Prometheus in Chains

My face and throat burned from the boiling sludge of the Yeerk pool. I couldn't breathe. Couldn't think. I felt a force pull at the back of my shirt, hauling me out. Merlyse, in chimpanzee shape. She held me as I coughed up sludge and vomited. Sounds of battle raged around us. Merl covered me with her body.

What's going on, Merl? I asked, silently. My throat hurt too much to talk. My head hurt, terribly. Terrible pressure behind my temples, in my ears. Nothing made sense.

I… I don't know. Feels strange. Bad. Gunshots rang out through the hallway. Shouldn't we be morphing now?

We tried to morph, but it was so hard to focus. Why did my head hurt so much?

«Hey, Merl. We're getting you out of here. Be something small, OK?»

Something strong was lifting me up. Marco, in gorilla morph. I coughed raggedly into his fur. A moment later, Merl was in my arms, small and furry, but she kept changing, flick-flick-flick. First a prairie dog, then a jackrabbit, then a cactus wren. Why was she doing that? My head didn't hurt so much, but I still couldn't think.

There was a terrifying loud crunch as Rachel in elephant morph stepped through a wall.

«Rachel?» said a voice in my head, but it wasn't Merlyse. Didn't sound like her at all. «A human?»

I was tossed and knocked around. Merlyse clung to my shirt with prairie dog claws. I hurt everywhere, but my head

Marco, talking to me in thought-speech. It barely registered. Merl, I said again. Can you see? What's going on? Is everyone OK?

I don't know. It's all confused. She hung on tight as I was slung over Cassie's horse back.

«Cassie? A human, yes. And Rachel? The cousin? Human as well.»

Merl, where is that voice coming from? I said. I don't understand. I tried to reach for her, to hold onto her for comfort, but I couldn't move for some reason. The world jostled and shifted as Cassie galloped along. I fell off her back into the dirt, Merlyse rolling away from me in a tiny bundle of fur.

Cassie, I tried to say, but my mouth wouldn't move.

I can't change, said Merlyse, sounding really scared now. I don't know what's happening. I want to be a dog, want to lick your hand until you feel better. But I can't.

I wanted to look at Merl, to meet her eyes, but my gaze shifted back on forth all on its own, looking at all of my friends. I didn't want to look at them, not yet. I wanted to see what was wrong with my dæmon.

«Don't struggle. It's pointless.»

What? Merl said. Who…?

A silent laugh. «Put that primitive split brain to work. Between the two of you, you ought to figure it out. Jake and Merlyse, servants of the Andalite filth!»

A Yeerk! I cried silently. A Yeerk! Merl, they've made us a Controller!

«Oh, very good. You figured it out,» sneered the Yeerk.

No! cried Merl, trying to struggle, but her little prairie dog body was still curled in a ball on the grass. No, no, no!

«Jake, are you all right?»

«Is he okay?»

I wanted to tell them I was anything but okay. I wanted to scream. I wanted grab Merlyse and sob into her fur. Anything but watch, a prisoner in my own brain, as a Yeerk controlled my body and my dæmon. But we were powerless, both of us. My body wouldn't respond to my commands, no matter how desperate.

Cassie was human again. Quincy, in chinchilla form, pressed his nose to Merlyse's, but she didn't respond. I couldn't even meet Cassie's eyes as she knelt beside me. All I could do was listen as the Yeerk taunted me, gloated over my defeat and his enslavement of my brother.

"Nothing is the matter with me," my mouth said suddenly, without any input from me. "I'm fine."

Merlyse turned into a coyote and stood up, while Quincy looked up at her, worry in his little black eyes. What – no! I heard her cry. I don't want to – Quincy, can't you see this isn't me?

But they didn't. None of them did. The Yeerk said exactly what I would have said. Merlyse took the same forms she always did – coyote, then a cactus wren on my shoulder. Usually I found her presence on my shoulder comforting, but now it was only a reminder of her powerlessness. She hadn't decided to perch there. The Yeerk did.

Rachel appeared, Abineng a black fox at her side. Rachel! Abineng! Merlyse yelled in our minds. Look at us! Look! You're our cousin, you have to see this isn't us!

The Yeerk made Merlyse become a fennec fox and touch her nose to Abineng's. "Hey cousin," the Yeerk said. "I see you made it okay."

Then, a touch on my shoulder. The Yeerk spun around. It was Ax, his slanted green eyes fixed on me. I could feel the Yeerk's hatred. Temrash 114 hated everything about him. The elegant, alert way he carried himself. His eyes that could see everywhere at once. The swift violence of his tail. It was all loathsome to him, and for just one moment, Merlyse bared her little fox teeth in a snarl.

Just as quickly, it was gone. The Yeerk used my mouth to say, "Hey Ax, you did great back there when –"

FWAPP! Before the Yeerk could react, Ax's tail-blade was at my throat, its wicked-sharp edge less than inch from breaking my skin. «Yeerk!»

I could feel how Merlyse could have yipped for joy. To think I'd ever wondered if Ax would be a good addition to our team. He'd seen what all my human friends had missed. Now that he'd pointed it out, all of them could see it too. The Yeerk argued with them, dismayed that he wasn't going to get away clean like he'd planned.

"My folks will go nuts," said the Yeerk. "They'll call the police. They'll put up posters all over town. They'll go on TV asking if anyone has seen me. I mean, no offense, Tobias, but I have an actual family, not some messed-up aunts and uncles who didn't want to be taking care of me in the first place. People will notice if I disappear."

You jerk, snarled Merlyse. Jake would never say that to Tobias.

But the truth was, if I were cranky enough, I probably would. It still made me flinch to hear the Yeerk say it, though. I'd have to be sure to watch what I said in the future – if I ever got free.

"There is a way," Cassie said, slowly. "A way to keep his family and the school from knowing he's gone. Ax and Tobias could do it. Ax could morph into Jake, and Tobias could pretend to be Merlyse."

Yes! Cassie had found the solution. Tobias had pretended to be Ax's dæmon before when he'd morphed human. They'd had practice.

Ax acquired my DNA, which provoked a violent outburst from Temrash 114. That was when I started feeling more confident that the Yeerk was going to lose. He'd made one mistake too many, and my friends weren't going to let him keep me enslaved. They started discussing where and how they were going to restrain the Yeerk.

«Tobias and I cannot help much,» said Ax. «We will be pretending to be Prince Merlyse and Prince Jake.»

I could hear silent laughter from Merlyse. She always rolled her eyes when Ax called her "Prince Merlyse" – it sounded even more ridiculous than "Prince Jake", for crying out loud – but now, it was strangely reassuring. He really did consider us to be his prince, and he'd do whatever it took to help us.

"We'll also have to do something about Merlyse," said Marco, "or the Yeerk could just make her turn into a rat and chew through the ropes. Or turn into a tiger and attack one of us."

Everyone except Ax stared at Marco in disbelief.

Marco snorted. "What, you think the Yeerk cares about the taboo? If he thinks it'll get him free, he won't hesitate to sink Merlyse's teeth into our throats."

That sobered everyone up quickly. Abineng became an elephant, Quincy a wolf, and Diamanta a gorilla, watching Merlyse carefully. Their battle morphs. I guess they made my friends feel safer. Merlyse became an ibex and stood meekly at my side. The Yeerk wasn't going to try that move with Merlyse so badly outnumbered.

I felt a flash of anger from the Yeerk at Marco's insight. I laughed, darkly. I don't think you can come up with a single clever scheme that Marco won't think of first.

I can read your memories. I am fully aware of the human's abilities, the Yeerk snapped.

Merlyse shot back, Then why'd you underestimate him?

"We'll find a box that locks tight and have her turn into something small and stay there," said Marco. "The Yeerk won't be able to risk turning her into something big enough to break the box without seriously injuring her too. I think my dad has a mini-safe that he isn't using right now."

"The three of us will have to take shifts to keep an eye on him," said Rachel, nodding to Cassie and Marco.

«Only three of them to keep watch for three days,» the Yeerk mused. «They will tire quickly. Humans have such stringent sleep requirements.»

Rachel walked in front, Abineng clearing our path of brush and thorns with his trunk. The rest of us followed, but despite Abineng's efforts, the walk was still tough on our bare feet. «All of this walking is a waste of effort,» said the Yeerk. «Perhaps I will turn you into a horse and have your human ride you the rest of the way, dæmon.»

I don't think our friends will like that idea, said Merl. Too easy for you to get away.

«Why does it matter? They won't keep me for long. In a matter of hours I will return to Visser Three and end this farce.»

Tobias brought rope from an abandoned campsite and Marco and Rachel tied me up inside the shack. "I'm watching you for now while Cassie helps prep Ax and Tobias on how to play you and Marco goes to get a lockbox."

Only Rachel to watch me? That made me a little nervous. What if the Yeerk made Merlyse into a tough form and attacked her? But then, Abineng could pull the same trick, and Rachel could always morph elephant. She'd have the elephant's instincts on her side, which would give her the edge no matter what shape Merlyse was in.

The Yeerk did try that, as soon as everyone but Rachel had left. He turned Merlyse into an elephant, standing just outside the shack, a twin to Abineng.

"Don't even try it, pal," said Abineng, spreading his ears wide to make himself look bigger. "I've been an elephant. A real one. I can do things with this body you've never even thought of."

Merlyse turned into a jackrabbit and hopped back inside the shack. The Yeerk, though, didn't seem discouraged. He gloated over the glory and fame the Visser would heap on him when he brought the Animorphs as captives.

«Do you have these fantasies a lot?» I said, trying to put a sneer into it, though I don't really sneer well. Temrash 114 practically had it down to an art form. And he had the advantage on me. He played back one of my fantasies, just as clear and crisp as when I first daydreamed it in math class.

I was in a pro sports uniform, in an arena full of screaming fans. I was older, taller, broad-shouldered, but still myself. Merlyse was settled as a St. Bernard, running tall and proud beside me across the basketball court. I took a three-point shot and scored. The crowd went wild. Cassie cheered from the stands. Tom hugged me, Delareyne nuzzling Merlyse's doggy cheek.

The vision scared me more than anything the Yeerk had done so far. He knew everything about me. Everything! Every stupid wish, everything I'd ever thought but never dared to say out loud, everything Merlyse had ever whispered in my ear for no one else to hear, every memory, was as clear to him as it was to me. Clearer, even. Merlyse and I were ghosts, with no one but each other and our tormentor for company.

We lost it. We started screaming insults at the Yeerk. If Merl could have foamed at the mouth, she would have. But the Yeerk knew how to shut us up.

I saw myself through Tom's eyes. I was at the breakfast table, eating cereal, while Merlyse sat on the table in prairie dog form, staring off into space. Delareyne was next to Tom. And in his mind, he was crying, silently, as the Yeerk in his head did his best to try to turn me into a slave.

I could feel how much Delareyne wanted to press her cheek against Tom's, to make little sounds of comfort. But she couldn't. She could only touch Tom when the Yeerk allowed her to. And he never did let her, not unless he needed it to make some show of emotion look more genuine. All she could do was repeat, silently, Not Jake, not Merlyse, no, never. Don't listen to him, Jake, don't go to the Sharing ever again!

But even that was cold comfort. No matter how much Del loved Tom – and she did, I could feel it – her love couldn't break the Yeerk's power over them. They were helpless. Defeated.

«That's how it always is,» the Yeerk said. «Human and dæmon struggle alike. But even two bodies cannot prevail against a Yeerk. No one ever knows the host is a prisoner. Hope dies, and all that remains is a faint, shattered creature. Like your brother.»

I knew it had to be true. I could feel Tom's complete despair. All he had left was to wish he could die and be free of his torment for good. There was nothing left.

No, said Merlyse. No, that's not true.

«Must I play another memory for you? How many will it take before you accept that the brother you knew is gone?»

How long has he been a Controller? Merl said.

«Six months. Three months was all it took to reduce him to what you saw.»

Merl spoke with more conviction now. Delareyne settled three months ago.

That was when I understood what Merl was getting at. A dæmon settles into a form that shows the human's personality. Who they really are. If there were really nothing left of Tom, Del wouldn't have settled. He wouldn't have a personality for her to show. He's still in there. He hasn't lost who he is.

The Yeerk sneered. «Your humans and your superstitions. The forms your dæmons take are irrelevant. Arbitrary. You assign meaning to them because you have so little else in your worthless lives.»

But we knew he was wrong, Merlyse and I. Tom hadn't been crushed by his enslavement, not completely. And if Tom could survive it, even as broken as he was, then we could too.

I opened the door to Prince Jake's home with Tobias on my shoulder, feeling confident that I would be able to convince Mr. and Mrs. Berenson that I was in fact their son.

I could copy the way Prince Jake walked with ease, so long as I did not attempt to look back over my shoulder and walk at the same time. This is a delicate maneuver that I will require more practice to achieve. Cassie taught me how to speak the way Prince Jake does, and told me about his preferences for certain foods and types of artificial skin. I had Tobias with me, who was Prince Jake's friend and could give me minute-to-minute advice. And if for any reason I behaved out of character, I was still certain that the humans would believe the evidence of their eyes, for they had no reason to believe that anyone would be able to impersonate Prince Jake's appearance as effectively as I could. The only challenge was not to rouse the suspicions of the Yeerk who controlled Prince Jake's brother, Tom.

«Jake's family might wonder why I'm in red-tailed hawk form and why I won't touch or talk to them,» said Tobias. «If they ask, tell them I'm mad at you because you humiliated yourself in a basketball game in gym class and I'm punishing you by staying in a form you don't like and refusing to talk to anyone.»

«Do dæmons do this often?» I wondered.

«Sometimes,» Elhariel said. «If the human really deserves it. Like a certain human who once went to school with all of his clothes inside out.»

«I was really tired that morning,» Tobias grumbled. «And that was, like, two years ago.»

It was late afternoon. According to Cassie, this was when Prince Jake usually took his family's domestic animal, Homer, for a walk. Cassie assured me that Homer was a very agreeable animal and would not cause me undue trouble. I hoped I would be able to handle him correctly. Andalites rarely keep domesticated animals. Perhaps it is because we do not have secondary bodies that take the form of animals, or perhaps because we were physically capable enough to render domestication largely unnecessary. I began to walk around Prince Jake's home, looking for Homer.

In the kitchen, I encountered Tom, who was pouring liquid from a cardboard box into a glass vessel. His dæmon, Delareyne, saw us first. "Oh. Hi, Merl." Delareyne had a small shape with slender legs ending in hooves much like my own. It was one of the most appealing forms I had seen a dæmon assume.

"What's up, midget?" said Tom, storing the cardboard box in a metal appliance that sent out a gush of cold air as he opened it. Of course, it was not Tom speaking. It was the Yeerk in his brain pretending to be Tom – perhaps not unlike how I was pretending to be Jake. That was an unsettling thought which I quickly put aside.

«He's asking how you're doing,» Tobias supplied. «Say something casual.»

"I am fine," I said.

"Staying in tonight?" said Tom.


"I'm going to the Sharing. There's going to be this pool tournament tonight. Should be fun. You should drop by."

"No thank you. I am tired. I would rather stay home."

Delareyne flicked an ear. "You're such a stick in the mud. What's up with that form, anyway? You've never gone for birds of prey before. You think it makes you look badass or something?"

"I don't like this form. Merlyse is staying this way to annoy me." I arranged Jake's face into what I hoped was an expression of irritation.

"Whatever," said the Yeerk who controlled Delareyne, and Tom took the glass of liquid back to his room.

«How did I do?» I asked Tobias.

«I think you're good for now,» he said. «Let's just wait and see what happens at dinner.»

That night, I dreamed of hunting down Tom and Delareyne, as I had done so many nights before. The Yeerk morphed the tiger, Merlyse disappearing from inside her lockbox as he did. But he was thwarted by the efforts of my friends and by the power of nature itself.

After the Yeerk's foiled escape attempts as a tiger, a falcon, and a wolf, Cassie led us back to the shack, demorphed, and tied us up, Quincy keeping guard in his own wolf form. Once I was secure, Cassie unlocked the miniature safe and held the door open. "In," said Quincy. "We don't like to keep you locked up like this, Merl, but that's the way it has to be."

Merl scurried into the safe, mouse-formed, and Cassie locked it again. "Goodnight, Jake," she said. "Try to get some sleep, OK? We'll have that Yeerk out of there soon."

I wanted to hug her, but the Yeerk used my face to sneer back. Cassie ignored it, serenely, and morphed to owl again, flying off into the night, though I had no doubt that she would be close enough to see if the Yeerk tried to escape again.

Merl really did hate it in that box. Outside of it, she wasn't free, but at least we could see each other, when the Yeerk directed our eyes so we were in each other's field of vision. From inside the safe, she couldn't see or hear anything. It hurt, with an almost physical ache.

«So dependent upon each other. That connection makes you weak. If we Yeerks had two bodies, we would not treat them as foolishly and sentimentally as you treat the connection between your bodies.»

For someone who can read all our thoughts, you really don't understand what humans and dæmons mean to each other, said Merl. We're so much more than just one mind split between two bodies. We complement each other. Some of what we are is in me, and some of it is in Jake. We fit together, like yin and yang. That's the way it's meant to be.

«You cling to each other for comfort in the face of your own helplessness. It's pathetic.»

We help each other be strong, Merl said. That's why you can't beat us, Yeerk, and you know it. We can see your emotions, too. And we see that you're losing hope, bit by bit. How do you like that?

The Yeerk snarled in incoherent rage, bent my leg back as far as it would go, and kicked the lockbox away from me with all my strength. The safe went tumbling to the opposite end of the shack, right to the edge of the bond between Merlyse and me. My dæmon let out a heartsick cry. If I'd been in control of my body, tears of pain would have flowed from my eyes. But the anguish was a psychic one, not a physical one, so the Yeerk wasn't forced to feel it along with me. He had found a way to hurt me without hurting himself.

«You see your weakness?» the Yeerk demanded. «A pathetically short distance away, and your mind cries out in horror that you might be separated! Listen to your mewling! You are like a child deprived of its security blanket.»

But the Yeerk was wrong. It was so much more than that. The distance between Merl's body and mine meant more than just ten feet of rotting wooden floor. Our minds were together, always, and we never felt so whole and right as when we were pressed against each other, heart to heart, the way we slept every night. This distance between was wrong. It shouldn't have been. And no human and dæmon should ever have to go through what we did that night.

Cassie in owl morph was positioned to see whether we tried to leave the shack. The doorway was narrow, though, so the angle wasn't right for her to see inside. No one knew what the Yeerk had done to Merlyse's safe until morning, when Rachel came to check on us. When she saw me tied against the wall, my body pale and sweating and burning with sleep deprivation – the physical signs of hours of psychic pain that the Yeerk hadn't gotten under control – her blue eyes flared with anger. Cat-formed Abineng spotted the safe and hissed, hackles rising.

"You bastard. If you weren't inside Jake's head right now I'd tear you apart myself," Rachel growled. She picked up the safe and brought it closer to me, though not close enough for the Yeerk to kick it away again.

Abineng pawed at the safe. "I am so sorry, Merl. We won't let him do that to you again."

The Yeerk focused my eyes on Rachel, and for the first time, he spoke as a Yeerk, not bothering to keep up the pretext of sounding like me. My voice came out a harsh monotone. "You can't stop me from hurting them," said Temrash 114. "I can bite his tongue off. You've restrained me, but I can still scratch him bloody. I can make Merlyse put her own eyes out. I can replay every painful memory Jake has ever experienced."

"What are you trying to do, Yeerk?" Rachel sneered. "You think if you threaten to hurt them, I'll let you go to make you stop? Then you'll just get to hurt them for the rest of their life. They'll put themselves through whatever you do to them if it means they get to be free. I know them. And if you're inside Jake's head, you know it too."

"I'll morph an ant and walk into a hostile colony," said the Yeerk. "The enemy ants will tear this body apart."

"And you with it," said Rachel. "Look, we Animorphs have a saying: better to die than to live as a slave. You can ask Jake if he agrees with me, but I know he does. And besides, you won't throw your life away just to kill Jake, not when there's any chance of a last-minute rescue."

"You don't know that," said the Yeerk in that strange, almost dead voice. I could hardly believe a sound like that could come from my throat.

Rachel shrugged. "Hey, now that you've suggested it, I'll keep an eye out in case you try that one."

"Go fuck yourself," the Yeerk snarled.

"Oh, now you're using our primitive human curse words, are you? You must really be getting desperate." Rachel laughed, tossed her hair over her shoulder with an elegant motion of her head, and stood just outside the door of the shack, keeping watch.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love my cousin?

«You're taking a sick day today,» said Tobias, when we had returned to Jake's bedroom through the window just before sunrise. It had been an uneventful night; the Yeerk seemed to have given up hope of any further escape attempts.

«A sick day? But I am not sick.»

«No, but it's Monday morning. That's a school day. You're not going to school.»

«Why not?»

«Look, I don't think Jake's family is wondering if an alien is impersonating him, but they definitely think something's up. You've been keeping it together most of the time, but at meals you just go nuts. And I think they're kind of concerned that I've been a red-tailed hawk this whole weekend. We think Tom's Yeerk is pretty low-ranking, but Chapman's isn't. If he sees you acting weird in the school cafeteria or something, he might decide to put a Yeerk in your head first and ask questions later.»

«That is a potential concern,» I agreed. «What will I say to Prince Jake's parents?»

«Say you have a stomachache. I think they'll buy that one.»

I clothed myself in the artificial skin called pajamas and laid down in Prince Jake's bed. My human body found the softness of the pillows very pleasant. Tobias perched on one of the wooden beams supporting the bed.

"Jake! Wake up!" shouted Mrs. Berenson. "You're going to be late for school!" Tobias instructed me to remain in bed. Soon, Mrs. Berenson opened the door and looked into the room. "Jake, did you leave the window open all night? You'll catch your death! Why aren't you out of bed?"

"I am sick," I said. "My stomach aches."

Mrs. Berenson made a clucking sound with her tongue. "Well, it's no wonder, the way you've been eating the past couple days. You must have a growth spurt coming on. You think you can go to school today?"

"No," I said. Tobias drooped his head and made a little croaking sound, perhaps to show how pitiable my condition was.

"Aw. Poor baby. Well, there's Alka-Seltzer in the medicine cabinet, and you can help yourself to cereal in the kitchen when you feel up to it. Feel better." She leaned down and pressed her lips to my forehead. I thought it was a strange gesture of affection, but my body found it deeply comforting. A sense of well-being permeated through me, unbidden.

"Thank you," I said.

Mrs. Berenson left, leaving me feeling strangely bereft. There was some instinct in my human brain that sought comfort. It didn't want to be alone. It was as if something were wrong, missing. What was it?

But of course. My morph of Prince Jake had no dæmon. It must be a deeply-seated instinct in the human mind for both bodies to be near each other and be in contact with each other. It was surprising I hadn't felt that instinct before. Now it was as strong as the shark's desire to hunt, or the harrier's to fly. But I could indulge that instinct, couldn't I? If Tobias were willing.

"Tobias," I began. "Prince Jake's body…" I hesitated. "It misses its dæmon. It wants to be close to it."

There was a long pause. «I know.»

I cursed my own insensitivity. Of course Tobias and Elhariel would know what that was like. They hadn't been close to each other in body since they became a nothlit. Tobias had shown me every kindness and deserved greater courtesy from me. "Yes. I apologize."

«Hey, it's OK. You've never felt it before. Your Andalite body doesn't have a dæmon.»

"Do you…" I couldn't finish. It was too much to ask.

«Am I getting a cuddle invitation from an alien in the body of my friend?»

"What is a cuddle?"

«When you get close to someone. So that you're touching. People do it with their dæmons a lot, and sometimes with other people. It's nice.»

"I have touched all of the other Animorphs, when I acquired their DNA. Does that mean I have cuddled them?"

«No, Ax. That's not cuddling.» He must have seen that I was confused, because he said, with a note in his thought-speech I could not quite decipher, «Here. I'll show you.»

Tobias fluttered down from his perch and landed on the bed beside me, trying not to tear the pillows with his talons. He settled against my side and spread a wing over my chest. «This is cuddling,» he said. «Bird-style.»

The part of my human morph's brain that had cried out for the touch of a dæmon quieted into warm tranquility. I realized that my mouth was smiling.

"Is this what it is like to have a dæmon?" I asked.

«Not really,» said Tobias. «But I guess it's as close as you're gonna get.»

What words can I use to describe the fugue?

I guess the closest thing I'd ever experienced to the fugue was when Merlyse and I had melded perfectly with the mind of an animal we'd morphed. Like when we'd first morphed dolphin, leaping together above the water. Or the falcon, all three minds focused into a dive, our speed greater than any other living being on Earth. But it wasn't so joyful as that. What it had in common was the clarity, the unity of purpose, different intelligences and thoughts coming together into one crystalline point of consciousness.

I didn't enjoy it. Not one moment. But it was something I needed to see. When I felt the minds of the Gedd, the Hork-Bajir, Tom, I understood what I was fighting for better than I ever had before. Whenever I'm in a desperate battle, or burned out from exhaustion, wondering why I bother to fight at all, I think of what I saw during the fugue. What I felt. And I remember.

We felt the Yeerk die, Merlyse and I. And as it did, the universe changed. I saw everything as I never had before. I could see the top and bottom, back and front, inside and out, all at once. I could see Cassie's heart beating behind her ribs, the worms and insects burrowing through the rotting wood of the shack.

And I saw… well, I guess the only word for it is Dust. But it wasn't. It was fine, golden. I could see it drifting randomly through the air here and there, like motes in a sunbeam. I could see that Merlyse and Quincy were made of it, down to their bones. I didn't understand it, but it was everywhere, even when I couldn't see it, like I could then. Sometimes I wish I could see it again. It was beautiful.

And then I saw it.

A creature. A machine. Perhaps both. It sat in a throne, impossibly high. It had a single eye, the color of old blood. It looked. Left. Right. And wherever the eye looked, the Dust shriveled to nothingness beneath the horrible force of its gaze.

Merlyse and I trembled, huddling close. We prayed it would not look our way. We tried not to think what would happen if Merlyse, with her body of Dust, were caught in its terrible gaze.

It saw us. The eye looked straight at us. It saw us. For a moment, I was convinced that Merlyse would not be able to withstand it. No! I cried, in silent terror. NO!

And then I opened my eyes, and it was gone.