Imagine a picture of Jeanne turning into an Iskoort.
74: THE UNION
Gina apologizes for distracting me from my writing. We were...busy.
Okay, I know you’ve all been waiting a long time for this one, so I won’t delay it any longer.
My name is Jeanne.
I have gone by the name Jeanne Gerard, but that is not my name. If you search the records of France, you will find no such girl. Gerard was the name of my favorite foster family. The Gerards were very good to me, and I have called their daughter Michelle my cousin.
I did not think anything could replace the Gerard family in my heart, but I was proven to be very, very wrong. I found my real family almost a year ago. I found my father, at least. And his wife and step-daughters, who truly are like sisters to me.
It is ironic, actually. Rachel, the daughter with whom I am most familiar, I see the least of all. She lives on the other side of the country. And, in spite of my fondness for my family, I do not live with them. Instead, I live with my boyfriend, Marco, in his mansion.
There is a very good reason for that, though. During a particularly stressful episode of our Animorph lives, the effort of reconciling some things, such as his best friend returning from the dead, was too much for Marco’s brain. He completely lost all memory of his time as an Animorph. Every morning, he wakes up and thinks he is a thirteen year old boy. He needs to be reminded what exactly has happened.
For a while, he showed some improvement. Instead of having everything forced down his throat, what he needs now are reminders. But still, every morning we must go through the same ritual of me telling him the general story of the last seven years of his life. Every morning, he reacts the same way.
For the last few months, there has been no change, no improvement in his condition. Nor has there been any sign of a cure. Therapy might help, but Marco cannot be sent to a therapist because his actions over the last year must remain a secret. So we have no choice but to wait and think and manage as best as we can.
This morning was no different. As always, I woke Marco up and told him who he was, where he was, and what I was doing in his house. I explained all about the Animorphs, Yeerks, Kelbrid, etc. And, on this particular day, we had to go to my father’s house to meet with the other Animorphs for breakfast. As always, Marco complained about not being allowed to eat ahead of time.
Every morning, it was pretty much the same thing. Lately, it has started to get annoying in the extreme. Marco is funny, at first. But when he has told you the exact same joke in the exact same way every morning for several months, one’s nerves begin to wear thin. But, as always, I pretended he never told me his jokes before, I laughed, and I drove him to my father’s house.
The mood there was nothing like it was a few weeks ago. Before, it was a comfortable home. Now, the atmosphere was decidedly different. The largest reason for this was because of the news we had gotten from Tobias and the Alphamorphs the previous day. Cassie was dead. She had fought with the Animorphs from the beginning. And suddenly, she was gone.
Her fiancé, Ronnie, took her place, though Jake, Marco, and I voted against it. He wanted to become an Animorph for the sole purpose of killing the Yeerk who had taken Cassie’s life, Guraff 427. Jake, Marco, and I thought this was a bad reason to let someone join. Melissa and Aximili thought it was the best on there was. The majority of the vote went in Ronnie’s favor.
Aximili was another reason why the atmosphere of the place seemed darker these days. Not too long ago, our lives had been saved by a Tri-I Operative named Carl Yastrzemski. Without his help, we would all have died in a trap the Yeerks set for us. Instead, thanks largely to Carl, we managed to escape. But Carl found out about the Yeerk invasion and Aximili took it upon himself to eliminate Carl without consulting the rest of us. The man saved our lives, and Aximili repaid him by taking his. I cannot really look at Aximili the same way after that.
When I pulled up to the house, it appeared empty, but that was not necessarily the case. My father had installed a Privacy Field over his home. It was an extremely mild type of force field that trapped light, allowing it to enter but not exit. The result of this was that my father could use a holographic generator to project the image of an empty house and yard against the field, creating the illusion that nothing at all was going on. Because of this, we could do things like morph in the front yard without anyone seeing. Marco’s mansion had an identical arrangement.
Such systems were common amongst Earth’s wealthy elite these days, but my father’s and Marco’s homes were a bit different. The privacy field could be reinforced with a much more powerful force field that could stop small Dracon cannons. That was one of the many hidden defenses my father had recently installed on his house.
As a result, whenever I came to the house, I could not be sure if there was anyone in the yard or not. This time, the yard was empty. I parked the car and Marco and I entered the house. It still felt somewhat odd not to knock when I entered, but my family almost seemed offended when I was polite.
Jake and Melissa were sitting on one couch in the spacious living room. My father and step-mother were sitting on another. Jordan and Sara were seated in chairs and Aximili stood off in a corner, away from everyone else.
“Why is everyone here?” Marco asked me. “Tobias said he had a big announcement for everyone,” Jake answered. “Big enough that it was worth Jordan and Sara missing some school for.”
He looked like he was about to explain more, but then the large TV screen that occupied much of the far wall came to life.
Tobias looked tired, but that was no surprise. I could tell, from the quality of the image and from what I could see in the background, that they were in the Reliquary, though I could not quite figure out what the others were doing. “Everyone’s present?”
“All here, General,” Marco answered.
“Commander,” I whispered into his ear, correcting him.
“Good,” Tobias continued. “This announcement is…pretty important. We’ve all had a really tough time of things lately. I don’t need to list everything that’s gone horribly long in the last month or two. So I thought it was important that you all hear some good news.
“Firstly, we managed to find something to do with the Chief. Vladimir Putin has offered to bring him and Kristina back to Russia, where he’ll be away from the Yeerks. They aren’t sure if they’re going to accept his offer yet, but if we can’t think of anything else at least that problem is solved.
“Also, although Putin has refused to call off his world tour, I managed to get him to agree not to go to your town. The Yeerks just couldn’t resist trying something there. As it is, now he moves with a Tri-I escort and should be safe, though he has us on speed dial just in case. He’s going to cite the presence of the Isolationist Party in your town as a reason for cutting that from his trip. I -”
“Tobias, just get to the important part,” we heard Rachel interrupt him from somewhere off-screen.
“I’m getting to it,” he called over his shoulder. Then he turned back to us. “Alloran informed me that, as a result of Russia’s new Czar-class ships, the major elements within the Electorate are pushing for giving the Americans and a few other countries more help in developing their own. I don’t think the Andalites could live with themselves if Yeerk-based ships went off to war before their own pet projects.”
“Tobias!” Rachel called again.
“I’m getting there!” He called back. He turned back to us. “Also according to Alloran, the political climate on the Andalite homeworld is starting to take a turn. It’s possible that Lirem will lose the upcoming election, if the right Andalite runs against him. There’s widespread criticism that he’s too slow to act. Alloran is thinking of tossing his hat into the ring, so to speak, but that would probably do more harm than good. He’s not a popular man. Word has it that the Leerans are - ”
At that point, Rachel shoved Tobias out of sight. “Ignore him, none of that is important. Because of all the bad stuff that’s been happening lately, we decided that everyone needs something happy. So we’re moving the wedding up. We’re getting married in a week.”
“How did you manage all that rescheduling?” I asked.
“Lots of yelling,” Rachel answered, smiling.
From somewhere out of sight, I heard Tobias add, “Plus, Al hacked some peoples’ records.”
“That too. Anyhow, this is happening in a week and if anything happens to screw it up, Marco, I’m going to crucify someone with objects I find lying around the house. And I left some very painful things in my bedroom.”
“I still say you should have brought those,” Tobias added. “We could have used them.”
Marco turned to me. “This is one of those things that I’m better off forgetting, isn’t it?”
“I try not to think about it,” I admitted.
Suddenly, the image of Rachel and the Reliquary disappeared and a new face took over, in a new ship. My initial reaction upon seeing the face that stared at me was to flinch. It was roughly triangular, with a pair of short stalk eyes and a blue-rimmed mouth.
Said head was on the end of a vulture-like neck. Unlike most aliens I’d seen, this one was wearing a shirt, and what appeared to be an expensive one at that. However, around its midsection, the shirt stopped, exposing veined, pink flesh. It had two arms, each jointed three times and ending in a tentacle with a pair of clawed fingers on either side.
“Jeanne, what is that thing?” Marco asked me.
“I’m not sure. I know I’ve seen one before,” I trailed off.
<What, you do not recognize your old friend Guide the Iskoort?> the alien asked, sounded vaguely wounded.
“Marco lost his memories,” Jake explained.
<Ah. Well, then it is a lucky thing that I have a copy!> Guide sounded very pleased with himself at that.
“You have what?” Marco demanded. He turned to me. “Okay…I don’t remember who or what this thing is, but I’m pretty sure I’ve always wanted to punch him in the stomach.”
<Oh yes, you very much have,> Guide agreed. <That’s okay, though, the internal conflict really helps sell these things. Thanks to you, I’ve made my fortune back, and then some!>
“So why are you calling us?” Jake asked.
<Why, how could I pay a visit to Earth and not stop by to visit the people who made me the wealthiest Iskoort on the planet?>
<And?> Aximili prompted.
<And…I seem to be having some trouble that I think you would be able to help me with.>
“Oh yeah,” Marco said to me. “I remember what it was I hated about this guy now.”
“Maybe you should tell us about this trouble,” Jake prompted.
“If we’re going to be chatting with aliens, I’m taking my daughters to school,” Naomi interrupted. “And Jake? That….thing….is not coming into my house.”
“If I had my way, he wouldn’t be coming into Earth’s airspace,” Marco muttered.
<What are the Iskoort even doing near Earth?> Aximili asked. <It is very far out of your way.>
“Please don’t ask him questions,” Melissa pleaded. “He’s got that look like he’s going to start telling a story. I hate it when they start telling stories.”
Guide looked at Melissa. <I don’t recognize you. It seems you Animorphs have been busy since we last met. You’ll have to sell me the memories later. The girl’s right, though. I do have a story. I think you’ll enjoy it, though. After all, I listened to your stories. It’s only a fair trade.>
“Our stories made you rich,” Jake reminded him.
<Well, I’m sure you’ll find mine rewarding. The last time we met, I was just barely a beggar, after I lost my position with the merchant guild for fabricating the ending of your story. But the memories you sold me put me back on top! You’re all huge celebrities on my homeworld, you know. And I can’t tell you how many awards I accepted on your behalf. That was a great trick you pulled on me, too, leaving the ending open like that. The Yeerks returning to Earth! The One invading your home! Fantastic!>
<Please tell me,> Aximili interrupted, <that you did not come all this way to buy more memories from us.>
<That was only part of it, I promise,> Guide responded. <The Guildmasters were, in fact, engaged in a discussion of sending an envoy to Earth for several months. Those discussions got interrupted when the Pythagi arrived, with Kelbrid in tow. That was quite a shock, I can tell you.>
“They attacked you?” I asked.
<Don’t be ridiculous. Have you ever met a Pythag? They didn’t come to kill, they came to trade! We have never met such a willing trade partner. You wouldn’t believe the things that passed between us. I think it is safe to say that I’ve become the wealthiest Iskoort in history. But t here is a very big difference between the Iskoort and the Pythagi.
<We Iskoort love trade. Equal trade. I give you something you want and you give me something that I want. But the Pythagi see it as a sort of competition. They want to get something from you while giving you as little as possible. They will lie to you, deceive you. Once, one promised to send me a Yeerk Blade ship in exchange for some charts of Ssri’Kai space. He gave me the ship, alright; a model of one about as long as my tentacle.
<Things like that kept happening. And the more time we spent with the Pythagi, some things became clear. Like that they didn’t want us in their sector of space, of which they consider Earth a part. At first, we were willing to agree to that. The Diplomatic Guild signed several treaties promising that we wouldn’t interfere with their business ventures on Earth.>
“But here you are,” Marco inserted.
<But here I am. My people got tired of being cheated by the Pythagi, so we decided to do a little cheating of our own and send some people to check out their sector of space. I was chosen as the head of the mission, since I’m the only one who has ever actually met a human.>
“You said you were having some sort of trouble?” Melissa prompted.
<Yes, well….A Pythagi representative made it very clear that if we interfered with their business, we’d have to answer to the Kelbrid. We have no desire to see our sector of the galaxy overrun by Kelbrid again, so we took great care to make sure the Pythagi didn’t find us here. Except…>
Marco sighed. “Oh God, what did you do?”
<It was completely by accident, you understand. We emerged from Zero-Space near Mars. According to your memories, it was only occupied by the Skrit Na, who might have had some interesting things to trade to us. It seemed like a safe place to stop. So imagine our surprise when we stumbled across some Pythagi fighter ships.
<We decided to do the polite thing and land, as they asked us to. But we sealed our ship shut, so they can’t get in. At least, not with their usual weaponry. They have weapons powerful enough to blast the ship to pieces, but nothing that is both delicate enough to leave the ship intact but also get through our shields.
<So for the moment, we are trapped on the surface of Mars. Right now, the Pythagi do not know who we are, since we have not communicated with them and they would not recognize this ship. It is unique, you see. So at the moment, there is no harm done. But once they get inside and find out we are Iskoort, my sector will be invaded by the Kelbrid and Yeerks as well as yours.>
<So, my friends, what will it be? I’m sure that flying to Mars and rescuing the diplomatic corps of the Iskoort wouldn’t be too much for you to handle. You have done far more difficult things before,> Guide pressed.
<That…> Aximili began but trailed off.
“What?” Jake asked him.
<Well, Prince Jake, I was thinking that it might be best…>
“Best to what?” Marco pressed.
<It might be best to leave Guide to his fate,> Aximili said quickly. Then, more slowly, he added, <If the Yeerks invade his sector of the galaxy, it will stretch their resources, leaving them weaker in our own.>
“Letting a peaceful race of merchants get slaughtered by the Kelbrid? Yeah, that sounds like something you’d do,” Melissa said. It was very clear from her tone what she thought of the suggestion.
Jake shook his head as well. “I can’t let that happen, Ax. We want to end this war, not spread it.”
“Stop me if I’m forgetting something,” Marco responded, “but if we let the Yeerks go around invading other sectors of the galaxy, that means the armies have more planets they have to fight them on, which means it really makes things a whole lot harder for everyone if we don’t help Guide.”
“Tactically, it makes the most sense to help him,” I agreed. “We want to keep the Yeerks contained.”
<Do you expect this war to end quickly, once we are finished on Earth?> Aximili pressed. <A victory on Earth will be one victory. A victory on Hork-bajir will be another. So will one on the Taxxon world and the Yeerk planet, and all of the Pythagi colony worlds. All of them will come at great cost. Right now, the Yeerk resources seem to be almost limitless. This would help in the long campaign against them.>
“And cost how many innocent lives, Ax?” Jake asked. He seemed to agree with Aximili’s tactical assessment, but it was the repercussions of the strategy that he questioned. Melissa seemed to be in the same situation. Marco and I disagreed completely. If you want to defeat an enemy, why let him gain more power?
“If I may?” My father interrupted. We all turned to him. I do not know about the others, but I had forgotten he was there. I assumed he left with Naomi, Jordan, and Sara.
“Go ahead,” Jake allowed.
“It seems to me that this is a major strategic decision,” my father began. “Is that not the sort of thing you should consult your leader on?”
“Oh….yeah…” Jake admitted. “Guide, can you…undo whatever you did? We were talking to Tobias and you sort of interrupted it.”
<Oh, by all means. But, forgive me Jake, I thought you were the leader.>
“I was. Then I died and Tobias took over. When I came back, I let him keep the job.”
<I am definitely going to want that memory. Died, you say? That’s very interesting.>
“Guide?” Marco pressed. “We sort of need to talk to Tobias if we’re going to save you.”
“We can act without Tobias’s authorization,” I reminded everyone. “We do not have to get his permission to take actions that we think will help the war.”
“She’s right, Jake,” Melissa agreed. “You don’t have to ask him if you’re allowed to help Guide or not.”
“This isn’t about permission, it’s about advice,” Jake answered. “I’m going to do what I think is best. I just don’t know what that is. Tobias usually does.”
The image of Guide switched over to a very angry Rachel. She was red-faced and was apparently at the end of some sort of tirade. “-king eyes used to be, and them I’m going to make you eat them, Marco!”
“Why does she always blame me?” Marco asked, looking at the ceiling.
“Historically speaking, it’s usually your fault when she’s angry,” Jake answered.
“Is it? Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Someone want to explain the situation to our new fearless leader?”
“Situation?” Tobias asked from off-screen. He nudged Rachel aside. “What situation?”
“Long story short, Guide’s car broke down on Mars and he wants to bum a ride with us,” Marco answered.
“Or the Pythagi will kill him,” Jake added.
<And the Kelbrid will invade his sector of the galaxy,> Ax continued. <If we help him and his people escape from Mars without the Pythagi finding out what they are, we can prevent the Yeerks from invading them. However…>
“If we leave them to their fate, the Yeerks will invade the old Kelbrid Sector,” Tobias concluded. He closed his eyes and seemed to be talking mostly to himself. “That would stretch the Yeerk forces thinner. They couldn’t afford to keep sending reinforcements to every area we’re thinking of attacking. They’d probably pull the troops out of Pythag Coor. If so, someone could strike it and capture all three factory worlds there, not to mention kick their morale in the face. Galuit could do it. No, no, Glorfindel would be better.” He trailed off into mumbling for several moments.
Then he opened his eyes and shook his head. “Go and get Guide.”
That surprised me. It sounded like he had already made up his mind to let the Iskoort get invaded. “What was all that planning for if you changed your mind?” I asked.
“That wasn’t planning, that was considering the options,” Tobias answered. “If the Yeerks invaded the Kelbrid Sector, we need to think about how that would effect us. The answer is that it would weaken them somewhere here. My guess is that the Kelbrid would be pulled out of Pythag Coor, a cluster of four worlds considered to be the center of Pythagi manufacturing power. The Visser would have no problem weakening those worlds, since their only military advantages are indirect.
“Three of those worlds are factories. They produce a whole lot of things, but they’re so far from the front lines that it takes a lot of effort to ship anything to any place where it would be useful. It’d be like the Visser to abandon Pythag Coor in order to attack the Iskoort. That would be an opening for us to attack.
“I had to weigh the advantages of maybe getting Pythag Coor against the advantages of helping the Iskoort. If we had Pythag Coor, we could produce a lot of things. But the Iskoort have a whole lot to offer; information, weapons, supplies, and all sorts of things from parts of the galaxy that the Pythagi and Yeerks have never even seen. In the end, I think it’s better to help the Iskoort. Maybe they can organize the races in their sector for some military aid against the Pythagi. I think they’re worth saving.”
“I didn’t follow all that stuff about Pythag Coor, but this means we’re going to save Guide, right?” Melissa asked.
I nodded. “Yes. It seems we have a bit of a trip ahead of us.”
Unfortunately, we did not have any vehicle capable of getting us there. The Reliquary was with Tobias at Alpha Front and although Marco had a few ships in his private hangar, there was nothing suitable for this mission. This would require a stealthy ship, capable of extracting the Iskoort and possibly fighting through Pythagi ships around Mars. That was a difficult order to fill. Perhaps even the Reliquary would not have been capable of the task, since space was limited in it.
We told Guide we’d help him and then lounged around my father’s house for a bit, trying to figure out how to go about doing this. Tobias and the Alphamorphs had their own business to take care of, so they left us to figure it out on our own for the time being. Where could we get a ship capable of infiltrating the Pythagi defenses and then getting back out with a cargo hold full of Iskoort?
“Hey, didn’t we used to have a ship that would have been perfect for this?” Marco asked. “A Yeerk thing, I think. When we went to go rescue Ax? It’s…really hazy in my mind.”
“The Rachel” Jake nodded. “It would have been perfect. The Pythagi would let a Yeerk ship through, and if it needed to, it could fight its way out. And since there was enough room for us to live in it for a few months without having any major problems with space, I think it could hold the Iskoort.”
“What happened to it, then?” Marco asked.
“We don’t know,” I explained. “When we were transported to Earth by the Ellimist, or maybe it was the Drode, we lost track of the ship.”
“So it’s probably just floating out there, empty?” Marco questioned.
“Well, probably not,” Jake admitted. “Menderash didn’t get transported with us. He probably found something to do with it.”
“So why don’t we ask him where it is?” Marco responded. For several moments, we just stared at him.
<Why did we not think of that?> Ax wondered.
“It’s too simple,” Melissa answered. “So only someone simple-minded could have come up with it. I’m surprised Aximili didn’t think of it.” The change in her tone was pretty clear. She was teasing Marco; she was insulting Aximili. Melissa seems to have taken his indiscretion over Carl harder than the rest of us. I am not sure why.
“Play nice,” Jake said to Melissa. “Ax, try to get in touch with Menderash and see what he did with that ship. Everyone else, we’re going to need to think of a backup plan for a ship, and a way of pulling this off.”
Aximili left the room to call Menderash from elsewhere in the house. I am fairly certain he wanted as little to do with us as possible lately. How would he do on this mission? It was difficult to say. It would be unlike him to be a detriment to the mission. But it was also unlike him to act without orders.
“Well,” Marco began, “if the Rachel was a Yeerk ship, maybe the Yeerks have another one we could steal.”
“Makes sense,” Jake agreed. “But where could we get one?”
“The Yeerks have to keep them somewhere,” I answered. “In the First War, they could store them on their Pool ship, but now that is not an option. They must be based somewhere on the ground.”
“So where could the Yeerks hide an entire fleet of Bug fighters, the Blade ship, and whatever else they might have?” Jake wondered. “It would have to be somewhere near enough that they could get to the ships in a hurry, but not some place people would look…”
I crossed over to the other side of the living room and pulled up a hologram of the city, looking over it. There weren’t a lot of places to hide a respectable number of ships, and all of the few that I could find would hardly be hidden. “I do not see anywhere that would work,” I admitted. “Do either of you see anything?”
Jake shook his head. Marco shrugged. “Don’t I have a few ships in my basement or something?”
I nodded. “Yes. Not as many as the Yeerks would need, nor as large, but you have a few.”
“Well, maybe the Yeerks just have a bigger basement. Aren’t they prone to keeping stuff underground?” Marco asked.
“They are,” I admitted, “But it would take quite a bit of excavation to clear enough space under the ground for a sizeable hangar.”
“Bigger than the first Yeerk pool?” he responded.
“Probably not, no,” I agreed.
“So they could just be in some big cavern under the ground. That also means that there has to be some way for them to get in and out. So what we need to do is find something big enough that it can be an entrance for a Blade ship. There can’t be many things that size.”
“Why don’t we just ask my dad?” Melissa suggested. She had been so quiet that I had almost forgotten she was there. “I mean, Mersa was a big time Yeerk, the one who was supposed to be invading there. He’s probably the one who figured out how to get ships in and out, right? So my dad probably knows how he did it.”
“Looks like Marco isn’t the only one who can see the simple solutions,” Jake muttered to himself. “Good idea. You call him up and see what we can find out. Now, once we have our ship, we need to fly to Mars, find the Iskoort and somehow get them out. How can we do that?”
“Lie?” I suggested. “Pose as the Visser’s servants and tell the Pythagi we were sent to take care of that situation.”
“They’ll insist on some sort of proof,” Marco reminded me. “How are we going to fake that?”
“This one I know,” Jake answered. “Ax has a Guraff morph. No one questions Guraff. At least, no one smart. He speaks with the Visser’s authority. If Guraff tells them we’re there to take over, they’ll buy it. We just need to get there.”