Disclaimer: Rights to Animorphs and its respective characters belong to the respective parties.

Warning: Minor adult content in some chapters. Also, a higher-than-likely chance that things may be lifted directly from the text without warning, scenarios imitated, battles poorly written. Also, long chapters. The story generally follows the series.

Summary: After the crash landing, Elfangor finds himself on Earth, alone, the only ones knowing of his presence being the five children who saw him crash. Confronted with the choice to fight or to hide, he chooses to continue the battle. AU

[~.~.~]

A/N: Up to Book 4, The Message

[~.~.~]

Elfangor's Folly

By, Kim Hoppy

[~.~.~]

All it takes is one moment, one small distraction, and you can be lost in a battle. I've said it to all of my arisths that train under me. The first rule: always keep your main eyes on your opponent; use your stalks to monitor others, your surroundings. And I had broken it. No, worse, my distraction had led to me to take all of my eyes off my opponents, to be so thoroughly distracted. In my defense, it had most decidedly not been small – the Dome, Aximili! No! – but that is almost no excuse. In that split moment – a moment that spanned an eternity as I saw the beams target the Dome's stabilizers, watched them be destroyed – my ship had been hit, badly.

Badly for me, I mean, as the Controller would think his hit had been very good, I thought dimly as I was thrown away from the console at the explosion. The ship spun wildly for a moment and I crashed to the floor in a jumble of limbs and pain and blood. For a moment I could only lie dazed, dwelling on the language semantics before realizing I was distracting myself even more when I could ill-afford to be!

I staggered to my hooves and made my way to the controls, looked out the view screen to seen my enemies targeting me, and even without my experience I could tell it was situation that was quickly becoming mortal. The controls – still sparking, melted, useless – were slow or inoperative. Maneuverability was down significantly, altitude and attitude confused. I realized the ship had been too badly damaged for me to keep in this fight. (I also had been too badly damaged, seeing the gaping wound created in my side, felt the dripping blood and pain.)

Looking around I could see our numbers dwindling, the Yeerks growing, the Dome ship looming, our ship faltering. It was lost. … Earth was lost.

‹NO!› I thought sharply. No! I would not let Earth fall.

I thought desperately, quickly. I had to save this world, its people. I had to … the Time Matrix!

I flew the damaged flyer, dispatching what Yeerks I could, looked down on the familiar world, looked for the familiar outline of the continent. There. Down, down, descent.

I could save Earth. Aximili. The Ship. Even myself, but most importantly, the first three. Yes. I just had to get to it! There was time – and then there would be more than enough time.

Speeding through the atmosphere, I neared the location. Neared it, made it. Could see the lights that made up the human world – headlights, skyscrapers, signs, so many. I zoomed in on the coordinates. Saw the location.

No, no, it was wrong. It was suppose to be forest, not these skeleton buildings. No, no …

And then, through the fog of my pain and desperation and hope, then I realized the truth, the irony. Though I was going to get unlimited time, there was no time to get it! I buried it too deeply. And I could not seek it, could not let the Yeerks find me in the middle of getting it, could not let them be aware that there was something. Not with Yeerks here, not with a Blade ship in orbit, not with a Visser.

No, I couldn't let the Yeerks get such power.

It was too late to turn back, though. Sensors showed the Yeerks were winning the battle, the number of Andalite fighters dwindling down to just me. They would be here soon. I could not hope to make a safe escape from so low in the atmosphere, could not hope to even escape to make a good fight to stop the Yeerks. I was crippled, both in body and in ship.

Though it turned my blade to flee, there was no true choice. If I could not escape via the air, I would seek the ground.

I would land.

It wasn't one of my better landings. However, on the bright side, it wasn't a crash. At the moment, it was the only glimmer of light in this utterly dismal black hole. The ship, Aximili –

‹No! Focus, Elfangor. Now is not the time!› I scolded myself, staggering over to the medical kits. With shaky hands I emptied the epinephrine hypo and then the pain relief one, neither probably in the medically approved area. Hopefully they would be enough to let me get to safety. The Yeerks were certain to follow my ship and would be here at any moment. No time to morph to heal and demorph to escape. Only time to run.

The hypos were already affecting me, making me jittery and numb. I grabbed a bag and threw in anything I could think. The Shredder, not that it were going to last long, I noted grimly. Some officer had neglected to recharge it. Still, I packed the weapon. A small computer pad. The rest of the medical kit. The Escafil device, knocked from its compartment and resting on the panel. Whomever thought it would be a wonderful idea to give me the responsibility to give the ability to the arisths at the academy better hope to never meet my tail. There had been nothing worse than facing those … those children, hopeful and proud and utterly scared and knowing that more than half of them were going to die. I am glad I had not been the one to have given it to Aximili ….

No, do not think of Aximili now. Not now.

No one knew I still had the device, as I was supposed to have left it in my quarters on the homeworld. I'd had to rush to make the departing ship and hadn't paid attention to what I packed. I didn't learn of my mistake until we had already left. Slightly panicked, I hid it in the fighter and waited for the subtle message that never arrived. Either they hadn't noticed – unlikely, because how many Escafil devices did they have? – or they hadn't wished to offend me by suggesting I had stolen it – not that I had stolen it. It had been an accident.

I cast my eyes around. Anything else? No.

‹Computer. Self-destruct. Fifteen minutes.› That should give me enough time to get away, and enough for Yeerks to find it and hopefully join its fate.

I limped over to the door and pressed my hand to the panel, and then started to descend. However, I had to pull up short at the beings approaching me, though I couldn't make out their details. My tail was already at the ready.

Slowly, though, my eyes accustomed and I saw them. Humans. Children, hardly older than Loren had been those long years ago. They were skittish, scared, and awed. Not Controllers.

‹Do not be frightened,› I said softly. I let my tone be calm, soothing, let them realize I meant no harm. And they relaxed and smiled, and I smiled back slightly.

We might have stood as such had I not recalled my ship was going to explode in thirteen minutes.

‹We must leave here. Immediately. My ship is to self-destruct.› I limped down the ramp and they must have seen my injury. I myself had been avoiding looking at it.

"You're injured!" a female gasped.

‹Yes. I may die.› There was no reason to lie. ‹Please, leave. Return home. Speak of this to no one.›

"No, we can help you," another girl said.

"Hello, did you not hear him say his ship is going to explode! Let's get out of here!" a male said.

"Marco's right. We have to go."

"We can't just leave him. He needs help!"

I had a feeling these human children were going to be troublesome. Troublesome beings always talk about you as if you're not present. ‹I shall be fine! Leave now or you will all be in danger. The Yeerks will be here soon!›

"Who are the Yeerks?" a boy asked. I gasped at his face. I would remember it anywhere, even having never seen it before. It was so obviously Loren.

‹They are here to destroy you,› I said lowly. ‹Now, go, run, and if you value your lives, you will tell no one of our meeting. They can be anyone. Your parents, your friends. Trust no one. GO!›

They were surprised at my order and some were already obeying, running a few steps.

But Loren's son stopped. "Who are you? Will we see you again?"

"You have to tell us about the Yeerks!" the first female said. "Someone has to know!"

I stared at them. ‹My name is Prince Elfangor. And, if I live, I will be honored to meet you again. Now, please, we must leave.› I rushed away.

"But you don't even know who we are! How will we find you?" Loren's son – my son – demanded.

My eyes saw the streaks in the sky. ‹They come! Run! Go home, now!›

And I ran, dashing through the area that was once forest, my hooves hitting dirt that buried the secret Time Matrix.

I had come full circle.

[~.~.~]

The city had changed. Of course it had. I had been away eighteen years. Still, I had always imaged it to be unchanging. Not exactly stagnant, with all the negative connotations, but in the distant preserved form I kept in my memory.

I had escaped, ducking into the alleys and scaring the homeless, running as fast as I could until I met the forest. By then my body was weakening, my side oozing blood and pain. I collapsed and forced myself to morph, as weak as I was. The kafit bird, so I could fly and see what was happening. However, if I was going to be stranded on Earth – again – I was going to require more natural morphs.

I hid my bag into the bushes and under debris before I started, and then I morphed, growing even more tired until I was the many-winged bird. It had been years since I morphed it and I took to the sky.

In the air, I dimly saw the Controllers centering near the area where my ship had landed. It had already exploded. There were police, and, I saw, Hork-Bajir and Taxxons. I made note of the faces, not that I would remember or see them easily again. Humans are like ants, many, and they all look alike to me, again. I was going to have to become in the practice of telling them apart.

The kafit bird is not for night, so I returned, praying the children heeded my words, were safe. Back in the forest I returned to my true form and gathered my bag, heading deep into the forest. I had to hide, to think about what would happen.

But first, I had to mourn. Mourn the lost of the ship, its warriors, my little brother.

Aximili. I cursed myself. I had ordered him to the Dome for his safety, and it led to his death! He had been helpless and they shot the Dome down, crashing it to Earth.

It had been then when I had been hit, wounded, distracted with the death of my little brother. My responsibility to keep safe. My aristh.

What would Mother say? And Father? How could I face them again, after such failure?

Wearily I walked until I could walk no more, and I solemnly did the rituals of death for my lost ones.

Afterwards, instead of sleeping, I thought of what I must do. I was on Earth, quite likely alone. Earth was already under Yeerk infiltration, and a Blade ship was in orbit. A Visser was stationed on this world.

There were no fighters. I was in unfamiliar battle situations. I was a fighter pilot, not a ground troop, not guerilla force.

I had no weapons, no one to assist me.

I had two options: I could fight or I could hide.

But I would not hide. Not again. I would not let them take Earth. I would not let them harm my son. My wife.

Loren. I would find my Loren, see how she fared in her life without me. She had to be in the city still, if our son was. I could see how they lived. They would be together, my family that never knew me, that I was never part of.

I smiled. Why else had I been so eager to accept this mission, to volunteer? Oh, yes, to defeat the Yeerks and all that propaganda, but to see Earth again, to see my long-lost, never forgotten family. My hidden pride.

Yes. I would fight. I may not be as effective as I had been in a fighter, but I would live up to my epithet the Yeerks called me. I would be their Beast.

And, as I recalled, Earth had quite a few beasts for me to become.

I looked around, foolishly, because I was alone, and closed my eyes. Morphed again, to the form I never allowed myself to morph in all these years. For all I knew, the Ellimist could have removed it from my arsenal, but no, no, I knew he hadn't. I could feel it in me, buried deep, my hidden self. And, in a second, I felt the changes.

My spine shortening, my stalks disappearing, front legs dwindling. Becoming stockier, stronger, weaker. I fell forward and caught myself with my hands, the sticks and dirt stinging my skin. The chill in the air suddenly hit my bare skin, and hair fell in front of my eyes. My mouth opened.

Naked, I sat on the ground and stared at my human hands, strong, five-fingered. Felt my arms, my feet and legs. My hair tangles and the planes of my face.

I laughed, quietly. "Hello, Alan Fangor. Welcome back."

[~.~.~]

I stole clothing. It fit poorly, and I only wore it long enough to wire an ATM – after disabling the camera – to give me five hundred dollars so I could buy proper clothes and shoes. I gathered more money from various ATMs and other sources, started to get my necessary human paper work. Social security number. Birth certificate. Drivers' license. I opened a bank account and started depositing money in it, got a credit card, sent all the paperwork to a PO Box.

It all came back to me, being human. Of course, I had forgotten how difficult it was to walk only on two legs, how over-powering taste was. There had already been a minor incident with that. Starbucks should be prohibited. Thankfully, they had merely thought me a caffeine addict.

It was a busy week later that I finally tried to find the children that had seen me land. I was worried, concerned that they had been taken.

It was easy to find them. They were young children, and it was late September. They had to go to school. Flying with my seagull morph – obtained by stunning the donor one night at the beach – I found them easily, learned their names. Jake. Marco. Rachel. Cassie. Tobias. My son.

I followed each home, and I will not lie, I was shocked to learn that my son did not live with my Loren, but with I man I did not know. An uncle of neither my (obviously) nor Loren's relation. A slovenly man, a drunk.

Where was my Loren? Why was she not with our son, raising him? Had she died?

Panicked, I hacked into his records, searched out my wife. I did not get far, as I was using public venues and they do not let those be easily assessable. But my hearts had stopped. Had she been dead these many years? I had always imagined her alive, well, living as we had been. Happy. With our son. True, sometimes in my despair I would recall that she was with another mate, someone who was not me, but she – they had always been happy, idyllic, innocent. My illusion was shattering, because, however my son had lived, it had not been happily.

One day, after school they went to Cassie's home. She lived in the country, at an animal rescue center. I had made note of it and had already acquired several of the animals her family had been treating. They were speaking and I deemed it safe to let them know I was all right. I had, after all, promised – though not it so many words, not even in words, more like implied – that I was going to meet them again.

They were below me. ‹Hello, children.›

They were all surprised and gave yells, looked wildly around.

"Did everyone else hear that?" Marco demanded.

Jake nodded. "Oh, yeah."

"It's him!" my son said excitably.

"Where are you?" Rachel demanded.

"Are you all right?" Cassie asked.

‹I am fine. I am above you. Are all of you all right?›

"Where are you? Are you invisible?" Rachel demanded.

I sighed in both amusement and exasperation. ‹If I had the ability to become invisible, I would have done so when I left my ship, Rachel.›

"It knows your name!" Macro exclaimed.

My feathers ruffled at the unintended insult. ‹I am a him, Marco.› He squeaked. ‹Not an it, and I know all of your names. I have been watching you.›

"You're the bird, the seagull, aren't you?" Cassie asked quietly.

I was impressed that she had managed to determine the general direction of my thought-speak, a difficult talent for one unexposed. ‹Yes. Unless my true form frightens you, I shall demorph.› Obviously, they did not understand how I meant demorph. As I was the first alien they had knowingly met, they may think it a natural ability. Of course, none of this truly mattered, and I flew down. The children moved away, skittish, and I started to demorph.

Morphing is not an exact science, and it is not pleasant to watch. Dimly I could see their faces of horror and sickness, but on all there was some glimmer of awe.

Finally I stood as my true self in front of them, the children huddled close together. They weren't terrified, but they were scared. I have very little experience in meeting new aliens – friendly ones, at any rate, because I constantly meet new Yeerks – so I, after a moment, lowered my tail so it would be less threatening – not true, because from this position it was just as dangerous, but they were humans and did not know that – and said, ‹Hello again, children.›

They dimly chorused hello back. And then my son said, "You're not hurt anymore."

‹No. The morphing healed my wounds. I am well now. Thank you for your concern.›

"We were worried," Cassie said. "I mean, it looked really bad, and we saw those other ships land and those things –"

‹They did not see you, did they?› I demanded.

"They didn't see me," Marco said.

"Because you ran like the little chicken you are," Rachel said.

"No, they didn't see us, Prince Elfangor. At least, we don't think so," Jake said slowly. "I know someone chased me, but I lost them. I think someone chased me anyway."

I was not exactly pleased to hear such things, but it was no more than I could have expected.

"All right, who exactly are you and what Yeerks?" Rachel asked. "And how did you find us?"

Amused at her attempt to take charge, to not appear frightened, I said, ‹I did read the reports about Earth customs.› Okay, I lied. I did start to read them, curious to what our intelligence had to say about Earth, but they were so boring and incorrect that I gave up. ‹You are adolescent humans, which implies that you should be in school. I only had to monitor the schools in the area to see which you attended. Finding one of you would greatly favor that the others attended the same institution, and I merely observed you to learn your names and your homes. And which lessons you slept through.›

"All of them, if you didn't notice," Marco put in a bit proudly. "Except gym."

"What exactly are you?" Jake asked. "I mean, you're an alien, but, I mean, well …" He trailed off helplessly.

Marco grinned. "You don't exactly look like a Klingon, is what Jake is trying to say."

I chuckled, which I think surprised them. ‹I think you'll find most beings don't bear too much resemblance to humans with a bit of putty on their face. My name is Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul,› I said, bowing slightly. ‹I am a Prince in the Andalite military, assigned to your planet to halt the Yeerk threat.›

"So, you're royalty?" Tobias asked.

For a moment, I was confused until I remembered the Earth titles. ‹No, I am merely a warrior. My rank is War-Prince, which could be seen as Captain or Commander in your language.›

"And Andalite, that's what you are?" Cassie said.

I nodded, the habit coming back to me. It had taken me time to quit the practice when I rejoined Andalites, as we did not nod our heads to confer agreement. Indeed, I had to stop because the ships' doctors kept thinking the fluid in my inner ears was destroying my balance, and if I wished to not spend time in the infirmary, the habit had to be given up.

"And what are Yeerks?"

‹They are beings that have come to destroy you.› My pronouncement startled them, and I started going through the facts of the Yeerks. What they were, how they operated.

"So you're here to fight them, to save Earth?" Tobias asked.

"How can we even trust you?" Marco countered. "For all we know, you could be the ones trying to take us over."

I was insulted. ‹Andalites do not take over other species.›

"Marco's right. How do we know?" Rachel said.

"He could have killed us already, if he wanted to," Cassie argued.

‹Indeed. However, there is no way I can actually prove my claim. In any case, saving your planet has become difficult.›

"Why?" Jake asked.

I sighed and felt the familiar despair rising. ‹The Andalite Dome ship I was on is no more. A Blade ship hidden in your orbit surprised us. All … all of our fighters and warriors were destroyed and killed. As far as I know, I am the only one who survived.›

"We're sorry," Cassie said quietly, after a long pause.

‹They died honorably,› I intoned, careful to keep my emotions in check. It wouldn't do to accidentally broadcast like a child. ‹In any case, I had only wished to inform you I was well, to see that you were well. I should depart.›

"Can't we help?" Tobias asked, and, I'll admit, I felt a swell of pride. How humans would feel, I know not, but it is a noble trait to wish to protect another, for an Andalte. No doubt it sprang from our early roots, when one had to protect the herd over all else. "If Earth is under attack, we should do something.

"Are you insane?! We could get killed!" Marco exclaimed.

And suddenly, they were all arguing, ignoring me. Humans would never cease to amaze me.

‹No, I will not allow you to assist me,› I interrupted. ‹This is not a game. Marco is right. You may all die. I cannot allow that.› Because as noble as their cause was, I would not enlist children, not as I had with those Andalite children.

"Hey, Earth in under attack, and you expect us to do nothing?" Rachel snapped. "It's our planet!"

"Why can't you just go to like, the President and tell him or something?" Cassie asked.

I tried to patiently explain that I couldn't know if the President or someone around him was a Controller, the ramifications of my actions would have to the Yeerk invasion, and everything. However, humans are stubborn creatures.

‹I cannot ask you to place yourselves in danger. You do not understand the dangers, and if you are taken, it is a fate worse than death. Your capture will lead to the rest of you being taken, to the danger of myself being killed. It is too high of a risk.›

"So you just tell us all this and leave?" Rachel said, not a little angry. "Leave us helpless."

Humans were, if I had learned anything, far from helpless. ‹Forewarned is forearmed.›

"What if we find out something? How can we tell you?" Tobias asked, slightly desperately. "You've got to let us help you some way."

I stared at them. Even Marco was silent. ‹Very well.› I closed my eyes and thought. ‹You may find me in the forest surrounding this place. There is a meadow.› And I deposited the information on how to get there to them. ‹Now, I must depart. Please, keep yourselves safe, and have a pleasant day.›

I bowed and returned to my wings before taking to the air, heading back to the city. I had to look into this club. Something called The Sharing.

[~.~.~]

I checked my map of the city, carefully outlining known Yeerk pool entrances, before sighing. I shouldn't have been so surprised that it was large. It was a Yeerk pool, after all. They only came in one size – too big.

The School, the Mall, the McDonalds. Who could tell how much farther?

‹Elfangor, you are over-whelmed and out of your league.› A Dome full of Andalite warriors destined for ground fight would probably not be enough, although it would be more helpful.

My initial assessment of The Sharing had proved promising. There were definitely Yeerks leading it, though I couldn't be sure if The Sharing was started because of the Yeerks or if the Yeerks were merely using an honest club for their goals. I hoped it was the former, for it would be more damaging to the Yeerks if the club went away. (Though I hadn't figured out how I was going to accomplish that. It was the rather glaring hole in my plans.) If they were merely following their parasitic nature on the club, it meant they had actions elsewhere, and, wherever those were, I had not found them.

I had not yet made my presence known to the Yeerks. Until that time, they would be relaxed, careless. I knew, once I exposed myself, the relative safety I currently had would disintegrate from the Dracon fire that would suddenly be aimed at me.

Another problem was that, despite what the High Command said, Yeerks are not stupid. They would soon realize I was operating alone and could plan accordingly. I knew my limits, and if they exceeded them, all would be lost.

It was utterly depressing. I needed something to eat.

Something human, I mean. I was becoming in the habit of eating at least once a day at a human establishment. The temptation was too great not to, as were the rewards.

After putting the supplies in a small cave I had found, I took to the air with my northern goshawk morph, a wallet in my talons. I did not keep my human clothing in the forest. Ironically, the construction site proved useful in that purpose. I had a variety of outfits hidden around the location in case a homeless person or troublesome youth found one.

Circling the area showed no persons lurking, so I dived down into the skeletal structures and prepared to demorph and dress. Once that was completed I slipped out onto the street and headed towards the mall.

I never really liked the mall, but my dislike would be waylaid because of the many options for food. Entering, I was still uncomfortable with the crowds and walls, but I made do, heading towards the food court, guided by the delicious smells.

Options! Marvelous options! My mouth was already salivating. What to choose, what to choose?

In the end, I decided to go simple, basic. Nothing too much. A double quarter pounder with cheese with large fries and a chocolate shake and a double chocolate fudge-brownie and a side order of onion rings and chicken nuggets and a fish sandwich and an apple turnover, please.

… Yes, that would be for one.

Sometimes humans ask very foolish questions.

Once I had my order – which made for a very full tray – I migrated myself to a corner by a window and tree. Carefully I set the tray down, as if it were lined with explosives, sat just as gingerly, and took a deep quelling breath. I could not lose my head. Had to remain perfectly calm and in control.

Five minutes later, I was left with half the fries, a few chicken nuggets, and a lot of wrappers, which I was not going to eat! And a mild stomachache. I forced myself to eat slower. I didn't want to vomit. Carefully I nibbled on the nuggets and allowed my other senses to come to the front.

There were a few comments about my eating, a few stares, but I ignored them. I studied the people around me, the families, the young adults. Any one of them could be a Controller. Well, perhaps not the sleeping newborn. Or the two-year-old in the midst of a temper tantrum, demanding a balloon. But everyone else.

On a nearby table someone had left a newspaper, and with a bit of effort I managed to snag it and start to peruse the news. There was nothing of special consequence. It wasn't like they proclaimed Yeerk activities, however helpful that would have been to me, and I soon grew bored with human news.

One thing that troubled me was the current year. I had been off Earth eighteen years. However, my son was several years off that age, and, if going by the current year, I would have left Earth after I had even barely arrived, before my son could have been conceived. My Andalite mind could not comprehend how I could have been present with my Loren and conceive a child when the times did not match up. Certainly I had been present on Earth, hadn't I? I had a human morph. No one merely remembered. I had been absent from the Andalite military, while not as long as my remembered presense on Earth, for a reasonable time, and I believed the Ellimist must have fudged with the time stream, placing me in the past. Yet none of it lined up, even with that allowance. How could it have been arranged, so that my presence was here at the required conception of my son, at a time when I certainly was not?

It was a Möbius strip of logic, Ellimist logic, and I could not think of an answer without getting a headache. I had to remain confident that the Trickster hadn't lied to me when he said Tobias was my son.

As I contemplated cause and effect and time, I was surprised to see Jake, Marco, and Tobias walk into the food court and take a seat, not next to me, but close enough that, if I strained, I could eavesdrop. Soon after their arrival, Cassie and Rachel appeared, the latter holding several shopping bags, apparently saw them, and made their way over. My eyes narrowed at the contrived naturalness of this meeting.

I couldn't quite make out their conversation. They were speaking in whispers, but I think I caught enough. They were speaking of possible Controllers, as apparently they felt they should be on the lookout for alien invaders. I struggled not to jump and hiss at them to not speak in such a public venue. If I could overhear them, what about the Controllers?

I sat, watching them and eating the reminder of my food, making sure no one seemed to hear them. However, once I finished, had a reason to stand, I took the tray and walked to their table purposefully. Marco noticed me first, and he motioned the others to be quiet, and they watched me. I stepped closer, and they leaned back.

"I told you children to not become involved in this," I said quietly, angrily.

They gasped. "Prin—" Cassie started.

I shushed her, frowning severely. "Excuse me." I went to deposit my refuse and then returned, sitting at the table alongside them. "Just what do you think you're doing?" I demanded.

"We're shopping." Rachel said. I didn't believe her. I had married a woman who used shopping as an excuse to get out of doing things. I may have had a healthy appetite as a human, but Loren certainly didn't have to shop three times a week for groceries. For whatever reason, she had never wished to discuss the interactions of the quantum particles that make up a system as such that the probability of them being anywhere is never certain, but based upon the statistics the location could be assumed as such, and therefore …. She tended to run to her car by then. It was, actually, very amusing.

"So I see. Just do me the favor and do not speak of issues of universal import where anyone can overhear you." I stood and prepared to leave.

"Don't you want to know what we found out?" my son asked.

I sighed. I could not pass up possible Intel. Even if it was poor, it may be better than what I had. "Not here. Tomorrow. Come to the meadow after your lessons."

[~.~.~]

After patiently listening to the children's report, I felt compelled to tell them when they spoke correctly.

"I knew it!" Marco crowed. "The teachers, the vice-principal, there's a reason they're all evil."

"Marco, this isn't a joke. What about Melissa?" Rachel snapped. "She's in danger if her parents are under their control."

‹Be as that may be, there is nothing you can do,› I said firmly.

Rachel looked at me angrily. "She's my fiend! I have to do something."

"Like what?" Jake asked. "Anything you do might put her in more danger."

‹Tell me about this club, The Sharing,› I requested, wishing to leave this conversation. Sometimes sacrifices had to be made, and I was willing to let this Melissa be one of them. Perhaps it was cold, but she held no ties to me, and I had sacrificed those far closer.

"Why?" Marco asked suspiciously.

"You know something about it!" Rachel accused.

‹Please, tell me.›

"It's a family group thing. They do a lot of activities and everything," Cassie explained. "Jake's brother, Tom, is in it."

I did not even glance at Jake.

"So was my mom," Marco added. "Although, gee, who runs it now?"

"Chapman," Rachel stated.

"That could just be a coincidence," Tobias put it.

"Oh, come on. Everyone we said was somehow connected to The Sharing," Marco said, and he apparently missed the subtle signals.

"Tom's not a Controller," Jake said firmly, with all the conviction of someone who has no proof, and he looked ready to personally defend the stance.

"We're not saying he is," Cassie said quickly, setting a hand on his arm.

‹It is a connection not to be taken lightly,› I said not unkindly. ‹Being in such an organization might very well increase someone's chance to be taken involuntarily, or to be coaxed to be voluntary.›

"There are voluntary controllers?" Tobias questioned.

‹Many Taxxons are voluntary. There are always some who are too weak to stand against the Yeerks, who agree with them, or who side for material benefits.›

"Tom wouldn't," Jake said stoutly.

I decided to play Devil's advocate, merely to point out that he could not be sure. ‹Even if, by his being infested, your parents and you would remain safe? Of course, I do not believe a Yeerk's word, but they would promise it. Many parents would freely give themselves to save their children.›

At my words, Jake looked troubled. I hoped it would be enough for him not to confront his brother or be otherwise suspicious.

‹You should return home before your parents worry,› I said to them. ‹And do not do anything foolish.›

Slowly, they left, except Tobias, who hovered near the edge. While amused, I was also touched.

‹Is there something else, Tobias?›

"No, not really."

‹Should you not return home?›

Tobias shrugged. "My uncle wouldn't know if I was there or not."

I felt a jab of anger at the human, at any creature that could not realize the importance of their young. Andalites are especially protective of our own. ‹I am sorry to learn that,› I said softly. I paused, and suddenly the curiosity was too much. I had to know. ‹Your mother … tell me about your mother, Tobias. Your family.›

He was surprised at my request. And troubled. He avoided my gaze. "She … disappeared. When I was just little. I don't know what happened. I guess she died. People say she just left because she was messed up. They said she never got over my father. I don't know. But I know she has to be dead because she'd never have just left me. No matter what. But maybe that's what I told myself. I don't exactly have a family." He seemed ashamed at such an admission.

It was a fresh stab to my hearts. I wondered if she never got over me, however foolish it was to ponder, however selfish. I would rather have her to forget me than to be in pain because of my memory, so she could have stayed with our son with a peaceful heart. Of course, I would rather be in pain with her memory than without. I wished to know more, but I could not ask. It was not done, and maybe my son did not know the full story. ‹Sometimes family is not what you have been born into,› I said softly.

"What about you? Do you have family?"

‹I have my parents.› I stopped and closed my eyes. ‹I also had a little brother, but he has moved on.›

"What happened to him?" Tobias asked tepidly.

‹He was stationed on the same Dome ship as I. He was a new aristh, a cadet. It was his first mission. During the attack, I ordered him to the Dome, as he was too young, too inexperienced to fly. It was shot down into the ocean by the Blade ship.›

"It wasn't your fault."

My eyes opened and I saw Tobias giving me a concerned look. I smiled. ‹Perhaps. Perhaps not.›

"What was his name?"

‹Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill. I believe he would have enjoyed meeting you. He was around your age.›

Tobias smiled. "We would have liked to have met him."

I had meant Aximili meeting Tobias, not all of the children, but I didn't correct the mistake.

"We were surprised to see you … well, you know, at the mall," Tobias said. "Can you become anything you want?"

‹I may become anything I can acquire. Morphing is not a natural Andalite ability,› I explained. ‹Our scientists engineered the ability at around your nineteen-sixties. Provided I can acquire a DNA sequence, I may morph into whatever I wish for two hours.›

"Why only two hours?"

‹After that, the change is permanent, and I would become a nothlit, unable to return to my true form or ever regain the morphing technology.›

"Does it hurt, morphing? It looks awful."

I smiled. ‹It is quite painless, thankfully, although I will admit some of the sensations are disturbing.›

"I'll bet."

My son stayed only a few minutes longer before I suggested he leave before it got dark.

[~.~.~]

The trouble with being stranded on Earth is the decided lack of anything technologically advanced. Or at least advanced enough that I could obtain without getting shot at by Yeerk fire or drawing unwanted attention to myself. Purchasing several large satellites to orbit the planet was certainly out of the question.

Besides, then I'd have to buy or, more correctly, create the fuel to somehow get them up in space.

I swore quietly at my failed communications device. What good was something that only picked up Skrit Na music? No doubt it would sometimes pick up the odd Yeerk news, but it was not going to assist me in contacting the homeworld.

Before you dare think I cannot put together a simple communication array, let me assure you I certainly passed that course with flying colors. However, in my current defense, that class assumed I'd have access to things more advanced than – to put it politely – materials that were only a bit more useful than rocks.

With a frustrated huff I turned off the device – and atrocious music – and knew it was no use. If I wanted any sort of contact, I was going to have to steal, if not a Yeerk communicator, Yeerk parts. At least those I could manipulate.

Honestly, I knew the endeavor was doomed to failure before I started. However, one has to at least try, and I did greatly desire the High Command to send Dome Ships to Earth rather quickly. I had been against sending only one to begin with. Of course I am protective of Earth, but I thought it was a bit bold to send only one in the first place.

Popular gossip would have one believe a single Dome ship is superior against a Yeerk Blade ship. In general, let me state quite firmly, that is true. Andalite Dome ships are superior to Yeerk Blade ships. However, superiority does not guarantee success. And I thought it irresponsible to send a single Dome ship to a planet where there were Yeerks, where there was evidence that we would need to be a sustained presence for an undetermined amount of time when the nearest for assistance could be days – if we were lucky – away. Of course, I understand our resources are limited, but it was foolish. It wasn't like we were being sent to monitor something with little risk.

Perhaps my foresight to the Dome's destruction might have its roots in what the Ellimist had shown me those years ago, before I returned to the war. I'd always known I had a son, that he would meet with the other children. At the time, I had assumed my brother would have met them as well. I wasn't sure if that was trickery or misunderstanding on my part. I had seen the lines join … should not my little brother be by my side now, alive? Or was it merely by Aximili being present, so close in space to these children that from the distant I was at it looked like the lines had merged, that this chain of "noninterference" was created? I could not be certain. All I knew is that, for some reason, these children's lives were important.

Was it because they had seen me land?

Was I really being foolish, believing them to be of importance? They were human children. Had my eye been drawn to them because I had seen my son, who met with my brother, and these four other lines joined, and there truly was nothing of import in their meeting?

I sighed and tapped my hoof. Sometimes I used to try to remember those lines I had seen, how the universe looked from such a perspective. I cannot recall it anymore. It is too far in the past and too great for me to understand.

That is enough for the pointless mind wanderings, Elfangor, I scolded myself. You have Yeerks to torment.

So far my activities on that front were barely a blip on their radar, as the humans say. I was still being cautious, looking more to find information than to actually stop them. My list of extremely probable Yeerks grew and turned into certainties, though part of me wondered what I could do for the next step. I was no assassin, and going out to kill them in cold-blood set me on edge. It was one thing to kill in battle; another to murder. Added to that would be the trouble. One Controller killed the Yeerks might over-look, but two or three or four would make them suspicious and on their guard. I had to be careful, for more than one reason.

I've always lived under the assumption that the Yeerks would sooner kill than capture me, lived with relief. I knew too much, about Andalite secrets, my secrets, the Time Matrix, and now the Escafil Device. However, I wasn't so careless to realize that should some Yeerk wish to grow in power, I would make a good host if it could happen. In Prince Alloran's body, Visser Three was the only Yeerk with an Andalite body. It gave the Abomination his edge, no doubt, and I didn't wish to give another Yeerk such a privilege. If I were to taken, it would be a blow to my people, both in reality and in spirit. I was not ignorant of my prestige, though I did my best to ignore it, and my capture – perhaps even my death – would hurt morale.

Of course, my own death or capture would damage my morale as well, but such concerns are secondary in concern to the homeworld.

I took care to hide my mechanics in the hollow tree, thinking as I did so that I might have to purchase a house just so I have somewhere to put everything I would need for my tasks. Of course, to buy a house, I would need to obtain more money, and I dimly decided that some untraceable financial tapping was in order. I might as well steal from my list of known Yeerk operations. Every bit of damage counted.

One of my main goals was to figure out which Visser was stationed on Earth. Knowing that could give me an idea of how their plans would progress, based on the information our spies had gathered. Of course, of the maybe forty-two Vissers, reliable knowledge is only known for about half. Part of me hoped I knew whomever the Visser turned out to be was; another hoped not, because, while I could have the advantage of knowledge, it meant they had a reason to be known. In this war, there is never a good reason why we know a Yeerk. It is the savage, the dangerous ones we learn of, the successful ones. The quiet ones – even if they are successful – draw little attention.

To aid in my endeavor to learn the Visser, I was attending Sharing meetings, the top-members-only ones, in a small mouse morph. I figured, eventually, the Yeerk would have to speak to his or her committee. So far, the direct number hadn't been spoken – of course, I had only attended two meetings at this time – but I recognized enough to know this wasn't one of the nicer Vissers.

I will admit, this Yeerk, whomever he or she is, I would kill even when not in battle. The death would rattle the ranks and cause much needed confusion. It is my current plan. All I needed was to know what the Controller looked like. Hiding up in the Blade ship may work for now, but once I knew the human – I'm rather confident a human would have been taken, or will be, because Earth is still under infiltration, and Vissers always like to visit the operations – I could bide my time and attack, kill.

It is not a very honorable plan, I admit, but understand it is only the Visser I wish to attack in the manner. And it is for the good of Earth. Humans. Andalites. The Universe.

It also did not trouble my sleep too much.

I have done much worse that I am ashamed of.

[~.~.~]

I am not superstitious. I've never been taken in by either Andalite or Human beliefs of ill omens. Comets were comets, and broken mirrors were broken mirrors. However, that did not mean I was immune to feeling nervous about situations, that I ignored my intuition when it told me things boded unwell. From the tips of my stalks down to my hooves, I felt as if something was going to happen. Almost needless to say, it felt like something unpleasant.

I cannot justly explain it. The feeling had been with me from when I woke to now, where I stood in shadows on a roof watching Yeerk proceedings. I could not stop my eyes from darting, my tail from twitching, from shifting my weight from hoof to hoof. Nervous energy coursed through me, and more than anything it annoyed me. I was acting like a fresh aristh on his first mission.

Even though I was annoyed, I didn't ignore the feeling. My instincts had served me well these years, and I could hardly afford to throw away something that could very well save my life.

Of course, it was just as likely to get me killed, so I would just have to temper instinct with common sense.

Looking down at the meeting, through the glass in the window at an angle that would be difficult to see me, I waited. The Controllers were arriving, parking their hosts' vehicles and making chitchat. From my view, I thought they looked nervous as well. More nervous than a normal meeting should warrant.

I felt the hair down my backbone rise.

The meeting soon started, and my eyes widened as a hatch opened from the floor, as an elevator rose up.

No, no, it couldn't be! Not him.

But it was, as the shadows showed the blue fur, the stance, as the aura was emitted. Now that I knew, it hit me even harder, the malice and over-confidence and power. I felt myself shaking, not out of fear, but of anger.

How dare he be on this planet? How dare he defile this innocent world with his filth?

I admit it, I lost myself. I wasn't prepared to find Visser Three on Earth, and my feelings escaped. And he sensed them, and I saw his stalks swivel to look up. I didn't move in time, for I heard him scream, ‹There is something on the roof! See what it is!›

Well, at least he hadn't seen me. But he had sensed me, he was on guard. He might end up believing it could have been an Earth animal, but the part that occupied Prince Alloran, the Andalite, would recognize another Andalite's psychic imprint.

Quickly I morphed into my owl and took to the sky, leaping to the air as the first Controller reached the roof. I flew home. There was no reason for me to stay.

I learned what I had needed.

Visser Three. Could this possibly get any worse? Aside from being alone on this primitive planet, I had to deal with the Abomination. Visser Three – aside from inhabiting an Andalite – is one of the worst Vissers. He is cruel and impatient and violent, who prefers a full snap-blade attack to the throat instead of crippling nicks.

It came to me suddenly that he must have been recently assigned here. The current infestation was far too subtle for Visser Three. I wondered if he was brought here as punishment or reward, or if his talents were needed. There were too many possibilities.

Flying back to the woods, I could not help but mutter about the coincidence that he would be here, that I would be here, on Earth. It was almost our start.

I wondered if it would be our end.

[~.~.~]

"Are you all right?" Tobias asked, sitting on the log. He had been watching me for some time. For the past few days, he'd coincidentally wander by this meadow. The first few times, I hadn't been around, but then I had seen him from my sky view. I started being present, coincidentally as well.

It was foolish of me to take time out to spend time with a human child, but, I said to myself, it wasn't foolish to spend time with my son.

Tobias was still more in awe of me than anything else. I was not so blind as to have not seen this. I was still an alien, a strange one by human beliefs. (To be honest, I am used to being held in awe, to be surrounded by others who are too shocked to speak. Other warriors, especially young ones and arisths, barely managed to speak two thoughts to me.) But, eventually, he spoke more freely, albeit still carefully.

I was in shock about what he said about his life. It was a simpering shock. How … how could his "relatives" treat him as such?

(How could I have left him to be treated so?)

His school life seemed little better.

Sometimes I tried to steer the conversation towards his mother, but never so much that it would make him overly curious. It was a fruitless, for it seemed Loren had left his life when he was hardly a year old. His "father" had died before his birth. (In a way, this was true.)

In turnabout, Tobias hesitantly asked me about my family. I told him simple things. What my parents did. Mother's never-ending goal to make me take a mate. Father's favorite tales, which he seemed to always have to tell me at least one of when I returned home, as if I was still a little one who never left his shadow, and how I humored him. About Aximili … how I had been so proud he had made it through the Academy. Worried, yes, guilty, yes, but still so very proud. Remembering his complete shock, happiness when I told him we would be on the same Dome ship.

In this time, Tobias had learned to read an Andalite's facial expressions. He was a quick study, like his mother.

‹Pardon?›

"You seem … upset."

I gave a small smile. ‹Last evening I learned something that did not especially please me. It still does not.›

"What? If you can tell me."

‹I discovered the Visser stationed on this world is Visser Three.›

"Is that bad?"

‹It certainly isn't good. The Visser and I … we have a long history,› I said, disseminating the truth slightly. ‹Visser Three is especially reviled by the Andalite people. He is the only Yeerk who had an Andalite host.›

"Can he morph as well?"

‹Unfortunately, Prince Alloran was a modern warrior and didn't oppose taking the ability.› Back then, warriors had the choice. Now, it is given as part of training. ‹Such a thing makes Visser Three very dangerous.›

"How long as he been a Controller?" Tobias asked after a while.

‹Over two of your decades.› I closed my eyes in the guilt.

"Oh." He sounded surprised. Obviously, it hadn't occurred to him exactly how long the Yeerks had been attacking. How long a host would be forced to remain their captive. "I'm sorry."

‹So am I.›

"Did he have a family?"

I took a deep breath. ‹Yes. A wife and two children.› They were almost pariahs, from what I understood, by their shame and pain. ‹These years … it has been hard on them. But they still hope.› For his freedom or his death. After so many years, such states were the same.

Tobias nodded, wrapping his arms around his torso. He was probably getting cold. It was getting late.

"When do you think other Andalites will come?"

‹It could be years,› I admitted. ‹Our Dome ship was supposed to be enough to defend this world. However, our intelligence was in error.›

"Yeah," he agreed.

I cast him an eye, not very amused by his agreement. He gave a sheepish smile. ‹How are the others?›

Tobias shrugged. "They're okay, I guess. I mean … we're not that great of friends."

‹I had thought … never mind.› Was my son so very alone? I had thought … they had spent time together, I saw it. Then I realized they had merely bonded because of me. Such a thing, while it might last, is not enough to make friendship.

"It's all right," he said quickly. "They're great and everything. We just don't hang out. Rachel and Jake are … well, we're not on the same social strata." He grinned, and his nose wrinkled in a way that reminded me of Loren when she had been amused. "I have a few classes with them. I think they just want things to be normal. Especially Marco."

‹And you do not?›

He shrugged again. "Nothing's so great about normal."

‹No, I suppose not. Of course, there is nothing so great about being not normal,› I said sympathetically.

Tobias looked down at his feet and I saw him nod. "Were you ever not popular in school?"

I set a hand on his shoulder. ‹I was rather average,› I admitted. ‹Andalite schools are a bit different than human schools. When I was very young, I think I could have been described as, how do the humans say, infused with sugar?› I saw Tobias smile. ‹It drove my parents crazy. In the academy, I was the serious student, but I was not especially important in the scheme of the class. I only became popular, as you say, when I reached my rank.› I paused.

‹But, there a time before that were I was about as odd as fish in the sky,› I said. ‹I spent some time in a … in a completely different culture than my Andalite heritage. It was a learning experience. I know it is not easy, not being normal. But it does pass.›

"Not always."

I laughed kindly. ‹You are an adolescent. You think the world will end if you cannot fit in. Believe me, it does not. And you will soon find that being normal is decidedly not normal.›

Though he might have appreciated my words, I could tell Tobias didn't actually believe me. Of course he wouldn't. Children never believe their elders about such facts of life. I know I hadn't. It was, then, impossible to believe anyone so "old" could understand what life was really like.

‹It is growing late. Return to your home, before it becomes dangerous.›

"All right, Elfangor." Even though he sounded reluctant, he left, looking over his shoulder every few steps.

I felt myself slump in defeat when he disappeared. My son, the poor child. My hearts went out to him.

These days, I had been going through his files, trying to locate my Loren. It had been difficult. I didn't know how to start. There was little information. It was like she had simply dropped off the world. (I hoped not, because dropping off the world could be a euphemism for being taken as a Controller as well as dead. I honestly did not know which I would prefer.)

I did not let myself worry. Not yet. I was sure I would find her. I just had to be patient. It may be a little cliché, but it was almost like the stories my parents had told me when I was young. I was returning to her, even after all this time, after all this distance.

Of course we couldn't pick up where we left off. I realized that.

But, other than that, it was a bit like the stories. I just had to find her.

And I would.

[~.~.~]

Ready to take my afternoon meal, I soared over the forest. I was starving. However, as I neared, my goshawk hearing could hear my name being screamed across the wood.

‹What the --› I flapped to pick up speed.

As I neared my meadow, I was surprised to see Marco screaming my name.

‹Marco! Marco! I believe everyone in the forest knows my name now!› I snapped, ducking to the branches.

"It's Jake! He's gone nuts!" Marco screamed at a small squirrel, which wisely scampered into a tree.

‹Marco, I'm the bird above your head. Now, what about Jake?›

"He's gone nuts! Ever since you mentioned The Sharing, he's been trying to prove Tom's not a Controller. Which he isn't, of course! But we shouldn't take chances, should we, when aliens could take us over."

‹Marco!› I interrupted. ‹What is Jake doing?›

"He's sneaking into a Sharing meeting! I left Rachel and Cassie trying to talk sense into him, but you got to do something! He's obsessed!"

My eyes were sharp. ‹Where is this meeting?›

"That club house thing they have. You know, on the South Richmond-Oak corner."

Oh dear. ‹The one that's members only?›

"Yes!!"

I could have fallen from the branch if my grip hadn't tightened. That boy was going to get us all killed! ‹Go and help them stop him! Knock him out, if you must!› I ordered, flapping to another tree. I started pecking off the loose bark until if fell to the ground, and I dug inside with my talons.

"What are you going t—whoa, don't shoot me!"

‹GO!› I ordered, gripping the Shredder and flying as fast as I could.

I hoped it was fast enough.

[~.~.~]

It wasn't.

I could see from the roof – the same roof that I had seen Visser Three – the meeting was already in progress. And I could see Jake's brother, on the stage, next to the other Controllers, could hear them speaking about things that no one who wasn't a Controller should hear.

Currently, I was hearing, "—for the Yeerk Empire."

That was never a good point to come into a conversation.

My eyes looked around, trying to find the children. It didn't take long. They were hidden, inadequately, behind the panels. From my view, their spot was poorly chosen, but from the level of the Yeerks, it was obviously good enough.

Jake looked sick, afraid, angry. Rachel looked just angry. Cassie had a hand on their shoulders.

‹What are you children doing?!› I hissed. They jumped and looked around wildly. ‹No, stay calm and don't get caught!›

I started to demorph and picked up the Shredder. This was dumb, but I couldn't risk them getting caught.

‹When I distract them, you will escape. You will not mount some stupid, foolish rescue attempt! Do I make myself clear?› I hissed as my stalks came into view. ‹You put yourselves and me in danger! Stupid children! Stupid! I can't believe I thought you trustworthy enough to know anything! Stupid.›

Finally, I was in my true form. Let me emphasize my position.

I'm an Andalite. On the roof a Yeerk meeting hall. Which was filled with Yeerks. In broad daylight. With a Shredder that had maybe ten good shots. Against Controller that probably had an unlimited supplies of Dracon beams.

To rescue three patently stupid human children!

And this would inform the Yeerks I was on Earth! I was already an endangered species on this planet! I didn't need the Yeerks to make it a goal to make me extinct.

It's times like these I wonder about my fondness for the human race. Obviously my sense is severely flawed.

I took a deep calming breath, the Shredder a familiar feel in my hand. I raised it, looked down the glass.

‹You will leave in this resulting chaos.›

And I shot at the speaking Controller. He went down with a very terminal hole in his chest.

Cries instantly started and I kept firing, and more Controllers dropped to the ground. But it was less fatal, as the power was running low, running out. I purposely stood in the skylight, and the Yeerks screamed and pointed at me.

"Andalite!"

As I hoped, the children managed to sneak out with the rush of Yeerks that were no doubt running to the ceiling to kill me. Hopefully, no one would realize they didn't belong.

Now to worry about myself.

The Shredder was drained of power, and I threw it aside. It was useless now, and it would just slow me down. I ran down to the roof, bent my legs, and jumped to the next building roof. Thankfully, it was lower. Looking back with my stalk, I could see the Controllers pouring into the roof.

With Dracon beams.

I hated being right.

I jumped down off the building into the alley, knowing it was going to hurt. And, when my front leg snapped, the bone broke through skin, it did hurt. But I was already morphing to my rodent form. I could escape with that. Morphing a bird was suicide if Yeerks had Dracon beams.

Soon I was small and scampering against the wall, behind the Dumpster, under a fence. My blood would show I had been there, the small footprints in blood would show I morphed, but finding a specific rat in an alley was a hopeless goal. All I to do was put distance between us.

Rats aren't very fast, but I was swift enough, small enough to make my escape. And I had time. Carefully – after all, I was a fat rodent, and many feral animals would love to try to make a meal out of me – I made down several streets. And then, I slipped into the sewers, landing in water I do not want to think about.

It wasn't deep.

I demorphed and did my best to not breath, and I closed my hooves to the foulness under them. The water came up to my knees.

‹I am going to kill them,› I swore quietly, trudging down the passageway. I don't know if I meant the Yeerks or the children more at that particular moment.

[~.~.~]

The children were silent, not meeting my gaze. I wouldn't have met my gaze either. Fury was rolling off me in waves, and I had to tell myself I couldn't beat them upside the head with my blade. Humans are frail, unlike Andalites.

Cassie was biting her lip, obviously trying to not cry. Rachel was looking furious, her fists clenched. Marco was avoiding looking at any of them, his eyes constantly darting to my twitching tail. Jake … Jake was focused on his knees.

A crunch of leaves made them all jump, and they looked up.

"Umm … hey, what's up?" Tobias asked. Then he made a face. "Ehh, what's that smell?" I glared at him, and he quickly sensed my answer. "Oh. So … ah, what happened?"

‹Some very foolish children decided to eavesdrop on a Yeerk meeting,› I growled, ‹placing all of us in danger.›

His eyes widened and he looked at the others.

"We're sorry, Prince Elfangor," Cassie whispered.

Sorry does not undo the dangers you put yourselves and me in!› I snapped. ‹I have been able to live in anonymity until this foolish stunt! Now the Yeerks will be looking for me, they will be aware that I could be sabotaging their operations!›

"Look, we're sorry, okay," Rachel snapped. "It was dumb, we know, but we had to know."

‹You should have asked me!›

"Like you would have told us," she countered, sounding every bit like a child denied a right.

"Rachel, shut up before he takes your head off," Marco hissed.

"It's my fault," Jake mumbled. Then he looked up at me, and his eyes were wet. "I … I had to know. Everything you said, it all seemed possible, it was enough, but I had to see it for myself." And now he wished he hadn't. It was easier to pretend the lie when you didn't know the truth.

Despite my sympathy, my tone remained sharp. ‹And you put the others in danger.›

"He's my cousin! I had to right to know, too," Rachel said.

‹And now you know,› I said coldly.

Jake looked back down as Rachel looked away. "Yeah. Yeah," he nodded. Then he looked up at me. "Can't you do something? Save him somehow?"

‹And what do you suggest? Kidnapping him, starving the Yeerk out? And then what?› I demanded. ‹Where could your brother go or hide? They know he's a Controller! If he escapes, they'll either kill or recapture him. And you want me to risk my life so that if he is recaptured, the Yeerk can drag all the information your brother gathered in his freedom and use it against me? Is that what you suggest?›

The boy avoided my gaze.

"There's got to be something we can do to save Tom," Rachel demanded.

‹Not making yourselves an easy target for the Yeerks would be a good start!›

"Isn't having Tom a Controller a danger for Jake anyway?" Cassie asked quietly. "Won't they try to take the rest of Jake's family?"

‹It is a possibility,› I conceded.

"Then we have to be able to defend ourselves! Can't you give us a ray gun or something," Rachel suggested.

"Just what Rachel needs, a ray gun," Marco said.

‹That Shredder was the only weapon I had! All I have left to fight the Yeerks is a med kit, human electronics, which certainly aren't going to help me, and the Escafil device!› Then I stopped and thought about what I just said.

The Escafil device. I could give them the ability to morph.

No. Only an idiot would give these children that power, especially after the stunt today.

And they were children. I refuse to bring more children into this war.

"Elfangor, did you think of something?" Tobias asked.

I mentally cursed his ability to read my face. ‹Yes, I have. But I don't think I can trust you with it. Not after today.›

"We're sor—"

I stopped Rachel with a glare. ‹And, if I give it to you, you would irrevocably have to fight the Yeerks. You could never be taken as hosts, ever. You would be in danger every day.›

"And we aren't now?" Marco asked.

‹If I give you this, you would have to fight.›

"And we would!" Rachel said.

‹This is War, Rachel. This isn't a game,› I snapped. ‹You know nothing about this life. You kill your enemy without remorse, every day. You risk death, every day. This isn't video game where you get unlimited lives! You can, most likely will, die.›

I stared at them, forcing my feelings into my thoughts, let them subconsciously see and understand what this was about. I didn't send images – that would be too cruel – but I sent enough to know that War was not like in the movies.

"Could I save Tom?" Jake asked, looking straight up. "Could I save my brother?"

I blinked at him. He was scared, I knew it, but there was something in his eyes. A passion, a reason. ‹I cannot promise you that.›

"But there is a chance, right?" he continued, fervently. "And the rest of my family?"

‹You would have the chance, yes. But only the chance.›

"That's all we need!" Rachel said, beating her fist into her other hand. "We have to save Earth. You should have heard what they were saying!"

I could imagine.

‹You do not understand what you are asking. I will not.›

"I have to try and save my brother!" Jake yelled. "How would you feel if it was your brother who was like that?"

‹My brother is dead because of this war,› I said lowly.

"But you'd have done anything you could have to protect him, wouldn't you?" said Cassie's quiet voice.

I drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. ‹Yes, I would have.›

"Give us that chance," Rachel demanded. "We deserve it."

I looked at all of them. No, this was too fast. ‹I will take two days to decide. For you to decide as well,› I said, looking directly at Jake and Rachel. ‹Understand me, this is war. If I agree and you agree, I will be your Commander. I will not be your preschool teacher. I will be leading you into battles, into danger. You will get injured, you may die. You will have more responsibilities than you should ever be forced to endure. You will do terrible things, you will have nightmares, you will wish you were dead. But if you take my gift, you will fight. You will have your chance to protect Earth and your families, but it will be at the risk of your life, cost of your serenity and very possibly your soul.›

They all stared at me.

"The army should use that as a sales pitch. People'd enlist in droves," Marco said, trying to laugh, but it was forced.

‹Go and decide.› I looked at all of them, suddenly feeling weary. ‹Just go, all of you. I must bathe.›

[~.~.~]

Even though I had said I would take two days to decide, I knew I had already done so. They had the right to want to protect their families and their home. If they had been Andalite youths, I would not be as against their wish. (Yes, I would still not wish it, but I would be more willing to allow it.) Andalites are a people who are hard-wired to defend their homes and families.

Maybe … maybe if they hadn't mentioned Aximili, maybe then I would have been responsible, told them no. But they brought him up. Reminded me of familial duty.

Looking up at the sky, I realized what I was going to do.

I was going to break Seerow's Kindness. Knowingly. There could be no defense, no claims of me being out of my senses. When my people learned the truth, I was going to be disgraced. I wasn't going to be a War-Prince anymore. I very well might not be anything, except a vecol. They could chop off my tail and outcast me. I would bring shame to everyone in my family.

But … but I could not let my pride stop me from giving another the right, the ability to protect their own home and herd. I could not leave Earth defenseless. It was my second home.

There was only one thing I could think of to do on this night. I did a ritual for my family. My parents and brother, asking for their forgiveness. For their understanding. For their compassion.

Because no other Andalite will ever offer me such things again.

[~.~.~]

Marco edged nervously into the meadow. "Hey, Prince Elfangor?" he said nervously. "Umm, could you … umm …"

I smiled to myself and turned my main eyes onto the boy. The children still were uncomfortable when I just focused my stalk eyes on them. ‹Why are you here?›

"Look, I have to say this. I can't do it," he said. "I just can't."

I looked at him. ‹I understand.›

"No, no you don't," he said quickly, desperately. "It's not because I'm scared – which I am, by the way. Thank you very much for that. I didn't sleep at all last night thanks you everything you said and what Jake and Rachel and Cassie said those Controllers said and –"

‹Marco, you are rambling,› I interrupted kindly.

"Yeah. Yeah. Look, I know Earth is in danger, but I can't fight. I can't risk … if I died, my dad would fall apart, okay?"

‹I am sure the others' guardians wish --›

Marco shook his head. "No, you don't get it. It would kill him." He paused and tried to gain his equilibrium. "My mom died two years ago. We … we used to be a great family. Good house. My dad had a great job. But then … now, now … we practically live in the slums. He can't keep a job. He drinks and watches TV and, and I can't die. It would kill him."

I looked at him with all of my eyes. ‹I am sorry for his suffering. And yours.› Because I could see how much this hurt him. Marco may have only lost his mother physically, but he was losing his father every day. Part of me was angry at such a parent causing pain to their child in such a fashion, but another part understood what it felt like to lose a dear mate.

Marco attempted to laugh. "Me, I'm fine. I just … I didn't want you to think I was a coward, okay?"

‹I would not think you a coward if you did not wish to fight,› I said. ‹In fact, I would probably think you a bit smarter than the rest of us.›

He grinned weakly at my jest. "Hey, I'm a genius. I … I think, if it was different, I'd fight, but I can't. I can't do that to my dad."

I looked at him. ‹Marco, there is just as much courage to fight as there is to let others fight for you. To realize that to protect someone dear you must risk others. To pick between saving the world and saving your family.› I closed my stalk eyes. That was one part I failed at, though I like to believe that by leaving I was saving my Loren. It might be true as well, but that does not make it any easier.

"Thanks. For you know …. You don't think I'm a coward?"

‹Marco, why would the opinion of a freaky four-eyed, blue-furred alien matter to you?› I asked, genuinely curious.

He shrugged, embarrassed. "It just does, I guess. I mean, you're trying to save Earth and you're, well, … you're sort of cool."

‹In this weather, I believe I am at a comfortable body temperature, actually.› I winked when he opened his mouth. ‹I understand, I suppose.›

"Rachel won't. She'll say I'm a chicken tomorrow, when I'm not here."

‹Marco, may I ask how many humans generally approach creatures that can remove their heads before a human eye can blink, especially when said creatures are fighting hopeless battles and the human has to explain why they won't be joining the battle? Do not let what Rachel says trouble you.›

"Oh, I will," he said a bit flippantly, but still serious. And truthful. I smiled at the fragile male adolescent human ego.

‹I will not. And I will not allow her to call you such in my presence. Now return home and take care of your father.›

[~.~.~]

Giving the children the ability to morph was easier than I worried it was going to be. Just a few words, the mental command, and the law was broken.

I was not surprised at Rachel and Jake being present, but at the other two. Cassie and Tobias both petitioned for the right as well. I knew Cassie wished to help her friends, perhaps save the Earth. My son … it was clear he was only doing it to be part of something, to remain close to me. While part of me relished the sentiments, part of me wished it was for more altruist reasons.

I had already silenced Rachel several times when she spoke about Marco. I couldn't understand why she seemed to take personal affront at his not being present.

After telling them the rules of morphing – the time limit, how to acquire, the time limit, the influx of instinct, the time limit, the sensations, and, finally, most important, the time limit – I sent them home with orders to not attempt to use the ability. (Honestly, I did not think I expected them to obey such an order, but I wasn't quite thinking.)

I wanted to take some time to, I admit, hold back in training children in the art of war, to hold back on breaking the law even more than I already had. I had given them the ability; now I had to train them on how to use it. That was like transferring technology, squared.

The High Command was going to love me. There was going to a new law, Elfangor's Kindness, or, if they were feeling original and clever, Elfangor's Folly.

It was going to be difficult to fight in this war with four arisths. Four untrained arisths, at that.

Do not misunderstand. I have trained arisths before, but those had attended the Academy. They had a mediocre bit of training before they came to me. The children were completely ignorant. Plus, I was training humans. I didn't know the proper psychology on their minds. As I've said, humans are fragile.

Perhaps I could get a book on the subject.

‹Yes, Elfangor, they have books detailing how to train humans to defend their home against parasitic invaders in a hopeless situation,› I said sarcastically. Then I thought about it.

‹Maybe in the Surviving Your Mother-In-Law's Visit section.›

[~.~.~]

I was getting a headache. Actually, it would be more apt to say that I've had a headache constantly, it was just getting worse. I do not know how Andalite professors dealt with students. I simply do not.

As I expected, none of them waited on acquiring or morphing. Jake had morphed his pet dog; Tobias, his pet cat; Cassie, a horse; and Rachel, a fox that had needed medical care at Cassie's farm. Of course all of them, once it seemed clear my temper wasn't going to be roused by their admission, raved about the ability, its coolness and similar adjectives.

The issue I was having is that, while morphing is not difficult, it came with the job to teach arisths details about it. After several minutes of trying to explain the logistics, it was clear that I wasn't explaining it on a level human children could understand, and they weren't every interested, anyway. It wasn't that it was troublesome, but teaching them to control the morphing – and to deal with the human worries about modesty! – was bothersome. I had captured two rabbits – one a dark brown large male and one small grey female – to teach them how do the Frolis Maneuver. Cassie had managed, after a few tries, but the other three couldn't comprehend the steps, and nothing either Cassie or I said seemed to help.

‹Perhaps it isn't that important,› I finally said. ‹I suppose you won't have much use for it.› Still, I thought it would have been best if they knew everything the morphing ability could offer them, and was frustrated I couldn't teach three-fourths of them. I didn't understand why I have having difficulties, or them, for that matter. I did not recall having such challenges on that part of the exam.

"When do we start to kick Yeerk butt?" Rachel asked.

I frowned at her eagerness. ‹I'm analyzing different developments,› I said. ‹Something relatively safe, but also damaging to the Yeerks. And before you even battle, you will require more effective morphs.›

"Yeah, I guess bunnies aren't exactly scary," Jake agreed.

"Where can we get them, though?" Tobias asked.

"I can get us into the Gardens," Cassie said. "And we have a few animals in my barn. Wolves, at least."

‹Wolves could be useful. I was thinking something like large felines, bears, reptiles, creatures one normally doesn't want to face. Also, something with wings, for travel. Those could probably be acquired at Cassie's, as you'd want to choose something native to the area, as well as something that can fly without being in prey for other creatures.›

"We've got a few hawks and eagles," Cassie said helpfully. "We could use them."

I nodded vaguely, dismissing them. ‹Go acquire them. Don't morph them alone the first time, if you would.› I looked at Cassie. ‹When could you arrange a trip to the zoo?›

"Anytime. Tomorrow, even."

‹I won't join you. I can't acquire anything, and I'm sure you will keep yourselves safe. This weekend, you can understand your new forms.› I looked at them intently. ‹These will be dangerous morphs and heavily suggest I am present the first time, if any of you lose control.›

They nodded and left. Once they left my sight, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. ‹Elfangor, you truly are a fool,› I said to myself. ‹Human children. Children. Humans. Idiot.›

I had to get out my Andalite skin. Morphing would relieve the pressure building – truly. In a different form, the throbbing in my head would not be an issue. And when I demorphed, my body would be at optimal health. Part of me wondered if I was ill with some Earth bacteria or if was just my realization that this was hopeless affecting my health. I wasn't sure which one I preferred.

I decided to go to the Dairy Queen and get a large sundae. I deserved it, after all this, and I galloped off. It was tricky to get near the city without morphing, but I had fine-tuned a system and even dared to rush across highways. (Of course, sometimes I had to wait an exceptionally long time to cross, after looking both ways numerous times, and I always had to remember to avoid rush hour. It was also like being human again.)

When I got to my morphing-zone, where I had to morph to keep myself safe, I changed into some clothes – note to self: take them to a laundry mat, because they were getting whiffy – I kept in a duffle bag stuck in some bushes, and walked the half-mile to the restaurant.

The sundae I ordered should be offered as medical therapy, and the blizzard I left with as follow-up care. There had to be some health benefit to them.

It started drizzling during my walk, and I chuckled at the humans that rushed about as if the water was going to melt them. I never understood humans being so against standing in the rain. Except Don Lockwood, who like to sing in it. It was just water. Yes, I understood wet clothes were cold and uncomfortable, but, well, if you were already wet, why bother? And I liked the rain. There was something refreshing about it, as if it could clean you.

However, rain does water out ice cream.

Looking around, I was in front of the city government office. Sucking on the red spoon, I jogged up the steps and entered the building. (I admit, I felt a bit self-conscious at my squeaky shoes and damp trails.) Reading the signs, one wing was dedicated to various records, and I wondered if I could somehow see if the Yeerks had bought any property lately. I knew a few of their business names, including their ever-humorous Dapsen.

Of course, I couldn't just ask for the records. The last thing I wanted was to let the Yeerks know someone had been looking at their files. At least some average Joe. I sat at a table and thought about some ideas. The records were bound to be in their computer network. I could sneak back at night and check them then.

Suddenly, it came to me. I could look up records for Loren. (I could look for a death certificate – make sure there wasn't one.) I remembered most of her personal information. I stood and went over to the computer, ignoring the glares the official was giving me for dampening up the place. After thinking for a bit, I typed in Loren's birth name and birthdate, making sure the search covered the state. The results came up and I was relieved that my Loren was the top choice. Some things hadn't changed so much.

I already knew Tobias's "father's" name, from checking his records during my initial search, and I hunted for the marriage certificate. It came as a bit of surprise to me, though I don't know why, that Loren and her mate had married almost three years after Loren and I had. Part of me had always thought someone had just replaced me. But Loren had had a completely different life, it seemed, with my removal.

Looking for broad records, I could find no sign of a death certificate for Loren. (And I was relieved.) But I did find a certificate for her mother, and, I admit, I felt the pain of loss. Loren's mother, while she had terrified me (as all mother-in-laws do) had been caring and doting. She had been like a mother to me, truly, taking me under her wing because I was the "little orphan." She had liked me and I genuinely cared for her. To find that she had died less than a year after I left was a surprise I wasn't expecting. To think Loren had had to face that alone, it made me hate myself for my choice.

Shaking myself from the thoughts, I focused back on my search, looking for properties. Nothing came up, but I wasn't surprised. If she rented or had an apartment, such records would be beyond this scope. It wasn't like this was tax –

Yes, that was it! Tax records! If there was one thing about Earth government, it was their love of taxes and paperwork proving the government received them! And I all had to do would be request a record. I knew the important information, her birthdate, name, and I could figure out her social security number. (I had created a code to help me remember it, using the letters off a phone to make two words.)

"Elfangor, you're a genius. An absolute genius."

[~.~.~]

‹Hello, Elfangor!›

I looked up into the air and squinted my eyes against the light to see the hawk flying around. ‹Tobias? I assume that is you?›

The hawk swooped and landed on the tree. ‹Yes. This is wonderful!›

Yes, part of me did smile at his enthusiasm. Flying was marvelous, in a ship or in bird form. ‹Is there something you wished to tell me?›

‹No. I just thought … I just thought I'd go for a flight. Visit you and stuff.›

My eyes narrowed with disapproval. ‹How long have you been in morph?›

‹Not long.›

‹Tobias, how long?› I demanded sharply.

He jerked at my tone, the small head turning and feathers fluffing. ‹Probably a little over an hour. I guess.›

‹Probably? You guess?› I repeated. ‹You do not know?!›

‹I've got plenty of time!› he said quickly. ‹I can see watches from anywhere. I've been keeping track!›

‹Demorph this instant!› I ordered, like I would to a young aristh. Which he was.

Surprised at my order, Tobias complied, fluttering down to the ground. Within a few moments, he was human, wearing biker shorts and looking at me with wary eyes.

‹What do you think you were doing?› I demanded, towering.

He opened his mouth, then shut it, then opened it again. "I was just flying, Elfangor."

‹Why?›

"I … I just was."

I looked at him intently. ‹How much do you just fly about, Tobias?›

His head moved back, surprised, and then he looked down. "Not much. Just a bit."

‹How often?›

He shrugged.

‹Every day.› It was not a guess, and when Tobias didn't answer, I felt myself grow angry. ‹This is not a toy, Tobias!›

"I know that! I was just … just practicing. We all do."

Perhaps they all did, but I looked at my son with sharp eyes, remembering the cheer and the tone he had greeted me with. ‹Yes, but do the rest do it to escape?›

His face turned red even as he questioned, "What?"

‹You are showing blatant disrespect of the morphing ability,› I said. ‹How dare you use it so? After everything I've said, how dare you not keep track of the time, to use it so flamboyantly? Are you trying to become trapped?›

"No!" Tobias said. "Elfangor, I'm not. I just … it's different, freer," he tried to explain.

Part of me did understand, but I couldn't let him be so careless. ‹The morphing ability requires great responsibility, Tobias.›

"I know that!"

‹Then why are you being so careless?› I said, stepping away to the bushes. I found a duffle and dug out a blanket before handing it to the human. Even in such weather, he was probably cold. ‹Here, wrap yourself.›

Tobias stared at the blanket before comprehending my order. "Thanks," he mumbled as he put it over his shoulders. "I didn't mean to …"

‹I know that, but I am still very disappointed with you.› I had a feeling my disappointment would bother him more than my anger, and I was right. His face did turn redder.

"Look, I'm sorry," he started.

‹Not as sorry as you would be if you were in morph too long,› I said. ‹Tobias, this is not a toy, and you can't use it to escape life.› I kept my voice kind.

"I'm not," he denied.

I didn't refute his claim , but my silence spoke volumes.

"I'm not," Tobias repeated. "It's just … flying, it's nice."

‹Yes, it is.› I set my hand on his shoulder. ‹Tobias, do not treat this as a toy. Do not make me regret trusting you to use it responsibly.›

Looking at his feet, he nodded. It was possible he could have been trying not to cry.

I smiled slightly. ‹I trust you will. Come, I have some clothes for you. We can go have ice cream.›

[~.~.~]

Everything had been going moderately well. The four children were managing their morphing satisfactorily, and it seemed that my taking them as arisths was not as completely stupid as I feared. They managed admirably to deal with the Yeerk supply ship that had been harvesting water from a lake up the mountains.

Yes, I know it was not an exceptionally dangerous mission or very important – after all, there are plenty of bodies of water, and if worse came to worse, the Yeerks could simply filter out the salt from seawater – but that wasn't the point. It was merely a test, something to test their mettle. And they did admirably, I am pleased to say. The mission had run almost as smoothly as I hoped.

The only thing that nagged at my conscience was the fact that the fight would get worse, the battles more dangerous. It had been a stepping stone into this bloody war. Even still, I tried to bury the realization with my pride at their accomplishments.

Being stranded on Earth (again) nearly a month, I had become reacquainted with the habits of humans. I did not stutter nor play with sounds – which, I admit, I had amused myself by doing when no one was around to hear me. I hardly tripped anymore, and, while food was still dangerous to be around, I was, ultimately, in complete control. Unless, of course, they were desserts. In fact, I should be congratulated that Ididn't gobble down the candy bars in check-out lanes.

Everything was going well, such as war with the Yeerks can be classified, and I found myself at least less desperate in my despair. Such in the way the mind works. Nothing had been changed, but it had grown accustomed with the situation and saw it as less bleak. Of course, maybe my naturally optimistic Andalite nature was running to the front.

Yes, I am naturally optimistic.

I had spent the day reading a simple Earth fiction novel, covering the recent scientific advances. The book was technically classified as nonfiction,and there was some basis in reality, but most of it was all so absurdly false that I could hardly controlled my humor. There was a small electric lantern at my side so I could see in the dark wilderness, far away from where any hiker would ever travel. I was perfectly safe to read and laugh out loud, if the humor was especially good. I was chuckling at their ideas of genetics and DNA sequencing when suddenly my mind was filled with the overwhelming images and messages.

The ocean.

A voice. ‹I am here. I can't survive much longer. If you hear me … come. If you hear me … come.›

It was over, no matter how much I tried to regain the feeling, it was gone. But yet, I had to move, jump up. I knew the voice, I knew it. My brother! He was alive.

‹Aximili!›

He had sent me a signal, a mirrorwave call! He had survived! If my eyes had the ability to cry, had the proper glands, I would have been sobbing with relief. My brother, my little brother, he was alive! I hadn't sent him to his doom.

I had to think quickly. He was obviously in the ocean, but which one? How many did Earth have? Five? Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, Arctic, and … wasn't there five? Or was the fifth one of those that could be part of the others? Oh, what did it matter? My brother was alive. I had to find him!

Up on my hooves, I paced back and forth. The signal, it had been relatively strong. This hemisphere, then. The Pacific and Arctic. It hadn't felt cold, so not at the poles nor especially deep.

How to find him, though. The oceans, they were huge, and I had no aquatic morphs that could be useful. It could take years, and Aximili didn't have years. And I still had to fight the Yeerks, battle Visser Three.

Visser Three! I jerked at the memory of him and grew disgusted. Curse him for taking Prince Alloran. There could be no way Visser Three did not receive the signal as well, even if he was on his Blade Ship. He would be seeking my brother as well.

No! I would not allow it! I would save my brother, no matter what the cost.

[~.~.~]

No doubt the children were surprised at my giddiness. The euphoria of learning my brother was alive still had not left me, even a day later. However, I was aware of myself enough to understand the import of two of the humans receiving the visions as well.

"Both of you?" I demanded, looking down at Cassie and Tobias. We were in Rachel's home. I did not like going to the children's home, but Jake insisted he had something to show me. Something very important, which probably meant it had something to do with the Yeerks. But, whatever it was, it wasn't in my mind because I was still relishing that Aximili was alive.

But then Cassie and Tobias told me this, and I couldn't quite understand, even as they nodded.

"Last night. It was like a dream," Tobias said. "I thought it was one, until Cassie said she saw the same thing."

"Just like you said, under water," Cassie added. "And a voice."

I stared at them, uncomprehending. "How could you have received such a transmission?" I muttered, turning away to think. If they had, other humans unconnected to me might have as well. "Aximili wouldn't have been so careless, and humans minds … impossible."

"Maybe it's because they can morph," Jake suggested. "Cassie's like the best one of us."

"Perhaps." I pressed my lips together, looking at them intently, but something twisted in my stomach. The morphing ability wouldn't influence that, would it? But maybe it would, because a mirrorwave only enhanced an Andalite's natural thought-speak, and morphing offered humans way to learn such a form of communication. And Cassie was good, our little estreen. But that did not explain why Tobias had. Unless …

No, that was preposterous. I had been human. He was human. Just because he was my son did not mean he should be any more in tune to Andalite thought-speak that another human. There was no reason he should have even a sliver of an Andalite ability.

Yet, deep down I couldn't help but remember there hadn't been any sort of studies on what would happen if a nothlit bred, if something of the true form of the parent would pass through. The scientists wouldn't have gone that far in their tests. But, the studies, the reports of the technology agreed that even as a nothlit, a true form is not destroyed, but merely spread out in Z-space, spread too far that it couldn't be recalled. It meant, as a nothlit, I had still been Andalite. It was why the mind still worked, why we still have our memories in morph. The forms are connected. If they weren't, someone in morph would literally cease to be, would only become the wild animal that was being created. I wouldn't have been able to thought-speak, project thoughts, keep track of time as a human, or to even remember who I was.

Had something passed? Andalite knowledge was somewhat inherited, passed from parent to child. In times of great stress, someone could go through the Utzum and connect with their ancestors. Of course, scientists argue if it is a real event or some trick of the mind to help the body cope, and I do not know what I personally believe.

Part of me felt afraid. If it was possible, I did not know how I could speak of it. I wasn't ashamed, but I also did not want the truth known, because it was connected to my shame, my cowardice.

But then how did Cassie? It made no sense. My head wasn't made for such scientific thoughts, and I didn't want to know the truth.

"It doesn't matter," I finally said, even if it did. "I have to save my brother. That means I have to leave. I have to search these oceans, find him before the Yeerks do."

"We could help," Tobias volunteered.

Before I could protest, Jake jumped in. "Yeah. Marco called me last night and told me to switch on the news. You have to see this, Al." He withdrew a tape and put it in the player.

It was a news broadcast, a human holding up a piece of metal. A piece inscribed with Andalite characters. My eyes darted over the words, and a smile unconsciously spread. "It is from the Dome! It is directions to the Engines. Where did this come ashore?" I demanded of Jake.

"Just on the beach a few days ago," Jake said, "during the storm. Marco thought maybe it would be important."

"Thank him for me," I said, grateful, before turning. "The Pacific. I can analyze currents. It's near, it has to be, within one hundred miles. I can –"

And suddenly I was falling, as my mind was burdened with the mirrorcall. I almost lost sense, my vision blackened, but I forced myself to remain conscious even as Jake and Rachel gave shouts, for both Tobias and Cassie fell to the ground. I caught myself, tried to breath.

The signal was not any stronger, but the human mind is not capable of receiving such treatment without some preparation. I doubt if I had been ready it would have had such an effect on me, and I tried to read the signals. But Aximili did not send me any new information.

"Elfangor, Elfangor, are you all right?" Rachel asked.

I waved my hand and sat up, leaning forward to clutch my head and breath deep. "I am well. I was just … unprepared."

"Cassie and Tobias –"

I forced myself to look up. Cassie was lying on the ground next to Jake, and Tobias only a few feet away. Both were crumpled, eye lids moving as if dreaming.

"We should call an ambulance," Rachel said, going for the phone.

"No! No, they shall be fine," I sad, crawling to rest between them. I cupped Cassie's face gently and felt for her pulse. Slightly fast. "We cannot let doctors see them."

"Why not?" Rachel demanded.

"If they draw blood, they will notice the morphing ability in them, or at least the evidence of it," I said, turning to Tobias. His pulse was quick as well.

"They would?" Jake asked.

I was about to answer when Cassie came to. Within a few moments, so did Tobias. "Slowly. Do not rush yourselves," I said as both Jake and Rachel helped them to sit.

"It happened, he sent a message again," Tobias said.

"Yes."

"I think I felt something too," Jake said softly.

"Me, too," Rachel added.

My eyes went to them. I couldn't understand how they could. "It must be the morphing technology. It is the only explanation." Even if it was wrong, it was what I told them. They did not have to worry. That was my job.

"We have to do something," Cassie said. "We have to rescue him."

"And I will," I vowed.

"No. We could help," Tobias said. "Like you said, the ocean is huge. You need us."

"And we want to. If this is your brother, you need to let us rescue him," Jake said, and I understood what he was saying. I allowed him to fight so he could save his brother. He wanted to try to repay the favor.

"We shall see. Thank you. I must research."

[~.~.~]

With a chart of the ocean and all of the reports, I had followed the possible trail of the wreckage. There were several, because the ocean is always moving, and human science isn't very accurate on such things. However, I was too desperate to at least not go for a swim, to feel like I was doing something useful.

I went to the Gardens to acquire one of their dolphins. It was night when I went, and despite my oddity, the dolphins had not seemed wary of me. I managed to coax one close enough with a tempting bit of fish, and even spent a few moments petting it. It was a pity the Gardens did not have a large whale. Then I could have traveled with speed and a large girth, which could give me safety as well as the ability to dive deep. I hoped I could somehow meet and acquire one on my travels.

During the night, I still received signals from my brother, signals that grew fainter. No doubt, he was running out of power, but I was still worried about him. The children asked if they could join me, desperate to help. They had already acquired the morphs some days previously. I decided it there was no harm to it and allowed them to join. I could do with the company.

Swimming alongside them, I was amused at how much they let the dolphin's mind come to the front. Yes, the dolphin mind is a playful one, bubbling, almost like an Andalite, but I did not let myself because like them. They frolicked like children around me, and I will admit it took me a bit to keep myself from joining them. ‹Keep together, children.›

We had not even been swimming an hour when Cassie, swimming several yards ahead and to the right of me, called out that she located a shark.

‹Several sharks,› Rachel added.

Deep down in my morph, I was afraid and altered my course so that I was even farther away. ‹Stay clear of them, children.› I hoped the creatures would not seek us out. Sharks, I recalled, were dangerous creatures to other ocean life.

‹There's something else,› Tobias said. ‹Something big.›

‹It's a great one. I mean, a whale,› Cassie said.

‹A whale's being attacked?› Rachel said, and she sounded angry. Deep down, so did I, but I kept my head.

‹Leave it be,› I ordered as I purposefully looked away from the hunt. It was the way of nature, of Earth. As terrible as it was, whales were food of sharks.

‹No! We have to do something!›

‹You do what you want, Elfangor! I'm going in!› Rachel snapped, and she swam away. The others followed.

‹Rachel! Cassie, Jake, Tobias!› I yelled, and then cursed myself as I sped up to meet them. Fool, Elfangor! You should not have let them fall so far into the morph! You should have made their heads come back!

I saw Cassie ram a shark hard in the gills, hard enough to draw blood from the creature, before she fell back dazed. And then Rachel and Jake attacked two others from beneath. And suddenly the sharks were not so focused on the whale, but on my children.

‹Watch out!› I yelled, attacking a shark from the side that made to attack of them.

I fell into the basic fighting instinct, dancing around the sharks. I could feel the children's terror, but I could not but give them the barest help. I had my own worries.

It is odd to think, no matter how many Hork-Bajir and Taxxons and Yeerks I have faced, it was the shark that was perhaps the greatest warrior. Such a creature was designed to fight, as that was how it survived in this hostile environment. One scrapped my belly hard when we twisted, and I could not but remember that stupid human film, Jaws, the theme mocking me.

Not the time, Elfangor.

But it was in my mind. Would one look at me any less if I admit that the psychological horror had terrified me, even in its absurdity, when I first saw it? Such a creature, being on Earth, hunting for prey. It had struck some deep terror in me, something primitive that maybe was the same in both Andalites and humans, with its lust for blood and sharp teeth and insatiable hunger and unstoppable force. I remember wondering if my blade would have been enough to stop it, before remembering I had no tail. I was helpless as a human. And even if I had a tail, I would have been in the ocean.

I refused to go into the deep water of the ocean for several months. Even though Loren never mocked me, I think she knew why.

Almost magically, the sharks left, turning on one of their own. I hung in the water, feeling the pain of my stomach and snout, and I trembled as the dum dum dum dum dumdumdum rang through my head.

‹Is everyone okay?› I heard Jake ask.

I shook myself. ‹I am well.›

Cassie, shaken, added, ‹I've got a few cuts.›

‹I'm all right.›

Tobias merely groaned, and my attention on him, I almost gasped. A shark had gotten him near front fin, and blood streamed.

‹Demorph! Now!› I ordered, somewhat frantically. Aside from the injury, I couldn't but remember blood attracts sharks. ‹Now, Tobias!›

He seemed to be obeying me and I quickly ordered the other to nudge him to the surface and hold him there. We were in the ocean, and the swells were huge. A human, especially one who had just demorphed, could drown so easily.

Then, in the mind, like thought-speak, but different, deeper, an emotion filled me, like how parents speak to their newborns or mates to each other. Something that spread in my mind like a blanket, and I barely heard the others speak of the whale coming to our assistance. I could only remember Mother and Father speaking to me when I was hardly old enough to remember, until I realized if I didn't move, the whale was going to beach me on his back.

I hung in the water and could hear Cassie speak with the magnificent creature. I swam to the other side of the whale.

‹Are you all right, Tobias?› I questioned, drowning out the deeper conversation.

He nodded shakily, curled in a ball and shivering. I was not sure if it was because of the near-death experience or the cold or some combination of the two.

‹Rest,› I soothed. ‹He will let you.›

Tobias nodded wordlessly, teeth chattering.

Cassie and the whale were still in deep converse, but I eavesdropped, growing slightly ecstatic when the whale reported the location of the Dome. When they finished, I spoke to the whale in the deepest way Andalites do.

Please, great one, may I become you to seek by brother? I asked with the core of my being, where only feelings project.

The whale acquiesced – though he probably did not understand what I asked – and I demorphed, treading water the best my body would do in the swells. Under my hand, he relaxed and calmed as I claimed his DNA.

Thank you, I said deeply, before morphing back to the dolphin. Exhaustion was set in my bones.

The whale responded, calling me a strange creature, another odd thing to his ocean, and I let my amusement come through. ‹Are you recovered, Tobias?› I asked gently. He had seen me acquire the whale, and no doubt the rest of the children knew I had done so as well.

"I … I th-think so," he said through chattering teeth.

‹Then come, the others cannot remain so much longer.›

Once Tobias was in the water and fully in dolphin form, we left the whale. The children were far more subdued than they had been previously, thankfully.

‹You acquired the whale, didn't you, Elfangor?› Cassie said, criticizing.

‹Yes. With such a form, I'll be able to reach my brother.›

‹But … but he was … you shouldn't have just taken his DNA.›

I was weary and exhausted. ‹Do not suppose you are the only one who can speak with a whale, Cassie. He agreed.›

‹He did?› she repeated, unable to hide her surprise.

‹Just swim. I do not wish to meet any more sharks that you four foolishly decide to fight.›

They were quiet.

When we reached the beach and demorphed, the children looked at me as I, growing even more tired, changed to my human form.

"Al, we're sorry," Jake said.

"It's my fault. I shouldn't have rushed off," Rachel added.

I shook my head at them. "The fault is mine. I should have drawn your minds back. I let you play because I was more interested in clues about Aximili, and because it amused me."

"No," Cassie said lowly. "It's our fault. We should have taken control."

I shrugged before looking out at the ocean, too tired to be appropriately angry or sorry, and too disgusted with myself to be upset with them. "Perhaps."

"You're going out again, aren't you?" Tobias said. "To get your brother."

"Tomorrow. Tonight. One or the other. I have to rest."

"But you don't know where to go!" Cassie countered.

I gave a small smile and looked at her. "Cassie, I understood the whale perfectly. How do you think I spoke to my parents as a child?"

She blushed a bit.

"Whales thought-speak?" Jake asked.

"It is something deeper than thought-speak, something like when you feel my emotions and intent. Yes, the whale spoke differently, but I understood."

"What if you get attacked by sharks?" Rachel demanded.

"It is something I will risk to save my brother."

The children looked at one another, desperate to say something, but none had the words. Finally, Jake said, "Good luck, then."

"Thank you."

[~.~.~]

The next morning, I was surprised that Marco was arrived in my forest. It was very early, hardly past dawn actually, and I was both surprised and amused that the teenager had managed.

"Oh, thank god you're here," he said.

‹Is there a reason, Marco?›

He nodded and through a hand through his hair, yawning. "Yeah. Jake said you would probably be gone all day, but I thought you really needed to know," he said, digging through his pocket and withdrawing a folded bit of newspaper. He held it out to me, and I took it curious, tilting my stalks like the young do.

"It was in the paper this morning. Both of them. One is about this guy who is going to be looking for some supposedly lost treasure ship off the coast. The other is about some big marine biologist guy who has a ship and is going to be doing some underwater exploration off our coast."

I sneered as my stalk read the newsprint. ‹Yeerks.›

"Yeah," he nodded. "I thought you should know before you head out, you know."

Handing back the clippings, I thanked him. ‹At least I know where I am going. Hopefully they won't.›

Marco grinned. "Directions from a whale. Your life is beyond weird."

I nodded, examining the human. I knew he felt guilty that he did not join the fight as his friends did, and I knew it put a strain on Jake and their friendship, not because Jake was against Marco's choice, but because of the natural barrier that springs up between civilians and warriors. The other's world becomes incomprehensible and alien, a difficult thing to work between for any friends. It hurt me to think I had damaged such a beautiful thing as their friendship. But Marco tried to help, keeping a tab on the news and gossip of the human world, doing simple surveillance that I pretended not to know how much work he put into it. ‹You should see it from my side. Dealing with humans every day, beyond peculiar,› I said with melodrama.

He laughed, and then yawned. "Well, I have to get back to bed."

‹Why do you not stay up?›

Marco gave me a horrified look. "On the weekend? Good luck, Elfangor."

‹Sleep well, Marco.› I shook my head once the boy disappeared from my sight, then thought about what he had related. Wonderful. I knew the Yeerks would eventually mount their own search, but I had hoped it wouldn't overlap my own much.

There was no time to waste. I morphed to my seagull and flew to the ocean, the direction the whale had supplied. I was several miles out to sea before I landed on the water. After yesterday, I was slightly afraid – foolish, yes – of a shark shooting up to eat me as I rested and morphed. I admit, I was glad I was a large whale in the water. Even though yesterday this same whale donor had been under attack from a group of sharks, I felt better. I was bigger and hopefully would fare better than a true whale.

It was a calming experience to be such a creature. There was a deep serenity and knowledge about the form. The whale wasn't violent and desperate for food, but free and at home in the wide ocean. It was relief, and I reared and broke the water in a leap because it was enjoyable. I chuckled to myself, testing the form, before I started on my journey.

The whale traveled slower than I thought. As a dolphin, I had done faster. Maybe it was just this whale that was slow, but I couldn't worry about that now. With a wave of my powerful tail, I swam on, patiently heading to the directions the whale indicated.

In the water and with my whale ears, I could distantly hear another whale song, perhaps this whale. For a moment, I was tempted to join in, but then I decided not to. Part of me found it interesting that my translator chip did not translate the song, and I wondered if it was because the whale didn't speak intellectually enough for the chip to understand, or if it was because the song was beyond the chip's capabilities to decipher. Part of me hoped for the latter.

I swam as fast as the morph could let me, diving deep and then rising to breath. I did not see or hear any sign of the ships that held Yeerks, but it was still early. They would be out soon.

I had to demorph once, and I did so quickly, even if it did tire me. The ocean was too open, too unsafe, and I was still terrified of sharks. (I bitterly wished I had never seen that stupid movie!) However, within forty minutes after I that, I saw it, the beautiful Dome. The internal light in it made it all visible, and it was like the opposite of a human snow globe. A dome of air surrounded by water.

My heart panged at the sight of the plants, the piece of my home. Nostalgia set it slightly as I looked at the familiar trees and waterways and grass. Oh, to taste the grasses of my home and not this bland Earth grass.

I circled the Dome, examining it. I was on my third circlet when I finally saw my brother. He had come to the edge to examine me, curious about the seemingly inquisitive Earth creature circling the Dome. My joy knew no bounds to actually see him alive! He was well and whole.

‹Hello, Aximili,› I greeted, turning to face an eye at him. I grinned to myself when he jumped.

‹Elfangor?› he asked carefully, hardly daring to believe. ‹Is that you?›

I laughed a bit. ‹Yes, though I admit I am a bit different from what when we last saw each other.›

He was about as elated as me, though he was trying to contain it to look like the distinctive aristh. ‹I knew you would come for me, Elfangor! You got my mirror-wave call, then?›

I nodded. ‹Give me a few minutes to change morphs. I will join you. We have much to discuss.›

‹Yes.›

With a great turn, I beat to the surface, even breaching higher than whales probably did in my glee. Controlling myself, I demorphed. For a few moments, I had to tread water and gather myself before I changed to the dolphin. I was going to need a long rest before we set out.

After taking a deep breath, I dove back down and made for the entrance hatch. Pushing the button, the doors opened and I swam it, and then closed the door, only to wait in the cramp swimming quarters as the water was siphoned away. Once it was half gone, I started to demorph, and my hooves thankfully appeared with their whole strength as the water trickled away below my knees. Finally, damp and soggy and stinking of sea salt, I pressed the panel and entered.

Aximili was waiting for me, pleasure and relief upon his face. ‹It is good to see you, brother.›

I nudged his blade with mine. ‹You as well. I thought you were dead. If you hadn't sent the signal, I would never have known.›

‹Then you're not upset that I did it?› he asked tentatively.

I was confused as to why he would be worried about that, before I remembered High Command orders. Mirror-calls were low-tech and anyone with the right technology could pick it up. ‹No. I am glad you did. Come, let's run. You have no idea the blandness of Earth grass. I'm starved.›

We ran together for a long time. I told Aximili about what I had learned about the Yeerk presence on Earth. Aximili was as disgusted as I at hearing Visser Three was present. I did hesitate on telling him about the children, though. I had broken a great law, and I did not want him to be disappointed in me. No, I could tell him later.

‹We shall have to leave now. The Yeerks are searching for the Dome,› I finally said. ‹Even with primitive human means, they will find it soon.› Suddenly I found a flaw in my rescue attempt. ‹Do you have a morph of a sea creature?› I would accept any sea creature, not just one from Earth.

Aximili stood proudly. ‹I do. There was a creature that swam close and I stunned it. I thought I would need it to escape.›

I smiled. ‹You thought correctly.›

‹It isn't as grand as the one you were in, though.›

‹Yes, well, the whale has it flaws. Let's leave before the Yeerks arrive.›

We made our way to the exit, and I cast one last look at the park. This would be the last view of home I would have in possibly years, and I tried to commit it to memory, to deeply draw the essence of the grass.

Together we entered the hatch, and, as water filled, I started to morph back to the dolphin. Yet, watching Aximili, I couldn't help but laugh at the cruel irony, and I admit I leapt from the enclosure once the door was open.

‹You had best have that morph under control, for it you attempt to ingest me, I will be most displeased,› I said as I circled back to face the shark that was my little brother.

‹What?› he asked, confused, as he swam closer, and I had to struggle to not flee.

‹Our forms are mortal enemies. You are a shark of some species. I am a dolphin. Again, do not attempt to eat me. I have already had my fill of sharks.›

He was confused and curious, but Aximili didn't ask. ‹Which way?›

I circled and thought. ‹This way. And I shall have to make trips to the surface. Dolphins breathe air.›

We swam in silence. I had to quell the urge to flee Aximili several times, as he kept a close tail on me. Surfacing regularly, I was upset to find the ships that most likely held Yeerks were within a few miles.

‹You cannot stay so close to me, Aximili. There are Yeerks on those ships.›

Aximili's shark, not needing of the air I sought, had remained low. ‹Yes, Elfangor; would they know we are in morph?› he asked, curious.

‹Sharks and dolphins do not swim too close together. An average human, infested or otherwise, may not think anything of our proximity, but those specializing in marine life would note that there was, forgive the pun, something fishy about us.›

‹Pun?›

I gave a quiet laugh. ‹Forgive me. Earth language quirks. A pun is merely a play on words, usually to some humorous outcome.›

‹And was what you said humorous?›

‹Unlikely,› I had to admit. It was plebeian, at best. ‹Earth humor usually eludes me.›

We had to demorph soon after that, and I made Aximili go first while I kept watch. The ships were out of sight, and a blue Andalite swimming in the blue ocean with decent swells isn't easy to see, but someone should stay prepared. I helped my brother reach the surface so he could rest, then, once he was again in his aquatic form, refreshed my time as well.

Finally, we reached shore and beached ourselves. It was a secluded bit of beach and soon we were one of the most ridiculous things a human could see – two drenched Andalites with sand tangling in our fur and eyes. My left stalk kept blinking to remove the grit. Andalites don't have tears like humans, just a naturally viscous fluid that secrets from under the eyelid.

‹We made it,› I said needlessly.

‹Yes, Elfangor. Now what do we do?› Aximili asked.

‹There is a forest where I rest. We'll make for there and decide. Come, it is several miles, and we shall have to avoid the humans.›

‹Couldn't we morph?›

‹You don't have a human form, and Earth animals are very timid. Besides, I have had enough of morphing for the day.›

Aximili didn't argue, and we quickly disappeared into the tree line.

[~.~.~]

‹So this is Earth,› Aximili said, looking around the forest. He touched a tree and looked at it. ‹Do the trees speak?›

‹I do not believe so, unfortunately. At least, I have never heard them speak. That particular tree is a Blue Oak.›

‹It is not very tall.›

‹Very few trees are.›

Aximili inclined the stalk looking at me to show he heard, but he made no other comment. I could see he was tasting the grass. We had made our run in silence. I do not know why Aximili did, but I knew why I had. I was going to have to tell him the truth, tell him about the children. I was not looking forward to the conversation.

How Aximili reacted would tell me how most of the People would as well. It was knowledge I wasn't keen to learn.

So invested in my thoughts that Aximili noticed the sounds before me, the sudden silence of the forest. ‹Elfangor, someone is coming!› He was poised to fight.

I nearly swore. One of the children, and I wagered Tobias. I had wished to postpone it, a little longer. ‹It is all right, Aximili. He is a friend.› And, even as I spoke, I could see Tobias through the line of trees. When he saw me, he grinned and waved, quickened his pace.

‹You showed yourself –›

"Elfangor! You're back! Oh, and is this your brother? Umm, … Aximili, right?" Tobias hedged hopefully. Aximili's stalks rose in surprise and he looked at me almost with a touch of betrayal.

‹Yes, Tobias. This is my brother, Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill. Aximili, this is my young friend, Tobias.›

"Hi," Tobias said nervously.

Aximili stood there, eyes narrowed and speechless.

Tobias was uncomfortable. "I thought … I thought I'd just stop by to see if you were back, you know. We're all worried, especially when Marco told us about the ships and stuff."

‹His warning was helpful.› I cast an eye at my brother. ‹Perhaps I may spend some time with my brother, alone,› I said meaningfully, kindly.

Tobias looked a bit hurt, but he quickly nodded. "Oh, yeah, of course. I'll just go tell everyone. And I'm sure they'll all want to meet you. Elfangor's told us a lot about you."

Aximili kept looking at me.

"Yeah, I'll just … leave. Umm, bye."

‹Good-bye. And thank you for your concern.›

It wasn't until Tobias left our sight that Aximili spoke. ‹You showed yourself to humans?›

I sighed. ‹The correct response would be I landed in front of them. My ship was damaged and I set it to explode. I couldn't very well have stayed in there, nor allowed them to.›

‹But they could be Controllers!›

‹They most certainly aren't. I did extensive surveillance on them. The children are … well, they are mere children. Annoying and the like, but I am generally fond of them.›

‹But they are humans!› He sounded scandalized.

‹Obviously.›

‹And you told them about me?›

I frowned. Aximili made it sound as if I had sullied him by telling them of his existence. ‹Yes, I did. Generally, I am fond of you as well. And I had to tell them why I was leaving.›

Because of my disapproving tone, Aximili was abashed at my admittance of familial love for him. ‹But the risk –›

‹They know of the Yeerk invasion, all five of them.› I took a deep breath. ‹In fact, I lead them.›

‹You … you what?!›

‹I lead them in the fight against the Yeerks.›

‹But they're humans! What can they do?›

‹I gave them the Gift. Four of them, anyway.›

Aximili stepped back as if I had stuck him. ‹You … you broke Seerow's Kindess?› he whispered, horrified, and looked at me as if he had never seen me before.

‹Yes.›

‹But why?! The High Command, they'll …. The Law! How could you do that?!› he accused me.

‹Because they have the right,› I said calmly.

‹They're humans, Elfangor!›

‹This is their world, their people. They should be allowed and able to defend it.›

‹Don't you realize what you've done, Elfangor? When the High Command finds out, when the People …. If they get taken! You'll be ruined! For humans!›

I was surprised to see that Aximili was more concerned about me losing my status than me breaking the law, though that obviously was still a huge shock to him. And I was gladdened. If he was worried about me and not the Law, it was a good knowledge. ‹Yes, for humans. And for the right thing.›

‹How can you say that?› Aximili demanded, stomping his hoof like a young child. ‹Everything you worked for --›

‹Everything I worked for has been to stop the Yeerks!› I interrupted firmly. ‹Do you think I am going to let some idea of honor stop me from doing all I can to get rid of them? Is my honor worth more than the galaxy?›

‹Against these creatures, these humans, yes. They're nothing but a primitive species!›

I frowned. ‹Maybe,› I said coldly, ‹but it is my decision to save this primitive species. I will not let the Yeerks have them, not while I breathe.›

‹What is so great about them?› Aximili asked, frustrated. ‹They wage war on themselves, they destroy their world. Their technology is laughable. What is so great about them?›

‹Because if I sacrifice them, then I am no better than a Yeerk.›

‹That's not true!›

‹It would be.› I shook my head. ‹Aximili, I do not expect you to accept my decision, but it was mine to make. My responsibility.›

‹Your mistake,› he spat.

‹Yes, that as well.›

He was shaking in front of me. ‹I can't believe … excuse me, my Prince.›

And without waiting to be dismissed, Aximili disappeared into the trees. I felt myself deflate and closed my main eyes, rubbed my temples. ‹Well, that could have been worse,› I consoled to myself. I really hoped I would have to order Aximili to not kill the children.

I doubted it would improve things between us.

[~.~.~]

It was a tense meeting between the children and Aximili. My brother was acting everything like the young proud cadet he was, except worse. Tall and poised, intimidating … for a child, anyway. I was actually amused. But it was another thing for the children, who probably couldn't recognize how young Aximili was, how actually very humorous he was acting. But, of course, I didn't laugh, because Aximili was still extremely angry with me. I had ordered him to be polite to the children. While I disagreed with his method of being polite, I chose not to criticize it. Not now.

I did hope humans grew on him quickly. I couldn't order him to like them. Well, I could, but it wouldn't help. It might make things worse.

After I made the introductions, everyone sort of stared in silence. All of the children, even Marco, had come to meet my brother. I had a feeling Aximili wasn't endearing himself very well.

"Well, welcome to Earth," Marco said in his grand fashion, once the silence got to be too much for him.

"It's really nice to meet you, Aximili," Cassie added.

Aximili made no polite response. On the bright side, he made no impolite one.

I stepped in case that decided to change. ‹We require your assistance.›

"You do?"

‹We do?› Aximili mirrored, perhaps only to me.

‹Forgive my boldness in asking, but my brother requires a human morph.›

"You want him to acquire one of us?" Jake asked.

"No way! At least, not Marco. We can't torture the world like that!" Rachel added, casting a sneaky glance at Marco.

"Two of me would be a blessing on all of the women in the world," he said grandly. "Choose me, for the sake of the ladies!"

Aximili looked a bit horrified, and I smiled at the young human's theatrics. ‹Even for such a sake, we will have to alter the plan. Aximili would acquire each of you and create a new DNA sequence based on a combination each of you. Remember, the frolis maneuver.›

Their eyes, except Marco's, all widened with the memory. Jake rubbed his neck. "Hope Ax is better than any of us. Except Cassie, that is," he added, smiling as the female. Cassie ducked her head and her skin seemed to darken as much as it could in a blush.

‹Aximili is proficient in all aspects of morphing. You are, of course, free to deny permission.›

"I'll do it," Tobias volunteered.

"Me too," Rachel said.

"We all will. Right?" Jake asked, looking around. Cassie and Marco both nodded. "Anything to help."

"We gotta beat those slugs," Rachel said. "And we'll need him. You look like you could do serious damage."

There was no doubt Rachel thought she was complimenting my brother, not making some subtle dig because of his age and inexperience. Aximili looked completely shocked and unsure, unused to such unrestrained speech. I smiled. ‹Yes, he can.› He gave a smile that could have overtaken his eyes if he was less self-possessed. ‹If you will allow him …?›

They nodded and waited patiently, looking at Aximili. He stared back, and then I remembered he wouldn't recognize their consent, didn't know what a nod meant. ‹Go ahead, Aximili,› I said gently.

He still was unsure, but he took an uncertain step towards Jake. And then another, before he placed a hand gently against the boy's cheek. Acquired each of them in turn, and then, stepping back, he cast a look at me. I bent my head in agreement and he started to morph.

The children watched, spellbound, as his Andalite figure changed into human. And then, Cassie said, "You know, maybe we should give him some privacy."

I almost laughed at the notion.

"Is he going to be a boy or a girl?" Marco wondered.

"Let's still turn our heads."

Humans and their modesty, ever amusing. As Aximili finished, I stepped over to my bag and withdrew the sheet I used to wrap my belongings. If anything, Aximili might be cold. Once he finished and stood awkwardly on his two legs, I draped the cloth over him, and Aximili looked at me curiously, not understanding.

‹Humans are strange,› I offered. ‹And catch cold easily. Hold it closed.›

"A-h-ahh. Ahhh." His eyes widened in surprise, possibly at his mouth. I grinned, remembering those days. Loren had called me a toddler. And not in the good way, I suppose.

‹You may turn around, children.›

They did so, a bit eagerly, and looked at Aximili's human form.

To them, he must have looked strange. To me, he even did, because with a simple glance I could see any of the children in him. Aximili was directly between Rachel and Marco's height, a medium male build. His hair was brown, a mixture of Jake's and Tobias's, curling like Cassie's, thick like Marco's. His eyes were brown, large like Cassie's, thick brows like Jake and Tobias. His skin was a light brown sugar, a blending of all of the children's skin tone.

What was most strange to them was the general appearance. I understood the human perception of beauty, the differences that should be present between males and females. With such a small DNA pool, with almost equal number of males and females, Aximili's human form was nearly androgynous. Though male, his face had feminine features, delicate human hands. But, it would do.

"How do you look? Lookuh. LooKUH. KUH. How do you look around? Ound. Ow, ow, ownd behind?" he asked, twisting his head around. The motion almost made him fall, and I quickly caught him as the children rushed forward.

‹Careful, Aximili,› I said, smiling, even as I made the mental note to start the speech and balance lessons.

"He's got my eyes. They're my best feature, aside from my hair," Marco sniffed. "He's got Rachel's butt though. Jeez, it's so huge. AHH!"

I shook my head at their antics and ignored their playing. If necessary, Jake and Cassie would step in.

[~.~.~]