Rachel & Abineng

Becoming a cat was incredible. Abineng's favorite form has been a cat for almost a year now, and morphing into one made us feel closer than ever before. I could understand why he loved it so much. When you're a cat, everything seems easy. Your body can do pretty much anything you ask it to. When we morphed, it was like Abineng, the cat, and I were melding into one mind.

It didn't feel so incredible when we were in a cage and about to be hauled in front of Visser Three. Along with my friend Melissa, and it was my fault she was in trouble in the first place.

I'd never realized how lonely Melissa was. Her dæmon had been taking only butterfly and moth forms for the last six months, which meant she was probably close to settling, but that meant he couldn't turn into something warm and soft to comfort her when her parents treated her like a stranger in her own home. Fluffer was her companion at night, when she cried herself to sleep. And not only had I not been there for her, but I was about to get her enslaved by a Yeerk. Some friend I'd been.

Ms. Chapman checked the door of the cage to make sure it was locked, her kangaroo rat dæmon's eyes gleaming at me. The cat wanted to pounce on him. Patience, Abineng told the cat's mind. We'll get our chance.

If we ever get out of this cage, I growled.

Chapman grabbed the cage. On a lanyard around his neck was an indestructible plastic container that most people with insect dæmons use to keep them from getting squashed by accident. Cassie told me once that his dæmon is called a gladiator, but to me it just looks like an armored praying mantis on crack. He put the cage down at the top of the stairs, then said, "Now, go get – "

A lot of things started happening at once. I wish I could have seen more of it, but the bars of the cage blocked some of my view. I heard a frantic scrabbling sound coming from the container hanging from Chapman's neck. "Now. Go. Get the girl – aaagh!" Chapman's dæmon burst free of her container, crawled up his shirt, and started scratching at his eyes with her serrated forelimbs. Chapman yelped and staggered back, batting at his face – but he couldn't scratch his dæmon away without risking damaging or killing her.

Mrs. Chapman started up the stairs, but then her dæmon started gnawing at her ear with his sharp teeth, as if trying to pry her Yeerk loose from her brain. "Host rebellion," she snarled, clenching the kangaroo rat in one hand. He kicked and struggled, letting out pathetic little shrieks as he tried to get free. "Stop it, you little vermin!"

I'd known, in my head, that it wasn't really the Chapmans in control, but it was still a shock to hear Mrs. Chapman call her own dæmon "vermin". Of course, it wasn't Mrs. Chapman who'd called him that. It was the Yeerk who had her enslaved, enraged that its dæmon host was rebelling.

Chapman's Yeerk had managed to get the gladiator dæmon between thumb and forefinger, but she still waved her forelimbs and antennae wildly, growling, "No… not her…"

They both looked completely crazy; the only people whose dæmons would self-harm like this were inside padded walls. But I knew the truth. The Chapmans were fighting for their daughter. But it was a fight they were doomed to lose.

Slowly, their dæmons stopped struggling. Chapman had scratches around his eyes, and Mrs. Chapman's ear was bleeding, but the gladiator dæmon was soon back inside her container, and the kangaroo rat was perched on Mrs. Chapman's shoulder, as meekly as any free dæmon.

Jake & Merlyse

I've noticed changes in my dæmon since I've become unofficial leader of the Animorphs. She's been taking the same forms she used to, mostly, but now they're desert-adapted versions – animals that thrive in harsh places. She already liked to be a prairie dog, but soon her hare form became a jackrabbit, her sparrow form a cactus wren, her barnyard goat a Nubian ibex that lives high up in the dry mountains.

Every day when I walk home from school, Merlyse walks beside me as a sheepdog. Or she used to, at least, until one day I started walking and Merl was a coyote, lean and yellow-tan like sand.

"What's this about?" I said, tugging at her ears. They were much bigger compared to her head than a dog's.

"Hey," she said, shaking my grip on her ears. "Coyotes are cool. The Native Americans have a trickster god called Coyote."

"Oh, so you're a god now, is that it?" I teased her.

She gave a playful growl and lunged, tackling me to the grass. I wrestled her until I had her pinned, then she snapped her jaws an inch from my nose, which made me jerk my head back just long enough for her to get the edge again. We tussled on the grass a while, until the shadow of a bird fell across the lawn. Merlyse looked up at the sky, and I followed her gaze to the figure of a hawk against the clouds.

I don't know how I knew it was Tobias. It just had to be. He was flying a circle not far above us. I know hawks don't have facial expressions. There was no way I could have seen what I did, but I could have sworn it: the look in his fierce yellow eyes was one of such raw, desperate longing that Merl and I sprang apart as if we'd been caught doing something private and sacred.

I stood and brushed grass clippings off my jeans. "Come on, Merl," I said, trying not to wonder who envied us more: Tobias, or Elhariel.

Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill

I cannot explain in full what I felt after the five humans appeared inside the Dome beneath the sea. I had been lonely, and as much as it shames me to admit it, I was afraid. Andalites are herd creatures. We are not meant to be alone for as long as I had been. I had begun to lose hope that anyone would find me. I was very near to escaping the Dome and the alien ocean by my own means, despite all the dangers.

Then the Dome informed me that I had visitors. I knew they had to be sentient, for the creatures of this ocean would not have entered into the depressurization chamber by accident. I tempered my hope with pragmatism, for my visitors could have been Yeerks just as easily as allies. I set my shredder to wide-range stun, stood by the door to the Dome, and waited.

I did not wait long. Eight shapes appeared in the doorway, and I fired before I had even fully registered what they were. All eight shapes collapsed to the grassy floor, which gave me an opportunity to study them.

Four of the eight life-forms were mostly hairless, shorter but more robust than the front half of an Andalite's body, with two legs and two arms. Their skin color ranged from palest pink to dark brown, but they did not vary exceptionally in terms of height or build.

The other four life-forms, however, were very different. One of them was very small and covered in brown fur. Another had wings, claws, and the sharp curved beak of a predator. The other winged form was smaller and less predatory. The last was a vivid shade of blue, with a wide mouth and long legs built for leaping.

My elder cousins had, of course, briefed me on the sentient species of Earth before we entered the system. They were unique in the galaxy, for what we called an individual "human" was, in fact, one mind in two bodies. The science behind this unusual arrangement is not yet known to Andalites. What one might consider the "main" or "dominant" body was a hairless, helpless biped, while the secondary body could take on the shape of any Earth animal – a naturally evolved version of morphing, perhaps. This would seem to be an advantageous and logical arrangement, to house the main intelligence in the helpless body and the natural weapons and keener senses in the secondary body, with a powerful psychic link between them. However, my cousins had informed me that the two-body system was a great deal more bizarre and illogical than one might suppose, for while the secondary bodies of juvenile humans could change shape at will, adult secondary bodies fixed upon a single shape and never changed again. Why adult humans would lose such a useful and adaptive skill is something I cannot begin to understand.

It seemed clear that I had been visited by four humans, despite their outward appearance of being eight separate life-forms. This was a disappointment, but I couldn't help but feel curious, and perhaps a little of the natural Andalite optimism I'd been trained so vigorously to suppress. They might, just might, prove useful allies. The only way to know for sure was to wait for them to awaken from the stun.

The first to awaken was the human with the shortest head hair and the darkest skin, along with the small, fur-covered animal, which I assumed must be the human's secondary body. The human's main body let out a cry of surprise and fear when it saw me, using the hole in its face called a mouth. Its secondary body huddled close to the main one, as if for comfort.

«Do not move. I stunned you to see what you are. But if you move, I will destroy you,» I said, leveling my shredder at the human. I did not want to take any chances, especially if the humans were juveniles. With their morphing secondary bodies, they could be particularly dangerous.

The other humans awakened moments later. I saw each secondary body join its primary. It was a strange sight. One of the humans spoke through the mouth of its primary body. The translation chip in my brain had already been loaded with the two most widely-spoken languages on the planet, so I understood the speech it formed with its mouthparts. "Please tell me that's a real Andalite and not Visser Three."

Anger spiked within me, sharp and hot. My tail was instantly in front of the primary body's face. «Visser Three! Do not speak that name!»

"OK," it said. "Whatever you want."

"We are friends," said the human that had woken first. I noticed that only the primary bodies spoke. Perhaps the secondary bodies were not capable of speech.

«I don't know you,» I said, but I lowered my tail. That stroke of anger had been unbecoming of a disciplined Andalite aristh.

"You called us. We've come to help you," said the same human.

I turned all of my eyes to focus on the human's two bodies. Humans, I had been given to understand, were not capable of thought-speech, only of receiving thought-speech directed at them specifically. Perhaps this human was not what it had seemed to be. «Called? You heard my call? What are you?»

"Human. A person of Earth."

«I have seen images of your kind, with your two bodies. My call was to my cousins. How did you hear it?»

"They're called dæmons," said the human, touching its secondary body for emphasis. "And we don't know. We heard it in our dreams. So did a friend of mine. We guessed it was an Andalite. We wanted to help."

The humans told me of my brother's death at the hands of Visser Three. That – well, I hardly need tell another Andalite warrior how heavily that burden of grief and vengeance weighed upon my hearts. They told me how Elfangor had given them the morphing power in a desperate attempt to fight the invasion of Earth beyond his own death. It shocked me to my core. Some part of me admired his foresight – even a small guerrilla force, armed with the morphing power, could wreak great damage against the Yeerks. But mostly I was confused and disbelieving.

«Elfangor gave you that? Why would he do such a thing? You have your dæmons, with their own morphing capability. Why do you humans not send them to fight against the Yeerks?»

To my surprise, I heard one of the dæmons speak in a low tone. It was the one in a vivid blue shape. "There are so many things wrong with that I don't even know where to start."

"A dæmon can't move more than a few feet from its human without intense pain," explained the psychically sensitive human who had heard my call. "Only kids' dæmons can change shape. And besides, a dæmon isn't nearly as useful in a fight as a human in morph. Against other dæmons in self-defense, maybe, but not in real battle against the Yeerks. Dæmons can take on the body of an animal, but that doesn't mean they know how to use it. A morph comes with all of the animal's instincts of how to fight." The human's dæmon changed into a predatory form, as if in demonstration, confirming my suspicions that the humans were juveniles, like myself. I was surprised at the smoothness of the transition from one body to the next. It was instantaneous, unlike the Andalite morphing power.

The human must have noticed me watching. "Don't worry," it said. "Quincy won't hurt you."

It could have, I realized, if it wanted to. Without their dæmons, I could subdue all four humans in a fight on my own. However, if their dæmons took on dangerous forms, they could easily overpower me. I was starting to like the idea of having these young humans as allies. They were children, and terribly outnumbered, but they wanted to fight to save their planet from the Yeerks.

When I expressed my admiration of their determination, the human with the dæmon named Quincy said, "We feel like we don't have a choice. Look, we don't even know your name. This is Jake, and his dæmon Merlyse. Rachel and Abineng. Marco and Diamanta. I'm Cassie, and this is Quincy. There's one more. Tobias. And Elhariel."

My translator chip suggested that Jake, Marco, and Tobias were most likely masculine names, while Rachel and Cassie were probably feminine. It had no suggestions about their dæmons – for all I knew, they might be entirely genderless. I failed to notice Cassie's slight hesitation before pronouncing the name of Tobias' dæmon, Elhariel. I would not understand why until we escaped the ocean and all of our enemies.

I was surprised to discover when the humans morphed that their dæmons disappeared to Z-space along with their human brains. It made sense, upon reflection. When I morphed, my Andalite brain was suspended in Z-space, sending instructions to direct my morph's brain and body. Humans, with their intelligence housed in two bodies, would need both the human brain and the dæmon to direct the morph from Z-space. It must have been strange for the humans, who were used to having two bodies instead of one. They must have acquired some experience before they came to rescue me, for they controlled their morphs with practiced ease – perhaps even better than I controlled mine. I had only morphed three times before: once a djabala to try the technology for the first time, second a Kafit bird for the sheer thrill of flight, and third my current morph, as practice in case I needed it to escape.

It was not the only respect in which I was less experienced than the humans. While I was seized by paralyzing terror at Visser Three's approach, the humans were able to swim on despite their fear. I wondered if the split nature of their minds helped them to cope. That is a question to which I still do not have the answer. In the end, however, we all survived, due to the timely intervention of a group of near-sentient Earth animals called whales.

We made it out of that alien ocean, onto a shore covered in yellow-white sand. The humans clothed themselves – but not their dæmons – in artificial skin. And then I met the nothlit named Tobias. It wasn't until later that I realized how much greater of a burden it must have been on him than it would be for an Andalite. He had spent his entire life with a dæmon in a body of her own. Now they both shared a body that belonged to neither. And he had formed a special connection with my brother in his final moments.

We were faced with the problem of how I could inconspicuously return to the place where the humans lived. «I must morph,» I said.

"Yeah, but into what?" wondered the human called Rachel.

I walked over to Cassie and placed my hand on her face. It was uncomfortably like an Andalite kiss, but for the Frolis Maneuver I was about to perform, facial details would be of paramount importance. Touching the humans' faces would help me conceptualize them in greater detail during the morph. «With your permission,» I said, focusing on her. Both Cassie and her dæmon Quincy became tranquil and immobile as I acquired DNA.

"Will you have to acquire our dæmons too?" asked Marco, his voice higher-pitched than it had been. I do not understand human expressions of emotion, but to me he seemed either excited or nervous.

«Do your dæmons have a unique genetic code?» I asked.

"No," said Rachel. "They're not like animals, even though they look like them. They don't have to eat or drink or anything."

«In that case,» I said, once the acquiring trance had lifted, «it will not be necessary to acquire your dæmons.»

"Um, excuse me," said Marco. "But you're going to morph Cassie? Can you do that?" I approached him and reached for his face. "Wait, hang on a minute. Are you going to have a dæmon when you morph? Is a dæmon just gonna appear out of nowhere, like when we demorph?"

That gave me pause. «I do not know your species' biology. Your dæmons disappear into Zero-space when your human brains do, correct?»

"Zero-space? What's Zero-space?" Rachel demanded.

«An alternate dimension. Anti-reality. It is what makes faster-than-light communication and travel possible. It is also where your brains and excess mass from your bodies are extruded when you morph.»

«Are you saying,» said Tobias, «that my brain has been floating in another dimension ever since I got trapped as a hawk?»

«Yes. Your dæmon as well, if I understand the morphing process in humans accurately. Your human brain cannot fit inside the skull of your morph alongside the hawk's. It is directing your morphed body from Zero-space, as is your dæmon.»

The humans appeared to be startled by this information.

I thought for a moment, then said, «Tell me. What happens to the dæmon of a human who has irreversibly lost all higher brain functions?»

"What does that have to do with anything?" said Marco.

"You mean, like, a coma? Or brain-death?" said Rachel, speaking at the same time, but more loudly.

There was a brief pause, then Cassie said in a quiet voice, "In a coma, the dæmon starts to waste away. Like it's starving. Once brain-death sets in, it just… disappears. Just like regular death, I guess."

The other humans all looked at her. She hunched and relaxed her shoulders in a human gesture I could not decipher. "My cousin got in a car accident."

Prince Merlyse edged toward Quincy, Cassie's dæmon, and touched their faces together. I interpreted it as a gesture of comfort. «I am sorry for your loss, Cassie,» I said.

The humans and their dæmons all looked at me. Perhaps they had not expected me to express condolences.

Cassie made that strange gesture again, along with a smile that involved both her eyes, like an Andalite's smile, and a curving of her mouth. "It was a few years back. But thanks, Ax."

"What does this have to do with Ax morphing a human, though?" said Rachel.

«The presence of the dæmon seems to depend on whether the human's higher brain functions are intact. A human morph does not have an independent consciousness, as it is directed by the consciousness of the being who morphed it. I would therefore conjecture that when I morph human, I will not have a dæmon.»

This appeared to startle the humans as well.

"You can't just walk around without a dæmon," said Marco. "People will freak out. I mean, people see stuff like that and think about what the Nazis did during the Holocaust."

"He could wear one of those containers on a lanyard that people with insect dæmons use and pretend he has one in there," said Rachel.

"Do any of us have one of those right now?" Marco asked. There was no response. "I didn't think so."

«I'll be his dæmon,» said Tobias.

Everyone stared at him.

«A kid with a red-tailed hawk on his shoulder? No one will think twice. Ax and I can talk to each other in thought-speak so we can coordinate our expressions and movements. It'll look just like the link a human and dæmon have.»

"You don't even know what it's like to be a dæmon, Tobias," Diamanta argued. "How can you act like one?"

Suddenly, a very different thought-speak voice came from Tobias' hawk body. «I do.»

It took me a moment to realize that it must have been Tobias' dæmon, Elhariel, speaking. Everyone was quiet for a moment.

"What about interacting with other dæmons?" said Abineng. "You can't talk like a dæmon can, and you can't just go around touching other people's dæmons."

«Why not?» I wondered.

The humans all inhaled very sharply. Tobias looked at me with intense yellow eyes. «You just don't. It's taboo. You can't touch another person's dæmon.»

I had learned in military academy about the importance of respecting other species' cultural taboos, however nonsensical they might appear. I resolved with myself to obey this one to the best of my ability. The humans appeared to take the taboo with utmost seriousness.

"Not all dæmons are outgoing," said Cassie. "Quincy doesn't touch other dæmons much, not even my parents'."

That made me wonder privately why Quincy had allowed Prince Merlyse to comfort him with touch only a short time before.

"OK," said Prince Jake. "Tobias will be Ax's dæmon, at least for now. You can finish acquiring our DNA, Ax."

I acquired DNA from Marco, Rachel, and Prince Jake. It was a little strange to acquire Prince Jake's DNA. I wondered if any Andalite warrior had ever acquired his prince's DNA before. Likely not, since no Andalite had ever had a human prince before. I stepped back from the humans and concentrated. I had read about the Frolis Maneuver in a textbook, but I had never attempted it before. My understanding of the theory would have to be enough. I visualized the humans whose DNA I had acquired, paying special attention to their facial features, and combined their images into one, deciding upon a male form for myself. No sooner had I assembled the image in my mind than the changes began.

At a certain point in the morph, all the humans and their dæmons turned away from me. It was clear that they had strong taboos surrounding the use of artificial skins as well. I was not certain exactly which parts of the human body were considered important to conceal with artificial skin, so when Jake instructed me to put on "boxers" and a "T-shirt" I could not divine which parts of my human body they were meant to cover. My translation chip gave me an idea of what boxers and a T-shirt looked like, but not what they were for. I put them on as best I could. The humans turned around.

Their mouths hung open and their eyes were wide. Their dæmons produced squeaking noises. Quincy hid in a fold of Cassie's artificial skin.

"He was right," said Rachel. "He doesn't have a dæmon."

"Yesssssss," I said, pleased at the accuracy of my conjecture. I liked the way the word sounded on my human tongue. "Yesssss. I was correct. Cor. Rect. Corrrrrect." I moved my human mouthparts around. "Strange. Stuh-range."

"Ooookay," said Prince Jake. "A few small adjustments needed. Ax, are you male or female?"

"I chose to be-be-be-be-be male. I chose male because I am male. Male. Is that a good choice? Ch-ch-ch-choyuss?"

"Male is fine," Prince Jake said. "Rachel? Cassie? Turn around."

This confirmed my assumption that Rachel and Cassie were female, though it did not clarify why Prince Jake and Marco were allowed to help me with my artificial skin while the female humans could not. Prince Jake removed the boxers from my head and Marco helped me out of the T-shirt and rearranged the articles of clothing. I noticed how carefully their dæmons avoided touching me, even though their humans had no such reservations.

I tested out my human body. It was disconcerting not to be able to look behind me as well as in front. I also felt shaky on my two legs. Prince Jake helped me adjust to walking as a human does.

"OK," he said. "Easy. Sand might a little tricky, but on a road you should be fine. Tobias, here's where you come in."

Tobias flew down from his branch and landed on my shoulder, careful not to let his claws tear my artificial skin. «Can you still keep your balance with me here? Try walking.»

I took a careful step forward, then another. Tobias tightened his grip, but did not fall. "Yes," I said. "Do I appear human? Huh-yoo-man."

The humans, except for Tobias, took a step backward to look at me. I was impressed by how easily they were able to move backward without falling over. I stood on the alien beach with Tobias' weight on my shoulder, and wondered what it would be like to have a dæmon on my shoulder for all of my life. How would it change how I saw the world? How I saw myself? How would it feel to have that presence at my side taken away?

"More or less, Ax," said Cassie, a smile on her face. "More or less."

Tobias & Elhariel

As Ax's forest-dwelling buddy, I became his Humanity 101 instructor by default. I taught him units of measurement, names of animals, and why humans live inside big boxes. You know, the basics. As might be expected, Ax had a lot of questions about dæmons.

«All of the Animorphs have dæmons of the opposite gender to themselves,» Ax was saying one afternoon while the other Animorphs were in school. «Is this true of all dæmons?»

«Almost all,» I said. I had just eaten, so I was in a generous mood when it came to Ax's constant questions. «About one in 20 people has a dæmon of the same gender. Nobody really knows what it means, though a lot of cultures and religions have ideas about it. I think I read somewhere that the ancient Greeks venerated men with male dæmons as the strongest and most noble because they weren't corrupted by the weakness of femininity, or something like that. The Ancient Greeks were a bunch of sexist jerks, I guess.»

Maybe Ax didn't really get what I was talking about, or maybe he was just that curious, because he already had a new question. «At what age do dæmons stop changing form? And why?»

«It varies from person to person. The youngest anyone ever settles is around twelve, but that's really rare. Even thirteen's kind of at the low end. It ranges from maybe thirteen to seventeen. Eighteen's just about the upper limit. As to why – well, no one's really sure about that either. Most people see it as a coming of age, though, like you've become an adult. The form your dæmon takes says something about you. When you settle, that means your personality is pretty much set. Children can grow up to be anything, but adults are more stable. You're the same person, deep down, at thirty as you were at twenty. At least, that's the way I was always told it works.»

«Is Elhariel settled on a form?»

I bristled at that. I don't like it when people ask about El. It feels too much like pity. I almost told him it was none of his business, but Elhariel said, It's okay, Tobias. This isn't pity. He's just curious. He's like a little kid when it comes to human stuff.

She was right. Ax might be stuck here for a while, so he might as well understand our ways. I couldn't begrudge him that. «Yes. She's settled as a European storm-petrel. It's a kind of bird. A seabird, not a bird of prey like me. They fly way out over the ocean and eat microscopic animals from the surface water.»

«Do you like her form?»

From anybody else, that question definitely would have offended me. But coming from Ax, I tried to take it at face value. I hadn't seen Elhariel in a while now, but I remembered what she looked like. I remembered her long, narrow wings and calm black eyes. She didn't have the majesty of my hawk body or the cutesy appeal of a robin, but she was mine. Her form was who I was, deep down. My body had the shape of a hawk, but my soul had the shape of a storm-petrel.

«You don't really get to choose what form your dæmon takes, in the end. Your dæmon knows who you really are, and expresses that through its shape. You either have to accept it or just be unhappy with yourself forever. So in a way, you don't really have much of a choice,» I said. «But I do. I love Elhariel just the way she is.»

Marco & Diamanta

By the time we got back home, it was past midnight. I guess I should have considered myself lucky to have gotten home at all. Not only did we almost get killed or enslaved on that Pool ship, but if Ax hadn't been with us, we might have landed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or something, because you can bet that none of us human kids knew how to pilot that escape pod. He landed us in the forest near Cassie's farm, and we all morphed bird and flew home.

I'd left my bedroom window open, so I flew right in and demorphed. When Diamanta reappeared, it was a bigger relief than I'd like to admit. Once all my feathers were gone, she wrapped her python body around my torso and squeezed. It felt really good, like a crushing bear hug. I know it's a little crazy to feel good about having a snake wrapped around your body, even if that snake is your dæmon. Most people think snakes are scary, not comforting. But I'm not most people. Not anymore.

"We should go check on Dad," said Diamanta.

I wiped a few tears from my eyes and nodded. "Yeah." I padded over on tiptoe to my dad's bedroom, Dia still wrapping me in a snake hug. I didn't really expect him to be there – he usually falls asleep in front of the TV with the sound off, if he sleeps at all – but to my surprise, he was.

My dad's dæmon, Mirazai, is a cuttlefish, which isn't a fish at all but basically a small and kind of cute-looking squid. He keeps her in a clear tank made of reinforced plastic that only opens from the inside. My dad was lying on his back, Mirazai's tank on the floor right next to the bed, his hand trailing into the water so Mira could curl her tentacles around his fingers.

The sight of Mira made my breath catch. For the last two years, she'd always been a dull black, even though her colors used to communicate her mood. My mom died in a sailing accident two years ago – or at least, that's what everyone thinks. She always used to love sailing. I think it's because her dæmon, Mercurio, was an emperor penguin. He would always walk on land with as much dignity as a penguin could muster, but he came alive with elegant grace in the water. My mom loved to see that transformation in him. She was an experienced sailor, and no one could understand why this time, she didn't survive the storm.

The reason, of course, is that she did survive. Survived so that Visser One, the Yeerk who'd enslaved her and Mercurio, could live off-planet full-time.

I hadn't seen so much as a speck of color on Mirazai since my mom died. But tonight, the eve of the anniversary of her death, patterns shifted and flowed beneath her skin in time with the flicker of my dad's eyes beneath their lids as he dreamed. I stared at her a while, as if I could figure out what my dad was dreaming about if I only watched closely enough. Diamanta uncoiled from me, slithered over to the tank, and became a kisserfish with comically huge lips, planting a kiss on Mirazai's mantle. Then she became a snake again and flowed back out, her scales still wet from the tank.

"They're moving on," said Dia. "Maybe they'll put their life back together again, finally."

"I don't want them to move on," I whispered fiercely. "She's still alive, Dia."

"And what do you think she wants?" said Dia. "She's still in there, Marco, even if Visser One is in control. She knows you and Dad are still here. She probably even knows you're not Controllers. Do you think she wants Dad to just sit in this apartment all day and night like a zombie? Or do you think she wants him to start living again?"

I wished my dad could have some of the hope that was blazing quietly inside me, the hope that one day we'd be a family again. I didn't want him to live every day thinking he'd never see her face again. But I knew the answer to Dia's question. Of course I did.

My dad didn't know that there was hope of seeing her again. My mom didn't know that there was hope, because her son was fighting to save her. But I knew. And that would have to be enough.

Cassie & Quintavion

I couldn't sleep. I knew I should sleep while I had the chance. Between school, homework, working at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic, and fighting to save the Earth from evil parasitic slugs, I seemed to be getting less and less these days. But I dreamed, when I slept, and sometimes I just didn't want that to happen.

I was sitting in bed with my lamp on. I'd already heard the creak of the stairs and the groan of the old dumbwaiter as my dad and his moose dæmon went upstairs to sleep. He hadn't noticed the light coming from under my door. Quincy was perched on my left hand as a monarch butterfly while I drew in my old sketchbook with my right.

I used to be really into drawing when I was little. I went to art classes after school and everything. But when I took on more responsibility at the wildlife clinic, I'd had to give it up. Now I found myself drawing all my friends, one by one.

Rachel and Abineng came first, of course. I've drawn them before a few times. I know the lines of Rachel's face well. But this time, I drew her with an expression I'd never really seen on her face before that night at the construction site: awe mixed with wonder and fear, with Abi as a jaguar, as he'd been then. I could remember that look on her face with perfect detail. Abi never seemed to take big, dangerous predator forms like jaguar anymore. Maybe it doesn't have the same thrill, now that Rachel can do it too.

Next came Jake and Merlyse. I drew him sitting on a bale of hay in the barn, Merlyse on his lap as a jackrabbit, presiding over an Animorphs meeting. You could tell that was what he was doing by the square set of his jaw and shoulders. Merlyse has been taking on a lot of desert animal shapes lately. I think Jake's noticed that too, but I'm not sure he really knows what it means. I can see it, though. There are plenty of animals that can survive one summer of drought. They don't need to be specially desert-adapted for that. But desert animals have to survive blistering heat, harsh sun, and temperature extremes for their whole lives. On some level, Merlyse knew that they were in this fight for the long haul.

I had never drawn Marco and Diamanta before, so it took me longer to get started on his portrait. Before we got drawn into this fight, I barely knew Marco. He was Jake's best friend, and since I have, you know, feelings for Jake, I was always aware of him, at least. I surprised myself by how well I was able to draw him once I got into it. I drew him with a smirk, his usual expression, but his eyes were focused intently on something off the page. Diamanta was coiled around his arm as a coral snake. I've noticed that sometimes when she's in snake form and Marco isn't paying attention, she turns into a venomous snake. Then, as soon as she thinks someone's looking, she becomes a harmless snake again.

I wanted to draw Tobias as a human, at first, but to my embarrassment I found I couldn't remember some details about his face: how thick his eyebrows were, how round his ears. I ended up drawing the hawk over the human, so you could see both at the same time, but neither as clearly as if I'd drawn them separately. Tobias was losing a few of his more human mannerisms lately. He used to nod and tilt his head and shrug all the time, gestures that no real hawk would make, but he didn't do those as often now. I drew Elhariel next to him, wings spread, as if they were flying through the sky together, the ghost of Tobias' human self behind them.

Ax came last because I wasn't at all sure I could even draw an Andalite. But as my pencil moved across the paper, he took shape, line by line. I drew him standing at attention, stalk eyes erect, tail high over his head, weight evenly distributed over his four legs. I imagined that "Prince Jake" had just given him an order. Ax moves like a warrior, more than any of us, even though I guess we're all warriors now. You can see it in the way his stalk eyes are always scanning, his deadly bladed tail always up and ready. Tobias once told me he's not even sure if Ax ever sleeps. I wonder if we'll all look more like him, by the time the Andalites show up to save us from the Yeerks.

I put the drawings down on my nightstand. "It's funny, isn't it?" I said.

"What is?" said Quincy.

"How well I know them now," I said. "I mean, except for Rachel and Jake, they were all strangers. Now I think I know things about them they don't even know themselves."

"Makes sense," said Quincy. "We've already been through a lot together."

"You think I should tell them?" I glanced at the drawings. "About all the things I've noticed?"

"No," he said. "I'm not sure they'd want to know. And besides, it could come in useful someday." Quincy waved his antennae as I touched my pencil to another blank page in my sketchbook. "Are you going to draw us too?"

I hesitated, the pencil point hovering over the emptiness of the page. Then I put down my pencil, shoved the sketchbook under my bed, and turned out the light. I wasn't sure I wanted to find out what I was becoming.