‘Yeah,’ John replies quickly, then seems to reconsider. ‘They took Ella, but I don’t think she’s in danger yet.’

Marina’s eyebrows shoot up in alarm, and I can feel the cold start to roll off her. ‘What do you mean they took her?’

‘I’ll explain everything when you get in the air,’ John says. ‘First, let’s get you out of there.’

‘Sounds good,’ Nine replies, and hops down into the cockpit, gently placing Eight’s body across a couple of the seats.

‘Uh, John, one problem,’ I say, following Nine into the antiseptic-smelling Mog ship. ‘How are we supposed to fly this thing?’

There’s a pause on John’s end and then a different voice responds, this one with a harsh accent that makes my shoulders tense.

‘I could fly you remotely, but I’m worried hacking into the ship’s computer might have damaged some of the auto-navigation protocols. It’ll be safer if you do it manually with me walking you through it,’ the Mogadorian explains quickly. Then, as if realizing we might be freaked out, the guy adds, ‘Hey. I’m Adam.’

‘The guy Malcolm told us about,’ I say, remembering that dinner conversation.

‘Don’t worry, Six,’ Sam’s voice interjects, and I can’t help but grin at the sound of it. ‘He’s totally not evil.’

‘Oh, well, in that case, let’s fly,’ Nine says sarcastically, but settles into one of the hard-backed plastic seats all the same. I hop into the pilot’s chair. Marina hesitates for a moment, giving the console where the Mog’s voice came from a look of distrust.

‘How do we know that’s really John?’ she asks. ‘Setrákus Ra can change forms. This might be some kind of trap.’ In my excitement to hear John and Sam, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that this could be a ploy. Behind me, Nine shouts towards the communicator.

‘Hey, Johnny, remember back in Chicago? When you were claiming to be Pittacus Lore and we had a debate about whether to go to New Mexico?’

‘Yeah,’ John’s voice sounds like it’s coming through clenched teeth.

‘How’d we settle that?’

John sighs. ‘You dangled me off the edge of the roof.’

Nine grins like that’s the best thing ever. ‘It’s definitely him.’

‘Marina,’ John says, probably thinking Nine’s little test wasn’t good enough. ‘The first time we met, you healed two bullet wounds in my ankle. And then we almost got hit by a missile.’

A small smile forms on Marina’s face, the first I’ve seen in days. ‘I thought you were about the coolest guy I’d ever met, John Smith.’

Nine barks out a laugh at that, shaking his head. Marina climbs aboard, taking a seat next to Eight’s body. She drapes a hand protectively on the body bag and settles in.

‘Watch your heads,’ Adam warns as the cockpit hisses closed above us. There’s a moment where I feel a sense of panic at being sealed inside a Mogadorian ship, but I shove that feeling down and tightly clutch the steering apparatus. It’s dim in the cockpit, the glass having a tinted sunglasses-like look. Streams of data in compressed Mogadorian symbols are projected directly on to the glass, the readouts something only a Mog pilot could make sense of.

‘All right,’ I say. ‘What now?’

‘Hold up,’ Nine interjects, leaning forward. ‘How come you get to drive?’

Adam’s voice comes through clear, patient but authoritative. ‘Turn the wheel in front of you. That will rotate the ship.’

I do as he instructs, the wheel turning easily, the saucer portion of the ship doing a 180 without the wheels moving at all. I stop turning when we’re pointed towards the hangar’s exit.

‘Good,’ Adam says. ‘Now, the lever on your left moves the wheels.’

I grip the lever and push it just a tad. The ship jerks forward almost immediately. The controls are sensitive, and it doesn’t take much pressure to get us slowly rolling out on to the runway.

‘Give it some gas, Six, damn,’ Nine complains. ‘Drive it like we stole it.’

‘Don’t listen to him,’ Marina says, hugging herself.

‘If you’re out from under the hangar, you can stop,’ Adam instructs.

I look up through the glass of the cockpit, see only sky and so let go of the lever. The ship creaks to a stop.

‘Okay,’ Adam says. ‘Now, grasp the wheel in front of you at three and nine. Do you feel the triggers?’

I take the wheel again and feel around for the two buttons indented in its underside. ‘Got ’em,’ I reply, testing out the trigger on the left by squeezing it. As soon as I do, the vibration from the ship’s engine reaches a bone-rattling crescendo and we rise into the air.

‘Ho, shit!’ Nine yells. Next to me, Marina squeezes herself a little tighter, closing her eyes.

‘Be careful, Six,’ she whispers.

I let go of the button and the ship effortlessly maintains its elevation. We’re hovering about twenty yards off the ground.

‘You weren’t supposed to do that yet,’ Adam admonishes.

‘Uh, yeah, sorry. First time flying a spaceship,’ I reply.

‘No big deal,’ Adam replies. ‘The trigger on your left increases your elevation. The one on your right decreases it.’

‘Left up, right down. Got it.’