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Conway took the lead down the tunnel. In some ways, it reminded Skyler of the tunnels at their old hideout under the warehouse. But there were differences. The tunnels here were chiseled smooth, instead of rough and natural-looking. When another corridor crossed the path of the one they followed, pillars had been carved into the corners of each direction the corridors went in.
"You live down here?" Skipper asked.
"Yup." Conway nodded. "We've been down here for about two years, I think. They're old smugglers' caves, so they're perfect. One of our guys found it on accident, and we moved in."
"How many are down here?" Hannah asked.
"How many?" Conway paused. He looked at Kate. "How many would you say?"
"At least a hundred." Kate shrugged. "Mostly kids."
"A hundred?" Hannah breathed. "My word, and you all fit down here?"
"It's a close fit, but we manage." Conway shrugged. "We're still exploring the tunnels, too, for extra rooms."
"Why are you guys down here?" Skyler asked. "I mean, so many of you..."
"You heard of the Fence Jumpers?" Conway asked.
"Yeah." Skyler nodded. He looked at his friends questioningly. Ethan shrugged, and Hannah nodded slightly. Skyler look back at Conway. "We're part of them."
The tunnel went completely silent. Kate looked at them critically. Skyler watched Conway, gauging his reaction, but Conway didn't appear to be angry or wary.
"You're not kidding?" He asked, his tone almost hopeful. "No, wait. We can talk when we get there. Come on."
A few more corridors later, they arrived at a huge cavern, almost like the one under the warehouse, but this one was clearly man-made, and looked like a stone warehouse. Fire pits dotted the cavern, with kids clustered around them. It looked so much like the Fence Jumper hideout Skyler felt a little homesick.
"This way," Conway said. He looked at his group. "Go get some grub, all. Good work. Kate, can you come with?"
The Jumpers were led down another corridor and into a smaller cave. A folding table was set up, with a map and what looked like blueprints.
"Is that a floor plan of City Hall?" Jonah leaned over the table. Kate pushed him away and folded the papers up out of sight. Skyler looked at Conway.
"Yes, that's a floor plan." Conway nodded. "But that's a story for another time. You guys really are Fence Jumpers?"
"What's left of them," Skyler said. "The mayor has the rest of us locked up somewhere."
"And you've been hiding all this time?" Conway asked, sitting on the table. "Two years, right?"
Skyler nodded. "We've been trying to find the others to rescue them."
A grin spread over Conway's face. Skyler looked at him warily.
"You guys are legends here," Conway continued. "We've all heard of what you did. Infiltrating that old government building, breaking out the other Fence Jumpers. And then breaking out of City Hall!"
"That's been all over the news?" Skyler blinked.
"Most of it." Conway shrugged. "We have eyes and ears all over, so we've been able to pick up rumors and gossip."
Skyler latched onto those words. "Do you have any idea where our friends are being kept?"
"No, sorry. I'd be surprised if they're still alive..."
Skyler felt like his heart was being squeezed. He shook his head. They weren't gone. They had to be okay.
"How much do you know about what Horatio has planned?" Wes asked, a hint of suspicion in his tone.
"Some reporter claimed he was making a cyborg army," Conway replied. "But the mayor disproved her accusations and even gave a tour of the places she claimed were being used as facilities. It's all clean. The reporter kind of dropped off the media world."
"What do you mean, dropped off?" Skyler repeated.
"She just doesn't write much anymore," Conway replied. "She hasn't been arrested or anything. Do you know her? Madison Carter?"
"We do. She's helped us a few times," Skyler said. "So, Madison is okay?"
"Far as I know. I don't typically go looking for media attention, though." Conway looked at the all. "But let's get you guys some food, yeah? I don't think you've told us your names."
Skyler introduced his friends. Despite a handshake, Wes still gave Kate an icy look. Kate, on the other hand, didn't seem to care. Conway led them into the midst of the teens in the cavern to a table laden with food. Skyler tried not to look too excited about this.
"So, what do you guys do?" Hannah asked as the Jumpers found places by a vacated fire pit. Conway and Kate sat down with them.
"Survive," Conway said. "We tried doing what Fence Jumpers have done, but we don't really have a knock for jumping fences and risking our lives. We lay low, and sometimes we make life for Horatio irritating."
Skyler grinned. "Is it working?"
"We've given him some grief." Conway smirked. "But I'm glad to know the Jumpers aren't extinct. They were doing some good around here."
The way Conway said it made it sound like the Jumpers had stopped on purpose. Like they were done playing mischief-maker and disbanded.
"We've done what we could," Skyler said quietly.
"Yeah, but you got caught," Conway said. "Kinda sloppy--"
Skyler lunged at him. Everyone around the fire yelled in alarm. Skyler slammed his fist into Conway's gut, making the other boy double over. Conway swung his fist and connected with Skyler's jawbone, sending him sprawling off of Conway.
Skyler ignored the pain and the spots in his vision and stood, whirling around to face Conway just as the other boy tackled him. Skyler struggled under him and twisted, making Conway lose his balance. Skyler jerked his elbow into Conway's face and shoved him away, but Conway grabbed his arm and twisted. Skyler yelled in pain and was pushed against the floor with Conway on top, pinning him down.
There were shouting and angry voices. Conway was pulled off of Skyler, who twisted and lunged. Someone else grabbed Skyler and held him back.
"Easy, Skyler," Wes said. "Chill, man!"
Skyler glared at Conway, who was held back by Ethan and a tall boy in a long coat. Kate was close to Conway, talking in low tones. Skyler strained against Wes, and winced when the older boy gripped his arm.
"Skyler, chill!" Wes snapped. "What's wrong with you?"
"Don't you DARE say that!" Skyler shouted angrily. "You weren't there! You don't know what happened! Don't you DARE act like you know what happened!"
"How do you know I don't?" Conway spat. His nose was bleeding. He shook Ethan and the other boy off and glared at Skyler. "You don't know a thing about me."
"You don't know a thing about us!" Skyler countered.
"I know enough," Conway said. "You all disappeared, and people who tried to find a place to stay with you were disappointed."
"It's not like we had a choice!" Skyler exclaimed. "You don't know what happened!"
"Yeah I do," Conway snarled. "It was all over the news. You were all captured. End of story. End of Jumpers. The streets become so dangerous it's not safe for any kid, orphan or not, to be out alone. The mayor's goons sweep the streets of the old city and the inner city more often. Ever since your lot got captured and the rest of you ditched--"
Skyler lunged again, but Wes jerked him back.
"Conway, stop it," Kate said. "Keep your opinions to yourself. It's not helping anyone."
Skyler glared at Conway, almost daring him to say more. The other boy said nothing.
"Let go, Wes," Skyler said, wriggling. "I'm fine." Wes hesitated, but he released his hold. Skyler rotated his arm, and winced a little.
"Can you both get along without killing each other?" Kate looked between them.
"I can," Conway said, his tone edged with anger.
"Fine," Skyler barely managed to keep a hiss out of his voice. The cavern had gone silent, everyone was watching the two boys nervously. Skyler glowered at Conway.
"We should go, Skyler," Hannah murmured. "I think we've outstayed our welcome..."
"Yeah," Skyler said. He looked at Conway. "Sorry for wasting your time."
Conway only turned and walked away without a word. Kate hesitated, then jogged after Conway and stopped him.
"We're going?" Skipper looked dismayed.
"Yeah." Skyler nodded. "Sorry, Skip, but I think I ruined our chances of friends around here."
"It's not your fault," Aggie said. "Let's get out before anything--"
"Hold up." Conway came back. Skyler turned to face him. "Look, we have our differences. But we also have something in common: the mayor. We both want him taken down. He's got your friends, and he makes it hard to survive for you and us. A lot of ours looked up to the Fence Jumpers, and having you guys around might give us the morale boost we needed. We can help each other."
"Forget what I said earlier," Conway interrupted. "I was being an idiot and shooting my mouth off. It's complicated, but what I think about the whole thing doesn't matter." He looked at Skyler and his friends. "Will you stay? We can make room, and with your expertise in getting into restricted places, we could learn a lot from you. We can help you find the rest of your group."
The last part had Skyler interested. The amount of ground they could cover with more people would speed up the search. They could send out more people, search more places. And they didn't have to worry about hunting up food at the same time. It would be like living in the Jumper hideout again.
Skyler looked at the others. Hannah seemed to know what he was thinking and nodded. Skipper looked up at Aggie excitedly, and Aggie was grinning. Ethan was grinning too, and Wes shrugged.
"Alright." Skyler looked at Conway. "We'll stay."
The cavern exploded into cheers. Skyler jumped in surprise. The kids in the cavern were clapping and cheering. They looked so happy Skyler wasn't sure what he had said to make them cheer.
"See?" Conway clapped Skyler on the back. "You guys are legends around here. Now let's get back to our food, yeah?"
"Sure." Skyler grinned. "Sorry about your nose."
"Eh, no harm done," Conway laughed, "it was already an ugly one. How's the arm?"
"Ruined," Skyler said, sitting down by Wes and Hannah by the fire as things calmed down. "I'll never be able to use it again."
"Good to hear." Conway smirked. "Welcome to the family, Jumpers."
"Thanks." Skyler nodded. "D'you guys have something you call yourselves?"
"Sure we do." Conway nodded as everyone tucked in to bowls of thick, meaty soup. "We're called Coyotes. We don't leap fences like you guys do, but we're scrappy."
"I know it," Wes said.
"You barely saw anything," Kate said. "We knocked you unconscious before you put up much of a struggle."
Wes glowered at her. Skyler poked him.
"Ease up," he said. "You're fine now."
"Shut up, Pelton." Wes swatted him.
"Anyways," Conway chuckled. "What have you all been doing since... well, two years ago?"
"Hiding." Skyler shrugged. "Surviving. Whatever you want to call it. We've tried looking for our friends, too, but we haven't found any sign of them. We've about exhausted all the options."
"I know a few of ours who are epic at snooping around," Conway said. "They know who to talk to, and what to ask. D'you guys have anything back at wherever you've been staying that you need?"
"Our stuff." Skyler smiled. "It would be great if we could get back into our old place, if that hasn't been looted. We have a lot of stuff there we could use."
"We'll scout around to make sure it's safe." Conway nodded. "But for now we'll get you guys settled in. Kate can show you around. I don't think there's anyone who knows these caves better than she does."
Skyler looked at Kate. She gave a small smile and a short wave before returning to her soup.
"Skyler," Hannah said quietly. "We should contact Madison. She's probably worried sick about us."
"The reporter?" Conway asked. Skyler nodded. "We've kept tabs on her. We can get a note to her."
"No. We should see her in person," Skyler said. "She would want to see us. We can get a message to her with a meeting place when we head back to the garage."
"Alright," Conway assented. "Well, finish up your soup and we can get you all settled in. You guys look like you could use a nice mattress to sleep on."
Every Jumper, even Wes, stared at Conway in disbelief.
"A mattress?" Ethan breathed. "A real, honest mattress?"
Conway laughed. "Yeah, a real mattress. We live the fine life here. We'll get you guys tucked up on a few in here until we can sort out more solid sleeping arrangements."
That night, Skyler eased down on a real mattress. It wasn't a proper bed, but it was the most heavenly mattress he had ever slept on in two years. No more ratty blankets and sleeping bags on a cold hard floor. He was on a slightly saggy mattress, but that didn't matter. Sleep came very quickly to the weary Jumpers that night. The kind of sleep they hadn't had in a long time.