The Parallel

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Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Dec 19, 2009 8:48 am

Chapter 17 Siesta

Richard thinks I ought to have realized it sooner. “You’d already seen a you that wasn’t you,” he said when he heard the story. “Obviously, sooner or later, you could expect to run into a Josh that wasn’t Josh. I mean, even I can see that one coming.”

Well, whoop-dee-doo for him. Maybe if I spent my life doing shot-by-shot analyses of The Wrath of Khan, I’d start to anticipate these things too. As it was, however, the first hint I got that something was haywire only came after I had finished pouring the aqueous 75% of my body onto Josh’s chest, peeled myself off him, took a deep breath, and said, with as steady a voice as I could manage, “So, how did it go?”

Josh rolled his eyes and sighed. “Let me give you a piece of advice that might save your sanity someday, Elly,” he said. “Anytime it looks like someone might invite you to a three-hour marathon of one-act absurdist plays, make sure you have a dental appointment scheduled for that day.”

I blinked. I was grateful for the advice, of course, but it didn’t seem to have much to do with questioning Yeerks.

“Huh?” I said.

“I mean, I don’t know what the deal is with this intellectual-drama kick Aunt Carrie’s been on lately,” said Josh. “What was wrong with musicals, farces, and the occasional soppy-love-story-slash-murder-mystery? Why, all of a sudden, do we need to spend hours on end probing the tormented souls of Norwegian housewives, or watching idiot Angels of Death taking old ladies out of sandboxes?”

“Oh,” I said slowly, starting to realize what was going on. “You mean… you mean that you went to the play with Mom and Dad this evening?”

Josh gave me a weird look. “Of course I went to the play with them,” he said. “I can’t figure out how you managed to get out of going to the play with them, unless you managed to convince Mom that you had another Sharing project that absolutely had to be finished by Monday.”

I shrugged and smiled weakly. “What can I say?” I managed. “Dr. Daught’s the president of our local chapter, not me.”

Josh shook his head. “There’s an obsessive streak to this co-ed Girl Scouts of yours that I’m not sure I like, Ells,” he said. “It’s like they expect you to give them every waking moment of your life, not just the few hours a week that a normal organization would be satisfied with.”

I didn’t say anything to that. In the first place, he was right: every waking moment was exactly what the Sharing (or, rather, the alien empire behind the Sharing) expected from its members. In the second place, I was too busy trying to process the new data that he had provided to form anything like a coherent sentence.

Okay, when Josh had left this room, he had been in morph as me (which meant he would be wearing just his morphing outfit when he changed back), and he had been escorting a Yeerk version of me somewhere so he could question her about all the weird stuff that was going on. Now, he was standing in my doorway wearing a sweater, tie, and slacks, he was claiming to have spent the evening at the theater with Mom and Dad, and he thought I was a member of the Sharing. So what was that supposed to mean? Did Josh have a twin, too – one who was expecting to meet the Yeerk me, and instead had gotten the real me? And if so, what was I supposed to do now?

I had no idea how to answer any of those questions. Fortunately, Josh (or this Josh, or whoever he was) chose this moment to ask me an easier one. “Have you had dinner yet?” he asked.

“Um… no,” I said.

Josh grinned. “I didn’t think so,” he said. “I told Mom when we left that it was pointless to remind you: that you could be sitting directly downwind from Maxim’s, with all the aromas of the world’s greatest cuisine blowing right through your window, and you’d still forget about dinner until someone called you. Well, do you want me to make you some macaroni or something?”

There was something about his smile, and about the way he asked – nonchalant, affectionate, eager to please – that made me feel sure, somehow, that this wasn’t Anifal’s prince I was talking to. There was a softness about this Josh that I hadn’t seen in my brother in a long time – in fact, not since that evening a year ago when Elfangor had given us the morphing power.

“Um… yeah,” I said, feeling a smile slowly creep across my face. “Yeah, that’d be great.”


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

My brother is a wonderful person in many ways, but he’s really not much of a cook. The macaroni and cheese he made for me had way more cheese in it than I wanted, and half of the noodles were still distinctly chewy – so I don’t think it was just my notorious un-pickiness about food that made it one of the best meals I’d ever had.

It was weird. Here I was, a member of Earth’s sole line of defense against the Yeerk invasion, pretending to be a Yeerk myself to three people who looked exactly like my family, except that I knew one of them wasn’t my brother and, since the other two seemed to know all about my recent Sharing activities, they might not have been my parents, either. You’d think I’d have been as tense as a guitar string.

But I wasn’t, and I’m still not sure why. Maybe it was because, even though I was keeping two different secrets at once, I didn’t really feel the need to conceal anything. I knew I wasn’t a Controller, and nobody expected me to be a Morph Forcer, so I was free to just be Elly and not worry about anything else. When Mom teased me about needing to eat more lest I blow away on the next wind, I could just smile and say that I didn’t think we needed to worry about hurricanes much around here; when Josh and Daddy got into an argument about whether Eugène Ionesco was a great literary genius or someone who just put random words together and hoped people would think he was being profound, I could laugh at Daddy’s quotations from Rhinoceros without Josh giving me a knowing wink; and when I yawned and decided to go to bed early, and Mom got up from the pile of legal briefs she was studying to come and kiss me goodnight, I could get all teary-eyed at the touch of her lips on my forehead without a nasty little voice in my mind reminding me that this was exactly the sort of thing a Controller would do. It was a nice feeling.

It didn’t last, of course; these things never do. No sooner had I changed into my nightgown, said my prayers, and tucked myself into bed than I heard a tapping sound on my window – and when I raised my head to look at it, there was a Mexican free-tailed bat hanging from the edge of the roof, staring at me in a significant manner.

“Josh?” I said with a little sigh.

<No, it’s Abby,> said the bat. <Get yourself morphed. Meeting in the clearing in fifteen minutes.>

Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Fri Dec 25, 2009 2:37 pm

Chapter 18 - Illumination

<I’ve got to hand it to you, Elly,> said Abby, as the two of us flew through the darkened forest.

<Why?> I said.

<The way you handled it when you ran into the Yeerk you,> said Abby. <Josh told us all about it. I’ve got to say, if my twin had turned out to be a Controller, I wouldn’t have stayed nearly as cool as you did.>

I blinked. <Wait a minute – you mean… you mean you had a double, too?>

<Oh, yeah,> said Abby. <The poor kid, she’s probably scarred for life by now. Bad enough to hear voices, but when the voices start insisting that they’re you and you’re an android, that’s got to be the ultimate in incipient paranoia. She’d probably be in an asylum right now if Josh hadn’t interrupted me while I was shouting at her and made me come serve as backup for his little interrogation.>

I felt my mind beginning to reel again. <What about Richard?>

<What about him?>

<Does he have a double, too?>

<How should I know?> said Abby. <Josh didn’t recruit him for backup; when you’re trying to look intimidating in front of a Yeerk, you want venomous lizards and huge, six-legged things with scimitars on their noses, not big cows. You can ask him at the meeting, I guess, if you want to.>

<Oh,> I said. <Well, what about Anifal? Is there another one of him running around this forest?>

<Not so far as he can tell,> said Abby. <Which is fine with me. The fewer Andalites you have to deal with, the better, that’s what I say.>

I ignored that last comment. I already knew that Abby wasn’t a big fan of Andalites in general; that moment on Wills Lane, when Elfangor hesitated before letting her touch the morphing cube, seems to have made a big impression on her. The rest of what she said, though, was new to me – and, if possible, left me more baffled than before.

Okay, Abby, Josh, and I – and maybe Richard, too – all had doubles, but Anifal didn’t. What was that supposed to mean? Were Andalites somehow immune from the whole reality-warping thing that was going around? Then why had Lingfeer and Orfand reacted the way they had?

I shook my head. No point in driving myself crazy trying to work everything out. Better to wait until the conference started, and then put all my questions in front of the others; then I might actually get some answers.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
As we flew on through the woods, I started to notice a faint, white light up ahead. What it was, I had no idea, but it seemed to be coming from the clearing where the Ssstram ship was parked – and I was so on edge from this whole business that my first thought was that Josh had been killed, and his ghost was haunting the woods.

When we got into the clearing, though, Josh was still very much alive. He was sitting on a log next to the Ssstram ship, and Chester, with his hologram down, was standing behind him. Chester, it turned out, was the reason for the light; his steel-and-ivory body was giving off a soft glow that made him look almost like some surrealist portrait of a seraph. Androids, go figure.

"You two can demorph if you want," said Josh. "Elly’s duplicate is sound asleep in the Ssstram ship’s control room; apparently Chester knows this ancient Pemalite massage technique that renders a person unconscious without harming her."

"It was used on the old world mostly for therapeutic purposes," said Chester. "There’s nothing like a fitillikar-induced dream to cure a bad case of melancholia. So if you were worrying about your fetch’s mental health, Elly, worry no more."

<How did you know it was Elly and me?> said Abby, sounding surprised.

"Because," said Chester, with the naked-Chee version of a grin, "if one of you had been Richard, he wouldn’t have been able to resist making some reference to the Vulcan sleep-hold just now."

<It’s called the nerve pinch, you positronic plebeian,> came a familiar thought-speak voice, and two more Mexican free-tailed bats fluttered into the clearing.

"Aha," said Josh. "The gang’s all here, then. Have fun escorting this two-headed lieutenant of mine, Anifal?"

<Yes, it was quite informative,> said one of the bats as he flapped down to the ground and started growing blue fur. <It seems that Richard’s replica mistook him for a highly powerful being inhabiting a dimension well beyond mortal experience. He called it the Q-Continuum, I believe, although I was unable to determine what the Q stood for.>

"I wouldn’t worry about it too much," said Josh. "We have rather more significant matters to discuss, as soon as you all get finished demorphing."

That sounded so ominous that I was half tempted to stay in morph for a while, but I knew when my brother was issuing a gentle command. The three of us descended and resumed our human forms, and Abby and Richard took seats on nearby stumps while I lay down on the ground.

Josh leaned back on his log and folded his hands. "All right, here’s the position of affairs," he said. "As everybody here probably knows, Elly and I returned home this afternoon to find ourselves alone in a house with a Controller who was Elly’s exact double. On the off chance that this person might know something about all the funny things that have been going on over the last few days, I… ah… escorted her out of the house and brought her to this clearing, where Abby, Anifal and I interrogated her as to what she knew about the ‘Andalite’ resistance on Earth."

"I was worrying about that," I confessed. "You basically told her you were part of the resistance; how did you ask her questions about it without giving the game away?"

<He didn’t,> said Anifal. <I did.>

I turned to him with a frown. "You did?"

<It was actually a very well-thought-out plan on Prince Josh’s part,> said Anifal. <He had Abby fly ahead and meet me in the clearing, and we were to get into battle morph and be ready for them. When they arrived, I was to play the part of the prince and order him into the ship, on the pretext that some equipment malfunction required his attention. Abby and I then performed the actual interrogation.>

"Huh," I said. "Well, that’s neat, but it doesn’t really answer my question. Why didn’t my double get suspicious when you started asking her who you were?"

<I told her,> said Anifal, <that we were a special guerrilla force recently sent to Earth by the High Council. Our mission was to support the resistance already established on this planet, but we were under strict orders not to contact them directly. In order to gauge the effect they were having on the Yeerk Empire, therefore, our only recourse was to directly interrogate the Yeerks themselves. I endeavored to suggest that this course of action was highly disagreeable to us, but that we had no intention of failing in the mission with which the homeworld had entrusted us. I also suggested that the bite of the perentie kills almost instantly, and that a sharbat’s tusks were the sharpest natural weapons in the known Galaxy, so it would be most unwise of her not to cooperate with us.>

I arched an eyebrow. "And she bought all that?"

<Why should that surprise you, Elly?> said Anifal. <You of all people ought to know how convincing I can be when I set my mind to it.>

I remembered how I had once spent an entire day believing that Andalites were forbidden by their religion to submerge themselves in water without a companion, and smiled involuntarily. "Okay, fair enough," I said. "So, what did you find out?"

Anifal made a gesture of deference to Josh, who nodded and picked up the story. "Thanks to Anifal’s powers of persuasion," he said, "Elly’s duplicate agreed to tell us everything she knew about the ‘Andalite bandits’. The results were… very interesting."

"That’s putting it mildly," Abby muttered.

"The most significant point that emerged," said Josh, "was that, to the pseudo-Elly’s certain knowledge, there were at least six members of the resistance, and likely as many as ten. The second most significant point was her list of their known battle morphs, which included a tiger, a wolf, a grizzly bear, an elephant, a gorilla, a hawk, and an unmorphed Andalite."

Richard and I both stared at him, Richard with his eyes bugged out and his mouth hanging open, and me with, I guess, a similar expression. Of all the animals on that list, the wolf was the only one that any of us had ever acquired, and Anifal had never gone into battle in his natural form.

"Among the other highlights of the evening," Josh continued, "were her statements that the resistance members hardly ever spoke to Yeerks, that they had disabled at least one ground-based Kandrona, and that they had never been seen anywhere in this part of the country. Oh, yes – and the leader of the Yeerk invasion on Earth isn’t Visser Seven, it’s our old friend Esplin Nine-Four-Double-Six."

Richard groaned softly. "I’m getting too old for this," he said.

"How did this happen?" I demanded. "All we did was fly out to Apollo and fail to acquire a pair of vanarges! We didn’t open a Sario Rip, we didn’t drink any sacred Ongachic waters, we didn’t run into reality-warping aliens…"

"No," said Chester softly, "but we did use their starship."

That brought me up short. "You mean… you mean the Ssstram ship could have caused all this?"

"I don’t mean anything, just yet," said Chester. "But there are certain aspects of the present situation, and certain peculiar features of Ssstram technology, that together bring thoughts to my mind that I haven’t accessed in millennia. Vat Diglee’s Echo Chamber, for instance."

"Say what?" said Abby.

Chester sighed. "I’m not sure I can fully explain it to you," he said. "Your race is still so new to real understanding of the physical universe; most of the ideas involved don’t even have names in English yet. Still… you know what Zero-space is, right?"

"Um… yeah," said Abby. "It’s the dimension where you can go faster than light."

"Uh-huh," said Chester. "And you know why that doesn’t work in the regular universe, right?"

"Because Einstein said so," said Abby.

I think Chester would have rolled his eyes if he had had pupils at the time. "Yes," he said. "Very good. It’s nice to see that kids these days still trust authority. But do you know why Einstein said it wouldn’t work?"

"Because his equations wouldn’t have meaningful solutions if it did," Richard offered.

"Exactly," said Chester, pointing a clawed metal finger at him. "Thank you, Richard. Specifically, he said that the dilated time interval of a moving object differs from the proper time interval of a static observer by a factor of √(1/[1 – v/c^2]), and that, if v were greater than c, that expression would have a complex value – which doesn’t seem to have any meaning when applied to a linear vector quantity such as time."

I glanced around to see if anyone else had gotten any of that. Anifal was nodding calmly, as if what Chester was saying was the most obvious thing in the world, and Richard seemed to at least be following the train of thought, but Josh looked simply baffled, and Abby was getting that look she sometimes gets at poetry readings when a recitation goes beyond her tolerance level for hot air.

"What?" she demanded.

Chester sighed. "Never mind," he said. "Let’s just say that in the normal world, if you go faster than the speed of light, you’re no longer going forwards or backwards in time, you’re going sideways – and since time doesn’t have any sideways, in the normal world you can’t go faster than the speed of light."

"Oh." Abby’s face cleared. "Okay."

"But you can go faster than light in Z-space," Josh pointed out.

"Exactly," said Chester. "Which suggests that, in Z-space, sideways motion in time does have some meaning, if one could only figure out what. Various races have developed various solutions for that problem, but the one that my masters found most congenial was that Z-space, instead of being a singularity or an emission of our universe, was actually the common medium for an infinite number of universes, and that moving sideways in time meant traveling through all those universes’ unique space-time continua."

The poetry-reading look started to come back to Abby’s face, but, to me, what Chester was saying sounded familiar. "You mean Z-space is like the Wood between the Worlds?" I said. "Our universe is one pool, and Narnia’s another pool five steps away?"

Chester hesitated. "Well, that was the theory for most of my masters’ history," he said. "It was called the Galactic Model; the idea was that, just as the galaxy contains a whole bunch of distinct stars scattered throughout space, so Z-space contained a whole bunch of universes scattered throughout itself, none of them really dependent on any other. Just before the Howlers attacked, though, there was a scientist named Vat Diglee, who was fast becoming one of the major players in Pemalite physics, and he thought the Galactic Model was as cockeyed as the blueberry-muffin picture of the atom. It was too simplistic, he said; Z-space was more than just some big soup in which universes floated like so many nakra beans. And so he developed what was called the Echo-Chamber Model."

"Which means what?" said Josh.

"That each universe in Z-space is almost an exact copy of each other universe," said Chester. "Not quite, of course, or they wouldn’t be separate universes at all. But each time a sentient being is confronted with a choice, and performs an exercise of free will, it causes a ripple effect in the universe, with the events that would have happened if the being had decided otherwise being sort of shunted out of the time-stream – and Vat Diglee’s theory was that, if the choice was significant enough, the rejected alternative took enough of the basic substance of the universe with it to form a new universe in Z-space."

Richard stared at him. "You’re saying choices create universes?"

"I’m not," said Chester. "Vat Diglee was."

"Uh-huh," said Richard. "And was he just an eccentric, or did all Pemalite physicists talk like theologians?"

"Not all planets have embraced the Earthly notion that science and philosophy are mutual enemies, Richard," said Chester coolly.

"I’m not saying they are," said Richard, "but they should at least be distinct subjects. I mean, come on, was he supposed to write equations using f to represent free will?"

"No," said Chester with a small smile. "The traditional variable was more the equivalent of p."

Richard opened his mouth at that, but no words came out. Anifal took the opportunity to interject a question.

<Let me see if I understand, Chester,> he said. <This Vat Diglee believed that, if you entered an alternate universe, it would be the same so far as physical structure was concerned, but the history of its peoples would be vastly different?>

"Exactly," said Chester. "Somewhere out there, there’s a universe where Kon Barga decided to tint her eyes green instead of gold; one where Prince Yavan decided to cut down the thumri tree; one where Bülow decided to take a different road and never made it to Waterloo. And, presumably, one where Seerow-Iskillion-Matiss decided not to let the Yeerks know about Z-space travel, and the five of you are still regular kids on your respective planets."

He sighed, and turned to face the alien tree behind him. "And the Ssstram know about it," he said. "Life on their planet exists half in Z-space anyway; that’s why they can turn their trees into starships with only a few modifications. It’s only natural that their science should take the Echo Chamber for granted."

"Hang on a second," said Josh. "Are you saying that using a Ssstram starship automatically takes you into another universe?"

Chester shook his head. "No, I don’t think so," he said. "That would mean that Captain Ffsssish and her crew originally came from another universe, in which case their account of the Yeerk War shouldn’t have agreed with Anifal’s so perfectly. I do think, though, that a Ssstram ship in Z-space is continually aware of the whole Echo Chamber, and that, under the right conditions, it can forget which universe it’s supposed to return to and return to another one instead."

"What conditions?" said Josh.

"Yes, that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?" said Chester with a frown. "The way I was operating that ship, it should have worked. Nothing short of a Z-space irruption should have been able to mess it up."

Richard cocked his head. "A Z-space irruption?"

"Yeah," said Chester. "Something drawing on Z-space from within the ship while it was in Z-space itself. If there had been a Helmacron ship in the supply closet, for instance, and it had decided to activate its engines at some point during our trip, that might have fouled things up, but…"

"Morphing," I said suddenly, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Chester glanced around. "Pardon?"

"Morphing," I repeated. "That uses Z-space, doesn’t it? Cascading effects or something?"

Chester considered. "Yes, I suppose it does," he said. "Yes, that would presumably have done the trick, if any of you had morphed anything during the…"

He trailed off, and all six pairs of eyes in the clearing turned to stare at me. I cringed, and looked fixedly down at the ground.

"You did the Gedd, didn’t you?" said Richard. "That’s why you weren’t disappointed by its instincts. You’d already morphed it!"

"I’m sorry!" I said. "It had been three days since I acquired it; I didn’t think it would cause a problem…" I sounded pathetic, even to me.

"Do you mean to tell me," Abby demanded, "that I spent half an hour trying to convince myself that she wasn’t me because you couldn’t wait five days to morph a Gedd?"

"I’m sorry," I said again, feeling the tears beginning to come to my eyes. "Really, I’m sorry." I raised my head and stared at Josh, hoping that some fragment of the tender, solicitous older brother I had spent the evening with was behind those hazel eyes.

"I’m sorry," I whispered one more time.

Josh sighed. "Well, I can’t say I don’t wish you’d restrained yourself," he said, "but I can understand what was going through your mind." He smiled a thin smile. "Don’t worry about it, Elly. I’ll take the sister I grew up with over a perfect soldier any day."

I swallowed. No one could make forgiveness sound like condemnation the way Josh could.

But what did I expect? I knew how he felt about self-indulgent morphing. If I’d behaved myself – if I’d followed the Morph Force’s unwritten rules – then none of this would have happened, and Josh wouldn’t have had to risk his life saving me from my double. I deserved all the condemnation he could pour on me, and then some.

"Thanks, Josh," I said, rising to my feet. "Excuse me, I… I need to… I… just give me a few seconds."

And without waiting for his permission to leave, I ran out of the clearing, groped through the woods until I found a nice big paper birch, leaned my head against it, and sobbed into its bark for nearly a minute. I wasn’t sure why, but I couldn’t have stopped myself anymore than I could have breathed in Z-space.

"She really takes these things hard, doesn’t she?" I heard Richard say.

"She doesn’t like to let us down," Josh answered. "She’s really a very good person – probably better than any of the rest of us. It’s a shame this war’s been so hard on her." He paused, then added, "But then, I suppose war’s always hardest on good people."
Last edited by Qoheleth on Sun Sep 22, 2013 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:30 am

Chapter 19 - Loophole

After a while, I ran out of tears, went back into the clearing, and lay back down in my spot on the ground, trying to ignore the annoyed and/or sympathetic glances of the other Morph Forcers. "Okay," I said. "So we’re stuck in a parallel universe because I had an itchy morphing finger. Now what do we do?"

"Isn’t it obvious?" said Abby. "We hop back into the Ssstram ship right now, have Chester take us back into Z-space, have you morph the Gedd again, and then we’ll be right back where we started."

Chester nodded approvingly. "A beautifully simple and elegant plan, Abby," he said. "Unfortunately, if it worked that way, we’d never have had this problem in the first place."

Abby blinked. "Why not?"

"Because," said Chester, "you’re operating from the assumption that one Z-space irruption caused this problem, and so a second one ought to fix it. But there’s already been a second Z-space irruption: namely, when Elly demorphed from Gedd back to human. If Ssstram mechanics worked the way you’re describing, that should have sent us back to our own universe – instead of which, it just sent us into a third universe even further removed from our own than the one her first morph sent us into."

Josh frowned. "You mean this universe is two choices away from ours, not just one?"

"Exactly," said Chester. "And if we go back into Z-space and have Elly morph and demorph again, we’ll wind up in a universe that’s two choices away from this one – which means that, in all probability, it will be four choices away from ours. Of course, we might wind up in our own universe again, but the odds against that happening are probably decillions to one."

<Couldn’t we wind up in this same universe again?> Anifal wanted to know. <It seems to me that, if Elly’s morph takes us into a universe that differs from this one by one certain choice, her demorph might take us into a universe that differs from that one by the same choice – which could only be this one.>

Chester considered. "It’s possible, yes," he said. "In fact, it’s probably a lot more likely than getting back to our home universe. It’s still a matter of a quadrillion or so to one against, though."

<Or else,> Anifal continued reflectively, <one of the irruptions could undo one of the previous changes, and the other could introduce a new one – so that we would still be two universes away from our home universe, but we would also be two universes away from this one…>

"Yes, yes," said Josh irritably. "There are all kinds of places we could end up – but there’s only one place we want to end up, so let’s focus on that, shall we?"

"Do we have to go back to our own universe?" I said suddenly. "I mean, is it necessary?"

Josh gave me a funny look. "Well," he said, "unless you’d rather have the Earth in our universe get overrun by the Yeerks because we’re not there to protect it…"

"Oh," I said. "Good point."

"Of course," said Richard thoughtfully, "it’s not as though this universe’s Earth is any less deserving of protectors than ours…"

"It already has protectors," said Abby. "Remember the tiger, the gorilla, and the unmorphed Andalite?"

"Oh, yeah. What’s the deal with those guys, anyway?"

"Who knows?" said Chester. "Maybe this universe’s Elfangor gave them the morphing power the same way ours did with you. Maybe some other renegade Andalite gave it to them. Maybe they really are stranded Andalites, the way the Yeerks think. Whatever they are, it’s not our problem right now."

Talking about Andalites brought a sudden question to my mind, and I raised my hand hesitantly. "Um… Chester?"

Chester glanced down. "Yes, Elly?"

"I was just wondering about something," I said. "You said that Z-space is the common medium of all the different universes, right?"

"Right."

"Then how come the people from the different universes don’t discover each other when they go into Z-space? Shouldn’t the Dome ships from our universe occasionally run into their counterparts from other universes and wonder what’s going on?"

"No, of course not," said Chester. "Each universe has a separate vibrational structure that renders its matter imperceptible to material objects from other universes. Didn’t I mention that already?"

He glanced around at our uniformly blank expressions. "No, I guess I didn’t. Okay, just take my word for it. That’s why the Ssstram ship’s sensors couldn’t locate those waste capsules we flushed out: the sensors and the capsules were no longer vibrating in the same pattern. That in itself should have told me what was going on, now that I think about it…"

"Hang on," said Richard. "You mean the capsules didn’t change universes when the ship did?"

"Of course not," said Chester. "It’s only the ship itself that changed its vibrational structure; nothing inside the ship was sensitive to Z-space irruptions in the same way."

"But you said stuff from one universe couldn’t perceive stuff from other universes," said Richard, "so how come we could still perceive the ship, if we didn’t change vibrations when it did? For that matter, how come we can perceive anything in this universe, if we’re still vibrating the way our old universe does?"

"How should I know?" said Chester. "We’re in a situation that no one in recorded history has ever been in before; we have to expect our experiences to be slightly at variance with theory. Probably it has something to do with universal containment; the vibrational structure of this universe overwhelms and overrides any variant vibrational structures within it. Maybe if we were existing independently in Z-space, the way a ship or a universe does, then we could perceive other portions of our universe, but evidently anything less than that…"

Josh suddenly whirled around and stared at him. "Repeat that," he said.

Chester hesitated. "Repeat what?"

"What you just said," said Josh. "About being able to perceive our universe if we were floating in Z-space."

"Uh… probably we would," said Chester. "Since we’re still attuned to our own universe’s vibrational structure, we would be able to interact with ships and emissions from our universe, while those from this one would be imperceptible to us."

"And if we could turn into starships," said Josh, "and jump into Z-space and back out again, would we come out in this universe or ours?"

"Ours, of course," said Chester. "But how do you propose to turn into starships? I mean, I know your morphing power is good, but it’s not that good; a thing still has to be alive for you to…" He trailed off, and stared at the broadly smiling Josh. "Oh," he said. "Oh, I see."

"What?" said Richard.

Instead of answering, Chester slowly turned his head all the way around (a capacity I hadn’t realized he had up to that point), and the four of us followed his gaze to the huge, alien tree standing behind him.

All three of us who had jaws dropped them. "You cannot be serious," said Abby.

"Why not?" said Josh.

"You expect us to morph the Ssstram ship?" said Richard.

"Not all of us," said Josh. "That’d just be overkill. Better if just one of us morphs the ship, and the rest of us hitch a ride on him. Or her, as the case may be," he added, with a significant look at me.

I grinned, and nodded. "Oh, yeah," I said. "Definitely her."

Abby shook her head. "This has got to be the craziest idea you’ve ever come up with, Josh," she said.

"I wouldn’t deny that," said Josh. "I don’t see why it shouldn’t work, though… unless our resident Andalite knows of some technical objection?" he added, glancing at Anifal.

<Not at all,> said Anifal. <A number of Andalites have morphed trees, and have suffered no ill effects.> He hesitated. <Of course, those were the semi-sentient trees of the Andalite homeworld; an alien tree might carry more risk for its morpher…>

"Not this one," said Chester. "The Ssstram ship has as high a degree of sentience as any therant that ever bloomed; it has to, if it’s going to respond to its pilot’s commands. I wouldn’t say there’s any risk at all that someone who morphs it is going to wind up in a permanent vegetative state – except literally, of course, if she exceeds the two-hour limit."

Josh frowned. "Yes, that’s a point worth considering," he said. "Would Elly have to spend more than two hours in morph in order to make this mission work?"

Chester laughed. "Not likely," he said. "All we have to do is get far enough from Earth to safely make a quick Z-space shift, then come back. Total round trip shouldn’t be more than 600 miles – and if I can’t take you 600 miles in two hours, I’d better go back to Boulder."

"You went to Boulder?" I said.

"Well, not to the Academy itself, per se," said Chester, "but I was with the Lewis and Clark Expedition when they went through the Canyon. Anyway, don’t worry about the time factor."

"Well, terrific," said Abby. "So Elly acquires the ship, morphs it, we jump in, Chester takes us up, we hop back to our own universe, and we come back down again, all in under two hours. We’ll be home before midnight."

<Yes,> said Anifal quietly, <it is a very elegant plan. There only remains one problem. What do we do with the Controller of Elly’s counterpart?>

Josh blinked. "Oh, yeah," he said. "I’d forgotten about her."

"That shouldn’t be a problem, should it?" said Richard. "If this nerve-pinch technique of Chester’s is as effective as he says it is, we should be able to carry her back to Josh and Elly’s house while she’s still asleep and slip her into her bed. She’ll think it weird when she wakes up, of course, and if she’s really clever she might figure out that we weren’t real Andalites after all, but what does that matter? We’ll be two universes away by that point."

<I see,> said Anifal. <You were intending, then, to allow the Yeerk in her to remain alive?>

Richard blinked. "Well, yeah," he said. "Is there a problem with that?"

<I would not know,> said Anifal. <I am neither a philosopher nor a Pemalite physicist. I would like to point out, however, that I never expected to hear one of our company propose abandoning Elly to the Yeerks.>

"Abandoning Elly?" said Richard. "We’re not abandoning Elly, we’re…"

<We are proposing to leave her counterpart in this universe under the control of a Yeerk,> said Anifal. <Whether that counterpart is merely a replica of her, or shares in her own being in some inscrutable way, was not made clear to me by Chester’s exposition of the Echo-Chamber Theory, and I would venture to say that Chester himself does not understand the theory well enough to answer the question meaningfully. But do any of us truly believe that the Elly who lies in the Ssstram ship is less Elly than the Elly lying here with us?>

"Well, they can’t both be the same person, can they?" said Richard. "Weren’t you the one who said that the same person couldn’t exist in two places at once, or they’d annihilate each other? You know, back when we were doing our little hop-through-the-Age-of-Mammals routine?"

<That was a theoretical extrapolation from Sario-Rip physics,> said Anifal. <It does not even begin to apply to this situation. Andalite knowledge is…> He hesitated, like he was about to make an embarrassing confession. <Andalite knowledge is not equipped to handle a question of this kind. Any opinion I were to offer would be based solely on my own inclinations – and I submit, Prince Josh,> he said, turning to face the log where my brother was sitting, «that this matter is of too great moment to be left to individual prejudices. To leave a sentient being to the Yeerks when we had reason to believe that she was, in some sense, one of our own number – I do not believe I could show my face on my homeworld again if I knew I had consented to such a thing.>

"It’s a matter of honor, you mean," said Josh.

Anifal nodded.

Josh nodded, too. He understands honor. "Okay, then," he said, "so what alternative did you have in mind?"

<Starve the Yeerk out,> said Anifal bluntly. <Confine her to this clearing for the next three days, or however long it may have been since her last feeding. She must be expecting some such thing as it is; surely she does not believe that a secret Andalite guerrilla force would tell a Yeerk civilian of its existence, and then let her free to run to the Visser with the news. And her host must have concluded likewise – and, if she is truly anything like our Elly, ought already to have devised a way to evade the Yeerks once she is free. We will be doing no great harm if we fulfill their expectations.>

"How can we do that?" said Abby. "I mean, there’s Chester…"

"What about me?" said Chester.

"Well, wouldn’t your programming prevent you from getting involved in something like this?"

"I am not involved in it," said Chester. "If the five of you decide to wantonly murder a sentient being for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s your lookout. I am merely waiting for one of you to morph the big blue tree so we can leave."

There was such icy disapproval in his tone that I shivered. Richard, though, laughed aloud. "Man alive, Chester," he said, "your doublethink methods put the Zeroth Law to shame, you know that?"

Chester disdained to reply.

"Well, okay, then," said Abby, "but what do you expect us to do about the other Elly’s family? I mean, surely they’re going to notice if she disappears for three days…"

<Why should she disappear for three days?> said Anifal. <All we require is that this universe’s Elly not leave this clearing until the Yeerk inside her is dead. There is nothing preventing some other Elly from taking her place – particularly not when another Elly has, in fact, passed herself off as her not three hours ago.> His eyestalks turned significantly in my direction.

Josh raised his eyebrows. "So that’s your plan, is it, Anifal?" he said. "Elly goes off and pretends to be a Controller for a day or two, while the rest of us patrol this clearing in various morphs and wait for her Yeerk duplicate to Kandrona-starve to death?"

<That is the essence of it, Prince Josh,> said Anifal.

"Ah," said Josh.

There was a moment or two of silence.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" said Josh. "Get in bat morph, and go take her back to the house."
Last edited by Qoheleth on Tue Sep 24, 2013 5:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Feb 13, 2010 8:27 am

Chapter 20 - Caution

Anifal and I didn’t say much on the flight back to my house. I’m not sure why, but Anifal doesn’t talk much around me; maybe he figures I’m just too much of a human to be worth trying to communicate with. When we do have a conversation, I’m generally the one who initiates it – and, in this case, I had too much on my mind to really try.

What Anifal had said back in the clearing, about me and the pseudo-Elly sharing a nature, had really gotten to me, somehow. It had made me think of all those other universes (decillions of them, Chester had said) that had replicas of me in them: were all of them me? Was my soul, my essence, everything that made me me, somehow spread out like butter over a million billion girls on a million billion Earths? When I got to heaven, was St. Peter going to say, "I’m sorry, miss, you’re going to have to wait to get in until the rest of you get here"?

No, all right, that was silly – but still, it was kind of a disturbing thought. I mean, I had always been taught that your choices mattered, that a man would suffer loss if his building burned – and now Chester was saying, as far as I could tell, that, if a man built something flammable, God would just spin off another universe in which he built something that wasn’t flammable. That didn’t seem right, somehow.

I shook my head and tried to focus on the woods. Judging by the echolocation pictures I was picking up, we were right near the edge of them; the house should be coming up any moment.

Yes, there it was, looming at the top of the hill just beyond the last of the trees. I aimed a supersonic squeak at it, and its image leaped into focus; I could hear its loose shingles, the furnishings on the porch, even the sprig of birch leaves that Daddy had stuck to the door that May. It was exactly the way I’d always known it – which was creepy, of course, since I knew I’d never been there before today.

The two of us fluttered up to the porch roof and latched our wings and feet onto the rain gutter. <Will you need help opening your window?> said Anifal.

<No, I think I can handle it,> I said. It was sweet of him to offer, but somehow I didn’t think that Andalites, with their four legs and their skinny little arms, were exactly the species you wanted for a job that involved standing on a roof and pushing a window open from the outside.

<Very well,> said Anifal. <Then I suppose I will leave you now.>

He didn’t, though. For about fifteen seconds he just sat there, scraping at the shingles with his wingtip, as though there was something else he wanted to say, but he wasn’t sure how to say it.

<Elly, I believe I ought to apologize to you,> he said. <I should, I am aware, have discussed this plan with you before I proposed it to the others; it was wrong of me to volunteer you for this task without your consent. It was merely that I felt the subject had to be brought up before you went to acquire the Ssstram ship, and I could see no graceful way of…>

<Oh, don’t worry about it, Anifal,> I said. <I don’t mind.>

<You ought to,> said Anifal. <I am not your prince. I have no authority to put you in the way of danger.>

<Danger?> I repeated. <How can this mission be dangerous? All I’m doing is filling my double’s place for a few…>

<You are impersonating a subject of the Yeerk Empire,> said Anifal. <For a host life-form to attempt that is, to a Yeerk, the most shockingly audacious crime conceivable. If any actual Yeerk should learn about it, you would at the mercy of the Yeerk High Command within the hour – and if the former Visser Three is indeed still leading the Earth invasion in this universe…>

He didn’t have to finish the sentence. I remembered Nelam One-Five-Double-One, the Yeerk who had helped us during the Conduit mission; I remembered his terrified description of all the things that his boss did to Yeerks who assisted Andalites. I could just imagine what a human would be in for at his hands.

<Well, just the same, don’t worry about me,> I said. <I’m not worrying about me. I’m actually kind of looking forward to it, for some reason.>

<That could make it all the more dangerous,> said Anifal.

I frowned. <Why?>

He hesitated. <I am not sure,> he said, <but I cannot help feeling that there is a peculiar peril about this task of pretending to be yourself. We are, after all, preparing to leave you alone for as much as three days, which you will spend living exactly as you used to live before Prince Elfangor gave you the morphing power. It is so easy to get lost in one’s own past – I cannot help but wish you approached the duty more reluctantly.>

I smiled – which was probably a hideous sight, given my bat mouth, but I meant it nicely. <Anifal,> I said, <honestly, I think your nerves are just on edge from spending a week in that tiny little ship, and now you’re seeing extra danger in everything. I really don’t think I’m going to have much of a problem.>

Anifal sighed. <If that is the way you feel, there is probably no point in attempting to convince you otherwise,> he said. <I would ask, though, that you endeavor to be careful. We would none of us like to lose you.>

And with that, he dropped off the gutter and flew back into the wood.
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Bats are not graceful animals. It took me nearly a minute of groping and flailing to get into a position where I could demorph without falling off the roof. The rest of the operation, though, went as smoothly as I could ask for, and within five minutes I was back in my nightgown and under the covers.

And a good thing, too, because I had barely settled my head onto the pillow than my bedroom door creaked open, and Josh – the other Josh – called, "Elly, can I come in?"

"Hmm?" I said vaguely, already starting to drift off. "Oh, yeah, sure."

The door creaked open, and Josh poked his head in. I didn’t sit up to look at him, for fear that in the light from the hallway he’d be able to see the little bits of bark that were still stuck to my bangs – and, of course, because I was really comfortable in my current position, and I knew I’d spoil it if I moved.

"You okay in here, Ells?" said Josh.

"Me?" I murmured. "Yeah, I’m fine. Why shouldn’t I be?"

Josh shrugged. "I don’t know. I just heard you opening and closing your window, and I wondered what was going on."

"Oh, that," I said. "I was just getting a little hot, and I thought I’d get some air in. Then I changed my mind."

It was a pretty pathetic explanation, but I couldn’t think of anything better, and I was banking on the other-world me having the same reputation for inexplicable eccentricity that I did.

Evidently, she did, because Josh nodded as though what I’d said made perfect sense. "Okay, then," he said. "Sorry to bother you."

"That’s okay," I said.

"Save me a dream," said Josh.

There was a pause.

"I said, save me a dream," Josh repeated.

"Oh," I said. "Um… why, is one in danger?"

Josh grinned. "’Night."

"’Night."

Josh closed the door, and I snuggled deeper into the pillow with a feeling of renewed contentment. "Save me a dream" was something Mom used to say when she tucked me in; the response was something I had come up with when I was a smart-aleck five-year-old. Josh had loved it, and it had become one of our inside jokes, but he hadn’t used it – in our world, at least – in a long time. It was nice to hear it again.

You're crazy, Anifal, I thought as I drifted off into Nemo-land. This mission is going to be a piece of cake.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sun Mar 14, 2010 2:56 pm

Chapter 21 - Morning

I'm not really much of a morning person. Beds, to my mind, are made for plopping into at around ten o'clock when you're completely exhausted, and then lolling around lazily in for most of the morning. My dad, who's more of an early-to-bed-early-to-rise kind of person, thinks this is the mark of a serious character defect, so even in summer I try to at least set my alarm clock as a sort of gesture, but this night I guess I forgot, and so I didn't wake up the next morning until the eight-o'-clock sunshine came streaming through my window.

For a moment, I started to panic. Why had Josh let me sleep in so late? We were in the middle of a mission, weren't we? Why hadn't he come in at around six, given me a gentle shake on the shoulder, and whispered that we needed to fly out to the community center and take out a rampaging Taxxon or something?

Then I remembered: this was my mission. The rest of the Morph Force was depending on me to lie around in bed till eight, to pour too much milk on my cereal at breakfast, to lose to the parallel-universe Josh at Take One – in short, to be Elly for three days.

Well, no one's ever going to accuse me of disloyalty to my comrades, so I rolled over, cuddled Jacques a little closer to my chest, and drifted back into that not-quite-awake state that Saturday mornings were made for.
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When I finally did get up and go downstairs, of course, Daddy made a big fuss about it. "Ah!" he said, raising his hands and making his eyes go wide. "The Princess of Dreamings condescends at last to grace us with her presence. Permit me to welcome thee to the waking lands, O fairest of maidens."

I just smiled and took the Honey Nut Cheerios down from the cupboard. "That's nice," I said. "Are you going to use it in the new book?" (My dad's a professional fantasy writer; he's written five novels about this wizard named Bellman, who works for some imaginary kingdom's royal family and solves problems for them.)

Daddy sighed, and turned back to his computer screen. "Not any time soon," he said. "Right now I'm at one of those tedious stages where I don't have time for rhetoric; it's all I can do just to keep the plot moving forward. I still have no idea how I'm going to get Princess Nicolette out of the Fligart Swamp."

I blinked. "What's Nicolette doing in the Fligart Swamp?"

"If I told you, you wouldn't have to read the book, now would you?"

I sighed. My dad has this weird aversion to letting me know the plots of his books before they're published; I think he's worried that I'd run off and tell Angela, and Angela would tell her father, and he'd tell the book critic at the newspaper where he works, and so on, and, by the time the book actually came out, everyone in America would already know how Princess Nicolette got into the Fligart Swamp. I don't know how he thinks A. A. Milne got away with what he did; maybe he figures that Christopher Robin was half asleep when he heard the stories anyway, so it didn't really count.

Anyway, I didn't have too long to brood about it, because I'd just put the milk on my cereal when I heard the toilet flush, and Josh – the parallel one – came out of the downstairs bathroom. "Hey, Elly," he said. "Not a fake one, like Sirius Black."

I stared at him for a second, then realized this must be a Take One clue. "Um… letters?"

"T to M," he said, with that little smirk that says he's come up with a real stumper this time. (What makes it all the more irritating is that he's usually right.)

I went through all the movies that I could think of that had T's in the title. The Two Mowers, Mime Bandits, Mender Mercies… but no, that wouldn't be it. Josh wouldn't be so proud of himself if the change had been in the first letter of a word; we both agreed that changing first letters was the mark of a second-rate Take-One-er. (Though if the result was cute enough, the way Mom's "Sam the Lion's less-successful cousin – S to D" had been, we were sometimes willing to make an exception.)

Let's see. The Passion of the ChrismBeam the DevilBram Smoker's Dracula… None of those sounded like they had much to do with Sirius Black. I decided to change the subject. "So, what are we doing this afternoon?" I said, stirring my cereal as nonchalantly as I could.

Josh shrugged. "Ask Mom," he said. "She's back in the master bedroom with a pile of probate briefs; apparently a whole bunch of the old people in the county decided to die this week."

"Oh."

My disappointment must have showed on my face, because Josh frowned and asked if there was anything wrong. I smiled, and tried to make a joke out of it. "Well, you know," I said, "it's always a little sad when people die, isn't it?"

Josh snorted. "Well, their heirs seem to have gotten over it pretty fast," he said. "And you'd better, too, or that cereal of yours is going to be a puddle of mush before too long."

He was right about that, and it shut me up pretty effectively for a while. Once I'd finished eating, though, I decided to go back to Mom's room and see if I could talk her into changing her plans for the day. After all, what's the point of having three days to relive your pre-war childhood if your mom blows them reading legal briefs?
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Mom looked up and smiled at me as I entered the room. "Morning, Elly," she said. "What brings you in here?"

I shrugged. "Oh, nothing," I said. "I was just, you know…"

Mom arched an eyebrow. "Let me guess," she said. "You woke up wanting to do something special today, for no better reason than 'just because', and so you came in here looking to see if I would be done with these (she gestured to the pile of briefs on the bed in front of her) early enough for us to visit the botanical gardens before they close at four o'clock. Am I right?"

I love my mom. "Um… yeah, basically."

Mom sighed. "Well, in that case, the answer is 'I don't know'," she said. "Most of these cases are fairly straightforward, but there are a couple I'm going to need to spend some time on. Now, I started early today, so there's a chance I'll be finished by lunchtime, but I can't promise anything."

"Okay," I said. It was a reasonable answer, and more than I had any real right to expect. There was no good reason why it should have made my heart sink the way it did, so I tried to keep my voice steady and not let it develop the whine it wanted to.

But my mom didn't get to be a judge by not knowing when someone's keeping their feelings back. Her eyes softened slightly, and she crooked a finger at me as I was turning to leave. "Come here, Ells," she said.

I went over and sat on the bed, and Mom put her arm around me and started stroking my hair with her fingernails. "I said I can't promise that I'll be done in time," she said, "and that's the truth. But, because you're my little girl, and because you don't ask for this sort of thing nearly as often as you used to, and–" she smiled "–because, to tell the truth, I wouldn't mind spending a few hours with the turtles myself, I will promise to go as fast as I possibly can. All right?"

I smiled. "All right."

"Okay, then," said Mom. "Go find something to do for a few hours, and I'll let you know what the score is at lunchtime."
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I'm not sure why Mom's promise made such a difference to me. After all, all she had really said was "I don't know" again, and it wasn't as though I had doubted that she would try to get done with her work quickly – or that I was her little girl, for that matter. But maybe I just wanted to hear her say it.

What I hadn't wanted to hear her say was that thing about me not asking to go to the botanical gardens as often as I used to. It was probably true – the Yeerk me had to have better things to do than wander around looking at gingko trees – but I didn't really want to be reminded that this version of my mom had been cuddling a Yeerk me for the last few months. I didn't want to think about Yeerks at all – or Andalites, or parallel universes, or failed acquisition missions, or anything like that. I wanted to think about whether I had fed Lapkin that morning, and when I would be getting together with Angela again, and whether I wanted to be a Poor Clare or a Benedictine when I grew up, and everything else that Mom and Dad and this Josh thought I spent my time thinking about. After all, wasn't that what I was supposed to be doing?

But, even with that, I still felt pretty good. In fact, when I went back upstairs and passed Josh in the loft, I felt so good that I didn't mind saying, "Okay, I give up. What's the answer?"

"True Grim," said Josh proudly.

I groaned. "Of course."

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Wed Mar 24, 2010 9:05 am

Chapter 22 - Afternoon

"Okay, I've got one," I said.

"Shoot," said Josh.

We were leaning on the railing by the turtle pond, dropping leaves into the water and watching two box turtles sun themselves on a fallen log. (Mom hadn't quite been finished by lunchtime, but she had said she could finish the last set of notes in the car if Dad was willing to drive.) It was about two in the afternoon: the sun was beating down overhead, the bees were buzzing around the turtles' heads, and the breeze was blowing delicious smells toward us from the nearby grove of dogwood trees. In other words, it was a perfectly ridiculous time for me to be trying to do anything so wakeful as think of Take One clues, but Josh's easy victory earlier had rankled me, and I wanted to at least tie him before the day was out.

"A priestess of Juno in ancient Rome converts to Christianity," I said. "Describe the path she has traveled. E to A."

Josh thought for a moment. "Juno... could it be From Hera to Eternity?" he inquired.

I groaned. "It's not fair," I said. "You're too good at this. You're too good at everything; there's nothing I can beat you at."

"That's not true," said Josh. "You always beat me at double solitaire."

I'd forgotten about that. It had been a while since Josh and I had played double solitaire, back in the other universe. "Well, that doesn't really count, though," I said. "I mean, it's not a really important thing to be good at."

Josh laughed. "Some people wouldn't think being able to come up with mutant movie titles was especially important, either," he said. "You just think it's impressive because it's hard for you – and, conversely, since you've always been able to see that your three of spades goes on the two a second before the other person does, you think it can't be all that big a deal."

"Well," I said with a grin, "if you think it's so important, think you're up for a match this evening after we get home?"

Josh looked surprised. "Don't you have Sharing stuff to do?"

I shrugged. "Some, yeah, but nothing I can't put off."

Josh shook his head. "Man, Elly," he said, "you really are in a laid-back mood today, aren't you?"

I smiled. "I had kind of an epiphany while you guys were gone yesterday," I said. "I'd rather not go into details, but let's just say that the Sharing might be looming a little smaller in my life from now on."

"Mm," said Josh. "Well, that would be all right."

The two of us stood there in silence for a moment, watching our leaves bob on the surface of the pond. Then Josh straightened himself. "Well," he said, "I suppose I should go catch up with Mom and Dad, just to reassure them that we haven't fallen in or anything. You want to come with me, or did you plan to linger for a while yet?"

"Oh, you go ahead," I said. "I'll catch up eventually."

"Okay," he said, and sauntered slowly down the path toward Ross's Weeping Willow. (That's probably the most famous tree in the park; it was planted in 1862 by the mayor of our town, Elisha F. Ross, after his son died at the Battle of Antietam.)

I sighed and turned back to the pond. A third turtle had joined the first two on the log, and the three of them together made the best picture of sheer solidity that I'd ever seen. You got the feeling that the entire botanical gardens could catch fire around them, and they would just glance lazily up at it, shrug their shells, and go back to the nothing they were doing.

No wonder people used to think the earth was balanced on the back of a giant turtle, I thought. I'd trust one of those guys to hold my planet any day of the week. I remembered the sight of the stars from the Ssstram ship's porthole when we had arrived at Apollo on Wednesday, and how serene and confident they too had seemed. Stars or turtles: there really wasn't much to choose between them.

Except, of course, I added mentally, that you can morph a turtle.

I should have known better than to let myself think that. As soon as the concept was in my mind, I realized that I wanted to morph a turtle: that being the fourth motionless reptile on that log was the most enjoyable thing I could imagine. It was lucky that I was in a public place, or I would probably try to actually do it.

Although, really, it wasn't nearly as public a place as it might have been. Hardly anybody was at the botanical gardens that day (not surprising, considering the heat; probably they were all at home with the air-conditioning turned up), so there was hardly any risk of my being seen... and there was a spot by the dogwoods where I could leave my clothes without them getting wet...

Get a grip, Elly, I told myself firmly. You know Josh wouldn't approve of your doing this. It's way too risky...

No riskier than all the rest of the stuff I've done in the Morph Force,
I answered.

Well, maybe not... but still, you remember what happened the last time you morphed without authorization.

What does that have to do with it?
I demanded. We're not in Z-space now. Are you trying to tell me that this entire universe will collapse around my ears if I morph one of those turtles? If so, we're in trouble, since I've already morphed four times since I arrived in this universe – and Josh has done at least five.

But you haven't acquired any morphs since you arrived in this universe,
I pointed out. Are you sure that putting a little bit of this universe inside yourself isn't going to cause any problems? Maybe it'll change your vibrational whatever-it-is, and you'll be stuck in this universe for the rest of your life.

Then what's the point of Chester's plan?
I thought irritably. The Ssstram ship is part of this universe now, too; isn't that what he said? If I can't acquire animals from this universe without getting stuck here, then we might as well get comfy and wait for the tiger and the unmorphed Andalite to find us. Besides, your vibrational structure isn't encoded in your DNA, anyway.

Just the same, I don't think you ought to...

Oh, shut up,
I snapped. If I spent my whole life listening to you, I'd never do anything. I've had a very long week, and I'm entitled to a little bit of a break. So there.

I really am an idiot sometimes.
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I assume the turtle went into the usual trance when I acquired it, but I'm not really sure. When you get right down to it, what's the difference between being motionless and glassy-eyed because you're being acquired, and being motionless and glassy-eyed because you're a turtle? Anyway, that part of it wasn't a problem.

As soon as I had the turtle's DNA in me, I tiptoed over to the shadowy spot I had seen in the dogwood grove. Once I was there, I pulled off my blouse and skirt and stuffed them in a pile by the base of a nearby tree. (My glasses I slipped into the special, skin-tight pocket I had sewn for them onto the bodice of my leotard – not that they wouldn't have been safe with the other stuff, but, when you've stepped on your glasses as many times as I have, you get jumpy about just leaving them on the ground and walking away.) Then I slipped behind the tree so as not to be seen by anyone coming up the path, took a deep breath, clenched my fists, and focused on the turtle.

The morph started on my face this time, with my eyes widening and sprouting a sort of filmy covering in place of eyelids, my lips stiffening and sharpening into a beak, and my whole head shriveling up and being covered with leathery skin. That part wasn't so bad (though anyone watching would probably have been seriously freaked out by it), but when my legs suddenly splayed out and lost about three-quarters of their length, that caused a little bit of a problem.

I tried to cling to the trunk of the tree, but that particular dogwood had annoyingly smooth bark, and my hands didn't have claws on them yet that I could drive into the wood. I lost my grip and fell flat on the ground, unable to get up again – which meant, of course, that anyone who happened to walk by the pond at that moment would have seen a mutant girl with a turtle's head lying on her stomach in the dogwood grove.

There was only one thing that could help me now. Shrink, I told myself frantically. Shrink. Get smaller.

I've never been sure whether you can direct a morph by focusing really urgently on one part of it. Ordinarily, of course, a morph happens whatever way it feels like happening, and the morpher doesn't have any say about it – but I've noticed that sometimes, when it's really vital to my well-being that one change happen before the others, the morph has an uncanny way of doing what I need it to do. I tried to ask Anifal about this once, but all I got was a reminiscence about the time when he got to see the great artistic morpher Frolis-Eshapur-Something in one of her last performances before her death.

But, whatever the reason for it is – whether I'm a latent estreen or whether God looks after fools and Morph Forcers – it worked this time. Instead of growing a shell or restructuring its innards, the next thing my body did was to contract itself in about eight seconds from fifty-five inches long to about seven – short enough to be hidden by the trunk of the tree.

I breathed a silent prayer of thanks as the rest of the changes occurred: the scales lacing over my skin, the shell and the plastron wrapping around me like a blanket, and that useless little tail sprouting from my behind. (Why did God give turtles tails, anyway? Probably because all the other quadrupeds had them, and He didn't want to mess up His pattern.) I waited until I was indistinguishable from the turtle I had acquired, and then started moving slowly toward the pond.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It took me a long time to get there: my legs were small and clunky, and my shell was heavier than I had expected. Still, I didn't mind. The pond wasn't going anywhere, and in the meantime I had the sun on my shell and damp grass under my feet. It was hard to believe I'd ever wanted anything else.

I wondered what the others were doing right now. They couldn't all be living on the Ssstram ship: there'd be too much risk of my double's Controller figuring out that they weren't Andalites. (Unless they'd already let her know that, on the theory that it didn't matter since she wasn't going to live long enough to tell the Visser. That didn't seem like Josh's style, but you never knew with my brother.) Probably they were taking turns: two of them (along with Chester) stayed in morph in the ship and kept an eye on the parallel-universe me, and the other two went off and did their own thing in the woods for two hours. Unless maybe the Yeerk in my double's head had already been starved out, and they were looking for me right now, to tell me that we were ready to go. But I hoped not, since I was looking forward to that double-solitaire game.

But even that didn't seem really important right then. Yeerks, and the Morph Force, and parallel universes, all seemed to be vague, abstract ideas that didn't have any relation to reality – that is, to the sun and the grass, and the pond that was now only a few feet away.

With a sigh of contentment, I crawled up onto the nearest log. The soft, moist wood collapsed into little claw-holds wherever I set my forefeet down; I wasn't quite sure I liked the feeling, but it was nice that the log was being so agreeable.

When I got to the far end of the log (since that was where the sun was brightest), the other turtle who was already there raised his head and stared at me for a few seconds, then decided I wasn't anything particularly interesting and went back to basking. I couldn't blame him; after all, I was a carbon copy of a turtle he presumably saw every day, so it wasn't exactly stop-the-presses news that I was there.

As soon as that thought crossed my mind, it occurred to me to wonder where my original was. I craned my neck and looked around all the logs in the pond, but I couldn't see her; maybe she had decided to take a dip in the water.

Oh, well, it didn't really matter. I closed my eyes (well, not really, since I didn't have eyelids, but I made them go all filmy, anyway) and set about the serious business of basking.

If you've never been a reptile (and, just to take a wild guess, I'd say you probably haven't), it's probably impossible to explain what makes a good bask such a glorious experience. Imagine if a Communion chalice or something could actually feel wine being poured into it: it's sort of like that, except that the wine is the warmth of the sun flowing through your body. There's nothing else quite like it in the world; if Darwin had ever felt it, he would never have been so stupid as to suggest that being warm-blooded is somehow better than being cold-blooded.

I don't know how long I spent just lying there, luxuriating in that sublime contentment. All I know is that, after a while, I started to notice a weird vibration coming from somewhere near my beak. I opened my eyes (or un-filmed them, or whatever), and saw a big, obnoxious mayfly buzzing around in front of me.

My first impulse was to ignore it. The poor thing would be dead in twenty-four hours; let it have its fun while it could. But then, after a second or two, another thought occurred to me. I hadn't had much to eat at lunch (basically, I'd just slapped a peanut-butter sandwich together and eaten it in the car), and it was still a long time till dinner – and that was an awfully nice-looking mayfly...

Quickly, before the bug had time to react, I shot my neck out and grabbed it in my jaws. It squirmed wildly in my mouth for a second or two (just like the Gedd at the refinery had done a week before), but soon enough I managed to crush its head with my beak, and then it was just a matter of forcing the motionless lump down my throat.

It wasn't until I'd swallowed it that I realized what I'd just done.

<Ack!> I shouted in open thought-speak, which fortunately wasn't overheard by anyone (that I know of) except the other turtles. My companion on the log lifted his head and stared at me censoriously, but I ignored him. I had more important things to panic about than the disapproval of turtles.

What bothered me wasn't so much the fact that I'd deliberately chosen to eat a bug. I'd done things like that before, when a new morph's instincts had been too strong for my powers of resistance. What bothered me was that, in this case, I hadn't even tried to resist the turtle's instincts. There hadn't been a single moment at which I said to myself, Okay, Elly, get ready, this is a morph you've never done before, you're going to have to fight to retain your own emotions. Instead, I'd just rolled over and let the turtle's mind take over mine without a fight – and I had to swallow a raw mayfly before I'd even realized it.

That almost scared me. I'd been a member of the Morph Force for over a year now; I'd morphed dozens of different animals; I'd wrestled with some of the most powerful appetites and fear reflexes on Earth, and I'd never had any of them take control of me as thoroughly as this one box turtle's sleepy placidity had done. For a moment, I worried that there was something seriously wrong with me.

The next moment, though, that worry was swallowed up by a bigger one. Turtles don't have a great sense of time, and I had no idea how long I had been sitting on that log. For all I knew, I'd already been there for an hour, and Mom and Dad and Josh, after wondering where I'd gotten to and searching the botanical gardens for me, had called the Missing Persons Bureau and reported that I'd been kidnapped – which was true, of course, although it had really happened the previous evening.

That wasn't my worry, though. My worry was that I had been there for two hours.

Frantically, I looked around for some place where I could demorph. The dogwood grove was too far away; if I wasn't trapped already, I might easily get that way in the time it would take a box turtle to walk that distance. And, apart from that, there was no sheltered place anywhere near the pond...

Oh, I thought to myself, staring down into the murky, plankton-filled water. The pond. Right.

I took a deep breath and slid off the log. The pond was fairly deep at its southern end – deep enough for a girl my size to hide in, anyway. Now if only my body still remembered how to be that girl...

I focused on the demorph and breathed a silent prayer. For one terrifying moment, nothing happened; then a skein of shoulder-length hair sprang from the top of my head, and I nearly laughed with relief.

In a minute or so, I was fully human again; then I remorphed the turtle, swam to the edge of the pond, and lay in the sun a few minutes to dry off. Of course, the turtle's mind wanted to spend more than a few minutes, but I wasn't about to fall for that a second time; as soon as my shell felt reasonably dry, I forced myself back onto my feet and crawled over to the dogwood grove. The turtle's instincts weren't really that hard to ignore, when I put my mind to it – which made me wonder why they had seemed so overpowering a few minutes before.

Still, there were more important things to worry about. I crawled into position behind the tree, demorphed for the second time, and pulled my clothes on; then I raced down the path toward Ross's Willow, hoping to catch up with the others.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"Oh, there you are," said Mom when I finally did, about half a mile later. "We were just starting to wonder about you."

"Sorry," I panted. "I guess I kind of... lost track of time."

Mom smiled. "I figured as much," she said. "Your father was speculating that you might have been abducted, but I told him not to be silly. This town's criminals might be stupid, but they're not stupid enough to abduct the judge's daughter – or, for that matter, to abduct anybody in a virtually empty public accommodation where they'd be essentially the only possible suspect."

She sounded almost like Josh assessing the risks of a frontal assault on the Yeerk pool – which wasn't surprising, really, since I've always known that Josh got his military smarts from Mom's side of the family. (On Grandpa's side, Mom can trace her lineage back to a colonel who commanded our state's 5th Regiment during the Civil War.)

"No, nothing like that," I said. "I was just poking around the turtle pond. I barely even moved until about ten minutes ago."

"Mm," said Mom. "Well, it's probably time to get moving now. Your father's planning on preparing Lamb Predictable tonight, and you know how long that usually takes him. If we don't wrap up here soon, we probably won't eat dinner until about nine o'clock."

"That's fine," I said. "I think I've seen everything I want to see, anyway."

"Okay, then," said Dad, rising from his seat under the gingko trees. "Let's get this show on the road."

"Though I'm not sure I'd have minded eating at nine," I added as we headed for the car. "It's just a hunch, but I don't think I'll be very hungry for a while yet."

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Luna May » Thu Mar 25, 2010 4:08 pm

This left me feeling really calm and serene and such. The update made me really happy- thanks, Qoheleth, you made my evening. :)
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sun Aug 22, 2010 6:40 am

Chapter 23 - Evening

Of course, Daddy proved me wrong. I could eat every bug in America, and I'd still have an appetite for Lamb Predictable.

Since Lamb Predictable isn't listed in The Joy of Cooking (yet), you're probably wondering what it is – and where it gets its name. The first question's easier: it's a kind of funky mixture of lamb, potatoes, garlic, and a bunch of other things I can't even guess at, all slathered over with Daddy's special milk gravy. Glorious stuff.

The story behind the name is a little more complicated. One evening about three years ago, Daddy was fooling around in the kitchen with a leftover hunk of lamb (he does most of the cooking in our house, since he works at home and Mom has her crazy judge's schedule), and he came up with the concoction I just described, calling it Lamb Surprise. Josh and I both fell in love with it instantly, and from then on, whenever we had an extra chunk of lamb in the refrigerator, we would pressure him to make it again. After a few months of this, Daddy observed that it was ridiculous to call something Lamb Surprise when it's become one of your trademark dishes, and so he officially changed its name to Lamb Predictable. We all agreed that that sounded better, and Lamb Predictable it's been ever since.

That evening's batch was right up there with the best of them: a thick, luscious mass of meat, potatoes, and milk fat – the sort of meal that people in certain other parts of the country would get heart attacks just looking at. I had my usual miniscule portions, of course (I don't think I've ever voluntarily eaten more than half a pound of food at a sitting in my life), but I had two of them, and I enjoyed every bite.

Then came the double-solitaire game with Josh. We played two rounds, and I creamed him both times; we were just shuffling our decks for a third go-round when Mom commented, "Actually, Elly, you should probably be getting ready for bed. You and Andrea are serving tomorrow, if you'll recall."

"We are?" I said, startled. What with one thing and another, I had completely lost track of which Sundays I was down for altar-server duty.

"Yes, you are," said Mom. "Which is why, much as it will no doubt disappoint Josh to let you retire undefeated, I am forced to put the kibosh on your plans for a third game and tell you to get moving on your nighttime hygiene tasks. We don't want any bleary-eyed acolytes at St. Jude's, now do we?"

"No, I suppose not," I admitted. "Sorry, Josh."

Josh shrugged. "Probably just as well," he said. "Better to be 0-for-2 than 0-for-3, right?"

I grinned, gave him a hug, and got up and headed for the bathroom.
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I was halfway through brushing my teeth when I saw the stinkbug on the wall beside me – a big, grayish one, no different from a thousand others that infest our house around this time of year. It wasn't hurting anything, just sitting on the wall above the bathtub, but my experiment with the turtle morph that afternoon had soured me on insects generally, and I wrinkled my nose and moved to flick it into the bathtub.

<Please do not do that,> said a familiar voice.

I froze, swallowed my toothpaste, and whispered, "Anifal?"

Anifal laughed inside my head. <I had feared you might recognize my insect morph,> he said. <It had not occurred to me to fear that I might have to reveal myself to you to prevent you from doing me bodily injury. Prince Josh's descriptions of your gentleness toward sub-sentient creatures seem to have been somewhat exaggerated.>

Personally, I wouldn't have said that flicking a stinkbug into a bathtub constituted bodily injury, but I was too flustered to argue the point. "Anifal, what... what are you doing here?" I said.

<Watching over you,> Anifal replied. <As I told you last night, there is a chance that this mission will place you in considerable danger. It seemed advisable, both to me and to Prince Josh, that you should have a guard of some kind who could step in at a moment of sudden crisis – and, since I am the only member of the Morph Force who can demorph directly to a battle-ready form, I volunteered myself for the task.>

"Wait a second," I said. "You mean... you mean that you've spent the entire day following me around in stinkbug morph?"

<Not precisely,> said Anifal. <There have, of course, been periods when I had to retreat to some secluded location and demorph – and, for that matter, when you were visiting the botanical gardens, I found the stinkbug morph unduly cumbersome, and switched to a more mobile insect form that I found handily acquirable. A very pleasing insect form, I might add: it almost made me feel that I was back on the homeworld again.>

"Why was that?" I asked, though I had a sinking feeling that I already knew the answer.

<It had no mouth.>

I couldn't decide which was worse: that he had been watching me while I ate the mayfly, or that he had been doing it in mayfly morph.

"Right, okay," I said. "Listen, about what happened at the botanical gardens... you won't tell Josh, will you?"

<I am under no obligation to do so,> said Anifal. <If you wish, I will not. But–> and here his voice suddenly turned stern – <it would be gratifying to know that I will not have to keep such a secret more than once.>

"You won't," I promised. "Scout's honor."

Anifal cocked his stinkbug head. <A curious expression,> he said. <Do scouts have an unusual amount of honor on your world?>

"Well, that's what they tell me," I said. "I never was one, myself – although I did once help my cousin Becky sell cookies for her troop."

<Ah,> said Anifal, exactly as though he knew what I was talking about. <Well, in that case, I suppose there is nothing more to be said. Finish your lavations, and I will await you in your bedroom.>

"My bedroom?" I repeated, startled.

<Certainly,> said Anifal. <You did not suppose, did you, that my task was ended when you fell asleep? I would be a poor guardian indeed if I forsook you precisely when you were most vulnerable.>

"But, then, when are you going to sleep?" I said.

Anifal waved a dismissive foreleg. <Andalites need less sleep than humans do,> he said. <And, in any case, you will not need a guardian much longer. There seems reason to believe that your duplicate's Controller has not fed since last Thursday afternoon, so her final hours will come before tomorrow's sun has set. I fancy I can hold out that long.>

I sighed. "Anifal," I said, "it was nice of you to be concerned about me, and I don't want to seem ungrateful, but I really think you should go back to the clearing and let me handle this on my own."

<I scarcely think that would be advisable, Elly,> said Anifal. <You have already taken one serious risk, from which it was purely fortuitous that you emerged unscathed...>

"I already told you that's not going to happen again," I said, nettled.

<I do not doubt you,> said Anifal. <I merely mention the incident as an example of how delicate your position is. However well you may conceal it – and you have done very well so far – you do not truly belong in this place, and at any moment you may inadvertently betray that fact. A word, a look...>

"Anifal, I'm a Morph Forcer," I said. "I've had plenty of practice at keeping secrets."

<Of course,> said Anifal, <but you do not, in this case, know what secrets you need to keep. You do not know all the ways in which this universe differs from ours, nor how the recent history of your own life has been altered by the presence of a Yeerk in your counterpart's head. A situation may arise in which such knowledge becomes critical, and then...>

"I can improvise," I said. "I've had practice at that, too. Please, Anifal – I need to make this decision alone."

It's hard to read expressions in a stinkbug's face, but I'm pretty sure Anifal was surprised at that. <Decision?> he repeated. <There is no decision facing you. You will maintain the pretense of being your counterpart in this universe until the Yeerk is starved out of her head; then you will return to the clearing, morph the Ssstram ship, and take us back to our home universe. What scope is there for personal discretion in that?>

I wasn't really sure myself. All throughout that day, I had had the idea that there was some important decision I would have to make before the mission was over, but I hadn't really analyzed it – and, at the moment, I wasn't sure I wanted to. I felt, somehow, that it was a dangerous idea: that, if I followed up the thought that was rattling around in the back of my head, I would end up killing Josh, or betraying Earth to the Yeerks, or doing something equally desperate and wrong. It wasn't something I was eager to think about – and talking about it to Anifal, who always seemed to have such clear ideas of what he was and wasn't supposed to do, would only have made it worse.

Still, now that I'd blurted it out, I had to say something to him. I thought about one answer, rejected it, thought about another one, rejected that too, thought about three or four more, and finally just said, "Please, Anifal?"

Anifal stared at me (or, anyway, waved his antennae at me) for about fifteen seconds without saying anything. Then, just as I was getting ready to break down and tell him to just stay after all, he sighed and said, <Very well. I will return tomorrow, to let you know when the Yeerk has died – and to verify that you are wearing the correct artificial skins.>

I blinked. "What?"

<Had you not considered that point?> said Anifal. <The plan is for you to leave this house tomorrow, and for you, apparently – but in reality your double – to return to it. If you and your double are wearing different outer coverings, it would be difficult to execute this plan successfully. So, when you leave tomorrow, you must be wearing this universe's equivalent of one of the garment combinations that Chester brought for you to wear during the trip to the Yeerk homeworld.>

"Oh." I hadn't even thought about that. "Okay, good point. Will I have to morph out of it after I leave the house?"

<That would be preferable,> said Anifal. <It would be awkward if your double should meet you in the forest.>

I nodded. “Okay. I’ll wear the beige jumper and white blouse, then; I don’t think I’ll mind leaving that behind. Tell Josh he'll owe me a new pair of sandals, though.”

<Very well,> said Anifal.

I got the impression that he wanted to say more, but he didn't; he just stood there a moment, then suddenly spread his wings, buzzed down to the floor, and crawled through the crack under the bathroom door. I felt like I should say goodbye to him, but for some reason I didn't do that, either; I just turned back to the sink with a little sigh, put another glob of Aquafresh on my toothbrush, and started attacking my molars again.
Last edited by Qoheleth on Tue Sep 24, 2013 5:31 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Master Crayak » Thu Aug 26, 2010 8:34 am

A very nice story.
As it happens, just a few weeks ago I was thinking about why the Animorphs might want to morph Gedd.
I found this to be a very nice story, and look forward to reading more of it.
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Visser 5 » Mon Aug 30, 2010 2:04 am

She morphed a turtle!
Wait, can they morph trees?
Well I guess you can do anything in a fanfic.
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