There was a long pause; I guess we were all shocked. Not sure why, though. I mean, we were used to dealing with blue scorpion-deer-people, razor-covered T. Rexes, and evil mind controlling slugs. What was so special about a girl with wings? Honestly, she was kind of boring in comparison.
(Are you sure, Tobias?) Jake asked.
(No,) he snapped, (I just said she could fly to see how you'd react. Of course I'm sure. There are two Hork-Bajir fighting one girl with wings. Can't you see them?)
(Nope. Wolves don't see all that well. But we can smell you all the way up there. You might want to take a bath,) I said.
(I say we go kick some Yeerk butt,) Rachel suggested. (The girl's on our side, if she's fighting the Hork-Bajir. So it's, like, four of us against two of them. Let's –)
(Right. Because this is totally not a trap.) I interrupted her before she could say "do it". (It's not like she's a Controller who'll turn on us as soon as we show ourselves or a dozen more Yeerks are hiding in the bushes or anything.)
(So your suggestion is to sit here and watch the Yeerks kill her? Coward.)
(No, my suggestion is to run as fast as we can and hope they don't shoot us. I don't want to die, okay?)
(I doubt that girl wants to die, either,) Cassie reminded me gently.
Jake nodded. (Even if this is a trap, that would mean she's a Controller. No one should have to suffer like that. If we're not saving her from death, then we're saving her from something worse. I agree with Rachel – we should do it.)
(Yes!) She crowed.
This was crazy. This was freaking insane. Sure, I understood Rachel going along with it. Fighting aliens was her favorite thing, next to buying designer jeans. Cassie was a bleeding heart, so of course she wanted to save the girl. But Jake? Calm, levelheaded Jake? He'd just agreed that we should walk into an obvious trap to save one Controller. What was wrong with him? I knew the answer, of course. Tom. We shouldn't have gone on a mission so soon after the Yeerk pool. After we failed to save Jake's brother from infestation and enslavement. It wasn't enough time to recover from that. To be honest, a year wasn't enough time to really recover from that.
(Jake.) I sent a private thought-speak message; the others didn't need to hear this. (Look, I get that you'd do anything to save Tom. And if you ever figure out how to do that, I promise I'll fight with you. But this girl isn't him, okay? You have to let this one go. This is a trap. We're going to die if we fight now, and then we'll never be able to save him. Please, Jake.)
A low growl rose in his throat. Had I gone too far? (This has nothing to do with Tom. But her life is just as valuable as anyone else's, and –)
(What about the Hork-Bajir we'd be killing? Aren't their lives kind of important, too?)
I was bumped aside before Jake could answer me; Rachel was charging forward. Of course. She hadn't heard us talking, so she'd just assumed that the silence meant I was okay with the plan. Well, it was too late for objections now.
Jake dashed off after her, Cassie right behind him. I followed, hardly aware of what I was doing. I didn't have to be – the wolf was. It had to stay with its pack in a fight. Doing anything else would be... It wouldn't do anything else. It was part of the pack first, an individual second. It was –
Tearing into Hork-Bajir flesh. I hadn't even realized that we'd covered the distance. That we'd started fighting. I... didn't matter. I had to fight for my pack. Bite, bite – stabbed! An enemy had – I was bleeding! My nose said my pack was bleeding too. The enemies would die! Growling, and a lunge – I had its throat! It cut me, slashed my legs, but that didn't matter. I had it, and it was going to be dead. I shook, and shook – it stopped moving. We won!
No, there was another enemy. We had to... no, another creature was killing it. Not a familiar scent... this was... did we have to hurt it? I needed to think.
No. No, no, no. It was the girl. The wolf mind faded as I forced my own mind to the was easy to forget yourself when you were in another body, but it wasn't smart. I had to keep a hold on reality, or else I might end up hurting someone. And... oh, crap, I was bleeding. The wolf had shrugged it off during the fight, but now the adrenaline was fading. I was seriously hurt.
(WHOA!) I yelped, stumbling backwards. Freaky bird-girl was swinging a branch at my head!
(Yeah, you're welcome!) Rachel snapped as she dodged the girl's blow. (No need to thank us for saving your life!)
(Look, calm down,) Cassie soothed. Her heart just wouldn't stop bleeding. (Come with us. We can explain everything –"
"I'll die before I go back to the School! I'd rather be dead than have a bunch of filthy Erasers drag me off for the whitecoats to play with!" She spat venomously, breaking the branch over Jake's head with a sickening crack. He fell over – was he knocked out? Oh my God.
(So, anyone else thinking that this might all have been a trap?) I was right. We'd killed the Hork-Bajir and risked our lives for nothing, and now Jake was motionless in the dirt. Rachel shot me the dirtiest look I'd ever seen a wolf give, and she growled at the girl.
(We're not... Erasers. Or whitecoats. And we're not taking you to school, okay? I promise.)
"Well, since you promised," she mocked, assuming a defensive position. "Hey, you willing to pinky-swear? I mean, you'd probably have to go all human again, since wolves don't have pinkies, but..."
My stomach felt like it was made of lead. Human. They knew.
The war was over. We were as good as dead.
"Kind of surprised that they modified the original design for you guys. You were a hell of a lot tougher when you didn't go all the way wolfy, you know what I mean?" Not at all. I breathed a sigh of relief. She seemed to think that we were something with a 'design'. She didn't realize that we were just a bunch of teenagers. Thank God.
(We don't know what you're talking about,) Cassie pleaded. (We just want to help you. The Yeerks are going to come with reinforcements soon – there's no way they didn't hear the fight. Please, just come with us.)
"Yeah, a doggie crate sounds so nice right now. I'd just love to be confined and abused again – all these years of freedom have really dragging on. I mean, who wants to stretch their wings? I'd much rather be hit with cattle prods and –"
Tobias fluttered down and perched on one of the maple tree's branches – you know, one of the ones that she hadn't snapped off and used to bludgeon Jake. What was he doing? (Look, I'm a bird too.) He extended his wings, just in case she'd thought he was a cuddly little kitten or something. (I hate being trapped just as much as you do. But all that doesn't matter right now. You have to run. If you don't, you'll die. If you don't want to come with us, fine. But you have to get out of here.)
She hesitated. "They made birds?" Who were 'they', anyway?
(No idea what you're talking about.)
(He's not kidding,) I said. (Your babbling has made zero sense from the beginning.) Man, we had to start running soon. And we had to find some way to carry Jake.
"Look, stop playing. I mean – you must think I'm really stupid. I'm not going to fall for your act, okay?"
(Hey, don't worry. We don't think you're stupid. We just think you're freaking insane.)
(Marco,) Tobias warned. She'd already taken out one of us. It didn't take a genius to decide to avoid that in the future.
(Guys,) Cassie said in nervous private thought-speak. (We have to move. There's no time for this.)
(How are we going to move Jake?) Rachel asked her. Answer: we couldn't.
(The bird girl seems pretty strong,) Tobias suggested. (She could probably carry him and run at the same time.)
(Dude. How many times do I have to scream 'trap' before you listen? The Yeerks are probably tracking her. Plus she seems pretty cool with the idea of us being dead, judging by the fact that she knocked out Jake in the first place.)
(I don't trust her,) Rachel agreed.
(I don't either,) Cassie admitted. (But she's our only chance of saving Jake.)
Unfortunately, it was true.
I switched my thought-speak back to... public mode, for lack of a better term. (Hey, bird-girl.)
"Hey, weird-as-hell Eraser."
(Not nice. Really not nice. Anyway, you knocked out our friend.)
"No shit, Sherlock." Wow. Somebody needed some soap.
(Kiss your mother with that mouth? Now, my point was that he saved your life, you knocked him out, and now he's going to die if someone doesn't get him out of here.)
"And that's my problem how, exactly?"
(Because, you little ingrate, he rescued you from the evil alien slugs controlling the monsters trying to kill you, and now, thanks to you, they're going to either murder him or turn him into a slave and probe his mind for information about us so that they can find us and do the same. Then they'll conquer the whole world and infest everyone on it – including you – and destroy everything that humanity has ever worked for. That's how it's your problem!) Rachel's thought-speak was laced with venom. She'd just given the girl what she deserved. She'd probably made her really furious with us. And she'd probably just doomed Jake to die.
The girl was silent for a moment. "Never heard an Eraser talk like that. Never seen them look like actual wolves, either. Or birds," she nodded at Tobias. "I... If it turns out that you are some sort of School creation, I swear to God I will rip you limb from limb." With that, she tossed Jake over her shoulders. She made a sort of oomph sound, but otherwise the motion seemed effortless. Hopefully she could keep up that strength while she ran.
(Hork-Bajir!) Tobias warned. (About a dozen. And a couple of human Controllers. All armed with Dracon beams. I'd say they're about... a quarter of a mile off.)
"Where are we going?" The girl demanded.
(We can actually finish the trail faster than we can get back to where we started,) Cassie pointed out.
(You want to run for twenty miles?) Tobias asked.
"We can just hide in the woods," the girl suggested. "They'll expect us to go on the trail. If we can get deep enough into the trees, they won't be able to find us. Once we're far enough -"
(Okay, fine. Great idea. Into the woods. I agree. Now let's go!) Rachel interrupted. She started to sprint; I guess that, as much as she loved fighting, the idea of three wolves and a one-armed bird-human mix squaring off against an armed attack squad of seven-foot-tall aliens didn't appeal to her. Go figure.
We followed as quickly as we could. I was slowed by my injuries, the girl – I really needed to get her name – was slowed by Jake's weight, and Cassie was too busy worrying about Jake to focus on running. Well, at least Rachel would survive.
(Tobias, are they following us?)
(They haven't even reached the trail yet. If you keep a steady pace, you should make it.) He'd said should. Not would. You noticed little things like that when they referred to your potential death.
There were a few minutes of running and labored breathing before anyone spoke again. (So, Marco, looks like it wasn't a trap,) Rachel said, just a bit snidely.
(Yeah, things have worked out so well. Hork-Bajir just behind, Jake passed out, all of us covered in blood, the Yeerks knowing that we know about this place – and it could still be a trap.)
(Oh, come on. You think a Yeerk would help us with Jake?)
(Yeah, actually. If it were a trap, then they'd do their best to fake it. Plus they'd just love to take him back to our spaceship and find all the other Andalite bandits, right?) See, the Yeerks don't know that we're human. They have this idea that we're Andalite warriors who landed on Earth and decided to wage guerilla war. The longer they think that, the better.
"Spaceship? Seriously?" The girl – man, I really needed to find out what her name was – looked incredulous. "You're actually pushing the alien story? I'm not falling for this."
(We weren't even talking to you,) Rachel snapped.
"What is this, kindergarten? If that's how you want to play it, I wasn't talking to you either. I was talking to the wolf who said 'spaceship'." That last sentence would never be uttered in a normal person's world.
(There are aliens, and they do have spaceships. I don't care if you believe me or not.) Because you're probably one of them.
(Hey, you're part bird. You have raptor vision?) Tobias asked her suddenly.
"Almost. 20/4. Why?"
(If you look at a certain patch of sky – I'd say it's at about... 10 o'clock from you, if you understand what I'm saying – I think I can cure you of your disbelief.)
"What..." she stared at the sky for a while. I couldn't see a thing, but I was pretty sure I knew what it was. "I... it's shimmery. And big. Bigger than a car, even. But... what is it?"
(A spaceship.) Tobias replied.
"Their spaceships are invisible?" She asked, skeptical. "They can do that?"
(Yep. They can do that. They can also make guns that burn off limbs. Plus they have this really neat ability to crawl into your ear, wrap their slimy, disgusting bodies around your brain, and control your every move.) I answered for Tobias. She looked surprised, to say the least. (Yeah. We've got some stuff to talk about. Except...) I trailed off.
(We're sort of going to have to chain you up in a shed for three days to make sure you're not an alien,) I confessed.
"What the hell – are you kidding me?" She stared, stopping dead in her tracks. "This some sort of joke?"
(Well... not really,) Cassie confessed.
There was no response.
(Guys,) Tobias cut in, (you still need to be running.)
(We can talk later,) Cassie suggested.
"Yeah. Looking forward to that," she quipped. "'Hey, aliens are taking over the world. Therefore, we need to put you in a shed.' Seriously, what the hell?"
(It'll all make sense,) I promised. (Well, kind of.)
We'd run far enough for the Yeerks to give up the search. Jake had woken up soon after we stopped by a thick cluster of bushes; it would provide plenty of cover from prying eyes as we changed. We took turns demorphing and remorphing into birds, with two of us morphing in the bushes while Tobias and the other two of us kept an eye on the girl and kept her from investigating. When we were done, we perched in the surrounding trees.
(So, it's been bothering me to refer to you as 'the girl',) I said. (What's your name?)
"Robin." Wow. Seriously? Very creative mother, there. It didn't even make sense – her wings looked more like an oriole's.
(Oh, that's nice. I'm –) Cassie broke off. We couldn't give out our names. Especially not to someone who might have a Yeerk in their head.
"Blank. Got it."
(Sorry. We can't tell you who we are. Not until three days have passed.) Jake was firm.
"What's up with that, anyway? And what makes you think I'm going to be a prisoner for three days?"
(Yeerks – those are the bad aliens – need to leave their host every three days to feed. If they're stuck in their host for more than three days, they die. Slowly.) He paused for a moment, as though he were weighing a huge decision. (You know how we change into different animals?)
"Well, yeah. I mean, you went into the bushes wolves, then came out birds. I'd have to be pretty thick not to know."
(We heal ourselves when we change. That's part of the technology. You... if you morphed, you'd probably get your arm back.) Except she wouldn't morph. Because she sure wasn't joining us. Jake had better not... (If we watched you for three days, and you turned out not to be a Controller – someone with a Yeerk in their head – and if you promised to fight with us... we could give you that power.)
(Jake. You're freaking insane. We just met her.)
(Come on, Marco,) Rachel said. (We've got a bird and four... Andalites... fighting off a full-scale invasion of Earth. Adding a mutant's not going to hurt our chances.)
(I've got to agree with Rachel,) Tobias chimed in.
(I... I don't know.) Cassie sounded uncertain. (I mean... whatever everyone else decides is fine with me.)
(So, what do you think?) Jake asked her.
She considered for what seemed like an eternity. "I'm in," she finally said.
AN: Well, this update only took about forever. XP Seriously, I'm so, so sorry about the incredibly long wait. I didn't even realize how long I'd neglected this story. Next time I'm that lazy, someone send me a message, okay? I forget this sort of thing too often.
I think this chapter isn't quite as funny as the others, but it's usually pretty hard to make a near-fatal fight with evil parasites and the subsequent flight funny – unless, of course, you're writing a parody. Sorry about that. Hopefully you enjoyed it anyway. =)
& of course: thanks to all of my reviewers/subscribers so far. I love getting those e-mails saying that someone's been nice enough to leave a review or add this story to their story alert/favorite list. Really, they make my day. So thank you very much. ^^