Imagine a picture of Ax turning into a snake
72: The Price
Well, here we are at last: the long-awaited fic written by John3Sobieski. I'm extremely pleased with this, and I could not have done it better myself. Let's all have a big hand for John, and then sit back and enjoy the f'awesomeness that is his work.
(I'm forgoing the go to hell part since I think John would much rather we all be Saved)
If I owned Animorphs, you wouldn't be reading this for free.
My name is Prince Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill. I am quite sure you have heard of me. I am famous for my exploits with the Animorphs, the resistance during the first Yeerk invasion of Earth. The war ended in a great victory, the Yeerks were expelled from the planet and the Empire was forced to capitulate, but that is a mere setback to a determined foe.
You see, the Yeerks are back, and the Abomination has returned. Believe me, I know. I was his unfortunate slave until my friends came and rescued me. Now, the shame falls to a competitor and traitor, Prince Imrahil.
We have been, as humans say, kicking ass on the new invasion, but things aren't going quite as well anymore. Mersa 528 was a Yeerk who led a rebellion against the Visser, but we were forced by the circumstances to kill Mersa and end the division in the Visser's ranks. We did this because we were able to have returned to us our fallen leader, . We were also forced to split our forces between two fronts, Alpha and Omega. Tobias had taken his team, Alloran, Rachel, Cassie David, and James, to Alpha front to disrupt enemy operations there.
Now, Prince Jake was holding a meeting in the living room of Rachel's home, trying to figure out how we Omegamorphs were going to disrupt the enemy here.
"We need leads," announced, rising from his spot on the couch, "The Community Center is practically on lock down because we've been using that so much. We can't get in there. . We don't know exactly where the enemy leaders are. And we have a powerful piece of technology that we need to track down. Anyone have any ideas?"
Marco was first up. He and Jeanne have been living together for some time now. Marco had a severe case of memory loss, and Jeanne was helping him to recover from it. Every morning, Marco would wake up not knowing where he was. But he would find a beautiful young woman at his side, explaining what had happened to him in the past seven years. At the moment, though, their relationship hasn't progressed to re-enacting Tobias' and Rachel's mistake. I hope it does not for some time. I would hate to lose another comrade to pregnancy.
"From what Jeanne tells me, Al is a computer genius. Don't we have a spy thing on them? If we do, we should just wait until we get some info from that. No need to get ourselves killed doing stuff the hard way. Come to think of it, no reason to ever do stuff the hard way."
Melissa sat listening. She had only recently joined our group. Both of her parents had been taken during the first war, and her father was taken again in this war. Her best friend, Rachel, had virtually abandoned her to wage war on the Yeerks. Now Melissa was here for revenge, to make them pay for her past pains.
Although I know little about Melissa, I approve of her motivations, if nothing else.
"What I think, Marco," she said, "if we just wait for something to pop up, we lose the initiative. We need to start attacking them, we need to start attacking them now. Gain momentum and move forward and crush them."
"That's easy to say," Marco retorted, "but it'll be different when we're running and screaming for our lives."
"It's part of the job."
"Don't tell me what the job is. I've forgotten more about fighting aliens than you'll ever know. But I remember that, oh yeah, just jumping onto...um..."
"Kelbrid?" Jeanne offered.
"Kelbrid," Marco continued, "is a real fast way to get ourselves killed."
"Guys, please," interrupted them, "We all know something needs to be done. We don't need to get ourselves killed, Melissa. But we should be proactive, Marco. The question was: anyone have any ideas to get leads on any enemy operations?"
((We could talk to Mister Chapman,)) I suggested, ((He had Mersa in his head. Now that the Rebellion has been integrated into the Visser's force, Chapman undoubtedly knows much about the Visser's assets in this area.))
"You're right, Ax, he does know a bit," agreed, "Last time we spoke, he said something about the old Yeerk Pool being rebuilt under the city. That could be something big right there."
"You mean that monument in the middle of the city?" Jeanne asked. After the war, the city couldn't just fill it back in and build new buildings on top. The shifting fill would destabilize them and they could easily fall over. Since it was just an open pit, they decided to fill in all the cracks and make monument to the war in the sight of one of our greatest victories. "It would be awfully hard to build facilities under that."
"We don't know what's going on there. That's why I'm going to check up on Mister Chapman and see what he knows. The rest of you are welcome to come along."
"Go visit my old principal? No thanks, Jake," Marco muttered. "You should take Ax with you, though. He used to be the Visser's host, right? It'd be like having the Visser and Mersa working for you for a change."
I nodded. ((That sounds sensible.))
That is how my most terrible sin began.
Melisa, my Prince, and I went to Mr. Chapman's house. It was new and refurbished. His previous house had been the site of several Animorph raids. To add to it, Marco and Tobias had finally demolished it with an Abrams tank near the end of the war. It was a brick-looking building, with two stories and an attic. There was a very neat lawn, and a cement walkway with a porch and a step to the front door. Prince Jake walked up and knocked.
We heard the sound of shuffling feet and the door was answered by Mr. Chapman. "Oh Jake, good to see you come on in. You too Prince Aximili, come in." He smiled at his daughter. "Glad you came over, too. Your mom just made some cookies. Care for a few?"
((I would love some, Mister Chapman. A dozen, if you please.)) I began to morph to human as I walked through the doorway. Oooohhhh the deliciousness of the cookie was the most beautiful thing on this world, next to the cinnamon bun.
"Better get a vacuum cleaner ready, Mr. Chapman," I heard Prince Jake mutter under his breath. I shot him an indignant look.
"Have a seat. We can talk and eat."
"I thought you were trying to watch your weight, dad," Melissa said. I believe her tone was half-accusing, half-joking.
"It's been a stressful couple of months."
We walked in and saw the living room. It had a Lay-Z-Boy chair and a small couch that appeared to be large enough for only two people, along with some paintings and a large television. I forgot all of these things as soon as the smell of cookies wafted into my now human nose. My time on Earth had taught me to keep composure as I ate and approached food. Despite the lessons my friends had given me, it was still so tempting to dive into the cookies on the table and gobble up everything in site.
We made our way to the kitchen and sat down at the round table. "So," Mr. Chapman began, "What brings you here today?"
"The remnants of Mersa's rebel forces have been fully integrated into the Visser's army," Prince Jake explained, "We need information so we know what the Yeerks are doing. We figure you might know. In particular, we would like to know about possible operations in the old Yeerk Pool."
I was eying such a beautiful cookie. It was chocolate chip. Such mouthwatering beauty. Despite the distraction, I could still here Chapman saying, "Mersa hadn't started operations down there yet, but he was planning on it. I don't know if the Visser or Salheer has carried through on them, but some other former hosts and I are checking on it. That's why we are checking out the possible entrance in the school. We'll keep it quiet, of course. They know to tell me and only me about anything they find. I know this has to stay a secret, Jake. If I find anything, you'll be the first and only one to know."
"What was Mersa planning?" I asked, I figured I had to distract myself from the temptation somehow. It seemed logical to hold a conversation.
"He knew that the Community Center is too public of a place. People might be snooping around. So he planned to move most major operations back into the facilities of the Yeerk Pool. Nobody checks up on that place anymore. It would be a good place to keep weapons, unhosted Yeerks, and other things that no one ought to see."
"Have you found anything?" Melissa asked.
"No, we don't have anything. We thought we had a lead, but the janitor's closet entrance was sealed halfway down like so many others when they made the sinkhole you made into a landfill for construction debris. I'm afraid that you'll be on your own when searching for more entrances. Sorry I can't help."
The smell was just so overwhelming! Any Andalite reading this will understand that I just could not resist any longer. Waiting as long as I had had taken an effort the likes of which I did not exert outside of battle for my life. I reached out and grabbed three cookies in my right hand, and snatched two more in my left. I shoved all five into my mouth at once, and crumbs went flying every which way.
"Ax, get a hold of yourself," Prince Jake yelled, he walked around my back and grabbed my arms in an attempt to restrain me. I stood up from my chair and continued to grab for the cookies.
I attempted to explain to Prince Jake that if Mrs. Chapman did not wish for us to eat the cookies, she would not have made them. But I paused as music caressed my ears. Tobias once told me about ancient, mythical beings called Sirens. They would stand on rocks in the ocean and sing beautifully, luring sailors to their doom. I know how the sailors must have felt. I have heard that sound before; and I heard it again now.
There was an ice cream truck coming down the road!
I ran to the front door and out of the house. Prince Jake and Mr. Chapman followed me as I went on my way for chocolate chip ice cream.
That was strange. I did not see it anywhere. But it must be there! The music kept coming into my ears. I ran to the intersection, maybe it was on another road. I ran out to the intersection, with Prince Jake and Mr. Chapman in pursuit, and turned to my left where the music was coming from.
I heard the screech of the tires and the not-so-surprised look of the driver.
The truck struck me and I flopped onto the hood. Something sticky held me there, and my knee caps blew out as my legs were dragged under the vehicle.
The truck came to a sudden halt and the driver ran to my side, "Come on, demorph."
I moaned in response. I concentrated on my Andalite self. Soon, I was a three-eyed Andalite standing in the middle of the street.
"Are you okay, Ax?" Prince Jake had ran to my side.
It was the driver who responded, "Yeah, he'll be alright. That's the third time this week, doggone it. All these Andalites running around made the Feds decide that all ice cream trucks needed to have padding on the outside so they aren't seriously injured if and when they get hit. Good thing it doesn't stick to Andalite fur, or I'd have the galaxy's strangest hood ornament."
"Get going, Fred, he's okay," Mr. Chapman ordered. To Prince Jake, he muttered, "See what you do for a living when you drop out of school?"
"Come on Ax, we're done here," Prince Jake was saying, "Let's go home. See you later, Mr. Chapman, thanks for the help."
"Anytime. I just wish I could have been of more help."
We walked to the car. I got in the Andalite passenger space and Prince Jake got in the driver's seat. Just as Prince Jake was about to key the engine, a man in a Tri-I uniform pulled up, go out, and walked to Mr. Chapman's front door. ((Odd. What would Tri-I want to talk with Mister Chapman for?)) I asked my Prince.
"Don't know, but we should make sure that they're not here to hurt him. Not even Tri-I is above suspicion anymore. Morph a snake. You can get in there and listen in while staying hidden. If you think Mister Chapman is in danger, you can strike and protect him."
((Yes, my Prince,)) I felt the changes begin immediately. It was not a morph I used often, but was still quite useful.
Prince Jake opened up the door of the car and I slithered through the grass toward Mr. Chapman's house. I found a crack in the siding and moved through. The home wasn't a natural environment for a snake, but it was navigable. I made my way through the nooks and crannies of the house, eventually making it under the kitchen cupboards.
"Mister Chapman," the stranger was saying, "A Tri-I building was struck by a terrorist force and its occupants taken hostage. I am here to investigate who's behind it. This meeting never took place. Do you understand?"
"Yes, operative," was Chapman's response. Most would likely have been nervous about dealings like this. But after all his time amongst Yeerks and Animorphs, very little phased Mr. Chapman anymore. I tasted no fear from him. Nor from the operative.
"First question. Do you know of any active entrances to the old Yeerk Pool?"
That was kind of a shock. I knew that there would have to be some sort of an official investigation, though all of the results would probably end up being highly classified. But how had the Tri-I ended up on the same trail as we Omegamorphs? This changed matters greatly. We were still bound by the rules of the game between the Crayak and The One to not let anyone else know. Now, the Earth's internal protection forces had gotten a whiff of the new threat, a whiff that could escalate into a full scale n-dimensional war if they figured it out. We would have to avoid the investigators at all costs.
While I was thinking of the implications, I missed Mr. Chapman's answer. I believe it was a truthful "No."
"Being a principle at the local school, you are in contact with a lot of young people, who are often targets for terrorist recruiting. Have you seen any suspicious activities amongst the youth?"
"Kids are always acting suspiciously, but nothing that would constitute possible terrorist activity. At least, nothing politically motivated. A few of them threw eggs at my house last week, but the security system took care of them. Just be glad I remembered to buy auto-Shredders that only go up to stun or we'd be having this conversation through bars right now."
"Records show that you are heading up the new Sharing for helping former hosts get past their experiences, do you think that maybe an organization of former voluntary hosts are infiltrating it?"
"Your records are outdated. I retired my position because it was beginning to conflict too much with my duties at school. I don't know who is running it now. But no, I haven't noticed any conspiracy among the former hosts."
"Operative," Chapman began, "I'm curious. Why all the questions about Yeerks? I've heard about the assault on the local branch, but I heard it was terrorists."
"That is true. However, the terrorists had Yeerk weaponry. While any sizable Yeerk presence on Earth would have already been noted, in the light of the current war, it is possible a few of them have managed to infiltrate the planet. They would likely be the ones behind such an attack, and if so, they are most likely preparing for another attack here on Earth. It is our job to put a stop to that before it can happen."
"I don't know why you'd ask me. I haven't had anything to do with Yeerks for a few years now. I had my fill last time."
"You are the highest-ranking former Controller we can get access to," the operative answered. "And you are listed as a Voluntary Controller."
"I know. For your daughter. That is why you have not been prosecuted for your involvement in the Invasion. However, if one is looking for Yeerks, I would think you would be a good place to start."
"You might think so, but you'd be wrong," Chapman answered.
"That's good to hear, sir. Thanks for your time." At that, the operative did an about-face and walked out the door. This operative was dangerously close to the truth. He had even even asked about the Yeerk's new front organization in town, the new Sharing. I thanked the Ellimist right then that Mr. Chapman was on our side. Because of his time with the Visser's forces, he knew the rules of the game, and he would work to ensure that they wouldn't ever be violated.
I slithered back out to the car where Prince Jake was waiting for me. I demorphed in the Andalite passenger area after I saw that the Tri-I operative's car was gone.
"So, what was he doing in there Ax?" Prince asked.
((That operative is investigating the recent attack on the Tri-I installation where the Visser stole the personal force field generator,)) I reported, ((They believe it was terrorists, not Yeerks. However, he is investigating the possibility that a small group of Yeerks on Earth was behind it, and preparing Earth for a new invasion. He believes there might be a possibility of the new Sharing being infiltrated by former voluntary hosts. Also, he wanted to know about any possible active entrances to the Yeerk pool.))
Prince Jake looked ahead and stared for a little bit. I believe he was "chewing it over," as humans say. He is a good commander, always thinking of the possibilities and implications. I realized again why I admired him.
"Let's take this to the guys and figure this out together." With that, we were driving again to Naomi's house.
We all came together again at Naomi's house. Jacques and Naomi had a few friends over at the moment, so we moved the meeting to Rachel's bedroom upstairs. I was standing near the door, trying to kill a fly that was buzzing around my head with my tail. Even with my speed, it was not an easy task; not without harming myself or someone else, at least. Prince Jake was leaning against the window, deep in thought as always when we had an impending mission. Marco was laying on the bed, legs crossed and hands under his head. Jeanne was sitting on the side of the bed, next to Marco, playing with his hair. Melissa was sitting on top of Rachel's desk, elbows on knees and chin in hands.
"Ax," Prince Jake was saying, "tell them what you told me."
I did so, and everyone was looking kind of thoughtful afterwards. From what I knew of human expressions, they did not look worried, as I knew I must have if they could read an Andalite face.
"If you guys want to know what I think," Melissa stared, "I think we should recruit this guy. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and being Tri-I, he's probably good with weapons. He could be an awesome tool to use against the Yeerks. And then we wouldn't have to worry about him figuring out things he can't know."
"He may be useful," Marco admitted, "but we can't really have any new members. We would be adding a new unknown factor, which would be dangerous at this point. We don't know where his allegiance would lie if we revealed what was happening. He might make a big report to Tri-I, and then the universe would be in real hot water. As much as I would like to have another guy between me and the Kelbrid, it's not worth blowing up the universe over."
((We could send him on a wild kafit chase,)) I suggested, ((If we feed him misleading information, then he could end up irreversibly on the wrong path. Tri-I would trust us if we told them something was going on somewhere else and not here. Their Chee superiors could reinforce it.))
That one sounded like a winner to me. Not so much to Prince Jake, though. "Most of the members of Tri-I are either human or Andalite. We could put up a façade for a while, but not forever. And when it's been found out, we may lose trust with them that could come in handy in future operations."
There was an awkward silence as we milled through the possibilities by ourselves. Jeanne suggested the next course of action.
"We could put surveillance on him. Make sure he's not coming any closer to the truth of the situation. If he does, then we could...intervene."
Prince nodded at that, but there was a troubled loook on his face. He was not pleased with what Marco meant by 'intervene', "I don't like the idea of that. We might not have a choice. I'd suggest calling up Tobias and getting his feedback on all of this, but I think he'd tell us to 'intervene' now... Nothing really needs to be done at the moment, and he most likely won't be able to find what he's looking for. The Yeerks are good enough at hiding from us, and we know where to look. I doubt he'll come up with anything.
"Since we have to see if there's anything in the Pool, I'll be leading the scouting. Ax will look into this Tri-I operative, try to spot him by hanging out around the local Tri-I facility and waiting for him to walk out.
"We don't have anything on the Pool right now, so I'm going to go to the Chee. They probably have maps of Pool that the military made while they were sorting through the place trying to get a hold of technologies. We can use that to try to find where there may still be active entrances. I'll be back in about an hour, and we can get started then. Ax," Prince looked over to me, "You can get started now."
((Yes, my Prince.))
"Don't call me Prince.
I morphed in the bathroom and flew out the window as my Prince got in his car and drove away. A car, as I am certain you know, is much faster than a harrier. By the time I found a perch on a building three blocks away with a clear view of the Tri-I installation, Prince Jake had already driven back home.
I waited on top of the building. The time was dragging on as I registered all of the faces that went in an out. None of them matched the man who had been speaking to Chapman, but I had to keep trying anyway. We would never be able to keep surveillance on him if I couldn't find him, and this was the best place to do so.
I had to demorph and remorph twice. After the second time, I decided to get some air under my wings and enjoy some flying time while I was on duty. I could still see their faces while I flew, I decided it was a good way to break the monotony while continuing my mission.
I was paying attention to the people on the ground, not to other birds around me, which was why I did not notice another bird of prey paying a lot of attention to me from a higher up.
A large red-tail hawk, female judging by its size, dove at me from above. She slammed into me, raking my back with her talons. ((AAAAHHHHG!)) I fell out of control for a few seconds, but quickly regained my flight pattern.
She was coming at me again, this time from above and behind. I pulled up and flapped for all I was worth. If I could get above her position, then she couldn't use any downward momentum to strike. There wasn't any time though, she was on me quickly. Just as she was about to hit me again, I rolled over to my back and did a half-loop, coming out horizontal to the ground.
She wasn't going to be lost that easily, though. I saw her coming around to face me. Now that we were on the same horizontal plane, things would be a lot easier. We both tried to climb above each other. Tobias had told me so many times that height was everything. Neither one of us were gaining the advantage.
Then I heard a blessing from above and to my left. ((I got your back, Ax man!)) An Osprey came from above to blind side her, sending her tumbling toward the ground. The hawk regained control and flew toward the Tri-I building. She would not be back, unless she got some help.
That's when I saw a flight of six more birds come from the top of the Tri-I building in a Delta formation.
((Marco! These are Tri-I operatives!))
((Then let's get out of here!))
We flew away at top speed, but the operatives were not going to give up the pursuit. They probably believed that an osprey coming to help a northern harrier meant that somebody must have been spying on their installation, and they were not going to let us go. A logical conclusion. ((Marco, we need to get away from these operatives.))
((Thank you, Prince Obv-))
((Let us do what I believe you humans call 'playing chicken,' dodge in and out of traffic.))
((Firstly: we humans? Do you Andalites call it something different? Oh, right; you probably call it suicide! Are you insane, Ax man? I don't want to get scraped up off the street by a guy with a shovel.))
((It is the only option that comes to mind.))
((How would that help? They could just follow us from the air. Stupid, insane risks is one thing, but stupid insane risks for no reason are quite another, Ax.))
((If we remain aloft, they will be upon us very shortly and we cannot fight them off. At least if we do this, they will not be able to attack us. And I am certain we will be able to think of some way to lose them shortly; we just need time to think.)) I spilled air from my wings and dove between the tall buildings and followed the main street in the direction that leads out of the city and toward the suburbs.
((Man, this is insane)) Marco moaned. Despite his memory loss, he still was the same man I've known for so long.
There was a truck coming my way. I waited for the last possible moment to pull to the side and almost scraped my belly on the side of the trailer! I just missed the side mirror of another car that was going by. Behind that, I almost crashed into the helmet of a guy on a motorcycle.
Marco must have been experiencing the same kind fright-filled flight for our lives. I decided it might be a good gesture to alleviate the panic he was probably feeling, ((To ease your fear, let's talk about Earth foods. I hear that can help calm people.))
((I'm kind of busy here, Ax-man…))
Still, I thought it might be worth it to raise his morale ((I'm thinking of pancakes-))
((DON'T SAY PANCAKE!)) Marco roared in my head so loud it almost hurt.
((AX! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO - actually, that one's alright. Mmmmmm...ice cream.))
I saw out of the corner of my eye that Marco was having a better time of dodging than me. He had full use of every feather, while I had already been wounded by the encounter. I did not see any birds following him, but they might have been farther back. I couldn't look behind myself because I would end up on somebody's windshield, but I suspected that there were three more birds behind me as well.
We had to end this. I had perhaps an hour of morph time left, and Marco might have less. ((There's the mall, turn left!)) I weaved my way inside between the people and the doors. I could see a reflection in the glass. Six birds of prey descending form higher up. They had, as I predicted, followed us from the air. Now they were coming down after us.
Before, I had been winging it, but now I had a plan. ((Marco, head for the Krispie Kream drive through. We can lose them there.))
((I don't think that chucking a few donuts at them will be much of a deterrent.))
((That is not the plan. We can exit through the drive through window, and it is too cramped in there for all five of these birds to chase us through. Also, I doubt that they possess the necessary skill and experience with their morphs to make such a narrow exit.))
((Yeah; I've forgotten more about flying than they'll ever know.))
((I believe you made a similar statement earlier today.))
((Does that make it any less applicable?))
((I suppose not, no.))
((Then let's go!))
We flew through the crowds of spectators as we did our aerial stunts to lose our pursuers. The shoppers had no idea what was going on, and didn't interfere because they did not want to stand in the way of whatever was happening. Clearly, something was afoot, and the average citizen wanted nothing to do with any of it. We flew over the food court, where the Andalites were lined up for their Krispie Kream donuts. We flew over the counters into the kitchen itself. There were pans and utensils hanging from the ceiling. They were very hard to dodge. At least two birds ran into the equipment that was hanging from the ceiling; that meant that there were four left.
((Marco, you head out the window first.))
((I'll be happy to get out of this place.)) He flew through the window, over the head of a very short, startled woman. I followed close behind and circled around to watch. One bird slammed into the window, smearing it with blood and fell to the ground. I hoped he was not too badly injured to demorph. The other three birds did not attempt to follow.
((We used to do this on a regular basis, didn't we Ax?))
((We must have been some real punks. Jake sent me to come and get you. That Tri-I operative is out scouting the area for possible Yeerk Pool entrances. Jake spotted him while we were scouting out the area ourselves. He thought that since we had an eye on him now, you ought to join us.))
((I will be right there as soon as I am able.))