I think about the state my friends were in when I finally awoke back in Chicago. Malcolm was mortally wounded and Sarah badly hurt, Sam nearly out of ammo and Bernie Kosar unaccounted for. They’d put it all on the line for me.

‘You guys saved me first,’ I reply.

‘Yeah, obviously. So return the favor and save our planet.’

The way she says it, like it’s no big deal, makes me smile. I pull Sarah close and kiss her.

‘I love you, Sarah Hart.’

‘Love you back, John Smith.’

‘Um, I love you guys, too …’

Sarah and I both turn to find Sam standing in the doorway, an awkward smile on his face. Curled up in his arms is a huge orange cat, one of the six Chimærae that our new Mogadorian friend brought with him, drawn to us by Bernie Kosar’s rooftop howling. Apparently, the stick BK took from Eight’s Chest was some kind of Chimæra totem used to lead them to us, like a Loric dog whistle. We stuck to back roads on our way to Baltimore, careful to make sure we weren’t tailed. The crowded van ride gave us plenty of time to brainstorm names for our new allies. This particular Chimæra, preferring a chubby cat-shape as its regular form, Sam insisted we name Stanley, in honor of Nine’s old alter ego. If he’s still alive, I’m sure Nine will be thrilled to have a fat cat with an obvious affection for Sam named after him.

‘Sorry,’ Sam says, ‘did I spoil the moment?’

‘Not at all,’ Sarah replies, stretching out one arm towards Sam. ‘Group hug?’

‘Maybe later,’ Sam says, looking at me. ‘The others are back and setting everything up downstairs.’

I nod, reluctantly letting go of Sarah and walking over to the duffel bag with our supplies. ‘They have any problems?’

Sam shakes his head. ‘They had to settle for just a couple of little camping generators. Not enough cash for something big. Anyway, it should be enough juice.’

‘What about surveillance?’ I ask, pulling the white locator tablet and its adapter free from the duffel bag.

‘Adam said he didn’t see any Mog scouts,’ Sam answers.

‘Well, out of anyone, he’d know how to spot them,’ Sarah puts in.

‘True,’ I reply halfheartedly, still not trusting this so-called good Mogadorian, even though he’s done nothing but help us since showing up in Chicago. Even now, with him and Malcolm setting up our newly purchased electronics on the factory floor below, I feel a vague sense of unease at having one of them so close. I push it down. ‘Let’s go.’

We follow Sam down a rusty spiral staircase and on to the floor of the factory proper. The place must’ve been closed down in a hurry because there are still racks of musty, eighties-style men’s suits pushed up against the walls and half-full boxes of raincoats abandoned on conveyor belts.

A Chimæra in golden retriever form that Sarah insisted we call Biscuit tumbles into our path, her teeth clenched around the ripped sleeve of a suit, locked in a tug-of-war with Dust, the gray husky. Another Chimæra, Gamera, which Malcolm named after some old movie monster, trundles after the others but has trouble keeping up in his snapping turtle form. The two other new Chimærae – a hawk we dubbed Regal and a scrawny raccoon we named Bandit – watch the game from one of the inoperative conveyor belts.

It’s a relief to see them playing. The Chimærae weren’t in the best shape when Adam liberated them from Mogadorian experimentation, and they still weren’t doing so hot when he brought them to Chicago. It was slow going, but I was able to use my healing Legacy to fix them up. There was something inside of them, something Mogadorian, that actually felt like it was pushing back against my powers. It even made my Lumen flare up briefly, something that’s never happened when using my healing. Ultimately, though, whatever the Mogs did was washed away by my Legacy.

I’d never actually used my healing Legacy on a Chimæra before that night. Luckily, it worked, because there was one Chimæra in even worse condition than all our new friends.

‘Have you seen BK?’ I ask Sam, scanning the room for him. I had found him on the roof of the John Hancock Center, shredded by Mogadorian blaster fire and barely clinging to life. I used my healing on him, praying that it would work. Even though he’s better now, I’ve still been keeping an extra-close eye on him, probably because the fates of so many of my other friends are unknown.

‘There,’ Sam replies, pointing.

At one end of the room, against a wall covered with competing graffiti tags, are a trio of industrial-size laundry bins overflowing with piles of khaki pants. It’s at the summit of one of these piles that Bernie Kosar rests, the antics of Biscuit and Dust seeming to tire him out. Despite my healing, he’s still weak from the fight in Chicago – and also missing a jagged chunk from one of his ears – but with my animal telepathy I can sense a sort of contentedness coming off him as he watches the other Chimærae. When BK sees us enter, his tail thumps fresh dust clouds from the pile of old clothes.

Sam sets down Stanley, and the cat trundles over to the clothes piles with BK, settling into what I guess is the designated Chimæra napping zone.

‘Never thought I’d have my own Chimæra,’ Sam says, ‘much less a half dozen of them.’

‘And I never thought I’d be working with one of them,’ I reply, my gaze settling on Adam.

At the center of the factory floor, steelwork benches are bolted into the floor. Sam’s dad, Malcolm, and Adam are setting up the computer equipment they just purchased by trading in some of my waning supply of Loric gemstones. Because there’s no electricity running to this old factory, they had to buy some small battery-powered generators for the trio of laptops and mobile hotspot. I watch Adam hooking up one of the laptop batteries – his deathly pale skin, lank black hair and angular features making him slightly more human looking than the usual Mogadorians – and remind myself that he’s on our side. Sam and Malcolm seem to trust him; plus he’s got a Legacy, the power to create shock waves, which he inherited from One. If I hadn’t seen him use the Legacy with my own eyes, I’m not sure I’d even think it was possible. Part of me wants to believe, maybe even needs to believe, that a Mog wouldn’t be able to just steal a Legacy, that he has to be worthy. That it happened for a reason.