Chapter One -- Aximili
I stood at the window in the small room my human friends and I occupied and watched Earth recede. The Andalite Dome ship we were on was retreating. As I stared, the Blade ship of Visser Three - I mean Visser One - appeared, but didn't fire at us. It didn't need to. We were defeated. The Yeerks had won.
My name is Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill. I am an Andalite aristh. Or at least, I was. I'm not sure what I am now.
For five long years, I lived on the planet Earth and fought the Yeerks with my human friends - Prince Jake, Cassie, Rachel, Marco, and Tobias. We fought long and hard, but the six of us weren't enough. The other Andalites arrived too late to save Earth, but they managed to rescue us in time. We would escape the fate of so many humans - infestation with a Yeerk and a lifetime of enslavement. I turned away from the window. Earth was no longer visible.
The room we were in was small. There was no "furniture," as the humans would say, nothing on the walls. I had spoken with the captain earlier, and he had said that they were trying to find adequate quarters for us.
I looked at my friends. Cassie was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, tears streaming down her face. Tears are a human response to strong emotion - happy or sad. This time, the tears were of bitter sorrow. Prince Jake sat next to her, one hand clasping hers. He was trying to comfort her, but Cassie was inconsolable. Rachel stood in a corner, looking more angry than sad. Rachel is a true warrior, all the way to her soul. She will most likely find a place for herself in the Andalite military, if she is allowed. She had fought our decision to leave, believing that to abandon Earth would be dishonorable. Marco had his back to me, but from the way his shoulders were moving, I guessed that he was also crying. Marco's mother had been the host body of Visser One, and she was killed in our last battle. Marco had always kept up his hope of her rescue, but now it would never come. Tobias, my shorm, is a nothlit - a person trapped in a morph. He was in his natural red-tailed hawk body, so, like me, he was incapable of tears.
"We fought the good fight," Prince Jake finally said. It startled me. No one had spoken in several hours.
^Yes,^ I agreed. ^We did all we could.^
"What do you think will happen to the Chee?" Marco asked, his voice choked.
^I - I don't know,^ I replied. I was lying. I did know, but my human friends were grieving enough for their family and friends and planet. I didn't need to add to their grief by making them realize that the Chee would most likely become the Yeerks' new death machines once they figured out how to program them. It was horrible to think of the peaceful, fun-loving androids as nothing more than killing devices, but it would probably be reality in a few weeks.
"What about the animals? And plants?" Cassie asked, her voice hollow. She knew the answer, but seemed to want it confirmed.
^The Yeerks will keep the organisms necessary for the human hosts' survival. The others will become . . . extinct. The atmosphere will be made to be that of the Yeerks' homeworld, so most of the plants will die.^ I looked away. Cassie had asked, but I wished she hadn't. She was crying again, her head on Prince Jake's shoulder.
No one spoke for a long time.
Chapter Two -- Tobias
My name is Tobias. No last name, but not that it matters. I was thirteen when I became an Animorph. I'm eighteen now , but I feel like I'm eighty. My human morph somehow aged with me - probably an Ellimist trick. But like I said, none of that matters. We lost. It's over. No more battles. No more fear. At the same time, no more hope for Earth. I don't know what's going to happen to us - or to me, for that matter. I know there's no point in staying in my morph-capable hawk body any longer. I could morph into my human form and be human - forever. I could be with Rachel.
I stared at her, standing in the corner. Even now, her eyes were defiant. She was so beautiful. I loved her, and wanted nothing more than to be with her. But still, some part of me resisted the thought of never morphing, never being able to fly again.
^Ax-man,^ I said, keeping the thought-speech private. ^Is there any chance that . . . that - that the Andalites could reverse . . .^ I trailed off, wanting the answer, but dreading it at the same time.
^I don't know, Tobias,^ Ax answered. ^I have been away from my people for five years. I don't know what kind of advancements have been made.^
^Oh.^ I fell silent. ^Ax?^
^Are you happy to be back with other Andalites?^ It was a stupid question. Of course he was.
^Not as much as I always assumed I would be. I don't know what's going to happen - to you or the others or myself. I don't know if I will be punished for helping you and breaking the law of Seerow's Kindness. And . . . . I was on Earth so long . . .^ He paused, looking like he was trying to find a way to explain. ^Cassie once gave me a book of quotes. One of them was by a man named Thomas Wolfe, I believe.^
I knew the quote he was talking about. ^'You can't go home again.'^
^Yes. It may very well be true for me. I feel very sad at the loss of Earth. It was my home for five years. And the five of you were my friends and my people.^
I was silent. I was surprised, both at his answer and his openness. Then, ^Ax, you realize that no matter what happens, even if you're punished or something, we'll stand by you, right? We would have lost Earth a long time ago without you. And even if your fellow Andalites don't recognize it, you're very much a hero.^
Ax didn't say anything for several moments. Finally, he said, ^Thank you, Tobias. That means a great deal to me.^
Suddenly, we all jerked up as a very loud thought-speech voice spoke in our heads. ^Will the five humans and aristh Aximili please report to the captain's quarters?^
"Well, Ax," Marco said shakily, trying to keep his voice from trembling, "take us to your leader."
Chapter Three -- Jake
Ax led us down a brightly lit hallway. On either side were neon colored lighted tubes. I remembered that Ax had said once that on Andalite ships, there are colored tubes running along the hallways, and each color leads to a different part of the ship. We walked for awhile, and then stopped in front of a door. Ax touched a gray pad, and a powerful thought-speak voice said, ^Come in.^ It was loud and commanding, but without the menacing quality of Visser Three's.
The door slid open and we stepped inside. The captain's quarters were huge, at least five times as big as the room we had been in. The captain smiled a strange Andalite smile at Ax. ^Aristh Aximili, you needn't look so terrified.^
^No - no, uh, no, Captain Kalainth. I mean, yes, War-Prince - I mean -^
^Does he always babble like this?^ Captain Kalainth asked me, still smiling. He was the first Andalite I'd ever met who had something resembling a sense of humor.
"Always," Marco answered. The faintest ghost of a smile crossed his face.
^Ah. In that case, I may need to rethink my decision to recommend to the Council that you be made a full warrior,^ Kalainth said sternly.
^What? A full warrior? I thought - I mean, I helped the humans. Gave them information. I broke the law of Seerow's Kindness. I assumed I would be punished,^ Ax stammered.
^Warrior Aximili, you did what needed to be done. From what I've heard, you endured numerous battles on an alien planet far from your home. At the very least, you will be made a warrior - if I can convince that ancient fossil, Lirem, and the rest of the Council. Don't tell him I called him that, please.^
Ax looked shocked. "Um, who's Lirem?" I asked.
^The head of the Council. Very old, very dignified, very boring. Just like the rest of our esteemed Council members.^ Kalainth had been looking at me with his stalk eyes, but now he studied me with all four of them. ^And you are 'Prince Jake,' I presume.^
"Yes - well, no. I'm not really a prince. Ax just calls me that," I answered nervously.
^I must say, yours is an unprecedented situation. From what Aximili has told me, you acted with bravery and honor throughout your ordeal, as a real Andalite prince would. The Council will have to deliberate about what should be done with you - all of you.
^Now,^ Kalainth continued, ^there is the issue of where to put you. It will be several months before we return to the Andalite homeworld. We have shuffled around some of the warriors and arisths, so we have three rooms available. Will that be adequate?^
I looked around. Each of the others nodded, with the exception of Rachel, who just looked away angrily. She hadn't said one word since we boarded the Andalite Dome ship, and I was very worried about her. "Yes," I answered. "That's fine."
^Good. I will have an officer show you to your quarters. Do you have any questions?^
I noticed Tobias looking at Ax intensely. Ax appeared to listen for a second, and then said, ^War-Prince Kalainth, have there been any developments in the treatment of nothlits?^
^Unfortunately, none that I am aware of. However, I am not a member of the scientific circles, so it is possible that there have been developments that have not yet been made public.^
^Oh,^ Tobias said, his hawk's gaze flickering around the room as if he wasn't sure where to look.
^One more thing. Warrior Aximili, I know that you want to contact your family. Unfortunately, our visual and thought-speech communication systems were damaged in a skirmish with the Yeerks. The most we can do is send a written communication to them, letting them know that you are safe.^ Ax looked disappointed, but nodded.
^All right, that is all. You are dismissed. Aristh Garruth will show you to your quarters.^ An Andalite who looked even younger than Ax appeared at the door and led us down the hall and up a drop-shaft. The three rooms were in a row. We had one bag of possessions between the six of us. We had each managed to grab a change of clothes and a picture of our families before we left. We dug our clothes out of the bag and separated.
Chapter Four -- Tobias
I sighed. Ax and I had been standing silently in our room for about an hour. Actually, I was in my human morph and sitting on the floor while he paced restlessly. Finally, he stopped and looked at me. ^Rachel has been very quiet,^ he commented.
"Yes," I agreed worriedly. Rachel had been almost completely silent, in fact. It was not like her.
^It would be best if you talked to her.^
"Yes," I said again. Ax and I were what he called shorm, deep friends. He knew I was worried about Rachel.
Suddenly, there was a soft knock at the door. Ax answered it, and Marco walked in. He looked exhausted. Come to think of it, so did Ax. I certainly felt exhausted. In less than twelve hours we had lost everything familiar to us. We had lost the battle for Earth, the others had left their families behind, and now we were on a space ship on our way to a strange planet with an alien species deciding our fates.
"Jake called a meeting," Marco said quietly. "The others are in Cassie and Rachel's room."
"Okay," I said, getting up. Ax and I followed Marco into the room next door. Jake was standing, leaning against the wall. Marco sat on the floor next to him. Rachel sat across from them, staring into space. Her beautiful face had finally lost its hard expression, but it looked disturbingly blank and pale. I sat on her right, and Cassie sat on her left. Ax stood by the door.
"How's everyone doing?" Jake asked. No one answered. Finally, Jake said, "Rachel, are you okay? You haven't said one word since . . . since we left."
"Am I okay?" Rachel asked evenly. She stared at Jake. "Am I okay?" Her eyes narrowed and she stood up to face him. "No, I'm not okay. Because right about now my little sisters are being dragged down that pier in the Yeerk pool. About now some Controller's shoving their heads into that sludge and while they scream and cry and beg, a filthy Yeerk slug is entering their brains and in a few seconds, they'll stop struggling, because they no longer control their own muscles, or voices, or . . . or . . ." Rachel broke off with a sob. She was standing in the middle of the room, and she put her head in her hands and sobbed. I got up and put my arms around her.
"Rachel, everything's going to be okay," I murmured into her ear, realizing how stupid it sounded was as soon as it was out of my mouth.
"No, Tobias, it's never going to be okay. Never again," she sobbed. Her face was buried in my shoulder. I caught Jake's eye. He motioned the others out of the room so Rachel and I were alone. I pulled her down so she was sitting on the floor, cradled in my lap. She cried for about an hour, but it felt like ten. Finally, she fell asleep out of pure exhaustion. The Andalites had left a few blankets in each room, so I covered her with one and gently kissed her forehead. I quietly left the room.
Chapter Five -- Aximili
Life on the Dome ship slowly settled into a sort of bizarre routine for my human friends. The first week was terrible for all of us. Five years of constant fear and fighting had drained us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But, eventually, my friends seemed to recover somewhat. I knew they would never truly stop longing or grieving for their homes and families, but they realized that they needed to move on and make something resembling a life for themselves.
Two weeks after we were rescued, I was grazing in the Dome (Andalite grass is far superior to Earth grass) when I was called to War-Prince Kalainth's quarters again.
^Hello, Warrior Aximili,^ he greeted me. How wonderful it was to hear that title! After I began breaking the law of Seerow's Kindness, I thought I would never hear it.
^Hello, Captain Kalainth,^ I replied.
^Aximili, the Council has asked me to recommend what should be done with your friends. I wanted your input on this.^
I said nothing for a full two minutes. Kalainth let me think and stared out his window at the white nothingness of Z-space. I knew what to recommend for each of my friends, but I also knew that my suggestions might not be well received. Finally, I began slowly, ^I must say that Rachel is a true warrior. She would be an asset to the Andalite army.^
War-Prince Kalainth turned around to face me. He looked a little shocked. But he responded, ^Continue, please.^
^Prince Jake was an excellent prince, especially for such a young human. If he were to be properly trained, he could become a commendable Andalite prince. And Marco,^ I continued, ^has an aptitude for computers. His father worked with them extensively on Earth. Cassie is already very skilled in treating sick creatures. She would probably make a very good physician. She should at least be trained in some sort of medical capacity.^
The captain said nothing for a few seconds. Finally he said, ^You are suggesting very high rankings for your human friends. I don't believe that any non-Andalites have ever held such occupations on the homeworld. I, personally, feel that it might work. I have watched your friends, and listened to their stories, and they seem competent and intelligent - especially for a species as backward as humans. The Council, however, may think differently. In addition, we will have Lirem to contend with. He will most likely want to put them as far out of the way as possible.^
^But if you recommend it, won't the Council -^
^The Council is made up of old fools who do not have the slightest idea what this war is like anymore. They still hold to the traditional arrogance that we are indestructible. We are not. I can tell this is shocking for you. As an aristh you were taught to be proud of your species. As a warrior, I am telling you to face reality. There are many planets all over the galaxy just like Earth. We have lost more than we have won. But Lirem and the others on the Council don't see that - or perhaps they do not want to see that. You recommend that one of your friends be placed in the military, that one becomes a prince, that one be trained as a doctor, and that one work with computers. But all Lirem will see is that they lack fur, stalk eyes, and tails.^
I was in shock. I couldn't think. I had never heard anyone say anything disrespectful about the Council before. But here was a great War-Prince, a hero, calling the Council 'old fools.'
^Warrior Aximili,^ War-Prince Kalainth said, more gently. ^When we reach the homeworld, you and your friends will need to speak to the Council. You will need to have some idea of what to say, so I suggest you speak to your them about this as soon as possible.^
^I - I thought we weren't scheduled to arrive home for several months,^ I stammered.
^There has been a change of plans. The Council wants to speak with you and your friends as soon as possible, so we are employing a new type of Z-space travel. I was reluctant to try it because it is very new, but my scientists have assured me that it is safe. However, it may make it temporarily difficult to move about the ship, so warn the humans to stay in their quarters until the proper adjustments have been made.^
^When will we arrive?^
^I expect us to arrive in approximately one week. Do you have any other questions?^ I shook my head dazedly. ^Then you are dismissed. And Warrior Aximili? Everything I said here is to be kept confidential. Do you understand?^ I nodded. ^Good. Speak to your friends.^
I hurried back to our quarters, my ears still ringing from Captain Kalainth's words. I found the others in Prince Jake and Marco's room.
^War Prince Kalainth wanted me to warn you that we will be switching into a different type of Z-space travel that may make it difficult to move about the ship. He has asked us to stay in our quarters until further notice.^ Just then, a thought speech voice announced, ^Attention, please. We are now entering Rapid-Tunnel Z-space Travel. The captain asks that you remain in a secure room for the next hour. Thank you.^ Suddenly, there was violent jolt and I found myself lying on the floor with Rachel on top of me. She shifted off and I tried to stand. I quickly fell over.
Prince Jake struggled to sit up and fell back. "So what now? Are we just supposed to lie here for the next hour?"
The answer came quickly. ^Attention, please. The gravitational field on the ship has been disrupted. This was expected and we are attempting to correct it. Please do not attempt to stand or walk until further notice.^
"Okay," Marco said. "Anybody want to play 20 Questions?"
^Actually, there is something we need to discuss,^ I said.
^What?^ Tobias asked. He was lying next to Rachel with his wings spread out. He was probably very uncomfortable.
^We are entering this form of Z-space travel in order to arrive home in about a week as opposed to the several months it would take in normal Z-space travel. When we arrive, the Council wants to speak to us. Captain Kalainth has asked us to try to decide what we are going to tell them.^
"Why?" Cassie asked. "Does he expect there to be a problem?"
^Possibly,^ I replied carefully. ^He does not appear to hold the Council in very high regards - and I must say that I myself am not particularly fond of Lirem. He is the one who asked me to lie and say that I gave you the morphing ability, not Elfangor.^
"Do you think you'll be punished for that?" Prince Jake asked me.
^I do not know. As War Prince Kalainth said, he is going to recommend that I be made a full warrior. But, the final decision is that of the Council's, and they are all very traditional when the laws of my people are involved. And Seerow's Kindness is one of our most important laws.^
^What will happen if you're punished?^ Tobias asked.
^When I first contacted my homeworld after I joined you in the fight on Earth, Lirem "forgave" my breaking of the law on the grounds that I was an aristh, separated from my prince, and not yet trained. But that was only for having given you the morphing ability. They may choose to punish me for giving you additional help. If they do, I will never be made a warrior. They may even strip me of my aristh title.^ I said all this as calmly as possible. I didn't want to worry them.
"That's a pretty stiff punishment," Marco commented.
^Yes,^ I agreed. ^But you must consider the reasons behind the law.^
"You don't think they'll actually do that, though, do you?" Rachel asked.
^I don't know,^ I replied honestly.
"We'll do all we can to help you out, Ax," Prince Jake reassured me.
^Thank you, but your futures are also at stake. The captain asked me to recommend a possible occupation for each of you -^
"The military," Rachel said instantly. "Just because Earth is gone doesn't mean the fight's over. I want to burn as many dirty slugs as possible."
^I expected that. I told him that you would be an asset to the Andalite military.^ Rachel smiled at me, something she rarely did. Rachel and I haven't always agreed on everything.
"What about me?" Prince Jake asked almost suspiciously.
^I told him that you were a great prince on Earth and that with proper training you would make an excellent Andalite prince.^
"Ax, I don't want to be a prince. I didn't like being your prince on Earth - no offense, it had nothing to do with you - and I don't want to be a prince now. Besides, you know they'll never allow it."
^Probably not,^ I acknowledged. ^But if they do, I would encourage you to try it.^
"Jake, Ax is right," Cassie said. "You're a natural leader and you'd be a wonderful prince." Prince Jake didn't say anything, but I could tell he was considering the idea.
^Marco, I thought you might want to be trained in computers.^
"Yeah, that'd probably be best. What with my extensive knowledge," Marco said, joking. He knew very well that his knowledge of human computers meant almost nothing. It would take years of training for him to reach a similar level with Andalite computers - or maybe it wouldn't. Humans learn very quickly.
"What'd you say about me?" Cassie asked quietly.
^I recommended that you be trained in some sort of medical field - as a physician, perhaps.^
"That might be okay," she said slowly.
We were silent for a few minutes. I stared at the ceiling as boredom began to creep in. Only twenty-five minutes had passed. Suddenly Rachel said, "What about Tobias?"
The room was silent.
Tobias laughed bitterly. ^That's okay, Ax-man.^
^I am sure the Council will be able to -^
^I said, it's okay. I mean, they have to figure out the nothlit thing at some point, right? As long as there are mice - or mice-like creatures, I guess - on your planet, I'll be fine.^ We fell silent again. I felt guilty for not having considered Tobias's future.
Suddenly, the silence was broken. "Hey, why don't you great and mighty Andalites have that whole thing figured out?" demanded Rachel, abruptly angry.
^Whole what thing?^ I asked, startled.
"The nothlit thing," she answered impatiently. "I mean come on. You'd think that if you Andalites were as great as you think you are, then you'd be able to fix something like that. Right? Right," she added answering her own question. We still couldn't stand, but she turned her head and looked at me accusingly, her blue eyes icy.
^I'm sorry. I am not a scientist,^ I replied coldly. ^If there is anything to be done, the Council will do it. I don't know if there is a solution, and if so what it is, and if not, why there isn't one. I don't know!^ I glared at Rachel for a moment and then looked back at the ceiling.
She was silent for about ten seconds, Suddenly she exploded. "I am so sick of excuses from you Andalites! That's all you ever say! And then, you turn around and think you're so great. Well, guess what!" She shoved herself up on her arm, no small feat considering the circumstances, and glared at me from above. "You're not," she whispered, her face inches from mine. "If you were, you would have saved Earth." Her voice was hard. "If you were, you wouldn't be losing to a bunch of parasitic slugs."
^Rachel, be grateful I can't move my tail,^ I said angrily. We glared at each other and spent the next thirty minutes in silence.
Chapter Six -- Tobias
Ax was furious at Rachel. Angrier than I had ever seen him, in fact. When he faced Visser Three and let him walk away, he had been furious with himself, but I had never seen him so mad at another person. And I felt responsible. It was Rachel's wishing for us to be together - human and together - that had brought it on.
After one of the longest half hours of my life, with us lying there, not speaking, and with so much tension you could have cut it with a knife, the gravity-whatever-you-call-it was finally fixed. Ax stood up, got off one last good glare at Rachel, and silently left. I followed him out and into our room. ^Ax -^ I started.
^Please, Tobias,^ he said, sounding like he was fighting for control. ^I know you will agree with Rachel, so, please, not now.^
^What makes you think I'm gonna take her side?^ I asked. ^Just because she's my girlfriend? Do I have to remind you that I'm practically half Andalite?^
Ax said nothing. Finally he answered, his voice strained and low, ^I simply assumed -^
^Well, don't. Actually, I think Rachel was way out of line. I would have told her so, but you were so angry that I wanted to talk to you first.^ I looked hard at him. ^This is partly my fault, you know. She wants so badly for me to be human again, so we can -^ I stopped. Ax is my best friend, but for some reason I couldn't say that to him.
^So you can be together,^ he finished. ^I know.^
^But I don't think that's all of it. Rachel took losing the war very hard. We all did, but it hit her hardest, I think. She's angry right now and she wants someone to blame. So she's blaming the Andalites and, well, you were the nearest Andalite. It's really not your fault.^
Ax didn't say anything for a minute. His back was to me, and all four of his eyes were staring at the wall, but I watched him closely.
^I realize this,^ he said quietly. ^The truth is, part of me is angry, too. Part of me wonders why they didn't reach Earth faster. And I know everyone is nervous about facing the Council - at least I am.^
^Do you really think they'll punish you?^ I asked.
^I don't know,^ he said honestly. ^War-Prince Kalainth seemed to think it was a distinct possibility. He said . . . that the Council members are very traditional. If I am stripped of my rank, I will have to find a way to make a life in a different capacity. The hardest part will be knowing that I will never be known as anything more than great Elfangor's dishonored little brother.^ He finally turned around to face me. ^Your father's shadow is very long,^ he told me, his though-speech quiet. I started a little. We had known for over three years that Elfangor was my father, but that was the first time Ax had ever called him that.
Chapter Seven -- Aximili
I was staring at Tobias, somehow seeing my brother in his intense hawk's gaze, when someone knocked at the door. I opened it. ^Rachel,^ I said flatly. Hardly a warm greeting, but considering what she had said earlier, she should have grateful not to have my tailblade at her throat.
"Hi, Ax," she said, barely meeting my eyes. She looked past me at Tobias. "Tobias, could I speak to Ax alone for a sec?"
^Sure,^ he replied. ^Both of you, behave,^ he ordered as he hawk walked out of the room.
"First of all, I want to say how sorry I am about what I said," Rachel began, looking at the ground. "I have no right to blame you for what's happened. You fought just as hard for Earth as the rest of us, and it wasn't even your home. But the truth is, I do sort of blame the other Andalites. I feel like they should have made Earth a higher priority."
^I feel the same way,^ I said. ^As I told Tobias, part of me blames them also.^
"But it won't help, will it?" she said. "It won't change the past."
^No,^ I agreed.
"And being angry won't help Tobias's situation either. But I still want to fight. I want to join the military. And I will find a way in," Rachel vowed. She lifted her head and looked me in the eye as she said this. "I'll find a way in," she repeated. "No matter what the Council says."
^Rachel, you have always been a true warrior. Cassie and Tobias and Marco, and even Prince Jake were forced into this fight, and so were you at first. But you are the only one who is a warrior to her soul.^
"Thanks, Ax. I really hope everything turns out all right for you."
^So do I,^ I said with a faint smile.
To be continued . . .