“No offense intended, but why are we making this our problem?” That was Marco. He was sitting on one of the many bales of hay, wearing bike shorts and a tank top. His morphing outfit. None of us drove to Animorph meetings. Ever. Just like none of us drove to missions. There was always the chance of a car being traced somehow. Especially in Jake’s family, since we knew his big brother, Tom, is a Controller.
“The same reason we made her a mission once before, Marco. The same reason we went down into the Yeerk Pool to try and save Tom on our first mission. If we lose sight of why we’re fighting, we’ll lose.” That was Cassie. Eloquent as always. She hates this war, but while most of us are fighting to save ourselves and our families, Cassie’s fighting to save the planet. Both of her parents are veterinarians, which is why her barn, also known as the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, is always full of injured and sick animals. Like the possum she was giving a pill to as she said that.
<I don’t see how we’ll be able to help without exposing ourselves, this time.> Tobias said from his perch in the rafters. <Fluffer McKitty, our obvious way of getting into that house, has been dead for about six months. I think they’d notice him returning from the dead.>
“So we find another way in,” Rachel said. Her jaw was set and she was actually glaring up at Tobias. If the topic of conversation had been anything and anyone else, I would have been shocked. Rachel and Tobias were unofficially dating. I’d only seen her snap at him a few times before. And each time it had either been because Tobias was doing something detrimental to his personal health… or because Melissa was in danger. Melissa was one of Rachel’s oldest friends from before all this started. Admittedly they rarely ever spoke anymore, but Rachel was as determined to make sure that the sacrifice her parents had made was not in vain. I couldn’t blame her. As I’ve said before: we all have our reasons for fighting this war.
<I am unclear, Prince Jake.> That was Ax, attending the meeting in his natural Andalite body, standing in a stall in the shadowed back of the barn. He always has referred to Jake as his Prince, despite the fact that, were the Andalites on earth, Ax would probably be a Prince in his own right by now. <I understand Rachel’s desire to save her friend. However, perhaps we are looking at this the wrong way.>
Jake looked at Ax. “What are you thinking, Ax-man?”
<There are several obvious solutions. The first is simply to back out and ignore the situation.> One stalk eye swiveled to look at Rachel, meeting her furious gaze. “Another is to morph Melissa and fake her death. However then she would be forced to go into hiding… And she would no longer be safe from knowing the truth about her parents…>
We all heard the trail off in his voice. He didn’t like that idea any more than we did… The seven of us have been together for a long time. Bringing another person into the group, the one other time we had done it, didn’t work out well. And if we saved Melissa the way Ax suggested, she couldn’t go home.
I chewed on my lip for a moment. “There’s… another option.” I glanced at Cassie, who nodded. She’d seen it, too. “Chapman, from what I saw, is on good terms with his Yeerk. Chances are his wife is the same way. So… maybe we should try to recruit them to the Yeerk resistance.”
Marco scowled. “No way, Kathy. Chapman was Visser Three’s right-hand Yeerk for years.”
“And he isn’t now. He was replaced by that Garatron Controller a few years ago.” That was Rachel, jumping on the bandwagon. But I wasn’t sure she would if she knew where I was going with that.
I sighed. “Rachel’s right… And I hate to suggest this… But the only thing to do might be to corner the entire Chapman family and…. Give them a choice.”
Jake considered for a moment. “Melissa joins us, or she accepts a Yeerk and all three join the resistance. Our contacts could make sure that a resistance Yeerk is the one to infest Melissa. Is that what you’re thinking, Kathy?”
I nodded… Despite the fact that the idea didn’t sound as good when it was actually spoken and out of my head. “Except that I agree with Ax… I don’t think Melissa should join us… Or even be given the opportunity. Even the resistance knows us as Andalite bandits… In order for this plan to work, and for our own continued safety, ALL Yeerks, resistance or not, need to believe that.”
Jack nodded, obviously having been thinking along the same lines. “So the choice we offer is for them to join the Resistance… or allow what is going to happen to happen.” He looked around the rest of the group. “Votes?”
Rachel made a growling sound in her throat and looked away… I knew what she was thinking. None of these options left Melissa free. But at this point, I didn’t see any way to do that.
<I’m for recruiting the Chapmans to the resistance.> Tobias said, preening his right wing. <If they accept, it’ll be worth it to the resistance. Chapman might not be Visser Three’s right hand Yeerk anymore, but he still holds high rank.>
<I agree,> Ax said with a nod. <The information he could provide the resistance might prove to be invaluable.>
Cassie gently placed the irate possum back into it’s cage as she voiced what we were all thinking. “But neither of these options leaves Melissa free.”
“There might not be a way to do that anymore, Cassie,” Marco spoke up. He was against the whole plan, but that didn’t stop him offering his services as the one of us who could always see that clear, straight line from point A to point B. “Melissa has been personally targeted now. The Yeerks probably have a reason for it. Maybe she’s gotten too nosy into her parents business. Maybe she’s planning to move out and they want to do it before that happens.” He shrugged. “For whatever reason, this isn’t like when Jake’s father was targeted to protect Tom. We can’t remove the reason for her having been targeted. We don’t even know the reason.”
Rachel looked at Marco. “So we find out the reason. We recon for a couple of days, figure out why they want Melissa.”
<How, Rachel?> Tobias asked, turning his eternally fierce hawk’s gaze on her. <Fluffer’s dead. We can’t get into the house.>
I suddenly saw where Rachel was going. “No… Not as an animal. She means one of us has to morph Melissa and live her life for a few days.” Rachel was nodding… She’d seen the same way in I had.
Cassie glared at us both. “I hate when we morph humans. It’s TOO close to what the Yeerks do, Kathy. You know that.”
“And yet each of us are carrying at least three different people’s DNA patterns around with us at this point, Cassie,” I countered. “She doesn’t even have to know. We still have some of that knock-out stuff we salvaged from Visser Three’s project a few months ago. We can keep her hidden… In the Hork-Bajir valley, maybe. She’ll never know.”
“And when she returns to her life?” That was Marco again. “Days will have passed. How do we explain that to her?”
“Melissa’s always believed in astral projection,” Rachel said suddenly. “Maybe we can convince her somehow that she’s having astral projection-related blackouts?”
Jake sighed. “This is getting ridiculous. Our choices as of now are: A( Back off and do nothing, letting the Chapmans handle it as they will. B( Morph Melissa and recon at her house for a few days, keeping her sedated and safe during. Or C( we try to recruit her to the resistance, in which case she loses her freedom.”
Marco seemed thoughtful. “They all have their downsides, fearless leader. For A, Melissa will definitely be taken… and probably by a non-resistance Yeerk. For B, we have to find a way to explain to Melissa why she’s missing gaps of time, and it doesn’t necessarily mean we save her. And C, Melissa loses her freedom, but she gets to choose the method.”
Jake nodded. “I’d like to add that we also don’t know what kind of a time frame we’re dealing with. For all we know, Melissa was infested today and this is all moot.”
Rachel actually looked as if she was going to cry for a moment at that thought. “I vote B. It’s the only way that Melissa might retain at least SOME of her freedom.”
Marco sighed. “I still vote A.” He looked at Rachel, meeting her glare. “I’m sorry, Xena, but this is one risk I’m not willing to take. One person… One controller won’t do anything to stop this war.”
Cassie sighed. “Neither will one more resistance Yeerk. I’m torn between B and C. I don’t like morphing humans, but we might find a way to keep her free… On the other hand, if she joins the resistance, we have another informant…”
<The hawk in me says to vote A… It’s like Marco said. It’s just too high of a risk.> Tobias said from his spot in the rafters. <But… I’m gonna go with B. Better free than infested, even with a “friendly” Yeerk.>
<I vote C,> Ax said after a pause. <This is a human consideration, but another resistance Yeerk, and possibly THREE of them, cannot hurt.> He looked at Rachel. <I am sorry for your friend, but she is already lucky that she has lasted these thirteen of your years without being infested.>
It came down to Jake and me. He looked at me and I sighed. “I vote B, and not just because it was my idea… I agree with Rachel and Tobias. Better free than infested.”
Jake nodded… he wouldn’t vote. It was his place as our leader to tally. “That’s one A, two C… and three Bs. B wins.” He looked at me. “Your plan, your call. Who morphs Melissa?”
I sighed. “I’m the obvious choice. I don’t work, and I have a lot of free time when not in class… Maybe if we do this in short enough spurts, Melissa won’t even notice her “blackouts.””
Jake and the others slowly nodded… Tobias would be the other obvious choice, but there was no way for him to discreetly acquire Melissa’s DNA… You tend to notice when you’re touched by a hawk. “It’s decided, then. Cassie, ready the serum we have left. Tobias, talk to Eric about hiding Melissa and possibly covering for Kathy at home with a Chee stand-in if this does take days. Rachel, figure out where we can run into Melissa for Kathy to acquire her.” We all nodded and after another few moments, the meeting broke up.
Starting the next day, I’d be inserting myself into Melissa’s life in a very personal way… I could only hope that I’d be ready for it.