I hate waiting. I’m not a patient person, usually. I hate waiting even more when what I’m waiting for is something that I’m also dreading. So standing just inside the woods, on the block walk between the college and the bus stop was quickly becoming nerve-wracking. What if Melissa’s class had been cancelled that day? What if we’d missed her? What if I couldn’t pull this off? There were too many “what ifs.”
Rachel seemed just as agitated as I was, unable to sit still. She was constantly pacing deeper into the woods and then back again. Ax stood in his natural form, stalk eyes searching in every direction, tail held at the ready. Cassie and Jake stood a few steps away, conversing in low tones over the hypodermic needle that Jake held. Cassie had been required to steal a bit of sedative from her parents stockpile. The careful research as to how much we would need to give Melissa had been Jake and Marco’s doing. Marco wasn’t there with us, though. He’d had something to do with his dad and step-mom. Real life once again intruding on our self-proclaimed secret identities.
<She’s coming.> Tobias said from high above. Whether he was sitting in a tree or flying, it was impossible to tell. I found myself being thankful for his hawk eyes, time and time again. A little of my nervousness fled at the realization that the time was almost upon us. I steeled my resolve. It’s strange sometimes. I could be absolutely fearless when running into battle. I could be ferocious and violent, fighting for my and my friend’s lives without caring how many wounds I suffered in the process. But when it came down to it, it was the little, stupid things like this that scare me. The thought of living another person’s life… It wasn’t even living in a house with two known controllers that I was dreading… it was simply not being ME. It made me wonder how the Chee felt when we just casually, at this point, asked one of them to take over for us for a few days. Erik was standing in for me personally while I was on this particular assignment.
Assignment, pah. I’d brought this on myself.
I tensed as Melissa’s footsteps came within human hearing range. Ax twitched and ground a forehoof into the ground, redistributing his weight carefully on the mossy ground. At Tobias’ all clear, I glanced over at Rachel, but Rachel wasn’t Rachel anymore. She was small and furry, having become a random cat that she acquired at the SPCA the previous day. I watched as she slowly slunk out of the woods, pausing and rubbing on trees, mewing softly.
The plan was simple: use the cat to lure Melissa into the woods. The moment she stepped into the woods, Ax would knock her out and Cassie would inject her with the sedative. I’d morph Melissa and steal her outer clothing (we’d brought more of Rachel’s clothes to dress her in), then I’d exit the woods as Melissa and continue to the bus stop. I only had two hours in morph, but I knew it would take me less than an hour to get to Melissa’s home. I’d go into the bathroom to refresh the morph as soon as I was there, then do her homework. Rachel spent the previous day giving me a rundown of Melissa’s habits as far as schoolwork goes. It would be completely in character for me to disappear into Melissa’s room to work on homework until dinner. That would give me time to check out the woman’s room and learn whatever else I could about the person who’s life I was living.
I wished we’d come up with this plan before I had to acquire her, since with her unconscious there’d be a perfect moment to do so. But we’d needed to have the morph before we decided to kidnap Melissa, just in case. Any way, right then, it was up to Rachel.
A few moments later, I could here Melissa talking quietly to the cat. She’d entered the woods, just a little further down from us. Ax moved with surprising speed and silence for a creature as large as himself, slipping through the woods. A moment later I heard the bullwhip sound of Ax’s tail, and Melissa’s speaking suddenly stopped. I slipped toward the sound and found Jake and Cassie carefully laying Melissa on the blanket they’d brought. Cassie was depressing the plunger on the hypodermic needle she’d brought, the needle buried in a vein in Melissa’s arm.
“She’ll be out for a day before she needs another dose.” Cassie sounded sick and I winced inwardly. I hated that we had to do this as much as she did, but as I glanced at Rachel, who was quickly demorphing, I knew again that I had to do this. Whispering an apology to Melissa, I knelt and started removing her outer clothing.
Jake and Ax turned away while I stripped Melissa, then morphed and dressed while Rachel dressed Melissa in the clothes we’d brought.
“Alright,” I finally said. “Okay.” It still sounded strange to be using Melissa’s voice. I watched then as Jake and Cassie lifted Melissa’s unconscious body and draped her over Ax’s sloping back. She’d be kept in Ax’s scoop while I was living in her room.
God, I didn’t know if I could do this.
* * * * * * *
I made it to Melissa’s house and spent the afternoon hunting through her room for anything to give me an indication as to why the Yeerks were suddenly so gung ho for infesting her. Melissa’s mother was home, but working in the kitchen. I’d said hi on my way in, but then had secluded myself in Melissa’s room.
Two demorphs and remorphs later, I hadn’t made any progress. Out of frustration, I picked up Melissa’s backpack and fished through to try and find some homework I could do. As I pulled her books out, I felt my blood run cold. Calculus. Advanced Algebra. Aerospace Geometry. Math was my absolute worst subject, and aside from the one class Melissa shared with me, Geography (though she had a different teacher, it was the same class and the same book), math was all the girl was taking this semester. I laid the books out on the desk and stared at them. Okay, so Melissa was going to miss a couple of classes and a couple of days of homework. Better she skip class completely than I turn something in that would kill her academic career, or draw suspicion to her.
I did the Geometry homework. That, at least, I knew I could handle. And just as I finished it, I heard Mrs. Chapman call Melissa down to dinner. I shouted that I’d be right there, ducked into the bathroom off Melissa’s room for another quick morph refresh, and then went down to dinner.
Something that caught my attention was how quiet the Chapmans were. Around my dinner table there were always discussions. The utter quiet of no sound but the clinking of silverware and plates; no discussion, no asking how the day was. It was almost more disturbing than the knowledge that I was eating dinner with two Yeerks. Rachel had told me how the Chapman’s previous Yeerks had acted. They hadn’t “played their parts” properly from the beginning, making Melissa believe that her family no longer loved or cared about her. That probably lead into the pattern of silence. And these two new Yeerks came in to the family to find the damage the previous Yeerks had done already done and simply ran with it, thinking it was normal. And yet, Melissa wasn’t depressed anymore. Something had changed. And there had to be some interaction for the Yeerks to care so deeply about Melissa, as if she were their own daughter.
“How was class?” Chapman suddenly asked, he’d finished eating but was remaining at the table. Oh. So the talking came after the eating in this family. Alright.
“It was good,” I said, giving “my father” a smile. I was, after all, trying to help them as well. They didn’t want Melissa infested. I didn’t want Melissa infested. As hard as it was for me to think it, these two Yeerks both were and were not my enemies. “I ran into Rachel this afternoon.”
“Oh, how is she?” Mrs. Chapman asked. “She hasn’t been over in years…”
“I might invite her over tomorrow.” Getting Rachel in the house would make it easier for me to figure out what was going on. She knew Melissa before all of this. Maybe she’d have an insight into why the Yeerks would be so desperate to have her.
“I think you should. It’d be good for you to have more friends over,” Chapman said, putting his glass down decisively. He got up and started gathering the dishes. I stood to help but was quickly stopped. “My turn tonight, Melissa. You should get on with your homework.” He smiled. “My Phi Beta Kappa student shouldn’t be doing chores when she should be doing homework.”
I smiled… it seemed like the right thing to do. “Right… dad. Thanks.” I took the opportunity to escape back to Melissa’s room. Phi Beta Kappa… Wow. I’m a member of Phi Theta Kappa, but to get into it again in the four year college version… That was incredibly impressive. Especially given the difficulty of her classes. I picked up one of the books and flipped through it, shaking my head. I might as well have been skimming a book written in ancient Greek.
<How’s it going?>
The voice nearly gave me a heart attack. Tobias? I looked around for anything, but as is my habit, I didn’t see him right away. Then I spotted him, sitting in a tree in the back yard. With his eyes, he could probably see the book in my hands. I turned it to show him.
<Whoa. Calculus? We’re taking over the life of a math genius.>
I knew his eyes very well. A long time ago, Tobias and I had acquired the same hawk. I could morph the hawk whenever I wanted, but for Tobias, it was his natural form. The slight nod I gave in answer that could’ve been seen as nothing more than a chill to anyone in the room with me was an obvious nod to him.
<So it’s going okay, though. You’re alright?>
I gave the same nod again, moving around the room and seemingly getting ready for bed.
<Alright. I’ll let everyone know. See you tomorrow.> I watched him spread his wings and fly away. I’d been in morph for almost an hour and a half, so I ducked into the bathroom to refresh my morph.
I spent the rest of the evening TRYING to understand any of Melissa’s math books, but they were all so far over my head that they gave me a headache. After another morph refresh, I set the alarm on my watch for an hour and a half with a 30 second snooze, and went to bed in morph. I’d sleep in hour and a half chunks, going to the bathroom or just covering myself completely to refresh the morph every time the alarm went off.
Maybe I’d have more luck figuring out what the Yeerks wanted with Melissa tomorrow.