Esplin 1894:

The ride through the British countryside was quiet, almost peaceful, but the van was cramped with sweating bodies despite the chill and the rain. Everyone but Jett wore balaclavas, which seemed to lend them an air of… danger. As soon as the masks went on, the recruits held themselves with more confidence.

((They do look… competent)) I observed.

((The mask hides our humanity, and with it, we can let go of some of our fear, and insecurity)) Jacob tried to explain to me. He tried for nearly fifteen minutes, but still failed in his explanation… but I could hear the intent behind his words, and understood. For Jacob, at least, with the mask on, to the world he was no longer Jacob. Instead, all the world saw, was a human of medium height and weight, probably male, with cold eyes, armor, and weaponry. There was no understanding this new creature, since there was no detail to observe, no humanity… and humans fear most what they do not understand. For that matter, so do Hork-bajir, Andalites, Taxxons—))

((—and Yeerks)) Jacob interjected quietly.

I bristled at the judgment, but said nothing, because he was right. What my people did not understand, we destroyed, just in case.

((Like beauty)) Jacob sighed.

The van slowed, and pulled off the road. Karl put the vehicle into park, and turned off the engine. No one moved in the sudden silence, afraid… of what might happen in the next hour.

Finally, Karl spoke quietly, "We have a job to do… and it won't get done by itself,"

We exited the van, and ammunition was double checked, a nervous habit. We were as ready as we could be. Every second fighter had a pair of heavy nightvision goggles on. Jacob had declined, and none would fit Jett's widely spaced eyes. Those with goggles had paired up with those who were night blind.

In the dim-light, Jacob could roughly see the others, but to them, we would just be dark blurs under the half-moon, unless they had goggles. Moving through a dark forest is much harder than it sounds. There are always branches and leaves underfoot, as well as spots of mud to slip in, and rocks to kick free by accident. Jett's heavy hand rested on Jacob's shoulder, as he guided her through the darkness, her eyes useless beneath the trees.

Karl was on point, (with goggles), and she suddenly froze, prompting the rest of us to come to a ragged halt. The sounds of people moving through trees continued, coming from the left. Everyone crouched down, trying to melt against rocks and tree trunks, without excessive movement. Now we could also see occasional beams of light, from flashlights.

"Seventh night in a row, what did you bloody do to the Sub-visser?" a voice whispered angrily. Jacob was slightly distracted by the British accent.

"Nothing! I mer'ly pointed out that we would'na need as many patrols if we installed the perimeter sensors ourselves, instead of waiting for maintenance to do it," a second voice protested in a heated whisper.

"So I have you to thank for this bollocks assignment," the first Controller murmured in annoyance.

"You could always knock knickers with her," the guilty controller offered, but the first controller snorted, "My host body isn't that attractive,"

((Jacob, I can't see them. Should we take them out?)) Torfan asked Jacob, turning to look at us through the goggles. Jacob held up a fist, with his index finger pointing up: Wait. We slipped forward, moving slowly to keep from stepping on anything in the dark, knife held at the ready.

((We should have taken the goggles)) I said darkly.

((There were too few to go around. Besides, we can still see…)) Jacob said.

((Somewhat…)) I hissed angrily after Jacob located a low limb in the dark with our forehead.

((Agreed)) Jacob said ruefully. We moved another thirty feet in the dark, and found the source of the voices, and the light. Two male controllers were ambling along a dirt trail… formed by the countless passage of earlier patrols. They were sloppy with their human flashlights, and their human firearms were propped loosely against their shoulders.

((Good. They've fallen into a routine)) I said.

((If we kill or take them down, depending on how long or short their route is…)) Jacob said unhappily.

((We will lose the element of surprise… but if we leave them, any patrols in the area will be able to hit the recruits from the rear)) I mused.

"Sonili," Jacob breathed into the whisper mike, "can you breach their communications network, if I tap a signal for you?"

((If you link your communicator to one of theirs)) the alien girl answered promptly.

"Good."

Jacob slipped forward in the dark. At the last second, one of the men seemed to sense our presence, because he began to turn, idly, to look behind him. He never finished. Jacob let the knife fall to the dirt, as his hands reached out, grabbing the men's heads, and bashed them together.

((Would it not be simpler to kill them?)) I asked, confused. Jacob had intended to kill them, I had felt it. At the last second though, he had changed his mind.

((Only kill when necessary. Free whenever possible)) Jacob whispered, shaken, for reasons I could not perceive.

Jacob snatched up one of the fallen lights, and used it to find one man's communicator.

"I'm connecting you now, Sonili," Jacob whispered, linking the Yeerk communicator to our own, reprogrammed device.

((Just a moment… mating the platforms and… I have access)) Sonili whispered. Jacob smiled.

"Tell the group to move up," Jacob continued. While we waited, Jacob hog-tied and gagged the men with their boot-laces and strips cut from their shirts.

"Is he… dead?" someone whispered, sickened. Probably Kevin.

"Unconscious," Jacob whispered tersely. A minute later, the men were hidden from the trail, with a modified communicator nearby, which would mark their position for Sonili.

((I hope you haven't lost your stomach, human)) Dr. Helaine commented.

"They're your ticket into the base" Jacob said, nodding to the unconscious men.

It took the doctor a moment to realize what Jacob meant. "Ah… excellent,"

Five minutes later, two human controllers stood nervously, as masked humans helped adjusted the fit of their artificial skin.

"Must it be so tight?" Torfan asked, as Jacob adjusted his equipment belt. Thankfully, the Yeerks seemed to like black combat fatigues as much as we did, so the only thing to really change was to swap black military caps for masks, equipment belts, weapons, and to ditch the flak vests.

"Uh, base… this is Rickard, uh, Jones be injured," Helaine said, attempting to imitate a British accent… and failing horribly…

"What did'ja idiots do this time?" an angry, female voice demanded, over the link.

"It was not our fault, Jones stepped onto a slick patch, and twisted his bloody ankle," Helaine said nervously, imitating Rickard.

"Fine. I'll send another patrol to finish your sector, just get the gert fool back ter base and patched up a'fore the Sub-visser finds out," the operator growled.

"Will do," Helaine promised earnestly, and cut the link, smiling at Torfan.

"Well, let us get you back to base,"

"My leg does feel a little sore, possibly even a tad bloody," the other morphed alien chuckled, losing his feigned accent.

The morphed Andalites left the trail, headed directly for the facility, with Helaine supporting Torfan as he "limped." We followed twenty meters behind, with the recruits. Any sound we made was masked by Helaine and Torfan, who still had their flashlights on.

We were in sight of the facility when we hit the first snag.

"Hey, who there!?" someone barked.

"Rickard and Jones," Helaine shouted, shining the light on herself,

"Drop!" Tinman hissed, and everyone fell to their knees, by luck or accident, no one in our group was illuminated.

((Idiot!)) I snarled.

((And other things…)) Jacob agreed tensely, his fingers tight on the grip of our silenced pistol.

"Why not on patrol?" the unseen Controller asked.

"I slipped," Torfan admitted.

The unseen controller began to laugh, and Jacob finally spotted him, in the tree line ahead of us, his flashlight off. Hork-Bajir.

((Strange…)) I said.

((What?)) Jacob asked.

((The patrol we ambushed had two people, and flashlights. Do you think…)) I trailed off, nervous.

((The flashlight pairs are bait?))

((Could he have night vision goggles?))

((Even if he does, the flare from Doc and Torfan's flashlights would have blinded him, and we're behind them. As soon as they move on though…)) Jacob finished darkly.

((Either way, we have to do something about it)) I said, even as Jacob quietly tapped Karl on the shoulder, and held up his taser meaningfully. Karl nodded, drawing her own taser. The weapons were crude, but Torfan had not had time to properly tinker with the devices. They resembled eight inch tubular wands, with a trigger that also worked to close the circuit when the probes were deployed.

With Torfan and Helaine talking, their lights blinding the controller, we scrambled forward under the ferns and bushes.

We both took aim on center mass of the slightly exposed Hork-Bajir above us.

((Feels like a god damned tv remote)) Jacob grumbled, aiming. The taser only had a range of fifteen feet.

"Move, your lights harm goggles," the controller said briskly.

Jacob made a tisk noise, his cue for Karl that he was firing. Her weapon also spat a pair of electrified darts, trailing thin wires. Both darts hit the Hork-bajir. A rapid clicking noise filled the air, and the alien fell from the tree, almost landing on us.

Jett sprinted forward, as the Controller crumpled, gurgling, still alive.

((Jacob, what are you doing?)) Helaine demanded, startled.

Jacob released the trigger on his taser as Jett choked her fellow hork-bajir into unconsciousness. Sure enough, it was wearing bulky night vision goggles, of human origin, but adapted for hork-bajir physiology.

"He had night-vision, Doc," Jacob hissed.

((Oh. I see))

Jacob unbuckled the chin strap, and took the goggles, handing them to Jett. They were heavy, but still much lighter than standard human goggles…

((There is no way of knowing when the Controller would report in. We must hurry)) Torfan commented.

Jacob dragged the hork-bajir under some brush. Jett buried the alien's head into the dirt.

"Sleep longer," she explained. Jacob nodded, as he swapped the spent cartridge on his taser.

Helaine and Torfan staggered to the facility's entrance, covering sixty feet of leveled earth, denying us cover.

"Tinman, explosives," Jacob whispered, and the car thief nodded curtly, shrugging out of his pack.

"Give me four minutes, then hit the entrance with the RPG," Jacob reminded Karl, who simply nodded. Jacob sprinted across the clearing, the pack of explosives making our movements awkward. We pressed up against the wall, and tossed a grapnel line up, which caught on the corner of the roof. Felt cloth was tied around the metal, muting the sound it made. Jacob jumped on it to make sure it was solid like Tinman had taught us, and then swarmed up to the roof of the three story building. Jacob collapsed the grapple, and rolled up the cord, leaving it against the wall, but out of sight.

((We could just jump, if we have to)) I pointed out.

((I'd rather not. Broken bones are annoying)) Jacob quipped.

Two guards patrolled the roof, but with the multitude of pipes, air conditioning units, and the constant rain, we were able to easily approach. Jacob choked them into unconsciousness. It only took thirty seconds.

((We need to jam their communications, so the Yeerks don't call in Bug-fighters)) I reminded Jacob.

"Sonili, can you jam the Yeerk transmissions, with your current access?" Jacob asked.

((No. Active interference with security protocols requires a higher clearance level. I can eavesdrop, but nothing more)) Sonili said.

"If I can connect you directly to a computer, could you do it?" I pressed.

((Yes… It might take me a few minutes to bypass their firewalls though))

Jacob grabbed a fallen guard's passkey and communicator. He used the pass key to unlock the door to the roof, leading with taser, but the stair well was empty, and dimly lit. We scrambled down the steps, ducking back around a corner to avoid a pair of chatting guards, and stepped into a darkened room. There was a computer terminal in the room, and Jacob quickly moved to it, setting the taser down next to us within easy reach, and turning the screen on.

((Do your thing)) Jacob whispered, letting me use his arms and eyes. I pulled the panel off the wall, using Jacob's combat knife to lever the metal up, and searched through the tangle of circuits and wire.

I bypassed the server, and introduced our reprogrammed communicator, mated to the guard's communicator.

((Reprogramming Yeerk platform, uploading security protocols… and… I'm in. Leave a communicator in the system)) Sonili commanded.

I tucked the guard's device down out of sight in the wall, and pushed the circuits back were they belonged. The panel was magnetically attached, so it slipped right back on, hiding our tampering from view.

((Two minutes and fifty seconds till RPG)) I reminded Jacob, glancing at his watch.

"Sonili, jam their communications, so they can't call in any bug-fighters," Jacob said.

((On it))

An alarm sounded.

((Doctor…)) Jacob sighed. He slipped his balaclava through his belt. At first glance, he almost looked like a guard.

((Or Karl?)) I wondered.

Shadows flashed past the door, and Jacob took back control, cracking the door, but there was no one else coming. Jacob opened the door all the way, and stepped out. A guard disappeared around the corner down the hall, yelling something about the third sub-basement.

((Sonili, where is your mother?)) Jacob asked, starting to sheathe his knife.

((Third sub-basement, section eight. Why?)) she said.

((Dr. Helaine)) we agreed.

"I'm on my way," someone shouted, behind us. Jacob turned, and a guard ran into us. Jacob didn't think, he acted, and then the balding man was bleeding on us. Jacob held him tightly as he died, and hid the body in one of the rooms, stealing the guard's black cap and sub machinegun.

((We still have a bulky back-pack, and a flak vest. We don't look like guards)) I pointed out.

((But now our silhouette is the same)) Jacob said.

((From the front)) I said pessimistically. Something rocked the building.

((And there's Karl…)) Jacob observed dryly.

We were passed, twice in the corridor, but Jacob moved with purpose, nodding to the officer workers as they passed, who were clearly flustered. We received only a cursory glance by the first, and the second worker, a human controller in her sixties didn't even notice us. Jacob found a stairwell, and nicely enough, the Yeerks had labeled the floors for us. The blood on us didn't show, because both were black.

We stepped out into the third sub-basement.

"Sonili, can you direct us to your mother's position?" Jacob whispered.

((I'm a little busy right now, Jacob)) Sonili answered, sounding stressed.

"Plan B, follow the screaming," Jacob muttered, just as distant shouts reached our ears.

We wound through the basement, which seemed to be mostly office cubicles.

((I thought this was a manufacturing plant)) Jacob wondered.

((Research and development is also included, and then there are the logistical aspects to consider as well)) I offered.

"Keep firing!" someone shouted, then screamed. We jogged around the corner, and saw four human controllers, all of them security guards, trying to fight their way down an exposed hallway… with limited success. Most of the guards were trying to repel the "attack" on the main entrance, presumably.

((Grenade?)) I ventured. Jacob smirked, and closed his eyes for two seconds, then hit a light-switch. The hallway instantly went dark, and Jacob opened his dark-adjusted eyes, and fired his borrowed SMG into the clumped up enemies. A guard panicked and fired at us, hitting comrades in the dark, adding to the confusion until everyone was shooting at everyone. Jacob had already stepped back around the corner, and crouched down, waiting for the shooting to stop.

"Hold fire, hold fire!" someone shouted raggedly. Jacob leaned around the corner, and flicked the lights back on with one hand, and fired at the two controllers still standing, dropping one of them, and flicked the lights off, still firing.

((That light switch is a tactical flaw in the layout of this building)) I noted with some humor, but Jacob was deadly serious. There was nothing funny about killing human slaves. A couple of return shots slapped into our vest, but the small caliber did little more than wind us. Jacob dropped his empty Yeerk issue SMG, and drew his pistol, flicking the light on one last time, and put a couple bullets in the last Controller's chest. Our ears were ringing from firing the unsuppressed weapons indoors.

"Doc?" Jacob called.

((Ah, Jacob, you made it)) Torfan said desperately, ((Dr. Helaine is injured, but there are cameras here, so she cannot morph out))

Jacob waded through the sprawled bodies and blood sadly. One of the guards groaned, his chest rising and falling rapidly, blood seeping from the corner of his mouth. Jacob froze. A Yeerk was oozing out of the Controller's ear, and fell onto his shoulder with a plop.

Jacob slapped it off of the human guard, and the man opened his eyes, disorientated.

"Listen, I'm a friend," Jacob said soothingly.

((Jacob, where are the explosives?)) Dr. Helaine asked.

Jacob trotted down to the barricaded door, and tossed the back pack to Torfan. Helaine was bleeding from a gunshot wound to her right upper arm, with a hasty bandage tied around it. We ignored her, and ran back to the wounded human.

"You still with me?" Jacob asked, probing the man for injuries.

"Shot me," the man gasped, his wound sucking as he breathed.

"Yes I did," Jacob agreed, slitting the back of the man's shirt with our knife, and tore the fabric wider.

((Remember what Karl showed us)) I reminded Jacob. He pulled a battle field dressing from our belt, and opened the package.

((Looks like the left lung was punctured, through and through)) I noted detachedly.

((Do it)) he told me, relaxing.

((We need tape too)) I said.

Helaine and Torfan emerged from the office, the empty pack in Torfan's hand.

"What are you doing?" Helaine asked tightly.

"Torfan, give me the duct tape," I said, pointing to the bag. Nonplussed, the cadet did as I asked. I tore off three strips with my teeth. I used the dressing to quickly wipe away most of the blood, and slapped the "sterile" side of the wrapper down over the wound, and taped three of the edges, leaving the fourth open, creating a crude flapper-valve.

(the hole would be sealed on inspiration; but on expiration, some of the air could also escape through the hole)

I did this to the hole on his chest as well.

"Andalite?" the man slurred, weakly.

"No, ex-host," I answered,

"Hnh— good," the man gasped as I applied pressure to the wound with a strip of the man's shirt.

"Can you walk?" I asked, and Jacob took over. We pulled the injured man to his feet, and threw one of his arms over our shoulder, grabbing his belt with our supporting arm.

"Taking him with us is foolish," Helaine said harshly.

((Jacob, Jacob! I'm reading bug fighters, inbound!)) Sonili yelped.

"Tell Karl and her team to disengage! Fall back into the trees!" Jacob barked.

((What about you and Torfan?))

Jacob sighed, "We'll find another way out,"

"I do not believe I will enjoy this…" Dr. Helaine sighed.

"Relax, Doc, when have I ever steered you wrong?" Jacob asked.

"I lack the time to properly answer your question," Helaine said grimly.

Sonili-Esth-Fastil:

I coordinated the human fighters, ensuring they returned to the vehicles safely, and began their escape. The incoming bug fighters were not traveling at flank speed, but rather, seemed to be on routine patrol. I did not think they were aware of the attack.

They hailed the facility, but received no response. I quickly cut into their channel, bouncing it off Jacob's communicator.

"—ontrol, requesting docking clearance, please respond."

((This is Control, we're experiencing a software glitch with our communications suite)) I lied. I had already programmed in several voice-over filters, to cover my youth, and thought-speak. To the Yeerk controllers, it sounded like an adult human male was speaking. I'd blended Jacob and Karl's speech patterns together, so the man sounded as if he had a very faint drawl.

"We noticed the black-out, can we still land?" one of the pilots asked.

((Affirmative, we're using personal communicators at the moment)) I apologized.

I opened a second line to Jacob's communicator directly,

((Jacob, there are two bug fighters landing in the hanger bay. They are unaware of the attack))

If the pilots thought to scan the facility, to double check my story, they would realize there had been recent Dracon fire, as well as structural damage consistent with explosive weaponry.

But they didn't.

I registered touch down via the facility's internal sensors, and as soon as the vehicles powered down, I infiltrated their flight computers, an extension of my communications glitch.

"Sonili, we're en route, we—," Jacob transmitted before suddenly falling silent, but I saw that the communication line was still open.

((Jacob? Jacob?)) I demanded.

"Sonili, this is Torfan. Jacob collapsed," the aristh said, worried.

"Mmm'fine," Jacob slurred into his communicator.

"You are not fine," Torfan argued, forgetting to cut his link.

"Leg'go," Jacob grumbled.

"This is the second time you have collapsed," Torfan hissed.

"I'm fine," Jacob promised, sounding like his old self.

They cut their transmission, so I didn't hear the rest of the argument. I watched their progress on the facility cameras. Jacob looked fine, but my mother was clearly injured. They also had another human with them, who did not look very healthy.

I switched over to the hanger, and saw the taxxon pilots and human co-pilot/gunners exiting the bug-fighters, approaching the concealed hanger's doors. I locked down the door, and paged their communicators.

One of the humans answered, "Is this Control again?"

((Unfortunately, yes. I've almost purged the glitch but I may have… damaged… some of the secondary systems)) I sighed.

"I bet the Sub-visser's not very happy."

((That would be an accurate guess. Please lower your voice)) I suggested.

"She's in the room?" the man asked.

((Correct)) I said stiffly.

"Oh. By the way, the door isn't responding. More of your work?"

((Probably. Maintenance should be by soon to fix it, ten minutes at the most)) I promised.

"So more like twenty," the second controller sighed.

((No, they've already been dispatched)) I assured him, watching the team ascending the staircase. They would reach the hanger in less than seven minutes.

They encountered another group of security guards, but the group had already abandoned their flak vests, resembling security guards… and they recognized the fourth, injured man. I tapped into Jacob's communicator.

"Bloody hell, Issif, you're still in that body?" one of the guards said, stunned.

"Not a… quitter," the injured man wheezed.

"Don't want to go back to a Gedd host, am I right?" the guard asked.

"That… too…" the man whispered.

"We don't have comms, the entrance is locked down now, how bad is it down there?" a second guard asked, worried.

"We need more men," Jacob lied grimly, "There's at least six of them, armed with assault rifles and grenades. They've fortified their position, and we're taking heavy casualties…"

"If they need so many men, why aren't you four down there?" the guard asked, suspicious.

"The last group to run down there got themselves torn apart, they ran right into the ambush before we could warn them. I was told to get these men back to triage, and direct any security teams," Jacob improvised, while sounding tired and frightened.

"And him? He doesn't look hurt,"

"I am to look for additional security teams and direct them towards the basement," Torfan supplied.

Apparently satisfied, the three guards brushed past the group, and down the stairs.

"Nice job," Jacob whispered to the man he was helping.

They didn't encounter any additional difficulties, until they reached the hanger doors.

((I'm unlocking the doors. There are two humans, and two taxxons inside)) I warned.

Jacob handed his human off to Torfan, ushering them out of view.

"Alright Sonili, do it," Jacob said.

I removed the lockout restriction. The door flashed open.

"Eight minutes," one of the controllers praised. Jacob nodded, "Sorry about that."

As the human-controllers walked through the door, Torfan stepped forward, raising his machinegun.

"Please do not move," he said calmly.

"What the—" one of the humans said, before Jacob drew his knife, and lunged at the Taxxons, leaving two long gashes down their flanks. The controllers proceeded to eat each other, driven mindless by their host's instincts.

Torfan ushered the hostages back into the hanger, and I secured the door behind them. Jacob choked them into submission, and dragged them to the bug fighters.

Jacob Nyles:

We split up, half and half in the fighters. In the cramped confines, I bound and secured the unconscious controllers with their belts and shoe laces before tossing them into the back of the fighter Torfan had picked, pushing them to the very back of the small cabin. The wounded guard was unconscious, so Dr. Helaine demorphed, taking the pilot station, designed for taxxons as I half carried him in with me.

((This went better than expected)) Esplin noted, surprised.

((Your confidence is an inspiration)) I teased, checking on the guard. His face had turned gray, but there wasn't a whole lot I could do for him, poor bastard.

((But he is free)) Esplin said sadly.

With nothing to do, I knelt on the deck, and held the dying man's hand.

((Esplin. What's happening to me?)) I asked.

I could feel the guilt swirling behind her mind, but I respected her privacy.

((I am not certain… but… I have a theory)) the Yeerk said slowly.

((Anything is more than I have right now)) I said bluntly.

((I think one of the implants is not compatible with your physiology)) Esplin said.

((Oh. Not the super-strength one, I hope)) I joked.

((I'm afraid not)) Esplin said gently. That scared me.

((Which one?)) I demanded.

((I think the Kandrona implant)) Esplin told me.

((But you aren't sure?)) I asked.

((No. Not completely)) Esplin said.

((Okay…)) I rationalized, ((I'll just have to toughen up a little))

((Jacob, I think we should have another scan)) Esplin said grimly.

I felt a shudder run through the ship, and looked up, slipping into the gunner's seat, peering at the instruments.

((We're underwater, with the stealth systems engaged)) Esplin translated for me.

"Where are we?" I asked, looking out the viewport, which had become overlaid with a ghostly green outline, like seeing sonar.

((To avoid detection, we are traveling under the Atlantic ocean)) Helaine replied tersely.

"This thing's rated for ocean travel?" I asked, surprised. Esplin wasn't a pilot, or an engineer. We had a poor understanding of vessel capabilities.

((To reduce our chances of detection, I have lowered the shields, and the engines are on minimal output, maneuvering thrusters only)) Helaine said.

"That doesn't answer my question," I said nervously.

((The hull is rated to withstand the pressure)) the doctor assured me. Then we spent the next three hours combing the ship, disabling any system that even vaguely looked like it could be used to locate us.

It took us three hours to reach the coast of Maine. The guard though… he didn't make it.

We abandoned the bugfighters in the deeper water, and stole transport for our cargo.

Torfan wrestled the unconscious controllers into the back of the truck, relying on his hork-bajir morph, while I carried my own burden. We secured a tarp over the bed, before climbing into the cab. It was a long, quiet drive.

Karl and the others were on the plane, headed back. They hadn't suffered any fatalities, but a few of them had taken shrapnel injuries from exploding trees and rocks.

Nothing life threatening, Karl assured me, though I could hear Tinman complaining rather vocally about someone's lack of medical expertise, punctuated with a the occasional yelp in the background of her transmission.

Sonili found us in the medbay, and looked at us with those serious, green alien eyes.

"Oh, hey, doc, could you, uh, scan me again?" I asked.

((It sounds like you're asking for a sports physical)) Esplin quipped.

((Quiet, you)) I growled.

"I had another dizzy spell, during the raid," I admitted.

Dr. Helaine beckoned me closer, and began running the scanner across me. She brought up the scan for a month ago, as well as all previous scans.

((That's odd…)) the scientist mumbled, peering closer at the results.

I looked at the results as well, so Esplin could see.

((Your cerebrospinal fluid has slightly elevated protein levels…)) the doctor tabbed through several additional screens, ((I'm not sure why)) she admitted.

((Jacob, let me speak, please)) Esplin requested.

"Doctor, run a molecular scan of motor neurons, specifically for presence of antigen binding along the dendrites," Esplin said.

The others had gotten better at recognizing Esplin's voice, compared to my own, without her having to tell them anymore.

The results came up, and I could feel Esplin's guilt turn into fear.

((The dendrites have a substantial coating… nearly forty-seven percent of the surface area… but the antigen doesn't register clearly on the scan)) Helaine said, uneasy.

"It's the Yeerk byproduct of metabolized Kandrona," Esplin said quietly.

((You've been shitting in my head?)) I joked, trying to lighten the mood, but Esplin wasn't listening.

((Is it the cause of the spells?)) Helaine asked, turning a stalk eye to watch me.

"Probably," Esplin agreed, "We had this problem during initial testing of the implant, in its theoretical stages. I thought I solved it by re-tasking the immune system to register the free floating antigens as cancerous," Esplin said slowly.

((So far, none of the autonomic nerves have been affected unduly…)) Helaine observed.

"In the computer simulations, the subjects displayed syncope, and sporadic loss of motor control and equilibrium. The episodes became more frequent with time, until even respiratory, and cardiac functions began to fail. Finally, the subject entered a coma," Esplin said quietly.

((Could the simulations be wrong?)) Sonili asked, distressed.

"Anything is possible," Esplin said sadly.

((I understood half those words, mostly just coma)) I said nervously.

((It's simple, Jacob. I'm killing you))