PROLOGUE

"The noise must've come from here."

The door to Dr. Stone's lab swung silently inwards. Sterile, bluish light from the hallway crept into the room, casting eerie shadows into semidarkness. Pumadyne security guard Kirkwood Smith switched the flashlight on and let its cone search the interior, from the left to the right.

A set of niches was set into the left wall, all niches filled with portable cages. Each cage over which the cone swept turned into turmoil, their white, nocturnal inhabitants disturbed by the light. The beam moved on to the table positioned at the wall opposite the door. On its left corner, another cage stood forlornly. Inside, a lab rat ran its frenzied rounds. The right corner of the table was empty.

Kirk let the beam shine down, onto the ground. A cage lay upside-down by the table-leg.

"There's our miscreant!" he observed. "The little rascal must have pushed the cage over the edge of the table. Luckily the lock didn't snap. Look, it's still inside."

His partner, lean and sporty beige-furred Ray Banister, stepped into the room and walked up to the cage with his short steps.

Kirk was 6 feet 4 inches tall, a head taller than Ray whose height was merely 5' 6". He also was much heavier, weighing almost 270 pounds. His stark black coat blended with the darkness as he followed into the room, staying close behind Ray. He let his flashlight fix on the cage.

"Good. So there's no chasing rats tonight." Ray watched the rat for any sign of attack as he carefully lifted the cage back onto the table. "Say, wasn't there something lying on the table yesterday? This thing Dr. Stone was working on?"

"How should I know?" Kirk answered. "You know the rules: On patrols, disturb the experimental animals as little as possible, and under no circumstances turn on the lights, lest they go crazy!

As long as I've had the morning shift, I've never seen anything in this laboratory besides grey. C'mon, let's go now. The coffee is getting cold!"

Upon his turning, the flashlight swept over the right side of the room for the first time.

"Wait…" Ray started to say when he saw the outline of a figure at the wall.

The intruder was aiming at the guards. A green flash like the fire of an energy canon hit them before they could react. The beam left them dizzy. The burglar bumped into Ray's shoulder as he brushed past them, but Ray was unable to stop him. Something was wrong with his sense of orientation…

Then, the thief reached the door and pressed the light switch beside it, escaping into the corridor.

The lights in the ceiling started to wink and finally stayed a brilliant white that brought racket to the rows of cages.

Ray didn't care about the rats anymore. The horrified look on his partner's face was much like his own. In fact, it *was* his own, for standing next to him was Ray Banister.

Kirk looked up at the shocked face of Kirkwood Smith towering in front of him. Shaking, he held up his right hand. Its fur was beige instead of the usual black.

"HOLY KATS!" the two Pumadyne security guards shouted as one.