Also: I have an idea for a character(s) interview. I'll open up the floor you! Ask a character a question, and so long as it isn't too spoilery, they will have a reply! So ask away!
But for now, you all get to go on a tour of Cinci with Cody and Wes.
Image courtesy of Pinterest.
Cody watched as the young group of new Jumpers gathered by the entrance of the main cavern. All were dressed in the usual Fence Jumper attire: jeans, T-shirts, occasionally a jacket or hoodie. A few carried backpacks, laden with lunches for everyone, as well as a few first-aid kits and maps. The kids were all roughly fourteen and under. Most of them had been with the Jumpers for a short time, at most, two months. Maybe three.
"Where are you taking them?" Kip asked, stepping up beside him.
"I don't know yet." Cody shrugged. "Just around, to get them familiar with things."
"Be careful out there."
"We will." Cody grinned and trotted over to the group of Jumpers.
"Alright!" He called. "Is everyone here?"
"Wait!" A ten-year-old boy ran over. Cody smiled as Tony joined the group. "Sorry!"
"It's alright," Cody chuckled. "Before we head out, I want to make sure you all know who your partner is in case we have to scatter. I don't want anyone out there alone."
A few kids shifted around to find their partners. A couple others lifted each other's hands, grinning as if they were proud that they had their partners in their possession. Tony stood awkwardly by, no partner.
"Hey." Cody went over to him. "You can stick with me--"
"Tour guides can't play favorites." fifteen-year-old Wes trotted up to them. "Surprise, I'm tagging along."
Cody forced back his mild irritation and nodded. "Tony, you'll be with Wes. He'll keep you safe."
Tony grinned and joined Wes, watching the older Jumper with a kind of curious awe. Cody smiled, amused. While Wes managed to bug the life out of most everyone, he was nevertheless a great Fence Jumper, and his achievements had made him a kind of superhero to the newer Jumpers. Often Wes would be followed by curious kids until he noticed his followers and told them off. Cody suspected Wes liked having this admiration, though.
"Alright, any questions before we head out?" Cody asked, quieting the excited chatter among the newbies. "You all know who I am, and I'm pretty sure you know Wes."
"Yo." Wes gave a brief salute-wave.
A hand went up. Cody pointed. "Shoot."
"Why are the caves so confusing?" One of the girls asked. "I keep getting lost."
Cody smiled. "These caves, years ago, were used by drug smugglers and dealers. Way back, this was a huge problem in Cincinnati. Illegal drugs were coming to the streets and no one knew where they were coming from. Groups of smugglers made these tunnels to get around the city easier. There were different groups that dealt in different drugs, so there might be other tunnels around here. This one is one of the smaller networks. We guess it was a new drug group that was busted before it could get started.
"But then the cops caught on and began to suspect these underground networks. It was only a matter of time afterward to track drug dealers to the networks and flush out the lot."
"Why didn't they collapse them?"
"That would collapse buildings. The city heads didn't want to lose the land. And no smart criminal would hide out in one anyway."
"So what keeps them from finding us?" Tony asked nervously.
"Far as we can guess," Cody said, "is that these tunnels were barely used, so they might not have records of it. Don't worry. If anything were to happen and we had to get out, we have emergency exits. Kip showed them to you all earlier this week."
Cody looked around at his little posse of pupils. "Now, who's ready to take a tour of good old Cinci?"
Cries of "Me!" and "I am!" echoed through the cave. Cody grinned. "Well, let's get moving then."
Cody led his group of new Jumpers out of the tunnels and the warehouse and into the abandoned streets. "Alright, now we're gonna stay in the old parts of the city today. We'll head into the actual city in smaller groups. Who can tell me how long the old parts of the city have been around?"
"Since the 2000s!" A boy volunteered.
"Correct." Cody nodded. "Who can tell me why the city abandoned these old parts? Aside from being so outdated it was almost an insult to modern technology?"
A few Jumpers snickered, but no one offered an answer.
"The city abandoned these parts because it became too much for them to keep up," Cody said. "With the drug rings around years back that started up and with all the war among the old states in the US, it became a bit too costly to keep the whole city updated. Some parts were already beginning to deteriorate, and they decreased the size of the city to a more manageable size."
Cody led the kids down the street to the old playground and let them test it out. The kids cautiously climbed the equipment, and less cautiously climbing the fences that surrounded it. Then he led them deeper into the abandoned streets, further away from the city.
"Is it safe to go this far?" A girl asked. "I mean, don't people live out here?"
"Some," Cody replied. "Mostly the homeless. The abandoned parts of the city have become a home to those who don't have a "proper" home."
"What about the poor district?"
"That's a little different." Cody waved to their left, a bit north of the warehouse and northwest from their current location. "The poor district isn't technically part of the old city, but it is right up by it that some people consider it part of the old city, but it's still under taxation and all that stuff normal living spaces are under."
Cody took the kids to the railroad track next. "Now this is important. This track runs into the city, straight through the old city. It heads out and to other cities nearby."
"So why's it important?" Tony asked, walking along the track, wavering and almost losing his balance.
"Because a little further out is the emergency rendezvous," Wes replied. "If we have to split and leave the hideout, that's where we meet up and regroup. Then, we can either trickle back into the old city and find a new hideout, or bug out altogether and hop a train to elsewhere."
"Has that ever happened?" A girl asked nervously.
"Nope." Cody shook his head. "Don't worry. Just stick with an older Jumper and they'll take you right there."
"How big is the old city?" A boy asked as they moved on to other landmarks: an old Wal-Mart, a mechanic's garage, a broken down water tower.
"A few miles around," Cody replied. "It would take you a few days to run the perimeter, but it's actually not extremely wide. Maybe three miles. The hideout is less than a mile and a half from the inner city."
"That doesn't seem safe."
"It's worked for quite a few years." Cody grinned. "We're practically sitting right under their noses."
The rest of the day was spent exploring the streets and learning where not to go. Cody warned them against going down the street with the collapsed McDonald's, because there were a lot of shady characters down that way. And to try avoiding the graveyard, because while it was pretty much in the old city, it was still in use.
When they got back, the kids were hungry and footsore, but they were enthusiastic. Cody felt pleased. He loved showing the newbies around, and he loved seeing their excited faces as they explored the city they called home, and all of its secrets. It gave him a sense of purpose, like it was doing good. Small as it was, he felt useful.
Image courtesy of Pinterest.
A week later, Wes found himself chosen - against his will, mind - to take a Jumper or two into the inner city. Cody and a few other older Jumpers had been doing it, and Wes thought he could get out of it.
But no, he was at last cornered, and lucky him got to take Tony. Of all people.
So early in the morning, pretty much before the others were up, Wes was waiting at the entrance for Tony. He had woken the kid up, but it was taking him a while to get ready. Leave it to the most excited kid to take forever to get ready. Wes had almost expected Tony to be up and ready before he was.
Finally Wes saw Tony trot into the cavern. He impatiently waved the boy over. "Come on. We've wasted enough time."
"Sorry," Tony whispered, following Wes down the tunnel and up into the gray morning light. Wes waved briefly at the Jumpers on watch duty and vault over the fence that separated the old warehouse from the street. Tony scrambled over and dropped about as gracefully as a hippo.
"This way," Wes said. "Keep up, and don't wander off."
Wes trotted through the old streets until they were a few blocks from the inner city. There he stopped and took Tony behind an old gas station.
"Alright," Wes said. "We're heading into the city. Try to act like you know what you're doing, but don't look suspicious. No looking over your shoulder, no glancing around. Don't look like you're up to something. You never know if there are Nabbers out in disguise, or just hiding."
"But what if somebody sneaks up on us?"
"Leave lookout duty to me," Wes said. "I know what to look for. If we have time and it's safe enough, I'll teach you."
"You will?" Tony looked at him eagerly. Wes smirked.
"Sure, kid. Let's just get through today without getting arrested or anything first."
"Yeah." Tony grinned and followed Wes into the city. There was fencing that separated the inner city from the old, but finding a quiet area and jumping over was easy. Tony was grinning ear to ear, full of eagerness as he looked around, taking everything in.
"You act like you've never been here before," Wes laughed.
"I've never been able to stand out in the open without getting into trouble before," Tony said, looking around. Wes smiled a little.
"You'll be okay so long as you stick with me, kiddo," he said. "But try to tone down the wide-eyed wonder, alright? Calm and collected is key."
"Calm and collected." Tony nodded, following Wes down the street and into the city. "That's the key."
"Exactly." Wes grinned. "Now, over there." Wes pointed to a little shop. "Thrift store. That's where you can meet up with a group if you ever get lost. If you're not sure where it is, ask someone who doesn't look official. Ask moms with kids around them, or other teens. Don't ask anyone in suits. If anyone asks, say you're meeting friends to find an old movie and a pizza."
"That's where we get the Dee-Vee-Deez?" Tony asked.
Wes laughed. "Yup. The old DVDs come from there. Long time ago they used to have things called cassette tapes, but you don't see those anymore unless someone collects them. Thick as pizza boxes, they are."
"Serious?" Tony looked shocked.
"S'what I've heard." Wes smirked. "Come on."
Wes took Tony down the streets of Cincinnati, taking him past a huge conference hall and a variety of restaurants, showing him what places to avoid, like the police station, and places safe to hang out if he couldn't get to the thrift shop: a small convenience shop, a clothing store, and a really old restaurant that pretty much let you sit in there as long as you want so long as you buy something.
Wes bought Tony some bread to feed the pigeons later on as they took a break. Wes kept an eye out, but nothing was amiss.
"So how do you not get lost here?" Tony asked, tossing a bite of bread at a curious pigeon.
"We have maps," Wes said. "But you get to know the city as you go. Studying the maps and the street names really help, at least streets you know will take you out of the city."
"Where's the Hall?" Tony asked. "I heard some Jumpers talking about it."
Wes frowned. "We probably shouldn't go over there, Tony... It's a little dangerous."
"Please?" Tony looked up at him. "We don't have to get up really close. I wanna see it."
Wes considered this. It couldn't hurt. It would be easy to see it across the street and not look suspicious, he supposed. All they had to do was keep walking while they looked.
"Alright." Wes nodded. "But stick close and do exactly as I say."
They walked down a few streets, away from the pigeons, and to the City Hall. It was a massively tall building, sleek and shiny, with lots of men and women in suits. Wes kept Tony on the opposite side of the street from it, but it was difficult to keep Tony moving.
"Come on, kid." Wes pushed Tony onward. "We can't loiter around here."
"But it's so tall!" Tony said, staring up at it as Wes tried to push him onward. "Why is it so tall?"
"Because the city officials need lots of room," Wes said. "Keep moving."
Wes and Tony spent the rest of the day exploring the city. Visiting little squares with fountains and tables to sit at, with plenty of pigeons to feed or chase. They even headed to the far end of the city, up northwards, to see another government building. This one was tall, too, and fenced in. Wes told him the place was for keeping evidence of crimes in. Tony was fascinated, and it took Wes a while to convince Tony they wouldn't be bringing any people in there as evidence and get him back downtown to go home.
On the way, they veered off to the east a little to pass by a second fenced in building. Nobody knew what went on in there.
"It looks bad," Tony said.
"Prob'ly is." Wes nodded. "Keep away from it. We probably can't rescue anyone who gets taken in there, or anywhere else."
"But wouldn't we try?" Tony asked as they headed for home.
"Sure." Wes nodded. "But we can't do much. They have guns. We don't."
"We have those masks."
"Heh, we do, but unless they're throwing stink bombs they're not much use," Wes laughed. "We filched those for treks into the poor district, not invading government property."
"Will we go there? The poor district?"
"Not today," Wes replied, giving Tony a boost over the fence. "It's already late, and there's not much to see anyway. It's just a suburban place with lots of house that are falling apart and smells terrible. You don't want to go there."
"Oh," was all Tony said. They trotted back to the warehouse in the dim twilight, arriving just before the darkness closed in.
"Thanks for showing me the city, Wes," Tony grinned. "It was a lot of fun."
"No problem." Wes nodded. "Thanks for being a good pupil."
Tony grinned and ran off, joining a cluster of Jumpers his age and excitedly telling them about his trip. Wes watched them, not noticing Cody come up behind him and thump him.
"Told ya it wouldn't be that bad," he said.
"Whatever." Wes scowled at him, pushing past. "You will not believe how much energy that kid has. I could barely keep up."
"Growing old already, Wes?" Cody laughed.
"Shut up, Baine!"