I went to school the next day, but didn’t attend any of Melissa’s classes. Instead, I met up with Rachel to make a more complete report than I had been able to make to Tobias the previous night, given that I hadn’t actually been able to speak to him.
“Hey! Rachel, it’s been forever!” We hugged, meeting “by accident” near the outdoor smoking area at the college.
“Melissa! How are you doing?” She stepped back from me… the same question was in her eyes.
“I’m good,” I said with a smile. “C’mon. I have to get to the other end of campus.” We walked together, talking about mundane things. I spotted Tobias flying high above us. If there was any danger nearby, he’d tell us.
<The bathroom off the Library building is empty. I’ve been watching it for half an hour.> Tobias said. From the look in Rachel’s eye, I could tell that he’d used open thought-speak and both of us had heard that. We turned subtly and, still talking about nothing, went into the bathroom and locked the door.
Rachel dropped her “just ran into old high school friend” mask immediately. “Did you find out anything?”
I leaned against the wall across from the door, refreshing my morph as I spoke. “Yeah. Melissa’s a math genius. Her classes are so intimidating that I’m skipping them for two days.”
Rachel nodded. “She was always good at math. But what about the Yeerks? Why do they want her all of a sudden?”
I shook my head. Nothing, yet. I do know that the Yeerks her parents have now seem far different than the ones you described thirteen years ago… They’re seriously playing their parts. I got asked about school at dinner last night, and Chapman did the dishes rather than me so that I could do my homework. Did you know that Melissa’s already Phi Beta Kappa?”
Rachel’s eyes went wide. “Whoa… That’s incredibly impressive…” She shook her head. “Packard Foundation Outstanding Student, Phi Theta Kappa, Phi Beta Kappa… I always knew she was smart, but…”
I nodded, and then looked in the mirror… for the moment I was myself, wearing Melissa’s clothes. “I’m going to keep checking things out today, but… I don’t know if two days is going to be enough.”
“It’ll have to be,” Rachel said darkly. “It’s all we have before her parents Yeerks have to feed again. If they’re going to do it, they’ll do it that night.”
I nodded. “All the more reason for me to be out of there by Wednesday morning. I just hope I can figure something out before then. How’s Melissa doing?”
Rachel looked at the door for a moment. “She’s still out. Cassie’s been monitoring her closely and re-dosing every time it seems like she’s waking up… But none of us like keeping her out like this. I just hope we can save her.”
I nodded. “So do I, Rachel.”
I morphed back, and then we left the bathroom and parted ways. I hadn’t asked Rachel to join me despite my thoughts of the previous evening. Whether she showed it or not, I knew that she didn’t like what we were doing. Neither did I. None of us did, to think of it. And the last thing I wanted to do was invite Rachel to Melissa’s house just to have her root through her former best friend’s room like something out of CSI. I’d come up with and volunteered for this mission, and I was going to carry it out.
Little did I know that the information I needed would be much more obvious than I expected.
When I got back to Melissa’s house that afternoon, Chapman was waiting for me in the living room.
“Melissa, sweetheart! Your letter came!”
I tried not to sound as surprised as I felt. “My letter? It did?” I let him hug me, and then took the letter from him… and it was all I could do not to do a double-take. The return address of the letter was NASA. I opened it and read over it once, carefully. This was it. This had to be it. This was the reason that the Yeerks were after Melissa now. She was being given a paid internship at NASA, due to her incredible mathematical and otherwise scholastic achievements. If the Yeerks took her, they’d have another person inside our space industry. Before this semester, Melissa had just been another good student… not vital to the invasion. But being given this internship… They had to take her now. There was no reason not to except for the original agreement with the Chapmans, and as I’d witnessed, the Yeerk High Command, most likely Visser Three himself, had no problems plowing through the two Yeerks who had “gone human” and fallen in love with the girl they were raising.
As Chapman hugged me and I hugged back, I felt something coming off of him. The cheerfulness was forced. It was VERY well done, and unless I’d been looking specifically for the subtleties that gave away his true feelings, I would’ve thought he was elated. Which was exactly what he hoped to project to Melissa. But what he was really feeling was sadness… And probably a little ill. There was no way out of this.
I went through the motions with both of Melissa’s parents, and returned to her room in a daze. To them, it probably seemed like I was overwhelmed by the good news. But the Chapman’s Yeerks weren’t the only excellent actors in that house. I felt sick. Melissa wasn’t just a “cleaning up” infestation. She was a specific target. And without being incredibly obvious, there was no way to stop her from being a target. When Jake’s father had been targeted, it had been to protect Tom. We’d solved that problem by making sure that Tom was safe, and therefore eliminating the need to target Jake’s father. But this? There was no way to stop Melissa from doing what she’d spent her entire academic career building towards. She’d excelled, and now the very thing she’d probably dreamed about her whole life was going to wind up stealing her freedom away.
I could see it now, all around. Her room was full of posters of the constellations, of models of the Space Shuttle and the Apollo Rockets… She was a total NASA geek… How did I miss it last night? I was so wrapped up in her homework and my own thoughts that I’d missed the obvious.
My cell phone alarm vibrated in my pocket and I went to the bathroom to refresh my morph. I stared at the mirror as I watched Melissa’s features melt into mine, and then back to hers. Cassie had a talent for making all morphs, no matter how disgusting, elegant, in a way. I had a talent for speed, which was another reason I volunteered for this mission. But now I felt sick to my stomach.
With Melissa specifically targeted, there was no way to save her. No way to keep her out of the war. We either had to make her one of us… which I knew wasn’t even an option, and even Rachel would agree on that… Or we had to arrange for her to be infested by a Resistance Yeerk. Either way, she didn’t remain the contented, straight A, Phi Beta Kappa student that she was. Either way, she would not get out of this without being pulled into the war.
I returned to Melissa’s bedroom and laid down on the bed. There was something I dreaded even more than the realization that Melissa couldn’t be saved: I would have to tell Rachel.