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Madison May Carter assumed her day would be a typical one. Her day would involve writing articles and finding newspapers or magazines who would buy them. It had been hard when she was first starting out, but her style and the color she used in her prose was snapped up by the papers and eagerly read by those who paid for them.
But today would not be a typical day.
"Carter!" Flanagan Watson stood up as Madison entered the Hallway Gossip editor's office.
"Hi, Mr. Watson." Madison smiled cheerfully.
"Please, call me Flynn." Flanagan smiled back. "Take a seat."
"I'm afraid my next article is already called for, sir," Madison began, sitting down. "If that's what you asked me here for."
"No, no." Flynn shook his head. "I called to see if I can buy an article for my paper with a specific topic in mind."
"What'd you have in mind?" The twenty-six-year-old freelance reporter grinned, crossing one leg over the other.
"Fence Jumpers," Flynn said, leaning forward. "You've seen their graffiti everywhere. The news stations won't - or can't - cover it, so I intend to be the first."
"How will I find the information for the article?" Madison asked. "I mean, they aren't exactly open people."
"Hand around big government buildings." Flynn shrugged. "It usually happens at night. Some of us newspapers have even been hit. There's triple the pay in it for you. Take all the time you need."
Madison considered the offer. She smiled, stood, and stuck out her hand.
"I'd best get started," she said. Flynn stood and shook her hand. Madison turned and left the office. She stopped and chatted with an intern while she filled a paper cup with coffee before she headed back outside into the busy streets of Cincinnati.
Fence Jumpers. They had fascinated Madison for a long time, but since she had so little information, and no one else seemed interested, she didn't think it was a topic worth writing about. But here she was, being paid triple the amount she was usually paid for her writing for the very topic that seemed to elude everyone.
Of course, she had to find a Jumper. Or at least observe some. But where could she start? There were lots of government buildings in the city.
But not all of them are accessible to the public. Madison hailed a taxi. There were some buildings that were totally off limits. They were far from the main city population. And they were surrounded by fences.
Madison got out of the taxi a couple blocks from the government building. She slung her bag over her hand and headed to the building. She acted like a photographer, snapping shots of architecture. Under this guise she made her way to a large, rectangular building hemmed in by chain link fencing. Madison snapped a few subtle shots.
This building had always intrigued her. She knew what most of the other government buildings dealt with, but this one was a mystery. It was guarded like an army base, but Madison saw no soldiers, only government workers in finely-pressed attire.
If Fence Jumpers were going to vandalize any place, it might very well be this one. It was gutsy, but Madison guessed they liked the thrill. She settled in a position across the street and waited.
Skyler didn't know when he had had so much fun doing something dangerous before now. Of course he wasn't doing it alone. Cody and Wes were there as "supervisors" while they shepherded the small group of Fence Jumpers around the city. Hannah had decided not to go, but threatened Cody and Wes with a painful death if anything happened to Skyler.
But their little run had been uneventful. The kids were all around Skyler's age, with eighteen-year-old Cody and seventeen-year-old Wes keeping them in line. Their group had a fairly even number of guys and girls, and Skyler made a few friends.
One in particular was named Jonah. He was Skyler's age, and they connected quickly. Jonah had black hair and dark skin, but he was funny and friendly and got Skyler to come out of his shell. He had been with the Jumpers since he was ten. His older brother Devon had brought him to the Jumpers. Devon had been caught by the Nabbers and was never heard from again.
Jonah helped Skyler scramble over the fences. Skyler was easily the worst Jumper, but he was assured that was only because he was new. He would be a pro in no time.
But with every failure Skyler was more and more wary about jumping. His side had gained an impressive bruise from yesterday at the park, and he wasn't eager to do it again.
They had toured the garage that had been masterfully graffitied. There were a few low walls that were easy to jump over, and Cody and Wes let the younger kids loose to burn off energy after being cooped up in the hideout. After that they visited a few places that were usually hit by the older Jumpers. They didn't get close, though. They even saw a few Jumpers at work, vaulting over a fence and disappearing down alleys by a construction sight.
Then Skyler and his new friends were given a can of spray paint each and were set before a wall of a small supermarket. It was out of sight of the road, so they weren't seen as they created wall art. Skyler found it rather calming as he contributed to the overall piece. Cody and Wes looked on, pleased with their "little minions," as Skyler and the others had been so fondly dubbed.
After the paint was used up they collected them in a duffel bag and headed off. Wes flung the bag into a dumpster behind a restaurant.
The last place on the tour was a large, fenced in government building. Cody and Wes got more serious. They made sure everyone knew who to stick with in case they had to split up. Skyler made sure he had Jonah in his sights.
"What's this place?" Jonah asked as they stood a little ways from the building.
"I don't know." Cody shrugged. "Another government building, but we don't know what for. It's heavily guarded, so we haven't tried to get in yet."
"The fences are tempting, though, yeah?" Wes grinned. Jonah smiled and nodded. Skyler couldn't help a smile. The idea excited him.
"Bet you I can make it over and back without being caught," Wes said, looking at Cody.
"No," Cody's tone was firm. "Kip said-"
"Kip isn't here," Wes scoffed. "It's not like I'd be wandering. I won't even leave the fence. I'll go over, drop, and come back."
Cody considered this.
"Bet you I can make it over." The words were out before Skyler could stop them. Wes laughed.
"Absolutely not," Cody said. "Wes shouldn't even be doing it."
"I'll keep watch," Wes offered. "Skyler can go in, and come back out. We don't tell anyone because both Kip and Hannah would kill us all."
"I can help!" Jonah volunteered. "I can give Skyler a boost over."
More kids volunteered. Cody silenced them all immediately.
"Everyone else is staying here!" Cody said. "Wes, so help me if something happens to these two-"
"It won't." Wes grinned. "Be back in a few seconds."
"Go around to the side near the front," Cody told him. "There's too much security back here right now. I'll take the others to the thrift store and pick out a movie for tonight."
Wes gave a salute and jogged off. Skyler followed, his spine tingled with nervous energy. Why wasn't he backing out? No one would blame him. Cody wouldn't, Jonah wouldn't. Wes might tease him, but Skyler guessed he wouldn't blame him either.
But he didn't back out. He kept following Wes and Jonah. He tugged nervously on his fingerless gloves as they arrived a couple blocks away from the building and jogged back to it. Skyler took in their surroundings, like Cody had taught him. The security was lessened here by a busier road than it was behind, but there weren't many people around. Skyler only saw a photographer across the street, but she was busy snapping shots of an apartment building and didn't seem to notice Skyler and his friends.
Wes led the boys right up to the fence when the coast was clear. Jonah hurried over and got into position. Skyler swallowed his fear and let Jonah boost him over the fence. He used his uninjured hand as he swung his legs over and dropped. He kept still, hidden behind a collection of crates.
"I don't think I can take much more of this," a loud voice said just behind the crates. Skyler froze. Jonah, crouched of the other side, stared at him with wide eyes. Wes was motioning for them to stay low and stay quiet as he retreated into the shadows of a building across the narrow street.
"More of what?" A second voice asked.
"The screaming," the first voice answered. "I hate night duty. I have to stand inside and listen to it."
"So? It's over in a few seconds. You don't have watch duty anymore anyway," the second voice comforted. "So, see you tomorrow then?"
"Don't forget your files." The second voice sounded farther away now. "Don't leave 'em lying about, Mr. Executive. Speaking of which, congrats."
"Go away," the first voice laughed.
Skyler looked at Wes for help. Wes shook his head and put a finger to his lips. Skyler kept still, fear paralyzing him. A few seconds later he heard footsteps walking away from the crates. Skyler watched Wes, who beckoned to him.
Skyler rose into a low crouch and glanced behind him. No one was looking his way.
Then he saw a small, rectangular device on a crate. It was dark blue. The screen was black. A green light turned red and flashed once.
"Come on!" Jonah hissed. "Leave it!"
"What if it has something we can use?" Skyler asked. "I mean, the guy said something about an executive."
"All the more reason to leave it!" Jonah said. Skyler bit his lip, then turned, snatched the device and tossed it over the fence. Jonah caught it. Wes was scowling at them and motioning frantically.
"Go," Skyler whispered. "I'll catch up."
Jonah dashed to Wes as Skyler hauled himself over the fence. He dropped to the other side and rushed across the one-way street.
He froze halfway across when he saw the photographer snapping a picture of him.
"Come on, idiot!" Wes grabbed his arm and yanked him down the alley. They twisted through alleys until they came to the main street a ways from the government building. Skyler glanced down the street and saw the photographer.
"Wes," Skyler said. "Someone's watching us."
"I know, stupid!" Wes said angrily. "I saw her watching you when Jonah helped you over. She was subtle about it, but she took pictures of you."
"Wh-what do we do?" Jonah looked really scared. Skyler leaned against the wall.
"We get out of here," Wes said, glancing at the photographer. "We're meeting up with Cody and the rest. She saw our faces, we have to go right now."
"I'm sorry, Wes." Skyler looked up at the older boy.
"Shut up and go," Wes growled, pushing Skyler ahead of him. "You're an idiot, you know that? What were you thinking, grabbing that thing?"
"I just wanted to help-"
"Well, you didn't!" Wes snapped. "You were only supposed to go over and come back."
"He couldn't have." Jonah jumped to Skyler's defense. "Those guards were there."
"Yeah, and it's lucky they didn't see or hear you go over," Wes snarled.
Skyler was sullen when they joined back up with Cody and the others. Wes reported their delay, and Cody, as Skyler expected, was furious. Skyler took the scolding silently, fighting back tears. He hadn't wanted to make Cody angry. He hadn't wanted to make anyone angry.
There was no keeping the story from Kip or Hannah now. Both were angry, and Skyler bore it as silently as he had with Cody.
"You'll all have to lie low for a few days," Kip said. "Wes, did you recognize her? I know you've had some interaction with photographers."
"I did." Wes nodded. "But she's not a photographer. She's a reporter. Madison Carter."
"A reporter?!" Claire burst out. "You think she'll write about this?"
"I don't know," Kip replied. "If she does, she has pictures. We can't let her use them. We need that camera."
"We'd probably have better luck grabbing the whole person," Wes grumbled. "She's not gonna leave it lying around, and there's no way we can sneak into an apartment."
Kip was silent. Hannah, Grace, and Claire all protested.
"We don't have much choice!" Kip shouted over them. "We need to make sure she won't say anything. Cody, grab a few Jumpers and track down Ms. Carter tomorrow. Tonight we'll relax with a good movie."
"I'm sorry, Kip," Skyler said quietly when Cody and the others left. Hannah remained by Skyler's side. Kip crouched down in front of Skyler and looked up at him.
"Next time," he said, "listen to the leader. If he or she tells you it's time to get out of there, you get out. You could have been seen. I don't want to lose you. No matter how new you are, you're one of us. That means you have to listen when your elders tell you to do something. We work as a team, and we have each other's backs."
Skyler nodded. Kip smiled, stood, and pulled Skyler into a hug. He pulled Hannah in, too.
"I know it was scary," Kip murmured. "But Wes wouldn't have let anything happen to you. He may seem rough, but he's loyal." Kip pulled back and smiled at them. "Now run along while I figure out the treasure you brought home."
Skyler nodded and smiled. He followed Hannah out of Kip's room (which had been where Skyler had slept the first night) and back into the main cavern.
"You alright?" Hannah asked him.
"Yeah." Skyler nodded. "I... I need to go apologize to some people."
Hannah nodded and they parted ways. Skyler jogged over to Wes, who was sitting sulkily by a fire.