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"This is all two years old," Darcy explained as Skyler watched over her shoulder. "Horatio must've shut it out of the main computers, so it's never updated. I can't get into that yet without giving out our location, but I did take a look around at the files, and guess. What. I. Found."
Darcy expanded a tab of a map. Skyler scanned it over and recognized it as a map of Cincinnati. Darcy pointed to the gray edges. "The old sector." She pointed to the green within. "The inner city. Red is government buildings – including the factory – blue is businesses and all the boring stuff but..." Darcy zoomed in on a red. "This one, I realized, is very nearly into the old sector, but still an active place, as of two years ago. I did some digging, and guess what it used to be?"
"Doesn't the map say?"
"A hotel." Darcy grinned. "But it's red."
Skyler stared at the screen. "The Jumpers..."
"Exactly." Darcy nodded. "We had checked over there. It's on the opposite end of the city, but from your map and Coyote searches, we haven't been around there yet since it's too close to the city."
"Darcy you are brilliant." Skyler gripped her shoulders. Darcy grinned and sat back, looking incredibly proud of herself, but then leaned forward again.
"Oh, also this." She clicked around and brought up several diagrams. "Cyborg developments. Schematics, technical stuff, ordering parts, and how the process is done. Kind of gross, but it could be useful if it's not already outdated."
Skyler nodded, his heart tight in his chest. They had found them. They found their friends. "I'm gonna grab the Jumpers and head that way."
"Whooaaaa slow down." Darcy swiveled in her chair and grabbed his wrist. "Skyler, we need to think about this. We need to watch the place first. And we need to focus on Kip before Horatio starts whatever he plans on doing to him."
Skyler slumped. Darcy watched him. "We'll rescue them, Skyler. Don't worry. We just need to be careful."
"I know..." Skyler nodded. "I just want this all to end."
"We all do." Darcy smiled. "And we're making that happen. You guys have held out this long. I'm pretty sure the rest of your friends are as tough as you are." Her hand slid down into his to give it a brief squeeze before she pulled away and turned to the computer. "Now go fetch your Jumpers and Conway. And possibly Kate."
When Darcy had briefed everyone on her finds, the Jumpers were ecstatic. Conway and Skyler set to planning while Skipper ran to tell Wes and Hannah. Emma was still trying to figure out a rescue plan for Kip, but having a new plan to figure out made the Jumpers feel like they had a chance again.
"Say any plan works without hiccup and we get everyone out," Conway said as they sat around. "How do we get everyone back here? Let's say the Coyotes captured the other day are there too. We have maybe fifty or sixty kids we need to transport from the hotel to here. It's all the way on the other end of the city. Horatio's gonna have Nabbers sweeping the streets, and with those new firearms... it's going to get ugly."
"Where did those guns come from?" Jonah asked. "How did he get so many? You'd think someone in town would've heard that the mayor has new toys."
"He's managed to slide cyborg creation under the people's noses for years," Skyler said. "More or less, depending on who believes Madi's articles. And judging by the lack of riots, I'm guessing not even the magazine idea we tried has worked."
"We don't need riots," Conway said. "That's going to endanger more lives. This us against him. We don't need to draw the populace into it. We need to start thinking like an army. Horatio has one, and it's only a matter of time before he unleashes his cyborg forces."
"How do you know?" Skyler asked.
Conway shrugged. "He's going to see us as a threat who won't go down via Nabbers. He's going to bring out the expert exterminators, and he won't care what people think because he has the power to stop them too."
"What would you suggest?"
"We sabotage his resources," Conway said. "I'll do some digging and figure out where the guns are coming from. Darcy can get us access into the main computer systems, and we can do whatever damage we like in there, or use it to pull info, including anything on Kip."
Surprised yelps from the cavern made everyone jump. Kate rushed to the cavern. Skyler's heart raced. Not again. Please, not again. They were safe. They had to be.
"It's just Madison." Kate came back. Madison followed her.
"Oh, thanks, hon." Madison rolled her eyes. "'Just Madison' has some big news. And it's not good."
"What?" Skyler slumped. He didn't know why bad news still surprised him. He should be used to it by now.
"Watch," Madison said, turning her tablet screen to face them. "The mayor had a special announcement this morning."
She touched the screen, and a video began playing, showing Horatio's face.
"Today," Horatio was saying, looking out over what Skyler assumed was a crowd of people, "our city's crime rates have been far too high. Theft runs rampant, muggings occur, putting civilians at risk on the streets. Our local shops and larger businesses have been vandalized, but even with the capture of these young delinquents, crime still occurs.
"Criminals have taken refuge in the outer edges of our city, in the old sections of the city. But today, we are going to fix that. We will begin to clean up the old sectors, to perhaps one day make way for reconstruction and bring it to its former glory.
"Of course, any project like this needs people. To both clean up the old sectors, and control the crime in our city, we will be creating a program that will employ the criminals we have in custody. Under close supervision they will work to clean the old sector, to help them back on the path of honest, paying work."
Madison paused it.
"Well that sucks," Wes said. "This place is gonna be crawling with criminals and security."
"We'll need to get out of the old sector," Skyler said. "Head out into the woods. They'll find our hideout here sooner or later."
Madison nodded. "That's what I thought, and we can scout out places later. But... there's more, guys... I need you all to stay calm and rational for this next bit."
"What's wrong?" Conway sat forward. Madison tapped the play button again.
"But you may ask about the criminal whose records deem them far too dangerous to be let out," Horatio said. "The ones whose psychological instability makes them unable to be let out to work.
"For these people, we have developed the Cincinnati Correctional Facility. We have developed methods and therapies to help them recover, and it is our hope that they will eventually be able to join the work, and the exercise will help reinforce the treatments."
Wes shifted. "I don't--"
"To show you how successful the facility's treatments are, we will be starting with a criminal who has aided and abetted the delinquent vandals. He has had previous history in a government position, and his state of mind has made him dangerous." A picture appeared in the corner of the screen as Horatio spoke. "Christopher Oliver will be--"
Madison had to pause because of the outcry from the Jumpers. Skyler felt panic shoot through him. There was no telling if these "treatments" weren't just a nicer way to say torture. This was Horatio's "plan" for Kip. But why?
"I said calm and rational," Madison said over their voices. "Kip's already been transferred there. The rest of the video is just more propaganda about crime rates and stuff and how Kip's 'example' will pave the way for future therapy for criminals."
"We have to get him out of there now," Skyler said.
"Skyler, that's exactly what Horatio wants," Madison said. "He's trying to draw you out."
"I can't let him hurt Kip!" Skyler cried out. Two years of stress. worry, fear, and exhaustion were catching up to him. "Who knows what they've done to him, or what they're doing to him now, or going to do--"
"Skyler." Madison looked at him steadily. "We need to stay calm. We're all worried, I know, but we can't just charge in. He was in a mind to be able to talk to Emma and tell her covertly if he was alone. We can guess he's alright for now."
"I can't wait." Skyler shook his head. "I've waited two whole years, and now we know where Kip is and where the others are."
"Skyler." Hannah stepped over to him. "We need to be careful. We can't lose anyone else. We will rescue them, we will do everything we possibly can. But we need to do it right, not charge in guns blazing. We need to be smart and reasonable about this."
Skyler's shoulders slumped. He knew they were right, but he didn't want to wait. He wanted this to end. He wanted his family back.
"First, we find someplace safer for you guys," Madison said. "Emma knows about this, and she's keeping track of Horatio's movements. We need to clear out before there's too many people around. Good news is we probably have time enough to clear out all of your stuff here, and maybe the Coyote hideout."
"I'll check it out," Conway said. "Kate?"
"Yep." Kate nodded. "If it's all clear we'll get our stuff."
Skyler, Jonah, and Grace headed to the outskirts of the old sector and then outside the city altogether. They couldn't risk living in the city anymore. They searched the forest for a place that would have enough room for everyone, plus the rescued Jumpers and Coyotes when they rescued them, but there was nothing closed in enough yet big enough for them.
"How far around the city do we want to search?" Jonah asked, handing a water bottle to Grace.
"I don't know," Skyler groaned. "Transporting ourselves and our stuff to the opposite end of the city is gonna be a nightmare, but we shouldn't travel too far from the city here to find a place..." Skyler flicked a twig away. "I hate Horatio."
"I think we all do," Jonah soothed. "Just calm down. We can get Madison and Emma to drive us and our stuff to the other end if we have to, like a shuttle service."
"Worth a shot." Grace stood up. "Come on. We weren't told to come back after a day, so we can travel and camp out."
Skyler pushed to his feet and headed off. Grace ran to catch up.
"Hey." she fell into step with him. "We'll be ok--"
"No, Grace, we won't," Skyler cut her off. "I hate when people tell me we're gonna be okay. We don't know that, and we're probably not going to be sooner or later."
"Sure," Grace frowned. "But there's this thing called hope. The Skyler I knew would at least have a little bit of have that."
"Well, he grew up," Skyler muttered, not looking at her. Grace frowned deeper, letting her pace slow down to match Jonah's. Skyler didn't care. He just wanted this to be all over. He was done with hiding. He was done with running away, with Horatio, with everything.