was sipping on a glass of ice water. He swallowed, thinking back to this morning.

             
After waking up at six in the morning, he had a decent workout. Even though he only slept one hour, he was able to push himself just as hard as usual. He suspected that this was partly due to the fact that he knew that it was his last workout.

             
Then, he showered and ate. During that meal, he happily took the blue sleeping pill and had rested until he was woken up for dinner. He was dressed in another suit (
I can’t believe how much money they are spending on my clothing!
), and then the Boxers were ushered down to the Turner’s dining room for dinner.

BOOK: Outlive (The Baggers Trilogy, #1)
6.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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