My name is Rachel. And unless my situation leads to hallucinations, I had just heard my cousin, Jake, order his starship to ram the stronger, more powerful Blade ship, It was suicidal. It was insane. And I loved him, and missed him, and eeryone else so much in that moment that I would have cried. Except I couldn't, because I died three years earlier.

Maybe I should back up. If I didn't lose you at 'starship', I probably did at 'died'. Just relax, sit back, and let me tell you a story.

It began one night six years ago. I was trying, in vain I might add, to get Cassie, my best friend forever and all around clothing nitwit, to understand the difference between Tommy HIlfinger and Osh Kosh. Hell, at that point I probably would have settled for her to get the difference between Tommy and Mrs. Butterworth.

We were just leaving the mall after I had failed, yet again, to convince Cassie to buy real jeans that fit and didn't have animal poop stains. I love her, and the work she does to help her parents, who are both vets is incredible, but the girl needs new clothes. If I had my way she'd have the clothes she wore to work with the animals who poop, pee, spit, and bleed all over them, and an entirely different set of clothes she wore to do everything else. Preferably with some kind of decontamination chamber between them.

When we left, we ran into Jake, Marco, and Tobias. Jake was my cousin, and I guess we were pretty friendly then. Nothing major, just that we were related and tended to be at the same family things. Marco was his best friend, who made it his goal in life to be the most annoying turd in the world, and Tobias was just some shy, cute boy who tended to get called on in class just as he was settling into a good daydream.

That was all of us. Jake, Marco, Tobias, Cassie, and me. We were just walking home from the mall, cutting through the old construction yard to save time, when an alien ship crashed, and we met the andalite Elfangor. He's the one that gave us the greatest gift, and the greatest responsibility, anyone on earth had ever been given. He told us our planet was being invaded by alien creatures with the ability to invade a person's brain and completely control them. And he gave us a weapon, our only weapon, to fight them. He gave us the power to morph. Later we found an andalite trainee, Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill, or Ax, and he fought beside us for much of the war.

The morphing power was incredible. Any animal we touched, we could later turn into. The one rule that we always had to remember was that to stay in the other form for longer than two hours was to stay forever. One of us, Tobias, had made that mistake, though he later regained his ability to morph. Hawk would always be his 'normal' form however, if he wanted to stay in the fight. And he did.

The yeerks, the aliens who had invaded our world could be anywhere, anyone. But now, so could we. So, over the next three years, we fought them. We won some battles, lost others, and were a general pain in the ass to the entire Yeerk Empire, especially the leader of the yeerk invasion of earth. Visser Three, who was eventually promoted to Visser One, was the only Andalite-Controller in the galaxy. There were many human-controllers, taxon-controllers, hork-bajir controllers, and even gedd-controllers, but only one andalite-controller. He was what the andalites called the abomination, and he was evil in every sense of the word.

We fought, and bled, making allies and enemies, and did everything we could to slow the Yeerk invasion so the andalites could show up and save us. We followed through on our end. We managed to keep the yeerks back long enough for the andalites to show up. Sure we had been exposed as what the yeerks spent three years thinking of as 'andalite bandits' and were helping the vastly outmatched earth military forces fight a losing war, but we were still standing. The andalites just had to lend a hand. Only they didn't exactly come with saving us in mind. They came with a sort of 'final solution', to destroy the earth so the yeerks couldn't harvest all of us for hosts. Obviously, we weren't exactly giddy about this plan.

The others dealt with most of that though. My mission in that final battle was different. And I knew going in that my odds of coming out of it alive were about as close to nonexistant as you could get. I had to stop Tom, Jake's infested older brother, from getting away with the Blade Ship with his band of followers. Tom and his allies were also morph-capable, after getting their hands on the morph-endowing blue box that had originally given us our powers.

So while the others had their own battles, I was left to invade the Blade ship and kill Tom, to stop his plan to take over the Yeerk emire for himself.It had nearly killed him to make that decision, and it had killed me to accept it. I did my part. I was Rachel the fearless. I was Xena. I fought, and killed, and died. I had stopped Tom's yeerk, but I paid my price for it. My story was over.

Except it wasn't. I was still here. Even three years later, not that I could really keep track of time well in the strange sort of nothingness I inhabited while the Ellimist, a sort of all powerful good guy who can't directly interfere in our battles because of his opposite, the profoundly evil Crayak, showed me everything my friends would become in that time. Every moment I expected him to send me... onward, to whatever comes after. But he never did. He never spoke, but I knew he was there. He wanted me to see something, to see it all. From Cassie becoming some important political figure to Jake teaching special forces from every country how to combat terrorism using morphs to Tobias giving up and leaving everyone behind, to Marco being the rich superstar playboy he'd always wanted to be, I saw it all. And I saw Jake, Tobias, and Marco decide to leave it all behind for one last desperate mission, to take a starship and save Ax.

When I heard Jake give the order to ram the blade ship, the ship that contained a strange creature called The One that seemed to be able to assimilate any other creature into itself. It had done that to Ax, and even though they didn't know anything about it, they did know that this thing couldn't be left alive. It was too dangerous. So, with their ship out gunned and out matched, Jake ordered their ship, which he had embarrassingly named after me, to ram it head on. The andalite ship fired its engines almost immediately, and darted forward through the darkness of space. The yeerk ship tried to turn aside, but it was going to be too late. Both ships would collide, and explode, and it would be over. It would be done.

(Enough!) I cried out finally in what I assume was close enough to thought-speak to be interchangeable. (Why are you showing me this? Let me go, Ellimist! I don't want to see this!)

"I swear, every time we stow someone away for a few years it's 'Ellimist this!' and 'Ellimist that!' Honey, you're not a vip around here, sit down."

That... wasn't the Ellimist. Suddenly I went from being nothing, in great void of the same, to myself. My own body, sitting in a chair in some approximation of a classroom. It was empty, except for one other being at the front of the room who was decidedly not a teacher. "Drode!" I spit the word with contempt while trying to lunge to my feet. But I didn't move. I stayed where I was. Whatever was happening, I was not in control.

The Drode, a servant of Crayak, smiled. He was hard to describe, a sort of evil purple dinosaur-like creature with a human face. He was his master's messenger, and just as evil. He was also powerful enough to have done what I assumed in all this time had been the Ellimist's doing. He had been the one keeping me from passing. My teeth gritted and I glared with what I already knew was impotent anger. "Drode, what the hell are you doing? I didn't know you cared enough to keep me around." I tried to sound brave, like I didn't care why I was here or that if I wasn't I would be dead. I don't think he bought it, but the attempt made me feel better, more like myself.

With a snort of laughter, the Drode plucked a piece of chalk up and drew a single line from the bottom of the board to about one third of the way up. "Time for a quick lesson, Ms. Rachel. The Crayak has you. The Ellimist lost his grip on you and we snatched you up before you could move... wherever. You belong to Crayak."

My heart sank, and I tried again to jerk my way out of the chair, but my body would not obey. It had been told by Drode to sit, and he had more control over this facsimile of myself than I did. I felt my anger growing, making it harder to think clearly. "So if you're just gonna gloat for awhile, I'll take a nap." My words, ineffectual as they were, made me feel marginally less useless.

"Oh don't do that." The Drode's almost sing-song voice teased. "Cuz then you'll miss the best part. See we have you, but Crayak... he doesn't really want you. He wants you about this much." He indicated the line on the board. "On the other hand... there's someone else he wants... this much." A line appeared on the board without the Drode twitching the chalk towards it. It extended up off the board and through the ceiling. "He wants--"

"Jake." I interrupted flatly. "Crayak wants Jake. So do whatever you want, gloat for years, but he's not getting him. You're stuck with the girl."

"Oh we'd do more than gloat." Drode hissed a little in what I guessed was a dangerous laugh. "Much, much more." I felt a chill, and the urge to scoot away. The profoundly evil creature seemed to stop himself. "Oh but what am I thinking. We haven't even introduced your classmate. There was a pop sound, and then to my left a very familiar creature, who looked something like a deer with a human torso and head with two main eyes and two additional swiveling stalk eyes, but no mouth, along with a scorpion tail and fine blue and tan fur, appeared.

"Ax!" The words left me with a sudden gasp of surprise. I hadn't ever expected to see any of my friends in person again. Then again, I hadn't ever expected to have fingers again.

If I was surprised, poor Ax nearly had a heart attack. Or hearts attack. I think they have more than one. He skitter stepped to the side and raised his tail-blade like he was going to slash me, and then his eyes widened in what I knew was utter and complete shock. (Rachel!) Ax's surprised thought-speak voice came to me. (You are... we believed you were--)

"Dead." I sighed and rolled my eyes toward the front. "Welcome to the club."

In his shock, all four of Ax's eyes had been focused on me. Now he swiveled first one stalk eye, then both to the front, and quickly took a half lunge in that direction, swinging his tail blindingly fast even as he spat the name with even more contemt than I had mustered. (Drode!)

At least I think he lunged and swung. The next thing I knew Ax was standing beside me once more, and nothing seemed to have changed. I couldn't remember his actual swing, just that he had tried. The Drode clapped his hands and laughed. "Good! Good, the fighters, the warriors. Rachel the psychopath and Ax the desperate cadet."

(I am an aristh no longer, Drode.) Ax's voice was dangerous, and I almost wanted to compliment him for not letting what I knew had to be frantic confusion mixed with blind terror show. (I am--)

"You are an insect." Drode replied with a contemptious snicker. "And Crayak wants you even less than he wants her."

"He wants Jake." I spoke to Ax while keeping my gaze level on Drode. If Ax could show no fear, then so could fearless Xena. "Crayak wants Jake."

Before Ax could respond to that, Drode interrupted. "Correction, Crayak is getting Jake." He gave us both a look and then went on. "See, Jake's on that ship there, about to be killed along with Marco, precious Tobias, and everyone else. They are all dead. But in this split second, Crayak himself is offering Cousin Jake a choice. He trades his life, which he's about to lose anyway, to let Crayak have him, and you and Ax go free, back to live your lives. Something tells me he's gonna take the deal."

"Jake, no..." I whispered half under my breath, but from the Drode's broad smile I knew he heard. I glared. "So why are you telling us this?"

"Just gathering the class until it's time to go home." Drode waved a hand dismissively. "Poor little Jake's all done being the good leader. He's gotten too many people, too many friends killed, and now he's ready to make that sacrifice. It's over for him, but just the beginning for you. Think of all the sales you can get to now!"

HIs mocking finally got to me, and I snapped. "Shut up!" I screamed at him, impotently and frantically struggling to remove myself from the chair so I could claw his eyes out, morph to Grizzly and knock his smug head off. "Shut up! You filthy disgusting evil son of a--"

"Language!" The drode made my mouth shut, and I scowled in impotent fury. "Now, as I was saying, just gathering the class, unless the class wants... let's say... extra credit." I struggled to control my breathing, to listen to the evil creature, but it was hard. I knew my anger was my weakness, but that didn't make it any easier to avoid. The drode went on. "Yes, or even better, a make-up exam. I know, let's just throw out the book and retake the course."

Ax, whose hooves seemed as glued to the floor as my butt did to the chair, glowered along with me. (What are you saying, Drode-scum?) His tail twitched, and I knew he wanted nothing more than to cut a few chunks out of our host.

For his part, Drode either didn't notice our obvious anger, or more likely, ignored it. "What I'm saying, children, is that we're giving you a choice. See, as much as Crayak wants Jake, there are certain other things he wants more."

I didn't get it, but Ax did. His eyes darkened and his tail twitched. (No there isn't. The Crayak wants Pr-Jake. But he wants him on his terms. He wants to beat him. This isn't winning. Pri--Jake is killing himself. Crayak wants to beat him, to humiliate him and win himself. He wants Jake to grovel in defeat.)

"Never let it be said that Andalites can't be taught. They're smelly and obstinate and rather stupid, but they can be taught." Drode mocked Ax while moving to the right. "Yes, Crayak wants a chance to beat precious Jake at his own game. And he's willing to ignore Jake's deal if you agree to this one. You will all be sent back. The..." He spat the word. "Ellimist has agreed in exchange for something else in one of his precious pet projects. Time will go back to long before any of this occurred, and you will do it again. You won't remember this, or anything else past that point, and it wouldn't matter anyway because time has a funny way of changing the second... time around."

"Wait, let me get this straight." My fingers twitched. "We go back in time, things change, and Crayak has another chance to beat Jake?"

"That's the size of it, sweet cheeks." Drode smirked, and moved forward, down the aisle. "You go back and forget everything that happened, how you 'won' the war, how you both died, and get a chance to win it without the dying part this time. Maybe vaunted Prince Jake can do it without sacrificing over a dozen crippled children this time, hmmm? Either way, you get your shot, we get ours. Tick tock, if Jake says yes first, the deal is over."

I looked to Ax, and he bowed his head in respect to my decision. Jake was my cousin. I had died. I paid the price, and now I was being asked to do it all over again on the off chance that things went better this time. I looked deep within everything I knew of myself, everything I thought, and everything I believed in. Then I thought of Jake, and Cassie, and Marco... and... Tobias. My hands moved under my own power, and I stood up, the chair scraping behind me. I opened my mouth, and the words came.

"Let's do it."

NEXT IN ANIMORPHS REDUX: Rachel and Ax made a deal with the Crayak to go back in time, to forget everything they knew, and go through the war again. We begin in book 20. The David trilogy. We all know how it went, but this time it's different. This time it's far more personal. This time it isn't David.