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Grace winced as the ladies in the spotless lab coats cinched the straps tightly over her wrists, chest, waist, knees, and ankles. She was firmly secured to the hospital bed. She had tried screaming and and demanding answers from them, but no one answered her and someone shoved a gag in her mouth.
Grace tried to slow her breathing. She had to stay calm. Whatever happened to her, she wouldn't panic. She was done with panicking. She had promised herself she wouldn't freak out anymore.
But then she had seen Wes get shot, and then Hannah. And then when she had tried to charge through to them, something hard had slammed into her head and she blacked out.
Next thing she knew, she was in a cage. She shared one with a skinny brown-haired boy named Isaiah. Across from their cage, Grace had seen rows of cages, stacked three high and stretched on for a long ways. As far as she and Isaiah could tell, their friends were being held in the other cages. They tried to convey messages to figure out who was here, at least until the guards shouted at them to shut up.
Among those who had escaped (Grace refused to think they had been killed), Skyler and Cody were safe, and so was Kip. Grace used this knowledge to comfort Isaiah: their friends would rescue them. They would do their best.
Then the guards came for her. She fought and struggled, but she wasn't nearly strong enough.
She was met at the door by Claire, who was also escorted by guards. The girls were shoved into a vehicle and driven away. Grace looked back and saw a large, square building, like a warehouse. It was surrounded by chain-link fencing topped with spirals of barbed wire. How ironic.
The girl were blindfolded a while later. When Grace could see again, Claire was gone and she was in a room with a hospital bed and ladies waiting to strap her down like a science experiment.
Grace prayed that she wouldn't become one.
The door opened to admit two men in lab coats. Grace didn't recognize the first one, but the second one was familiar.
"Will she do?" The doctor asked. The mayor looked Grace over critically. Grace felt too exposed and strained against the straps.
"I think she will." Mayor Horatio Vernalti nodded. He removed the gag and tossed it aside. "What's your name, my dear?"
Grace glared at him.
Horatio sighed. "Please don't be difficult. I have had a long and stressful day. While the capture of your friends did provide a ray of sunshine, I have unfortunately missed some of them."
"I won't help you," Grace said. "You can torture me or turn me into one of your human robots. I'm not telling you anything."
"So brave." Horatio smiled in mock admiration. "But that will change. Soon you will tell me all I need to know."
Horatio ran his fingers over Grace's brown hair. "No need to mar your beauty just yet with metal fused with flesh, eh?"
Grace jerked her head away. "You're not going to turn me into a cyborg?"
"My dear girl, no!" Horatio laughed. "You're so much more useful to me alive than as a brain-dead soldier. At least for now."
"Soldier?" Grace frowned. "What d'you need soldiers for?"
"My dear, power can't be retained by pretty words or clever deceptions alone." Horatio pulled on plastic surgical gloves. The other doctor did the same. "I like being mayor of this city. I enjoy bettering it. I enjoy funding research and manufacturing of robots to help the people here. I truly do enjoy my work, but I feel so limited here. I feel... constricted. The governor of Ohio province limits my allowance, already meager, and any project I wish to pursue must be approved by him. And I will tell you now, he does not approve of many.
"But I have not come here to discuss politics with a delinquent," Horatio said abruptly, as if he had realized he was getting carried away in his grand speech. "I can't have you divulging my secrets."
Grace frowned. The mayor made it sound as if he intended on letting her go. But why?
"Now this will only hurt a little," Horatio said as the other doctor filled a syringe and handed it to him. Grace squirmed, fear rising in her throat like the gag.
"I do hope we will be good friends, my dear," Horatio said as he inserted the needle into Grace's arm and pressed the plunger. "Because, quite honestly, your life depends on it."
Grace felt her eyelids get heavy. She pushed away the panic and tried to resist the drug, but she was pulled into unconsciousness before there was much of a fight.
Skyler expected to feel restless and fidgety two days in of being cooped up inside, but he found it surprisingly relaxing. It felt safe.
Even though Cody's comforting words last night had helped, the pain he felt in his heart was still there. Skyler kept to himself, mostly because he didn't want to depress anyone else with his mood. He felt better alone, anyways.
"We need to do something, Kip," Madison said quietly while the Jumpers were sitting or lying in the family room, snacking on cookies Madison had bought earlier. "Skyler's falling apart. He may not show it but he is, on the inside."
Kip glanced at Skyler. "Maddi, he just watched his sister get shot. She was pretty much the only family he had left. She was his support, and now that's been pulled out from under him."
"All the more reason to do something!" Madison pressed. "Either find him a new support or make him stand on his own two feet!"
"Give him time, Maddi," Kip said, a little sharper than he intended. "Let him grieve. I'm working on a plan to rescue the others now. Skyler will have plenty to do then."
The news broadcast the other day had been as Madison expected: Mayor Horatio Vernalti announced the capture of the Fence Jumpers. Their hideout had been discovered and effectively flushed out. The delinquents were in custody, and the mayor assured the people of the city that they would not be a nuisance anymore.
This made everyone nervous. What would happen to their friends and family? Would they be able to rescue them?
Kip brought them all together and assured them they would do all they could to rescue their friends. They needed to be careful, but they wouldn't rest until all options were tried.
Skyler appreciated Kip's calm confidence. He never promised they would succeed. Everyone knew there was a possibility they wouldn't. No one wanted to get their hopes up too much.
On their second night, Kip was busy at the dining table trying to brainstorm plans. Madison had done some reconnaissance work and found out the Jumpers were being held at the old Ravenstone boarding school. The building had been shut down for years and then later bought by the government. Construction work had been going on and fencing put up around it, but no one really knew what was being done to it.
Now they knew it was a prison.
While Kip brainstormed, Madison found the Jumpers a movie to keep their minds busy. Skyler had buried himself in a thick blanket on the floor. His mind wasn't really on the movie, though. His thoughts would stray back to the night Skyler still wished was just a nightmare he would wake up from.
But then his sister crumpling to the floor in the main cavern flashed in his mind. He heard the snap of the gun, and watched helplessly as Hannah collapsed next to Wes. His mind replayed Wes pushing Hannah out of the way and getting shot himself.
The images replayed over and over, and Skyler couldn't make it stop. He tried to concentrate on the movie, but it didn't help.
"Skyler?" Skipper put her hand on his shoulder. Skyler jolted and looked at her, his eyes wide with fear. Suddenly he imagined Skipper in place of Hannah. The snap of the gun, and Skipper's body crumpling.
Skyler squeezed his eyes shut. It wasn't real. Skipper was alright. She was safe.
Snap. Cody falls to the ground. Snap. Grace collapses.
Skyler curled into a tight ball, trying to push out the images. It wasn't real. It was his mind playing tricks.
Snap. Kip goes next, like a switch had been flipped off inside him.
Skyler cried out in distress, holding his head. He felt like he was shaking all over, and his breathing became rapid.
A strong hand gripped Skyler's shoulder. Skyler flinched and tried to pull away, but whoever it was pulled him into a firm hug. Their arms around him were almost too tight, but it felt safe.
"Easy, Skyler," Kip murmured. "Deep breaths, kiddo, deep breaths. You're okay. It's okay..."
"What happened?" Skipper asked worriedly.
"I think his imagination was being naughty," Kip replied. "He'll be okay, Skip, don't worry."
Skyler felt his body relax. His mind came back to the present, and his breathing steadied. He took a shaky breath and pushed away from Kip, who let go of him.
"Sorry." Skyler sniffed, wiping tears from his eyes with the blanket. "I... I don't know what happened."
"You're okay now." Kip smiled. "Sleep will help you."
Skyler shook his head. "It'll only come back--"
"I'll be right here if it does," Kip promised.
"I'll make sure it doesn't come back," Skipper offered. "Beth always made sure my nightmares don't come back."
"Thanks." Skyler smiled a little at her. Skipper smiled back and curled up next to him for the rest of the movie.
The Jumpers rearranged themselves in their respective places for the night. Kip made sure everyone was settled in before he retired to the guest room. Madison sat Indian-style in a cushioned chair for a little longer, the glow of her tablet lit up her face as she watched whatever was on the screen.
Skipper had moved her bedding to be next to Skyler. She snuggled into her blankets and wiggled closer to him. Skyler smiled sleepily. Having someone so close made him feel less alone. He hadn't realized how lonely he had been.
Skyler wasn't sure how long he had been sleeping before he was shaken. He jumped and twisted, but someone grabbed his shoulder to hold him still.
Cody crouched over him, a finger over his lips before beckoning to him. Skyler looked at Skipper. She mumbled in her sleep and snuggled closer to him, her face now pressed against his blanket.
Skyler carefully extricated himself and tip-toed after Cody to the door. A quick glance around the room told him Madison had gone to bed. The penthouse was dark and silent except for a few snoring Jumpers.
"What're you doing?" Skyler asked as he and Cody slipped out into the hallway. Skyler spied about three other Jumpers waiting there.
"We're going to rescue the others," Cody whispered. "Kip's taking too long with whatever he's planning. Each day we wait is a day where we might lose someone to becoming a cyborg. I can't wait for him to create a detailed plan."
"Wouldn't it be safer?" Skyler asked. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Safer for who? Us, or for our friends who are locked up?" Cody's tone was bitter. "I thought you'd want to come along. You're a good Jumper. You have guts, but you know when to be careful. And they shot Hannah. Wouldn't you want revenge?"
Skyler was about to protest and say no, he didn't want revenge. This plan was stupid and would get everyone killed.
But when he thought about it, revenge sounded appealing. They had stripped home, family, and friends away from him in less than a year. They had forced his parents to give him up, and Hannah made the only decision she could and ran away from home with him. Skyler has felt he had lost a home and family then, until he found a new home and family with the Fence Jumpers.
But then those, too, were ripped from him. The place he called home was no longer safe, his friends were captured, and his family shot.
Anger boiled inside Skyler. Cody was right, things were taking too long. Skyler didn't want those people taking anything else away. He wouldn't let them. He wanted to show them how much it hurt to have your whole world be pulled out from under you.
"I'll go." Skyler nodded. Cody nodded too. It was almost scary, not seeing Cody smile and seeing him so serious and solemn.
Cody led them down through the apartment building. They decided to risk the elevator and went down in pairs. Skyler went down with a girl he had always known as Aggie. He knew better than to call her Agatha, if that was her real name as he assumed.
"You gonna be alright doin' this?" Aggie asked him, shaking her short-cropped hair out of her face. She was one of the tougher, more tomboy Jumper girls. Of course all the girl Jumpers had a degree of tomboyishness, but Aggie wasn't afraid to get into fights with the boys.
"I'm sure." Skyler nodded.
"You seemed pretty shaken up earlier--"
"I said I'm fine," Skyler cut her off. He surprised himself with the sharp tone, but it felt good. He didn't want to talk about how he had started crying and freaking out for no reason apparent to anyone else. It felt good to be able to keep himself in control.
Cody and the others were waiting for them. Skyler noticed that Cody had chosen some of the toughest Jumpers, ones who weren't afraid to go their hands dirty and cause a lot of trouble. There was Aggie, of course, who was sixteen, but then there was also Ethan, the tallest of their group at eighteen. He had sandy-blonde hair, but he hid it under the dark cap he nearly always wore. Ethan had once helped Skyler train in the hideout's exercise room while Skyler was under what Wes always called "house arrest" after Madison had snapped his picture.
Next was Allison. She was about as scary as Aggie, which wasn't surprising since they were twins. Skyler knew the pair of them together weren't to be messed with. Even Wes never tried to flirt with them. Allison was probably the gentler of the two sometimes. She still seemed more like a girl than a tomboy to Skyler. The only way Skyler could tell the twins apart was their hair. Aggie's hair was indigo-blue, and Allison's was a normal black, cropped close to her head like Aggie's.
They slipped outside and consulted the tourist map Cody had taken from the lobby. They headed north, where the Ravenstone building was.
"Here." Aggie pressed a closed switchblade into Skyler's hand as they crept in the shadows. "Know how to use this?"
Skyler shook his head. The knife felt cold and dangerous.
"Well, just hold on to it and pretend you do." Aggie gave him a lopsided grin. "I'll make sure you don't have to use it and let everyone know you don't have a clue."
"Thanks, I think."
Aggie gave a quiet laugh and patted him. "You'll be fine. We're just gonna slip in, get everyone out, and get out of there before anyone notices--"
Ethan motioned quickly for a halt. Aggie grabbed Skyler and pulled him deeper into the shadows.
"Oh, don't even bother," a voice said. "I know you're there."
Cody groaned. "Kip?"
A flashlight clicked on and found them. Skyler squinted as the beam settled on his face.
"Oh for the love of--" Kip sounded angry and exasperated. "Skyler what are you doing? What are all of you doing?"
"What's it look like?" Cody snapped. "We can't just sit around anymore, Kip. I won't lose anyone else."
"Running off without a plan will get you all killed!" Kip hissed. "And you drag a fourteen-year-old boy into this? Cody, what's gotten into you?"
"I want to help," Skyler spoke up. "I'm going to help get everyone out."
Kip was about to argue when the sound of an engine rumbled from the corner. The flashlight switched off and the Jumpers scampered into the shadows with Kip.
A dark van rolled by. Skyler had heard enough stories about the Nabbers to remember to keep completely still. That's how they began their sweeps: A slow cruise on the streets in their vans for any movement, and then Nabbers would get out and scour the alleys and parks.
Skyler hadn't seen a Nabber van since the day he and Hannah met the Jumpers. He shivered as fear ran through him. He remembered hiding behind the trash bin, watching the Nabbers catch and knock their victim senseless before hauling him into the van. Then he remembered how one of them had caught him and held him at gunpoint. That had been one of the scariest moments of his life.
"Alright," Kip said when the van had passed. "Alright, fine. We'll do it tonight. I'll grab whoever else wants to help and come back here. Do not move from this street unless Nabbers come by. There aren't many alleys here, so they might not, but be careful."
Skyler expected Cody and the others to disobey the order after Kip left, but no one moved. The twins seemed a little shaken after the close-call with the van, and Ethan tried to comfort them with jokes. Cody leaned against the wall, looking moody.
"Cody?" Skyler joined him.
"Why did we leave without telling Kip?" Skyler asked. "I mean, I know he would have said no, but... this isn't like you."
"I don't know what 'like me' is anymore, buddy." Cody smiled bitterly. "So if you know, please let me know. I don't want anyone to end up like my brother, or to be alone like I was. Or you." Cody looked at Skyler. "It's high time these people got what's coming to them. We'll make them sorry they ever took Hannah and Rory."
Skyler nodded. The pang of grief at Hannah's name was now accompanied with something else: anger. Not at Hannah, for leaving him (although he had briefly felt that way), but he felt anger toward the people who took her from him.
Skyler flipped open the switchblade Aggie had given him and looked at it in the moonlight. The blade was clean, and the edge was sharp. Sharp enough to cut flesh.
His grip on the knife tightened. Skyler didn't know the last time he had felt so angry, but it helped to finally have something - or someone - to channel his grief and anger toward.
He would show these people they can't take away family. It was time to shut them down.