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Sancho Panza

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«Oh no,» said Janath 1012 as the mysterious light in the sky approached the construction site. «Oh, shit. That's an Andalite fighter.»

«Oh, good,» I said brightly. «Let's go toward it and see if it kills us.»

«Please don't say things like that,» Janath pleaded. «I've asked you to stop saying things like that.»

«Why? Because it hurts your little slug feelings? I bet it hurts my mom's feelings worse when Visser One makes her kill people.» I pictured Andalite warriors streaming out of the ship and vaporizing me with their Shredders. 

"Hey, guys?" Janath said with my mouth. "Maybe we should turn back. What there's Klingons in there or something? I don't wanna risk it."

«Or maybe you should go toward it,» I mused. «After all, if it turns out you could have stopped some Andalite warriors and you ran away instead, won't you get in trouble?»

"Come on , Marco," Jake said, tugging on my shoulder. "It's an alien ship."

«Or maybe,» I went on, «the Andalites will tell them about the war and the Yeerks, and then they'll figure out your little secret, and they'll force you out of me, and then your little ethical dilemma about whether to keep enslaving a poor human kid will be solved for  you.»

Somehow, of all the jabs I'd taken at my Yeerk, that was the one that convinced him. "Okay," he said to Jake. "Fine. But we'd better get some proof that this really happened. We're gonna be famous!"

It was a little sad how excited the others were, especially that weird kid Tobias. They thought it would be cool to meet aliens. Once upon a time, I would have thought it was cool, too. Funny how that turned out.

Yeah. No kidding. Everyone else's enthusiasm went down the toilet pretty fast when the Andalite said that the Yeerks had come to destroy them.

I could feel how much Janath hated the Andalite. How he was terrified and repelled by him. That made me like him, of course. And the way he warned everyone about Yeerks taking over humans. I'd pretty much accepted by that point that no one was ever going to figure out I'd been taken over by an alien. Now I actually had a chance. As long as my friends managed not to get caught. That was on Janath, my weirdo Yeerk who claimed to feel guilty about infesting me.

«I won't turn in your friends,» Janath said, even though his promises to me were worth zilch, since he could go back on them any time he wanted.

«Go into my ship,» the Andalite said. «You will see a small box, very plain. Bring it to me. Quickly!»

«Holy shit ,» I said, as Jake, because of course it was Jake, went into the ship to get the cube. «Is he really going to give us the morphing power? You sure about not turning us in? You'd be an idiot not to.»

«If I wanted to become a Visser, then you're right. I would be an idiot not to.»

«Then what do you want?» I raged. This was beyond ridiculous. Janath had his mortal enemy, an Andalite, right in front of him, and he was still playing the part of me. What the hell was he doing?

«I want to be free,» Janath said quietly. «Killing this Andalite wouldn't help, even if I could manage it. Becoming a Visser would only trap me further.»

«Funny. That's the same thing I want. But a certain Yeerk I could name won't let that happen!»

Janath didn't answer. He pressed my hand to the morphing cube. I played out the scenario in my head of trying to escape from my cage at the Yeerk pool. But everyone would see me morph, and they'd Dracon me before I could even finish. 

«Go now. Run!» said the Andalite. «Visser Three is here. He is the most deadly of your enemies. Of all Yeerks, he alone has the power to morph. The same power that you now have. Now run!»

He didn't have to tell Janath twice. Morphing wasn't the most dangerous thing about Visser Three. It was that he was crazy, bloodthirsty, and the power within the Visserarchy to do whatever the hell he wanted. He hid with the other kids, the only one who really knew just how much trouble we were all in.

And then Visser Three greeted him as Prince Elfangor , like an old friend, and Janath had a bit of a freakout. Jake had to grab onto to me to keep Janath from thrashing around. Even I recognized that name. The Yeerks talked about him like the boogeyman. «What's wrong, Janath? Scared Beast Elfangor is gonna get you?» 

I regretted that taunt as soon as I made it. Elfangor wasn't actually a boogeyman. He was a mortal being. And Visser Three ate him. Not that that gave Janath any satisfaction, either.

Jake called after we got home. "Are you okay?" he said.

" Duh I'm not okay," Janath said, because it was exactly what I would have said.

"Maybe it was all some kind of nightmare," Jake said, "and we'll forget it in the morning."

"No," Janath said, surprising me, again. "I don't think it was. I can't laugh this off, Jake. This is for real."

«Why did you say that?» I said to Janath, after he hung up. «Wouldn't it be better for you if he just forgot about it?»

If everything Janath had done so far had surprised me, the next thing he said would have made my jaw drop, if I could move a single muscle without his say-so. «I like him. He's a good guy. He deserves his real brother. Not that dapsen Temrash.»

A week after Janath told Jake about Tom for some reason, after he fought with the others at the Yeerk Pool for some even weirder reason, after Tobias got trapped, he lay awake, staring at the ceiling. I knew why I couldn't sleep, but I didn't get what had Janath so worked up. I didn't understand anything about him.

Finally, he said, «I can't take this anymore. What if the morphing cube is still lying around the construction site somewhere? I have to check.»

He opened my window and morphed osprey. My eyesight was no better than a human's, at night, but I knew the way to the construction site, and he flew there. When I demorphed, it was cool enough that goosebumps rose all over my bare skin, and my bare feet crunched painfully on rubble. Janath didn't care. He searched under every stone, checked every crevice. He found nothing.

The next night, he did it again. And the next. It became an obsession with him. I went to school every day yawning, with bags under my eyes. I taunted him for it. «Is this what a Yeerk nervous breakdown looks like?»

But finally, in a nook in a half-fallen wall, he found it. My osprey morph couldn't carry the thing all the way back to my house, so he wrapped it in a bundle of old rags left by a homeless squatter and carried it the whole walk home.

«What are you going to do with it?» I demanded. My feet ached with tiny cuts from broken glass at the construction site. «Is this why you fought with the others? You were holding out for the special shiny prize you think you'll get from Visser Three when you give him this? He'll just take it from you and steal all the credit! That guy is psycho!»

«If I give it to Visser Three,» Janath said, «he'll give the power to his subordinates, and then they'll conquer everyone on your planet, for certain. I don't... I don't want that to happen.»

«Really?» I said. «Then why the fuck do you do it to me?»

The next day, after school, he threw the cube in a backpack and walked to Jake's house. He knocked on the door. Jake opened it. He must have seen how much of a wreck I was after so little sleep, because he frowned. "What's up?"

"Can I take Homer for a walk?" Janath said. "I thought it might be... I dunno. Stress relief or something."

Jake smiled. "Yeah. I like walking him too. Homer's a good dog." He went inside and fetched Homer. When he clipped the leash to Homer's collar, the dog's face split in a grin. Janath took the leash. "Hey," Jake said. "Want me to come along?"

"I'd rather be alone with Homer for a while," Janath said. "If that's okay."

"Sure," Jake said. "Just have him back by dinner, okay?"

Janath walked Homer out to the woods. I tried to figure out what the fuck was going on. Then, when we were in good tree cover, Janath said, «Please don't kill me when I do this.»

«I've already tried to think of every possible way I might kill you,» I said. «We both know I can't.»

«No,» Janath said. He shifted the backpack over my shoulder, took out the morphing cube, and pressed it to my ear. «I've thought about this for a long time. You asked me why I keep you as a slave if I think it's wrong. Well, I thought I had no choice. But now I do. You saw what Tobias did. Became a nothlit or whatever the Andalites call it. I heard what Jake said about what it was like to morph Homer. He's happy all the time.»

Homer, giving up on me walking him any further, started nosing curiously around the base of a tree.

«I know you want to kill me,» Janath said. «I know why. But please, Marco. Just let me be happy.» And then he did the impossible. The thing I thought he would never do. He crawled out of my ear. He set me free.

I pulled the cube away from my ear. He was sitting there on top of it, just a slug. I imagined the morphing power flowing into him, the way it had flowed into me. Without thinking too hard about what I was doing, I picked him up and pressed him to the fur on Homer's back. Homer relaxed, lolling down into the leaf litter.

Then the slug started squirming in my hand. I yelped and dropped it. It was growing. Homer barked at it. I pulled him back. 

It was one of the grossest things I'd ever seen. A giant Yeerk growing fur and teeth and legs. But I could crouch down and pet Homer. My body, my choice. I hugged Homer to my chest until the morph was over. I could feel him growling in his chest at the new dog. I held onto him.

«Jake was right,» said Janath, wondering. «He's so happy.»

I had a watch on. I walked with Homer and Janath through the woods. If he tried to demorph, I could just kill him. We didn't talk. It felt so good to walk under my own power, I didn't really have anything left to say.

«Is it over?» Janath said, finally, when the sun was beginning to sink.

"Yeah," I said hoarsely, looking down at my watch. "It's over."

«Then take Homer back to Jake. I'll be here in the woods if you want to find me.»

"I will never want to find you," I said. "I never want to speak to you again."

«I get that,» Janath said. «But still. I'll be here.»

When I took Homer back, the Berensons were in the middle of dinner. They were pissed. "What were you doing with Homer for so long?" said Tom.

"I dunno," I said. "I went on a long walk and I just lost track of time, I guess."

Jake gave me a hard look. Later, I mouthed at him. I'd have to tell him about this, sooner or later. But I couldn't do it today.

I spent the whole night with my dad, eating dinner together, watching TV together. Just him and me, no Janath. When I slept, there was no one listening in on my dreams.

At school, I thought about him, living out there in the woods as a dumb housepet. He'd die out there. Good riddance, right? But there was so much he knew about the Yeerks that we didn't. Information we could use.

When school let out, I went to the woods where I'd left Janath behind. He must have smelled me, because he ran through the trees toward me. His fur was already dirty and matted.

"You were right," I said. "Come on." I walked home, trailing him behind.

"What have you got there?" Dad said from the sofa, when I came into the living room with Janath at my heels.

"He followed me home," I said. "He's really friendly. See?" I reached down and petted him. His tongue lolled out. "Can we keep him?"

Dad sighed. "Are you ready to take care of him? Feed him, walk him, clean up his mess?"

I looked him in the eye. I hate playing the guilt card with him, but it works. "I'm good at taking on responsibility," I said, knowing that he knew why I'd had to become responsible, fast.

Dad's eyes clouded over. "You know, your mother had a dog when she was a girl. Back in Mexico. She named him Sancho Panza. You know, after Don Quixote's sidekick. The squire who'd come with him to tilt at windmills and all that stuff."

"That sounds like a good name," I said, looking down at Janath. "Someone who'll help me charge at windmills."

Dad sunk back down in the sofa and cracked open a beer can. "Hope Sancho makes you happy, Marco. Now go wash him up. Don't want him tracking dirt everywhere."

«You're not Don Quixote,» Janath said when I took him to the bathroom and started the tub. «You don't have any romantic notions. You know exactly what you're getting yourself into.»

"You're right," I said. "I do. Which is why no matter what I say in front of my dad, I'll never forget exactly what you are and what you're capable of. Now get in the bath."

Janath was wrong. I did have a romantic notion. A pathetic dream of one day saving my mother. Visser One was the giant I wanted to slay. I just didn't have to tell a stupid story about a windmill to get one.