In general, I don't like alternate timeline/alternate universe stories. But since the series is over, and almost everyone died, there's not much else to write. But I can't seem to let go of the Animorphs, so I decided to pick up a concept that I had dreamed up long before the series ended. I had come up with my own ending for the war, and in that one Tobias was the one that died. I think my timeline broke off at about Book #44. So when reading this, remember that whatever K.A. wrote after that book NEVER HAPPENED in this timeline.
Here's a basic synopsis of what happened between Book #44 and this story:
Due to a coup within the Yeerk government, they withdrew from Earth. No big battle or anything. The Andalites were on their way, and the Yeerks abandoned their mission. But before they left, there was a pretty intense battle between Visser 3 (who had actually lost his position and was a renegade) and the Animorphs. Tobias was hit by Dracon fire, and the other Animorphs escaped by the skin of their teeth. Soon thereafter, Visser 3 was killed by others in the Yeerk government, and the Yeerks left Earth – taking only high-ranking voluntary Controllers and leaving the rest.
The Animorphs then finished high school, and went their separate ways. Cassie and Jake to college on the East Coast, and Rachel to college in Colorado. When the Andalites arrived (secretly, of course), Marco and Ax went with them to the homeworld. The Animorphs never told anyone about their experiences. Basically, the world never knew what had been going on. Aside from some missing people (which some lunatics blamed on alien abduction), the world went on oblivious to the whole situation. I'm also assuming that the Animorphs were about 13 years old at the time of Book #1 and fought the Yeerks for five years. This story takes place about five years after the end of the war, so the Animorphs are all about 22/23 years old. I think this is just about all you need to know for now. You'll learn more as you read....
Chapter 1 "Life as I Know It"
My name is Rachel Berenson. I'm a senior at Colorado State. My major is advertising, and I love it. For the past five years, my life has been pretty normal. I like being normal. I used to want to excel at everything I did – school, gymnastics, style... But recently I have come to appreciate the simplicity of being average. But sometimes it seems like I am destined to be abnormal. Something a little different than everyone else. If you know anything about me, you know that my past was anything but normal. And as hard as I try, I'm never going to escape that.
My story starts on a fine fall day at the beginning of my senior year. The leaves were changing, the air was cool but not uncomfortable, there was already snow spreading down the sides of the Rockies. It was the kind of day meant to be enjoyed and savored. But I was not enjoying or savoring. I was flustered.
I couldn't believe I had agreed to go to the Raptor Rehabilitation center with Nadine. Hadn't I spent the last five years trying to get away from things like that? Trying to forget the kinds of things that a place like that was sure to remind me of? But Nadine had an assignment for her photography class, and her car was in the shop. So being the good friend that I am, I offered to drive her.
"I'll drop you off & you can give me a call when you're done." I told her.
"Oh, come on, Rach. You can't possibly be that afraid of birds!"
Telling her I had a phobia of birds wasn't too far off from the truth. I had a desperate fear of the memories that seeing them up close was likely to drag up.
"You don't have to get too close. Just come with me & help me carry my stuff."
I finally agreed to help carry her equipment. But I was determined to keep my distance from the feathered creatures. Or pictures of them. Or anything to do with them.
I'm not sure how I expected to do that at this place. There were pictures everywhere. Life-size and bigger. There were stuffed birds in glass cases. And there were rangers walking around with live birds on their arms.
Nadine dragged me to the auditorium to see a presentation on eagles. Of course I could never tell her that I had more information than any ranger here, having actually been a bald eagle myself.
I was pondering this thought as we walked past the marquee into the theater. I had no time to back out when, at the last second, I saw that the presentation today wasn't about eagles, but about hawks.
I wanted to sit all the way at the back, but Nadine insisted that we sit up close so she could try to get in some shots during the show.
The ranger doing the presentation was in his mid-forties. And he did really know his material. But Nadine was more focused on one of his assistants. Each assistant had a different breed of hawk on his arm. At various times they brought their bird forward to show off distinctive markings or features.
Nadine was entranced by a young man about our age who was trying to keep his bird calm, though it was obviously nervous. He was tall, with short blond spikey hair and stylish glasses. Nadine kept whispering to me,
"He's talking to that bird. He's like, communing with it. Watch!"
I had no interest in watching that guy at all. I knew what kind of bird he had. A red-tailed hawk. And of all the birds there, it was the one I wanted to see the least of.
After the show, Nadine rushed to go meet the bird guy. I managed to lose her in the crowd, and drifted out of the auditorium. Against my better judgment, I started to wander through the exhibits.
Finally, Nadine ran up and grabbed my arm.
"Al invited us to come back to where they keep the raptors from the show. He's going to help me get some good pictures."
"Yeah, that guy who had the red hawk during the show."
"Red-tailed hawk." I corrected automatically.
"Right. You have got to meet Al. He's amazing with those birds! It's like he knows what they're thinking. And they totally trust him."
"Why don't you just go and play with the birds & I'll stay here."
"No, you've got to meet this guy. I bet he can help you get over your fear."
Nadine almost dragged me by the arm to the back of the center & through some heavy doors labeled "staff only."
Al was working on the jesses – the tethering cords – on an eagle's legs as we approached. I tried to hang back and go unnoticed. But I'm the kind of person that people tend to notice.
''Hey Nadine." Al said, looking up. "Who's your friend?"
Al put the eagle in a nearby cage and walked over to us.
"Al, this is Rachel. She's afraid of birds."
I groaned. Al stuck out his hand and I took it. I had the most unsettling feeling as I looked up into his gentle brown eyes. I had a sudden flashback of other gentle brown eyes. These were nearly identical – more than nearly. Rachel, get it together. I thought. You're around these birds; of course you're going to think of Tobias. But seeing his eyes? That's a little on the insane side.
I dropped Al's hand quickly. But he was still looking at me with a puzzled expression. He shook his head, then smiled.
"Well, you're not the first orniphobe I've dealt with. And I have to say, I've cured most of them."
"Orniphobe?" Nadine asked.
"Someone with a fear of birds." I shot back at her. "Like ornithology is the study of birds. And phobia is fear."
Al took us along a row of cages. Each cage had the birds' name on it, as well as the species, and their handler's first name.
The first cage we stopped at was a peregrine falcon named Cruiser.
Al pulled on a heavy leather glove and reached into the cage. He brought Cruiser out for Nadine to admire. She pulled out her camera and started shooting. Al really did have a way with birds. He even persuaded Cruiser to spread his wings so Nadine could get a good shot of his wingspan.
After several minutes of photographing Cruiser, Nadine stopped. "Rach, come look at this bird! He's gorgeous."
I tried to play the part of the orniphobe. But honestly, by this point, I was interested. Jake had been a peregrine falcon. But there had never really been time for me to examine and admire his morph. So I cautiously stepped forward.
Al spoke soothingly to the falcon as I approached.
"He knows you're nervous. But he's curious about you." Al said quietly.
"How can you tell?"
"His expression. I know what he looks like when he's curious."
I was close enough now to touch the bird, but I had no intention of doing it.
"You can touch him if you want. He's totally calm. I promise he won't hurt you."
I reached a hand toward the falcon.
"Don't touch his head though..." Al started.
"I know. They only like to be touched where they preen themselves.."
Al looked surprised, but pleased. "That's right."
I stroked Cruiser's chest, and felt an ache within my own. It was almost too much. I could almost hear Tobias' voice in my head,
"Rachel." I looked up suddenly. It was Al. He had the strangest look on his face. "For someone who's afraid of birds, you really do know how to handle them."
I blushed. I'd gotten too caught up in the memories, standing there, stroking the soft feathers.
"Do you want to put on a glove and hold him?"
"No... I... I'm going to get some water." I walked away quietly so as to not disturb the falcon. But my insides were churning. There was something in the way Al looked at me, spoke to me... And being near those birds. Even the smell brought back memories.
I walked all the way out to my car. And I waited there until Nadine returned.
"Wow, Rach. I'm sorry if that freaked you out." She said when she arrived. "But I really thought you were enjoying being with that falcon."
"It's OK, Nadine. It was kind of fun." I managed to put some enthusiasm into my voice.
"Good, then maybe you won't mind that I just signed up to volunteer here."
"Don't worry, my car will be fixed on Friday, I just need you to bring me out here on Wednesday, if you don't mind."
Well, I'll just bring a book & stay in the car. I thought. "No problem." I told her.