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.
"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?" 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 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.
"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.