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Rat Race

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“Donald Davenport, you have been found guilty on all charges of concealing weapons of mass destruction and operating them without clearance, as well as infiltrating a high school with said weapons.” The judge has a voice like stone, and his words fall heavy on Leo’s ears. “You are hereby sentenced to thirty years in prison without parole.”

Leo feels his ears ringing and he keeps straining to hear more, to hear the judge say, “Wait, never mind,” to hear one of the federal agents who took his siblings away run into the courtroom and yell that it’s all been one big mistake.

But nothing happens except for some murmurs to erupt around the courtroom, nothing happens except Big D turns around and looks at him and Tasha and he just looks broken . Leo’s mom squeezes his hand so tight he feels like he might lose circulation, and she keeps repeating what the judge said under her breath, “ Thirty years in prison, thirty years in prison .”

When they’re able to stand together again, Leo throws his arms around Big D and his mom pulls them both close, the three of them all wrapped up together. “It’s gonna be okay,” Big D keeps saying, arms rock solid around Leo and Tasha. “I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me. Adam, Bree and Chase are still locked up, they’re the priority. Got that?”

Leo nods. Tasha just cries into her husband’s shoulder. “I love you,” she says.

“I love you, too,” Donald says, sounding somber. He kisses Tasha and then leans down so he’s eye-level with Leo. “You two look out for each other, okay?” he says in a low voice. “And look out for Douglas. Someday we’ll figure all this out. Everything’s going to be okay.”

“No, it’s not,” Leo says stubbornly.

Donald winces; he knows Leo’s right. “I love you.”

“Love you too, Dad,” Leo says, angry at the tears that bubble up at the creases of his eyes. Big D squeezes him tight and then he straightens up to hug Tasha, and then the guards come and take him away.

Leo’s trying to sleep on the couch in the lab when Douglas shows up, stumbling through the garage door smelling strongly of liquor. “Oh, hey,” he says when he notices Leo. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I wasn’t asleep,” Leo says, rolling over so he can plant his feet on the floor. Chase’s hand-me-down joggers have gotten too short; they ride up a little high above his ankles. “What were you doing?”

Douglas shrugs. “Just walking around the neighborhood, clearing my head,” he lies. Leo can see the bar napkin sticking out of his back pocket. “You should get some sleep.”

“I can’t,” Leo says. “I keep thinking about them… I wanted bionics for so long, I thought they were awesome. And now I just feel stupid. They’re getting treated like things because they have these abilities. And I always thought they were just so cool , I never thought about… the consequences. The price.”

“You think you feel guilty?” Douglas says, intent to one-up him. “I should’ve just deactivated them when I had a chance. Or else I should never have put bionics in people. Everything’s gone wrong.”

“It’s just so unfair,” Leo says, shaking his head. “They risked their lives so many times to keep everyone else safe. But they only get remembered for that one stupid video. They only get remembered for being ‘dangerous’ and not the hundreds of missions they went on.”

Douglas purses his lips and fidgets with one of his bracelets, thinking. “Then we should tell people,” he says.


“We should tell people about Adam, Bree and Chase,” Douglas says. “Their secrets already out, and they’re locked up in a government facility having God-knows-what done to them. What do we have to lose?”

“You’re saying we tell people about them being bionic heroes?”

“Sure,” Douglas says. “If we could convince everyone that Adam, Bree and Chase aren’t dangerous, maybe we could make the government rethink keeping them confined. At the very least, Davenport Industries would stop getting so much hate on Twitter.”

“But how do I get the word out?”

“Oh, come on, you’re on the internet like 23 hours of the day,” Douglas scoffs. “Do a blog. Do a vlog. Make a playlist. You’re a smart kid, Leo, figure it out.” After that, Douglas strolls off, probably to obsessively read news articles, and Leo’s stuck wondering what he’s supposed to do.

Finally, he stops debating and pulls out his laptop. “Hi,” he says into the camera. “I’m Leo Dooley, and you probably have no idea who I am...”

The video gets a few hits in the next week, mostly from Janelle and other kids at school. It’s weird, because even though his entire world has been flipped on its head, he’s still supposed to go to classes and do his homework and eat dinner every night. The world around him stays the same even though Leo’s floundering through chaos.

“Grandma Rose said she really liked the video you did,” Tasha tells him at the table one night as they sit across from each other, picking at the chicken parmesan she made. Douglas usually skips dinner, preferring to isolate himself in the lab. “She said it was sweet of you speaking up for Adam, Bree and Chase.”

“Not that it helped anything,” Leo grumbles. “Mom, they’re in pain. I know they are.” His voice cracks and she reaches across the table to hold his hand.

“We’ll go visit Donald tomorrow,” she says.

They do. The detention center he’s staying at is pretty sweet, actually. Grassy open gardens the prisoners can hang out in, gourmet food, entertainment, private rooms. Leo can’t help comparing the experience to visiting his father in prison when he was eight. It had been a real prison, though, with bars and harsh lights and guards who sneered at him as if to say, You’ll be in here, too, soon enough.

This place is like a fancy rehab center. Every now and then, Leo gets a reminder that while he and his stepdad are family, they aren’t the same color.

“It’s so good to see you!” Donald says to them when they walk into the room. There’s a table and a vending machine, as well as a box of old toys in the corner for visitations with young kids. Donald hugs Tasha and then Leo, hanging onto them a little longer than normal, before taking a seat close to them, all on the same side of the table. “How is everything?”

For a beat, Leo considers lying, but then he changes his mind. “Awful,” he tells Big D honestly. “I miss you and I miss Adam, Bree and Chase.”

His face falls. “I know.” He looks around the room expectantly. “Is, um, is Douglas coming, too?” He looks… small. Scared, and for a second Leo thinks about Adam and Chase. As cushy as this place might seem, it is still jail.

“No, he stayed back at the house,” Tasha tells him apologetically. “But I’ll tell him next time that he should come with.”

“I mean, it’s fine,” Donald says, but he doesn’t sound fine. “Leo, how’s school?”

It’s ridiculous. Leo’s been ghosting through school, barely paying attention in class. None of it feels real anymore. “Fine,” Leo says.

“Honey, show him the video you made,” Tasha says, nudging him. Leo sighs and then pulls out his phone to show Big D the Youtube video.

… the bionic teens that made headlines a few weeks ago, they’re my brothers and sister… not fair for the government to decide who is and isn’t a person… don’t need to be scared of them. Adam has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. Bree is always there for me when I need advice, whether that’s fashion or life advice. And Chase… Chase isn’t a weapon. Chase is my brother and my best friend. He’s a good guy. They’re all good people.

When Donald finishes watching the video, he looks up at Tasha and Leo with tears in his eyes. “I… I’m so worried about them.”

Somehow the three of them end up clumped together in a weird sitting-hug, crying and leaning on each other and trying to figure out what the hell they’re going to do.

At Douglas’s insistence, Leo makes a blog and titles it “Project ABC.” He posts the video on there, as well as old photos of him and his siblings. He plugs it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, every social media site he can think of. He tells Janelle and Gordo and everyone else he knows about it, and tries as hard as he can to spread the word that his siblings aren’t dangerous, and they don’t deserve to be locked up and experimented on by a shady government organization.

At first, nothing happens.

And then everything happens.

The internet is funny like that. Public interests shifts and sways and jumps from topic to topic to topic. Leo isn’t sure how it happens, but almost overnight the blog goes from 27 followers to 2,000 followers… and then it rockets up to 50,000 followers.

People stop sharing S-1’s video of Adam, Bree and Chase on a mission and they start sharing Leo’s video, which gets called “heartwarming,” “touching,” “moving.” Everyone at school is talking about it, and he gets the feeling that everyone at every school might be talking about it.

“Honey,” his mom tells him as she’s micing him up for an interview, “if you feel uncomfortable just let me know, okay? I know I’m a reporter but I’m your mom first.”

“I know,” Leo says, smiling at her. The 60-minute special is set to air nationally next week. So many stations and news organizations were calling the house, but Tasha’s producer called first. “Just don’t ask me any tough questions, okay?” he jokes.

Tasha’s eyes well up then and he remembers that he’s not the only one who misses Adam, Bree and Chase. The cameraman gives them a countdown and Tasha sits down on the couch beside Leo, the same set-up from her interview with Mr. Davenport when he was awarded the presidential achievement medal.

“Good evening,” she says, perfect “anchor-lady” smile fixed to her face. “I’m Tasha Davenport, and tonight I’m sitting down with Leo Dooley, my son, the young man who has led the movement to release Adam, Bree and Chase Davenport from government custody. Two months ago, a video of my step-children went viral and brought national attention to their unique abilities. They’ve since been detained, and…” She falters, squeezing Leo’s hand. “And we have no idea what’s happening to them. Leo, do you have a message for people who have seen and shared your video?”

“Uh, yeah,” he says, sitting up straighter. “I want everyone to know how much I appreciate the support, and I know Adam, Bree and Chase would appreciate it too.” He pauses, takes a deep breath. “You’ve only seen a short video of them, really, but even in that video they were trying to help. They were fixing a dangerous pipe leakage. And they do— did— that kind of stuff all the time. They stopped a runaway train. They stopped a solar flare. They stopped a particle collider from blowing up. They’ve saved the world, they’ve saved Mission Creek, they’ve saved me too many times to count.”

The interview goes well. Leo talks more about how much good his step-siblings have done, how they’re not only innocent but heroes . He talks about how scared he is for them, not knowing what’s happening or even where they are.

Within two days, his blog has over 100,000 followers.

Tasha’s news station starts a counter widget at the bottom of the screen, keeping track of the days since Adam, Bree and Chase were taken into captivity. #FreeTheBionicThree trends on Twitter. A couple websites start selling t-shirts with Adam, Bree and Chase’s faces on them.

“It’s messed up,” he confides in Douglas one night. “They’re profiting off Adam, Bree and Chase with these stupid shirts. And it’s not helping anything.”

Douglas just sighs. “Give it time,” he says. “People don’t buy shirts for causes they don’t care about.”

They visit Donald again, and this time, Douglas comes. “The kid’s doing a great job,” he tells Donald, nodding toward Leo. “You should see it. Adam, Bree and Chase are like celebrities.”

“I just want them to be okay,” Donald says, looking too pale.

That night, Leo lies awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, trying not to imagine the horrible things that might be happening to his brothers and sister right now . When he first met them, Chase told him they were like human lab rats. But they were loved, and they were safe, and they were here .

He falls asleep fitfully, picturing his super siblings being electrocuted every time they reach for a piece of cheese.

Leo dreams that he’s standing on the shore, like the time they all went to the beach. The day of the solar flare. He looks out into the water and sees Adam, splashing and laughing. Chase is standing beside him in swim trunks and Bree… Bree is farther out, drowning.

Chase and Adam drown along with her, and Leo can only stand on the shore and watch.

He wakes up sweating and runs upstairs to Tasha and Big D’s room. “Mom,” he mumbles, crawling into the California king. “I’m scared. I’m so scared for them. What if they’re— ?”

“Shh,” Tasha whispers, looping an arm around Leo and tracing circles into the back of his pajama top. “They’re going to be okay. They’re going to come home. And they’re going to be so happy to see you, and so glad for everything you did.” She kisses his forehead. “I’m so proud of you, baby.”

This house is too big to be this empty.

Four months after the kids were taken (121 days, according to Tasha’s station), Agent Graham shows up on Leo’s front doorstep.

Tasha answers the door, and when she sees who’s there she glares at him. Leo, who’s been on the receiving end of that glare, feels sourly pleased. “If you’re here to collect the one child you didn’t take last time, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” Tasha says coldly.

Agent Graham doesn’t look as smug or self-satisfied as he did 121 days ago. He looks uncomfortable. Embarrassed. “If public opinion for my division and the work we do continues its current trajectory, we’ll lose our funding. I’m here to ask you to cease and desist—”

“No,” Leo speaks up from behind Tasha. She slides to the side so he can look at Agent Graham directly. “You’re, what? Here to tell me to shut up? I’ll get louder. I’ll make sure the entire world knows that you abducted my brothers and sister.”

“If you would let me finish,” Agent Graham says, wincing. “We’ve decided to release the subjects.”

Tasha lets out some mangled noise between a shriek and a sob, one hand flying to her mouth. “You’re letting them go?”

Agent Graham purses his lips. “We have no choice. Thanks to your son’s incredibly unpatriotic behavior.” He scowls at Leo. “These are their coordinates.” He hands Tasha a manilla folder. “You can come and collect them tomorrow.” He’s still talking about them like they’re things, Leo notices. He didn’t have a change of heart. He’s just scared now. Scared of public opinion turning against him.

“Thank you,” Tasha says, taking the folder. “Now get the hell out of my house.”

When Agent Graham is gone, Leo and his mom hug, both crying. The kids are coming home. Adam, Bree and Chase are coming home.

The facility is east of them, way out in the desert. It’s a four-hour drive. Leo spends the whole time updating Twitter and his blog about his siblings’ fate. Tasha drives and drums her fingers on the dashboard and poses to Leo every worried question that pops into her head. What if they’re traumatized? What if they’ve been hurt? What if Agent Graham doesn’t let all of them go, only one or only two? What if, what if, what if ?

They arrive at the facility, a big blocky nondescript building, and a guard tells them they can get out of the car but they can’t leave the parking lot. Leo stands outside the car, watching the doors of the building over the threshold he’s not allowed to cross.

He sees a door open, and someone in a white coat comes out leading… Bree! Leo squeezes his mom’s hand and watches as Adam and Chase get led outside as well. He watches from afar as the three of them embrace each other, and suddenly his stomach drops when he remembers his dream.

It was like this, except instead of being stuck on the shore he’s stuck in the parking lot. And the whole time Adam, Bree and Chase are walking from the building toward them, Leo can hardly breathe.

Watching them cross the little grassy median into the parking lot, a wave of relief crashes over him. They’re okay. They’re really okay.

Leo runs to them and everyone talks over each other, crying and hugging and trying to ignore all the little broken bits. Leo can see that Chase has scratches on the sides of his face and Adam’s knuckles are bloody, but he doesn’t want to think about that now.

When Leo tackles Adam in a hug, he realizes that he can’t let go. And that’s when he finally, finally admits to himself that this whole time, he wasn’t only scared for them. He was scared, period. Scared that the government would find out about his bionic arm. Scared that Krane would come after him. Scared that there were more bionic soldiers like S-1. Scared to be the only kid in that big empty house. Scared that a train or a solar flare would come crashing toward him and Adam, Bree and Chase wouldn’t be there to save him.

“Are you okay?” he says, still stuck like glue to his big brother. “Are you okay?”

“We’re okay, Leo,” Bree assures him, and God, it’s so good to hear her voice. “We’re okay.”

So is he, he realizes. Finally.

They visit Big D in prison, and he’s so relieved to see the kids again that it makes Leo feel relieved all over again. He really did it. He really got them out, and they’re really okay.

That night, while Leo’s bunched in between Chase and the side of Adam’s capsule, he glances over to see them all sleeping soundly, despite their sardine-like sleeping situation. It’s good, comforting, seeing them like that. And he’s glad he came down here to sleep.

As he drifts off, he starts thinking about the next challenge— getting Big D’s out of jail. But really, that shouldn’t be so hard. He was arrested for possessing weapons of mass destruction.

And now the world knows that’s not what Adam, Bree and Chase are. They’re teenagers.

They’re Leo’s family.