Author's Note: Originally, this was a chapter of The Husk that got cut because it didn't really deal with the themes of identity and loss that the rest of the chapters did. I was pleased with it, however, so I'm putting it up and may follow it up with more shorts about the parents after the war.
And May God Deliver the Children
There were the six of us parents and Rachel's sisters perched on the couches we'd dragged in the other night. We made a pretty sad sight, huddled around the television, switching channels every few minutes. The news, suddenly void of celebrity scandals and filled with images of our demolished hometown, reached us at a painfully slow rate. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered if Darwin and Madra's bodies lay half-disintegrated in that wasteland.
We hung onto to every word from journalists and reporters and pundits even more clueless than we were.
"When will we know?" Walter asked for probably the tenth time that night. And for the tenth time, none of us had an answer. We knew the goal was to take the Pool Ship. We knew that this was going to be the most dangerous, most ambitious attempt the Animorphs would ever make on the Yeerks. We knew it involved the Animorphs, the Auxiliaries and the US military working in tandem. But as to the specifics of the plan or the timing, the kids and Toby hadn't told us anything. Marco told me it was to make sure none of us got involved, and told me to not take it personally that the kids had usurped the role of protector from the parents.
We knew that this was the battle that would decide the fate of Earth. But any one of us would have been a liar if we'd said that that was what we cared most about; we just wanted our children to stay safe.
Barely anyone said anything throughout. Peter and I tried to make lighthearted conversation with Walter and Michelle about Hork-Bajir biology, but none of us could follow a train of thought while so intently watching the television. For a moment, the personal politics of the adults were set aside. For now, it didn't matter that Walter and Michelle thought Naomi and I were heartless or that Loren was spacey. It didn't matter that I thought they were overemotional and complicating things with their bickering about ethics. We all just wanted the same thing.
For hours the news stations replayed the same footage they had from a few days ago, of the landing Pool Ship. No new information. People called in to the anchors to share anecdotes about how their ex-girlfriends and employers were Controllers. Biologists gave interviews where they speculated on the anatomy of Yeerks. Anchors explained the nature of Hork-Bajir and Taxxons and Andalites endlessly. Pundits, military officers, callers. No way to tell who was on what side.
Peter kept switching channels between the major news channels. Finally, hours in, Loren grabbed his arm. "Wait!"
"We have new footage of the aftermath of an attack on this so-called "Pool Ship", by a guerrilla war force and the brave men and women of United States Army. I'd like to warn viewers that the content I am about to show you is extremely graphic. This footage was taken about twenty minutes ago at the Ground Zero of Santa Barbara."
'Graphic' didn't begin to describe it. The video recording was like a fist to the stomach. Dead soldiers, dead animals, cauterized halves of bodies lying in the ash and dust of our old city. Doubleday's troops and from the looks of it, James' people. The images seeped into our eyes and stained our minds forever.
"Oh my God…" Michelle gasped, putting a hand over her mouth.
Naomi tried to cover Sara's eyes, but how do you protect a child from that? I'd seen death and murder as Visser One's host body. I'd thought her reign over me would entail the most unforgettable defeat in my life. I'd never seen carnage like what we saw on the television, with all those crippled child soldiers lying dead, without being afforded the decency to die in their own bodies. On Jake Berenson's orders. Oh God, what of Jake's soul? What happened to the soul of the little boy who used to have slumber parties with my son in the attic?
Michelle was the first to start crying. We all did. Even harsh, combative Naomi's face crumpled as she held her youngest daughter close to her. We all wept like saints for the injustice of a war waged on the bodies of children.
Finally, those images began to leave the screen as new ones took their place. The Pool Ship was no longer firing on television helicopters. The Blade Ship had appeared. The Pool Ship fired on it, but I recognized it as a weakened blast. We didn't understand what any of it meant. The stasis was unbearable.
Eventually, the Blade Ship left, and the Pool Ship lowered to Earth long enough to deposit some humans. The television helicopters flocked to the caravans, filled with humans, and clips trickled in.
"…We're freed now, they left the slugs in the refilled pool…"
"...five kids with the power to turns into animals…"
"…alien technology…they're going to let the Yeerks morph their own bodies…"
We'd won. It should have been a momentous occasion. I should have been exalted with spiteful joy at Edriss' ultimate failure. We should been celebrating. We should have been relieved.
It should have been over. The seven years of hell that my life had become should have ended there, on that victorious note. But the anxiety in the group wouldn't lift for an instant until we knew our children were safe.
"Ma'am, can you tell us where these kids who saved the world are?"
"They're still on the ship. They're negotiating deals with the Andalites, I think. There were six of them, actually, if you count the alien, but I think there's only five left – there was a fight on the Blade Ship."
There was a collective, wrenching gasp from everyone. Peter clenched my hand. Loren started shaking and pulled her dog closer to her. Michelle and Walter held each other close. Naomi stood up and grabbed the remote and started flipping through channels, looking for some more information.
"These "Animorphs", teenagers with the Andalite power to turn into animals, allied with the Taxxons and the Yeerk Peace Movement to take the Pool Ship, but reports are coming in that there may have been a casualty among them. We'll let the public know as soon as we do if these reports are true and who's among them."
"It's been confirmed that one of the Animorphs has died aboard the Blade Ship, but we still don't know their identity, or the identities of the survivors. The human-controlled Pool Ship is scheduled to land in Washington DC in a little more than an hour. We'll be the first station to bring you video footage from the landing."
Peter used his free hand to take the remote from a frantic Naomi. "Stay on this one."
She tried to wrest it back, but he kept it out of her reach. "Every station says they'll be the first! Keep looking! That could be my daughter!"
I heard Michelle speak and looked over. She was praying. Loren joined in, her awkward thin frame trembling with fear as she fought to remember the right words. Two desperate mothers rediscovering their religions.
Walter was biting his fingernails, eyes wide and unblinking. Blood dribbled from his cuticles down his wrist.
Naomi stood wild-eyed in front of the television, her daughters wrapped around her waist like a human halo.
I could feel Peter's uneven, panicked breaths next to me.
I gripped his hand until our knuckles were white and our palms were red, begging God to not let it be my child. Frenzied, vile thoughts ran through my mind, but my time with the Yeerks had taught me many times over that desperation often overruled dignity and decency. It would ease the blow if it were the Andalite or Tobias; Loren barely knew her child anyway. But that was no more fair than saying it should be my son because I'd been absent for so many years and Peter had been an inattentive parent. There was nothing fair about any of this. I could see the same thoughts on everyone else's mind – "please not my kid, please not my kid".
An hour passed while TV networks tried to seek out information and give us answers. Another hour on top of thirteen hours of heart-wrenching, terrifying time spent pleading with the television for answers.
The instant before the landing was televised, I said a terrible prayer. Please, God, let it be someone else's child.
The TV lit up with a live feed from Washington DC. The camera zoomed in to an Andalite, a hawk and three familiar teenagers. They were weary and saddened and triumphant, blinking in the sudden daylight and sparkle of flash photography.
I pressed my face into Peter's shoulder, heaving a sigh of relief, as Naomi fell to her knees.