The Parallel

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Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Mon Sep 07, 2009 8:26 am

Chapter 9 - Landing

We went into low orbit around Apollo, with a little gravitational help from its moon (which Abby had named Phaethon the instant she saw it, glaring at Josh as though daring him to challenge her), and quickly established that the Andalite base we needed to visit was currently on the planet’s night-side, which meant that the nightly rains would be doing their thing when we got there.

“See, you two?” Josh said to Richard and me. “Now aren’t you glad that we had you risk your lives over a green, wrinkly ape-thing?”

“I don’t get it, though,” I said. “Why couldn’t we just stay in orbit until the planet rotated?”

<Because,> said Anifal, <the Yeerk-homeworld blockade is equipped, among other things, with gravity sensors, and, while Chester’s cloaking abilities are unquestionably remarkable, I doubt that he can disguise the Ssstram ship’s gravitational pull. It is therefore to our advantage to land before they start noticing such things.>

“Oh."

“Besides, Elly,” said Josh, “what are you complaining about? You’re going to get to try out a new morph.”

My brother knows me altogether too well. There was nothing to do but grin and nod, just as though I hadn’t already found out what a flop the Gedd morph was.

Chester took a deep breath. (I’m not sure why an android would need to do that, but maybe it was a reflex habit after five millennia as a human.) “Okay,” he said, “now comes the tricky part.”

“Listen to the man,” said Abby. “He figures out how to run a ship powered by Zen physics; he evades Grabbadil the Fiery and his Z-spatial brood; he slips past the biggest military blockade in the galaxy; and now comes the tricky part.”

“Exactly,” said Chester. “You’re a Catholic, right, Abby?”

“Um, yeah,” said Abby.

“Who’s the patron saint of entering a seriously electrically charged atmosphere, at speeds of up to Mach 3, in a starship composed of a wood that makes one of the best dang conductors this side of the Magellanic Clouds?”

Abby thought for a moment. “Um… I’ll say Pius V.”

“Well, start praying to him,” said Chester. He threw three switches, and the Ssstram ship turned sharply downward and started rocketing into the Apollic atmosphere.

It was an exciting ride, I have to say. The Ssstram ship groaned and rattled all the way, as though it wasn’t built for this sort of thing and might disintegrate at any moment. The bolts of electricity (which turned out, sure enough, to be positively gargantuan when you were right next to them) blazed around us, and would have hit us on at least three occasions if Chester hadn’t swerved us out of the way just in time. Then, on the final leg, when we penetrated the planet’s cloud cover, the rain started pounding on our hull, adding the suspense element of whether the alien shellac that coated the ship could stand having acid being poured on it for about twenty minutes. The whole thing, taken together, constituted a thrill ride of the first order.

If Josh ever orders me to do it again, I swear I’ll mutiny.

Finally, after seventy-five minutes and several hundred prayers (to St. Pius V and just about everyone else), the ship gave a sudden lurch, and we heard a high-pitched whine emerge from the bottom of the ship.

“That’s the gravitational compensators getting warmed up,” said Chester. “The last step preparatory to landing.”

“Oh, good,” I said.

The next minute the ship jerked 90 degrees, and I found myself skidding wildly down a floor that had suddenly become a wall. Instinctively, I started morphing to chickadee, but I only managed to grow a few feathers before I rammed into what, up until now, had been the far wall. Within the second, the rest of the Morph Force came skidding down to join me, resulting in assorted bumps, bashes, bruises, and a sudden, stinging pain in my left leg.

“Ow!” I shouted.

Anifal hastily jerked his tail away. <My apologies, Elly,> he said. <I was not anticipating this sudden disorientation.> He directed a four-eyed glare up at Chester, who appeared to have magnetically bonded himself to the console and was now squatting serenely on the ceiling.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I thought you knew. The design of the Ssstram ship requires it to land on its rocket end, so you have to flip it sideways when you want to commence docking maneuvers.”

“What?” Abby demanded. “What kind of idiots came up with that system?”

"Winged ones," said Richard.

“Oh.” Abby thought about that. “Good point.”

While the five of us disentangled ourselves from each other, I snuck a glance at my leg. It wasn’t a pretty sight; Anifal’s tail blade had sliced my skirt up nearly to my waist, and blood was flowing pretty freely from my thigh onto the deck. It was a good thing he had been disoriented, or he might have turned me into the Space-Faring Maid wi’ One Leg.

I stood up, wincing, and shot a look at my brother. “You know, Josh,” I said, “once upon a time, you would have been forcibly holding me down and trying to remember how to make a tourniquet right now.”

“Hmm?” said Josh, glancing at me. “Oh, I see. Yeah, that does look pretty bad – but then, you’re going to be morphing in a few minutes, so there shouldn’t be any lasting harm done.”

I bit back my reply. Letting my emotions interfere with a mission had gotten me in trouble too many times before. Inwardly, though, I thought, You know, Josh, you were a much better big brother back when you weren’t so good a general.

“And we have reached the ground,” said Chester, detaching from the console and dropping with a thump onto the floor. “If either of you lovely ladies wish to shower me with grateful kisses and tell me how magnificent I am, I promise not to take it amiss.”

Neither Abby nor I moved a muscle.

“Oh, well,” said Chester. “It was worth a shot.”

Josh frowned. “You have a pretty frisky libido for an android, you know that, Chester?” he said.

Chester shrugged. “Spend enough time as a harem overseer for Suleyman the Magnificent, and you start to get a feel for the style,” he said.

“Mm,” said Josh. “So how far are we from Whatsitsname Andalite Base?”

“Gellioss,” said Chester. “It’s two miles and a quarter due southwest of here. At a standard Gedd walking pace, that means it'll take you about forty-five minutes to get there.”

Josh nodded approvingly. “Good work,” he said. “I don’t suppose it’ll be that hard to find the enclosure, but on the off chance that it is, we might want to…”

My head was starting to swim from loss of blood. “Excuse me, Josh,” I said, “but could you continue this conversation after we morph?”

“Oh, of course,” said Josh. “Sorry about that.”

“Not at all,” I managed.

“You heard her, people!” said Josh. “Let’s morph!”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Four minutes later, five identical Gedds were sitting unsteadily on the floor of the Ssstram ship.
“W-rrr-ell, this-rrr-s…” Abby started to say with the Gedd’s mouth. She frowned, and switched over to thought-speak. <Well, this is a refreshing change. Nothing hard at all with this morph, except for trying to balance on these stupid legs.>

I glanced down at my own mismatched legs, and caught sight of my dried blood on the floor. The Gedd’s color vision wasn’t great, but I could still see that part of the patch was blue; apparently my bloodstream had changed before my leg this time around. It was kind of an interesting sight, looking at the contrasts of blue, red, and a sort of purple where it had been in the process of changing, and realizing that all of it was different forms of the same thing. I thought about what Anifal had once said, about how the DNA prints of all the animals we’d ever acquired could be found in our blood, and I wondered what it would look like if you ran a forensic test on this little puddle; if the CSI people got hold of one of the purple spots, would they be able to tell that the person it came from could turn into a hummingbird at a moment’s notice?

The sense of Josh’s thought-speak “voice” in my mind interrupted my musings. <Hmm?> I said. <I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.>

<I said I’m sorry the morph’s such a letdown,> said Josh. <Here you’ve been waiting eagerly for four or five days to get into this latest species’s head, and now it turns out not to be worth getting into. Must be pretty depressing for you.>

I shrugged. <That’s okay,> I said. <I guess I should have expected it. The Yeerks have probably been breeding these things to have weak minds for the last few millennia; you can’t really expect them to have much in the way of instincts anymore.>

<True,> Josh admitted. <Well, I suppose we’d better be going. We are operating under certain time constraints, after all.>

Since none of us particularly wanted to be stuck as Gedds for the rest of our lives, we all agreed that this was a wise idea, and the five of us hobbled over to the exit hatch.

<Chester?> said Josh. <Care to open this thing for us?>

“Get everyone to cluster around it first,” said Chester. “I don’t want to drop the force field any sooner than I have to.”

<What force field?> I said.

“What do you mean, what force field?” said Chester. “The one that’s keeping the acid monsoon off this ship’s hull.”

I blinked. <You can keep the acid off with a force field?>

“Of course.”

<But Josh said he asked you whether you could go get the vanarges for him, and you said no.>

“Actually,” said Chester, “what I said was that if he wanted me to risk such a sophisticated piece of machinery as myself to do his job for him, he’d have to pay me my worth in current American dollars.”

<Which is?>

“About $12.5 trillion.”

<Oh,> I said. <So, basically, you did say no.>

“Basically,” Chester agreed. “Now, if the five of you will just lean up against the door there…”

<Wait a minute,> said Richard. <If the control panel is on the ceiling, how are you going to de-energize the exit hatch?>

Chester grinned slyly, which on his robot-dog face was truly a disturbing sight. “I have my methods, Richard, I assure you,” he said. “Now, please, everyone, lean.”

We did so, and Chester gazed up at the ceiling and raised a single finger. A small, shining bubble – a miniature force field, I suppose – emerged from the tip of his metal claw, drifted up to the control panel, and lazily pushed itself against a greenish-yellow panel.

I don’t know what the others had been expecting, but I had assumed that the door would slowly dilate open, or slide into the wall the way the Star Trek doors do. Instead, it just sort of disappeared; one minute it was there, the next minute it wasn’t, as though Chester had blown the Last Trump and initiated some kind of door Rapture.

Predictably, the five of us who had been leaning against it lost our balance and tumbled out of the ship onto the spongy Apollic soil. (Fortunately, Anifal didn’t have a tail blade this time.)

As we staggered to our feet, I caught a momentary glimpse of Chester smirking at us through the open exit hatch. Before I could orient my jaw muscles to stick my tongue out at him, he reactivated the hologram; the entire ship shimmered for a moment and then vanished into thin air, and the five of us were alone on the Yeerk homeworld.

As I glanced around the bizarre, alien landscape, I felt a sudden upsurge in the Gedd instincts – still controllable, but stronger than anything I had felt from the morph before. This was home for the Gedd, where it belonged. The crazy-electric sky, the toxic rain, the smell like rotten broccoli emanating from all the nearby vegetable life – to the Gedd’s mind, it was all as pleasant, as beautiful, as right, as my clouded-leopard morph felt curled up in a tree on a hot summer day.

Josh chuckled. <Anyone else feel that?> he said.

<The “Be it ever so humble” impulse, you mean?> said Richard. <Yeah, I got that. Maybe this trek won’t be so arduous, after all.>

<Well, only one way to find out,> said Josh. He pointed towards a faraway range of mountains, all but obscured by the rain. <Southwest is that way, right, Anifal?>

Anifal nodded.

<Then that way we shall go,> said Josh. <Come on, folks. Let’s go acquire ourselves some Yeerkbane.>

Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sun Sep 13, 2009 11:20 am

Chapter 10 - Apollo

As it turns out, walking as a Gedd isn’t nearly as hard as the leg thing makes it look. Basically, you dig the foot of the shorter leg into the ground, swing the longer leg around your body like a sideways pendulum, and then dig that foot into the ground and use it to hoist the shorter leg forward, sort of like a lever. It’s a pretty complicated way to walk, and it takes a little while to learn – but then, the way chickadees fly is complicated, too, and you don’t hear me complaining about that.

Besides, the Gedd brain knew how to walk like that, even if we didn’t, so we managed to get the hang of it in about four minutes (even Anifal, who walks like a drunken stork in his human morph). After that, it was just a matter of making distance and watching the scenery.

When I tell you that making distance was the fun part, that should give you some idea of what the scenery was like.

It took me a while to figure out what was so creepy about Apollo. At first I thought it was just the sheer weirdness of the place, but that wasn’t it, or at least not all of it. I’d experienced enough weirdness in the past year to know the difference between weird and spooky, and this place was both.

The problem wasn’t the twelve-legged dragonfly-things flying around making wailing noises, or the “trees” whose branches were eight times as long as their trunks, or the giant tongues that came up out of holes in the ground to grab unwary animals that looked like six-legged pigs without heads. The problem was that, as we walked along, all the dragonfly-things were making the same wailing noise, all the mini-trees had exactly the same leaves, and it was always the same kind of tongue that came out to grab the same kind of headless pig-thing. The planet felt like one giant assembly line, and to me – the girl who considers it a bad day when only six species show up at our bird-feeder – that kind of uniformity was scary.

For about the first mile and a half, I kept quiet about it. After a while, though, I felt like I just had to say something, or I was going to go nuts. You know the feeling.

<Well,> I said, trying to sound casual. <Not much for biodiversity, these folks, huh?>

<No,> Anifal said. <Evolution on the Yeerk homeworld works on the principle of conquest rather than coexistence.>

<What’s that mean?>

<There is a pattern to Yeerk-homeworld life,> Anifal said. <When an ecological niche opens up, several different species rush to fill it. These species then begin a fierce competition between each other, one that does not cease until one species has totally annihilated all the others. Once this occurs, the successful species begins the task of adapting perfectly to the habitat it has thus appropriated. This generally takes several million years, at the end of which time the niche is very likely to have disappeared or been replaced by a different niche. The species duly goes extinct, and the cycle begins all over again.>

He paused. <It explains a great deal about the Yeerks, really.>

<Wow,> said Richard. <And I thought Earth was a tough neighborhood.>

<It is,> said Anifal firmly. <Much tougher than this world. A life-form on Earth cannot simply battle three or four other species for control of a specialized niche: it must battle all the other species on the planet simply to stay alive. That is why Earth’s ecosystem is so varied and subtle. It is why humans adapt so readily to change.> He turned and grinned at us. <It is why the four of you have, in a matter of months, become four of the galaxy’s greatest warriors.>

I don’t know if Gedds can blush, but I definitely felt a tingle on my cheeks just then.

Or maybe that was just the rain.

<Say,> I said, suddenly remembering. <What’s going to happen when we get back to the ship?>

<What do you mean?> said Josh.

<Well, we’re going to be dripping with acid, aren’t we?> I said. <That can’t be good for a delicate machine-organism-whatever like the Ssstram ship. Is Chester going to blow-dry us off before he lets us in, or something?>

Anifal gave me a weird look. <Elly,> he said, as though he couldn’t believe how ignorant I was, <the skin of our morph contains a base exactly opposite to the acid in the rains; any acid that touches us is neutralized, no more hazardous than pure water. That is why the Gedd morphs were necessary in the first place. The Ssstram ship cannot possibly be in any danger from us.>

I was a little irritated at Anifal’s tone. I’m only in seventh grade, after all; I can’t be expected to have learned all of this stuff. (Though to hear Anifal talk, Andalites are probably taught chemistry in kindergarten, so from his perspective I guess I can.)

<Hang on,> said Richard. <Is that really how this morph works?>

<Of course,> said Anifal.

<But acids neutralize bases the same way that bases neutralize acids,> said Richard, <so our protective coating should be vanishing with every raindrop.>

<And so it is,> said Anifal. <Cellular reproduction, however, occurs much more quickly in Gedd skin than it does in any Earthly organ, so the supply of the base – Andalite scientists call it fiastha – is replenished as quickly as it is consumed.>

<Oh.> Richard thought about that. <Is that why the Gedd’s skin is so wrinkly?>

<Exactly,> said Anifal, sounding pleased that one of us was catching on. <The excess skin produced must go somewhere, and Gedds are too vulnerable to predators for constant shedding to be practical, so it simply accumulates on the body.

<In fact,> he added, <since swift skin growth is such an important aspect of health in a Gedd, the number and size of wrinkles is a large part of the male’s mating display. In the rutting season, a…>

<Oh, shut up!>

The four of us turned to stare at Abby, who had been unusually quiet till now.

<Don’t any of you realize?> she said. <We’re on another planet. We’ve reached out into the great expanse of Elsewhere and found solid ground. We should all be struck dumb with awe right now, and you people are talking about skin cells!>

<Certainly,> said Richard, with that irritating more-rational-than-thou tone he sometimes gets. <Despite what you may have been told, Abby, ignorance is not a prerequisite to aesthetic appreciation. Sometimes, you can when you know something about a place, you can actually appreciate it more.>

Abby glared, but Josh cut her off before she could come up with a reply. <Richard,> he said, <if Abby doesn’t want to listen to a biology lecture, she doesn’t have to. You and Anifal can chat about Gedd mating displays in private thought-speak, and the rest of us can be alone with our own thoughts.>

That’s my brother for you, always the politician. Richard gave him a long-suffering look, the way Galileo probably did when they made him deny the heliocentric theory. Then he turned to Anifal, and I guess they continued their conversation because Anifal shook his head a lot, but the rest of us couldn’t hear a thing.

In the silence, I looked around at the landscape and thought about what Abby had said. It was another planet, that was for sure – I’ve seen pictures of Jupiter that looked more like Earth than this place did – but it sure didn’t strike me dumb with awe.

Then again, maybe that was my own prejudice. Maybe if I stopped wanting Apollo to be Earth and just tried to appreciate it for what it was, then the whole cookie-cutter quality of the place would turn out to be as beautiful in its own way as Earth was. I doubted it, but it was worth a try.

So for the next ten minutes or so, I did my best to look at the Apollic scenery as if I’d never walked through an Earthly meadow in July, and I think I had some success, in the sense that I wasn’t actively hating the entire ecosystem when Josh said, <Look sharp, folks. Target at ten-o’-clock.>

We all looked up and to our left. About forty yards away, almost hidden in the rain, was a pulsing, yellow force field, and inside that force field were two animals that had to be the Yeerkbanes.

They looked like huge, long tubes covered in purple fur, scuttling around on six insect-like legs. At one end of their bodies was something I guess you have to call a tail; anyway, it was raised higher than the rest of the body, and its hairless tip waved and twitched constantly, as though it was sniffing the air. That was a little creepy, but not half as bad as what was at the other end.

Because where an ordinary animal would have had a head, these things had long, hairless, almost transparent tubes, ending in a sort of mouth big enough to swallow a human head. When they opened their mouths, which they did at least twice, you could see hundreds of tiny, slime-covered suckers, each throbbing and pulsing like they wanted to suck out your soul – which, in a sense, I guess they did.

<Now that’s what I’m talking about,> said Richard.

<Very impressive,> Anifal acknowledged. <They should make a highly successful battle morph.>

<That’s putting it mildly,> Abby said, laughing. <I can’t wait to see the look on Visser Seven’s face when we come barreling into the Yeerk pool wearing those babies!>

Josh nodded. <Quite. Okay, let’s see – we’ll need to deactivate the force field, get inside, reactivate it to keep the rain off, demorph, acquire the vanarges, remorph, deactivate the force field again, and leave. Think we can handle that, Anifal?>

<Most probably,> said Anifal. <The force field is designed as an enclosure for sub-sentient life-forms, so it oughtn’t to be very difficult to deactivate. The only possible difficulty lies…>

TSSSEEEEEEWWW!

A nearby tuft of grass sizzled and burst into flame right in front of Anifal’s longer leg. Instinctively, we all whipped our heads in the direction the shredder bolt had come from.

A small, dome-shaped shelter stood nearby the vanarges’ enclosure. Just inside it, out of reach of the deadly rain, were two Andalite warriors, both holding shredders and both staring at us with cold fury.

<In that,> Anifal finished.

Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:00 am

Chapter 11 - Discrepancy

The seven of us just stood there for about three minutes, we Gedds not moving, the Andalites not firing.

<What are they waiting for?> I whispered. <I suppose they think we’re Yeerks, so why don’t they just shoot us and get it over with?>

<They are unsure whether we represent a threat,> Anifal replied. <There are a number of Gedd-Controllers on the Yeerk homeworld who have allied themselves with the Andalite Republic – members, for the most part, of a religious sect that believes that Yeerks and Gedds were created for each other, and that to infest other species is an abomination. The local Andalite forces do not like them, but they endure their presence.>

<And they think we’re part of this crowd?> said Abby.

<They think we might be,> said Anifal. <On the other hand, we might also be apostates, seduced by the glamour of Hork-Bajir senses and wishing to rejoin the Empire – an interpretation made all the more plausible by the fact that we are currently attempting to infiltrate a mid-level-security Andalite base.>

<Terrific,> Richard muttered. <So how do we convince them that our intentions are entirely orthodox?>

<I can think of one very simple means,> said Anifal, grinning. Then he turned to the Andalites and said, in open thought-speak, <Greetings, O my brothers! May your tails never lose their cunning!>

You could tell that the Andalites weren’t expecting this. All eight of their collective eyes widened, and their arms dropped slightly, as though their shredders had suddenly become a little heavier.

Anifal bowed. <I regret that I cannot greet you in my true form,> he said, <but, under the circumstances, I trust you will understand the necessity for my coyness. May I at least have the honor to know your names?>

The Andalites glanced at each other with their stalk eyes for a moment. Then the taller one stepped forward. <I am Warrior Lingfeer-Worragal-Emtash,> he said. <My companion is Warrior Orfand-Eriojim-Landiss. We are the principal overseers of Gellioss Base.>

Anifal bowed again. <An honor, indeed.>

<May we know your identity?> said Lingfeer pointedly.

<I am Aristh Anifal-Mekelial-Worrann,> said Anifal. <Formerly of the Dome ship GalaxyTree.>

<Prince Elfangor’s command?>

Anifal nodded.

Lingfeer seemed impressed. <We have been awaiting news of your commander’s exploits for some time,> he said. <It has been almost a year since he last communicated with the fleet. Tell me, how many Yeerks has he slain recently?>

<None recently, I am afraid,> said Anifal. <He was killed shortly after his last communication, and the GalaxyTree destroyed. I am the sole survivor.>

Lingfeer and Orfand glanced at each other, and lowered their tails in the Andalite gesture of grief.

<This is sad news you bring, Aristh Anifal,> said Lingfeer. <I served under Prince Elfangor before I was assigned to this post. The galaxy will not see his like again.>

Anifal inclined his head.

<And what of these others?> Lingfeer asked, gesturing to us. <Are they also Andalites?>

Anifal glanced back at Josh, who nodded slightly.

<Not precisely, Warrior Lingfeer,> said Anifal. <They are humans.>

Lingfeer and Orfand were visibly startled, and I was pretty sure I knew why. Under Andalite law, giving advanced technology to primitive species (like humans) is just about the worst crime there is. Apparently Andalites once gave space travel to the Yeerks, and they’re determined not to make the same mistake twice.

<You must be mistaken, Aristh Anifal,> said Lingfeer. <Humans have not yet invented morphing technology.>

<No,> Anifal agreed. <But what has not been earned can still be given.>

<And you have given this thing to the humans?> said Lingfeer, his eyes narrowing.

<Not I,> said Anifal. <I could not have done so. Only a great visionary would have dared such an act – and there was only one such Andalite aboard the GalaxyTree.>

Lingfeer’s eyes narrowed even further at that. <You accuse Prince Elfangor of violating the law of Seerow’s Kindness?> he demanded. <You claim that, at the moment of his death, the champion of the Andalite fleet placed our greatest weapon in the hands of humans?>

<Is it so hard to imagine?> said Anifal. He sounded genuinely puzzled.

<I do not wish to believe this, Aristh Anifal,> said Lingfeer. <I do not wish to see the Hero of Kebes’s name become a curse among his own people.>

<I assure you, Warrior Lingfeer, you shall not,> said Anifal. <The humans are not like the Yeerks. They are peaceable, cooperative, and capable of immense adaptation. In the few months that I have been with them, these four humans have shown themselves the equals of any Andalites I have ever known.>

<Stop it, Anifal,> said Abby. <You’re embarrassing us.>

Anifal smiled. <And in any case,> he said, <surely the Andalite people would not condemn the husband of Loren Halden for showing compassion to humans.>

Lingfeer blinked. <The husband of whom, Aristh Anifal?>

I don’t think I’ve seen Anifal so taken aback since Josh first demorphed in front of him. Whoever this Loren person was, clearly she was common knowledge in Anifal’s circle.

<You say you served under Prince Elfangor, Warrior Lingfeer?> he asked.

Lingfeer straightened his upper body proudly. <I was an officer on the Dome ship SunTail for over three years,> he said.

<Then surely you must have met Loren,> said Anifal. <She was Elfangor’s human wife of nearly twenty years. Their son, Tobias, served as an aristh with me aboard the GalaxyTree.>

He laughed. <I remember: while the GalaxyTree was in Z-space, on its way to Earth, Prince Elfangor gathered the crew together for a speech. When we were all assembled on the bridge, he gestured Loren and Tobias forward, and said to us, "Never forget one thing, shipmates: when you fight for Earth, you are not fighting for an abstraction. You are not fighting for 'freedom and liberty', or 'the peoples of the galaxy', or even the defeat of the Yeerks. You are fighting for five billion sentient beings like these two, and for the right of each one to live his or her life free from tyranny. That is all. Dismissed."

<At the time, none of us thought much of it,> Anifal reflected. <It was just one of those things that the Mad Genius did every so often. In retrospect, however, I suppose I should have…>

TSSSEEEEEWWW!

Another tuft of grass in front of Anifal burst into flame – except that this time, I got the distinct impression that Lingfeer would have preferred to shoot at his head.

<Aristh Anifal – if that is your true name,> he said, his thought-speak “voice” trembling with rage, <I do not know what kind of madman you are, or how you arrived on this planet. Nor do I care. Because you are a fellow Andalite, and may truly have served with Prince Elfangor, I will delay my attack for precisely one minute – but if, at then end of that minute, you and your companions are still in my line of fire, you will all die for the lie that you have spoken.>

We all stood silent for a moment, stunned.

<Warrior Lingfeer,> said Anifal, hesitantly, <I assure you…>

<You now have fifty-nine seconds,> said Lingfeer.

<Warrior Lingfeer,> said Josh, <if I may…>

<Fifty-eight seconds.>

<Warrior Lingfeer, just listen for a second!> I exploded. <We only came here because of those animals you’ve got under your force field. They’re the natural enemies of the Yeerks, and we need to acquire them so we can defend our planet. If you’ll just give us five minutes to do that, we’ll get out of this base the instant we’re done, and we’ll never bother you or insult one of your princes again. Okay?>

<You now have forty-six seconds.>

I growled at him. (Of course, my Gedd diaphragm had been growling pretty much since I morphed, so I doubt he noticed, but it made me feel better.)

Josh sighed. <We should probably get moving,> he said privately. <I like to think I know when I’m beaten, and if we can’t demorph under the force field, we’ll want to have a ship over our heads within the hour.>

<Actually, within fifty-seven minutes,> Anifal said abstractedly.

<Right, and these aren’t the fastest morphs in the galaxy, so the sooner we start, the better.> He threw a glance at Lingfeer. <Particularly under these circumstances.>

<You don’t have to tell me twice,> said Richard. <Come on, folks, let’s beat feet.>

And we turned back towards the northeast and ran as fast as our mismatched legs would carry us.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Oct 03, 2009 4:20 pm

Chapter 12 - Background

We walked most of the way back in silence; the sting of losing the vanarges, plus the look of bewildered betrayal on Anifal’s face, did a pretty good job of keeping us from opening our mouths. After a while, though, Abby blurted the thought on all of our minds.

<So what are we going to do?> she demanded. <We’re not just going to give up, are we?>

<Sure we are,> said Josh.

Abby gaped at him. <You’re kidding me, right?> she said. <You, Mr. Laughs-at-Whole-Detachments-of-Hork-Bajir, are telling me that you’re going to let two mule-headed guards stand between us and those furry WMDs back there?>

<Abby,> said Josh, <it’s not just a question of two mule-headed guards. Once Orfand and Lingfeer get over their outrage at Anifal’s blasphemy, they’re going to report us to the Andalite High Command, and the Andalite High Command is going to want to know how four humans and an aristh got past the tightest military blockade in Andalite history. Before long, those ships up in orbit will have their gravity sensors turned on, and then, if we try to leave this planet, every ship in that fleet will open fire on us.>

<So we shoot them fir… Oh.>

<Exactly. Chester can’t fire on sentient beings, and none of the rest of us knows enough about the Ssstram ship to try and operate its weapons. So we’d be stuck on this planet, waiting for the Andalites to find us – and either they wouldn’t, in which case we’d be here for the rest of our lives, or they would, in which case we’d have to try and explain ourselves to a race that considers our very existence to be the ultimate crime.> He shook his head. <No-win situation. So our best bet is to try and get off Apollo before it ever becomes an issue.>

<But we’ll be back, right?> I said. <We’ll come up with another plan?>

Josh turned and looked me in the eye. <We’ll see, Elly,> he said. <Don’t think I haven’t realized what a vanarx morph would mean to you.> He sighed. <I don’t know. Maybe in a few months, once the furor over us dies down… Anifal, how long would that take?>

<I do not know, Prince Josh,> said Anifal. <I am no longer sure that I know anything.>

It was hard to know what to say to that.

<It is inexplicable,> Anifal murmured. <How could he not know of Loren Halden?>

<I didn’t know of Loren Halden,> Richard pointed out. <Who was she, anyway?>

<Prince Elfangor’s human wife.>

<Yeah, I caught that, but how… I mean, where would an Andalite prince meet a human woman?>

Anifal chuckled. <That was the question every aristh asked Prince Elfangor as soon as he set hoof on board the GalaxyTree,> he said. <I don’t know what answer he gave the others, but when I asked him, he said they met on a Skrit Na raider and ran away to Earth using a Time Matrix that they happened to find handy.>

<Not a serious answer, I take it,> Josh said.

<Hardly. I accept that the Skrit Na are the galaxy’s ultimate collectors, but even they are not likely to have a mythical device conveniently lying around.> Anifal shrugged. <But however it happened, Loren and Prince Elfangor certainly met, and it seems a matter of record that, either at their meeting or shortly thereafter, something happened that caused Prince Elfangor to repudiate the Yeerk War and flee to Earth.>

<To Earth?> Richard repeated.

<Yes. Prince Elfangor lived on Earth, disguised as a human, for perhaps four of your planet’s years. It was a tremendous accomplishment.>

<You ought to know,> said Abby.

Anifal’s eyes narrowed. <I beg your pardon?>

<Oh, nothing.>

<So,> said Josh hastily. <Prince Elfangor lived on Earth for four years. Then what happened?>

<Again, specifics are hard to come by,> said Anifal. <The most commonly repeated rumor stated that, after she conceived Tobias, Loren joined a sharfeed – or a pregnancy-support group, as you rather inelegantly call them – hosted by a newly-launched organization called the Sharing.>

<The Sharing?> said Josh. <As in…>

<Yes,> said Anifal. <It was an early form of the Yeerk host-recruitment program with which we are all familiar.>

I squirmed. I could guess where this was going.

<Loren, of course, did not know this,> said Anifal, <but her previous experience with Yeerks – whatever that may have been – led her to suspect, after a while, that something was amiss. She spoke to Prince Elfangor about it, and he began discreetly to investigate – and, of course, he eventually discovered that her suspicions were correct.

<As you can imagine, this caused him great distress. He declared to Loren that he had been a fool and a coward, that no sentient creature could rest while the Yeerks remained at large, and that there was nothing else for him to do but to return to the task he had abandoned four years ago. The following day, he planned to infiltrate a Yeerk facility of which he had learned, hijack a Yeerk starship, and rejoin the Andalite fleet – and, since he had no wish to leave Loren to raise their child alone, he asked her to come with him.>

<Whoof,> said Josh. <That’s a lot to lay on a pregnant woman all of a sudden.>

<True,> said Anifal, <but Loren was not merely a pregnant woman; she was the wife of an Andalite warrior, and she acquitted herself splendidly. “Where you go,” she said, “I will go; those who are your enemies shall also be mine; and when the blade of the wicked lays you low, I will take up your emblem and add to your blood my own.”>

<Oh, come on,> said Richard. <No human being talks like that.>

Anifal sighed. <Perhaps those were not her exact words,> he said, <but that was her sentiment – and it was a noble sentiment, worthy of being put into noble words.>

<Uh-huh.>

<In any case,> said Anifal testily, <Prince Elfangor succeeded in capturing the Bug fighter the following day, and he and Loren left Earth. Not long after, they came across a space battle in progress, in which Prince Elfangor, since he was piloting a Yeerk ship, was able to insinuate himself into the enemy’s forces and cripple them from within. This feat enabled the Andalite fleet to pull out a desperate victory, earning Prince Elfangor the admiration and gratitude of the Andalite commander, one Fadees-Tamerret-Adrai. It was on the strength of Prince Fadees’s recommendation that Prince Elfangor was accepted back into the Andalite fleet, and elevated to the rank of warrior.>

<Despite having married a human woman,> said Josh.

<Exactly,> said Anifal. <Had Prince Elfangor’s first reencounter with the Fleet been any less spectacular, the existence of Loren, and particularly Tobias, would have been sufficient to have him court-martialed and executed, but because he had saved so many Andalite lives – and went on to become perhaps the greatest hero of the Yeerk War – the War Council was willing to overlook his questionable personal life. Yet it never ceased to look at him askance.>

<Sort of like Ulysses S. Grant,> said Josh.

<Yes,> said Anifal reflectively. <Bad habits, but unquestioned military brilliance. Yes, General Grant is a good comparison.>

<Funny,> I said. <The way Warrior Lingfeer talked about Elfangor, he sounded more like Robert E. Lee.>

Anifal spread his hands. <As I said, it is inexplicable,> he said.

<The part I don’t get is this Tobias thing,> said Abby. <How could an Andalite have a child by a human woman?>

Anifal frowned. <Well, he had a human morph, of course…>

<Yeah, obviously,> said Abby, <but I didn’t think you could have a baby in morph. I mean, when you eat in morph, you don’t put on weight…>

<That is because the food you eat in morph remains in your morph’s stomach,> said Anifal, <and consequently can have no effect on your natural form. On the other hand, when we fight the Yeerks, the blood we spill remains on the Yeerk-pool floor even after we demorph. You see the difference?>

Abby hesitated. <I think so,> she said. <You’re saying that a man can father a child while he's in morph, because the stuff he contributes is no longer part of him after he’s contributed it.>

<Exactly.>

A wide smile slowly spread over Abby’s face. <Well, that opens up some interesting future possibilities,> she said. <Doesn’t it, Josh?>

Josh suddenly became very interested in the surrounding landscape.

<Say, this is where we landed,> he said suddenly. <Does anyone remember where we left the ship?>

<Well,> said Richard, <at a guess, I would say right over there.>

We all turned in the direction he was pointing. Sure enough, about twenty yards away from us, where only two seconds before there had been nothing but red dirt and green sky, there now stood a blue, leafless tree the size of a house, in front of which stood a gleaming steel-and-ivory android.

“So,” called Chester cheerfully. “How’d it go?”

The five of us looked at each other.

<I think I’ll let you tell him, Elly,> said Josh.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Thu Oct 15, 2009 7:20 am

Chapter 13 - Logic

Never expect sympathy from an android. After we had left the planet and gotten safely into Z-space (and Richard had darted into the Ssstram ship’s bathroom to regurgitate the effects of Chester’s flying), I gave Chester the bare-bones account of our mission – that we had failed to acquire the vanarges, that we had nearly been killed by someone who was theoretically our ally, and that, if he hadn’t gotten us off of Apollo so quickly, we might very well have been stranded there for the rest of our lives – and his sole comment was, “Well, they say these things are sent to try us.”

I suppose he noticed that that didn’t exactly console me, because he quickly added, “But I suppose you’re not in the mood for philosophy.”

“No,” I said.

“No, indeed,” said Abby. “When you’re feeling bewildered, you don’t want other people to smirk like they know everything and tell you how good the experience is for your soul. You want them either to give you an explanation or be decently bewildered with you.”

“Is that so?” said Chester.

“Yes, it is,” said Abby. “So tell us, O Great One: How could Warrior Lingfeer not have heard of Loren Halden?”

Chester leaned back on the balls of his feet and folded his hands. “Well, let’s think about that,” he said. “The first thing to realize is that it’s not just an issue of Lingfeer. It’s also an issue of the other warrior, what was his name…”

“Orfand,” said Josh.

“Right. Remember, Orfand didn’t stop Lingfeer from trying to shoot you, so whatever the explanation is, it has to apply to both of them. If Lingfeer was lying, Orfand was in on it; if Lingfeer was crazy, Orfand had the same psychosis; and if Lingfeer genuinely believed that Elfangor never married a human woman, Orfand must have believed it, too.”

“Okay…” I said.

“Okay, so let’s take each possibility in turn,” said Chester. “If they were lying, that means they had an ulterior motive for denying Loren’s existence. Now what motive would two Andalite warriors stationed out in the middle of nowhere have for pretending to believe that a woman who is known by the entire Andalite people to have existed did not exist?”

The five of us stood there for a moment, staring at each other.

“Okay, then,” said Chester finally. “Forget that one. Option two: Lingfeer and Orfand were insane. Having seen the planet they were stationed on up close, I would call that entirely plausible…”

Anifal shifted. <With respect, Chester,> he said, <I must contradict you on that point.>

Chester frowned. “You don’t think Apollo is a good place to go mad?”

<Of course it is,> said Anifal, <and the Andalite homeworld knows this. That is why all Andalite officers stationed on the Yeerk homeworld are subjected regularly to intense psychological scrutiny, and withdrawn from their posts if they exhibit the slightest sign of mental irregularity. It is flatly impossible that even one such officer, let alone two, should have been allowed to fall so deeply into madness as to have convinced themselves of the non-occurrence of one of Andalite history’s most sensational episodes.>

What he said made sense, but I think we were all a little surprised by his tone. Anifal’s generally one of the calmer Morph Forcers, but right then he seemed weirdly tense, like he wanted the subject changed immediately. He got like that every so often, and I wasn’t quite sure why.

“Well, then,” said Chester after a moment, “the only option left is that Lingfeer was telling the truth, and neither he nor Orfand had ever heard of Loren or Tobias.”

“Which seems to entail never having heard of Prince Elfangor,” said Josh. “If Anifal’s telling the truth, Elfangor’s story was pretty much inextricable from Loren’s.”

“‘If Anifal’s telling the truth,’” Chester repeated thoughtfully. “Suppose he isn’t?”

“What?” said the four of us, pretty much simultaneously.

“Think about it,” said Chester. “If Anifal’s telling the truth, Lingfeer and Orfand must have been either lying or mad. We’ve established that they were neither, so the logical conclusion is that he isn’t.”

I stared at him, wide-eyed. “But… but what motive would Anifal have to lie?”

“Well, what did he accomplish by it?” said Chester.

“Nothing!” I said. “We didn’t even get to acquire the…”

“The vanarges. Exactly. And suppose that Anifal never wanted you to acquire the vanarges in the first place?”

“Huh?”

“Suppose,” Chester repeated, “that Anifal never wanted you to acquire the vanarges in the first place.”

I frowned. “Then why didn’t he say something before we left Earth?”

“Probably because he knew he couldn’t talk you out of it,” said Chester. “Maybe there was a specific host he didn’t want freed, and he knew that you would free it if you acquired a vanarx morph. He couldn’t very well say that to you, so his only option would be to pretend to go along and then sabotage the mission from within. And you have to admit that, if that was his plan, he succeeded brilliantly.”

Dumbstruck, I turned to look at Anifal, half expecting him to morph to sharbat and tear out Chester’s mainframe for having revealed his secret. To my surprise, he was actually smiling – well, not smiling, but that thing Andalites do with their eyes that’s like smiling.

<So then, Chester,> he said, <your theory is that I was betraying the Morph Force for my own advantage – and, presumably, that I was eager not to have Prince Josh learn this.>

“Basically,” said Chester.

<In that case,> said Anifal, <why did I not let you believe that Lingfeer and Orfand were mad? Surely, if I had not spoken, you would have come to that conclusion.>

Chester arched a holographic eyebrow.

“Thank you, Anifal,” he said. “It’s nice to know that I don’t have to do all the reasoning around here.”

Josh frowned, but said nothing.

“So then,” said Chester, “to sum up, Lingfeer and Orfand could not have been lying, they could not have been insane, and they could not have been telling the truth.” He sighed. “Obviously, then, we’re missing something. The question is, what?”

Then, for no apparent reason, he suddenly turned and darted toward the instrument panel, stared frantically at it for a few moments, and said what I later learned was a very bad word in Akkadian.

“What’s the matter?” said Richard as he came out of the bathroom (still a little unsteady, but better than he had gone in).

Chester let out a low moan. “Richard,” he said, “tell me you didn’t eject a waste capsule a few moments ago.”

“Oh, no,” said Josh wearily. “Not this routine again.”

“Batten down the hatches!” Abby shouted. “Arm the shredder cannons! Get out the holy water! Grabbadil’s back, and he’s angry!”

Well, after that, I suppose it wasn’t surprising that we never got back to the Lingfeer-Loren discussion. That night, though, as I curled up in my force-field bedroll on the floor of the bridge, I couldn’t help thinking about the last thing Chester had said.

Obviously, we’re missing something. The question is… what?

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Oct 24, 2009 11:07 am

Chapter 14 - Crisis Point

“And here we are,” said Chester, deactivating the Ssstram ship’s last few Z-space stabilizers. “Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill.”

“More like home to the sea,” said Abby, staring lovingly out the main viewscreen at the Earth in front of us. “It’s amazing what a relief it is to see oceans made of water again.”

Chester smiled, and then blinked. “Hmm, that’s odd,” he said.

“What?” said Josh.

“I can’t make contact with the Chee-net,” said Chester. “It must be down for repairs.”

“Down for repairs?” I repeated, starting to panic. “Someone broke the Chee-net?”

Chester laughed. “Calm down, Elly,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. Every so often, two of the Chee will try to send messages along the same pathway, and the strain on that pathway will cause an energy drain elsewhere in the Net. After that happens enough times, some minor part of the system will fail completely, which causes an error message to be sent to three specific Chee who serve as sort of our command modules. They take the Chee-net offline, switch it over to analysis mode, spend about an hour locating and fixing the problem, and then put it back up again, right as rain.”

“Oh.”

Josh laughed. “So the Chee have problems with their Internet connections, too,” he said. “Well, that’s good to know.”

<Does this happen often?> Anifal wanted to know. He seemed a little nervous; probably he was remembering the time a Chee-net message had kept him from being permanently trapped in stinkbug morph.

Chester shook his head. “Not what you’d call often, no,” he said. “About once a century, usually.”

<Ah.> Anifal nodded. <I believe we can accept that level of uncertainty.>

And on that nonchalant note, we dropped the subject.

Looking back, I’m amazed that our Morph-Force paranoia didn’t pick up on this; I mean, an event that only occurs once every hundred years, and it just happens to be waiting for us at the end of a trip full of crazy Andalite warriors and disappearing waste capsules? Surely one of us ought to have smelled a rat.

But no. I guess we all wanted to believe that our ride in the Twilight Zone was over now that Earth was in view, and so we blocked the thought out of our minds – which was too bad, because it might have prepared us for what came next.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
First, there was the brush in the clearing. The Ssstram ship wasn’t especially noticeable, as starships go (if it had been, we couldn’t very well have kept it hidden for three months) but even so, it had left its mark on the clearing where we had left it – landing-pad indentations, burned vegetation, that kind of thing. When we landed, though, there was none of that; the clearing looked absolutely untouched, as if no one had even walked through there for the last three years, let alone tried to hide a starship there.
Then, while Josh and I were flying back home in chickadee morph, there was a moment when I thought I saw the silhouette of the old logging mill through the trees – which was impossible, of course, since the logging mill had been completely destroyed during our first battle with Sub-Visser Twenty. It was just for a second, and I don’t think Josh even noticed, but it freaked me out a little.

But the clincher came when we got back to the house. We made a quick circuit around to the garage, and established that the minivan wasn’t in the driveway. That wasn’t surprising: it was Friday, and Friday evening is when Mom typically drags Daddy and us to see a play, as a sort of gesture of solidarity with her sister, who runs the local opera house. (Mom herself is a small-claims judge, and one of her brothers is on the city council. Our maternal family is very well-connected.) On the other hand, the light in my bedroom window was on, which meant that Katy, the Chee who was playing me, must have managed to talk Mom into letting her stay home. I was faintly jealous; in eleven years, I’d never managed to win an argument with Mom. (Of course, Katy did have a few thousand years more experience in negotiating than I did.)

<Okay, let’s see what we’re working with here,> said Josh. <As far as the neighbors know, you’re still home, but I’ve gone to go see The Glass Streetcar or whatever Aunt Carrie’s putting on this week. That means that I’ll have to go in in bug morph, since we don’t want Mrs. Clary looking out her front window and seeing me home before I get home. You, on the other hand, could just go in the front door…>

<In my morphing outfit?> I said.

<Why not?> said Josh. <It’s a warm summer night; you could easily have gone out to wander around the yard barefoot in a leotard. It’s a leotard that you hate, yes, but Mrs. Clary doesn’t know that…>

<Josh,> I interrupted, <I know what you're trying to do, but if you don't mind going in in morph, do you seriously think I do?>

As nearly as a chickadee can smile, Josh did. <Well, maybe not,> he said. <I just thought you should have the option.>

<And I thank you for that,> I said. <You are a prince among brothers. Now, can we get this over with?>

<Sure.>

We flew into the garage, demorphed in the little nook where Mom keeps preserves in the fall, and then remorphed into our standard insect morphs: wasp for Josh, ladybug for me. Then we buzzed over to the house and slipped through a small crack in the basement wall.

It’s amazing how being a Morph Forcer changes your perspective on things. When I was ten, part of the reason I wanted to be a nun was so I could live in a big, three-hundred-year-old abbey with moss and ivy growing over the walls. Now I think that, if I survive the war, I’m going to look for the most modern abbey I can find where the nuns still wear habits. Crumbling stonework loses some of its romance when you know exactly how many ways there are for bugs to get into it.

Anyway, Josh demorphed again once we got into the house, but I decided to stay in ladybug morph until I got upstairs. The reason I gave Josh was that I wanted to startle Katy, just to get revenge for all the times I’d turned around and seen one of the Chee standing two feet from my nose, but I’m pretty sure he saw through that. The truth was, I just wanted to stay in morph a little longer.

It sounds weird, but I think the ladybug may be my favorite of all my morphs. For one thing, there’s the bizarre sensation of having six legs; I don’t think I can really explain it to anyone who hasn’t felt it, but trust me, it’s cool. Then there’s the antennae thing: can you imagine experiencing sound, smell, and touch, all through the same body part? And above all, there’s the way ladybugs fly.

If you’ve ever been outside in summer and don’t live in Alaska, you know what I’m talking about. None of this wimpy jump-off-a-branch-flap-your-wings-and-attain-a-reasonable-rate-of-speed stuff that chickadees do. No, when you’re a ladybug, you just open your shell, turn on your little internal motor, and – VRRROOOOOMMMMM!

And that was what I did now: VRRROOOOOMMMMM up the stairs, and VRRROOOOOMMMMM through the loft, and VRRROOOOOMMMMM through the crack beneath my door, and VRRROOOOOMMMMM into my bedroom, and VRRROOOOOMMMMM-plop onto the window just above my bed.

I sighed and glanced around. That’s the other thing about ladybugs: you wouldn’t think it to look at them, but they actually have really good eyesight. My room looked pretty much the way I’d left it, except maybe a little cleaner – and that’s not exactly surprising when you leave it in the hands of an extremely systematic android for a week.

The android herself was sitting on my bed, reading what looked like my copy of Now We Are Six. I was startled yet again by just how skillful the Chee’s mimicry was; Katy had reproduced everything about me, from the way I clung to one of my pigtails when I lay down to the little mole just above my left eyebrow.

I took a deep breath. <Hey, Katy,> I whispered. <It’s me.>

In one sense, I got the reaction I had been hoping for: Katy’s head jerked up, and she looked wildly around the room. The look on her face, though, wasn’t the simple expression of surprise I had been expecting; I wasn’t sure what exactly it was, but it seemed to be part shock, part terror, and (just maybe) part wild, insane hope.

<Katy?> I said uncertainly.

And then the figure on the bed said, or rather hissed, a single word – the absolute last word I had expected to hear.

“Andalite!”
Last edited by Qoheleth on Mon Nov 02, 2009 5:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Mon Nov 02, 2009 5:42 pm

Chapter 15 - Doppelgänger

My first thought was that Katy had malfunctioned somehow. I knew she was one of the Chee who had accepted Yeerks in their heads so they could infiltrate the Sharing; maybe some toggle bolt had gone wrong in her head and now her Yeerk was actually controlling her.

My second thought was that that was ridiculous. Any Yeerk who had access to Chee memories would have known that I wasn’t an Andalite. Besides, the Chee had survived for four thousand years on Earth, and who knew how many on the Pemalite homeworld before that, and you don’t survive that long by being prone to glitches.

My third thought was that I didn’t have time for luxuries like thinking, because Katy, or whoever it was that was in my room and looked exactly me, was clearly taking an inventory of all the insects in the room, and I didn’t think she was planning on starting an ant farm.

As if to confirm my suspicions, she reached up to the top of the bedroom wall and squished an innocent spider. And that was the first thing she did that wasn’t an exact duplicate of me, because when I squish a spider, I generally whisper an apology to it first and then get the thing over with as quickly as possible. She, on the other hand, gently pressed down on the spider, watched its guts squirt out of its abdomen with a quiet smile, and then leisurely smeared it across the wallpaper. It looked like she was marking the wall: ON JULY 22, 2006, AN ANDALITE WARRIOR MET A GRUESOME FATE ON THIS SPOT.

Then she repeated the process with a nearby stinkbug.

Now, maybe I’m not the most natural warrior in the world, but I can tell a crunch situation when I see one, and I instantly started running through all my options. I couldn’t fly away, because that would just draw the pseudo-Katy’s attention to me. I couldn’t demorph, for the same reason. I could maybe crawl out of the room, but the door was a long way away, and I didn’t want to stake my life on my ability to crawl that much faster than my double could swat.

In other words, I was up a crick. There was no way I could get myself out of this situation alive; I needed help, and I needed it fast.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful not to be an only child.

<Josh!> I thought-spoke urgently, hoping he could still hear me. <Something’s gone wrong; Katy’s either flipped out or been replaced by a Controller, and she’s methodically squashing every bug in my room. We need backup up here now!>

Josh didn’t answer. I didn’t expect him to; we can’t use thought-speak when we’re in our human forms, and shouting “Roger!” up the stairs would have been a really stupid thing to do. All the same, it’s not exactly comfortable to be alone in a room with a murderous version of yourself and not to know whether anybody’s heard you yell for help.

It was pretty clear by this point that the fake me was going around my room, killing anything that might conceivably have been a morph. Fortunately, it was summer, which meant my room was pretty much swarming with bugs, and she was still a fairish distance from where I was – but, somehow, that wasn't extraordinarily comforting.

There was nothing I could do. It was all in God’s hands – and Josh’s. I kept telling myself that, and trying frantically to think of something else so I could keep reasonably calm, but for some reason my brain refused to cooperate. One way or another, all my thoughts led back to the figure in front of me.

There was no way she could be a Chee, was there? Chee didn’t kill. Chee couldn’t kill, and they certainly couldn’t have as much fun killing as this person was. She had to be a real Controller somehow.

Unless Chester had been hiding something from us all this time. By now, I was getting ready to believe anything.

Squish. Down went another spider.

Squish. A fellow ladybug.

Squish. A mosquito.

<Josh…> I pleaded. <Hurry…>

<Relax, little sister,> said a thrice-blessed voice in my head. <Aslan's got the situation under control.>

<Josh?> I perked up. <Where are you?>

<Right where you want me to be, I suspect,> said Josh.

And the door to my bedroom burst open, and a full-grown African lion leaped across the bed and pinned my would-be assassin to the ground.

My last remaining doubts about my double’s being a Chee were dispelled as I watched her try to struggle against Josh’s battle morph. You’d never know it to look at them, but the Chee are actually fantastically strong; I once saw Chester pick up a Hork-Bajir-Controller and toss him into a tree. This person, on the other hand, though she was clearly trying desperately to get out from under my brother, never managed to do much more than flail her head around a few times. Whatever she was, she definitely wasn’t Katy.

Finally, she sighed, stopped squirming, and stared up at Josh thoughtfully. “So it was you,” she said.

I guessed that she thought that Josh was the one who had thought-spoken to her earlier. Whether Josh guessed the same thing, I don’t know, but he played along in any case.

<Yes,> he said, in the fake Andalite accent we use to talk to Yeerks. <It was me.>

“A lion,” the pseudo-me mused. “Strange.”

Josh cocked his head. <And what is so strange about a lion, Yeerk?> he said.

“Well, it’s not one of your usual choices, is it?” said my double. “Tigers, yes – there always seems to be a tiger involved when you people make your attacks – but I don’t remember ever seeing a lion before, unless you count that one time at the Big Six Conference.”

Josh blinked, and if I had had eyelids, I would have done the same. I recognized the Big Six reference – that had been one of the bigger fiascoes among our recent missions – but what was this bit about tigers? None of us had ever morphed a tiger.

“You’re not the lion at the Big Six Conference, are you?” said my double. “I hope not. He was a bit of a wimp, by all accounts; I’d hate to think I got captured by him.”

The comment seemed to snap Josh back to reality. <You may judge for yourself, Yeerk,> he said. <Would this “wimp”, as you call him, be likely to do this?>

He grabbed my double’s head in his paws and whacked it against my dresser. It wasn’t a particularly elegant maneuver – Anifal, with his tail blade, is generally better at that sort of thing – but it did the trick. My double went out like a light.

<Thanks, Josh,> I said.

<Don’t mention it,> said Josh, without turning to look at me (not that he necessarily knew where I was, of course). Then he plopped down on his haunches, and sighed.

<Well, this tears it,> he said. <Disappearing waste capsules: okay. Andalites that don’t know their own history: fine. A burned-away section of brush that magically regrows itself completely in a little less than a week: perfectly in order. But this is completely unacceptable.>

<Agreed,> I said. <So what are we going to do?>

<Well, our first priority, obviously, is to find out what’s going on here,> said Josh. <And since only one person we’ve met so far seems to have information that might help us do that –> Here he turned and stared significantly at my unconscious double. <– I’d say she’s got some explaining to do.>

I hesitated. <You’re not going to… you know…>

<Torture her?> said Josh coolly. <Certainly not. Unlike my erstwhile opponent, Zennin Two-One-Five, I fully believe in the Geneva Convention. No, this is just going to be a nice, friendly conversation between two people, one of whom is being held captive by powerful warriors who clearly don’t like her much. Like what Agent Gibbs does on that TV show Mom won’t let you watch.>

<Which one?>

<The one with four initials for a name instead of three.>

And with that, he stepped back, away from my double, and, for no reason that I could see, started to demorph.

<Hang on,> I said. <What are you doing?>

<Slipping into something more innocuous,> said Josh. <If someone in the woods came across an African lion carrying an unconscious girl by the neck, he’d have the law down on me in no time flat. Whereas, if –> Here his head became too human for him to use thought-speak, so he had to wait until his mouth and throat reshaped themselves before he continued. “If the same person met two humans walking through the woods together, he wouldn’t think anything was wrong.”

<So you’re going to try and convince her that your natural form is a morph?> I said. <Do you think that’s going to work?>

“Not in the least,” said Josh, as the last remnants of lion were sucked back into his body. “She’d recognize my natural form, and she knows that her brother’s never talked about being approached by a blue centaur from outer space. No, I had something a bit more subtle in mind.”

And, as I watched, he started to morph again, although not very radically. He shrank about a foot in height; his arms and legs became shorter and thinner; his hair shot out to twice its normal length, and changed from sandy brown to a sort of dish-water blonde…

<What are you…>

Josh turned a freckled, snub-nosed face toward me, and said in a very familiar voice, “Oh, come on, Elly. If you don’t recognize this morph, you need some serious psychological help.”

I stared at him. I knew that Josh had a morph of me, of course – that was kind of a hard incident to forget – but it hadn’t occurred to me that he might want to use it now. Once I thought about it, though, it made sense: if Josh really was a stranded Andalite, the way he was pretending to be, he certainly wouldn’t show his usual human morph to a known enemy. Instead, he’d acquire the enemy herself and use that: the one morph that couldn’t possibly tell her anything she didn’t know.

But geez-o-pete, it was freaky. I mean, here I was, sitting on my own windowpane, looking at not one, but two carbon copies of myself, one of which I knew was really my brother. That’s the sort of thing that can permanently traumatize a person.

Josh, however, didn’t seem a bit concerned for my emotional well-being. As soon as he was finished morphing, he went over to my dresser and pulled out the sweater I had gotten from Grandmother last Christmas and a ladybug-patterned jumper, which he then proceeded to put on. (Nice touch, that: it was exactly the kind of mismatched fashion choice that an Andalite would have made under the same circumstances.) Then he reached into my top drawer and pulled out a jewelry box with a picture of Cinderella on the lid.

<I hope you’re not planning on looking in there,> I said.

“Just for a second,” said Josh. “I suspect it contains something I’m going to need.”

He undid the latch, opened the lid, closed his eyes, and reached inside. He groped around for a second or two, then pulled out a big, black object that looked eerily like the phasers on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

“I thought so,” he said with a grin. “A Yeerk in your head, looking for a place to hide her Dracon beam. Naturally, she puts it in your secret treasure chest. It’s the one place no one who knows you would dare to look.”

<Except you, apparently,> I said.

“Desperate situations require desperate measures, Elly,” said Josh. Then he walked over to the place where my double was sitting, gave her a little kick in the ribs, and said, in thought-speak, <Get up, Yeerk. The two of us need to take a little walk.>

My double stirred, moaned softly, and opened her eyes a crack. Then she caught sight of Josh, and opened her eyes much wider indeed.

Josh grinned. <My thanks, Yeerk,> he said. <You have provided me with a very useful morph – although the eyesight could stand to be improved a trifle. Now, on your feet and let us go. Any attempt to slow down, contact another Controller, or otherwise hinder our progress, and you will feel the taste of this poorly made but nonetheless effective weapon.>

My double didn’t need to be told twice. She clambered to her feet, a little wobbly but basically steady, and hurried out the door of my room. Josh stashed the Dracon beam in the pocket of my jumper and followed her.

The last thing I heard from him was a thought-speak directive: <Demorph as soon as we’re out of sight, Elly. We want Mom and Dad to find at least one version of you at home when they get back.>

The last thing I saw of him was his retreating silhouette on the road. He and my double were walking up Wills Lane, looking just like any other pair of twelve-year-old identical twins. Then the road dipped down behind a hill, and the two of them were lost to sight.

I prayed to God and all the saints that he knew what he was doing.

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Luna May
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Luna May » Fri Nov 13, 2009 4:59 am

Oh, wow, I'm so gled you uploaded it here! I loved this on the FFN.
Awesomness.
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*hi fives Blu*

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Fri Nov 27, 2009 9:09 pm

Chapter 16 - Memories

I flew down to the floor and demorphed, then went over to my dresser and pulled on a purple floral-print blouse and matching skirt. Then I flopped down on my bed and pulled my Cinderella box toward me.

I had expected its contents to be radically changed, like everything else seemed to be lately. Instead, it was almost exactly the way I remembered it; the only difference was that all of the more recent stuff was gone, as though the Yeerk me hadn’t bothered to put anything in it during the last six months.

All the older stuff, though, was there: the tattered blue-jay feather that I had had since I was four, the yellow stone from the lake that looked like a golden egg when you dipped it in water, the Petoskey stone that Daddy had bought for me during a book tour in Michigan, the pinecone named Malinalda that I had decided was sacred the instant I found it, and all the other odd trinkets that I had fallen in irrational and unswervable love with in the past twelve years.

I reached in at random and pulled out a dirty Bicentennial quarter. That was one of the more recent additions to the collection: I had found it when I was running down the roadside to call Josh to dinner, the night that we had met Elfangor and had become the Morph Force.

I still remembered the incident in detail: I had been running down the dirt road near the house, panting heavily (distance running has never been my strength, mostly because I have very short legs), when I saw a glint of silver out of the corner of my eye. I looked down and saw a quarter, half-buried in the dirt, but with enough of it exposed to tell that it had a man with a drum engraved on it, instead of the usual eagle or profile of George Washington. At first I thought it was another one of those state quarters that I hadn’t seen yet, but then I picked it up and realized that it didn’t have a state’s name on it – and anyway, it was too old to be a state quarter; the date on the heads side said 1976.

I stuffed it into my skirt pocket, intending to ask Daddy about it when I got back to the house – but then, of course, the four of us ran into a dying alien warrior and gained the power to turn into animals, and so it kind of slipped my mind. It wasn’t until the next Wednesday, when I was emptying the pockets of my clothes so I could put them in the laundry, that I rediscovered the quarter and showed it to Daddy. He said it was a special kind of quarter that had been minted in celebration of America’s Bicentennial, adding, with the exaggeratedly uninterested tone he gets when he’s trying to discourage my packrat tendencies, that he had probably seen millions of them back when he was in high school, and that they weren’t anything to get excited about.

Well, maybe not from his perspective, but my feeling is that, if you discover a special coin on the evening that you first encounter aliens, you don’t just give it away to the next checkout clerk you’re trying to buy a soda from. So I plunked it into the Cinderella box with all my other little treasures.

It occurred to me, looking at it now, what a weird omen it was, if you believed in that sort of thing. On the one hand, I had found it tails up, which was supposed to be bad luck – but on the other hand, the kind of tails it had made it about fifty times rarer than a regular quarter, which could only mean that finding it was good luck. It was as though it couldn’t make up its mind what kind of luck it wanted to be – which was pretty much how I felt about being a Morph Forcer.

With a sigh, I placed the quarter down on top of the jewelry box and spun it on its side. It did better than most of the quarters I spin: it whirled around the center of the lid for about eight seconds before finally clattering to rest heads up.

George Washington’s face stared up at me, and for some reason my thoughts drifted to Josh. It suddenly occurred to me what a crazy thing he was doing; did he really think that anyone who met two carbon copies of me wasn’t going to think something was up? People knew our family in this town – we had all been photographed in the paper when Mom was elected judge – and they knew that I wasn’t identical twins. And even if they didn’t recognize me, they’d still try to start a conversation, and what was Josh going to do then? If he acted too much like a human, my duplicate would know he wasn’t an Andalite, but if he acted the way a real Andalite (like Anifal, for instance) would act, the person he was talking to would think he was nuts. Either way, something would go wrong.

Of course, to hear you tell it, Eldora, I thought to myself, something will go wrong no matter what happens. Which was true, of course, and was the reason I wasn’t the leader of the Morph Force. Instilling confidence in people isn’t something I’m good at.

I took a deep breath and told myself to focus. Whether Josh succeeded or failed out there was up to him, not me; I could worry myself into a coma, and it wouldn’t help him one bit. I just had to relax; there was nothing I could do about it.

Well, actually, there was one thing – and as soon as I realized it, I rolled off my bed, grabbed Malinalda, and started praying like a crazy person. I started by addressing God directly, and I kept that up for about three minutes, but there are only so many different ways you can say Lord, please keep my brother safe, and when I ran out of those I didn’t feel like I was done yet, so I just started asking intercession from every saint I could think of, starting with the Virgin Mary and working my way down.

I don’t know how long I kept that up, but I had just gotten to St. Marcel of Paris (he’s the one you invoke against vampires, and no, I’m not going to tell you where I learned that) when I got a feeling like a restraining hand on my mind. That’s enough, Elly, it seemed to say. You’ve done all you need to do in that department. Now it’s time to start attending to your other jobs.

It was good advice. If nothing else, I needed to figure out what I was going to do when Mom and Dad got home: should I act like me, on the theory that that’s what a Yeerk who was Controlling me would do, or should I try to act like a Yeerk acting like me? (Whatever that meant.) Clearly, this was going to take some serious thought, and I was just getting ready to start giving it some when I happened to open my eyes and catch sight of a plastic Scooter doll poking its head out of my treasure chest.

I had gotten it as a present from Josh on my ninth birthday. It was a bad joke on his part; I had been begging for a scooter since Andrea had gotten one for her own birthday three months earlier, and Josh, who had been a big Muppet Show fan at the time, decided that, if I wanted a scooter, then he would find me a Scooter. It had cost him a quarter at the local Salvation Army, and I had been so tickled by the idea that I had put it in my Cinderella box that evening.

I’m not sure what exactly it was, but seeing that little orange Muppet head poking out of the jewelry box, goggling at me in that oblivious way that only plastic figurines can, just jabbed at some sensitive spot in my heart, and I buried my face in my comforter and started crying my eyes out. I cried because I wasn’t nine years old anymore, I cried because life was so much more complicated than The Muppet Show, I cried because Yeerks didn’t get birthday presents, and I cried because the universe needed someone to cry for it, but most of all I cried for Josh. Josh, who used to made bad jokes about scooters and now made weary jokes about Visser Seven’s appetite for subordinates; who had once missed three days of school to look after me when I had the flu, and now had to risk my life about once a week; who was doing so much more than any of us had ever wanted him to do, and as a result couldn’t do the things I had always counted on him to do. Josh, Josh…

I cried till my bed looked like I had relapsed from toilet training, and I might have cried longer if I hadn’t heard a sound of squeaking hinges as the door of my room swung open.

“Elly?” came a familiar voice.

I blinked, swallowed two or three times, and looked up toward my door. My glasses were streaky with tears, but there was still no mistaking the tall, sandy-haired figure standing uncertainly in my doorway.

“Josh?” I whispered.

“Something wrong, Elly?” he said, and the way he said it was so much like the way he would have said it on my ninth birthday that, before I knew quite what I was doing, I had leapt to my feet, raced over to him, wrapped my arms around his chest, and started crying all over again into his sweater.

“I didn’t think you’d miss me this badly,” said Josh with a nervous laugh.

“No,” I said in between sobs, “I didn’t, either.”

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Luna May » Sat Nov 28, 2009 11:46 am

Awwww. ^^
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