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Imagine a picture of Jake turning into a cockroach.58: The Retirement
I’m back on schedule now. This is book #58, which should be a Jake book (I think). Either way, I couldn’t tell this story from anyone else’s point of view.
I also feel that I should probably apologize in advance for some of the things that happen in this one. K.A.A. probably wouldn’t have done what I’m about to do, but I don’t care. I think it’s necessary for where I want to take the story.
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 fanfiction.
My name is Jake. I’m sure you’ve heard of me. No need to tell you my last name or where I live. Everyone in this galaxy knows my last name. As for where I live, that’s a little more complicated.
The town where I used to live, where I grew up, where the Yeerks first invaded, is one of the most famous places in this galaxy.
The other Animorphs and I are leaving that town. Why? In short, because the Yeerks are back. This time, they’re controlled by a creature called The One. They’ve got some new hosts, the Kelbrid. The Kelbrid are very strong, very fast, very deadly aliens from beyond our section of the galaxy.
Alone, Kelbrid are dangerous but beatable. They’re not very bright. Barely sentient, really. One rung above animals on the evolutionary ladder.
But the thing about Yeerks is that they take over your brain. They control you. So now you have a very strong, very deadly creature with a Yeerk behind the wheel. Bad? Oh yeah. Real bad.
The Animorphs seemed to be losing numbers quickly. Only four of our original six members were with us on our last mission. Marco, my main man, Cassie, Tobias, and me. The others were lost.
Rachel died in our last official Animorph mission. I’m sure you know all about that. If not, you need to go back and take another look at the past because I don’t want to explain everything to you.
The other Animorph we lost was Ax. He was made into a Controller by The One. Our search for him is what led us to uncover the return of the Yeerks to Earth. Now he’s under the power of Esplin 9466, our greatest enemy. The Yeerk formerly known as Visser Three.
I did my best to replace them. An impossible task, so I did the next best thing. I recruited two people with special skills I thought might help us.
One of them was Santorelli. We just lost him. He was a good guy and useful besides. A former soldier and former member of Tri-I, the worldwide network dedicated to making sure something like the Yeerk invasion never happened again. At least they tried.
Santorelli was a Controller during the first war. He served as a bodyguard for Visser Six. He knew his way around any human or Yeerk security system. He was also a top sniper for the army. Losing him was a real hard blow. But it was nothing next to losing Tobias.
Tobias was, in my opinion, the first Animorph. He was the first who saw Elfangor’s ship in the sky. He was the one who stepped up and first spoke to the Andalite prince. And he was the first one of us to morph. And when everyone else wanted to pack it in, he would never let us give up.
We lost the Tobias we knew a long time ago. He first started going when he got trapped in the body of a red-tailed hawk. And what was left of him died with Rachel.
The only reason he came with us this time around was to help save Ax, his closest friend. It cost him what little he had left of his life.
It was my fault. Cassie and Marco tell me it wasn’t, but I know better. I gave the order that sent the two of them to their deaths.
We had been going after the Time Matrix, a weapon of unimaginable power. We just remembered about it and we needed to get to it before Esplin read about it in Ax’s memories. It was only a matter of time.
Tobias and Santorelli got a hold of it and then suddenly disappeared, only to reappear a few moments later. I think they went through some adventures in the past or future but neither of them got the chance to tell me about them.
I had a plan to put the Time Matrix beyond Esplin’s reach forever. The two of them were the only ones who could and would do it.
The two of them took the Time Matrix and stole a spaceship. Then, on my orders, they flew both ship and Time Matrix into the sun. There was no way they could escape without using the Time Matrix, and I knew that neither of them would do that.
I killed them as surely as if I had cut their throats. Marco tells me I had to do it. That I had no choice. It was give the order or put the entire universe at Esplin’s mercy. I know there had to be another way, but I couldn’t think of it.
The worst thing is that now I’m stuck still leading. I want to pass the torch, to make someone else the leader. But I can’t do that. Because Tobias was my choice and I got him killed.
We were in Marco’s backyard. Which was big enough to hold the Olympics. Both summer and winter. At the same time.
It was a perfect day. Warm sun, tall, billowy clouds, and a nice little breeze. Tobias’s favorite kind of weather. Perfect for flight.
There were no bodies for the funerals. The sun is about a billion degrees. It didn’t leave anything for us to bury. So we just looked at pictures.
Santorelli’s picture was from the day he entered the military. He looked good in his uniform, a firm salute at his brow, a rare smile on his face. It was how I wanted to remember him.
There was no picture of Tobias. None of us had any pictures of him. Neither did any of his relatives. There were some pictures of him in old school yearbooks, but they were of the human him. That wasn’t the Tobias we knew.
The guy we knew was a red-tailed hawk. We didn’t have any pictures of him that way. There weren’t even any pictures from after the first war, when he might have been in the spotlight. He left us nothing material to remember him by except for the cloths he kept at Marco’s place.
I stepped forward to speak a few words about Santorelli. I was the one who knew him best; except for Tobias, of course, but he wasn’t an option. “Santorelli was one of us for only a little while,” I said. “None of us knew him much as a person. But we knew him enough to like and respect him.
“He was big on honor, duty, and courage. He wouldn’t play dirty or cheat anyone, not even his enemies. And he always did his duty. He died for it without hesitating. As for courage…I don’t think I have words that can talk about his courage.
“He was a man of few words, so I’m not going to talk much longer. He was one of the best men I’ve ever had the luck to know. He was good in every way. He had morals and he had guts. I don’t know if I believe in heaven or hell anymore, but if heaven’s real, I know where Santorelli is right now.”
Next came the hard part. Tobias. You’ll never understand what we Animorphs shared. To spend three years of your life scared, tired, and alone except for five people…to live through the hell we got through…there isn’t a word for that kind of brotherhood.
“I don’t think any of us ever really knew Tobias. Back when we first met him, we didn’t have a clue what was inside him. We thought he was a dweeb, a coward, and weak. We couldn’t have been more wrong even if we had thought that the Yeerks were the good guys.
“Tobias was the strongest person who ever lived. Every day, he walked through stuff that would have killed any of us. He accepted his life, a life most of us never could have accepted.
“All of us had families to get us through that first part. I don’t even mean the war. I mean life itself. But he was always alone, as far back as he can remember.
“The war always hit him first and hit him the hardest. He was trapped in our first mission, doomed to live forever in a body that wasn’t his. Could any of us have lived through that? I doubt it.
“He never gave up, even when he could have. There were so many times he could have walked away and been done with the war. After the Ellimist gave him back his morphing power, he had to decide every day whether to go on or not. Never once did he decide not to.
“He lost everything in the end. It makes me think that the world isn’t a good place at all. Not when a man like him can fight so hard, for so long, and sacrifice so much, and in the end come out with less than nothing. What the hell kind of universe is it when that can happen to someone?
“He never owed the world anything. He didn’t have the debt to the human race that the rest of us had. Everything he had ever gotten from life was pain and suffering. But still he fought to protect us all.
“Even now, when we needed him, he came. He could have been content without us. But instead he came again to help his friends. That was the one thing we all knew about him. That, whenever someone needed help, he would be there, fighting till the end.
“Of all the galaxy’s heroes, he’s one of the greatest. And the least known. Most humans have no idea who he is, and most Andalites try to forget about him. Only the Hork-Bajir, slow as they are, are wise enough to remember Tobias and all he did. I know what he would say if he was here.”
<This little party’s really touching, but why are we standing around? I’m getting a killer thermal up here!>
“TOBIAS!” we all shouted. I looked up in the sky. Sure enough, a red-tail was circling over the backyard. I knew it was him the instant I saw him.
I morphed to a peregrine falcon in about thirty seconds and flew up after him. <You’re alive!>
<I noticed.> Ah, same old Tobias. He could be as bad as Marco sometimes.
<How? And what about Santorelli?>
<I’m not sure how. The Ellimist or Crayak or someone. One second, Santorelli and I were flying to the sun. The next thing I know, I’m in the house I grew up in on the other side of the country.>
<I’m not ready to talk about that yet. But yeah, he’s dead. Another person I cared about taking a bullet for me. I must be the luckiest guy in the world.>
Yeah, it was definitely Tobias. No one else I know could fight off self-pity like Tobias could. I mean, here he was, talking about losing another person he cared about and saying he was lucky.
<How’d you like the eulogy?> I asked.
<No tears. I approve.>
<Hey,> I said, trying to sound casual, <how did you like leading those missions I’ve been sending you and the others on lately?>
<It was interesting being the one calling the shots. Deciding whether your friends live or die really puts your priorities in perspective.>
An evasive answer. I suddenly suspected he knew where this was going. He may not have been the smartest guy I knew, but he was more than smart enough. And he knew me too well for me to get away with anything.
<How’d you like to do it full time?> I asked.
He was silent as we floated into a thermal. Marco and Cassie were a few hundred yards below us, keeping their distance. Tobias wheeled to face me, his hawk’s eyes inches from mine. With my vision, he might as well have been inside of me.
<You want to give it up?> he asked finally.
<I always wanted to give it up, but I know I couldn’t and I still can’t. I’ll keep on fighting, but I can’t make the decisions anymore.>
<You’ve got to get over the hump, Jake. You’ve got to try again.>
<I did try again, Tobias. After what happened to Rachel…I didn’t think I could keep on leading you. I was so glad it was all over. Then when they came back…I tried. But what I did got Santorelli killed and almost you, too. I can’t give that kind of order again.>
<Do you think it’s any easier being the one who follows those orders, Jake? Do you really think it was harder for you to tell me to fly into the sun than it was to actually be the one to do it? The pressure doesn’t go away when you become a foot soldier.>
<I know that. But I can’t keep on living while I send my friends to their deaths. Do you know what it’s like to have that kind of guilt?>
<Of course not. I’ve never sent anyone off to die. No one I didn’t kill on my own, anyway. I’m not one for guilt.>
<You carry guilt harder than anyone else I’ve ever met. That’s one of the reasons I want it to be you.>
<I’m no one’s leader, Jake.>
<Yeah?> I opened my thought-speak to include the others. <Hey, Marco. If Tobias was our leader, would you follow him?>
<Tobias? I’ve been thinking about that. Yeah, I’d give him a shot at least. He hasn’t screwed anything up so far.>
<Cassie?> I asked.
<I saw Tobias when he first brought Jeanne and Santorelli to Earth. He told them to get away while he held off an army of Kelbrid. His first priority was to make sure everyone made it out alive. I’d follow him.>
<Sun Tzu. Know your enemy. No one knows Prince Aximili and Esplin like Tobias does. If anyone other than you can win this thing, Jake, it is Tobias. I would follow him.>
I turned back to face Tobias. <I’d follow you, too.> I closed my thought-speak. <I always thought it should be you in the first place. The only reason I was the leader was because I was the one who went into the ship and got that box. If things had been the other way around…>
<But they weren’t the other way around. You were the one who go the box, Jake. Not me.>
<I know Elfangor meant for you to be the one, Tobias. When he saw you, he knew exactly who you were. And he wanted you to be the one who avenged him and beat the Yeerks.
<There’s a reason you’re alive today, Tobias. How many breaks have the Ellimist and Crayak and whoever else is out there given you? How many times should you have died but lived? There’s a reason Santorelli ended up in the sun and you’re here right now, having this conversation.>
<I don’t know what they’re planning, Jake, but you’re playing into their hands with this. You know I’ll never do that. Do you remember when the Ellimist gave us the opportunity to save some humans and ourselves and go live on some kind of nature preserve, safe from the Yeerks? I was against that the whole time.>
<I know. That’s why it has to be you, Tobias. Because you’re the only one who will never, ever stop fighting.>
<Never, ever stop fighting,> he echoed. <It’s the most important thing I could do in this universe.> He angled his wings and took off. I let him go. He needed time to think. When he came back, I might have to try to convince him again. If not…then I was finally free.
My bed felt soft and warm that night for the first time in six years. I knew Tobias would take the job. The war was everything to him. He couldn’t risk letting me botch it because I couldn’t make the tough decisions anymore.
I wish I could say I had the best sleep of my life that night, but that’d be impossible. I mean, you can’t possibly remember every single night of your life, so you couldn’t know if one night was the best.
But that aside, it was one of the worst. I had no trouble falling asleep. It was what happened when I did. It wasn’t a dream; dreams aren’t real. This was.
I opened my eyes and suddenly there was some guy six inches from my face. His brown eyes bored into mine. We both raised our fists.
I took a step back and so did he. Warily, I backed away. And then saw that I was facing a full-length mirror. Oh.
The guy in the mirror was about five years older than me. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit, a stylized A stitched over the heart. His hair was shorter than mine had been in years. Crew cut. He needed to shave. I shrugged. I knew this game.
I was in some sort of parallel future. I had been here before. Or a future like this. I had had to make a decision. Save Cassie or try to save Earth. After I made my choice, I woke up. I still don’t know if it was the right one. Or if there was a right one at all.
Then something happened that I never expected. Even after all my years in bizarre-o-land, population me, I didn’t see this one coming. The guy in the mirror walked out and shook my hand.
“Close our mouth, Jake. It is …unbecoming,” he said to me. “Attempt to possess some dignity.”
I just stared as he walked over to a bathroom and started to shave. He was casual about it, like he did it all the time. Like whatever he was had facial hair in its regular form. If it even had a regular form.
“Do you know why I brought you here?” he asked. The voice was mine, but it was different, too. The inflections, some of the pronunciations, were different.
“I have no idea why you people do anything,” I admitted.
“I showed you a world like this, once. I offered you a choice between your head and your heart. Do you remember anything else I did?”
“You made up that whole fake reality. You did everything in it,” I said.
“True. But what do you remember of the people there? More specifically, what do you remember about your friends?”
“They were different.”
“Well, Cassie was so cold, so emotionless. She had no compassion, no feeling…”
“She lost that bunch of emotions you think makes her a good person?”
“And what about Marco?”
“He was a Controller.”
“Marco was an enemy. And Rachel?”
“Dead. Or crippled, depending on what you felt like showing me.”
“He wasn’t even there.”
“Do you know what all of those things have in common, Jake?” he asked.
I thought about it. I knew he wasn’t just going to hand me the answer. Guys who did stuff like this didn’t work that way.
“Each of my friends became what I was most afraid they would become. Cassie lost her goodness. Marco became and enemy. Rachel died. Ax was gone, unable to help us. And Tobias ”
“Was the leader of the resistance.” He let that sink in. He finished shaving and ran a hand over his now-smooth chin. “Supple,” he commented.
He strolled over to a kitchen area and started making a bowl of cereal. Only then did I realize that the bathroom was gone. This room was a featureless grey box until he wanted to do something with it.
“Capn’ Crunch?” he offered, holding out a bowl. I shrugged and took it. A table appeared and we sat down.
“Tell me, Jake,” he said between bites of Capn’ Crunch, “why is it that you fear Tobias becoming the leader of the Animorphs?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. Consciously, I want him to be in charge. It feels like he should be.”
“I don’t know. He’s got all the right stuff. He’s smart, brave, and ruthless”
“He is completely without ruth,” he agreed. “It is funny, the way humans pretend to despise that and secretly admire it or else pretend to admire it and secretly despise it.”
“What do you want from me?” I asked. “Why bring me here? And why make me question this decision?”
“Because no one else is questioning it. The others trust your judgment blindly. Well, except for Tobias, of course. Your judgment got too many of his friends killed for him to ever really trust it again.”
“Who are you? And why do you care?”
“The same reason Crayak and the Ellimist care. I have my own stake in what you and your friends do. I want you to be very sure this is what you want, because it isn’t a decision you can ever take back. Tobias will come to you tomorrow with his answer. If you don’t change your mind, there will be no second chance.”
He stood up and walked to a door that appeared in the wall. He turned and looked at me again. Rubbing his chin, he told me, “Make sure you keep it smooth, Jake. That is best for everyone.”
I found Tobias the next morning, floating on a thermal. I coasted up to him. <Make a decision yet?> I asked.
<Yeah. If you can’t make the hard choices anymore, then I can’t trust you to lead us. And this war is too important to risk it on your feelings. If you still want to offer me this, I’ll take it.>
I remembered what that guy had said the previous night. I could still taste the cereal in my mouth, even though I barely had taste buds in my peregrine falcon morph. <The job’s yours, Tobias.>
<Alright. Then you and I have some things to talk about,> he answered. <First thing is, don’t think you’re free of hard choices. If we ever split up, I’m putting you in charge of half the team. You’re my second in command.>
<Makes sense. Any ideas for your first mission?>
<Jeanne and Santorelli figured out where the invasion’s happening. We got kind of distracted with the Time Matrix, but we need to move in there. Secure new identities, start looking for Yeerks. But there’s something we need before we go.>
<A sixth Animorph.>
I felt a chill go down my spine. <Last time we tried recruiting, we ended up with David.>
<No, we ended up with Jeanne and Santorelli. We’ve got to recruit someone else and it’s going to be the two of us.>
<Why not bring the others?> I asked.
<With Marco’s skepticism, Cassie’s empathy, and Jeanne’s attitude? We’d never find someone to satisfy them all. So it’s going to be you and me.>
<Got someone in mind?> I asked.
<There’s an Andalite I know. Alloran-Sirinial-Fangor. My half-brother.>
<You have a brother?> I was shocked. I had no clue he had a brother. Somehow, I never thought of Elfangor as a family guy. Or at least, not the kind of guy who would have a girl here and one back on his homeworld. Kind of a new dimension for him.
<I only met him once,> Tobias told me. <He seemed bight. He’s young; about as young as Ax was the first time around. That didn’t work out too badly for him.>
<Except for the whole Yeerk-in-head thing,> I pointed out.
<Yeah, but that happened after the war,> he noted. <What do you think?>
<I’m not sure I like the idea of bringing a kid into this.>
<I’m not sure Elfangor liked it either. It didn’t go too poorly, though, now did it?>
<Just because it worked for him doesn’t mean it’ll work for us. You’re not Elfangor.>
<You wish I was, though.>
<What? No I don’t.>
<That’s what this whole leadership thing is about, Jake. Remember back when we first found Ax? You hoped he would be like Elfangor and take over this war for you. Now it’s getting tough again and you want me to be my father.>
<That’s not true.>
<Well, I’m not in your head. I’m no Yeerk. I’ll have to take your word for it. But I guess that isn’t the point. We’ll pay a visit to Alloran and see what he can do. I’m not going to recruit him unless he’s got some skills.>
<And if he doesn’t?>
<I’ve got some other ideas. There’s a kid on the homeworld named Elfangor-Semitur-Trilum. Alloran-Semitur-Corrass’s grandson.>
Alloran-Semitur-Corrass was the Andalite held captive by Esplin 9466 back when he was Visser Three. He is the only Andalite-Controller in history with the recent exception of Ax.
<How are we going to get there?> I asked. <Our old ship was lost when we got super-yanked from the Hork-Bajir world to here.>
<I have a ship.>
<You have a ship?> I echoed.
<It was a gift. I’ll explain later. Wait till you see it, man. This thing flies like…well, like me. Oh, and the guns. So many guns…>
Tobias and I flew to a remote place in the mountains. We stopped in a large valley that used to be the secret hiding place of the free Hork-Bajir. Tobias had stashed his ship there.
This thing was amazing. From wingtip to wingtip, it was about fifty feet long. It had two wings, sweeping back from an egg-shaped cockpit in the center.
It looked fast. Very sleek and aerodynamic. Of course, Tobias wouldn’t have accepted a ship that wasn’t up to his standards. And no one knew flight like he did.
It was a wicked looking thing. The entire ship was painted a black as dark as the Blade Ship. There were spots of white scattered here and there. Camouflage against the darkness of outer space.
“Where are the guns?” I asked him.
“You’ll see,” he promised. We walked towards it and part of the wall stretched open to let us in. It closed up behind us. That was when I learned that the cockpit was very nice.
It was big enough for a couple of people to live in. In fact, there was a pair of bunks in the rear, between a small kitchen and bathroom. Between the living area and the command center was a small lounge. I was surprised to see a bookshelf bolted to the floor, the books no doubt secured in place by some Andalite technology.
The control center had two chairs. One was directly in front of some sort of sphere hovering over a control panel. “The buttons and levers are mostly for show,” he told me. “Backup systems. The real thing is the control node. Just put your hands on it and it’ll obey your conscious thoughts. Andalite technology, of course.”
“Of course. Tobias, where did you get this?” I demanded.
“Ax sort of finagled it out of the Andalite military. They sent it to earth and let Tri-I play with it for a little bit. Then they gave it to me.”
“Ever go anywhere with it?”
“Yeah. Took it for a spin to the Andalite homeworld with my mother. She stayed there. I had some guys over there make some special modifications. It’s probably the fastest, most maneuverable ship in this part of the galaxy.”
“You said there were guns, too.” What can I say? After all those years of biting and clawing people, I liked the thought of a nice, clean laser. That’s how wars with aliens were meant to be fought.
Tobias brushed his hand along the control node. The walls and ceiling suddenly turned to clear. I could see the ends of cannons starting to unfold form their hidden hiding places on the wings.
“We’ve got about as much firepower in this ship as a Blade ship,” Tobias told me. “Got to use it once. Scare off a pirate. Could have outflown him, but I wanted to try out the Shredders. The weapons were Earth’s contribution to the ship. Well, most of them.”
“Most of them?”
“There was a limit to how much Tri-I was willing to let me have. I had to get about a fifth of the guns from the Andalite homeworld. And I had the rest upgraded there. Still, most of it came from Earth. If there’s one thing humans can do better than any species in the galaxy, its kill stuff.”
“Just how much power does this thing have?”
“With the proper pilot,” he paused and pointed to himself, “I could bring down a Dome Ship.”
“Why would you want to bring down a Dome Ship? Got some problems with the Andalites?”
“Remember Samilin? You never know.”
Samilin-Corrath-Gahar was the captain about the Ascalin. He was a traitor and almost got us killed. “I usually leave the paranoia up to Marco.”
“I’ll remember that.” Then, with no warning, we took off. The ship was silent as death. Wait, that’s a bad simile. I’ve never seen death be quitet. It usually involves screaming and bleeding and begging for your life.
“Shouldn’t we tell Marco and the others where we’re going?” I suggested.
“Right you are.” A moment later, a hologrm of Marco was being projected from the ceiling. “Jake? What’s up?”
“My old friend and I are taking a little trip to visit his mother. Maybe we’ll bring back a souvenire.”
“How are you getting there?”
“We’re taking his car.”
Tobias interrupted. “There’s no need to talk in code. I had the Chee rig this thing with enough signal jammers that no one can eavesdrop. Erek tried and not even he could manage it.”
“You sure put a lot of work into this,” I noted.
The ship knifed through space so fast I thought something had gone wrong. But Tobias was in control. The ship hovered in Earth’s orbit, watching the planet. Finally, Tobias said, “Look at Earth. Both of you.”
They did. He turned to Marco. “When the war was over, what did you get out of it?”
Marco looked at him. “A mansion, a couple million dollars, everything I wanted.” He sounded a little ashamed of it.
“And you?” Tobias said to me.
I thought. “I got my family back. Most of it. I got back being able to sleep at night without having to worry if I would get to wake up the next morning. I got galaxy wide fame and respect.”
“Yeah. I got this ship. It’s all I have to show for my hard work.”
“We never did it for the reward,” Marco reminded him. “Not even me.”
“I know. That isn’t what this is about. Marco, you got your mother back. You only profited form this. Everything you suffered through was worth it.”
“Your mother came back, too,” he reminded Tobias.
“It’s not the same. She doesn’t even remember me. It’s too late for me to have a mother. The most she can ever be to me is a friend. Jake, you can sort of relate. You lost your brother.”
I nodded. My last order in the first war had gotten my brother Tom killed. By Rachel. That’s one of the decisions that made me decide to pass the torch if it ever came to war again.
“Now imagine that it wasn’t just your brother. That your parents died, too. And that you weren’t human anymore and the people you thought might be able to fix you can’t. And the only reason you were hanging in for so long is gone. If you have anything at all to show for all you suffered, you’d put as much work into it as I have into this ship. Because it’s all I have.”
“What’s it called?” Marco asked after a pause.
The Reliquary was as fast as Tobias said it was. We cut through Z-space in a week. Z-space was constantly reconfiguring, so you never knew how long it would take to get from one place to another. The same trip could take three years or three days.
Z-space was nothing worth talking about. A big bunch of white nothingness where we could exceed the speed of light. Take that, c.
We popped out of Z-space in sight of the Andalite homeworld. I had never been there before. An Andalite appeared in hologram form in the middle of the lounge. “You are flying an unknown ship in restricted space. Identify yourself immediately.”
Tobias spoke up. “My name is Tobias, Captain of the Reliquary. We have clearance.”
“Stand by while I check,” the Andalite ordered. A moment later, his stalk eyes perked up. “You are cleared for landing in bay zero-zero-seven at the eastern equator. Welcome back, sir.”
“Good to be back. Do me a favor. Keep my arrival a secret. No need to get everyone excited.”
“As you wish, sir.”
It was weird to hear an Andalite with a spoken voice. The hologram couldn’t project thought-speak, so it sounded like he had a human voice. Disorienting.
We docked. Tobias turned to me. “Best that you’re not seen here. It’ll lead to something. I want to keep this as quiet as possible.”
“Any ideas? Earth morphs are definitely out. A falcon would stick out here like a Hork-Bajir in a bookstore.”
“A lot of Andalites have Earth morphs now. Birds and such. We’d be noticed, but no one would know who we were. Especially not me. So many reds floating around nowadays…”
We morphed to birds. I made it to peregrine falcon in about thirty seconds. He was a red tailed hawk in half that time. For years, he had lived as a hawk. He had only been a human for a couple weeks.
This was the first time I saw the Andalite homeworld and I was glad I was in the air. The entire planet was beautiful. People think Earth looks good, but it doesn’t have anything on the Andalite world. Not if you like trees and flowers and all that.
Andalites are grazers. They eat by crushing grass under their hooves and absorbing the nutrients. So for them, it was vitally important that they keep as much of their planet green as possible.
By green, I mean a sort of bluish green that matched the fur of the Andalites. That was the main sort of grass, the kind that covered most of the planet. But it came in other shades and, presumably, flavors.
Andalite trees weren’t like our trees. They didn’t take up much space. They grew straight up out of the ground, and most looked like giant stalks of multicolored asparagus.
Tobias pointed out some places to me. He had been here before and knew the way much better than I did. Some fenced in areas with multicolored grass in their fields were café’s where Andalites could get some different flavors of grass.
There were also a lot of human food chains spread out all over the landscape. Andalites have no real sense of taste. Not like humans, at any rate. So a lot of the ones who could get to Earth acquired human morphs and went to town.
I wondered not for the first time if we were in danger of corrupting the Andalites. I suspected they were easily addicted to stuff, like food or drinks. It wouldn’t be a far step from Whoppers to, say, cocaine. And although Andalites on coke sounds like fun, the thought scarred me. You don’t want a whacked out guy who has a tail with a blade that can cut you in half before you realize you’ve ticked him off.
Tobias wheeled around and led me back to the city where we docked our ship. There were only three cities on the Andalite world. <Alloran’s location will be registered with the military,> he told me. <When I saw him, he was on one of the Dome ships guarding the Yeerk homeworld. Someone here will know where he is right now.>
<Why would they tell us?> I asked.
<The Andalites value family a lot. They’d tell me where he is. And they’d probably tell you just about anything if we were willing to tell them who you were. But I don’t think it’ll come to that.>
<So what, we just go to him and ask him to come with us?> I questioned. <Will he do it?>
< He’s part of my family.>
I thought about that. Tobias’s family, at least the part he acknowledged, was always ready for a fight. Elfangor, Ax, Tobias. Even Loren, really. If this Alloran kid was anything like them, he’d be the first on the front lines.
Andalites are, by and large, a decent people. There’re some bad apples in every bunch, of course, but most of them are decent guys. But they do have some serious personality flaws.
One of which is a very large rod rammed up the collective rear end of the entire species. This is why the secretary in Ministry of War wouldn’t break the rules and tell us a single thing.
<I am sorry, sir, but I cannot divulge information about personnel on active duty.>
“But I’m his brother,” Tobias insisted.
<That is unlikely. Our records indicate that his only immediate relatives are his mother and a half brother. And that said brother is a hawk.>
“People change,” Tobias argued. “I am Tobias. Ask me anything he would know.”
<I have no idea what he would know,> the secretary answered. <Unless you can provide some sort of verification, I cannot tell you anything.>
Tobias looked at me. “Was Ax like this when we first met him?”
“Pretty much,” I answered.
Tobias turned back to the Andalite. “Just get him on a hologram. He’ll tell you who I am.”
<I cannot call him up unless I have proof of your identity.>
“Then Call Elfangor-Semitur-Trilum. He can tell you who I am, too.”
<Again, I cannot call him.>
Tobias slumped and put his forehead on the desk. To me, he said, “Can you believe this?”
“Yes.” Okay, so I wasn’t exactly being helpful. But what could I do?
Tobias looked up. “Call Marco. The Animorph. He’ll tell you who I am.”
The Andalite put his hand to a red square on the desk. After a moment, he said, <I am sorry, but that channel is restricted. It cannot be accessed from any military installation.>
“Sounds like Marco,” I said.
“You’re not being helpful.”
“Neither are you,” I pointed out.
“Fine, then. You do something.”
I stepped forward, “Hi. My name is Jake. Yeah, that Jake. This is official Animorph business we’re on. Will you help us out?”
<I will need to see some form of identification.>
“Don’t you recognize me? I mean, come on. I’ve got the most famous face in the galaxy!”
<And one of the most easily impersonated ones. Besides, all humans look alike to me.>
I looked at Tobias. “Got a backup plan?”
“Who’s in charge here?” he asked the Andalite.
“Wasn’t that the guy who led that Dome ship to earth? The one who showed up once the fighting was done?” Tobias asked me.
I thought about it. “Yeah, that was him.”
“He’ll recognize us. We need to speak to him,” Tobias said to the secretary.
The secretary put his hand on the red panel again. A moment later, Asculan appeared at the foot of the dropshaft. His stalk eyes stretched to their maximum length when he saw us. I think he was surprised.
“Prince Asculan,” I said to him. “We need to get some information and your boy here wouldn’t give it to us.”
The prince turned a stalk eye to the secretary. <Good work.> To us, he said, <I am sorry, but my men have their orders. What is it you need to know?>
Tobias answered him. “We need to know how to find an Andalite named Alloran-Sirinial-Fangor.”
“I can’t check in on my own brother?”
<Who are you? We haven’t been introduced.>
Tobias turned to me. “This whole human body thing is getting old.” To Asculan, he said, “I’m Tobias. The Animorph. You know, the only person who would be calling Alloran his brother. Where is he?”
<He has been sent to serve under Princess Estrid-Corill-Darrath on the Hork-Bajir world.>
“Princess Estrid?” Tobias asked. “When did females start getting promoted. Or even recruited?”
Asculan seemed to slump. <You can thank humans for that. It is an idea they felt very strongly we should adopt.>
Tobias nodded. “The strongest person I ever knew was female." There was a far-off look in his eyes. I knew he was remembering Rachel. "I think it's the best idea we've ever had."
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