By The Steel Angel
Authors Note - As all of you reading know, the Animorph Series ended with one of the most questionable leadership decisions of the entire series. And while it turned out that Jake was right in the end, many still wonder if it had to come down to sacrificing Rachel's life in order to win the war. I don't think so. That's why, for the past five years, I've been stewing on this idea. And finally, I've gotten the free time to write it. So enjoy my mirror fic of the last arc in the Animorph series, "The End".
"This is it," I whispered harshly as I sat down on one of the uncomfortable cots that I'd been calling a bed for the last month. I rested my elbows on my knees and clasped my hands together, looking up at the three people I'd invited into this special closed meeting with me. I peered around them to make sure the cabin door was as closed as it was going to get.
It was late. Around two in the morning. Not that the concept of time had any relevance for us anymore. Our deaths could come at any hour of the day, and we all knew it. It was probably more likely that we'd get ambushed in the twilight hours.
I had a plan, though. When I closed my eyes, I could see the dominoes falling. If everything worked the way it was supposed to, we could actually win this war. Of course, nothing ever works exactly the way it was supposed to. But we had a chance. A chance to deliver the killing blow to the Yeerk Empire.
Let me back up. My name is Jake. Jake Berenson. I'm a sixteen year old kid. I look normal enough on the outside. You might say "Hey, he's cute" or "Hey, he could be a basketball player", but nothing extremely noticible. You'd think that, but you wouldn't see a thousanth of what I am. Of what we are.
Earth is under attack from a race of parasitic slugs called Yeerks. They spread like a plague through the galaxy, capturing and enslaving everyone who stands in their way. They have the ability to crawl into a host body through the ear canal, and wrap themselves completely around the brain. Once there, they assimilate themselves into your mind. Controlling every neuron, every cell of your body. They control when you move. When you eat. When you breathe. You become their puppet, and the Yeerk is the puppet master.
They've done this to entire species before. Now Earth is their target. Luckily, the Earth has some people fighting for her. Namely, me and my friends. It all started years ago, when me, my cousin Rachel, my best friend Marco, Rachel's best friend Cassie, and a boy named Tobias, were walking home from the mall, and decided to take a shortcut through an abandoned construction site.
It was there that we saw the damaged Andalite fighter. Where we heard the story and threat that the Yeerks posed from a great, but mortally wounded, Andalite war-prince. Elfangor was his name. He's the one who gave us our only power to fight the Yeerks. Our power to morph. That was Elfangor's last act of good before the Yeerk overlord, Visser Three, landed next to Elfangor's ship.
Of all the Yeerks in the universe, only Visser Three had an Andalite body. He was the only Yeerk that could morph. He killed Elfangor on that night. Morphed into some space monster, and ate him. Elfangor's silent screams still echoed in my mind to this day.
So, we decided to fight back. Us Animorphs, as Marco coined us. Even after Tobias was trapped in his Red Tailed Hawk morph, the body that was now his natural form, he refused to give up the fight. Through some strange twist of time and fate, it turned out that Elfangor was Tobias' father. Small galaxy.
We were later joined by Elfangor's little brother, Ax. So there were six of us, fighting against the might of the Yeerk Empire, with all that mother nature had to offer. It was like that for a long, long time. Weeks. Months. Years. We thought we may have been gaining the upper hand, until recently.
Everything was different now. The war of Subversion was over. There was no more fighting in the shadows, pretending to be highly trained Andalite warriors. No, it was too late for that. The conflict had gone public. Once Visser Three, now Visser One, had been promoted, he scratched the War of Subversion off. Now we were in an open conflict, and we were on the brink of defeat.
Our homes were gone. Our city was gone. It was nothing but a smoking ruin, with a fat bloated Pool Ship as the centerpiece. I smirked a little at that. The only reason the pool ship was there was because we'd blown up the underground Yeerk Pool. The Yeerks were hungry. See, every three days, a Yeerk has to drain out of its host body, and absorb the life-giving Kandrona Rays that concentrate in the Yeerk Pool. If it doesn't, the Yeerks begin to slowly die of Kandrona starvation.
That's why the Pool Ship was here. The Yeerks on the ground were dying.
We'd barely escaped with our lives up to the Hork-bajir Valley. But the Yeerks were looking for us, now that they knew we were human. And they'd find us eventually. That's why we had to act as soon as possible. Most of our parents had managed to make it out with us as well. Marco's father had been here a while, and we'd managed to free his mother, who was the host body to the former Visser One.
Cassie's parents were here. Tobias' mother was here. Rachel's mother and sisters were here. Her father lived in New York City, so all we could do was hope that he was still alive. My parents hadn't been so lucky. We hadn't gotten there in time to save them. They, like my brother Tom had been for the past three years, had Yeerks in their heads.
It didn't matter now. All that mattered was winning. And even though that had taken a serious shot with Cassie's betrayal, when she'd given up our one great advantage to the Yeerks by letting Tom walk away with the Morphing Cube, victory was still possible. Still within our grasp. I knew what I had to do.
"This is it," I repeated, clearing my throat. The other three people in the cabin stood rigid. I slowly looked back and forth between them. To my right, was Ax. He scuffed his hoof uncomfortably on the hardwood floor, looking to be a bit clautrophobic in the enclosed space. I didn't blame him.
To my left, was Rachel. She's what most guys would call a supermodel, but since she's my cousin, I can't really see it. She's tall, has golden blond hair, ice blue eyes, and a perfect complexion. She was also incredibly brave, reckless, and a true warrior, if anyone on Earth could fit that description. She was by far the strongest out of all of us. Her lust for battle made her almost unstoppable.
Standing straight ahead of me, was Marco. We'd been best friends since we were diapers, and no one really knows why. We're not exactly similar people. While I'm responsible, restrained, and serious, Marco is impulsive, let-loose, and a complete joker. That isn't to say he isn't smart, because that would simply be untrue. Marco is one of the smartest people I know. He's also the most ruthless person I know. He has the ability to see the answer to any hard situation, without all the morality and emotional investment. I admired that about him at times.
"We're down to the last fight we've got." I said slowly. "If we don't pull this off, it's over. We'll be killed or enslaved, and the rest of the world's gonna follow." My friends didn't say anything. They only nodded, which gave me my cue to continue on. "I've got a plan to get you on the pool ship."
Ax seemed to be interested in this. Prince Jake, the chances of our success rate in infiltrating a Pool Ship are not good at all. It would not make sense to gamble on such a risk.
"It'll work. I've made the plan with Tom already, when we left the Free Taxxon Rebellion." I said simply. Marco made a face of disgust.
"You're actually taking his word? Of all people?" He asked. I shook my head.
"No. I know that his Yeerk is going to stab me in the back. But he doesn't know that I know he's going to stab me in the back." I said, then smirked. "He wants to keep one of you, Cassie he said, in human morph, then have the rest of you ride inside of her nose or ear as flies. He'll take her in as a prisoner, pass through the Bio-filter, and get you all into the compound."
"And we're SO not believing that, because it's so obviously a lie." Rachel added.
"Right. What's REALLY going to happen, is that you four will be riding inside as flies. But you won't be on Cassie. You'll be on Erek." I said. Marco nodded. He'd figured it out already. Rachel and Ax hadn't. "Tobias and another Chee are going to be ready. Tobias will be in Taxxon morph. When Visser Three orders a Taxxon... which we think he will... Tobias will come out. And he's going to eat Cassie. Or rather, the holographic projection of Cassie. After that, the Visser will think we're dead. You'll ride in with Erek, protected by his forcefield, and be on the Pool Ship." I said.
Prince Jake, I notice that you keep referring to "you" rather than "we". Ax said simply. I closed my eyes, a quiet smirk on my face. Ax had caught it. When I opened my eyes again, I saw that Marco too, had realized the importance of what I'd said. Rachel hadn't realized it yet.
"...I'm not going with you." I said simply. There was no point in sugar coating it. Everything had to work perfectly, and that included my own involvement.
"What are you talking about, Jake? We can't do this without you. You've gotta be the Five star general ordering the rest of us around like a babysitter and a five year old." Marco said. "What are you going to do, just chill out down here and-" He said, then blinked. It finally hit him.
"Tom wants a core of a hundred Yeerks, and a morphing cube." I began. "Those are his demands. He's going to betray the Visser and comandeer his Blade ship. He's going to abandon the Empire."
And we of course cannot allow him to escape. Ax said. Someone must go along with Tom and prevent him from taking the Escafil Device, one hundred Yeerks, and dissapearing into space.
"That's right. That's why I'm not going with you guys. I'll be with Tom." I said simply. Rachel and Marco just stared at me, while Ax nodded his approval. It was a habit that he'd picked up after living on Earth for so long. Rachel took a step forward, flipping some of her hair out of her eyes.
"There's one thing I don't get. If you're tucked away on the Blade Ship with Tom, who's gonna be giving the orders on the Pool Ship with us?" She asked, staring at me intently. I looked back and forth between her and Marco.
"Marco calls the shots. Listen to him as if you were listening to me." I said. Ax nodded again, while Rachel just looked even more annoyed. "And one more thing. Do not tell Cassie or Tobias about this." I said, as I stood back up.
"Why not? They're as much Animorphs as we are." Rachel argued.
"It's not up for discussion. Don't tell them." I said firmly, looking at Rachel. "Everything has to run perfectly. Flawlessly. I may have to do something terrible. If Cassie or Tobias knew that I was volunteering to go into this position, they'd never let me do it. And I have to do it." I said. Rachel's eyes flickered a little. A sign of doubt, and a sign of worry. But before I knew it, they were back to their regular stony glare. "Now everyone get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a long day." I said, and turned away from them. I heard footsteps and hoofs clopping against the dirt. Ax was gone, and Rachel was gone.
"Jake, buddy..." A voice whispered. It was Marco. I turned back around to see him standing in the same place he'd been standing, his neck craned a bit so that his eyes met mine. As I looked down into his eyes, I saw two different people. I saw my best friend Marco. The comedian of the group. The boy who's always managed to make me laugh, no matter what the circumstances. The boy that I'd trust my life with in a heart beat.
But I also saw the warrior. The cold, brilliant, ruthless warrior that could see the bright clear line from A to Z, without letting his own morals get involved. He could see that I was right. That this was the only way. And it hurt him. Yes, I could see hurt in his eyes. He knew what was probably going to happen, same as I did. What pained him, was that even though he could see what would probably happen, he knew that it was the right call.
"I know, Marco. I know." I said quietly. He shook his head.
"No, you really don't. You didn't stand here and listen to your best friend sign his death warrant." He said bluntly. I winced a bit. I should have expected Marco's directness. "It's stupid, insane, reckless... Rachel should go. Not you." Marco said.
"No, Marco." I whispered. "I have to be the one to do this. Tom... he's the whole reason I got involved in his war in the first place. I just wanted to help my brother." I said. I realized that my eyes were watering. "Now that it's come to this... It has to be me, Marco. If it was your mother, would you want anyone else to do it but you?" I asked.
"...Just because you're right doesn't make it suck any less." He said, then looked back up at me. His eyes were watering as well. I was a little surprised. I hadn't seen Marco cry since his mother's funeral. He blinked, which caused two tears to roll down his cheeks. "It isn't fair, Jake. We've been fighting these damn slugs for three years... it doesn't seem fair for one of us to not see the final curtain."
"Hey... I'm not gonna die, Marco. I've survived worse." I said, trying to lighten the mood. It didn't work. Marco cut through my facade like a hot knife through butter.
"Don't talk to me like I'm an idiot, Jake. I'm smarter than you are. I know the chances of you coming back alive are next to slim and none." He said, then let out a long sigh. I shifted my eyes toward the wall, no longer trying to put a positive spin on it.
"...Yeah... you're probably right. But hey, one life to save the billions of collective human lives? It's a no brainer." I said.
"I know that!" Marco exclaimed suddenly, then closed his eyes, trying to calm himself down. "It just shouldn't be you... you're my best friend, Jake." He said, then looked up at me again, a forearm coming up to wipe his eyes. "I love you, man." He said.
I didn't know what to say. Marco pouring his heart out wasn't one of the things I'd anticipated. So I did the only thing I could. I stepped forward, and wrapped my arms around him, hugging him tightly, closing my eyes. I felt him hug me back, laying his head on my shoulder. "I love you too, Marco." I whispered. It didn't seem awkward or anything like that. It was always a fact that none of us had ever had to admit, being guys. Loving each other. Willing to give our lives for each other. But now, that one of us was probably near the end of his life, it had all come rushing to the surface.
"You had better come back..." Marco said after a few silent moments, mumbling against my shoulder, using my shirt to wipe his eyes. "You've gotta marry Cassie, have two kids, a dog, and a white picket fence. All that boring stuff." He said, pulling back a bit.
"Yeah, and what're you gonna do? Go live the hollywood lifestyle? Chicks, money, fast cars, all night parties?" I asked, wiping my own eyes.
"Damn straight." He said firmly with a nod. I chuckled a little.
"Go get some sleep... We've got a war to win tomorrow." I said, and pushed him back slightly. He brought his arm up, his forearm brushing across his eyes to clear them of any excess tears. He nodded, then gave me the smirk that I'd grown so accustomed to seeing over my life from Marco.
"Yeah, like either of us is gonna sleep tonight." He said, then without waiting for a response, he turned and walked out of the door of my cabin. Leaving me standing there, reflecting on what had just transpired, on what I was planning to do. The plan was unfolding in my head. Every possible scenario was playing through my mind, as I kept figuring out how to compensate for each unexpected twist. Every time the plan succeeded in my mind, there was always one constant. One universal thing that absolutely HAD to happen. My death.
I woke up the next morning with an upset stomach. I don't know if it was stress, the lack of nourishible food, or the ulcer that I was certain had developed by now. Either way, it didn't matter. I stood up and walked over to the door, pushing it open. The sky was grey. The sun was about to rise. Sometimes I wondered if I'd ever get back to a normal sleep cycle. My circadian rhythm was so far out of sync, I didn't know if I'd ever get it back to normal.
It was obvious that Hork-bajir were a diurnal species, because even before dawn, most of them were awake and bustling with activity. The remaining human cabins were closed. They'd start stirring soon enough. My friends, anyways. They were all ususally up by dawn. And if they weren't, I woke them up. The parents and Rachel's sisters slept later, but we always had to keep them on their feet with drills.
Out in the distance, past the lake, I caught a flash of blue. Ax was awake. I wasn't surprised. A species that slept on their feet must not be heavy sleepers. Ax being awake usually meant that Tobias was awake too, if hawks ever truly slept. He was probably out hunting his breakfast. I began to move toward the small stretch of forest that Ax grazed in. He noticed me approaching, of course. It's hard to sneak up on a creature with four eyes that are constantly looking in every direction.
Good morning, Prince Jake. He greeted while I was still a good fifty feet away, and stopped running, turning to face me. I continued walking toward him at my own pace, until I was standing in front of him. Is everything well? He asked, his main eyes analyzing my face.
"Things have been troubling me for a long long time, Ax. You know that." I said with a slight smirk. Ax didn't laugh. I cleared my throat before speaking again. "I have a job for you and Tobias." I said.
A mission, at this juncture? He asked.
"I need you two to go down to the city and bring back Chapman." I said simply. Ax looked hesitant, but then nodded. A trait that he'd picked up from us over the last three years.
Very well, Prince Jake. I shall inform Tobias. He said. I gave a slight nod, and watched him turn, and trot back into the forest, presumably to find Tobias. I was thankful he didn't ask why I wanted Chapman brought to the valley, becuase I really didn't want to explain it. Not now, anyways.
As I turned back to walk toward camp, I noticed more and more humans walking around. I saw Rachel and Marco walking together, talking. I saw Tobias' mother, sitting by the lake. Cassie's parents, talking to one of the Hork-bajir. It made me wonder what my own parents were doing at that very moment.
Half of me wondered where Cassie was. If she was still asleep. If I should tell her what I was planning to do. After all, Rachel was right. Cassie was as much an Animorph as any of us were. She'd been there for every fight we'd been a part of. Seen all the death, destruction, and hell that this war has caused. Didn't I at least owe it to her to tell her how we were going to win it?
"Penny for your thoughts?" A male voice said from off to my right. I turned my head to look for the source of the voice, and recognized the face immediately. He was a bit taller than I was, and much more built. The kind of kid who if you saw him at highschool, you'd assume he was a three-sport athlete. He had deep blue eyes, brown hair, and a soft, kind face. A face that I knew had been hardened by all the years of being handicapped. He was one of the few that the morphing technology had helped. Had freed from his physical handicap.
"Hey James." I said. He gave a slight wave. James was the leader of the auxilliary Animorphs. A group of kids we'd recruited from a physical handicapped childrens hospital. Kids that we knew that the Yeerks would never want. They were the new Animorphs, and I hated myself for what my plan called for, for them.
"You look lost in thought. Care to share with the class?" He asked, walking with me back toward the camp. I didn't want to share. I really didn't. But James was the leader of the Auxilliary Animorphs. I had to tell him what I was planning to do, and hope that he'd execute it.
"James, the others and I have come up with a plan to get onto the Yeerk Pool Ship." I said, choosing my words carefully. He looked interested, so I continued talking. "We, meaning Marco, Rachel, Cassie, Ax, Tobias and I, are going to go with a controller that's planning to stab Visser three in the back, and have him pass us through the bio-filter." I said.
"Don't you think that Visser One will think that something like that might happen?" He asked.
"Most definately. That's why we're not doing what this particular controller says. He plans to have us all helpless so that he can get what he wants, kill us off, and stab the visser in the back anyways. We're getting on that poolship, James. But we need you guys to play your part. How we get on doesn't affect what you guys are going to have to do." I said. I saw the smile leave James' face.
"What do you mean?" He asked, asking for more clarity.
"Visser One cannot know that we may have snuck on the pool ship. He's going to assume that we got on the ship, even if we put on a very very convincing act of dying at the bio-filter. We need him to think that there's no way we're alive. Which is where you guys come in." I said, and looked up slightly at his eyes. "As soon as Tom, the controller, communicates with Visser One, General Doubleday, the leader of the secret millitary force based in the San Jacsinto Mountains, is going to launch an attack on the Pool Ship. We need you guys to attack with him." I said. I could see the wheels turning in James' head.
"...So that he'll think you're attacking him from the ground. He'll launch the Pool Ship once you do that, so there's no way you can possibly get on. He'll think he's finally beaten you." He said. I nodded. I saw him hesitate. "...Jake, you know that the army and we can't do much damage from the ground. Especially if that thing lifts off the ground. We'll be like sitting ducks. Target practice for that big dracon canon."
He caught it. The aspect of the mission that I hadn't wanted to bring up. "Once he starts firing the dracon canon from the pool ship, you guys turn to start running and-" I began before James cut me off.
"Cut the crap, Jake. It's a dead-zone around the pool ship. We can run for miles and still be in plain sight. It's a suicide mission. You're asking me to send my people to theor own deaths." He said. There was no sugar coating this anymore. Fine, that's the way I wanted it.
"Yes. Yes, that's exactly what I'm doing." I said bluntly. I could see the anger start to show up in his eyes. "I'm asking you to make a sacrifice that will help save the human race. Because I'll tell you now, if you DON'T lead your people down into that battle, the Visser will have security lock-tight on the Pool Ship. We'll never be able to do what we have to do. So yes, I'm asking you to lead your people into death. For the rest of the human race." I said.
"You talk like you have the battle won for sure if we do this." He whispered. I shook my head.
"No. But our odds go up dramatically if you do. General Doubleday's troops know the risks, and they're going into battle." I said.
"General Doubleday's troops are trained soldiers. My people are kids. KIDS, Jake."
"You're a kid too. Just like all of us. That excuse doesn't work." I whispered. "James, I know I have a lot to attone for when I die. But I'd like to think that for all the pain, suffering, and death that I've caused, that I've done some good for the human race. That I, that WE, can save the human race." I turned to look at him again. He face was hard, stone-like. He eyes trailed down to look at my own. We stared at each other for a few moments.
"..Okay. We'll do it." he whispered. I put my hand on his shoulder for a few moments. "You had better pull it off, Jake." He said.
"Believe me, I know."
To Be Continued...