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The Other Side of the War

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Listen to the podfic of the story here.


Prologue

My name is Dan Berenson. You may have seen me on TV, interviewing an athlete or warning you about a dangerous winter storm. The one thing I never got to report on is the most important event that’s ever happened on this planet: the secret invasion of Earth by extraterrestrials.

No, wait. I’m doing this all wrong. I’m already forgetting the most important rule of journalism, which is to know your audience. I don’t know who is going to read any of this, so I shouldn’t assume anything. Maybe you’re a Taxxon and you don’t even know what a TV is. So let’s start here: I am a human of Earth. My planet was invaded by the Yeerk Empire, a galactic military dictatorship who believed they had the right to enslave and control all other species. They could do that to an extent that human empires can only dream of, since the Yeerks are parasites who enter the brains of other species and gain access to every intimate corner of their being.

To my knowledge, there were three forces opposing the Yeerk Empire. One was the Andalites, the great enemy of the Yeerks, who occupied their planet and gave them the technology to create an Empire in the first place. One was the Animorphs, an Earth-based guerrilla force of child soldiers fighting with illicit Andalite technology. This group included my fierce and beautiful daughter, Rachel, who faced down unspeakable horrors every day, until they eventually killed her. The last is the Yeerk Peace Movement, a group of Yeerks who opposed the Empire and tried to live in harmony with other species.

I got lucky. When the Yeerk Empire came for me, they infested me with a secret member of the Peace Movement. Her name is Efdram 618. I just call her Effie.


1.

Looking back, this is unbelievably embarrassing, but the Sharing managed to get me to volunteer for infestation by giving me the impression that it was some kind of performance-enhancing drug.

If you’re a Taxxon reading this and you don’t know anything about television, let me tell you that being a reporter on a 24-hour news channel is a demanding job. No matter when you’re on camera, even if you’re tired or reporting on something you don’t care about, you have to be alert, stand straight, look into the camera, and smile. So let’s just say that over the years I’ve relied on some outside help at my job, especially after a night with a fussy baby. And because I’ve lived my adult life in a special place on Earth called California, where humans are particularly open-minded about “sources of outside help,” I wasn’t even all that weirded out when the energetic middle-aged doctor from the Sharing told me my brain enhancement would be delivered via my ear. I’d been through worse in gymnastics training.

I felt numb and hazy for a while, and just spaced out, staring at the blank wall of the medical suite. He asked me how I was adjusting, and I said fine, but he kept looking at me like he was waiting for something else.

A detached voice in my head said, Tell him you’re operating within optimal parameters. And call him Sub-Visser. That’ll get him off your back.

Whoa, I thought. Computer chips are functioning on a whole new level these days. This is like Tron. It seemed like a weird thing to say, but I tried it. “I am operating within optimal parameters, Sub-Visser.”

The doctor stared into my eyes and took the water pump out of my ear. “Make sure you continue that way, Efdram 618. You may return to work now.”

Efdram 618? Is that the name of this chip in my head? I wondered. But the doctor’s sudden seriousness had creeped me out in a way the brain injection hadn’t, so I didn’t stick around to find out.

At first, it really was like having a performance-enhancing computer chip in my brain. On my way back to work, I almost panicked when I thought I lost my ID card to get back into the building, but then my brain came up with this crystal clear memory of putting it in the inner pocket of my suit jacket, and there it was. When I got to my desk, my hands seemed to sort the chaos of papers into neat categories all on their own. When I made a cup of coffee, my cravings for sugar, which my doctor told me I needed to cut back on to prevent diabetes, instantly died in my mouth.

Then I passed by the screen showing what was happening in Studio 1. My colleague Rita was reading a news item about a young woman who had been stabbed to death in the Bronx. When the screen switched to the reel of the woman’s mother tearfully begging for any information that could bring her daughter’s killer to justice, I felt the strangest wave of despair. It wasn’t in my body at all, not prickling behind my eyes or freezing my gut, just a sourceless unanchored sadness. My body turned away from the screen without me telling it to.

I’m not a monster. It’s not like I don’t feel bad when I see news like that. But I’ve had to report enough terrible news that I’ve learned to detach. My brain processes it, but my heart doesn’t. This raw grief wasn’t mine. I wondered, Can a computer chip feel sad?

«No,» said Efdram 618. «I’m not a computer chip.»


2.

I left work early after that. It was all just desk work that evening anyway, and I couldn’t concentrate what with the revelation that aliens were real, taking over the Earth, and one of them was inside my cranium. I had a tiny apartment in Manhattan, just a place to rest my head when I leapfrogged from my local news anchor job in Denver to my national news job in New York. I got the bottle of Laphroaig out from my liquor cabinet and poured myself two fingers. I collapsed in my armchair looking out over a sliver of Battery Park and took a sip, rolling the campfire flavors over my tongue. I wondered, distantly, if the alien in my brain liked the taste of Scotch as much as I did.

“First of all,” I said out loud, “I’m not calling you Efdram 618. This is real life, not the bridge of the goddamn Enterprise. Are you a boy or a girl?”

There was a long pause inside my head, longer than I would have thought that question needed, back then – I know better now, believe me. Finally, my mouth said, “Girl.”

Second of all,” I said, “don’t talk to me with my own mouth like that, it’s giving me the creeps. All right, then, wow, I got a girl alien in my head. As if this wasn’t weird enough. I’m gonna call you Effie.” I took another sip of Scotch. “So, tell me, Effie. If you think Yeerks shouldn’t be taking people over, why didn’t you just tell that Sub-Visser to take a hike when he told you to infest me?”

It was still hard not to think of Effie’s voice in my head like a computer telling me “you’ve got mail,” her voice was that cool and detached. It was like that with her in the beginning. «Most Yeerks in the Peace Movement do exactly that when they are given such an assignment. But I wasn’t in any position to refuse. I am disgraced in the palps of the Empire. If I defied a direct order, I would be swiftly killed in the best-case scenario, and slowly starved to death in the worst. I hope you will forgive me for deciding to make the best of this situation instead.»

I swirled the Scotch in my glass and said faintly, “Okay. Very Stalinesque, these Sub-Vissers of yours. I see your dilemma. I guess we’re stuck with each other, then. At least until this Empire gets a nice kick in the teeth. Or wherever it is you guys don’t like to get kicked.” I swallowed the rest of the whiskey in one go. Heat rushed to my face. I set the glass down on the side table and clapped my hands. “So! How do we take down that Sub-Visser sonuvabitch?”

There was a pulse of alarm from Effie, cold and distant like an emergency alert going off a block away. «Dan, we can’t take down the Sub-Visser. Neither of us are warriors. We don’t have any weapons or backup.»

I laughed. “Oh, Effie. You really are an alien, aren’t you? I didn’t go to journalism school for nothing. I don’t need weapons to destroy people. I’m a reporter.”


3.

I’ll never forget my first time at the Yeerk Pool in New York City. I guess you never forget your first time in one of those hellholes – that’s what everyone tells me who’s been to one. For me, what sticks in my mind is how utterly surreal it was. On the outside, it was a beautiful brownstone on a tree-lined street in Park Slope. I walked up the stoop and rang the doorbell. I went inside when I heard the buzz, just like I would anywhere else in New York.

«Report to Sub-Visser Seventy-Two first,» Effie said. «His office is on the third floor.»

«But you’re hungry!» I protested inside my head. I could feel it, a strange gnawing hunger that never actually reached my stomach. «Shouldn’t you go feed first?»

«It’s what you would call a ‘power play,’» Effie said. «He insists that his underlings report to him just before their scheduled feeding times.»

«Well, joke’s on him,» I said. «I’m going to do the talking, and I just had dinner.»

I knocked on the door of the office, which turned out to be a converted bedroom with a window out on a ginkgo tree that was going to stink the place up to high heaven come May. When I looked at the desk, there was a computer from outer space on it. That’s the only way I can describe it. It wasn’t like any computer I’d ever seen before. Even though I had an alien inside my skull, it was the first alien thing I’d actually seen with my eyes. Effie had to do one of her fancy computer chip things to my brain to keep me from flipping my lid. I sat down across the desk from the handsome salt-and-pepper doctor puppeted by a fascist brain slug named Sub-Visser Seventy-Two.

«What is with you guys and numbers?» I wondered, but Effie didn’t have time to answer that thought before the Sub-Visser got started.

“I assume you’re well-adjusted,” he said. “Voluntary hosts are easy enough. I’m surprised you were assigned another one, after your last failure. But the decision wasn’t mine to make.” He slid a dossier across the desk, showing a face I recognized. “We have an executive at your news channel. You’ll be sent to do special features on the Sharing and our other initiatives. Sell it. Your host will know how. And don’t listen to any traitorous fools who say it’s a waste of time. As long as Visser One is in the top spot, I follow her directives, not Visser Three’s self-aggrandizing nonsense.”

I wanted to say that I wasn’t so much a “voluntary host” as “lured into a space empire under false pretenses,” but I figured the distinction would be lost on this schmuck. So I just said, “Of course. I want to redeem myself to the Empire.”

Sub-Visser Seventy-Two sneered. “You won’t. You’re weak, Efdram 618. But you can at least stay useful enough that I don’t have to make an example of you.”

He really wasn’t all that bad compared to a TV exec, I thought.

«You may think so, but he is in a particularly good mood today,» said Effie.

On the way downstairs, I got the scoop from Effie about the whole Visser One vs. Visser Three rivalry. «So our boss likes Visser One. Maybe we could get dirt on him and send it to Visser Three.»

«Tread carefully with that one,» Effie said. «He’s as likely to kill his allies as his enemies.»

I opened a heavy steel door to the basement. There was a flash of light as I went through the door, and a computerized voice speaking a language unlike anything I’d heard before. «What is that?!» I demanded.

«The Gleet BioFilter,» Effie said. «It sterilizes anything that isn’t an approved life-form. The Empire uses it as a security measure against the guerrilla Andalite warriors who fight the Yeerk invasion of Earth. Not that they’ve ever been known to attack outside of California.»

«Why California?»

«The home base of the Yeerk invasion is in Santa Barbara, California.» Reading my thoughts as soon as they formed, Effie added, «I do not have the level of terminal access required to check if your family are Controllers. I can inquire via my contacts in the Peace Movement, however.»

The Gleet BioFilter was finally dying down. I stumbled down the stairs, blinking stars out of my eyes. «How messed up is that? I move away from the city with the most Yeerks and I get infested anyway? And why Santa Barbara?»

All of these thoughts were driven out of my head in a half second flat when I heard a little boy crying. My vision cleared, and I saw a burly security guy hauling a crying ten-year-old boy away from a swimming pool full of roiling gray sludge. I instinctively lurched toward the boy, not that there was anything I could have done to get a guy that size to put him down - I was a gymnast in my youth, not a kung fu master. Effie caught me just in time. My body just went stiff as a board, face blank, arms at my sides. Nothing happened, no matter how hard I tried to twitch even one finger.

«I’m sorry,» Effie said firmly, «but you can’t. They’ll hurt you worse than you can imagine if you try.»

«They’d give me over to a Yeerk who treats me like this all the time.» My throat spasmed with rising panic. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even decide where my eyes pointed. Effie could read every single thought that went through my head. She didn’t comment, for the most part, but she could. She could dig through my memories and find that time I finally gave in and slept with a guy in college and ran to the bathroom afterward to throw up from the shame –

«Yes,» she said sadly. «Or they would kill you. Which might be preferable. Or might be the death of hope.» She gave me control of my eyes back.

I watched the guy take the kid through a door into some deeper part of the basement. «They infest kids. They could be doing this to my kids right now. Effie, that boy is Sara’s age!»

«It’s not standard procedure,» Effie said, «but they do it sometimes to get at a powerful parent. We can’t put a stop to it singlehandedly, Dan. It’s going to take the entire Peace Movement working together. Or maybe the Andalites, if we’re unlucky.»

«Unlucky?»

«When they come to a planet the Empire has infiltrated,» Effie said, «they make no distinction between oppressor or victim, collaborator or objector. They just destroy everything until there is nothing left to oppose them.»

«I think I like your way better.» I looked at the swimming pool. «So what, I walk out on that pier into the pool and you just… plop on in there?»

«I would appreciate it if you knelt,» Effie said, «so I don’t have so far to fall.»

I knelt down on the pier and wrinkled my nose at the smell of the sludge. There was a bizarre squirming sensation as Effie started wriggling her way out. «This isn’t sanitary. This place has got to have a million building code violations. Does “the Sharing” even own this legally? That’s how we’re gonna get ‘em, Effie. Even a space empire has to follow city zoning laws or face the Housing Commissioner’s wrath.»

When I walked off the pier, sans Effie, another security guy waved me over to a cafe area where people were hanging out and having beers together while the football game played on a TV. So this was what the Sub-Visser meant by voluntary hosts. People who had a nice little social club in an alien hideout while crying kids got hauled off behind closed doors. A guy in a pinstriped suit next to the TV waved me over. I ignored him and got a cup of tea to settle my stomach.

As I sat down and stirred creamer into my tea, I remembered suddenly that Passover was starting tonight. I’d meant to fly back to California to celebrate, but I’d totally forgotten, which made me almost as bad a Jew as I was a father.

(If you’re a Taxxon reading this, Judaism would take way too long to explain to an alien, but I’ll just say that Passover is an old Jewish tradition celebrating escape from bondage, and feeling like you’re bad at being a Jew is an even older Jewish tradition than that.)

I sang “Let My People Go” under my breath and thought about Passover last year in Santa Barbara. Jordan and Sara had a great time, but the older kids were quiet, disengaged. I figured it was because they were going through some teenage phase of being too cool to care about some old holiday. But what if it was because they literally had something else on their minds? What if my nephews and my oldest daughter were Controllers?

It never once occurred to me that instead of being slaves, Rachel and Jake might be Moses and Aaron.


4.

I was elbow-deep in housing deeds from the public records office when I got the phone call. I looked over at the caller ID and swore.

«That is your boyfriend,» Effie said. «You love him. Why are you upset?»

I swept my hand over the chaos of my home office and yelled over the sound of the phone ringing. “Because I’m hopped up on speed trying to keep up with a full-time job, an alien invasion, and fighting the same alien invasion I’m part of! I don’t have time for a dating life, much less with an alien peanut gallery inside my brain! Effie, this is a nightmare!”

«You must know I wouldn’t interrupt,» Effie said, a little defensively. «I make myself unobtrusive while you use the sanitary facilities. Except for that time you almost cut yourself shaving.»

“You do, and I appreciate it, but I still know you’re there, and it’s weird,” I said. “Besides, Aasif never agreed to letting an alien voyeur into our relationship. I have to break things off with him. It’s the only fair thing to do.”

The call went to voicemail. “Hi, Dan. It’s been a few days since I heard from you. I miss you. Call me back.”

«You say that, and yet you don’t want to actually do it,» Effie pointed out.

“Of course I don’t want to do it!” I exploded. “You have no idea how hard it is to date as a gay man when you’re 40 years old and spent most of your adult life in the closet. It’s like everybody around you read some kind of rulebook about how to be gay and no one ever bothered to give you a copy. Aasif is the only person who actually gets me. He also got a divorce when he figured he couldn’t hide being queer anymore, except he’s an actual responsible adult who got joint custody of his kid. He’s a good guy and he doesn’t deserve this.”

If you’re a Taxxon reading this, I’m not sure how to explain any of that, except to say that humans might be as messed up about sex as you guys are about food.

«If you really feel you must do this,» Effie said, «then I can do it for you.»

I leaned back in my office chair. “What?”

«I’m in your head. I can sound exactly like you. He won’t know the difference. Leave it to me.»

“This feels like cheating, but okay,” I said. Letting her do it really was way more appealing than doing it myself.

My hand reached for the phone. My finger pressed the speed dial for Aasif. When he said, “Hi, Dan!” in that low, warm voice, I wanted to tell him every crazy thing that had happened in the last three days, but Effie held me back.

“Hey, Aasif,” she said with my mouth. “Thanks for calling. What’s up? You free this evening?”

“Yeah! Aisha is visiting her grandparents upstate and I hoped I could catch you before she gets back.”

“Good. Let’s talk. Nine o’clock at that whiskey bar on Lafayette?”

“You know what I like. See you soon.”

My hand put the phone back in its cradle. I swallowed. “Wow. So you really are going to break up with my boyfriend for me.”

«Yes, I am,» said Effie. «It’s always easier to solve someone else’s problems than your own.»


5.

Effie and I weren’t the only members of the Yeerk Peace Movement, of course. We were the only ones in New York, as far as I knew, but New York was a pretty small outpost of the war, even if it was the center of the universe in my New Yorker worldview. When she went to feed in the Yeerk Pool, she used computer terminals down there to get in touch with the Peace Movement in other parts of the world, including ships in orbit. One day when she came back from the Pool, she had a phone number to call for a Peace Movement Controller in Santa Barbara. «Talk to him before we go ahead with our plan,» she told me. «He’s been doing this for way longer than you.»

«How about you? How long have you been part of the movement?» Effie didn’t talk about herself much. It was part of her whole ice-queen, computer-chip, above-the-concerns-of-petty-mortals shtick. I knew it was all bullshit, because she acted lightning-quick to protect me every time I was about to get myself in trouble, and she still got real sad every time there was a news item about a girl getting hurt. I’m a journalist, which means I’m a nosy sonuvabitch determined to figure out what her deal was.

«Longer than him,» Effie said. «He’s what we call a host convert. It was an experience with a host that got him to change his mind and join the Peace Movement. I was a believer in the cause before I was ever promoted high enough to get a host.»

I snorted. “Are you telling me you were a pacifist before it was cool?”

«Pacifism is not one of your human fads,» Effie sniffed, and I knew I’d scored a point.

When I got home, Effie called the number. “Hello, Julian Tidwell speaking,” said the voice at the other end of the line. He pronounced his first name the Spanish way, Hoo-lee-ahn.

“Hello, Julian,” Effie said. I was almost starting to get used to having a timeshare on my own body. “Is now a good time to talk about your dot-com investments?”

“Let me lock the door, just to make sure,” Julian said. Footsteps and a click. “Okay. How can I help you?”

I had control of my mouth again, so I said, “I have some information that could get my bosses booted out of their New York headquarters. Permit violations, tax fraud.”

Julian whistled. “I see. Yes, that kind of move has been known to work. Believe it or not, the bandits managed to keep the brass out of Los Padres National Forest by denying them logging permits.”

“What do –“ I just barely managed to stop myself from saying ‘Andalites’ over an unsecured phone line. “What do they know about logging permits?”

“Enough, apparently. But listen. Their plan only worked because there were enough uncompromised city councilors. These days, it would never work. The city’s too far gone. So before you make a move, make sure your contact in media or government isn’t compromised.”

“And how can I be sure of that?”

“You can’t be one hundred percent. But there are two useful target groups – if you can get someone who fits in both groups, even better. First, there’s people who just went on an extended trip outside the country. The more remote the location, the better. There’s a couple of locations out of the US where they could have been compromised, but it’s not very likely. Second, people with disabilities. They’re not considered high-value targets.”

“They’ll go after kids but they draw the line at disabilities? Yeesh. Well, I know plenty of people in my line of work who go on long trips outside the country, so I think I’ll be fine. Thanks, pal.” I drummed my fingers on my desk. “Say, uh, you wouldn’t happen to know… I mean, I have family in Santa Barbara, and uh…”

“You can try me,” Julian said. “But I can’t be one hundred percent, like I said.”

“Last name Berenson,” I said urgently.

There was a long, long silence at the other end of the line. At the time, I thought he was just taking a while to think it over. Now I know he and Illim must have been internally screaming at each other, trying to decide what to tell me. Finally, he said, “As far as I know, there’s only one member of the Sharing with that last name. Tom Berenson.”

I choked on air. Tom. My nephew Tom, a strong brave boy who loved basketball and mooned over girls while trying to act cool about it. Another kid eaten up by the Yeerk Empire. But not my ex-wife. Not my girls.

Effie said on my behalf, “Thank you.”

“I’m sorry to have to give you the news,” Julian said.

I know why Julian Tidwell and Illim didn’t tell me the truth. If anyone had been listening in on that phone line, it would have been the end of everything. But I still haven’t forgiven them for it, the bastards.


6.

When people find out you were a Controller during the invasion, they always secretly want to know what the worst thing was that your Yeerk made you do. Even if they don’t say it, they’re thinking it. I didn’t have it nearly so bad as most Controllers, since my Yeerk was in the Peace Movement and all. But I still have an answer to that secret question. I wouldn’t exactly say that Effie made me do it, but I know the worst thing I had to do as a Controller.

One day, I was walking down the stairs to the Yeerk Pool when the woman ahead of me took something out of her bag and made like she was about to throw it down there. I figured it had to be a bomb or something, so I screamed and tackled her against the wall, and Effie didn’t stop me. The woman screamed and pushed back at me until we were both falling down the stairs. In the struggle, the thing she was holding exploded into sweet, spicy smelling flakes all around us. That was when I felt Effie seriously lose her cool. The other Controller and I ended up in a tangled, bruised heap at the bottom of the stairs, followed by a trail of soft white stuff. Effie took over my body and started frantically batting the stuff off my face, closing my eyes and mouth and not daring to breathe.

That was when one of the bevy of tough security guard guys started yelling just about the last thing I ever expected him to say: “OATMEAL ALERT! OATMEAL ALERT! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!”

Everyone started screaming and running. Someone got out an industrial firehose and blasted me and the crazy lady so hard it knocked the breath out of me. The woman tried to get out from under me, but I held on harder, because if she could send the Yeerk Pool into a panic over oatmeal, I did not want to know what other tricks she had up her sleeve. I haven’t kept up all my muscle from my gymnastics days, but I hit the gym enough that I could keep her down.

«Was that an oatmeal bomb she tried to throw? Why is everybody losing their minds about this?»

«Instant maple-and-ginger oatmeal contains some component that is a highly addictive and debilitating drug to Yeerks,» Effie said tersely. «It also gives us independence from Kandrona, which makes it a very destabilizing element to the Empire. Is any of it still on you?»

I spluttered and coughed water. «I don’t even think I have half my skin anymore!»

Finally, the deluge was over, and Sub-Visser Seventy-Two was standing over us, smiling. There was a glitter in his eye I didn’t like. He grabbed my forearm and hauled me to my feet. “I heard you were the one to subdue the terrorist,” he said. “You really are looking to redeem yourself to the Empire, aren’t you?”

My teeth were chattering from the cold water soaking my clothes, so hard even Effie couldn’t stop it. I managed to stammer out, “I do my best.”

“Well, now’s your chance.” Sub-Visser Seventy-Two took the Dracon beam out of the holster on his belt and handed it to me. “Kill this traitor, Efdram 618, and your failure with your last host will be forgiven.”

Effie automatically arranged my hand around the Dracon beam in the correct form. I looked down at the woman on the floor. She was curled up, shivering, her long blonde hair plastered to her face and back. She wore a navy skirt suit. She looked like Naomi, my ex-wife. Effie pointed the Dracon beam at her head. It shook as I trembled from the cold, and water dripped from my hair into my eyes.

«Effie,» I said. «I get the feeling that if you don’t shoot her, the Sub-Visser’s going to do something very, very bad to both of us.»

«I know.» Effie radiated pain and sorrow like the world’s most heartbroken headache. «I know he will. But I can’t, Dan. I can’t. I’m sorry!»

«All I have to do is press up with my thumb and push this button under my index finger, right? Is that why you put my hand like this?»

Effie said nothing. Maybe she felt like if she said yes, that would make her complicit, somehow. Well, we were all complicit in that moment, whether we liked it or not. It wasn’t exactly fair that Effie was more or less forcing me to kill a member of my own species when she could have taken the guilt out of my hands. But even so, I wrestled my shaking muscles under control, and fired.

TSEEEEEWWWW!

The Dracon beam must have been on its maximum setting, because there was no gore. The woman’s head simply vaporized out of existence, leaving only a scorch mark on the concrete over the stump of her neck. The Dracon beam clattered to the floor from my numb fingers.

Sub-Visser Seventy-Two didn’t congratulate me or thank me. He just picked up the Dracon beam, signaled to the security guys to take away the body, and said, “There are showers and changing rooms with fresh clothes behind the cafe,” before walking back up the stairs.

In the showers, I peeled off my soaked, ruined suit and cranked up the hot water. Effie and I usually try to pretend she isn’t there when I’m in the bathroom, but I broke our rule and said to her while I showered, «Enough is enough. You’re going to tell me what that was all about.»

«Or what?» Effie said coldly.

«Or nothing! I just killed a woman for you! Cut the crap, Effie!» I said, viciously rubbing shampoo from the dispenser into my scalp.

After a long pause, Effie said, «You’re not my first human host.»

«Well, that was damn obvious. You work my brain like a virtuoso.» I watched the suds flow down my body. There was no blood or guts from the woman’s murder, but I still felt a compulsive need to wash it out of myself.

«Before you, I had a host named Keisha,» Effie said. «I – I don’t know how much your human words apply to Yeerks, but I suppose you could say I loved her.»

I scrubbed myself down with more soap. «I’m sorry, but what does that mean?»

It was like one of those smash cuts in a movie, but in my whole body instead of on a big screen. It was like, bam, and I was Effie, braiding Keisha’s hair in the bathroom mirror. Bam, I was holding Keisha’s baby niece in my arms, singing her an alien song translated to a human throat. Bam, at a secret meeting of the Peace Movement in the back of a bar, trading handshakes and conspiratorial smiles. Bam, at an all-you-can-eat buffet table, discovering which foods Keisha liked more and which ones I liked more –

Bam, back in my murderous human body, my skin turning red and raw in the hot spray.

«You know,» I thought shakily, «if you manage to get past this whole Empire shtick, you guys could make a killing on Earth as an entertainment industry.»

«We were working on a plan to free the involuntary human hosts,» said Effie. «We in the Yeerk Peace Movement in New York. We had a sympathetic Taxxon working on a secret tunnel we could smuggle them through. The Yeerks in the Peace Movement, we were cautious, taking it slow, but our hosts were impatient. I guess Keisha just couldn’t wait anymore.»

I could finally feel how sad she was. Really feel it, not in that cold computer chip way. But it wasn’t in my body, either. It was one of those smash cuts again, this time to a totally alien sadness, a slug body retreating in on itself.

«One day, when I was feeding in the Pool, she grabbed a couple of kids and made a break for it, way ahead of our schedule. She was caught before she could even make it to the tunnel. Sub-Visser Seventy-Two killed her. Blew her head off with a Dracon beam. I never got a chance to see the body. To say goodbye. I was a disgrace. Clearly I should have known my host was on the verge of rebellion.»

«So he wanted to make you kill another rebellious host to prove your loyalty,» I thought. «That rat bastard.» I turned off the water and grabbed the towel from the hook. I caught a glimpse of myself in a steamed-up bathroom mirror. «I’m not a very good replacement for Keisha, am I. She was a good kid. I’m just a coked-up deadbeat dad.»

Effie didn’t speak for so long, I was nearly dry when she said, «It’s all right, Dan. I’m not a very good replacement for freedom.»


7.

When they ask Naomi in interviews how she felt when she learned her eldest daughter was secretly fighting an alien invasion, she likes to say that she was proud, and that Rachel inspired her to help the war effort in the Hork-Bajir valley in any way she could. I don’t get nearly so many interviews as Naomi, because my whole story about being a Peace Movement Controller complicates the narrative. But when they get around to asking me, I tell them I was terrified. By then I knew just how nasty the Yeerk Empire could get, and I was convinced she would be killed. This is a real downer in interviews, because the bitch of it is that I was right.

Naturally, I found out at the worst possible moment. It was bright and early, and I read through my inbox before my appearance on the morning news. One of the fresh local news items was a press release from the office of the Brooklyn Attorney General. He had announced an investigation into possible tax evasion and building violations by a community organization called the Sharing.

My body flooded with adrenaline, but Effie kept my face neutral. There were other Controllers in my workplace. We had to keep it together. I put the press release back in my inbox and chatted with the morning news anchors about what our plans were for the day, even while I felt like every hair on my body was standing on end. The ax had to drop sooner or later.

A production assistant tapped me on the shoulder. A young guy, fresh out of NYU, but behind his eyes, a high-ranking Yeerk named Mektor 172. I excused myself from the conversation and retreated into my office.

Mektor 172 opened with just about the worst thing he could have said. “Tell me about your host’s human family.”

My brain went into what the kids call a “blue screen of death” and Effie took over. “His father is deceased. His mother lives here in New York, but he has no personal contact with her. His sister lives in northern California with her husband and four children. His brother lives in Santa Barbara with his wife and two sons. His ex-wife Naomi also lives in Santa Barbara with his three daughters.”

It was a good thing Effie was talking. I would never have talked about my family like that, as if I were checking off items down a list.

Mektor 172 loomed over me, even though I had twenty years on his human host. “Tell me what you know about Jake and Rachel Berenson.”

«What?» I thought distantly. «Rachel and Jake? Why them? Are they trying to infest them? Effie, don’t help him!»

“Rachel is Dan’s eldest daughter,” my mouth said, inexorably. “She enjoys fashion. She is respected by her classmates. She was once a model student and talented gymnast, though her interest in both school and gymnastics has waned recently, and her grades have dropped. Her parents are worried about her, but there are no obvious signs that she indulges in human vices like drugs or illicit sex. Jake is Dan’s nephew. He is a serious boy with an interest in military history. His parents are also concerned with his poor academic performance.”

“Military history?” Mektor 172 said, eyes intent. “When did he begin to study this subject?”

“With all due respect, Mektor 172,” Effie said, “I believe there may be more important matters to discuss, such as the Attorney General –“

“I know about the Attorney General’s inquiries,” Mektor snapped. “We are sending people to his office as we speak. I will decide what is important to discuss. Tell me more about Jake and Rachel Berenson.”

“I do not know what to say,” Effie said. She couldn’t stop me from breaking out in a sweat, being more than nervous enough herself. “They are typical human children. Jake has a dog. Rachel loves Dan. She nearly moved to New York City with him when he got this job. But in the end, she decided to stay with her mother and sisters.”

“Why didn’t she move?” Mektor said. “Did she explain? Has she ever displayed unusual behavior?”

I could think of one time she’d behaved strangely, actually. There was that time she asked me to meet her at the airport to talk about something she couldn’t tell her mom about, and she changed from nervous and weepy to manic and enraged in just a few minutes, moody and strange enough that Naomi and I thought she might be on drugs. And she kept hinting about going out with a boy who was foreign…

Effie pulled up the memory with perfect clarity.

Strung out after days chasing leads on a hot story, I said to my distressed daughter on the phone, “Does it involve boys?”

“Yes, yes, it does! How did you guess?” Rachel burbled, sounding much ditzier than her normal self. “Actually three boys. I mean, four if you count this one guy who is like, you know, okay, not exactly a boy, if you know what I mean.”

A million horror stories from the news about men preying on high school girls flashed through my mind. “A man! A man? You’re going out with a man? Are you seeing a college kid?”

“No, Daddy. Duh! That’s not what I meant, it’s just that he’s ... foreign.”

“An alien?” I said, thinking of Aasif, very early in our relationship at that point, who liked to crack jokes about his ‘alien registration card.’

Rachel whispered into the phone, “How did you know?”

«Oh no,» I thought. «Oh, no, no, no, no!»

“No,” said Effie, firmly. “Only the typical levels of unusual behavior for a hormonal teenaged human.”

Mektor 172 grabbed me by my tie and snarled in my face. “There may be building inspectors coming to the Sharing headquarters, if we cannot infest enough of the Attorney General’s office. That means we will have to evacuate the Yeerk Pool and all personnel to the Washington headquarters. You had better be absolutely sure you don’t know anything more about Jake and Rachel Berenson, Efdram 618, or we will leave you here in New York to starve.”

“I don’t know what information you want!” Effie and I yelled, united in our fear and panic.

Mektor 172 let me go. He stood back, folded his arms, and glared at me. His host’s young face was splotchy red with anger. “We’ve just received an urgent message at headquarters about the so-called ‘Andalite bandits.’ It turns out that most of them aren’t Andalite bandits after all. The hardened guerrilla soldiers who have run rings around Visser Three are human children with stolen Andalite morphing technology. Two of those children are Jake and Rachel Berenson.”

I swayed backward. Effie caught me just in time and sat me down on the edge of my desk. Effie closed my eyes, and for a moment, my own fuzzy human version of Effie’s smash cuts played out in my brain. A series of nightmare scenarios. Rachel sneaking into the Yeerk Pool in a morph, hearing all the terrible screams. Rachel murdering a woman in the Yeerk Pool, like I’d had to do. Now that I know some of what Rachel actually did during the war, I can see how mild, almost cute, my worst-case scenarios were compared to the real thing. But I knew one thing for sure: now that the Empire knew who and what she was, they were going to kill her – or much, much worse.

«Dan,» Effie whispered. «I am so, so sorry.» And she did something she’d never done before: she let me relive a good memory. She pulled it up in that amazing detail Yeerks have when they bring things to life in your brain: Rachel doing a gymnastics routine, as beautiful and graceful as a young deer, stopping at the end to grin at me proudly as I cheered. Effie almost seemed to caress the memory, as if it made her happy too.

“What is going on?” Effie said to Mektor 172. “I have to assume they haven’t been captured, or you wouldn’t be questioning me.”

“They haven’t,” Mektor said through gritted teeth. “They were warned, somehow, that they had been discovered. Peace Movement traitors, perhaps. They all managed to disappear with their families to some unknown location. Only Jake Berenson’s family has been completely secured.”

Free. Naomi and my girls were free. For now. But they had my brother Steve. It was all so impossible. Unthinkable. How long could Rachel and a bunch of other kids hide their families from the Empire? Were they really working with the Peace Movement? If so, why had no one ever told me?

Mektor 172 was watching me closely. He said, “You really don’t know anything about this, do you, Efdram? I thought as much. I told Sub-Visser Seventy-Two that your host was not close with his family.” He pointed to the door. “Tell your human bosses that you have a family emergency. We need you on hand to assist with damage control with the Attorney General’s office. We need all available Controllers for a possible swift evacuation.”

«Tell him you want a transfer to Santa Barbara!» I screamed inside my head. «Tell him you want to help find your host’s daughter!»

«What possible good could that do, Dan?»

I grabbed for any weapon I could. «You were feeding in the Yeerk Pool when Keisha was killed. Imagine you could have done something to stop it. My daughter needs my help! She’s going to DIE!»

«I can do something to stop it,» Effie said, as solid as bedrock in my head. «You want to get yourself killed, or worse, trying to help Rachel. Well, this time, I can stop that from happening. No. You are not getting a transfer to Santa Barbara. You are going to stay here and be safe

I fought as hard as I could. I reached for the muscles of my throat and mouth. My lips opened and closed for just a second, but no sound came out. Then Effie locked it all down. «No!» I screamed silently. «No! You have to help me save her!»

Effie walked me over to my boss. She said, in a stilted and broken voice, “There’s been a family emergency. My ex-wife and my daughters have gone missing from their home. I need to go.”

«Dan,» said Effie, as I silently raged. «There is nothing you can do.»


8.

I was only sort of a voluntary host for the rest of the war. Effie and I got along just fine, except when I tried to talk to anyone about getting a transfer to Santa Barbara, at which point she would shut down my vocal apparatus. I am willing to admit, in retrospect, that there was a very good chance we would have gotten killed if we’d gone to Santa Barbara. But if there was any chance I could have helped the Animorphs, maybe saved Rachel’s life, then it would have been worth it.

As it was, we ended up transferring over to Washington. New York City lets a lot of building violations slip, but for tasty real estate like Park Slope, they came down like a ton of bricks. The Controller exec at my news corp got me a speedy transfer to a job in DC. That was four reporting jobs in four cities over three years – I would have gotten whiplash if it wasn’t for everything else that was going on. It was agony reporting the news coming from California like I didn’t know what it was really about, let me tell you.

The day open war broke out, I wasn’t in the newsroom. I was at the Sharing headquarters, doing emergency paperwork. The Washington branch of the Sharing struck out and captured as many politicians and CEOs as they could get their hands on with its limited security forces. It was pandemonium in HQ. Yeerks had to get assigned to new hosts as they came in. At one point Effie and I had to decide which Yeerk to put in the brain of a representative from Tennessee. If you’re reading this, buddy, I’m sorry.

I barely slept during that time. Every few minutes I heard a new rumor. The human military was under Yeerk control. No, the military was firing on Bug fighters. The Animorphs had the Blade Ship. No, a splinter Empire faction had the Blade ship. All the while, I still had to go to work and act all skeptical, like everything was getting blown out of proportion, while my colleagues were freaking out about terrorism.

And then, while the newsroom was trying to cope with reports of General Doubleday’s National Guard units getting obliterated by UFOs armed with laser cannons, Mektor 172 rounded up all the Controllers in my workplace. He closed the office door and said flatly, “Visser One has been captured. We’ve received an order from the Pool Ship to surrender to joint human-Andalite forces.”

The Yeerk controlling an exec at the media company completely lost it. “No! They’ll kill us all! We can’t surrender! We have to defend the Pool no matter what!”

Mektor 172 clenched and unclenched his host’s jaw. “The order claims there is an amnesty agreement. The Andalites will give us the morphing power for the duration needed to choose a new form and take its shape permanently.”

“And you believe that they’ll honor such a promise? They will never allow us to use their precious morphing technology!”

“I refuse to become some Earth animal! I am a Yeerk and I will always be a Yeerk!”

«Effie?» I thought. I could feel her swirling fear and confusion. «What do you want to do? Do you think this offer from the Andalites is real?»

«I don’t know if I believe that it is,» Effie said. «But whatever future awaits my people, I know it will need to have the Yeerk Peace Movement leading us forward.» And she turned around and walked me out of the office, ignoring the argument as it got louder and louder. Two of the Controllers followed us all the way back to the nuclear bunker turned Yeerk Pool that was the headquarters of the Yeerk Empire in DC.

It was deadly quiet down there, especially in the voluntary area, where willing collaborators with the Empire silently faced up to the fact that they’d chosen the wrong side. There were still involuntary hosts in cages around the Pool. I calmly began to unlock them. When a security guard pointed a Dracon beam at me, Effie looked him in the eye and said, “We’re surrendering. This is what surrender means. Help me with the cages, then get out of that host body.”

The security guard glared and didn’t help. When the involuntary hosts staggered out of the cages, I ushered them over to the voluntary area to sit down on comfortable chairs and have a drink of water. They thanked me, some of them, clutching at the lapels of my suit jacket and weeping. But when they were all out of their cages, and I went back to the Pool to kneel on the pier, I saw them whisper among themselves in confusion: was that a Yeerk who just freed us?

«I won’t let them hurt you, Effie,» I promised. «Don’t be scared. I won’t let them break their promise.»

She was still so, so afraid. But she let me go, and disappeared into the Pool with a splash. I waited near the stairs down to the bunker, all by myself. No one down there – not the Yeerks who’d stayed in their host bodies, not the voluntaries who’d thrown in with the Empire, not the involuntaries who I’d let out of their cages – wanted me to come anywhere near them.

When the Andalites stormed the bunker, the remaining Controllers fought back, the involuntaries cheered as the Andalites crushed them, and the other voluntaries watched with fear and loathing. When the tiny battle was over, the Andalites stood with their Shredders pointed at the Pool. I took a deep breath, found some place I’d carved out inside myself that was beyond fear, and stepped in between them and the Pool.

The Shredders pointed at me. There were thought-speech shouts for me to get out of the way. Tears were stinging down my face. “You promised them amnesty. The only reason why you fought five Controllers instead of fifty is because the Yeerks thought you might give them a way out.”

“He’s a collaborator!” shouted one of the people I’d freed from the cages.

Another shout. “Don’t listen to him! Kill those filthy slugs!”

The other voluntaries stood up and rounded on the involuntaries. It was about to be chaos again. I looked at one of the Andalites. I wasn’t sure whether to focus on the main eyes or stalk eyes. I noticed him because he had some kind of alien flower tucked into the bandolier around his torso. I looked down at the flower, then back up. “Don’t you want the killing to be over?”

The Andalite stiffened, stared at me, then slowly lowered his Shredder. «We must secure the humans for a full Yeerk feeding cycle,» he said to the other Andalites. «Some of them could still be Controllers. Leave the Pool to the War-Prince.»

The Andalites set up a perimeter around the bunker and settled in for three days of observation. They had to put down a few fights between voluntaries and involuntaries, and a couple of each who tried to take a swipe at me, but had their Shredders set on stun. People started to claim chairs and carpeted areas of the floor for rest. I stayed next to the Pool, weirdly wishing I could talk to Effie, the only person down there who could have understood me.

The soldier with the flower in his bandolier came up to me. Even with the flower, he scared me. If you’re a Taxxon reading this and you’ve never met an Andalite, I bet even you would think twice before trying to eat this guy. Still, a journalist to the last, I had to ask: “I hope this isn’t a rude question, but what’s that flower all about?”

«It is a wish-flower,» the Andalite said, pointing a stalk-eye down at it. «It represents the child my husband is pouching at home.»

That was so much new alien information for my brain to process that for once I was left with nothing to say.

«You may be a Yeerk sympathizer, but you are nonetheless a brave human,» he said. «I am Saylath-Orrill-Elfarad. What is your name?»

“Dan Berenson,” I said, mouth dry from all that alien attention focused on me.

Saylath had had one stalk eye on me, the other one scanning around, and his main eyes on the Pool. Suddenly, he shifted so that his main eyes were on me and his stalk eyes were scanning. «How do your human names work? If two humans share a second name, is that an indicator of a family relationship?»

Confused, I said, “Usually, yeah. Though some family names are so common that it doesn’t really mean anything.”

«Then perhaps this is a coincidence that means nothing,» Saylath said, «but I will ask you this: are you any relation of Rachel Berenson?»

My heart beat a powerful drum that shook my whole body. I was used to Effie being there to stop my body from all these disturbing, useless reactions. But now there was no alien thermostat to regulate me. My body ran wild, screaming what it knew. “Yes,” I whispered. “She’s my daughter.”

Saylath scuffed his forehoof along the concrete floor. «I should not be the one to give you this news, but my honor as a warrior and a soon-to-be father tells me I must. Dan Berenson, your daughter was a soldier in the war against Yeerk evil. Today she died in the service of honor, defending freedom.»

My body was suddenly no longer a machine for living, but for grieving. It collapsed. Saylath wrapped his powerful tail around me to stop me falling to the floor. I sagged against his torso, terrible sounds sawing out of my chest. As I wept into his fur, his wish-flower tickled my cheek.

For most people, that was the day the world was saved. For me, it was the day my world ended.


Epilogue

After the war, I moved back to Santa Barbara. I may not have had a great track record as a dad or a brother, but my family needed all the help it could get. At least for now, Naomi, Steve, Jean, and I, plus the kids we had left, are all living together in a house outside the blast zone. You’d think Naomi and I wouldn’t be able to live under the same roof as Jake, but honestly, we’re all having such a hard time living with ourselves and what we did during the war that living with Jake hardly rates on the scale.

Cassie comes to visit a lot. But there was one particular day when she invited me, and only me, out for a coffee. When the barista saw Cassie, his eyes widened, and he insisted our drinks were on the house. I ordered a cappuccino, and she ordered a double espresso, which she drank as easily as if it were water. She looked at me over her cup and said, “You were part of the Yeerk Peace Movement.”

I choked on my cappuccino. Most people didn’t know the Yeerk Peace Movement existed, and of those who did, a lot of them thought it was a story the Yeerks made up after the war to drum up pity. “So it’s true? You guys worked with them?”

“We did,” Cassie said. “I was friends with a Yeerk. Aftran 942.”

I coughed and sprayed coffee everywhere. Cassie mopped up the table while I thumped my chest. I gasped, “Aftran 942?! She’s an absolute legend of the Peace Movement!”

Cassie went on as if I hadn’t spoken. “I got back in touch with Aftran after the war. She knows where Effie is.”

I froze. It was as if someone had plucked a string inside my chest, and my whole body was thrumming on a single note. “Where is she?”

“Right now?” Cassie drank her espresso and smiled. “A few miles off the coast. I’m going to visit Aftran out there this weekend, if you want to come along.”

A whale. She was a whale, the form most of the Yeerks on Earth had chosen. “I can’t, um.” I made a swimming motion with my hand. “Morph dolphin or anything.”

“Dan, you’re not the only one who wants to go talk to the Yeerk nothlits. Some of them are journalists, like you. I’m not going to morph. I have a friend with a boat who’s taking a group of us out. Do you want to come?”

“Yes,” I said. “I do.”


I surprised Cassie at the marina on Sunday. She smiled and said, “Jordan! Sara! I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Mom didn’t want us to go,” Sara said, “but I said it wasn’t fair and I want to meet a nice Yeerk who’s a whale now.”

“And I said you’d be there and you wouldn’t let anything bad happen to them,” I told Cassie.

“Of course,” Cassie said solemnly to the girls. “If one of you falls over the side, I’ll just turn into a dolphin and bring you back.”

Sara got a calculating look on her face, and Jordan swatted her on the shoulder and said, “If you’re even thinking about jumping over on purpose so Cassie’ll turn into a dolphin and save you, don’t.”

“I wasn’t!” Sara protested.

A muscular woman with a weather-beaten tan came down the dock. Cassie gestured to her and said, “This is our skipper, Kristen. She goes out regularly in Santa Barbara Harbor to talk to her Yeerk.”

I shook her hand. “Were you part of the Peace Movement too?”

“No. My Yeerk was a real –“ Kristen glanced at Jordan and Sara. “A real nasty piece of work. But I talk to her anyway. Just to keep her updated on how the last of the Yeerk Empire is falling apart, how awesome my life is without her in my head, that kind of thing.” She grinned like a shark.

She wasn’t the only involuntary host who came along. Two more came to see their Yeerks as whales, just so they could feel sure they could never infest anyone again. There was a reporter, too, who asked me for an interview, which I declined. I didn’t want my brain in journalism mode, not today.

It wasn’t a nice day for a boat ride. It was cool and drizzly, and we all had to tighten our raincoat hoods around our faces. But when we got out far enough, even through the rain, we could see the whales as they surfaced for breath.

If you’re a Taxxon reading this and you don’t know what a whale is - believe me, they’re impressive. Bigger than anything. For a minute all we could do was stare.

Kristen passed out microphones hooked up to heavy boxes with shoulder straps. Cassie explained, “Whales can’t hear things out of the water so well. This is a prototype I got from a hardware company that’s adapting Andalite technology to turn speech into thought-speech. Just turn on the microphone and point the antenna on the box toward the whale you want to talk to.”

We spread out to different parts of the yacht to talk to the Yeerk-whales. I stayed with Cassie, and two whales came up to our side of the boat, as close as they could without rocking it too much. They turned on their sides to look at us with their beady black eyes.

“Aftran!” Cassie shouted into her microphone, waving her arm wildly. One of the whales sent up a jet of water from her blowhole, and Cassie grinned.

«Dan?» said a heart-stoppingly familiar voice. «Is that you?»

I laughed. “Effie! You don’t sound like a computer chip anymore!” Then I remembered that she couldn’t hear everything I said anymore, and said it again through the microphone.

The converter box wasn’t doing anything to my voice as far as I could tell, but Effie must have heard me, because she said, «It helps that I’m not in your head anymore. But I’ve also learned a few things since I became a whale.»

“Like what? How to have feelings again?” I teased.

She swam a circle around the other whale – Aftran – then said, very simply, «Yes, I have,» which sent me on a line of internal speculation about lesbian space whales that even a seasoned journalist such as myself really didn’t need to wonder about. Then she said, «Say, are those your children?»

My throat clenched like a vise. I watched Jordan and Sara look over the railing at the whales and couldn’t say a single thing.

«I’m sorry. That was insensitive. I know about Rachel. I meant to say…» Her thought-speech changed. «Are you Jordan and Sara?»

Jordan gasped. Sara shrieked and jumped back, clutching at my arm. I looked down at them. “Do you want to talk to Effie?”

Sara shook her head mutely. Jordan said, “Um. She’s kind of scary.”

I said into the microphone, “Yes, they are.”

«I can just barely see them, but hello! How’s your hundred-meter dash, Jordan?»

Sara yelped. “How does she know Jordan does track!”

“She was in Dad’s head, stupid,” Jordan said. “She knows everything he does.”

“She got her time down to fifteen seconds,” I said into the microphone.

«Congratulations, Jordan!» said Effie, and she blew a spout of water from her blowhole, making the girls laugh in surprise.

“Can I have the microphone, Dad?” Sara said. I passed it to her and showed her how to use it. She held it up to her face and said, “What’s my dad’s brain like?”

«Full of love for his daughters,» Effie said, which was maybe a little overly generous of her, but it made Sara smile.

Jordan noticed that Cassie was starting to morph dolphin and plucked Sara’s sleeve. “Look!” They ran over to watch her go over the edge and transform mid-fall like a magical mermaid.

Effie said to me, «Do you forgive me, Dan?»

I held up the microphone to my mouth and spoke quietly so Jordan and Sara wouldn’t hear. “For infesting me? Of course. You made the best of a bad job.” My face went hot and prickly with tears that wouldn’t fall. “But for stopping me from going back to Santa Barbara to help? No, Effie. I don’t think I can ever forgive you for that.”

«And I can’t ever regret it,» Effie said. «Not when it means you’re alive to be a father to Jordan and Sara.»

“I’m not so great a dad as all that,” I said.

«Ask them if they’re happy you’re here with them,» Effie said. «See what they think.»

“Look, Dad!” Sara shouted. “Look at Cassie!”

I edged along the railing so I was next to her and looked down. A dolphin was swimming circles around the Aftran-whale, leaping in and out of the water with a chittering dolphin laugh.

“Maybe some of it was fun,” Jordan said quietly. I looked over at her. She was looking down at Cassie with a strange look on her face. “For Rachel, I mean. Being an Animorph. Maybe it wasn’t all scary and bad. You think some of it was good?”

I thought about my own side of the war, thousands of miles away, fought with paranoia and paperwork in offices and bunkers, so different from Rachel’s war. Yet on my side of the war, there were good things. Making friends with Effie. Bringing down the New York branch of the Sharing. Learning the meaning of a wish-flower.

“Yeah,” I said. “I think she got to see some good things, too.”