JUMP BOYS: SOS
The jump across the multiverses was supposed to be easy. But when a miscalculation sends thirteen-year-old twins Jayce and Val Jump into another dimension, their reality splinters.
They discover a girl who holds the key to time itself and the boys make a promise to her dying father to protect her and the secret.
But mechanical malfunctions plague their small ship, terrifying space pirates chase them across time and space, and betrayal waits for them at home. If they ever make it home.
Any last traces of sleep that clung to my brain zipped away like so much space dust as horns blared. Val tipped our lancer between a pair of skycabs. I’d never wanted to get to school more than I did at that moment—if I survived the trip.
Val flew the small two-seater ship like we were the only vehicle in the skyway, even though the morning commute crammed every lane with lancers, cruisers and tiny one-seater cyclepods. After we cleared the latest jumble Val ducked between, I yanked my hands off the dashboard before he saw my white-knuckled grip. Thirteen years of being his twin brother had taught me one important thing: never let him get—or keep—the upper hand.
Val laughed and sped up while I fought to keep my guts inside my body. Leaning against the door, I pressed my forehead to the window and tried to take a couple discreet breaths. I watched the fringe of red that marked Io’s ascension as it crept above the outer edge of the colony ship. I pretended to inspect the energy shield surrounding Jupiter Prime.
We lived in the sphere-shaped First Prime—the rest of the ten primes radiating out from us like Saturn’s rings. From the skyway I could look out across all the individually rotating sections of the ship—it was an amazing sight. This time though, I shifted so I could keep a sidelong view of Val.
Careful to keep my voice low and casual, I asked, “Hey, did you read the blast Drake sent out?” I was even more molten than the lazy rivers of lava swirling around Jupiter’s core. I knew Val hadn’t seen the blast—if he had, he would have gone nuclear long before now.
Val’s sharp, “No,” retorted in the small cabin like laser fire. Typical Val—already defensive and he didn’t even know what the blast was about. Then again, the message came from our cousin Drake, which always meant trouble.
“Oh man, you’re gonna implode.”
“What is it, Jayce?” Val ground his teeth—I heard the crunchy sound of his teeth turning to dust over the whine of the lancer’s hydrocore engine.
When it came to Drake, Val only had one temperature—red hot. I could practically see the steam seeping out of his ears.
“Well, you know how you told Sam about the jumps we went on?”
“Yeah, but he promised he wouldn’t tell.” Val shot me a look, then glared out the windshield, the muscles along his jaw twitching.
A skyguard pulled up beside us, the sleek black ship keeping pace, its brilliant blue sensors flashing along the side. The pilotless drones gave me the creeps. Dad called them flying guard dogs; he said they’d bite first and ask questions later.
As fast as a solar flare I keyed up my pilot code.
“What are you doing? I’m flying,” Val snapped.
“You’ve already had all the demerits your license can handle this semester—I, on the other hand, have none.” Finished, I leaned back and laced my hands behind my head.
“Yeah, because you hardly ever fly, nebula-head.” He shoved my shoulder hard enough my head bonked against the window—but I laughed along with him, anyway.
“Whatever you have to tell yourself.” I grinned as Val tightened his grip on the flight yoke.
The onboard computer reported the guard’s scan of our passcode. I knew it was good—we used this pass every day to get to school and back—but Val’s speed could be an issue. Not to mention the daredevil moves a klick back.
Guards weren’t too picky about driving practices as long as there weren’t any accidents and everyone’s flight plans were properly coded. But they paid extra attention to lancers since they were always driven by minors. I didn’t want Val to lose his license—he was the best pilot I knew. Even if he did drive a little fast.
When the guard finally moved on, I caught the constipated look on Val’s face. I rarely got the advantage over him, so I wanted to make the experience last.
“Spit it out, Jayce!”
Laughter bounced around my stomach but I couldn’t give into it yet. I coughed, trying to push it down before it spewed. In a rush I told him the news. “Drake said you told Sam you jumped all by yourself.”
Val exhaled in an explosion of air. He turned to me so fast his hands jerked the yoke and the lancer veered to the right, dangerously close to a cruiser driven by a stodgy-looking man giving me the evil eye. I could barely hear its horns blare while Val shouted, “I did not! Technically, anyway. I only told him Dad let me run it!”
More horns. I clenched my fists and chewed my lip, regretting telling Val while we were still in the skyway. I had the sudden fear I might die right then and trust me, there’s no way to be molten when your life is flashing before your eyes.
“Yeah, I know. I believe you. Thing is, you can bet Drake’s gonna go galactic with this.”
I tried really hard to shove my stomach back down my throat and took a deep breath as Val slowed the lancer and descended to the school’s flight deck. Now that we were here, and still alive, it occurred to me this could go badly for me as well. Val would probably get himself into trouble and as much as I liked seeing him squirm, if it came down to picking a side—his or Drake’s—it’d be Val’s every time.
Somehow, the whole Drake thing didn’t seem quite so funny anymore. I wanted to smack my forehead against the dash, wanted to take back what I said. Not that it would change anything. As Val set the lancer down and turned off the engine, I realized it was too late.
Outside my window I saw Drake and his gang standing near the doors. The way they leaned against the wall; the way they had their bags at their feet and their arms crossed; the way they wore those stormy looks on their faces—I figured we were about to walk headfirst into a supernova.
“Oh, Io.” I didn’t mean to say anything—my mouth spoke before I told it to.
“What?” Val whipped his head around, following my gaze.
I tried to laugh off the tension in my arms, but it didn’t work. Instead I watched Drake while I—slowly—climbed out of the lancer. I hated the smug look on his face, the way he always seemed to look down on me even though I was taller.
When the colonists boarded the Prime ship, Mom’s dad lost the lottery and had to stay on Earth because there wasn’t room for everybody. Drake’s grandpa took my mom so she’d be safe from the raging Tech War. Even though she was raised with Uncle Kramer, Drake’s dad, you’d never know it from the way he treated her—and us. As soon as Grandpa Richards died, Uncle Kramer practically disowned us.
For as long as I could remember, Dad and Uncle Kramer hadn’t gotten along, and it seemed to have been passed down to Drake and us—especially him and Val. They were always competing, always trying to prove who was the smartest, always vying for some top honor or school award. It never seemed to bother them if I came out on top. Mind you, I didn’t usually get the best grades, but that’s only because I have better things to do with my time than study.
But I’d take studying any old day over having to talk to Drake.
Val’s door whirred shut, and I hurried to follow. I stuffed my hands into my pockets and took my time walking across the flight deck to the crowd of kids. My shoes squeaked on the rubberized matting of the deck floor, but I tried to stay casual and not broadcast my worry—I had a pretty good idea how this would all turn out. Val never backed down from a challenge, especially when it came from Drake. And you could bet there’d be a challenge. With Drake there always was.
Val stepped ahead of me and squared his shoulders. “Drake.”
“Hey skunker.” Drake’s black hair stood straight up like something had scared it straight. The way his lips twisted into a cruel smile gave me the willies. “Sam said you told him you could jump the verses.” Drake’s smile twisted as if he had a mouth full of sour-berries.
Val shrugged. “Yeah, actually. I’ve done it.”
I closed my eyes and swallowed hard. This was going to be worse than I thought. Sure, Dad let us jump the multi-verses—but technically he wasn’t supposed to let anyone have access to that tech. Not even us. Maybe especially us since we were still minors and all. And anyway, we’d never done it by ourselves.
“You can’t jump, skunker.” Drake snorted. He stood with his arms crossed and leaned forward to take advantage of the one inch he had on Val. Drake looked like the vids I’d seen of donkeys. Seriously—big ears, big lips, big teeth. And when he laughed, and his crew laughed with him, it sounded like a bunch of braying. Hee-yah. Hee-yah.
Val stood ramrod straight, his hands clenched at his sides. I had to hand it to the guy, he could be pretty stellar when he wanted to be.
“I knew Sam was lying when he said your dad let you jump whenever you wanted. You’d never be smart enough to pull it off—cuz.” Drake’s buddies nodded their heads and muttered in agreement.
Val didn’t budge. Even though what Sam said wasn’t at all what Val actually told him—or at least I was pretty sure—I still braced myself for what would come next.
“I’m no liar, Drake.”
The first bell rang, and the crowd shifted—some peeling off, others shuffling their feet. But Drake took a step forward until he stood toe-to-toe with Val. He got this dangerous look in his eyes that made me cringe. “Jump. Then bring me proof tomorrow morning—before first bell.” He sort-of smiled, as in his lips parted so his slimy teeth showed. “Or I tell everyone what a big skunker you are.” He turned and started toward the school doors.
Val watched him go, his face so red his freckles stood out like constellations.
I sighed noisily and let my body relax. “Big deal. Everyone will know Drake’s just being a—”
Drake whirled around and pinned me with his hard gaze. “Oh, and I’ll check the jump point records—I’ll know if you try to fake your data, so don’t even think about it. Unless of course you’re gonna be a little vent mouse.” He shrugged and yanked up the shoulder strap of his bag in one even motion. “Try it and I’ll tell my dad Uncle Josh took you on a jump.”
My blood turned to ice in my veins. Drake’s dad was the Director of the Department of Dimensions and Multi-Verses. As in, Dad’s boss. If he found out we went with Dad on a jump to another multi-verse, Dad could lose his job—might even get demoted from First Prime. Dad was the smartest guy on the whole ship—not only would it be the most galactic thing ever to move to a lower prime, the colony needed Dad. Without his research we’d never get back to Earth.
“Whoa, wait.” I reached out to grab Drake’s arm but caught his bag’s strap instead. The pack landed with a thud on the deck and Drake glared at me.
“Aw, you gonna fight Val’s battles for him, nebula-head?”
I stood up straight so I was the one looking down on Drake. “Listen, this is too much, Drake. Even for you.”
“Jayce!” Val had the nerve to sound mad when he should have been thanking me for trying to get him out of this mess.
“Aw, look what we’ve done, guys. The little twins are gonna fight. Maybe they’ll even cry. You gonna cry, nebs?” Drake’s gang laughed and I totally lost my cool.
“Spike it, Drake. This is dangerous.” My voice sounded like a growl, low and menacing. Totally molten, actually.
Drake stepped up to me, managing to look pretty darn threatening despite the couple inches I had on him. When he leaned forward, his sour-smelling breath washed over my face, making my stomach turn.
“You guys don’t belong here. If it hadn’t been for my grampa, you wouldn’t even exist. So get a clue already. Take your dusty-brained mom and your pretender dad to Tenth—or,” he moved closer still, “just disappear altogether. None of you are vital. Especially your mom—and especially you.”
My vision went black. Like for a second I’d closed my eyes, even though I knew they were wide open. Rage seeped into my feet and boiled up my body—faster and faster until it made my right arm whip out and shove my fist against the side of Drake’s head.
Then everything became crystal clear.
Drake’s body shifted to the left. He doubled over right before turning and bringing up his own fist. He plowed it into my stomach. My breath left my lungs in a whoosh. I stumbled back and when I stopped, I opened my eyes and it was like someone had figured out how to slow time.
I moved forward, standing up as I did, and prepared myself to do a flying leap of death on Drake’s face—but Val stepped between us.
“You can’t do this, Drake. We can’t do this.”
Drake smirked. “It’s your funeral. And when I tell my dad, it’ll be me at the DDMV next learning advancement. Oh, and you and your skunker family will be pulling weeds in Tenth.”
Val clenched his fists, his body shaking—for once I didn’t think he was over-reacting. “Tomorrow morning. Before first bell. I’ll blast you my travel log for proof.” It seemed like no one moved, no one even breathed while Val spoke in a low hiss.
I couldn’t believe this was happening. Couldn’t believe even Drake would stoop this low. Couldn’t believe Val would agree to it.
Drake took a step back and wiped his hands together as if he were brushing dust off them. He picked up his pack and sauntered to the school, his buddies braying and snorting all the way.
The last bell rang. I stepped up beside Val, our shoulders touching. Well, his shoulder to my arm since I was three inches taller than him. I liked being taller—made me feel like the big brother.
As far as twins went, Val and I were as different as Callisto and Io. Where he was shorter and stocky, I was tall and lean. He had Dad’s dark brown eyes, while I had Mom’s green ones. He had Mom’s fair skin, freckles covering most of his face, and I didn’t. We both had Dad’s brown hair, though. Dad always said I should watch over Val, and now I’d failed. Big brothers are supposed to protect their little brothers.
The lights around the doors flashed red—we had two minutes to get inside before the alarm was set. If we went in after that, we’d get fifty demerits each and Val would never get the advancement he’d been hoping for.
I expected him to say something, give me a hard time for trying to stop this mess. When he didn’t, I shrugged. “Well, I’m glad that’s over.”
Val stuck a knuckle in his mouth and chewed. Classic nerves. We took a couple steps toward the door, then Val stopped. When I glanced back, I saw his eyes burning, broadcasting his fears loud and clear. I knew what he was thinking.
That we could die.
And he was right.
In one long stride I got right up in Val’s face and made sure he looked in my eyes. “Maybe it’s time we finally set things straight with Drake.” I stepped back, pulling my bag higher onto my shoulder. “We’ll figure it out.” I jabbed Val real quick, right between the ribs where it hurts, then took off at a run for the doors.
First things first: if we were going to get past the skyguards in the morning, we couldn’t afford any demerits. It was easier to think about that than what would happen if we actually managed to make the jump. I’d take demerits over death any day.