The battle aboard the Blade Ship was over. The human child had called to me. The human child had died, and nothing I could have done within the rules of the game could have changed that fact.

It bothered me. Me, the core of the Ellimist. Toomin. Unusual, since Toomin was not only just one part of me, part of the small Ketran group that was so outnumbered by the other species, but because it was the individual voice among the Ketrans- he was speaking alone.

I was speaking alone. In the end, all the other personas that made up the Ellimist were constructs of memories, while Toomin was me from the beginning. Although I had no body now, so it was impossible to think that somehow I could really be that Ketran, still one person with a mere wealth of knowledge, sufficient to build up other people around me...

Wasn't it?

"What? You don't really believe that, do you?" asked the memory of Aguella.

"Believe what?"

"That you are a thousand thousand bodies with one mind. Toomin, Toomin," she admonished me. "There is no great strength in such a shape. Physically, perhaps, but you aren't physical anymore."

"What do you mean?" my core demanded, and suddenly I was Toomin again, not so much apart from the other thoughts as I wasn't listening to them.

Aguella didn't get a chance to say whatever she was trying to tell me. Crayak appeared, or at least that's the only way to describe it in such a world as the one I live... no, *exist* in. And I was still Toomin, not heeding the words of the other voices. And for some reason I had done it, and could not undo it. It was the old paradox- the god had built walls so strong he could not break them. The sheer surreality of being angry at myself didn't faze me, oddly enough. I had talked to myself for millenia- why not get angry?

Then all that was forgotten, because Crayak spoke. And I was still Toomin. And I was terrified.

"Well, well, Ellimist," said Crayak, apparently unaware of my current state. "The child Rachel is dead, I see. Unfortunate. I had always liked her. So similar to myself in many ways."

"How dare you compare an Animorph to yourself, Crayak. You are always brave because you have never felt fear."

Crayak began to get suspicious. "This is unlike you, Ellimist. Angry because you're losing, are you?" And with those words something changed. A part of the wall fell away, just for a moment, long enough for me to hear one of the voices in the endless noise.

"You know you're smarter than gamers who beat you regularly. You lose games you should win, not deliberately, but stubbornly. You're playing the game at a different level. Not trying to win, trying to win with kindness. Altruism." Then the voice -Lackofa, I remembered, from a time many ages ago- faded away.

"An Animorph, yes. The greatest and the least, I suppose. The strongest and the most vulnerable. The most vicious and the most tender." Crayak spoke with disdain, as though she were beginning to bore him.

"The most hateful and the most loving," I said, picking up what Crayak said. "She who slays in battle without mercy, and yet falls hopelessly in love with mere shadow in the crowd."

"Oh yes, Tobias," said Crayak, thoughtfully. "You don't mind if I give him a few torturously painful dreams about this, do you?"

I wasn't really listening to Crayak now, I was concentrating on another fraction of the wall that broke and rebuilt itself, letting through another voice.

"It's the whole point of nonessential crew. You're here to learn a little of everything. That way we'll always have a backup." A backup what, I asked rhetorically, but Jicklet's voice was already gone anyway.

"But how's the rest of the battle going, Ellimist? I see that these new Animorphs will be dying in a few moments," he observed conversationally.

I -Toomin- was getting angry now. Without the rest of the voices, I was just one brilliant loser, a single Ketran with no lofty ideas getting in the way. The wall didn't break this time. Menno simply stepped through, looking as lordly as ever. He clasped his hands together.

"Intrude!"

I expect that at that moment, from another's viewpoint, a rather goofy smile would have appeared on my face. "Of course," I said, as though it were obvious. The walls shattered and vanished. "Although I think it would be better phrased in English."

A thousand thousand minds flowed back to me, all connecting in a vast web of memories.

"Crayak?"

"Yes?"

"Fuck it." I grabbed the strands of space and pulled.

Among the strands I danced, weaving light from nothing. The Wurb, masters of particle physics, found the way that I could forge a new part of reality from the vacuum space. The Multitude, not particularly brilliant but vastly outnumbering any one other species, found all the different parts I would have to place together to make the new line. The Daankins placed together the shards of life. All my many peoples worked separately, but for one perfect goal.

And through it all I played the adge of life and death. I sang, and the Ellimist danced through the dimensions, because at its core all things are music.

In my mind, in this existence where all one could see were metaphors of the truth, I swung an arm and behind it trailed a comet of light. The sparks and bright haze condensed into a new space-time strand, and still I played; this new creation was just another string to be plucked for now.

But then it flew out into the darkness, and anchored itself to a point where two other lines met and entwined. It reached out from that point, following an invisible trail that even I did not understand, although parts of me guided it.

And then, just before it reached the point where another line, the one that I built this one to be again, had vanished, I played a final harmonious chord. The power vanished from the weapons charges of the Blade Ship and Pool Ship. Innumerable Yeerks swam through the central pool, rather than dying the the harshness outside. Not that anyone noticed immediately when I made these changes, although Visser One was rather annoyed when he failed to burn through the ranks of the attackers.

You fight well, human.

But she was not there, not this time, not this new strand.

Nor was Tom.

They were both with the other Animorphs- Tom lay unconscious on the deck of the Pool ship, Rachel stood weakly nearby, separate from the others for a moment. Then Tobias was on her, kissing her, not bothering to wonder what had happened.

"Ellimist..." hissed Crayak, angrily.

"The game is not enough, Crayak."

"It is the game we created!"

"On Earth they play something similar to our own game, you know. Chess."

"I am aware of it."

"I believe we have been playing without queens. We must consider a rewrite of the rules. You, of course, would be allowed something similar to this, for every change I made, and vice-versa." That silenced him for a time, no doubt as he wondered how irreparable a strike he could make in one such move.

"I will consider it." Crayak vanished, fully aware and very angry about the fact that he could not undo what I had just done.

"Your master is oddly calm," I commented to the Drode, who remained after Crayak left.

"He has been considering such a move for some time. On the Yeerks side, of course- perhaps restoring the first Visser One to life and her host. It would have been a difficult change for you to find, and yet would have destroyed them all."

"And now I have suggested that we do such a thing regularly..."

"You could simply not agree to alter the rules, of course. Though you will have to make an allowance to balance these things out."

"A terrible thought."

"I am curious, though: Jake made his decisions, however foolish they were, and you undid them. What if he believes that you will forever repair the damages he deals? He will become an irresponsible leader, reckless, perhaps worse."

"I am not on Jake's side, Drode. I am on the side of creation, of birth and life. Jake and the Animorphs are fighting for the same cause, and so I help them. Should Jake turn away, then he is not an ally of mine after all. I may have saved a great many lives, but I am not going to take the time to make sure they become good people. That will be up to them. Though somehow I don't think that will be a problem."

The Drode turned away, and walked into the darkness.

"You vile little toady," I muttered, and turned back to watch the events unfold, smiling like a Ketran, and feeling better than I had for a millenium.



[Notes] This is a short one, definitely, but walking home today I thought of (what I believe to be) a vast improvement over the way Book 54 begins. Considering the story told in The Ellimist Chronicles, I'm almost surprised that this didn't happen. Anyway, I'm not planning to write any more, unless there's some huge unexpected demand for it.