Chapter 1

My name is Tobias.

I am a Red-Tailed Hawk. A bird of prey, but it had been so long since I'd preyed on anything other than scraps. My natural habitat was the trees, somewhere in the woodlands or overlooking a mouse-laden meadow, but now I was confined to the dark corridors of a rattling, rusted old space ship. There was barely the room to spread my feathery wings, and certainly little opportunity to soar.

I was caged in that ship, just as I had been caged in other, less obvious ways.

I almost slammed into the pipes that lined the walls as I came veering around a corner at the far end of the ship. It was my sixth time around that day, a route that took me from the bridge of the ship, to the engine rooms and back again. The Mak vessel was maze-like in its construction, and there was very little open space. Everything looked the same, and came with the identical orange-red glows of the turgid lighting that barely lit it enough to see the floor.

Why was I on that ship? I thought that I knew before, but with every round route of that ship my vision became fainter and blurrier, the familiarity bringing with it only more questions that I had neglected to answer.

Ax was missing. My shorm. My uncle, technically. That was what sealed the deal at first.

But I had abandoned him, just as I had the others. I had turned my back on him and left to find a new purpose, because the old one had sadly departed.

I was not a Human. My ties had been all but severed. Those ties were what kept me down from the clouds and anchored me to my principles, but when they vanished I lost all hope of returning to that life.

Was I truly a hawk? How could I be? I was stuck in a Mak spaceship, on a mission to save a long-time friend. That was not hawk.

My journey was taking me back to the bridge of the ship. In no rush and deep within my thoughts, I slowed and took the passages cautiously, silently whizzing past the sleeping quarters where most of the crew were residing. I saw no activity, not that I would stop for it.

The noises of the distant engines were almost unnoticeable as I emerged into the bridge. Consoles flashed, computers bleeped, and there was the squeaking of a Mak seat that housed the ever-vigilant Menderash-Postill-Fastill. In front of him, the bright orange landscape that signified the Mak planet zipped by at a dizzying speed.

Menderash was like me. He was a nothlit; somebody trapped in a body that didn't belong to them. Only, he was an Andalite stuck in a Human body. To him, it was a great dishonour, though he would never directly say that.

He called himself a disgrace. To become a Human nothlit was a self-imposed punishment for abandoning the crew of The Intrepid. Ax's ship. Menderash was the only confirmed survivor.

He turned in his seat, his stern expression and long, curly black hair coming into clear view as I landed quietly on a panel to his left. Obviously, I hadn't been quiet enough.

"Tobias, how many times is that now?" He asked me.

((How many times what?))

"How many times you've flown the entire length of the ship and back again. I've been watching you in the security cameras."

Of course he had. ((Six. I need to spread my wings, Mendy.))

"I've studied birds of prey, Tobias," He spoke, with the typical confidence of a knowledgeable Andalite. "In my research I discovered that they aren't as active as you make them out to be. They're very efficient creatures, only in flight when flight is required. All you've done today is fly, and from what I've seen, it's been terribly inefficient."

((I just want to fly,)) I huffed. ((I want to move.))

"Is there something on your mind? Something specific?"

((Aside from wondering where the nearest rodent is on an alien spacecraft?))

Menderash narrowed his gaze and swivelled his chair to face me directly. He leaned forward. "You're very quiet. I may not have known you for very long, and I admit that the circumstances haven't left much time for trivial discussion, but even then I couldn't imagine you would be so reclusive."

((What did you expect?)) I asked genuinely.

He paused to think for a moment, turning his seat steadily from side to side. "I may have expected a warrior. In my experience, a warrior is a proud character, unashamed of himself. Sometimes loud and obnoxious, but always admirable in his self-assuredness. If not that, then somebody with an aura of determination and direction. When I met you, I saw neither of those things."

((What did you see?)) I felt compelled to ask, not necessarily eager for the answer.

"I saw a nothlit wallowing in self-pity, resigned to his own mind and unable to expose his true identity to anybody."

I felt the urge to take my seventh journey around the ship, and even took the first steps that would set me on my flight. Menderash stopped me with his stare alone. He wasn't done.

"Tobias, you may be a nothlit, but you have what other nothlits do not. You still have the morphing capability. I'm envious, as would be any other nothlit."

I steadied myself back on the control panel. ((Why would you be?))

"You have a choice that I am denied." He replied coldly.

((You have nothing to be envious about, believe me.))

He looked away contemplatively. "Your position isn't one I've ever been in. I'm sorry for being so presumptive."

((Hey, it's no big deal,)) I said. ((I guess it's just something I'll have to figure out myself.))

"That's what you've been doing," Menderash suggested. "It's why you're so silent. But, Tobias, if you don't mind, I'd like to give you my opinion."

((Sure thing. Fire away.)) I braced myself.

"I know what you did when War Commander Torceran was holding you. I get the impression that living the life of an Andalite would appeal to you. Maybe, when all this is done, you could make that change."

Of course he had noticed. Menderash's perceptiveness was almost flawless at times, and it wasn't something he would miss. ((I'm still not sure what it is I want. Maybe I never will be.))

Menderash leaned back into his seat and tapped his fingers on his lap. "I think you'll find your direction soon. I'll be here to help."