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CASSIE

My name is Cassie, but no-one calls me that anymore.

No-one's called me that for a long time. Not even Niss.

NISS 268

My name is Niss 268. I was born an ordinary Yeerk. I wasn't a rebel. I dreamed of having a host, of mastering it, Controlling it, of the superior senses that would be available to me. I worked hard to become a suitable candidate, and my first host was a Taxxon. A Taxxon would not be any Yeerk's choice for a first host – they are difficult to control and liable to be eaten – but I trained as a pilot and explosives specialist and worked hard to advance. My work was exciting. I loved using all the senses available to me as a pilot, and the fine physical work required of an explosives expert. I loved using my host body.

During the first invasion of Earth, I was promoted and offered a human host. I was thrilled. Human hands are good at detail work, explosives, piloting; human senses are good; and the invasion of Earth was expected to be over shortly. In the end, of course, the Animorphs – what we had thought were Andalite bandits – were more trouble than expected, and I spent a few years in this host.

Elisha was my human host. She worked in the US Air Force, so I could obtain valuable information for Visser Three. It was so different being Elisha than being the Taxxon. Not just because human bodies are so different – I had to get to know Elisha, use her, pretend to be her to her boss, her family, her husband.

And then they caught the Animorphs, and Cassie became my host, and we won the war, and everything changed.

Now look where we are.

CASSIE

I remember being Cassie. She was cute, I guess. Naive. Sweet. Idealistic. In love with Jake. And he loved her, too. Looking back, I can see that. He liked protecting her. Of course, Jake liked protecting anyone. But Cassie, the Cassie I was then, was... vulnerable. Easy to hurt, because she cared too much, worried too much. Jake wanted to protect her from that. Idiot.

Looks like he hasn't changed much, because he's here in front of us now. Why?, he's asking. How? If you really don't remember, Jake, we'll tell you.

People mostly call us Cass now.

NISS 268

I was very young. She wasn't my first host, but she was a great honour. One of the famed Animorphs, a compact, agile human body with morphing capabilities – the perfect host. And this one was rumoured to be a Yeerk sympathiser. Of course, the Yeerks she had supposedly sympathised with were traitorous slugs like Aftran 942, but I thought she would be an easy mark. I daydreamed idly of mastering her immediately, using her talents to advance, perhaps reaching Visser rank – Visser Three, after all, had made good use of his morphing ability.

But you never really know what your relationship with your host is going to be like until you're actually mastering their brain, finding out their inner thoughts, dreams... fantasies.

CASSIE

Oh, god, oh, god, please, I thought, and shuddered to hear myself thinking, fought to tamp down my screaming. I couldn't give it – her, I knew she was a her, I didn't know how I knew – the satisfaction of hearing how much I hated what she was doing to me, had been doing to me, for three weeks.

<Oh, please,> she said, and I felt sick. <I can hear that, and I can hear that. You may as well give up now, Cassie. I can hear everything.

I was alone in the barn, handling a falcon my Dad and I had nursed back from a broken wing. She was ready to be let go, and today was a perfect day for flying, hot and a little breezy. I picked the falcon's cage up and took her outside, opening the cage door and setting it down a little ways away. Then I walked back to the barn door and leaned against it, trying to stay as still as a could, watching her.

I watched until she flew away.

I was back on my bed. Trapped in my own body. Unable to fly away.

<Aww, it's so sweet! And so allegorical.>

She was mocking me. I was angry, abruptly helplessly furious. <Stay out of my memories, Yeerk!>

<No. No, I don't think I will. Oh, how about this one?>

Rachel, Marco, Ax, Erek and I were sitting on a crazily tall, crazily coloured skyscraper on an alien world, terrified out of our wits, exhausted from the battle we'd just been through, a battle in which we'd barely damaged the enemy, a battle in which maybe Jake had died. We weren't sure because it had been such a disaster. Someone thought he'd gone over the edge of the very tall skyscraper with a Howler. We were miserable, far from home, and we didn't have our leader. And to top it all off, we were surrounded by the most annoying life-form in the universe – Iskoort.

The Iskoort were why we were here, I remembered. The Ellimist thought they were important. I thought they were important. The Iskoort might have been the solution I'd been looking for, the way to offer the Yeerks a real existence without stealing other people's bodies. See, we thought the Iskoort might have been just like the Yeerks, a long time ago. The Isk, the body; the Yoort, the parasite. But the Yoort had changed. They'd created artificial hosts for themselves and made themselves dependent on them. Symbiotes, not parasites. But -

- and then everyone else was looking up, and I looked up, and there was Jake. Alive. Looking fine. Before I knew what I was doing, I was up and running towards him, and my arms were around his neck, and we were kissing, and kissing.

And kissing. And he didn't just look fine... He slid his hands down my back, and

<That's not how it went, Yeerk.>

There was a sensation like smirking. <But it could have, couldn't it? And you've thought about it. Dreamed about it... I can make it seem real, Cassie.>

I shivered and pressed closer to him, felt him against my breasts and belly and thighs. He moved his hands to my waist and tucked his fingers underneath my shirt and I gasped and pulled back because Rachel and Marco and Ax, but we weren't in an Iskoort skyscraper anymore, we were in my room, and I was lying on my bed and Jake was above me and he pressed his mouth to mine and slid his tongue into my mouth and I knew it wasn't real but I almost, almost didn't care.

NISS 268

That moment was when it started. You don't expect to find anything useful in your host's memories. Exciting, erotic if you like that sort of thing, amusing, mostly boring. But the memory of the Iskoort – it shocked me. Could it be true? Could it really work? I didn't know. I wanted to. I didn't want to. The Yeerk Empire has been based on conquest, on the need to drive out and subjugate – but mostly the Yeerk Empire has been driven by desire. The desire to taste, to touch, to see, to smell, to hear. To achieve that – to give it to every Yeerk, no matter what their position was, no matter what the Kandrona schedule might be, no matter how many hosts were available – it would be incredible. But we would never be the same again.

CASSIE

Something had changed. I didn't know what, but for nearly a month the Yeerk's tactic had mostly been humiliation and browbeating. Then, all of a sudden, it's like she had a change of heart. Not much of one – I still couldn't walk, or talk, or breathe, or blink, or smile, or laugh, or pet an animal, or kiss my mom – but she wasn't torturing me anymore, mentally at least. She wasn't picturing me screaming in pain. She wasn't calling me a human idiot or a primitive.

Instead, she seemed to be trying to date me. For a given value of date.

She'd go and work in the barn, perfectly normally, just like I used to – which was weird because it was around this time that the Yeerk invasion started to become public and serious. In a few weeks it would all be over, and looking back I'm proud of that: the Animorphs caused the first stages of the Yeerk invasion a lot of trouble. It shows you what a small, dedicated group can do, if they're prepared to pay the costs.

Anyway. She'd work with the animals, ask my advice – not that she needed to, because she had access to everything I knew. She'd read my favourite books for book reports that were due and make time to watch my favourite shows – this was before the schools closed down and television became all Yeerk High Command propaganda, all the time. She'd take time to do things that I hadn't done for months, because of the war. I know she was getting something out of it too – sensation, the thing Yeerks crave above everything. Entertainment. Experiences like the smell and feel of a blackcurrant massage bar in the shower. But I could feel it too.

And she stayed out of my memories, at least for the most part.

What she didn't stay out of were my fantasies. Every night she'd rifle through them and come up with something. But she put a different spin on them, a different sense of – well. I wasn't very experienced, before. I didn't know what things felt like. But Niss had had other human hosts, adults. She was experienced.

This was an old fantasy, from when I was a bit younger, when I hero-worshipped Rachel's confidence, looks, grace, and take-no-prisoners attitude. I was in Rachel's room. A sleepover, I guess, except it was just the two of us and we were both too old to call it that. But Rachel had this huge bed and we used to hang out on it, watch movies, and sometimes it'd get too late to drive home so I'd just stay, sleep in her bed. There was plenty of room, it was never like that, except tonight Rachel rolled over and pressed her mouth to mine, hard and sweet and demanding. I opened my mouth to her straight away, kissed her back. She climbed onto me, dragging my arms up above my head, pinned me down and kissed me again. I melted beneath her. My skin prickled with heat. She pressed my wrists to the headboard and dragged her mouth down my cheek to my ear.

"Leave them there," she said, and sat up straddling me. She grabbed the hem of her so-chic little nightgown and yanked it over her head (naturally not mussing her perfect blonde hair) and I clenched my hands, desperately wanting to reach out and touch her. She grinned down at me with a wild light in her eyes, and slid her hands under the oversized t-shirt I was sleeping in, pulling it over my head and tangling it around my wrists. She kissed me again, one hand going to my breasts and pinching a nipple gently. I arched up into her and she laughed against my mouth and slipped her other hand between my legs.

Women. Men. A lot of Jake which didn't surprise me, a lot of Rachel which kind of did. I guess, like everyone else, Rachel's supermodel looks were too much for her. Occasionally, there was a woman I didn't recognise, maybe 20, skinny and kind of hard-looking, but as gorgeous as Rachel. She wore her hair short and unstraightened, in a fuzzy black halo around her head, and I thought maybe she was Niss' previous host. That maybe she was what Niss looked like in her head. I wondered what her name was. I wondered how she'd feel about Niss using her image to do what she was doing. I wondered if Niss thought of herself as looking like me, now: short, stocky Cassie.

I know. You're thinking: why didn't you freak out about this, Cassie? I guess I thought it was an opportunity. A chance to reach out to Niss. She might just be doing it for the experiences, for fun, to drive me crazy, to manipulate me. But if she'd decided she wanted to get on my good side, there must be a reason for that. I could take advantage of that reason, whatever it was, try to convince her to let me go.

NISS 268

It was crazy, what I was doing. Trying to seduce my host. Trying to get her to like me. Who cared if a host liked you? They still had to do what they were told. If anyone found out what I was doing (but how could they?) I'd be the laughingstock of the planet. Of the sector. I could be accused of being a sympathiser.

And the accusations would have been correct. I was starting to sympathise with Cassie. I wanted her to like me, not just to make it easier to control her. I wanted her forgiveness, I wanted to work together with her. As the invasion progressed faster and faster, I felt her grief at the destruction of Earth's biodiversity, for every animal and bird and insect she would never see again; I felt her memories of working with animals, playing with them, and felt that they were beautiful. The destruction began to seem stupid to me. I wanted Cassie to be happy.

I really was crazy. Too late to think so now, I suppose.

CASSIE

In a way, I guess I was right when I thought it was an opportunity. We became... close. We started to communicate. Niss started to listen to me. I think by this point she actually cared about me, and I, well, Niss was the only person in the whole world who talked to me. Who could talk to me. The situation wasn't that different for her. Yeerks don't really talk, for the most part. They don't have friends. They can't show weaknesses, so they can't talk about their problems.

So we talked. She wasn't happy, I guess. Then we started to hear about the EF. The Evolutionary Front. I said, yes. I knew it was the way, the only way. I'd met the Iskoort. She had my memories. She believed me. We joined them.

CASS

So that's how it happened, Jake. That's how we're here. And yeah, we're not the Cassie you remember. How could we be? There are more than one of us now. We may not exactly be flying free, but we're using what we have. We're doing what we can. We can make a difference, Jake, just like we used to when we were the Animorphs.

And anyway. There aren't any animals anymore. No farms. No wildlife shelters.

There's nothing else we know how to do anymore.