Hey, look!!! An update to the story!!! It almost creates the illusion that I Can be relied upon.
I wasn’t expecting problems with Ronnie. I definitely wasn’t expecting a cursing, red-faced tirade from James. I wasn’t expecting to be asked to meddle in Andalite politics by Vladimir Putin, I wasn’t expecting Tri-I to take Jake, Marco, and Ax. I was not planning on stealing spaceships from mutant fish people or dealing with Ssri’Kai. I didn’t think we’d be giving Jordan, Sara, and Kristina morphing powers. But none of that stuff, absolutely none of it, even all combined together, compared to the shock of seeing the Global Operations Director of Tri-I.
How was it possible? At first I thought maybe my eyes were playing ticks on me. I’m an old rat, maybe I was seeing things. But then he said his name. John Montresor. There was no way for me to pretend it was someone else. I knew John Montresor all my life, better than just about anyone knew him.
John Montresor was my father.
When the Yeerks attacked my home, he was taken and made into a Controller. The last conversation I had with him was form a pay phone, when the Yeerk in his head tried to get me to give myself up. He hadn’t been in control then. The last time he was in control…I couldn’t forget that. He didn’t run from the Yeerks. He fought back, trying to protect me.
I thought he died during the war. When I came back to civilization, I searched for him but couldn’t find anything. But I guess the man in charge of Tri-I knows how to keep secrets. Was my mother alive, too? Did they know I was still alive?
I knew the answer to that last one. I know my father. He would have used Tri-I’s resources to try and find me. But not even Tri-I could manage that. He would have had to assume I was dead. Was he married to a different woman now? Did I have a half-brother or sister somewhere? Or a full sibling? Impossible to say. I needed to talk to him, but I couldn’t do that; it might require me to explain too much.
I probably should have mentioned it to the others, but we really didn’t have the time for that. No one needed the added distraction right now. We were flying, but not far. We would have to go far out into the ocean to get to the only known entrance to the Nartec city; farther than we could swim without a whole lot of trouble. But unlike in the old days, the Animorphs were no longer limited to morphs for transportation.
Jacques had his own private jet. He also had several boats. We were just going to borrow one of those. So we were in seagull morph, heading to the marina. <Hey, James?> I began privately.
<Yeah?> He sounded calm again.
<I was just sort of wondering…>
<What that whole thing was about?> he finished.
<It’s just….I know how he feels, at least a little. I used to be a lot like him. When Jake first met me, I was so angry so much of the time…. I was angry at the whole world. I saw so many kids just get abandoned and ignored because of a disability they had no control over…people tossed under the rug and shut away or treated like garbage for something they were born with or an accident that wasn’t their fault. I hated it, and I hated the people responsible. At the time, I blamed everyone. And I didn’t stop hating it when I got my legs back.
<I know what it’s like to be really helpless. I’ve felt it myself, and I’ve lived with people whose quality of life was just…Most people wouldn’t have bothered living. I grew up with people who have never walked and never would. People who couldn’t see or hear or speak. People who had no control over their bodies at all. Those are people who are helpless, and if they want to end their lives…well, they deserve the right to do that much.
<Ronnie’s sad and he’s angry, but he isn’t helpless or hopeless, not like they were. He can heal, and he will if he gives himself time to do it. So when I saw him acting like that….it made me furious. He doesn’t have the right to just give up on life and say that the rest of the world doesn‘t matter; not when he’s still got it so good, and not when he can still do so much good with it.>
<Isn’t this life his own, though? Shouldn’t he be able to do what he wants with it?> I asked, really more as a point of conversation than anything else.
<Most of the time, maybe. But Earth, the Andalite world, the Ssri’Kai and everyone else need him right now. He doesn’t get to just quit because he’s upset. We don’t have that option. What’s that thing the Andalites say? My life isn’t my own when the people need it? I think that‘s pretty much spot on.>
<Another question, then,> I decided. <What's the deal with you and Kristina? You've been spending as much time around her as you do around Jordan. And before you start protesting, it'd be kind of hard not to know about you and Jordan. We could all hear you when you made calls to her late at night; the walls of that apartment are paper thin.>
<That's…..complicated.> He paused, hoping I'd say something. I didn't. <It's just….With Jordan, it just sort of …happened. I don't know, maybe I was feeling lonely, maybe she wanted to rebel against her mother…whatever it was, we really weren't planning on anything. And while I was on Omega, it made sense. But then I moved away and it got more complicated.>
<It's just…a long distance relationship requires a lot of commitment. You have to try really hard, with all your heart. And to be honest, I just don't know if either of us cares about the other that much. She was fun to spend some time with but that was never supposed to last. And then Kristina walked in and…well…things just sort of happened there, too.>
<Happened?> I asked. <As in past-tense, things have already happened?>
<A few minor things,> James answered. ((Nothing physical. I've never even held her hand that I can remember. I wouldn't do that to Jordan. David…I just…It's different with Kristina. I care about her; more than I do Jordan, I think. But…I owe Jordan. I can't just run out on her because there's someone else… And I don't really know who I can even talk to about this.>
<You don't want to publicize the fact that you're thinking of breaking up with Rachel's sister because you like your head attached to your shoulders.>
<Pretty much. And now she's Tobias's sister, too. And Al's. Plus, Al has a thing for Kristina anyway…This is not going to end well for me, is it?>
<Not a chance. What do you plan to do?>
<Is fleeing an option?>
<Is there somewhere Tobias, Rachel, Jeanne, Al, and Jordan can't find you?>
<Probably not, no…>
<In that case…Man, James, I don't know.>
<Me neither, Davo. Me neither.>
It's weird, really. I always thought I knew James. We've got so much in common, and we always got along really well. I thought I knew him. But I guess there was a whole lot more to James than I always figured. I never thought he'd have that much anger inside of him. I couldn't help but wonder what else we didn't know about James. He kept more inside than I ever thought he did. Was he in danger of exploding?
I really hoped not. Not just because I considered him a friend, but because he seemed to be taking the role of our leader. He was the one who got Ronnie moving, at any rate, and he wasn't hesitating on decisions. But if he was hiding this much, what other secrets was he keeping?
The good news for us was that my father owned several boats, which he kept in an expensive marina not too far from town. Ordinarily, the security would be considered top-rate, but it takes very specialized security to keep Animorphs out. It was simple enough for us to just land on one of my father’s smaller boats.
I landed inside the small, steering cabin area - I will admit that I do not know much about nautical terms - and demorphed. The others followed the same procedure, and by the time everyone was demorphed, I had unfastened the rope that held us to the dock and we were out of the marina without difficulty. That was a nice change of pace.
“You know what’s weird? For once, we’re dressed appropriately,” James commented. He was at least partially correct. While this may not have been exactly proper boating attire, our morphing outfits stuck out less here than they would have elsewhere If there had been anyone to see us, at least.
“Does morphing heal sun burn?” Melissa asked. “I tend to get burned pretty bad, especially if I’m out in the open like this.”
“You’ll be fine,” James answered. “We need to start thinking of plans, though. I have no idea what we can expect from the Nartec city, so I think we’ll just have to wing that.”
<We could attempt a diplomatic approach?> Al suggested. <The Nartec seemed more or less amicable to our predecessors during their trip there. It was only a disagreement on the best method of extracting DNA that led to the unpleasantness.>
<That unpleasantness consisted of ‘our predecessors’ maiming and killing a couple dozen Nartec; even more, once you add in the Visser’s help,> David noted.
“Stealth?” I suggested.
<It is a possibility,> David admitted. <We would need to acquire some of the mutated animals native to the Nartec city, though.>
“That’s one option, then.
“Here’s an idea,” Ronnie suggested. “We just go in there and if they don’t give us the ship, why don’t we we start popping little blue heads off until they do?”
“Because they have weapons. Pointy spears, swords, axes, machine guns, flamethrowers, and probably a few Dracon beams by this point,” James answered.
“Maybe if we had a hostage…they have a queen, right?” Melissa suggested.
<Let’s try to avoid that one,> David advised. <The problem with hostages is that, once you kill them, you’re out of options.>
“I think it’s pretty clear,” James decided. “We’ll try to do this quietly, in and out with the ship before anyone knows we’re there. If they catch us, we’ll try to talk our way out of it. And if that doesn’t work, we do it by force.”
I nodded. “That sounds acceptable.”
One by one, everyone else nodded their agreement. I was surprised to realize that we were all accepting James’s leadership without question. I see now why Jake recruited him in the first war. James really was a natural leader. I think it is his general attitude. He seems like just another soldier. Whatever the danger is, he gives the impression that he will be there with you. It was not something I was used to in a leader.
With Jake, it was a different sort of feel. It was very clear when he was giving an order because it would feel like something was being requested of you. I trusted Jake’s orders because I knew he would not give me an order he himself would not obey. But there was always the sense that I was the one carrying it out while he oversaw me and did his own task. Like two friends working on a project together.
It was also very different from Tobias. If Jake’s orders were like a friend’s, then Tobias’s were like a father’s. He gave an order and expected it to be obeyed. Orders from Tobias were very clearly orders. At the same time, though, I sensed something different from the Alphamorphs. They had a sense that, no matter what their orders, if they were in trouble, Tobias would save them. What had once been a vague intuition of that had smacked me in the face when James told Kristina, Jordan, and Sara that everything would be fine hen Tobias returned from his honeymoon. As if he could stop the whole Yeerk empire by his mere presence. The thing is that I think the Alphamorphs believed it. A style of leadership different form Jake’s, but at least as effective.
From James, it was a different feel entirely. Whatever the order was, James intended to do it himself, and we were welcome to help him out; or at least, that was the impression. He did not give orders so much as suggest courses of action we should take. From what I read, that is much how Jake was at the beginning of the First War. I suppose it should be no surprise, then, that we did what James suggested.
“Once we’ve got the ship, I think we need to swing by the Andalite homeworld,” James continued. “I don’t like Putin, but I don’t think he’s the type to just play games. If he says the Yeerks have a finger in things there, I think he’s probably telling the truth. Someone needs to investigate things there. Al’s a natural choice, and I want to send David with him. No one should go without backup, and if anyone is going to be able to outmaneuver Yeerks in politics, I think it’s probably him.”
“That all makes sense to me,” I agreed. I might have been a good choice to combat the Yeerks as well, but David would work better with Al than I would. And my talents would come in handy in Ssri’Kai space.
<Yeah, I think that’s the best choice,> David nodded.
<I agree. David and I should be able to handle anything that we find.>
“Just as long as I don’t have to go,” Ronnie muttered.
“I want to go where the Ssri’Kai are - I want to see how tough they really are. Let the kids handle the Andalites,” Melissa agreed.
“Alright then,” James continued. “Al, David, I don’t know how long we’ll be in Ssri’Kai space. If the election’s done before we’re finished disrupting the Yeerk stuff there, Tobias and Rachel will be back from their honeymoon, so I guess you could call them for a ride.”
<We will be capable of handling it,> Al assured him.
<Andalte politics aren‘t dangerous,> David added. <Right, Al?>
Al chose not to answer that.
We spent about three hours relaxing on the boat before Al informed us that we were at approximately the right location. We were about to morph when I realized we had a problem. “Guys? What do we do with the boat?”
<You know what, James? That’s a very good question,> David answered, completely not helping.
Jeanne took a phone out of the steering cabin thingy place and dialed. “Papa? Some friends and I borrowed one of your boats. I am afraid we will not be able to return it ourselves. You will have to use the boat’s GPS chip to locate it. I trust you will not have too great of a problem with that?” She was silent for a few moments. “Of course, Papa. We will be.” Another pause. “And I you.”
That settled, we started to morph. The best way to do this seemed like it was to morph partway on the boat and then flop into the water from there. We all had various morphs that would work. Most of us had used dolphins before, and they were easy enough for the others to master. I don’t think I ever morphed mine before, but that was fine. Morphing wasn’t difficult.
This one was weird, though. My legs fused together and became my tail before anything else changed. And I’ll tell you this: merfolk look like horrible abominations in real life. Also, having a blowhole is not nearly as cool as it sounds. That appeared on my back and let me tell you that breathing through one of those things without the dolphin instincts to make it seem normal is really, really uncomfortable. It’s kind of like having someone blow in your ear. And that somebody is you.
That was the point at which I realized I was in danger of beaching myself on the boat. I was leaning over the side, so I heaved my weight forward and fell into the water. I sank a whole lot faster than I expected to and almost lost focus, but the more I concentrated on being a dolphin the better I felt. My body got used to the water, and that helped me to calm down. I wasn’t really sure when I finished, but suddenly the dolphin mind kicked in. Time to play Find the Mutant Fish People!
<Everyone ready? I want to get started,> I called.
<Done,> David responded.
<I am finished as well,> Al confirmed.
<Finished,> Jeanne added.
<All fished up,> Melissa answered.
<Mammal,> was Ronnie’s response.
<Then let’s swim! Al, where is this place?>
<There should be an entrance somewhere in that cliff face ahead of us,> Al answered. <Utilize your echolocation.>
<I bet I can find it first,> David responded, jetting ahead.
<Yeah, right. I’m going to find it,> I argued, pushing past him.
Ronnie sighed in our heads. <You’re both wrong. It’s going to be me.>
<I’m totally going to find it first,> answered Melissa.
<I believe you are mistaken, Melissa. It will be me,> Jeanne argued.
<You are all incorrect. It shall be me,> Al laughed.
We swam around like idiots for a few minutes until I echolocated a cave with what must have been plants around it; just what we were looking for. I found it. Not David, no matter what he might tell you.
<Found a cave,> David called.
<I saw it first,> I argued. I swam up and poked my nose inside, firing off an echo locative burst. Definitely the right cave. It was long, twisting, and if I guessed right, ended in a blank wall. <This is it. Let’s grab a lungful and go.>
We surfaced, took a few deep breaths, and dove again, right for the cave. I couldn’t be sure how long this cave was, or if we’d have enough air. Jake once told me the story about this place. He wasn’t sure about coming here the first time, and he always had a bad feeling about it. I felt pretty uneasy too, but that didn’t matter. This was where the ship was, this was where we had to go. It was just as simple as that.
The cave’s darkness was probably the kind you’d call ‘oppressive’ or crushing, but our echolocation helped with that. It wasn’t the same as seeing, and it wasn’t as good, but it helped to remind us the world was there. When you can’t see a thing, and you can’t even feel the familiar pull of gravity, any reminder that the world still exists is good to have. Thanks to that echolocation, we saw the end of the tunnel before we bumped into it.
<So how do we get in?> Melissa asked.
In response, Ronnie swam forward and poked the wall with his nose. A thin line of light so bright it almost blinded me appeared. It grew into a rectangle, then a square, then a circle. Even brighter, greenish squiggles of light forced their way out of the circle and formed weird, rotating coils. They gathered in the center, joined together, and then split apart like a mouth opening. There was a tunnel behind them.
<That was….weird,> Melissa commented.
<This place gets a whole lot weirder from what I hear,> David answered. <Let’s keep moving, I don’t know how long I can hold my breath.>
We swam through and the ‘mouth’ of the tunnel closed behind us. That wasn’t too much of a problem, though. The surface of the water wasn’t too far above us, so we could grab a breath. There was light coming from somewhere, and I could make out a muddy river bank.
<The Nartec are strongest in water,> Jeanne began. <We might be best serviced on land.>
<You heard the lady,> I told everyone, swimming over to the bank. I demorphed and climbed up to dry land, with everyone else following. I really wasn’t prepared for what I saw around me. The other Animorphs had described it, but you really can’t imagine it.
We were in a cavern bigger than….probably bigger than a lot of towns. This thing was miles across, even if the whole thing was open, I wouldn’t have been able to see the other side. It all appeared to be natural, but so did that cave wall we came though, so who could say?
The whole place was filled with ships. Old wooden warships, submarines, modern battleships, ancient wrecks and even an aircraft carrier. And, if the stories from the other Animorphs were true, these ships had crews, dead bodies of their real crewmembers, stuffed and preserved. I didn’t have any desire to investigate those claims.
“Alright, let’s try to do this quietly,” I decided.
Al sighed slightly in my head. <I am afraid it is a little late for that, James.>
We were not alone. The dim lighting would hide our observers from human eye sight, but not from that of an Andalite. There were several blue-skinned humanoids crouching in the shadows, pointing primitive projectile weapons at us. <I believe they intend to shoot us.>
<If they wanted to shoot, they’d shoot,> David argued.
“Then perhaps they want to talk,” Jeanne answered. She turned in the general direction of the sentries. “We mean you no harm.”
<We just want to steal your ship,> David added in what I hope was private thought speak.
“You will come peacefully,” one of the humanoids called. I could only assume these were the Nartec. They looked almost human, but their necks possessed gill slits, and their eyes were especially large. They were like one of the many parodies of alien races I saw in human movies., just ordinary human beings with makeup. But I knew that they were not human. Not anymore, at least, though from Prince Aximili’s reports they most likely once were.
“That was the plan,” James answered, holding up his hands. “We’re unarmed.”
“You are shape shifters. You are never unarmed,” one of the Nartec called back.
“At least they catch on quick,” Melissa shrugged.
“What weapons do they have?” Ronnie asked.
<I believe they are called crossbows,> I answered.
“That won’t stop a polar bear.”
<No, but it’ll definitely keep you from living long enough to morph one,> David answered. <Let’s just go with them for now. If they were going to kill us, they would have tried that already, so they must be willing to talk.>
“David is most likely correct,” Jeanne agreed.
<I think so too,> I added.
Melissa nodded. Ronnie sighed and turned to James. “So we’re going to go with them?”
“You sound disappointed,” James responded. “I thought your problem was with Guraff. You saying you want to fight some Nartec?”
The Nartec formed up around us and lead us between wrecked ships on a long trek towards their city. It appeared to be built entirely of pieces from wrecked ships, cobbled together with whatever was at hand. There were large, defensive guns mounted here and there. Perhaps they were active and placed there purposely, perhaps they were just decorations or maybe they were just there at random. The city was by no means beautiful, but it was unique and it was functional.
As we walked, more and more Nartec joined us, surrounding us. Many aimed weapons at us, and that made me question if perhaps the other Animorphs had underestimated the damage they did. But some seemed excited, even pleased to see us. Perhaps they just liked seeing strange, new life forms.
We were led at last to a large, pyramidal structure. There was something glowing a faint green color at the top of the pyramid, and there appeared to be hundreds of cables leading from the source of the glow to buildings around the pyramid.
It is humorous, the paranoia that humans have about pyramids. Some are confused that a similar style of architecture appeared on two opposite sides of their planet, and some suggest alien involvement. The truth of the matter is that it is a very sensible structure and almost every civilized race in the galaxy has built pyramids of its own. So far, my people have elected not to explain that to the humans. It was an attempt at a sense of humor.
I do not think anyone understood the joke.
The guards marched us up some steps and into the pyramid. There was a large hallway in front of us, with a velvet carpet on the floor. At the far end, there was a throne with one of the Nartec on it. She looked much like a human woman, with blue flesh, webbed hands, gills, and extremely large eyes. <She is a queen,> I reminded the others. <I believe the appropriate courtesy is to bow to her.>
I lowered my upper half, and the others bowed as well. We looked at each other for a few moments, then James spoke. “Um...Greetings, great queen of the Nartec. My name is James. Uh...we’re from America -”
“Speak for yourself,” Jeanne muttered.
“You are the Animorphs, aren’t you?” the Queen asked. “You are different from the first Animorphs that came.”
<Yes. Yes we are,> David admitted. <We aren’t the ones who attacked your people five years ago.> Privately to us, he added, <We might be able to play on the fact that we aren’t the same ones. Maybe it’ll get us some help.>
His plans were immediately reined when the queen responded, “A pity. I was hoping to thank them.”
“Thank them?” Jeanne asked. “What for?”
“Five years ago, they came here and caused quite a stir. The six of them inflicted incredible casualties on the former Queen’s elite guard. Their confidence in Queen Soco was shaken – enough so that I could gain their support and have my older sister...removed...from the equation. So, what brings you shapeshifters here?”
<How do you know the term ‘Animorph’?> I asked.
“We collect much information from the ships we bring into our collection. Magazines are sometimes intact, as are electronic records. It would be impossible not to know about the Animorphs. So when four humans, an animal, and an Andalite come to visit, I can only assume that you are affiliated with the other Animorphs. Why are you here?”
“That’s a little complicated,” Melissa answered. She looked at the rest of us questioningly. How much to tell this queen?
“We need a ship,” Ronnie answered. He was apparently not in the mood for subtlety. “A powerful ship. Big, green, looks like Snoopy. You have it and we need it. Now.”
The queen smiled. “You aren’t here for games. I like that. Your name, Animorph?”
“I like that a lot. The games that the nobles like to play bore me. It’s like catching a squid just to get one to introduce herself. My name is Roca. And yours?”
“Ronnie Chambers,” Queen Roca repeated. “A nice sound to it, if a little odd.” She sighed. “We have the ship you seek. It was quite the find, and I’m sure you understand that we cannot just give it to you. It is far more advanced than anything we have ever found before.”
<Then I guess we need to start making a deal,> David decided. <And I’m sure we have something you want.>
Queen Roca decided that she didn’t want to spend all day sitting on her throne, so her guards led us to a private audience chamber. It was actually a pretty nice place. I lounged on a velveteen couch. Al and Ronnie decided to stand, though I don’t think Al had much choice. James took a chair and David decided to sit on his shoulder.
“Do we have anything to trade?” James asked. “I mean...unless they’re looking for good spandex, we’ve got nothing.”
“We have information, I am sure,” Jeanne answered.
“When she gets in here, we’ll have a hostage,” Ronnie added. “I’m sure that ship isn’t worth her life.”
<I believe we are not authorized to hold foreign leaders as hostages,> Al responded.
“Jake doesn’t need to know,” I answered quickly, half joking. I wasn’t really all that keen on the idea myself. But when I’m nervous, I just dive headfirst into things. I really didn’t know what we had to go on. They probably had all the information they cared about, if they knew about the Animorphs.
<There’s something they need more than anything else,> David told us. <Remember the first time the Animorphs came here? What did the Nartec want from them?>
<Their DNA,> Al answered.
<Exactly. Roca seems more reasonable than I think Soco was. She might listen when we tell her there are better ways of getting DNA. They need it to keep their population alive. So we give them all of our human DNA, they give us the Pemalite ship – or maybe just let us borrow it for a little.>
“How much DNA do we have to pass around?” James asked.
<I believe we all have some human DNA. Enough for a sizeable sample, at least. I believe the trade will be acceptable,> Al assured him.
“Can we get DNA from you and David?” I asked. “Your human bodies are morphs, after all.”
<While that is true, the bodies still possess DNA. I do not think the fact that they are morphs will adversely affect the use of the DNA.>
“You’re the genius here,” James shrugged.
<To be fair, my...advanced intelligence...is really only in the area of technology, James. I am not a geneticist.>
“More of one than the rest of us,” I shrugged. “You’re the only scientist type we’ve got.”
“Not exactly,” James pointed out. “When I was crashing with the Andalites, I lived with a xenobiologist and a doctor. I know a thing or two about science.”
“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?” Ronnie muttered.
<Aren’t we all?> David replied. <I hear someone coming. Let’s try to keep it down.>
A few moments later, the door opened. Two burly Nartec came in, followed by the queen, followed by another pair of Nartec. The guards were carrying weapons we recognized very easily – Dracon beams. Two thoughts jumped to my mine. Either they had salvaged these from somewhere or they were working with the Yeerks. And if it was the second one...
“You all look so tense,” Roca smiled at us. “Please, relax. I prefer my negotiations to be as pleasurable as possible.”
<James always looks that way,> David responded. <I think it has something to do with the rod in his ->
“David? Two words. Mouse. Trap,” James responded.
I raised an eyebrow at David. A minute ago, he was acting like some sort of professional about this. Now he was making jokes.
<We want her to relax, too,> David explained to me. <If she lets her guard down, it’ll help us. So let’s let her think we’re just idiots.>
“I could see if some of my surgeons could remove that for him,” Roca offered, still smiling. “You wish to discuss trade? Let us discuss it, then. This ship you want is undoubtedly the greatest find we have ever had. We have not even unlocked a tenth of its mysteries, and already it amazes our greatest scientists. Comparing it to something your people or mine created would be like comparing a whale to krill.”
<You may not be pleased with what you find on the ship,> Al began. <There are no weapons, for one thing.>
“No weapons? On a ship that advanced?”
“The Pemalites didn’t fight wars,” James explained. “They spent all their time having parties and making robots. They were eventually exterminated by a species called the Howlers – they partied in a different way. The Pemalites had no weapons. None. So if you’re thinking that that ship might help give you a bit of a military advantage when you go to conquer us land-fish, you’re mistaken.”
“What makes you think that I-”
“The previous Animorphs told us about Queen Soco’s plans,” Jeanne interrupted. “It had the sound of a prophecy about it. You may be different from her, but you have the same ambition, am I right?”
“Let us set aside the question of weapons for now,” Roca said evasively. “It is a source of power like nothing ever before seen. It could power our entire city running only at one tenth of its capacity.”
<If you utilized your most abundant resource, you could generate even more power,> Al answered. <Surely you know of the potential of hydroelectric power. With all of the water around you, you could generate an unfathomable amount of energy. If you combined that with some simple geothermal procedures, you would have unlimited energy for your city, more than even the ship could produce.>
“But my people do not have the knowledge to build such things,” Roca argued. “That is useless to us.”
<I could easily show you how to do it,> Al answered.
“Doesn’t that break that Seerow’s Kindness law you people love?” Ronnie pointed out.
<By no means. Humans have hydroelectric plants, as well as geothermal technology. It is not a violation to give aliens the technology of other aliens. The law relates only to Andalite technology.>
<So much for looking like idiots,> David muttered privately. <Could we all just once stick to a plan?> To Roca, he asked, <What else, then?>
“We have no idea what the ship is truly capable of or what we could really learn from it. There is no telling how much we could lose if we traded it away.”
“From what I heard, your people only have a few generations to live,” I pointed out. “I remember something about you not having enough genetic material or whatever to sustain yourselves. If you don’t get some more, it won’t matter how much technology you have. This place’ll just be one big graveyard that no one ever visits.”
“What is your point, girl?”
“That ship can’t give you the DNA you need. We can,” I answered. “That’s the offer. Our DNA for the Pemalite ship.”
“You think that the four of you would be enough to sustain our population? I think not. Perhaps with what we learn from the ship, we can gain the power to go and harvest from the surface-dwellers ourselves.”
<It wouldn’t just be their DNA,> David pointed out. <The Andalite and I have human forms. You can use that DNA, too.>
“And I know a few things you could do to the DNA to get some more variety out of it,” James added. “I lived with the Andalites for a bit, and one of them studied humans. I’m sure you have the tech to make the alterations you need. From the six of us, there are over a million combinations you could get with a few little tweaks. Enough to keep your people going for another couple centuries, at least. I’d say that’s probably worth the ship.”
“We would also like to show you a way of extracting DNA that is superior to the technique you use,” Jeanne added. “One that does not kill the donor.”
Roca smiled again, wider this time. “Oh, we already have a better way.” She turned to one of her guards. “Summon the head geneticist.”
One of the guards left to get the scientist. Roca turned back to us. “We’ve been receiving scientific journals for the last few decades explaining more advanced techniques for the extraction process. My sister was unwilling to adapt to those methods, but it seems much more efficient to me.”
“It is good to see that you are more reasonable than your predecessor,” Jeanne replied.
<Our people are really starting to take up a bigger role in the universe,> David added. <With people like you in charge, there’s definitely a chance for some sort of peace between us. We’re sort of engaged in a pretty major war right now. It’d be good to know we’ve got allies in the sea rather than enemies.>
“Friendship with the surface dwellers...an interesting prospect,” Roca agreed. “Certainly something worth exploring.”
A thin Nartec entered the room, followed by the guard. “You summoned me, your highness?”
Roca pointed at James, Jeanne, David, Al, and Melissa. “Take these five to the primary medical bay and extract their DNA. Use the new procedures, we do not want to harm them. The yellow-haired one and the blue one will show you what to do with the DNA.”
“What about Ronnie?” Melissa asked.
I tensed up. Whatever this fish woman was planning, she wasn’t going to find it easy. I was here to kill Yeerks, not Nartec, but if she got between me and the slugs...
“I rather like this one,” she responded.
“This one’s name is Ronnie,” I growled.
“Yes, I believe you mentioned that,” she smiled. I felt like hitting her in the face. “Not all the periodicals we find on the ships we bring in are scientific in nature. Some are much more...entertaining. Some have their own means for the transfer of genetic material. And it is thanks to these that we learned that humans and Nartec make such transfers in the same way. I think I would like to try it with a human.”
<Wait...is she saying...> David trailed off.
“That’s kind of....” James added.
“I do not think...” Jeanne agreed.
“You’re kind of screwed up.” Melissa said flatly.
“Not happening,” I told Roca.
<I do not understand,> Al concluded.
<Anyone else want to field this one?> David asked. We all turned and looked at him. He sighed. <Fine. Al...um...how do humans share DNA.>
<What did Roca just say?>
<That she...but that would mean...>
Roca laughed. “You are all taking this far too seriously, you know. It’s just a bit of fun.” She leaned forward and met my eyes. “And besides, are you saying you aren’t wondering what it would be like at this very moment?”
“No, I’m not.” That was true. I was thinking about Cassie, and what she’d say. If she was here...well, Cassie isn’t a violent person, but if she was here, Roca would be bleeding from her jaw and lying on the floor right now.
But Cassie wasn’t here.
I couldn’t do it. Not now, maybe not ever. It wasn’t just that she wasn’t a human. It was the thought of being with someone other than Cassie. I couldn’t do it. It was too soon. It’d be like spitting on her grave. There was no way...it was too soon to move on to someone else.
“That isn’t going to happen,” I said flatly.
“No? That would be a shame. Perhaps...”
“Perhaps what?” James asked, an edge in his voice.
“Perhaps this deal is not the best one to make after all. Maybe you should keep your DNA and I should keep my ship.”
James appeared to be rubbing his hand over his mouth, like he was thinking. But from where I was sitting, I could see his lips moving. David, sitting on his shoulder, was apparently listening to whatever he was whispering.
<We’ve got two options here,> David said privately to the rest of us. <Option one, we could kidnap Roca and hold her hostage until they give us the ship. That one comes with some pretty obvious risks. Or...>
I raised an eyebrow. He knew what it meant. Or what?
<James thinks that you might have to play along, Ronnie. Just for a little bit. We’ll sneak off, find the ship, and rescue you while the queen and her people are distracted. We won’t let it get too far.>
I shook my head slightly to the left and right. No way was I going to play along. Roca sat there with an amused smile on her face. She knew we were discussing the situation.
<Roca isn’t an idiot,> David reminded us. <I think she probably took precautions before we got here, in case we tried something like taking her hostage. I think she’d be prepared for that. Maybe we could put a stop to whatever plan she’s got if we knew what it was, but we’d need more time. Ronnie, I really don’t think there’s much choice here.>
Again, I shook my head, more visibly this time. I was not going to entertain this twisted fish lady’s fantasies. I was not going to be a part of it.
I saw James mouth something. David turned and looked at him. James nodded. David sighed. <Alright then. Ronnie, James is telling me to tell you that he is not going to let this mission fail because you’re being stubborn. He didn’t want to have to play this card, but here it is. Not too long ago, when Tobias was busy with something else, he put James in charge of us for a mission. As far as I’m concerned, and as far as the Alphamorphs are concerned, that makes James our leader for this mission, too. And whether you want to be difficult or not, you’re an Alphamorph, too. So if you don’t play along, he’s going to make it an order.>
I turned and met James’s eyes. “Is that a fact?”
He nodded. “Yeah, that’s a fact. You came on this mission, Ronnie. That makes you an Animorph – and an Alphamorph. And we aren’t just a bunch of kids anymore. The Animorphs are an army, and you’re going to follow orders.”
I backed down before because I respected James. But now he was trying to pull rank on me? Like hell that was going to happen. If I was an Animorph, then I was equal to all the other Animorphs. I wasn’t going to back off just because some time in the past, Tobias let James lead a little mission.
“And if I don’t do what you say? What’re you going to do if I don’t obey you?” I asked.
“We’re going to go about our business,” James answered simply. “We’re getting this ship. And if you don’t want to help us out, fine. We’ll find something else to trade Queen Roca for it. But if that happens, then you’re not coming with us. We’re going to leave you here. If we fail in the end, maybe Guraff will come down here and maybe you’ll get your shot at him. But don’t count on that. Either you’re with us, or we’re leaving you here.”
Would they really leave me here? I saw in James’s eyes that he would. I didn’t care what happened to the rest of the galaxy. He did. And he wasn’t going to let me get in his way. Slowly, I turned to face Roca. “What exactly do you have in mind?”