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Birds chirped and insects droned, seemingly without end, the continuous racket punctuated only occasionally by the shrieks of arboreal primates. Water flowing rapidly in the powerful currents of the Amazon River added to the sounds of the tropical forest known to many as the Amazon Basin. Beneath the surface of the river water, small piranhas and huge araipamas swam through the rushing waters, the relentless pull of the currents seemingly having little to no effect on their locomotion. Monkeys swung through trees, and snakes slithered along the dense undergrowth, all going about peacefully with their daily activities. Well, admittedly the snakes might have had certain bloodthirsty thoughts running through their simple brains, but no one could complain.

After all, this was the jungle, where only the fittest survived and the most cunning triumphed.

However, three beings making their way through the wilderness did not fall under either category, and yet were making their way through the dense thickets of plant growth. One of them had a dead jaguar strapped to his back,and all three of them brandished sophisticated firearms that had no business being in the Amazon Basin.

"Heat's a bitch, man!" cursed one of the three human men, as he untied his bandanna and used it to mop his sweat-covered brow, "When do we get to leave again?"

"One jag's not enough for us to break even, you fool," replied one of his two companions - the one without the jaguar on his back, "We'll need at least one more, then we can head to the river and back to the boat."

"Quiet," rumbled the burliest and most brutish-looking of the trio, even as he adjusted the jaguar on his back to make carrying it a slightly more comfortable exercise, "With this much noise, it's a wonder we even got to bag this jaguar."

From there on, the three of them continued moving along in silence, the only auditory signs of their presence being the cracking of twigs beneath their feet and the snapping of small branches and saplings that were unfortunate enough to be in their way. The sweat-soaked bandanna was retied about the man's forehead, and eyes were kept peeled for any signs of motion.

Suddenly, the man with the bandanna stopped dead in his tracks, and held up his right hand with his fist closed. His two companions stopped, and crouched down low even as he himself took out a pair of miniatures binoculars from his safari jacket. He had seen some sort of movement in the terrain up ahead, a sort of clearing where the ground sloped downwards a bit, and large ferns grew in dense clusters, their umbrella-like fronds waving gently in the slight breeze that blew past.

"We have a bogey," he whispered, as he focused the binoculars, "Looks like a big-"

He never did get to finish his sentence, for at that moment, one of the ferns growing in the clearing collapsed, revealing a bizarre creature that none of them had seen before. Four red, globule-like eyes swiveled about on short stalks, while two rows of lobster-like pincers flanked a broad, rounded torso. To top it all off, a large, cylindrical mouth stuck out from between the four eye-stalks, the rim of which was lined with several rows of sharp-looking teeth.

"What the?!" hissed the man carrying the jaguar, his grip tightening on his sniper rifle, "What is THAT?"

The third man squinted to try and make the creature out without binoculars, and saw it stuffing an entire fern plant into its large, gaping maw, "I... I think it's a Taxxon."

"Taxxon?" the bandanna-wearing hunter remarked, "Those former Yeerk-controlled things?"

"Yes," nodded his companion, "Ah, now I remember... One Taxxon was relocated here as a Taxxon, and the others were... what did they call it... transformed into anacondas, pythons, and other snakes then relocated here."

"Why didn't they transform it, I wonder?" asked the jaguar-carrying man, as he drew a bead on the Taxxon, which was now finishing its second fern plant.

"Dunno. Maybe it was sick or something."

"Whatever."

BANG! The brute of a man fired at the Taxxon, his bullet hitting it square in the middle of its broad, barrel-like chest.

Yellowish blood spurted out of the wound, and the alien creature let out a shrill cry in its native language, "SREEEEYAAAA!!!!"

"Jesus H. Christ!" exclaimed the man without bandanna nor jaguar, "Can you smell that?!"

Indeed, the wounded Taxxon was still spurting out copious amounts of foul-smelling yellowish blood. The air around them now reeked of ammonia, and the creature stumbled as it tried to turn around and flee from the clearing.

"Give it to him!"

BANG! BANG! Two more shots caught the Taxxon in its back, causing it to slump forward and collapse to the ground in a graceless heap of heaving, maggot-like flesh. The air now reeked even more severely of ammonia, as the Taxxon bled profusely all over the ferns that had been crushed beneath its weight as it collapsed.

"We got him!" cheered the bandanna-wearing man, "Some rich fuck would sure pay for this baby, hell yeah!"

"You two'll carry 'em, though," rumbled the huge man that had sniped the Taxxon, "It STINKS!"

"You big lout! Scared of a smelly worm?" teased the third man.

The large-sized man opened his mouth as if to answer, but was prevented from doing so as a weak, pained voice spoke up in his head.

((Help... I have been... Wounded... Ugh...))

He whipped about to stare at his two companions, "Did you two-"

"Fuck, the worm's speakin' in our heads!"

"We killed an Andalite?! Only they could speak in-"

A sudden hissing sound from somewhere disturbingly close to them silenced all three of them immediately. They all jumped about, bringing their guns to bear.

WHUMP!

A huge snake fell from the trees above them, the geometric patterns on its long body prominently glinting as sunlight reflected off a thousand scales.

"A reticulated python?" the huge man took a step back, loading a fresh round into his now-empty gun, "What the-"

In a flash, he was hit behind the knees and fell to the ground flat on his face, his two other companions similarly unfortunate. Before any of the three men could recover from the fall, they were all bundled up tightly within the coils of several large constrictor snakes that had appeared from where they had been hiding in the dense undergrowth.

((Take their guns," a voice spoke up in their heads, ((Then go bring help from the village.))

Surprisingly enough, yet another large snake slithered into sight, and manipulated its muscular coils to drag the dropped firearms out of sight. It seemed as even more time went by, more and more snakes were appearing out of the undergrowth. At the same time, one of the snakes departed from the vicinity, moving rapidly away from them.

"Umm... I think these are the other Taxxons," grunted the bandanna-wearing man, as he struggled in vain to free himself from the anaconda's coils that were looped around him.

Within the next quarter of an hour, footsteps were heard, and several Amazonian native tribesmen walked out of the jungle around them, close on the tracks of the same large snake that had departed earlier.

xxx

I never wanted to live out the rest of my life as a Taxxon.

How many years has it been, I wonder... Five? Eight? Ten? More than that, maybe? I guess I'll never know exactly just how long I have lived as a Taxxon, a veritable slave of the eternal hunger that governs the mind of their entire pitiable species. If my parents could have seen what happened to me, and what I have become... I am thankful that they never had to see their only son living out the rest of his life as a ravenous, cannibalistic worm.

Here I lie, bleeding to death on the damp, musty-smelling floor of the forest. It's almost as if I can feel my hearts beating against the fern-covered floor of the forest.

So this is the end, I guess. I shall die here, on the same world where Elfangor met his unfortunate demise. Alloran actually survived to go home, at long last free of the Yeerk scum who had enslaved his mind and body.

Looking back now, that mission to the Taxxon home world was the turning point in all of our lives. Accidentally locating the Time Matrix, Elfangor disobeying Alloran's orders to kill ten thousand Yeerks without hosts, learning the horrible truth about what Alloran had done on the Hork Bajir home world, me getting trapped in my Taxxon morph... Somehow, I'd always expected Elfangor to be the only survivor of the Yeerk war, among the three of us.

It's almost funny, come to think about it. Here I was, dying in the middle of a remote forest on the planet Earth, light years away from my home world. And yet, I do not really feel all that sad, in the end.

Maybe it's because finally, I am going to be freed from the terrible Taxxon hunger, after all these years. Finally released from the aged and battle-worn Taxxon body I have been trapped in since that fateful mission to the Taxxon world.

My name is Arbron. I was an aristh in the Andalite military and later, a Taxxon leading a rebellion against the Yeerks. And now, I am going... home...

END