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Skyler had almost fallen asleep when Kip returned. Ethan stood, and Skyler had to catch himself before he fell over. They had taken shelter in the shadows of an alley, feeling too exposed in the street. The Nabbers hadn't returned yet, but they took turns keeping watch.
Kip's footsteps had roused the Jumpers. Aggie had been keeping watch, and she crept forward cautiously to affirm Kip's identity. Skyler pushed himself to his feet, grabbing his knife.
Skyler was surprised to see most of the other Jumpers with Kip. All but the very youngest were absent. Some looked a little sleepy, but others were alert and serious. Skyler was relieved Skipper was still at Madison's.
"Let's go," Kip whispered. "I want all of you to be very, very careful. Don't do anything stupid, and use your head." Kip looked pointedly at Cody.
"Do we even have a plan?" One girl asked, hugging her jacket around her.
"Cody does," Kip nodded. "He'll fill us in when we get there. Tonight's a Nabber sweep, so we need to keep our minds clear and focused on what we're doing now."
After consulting the map, the Jumpers split up into three groups. They took separate routes and would meet back up at the rendezvous, hoping no one was caught.
Skyler stayed with his original group, and they went the most direct route to the prison. They saw a Nabber van, and heard the Nabbers themselves in an alley. Cody, with a look of rage, started forward.
"Hold up." Ethan stopped him. "Cody, we don't have time."
Cody glared at him, but gave in. Skyler watch him nervously. He had never seen Cody that angry before. Cody's temper was more easily snapped.
Did losing people you loved do this to a person? Skyler wasn't sure, but he felt the sparks of anger inside him, too. Those Nabbers might have been at the hideout. One of them might have been the one who shot Hannah.
"Skyler." Aggie grabbed his arm. "C'mon, we have to keep moving."
Skyler hesitated, but he let Aggie pull him along. They reached the Ravenstone building a few agonizing minutes later. Even the slightest noise sounded ten times louder. Skyler's body felt too tense. He felt too jumpy and not at all calm and collected like he should.
He began having second thoughts when he peeked around the corner to look at the building. It was a three story brick building surrounded by fencing. Lights were on in the top floor, and only dim lighting on the lower ones.
Nabbers stood guard everywhere, assault rifles in hand and pistols holstered by their sides. Floodlights illuminated the ground like the sun would. If he squinted enough, Skyler thought he could see Nabbers on the roof.
Their already hard mission just came really close to impossible.
"Plan?" Aggie asked as Allison disappeared into the shadows to scout the area.
"We go in," Cody said. Skyler jolted in alarm. That was the big plan?! Go in guns blazing, but without the guns?
"Cody, you're crazy!" Ethan said. "No, you're an idiot. That's only going to get everyone killed. You need to step back and calm down, man. You're too worked up--"
"Why shouldn't I be?!" Cody whispered harshly. "These people just took the only family we have--"
"Alright, shut up." Ethan yanked him back and pushed him against the wall. "Just shut up and don't move. I came because I thought you'd have a sensible plan, not a suicide mission."
Cody glared murderously at him, but he didn't move.
"What do we do?" Skyler asked.
"We wait for the others, then we decide," Ethan said. "Since we're here we may as well try, I guess."
Skyler looked at Cody. The young man looked angry, but he also just looked worried. He just wanted to make sure everyone was okay and safe.
"What if we drew them out to us?" Skyler asked. "As soon as one of them leaves the inside of the fence, we come running."
"That's crazier than Cody's plan." Ethan shook his head. "This whole thing is crazy. We should have stayed at Madison's."
"Well we're here now," Skyler said. "You said yourself--"
"Yes I know what I said." Ethan waved him off. "I'm just getting the feeling this isn't going to end well..."
Allison came jogging back from her scouting expedition. Ethan looked at her.
"Tell me you have good news."
"I do, actually." Allison nodded. "There's a hole in the fencing by the far right corner. There's no stand-still security, only pacing, so we can slip in while their backs are turned."
"Awesome." Ethan nodded. "We'll wait for Kip and--"
A Nabber shouted an alarm. Skyler and the others shrank back into the shadows. Skyler saw a small form run down the road, in clear view of the Nabbers, setting off more shouts of alarm.
"Skipper!" Skyler started forward, but Ethan grabbed him. "Let go! That was Skipper!"
Skyler twisted free and bolted after Skipper. Nabbers were shouting orders and some were drawing their pistols.
"This way!" Skyler heard Cody shout. He stopped and turned, but he saw Aggie and Cody dart off the opposite direction, drawing the Nabbers' attention. Skyler turned and kept running.
He found Skipper at the hole Allison mentioned, pushing a backpack through.
"Skipper!" Skyler hissed, watching the guards. Their backs were turned, but who knew for how long?
"Skipper get back here!" Skyler pleaded.
Skipper looked at him. "Beth's in there!"
"I know," Skyler said. "I know she is, but we have to be careful, Skip. Get over here so we can keep watch for a minute."
"The Nabbers out front--"
"Cody and the others are taking care of them," Skyler assured her. "Grab your backpack and come over here, okay?"
Skipper obeyed. She pressed against Skyler, her face turned toward him. Skyler hugged her briefly.
"We'll be okay," Skyler said. He watched the Nabbers pace, seemingly unaffected by the commotion by the front door. He suddenly felt alone. It was always someone older, like Cody or Ethan, who called the shots during something like this, not him. He didn't know how to lead an infiltration mission with a ten-year-old girl. He was only fourteen!
But he knew Hannah would want him to try. She'd want him to be the leader when they needed one. And right now, they did.
"Alright," Skyler whispered. "As soon as that guard turns his back, I'm going to slip in. You watch me as best you can so you know where to go. Wait for the guard to come back, and then when he turns again, you run to me. You have to be very quiet, and leave the backpack."
"Okay," Skipper nodded.
Skyler watched the Nabber turn, and he ran for the hole. He flinched as the fencing shook and rattled softly, but he slipped through and ran for the nearest shadow. He turned and waited, hoping Skipper would make it.
She waited, just like Skyler told her to. Skyler watched as the Nabber turned his back on the fence, and he held his breath.
Skipper didn't show up. Skyler didn't see the fence move, or hear it. He bit his lip and scanned the area. He didn't see his friend.
Someone tapped Skyler's arm. The boy jerked and twisted around to find Skipper standing behind him, with her silly backpack. He stared at her, eyes wide in shock and disbelief. He almost started whispering before he caught himself. It wasn't safe to whisper anymore.
More shouting came from the front, and the Nabber guarding the back corner turned toward the sound with concern. Skyler heard the crackle of a walkie-talkie and the guard ran to the front.
"Go," Skyler whispered. He would scold Skipper later for not waiting.
The pair of them crept along the wall until they found a back door. It was unlocked, so Skyler and Skipper hurried quietly inside.
The room was dim, but Skyler could tell the ceiling was a lot higher than it should be. It was like the second floor had been knocked out, giving the first floor more height.
The room looked old and disgusting. Skyler felt Skipper take his hand, and he squeezed hers comfortingly.
The door opened behind them. Skyler whipped around, holding out his knife.
Kip raised his hands. "Only me."
Skyler relaxed, relief washing over him. Cody slipped in behind Kip.
"No guards in here," Cody whispered.
"They're probably confident no one can get in," Kip replied. "Still, be very careful."
The voice was so quiet Skyler almost didn't hear it. He turned to face the room, frowning. As his eyes adjusted, he saw rows of what looked like prison cells. The floor had been stripped to bare cement, with the cells installed along the walls.
"Who's there?" another voice asked. Others joined in. Skyler nearly choked on a happy sob when he recognized many of them.
"Hush!" Kip chided. "We have to work fast. There's no telling how long the others can keep the Nabbers distracted. And there's no telling if there are guards in here."
"The guards went upstairs," a voice offered. "They always do really late at night. They play their music too loud."
"Is that really you, Kip?" a terrified voice asked.
"Yeah, it's me." Kip smiled. "I'm gonna get all of you out of here, don't worry."
"Beth?" Skipper called out softly.
"Sam?!" a new voice joined the rest. "My word, what're you doing here?!"
"I wanted to help."
"We can ask questions later," Kip said. "I need someone to sneak upstairs and keep watch."
"I'll go," Skyler volunteered. "I can distract them if they come out."
What part of him was this coming from? Did the need for revenge open up some vein of courage in him? Skyler felt a little wary of this new feeling, but at the same time it felt nice. He felt more in control of his situation.
Kip watched him as if he were wondering the same, and then nodded.
"Be careful up there," he warned. Skyler nodded and headed up the stairs.
Kip flicked on a flashlight as he, Cody, and Skipper moved down the rows of prison cells. He felt a surge of anger when he realized they weren't cells: they were cages. Metal cages with mesh doors, like an animal hutch.
Kip swallowed his fury as he pulled out his lock pick set and handed one to Cody. He would have preferred to find the keys, but he guessed they would be with the guards. They were already risking a lot without trying to pilfer keys off of someone.
In total, there were six rows of cages, and unfortunately nearly all of them were filled. There were about two to three Jumpers to a cage. It would have been cozy for only one, but there was no room to move about with three. It made Kip even angrier, seeing his kids shoved into cages like chickens for slaughter.
Kip started on the lowest row on the right. He smiled comfortingly at the Jumpers inside and worked quickly while Cody started on the left rows. Skipper ran to and from different cages, making sure Jumpers were okay before settling down by the cage with her sister. Kip felt a lump rise in his throat when he heard that Claire and Grace had been taken away at least a day ago, and hadn't come back.
With each unlocked cage, Kip had the Jumpers stay in the cages until it was time to leave. There wasn't much room, and so many Jumpers standing in the aisle of cages would make things harder. It was hard enough asking them to stay put for a little longer, but he promised they'd be out soon.
Kip arrived a third of the way down the second level of cages when his flashlight illuminated a face that shocked him. He started in surprise and almost dropped his light.
"Hi Kip." Wes smirked and shook his messy black hair from his face. "Did you miss me?"