“Well FINE!” Rachel shouted, leaping to her feet from where she’d been sitting on a bale of hay. “If you’re all so sure we can’t save her, then we bring her in. We have the blue box. The Escafil Device. We can make her an Animorph. But I won’t just SIT here and watch us abandon her to the Yeerks!”
Jake watched Rachel’s tirade with tired eyes before looking slowly around the room at each of us in turn. “The whole point of this mission was to discover why Melissa was being targeted.” He looked at Rachel. “No one’s said anything about abandoning her to the Yeerks, Rachel.”
Marco raised his hand as if we were back in high school. “Then I’ll say it. We back out completely. We take no losses on this. We’ve already put people in enough danger by trying this. It isn’t like one more…” He trailed off, then closed his eyes and dropped his shoulders. “Damn. One more high placed Yeerk in NASA. Okay. I take it back. I’m wrong. In a few years, who knows what they could do through Melissa. We can’t let the Yeerks take her.” He leveled his gaze at Jake. “Even if it means doing something we’ll regret.”
Rachel gaped at Marco… he couldn’t have been any more clear if he’d said “even if it means pulling a Dr. Kevorkian on Melissa.” He was right, of course. We had the girl sedated, everyone thought she was fine. We could simply overdose her on sedatives, dispose of the body via the jury-rigged Shredder that Ax had built to defend his scoop, and no one would ever know. Except us, of course… One more life to add to the thousands we’ve taken over the years, Yeerk and Host alike.
Finally finding her voice, and her fury, Rachel stalked toward Marco, looking as if she was going to pound him small enough to fit into one of the many small mammal cages behind him “How dare you even THINK that, Marco! What if it was your mom? Huh? What if we had to do this to someone YOU care about?!”
Marco stood up, still more than a head shorter than Rachel’s tall, willowy, gymnast’s form, he was solid in his own right and ready to defend himself. “I’d still vote to do it, Rachel, and you know it. All of this is insane. A little more insanity one way or the other doesn’t make much of a difference.”
“What about making a difference?” Jake suddenly said, stopping both Rachel and Marco in their tracks as I tried to hide back in my hay bale. If any murder came of this, it would be my fault. I’d brought all this to the group’s attention. “Does one person really make a difference in the war?” His voice was quiet, contemplative. Jake has a way of sounding much older than he is. I try to remember if he was able to do that before the war, but after thirteen years, my memories from before I became an Animorph are almost something out of a dream.
Rachel turned her ferocity on her cousin, moving toward Jake now. “You have the nerve to ask if one person makes a difference? Who did we go down to the Yeerk pool after on that FIRST mission!? Who was the “one person” who was ultimately the cause of Tobias being trapped, and who knows how many people dying in the dracon fire down there? YOUR BROTHER, Jake. Don’t try to play all high and mighty on me, I know he’s still the reason you fight. We all have reasons, Jake, we all have people we fight for. Well, Melissa is one of the people I fight for.”
<I think one person is worth it.> We all looked up at Tobias, perching on the rafters and staring down at us with his fierce hawk’s gaze. <After everything that’s happened, after all we’ve been through.. Hell, after all I’ve been through personally… I still think one person is worth fighting for. Worth doing everything we can to save.>
There was a long moment of silence, all of us staring at the hawk and Tobias staring back. Out of all of us, still to this day, he has lost the most. Marco’s mother is God only knows where, but she’s most likely alive somewhere. And he’d already “lost” her prior to discovering her status as Visser One, so I imagine some of that pain was probably dulled. If I were to find out my Aunt who committed suicide over a year ago was alive and infested by a Yeerk, the thought of losing her to the Yeerks wouldn’t be as bad, since I’d already believed her dead and mourned her.
“We should talk to Mr. Tidwell.” That, surprisingly enough, was Cassie, finally speaking up. She looked at Marco pointedly. “It’s our only real option.” She looked at each of us, and I could tell it was hard for her to admit this, but she was right… we didn’t have a choice. Melissa was going to be infested, and the only control over it we might potentially have would be to ensure that the Yeerk she was infested with would be useful to us.
Jake looked back and forth between all of us, then nodded slowly. “Fine. We get in contact with Mr. Tidwell tonight. Tomorrow morning, Kathy, you and Ax will confront the Chapmans and tell them where to meet us for the switch. Meet tomorrow at the park.”
Rachel set her jaw and whirled, stalking out of the barn. We all knew she’d be there tomorrow, but I couldn’t help wincing. This was ultimately my fault, and I felt insanely guilty over it. But there was nothing to be done now. Even as I morphed hawk and soared back toward Melissa’s house for my last night of posing as her, I couldn’t help thinking that this was probably Melissa’s last night as a free human being – and I was living it for her.
* * * * * * *
“Rachel” smiled at me. Or perhaps ‘smiled’ wasn’t the right word. More like grimaced. Even after thirteen years, Ax wasn’t quite used to making human facial expressions. He’d acquired Rachel that morning and come to meet me at the Chapmans’ house. He held Rachel’s body stiff and looked nervous – with good reason. We knew the kind of anti-Andalite defenses that the Chapmans had in their house. We’d seen the dracon beams hidden in busts and statues, the Gleet Biofilters that guarded the entrance to their basement. And here he and I were, walking into this lion’s den, and our only assurance that we MIGHT come out of it alive was the fact that we had a bargaining chip. It made me sick to think of it, but Melissa was that bargaining chip.
I took a deep breath, and then morphed Melissa for the last time, her clothes incredibly tight on me until I’d almost completed the morph. Side by side, Ax/Rachel and I approached the Chapmans’ home. We weren’t talking. We weren’t laughing. We didn’t look natural – and that was the point. The Yeerks still believed that we were all Andalites; hardened Andalite warriors at that. We wouldn’t, in their opinion, be able to convincingly pass for human. Jake had discussed this with Ax and I that morning. By approaching the house the way we were, we were warning the Yeerks that we were coming. And in this one case, that’s exactly what we wanted to be doing.
As we’d expected, Chapman opened the door and smiled at us, but held in his hand was a handheld dracon beam. It looked like a flashlight, but we’d seen those modified dracons before. An easy way for any Yeerk in a human host who worked security to carry a dracon beam on them at all times. “Melissa, Rachel.” His voice was tight – if we weren’t going to make a real attempt at acting, neither was he. “Why don’t you come in and have some cookies?”
“We have her,” I said in Melissa’s voice. “She is safe and unaware.” I kept my voice down, but neither Ax nor I came any closer to the house… we were still in clear sight of many other houses on the block, though no one could hear exactly what we were saying, and two houses down a man was washing his car. Chapman wouldn’t dare fire.
Slowly, Chapman lowered the dracon beam, and I caught a glimpse of Mrs. Chapman behind him, a combination of fury and panic on her face. “The girl is of no concern to us,” he lied. But he’d lowered the weapon. Ax and I stepped closer.
“We know otherwise.” That was Ax, speaking up in a stiff, formal version of Rachel’s voice. “We also know she is to be infested.”
“We can’t stop it,” Mrs. Chapman spat suddenly from behind her husband’s back. “And no filthy grass-eater can, either.”
“We admire your efforts to keep the girl safe,” I said, following the script that Jake had laid out as best as I could remember it. I’ve never been particularly good at following scripts to the letter. “If there were a way to keep her from infestation, we know you would have found it. However, while her infestation may be inescapable, her misery may yet be avoidable.”
Both Chapmans looked confused now for a split second. They didn’t know exactly what we were trying to say. “How?” Chapman finally said, and the look on his face made it suddenly clear to me that they’d even considered asking the “Andalite bandits” for help. They’d decided against it, perhaps only because they didn’t know how to get ahold of us. And if they didn’t know how to get ahold of us, I was reasonably sure that these two Yeerks had never even heard of the peace movement.
“There are… people,” Ax said, though by the disgust in his voice it was clear that he meant “There are Yeerks….” “…who do not believe in taking unwilling hosts. People who will do anything to ensure as close to a symbiotic relationship as possible.”
Mrs. Chapman was listening. Chapman’s face was blank, but I half expected that it was because of an internal conversation between Chapman and the Yeerk. “Alright, Andalite,” he said finally, sheathing the dracon beam completely and beckoning us closer. “What do you have in mind?”
Ax and I exchanged a look, then moved closer. The arrangements had already been made and everyone else knew what we would do if the Chapmans agreed. Ax and I gave them the meeting place and time, then walked away. Strangely, it was the single calmest meeting I’d ever had with either a Yeerk… or Principal.