The Parallel

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Qoheleth
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The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Fri Jul 17, 2009 10:59 am

Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Animorphs series of books, nor am I in any way associated with those – namely, K.A. Applegate and Scholastic Books, Inc. – who do have that honor.

That said, if anyone attempts to pass this story off as his or her own, he or she is in a lot of trouble.

A/N: This story is not what you would call "hard ff". It does not deal, except tangentially, with the Animorphs as we know them, although such concepts as Yeerks, morphing power, and a small cadre of underage Saviours of Earth are essential to it. If you have an aversion to original characters, or experimental ff generally, find another story.

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Chapter 1 - Morph Force

My name is Elly.

I can’t tell you my last name. I have one, of course – in fact, I’m very fond of it. It’s just that if I do tell you my last name, you might be able to locate my friends and me – and if you did, the Yeerks might not be far behind. Which would not be a good thing.

The Yeerks. Big gray slugs, with the ability to crawl into a person’s brain and completely control the person’s body. A human who is captured by a Yeerk becomes the world’s most complete slave. The only time she even has her own mind to herself is when the Yeerk leaves her body to feed on Kandrona rays, and that only happens for about an hour every three days.

That’s not the worst part. The worst part is that the human remains fully aware of her surroundings, and especially of the Yeerk, even while infested. The human watches her Controller lie to her family and friends… watches them be swayed… watches them be taken over by Yeerks themselves, and she can do absolutely nothing about it.

I’m not using "she" randomly. I have a friend named Andrea who’s been infested since she was four, when the first wave of Yeerks hit Earth. If it weren’t for her, I probably would have quit fighting the Yeerks a long time ago.

I had an opportunity, not long ago, to free her from the Yeerks permanently. If I had only been a little quicker… or if I could have brought myself to drive my canines into her neck… I think about that a lot.

If you were reading the last paragraph very carefully, you might be thinking, "Hold it. Why is this sweet little girl talking about sinking her canines into people's necks? Does she think she's going to be a vampire when she grows up?"

No, of course not. That's just how I fight the Yeerks.

See, about a year ago (it must have been only a year, although it seems more like ten), my brother Josh, his girlfriend Abby, and I were out on a deserted stretch of road - along with a boy named Richard, whom none of us knew - when an alien spacecraft landed in front of us. Its pilot was a dying warrior named Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul: a member of the alien race called Andalites, who are terrific enemies of the Yeerks. He told us about the invasion of Earth, and offered us a weapon to fight them with: the ability to morph. Suddenly, the four of us had the ability to turn into any animal we could imagine, from an ant to a blue whale. All we had to do was touch the animal and focus, and we acquired that animal’s DNA pattern, which we could use whenever we wanted.

With our new power, though, came a warning. Never, Elfangor said, stay in a morph for more than two hours. If any of us did, he or she would be trapped in that morph forever, and could never return to human form.

So far, we haven’t had any accidents like that. So far.

Shortly after all this, we added a fifth member to our crew – an Andalite cadet named Anifal-Mekelial-Worrann, who had fought under Prince Elfangor. Without him, I think it’s safe to say that we would have died several times over by now.

Together, we make up Earth’s only real hope – the Morph Force. The name started out as a bad joke of Abby’s, but I don’t think any of us laugh at it any more.

So there you go. Five kids – four humans, one Andalite – who can turn into frogs. That’s what’s keeping the world safe from a race of some eight billion ruthless slugs. Depressing, isn’t it?

I know. Sometimes the whole thing feels so hopeless I just want to fall down on my bed, grab my teddy bear (yes, I still have a teddy bear at the age of twelve), and cry myself into oblivion.

Then I look around my room, at the Irish Rover music littering the floor, the Calvin and Hobbes books on the shelf, and the glass unicorns on my desk, and I think, what the heck. I can give this civilization one more day.

Just the same, even I need a day off sometimes.

Which is why, on the day this story starts, I was at the county fair, trying to convince Anifal to go on the Pendulum. (He was in his human morph, of course – the fair didn’t give admittance to blue centaur-like aliens with scorpion tails.) I’m not sure why I was doing this – partly, I think, to get back at him for all the patronizing comments he had made about human technology.

"Andrew," I said, using his human pseudonym, "it’s a perfectly harmless ride. You just get in, it swings you back and forth, and then you get off. If you close your eyes, you won't even know you're on a ride."

This was the same lie Josh had used to get me to go on. He said Daddy had used it on him, and Grandpa had used it on Daddy, and so on, I guess, back to the Middle Ages.

Anifal looked hesitant. He stepped back and squinted at the ride. "Then why," he asked, "are all those people screaming?"

"Most of them insisted on keeping their eyes open," I said.

Anifal still seemed dubious. "The human body," he commented, "would not seem to be built to go upside-down. Down. Dow-ow-own. That is an excellent word. D-d-d-downnnnn."

"But that’s the whole point," I said. (You have to ignore it when Anifal does this kind of thing. He doesn’t have a mouth in his Andalite form, so he thinks the ability to make your own sounds is this great novelty.) "It’s all about facing your natural limitations and overcoming them. It’s about being something more than human."

"I am something more than human," Anifal said fatuously. "I am And…"

I shushed him, then glanced around nervously. If any Yeerk overheard him saying the word "Andalite", we were done for.

"Andrew," I said, emphasizing the human name, "I’ve done this before, okay? Will you trust me?"

"No," said Anifal.

Which was probably smart of him, but it irritated me.

I pouted in silence for a few minutes. Then something truly evil occurred to me.

"You know, Andrew," I said, "I noticed a great concession stand a way back. They had everything…elephant ears, cotton candy, cinnamon buns…" I paused. "Klondike bars…"

Anifal’s head swiveled around. "Klondike bars?" he said. "Bar-zuh?"

Now I should probably explain something. Since Anifal doesn’t have a mouth in his Andalite form, he absorbs his food through his hooves and doesn’t experience taste. Therefore, when he morphs to human, he gets a little goofy about all the different kinds of human food. And, for some weird reason, he goes particularly nuts over Klondike bars.

"Yep," I said. "Klondike bars. In fact, I probably have enough money on me to afford a couple."

Anifal blinked. "This is blackmail," he said.

"Darn right it’s blackmail."

"Black-kuh. Bla-a-a-ack-mmmm…"

"Andrew," I said. "Are you going to ride it or not?"

"Er… I suppose," said Anifal reluctantly.

"Good," I said. "Now go get in line. It’s almost stopped."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next time I saw the brave Andalite soldier, he was staggering from the Pendulum, wearing on his face the expression of an alien who has just learned that even if humans can’t build Z-space starships or morphing cubes, we reign supreme in the area of nausea-inducing motion devices.

"Had fun?" I inquired sweetly.

"Humans are mad," Anifal muttered.

"They certainly are," came a voice from behind me. I turned around and saw Chester standing by the ticket booth.

That’s when I knew we were in trouble.

See, Chester is a Chee. A highly advanced, almost immortal android created by a now-extinct alien race called the Pemalites. He looks just like a human, but that's because the Chee have holographic equipment that makes Andalite cloaking technology look like clay animation.

The Pemalites programmed the Chee to be intensely non-violent, so they can’t fight. They can, however, deliver compromising information about the Yeerks – which they do, on a regular basis. This makes them ideal spies – and, generally, bearers of very bad news.

"Hi, Chester," I said.

"Hi, Elly," he said. "Listen, the two of you might want to go get Josh and Abby – and Richard, if he’s here. There’s a little situation developing."

I sighed. "Oh, boy."
Last edited by Qoheleth on Tue May 03, 2011 4:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

BeyondtheEllimist
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Re: The Parallel

Post by BeyondtheEllimist » Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:56 pm

Seems interesting so far. I like it!!
There is much that is beyond the Ellimist . . . he just won't admit it.
Check out my fanfic series, Novamorphs. It has the Animorphs' children fighting a second Yeerk invasion. First book: The Infestation.Second book: The Search.

Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sun Jul 19, 2009 6:05 pm

Chapter 2 - Yeerkbane

"Very quickly," said Chester after he had cloaked us so we could speak freely, "the position is this. Reports have been made to various sources that Gellioss Base on the Yeerk homeworld has recently become home to two male vanarges."

This meant absolutely nothing to any of us. Even Anifal seemed a bit bewildered.

"Er…what was that again?" Josh asked.

"Gellioss Andalite Base," Chester repeated, "on the Yeerk homeworld, has become home to two male vanarges."

"And this is important because…" said Abby.

"The vanarx," said Chester, "or, to use its common nickname, the Yeerkbane, is the only natural enemy of a host-holding Yeerk. Other creatures can kill a Yeerk by killing the host – your battle morphs have made that clear – but only a vanarx can kill the Yeerk without killing the host."

There was a general uproar at this.

"What the almighty fruitcake?" Abby shouted.

"Why does the Andalite homeworld not know of this creature?" Anifal demanded.

"How many of these things are there in existence?" said Richard.

"How exactly does the vanarx do this?" Josh asked quietly.

I didn’t say anything. I just sat there, unable to believe my ears. I'd been lighting votive candles for this for months.

See, at the time, we were in a tricky situation. None of us really liked attacking Yeerks while they were out of their hosts, feeding; it made us feel like cowards, besides being, as Abby said, "the ickiest thing since sliced slime mold". Plus, an Imperial soldier Yeerk isn't that much different, in slug state, from an ordinary citizen Yeerk, which meant that if we attacked the pool, we killed innocent people; there was no getting around it.

On the other hand, it was even worse to attack them when they were in hosts. In that case, to kill the Yeerk, you had to kill the host, too, and, with rare exceptions, the hosts were even more innocent than the civilian Yeerks.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Unless we had a morph that could kill the Yeerks while they were in the host, and leave the host unharmed. Then everything would change. We could charge into the Yeerk pool, massacre every combatant Yeerk in the joint, and it wouldn't be any worse than a normal war. We would be liberators of the hosts, not apologetic executioners. Andrea… could be freed…

I jerked myself back to reality. Chester appeared to be answering Richard’s question.

"…very few sightings have been recorded in modern history," he was saying. "The vanarx, as you can imagine, is not a popular animal with Yeerks, and the early Gedd-Controllers hunted it with such ferocity that they were long believed to be extinct.

"That ties into the answer to your question, Anifal," he added. "By the time Andalites arrived on the Yeerk homeworld, vanarges weren't exactly popping out from behind every Lissik bush. In practical terms, the only way Prince Seerow would have learned about them would have been from old Yeerkish folk tales, which seems to be one of the many things he never got around to covering with them.

"In fact," he said, "even the Andalites who caught the vanarges at Gellioss don’t know what they are. As far as they know, they’re just a pair of curious-looking local animals."

"Chester," Josh said, "this is all well and good, but since we don't have a starship…"

"But you do," said Chester. "Remember those trees the Ssstram flew off in? The Chee have been working on the one they left behind, and we think we've figured out the basics of how to fly it."

Richard blinked. "How did you do that?" he said. "The Ssstram are… well, the Ssstram."

"Yes," said Chester with no perceptible modesty. "But the Chee are the Chee."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Anifal's eyes light up, and I knew that he was thinking about using the Ssstram tree to visit the Andalite homeworld. I couldn't blame him - if I had been stranded on another planet for a year, I'd be homesick, too - but I wasn't sure how Josh would feel.

I shrugged. We'd cross that bridge when we came to it.

"So, Chester," Abby said, "you’re saying that all we have to do is vanish from home for a few days, leave our rooms in the hands of the Chee (which I promised myself I would never do again), trust our fates to Ssstram technology (which I also promised myself I would never do again), land on the Yeerk homeworld, infiltrate an Andalite military base, acquire an animal that can suck a Yeerk from a host’s head, and come back."

Chester nodded. "That’s about the size of it," he said, "except for one small complication."

"Oh, just one small complication?" said Abby. "That’s good to know. Usually we run into about sixteen complications during a mission, of varying sizes."

Either Chester didn’t notice the sarcasm oozing from Abby’s voice, or he deliberately chose to ignore it. "The one complication," he said, "involves the climate on the Yeerk homeworld."

"What’s wrong with the climate on the Yeerk homeworld?" Josh asked.

"Nothing, if you’re adapted to it," said Chester. "But most alien life-forms don’t seem to have evolved on a planet where it rains acid every night."

Josh thought about that.

"Yeah, that could conceivably be a problem," he agreed.

BeyondtheEllimist
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Re: The Parallel

Post by BeyondtheEllimist » Mon Jul 20, 2009 12:17 am

Still good. I like it very much!! Please continue!!!
There is much that is beyond the Ellimist . . . he just won't admit it.
Check out my fanfic series, Novamorphs. It has the Animorphs' children fighting a second Yeerk invasion. First book: The Infestation.Second book: The Search.

Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Fri Jul 31, 2009 6:58 am

Chapter 3 - Hesitation

That evening, I sat on my bed, petting my cat and thinking about our new plan. That wasn’t a good idea, because whenever I think about a plan, I always convince myself that it’s going to be awful if the plan succeeds. (My mom never lets me pick a fast-food restaurant, because I can worry for hours about whether Pizza Hut would be less devastated by rejection than Wendy’s.)

But tonight I was in a thinking mood, and the Yeerkbane plan was the obvious thing to think about, so I thought about it.

Acid rain, huh? Just at night, Chester said… but knowing our luck, that’s when we’d get there. A human definitely couldn’t make it on a planet like that, and I’d never heard of any animal we could morph that would do much better. So that was a problem.

And now that I thought about it, Chester had never said how powerful a vanarx was. (Or if he had, I hadn’t been paying attention.) Maybe they were flimsy, stork-type things that a Hork-Bajir could take out with one slash of his wrist. Maybe we were going to all be killed the next time we attacked the Yeerk pool, and the human race would be subjugated for eternity because of our silly scruples about just-war doctrine. Maybe…

Get a grip, Elly, I said to myself. Chester wouldn’t give you information just so you could kill yourself. He’s your friend. And besides, he’s a Chee. If he tried to arrange your death, his hard drive would freeze up or something.

And anyway, even if the vanarges were wimpy, Josh could find some clever way to get around that. Maybe two of us would go in as vanarges while the other three covered in battle morph.

Whatever, let’s say we could do it. We could go into the Yeerk pool and just start sucking Yeerks right out of heads. Then what? What does a Hork-Bajir do on Earth if it’s not fighting for Visser and country? I wasn’t sure, but I was guessing either, "get captured and infested again" or "get shot": probably the second one, given my experience with bounty hunters.

Or would we only free the human hosts? That wouldn’t sit very well with Richard, given his passion for all things alien; Anifal and the Chee wouldn’t like it very much, either; and, when I remembered what I’d seen of real Hork-Bajir, I wasn’t too keen on it myself.

I sighed, rolled over, and stared at the cat in front of me. "Well, what do you think, Lapkin?" I asked him.

He didn’t answer, of course. He’s a smart cat, but not that smart. (I should know. I’ve been him.)

"Well?" I said. "How are we going to make it in Yeerk World? Think there’s some kind of mudskipper or something that can survive acid rain?"

Lapkin yawned.

I giggled. "A thousand thanks, O Wise One."

"So," said a voice at my door, "the truth comes out."

I jumped, whirled around. Josh was standing in my doorway, grinning broadly.

"So this is where our intelligence reports have been coming from," he said. "From the great oracle Lapkin-Tapkin." He shook his head. "Suddenly, the last thirteen months make perfect sense."

I laughed shakily. "For a minute there, I thought Daddy had been listening in on me," I said. "I was thinking, not now, God, I’m not ready to commit parricide for the good of all mankind."

It wasn't much of a joke, but Josh smiled. "Well, that’s good," he said.

He sat down on the bed next to me, and Lapkin-Tapkin, sensing that he wasn’t going to have my undivided attention anymore, jumped down to the floor and left the room.

"So," I said, "how are we going to make it in Yeerk World?"

"Actually, I had an idea about that," said Josh. "It’s a little risky, but it ought to work okay."

"Shoot."

Josh cleared his throat, and I could see him going into General Pershing mode. "Well, if we arrive during the day there’s no problem, but let’s say we arrive at night. Obviously, we could wait in orbit while the planet rotated and then go down; but I gather from Anifal that the Andalites watch the Yeerk homeworld pretty closely, so that might leave us vulnerable to attack by one of their patrol ships. Since Chester can’t fight, and none of the rest of us know how the ship’s weapons system works, that would leave us in a pretty rotten defensive situation."

"And since the Andalites are the good guys," I added, "we don’t really want to be shooting them anyway."

"Right. So that’s out. Option two: we land on the planet, and just wait till morning to leave the ship. That’s a little better situation, but we don’t know what kind of bacteria or insects they have on the Yeerk homeworld, and I’d hate for the Morph Force to be obliterated because the Ssstram ship wasn’t filtered well enough. Option three: we have Chester go out and get the vanarx for us."

"Are the Chee invulnerable to acid rain?" I interrupted.

"I wasn’t sure," said Josh, "but I thought it was a possibility, so I called Chester up and asked him – in our standard the-phone-might-be-tapped-so-we’d-better-be-real-subtle fashion, of course. He said no, so option three isn’t an option at all. That leaves option four."

"Option four: we morph something," I said.

"Bingo."

"Well, that’s always fine with me," I said, "but what do we morph?"

Josh’s eyes gleamed, the way they do when he’s about to share a brilliant scheme. "Okay," he said. "Follow me closely here. We can’t survive on a planet where it rains acid, because we’ve never had to. Earth may have a lot of faults, but that’s not one of them. If something wanted to live on the Yeerk homeworld, however, it would have to be able to survive the planet’s nightly downpour. Now what kind of animal originated on the Yeerk homeworld, yet is found in large quantities on Earth?"

I gaped at him. "You expect us to morph Yeerks?"

Josh grinned. "I knew you’d fall for it," he said. "No, we couldn’t do Yeerks, if only because they can’t travel very well in their natural form. I was thinking of Gedds."

I blinked. "Gedds? Those funny, ape-like things with the legs that don’t match?"

"Right. Remember, they were the Yeerks’ original hosts, back when they lived on the homeworld; and there’s plenty of them around the Yeerk outposts, mopping floors and stuff."

That was true. Gedds were pretty useless for most purposes, so only the lowest-ranking Yeerks used them as bodies. A Gedd-Controller would be a lousy fighter, he’d be completely inexperienced, and since nobody the Yeerks know wants to be a Gedd, he’d never guess what we were up to. He’d be the easiest thing in the world to capture.

It’s hard to explain how I felt at that point. I was pretty sure, now, that we could acquire the vanarges; and I really did want that to happen, despite all my worries about the Hork-Bajir and stuff. There was no reason we shouldn’t do this mission. I knew that.

And yet… some basic, emotional, feminine part of me just wasn’t convinced. Maybe it was the idea of leaving Earth, maybe it was knowing that the whole war was about to change, or maybe it was something that I don’t even have words for, but part of me just needed comforting, and not in words. I needed somebody who would sit down and just hold me for about half an hour.

But I didn’t have anybody like that. Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t understand why I needed it, and my brother… well, he was Pershing.

So I just smiled at Josh and said, "Yeah, that ought to work."

"I knew you’d like it," he said. "Probably we’ll leave around two p.m. on Monday. That ought to give the Chee time to straighten out their affairs, so they can pretend to be us while we’re gone."

That seemed to be everything he wanted to say, and after an awkward pause he got up and left the room.

I sat staring at the ceiling for a minute or two, then sighed and put on a CD – a bunch of those mushy country songs, where everybody has true love and nobody has an emotional dilemma involving Gedds. It was a little comforting.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Aug 08, 2009 10:07 am

Maybe you think it’s exciting to be me. Maybe you think that if you could turn into any animal you touched, you’d never be bored again. Let me tell you: There is nothing more boring than sitting in a tree in clouded leopard morph, waiting for a buffalo to attack a sewage treatment plant.

I mean, I couldn’t bring a book to read, because I couldn’t turn the pages without tearing them to shreds. I couldn’t get up and move around, because if a Controller saw a clouded leopard outside their major sulp niar refinery, he’d shoot it without thinking twice. I couldn’t talk to anyone, because my only ally within thought-speak distance was Anifal, and Andalites are lousy at making conversation. (I once tried asking Anifal what he thought of President Bush. What I got was a fifteen-minute assessment of the odds that he was a Controller.)

So what I wound up doing was a game Josh and I invented called Take One, where you change one letter of a movie title, then give the other person a clue to the new title: for instance, “Polaris is her guardian” would be Star Ward. It’s a pretty silly game, and sometimes downright stupid; but right then, I didn’t think that was a bad thing.

<Binding Nemo,> I mused aloud, making sure that no one else could hear my thought-speak. <How Marlin could make sure he doesn’t leave the reef… no, that won’t work. Finding Demo… the Ask Jeeves beta test… that doesn’t even make sense. Finding Nero… “Rome is burning! Get a fiddler!”>

As you might have guessed, I’m not the all-time Take One champion. That would be Abby, who, the one time she played, came up with “What occurs when they stop saying ‘Om’”. (No, I’m not going to tell you the answer.) With me, it’s usually all I can do to come up with a coherent title, let alone a decent clue.

Fortunately, before I could spend much more time babbling to myself, I heard Richard’s voice in my head say, <Okay, Elly, get ready to rumble.>

Obediently, I coiled myself into a springing position and waited for the telltale sounds of combat, which started a few seconds later with the crash! of a metal door being bashed off its hinges. Then came the shrieking Gedds, the blazing Dracon beams, and the sound of delicate equipment being smashed by an angry cow.

I hesitated a few seconds, waiting for Richard to drive the chaos level up just a little higher, and then ran down the branch and leaped through the window.

At the time, it seemed pretty stupid of the Yeerks to have windows in a top-secret facility, but I guess they reasoned that they were high enough off the ground that nobody would peek in and see the Gedds shuffling around. (Nobody without a chickadee morph, anyway.) Plus, I found out later that Gedds really like sunlight, so they probably made it a condition of the job.

Anyway, there was a window there. Not glass, but some kind of 29th-century Plexiglas. Pretty tough stuff. Probably there was no way in the world to break it.

So when a 500-pound clouded leopard hit it at five miles an hour, it did the only thing it could do. It popped completely out of the wall, whistled through the air, and hit a Hork-Bajir square on the beak, while the clouded leopard tumbled to the floor.

The first thing that struck me about the inside of the refinery was how utterly alien it looked. I mean, I’ve been inside the Yeerk pool, and you wouldn’t think it could get more alien than that – but even in the Yeerk pool, there’s a few humans walking around, and there’s a cafeteria and stuff. Here, though, you had everything: giant reptilian security guards; lime-green, wrinkled creatures shuffling around; and huge steel vats bubbling with strange, alien chemicals.

And the smell! I was in clouded leopard morph, and the clouded leopard knew every smell in the world. The clouded leopard had no idea what to make of this smell, which was asphalt mixed with Pine Fresh mixed with a couple things I didn’t even want to think about. Whatever the Yeerks do to sulp niar to get the nutrients back in it, it probably isn’t worth the effort.

There was one thing in the room, though, that didn’t look at all futuristic or alien. That was the Cape buffalo charging around near the door, goring Hork-Bajir and trampling Gedds.

I think Richard’s the only one of us who sees morphing as being about changing yourself. When the rest of us acquired our battle morphs, we picked animals that were somehow like us – sort of like totems, I guess. For example, when I told Josh I’d acquired a clouded leopard, he said, “Sure, that makes sense. Something that spends most of its time keeping quiet and staying out of sight, but can tear people to shreds when it wants to. What else could you be?”

Then there’s Abby, who’s all about drama and art and bright colors; she’s an Australian perentie lizard. Anifal, who’s never been quite at home on Earth, uses some Andalite-homeworld creature called a sharbat. And Josh, of course, couldn’t be anything but a lion.

Richard, though… well, I would never want to be rude about a friend and fellow warrior, but frankly, Richard is a scrawny geek. You know the kind – can’t open a new jug of apple juice, but knows the plot and cast of every Star Trek episode ever made. I’m not sure what kind of battle morph I would have picked for him, but it definitely wouldn’t have been the bovine pile driver that was currently distracting the Hork-Bajir for me.

I spent maybe four seconds thinking all this, and then I went into action. The clouded leopard’s mind took over and I examined the panicking Gedds, identifying in a split second the strongest, healthiest DNA pattern in the crowd.

I pounced.

The Gedd struggled, of course, but he didn’t really have a chance. He could have been the toughest Gedd in the universe, and he still wouldn’t have been a match for a clouded leopard. In ten seconds, I had him by the neck and practically unconscious, with blue blood oozing from the wound on his neck.

Now the problem was how to get out of the room with the Gedd. I really didn’t want to have to go through the actual sewage-treatment part of the building, because that would mean that a lot of innocent people would get a good glimpse of an alien life-form, and would become either Controllers or dead as soon as the Yeerk leadership heard about it. On the other hand, the window that I had come in through was fifteen feet off the ground, which is a pretty high jump for a clouded leopard, so unless I could find some kind of platform…

<Elly!> Richard called. <Try using the elevator!>

I glanced around. Right next to each of the vats was a small hovering platform, probably used by the Gedds when they needed to pour detergents or something into the sulp niar.

<Oh, yeah,> I said, mentally kicking myself.

I leaped onto the platform nearest to the window and looked around for controls. The only thing that looked right was a bright green button on a nearby console, so I pressed it with my nose.

<Aaaaah!>

Suddenly I was racing upwards at a truly insane speed. I mean, I wasn’t going a thousand miles an hour – in fact, I guess I wasn’t even going one mile an hour – but I just didn’t expect a simple hover-platform to reach the top of a twenty-foot vat in less than a second. I guess Yeerks don’t mess around when it comes to their pool fluids.

As soon as I had recovered from the shock, I picked the Gedd back up (I had dropped him during the ride) and coiled into position. I still wasn’t perfectly level with the window, but now it was a matter of five feet down rather than fifteen feet up. Even Lapkin could have made that.

Still, I hesitated. If I fiddled with the controls a little bit, maybe I could get it to line up just right. After all, with a mission like this, I shouldn’t be taking chances…

TSSSSEEEEEWWWW!

One of the Hork-Bajir guards had managed to evade Richard’s horns just long enough to fire a Dracon beam in my direction. It missed my tail by inches, hit an area of the wall just above the window, and sent a chunk of it sizzling to the ground.

That about made my mind up. I tossed the moaning Gedd onto my neck, aligned myself with the window, and leaped out into the open air.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Fri Aug 21, 2009 1:07 pm

Chapter 5: Acquisition

One of the nice things about having a feline battle morph is that you never have to ask yourself, “What if I break my neck jumping off this thirty-foot-high ledge?” There’s that wonderful sense of balance that a cat’s brain has; the utter certainty that your feet are here, and the ground is there, and the two are definitely going to intersect. You can take a running leap out of a fourth-story window and suffer no ill effects, aside from your paws stinging and the Gedd in your mouth fainting completely.

<Anifal!> I called as I ran towards the forest. <I’ve got the Gedd!>

<Excellent,> he said. <Head northwest. I will be with you shortly.>

I hesitated. <Northwest?>

Anifal sighed, probably wondering how he ever managed to get hooked up with a species that doesn’t carry a compass around in its head. <Travel away from the sulp niar refinery at a bearing of approximately +30 degrees,> he said, <and you will be heading northwest.>

<Plus 30 degrees,> I repeated. <That’s one o’clock, right?>

<If you prefer,> said Anifal patiently.

<Richard!> I yelled. <When you leave the plant, head towards one o’clock!>

<You mean plus 30 degrees?> he said.

I rolled my eyes. <Yeah. Plus thirty degrees.>

<Great.>

I turned tail and headed northwest.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
By the time I had reached the creek where I was supposed to meet Anifal, the Gedd was partially conscious again. At least, he was conscious enough to squeal loudly and try to squirm out of my mouth when he saw an Andalite standing in front of him.

There was a little bit of a smirk in Anifal’s eyes when he saw that. I think that he kind of enjoyed being taken for a lethal and menacing Andalite warrior, instead of the cadet he really was.

<Good day, Master Yeerk,> he said, bowing the upper half of his body ironically.

<Anifal,> I said privately, dropping the Gedd onto the ground, <just bop him and let’s get this over with.>

Anifal looked a little miffed at my ruining his moment, but said, <Very well, then,> and hit the Gedd on the head with the flat part of his tail-blade. Our hostage dropped like a sack of potatoes.

<I wonder if he’s going to ask the Visser for a raise after this,> I commented as I started to demorph.

<Unlikely,> said Anifal. He put his hand on the Gedd’s longer leg and began to acquire its DNA. <In the first place, having already been through one emotionally traumatizing experience, he will likely not want to seek out another. In the second place, Visser Seven does not oversee financial remuneration for sulp-niar-refinery workers.>

I’m never sure whether Anifal’s being ironic when he says things like that, or whether he just thinks he needs to state the obvious for the benefit of us fuzzy-minded humans. Whatever, it’s annoying.

<And in the third place,> said a new thought-speak voice, <with all the blood coming out of that guy’s throat, I don’t think he’s going to live long enough to be asking the Visser for anything.>

I turned around with my almost-human head and saw two identical chickadees sitting on the ground behind me. (And when I say identical, I mean it. I caught the chickadee that they were both identical to.)

“Well, I’m sorry,” I said defensively. “When you have Hork-Bajir shooting at you, buffaloes bellowing at you, and crazy platforms shooting up underneath you at a gazillion miles an hour, it’s a little hard to calculate how deep you need to sink your teeth into a Gedd’s throat.”

<Of course it is,> Josh agreed. <You want to acquire him now?>

Without even bothering to answer, I put my hand on the Gedd’s arm, concentrated with all my might on his green, wrinkled body, and felt that twisted, ridiculous form become a part of me.

Josh glanced up toward the southeast, looking a little nervous. <I hope Richard didn’t get into too much trouble in there,> he said. <If it were Abby I wouldn’t worry so much, but…>

<I love you too, Josh,> said Abby.

Josh glared at her. <You know what I mean,> he said. <If the Yeerks caught you in battle morph, at least they couldn’t infest you, because the perentie's brain isn’t big enough. A buffalo, though…>

<Talking about me?>

A white-and-gray mockingbird flew into the clearing, looking even cockier than mockingbirds generally look. Any second I expected him to say, <Oh, the cleverness of me!>

Josh let out a breath. <You made it, then.>

<Naturally,> said Richard. <The Hork-Bajir hasn’t been born that can outsmart Buffalo Rick.>

Which is pretty much the same thing.

Still, I was impressed. “How’d you get out of there?” I asked.

<Simple. I took two seconds out and punctured the nearest sulp niar vat. Next thing I knew, practically every Yeerk in the place was scrambling to be the first one to plug the hole and save the populace, and only two Hork-Bajir were left behind to chase after me.>

<Two Hork-Bajir,> said Abby. <Against a Cape buffalo.>

<Don’t underestimate them,> said Richard. <Those guys were good. I was nervous for all of two seconds.>

Anifal coughed lightly. <Pardon me,> he said, <but, if the Yeerks follow Elly’s trail to this clearing before we have left, we will all be much worse than nervous for much longer than two seconds.>

The three songbirds looked at each other.

<Good point,> they said simultaneously, and started to demorph.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Five minutes later we all had Gedd morphs, and were all flying back to the Ssstram ship.

We weren’t all flying together, of course. Five songbirds of three different species, all flying in formation, would look pretty suspicious to any competent bird-watcher, so we had agreed to split up into three groups. Abby was flying by herself, Josh was guiding Richard to the ship’s hiding place, and Anifal was taking me. And I, of course, was having a ball.

It wasn’t so much the flying, although sailing through the air with your own wings is pretty cool. For me, though, there’s an intrinsic wonder in the whole idea of morphing – in being yourself, and yet something else. A chickadee, a camel, a ladybug, a Hork-Bajir… you can be anything, live any life, that God ever programmed a DNA strand for – and yet you’re still Elly, still the quiet girl who reads too much and wants to be a nun.

Every so often, I’ll just stand in front of my bedroom mirror and think: All I can see there is a twelve-year-old girl with dirty-blond hair and glasses… but really there’s a clouded leopard in this room, and a goldfish, and a termite, and a giant bird from the Eocene. I carry them all around with me, and unless I throw them away myself I can’t be separated from them… and yet I’m still just a twelve-year-old girl with dirty-blond hair and glasses. What a strange, wonderful thing.

So I was in morph, and I was happy about that. Still, though, there was that nagging worry at the back of my mind, the feeling that something big, something life-changing, was about to happen, and that I just wasn’t ready for it.

Of course, the Morph Force couldn’t afford for me to think about that. If I thought about it long enough, I’d eventually desert the mission, run home and hide under my bed. So, for lack of a better distraction, I started wrenching my thoughts back to the Take One clue I had been trying to form earlier.

<Hey,> I said aloud. <What about Funding Nemo? As in contributing to the Nautilus Research and Development Project.>

Anifal’s eyes darted in my direction. He’s never played Take One, so he had no idea what I was talking about, but he managed to pretty well grasp what I was saying.

<You’re nervous,> he said.

I hesitated. <Well… yeah, I guess so.>

Anifal nodded. <I understand,> he said. <I felt the same way when I first left my homeworld.> Then he hesitated. <Though it must, of course, be far worse for you, since I left for a friendly world, while you are going to the birthplace of the enemy.>

I shook my head. <It’s not just that,> I said. <It’s… it’s more about not knowing what’s going to happen next. Doing what you have to do, without knowing whether it’ll be good or bad.> If I had been human, I would have blushed. <The fear of the unknown, I guess. It’s silly, but…>

<Do not be embarrassed,> said Anifal. <It is very human to feel that way.>

There wasn’t much I could say to that.

“Ah, there you two are,” said a voice, and the hologram of nondescript forest vanished to reveal Chester standing in front of the bizarre Ssstram ship.

“The others are already in there,” he added. “All you have to do is flutter inside and demorph, and this fine specimen of starcraft can start heading for the Acid Realms.”

<Excellent,> said Anifal.

<You did remember to bring a change of clothes, right?> I asked anxiously.

Chester rolled his eyes. “Yes, Elly,” he said. “We know how you feel about your morphing costume; you won’t have to spend three days wearing a ‘puke-colored leotard’.”

Thus assured, we flew through the ship’s entrance hatch and started our journey to the world where the war began.
Last edited by Qoheleth on Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Aug 29, 2009 11:13 am

Chapter 6 - Temptation

You know how, in the movies, space travel looks like this wonderfully exciting thing, with enemy starships, wayward meteors, and sentient energy beings lurking behind every patch of dark matter? Well, maybe that’s how it was when the Andalites first invented it, but now it’s more like an extremely long airplane ride.

Of course, our choice of ship didn’t make it any easier. The Ssstram are only about three and a half feet long from beak to tail, so a ship built for three of them isn’t exactly ideal for four humans, an Andalite, and a Chee. The only thing that kept us sane was that the Ssstram are an aerial species, and they need some space to fly around in. Still, Anifal, in particular, was not happy.

<This is ridiculous,> he muttered at one point, while the six of us were gathered around Chester’s holographic Chinese-checkers board. <No sentient being ought to live like this. How can the soul be free when the body inhabits a dungeon?>

“Oh, stop being such an Andalite, Anifal,” Josh said. “You’ve survived Visser Seven’s Ricogwa morph; you can survive four days without a grassland habitat. Abby, it’s your turn.”

“This really is amazing, Chester, you know that?” said Abby, picking up one of her orange marbles and stroking it with a pinkie finger. “The detail you guys put into your holograms, I mean. There’s this little streak of white in this marble; of course marbles get discolored, but you don’t expect a hologram to exhibit that level of realism.”

Anifal looked at her blankly. <Of course the Chee’s holograms are realistic,> he said. <The Chee could not have concealed themselves on Earth for five millennia if their holograms were not realistic.>

Abby sighed. “Yes, Anifal, I’m aware of that,” she said. “I’m just saying it’s impressive.”

“I don’t know why he can’t do it with other games, though,” I complained. “I’ve spent the last two days getting trounced by you guys; it’d be nice if we could play a game that I’m actually good at for a change.”

“Elly,” said Chester, a little irritably, “we’ve been over all this. All the games you’re good at involve some kind of random element, like dice or cards, and there’s no randomizing factor in my programming. If I projected a Snakes and Ladders board for you, I’d have to control the dice myself, and sooner or later you’d be rolling the numbers I thought you deserved. Is that what you want?”

“Well, no,” I admitted.

“Okay, then,” said Chester. “I’m sorry, believe me. The last thing I want is to cause a sentient being distress.”

“You know, Chester,” said Richard, “you keep telling us all this stuff about not being able to harm a sentient being, but I’m starting to wonder if you mean it. Abby, have you moved yet?”

“Um... yeah,” said Abby hastily, putting her marble down in front of Chester’s home base.

“What do you mean, you’re not sure I mean it?” Chester demanded of Richard. “All those lousy Data jokes I’ve heard in the last nine months? Any android that could harm a sentient being would have long since crushed your skull in by now.”

“Mm,” said Richard, his eyes scanning the board. “Then how come you not only have told us about a morph we can use to eat Yeerks, but are actually driving us to a place where we can acquire some?”

“Because,” said Chester, “if I don’t tell you, you’ll wind up killing Yeerks anyway; only, without the vanarx morph, you’ll also kill their hosts. Therefore, by taking you to Gellioss, I’m preventing the destruction of sentient beings – and if I can’t do that, what can I do?”

“Ah-ha,” said Richard, moving a yellow marble across two of my purple ones. “So, you don’t have randomization circuits, but you definitely have rationalization circuits.”

Chester disdained to reply, and for the next few minutes the six of us played in silence.

It was basically a game between Josh and Richard, both of whom are outstanding Chinese-checker players. Anifal’s usually pretty good, too, but being cooped up in the Ssstram ship was freaking him out so badly that he was playing more at Abby’s level, which is okay, but not great. Chester, being a robot, could probably have blown all of us away, except that he wasn’t so much interested in winning as in preventing both Josh and Richard from doing so. And I was just plain awful.

Partly, of course, that was because I’m no good at strategy games. I never know what move to make first – or second, or third – and by the time I’ve actually figured out what I need to do, I’m doomed anyway, so why bother?

This time, though, there was something else. Something I hadn’t done yet was nagging at me to do it, and so much of my brain was either dwelling on it or trying to ignore it that I could barely even think about the game at all. Basically, when it was my turn, I just grabbed whichever purple marble was closest to me, put it somewhere else, and said, “Your turn, Josh.”

“Elly,” said Josh, after my third or fourth move like this, “you just jumped over two empty spaces.”

I was so distracted by that point that it took me a few seconds to realize what he meant. “Oh, yeah,” I said, moving my marble back to a legal spot. “Sorry.”

Josh sighed. “You know, Elly,” he said, “if you were playing opposite Abby, I wouldn’t mind so much; but when I’m trying to crush Richard, I’d prefer you to at least pretend to be keeping him out of your home base.”

“What makes you think she isn’t?” said Richard. “So far, she’s only moved five marbles. I can’t possibly win if she keeps that up.”

I felt a little guilty at that. I mean, maybe I didn’t care about the game, but I didn’t want other people to suffer for my thoughtlessness – especially not Josh. Clearly, I needed to get my brain back in gear; and that meant dealing with the other thing.

“All right, all right, I’m sorry,” I said. “Listen, do you mind if I use the bathroom?”

Josh didn’t answer, but kept staring at the board with that intense look he gets whenever there’s a problem he has to solve. I’d seen that look so many times in the past year (with reference to Hork-Bajir uprisings and newly appointed Vissers) that it was almost jarring to see it now, when his only problem was how to work around his sister’s inept placement of marbles.

Taking that as a no, I stood up, brushed the dust from the floor off my skirt, and headed for the back part of the ship.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I was the only person on the ship who still used the Ssstram bathroom. Since the ceiling was only four and a half feet off the floor, all the other Morph Forcers understandably preferred to take some of the disposable thermos bottles from the ship’s kitchen into their quarters, take care of their business that way, and then eject the bottles into Z-space. Since I’m only four foot seven anyway, though, it wasn’t so much of a problem for me.

See, the Ssstram have this thing about bodily fluids. Anything that involves getting up close and personal with them is considered utterly repulsive, to be done only when you have to. (I don’t know what they’d do if they saw a Dracula film. Kill themselves, probably.) So not only do they waste as little space as possible on their ship’s bathrooms, but they also make the walls three feet thick and soundproof, and paint the entire room in some bizarre green-and-orange pattern that supposedly inhibits telepathy. Basically, if you’re in an Ssstram bathroom, there is zero chance that anybody outside is going to know anything about it.

Considering what I was about to do, that was probably a good thing.

It wasn’t so much that we weren’t allowed to do stuff like this. Josh had never actually said anything about it, but whenever he caught me at it in my bedroom, he got this look on his face that made me feel horribly guilty, like I was getting ready to go tell Visser Seven my telephone number. So, in general, I tried to avoid it.

But still… I mean, I’d acquired the Gedd three days ago, and I still hadn’t used it. For me, that was an astonishing amount of self-control. Surely, Josh would understand if I gave in now… if he ever found out, that is.

Hastily, I pulled off my glasses, blouse, and skirt, leaving only my leotard. Then I closed my eyes, focused on the Gedd inside me, and started to morph.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Tue Sep 01, 2009 8:21 am

Chapter 7 - Morph

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Morphing is a wonderful thing. The idea of being yourself, and yet something else; the release from the tedium of the human body; all the feelings, sensations, and perceptions that no human can ever know… all of it, it’s just marvelous. Morphing power is one of the greatest gifts that technology has ever bestowed on sentient beings.

Of course, so is heart surgery. That doesn’t mean that the process is pretty.

Since I had my eyes closed, I felt the changes before I saw them. There was that bizarre sensation of the Andalite pain-killer spreading throughout my body, numbing me to the massive deformations that I was about to inflict on it. Then my skin started expanding, loosening, becoming about three times too large for my four-and-a-half-foot body, flopping down on top of itself in the trademark Gedd wrinkles. It felt colder, too – clammy, spongy… all in all, pretty repulsive.

My hair snaked back into my head, and short, wiry hairs started to emerge all over my body. Then came the teeth. I suppose that made some kind of sense – skin, hair, then teeth – but all the same, it was pretty unnerving to feel these pointy little Gedd incisors erupting out of still-basically-human gums. It was a good reminder of why I’m afraid of dentists.

Then, suddenly… WHUMP!

I lost my balance and hit my jaw on the crystal Ssstram floor. Apparently, my left leg had decided that now would be a good time to shrink to about three-quarters of the length of my right leg, and down I went.

The shock made me open my eyes, and I caught a glimpse of my left hand. I’ve always been a little vain about my hands, so it was kind of jarring to see one of them covered in wrinkly, pale-purple skin, with webs growing out from between the fingers like some mutant form of athlete’s foot.

“Rrr-so, arrre we having-rrr fun yet?” I muttered to myself, as my vocal cords made the transition to Gedd level.

The changes were happening fast now. My bones jelled and shifted, changing from solid keratin into the more flexible, half-cartilage stuff popular on the Yeerk homeworld. My senses shifted; smell was noticeably better, hearing a touch worse, and sight virtually unchanged. (Bear in mind that I wasn’t wearing my glasses at the time, so we’re not talking about an eagle-eyed species here.)

Finally, after about a minute and a quarter, the last human portion of my anatomy (a portion that I have no intention of discussing, thank you very much) changed to its Gedd equivalent. The morph was finished; all that was left now was to wait for the instincts to emerge.

This was really the important part for me. When you morph an animal, you don’t just borrow its body for two hours; you also experience all of its most basic needs and hungers, and, depending on what kind of animal it is, that experience can be anything from a sublime joy to a screaming terror. (You think you’ve been psychologically disturbed? Once you’ve wanted to eat your own brother, then we’ll talk.)

The thing was, all the other morphs I’d ever done had been Earth animals. I had no idea what a set of completely alien instincts would be like, and it was the desire to know that, more than any fascination with the Gedd body, that had been nagging at me during the Chinese checkers game.

So I waited, my heart pounding in my abdomen, until the instincts of the Gedd came bubbling up from their subterranean dwelling, and this is what I felt:

I felt like eating some seaweed.

That was it. I couldn’t believe it at first; I thought my long experience with morphing was getting the better of me, and I was instinctively blocking out the Gedd’s more violent passions. After all, these were the original Yeerk hosts, the proto-Hork-Bajir. Surely the Hork-Bajir’s resistance to their captivity should be multiplied tenfold in this species, right?

But no. I dug a little deeper into the Gedd’s consciousness, hoping to find something resembling a strong, alien instinct; nothing. I had spent three days being driven nearly insane by the desire to morph a complete lump.

Disgusted, I demorphed, flushed an empty waste-disposal capsule out of the ship for appearance’s sake, and headed back to the game.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A-ha,” said Abby as I entered the command bay. “The Princess emergeth.”

“Sorry,” I said, slipping back into my chair. “Am I holding up the game?”

“Actually, no,” said Abby. “Chester is.” She jerked her head to the control panel, where an uncloaked Chee was staring at a 3-D viewscreen.

I blinked. “What’s he doing?”

“We’re not sure,” said Josh. “Apparently his connection to the Ssstram ship alerted him to some kind of funny reading or something.”

I was a little nervous at that. It hadn’t really crossed my mind to wonder what kind of sensors the Ssstram ship had; had Chester noticed some kind of energy spike when I morphed?

Chester must have heard us talking, because at that point he glanced up from his instruments. I think he looked puzzled, although it’s not always easy to tell on his android face. “Elly, you flushed a capsule when you went to the bathroom, right?”

“Um… yeah,” I said, feeling proud that I had remembered to do that. “Shouldn’t I have?”

“Of course, you should have,” said Chester irritably, “and according to the ship’s function log, you did, about 32.8 seconds ago; but then I should be seeing it in the immediate vicinity, and none of the ship’s sensors are picking up a thing.”

“Oh.” I turned that statement over in my head, but couldn’t find anything that might be related to morphing. “Well, that’s weird.”

“Yeah, just a little,” said Chester. He scrutinized the viewscreen for a few more minutes; then he shrugged, turned, and came back to the game board. “Oh, well, I don’t suppose it’s a big deal.”

“Nah,” said Richard. “Just the fabled Z-Space Dragons ravening upon Elly’s waste products.”

“Conceivably,” said Chester, with the air of someone being extremely tolerant of an idiot. “Or these Ssstram instruments could just be fritzing out again. Lord knows, it wouldn’t be the first time.” He sighed and reactivated his hologram. “Anyway, I wouldn’t worry about it; it’s probably nothing.”

Abby snorted. “You haven’t been with the Morph Force for long, have you, Chester?” she said. “It’s always something.”

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Thu Sep 03, 2009 6:15 am

Chapter 8 - Arrival

If it had just been the one canister, I doubt any of us would ever have thought about it again; but, as Abby had pointed out, life as a Morph Forcer is never that simple. For the next fifteen hours, whenever any of us ejected a waste-disposal canister, it promptly disappeared into the white, misty reaches of Z-space.

The trouble was, none of us could think of any reason to be alarmed by this, but we all felt that we ought to be alarmed. Maybe it was our native Morph-Forcer paranoia surfacing, or maybe we were just desperate for something to do, but those disappearing canisters quickly became the focus of all our creative energies.

Chester held tight to his theory that the Ssstram sensors had gone weird, although I think that was more an excuse to whine about Ssstram technology than an actual belief. Anifal formed an elaborate hypothesis about us being caught in the middle of a Z-space rift, so that any objects below a certain mass would just sort of fold in on themselves. Josh, always the conscientious leader, refused to speculate on the subject, preferring instead to deal with the repercussions of the phenomenon when they came. Richard, for reasons of his own, kept blathering about Z-Space Dragons – aided and abetted by Abby, who managed, in less than twenty-four hours, to develop the most exhaustive mythological structure since the Silmarillion.

As for me, I mostly kept quiet. I knew, of course, that there was no logical reason why my morphing the Gedd should cause canisters to disappear; but, all the same, I didn’t trust myself, if I got into a serious conversation about the whole thing, not to blurt out something like, “Well, I don’t suppose morphing could have anything to do with it, could it?” And, of course, the others would wonder where that had come from, and there’d be all kinds of uncomfortable questions, and… well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be fun. So I just stayed out of it.

So with me staying away, Josh reserving judgment, and Richard and Abby off in their own little world, there were really only two people even trying to figure out what was going on, so I suppose it’s not surprising that we hadn’t come to any real conclusions by the time we emerged from Z-space.

It happened on the morning of our third day. We were at the Chinese checkers board again, except this time only Josh and Richard were playing, the rest of us having decided that we were just getting in their way. Josh had just managed to insinuate his first marble into Richard’s home base, resulting in a growl from Richard and cheers from the rest of us, when a light on the ship’s console started blinking on and off. Chester went over to it, looked at the screen for a few moments, then nodded and turned to us.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “in just a few minutes we will be emerging from Z-space. Please make sure your seats are in upright positions, and thank you for not smoking.”

“Upright relative to what?” said Richard. “We’re in space.”

The rest of us, however, got up and ran to the main window, eager to see the shift when it happened. For a few minutes, the milky whiteness of Z-space drifted lazily by, changeless, eternal, and utterly boring; then there was a beep from Chester’s console, and it was like someone had flipped a switch and turned on the universe.

The milky-white nothingness was replaced by a rich, velvet-black carpet sprinkled with stars. Stars. You think you know what stars look like because you visited your relatives in the country once? You haven’t seen anything until you’ve stared out a starship porthole, two inches of air and some perfect-transparency alien material all that stood between you and twenty thousand suns spread out over a million million miles.

I heard Abby sigh next to me. “They look so peaceful,” she said.

And they did. Maybe in between the stars there were ten thousand restless races, each at its own as well as the others’ throats, but the stars didn’t know about that, and wouldn’t have cared if they had known. Everything is simpler for stars; gravity tells you where to go, and you go. You aren’t worried about whether it’s right or wrong; there’s only one way you can go, and since the universe isn’t evil, that way must be right.

Chester’s voice interrupted my meditations. “Well,” he said, “if peaceful’s what you’re looking for, don’t look out the main viewscreen.”

So, naturally, all five of us turned to look out the main viewscreen, and got our first look at the Yeerk homeworld.

It didn’t look at all like my idea of a life-supporting planet. The oceans were a dull gray (sulp niar, I guessed), with a few jagged, red-brown continents slicing through them. You didn’t tend to notice that, though, because all your attention was drawn to the sky, which was bright green with little bolts of electricity flying through it every few seconds. (At least, they looked little from where we were. They were probably huge when you were right next to them.)

“Well,” said Abby. “No wonder the Yeerks are so messed up, living on a planet like that.”

“There’s some serious energy in that sky,” Chester commented. “If the Yeerks had ever developed their own advanced technology, they probably would have wound up living up there, in artificial cities floating on electroweak flux.”

"Like 'The Cloud Minders'," Richard offered.

"Basically, only without the Troglytes."

“That may be,” said Josh, “but the way things look from here, I’d say someone’s already bought up all the real estate.”

That was true, and was the other reason why the Yeerk homeworld didn’t look peaceful. The planet was laced with thousands upon thousands of Andalite fighters and Dome ships orbiting in perfect synchronization, each with its shredder cannon sticking up behind it like a huge tail, poised and ready to blast any unfamiliar vessel into oblivion.

Richard whistled softly. “Wow,” he said. “They must have half the Andalite fleet guarding this place.”

<Not quite that many,> said Anifal, <but still a respectable number. Many Andalite warriors live and raise families on those Dome ships, with full support from the homeworld government.>

“Kind of like the Panama Canal Zone,” I offered.

<In many respects, yes.>

“Except,” Abby put in, “there’s no way we’ll be able to get through it by saying we’re carrying a freight load of soybeans.”

<No,> Anifal agreed. <No Andalite commander would conceivably allow an unregistered, alien vessel to pass onto the Yeerk homeworld – and no technology known to Andalites could cloak us from their sensors.>

“Very true,” said Chester. “So aren’t you lucky to be traveling with a piece of technology unknown to Andalites?”

He snapped his fingers (probably just for dramatic effect), and every window on the ship began to shimmer – like a really hot summer day, except this was in deep space. I’d seen something like it once before, when one of the Chee had smuggled me out of the Yeerk pool. Chester was projecting a hologram all around the Ssstram ship, a hologram that would keep us from being seen by the Andalite fleet.

Grinning, Chester (who now, instead of a boy about my age, looked like a robot dog on two legs) carefully steered the Ssstram ship – a ship the size of my house – through a nearby gap in the biggest, tightest, most technologically advanced blockade in the galaxy.

Nobody paid us the slightest notice. To the Andalites and their sensors, we probably looked like just another patch of vacuum.

Anifal took a deep breath, as though he were swallowing about fifteen years’ worth of Andalite-aristh pride. <That was very impressive, Chester,> he said.

“Why, thank you, Anifal,” said Chester. “Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen. Next stop: the Yeerk homeworld.”

“What’s its name?” I asked suddenly. For some reason, this seemed important.

“What’s what’s name?” Chester asked.

“The Yeerk homeworld.”

“What do you mean, what’s its name? It’s the Yeerk homeworld.”

In response to my befuddled look, Anifal stepped forward. <It is the Andalite custom,> he said, <to refer to life-bearing planets simply as the homeworlds of their dominant species. Non-life-bearing planets are generally ignored in the official nomenclature.>

That didn’t satisfy me. “Well, what about the Yeerks?” I asked. “What do they call their home planet?”

<I have never inquired,> said Anifal delicately.

“The sun’s called Kandrona,” Chester offered. “Hence the name of the particles it emits. You could call this place Kandrona-3.”

Abby wrinkled her nose. “Ugh, no,” she said. “That’s what half-witted science-fiction writers do when they’ve used up all their creativity justifying the warp drive.”

Richard bristled, and I could tell he wasn’t pleased with this slur upon his favorite genre, but before he could give Abby what for, Josh, who had been staring out at the Yeerk homeworld on the main viewscreen, said, “Apollo.”

“Huh?” I said.

“Apollo,” Josh repeated. “You’re supposed to name planets after Roman gods, right? And for the Yeerks, their sun is just about the most important thing in the universe. So their planet’s Apollo.”

Chester stared. “You’re kidding me, right?” he said. “We’re talking about a planet of parasitic slugs where it rains acid every night, and you want to name it after Phoebus Apollo?”

“There’s precedent,” said Josh. “Look at Saturn. Here you have this truly gorgeous planet, and they went and named it after a monster who ate his own kids. Well, we’re doing the same thing, only backward.”

Chester stilled looked dubious. Abby looked frustrated that she hadn’t thought of it first; Richard looked irritated that we hadn’t stuck with Kandrona-3; and Anifal looked annoyed that “the Yeerk homeworld” wasn’t good enough for these upstart humans. Just the same, the leader had spoken, and nobody could think of any good reason to argue with him; and so Apollo it became.

That comforted me, somehow. There was all the difference in the world between a place that you thought of only as the home of your enemies and a place that had an actual name – a place that had substance – a place that was itself. It was all right, somehow, to go and fight in a place like that.

Chester sighed. “All right, then,” he said. “Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen. Next stop: Apollo.”