My name is Iden two-seven-four.
"Terez, I want you to go upstairs," I said intently to the nervous sixteen year old. " Pack two suitcases. Two got it? Two. One suitcase will have five changes of clothes for you, your parents, and your sister. The other suitcase will have all your toiletries."
I am a traitor to my kind.
"Then after you load the suitcases up into the van, I want you to pack a cooler with all the non-perishable foods that you can fit. Load the cooler up into the van also."
I have willing broken many of the Empire's laws.
"Then, I want you to get your Dad's tool box and shove it into the van."
I have disobeyed my superiors. I have aided a human host in her escape from the Yeerk Pool.
"After that, I want you to go around the house and grab as much cash as you can find."
When the Empire learns of the things that I have done, I shudder to think of how they will punish me.
"Terez, you have fifteen minutes," I finished. "Do you understand?"
The girl nodded, her dark curls bouncing around her heart shaped face, and her deep blue eyes flashing intently. "I understand," she said soberly. She whirled about in the passenger seat, and looked to the woman lying unconscious in the backseat. "Matt, what about her?"
I felt my heart pain as she called me Matt. Terez has never called me by my real name, Iden two-seven-four. Terez does not know my real name because she thinks that I am a human, like her. I have never told Terez otherwise; I cannot bear to.
"Mom will be alright." I promised. (I'm talking to you too, Matt. Your mom is going to be fine.) I added silently to my host.
"Terez, we have to worry about your family now." I told the beautiful girl, the girl who I loved. "Now go get the things that I said to, and I'll go get your parents!"
Terez nodded, and just before she dove from the van, she reached out and squeezed my hand, or rather my host's hand. And then Terez was out of the car, and tearing through the attached garage into the red brick two-story house.
I turned off the car, but left the keys in the ignition. I flashed a quick glance at the woman in the backseat. My host's mother, Mrs. Hutchinson, was still out cold. Satisfied, I jumped out of the van, rushing down the path that Terez had transversed but thirty seconds ago.
Thirty seconds too long, I reminded myself. Every second was precious. We had only an hour, only an hour lead on Them-if we were lucky, that was.
I hurried through the attached garage, thrust the house door out, and barged into Terez's house. It was strange, but I almost felt like I was trespassing. It had been a few months since I had last set foot in Terez's house, and then under very different circumstances. Then I had been a welcomed friend. And now?
I trotted down the hallway and into the living room.
"Mr. T? Mrs. T?" I called, trying to locate Terez's parents.
"Matt?" I heard an excited childish voice giggle. I heard a little galloping noise, and then there was Andrea, Terez's five year old little sister, running up to me with her arms outstretched.
"Matt!" Andrea greeted me with a hug. Her long dark hair was falling out of its pigtails and her blue eyes shined merrily. "I hasn't seen you ina foreva!"
I bent down and scooped the child into my arms. "Hey Andi," I said quietly, forcing the panic from my voice. It wouldn't do to alarm the child. She didn't need to know that her life was in great danger. "It's nice to see you too, kiddo. Where are your parents?"
"In the kitchen," Andrea replied as she snuggled into my arms.
I gently set the child onto the ground. "Andi," I said using my grown-up tone. "I want you to do something for me, okay?"
Andrea nodded, pigtails bobbing. Her blue eyes rested adoringly on me, ready to do whatever I asked of her.
"I want you to go into the car, and I want you to get into your seat, your special seat, and put on your seat belt." I told her. "And I want you to stay there, okay?"
Andi looked excited. "Are we going somewhere?"
"Yes," I replied slowly. "On a trip…on a vacation. Terez is coming too, and so are your parents. And Matt's-I mean-my mom is coming too. She's already in the car sleeping."
Andrea looked even more excited. Then she looked thoughtful. "I wanna get Snuggle Bear," she said suddenly. "So he can come on the trip too."
I shook my head. "No, go straight to the car and get into your seat. We have to leave right now, okay?"
Andrea lower lip trembled slightly. "But I can't leave Mr. Snuggles behind," she protested.
"Where is he?" I asked.
"In the kitchen eating dinner," she replied.
"I'll get him for you," I promised her. "Now go to the van, okay?'
Andrea nodded and both my host and I sighed in relief as we watched Andrea's curling pigtails bobbing up and down as the little girl skipped towards the garage.
(One down and two to go). Matt said quietly. I was both surprised and relieved to hear my host speaking to me. Had Matt forgiven me then?
I couldn't waste time wondering. I turned out of the living room and headed for the kitchen.
"Hey Mr. T, Mrs. T," I greeted Terez's parents as I entered the kitchen. Mr. and Mrs. Townley were seated around the dinner table, a skillet of fajitas sizzling in front of them. Two other places lay vacant at the table. One that had recently been abandoned by Andrea, and the other that awaited Terez.
"Hello Matt," Mr. Townley returned politely. His good-natured face gave me the once over, and his dark brown eyes eyed me suspiciously.
Mr. Townley didn't trust me then. Not that I blamed him, after what "Matt" (I) had done to his daughter, I wouldn't trust me either.
"Matt, what are you doing here?" Mr. Townley asked slowly.
I bit my lip for a second, unhappy at what I was about to do. But we had to leave as quickly as we could, and this was faster than explaining myself.
"I'm sorry Mr. T," I apologized quietly. Then I raised my Dracon beam, flipped the setting to stun, and shot two short bursts. The red beams hit on target, and Terez's parents crumpled onto the kitchen table like newspaper kindling under flame.
Stowing my Dracon in my pocket, I hurried to the kitchen table. I pulled back Mr. Townley's chair and then wrapped my arms around his waist. Then taking a deep breath, I dragged the unconscious body from the chair. Mr. Townley was heavy.
Matt was pretty muscular; he'd been on the baseball team, and lifted weights, but even so it took me about five minutes, before I managed to haul Mr. Townley's lifeless body out of the kitchen, through the garage, and into the van. Five minutes too long.
"Hey Andi," I greeted Terez's little sister. She was seated in her car-seat, her "special seat," kicking her legs back and forth in excitement. When she saw me dragging the unconscious body of her father something clicked in her eyes and she looked frightened.
"Matt! What's wrong with Daddy?" she cried in alarm.
"Nothing," I replied quickly, using a soothing tone. "Daddy's just asleep."
Andi shot me a withering look. The five-year old obviously didn't believe me.
"Sorry Andi," I apologized for the third time that night. Then I stunned the five year old with my Dracon beam. Like her father and her mother, and my host Matt's mother, Andrea fell unconscious.
I dumped Mr. Townley into the back seat of the van, and in a few more minutes, I'd deposited Mrs. Townley into the van also.
"Terez!" I called into the house. "Terez!"
"What?" I heard a breathless voice call from upstairs.
"I've got them all. We're going! Now!"
A crashing noise sounded as Terez thundered down the stairs, taking them two at a time. She dashed down the staircases, clutching two large suitcases.
"The food's in the car, and so are Dad's tools. I've got the suitcases, and the money is in my pocket." Terez wheezed.
I nodded and headed for the kitchen. Terez followed.
"Matt, what are you doing?" Terez concernedly, as I twisted the knobs on the stove.
"Turning on the gas," I explained. "When the Yeerks show up here, they're sure to be in for a nice surprise."
Terez bit her lip, and I could see the pain in her eyes as she imagined what would happen to her home when the Yeerks reached it. Then Terez gazed around her house for one last time, her eyes pausing on treasured objects: family photos, nostalgic keepsakes, family heirlooms. But then she looked passed them all, not even asking to take anything along. Terez understood that we couldn't bring anything other than the essentials. We just didn't have time to.
"So we lose the house, and some of our junk," Terez snorted finally, keeping her voice steady. "Big deal. I'm not losing my family."
I reached and squeezed her hand reassuringly. That was Terez for you, big-hearted, beautiful, and brave. It's no wonder that I fell in love with her.
"Oh, I almost forgot Mr. Snuggles," I said with a half-smile. I reached down to Andrea's vacated kitchen chair, and tucked the pink teddy bear under my arm. Then with my other hand, I took one of the suitcases from Terez.
Lugging our suitcases, Terez and I shot out of the kitchen, down the hallway, and into the garage. We tossed Mr. Snuggles and the luggage into the van, and then climbed into the vehicle. I hopped into the driver's seat, started the car, and quickly backed out of the driveway.
"Ready?" I turned to Terez.
"As ready as I can be," she replied softly. She gazed sadly at her house, and then at her family lying unconscious in the backseats. Seeing her family, seemed to give her some reassurance, and Terez said more firmly "Yes, I'm ready. Let's go."
I drove quickly through the neighborhoods, one red brick house blurring with the next, one well manicured lawn melting into another, and suddenly I was on the access road, and then merging onto the highway.
"Where are we going?" Terez asked lifelessly as we coasted down the freeway.
"South." I replied. "We're going to Mexico."
I was taking Terez to a place where the Yeerks would never find her, to a place where they'd never be able to infest her or her family. To a place where they could be safe.
Terez nodded, but she remained silent, privately mourning the last few memories of a place called Greenwood, and a girl named Terez Townley. Because Terez could never return to the town, and she could never be called by the name Terez. It was much too dangerous.
I drove down the freeway for hours. Soon the sun set and the moon rose.
(Iden, you have to tell her.) My host said breaking the silence. I was pleased that he was talking to me now. I hadn't heard his voice for months, not since that little girl had died in the Yeerk Pool. (You have to tell Terez the truth about what you really are. Tell her that you're a Yeerk!)
I glanced at Terez. She was gazing unseeingly out of the passenger window, her brilliant blue eyes looking dully upon the night sky. She seemed as solitary as the watery moon she stared at.
(I can't tell Terez now, Matt.) I reasoned with my host. (She just escaped the Yeerks; she can't take something like this now.)
(And what if Visser Ten catches us before you get a chance? How would she take it if she found out from him?) Matt argued.
(Well, I'm not planning on letting Tristan catch us.) I replied firmly.
(Iden, Terez needs to hear the truth, and she needs to hear it from you, because she loves you.) Matt said. (Iden, you have to tell her.)
I was quiet for a moment. (She will find out) I told Matt. My throat constricted painfully. (It'll take at least three days to reach the Mexican border).
In three days I would die from Kandrona Starvation.