We would have to think quickly. To make matters worse, none of us were in morph, meaning that no one had the ability to thought-speak. I couldn’t simply alert the others that we needed a new plan and let them come up with it. Which meant that I had to do something I hated even more than on-the-spot plans: I had to make up the on-the-spot plan, myself.
My eyes darted around the semi-crowded food court, hunting for an opportunity. Something, anything, to give me an idea. My eyes settled on Ax and I groaned inwardly. Well, I’d wanted a plan. And like 99% of our on-the-spot plans, this one was bad, risky, and stupid. I could only hope that, also like 99% of our plans, it would work.
I quickly made my way over to Ax, standing next to him in the line as he reached the front. “Hey, Philip.” Philip had been Ax’s code name from so long ago that I barely remembered that it was from him standing in as Jake and Rachel’s cousin. “Get me a coffee, alright?” I pressed a little bit more cash into his hand.
Ax looked at me quizzically, but thankfully didn’t ask for clarification. If I was over here with him, the plan had changed, and he would go with whatever his Prince had instructed him to do. He didn’t know that the change of plans wasn’t coming through Jake, so I let him have his assumptions. “Okay. Key,” he said, playing with the sound for just an instant before he caught himself.
I thanked him and backed away, my eyes finding Melissa in the crowd again after a moment of searching. Timing would be everything.
A moment later, Ax pressed a black coffee into my hand, his Cinnabon held tightly in his other hand, along with some napkins and a plastic fork. “Thanks,” I mumbled. “Forget the distraction, okay? I’m going to make my own.”
Ax just nodded and sat at a table, watching me as he ate his Cinnabon… Thankfully it’s difficult enough to eat a Cinnabon for a normal person without being messy, that his little bit of overzealous mess was understandable and ignored by everyone around him. In the mean time, I made my way toward Melissa, carrying my rapidly cooling coffee. I needed it cool. I didn’t want to burn her.
Melissa was almost to the door when I ran into her. It looked like a graceless accident. Thankfully Melissa and I had never met for more than a few seconds before this, and the last time was years ago. There was no way she recognized me. The coffee, cooled by the massive amount of cream I’d dumped into it, spilled all over her gloves and jacket. “Oh, shit! Excuse me! I’m so sorry… here, let me help you,” I said, grabbing some napkins off a nearby table.
Melissa made a face but attempted to keep a good attitude, which was good, considering I’d have felt like even more of a heel if I’d pissed her off at the same time. “Don’t worry about it. It’s just my jacket. It’ll wash.” She shrugged out of the jacket and pulled off the gloves. I gave an inward sigh of relief… she was wearing short sleeves.
In the process of helping her blot her jacket and gloves clean, my hand touched her arm. It was almost cliché. If I’d been a boy, it would’ve been the classic “graceless boy meets girl” moment. As it was, it was my opening, and I acquired her. I felt her muscles go slack and saw her eyes glaze over as the trance took hold. I kept my other hand moving to try and make it not obvious that one of us had suddenly stilled. A moment later it was over and I released Melissa’s arm, apologizing again as she came out of the trance. Only I knew that I was apologizing for more than just the spilled coffee.
“It’s alright, really.” She gave a small smile and gathered up her things again. “Don’t worry about it.” She gave a wave and headed for the door again as I plopped more napkins on the spill on the floor. Watching as she left the mall, I caught sight of Rachel through the glass doors, and even from fifty feet away, I could see the relief on her face. She hadn’t had to acquire Melissa, and she was relieved. Not that there was ever a question that she would’ve done it, of course. Sometimes I thought that Rachel would take on an obvious suicide mission if she was told to and believed it was for the best, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
No, it was me who had Melissa’s DNA floating around in my blood with dozens of other creatures. And it was that DNA, I hoped, that would let me save her life. But first, I’d have to steal it for a couple of days.
* * * * * * *
“This might be the single strangest moment in our history,” Rachel muttered.
We were in Rachel’s bedroom. Her sisters were still at school and her mother was still at court, so we had the house to ourselves. I was going to practice the Melissa morph and integrate one of Rachel’s morphing outfits into it, since when you first do a human morph they don’t come with clothes. But, by some trick of the Andalite morphing process, you could incorporate skin tight clothing into a human morph after the fact, like our own morphing suits.
Normally one of Rachel’s outfits would in no WAY fit me. We were almost complete polar opposites in our body types. She was tall and athletic, and I was tall.. and very NOT athletic. Overweight, actually. I often wished you could morph extra weight away, but it seemed like that just wasn’t possible. However, once I possessed Melissa’s body, all of that would change. Melissa and Rachel were more like carbon copies than polar opposites.
“No kidding,” I said, sitting on the side of her bed. Sure, we’d done stranger things before. Things that were gross, and physically disturbing. But a whole new can of worms was opened when you thought about the fact that I was sitting there, one of Rachel’s new friends, preparing to quite literally turn into one of her old friends.
I watched Rachel sorting through her closet, muttering to herself. Finally, she emerged, carrying one of her leotards. “This should work,” she said. “She’s a little shorter than me.” I nodded and took the leotard from her.
“Okay. Here goes.” I closed my eyes and focused, staying where I was on the bed. There would be no drastic shape change with this morph. I could stay sitting right where I was. I pictured Melissa’s face when I spilled the coffee on her, and I felt the changes begin.
The first and most obvious change was the feeling of getting lighter. My fat melted away to give way to Melissa’s thinner, smaller frame. I felt my clothes suddenly become about four sizes too large for me. I knew my hair was changing color, going from blonde, medium length, with curls, to long, straight, and black. I felt the features of my face changing, and felt some slight squishing feelings as my appendix and tonsils grew back. It was nothing compared to, say, morphing a cockroach, but it was disturbing in its own way. A few moments later, the morph was complete.
I opened my eyes and blinked at Rachel. “Done,” I said, with Melissa’s voice. I was surprised to see that she was rubbing her eyes as if trying not to cry.
“Listen, Kathy,” she said quietly. “Thank you… For doing this to save her. I know we can do it. But I’m glad this is you and not me, you know?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I know.” I started to say something else, but I froze when I heard the front door open and close. “I thought your mom was still at work.”
“She is…” Rachel reached down and grabbed a baseball bat she kept next to her door, and as the footsteps advanced up the stairs and down the hall she tensed and prepared to use it. I momentarily wondered if she’d kept the bat there before the war, then returned to tensing myself. It was only one set of footsteps, and it sounded human. In fact…
“Rachel, could you…” Rachel’s mother opened the door without knocking, then stopped, seemingly confused by seeing me… or, rather, Melissa, sitting on the bed. “Oh…”
“Mom!” Rachel said in a frustrated tone, dropping the bat and stepping away from the door. “You scared us half to death. What are you doing home?”
“I needed to ask you to pick up milk on the way home from class tonight. I only have an hour between cases.” Naomi checked her watch and muttered. “Make that fifteen minutes. Damned traffic. I have to go.” She kissed Rachel on the cheek then turned to leave… but turned around one last time. “Melissa, I haven’t seen you in years.” It made me wonder if it’d taken her that long to remember the girl’s name.
“Uh, yeah. I’m just picking up the history assignment from Rachel. We have the same class.” It wasn’t a lie, really. I did share history class with Rachel… Melissa didn’t, though.
Naomi smiled. “Well, it’s nice to see the two of you together again. Stop by any time.” She turned and did leave. Rachel and I stayed where we were, almost frozen, until we heard the front door slam and the SUV drive away. How we’d missed it driving up, I didn’t know. That thing was noisy.
“Here,” Rachel said, finally, handing me the morphing outfit. “I’m gonna go make us sandwiches.” She left me alone in the room to change, and headed for the kitchen.
I sighed, then stripped and dressed quickly in the morphing outfit first, and then my own clothes again. The moment I was dressed, I started the demorph. I’d have to spend a lot of time in that morph over the next few days. I wasn’t quite ready to start yet.
I only hoped that I’d be able to uphold Rachel’s confidence and find some way, any way, to save Melissa.