Treego awoke in a cage - the same cage that had carried him from his home in the pond, that limited him to tiny little hops of only a few inches if he wanted to stretch his legs. He leaned as far forward as he dared, realising quickly that he was near the top of a large stack of cages of various sizes, each containing one of his friends.
What he could see was a huge, low-ceilinged room that stretched out far off to the left and right. It was more of a hall, really, with sleek black silver metal providing crisp accenting in the corners and around the edges of built-in rows of shelves. The contents of shelves were nothing like the discarded half-machines in Patrick's workshop, and each shelf had three distinct places marked out by shallow divets for the appropriate item to sit in. Treego wondered if there were shelves separating the pile of cages, or if they were all stacked up like a house of cards.
"Uh, guys?" he called.
"Treego?" a high-pitched voice shouted back. It had the slight whoop of a monkey, but it had come from far too far down the pile for Treego to know who had spoken. Luckily, it identified itself. "Treego! It's Rosie and I'm scared and I don't know where Mum is."
Treego frowned, and looked to the cage to his left. A bat was cramped inside the cage, their feet curled around the top bars and the tips of its wings poking slightly out the sides. To his right, Phoenix the tropical parrot. Below, Rita.
"Rosie..." Treego said, wishing he could have kept the wary note from his voice. "Are there any monkeys at all around about you?"
"No!" she screeched - yup, definitely a monkey, "None!"
Treego sighed, fairly sure he knew what was happening. "Okay, everyone look around. Does anyone see anyone else who is a part of their species."
A chorus to the negative called back to him.
"Great," he muttered, "I guess they only need one of each of us for testing."
"Who's they?" the bat groaned.
Treego shrugged. "Neuromax, I'd assume."
The bat unhooked their feet from around the bars and twisted around into a sitting position, catching Treego's gaze.
"I dunno, man," they said, "Why would Neuromax blow its cover like that, when they could just come get us like they got Aurora and the others?"
"Then who? Sorry, what's your name?" Treego asked. It sounded like he'd be taking the leading role once again, or at least the speaking-first role. He probably ought to know who he was speaking for.
The bat smiled with one side of their mouth. "Niall, male. You're Treego, right?"
There was a loud click. Far across the other side of the room, a white door with a huge, wide silver handle opened smoothly enough that Treego reckoned it had to be on mechanical hinges. A short woman with dark ebony skin and long black hair paced into the room, balancing three different clipboards on her arms, one of them pointing a different way from the others. She stumbled slightly as she reached the high, white work table and the clipboards clattered onto the hollow-sounding metal surface.
She cleared her throat as she stood, righted her long blue lab coat, and looked up at the animals.
"Er, hi there," she said.
Treego looked from Niall to Phoenix, then down at Rita. They all stared at him. Yup, he was definitely going to be the one doing the talking.
"Hello!" he called, leaning his weight onto three limbs so he could wave with the other. "What's your name?"
She stepped out from behind the table and walked slowly up to the cages, then muttered to herself and took a step back as she realised she was too close to look up at Treego. She quickly pointed her phone at the ground and seemed to be taking a photograph, then met Treego’s gaze.
"Marie," she answered, "And... and you?"
"Treego," Treego said, with the most calming smile he could manage. It was like introducing himself to MacLean all over again. Except this person didn't seem to be getting any more comfortable the longer she spent with the animals. He widened his smile and pointed in various different directions, listing off the names of the others. "This is Niall, this is Phoenix. Then there's Rita, Rosie's down there somewhere. Wave to the lady, Rosie. Er, I can't really see who else is about... Holy moly is that you Belinda? How the heck did they fit you in a cage?"
He pressed his face to the bottom of the cage and did his best to stare through the gap between Rita's front leg and her snout. Was that really the majestic lion cooped up in there?
"Speaking of cages!"
Treego sprang up into his normal position, which of course caused his head to clatter against the top of the cage. He looked down at Marie, whose gulp was observable even from his position several metres in the air.
"Sorry," she said, "I didn't mean to frighten you. It's just that I was sent to get you out. You were only in those for transportation purposes. And the Major thought you better get some sleep."
Treego widened his eyes, knowing full well how Patrick always shuddered when he did that. But really, who were these people, whoever they were, to talk of sleep. Granted, they had been wide awake listening to Patrick when they were taken - but these people wouldn't have known that!
Patrick. Treego's eyes sunk back into his sockets and he absentmindedly darted his tongue in and out of his mouth. He was sure Patrick had got through to most of them too - how could he not? But what it would even come to now, Treego didn't know.
"That sounds good," he managed eventually, "But you might need a stepladder to get me and my friends down from here."
At this, Marie finally smiled. She produced a mobile phone from her pocket, tapped the screen a few times, then pointed it in their direction and jabbed the screen one more time. The doors of the cages swung open.
Phoenix immediately fluttered out and flew off to the far right end of the room. Niall hesitated on the edge of the cage for a moment, then followed suit. Treego looked down at the drop, and wondered where his wings were.
"Sorry, again," Marie said, as the lower down animals extracted themselves from their cages. Rosie turned out to be next to Rita, and once she had clambered down to the bottom next to Belinda, she dragged Belinda's massive cage out in front of the pyramid for Rita to use as a stepping stone. Treego stared down at them all, still metres away. Marie said, "We figured the best bets for the top were the flyers, as well as the most agile."
Treego stared at the ground for a moment, not having been this far from it in quite some time. He spent most of his time in a pond, or on a couch. But she was right. He was made to spring from tree trunk to tree trunk in the depths of the Amazon. He carefully edged his way onto the outside of the cage, then lowered his back legs onto the top of Rita's, then shimmied carefully down the bars to Belinda's, still there where Rosie had put it. A moment later, he found his sticky webbed feet well suited to the task, and scuttled face first down the side of Belinda's cage, relishing the tingling rush as the ground zoomed up towards him.
Once he was on the ground, he looked up at Marie, who now towered above him in a way Patrick always tried not to. But quick-thinking Belinda scooped him up and placed her behind her ear, from where he could easily hop onto the table.
"Alright," he said, "We're ready for whatever you're going to do, for whatever you did to Aurora and Chip."
"And Dexi," Rita added.
Marie frowned. "Who?"
Treego felt a different, much more threatening tingle in his stomach. He looked over to where Niall had flown, wondering what theory he'd have suggested for where they were.
"Our friends..." Treego said, dragging his eyes back to Marie. "The ones that Neuromax already took."
At this Marie's wide, worried eyes narrowed and her respectful meeting of his gaze turned into something far more forceful. "I don't know what Patrick McAfferty told you, but that man has no connection to the Neuromax Company, and never has."
Treego frowned. No matter what Patrick had admitted to them, they knew that wasn't true. It was difficult to forget a visit from Crothers.
"Well, where are we then?" Rosie exclaimed.
Treego suppressed a smile. Not the time to be proud of the kid's youthful courage.
Marie jumped a little, startling her face out of that intense glare. She looked at Rosie and, with a very forced smile, said, "This is a place called Chetterly Manor, currently in use by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural affairs for investigation of abnormal occurrences."
Rosie cocked her head to the side. "What?"
Marie pursed her lips. "In other words, you are in the safe hands of the British Government."