Chapter 18:

CAMERON

We reach the bridge as Cassie finishes speaking to someone on the intercom. We enter the doorway and perch on a seat, startling Cassie. She whirls around on the balls of her feet, brandishing her knife.

"Woah, I thought you were more of them."

She gestured with her head to the pile of purple-eyes in the corner.

(Who were you speaking to?)

"I got in touch with the military. Their gun's crumple as soon as they are within range of the aliens, even plastic guns. They still are trying to fight with what they've got, but it's a bit difficult when tanks fold in on themselves and missiles explode before they reach their targets. I think they're going to take it slow, find a way to attack these guys."

(That's stupid? We're already here! It's too late to take things slow!)

"That's what I said, but they just told me to get out with as many of us new animorphs as possible, and wait for the military to take action. "

(We can't stop now, once we're off this it's going to be even trickier to get on, they'll be watching for us.)

"I know that. I've set the controls to leave Earth in five hours. It took a little working out, but I targeted Mars with all the starboard dracon cannons."

(What?!) Kay and I yell out.

"Relax! I've set them to 230%, so they'll overload before they fire and destroy the mothership instead. I don't think it'll be enough to take out the whole craft, but they won't be coming back."

Cassie leans down to a fallen alien. Taking two dracon beams from his holsters, she fires into the controls, and then fits them into her empty belt.

"I don't know what it is about these guns, but they can't do that weapon trick on them. We'll have to be fast now, don't bother demorphing, it will waste too much energy."

Yellow fur grows from her skin, fangs growing from her mouth. Her morphing suit disappears under the fur, melding into her body.

(Think you guys can keep up with a cheetah?)

(Bring it.)

I definitely shouldn't have said that, because the next ten minutes we strained our wings to the maximum, trying to keep up with Cassie as she waits at each turn.

(Hurry up.)

(We're trying. You're not giving us much time to catch out breaths.)

She just sighed and kept running. Soon enough, we could hear sounds of human chattering, not the purple-eyed squealing and grunts that have been echoing down the metal corridors for the past hours.

(We're getting close.)

We rounded the next corner and came to a large steel courtyard. Around the rectangular walls were barred doors, prisons to fit twenty humans cramped into the small quarters. There were numerous floors, rising up to a bright white ceiling, the main light source of the room. The top floors were so small up above us in the distance, it was impossible to tell how many levels there were. Humans were crying, yelling out over the different floors for loved ones.

There were at least a hundred humans already freed, merging on the rings of balconies and in the courtyard below. Cassie demorphed and looked around the room. Kay and I continued flying, rising up to the top floors. The very last floor was only half-filled, some of its rooms empty and open.

(I guess they were almost finished with filling up the whole room. These empty rooms were probably for the few humans left back on earth, and the one that we intercepted.)

Kay was focused on the larger picture, the one about him.

(Dad! Dad! Can you hear me? It's Kay!)

The humans continued to scream out, reaching through the bars to us.

(It's no use Kay, I've been looking for my mum for ages. It's just best if you free them all, we'll eventually find him. Jason found his brother.)

We dived down to the source of the thoughtspeech. Soon enough, at the fourth and fifth level, we came across a rhino and a bison; Kate and Jason.

(We have to just break them out, and the easiest way is at the keypads.)

Kate lowered her horn underneath a keypad protruding from the wall and lifted the pointed spike up through the machine, ripping it from the wall. Stepping to the left and hooking her horn through the bars, she slid the metal door to the side, into its slot in the wall.

Jason did a similar thing to the bars a few doors down, swinging his smaller horns into the keypads. An older version of Jason, about Cassie's physical age was standing next to him, helping to slide the doors to the side. I guessed that it was Toby, his older brother.

Another osprey flew up beside us and demorphed. We followed her actions, demorphing from our bird morphs. Cassie took out her two dracon beams and adjusted the settings. She walked over to Toby and handed him a gun.

"Here. Just point at a keypad, and shoot. Grab a few men, make a team, and slide the bars open together."

Toby looked down at the gun and back to Cassie, unsure of what to do.

"Go, take the next level. We'll split up onto different levels too. When you're done with all the prisons on the level, climb up the stairs until you find another empty floor, then start opening those cages."

"I don't think I…"

Cassie grabbed two large men as they passed her.

"You two, help this guy open the doors. Your brother will be fine on his own, just look at him. Go."

Toby ran off with the gun in his hand, followed by his two muscle men.

Cassie walked back to us.

"Jason, you take the floor two levels up. Cameron, morph gorilla or elephant, and take out the prisons three levels up. Kay, try your tiger morph, but if that doesn't work, here."

She threw the last dracon beam at him.

"Thanks."

Cassie began to morph fat horns, heavy hooves and started to put on weight. Soon enough, an African Cape Buffalo stood before us. Kay had already run off to try his tiger morph, and Jason was heading towards the stairs in the corner.

I focused on morphing gorilla. For some reason, gorilla seems to be my fastest morph. I guess it's because it's a humanoid creature, so it doesn't have to change as drastically as the other animals. I climbed up the stairs to my floor, and walked towards the closest door. The humans started screaming when the first saw me.

(Hello there, this is Mr Friendly Gorilla at your service.)

I gave a quick bow, and the people inside quickly shut up. I rammed my fist into the keypad and ripped out a pile of wires and sparks. Heaving myself against the bars, I managed to slide the door open enough for the people inside to scramble out.

(Your cabin guides will now be pointing out the exits. Please keep in mind that the closest exit may be towards your back.)

I imitated being a member of an aeroplane crew, formally pointing towards the stairs. The people started to follow my guide, but one large man walked in the other direction.

(Hey, dude, don't you see me pointing out the exits, this large hard-to-miss gorilla over here?)

"With all regards, Mr Gorilla, uh, sir, but I think I'll help speed your job for you."

He walked to the next door and wrapped both his hands around the keypad. I watched from a distance as the metal casing started to bend away from the wall as he leaned his weight backwards. With a loud crack, the casing fell off, exposing a bunch of coloured wires and plastic plugs. He grabbed a handful and ripped them out more easily, unlocking the door.

"Come on, guys, help a man out here."

He spoke to the people inside the cage, and together, they slid the door into the wall. People moved outside and headed towards the stairs, but a few more people stayed behind to help the man out. Moving on to the next door, the group of people worked to open the next door, freeing more people, yet even more people stayed behind to help.

(I take it you've got this level covered, then.)

The man nodded back to me and shooed me away.

"Go to another level; we've got this one sorted."

I climbed up to the next level, where Jason was firing his dracon beam into the keypads. A group of men stood waiting, ready to open the door for him.

On the next level, Cassie was working by herself.

(You've finished your level already? But, we've barely started, and there's at least fifty doors a floor!)

(Actually, all it took was one man to help, and then more people joined him. There's a team of people on my floor taking out the doors together.)

I grabbed two men as they walked to the stairs, recently freed by Cassie.

(You two, do you think you could try to open some of these doors? All you need to do is smash the keypad, and then slide the door open. If more people see you helping, they'll join in too.)

The two men nodded, slightly nervous from talking to a telepathic gorilla, but they got to work, tearing open the keypad. I moved up to the next floor and started to open the doors, only opening a few before moving up a level. When seeing people help, more of the prisoners were inspired to help, resulting in a large chain reaction.

Eventually, I was being passed by more groups of humans, looking for the next floor to start opening doors. We collected the humans to gather in the courtyard and in the bottom few floors; there must've been thousands of people. Naturally, we all looked to Cassie for guidance.

(Okay, so, we'll try to find some sort of transport for all you guys, um, the guys said that they found a room with some floating-transporting thing for some zoo animals. Um, guys, did you find any more of those rooms?) She looks to me and Kay

"We didn't try all the rooms," said Kay "could we try looking for some in the security cameras?"

(Good thinking Cam. I'll run up ahead and guide you guys through the place through the intercoms.) Cassie started to demorph, keeping her buffalo head so she could continue talking in thoughspeech. (You guys go battle morphs, and I'll direct you wherever purple-eyes turn up.)

She finished her morph, her black cow lips shrinking into her brown, human mouth.

Shortly after Cassie-osprey flew out of the doors, and we waited patiently for her voice to sound over the intercom.

"Okay, Kay, you take the lead, Cameron take the back. Go out the door we came in, and take a right hand turn straight away. There will be a patrol of two purple-eyes after 100 metres, so Kate, you get ready."

We walked through the labyrinth, Kay protecting us from any assailants from the front, I protecting from any at the back, and Kate and Jason drifting up and down the line wherever they are needed.

"Almost there guys, just take the next right and walk for about three hundred metres, then another right turn and five hundred metres. There are two double doors on either side, split the group in half and move everyone onto the ships. I'm going to morph bird and catch up, so wait for me."

The intercom system switched off. We had only just started to follow Cassie's directions when I heard a terrifying roar from up ahead; a tiger's roar.

The people at the back of the line turned around and passed a message towards me.

"The tiger and the panther are being attacked from the front; they're slowly pushing back the aliens to get to the doors."

(Ask if they need help.)

The people passed the message up the line; a giant game of Chinese whispers. After an agonising wait, they turned around to give the reply.

"Panther is hurt; they want someone to switch out with her."

(Pass along to everyone to move aside.)

I move through the crowd, people splitting to either side of the walls as I run past them. I felt like Moses splitting apart the water. Halfway I come across Jason, morphing out of a three-legged hyena. Kate also runs up, a human holding in her innards as she walks, her blood painting the man's hands.

(Run, Kay is all alone up there.)

I catch up to Kay and throw myself into the fray. Kay had managed to push the battle backwards, and the humans were splitting into two doors, presumably onto the ships out of here.

Cassie and Kate catch up as we finished off the remaining purple-eyes. Kate had already demorphed to her normal self, and Cassie perched her osprey body onto a dead purple-eye. The last of the humans filed through the doors, the last one being the brave man who held in Kate's guts.

(I'll go and activate the first ship. Kate, where's Jason?)

"I don't know, he looked through this door and saw some new alien, and ran after it. I think he was going to acquire it."

(Typical.) I muttered.

(Kate,) Cassie said (find him; bring him to the second carrier.)

Kate ran down the path, morphing back into her panther. She had only run twenty metres until a thick metal door slid behind her, locking her out.

(Kate!) I screamed. I run up to the door and pound my fists against the thick metal, barely making a dent.

(There's no key panel.)

(It's no use. You guys go on ahead, at least trigger the first carrier. I'll morph rhino and-)

A large thump sounded against the door, causing Kay to make a very unmanly shriek.

(I'm okay, I'll have to find Jason and get a way around. If I'm not back in ten minutes, leave without us, we'll find out own way off this place.)

(No! we can't, Cassie, Cameron, morph something heavy! We can get through this!) Kay ran up to the door and scratched at the edges.

(No, Kay, you heard her.) I say (She's probably out of thought speech range by now. She can handle herself, so can Jason. We have to follow what Cassie says.)

Cassie flies to the first carrier, now fully loaded with humans. After activating it, she walks us back to the other carrier and draws an imaginary line in the doorway.

(Hold this line,) she says (In ten minutes, we'll have to leave. Jason and Kate will find their own way off, Kate's a smart person, she'll know what to do.)

(We can't do that!)

(We have to.)

(We can go find her!)

(No, she said the orders herself. Waiting for longer is pointless, she'll assume we've left, so there wouldn't be any point of her returning to this point.)

I turn to Kay.

(Cassie has a point. Kate has to assume we follow her orders.)

Kay doesn't say anything, but scrunches up his striped face in disgust at his helplessness. He paws the ground and watches the doorway, ready to take out his anger on the first alien to walk through. He doesn't get the chance.

(Ten minutes, guys! Everyone get on board the carrier!)

We walk back to Cassie on the carrier, purposely walking slowly to leave Kate more time to come back. She doesn't.

(She'll make it.) I say.

(She's strong,) Says Kay (there's nothing to worry about.)

The carrier lifts itself off the ground and out of the mothership. We watch the mothership disappear above us as we sink to Earth.

(We have three hours until it leaves Earth.) Says Cassie.

The ship roars, and fiery jets spurt out of the side. The ship slowly starts to move away from us, picking up its pace.

(Is it supposed to be doing that?)

(I don't think it's moving out of the atmosphere, just to a different location. Hopefully it will still leave in a few hours.)

We watch the ship as it rapidly speeds up, quickly moving out of site into the horizon.

(Good luck, guys.) I say.