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The Sario Effect

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ONE: JAKE

 

My name is Jake. That's all I can tell you about me.

They can't know where and who I am, that I'm just an ordinary kid. Or else they'll hunt me and my friends down. Even our families. We have to keep living because we're the only line of defense for this planet.

Except that the Yeerks are invading Earth.

What are they?

They’re parasites that enter a person's head, wrap themselves around the brain and take over complete control. Small slugs that will make you do whatever they want you to do. And you stop being a true human being. You become a Controller.

You can’t move your arms or legs. You can’t scream out of that nightmare. You’re trapped. Your voice, movement, everything about you are the Yeerk’s. The Yeerk is you now.

Sounds ridiculous. A slug like that? Probably. But, they've already enslaved half of the human population for the war against the Andalites.

The Andalites are, in a way, the good guys. They are another race fighting them, a sorta mix of a deer, human and scorpion. But they can't help us right now - not when they have their own battles right now. Only the six of us are fighting the Yeerks.

Sounds like a losing fight from the start. But we're not without an advantage. We have amazing powers and we're doing everything we can to save this planet.

We're the only hope Earth has. Yeah, that sounds a bit high and mighty. And I realize it’s not very reassuring. Just five kids and an alien cadet against the invasion, and their leader, Visser Three.

I try not to think about our odds. Keeps me going through the days.

We can’t trust anyone but ourselves. You can’t, either. Anyone could be a Controller: your family, friends, even your next door neighbour. They’ll act normal to you, passing small talk and all you can do is watch them, knowing they’re not them anymore.

They took my brother, Tom. They’ve taken my best friend’s mom as well. They’ve done unthinkable things and torn lives. And we’re the only ones who can stop them.

If anyone finds out about us, then we’ll take drastic measures. Even if the Controller is a human.

We have to keep living. Which was what we were doing that day.

"Hey, Jake, phew." Marco came tumbling towards me, out of breath. He immediately straightened up with a grin. "Ready to leave?"

He did something, didn't he?

No. Don't ask. Today is supposed to be normal. No life-threatening missions to worry about. That was why we made plans to go to the mall. Less about Yeerks, more about teenage life.

I told all that to myself.

But...as the group-appointed leader, I had to ask my best friend. The wits of this group and one who gave the name, Animorphs.

"What did you do?"

"What? Me? Nothing." He lifted up a cooler. "Just got the drinks. You know, for Beach day! "

"You tried to hook up with a girl, didn't you?"

"Gaagh!" Marco jumped. Right behind him were Rachel, my cousin and Cassie, her friend.

Rachel is the pretty Teen Fashion model type, though she’s not what you’d call dainty. More like touch-me-and-I’ll-break-your hand kind of girl. Cassie wasn’t frilly either. Or boisterous. She wore demin overalls and a plain tee shirt. She’s black and I kinda like her a lot.

“I was right.” Rachel crossed her arms.

“Really, Marco. We've not even gone to the beach yet,” Cassie said, holding the newly bought blanket.

"I'm gonna take a gander and say her boyfriend chased you away."

“Well, I think she was interested. But her friend she was with wasn’t having it.”

“And why would she be so keen on you asking her out?” Cued in Tobias, with Ax eating a cinnamon bun.

Tobias used to be the gentle type. He used to get bullied at school. Now he was a red-tailed hawk, living as a human for two hours at a time.

We were given a warning when we first got the power to morph. Never stay in morph for more than two hours. And in our first mission, Tobias had been forced to break that rule. He’d gotten back his morphing ability and previous human body. That’s a long story.

Since then, he’d lost that gentleness. Now, he had kind of an edge to his posture that still seemed a bit...off.

"Is it unsuitable to ask the opposite sex?" Ax asked. "Sooot. Taa. Beeel. Beeel. I ask many questions to both Rachel and Cassie. Kass. Casssssieeeee."

"That's because you're nice and we know you, Ax," Cassie said.

Yes. Ax is weird. Because he's not a human like us.

He’s the only Andalite on the planet and in their native forms, they communicate through thought-speech. Human mouths are something of an oddity as far as Andalites are concerned. So when Ax is in human morph, he has a bothersome habit of playing with sounds.

“I...um.” Marco hesitated. “I kinda asked her out once and stood her up. Her friend. Not the first girl.”

“Jerk,” Rachel sniped.

“We were dumping oatmeal in the Yeerk pool, Rachel.”

“Oh.”

“Look, guys. This Animorph business is killing my love life. Back me up here,” Marco begged.

“I’m staying out of this,” Tobias immediately said.

Marco turned to Ax, his last hope. Instead of an agreement, he was forced to step back when Ax got too close to his personal space.

“Did you get the cookies? Coooo-keeeey. Cooo. Keeeeey.”

“Yes, we got the cookies,” I answered Ax, holding up one bag. My job today was getting the snacks. “Cinnamon-flavoured.”

Marco frowned in defeat. He was asking too much there.

“Marco, we didn’t come here for you to flirt. We’re here to prep for Beach day.”

“Which I did. See?” He directed Rachel’s attention to his bag of drinks. “I’m not unprofessional here.”

“Uh-huh, right. When have you ever been professional?” Rachel rebuked. “Anyway, we’re done on our end. Really, Cassie. One of these days, you gotta let me look into your wardrobe.”

Cassie frowned. “I’m fine with what I have. What’s wrong with my old one anyway?”

“Lots of things! One, it’s outdated and two, this is supposed to be our time-off from saving the world. So of course, we need something special?”

“What is this? Is this another dress or something?” Marco blurted out.

“Swimsuits, duh. Why else would you go to the beach for?” Rachel explained. “I had to literally drag her through the department to find a fitting one.”

“I’ve never been so embarrassed in my entire life…” Cassie moped. “Jeans, I don’t mind. Swimsuits are just too tiring to me.”

“Nothing more embarrassing than our first sneak into Zone Ninety-Nine?”

“Still doesn’t beat it.”

“Oh, come on. Cassie,” Rachel said. “We’ve finally accomplished our goal in getting you a swimsuit. And all flattery aside, I think it looks really great on you. I’m sure you’ll easily catch the eye of a special ‘someone’.”

Cassie huffed out a sigh with one peek at me before looking away, cheeks red.

Cassie. In a swimsuit.

There was an annoying lump in my throat that needed to be swallowed. I mean, anything Cassie wears, she still looks beautiful-I mean, nice to me. And I’ve seen her in swimsuits before, just with a shirt on top.

The longer I stayed silent, the longer I could feel Rachel’s smirk on me.

I cleared my throat. Change the topic, quickly!

"Come on," I said, picking up the rest of the bags. "Let's go."

"Before Marco sees another girl to flirt,” Rachel rebuked

“I really didn’t do anything!” Marco hollered.

"Sure, you didn’t.

So that was us, heading out the doors. A group of misfits, walking together until we'd split up later and head home.

"Whoa." It was kinda too late before I bumped them but I quickly caught them by the arm before they tumbled. A clanking sound dropped at my side "Sorry about that."

I wasn't sure if they were a guy or girl. The face looked feminine but the body said otherwise. I'm also guessing they were like one of those rebellious teens from our school - streaks of their dark hair dyed blond.

The two most noticeable things about this dark-skinned kid were their headphones with orange sponges and jacket, zipped up and way too baggy for them. I briefly saw the number, ‘7’ printed in bold on the back.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

The kid did look a bit dazed from me nearly shoving into them. Instead of getting angry at me, they went to pick up what they dropped.

Looked like a coin.

“Not talkative, are you,” Cassie said with a kind smile.

The kid with the jacket never said a remark at me so we just carried on-

"Heads or tails?"

We stopped. And turned back.

“I’m sorry?” I asked.

The kid persisted, looking back at me with a brooding face. "Heads or tails?"

That was an odd thing to ask. I didn’t know what to say so I glanced over to the others.

“Don’t look at me. She’s asking you,” Rachel pointed.

“What is this? Those kinds of backstreet games or performance acts down at the docks?” Marco uttered.

The kid was waiting. I could just not answer and we could just leave but it was just a harmless question.

“Heads.”

With a swift flip of the thumb, the coin went up - that metal sound singing in the air - and down onto their palm. They were fast with their hands and at the end of it, they peered under the fingers.

"Hm," the kid answered out of amusement. "Guess today's your lucky day."

“Uh, thanks?” I guess I got heads. And I guess that was a nice compliment.

Hey, with everything we’ve done so far with the Yeerks, I say we’d deserve some luck for today.

“247 out of 741.”

“What?”

“247 heads out of 741 coin tosses,” they repeated.

That was a very random thing to do. All I could say was “Okay?” before they decided to head inside, leaving us...bewildered.

"What a weird guy," Marco said. "Or weird girl?"

"Don't worry. You and Ax still take the cake in weirdness, Marco," Rachel rebuked.

"I am honored to hear that, ma'am," he droned, posing like a soldier getting his badge proudly. "But looks like I need to up my game then, he droned. "Can't let Ax win."

At least, the walk was normal. We made small chat here and there, about everyday things. Some Andalite terms Ax threw into the conversation. It was almost what a normal afternoon should be.

I almost forgot how often we used to do this...before we found out about the invasion. Now, we rarely do it.

The normality nearly distracted me from everything else until I realized then where we were heading.

“Huh,” The moment I said that, everyone else stopped and noticed.

Well, minus Ax. He had never taken this route before. This particular road was only familiar to the rest of us.

“Isn’t this going down memory lane?” I said.

“Wow, we haven’t been here for a long time,” Marco uttered.

Everything was still the same. The same side road, the same broad open field and the same empty and abandoned houses nearby.

Nothing had changed.

“We never had a reason to go back,” Cassie added nostalgically. “Not since that night.”

“Yeah, but if we had…”

Marco let it hang, he didn’t need to say it. The blue cube that had given us all our powers, we had thought it was destroyed when Visser Three killed Elfangor. It had been found by a kid instead.

Had we come back here once, taken a look around, we would have found it instead of him… Things hadn’t gone well after that.

“Well, what’s past is past,” Marco shook it off, gazing up. “This place didn’t always have bad memories. And obviously good ones. Think we’ll see a spaceship?”

"Heh," I softly laughed. Now that would be a sight to behold.

Rachel scorned instead. “Don’t joke about that, Marco. You’re only asking for it-”

“Um. Guys?”

It was Tobias who first saw it. He was looking up too, more eager to jump back to his hawk morph and take off.

Then he was dumbfounded. Eyes wide, mouth gaping. He pointed straight up, finger shaking.

I followed the direction. It was my turn to be shocked.

It started off as a small blink in the sky. Then it grew bigger with a trail behind it. A flash of white light shooting across like a rocket.

This was a joke, right?

I rubbed my eyes just to be absolutely sure. But it was still there. Neither I nor Tobias could say it. Marco was too stunned to throw a joke in order to break the eerie silence. Rachel kept jamming her finger at the...thing, words just failing her.

Ax didn't pay attention. He was still licking his fingers on the cinnamon powder with relish.

Cassie was the only one who would say it. Just like before.

“N-No way,” she started. “Is that a ship?”