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Animorphers 2.0.



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Lefty says...



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"Welcome to headquarters!" The wheels of the door squeaking along the track made me flinch.

The man headed inside, then turned back when he noticed that Neon and I weren't following him.

"What are you waiting for? It's freezing out here," he said.

Neon and I looked at each other, then hesitantly started forward.

It was an old abandoned factory. A blanket of dust covered every table, desk and cart, and cobwebs filled any nook and cranny they could find. Most of the windows were smudged over or broken, but let in just enough gray light to make out what everything was.

"This is your headquarters? Don't you all freeze to death?" I asked. "Speaking of... where is everyone?"

"Okay, I may have spoken a little too soon. This isn't headquarters," the man admitted. Then he squatted down and yanked aside an old rug to expose a grate in the floor. With a sharp tug, he pulled it out of the floor and flipped it on its side. Below, a metal staircase descended downwards. "This is headquarters."

A wave of uneasiness swept over me. I took an uncertain look back at the sliding door. Where were we? Who was this guy? Why were we trusting him? I knew far too little to feel comfortable with any of this.

But then the vague answers to my questions struggled up from the back of my mind. You are away from FUSE, this guy isn't trying to kill you, and you're trusting him because you don't have anywhere else to go.

The memory of being at FUSE flashed into my mind. Being strapped down, the doctor filling the syringe up as the seconds left of my life ticked down. This is it, I'd thought. This is where it ends. And the moment when my savior broke the door down, taking the doctor's life and giving mine back to me. All bets were off, then. Anything could happen. I suddenly had my whole life ahead of me again.

And that led me to this stairwell. That memory is all it took to get my feet to move. I started down the steps, Neon following behind me, and the man behind him.

It lead down into an entire underground base, with concrete walls and floors and bright florescent lights hanging from above. The room we came out in was circular, with four hallways leading off of it in different directions.

"This is the center hub of the base. Each hallway leads to a different wing. Wing A is the women's sleeping quarters. Wing B is the medical center, mess hall and debriefing rooms. Wing C is the training and recreation center. And Wing D is the men's sleeping quarters," he explained.

Just then a woman entered the room from the second wing.

"And, this is where we go our separate ways," the man said. "Neon, you're with me. Gwen, you're with Natalie." The man lead Neon down Wing D, while Natalie headed for Wing A.

"Come on," she said. "I'll show you to your room."

"My... room?" I asked.

Natalie nodded. "Everyone here has there own room. And although we did have some vacant rooms, we've had them made up for you kids for a while now. We've been expecting you."

I followed her down the long hallway. "What do you mean you've been expecting us?"

Natalie stopped and turned to me. "You're all really confused right now. I get it. Just bare with us while we get you all situated. We're going to debrief you all soon."

I found myself being taken aback by the genuine tone of her words. I'd expected my gut to tell me this place was bad. That these people were no better than the Japanese or FUSE. But surprisingly, it stayed silent. There was something about these people. Something true.

Natalie started on again and lead me to a door half way down the hall. It took me into a smallish room, with a twin bed, two white end tables, a glass desk, an metal dresser and a chair.

"It ain't the Embassy Suites, but the beds are a lot more comfortable than they look," she said.

I stared into the room, my head still whirling. "This is my room? My room?"

Natalie scribbled something down on her clipboard with a sharpie, then peeled it off and slapped it on the door. It read gwen in chicken scratch. "It is now."

I looked back into the room, puzzled. Then I heard someone yell excitedly from down the hall. "Gwen?"

I whirled around to see Emma at the end of the hall. I took off for her without another word and threw my arms around her when I got there. "Oh my god, Emma. Are you all right? Did you make it out okay?"

"I'm fine," she said. "Just really glad to see another familiar face."

"Tell me about it."

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

After an agonizing wait of not knowing if everyone made it, the last pair--Michael and Charlotte--came down the stairs. My heart flipped when I saw him. Michael's alright.

I waited in my room for someone to escort me to one of their debriefing rooms, per their instruction. After what felt like forever, I finally heard a knock on my door.

When I swung it open, I expected it to be Natalie or Max one of the other escorts I'd seen at that point, but the person who turned up on the other side of the door was the last person I ever would have expected.

It was Darrin.

I just stammered, but the look on my face was enough to tell him what I was thinking.

"You probably didn't expect me, huh?"

"What do you have to do with all of this?" I blurted out.

He smiled a little. "Just saving your ass two or three times."

I just stared at him.

"It'll make a lot more sense after the debriefing. Come on." He started down the hall.

I followed him through the base until we came to the debriefing room. Everyone was already there, waiting around a huge conference table. I found my seat and sat down. I scanned over the other people I hadn't met yet, trying to see if I recognized any of them. Surprisingly, I recognized just one. Mr. Nelson, the history teacher.

I shook my head. What is he doing here?

A large man entered the room, wearing black pants and a white button-up shirt. He walked around to the back of the table and took us all in for a moment. Then he sighed, and an excited smile found its way onto his face. "I wasn't sure this day would ever come. Especially not with all of you in once piece. Thank god."

"Who are you?" I asked.

But before the man could answer, Cole shot up from his seat, fuming. "I can answer that one for you. His name is James Harrison. Kidnapper, stalker, and interrogator extraordinaire. He's the one who took me and Riley from the Battle of the Bands concert."

"It was a test," Harrison said. "One you both passed."

"Excuse me?" Riley said.

"I will explain everything. Just, please... Let me start from the beginning."

Cole reluctantly sat back down in his chair.

"Thank you." Harrison cleared his throat. "My name is James Harrison. I run an underground organization called The Protectorate. Libertatis Vindices. Do any of you know what that means?"

"It's latin," Neon said. "It means Protectors of Freedom."

Harrison smiled. I looked over at Neon and shook my head at him. "Really?"

"You should really learn latin," he said back.

"Since when do you know latin?"

"I took it in fifth grade," he said matter-of-factly. I just stared at him. He rolled his eyes and looked away. "Adsignatos."

"You could call us a militia group," Harrison continued. "Many of us used to work in the government or military in one way or another. The purpose of a government is to protect its citizens, but our government has become greedy and is trying to control its citizins and get as much power as they can." Harrison looked around the table. "Everyone who has joined The Protectorate has learned this in one way or another, and believe it's wrong. A government with too much power is dangerous. We believe in what it's supposed to stand for, and through our resources and contacts, we're able to get wind of things the government is trying to do that go too far. We try to stop those things before they can go through with them."

"What kinds of things?" Layla asked.

"We've stopped inside jobs the government was planning that were going to be pinned on other people or nations," he began. "We've responded to real terrorist attacks that the government wasn't able to respond quickly enough to. Any time the government tries to create weapons that are too dangerous for anyone to have, we shut it down. We try to keep them in line. With our most recent mission, we learned they were planning to create an army of super soldiers, and they were going to use a group of unknowing teenagers to do it. Fortunately, we were able to save them."

"So why did you kidnap us, then?" Cole asked again. He seemed tense.

"We'd been keeping an eye on MEL for some time, knowing that the stuff they were doing in that lab could be good, or could get out of control. But we didn't have any eyes on the inside, so the MIC's slipped by us. But when we saw one of the scientists bring a group of teenagers in, we started watching you closely. We were able to hack their computers before the lab was blown up and learned all about the experiment. That's when we sent Darrin to Silver Creek High to keep a closer eye on you. He tracked you to Michael's lake house and helped you escape the Japanese."

I looked over at Darrin, my mouth falling open a little. Layla said that someone was there. That they'd saved her and Charlotte, and gave us the keys to the second car. That was Darrin.

"Darrin came back to us in a panic," Harrison continued. "He told us how you could turn into animals, how you knew nothing about what had been done to you, and that you were under attack. He requested that we protect you all. We considered it, but it was a risk on our part, and we weren't sure if you were worth our resources. We didn't know how dangerous you were, or if you truly were unwilling participants."

"What changed your minds?" Michael asked.

"Darrin told us about Battle of the Bands, and we knew that if the Japanese were going to try something, it would be there. So we had a plan. Keep a close eye on you during the show. Capture Cole and Riley afterwards, without hurting them, and bring them in. We hoped that the Japanese would follow and we'd be able to catch one of them, a first step in stopping them. Meanwhile, we wanted to know just how much you knew about the experiment, and how dangerous you were. The Japanese didn't follow, but what Cole and Riley said in the interrogation rooms and how they escaped were enough to tell us you were worth our support. But we lost track of them in the chaos... and I'm sorry we weren't able to protect them. The Japanese were closer than we'd thought," he said grimly.

"So, you say that you've been protecting us... But you've been doing a pretty shitty job considering, on your watch, Riley was shot, Gwen was almost killed before FUSE got there, Layla was kidnapped, and we were all arrested," Cole points out.

"You're hard keep track of. It's not like we put trackers and cameras on you." Harrison sat down in the seat behind him. "But, haven't you ever wondered why the Japanese haven't stormed your houses? Killed you in your sleep? We've been protecting your houses, keeping an eye on you on your way to school. Darrin and Nelson kept track of you at school. And when you were all arrested, we couldn't interfere with the police, but we could track them. We figured out exactly where they took you and got in there as quickly as we could. With the Japanese and FUSE against you, we knew it wasn't safe for you to stay in your normal lives anymore. So, we brought you here."

"What do you expect from us? Now that we're here?" Jinx asked.

"You're welcome to work with us as much or as little as you like. This is a safe haven for you kids. No one is going to try to kill you here. And hopefully, we can find a way to bring down the Japanese and FUSE and give you your lives back. We want to make sure the Miles Exhimus experiment is put to an end for good," he explains.

"There is one thing, though, that we could use your help with if you're willing," Natalie said, sitting down next to Harrison. "It's something that Gwen found."

I sat up a little straighter. "Are you talking about the lab?"

Natalie nodded. "You talked about it at the hospital. One of our agents was there keeping an eye on Riley and overheard. So we started looking into it. It looks like they're planning to recreate the experiment, and they're almost ready to start. The facility is done, and the chairs have been installed. We'd like to bring it down before they can bring in a new set of test subjects. We could really use your help, but you don't have to do anything you don't want to. But, we are going to be moving on this pretty quickly. Sleep on it, eat a good meal and get back to us," she said.

A nerdy, kind looking man in a lab coat stepped forward from the wall behind the table and chairs. "One last thing. We were able to retrieve one of your morphing suits from the evidence locker at the police station. We're studying it now and are planning to not only make new ones for you, but improve them as well. We hope to have them done in a couple days." He gave us a kind smile. "It's my welcoming gift to you. So, welcome."

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

"All right! House rules!"

Natalie led us all back down the hall.

"Girls can visit the boys wing and vice versa, but not after 10pm. Lights out at eleven. Everyone has to abide by those, not just you guys."

We continued walking.

"Everyone gets two food rations a day. Take a third, someone doesn't get to eat. Showers shouldn't run more than twenty minutes. You're free to go anywhere in the base, but until you understand more of how things run around here, you've gotta have an escort with you at all times if you want to leave the warehouse. With the Japanese and FUSE out there looking for you, as well as about a dozen other organizations out there looking for us, it's too much of a risk that someone could find our location. Basically, don't be stupid, don't kill anyone, and don't steal anything and you'll be just fine here."

We made it to the main hub where the hallways branch off in different directions.

She turned around to face us. "Try to get some shut eye. And, well... Welcome to your new home."
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes





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Steggy says...



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The ride was silent. A hazy afternoon sky was above the truck as it drove down a pebbled, undiscovered road. The sun was drifting behind a tall conifer tree. Michael was sitting in the back, surrounded by the other older Animorphers. There were sullen expressions on their faces as they knew where it was headed. Michael's thoughts were completely jumbled and unread. He didn't like the feeling in his stomach and he tried to think of something else.

The first thing that came to mind was Charlotte. She was inside the truck since she was worried that if there was a bump, she would topple out. Michael had laughed, considering the moments where she had almost died. Fond memories that they had grown closer together. The Animorphers were lucky to be alive, Michael thought while staring up at the sky. After everything we've been through, it's like luck has been on our side. I wonder what will welcome us at the facility.

The leader of the whole operation, Natalie, was very persistent with the whole thing. Giving teenagers the ability to use bombs to break into the facility. Michael, at first, thought it was crazy. He wasn't sure if the bombs would even work since they were the size of a shoebox and weighed next to nothing. They looked homemade too when he had first seen them.

While Michael was in his thoughts, the truck stopped in front of surrounding of trees. Behind them was the facility, shimmering in greys and whites. A girl with black hair got out of the truck, slamming the door.

"Alright, everyone out," Natalie ordered. Michael hopped over the edge and the rest of the Animorphers followed after. Out of the corner of his eye, Charlotte stumbled out of the truck. He decided before they split off into groups, he would talk to her, see how she felt about the rescue mission.

"Hey, Charlie," Michael said.

Charlotte looked up and smiled wearily. "Hey."

"How're you feeling?"

"Good, now that you're here."

Natalie stepped in front of the group, placing her hands on her hips. "Okay, people. Since there are ten of you, I'm going to put you into pairs. You'll work with them and place bombs around the perimeter of the place. Once everyone has done so and moved, we're going to blow up the facility. I'm hoping that, if this goes according to plan, then the government bodies will leave us alone."

She then went to the truck bed and grabbed a sheet of paper and begun to read off the pairings.

"Michael and Riley. Cole and Charlotte. Layla and Gwen. Jinx and Neon. Emma and Dan. Those are your partners in this mission. You'll be given two bombs each and find a place to put them. Report back to me when you're done," Natalie stated. The pairs went to the truck bed and grabbed two bombs each.

"I had some of my guards disable the cameras so you have fifteen minutes before the guards realize anything. Good luck and I'll be looking out from here. Oh, I forgot to mention that everyone will be getting walkie-talkies as a form of contact if something goes wrong or to communicate with one another." She then handed out the walkie-talkies and sent everyone on their way.

The duos headed off towards the chain link fence that surrounded the facility. It was locked so it would be impossible to break through without making much noise. Michael, now putting himself as the leader of the whole operation, suggested that Cole climb over and pick the lock in his monkey form. Once he was over, and Michael was over, he was going to keep watch for any guards. When Cole picks the gate, then Michael and Riley will keep watch, since Riley was still recovering from being shot.
As they handed their bombs over to Charlotte and Cole, Michael glanced over and noticed as Cole taking Riley's. His fingers settled over hers. They both stopped and let their hands linger there for a moment before Riley pushed the contraption towards him. "Make sure you don't die." She warned him. She wagged her finger at him playfully. "Seriously. If you die I'm gonna be mad."
Cole laughed. "Alight, no dying. I promise."

Michael blinked at the two's small interaction. Charlotte had noticed the same thing and laughed lightly.

"Looks like we aren't the only two."

Michael shrugged. "It was bound to happen, I guess. I mean, having another couple in the ranks."

"Be safe."

"I will," he promised, flashing Charlotte a toothy grin.

Cole had morphed into his monkey form and Michael followed after, morphing into the mighty lion. He jumped over effortlessly, missing the top of the fence by a foot. Cole climbed the fence, gripping through the small openings with his toes and hands. Once he was over, he then started to work on picking the lock. Michael stood guard, staring intently at the front door of the facility.

Cole got the gate to unlock and opened it as the other quickly filed in. Riley joined Michael and they then headed towards their spot, which was near the door. They were guarding the area and keeping a watchful eye of any guards. The mid-afternoon sky had shifted from blue to a hazy orange with blush pink undertones.
There was a long, awkward silence until Michael asked, "So, are you and Cole a thing now?"

Riley blushed a little and looked up at him. "Oh! Yeah. Yeah, we're dating."

"I figured as much from that small lingering moment you two had."

Riley smiled a bit and silently looked back out towards the lab.

"It's nice to have another couple. We can do a double date," Michael joked, nudging Riley's shoulder.

Riley laughed a little. "That would be fun." Her smile flickered like she'd just remembered something unpleasant. "Except the entire country thinks we're criminals, so we couldn't exactly go anywhere without getting shot." She shrugged "Which I'd rather keep on the 'been there, done that' list."

"Same. I think being criminals makes life more interesting. And, we can use some disguises to hide our true identities. But, it's one thing off my bucket list. Being a criminal and all."

"You sure have some weird life goals there, friend."

Michael laughed. "Weird life goals are better than no life goals at all."

Riley frowned up at him "You wanna know what my biggest life goal was?"

"What was it?"

"To lead a safe, successful life. And yet, here I am."

"Well," Michael began, "you're here with the Animorphers. I think that in itself is pretty successful. Because you have a family and you met Cole. Sure, you didn't get what you wanted with being safe. But we're all fighting against the bigger guys together and if we weren't, they would've grabbed more people to make into Animorphers."

Riley shook her head "I'm not sure you could call this" she gestured to the world in front of them "A success. At least not the kind I needed." She laughed a little. "Sorry. I sort of killed the mood there, didn't I?"

Michael shrugged. "It's okay. Don't worry about it."

Riley smiled. "But you're right about one thing. Meeting you guys was pretty great." Her smile faltered again. Her eyebrows quirked down. "Hang on...do you hear that?"

Michael shook his head. "I didn't hear anything."

"That's weird. I could have sworn I heard voices."

It was then that Michael did pick on a faint sound coming from the other side of the building. "Do you think it's the guards?"

Riley took a silent moment to listen. "No, they don't sound like...like adults..." Riley's eyes grew wide. She looked up at Michael. "You know what this could mean, right?"

"Possibly there are others. We should go check it out," he suggested. Michael turned to find himself alone. Riley was already ahead of him, running along the fence toward the voices. "Hey, wait for me!" he exclaimed as he ran after Riley. "You're supposed to take it easy, remember!"

When he finally caught up with her, Riley was keeping her distance from where the voices were coming from. Michael caught his breath and looked in the direction. There were two boys and one girl, examining the fence.

"Kids," Riley confirmed. Her voice sounded oddly heavy.

"They look to be younger than we are. Probably around thirteen or fourteen. But why are they here?"

Riley looked at him like he'd told her the Earth was flat. "Why do you think?"

Michael put two and two together and sighed. "You have a point."

"We need to get them out of here." She glanced up at Michael "Any bright ideas?"

"Well, I was thinking was could ask what they are doing. But, we should tell the others about what we found. Maybe they can help," Michael answered.

"I don't think they'd trust us." Riley refuted her own argument. "That's not something we can change. This is the best chance we'll have." She took a deep breath in. "We'll have to be careful not to scare them off. Let's at least get close enough to hear what they're saying first."

They closed in as quietly as they can to the kids and listened in to what they were saying.

"This is pointless." A big blonde boy grumbled. "We've gone halfway around this thing and haven't found anything."

"Well, you don't exactly have a better plan." The smaller boy pointed out. "So you don't really have a right to complain."

The big blonde rolled his eyes. "Of course you're siding with her."

"Shut up." Snapped the girl. She shook the fence experimentally.

"Why don't you just face it, Alex." The big blonde folded his arms "There's no way you'll get out of here. There's no way."

The girl--Alex, Michael guessed--turned around and glared at him. "Watch it, Josh. You sound like that Jay mother--"

"Alex!" The smaller boy complained.

"Sorry, Finn." Alex muttered.

Michael coughed as the three kids looked in his direction. "So, you guys looking for a way to escape?"
You are like a blacksmith's hammer, you always forge people's happiness until the coal heating up the forge turns to ash. Then you just refuel it and start over. -Persistence (2015)

You have so much potential and love bursting in you. -Omnom





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Europa says...



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"So you guys are looking for a way to escape?" The moment Michael said it, the boys looked ready to bolt. Alex, the redheaded girl, just glared at us suspiciously.

"You're no social workers." She spoke with a sharp Scottish accent "Who are you?"

Michael and I exchanged a look. It looked like he had just as much of a convincing explanation as I did.

"That's going to take a lot of explaining that we don't have time for." Michael began. Alex didn't let him finish.

"Fine. Why don't you tell us what you're doing here?"

"Another long story," I chimed in. "But we're here to help."

The three glanced at each other. The smaller boy, the one they'd called Finn, shook his head a little. They all started to leave.

"Listen." I tried again "Whatever they told you this place was, they lied to you."

They all stopped. Finn and Alex looked at each other. The bigger boy, Josh, looked back at us.

"What do you mean?" He asked slowly.

"We don't have time to explain it, but they're going to do something to you. Something bad. We're here to get you out before that happens."

Josh narrowed his eyes. The other two had turned to face us now. Alex and Finn were standing closer together, watching with identical scowls.

"How would you know?" Finn frowned suspiciously.

Michael and I exchanged a dark look.

"It happened to us." Michael told them grimly. "And trust me, it's not pretty. If you're smart, you'll let us help you. We have about ten minutes before this yard is overrun with security guards."

The three still looked dubious, but there was a new light in their expressions. Alex and Finn held the same impish glint in their eyes. It was only for the barest second and I'm not sure anyone else noticed it, but it was there.

"Fine." Alex agreed. "We'll go."

"Hey!" Josh snapped. "I never agreed to this!"

"Then you can stay here." Finn shrugged. "No one's forcing you to come along."

Josh's jaw clenched. His face turned a splotchy red.

"He's making that stupid face again." Alex muttered.

"Be nice!" Finn scolded, swatting her arm. Alex rolled her eyes.

"Michael, why don't you take these kids to Natalie. Tell her there could be more--"

"Five." Finn interrupted quietly.

"What?" I turned back to him.

"There are five other kids in there." Finn pointed toward the facility.

"Good luck getting that lot out the door." Alex scoffed.

"None of them really want to leave like we do." Finn agreed.

"We'll figure it out, but right now the clock is ticking." I urged. "You have to go."

"And what are you going to do?" Michael frowned down at me.

"I'm gonna find Layla."

Michael nodded. "Just be careful, alright? Cole would kill me if you got hurt on my watch."

I smirked. "I can handle myself. Just focus on keeping those kids alive. I'll see you when we're out of here."

Without another word, I turned and ran as fast as I could down the length of the fence. Sooner than I would have liked, a dagger of pain twisted itself into my stomach again and I had to slow down.

Layla I reached out with my mind, trying to find her consciousness in the huge courtyard. It only took a couple tries before I got a response.

Riley? Layla's voice spoke in my head as clearly as if she were speaking in my ear. What's the matter? Did you and Michael run into trouble?

No.
I replied. Well, not exactly. I need to tell you something. Where are you right now?

Behind the back wall.

I'll be right there.


I headed as quickly as I could toward the lab and skirted around the walls until I saw Layla and Gwen crouching by the back door. I slid in next to them.

"Hey." I greeted them aloud this time. They both jumped.

"A little warning next time?" Layla whispered. Her eyes flicked between me and the door.

"Sorry."

"It's fine. Just go ahead and tell me what's up."

I took a deep breath. "Michael and I...we ran into a couple of kids by the fence. He took them out to Natalie, but they say there are others still in there."

For a couple heartbeats, Layla just stared at me. She cursed quietly once, then again a little louder. She hit the wall with her fist. "We have to get them out of there."

Gwen and I both nodded.

"Come on." Layla ordered the two of us.

I blinked a couple times. "Wait, you mean right now?"

"Yes, right now." Layla snapped back.

"But there are only three of us, and we don't have a plan--"

"We'll improvise!"

"Improvise? Layla, that place is bound to be crawling with guards, and we only have a couple minutes before they realize we're out here. You can't expect that we could just walk right in there without getting caught. We need to regroup with the others and come back with a strategy"

Layla shot to her feet. I stood too, but she still bore down on me. "Every second we spend out here is a second they spend in danger. Argue with me all you want Riley, but I am not leaving without those kids."

I held her glare silently. Just from the look in her eyes, I could tell she meant what she said. I sighed. "Fine. But let me get the others first. The door's probably locked anyway."

Layla tried it. It was. I turned and headed back out into the open.

"Riley," Layla called after me. I looked over my shoulder. "Thanks."

I turned to look ahead again. "You can thank me if we get out of this mess alive."





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Wolfical says...



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Neon and I followed the perimeter of the fence until we could see the entrance to the facility. Keeping our distance, we huddled down in the bushes and watched for any activity. My mind was ready to send out a report to Layla, who was positioned by the back, the moment we saw anything. My muscles were quivering as I waited there in a crouching position, my head turned to the side so that I could survey the building with my one good eye. If needed, I was prepared to leap into action at any moment, morphing into my tiger form and scaling the fence with ease. Any moment now, I thought. Any moment…

“This is taking a while,” Neon said.

“Shh.” I was annoyed because his voice broke me out of my zen-like focus.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, getting to his feet. “Maybe.”

“What? Neon, wait!”

Too late. Making use of our brand-new morphing suits, Neon shrank into calico kitten form, took a running start, and leaped through one of the diamonds in the chain link fence as if it was a ring of fire.

“This was not a part of the plan,” I hissed.

I eyed the security cameras warily, but the kitten bounded confidently up to the building. Climbing one brick at a time, he scrambled his way up to a windowsill, where the glass window was cracked open, revealing a sliver of mesh screen.

Neon! What are you doing? I asked.

What I was destined to do. With a retractable claw, he scratched a vertical slit in the screen and slipped inside.

Neon? What do you see?

Silence.

Neon?

Please send help. I’ve been ambushed by a squadron of little girls.

Before I had time to react, Riley’s voice entered my thoughts. Are you there, Jinx? There’s five kids inside we have to rescue.

Neon’s with some of them right now, apparently. Where are you? What’s going on?

At the back. Michael’s taking three kids to Natalie. We need to find the rest and get them out of here as soon as possible. They’re so young! It’s awful!

You there, Jinx? I don’t enjoy being fondled. That was Neon.

I still wasn’t very used to thoughtspeak, and sorting out even just two different voices, let alone replying to the correct one, required considerable concentration.

Neon. Yes, uh… I’m here. How many kids are with you?

Three - ow! That’s my tail!

I switched back to Riley. Kitten Neon has located three of the five kids and evidently has their complete attention.

Can you provide a distraction at the front? she asked. We’re coming in through the back entrance. Ask Neon if he can lure them our way.

Right. Okay. Sure. I suddenly felt much less confident in my ability to leap over that fence and apprehend armed scientists. But hey - it hadn’t been the first time. I gave Neon Riley’s request, took a deep breath, and morphed into the tiger.

Now! Riley cried.

Setting off at a run, I made an arc back through the forest so I could get a straight leap over the fence and land near the facility’s front door.

As I was rocketing towards the fence, I saw something, or, rather, someone out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t stop to look, so with all my might I jumped, and thanks to the distraction I wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped. One of my back paws nicked the sawed-off wire at the top of the chain link, leaving a painful gash on my foot. When I landed, I looked back to see who the person was.

It appeared to be a frightened and bewildered scientist, heading back to work. He had keys to the front gate in his hand, but he dropped them, turned back the way he came, and ran for his life.

Beep, beep, beep. The security cameras were blinking red. It was just what Riley wanted, so I paced up and down the walkway to the entrance, hissing at the cameras until the doors opened.

Strangely enough, as they closed in around me and I backed up against the fence, favoring my back paw, it was if my life flashed before my eyes. I thought about my father, and wondered what he would be making himself for dinner, at a lonely table for one. Did he know where I was? Was he safe?

The syringes glinted; the dogcatcher pole looked like a noose. One of them carried a rifle.

Seeing no better option and hoping to buy more time, I began morphing into a human again. If I couldn’t fight my way out, maybe I could talk. As it turned out, I didn’t get the chance.

Michael in his tawny lion form came out of nowhere, tackling the opposition all at once with flashing white teeth. He locked eyes with me briefly. They need your help inside. Hurry.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.





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Tue Jul 03, 2018 4:36 am
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Lefty says...



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I never really got why Murphy's Law was a thing... until today.

Riley, Gwen, Charlotte, and I push our backs against the wall on either side of the door as a group of guards run past us, rifles in hand.

Cole examines the lock on the door with a pocket flashlight. "I can't get through this door," he says matter-of-factly.

"What do you mean? I thought you could pick anything?" I say.

He stands up and turns to me with an aggravated sigh. "I can. But this is a computer lock and I'm not a hacker."

"So what are we supposed to do, then?" I ask.

Cole throws his arms up. "Don't look at me!"

Charlotte peeks around the edge of the wall, keeping an eye on things. "Guys, I think some guards are headed this way."

I curse under my breath, but before I can respond, my walkie talkie cuts in with Natalie's voice on the other end. "Hey, I just heard what's going on. You need to get out of there. Abort the mission."

I pull the walkie talkie off my hip. "What?"

"We can't blow up a building with kids inside," Natalie says.

"Of course not. So why don't we bring them with us?"

"No time, Layla. You're coming up on your fifteen minute mark. You're going to come back to base, then we'll come up with a new plan and come back in a few days."

I tense at her words. "Natalie, every minute we wait to get those kids out of here is a minute closer to them being put in those chairs."

"And every minute you stay inside that facility is a minute closer to them finding and killing all of you. Abort. The. Mission."

I force out a breath. My fingers grip the walkie too tight.

Charlotte walks up to me. "She has a point. I want to save those kids as much as you do, but we're not prepared for a rescue mission and we can't help them if we're dead."

I turn to face her. "Charlotte, do you remember how terrifying it was when we first got our abilities? The fear of knowing what was happening to us? How scary it was to morph for the first time?"

She nods. "I was terrified."

"We were sixteen-year-olds. Imagine what it'll be like for those kids?"

A look of realization crosses Charlotte's face.

Natalie comes through on the walkie again. "Layla, this is not up for discussion. Abort the mission and get back to the van. That's an order."

We all stare at each other in silence for a long moment, then Cole shoves his lock pick into his pocket. "Screw that! I've never been one for following directions." Cole rips the walkie out of my hand and throws it against the wall. It shatters in a million pieces. "We're getting them out of here. Today."

"I'm in," Riley and Gwen say.

Charlotte nods. "Me too."

"We still need to get through that door, though," Gwen points out.

Charlotte peeks around the corner, then ducks back. "And fast. The guards are headed straight for us."

Cole looks around, then his eyes fall on the bomb in Gwen's hands. He takes it from her, then sticks it onto the door. "Get down!" Cole flicks the lever, and the bomb activates with a high-pitched squeal.

We make a run for a pile a crates a couple yards away, then slide to the ground behind them and shove our hands against our ears. The door blows off its hinges. Metal shrapnel flies in every direction, hitting the guards on their approach.

"Well, that worked," Riley says.

Just then, Michael and Jinx run around the corner. "Hey, we're in too," Michael says. "But I think it would be a mistake for all of us to go in. "We'd be more likely to be caught, and if we're all caught, well... we saw how that almost turned out last time and I don't want to know how it will turn out if it happens again."

"What are you suggesting?" Charlotte asks.

"Three kids are with Natalie. I think Jinx, Cole, Riley and Charlotte should find Natalie before it's too late. Gwen, Layla and I will find Neon and get them all out safely."

They all reluctantly agree, except for Charlotte, who shoots onto her feet. "I'm staying."

"Are you sure?" Michael asks her.

"I'm not going to sit on the sidelines. Not this time."

"What we need is a getaway car," Gwen points out. "There won't be room for everyone with Natalie. Not with eight kids joining us. Besides, I have a feeling that by the time we get them out, we won't be able to make it all the way back to Natalie. We'll be lucky to make it out the front door."

"Leave that to me," Charlotte says as she starts to back away. "Bring the kids to this door. I'll make sure we make it outside that fence."

Reluctantly, Michael nods. "Good luck."

Charlotte gives him a small smile. "You too." Then she turns, morphs into a Gazelle, and runs so fast away from us that she disappears within seconds.

"Okay, lets go," I say. The others split off from us, and Michael, Gwen and I head for the jagged hole in the side of the building that used to be the door.

We hurry down the long corridors, peeking in every window, opening every door. We must have opened twenty by the time Gwen's walkie crackles to life with Emma on the other end.

"Hey, Dan and I just realized that our walkies were turned off. We're all set here. Have we missed anything?"

Gwen puts it up to her mouth. "You've kind of missed everything. There's kids here. We have to get them out before we can blow up anything."

"You're joking right? We already have the timer ticking down!" Emma yells through the speaker.

"Well disable it! Michael, Neon, Layla and I are all inside!" Gwen yells back.

The walkie is quiet for a moment, then Emma comes back on and says, "Ok, we cut the wire and it stop-- wait."

The walkie is silent for far too long. "Emma?" Gwen tries. No response. "Emma!"

The walkie cuts back in, but this time it's Dan. "The detonator malfunctioned. It's counting down again and we can't stop it."

My stomach sinks. Shit.

Gwen squeezes her eyes shut. "So, we just have to stay away from that part of the building and we'll be fine, right?"

"No, this one is in the middle of the roof. If it blows, it will hit the other bombs and have a domino effect whether they're disabled or not. This whole facility will be nothing but rubble!"

My heart pounds so hard that I think it might burst out of my chest. I rip the walkie from Gwen's hand. "How long is the timer set for?"

"Fifteen minutes," Dan says grimly.

"Well, I guess we'll have to get them out in the next fifteen minutes then," I say. "Emma and Dan, get as far away from here as you can. Tell Natalie to start driving and not to stop. Got it?"

"Got it." The walkie cuts out.

I shove the walkie back into Gwen's hands. "Go, go!"

We quicken our pace. After another five minutes of searching, we come to a room at the end of a hall. The sign above it reads: lock down bunker. Through the door, I can see three kids sitting on the floor. One of them, a young girl with ribbons in her hair, hugs an adorable kitten to her chest and twists back and forth. The kittens arms reach uncomfortably out, trying desperately to escape her embrace. Neon.

I try the doors. Locked. I turn to see a keycard scanner to the left of the doors. "Keycard. I bet you the guards have access."

Just then, a guard turns the corner down the hall. "Hey!" he yells. He fumbles to get his sidearm out of its holster.

Michael doesn't even hesitate. He takes off for him and football tackles him to the ground.

Gwen sighs next to me. "Damn... I wish he was single so bad."

I smirk at her, but before I can respond, Michael is back with a keycard in hand. He swipes it, and the light on the door turns green. He shoves it open, to be met with the eyes of three startled kids.

"What's going on?" Another girl asks. She's slightly older than the other, with long brown hair and brown eyes.

"There's a... gas leak in the building. We need to get you guys out," Gwen says.

"Come on, there's not much time," I urge them. "We're going to get you kids someplace safe."

The kids get up and start toward us.

"Where are the other two? There's supposed to be five of you here, right?" Michael asks.

"Two kids left this morning. Probably found a new foster family," the boy says as he follows us out.

Gwen takes the "kitten" from the younger girl, and we hurry as quickly as we can to the exit.

Sure enough, Charlotte is waiting at the back door with a six seater van. Gwen takes a seat in the second row, and I slide in the back with kitten Neon. The first two kids file in, but the third--the little girl with the ribbons--stops in her tracks.

"Wait! I forgot Bubby!" she cries. She turns on her heels and darts back inside. Michael tries to stop her, but she slips right under his arm and flies back down the hall.

"I got her!" Michael says. He runs back in after her. I look down at my watch. Six minutes. Six minutes until we're all blown to bits.

A minute passes, then two.

Gwen shakes her head. "He's not going to make it."

"He's going to make it," Charlotte says.

"Charlotte, we're down to three and a half minutes. If we don't go--"

"Shut up, Gwen. He'll be here," Charlotte snaps.

They both fall silent. I'm not used to seeing this side of Charlotte. I can't help but be a little proud.

A long moment passes. "Come on, Michael," Charlotte whispers.

Finally, he comes through the door, carrying the girl with a purple elephant stuffed animal held tightly in her arms. Charlotte lets out a long, relieved breath. Michael hurries over to the van and sets her down inside.

"Buckle up," he tells her.

Gwen helps her get seated, and Michael closes the door and runs around to the passenger seat. The second he's in, Charlotte puts the car in drive and floors it, headed straight for the front gate.

As we near it, it becomes clear that they've closed the gate. Why should we expect any differently? It's not like anything else has gone wrong today.

We blast right through it, the fence gates breaking off their hinges and flying over the van. The guards outside the perimeter open fire.

"Everyone get down!" Michael yells.

All of the kids cover their heads. I look down at my watch. Fifteen seconds. "Charlotte, don't slow down!" I yell.

We speed down the forest path. The lab shrinks in the back window the further away we get. And for a moment, it seems like maybe, just maybe we actually pulled this off.

Then, boom!

I watch a mushroom cloud rise up from the building we were in only moments ago.

The shockwave explodes out from the facility. It hits the van. Charlotte swerves to try and get control. But it's no use. The wave takes the van with it.

"Hold onto something!" Michael yells.

Gwen grabs onto the back of Michael's seat. Kitten Neon scurries under one of the seats. I grab onto the handles in the back of the van.

The shockwave flips the van over. It crashes onto the top, then the bottom, then the top. I slam into the roof and fall back down, flat on my stomach. The van tumbles down a hill, and when it finally comes to a crashing halt, everything goes black.
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes








You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind.
— Joyce Meyer