Chapter Nine

To my ears it sounds like I have five hearts, all pumping violently in unison. The bomb explodes with a muffled concussion and crack. From where we're hiding, I can't see the door, and instead a sudden plume of grey dust shoots into view.

Frantically, I look to Griffin, hoping for some kind of reassurance. Yet he's still fiddling with the wires in the metal box, seemingly unaware of the explosion. I bite back a scream of fear and irritation, knocking the back of my head against the wall.

Since when did my life come to this?

"Oh, so we're hiding now, are we?" My ears are still ringing from the explosion, but Max's voice cuts through the noise.

I turn to my family. Mum, looking back at me with raised eyebrows. Nathan, his leg twitching uncontrollably, his eyes glazed as his ears take the part of the main sense. And Mia, covering her mouth with her hand. Oh God, I can't believe I've dragged them into this. If anything happens to them, it's all my fault.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are!"

Is this some kind of sick game to him? I can hear his feet crunching on the debris, steady and sure.

I look to Griffin again. This time, he returns my gaze. Suddenly, he takes my hand in his and stares urgently at me. He nods at Mum, Nathan and Mia and then shakes our linked hands. He wants us all to hold hands. We take each other's hands in turn, limbs shaking in each other's grip.

"Where could you be?" Max's voice drips with sarcasm. His footsteps are closer and I feel my whole body tense.

Griffin slaps a button on the top of the box and it hums to life. He grabs the curl of wires in his other hand. Max's footsteps falter. Then suddenly they're struggling towards us. In one quick motion he rounds the corner of the cabinet. His face is set. He's no longer joking. In his right hand he aims a pistol. Aims it right at Griffin.

It's like my whole world freezes. It slows to the point in which I have time to make out the sweat on Max's brow, the tensing of his hand, the heave of his chest. Yet somehow it doesn't give me enough time to comprehend the sudden blur that crosses my eyes. Like a cloud blocking out the sun. Then the shot rings out.

"Mum? Mum!"

She collapses to the ground, fingers clutching a crimson hole in her stomach.

Max is aiming the gun again.

"Grab his hand!" That's Griffin, shouting at me.

I see Nathan moving in the corner of my vision and without really thinking I do what Griffin says and reach out to grab his hand.

All of a sudden we're gone and somewhere else. I hit hard, rough, packed earth.

"What did you do?" Nathan's face is in mine, his eyes brimming with tears. I've never seen him like this before.

Where's Mum?

"Griffin, what happened?" I turn desperately to him. He's extracting himself from the tangle of wires and the metal box. He glances at me momentarily and licks his lips nervously. He looks at Nathan before getting to his feet.

Nathan is distraught. Mia is close to tears. "Mum was shot!" Nathan shouts at me, carefully annunciating each word.

The blur, the cloud that blocked the sun. Mum took that bullet. She took the bullet that was meant for Griffin.

Oh God, what have I done?

I feel numb. No matter how hard I try to cry nothing comes. My mouth is dry, my tongue thick and heavy.

"Don't you care?" Nathan continues to scream at me. "This is all your fault!"

"Hey, that's not fair," Griffin interrupts.

Nathan storms towards him, gets right in his face. "She took a bullet for you."

"Yeah, and without her none of us would be alive right now," Griffin retorts. "I'd be dead and you'd have no way of escaping. They'd kill you, kill your friend too-" he nods at Mia, still clutching her mouth to muffle the sobs, "-and leave Alexis to be tested on and used. Besides, your mum may not even be dead. She wasn't when we left. They might patch her up and keep her as bait."

That last statement seems to quieten Nathan and he turns away from Griffin. Griffin meets my searching eyes, offers a tentative smile, then walks away.

"Where are we?" I call after him. My voice is scratchy, thick with brimming tears. Mum might be alive. There's a chance she's alive. I have to hold onto that or it'll consume me.

We're in some kind of twisting cave, filled to the brim with desks, chairs, paper. "The lair," Griffin replies, as if that will mean anything to us.

"What?" Nathan snaps at him.

"Where I live."

"You live here?" Mia asks in disbelief.

"Yes," Griffin answers impatiently.

"But how did we get here? You can't have jumped me here because I never thought of this place. I was thinking of home," I say in disbelief.

"That machine," Griffin says, pointing at the metal box beside me. "Paladins use it to follow jumpers through their jump scar."

"Jump scar?" Nathan asks, confused.

"It's like residue from a jump, a teleport. A rip in the space-time-whatever-continuum. Anyway, Paladins use it to help them follow the jumper to wherever they jumped to. It effectively allows non-jumpers to jump. But I modified it. I couldn't jump from that place because of all the electricity in the building; electricity stops jumpers from jumping. But when I changed the machine I allowed it to help me jump, in a way. The power of the machine overrode Alexis' ability."

"What?" Nathan clutches his head in confusion.

Griffin sighs impatiently. "Look, all you need to know is that I can jump, I'm a jumper, which means I can teleport. Your sister, when she was a test-tube baby, was tested on by those people back there that kidnapped you and tried to kill us. They turned her into a weapon against jumpers so that if she's touching a jumper when he or she jumps then she controls where that jump goes. Okay?"

Nathan opens his mouth to reply, but just shakes his head. "This is mental."

As I shakily climb to my feet, Mia rushes over and wraps me into a hug. "Oh Alexis." She pulls away and looks me in the eyes. "Your Mum is fine, don't worry."

I smile weakly at her.

"So what do we do now?" I ask Griffin. "We have to go back and get Mum."

Griffin snorts. "If you want to go back to that death trap then be my guest, but I don't think you'll get out alive."

"So we just drop it?" I clarify in disbelief.

"For now." Griffin shrugs. "Look, you're safe, that's all that matters right now. Don't worry, the shit will hit the fan soon enough, but until then you have to wait. You can't just go charging in all guns blazing."

"Yes, because you certainly strike me as someone who plans everything," I snap at him sarcastically.

He glares at me, biting back his anger. "Have a rest, get cleaned up, then we can sort something out. Alright?"

I grind my teeth together. I hate the thought of sitting here, doing nothing, while Mum's fate hangs in the balance. But Griffin's right – we need to take some time out and work out what we're going to do next. "Fine."

Later on, after we've all had a wash in the excuse for a shower that Griffin has installed, he jumps away to get us all some clothes and other necessities. Mia specifically instructed him to only go to Topshop and H&M for clothes, to which Griffin just rolled his eyes.

Nathan is playing on Griffin's X-Box, losing his inhibitions in a swarm of pixels, just like he's always done. Mia is sleeping on one of Griffin's computer chairs. I wander the lair, studying all the drawings he has on his walls. He's amazing at drawing. He captures portraits in great detail. Over the drawings are scribbled numbers and words that mean nothing to me, and I think about how much I don't know about Griffin. What do I know? His name, if that even is his name. In the vent system in the Paladin Facility, he told me how he used to live in Oxford till he first jumped. Then he moved to San Diego. He never got any further than that. I feel a pang of sympathy for him. For all I know, Griffin might have gone through a lot worse in his childhood than I've been through in these last few days. I make a mental note to ask him about it later.

In that second, Griffin jumps back and dumps two heavy duffel bags on the ground. He zips them open. In one is a heap of clothes, in the other an array of packaged food.

"Dig in," he says with a shrug, grabbing a Crunchie chocolate bar for himself. He rips it open and takes a bite.

"What are these?" I ask him, pointing to the drawings on the closest wall and desk.

"Doesn't matter, just leave it," he snaps, stomping over and sorting through the clutter, blocking my view. He stops suddenly, clutching a piece of paper, but I can't see what's on it. "Where's your dad?" he asks, his voice quieter.

"Who knows," Nathan replies, not taking his eyes of his video game. "He left us when we were kids." His tone of voice is bitter; Dad's leaving always hit him harder than it did me.

"So you've no idea where he is, what he does?" Griffin asks.

"No," I answer.

Griffin gives a little laugh and shakes his head.

"What?"

"Nothing, I-" he begins, then continues more forcefully. "Don't you just think it's a bit odd that your parents agreed to have IVF done by a bunch of scientists who paid them. Think about it, would you do that? No, it's stupid; it's obvious that the scientists want to do something more than just study the embryos. If they wanted to do that they could just take the frozen, unused embryos from the IVF clinics or whatever. So why did they want embryos that were gonna actually be allowed to grow? Because they were gonna do something to the embryos. Don't you just think it's a bit strange how your parents went along with it, even if they were desperate for a child?"

"So... what are you implying?" I'm still trying to process Griffin's words.

He frowns at me. "What I'm saying is that maybe your Dad had something to do with it. You'd need some pretty good convincing to agree to having your future child tested on. Maybe your Dad was in on it and convinced your Mum. Then he left because... I don't know, he couldn't carry the burden of what he did."

"Are you saying my Dad's a Paladin?"

Griffin shrugs. A half-smile has grown to life on his face. "We'll just have to find out."