It had been six years or thereabouts since I went back to the Yeerk Pool to be re-infested by Lilten Eight-Six-Two-One of the Sulp Niar Pool. I can't believe that much time has already passed. Another thing I couldn't believe was how quickly I became used to Lilly's presence the second time around. When she had first infested me, I was acutely aware of her presence since she was in full control of my body and held on to that control tight. But now she held me in something called "loose control"; that is, while she was still connected to every nerve in my body and could everything I felt, I was still the one in control of my body. Kind of a reversal of our roles from back in the day. Now Lilly's the one who gets to sit back and watch while I go about my daily life. I have to say that I am still quite disturbed by just how easy a Yeerk like Lilly was able to integrate herself into my life once again, and by how quickly I had allowed herself to integrate.

But having Lilly in my head did have its benefits. For one, I got to see for myself the proof of the study that had allowed Lilten to get back in my head in the first place. When I went back to my physical therapist, now once again a Controller, the first thing he tested was my grip strength, and I guess you could say that he was surprised when the results came back and it seemed as if I had gotten back overnight everything that I had lost right after the invasion. He was equally surprised when I revealed what I had over the weekend, namely getting a Yeerk back in my head. He didn't say too much about it though, just that he didn't mind what I did so long as it wouldn't affect my progress through my therapy in a negative way. "Just as long as you keep coming back every thirty days so I can keep track of how you're going along," he added.

The tremors, shakes, and loss of grip in my hands also went down massively once Lilly was back in my head. I still had them, but not as much as before I was infested again, and it seemed as if Lilly could feel when an episode was coming because she would take control of the affected part of my body just before the episode would actually happen. If the tremor was about to happen in one of my legs, Lilly would actually tell me to stop walking just as she took control so I wouldn't end up tripping over the stairs or into the path of car or a bus. Those times were rare, but I was still thankful to Lilly for looking out after me. I knew that she was doing it for her own selfish reasons (she needs my body just to be able to interact with the wider world), but I guess it's the thought that counts.

I finally managed to finish my original degree after a stint in community college, and I worked a few odd jobs here and there before finally landing an internship in this bank. I won't tell you the name of the bank because it could provide people with a more definitive identifier for me as well as compromise the identities of others who are, shall we say, in the same boat as I am. Just know that it's a big and well-known bank. Anyway, I worked my way up in this bank from intern to full-time employee to project manager in the marketing department. Don't let the title fool you; all I really do is be the girl to whom the ten people under me give their presentations so that I can then pick the best parts and turn those into a presentation that I could then show to the actual heads of the marketing department. It may not be what I had dreamed of doing back when I was a kid but at least my work kept my rent paid and my stomach full.

In my first few years with Lilly back in my head, I let her feed whenever we could spare the time, but once my hours stabilized and eventually became a conventional working day, we both decided that the best plan of action was to let her feed every third night. It meant that Lilly would be in my head during the day and be there to help me out if I ever had an episode during the work day. During those nights that I would drop her off at the Yeerk Pool to feed, we both hoped that any episode that could happen during that time would happen while I was in my apartment. I also had these pills that were usually prescribed to patients who had suffered nerve damage but in my case were more for maintenance than anything else.

And now on to the day where I almost wished that I hadn't gone and let Lilten infest me once again. This day started off much like any other day, the only difference being that Lilly had been feeding in the Pool overnight while I slept. I didn't suffer any episodes while I was in the shower or dressing up or fixing myself a quick breakfast. My legs didn't fail me on the way to the Pool to pick up Lilly, and my knees didn't buckle when I knelt down on the pier and plunged my ear into the sludge so she could get in. All in all, it had been a great start of the day for me, perhaps the best I've had in like, ever.

A few things had changed since that day when I decided to become a Controller again. There were no more protesters outside the Pools, and there hadn't been since around 2013, I think. Like I said, the Yeerks integrated themselves back into society very quickly, and since the applicants for infestation didn't look like stopping anytime soon, the protesters had just decided to pack up their things and leave. There had been a brief resurgence in protests around 2015 or 2016 thanks to that whole Nothlit Rights Movement and Nothlit State thing, from the bombing of Flight 6569 to the Victory Day shootings to the thankfully short-lived establishment of the Nothlit State over in Pennsylvania. Man, people did not take lightly to these nothlits creating what is essentially a new beachhead for the Yeerk Empire to restart their invasion of Earth. The National Guard saw to it that the Nothlit State didn't get any farther than they did, thank God, but it's safe to say that those nothlits that were part of Eldril One-Eight-Two's "uprising" or "rebellion" or whatever you wanted to call it undid in a matter of weeks what the Peace Movement had been working to achieve for years: peace and reconciliation between humans and Yeerks. Now I should tell you that Lilten was not a member of the Peace Movement nor did she particularly like them she believes that she may have been approached by a member or two in an attempt to recruit her before she had been assigned to me, and she thought that this would put her on the Empire's radar. But they had gotten us to the point where humans were actually willing to entertain the thought of maybe understanding why the Yeerks did what they did, and now the Nothlit State had gone and messed all that up.

Once again there was mistrust between humans, Yeerks, and even Andalites, but the Yeerks were the easier and more acceptable targets because of their history of, well, invading us and taking over our bodies. There were demonstrations outside of the nothlit settlements (which might have had the effect of pushing more nothlits to Eldril's cause) but there also protests outside of the Yeerk Pools, especially the ones here in the LA-SoCal area because people thought that the Human-Yeerk Alliance or whatever it's called were all just sleeper agents of the Empire waiting for the perfect moment to strike. The leader of the HYA, the former Visser Five, did her best to alleviate everyone's concerns, even speaking from the battlefront with the Nothlit State and letting her host speak without her as well. But still, even after the Nothlit State had been defeated, it felt like the trust that was just beginning to form between humans and Yeerks had disappeared, and it would once again take years before we could even think about regaining that trust.

There were no people outside the Pool protesting it today, and inside the Pool itself there weren't a lot of people as well. Some were just dropping off their Yeerks to feed while others like me were picking up theirs after an overnight feeding. Since it was early morning, it only took me five minutes before I got Lilten back in my head. ((Looks like someone's having a good day,)) she said once she had completed her connections.

((I know,)) I replied. ((Not a single episode since last night. I honestly can't remember the last time I didn't have an episode for that long.))

((Congratulations, Jane,)) Lilly said. ((It really looks like you're finally making progress.))

((Yeah,)) I nodded. ((I really hope this continues and gets better. You know what though? I think this calls for a celebration. What do you say to some hot chocolate with hazelnut? My treat!))

((Oh, Jane, you know me. I never turn down an offer of hot chocolate with hazelnut!)) Lilly then sent me a mental image of a smiley face licking its lips. I laughed at the image and made my way out of the Pool and towards a café that was along the way to my office. However, as soon as we set foot on the pavement outside of the Pool, Lilten turned all serious and said, ((Jane, I think someone is following us.))

((Really?)) I asked. ((What does he look like?))

((Latino, short and stocky,)) Lilly replied. ((He's wearing a suit without a tie.))

((Oh, him,)) I said. ((Yeah, I've seen him before. ((I bumped into him on the way to the Pool. I think he even called me "worm-brain" when I did that.)) "Worm-brain" was one of the milder slurs for Controllers used by those on the anti-infestation side.

((Well, do watch out for him,)) Lilly warned me. ((I don't like the looks of him.))

((Okay.)) The street I was walking down on had a row of shops with lots of windows, which enabled me to keep an eye on the man following me out of the corner of my eye. I reached into my purse and took out my phone, but at the same time I took hold of the can of mace that I carried with me at all times. I started carrying mace ever since a friend of mine had used it to stop herself from getting sexually assaulted. I also began walking briskly since the café was just up the street and I hoped that moving towards a crowd would dissuade the man from whatever plans he may have for me.

The café couldn't have appeared before me quickly enough. I immediately ducked inside and moved as far back inside as I could to watch where the man was going to go. But instead of following me inside the café, he just continued straight ahead, not even bothering to glance where I had gone. But only when he was finally out of sight did I breathe a sigh of relief. ((Okay, that was very close,)) I said. ((Too close for comfort.))

((Yeah,)) Lilten agreed. ((But I was sure that he was following us as soon as we came out of the Pool. I don't know,)) she said, sending me a mental image of shoulders being shrugged. ((Maybe I'm just being paranoid.))

((Join the club,)) I said. ((But you can never be too sure. Not after another Controller got kidnapped again.))

In recent weeks, there had been a strange and inexplicable series of kidnappings going on around the city. The only link that the police could come up between the kidnappings was that all of those taken were Controllers. Two had been Controllers from the invasion while the other three were only infested after legalization. The authorities could determine no motive from the kidnappings, and the kidnappers didn't send any sort of demands to the families or even the cops. It's like these Controllers had been taken and then they all vanished from the face of the Earth. Everyone's wondering where the Controllers and their abductors had gone, everyone from the talk shows to the radio to the podcasts and even the guys in the Pool. Especially the guys in the Pool. It's about the only topic being talked about by those who were waiting for their Yeerks to feed. They, we're the ones apparently in most danger of being taken, after all.

Like I said, it was all very strange.

((Well, enough of that now,)) Lilly said. ((Let's go get that hot chocolate with hazelnut. I really want to drink some hot chocolate right now.))

((Yeah, same,)) I nodded. I queued up, made my order, and then I sat down while I waited for my name to be called so I could pick up my drink and also catch my breath. The thought of that man following me around had made me nervous, and one of the side effects of my nervousness was that it made me want to pee. I looked around, took a few deep breaths and crossed my legs, but the call of nature became too great and I had to stand up to go to the ladies' room. Or at least I would have gone there if my journey hadn't been so rudely interrupted by the man from before suddenly laying his hand on my shoulder and calling out, "Hey, Jane."

I screamed once I felt the hand touch my shoulder. I was pretty sure that I jumped as high as the ceiling as well. In an instant, the mace was in my hand and pointed at the man's face. "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" he said. "Not the face, please! Anything but the face!"

"Who the hell are you and why have you been following me!?" I demanded to know.

"Don't you remember me?" he asked back. "It's me, Marco!"

I blinked, and my hold on the mace wavered. The man did seem oddly familiar, but I had thought that that was only because I had seen him the night that I had dropped off Lilten. But now that I had a much better look at him (albeit while he was staring down the nozzle of my mace), the face and the memory finally clicked. "Oh, right," I said slowly. "Marco. Yeah."

"Is everything okay, ma'am?" a thin and scrawny man wearing a red apron who looked like he was barely out of college asked as he walked up to the hallway leading to the restrooms. I quickly hid my mace from view and shook my head. "No, no, it's okay," I said. "My friend just surprised me, that's all."

"Yeah, yeah, it's no problem," Marco added. "Sorry about that. I didn't want to make a fuss."

The man didn't look like he was completely convinced by our explanations, but he decided to let it rest. "Okay, but just watch yourselves, okay?" he said, and then he walked away.

"Oh, my God, Marco, don't do that again, please!" I said once the other man was out of earshot. "You almost made me pee myself!"

"I'm sorry about that, Jane. I just couldn't find a better moment. But I do need to talk to you."

"Yeah, well, can it wait? I really need to go. You better be grateful that I haven't left a puddle on the floor right here. Now if you'll excuse me…" I went into the restroom and did my business, and then I went out again to find Marco still waiting. "So, can we talk now?" he asked.

"Sure," I said as we walked over to an empty table and sat down.

I looked carefully at the man seated in front of me. Marco Navarra, aka the one and only Marco the Animorph. So much had changed about him and yet so little had changed as well. He still had that look of mischievous charm in his eyes, but look beyond that and you can see the mind of a cold and ruthless logician who surely kept the Animorphs alive and fighting in the later years of the invasion. I actually went to the same school that the Animorphs did back in the day, but of course I never suspected any of them of trying to fight an alien invasion even as I became a puppet of said invasion myself. And I actually got a mention in one of those Animorphs books, the ones that came out in the early 2000s and claimed to tell the story of their fight against the Yeerks. You know the ones. So apparently some of those books were actually based on the truth because Marco had admitted to me personally that I was the girl whom he had asked Tobias to spy on in, if I remember correctly, the book where the Animorphs ended up in the North Pole. Or Alaska. Definitely somewhere in the Arctic because they mentioned seals and polar bears and Inuits. Or was it Eskimos? Obviously I wasn't in the Sharing back then; I'd heard of them but I hadn't even thought of joining them back then.

And when I did become part of the Sharing and had Lilten in my head, Marco's paths and mine crossed again in one of the Animorphs' missions which weren't included in the "official" books. The Animorphs had crashed a Sharing picnic in the Gardens where the Sharing had been trying to recruit new members, and in the chaos Lilten got tripped up and we found ourselves staring at a gorilla approaching us. I remember hearing a voice, not Lilten's but a distinctly male one, speaking in my head. ((Go on! Get out of here!)) the voice said to me. And Lilten was more than willing to follow its advice. Only after the war did I find out that the gorilla was Marco, and that he had told me that because he had recognized me and wanted me to get away from the Sharing, not knowing that I was already a full member by that time. I found out about all this when Marco had gone on this publicity tour for his autobiography and I (along with a few other Sharing members who had been injured in Animorphs raids over the years) had been invited onstage could make a public apology. He sounded sincere enough in his apology even though he said that he was only attacking us because he couldn't get through to the Yeerks in our heads. But that had been back before infestation had been legalized. Now I had a Yeerk in my head once again, and I had no idea how he would react to that.

"Marco Navarra," I said. "It's been a long time since I last saw you. How are you? How's life been treating you?"

"I'm fine, more or less, I guess," Marco replied. "Listen, Jane, before we get to anything else, I just want to apologize for scaring you like that. I wasn't sure that it was you when I saw you, and then I wasn't sure how to approach you."

"Oh, so you were the one following me," I said, more as a statement than a question. "Honestly, I thought you were somebody else when I saw you."

"I could say the same about you," Marco nodded. "If I hadn't seen you come out of your apartment, I would have thought you were some actress shooting a film or a TV series."

"Really?" I muttered as I tucked my hair behind my ears. "I mean, I know I try to look good every day but I don't think anyone's ever confused me for an actress before." As I spoke, I felt my cheeks flush, and I soon realized that I was blushing.

((Oh my gosh, Jane, is this really happening?)) Lilly said teasingly. ((Are you blushing because of Marco the Animorph?))

((Shut up, Lilly! You're just making it worse!)) I retorted as I hurriedly picked up my phone and pretended to read a text so that Marco wouldn't see my face.

((By the Kandrona, Jane! Your brain waves are going absolutely mental! I can't believe this! You've got a crush on Marco Navarra!)) Lilly then began to cackle like an old crooked warty witch brewing a potion in a massive cauldron like in the old cartoons. I tried to shut out Lilly's laughing and focused back on Marco. "You're not looking too shabby yourself," I told him. "And please don't take this the wrong way but I don't think Michael Peña really did you justice. Just my opinion though, you know. Just saying."

"Michael Peña? Oh, yeah, now I remember," Marco nodded. "The SNL sketch. Yeah, that one was a bit hit and miss. Kinda like SNL as a whole now. But I really think Danai Gurira nailed Cassie perfectly. You know, Cassie the lover of all things living, but oh! Wait a minute! You're a threat to everything that I love! I'm going to kill you now! Yup, that's our Cassie, all right."

I laughed at Marco's joke, laughed quite harder than I really should have. I didn't know why. It was probably just the nerves I had about Marco potentially finding out that I now have a Yeerk in my head.

((Don't kid yourself, Jane,)) Lilten said knowingly. ((You and I both know that it's not really because of me that you're nervous around him. Just ask him out on a date already!))

((Oh, shut up! And already? We've only just met again and already you want me to ask him out on a date?))

((Why not? I can feel everything in your body, Jane. Your mind says no but your heart says yes. Just go for it already, will you?)) Lilten then had the audacity to giggle like a teenager after saying that.

"So, um, I, uh, wanna say sorry again," Marco said after the awkward silence that followed our laughter from his earlier joke about Cassie.

"Sorry? For what?" I asked.

"For calling you worm-brain," he replied. "I really didn't recognize you at first when you were walking to the Pool. I thought you were just another Controller come to drop off or pick up one of them slugs. So, what's it with you then? Did you just apply or have you already got one?"

Well, there it is. Right for the jugular. Well, Marco did pride himself in his ability to go from Point A all the way to Point Z. Might as well get this over with and out of the way. "Yeah, I've already got a Yeerk," I replied. "She's right here with us right now. Yeah, funny story about my Yeerk. She was actually the one who was assigned to me when I got in too deep with the Sharing. In fact, she was the only one assigned to me throughout the war. And I wouldn't even have let her back into my head if it hadn't been for these episodes I've been having with tremors in my legs and suddenly losing my grip with mugs and pencils and things. I read about the study, thought I might give it a try. And so far I've been having less and less episodes."

"She, huh?" Marco asked while nodding quietly. "Was it Peace Movement? Your Yeerk, I mean."

"Yeah, not really," I replied. "Lilly said that she was sure that some Peace Movement Yeerks had approached her while she was still in the Pool waiting new assignment and she had refused because she didn't want to get involved in things that could get her executed by the Empire. But as far as I know, she's not Peace Movement."

"Ah, I see," Marco said. "Well, that's nice to hear. That you're finally getting some progress with your condition, I mean. So how does this work for you? Do you share control with the thing? Are you in control most of the time or is it? Am I even talking to Jane right now or are you a Yeerk?"

"No, no, Marco, don't worry," I said. "This is me. This is Jane. Lilly isn't in control, not really. She's doing this thing called 'loose control' where she's just got enough connections to feel everything that I can feel, but I'm the one doing the heavy lifting like moving and breathing and speaking to you right now."

Lilten laughed in my head again. ((I love how you leave it open that there is the possibility that I could just take control of you anytime I wanted and he wouldn't know the difference,)) she said. ((But I have to say that I don't really like his attitude, especially about me.))

((Can you blame him, though?)) I asked. ((He and his family have been through a lot thanks to you Yeerks. If I were in his shoes I'd feel the same way about you.))

"So how's your Yeerk been treating you? Well, I hope," Marco asked.

"Oh, come on, Marco," I muttered. "You know that there's no longer any way for a Yeerk to mistreat their host these days. The hosting system has got enough checks and balances in it to teach the three branches of government a lesson."

"Well, you can't really blame me for asking," Marco said. "I don't know about you but I've seen the darker side of our gray 'friends'. You know my mother was the host to Visser One. I don't know for how long Visser One infested my mom but all that time under Edriss's control, watching the things that that worm did for the Empire, it messed her up real bad. She may not look like it but she's still struggling with all the memories and the images. Why do you think she speaks so passionately about the subject during her speeches?

"And Nora, my stepmom," Marco continued, "she got infested near the end. After the Yeerks failed to infest Dad they went to her to find out everything he might have told her. Nora fought back with all her might, but that's exactly why the Yeerks broke her. After they surrendered, I sought out Nora, and then I made sure that the slug in her head came really, really close to starvation. And when it went crawled out of her head I watched as it squirmed on the ground before I finally put it out of its misery. But that wasn't the end of it though. Far from it, actually. I don't know what the Yeerks did to Nora, but she never was the same after the war. She tried to kill herself, Jane," he said lowly and through gritted teeth, and I could see a tear forming in the corner of his eye.

"Nora tried to kill herself, not once but twice," Marco went on. "I got to her in time to stop her the first time around, but she almost succeeded the second time. Dad and I got Nora to the hospital in time after her second attempt, but after that we all decided that it was in her best interests if Nora was committed until she finally recovers. If she ever recovers," he added bitterly. "So forgive me if I don't really trust the slippery fuckers. Forgive me for thinking you're crazy to let one of those slugs into your head because I've seen first-hand the effects their fellows have had on two of my family members. I've always been against infestation, even if it's voluntary, but now that it's legal there's nothing I can do about it. So don't expect me to applaud you or whatever for your choices."

((Okay, now that last one was completely uncalled for,)) Lilten said. ((You never said anything about him applauding you for your choice, did you?))

I ignored her. Instead, I looked Marco in the eye and said, "Look, I understand where you're coming from. I really do. My experiences during the invasion may not have been quite like what your mom experienced but I've still seen the horrors of the Pool, the experiences of people with bad Yeerks. In fact, if there was a way that I could have fixed myself without having to get Lilten or any other Yeerk in my head, I would have done it. But hey, this is the hand I've been dealt. And you're of course entitled to your own opinion like everyone else. I didn't expect you to say anything else about me when you found out about the… thing in my head." I then went silent as I tried to find the next words to say. Eventually, I managed to ask, "So Eva had problems with her arms and legs as well?"

Marco nodded his head. "She does her best to hide it, does what she can," he said. "On good days, and lately they've been becoming rarer, she can walk around unaided. She's a bit slow, sure, but still unaided. On the really bad days…" he trailed off, looking teary-eyed into the distance, and I chose not the press the matter.

"Oh, Marco, I am so sorry," I muttered, and I reached out to touch his hands, which were clasped before his knees. When my fingers touched his, he immediately tried to draw them away, and he looked at me with those eyes that said so much, eyes that said "don't you dare pity me" while also revealing the pain and turmoil beneath the surface. He then hesitated pulling away, and soon I was holding his right hand in mine.

"Order for Miss Jean," the barista called out. "Hot chocolate for Miss Jean."

Marco and I immediately looked away from each other. I looked down at my pinstriped slacks and tried to brush off some lint, and then I picked up my receipt and said to Marco, "Excuse me." He nodded his head in understanding and continued looking outside. But just as I was about to claim my hot chocolate from the barista, I heard footsteps behind me, and soon Marco was beside me. He was now wearing sunglasses, which struck me as odd. I'd always hated people who wore sunglasses indoors. "Excuse me, but can I talk to the manager?" he asked.

A portly Indian woman appeared behind the counter. "I'm the manager," she said. "May I help you? Is there any problem at all?" she asked.

Marco reached into his suit and took out a wallet. I had the briefest glimpse of an official-looking badge when he flashed it at the manager. "Agent Rich Nashville, FBI," he introduced himself. "This establishment is now part of a sting operation to take down the group responsible for the recent spate of kidnappings in the city. We have reason to believe that the group is going to strike in this location next so I'd like you to ask your customers to move away from the windows as soon as possible, but if we can, let's avoid a panic. So let's go." At the same time, two or three more people in black suits entered the café and began moving the patrons away from the large glass windows at the front and towards the back. Another agent walked up to the counter and asked, not that politely, for the barista and manager to follow him.

"Yeah, Jane, that means you too," Marco told me as he removed his sunglasses and escorted me away.

((Hey! My hot chocolate!)) Lilten demanded. ((With hazelnuts!))

"Marco, I still hadn't got my drink yet," I said.

"We'll get you your drink later, after all this, I promise," Marco replied. "On me."

((I'll hold him to that,)) Lilly declared.

"Marco, what the fuck is going on?" I asked.

"You heard what I said," he replied. "We have reason to believe that the group responsible for all the kidnappings has been casing this place for a good while now and now they're ready to make their move."

"Wait, who's 'we'? Is it the feds? Is it the Animorphs? Who is it? And why did you say you're FBI when you're clearly not? And who are they after now?"

"I can't really answer those questions, Jane, not yet," Marco shook his head. "Except the last one. We're ninety percent sure that you are their next target."

I felt like a huge lump of lead had just been dropped into my stomach. "Me? The next target? Why?" I asked. "What could they want from me? Why would they want to take me?"

"We don't know, Jane," Marco said, shaking his head again. "We just don't know. I don't know. But we're not going to let them take you. I'm not going to let them take you. Got that?"

I looked Marco in the eye, and there I saw the truth of his words, and because of that I nodded. Inside my head, Lilten cooed. ((Aww, isn't that sweet?)) she asked. ((He's not perfect, sure, but for a knight in shining armor, I'd take him any day if I was you!))

((Will you just shut up!?)) I said furiously even as I blushed again. ((Now is not the time for this, Lilten!))

Lilten laughed at my confusion. And then she turned deadly serious and said, ((Argh! What's that tinny little filshig annoying noise?))

((What noise?)) I asked back. Then I heard it, this noise that sounded like the feedback on a microphone that starts off barely audible except maybe for dogs and then gets louder and louder until it's truly unbearable. Except in this case, when the noise had built up to the painful phase the café's windows shattered into millions of tiny little pieces. I instinctively covered my face as the shock wave sent the glass my way, and I felt lots of small cuts on my arms. The shock wave also slammed me against the wall and pain radiated all over my back and hips.

I heard shouting somewhere just outside the café, and I moved my hands away to see two men covered in black from head to toe jumping into the café through the broken windows. In their hands they carried—

((Dracon beams,)) Lilten gasped.

"There!" one of the men shouted while pointing at me. I braced myself for the worst, braced myself for a Dracon beam burning through my chest or for hands to grab my arms and literally drag me out into the street across all that glass. But before any of them could make their move, I heard sirens blaring down the street, and the men looked at each other. It looked like they hadn't been expecting the arrival of the cops so quickly this time around. And right on cue, someone shouted on a megaphone, "This is the LAPD! Drop your weapons and put your hands in the air! Don't try to fight your way out of this one; you're surrounded! Hey, don't you dare think about it! Don't you do it! Don't do—"

TSEEEEEWWWW!

It was the unmistakable sound of a Dracon beam being fired. This was inevitably followed by a barrage of gunfire from the cops outside of the café, and judging by the sounds of some of the guns it would seem as if SWAT was also there. This street had just turned into a battlefield.

The two men inside the café looked around for a moment, unsure of what to do next, and then they decided that going after me was more worth their time than going out there to fight the cops. And then out of nowhere came a roar, a sound so primal that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and for a brief moment I was back in the Gardens cowering in fear because that was exactly how Lilten had also felt back then.

And there he was, the gorilla standing tall inside the café. The two men turned around to face this more immediate threat but before they could get a shot off, the gorilla had punched the first man and sent him straight to his companion, and both of them dropped their Dracon beams. The gorilla smashed his fists into the ground and crushed the Dracons, and then he went over to pick up the second man and bashed him against the wall. The gorilla didn't say anything but the man shouted, "I'm not telling you anything, Animorph."

The gorilla's momentary pause was the opening that the man needed. He whistled, loud enough that he could have hailed a cab all the way from New York, and three Hork-Bajir jumped out of the white van outside the café and pointed Dracons at the gorilla. The gorilla roared and then he backhanded the Hork-Bajir nearest to him while still holding on to the man. Both Hork and human flew straight into the side of the van, and then the gorilla turned his attention to the other Hork-Bajir. The second one pointed his Dracon at the gorilla's face, but the gorilla snorted and grabbed the Dracon with both hands. ((Who brings a Dracon beam to a fistfight?)) Marco proclaimed in public thoughtspeak, then he punched the Hork in the face and threw him away.

The third Hork-Bajir, the one with blue bands across his biceps and forearms, ducked before his fellow could hit him and faced the gorilla. "Not bad, Marrrrrco Navarrrrrrra," he said, rasping and rolling through the Rs. "You may haffffff beaten my felllllllowssssss, but you will neverrrrrr defeat me!" the Hork proclaimed as he rubbed his wrist blades against each other.

((Oh, buddy, do I have bad news for you,)) Marco said. ((I see no harm in trying just that!))

Both gorilla and Hork-Bajir roared as they charged towards each other. It was a surreal sight; it had to be: a man who could turn into a gorilla (among other animals) and an alien covered heard to tail in sharp blades grappling with each other inside a trashed city café while gunshots and Dracon beams went off just outside. All those were words and phrases that I never thought I would ever say together in the same sentence. It was all so strange.

Before, Marco had been able to just punch his way through his opponents, but this blue-banded Hork-Bajir was proving to be more than a match for him. Not only could the Hork go toe-to-toe with Marco in his gorilla morph, but the Hork-Bajir was also able to land a few blows of his own. Soon, the Hork-Bajir was landing hit after hit on Marco and then, surprisingly, the Hork-Bajir jumped, grabbed hold of Marco and body-slammed him into the floor. The gorilla let out a muffled scream of pain, and at that moment I locked eyes with him. There was a moment when everything suddenly slowed down, and all the gunfire and shouting outside went quiet, and all I heard was Marco's voice saying, ((Go! Jane, go!))

I finally picked myself back up and ran towards the back of the café. Or at least it could have been me. Maybe it was Lilten finally taking to take control and save both our skins. What I did know for sure was that I had barely made it five steps before I felt something hit my back and my entire body collapsed on me. I could feel my muscles convulsing of their own will, and neither Lilly nor I could do anything to stop them.

((Lilly, what the hell is happening to me?)) I asked even as I drew in short and ragged breaths.

((It's a stun beam,)) Lilly finally managed to reply after a few seconds' pause. ((We've been stunned!))

((What!? What do you mean, stunned?)) I tried to move around, to see which body parts hadn't been affected by the stun beam that Lilly said that I'd been hit by, but I quickly determined that all of my limbs (arms and legs, hands and feet) were gone. I could move my eyes around, but it did little good as I was lying flat on my stomach on the ground. I felt more than heard heavy footsteps making their way towards me, accompanied by the scraping of claws against the linoleum-covered floor. Then I felt something grab my right foot and begin to drag me across the floor. No, no, no, I tried to cry out, but my mouth refused to cooperate. I tried to kick out, to flail about, but my arms and legs remained unresponsive.

I was then flipped onto my back, and as my head lolled around I glimpsed a mass of black fur curled up in the corner. It was Marco, either unconscious or stunned just like me. Then I was lifted up across the threshold and then dragged once again along the pavement before finally being thrown into a van. Inside the van was another man wearing sunglasses, and this man examined me and then jabbed a needle into my neck. As soon as the needle pierced the skin, my eyes rolled up into my head and everything turned black.


A/N: As always, feel free to leave a review or a comment if you want me to know what you think of the story! – GR