Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fence Jumpers: Part 10

 Image courtesy of Pinterest.

The old part of the city was crawling with Nabbers, and that made it difficult for Skyler and the others to escape. Jumpers would scout ahead and nearly always they would have to redirect their course. Several of the younger Jumpers were crying, and the older ones were checking their tears to comfort them and trying to keep them quiet.

Skyler refused any comfort. Comfort wouldn't bring Hannah back. His heart felt like it was being ripped out of him and squeezed. Fear and grief made him feel overwhelmed. The adrenaline was gone, and he felt exhausted. So many emotions at once left him drained and unsure of what to do next or what to feel at all.

"Kip," Cody whispered. "We have to stop for the night. Everyone's tired and we need to figure out what to do."

Kip answered, but Skyler didn't know how much longer they walked and snuck around. They didn't run into any Nabbers as the sky darkened. They arrived in the busier parts of the city. It was quiet, but Nabbers wouldn't think to look for them there.

After another head count Kip led them to a park across from a tall apartment building. The park was empty, and the Jumpers huddled in the shadows, tired and scared. Kip entered the building.

Skyler felt Jonah's hand on his shoulder. Skyler shrugged him off, hugging his knees to his chest. He didn't want to believe what had just happened. It couldn't have been real. He would wake up from this nightmare. It would be a normal day, and Hannah would be alright.

She had to be alright.

She had to be.

"Skyler?" Cody sank down on the grass. "Talk me, Skyler."

Skyler only stared at the ground, barely registering Cody's words. Hannah had to be alright. She was okay. Maybe she was just hurt. She was okay, just a little bit hurt.

Skyler grimaced at the image of her motionless body. The way she fell to the ground without a sound, not even a cry of pain. Like she had once when she had been under the sun too long and passed out. But this time, a weapon was involved, not the sun.

His heart was squeezed tighter. Skyler shut his eyes and tried to block himself from the mental replays, but they kept coming. He felt someone wrap their arms around him, and he tried to pull away, but whoever it was was stronger. Skyler let himself collapses into the embrace. He choked back a sob, but it didn't work. The tears started flowing.

"Shh," Cody murmured, hugging him tightly. "Shh, Skyler..."

As hard as Skyler tried to reject it, the reality sank in. Hannah was gone, and he was alone. She wasn't coming back.

"Skyler." Cody shook him. "Time to get up. Kip found us a place to crash."

Skyler let Cody pull him to his feet and lead him into the building. He didn't notice much of anything else. He did notice that Cody never left his side, just like when Skyler first came to the Jumpers. Cody had an arm around his shoulders protectively, guiding him along.

They took the stairs up to the top floor, where Madison Carter stood waiting for them. She was in her bathrobe and PJs, her hair in a messy bun. She looked more worried than tired, and she smiled a little when the Jumpers emerged from the stairwell.

"This way," she said quietly.

Skyler followed everyone into a large, spacious apartment. Floor-to-ceiling windows offered a wide view of the city below. Sofas were arranged to offer comfortable conversation with people, and enable a nice view.

Madison waved every inside before closing and locking her door.

"Alright, what happened?" She said. "Where's the rest of you?"

"I can explain," Kip said. "Right now, these kiddos are tired and scared."

Madison nodded. "I can get some hot chocolate whipped up for you all. No tears now, yeah?" She smiled at the remaining Jumpers. Nearly all of them had traces of tears. "Hot chocolate and a nice warm bed will help."

While Madison put a huge pot of hot chocolate on the stove Kip told her what had happened and Cody tried to arrange everyone in the family room. Madison helped lay out mattresses and lots of blankets, and pretty soon they had all of the Jumpers comfortably nestled.

"I think that's everyone," Cody said, pulling a blanket up further around a young girl.

Kip nodded. "We'll figure out what to do tomorrow."

"Claire was taken," Cody said quietly. "She had been on guard duty when they came..."

"And we will find her" Kip gripped Cody's shoulder. "We will find every one of them."

Cody nodded. He looked around the Jumpers and spotted one sitting by a window.

"Why would they shoot her?" Cody asked. "Hannah, I mean? They've never shot people..."

"I don't know." Kip shook his head. "They shot Wes, too."

"What?!" Cody looked horrified, then distressed. "Wes... Skyler saw it all happen, didn't he?"

"He nearly gave himself away." Kip nodded. He looked thoughtful. "They seem to have new weapons than what we've seen during Nabber sweeps. The gun was fairly silent, but didn't have a silencer. I'm afraid to wonder what else they might have."

"I should go talk to him," Cody said. 

Skyler looked up as Cody approached him, then turned back around. Cody eased himself down beside Skyler.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Cody said. "It looks so far away from up here."

Skyler didn't answer. His hot chocolate, only a third of it drunk, had gone cold.

"Skyler," Cody said, "Come on, buddy, you need to sleep."

"Sleep won't bring back Hannah," Skyler said, his voice shaky.

"I know. Heavens knows I know, but Hannah wouldn't want you to exhaust yourself." Cody looked at him. "She would want you to be brave."

"I can't." Skyler choked on the words. "I've tried, but I can't. She promised... she promised she would be here. Always. We always said, if we struggled to survive when we ran away, we would always say it's better than losing each other." Skyler choked on a sob. "But now I have lost her. And everything seems tons better than losing her."

"I know." Cody nodded. "I lost my older brother to the Nabbers, too. I thought the whole world would end. My brother was my lifeline. He was the one who made everything better, who made all the shadows and danger run away. When he was gone, I felt so alone and lost, like a boat cut away from the dock.

"But then I remembered." Cody smiled. "I remembered I had my friends. They were there and willing to comfort me and take care of me just like Rory did. Kip was always there to talk to, and I felt better. I still missed him, but it was easier to bear the emptiness inside when I had others to help me."

Cody nudged Skyler with his elbow. "Same goes for you, Skyler. You've got friends who are ready to help you. We've all lost someone, either today or in the past. We need to help each other. Because then maybe we can start to help the ones we've lost today."

"You think we can?" Skyler looked up at him, tears running down his cheeks.

"Nobody said we can't." Cody grinned. "But first we need to get some rest, and that includes you."

Skyler hesitated, then nodded. Cody stood and offered his hand to Skyler, who took it and let Cody pull him to his feet.

"It'll be okay," Cody said. "I'm here, Kip's here, and everyone else. We're not going--"

"Don't make that promise," Skyler said. "I don't want that promise and then you go, too."

Cody nodded. "Makes sense. Now go to bed. There's some space on the floor."

Skyler slid under the blankets next to Jonah, who looked at him sleepily.

"You gonna be okay, Skyler?"

"I don't know," Skyler whispered, curling up. "I hope so, but I don't know..."

****

Horatio burst into his office, his face red with fury.

"You let them escape!" He roared, making the Nabbers who stood in the office flinch. "I told you to catch them all, and more than five escape!"

"There was an exit unaccounted for, sir," a Nabber replied. "Our source was not aware of that exit."

"Where is she?!" Horatio snapped. "Where are they all?!"

"Being held in the Ravenstone facility."

"Bring her here now," Horatio spluttered. "And bring me one of the Jumpers. I don't care which one."

The Nabbers made their exit quickly. Horatio leaned against his desk, then swept his arm through a pile of paperwork and yelled in a rage.

Alexis hurried into the room.

"Can I get you anything, sir?" She asked. Horatio looked at her. Alexis Cadden was one of the few people who never flinched at his anger. She held her own when facing it, and acted as if he wasn't like that raging green mutant from the old comics. That was one of the reasons Horatio kept her around. Her quiet calmness fascinated him, and somehow kept him rooted.

"No, Miss Cadden," Horatio said, forcing himself to calm down. It wouldn't do to be angry. "Reschedule my meetings today. I won't be seeing anyone unless they are specifically asked for. Have Dr. Riley come see me in my office, as well."

"Yes sir."

****

Even though Skyler's nose was buried in his pillow, the smell of pancakes and bacon roused him. He blinked awake and yawned, turning his head to look around him. Most of the Jumpers were awake and talking amongst themselves. Three of the girls were huddled in a thick comforter by the window admiring the view, and Jonah was playing cards with George.

"Look who's up." Kip smiled at him. "Sleep well?"

Skyler grunted noncommittally, plopping his head back on the pillow. Kip chuckled.

"Better get up and grab some food," he advised. "Madison makes amazing pancakes."

Skyler forced himself to get up. He swallowed back the pain when the memories of last night came back and staggered into the kitchen, running a hand through his brown hair.

"Morning, sweetie." Madison smiled at him. She wore a tomato-red apron over her PJs. A few Jumpers were sitting in bar stools by the island countertop, digging into pancakes and crunching bacon on fresh, uncracked plates. "Turkey bacon or piggy bacon?"

"What? Um... I dunno, whichever."

"Okay. What do you like on or in your pancakes?" She asked. "We have bananas, chocolate chips, blueberries, and cinnamon. If you're feeling adventurous we can do all of the above."

Skyler considered his options, then grinned. "Bacon in pancakes."

Madison lifted an eyebrow. "Alright, we can try that. I'll throw in a couple chocolate chip ones just in case your mad scientist recipe fails."

"It won't," Skyler replied. "My mom used to make them."

"Did she?" Madison grinned. "I'll have to get the recipe. How did you sleep?"

"Alright." Skyler shrugged. "You have a nice place."

"Thank you. I rather like it, myself." Madison flipped a pancake. "How are you doing? I'm so sorry about Hannah."

"I'm okay." Skyler shrugged again. "I don't know... I miss her."

"I do too," Winnie, the girl nearest Skyler, spoke up. "Your sister was nice."

Skyler nodded.

Once he had his pancakes delivered to him - fully loaded with syrup, powdered sugar, and whipped cream - he curled up on the corner of a couch. He picked at his breakfast before Kip threatened to eat it for him if Skyler didn't eat it.

"Kip." Jonah looked up from his cards. "Won't the Nabbers come here? If they know Madison was helping us before, wouldn't they look for us here?"

"Maybe." Kip nodded. "But they wouldn't expect us to head right into the city."

"What if the rat told them?" Cody asked. "One of us had to have told the Nabbers about this place, and where to find the emergency exit. He or she would guess we would come here."

"We'll work on that when it comes," Kip assured him. "We probably won't stay here very long."

"You can stay as long as you need," Madison said, sitting next to Kip with a bowl of oatmeal and a blueberry pancake. "I don't have visitors, and I'll be home all day writing, so you guys won't be alone if anyone comes calling. I can hide you all easily enough."

"We're not putting you in danger--"

"You brought yourself and at least ten fugitives to my apartment," Madison said, poking him. "You've already put me in danger. I volunteered for danger when I volunteered to help you guys."

"How will we rescue the others?" Skyler asked. "We can't leave them there."

"I know." Kip nodded. "And we won't. We will do all we can to rescue everyone. We're going to need to find out where they are, and what it's like there."

"That'll be easy," Madison said, reaching for her tablet. "Give it a few hours and people will find out something happened. I'll bet Mayor Vernalti will assure the city the Fence Jumpers have been dealt with. He might let slip where they are. And then comes news specials, if they can."

"You think we can really save them?" One of the youngest Jumper girls asked, coming up to Kip. She was even younger than Skyler, about ten-years-old. Skyler knew her as Skipper, but her real name was Samantha. He knew she had a sister, Beth, who had been captured last night.

Kip smiled and pulled her close and onto his lap. "If we're careful. It will be very dangerous, but we will do our best to find them."

Kip looked at all of the Jumpers, who had gathered around, seeking comfort and security from being close to friends.

"I promised I would take care of all of you," Kip said. "Anyone and everyone who came to us, I promised I would take care of them like they were my own kid or sibling. I love you all very much, and I'm not leaving a single person behind."

Kip looked out over the anxious faces. "We can do this. We'll rescue our friends and family and  shut down this cyborg operation. We'll do it for Wes and Hannah, who, as far as we know, didn't make it."

Wes. Skyler had forgotten about him. He felt a stab of guilt now. He had suspected Wes of being untrustworthy, and Skyler had seen him protect Hannah. Wes had pushed Hannah out of harm's way.

"For Wes and Hannah," Skyler repeated, forcing his voice to stop shaking. Cody smiled at him. Skyler smiled back and looked at Kip.

"What do we do?"

***

I hope you're all enjoying Fence Jumpers! :) Just wanted to say, feel free to offer constructive criticism. I love writing this and I love, love that those I've heard from are enjoying it, and I want to make sure it keeps improving so you can enjoy it even more. Please feel free to leave a comment with any constructive criticism! Happy reading!

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