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Imagine a picture of Tobias (a human) turning into a Howler.60: The Offensive AUTHOR’S NOTE
According to my calculations, it’s time for another Tobias book, since Ax isn’t available at the moment. Maybe for a Megamorphs…
I’ll warn you that there is some implied sex in this one, and Marco makes a few innuendos. I don’t think it’s anything you can’t handle. If it is, then what are you doing on the Internet in the first place?
Also, remember that Tobias is not Marco. He isn’t joking when he talks about Rachel’s cooking (that’ll make sense soon, believe me).
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 fan fiction.
My name is Tobias. And I hate the universe.
The universe, you see, is a jerk. It has a way of twisting your world around just when it’s where you like it. Or at least, when it’s where you can live with it. I don’t know if the universe does this for everyone, but it certainly does it to me.
For example: I used to be a normal human boy. My life wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it was bearable. I was passed around between a much-married aunt and an alcoholic uncle, neither of whom cared for me. I was beat up a lot at school. I didn’t really have any friends. I dealt with that.
Then, as I was walking home through an abandoned construction site…well, you know what happened there. An Andalite gave me and some ‘friends’ the power to morph. He told us to fight the Yeerk invasion. So we did, and my world was spun on its head.
Things got worse after that. I liked to morph; it made my life better. But, of course, the universe couldn’t accept that. So I was trapped in the morph of a red-tailed hawk. Maybe it was my fault; maybe I wanted to be trapped. Regardless, the universe arranged the circumstances so that it would happen.
I lived off meals of still-squealing prey. Mice, rabbits, snakes; even the occasional small bird. At first, it was hell. Then, I got used to it; maybe even liked it. Enter the universe.
I was given back the power to morph. I could even morph into my old human self, which was have been great; except for the constant temptation to leave the war and be human again.
I thought I had figured things out. After the war, I’d become a human. I’d live a human life. With Rachel, of course; there’s no one else I’d want to be with. But then Rachel died, and I had no reason to be human anymore.
I lived as a hawk again. Not happy, maybe not even content, but still alive. I didn’t care about the world anymore; that was a relief. Then, Ax got captured by Yeerks and I went off with Jake, Marco, Santorelli, Jeanne, and Menderash to rescue him.
Long story short, we ended up in a whole new war. The Yeerks are back here on Earth, led by Esplin 9466, formerly known as Visser Three/One. The slug who killed my father now controls Ax, my shorm.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the universe decided to break the laws of time and space to mess with me. My real father, Prince Elfangor, had to abandon me on Earth to fight the Yeerks. I had a stepfather, one who I didn’t remember until just a few weeks ago.
That stepfather was Santorelli. I don’t know how or why, but somehow, he was the one who replaced Elfangor in my life. For a few years, years I can only now remember, I had a happy family. But then Santorelli died, and my mother, Loren, got amnesia and couldn’t take care of me.
I had been in a good place with my past until I remembered Santorelli. I wasn’t happy with it, but I could deal. I couldn’t miss what I never had. Now, I remembered my family, I remembered Santorelli and my mother and I missed them like I could never miss Elfangor.
To top it all off, I was made a human again, thanks to Crayak and the Drode. They even returned Rachel to life. I could be happy as a human. Except…except for the feeling deep inside of me.
I stood on one wing of my ship, the Reliquary. It was a beautiful ship. As black as the Blade ship, with small streaks of white to give it camouflage against the darkness of space. Two sharp wings curved into an egg-shaped cockpit/living quarters. I lived here with Rachel and my half-brother, a young Andalite named Alloran.
But as I stood on the wing, I looked at the sky and felt an almost irresistible urge to fly. I could have done it. I could have morphed to my familiar red-tailed hawk body. But I was afraid that if I did, I would never demorph.
And, there was the hunger. I saw the mice, the rats, the shrews, the voles, the snakes, the rabbits, and I wanted to eat them. Not hunt then, kill them, cook them, and serve them. I wanted to dive down and squeeze the life out of them with my talons. I wanted to feel their warm blood in my mouth as I ripped into their raw bodies with my beak.
The hawk’s hunger didn’t leave me when I became human. None of its instincts left me. I still felt blind and deaf. For so long, I was a human trapped inside the body of a hawk. I thought I was the strangest creature in all the galaxy. Now, I realize that I became something stranger than a human trapped in a hawk. Now, I was a hawk trapped inside a human.
Technically, I had spent most of my life as a human. I grew up human and was raised as a human. But for the war, the period of my life that really defined who and what I was, I was a hawk. I always would be.
The smell of pancakes brought me back to reality. Rachel was making breakfast. I flinched. Rachel was good at a lot of things. Cooking wasn’t one of them. The mice sounded extra good this morning.
I made a decision. I morphed to hawk. I needed breakfast, not the poison Rachel called cooking. I didn’t have the heart to tell her only she had the stomach for her cooking. I still had the hawk mentality that, if I didn’t eat, I’d soon die. I couldn’t skip breakfast.
I took off. The heat of the ship created a great updraft for me. We hid the Reliquary in the woods outside of a small town. The town was the newest Yeerk target. For now, the Reliquary was our base of operations. That would change once the others got settled in.
Down below me, I could see Alloran grazing in the shadow of the Reliquary. He was being careful not to be seen by anyone, but a hawk doesn’t miss much. <Morning, Alloran,> I called.
He looked up with one stalk eye. <Good morning, my Prince.> Technically, I was his prince. I didn’t like him calling me that. I was his brother, after all. But it was too early in the morning to argue that with him.
<Alloran, if Rachel comes looking for me, say I went to find Marco. He and I need to talk some strategy. I’ll probably be at the motel. She can find me when she wants me.>
That little bit of business taken care of, I angled my wings. It was time to get some breakfast.
I spied my breakfast in a little clearing by the edge of the woods. No, not a rodent or snake. A small motel with a continental breakfast. The motel where Marco, Cassie, and Jeanne has been living for the past few days.
Marco’s window was open. Bad mistake on his part. I flew right in. He was still asleep in his bed, despite the fact that it was almost nine in the morning. I ignored him and demorphed.
I needed some cloths, first. If I showed up in spandex, I’d look slightly obvious and we were going out of our way to be inconspicuous. So I took some of Marco’s cloths. They didn’t exactly fit me, since I was considerably taller than him, but they fit well enough. I wasn’t used to good cloths anyway.
Shoes were a problem, though. We never found a way to morph shoes and Marco’s wouldn’t fit me. I went barefoot and hoped no one noticed. I let myself out of the room and down the stairs.
I got a few looks as I secured my food but no one said anything. There were people wearing less, so my shoeless escapade was mostly ignored. One of the employees looked at me like she should say something but then decided it just wasn’t worth the effort.
I sat at a table alone, in the corner. I still had the hawk habit of guarding my food. In my old life, someone could swoop down and eat your meal. Or worse, they could swoop down and eat you.
I noticed the approaching figure before most would have. She wasn’t imposing. Short. Black. Just a tad on the stout side. Cassie, my fellow Animorph. But she looked a lot different than she had a few days ago.
Her hair was long and straight. Her eyes were green. I don’t know if they usually were or if that was part of her new look, but I think it was the latter. Instead of her usual animal-stained jeans or overalls she wore much nicer, cleaner jeans and a fashionable top instead of her usual flannel shirt. She still wore boots, but they weren’t the rubber ones she was used to. These were designer boots; not deigned for sensible work, though.
The makeover was courtesy of Rachel, of course. It was a disguise, so that no one who saw Cassie would immediately recognize her. At most, someone might say that she resembled Cassie the Animorph; no one would suspect the truth.
“Morning,” I said between bites.
She sat down across from me and ate from her own plate. “Good morning. And what brings you here so early?”
I could have lied to her, but there’s never any point in lying to Cassie. She always knows anyway. “Have you ever eaten her cooking?”
She smiled. “Once. You poor thing.” It was half sincere, half sarcastic. That was as sarcastic as Cassie ever got. “So, you left your brother for dead?”
“He doesn’t have to eat what she makes,” I reminded her. We tried not to use names that would be recognized. I didn’t call her Cassie unless I could help it. Likewise, she didn’t say Tobias, Alloran, or Rachel. I doubted that anyone would recognize us based on those names alone, but Marco had insisted and his paranoia had come in handy in the past. “Jeanne still asleep?”
Cassie nodded. “Marco too?” Sometimes, saying our names was unavoidable.
“What are we going to do about the two of them?” she mused idly.
“I wasn’t aware it was our responsibility to do anything.”
“Well, someone has to,” Cassie insisted. “Rachel used to be the one responsible for it, but she’d rather rip his arms off. And they’re both too…”
“Stupid?” I suggested.
“Too stupid to get together on their own. He’s as clueless as most guys and she’s too scared he doesn’t really like her, no matter how many times I insist he does.” She let out a long sigh. “It’s agonizing to watch.”
“So do what I do. Don’t watch,” I suggested.
She shook her head. “Someone has to do something. Marco deserves someone after all he’s been through. I mean, we each had someone and we still barely made it out whole.”
“Some of us never made it out.” As an afterthought, I added, “And some of us were never whole to begin with.”
“I know,” Cassie said softly. “What I mean is, he deserves someone’s love as much as we did. Everybody deserves someone.”
“Maybe, but not everyone needs someone,” I answered.
“You don’t really believe that.”
“Don’t I? I was fine before I met Rachel. If I had never met her, I would have stayed fine.”
“You can’t possibly be saying that—”
“No, I’m not saying I would have been better off if we never met. But I didn’t need her until had her. I couldn’t miss what I never had.”
“No? Do you miss Christmas mornings with your family? Do you miss your parents?” Cassie shook her head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s fine. And to be honest, I don’t really miss those things. I’ve never had Christmas morning. If I saw one, I’d miss not having it. But I don’t even watch Christmas specials on TV. As for my parents…no, I don’t miss them, either. I wish I did; I’d feel better if I missed them. I’d feel more…human. But they were never a part of my life.”
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. Marco. I had been too busy with the conversation to notice him. That kind of thing leaves a hawk dead.
Of all of us, Marco had undergone the greatest change. He was celebrity and would be recognized immediately. So we had to change everything. We gave him a faux-hawk. Contact lenses made his eyes the same shade as his hair: an icy blue. To complete the change, we had replaced his usual designer wardrobe with stuff we bought at the local Goodwill. Plaid shorts and a Reel Big Fish tee, combined with his hemp sandals and plaid fedora, made him almost unrecognizable.
Is it sad that I was a little jealous of his new wardrobe? Of course, I was wearing parts of it. My shirt proudly displayed a picture of the refurbished, Streetlight Manifesto version of the old Catch 22 album Keasbey Nights.
He handed me a cell phone. “Hey, nice cloths. A little small on you, though. I hate to interrupt your little discussion, but you’re mom’s on the phone.”
Rachel’s voice came from the other end. “Oh, so you are there. Alloran told me you were off to talk to Marco, but he didn’t know you were there at all. I was afraid you’d run off to do something dangerous without me.”
“When I got here, he was asleep. I grabbed breakfast here,” I told her.
“That’s the second time in the three days we’ve been living together. I don’t think we’ve had one meal since the first day.”
“Uh…yeah…what a coincidence.”
“Well, invite the others over. I’ll have food ready for them. I’ll tell you,” she went on, “I like cooking. It’s kind of like fighting a battle.”
“You have no idea.”
“What was that?”
“Um, nothing. You were saying?”
“Well, first you do your research. I like to think of it as reconnaissance. You look up recipes and stuff.”
“You look up recipes?”
“Of course. Where did you think your meals were coming from?” she asked.
“Uh…from the heart?” I suggested. I was a lame liar. Especially on the phone.
She decided to let it go. “Then, you pick your team. You know, the ingredients and stuff. Then, you throw them into battle and hope your plan works out.”
Marco raised an eyebrow. I guess he could hear her. “Hope your plan works out? No wonder you eat here.” I couldn’t help but smile.
“You know, it might be easier if you and my brother just came here. You know, since the rest of us are already here.” I was desperately trying to spare the others the horror that were Rachel’s meals.
The thing about Rachel is, she can’t be dissuaded. “But it’s private here. We don’t have to be careful what we say.”
“Hold on a minute, I think someone’s talking to me.” I covered the mouthpiece of the phone. “Guys, we have a…situation. She wants us all go come over for brunch. Trust me, that is not a good idea.”
“Why not?” Marco asked. “The Reliquary makes great food on its own.”
“Yeah, it does. Rachel does not.”
“How bad could it be?” he asked.
I lowered my voice so I couldn’t be overheard. “Do you remember that time when Jake ate a spider? Better yet, do you remember that time you swallowed Ax?”
“I’m jealous of that every time she serves a meal. Honestly, I don’t think even Ax would eat this stuff.”
“He would eat cigarette butts if no one stopped him,” Marco reminded me.
“Believe me, Marco, no one is more aware of his feeding habits than I am.”
Marco, Cassie, and I looked at each other. None of us could think of an excuse. So, reluctantly, I said onto the receiver, “Alright, we’ll be there soon.” I hung up.
I rubbed my temples. “Okay, we need to talk strategy.”
“Well,” Marco began.
“Not here,” I interrupted. “If we’re busy planning, she might not realize we aren’t eating.”
Marco nodded. “Maybe I misjudged you, bid-boy. You’re starting to think like me.” Then, he got a mischievous smile. “That explains everything. I knew she was secretly in love with me. I just didn’t realize that, deep down inside, you were just like me.”
I shook my head. Then, I turned to Cassie. “You’re right, we’ll have to do something. But I can’t decide whether to help them or let nature take its course. Nature being Rachel.”
“Help who with what?” Marco inquired.
“Nothing,” Cassie and I said at the same time. Then, she got kind of a far-off look in her eyes. “I think I’ll go call Ronnie. I’m sure he misses me.”
“Not for too long,” I reminded her. “My brother rigged our phones to be hard to tap or trace, but I don’t know how it will hold up against extreme probing. And we don’t know how safe Ronnie’s phone is.”
Cassie nodded. “I’ll be careful. No more than a few minutes, I promise.” She left to make her call in private.
Marco took her seat. “Hey, I was meaning to ask you about something.”
“I need some advice on something. Something I think only you can help me with.”
That was surprising. Unless we’re talking about flying, I wasn’t an expert on anything. “What is it? You have some kind of problem?”
“Yeah, some kind of problem.”
“Is it military or emotional?” Those were the only two types of problems I could think of. A military problem would be like the time Rachel was allergic to a crocodile morph or when Marco was so distracted by his father’s engagement to Marco’s math teacher that he couldn’t morph.
“It’s not exactly military.”
“Then Cassie would probably be the best person to help you,” I told him. I wasn’t trying to brush him off, but it made me a little uncomfortable. And Cassie would be ten times better than I would.
“It’s not something Cassie would know anything about.”
I noticed Jeanne coming up from behind Marco. Cassie was with her. “What are the two of you talking about?” Jeanne asked us.
Marco twitched. Suddenly, I knew what he wanted my help with. “Guy stuff,” he answered. “Did you see the game last night?”
How can I describe my flight back to the Reliquary? It reminded me of flying on my way to a mission to the Yeerk Pool. That isn’t an exaggeration, it’s just the best way to describe how abominable Rachel’s cooking was. You heard what she said. Throw them into battle and hope your plan works out.
As bad as her cooking was, though, it had been something of a bonding experience between Alloran and me. After my first meal, Rachel insisted he morph to human and join us from then on. I instructed him how to act, and Rachel bought it. We grew a bit closer through deception.
One by one, Cassie, Marco, Jeanne, and I flew in through the open roof-hatch of the Reliquary. Rachel had set up some card tables. Six places were set, with steaming plates of….let’s assume it was food….already waiting.
Rachel and Alloran were waiting, too. He was in his human morph. It was a combination of Marco, Jeanne, Cassie, Rachel, and me; heavy on the me. Alloran looked a lot like I did when I was his age. Of course, thanks to the others’ DNA, he was much better looking.
“Good, you’re all here,” Rachel said brightly. “I wouldn’t let Alloran eat until everyone got here.”
“Poor kid,” I muttered.
Marco just stared in shock. “Tobias, I didn’t know Rachel came in housewife.” It was a pretty good description. Rachel, uncharacteristically, was wearing sweats and an apron. Her hair was shorter than it used to be. Now, it came down to just below her ears. That was about enough to keep strangers from recognizing her. After all, she was supposed to be dead; no one would be looking for her.
Despite all of her physical changes, Rachel was still herself inside. So, predictably, she kicked him in the shin. To which he replied, “Tobias, your wife kicked me!” She kicked him in the other one.
“Marco, make up your mind. Is she my mom or is she my wife?” I baited.
He looked thoughtful. “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that no matter what answer I give, I’ll be kicked in another sensitive area.”
“Guess which one,” Rachel replied.
Then it was time to eat. We all sat down. Cassie and Marco, having been warned, looked to me. Alloran did so, too. Jeanne noticed what the others were doing, so she watched me as well. Rachel stared at me, too. “Well, go on. Dig in.” It was almost a dare.
I did as I was told. I tried to pretend that the thing on my fork was a mouse. It wasn’t hard, since it had the same general shape as a mouse and I was pretty sure it was still alive. I swallowed without chewing.
Just like that, the tension was relieved. The others, seeing that I was still alive, decided it was okay to eat. A mistake on their part. Cassie was, of course, too sensitive to say anything. Jeanne too polite. Marco too afraid. Alloran was too smart.
After a few bites of my…whatever…it was time for business. “Okay, Animorphs, we need to start planning our next move. Any suggestions?”
“Attack,” Rachel said almost instantly. “We find the Yeerk pool and raid it. Show them that nowhere is safe. Not anymore.”
“And now that Xena has told us to attack,” Marco began, “we can talk about strategy.”
“Attacking is a strategy,” Rachel argued. “Think about it. We show up and hit them where they think they’re safest. They don’t even know we’re coming. We’ll scare them to death. Force and surprise, Marco. Our two greatest weapons.”
“If we’re going to use surprise, let’s not waste it on the Yeerk pool. Isn’t there a bigger target?” Jeanne asked.
“Like what?” Rachel responded.
“I may be wrong, but I read that the Yeerks must swim in the pool to absorb mostly Kandrona rays. Is this not so?”
Marco nodded. Then, he got excited. “Oh, I see it now. We use this surprise of ours to hit the Kandrona. They won’t be expecting it, and it’ll be a really hard blow. It’s like getting punched in church.”
“But how do we find it?” Cassie asked. “Last time, we needed help from the Ellimist.”
They looked at me. Like I had the power to summon the Ellimist or Crayak from wherever they lived. “Can’t help you guys there. Any ideas, Alloran?”
He thought about it. <The Yeerks would certainly keep it someplace that is completely under their control. But they would not use the Yeerk Pool because if we found the Pool, which Esplin knows we certainly will eventually, we could destroy the Kandrona along with it.>
Something occurred to me. “Alloran, can the Kandrona rays move through stone?”
<I do not think so, my Prince. Kandrona waves, which are emitted by the Yeerk’s sun on their homeworld, behave like light, as far as we know.>
“That means Kandrona rays can move through glass. That’s probably what the Yeerks are doing. They have it in a building. It shines its waves out of the windows to the Yeerk pool,” I summarized.
Marco caught on. “Which means that the rays, since they can’t move through stone, have to have some way of getting into the pool. Probably through more glass.”
I nodded. “Right. If we can find the place where the rays get into the pool, we can take a look at the building surrounding it. It’ll be big; probably one of the biggest buildings in town. We check out the buildings until we find one that’s run by the Yeerks. That’ll be where the Kandrona is. We show up, take them by surprise, and smash the thing.”
“Now I’m liking this plan,” Rachel said. “But how do we know where the rays are getting into the pool? Wouldn’t we have to find the pool first?’
“Yep. So I guess it’s time for everybody’s favorite past time. Controller hunting. We go out until we see someone we recognize as a Controller. We tail them until they lead us to the pool. Then, we check out the location, find where the Kandrona rays are getting in, use that to find the source, then we do some smashing.”
Marco turned to Rachel. “Rachel, your husband—”
“Do you just hate your shins?”
“I’ll shut up now.”
I realize that, thanks to Marco, there may be some confusion. Let me state, for the record, that I did not marry Rachel. Marco just likes to refer to us as married couple ever since we moved in together. I find it’s easier to let the boy have his fun.
And I noticed something else. Rachel may kick him in the shins when he calls her my wife, but I can see that her heart isn’t in it. Whether she’ll admit it or not, she likes it. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t mind it either. Of course, neither of us would let Marco know that. Speaking of Marco…
He and I set out to look for the Yeerk pool. Since Jeanne and Alloran needed some more morphs, Cassie and Rachel set out to help them find some.
As birds, Marco and I were surveying the area. I was a red-tailed hawk again, riding the thermals. He was an osprey, several hundred feet below me and to the left. We couldn’t look like we were flying together or it would be pretty obvious that we were morphs.
I decided that now was a good time to finish our conversation from earlier. <So, Marco, you had a question for me earlier…>
<Oh, yeah, that. Um…> He was uncharacteristically at a loss for words. <There isn’t any way to say this without it sounding like an insult…>
<That’s never stopped you before,> I pointed out.
<Alright. How in the world did you get Rachel? I mean, she’s totally out of your league. And you were a hawk, for crying out loud. How did you pull that off?>
<You want some tips?> I answered. <Got your eye on someone, Marco?> I was baiting him. I knew as well as Cassie did who Marco had in mind. But I wanted to hear it from him.
<Yeah, maybe. Let’s just say I’m curious.>
<Well, I’m not about to give away my secret lady-attracting techniques for mere curiosity.>
<Come on, man, just one tip. That’s all I’m asking.>
<Fine. Impending death.>
<That’s how I got her,> I told him. <I mean, it was always pretty obvious that I liked her. I didn’t know how much until the first time I really thought she was going to die. It was when the four of you were trapped inside the Truck ship and I was stuck outside, playing tag with Bug fighters. She didn’t know that she felt the same way about me until she thought David had killed me.>
<So that’s when it happened. We all sort of wondered when Xena went off the deep end.>
<Well, that’s what did it.>
<Let’s say, hypothetically, that I don’t want to almost die. Or wait that long. Any other ideas?>
<Like I said, curiosity only gets you one tip. Tit for tat, Marco,> I answered.
<So if I help you get some tat, you’ll help me get some—>
<Yeah, just like that. So, Marco, who is she?>
<I can’t tell you.>
<If I told you why not, you’d know who it was.>
I decided it was time to make him think I was smarter than I really was. <Marco, the only reason you would refuse to tell me in exchange for advice that’s guaranteed to work is because you’re afraid. And after all we’ve been through, very few things scare you. And I doubt Esplin and Crayak are interested in your love life. Nor are ants and sharks. And the only other thing you’re afraid of is Rachel.>
He was silent, so I continued. <And the only reason she’d take an interest in your love life, aside from taking the opportunity to get some payback for all the stuff you’ve said over the years, is because you had your eye on someone she wouldn’t want you to. Like her new sister.>
<You’re good. Scary good.>
<I know.> I didn’t tell him the truth. That it was very obvious that he liked Jeanne and wanted my help.
<So, any other tips?>
I thought about it. <Well, you do know that, deep down inside, girls like Rachel and Jeanne are as scared as we are, right?>
<Yeah, I know that. You suggesting I put on a tough guy act?> He asked.
<Do I look like I put on a tough guy act?>
<Not really. But still…you don’t have to act it. You’re one of the toughest people I can think of.>
<That’s what you think. I was never tough, Marco, never strong. But I’ve always had less to lose. I don’t have a family to worry about or a home to protect. At least, I didn’t before. It wasn’t that I was ever strong, it was just that there was nothing more they could do to hurt me.>
<How does that help me?>
<If she’s ever so hurt that she drops the mask, you have to put yours up. That’s the key. You’ll both know you’re lying, but that isn’t the point. Lies can be comforting. When she shows you just how much pain she’s in, you have to pretend like you don’t hurt.>
<How can I live like that?>
<I don’t know. But for me, it’s worth it. All the pain, the loss, the loneliness, is worth it if she’s with me in the end.>
Marco and I continued to go on our aerial tour of our new home. It wasn’t all that different from our old one. There was nothing like the Gardens, the awesome zoo/amusement park back home, but there was a zoo not too far away. An amusement park, too, though it was the opposite direction from the zoo.
Of course, zoos were well guarded now. Some former Yeerk hosts had the morphing power. So did all of the visiting Andalites. Animals were as good as weapons, so the dangerous ones were hard to reach. And morphing anything was illegal.
Not far outside of town were the mountains. Kids liked to go there and hang out in the caves. It was the sort of thing I might have done when I was younger if the universe was just a little bit nicer. There was also a new observatory perched on top; perfect for stargazing. Or communication, now that we humans had discovered Z-space.
There was a beach, too. There was no ocean, but there was a very large lake that had a channel leading to the sea. The lake was polluted pretty badly a decade or two ago, but it was pretty clean now.
And, of course, there was the forest. It wasn’t as big as the one I used to live in, but it was large enough to hide the Reliquary and Alloran.
That was about it for the landscape. The town was kind of small, but not too much. It had a mall, which pretty much housed everything else. There was a hospital, fire station, the usual. And, for the visiting Andalites, there was a Cinnabon store; Ax would have been in heaven.
<So, fearless leader,> Marco began. <Any plans to find the Yeerk pool? What are the odds that we’ll just stumble across it? They try to keep that thing well hidden.>
<I know. But I’ve logged more hours searching for entrances than anyone. First, we look around and see what the most heavily trafficked areas are, then we check out the smallest one. The mall, for example, will definitely have an entrance, but it could be anywhere. A school, on the other hand, would have one and it would be easier to locate.>
<Searching an entire school would take a while,> Marco pointed out.
<I know. But I think I know where an entrance is.>
<Because I know Ax. And I know Esplin. The Yeerk will take every opportunity to torment him. And what greater torture could Ax endure than to walk past a Cinnabon without eating anything?>
<You think Esplin would put an entrance in a Cinnabon just to torment Ax?>
<Isn’t that what I said?>
<Just making sure I heard you right. So, what’s the plan? How do we find the entrance once we’re inside?>
<We watch. Remember, we came here because this is where the voluntaries were going. We watch the Cinnabon. When we see people we recognize, we go in and take a look around. They’ll lead us to the entrance before too long.>
<I’m sure. I’ve done this a lot, you might recall,> I pointed out. <I know how to find a Yeerk pool.>
<Once we find an entrance, it’ll still have the works. Gleet BioFilters, Hunter-Killer robots, Kelbrid, Esplin himself…it’s not like we can just walk in.>
<Where would Esplin get those things? There isn’t exactly a big market for Gleet BioFilters. They’re strictly for the government. I’m sure Esplin will get them eventually, but to have them over the entrances so soon?>
<We can’t underestimate their resourcefulness. We should try to find out where their cash comes from. If we could cripple that, it would cripple their entire war effort.>
<Not a bad idea,> I granted. <I’ll put Alloran up to it when we have a minute. Right now, we need to be watching that Cinnabon.>
<We can’t plan and watch at the same time?>
<Marco, you can barely fly and talk at the same time.> Then, I added, <Actually, you can barely fly even when you’re quiet.>
He laughed. Then said, <Rachel’s starting to rub off on you. Kind of scary.>
We were silent for a few minutes. Then, he added, <She’s been a bit of a calming influence on you, too.>
<I didn’t know I needed one.>
<Really? Dude, you were nuts. Completely insane. I mean, like, clinically insane. You wanted to jump into battle with anything that moved, you were running off on crazy stunts like hiding out on the Hork-Bajir world alone, and you tried to kill yourself. Twice.>
He had a point. There wasn’t much I could say to that, so I said nothing. But I guess he thought he offended me. <Dude, I didn’t mean it like that. I was just —>
<It’s fine,> I interrupted. <Maybe I have been a little nuts. I guess it’s just that I didn’t really have anything left to live for. Now…now I’m even crazier.>
<Nah, this is probably the least crazy you’ve ever been.>
<Really? Dude, I thought it was a good idea to move in with Rachel.>
<Oh. Good point. Yep, you’re nuts. All is right with the world again. Now, let’s go check out this Cinnabon.>
We floated on the thermals for an hour, watching the Cinnabon. I was getting a serious craving. Try watching one of those places and see if you don’t want to swoop down and go wild on everything in sight. If you don’t, you’re a Yeerk.
I tried to distract myself form the deliciousness below me. I thought of anything but food. Marco’s new cloths…the Yeerk pool…Rachel’s cooking… It helped a little.
<Hey, I think I recognize that guy. Didn’t he work in a sporting goods store back home?> Marco asked.
I took a closer look. <Yeah, I think so. Wouldn’t call it conclusive, though.>
<Me neither. Why couldn’t Chapman show up? That would be enough for me.>
We waited another few minutes. Then, I saw something in the distance. A stretch limo with tinted windows. I had seen that kind of limo before. I had a bit of a premonition. I knew who was riding in the back. I could almost feel his evil emanating from the long, black car.
<Marco, do you see that limo?>
<Your eyes are better for seeing through glass than mine. Can you see inside of it?>
<Hold on, I’ll go check.> He took wing. Marco was an Osprey. They’re fishing birds. Their eyes are adapted for seeing through water. It wasn’t that much different form seeing through glass.
<Oh man, this is not good.>
<It’s him,> Marco confirmed. <And he’s got a pair of Hork-Bajir with him. Probably some of those morph-capable ones from the Blade ship.>
<Probably. Is David with him>
<Not that I see.> That, at least, was good news. David was bad news. He used to be a regular kid, more or less. His father was, allegedly, a spy, so he moved around a lot. He was used to being the new kid.
When he moved to our old home, he found the blue box that gave us our morphing powers. He tried to sell it over the internet; Esplin showed up pretty fast to get it. Things spiraled out of control from there.
Long story short, David’s family was taken, so we took David. We made him one of us. Then, he turned on us. He tried to kill us and then blackmail us to give him the box. We trapped him in the body of a rat.
That affected us all in deep ways. Marco was the first to see David for what he was. The fact that he didn’t try hard enough to stop us form recruiting him still stays with him. He blames himself for not seeing it all through.
Jake was hurt as well. He learned what his limits truly were. For the first time, he found out just how far he would go to protect us. The answer scared him.
Cassie was the one who came up with the plan that trapped him. I know she still carried guilt over that. Heck, the girl still carries guilt over killing a termite queen. I can’t imagine how bad she must feel about hurting another human being.
Rachel was the one who actually trapped him. She lured him into the cage we made. She sat and watched as the time ticked away and he became a nothlit like me. She found out just how dark she could be and it terrified her more than anything else we’ve seen.
Ax was the one who actually counted down the time. He was our clock; when he said so, David was trapped as a rat. It wasn’t something Ax would ever talk about; it hurt him a lot to condemn one of the people he was trying so hard to save.
And me…I’m the guiltiest of us all. Of all of us, only I really knew what we were doing. Only I truly knew what it meant to be trapped as an animal. The others didn’t understand; couldn’t understand. They’ve never felt their own minds slipping away, being replaced by that of an animal. They’ve never really gone insane.
I have. I knew exactly what we were doing to David. And I went ahead and did it anyway. He had tried to kill me but that wasn’t it. I didn’t do it out of anger or revenge. If I had, I’d be able to forgive myself. I did it coldly, calculated; ruthlessly. I knew exactly what we were doing to David. And I went ahead and did it anyway.
Now, he was back, working with The One, the supernatural force commanding the Yeerks. The One gave him back his ability to morph. David works with the Yeerks. He was a real problem because, on top of being able to morph, he was really smart and careful.
But David wasn’t there, so we didn’t have to worry about that. Still, Esplin and a pair of morph-capable Hork-Bajir was not an easy task.
<They’ll be heading for the pool,> I decided. <Let’s get inside the Cinnabon. We’ll go fly and follow them.>
<You’re the boss. But let’s not get carried away. The two of us are not going down to the Yeerk pool alone. We’ll find the entrance and come back later with the others.>
<Right> I agreed. <We’ll find the entrance and then book it. In and out. Simple.>
<Aww, now I know something’s going to go wrong.>
We demorphed in the alley next to the Cinnabon. That wasn’t our best idea. As I mentioned, morphing is illegal. We might as well have been waving nuclear weapons around. But we didn’t have time to find a better place to demorph; the limo was only a few blocks away.
I turned to Marco. “Fly time.”
He nodded and we began to morph.
Every morph is different. This time, the first thing to happen was the emergence of two extra legs. They shot out of my chest like to long spears being shoved through my back. They waved around crazily, knocking against the walls of the alley since there was no insect brain to control them.
Next, the thousands of tiny, dagger-like hairs that made up a fly’s sensory organs shot out of my skin, much as the extra legs had. I could feel the air in the stall moving around me, being pushed around by my breath.
After that, my eyes bulged out like two balloons. For a moment, I could see nearly 360 degrees. Then, my eyes fragmented into the compound eyes of a fly. The colors of everything became distorted, and there were about a thousand pictures of everything. Since I had some experience with the fly morph, I could understand what I was seeing.
Then my skin cracked into the armor of a fly’s body. Black plates covered my arms, legs, torso, and head. My face formed into the long, curling straw that flies had as a mouth. A proboscis, it was called.
Wings grew from my back. Large and gossamer. I spent a lot time in hawk morph, so wings felt natural to me. But these were nothing like bird wings. They flapped crazily fast and there were four of them.
Finally, when all of the other physical changes were complete, I started to shrink. It was sort of like falling except that it seemed more like the ground was coming to me rather than me going to it.
At last, I felt my insides changing. My complex human organs melted into the much simpler systems of a fly. And I could feel my brain, the fly’s brain, turning on.
The first thing I felt was hunger. It was always that way with the fly. Especially in an alley. I also felt panic. Vibrations churned through the air. For all I knew, that might have been the limo pulling up.
I fired my wings and took off. There are two types of flight. There is flight-flight, like what birds and planes do, where they cover large distances and go places. Then, there is fly-flight.
Flies can do anything in the air. They can fly straight up or down, left or right, and any direction in between. They can also stop in mid air and land anywhere at all. Rough or smooth, flat or round, a fly can land there.
And, of course, flies aren’t suspicious. They’re everywhere. They can hear and kind of see. All in all, they’re incredible spies. That was what we needed.
<Try not to be seen,> Marco said to me. <Remember, Esplin’s in Ax’s head. He knows exactly how we use flies. If he sees even one fly, he’ll get paranoid.>
<Right you are.> I took off. Marco followed me. One of the windows was open a crack, so we flew into the Cinnabon.
How can I possibly describe what it was like? As a hawk, I had craved a cinnamon bun. As a fly…the mere scent of the place was…orgasmic. I was drooling from my proboscis. I just couldn’t help myself. I landed on some buns in the window and began to eat.
Do you know how a fly eats? First, it uncurls its proboscis. Then, it salivates on its food. Finally, it uses the aforementioned proboscis to suck up the saliva and absorb the food. That’s exactly what I did. And do you want to know the sickest part? It was still
<Oh man, I can’t believe I used to give Ax such a hard time about these things,> Marco moaned. <I totally take back everything I’ve ever said about that boy and food. If I had a fork, I’d eat it, too.>
<Heck, I’d eat my hand,> I agreed. <All six of them.>
We heard a jingling of bells. That probably meant the door was opening. We didn’t care. You just don’t understand the sheer delicious power of a cinnamon bun. Especially after eating one of Rachel’s meals.
There was a buzz of conversation but I barely heard it. Someone was buying a lot of cinnamon buns. So what? I had all the buns I needed right here. This one bun would feed me for the rest of my fly life. It might have been worth being trapped as a fly if I could just live on that bun forever.
Something in the conversation jerked me out of my stupor. It was the clerk saying, “Sir, are you sure you want to take that food into the bathroom with you?”
“Of course. I will never part with my cinnamon buns. Sin. Namon bunz. Bunz.”
<It’s Esplin,> I hissed to Marco. Although no one but him could hear my thought speak, I still felt the need to hiss. Funny how that happens.
<No duh,> he hissed back. <Weird, though. Esplin didn’t used to sound like a mentally retarded third grader.>
<Maybe it’s Ax. It’s probably easier to control him if Esplin acts like he does. And knowing Ax, Esplin will have to try very hard to keep him in check.>
<We can worry about that later. He’s making for the bathroom. Let’s go!>
<Way ahead of you.> And I was. I was the first to leave the precious cinnamon bun. I was practically on the head of one of the men following Esplin.
There were two guards with him. They looked like guards, too. They were the Hork-Bajir controllers. Morphs, of course. Say that out loud.
What I didn’t understand was why Esplin was buying cinnamon buns. I figured he’d walk right past them to torment Ax. Maybe there was something else…
Marco made it through the bathroom door just before it swung shut. <Close one,> he called to me.
I didn’t answer. I was busy watching one of the guards. He went into the middle stall. I followed. He opened the toilet tank and started fiddling around inside. He moved some stuff around. Then…
He flushed. The toilet swung downwards, into the ground. Part of the floor came with it. In the ground was a stairway. Esplin and his cronies descended. Thirty seconds later, the floor replaced itself as through nothing had happened.
<I’m guessing that isn’t the stairway to heaven,> Marco sighed.
<It’s a good thing Rachel isn’t here,> I muttered. <She’d cram that bun down your proboscis. Whole.>