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Kip stared in shock and disbelief. Wes blinked at him and wiggled the cage door.
"What's wrong with you? You gonna get us out or what?" Wes frowned. "Kip, seriously, I'd like to get out of here."
"I thought you were dead," Kip said numbly.
"Dead?" Wes cocked his head. "Don't look so disappointed. I'm fine."
Kip managed a relieved smile. "I'm glad you're alright, Wes. But Skyler and I saw you and Hannah get shot--"
"Shot? Oh, that. It just knocked us unconscious." Wes shrugged. "See? No blood, no bullets. I'd seen them use it on a few others. It snaps and you're out cold. I woke up in here. So did Hannah."
"Hannah's alright?" Kip asked.
"I'm okay, Kip," Hannah said. Wes scooted over as she crawled to the cage door. She looked as if she had just woken up. Her hair was a mess, and she looked as if she'd been crying. "Is Skyler okay?"
"He's just fine." Kip smiled, relief and joy numbing the fear and nervousness that had been nagging him for days. "He's alright. He'll be really glad to see you."
"You said Skyler saw us get shot." Hannah frowned. "Oh, no, he doesn't think--"
"Yeah, he does." Kip nodded as he unlocked the door. "But he's a brave kid. Now stay there until it's time to leave."
Cody and Skipper were in as much shock as Kip had been to find Wes and Hannah alive, but there wasn't time to talk. They still had a lot of cages to open.
Skyler crept up the stairs. He heard muffled music down the hall, and relaxed a little. No way were those guards going to hear anything downstairs.
However, that didn't give him reason to be careless. He reached the door and held his ear to it. The music played loudly, some popular rock station, and the guards were talking and laughing. Skyler sniffed and smelled a whiff of cigarette smoke.
Skyler looked around and dragged a potted plant across the dark blue carpet and scooted it against the door. It wasn't much, but it would delay anyone who came out.
Skyler, curiosity getting the better of him, tried the other doors along the hall. He never went far, and most of the doors were locked anyway.
Skyler wasn't sure how much time had passed. He began to think his volunteering to come up here would actually become boring.
He turned the knob of the door furthest down the hallway and peeked inside.
He saw two Nabbers inside at a table, going over files of paperwork.
Skyler couldn't duck his head out in time. The Nabber jumped up with a cry of alarm, and Skyler bolted for the stairs. The Nabbers were still yelling, and the guards burst out of their room and stumbled over the potted plant.
Skyler flew down the steps and to the cages.
"We've gotta go!" He yelled.
Kip nodded and finished the last cage of Jumpers.
"Everyone go!" He yelled. The Jumpers sprang out of the cages just as the Nabbers came crashing down the steps.
Skyler charged the nearest one and sent her reeling into the others.
"Skyler, come on!" Kip yelled as Jumpers dashed for the back door.
"I'll get him." Cody ran for the Nabbers, who are trying to catch Skyler and the escaping Jumpers. But there were only five or six Nabbers and about thirty-some Jumpers.
Cody pulled Skyler from the Nabbers and slammed his fist into the nose of one of them before he and Skyler headed for the door. The Nabbers were shouting for reinforcements, but by the time the outside guards came in, the Jumpers were gone.
Nabbers spread out like a fire, sweeping the streets and surrounding the block to try and hem in the fugitives. Skyler and Cody were a little behind the others, but Cody know where to go.
As they rounded the corner, they met up with a few other Jumpers right before Nabbers showed up. The Jumpers scattered. Skyler sprinted down a street only to be cut off by another Nabber. He ducked down a smaller street.
Hannah thought for sure she wouldn't never see the sky again. Trapped in a cage with no sunlight and little food or water, she had felt quite confident she was going to die. Either before or after she was turned into a cyborg.
But then she heard Kip's voice, and that had been the best thing she had ever heard in days. Yes, it was nice to have someone to talk to. Wes turned out to be a pretty interesting guy when he was as nervous as you were and wasn't flirting.
But still, Wes was Wes. He somehow still had a way of making her exasperated.
Hannah's heart nearly grew wings and flew when she heard Skyler's voice. Despite the fact that he sounded panicked as he shouted the alarm, hearing his voice and knowing he was relatively safe made her feel a lot better.
She hadn't been able to get to him before the Jumpers fled the prison, but she had seen him. He looked different. More serious, almost angry. It worried her, but she supposed after what he must have been through, that response was natural.
Wes explained they were headed for a place where everyone would go if they ever needed to leave the hideout. Someplace safe and out of the city, which also provided a way to even leave the city behind entirely.
Hannah and the Jumpers stopped at their checkpoint. Railroad tracks led from the city outward, stretching off into the distance. She had collapsed on the ground, sides heaving.
Wes fell to his hands and knees beside her. He looked worse than he had during their stay in the cage.
"Wes?" She said. "You alright?"
"I've been better." Wes shrugged. "Just weak... you?"
"Could go for a glass of cold water."
"Makes two of us."
Hannah smiled and pushed herself into a sitting position. Kip was going around, making sure everyone was there and no one was seriously hurt. The Jumpers who had been the distraction outside were all there, too.
Kip approached Hannah and Wes and looked around.
"Did Skyler find you yet?"
"No, he hasn't." Hannah shook her head. "I saw him back in the building, but after that things got so wild I lost track of him."
Kip frowned and scanned the group of Jumpers.
"Skyler?" Kip called. "Has anyone seen Skyler?"
"He was with me for a little bit," Cody said. "But then we and a few others had to split up and he took off."
Hannah felt fear tighten her throat.
"Kip." she looked at him. "If he's not here--"
"I'll go look for him." Kip nodded. "I need to go fetch the other Jumpers from Madison's place anyways."
"I'll go with you," Wes said, struggling to his feet.
"You're staying here," Kip said firmly. "You're in no condition to walk much more. I'll take Cody and we'll backtrack. Skyler probably just doesn't know where we are and got turned around."
Hannah bit her lip worriedly. Cody gave her a reassuring smile before he and Kip went back to the city.
Skyler woke up feeling sore and stiff. His side felt like it had been pinched really hard, like when Hannah would pinch him when she got really angry at him when they were little kids.
Groaning, Skyler tried to sit up, but he was stuck. He strained and shifted his limbs, but none of them would bend.
He blearily opened his eyes and was temporarily blinded by the brightly lit white ceiling. Skyler frowned and looked around the room. It looked like a cross between a hospital bedroom and a laboratory.
Strapped to another table next to him lay a girl.
"Grace!" Skyler jerked against the straps that held him to the bed. He tried worming his wrists out, but short of breaking something like he had seen in the movies, there was no escaping them. And he wasn't keen on breaking anything, either.
"Grace, wake up!" Skyler persisted. "Grace, come on!"
Grace mumbled and shifted. She blinked awake and looked around before her eyes focused on Skyler.
"Skyler?!" She paled. "What are you doing here?! I thought you had escaped?"
"I did," Skyler replied, still pulling at the restraints. "But then we rescued the others. We were running, and then..."
Skyler frowned, pausing his escape efforts. He didn't remember what happened after.
"We'll be okay," Grace said quickly, noticing his distress. "We're gonna get you out of here. Your--"
The door slid back into the wall. Skyler gasped as Claire walked in, wearing a fresh, red, white-polka-dotted sundress with white heeled sandals. She had cleaned herself up and actually looked kind of pretty.
"Claire?" Skyler frowned, confused. "Claire, what's going on? What are you wearing?"
"A dress, stupid." Claire rolled her eyes. "My uncle took me out for lunch today."
"Your uncle?" Skyler asked as Claire approached the beds. "Who is he? I didn't know you had one."
"Of course you didn't," Claire scoffed. "That was the whole idea, keeping you idiots in the dark."
"She's a spy, Skyler!" Grace accused, her voice shaking with rage. "You cowardly, stuck-up brat!"
"Oh yeah, because calling me names will help you," Claire said. "And it hurts so much. Yeah, I played spy. Uncle Horatio needed someone on the inside, and I volunteered. It was so easy getting you all to trust me, it's ridiculous."
Skyler was shaking with anger. He remembered, the same day the Nabbers invaded the hideout, Claire had been so nice to him.
But it had all been a lie.
"You let George get blamed for drugging the lunch." Skyler realized. "But it was you, so you could rat on us. You ratted on us too when--"
"Yes, yes," Claire cut him off. She walked to a curtain, the kind that divided beds in a hospital room. "But now my uncle wants to see you. He wasn't happy when your sister took off with you, but he was so, so pleased to hear he has you now. We got dessert to celebrate."
"You're sick," Skyler snarled. "You killed my sister! And Wes!"
"What?" Grace frowned. Claire began to pull the curtain between Grace and Skyler. "No! Don't you dare! No, Skyler!"
"Heavens, she's so annoying." Claire rolled her eyes. "You keep that up Grace and someone will come in and knock you out again."
"What did you do to her?" Skyler demanded.
"I didn't do anything," Claire replied. She looked Skyler up and down, like a vulture sizing up the roadkill it found. Skyler tensed, feeling uneasy.
"You've caused my uncle a lot of problems, Skyler," Claire said. "Running off, then stealing the exec's file. You made him lose his job. And his life, but I suppose when you die you do lose your job too."
Skyler felt sick. He looked away, disgusted.
"And then there was that huge fiasco at the factory," Claire went on. "My word, were you boys stupid. Uncle was so angry when he found out you knew what was in the trucks, but he only held his peace when he had Tony to play with."
Skyler squeezed his eyes shut. He yelped in alarm and pain when Claire's fist slammed into his gut.
"You've meddled too much, Skyler," Claire said, unaffected by his grimace of pain. "Uncle Horatio might have kept you alive for the process, but you're too much of a rebel. Who knows how you would do as a cyborg?"
"He's going to kill me, then?" Skyler groaned. Grace screamed in protest, shaking the bed as she tried to pull free.
"Mmm, probably." Claire nodded. "But not before he gets answers. Unlike your friends, you won't be escaping."
"Where are we?" Skyler tried, trying to fight his growing panic. "I don't know where they are--"
"Save it," Claire interrupted. "My uncle has a lab underground, beneath his mayor's office. He likes to experiment with different procedures and subjects in his free time, and since the factory is a bit too far away, he built a mini one here."
The door opened again, and Mayor Vernalti stepped in, wearing a lab coat.
"Don't you dare hurt him!" Grace screamed.
"Claire, dear," Horatio said, "please go to your friend. I must speak with young Mr. Pelton."
Claire ducked behind the curtain. Skyler watched as Horatio approached the table, and he strained against the straps.
"At ease." Horatio put his hand gently but firmly on Skyler's shoulder as he passed. "You won't be able to escape those."
"I'm not telling you anything," Skyler growled.
"No?" Horatio responded lazily, returning into view with two syringes and a bottle. "Let's not be enemies, Skyler. I have had a slightly stressful day, and I don't want to make it worse."
"You kidnapped my friends," Skyler spat. "You're day just got a whole lot worse."
Horatio smiled, wiping an area on Skyler's arm clean. Skyler jerked his arm, but Horatio held it down, his grip was strong and tight like a vise. Skyler grimaced when Horatio inserted a needle and pulled up on the plunger, drawing blood.
"Stop it," Skyler said, trying to pull away.
"Leave him alone!" Grace screamed.
"Just taking a bit of blood," Horatio soothed.
Skyler pulled again, but Horatio had finished and withdrew the needle. He held it up. "See? Not so bad."
Horatio put the syringe in a small box and took up the other syringe and the bottle. "But this, I'm afraid, will hurt. But let's be cooperative, and we won't have to use it, alright?"
Skyler's eyes flicked between the bottle and Horatio. His fear made it hard to breathe.
"Please tell me where the fugitive Fence Jumpers are," Horatio said as he filled the syringe. "All of them. The ones that escaped their cages, and the ones who escaped me altogether."
Skyler gritted his teeth and shook his head.
"Mmm, shame," Horatio said. "Claire, give this to Miss Grace, if you please."
"No!" Skyler yelled. "Don't, please!"
"I'm sorry, Skyler," Horatio said, passing off the syringe to Claire. "You've given me no choice. But if you tell me what I need to know right now, your friend won't have to hurt."
"Don't do it, Skyler!" Grace said. "I'll be okay!"
Skyler strained against the straps. Horatio's hand gripped his shoulder.
"No one has to get hurt," he told the boy. "Grace can even go free."
Skyler looked up at him. "Free?"
"No, Skyler!" Grace screamed. "Let of me, Claire!"
"Claire, wait a moment please," Horatio said calmly. "What do you think, Skyler? You tell me what I need to know, and Grace goes free. No one has to get hurt. You can go, too, as soon as I know you aren't lying."
"But I don't know where they are!" Skyler blurted. "I don't know, okay? Don't hurt Grace, please."
Horatio considered this. Skyler watched him, his eyes begging.
"Claire," Horatio said at last. "Please escort Grace into the city. I'm sure Grace knows very well that if she tries to find help, Skyler will die."
"No!" Grace shrieked. "Don't you touch him, you monster!"
Horatio pulled back the curtain. Skyler watched with relief as Claire loosed Grace's straps. Grace rolled off the bed and hurried to Skyler.
"I'm okay," Skyler said, fighting back tears. "Get out of here."
"Not without you, I'm not," Grace said. Claire grabbed her arm and pulled her away. "No, Skyler!"
"I'll be okay!" Skyler said. "Just go, and make sure everyone stays safe!"
Grace was still screaming for him when the door slid shut. Skyler leaned his head back, closing his eyes and taking deep, shaky breaths. He flinched when he suddenly felt a needle going into his arm. He yelled in alarm as Horatio pushed down the plunger, inserting a honey-colored liquid into his arm.
"Now maybe I'll get my answers without so many distractions," Horatio said, tossing away the syringe.
And Skyler screamed at the pain.