I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous as when I lurked in the corner of the food court at the mall, waiting for Melissa to pass by on her way out from her job at the Cinnabon. I could’ve been one of the many college students hanging out at the mall that day, except that instead of waiting for a friend, I was waiting to steal someone’s DNA.
Despite the fact that this plan had ultimately been mine, I found myself debating morality again. I usually stood with Cassie when it came to acquiring human morphs. I was against it… It made us too close to the Yeerks. I mean, sure there were only instincts when we morphed a human, no real mind there but our own, but still… The potential for sentience was there. It was much like morphing a chimpanzee, which Cassie also had moral issues with. I didn’t have it with that so much, though I did have issues with the circumstances that surrounded our acquiring the chimpanzees. That was a story for the history books.
I couldn’t let myself be distracted. I had to keep my eyes on Ax to make sure that he wasn’t doing anything to draw attention to himself yet. His weirdly pretty human form, an amalgamation of the five Animorphs who had been human at the time of him acquiring us, was still striking in how pretty he was, despite being male. And the tiny bit on the heavy side that I recognized as what he received from me didn’t make him any less attractive. As my sister would’ve said, it made him look huggy.
Why did I have to keep an eye on Ax? Well, the man is normally a cross between Professor X and Mr. Spock, unless he’s in human morph. You see, Andalites don’t have mouths, and therefore don’t have a sense of taste. Or, rather, they don’t have a sense of taste that we would recognize. So when he’s in human morph, and anywhere around junk food, particularly anything salty and greasy or a Cinnabon, he becomes incredibly dangerous. I once watched him eat nearly a whole pan of Cinnabons. His eyes go wild, he becomes very… grabby, to put it mildly. So I had to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t create the distraction too early.
I hadn’t been able to concentrate in my English 102 class that morning. The butterflies in my stomach and the fact that we’d been up late the night before coming up with this plan had made it impossible for me to concentrate on my professor’s description of symbol and allegory. Of course, it’s not like I didn’t already know what these terms meant, but still, I like to pay attention in class just because I like being a good student.
The plan was simple. I would wait there for Melissa to get off of work. If I couldn’t brush her arm or hand unobtrusively, Ax would create a distraction, allowing me to touch and acquire Melissa without her noticing. We had a third back up plan as well, and Rachel was waiting outside the mall to seemingly just run into her friend. If that happened, Rachel would be the one to acquire Melissa. I didn’t want that to happen. Rachel had already risked her life to save Melissa once, years ago. She shouldn’t have to do it again.
My own internal sense of irony was going off at the thought of what I was about to do, as well. Thirteen years ago, I hated touching people I didn’t know. I’d have to know a person for the better part of a year before I could even give them a hug. Now here I was, going out of my way to touch someone I didn’t know, in order to save her life. Maybe that doesn’t match the textbook definition of irony, but it sure as hell matched mine.
I kept my eyes on Ax and the Cinnabon. It wasn’t that difficult, because we’d given Ax enough money to get himself one, and only one Cinnabon. In 13 years, he’d become much better at controlling his insane reactions to food. My instinct of keeping an eye on him was more reflex and instinct than need, these days. He still ate like a pig and got the food all over him, but at the same time, he wasn’t beyond the realm of human possibility. We’d passed at least four other people who ate in a much more messy manner than Ax did, just on the way in to this spot in the food court. Come to think of it, my keeping an eye on Ax was more for my own sanity than anything else.
According to the clock on my cell phone, it was time for Melissa to get off work. And, sure enough, she had disappeared from behind the counter. Probably going to clock out. I readied myself to surreptitiously catch her hand as she passed. Just a little bit of contact would be all I would need in order to acquire her DNA and be able to morph her. Only one problem, and I spotted it the moment she came out from the Employees Only door next to the Cinnabon. And with all the things we’d worried about happening, for some reason we’d overlooked the obvious. It was cold outside.
Melissa Chapman was wearing a jacket and gloves. The only exposed skin on her body was her face. There would be no way to touch her unobtrusively. Which meant something that, to this day, I hate doing. We would have to come up with a new plan, and fast.