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The next few weeks were miserable for Skyler. He hated being cooped up, and he hated even more being the topic of conversation. He couldn't escape it for very long. Not even Hannah would leave him alone. While he loved his sister, he wanted to be alone.
He had screwed up big time, and there was nothing he could do to fix it. Wes refused to speak to him, Cody, while he was kind, he was distant. Kip was in his room most of the time, and never had the time to talk when Skyler asked. Jonah, Hannah, and Grace were probably the only ones who didn't look at him like he was a murderer.
From time to time pairs of Jumpers would go out to the building (now dubbed the factory, after hearing about what Skyler had seen). The guards were tripled, but there were no more trucks, and no sign of Tony.
The capture of Tony was all over the news. There was no covering up this Fence Jumper intrusion. The "director" of the factory stated the Jumpers were attempting to graffiti the side of the building, but they had been seen and one brought into custody. Of course, no one heard anything about the unfortunate captive after that. Madison tried to interview the director for more information, but he declined. She couldn't find out where Tony was or what would happen to him, and no one else seemed to want to go around asking.
The voice coaxed Skyler out of his moping. He had retreated into a dead-ended tunnel again, the only place he could escape the stares and whispers.
"What?" He said listlessly. "Hannah?"
"Nope, Claire," the voice replied. "Where are you?"
Skyler pushed himself to his feet and left his tunnel. He ran right into Claire, and she grabbed him to steady him.
"Hello," she said, smiling. "Kip sent me to find you and herd you to lunch."
"Okay." Skyler headed for the main cavern.
"Skyler, hold up a minute," Claire said, taking his hand. Skyler turned to face her. She searched his face, then smiled a little bit.
"Don't beat yourself up about this," she said quietly. "No one hates you."
"Nobody cares about Wes." Claire waved away the topic. "He's a jerk. I've lived with him a lot longer than you have, and what you see now is all he is. No one hates you. Yeah we're all scared right now, but we can't just go off alone and sulk."
"Uh-huh." Claire rolled her eyes. "Come one, let's go get some grub before all the good stuff is taken."
Skyler nodded. Claire smiled and wrapped an arm around him in a sisterly way. He smiled and walked with her back to the main cavern. As they emerged, Skyler spied Wes appearing through the tunnel that led outside.
"Claire." Skyler halted. "Was Wes outside?"
Claire looked and frowned.
"I dunno," she said, then smiled at him. "You go on, I'll check on Wes."
Claire ruffled Skyler's hair, which made him smile and pull away. Claire smirked and grabbed him, wrapping her arms around his neck like Hannah did.
"Keep that smile, okay?" She told him. "A smile like that is hard to come by. When you find one, hold on to it."
"Okay." Skyler smiled again, wriggling out of her arms and jogging away to find food. Madison had brought another supply of fresh vegetables and fruit, and Skyler scooped up a bunch of grapes and a few celery sticks onto a cracked plate before finding Jonah and sitting with him.
"Hey." Jonah grinned around a mouthful of shredded chicken. "So you do live here. I had heard my best friend lived here, but he's been busy, so I haven't seen a shred of him."
"Shut up." Skyler smiled. "Sorry for being distant."
"It's okay," Jonah said. "I was like that when Devon was taken. I didn't want to talk to anyone."
"What helped you?"
"I dunno." Jonah shrugged. "Time, I guess. Kip was a big help, too. I know your situation is different, but Kip likes helping anyone who has a problem. He'd help Wes if Wes let him."
Skyler laughed. "Wes is the last person I should talk to right now."
"I know." Jonah nodded. "But you gotta cut him some slack. He's been through a lot like the rest of us. It just takes longer for him to open up."
"You and Claire have very different views on Wes. She hates his guts, from the sound of it."
Jonah grinned. "Yeah, we all know they bug the life out of each other. He'll tolerate people, and he likes even fewer people."
Skyler twisted around and watched Wes and Claire, who was speaking to Wes and looking annoyed. Wes looked irritated and turned to go. Claire grabbed his arm and made him turn back around. She said something, and Wes replied. Claire let go of his arm, and he stalked off. Claire watched him go before tapping a boy on the shoulder and pointing to the cavern entrance. The boy nodded and levered himself up to follow Claire. It was probably their turn for guard duty.
"I can't decide if I trust him or not," Skyler said after a minute. "Wes, I mean."
"He saved your life," Jonah pointed out. "Twice, if you count when you came here."
"I guess," Skyler nodded. "Something just seems off. I've seen him sneak off at night."
"So?" Jonah lifted an eyebrow. "You're being weird, Skyler. I know Wes has been a jerk to you since day one, but this is a little crazy. He's not a bad guy, just reserved. Devon was like that sometimes. Wes has his own issues. He doesn't have to share."
"I'm not saying he should." Skyler shrugged. "Just... I don't know. Something about him bugs me."
"He bugs everyone." Jonah grinned. "Except your sister. I think she's the only one he doesn't purposely try to annoy."
Skyler felt a flare of annoyance. He didn't need Jonah to tell him Wes liked Hannah. It was painfully obvious. Hannah didn't encourage his flirting, but neither did she discourage it.
"Where is Hannah?" Skyler asked, eager to change the subject.
"With Grace and Mallory, last I saw," Jonah said. "They were going to the park to practice."
Skyler ignored the tug of envy and popped his last grape in his mouth as he stood up. He jogged down the tunnel to the boys' and girls' bedrooms. He met Hannah and the girls a little ways down the tunnel.
"Hey, little brother." Hannah smiled. "What're you up to?"
"Looking for you." Skyler forced a grin. "But you're busy."
"Not too busy for you," Hannah told him. She looked at Grace and Mallory. "You two go on ahead."
"No, Hannah, it's okay," Skyler said quickly. Hannah looked at him with an uncertain expression. He smiled. "Go on. I can wait."
"You're sure?" Hannah asked, watching him.
"I'm sure." Skyler nodded. "It's not important."
"Alright, weirdo." Hannah smiled and hugged him. "See you later. Don't get into trouble."
"What trouble could I get into here?"
"The kind Jonah finds for you." Hannah grinned. "Have fun!"
"Yeah." Skyler smiled and watched her go. "You too."
Skyler and Jonah explored the tunnels that afternoon. Jonah even declined a chance to go up top just to keep Skyler company.
"You should go," Skyler said, not for the first time. "I'll be okay by myself."
"No you won't," Jonah said as they traveled down a tunnel. "You'll explore and be fine for a few minutes, and then sulk in some corner."
Skyler tried to protest, but Jonah only laughed. As they passed a tunnel, Skyler felt a lock of his hair shift, tickling the back of his neck.
"Jonah," Skyler called ahead. He pointed down a tunnel he had passed. "What's down that way?"
Jonah joined him. "I think it's the emergency exit. It leads into a house a few blocks from here. Kip thinks drug smugglers used it long ago. They'd go back and forth between the house and the warehouse where they'd get the drugs. We use it if we can't use the main entrance. It's never happened, but we still keep it clear."
"Is it usually open?" Skyler asked.
"No, of course not." Jonah frowned. "Why?"
"The air is moving," Skyler said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"It shouldn't." Jonah shrugged. "You're probably just imagining--"
Then they heard the footsteps.
It was soft at first, but the sound carried to them. Skyler shivered, a bad feeling making his spine tingle.
"Should there be anyone down that way?" Skyler whispered.
"No." Jonah looked worried. "Kip says we shouldn't go down that way unless there's an emergency, so it doesn't get trashed and blocked up."
"Run," Skyler said. "I don't think a Jumper is down there."
A voice spoke in the tunnel, closer than Skyler would have liked, and a gun was cocked. Skyler caught a glimpse of an elbow around the corner of the tunnel.
"Run!" Skyler yelped, pushing Jonah down the tunnel. The boys bolted, shouts following them. Skyler heard footsteps, but then someone shouted to their pursuers, and the footsteps ceased.
Jonah pulled Skyler down another tunnel, one that wasn't lit by the Christmas lights. Skyler leaned against the wall, gasping.
"We have to warn the others," he wheezed. "Who were those people?"
"I don't know, but they didn't look friendly." Jonah shook his head. "They're not one of us, though."
Skyler straightened. "Is there another way around?"
"Sure there is." Jonah nodded. "C'mon."
Skyler followed Jonah down more tunnels. He hadn't explored this way before, but his curious mind barely paid any attention to the dark, unexplored tunnels. Right now, anything unfamiliar held danger.
"Everyone get out!" Jonah screamed, bursting into the main cavern. The Jumpers looked at him in alarm. "We need to get out right now!"
"What's wrong?" Mallory, a girl who had made friends with Hannah very early on, ran up to them. "Why?"
"Someone's gotten in," Skyler said, panic making him jumpy. "Through the emergency exit--"
Gunshots tore through the air. Jumpers screamed and some scrambled to their feet.
People in dark clothing poured into the cavern from the main entrance and the direction of the emergency exit. Nabbers.
Cold fear paralyzed Skyler. Fence Jumpers scampered down various tunnels, followed by Nabbers, all armed with guns and metal batons.
"Go!" Mallory shoved him down a tunnel. Skyler tripped over his own feet and stumbled down the path before regaining his balance.
Shouts and screams echoed through the tunnels. Gunshots snapped occasionally, but every time they made Skyler jump.
As he, Jonah, and Mallory turned down a dark tunnel, Skyler realized with a horrified jolt that Mallory was there. Mallory had been with Hannah at the park.
"Hannah!" Skyler skidded to a stop. "I have to find her!"
"She'll be fine!" Mallory grabbed his arm. "She's with Grace. Grace knows her way around here better than I do."
"I can't leave her." Skyler shook his head. He pulled free and bolted back toward the main cavern. As he ran past another tunnel he slammed into someone and fell back. Scrambling to his feet he saw Cody.
"Skyler." Cody looked relieved. "Where are you going? We have to go!"
"I need to find Hannah," Skyler said. He tried to push past Cody, but the older boy grabbed his arm.
"Those people have the cavern, Skyler," he said. "They're taking prisoners. Your sister isn't there, but we can't risk going back there. Kip's trying to round up the others and we're getting out of here."
"Nabbers came through the emergency exit." Skyler unwillingly let Cody lead him through the tunnels when they rejoined Jonah and Mallory. "They'll be watching it."
"Kip says there's another one," Cody said. "He knows where it is, but we need to get to the secondary cavern."
"A smaller cavern," Cody explained. "It's just a little space that's hardy ever used."
"Will Hannah be there?" Skyler asked. "I can't leave her here."
"We'll make sure she gets out, buddy," Cody assured him. "Don't worry. Your sister is tough."
Skyler nodded and jogged after Cody. The screaming and shouting had lessened. Either the Jumpers were captured, or they were hiding. Either way things weren't looking good with Nabbers crawling everywhere.
Their tunnel opened up to a small cave. It was dark, but Cody swung his flashlight around, sweeping the light over the room. A few people yelped.
"How many are in here?" Cody asked in a low tone. "Kip?"
"I'm here." Kip's voice somehow made Skyler's nerves relax. "I've found about ten. Who do you have?"
"Skyler, Jonah, and Mallory," Cody said. "I couldn't find anyone else. They're holding the captured ones in the main cavern. I would've tried rescuing them, but--"
"It's too risky," Kip soothed. "I know. Right now we need to get as many out as we can. Wes and Stephen are looking for others."
"Is Hannah here?" Skyler stepped forward. "Hannah?"
"She's not here," Kip said. "I'm sure she's alright. Everyone up. We have to get out of here."
"I'm not leaving Hannah," Skyler insisted.
"I'll come back down and look for her," Kip promised. Skyler felt his strong hand grip his shoulder. "You need to go. There's no telling how long we'll stay hidden."
Skyler protested, but Cody pushed him to another tunnel, following the other Jumpers. Cody went ahead with the flashlight to light the way. They passed more dark tunnels, but no one came out of them.
They hadn't gone far before they reached a small metal ladder. Cody climbed up and pushed a trap door open. Light filtered down.
"All clear," Cody whispered. "Everyone head on up and stay together. Don't wander off."
The Jumpers ascended the ladder one by one. Skyler watched their terrified faces as they scrambled toward their only shot at escape.
While Cody and Kip were helping a girl who was shaking so much she could barely grip the ladder, Skyler turned and ran back down the tunnel.
He slowed down when he approached the main cavern. Keeping to the shadows, he saw a majority of the Fence Jumpers cornered by the main entrance, surrounded by Nabbers with guns aimed at them. A few Jumpers were passed out on the ground.
A Nabber came in through another tunnel, dragging a girl with him.
"Found another one!" He yelled. "Tried to run away from me."
Skyler's breath caught in his throat. The Nabber had Hannah. Her hair was out of its ponytail and fell in her face. She was just barely able to stay on her feet.
"She's one of the pretty ones." A Nabber sneered. "Bring her over."
Hannah struggled and pulled back. She twisted and slammed her knee into the Nabber's gut. The man yelped and let go, and Hannah bolted for the nearest tunnel.
A Nabber lifted his pistol. Skyler started forward, but another Jumper barreled out of a tunnel and pushed Hannah down just as the Nabber pulled the trigger and Skyler recognized him.
There was a snap! and Wes collapsed. Hannah pushed herself up and tried to reach Wes.
The Nabber cocked his gun again and fired. Skyler bolted, but someone grabbed him from behind and clamped their hand over his mouth.
Skyler screamed. His arms were pinned to his sides, so he couldn't move. Tears streamed down his face as he struggled.
"Shhh," Kip whispered. "Skyler, stop it, they'll see us."
Skyler didn't care. He didn't care about anything anymore. They shot his sister. She had to be alright. He had to make sure she was alright!
Kip pulled Skyler further down the tunnel, but the Nabbers were too busy with their captives to take any notice.
Skyler wasn't sure what to feel. His mind jumped to the worst possible explanation, but he refused to believe that was the only answer. He screamed, half-hoping he would be heard and Hannah would get up. Kip pressed his hand harder over Skyler's mouth and dragged him back as he writhed in a panic.
"Easy," Kip whispered. "I'm sorry, Skyler."
Skyler suddenly gave up fighting Kip. His sister wouldn't hear him. She had been shot and she hadn't moved. She probably wouldn't hear his voice ever again. He felt his legs give out from under him. Kip grunted and pulled Skyler back up as they reached the ladder, no longer trying to be gentle. Cody stood waiting for them.
"What happened?" He whispered. "What's wrong with Skyler?"
"Hannah was shot," Kip said. "Get him out."
Skyler barely remembered climbing the ladder, Jonah pulling him up, or Cody hugging him. Hannah was gone. She was gone, and she wasn't coming back. Even if she was alive she was caught by people who would turn her into a cyborg.
The thought sickened him. Skyler felt dazed. This couldn't be happening. It was all just a bad dream.
"Skyler?" Cody shook his shoulder. "Buddy, stay with us."
"Later," Kip said, distress in his voice. He said more, but Skyler's mind tuned out everything. Hannah was the only thing he could think about. His mind kept replaying Wes running to his sister, the gunshots, and Wes and Hannah dropping to the ground.
She couldn't be dead. Maybe the shot only hit her so she was just hurt.
But then Skyler remembered how still Hannah was. How she hadn't made a sound and just crumpled to the floor.
Skyler numbly let Jonah lead him away from the danger that had chased him and the Jumpers out of the only home they had. Their friends and maybe even family still down there, captured, and they couldn't do anything about it.
Despite being with people he had come to know as his family, Skyler had never felt so alone.