|the relatively short distance to the research lab. Several minutes later, we lit on the wall above the metal doors. Not a Not a moment too soon. "HhhhRRRRRRuuuhhh!" Rachel thundered from the alley, pushing the Dumpster with her wrecking-ball head. Shoved it up across the little strip of grass in front of Midtown Bio-Services, Inc. CRRRRUUUUNCHHH!WHAM! Slammed the Dumpster into the concrete wall! Backed up and squashed the trunk of a BMW parked at the curb. I told Jake. "HhhRRRuh!" Rachel trumpeted before she wrapped her trunk around a NO PARKING sign and ripped it from the sidewalk. Held it high. Waited. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. And the thick steel doors slid open. Jake zipped through the doorway. Ax, Marco, and Cassie followed. I hovered outside. Through broken fly vision, I could see Controllers lunging toward Rachel, surrounding her. She reared, head thrashing. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. "HhhhRRRRuuuhhh!" Rachel reared again and swung around. Controllers scattered. Rachel charged down the street. I spun. The The doors were an inch apart. Half an inch. I darted between them. Solid steel brushed the tips of my wings. Halfway through. I could see light beyond. Almost there. WHAM! The crash of metal vibrated through my body. The rush of air launched me into space. Marco said as I hurtled past. Cassie. I flipped upright. Four other flies hovered on the ceiling. I buzzed up to join them. And to get my bearings.We seemed to be in a long hallway. Humans and Hork-Bajir bustled along below us, in and out of offices, carrying carrying folders, pushing carts. I didn't need the fractured flashes of red or the clink of glass tubes to know know what the carts carried. Fly senses screamed the answer. Blood. Human blood. I said. Jake agreed, Marco. We hummed along the ceiling, looking for a place to demorph. The long hallway led into another, and another. We finally spotted a darkened door at the end of a corridor and darted under it. And waited. No sound. No movement. No blood, either. Only the overwhelming stench of floor wax and disinfectant. We spread out and demorphed. Cassie whispered. We were crowded into a janitor's closet. Three kids, an Andalite, and a bird. I perched on the edge of the sink. Light from the hall shone through an air vent in the door. I stared at Marco. What, you just noticed?" He tugged at his bike shorts and tight blue T-shirt. I leaned over and plucked up a beakful of T-shirt. "Yeah." He pulled his shirt from my mouth. "It reminds me why I never wanted a pet bird." I said. Ax nodded. Right. The Blue Bands. Visser One's elite Hork-Bajir guard. Part Green Beret. Part armored car. Pure terror. We staredat Marco's shirt. "Whoa." He backed up against a row of metal shelves. "You're looking at me like I'm lunch." I said. Cassie rummaged through the shelves and found a utility knife and a roll of duct tape. Marco peeled his shirt off and handed it to Cassie. "No No looking," he warned. "There's no telling what the sight of my naked torso might might make you do." Marco turned to me. "I'm lethal at the beach." Cassie struggled to control a grin. And And quickly cut the shirt into wide strips. Then we went Hork-Bajir. Carefully. Five fully grown Hork-Bajir have no business huddling in a janitor's closet. I focused on Ket Halpak, my Hork-Bajir morph. And felt my feathers harden to leather. Bones ground and popped. I shot seven feet in the air. Thump. y head banged into the first-aid kit hung on the wall. My beak grew wider, longer. My neck slithered out like a snake's. Thooomp! Thoomp! Horns erupted from my forehead. Talons spread to tyrannosaurus proportions. My tail shot out to twice my height. SHWOOP! SHWOOP! SHWOOP! SHWOOP! Blades burst from my wrists, elbows, knees, tail. I was I was a walking switchblade. Death on two legs. Crouched in a sink, trying not to fillet my friends. We wrapped our new blue armbands around our biceps and stuck them down with slivers of duct tape. Jake eased the door open. He stepped into the hall. Marco sauntered after him. Jake led the way back to the main corridor.The rest of us marched behind him, two by two. Human-Controllers and Hork-Bajir scrambled aside to let us pass. Nobody stopped us. Nobody asked where we were going. Nobody even looked us in the eye. Marco said. We neared the center of the building. The crowd of scurrying lab techs and office workers thinned out. We marched down a nearly empty hall, turned the corner - - and stopped. Before us lay a narrow passageway. At the end was another pair of solid metal doors, guarded by an armed Hork-Bajir. The guard leveled his Dracon beam at us. Marco said.
Jake strode toward the guard. He pushed the end of the Dracon beam away and pointed at the door. "OPEN." The guard hesitated. His gaze flickered toward Jake's armband. Then he aimed the Dracon at Jake's chest. "Where is pass?" Hey, nobody ever accused a Hork-Bajir of being eloquent. "Pass?" Jake turned toward us. He jerked his thumb at the guard. "He wants pass! HA-HAHA-H A!" Cassie and Marco laughed. "HA-HA!" clapped Ax on the shoulder. "HAHA-HA!" Ax frowned. "Ha," he said. Jake whipped his snake head back toward the the guard. "Surprise inspection. Heh-heh." His laugh turned menacing. He leaned forward till his beak nearly touched the guard's forehead Visser One." The guard swallowed. "Visser One?" He reached back and ran his palm over an entry pad on on the wall. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. The doors slid open. Jake snatched the Dracon beam from the guard's hand. He pointed it toward the open doorway. "IN." The guard backed into the room. We marched after him, across a raised metal floor. Yeah. Marco was right. It looked like Mission Control. An electronic map filled one wall. Little green dots were scattered across it, connected like a web to one large red dot. A tiny orange dot flashed beside the red one. A bank of computers faced the map. Rows of numbers scrolled across their screens. Ax said unnecessarily. But other than the computers, the guard, and us, the room was empty. No human-Controllers. No Hork-Bajir. Jake motioned toward the door. "Close." The guard turned and swiped his hand over the entry pad. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Jake raised the Dracon beam. He thumped the guard over the head with the butt of the weapon. The guard slumped to the floor. he said. Ax raced to a computer. His clawed Hork-Bajir fingers stumbled over the keyboard.
Ax nodded and began to demorph. Jake stood watch over the guard. Cassie, Marco, and I crossed to the to the map. Cassie traced the green dots with her finger. She tapped the big red dot. She pointed to the orange dot. Marco guessed. Ax's Andalite fingers flew over the keyboard. not mean, to be disparaging toward other species, but Hork-Bajir hands were not designed to -> He stopped.
Four Hork-Bajir stared at him. Ax studied the monitor.
Marco circled the computer bank. Ax shook his head. He leaned toward the screen. Cassie closed her eyes. Jake nodded. He stared at me. I crossed to the computer. Ax moved aside so I could see the screen. And the name. Loren. I stopped. My mother. First name. Last name. Address. I stared at the screen. She lived only a few blocks from the three-room shack I'd shared with my uncle. An easy walk. One bus stop. I looked up at the map. At the flashing orange light. My mother. The light represented my mother. Cassie's voice pulled me out of my stupor. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. The doors slid open. A dozen Hork-Bajir marched into the room. Real Hork-Bajir. Wearing blue armbands.