Regent’s gatehouse security guard, Jeff Harris, was a man who took his job seriously despite the extremely long periods of boredom and the near constant harassment he received from the students. And so he became instantly alert when an old model van turned toward the school entranceway. He had no reason to double-check his clipboard; he knew for a fact that no deliveries were scheduled for the day.

His caution towards the van did not protect him from the automatic rifle that swung alarmingly close to his face as a man dressed in military style camouflage stepped into the gatehouse’s doorway. Jeff’s arms immediately shot up into the air as thoughts of his wife and kids flashed into his mind. His wide blue eyes met the dark brown of the gunman, looking for instructions, hoping there would be some as they would signal the continuance of his life at least for the moment. The automatic still trained on the guard, the gunman stepped back and with a snap of his head motioned for Jeff to follow him out.

So intensely had Jeff’s world been filled with the automatic’s muzzle that he did not even notice the van was now stopped by the gatehouse. The side door slid open to reveal several more camouflaged men, armed to the teeth, each of their eyes alight with something akin to hatred and tinged with fervor. Despite the fact that he could be looking into the eyes of his own death, Jeff found himself wondering what these men could possibly want with anyone or anything at the school.

Jeff’s gunman stepped out of the way and still without speaking motioned for the security guard to step into the van. An often spoken prayer played on Jeff’s lips as he stepped up to the van where he was roughly pulled inside and immediately bound and gagged. He watched as the gunman moved out of his line of sight toward the gatehouse. The man returned shortly and stepped inside the van. As the door slid shut once again, Jeff thought that for better or worse he was about to learn what intentions they had for the school and the people within.

+ + + + + + +

J.D. stirred from his sleep as unfamiliar sounds slipped through to his unconscious mind. The young man was sitting up in his bed even as the door to his room was suddenly forced open. J.D.’s "Hey!" of outrage died on his lips as his wide eyes took in the sight of the automatic rifle held in the hands of the dark skinned man in his room. Fear filled him but was nearly overridden by youthful curiosity. A question was forming on his lips when the man ordered, "Change your clothes, NOW!" The freshman scrambled from his bed and quickly grabbed a T-shirt and jeans. Pulling the clothes on, J.D. felt a new, deeper stirring of fear as he wondered about the others. He was not allowed to consider them for long, for as soon as he stuffed his feet into his tennis shoes, the gunman grabbed him by the arm and pulled him from the room. J.D.’s lone act of defiance was to grab his Raven's cap as he passed the dresser near the door.

+ + + + + + +

In fact, just days before Vin rudely woke up a very chagrined Ezra. Somehow he slept through the loud blaring of the alarm clock they shared. Even with the hard shakes Vin gave Ezra’s shoulders it had taken the southerner a few moments to pull himself out of his slumber and blink sleep-fogged, yet angry eyes at Vin. The Texan only answered with a soft smile and an understanding look in his humor-filled blue eyes.

Ezra’s rude awakening this morning was not greeted by those mischievous eyes, but by a pair of near black, soulless ones. That snapped old reflexes into place and Ezra was immediately awake, flinching away from the thick, calloused hand that grabbed at him. It was then that he took in the sight of the weapon in the man’s other hand. The southerner prided himself on his ability to remain unfazed by rapidly changing situations; it was a requirement for living with his mother. And so while fear coursed through him, he kept his face impassive and his mouth shut. First and foremost he needed to learn the situation and where exactly he fit into it.

"Change, NOW!" the gunman ordered. Nodding slightly, Ezra kept his hands where the man could see them as he slid from the bed. Even as he slowly moved to the closet, his mind raced to catalogue what information he could gather. The man spoke in a heavy, Spanish type accent. The military style of his camouflage and all of the heavy artillery had Ezra thinking South American, possibly Colombian.

But Ezra’s consideration of who this man was and why he was here slipped from his mind as he took in the sight of Vin’s already made bed. At least his roommate was out on his morning jog. He only hoped that the timing was just right so that Vin would not be returning in the middle of this situation. Grabbing a pair of jeans and a pull over shirt, Ezra wondered just how big this situation was and if it involved the entire school. He did not think he was being singled out. His mother, for all her crazy schemes and cons, had never dealt in any way with anyone involved in the drug trade. And Carlisle, while maybe a little shady in his business dealings, was not the type to have survived any venture in that area.

+ + + + + + +

Buck woke up at Nathan's prodding. "It's Saturday, Nate, leave me 'lone," he muttered as he attempted to turn away from the other boy.

"Get up, Buck," Nate insisted firmly as he continued to shake him. "Something’s going on. Listen."

Buck opened his eyes and remained still as he listened. And indeed there was something of a commotion going on in the hallway. He could hear doors being opened, footsteps in the hallway, all far too much activity for the school at anytime but especially on a Saturday morning when most of the students were away.

Swinging his long legs over the edge of the bed, Buck noticed that his roommate was already dressed in sweatpants and shirt and was now pulling on his shoes. Jutting his chin out to him in a silent question, Buck rummaged around for some clothing to pull on himself. Nathan shook his head as he answered quietly, "I’ve heard some voices talking in Spanish. They’re coming this way."

Buck nodded as he pulled a T-shirt over his tousled, curly hair. Before he could even ask what Nathan wanted to do, their door burst open to reveal someone they both immediately labeled as a terrorist. Both boys took a step back away from the weapon pointed at them. If the gunman was surprised to see them already dressed, he did not show it. Instead he simply motioned for them to step out into the hallway. Both boys followed him out to see the same scene being repeated down the hallway at the rooms of the other juniors who remained on campus during the holiday weekend.

Buck’s first concern was for J.D. and what his young friend must be feeling. He just hoped the kid would not do anything foolish. That thought immediately made Buck think of Chris just upstairs. He could see a few of the terrorists climbing the stairs to the senior floor. Buck turned worried eyes to Nathan who returned it. They both knew that there were times when Chris acted as if he had nothing left to lose and looked for any excuse to vent his anger at life. Both hoped Josiah would be able to keep Chris from doing anything rash.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah sat on his bed, watching as Chris peeked out of their room. "What do you see?" Both of them woke up at nearly the same time as loud noises filtered up from the lower floor. Having shared a look of concern, they both moved to get dressed, each instinctively moving and speaking as quietly as possible.

Chris went to the door and slowly pulled it slightly ajar. He turned to look back at Josiah, "Nothing. But I hear people coming up the stairs." Shutting the door, wishing it had a lock on it, Chris met Josiah’s eyes. "This doesn’t feel right."

The bigger boy nodded, then in a smooth, quick move that belied his bulky frame, Josiah grabbed his laptop and slid it under his bed, giving it a kick so that it slid all the way to the back, hoping it would be enough to keep it out of sight. Chris pulled his head back, his green eyes showing his confusion. Josiah shrugged a sheepish look crossing his face, one Chris recognized to mean that he was acting on impulses none of the other boys could understand or hear. But Chris knew that if God were going to speak to any of them, it would be Josiah since Chris, at least, had long ago stopped listening.

Their door burst open then, Chris jumped back from the noise but landed on the balls of his feet, crouched and prepared to fight. The sight of the gun in the camouflaged man’s hands immediately told Chris that it would be a fairly quick fight. Josiah’s firm grip on his shoulder pleaded silently for Chris to wait, the gentle squeeze reminding him that he had friends he needed to think about as well. Releasing his held breath, Chris allowed his body to relax, his hands going limp at his sides. But he never once dropped his gaze from the gunman’s.

As he motioned for the two boys to follow him out of the room, the gunman marked Chris’ face in his mind. The boy faced him unflinchingly, which marked him as brave and as a threat. He would be sure to point him out to Luis so that they could watch him carefully.


Freedom. Solitude. Happiness. All three emotions merged into one joy as the young boy jogged without any great exertion. Trees, bushes and even the path blurred as he ran. Running had always been his release. The only time he was really alone, in control, and could allow himself to be exactly who he was. From a very early age he discovered he was fast on his feet. It allowed him a way out of many a bad situation, however, mostly he ran to forget, to recoup, to be alone. To forget, even if only briefly, whatever unpleasant places, people or circumstances he had been forced to face. They could not touch him emotionally or physically when he ran. This was Vin Tanner's sanctuary. It gave him strength to survive the endless heartaches and bitter disappointments life threw at him. Even when that life changed for the better two years ago when Betty and Henry Van Owen took him into their home, he still ran.

Vin knew instinctively the Van Owens would be different to other foster care. More the age of grandparents than parents, the Van Owens quickly cocooned him into their tender and loving family. Slowly they removed the young boy's protective barriers to reveal the happy, mischievous and affectionate boy he struggled to retain, despite what had happened to him. It was Henry Van Owen who first recognized the boy's uncanny running ability and sought out a reputable coach. From there, the older man set aside time every morning to take Vin to training and on weekends to the track meets he competed in. It had not taken long for a school scout to notice him and from there a scholarship to a school that the Van Owens could have never afforded.

Vin regulated his breathing as he pushed himself a little harder to negotiate the winding steep incline that led to the top of the hill. With a final rush he burst forth onto the small clearing that opened up into a small picnic area. Hands on hips, he moved in slow circles while taking a few deep breaths. Moving to the park bench, he did a number of leg stretches before turning around and gazing over the view. Lost in the familiar scene, his thoughts led him back to his friends, especially the newest one.

He and Ezra were becoming close. Ezra had an agile and devious mind combined with a wicked sense of humor, which were all traits Vin admired as well. Whilst their lives were vastly different, they both experienced similar feelings of isolation and loneliness. In their short time together, they had become at ease around each other and Vin suspected Ezra was allowing him closer than he had any other friend.

None of this pleased Chris. Vin took another deep breath then expelled it. His friendship with Chris was entirely different. The sophomore and the senior struck up an unusual friendship from the moment they had met. Theirs was a more quiet and introspective relationship. Vin recognized Chris' need to care and look out for him and the sophomore liked having an older "brother" to talk to and spend time with. It was not dissimilar to how Buck had now become close with J.D. Buck was just more boisterous and expressive in how he cared for the freshman. And there was no doubt about how J.D. felt about having Buck for his friend. The young boy just shone with enthusiasm and energy when the junior was around. Vin guessed they had a lot in common, with their obvious adoration of their mothers and the pain both felt with the absence of fathers growing up.

Nathan had even warmed up to Ezra more. This was no doubt due to Josiah's influence. The big senior was often amused by Ezra's comments and opinions and was often seen chuckling away when he watched Ezra and Vin get into and out of mischief. Despite Chris's continued reticence about fully trusting Ezra, they formed a friendship of seven. Flicking his hair back, he wondered if any of them wondered how and why their friendship flourished. Probably not, although he figured Josiah would have a theory on it. The boy smiled as he could almost hear the beginnings of the senior's long and well thought out explanation. Vin himself, did not try very hard to understand it or question it. He was just thankful for all his friends. He smiled as one of Betty’s sayings filtered into his thoughts. His foster mother, an avid bingo player, had always been thoroughly convinced that seven was the luckiest of all numbers. Vin was beginning to agree with her. With one last gaze at the view, he turned back towards the path and slowly jogged back to school.

+ + + + + + +

As they were herded into the school cafeteria, Chris and Josiah were greeted with the sight of all the students and faculty that remained behind during the holiday weekend. Once they moved past the doorway, their escort took up a guard position just outside, joined by another gunman. Seeing that they were free to move about the cafeteria fairly freely, both seniors began looking for their friends. Josiah easily caught sight of Buck with J.D. and Nathan, sitting at one end of a table. Ezra sat at the head of the table, though he had pulled the chair away from it so that there was a bit of distance between himself and the others. Josiah could feel Chris stiffen as he continued to look around the room but could not find a trace of Vin.

Buck caught Chris’ eyes as he strode over. Their long friendship allowing him to read Chris’ concern even as Buck silently cautioned him to remain calm so as not to frighten the underclassmen with them. Chris nodded slightly as he received the message but the cold stare remained fixed in his eyes. Catching Ezra in that steely gaze he asked, "Where’s Vin?"

"On his morning jog," Ezra informed him softly. Chris was surprised to see the genuine concern for Vin in those large green eyes, but supposed he should not have been. Vin had a way of sneaking his friendship in on a person. Slightly embarrassed to have caught a look of understanding from Chris, Ezra turned away and ran a hand through his sleep-mussed hair.

+ + + + + + +

Vin slowed to a walk as he approached the gate. He frowned slightly when he could not see Jeff at his post. Knowing how particular the security guard was about students inside the gatehouse he called out, "You here Jeff?" No reply and a further glance around determined without a doubt that the security guard was not at his post or nearby. Confused, Vin tried to remember if anything was different when he left for his run earlier. Not long after coming to Regents, he developed the habit of doing his warm up stretches at the gatehouse and often stopped on his way back to talk with Jeff. Vin liked Jeff Harris and enjoyed their frequent conversations. Those feelings were definitely mutual and the two often discussed family, sports and the young boy’s running aspirations. Vin looked around again. This was all wrong. Jeff would not just abandon his responsibilities.

The school was unusually quiet. Vin supposed that was to be expected. It was a long holiday weekend and most of the students had gone home leaving only some students and a skeleton staff. However, that did not explain the growing gnawing feeling in his gut. He had a bad feeling. Something was definitely wrong.

Slowly he made his way to the dorms and to seek out Chris. If something was amiss, Chris would know. He rounded the corner of the building and saw immediately why everything felt wrong. Men. Two armed men. One running wire along the length of the building and the other one obviously covering his accomplice and access to the dorms. Vin flattened himself against the wall and quickly moved out of sight. His mind raced. Gunmen. What the hell could they want at Regents? And what was that guy doing with the wire? But above everything else, what happened to his friends? The last thought prevented him from running for help straight away. He looked over towards the other buildings that housed the offices and the cafeteria. If he could not get into the dorms, he could see if any of his friends could be found. Keeping low to the ground, he moved quickly.


"Let's hope he stays out long enough not to get caught up in this," Chris said. Anything further Chris was going to say was cut off as silence filled the cafeteria, heralding the entrance of an unarmed man who walked with an air of confidence that marked him as the leader of this group. He strode over to stand next to a seated and guarded Dr. Lowell. Turning to face the group of about thirty boys, he demanded, "Which of you is Stephen Travis?"

Involuntarily some of the boys turned to look at the confused and frightened senior. Stephen Travis was an average looking young man and the type that did not draw attention to himself. A journalism student, he looked forward to covering the news and perhaps finally settling into a writing career. He never expected or wanted to be a news story himself. Swallowing hard he stood up and with as much strength as he could muster acknowledged, "I’m Stephen Travis."

The black haired man smiled at him, beckoning him to walk over with an easy smile and hand gesture. But his voice was firm and harsh as he ordered, "Come here, Stephen Travis."

Stephen glanced around at the other boys, the fear evident in his eyes mirrored in all the eyes of his classmates. His gaze fell on Chris, who of all the other students still remained standing. By no stretch of the imagination would Stephen consider Chris a friend. In fact, he and Chris had their share of ‘disagreements’ in the past as Chris did not appreciate Stephen’s persistence in getting the entire story. Late last school year Travis decided to do an expose on drunken driving and determined that a testimonial from Chris would be the perfect cap to the story. Travis might be fairly unassuming-looking but when it came to getting his story, the boy knew no boundaries. He tried everything from asking Chris point blank about the loss of his mother and sister to trying to get the others to talk. His biggest mistake had been in pushing Buck a little too much. The junior had given the journalist an over exuberant no and had been disciplined for it. But Buck did succeed in getting Stephen to drop his entire line of questioning, so he believed the punishment to be well worth it. Despite all that in their past, Chris was now looking at Stephen reassuringly and amazingly Stephen did find a new bit of strength in that look.

With a brief nod to Chris, Stephen slowly stepped over to the front of the cafeteria. He caught the eyes of Headmaster Lowell who also attempted to will the young man some strength. "It’s alright, Stephen, these men will not hurt you," Lowell encouraged, a touch of defiance coloring his words. The leader of the gunmen turned to look at the headmaster in surprise but a newfound respect filled his chocolate eyes.

Turning back to Stephen as the young man now stood in front of him, the leader nodded. "He’s right, Stephen Travis. We will not hurt you. Providing that your father does exactly as we wish." His accent was thick but his wording proved the length of his education. Raising his head so that his voice would carry to the rest of the room, he added, "None of you will be hurt providing that you do exactly as we say. You will be allowed access only to this cafeteria and the quad but will be under guard at all times. Do not attempt anything foolish and you will not be shot. But know this also, each of the buildings has been wired with explosives and I have the detonator here." He raised his left fist in the air to show the small, black box strapped around his wrist.

The leader’s attention was drawn to the entrance of another of his followers. This man was the only Caucasian in the group. He was a slight man with glasses and greasy hair. He strode up to the leader and handed over to him a set of papers. The man nodded his thanks as he again turned to address the boys and the small staff that remained over the weekend. "I have here a listing of exactly how many and which of you are to be here. We will keep a count of you every hour. If one of you is missing I will shoot five." The words were said simply, unfeelingly, giving the boys little doubt that the threat would be carried out. A new level of fear filled each of their guts.

The man in glasses immediately began counting the boys. Josiah exchanged a look with Chris as they both realized that the count would turn up one short without Vin. Leaning forward slightly Chris warned through clenched teeth and unmoving mouth, "Don’t say a word." His stern gaze fixed on Ezra in particular. For a brief moment, the younger boy’s eyes flared in rebellion, but the southerner quickly read the intensity in Larabee’s eyes and nodded his agreement before turning in his chair so that he distanced himself even further from the others.

+ + + + + + +

Vin crouched tightly against the wall near the cafeteria. He successfully made his way here undetected and upon hearing unfamiliar authoritative voices, risked a swift glance through the small glass panel in the cafeteria door. But it was enough. He saw his friends, along with the other students and staff, being held against their will by additional gunmen. His mind still refused to believe what he saw. He sucked in a deep lungful of air to try and steady his erratic breathing. Help. He needed to get help. He had to let someone know what was going here. Yet he remained unmoving as the loud voices continued.

+ + + + + + +

The short man finished his count with a loud pronouncement, "Forty-six." The leader’s head shot up in surprise, then his gaze quickly fell back down to the papers in his hands.

"Where is the missing boy?" he demanded, irritation and the hint of a temper touching his words. Buck continued to talk softly to J.D., attempting to keep the freshman from accidentally betraying anything, in hopes that he was doing something to soothe his fear. When he did not receive an immediate answer, the leader strode over to face Headmaster Lowell. "Which boy is missing? I will shoot five of them now if you do not answer."

Nervously Lowell looked over the boys in the cafeteria. He caught sight of Chris still standing over his table of friends. Lowell’s eyes swept over the boys nearest Chris somehow knowing that the trouble would be among the group that hung around the senior. Realization dawned on him slowly and he swallowed dryly before speaking, "Vincent Tanner is the missing boy. He’s on the track team and it’s his habit to run early every morning."

+ + + + + + +

Vin pressed his lips together nervously as an icy dread rushed through him. Damn. They knew he was missing. He looked behind him down the still empty hallway. Escape beckoned him but the fear that these men would carry out their threat of killing others kept him motionless. He wavered, uncertain what he should do and found himself wondering what his father would have done in his position. Vin had no memories of his father except for a faded photo and the words spoken with loving admiration to him by his mother before she died. Yet intuition told him his father would not have left his friends. The silence was broken again and Vin listened carefully.

+ + + + + + +

Eyeing Lowell carefully, searching for a lie, the leader flipped through the stack of papers until he found the one that he searched for. Skimming over the paper quickly he then flipped through until he found another page. Satisfied with what he found there, he called out a name, "Ezra Standish, come here."

Ezra did not spare a glance back at Chris and the others as he stood up, knowing that it would be useless to disobey the command. The leader watched him as he walked slowly up to the front of the cafeteria, nervously running a hand through his still unruly hair. "You are Ezra," the name rolled awkwardly off the man’s accented tongue, "Standish? Vincent Tanner’s roommate?"

The boy nodded remaining calm, refusing to allow the man to see the fear that he felt. Looking into the man’s eyes was like looking into the eyes of madman, but one with a still sharp and ready intelligence.

"Then tell me, where is your roommate?"

"He always goes on his morning run at 6:00 in the morning," Ezra answered truthfully.

"And how long does this run last?"

Ezra shrugged, "I don’t know. I’m always still asleep when he returns." The leader eyed him, a hint of amusement playing in his chocolate eyes at Ezra’s easily spoken admission.

The gunman who had pulled Ezra from his bed stepped forward. "He was the only one in his room, Luis. The other bed was made up." He spoke in Spanish but Ezra understood him easily.

Undaunted Luis turned to the security guard who, while still bound, had been ungagged. "How long does he run?"

Jeff considered for a moment as his still dazed mind attempted to remember what day it was. "On Saturdays he runs for about an hour."

Luis checked his watch. "Then he is overdue. Perhaps to show you that I am very serious, I should shoot five of you now." He stated it flatly as if merely mentioning the time to them. But the affect of his words on the room was immediate as many of the boys sucked in a frightened breath or slumped further in their chairs attempting to avoid any attention being focused on them.

The unemotional words had the same sickening effecting on Vin and the instinct to protect others overrode his need to remain hidden. Slowly standing, he was barely aware when a word erupted from his throat.

"No!" a voice shouted from the hallway outside the cafeteria. Luis allowed himself a small smile as he motioned for two of his men to bring the boy in with the rest. But Vin entered the cafeteria on his own. "I’m here! I just got back."

Luis eyed the longhaired boy and considered his options. Finally nodding to himself he smiled at Vin, "Very well. You did right in coming back. Your authorities will know soon enough of my demands." Turning to the bespectacled man he ordered, "Count them again."

As they were all counted again, Vin caught Chris’ eyes across the cafeteria. The Texan could see the concern in the senior’s eyes so he gave him a quick nod to let him know that he was indeed fine. That concern was quickly replaced with anger and Vin knew he would hear an earful as soon as Chris got an opportunity. "Forty seven" was announced and Luis smiled broadly. "You will now be allowed out in the quad, but will be brought back in here every hour, on the hour, to be counted. Remember, if just one of you is missing, I will not hesitate to shoot five others. My men are posted throughout this building and will be watching you carefully. You will see the wiring around each of the buildings. I suggest that you do not tamper with this. " With that he motioned for Steven Travis and Headmaster Lowell to follow him out of the cafeteria and back toward the offices.

As soon as the boys slipped out into the open quad, Chris strode up to Vin and angrily asked, "Why the hell didn’t you get out of here when you had the chance?"

Vin expected the senior’s outburst and his own anger flashed. "Had to know if y’all were alright," he snapped.

"Well it was a damn stupid thing to do!" Chris spat out in his frustration.

"Maybe it was Chris! But I’d rather be here than somewhere safe worrying about you!" Vin returned, equally frustrated. The younger boy could not have endured the thought of turning his back on his friends or his absence causing deaths, especially without knowing the situation. The two friends shared an intense look. Chris groaned inwardly and he tried to rein in his anger. He had taken solace in knowing that at least Vin was out of harm's way, however, he should not have been surprised by Vin’s actions. He would have done the same.

Vin saw the softening in Chris’ eyes and added "They were gonna shoot five guys if I didn’t show up. What if one of them had been…" he paused and glanced at each of his friends before returning his gaze to Chris. "What if one of them had been any of you?"

Chris knew he could not argue that point as he again met Vin’s gaze and held it for a minute. Finally the senior released a deep sigh. "So what are we going to do?" he asked idly as he glanced around at each of the others.

Buck met his questioning look, but could only shrug helplessly as he hovered over J.D. The freshman, for his part, seemed to be torn between fear and excitement. The boy had enough sense to realize the seriousness of the situation, but his youthful enthusiasm focused on the excitement of it all once the fear of being shot lost its immediacy. Nathan and Josiah were both eyeing the other boys around them, giving them the occasional nod or wave of reassurance. Ezra stood apart from them, his eyes wandering along the rooftops noting the placement of the guards.

Josiah gave a soft chuckle, "You know, it just occurs to me that I’m the oldest one here."

Six pairs of eyes focused on the sturdily built teen as they waited for him to explain the statement. They expected him to say that being the oldest gave him some type of authority instead he remained silent. Chris grew impatient and barked, "So what does that mean?"

Josiah shook his head, "It means that if it weren’t for a quirk of fate I would have already graduated. But since the law required me to be fully five years old before starting school, here I am. Stuck here with you guys." When he finished speaking he flashed them a wry grin.

Chris turned away from Josiah but had to admit that his small joke had a noticeable relaxing affect on the other boys. Even Ezra laughed slightly as he turned away, his eyes once again noting the wiring that did indeed circle each of the buildings.

"What can we do anyway, Chris? We don’t even know what he wants from Stephen’s dad," Nathan asked.

The senior shrugged as he ran a hand through his hair. "Well I know Stephen’s dad is a federal judge so it probably has something to do with a case he is getting ready to hear. And I don’t know exactly what we can do, but we have to do something."

"You heard the man, Chris, he won’t hesitate to kill five people if just one of us is missing. How do we know that he won’t do the same thing if he catches us trying to do anything?" Nathan demanded.

"I’m not talking about trying to retake the school, Nate. I’m just thinking that we have to try and get some information out to the cops. Ask around see if anyone managed to keep hold of a cell phone or something." That last came out with an air of command that left no room for argument. Nathan nodded and started to move off, but Chris stopped him as he called out, "And try to calm ‘em down if you can." Nathan flashed Chris a smile as he turned to the nearest group of boys.

"Do you really think it would do any good to get information to the cops, Chris?" J.D. asked confused.

"It’ll help them to know how many guys there are and what kind of guns they have and where they are if they plan any kind of assault on the school," the senior explained.

J.D.’s eyes widened, "Do you think they would do that?"

Buck glared over at Chris, "Only as a last resort. Nobody’s going to do anything to get us hurt. The cops and feds have skilled negotiators who’ll manage this situation just fine on their own. Now come on, J.D. let’s go help Nathan out." With one last accusatory stare at Chris, Buck placed protective hands on J.D.’s shoulder and turned the younger boy away.

Chris looked at Vin hoping to find an understanding face as he again said, "I’ve got to do something."

Surprisingly it was Josiah who responded. "My laptop!"

Chris and Vin both whirled to face him and even Ezra turned a questioning look at the senior at the mention of computer hardware. "We can use it to get a message out," Josiah explained.

"Do you have this laptop in your possession, Josiah?" Ezra asked sarcastically. "Or perhaps you have developed telekinesis and can manipulate the laptop from this distance."

"It’s in our room," Chris stated, tossing a warning glare at the southerner. "We’d have to go in and get it."

Ezra shook his head and turned away from the conversation. Vin watched him carefully and then looked back as Chris and Josiah spoke. "We can gather as much information as we can about these guys and send it out to…" Chris paused as he realized he had no idea of who to send the information.

"Does your father have an e-mail address we could send it to?" Josiah asked hesitantly. He had no desire to bring up Chris’ father but he was the only one that the boys knew in law enforcement.

Chris shook his head violently. "No, he doesn’t have one! Damn it!"

"But if we could get into the police department system we might be able to get a message to someone who can help," Vin said softly.

Josiah nodded, "True, but I wouldn’t be able to do that. I’m not a …" he trailed off as his eyes fell on Ezra’s turned back.

Chris finished it for him, "Hacker." Smiling wickedly, he stated, "We need a hacker and a good one. Just where would we find one?"

Ezra kept his back turned and began to take a side step away but Vin smiled as he put a hand on his shoulder and said, "I think I got one handy."

The southerner dodged out of Vin’s grasp, glaring over at him and then the other two. "I thought y’all did not want me to use my "skills" while on the school premises."

"This is an exception, Ezra," Chris said. "Don’t you want to stop these guys?"

Ezra felt his anger rising at being backed into a corner so he lashed out, wanting to hurt Chris. "What makes you even think that your father will even care and want to help?"

Vin and Josiah both bristled at that comment and prepared to respond in Chris’ defense, but the senior sighed and motioned for them to leave it to him. "I don’t care who we get the message to, Ezra, as long as it is someone who will do something with it. And no matter what, my father is a cop first. He will protect and serve until his dying day. You can bet on that."

Hanging his head in shame for a minute, Ezra nodded. Then a flash of a smile and dimples graced his face as he joked, "Well I do know from first hand experience the sheer tenacity of your father."

"So you’ll do it?" Chris asked.

"I shall consider your proposal once we have worked it through, but I make no promises," he drawled in response.

"Fair enough. Now let’s see what we can come up with that will be safe enough for all of us." Chris clapped Ezra on the shoulder briefly and was rewarded with a brief look of surprise from the sophomore. Vin and Josiah both smiled reassuringly at Ezra as they all moved to follow Chris to a place that offered them a bit more privacy.


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