The Parallel

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Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sun Jun 17, 2012 12:35 pm

Chapter 30: Second Vision

We were inside, this time – inside some kind of windowless building with pale-green, stone walls, all covered in elaborate carvings. The room was a kind of oval shape, with a domed ceiling; it looked pretty secure, but something about it made me nervous, like it was about to collapse at any second. It took me a while to realize that what I was reacting to was the sounds from outside; it wasn't constant, but every so often you could hear the sound of water rippling, or something swimming past. And I have bad experiences with underwater buildings.

But I didn't really notice all that at first. What really got my attention was the group of people scattered around the room. There were four of them: a short boy with brown hair, an old Andalite with a bandaged leg, a black girl sitting on the floor with an anxious look on her face, and…

I blinked twice, just to make sure I was seeing clearly. Yep, no question about it: that short girl with dirty-blonde hair, standing a little apart from the others under a protruding carving of an alien fish's head – that was definitely an older version of me.

Once I got over the initial shock, I realized that made sense. If I was the focal point for all these different versions of the future, I should have expected that I would be around for at least one of them. But who were these others, then? And what was I doing in this wherever-it-was with them?

I glanced at the Ellimist expectantly, but evidently he wasn't going to play tour guide this time. He just gestured with his paw toward the center of the room, as if to tell me to keep quiet and just watch. (I swear, he looked just like Mom when he did that – except for being a cat, of course.)

So I watched. I wasn't sure what I was watching for, but I tried to keep my eyes fixed on the center of the room just the same. That was harder than it sounds, though, since I kept getting distracted by the people in the room – the other girl, especially. I'd been right about her looking anxious, but there was more to it than that; she almost looked haunted, somehow, like that one composer probably looked when he thought the invisible hyenas were chasing him, and then anxious on top of that. It made me want to go over and hug her – only I couldn't, since she wasn't really there. That was frustrating.

Anyway, I kept looking over to her, or sometimes to one of the others, and then I had to make myself focus on the place again where the Ellimist had pointed. After about a minute of this, I was getting a little impatient, and I was just starting to wonder what it was that was so important about the empty center of this room – and then, all of a sudden, it wasn't empty anymore.

I don't know any other way to describe it. It just filled up, between one blink and the next. It was a lot like the way the Ellimist had been changing things: now it's my bedroom, and, whoops, now it's the Pantanal. Same thing here. First there was nothing in the center of the room, and then, whoops, there was a gorilla, and a tiger, and a big, white ball about a foot taller than I was.

The girl made a sound that could have been either a cry of joy or a groan. Whichever it was, it got the others' attention; the other me jumped, and the old Andalite turned and limped forward. <Welcome, friends,> he said. <Have you achieved your purpose?>

The tiger and the gorilla looked at each other. <Yeah,> said the tiger. <Yeah, I guess we have.>

(That's a funny thing, by the way, that I hadn't noticed until just now. It was pretty obvious that these were both people in morph. And it's impossible to tell where thought-speak is coming from. But I knew, somehow, that it was the tiger who had spoken, not the gorilla.)

<Yeah, we achieved our purpose,> said the tiger. <The Qualls aren't our problem anymore. They won't be anyone's problem for a long time.>

Qualls? I wondered. Was that a race, an organization, or some kind of natural disaster?

<That is well,> said the Andalite.

<You're very kind, sir,> said the gorilla sarcastically. <But we already knew that, didn't we?>

"Oh, stop it, Marco," said the girl.

The gorilla looked surprised. <I just meant…>

"I know what you meant," said the girl. "Just stop it, can't you? Stop acting like the world is still the way the six of us remember it. We don't need to be reminded, Prince Seerow least of all."

My jaw dropped. Seerow? There was only one Andalite that I knew of named Seerow, and I was pretty sure there would never be another one; no Andalite mother would name her son after the prince who gave the Yeerks space travel. Did that mean that this was…?

While I was still processing that one, the tiger came up to the girl and touched her hand with his paw. <Give Marco a break, Cassie,> he said. <He's just trying to cope, the same way we all are. I know it makes your dreams worse when people talk about the pre-shift days, but sometimes you just have to deal.>

His voice was stern, but you could tell from the way he was looking at her that this Cassie girl was someone special to him. And you could tell that he was special to Cassie, too, the way that she leaned forward and buried herself in his side. "Jake, what am I going to do?" she whispered. "I can't go on like this. I just can't."

<Yes, you can,> said Jake firmly. <And you will. I know you, Cassie. I don't care how much Alloran distorted the universe when he wiped out the Yeerk Adam and Eve; there's one thing he couldn't do, and that's turn Cassie Freeman into the kind of person who knowingly does the wrong thing.>

Cassie shook her head. "It's not the same, Jake," she said. "I don't even know what's real anymore, let alone what's…"

"Where's Ax?" I interrupted. (I mean, not the real me, but the other me – the one under the fish carving.)

There was an awkward silence for a second or two, and then the gorilla – Marco – said, <With the Qualls.>

"Oh," the other me said softly. "You mean he…"

<It was his own choice,> said Jake. <He said that an Andalite had unleashed them on the galaxy, and it ought to be an Andalite that got rid of them.>

<It is well,> said Prince Seerow. <We must tell the Shaveet, and all the other organs of the Quall-enthralled races. So long as life in the galaxy endures, the name of Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill must not be forgotten.>

Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill. I frowned; I knew I'd heard that name before, somewhere. Before I could place it, though, Marco was talking again. <And how long will that be, do you think, sir?> he said.

Prince Seerow cocked his head. <I beg your pardon?>

<I'm thinking about this thing,> said Marco, tapping his knuckles against the white ball. <Look at the situation we're in. Rachel, Aldrea, and now Ax are all dead, you're permanently injured, Cassie's a candidate for the loony bin, God only knows what happened to Tobias – oh, and then there's the small matter of a race that didn't even exist two months ago suddenly having terrorized over the whole galaxy for the last fifty millennia. All that, just because we Animorphs were stupid enough to use the Time Matrix "just this once". So if we leave it lying around, and someone decides to use it again, I wouldn't want to bet on life in the galaxy enduring much longer.>

Jake sighed. <Did you have something in mind, Marco?> he said. <You know we can't destroy it, and anyplace we hide it would have to be more secure than the last place it was hidden – and what's more secure than under a pyramid in the middle of the desert?>

"Plenty of places, actually," said the boy. (I gave a little start; he'd been so quiet, I'd forgotten he was there.) "I don't like to say it, but I think my masters made a mistake about the Time Matrix. They told us to put it in a place 'suitable to the greatest of treasures', and so the base of the Great Pyramid seemed appropriate. I don't think it ever occurred to them that another race might see it as the most powerful of all weapons; if they had, it probably never would have made it to Earth at all."

"What do you mean?" said the other me.

"I mean that there are other planets in the Solar System," said the boy (or whatever he was; he sounded almost like Chester, talking about "his masters" that way). "Bigger planets, with Van Allen belts powerful enough to drown out even the most absurd energy readings. If the Time Matrix had been on Jupiter, that Skrit Na scavenger would never have noticed it – and, even if he had, he couldn't possibly have survived in Jovian gravity long enough to abscond with it."

Jake looked thoughtful. <That's reasonable enough,> he said, <but who's going to bell the cat? None of us could survive on Jupiter long enough to drop the Time Matrix there, any more than the Skrit Na could to pick it up.>

<He's saying that he could,> said Marco. <That's your idea, right, Erek? You interface with the Time Matrix and have it send the two of you to the Great Red Spot?>

"Yes," said Erek. "The gravity wouldn't destroy me – at least, I don't think it would. If your scientists are right, and the planet turns out to have a liquid middle layer, I might even be slightly mobile: a swimmer in Marduk's endless seas. And if not, I can always go into hibernation mode until… well, until."

"Oh, don't be so noble, Erek," said Cassie desperately. "How can you even think about this? Haven't we lost enough people already?"

"I'm not a person, Cassie," said Erek softly. "I'm an android. And, besides, Marco's right: so long as there's the remotest chance of someone finding and using the Time Matrix again, everyone in the universe is in danger. I was built to serve and care for sentient beings; this is what I have to do."

Nobody seemed to have any answer to that. Erek turned to Prince Seerow. "I hope you don't mind my not calling you 'sir'," he said with a slight smile, "seeing as how you're several millennia my junior. But I just wanted to say – and Cassie, feel free to cover your ears – that, where I come from, we placed great store by kindness, and we didn't tend to qualify it with reference to prudence. So meeting someone whose kindness was once legendary throughout the galaxy – well, it's been a great honor for me."

Prince Seerow's eyes twinkled in an Andalite smile. <Good luck, Chee-sendo,> he said.

Erek nodded, and turned and walked, amid total silence, toward the white ball that I supposed was the Time Matrix. He lowered his hologram, placed his two android hands against its surface, and remained motionless for a second or two; then, as suddenly as before, both he and it were gone.

The silence lasted a moment longer, and then Jake and Marco started to demorph. They had only gotten partway, though – just enough for me to see that Marco wasn't very tall, and that Jake had really nice hands – when the world suddenly froze, and the Ellimist was standing in front of me instead of beside me. You have, I think, some questions, he said.

That was putting it mildly. I sorted through my mind, trying to figure out which question would lead best to all the others; then I realized that I wouldn't know that until I had the answers, so I just picked the first one that came to mind. "'Animorphs'?"

The group of five humans and one Andalite that, in this universe, received the morphing power from the dying Prince Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul, and now defend the Earth thereby, said the Ellimist. They are analogous, almost precisely, to your own Morph Force.

"I see," I said, feeling really grateful to Abby for thinking up so much less stupid a name for our version. "So the people I just saw – Jake and Marco and Cassie: that was them?"

Those were three of them, said the Ellimist. As Marco observed, the other three – Rachel Kopp, Tobias Halden, and Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill – are either dead or nonexistent at this point in this future.

"And how…" I started. Then one of the names he had just listed rang a belated bell in my head. "Wait a second… did you say Tobias Halden?"

Yes, said the Ellimist. Elfangor's son is one of the Animorphs. He paused, and then added, So is Elfangor's brother.

I think he'd seen my thoughts earlier, and was trying to be helpful. Anyway, the connection my mind had been trying to make fell into place at that. Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill: of course, that was the other aristh who had landed with Anifal, the one who had been shot by a hunter while he was in deer morph. Prince Elfangor's brother, yes.

I didn't bother asking why Tobias had survived in this universe and Anifal hadn't. So much else was different in this universe, a little thing like that barely mattered. Instead, I finished the question I'd started to ask earlier. "And how did I meet them?"

The Ellimist was silent, and I remembered what he'd said earlier about not telling me anything that would change my actions in the future. "Okay, forget that question," I said. "How about this one? What's a Quall?"

The Qualls were the dominant race on a planet not far from the Skrit Na homeworld, said the Ellimist. They were part of a family of animals that could attack their prey emotionally as well as physically; in the Qualls themselves, this ability was so refined as to be almost magical. Put simply, if a member of another race looked a Quall in the eye, the Quall had almost total control over that being's emotions and perceptions.

I shivered. "So they could alter your feelings to make you more vulnerable? Make you hopelessly afraid, or miserable, for no good reason?"

Exactly, said the Ellimist. Or they could create illusions – the sensation of being burned alive, for instance. Some of their more adept hunters even had the ability to convince a being's bloodstream that it could not seal a wound.

"That's horrible," I said.

Yes, said the Ellimist. Fortunately, while they were still in a fairly primitive state, they were conquered and subjugated by a race of Yeerks known as the Yoort, who found them very useful as shock troops. Later on, when the Yoort developed genetic science and abandoned infestation, they released the Qualls – taking care, of course, to modify their mesmeric skills – but, by this point, the Qualls were a chastened people, and had some experience of solidarity with the Yoort's other host races. They settled on a distant moon in the Sagittarius Arm, and never became a scourge to other races.

I'd never heard of the Yoort before, but I figured I could guess the rest from what I'd already heard. "But that Time Matrix thing changed everything, right?" I said. "The Animorphs found it under a pyramid somehow, and they used it to go back in time and keep Prince Seerow from giving space travel to the Yeerks, and then this Alloran guy took it and used it to keep the Yeerks from ever existing in the first place. So there were no Yoort to conquer the Qualls, which meant that the Qualls got to run amok in the galaxy. And that's why Prince Seerow's leg was wounded, and why Cassie was such an emotional wreck. Battle scars."

I was pretty pleased with myself, and the Ellimist almost looked impressed. Almost exactly correct, he said. In fact, when the Animorphs discovered the Time Matrix, it had already been moved from its resting-place under the Great Pyramid. And Cassie Freeman's emotional strain was caused not by the Qualls, but by her own unusual sensitivity to temporal distortions. But, in essence, it is as you have said.

"And that won't happen if I don't stay in this universe," I said.

It is very unlikely.

I took a deep breath. "Okay," I said. "Option one, the Yeerks take over the Earth. Option two, the Yeerks never exist, and the Qualls spread misery and terror everywhere. What's option three?"

Would you really like to know? said the Ellimist.

I nodded.

Then look around you, Eldora.

Tim Bruening
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Tim Bruening » Thu Jun 28, 2012 10:18 pm

So the Animorphs had used the Time Matrix to keep Seerow from giving the Yeerks space travel, thus saving Earth from invasion. Then Alloran took the Time Matrix and used it to erase the Yeerks all together. This erased the Yeerks' cousin species, the Yoort, as well. As a result, the Quall were able to spread far and wide! In the original timeline, the Yoort had conquered the Quall, so the Quall never became a threat. My solution is to keep Alloran from erasing the Yeerks and Yoorts, but preserve the Animorphs' action of preventing Yeerk space travel. The Yoorts would still be around to suppress the Quall, but Earth would be free from Yeerk infestation!

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Tim Bruening » Sat Jul 21, 2012 4:36 pm

So the Animorphs undid Seerow's action of giving space travel to the Yeerks. Why would Alloran then erase the Yeerks altogether? Wouldn't preventing the Yeerks from reaching space remove Alloran's motivation to exterminate the Yeerks?

Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Fri Jul 27, 2012 8:57 am

No. You must have noticed, in the books, how the Andalites seem to object not just to Yeerk behavior, but to the existence of the Yeerks themselves. If they could ever have erased them from history, in such a way as not to actually have the blood of sentient beings on their hands (see Cassie's famous rationalization near the end of Elfangor's Secret), I think some Andalites, at least, would have jumped at the opportunity - and that, in this version of history, is precisely what Alloran did.

Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Feb 09, 2013 8:59 pm

Chapter 31: Third Vision

My first thought when I saw the third projection was that Ellimists must really have a thing about water. First a South American swamp, then an undersea fortress in who-knows-where, and now someplace that looked like the seashore we used to visit every summer – before I had my run-in with the jellyfish, I mean, and developed my little phobia about beaches.

I looked around nervously, to see if there was anything crawling around in the sand – and then I nearly jumped out of my skin. At the margin of the sea, not more than a yard from where I was standing, some huge, furry, featureless thing was crawling up out of the water.

Okay, so "huge" is an exaggeration. The tallest part of it probably wasn't any higher off the ground than my knee, and I don't suppose it was more than four and a half feet long. But it was still too big. Something like that should never be big enough to see without a microscope.

You know when you're cleaning out the fridge, and you find something that used to be a chicken breast or whatever, and now it's all covered in slime and fuzzy little mold colonies? Okay, imagine that that chicken breast is four feet long, and moving. That's what I was seeing on this beach.

I knew the Ellimist was watching me, so I tried not to react, but I couldn't quite keep a kind of choked squeak from escaping. And then I got mad at myself, the way I always do when I've made myself feel like a baby instead of a brave warrior. I know you're not supposed to compare yourself to other people, but, seriously, even Abby – she'd have been grossed out, sure, but she wouldn't have squealed about it. She'd probably have just wrinkled her nose and made some ironic comment about what a charming vacation spot the Ellimist had found.

I tried to think of something like that to say, but all I could come up with was, "Okay, so… where are we now?"

In your bedroom, said the Ellimist.

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, all right. I know that. I mean, where's this place you're showing me?"

In your bedroom, the Ellimist repeated. If you were to dig far enough beneath this sand, you would, I believe, find the remains of your house's foundation.

I stared at him. "But… my house is nowhere near the sea."

Not at the moment, said the Ellimist. But your neighborhood has been shoreline before, and, in time, it will be again. To rise and fall is the nature of ocean.

I thought about that for a moment. "Okay," I said. "So you're saying that we're in the really distant future this time?"

The Ellimist gave me a sly look – which, since he was wearing Lapkin's face, was pretty easy. I suppose that depends on your point of view, he said. The year A.D. 30000000 would not seem especially remote to my people.

My jaw dropped. "Thirty million years?" I blurted. "What am I supposed to have done that's going to affect the Earth for the next thirty million years?"

Nothing, said the Ellimist. It is what Crayak and I will agree to do because of you that will have so profound an effect on your world. Look around you, Eldora – and consider not what you see, but what you do not.

I had no idea what that meant, but I looked around obediently. Apart from the crawling nightmare at the sea's margin, this beach looked pretty much the way I remembered the old beach looking: same white sand next to the water, same tough, prickly grass beyond that, same clear, blue sky overhead…

I paused, and glanced up again. Now that I thought about it, the sky was a little too clear. Judging by the sun, this was just about the time of day when it should have been swarming with gulls. But it wasn't – and, when I made myself look down again, I noticed that there weren't any plovers scurrying across the sand, either. Just a few things that looked like crabs, and the Muppephone from Hell slowly writhing toward a nearby dune.

I swallowed, remembering that line in "The Walrus and the Carpenter" that had given me nightmares when Daddy read it to me at bedtime. The sea was wet as wet could be; the sands were dry as dry. You could not see a cloud, because no cloud was in the sky. No birds were flying overhead: there were no birds to fly.

"The birds?" I said, turning back to the Ellimist.

He nodded.

"What happened?"

We erased them, said the Ellimist, making a sweeping gesture with his tail. Crayak and I. It was part of our compromise – a compromise as unsatisfactory as compromises usually are.

I stared. "I don't get it."

We had to eliminate you, said the Ellimist. As you have seen in the previous two instances, you offer each of us an incomparable opportunity to reshape the timeline to his own tactical advantage. Neither of us, in the long run, is really comfortable with the notion of such a wild card roaming loose in our universe. In this future, therefore – which is, I may add, by far the most likely – we have agreed to remove you utterly from reality. But our rules do not permit us to destroy sentient beings, except as a corollary consequence of some other action. So we arranged for a certain event to take place, insignificant in itself, but which resulted, after four Earth years had passed, in the painless annihilation of all vertebrate life on your planet.

I gaped at him. "You mean you killed everything on Earth that had a backbone?"

They were not killed, said the Ellimist, sounding a little testy. They were erased. No violence was involved; they simply ceased to exist.

"Okay, fine," I said, "but, if they ceased to exist, that means they stopped being alive, right?"

Naturally.

"And that was because of something you and Crayak did," I said. "They stopped living because of you two. That means you killed them, doesn't it?"

The Ellimist sighed. If you must think of it that way, then yes, it does, he said.

I could just hear the undertone there: Of course, if you weren't such a limited, ignorant human, you'd know better than to think that way. Just like the Planned Parenthood people, whenever anyone mentioned that abortion was murder.

For a second, I was too annoyed to say anything; then, since I still had "The Walrus and the Carpenter" in my head, I blurted out, "You're both very unpleasant characters!"

The Ellimist laughed, which annoyed me even more. Perhaps, he said. But that is not the question now. You have seen the future; you know, now, what will come of your staying in this universe. What is your decision?

That brought me back to the present. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.) I'd almost forgotten what all of this was for; now it all came flooding back into my mind. I had to decide what I was going to do – whether I was going to go back to the Morph Force and spend the rest of my life tearing people apart with my teeth, or stay here and wait for a bunch of aliens with God complexes to decide which nightmare they wanted to use me to bring to life.

But there was something else I had to do, first. Maybe it was irrational of me, but I just couldn't feel comfortable on an Earth that didn't have any birds. Like I said, only six species at the feeder makes it a bad day for me; I don't know how Anifal survived, living on an entire planet that only had three. Even while I was listening to the Ellimist, I'd caught myself straining my ears, hoping that maybe I'd hear the call of one that he and Crayak had missed. I needed there to be at least one, somewhere on the planet; then I could think about more important things.

And the nice thing about having morphing power is that, if you need a bird, you can get one.

I took off my glasses, closed my eyes, and focused on my hummingbird morph. (Not the chickadee, since I didn't want to be looking up at the Ellimist when I made my decision. And not my Diatryma, since that would just have been showing off – and, besides, morphing big things is a bad idea when you're wearing more than just your morphing outfit.) At first, I wondered whether I would be able to morph – if I wasn't really here, did that mean that this wasn't really my body? – but then I felt the feathers tracing themselves on my skin, and smiled to myself. The Ellimist wasn't stupid, anyway; he knew that, if he just made sure to leave me my favorite toy, I wouldn't be able to be really mad at him.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
And, sure enough, once I was fully morphed, and had risen out of the heap of my clothes on my little helicopter wings, all my unhappiness and pique evaporated like dew in the morning. I mean, how can anyone be unhappy when she's in morph? On the inside, I was still a girl, but now I had wings, and I could drink from flowers, and I sparkled in the sun like an emerald. What's more amazing than that?

Maybe part of that was the hummingbird's instincts: come on, let's go, no time for moping! But, whatever it was, I was glad to feel it. If nothing else, it made my mind about six times clearer; when I focused on the stay-or-go problem again, it was like being at the optometrist's office and getting my right glasses back again. Things just snapped into focus, and I wondered how I'd managed to ignore them all that time.

For one thing, I realized that the Ellimist was probably stacking the deck. He wanted me to leave, so he was deliberately showing me the worst side of what would happen if I stayed. And he hadn't said anything about what would happen if I didn't stay; how did I know that that wouldn't be just as bad? After all, he'd definitely said that the first two scenes were about the two sides' "tactical advantages" – so, however this "game" of theirs worked, one side scored by having the Yeerks take over Earth, and the other side scored by having the Qualls come back from the dead. With people like that in charge, wasn't this version of Earth pretty much doomed no matter what happened?

But that wasn't really my problem. That was the other thing I realized: that I couldn't make my decision based on what was going to happen in this universe. That wasn't where my responsibilities were. Maybe it would be if I stayed, but, right now, I belonged to another world – a world where Prince Elfangor was remembered as a dangerous rebel, and the former Visser Three was rotting in a watery grave. That was the world I needed to be worried about harming.

I flew over to where the Ellimist was sitting and hovered in front of him, so that my eyes were directly in front of his. <What about my own universe?> I said. <What's going to happen there if I stay here?>

It's hard to tell on a cat's face, but I think the Ellimist frowned. That is difficult to say, he said. Those threads are not present to us. We cannot calculate the probabilities of what we cannot see.

<Well, you can see my double and the other Morph Forcers,> I pointed out. <Can't you calculate the probabilities of what they'll do, at least?>

It is unlikely, said the Ellimist. Without an environmental context…

Then he paused, and his eyes went all spacey, like he was listening to something. I waited for a second or two (impatiently bobbing up and down a little bit, since hummingbirds hate to wait for anything); then I saw him nod slightly, and look at me again. I spoke too soon, it seems, he said. There is, indeed, one thing that we can predict with near certainty will happen in your universe if you do not return. Do you wish to experience it?

<Yes, please,> I said.

So be it.

Qoheleth
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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Tue Apr 09, 2013 7:51 am

Chapter 32 - Final Vision

If I'd thought the first three projections were weird, they were nothing next to what I saw now. I'm not even sure saw is the right word for what I did – not that sight wasn't part of it, but there was all kinds of other information I was getting that human eyes (or, actually, hummingbird eyes, since I was still in morph) just couldn't have processed. It reminded me of that book Mom likes, about the hundred secret senses.

The best way of describing it is that I was seeing relationships, not things – or that I was seeing things, but only as much as was necessary to see their relationships. It was like every real thing was the center of a bunch of glowing threads, and what I was seeing was the web that those threads made. Maybe that's what people mean when they talk about the fabric of the universe.

This may be difficult for your mind to process, came the Ellimist's voice. (His Lapkin-body had disappeared, or maybe was hiding somewhere in the threads.) It is, however, the most nearly adequate way of showing you what you need to see. As I said, we cannot perceive your universe directly; consequently, any reproduction of it that was not in this simplified form – which we call a palant – would almost certainly be highly inaccurate.

I didn't see how a universe-sized network of interwoven destinies was a simplified version of anything, except maybe in the sense that computer programmers think six pages of gibberish is simpler than a Web page. But I didn't say that to the Ellimist (though I'm sure he knew I was thinking it). Instead, I said, <Well, I'd hate to make you do anything inadequate. So what is it that I'm supposed to see, anyway?>

As soon as I'd said it, the web suddenly changed. It's hard to describe the change in words; it was like seeing a movie camera suddenly zoom in on one small part of a scene, except that it felt like I was the movie camera. Anyway, instead of a general picture of the whole galaxy, I suddenly had a very vivid, very specific picture of a handful of people.

Some of those people, of course, were the five of us, the Morph Force – except that, instead of me, there was my parallel-universe double at one of the thread centers. I'd expected that much: my staying here would probably affect the rest of the Morph Force pretty directly, and, anyway, the other Morph Forcers were the only parts of my universe that the Ellimists could analyze.

But it wasn't just the five of us. There were two other people woven into it, too: one was Andrea, and the other was her Controller, Sarem. They weren't exactly interacting with the others, but just the fact of their being there was affecting all the relationships, because… No, wait a minute, that couldn't be right… but it sure did look like…

Yes, Eldora, said the Ellimist. You are reading the palant correctly.

<But… but Josh wouldn't kill Andrea's Controller before the war was over,> I said. <I know he wouldn't. I've asked him to – I've begged him to – but he's always said that we can't single out individual Yeerks that way, or they might guess that we're not Andalites.>

Exactly, said the Ellimist. And he would not have done so in this future, had it not been for the influence of your counterpart. You are a warrior, Eldora, though you do not think of yourself as such; you have a warrior's instinctive grasp of such virtues as patient endurance and self-denial. Your counterpart at one time had this, too, but Ninno Five-Six-Three has been a cruel master to her, and she is emotionally much weaker than she used to be – and has, moreover, a violent hatred of Yeerks as such that you do not possess. If she returns to your world with your brother, she will prevail upon him to kill Sarem Eight-Nine-Nought, and the result will be – what you see.

And the horrible thing was, I did see. The threads between the Morph-Force nodes were so clear that not only did I see the relationships between Josh and Richard and Abby and Anifal, but I could actually see some of their thoughts. Not all of them – I still couldn't see what Richard's favorite Star Trek episode was, or how Anifal felt about his parents – but everything in their minds, no matter how secret, that had to do with Sarem's death was clear as day to me. It made me feel dirty, almost treacherous, like a peeping Tom or something; I couldn't believe I had ever been jealous of Josh for getting to morph a Leeran.

I tried to close my eyes and not look, but it didn't do any good. I wasn't seeing the threads with my eyes; I was seeing them with those other senses, and I had no idea how to shut those off. So the inmost thoughts of my closest friends kept throbbing their way into my mind, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Too much is too much, thought Richard. That's all there is to it. I know I promised myself at the beginning of all this that I wouldn't set myself up as a rival to Josh – because divided loyalties only weaken a cause, the Morph Force is Earth's only hope, yadda yadda yadda – but what am I supposed to do? Just let this paranoid clone of Elly's keep dictating how we fight the Yeerks? How is that being loyal to the Morph Force's cause? How close do we have to get to the pulsar before I can step in and say, "Belay that order, Ensign"?

Okay, Josh,
thought Abby, it's your call. I'm not going to abandon you, least of all now. But you know as well as I do that you've crossed a Rubicon here. This isn't just a war of Yeerks and humans anymore; it's personal now. And if it's personal, I'm going to fight personal. So if that Controller at the deli who's always looking speculatively at Grandma turns up in the river one morning with ten milligrams of coral-snake venom in his veins, you'll have no-one to blame but yourself for the consequences.

Why are the Andalites doing this?
thought Andrea. What did we ever do to them? Sarem's not a visser or a council member; she's not even in an important century. She's just a person doing what people like her have to do, because life doesn't give them any other options. And besides, I need her. She's been taking care of everything for me since before I can remember; how am I supposed to handle things on my own all of a sudden? The Andalites won't help me; they just care about beating the Visserarchy. And the other Yeerks won't help me; if I tell them I've met the Andalites, they'll send me to Visser Seven, and who knows what will happen then. So what can I do?

Another one down,
thought my double. Good. They all need to go, one by one. It's like in double solitaire: every card you can get rid of is a good card. That's the problem, that this parallel Josh and Abby and the other two don't get that. They think Yeerks are people, with souls and rights and everything – as though God would make something like a Yeerk in His image. They're not people; they're hateful, evil vermin, and we need to kill as many of them as we can before they spread any farther. Period.

So this is the end,
thought Sarem. Eight years of living as another creature's daughter, and it all ends like this. Well, I can hardly complain; how did I expect it to end? Either the Andalites would win on Earth and destroy us all, or we would win and immediately have the Council send us out to conquer some new race, or the battle for this stupid planet would just continue until the summons came for me to spawn. The loss of everything, or a life of endless war: those are the options for a Yeerk of this generation. So who knows? Maybe I'm lucky to get out so soon.

I must not think of it as betrayal,
thought Anifal. It was a craven act and unworthy of her, but it is foolish of me to feel personally betrayed. If Prince Josh allowed her to remain… but why, Elly, should you have chosen to remain? Was it nothing to you that we have not only defended your world together, but also exchanged gifts, participated in each other's rituals, and shared the secrets of our cultures – secrets, in some cases, that it was shame to share with any alien? I know that human ways are different from Andalite ways, but I cannot believe that you did not see the meaning of those things – and I will not believe that you did not care. But if you saw and cared, then why remain?

And then there was Josh. The one I would actually have to face in a little while if I decided to stay – the one who was the main reason I wanted to stay at all – the one who, for good or bad, mattered differently to me from everyone else in the universe. If I live to be as old as the Ellimist, I don't think I'll ever forget Josh's thoughts.

She might be in this very room now. I might be standing in the very place where she's standing – or sitting, or pirouetting to Bach fugues the way she used to do. Anyway, she's probably not more than a few rooms away – and two choices, of course. So close, and yet I can't get to her – can't reach out and draw on that fountain of sweetness and compassion that used to keep me sane when things got bad. All I have of her is a Yeerk-corrupted echo, and some dreams that I try not to think about; beyond that, I've lost her – lost her more thoroughly than if she were dead or infested, since at least then her body and I would be in the same world.

Well, I'll do what I can for her now. Maybe it's a silly gesture to free her best friend, but she always wanted me to do it when she was here, and late is better than never. Beyond that… well, I'll just keep getting up every morning and carrying on as best I can until this war is over. Then, if we've won, maybe Chester and I can go out and try to find the Ssstram homeworld; if we find it, maybe their scientists can show me a way back to that other universe; and then, maybe, I can fly in her window and tell her, <You can come home now, Elly. The world is safe for you again; what's tender and precious in you doesn't need to be hidden any longer. Maybe it never did, as much as I wanted to hide it; if so, I'm sorry. I never meant for my wild guesses about military necessity to make my baby sister feel anything less than treasured. But the military necessity is over now, and I'd trap myself in flatworm morph if it would bring the treasure back again. So please, Elly, come home.>

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I don't know how long I hovered there, feeling that last part of Josh's thought over and over again, and wishing that hummingbirds could cry. All I know is that, eventually, I heard the Ellimist's voice in my head again. Well, Eldora, he said, what say you?

<Don't be a jerk,> I snapped. <You know perfectly well what I say.>

Perhaps so, said the Ellimist, but I can do nothing until you say it. As I told you, Crayak and I have our rules.

I sighed – or sobbed, I'm not sure which. <Okay, fine,> I said. <There's two things I have to say, then. The first is that you're a complete slime-face for making me see all this, and I hope that, when the Last Judgment comes, you get everything you have coming to you.>

Very good, said the Ellimist, not sounding very compunctious. And the second thing?

<The second thing is, let me out of this palant and let me go home,> I said. <My friends are waiting for me.>

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Apr 13, 2013 9:21 am

Chapter 33 - Decision

You are certain? said the Ellimist.

We were back in my bedroom; I was in human form again, and the clothes I'd left on the Omegazoic seashore were back on my body. The Ellimist was sitting beside me on my bed, with his tailed curled up underneath his body, and staring up at me with the same expression that the real Lapkin has when he's waiting for me to give him his food dish.

I sighed. "Yeah," I said. "Yeah, I'm certain."

And I was. I wished I wasn't – even now, the thought of being a normal girl again and not having to fight Hork-Bajir was incredibly tempting, whatever happened to the Earth as a result – but I was, all the same. God had put me in the Morph Force, and the Morph Force needed me: it was as simple as that. I suppose I'd known it all the time; I'd just needed somebody to remind me.

Very well, said the Ellimist. (He didn't exactly sound relieved, but it felt somehow less tense when he spoke than it had before.) Then you will wish to set out within the next few minutes. You will find that no time has passed during our colloquy; your friends will not think that you have delayed longer than is natural.

I nodded. "Okay, thanks."

You're welcome, said the Ellimist. And there is one other thing that I would counsel.

"What?"

The rest of the Morph Force expects you to morph the thallataun tree that will carry your party home, said the Ellimist. In our judgment, however, that would be unwise. You have already had one near brush with oblivion as a result of morphing a creature thats mind tends to indifferent acquiescence; if you were to become a plant, it is very doubtful that you could recover yourself in only two hours.

I blinked. I'd almost forgotten about morphing the Ssstram ship; I guess you don't think much about small joys when big questions are on the line. Now that the Ellimist mentioned it, though, I suddenly realized how much I'd been looking forward to it. Getting to morph an alien tree that thought was the only really nice part about going back – and now were they going to take that away from me, too? It made sense, but still…

I bit my lip, and reminded myself that no-one had ever said that growing up would be easy. "Okay," I said. "I guess I'll tell the others I've changed my mind or something, then. Who should I get to do it instead?"

Your brother's girlfriend would perhaps be best, said the Ellimist. Her temperament seems well suited to resist the thallataun's instincts.

That was true, I thought. Nobody was ever going to convince Abby to think like a tree. "Okay, I'll remember that," I said. "Is there anything else?"

As it happens, there is, said the Ellimist, and I got the impression that, if he had had some other face, he would have been smiling. There is the matter of your gift.

That startled me. "My gift?" I repeated, wondering whether the Ellimist had noticed some latent psychic powers in me or something.

Yes, said the Ellimist. You have shown great virtue today, Eldora, and have done this universe a great service thereby. Our rules permit me to acknowledge this deed with a small token. I wish to do so.

"Oh," I said, blushing. "Um… okay, then. So there's something you want to give me, you mean? A lovely-parting-gifts kind of thing?"

I hope you will find it lovely, said the Ellimist softly. It is certainly so to me.

He tapped his paw gently on the comforter underneath him, and I felt a strange sensation go through my body. It took me a second to realize that I was morphing – morphing without meaning to, and into something I'd never acquired. Thick, curly fur sprang up on my arms, then down my back; my fingers got thicker, and sprouted small claws; my nose and mouth reshaped themselves into a muzzle, and my ears grew out about a foot and then flopped down onto my cheeks. It felt almost like I was becoming a big dog, except that the basic shape of my body wasn't changing; my spine was still erect, and I didn't have any tail that I could feel.

Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on my vanity, and I knew instantly what animal the morph was of. I'd never seen one before in real life, of course, but I'd seen a picture of one, that night at the ice-cream social when Chester told us where he came from. And I saw a stylized effigy of one every time Chester lowered his hologram.

A surge of utter happiness went through me. Probably most of that was the Pemalite instincts kicking in, but I don't think all of it was. I mean, here I'd just reconciled myself to not getting to acquire this strange and wonderful alien morph, and then a Stratego master from beyond the stars goes and gives me an even better one as a going-away present. My life isn't usually that nice to me.

I turned to the Ellimist, trying not to grin too broadly. <It's beautiful,> I said. <Who was she?>

Nobody, said the Ellimist. The genetic pattern is a transposition of your own; it is the Pemalite you would have been, had you been born to that race.

<Oh.> I glanced in the mirror again, and almost wished I had. <Well, anyway, I'll treasure it. Thank you.>

It was my pleasure, said the Ellimist.

He tapped his paw again, and my body obediently demorphed back to human. Go now, young wanderer Eldora, he said. Return to your world, and serve it well. And do not forget what you have seen here, but always remember what great things may depend on your actions.

"I will," I said. "And, before you go…"

The Ellimist cocked his head. Yes?

I took a second to put my thoughts in order. I was never going to get to tell Josh this one, and I wanted to share it with somebody. "Jake the Animorph is in battle morph," I said. "He's coiled and ready to spring on a Hork-Bajir. What he doesn't know is that the Hork-Bajir has a beam weapon pressed against his back with his tail, and he's ready to pull it out and fire as soon as Jake moves a muscle. G to C."

For a brief moment, I had the satisfaction of seeing the Ellimist look utterly bewildered. Then he must have checked my mind and figured out what I was talking about, because he suddenly relaxed and chuckled. The correct answer, he said, is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dracon.

"Good," I said.

The Ellimist smiled, and his cat body flickered for a moment; then the real Lapkin meowed sharply, pawed at the bed-sheets for a second or two, and then jumped off the bed and ran out of the room. (He's always been pretty easily spooked, and I guess being abstracted to another state of being wasn't really his cup of tea. I couldn't really blame him; it probably wouldn't have been mine, either.)

"Very good," I whispered.
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And, for a couple seconds, I just sat there, savoring the goodness of things. Then, with a little sigh, I got up and went out to the loft; after stopping a second to give Lapkin (who was crouching warily underneath Mom's TV chair) one last scratch on the head, I went to the top of the stairs and called down, "Hey, Daddy? Is it okay if I go out for a little walk down the road?"

"I don't see why not," Daddy called back. "How long are you going to be gone?"

Forever. "I don't know, maybe an hour."

"Okay, that's fine."

"Thanks."

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Fri Oct 04, 2013 12:53 pm

Chapter 34 - Mercy

As soon as I was far enough down the road, I ducked behind a tree and morphed to chickadee. Then, after a momentary confusion about which direction was east, I lifted myself into the air and started the long flight to the ship.

I'm not just being dramatic there. It really was a long flight; the eastern route through the woods was way more roundabout than the one I'd taken with Abby on Friday night. If I hadn't had such a vivid memory of what the old hawk had done to Richard that one time when he was in weasel morph, I'd probably have taken my chances with the western route, just to get the whole thing over with more quickly. (Because it was a long flight in the other sense, too.)

As things turned out, though, it was probably for the best that I hadn't. Because while I was passing over the bend in the river where the mallards used to nest, I heard human footsteps rustling below me; when I looked down, I saw my double coming through the woods.

I turned sharply in midair and flew over to a pine tree on the other side of the river; perching on one of its outer branches, I stared down at her as she picked her way through the leaf litter. So far as her appearance went, she didn't look too bad; you'd never have guessed that she'd just been held captive in an alien spaceship for nearly 48 hours. But I remembered what her thread had been like in the Ellimist's palant; with that hint, plus the chickadee's natural consciousness of other animals' body language, it wasn't hard to see the signs. The hesitant way she pushed each branch aside, as though she expected it to bite her; the way she sort of half-jumped every time a jay cawed; the general tenseness in all her muscles… no, this duplicate of mine wasn't a happy girl.

I wondered, for a moment, whether I would have been that lost and paranoid if I'd been her. Then, the next moment, I realized: of course I would have been, because I was her. The only difference between the two of us was the events we'd lived through; if those events had happened to me – or to my part of me, or whatever – then I'd have done exactly what she'd done.

I remembered those metaphysical reflections I'd had, the night I'd been flying back to the house with Anifal: would my choices and my double's somehow negate each other at Judgment Day? Now I realized that I'd been missing the point. The choices that made universes couldn't be the big, obviously important ones, where right and wrong was really at stake. They had to be the ones that you could make either way, because you didn't see any reason why you shouldn't – which was the kind Chester had talked about, anyway: what road to take, what makeup to wear, whether or not to cut down a tree. If you had real reasons for choosing something, then your soul was involved – and, despite what J. K. Rowling thinks, you can't split a soul. So, in every instance where it really mattered, my double's free will wasn't a rival to mine: it was mine. I'd chosen to be that girl down there; I'd chosen the vicious, animal hatred I'd seen in her palant thread. It wasn't just a case of "there, but for the grace of God, go I"; I had gone there, grace of God and all.

It made me a little queasy, thinking about that. What else had I done, in other worlds? Seduced Father Honeycutt? Killed Josh? Become a voluntary Controller? Was there anything I wouldn't do, given the right circumstances?

Maybe not, I thought. Maybe that's what St. Paul meant when he talked about keeping his body under control so God didn't throw him out with the garbage. But one thing's for sure: it's not going to help any version of me if I let that make me give up on my own life. Because it works the other way, too, doesn't it? If my double proves that my soul isn't perfect, don't I prove that my soul isn't hopeless? Maybe that's where the grace of God really comes in.

And on the heels of that thought came another one: And if I'm the grace of God for my double, I should act like it, shouldn't I?

I hesitated for a fraction of a second – just long enough to convince myself that what I was about to do wouldn't create a world-destroying paradox – and then whispered, in my best Andalite accent, <Can you hear me, human child?>

Judging by the way she jumped and looked frantically around the trees, I guessed she could.

<Do not be afraid,> I said. <I have no wish to harm you. But my companions and I must leave this world soon, and we do not wish that you should face your new life of freedom alone. This, therefore, is our advice to you: When you return to your human school tomorrow, seek out the boy Chester who sits behind you in Spanish class, and find some reason to speak to him alone. When you are alone, tell him… are you listening?>

She nodded.

<Tell him,> I said, <that you have been through a great struggle, and that you need a friend loyalty. Not a loyal friend, but a friend loyalty. If you say precisely those words, he will understand, and you will have the support you need in your coming ordeal. Do you understand?>

She nodded again.

<Good. Go now, and –> I paused, and swallowed down a lump that had suddenly appeared in my throat – <may strength and freedom be ever yours.>

She bit her lip, and nodded a third time. (It was weird, seeing my own face outside of a mirror; whenever I'd watched myself trying not to cry before, it had been my right cheek that I'd seen quiver, not my left.) Then she turned and started heading back down the riverbank; I stayed on my branch until she was out of sight around the bend, and then jumped off and took to the air again.
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It was the best I could think of to do for her. "Friend Loyalty" was what Chester's real name meant; he'd told me that when we'd first met, and it had stuck in my head ever since. Hopefully, this world's Chee would take it as a sign that someone trustworthy vouched for my double – after all, they didn't tell their secrets to just anybody – and maybe, just maybe, one of them would figure out what had happened to her, and what kind of help she needed now. They could help her trick the Yeerks, using their holograms to make it look as though Ninno was still alive; they could get information for her, so she could avoid situations where she might get caught and reinfested; they could even do that fitillikar thing for her, if her memories made it hard for her to sleep some nights.

And they could be her friends. That was what they were best of all at; it was what the Pemalites had really built them to do, all those thousands of years ago. (I remembered last Christmas Eve, when Josh had gone to confront Visser Three man-to-Yeerk, and how Chester had kept me from worrying about him by telling me every story he could think of about hodens, Lords of Misrule, and Wakefield plays.) And my double needed all the friends she could get. I didn't know whether anyone could help her recover the happiness the Yeerks had stolen from her, but, if anyone could, it would be the Chee.

But will they? I thought. What if they don't look any farther than to find out that she's a known Controller, and jump to the conclusion that the Yeerks have found out about them? For that matter, what if Sarem or some other Yeerk finds out about her before they have time to do anything? Anifal said that she'd be clever enough to avoid that, even after having been infested, but he – well, he overestimates me sometimes. Really, how do I know that this whole thing has done anything for my double except throw her life into even more turmoil than before?

If I'd had breath to spare, I would have sighed. But you can't waste oxygen that way when you're flying, so I just offered up a quick prayer for her – and the Chee, and the Animorphs, and everyone else in this universe – and then banked to the left to avoid an oncoming birch tree.

And then, just for a moment, there was no birch tree. The entire forest just vanished, between one flap of my wings and the next. In its place, there was a scene that almost looked like it could have come out of a Thomas Kinkade painting: a lush, timeless fairy-tale park, filled with streams and flowers and butterflies, and suffused with a soft, golden light that seemed to come from everywhere at once. Hologram-less Chee were walking around, tending to the flowers and to the hundreds of dogs that were playing and frisking everywhere – and on the ground in front of me, stroking a bedraggled schnauzer puppy and wearing a smile of utter contentment, was a very familiar twelve-year-old girl with dishwater-blonde hair and glasses.

It was only for a moment; before I'd raised my wings for their next flap, the forest was back. But it was enough. I knew where that ephemeral world had come from, and I knew what its constructor was trying to tell me. For the fifth time that day, I'd seen the future – and, this time, it had worked.

I couldn't quite suppress a happy thought-speak giggle. <Okay,> I whispered. <So maybe you're not quite such a slime-face after all.>

If the Ellimist heard me, he didn't show it.

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Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Feb 08, 2014 8:17 am

Chapter 35 - Adjustments

The rest of the flight didn't seem nearly as long to me as the first part had. I think it's actually a little further from the riverbend to the clearing than from our house to the riverbend, but, with that picture in my mind of puppies and flowers and everything working out in the end, it stopped feeling like work to keep my wings moving. Several times along the way, I even burst into that ululating chirp that chickadees get their name from – which probably would have surprised a bird-watcher, since real chickadees don't usually do that while they're flying. But, the way I see it, sometimes there are more important things than ornithological realism.

"Chickadee-dee-dee!" I sang as I flew into the clearing. Anifal raised an eyestalk quizzically, but the others didn't seem to notice – so, just for emphasis, I swooped down onto Josh's head and repeated, "Chickadee-dee-dee!"

Josh jumped in surprise, then chuckled and raised a hand for me to jump onto. "Well, somebody's a happy bird," he said, lowering me down to his eye level. "Excited about going home, Elly?"

If I'd had lips, I probably would have tried for an enigmatic smile. (So it's just as well that I didn't, since I'm not really very good at being enigmatic.) <Yeah, I guess so,> I said.

<Why should she not be?> said Anifal. <She has spent two days living mundanely, and now she is once again to resume her true life of peril and glory. What is more exciting than that?> (I wondered whether anyone else caught the note of relief in his voice.)

"Well, I don't know about peril and glory," said Abby, "but I know I'll be glad to get out of this universe, if only so Richard will stop making 'Mirror, Mirror' references. I swear to God, if I hear the phrase 'captain's woman' one more time…"

Richard smirked.

"Well," said Josh, bending down and placing me on the ground in front of the Ssstram ship, "if the feeling's that general, we might as well get a move on. Elly, you want to demorph now and acquire this thing?"

I took a deep breath. <Actually, I was thinking about that on the way here,> I said, <and I'm not really sure I should be the one to morph the Ssstram ship.>

Four different jaws dropped at that, and I'm pretty sure it would have been five if Anifal had had one. "Um… Elly, are you sure you're feeling okay?" said Josh.

<Well, here's what I'm thinking,> I said. (I didn't want the others to know how close I'd come to abandoning the Morph Force – Josh especially, of course – so I'd spent a lot of the trip to the clearing thinking of another good reason to pass up the thallataun morph.) <When Captain Ffsssish left the ship here, she said that it would keep us immune from the Ssstram dampening field, right?>

"Right," said Josh. "Without a tangible reminder like that, we might sometimes remember the names Ssstram and Mak and Nahara, but they wouldn't mean anything specific to us."

<But now we're not going to have the ship anymore,> I said. <We're going to leave it in this universe, right?>

"Actually, we were planning on having you tow it behind you into Z-space, and then leave it there," said Chester. "It would hardly do this world any favors if a Controller found it sitting here."

<Well, either way, we're not going to have it anymore,> I said. <So the only tangible reminder any of us will have of the Ssstram will be a Z-space copy of the ship in the body of whoever acquires it. So shouldn't all of us acquire it, so that we all remember the Ssstram?>

Josh blinked, and thought for a moment. "You know, Elly," he said, "I once read somewhere that genius is about seeing the obvious thing that everyone else misses."

I giggled. <Meaning?>

"Meaning that you're a genius."

"What about Chester, though?" Abby said. "How's he going to remember the Ssstram?"

"Oh, that's not a problem," said Chester. "The dampening field only affects organic minds; it doesn't erase cybernetic data storage, any more than it would printed matter. Not that I might not like to forget some things about the Ssstram – that incident with Zzkaa and the lo mein, particularly – but I don't think I'm in any danger of doing so."

"Lo mein?" said Richard. "Did I miss this one?"

<Yes, you did,> said Anifal. <Count yourself fortunate.>

"Okay, then," said Josh. "So everyone acquires the Ssstram ship. And then there's no particular need for you to be the one who stakes her humanity on Chester's piloting skills; is that what you're thinking?"

<Did Anifal tell you about the fugue?> I said.

"Mm-hmm."

<Then you understand.>

Josh nodded. "Yes, there's no need to make your day rougher than it's already been," he said. "All right, you're excused. Did you have anyone in mind to take your place?"

<I thought maybe Abby might,> I said. <I mean, ships are supposed to be feminine, aren't they? You never hear anyone calling one "he".>

Richard cocked an eyebrow. "Now there's an argument I can get behind," he said. "Do we get to hit her with a wine bottle and give her a new name? The U.S.S. Marlena…"

Abby turned and smiled at him with that fake sweetness she's so good at. "Tell me something, Richard," she said. "Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with two puncture wounds on your wrist and a deadly neurotoxin seeping through your veins?"

Richard pretended to think. "Not that I can remember, no."

"Good," said Abby. "Don't go spoiling a perfect record."

Josh laughed. "Okay, then," he said. "As soon as you've demorphed, Elly, we'll make our acquisitions and demolitions, and then Abby and Chester can take us home."
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I didn't actually acquire the Ssstram ship, of course; I knew that would be too much temptation for me. But I did break off a twig, and then slipped it into my leotard pocket when I went to pull out my glasses. I wasn't sure whether that would be enough of a tangible reminder, but I hoped it would be; the Ssstram had been good friends to us, and I didn't want to forget them.

Then I went and got my extra clothes out of the ship. It didn't take me that long – at least, I didn't think it had – but Abby must have been in as much of a rush as she'd said; by the time I came out, she was already about halfway through her morph.

Now, the thing about Abby is that she's attractive without being pretty, if you know what I mean. She has wonderful hair, and her eyes are nice even if they're a little too wide, but her nose sticks out and is covered with freckles, and her figure's not much better than mine. But you don't mind that, because she makes her personality come through so vividly that you can't imagine her looking any other way. And what's odd is that the same thing's true even when she's morphing. She has this easy matter-of-factness about it, like it's just something that needs to be done, and somehow that counteracts the bizarreness of the whole process and makes her look like herself even when she's growing compound eyes and antennae. It's one of the things about her that I've always been a little jealous of.

I'm saying all this because I don't want you to have the wrong idea. If I'd just described how Abby had suddenly shot up to about eight times her normal height, how her skin had turned blue and hard and wrinkly, how her legs had split apart into roots and were wrapping around each other in a crazy wicker-work bundle, how her hair was rolling up and melting into little globules of resin on the branches that had sprouted out of her head – if I'd just said all that, you would have imagined something out of the world's sickest monster movie. And maybe that's what it would have been like if Josh or Richard or I had done it, but not Abby. I don't think Abby could be horrifying if she tried.

There was a disturbing moment when she'd finished the morph, though. Josh had Anifal check to make sure she was okay (since he was the only other one of us who could use thought-speak at that moment, and of course Abby didn't have ears anymore); when she didn't immediately respond, my heart sank, and I told myself that I should have known better than to trust the Ellimist's judgment on something like this. But it turned out that I was just being an alarmist, as usual; after a couple seconds, her voice sounded in all our minds, as quintessentially Abby as ever. <Yeah, Anifal, I'm fine,> she said. <Sorry, it's just a little disorienting, having to get used to a whole new set of senses like this.>

Anifal nodded. <Yes, that is to be expected,> he said. <Those Andalites who have morphed therants and quilfins have reported similar experiences.>

Abby made a thought-speak "sound" that I think was the equivalent of a snort. <Nice try, Anifal,> she said, <but I'm pretty sure your planet's trees aren't in it with this thing. Ssstram-homeworld life, remember? I can actually feel Z-space right now.>

"How about the instincts?" Josh said, through Anifal.

<Oh, they're fine,> said Abby. <Kind of pathetic, actually; they just want somebody to take over and tell them where to go. It's a lot like the Gedd's brain, really.>

<Then you are ready for Chester to take command of you?> said Anifal.

<More than ready,> said Abby. <I think I'll be a lot more comfortable when he's got us back in our own universe again. I didn't realize what that thing about different vibratory patterns meant until now; it's like the six of us are playing something in one key, and everything else around us is a half-step off. Not a pleasant feeling, I can tell you.>

"No, it wouldn't be," Josh murmured. "All right, then, folks, if we're going, let's get going. Say your last goodbyes to the C-sharp universe, and climb aboard."

Suiting the action to the word, he clambered through the opening in Abby's trunk, followed closely by Chester and Richard. Anifal hesitated – feeling reluctant, I guess, to squeeze himself into that small space again – and turned to me. <Is there not a saying on your world?> he said. <"Ladies first"?>

I smiled. "Thank you, Anifal," I said. "That's very gallant of you."

But, instead of going right in, I turned to take one last look at that other version of my world. Of course, all I could see of it, at that moment, was a few trees and the sky, but my imagination could fill in all the rest: the Animorphs, the Ellimist, the Andalites who revered Prince Elfangor, the Yeerks who still had to put up with Visser Three, the Ssstram who might or might not have still existed – and, of course, my lost, forlorn little self, and the other three Morph Forcers who would never know, in this world, what kind of heroes they really were.

"Take care, y'all," I whispered to the sky.

Then I turned back, and hurried into the friend who would carry me home.

Qoheleth
Warrior
Warrior
Posts: 108
Joined: Mon Apr 06, 2009 8:41 am
Gender: [Male][/Male]

Re: The Parallel

Post by Qoheleth » Sun Oct 05, 2014 11:12 am

Chapter 36: Homecoming

There were no Chinese-checkers game on this trip; it was just a matter of getting far enough outside Earth's atmosphere to jump safely in and out of Z-space, doing it, and then coming back down. The whole thing took less than an hour – at least, that was what Anifal said, although it turned out to be almost midnight in our world when we landed. Chester said that was because time-flow rate varies incrementally according to a universe's vibratory frequency, but personally I think the Ellimists' meddling with that other universe had something to do with it, too.

Anyway, Abby managed to demorph just fine, so we didn't worry much about it; we just morphed to bat and headed back to our respective homes. Anifal headed west to his scoop, and Abby went northeast to the lakefront villa where she lives with her grandmother; Richard followed us due north for a little while, but then turned aside to his family's tiny little house at the far end of Timber Lane. (That's the long and winding dirt road where we met Elfangor; it used to be the main path for woodcutters through the forest, back before our town was a town.)

So, for the last ten minutes or so, it was just Josh and me flying together. We could barely see each other, of course, but I could feel his wings beating the air next to me, and he showed up in my peripheral echolocation, or whatever you'd call it. Anyway, I was aware of him.

And I guess he was aware of me, too, because, a little bit after Richard left, Josh said, <You holding up okay, Elly?>

It surprised me, a little bit, but I said, <Sure. Why?>

<Just checking,> said Josh. <You've had a pretty long day today, Anifal said.>

You don't know the half of it, I thought. <Well, yeah, the fugue was pretty rough, of course. I'm pretty sure I'm fine now, though.>

<Good,> said Josh.

I wanted him to say more – maybe What was it like? or I wish I could have been with you, or something soft and personal like that. But he didn't – and, somehow, it didn't hurt as much that he didn't as it would have the day before. Seeing his thread in the palant had made a real difference; I thought I understood, now, why he tried so hard to see me as a Morph Forcer rather than as his sister. I still wished he wouldn't (as much for his sake, now, as for mine), but it no longer felt like hostility or rejection; it was just that he didn't know how to love me the way he should and still be ready to send me into life-threatening danger at a moment's notice. And my job, now, was to help him solve that problem by being the best sister and lieutenant to him that I could, so that, maybe, somewhere along the line, something that I did or said could turn a key in his brain, and he could think, Oh, so that's how I was supposed to be doing it all this time.

Granted, it wasn't an impressive, dynamic job, and it probably wouldn't be much fun most of the time, either. But it was the kind of love that he needed from me, and that was what mattered.
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So we flew in silence for another eight minutes or so, until the echolocation image of our house came into earshot. Josh alighted on the outside sill of his own bedroom window, and I swooped around and landed on my own.

<Sleep tight, Elly,> came Josh's voice in my head. (His tone sounded ironic, which made sense; as far as our bodies were concerned, after all, it was still mid-afternoon.)

<Save me a dream,> I replied.

I'm not sure why I said that; maybe it was just in my head, since the other Josh had said it to me the past two nights. Anyway, instead of making the usual reply, Josh let out a little, weary sigh and said, <Yeah, that's the goal, Elly. That's definitely the goal.>

It took me a minute, but I got it – and it made me shudder. Save me a dream: well, whatever dream I had – whatever dreams any human had – they all depended on the possibility of a free humanity. The Hork-Bajir had lost their dreams when their world had fallen to the Yeerks – and the whole reason why Josh was fighting this war (and risking his own dreams in the process) was so that ours could be saved. That was where his mind went, when I threw out that silly little bit of childhood nostalgia.

I closed my eyes, and said a silent prayer – for him, for me, for us all. Then I took a deep breath, raised my head, and peeked in through my window.

What moon there was was shining in behind me, so I could see the inside of my room pretty well. It was pretty much the way I'd left it, a week before – or that morning in the other universe, for that matter. The only part that I hadn't already seen was the replica of myself lying apparently asleep in my bed – and, at this point, I was pretty much inured even to that.

I tapped a claw on the window. <Hello?> I said. <Katy?>

"Oh, Elly, there you are," said the image in my bed. My face flickered away to reveal Katy's luminous metal muzzle, and she got up and came over to let me in.

<Sorry we're so late,> I said as I crawled through the window. <Something happened with the ship while…>

"I know," Katy whispered. "Chester sent a message over the Chee-net when you came out of Z-space. Don't worry about it; just hurry up and demorph before we wake your parents."

I nodded, fluttered down to the floor, and focused on becoming human again. Once I'd done that, I went over to my dresser, took out my nightgown (surreptitiously slipping the Ssstram-ship twig into my treasure chest as I did so), and put it on.

Then I turned to Katy, and sighed. "Well," I said, "now all you have to do is sneak out again – and all I have to do is convince my body that it wants to be fast asleep the way it's supposed to be."

"Actually, I think I can help you with that," said Katy. She pulled back my comforter, and gestured to the bed. "Lie down. On your stomach, preferably."

"Huh?" Then I remembered my double, in the clearing. "Oh. Fitillikar."

"I see our reputation precedes me," said Katy with an android grin. "Yes, fitillikar. I had a feeling you'd be needing it, so I've been re-accessing some very old subroutines indeed. Come on, now, time for beddy-bye."

I rolled my eyes, but lay down on the bed and stretched myself out face-down the way she wanted. It was an awkward feeling (I usually prefer to sleep curled up on my side), but then I felt Katy's metal fingers begin to dance across my neck and shoulders, and in a few seconds I was a million miles away from any kind of discomfort whatever.
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They say that dreams you tell never come true, which is why I'm not going to say what I dreamed about that night. All I'll say is that I woke up seven hours later without a trace of inter-dimensional jet lag, and with that special kind of contentment that comes from having spent the night with everything in the universe that's sweet and true and beautiful.

Of course, I knew it wasn't going to last. I knew that there were more weeks and months and maybe years of war still ahead, and that I had plenty of tears and nightmares and quiet desperation still in store for me. But the thing about the Morph Force – and about all of life, I guess, if you live it right – is that it teaches you to take the little bits of happiness as they come, and not let memory or anticipation spoil them for you.

So I took a deep breath, smiled up at the sunbeams creeping over my ceiling, and whispered, "Well, let's get a move on, sleepy-head. You've got dreams to save."

And I raised myself from the bed, threw on the fuzzy pink bathrobe that Katy had thoughtfully draped over my bedpost, and headed out to see what the day would bring.

FIN
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Further adventures of the Morph Force chronicled in:

The Perception