Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fence Jumpers: Part 8

Sorry for the lack of posting on Wednesday. I forgot and then couldn't really think of anything to post. Maybe this Wednesday I'll do a character interview from the Jumpers. Anyone have any preference on a character?

* * * * *

Image courtesy of Pinterest.

Skyler forced himself to move. He abandoned all rules of concealment and ran. His heart had jumped into his throat and was trying to bust free. Panic fueled his steps, and he saw several guards trying to subdue a young boy who was now shouting for help since his whistle had been taken.

"Tony!" Skyler shouted.

"Skyler!" Tony screamed. "Skyler, help me!"

The guards turned to face Skyler, some drawing pistols. Skyler tensed. He needed a better plan.

A gunshot pounded into the side of one of the armored trucks and pinged into the shoulder of a guard, dropping him. Everyone turned quickly. Skyler saw no one.

"Get him!" A guard ordered, pointing at Skyler. "Some of you head that way."

"Run Skyler!" Tony yelled, straining against the guards that held him. "Get out of here!"

"Not without you I'm not," Skyler said. "I'll be right back!"

Skyler ran off. The guards took off after him. Skyler looked around, trying to create a plan through the adrenaline pumping in him.

As he ran around the trucks, Skyler slammed into someone. His yell was muffled and he was yanked between the trucks, restrained.

"Shut up, idiot."

Skyler felt like his chest would explode with relief. He relaxed and tried to pull away, but Wes didn't let go or loosen his grip.

"Don't. Move," Wes hissed. Skyler froze in place as the guards ran by. "I want you to get your stupid butt back over that fence right now, or so help me I will kill you and I will not feel bad about it. Move."

"What about Tony?" Skyler asked, pulling away.

"We'll do what we can," Wes replied. "Get out of here."

Skyler nodded, fighting back tears of panic. He dashed to the fence and tried to jump it, but his panic distracted him. He hauled himself over and landed in a crouch. They were losing the darkness, making it harder to hide.

"Cody!" Tony screamed. "Help!"

Skyler risked standing. Horror froze every limb as he watched Tony be dragged into the building. Cody was trying to get to him, but guards were everywhere. Tony's scream was suddenly caught off as the door closed.

Skyler started to climb back over, but Wes grabbed the back of his hoodie and yanked him off.

"I told you to run!" He roared, shoving Skyler away from the building. "Go!"

"Tony--"

"There's nothing we can do," Wes snapped. Cody came running to them, carrying a pistol. The guards had seen them and were heading for them.

"Go, go, go, go, go!" Cody yelled. Skyler's limbs came back online and he ran, following Wes and Cody and failing at holding back the tears. They ran through the streets almost blindly, turning down alleys and circling back around. 

They took shelter behind an expensive restaurant. Skyler fell on his hands and knees, his sides heaving and hurting.

"We can't go back to the hideout now," Wes panted, bending over and putting his hands on his knees. "At least not today."

"I know." Cody nodded. "I know... my word, Skyler, what were you and Tony thinking?! We told you to stay put!"

"I'm sorry," Skyler gasped, tears running down his cheeks. "We went to look inside those trucks. We saw someone get in--"

Skyler yelled in pain when Wes' foot slammed into his aching side. He fell over, curling into the fetal position.

"Stop it!" Cody put himself between them. Wes had a pained look on his face as he turned away, running his hands through his black hair.

"Tony's gone because of your stupid curiosity!" Wes yelled at Skyler, who was trying to stand up. "He's gone and there's nothing we can--"

"Shut up, Wes." Cody clapped his hand over Wes' mouth. "We all need to calm down right now. Panicking isn't what we do. We need to find a safe house and lie low for today and probably the next."

Wes shoved Cody away, tears of anger in his eyes.

"I'm sorry," Skyler choked out. "I should have been more careful and watched him."

"Yes you should have!" Wes spun around. "And because you didn't Tony is gone!"

"Wes, enough," Cody snapped. "Yelling won't help anyone. Skyler messed up, but yelling at him won't solve anything."

"Getting rid of him might," Wes spluttered, furious. "He's been nothing but trouble since he got here."

Skyler flew at Wes, rage and grief boiling up inside him. Cody grabbed him and held him back.

"Stop it!" Cody kept himself between Wes and Skyler. "Both of you leave each other alone. Wes, that was totally uncalled for. I know you're upset, man, I am too, but we can't strangle each other over it. It's not going to save Tony and it's not going to help us. Yes, they should have stayed put, but you and I shouldn't have taken them with us, either."

"That was all you, Baine." Wes glared daggers at Cody.

"I know," Cody said calmly, "and I take full responsibility for that. But right now we can't do this. We need to find a safe house and lie low. We don't have to talk to each other or anything when we get there. We just have to get there."

"What's the safe house?" Skyler asked, pressing his hand against his throbbing side.

"A place we've set up for Jumpers in case they're seen and can't make it back to the hideout," Cody replied. "Come on."

Skyler sullenly followed the older boys. His side hurt a lot, but he didn't dare complain. Cody noticed his grimacing and made them stop.

"We can't stop here," Wes said. "He'll be fine until we get there."

"Shut up, Westley," Cody snapped. Wes looked murderous. "He's hurt because of you."

"He deserved it."

"Shut up!"

Cody examined Skyler's side. It looked bruised, but there otherwise it looked fine. They had reached the busier parts of the city now, and it made the boys nervous and jumpy.

"How much farther?" Skyler asked.

"I don't know." Cody shook his head. "Usually we have a map, but we didn't bring one."

Skyler bit his lower lip to keep from panicking.

"Hey." Cody looked at him. "We're gonna be okay, bud, I promise. Just hang in there."

"This is my fault," Skyler said, finally breaking down. The adrenaline was gone, leaving him drained and terrified. "I shouldn't have convinced Tony to go with me."

"Easy, Skyler." Cody stood and pulled Skyler into a hug. "Hold it together, buddy. Just a little longer."

Skyler tried, but his panic and grief and guilt overwhelmed him. His tears fell freely.

"Skyler, look at me." Cody pulled back keeping his hands on Skyler's shoulders. "Skyler, you have to keep it together right now. We can't draw attention to ourselves--"

"Everything okay?"

The boys jumped and turned quickly. A middle-aged woman stood before them, wearing jeans, a white T-shirt with a pink crocheted vest, and a messenger bag. A camera hung around her neck. Her dark brown hair was braided down her shoulder with a pink flower pin at the top.

"Hey, I know you three." Madison looked startled. "What are you doing out here?"

"We... we ran into a bit of trouble," Cody said. "But we can't talk here."

"Come with me," Madison said. "I'll take you home."

"I don't think--"

"It's safe enough." Madison smiled. "You boys look like the devil is after you."

Skyler, Cody, and Wes followed Madison back to her apartment. They piled into her car and she took a roundabout route to the old park. On the way Cody told her what had happened.

"I'm so sorry, boys," she said, her voice shaky. "Oh, that's awful... can I do anything?"

"I don't think so, Miss Carter," Cody said tiredly. "Thank you, though. You're doing enough risking yourself to take us home."

"Call me Madison." Madison smiled. "And I don't mind. I like a bit of danger now and then. Photography isn't usually a dangerous hobby, so things like this spice up my life."

At the park, the boys and Madison headed for the hideout. By now it was almost seven. Skyler felt as if he had been up all night long. Had they really been out only two hours? If Skyler hadn't been such a stupid idiot, would they have been back earlier?

When they arrived, the Jumpers on watch duty let them in, relief in their expressions.

"Kip's really mad, guys," Deanna warned. "He found out you guys snuck off--"

"Where's Tony?" Stephen asked, looking from Wes to Cody. "Wasn't he with you?"

"He... there was a problem," Cody said.

Deanna's hand went to her mouth, tears springing to her eyes. Skyler followed the boys quietly into the main cavern, where the rest of the Jumpers were talking in worried tones. When they saw Skyler and the older boys and Madison, everyone fell silent.

"Skyler!" Hannah ran to her brother. Skyler wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her shoulder and finally releasing his grief. Hannah looked startled.

"Skyler, what's wrong?" Hannah asked, holding him gently, rubbing his back soothingly. She looked at Wes. "What happened? Where did you all go?"

Kip approached, looking furious.

"Do you have any idea how stupid that was?!" He roared, making everyone flinch. "Four boys gone, no note or anything. What-- Madison?" Kip looked at Madison, startled.

"Hi." Madison gave a small wave. "I just came by to drop them off. I found them in the city."

"In the city?!" Kip looked at Wes and Cody. "Hold on, there were four of you."

"Can we talk in private?" Cody asked. Kip hesitated, then nodded. He looked at Skyler.

"Are you okay, Skyler?" He asked.

"He may need to sit this one out," Hannah said, still holding her little brother close as he cried. "If he isn't needed?"

"I think we can manage." Cody nodded, casting a warning glance at Wes. "We have the gist of it."

Hannah nodded and led Skyler to the far corner of the cavern, away from people. She sat him down and lowered herself next to him.

"Hey," she said, one arm over his shoulders. "Talk to me, little bro."

Skyler told her everything. It took a while, because Skyler struggled to control his tears, but he told her what had happened. Hannah listened silently, tears in her own eyes.

"Oh, Skyler." Hannah pulled him into her arms again, cradling him against her. "Oh, I'm so sorry..."

Kip approached them, followed by Wes and Cody. Skyler sat upright.

"Kiddo." Kip crouched down in front of Skyler. His eyes held grief, but he didn't look angry. He sighed slowly. "I don't think I need to scold or yell. I can already see that you're sorry."

Skyler nodded, fighting tears of shame.

"Cody says you looked inside one of the armored trucks," Kip continued. "Can you tell me what or who was inside?"

Skyler nodded. A feeling of nausea threatened to make him sick, but he swallowed and tried to ignore the feeling.

"Cyborgs," he said in a whisper. "Lots of them, all sitting there. It's like they weren't... alive yet, or something. They didn't look at me."

Silence fell on the group, then Claire and Grace ran over to them.

"Cody!" Claire ran to him. Cody turned and accepted her hug. "Thank goodness you're okay!"

"Hey there Skyler." Grace crouched down. "You okay too?"

Skyler nodded and sniffed, wiping his eyes.

"I'm fine too," Wes said.

"Oh, thank heavens!" Hannah held her hand to her heart dramatically before rolling her eyes. Wes narrowed his eyes at her.

"Alright, we need to figure out what to do about this," Kip said at last. "Cody, fill in Grace and Claire since they're here. I need to prepare to tell the others. Where's Madison?"

"She went home," Grace said. "She said she would try to stop by tonight to check on the boys."

Kip nodded. "Skyler, Cody, and Wes, I don't think I need to tell you that you three need to lie low for a long time. Sadly there's nothing we can do for Tony, and I won't have any of you get caught too."

Skyler nodded listlessly.

The rest of the day was hazy for Skyler. He barely listened to Kip's announcement of what had happened, and the capture of Tony. Skyler escaped into one of the dead-end tunnels, curling up against the wall, alone in the dark.

Not a month here and he had already screwed up everyone's lives. He probably got Tony killed, he got Wes stuck lying low twice, and had been in general stupidly foolish twice in the same place.

He shouldn't be here. He wasn't making anyone's life any better. He couldn't do any damage on his own, surviving in alleys like he used to with Hannah.

Hannah. She would say he was being ridiculous, but Skyler knew better. Wes was right. He had been nothing but trouble since day one.

Skyler hugged his knees up to his chest and sobbed. No one would be harmed by his actions when he left. He wouldn't hurt anyone like that again.

"Skyler?" Hannah's voice carried through the tunnel from the entrance. "Skyler, I know you're in there. Talk to me, little brother."

"Nothing much to talk about," Skyler mumbled. "I screwed up big time. I've screwed up twice."

"So?" Footsteps approached the dead-end. "We all screw up sometimes."

"Not as badly as I did," Skyler said. "I just sent Tony to his death, Hannah. I should have just stayed here, that way Tony wouldn't have come."

"You don't know that." Hannah finally reached him and knelt down in front of him. "Skyler, I know what you're thinking. I can't let you just leave."

"How did you--"

"Cody told me what Wes said," Hannah replied. "He was worried you would actually leave. Skyler... what would I do if you left? If you got caught?

"I made a promise to myself that I would take care of you. I wouldn't let you go hungry even if I had to go hungry. I refused to let you shiver in your sleep. I told myself that one day when this was all over, we would go back home. I would bring you home safe and sound. And Skyler, I can't do that if you leave. I love you, baby brother, and if anything happened to you... I wouldn't be able to live with myself."

Skyler felt Hannah touch his knee. He swallowed back another sob and put his hand over hers.

"Don't go," Hannah whispered. "We can make it through this. Ignore what Wes said. He's a jerk who doesn't know any better. Stay here, and we can figure things out. I'll be right beside you. Always."

"Promise?" Skyler murmured. He felt Hannah pull him into her arms, hugging him tight. Skyler hugged his sister back.

"Promise."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fence Jumpers: Part 7

 
 Image courtesy of Pinterest
 
"Dr. Vernalti," a woman in a finely pressed pantsuit poked her head into the sleek room. It was sparsely furnished with a metal shelf of bottles and syringes, a table with a variety of surgical equipment, and a longer table with straps that restrained a fifteen-year-old kid. A door stood propped open in the far corner.

Horatio looked up from the syringe he was filling. The kid on the table strained against the straps, watching Dr. Vernalti with fear.

"What?" Horatio snapped. "I said no interruptions--" He paused and glanced at the clock on the wall. "Ah, yes. I'll be right there."

Horatio approached the table and inserted the needle into the struggling teen. The drug took immediate effect and the young man relaxed into a half-conscious state.

"He's ready," Horatio called through the open doorway. He removed his lab coat and replaced it with a smart black suit jacket as a middle-aged man entered and rolled the kid on the table away.

"Thank you Dr. Riley," Horatio said, "for allowing me to prep this one before transporting him. I will not bother you again with my experiments."

"You're welcome to bother me any time," Dr. Riley replied. "It saves me time with so many subjects to transport."

Horatio nodded and left the room, buttoning his jacket as he headed down the hall to the elevator that took him up from the basement of the building to the top, where his mayoral office was. The woman who had summoned him, his secretary, sat at her desk.

"Line 4," she said without looking up from her computer as she handed him a small stack of letters. Horatio thanked her and skimmed over the mail before tossing them aside and sitting behind his desk.

The office was spacious, but not huge. Horatio didn't like extravagance when it wasn't necessary. To his left were large windows that provided an excellent view of Cincinnati, to his right were bookshelves and the door. Before him squatted comfortable visitor chairs, and on the far wall hung a family portrait and an out of the way door that led into a bathroom.

Horatio picked up the phone and hooked the small piece around his ear, then reached for its console and tapped the number four.

"You're late," Horatio said. Exchanging pleasantries weren't his thing. They took too long and delayed business.

"I know," a voice on the other end said. "I couldn't leave. I fixed the problem and pinned the blame on some guy who was on kitchen duty. But I have bad news."

"I don't like bad news," Horatio warned.

"Well, take out your attitude on the exec, not me," the voice grumbled.

"Excuse me?"

"The new kid," the voice went on. "You know, the one who ran away with his sister before we could get him?"

"Skyler Pelton." Horatio nodded. "What about him?"

"He found an exec's computer file," the voice continued. "He jumped a fence at the factory--"

"He did what?!" Horatio stood. 

"Chill, he didn't go any further than the fence!" The voice replied quickly. "Just chill, okay? I have this under control. I'll get the files and return it-"

"Destroy it!" Horatio roared. "Don't give it back. Destroy it so nothing will be retrievable. The exec who failed to keep it safe will be dealt with."

There was silence on the other end for a minute. Horatio sat back down and sighed, rubbing his eyes.

"How is everything there?" The voice asked.

"Fine," Horatio said. "Production is going well. How is everything on your side?"

"Fine. We have a new friend. A reporter named Madison Carter. She's gonna be helping them out. Bringing them supplies and stuff. Oh, she's also conducting interviews with our people for articles, but she's really looking for info about our operations."

"Is she now?" Horatio smiled. "We will need to take her out--"

"No."

"No?" Horatio frowned. Smiles never stayed long on his face. "Why not?"

"Because if you take her, these people will be on guard 24/7. They already think there's a rat among them, and Oliver will start asking questions. Leave her, let her help them. But have the political people refuse interviews, at least the ones who know a lot. The idiots she can have."

The smile returned to Horatio's lips.

"Very clever," he sat back in his chair. "I still don't understand why you don't want them destroyed. We know where they are."

"I know where they are," the voice corrected. "You don't. Sorry, uncle, but it's better to keep them in business. Yes, they're pests, but they also distract the rest of the city, province, and beyond. We use them as a cover. I'm not telling you because I honestly don't trust that you will leave well enough alone."

"Watch your tongue," Horatio growled. "I don't care if you tell me or not, but I will not have you back talk me. You're growing soft. You like these people."

"They're a close-knit group," the voice said casually. "It starts to grow on you. I'm sorry."

"You are forgiven," Horatio replied. "Will you lure any more of them out for me?"

"I doubt it. I tried when we found Pelton and his sister, but I couldn't blow my cover then. I would have given you Baine, uncle, since he's someone they all really look up to, but he wouldn't leave the kid's side."

"You couldn't draw him aside?" Horatio asked. "I need their structure weakened."

"He was set on staying with the kid. Don't worry, uncle, you will have him. Pelton and his sister, too. They've already squealed to Oliver about why they ran away, and their info added more pieces to their puzzle. His sister overheard your guys talking to the parents."

"I don't care about those two," Horatio said. "I couldn't care less about the sister. But if they get away, very well. I will get them when we destroy them all later."

"You must have had a good day," the voice laughed. "I gotta go now. I told the lookouts I'd only be out for a short walk for some air."

"Alright." Horatio nodded. "Thank you for the information. Be careful in there, and don't get attached."

The line clicked off. Horatio removed the earpiece and nestled it in its console. He tapped the line 1 button.

"Alexis," Horatio said into the speakers. "Please have the executive from the processing factory who is missing his computer file report to me immediately."

"Yes sir," the secretary replied briskly.

****

Skyler jolted upright, eyes flying wide open. The nightmare was already starting to fade into hazy wisps. 

"Skyler?" Cody's voice made him jump. Turning Skyler saw Cody standing by their bunk. In the dim light of the Christmas tree lights Skyler noticed that Cody had something bulky slung over his shoulder.

"You okay, buddy?" Cody whispered.

Skyler forced himself to breathe evenly and nodded. He shuddered at the nightmare. Hannah had been hurt, and she had been taken by Nabbers. Skyler had been stuck under a trash can and couldn't move to save her.

"Where are you going?" Skyler asked, trying to forget the dream. "What time is it?"

"Not quite sunrise," Cody said. "Wes and I are going back to that government building we took you and the others to a few weeks ago. "Something is off about that place."

"Does Kip know?"

"We'll be back before he notices." Cody paused, then looked back up at Skyler. "You wanna come with? We won't make you go over any other fences."

Skyler hesitated. The idea of going back up into the open air excited him, but going to the government building made him nervous.

"You're allowed to go back up top," Cody assured him. "Madison's in the clear, so you are too. You're up anyway, so you may as well come."

Skyler smiled and crawled to the ladder and descended. Cody grinned at him.

"We'll be waiting at the tunnel," he told Skyler, who nodded and began changing.

As Skyler pulled his hoodie over his head he heard a voice nearby.

"Skyler?"

Skyler turned to see Tony, a twelve-year-old Jumper, looking at him from his bunk.

"What're you doing?" Tony asked. "Are you going somewhere?"

"With Cody and Wes," Skyler replied. "We'll be back soon."

"Can I come?" Tony asked, sitting up.

"Umm..."

"I won't get in the way," Tony gave a lopsided smile. "I promise."

"Alright," Skyler said at last. "But hurry."

Tony scrambled out of bed. His light brown hair was a ruffled mess, but he ignored it and got dressed in record time. The boys jogged down the tunnels and came into the main cavern. They saw the silhouettes of Cody and Wes.

Skyler assumed it was Wes when the silhouette's hands flew up in the air exasperatedly.

"What he is doing here?" Wes hissed, looking at Tony. "Cody, you said it only Skyler--"

"I did," Cody looked at the younger boys. "Tony, go back to bed."

"Skyler said I could come," Tony protested. "I won't get in the way."

"He'll stick with me," Skyler promised. "I didn't think it'd be a problem. I'm probably not gonna be vaulting fences, am I?"

Cody looked at Wes.

"Fine," Wes sighed. He glared down at Tony. "I want you in sight at all times."

"Yes sir!" Tony saluted. Wes rolled his eyes.

"Let's go, then." Cody waved them through.

***

Skyler suppressed a scowl when Tony bumped into him from behind for the fifth time and whispered a hurried "sorry" before receiving an icy glare from Wes. Tony wasn't the stealthiest Jumper, but his heart was in it. He did his best to impress Cody and Wes, but only Cody was encouraging.

They arrived at the building in a few minutes. The sky was beginning to grow light, and the city was waking up. Skyler liked those sounds. Life rousing itself for a new day.

The building was heavily guarded, which didn't surprise anyone. Armed guards stood on watch, scanning the perimeter closely. Two armored trucks idled by the building, facing the gates. A floodlight swept the area periodically.

"You two stay here," Cody whispered as they hid in the shadows of the alley they took cover in last time. "Keep watch. You have the whistle if anything goes wrong. You know where to meet if we get separated?"

"The thrift store." Skyler nodded. Cody gave an affirmative nod and slipped away, followed by Wes.

Skyler gazed out at the trucks. What could be in them? And where were they headed? Would they have any secrets about the cyborgs?

"Skyler," Tony whispered, drawing Skyler's attention away. "Will they be okay?"

"'Course they will," Skyler said. "Why wouldn't they be? They're among the best Jumpers."

"Yeah, but what if something goes wrong?" Tony asked nervously. "What if they're caught?"

"We try to help," Skyler assured him. "But if we can't we have to remember to run. We might be able to get help."

Tony nodded, fiddling with the silver emergency whistle, his eyes on the government building.

They hid in silence for another five minutes before Skyler started to worry. No alarm had been raised, so they probably hadn't been caught. But five minutes seemed too long.

"Skyler," Tony hissed urgently. "Skyler, look. The trucks. There's someone getting in."

Skyler's eyes swiveled back to the vehicles. He saw two people in lab coats leading a third person between them. The third person was walking slowly, and looked like they had a slight limp. The other two people helped the third into the back of the truck and returned inside, leaving the truck doors open.

"Maybe it's a hospital?" Tony asked.

"Why this much security for a hospital?" Skyler frowned. "We need to look inside that truck."

"What?" Tony looked startled. "Cody said stay put! We'll get caught!"

"Just a quick look," Skyler said. "We can throw stuff to one side of the building and draw the guards away for the quick look."

"I don't know..." Tony frowned. He considered the idea. "A really fast peek?"

"We won't even know we were there, we'll be that fast." Skyler grinned. Tony smiled and nodded.

The boys clambered over the fence when no one was looking. Tony found a discarded soda can and chucked it away from the trucks. It hit the building and clattered around. When the noise sent guards hurrying to the side, and Skyler and Tony ran along shadows to the truck.

"I'll keep a lookout," Tony whispered, gripping the whistle with shaking fingers. "Be really fast."

Skyler nodded and crept to the back of the truck. He scanned the area and peeked into the truck.

There were several people in the truck, sitting with their backs to the wall, staring listlessly at each other, still as statues. They were completely unresponsive to Skyler's presence.

Skyler, however, was very responsive to the sight of their mechanical limbs.

He nearly gagged when he saw the transition points between flesh and metal. It looked red and sore, and not fully healed. The worst was their faces. Parts of their faces were metal, red and inflamed.

Skyler felt like throwing up. He turned away quickly and left to rejoin Tony.

Tony was gone.

Skyler froze and scanned the area. He pressed against the truck, keeping in its shadow. He suppressed the urge to call for Tony. Where was he?

A shout from the building made Skyler jump. He whirled around, eyes straining to see in the dim lighting. Skyler glanced around to make sure the coast was clear, and he dashed to the next shadow by the fence. He saw more guards running. He heard a familiar voice shout.

And then he heard a shrill whistle rip through the air.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Author Interview: J. Grace Pennington



Hello! I have another exciting author interview for you all today. Indie author J. Grace Pennington graciously let me interview her about her science-fiction series, Firmament. The first two books are Radialloy and In His Image. I highly recommend both, so after the interview you should go buy them, because they are exciting and fun.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet J. Grace Pennington!

Hi Grace! Thanks for joining me on Inkspots! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello! My name is J. Grace Pennington, and I'm an author. I'm also the oldest of nine siblings, and a loyal Texan! Despite being a country girl, I mostly love to write about outer space and other sci-fi adventures. I've self-published three books so far, among them two volumes from my sci-fi series, Firmament.

What is the Firmament series about overall?
The Firmament series chronicles the adventures of medical officer Andi Lloyd as she helps her father, a doctor, aboard the starship Surveyor. The purpose of the ship is to explore and document the galaxy, but the series is a lot less about science and a lot more about tough moral issues regarding family and faith.

What gave you the idea for the series?
It was mostly inspired by Star Trek: The Original Series and my frustration at the humanistic basis for so many of the episodes. At one point I had a dream that took one of the movies in a new direction, and I was fascinated by it, and tried to create my own sci-fi series with a spin -- it centers on an unranked young girl instead of a powerful officer such as a captain.

How many books will be in the series? Why that number?
Eighteen. Originally there were twenty-four planned, but I realized that a lot of them would be more powerful combined, or were too ambitious, so I got it down to eighteen. Just because that's how many ideas I had, no real reason..

Where did you draw inspiration from for the series, if anywhere?
I've already mentioned Star Trek. That's definitely my main inspiration. I also had some influences from Stargate, especially for the book In His Image. The main character, Andi, is largely based on myself. Other than that, each book is generally inspired by some idea or relationship I want to explore. Such as the Machiavellian principle, eternal life, or divorce.

What is your favorite part about writing the Firmament series? Least favorite?
Favorite part is definitely the characters and relationships. I love the drama and the choices that have to be made, and I love the complex interplay between different backgrounds and personalities. It's all just so fascinating to me.

Least, I'd have to say action. I hate writing action and am very bad at writing out clear logistics, so it's not a very good fit. But a dramatic sci-fi series has to have at least some action. So write it I must.

Is there anyone you based your characters off of?
As I mentioned, Andi is definitely based off of me. She's a lot more smart and outgoing than I am, but otherwise very similar. The Doctor is pretty clearly inspired by Star Trek's Doctor "Bones" McCoy. Other than that, I don't think the rest had any concrete models.

What is your writing process like? 
I come up with a basic premise, then I outline using the One Year Adventure Novel method. Once I have the outline figured out, I write through as quickly as I can--usually in about two months. Then I print it out, write notes for editing on it, then rewrite it from the beginning. Then I edit it until it's as good as I can get it!

What got you started writing?
I've loved reading since before I can remember, and one day while my mom was taking a nap, I thought it would be fun to write a story of my own, so I did. The rest is history!

What made you decide to self-publish?
I mostly wanted the control that comes with self-publishing versus traditional publishing. I wanted to decide what it looked like and who did the cover art and how it was represented and how much of a royalty I got. It's definitely harder, but to me it's worth it.

Do you have any writerly advice for aspiring writers?
The main advice I always give is keep going! Even the best writers feel at some point like what they are doing totally fails, so why should we newbies be any different? Even when every word is dragging and you hate your characters and you're convinced this is the worst story since Aaron tried to tell Moses the golden calf came out of the fire by itself, keep writing. After all, you can edit anything but a blank page.

Thank you for having me, Olivia!


 





J. Grace Pennington is the author of the Firmament Series and Never, a western novel. She blogs over at www.jgracepennington.com, and you can find more of her writings on Facebook and Twitter.

Where you can find Grace and Firmament:
www.firmamentseries.com
www.facebook.com/jgracepenningtontheauthor
www.twitter.com/jgracetheauthor

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fence Jumpers: Part 6


Image courtesy of Pinterest


Skyler never thought he would get restless cooped up in the hideout. He assumed he would have been quite comfortable sitting inside, reading, drawing, exercising, or rough-housing with the other boys.

But he was fidgety by the end of day two. Skyler couldn't keep still while reading, and while exercising and playing with the boys helped burn off energy, it still wasn't enough. Wes and Jonah held out a little longer than he did, but soon all three were putting their heads together and trying to sneak out. However, Hannah and Grace were on to them and were around every corner. Kip was finally fed up and separated them, keeping them busy with minor tasks away from each other.

But during those few days while Skyler was cooped up and Cody was out tracking down Madison Carter, Skyler and Hannah settled into life with the Fence Jumpers. They were integrated into a few of the chores, and they made lots of friends. Hannah get along well with Claire and Grace, and Skyler enjoyed running about with Jonah.

Skyler also felt closer to his sister. While they had food, clothes, a warm bed, Hannah still looked out for him. He still felt safest with her, and she seemed more at ease when he was close by. It was hard sometimes at night when they had to part ways, though. Skyler knew he was being a baby, but after being with just Hannah for so long, it made him a little nervous being away from her.

Skyler had spent a week stuck inside, and he felt ready to burst. By then Wes' temper was easily set off, and Skyler learned to avoid him. Cody and his group had gone out once again. They were close to bringing the freelance reporter in. They had learned her usual haunts and would go out and loiter, hoping to catch her there and lure her with the usual Fence Jumper antics.

Kip wouldn't say anything about the device Skyler had snitched. Skyler suspected he was still upset over last week's fiasco, and Skyler tried not to worry about it.

"Hey."

Skyler looked up from his book as Hannah sat down beside him. She wore torn jeans and a black hoodie. Typical Jumper clothing. She had been out with a few Jumpers causing mischief to keep up appearances.

"Hey." Skyler forced a smile, but he couldn't ignore the stab of jealousy. "How'd it go?"

"A little boring." Hannah shrugged. "I tried convincing Kip to let you go-"

"I think he's still mad at me," Skyler said. "Wes is. I tried apologizing and I thought it was alright after, but sometimes they still seem upset..."

"Don't beat yourself up about it." Hannah leaned into him and bumped him with her shoulder. "They're not mad. Kip just wants to make sure it's safe for you guys to go out. Wes is just annoying because he's Wes."

"He's never annoying to you."

"What? Yes he is-"

"Come on, Hannah." Skyler looked at her, his temper finally breaking. "He's flirting with you nearly every night. Don't tell me you haven't noticed. He's being such a flirt it's almost gross."

"As a matter of fact, I have noticed." Hannah frowned. "I've tried letting him down easy, but he keeps coming back, if you must know. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find someone who won't bite my head off about things I can't easily control."

With that, Hannah got up and walked away. Skyler grimaced. Why had he snapped at her? She hadn't done anything.

Skyler got up to go after her, but two figures came running into the main cavern. Skyler recognized Claire, and the boy with her he thought was named Dimitri.

"Claire?" Skyler frowned. They both looked worried. Dimitri was leaning against Claire for support. Skyler ran to help her and called for Kip. The older man came running.

"What happened? Why did you two leave your posts?" Kip asked as Claire and Skyler helped Dimitri sit down by a fire. They had watch duty, but what had happened?

"I'm not entirely sure," Claire said, looking frantic. "We were eating lunch, and... I blacked out. Dimitri did too, but he seems to have got it worse."

"Blacked out?" Kip frowned and looked at Dimitri, who stared with blank eyes. Skyler watched Dimitri. He looked sick. Claire seemed alright, just panicked. Maybe the panic abd adrenaline had helped wash away whatever had happened.

"I don't know!" Claire said. Skyler noticed everyone looking at them. Sound traveled really well in the cavern, and since Claire was talking loudly, everyone could hear her. "We just... I felt drowsy, and the next thing I remember is waking up on the catwalk where we were keeping watch. Dimitri was just coming to. I didn't want to leave him to get help, in case he rolled off the walk or something-"

"Hey." Kip turned to her and gripped her arms. She was in tears. "Everything's gonna be alright, I promise. You two must've been drugged."

"But how?" Claire asked. "Nobody came in. We would've seen."

"Who had kitchen duty?" Kip asked, straightening and raising his voice to spread through the room. "Who took lunch to the ones on watch duty?"

Everything was dead silent. But then a boy about seventeen stepped up. Skyler watched as his shaking hands clenched his jacket. He lifted his gaze to meet Kip's.

"In my room, George," Kip said, his tone flat. "Alastair, Hariett, you two have watch duty now. Make a sweep of the area just in case someone came in."

Skyler watched as George let Kip lead him away. The teens on watch duty hurriedly wolfed down the rest of their meal before scampering down the tunnel.

Skyler watched as Claire and another boy tried to help Dimitri come to his senses. The other kids started talking amongst themselves, but the feeling of worry rippled across the cavern. There was a traitor in the camp. Maybe more than one.

But why? It didn't make any sense. George was nice guy. Skyler had met him the night they sat down to watch a movie. He was quiet, but friendly and had made Skyler feel more at home.

Skyler turned to look for Hannah. Whatever was going on, he didn't want to experience it while his sister was mad at him.

Hannah came running up to him just as he turned. She hugged him. Skyler froze, startled, but returned the hug.

"Sorry for snapping at you," he murmured.

"It's okay," Hannah replied. "I should've held my tongue and temper. I knew you were getting restless. But after what just happened..."

"I don't know if anybody's going out." Skyler smiled at her. "But I think we could use some good news soon."

"The day's only half over," Hannah shrugged. "Who knows?"

Cody appeared in the cavern, yelling for Kip. Skyler turned to see him and another older boy - Davis - with a captive between them, blindfolded and gagged. Two other Jumpers followed behind.

Kip came running with George right behind. George stopped beside Skyler, who looked up at him questioningly.

"I'll live," George said quietly. "I didn't do it, you know." He nodded to the arriving group. "Who is that with Cody?"

"The reporter who took our picture," Skyler replied.

Cody and Davis were taking the reporter down the tunnel that led to Kip's room. Skyler tensed when Kip beckoned to him. Hannah nudged him.

"You want me to come?" She asked him.

"I'll be okay." Skyler shook his head. "She's already seen me, and that's risky enough..."

"I'll be out here." Hannah gave him a one-armed hug. Skyler jogged after Kip.

The reporter was now seated on a swivel chair that had lost the ability to swivel. Her arms were tied to the chair arms. Wes, Cody, Davis, and Jonah were in the room, and Kip stood before the reporter.

Kip looked up as Skyler entered, then pulled off the blindfold and gag. The lady sputtered and snarled angrily.

"Who do you think you are?!" She yelled. "What do you want with me?!"

"Calm down, Ms. Carter," Kip said. "We have a few questions."

"How do you know my name?" Madison narrowed her eyes. "Who are you people?"

"One of mine recognized you." Kip nodded to Wes, who smirked. Madison looked at him.

"I saw you last week," Madison said. She looked at Jonah. "And you. Where's the other one?" Madison caught sight of Skyler. "I remember you too. How old are you?"

"You're here to talk to me," Kip said, "not him. You were taking pictures of them. Why?"

"I'm a reporter." Madison shrugged. "I write articles on interesting subjects. I was asked to write about the Fence Jumpers. I don't know much about them, so I thought I'd hang around a place most likely to have them, and there they were. I took pictures as proof."

"Where's the camera?" Kip asked. Cody handed him a bag. Madison shifted, watching him.

"Don't destroy it," Madison pleaded. "It's really expensive."

"You will delete these pictures," Kip said, looking at the camera. "Every single one you took of them."

"Why should I?" Madison asked, leaning back and studying Kip. Skyler felt uneasy with her relaxed attitude. "What's in it for me?"

"We don't keep you here indefinitely," Kip replied smoothly. "Trust me, we have plenty of tunnels we can keep you in where you won't be a bother."

Madison stared at him. Kip looked steadily back.

"Why?" Madison asked. "What are you afraid of?"

"I don't want these kids' pictures out," Kip said. "You probably know enough about us to know they're basically fugitives. If they're pictures get out, wanted posters will be printed all over."

"Fugitives?" Madison laughed. She look at Skyler. "Him? He's, what, twelve?"

"Fourteen," Skyler snapped.

"Excuse me, fourteen." Madison rolled her eyes. "I've heard about you, yeah, but not enough to make an interesting article. You're vandals, you graffiti everything in sight and you trespass on private property. Boring."

"All the same," Kip said. "You can write enough without pictures. Delete them, and we let you go."

"Seriously?" Wes blurted. "They spent a week tracking her down--"

Kip looked at him warningly.

"Where do you come in with all of this?" Madison suddenly asked Kip. "I'm seeing five kids here, and one adult. So far the reports I've heard - which aren't many - are of people seeing kids."

Kip looked at her silently, considering the question.

"I take care of them," he said. "I make sure they have a place to come home to, to bring others like them to a place that's safe from the dangers outside."

"What dangers? Juvenile time or whatever for graffiti work?" Madison scoffed. "The horror!"

"Delete the pictures," Kip said, and untied her arms and handed her the camera.

"Come on," Madison said, leaning back and crossing one leg over the other. Her posture made her seem like the superior one in the group. "I want to know more. You people have always fascinated me, but there's never enough accurate information. Only speculation."

"Like we're telling you anything," Cody scoffed.

Madison looked at him, then at Kip.

"If these kids are fugitives from whatever danger there is besides juvie, what are you hiding from?" She asked him. "I mean, you look older than those three." Madison nodded to Cody, Wes, and Davis. "Why are you doing here, besides giving these kids a home?"

"I'm just like them." Kip shrugged. "I had a job, and I saw too much."

"Too much of what?" Madison asked. Kip's expression hardened.

"Are they deleted?" Kip asked.

"Yeah." Madison showed him. "But come on, tell me more!"

"No, you're leaving." Kip grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. Madison pulled back, sat back down, and crossed her arms.

"You tell me more about your... group," she said. She swatted Kip's hand away. "I'm not done! You tell me more, and I won't publish the pictures."

"You deleted them." Kip frowned.

"I did." Madison nodded. "But I always put them on my computer at home, too."

Silence pervaded the room. Kip grimaced. Cody looked frustrated. Skyler watched Madison. He felt angry and threatened, but he also admired her cleverness. That was why she had been so willing to delete them off the camera. She had them safely stored at home.

"I'll delete all the pictures I took of them yesterday off of my computer," Madison said. "If you tell me more. I'll even promise not to reveal any special secrets. I'll just use generic stuff and use accurate info to spin new theories or add to old ones. Just enough to satisfy my buyer."

Kip sighed, frowning and glaring at Madison, the reporter looked back coolly.

"Of course you could keep me here," Madison said. "And someone would come looking, and eventually my computer would be searched, and the pictures would be found. And if you let me go without letting me know more, the police will learn that I was kidnapped by Fence Jumpers, and I managed to escape and now I'm afraid that they might come to my house to catch me again. So my place would be guarded, and the pictures out of reach."

Skyler stared at her. How had she managed to come up with all of that so fast? How much of it was a bluff?

Kip looked upset, but he said nothing. Wes looked furious, and Cody had a hand on his arm. Davis and Jonah were watching Kip nervously. Madison looked pleased with herself, sitting in the swivel chair with arms and legs crossed like she owned the place.

"Fine," Kip said.

Everyone except Skyler started to protest loudly.

"Enough!" Kip shouted. "I don't like it either, but if we're going to make sure these pictures stay out of government hands--"

"Government?" Madison lifted an eyebrow. "Boy, you guys must be in huge trouble."

"You can't be serious, Kip!" Wes exclaimed. "We can't trust she'll hold up her end of the bargain!"

"We don't have a choice, Wesley!" Kip snapped. "I'm sorry, but we don't."

"Hey." Madison looked concerned. "I don't wanna cause trouble between everyone--"

"Well, you have. Congratulations." Wes glared murderously at her.

"--but I want to help." Madison glared back. "I wanna know what's going on. I'll hold up my end. I'll even let some of you come with me so you can watch me delete them."

As Skyler watched, the more he was siding with Madison. She didn't seem like the kind of person who would betray them. She had looked sympathetic, almost sad, when Kip had explained why he was with the Fence Jumpers.

"Kip?" Skyler risked speaking up. Kip looked at him.

"She should know," Skyler said. "If your theory is true, then shouldn't people know about it?"

Cody lifted an eyebrow and cocked a sideways smile. Kip studied Skyler, then nodded.

"All of you scoot," Kip said. "I need to have a talk with Ms. Carter. No, ma'am." Kip held up a hand to silence her. "You talk with me. Not the kids. They have enough on their plates without being interrogated by the one who has made them unsure of what would happen to them for a whole week."

"I understand." Madison nodded solemnly.

Kip nodded, looking grateful. He looked at the teens, and they filed out. Skyler looked back, and Madison smiled at him.

Skyler found Hannah and they retreated into the exercise room. The main cavern sparked with fear and panic. Skyler didn't want to feel scared anymore.

"What d'you think Kip will do?" Skyler asked, swinging his feet from where he sat on the monkey bars. Hannah sat next to him, her legs swinging in sync with his.

"I dunno." Hannah shrugged. "From what you've told me, it sounds like this Madison person is alright. She'll be fine."

"What will happen to us?" Skyler looked at her. "I don't want to move again."

"No one's moving anywhere," Hannah smiled at him. "If we were in that kind of danger Kip would have said so. If we do move, I promise you won't leave alone. I'll be right beside you."

Skyler smiled. Hannah wrapped her arm around his shoulders and hugged him.

"Kip will sort this out, don't worry," she murmured.

Skyler nodded. Then he and Hannah talked. Not about their future or current events in the hideout, but about each other. How they were doing, how they liked their new home and new friends. They asked about their friends, too, and joked and laughed about the mishaps they had. Skyler couldn't remember the last time he felt so at home and so safe.

Voices echoed down the tunnel and into the exercise room. Kip was speaking to the Fence Jumpers.

"C'mon," Hannah jumped down. "Let's go learn the verdict."

"--won't tell anyone about us," Kip was saying. "She's promised to not publish the photographs she took last week."

Kip looked around and watched the expressions of relief wash over the room. Skyler smiled at Hannah.

"In exchange," Kip said, "she has asked to be our friend."

Whispered broke out in pockets. Skyler frowned. A friend? That's it? No blackmail, no paying her off?

"I've told Miss Carter what we know, to an extent." Kip held up his hand for silence when a few Jumpers started to protest. "She wants to help. None of us are in any position to stay in town for too long without running the risk of suspicion or recognition. Madison, however, is under no such restriction. She has kindly offered to keep up with political events and write articles on politics, which will allow her to interview people of power and may give us more information.

"She has also kindly offered to bring supplies when we have need," Kip went on, smiling. "And, as thanks for letting her go and not stashing her in some unused tunnel, she has offered to bring back cake and doughnuts for tonight."

Silence killed the whispers. Everyone stared at Madison in shock, confusion, and something like excitement.

Cake. Skyler couldn't remember the last time he had had fresh cake. He and Hannah had never been able to afford it, and whenever they found containers of old cake at the back of bakeries, it was dry and nearly always moldy everywhere.

"Are there any questions?" Kip asked. "I want to make sure we're all on the same page, and we're all happy with this." Another smile quirked at his lips. "Although in my opinion, I think some of you were won over by the idea of cake."

A few Jumpers laughed. No one protested. Some looked a little nervous, but they said nothing.

"I promise," Madison assured them all, "your secret is safe with me. What you guys are trying to do... it's amazing, truly. I admire your guts, and I want to help you. Christopher tells me--"

A few kids laughed. Madison looked at Kip in confusion. Kip was trying not to smile.

"I'm called Kip around here," he said.

"Oh." Madison flushed. "Sorry. Kip tells me you guys need some supplies. I can do some shopping tomorrow and bring it all here. Things like aspirin, Ni-Quil, kitchen utensils, and fresh veggies will in your hands by tomorrow night. Let me know if there's anything in particular you guys need and I can make a list."

This set nearly everyone off. Kids were smiling; some of the girls were in tears.

"Aw, hey." Madison smiled sadly. "You guys don't need to worry. One adult has kept you alive this long. Imagine what two adults can do?"

Laughter pervaded the cavern, followed by cheering and applause.

"Alright, enough chatting," Kip said above the noise. "We can celebrate our new savior later tonight. Cody, Wes, you two will escort Madison away from here, and then tonight you two will meet her by the park and bring her back." He looked at Madison. "I hope you won't take offense at our caution for a day or two?"

"Not at all," Madison grinned. "I'd think you were stupid if you didn't time precautions."

That night, Skyler had the best strawberry-filled doughnut of his life. He savored the tart filling and the sweet glaze on top while Hannah had the confetti-cake of her dreams. There were so many flavors of cake and doughnuts Skyler hadn't known which to try first. It had taken Cody and Wes at least three trips from Madison's green car to the hideout. She had even brought four one-gallon jugs of chocolate milk and three one-gallon jugs of lemonade. The Fence Jumpers were wild with delight and were immediately won over. Even Kip was happy at the sight of the unexpected beverages.

Madison's peace offering was a huge hit, and everyone feasted on unhealthy cake and doughnuts and lemonade and chocolate milk. Hannah didn't even give Skyler a limit on how much he could have.

That night, Kip took Madison to her car, and the Jumpers cleaned up and crashed into bed. Skyler almost didn't make it into his bunk. He was unconscious before he could remember he hadn't changed into his PJs.