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Horatio slammed his hands on his desk as he stood. He glared at Osborne Hayes, who stood before him calmly, despite the impressive goose egg he had received the previous night.
"You let them escape?!" Horatio roared. "Every single one of them! And the prisoners?!"
"The Jumpers disabled security," Hayes said. "They struck at a point where we had a high concentration of prisoners, and their arrival pulled the trigger for the prisoners to cause trouble."
"And how did they know when to strike?"
"I assume they had an inside man. I will look into it."
"Do." Horatio nodded. "You are walking a very fine line, Hayes. Do not make such a screw up again. This work project is not flushing them out of hiding, and the facility could not catch them. I need the Peltons, Mr. Hayes."
"And you will have them," Hayes said calmly. "They are resourceful, but my resources are far greater."
"See to it they are," Horatio said. "Those pests somehow got into our computers. We don't know what they've seen, but we can't take any chances." Horatio made himself sit down again and try to calm down. "If they have our secrets, there is one woman they will go to."
"Yes," Horatio nodded. "We've suspected her of having dealings with them before, and currently her articles have been appearing in a new magazine whose company does not exist."
"You think the Jumpers are behind it?"
"I know they are." Horatio leaned forward. "They have upset my plans for the last time. I have enough cyborgs to overrun them. My team is developing a plan to introduce them to the public safely and without causing uproar. I will have authority, and I will not let these.... children spoil it with their propaganda. Now get out, and do not mess up again."
Skyler, as Hannah had expected, didn't like the idea of waiting. He needed to get back out there and keep working. They were so close to finding the others. After that, they could stop Horatio.
But he couldn't deny sleep did wonders for them all. Sleep with the knowledge that they were safe and away from the city came easier to everyone. With some sleep and Emma's care, the color returned to Kip's face, and he began to look healthy again. Skyler felt more at ease with Kip around. He didn't feel like he had to try so hard to keep everyone's morale up. The sight of Kip alive and with them did more than enough. It even helped the Coyotes, who were no doubt still trying to recover from Conway's leaving.
Soon Kip was up and walking a little. Skyler, Hannah, Kate, Tag, and Darcy showed him the location of where they thought their friends were being kept. They still had no plan, but they were beginning to send out small scout parties to watch the place. So far, there had been no sign of Jumper or Coyote.
Osborne Hayes was another problem Skyler and his friends needed to remove. As the days went by, security over the working prisoners and even Nabbers during their sweep had firearms that looked nasty. Worse, the Nabbers seemed to be getting better at what they did. They were being trained.
Another problem was people started disappearing again. Fred's people in the poor sector reported to him the missing people. Young adults to middle-aged adults were the target range. Horatio was building his army, and Skyler guessed Hayes was supplying firepower to arm them.
"We need to trail him," Skyler said. He and his friends sat around a low fire. "Hayes, I mean. There's gotta be someplace he's keeping all of those guns. We take out that resource, we can cripple Horatio's cyborg production."
"Yeah, only problem is that it's way too dangerous to be trailing anyone in the city anymore." Wes rolled his eyes. "We should lure him out to us. I'll bet you Horatio's not a happy camper right now, and Hayes might be near the center of it. He's going to want to redeem himself."
"Skyler and Hannah shouldn't be among the ones to lead him off," Kip said. "For whatever reason, Horatio wants them both. We can't give him such a great opportunity."
"Why not?" Skyler asked. "All the more reason to get Osborne to chase us."
"He would sense a trap," Tag said. "He knows that we now know Horatio wants you both. You or Hannah or both of you springing up for him to chase would raise flags."
"Keeping you both out of his line of fire is best. Kip nodded. "He used me to try drawing you both out, and it worked. He didn't get you, but who's to say we won't be so lucky next time?"
"So we just sit around--"
"No." Kip looked at him sharply. "That's not what I meant, Skyler. We need to play this carefully. Horatio will be busy recovering his public image. We can focus on making life suck for this Hayes fellow. He's in charge of the workers in the old district. We can start there. Put our Fence Jumper skills to work." He looked at the Jumpers. "Unless we have practice we need to do?"
Wes smirked. "We've kept our skills updated."
"Good." Kip smiled. He looked at Jonah, his expression changing. Skyler frowned and looked between them. "Jonah, a word, please?"
"Uh, sure?" Jonah stood. He and Tag helped Kip to his feet, and the two of them walked a little ways away. Skyler looked at Hannah worriedly.
"I'm sure it'll be fine," she said. But even she didn't sound convinced. Skyler nodded a little. He jumped at a startled cry from Jonah. Twisting around, Skyler saw Jonah staring at Kip with an expression like mixed dismay and horror. Skyler started to stand, but Hannah grabbed his arm.
"Don't interrupt, Skyler," Hannah cut him off. Skyler sat as Jonah backed away from Kip. Kip stepped forward, but Jonah backed up more.
"Okay now go," Hannah said. "Help Jonah."
Skyler was already on his feet and going over. "Kip? What's going on?" Skyler looked at Jonah. It was a little hard to tell with his dark skin, but his friend looked pale. "Jonah?"
"You remember I've told you about my brother?" Jonah said, his voice shaking. "Devon?"
"He's alive," Jonah choked out. "He's alive, but he's working for Horatio as a bodyguard."
Skyler stared, then looked at Kip. He nodded. "I saw Devon a while ago... I'm not giving up the possibility that he's not on Horatio's side."
"Being a bodyguard for him is pretty much screaming whose side he's on!" Jonah exclaimed. Before Skyler could react Jonah stormed off. He started after him, but Kip held him back.
"Let him be," he said quietly. Skyler frowned, but smiled a little when Kip tousled his hair. "When did you get so tall, kid?"
"I dunno. It just seemed to happen." Skyler shrugged. "My sister hates it, but I keep it just to spite her."
Kip smirked. "You've grown up, kiddo. Last I saw you, you were a terrified fourteen-year-old just come back from torture."
"Well, I had also just seen Cody be...." Skyler swallowed. "But yeah... I have. And it's sucked half the time."
"These days, it does that a lot." Kip smiled a little. "But you have a great thing started here, Skyler. You've kept the others safe, you've found these new kids. Cody would be proud."
Skyler looked up at him. "You think so?"
"I know it." Kip nodded. "You--"
"Skyler!" Kate called. "I've got a group of five pre-teens hounding me to get you to teach them more fence jumping. Get them off my back. Also, Madison sends a note saying she's bringing something for you and Hannah later tonight, so don't go wondering off and getting yourselves killed."
"Alright!" Skyler replied. He looked up at Kip. "Will Jonah be okay?"
"Give him some time," Kip replied. "Go on."
Skyler spent the remainder of the evening helping the five young Coyotes. They watched him as he demonstrated and talked them through it. He helped them with their placement: Hands on the fence, push, use the momentum to swing your legs around, let go of the fence with one hand to let your legs through, and drop. Skyler was able to forget about his worries. All he knew was jumping, and the kids who watched him.
At least until Kip called him over.
"We'll try some more tomorrow," Skyler promised the Coyotes, seeing their dismay. "Too dark and we'll be falling over the hurdles, not jumping them. Good work, guys." Skyler trotted over to Kip. "Hey, what-- Kip, are you okay?" Skyler looked at Kip's expression. He looked wary.
"Madi's here," Kip said. "She has some people you should see."
"People?" Skyler frowned. "She brought people here? Why?"
"Just go see. Hannah's waiting."
Skyler hurried to the hub of their camp. Tag directed him to the entrance, where a few Coyotes stood by, guns in hand, by Madi's car just inside the entrance. Hannah waved him over.
"Any idea who it is?" She asked.
"Your guess is as good as mine." Skyler shrugged as they approached. The doors open. "Why she'd bring some--"
Skyler stopped dead in his tracks. Emotions from two years ago bubbled up to the surface as two familiar faces stepped out, not including Madison's. Skyler's senses weren't sure how to respond to this. Nothing he had done or trained himself for had prepared him for this.
"Oh my gosh..." Hannah breathed, her hands covering her mouth. Skyler felt a lump clog his throat. He wanted to run. He did not need this kind of thing right now.
He did not need to see his parents standing there watching him.