Chapter 1: Chapter 1
My name is Elizabeth. Most people call me Beth. I can't tell you my last name, much as I would like to. I can't tell you any details about me, in fact, save for the things that are general enough to not trace back to me. Because to many people, I am something that is to be feared and hated: a voluntary host to a sentient alien slug called a yeerk. Yeerks are parasites - that's what most people call them, anyway - who can crawl through your ear canal and take over your body and brain. Once a yeerk is in your brain, you are entirely at their mercy. They can move your body as they wish, leaving you a hapless observer in your own head. They can access every last one of your memories - and even force you to relive those memories, if they so choose.
Yeerks don't need to be parasites, though. My current yeerk, Calgiss 5631, is anything but a parasite. Calgiss is the creature that lets me vividly relive my best and happiest memories, as though I'm there living them all over the again. Calgiss is the reason I can go out with friends, watch movies, read books, eat good food. Calgiss is the reason I can go though College without needing someone to push me around in a wheelchair all day. Calgiss is the reason why - at least on the outside - I'm able to live a normal and independent life.
But then, I of all people should know that yeerks can be parasites. Yeerks are the reason I need Calgiss 5631, after all. You see, several years ago, yeerks attempting to invade our planet in a secret war. The yeerks were held off for years by the Animorphs, a team of five human kids and one alien kid with the power to morph into animals. Eventually, the yeerks were revealed and the Animorphs won: they freed the yeerks' hosts and destroyed the Yeerk Pool hidden under our town, where yeerks needed to return to every three days to feed on the Kandrona particles of their native sun.
And through almost all of that time, I was an involuntary host to one yeerk after an other. I was a human-controller - a slave to my yeerk masters. I was just one of many that the Animorphs were fighting with their lives to free.
'Beth, you need to know this,' Tom Berenson said. 'I love you. I just…really, really love you. You're the only only I've ever wanted be with!'
We were alone in the school gymnasium - me, with my freckles, alone with the top player of our high school basketball team! It was too good to be true - and was getting better and better my the second! Tom was resting his hands on my shoulders, slowly and gently pulling me into an embrace, bringing his lips to touch my lips and-
((Okay! Okay! I'm sorry!)) I said. ((There! I said it! Now stop it! I said sorry! Stop it! Enough!)) Almost immediately, that old childish fantasy of mine faded away. ((There. I said sorry,)) I said. ((Satisfied?))
((Very,)) my yeerk said. ((Now behave.))
It took me a moment to realise where I even was: in a history class at my school, sitting in the back row. When yeerks replay memories - even memories of fantasies - those memories come out so vivid that you don't just remember them: you see and do them, all over again. It's not so unlike dreaming, actually, except you only ever wake up if the yeerk wills it.
I'd been a host to a yeerk for just a few months. I'd joined the Sharing - a yeerk cover organisation - hoping to make friends. I'd been approached about becoming a Full Member, and led away to a little office where I was told the truth - or at least, a heavily sanitised version of the truth. I'd panicked upon being told about the yeerks. I'd turned and ran.
The yeerks were prepared to deal with those who ran. They didn't take kindly to those who ran.
((Oh, and that kid?)) my yeerk said. ((He's becoming a Full Member tomorrow. Might even turn out voluntary, knowing his type.))
I'd been made to eat with Sharing members over my lunch break that day - partial members, without yeerks, not Full Members like me. Someone had asked about becoming a Full Member, and I'd made the critical mistake of trying to warn him. I'd struggled madly with my yeerk for control, even managing to twitch my mouth a little before she managed to regain her hold over me. She'd told me to say "sorry"; I'd refused. She'd then started playing that old Tom daydream on a loop until I finally relented.
Yeah, I thought. That's totally fair.
((So,)) my yeerk said. ((I daresay that little rebellion of yours achieved nothing.))
((I moved my mouth,)) I said. ((That's an achievement, isn't it?))
((I suppose,)) my yeerk said. ((Oh, and you got to spend a whole twenty minutes with the boy of your dreams. That's an achievement too, right?))
((You know what?)) I said. ((Yes. Yes it is.))
My yeerk went quiet for a moment; I guess she hadn't counted on me getting testy quite so soon. In front of us, my teacher droned on and on, writing about something or other on the blackboard; he might as well have been speaking in a foreign language, what with how little attention the two of us were paying.
((I only did that because you rebelled, you know,)) my yeerk stated matter-of-factly.
((You didn't have to do it,)) I said. ((You'd already gotten control.))
((Well, perhaps now you won't do it again,)) my yeerk said.
((Not if you actually pay attention, I won't,)) I said.
My yeerk's hold over me had been loose. Usually, my body was almost completely numb when the yeerk was in control; at the time, though, I'd been able to feel the food I was holding in my hands. That's how I'd known I'd be able to rebel; that, in turn, was why I'd done it.
More silence from my yeerk. ((I suppose I got careless,)) she said. ((Satisfied?))
My yeerk went quiet again, as she jotted down the notes that had accumulated on the blackboard. She scribbled quickly, finishing moments before our teacher wiped the board clean to start anew. I, for my part, continued to not pay attention, too busy basking in the latest of my little victories.
((You know, most hosts would go quiet after something like that,)) my yeerk said. ((And they certainly wouldn't feel smug over it.))
((I guess I'm not most hosts,)) I said. ((Problem?))
((Problem? Don't be silly,)) she said. ((You're a slave. I control you totally. I know everything you've ever done and I know every one of your little fantasies.)) She noted down something my teacher had just said. ((If you want to feel smug over our little word games, you go right on ahead.))
((As you command,)) I said, making it sound as theatrical as I could.
I was honestly enjoying myself, strange as that might sound. My yeerk must have been enjoying herself too on some level, as she could have effortlessly silenced me had she truly wanted it. But then, if she did that, then she'd have had nothing to distract her from the boring class going on in front of her. And this particular class was always boring - that, at least, the two of us could agree on.
((All of your classes are boring,)) my yeerk said. ((You humans learn everything so slowly. And they teach you so much that just isn't needed.))
We'd had this discussion before. We'd had it many times, in fact. To my yeerk, anything that didn't have some practical purpose was useless to learn. To my yeerk, things like mathematics, science and engineering were needed; things such as art, geography and history - or at least, human history, were very much not needed.
((Dance isn't boring,)) I said. I knew my yeerk liked dance class because she never complained when we were in dance class. ((Geography isn't boring,)) I said. Much as my yeerk complained about geography lessons, she only seemed to do it while not sitting in geography lessons. ((English isn't-))
((But you hate English,)) my yeerk said.
((But you don't, do you?)) I said. She liked the books and the poetry, even if she hated all stuff about grammar. After all, she never complained about the books and the poetry.
More silence from my yeerk; another victory for me. Though, quite why she felt the need to go silent over that, I hadn't figured - not just yet. My yeerk went back to scribbling down notes, while I went back to simply not paying attention. Why pay attention to this, after all, when my yeerk was doing all the work anyway?
It was times like this, when we just playfully bickered with one another, when I wondered what would be like to be a host had there been no Empire. What would I think of having a yeerk, I asked myself, if it had just been myself and the yeerk and no wider invasion to worry about? What if there had been no involuntary hosts to see dragged to and from the pool? What if there had been no threat of friends and family being infested at every turn?
I knew my yeerk more-or-less needed a host, helpless as she was in her natural slug-like state. I knew she loved having access to my human senses; she'd never admit it, but I knew she loved it. Why else, after all, would she constantly stop to stare at my surroundings whenever we weren't around people I knew? Why else would I occasionally feel emotions of bliss and awe emanating from her, over nothing more than my empty bedroom?
Why couldn't they have just let us come to them? Why did yeerks have to be so…so…imperial about everything?
I felt my yeerk touch my mind for a moment, as though she was getting ready to say something. Then she apparently thought better of it, and remained quiet for the remainder of the class.
I think we were both glad by the time the bell rang. My yeerk hurriedly packed my things away and then joined the throng of students making their way outside. She found Helen, my best friend, waiting for me outside the school gates.
'Heya,' she said as I was made to approach.
'Hey, I was made to say back.
Helen, in many ways, looked a lot like me: slightly overweight, and with slightly freckled skin. We'd been friends for years, initially brought together by our mutual lack of friends from elsewhere. We were both prime Sharing material, for sure; I'd even innocently invited her to join me, back when I'd first decided to go.
((Two losers against the world,)) my yeerk said. ((How inspiring,))
((Three losers now,)) I said.
In the world beyond my head, Helen and I had started the walk home. It was the perfect day to be walking: a faintly breezy Spring day, neither too hot nor too cold. Trees with fresh green leaves rustled gently in the wind, with the odd car passing us by as we headed down the sidewalk. A hawk circled lazily in the air.
'…Anyway, it's awesome. You should really read it,' I heard Helen say. I was fairly certain I knew what she was talking about, even though I'd only just started listening. 'I could lend it to you if you like.'
'Yeah, please. Thanks!' I was made to say back. 'Oh, did you hear about…'
It dawned on me quickly that I could actually feel the breeze. That meant my yeerk was once again only keeping a loose hold over me. I could probably have struggled for control right then if I'd wanted to, if only briefly. But I didn't want to right then, and my yeerk knew I wouldn't want to right then, because the walk home with Helen was one of the times of the I could pretend I was still myself: that it was me who was saying all those things I would naturally say, that it was me walking home with my best friend, that I wasn't in fact playing host to an alien invader from another world.
'Why don't we go see a movie tomorrow?' Helen said suddenly. It would be Saturday tomorrow - no school. 'Or maybe we could hang out in the mall, or something?'
'Sorry, can't,' my yeerk made me say. 'We're doing a Sharing trip that day.'
'The Sharing?' Helen said. 'Again?'
'Yeah!' "I" said, sounding perfectly happy with it. 'We're going to the Gardens for a day out. There's going to be loads of new members there, and…say, why don't you come? I'm sure you'd like it.'
I realised right away that my body had gone numb. Oh no.
'Oh, I don't know,' Helen said. Yes! 'I've never been to the Gardens.'
'My neither, actually,' I was made to say. 'But I hear there's a lot to see there, and it would be fun if we were both there, so…what do you think?'
'Well…' Helen began.
Within the prison of my own head, I was in turmoil. ((No! Please don't!)) I wailed into my head. ((You don't need her! Just leave her out of it!))
((Quiet! I'm busy!))
'Well, okay,' Helen said at last.
((No! No! No!))
'Great!' my yeerk said in a perfectly cheery voice. 'We're leaving from the school at eleven, so why don't I come round to your place at…'
I had to warn her! Perhaps if I twitched a finger, or maybe if I moved my mouth for a moment, or-
I attacked the yeerk's control with all the effort and force I could muster. My arm quivered a little; nothing else moved.
'Hey, you okay?' Helen, said.
'Yeah, fine,' my yeerk said. 'Just a bit cold, I guess.' ((You stop that or be punished!))
I stopped immediately. That silly business with the Tom daydream hadn't been a real punishment; I knew all too well what a real punishment from a yeerk entailed.
'Well, looking forward to it, I guess,' Helen said. We were right outside her house by now. 'See you tomorrow!'
'See you!' my yeerk called back. Then we parted ways.
((Go back to her!)) I said as she disappeared through her front door. ((Have us go out somewhere nice. Just…not to the Sharing! Anything but the Sharing! Please!))
((She's going to the Sharing tomorrow,)) my yeerk said, in a tone that left zero room for debate.
((But you like walking with her!))
((Doesn't matter,)) my yeerk said. ((It's my duty to recruit more hosts, and that's what I'm going to do.))
((Even though you don't like doing it?))
((Yes! I mean, no! I mean…stop! Just stop! I was assigned to you and ordered to recruit more hosts, so I am going to recruit more hosts. Got it?))
If this had been one of our bickering sessions, I'd have been "winning". This didn't feel like "winning". ((But you didn't need to-))
((Yes I did!)) my yeerk shouted. I'd have winced, had I been able. ((Yes. I. Did! Don't you realise what would happen if I let her go? Don't you know what they do to yeerks who commit treason?))
Wait, what? Treason?
((What do they do?)) I asked. That was just one of several questions I now had.
((They…)) my yeerk began. ((Look, I shouldn't even be talking to you about this. Just…just be quiet for a while - please?))
Please, I thought. That was a new one.
((Okay,)) I said, and then went quiet as asked.
My yeerk caught a bus for the rest of the way home, staring out of the window for the entire journey. She had me toy with my hair with one hand the whole way, the way I so often had done before.
((You're frightened, aren't you?)) I said at last.
My yeerk ignored me completely. To me, that was answer enough.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
My Mom greeted me as my yeerk brought me into my house. She asked me about my day; the yeerk told her about the book Helen had wanted to lend me, and then told her that school had been great but that I had lots of homework that needed to be done. So, Mom gave "me" a quick kiss on the cheek and then left "me" to go upstairs to do "my" work.
The yeerk had been telling the truth: there had in fact been a lot of homework today, and getting started on it right now was indeed the the most sensible thing to be doing. It's what I'd have done had I been free, so that was what the yeerk was doing; to her, this was just one aspect of many of maintaining her cover.
You're a slave. The yeerk's words, which had felt so easy to brush off back in that classroom, were really starting to hit me now. I'd only been enjoying myself in that class because the yeerk had allowed me to be enjoying myself - because the she'd wanted entertainment where none else was to be found. Whenever she wanted the fun to stop, the fun stopped. Whenever she wanted to use my body to complete some task for her Empire, my body got used to complete that task for her Empire.
And for all I knew, one of those tasks could be holding my best friend down while a yeerk slivered in through her ear.
((It won't be you,)) my yeerk said as she walked my body up the stairs. ((I doubt we'll even be there for that.))
((Is that supposed to make me feel better?)) I said.
The yeerk brought me into my bedroom, closing my door behind us. She pulled off the backpack I'd been wearing and slung it onto the floor ((It's not like she'll be infested right away,)) she said. ((Unless she bursts in on a Full Member meeting, of course. Or anything like that.))
I couldn't help but think back to that fantasy she'd played back to me earlier. Tom Berenson had burst in on a Full Member meeting; that's why Tom had been taken when he was.
((In any case, I hear the Gardens are nice,)) my yeerk said, sitting me down by the little desk I had in my room. ((Maybe you'll even enjoy it.))
((Perhaps,)) I said, as the yeerk reached over to my backpack and pulled my school things out of it. ((Hey, where did you hear about the Gardens?))
((It was a yeerk, wasn't it?)) I said. ((While you were feeding. Wasn't it?)) And talking about human things, it would seem. How shocking.
((Yes, it was a yeerk,)) my yeerk replied at last. ((Now be quiet and let me work, will you?))
((You could let me do it,)) I said. ((I won't try to shout or anything like that.))
((Not a chance. Now be quiet.))
I stewed in the back of my mind in a haze as the yeerk got down to work, trying my hardest not to think about Helen and instead to think about what my yeerk had said right afterwards. She'd been ordered to recruit hosts? She'd been frightened of the punishment she'd receive if she disobeyed? Just what sort of mad society had she come from?
A sudden jumble of memories jolted me out of my thoughts. They were all mundane memories of my day at school: things I'd heard people say, things my teachers had said to jot down, and stuff like that. My yeerk rifled through them one by one.
((Hey, what are you - just ask!)) I said.
((No point. You don't know,)) my yeerk said, as the intrusive memories faded away. She flipped open one of my notebooks, which I quickly recognised as being from that extra-boring history class earlier in the day. Of course I didn't know whatever it was I didn't know, and of course my yeerk didn't know either: she'd been too busy letting me have fun at the time.
((Ah, here it is,)) my yeerk said, closing the notebook before I'd had a chance to really take in the words written within. She scribbled down something on the bottom of the assignment she'd been writing out. What had that lesson been on, again? 'And done,' the yeerk said quietly to herself, the way I myself might have done not so long ago.
That was how the afternoon progressed for the next couple of hours: with the yeerk going through my homework at her usual rapid pace, leaving me to be along for the ride. She didn't talk to me during those hours, though she did pause twice to check through my memories; she didn't find whatever she was looking for either occasion.
I suppose it should have worried me, the way I was drifting through school while taking so little of the lessons in. It certainly would have worried me, back in the days before I'd known that yeerks were a thing. All sorts of things had worried me just a short few months ago. I'd worry about the freckles on my face - that they would never go away, never let me look pretty. I'd worry about failing whatever test was coming up next in school. I'd worry about the fact that I still - still - had never had a steady boyfriend.
Nowadays, I had different worries. I worried that I'd never be again be free. I worried that the whole Earth might someday fall to this Yeerk Empire hidden beneath our town. Most of all, I worried that my yeerk might one day grow bored of our little bickering sessions - that I'd one day be deprived of one of the few things that was making this bearable.
Always the worrier, me.
The yeerk had just finished my homework when my brother, Ben, called out a "hello" through my closed door. He'd just gotten back from basketball practice, I guessed. Ben was a sporty individual - not at all like me - who also just so happened to be perfectly built for that particular game. He was into video games, too, and very much not into schoolwork. How we were siblings was a mystery for the ages.
My yeerk absently called out a "hi" back, already on the move towards my bookshelf. She pulled out a big old hard-cover fantasy book - one I'd already read several times, and then just…held it. She stared at the front cover for a bit, tapping my fingers over the top of the book's spine. She turned the book over, read the blurb, turned it over again and stared at the cover some more. She opened the book and read through a page, seemingly at random.
She never complained about the books and the poetry.
((Do yeerks ever write stories?)) I asked.
((We tell stories in the Pool, sometimes,)) she said as she turned the page. ((Stories of our great heroes. War stories.))
((So, no books? No fiction?))
((No. We don't need them,)) my yeerk said, as she pushed the book shut.
Just then, there was a hurried knock on my door. My yeerk shoved the book back onto the shelf. 'Uh, yeah?'
'Free for a game?" Ben said.
'Yeah, sure,' my yeerk said.
Presently, I found myself sitting side-by-side with my brother on his bed, with a game controller in my hand. It was a fighting game we'd be playing, as it turned out; the sort where two characters stood on the screen in fighting stances, and where you just bashed buttons on the controller and hoped that you won…except I rarely ever seemed to win by doing that. Fighting games weren't my thing, needless to say - but I'd found such things a fun enough way to pass the time.
((It's a shame you're so bad at these,)) my yeerk said as she started to play. ((I know I wouldn't be.)) My yeerk pushed buttons at semi-random in the way I'd have probably done. Soon afterwards, the first round went to my brother.
That was the thing about being a yeerk: when you were around humans, you had to play the part of your human host. So if your host was bad at video games, then you had to pretend to be bad at video games. It was a hard life for sure, being a hosted yeerk.
We started another round; it proceeded to go in much the same way as the first. 'So, how was practice?' my yeerk said as we played.
'Oh, good,' Ben said. 'I'll be the top-scorer yet. Just you see.' As he was saying that, he knocked my yeerk's game character out for the second time. 'Again?'
'Oh, why not?'
((You know, as fun as this is,)) my yeerk said, as she went about believably losing for a third time. ((Winning would be a lot more fun.))
((Well, why not win, then?)) I asked. ((If you think you're that good.))
((Oh, I'm sure I'm that good,)) my yeerk said. ((Too bad you're not.))
((Oh, come on,)) I said. ((I'm a slave. You have complete control over me,)) I went, trying to mimic her tone from back in that classroom. ((What does it matter if I'm no good at this?)) I was in a good mood again; it was amazing what difference a few hours could make. ((Why not just have fun for a change?))
((Because I'm supposed to be you,)) my yeerk said, as though that was the most obvious thing in the world.
((Oh, sure,)) I said. ((He lost at a video game to his sister, therefore his sister must be being controlled an alien slug. That makes total sense.)) On the TV, my yeerk's character fell to the ground for the third time running. ((You must be, like, the best yeerk who ever did live.))
I'll admit it: I wanted her to do it. I was sure the look on Ben's face would just be priceless.
((You know what?)) my yeerk said. ((Why not?))
My yeerk challenged Ben to one more round of the game. Ben accepted.
My yeerk utterly wiped the floor with him. My character - well, my yeerk's character - didn't even get hit once.
'Woah,' Ben said as soon as it was over, his face suitably priceless.
((Woah,)) I said at roughly the same moment. ((How did you-))
((Pilot training,)) my yeerk said, with more than a hint of pride. ((I was going to be assigned a Taxxon host, before Earth became the priority.))
Outside of my head, Ben was asking "me" much the same question.
'Oh, we play that game at Sharing meetings sometimes,' my Yeerk said, beaming. 'I've gotten good, huh?'
'They play video games there?' Ben said.
'Yeah,' my yeerk said. 'And other games, too. They play basketball there too, sometimes. We do most sports there, actually.'
'Tom was saying something like that,' Ben said. 'Well, maybe I'll check it out sometime.'
'You should,' my yeerk said. 'Anyway, later,' she said in my usual cheery tone.
I'd been completely silent in my head as that little exchange played out. I don't think I had quite believed what I was hearing. I remained silent as the yeerk returned me to my room. I continued to remain silent as the yeerk gently shut my door, a childish grin spreading across my controlled mouth.
Finally, it dawned on me just what had taken place. And then it dawned on me what part I had willingly played it. Oh, great going, Beth.
((You know, you were right,)) my yeerk said. ((I really should just have fun sometimes.))
I couldn't think of a reply to that. One little victory to her, and all that.
My yeerk and I barely spoke for the rest of that evening; I guess I was just worried about giving her more ideas. We were still barely speaking by the following morning, even as we got out of a bus for our big day out at the Gardens along with a few dozen other kids and a handful of adults. All of the adults were controllers, of course, as were about a third of the kids in attendance. The rest of the kids were either associate members or brand new potential recruits, meanwhile, and a chatter of excited voices filled the air as they disembarked.
Looking back, I should have just tried to enjoy myself. That’s what I usually tried to do, after all. I sometimes even managed it, too, despite my status as a living bodysuit for an alien slug. But after that whole mess with my brother yesterday, I just wasn’t in the mood.
It didn’t help, of course, that I knew the real reason this trip to the Gardens was happening. As far as all the non-hosts could see, this was just a fun day out to see some animals, go on some rides, and perhaps make some new friends. But for the yeerks - and by extension, for hosts like me - this was simply one more way to acquire some human bodies for the Yeerk Empire. I was even being made to hand out Sharing fliers to passers-by as we made our way around, as though the kids I’d come here with weren’t already enough. And all the while, all I could really do was to hope that the Sharing gained as few recruits from this little exercise as possible, with my yeerk hoping the exact opposite the entire time.
Being a full member of the Sharing, I - or at least, my yeerk - had responsibilities at these events besides simply enjoying myself. More often than not, it was “my” job to watch over any super-shy kids that came along to our events. I’d been a super-shy person myself before joining the Sharing, after all, so it did make sense in a twisted sort of way. To the outside world, I was one of the Sharing’s many success stories. To the yeerks, though, I was simply one more host to be used for the Empire’s advancement.
One particular shy kid ended up joining me around the Gardens along with Helen. He was a short boy, with a mop of black hair and with eyes which seemed locked into a permanent stare. I knew him from my school - or at least knew I of him, just as many in our school knew of him. His name was Caleb, and he was weird - not weird in a bad way, perhaps, but weird. Tellarin 1476, my yeerk’s immediate superior, had grouped him with “me” almost as soon as we were all off of the bus.
((Prime Sharing material, this one,)) my yeerk said, watching Caleb as we began to walk around the animal exhibits.
((Probably,)) I said.
((“Probably”?)) my yeerk said. ((Come on, this kid makes you look outgoing.))
((I guess,)) I said.
Like I said before, I just wasn’t in the mood.
((You know, you’re no fun when you’re like this,)) my yeerk said.
I couldn’t even be bothered to come up with a reply.
We went around one animal exhibit after another: tigers, bears, dolphins, birds, the works. Helen at least seemed to be enjoying herself, and was chatting away with “me” the whole time about each and every animal we saw. I even started to cheer up a little, though only a little. I did like the Gardens, I’d decided - or at least, I’d decided that I would have liked the Gardens under different circumstances. I found myself wishing I’d come to one of these outings back when I was merely a so-called associate member - or, better still, that I had visited the Gardens without joining the Sharing at all.
Caleb, meanwhile, continued to keep quiet. I’d barely heard a sound out of him since we’d first started walking, and got the distinct impression that I’d continue not to hear a sound unless someone intervened. My yeerk reached the same conclusion apparently, and finally made a move to talk to him as we reached the crocodile pit.
‘So, what brings you to the Sharing?’ my yeerk had me say in a conversational tone.
‘Miss Andrews sent me,’ Caleb said, his stare now turned down onto the crocodiles below. ‘She said it would help me make friends.’
Miss Andrews, I thought. The sweetest teacher in our entire school - and host to Tellarin 1476.
‘What do you think of it so far?’ my yeerk said.
Caleb shrugged. ‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘It’s better than school.’
((Well, it’s a start,)) my yeerk said to me, as Caleb lapsed back into silence. ((There’s hope for him yet.))
((Not really,)) I said. After all, I knew all too well why Tellarin wanted him here.
I remembered my first few months in the Sharing - pleasant months, in which I’d finally started to come out of my shell. I remembered being taken to become a Full Member, remembered the first time I’d heard the word “Yeerk”. I remembered scrambling out of the room I was in and practically falling into the arms of a waiting Hork-Bajir.
I thought of my first trip to the Yeerk Pool afterwards: of the screams of the caged hosts, of fighting with the guards, of being slammed into a cage to wail and scream with the others.
((It won’t be like that with him,)) my yeerk said. ((He’s in a far worse state than you ever were. He’ll probably turn out voluntary. We could help him.))
((Oh, shut up,)) I said. ((How are you ever going to help him?))
My yeerk regarded Caleb for a moment. He was still staring at the crocodiles, but I was sure I saw the beginnings of a smile on his face. ((By actually giving him friends?)) my yeerk said. ((By giving him something resembling a purpose in his life? By letting him not get his head shoved down a toilet when he’s at school?))
Caleb looked at us for a moment, gave something resembling a smile and then looked away, and I couldn’t help but wonder what thoughts were going through his head right then. I couldn’t deny that my yeerk was right about Caleb in many respects. I’d never spoken to him, but I knew Caleb was a magnet for bullies; the toilet incident had been the talk of the school back when it first happened. And he was indeed prime Sharing material, as my yeerk had put it; there was no doubt at all about that.
((We could help him,)) my yeerk said again.
I stewed in my head for a moment longer. ((Do you actually mean that?)) I asked. ((Or are you just trying to cheer me up?))
There was the briefest of silences from my yeerk. ((Am I allowed to say “both”?)) she said.
((Yeah, I guess)) I said.
((Both, then,)) my yeerk said.
For a time, the four of us lapsed into silence and watched the crocodiles - Helen, Caleb, myself, and my yeerk. A keeper had just started feeding them with raw meat, and it really was a sight to see. They all waited in such a civilised way as the keeper took the first chunks of meat of its box, but they were all over each other once the meat started getting thrown into the pit. They kept looking like they were going to get too tangled up to move, the way they kept crawling over and under each other - but of course, they never did.
‘Hey, isn’t it about time we got lunch?’ Helen said eventually.
‘Uh, probably,’ my yeerk said. I could feel her nervousness. She checked my watch, having seemingly just remembered I was wearing it. ‘Uh, yeah,’ she made me say. ‘We’d better go.’
My yeerk hurried us away from the animal exhibits, somewhat than was natural.
‘Hey, can’t you slow down a little?’ Helen said, doing her best to keep up with my yeerk’s long strides.
‘Yeah, sure, sorry,’ my yeerk said.
It was hard to blame my yeerk for rushing. Helen and Caleb were simply going to be a few minutes late to a pleasant lunch; my yeerk, meanwhile, was about to late to a Full Members’ lunch - and, by extension, to a meeting with her fellow yeerks, in which Tellarin 1476 was sure to be in attendance.
By the time we got to the lunch area, most people we’d come to the Gardens with were already sat down. The lunch area consisted of many tables and benches placed in no overall pattern. A couple of full members were handing out packed lunches to Sharing members; for everyone else, a number of kiosks around the edge of the area were serving various kinds of food. The whole area was filled with happy, smiling, chatting people; many of which, sadly, were with our Sharing outing. This event was rapidly turning out to be a smash success, and I was sure the yeerks would be getting several new members as a result of it.
How many of them would still be happy after they knew the truth, I wondered. How many were truly desperate enough to voluntarily host a yeerk when asked?
After receiving their lunch, Helen and Caleb found a spot at the end of one of the benches. My yeerk followed them over, but made no move to sit down with them.
‘Aren’t you joining us too?’ Helen said.
My yeerk shook her said. ‘No, sorry,’ she said. ‘We have a Full Member meeting now, I think.’
‘That we do,’ came the voice of Miss Andrews, host to Tellarin 1476
My yeerk turned to face her - again, just slightly too fast to be natural, though I doubt anyone had noticed. Before my eyes stood Miss Andrews’ plump figure: her curly ginger hear, her big glasses, her bright wide smile.
‘I was starting to think we’d lost you three,’ she said, moving to stand over by the end of the bench. ‘Enjoying yourselves, I hope?’
‘Yes, miss,’ Caleb said quietly.
‘Yeah, I did,’ Helen said. ‘We went to see the animals. We even got to watch the crocodiles being fed!’
‘Ahh, good fun,’ Tellarin said in what I could only assume was feigned interest. ‘You tried any of the rides yet?’
Caleb shook his head.
‘Ah, well, there’s still the afternoon,’ “Miss Andrews” said. ‘You three should try the Monster-flume if you don’t mind getting wet. That’s my favourite ride in the whole park, that.’
We could see the so-called Monster-flume from here. It was an enormous log-flume ride with a series of drops, the last of which must have been at least ten stories high. As of on cue, a group of people sailed over the drop of that final drop, crying in delight. Truth be told, it didn’t strike me in the least as a Miss Andrews sort of thing. But it did look like fun.
((Well?)) I said.
((As long as they’re up for it, sure,)) my yeerk said, looking on at Helen and Caleb. I could already feel her excitement.
In the world beyond our shared head, Tellarin stepped away from the bench. ‘Anyway, Beth, we should go,’ she said. ‘It wouldn’t do to be late, after all.’
My yeerk obediently followed Tellarin away from the chatter of the lunch area.
‘That watch of yours does work, does it not?’ Tellarin said once we were out of earshot, very much not in a Miss Andrews way.
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ my yeerk said quietly.
‘Oh. Good,’ Tellarin said. ‘Just checking.’
We moved on in silence into a staff-only area of the Gardens. Virtually everyone who worked at the Gardens was infested these days, so it was easy for yeerks to meet here without blowing their cover. The Gardens, you see, was the kind of place that attracted people of all ages, as well as people widely ranging in levels of wealth and influence; that made the Gardens the ideal sort of place for yeerks to operate.
It would also have been the place to catch and enslave the so-called andalite bandits. But that would have required the Yeerk invasion of Earth to not have be utterly inept.
The “andalite bandits”, as everyone now knows, were in fact a small band of human teenagers along with a single andalite warrior-cadet; they were nowadays known as the Animorphs, which is what they’d called themselves back during the war. The yeerks, however, had assumed they were all andalites and called them the “andalite bandits”, as did had hosts purely out of force of habit. Using the power of an andalite morphing cube, the Animorphs were able to morph themselves into a variety of creatures, for the purposes of both espionage and combat. To yeerks, the “bandits” were a major thorn in the side; to most hosts, the “bandits” were a shining light of hope.
Nowadays, it seemed obvious that the Animorphs were human - in fact, I sometimes wonder how I didn’t figure it out myself. They almost never took andalite form, after all, and they always seemed to do their utmost not to harm human-controllers in their missions. It wouldn’t surprise me if several yeerks had figured it out, or if several hosts of yeerks had figured it out. The crucial thing was that Visser Three, the leader of the invasion, had never figured it out - quite possibly because no-one under his command had dared to bring it up with him out of fear for their very lives.
You see, the Yeerk invasion of Earth was intended as a stealth invasion: they wanted to start small and quietly expand, taking the Earth and enslaving humanity with as few shots fired as they could. The Yeerk Empire, in its infinite wisdom, had placed in charge of this process a yeerk as ill-suited to the venture as possible be: Visser Three, a yeerk who was seemingly incapable of anything that required conscious thought or, indeed, leadership.
Visser Three was also a tyrant, who executed subordinates at a moment’s notice. Almost everyone had been terrified of Visser Three - both yeerks and their hosts - and hardly any yeerk wished to be around the Visser for longer than was absolutely necessary. I used to have nightmares about Visser Three, both during and after the war: I’d dream of dying to the tail-scythe of Visser Three’s andalite host body, executed along with my yeerk for some ill-defined crime or failure.
Nowadays, though, I’m glad that Visser Three was in command. With someone smarter in charge, the yeerks might have realised that the Gardens were where their hated “andalite bandits” could be caught. With someone smarter in charge, the yeerks on Earth might have realised, or at least acknowledged, that the “bandits” were human.
With someone smarter in charge, the yeerks might just have actually won.
Of course, such thoughts were far beyond my grasp during that day at the Gardens. Right then, my thoughts were entirely occupied by the meeting my yeerk was taking me too. Would my yeerk be ordered to infest Helen there and then - or to infest Caleb, for that matter? And what would Tellarin 1476 think if my yeerk brought up the topic of my brother, after what had happened the night before?
Tellarin 1476 led my yeerk into a medium-sized office space. Eleven other human-controllers were already there, most of which were part of our Sharing day out. By now, Tellarin was holding herself completely differently than she would have done out in the open amongst uninfested humans: she held herself tall and straight, without a hint of the smile that almost perpetually adorned Miss Andrews’ face. Tellarin crossed over to the other end of the office in long strides, with the other yeerks standing silently to attention - all except mine, at least, who sheepishly walked away from the doorway to stand with the others.
‘Now that we are finally all here,’ Tellarin said, ‘does anyone have any urgent business to report?’
One of the human-controllers raised their hand - a well-built young man I recognised from school. ‘Sub-visser?’ he said, quivering a little.
’Speak,’ said Tellarin 1476.
‘My host’s family are planning to move away,’ he said. ‘His father has gotten a job in another state and-.’
‘Closest auxiliary pool?’ Tellarin said. She kept her arms behind her in a posture that looked utterly out of place for her host’s plump figure.
‘There’s nothing nearby,’ the controller said. ‘The closest is over 100 miles away. It’s too far.’
‘Agreed,’ Tellarin said levelly.
The yeerks did have other pools on Earth, besides the one that everyone now knows about. Even Visser Three must have realised that having only one yeerk pool on Earth would made no sense. But even then, it seemed that this particular yeerk was right out of luck.
Not that I took any pleasure in that, mind. I knew better than to think this would end well for that yeerk’s host.
‘When is this move scheduled?’ Tellarin said.
‘One week’s time,’ the controller said. ‘It was all so sudden! My host’s parents only told me last night and I-‘
‘Calm down,’ Tellarin said evenly. ‘This move will not go ahead. Understood?’
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ the controller said, looking visibly relieved - a relief I knew would not be shared by the human that yeerk controlled.
‘His family are to be infested before Thursday next week. Report to my host’s office at 11 o clock on Monday to discuss details. That is all.’
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ the controller said again. His face twitched for the briefest of moments; I could scarcely imagine how hard his host must have been struggling right then.
‘Now, if there are no other urgent matters,’ Tellarin said, her eyes lingering over the assembled crowd. ‘Excellent. We can begin.’
I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the hosts in the room were thinking exactly what I was thinking at that moment: that any one of them could be the next to watch their family infested before their eyes. It was a though that only grew stronger as Tellarin moved onto the next item of business: namely the state of recruitment into her precious Sharing.
‘Firstly, I am pleased to report we obtained two more hosts last night,’ Tellarin said. ‘Including one who joins us voluntarily.’ And thanks to my yeerk, she went on to explain; I felt my yeerk swell with pride, even as I found myself feeling much the opposite.
‘Now, I trust you’ve all been handing out your fliers?’ Tellarin said, relaxing her posture ever so slightly. Everyone else in the room nodded. ‘Well, I must say this is proving to be quite the operation. I’ve had three newcomers ask about becoming members today,’ she said, showing what appeared to be a genuine smile for the first time all day. ‘Has anyone else been approached about membership?’
‘I’ve had two kids today ask about becoming members’, one controller said.
‘I had one,’ another controller said.
Several more yeerks in the room spoke up likewise. Well then, I thought: so much for hoping this event wouldn’t pay off for them.
‘Very good,’ Tellarin said. ‘Quite the operation indeed. Well done, all of you.’
Any tension in the room had disappeared by now. It was plain as day that Tellarin was pleased.
‘Continue with your duties over the afternoon,’ Tellarin said, ‘and send any new members to me at the end of the day. And speaking of new members,’ she said, turning to my yeerk once more, ‘I don’t suppose Caleb intends to join us?’
‘I don’t think so, sub-visser,’ my yeerk said. ‘Not today, at least. But he seems to be enjoying himself.’
‘Which means he’ll come back to us, I take it. Very good,’ Tellarin said.
As far as meeting went, this was proving to be pretty painless - for me, at any rate. I was still thinking about that poor young man from earlier.
‘Now, one more thing,’ Tellarin said, in the most matter-of-fact manner possible.
I’d almost stopped listening to her by that time. I hadn’t expected her to say anything more of note.
‘The Sharing is due to hold a so-called Family Night in around a month’s time. We’re designing this to be entertaining for humans of all ages, and we want this to be as big an event as possible.’
‘I want you all to start telling your hosts’ families from today. We want as many families there as possible - and as many hosts to come out of it, of course. I’m sure all of you here would like to spend less time pretending to be your host?’
There was a general murmur of agreement. My own yeerk was amongst that murmur.
‘Well then,’ Tellarin said. ‘This will be your chance.’
I could see her logic, as sick as it made me feel. An entire infested household was far more valuable than a single infested human. A group of yeerks wouldn’t have to keep their cover if there were no uninfected humans around - and that meant more time to spend serving the great Yeerk Empire.
‘We are still finalising the details,’ Tellarin said. ‘But I’m told there are many plans. We’ll have drinks, a barbecue, plenty of games: fun for all the family, as they say.’
Oh God oh God oh God.
I was experiencing my yeerk’s thoughts almost as if they were my own. She wasn’t even trying to hide them from me; I don’t think it was even occurring to her to try. She was thinking of all the ways her life would change if my entire immediate family were infested: if she never had to play the part of plain old Beth while under our roof, if she was free to carry out the Empire’s orders whenever she was at our home. She was thinking of always having brother and sister yeerks close to hand, of not spending evenings alone with the humans that made up my family.
Her thoughts weren’t all happy ones. She was thinking of all the extra orders she would receive, if the Empire knew for sure she was available. She was thinking of never not having yeerks around her: yeerks who would expect her to not act human and to not enjoy human things.
((No, you don’t want this. You don’t,)) I said. ((I know you don’t; I can feel that you don’t. They’d work you non-stop. They’d never let you rest.))
Downtime was hardly a thing in the Yeerk Empire - not when it could be helped.
((You don’t have to do this,)) I pleaded. ((You-))
((Quiet!)) my yeerk said, grinding my teeth together. ((I’m not disobeying orders just because I-))
‘NOOOOOO!’ I screamed out loud. ‘HELP! SOMEONE, H-‘
I don’t know how I managed it. I didn’t know how I managed it even at the time. All that mattered is that I had.
My yeerk clamped down on my movements, harder than I had ever felt her clamp down before.
No-one in that room moved. No-one said a word. I could feel the eyes of everyone in the room boring into me - as could my yeerk. I could feel my yeerk’s shame, directed at herself, as well as her anger, directed at herself and I both.
And she wasn’t saying a word to me. She wouldn’t be treating this as a game - not this time. I’d just embarrassed her in front of her fellow yeerks - and in front of her own sub-visser, no less. And of course, my little moment of rebellion had achieved nothing; no-one without a yeerk would have possibly heard it anyway
Oh God, I thought again. Now I’d really done it.
My yeerk turned my eyes towards Tellarin. Tellarin regarded my yeerk cooly, her host’s forehand creased into the the most quizzical of looks. Then, her face morphed into a twisted parody of the sort expression Miss Andrews used the classroom, as though she were about to explain the simplest of problems to a struggling student.
‘Your host has objections, Yalran?’ Tellarin 1476 said sweetly.
Yalran 548 was my first yeerk. In the few months we'd been together, we'd gone from master and slave to…well, a master and slave who got on rather better than could reasonably be expected. I don't think I ever really appreciated how lucky I'd been to get Yalran: to have a yeerk who actually spoke to me, and who at least acknowledged that I was sentient being with thoughts of my own,
I certainly wasn't appreciating my luck in that office at the Gardens that day - largely because I'd probably just squandered that luck with my own impulsiveness. And because I suspected Yalran would not in fact be appreciating my sentience right then.
Nor, I suspected, would Tellarin.
The assembled human-controllers had gone from staring at me to staring at anything but me - all except Tellarin, of course, who continued to eye Yalran and I as though we were the most fascinating thing in the whole wide world. Yalran, for her part, was doing a reasonable impression of a rabbit caught right in the headlights: she had my body all tensed up, my eyes fixed firmly on the wall beyond Tellarin's host's shoulder.
'Your host objects, Yalran?' Tellarin 1476 said again, still far too sweetly.
'It would seem so, sub-visser.' Yalran 548 said, not quite able to keep a quiver out of my voice.
'Clearly,' Tellarin said. 'And why wouldn't she? She is involuntary, after all. This is why we prefer hosts to be voluntary, is it not?'
'W-why, yes, sub-visser.'
'Indeed it is,' Tellarin said, resuming her previous stoic demeanour. She turned and marched away from us, before turning again and addressing the assembled yeerks. 'That, right there, is why we aim to recruit voluntary hosts. It is why none of you will rush with the new Sharing members we acquire today. If there is the slightest chance they will be voluntary, I want you to not waste that chance.'
Several of the human-Controllers nodded their heads, but nobody spoke.
'Discipline your host, Yalran,' Tellarin said calmly. 'Don't let this happen again.'
'Yes, sub-Visser,' Yalran said. 'Of course.'
'Very good,' Tallarin said. 'Now then. You have all done excellent work this morning, and I have no doubt you'll do just as excellently this afternoon. Feed your hosts, then return to your duties. Any questions?'
All of the other yeerks in the room looked around for a moment; still, no-one said a word.
'Very good,' Tellarin said. 'Dismissed.'
Yalran walked me out of the office along with the rest of the human-controllers. We all took lunch from a nearby staff-only cafeteria - sandwiches, nothing fancy - and sat down to eat. The yeerks all ended up sitting at a big long table in the cafeteria, chatting amongst themselves - all except Tellarin, that is, who seemed to have gone elsewhere. There were no uninfested humans around, so all of the yeerks were talking openly. As far as I could hear, though, most of them were just discussing what they'd done at the Gardens that day. It all sounded so ordinary; that's what made it so surreal.
My own yeerk wasn't talking - not to me nor to anyone else.
((Yalran, please talk to me,)) I said. ((I'm sorry I-))
((Quiet.)) My yeerk began to stuff her face like a wild animal. ((Why would you do that?)) she said. ((When everyone was there, in front of my own sub-visser! Just what did you-))
'Host still giving you trouble?' a dark-haired girl across from me said - or at least, the yeerk controlling her said.
Yalran blinked, as though coming out of a hypnosis. She nodded as she finished the food in my mouth. 'You could say that,' she said.
'Yeah, seems like a real pain, that one,' the girl said. 'Mine's voluntary. She never fights.'
'Mine used to fight for control, but he stopped pretty quickly,' said a yeerk next to her, who was wearing the body of one of boys from my school year. 'I just went into his memories whenever he tried anything. He soon learned who's boss.'
'That's the trick with hosts,' another one said, in the body of a boy way too young to be saying such things. 'You can't let them get away with things. Whenever they fight for control or shout or cry or anything - wham. You punish them good and hard.' His young mouth twisted into a smirk. 'They learn in the end.'
My God, I thought. Just what was going on in that little boy's head? I was almost grateful when Yalran turned my head away from him, folding my arms.
'That's your problem, I bet,' said the one with the older boy, turning to Yalran.
'What is?' Yalran said.
'You've been too soft with her,' he said. 'She resisted you before and you let her away with it. That has to be it.'
For a moment, my yeerk just stared at him open-mouthed. 'No I…no she has not!'
'Hey, you don't know that, Iniss,' the black-haired girl said. 'Some hosts are just trouble. You know that as well as anyone.'
'Not if you train them right, they're not,' he said. He took a bite out of his sandwich and began munching loudly.
I could feel my yeerk clenching my hands into fists. I could feel her grinding my teeth together. I could surely have struggled for control right then, with her hold on me as loose as it was. I didn't dare.
My body tensed for a moment - and then I felt nothing at all. Yalran must have been reading my thoughts; she must have realised from me that she was controlling me so loosely.
Which meant, I noted faintly, that she hadn't realised that before.
'Ignore them,' the girl said to Yalran. 'Some involuntaries just take time to break in. You'll get there.'
'Yeah,' Yalran said quiet. 'I'm sure I will.'
She picked up and took a bite out of my own sandwich, eating slowly. She was completely closed off to me right then; try though I did, I couldn't sense a single thing she was thinking. And she still hadn't started talking to me. That's what frightened me more than anything.
And then, I felt Yalran probe into my mind, as though searching for a particular memory. And I knew right then exactly what she was planning.
((Oh Yalran, please, no!)) I wailed.
Any moment now, her onslaught would start. Any moment, the cascade of bad memories would come. Any moment, and I'd be reminded of every bad thing I'd ever done.
The onslaught never came. Yalran just continued to hover there, at the edge of my consciousness…until all of a sudden, she was gone.
'Punishing her, then?' the girl in front of us said casually.
'Uh huh,' Yalran had me say. 'An hour, I'm thinking. Maybe two.'
'At least two,' the girl said. 'I mean, in front of a sub-visser? That human needs to learn some manners.'
'You've got that right,' Yalran said. I imagined she was smirking right then, but I couldn't really tell. 'Two hours,' she said. 'That should do it.'
The yeerks around us collectively agreed that two hours of torture was sufficient; after that, their conversation quickly turned to other matters. I just kept to myself in the back of my head, listening to them without taking a single thing in. I couldn't quite believe what was happening.
((If anyone asks,)) Yalran said. ((If anyone in the cages ever asks, I tortured you. Understood?))
I mentally nodded, frantically.
((Don't fight me like that again,)) Yalran said.
So many thoughts were going through my mind right then, all jumbled up and impossible to separate. I wanted to hug my yeerk for sparing me from torture, and I wanted to hate her for threatening me with that at all.
((Thanks,)) I said weakly.
Yalran said nothing to that. She finished her meal in silence, her fellow yeerks talking over here. I didn't listen to them. I was too busy trying to gauge what mood my own one was in.
Finally, I just straight-up asked her. ((You ok?)) I said.
I felt Yalran freeze in our shared mind. ((Am I okay?)) she said. ((I almost tortured you, and now you're asking me if I'm okay!?))
((Well, yeah, I guess,)) I said. I suppose it did seem odd, if you put it like that.
At that point, the controllers around us started to get up out of their seats. Yalran stood up right along with them and made her way back towards our Sharing outing.
((Well?)) I said. ((You okay?))
((Just be quiet, Beth,)) Yalran said.
((Oh, come on!)) I said. ((I only-))
((Beth, if you don't shut up, I will torture you.))
I went quiet; I knew better than to argue with something like that.
((No, wait, I'm sorry,)) Yalran said. ((I just…I don't even know…))
I watched Yalran walk over to Helen and Caleb. She made some small talk with them both, and in no time at all we were all off to try out the rides. Usually, she'd have been making small talk with me on the side, and I honestly found myself missing it.
((Come on, what's the matter?)) I said. ((This isn't like you at all.))
((Beth, just…please don't distract me right now.))
((Okay,)) I said, in the most placating tone I could. ((Okay.))
Something was really bothering Yalran right then - possibly many "something"s, in fact. That was why I waited until she was waiting in a queue for a ride - and until she wasn't busy talking to anyone - before I tried speaking to her again.
((Look, Yalran,)) I said. ((I'll stay quiet for the rest of this Sharing trip. But once today is over, we are going to talk. Understood?))
I don't think I'd ever talked to her quite like that before. As soon as I'd done it, I wondered quite how I'd brought myself to do it - as well as why. And as seconds ticked by without an answer from my yeerk, I wondered if I'd soon be regretting it.
((Yes,)) Yalran said at last. ((Yes. I'd like that.))
If you have gotten this far, I'd be really keen to hear what you think of this fic at the moment, so please feel free to leave a brief review.
Also, note that I've changed the backstory slightly in this chapter: I originally wrote in chapter 1 that Beth and her yeerk had been together for less than a month, whereas I state in this chapter that they have been together a fair bit longer. I shall edit my opening chapter for consistency shortly.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
I kept quiet as promised, and settled down into the back of the mind as Yalran went about her business. She went around the rides with Helen and Caleb - even the Monster-flume, in the end - and then they all headed smiling to a bus parked near the Gardens’ entrance. Lots of kids were stopping to talk to Miss Andrews I noted - brand new Associate Members, heedless of the fate that now awaited them.
Helen wasn’t among those kids, at least, nor was Caleb. They stuck close to me as we walked, chatting about some TV show or other. I’d never heard Caleb talk so much before; from what I’d seen of him at the school, he usually hardly breathed a word. So, he had obviously enjoyed himself. As had Helen. Which meant they would probably come back. Which meant they were both still in danger.
I couldn’t help but think back to my early days at the Sharing, when I’d started coming out of my shell just as Caleb seemed to be starting to. It had been my own decision to go; no-one had suggested I go or even suggested I had any sort of reason to. I’d just had enough of being shy old Beth with my one good friend and with no boyfriend to speak of. I’d just wanted…something more.
I imagined what my life would be like now if I hadn’t wanted more - if I had just stopped and appreciated how much I had in having my eyes and my body and my good, stable home. I imagined being a free human being, being able to move my body how I wanted to and to say what I wanted to say. I thought of being able to run and dance and shout and spin myself round and round, trapped neither in my own mind nor in the bars of a cage underground.
((Nice place,)) Yalran said as she sat me down on the bus.
((…Wha?)) I went, snapping out my thoughts.
((The Gardens,)) Yalran said. ((It’s nice. I like it.))
((Oh, yeah,)) I said. ((Yeah, me too.))
((I think I’ll try to get your parents to take us there,)) Yalran said. ((Not as a Sharing thing, but…you know.))
I gave a little mental nod. ((Yeah. You should.))
Yalran ended up spending much of the bus-ride staring out of the window, enjoying the use of my human eyes. I kept quiet and took in the sights along with her, the babble of voices around us barely even registering. Yalran and I didn’t talk again for the remainder of the journey.
The bus stopped at my school’s front entrance. Tellarin said a few words in the guise of Miss Andrews - quite what, I don’t recall - and then everyone got out. Everyone went their separate ways - some to waiting parents, and others to whichever way led to home. Yalran started on the walk home with Helen, as was usual.
‘Hey!’ Caleb called out, running up from behind us. ‘That, uh, that was really fun. So, uh, see you soon, yeah?’
‘Yeah, see you,’ Helen said.
‘Yeah,’ my yeerk echoed. ‘And, hey, let me know if you want to come to more meetings, okay?’
Caleb nodded his head. He opened his mouth as though to say something, then turned and sped away.
‘I really liked that,’ Helen said after we’d resumed walking. ‘I can see why you like the Sharing so much. Everyone there is just so…nice. I thought the Sharing was some sort of Girl Scout thing, but it’s really not.’
‘I know, right?’ my yeerk said, grinning from ear to ear. ‘You should really sign up, you know. I mean, you only become an Associate Member at the start. It’s not like being a Full Member, where you actually have to help organise and stuff.’
‘Would I have to become a Full Member?’ Helen said.
‘Well, no, you wouldn’t have to,’ my yeerk said. ‘But nearly everyone does, sooner or later. It’s just…well, after all the Sharing had done for me, I just had to put something back into it. That’s why most Full Members become Full Members. You know?’
‘Mmm, makes sense,’ Helen said. I’m not sure she really thought that, though.
‘Besides, being a Full Member isn’t all about work,’ my yeerk went on. ‘You get connections, too. It’s great for jobs and stuff. I already have a summer job lined up for when School ends.’
Which was the truth, technically. I was indeed set to be working in a warehouse over my summer break, the warehouse in question having been overrun by yeerks long ago.
Yalran watched Helen as she mulled things over. ‘Hey, Beth,’ Helen said. ‘Can I come with you to the next Sharing meeting? I think I want to sign up.’
My yeerk told her it would be on Thursday evening and asked if she would be able to come then - which she was. We reached Helen’s house and she said her goodbyes. And that was that.
((I’m surprised you didn’t start fighting over that,)) Yalran said, once we were alone.
((Well, it’s not like it would have stopped you,)) I said.
((Well, yeah,)) Yalran said. ((But still.))
She had to know was I was thinking right then. She had to know to real reason I’d so determinedly not fought as she went about sealing my friend’s fate. But she wasn’t going to comment on it before I brought it up myself, it would seem. Instead, she just carried on towards my own house, the wind blowing gently on my face.
The wind…which I could feel…almost as if I myself was in control.
((Hey, Yalran? You realise you’re-))
((-ah!)) Yalran went, before numbing me totally.
She stood frozen in place for a moment, looking around as though to make sure no-one had caught her in some shameful act. Then, she started back down the path as though nothing at all had happened.
((You don’t mean to do that, do you?)) I said.
((What don’t I?)) Yalran said. As though she didn’t already know what I meant.
((Holding me so loosely like that,)) I said. ((Making it so that I can feel everything. Making it so I can…well, break free.))
She went quiet on me for a time, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d struck a nerve of some kind.
((No, I don’t mean to,)) Yalran said eventually. ((It just…happens sometimes. When I’m not paying attention to it.))
((Well, don’t think I don’t appreciate it,)) I said, wishing the numbness would go away. Presently, it did indeed fade, though not completely. I doubt I could have struggled much against Yalran’s grip just then - not that I intended to try.
We arrived at my house to find my brother shooting hoops on the driveway out front. He was really getting himself into it, ducking this way and that as though he were playing a game for real. Yalran watched him for several seconds before he noticed us - and even then, he only noticed after scoring his latest hoop.
‘Evening, sis,’ he said. ‘Good day out?’
‘As good as ever,’ Yalran made me say. ‘The Gardens are amazing. We should all go some time.’
Ben retrieved the ball from he ground, and started to spin it on one finger. ‘I don’t suppose you’re up for hoops?’ he said. ‘Still some time before we eat, I think’
Yalran said she was. She even dropped her hold on me a little more, enough for me to properly feel everything she did and enough for me to imagine I was doing it - but still not enough for me to actually do it, of course. Even so, I was smiling inside as Ben began dribbling the ball. Yalran was smiling too - both internally and otherwise.
We took turns at attacking and defending the one hoop. Naturally, Ben ran rings around us. I just didn’t have the skill or stamina to keep up with him, and Yalran’s experiences of previous hosts were no help to her here - not that it kept her from trying. She did manage to get the ball off of my brother a few times. Exactly once, she even managed to get past Ben and score a hoop; I felt her swell with pride when she did that.
‘Woah. Nice,’ Ben said, the moment the ball went in.
((Not bad,)) I added.
‘Thanks!’ Yalran said. ‘Think I’m getting better?’
‘Looks like it,’ Ben said.
Soon after that, my body started to get tired, and Yalran decided to call it quits. She went on into the house, while Ben continued shooting hoops outside. Once inside, she kicked off my shoes and took in the sounds of living: the sounds of Mom cooking something up in the kitchen, and the sounds of Dad watching something on the television further down the hall.
‘Hi all!’ Yalran called out loudly.
‘Oh, hi honey,’ Mom said, peaking out from the kitchen doorway. ‘Dinner’s nearly ready. Can you get your brother?’
((I can smell that from here,)) Yalran said as she went to call in Ben. ((Smells nice.))
((Uh huh,)) I said. She wasn’t wrong.
Presently, I was sat down at the dinner table along with Ben, while Mom and Dad dished out the food: a roast chicken dinner, as it turned out. As soon as everything was out on the table, Yalran got stuck in.
((Man, your Mom’s cooking rules!)) Yalran said.
((Yep,)) I said. ((Hey, can you put a bit of pepper on that?))
((Oh?)) Yalran said. ((Need I remind you who’s in charge here?))
((You are,)) I said without a second’s hesitation. ((Now add the pepper.))
She added some pepper. I smiled at her mentally; she smiled right back.
Family dinners were another one of those things I’d taught myself to enjoy, just like the walk home after school, or like shooting hoops with Ben. It was another one of the occasions where I could just go quiet in my head, have Yalran go quiet too, and pretend that my life was normal and yeerk-free - unless Yalran and I started bickering, of course. But I was fine with that as well.
I hadn’t always enjoyed dinners as Yalran’s host. And as Yalran sat there eating, I found myself thinking back to those early, terrible days. I’d fought Yalran like a wild animal whenever the family was together, back when I’d first been infested. I’d clawed madly and uselessly at my mental prison, convinced that I would be freed if only I got out a signal. Yalran’s punishments had only emboldened me, and made me struggle even harder - not that it did me any good.
((Hey, we are not going back to that,)) Yalran said, shaking me out of those thoughts. ((Got it?))
((Yeah,)) I said, giving a faint mental nod.
Yalran took a small bite out of our meal, chewing slowly and carefully, taking the time to savour the tastes and smells of it and to let me do the same. ((Hey, it’s even better now,)) she said. She wasn’t wrong about that, either.
‘So, Beth,’ Ben said from across the table. ‘You actually free tomorrow, or you got more Sharing stuff?’
‘Sorry,’ Beth said. ‘More Sharing stuff. We’ve lots of things to organise in the coming weeks, so all the Full Members are meeting up tomorrow.
What she meant by this, of course, was that she was taking me down to the dreadful Yeerk Pool hidden under our town, to be caged while she fed on the Kandrona rays of the native yeerk sun.
‘Are you ever not doing Sharing stuff now?’ Ben said. ‘Couldn’t you go back to being an Associate Member or something? You’d have way more time that way.’
‘Well, I could, I guess,’ Yalran made me say. ‘But I just don’t want to. It’s just so nice, being part of…well, something bigger than I am. I wouldn’t want give that up.’
Ben just shrugged, and went back to his food.
‘The Sharing has really changed you, hasn’t it?’ Dad said. ‘You used to be so shy around everyone. You used to get out so rarely.’ He grinned at me with pride. ‘Now, look at you: a Full Member, organising events, doing all this community service. It’s really something.’
‘Absolutely,’ my Mom said. ‘It’s quite the organisation, isn’t it? Have you ever thought of going, Ben?’
I was honestly ready to just throw all caution to the wind and to try another rebellion, even though Yalran was holding onto me right then for all it was worth.
Ben shrugged again. ‘Um. Well-‘
‘Yeah, you should go, too,’ my father said, still smiling, heedless of what he was saying. ‘I mean, non-members can go, can they not?’
‘Yeah, they can,’ Yalran said - and nothing more.
‘Well, maybe,’ Ben said. ‘But I don’t want to have to give up basketball for it. We’ve already had a couple of players quit the team, you know. Even Tom left, and he was the best we had.’
The briefest of silences hung over the table - a silence which felt rather less brief in my mind. Come on, I thought. Just drop the topic. Please. I felt my yeerk scanning my every thought, looking for the faintest sign of looming rebellion - but her own thoughts, to me, were inscrutible
‘Well, sport is important too,’ my Mom said. ‘Especially for you.’
‘True enough,’ my Dad said. ‘When’s the next game, by the way?’
We chatted about Ben’s basketball skills a little, and went on to talk about various things I can no longer recall. Truth be told, I wasn’t paying attention; I was too busy being relieved that my brother was safe from infestation, at least for the time being.
Once we were all finished eating, Yalran helped Ben wash up. My Dad offered to help, too; Yalran had me point out that three people around the kitchen sink would be too many, and Dad agreed. He went off with Mom to watch the television, leaving Ben and I to ourselves.
‘Hey, it’s good that you’re in the Sharing,’ Ben said. ‘Don’t get me wrong. It’s just…well, you seem so busy all the time. That’s all.’
‘I am, I guess,’ Yalran said. ‘I like it, though. And you shouldn’t quit your basketball, either. You’re too good at it for that.’ I felt my yeerk turn her attention to me, then. ((They’re a good family,)) Yalran said. ((You’re lucky to have them, you know.))
I gave a mental nod. ((Yeah,)) I said.
Yalran busied herself with drying up a plate, but I could tell her attention was still on me.
((I don’t want them infested, Yalran,)) I said.
((I know,)) Yalran said.
Of course she knew. I’d been thinking about it all afternoon.
Yalran walked my body up the stairs to my bedroom. She shut the bedroom door behind us and then flopped down onto my bed. She crossed my arms loosely, allowing my eyes to wander over the plain ceiling.
Time to talk, it would seem.
((Feeling better now?)) I said.
((Better than you, I expect)) Yalran said - and then waited for me to get to the point.
It all came out out of me in a rush. ((Please don’t infest them, Yalran! I’ll cooperate with you, I swear! I’ll do anything you want! I won’t even talk if you don’t want me to! I just want-))
((Woah, woah, stop,)) Yalran said. ((You? Not talking? Beth, I’d get bored witless if you went quiet! Talking to you is the only thing that makes this stupid-))
She stopped herself. I’m not sure she’d even realised what she was saying before she was already into it.
((What, Yalran?)) I said. ((This stupid…what?))
The silence in our shared mind right then felt downright deafening.
((No,)) Yalran said. ((No, you’re just a host. An involuntary human host. I can’t talk to you about-))
((Yalran, you said you wanted to talk, now talk.))
((You’re…)) Yalran began. ((You’re the only thing I like about this stupid war,)) she said. ((You’re the only one I can actually talk to and…be me! You’re the only one I can talk to and not pretend to be something else, not pretend to be human, not pretend to be a good yeerk who isn’t weak and who keeps their host under control and who doesn’t think about human things and-))
((Alright, I get it!)) I said. ((I’ll talk, then.))
Yalran was sat up on my bed now, rocking back and forth. She held my eyes wide and staring. ((I’ll be executed, Beth,)) she said. ((If I go to that Family Event and your family aren’t with us, Tellarin will…will…)) She rocked harder, faster. ((Host sympathy, Beth! They’ll call me a host-sympathiser! I’ll be starved!))
I could feel my body almost as though Yalran wasn’t even there. I felt my head swaying back and fourth. I felt my hands clutching at my legs. Yalran yelped in my mind at the realisation.
((Shhhhh…) I went. ((It’s okay. I won’t fight. Just…just relax…))
I felt Yalran start to numb my body for a moment, but she quickly changed her mind. Slowly but surely, the rocking went away, without us saying to word to one another in that time. She lay my head back on my pillow, her hold over my body as loose as it could possibly be.
((Leave my family out of this, Yalran)) I said.
((Beth, you know I can’t do that, I-))
((I won’t fight you again, Yalran.)) I said. ((I’ll work with you. I’ll be voluntary - at least, to you.))
((That…would be nice,)) Yalran conceded. But I could still feel her uncertainty.
((And you won’t be the only one.)) I said. ((Not every yeerk will manage to bring family members with them. You can just…just say that Ben and my parents weren’t interested, right? Why not just tell Tellarin that you tried and they said “no”?))
((Yeah,)) Yalran said hesitantly. ((Yeah, that would work. I think.)) I wasn’t sure she really believed it though.
((And you don’t want them infested either,)) I said. ((Do you?))
Because that would no more downtime. No more shooting hoops. No more video games. No more long family dinners.
((No,)) Yalran admitted. ((I don’t.))
She closed her thoughts off to me then, keeping my body still. I could hear Ben playing some video game or other in the room next to mine. I could hear my parents talking pleasantly downstairs together. I could feel my chest rise and fall gently with every breath my yeerk made me take.
((Well?)) I said.
((Okay,)) Yalran said, nodding my head. ((I’ll keep them out of this. I promise.))
I’ve never told anyone about the deal I struck with Yalran that night - or at least, I’ve never told another human. All of my yeerks knew, of course. There was no way for them not to know.
But I’ve never told another human. I’ve never told any counsellor I’ve been to. I’ve never told anyone I knew from those years during the war, nor have I told anyone I study with at the college I go to now.
I’ve never even told my family. I didn’t have the courage to tell them in the days after I was freed - and then, as those days turned to weeks which then turned to months, I didn’t have the courage to end the lie I had inadvertently created.
I still talk about it often with Calgiss 5631, the yeerk who lives in me now. I talk to Calgiss about everything, more or less. I’m sure Calgiss knows me better by now than any human does or ever will. I bet Calgiss knows me even better than I know myself, in fact.
And as I talk to Calgiss, or watch a movie with Calgiss, or relive a particularly happy memory through Calgiss, the same question so often goes through my mind - the same question I’d already asked myself many times before that fateful night.
Why didn’t they let us come to them?
That was my first waking thought when Yalran woke me up the following morning. I knew it was Yalran who had woken me up because I didn’t feel the least bit groggy. Yalran had simply hit the proverbial ON switch in my brain, satisfied that I had received an adequate night’s rest - which, as always, I had.
((Good sleep, Beth?)) Yalran said.
((But of course,)) I said.
Ever since becoming Yalran’s host, I had neither slept too much nor too little. I’d go to sleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow, and then I’d wake up feeling fully refreshed around eight hours later. Yalran never did explain to me exactly how she did it; I’m not sure she even knew herself.
Yalran rolled my body over and checked my watch, which she had left lying on my bedside table. Together, we saw that it was just after six-thirty in the morning.
((Wow. That early?)) I said. ((Why’d you wake me up?))
((Just thought I’d check.)) Yalran said. ((Besides, you’ve already slept eight hours straight. Why complain?))
((You mean, aside from the fact you’re controlling me?)) I said - rather more forcefully than I meant to.
((Oh yes,)) Yalran said smoothly. ((Aside from that.))
I tensed up mentally, remembering the deal I’d made with her just the night before. Was I really supposed to be arguing with her anymore? Would she expect me to be agreeable in my words as well as in my actions?
((Relax, Beth,)) Yalran said, dropping her control a little. I hadn’t realised until then just how much tighter her hold was compared to last night. ((Just don’t fight my control. Okay?))
((Right, okay,)) I said. ((Thanks.)) I shouldn’t really have thanked her, looking back, but I couldn’t help but feel relieved.
((So, anyway,)) Yalran said. ((Aside from that.))
((Aside from that?)) I said. I laughed a little in my head. I just couldn’t help myself.
((Aside from that,)) Yalran repeated.
((Well, aside from that,)) I began. ((Well, I guess my life is just perfect. I mean, I have you to put me to bed at night. I have you to do my schoolwork for me. Heck, you run my whole life, all for me.)) I gave her a mental eye-roll. ((All I ever have to do is sit back here and relax while you work, work, work.))
((E-xactly)) Yalran said. ((Now, I think I’ll work on having some breakfast, if you don’t mind.))
((Oh, sure,)) I said. ((Be my guest.))
The house was quiet as Yalran walked me out of my bedroom; everyone else was still in bed, as it turned out. Yalran walked my body down the stairs, being careful not to make too much noise. She went into the kitchen and stuck a couple of slices of bread into the toaster.
((Now then,)) Yalran said, as she went to open the fridge. ((Honey or jam?))
((Let’s do honey,)) I said.
((Mmm,)) Yalran went. ((I was thinking jam, myself.))
Which meant we were having jam on our toast, needless to say.
((Jam today, honey tomorrow?)) I offered.
((Done,)) Yalran said.
Yalran ate our breakfast quietly, once it was already. She took her time with it like she almost always did with food, savouring the taste of the jam as it sat on my tongue. Taste was her second favourite human sense after sight, as far as I could tell, with smell not all that far behind. Really, though, she liked all my senses. She liked being a human; it was that simple.
Soon after she finished, we both turned out attention to the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. They were my mother’s footsteps, I realised; I wasn’t quite sure how I knew that, but I knew it nonetheless.
‘Morning, honey,’ Mom said as soon as she saw us. ‘Good sleep?’
‘Uh huh,’ Yalran made me say. ‘You?’
‘Oh, good enough,’ my Mom said. ‘I’m putting the coffee on. Want some?’
Yalran said that she did. It was something else to taste, after all.
‘When are you going out today, by the way?’ Mom said. ‘You need the shower first?’
‘Well, meeting starts at nine, so yeah,’ Yalran said. ‘I’ll be back home by dinner, though.’
‘Another full day, then?’ Mom said. ‘You really are busy.’
‘Well, there’s a lot to plan at the Sharing,’ Yalran made me say to her. ‘We’ve got a load of community service events coming up. And there’s been a lot of new members recently, so there’s a lot of social stuff to plan too.’
‘Well, I hope it all goes well,’ Mom said. ‘Just don’t tire yourself out, okay?’
‘Oh I won’t, Mom. Don’t you worry.’
Once the coffee was ready, Yalran had a cup of it along with plenty of cream. She sipped it slowly - far slower than I’d have done if left to my own devices. And far slower than she’d usually have done around my family, come to think of it.
Yalran caught that last thought at once, and smiled at me internally. ((Well, why not?)) she said. ((It’s not like a human would get suspicious over this.))
((True enough,)) I replied.
By the time Yalran had finished that cup, both Ben and Dad were up. Ben had said an obligatory “hello” and then promptly booted up a video game in his room, while my parents had ended up in the living room together watching the news. Yalran, at that point, walked me into the downstairs bathroom and undressed me, before walking me on into the shower to be cleaned.
Now, this next part is something I get asked about whenever I see a new therapist. How did it feel, having the yeerk see everything? How did it feel, having no privacy at all? And yes, when Yalran first infested me, such things bothered me immensely - “bothered” being the understatement of the century.
But by this point, I had long since stopped caring. The human mind can get used to all sorts of things when it has no choice, and I certainly had no choice here. I just let myself zone out while Yalran went about her business, with Yalran for her part keeping a respectful silence.
((All done,)) Yalran said, after a time.
((Huh?)) I went. ((Oh, right.)) I’d been daydreaming about an old book I’d read. I’d barely been registering what was happening.
Yalran, I could see, had me sat down in front of the small mirror I kept on my desk. She’d dressed me in a t-shirt and cardigan and loose-fitting jeans. I watched her dab a touch of makeup onto my biggest freckles, and then watched her comb the knots out of my hair. Afterwards, she leafed through one of my books while waiting for my hair to dry.
All too soon, the time came for Yalran to leave the house, and to head down to the seething hell of the Yeerk Pool hidden beneath our town.
‘See you soon, Beth!’ my father called out as Yalran made her way outside.
‘Have a good day, love!’ my mother added.
‘Will do! Bye all!’ Yalran called out, and then shut the front door firmly behind us.
((Bye guys,)) I added, even though I knew only Yalran would hear.
It was cooler outside today. The sky above was cloudy, with not one patch of blue in sight, and I was sure it would begin raining before long. Yalran hurried away from my house, bound towards the nearest entrance to the Yeerk Pool below. She walked in strides that were far longer than just about anyone would have done naturally, and I half-expected her to break into a jog at any time.
((Hungry?)) I said.
((Starving,)) Yalran said.
She wasn’t even exaggerating - at least, not by much. Yeerks almost always went roughly three days between going to their Pool to feed, even though 72 hours was the absolute longest they could go without starving to death.
((Hey, Yalran?)) I said. ((Thanks for last night. Really.))
((Oh, no problem,)) Yalran said. ((Just keep it to yourself, okay?))
((Yeah, sure,)) I said. ((And if anyone asks about yesterday, you tortured me. Right?))
((Right,)) Yalran said.
Yalran went into a nearby McDonalds and joined the queue, which was filled with a mixture of humans and human-controllers. The humans were there to buy food, of course; the human-controllers, meanwhile were there for another reason entirely.
((So,)) Yalran said jovially. ((Ready for a bit freedom?))
((Oh yes,)) I said. ((Freedom to move around in an overcrowded cage. Looking forward to it already))
((Freedom to swim blind in overcrowded sludge,)) Yalran said. ((I can hardly wait.))
((Freedom to be dragged around by Hork-Bajir,)) I drawled.
((Freedom from eyes and from talking,)) Yalran went on.
We kept that up for well over a minute. We both hated the Yeerk Pool, in our own way. I think Yalran would have just stayed in my body permanently, had her biology allowed it. To Yalran, my body was just plain better than her own body. Outside of my body, Yalran was little more than an oversized slug; she had no eyes, no hands, no way to really interact with the world. Why would a yeerk want to be a yeerk when they could be a human being? Or a Hork-Bajir? Or even a Gedd, with their simple minds and uneven-sized legs?
Yalran lapsed into silence as we got closer to the front of the queue. I went quiet too, knowing that any further attempt to talk to her would be futile. She always stopped talking to me at this point, once the pangs of starvation started to hit.
I could swear I felt her relief when she finally reached the front of the line.
‘I’ll have a happy meal with extra happy, please!’ Yalran said to the worker behind the counter - who, naturally, was a controller just like me.
Yalran was called away from the counter and led to a secret passageway. That passageway in turn led to a set of stairs, which led down, down, down, into the Yeerk Pool below.
Even before I could see the Yeerk Pool, I could hear it. I could hear the whirls of machinery employed towards the Pool’s endless expansion. And I could hear the screams and cries of helpless human hosts.
‘SOMEONE HELP US! HELP!’
‘NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!
The cages were everywhere. They were spread out all around the edges of the Yeerk Pool sludge, filled with crying, desperate people. Controllers of many species moved amongst the cages, heedless of the involuntary host’s cries. Hork-Bajir guards dragged hosts to the cages from a pier at the pool’s edge, those hosts’ yeerks having gone into the sludge to feed. Other guards dragged hosts from their cages to a second pier for re-infestation.
Several controllers were waiting along the first of those piers to feed, as Hork-Bajir guards moved to and fro. Yalran was quick to join the line.
((You yeerks sure like queuing,)) I said, more to lighten my own mood than anything else.
((Seems so,)) Yalran said, without a trace of humour. I decided at that point not to bother her again.
With conversation off the cards, there was nothing for me to do except to watch and listen as each of the people in front of me were dragged off in turn. I listened to a little girl wailing for her mother. I watched an older woman struggle valiantly as the guards carried her away, kicking at them and yelling as she went. I watched a man with dead-looking eyes be led away by one hand, any resistance having been utterly extinguished.
I was almost relieved when Yalran’s turn to feed came.
‘Involuntary,’ Yalran said to the nearest of the Hork-Bajir guards standing at the pier’s edge. She knelt down, turning an ear to face the pool below. ((Well, see you soon,)) Yalran said.
((Yeah, see you,)) I said.
As soon as she was out of me, a pair of Hork Bajir took me by my arms and marched me off to be caged. I kept up with their long strides as best I could. Struggling against these two large aliens would have been just as pointless as struggling against a yeerk. It would have been even more pointless, in fact, since there was absolutely no-one who could have helped me down here.
These Hork-Bajir acted like monsters and had the looks to match. Hork-Bajir were tall, powerful creatures with bodies covered in wicked-looking blades. They had blades on their long and muscular arms, blades on their backwards knees, and even a pair of blades on their ends of their tails. At the end of a long sinuous neck was a reptilian-looking head, with three large horns and a toothy, beak-like mouth.
Of course, real Hork-Bajir - that is, Hork Bajir who were free of yeerks - were anything but monsters. Most of them talked like young children. They belonged down here no more than that girl I’d seen crying for her mom. They were slaves to the Empire, just like the human hosts they were being made to drag around.
The cage I was left in, as it turned out, held only one other occupant: a fair-skinned boy with short blond hair and a rosy complexion. He was sat at the back of the cage, leaning on the bars with his legs out wide in front of him. He looked up me briefly as the guards pushed me in, but made no move to talk. I took a moment to stretch my limbs while I had the chance, then made my way over.
‘Hi,’ I said.
‘Hey,’ he said, without looking up at me.
I sat myself down a short space away from him. He didn’t seem broken, as far as I could tell, nor did he even especially upset; really, he just looked bored. I could only assume he was one of the lucky ones, much like me - lucky in that his yeerk was merely a slaver, as opposed to being a torturer as well.
I considered trying to strike up a conversation. I never actually said anything, though.
The cage quickly filled up after that. In no time ago the cage was full of people of all ages, most of them crying or raging at passing controllers or both at once. I retreated to a corner of the cage and hunkered down, leaning against the bars. Turning my head, I realised I had a near-perfect view of the pier the guards had just taken me from. I was about to look away when saw Tellarin 1476 out of the corner of my eye.
Tellarin, I quickly realised, was going to feed. She marched down the pier in the body of Miss Andrews, the guards and queuing yeerks alike stepping aside to let her pass. She reached the end of the pier, knelt down in her host body, and dropped down into the pool.
Miss Andrews pushed herself to her feet. She brushed herself down. She turned and walked away from the sludge. The Hork-Bajir guards made no move to grab her as she went.
Miss Andrews, you see, was a voluntary controller.
Even before she was off that pier, the jeering from the cages had started. I watched the humans in the cages yell and gesture at her. I watched a caged Hork-Bajir slam itself into the bars as she went past. And all the while, Miss Andrews just kept walking, looking determinedly forward and never once acknowledging it was happening.
And then I noticed that boy I’d said “hi” to - that same boy who’d merely seemed bored, and who hadn’t wanted to talk. He was certainly talking now. He was clutching at the bars of our cage, his knuckles white with the effort, yelling out curse after curse, calling her a traitor and far worse besides.
I curled myself up into a little ball. I closed my eyes and clamped my hands over my ears. I’d heard enough. I’d seen enough.
And then, for the first time in weeks, I wept.
Because I was the same as Miss Andrews now, was I not? I’d told Yalran I’d work with her. I’d told her that I’d be voluntary from this point on, even if only to her. I’d already cooperated once as she enticed Helen to join the Sharing. I knew I’d cooperate again the next time, and the next time after that.
Because if I didn’t cooperate, Yalran would…would…
How dare her use this against me!? She’d tricked me! She was using my own family to keep me compliant! She’d only pretended to care about me at all! She’d only pretended to care about Mom and Dad and Ben!
And yet…and yet…
And yet…she’d been utterly terrified last night, hadn’t she? She’d been frightened for her very life. I’d had to calm her down myself - me, an involuntary host, comforting my yeerk.
And yet…she would still infest Mom and Dad and Ben if I rebelled! She’d all but outright said as such! She didn’t care! She didn’t care!
And yet…host sympathy.
And yet…the Empire
I rubbed at my face with my sleeve, drying my eyes.
Host sympathy. That was what all this came down to, was it not? Host sympathy - a crime worthy of death by starvation, according to the Yeerk Empire. Yalran was taking a risk just by agreeing to this deal of ours; of that, I was convinced.
Yalran was trapped here too, in a way; I was convinced of that as well.
And she had no choice but to go along with the Empire; I was convinced of that, too. How else was she to survive, but to serve the Empire loyally?
I was ready for the Hork-Bajir guards when they came for me. I’d made my way to the front of the cage by then; that way, I wouldn’t risk anyone else getting hurt when the guards grabbed for my arms.
I thrust an arm out to the nearer of the two guards as soon as the cage door was open, looking the Hork-Bajir host right in the eyes.
The two Hork-Bajir controllers marched me briskly down the infestation pier, each holding one of my arms in a vice-like grip. I don’t know why they felt the need to do that.They did let go of me once we got close to the pier’s edge, so they must have realised I didn’t plan to fight.
I moved quickly once they’d let go of me, knowing they’d just take hold of my again if I didn’t comply fully. I got down onto my belly, letting my head dangle over the edge, and took a deep breath. My heart raced, though I wasn’t sure why; I’d been through this often enough before, had I not?
My thoughts were interrupted then by a large Hork-Bajir hand, which grabbed my head and shoved it down into the sludge below.
And, for just a few seconds, there was quiet. There was no screaming, no begging, no whirling machines - just the faint current of the Yeerk Pool water brushing against my ears.
Then I felt Yalran probe at my earlobe. And then I felt her enter me. She wormed her way in, bit by it. She pushed herself in, pulled out a little, pushed in a some more - and then squirted something into my ear that took all feeling away. In no time at all, she was connected to my brain, and my body belonged to Yalran once more.
((Heya,)) she said.
((Hey,)) I said.
The Hork-Bajir let my head up then, and Yalran gasped for breath as soon as she was able. ‘I’m in control,’ she managed, and the guard stepped back to let her up.
((Do they really have to be so rough?)) Yalran said
((Try asking them that,)) I grumbled
She didn’t ask them that, needless to say. Instead, she just pushed me to my feet and brushed some hair off of my face, before making her way back down the pier to dry land. The Yeerk Pool sludge fell off of my hair and off of my clothes as she went. Soon, it would be as though it wasn’t there at all - and as though I hadn’t in fact spent the last several hours caged in the dark.
((Aren’t you going to go through my memories?)) I said. She usually did at this point.
((But of course,)) she said.
And then she did go through them. I felt her recall every single detail of the last several hours: my tears, my emotions - and my thoughts both of her and of the Empire at large.
((Oh,)) Yalran said.
She went quiet in my mind for a time, but she kept on walking. I tried to pick up on her own thoughts, but she was keeping them determinedly closed off from me.
((So…happy meal?)) Yalran said. ((You know, for real?))
((Yeah, sure,)) I said. ((Why not?))
I was disappointed that she hadn’t engaged me further - disappointed, but not surprised. After all, I would remember any conversation Yalran and I had - consciously or otherwise. If Yalran had said anything incriminating, it would be there, all ready and waiting for another yeerk to find.
And it was entirely possible that I’d have another yeerk some day. Yeerks didn’t keep the same host forever; rather, they switched hosts whenever they were promoted up the Empire ranks. Yalran, for example, only just held a high enough rank to receive a human host at all. Tellarin was a sub-Visser, by contrast, and so was worthy of receiving an adult human host - a host with far more power than me to pursue the Empire’s interests.
Once we were out of the Yeerk Pool complex, Yalran got right back into that same McDonalds queue she’d been in before. She went ahead and ordered a Happy Meal - this time without the Extra Happy. She found an empty table in the corner and began to eat quietly, taking the food in at her usual slow pace.
((So,)) Yalran said. ((Enjoy your freedom from me?))
((Couldn’t have gone better,)) I drawled. ((I even got to stretch, at first. Good swim?))
((Oh, good enough,)) Yalran said. ((Too cold. No-one talking. The usual.))
((Did you actually try talking this time?)) I asked.
Yalran had once explained to me that yeerks in their own bodies could “talk” via little ultrasonic squeaks to one-another - though they only rarely actually did, as far as I could tell.
((Of course not,)) Yalran said, with a hint of irritation. ((They’d think I was mad.))
((Just for talking?)) I said.
((Yup,)) Yalran said. ((Yeerks only talk in there if they have to. Grubs talk to each other, but I’m not a grub anymore. Besides, they’re all kept in a separate pool.)) She took another bite out of the burger.
((I guess you’ll just have to talk to me, then,)) I said.
((Oh yes. I plan to,)) Yalran said.
And she would, I knew. And she’d let me talk right back, too. That was how I managed to stay at least somewhat sane while so many other involuntary hosts screamed and wailed. I was almost certain of that, then; I’m completely certain of that now.
((Yalran?)) I asked, then. ((You’re not likely to be promoted soon, are you?))
((…Uh?)) Yalran went. ((Well, I don’t think so,)) she said. ((Why?))
I didn’t reply to that right away; I was half-expecting her to scan my mind and get the answer herself.
((Well, it’s just that…)) I began. ((Well, you’re not bad, for a yeerk. You know?))
I felt Yalran smirk in my head. ((Was that meant to be a compliment?))
((Well, yeah, I guess,)) I said.
((Not bad for a yeerk? As in, yeerks are bad?)) she said. ((You know, I think should make you apologise for that.)) She began to lean on my mind, for lack of better term - as though about to plunge me into some memory or other. ((So?)) she said. ((Gonna say sorry?))
I just sighed in my head. I knew Yalran too well to think she had a truly bad memory lined up for this. She was going to put me through one of my old daydreams: snogging Tom Berenson in the school gymnasium, perhaps, or something else equally childish.
((Yalran, I’m being serious,)) I said. ((Stop it.))
She actually did stop, just for once. Her presence lifted away immediately. ((Yeah, I know,)) she muttered. She swallowed down another chunk of burger. ((You’d still run a mile from me if you could, though.))
I’d have blinked in surprise right then, had I been in charge of my own body. ((Well, yeah, but-))
((Hey, it’s no big deal,)) Yalran said. ((It’s why you’re classed as involuntary, right?))
((Uh-huh,)) I went. I wasn’t sure what else to say to that.
((Well, I’d take you over most other involuntary hosts,)) she said.
((Was that supposed to be a complement?)) I said.
Yalran shrugged with my body a little. ((If you want,)) she said.
I smiled at her mentally. ((I’ll take it as one,)) I said.
We both lapsed into silence for a while, during which time I tried - but didn’t entirely manage - to focus on the burger in front of me.
Once she was finished eating, Yalran took me to the Sharing headquarters building. I settled into the back of my mind as she walked, enjoying the daylight and the feeling of the breeze on my face. Yalran was holding me very loosely right then, you see. I doubt she was paying much attention at all to her level of control.
Why did she need to pay attention, after all, when she knew I would never rebel again?
The afternoon at the Sharing headquarters was pleasantly uneventful. Yalran made her presence known, and a more senior yeerk set her to work on various mundane tasks: printing fliers, ordering supplies, and so on. At one point, Yalran got called to a meeting to discuss the logistics of the Sharing meeting that coming Thursday, but nothing groundbreaking came up; I spent most of it zoned out into my own little world.
We had another brief hoops sessions with Ben that evening, once Yalran took me home. Yalran managed to score twice that time, though we both suspected Ben was going easy on me.
Once the time came to go to bed, Yalran didn’t put me to sleep right away. She turned my light out and tucked me in as usual, and I assumed she’d make me drift off immediately; instead, she just lay there with my eyes open, staring straight up at the ceiling.
((So, you really ready for this tomorrow?)) she said.
((Ready for what?)) I asked.
((Ready to keep your end of the deal and not rebel?)) she said. ((Even though you know I’m not going to stop recruiting?))
I nodded at her mentally. ((Yeah. I am,)) I said.
((So you really want to do this? No more rebellions?))
((Of course I do,)) I said. I gave her a weak mental smile. ((I mean, what choice do I have?))
((Well, not much of one, I suppose,)) Yalran said.
I noticed then how loose her control was, once again. I could feel the duvet covering me, as well as the soft mattress I was laid on. I was actually tempted to try struggling, if only to see if I could.
((Oh, go ahead, if you really want,)) Yalran said. ((No-one’s going to see.))
So I did indeed go ahead. I threw myself at Yalran as hard as I could - and didn’t even twitch a single limb.
((What the - Yalran, is this a trick?))
((Huh?)) Yalran went. I felt her scan my mind. ((Well, that’s new.)) She even loosened her hold a little further. ((Try now.))
I tried again - to no effect at all. ((Yalran, if this is a trick, it isn’t funny,)) I said. Surely I could move something! I almost always managed a little movement at least, and that was with Yalran actually trying to stop me from-
((Enough, Beth,)) Yalran said.
And what of my family!? What of my deal with Yalran, if I couldn’t not uphold my end of it? Why was I suddenly not able to-
((Beth, stop! Just-))
((Why. Can’t. I. MOVE?))
I hurled myself at my yeerk, and my whole body jerked wildly. I tumbled off of my bed, taking my duvet with me, and landed on the ground with a loud thump.
((Owwwwww…)) Yalran went.
Yalran just lay on the floor for a moment; she’d taken back full control, and I wasn’t about to argue with that. She kept my eyes on my bedroom door, as though expecting someone to burst in to check on us, though no-one actually did; I guess no-one had actually heard. She was breathing quickly, I noted, though she was starting to slow it down. Had that fast breathing been me, I wondered, or her? Or had it been both of us, perhaps?
((Uh, sorry,)) I said.
((Oh, no problem,)) Yalran said. I couldn’t help but notice that she’d numbed me, though. ((Enough of that, I think.))
((Enough of that,)) I agreed.
Yalran untangled me from my duvet and stood me up quietly. She soon had me back in bed, all tucked in once more.
((That was…weird,)) Yalran said. ((It was like you weren’t even trying. I wasn’t even having to restrain you - well, until the end, at least.))
((But I was trying,)) I said.
((Yeah, I know,)) Yalran said. ((Like I said, weird.)) She rolled me over onto my side. ((Well, whatever. Deal’s still on, okay?))
((Yeah,)) I said. ((Thanks.))
((Want to go to sleep now?))
I was about to respond yes, when a new though occurred to me. ((Maybe I wasn’t trying,)) I said.
((I mean, I wasn’t really fighting then, was I?)) I said. ((I wasn’t trying to keep you from recruiting anyone. I wasn’t even trying to escape, really.))
((Mmm,)) Yalran said. ((I guess your heart wasn’t really in it. Not until that last part, at least.))
((No,)) I said. ((I guess it wasn’t.))
And why would it have been? No-one was going to see that, after all. Even if I’d managed to get up and walk around, Yalran would still be in me. I wouldn’t have ended up being rescued - not by a long shot
And what if I’d managed to shout out - not that I’d actually intended to try that, but what if?
Well, I thought, my family would have all come rushing in - by which time Yalran would have already reasserted herself, I was sure. So, I thought, Yalran would just cook up some half-baked excuse and my family would doubtlessly fall for it. Anything she could say would be more believable than the truth, after all.
But…what if they didn’t believe Yalran? And what if they then decided that The Sharing was bad for me?
Then…they’d want to keep me from the Sharing. Which would make them obstacles. Which would get them infested. So yeah, I though. No.
And what my family instead worked out exactly what was going on? Because I’d managed to shout the whole thing out, or whatever?
Then…well, they’d have to take me somewhere and starve Yalran out, wouldn’t they? They’d take me somewhere secluded and tie me up for three days, or whatever. And then I’d be free.
And Yalran would die. Slowly and painfully. Of Kandrona starvation.
Perhaps I could talk her into coming out of me before that, in that case? And then go to the Yeerk Pool and slip her into the sludge? And then get back out while still pretending to her?
((Yeah, no, that would never work,)) Yalran said. ((I appreciate the thought, though.))
I groaned in my mind. She’d been eavesdropping the whole time, the little devil! ((Well, it was a thought,)) I said. Not that it mattered: my family would never work out the truth, anyway. And even if they did, how would they know to starve Yalran out like that?
Which meant, no amount of struggling or fighting was ever going to get me out of this, even if I kept trying that.
((Hey, Yalran?)) I asked. ((Don’t you think you could-))
((No, Beth,)) Yalran said. ((We promised not to talk about that, remember?))
About her giving me control; that’s what I’d been about to ask. She was still eavesdropping on my thoughts, it would seem.
((Not even for a short time?)) I said. ((Five minutes? Two?))
((But surely-)) I began.
And then stopped myself.
((Nevermind,)) I said. ((Sorry.))
Host sympathy, I reminded myself. Host sympathy. That damn Empire practically controlled her every move, just as she did mine.
((Can I got to sleep now?)) I said.
I was tired by then - and besides, that seemed the easiest way out of this particular discussion.
((Yeah, sure thing,)) Yalran said. ((Night, Beth.))
((Goodnight,)) I said.
She had me out like a light within seconds, like always.
Yalran gave me honey on my toast the next morning, just as she’d promised. I enjoyed it, and so did she. She declared afterwards that we’d be having honey the following day, too, and I was happy not to argue.
We didn’t talk about what had happened the previous night. I didn’t spare it much thought, either. I’d tried struggling, and failed at first but then succeeded, for a given definition of success - and that was that, as far as I was concerned.
I’ve have given that night a good amount of thought, had I only known what would start happening to me soon - but I hadn’t known, and so I didn’t.
I'm going to be travelling starting from the middle of next week, and I don't expect to get much writing done until I'm back at home. As such, I plan to post the next update to this fic on the 30th of September, by which point I expect have rather more time on my hands.
I'm really enjoying writing this fic, I must say; I hope you're all enjoying reading it, too!
I started my day at school on Monday by daydreaming through math class. I then spent the entirety of english class arguing with Yalran over the merits of Shakespeare. Yalran diligently noted down what my teachers said throughout, to keep up appearances if nothing else. I’d been a good student, back in the days before I’d been infested - and as far as the outside world knew, I still was.
The third class of the day was biology. I’d never really liked nor disliked biology, back when I’d still been free. I’d never found it particularly difficult, but it had also never really sparked my interest. Nowadays, though, biology class did indeed spark my interest, and for all the wrong reasons. My biology teacher, you see, was a certain Miss Andrews - or rather, it was Tellarin 1476, playing the role of her.
And Tellarin would play the part flawlessly, just as all yeerks could do. And Miss Andrews would be letting her do it, without lifting a finger to stop her - or even trying to lift a finger. Because Miss Andrews was a voluntary host.
Just like me.
Tellarin wasn’t in the classroom when Yalran first walked in, so the room was alive with chatter. As Yalran sat me down at my usual desk, I wondered to myself if I had ever known the real Miss Andrews - or whether the Miss Andrews I’d known been nothing but a shadow - a puppet for her yeerk masters.
((Hey, Yalran?)) I said. ((How long has she-))
((Don’t know, really,)) Yalran said, having obviously been eavesdropping on my thoughts. ((I guess it’s been a while, though.))
((So, a few months? A year?)) I said.
((Oh, at least a year,)) Yalran said. ((Tellarin’s been a sub-visser for as long as I remember. And yeerks at her level hardly ever change hosts.)) She shifted me in my seat.
((What if she got promoted? To Visser, or whatever?)) I said. ((Would she change hosts then?))
((I guess,)) Yalran said. ((I don’t really know how it works at that point. But lower-ranking yeerks always change hosts when they’re promoted. I had a Hork-Bajir before you, and a Gedd before that. And if I get promoted again…well, I’ll get another human, I suppose.))
It struck me then that Yalran had never really talked about her past with me before. All she’d said to me on that subject was that she was originally supposed to be a pilot, and was to be assigned to a Taxxon host before instead being sent to Earth - and even that, she’d only said to me a few days ago, during that incident playing video games with my brother.
I’d known she’d had other hosts, though. I’d experienced memories of them, back when Yalran had infested me for the very first time - garbled memories, impossible to make sense of at the time, but memories nonetheless.
I thought back to those memories now. I thought back the sensation of being almost blind but having eyes, and opening those eyes and seeing light and colour and beuaty! I thought back to the memories of what I was sure now were of being a Hork-Bajir: of having a powerful body with strength and senses and balance and speed, and yet hating every moment of it because…because…
Yalran jerked my head then, jolting me out of my thoughts. She used my eyes to watch Tellarin enter the room wearing her standard jovial Miss Andrews expression. The chatter in the classroom quickly died down, as Tellarin used her host’s eyes to survey the room.
‘Good morning, everyone,’ Tellarin said. ‘You all had good weekends, I hope?’
Several people nodded and murmured that they had.
‘Ah, wonderful!’ Tellarin said. ‘I hope my homework didn’t cause you too much trouble this time around. What did you all think of it? Too hard? Too easy?’
((You know,)) I said. ((I don’t think this ever won’t feel weird.))
((Nope,)) my yeerk agreed.
Soon, Tellarin asked everyone to put their homework out on their desks, and then went around collecting it all up, with Yalran making my eyes follow her the entire time. After that, Tellarin went through the answers to each homework question one-by-one.
I actually tried to pay attention to what Tellarin had to say, at first. I soon realised though that I had no idea what was going on. Biology homework was one of the things Yalran had done on the previous Friday, but I’d not been taking enough notice to recall what it actually consisted of. And even now that I was taking notice, none of Tellarin’s explanations made any sense to me. So before long, I was once again taking no notice at all.
I’d just missed too much material over the past few months, I realised. And how couldn’t I have done? I’d spent the first few weeks of my infestation doing little besides fight my yeerk for control. More recently, I tended to spend most of my school day talking to Yalran, or else simply daydreaming and leaving Yalran to get on with things. What was the point in listening to classes when, for all I knew, I would never get to actually use them? What was the point in trying, when there was nothing to actually try for?
And so, I proceeded to go through the third class of my day without learning a single thing, just as I’d gone through the first two without learning a single thing. Yalran was silent in my head for the rest of the class; she hardly ever talked to me when Tellarin was around.
Yalran dawdled at the end of the class, packing my backpack extra-slowly and making no move to leave while all the other kids filed out of the room.
((Yalran, what are you doing?)) I said.
((Tellarin wants something,)) Yalran said. ((She tapped her thumb on your desk when she collected your homework. Didn’t you notice?))
((Nope,)) I said. Great, what does she want now?
Once we were alone, Tellarin got up from her desk and closed the classroom door. ‘I trust you disciplined your host?’ she said.
‘Any further resistance?’
‘Good. Very good,’ Tellarin said. ‘That could have been very unfortunate if she’d done that somewhere else. You will be more careful now on, I hope?’
‘Yes, sub-visser. Of course.’
‘Good. Glad to hear it,’ Tellarin said. ‘And you do need to be careful, you know. Hosts who do that once…well, I find they tend to keep doing it. Or at least, they keep trying to do it. If she tries to fight your control again, you discipline her accordingly, whether she actually succeeds or not. Understood?’
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ Yalran said.
‘Incidentally,’ Tellarin said, ‘has your host ever rebelled like that before?’
Tellarin’s host’s face creased into a frown. ‘As in, she’s not even tried before? Never broken free, even for a second?’
I felt Yalran’s grip on my body begin to loosen. ‘She…she used to fight me, sub-visser. A lot,’ Yalran said. ‘She even managed to twitch muscles from time to time. But she’s never broken free like that.’
‘So, highly resistant, then,’ Tellarin said. She began to pace around the room, her host’s arms crossed loosely. ‘And yet now you say she doesn’t resist you?’
‘Yes, sub-visser. No resistance.’
‘Not even a little?’
‘Interesting,’ Tellarin said. ‘That must have been quite the punishment you gave her. Psychological methods, I hope? Nothing physical?’
‘Memory torture,’ Yalran said. ‘Two hours.’
‘Mmm,’ Tellarin went. She gave a curt nod. ‘Yes. Good,’ she said. ‘Of course, if she’s going to resist, it’ll most likely be when something close to her is threatened. That is what set her off last time around, is it not?’
‘Well, yes, sub-visser.’
‘So then, let me ask you this, then,’ Tellarin said. She turned to face us, straightening up the posture of Miss Andrews’ body as far as it would go. ‘Did you bring up the Family Night yet? At your host’s home?’
‘I…’ Yalran began.
And then she said nothing. She just stared at Tellarin with my mouth open- and I could feel that my mouth was open - and I was sure I saw a smile beginning to form on Miss Andrews’ controlled face.
((Yalran!)) I said. ((Say something! Quick! Anything!))
‘I- did try it, sub-visser. Briefly,’ Yalran said. ‘They didn’t seem interested, though.’
Tellarin’s smile - and I could see now it really was a smile - dropped immediately. ‘Mmm. Pity,’ she said. ‘Any idea why?’
‘They think the Sharing takes up too much of my host’s time, I think,’ Yalran said.
‘A pity indeed,’ Tellarin said. ‘Well then, I suggest you try it again. Maybe in a week or so. Understood?’
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ Yalran said.
Tellarin simply eyed us for a moment, the expression on her host’s face impossible to read. Yalran looked straight back, doing her best to keep my face impassive.
((Beth? I think she knows. She-))
((No she doesn’t. Keep it together, you’re doing fine,)) I said.
‘And your host?’ Tellarin said then. ‘How is she reacting to what I just said?’
‘She is…upset, of course,’ Yalran said. She’s practically crying in her head. But she’s too frightened to fight me.’
‘Excellent,’ Tellarin said. She motioned to the classroom door. ‘That’ll be all, then. Carry on.’
Yalran grabbed my backpack and walked out of the classroom. She closed the door slowly behind us, and then hurried away down the school corridor. She rounded a corner, rounded another corner, keeping silent in my head the whole time as though Tellarin would somehow hear her if she spoke to me. Then, she sagged my body against a wall, my backpack held limply in one hand.
((I lied to her,)) Yalran said, staring my eyes up at the ceiling. ((I lied to my sub-visser!))
Her control was so loose just then that was convinced I could have fought and won - but, of course, I didn’t. Yalran was holding up her end of our bargain, so I wasn’t about to not hold up mine. Besides, the corridor was deserted. It was lunchtime now, and all the other students had gone outside for lunch already. Fighting right then would have done me no good at all, even without the agreement between us.
((You okay?)) I said.
((Fine,)) Yalran said.
I knew she was lying. I knew she was lying because I couldn’t pick up a single thought coming from her; she’d shut me out totally. And I knew she was lying because she was making me breathe far too fast.
And if she was in this much of a state already, just what was going to happen as we got closer to-
((Beth, I am doing this,)) Yalran said. ((I’m keeping my promise. I won’t back down if you won’t. Okay?))
I nodded at her mentally. ((Okay,)) I said.
I wasn’t sure I actually believed it. But I wanted to believe it right then, more than anything I’d ever wanted before.
‘…and that was when I decided to become a Full Member,’ Yalran made me say. ‘I didn’t want to just live for myself any longer. I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I just wanted to be part of …something more.’
The kid sitting opposite me nodded wordlessly. He was a small lad, with messy ginger hair. His name was George; I don’t think Yalran or I had ever spoken to him before. We were sat on one end of a long table in the school cafeteria, eating lunch together. Yalran had spotted him sitting on his own, so naturally she had sat me down opposite him.
My yeerk knew a recruitment opportunity when she saw one, after all.
‘It does sound good,’ George said. ‘Do I…do I have to sign up somewhere, or anything?’
‘Oh, no,’ Yalran said. ‘You can just come along to a Sharing meeting and see what it’s like. You don’t have to become a member right away.’
But of course, soon enough he’d agree to become an Associate Member, enchanted by all the activities and offers of friendship. And then he’d agree to become a Full Member. And then he’d be a host to a yeerk, whether he wanted or not.
‘Can I do that, then?’ he said. ‘Just come and see?’
‘Yeah, of course!’ Yalran made me say, keeping my voice jovial. ‘We have a meeting this coming Thursday, over at the beach. We’re going to have a big bonfire, and a barbecue, and games, and stuff. You should come.’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Yeah, I will!’
Of course he wanted to come along, I thought. Why wouldn’t he have done?
((Well, that’s that, I guess,)) I said.
((Uh-huh,)) Yalran said. ((Too easy.))
I wondered if he’d turn out to be voluntary. And whether he’d at least get a decent yeerk.
((You know, this is so much easier with you cooperating,)) Yalran said. ((I’ve never had a voluntary host before.))
It was Tuesday now. Yalran had gone through the remainder of Monday without talking to a single other yeerk - and without making a single recruitment attempt, more to the point. Today, though, she seemed to be back on form, as if that whole run-in with Tellarin had never even happened.
((Well, it’s not as if I have a choice,)) I said, giving a little mental shrug.
((True enough,)) Yalran said. It didn’t seem to bother her, though.
I was relieved when Helen came and sat down next to us, bringing with her the chance of talking about happier things.
‘Hi, Helen,’ Yalran said. ‘I was just telling George about the Sharing meeting this week. You still coming to that?’
Well then, I thought. So much for happier things.
‘Yeah, I think so,’ Helen said.
‘Don’t know about you two, I’m really looking forward to it,’ Yalran made me say. ‘I end up playing volleyball, usually. I mean, I’m really bad at volleyball, and you can’t see the ball a lot of time once the sun goes down, but it’s really good fun.’
‘What time does it start, again?’ Helen said.
‘We’re starting at six,’ Yalran said. ‘We’ll be down at the beach, and we’ll have a bonfire going, so it’ll be easy to find.’
‘Want to meet me at my place, then?’ Helen said. ‘Say, at five, or so?’
Her house was directly on the way to the beach from where my own house was, so her suggestion made perfect sense.
‘No thanks. Sorry,’ Yalran said. ‘I’ve got to be there early. Full member stuff.’
‘What’s that?’ George said.
‘Oh, you know. Meetings, and so on,’ Yalran made me say. ‘Working out future events, making sure everything is organised for the current event. That sort of thing.’
‘They seem to meet a lot,’ Helen said to George. ‘I went to the Gardens with them on Saturday, and most of the Full Members went off for a meeting while everyone else had lunch.’ She set a large lunchbox down in front of her. ‘It’s a bit weird, actually.’
‘Well, there’s always a lot to get through,’ Yalran said. ‘It’s a big organisation, The Sharing. And we’re getting bigger all the time.’
‘Well, yeah, but…do full members really need to go all these extra meetings? Or even most of them? There just seem to be so many.’
‘I guess I don’t have to go to all of them,’ Yalran said. ‘But…but I want to, you know?’
‘Mmm,’ Helen went. Needless to say, she didn’t sound convinced.
‘What’s wrong?’ Yalran said.
Helen shrugged. ‘I dunno. It’s just…you seem to be at those meetings so often now. And you’re always looking for new members, and…I don’t know.’ She picked at her food, but she wasn’t actually eating. ‘It’s like you’re doing Sharing stuff all the time. That’s all.’
“All the time” was a bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but she wasn’t far off. Between all the time Yalran spent down in the Yeerk Pool, and all the time Yalran spent in Sharing meetings of various kinds, and all the time Yalran spent trying to recruit people, there was precious little time for her to actually live my old life.
That was how it was for a lot of hosts, as far as I’d seen. Tom Berenson’s yeerk had made him quit the basketball team, for instance, to free up time for Empire business. He wasn’t the only member of the team to have left for that reason, either.
‘I just want to play my part in it all,’ Yalran said. ‘I want to give back to the Sharing after what it did for me - be part of something larger than myself, and all that.’
Helen shrugged at that, but she didn’t reply.
((Um, Yalran?)) I said then. ((Try talking about something else. You’re weirding her out.))
((Like, what?)) she said.
((I don’t know, just…something I’d talk about,)) I said. ((You know, before the Sharing.))
Yalran did know what to say, as it turned out. She was a yeerk, and she was in my brain; she knew everything there was to know about being me.
‘Hey, you been to the book store lately?’ Yalran said. ‘I wouldn’t mind going. It’s been ages.’
‘Same here,’ Helen said, suddenly perking up. ‘Want to go some time?’
There was a book store in our town’s mall. Yalran hadn’t been to the mall since she’d infested me, except for when she’d gone with my family.
Before the Sharing, Helen and I had gone to the mall together a lot. We’d try out books, grab some snacks from the food court, and just generally hang out. Occasionally, we’d even go clothes-shopping, and pretend to ourselves that we were part of the cool crowd - whatever being part of the cool crowd actually meant.
‘You free after school today?’ Yalran said.
‘Yeah,’ Halen said. ‘Let’s go for it.’
And so, they talked about books for a little bit - Helen and Yalran, I mean. George piped up exactly once in the ensuing discussion.
That conversation lasted right up until Caleb approached our end of the table, waving slightly as he came.
‘Hey guys,’ Caleb said said, wearing the same faint smile I remembered from the Gardens. ‘Can I sit here? With you?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ Yalran said, shuffling my body away from the edge of the bench.
Caleb had a plastic lunchbox held tightly in both hands, a backpack slung loosely over one shoulder; the strap for his other shoulder, I noted, was ripped and unusable. He sat down briefly, and placed his busted-up backpack down between his feet. In no time at all, he started to eat.
And he didn’t say a word.
Yalran kept watched him a moment longer. She watched him smiling faintly to himself over something or other, and took in his messy black hair. And then, she turned my eyes away from him and started to eat my own lunch.
I kept thinking about Caleb as my yeerk ate. There was just… a real vulnerability to Caleb, and a sort that I don’t think I’d ever seen in anyone else. I tried to imagine was was going on in the mind behind those wide eyes of his. I wondered what would happen if Yalran tried simply saying “hello”.
((Try saying something to him,)) I said, after a time.
((Like, what?)) Yalran said.
((I don’t know,)) I said. ((Anything.))
And so, Yalran did exactly that. ‘You okay there?’ she said.
Caleb jerked upright, staring straight at me as though I were the scariest thing in the world.
‘I, uh, y-yeah,’ he stammered.
‘Do anything fun over the weekend?’
‘Played games and stuff,’ Caleb said. I could have sworn I saw him shake a little.
‘Hey, I’m not that scary, am I?’ Yalran said.
‘Well, I…well…’ Caleb began. Right then, he looked distinctly like he wanted to be elsewhere.
((Yalran, stop it!)) I said suddenly. ((Leave him be. He doesn’t want to talk.))
((Hey, you’re the one who wanted it,)) Yalran said.
To the outside world, though, she adopted a far different tone.
‘Hey, I’m sorry,’ Yalran said to him. ‘It’s okay. I didn’t used to talk much, either.’
Until the Sharing, I expected to her to say next, or at least something vaguely like it. She didn’t, though.
((Well, I should talk about other things sometimes. You’re right about that,)) Yalran said.
I shrugged mentally. ((Fair enough,)) I said.
Caleb smiled at me and nodded, but he didn’t say anything else. Yalran joined the conversation that Helen and George were having, but she continued to look my eyes in Caleb’s direction from time to time. In no time at all, Caleb had gone back to smiling to himself - about what, I couldn’t possibly guess.
((He’s happy just to be sitting here, probably,)) Yalran offered.
Caleb, as far as I knew, almost always sat on his own.
((Yeah, I think you’re right,)) I said.
Yalran stopped talking to me after that. I was honestly grateful for her silence, because that silence let me pretend to myself that my life was normal and yeerk-free. I just listened to the others talk, and listened to Yalran say things while pretending that I was the one saying them.
And then I wondered to myself how long it would be before Helen or Caleb or George were infested. I didn’t quite manage to keep pretending after that.
Yalran went with Helen to the mall as planned. They went to the bookshop first, and spent some time leafing through some of the new releases; they even ended up buying a couple. After that, they went to the food court and bought some drinks and some snacks, including a large Cinnabon in Yalran’s case. Yalran didn’t even bother to hide her excitement from me as they sat down together with it all.
‘We should go see a movie some time,’ Helen said. ‘There’s so much out at the moment.’
‘Anything that looks good?’ Yalran said.
‘Oh, yes. Lots,’ Helen said, before listing several.
Helen hadn’t been to watch a movie since I’d become a Full Member, I assumed. After all, it was usually me she went with, if anyone.
‘Yeah, we should go, then, ’ Yalran said. ‘I mean, I’m usually really busy, but there must be some time we can both go.’
‘Saturday?’ Helen offered. ‘You free then?’
‘Nah. Sharing stuff. Sorry,’ Yalran said.
There were no actual Sharing events that Saturday, as far as I knew - but Yalran was scheduled for feeding, and then presumably would be off to the Sharing Headquarters right afterwards.
‘What about Sunday?’ Yalran said.
Helen shook her head. ‘No, that won’t work, I’m out all day,’ she said. ‘What about tomorrow?’
‘Uh huh.’ Yalran would be feeding that day too, after all.
Helen didn’t suggest any more days after that. She probably didn’t see the point. She ate her assorted snacks quietly for a time, with Yalran doing the same.
((Say Saturday,)) I said.
((But I’m feeding that morning,)) Yalran said. ((And then I’ll need to-))
((Go to Sharing Headquarters?)) I said. ((Just tell them you have a prior engagement or something. Must happen all the time.))
((Not for something so trivial, it doesn’t.))
((Come on,)) I said. ((Surely you’d prefer a movie over boring office work?))
((Beth, I’m not going to not report for duty just because my host wants to-))
((So, you have a potential host,)) I said. ((Shy, not a lot of friends. Possible voluntary. And she thinks the secret Full Member meetings are weird, and she thinks the Sharing takes up too much of my time. Right?))
Yalran kept silent in my mind - but not for long. ((Right,)) she said.
((That means she might stop coming to meetings,)) I said. ((And she might go around telling others what she thinks. So, you want to be social outside of a Sharing meeting. You want to prove her wrong, and show her that the Sharing doesn’t take over its member’s lives. Sound good?))
Again, Yalran didn’t respond to me verbally right away. But I could feel her smiling inside.
((Beth?)) Yalran said. ((You’re a genius.))
She said it completely sincerely, without a hint of mockery.
Looking back, that was the worst part of all.
Needless to say, Helen enthusiastically accepted Yalran’s suggestion. After that, she and Yalran stayed in that food court for almost an hour. They kept talking long after the snacks they’d bought were finished and, when the conversation finally dried up, opened up a couple of the books they’d bought and started going through them there and then.
I, for my part, was content to merely listen to and watch the proceedings, as opposed to providing Yalran with any commentary. Already, I could hardly wait for Saturday to come.
Eventually, Helen said that she had to go home. Yalran said likewise, and the two left the mall together.
I assumed Yalran would take me to the Yeerk Pool next: it had already been over two days since Yalran had last gone to feed, and by the following morning it would almost be three. There was an entrance hidden within the mall itself, and plenty of other entrances nearby.
Instead, Yalran walked with Helen to her place; after that, she caught a bus and headed right on home.
((Hey, Yalran?)) I said. ((Shouldn’t you-))
((Oh?)) Yalran went. She touched my mind for a moment, and gave the mental equivalent of a shrug. ((Nah. The Pool’s boring. Tomorrow,)) she said.
I shrugged right back - mentally, of course. I was hardly going to argue if Yalran wished to stay away from that place.
Yalran spent the rest of the day playing at being me: some hoops with Ben, some dinner with my family, then some video games with Ben.
She held me loosely throughout - whether by choice or by habit, I couldn’t say. But regardless of why she was doing it, he hold on me was loose. It was loose enough for me to feel everything, be it the breeze on my skin as Yalran threw a basketball over Ben’s head, or the movement of my fingers as Yalran pushed buttons on a video game controller, or the cutlery in my hands as Yalran forked a homemade pie by Mom into my controlled mouth.
Her hold was loose enough for me to feel, and loose enough for me to imagine doing.
But it wasn’t loose enough for me to do.
I didn’t think it would ever be loose enough for that.
Yalran had me showered and ready to go next morning by the time the rest of my family were just getting up. She said her goodbyes to them and then slipped outside into the cold early-morning air, faking a yawn as she went.
((Seriously, couldn’t you have just gone yesterday?)) I said, after many minutes of walking. ((This is early. Stupidly early.))
((Well, it wasn’t my fault Helen stayed for so long,)) Yalran said. ((I was planning to go. Really.))
((You could have still gone,)) I said. ((Rang home, said you had a Sharing thing, or something.))
((What, and be late home? No way!)) Yalran said. ((We’d have missed dinner. And hoops! And games!))
((So, what, you’re willing to risk starvation? For that?))
((Uh-huh,)) Yalran said, practically smirking in my head. ((Besides, there’s no risk. Your family always believes me. They’d believe anything.))
As far as my family were aware, I was off to a Sharing breakfast club, where I would eat a nice healthy breakfast and interact with my peers before starting my day at school just right. That was what Yalran had told them the previous evening, just as she had done several times before.
In reality, of course, she was walking me to the Yeerk Pool, to go off and feed while I was slung into whichever cage happened to be available.
((We could have slept in if you’d gone yesterday,)) I said.
((Oh, stop complaining,)) Yalran said. ((You got your eight hours sleep, did you not? Thanks to me.))
She wasn’t wrong. Yeerks really did seem to do wonders for sleep - or at least, Yalran did wonders for my sleep. I honest-to-God felt awake right then - far more so than on any morning before Yalran became part of my life.
((You know, some people would like this,)) I said.
((Like what?)) Yalran said. As though she couldn’t have just scanned my mind and found out.
((Going to sleep when they want and waking up when they want and feeling awake. You know?))
I couldn’t help but notice the long silence in my head that followed. I’d have called that a win, only a few days a go.
((Perhaps,)) Yalran said finally.
I rolled my eyes at her - mentally, of course. ((You know I’m right,)) I said.
((I didn’t say you weren’t,)) Yalran said.
((I bet some people would come to you for that,)) I said. ((They’d come to the Sharing knowing full well what yeerks were. Or at least, they would, if yeerks actually shared.))
((Oh, they’d get a bit of control,)) Yalran said. ((They’d be voluntary, after all.))
(What, for a few hours ever three days, while their yeerk feeds?)) I said. ((Oh no, I’m talking way more than that.))
((Oh no, they’d get more than that,)) Yalran said. ((They’d be voluntary,)) she said.
I spoke again, once it became clear she wasn’t going to elaborate. ((Um, Yalran, what do you mean?)) I said.
((Do voluntary hosts get given control?)) I said. ((When the yeerk is still there, I mean?))
((Well, they’re voluntary,)) Yalrna said. ((And if it takes giving them a bit of control to keep them that way…well. We’re not supposed to do it, but only an idiot thinks it never happens.))
I could see the McDonalds ahead of us now - the same one Yalran often took me to when going to feed. People were busily coming and going from its wide double-doors. Several of those people were hosts to yeerks, I was sure.
((I’m voluntary now,)) I said. ((To you.))
I felt Yalran pause in my mind. ((No you’re not. Not officially,)) she said. ((But…yes.))
We both stopped talking as Yalran stepped through into the McDonalds. She bought me an Egg McMuffin along with her Happy Meal With Extra Happy, and then ate quickly as she descended the steps of the Yeerk Pool’s entrance.
The Yeerk Pool was…the Yeerk Pool. Yalran entered it to the sounds of screams and wails from involuntary hosts, and to the sounds of construction carried out by whirling, humming machines. Yalran kept my eyes to the ground as she queued at a pier, waiting for her turn.
((Well, see you,)) I said, once she got to the front of the queue.
((Yeah, see you,)) Yalran said.
Once Yalran was gone, I let a pair of Hork-Bajir guards to take me off to a cage - one which, as it turned out, already held a few people. There, I slumped down into a corner, doing my best to ignore and shut out the screams.
That, unsurprisingly, was far easier said than actually done.
There was a kid in the corner opposite mine, crying his eyes out. He was being hugged and rocked comforted by a woman who looked old enough to be his mother, and she was crying too.
Was this how Caleb would end up? Would having a yeerk really help him, as Yalran had once claimed? Or would his yeerk simply become the biggest bully he had ever had to face?
And what of Helen? Would she go voluntary, and at least have the opportunity to relax in comfort for the few precious hours her yeerk was out of her ear? Or would she be involuntary, screaming and crying behind hard metal bars like so many others brought her before her?
I turned myself towards the bars, watching a voluntary host make their way through the shouts and the jeers of caged involuntatries. I shifted where I sat, moving to grasp one of the bars with my hand.
My hand didn’t move.
I didn’t even notice what was happening right away: my movements had been automatic, and I hadn’t really been thinking about them. But then I did notice, and my heart leapt. I pulled my hand back and eyed it closely, my heart beginning to pound in my chest. The hand was lifeless, useless, its fingers starting to curl on their own accord.
I slapped my deadened hand once, and then slapped it again harder. That hurt, a lot. But it didn’t achieve a thing.
Okay, I said to myself. Okay, calm down, I can fix this.
I went open those curled fingers fully with my good hand, but then I realised that my “good” hand wasn’t good at all. I couldn’t move that one either, and it was limp at the wrist.
A whimper escaped my throat, and I realised then how hard I was breathing.
All around me, the Yeerk Pool continued to operate. Controllers moved to and fro, heedless of the screaming, crying prisoners in the cages around them.
For once, the hell of my surroundings barely even registered. I was too busy staring at my hands; I was too busy watching my arms shake. Why weren’t they moving? What was wrong? What was happening?
My right hand twitched then; I could have sworn I didn’t make it do that. I tried twitching it again - consciously - and I did. I flexed my fingers a few times, and felt a surge of relief upon realising I could still do that simple, simple thing.
And so I turned my attention to the other hand - my left hand - and tried twitching that one as well…and did! And then, I let out a huge breath of air I hadn’t even realised I’d been holding in.
I spent the rest of my time in that cage curling and uncurling my fingers non-stop, and twisting my hands this way and that, as though the slightest pause in those movements would keep me from making them ever again. I was still doing that even while making me way to the front of the cage, ready for the guards to take me away.
And they did come for me - two Hork-Bajir, when one would have been more than enough. They took me by my upper arms and marched me towards one of the piers to be re-infested. I half-walked and half-jogged in my efforts to keep up with them.
I tried testing my hands again as they walked me up the pier. Neither one moved. Not a twitch.
What? No! But, why-
The Hork-Bajir let go of me then. I stopped thinking, and started doing. I got down onto my stomach and crawled forward, making sure my head was over the edge of the pier. I held my breath and closed my eyes, ready to have my head forced into the murky sludge, ready to be re-infested, ready to be made a slave, ready for Yalran to take me over and walk me away.
One of the guards took hold of my head and thrust it under to…peace, quiet, no machines, no screams.
I felt a mass invading my ear, forcing itself in bit-by-bit, until…
((Heya,)) Yalran said.
She must have sensed my mood, because she didn’t say anything else.
Yalran told the guards she was in control, once they’d let my head up, and then hurried away from the pier. She went through my memories quickly after that, the way she always did after getting me back from the cages.
((Yalran, what happened?)) I said, once I was sure she’d seen everything. ((What’s happening to me?))
((Nothing’s happening, Beth,)) my yeerk said. ((Just don’t worry about it. You’re fine.))
I didn’t believe it for a moment. I don’t think she did, either.
I was still thinking about my hands as Yalran started taking me through my day at school. Try though I did, I couldn’t think about anything else. Would they be better the next time I had control of them, I asked myself, down in the Yeerk Pool depths?
Had I seen this before, with anyone else? I saw many people during Yalran’s trips to the Yeerk Pool, of course: desperate, screaming, crying people…but moving people, I realised. Even the other quiet ones like me seemed to be quiet out of choice; I’d never noticed them having problems moving around.
There were the broken hosts, of course: the few poor souls whose yeerks went beyond even the normal bounds of yeerk cruelty. They kept still in the cages - but they weren’t me. I wasn’t broken; Yalran would never want that.
((Beth, you’re fine. Stop worrying,)) Yalran said.
We were sitting in a math class, having been out of the Yeerk Pool for over an hour. The teacher was at the whiteboard, droning on about some algebraic expression or other. Everyone else there was quietly jotting down notes - Yalran included.
((Can’t you give me control?)) I said. ((Just for a few seconds? Just to see?))
((Beth, no, we are not talking about -))
((Please, Yalran!)) I said. ((For a few seconds! Not even a minute! I-))
I shank away inside, shocked at the finality of her tone.
((You’re an involuntary host,)) Yalran said. ((There would be no reason - no reason except sympathy - to give you control. Got it?))
There it was again, I thought. Host sympathy. The worst crime a yeerk could commit, in the minds of certain yeerks. That’s what this came down to, I was sure - even if Yalran wasn’t quite saying it outright.
((I’m voluntary to you,)) I said, so quietly and unobtrusively that I wasn’t sure she’d even hear.
((What? And you’re planning to not be?)) Yalran said ((Is that what you’re saying?))
I thought of the screaming and crying people down in the Yeerk Pool’s cages. I pictured my Mom and my Dad and my brother down there, screaming and crying right along with them.
((N-no! No!)) I said frantically. ((Of course not!))
((Didn’t think so,)) Yalran said. ((So, like I said: no reason.))
Host sympathy, I thought again miserably. I gave up on asking Yalran for control after that. I didn’t see the point in trying any further.
The class continued. Our teacher finished talking, and we all started working on example questions. I’m sure I could have answered them all without a problem, had Yalran never become a factor in my life. I didn’t even try to pay attention this time; I was too busy stewing in the back of my mind.
I wondered what would happen the next time Yalran left my ear. Would I be back to normal by then, or would I be even worse? Would it just be my hands next time? Would there come a time when I couldn’t even do the simplest thing without a yeerk to-
((You’ve got your hands,)) Yalran said.
((Your hands. Try moving them. Quickly,)) Yalran said.
I stopped stewing at that point, and took in my surrounding properly. Yalran had stopped working, and had both of my arms resting on my lap. She’d placed my hands under my desk, out of everyone’s sight.
So I did try moving them. I bent and stretched my fingers, and moved my hands around at the wrists in every which way. They both seemed to be working exactly as they ought to.
((See?)) Yalran said. ((There’s no problem. You’re fine. Okay?))
I curled and straightened all ten of my fingers one last time, then gave her a little mental nod. ((Okay,)) I said.
She took back control after that. I wasn’t surprised, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
((Thanks,)) I said weakly.
((Oh, no problem,)) Yalran said, as she went back to work. ((Keeps you from worrying, right?))
I tried actually listening to what the teacher was saying for a moment, but I soon realised it was a lost cause, and I quickly gave up.
((I didn’t know you could do that,)) I said.
((Do what?)) she said.
((Give me control without giving all of it,)) I said. ((Giving me just…bits.))
((Well, I can,)) Yalran said, with a little mental shrug.
I wondered what exactly she was thinking then. I sensed her detecting that thought of mine, sensed her shutting me out, and then sensed nothing else
((Hey, Yalran?)) I said. ((Do you think you could, well, do that again some time?))
I felt her get ready to say something - or perhaps, rather, I felt her want to say something. She ended up keeping that something to herself though, whatever it was going to be.
((It doesn’t have to be my whole body or anything,)) I said. ((Just…little bits. Every now and then. You know?))
I could feel Yalran right there, leaning on my mind. Her thoughts were so close to me, and yet so very far away.
((Please?)) I said.
Yalran’s silence stretched out just a moment longer.
((Well, for my cooperative, voluntary, willing host?)) she said, with a little mental smirk. ((And to keep you from bugging me? I suppose little control is fine. In private, at least. Sound fair?))
She continued to lean heavily on my thoughts, her internal smirk transforming into a lighter smile as I took those words in.
With hindsight, perhaps, I shouldn’t have been so thankful to her. But after so many months with no control at all, even a little bit sounded like utter heaven.
((Oh, Yalran, thank you!)) I said. ((Thank you so much!))
((Yeah, yeah, sure,)) Yalran said. ((Just keep it to yourself, okay?))
I nodded mentally. ((I will,)) I said. ((I promise.))
That lunchtime, Yalran and I found ourselves standing outside Miss Andrews’ classroom. The door to the room was closed, but we both knew Tellarin would be inside - and, in all likelihood, alone.
((Go on,)) I said. ((Knock.))
Yalran made me take one step closer, my arm raised and ready to rap on the door - but then she just stood frozen in place.
Tellarin almost always stuck to that classroom during the day, even when she wasn’t teaching. That made it easy for students to find her, should they want to speak - and made it doubly easy for yeerks to speak to her without risking their cover.
((Come on, this’ll be easy,)) I said. ((Just tell her you need to socialise to maintain your cover. That’s all you need to do.))
Yalran nodded my head silently, then knocked hard on the door. ((Well, here goes,)) she said.
Seconds later, the door came open - with Tellarin 1476 right on the other side, smiling a sweet Miss Andrews smile.
‘Oh, hello, Beth,’ Tellarin said. ‘Can I help you?’
‘I’m having trouble with your homework, Miss,’ Yalran said. ‘Question three.’
Tellarin’s host’s face dropped at once. ‘I’m alone. Come in,’ she said.
Yalran had been speaking in code. There had indeed been homework from Miss Andrews’ most recent class, but Yalran had yet to even to look at it.
Tellarin closed the door behind us as soon as we were inside. ‘What is it?’ she said.
‘I plan to socialise with a potential host on Saturday, after I have fed,’ Yalran said. She swallowed. ‘I need leave from my regular duties that day.’
‘Mmm. Well, that makes sense,’ Tellarin said. ’But…who is this potential host? Are they going to Sharing meetings?’
‘Her name is Helen Johnson,’ Yalran said. ‘She was my host’s best friend. She came to the Gardens with us, and she plans to come tomorrow too. I think she could be voluntary, sub-visser.’
‘She has no real friends, other than my host,’ Yalran said. ‘She’s very isolated, socially. She won’t want to leave the Sharing, after a few meetings.’
‘And yet you plan to met her outside of the Sharing. Why?’
‘To maintain my cover, sub-visser,’ Yalran said. ‘My host and this human used to socialise often.’
‘I see,’ Tellarin said.
She went over to Miss Andrews’ desk, over by the whiteboard. She sat down and rubbed at her host’s forehead, as though deep in thought.
‘Very well. Request granted,’ Tellarin said. ‘But…that host of yours. How would you describe her mood, right now?’
For a moment, Yalran worked my mouth without actually speaking. It was plain for anyone to see that the question had caught her off-guard.
‘She’s…cooperative, sub-visser,’ Yalran said.
Tellarin regarded us levelly from her desk, a smile creeping into her stolen face. ‘That is not what I asked, Yalran,’ she said.
‘I-I don’t understand, sub-visser,’ Yalran said.
‘Cooperation can take many forms,’ Tellarin said. ‘Some hosts cooperate because they’re too frightened not to. But others…well,’ she said. ‘Tell me: were you to drop control, right now, what would happen? What would I see? ’
Yalran wasn’t smiling at all. Externally, she was keeping my expression passive, staring just slightly ahead of where Tellarin sat. Internally…well, passive was certainly not the word.
((Um, Beth? Help?)) Yalran said.
((Tell her the truth,)) I said. But not the whole truth, I didn’t need to add, since I could feel her scanning my every thought.
‘She’s…calm, right now,’ she said. ‘If I dropped control, she’d…do nothing of note, sub-visser,’ she said, reading it off of my thoughts as I thought them. ‘She’d just move around a bit, while she could. That’s all.’
‘You mean she wouldn’t even try to rebel, when given the chance? No shouting out, or anything like that?’
‘No, sub-visser,’ Yalran said. ‘She doesn’t see the point.’
‘I see,’ Tellarin said. ‘In that case, Yalran, this is an order: drop your control. Now.’
And so Yalran did just that; she didn’t need telling twice.
I wobbled where I stood, and leaned on a desk to steady myself; the suddenness of Yalran’s departure had taken me by surprise. And then, I stood myself upright, my arms swinging a little by my sides. I tried my hands once each; they were fine.
‘Mmm,’ Tellarin went.
I jumped a little, and turned in the direction of her voice.
‘You’re calm, for an involuntary,’ Tellarin said. ‘Very calm.’
I just stared at her without speaking. I’m not sure whether she actually expected me to reply. She regarded me steadily with unblinking eyes, her head resting atop interlocked fingers. I returned her gaze, my heart beginning to thump as I did, and saw her forehand slowly crease into a frown.
‘Calm indeed, all things considered,’ Tellarin said. ‘Well, that’s enough. Come back, Yalran.’
Yalran reasserted herself immediately, straightening my body as she did. I’d been slouching a great deal, though I hadn’t noticed.
‘It would seem you’ve gotten lucky, Yalran,’ Tellarin said. ‘Her cooperation must seem a real blessing to you, after her past behaviour.
‘It is, sub-visser. Very much.’
‘Can you explain why she’s so cooperative, all of a sudden?’
‘She…she’s finding it better than rebelling, sub-visser. It means not being punished, after all.’
‘Well, makes sense,’ Tellarin said. ‘And this afternoon you intend to spend with her friend? What does she think of that.’
‘Well, she’s…’ Yalran began.
‘Looking forward to it?’ Tellarin offered.
‘Well, yes yes, sub-visser. A lot,’ Yalran said.
Tellarin gave a brief nod of her head. ‘Mmm, yes. Like a said, a blessing,’ she said. She paused for a moment, her mouth becoming a hard straight line. ‘But also a curse, if you are not careful,’ she said. ‘I trust you will be?’
‘I…I don’t understand, sub-visser,’ Yalran said.
‘What I mean, Yalran, is that a host like that can easily make a yeerk start to… well, sympathise. You see?’
Yalran’s posture went utterly rigid. ‘I…well, yes, sub-visser.’
‘But you won’t, will you?’
’N-no, sub-visser, of course.’ Yalran said, relaxing my body a little.
‘I know you won’t,’ Tellarin said. ‘Because you will be careful. Won’t you?’
Yalran nodded my head. ‘Yes, I will, sub-visser,’ she said, relaxing more.
‘Her continued cooperation must never come at the expense of your duties, no matter how tempting it may be,’ Tellarin said. ‘Remember that, and you have nothing to fear. Understood?’
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ Yalran said, with a faint nod. ‘Absolutely.’
‘Very good,’ Tellarin said. She looked my right in the eye then, her own eyes burning with a sudden intensity. ‘A well-behaved host does not make you a sympathiser, Yalran,’ Tellarin said. ‘So next time, do not hesitate in answering me. Am I clear?’
‘Y-yes, sub-visser. Of course.’
‘Good,’ Tellarin said. ‘As I said, your request is granted. Now go. And close the door behind you.’
Yalran did exactly as instructed, and then said nothing to me as she made her way outside to eat. My stomach grumbled slightly as she walked.
((Well, that went well,)) I said. ((I think.))
For Yalran and I, the Thursday Sharing session began with a yeerk meeting, right out there on the beach. Tellarin headed the meeting in question. She was the one in charge of the Sharing event to come, and she seemed determined as ever to make it a success - for a given definition of success, of course. And in this case, the definition of success was clear: give the humans a fun time, try to get some new associate members, and make the Sharing look respectable. All in all, pretty straightforward.
((Well, this should be good,)) Yalran said, as they started getting things ready. ((Sun, sea, volleyball, food…what more could we want?))
((Freedom?)) I asked, only semi-seriously.
((Oh, shush,)) Yalran said. ((Don’t be a spoilsport.))
I gave her a little mental shrug, but I didn’t push the matter. Unless she started actively pushing someone to become a Full Member, or anything like that, I supposed I might as well just try to enjoy myself.
And there were plenty of things to be enjoyed - on the surface, at least. This event was going to have pretty much everything: barbecue food, cold drinks, a big nighttime bonfire, some volleyball games, some soccer balls and frisbees, the works. A good time was sure to be had by all - which would almost certainly result in more hosts, of course.
Once they were finished with preparations, a lot of the yeerks ended up sitting together over by the still-unlit bonfire, Yalran included. As far as I could see, all of their hosts were from my school, and in no time at all they’d begun to talk amongst themselves. They did a reasonable job of looking normal, chatting jovially like they were normal humans teenagers and not at all invaders from another world.
But they only did a reasonable job, mind. And only from a distance, at that; anyone actually listening to them would have immediately known something was very, very wrong.
‘Man, my host will not shut up,’ I heard one of them say, with the voice of a teenage boy. ‘He’s been yelling and begging all day. I don’t think he’ll ever be quiet.’
‘Well, shut him up then,’ another yeerk said, sitting right beside me. ‘Give him bad memories or something.’
I recognised that particular voice. It was the voice of that dark-haired girl whose yeerk had sat opposite us in that Gardens canteen. Kessam 805 was her yeerk’s name, as I’d learned earlier that afternoon.
‘I tried that already,’ the first yeerk said. ‘That just made him yell louder.’
‘Well…try it again, then,’ Kessam said. ‘Harder.’
‘Eh, no point. Host chatter never bothered me.’
I couldn’t see either of them, just then. Yalran had been staring vacantly out into the sea ever since they’d all sat down; I think she’d been planning to watch the sunset.
‘Well, if you say so,’ Kessam said. ‘Hey, Yalran, how’s your host behaving now?’
Yalran turned my head in the direction of Kassam’s voice - or her host’s voice, at least. ‘Oh, she’s behaving,’ Yalran made me say. ‘She won’t do that again in a hurry,’ she added, with a visible smirk.
‘Oh, I’m sure she won’t,’ the girl said, visibly grinning. ‘I bet you made her regret it!’
‘Oh I did,’ Yalran said. ‘I’ve never heard a host apologise so much.’
‘Well, good,’ Kessam said. ‘Stupid creature deserved nothing less.’
((Someone could hear all this, you know,)) I said.
((Nah,)) Yalran went. ((Who’s going to hear? There’s no-one around.))
I had to admit, she had a point. Right then, the only humans around were like me, infested and helpless.
‘What about your host?’ Yalran said, just then.
‘Oh, the usual. Voluntary host, and all that,’ Kessam said.
I wondered what was going through the mind of Kessam’s host right then. Was she actually happy to be being controlled, or merely resigned?
((Oh, resigned, probably,)) Yalran said. ((Most hosts don’t like being controlled, funnily enough.))
((Jeez, you think?)) I said.
((Uh huh,)) Yalran said - completely unbothered, as far as I could tell. ((But it’s not like rebellion would get her anywhere now - except for a cage, of course.))
((But why would she be voluntary in the first place?)) I said.
((Oh, who knows?)) Yalran said. ((Maybe she was just that desperate to be part of something? Or maybe she was a druggie or something; I know we get a few like that.))
Now that she mentioned it, I did vaguely recall that the Sharing had started running drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes. A noble cause, in theory - with very much ignoble goals in mind.
((Hey, it solves their problems, right?)) Yalran said. ((I bet some of them are even grateful.))
((Well, maybe,)) I said.
((Must be hard for the yeerks,)) Yalran said. ((Can’t be worse than having a taxxon, though. I mean-))
‘…Yalran? Yalran?’ Kessam said, batting at my arm.
‘-Wha?’ Yalran went.
‘What was that about?’ Kessam said, looking faintly concerned. ‘It was like you couldn’t hear me at all.’
‘Oh, just my host talking,’ Yalran said. ‘No big deal.’
‘What? As in, actual talking? With you listening?’
‘Well, yeah,’ Yalran said.
Kessam shrugged. ‘I just tell mine to be quiet, usually,’ she said. ‘But whatever.’
‘My one’s still just begging for freedom,’ said the yeerk with the male host, who had obviously been listening. ‘You two are both lucky.’
I just listened to him quietly, well and truly aghast. Could he truly be so indifferent to his host’s suffering?
((Well, if he was more like you, he wouldn’t have to suffer,)) Yalran said.
((Wait, you mean the host? You’re really blaming the host for this?))
((Yeah!)) Yalran said. ((If he just stopped fighting and relaxed, then-))
((He’s a prisoner in his own body, Yalran! Why wouldn’t he fight?))
((Well, you don’t,)) Yalran said.
((But I used to fight constantly!))
((Yeah, but only at the start,)) Yalran said.
((I fought well after that,)) I said. ((What are you talking about?))
((Well, yeah, but only now and then.)) Yalran said. ((Most of the time, you were perfectly well-behaved. I mean, for an involuntary, anyway.))
((Well, why not?)) I said. ((It was better than fighting you non-stop. And, well…you’re fun to talk to. Sometimes.))
((Aww, thanks,)) Yalran said, in an exaggerated way.
‘You’re actually talking to her, aren’t you?’ Kessam said, just then.
‘Yeah, a bit,’ Yalran said. ‘Nothing wrong with that, right?
‘Well, I guess not,’ Kessam said, though the expression on her host’s face said otherwise. ‘I mean, it is a bit weird.’
‘Don’t you talk to yours ever?’ Yalran said.
Kessam shrugged again. ‘I do sometimes, sure,’ she said. ‘But mine’s voluntary. That’s different.’
The two yeerks sat in silence for a time, as various other conversations continued to go on around them.
‘Hey, is that…’ Kessam said. ‘Hey, we have people coming, everyone!’ she called out. ‘Let’s get to it.’
Indeed, I could see a small group of kids heading towards us now - kids without yeerks, I mean. Our little Sharing evening, it would seem, had officially begun.
In no time at all, the beach was full of people: kids my age or so, younger kids, adults, the works. We’d lit the bonfire by then, just in time for the sun to set all the way.
Helen and Caleb were there, of course, as were multiple other kids that Yalran had spoken to in recent days. Yalran managed to speak to each and every one of them over the course of the evening, playing perfectly the role of a smiling, helpful Full Member.
((Doesn’t any of this bother you?)) I said after a time.
((Huh?)) Yalran went, while chewing a piece of barbecue rib. She was sitting with Helen and Caleb and some others in a small circle, close to the fire.
((Doesn’t it bother you? That you’re only doing this to get more hosts?))
((Eh? Not really,)) Yalran said. ((We yeerks need hosts, right?))
((You don’t need control, though,)) I said. ((Not like this.))
There was a notable pause before Yalran said anything more.
((Um, Beth?)) she said. ((If you’re going to get all serious, could you save it for after?))
((Why should I?)) I said.
((Well…because I’m in your brain?)) Yalran said sweetly. ((With access to every thought you’ve ever had? Such as, say, that thing with you in the gymnasium with-))
I groaned mentally. ((Oh, fine,)) I said. ((I’ll save it, then.))
((I knew you’d see it my way,)) Yalran said, practically beaming within our shared headspace. ((Want another rib?)) she said, eyeing one of the barbecues sizzling nearby.
((Yeah, sure. Go for it,)) I said. I was still feeling a little bit hungry just then, and those ribs did taste great.
Not to mention, she’d have probably just gone and gotten one anyway if I’d actually said “no”.
Not long after that, Yalran ended up on one of the volleyball courts, with Helen and Caleb both on her team. No-one could see the ball properly, of course, but everyone seemed to be having a good time. Yalran was certainly having herself a lovely time, running and diving for the ball and laughing along with the others.
As for me…well.
I should have managed to draw at least some enjoyment from it all, certainly. Yalran was keeping her grip on my movements nice and loose, so that I didn’t feel the least bit numb, and she was also keeping completely quiet in our shared headspace. I should have just pretended she wasn’t there for for a while - that this was just a normal bit of fun between friends.
But with Helen right there - and Caleb too, I realised - I just…couldn’t.
((Hey, come on,)) Yalran said, continuing to play as she spoke. ((We’ll be good for him. I’ve said that before.))
((Only if he’s lucky,)) I said. ((Only if he gets a good yeerk. And what about her?))
Yalran leapt up suddenly, and spiked the ball hard over the volleyball net. Everyone cheered - even those on the other team.
((Helen?)) Yalran said, after the cheers had died down. ((Oh, she’ll be voluntary, I’m sure. As will Caleb. It’ll all be fine,)) she said.
I thought back to what I’d heard out of Kessam. Her host was voluntary too, and yet Kessam had hardly struck me as fine.
((Hey, we’re not all like that,)) Yalran said. ((And it’s better than the alternative, right?))
She was right on those two points, certainly. Many yeerks were far worse than Kessam, after all - particularly those whose hosts were involuntary.
((Besides,)) Yalran said, watching Caleb hit the ball high into the air, ((it’s all ages away. So why worry?))
It was a small comfort, all things considered. But right then, it seemed the best I was going to get.
I got down onto my knees quickly at the end of the infestation pier - too quickly, in fact, and banged my knees hard on the metal surface. I winced, hissing in pain. One of the two Hork-Bajir guards behind me barked at me to hurry, then, and I dropped down onto my stomach without a second thought. I knew better at this point than to make Pool guards wait.
I held my breath and closed my eyes, waiting for it all to be over. I kept myself still and relaxed as my head was pushed under. Struggling here would get me nowhere; I’d learned that the hard way months ago,
I might have imagined it, but Yalran seemed to be moving faster than usual when she went back into my ear. She thrust herself inside of me in short and rapid movements, and for a moment it actually started to hurt - but then, Yalran squirted that anaesthetic of hers, and the pain in my ear immediately went away.
((Hi!)) Yalran went.
((Hey,)) I said.
She hadn’t even properly started talking yet, and I could already tell she was excited. It was Saturday now, just before noon, and Yalran was set to go and meet Helen the moment she left the dingy old Yeerk Pool. She hurried away from the infestation pier, scanning my mind as she went.
((Ugh, must the guards really be so rough?)) Yalran said. ((They know you’re not going to do anything.))
((You thought of telling it to their faces?)) I said.
The two guards had been marching me to the pier with their usual long Hork-Bajir strides; I’d stumbled along the way, and they’d both shouted at me to keep up. Honestly, it hadn’t been that bad; I’d seen them do far worse to others - particularly to those who fought.
And some people fought non-stop, of course. I’d even seen people punch and kick at the guards before now - only to smacked with the Hork-Bajirs’ blades, or sometimes even shot with the guards’ handheld Dracon beams.
I saw such a person just then - a human girl, roughly my age, screaming bloody murder as a pair of Hork-Bajor pool guards dragged her onwards to be re-infested. Yalran averted my eyes right away, but I could still hear her of course - even after Yalran had gotten me far away from it all.
I’d done sort of thing that back at the start of my time as Yalran’s host, during the same point in which I’d fought Yalran constantly. I’d even been hit a few times - not that it seemed like much, compared to what Yalran kept doing with my memories then. But after a couple of weeks of that, my resistance had just…stopped. Fighting only got me hurt, I figured - so why fight?
It struck me then how little time I’d actually lasted - how quickly I’d just gone meek and quiet in the Pool, when so many others kept on fighting. Had I been wrong to stop fighting so soon? Was it just because I was weak, or was it -
((Oh, come on, really?)) Yalran said, as she reached one of the Yeerk Pool’s many exits. ((You? Weak? For not just fighting for the sake of fighting?))
I froze completely in our shared headspace. I hadn’t expected Yalran to talk just then.
((I mean, sure, most involuntaries fight,)) Yalran went on. ((And it gets them…where, exactly?))
((Well, nowhere, I guess,)) I said.
((Uh-huh,)) Yalran said. ((And you, at least, actually realise that. Besides, you fought me often enough, when I recruited people and stuff.))
She started ascending a long flight of stairs. Dim lights lined the wall as she walked. There was another human-Controller ahead of us, shrouded in gloom; I could hear footsteps of one behind us, too.
((So, what?)) I said. ((You’re saying I’m not weak?))
((Well, duh,)) Yalran said, flashing me one of her mental smirks. ((And here I thought you were actually smart.))
She stepped out into a changing room at the mall, and then hurried on towards the nearest exit.
((So, here’s the plan,)) Yarlan said. ((No Empire stuff. No Sharing stuff. And no thinking about either. Sound good?))
((Sounds wonderful,)) I said.
I honestly meant it, even with Yalran controlling my every move.
We found Helen waiting for us right outside the cinema. She smiled and waved as she saw us approach. All the Yeerk Pool sludge was off of me by then, of course; there was no sign at all as to where I’d just been.
And so, Yalran smiled and waved right back, exactly the way I once would have done. They went into the building together, bought their tickets, and then immediately queued up to buy drinks and snacks.
((Sweet popcorn sound good to you?)) Yalran said.
((Nah. Salty’s way better,)) I said. ((Trust me.))
She rummaged through my memories for a moment…and then asked for salted popcorn, having by now reached front of the line.
((Told you,)) I said. ((Hey, get a drink as well.))
((Hey, who’s in charge, here?)) Yalran said - but could feel her smiling inside as she said it.
Yalran ended up ordering more than I could possibly eat: a big box of popcorn, a bag of chocolates, and a bag of jelly babies. She also ordered a large fizzy drink that would have surely left any dentist in tears.
‘Can you even carry all of that?’ Helen said, as we headed on to get our seats. She was carrying a small drink and a small popcorn box - way more manageable, for sure.
Yalran shrugged. ‘I’ll manage,’ she said.
((You realise I wouldn’t order this much, right?)) I said to her.
((True enough,)) Yalran said. ((And?))
I shrugged at her mentally. ((Well, whatever,)) I said.
Yalran and Helen sat down next to one another, a few rows from the front. I felt Yalran relax my body as the screen came on. I felt her relax it some more when the lights above us went out, leaving the screen as our only illumination.
((Man, I so should have done this sooner,)) Yalran said.
The movie started then. We both went quiet - internally and otherwise.
And for the next ninety minutes or so, I was able to imagine I was Beth - Beth the normal teenage girl, whose life was free of yeerks and free of anything else out of the ordinary. I imagined I was just sitting back and relaxing and watching that movie, without anyone controlling my movements but me.
I barely thought of Yalran in that time. I didn’t even give much thought to the fact that I wasn’t the one moving my body. I just focussed on the screen, and focussed on the sounds of the film - as well as on the tastes of the various snacks that Yalran kept gobbling down.
I felt like I’d come out of some kind of hypnosis, when the movie’s credits finally started to roll.
((Now, that was good,)) Yalran said. She hadn’t spoken a word for the movie’s entire duration.
((Yeah,)) I said. ((That was…nice.))
Yalran started talking to Helen, then. They kept talking together as they left the cinema together. They talked about the movie, mostly. They also talked a little about the books they’d bought from the mall the last time around. Yalran had started one of them already, as had Helen.
But they didn’t talk about the Sharing. They didn’t even mention the Sharing once.
((Hey, Yalran?)) I said. ((Can I get serious for a minute?))
We were in my bedroom now, sitting on my bed. Yalran had been about to continue that new book of hers. She and Helen had long since parted ways, following an enjoyable afternoon at the mall. Since then, Yalran had shot some hoops with Ben and had hotdogs for dinner with my family - a perfect day, as far as she was concerned.
((Oh, if you must,)) Yalran said, as she pushed the book closed.
((You…don’t actually want her infested,)) I said. ((Do you?))
((What, Helen?)) Yalran said. ((‘Course I do.))
((Then why didn’t you bring up the Sharing?)) I said. ((Or, y’know, anything related to it?))
((Well, that wasn’t the point today, was it?)) Yalran said. ((This was about maintaining cover, remember? Not being obsessed with the Sharing, and all that?))
((That was just an excuse, you know,)) I said.
((To you, maybe,)) Yalran said.
((And to you,)) I said. ((Besides, Helen likes the Sharing now. You could easily have mentioned it.))
That party down at the beach really had been a smashing success. Helen and Caleb had both told Yalran how wonderful it all was, once everyone had started leaving. They’d both said that they’d come to the next event the Sharing put on.
So, I thought: she didn’t in fact want Helen infested - or at least, she wanted to put it off as long as possible. Well, I could certainly work with that. I could chip away at her resolve, bit by bit, until finally she just right up decided to-
((Beth, you do know I can hear you, right?))
Oh, right, I thought. She’s in my brain, and all that. She was lounging on my bed now, staring up at the ceiling.
((You don’t have to do it,)) I said. ((I mean, I won’t stop you if you do, but-))
((I really kind of do have to, you know,)) Yalran said. ((Besides, we yeerks need hosts, remember?))
((Why do you?)) I said.
((Well, because,)) Yalran said. ((I mean, you know this. You’ve thought it yourself, before.))
((Say it,)) I said.
((Because we’re just slugs, Beth,)) Yalran said. ((At least, without hosts. With hosts…well, we have eyes when we have hosts. And hands. And…y’know, bodies that can actually do stuff. Do you have any idea what it’s like, being here, in you, right now, after so long spent just swimming in that cold old Pool?))
((Feels good, I expect,)) I said.
((It feels amazing,)) Yalran said. ((Like, seriously amazing. I mean, I can see, I can jump, I can taste, I can…I can basically do anything.))
((So, why not share, then?)) I said. ((Why not let me enjoy it too? You know, properly?))
She’d given me my hands a couple of times already in the last couple of days. She was honouring her promise to me, minor though it was.
((But you can already enjoy it, though,)) Yalran said. ((You still have all your senses, right? That’s more than we get when we don’t have hosts.))
((You still get bodies you can control,))
((And you still get a world to see,)) Yalran said. ((I mean, you enjoyed that movie as much as I did; don’t even bother denying it.))
((Well, true enough,)) I said.
((So, you can enjoy things, even without control,)) Yalran said. ((Besides: I’m a yeerk, and you’re just a host. Why should I give you any more control than you get already?))
I started to answer, but stopped myself before I’d actually formed any words.
((Do you actually believe that?)) I said.
((Of course I do,)) Yalran said. ((And we yeerks do need hosts. It’s that simple.))
((So, you actually believe in this war?)) I said. ((I’m not the only thing you like about it? You don’t just keep going along with it all because you’re too frightened not to?))
And to that, Yalran didn’t say a single thing.
I felt her presence begin to lean into my thoughts, as though she were preparing to thrust me into some memory or other. I tensed for a moment, and wondered if I’d gone too far…but then relaxed. almost immediately after. She wasn’t going to do anything like that, I realised - not this time. She wasn’t going to torture me, nor just embarrass me a little, nor threaten to do either of those things, seriously or not.
She was just…hugging. That was the closest way of describing what she was doing, just then.
She’d bared her soul to me on the night we’d made our deal; I truly believed that she had. I believed that even more strongly, now.
And so, I hugged her right back - mentally, of course. Or at least, I tried to. I’m wasn’t sure if she would actually perceive it at such, but I knew she would at least realise my intent - and that, right then, was all that mattered. We must have stayed liked that for a good minute: hugging yet not hugging, our thoughts together and yet apart.
And then, as quickly as the moment begun, it finished. Something within Yalran seemed to reassert itself, and she suddenly pulled away from me, leaving me in a void of my own thoughts.
((Okay, I’m going to read my book now,)) Yalran said. ((Are we done here?))
((Yeah,)) I said. ((Sure.))
I read right along with her as she started to turn the pages, smiling inside to myself in spite of it all.
It was raining on Monday morning. That was why Yalran caught the bus to school that day; usually, she walked, and only caught the bus on the way back. Ben came with her, and took the seat next to us. Yalran proceeded to stare out the window as the bus began to trundle along.
‘You really going to the Sharing tonight?’ Ben said.
‘Yeah,’ Yalran made me say. ‘Looks like it’s going to be a late one, too.’
Yalran was going to be taking me down to the Yeerk Pool to feed that evening. That would be far more comfortable to her than waiting until the following morning - and entirely permissible, given the schedule she had to keep as part of being me.
From what I understood, most yeerks always went for close to the full three days before feedings - particularly the ones without human hosts, who didn’t need to keep up appearances. Yeerks with humans, meanwhile, occasionally went more often, which meant that they got to feed and feel full without first approaching the brink of starvation. That, I supposed, was just one of the many perks of having a human for a host.
‘What do you do in those meetings, anyway?’ Ben said. ‘I mean, this is a Full Member thing, right?’
‘Oh, you know,’ Yalran said. ‘Just basic organisation and stuff. Why?’
‘Oh, no reason,’ Ben said. ‘Some of my friends became Full Members recently. From the basketball team.’
‘And now they’re bugging you to go too, right?’ Yalran said.
‘Oh my, yes,’ Ben said. ‘They hardly talk about anything else, now.’
Oh God, I thought. I’d thought my brother would be safe from all this. I hadn’t even considered that he could still be reached by someone other than myself. ((Yalran!)) I said. ((Say something! You have to-))
((Shh!)) Yalran went. ((Let me talk!))
I went quiet after that - or at least, I didn’t consciously talk after that. My thoughts remained in uproar, of course. I couldn’t make them not be in uproar.
‘Yeah, well, a lot of them are like that at first,’ Yalran said. ‘They’re just keen. That’s all.’
‘Well, I guess that’s okay,’ Ben said. ‘But yeah: they just keep telling me I should go, saying it’s just the most amazing thing ever, and…’ He folded his arms. ‘I dunno. I just all seems weird to me.’
‘Well, they do get a bit too into it, sometimes,’ Yalran said. ‘Some of my friends from that place act like nothing else matters. They act like the Sharing is the only thing in their lives worth thinking about. And if you even suggest to them that, maybe, they should just take a break from it all, they get…uh..weird.’
‘Yeah?’ Ben said. ‘You’re pretty into it too, you know. You nearly always seem to be there.’
‘Oh, believe me,’ Yalran said. ‘Some people go to it way more than me. I mean, I do like the Sharing; don’t get me wrong. But I like other things too. I guess I just like…living, really. What’s not to like about eating good food, or seeing nice things, or…well, you know.’ She huddled into herself all of a sudden, and for a moment went back to staring out the window.
((Yeah, Yalran?)) I said. ((That’s not how I talk. Like, at all.))
((Yeah, well, who cares?)) Judging by Yalran’s tone of voice, she for one cared very much.
‘Mom and Dad were right, you know,’ Ben said. ‘You really have changed.’
Yalran looked back in his direction. ‘Huh? You think?’ she said. Her grip on my movements had gone exceedingly loose
‘Yeah!’ Ben said. ‘I mean, you used to be so tense and shy and worried about everything.’ He grinned. ‘I don’t think you’ve ever been this laid back.’
‘Oh,’ Yalran said, surely feeling anything but laid back. ‘Well, that’s nice, I guess. Thanks.’
‘Oh, no need to say thanks,’ Ben said. But still: this new you is cool. I like it.’
Okay, I have to admit it: that stung, a lot.
‘Well, I guess the Sharing really did help me,’ Yalran said. ‘But, honestly? If I were you, I’d just stick to your basketball. I mean, you’re laid back already, right?’
‘Guess so,’ Ben said.
‘And it’s not like we get much free time as Full Members. It’s certainly not for everyone.’
‘You got that right,’ Ben said. ‘Yeah, I think I’ll pass.’
So, it looked like he would not in fact be going. That meant something. It meant a whole lot, in fact.
So why couldn’t I feel like it meant a lot, just then?
((Hey, relax,)) Yalran said. ((He’d take you over me any day. If he actually knew, anyway.))
((Yeah, I guess,)) I said.
Not that it mattered, of course. How would he ever possibly ever know, unless it was already too late?
I was still smarting over Ben’s words as I went through my day at school. Yalran gave up on trying to cheer me up after her fifth attempt or so, and instead just got on with playing the role of the diligent, driven student that I myself had been. We had Tellarin’s class on the third period that day, and Yalran managed to get through it without being called to talk Empire business afterwards - that was a small comfort, if nothing else.
((Seriously, what’s with you today?)) Yalran said, as she settled down to eat with Helen and Caleb over lunch. ((Your Mom and Dad say that sort of thing all the time.)
Well, that was true. They talked about how wonderful the Sharing had been for me just about all the damn time. It was a regular topic around the dinner table.
((See?)) Yalran said. ((Nothing to be bothered about. So why not just cheer up and-))
((What, be a good little host while you take away my life?))
Yalran paused in my mind for the briefest of moments - but to me, it practically felt like an eternity.
((Okay, you’re being no fun at all today,)) Yalran said. ((Could you, like, not do that?))
((Not do what?))
((Not do this?)) Yalran said. ((Not, you know, be a downer?))
((Or what?)) I said.
((Or what?)) Yalran said, disbelief evident in her tone.
And why wouldn’t she have sounded disbelieving? I knew exactly what all she could do from within my brain if she really wanted to - and I was thinking right then about exactly that. She could make me re-live any thought I’d ever had or any action I’d ever done. As far as making me suffer went, the possibilities available to her were virtually endless.
((Or what?)) I related. ((What’ll you do?))
I’m not entirely sure what had come over me, just then. There was getting testy with Yalran, which I’d happily done often enough in the past, and then there was…this.
((Well…well, nothing, really,)) Yalran said.
((So you’re not going to start going through memories, or anything like that?))
((What, and make you even more of a misery?)) Yalran said. ((Yeah, no. I think not.))
She was holding onto me tightly just then, I realised - tighter than she’d held me in a while, in fact. She had my body almost completely numb, like I was simply watching proceedings distantly from a screen rather than watching as the original owner of this body. This was how she’d held me in the past when she was actually paying attention - and when she thought I might actually try to rebel against her.
She loosened her hold as soon as I’d thought about it, though only a little. I guess she realised I was not about to start physically fighting her, tempting though it was.
((Come on, you know I’m not going to try anything,)) I said. ((I mean, if I did, then you’d just…))
I couldn’t even bring myself to say it. I was thinking it, though, and Yalran would hear that anyway, so I suppose that didn’t make any different in the end.
((I suppose,)) Yalran said. She loosened her grip on me a little further. ((Still, it’s not going to come to that, right? So good.))
It was only at that point that I properly took in where I was, or what in fact was happening around me. We were outside - Helen, Caleb and I - eating lunch at one of the various benches outside the school building. It had stopped raining now, and the sun was shining brightly overhead.
‘We should do something like that again soon,’ Yalran was saying. ‘You know, the cinema, or the mall, or something.’
‘How about the mall? During the week?’ Helen said.
‘I can do that. Hey, Caleb, you want to come too?’
Caleb jerked it head towards me, looking up at me with wide eyes. ‘Wha-what?’
‘Want to come with us? When we go to the mall?’
‘Y-yeah! Yeah, I do,’ he said.
More time for Yalran to enjoy them before they were infested, I thought. How too wonderful.
((Well, why not?)) Yalran said. ((Helen’s a good friend. And Caleb…well, what can I say? He’s cute.))
Wait, I thought. Cute?
((Well, it’s your brain I’m in,)) Yalran said. ((I’m blaming you for that one.))
‘So, the mall tomorrow, then?’ I heard my body say. ‘Great!’ I was then made to say, once both Helen and Caleb had agreed.
((If you were their friend, you’d protect them,)) I said.
((Well, it’s a good thing I’m not, then, isn’t it?))
They all got up and parted ways at that point, off to their respective afternoon classes.
((You want to be, don’t you?)) I said.
((Want to what?)) She said. As if she didn’t already know.
((You want to be their friend, don’t you? For real.))
Dead silence - a “win”, as I’d have once thought it. ((So, that’s a yes, then?))
((Yeah, well, who cares?)) Yalran said ((As long as I’m in you, I might as well be.))
((So, yes,)) I said. I was sure now, in fact, that she wanted far more than that. She wanted to be me; it was that simple
Or at least, she wanted to live a human’s life. She wanted a life where she could see nice things and eat good food, just like she’d said to my brother back on the bus. She wanted a life where she had eyes and hands and legs, where she was something - anything - besides an blind slug confined to a pool of cold sludge.
And she wanted a brother. And a Mom and a Dad who loved her. And…wait,I thought. Do yeerks even have parents? Yalran had certainly never mentioned any; nor, I realised, had any of the yeerks I’d seen her speak to.
((Our parents all die,)) Yalran said to me then. ((They join together in threes, then their bodies break apart and become new yeerks. We’re born hundreds at a time, you know. Hundreds of brothers and sisters, all at once.))
So, I thought. No parents, then.
I watched though my eyes quietly, for a time, as Yalran walked into my next class of the day and got my things out of my backpack. Our teacher for that period was already there, and the lesson soon began in earnest.
((Hey, Yalran? Thanks.))
((Huh?)) Yalran went. ((For what?))
((For, you know, trying to keep Ben away,)) I said.
((Oh, that?)) Yalran said. ((Yeah, sure. No problem.))
She was already scribbling away in my notebook by that time. She was playing the role of me, playing at living the life I was sure she wanted to live - and the life that, as a yeerk, she knew she would never truly be able to have.
For anyone who is following along on AO3, what do you think of the fic at the moment? Feel free to leave any and all comments down below.
My thoughts on Yalran back then were…complicated. My thoughts on Yalran today are even more so. That much, I can say without a doubt.
I did want to be free of her. I did want to be a free human being. I wanted to be able to move about of my own volition, and actually live a life of my own rather than watch a life being lived by another. I wanted to not be made to keep inflicting this fate on others.
And yet…and yet…
And yet…I didn’t mind having her voice in my head; not most of the time, anyway. Yalran was lots of things, and many of those things weren’t good - but one thing she most definitely wasn’t was dull. Those times when she wasn’t making me do anything bad, when she was just going around acting human and talking to me as she did it…they could actually be quite pleasant. Sometimes.
In the past, I’d been far too happy to just shut myself away for hours at a time, reading a book or doodling or just in general staying out of everyones’ path. I’d been far too happy to just keep myself to myself, to just sit quietly in a corner somewhere and do my own thing - unless Helen was around, anyway. But with Yalran in my head, that sort of thing just wasn’t an option. Rather, my options were as follows: to talk to Yalran, or else to ignore Yalran while she talked at me regardless.
And Yalran, I have no doubt, wanted me to keep talking. She wanted me to feel happy, if only a little. She didn’t want me to go back to screaming at her non-stop, nor did she want me to give up completely and just go quiet. Either one of those things would have made it harder for her enjoy life, after all - and that, in Yalran’s view, seemed to be the most important thing in the whole wide world.
((Just this class to go, then we’re done here,)) Yalran said. ((Then I can feed. I guess,)) she added, sounding distinctly less than enthused.
((Well, you could leave it for tomorrow, if you hate it that much.))
((Nah. I’m tired of going so early in the morning. Besides, this way I won’t be starving when I go. For once.))
We were in Geography class, now, writing an essay on some topic or other. Geography was one of the classes Yalran liked - or at least, I always assumed it was, since she never complained when she was there. I could barely hear a sound coming from the room around us, save for the scribble of pens on paper. Yalran was working on her essay as she spoke to me, going along at my standard hurried pace.
I made a brief attempt at understanding the words she was putting down into that notebook of mine, but an attempt was all it was. ((Seriously, I have no idea what’s going on here. How do you remember all this?))
((Oh, easily,)) Yalran said. ((Human stuff is always easy. To me, anyway. I guess I’m just smarter than you.)) She flashed me a little mental smirk.
((Yeah? Well, I’ve got the better body.))
((Which I control.))
((Doesn’t make it yours.))
((Oh, it totally does.))
And throughout all this, Yalran kept on writing without even slightly slowing down. I must have looked like a picture of concentration to anyone who happened to look my way.
((And, hey, how can you be smarter than me?)) I said. ((You’re in my brain, right? You should be as smart, not more.))
((Well, I have a brain too, you know,)) Yalran said. ((Or at least, something like it. I guess.))
((Well, I have to have, right? It’s not like I become some dumb unthinking slug the moment I leave you. I still think, you know.))
((Do you still think think Caleb’s cute, then?))
Yeah, she was not going to be living that down in a hurry.
((But, seriously? You don’t know?)) I said. ((I’ve known humans had brains since…well…since I was little! Don’t they teach this in Yeerk School, or whatever?))
((Well, no, they don’t,)) Yalran said. ((And they don’t need to, either. I’ve told you before: the only thing we yeerks learn is useful things. Not all these other useless sciences and arts and stuff.))
((What? Like, how to conquer planets. That kind of stuff?))
((Oh, we learn all sorts,)) Yalran said. ((Engineering. Maths. Science - and not your sort of science either. Lasers, space-ships - actual cool stuff.))
((How very useful,)) I said, giving her a massive mental eye-roll.
((Well, it is,)) she said.
((Sure it is. For war.))
((Well, duh. What else are we supposed to do? Sit around and wait for the andalites to get us? In any case, we do more than that. We learn old war stories. Battle tactics. Host discipline. We-))
((Host discipline?)) I ventured.
((Yeah! Keeping hosts from struggling, and…things.)) All of a sudden, her tone of voice seemed oddly shy.
((Such as punishing them? Going through memories?))
((Yeah. That stuff. We’re meant to do it every time a host resists, you know. And they tell us that involuntary hosts go quiet over time, if we just don’t talk to them, and…)) She sighed internally - and externally a little, as well. ((You know, I never did like that one. Too heavy, and all that.))
((So…not useful, then?))
She’d stopped writing that essay of hers by now. Her pen hung over the page, her most recent sentence only half-finished.
((I suppose even yeerk education isn’t perfect,)) she said.
((Really?)) I said, mock surprise dripping from my tone. ((I’d have never guessed.))
((Besides, I don’t think they had hosts like you in mind when they taught us all that,)) Yalran said then. ((I mean, hosts aren’t supposed to ask about yeerk parents and stuff. That’s just…weird.)) I felt her smile with my mouth a little as she said it.
She went back to the essay then, so I just settled into the back of my mind then and left her to work in peace…for all of five minutes. At that point, I found myself feeling bored.
((What else do yeerks learn?)) I said. ((About hosts, and so on?))
((You really want to know that?)) Yalran replied.
When yeerks talk to their hosts, we don’t hear the yeerk’s voice as such. Rather, it feels more like we imagine hearing the voice, as though it’s part of a vivid daydream. The yeerk’s voice is distinct from any sounds going on in the world around us, beyond the host’s own head…but it’s no less real, either.
And so, I didn’t hear Yalran’s voice just then, and yet I heard it all the same. I also did and didn’t hear the tone of her mental voice; it was a tone that very much spoke of me not wanting to know what yeerks said to younger yeerks about hosts. Or at least, it spoke of Yalran not wanting me to know.
((Uh-huh,)) I said. ((I do.))
I felt Yalran put my pen down flat on my little desk. ((We get told a whole lot of stuff,)) Yalran said. ((We learn about all the senses hosts have, for instance. and we learn why most of them refuse to share them with us.))
((Well, selfishness, basically. Wanting to keep it all for themselves. Not understanding how much they still have even when we’re in them.))
((But…doesn’t that mean you’d still have a lot if I was the one in charge?))
Dead silence. If that wasn’t a win on my part, nothing was.
((So, yes,)) I said. ((You would.))
((Well, sure I would,)) Yalran said. ((You wouldn’t recruit more hosts though, would you?))
((Of course I wouldn’t! Why would I?)) I said.
((Because yeerks need hosts?))
((Not involuntary ones, they don’t.))
((Oh, we totally do. We have nowhere near enough voluntaries to go around; heck, we don’t have anywhere near enough involuntary hosts, for that matter. And most voluntaries aren’t really voluntary, anyway; they’d still run if they could. You’d run if you got the chance, right?))
((Well, sure, but-))
((So,what else can we do?)) Yalran said. ((I mean, what sort of host actually wants a slug in them? Like ever?))
She had both of my elbows on my desk by now, resting my head in my hands and staring forwards at nothing in particular. She had my eyes all unfocused, and I could hardly see a thing. Anyone watching me would have thought my attention was elsewhere totally - and they wouldn’t have been wrong, either.
((I’d take one.)) I said, shrugging mentally. ((Sometimes. ))
((You…)) Yalran began. ((Wait, what?)) She dug deep into my mind for a moment, and I winced internally. ((You actually mean that, don’t you?))
((Not often, I mean, but-))
((Would you take me?)) Yalran said suddenly. ((If you could actually choose?))
There was a real hopefulness in her mind-voice then, like a young child asking a parent for some candy-filled treat. It was like she was asking me as an equal - or perhaps, as something even more than an equal.
And so, I started to really think. And like I said before, my thoughts on Yalran were complicated - to say the very least.
I thought back to the early days of having her: of fighting her, of being made to relive something unpleasant, and then of fighting her some more.
I thought of when she’d almost tortured me in the Gardens - of all the horrors she’d been ready to visit upon me, had she not changed her mind.
I thought back to having to comfort her on that night I’d promised to never fight again: of how frightened she’d been of her own people, purely because she didn’t perfectly toe the line her Empire had set.
I thought back to the better times, when I just talked to her, without having to think about the Empire or the Sharing or anything of the kind. And thought of how much worse this would all be for me, were Yalran to simply ignore me the way so many other yeerks would surely do.
I thought of all the times she’d just stopped and stared at whatever happened to be around her, not quite keeping her sense of wonder from leaking into my mind. I thought of how much she loved having my eyes and my tongue and my human body. I thought of how much I knew she hated being a blind little slug swimming in the sludge.
And I wondered what it would be like if I did have that choice: if I could just take her and leave her as I wished, with no Pool guards to drag me to and fro. I thought of what it could be like with no Empire to ever condemn her for the crime of Sympathy, no Empire that she needed to serve, and no Empire to fill yeerks’ minds with “host discipline” and whatever all else.
And Yalran, of course, sensed every thought the moment I’d had it. So by the time I actually spoke to her, she surely must have known what I was going to say.
((I…don’t know,)) I said. ((I mean…every now and then? Probably?))
She closed my eyes then, and I felt her slump a little in my desk. But I could also feel a…smile, I realised. She was smiling again, with my mouth that she controlled - and not just pretending to smile either.
((You mean, you’d actually think about it? Like, at all? For real?))
I felt the smile on my face grow a tiny bit wider. And I felt her hug me again: that closeness of minds, that sensation of thoughts together and yet apart.
((You really are something,)) she said. ((You know that, right?))
I’d just started to reciprocate the hug when my eyes suddenly snapped back into focus, and took in the clock hanging over the classroom. We had minutes now before this class would be over - and Yalran’s essay was far from finished.
((Oh, shoot,)) she said. ((Hey, be quiet now, okay? I need to finish this.))
I gave her a little mental nod, at which point I felt her pull away. I could put up with keeping quiet until this class ended, I figured. That’s what I’d have been doing then anyway, after all, were Yalran not to be there.
((Well, they seem fine now,)) I said, as Yalran walked me home from the Yeerk Pool complex.
((Uh-huh,)) Yalran said. ((Just like I said, right?))
My hands seemed fine, was what I meant; we were talking about my hands. I’d stopped being able to move them, while I was caged down in the Yeerk Pool. I must have spent the best part of an hour just trying to get them going again.
Now though, away from the screams and general chaos of the Pool, they seemed okay again. Yalran had given them back to me as soon as we’d gotten outside.
((Okay, enough of that,)) Yalran said, as she took control away from me again. ((People’ll think you’re weird, if they see you doing that.))
I’d been making little shapes with my fingers, and just in general moving things as much as I could. ((And?))
((And that would be terrible. Obviously.))
Even though Yalran was controlling me now, I could still feel my body fully. That seemed to be her standard way of holding me these days. It wasn’t at all like how things had been a few weeks ago, where I’d spent much of the time numbed totally - except in cases when Yalran had known I wouldn’t try to fight, anyway.
Now, of course, she always knew I wasn’t going to resist. That, I supposed, was why she hardly ever numbed me anymore.
((Well yeah, pretty much,)) Yalran said, having obviously been listening to my thoughts. ((I mean, it’s way easier to hold you like this than to hold you tight all the time. Particularly now that you’re…well, you know.))
((Voluntary?)) I offered. Well, sorta.
((Uh-huh. That,)) Yalran said. ((Besides, I was never much good at holding you, anyway. At least, not properly.))
That was certainly true. I still remembered that incident a couple weeks back, when I’d fought her for control at school after noticing her control had slipped - for all the good it did me. And I’d refused to say “sorry” afterwards, which naturally had been my real offence as far as Yalran was concerned.
((Fun times, right?)) Yalran said.
((Totally.)) I gave her a little mental eye-roll for good measure. ((But…can most yeerks do it? You know, without problems?))
((Yeah. It’s, like, second nature to most yeerks,)) Yalran said. ((That’s how they’d hold their hosts when they’re not even thinking about it. But me…I dunno.)) She crossed my arms then, and squeezed them lightly with my hands. I guess anyone around her would have assumed I was trying to warm myself up form the cold. I, for my part, guessed that the cold was the very last thing Yalran had on her mind.
((You actually have to think about it, don’t you?))
She nodded silently - with my body, I mean, and not just in my mind.
((And it bothers you?)) I said. She certainly seemed bothered, right then.
((Well, a bit,)) she said. ((Not like it used to, though. I mean, it hardly matters now, right?))
Well, she wasn’t wrong there. ((You ever talked to other yeerks about it?))
((Oh my, no,)) Yalran said. ((I’d get reported for sure; I’d be lucky to have a host again. At least, something higher than a Gedd. Or a Hork who wasn’t…ah…)) She crossed my arms just that little bit tighter. ((Point is, they’d take me out of you in an instant. Mind you, they’d probably do that anyway if they-)) She suddenly turned my head to one side. ((You know, you’re really easy to talk to. Too easy, sometimes.))
((Oh, don’t be,)) Yalran said. ((That’s my problem, right? It’s certainly not yours.))
I wanted to ask her what she’d been going to say, but now didn’t seem to be the time.
Yalran turned a corner, at which point my house came into view, further down the street. She quickened her pace - and then started skipping down the path, like she was someone not even half my age.
Come to think of it, I thought, how old was she?
((In your years?)) Yalran said, before I’d had a chance to properly ask. ((Oh, I dunno. Five, maybe? Six?))
My God, I thought. No wonder she acted so childish so much of the time. She basically was just a child!
((Nah. No way. I’m at least as grown up as you.)) She stopped skipping at once, settling back into a walk. ((We finish growing when we’re two or so, and we don’t go through puberty or anything like that. And I’ve already had a host other than a Gedd, so…))
((So, you’re an adult? Already?))
((Well, I have to be, right?)) she said, with surprising sullenness. ((When I’m not being you, anyway.)) She meandered on towards my house, holding my arms limp at my sides. ((My Hork-Bajir…I wasn’t on Earth for that assignment,)) she said. ((I was in that host to fight. And I did fight. A lot.))
It took a few seconds for me to process what she was saying. ((You were a soldier?))
((Oh, yes,)) Yalran said. ((I mean, really I suppose I still am, but back then…well. I had a Dracon beam, and I had blades. And I’d been ordered to conquer territory for my Empire. Need I go on?))
((Yalran? Is…is that why you hated having a Hork-Bajir so much?))
I’d had flashes Yalran’s memories of that time before, back when she’d infested me for the very first time. They’d been too jumbled to make much sense of, but I’d known right away that those memories had not been happy ones.
((Well, that was a lot of it, sure,)) Yalran said. She stopped walking completely, and gazed up for a moment at the cloud-filled sky above. ((Point is, Beth: I am not a child. Nor have I been since…well, since that. Got it?))
I mentally nodded, silently. Really, what else could I do? ((Sorry,)) I murmured.
((Oh, don’t worry. I’m not there now, right?))
She spun me around on one foot, and I found myself facing directly my very own house; I hadn’t even realised that we’d arrived. I could see lights on through the front windows, bathing the ground in front of them in a gentle light. Those lights looked warm, inviting…like home. She began to gently swing my arms, and then started towards the front door.
This really was home to her now, I realised. It wasn’t just part of her cover as a yeerk - not anymore.
As a matter of fact, I didn’t think she’d seen it as her cover for quite some time.
The evening I spent with my family started out as a perfectly ordinary one - at least, by my dreadfully low standards for “ordinary”. Yalran spent a few minutes in my room reading that book of hers - with me reading along, too - and then rushed downstairs to join everyone for dinner. We were having home-cooked burgers that night; I’d heard them sizzling when Yalran first walked me in from outside.
Yalran dug into her burger with relish. She did a good job of keeping her emotions in check on the outside - but internally, it was a whole matter.
((Man, your Mom’s cooking really is the best!)) she said. ((I mean, burgers are great anyway, but these are something else!))
((Well, yup,)) I said.
She was talking like a child again now. It was like that whole discussion outside had never even happened.
I got asked what I’d been doing at the Sharing, of course - or at least, Yalran got asked. She told everyone that she’d been helping to plan some upcoming events, as well as helping to design some new fliers for her and other member to hand out - a far more pleasant evening than what I’d really had, for sure.
After that, we got talking about other things: Ben’s basketball, my schoolwork, Dad’s job, and so on. My Dad worked at a bank, and usually his work sounded pretty dull, but it did pay well; I don’t think we’d ever been short of money, as a family.
What must this be like for Yalran, I wondered, after having been made to fight? To have this peace and this safety, and this food, and these four walls?
((It’s wonderful,)) Yalran said. ((You have no idea.))
((Oh, I think I do,)) I said
I’d had all of this before I’d signed up to the Sharing - and yet, I’d wanted more than this. That’s why I’d gone to the Sharing: wanting better, and wanting to be better, too. It never even occurred to me that I could instead end up with less.
((Hey, you are better,)) Yalran said.
((Huh? What do you mean?))
((Well, I mean, you appreciate it all now, right? And more than you ever did, before.))
((Well, that’s true,)) I said, as Yalran made me take in particularly big mouthful of burger.
((Not to mention, you’re nowhere near as much as a worrier. You used to worry about everything before you got me. Everything.))
She had a point there, too. I don’t think a day used to go by when I didn’t worry over something: keeping up at school (which I did back then - easily), finding a boyfriend, my freckles, whether I’d get a good job when I was older, whether I’d…
Well, you get the idea.
((I mean, I know you worry about your family and your friends and stuff,)) Yalran said. ((But that actually makes sense. Plus…well, let’s say you actually got free of me somehow. Would you really go back to just fretting over every little thing?))
((I guess I wouldn’t,)) I said.
((Of course you wouldn’t.))
((Well, probably not. But-))
((And hey, it was a good idea to go to the Sharing. Took guts, too, for someone like you. Wasn’t your fault the whole thing was a trap, right?))
I was just about to say something to that, when Mom’s voice cut into my thoughts.
‘You okay there, honey?’ Mom said.
Yalran jerked my head upright. She’d been nibbling on my burger with little itty-bitty bites. I don’t think she’d been paying much attention to what she was doing; I, for my part, certainly had not.
‘Wha?’ she went. ‘Oh, yeah, fine,’ she said.
‘You sure?’ Mom said. ‘You’re not worried about something, are you?’
‘Oh, no. I was just daydreaming, Mom. That’s all.’
‘Well, if you say so,’ Mom said. ‘But…you can tell us if anything does worry you. Okay?’
‘I know, Mom,’ Yalran said. She smiled a smile that, for all I knew, was actually genuine. ‘And I would. I promise.’
‘You are still enjoying the Sharing, I hope?’ Dad said then.
‘Oh, I am,’ Yalran said. ‘It keeps me busy. You know?’
‘Well, it does that,’ Dad said. ‘But…sometimes, you do need to stop and rest. You sure you’re not doing too much?’
‘I’m sure, Dad. Really, it’s fine,’ Yalran said. ‘I mean, I would stop if it got too much. But right now, it’s all good.’
((You know, you could use this to get time off,)) I said, as Yalran and my family moved back to other, happier matters. ((I mean, if Mom and Dad worry I’m at the Sharing too much.))
((By which you mean, I could take steps to maintain my cover, as is my duty?)) Yalran said. She was smirking as she said it, though.
((Yeah, sure,)) I said. ((That.))
I was feeling well and truly stuffed by the time we’d all finished eating. And judging from the way Ben was rubbing his stomach, I wasn’t the only one. Ben and Yalran soon started sorting out the dirty dishes, while my parents went off to watch TV in the other room.
‘Say, you up for a game of something, when we’re done here?’ Ben said, while rubbing at a plate.
‘Yeah,’ Yalran said, in the middle of washing a glass. ‘Why not?’
‘I still need to get you back for last time,’ Ben said, as he moved on to another plate. ‘I’ve been practicing, you know. What do you think? Same match-up as before?’
He was talking about that fighting game of his, of course - the same one that Yalran had so effortlessly trounced him at the last time they’d played together. Yeerk pilot training, she’d explained at the time; apparently, the skills she’d learned there were readily transferable.
‘Actually,’ Yalran said, ‘how about something else tonight? What about that racing game of yours? We haven’t played that in forever.’
Ben agreed enthusiastically. It was settled, then.
((I’d have to act skilled and stuff if we did his fighting game again,)) Yalran said to me, while scrubbing at a frying pan. ((But not with this one, right?))
((Hey, I’m not that bad!)) I complained.
I even won on that one. Well, I won occasionally, at any rate.
((Point is,)) she said, ((if he sees you playing that one like you, he won’t think it’s strange. Right?))
((…Uh, right,)) I said. Just what was she-
((And you’ve behaved yourself as of late,)) she went on. ((And I did say I’d give control from time to time, did I not?))
((Well, true,)) I said. Was she really about to…
((Sooo…want your hands?)) Yalran said, in the most casual tone imaginable.
((My hands?)) I said. ((You mean, while we’re…))
((Uh-huh. Want them?))
She really did mean it, I realised. She was honestly asking if I wanted to…to…
((Yes!)) I said. ((Oh God, yes!))
I'm planning to take a few days off from writing this now in order to work out where I'm actually going with it, since I deviated from my outline several chapters back. As such, expect the next update in 2 weeks' time, on the 9th of December.
In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying reading this fic! And if you have any thoughts or comments, feel free to leave them in a review.
I enjoyed that evening, playing games with Ben. In fact, “enjoyed” does’t say it strongly enough. I was downright ecstatic, being able to sit there and hammer buttons on the controller in my hand. I was actually doing something, outside of my own head, outside of that hated Yeerk Pool.
Right then, it didn’t matter in the slightest that the “something” I was doing amounted to getting trounced by Ben over and over. Nor did it matter to me that, aside from my hands, Yalran still held on to every single part of me. I had no way to call for help, nor could I signal that anything at all was wrong - and right then, I honestly didn’t care.
I didn’t ask for more control that evening, nor did it occur to me to ask: I was too busy feeling happy and thankful over the control that I had. And I did thank Yalran, once it was all said and done. I thanked her profusely, in fact.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have thanked her. After all, she’d still only given me a tiny fraction of the freedom she could have given me. But I meant ever word of my thanks at the time, and I was still smiling inside as Yalran put me to sleep that night.
I was still smiling inside the following day at school, as Yalran went about her day. I was smiling to myself after school, too, when Yalran joined Helen and Caleb in the mall. We all ended up at the amusement arcade, with Caleb showing off his zombie-shooting skills to us. He spent a lot of his time here, he explained; watching him play, I could well believe that.
Yalran and Helen both took some turns on Caleb’s game, once he was done. I’d have liked a go at it myself, truth be told, but I knew better than to expect it and I didn’t ask. I just did my best to pretend it was me doing the moving, whenever Yalran had a turn. Her hold on me was nice and loose just then, which certainly helped.
On Wednesday evening, Yalran talked Ben into another few rounds on that racing game of his. She gave me my hands for that, and then left me to it.
On Thursday, when she returned to my head from feeding in the Yeerk Pool, she left the complex without looking at my memories. She hadn’t looked at them in days, as far as I knew.
By Friday, I was convinced that something had changed in Yalran - quite possibly many “something”s, in fact. She was acting…well, no more mature, but certainly more respectful. She still hadn’t touched my memories, nor had she threatened to - seriously or otherwise.
((So, any ideas?)) she said to me, that afternoon.
We were in my room. School was finished for the day, and I’d spent the last hour watching Yalran complete my homework. She’d been putting it off all week, and so now had a sizeable backlog of assignments to get through. She’d spent the last five minutes staring at a history problem sheet, seemingly stumped.
((Nope,)) I said. ((Not a clue.))
Yalran shrugged mentally. ((Me neither,)) she said.
((Maybe it’s in your notes?)) I said. ((I mean, you did take notes, right?))
((Yeah, think so,)) Yalran said, as she went about checking exactly that.
We’d spent the last few history classes just talking between ourselves; I don’t think Yalran had paid much more attention than I myself had done.
((Hey, Yalran? You okay?)) I said suddenly.
((Huh?)) Yalran went. ((Oh, yeah, fine. Why couldn’t I be?))
((Oh, I don’t know,)) I said. ((It’s just…you seem different. That’s all.))
((Really? You think?)) she said.
((Yeah!)) I said. ((I mean, since when did you actually ask if I knew something? You always go in and check.))
((Well, true,)) Yalran said, giving the mental equivalent of a shrug. ((But asking works better, right?))
((Just a bit.))
She found what she needed in my notebook then, so I settled into the back of my mind after that and left her to get on with it. I was faintly grateful, just for once, that this pile of assignments would not be my problem.
But then, as Yalran kept working, my mind began to wander, as minds were prone to do. And all too quickly it wandered onto the topic of freedom: freedom from Yalran, freedom from yeerks. It seemed impossible, with Yalran wrapped around my brain, but what if there was a way?
Struggling against her control would be no good; that was as plain as day. So, as long as she was in my head, it really was hopeless. But what about when she wasn’t in my head? What about…
What about…the Pool?
I took in my surroundings for a moment. Yalran was scribbling away on a homework sheet, not paying me the slightest bit of attention. Good, I thought; let it stay that way.
So…the Yeerk Pool, then. What about escaping at the Yeerk Pool?
Well, I couldn’t break out of any of the cages. And struggling out of a Hork-Bajir’s grip was out of the question, too: even if I somehow managed it, I knew I wouldn’t get very far. I went through in my mind all the various steps of a Yeerk Pool visit: waiting for Yalran to leave my head, being taken to a cage, being taken from a cage, being held down while Yalran re-infested me, and…
…Wait, I thought. That was it.
What if Yalran didn’t infest me at the point I was to get up and leave? What if I could instead get up and walk on out, without Yalran actually being there? It wasn’t as if the guards could see my yeerk go in, and they certainly had no way of telling between us once she was there. So…would they really know if I just pretended to be Yalran, for however long it took me to get away from them?
I took in my surroundings again…whereupon I noticed that Yalran was no longer working. Rather, she was rhythmically tapping my pen on the page, with the biggest smirk across my mouth I’d ever seen her make.
Oh, shoot, I thought. Busted.
((So,)) Yalran began, as she placed the then neatly on my desk. ((Do you want me to explain what all is wrong with that? Or would you rather just dream?))
I kept quiet for a moment, trying to gauge my yeerk’s mood. ((Uh, sorry,)) I eventually managed.
((Oh, please. Sorry?)) Yalran said. ((For wanting to be free? When I know you’re involuntary? Yeah, sure: how dare you.))
So she wasn’t angry with me, it would seem. Well, that was something.
Yalran went over to my bed then, and flopped down. She’d been doing that a lot this past week, whenever she and I were alone there; I guess she just liked the feel of it.
((But, yeah, seriously: that’s a really bad plan,)) Yalran said.
((Well first of all, guards look out for that sort of thing. Lots of hosts try it; you’d hardly be the first.))
Well, I thought. So much for my plan being clever.
((Secondly, have you noticed how long they hold you under for? That’s to make sure that I have plenty of time to get in - and that you don’t try any funny business.))
((Well, you could just not go in,)) I said. I didn’t put any real force behind it, though.
((And leave you without little old me to keep you company? Nuh-uh; not happening.))
I gave her a little mental eye-roll for her trouble.
((Oh, and point three: you’re way too cooperative,)) Yalran said, as the smirk across my mouth gave way to a more gentle smile. ((You never struggle against the guards, but you’d have to struggle as part of that plan. They’d know you were trying something, just from that.))
Of course I’d have to struggle. And then I’d have to stop struggling once my head was pushed into the sludge; that’s how I’d pretend that Yalran was already there.
((Except the guards would still hold you in that case,)) Yalran said, ((because they’d know it was too early. So, yeah. Bad plan.))
((Seems so,)) I said.
Which meant I wasn’t getting my body back. Which meant it would be Yalran walking away from the Yeerk Pool, like it always was.
((Not to mention,)) Yalran said. ((You’d have to take your family and get out before we…well, you know.))
((Well, yeah,)) I said. Truth be told, I hadn’t even thought about that before Yalran brought it up.
We lay quietly for a time, Yalran holding me loose enough to feel ever breath as it went in and out of my lungs. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed, right then. Yalran must have known what I was thinking, but she didn’t comment on any of it.
((You couldn’t let me go anyway,)) I said at last. ((Even if you did want to.))
((Well, I could just not go in, right?)) Yalran said.
((And then what?)) I said. ((I mean, I assume some yeerks would come looking for me, soon enough. And you’d be executed, right?))
((Oh my, yes,)) Yalran said. ((And not just executed, either. Starved. As a sympathiser.))
We both went quite again for a bit, after that.
((You know, I don’t feel like doing homework anymore,)) Yalran said at last. ((Feel like a read?))
((Yeah, sure,)) I said. ((Do it.))
We’d already gotten through one of the books we’d bought at the mall the other week - and I do mean “we”. We were half-way through another one, too - the same one that Yalran presently pulled out from my bookshelf, a faint smile on my face all the while. She was reading away in no time at all; I read right along with her, grateful for the distraction the book provided.
We went a whole other week like that, in the end. Yalran kept out of my mind - at least, as far I as could tell - and continued to give me my hands whenever she and Ben got together for a game. She never gave me more than my hands, mind, but she was at least giving me something - way more than she’d been giving me before.
She’d stopped recruiting, too - or rather, she’d stopped trying to recruit anyone new. She was still enthusiastically encouraging Helen and Caleb to come along to Sharing events - not that they needed much encouraging. I could tell for sure they would become Full Members, and sooner rather than later. It was only going to be a matter of time.
‘You guys should really sign up properly,’ Yalran made me say, one afternoon after school. ‘You know, become Full Members. You’d really like it!’
Caleb had taken to joining us on the after-school walk home over the past week. We still had no idea where he lived; for all I knew, he lived in a completely different direction from the school than Helen or I did. He’d follow us to Helen’s house, then continue to follow me over to my own place. Sometimes he would talk to us, and other times he’d just walk quietly and listen.
Truth be told, I found it a little odd.
‘I don’t know. Sounds hard,’ Caleb said.
‘Well, I guess it does take work,’ Yalran made me say. ‘It’s not a bad kind of work, though. I love it, myself.’
‘I’ll think about it, definitely’ Helen said. ‘I don’t want to fall behind on school, though.’
‘Oh, you won’t fall behind,’ Yalran said. ‘I mean, look at me. If anything, I’m doing even better than before. Besides, this is one of those things that’s better not to think about. It’s far better to just do it and see. Believe me: you won’t regret it.’
My God, I thought. She’s actually going for it. She was actually trying to recruit them and seal the deal.
((Yalran, shouldn’t you wait before you-))
And I did go quiet, just as she wanted, like the good little host I’d made myself to be.
Neither Helen nor Caleb took her up on it that time, but it was obvious that they were wavering. She’d try it again all too soon - and for all I knew, she wouldn’t need to try a third time. At which point my friends - both of my friends - would be gone.
‘Well, it’s not like you need to decide right now,’ I heard Yalran say. ‘Hey, you’re coming to the barbecue tomorrow, right? Why don’t we talk about it then?’
They both agreed. They were both smiling. That had not a single clue what Yalran had in store of them.
We ended up watching TV with Mom at home - myself and Yalran, I mean. We’d come in to find her watching The X-Files, of all things, and Yalran had sat down to join her without a second’s hesitation. Dad was still at work, while Ben - at least, as far as I know - was out playing basketball with his friends.
((You remember we have homework, right?)) I said after a few minutes.
((Oh, sure. I’ll do it later,)) Yalran said.
((How much later?)) I asked. It would be just like Yalran, after all, to leave it to the last night once again.
((Oh, who knows? I’ll do it tonight. Maybe.))
All too soon, the TV channel cut to a commercial break. Mom went away to check on something she’d left in oven, leaving me alone with my thoughts - and with Yalran.
I’d been thinking about Helen and Caleb. I couldn’t not think about Helen and Caleb. I hadn’t been planning to say anything to my yeerk, actually. But there was no way to keep her out of my thoughts.
((Beth, you know I have to recruit,)) she said.
((It’s too soon.))
((It never won’t be.))
((No, I mean, they haven’t spent enough time in the Sharing. They’ve just come to a few sessions to have fun. They don’t believe in being something greater than themselves, or anything like that. They…they…)) I paused for a moment, and then forced the words out: ((They won’t be voluntary.))
Being voluntary would make it better for them. Being voluntary would mean no cages. Being voluntary would mean better treatment. Probably.
((Well, I can’t just do nothing,)) Yalran said. ((It’s not like I’m recruiting anyone new. Helen and Caleb are the only things going for me right now.))
((Well, can’t you just…hold off a little? Or something? Come on: you like them. You know you do.)) I was clutching at straws; even at the time, I could see that.
((And…well…you like me, right? Why not just do it as a favour, then? For me?))
She exhaled hard. She leaned my body back on the sofa we were sat in, and slumped my shoulders.
It only struck me then what I’d actually said. It took another second for me to realise it was indeed the truth: Yalran did indeed like me, in her own strange way. She’d even said as such; she’d told me I was the only thing she liked about this entire invasion, and I’d reminded of her of it since. And yet, what she said that day still hadn’t fully struck me - not until just now.
((Beth, you…look, I’ll admit it: I do like you, okay? You’re a good host. And you’re a good…)) She trailed off, softly biting my lip. ((Point is, I like you. But I’m not a sympathiser. Yeerks need hosts, and Helen and Caleb are the only potential hosts I have right now. Got it?))
I couldn’t bring myself to form words, at that moment. It was like my mind had frozen solid totally.
((Okay?)) Yalran said.
((Okay,)) I said quietly.
Mom came back in, then. Yalran said something to her, but I didn’t catch what it was. It must have been something pleasant, though, because both of them smiled afterwards. The X-Files episode came back on, and I gladly got lost within its contents.
Soon after the episode had ended, Yalran quickly went upstairs to do my homework. She’d been planning to loaf in front of TV some more, but I’d started nagging her about the homework and she’d caved within minutes.
((Man, you are such a spoilsport,)) Yalran said as she trooped on into my room. ((Hasn’t anyone told you you need to relax?))
People had told me that plenty of times, before Yalran became part of my life.
((Well, it’s what I’d do,)) I said. ((I always do homework the moment I get it. Whatever happened to pretending to be me?))
Yalran rolled my eyes. ((Spoilsport.)) I couldn’t help but notice she was smiling, though.
And so, Yalran took out my homework and got stuck in, while I marvelled over the fact that I’d actually made my yeerk do something. That was a win for me, for sure.
I didn’t get to marvel for long, though. In no time at all, Yalran started bugging me on questions she didn’t know - which, in this case, was virtually every question on the page in front of us.
((Would it kill you to actually listen in class?)) I said, after about the fourth time. Truth be told, I was actually quite enjoying myself; certainly, this was way better than having her go through my mind as she worked.
((Class is boring,)) she said. ((You aren’t.))
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. ((Well, we were taught this on…Tuesday, I think? Check my notebook.))
I’d actually been trying to listen in my classes over the past week. I suppose I’d just gotten fed up of Yalran knowing more about my schoolwork than I did. Not to mention, it gave me something to do whenever Yalran and I weren’t talking, increasingly rare though that was.
Yalran’s notes, as it turned out, were unusually sparse. I’d been right about us needing the notes from Tuesday, but the notes she’d taken down just weren’t enough.
((Aw, great,)) Yalran said. ((I guess I really should have listened, huh?))
((Uh huh. Or let me listen; one or the other.)) We’d been bickering virtually throughout the class in question; about what, I couldn’t even remember. ((Look, I’m not like this at all. People will get suspicious, you know.))
((About what? Aliens? Slugs in brains, all because you slowed down in school a bit?))
I had to admit it: she had a point there. ((But Mom and Dad might start thinking the Sharing is bad for me. Then what?))
((They’d want you out of it, I guess.)) She continued to read through her notes with my eyes, as though willing more words to suddenly come forth.
((Oh yes,)) I said. ((And you know what? That’s fine by me. So you just keep doing what you’re doing, and then I can-))
((We’d just infest them. If they seriously tried to get you out.))
An uncomfortable silence stretched between us. ((I was joking, you know,)) I said at least.
((Well, good,)) Yalran said. ((Anyway, what are we going to do about your assignment?))
((Textbook, I guess,)) I said. ((Should be in my bag. Get it out.))
We went on to do the homework between us to the best of our ability - which, right then, wasn’t much. The textbook in question largely just confused us, and Yalran's notes proved to be little help. All of the answers Yalran wrote were badly incomplete, and one particular question we hadn’t answered at all. Just a few months ago, I’d have been mortified to be handing in such a slapdash piece of work; now though, needless to say, I had bigger worries to hand.
Yalran leaned back in my chair, stretching my arms and legs out pleasantly. Her hold on me was light, as it tended to be, and I could feel ever little motion she forced me to make. ((Well, that’s done,)) she said. ((I guess we might as well just read for a bit? Won't be long until dinner now, in any case.))
((Sure. Whatever,)) I said.
We’d finished the last book we’d been reading, now. We’d started on a new one that I wasn’t so keen on, but Yalran seemed to like it.
((Sharing again, tomorrow,)) Yalran said, as she pulled her book off of its shelf. ((That’s a drag. Still, the food should be nice. And I suppose I can at least try to…well.))
((Infest my friends?))
((Yeah. That. I mean, they’ll go voluntary if they have any sense. And they seem sensible enough. Even if Caleb’s a little…strange.))
((It’s too soon,)) I said. Not that she seemed to take any notice.
((Of course, once they are recruited, I’ll have to think of something else. Otherwise, I won’t be recruiting. And then I’d be demoted, or whatever. And that wouldn’t do at all.))
She’d go back to recruiting lonely-looking kids at the school lunch tables, I assumed. That’s what she’d usually done, after all, over the months we’d been together.
((Nah. That was getting old, anyway. And it makes you seem obsessed with the Sharing. I was talking about the Sharing too much. You were right about that.))
((So…you want to recruit for the Sharing. Without obviously recruiting for the Sharing.))
((Uh-huh. Exactly that.))
((Well, I suppose you’ll just have to make more friends and act natural. Which means not acting like me. So…not happening.))
((Oh, don’t be silly. I can do that if I want.))
((It’d still be me, as far as everyone else was concerned. People see me as the shy girl. It’d look weird.))
((So…I’ve got to be social and stuff,)) Yalran said. ((While still pretending to be you and acting like you. That what you’re saying?))
((I’ve got to be you, with your interests and your reputation, and I’ve got to…wow.)) She crossed my arms, and let out a great breath of air. ((Yeah. That’s hard.))
((Well, your problem,)) I said. ((You’re the yeerk. Not me.))
She was indeed the yeerk. And, really, I should have taken that to heart.
Because I was thinking way more than I what I was deliberately saying. I was thinking about how I wouldn’t in fact mind trying to be social, if and when I ever got away from yeerks and everything about them. Being social would mean talking; it would mean not being alone, not being stuck with just my own thoughts for company. It would be like having Yalran, almost - except I’d still be free, with my body and thoughts wholly to myself.
It wouldn’t be hard - not now. I could just go up to people and say “hi”. I had already started getting the hang of that back in my early Sharing days, and I had no doubt I could do it again.
But maybe I could do more than that. I liked books, right? Helen liked books. Other people liked books. So, why not get people together, start a book club or something, find other people besides Helen I can talk to about…about…
Oh, I thought. Crap. Crap!
Yalran was grinning like an idiot through my controlled face. She’d caught the entire stream of thought; I knew she had.
Crap! Crap! Crap!
‘Beth?’ my yeerk whispered aloud. ‘You really are a genius.’
She meant it, I realised. She honestly meant it! She knew how I felt about it - she was my yeerk, she was in my brain - and she still honest-to-God meant it!
But I knew she was wrong. I wasn’t a genius at all.
I was a fool! I was a damned fool!
We walked down to Sharing barbecue on the beach the following afternoon. It was cloudy overhead, and I kept hoping it would rain, but the weather remained determinedly dry.
Yalran didn’t go there with her fellow yeerks this time. She went down there with Helen and Caleb, having met both of them over by Helen’s house. She was busily playing the part of the good friend, who was not in fact willing to make them into slaves at any given moment.
I can scarcely put into words how much I wanted to fight just then: how badly I wanted to hurl myself at Yalran’s control and get out a warning of some kind, however small and insignificant it might have been. And Yalran knew I wanted to fight. I knew she knew, because her grip on my movements was so tight just then that I couldn’t feel a single thing.
((Yalran, don’t!)) I said. ((You don’t need to do this! You don’t need to infest them; not yet!))
((Yes I do! You know that I-shh!)) she went, as Caleb said something that I missed.
They were talking about another trip to the mall next week: about sitting in the cafeteria, of hanging out in the arcade, of heading to the bookshop and seeing what could be found.
If only they knew, I thought. If only.
((See? I said. Why not hold off? Until…until that, at least?))
She started talking about the Sharing then. She talked all about how some Full Members spoke of nothing but the Sharing, breathed nothing but the Sharing, lived nothing but the Sharing. She told them that they didn’t have to be that way if they didn’t want to, that they could make the Sharing an important part of their lives without letting it take over completely.
And they were nodding. They were smiling. They were hooked.
And as I was made to watch this from the confines of my body, a single thought swirled through my head, over and over, refusing to be quelled.
I did this.
I was the one who’d talked Yalran out of her habit of gushing about the Sharing non-stop. I was the one who’d talked her into spending time with people without immediately trying to make it an opportunity to recruit. I was the one who had helped to stop her from pushing Helen away. And I was the one who would soon be drawing yet more people to share my fate, all because I’d been so careless with my thoughts in that single, stupid moment.
She was going to go to Tellarin with my “book club” idea, the moment she got the chance. She’d made that all too clear to me the night before.
I could have fought her, I thought. But, no, I couldn’t have done, could I? Mom, Dad, Ben; their freedom rested solely on not fighting, on continuing to obey Yalran’s every whim.
But I could have resisted, surely. I could, at the very least, have not helped. But I had helped, and I was helping still helping her even now, purely through my continued inaction.
‘So, let’s talk about it afterwards,’ I heard Yalran say. ‘But for now, just enjoy it, alright?’
A troop of Yalran’s fellow yeerks had already set everything up: some volleyball courts, some barbecues, the usual large bonfire, and so on. It would be fun for the uninfested humans, for sure. It would perhaps be fun for the yeerks, too.
But for me, and the others there who like me, trapped within their minds as helpless puppets? Not a chance.
We ate some food. We played some games. We got our feet wet in the sea. The sky cleared up, and all. For anyone who didn’t know better, it must have seemed like a wonderful time.
A couple of hours in, the yeerks at the meeting began to excuse themselves. We had a yeerk meeting scheduled, which naturally was located far away from the other Sharing members. Yalran ended up leaving Helen and Caleb on a volleyball court along with a load of other uninfested kids. We headed further down the beach, away from all the cheer and all the laughter.
((So, you’re really doing this?)) I said. ((You’re giving Tellarin my idea? Right now?))
((Pretty much,)) Yalran said, sounding distinctly disinterested.
And if Tellarin liked it - and I didn’t see why she wouldn’t - then Yalran would be putting it into action all too soon. And then more kids would be turned into slaves. All because I’d allowed myself to work with her. All because I hadn’t fought.
I should have fought her sooner, I told myself. I should have done something, at least.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t start fighting now.
((No,)) I said. ((No, you’re not. I won’t let you.))
Yalran stopped in her tracks, my body going rigid under her grip. ((B-Beth?))
I felt her dive headfirst into my mind, for the first time in more than a fortnight. She wormed her way through my thoughts, taking and absorbing every last detail, heedless of the discomfort it caused. And then, she pulled away, breathing out hard with my body as she went.
She knew what I was thinking; she knew exactly what I was going to say. But I said it anyway.
((I could report you, if I wanted to,)) I said. ((You lied to your sub-visser. You’ve shown signs of host sympathy. You try to hide it, but you’ve said more than enough. You’ve done more than enough. That’s treason, right? At least, according that damned empire of yours. They’d kill you, wouldn’t they? You’d starve.))
She stood there for a time, breathing hard through my mouth. She quickly began to breath more slowly, though, relaxing my body’s posture as she did.
Her next words, when they came, were as cold as ice. ((Report me? You? No you won’t.)) There was no doubt at all in her voice - no hint at all that she thought she could possibly be wrong.
((Yes I will! And you can’t stop me, either! Because you’ll be out of my head, feeding in that pool. There’d be nothing you could do! Nothing!))
((Oh, sure. Nothing,)) Yalran said. ((You could get me killed, easily.)) She made my body sink to its knees, and then let herself fall backwards onto the sandy beach. She held my mouth wide open in a parody of a grin. She blinked, and I realised then my eyes were filling with tears. ((And then what, Beth? What happens next? What happens to you, after you murder me?)) She was laughing a little, though my mouth - or maybe she was crying, or both at once.
I went quiet for a moment. Already, I could tell where she was taking this. ((I’d get another yeerk,)) I said.
((Uh-huh. You would,)) Yalran said. ((And for all you know, it would be a yeerk who didn’t talk to you, who didn’t make deals with you, who didn’t give you at least a little bit of your body to…I didn’t have to do those things, you know! All they’ve done for me is make things harder!))
((Oh, shut up! Try being me, if you want to know what “harder” is! Hell, try being Helen or Caleb, once you’ve gone and forced your precious slugs into their heads!))
((Oh, sure! Sure! And you try being one of those little slugs, trapped down there in that stupid little pool! You try not being having a body that can actually do things without having to-)) She abruptly twisted my head to one side, biting my lip hard enough for it to hurt. ((You want to know hard, Beth? Try being a yeerk. I dare you.))
I could feel my teeth grinding together as she spoke. She was rocking back on fourth, clutching at herself - clutching at me.
((I’ll report you,)) I said. ((I’ll wait until you’re out of me, and I’ll report you.))
((Oh be quiet,)) Yalran said. ((You won’t do it. You’re better off with me and you know it.))
I got ready to say something. And then I said nothing.
Because she was right, wasn’t she?
I could report her. And then she’d be replaced. And then my new yeerk would continue exactly where Yalran had left off - as well as doing way more besides. I wouldn’t gain a single thing.
I had nothing to fight her with. Nothing at all. It was hopeless.
She sat there for a moment longer, all by herself on the sand. She swallowed hard, repeatedly rubbing at my eyes.
‘Hey, Yalran, you okay down there?’
My yeerk made me look up, to find the familiar form of Kessam 805 standing over us, her host’s long black hair blowing in the faint breeze.
‘Oh, yeah, fine,’ Yalran made me say. ‘My host was giving me trouble; that’s all.’ She pushed me to my feet. ‘Well, whatever. I’ll deal with her later. Meeting started yet?’
‘No, not yet, but you’d better hurry. You don’t want to be late again, right? Come on!’
The two yeerks sprinted across the sand together. I was already imagining how Yalran intended to “deal with” me - and needless to say, I expected nothing good.
Yalran let out a wordless groan of frustration in my mind. ((I’m not planning anything, you idiot. Now do us both a favour and relax!))
Right then, I thought. Fine.
She’d be at that yeerk meeting soon. And she’d share that little idea of mine. And then she’d get more and more people infested.
And there was nothing I could do about it. Not a single damn thing.
‘Now then,’ Tellarin said. ‘Any business to report?’
The assembled yeerks looked around at one another; by and large, it appeared they had nothing to say.
‘I’ve had an idea, sub-visser,’ Yalran made me say. ‘For recruiting more hosts.’
I could see the big Sharing bonfire burning in the distance, out of the corner of my eye. The yeerks, meanwhile, were stood around a fair more modest fire. The sun had gone down by now, and there was a bright moon overhead.
‘Speak,’ Tallarin said.
And Yalran did indeed speak - or made me speak, at least. Her idea was pretty much exactly what I’d thought of only one night earlier, except twisted towards her own sick purposes: start a book club, fill it full of quiet kids much like myself, and then slowly funnel them into the Sharing over time. This would not be overtly be a Sharing operation, she said; that way, anyone disinterested in the Sharing would still feel okay with coming along.
‘Mmm,’ Tellarin went at last. ‘Yes, that could work. Meet me after my host’s class on Monday; we’ll discuss this then.’
And just like that, it was done.
A couple other yeerks spoke up after us, but I didn’t catch their words. After that, Tellarin gave her own news: that the upcoming family event now had a definite date, and that yeerks with human hosts would be undergoing combat refresher-training over the coming weeks.
It was easy to forget, after all, that all of this Sharing stuff was part of a galaxy-spanning war.
‘Well then, if no-one else has anything to say,’ Tellarin said. ‘Very good. Now, we will all return to the humans. And if a human asks about becoming a Full Member, bring them to me. Dismissed.’
We rejoined Helen and Caleb soon afterwards. They were kicking around a soccer ball by then, along with a load of other kids I didn’t recognise. Yalran joined in with her usual gusto - on the surface, at least. She hadn’t said a word to me since Kessam had found us, nor had I said a single word to her.
People started to head home before long. It had started to get cloudy again, and the air was beginning to get cold.
‘I should get going, I guess,’ Helen said.
By then, the little soccer game had finished, and everyone involved had gone their separate ways.
‘Me too,’ Caleb said. He turned to look at me. ‘You coming?’
‘Nah, not me. I’ll have to help with packing up. Full Member stuff.’
‘Hey, weren’t we going to talk about that?’ Helen said.
I waited for Yalran to start talking - for her to seal her deal and to seal their fates. But she didn't talk - not at first. She just quietly looked around, taking in our surroundings. There were plenty of people still dotted around the beach, some of them still playing games of some kind - but no-one, crucially, was particularly nearby.
‘You know what? Let’s leave it,’ Yalran said. ‘I mean, being a Full Member has its perks and all, but in some ways it turns the Sharing into work. Like right now, say. Besides, I was an associate member for way longer than this. So let’s just take it slow, alright?’
Helen shrugged. ‘Sure. Works for me.’
‘And me,’ Caleb said. ‘Well, bye.’
Yalran waved them off, then headed to join the nearest group of people she could find.
((Wait,)) I said. ((Weren’t you going to…))
She had been going to do it. Of course she’d been going to do it. Hadn’t that been her entire plan for today up to now?
((Yeah?)) Yalran said. ((Well, changed my mind. Satisfied?))
Yalran had given Helen and Caleb a reprieve that evening, but a reprieve was all it was. They’d gone away that time as free human beings, but I knew they’d be back. Of course they’d be back.
And my yeerk couldn’t stall forever, no matter how much she might have wanted to.
I recognised those things even at the time. That’s why my yeerk and I continued to talk very little, even after she finally finished on the beach and made her way back to my home.
Yalran was still barely talking to me the following morning, and I in turn was still barely talking to her. I don’t thing either one of us wanted to speak, really, nor did we have any wish to hear what the other had to say. She’d said her piece on the beach that day, and I’d said mine; as far as I was concerned, it was as simple as that.
Except it wasn’t simple at all, of course, when we were still sharing a single body - for a given definition of “sharing”, anyway. I couldn’t help but smart when she selected jam for her toast that morning - without even pretending to want my input - and I felt even more exposed than usual when she stepped me into the shower afterwards. Yalran for her part likewise seemed on edge: she held onto my movements far tighter than she normally did, and she’d been determinedly walling me off from her thoughts from the moment I’d awoke.
((You know, I thought you’d be at least a little grateful for yesterday)) my yeerk said, as she dressed me in my room after getting me dry.
((Yeah? Well, thanks, I guess.)) .
Truth be told, I was hardly in a thankful mood. I knew my yeerk was still perfectly willing to go off get people infested - and she was willing to go and do that with my very own idea, that I had so stupidly allowed myself to make.
And so, I continued to keep quiet as Yalran said her goodbyes to my family, before heading off out towards the Yeerk Pool down, down below.
Yalran seemed to relax a little, once we were out of the house. By the time she’d descended the steps to the Yeerk Pool, her grip on my movements had gone back to normal: loose enough for me to feel, but not loose enough for me to do. I suppose the thought of being around her own kind was comforting to her - despite the pangs of hunger she must have been feeling by then, and despite the atmosphere around us being anything but relaxing. We were back in that cold dark world of desperate screaming prisoners, and already I wanted to be anywhere but here.
Yalran walked me over to the usual pier and stood in the queue, seemingly without a care in the world. And then I felt her probe into mind, and I realised she wasn’t without a care at all.
Because if I wanted to, I could report her for her little acts of decency towards me. If I wanted to, I could get her killed.
((Yalran, I’m not planning anything. Relax.))
((Yeah, well, felt right to check.)) She shuffled me forwards in line. ((You know you’d lose out if you did it, though.))
((You’d lose more,)) I said.
Yalran flinched then - as in, physically flinched - and I wondered if anyone around us would notice. ((I guess you’re right,)) she eventually said.
We were speaking softly to each other - softly enough, in fact, that we’d have never been able to hear one another if we were trying to have this conversation out loud. Both of our voices would surely have been drowned out by the cacophony of sounds from the caged hosts around us: the screaming, the begging, the cursing, the crying.
But talking mind-to-mind like this, we could hear each other clear as day. It was like I was hearing the world on two channels at the same time. The first channel, of course, was the world beyond my body and mind. That world was the wailing hosts, the infested host bodies rushing to and fro, the grinds and whirls of machines as the Yeerk Pool complex was expanded ever-larger. The second channel, meanwhile, was just…us: me and Yalran, in a quiet little space, with nothing at all that could ever disturb us.
We made it to the front of the queue without saying anything else. Yalran lay me flat on my stomach and turned my head sideways, as a pair of heavy-set Hork-Bajir guards stood ready to my rear.
((Well, have fun,)) I said, knowing that the Pool to her would be anything but fun.
I kept myself still as she slithered from my ear, even after I began to feel control return to me. I lay quietly as she wormed herself all the way out, and fell into the sloshing murky sludge below with a soft plop.
I made to push myself up. And then I found myself rolling onto my back, and I realised then that something was very wrong.
My entire right arm was asleep - not asleep in a pins and needles sense, but asleep in that it wouldn’t do a single thing. I could feel the limp arm - I could feel the muscles in it, all normal and relaxed - but that was doing me no good at all. It was as though I’d flat-out forgotten how to move it.
The two Hork-Bajir from before entered my field of vision, the expressions on their beaked faces looking anything but friendly.
‘Up!’ one them said, gesturing impatiently. ‘Up! Now!’
‘Trying! I-ah!‘ I went, as I was yanked to my feet.
The two guards took me by my arms and marched me down the pier, half-dragging me as I tried to keep up. They brought me to an empty cage and thrust me inside. I stumbled, almost tripped, and then banged my shoulder hard against the bars on the cage’s far end.
One Hork-Bajir immediately stormed off, muttering what I was sure were curses under its breath. The other one lingered for a moment, watching me. I watched back, rubbing at my shoulder.
‘What did I do to you?’ I said, swallowing down a lump. ‘What did I do to any of you?’
The creature left me then, as though it hadn’t even heard.
The cage, that time, remained relatively empty. There were four other people in it by the end, all of whom were around my age. One of them screamed, one cried, and two just sat talking quietly amongst themselves. I’d retreated to one of the far corners by the time they were all there, keeping to myself and trying my hardest to get my bad arm back into working condition.
I did get it going in the end. I was bending and straitening and tensing it without the slightest of trouble - but only after what must have been at least an hour of trying. I’d resorted to repeatedly picking it up and bending, as though to remind myself what moving it felt like.
All too soon, I was faced with having to walk to the front of the cage, ready for the guards to come and pull me out. My shoulder was still hurting a little from when I’d fallen into the bars, and I hoped desperately that the guards I got this time this time would be different from before.
I did indeed get a different pair, that time around - not that it did me any good.
They came for me at their usual hurried pace: two yeerk-controlled Hork-Bajir, with their tall reptilian bodies and their wickedly sharp blades. They pulled me out of the cage and marched me back to the pool, fast enough that I had to half-run to keep up.
When we got there, I saw four Hork-Bajir at the end of the infestation pier in front of me. Only three of them were infested. The fourth one was flailing, its head held under the Yeerk Pool sludge by its three enslaved brethren. It kicked and splashed and fought, catching one of the yeerks right in their host’s stomach. That yeerk fell down backwards, roaring as it went over.
And then the struggling stopped. And that poor Hork-Bajir lifted its head from the sludge and stood up, its yeerk in full control.
As soon as the coast was clear, my two guards surged forwards. They kept hold of me as I got down onto my knees, and then unceremoniously pushed me forwards. I bought myself, crawled forwards a little, dropped to my stomach, began to breath in -
My head was shoved under.
I’d still been breathing in when they did it. I closed my mouth abruptly, but not before I’d taken in a great mouthful of pool liquid. I coughed and choked, the sourness and sliminess of the sludge enough to make me feel sick. And I needed air - air! I flailed my my body in my panic, wrestling against the Hork-Bajir guards’ powerful arms.
Yalran pushed into my ear then. She seemed to be moving faster than usual, as if she knew that something was wrong. One by one, my muscles relaxed, slipping from my control. She didn’t speak to me at first, but I could feel her going through my memories, replaying ever second of the events that had brought me to this point.
((You’re okay,)) she said. ((They’ll let you up now. You’re fine.)) Her tone was soft and gentle - far more-so than she’d ever spoken to me before.
The Hork-Bajir guards indeed let her up. My lungs were practically burning by then, and Yalran gasped for breath as soon as my head surfaced. She lay still on the metal pier for a moment, breathing quickly and hoarsely, with the two guards still gripping my shoulders.
And then, she spun around, the Hork-Bajir finally letting me go as she did. ‘You could have drowned her, you idiots! What were you thinking?’
One of the huge creatures standing over me gave what almost seemed like a shrug. ‘Was struggling. We held her,’ he said.
‘Of course she was struggling! She needed air! She - get back here!’
They’d turned to leave, no-doubt off to collect their next hapless prisoner. Yalran clambered me to my feet and ran to catch them up.
They both turned to face her. One of them had its blades raised. ‘You in control,’ it said. ‘Leave.’
‘No! I’m not leaving! You two could have killed my host, and you want me to just-’
Which was when Yalran properly took in her surroundings.
She was just slightly off of the pier. She was being watched - by her fellow yeerks, and by others too. There were humans staring at us from the cages - as well as couple of voluntary humans staring at us as they made their way to be re-infested.
One of those humans was Kessam’s host. I still hadn’t learnt her name.
The other of those humans was Miss Andrews - host to Tellarin 1476, Yalran’s sub-visser. Yalran caught her eye, and she quickly looked away.
‘Fine,’ Yalran said. ‘I’m going.’ She stormed away towards the nearest exit without looking back.
((How did you know?)) I said.
She’d been hurrying when she’d gone into my ear that time; I was sure of it.
((You never struggle like that,)) Yalran said. ((I knew there’d be a reason. Had to be.)) She started up some stairs, seeming in as much of a hurry to get out of that place as I would have been. ((I’ll give you your arms. Once we’re alone.))
I’d honestly forgotten about that, until she brought it up. But now that she’d said it…
((No. Not just my arms. Everything.))
((Your arms are enough,)) Yalran said.
((No they aren’t. I want everything, Yalran. Everything.))
She stopped walking. She looked around her - to check we were alone, I have no doubt.
((Beth, you do realise what you’re asking, right?))
((Of course I do. And you know that already. You’re in my head, right?))
((Oh yes. Tell me about it,)) She resumed her walk up to the surface, but at a far slower rate than before. ((There’s no reason for it but sympathy. I’m not doing it. You’ll just have to-))
((Isn’t that enough of a reason? Sympathy? For me?))
She paused again then. But then we heard footsteps coming from somewhere behind us, and she hurried on up in earnest.
((Fine. If you really want to - fine.))
((You’ll do it?))
((I’ll do it,)) Yalran said. ((But not here. And not once you’re out in the open, either. But once we’re somewhere safe and there’s no-one around, then…))
Had I been in control of my face, I’d have been smiling the biggest smile in the whole wide world.
((So? Satisfied?)) Yalran said.
She knew the answer to that already, of course. She was in my head; she couldn't not know.
((Very,)) I said.
A big thanks to Anifan1 for beta-reading this chapter!
Yalran hadn’t sounded like Yalran, when she’d said that.
She’d sounded…flat. She’d sounded lifeless, almost - not at all like the loud and childish Yalran I had come to know. She hadn’t sounded happy, or smug, or angry, or anything of the sort; if anything, she’d simply sounded resigned.
Had I not been looking forward to having control so much, I might have actually noticed right away.
But, of course, Yalran had said she’d only do it once we were alone. And as it turned out, Yalran and I didn’t find ourselves alone for a long while. She found Ben shooting hoops as she came home and spent some time with him, and then got talking to Mom and Dad in the run-up to dinner. She offered to set the table and then wasted no time in getting to work, leaving us no time at all away from at least one person’s watchful eyes.
((You’re stalling,)) I said, as everyone sat down to eat. I said it not as an accusation, but rather a simple observation.
((Perhaps,)) Yalran replied. ((I’ll do it tonight, okay?))
And still she sounded flat, her voice lacking even a trace of her usual enthusiasm - and by now, I’d noticed. Her voice in my head was not that of someone that looked forward to the prospect of giving me some freedom, but nor was it that of someone was particularly opposed to the thought. And yet…
((Yalran? Is something wrong?))
On the outside, she showed no sign at any point that anything was amiss, devouring the food on her plate at my standard rapid pace. But I for one knew what Yalran was like when nothing was amiss - and this, for sure, wasn’t it.
((Oh, nothing big, it’s just…hey, do you mind if I play with Ben before we…well…))
((Give me my body?)) I offered.
She mentally nodded, wordlessly.
((Fine. Do it,)) I said. ((But…why’s this bothering you so much? Giving me control? That is what’s bothering you,right?))
She went silent for a moment - the sort of all-encompassing silence that told me that I’d struck a nerve, that I’d have called a “win” such a little time ago. Clearly, she wasn’t telling me something - and clearly, that “something” was bothering her a whole lot.
((Want to play too, when the time comes?)) she asked.
((Yeah, please, but…Yalran, you are still doing this, right? Giving me control? Properly?))
((Yeah, Beth! I said I would, didn’t I? I just wanted to…ah…)) She scrunched my eyes shut for a moment, though no-one around the table seemed to notice. ((Sorry,)) she murmured. ((We can skip playing. If you want.))
((No, it’s fine,)) I said. ((Let’s play first.))
She washed dishes with Ben once everyone had eaten, and then joined Ben for some video-gaming in his room. She alternated control of my hands between us every five minutes or so, and I started to wonder after a while if Ben would notice the wild variations in skill that we were showing. I assume Yalran caught those thoughts, because she left my hands to me after that.
Finally, she left my brother and moved me on towards my own room. She walked me slowly, my body all limp and deflated. She paused at my doorway and closed my eyes for a moment. Then, she stepped on through, and pushed the door closed behind us with a gentle click.
((Well, guess it’s time,)) she said. I couldn’t not hear the hesitancy in her voice.
She took a deep breath. And then another, then another. It was like she was preparing to do something truly monumental in front of a large and animated crowd. She swung my arms, and glanced towards my door for a moment, as though she was seriously considering opening it and running out.
((So, we doing this?)) I said.
She looked away from the door and stilled her movements. ((Yes.))
My heart started to beat faster then. I wasn’t sure if that was because of me or her or both of us at once. I was so close to being able to move now - so very close. For how many months had I hoped for and yearned for this exact thing: to move my limbs freely, outside of a cage?
((Everything?)) I said
She closed my eyes gently and nodded once. ((Everything.)) Her voice sounded sure now. All of the hesitancy from before was gone.
I can hardly even describe how I felt at that moment. I was almost giddy with excitement at the thought of being able to move, but I was scared as well. What if my arms didn’t work this time, when Yalran went away? And what if, unlike last time, I couldn’t get them working again?
Yalran walked over to my bed, and sat me down. ((Ready?))
And then, she let go of me - she let go of my whole body, all at once.
And I was alone, on my bed, in my room. I had my body all to myself. I clasped my hands, and took several deep breaths, and swung my legs. Everything seemed to be moving; everything seemed to be working as it should.
I was in control. I away from the Hork-Bajir guards and away from the cages. And I was in control!
I stood up slowly, careful to stay close to my bed in case I started to fall. I expected to wobble or stumble or something of the kind, but I didn’t - my body was moving to my commands as easily as it ever had. I stepped away from my bed and walked slowly around in a wide circle, my confidence growing with every step.
I let my arms swing, not unlike how Yalran often did - but I was the one doing it! And then I went and did a little spin in the centre of the room - and it was me, me alone, no-one but me! I was moving, outside of a cage, outside of those dank caves under our town!
I half-walked, half-skipped over to my window and threw it open wide. It was nighttime by now, and I could see the moon out there, all big and bright. I was really doing this, I told myself; I was watching the world, using my eyes, using my body, feeling the cool breeze on my face and not having to watch as my yeerk used it and-
I choked out a sob. It was only then that I realised I was crying.
And then, I felt Yalran’s presence practically slam into me, as control of my body was once again snatched from my grasp.
((Hey, what - Yalran!)) I tugged at her control, but it was only a token effort. ((Yalran, come on! We only just started! Let go!))
Yalran blinked my wet eyes, stepping backwards from the window. ((Sorry, Beth,)) she said quietly. ((Guess it’s a bit overwhelming, huh?)) She blinked again, and swallowed hard. ((I’ll let go in a moment. Just…try to be quiet next time, okay?))
Oh, I thought. Right. I guess it wouldn’t have helped either of us, had my family heard me crying in my room. ((Okay,)) I said, with a little mental nod.
Yalran went over to sit down by my desk, still blinking. She sat down and started to rub at my eyes, forming a manic smile. My eyes were still wet, and they were getting wetter. My tears - our tears - were not stopping.
((I’ll die for this, Beth,)) she said, screwing my eyes shut. ((If I ever get reassigned, they’ll…they’ll starve me!))
((Yalran, they…why? Why would they? You’re doing nothing wrong, you’re-))
((Host sympathy, Beth. Treason. What else?)) She folded my arms, staring my eyes wide at nothing in particular.
((But…but you…)) How was this treason? ((But…voluntary hosts get given control sometimes, right? Keeps them voluntary, right? Why not just say it was that?))
((Oh, sure, I could do that. Unless they make give a memory-dump, anyway.))
((Wait what?)) I went. ((Memory-dump? What’s that?))
((Isn’t it obvious? That’s when they make me show all my memories, like I’m just a host who-)) She suddenly threw my head back, my mouth open wide in silent laughter. ((And they’ll do it for sure, now that I’ve said it! They’re bound to! You think you’re a fool, Beth? You’ve got nothing on me, there. Nothing! They’ll see exactly why I’m doing this, and then they’ll…they’ll…))
She bend forwards, crossing my arms harder, my arms tense and tight enough that it actually began to hurt.
((Sorry,)) she said. ((I’ll let go now. Here)) She straightened me up in my seat and allowed my arm muscles to relax. ((Just…be quiet, alright?))
I gave a little nod - for real I realised, with my very own body! And then I leaned back in the chair, letting my eyes wander high towards the ceiling, making neither a sound nor a movement.
It was then that the memories came to me.
They weren’t Yalran’s doing; they came to me of their own accord. I knew they weren’t Yalran’s doing because these memories felt far away, like I could have actually stopped them had I wanted. They were memories of the one other time when we’d been like this: me, in my room, fully in control, with Yalran watching from within my head.
She’d said it would be a one-off at the time. She’d said she’d never do it ever again. Clearly, she’d been wrong.
And with that last thought, I leaned forwards, and allowed the memories of that time to wash over me totally .
((Hey, don’t - stop that!)) the yeerk snapped. ((Relax already! Enough!))
((Shut up! SHUT UP!))
My family were right there, around the dinner table with me, talking and laughing and smiling without a clue as to what was watching them. They didn’t know the yeerk was there. They didn’t know that I was a prisoner in my own body. They didn’t know that I was hurling myself at the yeerk as they sat there, over and over over again.
((You stop that right now or I’ll-))
I screamed at her wordlessly, and threw myself against her for one last time.
Both of my arms flinched. My mouth quivered for a moment. I’d done it, I thought! I’d broken the yeerk’s grip! I’d moved!
And the talking and laugher around the table just continued, like it hadn’t even happened.
Ben had been saying something at the time. Everyone's attention had been on him - not on me.
And then the yeerk said something to them - or made me say something to them, rather. And then I saw them smile. They didn’t see me at all. They hadn’t seen me struggling for control. They could only see her; they could only see the yeerk.
The yeerk touched my mind then. I could feel her right there at the edge of my thoughts, ready to punish me, ready to plunge me into any memory I’d ever had. She could remind me of any bad experience I’d ever had, of any bad thing I’d ever done. By now, I knew that all too well.
((Guys, help me!)) I wailed. ((I’m right here! Why won’t you…you…)) I lapsed into silence, trying to no avail to shrink away from the yeerk’s touch.((Why won’t they help me?))
The yeerk forked some food into my mouth: a roast chicken dinner, the sort of thing I should have loved. ((Because they can’t see me, you idiot. How could they possibly help?))
She was still at the edge of my thoughts, ready to strike down at me at any time. She was right there, impossible to hold back, impossible to get away from. She had complete control over me: over my body, and my thoughts too. Once the memories started, they wouldn’t stop - not until she willed them to.
She leaned closer into my thoughts, and then she learned closer still. ((Seriously, why fight like that? Why can’t you just relax for once?))
I could feel the memories approaching, ready to burst fourth and consume me. And I didn’t try to struggle, didn’t try to close myself off from her. I could see that there was no point in doing either - that there was no way at all to get away from this.
And then, her presence receded, just as quickly as it had it come down. ((Forget it,)) she said. ((Just…be quiet for a while.))
I didn’t respond to her at first. I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe that she wasn’t still going to do it.
((Okay?)) she said
((Okay,)) I replied lamely.
I spent the rest of that meal in sullen silence, watching as my family spoke to my jailor without a care in the world. Yeerks could act flawlessly as their hosts, when they wanted to; I’d learned that almost right away. My yeerk - Yalran - had complete access to my brain. Already, she surely knew me at least as well as I knew myself.
After dinner, my yeerk washed up dishes with Ben, before spending a bit of time watching TV with the rest of my family. Soon, though, she excused herself to go upstairs. She was going to have a read, was what she told them. I assumed she was telling the truth. She did seem to like reading, after all.
She wasn’t telling the truth. She just walked me into my room and then…stopped.
((If you make a single sound, I’m taking control,)) she said. ((Got it?)) She sounded stern, just then. But more than that, she sounded tired - exhausted, even.
I didn’t respond to her in words. I was too stunned to respond in words. But I did indeed get it, and I’m sure she must have sensed that.
((Not. One. Sound,)) she ordered. ((And don’t leave the room, either.))
And then, she let go of me. And just like that, I had my body again! I could move! I tensed, turning towards the door…but stopped myself before I tried to run. She’d take over if I tried that; of that, I had no doubt.
And so, I just stood there dumbly for a moment. Then, I went over to my bed and flopped down onto the mattress face-first. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t dare cry. If I cried, I’d be making a sound. If I cried, the yeerk would take control.
((If you want to cry, cry,)) the yeerk said, with what I was sure was a twinge of annoyance. ((Just be quiet about it.))
And so, I did exactly that: I let my tears flow freely, allowing my bed to muffle my quiet sobs.
((You see now?)) the yeerk said softly, after a time. ((It’s just like I said, Beth. There’s no point in fighting me.))
I almost responded verbally, before remembering myself in the nick of time. ((They’ll notice. They’ll help me. They’ll-))
Her voice, when it came, was gentle. ((Beth, they won’t. You know they won’t.))
I closed my eyes, gritting my teeth hard. My sobs had stopped by then, but my eyes remained wet with tears.
((So, why struggle?)) she asked. ((Why fight me when it’s not going to do anything? Why can’t you just relax?))
I closed my mouth into a hard line, willing myself not to start sobbing anew.
((Look, I’m only doing this once,)) the yeerk said. ((Just…do whatever. Go and read a book or something.))
I half-considered doing as she suggested, but I just didn’t have the energy. My thoughts were all slow and foggy; there was no way I could have concentrated for long enough to read a single page.
Instead, I just rolled over and stared up at the ceiling, and faintly wondered if I would ever be free again. My eyes felt heavy with tears, but I didn’t cry. I didn’t want to let her see me cry - not again.
I don’t know how long I lay there in the end. It might have been half an hour; it might have been more. I kept expecting the yeerk to take control away at any point, to once again reduce me to a helpless observer in my very own body.
Eventually, she spoke up. ((That’s enough, Beth. I’m coming back.))
She took over my movements gradually after that, making my control slip away a bit a time. She went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, and then slipped me into bed for the night. I’d done nothing with my temporary freedom, I realised then - nothing at all.
I didn’t fight my yeerk the next day. It was the first day since my infestation that I hadn’t screamed at her or fought for control.
I didn’t see the point in fighting her anymore. I hardly ever managed to move a single muscle when I fought her - and even when I had managed it, no-one had noticed. And so, I just kept quiet in my head that morning and watched her pretend to be me to my family. And then, I watched her head off to pretend to be me at my school.
She started talking to me during history class, complaining how boring it was. With nothing better to do, I complained about the same thing, right back to her. It felt nice to be agreeing with her on something, after a week of nearly nothing but fighting.
It certainly felt nicer than struggling against her control non-stop. It felt far nicer than fighting her and being hurt.
((Yalran? Yalran, you there?))
No response. I tried to reach out to her in my mind, but I couldn’t feel her in any way. I guess she’d closed herself off so completely off from me that she couldn’t even hear me.
‘Yalran?’ I whispered.
She took over in a flash, and for moment my body went completely numb. Then, her control gradually receded, until once again I was the master of my own movements
((Why’d you do that?)) I asked her. ((That one night, near the start. Why give me control?))
((Oh, that?)) One of my hands began to toy with my hair, winding it and unwinding over and over. ((Who knows? Felt sorry for you, I guess.)) Her voice in my mind was quiet, hesitant - ashamed, almost.
((Well, I don’t know.)) My shoulders slumped. ((I probably did. Can’t think why else I’d do that. You were the first host who actually fought me, you know. My Gedd liked me, more or less. And my Hork…))
I felt myself softly chew on my lip.
((She was broken, Beth. Tortured to insanity, in her own mind. Barely had a single thought that was hers.))
I nodded softly, even as Yalran - and I realised now it was Yalran - continued to run a finger through my hair. She was controlling my movements again - but she was sharing my body with me, not dominating it totally. I could still move as well, and I could still express myself. What she was doing just then, I honestly didn’t mind at all.
((She was your last host, right?)) I said. ((Before me?))
((Yes, that’s right,)) Yalran said. I nodded again, but I was sure that was her doing. ((They flew me to Earth and told me I was getting a human. They assigned me to you soon after. And when you started struggling, I…well, you know what they teach us.))
((Host discipline.)) The mere term was enough to make me shiver a little.
((Pretty much.)) Her voice, I noticed, had gone all quiet. ((I guess…I guess I thought you’d stop fighting if I just did it once or twice, you know?))
I wasn’t particularly sure what to say to that. And so I said nothing.
((I didn’t know what to do when I realised you wouldn’t stop,)) she went on. ((I thought I’d have to just keep doing it, but…I didn’t want a broken host. Not another one.))
((You felt sorry for me,)) I told her. ((You sympathised. Even back then.))
((Well, maybe,)) Yalran said, as she contorted her face into a scowl. ((It was for me as much as anything, though. Broken hosts feel weird. It’s so lonely, being in a head like that. It just doesn’t feel right.))
I rubbed at my mouth for a moment as I tried to absorb her words. ((That’s…that’s the real reason you hated having that host, isn’t it?))
Yalran nodded. ((That was the worst part, I think. I was glad when I got transferred.)) She tugged at the sleeve on my shirt. ((And when you actually stopped struggling all the time, and we just talked for a bit…I liked it. It was far better than having a head to myself, and far better than fighting with you, and…)))
I nodded again as I continued to listen, at roughly the same moment as Yalran folded my arms.
((I wanted to keep it,)) Yalran said. ((I wanted it to stay exactly like that.)) She squeezed at my arms, talking faster and faster in my mind. ((And after you made that deal of yours, I…I thought I had everything! I had your Mom, your Dad, your…everything! And I had you, Beth! You!))
She was grinning wildly now, and I thought for a moment she was going to start laughing out loud. In the end, thought. she managed to contain herself - not without effort, I am sure.
((I should have known you’d find a way to fight back, in the end.)) She was talking slowly again now, and calmly. ((I should have known I couldn’t string you along like that forever. When you threatened to report me on the beach, I…)) She smiled, and closed my eyes. ((I should have known. I shouldn’t have been surprised.))
I stood up then, opening my eyes back up in the process, and started to slowly pace around. My arms remained loosely folded, though I’m sure I could have moved them had I tried. ((You wanted my life, didn’t you?)) I said.
((I did.)) She stated it calmly, I noticed, without a hint of shame. ((What can I say? I liked your Mom and Dad. I liked Ben. I liked walking home with Helen after school.)) She was talking faster again, her voice getting more and more animated by the moment ((And I liked…I liked having all that without you struggling against me all time. And I liked you, Beth! I mean that! You became my favourite part of all this. You’re…you’re the closest thing I have to a friend!))
I jerked back a little. ‘I…what?’ I’d only realise far later that I’d said that out loud.
((I mean, you’re the only one who actually knows me. Helen and Caleb don’t. Your family doesn’t. None of my own people do - not properly. You’re all I have, at the end of the day. And I didn’t want to lose you, to end up in some other host. But I didn’t want to get in trouble either, and I…))
She took over my body fully then, and turned my head to one side.
((Well, doesn’t matter now,)) she said quietly. ((I’m in trouble now, whatever happens.))
((Because you sympathise?))
((Yes.)) She squeezed at my arms for a moment. ((I mean, you’re a good host. No, not just good. You’re the best host I could ever have asked for, and…look, you deserve way more than I’ve given you. I’m sorry, okay?))
I tried to nod, but Yalran right then was still firmly in control of my movements.
((I want regular control from now on,)) I told her. ((And not just my hands or arms, or whatever. Everything. My whole body. Got that?))
Yalran nodded, and closed my eyes. ((Okay,)) she said softly. ((I can do that.)) She stood me in the centre of my room for moment, twisting this way and that and fidgeting with my fingers. ((But…only in private for now, alright? You’ve been under my control for months; if I just set you loose around people, you’ll act weird.))
I groaned in my mind. ((But…that’s… okay, fine. Control in private. For now.)) I wasn’t in the mood for arguing, just then. ((But…at least, let me tell you what to say to people sometimes. You can do that, right?))
((Yeah, that works. I can do that. Yes.)) Her tone in my head just then was one of distinct relief.
((Okay, so, regular control. And you’ll let me talk to people, even if you’re the one controlling my mouth. Got all that?))
Yalran nodded with my head, several times. ((Got it.)) she said. ((And next time I take you to the Pool, I’m going to talk to the guards. What they did to you today was just…)) She squeezed at my arms. ((They won’t do it again. I’ll make sure of that.))
((Can you really do that, though?)) I asked her ((Without them suspecting anything?))
((I think so. Yes.))
((Then, do it. Please.))
She nodded - physically, not just mentally. ((I will.))
((Oh, and Yalran? Can I have my body back now?))
She nodded dumbly and then went away immediately, leaving me standing all by myself. I couldn’t feel the slightest hint of her presence on my mind, and I sensed she wouldn’t be back for a while - not unless I called her again, at least.
I thought of going and grabbing a book. And then I thought of going and seeing if Ben was still video-gaming, even though Yalran would surely take over if I did that.
And then I went ahead with the book. Because right then, I wanted my body. I wanted to be moving, to be doing something, outside of a cage. And that, indeed, was exactly what I did.
Chapter 23: Chapter 23
A big thanks to Anifan1 (again) for beta-reading this chapter! Thank you also to JonBaker_123, whose suggestion for Miss Andrews' first name I use in this chapter.
I opened my eyes slowly. I blinked them a few times, and grinned at my ability to do so. I was in my bed, in my room, all nicely tucked in and warm - and I was still in control.
((Morning, sleepyhead,)) my yeerk said playfully.
((Morning,)) I replied. I twisted over to check my watch, which I’d left on my bedside table the night before. ((What? You couldn’t let me sleep in?)) I smiled as I spoke to her.
((And have you be late for school? Never.)) I felt the faintest hint of a mental smirk.
I pushed the covers off of myself, and rolled over to sit myself up. Those motions - those simple motions, that I’d taken for granted just a few short months earlier - had me grinning like an idiot from ear to ear the whole time. I swung my legs a little and squeezed at my bedsheets. And then I allowed myself to fall back down onto my pillow, purely because I could do precisely that.
As always, I felt completely awake even this early into my day. Yalran must have woken me up in the exact same way she always did, however that was. No doubt, she’d pretend to still feel tired once she was in front of my family. I had never been a morning person before getting her, after all.
But for now, she wasn’t in front of my family, and we had no-ones’ eyes on us but mine alone. For now, I was still the master of my own body.
I sat up again. And then I stood to my feet, my arms held out at my sides just in case I started to fall. I didn’t fall, though, and I had no trouble at all when I started walking around my room. I did a couple of quick laps, swinging my arms the whole time. How lovely it was to be able to move freely like this, after so much time having it denied! How wonderful it was, to be released from the prison of my own mind!
I looked to my door, then, and I felt my mood dim by just a tiny amount.
Because I still wasn’t truly free, was I? My mom would be up by now, and Ben - assuming he wasn’t up already - wouldn’t be far behind. The moment I went to walk out of that door, Yalran would take over my movements; that, from what she’d said yesterday, was all too apparent.
((Hey, it’s not that bad, right?)) she said softly. ((Being controlled? By me?))
It took me a few seconds to realise that my arms were crossed. I was pretty sure that they hadn’t been before she’d spoken.
((It really kind of is, you know,)) I replied.
A growing silence stretched between us. Yalran had started squeezing at my arms, and I had every impression there was something she wanted to say.
I wanted to say something too, just then - even though I wasn’t quite sure what that “something’ was.
((Hey, you taking over or what?)) I said. ((We need to get going here.))
She took over my body smoothly, nudging me back into that all-too-familiar corner of my mind. I closed my eyes and relaxed as she did it, only for my eyes to open soon afterwards under her command. She started towards my door and reached for the handle, but made no move to actually leave.
((Hey, Beth? Want me to say anything to your family, when we get out there?))
((Huh? What?)) I went. ((I, uh, I don’t know, say…say I love them, or something.))
Surely there was something substantial I could have my yeerk say, even without being able to tell them the truth? Something about how much I appreciated them, say? Or how I saw now just how lucky all of us had always been, having so much and being totally free? But try as I did, I couldn’t think of a single thing.
Yalran sighed hard through my controlled mouth. ((Look, why don’t I just say why you’d usually say for now?)) she said, chewing softly on my lip. Her mental voice was tentative, hesitant. ((You can always think of something later, right?))
I couldn’t not feel disappointed.
((Sure,)) I replied. ((That works.))
With that decided, Yalran trooped downstairs to find Dad leaving for work, Ben getting into the shower and Mom busily chugging a mug of coffee, having just made a fresh pot.
‘Morning, sweetie,’ Mom said. ‘Good sleep?’
‘Oh, yeah, great,’ Yalran said, as she made me fake a wide yawn. ‘Couldn’t have been better.’
‘Your brother just went into the shower’ Mom said. ‘You can go in after him. You’re a little late this morning, for you. Are you feeling okay?’
‘I’m fine, Mom,’ Yalran said. ‘Just need to wake up, I guess.’
I listened intently as they both spoke. I was still trying to think of something I could have Yalran say to her - or to anyone at all, for that matter. I was so close to having a voice, just then - and yet still, it seemed, so very far away.
Yalran had toast for breakfast that morning - with honey on top, my favourite - and quickly chugged down a cup of coffee. She walked me into the bathroom afterwards, which by then was empty, and locked the door behind me with a soft click.
((I don’t suppose,)) she said, ((you want to do this?))
I did indeed want to do it, and so Yalran let me do it. She let me stand under the warm shower and get myself clean, and then she let me run my toothbrush over and over across my teeth. I brushed my teeth rather longer than needed, enjoying the ability to make that oh-so-simple motion with my arm.
Yalran walked me to my room once I was done, but she let go of me again once we were inside. There, she left me to get dressed and to put on my makeup, saying not a single word to me the whole time. I was smiling away throughout the entire process, amazed that any of this was happening: that I was free to move like this, free to choose my clothes, free to do anything - anything - after all this time.
Once I was done, Yalran took over. She took me back down the stairs towards Ben, who was waiting for me by the front door.
((I’ll give you control again later, okay?)) Yalran said to me. ((Once we’re back in your room. Or after school, maybe. If we’re alone.))
I nodded mentally. ((Yalran, just…thank you for this. Really.))
((Oh, it’s nothing much,)) she said quietly.
I suppose she was right, looking back. But I hardly saw it that way at the time.
The first class that day proved to be the most normal class I’d had there in months.
By my current standards, of course, that means the class wasn’t normal at all.
It had all started about fifteen minutes in. Yalran had been in control, doing her best impression of a diligent and attentive student. I’d watched and half-listened from the back of my mind as Mr Johnson, our math teacher, busily scribbled down equations onto the whiteboard at the front of the room.
I might have listened fully, had I not found myself with so many other things to think about. Instead, I found myself going through the events of the previous day over and over again: the pool, the guards, Yalran’s words, all of it. I thought of my time at my home that morning, too: of being given the chance to say something, anything, only to instead say nothing at all.
I tried reaching out to my yeerk then, more out of habit than from a conscious decision. I found her closed off to me completely; from that, I guessed that she was thinking too.
((You okay?)) I tried.
((Yeah, I’m good,)) Yalran said, sounding distinctly less than “good”. ((You?))
((Great,)) I said. Which was hardly the whole story - but being in my head, she’d have surely known that already.
Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure what I was feeling just then. In some ways, great did indeed describe it. I was already looking forward to Yalran getting back home, to her walking to me to my room, to being allowed to move my body around all by myself.
But at the same time, her control right then bothered me, and it bothered me more than it had done in a while. Being allowed to move my fully body had been wonderful, for sure. But now, I found myself just that much more conscious of what had been taken from me to begin with.
She’d given me some freedom, I told myself, and she’d be giving me more freedom the next time we were alone. I should be happier than this, I told myself. There had been several times before now that I’d felt happier than this - and that bothered me, too.
I noticed then that Yalran had started writing something down into my notebook. That was when I realised that, once again, I had no clue what was going on in the class around me.
((So, what’s happening, exactly?)) I said.
((Human school is being boring. The usual.))
((No, I mean-))
((Yeah, yeah, I know,)) she said, giving me the mental equivalent of an eyeroll. ((So basically, what’s happening is…hey, can I try something?))
((Um, sure.)) I replied. ((What is it?))
((Well, it’ll be in your memories, right? So why don’t I just-))
Yalran almost seemed to flinch in my bed, her presence retreating away from me - a presence I hadn’t even noticed until it was already gone.
((No, wait, I mean…yeah, that could work,)) I said. ((But…can we try it later? Please?))
((Fine. Later then,)) Yalran said, a sudden twinge of annoyance unmistakable in her tone. ((Seriously, though: I go through your memories all the time. What’s the big deal?))
She wasn’t wrong there. Over the months I’d had her inside of me, her intrusions into my memories had almost become a standard part of my life. Like whenever she returned to me after a feeding session, say.
Or whenever she’d wanted to put me in my place, back when I used to try to rebel.
((I wasn’t expecting you to say that, I guess,)) I said ((That’s all.))
I felt Yalran’s presence again, then. It surrounded me, cocooned me, made itself impossible not to notice. I relaxed into it, embracing it as it embraced me.
((It’s more than that, though,)) my yeerk said softly, the annoyance in her voice totally gone. ((I mean, it’s not as if I never…))
((I suppose not,)) I replied quickly. ((Look, can we not talk about this for now?))
((Okay,)) Yalran said. ((I…okay.))
Beyond my head, the class continued. Mr Johnson had finished writing on the board by now, and we all had textbooks open on our desks. Yalran was hurriedly writing something down into my notebook, still giving every impression of being a normal human girl.
((So, anyway, what’s happening?)) I asked ((I mean, you’ve been listening, right?))
Yalran went quiet in my head for a moment, as she finished scribbling down the sentence she’d started. She flipped back a page in my notebook, holding my forehead slightly creased as though deep in thought. ((So, you see that equation?)) she said, focussing my eyes on the top line.
((Yes?)) I said.
((Well, that’s what you humans call an indefinite integral. And what that means is that…))
She went on at length, taking me through the notes she’d made that day from start to finish. I decided they weren’t as detailed as the notes I’d have made myself once upon a time, but they certainly did the job.
It was surprisingly relaxing, having Yalran teach me like that. And Yalran for her part seemed to enjoy it immensely, a wide smile practically audible in her mental voice.
((…And so, we rearrange all that, and…done!)) she said. ((See?))
((I…uh, I think…yeah,)) I went, giving a little mental nod. ((Yeah. Yeah, I do!))
((So, now, I have to do these example problems,)) Yalran said, moving my eyes back onto the open textbook on my desk. ((And then we’re done. Easy.))
((Can I try them?))
I felt Yalran freeze in my mind. ((I mean, you could. But…well…)) She darted my eyes around the classroom - at various students around me all busily writing away, at the teacher standing at the front, oblivious to the alien in his midst.
I got her point immediately: too many people. Too many people who could see me doing something odd, so unused to being in control as I now was.
((Can’t you just give me an arm?)) I said. ((That’s all I need, right?))
Yalran, as it turned out, had no problem at all with that.
And thus, I got to spend the rest of that session being a normal ordinary schoolgirl. Yalran’s little one-on-one lesson to me had worked wonders, as it turned out, and I got through the example problems with barely any trouble at all. And throughout it all, it was me who was solving them, and me alone: I was the one thinking them all through, and I was the one moving that pen across the page.
I was feeling positively happy, by the time the lesson drew to a close. Mr Johnson set us a large homework assignment, eliciting several groans, but I honestly didn’t care a bit. Nowadays, after all, I’d been through far bigger problems than mere homework.
I didn’t even care that much when Yalran stood up and starting walking me towards the next class, leaving me all-to-aware of her continuing grip on my movements. Because right then, that grip mattered far less to me than it had an hour earlier.
Because I saw now that I could do things with my body if I wanted to.
Because I knew I’d be allowed to move fully, properly, later in the day
Because I knew she sympathised, that she wanted to be kind.
And most of all, because I had English class next. Which meant Shakespeare. Which meant that I was perfectly happy to zone out for that while Yalran did all the work.
English class was followed by Biology class - Miss Andrews’ class, Tellarin’s class. Yalran and I didn’t speak much over that one. I spent the time doing my best to actually take in the lesson in question, while Yalran busied herself thinking about…whatever it was she was thinking about.
I knew she’d be meeting with Tellarin after this, so I could only assume she was thinking about that. Tellarin had told her two days ago to meet after this class, after all, back during that last Sharing meeting out on the beach.
And that left Yalran with plenty to think about, I soon realised. Because Miss Andrews had witnessed Yalran confront the guards at the pool the other day. Which meant that her yeerk - Tellarin, Yalran’s sub-visser - had seen it too.
Which, for all I knew, meant trouble - and lots of it.
((Hey, Yalran, do you think-))
((No. Don’t think so,)) she replied, just a little too quickly. ((I’d have been told if I was in trouble, I think.))
It would have been easy enough for the yeerks to tell her. There were plenty of yeerks in the school, after all, in the teachers, and in the students as well.
Yalran stayed in her seat at the end of the class, waiting for everyone else to leave. She had in front of her a couple of unfinished questions from Miss Andrews’ lesson that day, in case she had to keep up appearances in front of others. That proved unnecessary, however, and in no time at all Yalran and Tellarin found themselves alone.
Tellarin slowly walked over to us, and Yalran stood to attention. And then, I listened quietly as they twisted my own idea - my innocent, naive, stupid idea - into one more ploy for their twisted purposes.
‘Your idea was a good one, Yalran,’ Tellarin said, the faintest of smiles evident on her host’s face. ’Do it. You are to organise this so-called book club of yours. As well as continuing to recruit via other means, of course.’
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ Yalran said quietly.
‘Find some humans interested in this club, and then report back to me. I will arrange the rest, under the identity of my host. Understood?’
‘Good,’ Tellarin said.
She spun around and walked directly away from us, her rigid posture faltering a little, and I thought for a moment she was going to dismiss us right there. I think Yalran thought that too, because her posture - that is, my body’s posture - was likewise starting to slouch by just a tiny amount.
But then, Tellarin half-turned, and twisted her host’s neck to face us. Yalran immediately straightened herself out.
‘I want to see recruits come out of this, Yalran,’ Tellarin said. Her expression was blank now, that little smile from before totally gone. ‘Voluntary, if possible. I trust you understand why?’
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ Yalran said.
‘Explain then. Why voluntaries?’
‘Because voluntary hosts are valuable hosts, sub-visser.’
I half remembered Tellarin herself saying that word-for-word, some time back.
‘Elaborate,’ Tellarin said, her expression inscrutable.
‘Voluntary hosts don’t fight, sub-visser’ Yalran said. ‘Involuntaries do. That makes them harder to control.’
‘Indeed. Which makes it harder for a yeerk to execute their duty. You see?’
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ Yafran said.
‘And that, as you say, makes a voluntary host valuable. And for a valuable host to be damaged would be…unfortunate. So unfortunate, in fact, that…well.’ She turned back to face us properly, clasping her hands together. ‘Were a pool guard to harm my Maria, I’d have their blades - quite literally! You understand that sentiment, I have no doubt. Which I am sure, Yalran, is why you made such a scene at the pool the other day.’
Yalran blinked several times as she listened. More than once, she’d begin to open to my mouth, only to shut it again as Tellarin continued to talk.
‘Your host remains nonresistant, I trust?’ Tellarin asked.
‘Yes, sub-visser,’ Yalran replied.
‘Which makes her valuable, yes. And what had happened to your host body, exactly?’
Yalran told her how I’d had my head shoved into the sludge as I’d been breathing in, how my lungs had burned for air by the time my head had been allowed back up. She explained that I hadn’t been resisting in any way, how I would have simply gone along with it had I merely been allowed to breathe first. She described forcing my body to go still, against any and all instincts, to make sure those guards would let go before it was too late.
Yalran didn’t call me by my name then - she simply referred to me as her host or else her “host body” - but the facts of what had happened were there.
‘Mmm,’ Tellarin went, once Yalran was finished. ‘Your host could well have been damaged, had you not acted so quickly. And for a host like that to be damaged would have been…regrettable, yes.’ And now, Tellarin walked up to us once again, looking us right in the eyes the whole time. ‘Now, I might understand all of this, Yalran,’ she said quietly, ‘but there are many others who will not. And if you continue to behave in that manner, those others might get the wrong idea. You follow?’
Yalran nodded my head hard, swallowing as she did. ‘Yes, sub-visser,’ she murmured.
‘And were they to report any concerns about you, Yalran…well, I’d have use my time to investigate you. And my time, I’m sure you understand, is valuable. So I don’t want that, and neither do you. Agreed?’
‘Excellent', Tellarin said. ‘Also, you do outrank pool guards, being in that host. So stand your ground, when they raise their blades to you. And if you wish to specifically order them…well, I’ll leave that to you. Understood?’
‘Very good,’ Tellarin said. She backed away from us, her controlled face beaming a bright Miss Andrews smile. ‘Well then: you have your orders. Dismissed.’
A big thanks to Anifan1 for beta-reading, and for providing many thoughtful comments!
Yalran stared down at the floor with my eyes, fidgeting with my fingers. ((I’ll have to get started soon, I guess,)) she said dully. ((You know, on the club. And Sharing recruitment. That stuff.)) She didn’t sound enthusiastic in the least, but I had no doubt at all that she meant every word.
((I guess you will,)) I said evenly.
She had me standing by a row of lockers in one of the hallways. It was still lunchtime, and it was sunny outside, so the hallway right then was deserted save for us. She’d raced away from Miss Andrews’ classroom after Tellarin dismissed her, rounding corner after corner without any real direction in mind. I guess she’d just wanted to get away from that room as fast as possible
((Hey, so, I’ll order the guards to leave you alone next time,)) Yalran said then. ((That’ll work, right?))
((Will it, though?)) I asked doubtfully. ((I mean, you heard what Tellarin said about-))
((Getting reported? Nah, I’ll just have to be smart about it. I’ll tell them that my host body’s pain is annoying, or something. That’s all.)) I could feel her roll my eyes as she spoke. ((It must be so much easier, having a voluntary host. I mean, officially voluntary, you know? No-one thinks it’s weird if you talk to a voluntary. Or if you get mad when pool guards go and…I mean, you heard my sub-visser, right? She’d never let anyone even touch that host! Anyone!))
((Well, she is a sub-visser,)) I pointed out. ((Besides, why should it matter if I’m voluntary or not?))
After all, I’d still be trapped, voluntary or not. And it wasn’t as if I planned to actively resist my yeerk, however much I might have wanted to.
((Try telling them that,)) Yalran replied, a little bitterly. She leaned my body against a wall then, crossing my arms lightly while staring off into space at nothing in particular. ((Still, sounds like Tellarin is planning to let me go. So that’s good. Unless someone else reports me, but…)) She closed my eyes for a moment, squeezing at my arms just a little too hard. ((I’ll just have to be careful, won’t I?))
((I…guess you will,)) I said again - this time, not the least bit evenly.
I reached out to her after, and she reached back, and we hugged together in our shared mind-space. I heard Yalran sigh through my controlled body, my tight shoulders relaxing, slumping. We stayed like that for a good minute, before gradually - and mutually - pulling apart.
((Do you think the sub-visser is like this?)) I asked. ((With her host?))
((Oh, probably not,)) Yalran replied. I felt her smile a little with my mouth. ((But who knows? It’s not like anyone would know if she was. No-one’s about to report her.))
And whatever her private views on such matters were, Tellarin was hardly about to stick her neck out if my own yeerk got reported; that much, she’d made abundantly clear.
((Come on,)) I told her, ((let’s go and eat. My friends’ll be wondering where I am.))
Should I have been so quick to comfort Yalran, back then? Even to this day, I don’t know.
I knew she wasn’t going to stop; even back then, I knew. She was still going to go and make more people into yeerks’ slaves, no matter how well she treated me, and no matter how well she wanted to treat me. She would still recruit for the Sharing, still recruit for that new club, still use that club as a conduit for yet more recruitment to the Sharing. And she would do all that, no matter how much I wanted her to not. Because at the end of the day, she was still my yeerk, and she was still in charge of what my body did.
For the rest of that day, though, Yalran did nothing of the sort. She did nothing more towards the Sharing, nor did she do anything towards her club. Nor, for that matter, did she do anything towards her fellow yeerks at all.
She ate lunch with my friends. She took me through the afternoon at school. She gave me an arm to write with when I asked. She explained to me various bits from my classes that I’d missed over the past few months. I was starting to catch up, I thought, and quickly too - and almost entirely thanks to my yeerk’s support.
Yalran stayed in control, of course, save for that single arm. And whenever she didn’t need to look at something specific, she let my eyes wander. She took in the sunny blue sky through the windows, a colourful Periodic Table poster stuck on the wall in the chemistry classroom, some little bumps on a plain white ceiling. At one point, she spent a full minute staring at a clock on the wall, making my eyes follow the second hand as it ticked along. And all throughout, I could feel her fascination with the world around us; I felt her sense of wonder that came with having functioning eyes, with having a human body with all its abilities at her complete command.
She’d tried to hide these sorts of feelings from me, for the longest time. She’d kept her emotions closed off to me and tried to pretend that she wasn’t in awe of my human senses, even though I’d figured out almost straight away that she was. Why else would she have sometimes spent hours staring out my window when she was alone in my room at home, watching cars go past and watching the night sky? Why else would she sometimes just stop and stare at me - or stare at herself, perhaps - through my mirror? And why else would it so often feel like she wasn’t just pretending to live my life, and that she really was living my life, as though my life was the one she truly wanted to live?
She walked home with Helen after school that day, as ever. I kept quiet and watched and listened, as ever. And once the two of them had parted ways, leaving Yalran and I all by ourselves, she released her grip on my movements.
I was ready for her when she did it, that time. I’d known she would do it, somehow, even though she hadn’t announced it beforehand. I just smoothly took over my movements, back in control, back where I belonged. I started off walking without a moment’s delay, not once feeling the need to raise may arms for balance.
At first, I headed for the nearest bus stop, intent on catching a ride home. Soon though, I realised I didn’t want to go home just yet. Going home would have meant losing this moment that much sooner: this moment of walking by myself, my backpack slung over my shoulder, out in the open with the sun over my head. And so, when I did reach that bus stop, I just kept going and walked right on past.
It all felt so wonderfully ordinary. I found myself glancing at houses as I walked on past, and at the cars passing me by over on by the road. I looked up, and spotted what I was sure was a hawk circling overhead. For a moment, I imagined what the world must have been like up there: so quiet, so peaceful, so many many little things and details to see.
Yalran touched my mind for a moment, gently and carefully. ((You really are amazing, you know,)) she said.
‘Hmm?’ I came to a sudden stop, but remembered myself quickly and started forward as though I’d never stopped at all. ((What do you mean?))
((Well, just look at you. You have your whole body, and you’re not even thinking about trying to run. Or thinking about shouting. Or anything, really. You’re just…)). She laughed, almost, in my mind. ((You’re doing what you always do, aren’t you?))
((What’s that?)) I said.
((Making the best of it. That’s what you do, right?)) I could practically hear the smile in her mental voice.
I stopped at a crosswalk then, cars and assorted vehicles whizzing by in front of me in both directions. My eyes seemed to follow them on their own accord - a red pickup here, a green family saloon there - and I knew at once that Yalran was the one doing it. I let her indulge in that small pleasure without complaint, keeping myself still all the while.
Once the traffic light turned red, Yalran let go, leaving me free to see where I was going as I crossed the road.
((And that, right then!)) Yalran exclaimed, practically giggling by now from the back of my mind. ((How many hosts are actually okay with being used like that? How many hosts think like that?))
((Oh, come on, just my eyes? That was nothing.)) I shrugged a little, and couldn’t help but feel pleased at physically being able to do so. ((Besides, I know how much you like them.))
((“Like” them? Your eyes are amazing, Beth! Human eyes are amazing! All those colors! All those patterns!)) She took over my movements in one big go, dashing forward and looking around for several seconds before she even seemed to realise what she was doing. She stopped quickly after that and ceded control, but not before looking around us to check who all might have seen.
No-one had seen her, of course - or at least, no-one had seen her and read anything into it. There were still cars going past, and a woman was walking a dog on the other side of the road, but no-one was paying us the slightest attention.
((Sorry,)) she said, now sounding more than a little shy. ((I guess your whole body is amazing, really.))
I couldn’t help but smile at that. I did’t my body had ever been called “amazing” before.
((How does it feel, anyway?)) I asked. ((Not being in control all the time?))
We were back in my bedroom, ostensibly to do some homework. Yalran had only just finished doing dishes with Ben after dinner, and my stomach still felt super-full from our recent meal. Yalran had well and truly stuffed me this evening, enjoying her access to my taste-buds just a little too much as she wolfed down Mom’s homemade burgers.
((It’s…)) my yeerk began. ((It’s…well…))
She’d given me my body back as soon as she got to my room, without asking and without me needing to ask. I’d swung my arms a little and flopped down onto my bed, getting ever more used to the freedom of being able to move around. I knew I’d have to do some homework for real before too long - or at least, get Yalran to go and do it - but that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy my body for a little while first.
And now, as I lay there, I listened quietly as my yeerk hesitated to answer me.
((Go on,)) I encouraged. ((What’s it like?))
((It’s…kinda weird,)) my yeerk finally managed. ((But it’s not that bad. I thought it’d feel worse, you know?))
Her voice was quiet, and sounded distinctly hesitant, and I was sure there were things she was holding back.
Truth be told, I could hardly blame her for that. After all, I was holding things back too.
For starters, I was wondering if my family had really not noticed that I was eating more these days. I was sure I’d put on weight, too, and I was equally sure that Yalran had been a big part of that. At the same time though, I couldn’t help but be bothered by the fact that it had been Yalran who had been eating this evening, nor could I help but be bothered that it had been Yalran - and would continue to be Yalran - whenever I was beyond the confines of my own room.
((Hey, Yalran?)) I tried then. ((If it doesn’t feel so bad, then…would you be okay with letting me have control? Around other people?))
The silence in my head that followed could only be described as deafening.
I sighed, and got up to my feet. I wandered towards my window, which I’d left slightly open, and looked out towards the houses on the other end of the street. I watched a car drive steadily across the road beneath me, its headlights on, bound for who-knew-where. Was its driver human, I wondered? Or was it a yeerk, with a human like me, their very body stolen away?
No, I reminded myself. Not like me, not anymore. I was one of the lucky ones now, with a yeerk who was willing to treat me like an actual human being. I wasn’t like most of the involuntary hosts, and for all I knew I wasn’t even like many of the voluntaries.
Right that moment, though, “lucky” was not at all how I was feeling.
I went over to my door and stood quietly next it, listening to the sounds of life and living emanating from beyond. It was all so tantalizingly close - Ben on his games, my parents chatting and laughing over the television downstairs - and yet still so utterly beyond my grasp.
I stepped away, shaking my head, and then sat down over by my desk. I’d already laid out the homework I was supposed to be doing, all nice and neat and ready to be started. I stared at the assorted papers, blinking several times, but I just couldn’t bring myself begin.
((Hey, we could go out of here if you want,)) Yalran said. ((Want me to-))
((No, that’s not what I…no,)) I said. ((Let stay in control for now, okay?))
Yalran gave a little mental nod. ((Okay,)) she said softly.
I went over to my bookshelf quickly, but then I ended up sitting back on my bed without having taken anything out. Really, I guess I’d wanted to just keep moving around. I eyed my door for a moment, and then I lay down and turned away, facing the wall.
((Yalran, if you’d just let me go out there…I’m sure I could do it! I’m sure!))
((Beth, it’s too soon, you’d-))
((Just give me a chance, Yalran! That’s all I need! Just one chance!))
I looked back towards my door, suddenly filled with a desperate longing to run out there and be a part of something - anything - going on around me.
((Beth, please don’t do this! Please!))
That gave me pause. Because my yeerk, just then, honest-to-God sounded on the verge of panic.
((Just…not yet, okay?)) Yalran went on, after a little time. She sounded calmer now, though only a little. ((Please?))
I sighed again. I rolled onto my back and rubbed at my eyes. My eyes felt heavy just then, and my throat felt distinctly dry. ((Okay, fine then,)) I said. ((But…when, Yalran? When?))
Silence. Again. This time around, I wasn’t even surprised.
((Look, I get it, okay?)) I said, not quite managing to keep my irritation out of my words. ((You’re worried I’ll blow your cover. Because I might say something odd or do something odd or whatever. Right?))
She nodded mentally. ((Yeah, that’s it,)) she said.
((But…couldn’t you just take over if I did that? Or, like…if I was about to do that? Before I actually did anything?))
Yalran hesitated again, and I was just about to push her when she finally spoke up.
((Not if you were quick,)) she said sullenly.
I jerked, and blinked several times. Wait, what? I pushed myself slowly into a sitting position, reaching out for my yeerk’s thoughts all the while.
((What do you mean by that?)) I asked
((Like…what if you suddenly decided to shout out, or smash a window, or something? When there were people there? Before I could react?))
She’d taken control of my body again, I noticed, toying lightly with my hair and staring hard at the far wall.
((Yalran, are you saying you don’t trust me?))
She began to grit my teeth softly together, and suddenly seemed downright fascinated by the colour of my bedsheets.
((Oh, for…Yalran, answer me!))
((Of course I trust you, Beth! But…it’s just…you’d still run from me if you could, right?))
((Well, yeah! I mean, what you said, just then? Yalran, that’s how I feel every day!))
Yalran said nothing, but she nodded with my head, and I knew I had her full attention.
((Like…what all are you going to make me do that day? How many people are you going to try to recruit? What orders are you going to get from that sub-visser? I mean, it’s not like I can stop you, is it?))
Yalran shook my head. ((I guess not,)) she replied.
((Of course I can’t! Whenever you want to do something, you do it! And whenever you don’t really want to do something but you’ve been ordered to do it, you do it! And as for what I want…well, I’m just the host, right? Since when did what I want mean anything?))
She squeezed my arms lightly, saying nothing.
((And what you’re doing now? What you’re doing right now? I don’t even mind that. Because it’s not like you’re actually doing anything, is it? I wouldn’t have minded this before if you’d actually shared! Like, what is it with you yeerks and your stupid-))
All of a sudden, I realised I was back in control. I clasped my hands a few times and then flopped down onto my back. I tried reaching out to Yalran, but she seemed to have severed our link completely.
‘Just…trust me, okay?’ I whispered to her. ‘Give me control around people, and trust me. Is that really too much to ask?’
She took control of an arm - just one arm - with which she lightly squeezed my other hand.
((It’s not,)) she said quietly.
And once again, I knew right away that she meant every word.
A big thanks to Anifan1 for a careful and thorough beta-read!
At first, Yalran’s plan for the following afternoon had been to take me to the mall.
We’d talked about it on-and-off all morning. She was going to take me there and let go of my body, and then let me just wander around for a couple of hours. I could buy a snack or a book or some clothes or whatever, trade a few words with people in the process, and slowly get used to being in control around my fellow humans again.
I suppose it wasn’t much, but it was certainly a start, and I was honestly looking forward to it. After lunchtime, though, the plan changed. Yalran had mentioned to my friends where she was going, and they’d asked if they could come along too, and Yalran had no real reason to say “no”. I’d been disappointed at first - I assumed Yalran would just stay in control if my friends were there - but my disappointment faded as the day went on. There were worse ways to spend a few hours, after all, and I was sure I’d get another chance soon enough.
And so, that afternoon, I found myself being walked towards the mall with Helen and Caleb both in tow, my yeerk trading small-talk with them all the while. The thought of spending time with my friends had Yalran in a wonderful mood, and she happily chatted away to me even as she maintained conversation with those around her. She chatted so much so, in fact, that I could barely make out the words that Yalran was making me say.
((We’ll have to get a cinnamon bun or two,)) she said to me, as the mall’s entrance loomed in front of us. ((Or a burger. Or…hey, you think I should play Caleb in the arcade and not hold back this time? And what about…))
She went on and on, and I couldn’t help but smile inside as I listened, even though I was barely able to get a word in edge-wise. She just seemed so happy to be doing this that I couldn’t not be happy in turn, even with my actions still firmly under her control.
I hoped vaguely to myself that Yalran would walk around in the mall enough to make up for all the extra food.
This was how she wanted to live: as a human being, living a human life, far away from the struggles of war. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like, had that been the only thing Yalran did with me. Would I have been okay with her being there in that case? Would I have been happy to be controlled, at least occasionally, had I merely been given the chance to choose?
I was asking myself those things right then, in the mall, until I felt Yalran abruptly nudge at my mind.
((Hey, Beth? Want to play?))
We were in the arcade now, I saw: Helen, Caleb, my yeerk, and myself. There were arcade machines around us making an absolute racket, and I’m sure I’d have struggled to hear Yalran had she been physically talking to me. We were on the move, heading towards a row of game cabinets near the back. All those cabinets were for the same racing game - the sort with pedals and a steering wheel and a big seat - and I saw at once that I’d need way more than my hands to properly take part.
I’d need most of my body to take part in this, in fact. Was she really offering to…?
I felt Yalran smile eagerly at my realisation. ((Well? Want control?))
She was offering this! She really was! I beamed inside at the realisation, and Yalran beamed right back at me in turn. She was sitting down now with Helen and Caleb either side of her, and all three of them were busily filling their respective machine with quarters.
((Y-yeah,)) I stammered. ((Yeah! But, how much control are you going to-))
She let go of my body in one big go, her presence around my thoughts suddenly retreating away. Like before, I hadn’t even fully noticed that presence before it was already gone: those faint traces of emotions, those faint impressions of thoughts that were not my own. It was surprisingly disorientating to lose it, and I almost reached out to her right there and then, before reminding myself that she’d surely be back all too soon.
I blinked a few timed, and then I focussed on the screen in front me. I gripped the steering wheel and toyed with the pedals beneath my fit. I tried tensing my arms and legs, and even played with blinking my eyes one-by-one. She’d really given me everything! She’d given me everything, right out here in the open, right next to-
I saw and felt myself twist my neck, taking in Caleb and Helen in turn. And then, I heard myself speak: ‘So? Everyone ready?’
‘I guess,’ Helen replied, sounding anything but “ready”.
‘Ready,’ Caleb said, a confident grin plastered over his face.
And then, I was looking straight ahead again, all-too-aware now of the limitations my yeerk had placed upon me. She had my neck, as well as most of my face, leaving me no way to easily communicate. I was free to move, it seemed, but not to talk.
I resisting the urge to roll my eyes. ((Really, Yalran?))
She said it gently, with a little mental smile thrown in for good measure, but it was obvious that there’d be no arguing with her here. Her presence around my mind was back now, and I somehow knew that it wouldn’t recede a second time. And so, I just settled down and played, intent on enjoying this little moment for however long it lasted.
The moment lasted awhile, as it turned out. And I did enjoy it, very much. In almost no time at all, my inability to talk barely felt like it mattered. I was too busy pressing pedals to the floor, too busy swerving around corners, too busy doing my utmost to pass Caleb and wipe that grin of his right off of his face. I didn’t manage it, as it turned out, but I had a great time trying.
Helen was quiet while we played, too busy concentrating to do much else, but Caleb and Yalran both kept right on talking. It was strange to hear my voice used like that, but it was easy enough to put up with. It was strange to hear Caleb speak so much, too. He was so quiet, normally, but he wasn’t at all quiet now. He seemed comfortable, just then, and far moreso than he almost ever was.
Exactly once, I turned my attention to Yalran herself. I could feel her there, observing me from within my brain, but she was being strangely quiet with me - and when I did reach out, she backed off without saying a word, like a frightened animal retreating from a human hand. She came back as soon as I turned my focus away, and I decided to just ignore her as best I could - one more little thing for me to put up with.
We all decided to move on, after a while, and in barely any time at all we were standing in front of a completely different cabinet. Yalran had let me keep my body as we moved over, though she continued to handle all the talking. Through the screen, we watched hoards of fake-looking zombies were run toward the camera, making a range of roars and groans. A pair of plastic guns sat in holsters at the front of the cabinet, just waiting to picked up and used.
((Hey, can I play this one?)) Yalran asked. She was trying to sound casual, but she was failing - and badly.
((Uh, sure,)) I went. ((Go ahead.))
Yalran practically crashed into me in her scramble to take control. She took my entire body in an instant without saying a word to me, and then eagerly filled the machine with coins. Soon after that, she pulled the gun prop out of its of holder and happily took aim, as a fresh wave of zombies began to fill the screen.
((Hey, Yalran?)) I asked. ((What was that about?))
((What was?)) she replied, a little bashfully.
((You’re almost never that quiet. And you seemed in such a hurry to take over, just then. What’s up?))
She kept on playing as we spoke. She bit my lip softly and kept my eyes completely focussed on the screen in front of us, a true picture of concentration.
((Oh, nothing’s up,)) she said
She was trying to sound casual again, and she was doing a much better job this time. Even so, I wasn’t fooled even for a second.
((You were nervous, weren’t you? Because I had my body where people could notice me, right))
She shot down a trio of zombies with three perfect shots to the head.
((Pretty much,)) she replied. She shrugged my shoulders a little, apparently forgetting for a moment that we were still out in the open. ((But, hey: it all worked out, right?))
After that, I let her focus on the game for a while. She ended up going way faster than I could follow, and I soon let myself zone out rather than trying to keep track.
It struck me as she kept playing that she’d fought in real battles, once upon a time. She’d fought many times as a Hork-Bajir Controller, from what little she’d told me, with both her own life and that of her Hork-Bajir slave on the line. What she was doing now must have seemed like heaven, after that.
I felt Yalran touch my mind again for a moment, and I could have sworn my head made a slight nod. ((Yeah, that was…this is better. Much better.)) She missed a shot, and found herself staring at a “game over” screen soon after, but she didn’t seem to mind. ((Look, I’m going to let go once we’re done here. I mean, fully let go. Just…don’t try anything, okay?))
I nodded mentally. ((You know I won’t.))
And so I waited patiently as Caleb took a spin against the zombies on his own. Yalran’s thoughts were distant but present, and I could feel her steeling herself for what she was about to do. The prospect of handing full control to me here honestly seemed to frighten her, but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. Had I not already shown her that she could trust me with this? Did she truly still think I might try to rebel in some way?
But even in spite of her fear, Yalran did let go.
We were leaving the arcade by then, and I was ready for her when she did it. I managed to keep walking at exactly her pace, making the transition between us totally seamless. I walked along quietly and listened to Helen and Caleb talk, still not quite able to believe that I was really doing this.
‘Want to go into the book shop later?’ Helen said. ’I feel like I could spent half my life in there, sometimes. There always seems to be something new to read.’
‘Yeah. Okay,’ Caleb said after a short delay, having apparently now reverted to his usual quite self.
‘Hey, you go to the movies often?’ Helen asked him. ‘Maybe we could all go one day.’
I opened my mouth to speak, but Caleb got in before me. ‘Sounds good,’ he said.
Ok, I thought. This is good. I can start talking soon. I can easily do this.
‘Maybe on Sunday?’ Helen went on. ‘I don’t think I’m doing much that day. And we’ll probably be at the Sharing for most of Saturday, so that’s out.’
I opened my mouth and then closed it, my heart beginning to race.
Helen turned her head towards me. ‘Hey, so, about that.’
Yalran took over immediately, shunting my consciousness aside and leaving me not the slightest time to protest. ‘What about it?’ she made me say.
‘I’ve been thinking about full membership,’ Helen said. ‘And I want to sign up.’ She sounded tentative at first, but became less and less tentative as she went on. ‘Like, properly. I want to be a full member. Just like you!’
((NO YOU DON’T!)) I screamed. ((YOU DON’T WANT THAT! YOU DON’T-))
I went quiet at once, cowed away by my yeerk’s tone, even as Yalran forced my face to beam in mock happiness. ‘Really?’ she made me say. ‘For real?’
‘Yeah! For real!’ Helen replied. ‘I’m not going to stop going, so I should really join properly. And the full members all seem so nice!’
This was happening. This was really, finally happening. And there was nothing at all I could do to make it stop.
Yalran, when she next spoke to me, sounded like she wanted to run away and hide. ((You think I’m happy with this, Beth!? You think I want to be doing this? Now!?))
((Then don’t do it! Just stop it, Yalran! Stop!))
But she didn’t stop. And she wasn’t going to stop. She was still making me smile easily, still making me describe all the ways in which the Sharing had changed me for the better.
Oh God, did I want to fight just then. I wanted so much to push through her control and shout out some warning, any and all consequences be damned. I wanted to tell everyone what was going on under this town, of the screaming desperate people huddled in their cages, of the threat facing each and every person on this tiny blue planet.
‘You’re coming this Thursday, right?’ I heard myself say. ‘You could become a full member then. Just ask me on the night.’
‘Alright, I will!’ Helen said. ‘Thanks!’
‘Caleb?’ Yalran said ‘You coming then?’
Caleb nodded. ‘Sure. Sounds good.’
I waited for him to say more, to say that he too wanted to be a full member right away. He said nothing of the sort, though, and Yalran seemed happy to leave things at that.
They reached the food court soon afterwards. Everyone bought drinks, and Yalran bought one of her precious cinnamon buns. She probed at my thoughts as they went to sit down, keeping her own thoughts firmly locked away.
((Beth, I need to recruit. We need hosts. It’s that simple.))
I didn’t bother answering her. Right then, I didn’t even care anymore.
((Man, what a drag,)) Yalran said, lightly swinging my arms. ((This was going to be such a good day, you know? You and I were just going to go here and…and then your friends were coming with us and we were just going to…and then she had to bring up the stupid Sharing! She had to do that today, of all days! Why couldn’t she just forget about it for once?))
I’d have been clenching my teeth hard, had I been capable of such things. Could Yalran really be that obtuse?
((Because you made her like it? Because you’ve been working towards exactly this? Come on, Yalran: what did you think was going to happen!?))
We were on our own now. Yalran was walking steadily away from the mall, but I assume she’d have let me do it if I’d asked. She, Helen and Caleb had all gone their separate ways, following a seemingly-perfectly-pleasant afternoon.
Yalran shrugged my shoulders. ((Well, whatever.)) Her voice, just then, sounded almost bored. ((It was bound to happen sooner or later, right?))
((Not if you hadn’t gone and…and why do it, anyway? You wanted to be their friend, Yalran! And friends don’t go around infesting each other or-))
((You think I don’t know that? Come on, Beth, you know I can’t just-))
((So you don’t even want it,)) I told her bitterly. ((But you’re going to do it, because some stupid sub-visser ordered you to recruit and you’re too much of a stinking coward to…and would you quit that!? Just pick a level of control and stick to it already!))
Her level of control had been shifting like crazy, going from one extreme to the other in an single instant. One moment, I’d be completely numb, viewing the world through my eyes like a distant observer through the scene; the next, I’d be able to feel the slightest shift of my clothes against my skin, almost as if I was in control myself.
Yalran went still for a moment, as she settled on her usual loose grip on my actions. ((So, what, I’m supposed to not do it? I’m supposed to let myself get investigated? I’m supposed to let myself be starved?))
She kept my body relaxed as she spoke to me, even though she was clearly feeling anything but relaxed.
((And how else are we supposed to get enough hosts?)) she added sullenly. ((Seriously: how?))
((Oh, I dunno, share? Actually be honest? Let people go if they want to go?))
((Oh, sure, that’d totally work,)) Yalran replied in the most sardonic tone imaginable. ((If we want to be stuck as blind little slugs in the pools, anyway.))
She made me gaze up at the sky, then, as if to emphasise her point.
((Why would you be stuck there, though?)) I asked. ((People would just come to you. They-))
((Well you might, sometimes. But you’re…you. And you hardly like being controlled, do you?))
((No, I don’t,)) I answered. ((But…Yalran, it’s like I said yesterday. It’s not the control that bothers me; it’s what you can do with it that bothers me! Like…like just now, in the mall!))
((So, what? You’d be okay with having me if I didn’t recruit people? You wouldn’t run away?))
That was a question I’d asked myself many times in the preceding days. It is a question I still ask myself now.
((Well, you’d have to actually share,)) I told her. ((And you’d have to let me be in control around people. And I would want to be on my own, sometimes. But…no. I wouldn’t run.))
Yalran crossed my arms then, her hold on my movement still loose enough for me to feel it easily. ((I don’t know. I still think you would.)) She watched a car on the road next to us as it passed by, her walk slowing almost to a stop. ((I mean, you’re not really sure, are you?))
I could hardly deny it. After all, she was in my head just then; she couldn’t not know exactly what I was thinking.
((Besides,)) Yalran went on. ((You’re only saying it now because you’ve been with me. You didn’t want it at the start. You tried to run when you found out about yeerks, remember?))
((Well, yeah! That was a lot to drop on me at once, don’t you think? We’re space slugs! And we run the Sharing! And we want your body! What was I supposed to do? Accept it?))
Yalran shrugged my shoulders. ((Others did.))
((Well maybe I’d have done too if I’d known at the start! And if you weren’t trying to take us all over! And if you-ah! Yalran!))
She was digging into my mind, and digging hard. Her presence was everywhere, inside my mind and out. The world around me seemed more and more distant. It was a sensation I knew all too well.
((Hey, Yalran, what-HEY!))
I must have angered her! She was going to punish me! She wasn’t even letting me say “sorry”! She was…she was…
She was doing nothing of the sort, I realised. The usual rush of memories was nowhere to be found. In their place was an image of a yeerk: a green-grey yeerk, swimming through clear liquid, slowly propelling itself forward with little scrunch-thrust motions. It seemed to twist in front of me, revealing long wriggling palms along its underside.
((Yalran, what is this?))
This was no memory, nor was it even a daydream. I’d only ever caught the briefest glimpses of yeerks outside of their hosts; I’d never seen them at anywhere near this level of detail.
((It’s what you’d see if you actually looked at us,)) Yalran said, her tone distinctly bitter. ((It’s what you’d know we looked like: a big disgusting slug, swimming in the sludge. A big fat slug that can control your movements and see your thoughts!))
The yeerk turned to face me. It pushed itself closer to me, and then closer still.
((You’re saying you’d let this in, Beth? You really believe, even for a moment, that you’d let this in? That you’d see this thing, and let it into your ear? That you’d let it into your brain?))
Her voice was dripping with contempt, but I didn’t think for a moment it was directed at me. Somehow, I just knew those feelings were directed at the yeerk - at herself, at her very own natural body.
((I…)) I said. ((I’d…I mean…))
And then, as soon as it had started, it was finished. I was back in the real world watching Yalran pilot my body. There was a little bus stop in front of us - one I often used when coming back from he mall - and Yalran was heading straight for it.
((Of course you wouldn’t,)) Yalran told me. ((No-one would. Why would they? Why share perfectly good body when you can just keep it for yourself?))
I tried to sigh, having honest-to-God forgotten that Yalran was still in charge of such things. Yalran noticed that, and immediately stopped in her tracks.
((Hey, want control right now?)) she asked, her tone suddenly gentle.
Yalran slipped back, and I smoothly took over. I sighed to myself - for real this time, and went to sit down at the bus stop. Much as I’d have loved to just walk my way home and stay in control longer, it was already getting late.
((Want to get on, when the time comes?)) Yalran said.
((The bus?)) I asked, my mood suddenly brightening.
I replied to her immediately that, yes, I did.
And so, when the bus arrived, I was standing ready for it with a big fistful of change. I hurried onto the bus and then stopped abruptly in front of the driver.
‘I’ll have a one-way ticket, please,’ I said.
I was smiling way too much as I said those words. That driver must have thought I was out of my mind. And right then, I didn’t care about that one single bit.
A big thanks to Anifan1 for providing many useful comments on this chapter!
I went to sit down on the bus with a spring in my step, my ticket clasped tightly in my hand. I sat down on an empty row near the back, spreading my arms over the available space. I looked out of the window and played with blinking my eyes one by one, grinning away to myself throughout. At that precise moment, that whole mess at the mall might as well have not happened.
Yalran remained very much present in the back of my mind, scanning my thoughts as I had them and making no attempt to hide that she was doing it. I guessed that she was still nervous about letting me have control around people - there were a handful of other passengers on the bus right now - but there really was no need. Right then, escaping or shouting out were the very last things on my mind. For now, I just wanted to enjoy having my body for as long as I could.
Not for the first time, I wondered to myself what Yalran was thinking about. She’d seemed calm when she’d handed control over to me, and from what little I sensed of her she seemed happy enough now. Her distaste for her own body had surprised me, though, and it only surprised me more as I continued to think about it.
Looking back, I suppose I should have expected such distaste. Had she not always insisted to me that yeerks needed their hosts? Had she not continuously admitted to me, even right at the start of it all, that she hated having to go back to the Pool?
((Hey, Yalran?)) I asked her. ((How did you do that?))
To tell the truth, I’m not sure why I spoke to her just then. I guess I’d gotten so used to our constant chatter that it seemed weird whenever she was silent.
((Huh?)) Yalran replied. ((Do what?)) She dipped into my thoughts for a moment. ((That yeerk image? Oh, that was easy. I just took some of my memories and mixed them up. That’s all.))
((Then, you don’t need my memories to do that? You can just…))
((Yup. Pretty much,)) my yeerk said, sounding distinctly pleased with herself.
I crossed my arms and leaned back, closing my eyes. ((But…doesn’t that mean you could basically show me anything?))
Yalran didn’t reply to me then, but I felt her surprise as I said it.
((Because…you can show me my daydreams and stuff, right? And I guess yeerks daydream too?)) I leaned forwards, frowning a little. ((Or, you could just imagine stuff and show it to me. At least, I think you could. I don’t see why not.)) I shrugged, and began to toy with a strand of hair. ((So…yeah.))
Yalran remained quiet for a time. She turned my head and looked out the window, watching buildings and cars go by, before gently letting go.
((I never thought of that,)) she said finally.
She sounded ashamed, almost, as though this was something she should have thought of easily. I suppose it really should have been easy for her to think of. We were talking about yeerks here, after all.
I spoke to her slowly and gently. ((I guess they didn’t train you to think of that.))
I still remembered what she’d told me about her own education: that of war and “host discipline” and little else. And she was only six years old - six! However much she might deny it, she was surely still just a child.
I felt Yalran go through those thoughts of mine piece by piece. Being her host, there was no thought I could possibly hide from her, and by now I only rarely even tried. A yeerk’s power over its host was total, in so many ways.
((No. They didn’t,)) Yalran told me. Her voice sounded withdrawn just then, and I wondered if I’d somehow struck a nerve. When she spoke again, though, she sounded far more upbeat. ((We should try that. I mean, with something nice. It’d be fun, right?))
((Um, yeah,)) I replied. ((Sure. Some time,))
Perhaps it would indeed be fun, or perhaps it wouldn’t. But I wasn’t ready to let her play with my mind like that - not just yet.
Yalran took over my body as the bus approached my stop. She didn’t announce it beforehand, but I’d been expecting her to do it and so I wasn’t the least bit surprised when she got up and walked me off to my house. She seemed somber but calm, her hold on my movements loose but steady, and I felt her crack a smile through my face as she let herself in through the front door.
‘Hi, all!’ she made me call out, as she took off my shoes.
‘Hey, honey!’ I heard Mom call out. ‘Did you have a good time?’
Yalran replied that she’d had a wonderful time. She didn’t mention the Sharing though.
Dinner, Mom soon told “me”, was only half an hour or so away. Yalran used that time to take me upstairs and let me move around in my room. Soon afterwards, I could feel Yalran smile internally as she watched me from within my brain.
(It’s getting better,)) she said, as I slowly spun myself around.
((What is?)) I asked.
She had my door pulled to, though she hadn’t closed it all the way. We’d heard Ben on one of his games, so there was no chance of him walking in before dinner was called. I’d almost immediately started twirling around, letting my arms fly out at my sides, without any metal bars to cage me in.
((Your control,)) she told me. ((You’re moving so easily now! It’s really great to see!))
I was starting to feel dizzy from all the spinning, so I stopped that and settled on just swinging my arms back and fourth.
((It’s all just working now,)) she went on. ((It’s not even taking time to come back anymore. It just comes!))
She sounded proud just then, like a parent watching their child make some wonderful achievement. She sounded almost as happy t be watching this as I was to be doing it. I felt her happiness, and I felt her relief too. She even trying to hide her emotions from me.
I flexed my fingers, did one final twirl, and then let myself fall backwards onto my bed with my arms spread wide. ((Yeah. You’re right.)) I smiled to myself throughout.
I sat up soon afterwards, as Yalran continued to probe at my thoughts. She seemed to be doing it more gently than she had on the bus, and I might well have not noticed had I not been specifically expecting it. I guessed she was more at ease with me being in control here, where no-one could directly see me. At some point, I would have to try again to talk her into letting me have control in front of my family.
I wondered to myself how long I should I leave things before I tried that, and then I felt Yalran’s sudden spike of fear upon sensing me think that.
I let my shoulders sag. ((Relax, Yalran. I do want it soon, but…what’s the problem, anyway?))
Yalran took over my actions, and crossed my arms gently. She rhythmically tapped my fingers over my skin and moved my eyes all around. ((I…don’t know, really. It’s like…what if they see me? What if they think there’s something wrong with you, and what if…)) She creased my forehead. I wasn’t sure where she was going with this, and I didn’t think she was sure either. ((…I just…I’d feel better if I was in control around them, okay? It feels safer that way.))
She tensed my body a little, as though nervous as to how I’d respond to that, and turned my head to one side. She was numbing me a little, but I didn’t think it was intentional.
((Safer?)) I pressed.
((Yeah! Like…because that way, I know exactly what’s going to happen, right?))
She said that like it was the most obvious thing in the world. It might well have seemed obvious to her, for all I know.
I went to rub my eyes, and was faintly surprised to find I actually could. ((So, what? You’re still worried I’ll do something weird, or something?))
((I guess,)) she replied hesitantly.
((You don’t know?))
She shook my head silently.
I sighed quietly to myself, staring at my feet. I really wasn’t up for an argument right now. ((Well, at least I can move okay.))
((Yeah, you can.)) Her mood suddenly brightened. ((I was actually a bit worried, to be honest. I didn’t know what was happening, and it’s not like I could just ask anyone.))
I remembered how nonchalant she’d been about it, back when I’d stopped being able to move properly. But from all that I’d seen and heard, it was easy to understand why she’d acted that way.
((Because they might accuse you of sympathy?))
I already knew what her answer would be.
Yalran shrugged my shoulders. (Pretty much.)) She tilted my head to one side for a moment, seemingly deep in thought, but then abruptly handed control back over. ((You know, I like being able to talk to you about stuff. It’s way easier than hiding things non-stop.))
I got up at that point and started to walk slow circles around the edge of my room. For all I knew, dinner would get called soon, and I wanted to actually use my body while I still had it.
((Why is “sympathy” even a problem, anyway?)) I asked her. ((I mean, you’re still going to infest people. And you still won’t let me go down and…)) I went still, and forced myself to take a deep breath. ((It’s just…what are you even doing that’s wrong?))
I felt my yeerk ready herself to speak to me, but she never actually spoke any words. She opened my mouth, only to close it without making a sound.
‘Beth! Ben!’ my mom called out in a cheery voice. ‘Dinner’s ready!’
((Well then,)) Yalran said casually. ((Time to eat.))
She nudged me into the back of my mind, instantly taking over control of my actions. She trooped me down the stairs with Ben right behind me, keeping quiet in my head throughout. I’d have asked her for control, had I thought there was the slightest chance of her granting it. But I knew there was no chance, and so I didn’t.
Yalran took me down to the Yeerk Pool the following morning. She didn’t offer me control for that particular trip, and since I hardly felt like walking to my own prison, I didn’t bother to ask. Really, I just wanted to this to be over as soon as soon as possible. I wanted to get into that Pool complex and then get back out into the sun, away from the screams and wails of caged prisoners.
By the time she actually reached Pool through the usual McDonalds, Yalran wanted little more than to get into the sludge and start feeding. It has been nearly three full days since she’d last been here, and I knew that hunger had long since set in. She eagerly stared at the Pool liquid as she queued on the pier, awaiting her turn.
But despite her hunger, Yalran dawdled when she finally reached the front the the queue. A pair of Hork Bajir guards were plainly waiting for her, but it wasn’t until they beckoned her forwards that she actually made a move.
‘Status?’ one of the guards asked.
‘Involuntary,’ Yalran replied.
She stepped past the two enormous creatures, and I assumed she was about to kneel down. Instead, she turned back around and straightened my posture, looked the nearest guard right in the eyes.
‘This host is non-resistant. Its body is not to be harmed,’ she stated briskly. ‘That’s an order.’
The alien eyed us for a moment, its tail moving slowly side-by-side. Yalran eyed the creature right back, holding my gaze - her gaze - steady all the while.
‘Understood,’ it said at last.
And with that, Yalran turned away from the creature without so much as a glance. She kept my face passive, but I could feel easily that she was pleased with herself. It took another couple of seconds for me to fully take in what had happened. What with all that had happened the previous afternoon, I’d honestly forgotten about her promise to speak to the guards.
((Hey, Yalran? Thanks,)) I said.
((Oh, it’s nothing big,)) Yalran replied.
She got me down onto my stomach and pulled me forwards so that my head was over the sludge, pointedly ignoring the two Hork-Bajir that took up position at my sides.
((Well, see you,)) Yalran said.
((I… yeah,)) I said. ((See you. And thanks!))
I got up quickly, and was faintly relieved to find that my body was still obeying me. The two Hork-Bajir took hold of my arms as soon as I was standing, and marched me off to the cages. They seemed to be going slightly slower than normal, and I had no trouble at all keeping up with them. They also kept their arms straight, being sure to keep their blades well away from me. Yalran’s order, it seemed, had sunk in well.
I wondered to myself if Yalran would need to give that order every time from now on, or whether giving it once would be enough. Then I wondered if she even knew that herself.
All around me, the hell of the yeerk pool continued. Children and adults alike gripped the bars of their cages, wailing and screaming as hosted yeerks went past. Some yelled and raged at the yeerks, some begged, while others just screamed for help as though someone up above could possibly hear.
I just looked away, staring at the ground as the guards led me on.
How was Yalran okay with this? How could she even try to argue that any of this was alright? How could she not want to fight this, even at the expense of her fellow yeerks, even at the risk of her own life?
My two guards stopped into front of a cage and opened the door. They let go of my arms, and I walked in without the slightest resistance. I closed my eyes as they shut the cage door behind me, locking it with a soft click.
A man and a woman sat silently at the back holding hands, both of them looking not a day over thirty. Another kid - one who looked roughly my age - was slumped against the bars looking utterly defeated. I made eye contact with each of them, but none of us spoke. I sat against the bars and idly watched yeerks and struggling bodies moving to and fro.
My friends could be down here, soon. Even Mom and Dad and Ben could end up down here, were Yalran given a direct order to that effect. Or, I might be assigned a different yeerk some day, who cared about nothing but their own advancement, who wouldn’t wait for that order at all.
I thought of Yalran, then: of that blind little grey-green slug, swimming in sludge and soaking up nutrients, who felt utter contempt for her own body. I was sure she’d be looking forward to being back inside me, to be living some more of my life, even as her hunger was being satiated.
Because she wanted to live a human life - my human life, with my human family and my human friends. She’d outright told me as such.
And yet soon, she’d be infesting those very friends - and maybe someday, my very own family. Because yeerks needed their hosts, or so she said. And because she wasn’t willing to put her own life on the line…
…except her life was already on the line, was it not? Because she was a host sympathiser - in the minds of some, the lowest of the low.
I closed my eyes, and gripped the cold metal bars. ‘Yalran?’ I whispered to myself. ‘Do you even know what you want?’