You slept well last night. Considering the fact that you came closer to death than you ever have before, that’s kind of surprising. You expected night terrors, or at minimum unsettling dreams. Instead, your sleep was blessedly dreamless. That fact alone had you thinking that all of last night must have been the dream then, and that you just imagined the whole thing. That notion came crashing down when you awoke to see the alien fiddling with your computer.
All of it was real.
You had super powers, the world was being invaded by brain stealing slugs, and there was an alien in your bedroom.
In less than a second you went from lying down to sitting straight up, staring at the remains of your precious desktop. Pieces and wires were strewn everywhere, the case was lying on the ground by your desk, and the inside was now glowing blue. You are pretty sure it’s not supposed to be doing that.
In fact, looking around, most of the electronics in your room have been cannibalized for parts. Your mp3 player is completely dismantled, as is the DVD player. The only things left untouched were the TV hanging on the wall and the phone charging on the night stand.
“My stuff,” you complain, your voice cracking in sorrow. “What do you think you’re doing?”
<Upgrading. I’m making this terminal secure and capable of accepting thought-speak commands. I already broke the biggest law my people have by giving you the power to morph, there isn’t any reason to hold out now.>
Any further complaints die right there. You aren’t going to complain about sacrificing a few unimportant things if it means getting a telepathy computer.
<It’s nice to know Bill stuck to the icon systems I suggested the first time I was here. I was worried he might have found some ridiculous and confusing branch of interface architecture to move on to. Humanity has, for once, remained sensible> he grumbles.
“What.” you say. “Bill... Bill ‘Founder of Microsoft’ Gates?”
<Hmm? Yes. I worked in his company during my early years on Earth. I was the one who helped him abandon the ridiculous text prompt system he’d been using.>
And that explains how Microsoft came to dominate the PC market. He had help from the aliens. You’d ask about the pyramids, but you actually think you’d feel better with the illusion of human achievement intact. All those ‘Ancient Aliens’ episodes you scoffed at your dad watching don’t seem quite so ridiculous now do they?
You reach over and grab your phone off the nightstand and check the display. It reads 9:34 am. Your parents will be long gone by now, and if they maintain old habits mom will be back at around 2pm, and dad will be home at around 6:30.
So you have in the neighborhood of four hours to get Elfangor a better hiding spot, presumably a better place to leave the cube as well. You don’t want to imagine how bad it would be if your parents actually found it. That wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t Yeerk infested, but realistically you have no way of knowing either way. Elfangor might have a way to tell, and you make a note to ask him about it later.
Anger wells up within you at the very thought of your parents being trapped inside their own heads. That your dad might not be your dad, that your mom might be begging the parasite in her head to leave her daughter alone, that she won’t resist if they’ll just leave you out of it. You grind your teeth and squeeze your eyes shut, shoving the emotions down to deal with later. There is nothing you can do about it now. The best thing you can do is figure out how to win this war as quickly as possible. If that isn’t possible without Andalite help, then you need to figure out how to make them hurt. To slow them down and keep them occupied.
The realization that you are possibly the only resistance on the planet, and that said resistance is made up of a single alien commander and six teenagers does not inspire optimism.
You get out of bed and rummage through your clothes drawers. As you start putting an outfit together you ask Elfangor a question, “is it possible to morph clothes?” You remember the incident of your first morph, of your shirt loosening as your torso became masculine, your pants tightening as you grew closer to centaurhood.
He seems to hesitate for a moment before answering, <I didn’t experiment much… but I was only ever able to manage something skin tight with my human morph.>
Wait… if he had a human morph… “If you had a human morph, why didn’t you use that?”
<Self-aware species become… suggestible under the acquisition trance. You told me to morph something small. I chose the Djabala, and didn’t think it wise to reverse the morph. Even if I had, I… circumstances beyond my control have rendered that morph inaccessible. It’s not something you will ever have to worry about in your own career… I hope.>
That’s not ominous at all.
“So you’ll need a new human morph if we’re to go out in public?”
<Ah. Yes. I suppose it would be wise for me to find a better place to hide than your bedroom. Human parents generally react poorly to finding an alien in their daughter’s living space.>
“Is there a story there?”
<I just know humans… and… perhaps. Someday.>
You go back to your outfit selection and are rather annoyed at the complete lack of skin tight clothing for once. Sweatshirts over t-shirts and comfortable jeans are your preferred clothing. Literally the only piece of skin tight anything is… that one piece swimsuit hiding in the back of the top drawer for those rare summer beach trips.
You regret never having taken any sort of gymnastics course. At least then you’d have a full coverage leotard instead of the navy blue swimsuit. You’ll wear that under your clothes for now when you practice today, but you make another note to save your allowance and get a proper morphing uniform. Something sensible, tough, and above all warm. The first thing you can think of for that is wetsuits; you’ll need to set aside a fund.
You grab the swim wear and some clothes, and then after thinking a moment, grab a second set as well as two sweatshirts.
The second set of clothes is set on the ground by Elfangor, who looks up at you with a bit of confusion.
“I was thinking of finding the others from last night and comparing notes, getting us all together so we can talk about what to do next, and in order to do that you’ll need a human morph to travel around in.” Understanding dawns as he realizes what you’re suggesting. “I have a ‘you’ morph, so it’s only fair really, at least until we can get you a better one.”
He nods, not saying anything, and you hold out your hand for him to take. He takes your hand, and you notice that he has seven fingers instead of the human five. He must be an insane typist. Your thoughts drift and your eyes droop as he acquires you, and you remain in that half-awake state for a bit before coming out of it. The trance is actually kind of disturbing, and you imagine that it must be very similar to what hypnosis might feel like. It just seems to suck away your agency. Thankfully, it probably isn’t something you’ll have to go through again.
That done, you take your own pile of clothes and leave to take a shower, leaving Elfangor to finish his own morph. Given the two hour limit, he won’t morph you until it’s time to leave. In the bathroom, you encounter a jumping spider sitting on counter and decide to acquire the thing instead of crushing it to death like you usually would. You manage to get the jump on it (ha!) and brush it into you left hand where it immediately goes slack. You leave the bathroom and toss it out the nearest window once you’re done; truly you are a gracious overlord.
You opt not to try it out immediately, and just take your shower instead. When you come out half an hour later, you feel much more human, an irony considering the animal and alien DNA now floating in your blood.
You check in on Elfangor, who says he’ll be done working in fifteen minutes or so, he needs to set up a secure network so he can access your improved computer remotely. You head to the back yard to see if there’s anything else worth acquiring there. You wind up with a ladybug morph, and then you lure your neighbor’s corgi over to the fence with some of the fried pork from last night. You acquire her too. After chasing it around for five minutes, the last morph you manage to get is a garter snake.
This eats up the last of the time spent waiting on Elfangor near perfectly, and you only have to wait a few more minutes before you hear footsteps slowly descending the stairs. When the figure arrives, you get to experience the rather surreal scene of looking at yourself. The sweatshirt hood isn’t up, and the hair is hanging loose rather than the ponytail you have yours in. The lack of any make up at all serves as another point of differentiation. It isn’t much of a difference, considering how little you yourself wear, but it’s nearly enough that people won’t look twice beyond ‘oh hey twins.’
Elfangor hands you your phone, which he (she?) must have grabbed for you. You also notice the cubic protrusion from the sweatshirt’s front pocket. Yeah, back of the closet was not the best hiding spot. You check the time, then set an alarm for an hour and a half from now, and start to set more when Elfangor stops you, “There is no need to watch the time. Andalites have a natural ability to accurately track the passage of time. I know when I’ll need to demorph.”
It’s momentarily surprising that he’s taken to human speech so quickly, but then again you figured out his ‘thought speech’ pretty damned fast yourself, and he has been human before. It handily explains how he knew how to ‘speak’ English when he landed.
At that point though, your cheeks heat up with embarrassment when you realize you don’t actually know where to find any of the others from last night. You’ve no idea where any of them live… at all. You smack your forehead as the realization hits you, and you look at Elfangor with reluctance, “ah… I just realized I don’t know where to find them. I kind of… pretty much met them for the first time last night.”
Elfangor gives you a flat look.
“Just hold on a minute…” you open up an app on your phone for whatever social networking site happens to be popular this year, and type some names into the search for the school network. You find them pretty quickly, and spend the next ten minutes shooting off friend requests and browsing profiles which are mostly set to private. Tobias, not too surprisingly, doesn’t have any kind of account at all that you can find. All you learn is that Jake is apparently a basketball player, Marco is way too fond of terrible puns, and Cassie’s parents own some kind of animal clinic. A quick search shows that the “clinic” is really just their family barn. You easily find the address and plot out a route. It’ll take twenty minutes to get close by bus with another twenty minutes of walking. Plenty of time. Hopefully she’ll still be there.
“Okay,” you say, “for real this time, we’ll be at Cassie’s house in about forty minutes.”
Elfangor nods, “Good. Finding out you are all unharmed would make me feel much better.”
You can’t keep calling him Elfangor, even in your head… not when he looks like you.
You say as much.
“When I was first on Earth, I took the name Alan Fangor,”
You snicker at that. It’s just… so terrible.
“Subtle,” you manage to get out. “I could call you Elly when you’re like this?”
“Elly works for now… though the sooner I can find something… older… and male… the more content I will be.”
“Might want to stick with a teen morph. Won’t look as odd when you inevitably have to hang out with us.”
‘Elly’ doesn’t look too happy at the prospect of a teenaged morph, but the logic is kind of undeniable.
You lock your elbow with his (an odd notion thinking of someone outwardly female as ‘he’) as you leave the house, heading towards the nearest bus stop.
The bus ride is uneventful for the most part, Elly stares out the window the whole trip, and when you asked what he was looking at, he said he was taking in how human society has changed in the last thirteen years. That little tidbit of information gives you a lot to think about, the implications are enough to tell you just how long he lived among humans. If you remember anything about computer history right, that means he spent around a decade on Earth before leaving. Ten years of pretending to be human.
That was a very long time to spend among a completely different species. Idly, you wonder how he managed it without ever getting caught.
The bus line takes you to the outskirts of the city, literally the second to last stop before the end of the route, and the closest stop to Cassie’s house.
You and Elly are the only ones even on the bus at that point, and you exit silently as the bus drives away. You begin the walk out towards your destination, trying to think of something to talk to Elfangor about so you don’t have to endure another awkward silence again. You are rather terrible at figuring out conversation starters, you’ve never really had the practice.
After fumbling around for anything to talk about, you finally settle on, “so… evil aliens huh? What’s up with that?”
“I’d rather wait until you were all together for the detailed information, but… I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t share the basics now. You are undoubtedly very curious.” You nod, and Elly continues. “Yeerks are slug-like parasites, as I explained earlier, able to enter the brain, usually through the ear, and take over the body. They can read your memories and pretend to be you so perfectly that no one realizes what is happening before it’s too late. The disguise isn’t quite perfect, most Yeerks are more than a little arrogant and that tends to shine through. Though they tend to be very careful when they first take a host, so it looks like a natural over-time personality change. It’s a much more reasonable explanation for the average human than brain stealing parasites from space.”
“So we know there are human hosts, and a Andalite host, if they’re space travelling there must have been others.”
“The two most common that you will have to deal with are Taxxons and Hork-Bajir. Taxxons are like giant centipedes with razor sharp teeth and many lobster-like claws. They are eternally hungry and will tear into you if they can get a hold of you, but they are also fragile and cannibalistic. They will turn on each other if one is wounded. Even the Yeerks cannot resist the insatiable hunger of the host. I know from experience how overpowering it can be.”
Elly’s voice is pained now, as if reliving some rather bad memories. You know that isn’t uncommon for people who spend a lot of time fighting a war. You don’t know if Andalites have an equivalent to PTSD, but if they do Elfangor probably has it. You grab onto his hand reassuringly, trying to send some measure of comfort. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the gesture, but he doesn’t reject it either.
“The others are Hork-Bajir. They would be ideal hosts if not for their low numbers and slow rate of reproduction. Despite their fearsome appearance, they were a kind and gentle people. The Yeerk’s saw them only as weapons. Tall, with tough leathery skin, and covered in blades. They are ideal shock troops. The number of Hork-Bajir hosts number in the thousands only. Their entire race is enslaved. It was one of our greatest losses that we could not save them.” He pauses for a moment, “I thought that giving you and your friends the morphing power would be the most I could do to ensure that humanity would not suffer the same fate. I suppose I was wrong. The reason the Yeerks want your people is mostly your numbers. You are one of the most numerous species in the known galaxy, and as far as I know the only one that exists in such numbers, are suitable Yeerk hosts, and are incapable of resisting conventionally.”
You grin at that, as you remember just how horrifying fighting guerillas can be. You studied the Vietnam War a bit in history class earlier this year, and it was shocking just how positively tenacious the Vietcong had been in defending their homes. “We’ll just have to fight them unconventionally then.”
Elly sighs, “That is one place I know where humans excel. You have a tendency to do things either completely backwards or in ways no one would expect.”
“Like what?” you ask.
“Well for example, you invented the book before you invented the computer. Ridiculous!”
You stop walking.
That is not.
“How do you even?” you ask.
How do they even!?
The rest of the walk is taken up by Elly espousing the merit of the book over the computer, about how it requires no processing power or power source beyond your own hands, how you can view a page from a book instantly, while retrieving something over a network can take several seconds.
Your brain refuses all of this, and you still refuse to believe his people invented the book second.
No, he is messing with you, surely.
That conversation blessedly comes to a halt as you approach Cassie’s house, and you knock on the door while Elly hangs back, with the hood on the sweatshirt pulled up.
The door opens to reveal who you can only assume is Cassie’s mother, and you hope Cassie is in or this is going to get a little awkward.
“Hi…” you start, “We’re here to see Cassie?”
The woman gives you a pitying look and says, “How’d she rope you in?”
That at least confirms she’s probably here.
“She’s persuasive?” You make it sound less like a question and more like a joke, if only barely. It does earn a chuckle at least.
“Out in the barn out back, just knock before you go in just in case the animals aren’t all tied down. Shovels are in the shed by the barn.”
You nod, despite having no idea what she’s talking about, and nod back to Elly as the door closes, “Come on Elly,” you say, and the two of you head for the barn.
You make your way back to the barn, and knock three times.
There isn’t any answer, so you try again.
You’re about to just give up and leave when you hear a muted “Just a second!”
It’s actually closer to a minute before the barn door slides open and you recognize the dark-skinned girl from last night. She’s wearing a leotard.
It’s not hard to guess what she’s been doing in there. It’s good to know you aren’t the only one serious about this.
She looks you up and down, trying to place your face. It was dark last night, it’s understandable.
“Annie,” you supply.
Her eyes widen in recognition and oh god too tight! The hug is both unexpected and more akin to tackle than a token of affection.
She lets you go, “Sorry, I’m just so glad you’re okay,” Then she notices who’s standing behind you, “Who’s that?”
“Cassie, meet Elly. Elly, you remember Cassie.”
“Hello again,” Elly supplies, lowering the hood.
Cassie looks at you, then at Elly, then back at you, then back at Elly… then back at you again… and then she figures it out.
“You’re not dead!” She cries, and this time it is an actual tackle.
The three of you take up residence inside the barn, closing the door behind you. Elfangor opts to demorph at that point, moving behind a stack of hay bales so he doesn’t ruin the clothes you lent him.
“I called Rachel,” Cassie explains, “She’ll be by in a few hours. She called Jake and he says the boys will all be here around the same time.”
Elfangor comes back from around the bales at that time, and sets the borrowed clothes beside you. <I’ll be able to acquire some male DNA then.>
You can practically hear the mental sigh of relief. You aren’t insulted, “it’s understandable to want to maintain your own gender, however inferior it might be,” you joke.
<Hmm> is the only response you get from him.
Cassie high fives you with a small cheer of “Girl power! Rachel would be proud.”
It takes another hour of waiting, in which time you spend helping Cassie with her morning chores, shoveling animal waste into a wheelbarrow and dumping it out back. You now realize that this is the thing Cassie’s mom was talking about. With the two of you, Elfangor opting to remain Andalite and thus ‘unsuitable to help’, you manage to finish the job before the others show up.
When they do, you admit them into the barn after cracking the door open to confirm their identities, and all of them take a seat.
Elfangor had hidden again in the interim, just in case someone showed up who wasn’t supposed to.
This is the first time you’ve all been together since last night, and the room falls dead silent as Elfangor reveals himself to you all again.
<Hello again. I failed to introduce myself properly last night, as time was simply too short. My name is Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul, War-Prince of the Andalite Interstellar Fleet, and I need your help to save the world.>