I’ve always hated driving at night. Especially since I’ve been able to have night vision any time I wanted since before I learned how to drive. I had to be careful. If I drove home, my parents and sisters would want to talk to me about class, and how the exam went. By the time I got to bed, waited for my sisters to fall asleep, and left the house, Chapman would be long gone.
So I couldn’t go home yet.
I drove a few blocks further, making a mental note of where I was leaving the car, parked on a side street and got out. I went in to the 7-11 on the corner, bought a bag of chips with some of my very limited money, then exited the convenience store and wandered around to the alley behind it. I ate my chips, though not all of them. They were an excuse to stand in one place while scoping out my surroundings.
No one around that I could see or hear, but this wasn’t as secluded a place as I usually liked to morph, so I would be extra cautious.
I slipped into the small space behind the dumpster, having to suck in my stomach just to fit. That would be fine… there’d be much more room in a minute or two. I stripped off my shirt, jeans, and shoes, revealing the skintight two piece swimsuit I always wore underneath. It was possible to morph clothing, but only something skin tight. And in all these years, we never figured out how to morph shoes of any kind. Even ballet slippers got shredded in the process.
I hid my clothes on the ground just under the dumpster, muttering to myself about the glamorous life of a superhero, as Marco would say. I’d come home from class late and smelling like a dumpster. THAT would make my parents happy… and my sisters, with whom I share a bedroom. I’d have to take a shower the moment I got home.
I closed my eyes and focused on the owl DNA within me. It was a morph I’d done many times before, so I knew what to expect. Still, even after all these years, the sensation of shrinking caught me off guard. A soda can on the ground that barely came up to my ankle was suddenly a third of my height. The ground rushed up to smack me in the face. And at the same time, I was feeling the disturbing not-quite-pain sensation of my internal organs shifting and reforming to fit my new size and body.
Morphing is never logical. Things don’t change in any predictable pattern. With all the times I’d morphed the owl, you’d think I’d know what would happen. But when my fingers and arm sprouted flight feathers before I was even finished shrinking, I was still caught off guard. The itch of feathers spread quickly, and I wound up a one foot tall human covered in Barn Owl feathers. If anyone saw me at that moment, they’d probably go screaming in the other direction. I focused and quickly completed the morph, my toes and feet melding together to form talons, and my mouth and nose hardening into a beak. The only human thing left about me was my eyes. They quickly swelled to fill my head and the owl’s night vision came on. The alley was suddenly almost as bright as day.
I hop-walked out from behind the dumpster and spread my wings, feathers fluffing against the cold. I hate taking off from the ground in any bird body except seagull. But owls are at least built to fly without the use of thermals. I leaped into the air and beat my wings, the instincts of the owl making the minor adjustments to individual feathers to take advantage of the small night winds. Within a few seconds, I was in the air.
It didn’t take me very long to find Chapman from the air. He was in the construction site by the time I found him. But what I immediately noticed was that he was still alone.
We’d seen Yeerks at the construction site many times over the years. Picking up pieces of Elfangor’s fighter. Searching for the Time Matrix, which is a story in and of itself. But in all these years, I’d never seen him there alone.
I swooped down and landed on a girder, high above Chapman, shielded by the floor below me. I directed my face down toward where he was, trying to take advantage of the owl’s very good hearing to find out what he was doing. To my surprise, he seemed to be talking to himself. I didn’t see a cell phone, or even a BlueTooth headset. And with these eyes, both would’ve been hard to miss.
“No! That was our deal. That was our deal from the beginning.” A moment of silence. “I care about her too. I wouldn’t BE here if I didn’t.” Silence again. “I am NOT a traitor…”
My mind flashed to my Speech & Communication class, talking about the elements of perception. I’m hearing one side of a conversation. Most people would assume he was on the phone.
But most people don’t live in a world where there can be two sentient beings in one body. Or more, but I won’t go into soulbonding right now.
Chapman, or rather, his Yeerk, was talking to him, and doing it aloud. The “her” they were talking about had to be Melissa, Chapman’s daughter. We found out at the very beginning of the war that he and his wife had given up their freedom in exchange for the promise that Melissa would remain free. If he was out here arguing with his Yeerk, it must mean that Melissa was in danger of being infested.
I considered talking to the Yeerk… showing myself as an “Andalite Bandit,” which is what the Yeerks believe us to be to this day. But Jake wasn’t there. I listened to the circular argument for awhile, considering how likely this was to be a trap, then spread my wings and returned to the place where I’d left my clothes.
I demorphed, got dressed, and went home without incident. Thankfully there was no smell clinging to my clothes, and I excused my late coming home by saying the movie the teacher had shown after class had run late.
The next day I made sure to run into Jake at school, despite the fact that I don’t usually have classes on Fridays. I drove, making an excuse about needing to see my Financial Aid councilor in order to get the car. Thankfully both of my sisters worked the same time that day, so they’d carpooled and left me with the little Honda me, my sister Lona, and our mom usually share.
I hate lying. But since this war began it’s become a way of life. At least this time I could actually DO what I said I was going to do, just to make it not be a lie. I was sure I could think of SOMETHING to talk to Denise about. All the while wondering if she was a Controller behind that helpful exterior. It’s something I find myself doing constantly, these days. My teachers, my schoolmates, even my family. I wonder if, behind those loving and knowing eyes, there’s a slug lurking. This is the world I live in now, a world where anyone could be an enemy. I hate that more than I hate lying.
“Jake!” I shouted across the quad, waving happily as if I hadn’t texted him last night on our Chee-reinforced cell phones and asked him to meet me. Everything had to look like a coincidence. “Hey!”
He turned and looked around as if he didn’t know what direction I was coming from, then spotted me and grinned. “Kathy!” I caught up to him and he continued. “I thought you didn’t have class on Fridays.” The necessary small talk.
“Had to see my FinAid councilor. Hey, guess who I saw on the way home from class last night.”
“Who?” We were walking together toward the U building at this point, blending in with the normal Friday crowds in the Quad.
“Our old vice principal.” That got a reaction from him… He knew I wouldn’t have texted him if it wasn’t important, but I don’t think he was expecting that. He raised an eyebrow.
“Did you say hello?” He asked that with a straight face, and I would’ve been impressed if it was anyone other than Jake… Or Tobias, but that man has no affectation in human morph.
“No, he was just walking on 17th street when I was on the way home.” We all know what’s on 17th street.
Jake was quiet for a few moments as we threaded our way through a mass of people. How many ears around us were being controlled by Yeerks… No way to know. We slipped off to the side near the R-Building, leaning against a wall in an alcove next to the soda machines. He pulled a Sociology book out of his backpack and held it up as if showing something to me, speaking in a quiet voice. “Did he stop there?”
I peered at the book as if fascinated. Sociology was the class Jake and I shared this semester. Nothing strange about this. “Yes. But he didn’t meet anyone.”
“How long did you watch him?”
“I don’t know… Maybe half an hour. All he did was talk to himself.”
Jake nodded thoughtfully and made as if to underline something in the book with his index finger. “I take it you overheard something interesting.”
I nodded and pointed to something else in the book. “Melissa’s being targeted.”
Jake was silent for another few moments, then closed the book. “The usual place tonight.” I nodded, we smiled at each other as if he’d just helped me figure something out, and parted. I headed for the FinAid office and talked to my councilor, then drove home. I needed to get a quick nap in before tonight.
An Animorph meeting in Cassie’s barn had just been called for that evening, and I needed to be prepared for a long night.