My name is Jake.
I can't tell you my last name. Or where I live, or the name of my school, or anything that might let you know who I am. Because then they might find us. The Yeerks. The aliens.
Aliens. It still seems ridiculous to me. I mean, last week all I worried about was whether I would make the basketball team like my brother. Whether he would be proud of me. Now…now me and my friends are the only thing that stands between the world and an invasion of parasitic slugs, and my brother Tom….
My brother Tom is one of them. Was taken by one, I should say. Because Tom would never have let them take over his mind. He went down fighting. Was still fighting when we saw him in the cages. The Yeerks take over your body, you see. They crawl into your brain and then it's not yours anymore.
I couldn't save him.
And there was someone else I couldn't save. And it was even worse because, unlike my brother, it was my fault that my friend Tobias was trapped. The only power we have against them is that we can change into any animal we choose. That and the fact that they don't know who we are. But this morphing power comes with a price—if we stay in animal form longer than two hours, we'll never be able to change back. Tobias stayed too long as a hawk, and I was the one who had sent him to keep lookout as we went into the Yeerk pool. The others—my best friend Marco, my cousin Rachel, her best friend Cassie, and Tobias, who had started hanging around me after I stopped bullies from flushing his head in the toilet—all looked up to me. They saw me as a leader. I don't know why. I mean, I'm just a kid. A stupid kid who didn't even realize his brother wasn't his brother anymore and who got his friend stuck in the body of a bird for life. If it wasn't for me, Tobias would never have even gone through that construction site with us. He didn't know the others the way he knew me. Didn't have any reason to walk home with them. If he hadn't known me, he would still be fine. Normal, or as normal as Tobias had ever been, with his screwed-up family. Some leader I am.
But for some reason, they all seemed to believe it was true. They looked at me to see what I would say, waited for me to speak before they would decide what to do. Before all this happened, I might have thought that was pretty cool. Who doesn't want everyone to listen to them, after all, especially if, like me, you've spent your entire life living in your older brother's shadow? Now I'm just scared. When will I make another mistake like the one that cost Tobias the chance at a human life? Will I get one of my friends killed for listening to me?
But I know one thing for sure: this means I have to go on. Up until now, we've all been ambivalent about continuing to fight against the Yeerks. I'm sure I speak for everyone, all us Animorphs, when I say we wish it would all just go away. Be some crazy dream I had, or maybe a delusion we all had. But I remember the vastness, the horror of the Yeerk pool, and I know it isn't going to go away unless we fight. Maybe not even then. I still don't know if it will be enough for Marco to stay in the fight. He's too worried about what would happen to his dad if he died. But I know I can't stop fighting. I owe that much to Tobias, at least—I can't let his sacrifice be for nothing. Not that I would want to stop, anyway, until I've found a way to free my brother.
Tobias. I'm going to see him right now, carrying a Tupperware container filled with leftover roast beef, mashed potatoes, and corn. I hope the food still tastes good to him in his hawk's body. If I didn't save table scraps for him, he'd be forced to hunt live prey like a real animal. The thought gives me the shivers. I'm trying to make his life as easy as I possibly can, so to spare him that, I bring leftovers and put them on the windowsill in the attic. I feel like I kind of have to do it, since it's my fault he was trapped. Usually I just leave the food and he comes by later to get it, but this time I wait. I want to talk to him. For some reason, Tobias makes me feel more sure. He was the only one of the five of us who never questioned that we had to fight. He's not headstrong and reckless like Rachel, but he's been unwavering. I may be the so-called leader, but it's Tobias who had the strength. I wish I had known that about him when he was still human, so we could have been real friends. I wish I could have known who he truly was, so I could have admired him instead of feeling pity.
I admire him now.
Tobias shows up about fifteen minutes after I arrive with the food. "Hey," I say, striving for casual familiarity with the hawk who is perched on my windowsill. I wonder if it will ever not be weird to have a conversation with a bird.
(Hey.) He's not really talking, of course, but when we're in morph, we can use thought-speech to communicate. I don't know how much worse it would be for Tobias otherwise.
I don't know what else to say. Should I ask him how his night went? If he'd killed any nice mice lately? What could anyone say to a human trapped as a bird? I decide on "How's it going?" That should be pretty safe.
Birds can't smile, but I imagine I hear a smile in his voice. (Not bad. There are awesome thermals today. Have you picked a bird morph yet? You'll love the thermals when you do.)
"No. I haven't yet." Flying does seem like it would be amazing, but seeing Tobias stuck like this makes me nervous. Especially since he had loved his hawk morph so much. There's a part of me that wonders if he'd trapped himself on purpose. I decide never to ask. I change the subject. "I brought you some roast beef. My mom's is really good."
Tobias swoops down and begins nibbling at the food. (Yeah. Thanks.) But he doesn't seem very enthusiastic. I wonder if the food tastes different to him now.
We don't say anything for a while after that, and I feel bad about staying. What kind of comfort was I looking for from someone who was even worse off than I was? He had so much to adjust to. I should leave him alone to work it out—there was nothing else I could do.
(Hey, Jake?) Tobias says as I get up to go.
(I just wanted you to know. We're doing the right thing. I mean…you are.)
For some reason I feel lighter. "I know, Tobias." But I don't know. I don't know that I did the right thing at all.
Tobias seems to understand what I meant. (It's tough, I'm not gonna lie. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a nightmare and haven't woken up. But I'm glad I walked home with you guys that night.)
If I'd been a little kid, I might have started to cry right then. But I'm not, so I just stared at the hawk. "I'm glad you're with us too. Tobias, I'm…"
He cuts me off before I can apologize. (I gotta go. Just know that whatever you guys do, I'll have your back.) And he flies off, the roast beef barely touched.
I gather up the container and walk for a while. I watch the skies, feeling much lighter now that I know there's someone there looking out for me. Maybe with his help, I might manage not to screw this up.