THE SALVATION

My name was Tobias.

But that was a long time ago, before the Blade Ship. Before Rachel... when Rachel was alive. I was a boy named Tobias, trapped in the body of a hawk.

Now I am a hawk, and Tobias is a memory.

As much as I want to abandon the boy I was, I can't get away from him. His name is carved into my tree, next to Rachel's. There's a heart around them. I swore to myself that I would never forget Rachel, and the consequence is that I can never abandon Tobias.

I still have her urn in my tree. It helps me sleep, somehow, leaning against it at night, when my memories threaten to surface and overwhelm me.

I will never return to the human world. Not after the disastrous mission in which we tried to rescue Ax. Only some creative meddling on behalf of the Ellimist, claiming his prize for winning the Yeerk/Andalite portion of his endless game with Crayak, got us out of that alive, and even then Sgt. Santorelli didn't return, sacrificing himself to rescue Ax from the collective body of The One.

None of the Animorphs have interacted since then. Jake was imprisoned to await military trial. Marco escaped to God-knows-what country to become a celebrity protected from US law. Ax was restored to his position in the Andalite fleet.

And Tobias returned to his meadow, then abandoned himself. Myself.

My name was Tobias.

But not anymore.


My name was Rachel.

My situation is a little different from Tobias's. I haven't tried to abandon myself to a morph or anything. I'm dead, you see. So while I'm still the same person, every part of my life is in the past tense. All I have now is my soul, hanging around the world, unable to affect it in any way. The most I've ever been able to do is comfort Tobias while he tries to sleep at night.

I don't know why my soul or spirit or whatever is still hanging around. It's not because I died unfulfilled – by the end of the war, I'd been consumed by the rage and the violence and the beauty of battle, and I couldn't imagine living for anything else. I saw my mother and sisters grieving at the funeral, and I knew my father would do the same, but I also knew they'd get over it. They had other things in their lives.

But Tobias... I was really all Tobias had. He was something to live for, I had realized. And as I watched him suffer, I wanted to live again. I longed to hold him, to reassure him, to let him know everything would be okay.

Rachel.

I looked around wildly. Stupid, of course, it had to be some all-powerful being like the Ellimist or Crayak to speak like that.

"Who are you? What do you want?"

Think of me as... the impartial observer. I preside over the matches between Crayak and Ellimist, and judge the winner. I also seed the initial conditions specified by the two.

"So why are you here?" I demanded. "This match is over."

I retain the right to interfere however I wish after the matches have ended. And I have taken a liking to you and your friend in the tree.

I thought I saw where this was headed, but I didn't dare hope. There was no way he'd be allowed to do such a thing. No way.

There are... limits to what I can do. If you were to suddenly return from the dead, there would be problems. I caused quite a stir the last time I interfered that way.

I glared at the empty air. "Then what the hell are you here for?"

There is one loose end left over from the match. Do you recall a girl named Melissa Chapman?

My blood ran cold. Well, not my blood. You know what I mean. "What about Melissa?" I asked, forcing my voice to keep from shaking.

She was caught in the destruction of your hometown, but not killed. She has been brain-dead in a hospital ever since the end of the war.

"No..." My fists clenched. We may have grown apart, but for most of my life I'd loved that girl like a sister.

Her mother died in the blast, and her father died several years after the war. Suicide. She has no other family.

Melissa's heart still beats, but she is dead. There is no soul left. Therefore...

"I can see where you're going with this," I cut him off, "and the answer is no. I will not take over her body for any reason."

But she is gone. Dead. Her body is only a shell – an empty home which desires an occupant.

"If I do this, I'm no better than a goddamn Yeerk," I argued. "I'd rather watch Tobias suffer for the rest of his life than steal my best friend's body."

There is a difference, the Observer insisted. You would not be depriving your friend of her freedom. That is the basic problem with the Yeerk parasitism, is it not? Here, maybe this will convince you...

Melissa appeared before me. I turned my back on her. So this third party was a trickster just like the other two. No matter. I could ignore her as long as I needed.

"Rachel..." I heard her say. It certainly sounded like Melissa. Of course it does, I said to myself. Wouldn't be a decent trick otherwise.

"Rachel, listen," the Melissa behind me said. "I can't cut free of the earth, Rachel, not while I'm still tied to my body. It keeps trying to call me back. It'll only stop when it's filled by something, and Rachel, you're the only person I would trust like that." Couldn't let her see the tears in my eyes. Couldn't let that thing know it had gotten to me. "Please, Rachel. I want to be with my parents. It's been so long since they've been free."

I turned and swung at the apparition behind me, but it had vanished. "Fine! I'll do it! I'll do your goddamn body-snatch."

I will require payment.

"Name your price."

I shall require the sacrifice of something you hold dear to you.

I shook my head. "I won't give you Tobias."

I would not ask for Tobias. I will let you know in due time what is required of you.

"Fine." I couldn't think of anything else the Observer could possibly demand of me. "I agree."

Let it be done.

And the world went black.