Drops of Jupiter
By The Steel Angel

Part Two
Good-bye, My Name is Jake

Zero hour.

That's what they called it when the final mission began. The zero hour. The final mission. When you see it in the movies, like in Mission Impossible or Independence Day, you see the stars, the heroes, standing tall, ready to face the oncoming danger. They look fearless. Larger than men. Larger than life.

Those were movies.

I don't know how Eisenhower felt in the moments leading up to D-Day. I don't know how Grant felt when he marched to Gettysburg. I don't know how MacArthur felt at the battle of Iwo Jima. But I knew how I felt now, leading up to this final showdown. And I can tell you, if any of those real men felt or looked like any of those movie stars, they were completely and utterly out of their minds.

I was crouched behind my cabin, vomiting. My stomach felt like it had been turned into a pretzel. Nervousness? Anxiousness? I didn't know. I had been throwing up all morning. Even after my system was completely out of things to throw back, I was still dry-heaving. Maybe it was because I knew that by the end of the day, I'd probably be dead. "Great job thinking about that, Jake..." I muttered to no one.

Jake, we've got a very angry, very testy, very vulger Chapman with us. What do you want us to do with him? A voice called from overhead. I looked up, squinting in the sunlight, my stomach pains temporarily forgotten. I had instructed Ax and Tobias to bring Chapman back from the deadzone around our old city earlier in the dawn. It had only taken them about six hours to do it.

"Take him to my cabin, and tie him down. I want someone guarding him at all times." I said. I could only hope Marco was having similar luck finding Erek. We needed certain things to fall in place for this whole plan to work, and Erek was essential to it. See, Erek is part of an android race called The Chee. They're pacifistic by nature, but their technology is advanced even beyond Andalite technology. We'd need Erek to help create the hologram of Cassie being eaten by a Taxxon in order to get on the pool ship, and once we were on, we'd need him to break the security codes onboard the pool ship so we could gain access to the controls.

All things that violated his programming of course, but I didn't care. We had to make him help us. And to do that, we were going to put him in an impossible situation. A situation where he'd have to pick and choose his poison. I hated myself for resorting to it, but it had to be done.

"My people are in place, Jake." A voice said from behind me. I turned to look. It was Toby. The young leader of the Hork-bajir colony. She's what the Hork-bajir call a Seer. One with the intellect far superior than 99 percent of the species. A brain much more similar to a human or Andalite than another Hork-bajir.

"Good," I said with a nod. "Then all we can do now is wait." Toby gave me a slight nod. I had asked Toby to send a core of her people, the free Hork-bajir, down to the city. Down to the Pool ship, to mix in with the Hork-bajir controllers. Once we were on the pool ship, they'd be there to turn against the Yeerks and fight with us.

"...My father went with them." Toby said quietly. It didn't surprise me. Her father, Jara Hamee, was the first of the free Hork-bajir. He, like all the rest besides Toby, was kind of dim. But he knew what revenge was. And he wanted it on the Yeerks. Badly.

"Your father is a great fighter, and a hero to his people," I said, trying to comfort her. As much as a seventeen year old kid can comfort a seven foot tall alien with blades shooting out of every joint on her body. "By the end of the day, your father will have a new addition to the story about the Yeerks to pass down to you." I whispered. Toby seemed to smile a bit at that, though it was a bit hard to tell when a Hork-bajir was smiling, and when one was frowning.

"Yes... I suppose there is that," Toby said with her eerily articulate tone. "I'm deploying myself as well, Jake. I'm going to be down there in the Pool Ship with you." She said. I slowly turned to face her, this new information processing in my mind, thinking about what it would mean.

"Toby, you can't. Your people need you here. They need their leader." I said calmly. She didn't back down, staring down at me.

"You're right, they do. My people in battle need me more than my people here in the valley. Just like your people need you." Toby said matter of factly. I knew she was right. I ran a hand through my hair, and gave Toby a soft smile.

"Do what you have to do. Just don't get yourself killed." I said. She put one of her clawed hands on my shoulder.

"Even if I do, I'd gladly trade my life for the hope that we win this war. Just as I know you would do, Jake." She said. I gave her a slight nod. Nothing else needed to be said. She removed her hand, and turned to walk with her escort of Hork-bajir guards, toward the exit of the valley.

It was then that my eye caught something else. A pale reflection of light. White sunlight refracting off of the water, only it wasn't the water. It wasn't even in the direction of the lake. It was coming closer to me. A slow pace, a walking pace. Metal. The sunlight was refracting off of a metal surface. As the figure got closer, my eyes could make out what it was. Who it was.

It looked like a robotic dog, walking upright on its hind legs. It was made out of a milky white metal, a metal which I could only guess as to what kind of metal made up its composition. I was looking at a creature who was thousands of years old, minimum. The last traces of an ancient pacifistic race called the Pemalites. The Pemalites themselves were long gone, but their immortal creations remained. The Chee.

I knew this Chee. He was one of our most trusted allies against the Yeerks. Through the Chee, we'd learned of countless plots that the Yeerks were going to try and impose, only to be stopped by us, thanks to the Chee's stellar information. However, since the war had just shifted from a subversive war to an all-out conflict, the Chee's strictly pacifistic hard-wiring had proven useless. Until now.

"Hello, Erek." I greeted. Instantly the android was gone, standing in its place, the image of a normal teenage boy. It was the image of Erek King. A holographic projection of a normal human that allowed Erek to blend in with normal society for thousands of years.

"Jake." He greeted. He had a confused look on his face. "Forgive me for asking, but why exactly am I here? You know I can't help you, Jake. Not in this kind of conflict." He said, staring at my face. He hadn't guessed what I was going to do. Good. I didn't want him to know.

"Yes you can, Erek." I said simply. I made a motion with my had that indicated that I wanted him to follow me. I was walking back toward my cabin, the one that currently housed Chapman. Erek followed me slowly.

"No, I can't. You know I can't do anything that would enable you to hurt anyone else. All of my intelligence resources are dry. " He said. I stopped as I reached the door of the cabin, turning my head over to look at him with one eye.

"That's what I'm counting on." I said, and swung the door open. Inside, was Chapman, bound and gagged, sitting propped up on my bed. Behind him was Ax, in his natural Andalite body, with his tail blade pressed against Chapman's throat. I saw Erek's eyes go wide in shock, then in anger. He knew what I was going to do. "Here's the deal, Erek..." I began. "We're getting on that pool ship. But we need someone that can hack into the security system, and weapons system on the Pool ship, so we can control them. Ax doesn't know if he can crack the codes fast enough. So we need you."

"You know I can't hack into a weapons system, Jake!" Erek shouted.

"I think you will, Erek. I think you will, because your direct refusal will cause Ax to take Chapman's head off. And since your programming forbids you from doing anything that directly harms someone, I think either you'll self destruct now, or you'll help us. Now, what is it going to be?" I demanded, keeping my eyes cold and calculating.

Erek turned to glare at me. I could see the anger in his eyes. Anger, hatred, the feeling of being betrayed. All were perfectly reasonable emotions at the moment. But he knew he was beaten. He knew he had no other choice. "May god help you, Jake. You're going to need all the help you can get." He whispered harshly.

"I'll take that as a yes. Good." I said, walked out of the room. I didn't care if Erek hated me. I didn't care because everything was falling into place. The final battle was set, and we were just about to launch the plan. I trusted the others to get on the pool ship. I trusted Marco to call the shots. I even trusted Erek to do what we needed him to do. The only person I didn't trust, was myself. Could I do what needed to be done? Could I kill my own brother?

I was looking at the world through compound eyes. It was like seeing the world through a hundred thousand television sets, all blurred together and with the colors screwed up. It sounds weird and strange, and it was, but you get used to it. I'd probably morphed a fly hundreds of times. Each time, it was still weird.

We all had our places. Tobias and a few of the free Hork-bajir were in their place as bloated Taxxon and elite Hork-bajir guard. Erek was projecting a hologram and forcefield of Cassie's image. Marco, Cassie, Ax, and Rachel were all riding as flies under the hologram, where they'd be protected by Erek's forcefield from the Gleet Biofilter.

I was riding on a few tangled coils as big as cable wires. In reality, it was black hair. I was riding as a fly on Tom's head, unbeknownst to him.

After my encounter with Erek, he and the other Animorphs and I set off on our trek out of the Hork-bajir valley, to the meeting place Tom and I had agreed on. Tobias had gone ahead with a few more of the Hork-bajir to get ready, so we were flying blind.

When we got to the meeting place, we found Tom waiting with a few armed controllers, and a black limosine. What Tom saw, was Cassie, Rachel, Ax, Tobias, Marco, and myself, all in human morph. What Tom didn't know, is that every person he was seeing was false. The others and myself were already in fly morph. Erek had already projected his Cassie hologram around himself, and projected holograms of all of us.

Marco, Ax, Rachel, and Cassie were safely under Erek's forcefield. I buzzed off of Erek's shoulder and toward Tom, letting him gloat, hearing him speak, hearing the hologram versions of ourselves speak. As soon as a soft breeze came by, and dove into Tom's hair, buring myself in his coarse, black hair where hopefully, I wouldn't be noticed.

You can handle everything, right Marco? I asked in private thoughtspeak. The scene was playing out as we had planned. Tom wanted to keep Cassie human. I heard a few loud thuds, and felt Tom's head jerk forward. I was assuming he had just hit "Cassie". My blood was boiling, but I knew it was necessary. She had to appear to have been in a struggle. But I knew deep down that the Yeerk in Tom's head was enjoying it.

Got everything taken care of, Big Jake. Marco said after a few tense moments. ... You know, Cassie and Tobias are going to realize you're gone soon. He said.

I know, Marco. I whispered back. If I'd had eyelids, I would have closed my eyes. But that wasn't an option. Marco didn' say anything else. I concentrated on Tom's voice, but he wasn't talking anymore either. I assumed we were driving toward the Pool ship, but there was no way to make sure. Fly eyes aren't exactly good for long range vision.

After what seemed like forever, I felt air rush across Tom's head. He was standing up. I focused my fly eyes on anything I could see, but it was useless. His coarse hair blocked my vision. Ah, my most trusted advisor. A cold voice said. I recognized it almost immediately. There was no mistaking the evil thoughtspeak voice of our longtime nemesis Visser Three, no Visser One. You've delivered on your promise.

"Of course, Visser." Tom said. "This is the human named Cassie. One of the Animorphs. She was the only one we could manage to capture. But of course, one of them is better than none." He said nothing for a moment. "Shall I take her for Infestation?"

Mm... No. No, not now. Now these Animorphs are nothing to us. We have a Morphing Cube. These Morph-capable bodies are of no use to us anymore. It's all the better. Now I can finally watch them die. Visser One said.

"Them, Visser? There's only one of them." Tom said, then interjected at his own sentence, like we all knew he would. "Of course. The other Animorphs must be riding aboard this one for hopes of a rescue."

Never trust a slug, Rachel said dryly.

Good, you're not entirely stupid. Visser One said with a laugh. Finally, I've won. It took three long years, but I finally have these pests at my mercy. He crowed. Bring out the Taxxon.

I couldn't see what was happening, but I could guess. We all figured, well, Eva, Marco, Toby and I figured, that Visser One would rather kill us than infest us. And we figured he'd choose the most painful way he could to kill us. No quick tail-whip for us. Visser One was bringing out a Taxxon.

Of course, he didn't know that the Taxxon was Tobias. And he didn't realize that all of his Hork-najir guards were part of the Free Hork-bajir, acting undercover. We'd anticipated his moves, and he was following the script, just as we'd all planned out.

You see this lovely specimen? Visser One said to "Cassie". He's known on his planet for killing and eating over a hundred of his brothers in the Taxxon rebellion. He's extremely loyal to the Yeerk Empire. In fact, we've even found that placing a Yeerk in his head tempers some of his... natural aggression. And we wouldn't want that, would we? Then I heard the screams. I tried as best I could to block them out, but I couldn't. I knew the screams were an act. I knew it was all fabricated, but it sounded so real. And sounded exactly like Cassie. The Taxxon was eating her. In reality, Tobias was chomping down on air. A forcefield surrounding nothing. Erek was slowly cutting away at the hologram of Cassie, making it look like she was being eaten alive.

I heard her screams. So real and authentic. I heard Visser One's laughter. Tom's laughter.. "Bye bye, Jakey! If you're still there, I hope you enjoy your new home! In the stomach of a Taxxon! Hah-hah-hah!" Tom crowed. I said nothing to him. No, the dominos were falling perfectly. Everything was set up for the taking now.

I'm getting taken back to the Pool Ship... Gonna demorph inside. Tobias said. His thought-speak voice was getting weaker. He was being led back.

I think our work here is done. Visser One said. Today is the day that Earth falls. Thanks to your earlier briefing, we're tracking the current location of the American Armed forces. They pose little threat. Once the Pool ship is back in the air, we'll destroy them as they emerge from their sewers.

"Of course, Visser." Tom replied. "Shall I rendevous your Blade Ship with the pool ship in orbit?" He asked.

Yes. I'll be staying on the Pool Ship for now. I want to see the pitiful human resistance die at my own hands. Visser One said. The Ego-maniacal bastard. I felt Tom's head tilt. A nod. Then a breeze. Tom was walking away from Visser One. This was it.

Good luck. I called to Rachel, Ax, and Marco.

You have one hour and six minutes left in morph, Prince Jake. Ax replied, faint. Then, nothing. They must have gone out of thoughtspeak range. Tom said nothing. I grappled his hair like a rock climber with my hook-like claws, and sat there, stewing on what had just happened. Erek and the others had successfully gotten aboard the Pool Ship. Visser One and Tom thought we were dead. I was with Tom, heading toward the Blade Ship. Where there was certain to be a fully armed and dangerous morph-capable crew.

Was I insane?

"Fire the engines. I want off this rock as soon as possible." I heard Tom say after what seemed like an eternity. I felt a low hum of vibrations echoing through my body. The hum of the engines? Maybe. I finally detatched myself from Tom's head, and sped my way to the floor, zipping along where I hoped I wouldn't be noticed. I found a dark area, and landed. Vibrations were everywhere, but I didn't sense anyone nearby.

I demorphed slowly, half expecting to be squished by some passing controller, but it never came. After a few tense moments, I was fully human, crammed under a small console desk on the battle bridge, hidden by a shadow. Now though, I could see what was going on.

We were on the Blade ship, that much I knew. I saw at least three Hork-bajir commanding various computer systems, two Taxxons manning the helm, and no less that five human controllers who all seemed to be serving advisory positions. At the center of the battle bridge, stood Tom himself.

It still amazed me how much he looked like my brother. The brother I'd grown up with. The brother I still loved, and even now, thought that there was some possibility I could save. The whole reason I'd gotten involved in this war in the first place was to protect Tom.

But the grin on his face now wasn't Tom's grin. It was pure Yeerk. Drenched in ego, in arrogance. It was the grin of someone who thought as if he weilded unlimited power. As if all of his problems had just dissapeared. As if he didn't have a fear in the world.

Surprise surprise, Tom.

I counted the time in my head. Thirty minutes. An hour. Two. We were playing the waiting game. Waiting for the Pool ship. Waiting for it to finish slaughtering General Doubleday's troops and James' auxilliary Animorphs. Waiting for the Pool Ship to return to orbit so that Tom could finalize his betrayal by taking out the ship with all the firepower that the Blade Ship possessed.

"Target acquired, Sub-Visser. The Pool Ship is coming." One of the human controllers said. Sub-Visser now, then. Good for him. Tom gripped a handrail next to him.

"Good... this is it, my brothers. After this, we'll finally be free of Visser One and his incompetant oppression. We'll be free to live the way we want, how we want, with no high overlords from the old ways telling us what to do, or fear of some psychotic barking orders at us. We'll finally be free of the Empire." He said.

"I... It looks like the Pool Ship's weapons are down to only ten percent of full power. And still falling." The same controller pointed out. My eyes flared.

"God damn it, Erek..." I hissed under my breath. I knew what he was doing. He was going to try and prevent the Pool Ship from taking out the Blade ship. But in essence, he was crippling the Pool Ship. Leaving it open for any kind of attack. A sitting duck.

"Oh ho? Well now, that's an odd turn of events. It seems like the Visser may have lost some power." Tom said with a chuckle. "Hail the Pool Ship." He said. The window he was standing in front of turned opaque, then into almost like a big screen TV. On the screen, was Visser One, in his Andalite body, looking angry, depressed, and beaten, all at once. Behind him, were my friends.

Cassie in wolf morph, Ax in his normal body, Tobias as a hawk, perched on Marco's gorilla shoulder. Rachel was standing behind them all, toweing over them on her hind legs as a large grizzly bear. "You're alive?!" Tom shrieked.

Yes, I had noticed that as well. Visser One said dryly. Tom caught himself after his initial outburst, then laughed a bit.

"Wonderful. I can kill two birds with one stone. Visser One, and the Animorphs, all with one dracon blast." He said, turning to one of the Hork-bajir controllers. "Power the main Dracon canon." He said.

The empire will hunt you down for this, I assure you. Visser One said. Tom just smirked.

"Oh, I think the Empire will have bigger things to worry about. It's possible that the Andalite Fleet is closer than I had originally informed you. Hah-hah!" He said with a laugh. I closed my eyes. It was now or never.

The changes came swiftly. Orange and black fur raced across my body like a wave. I felt the liquid steel muscle build up under my skin. I fell forward onto all hours as my arms grew into legs. My feet and hands flattened, and widened into four massive paws as big as dinner plates.

I felt the large ripping claws form on each paw. I sheated and retracted them slowly. My face slowly bulged outward into a semi-long snout. My eyes turned from dark brown to golden. More teeth filled the inside of my mouth. My teeth itched as they grew into the sharp carnivorous teeth of a big cat. My canines grew down into the killing canines of a Siberian Tiger.

I felt my tail extend outward, the end of it laying on the cold metal deck. Then at last, I felt the Tiger's mind. The cool, calm confidence of an alpha predator. It wasn't worried about food. Sure, it was hungry. But worried? Why worry? It'd find food. And right now there was meat everywhere.

One breath through my sensetive nose told me that there were indeed two taxxons, three Hork bajir, and five humans, including Tom. Could I take on an entire blade ship crew? I guess we'd find out.

Jake... buddy... Marco said softly, through the video feed.

I know, Marco. I whispered.

Jake, GO! Rachel commanded in a much heavier tone. My eyes flashed, spurred on my Rachel's words. I leapt out from under the console, drew back, and let loose with one of the Tiger's most devastating weapons.

"RRRRROOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!" I roared. I've seen that roar reduce fully grown men to sniveling babies. And it didn't dissapoint here. The humans backed away. The Hork-bajir froze in their steps. Just the opportunity I needed. I jumped forward, leaping toward the nearest Hork-bajir, digging my razor sharp claws into the leathery flesh of his chest, and jerked forward, clamping my jaws around his neck. Blue blood flowed into my mouth like a waterfall. I released him and jumped back, letting him fall. One Hork-bajir down, two to go.

By now the other Hork-bajir had un-frozen. Both of them grabbed their dracon beams. "Not the dracon beams, you idiot! Do you want to blow up the ship?! Use your blades! Morph, the rest of you!" I heard Tom roar. So, his crew was morph capable. That meant I needed to take out these two Hork-bajir fast.

I hunched back, then leapt toward the second Hork-bajir, who obviously wasn't used to hand to hand combat in such a tight confined space. He tried to turn, but his elbow blade punctured a pipe in the wall, letting loose a blast of steam right in his face. "Arrghhhhh!!!!" He bellowed. I drew back, and slammed my saucer-place sized paw into the side of his face, which was the equivalent of getting popped with a block of cement. He fell.

The third Hork-bajir rushed me from behind, and slammed a bladed elbow deep into my flank. I roared, trying to twist away from it, but only succeeded in making the pain worse. I kicked up my hind leg, and shoved it, claw first, into the Hork-bajir's stomach. He stumbled back, freeing me of the invading blade. I turned and leapt, once again closing my jaws in a killing grip around his neck. He fell.

I turned and saw the humans, all semi-human blobs in morph. No way I'd be able to take on six battle morphs as an injured Tiger. It's times like this when experience was useful. I stood facing them and began to demorph as fast as I can. If I had any shot at all, I needed to go fast.

Almost before the morph to human was complete, I started in on the next morph. I still had tiger features when I began to grow larger, larger, even larger still. My face bulged outwards impossbly far. My teeth flattened inside my mouth. My nose slid down my face like it was melting, only to grow into a large, wickedly shaped horn. My flesh turned grey as I kept gaining weight.

My eyesight dimmed, but I could still see the others in the brightly lit room. I could make out what looked like a polar bear. A spotted pattern on one of the others indicated a cheetah or jaguar. The form of a Crocodile slid across the floor. I saw two more identical big cats, with beige fur. Lionesses. And a fourth big cat which was unmistakible. A male lion.

One of the Lionesses rushed toward me. I still wasn't morphed all the way. I was only half as large as a normal Rhino. I had one chance here. I bowed my head, letting the Lioness approach. She leapt forward. At the last second, I jerked my head up, impaling the Lioness' chest on my horn. Hot blood covered my snout, but it let me finish the morph. I was a fully loaded Rhino, packing more hitting power than just about any animal on the planet.

Bear first... I whispered to myself. Take out the most dangerous enemy first. I pawed the ground, turning toward the bear. I had only a small area to pick up speed, and the bear didn't have much room to turn with all the animals crowding the bridge. I took off, galloping toward the beat, horn lowered. The bear wasn't moving. Fine by me. I slammed into it. He tried to hold me back, but there's nothing that can hold back a five ton ball of muscle. I went through his paws like butter, and buried my horn in his gut. I heard the bear roar, but I didn't care. I jerked my horn up, down, side to side, goring the bear as best I knew how. I felt the scratch makes and claw markes appear on my head and back, but they were just flesh wounds. Nothing important.

Then, my chance. The bear leaned its body back. It was raising its fists to bring down on me, to try and break my back. I'd seen Rachel use the technique far too often. When the bear raised back, I jerked my head to the side. This caused the bear to slam against the railing. I slammed against him again, and it was enough to push him over the railing, sending him tumbling into the engine turbine below. I snarled, blood staining my eyes now. I turned blind, and felt my right front foot come down on something bony and warm, then squishy. Without even trying, I'd taken the Crocodile out.

"ROOWWWRRRR!" The Male lion cried, and leapt onto my back, clawing at my face and eyes. I screeched loudly. See, here's the thing most people don't get about Rhinos. Yes, they're big. Yes, they weigh a LOT. But they're not lumbering giants. A rhino will easily outrun a human. And they're far stronger than than Lions are, in brute strength. So when I bucked... I bucked the lion off my back like a bull bucking a cowboy. I sent the Lion flying forward, crashing into the only remaining animal, the lioness. I lumbered forward, and lowered my head, slamming my horn right into the male Lion's stomach. Just to make sure the Lioness wasn't going to be a problem, I raised my foot, stomping on its head. Now it was just me and the lion.

But I was losing strength. The blood loss was getting to me. The Rhino was weak, and the adrenaline of fighting the bear was wearing off. I had no choice but to demorph. As I did, my eyesight gradually returned, and I saw the male lion demorphing as well. Slowly, the image of my brother replaced the image of the lion. After a few moments, we were both human again, staring at each other across the battlefield of animal and alien blood.

"You..." Tom snarled at me hatefully. I could see the hatred burning in his eyes.

"This time, it ends, Yeerk." I spat, glaring at him just as hatefully. "You're not walking away from this fight." I said, breathing deeply. Already fatigue was hitting the back of my mind. But I wasn't interested. Now was not the time to be tired. I'd be tired later. "I'm going to kill you for what you've done to my brother. For what you've done to my family."

"Aww, poor little Jakey misses big brother Tom. How cute. And how utterly idiotic." He said, then gave me a smirk. "Have you ever wondered, Jake, who would win a fight between a tiger and a lion?" He whispered. I narrowed my eyes, remembering the fight with David all those years ago. Would the result be any different now?

"Jake..." A voice whispered. I looked up. The viewscreen was still on. The others had been watching the entire battle. But now was different. Cassie was human. Marco was human. And both of them were crying. "Jake, I..." She whispered. I nodded slowly.

"I love you too, Cassie." I said, then gave Marco a wink. He looked away. I looked back at Tom.

"Let's find out." I whispered, and felt the all-too familiar changes begin once again. I savored the feeling of power as I called upon the tiger once again. How many times had the tiger saved me? Would it save me now? I had never wanted so much to feel the power that the tiger possessed more than right then. It took only a few minutes for me to make the transition, but it felt like an eternity.

Staring across from me, was the king of the african jungle. The make Lion. Almost as big as I was. But he had a mane of fur that protected the vital arteries in his neck. I found that out the hard way when I had fought David a long time ago. But there were two big differences between fighting David then, and fighting Tom now. Back then, fighting David, I was in a blind rage, lashing out because I thought that David had killed Tobias. Now? I had never been more rational. Anger seethed in my veins, but it wasn't blind anger. It was anger that had cultivated over the past three years.

The other difference? David WAS his Lion Morph. That made him all the more difficult to beat. Tom was just USING a lion morph. Experience is very, very helpful.

We stared at each other for a few moments, neither of us making the first move. Finally, I took the initiative. I galloped across the floor like lightning, and barrelled into him, my claws outstretched. I raked my claws across his cheek, leaving four bright red lines. He snarled, and clamped his jaws around my left paw.

I roared in pain, then drew back on my hind legs, drew my right paw back, and backhanded him across his muzzle. He let go, snarling. I settled back down on all four paws, already telling that the bones in my left paw were crushed.

We leapt at each other again, both of us howling. We tumbled backwards, rolling across the bridge in an unholy game of chicken, our fur staining with the blood of dead animals and Hork-bajir. At lat, he was able to pin me down by my shoulders, and dive his head toward my neck. NO! I screamed and jerked my head up, slamming my forehead into his muzzle, which cased him to stumble backwards, in a daze.

I was on my feet in a second. On my feet and on the lion's back, sinking my long yellowed teeth into the muscle and sinew of his back, worrying his spine like a dog with a bone. He bellowed, trying to shake me off, until finally he was able to rip away from my jaws. My canines were dripping red with lion blood.

I'm going to kill you! Tom roared. I saw nothing but red in front of me. I snarled and jumped forward again, swinging my paw at his face. It connected squarely with his jaw, but caused me to slip. I fell face first into a pool of red blood. As soon as I managed to lift myself up, I felt his connect with my muzzle. My head exploded in stars. I didn't know which way was up!

I shook my head to clear it, and saw Tom across the bridge. We were both battered, brusied, and bleeding. I leapt toward him again, running on pure adrenaline. He rolled his body toward me slightly, exposing the underside of his neck for a fraction of a second. Kill shot!

I took it! I crashed into him, using the moment of chaos to clamp my jaws under his neck, my fangs sinking in deep. I heard his breath gurggle, and start to wheeze. Y... You lose... He whispered. I blinked a few times, then realized what he meant. Realized it all too clearly. His claws were piercing my neck, right into my trachea. The second he moved his paw, it would rip my throat open.

So do you... I whispered back, black blood filling my mouth. I tightened my grip on his neck.

Would you sacrifice your own just to kill me? What good would that serve? Tom pleaded. He didn't want to die. And he'd give up the position he held on me if he thought I'd let him live.

Ax once said 'Humans are an irrational species'... I guess he was right. Because I'd gladly give my own life just to see you DIE! I screamed, tightening my grip on his throat as hard as I could, until I heard that CRACK! of his spinal cord breaking.

But his deed wasn't done. He jerked his paw down, even as he died, opening up my throat, letting my own blood spill both onto the floor, and down into my lungs. I stumbled away, eyes going dark already. I lifted my head to the viewscreen, where Cassie was yelling. Yelling and crying. Cassie... Yeah... I liked her... Liked her a lot.

"Demorph, Jake! DEMORPH!" She screamed.

Yeah... I liked her a lot...

I woke up in a plane of infinate whitness. I immedately reached for my throat. My human throat. No cuts. No wounds. I sat up, looking around with human eyes. Nothing around me. I looked almost like Zero Space, but I could breathe. I felt a cold chill run up my spine. "...I'm..."

"Dead? Yes, you are. Regrettably, there was nothing I could do to save you." The voice said. I knew instantly who it was. I stood up shakily on my feet.

"Ellimist," I whispered. He appeared before me in his saintly old man guise.

"Yes... I'm the one you call Ellimist." He said, and extended a hand. I took it.

"I only have one thing to ask..." I said, and looked up to him. He looked back, almost as a father or grandfather would look at a child. "...Did I matter? Was my life worth it? Did we win?" I asked. I was almost afraid of the answer. The Ellimist smiled slightly.

"Jake, without you, there is no way that the Earth would be free. There is no way, without you, that the Yeerk war could have been won." He said. I smiled a little at that. "Your brother says he loves you, Jake." That stopped me.

"Tom... I... He..." I said, then stopped trying to rationalize it. "It doesn't matter anymore..."

"No, it doesn't... " The Ellimist said. "But you should know that he does." I nodded slightly.

"I..."

-FIN