Chapter 5: Poor Decisions
You never appreciate your center of gravity until you have it abruptly ripped away from you. Add that to perpetually shifting gravity, hooves that are much too heavy, shoulders much too wide, and you have one clumsy Andalite.
As a morph dancer, I was accustomed to adapting to a variety of unfamiliar shapes and forms in the blink of an eye; as a male of my species, I wasn't quite different enough to make me aware of my body or movements, but I WAS awkward enough to send my over-sized form sprawling as soon as I attempted to step off the transport vehicle and onto the grass of the Dome Ship's landing platform. My knees, scraped and bleeding, stung as I lifted myself haphazardly from the floor.
In spite of the raucous laughter of my fellows (Gentlemen, he's ugly AND talented!), I had a more pressing problem; in seven minutes, unless I wanted to reveal myself (and be promptly shipped right back home to shame and scorn), I would become a nothlit and utterly useless to the academy.
My heart-rates were accelerating as I looked—desperate—for some way to conceal myself. We were in the dome of the ship-six cocky cadets looking across a large, rather shabby-looking sea-green field, cocooned by a sea of blackness and stars. There were smatterings of violet and azure trees scattered here and there, but nothing—nowhere—could I temporarily hide. Our need for open spaces and expanse coupled with an inexpensively adorned spacecraft would prove to be my undoing.
Maybe I should have thought this course of action through before charging blindly ahead.
(Cadets!) An older Andalite, streaked beige with age, galloped toward our platform, dust taken from our planet kicking up behind him in his wake. His tail blade was chipped with age, but gleamed a sharp edge in the brilliant, artificial light. Belatedly, I realized the other cadets were standing rigidly, saluting, all four eyes facing front unwaveringly. I'd been so busy scanning the surroundings that I'd failed to notice.
A heart-beat too late, I joined them in their stance as the male, obviously our superior, skidded to a halt in front of us, or more specifically, me.
(There was a report of fighting at the loading bay. With a female.) He eyed me up and down and it was then that I noticed the wrinkled, puckered scar running vertically where his right eye once resided; the scrutiny of all three of his remaining orbs, stalks and main, was unbearably uncomfortable. (Care to explain, cadet?)
(Sir—there was… A female. I suspect-)
(Stop stalling, soldier. Explain.) He stated curtly. I hesitated. What was I supposed to say? I hadn't been there—well, not in my male form, at least. Although my fellows stood at attention, their mockery pressed at my back like a heavy chain, further impeding my words. The silence lengthened.
(My Prince,) Damonio quipped in curt, respectful tones. Clearly, he had re-thought his strategy from earlier. Scar-face paused, nostrils flaring, then turned abruptly to face the out-spoken cadet. Stocky and solid, he strutted to face the exotic-faced youth. Stalk eyes swiveling, his visage mere inches from the boy's, I would have been relieved that his scrutiny had turned elsewhere had it not been for the time.
(Commanding Officer Kent, and don't forget it,) he barked, harsh tones, with no ceremony.
(Sir,) Damonio bowed his head, as ceremony and rank demanded. (The doing was mine. I allowed myself to be provoked. I take full responsibility for the disturbance.)
(If a mere girl manages to provoke you into a fight, what good are you to our forces?) He snapped. By the way he stared at Damonio, the question wasn't rhetorical.
(I am top of my class in the Patrechan art of—)
(Do you really think the Yeerks will be impressed with some fancy tail work?) He sneered. The withering look he leveled at Damonio, who I almost—ALMOST—felt sympathy for would have made a traditional male crumple—but not Damonio. He stood, straight as a tree and just as strong. And maybe just a touch smug.
(No, sir.) Damonio bowed his head, respectful, but uncowed. Any hints of his earlier, fiery demeanor had been effectively wiped from his countenance.
Three minutes. Three minutes away from being trapped, forever, in this disgusting, useless body. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I fought the urge to run. The dome was literally miles of open space—yet I had never felt more caged.
(Let this be your first lesson—you must have more than hand-to-hand combat skills in this war. You must have cunning. Determination. Strength of character. Stealth. The simulations, flights, the hard, physical labor that you think has prepared you for your career at the academy? Nonsense, all of it. Be prepared to morph. Be prepared to infiltrate. Be prepared to out-think your enemy, aristh, because they're smarter every day. There's no turning back now—fail to learn, fail to thrive, and you'll be cleaning waste chambers. Your first candidate-) he jerked his powerful tail in Damonio's direction, clipping him with the flat of his blade along the side of his head. (-has already volunteered.)
Damonio, tail tucked, stepped forward only to be halted by a short slash of the commanding officer's hand.
(Not you. Taking responsibility is the first step to a successful career. This soldier, on the other hand…) Scar-face turned his wrathful eyes upon me. Again. Two minutes. My time was running out. (This soldier failed to report to an officer when commanded. The waste chambers are that way.) He pointed.
I stared, dumbly, at the man, unsure of what I was required to do. Tick tock. Tick tock. He snorted impatiently.
(Are you stupid as well as mute? Go!)
With the seconds ticking down, I needed no further prompting. Galloping and sweating, I took off in the direction of the chambers.
(The metal better reveal a handsome reflection when next I use it!) The officer called after me. I could feel the eyes of the other cadets boring into my rump, their silent scorn stinging like the bites of insects.
And that's how, with mere moments to spare, I stumbled into a filthy waste chamber and demorphed as fast as my cells would shift.
How could I possibly keep up this ridiculous charade?