- The Wheel -

Disclaimer: Let's see . . . what don't I own here? Oh, everything! The Animorphs are not mine, in character or concept. I don't own Buffy. Actually, if there's any name you recognize here, I don't own it. I do own KrayZ and the Loons. If anybody wants them, they're on sale. $5.99, plus tax.

Author's Explanation: I have revised all chapters in the story. Due to a plot hitch, I had to convert it from summer to the school year. All changes are minor, and you probably don't need to re-read anything. Thanks!

Author's Note: There is a permanent "To Be Continued" note attached to this story until you see the words, "The End." After that, zilch. Read. Think. Review. Enjoy!


Chapter One:

My name is Marco Doe. Marco Smith. Marco Jones. Marco Brown. Marco Spears, for all you know. Actually, I can't give out my last name. See, the Yeerks are everywhere. Yeah, that sounds paranoid. When you've done about a millionth of the insane things that I've done, you get paranoid. It's a survival strategy. Like the Crocodile Hunter has to be careful, I have to be paranoid. Only he's got a big advantage over me. The crocodiles aren't actively interested in taking over his mind.

The Yeerks are aliens. Parasitic slugs. Like the body snatchers, only way, way worse. They control your every breath, every blink, even your thoughts. They watch your sad memories like a rowdy teen watching Titanic, laugh at your heartbreak, and mock your successes. Then they try and get their buddies in the brains of your family members.

Not my idea of a good time. My idea of a good time was doing normal stuff. Not fighting the Yeerks. Not turning into animals and bleeding. Not listening to screams. My idea of a good time was playing video games with Jake on a Saturday afternoon, listening to my neighbor mow the lawn. Which is exactly where I was.

We were playing Mario Tennis. Not the most thrilling of games, but we got enough adrenaline on most weeknights to keep us going for the rest of our lives. A low-key game, batting a fuzzy green ball between a lizard and a ghost seemed like a pretty good idea.

Of course, since it was Jake and I playing, it wasn't that low-key.

"Take that, fearless leader!" I exulted. "You and your little undead friend can just go and cry, 'cause me and Bowser are taking it home!"

"Over my dead . . . um . . . live body," he grated, returning a low serve. He had this hilarious, intense look on his face. He always gets it when playing video games. Not that we have a chance to play much. We're way too busy saving the world.

The night before had been rough. We had been on a mission, "retrieving" a piece of Andalite technology from a Yeerk security center. That meant stealing it. The thing had floated up from a crashed Andalite dome ship which, for various reasons, is somewhere at the bottom of our ocean. It was a piece of navigational circuitry. According to Erek, our spy friend, it was beyond anything the Yeerks had at that point and would delight their scientists to no end.

We're not exactly in the business of delighting Yeerks.

For some reason, Jake decided to listen to Rachel instead of me. Rachel suggested we go in all guns blazing, take the thing, and beat it. Full power morphs; run straight through barbed wire and gunfire. I suggested we stay home, watch the game, and order pizza. Everybody ignored me, as usual. They think I'm kidding when I suggest these plans.

Well, I am. But that doesn't make them bad ideas.

This story isn't about that mission. It had been rough, though. Cassie had almost died from loss of blood. Jake had almost been trapped as a pelican. That was our brilliant plan. Make a hole, have Pelican-Man put the circuitry in his beak, and fly away. Things got complicated. But we made it.

That was why Jake and I were playing Nintendo. Because it was normal. Because it didn't involve angry guards or real explosions. Those things just fail to thrill, nowadays. You've seen one, you've seen one too many.

I was wiping the floor with Jake. I was always better than him at video games. We were trash-talking each other, eating pizza on the floor, typical guy stuff. It felt good. Normal. Like we weren't involved in a real live war with real live aliens. Eventually, though, the game got old, and we switched it off and hung out in my room, with a little mood music playing in the background.

"Would you turn that screaming down?" shouted Jake. I could barely hear him.

"Would I scream like a clown?" I asked, for clarification.

"Turn it down!" he bellowed.

I grinned. I had heard him the first time. KrayZ and the Loons faded as he twisted the volume control. "Oh, you meant turn it down," I said, as though it were just dawning on me. "I was wondering why you wanted to be crowned."

He threw a book at me. I caught it, and dropped it on the floor. "So. What's new on the homestead?"

"How do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean, in real life! With the mom and the dad and . . . everything." I stopped short of mentioning Jake's brother, Tom. Tom's one of Them. Yeah, that's right. Capital T.

"Nothing much. Tom's been going to the Sharing a lot, parents work, you know."

"They do that, don't they?"

"Yep. Plus, my mom's been bugging me about Driver's Ed."

"You're kidding," I balked. With one alien invasion and another, Driver's Ed had been driven completely out of my thoughts. "What for?"

"So I can drive. You know. Honking horn, turning wheels, stuff like that?"

I groaned. "Marco has to commit ritual suicide now. I actually forgot about getting my license! Me! Who's been idolizing over cars since I was knee high to a Helmacron!"

Jake snickered at that. I guess you have to know Helmacrons, but that's pretty small. "Right, well. Rachel's mom, being all organized, thought of it first. Then she talked to my mom, and now she wants me to sign up online tonight."

"So what's the problem?"

"The problem is that my mom and Rachel's mom want us to be in the same class, and Rachel is signed up for a 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM class."

"Yeah . . . "

"This is Driver's Ed, Marco. They don't let you miss a session, especially not at this driving school. You miss even one, you're toast. That means that every weekday night, for the next two weeks, we have to be in a classroom. That means no more evening missions. That means anything we do has to be done in broad daylight, or not at all."

I frowned. That was bad. When I cause pain and destruction to Yeerks, I prefer the cover of darkness. What do you expect from a former member of the Batman fan club? "Hey, but can't we still work from midnight to dawn?"

"Since that prowler's been around, my parents installed this security system. Once they switch it on at 10:30, I'm a prisoner in my own home."

I snorted. "It's not like we haven't gotten past security systems before, Jake-O."

"Most of those we've just overpowered with force. I don't want Tom to suspect anything's weird. But I will have Ax take a look at it sometime."

I was thinking hard. "Seems like if I ever want to take Driver's Ed, now might be the time. If we're out of commission for night-work anyway . . . "

Jake frowned. I could see the fearless leader look entering his eyes. "I don't know. It might be better to have you and Cassie available to go on anything super-important that comes up while Rachel and I are gone."

Just then, the door opened, and my dad poked his head in. "Hey, Marco, Jake! Jake, I saw your mom at the store. She told me you're taking DE. I'm online now, Marco, want me to sign you up with Jake's class?"

It would look too weird for me to say no. "Sure, Dad, thanks," I said. The door closed. Jake sighed.

"I guess we'd just better hope nothing super-important comes up."

"Why did I feel an icy chill up my spine when you said that?" I joked.