#17 – Frail

Jake

I was tired. Temptation always comes when you're tired.

I was lying in bed, thinking about how nice it would be if the Yeerks had picked a different planet. I was envisioning my life if the world was a sane place. If Tom wasn't infested. I probably wouldn't have been good enough to make varsity basketball before Tom graduated. But if Tom had worked with me every day, maybe. I wouldn't have started with him, but at least I'd be on the bench while he broke scoring records. At least we'd have pictures taken of the two of us together, on the court in the same uniform.

"I can't offer you that," said the shrill, unmistakable voice of Drode. I knew it was him before I even opened my eyes. I wasn't even surprised – he was making a habit of showing himself to us while we were at our lowest.

"Get out," I told Crayak's minion, who was sitting on my dresser. "You're not supposed to interfere, and right now you're interfering with my sleep. So get out, and don't come back."

"I can't offer you what you want," he said, faking sympathy and totally ignoring my words. "But I can offer you what you need."

"What I need is your absence," I told him.

He continued as if I hadn't spoken. "Crayak and the Ellimist have come to agree on one thing about this game – you and your friends have overperformed. You have done better than Crayak ever expected. You have done better than even the Ellimist expected, though of course he would never admit that."

"Good for us," I said harshly.

"The mighty Crayak thinks you deserve a reward for your perseverance. The Ellimist…agrees. Would you like a reward, Jake?"

"I don't want anything from you or your master." I was focusing on the way Drode had hesitated when he claimed the Ellimist had agreed with Crayak. That was important.

"A vacation is what my master is offering you and your friends. As long as you'd like it to be. You will be placed on an island by yourselves and be given everything a human could possibly want or need in order to enjoy a vacation. Crayak wants you at your best in this war. He is offering you an unlimited amount of time to relax, rest, and gather yourselves for the second part of this battle. When you are ready, you will be returned to your timeline exactly where you left it. What do you say, Jake?"

"I say it sounds like a trick. Why would Crayak do that? Kicking us while we're down is more his style."

"No trick." Drode tried to convey sincerity with his laughing eyes and didn't even come close. "You will leave your timeline, go on vacation, and be returned the moment you're ready to come back. That is all. Think about it – if it were anything more than that, the Ellimist would not allow me to be here, offering it to you."

That was true. And what he was offering was tempting, if I took the offer at face value. But there had to be some kind of trick involved.

I envisioned all of us on an island, unbothered and unhurried by the war. How would that negatively affect us? Marco would love it.

That was the thought that made me figure out the trick of it. It was so simple that it was almost beautiful. Constant pressure was what kept us gelled together as a team. Take away that pressure, and we'd have time to fight about the things that don't matter.

Marco would never want to leave. Rachel would be anxious to get back to the fight. Ax would not understand why we were shirking our duty. Envisioning Crayak's "vacation" was making me see how frail our unity could be when not united by an overwhelming, common goal.

That was his angle. Take away the pressure that held us together, and maybe we'd drift apart. Not for sure, but maybe. And Crayak would stand a better chance.

"Drode? No way. We don't need a break – we've got your boss' number. Tell him not to bother with these offers anymore. He can't delay the inevitable. We're going to win, and he's just going to have to deal with it. You go back and tell him that."

"As you wish, you foolish human." He disappeared.

I rolled over and settled in to sleep. I couldn't help smiling. The offer could only mean one thing – Crayak didn't like the way things were going. He was getting nervous.

His offer had done the opposite of what he'd expected. If Crayak was nervous, we were doing something right. I felt recharged. I felt ready.

Crayak was getting desperate, and that gave me hope.