Chapter One

My name is Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill.

My human friends call me Ax, as they claim that it is a difficult name to remember. However, I cannot truly comprehend how you may remember such a bewildering human name as Susannah or Benjamin, yet have trouble with the very simple Aximili.

Regardless, there are two very important things that you should be told right away. The first is that I am an Andalite, what you would call an alien, though to me, you are the alien. I am quite ordinary so far as Andalite males are concerned. I have a strong tail, all four of my legs are sturdy, and my eyestalks have full range of motion.

I have now been told I should endeavor to explain better. That seems more than a bit strange, because if you are reading this, you clearly should have read everything that came before. Because what being in their right mind would begin reading such an extensive account over two dozen volumes in? If you have no idea what is happening, let me remind you that the human counting system begins with the number one, not the number twenty-five. Please go back and read this volume when appropriate.

The other thing that you should be told, so that you have an understanding of my own point of view, is that human beings are quite clearly the most baffling species in the universe.

As part of my endeavor to understand Earth culture, my human friends often took me to places where they claimed humans spent much of their recreational or learning time. I always went in human morph, of course. If I have learned anything since my arrival on Earth, it is that humans are as panicky a species as they are a baffling one. When creatures become panicked, they either run or they fight. The same is true of entire species. When a species is afraid, some run away, others fight.

Humanity as a species is as yet incapable of intergalactic spaceflight. Running would be out of the question. And by now, I was fairly certain that I knew what would happen if humanity felt cornered. There is a reason the Yeerks are keeping their invasion secret. What humanity lacks in technology for warfare, they make up for with enthusiasm.

A good example to prove my point of humanity's absurdity, for example, was the activity I was witnessing at this moment on this most recent educational outing.

"I do not understand-stand-stuh stand and and anduh duh I amuh standing stand here standing." Human mouth sounds are the second most pleasing things I have found that a mouth could be used for. It was difficult to resist playing with them. "Did your species at some point engage in battle with very small warriors who lined up in such a formation?"

Jake, the leader of our little band, blinked at me. His mouth opened and then shut again, and his head tilted while one side of his face seemed to twitch. I have become quite adept at reading human facial expressions. This, I believed, meant that he was trying very hard not to laugh.

"No." He finally managed, though he had to wave at the others to ask for help.

"It's called bowling, Ax-Man." Marco was laying back one of the small plastic seats with his legs hanging off the end. "It's not battle training, it's a game. We're not preparing for war over here."

"Someone should probably tell Rachel that." Tobias observed. My nephew (it is a thoroughly exhausting story that you should already know) was also here in his human morph, though I do not believe that his legitimate form of a hawk would frighten the humans nearly as much as mine would. Still, my friends insisted that human morph was better in both of our cases.

His words were almost immediately echoed by a shrill human cry of triumph. "Yes! Another strike, that's five, count 'em five in a row! In your face, I am the pins worst nightmare. I will shake 'em, knock 'em, break 'em and run them right the hell over. I am the Genghis Khan of bowling pins, whoo!"

"Rachel," Jake was gazing at the yellow-haired female, his cousin, as she held both arms high in the air and bounced up and down while turning in a circular motion in the middle of the raised wooden area she had rolled the ball from, "what happened to not attracting attention while we have Ax here?"

She stuck her tongue out at him, a human expression I've come to realize is shorthand for 'I disagree with you but do not have the factual evidence to back me up', and came back to the sitting area. "Like anyone's going to notice Ax when I'm busy being completely awesome. Are you even seeing what I'm pulling off up there? 'Lissa, chip me." She sat next to the other female in our group. By the simplest descriptions, the two females were similar. Both had similar hair, though Rachel's was much darker while Melissa's was more white than it was yellow. She was also smaller than Rachel, smaller than Marco even, who had been the shortest member before Melissa joined.

Also, Melissa was not, by nature, a soldier. She had become a part of this war by necessity, not because it was something that she had longed for. Rachel… had she been born among my people, as an Andalite, I believe that Rachel would have become one of our greatest warriors.

As Rachel turned toward the other girl, Melissa dragged one of her few remaining nacho chips through the cheese in the corner of the container and put it into Rachel's mouth.

"We saw." Marco put in. "And heard. Oh boy did we hear, oh Genghis Of Bowling."

"Getting nervous, Marco?" Rachel showed her white teeth as she smiled. "You could always forfeit now and save yourself the shame."

Tobias stepped behind the bench where both girls were seated and put his hand on Rachel's shoulder. In response, her head tilted until her cheek lay against the back of his hand. The two of them had begun what I am told humans call 'dating' several weeks earlier, which had led to many such scenarios as this. My friends had offered to explain it several times, but I always declined. This, of all things, was not something that I needed explained. Human courtship may be different from Andalites, but it is still recognizable for what it is.

"What'd you guys end up betting anyway?" Tobias asked.

It was Melissa who answered him. "If Marco gets a higher score, Rachel has to wear a shirt that he made to school."

"Tell him what the shirt says on it." Marco had sat up by this point, to give Jake a place to sit down.

"Marco is awesome, cute, funny, and brilliant." Melissa intoned. Then her face turned color slightly. I have grown to recognize the pink shade as an expression of embarrassment. "I mean, that's what the shirt says. And it has his phone number on it."

"I still feel sorry for whatever poor soul you conned into having that printed onto a shirt for you." Jake put in, shaking his head.

Tobias chuckled. "What I can't believe is that Rachel agreed to any circumstances in which she would wear it."

"Oh please." Rachel shook her head. "As if he has any chance of winning. It was worth the risk. Tell them what Marco has to do when I beat the pants off him."

"If-" Melissa started, before coughing while glancing at the other girl. "Uh, I mean when Rachel wins, Marco has to babysit Sara the next six times her mom goes on a date."

I practically tripped over my own clumsy human feet (And really, a species with two feet and no tail? Again, humans are absurd.) in my attempt to spin back toward the girls. "What kind of tradition-trah-truh-trudition trush trush trushing trashing dition is that?!" I demanded. The horror I felt at such a claim very nearly outweighed all the amusement the sound 'shing' provided. Nearly.

Melissa's eyes were wide as she stared at me, clearly not understanding my dismay. "What tradition?"

"This sitting on babies." I was looking to each of my friends in turn, waiting for someone to share my outrage. Instead, they all began to laugh. Marco laughed so hard he fell off the bench.

"No no no no no." Melissa's head shook rapidly. "Babysitting doesn't mean really sitting on babies. A babysitter is someone who watches over someone else's kid who's too young to take care of themselves so they can do something else like go to dinner or a movie without leaving the child by themselves."

"It's irrelevant anyway." Rachel pointed out. "Sara is way more mature than Marco. She'd be the one taking care of him. But mom still insists that someone at least our age be in the house. And I'd rather not be stuck there every other night just because she's decided to get all match dot com on us. Trust me, if she'd just trust Jordan to do it, I would've gone for the cash bet."

Tobias moved to sit next to Rachel, who scooted over closer to Melissa to give him room. Melissa, in turn, quickly stood up. "I need more nachos." She shook the empty box and then tossed it away into the large plastic cylinder I had been rather insistently told not retrieve items from no matter how good they smelled.

"I will go with you." I started to say. "For more nachos-chose-I chose choose nach choo choo chose."

I had not previously been aware that a human being's eyes could grow as wide as Melissa's did in that moment. "Nothat'sokayI'vegotityoushouldtakeyourturn." Her words came out all in a rush, and she was already hurrying away.

"She must be very hungry." I decided.

"Sure, Ax." Marco had picked himself up off the floor by that point. "That's totally why she's practically sprinting away from you. Couldn't have anything to do with what happened to the first nachos you had. You know, for the six and a half seconds they survived."

"Yeah, dude." Tobias had settled next to Rachel by that point. "You even ate the box they came in."

Before I could object, Jake was pointing. "Either way, Melissa's right. It's your turn again, Ax. And this time, try to do what Rachel did instead of… whatever it is you were doing before. You nearly took Marco's head off."

"The ball is heavier than I had anticipated." I admitted. "It is not a mistake I will make again."

"Yeah, well," Marco grumbled, "fifth times the charm, I suppose. If it's all the same, I'm still taking cover."

I found the ball that I had been using and tested its weight once more. Then I focused on the arrangement of pins and stepped up onto the wooden stage. This time, I was sure that I had the idea. I had watched the others and seen what to do. I would not fail to knock any pins over for a fifth time. I also wouldn't fall over while throwing the ball. Human bodies are, again, absurd.

For a few moments, I checked the arrangement of my human feet, settled my hands into position on the ball, and tried to remember exactly how Rachel had moved. Two steps, then another two steps, then the arm with the ball came back, and then it went forward and the ball came away toward the bulkhead of the ship.

Wait a minute, bulkhead of the ship?

The bowling ball clanged off the metal wall, and I realized belatedly that I was back in my Andalite body. Having all four hooves firmly planted did ease my concern somewhat, I had to admit. But the confusion remained. Somehow, I was standing in the middle of what looked like a heavily damaged ship corridor, with random components literally sticking out of the walls or hanging from the ceiling. Nothing was sparking and I couldn't hear any venting air, so this area seemed safe enough for the moment.

"Okay, what just happened?!" Rachel's voice demanded, and I turned one eyestalk that way to see my human friends standing just down the corridor. Tobias was a hawk once more, and perched with his talons around a rounded beam that emerged from the wall. Even Melissa was there, complete with nachos. They all looked just as confused as I felt, if not more so.

(We appear to have been brought aboard a damaged ship.) I told them, pacing back that way.

"Ax," Jake said, rather tensely. "Do not tell me that the Yeerks just picked us up."

(No.) I shook my head. (This is a damaged Andalite ship if I am not mistaken. And in any case, I do not see why the Yeerks would take us aboard a damaged ship in the first place. They are not as technologically adept as Andalites, but they are not Skrit'Na.)

"What's a Skrit-" Melissa started to ask, before shrinking back at the looks all of the others shot her. "Right, priorities. Just tell me they aren't a microscopic, yet sociopathic race of alien dictators that function as the advance heralds of a bunch of planet destroying monsters."

Melissa had undergone a strange experience somewhat recently. You should listen to her accounting of it.

(They are scavengers.) I explained simply. (They mostly steal other ships and use them until they are broken down. But I do not believe that this is one of theirs either. I do not believe this ship is functioning. There are no engine sounds, and the ship appears to be using emergency lighting.)

"Okay," Marco said. "So we're on a damaged Andalite ship. Why? How? And where is everyone? I don't know about anyone else, but I'm pretty sure I never said beam me up, Scotty."

"Neither did Kirk." Melissa put in. "They always mess that up. No one ever actually-" Again, the looks made her shrink. "Okay okay, priorities, broken ship, I get it."

"Ax," Jake asked through gritted teeth. "Why would we be transported up into a damaged Andalite ship? And how?"

(I have no idea, Prince Jake.) I admitted. "But if we are here, there must be a reason for it."

It was Tobias who spoke up then, his thought-speak voice rather hopeful. (Do you think this is the start of the rescue? Could this ship be part of the fleet that was coming to Earth to kick the Yeerks off our planet?)

"If it is," Marco pointed out while looking around at all of the damage. "This is not exactly an encouraging start. None of this makes sense anyway. None of it. Since when would the Andalites even know about us? And could they even do this transport thing? Not to knock your species, Ax, but seriously? There is sense, and then there is this, and the two are in completely different time zones."

"Well that's because you don't have all the facts." Another voice said quietly from nearby. My stalks turned that way, to find a human woman who looked as familiar as she did not. She looked as she had the last time we had seen her, and yet, I was still accustomed to seeing her as a much younger person, the age of my other friends.

"Cassie!" Rachel exclaimed, rushing to embrace the girl who had been her best friend before she had become the Ellimist's assistant. "You're here!" The two were hugging, which I had long ago learned to be an expression of love and trust, similar to the way Andalites will intertwine tail blades.

"I'm here." Cassie nodded, finally extricating herself, though she smiled fondly at her old friend. "And now, so are you."

"You brought us here?" Jake was staring, and I thought he might ask for a hug next if one didn't present itself. "Why? What does the Ellimist want?"

"He wants to give you a chance." Cassie said slowly, as though taking the time to choose her words for fear of saying something that she wasn't supposed to. "He wants to give you a chance to fix what was broken."

"What does that even mean?" Marco demanded. "We're supposed to fix Andalite problems now too? Where are we? Is this the ship that was coming to save us? Where are all the Andalites?"

"Yes." Cassie nodded to him. "This was the ship that was coming to Earth to assess the situation."

"Assess the situation?!" Marco blew up, clearly not understanding. "The situation is we're as screwed as this ship!"

"Cassie…" Rachel was looking at one of the jagged holes in the wall. "What caused all this damage? What happened to this ship, and where is everyone?"

Cassie's face turned sorrowful, and I could tell that in spite of her joy in seeing her friends, she hated being the one to say this. "They didn't make it."

"What do you mean, they didn't make it?" Rachel put her hand against the edge of the broken wall. "Cassie, what happened to this ship? What happened to the ship that was coming to help save us?" There was an edge in her voice that seemed to indicate that she already knew the truth, but desperately wanted Cassie to have a different answer.

It was a wish that would go unfulfilled.

After a long pause, Cassie let out a slow sigh and raised her gaze to her old friend. "The Veleek, Rachel. The morphing cube made it strong, and it chased the morphing energy all the way out here, and attacked this ship. No one survived."