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Since my previous one broke 60 views (I doubt everyone who viewed it read the whole thing but I don't care) and I'm kind of impatient to get this one out there, I'll post it now
Imagine a picture of Marco turning into a fly.
56: The Organization
Technically, this should be a Cassie book. But, for reasons that will make sense after future books, I decided to push Marco up instead. Cassie won’t be heard from for some time yet.
As with the previous book, I added a preview of the next book at the end of this. I’ll post it when enough view this one.
Enjoy or go to hell.
If I owned the Animorphs, you wouldn’t be reading this for free.
And if I owned Streetlight Manifesto, I'd have better things to do than write fanfics.
My name is Marco.
Just Marco. Marco’s all you need to hear before you know exactly who I am. As for where I live, everyone knows that, too. I’m just that famous.
This isn’t some delusion of mine. This is real. Too real. My enemies and the threat they pose to me, to us all, is true.
Six years ago, I was just a regular guy. Well, I was cuter than anyone I had ever met, funnier than anyone alive, and smarter than anybody in the world. And humble. Can’t forget humble.
Seriously, though, that was then. One night, me, my best bud, Jake, his cousin Rachel, her friend Cassie, and a weird kid we knew named Tobias took a shortcut home from the mall so we wouldn’t be late for dinner.
We cut through an abandoned construction site. It was there that we met Elfangor. He was a dying alien with a terrible secret to tell us. Earth was being invaded by other aliens called Yeerks.
Yeerks, in their natural state, are nothing but little grey slugs. But they can crawl into your brain and posses your body. They have total control over your body and your memories.
They can pass for you even to your closest friends and family. Then, when the time comes, it betrays them to its brothers and enslaves them too. All the while, you have to sit in a lonely corner of your mind and watch.
You probably know all this, or else you’ve been living in a hole for the past three years. We defeated the Yeerks, my friends and I. But now they’re back.
We have to fight them again. This time, it’s up to some new faces. Jake, Cassie, and I are the same as always. Tobias is a very different person from the kid who walked into that construction site with us, but he’s here, too. Rachel’s dead.
We have two new friends. One is Santorelli. He used to be a Controller back during the first war. He was a bodyguard for a Visser. He’s tan and burly. Kind of intimidating, even if he isn’t any taller than me. The other is Jeanne.
Jeanne is beautiful, with green eyes and black hair. She’s French, so she’s got a great accent. If there’s anything wrong with her, I haven’t seen it. She doesn’t even seem to be totally insane like Rachel was.
I really didn’t want to go back to the way I used to live. All the fear, paranoia, and blood were too much back then. Would anyone want to do it all again? I know I didn’t.
But, of course, we weren’t really given a choice. The interdimensional puppet masters jerked our strings again and the next thing we knew it was six years ago, back where we started. All the fear and paranoia came rushing back.
That was why I had a couple thousand alarms on my house. I didn’t want the Yeerks coming for me when I was asleep. They were all silent alarms that triggered a small light by my bed. It woke me up instantly.
I bolted upright in my bed as it came on. I glanced at the clock. 2 a.m. No one prowling around my house at 2 a.m. could want anything good. No normal burglar would try to rob me, which meant that it could only be Yeerks.
In a few moments, I could be fighting for my life against whatever monster creatures the slugs had possessed this time around. I sighed and started to morph. I was really getting used to not having to put up with this.
Half gorilla, I opened my bedroom door. Santorelli was on the stairs. He looked at me and just shook his head. “Nothing to worry about. Just a couple of insomniacs who can’t handle turning off the alarms.”
I raised an eyebrow and demorphed. I took the dropshaft down to the ground floor. It didn’t take me long to locate them. They were sitting on a couch in my living room, arguing about something.
“Look at the facts,” I heard Tobias say. “A leopard could never even touch an ostrich. End of story. You can’t beat what you can’t touch.”
“I’ve been a leopard,” Jeanne argued. “I know how fast they are. An ostrich would be dead in a second.”
“You were a leopard for what, an hour? I was a hawk for six years. Trust me, birds always win,” Tobias insisted.
I had no idea what they were talking about, but I decided it was time to put a stop to it anyway. After all, it was really, really late at night. Or early in the morning, depending on how you looked at it.
“Um,” I interrupted, “I’m not sure what exactly you two are doing arguing about leopards and ostriches at 2 a.m., but knock it off.”
“How could you possibly have heard us?” Tobias demanded.
“You tripped one of the alarms,” I answered. “Tobias, why are you even awake? You’ve been asleep for the last two days.”
That was almost literally true. Tobias had had a tough time on our first mission of this new phase of the war. Too many morphs too quickly. I’m amazed he didn’t collapse form that alone. He also took quite a beating form some of our enemies and got a good jerking-around by the One and Co.
“Like you said, I’ve been asleep. I just woke up like an hour ago,” he answered. “I was hungry.”
“So naturally you wake Jeanne up and start talking about bird versus cat,” I said sarcastically. Sarcasm is something I’m good at. Just like everything else.
“I was already awake,” Jeanne told me. “I suppose I have not gotten used to this time zone yet.”
It sounded possible. Then I had a thought. She and Tobias seemed awfully friendly. But it had to be my imagination. Tobias didn’t make friends easily, and definitely not friends who were girls.
I mentioned that Tobias is different now than he used to be. I’m talking about different as in how Mr. Hyde was different form Dr. Jekel. Not that this new Tobias is exactly evil, just that different from the old one.
Tobias used to be a dork. He got beat up every day of his life. He was a sad, lonely kid who wanted nothing more than to be liked but he was too shy to try to make any friends. Jake was pretty much his only friend before the war, and Jake barely knew him.
But Tobias spent six years of his life as a hawk, a predator. Now he’s got killer instincts and no qualms about spilling blood. And he doesn’t really care about friends. Just getting back at the Yeerks for taking everything he ever cared about away from him.
First it was his father, Prince Elfangor. He had to leave Tobias to go and fight he Yeerks. And then the Yeerks killed him. Next it was Rachel. She was one of us and Tobias’s girlfriend. She died in our last battle. That was what put him over the edge. He didn’t use to be the revenge type. Now, I think that’s all he cares about.
So maybe you’re wondering why these two and Santorelli are in my house. And why I have my own personal dropshaft, which is like an elevator without a floor. And why I have so many alarms. The answer is that I am loaded.
I have a mansion so big that even I can’t think of enough stuff to cram into it. I have two basketball courts, a football field, a soccer field, a hockey rink, and a baseball field all on the first two floors. The next two floors are full of stuff I’ve collected from all over the world. There’s plenty of room for more. After that, there’s my private cinema, complete with concessions stand and a kid to dole out the popcorn. The top floor is bedrooms and stuff for me and my friends.
And of course, there is the basement. My own personal classic car museum. And aircraft hanger. And storage areas for alien spaceships that I managed to talk the government into letting me keep. And aside from the real ships, I’ve also got life-sized replicas of classic Sci-Fi ships. The Millennium Falcon, the Enterprise, and some more obscure ones form lesser known series.
So, with all this space, Jake decided it was a good idea to saddle me with the three homeless guys. Santorelli and Jeanne couldn’t go back to where they lived because we hadn’t decided if we wanted the world to know they were back yet. As for Tobias, he had been living in the woods for the last six years. He didn’t have a house to stay in.
So this was my life now. It was all a huge twist of irony, really. I had a bed big enough for an elephant but I couldn’t get any sleep. I had a huge mansion but I couldn’t get a moment alone. I was possibly the most famous man in the galaxy, but I was about to do something I couldn’t tell anyone about.
We met up the next day in Cassie’s barn. It was our usual meeting place, but we had to be careful. Since a lot more people could morph now, animals were potential weapons. The wolf in the stall behind me might as well have been a brick of C4.
The barn was full of animals. Cassie was allowed to keep them because she was an Animorph and we were above the law.
It wasn’t the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic anymore. That had been moved to a much bigger place not far from here. We were most likely going to be left alone for the time being.
I glanced at Tobias. In the old days, he would be in his own hawk body, sitting in the rafters, keeping an eye out for people coming. I didn’t think anyone would be stumbling around here, but you never knew. After all, what is my life if not a long string of events I never thought could happen?
Jake called us to order. He was still the same old Jake. Same brown hair and eyes, same responsible face. He looked older, of course, but we all did. He was a much more serious guy now. But inside, he was still Jake, my best bud and fearless leader.
Cassie was the same, too. She was still short and black, wearing overalls that didn’t quite fit her and boots crusted with who knows what. And, as usual, she was forcing a pill down the throat of a sick buzzard of some kind.
Jeanne and Santorelli stood at attention. I guess they still thought this little army of ours was some kind of military thing. But as far as I was concerned, all of that saluting and marching was just a game. The real job was doing what you were told to do. I was pretty sure Santorelli had that down; he had been in the military all his life. Jeanne I wasn’t sure about.
Tobias kept glancing at the door, probably wishing he had his hawk’s eyes and ears. But he would get used to it. He was nothing if not adaptable.
Jake said, “Let’s review what we know about this new war. One: We don’t have to deal with Hork-Bajir anymore. Now we’re up against the Kelbrid. What do we know about them?”
Cassie spoke up. “They’re fast and immensely strong. They have a stinger that we think is poisonous. Also, we are pretty sure it carries an anesthetic. When we were attacked by them, none of us could feel our wounds.”
Tobias added, “They don’t have eyes, but they can sense their environment. Probably the whiskers they have. They feel vibrations like a fly or cockroach. That makes it nearly impossible to get the jump on them.”
Jake nodded. “Two: our old friend, Visser Three or whatever he wants to be called now ”
“Esplin,” Tobias interjected.
“Esplin is loose, probably in Ax’s head. The One wants to have him in charge of things because he knows how we think. We know that Esplin’s nothing if not ruthless. He’ll stop at nothing to succeed. Or at least to save his own life.
“Three: Ax is one of them now. That means that the Yeerks now have access to all of his memories, all of his plans, all of his training, all of his morphs. They’ll probably be able to predict us move for move Anything else we know?”
I shook my head. “But there’s a lot we don’t know. What are they planning to do this time? How are they going to start? And what do we do?”
We all looked at each other. Finally, Jake said, “The One’s goal is to conquer humans first. He knows how dangerous we’ll be if he goes to war with us, so he wants to get us out of the way. He’ll take human hosts for his Yeerks.”
“But why?” Tobias wondered.
“What do you mean why?” I asked. “That’s what Yeerks do.”
“Yeerks, yes. But if The One wanted to destroy mankind, he could just do it with a wave of his hand,” he answered me.
Jake shook his head. “But if he does that, the Ellimist and Crayak will be all over him like Ax on a cinnamon bun.”
Tobias nodded. “But his Yeerks have access to Ax’s mind and to the Blade ship. Ax told us once that if the Yeerks wanted to kill a lot of people, they could just ignite the atmosphere with one of their ships. Ax could easily manage it. So why enslave humanity instead?”
We all looked at each other again. I broke the silence. “It doesn’t matter why. The point is that it’s happening. Whatever The One’s reasons, he wants us captured, not killed. So we have to stop him. The question is where to begin.”
“Where we began the first time,” Jake decided, “The Sharing.”
The Sharing was a Yeerk front organization like the co-ed boy scouts. It recruited people and told them it could make their lives better. In the end, they just got a slug in their brains.
Cassie shook her head. “The Sharing’s been disbanded for years, Jake. You know that.”
But I knew what Jake meant. “So there’ll be a new version. We need to keep an eye out for anything like The Sharing.”
Santorelli spoke up. “We don’t even know where to look. This could be in any town in the world.”
Jake and I looked at each other. “You know,” he said to me, “I just somehow assumed it would take place here.”
I nodded. “The One seemed pretty big on making us relive the past.”
“So where do we look?” Jeanne asked.
We sat in silence for a while. Then I had an idea. “The Yeerks won’t want to start from scratch. That would take years and although I bet The One is patient, I don’t think he’ll wait that long. Esplin certainly won’t. What do you think the fastest way to recruit new Controllers is?”
“Something like The Sharing,” Jake answered. “But we’ve been over ”
“Not that,” Tobias interrupted. “The fastest way is to not recruit new ones. To use the old ones.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “There were voluntary hosts. Some people supported the Yeerks and still do. Most of them aren’t in prison because we couldn’t prove they were voluntaries.”
Jake understood what I meant now. “So Esplin calls up these voluntaries and asks them to join up with him again. So they go with him and boom, new invasion started.”
“But how do we find out where it is?” Jeanne asked. “All we know is who it will be.”
“Precisely,” I said. “And all of these people will go where the invasion is. So we get online and track down our favorite suspected voluntary hosts. We watch them and see where they go. If a bunch of them start moving somewhere, then we know where to look. Find where they’re going and we have them.”
I guess when I said ‘we’ would get online, I meant myself. Tobias was computer illiterate as far as I knew. Being a hawk, he had never learned how to use technology.
The others were inept to varying degrees. They could get around well enough, but when it came the finer points of surfing the net, they were clueless.
It was times like these that I really missed Ax. His computer skills used to tick me off because he was light-years ahead of any human. But he was useful to have around and his constant questions about the strangest things kept life interesting.
As I was sitting at my computer, I realized for the first time that one of us might have to kill him. Strange to think of him as an enemy. I wondered if Esplin was in his head right now, reading his memories, laughing at him.
I shook my head and typed another name in the search engine. No time to worry about killing Ax now. That would come when it came and there was nothing I could do about it now.
I scanned the screen, looking for anything incriminating about this guy. No, he hadn’t recently left his job. No, he hadn’t made any plans to move away. No, he probably wasn’t a Controller anymore. Another dead end.
On a whim, I typed in a name I knew too well: Hedrick Chapman. He was the assistant principal where we used to go to school. Back when we went to school. He was also a high ranking Controller.
I didn’t expect to find anything. He had been a voluntary, but only to protect his daughter, Melissa. Still, it was worth a shot.
Hmm, that was interesting. It seemed that he had decided to move to a town on the other side of the country. He booked a U-haul just yesterday. On a normal computer, I wouldn’t have been able to find that out. But this was a supercomputer and I was good with it.
Could Chapman be connected with the new Yeerk order? It was possible. The One seemed fixated on making this one as similar to the other one as he could. But I didn’t want to count Chapman as enemy just yet. It could just be coincidence. And I could have been born yesterday.
I heard footsteps in the hall and looked out the doorway to see Tobias and Jeanne. They seemed to be spending a lot of time together. Maybe I should talk to Tobias about it. After all, I saw Jeanne first.
Then again, maybe I should just mind my own business. Even if they did get together, it wouldn’t last long. He just wasn’t that kind of guy.
I shoved myself back from my computer. I was getting nowhere with my search and my mind was starting to wander. There had to be a better way to go about doing this.
I took the dropshaft down a level and turned on my T.V. That T.V. also happened to be one of the walls of the room. Nothing says you’ve made it like a 40 foot screen.
I flipped through the channels for a bit. There wasn’t much good on. It was the news hour on just about every channel. Even the Andalite Entertainment Network was just some more information.
I checked the Hork-Bajir Network, but that just had Sesame Street. Nothing on any channel.
I was flipping around when some words caught my ear. “The International Invasion Investigation Force released its annual report yesterday. All of Earth’s nations were found to be free of invasion. Director of…”
I shut off the T.V. I had an idea. Just to be sure, I called Jake. I punched his code into the hologram device on the arm of my chair and his image came up. “Marco. What’s up?” he asked.
“I’ve been surfing the net, working on that little project of mine,” I told him. I didn’t think anyone was taping in on the conversation, but you could never be sure. Besides, old habits die hard.
“Find out anything?’
“Looking randomly isn’t working. But what about the Three-F?” I asked.
Jake was silent for a moment. I could see from the look on his face that he was thinking. He got it pretty quickly. “Tri-I would probably have what you’re looking for,” he agreed.
“I’m thinking I should pay them a little visit. Check out their nearest branch, see if they can help me.”
“Customer service isn’t their best field,” Jake answered. “But I could probably help you. I practically founded Tri-I.”
“You and me both,” I answered. “What say we pay them a visit tomorrow? Eight o’clock?”
“Sounds good. Call up that guy we know and ask him to come along. And tell him to bring a date.”
That conversation was all in code, of course. What we meant was that Three-F would probably have files on suspected voluntaries. And that they wouldn’t want to share them. Of course, being Animorphs, we might be able to get on the inside.
But it was just as likely that we would be breaking into their building. Tri-I was secretive. I understood the necessity and respected it. But we needed this information.
We wouldn’t be just waltzing over there, though. That would be completely amateur and stupid. That last part about that guy we knew and his date was Jake telling me to have Tobias check out the area. And to make sure he brought backup.
I held down a button on my chair. “Would Tobias please report to the front desk?” I said. My voice echoed through the P.A. system until it could be heard in every room of the house.
“I’m here,” he said about a second later. I jumped about five inches.
“That was fast,” I told him.
“I was two rooms away,” he explained. “What’s up?”
“Jake and I think Three-F might have what we need. And we also think we might have to take it by force. We need you to check out the building, see what’s what.”
“And bring Santorelli,” I added.
“Jeanne would be better,” he told me. “Surveillance means hawk morphs and her’s is less noticeable than Santorelli’s. A pair of red-tails makes a lot more sense than a red and a Cooper.”
What he said made sense. But I was still a little uneasy. If I didn’t know Tobias better… But that was impossible. He knew what he was doing and if he wanted to take Jeanne instead of Santorelli that was his business. I was just worrying too much. Wasn’t I?
Jake and I arrived at the Tri-I building at 8:00 sharp. It was difficult for me since I haven’t gotten up before noon in years. You don’t have to obey the laws of nature when you’re the amazing Marco.
The International Invasion Investigation Force was known by a couple of quirky names. Tri-I was the most common. There was also Three-F and Two-If. Those came form the abbreviation, IIIF. The “I”s looked like roman numerals. There was a joke about just what the two ifs were.
I glanced out of the corner of my eye at a red-tailed hawk sitting on a telephone poll. It opened one wing. That was Tobias telling us it was safe to enter. I looked at Jake. “About time we go in.”
We were greeted like celebrities. Tri-I was largely created by the Animorphs. It was an organization dedicated to making sure that nothing like the Yeerk invasion happened again. It was an agency that spanned every country on Earth, looking for anything that might be a covert alien invasion. Naturally, they would keep files on every suspected voluntary host.
Everyone in Three-F knew who we were, of course. I smiled when I saw a life-sized poster of myself on one of the walls of the lounge. Below me, there was a caption that read, “A little paranoia never hurt anyone.”
Agents swarmed us, asking for autographs, wanting to take pictures, or just touch us. It was good, but it was also a little creepy. Jake and I managed to fight our way to the reception desk.
“We need to speak to the local director,” Jake told her.
“Right away, sir,” she promised. She meant it, too, because a door behind her opened almost as soon as she said it. “Through there.”
The director rose to greet us. He was a little over middle aged, with a receding hairline and a tightly cut black suit. “Gentlemen. It is an honor, an absolute honor, to meet our founders. And may I ask what brings you absolutely fine gentlemen to me today?”
Jake and I shared a look. This guy was way too excited to see us. He spoke quickly and loudly. His eyes were glistening. But he didn’t move towards us or offer to shake our hands. He didn’t want to get near us. Something wasn’t right.
I tapped my left foot on the floor once. Jake’s right eyebrow rose. Yeerk? my foot asked.
Maybe, his eyebrow answered.
“We need information,” Jake answered.
“Anything I can do to oblige you would be my greatest pleasure,” he assured us with way too much assurance.
I fought down several remarks as to what he could do to please us. “We need a list of people you suspect of being voluntary hosts,” I told him.
“As I said, anything I can do would be my pleasure.” There was a pause, after which he added, “But I can’t do that. The International Invasion Investigation Force’s files are strictly confidential.”
“Even to us?” I asked, giving him my friendliest smile.
“I’m afraid so,” he answered. “It would violate several international laws and I have no idea how that would affect our standing in the international community.
“There are many countries who resent our presence and the fact that we are headquartered in America. They think our branches in this country have too much power over the world. If we are seen to be abusing this power, well, that could be disastrous. It could be the end of the organization as we know it.”
“Just for giving the two of us a few names?” Jake asked. “But we practically rounded Tri-I.”
“I am terribly sorry,” the director apologized. He didn’t sound sorry at all. But that was fine. We planned for this.
We thanked him for his time and left. We walked across the street. <Guy on your tail,> Tobias’s voice said in our heads. We didn’t nod or acknowledge him at all but he knew we had heard.
We didn’t want to be seen looking around for birds. That would tip off whoever was following us that we were being watched and we didn’t want that.
We kept going for a couple of blocks. <Still on you. You’re almost at the spot. Should I tell him to go?>
“You hungry?” I asked Jake.
“Yeah,” he answered. I don’t know exactly where Tobias was but I know he heard it too.
We passed a little alley. A moment later, we heard someone behind us say, “Just do what I say and you get to walk away.”
We turned around to see two guys. One was wearing a dirty trench coat, ripped jeans, and a panama hat. Santorelli.
The other guy was our tail. He had a medium build. Brown hair, a day or so’s worth of beard. Jeans. T-shirt. Sneakers. Nothing special about him. Not the sort of guy most people would notice following us. But then again, Tobias wasn’t most people.
Jake tapped Santorelli on the shoulder. “Is there a problem?” he asked. Whiskers shot out of Jake’s face. Black and orange fur started to grow on his body. His ears crawled up the sides of his head.
“No problem!” Santorelli practically screamed. He turned and ran into the alley.
Jake reversed his morph. “You alright?” he asked our tail.
“Yeah. Thanks,” the guy said. He turned and went back the way he came. Now that we’d seen him, his cover was blown. He didn’t want to stick around.
<You’re clear,> Tobias called. Jake and I turned in to the alley. Santorelli stood by a dumpster.
Tobias flew down and landed in the alley. He started to demorph. A pair of flies flew from Santorelli and landed on the ground. In about fifteen seconds, one was Cassie. The other was slowly becoming Jeanne.
I mentioned that Jeanne is beautiful. Well, no one can make morphing from a fly to a girl beautiful. I looked away until it was safe.
“Do you have the list?” she asked in her pretty little accent.
Jake shook his head. “We go in. Everyone clear on the plan?”
“Oh, sure,” I said. “We just have to break into the most heavily guarded building in town, hack into their mainframe, steal some super-secret information, and make it out undetected. What could go wrong?”
“I can think of about six things off the top of my head,” Cassie answered.
“Only six?” Tobias asked. “Did you get a concussion when I wasn’t looking?”
“It sounds simple enough,” Jeanne said. “Why do you all seem to think something will go wrong?”
Santorelli laughed. “Read a history book. The only certain thing about Animorph missions is that something always goes wrong.”
“What are we looking at?” Jake asked Tobias. “Where do we have an in?”
“Front door,” Tobias answered.
“Really? You want us to just walk in the front door?” I asked. “Why don’t we just hand ourselves over to the One now and save him the trouble.”
“It’ll be easy,” he said. “None of the windows in the building open, so that’s out. There are only the front doors to worry about. They have bug zappers but they don’t catch insects on people, just ones that try to get in around the edges. We morph to fly, hitch a ride on someone and we’re in.”
“What next?” Jake asked. “Where’s their mainframe? Where do we demorph?”
“Hard to say,” he admitted. “I think the windows have hologram paint on them.”
“Hologram paint?” Jake asked.
“Yeah, hologram paint,” Tobias confirmed. “You paint a window with it then project an image onto the window. It’s good for fooling curious window-washers. Or red-tailed hawks.”
“Why would they bother with that?” Jeanne asked.
“Anyone who wants to break into Tri-I would probably be morph-capable,” I answered. To Tobias, I said, “So what you’re telling us is that you can’t see inside the building at all?”
“That’s about it,” he admitted. “But there are some major updrafts over the western half of the roof.”
“Well, that’s helpful,” I said sarcastically.
“It is,” Tobias insisted. “That kind of uneven updraft means that the western side’s got something inside it that’s producing a lot of heat. Something like a massive computer grid running twenty-four seven.”
Well, he had me there. Say what you will about Tobias, but he knows wind better than anyone.
“So,” Jake summarized, “we can get through the front door on someone’s body. Then we know we need to check out the western half of the building, starting with the upper levels. We find the computer mainframe, hack it”
“How are we supposed to do that, exactly?” I asked.
“Well…I just assumed you could do it,” Jake admitted. “You always could in the past.”
“No,” I corrected, “Ax could always do it. But Tri-I probably has Andalite security. I doubt Ax could crack that and I know I can’t. We need another Andalite, and a smart one at that.”
“What ever happened to Menderash?” Santorelli asked. “He seemed smart.”
“We don’t know where he is,” Jake admitted. “When Crayak or the Ellimist or whoever it was yanked us out of our ship by the Hork-Bajir planet, we lost him.”
“I doubt he could crack Andalite security anyway,” Tobias said. “He was an alright guy and a good pilot, but he was just average when it came to computers.”
“We have someone better,” I said.
“We do?” Cassie asked.
“Yeah. Our good buddy Erek King.”
“Who is that?” Jeanne asked.
“He’s an android,” I answered. “There are a bunch of them. They call themselves the Chee. They’re really old and really advanced. Erek cracked the codes of a Yeerk Pool ship in about five minutes. And I’ve seen Chee go through Andalite security in the blink of an eye.”
“I never read about them in any of the history books,” Santorelli remarked.
“We promised to leave them out of it,” Jake told him. He turned to me. “But Marco, we don’t know where Erek is. He’s probably someone else by now, somewhere else.”
“He won’t be easy to find,” I admitted. “Still, we found him once before, didn’t we?”
“By luck,” Cassie answered. “By accident.”
“Maybe he left some kind of clue for us,” I reasoned. “I think we should go and check out Erek’s old house.”
“Alright,” Jake agreed. “We’ll split up. Some will go in and get the layout of Tri-I. The rest of us will check out Erek’s old house. I want Marco and Cassie with me to check out the house. Tobias will lead Santorelli and Jeanne into Tri-I. “
Something bothered me about that. Why was he putting Tobias in charge of the new guys? Why wouldn’t he do it himself? And was it my imagination or was he putting Tobias and Jeanne together a lot?
“Maybe you and Cassie should check out Erek’s house,” I said to Jake. “It’ll probably just be a simple look around; no reason to take half the army. If things go wrong in Tri-I, we’ll need everyone we can get to fight our way out. Half of those agents are morph-capable, after all.”
Jake was quiet for a moment. Then he decided. “I’ll take Jeanne with me. If a fight breaks out, you’ll need Cassie’s experience. And Santorelli’s got enough training that he’ll be helpful.”
“And I am useless why?” Jeanne asked.
“Not useless,” Jake answered. “Inexperienced.”
“And I am to become more experienced by being where there is not supposed to be a fight?” she questioned.
“She has a point,” Cassie said quietly.
Jake shook his head. “I’ve got to go with my gut on this one. I’ll go to Erek’s with Jeanne; it’d be stupid not to go with backup. Tobias will lead the mission in Tri-I.”
I tried not to show how surprised I was by that. I didn’t get it. Why Tobias? Jake was up to something. I knew him well enough to know that. I needed to find out what.
Jake wasn’t acting like Jake anymore. In a normal world, that happens to people. In my world, it meant that someone could quite possibly be a Controller. Even Jake could have been one. I’d have to find out, one way or another.
If Jake was a Controller, he had to go. It was as plain as that. And if he had to be…terminated…I would have to be the one to do it. He was my best friend; no one else could do it. If Jake had to die, I would have to be the one to kill him.
We all morphed to birds and flew home. Jake was a peregrine falcon and I was an osprey. He was much faster but I was able to catch up with him. I guess he was waiting for me.
<Wondering why I chose Tobias?> he asked me.
He knew me too well. <Yeah. I don’t get it, dude. I’m your best friend, your right hand man. I mean>
<I know,> he interrupted. <You’re the cold one. The calculating one. You don’t get the mission mixed up with emotions. Believe me, Marco, I know all that. I was there when you planned your own mother’s assassination. I know all about you.>
<Because, for one thing, the new guys don’t trust you. Not really. They’ll do what you say and they don’t think you’ll get them killed, but they don’t really trust your judgment.>
<Tell them to read a history book,> I grumbled.
<It isn’t that they don’t think you know what you’re doing,> Jake corrected me. <It’s more like…if some Andalite had shown up and started giving you orders back during the first war, would you have listened?>
<I’d have done as I was told, probably,> I answered. <But no, not really. I wouldn’t trust him.>
<Exactly. The new guys know Tobias better. He led them on their first mission, remember. They know they can trust him.>
I was quiet for a minute. Then I said, <Jake? Cut the crap, man. I know you. This isn’t about trust. What’s going on?>
<What do you mean?> he said evasively.
<I mean, why are you delegating so much responsibility? In the old days, you’d die before you heard of someone else leading the Tri-I mission. Now you’re putting one of us in charge of a vital mission while you take the blow-off job. What’s the deal?>
Now it was his turn to be quiet. <You don’t know what it’s like to have the death of a friend on your hands,> Jake answered. <It’s so different from killing an enemy. A friend… Knowing that what you decided cost them their life… I don’t think I can go through that again.>
<You were ready to a couple of months ago when we started chasing Ax,> I reminded him.
<I thought I was,> he said. <But I was wrong. When it came time to actually make a decision, I froze. I said the first thing that came to mind. If the Drode hadn’t shown up…>
<So you’re afraid to fail? Is that it?> I prodded.
<I’m afraid I’ll get another friend killed. I don’t think I can go on with this, Marco.>
<So you’ll rest up this mission, get your bearings,> I said. <You’ll be back for the next one.>
<No. No, I can’t do it. Not for a whole other war.>
<Jake, you’re just a little stressed. Just think about>
<YOU DON’T GET IT!> he shouted in my head. Jake never lost his temper like that. When he was angry, he got quiet. This was something new. He was beyond his usual range of emotion. This was frustration, anger, fear, and pain all at once.
<You don’t get it,> he continued, quieter this time. <Every day I wake up and know that I got my brother killed. That I got Rachel killed. That I basically got Tobias killed, too. The Tobias we knew…he’s dead now. He died on that bridge with Rachel. I’ve already lost three people I cared about. How can I be responsible for any more?>
I knew he just wanted to speak, so I kept quiet. I may not be Mr. Sensitive but I could sense a mood.
<You can’t understand it,> he continued. <It’s because you’re the cold one, the smart one. Because you’re Marco. You’re a good guy, but you just can’t understand some things. I might as well be the one who killed them. I might as well have put guns to their heads and pulled the triggers. And now that I might have to do it all again…now that I might get more friends killed…>
<So you’re just going to give up?> I demanded. <What happened to the old Jake? You never gave up before. That’s why you beat the Yeerks. Because you never, ever gave up.>
<Yeah. But I think…I think part of me died with Rachel and Tobias and Tom,> he said. <Now that I see where everything led me…>
<So you’re done, is that it?>
<No, not done. I’ll still fight. But I don’t think I can lead anymore, Marco. We’re all different than we were back then. I’m not the same Jake. I just don’t have it anymore.>
<So you’re resigning.>
<The only reason I was the leader in the first place…do you remember why it happened?>
I thought back to that night in the construction site. <It just seemed natural. Destiny or something,> I said.
<I was the leader because I went into that ship. But it could just as easily have been Tobias. We both stood there, at the foot of the ship. The only reason it was me was because he wanted to stay with Elfangor. If he had gone inside instead of me…>
<So you’re trying to set him up to take your place? Jake, Tobias is a good guy but he doesn’t have what it takes. Like he always said, he’s no one’s leader.>
<Yeah? I always thought that too. But he’s what we need. This war can’t break him like it did me. He’ll never, ever give up. And like you said, that’s what won it the first time.>
<Jake, do you really think any of us will ever give up?> I asked.
<Cassie gave up once. You wanted to quit until you found out about your mother. Jeanne and Santorelli…they don’t have the same kind of stake in this that we do. But Tobias has more reason to fight than anyone else. And there’s something else.>
<Have you ever really spoken to him? No, I didn’t think so. If you’ve ever seen into his heart, you’d know that there’s something dark inside him. I know it. And more importantly, Ax knows it.>
<Ax knows better than anyone what Tobias is capable of. Probably better than Tobias himself does. And with access to Ax’s mind, Esplin will fear Tobias. He’s the ultimate enemy for Esplin, really.>
<How do you figure?>
<He’s the son of Esplin’s archenemy, Elfangor. And now Tobias has some revenge to get for Ax, so Esplin has that to fear. And whatever dark thing lived inside Tobias, it’s starting to wake up, and his contact with Crayak is only going to make it stronger. Ax knows all this, so Esplin does too. And I want Esplin to be afraid. If I can’t finish this war, I want to leave him that. Something to keep him up at night.>
I was kind of ticked with Jake. It was one thing for him not to want to be the leader any more. That was his decision. But why Tobias instead of me?
So what if Ax knew Tobias better. He could learn to fear me. Like Jake said, I was the cold one. I tried to kill my own mother once. She was Visser One at the time, but still…
I was sure I was the better choice. I was smarter. I know it sounds arrogant, but it was true. In terms of pure brain power, I was the smartest of the Animorphs, the one who could see the line from A to B the quickest.
Would I ever give up now? Not a chance. I knew that. During the hardest times of the first war, wasn’t I there along with everyone else, still fighting on?
I decided I had to talk to Tobias about what Jake told me. I’m not one for feelings talks and I’m also not one to give away what someone told me privately. But Tobias needed to know what Jake was planning to do.
I checked back at my mansion first. He wasn’t there. Santorelli told me he and Jeanne were out flying around. Again, I felt spark of jealousy. I decided I’d ask Tobias about it.
I knew some of Tobias’s favorite places to fly and, sure enough, he was in one of them. A pair of red tails was hovering over the mall parking lot. The heat from the sun baked the blacktop forming big cushions of hot air that would lift you up a mile high without any effort.
<Tobias!> I called. <I need to talk to you alone for a minute.>
I don’t know if you can shrug while flying but I think he did. He peeled away from Jeanne and came to meet me. <What’s up?>
There are two types of thought-speech, open and closed. Open was like shouting so everyone could hear you. Closed was like whispering. I was using closed.
<Jake’s losing it,>I told him bluntly. I could be subtle when I wanted to, but this wasn’t the time.
<He doesn’t think he can make any more important decisions. He’s afraid to get someone else killed. He’s afraid he’ll freeze up at crunch time.>
<And what? That doesn’t sound like a problem to you?> I demanded.
<I just thought that was the way it always was. It can’t be easy to put your friends in harm’s way. Didn’t he have a problem with it from the start?>
<If he did, he never told me. But that doesn’t matter. He used to be able to do it without freezing. Now he doesn’t think he can. And I’m not sure either. He’s lost his confidence.>
<So we’ll have to give it back.>
<You’re the smart one, > he said.
<And the good looking one. And the funny one,> I reminded him.
<And don’t forget humble.>
<Always humble.> then I realized I got distracted. <There’s something else.>
<Jake’s planning to hand everything over to you.> He stopped flapping for a moment. He spread his wings and let the hot air carry him up. I followed.
He asked, <Why me?>
<Because Esplin will fear you. Because you’re not going to give up. Because…>
<Because I wouldn’t have a problem getting any one of you killed if it stopped the Yeerks?> he prompted. It was weird the way he said it. It was so calm, so casual. Like a simple fact I should have already known.
<Or maybe it’s because I’ll listen to the rest of you,> he said. <Do you remember what happened when he put Rachel in charge?>
I heard his voice crack when he said her name. I didn’t mention it. <Yeah. She didn’t take my advice and things got really out of hand.>
<She didn’t take anyone’s advice,> he answered. <And you wouldn’t have either. Both of you are so sure you know best. Am I wrong?>
I was about to tell him he was wrong, but then I thought about it. I had automatically assumed that I would be the best person to take over if Jake quit. But was it true? Sure, I had some good leadership qualities, but I had some bad ones, too.
I was a bad listener. I was inconsiderate of others. I was kind of arrogant. I was really sure of myself. Those were all liabilities in a leader, I realized. Maybe Jake had a point. Still, I couldn’t help but asking, <So why not Cassie?>
Tobias turned to look at me with his hawk’s eyes. <You know why not.>
Yeah, I knew. Cassie just didn’t have what it took. She would break. None of us liked to think about that happening to any of us but it could happen, especially to Cassie. She was the most naturally kind, considerate, and gentle person I ever met. Exactly the kind of person Esplin would walk all over. She was strong in a lot of ways, stronger than anyone I knew, but she wasn’t a general.
<So you’re all that’s left?> I asked.
<Well, I think he would have preferred Ax, but he’s not an option. So yeah, I’m the only other choice.>
I didn’t have anything to say to that. So I changed the subject. <So,> I said casually, <what’s the deal with you and Jeanne?>
<What do you mean?>
<I mean, the two of you have been spending a lot of time together. Do you have something…going on?>
<Nothing like that. I need to get to know her. I need to know what she’s capable of. It’s hard to know who to rely on in a combat situation and I need to know if I can count on her.>
<You’re not spending as much time with Santorelli,> I pointed out.
<I already know Santorelli. He’s a solid guy, brave in a fight, and smart, too.>
<I’m not sure about her. She doesn’t really get the point of what we’re doing.>
<She didn’t get why we had to be so secretive at Tri-I earlier. She doesn’t get why no one can know she and Santorelli are back on Earth. And she doesn’t understand what any of this is going to be like.>
<No,> he confirmed. <She doesn’t realize just how bad a fight is. She thinks this sounds like fun. She wants to go out and fight every Kelbrid she can find.>
<Sound like anyone we used to know?> I asked lightly. Then I remembered who I was talking to. <Sorry,> I muttered.
<No, you’re right. I think that might have been part of why Jake picked her to come with us. That’s why I’m trying not to get too close.>
<Yeah? Doesn’t look like you’re trying very hard,> I commented. I knew I shouldn’t have said it but I did anyway.
<Do you think this is easy for me?> he demanded. His voice was quiet in a scary way. <The last time I got involved with you people everything I ever cared about or came to care about was taken away from me. I’ve got nothing left.>
<So what, you want to take everything back?> I demanded. <Nothing you do can bring her back, Tobias. No one can raise the dead.>
<Are you so sure?> he asked in a creepily quiet voice. <How do you know?>
<Because it just isn’t possible.>
<And our lives so far have been totally plausible,> he answered. <That hope is all I have, Marco. Don’t you dare try to take that away from me.>
He peeled away from me. I knew better than to follow. We’d meet up with him later and he’d be alright. He just needed time to cool down. He was a pretty cool-headed guy. And if he didn’t show up later, if I pushed him away, so what? Then I’d get to show Jake that I could take over.
We went that night. Jake and Jeanne had left for Erek’s house an hour ago. The rest of us were in an alley three blocks away from Tri-I. We would have preferred a closer spot but Tobias assured us that everything within two blocks of Tri-I was heavily monitored.
“So just how are four flies supposed to find their way to Tri-I?” I demanded. “It’s hard to make anything out with fly eyes. How can we make it three blocks?”
“I have a plan,” Tobias answered. “Cassie’s got an owl morph. She can guide us there and keep an eye out outside just in case.”
“And how are we supposed to find our way around inside?” I asked.
“I scoped the place out some more earlier today,” he answered. “The lower windows are just regular glass. I located a bathroom we can use for a demorph if we need one.”
I nodded. “Sounds good so far. What do we do once we’re inside?”
“We make our way to the top floor, west side of the building,” Tobias told me. “We start up there and work our way down. We look for something like a computer mainframe, some place where we could find some information.”
Well, at least he had a plan. “Then lets go,” I said. It looked like it was going to start raining and, trust me, you don’t want to be a fly in a downpour.
It didn’t take us long to get into our morphs. Mine felt almost instantaneous. First I shrank. Shrinking feels like falling. Only, instead of you getting closer to the ground, the ground is getting closer to you, like it’s reaching up to hit you. I’ve gotten used to it.
Next came the antennae. They shot out of my head and wiggled around like hyperactive worms. I could sense every vibration of the air with them.
Then there were the wings. They came out of my back, two pairs of them. I buzzed them happily. I couldn’t fly yet, but the wings were still way cool. Then came the not so cool parts.
Little dagger-like hairs sprouted from all over my body. Black chitinous plates covered my body. My eyes bulged out like balloons about to burst. My vision fragmented into thousands of little pictures with the color weirdly off.
I couldn’t see my mouth and I didn’t want to. It turned into a long, curling proboscis. That was the worst part of the fly. A fly would land on something, spit on some food, and then suck it up through the proboscis. Disgusting even to me. I wanted to swat myself.
Finally, the fly brain kicked in. I felt the urge to buzz around and around, eating the garbage from the dumpster at the back of the alley. But I fought that urge down. I was used to the fly. I could handle it.
All of this took about thirty seconds. Tobias and I were flies while Santorelli was still about the size of a toddler. When he finally was a fly, he had a surprisingly easy time controlling it.
<We used flies before,> Tobias told me. <He knew what he was getting in to.>
I guess Cassie was an owl because she started to give us directions. <Okay, guys,> she said. <Fly ahead about ten yards or so and take a right. That’ll lead you around the side of the building. Just go straight until I tell you to stop.>
We did as we were told, more or less. What you have to understand is that flying as a fly is fun. You can do anything you can imagine. Fly backwards, upside down, or even land on a slick surface; upside down. So we played around a little bit.
<Turn left,> Cassie told us. We did. A moment later, she said, <You’re at the entrance. There’s a guy near you, looks like he’s about to go in. Hitch a ride on him and you’ll be in.>
I landed on a green-grey blob beneath me. <Am I on?> I asked.
<You’re on,> she confirmed. <Tobias and Santorelli are, too.>
<Good. Now we’re one step closer to walking into a heavily guarded building that, with our luck, is probably full of Yeerks and Gleet BioFilters and Hunter-Killer robots and Kelbrid and probably Esplin and Ax, too,> I said brightly. What can I say? I’m a positive person.
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