Chapter 1 - A New Life
Sometimes Yanzin thought he'd made the wrong decision when he chose to become human and remain on Earth, instead of returning to the homeworld under the watchful eyes of the Andalite fleet. Other times he was certain that he'd made the right one. Most of the time, though, he didn't know what he thought.
Yanzin missed his body. That might sound strange, to some people – Yanzin had known many yeerks who complained excessively about the limitations of their unhosted selves. He had never thought it was healthy.
Small and weak, it had nevertheless been his body. He'd spent the majority of his time in a host body not so different from what he had now, that was true, but the host's limbs had just been an extension of himself, not a replacement. Now there was no barrier between his real self and his 'host body', and it made him uncomfortable. Sometimes he felt as if he didn't even have a real self any more.
He tried not to dwell on it.
But he missed the pool. He missed the safety and security of it, the enveloping warmth, the feeling of being surrounded by everything that you needed to survive. He missed the almost effortless three-dimensional movement through the throngs of his fellow yeerks. He missed the soothing chorus of whistles, chirrups and ringing notes that always filled the pool as people spoke to each other. He missed the feeling of soaking up Kandrona. He missed it all.
On this particular afternoon, he was walking to work. He liked to do that; he felt better about things when he could feel wind on his face, see clouds and flowers and birds, feel the pleasant ache of leg muscles at the top of a hill. All of them things he would have had to give up, if he'd elected to stay as his true self.
He thought idly about what he would be doing now, if he had. He supposed he would be back on the home planet by now. Back to the pools, under lock and key. Nothing to do but swim and talk. No more cacophonous, terrifying battles to throw himself into with no guarantee he'd come out the other end; no more flying; no more walking and seeing. No more going through the motions of a life that wasn't really his. No more things to build or schedules to make or grand plans to set into motion.
There would still be Vissers, though. There were always Vissers. If those homeworld pools weren't already filled with more scheming and power-playing than the Andalites could measure, Yanzin would be very surprised indeed. There was probably a new Council of Thirteen – no, probably several, Yanzin corrected himself.
He wondered what the homeworld yeerks thought. The ones who had never left. He'd never met any of them.
In any case, Yanzin was certain that he would have been unbearably bored. And, still, unbearably lonely - he doubted he could have escaped that, no matter what choice he made. No amount of other yeerks could replace what he'd lost... or at least it felt that way. Yanzin knew it wasn't rational of him, but he couldn't help it. He could not imagine other friends.
Lost in his thoughts and in the melody of a particular bird that was floating across the morning, Yanzin didn't realise he was being followed across the car park and around into the alley between two buildings. He really should have known better. He had just enough time to register footsteps behind him, before a hand grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around.
"I've seen you around a fair bit," the man who'd spun him said, grabbing his shirt. "What's your name again?"
"None of your business," Yanzin said, even though he knew it was pointless.
"I bet we can guess," the other man said. "It's got numbers in it, right?"
"You're not welcome here, slug," a third said.
So. Three of them. It didn't really occur to Yanzin to think it was unfair, but he did feel a cowardly trembling of fear. This wasn't the first time such a thing had happened; the last time had been pretty bad, but this was possibly going to be worse.
He didn't wait for them to get tired of their threats; the best defence against the creeping fear was to just cut past it all and throw a blow at the one holding his shirt. The man swore and let go. Yanzin swung his elbow into the face of one of the men behind him, kicked at someone else, aimed another blow...
Yanzin did know something about fighting – although most of his had been done as a hork bajir controller. He no longer had any weapons, though, and there were three of them anyway, so his efforts were more or less pointless. They left him lying against the wall, a dizzy ball of pain. He thought he heard one of them say "And that's for...", but he didn't catch the name that followed.
Once he was sure they were gone, he gathered his wits and sat up. His head was spinning, and it didn't seem like it was going to stop. Everything hurt. The pain is not yours, he reminded himself out of habit, pushing it away. It is only the host. You are not hurt. The pain is not important. Thinking of it in that way had always helped. But of course, then he remembered that this pain actually was his, and it was his permanent body that had been damaged. He couldn't push it away then.
Not actually as bad as the last time, he told himself. It didn't really help. One of these days he was going to get killed, he just knew it, and quite probably nobody would even care.
What was he going to do now? It was hard to think. He couldn't just sit here. He wouldn't be able to get all the way back to the apartment, he managed to reason. Therefore, he should keep going and get to work.
His left wrist ached sharply, and between that and his dizziness, it was very difficult to get to his feet. He realised that he couldn't see properly; everything was fuzzy. He supposed it would pass.
He stumbled on towards work. Luckily he didn't have very far to go, but as he walked, he began to be seriously afraid that he'd taken permanent damage. The dizziness wasn't going away, and neither was the fuzziness.
He reached the back entrance. In a moment or so he'd have to go in, he supposed; he hadn't really thought about anything beyond getting here.
The door swung open, and a person came out.
"Jesus!" he exclaimed when he saw Yanzin. "What happened to you?"
Yanzin squinted at him, and thought he recognised him as a co-worker. It was the cheerful one; a short young man with floppy brown hair. Yanzin didn't know his name. "I was attacked," he said. "Obviously. If you could open the door for me, that would be nice. I really need to sit down."
"Shit," the man said, taking him in with round eyes as he swayed. "You look like you're about to collapse." He moved forward and sort of hovered, as if he wanted to offer a shoulder but wasn't sure it was such a good idea. He knew what Yanzin was, of course. That news hadn't taken any time at all to spread. Humans gossiped just as much as yeerks did, and with even less purpose. "And you're bleeding."
"Yes. I know," Yanzin snapped. "If you aren't going to help, go away."
"Um," the young man said, looking at him. "I think you need a doctor. Do you have a car?"
"I'm James Michelson, by the way," the young man said. "Call me James. I don't think we've really met. Your last name's down as 'Sulp Niar', right?"
Yanzin grunted. Water dribbled down his elbow and soaked into his knee as he sat in the front seat of James Michelson's car - he held a leaky zip-lock bag full of ice cubes to his forehead with his right hand. It wasn't really helping. "Yes. Pool name."
"You still dizzy?"
"Still can't see?"
"Shit. Well. I'm sure you're fine."
Yanzin closed his eyes. He wasn't sure of any such thing. Wouldn't it be miserable to be stuck in a permanently damaged body, on top of everything else? James had peered at his eyes nervously and muttered something about a concussion. He did remember a starburst of pain as his head had hit the brick wall. He thought he had been blind for a second there.
"So, Mr Sulp – look, that name's kind of unwieldy," James said apologetically. "Do you have a first name you wouldn't mind me using?"
Yanzin resettled the ice pack. "There's no need. Just say 'yeerk' or 'slug' and I'll know you're addressing me."
James sighed. "Mr Sulp Niar it is, I guess," he said. "Do people really – Never mind. Does this happen a lot to you?"
Yanzin took the icepack off his head, where it wasn't doing any good anyway, and put it on his left wrist. "It has happened before, yes." He stared out the windshield, watching the blurry coloured lights zooming past.
"I – I'm sorry. I guess."
Sorry? Yanzin thought scathingly. Don't lie because you think it's polite. You aren't sorry.
"I guess people are still angry," James said, in such a stupidly thoughtful way that it made Yanzin want to hit him. "It hasn't been all that long, you know."
Yanzin let out a furious breath. "Yes. They are," he said. "And it hasn't."