The After-Earth Chronicles

The Trial

Chapter One -- Rachel

"Mom!" I screamed. I could hear them yelling, screaming, begging with the Hork Bajir guards. I ran down the gray stone hallway as fast as I could. But it was long, so long, and I was so tired. I slowed down and leaned against the wall, gasping for air. But as I was about to give up, I heard Sara scream, "Rachel!" Abruptly, my head came up. "No!" I yelled. They would not get my family. Never.

Suddenly the hallway ended. Just stopped, even though moments before there had been at least another two miles of cold, wet walls in front of me.

I could see the Yeerk pool from above. The huge, pulsating, squirming mass of slugs in the gray pool. The cages for the involuntary hosts, most of whom were screaming and crying at the Hork-Bajir guards and the Taxxons that walked by and hissed at them. A group of voluntary hosts, standing around a television, laughing at the show they were watching. The long piers that extended out over the pool. The Hork-Bajir guards hustling screaming Controllers off one pier and dragging them down the other. And I could see my little sister Sara, struggling futilely against a guard as he shoved her head toward the sludge.

"Sara," I screamed. A Hork Bajir guard spotted me and aimed his Dracon beam. The laser sliced through the air toward me . . .

"Rachel, Rachel! Wake up!" My eyes snapped open. Cassie was bending over me, shaking me awake.

"Wha - Cassie?" I mumbled groggily.

"It's okay, Rachel. You were having a nightmare." I sat up, breathing hard.

"A nightmare," I repeated. Just a nightmare, I told myself. "Thanks, Cassie." I started to lie back down.

"Hold on. Don't go back to sleep. Jake just knocked on the door and told us to get up and get ready. The Council's gonna send for us in about a half an hour."

I groaned. The nightmare about the Yeerk pool wasn't the first one I'd had that night, so I hadn't slept very well. I sighed and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. Then I stood up to look out the window. What I saw made me stop short. I drew in my breath sharply. "Whoa," I muttered in awe.

Cassie smiled. "Gorgeous, isn't it? I saw it yesterday morning. Nothing like it on Earth, that's for sure."

Earth sunrises are beautiful. Andalite sunrises are strange and spectacular. Absolutely fantastic. I know I don't sound like me at all, making a big deal about something like this. But really, it was just amazing.

Mostly, the sky was a combination of deep red and a shining gold. But there were still a few stars out, and remnants of the blue night sky lingered. Purple and green streaks leapt across the horizon. Every color you could imagine was somewhere in that sky. And strangest of all were the two moons that hung overhead, still glowing slightly.

Cassie and I stood there for awhile, watching as more and of the sky became red and gold. Suddenly there was an obnoxious pounding at the door.

"HEY, GIRLS! Get your butts outta bed!"

Marco.

Ugh. It way too early to listen to him.

I opened my mouth to deliver a scathing response, but Cassie beat me to it. "We're coming, Marco!" she called back.

"Fifteen minutes," he answered.

"Give him a break," Cassie told me once Marco's footsteps had faded.

"Why?" I asked. "I mean, we've lost everything normal. Why shouldn't Marco and I bicker, just like we always did?"

Cassie sighed. "I really don't get it."

"No," I replied. "You're much too nice to get it."

She smiled and shook her head. "C'mon, let's get dressed. We only have fifteen minutes."

"Fifteen minutes to do what?" I asked. "It's not like we have major wardrobe decisions to make. I mean, which do you prefer - the rumpled shirt with the hole in the sleeve and the crinkled pants or the wrinkled pants and the white shirt with the gray-goop stain on it?" I held up my two "outfits" in disgust. Good grief. Me, Rachel, Ms. Fashion, had been relegated to choosing between a hole and a stain to wear before the highest governing body on my current planet.

"Just put something on," Cassie said, exasperated. "Andalites don't even wear clothes, so I doubt it will make a difference." She was wearing jeans and a green shirt with both a tear in the collar and a small gray-goop stain.

"Okay, okay," I grumbled reluctantly. I got dressed. "I don't believe this," I mumbled, looking down at myself. "If we were home, I wouldn't be caught dead wearing this. Both of these shirts would be in the garbage and these pants would be seeing the underside of a hot iron."

Cassie just shook her head. "Well, in case you've forgotten, we aren't home. Things have kinda changed." She looked out the window at the red and gold sky and bit her lip.

"I know, I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to . . . look, I guess I'm just trying to keep things as normal as possible. Marco probably is, too, you know? Sometimes I'm not real good at dealing with emotion."

"I know. Let's just go," Cassie said, sounding strange, like she was a little mad at me.

The others were waiting in the hallway. Tobias was in his human form, wearing clothes that were too big for him. Jake must have lent him stuff. Ax was Ax, standing off to one side, staring at the ground and swaying slightly.

"About time," Marco said. "You know, when you only have two sets of clothes to choose from, dressing really shouldn't take that long."

I glared at him. "Oh, stuff it, Marco." Neither of us seemed to be feeling particularly creative in our insults that morning.

Jake smiled tolerantly. "Enough. We've got a rough day ahead, and it'll be easier if we don't have to listen to the two of you go at it the whole time." He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Ax?" he said carefully. Ax didn't answer. "AX," he repeated, louder.

^I'm sorry, Prince Jake,^ Ax finally answered, sounding tired.

"What's going on? Is the Council going to send someone to get us or what?"

^I believe so,^ Ax replied.

"Ax-man, have you thought any more about what you said last night?" Tobias asked. "If you've changed your mind, we'll understand."

^No,^ Ax said firmly. ^My brother was a great hero. I will not see his honor defaced.^

"But Ax . . ." Cassie began, taking his arm. He looked at her.

^Please,^ he said quietly, sounding almost as if he were begging. ^Do not make this any more difficult than it already is.^

Chapter Two -- Aximili

The Council sent a messenger to escort my friends and I to the Council's hall. I didn't speak as we walked, though my friends were chattering nervously among themselves. I had said enough.

The Council, as I said, meets in a hall, though it is more like a building, one of the few true buildings on my planet. It is very large and very imposing, especially if one has not seen it before and is already nervous.

"Wow," Cassie said, halting abruptly. "It's so . . . so . . ." She trailed off, eyes wide.

"Big?" supplied Tobias, staring.

There was an awed pause as my friends took in the grandeur of the Hall of the Council, as it is formally known. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach as I realized that I had only a few minutes before my fate was sealed.

"Oh, come on, you guys," Rachel finally said. "It's just a building. Like . . . like the White House. I mean, big deal." She smiled mischievously at Marco. "Let's do it."

"Oh, god, we're doomed," Marco moaned, putting his head in his hands.

The messenger, who had been politely ignoring us, now led us into the hall and into a side room. ^Remain here, please,^ he said. ^The Council will see you shortly.^ He left.

"You, know," Marco began. "Is it just me or are people always telling us to "stay?" 'Stay in your quarters until we send for you.' 'Stay in your room until we send for you.' And now, 'Stay in here until the Council is ready to see you.' I feel like I should be getting some sort of dog biscuit."

"Marco? Shut up," Rachel sighed.

We waited in the room for approximately fifteen minutes. For the most part, we were silent. Finally, the door opened, and the messenger said, ^Aximili, you and the humans may now speak to the Council.^ I followed him into the main room. I was surprised to find that I was no longer frightened, but instead felt impatient. Now that I was here, I just wanted to be finished with it. It was the waiting I could no longer tolerate.

My friends and I stood in a line facing a tall table. The Council would stand behind the table while questioning us. To our right were the spectators - my parents, I noted with dread. My father avoided looking at me.

Suddenly, a loud thought-speak voice announced, ^The honorable Andalite Council is now in session!^ The Council members filed in.

There are seven members of the Andalite Council - six regular members and the Head of the Council. They are older Andalites, all with many years of military service. They are almost revered by my people. Their decisions are final, and, as far as I knew, no one had ever questioned one of their rulings. I didn't know what would happen if someone did.

Lirem-Arrepoth-Terrouss, the Head of the Coucil, stood in the center of the long table. ^We are now in session to discuss the circumstances of aristh Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill and the humans of planet Earth. First, however, we would like to hear War-Prince Kalainth-Gallinia-Serroth's report on Earth's status.^

Captain Kalainth stepped forward. ^I'm afraid the Yeerks have overtaken Earth. The five humans you see before you are most likely the only free humans left in all the galaxy.^

^And how did you come in contact with them?^

^Sir, I was sent to Earth as captain of a Dome ship. Our preliminary scouting expeditions showed that the Yeerks were extremely close to completely dominating the planet. We knew that there was at least on Andalite on Earth, because Aximili had contacted the homeworld once, years ago. We sent a thought-speak message to him using a long-range communicator, giving him instructions for him to meet us at a specific time and location. When we arrive, he was accompanied by these five humans. Naturally, we could not simply abandon them to the Yeerks, so they, too, boarded our ship.^

^I see,^ Lirem said. He narrowed his eyes. ^And these are the humans who possess the ability to morph?^

^Yes.^

^Thank you, War-Prince. We have received your recommendations. That is all for now.^ Captain Kalainth stepped back.

^Now, humans, if you will give us your names, please.^

"Yes, sir," Prince Jake said. "I'm Jake ______, this is Rachel _______, Marco _______, Tobias _______, and Cassie _______."

^Thank you.^ Lirem consulted with the Andalite next to him for a moment.

Finally, he raised his head. ^Next, the Council wishes to question aristh Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill.^

Chapter Three -- Aximili

I froze. It came so fast, the moment I dreaded. And I quickly discovered that I was no longer calm, no longer feeling impatient. I wanted time to stop.

"It's okay, Ax," Cassie whispered. "We're all behind you." I slowly walked into the center of the room and faced the Council. I held my head high and my tail rigidly off the ground, but my insides were quivering and my head was spinning. I turned one stalk eye toward my friends and saw Tobias nod at me. I turned the stalk eye back around so I was completely focused on the Council.

Lirem began. ^Hello, Aximili. Welcome home.^

^Thank you, sir,^ I replied.

^Are you ready to begin?^

NO! my mind screamed. ^Yes,^ I answered calmly, ignoring the fact that all three of my hearts were pounding and I could hear my pulse throbbing in my ears.

^Good. Tell us, Aximili, how long were you on Earth?^

^Approximately five Earth years.^

^And were there any other Andalites with you?^

Why was he asking me these questions? I wondered. He knew the answers. But then it occurred to me that perhaps the other Council members had not heard everything.

^No, sir. I was the only Andalite on planet Earth. With the exception, of course, of the Abomination.^

^Yes. And how did you come to meet these humans?^

^Approximately five Earth years ago, I was stationed on the Dome ship GalaxyTree. It was a scout vessel sent to investigate the situation on Earth. Unknown to us, there was a Blade ship in Earth's atmosphere. The Yeerks engaged us in battle and we lost. I was the only aristh on the ship, so I was sent to the Dome while the warriors and princes fought. In the course of the battle, the Dome was detached and landed in one of Earth's oceans. I acquired a sea creature and swam ashore. These humans happened to be walking by and saw me demorph.^

^I see. Your brother, Prince Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul, he was also stationed on board the GalaxyTree, was he not?^

^Yes, sir, he was.^

^What happened to him?^

^My brother was killed in battle by Visser Three. He died an honorable death, as a warrior.^

^My condolences. Have you avenged your brother's death, as our custom requires?^

^No, sir. I have attempted to do so and failed.^ Another strike against me. I could not bear the weight of my father's gaze.

Lirem looked at me intensely. I returned the stare, fighting the almost overwhelming urge to look away. ^Aximili,^ he finally said, slowly. ^War-Prince Kalainth has said that these are the humans who have the ability to morph. Can you confirm this?^

^Yes.^

^How did they come to possess this capability? To my knowledge, humans do not morph naturally, and they are too scientifically primitive to have developed the technology.^

I was silent. My mind formed the words, but I couldn't find the will to say them. ^Aximili?^ Lirem asked.

^I gave them the power.^ Five words. I counted them in my head. Five little words and my fate was sealed.

^I'm sorry?^ Lirem said, asking me to repeat myself.

^You heard me,^ I said sharply. ^I gave the humans the power to morph. The sea creature I morphed had a very large mouth. I was afraid the Yeerks would find the Escafil Device, which would have been disastrous, so I took it with me when I went ashore. When the humans saw me, I gave them the power.^

There was a stunned silence. I knew that everyone in the room had known what I would say, but it was shocking for them nonetheless.

After an eternity, Lirem said, ^Aximili, are you aware of the Law of Seerow's Kindness?^

^Yes, sir.^

^What is it, specifically?^

Why was he torturing me? I thought bitterly. ^The Law of Seerow's Kindness forbids Andalites from transferring technology and information to other species. It was enacted after the transfer of space travel technology to the Yeerks resulted in the current war.^

^Exactly. In your opinion, Aximili, is the act of you giving the humans the ability to morph in violation of this law?^

^Yes.^ I was already disgraced. Better not to appear stupid as well.

^I agree. However, I believe I forgave this transgression already, many years ago.^

^Yes.^

^So, Aximili, I now ask you a very, very important question. After we spoke, after I forgave you for breaking the Law of Seerow's Kindness, did you continue to break it? Did you give the humans additional information?^

I straightened up. This part was true, I was proud of it, and since I was already disgraced I might as well have my pride. ^Yes, sir, I did. I helped the humans in every way possible. I fought with them and gave them all the information I could. I told them the reasons for the war. They are very much aware of why we fight the Yeerks.^

^But you knew that you were breaking our most important law, not to mention disobeying the orders I gave you when we spoke,^ Lirem said loudly.

^Yes. What's more, I am proud to have broken that law. And if I were given the chance to change everything, I would not.^

^You have nothing to say in your defense?^ another Council member said in disbelief.

^Nothing, sir.^

^Then you are finished.^ Lirem's words carried a double meaning. ^We will take a short break now. When we return, we will speak to the human named Jake.^ The Council members filed out. My parents left as well, through a side door. My mother looked at me sadly, but my father didn't even acknowledge my presence.

"I need to demorph," Tobias said the moment everyone had left.

^Oh - yes, you do. You have only five minutes left.^ Tobias was changing quickly.

Cassie put her arms around my shoulders for a moment. "Weren't you nervous?" she asked after she let me go.

^Nervous?^ I repeated, laughing. ^I was very nervous."

"We couldn't tell," Rachel said, smiling. Tobias, in his hawk form, looked at me. He'd known how nervous I was.

"I'm up next," Prince Jake sighed. "Ax . . . I really hate lying like this. Are you sure?"

^Yes,^ I said. ^Just remember the story I told.^ Now that my questioning was over, I felt relief and nothing more. My part was over.

Rachel shook her head. "I just don't understand it, Ax. When we were on Earth, everything was all about honor for you. And now, you don't seem to care!"

^I don't seem as if I care!^ I said incredulously. ^Of course I care! Do you have any conception of how difficult this is for me?^ I shook my head. ^But my brother was far more honorable than I could ever hope to be . . . and for the sake of preserving that honor in the eyes of my people, I am sacrificing my own. The people need heroes like Elfangor.^

^But, Ax, you're a hero, too,^ Tobias said. He was starting to remorph, but hadn't yet crossed into spoken speech.

^No, even if I were to admit the truth, I would still be punished for giving you help after I was specifically ordered not to.^ I shook my head. ^No, it is better for Elfangor's memory to be left unscathed.^

"All right, Ax," Prince Jake said reluctantly. "If that's what you really want."

I nodded. ^Yes.^

A few minutes later, the Council came back in and called Prince Jake.

Chapter Four -- Jake

^State your name, please,^ Lirem said.

"Jake ______."

^And you are a human?^

"The last time I checked."

The Head of the Council - what had Ax called him? Lirem? - looked very confused. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Marco smirking.

^Uh, sir, that was just a bit of human humor,^ Ax said quickly.

^Ah, yes, humor. Well, we'll have none of that here, Jake. This is the Hall of the Council, and we must maintain the proper dignity.^

"Yes, sir," I said meekly. "I'm sorry."

^It's all right. Now, Jake. Can you tell me how you and your friends met Aximili?^

I looked at him, puzzled. "But Ax already told you."

^Who?^

"Ax. Oh, you see, Aximili's whole name is a little hard to pronounce using our mouths and spoken speech, so we call him Ax for short."

^I see,^ Lirem said. ^Nevertheless, I would appreciate your version.^

"Okay." I looked at Ax over my shoulder. He was staring at me, a determined look in his eyes. I turned back. "Cassie, Marco, Rachel, Tobias, and I met Ax when we saw him swim up on shore. We were walking along the beach and saw a shark - that's sort of a really big fish - swim up on shore. I guess Ax didn't see us watching him, so he kept morphing, and by the time he did see us, it was too late."

^And then what happened?^

"Ax came out of the water and told us what was happening - we hadn't known about the Yeerks up unitil then - and . . ." I stopped.

^Yes?^ Lirem prompted.

I hesitated. ^Say it!^ Ax snapped in private thought-speak. I was surprised. He had never, in five years, snapped at me before. ^Just say it, Prince Jake,^ he said, sounding tired and defeated..

"And - and then he gave us the power to morph," I finished with a sigh.

^I see. And you continued to fight with Aximili?^

"Yes, for almost five years."

^I must admit, that is commendable, considering there were only six of you against the entire Yeerk empire.^

"Thanks, but we would have lost a long time ago without Ax."

^Hmm.^ This didn't seem to please Lirem. ^Then, you agree that he gave you additional help?^

"Yes," I replied reluctantly.

^Thank you, Jake. That is all.^ I stepped back.

Lirem conferred with the other Council members for a few moments. Then he said, ^We do not see the need to call all six of you forward. Very simply, do the rest of you agree with what Aximili and Jake have said?^

The others looked at each other. "Yes," Marco finally said. Cassie and Tobias both followed, each looking very unwilling.

Rachel was looking at Ax hard, obviously trying to argue with him. But in the end, she gave in. "Yes," she mumbled, shaking her head slightly.

^Good. Then we will adjourn until tomorrow to give the Council time to consider the recommendations of War-Prince Kalainth, as well as what has been said today. Humans and Aximili, you will be escorted back to your rooms.^

Chapter Five -- Tobias

After we got back to our rooms, Ax kinda went off by himself. I mean, we couldn't actually go anywhere, but he stood off in a corner of our room, and wouldn't talk to me, so he might as well have been someplace else.

I went to go find Rachel. We hadn't had much chance to talk, but I knew she was feeling strange, so I morphed to human and went to find her.

She was in the room she shared with Cassie, alone. I knocked on the door. "Come in, Tobias," she answered. I opened the door.

"How did you know it was me?" I asked.

"Three ways - your footsteps, your knock, and the fact that I was pretty sure you would be coming by this afternoon." She smiled at me, that gorgeous smile that always made me melt. I sat next to her on the floor.

"How are you?" I asked.

She shook her head. "Why are you guys always asking me that? I'm fine. I'm not a porcelain doll. I won't break. I can handle this. Besides, you're the one everyone should be worrying about."

I sighed. "I don't want you to worry about me."

"Well, tough. 'Cause I do. I love you, you know?"

I smiled at her and pulled her close. "I know," I whispered, gently playing with piece of her golden hair. "I love you, too."

We were silent for awhile, but it was a good silence. I held her and she leaned her head against my shoulder. "What do you think the Council will decide?" she finally murmured, breaking the silence.

"Who knows?" I answered. "I sure don't."

"What about Ax?"

"Ax won't even talk to me," I said, feeling frustrated.

"I just don't understand it," Rachel said. She sat up. "Ax should be treated like a hero, and instead he's being put on trial."

"I know, I feel the same way. But this isn't our planet, you know. Things are done differently here."

"I guess. But it's still not right."

"No," I agreed. We fell back into silence.

We were both startled by a knock at the door. "Who is it?" Rachel called as we sprung apart.

^Guard,^ an unfamiliar thought-speak voice answered. ^There is someone here to see Tobias ______.^ Startled, I got up and opened the door.

"I'm Tobias," I said. "Who wants to see me?"

^Forlay-Esgarrouth-Maheen,^ the guard replied shortly. ^Come with me.^ I glanced at Rachel, who shrugged. I followed the guard.

Chapter Six -- Tobias

Ax's mother was waiting in a small room just down the hall. The guard let me in and then left.

^Hello, Tobias,^ she said quietly.

"Hi," I answered, unsure of what to call her.

^You may call me Forlay,^ she told me, as if she'd read my mind.

"Um, okay. Why - why did you want to see me?" I asked.

^I wanted to see you because I want the truth.^

"The - the truth," I stammered. "What do you mean?"

^What was said today in the Hall of the Council - that was all a lie, was it not? Aximili may have helped you fight the Yeerks, but he did not give you the ability to morph.^

I was shocked. How could she have known? I knew Ax wouldn't want me to tell her the truth, but she was so certain of it. I was sure that if I lied, she would know I wasn't telling the truth.

"Yes," I answered. "Yes, it was a lie. But how? How did you know?"

^I have raised two sons,^ she answered. ^I knew Elfangor very well. And I know Aximili just as well. He has been greatly changed by his time on Earth, but not so much that I cannot tell when he is lying. And the five of you were very hesitant in agreeing with his story.^

I nodded. "You're right. Ax didn't give us the power to morph. It - it was someone else."

^Elfangor.^ It was so sudden, I almost fell over. And it wasn't even a question! There was no hesitation whatsoever in her voice. Just a plain statement.

"How did you know?" I blurted, stunned.

She smiled sadly with her eyes. ^He is the only person Aximili would put above his honor, which is the most important thing to an Andalite warrior.^

I nodded again. "Yes, it was Elfangor."

^How did it happen?^

"My friends and I - were walking home late one night when we saw his fighter crash. He came out and saw us. He was badly injured, dying, and wanted us to have a chance against the Yeerks. So he brought out the blue box - the Escafil device - and gave us the power to morph. Then . . ." I looked away. I didn't want to tell her what had happened then.

^What? Please tell me.^

I sighed, still not looking at her. "Visser Three came. He landed and attacked Elfangor while we hid. He fought to the very end, Forlay. He died a warrior's death, which is the way he would have wanted it." I took a deep breath. "A few weeks later, Cassie and I began having dreams about the ocean, about a voice calling to us. We went to investigate, and that's when we found Ax."

At last, I looked at Forlay. She was staring at me strangely. ^Thank you,^ she finally said. ^I'm sorry to have bothered you. But I wanted the truth, and I felt something from you . . . I can't explain it.^

"There's one other thing," I said as she started to leave. My voice was cracking, tears threatening my eyes. "A few months later, we found something else out . . . or, rather, I found something else out."

She turned back. ^What?^

I took another deep breath. "I found out that years ago, Elfangor had been on Earth. Actually, he was on Earth for a long time, as a human nothlit. He was there long enough to marry and have a child - a son." I looked at her. "Me."

It was her turn to be stunned. ^Impossible,^ she said, but I could tell she believed me. ^How? At present, there is no cure for nothlits.^

"I know." I began to demorph. "I am one," I said, just before my beak shot out of my mouth. ^I've been one since my very first battle. But there is a way out. The Ellimist gave me back the power to morph. And he took Elfangor off Earth and sent him back into battle. I never had a father, not a real one, anyway, because he was forced to leave before I was born.^

Forlay was staring at me, shocked. ^That is your natural form?^

^Yes,^ I answered, fully demorphed. ^A red-tailed hawk.^

^You are my grandson.^

^Yeah. It's a strange universe, isn't it?^ I remarked with a thought-speak laugh.

^It certainly is. I - I will see you tomorrow, Tobias.^

^Yeah. 'Bye.^

^Good-bye.^

Forlay left, I remorphed, and the guard escorted back to our rooms. What, if anything, should I tell Ax? I wondered.

As it turned out, my problem was solved for me. I went into the room I shared with him, and found myself looking at him straight in the face. ^Why did my mother want to see you?^ Ax demanded.

"What?! How'd you know?!"

^I heard the guard. What did she want?^

I stepped back. "She wanted the truth."

^What?!^ Ax gasped.

"She knew, Ax," I said, shaking my head in disbelief. "She didn't just suspect, she knew. And she didn't just know you were lying, she knew you were lying to protect Elfangor."

^How?^ Ax asked in amazement.

"She could tell you were lying. And she knew the only person you would go so far to protect is Elfangor."

^What did you tell her?^

"Everything," I replied. I looked him in the eye. "Everything," I repeated.

^Even . . . even that Elfangor was your father?^

"Even that." I shrugged. "She seemed to take it pretty well, considering."

^My father,^ Ax said. ^He will not be as open.^

"Maybe not," I agreed. Ax didn't say anything, just looked out the window.

Chapter Seven -- Aximili

The next morning we were escorted once more to the Hall of the Council. As we filed in, I looked at the spectators' area. My father and mother were there again, my mother looking at me and my father still ignoring my presence. I wondered why he even bothered to come.

The Council members came in promptly, looking as if they had business they wanted to be finished with. As they did, I looked at my mother and sent her a private thought-speak message.

^Mother, no matter what the punishment is, you must not say anything. For Elfangor's sake.^ She didn't reply.

Lirem called for attention and did not waste time. ^The Council has reached its decision. In the issue of what to do with the humans, we have decided to follow the recommendations of Captain Kalianth. In the matter of Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill and the charge of breaking the Law of Seerow's Kindness, we find him . . . guilty. Aximili, you are to be stripped of your rank as an aristh, and we deny War-Prince Kalianth's recommendation that you be made a full warrior.^

I couldn't breathe. I wanted to die. I had expected it, and tried to prepare myself for it, but nothing could have prepared me for the feelings of humiliation and disgrace that were washing over me. I felt physically ill. If I had been in human morph, I most likely would have vomited.

^No!^ I heard my mother cry. I watched in a daze as she rushed from the spectators' area and stood in front of the Council.

^Forlay!^ I heard my father shout angrily.

^Mother, no!^ I managed to say. But she ignored both of us.

^No, you cannot do this,^ my mother pleaded. ^It was not Aximili who gave the humans the capability to morph.^

^It wasn't?^ one of the other Council members said. ^Who was it then?^

^Prince Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul,^ my mother said.

^Mother,^ I gasped. ^No!^

^Aximili, your brother is dead,^ my mother said, turning to face me. ^I have already lost one son. I will not lose you also.^

^Aximili, is this true?^ one of the Council members asked me.

I nodded. ^Yes, sir.^ Using one of my stalk eyes, I saw my friends nod, agreeing with me.

^You lied then. You all lied.^ The Council looked at my friends and me in disapproval. It was not against the law to lie to the Council, mostly because it had never needed to be. As far as I know, no one had dared to lie to them before my friends and I did.

^Sir, the reason I lied was . . .^ I held Lirem's gaze for a moment. He had ordered me to lie, but the other Council members had obviously not known that. If I told what had actually happened, it was very possible he would lose his position. ^The reason I lied was . . . to protect my brother's memory.^

^I see,^ Lirem said, a note of relief in his voice. ^This certainly changes the situation. The Council wishes for a short break to discuss these developments. Please do not leave the room.^ The Council filed out.

Prince Jake and the others began talking, relief in their voices now that their ordeal was over. Meanwhile, I tried to decipher my emotions. I was relieved that I had one chance left, but at the same time I was angry with my mother for putting me over Elfangor. I knew why she had done it - as long as my father thought I had broken the law to give my friends the power to morph, there was no chance of us being a family. But now, Elfangor's memory would be scarred forever.

The Council was not gone long. Within a few moments, they came back and called for attention.

^We have taken into account the new information, and have changed our ruling slightly. As before, we have decided to follow Captain Kalainth's recommendations in decided the fates of the humans. However, in light of the new information, our previous ruling on the charge against aristh Aximili has been deemed far too harsh. We have decided to deny War-Prince Kalianth's petition that Aximili be made a warrior, but we will allow him to keep his title of aristh and continue with his training.^

I uttered a mental sigh of relief. Tobias smiled at me and Cassie squeezed my hand.

It was over.

Epilogue -- Aximili

I trotted quickly down the long hallway of the Dome ship Tiger. My ship had docked with it just moments before.

I rounded a corner and stopped. ^War-Prince Jake,^ I said stiffly to the tall human standing in front of me.

"Prince Aximili," he replied, just as stiffly.

^What is your report?^ I asked.

The smile War-Prince Jake had been struggling to mask suddenly broke through. "A baby girl," he answered with a laugh. "A beautiful baby girl who is absolutely the image of her mother."

^Speaking of the mother, Cassie is well, I hope?^

"Very well, and eager to see you." I followed War-Prince Jake down the hallway to his captain's quarters.

Cassie was lying in bed, looking exhausted, but very, very happy. She was holding a tiny human child, wrapped in a blanket.

"Hi, Ax," she said smiling.

^Hello,^ I replied. ^Congratulations.^

"Thanks." I squeezed her hand.

Just then, the ship's computer officer entered. "Hey, Ax-man, long time, no see. Jake, there's a call for you on the holographic communicator."

^Hello, Warrior Marco,^ I said.

"Ax, I really hate this warrior stuff. It's such a pain in the neck."

"Kinda like you, Marco?" Rachel's voice said. I swung my stalk eyes around to the holographic communication screen mounted on the wall.

Rachel and Tobias were facing us, smiling. Rachel was holding their own child. "Hi, everyone," she said. "Cassie, how're you feeling?"

"Great," Cassie answered. "Tired, but I'm absolutely thrilled."

"Boy or girl?" Tobias asked.

"Girl. We decided to name her Julie," Jake replied.

"What a beautiful name," Rachel said. She held up Sara, her and Tobias's child, whispering, "C'mon, Sara, say "hi" to your new cousin." Sara opened her mouth and yawned. My friends laughed.

"So, Ax, Marco, how are you guys doing?" Tobias asked.

"Great," Marco replied.

^Fine, thank you,^ I answered.

After the trial, I went back into training along with Rachel and Jake. Cassie became a well-respected physician, and Tobias, who chose not to become a human nothlit, became a teacher. It was a surprise, but he did very well teaching a course on humans to young Andalites. Marco, after his training, joined the army as a computer officer. A few years later, Rachel and Tobias were married in a double ceremony with Prince Jake and Cassie. I was Tobias's best man, and Marco was Jake's.

I had feared that Elfangor's honor and memory would be tarnished in light of what was revealed during the trial. I needn't have worried. In time, my human friends became heroes in the eyes of my people also - and both Elfangor and I were completely forgiven. My father took more time, but eventually he seemed to accept what had happened. He died a short while ago, and I miss him greatly, but he was at peace with me, and with Elfangor.

Earth is still under the control of the Yeerks, but our forces grow stronger. We are winning the war in many parts of the galaxy now. My friends and I look to the day when we can return and liberate Earth.