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After the War: The Extremists

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My name is Jennifer Carson.

My friends and family call me Jen. Sometimes, people call me Jennifer. Rarely, I have been called Jenny, but people don’t use that name to call me because I don’t like the sound of that name. My dad calls me Jenny sometimes, and by sometimes, I mean very rarely. Even my dad knows not to call me Jenny, because he knows that I hate that name.

Anyway, where was I? Right, I’m Jen Carson, just your average eighteen-year-old. At least that’s probably what you’d think if you happened to meet me. I’m just a regular girl in a t-shirt and jeans, although I do have some miniskirts and short shorts for when I’m feeling daring. But I’m not your average young adult girl. I’m not talking about my looks, although a lot of people have been telling me that I’m a dead ringer for Miley Cyrus, who I always thought was a pretty girl until she went and got that pixie haircut and began twerking and all that shit. And my eyes are of two different colors too, a condition known as heterochromia iridum. I mean, my right eye is blue, and my left eye is grey…

All right, the reason why I’m not your average girl is that I have something in my head. No, it’s not a tumor; it’s something of a more… alien… nature. Oh, all right, I’ll come out and say it out loud. I have an alien in my head.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Ah, now that’s the real reason she’s not a normal girl. She thinks she has an alien in her head!” First of all, let me just make it clear that I’m not crazy. I really do have an alien in my head. I even know what they’re called: Yeerks. Yeerks are sluglike creatures that are blind, immobile out of any liquid environment, deprived of most other senses, and generally harmless. If a Yeerk wanted to see, hear, feel, smell, or move freely, it would have to go into another creature’s head and take control of every function controlled by the brain, from sight to smell to touch to movement to everything else.

By now you’re asking yourself, “If she has an alien slug in my head that can control her every moment, then how in the world can she tell me about it?” Well, that’s the thing. Not all Yeerks are as evil as I may have presented them. Yemra’s one of the good Yeerks.

That’s her name, Yemra Six-Four-Zero. Neither I nor she has any idea what those three numbers at the end of her name mean. So, how did Yemra Six-Four-Zero get into my head? It’s a story that goes back to when I was just eight years old, give or take. I remember that it was near a river, and I was with my friends, skipping rocks on the water. The next thing I remember was that I had slipped on some slippery rocks on the shore, and I was lying motionless on the shore. My friends were trying to get me up and out, but someone probably told them that I shouldn’t be moved until someone who was medically qualified had determined if my head or spine was damaged or whatever. Water flowed into my ears, or at least I thought it was water until I found out the truth much later.

Someone finally decided I was okay enough to be hauled out of the water, so my friends did. My mother, always the worrier, wanted to take me to the hospital and get treatment. Of course I didn’t know an alien slug had made its way into my head at the time, so I told her that I was fine, and that I didn’t need any medical attention. I finally got her to agree to put a big wad of gauze on the back of my head, and that was the end of it. At least, until we got home.

I had plopped down on my bed, my soft warm bed, and I didn’t even bother taking off my shoes. As soon as my head hit my pillow, I found myself paralyzed all over. I couldn’t move my arms, my legs, even my eyes. I was so afraid that this time I’d hit something vital in my head, and that I was going to die right inside my own room. My life literally flashed before my eyes. I know that it’s a frigging cliché, but it really happened to me that time, I swear. Finally, the memories subsided, and I could move my body again. Yet something felt wrong to me. It was like there was a very short delay between the time my brain told my arm to move and my arm moving itself. It was fascinating, weird, and creepy at the same time.

I sat up on my bed and looked at my fingers. The weird thing was that I had not commanded myself to sit up and look at my fingers. Someone else was making my body move to its will, not mine.

Disclaimer: The following conversation occurred differently from what actually occurred. What is important is that you get the gist of what Yemra and I talked about.

Please don’t be afraid, a voice inside my head said.

((What the—who are you!?)) I shouted, inside my head too. ((What are you doing inside my head!? What do you want with my body!?))

Calm down, please. You have so many questions. I do not know which one I should answer first.

((All right, then. Let’s start with give me my body back!))

If that is your wish… And at that moment I felt my body return to my control. That was fine by me, but I still had to contend with the mysterious thing that had set up shop in my head.

((All right,)) I said. It felt so good, being able to use my mouth again on my own free will. ((Who are you?)) I asked the thing in my head. ((What are you?))

I heard the thing inside my head sigh, if such a thing were possible. I am Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool, it said. I am a Yeerk. Do you know what a Yeerk is?

((Well, I have heard of them. They were these alien slugs that were doing some alien invasion thing in California, right?))

Yes, that is right. The Yeerks had established a large Pool in the place you call California.

((Wait a minute, though. We’re very far away from California. How did you end up here?))

The Yeerks had established a smaller Pool under your city, as we were expanding our invasion of your country, the Yeerk in my head replied. The residents of this Pool escaped while the larger Pool in California came under attack. Unfortunately, I missed the last ships out of the place, and I was forced to use the city’s sewage system to get away from the Pool.

Eww. I had an alien in my head that had gone through the sewers. I can only imagine the gunk and slime swimming in my head with my brain and this thing. How gross can it get, right?

I was wondering if I could get your permission to cohabitate in your body, the Yeerk said.

((You? Live with me in my body? Why? Give me a reason why.))

You have heard about us Yeerks, yes? Then you must surely know that we have a limit which we must obediently observe, else it will lead to our death. It is our dependence on Kandrona rays. We must feed on Kandrona rays every three Earth days, or else we will die. I left the Pool in your city four days ago. Obviously, I am still alive, or else I would not be talking to you. Do you see my situation from my point of view? Here I am, having somehow discovered the key to Yeerk immortality without even knowing how I got it, and I am stuck in a body that cannot see, hear, smell, touch, or taste. In your human mythologies, there are stories of gods, powerful beings who give people what they said they wanted, not what they thought they should get. It is a very cruel joke, and though I do not believe in gods, it seems very possible that someone has seen fit to give me immortality while leaving me in such a literally senseless body.

((And your point is…?))

I was wondering if you could, you know, share your body with me. I do not want to spend the rest of my life blind, deaf, and unfeeling.

((Wait a minute, now. Now you’re the one who’s asking too much from me. Can you at least get out of my head, and let me make my decision in private?))

But I would still learn of your decision since I will have to go back into your head to know it, so isn’t this “get out of my head” business moot?

((Like I said, I want some privacy, miss,)) I said. I don’t know why, but I was talking to this thing like it was a girl or something. ((Look, I don’t want you knowing what I’m thinking even while I’m just thinking about it.))

You can at least give me an aquatic environment that I can temporarily call home while you ponder your decision, the Yeerk told me.

"Well, my bathroom does have a sink,” I muttered to myself, aware that the Yeerk was listening in on my mental conversation. I plugged up the sink, filled it with water, and then I stared at it like I was some sort of fortune teller, trying to discern a message from the depths. ((Now what do I do?)) I asked.

Put your head above the water, preferably with one of your ears tilted towards it. I could do it myself, but I don’t want to take control of your body without your permission.

((You’re awfully polite for an alien mind-controlling slug, you know?)) I said. ((Wait, before you go, I want to know what your name is.))

My name is Yemra Six-Four-Zero.

((Okay. My name is Jennifer Carson. But you can call me Jen.))

All right, Jennifer Carson; I am disengaging now.

I felt the start of a dull pain in my ear, but the Yeerk released a painkiller that numbed the sensation of her traveling down my ear canal. Finally, I heard a soft splash. I turned and looked at what had wanted to make a home in my head.

Let me be honest and say that a Yeerk is not the prettiest sight in this universe. It was three inches of greenish-gray flesh with two stalks right where the eyes should be, and three pairs of tiny flippers. No wonder people didn’t want Yeerks in their heads. Their looks alone were enough to mess people up.

But I also saw something else in Yemra Six-Four-Zero in that first moment that I laid eyes on the real her. Maybe because I realized that she was very vulnerable in her natural state. I can only imagine what she went through for the four days that she had to swim from the sewers to the river. An image of Yemra almost being swallowed by a fish suddenly entered my mind, and at that moment, I made my decision.

I picked up Yemra from the water in my sink and slowly, tentatively, put her next to my ear. She shot out of my hand so fast, she must have been eager to get back in my head. Ah, I see the reason why you finally made your decision, she said once she had made her connections with my brain. And let me tell you that I was indeed almost eaten by a fish, but I miraculously got away before it could close its jaws around me.

((Well, I’m glad that you like my reason for my decision,)) I said. ((But if you’re going to stay in my head, I want to lay down some rules first. First, no hijacking control of my body unless I let you. You’re just an observer in my head. Second, I don’t want to become involved in yet another plot to take over the world. Okay?))

Ahahaha! Yemra laughed. Those are your conditions?! Oh, all right, Jennifer Carson. I accept these terms of yours pertaining to my residence in your body, blah, blah, blah. My only condition is that you keep my existence from your governments a secret.

“You’ve got a good sense of humor yourself, Yemra Six-Four-Zero,” I said. “I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be good friends."

I never thought of myself as a clairvoyant, but my words that day were strangely prophetic, as Yemra and I did indeed become the best of friends, but we had a deal in which I wouldn’t really try to show her off to other people, especially after the government made the Yeerks left on Earth to choose between becoming a human or animal nothlit—whatever that means. I did try to introduce Yemra to my parents, much to her displeasure, and while they were not really keen on their only daughter being infested by one of the aliens that tried to take over the world, they didn’t really mind Yemra being in me, and they didn’t pursue the matter further. My other friends were more curious than my parents, though, but only two of them, Julia Baker and Carina Russolini, stuck for the big finale. I could still remember the looks of pain, disgust, shock, and awe on their faces when they saw Yemra coming out of my ear. Jules—Julia’s preferred nickname—even managed to summon the courage to poke Yemra, and then she asked if she could have Yemra in her head, even just for a short while.

“Are you crazy?” Carina asked Jules. “What if that thing takes control of you and tries to kill us all?”

“Oh, grow up, Carina,” Jules told her. “If that thing had wanted to kill us, then it would have already done that while it was still in Jen’s head.” And she reached out, took Yemra in her hand, and put her next to her ear. Soon, Yemra was staring at us through Julia’s eyes.

“This is so amazing! With a Yeerk in your head, you can hold a real conversation with a real person in your mind!” And Jules said more words to that effect. Finally, Jules declared her little experiment to be over, and she returned Yemra to me. I gave Carina one last chance to try having Yemra in her head, but she declined once again. I probably would, too, if I was in her place.

I discovered yet another thing about Yemra when she got back in my head after getting into Jules’s head. Everything that Jules had in her brain, everything up to the moment she gave Yemra back to me, I now had in my brain, too. Of course I didn’t tell this to Jules or anyone else, because hey, sometimes there are secrets you have to keep even from your friends.

So yeah, that basically sums up my life: I’m a girl with a Yeerk living inside my head. So, basically, teenage stuff with a healthy dose of sarcastic alien. And for nine years, I managed to keep Yemra and her secret safe with me. But then something happened to me; something that will totally change the way I look at Yeerks, Controllers, the nothlits, and people in general.

I survived a plane crash.

Chapter Text

I don’t know what got into Dad when he said that he was going to take us on a vacation to DC. Certainly wasn’t a Yeerk, but that’s beside the point, actually. Dad was going to take us all to DC to see the sights, and he was going to take us there by plane. Not a private plane—we don’t have enough money to even dream about owning a private plane—but a commercial plane. But even then… Come on, Dad. Plane tickets don’t come cheap these days, and I know for a fact that my Dad is the cheapest bastard in existence. He probably decided to sell all those shares from Apple that he bought back when he was still in college. When I asked him about it, he didn’t say anything to confirm or deny it. So that means he did it. Dad is so predictable.

Anyway, my Mom, never one to pass up an opportunity to take a breather from the rat race, immediately took advantage of “whatever it was that Dad did,” meaning she took a lot of the money that Dad had earned selling those old Apple stocks, and got us to every possible tourist destination in the capital, from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial to the White House. Dad, never one to plan ahead, didn’t buy round-trip tickets, so when we had to go home, we had to fly home on a low-cost airline that no one else has heard of.

At least the airplane we boarded was nice. Sure, it was this old plane with two engines in the back, but at least the airline made every effort to make it look like it was brand new. According to the in-flight magazine, the plane we were on right now was a McDonnell-Douglas MD-83, whatever that is. There were two cabin crewmembers “to serve us all our needs and wants.” The first one was a middle-aged guy who looked like Mr. Sikowitz from Victorious, and the second one was a woman who looked like Clara Oswald from Doctor Who. The guy handled the speaking part of the necessary safety briefing thing, like the girl did the visual demonstrations, like putting on the life vest and the oxygen mask and that kind of thing. You know what I’m talking about.

This being only my second time flying in an airplane, taking off was an exciting experience for me. As I felt my body being pressed to the back of my seat by the plane’s acceleration, Yemra chose that moment to give me her two cents. This is nothing, Jen, she said. You want to feel real acceleration, try taking a Bug fighter from the surface right up to space!

((Really?)) I asked her. ((You’ve done that?))

You wouldn’t want to know.

((I’ll take your word for it,)) I told her, just as I felt a hook in my navel trying to bring me back down to the ground. Then the plane’s wheels finally lifted off of the runway, and I felt the pulling sensation in my belly vanish.

Oh, I love flying, Yemra said. You know, Jen, I’ve always wondered what the Animorphs felt whenever they went flying using their bird morphs. I mean, you know, there is definitely a vast difference between taking to the skies in a big metallic tube, and flying in your own wings and feathers. It must be a very special experience.

((I don’t know, Yemra,)) I replied. ((I’ve never morphed a bird before, so I can’t tell you anything about such an experience. Actually, to tell you the truth, I’ve never morphed anything my whole life. But that’s probably just because I don’t have the ability to morph in the first place.))

“Can I give you ladies anything?” the stewardess asked as she arrived at our row. She even had the British accent down pat. Maybe she is a subject of Her Majesty, after all. I wonder why she wants to live among the colonials.

“I’d like some hot chocolate, if you’ve got it,” Mom told her. Mom always liked to make herself some hot chocolate whenever she was nervous. Sort of like her comfort food or something. And flying always made her nervous, even though she keeps saying that they’ve made flying much safer than driving, whoever they were.

“Excellent choice, ma’am,” the stewardess said. “And what about you, miss?”

“I’m all right,” I replied.

“All right, then,” the stewardess said. “I’ll be here with your hot chocolate shortly.” And with that, she left us for the next row of passengers. As she walked away, Yemra said, Five bucks says that she’s a Controller, too.

((What? Really?)) I asked her back. ((How are you supposed to know that about her?))

I’ve got a sixth sense, Jen, Yemra replied. That’s what you humans call it, right?

((Man, I’m not even gonna ask. Besides, you don’t even have the hands to hold a single cent, let alone five bucks.))

Yemra laughed heartily in my head. I had to try, Jen. That’s perseverance for you. But seriously, though, Jen, she’s another Controller, too.

((Oh. You think she’s voluntary?))

Duh! These days, you humans would have to want to be host to a Yeerk before your authorities would even let infestation occur.

((I wonder when she was infested, though,)) I said. ((Was it during the invasion, or after? Did she choose to be infested?))

I don’t know. Maybe you should ask her. I’m a mind-controlling alien, not a mind-reading one.

((Oh, no. That would be rude, Yemra. But you’re wrong about one thing. You can read minds. Except you can read only my mind.))

I yawned, physically. ((I am tired,)) I said mentally. ((Yemra, if you want to have control, then you’ve got it. I need a break.))

Really? Yemra asked me in a very fake sweet voice. Oh, Jennifer Carson, you’re the best host a Yeerk could ever ask for!

((Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah.)) But inside, I was smiling widely. Yemra and I went through this kind of conversation too many times to count that it’s become almost of a ritual between the two of us. She teases me, I tease her, rinse and repeat, and in the end, we end up still stuck with each other. But we both like it that way.

I leaned back in my seat and watched silently as Yemra took control of my body. After having spent the better part of thirteen years in my head, Yemra now knew every nook and cranny of my brain in such a way that it took her only the blink of an eye to take full control of my body. It was, is, and always will be a disconcerting concept; the thought that the body that you were born with, the flesh and bones that make up the physical you, were now under the control of an intergalactic interloper. It’s probably one of the reasons, if not the main reason, why people thought Yeerk infestation was one of the worst things that could ever happen to them. I mean, sure, during the invasion, there were Yeerks who took a perverse pleasure in mentally, beating, breaking, and torturing their hosts just for the fun of it. But just because some Yeerks did it doesn’t mean all Yeerks will do it. That’s generalization, and sometimes, it’s bad.

You know what? If only people were more willing to trust Yeerks, then maybe all this brouhaha with the invasion and the forced nothlits wouldn’t have happened. Then again, if only the Yeerks had asked nicely, and if they hadn’t thought that they were entitled to see the world through other beings’ eyes and ears, then maybe that was how the entire brouhaha would have been prevented. It’s just a matter of entrusting your body to someone else.

Besides, when you think about it, Yemra trusts me with her body. Her small, squishy, sluglike body.

Hey! Yemra said. I heard you think that!

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. I was now just a spectator inside my own body. It doesn’t bother me or creep me out as much as it used to the first few times that Yemra did it. So there I was, watching as Yemra took the in-flight magazine and began reading. The stewardess finally returned with Mom’s hot chocolate, Mom thanked her, and the stewardess left to “serve the needs and wants” of the other passengers. “So,” Mom asked “me,” “what do you think of DC?”

“It was okay,” Yemra replied, using my voice to speak. “I like it, mostly. Some of them looked bigger in pictures than in real life, I guess. Like the Washington Monument.”

“Got anything like those up there?” Mom pointed upwards, to either the roof of the plane or the sky.

Yemra turned my—our—head to face Mom. “What?” she asked.

“Oh, please,” Mom replied. “Jen reading that magazine instead of playing with her phone or sleeping? I know that’s you, Yemra.”

Remember when I said that I tried to introduce Yemra to my mom and dad when I was young? Well, they didn’t believe me at first, until I showed them Yemra literally coming out of my ear. Needless to say, they’ve been tolerating her presence in me for thirteen years now.

“All right,” Yemra conceded. “You got me fair and square, Mrs. Carson. Is that how you use that phrase correctly?”

Man, it must be weird for Mom to look at me and know that an alien slug is controlling my body, moving my lips, and looking at her through my eyes. Yeah, it wigged her out for the first few months after she found out about me and Yemra, but eventually she got used to it. At least I think she got used to it. I don’t know.

“Oh, come on, Yemra,” Mom said. “I’m sure you’ve called me ‘Mom’ for as many times as you’ve pretended to be Jen. And besides, you’ve been with Jennifer for like, what, thirteen years? You’re almost like a daughter and a family member to me already. You’ve got all the right in the world—well, this world at least—to call me your mother, because you’re as good as a daughter to me.”

“Oh, wow,” Yemra stammered. “I, I, I, I don’t know what to say, honestly. Sure, I have my Pool-brothers and Pool-sisters, but only through the biological process of my species. But I have never experienced being accepted into a familial unit just because they want me to become one of them. So, thank you, I guess, Mom.”

Mom patted my knee. “That’s the spirit,” she said. “Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. Yemra, do you have any kind of monuments, or architectural wonders, or anything of that sort, from your species? Do you have any monuments or memorials up in space?”

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Yemra replied. “We may have erected a few simple structures through our Gedd hosts back on our homeworld, but I wasn’t born there, so I have no idea if that’s true. The Taxxons and the Hork-Bajir probably also have their own monuments, but obviously they’re not counted as part of the Yeerks anymore. And unless I finally set foot on the home world, then all I can do is guess.”

“Wow,” Mom said as she took Yemra’s response in. “Have you thought about being a writer or a poet?”

“I’ve never really thought about it,” Yemra replied. “I suppose I could try, but I would have to do it myself, because Jen here wouldn’t be able to write a poem to save her life.”

Mom laughed. “Oh, Yemra, that is so true,” she said.

((For once, my Mom and I have agreed on something,)) I told Yemra. ((And yeah, I really can’t write poetry, even shitty poetry, if it could save my life. I can spin a good yarn myself, but poetry… at least I got you, right?))

Oh, Jen, you can be such a bitch, Yemra replied. That’s why I love being with you.

Now it was Yemra’s turn to yawn. “I’m tired, too,” she told Mom, still using my voice. “I am going to take a nap with Jen.”

“You do that,” Mom said. “I know the both of you will need your rest.”

Yemra closed my eyes, and after what felt like just a single second but was actually forty minutes, at least according to my watch, I felt a popping sensation in my ears that told me that the plane was beginning to descend. As I sat up, I realized that I was back in control of my body, and that therefore Yemra must still be sleeping. While I was stretching my arms, the pilot came onto the PA system and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are beginning our descent in preparation for landing. Please fasten your seatbelts and take care to not remove them until after the fasten seatbelts light has been turned off, and the plane has landed. Thank you, and once again, thank you for flying with Regional Air. We hope to fly with you again.”

“Oh, finally,” I muttered. Yemra may enjoy flying, but I personally prefer having my feet on solid ground. However, just as I fastened my seat belt and let out a sigh of relief, something went very, very wrong.

I heard a loud boom from somewhere to the back of the plane. Immediately after that, everyone in the cabin was blasted by the whine of the engines, as their sound now had a clear pathway to all of the passengers’ ears. Also, while I should have known better, I turned around to look at what happened at the back of the plane. And I immediately regretted doing it in the first place.

There was a big hole in the side of the plane’s fuselage. Two seats were simply gone, while the seats in front of and behind those vanished seats were now smoldering with small fires. And I think there might even be a hole on the cabin floor.

“Oh, my God,” I muttered. “Somebody tried to bomb us.” At that moment, I felt like the microscopic speck of sentient dust that I was in the perspective of the whole universe. I was just a tiny nanometer mote of dust that the universe was free to play with until it got bored and decided to throw me away. Now I was about to die, and my mom and my dad and everyone else on this plane were going to die with me. The words just came tumbling out of my mouth. “Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit!”

Jen! Yemra shouted mentally. She must have been woken up either by the explosion or my outburst about excrement. What happened? She took just an instant to peruse my most recent memories. Okay, stay calm now, Jen, she said. This is of no concern.

“No concern?” I yelled out loud. “Our plane has got a fucking hole on its side!”

“Are you all right?” Mom asked me. She’s probably trying to ignore the fact that I just practically shouted the F-word to the whole plane.

“Yemra is,” I replied. “I’m not!”

“All right, Jen, sweetie, just take my hand,” Mom said, “and take a few deep breaths.” I took Mom’s hand with my own, and began breathing slowly. “Just like giving birth, right, Mom?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied. “Except for the actual giving birth thing.”

All right, Jen, Yemra said, just do what your Mom’s telling you, while I work on trying to control your heart rate and stopping the adrenaline from flooding your veins.

And so it went for about two minutes, with me breathing as slowly as I could while clutching my mom’s hand in a sort-of death grip, and Yemra trying her best to stop my heart from jackhammering through my chest. And, as if it couldn’t get any worse, I began to hear human screaming from the back of the plane.

Don’t look, Jen! Don’t look! Yemra shouted at me. Mom echoed Yemra’s sentiments, even though I was sure she had no idea that that was exactly what Yemra was telling me. But of course I had to turn around and look. The stewardess was half-standing, half-kneeling on one of the remaining seats that had survived the explosion. Across the gaping, mangled chasm that the explosion had made on the cabin floor stood the steward, leaning on one of the other intact seats for support. He was holding out his hand, offering it to the trapped stewardess. “Donna!” he shouted. “Take my hand!”

“I can’t, Nick!” the stewardess shouted back. “I’m scared!”

“Look, Donna, I’m here! I’m here to help you, okay? Just take my hand and jump!”

((If she is a Controller,)) I asked Yemra, ((is she the host really scared, or is she the Yeerk just that good of an actor?))

Now’s not the time, Jen! Yemra shouted.

My eyes were glued to the drama unfolding in front of my eyes now. I couldn’t help but watch as the stewardess finally gathered the courage to move from the seat she was currently calling sanctuary and step onto the seat immediately in front of her. And then she stepped onto the seat in front of that seat, if you can still follow me. Finally, she was within arm’s distance of the steward, and she took his outstretched hand. Then she made a leap of faith, and jumped towards the waiting arms of the steward. The two of them landed in a tangle of limbs on the cabin floor. I breathed out a sigh of relief, having just realized that I was holding my breath while watching the two of them.

Now that the fun part was over, I could now sit back in my seat and… well… try to make my peace, I guess. I was born and raised a Roman Catholic, but I’ve never been the praying type. But now, maybe, I should have prayed a little bit more. No, I’m just kidding. I should have prayed a lot more, because apparently whoever’s in charge upstairs had decided that it’s time for everyone on this plane to die. So now I just said, “God, if it’s my time, then it’s my time. I just hope it will be quick and painless.”

And if Jen dies, Yemra added, I want to die with her too. I understood her wish, from her point of view. If I died, and she survived, then she would be stuck inside the head of a lifeless corpse. Not the best place for a Yeerk to be.

If we weren’t in a life-or-death situation, I would have teased Yemra by telling her that she was so sweet.

Yeah, Jen, I’m so sweet I make your teeth rot upon just first contact, Yemra said. Okay, so apparently I can still tease Yemra even in a life-or-death situation.

I looked out the window, probably just to see how close we were to dying. I noticed a road somewhere in the distance on the ground that seemed to be rapidly closing on the plane, as if it was eager to claim its latest victim. I recognized that road as the one that was just a few hundred meters from the runway of the municipal airport. Seeing that road lit a small spark of hope in my heart. Maybe we were gonna make it through this situation alive, after all.

But life—that fickle bitch!—immediately found a way to extinguish the small spark of hope in my heart. Just as I thought that we had a fighting chance of getting out of this situation alive, the ground seemed to come up even faster than was supposed to be possible. The road came nearer to us, in every sense of the word. In the few moments before the plane crossed the road—now that sounds like the start of a bad joke—I saw a bus travelling down that road. And as I looked at that bus, seemingly unaware that a plane was bearing down on it, all I could think about was that we were gonna crash into that bus before we crashed into the ground. Was Death trying to fill a quota of dead people today?

Just before the plane collided with the bus, I heard the engines begin to whine louder as they were commanded to provide the plane with more thrust. Also, the pilots began lifting up the nose of the plane to give us more altitude, but it was no use. I heard a horrible crunching noise as metal crashed against metal, and I had to command myself to not think about the carnage that surely occurred when the plane met the bus in the worst possible way. I immediately assumed the crash position, just as I heard the steward shouting “Brace!” through the whine of the engines. Beside me, I felt Mom assuming the crash position too, and I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.

I heard another horrible crunching sound, this time caused by the impact of metal on soil. It was one of the most painful sounds ever to have been made, second only to fingernails scratching a blackboard, and quite possibly beating even that. I almost flew out of my seat as the plane encountered a bump on the ground, but my seatbelt kept me firmly on my seat. I heard another spine-chilling noise, this time caused by the groaning of the metal making up the plane as the fuselage was put through its absolute limits. And then everything seemed to slow down as the tail end of the plane finally tore itself away from the rest of the fuselage, and my ears began ringing as the whine of the engines finally cut off.

The plane—what was left of it, anyway—hit another bump on the ground, and I felt my head strike something really, really hard. I felt only a brief flicker of white-hot pain at the top of my skull before the darkness swallowed me up.

Chapter Text

My name is Yemra Six-Four-Zero, of the Zek Danet Pool.

I finally woke up from the depths of unconsciousness, but I might as well still be unconscious because I was still surrounded by darkness. Either my host had gone blind, or I had been disconnected from her brain by the force of the crash of their aerial transport. The situation seemed to be the latter option, because if Jen were indeed blinded by the crash, I would still be able to feel stimuli from her other senses. Instead, I literally could not sense anything, except for something underneath me tingling with inviting microvolts of electricity. At least I was still in Jen’s skull. That was a comforting thought, considering the alternative. I could be on the ground, outside the safety and protection of Jen’s cranium, and one of those human “paramedics” could crush me under their feet. Now that was not a good way to die.

So it was with that not-so-comforting thought that I made—or remade, however you want to think about it—a tentative connection to her brain.

I managed to open Jen’s eyes. (Jen says that they were my eyes as much as they were hers, but for all intents and purposes, I still think of them as Jen’s eyes.) The colors of Earth overwhelmed my Yeerk brain once again, even though I should already be used to them as I’ve been living here for the better part of thirteen Earth years. Oh, thank the Kandrona, and thank God, Jen’s God, that she wasn’t blind! Honestly, out of all the senses of the human body, I valued sight the most. If Jen had indeed become blind, I don’t know how I would deal with it.

Yes, I am that selfish, in that I care more about myself than Jen. But, truth be told, deep down, we both know that I care deeply about her, just as much as she cares about me.

But I was getting distracted once again. I had Jen’s sight, sure, but what about her other senses? So I sent out another connection to Jen’s brain, and found Jen’s presence, metaphorically curled up in a “fetal position.” Thank the Kandrona Jen was alive, too. I was going to let her rest for quite a while longer now.

Slowly, but surely, I restored my connections to Jen. Finally, I had regained full control of her body. After that… well, let’s just say that I had no idea of what to do after that.

First things first, Jen always liked to say. And the first thing that I did was to take stock of my surroundings. I was still in my seat, but that seat was currently somewhere outside of the body of the plane. I accessed Jen’s memories on how to “unbuckle” the “seatbelt.” I did it slowly, as my left arm seemed to hurt with every movement that I made. It was probably broken, so that was the first bit of bad news for Jen. She would have to have it checked later.

I finally unbuckled the seatbelt with much difficulty, and I rolled onto the ground, wincing as I made the mistake of putting weight on my injured arm.

I stood slowly, and very carefully, as my whole body felt like it was radiating pain in waves. It took me a few moments to balance myself on Jen’s two legs. How these humans managed to stand, let alone move around, on just two legs without even a tail for support or counterbalance still astounded me, even after all my years of living and interacting with them. Now that I was standing, sort of, I could take a better look at my surroundings.

Jen’s seat was somewhere in the middle of a trail of debris stretching from the tail of the aircraft to the rest of the plane, which was mostly intact, and resting somewhere a few hundred Earth meters from where I was standing right now. I could barely make out a few figures moving along the wreckage, and I began slowly walking my way towards them. I must have looked like one of those human “zombies,” the way that I was shambling towards them.

I stumbled on a rock that I had not noticed, and fell. I tried to cushion my fall with my hands, only belatedly remembering that my left arm was broken. Fresh waves of pain radiated from my left arm, spreading throughout the rest of my body. “Oh, God!” I moaned. “That hurts!”

I think that I might have gained Jen’s near-insufferable ability to state the plainly obvious.

Through the pain, I noticed a lone figure making its way towards me. As it got nearer, I saw that it was actually the stewardess. She had taken off her scarf and her vest, so now she was just wearing a white long-sleeved blouse, and her uniform skirt. Also, she had taken off her shoes, so now she was running towards me with just her stockings on her feet.

“Oh, God, you’re alive!” the stewardess said as she approached me. “We’ve got another live one here!” she shouted. “Are you all right?”

“Not really,” I replied honestly. “My left arm’s broken.”

“All right, then, let me help you up.” She took hold of my right arm, and I used her as leverage to haul myself up from the ground. Pain radiated from a thousand places on my body. I must be black and blue all over, to coin the human term. I cradled my left arm to my side as the stewardess hooked my right arm over her shoulders, and she put her left hand on my waist to support me.

With her head so close to mine, I could feel something about her that made the hairs at the back of my neck stand up, although technically Yeerks don’t have hairs or necks, but you know what I’m talking about. It’s this sixth sense in which a Yeerk can tell if there’s another Yeerk in a potential host body, although I’ve heard that only some Yeerks have this so-called “Yeerk sense.” Oh, yeah, I was right. This stewardess was another human-Controller.

“So, is she voluntary?” the stewardess asked.

“So, you can also sense me too?” I replied. When she looked at me with a look that Jen would have called “a face,” I continued, “Of course she’s voluntary! They’re the only reason why we’re still allowed to stay on their planet. How about yours?”

“What do you think?” she replied. “Any human who wanted to host a Yeerk would have to go through ‘hell and back,’ so to speak, before their government would even think about allowing a Yeerk to infest that human.”

“What’s your name?” I asked, out of genuine curiosity.

“Sinan One-Nine-Five of the Sulp Niar Pool,” she replied. “My host’s name is Belladonna Spencer, but she likes to be called Donna.”

“Nice to meet you, Sinan,” I said. “I am Yemra Six-Four-Zero, of the Zek Danet Pool. My host’s name is Jennifer Carson, but she prefers to be called Jen.”

“Really?” Sinan asked. “Donna would have thought that your host was a Jenny type of girl.”

“Oh, please!” I snorted. “Don’t let her catch you calling her Jenny. For some reason she really hates being called by that name. The last time someone called her Jenny… well, you had to be there.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Sinan replied. “So, the Zek Danet Pool, huh? I can’t say that I’ve met many Yeerks from that Pool.”

“I know, right?” I said. “Most of the Yeerks I’ve encountered have been from either Hett Simplat or Sulp Niar, like you. Anyway, how did you end up here? And with Donna?”

“There’s nothing much to tell about my being here, Yemra, really,” Sinan replied. “I was one of many hostless Yeerks that the humans captured in the Pool underneath this city. I had infested by a Gedd, a Hork-Bajir, and a human before I was reassigned here, but when my former hosts were asked if they wanted to be reinfested by me, they all refused. So I remained without a host for many cycles, until finally Donna came along. She had wanted to have a companion, someone she could tell all of her secrets, problems, and desires. I just wanted to see, hear, and feel the world again. And you know what? Despite our differences in wanting a host and a Yeerk, we’ve got a good friendship going for us.”

“That story of yours is actually worth telling, Sinan,” I told her. “And to think that all I wanted from Jen was a body to live in. All that friendship and bonding stuff just came along later on. I was very lucky that I got Jen just before the war ended.” Now I was really glad that Jen was still unconscious right now. She didn’t have to see me twisting the facts about how we met. Nobody else had to know that I was a Yeerk that could survive for more than three days without Kandrona rays.

“Well, at least you weren’t one of those holdouts who tried to hide themselves amongst the humans when the invasion force was defeated,” Sinan muttered.

“Really? Why is that?”

“After the end of the war, all Yeerks still within the territory of the so-called ‘United States’ were rounded up and brought out to ‘internment camps’ in the middle of the place the humans called ‘Arizona,’ to sort out the Imperialist Yeerks from those were with the Peace Movement, and those Yeerks who just want to have senses and experience the world. But some Yeerks managed to escape the dragnet, and tried to hide themselves among the mostly-unsuspecting humans, who thought that all Yeerks were down safely locked up in the internment camps, so to speak. Nevertheless, the humans got suspicious, and Yeerk-hunting mobs sprang up all over the States. These mobs tried various ways of removing the holdout Yeerks from their hosts: they beat the hosts almost to death; they tried various chemicals that nearly killed both the Yeerks and their hosts. Eventually, they discovered that sustained application of an electric current through a device known as a ‘taser’ was most effective in forcing the Yeerk to involuntarily exit its host.”

All this information was news to me, both because I’ve never experienced such things, and because Jen was too young to be interested in the news during those early days of post-invasion Earth. Also, the Yeerk surrender happened just a few months before human terrorists attacked their fellow humans on September 11, 2001; apparently in some kind of ancient religious conflict that a human that was thousands of miles away from the United States believed was still going on. The events following the 9/11 attacks almost totally overshadowed the aftermath of the Yeerk invasion, and human attentions were turned towards American actions against a nation called Afghanistan. The Yeerks were almost totally forgotten—except apparently for those who still believed that their family and friends were still under the influence of the evil mind-controlling, body-snatching aliens.

“Wow,” I told Sinan. “This is all new to me. How come I never heard of it?” Sinan’s reply all but confirmed my suspicions that despite having been just attacked by aliens from beyond their own system, humans would still never pass up a chance to kill their own kind. It almost makes me wonder why the Vissers thought they were Class Fives instead of the Class Fours they truly were.

“Now I’m really thankful that I didn’t try to hide myself,” I said. Which wasn’t entirely accurate, because, like I said earlier, I don’t want the human government to learn that there was a Yeerk out there that could survive without Kandrona rays for more than three days. Also, being electrocuted for a sustained duration? No, thank you.

We finally stumbled our way back to the gaggle of survivors gathered around the front part of the aircraft. “Time to act like your host again,” Sinan muttered. I mumbled my agreement.

I saw Jen’s mother leaning on Jen’s father, who was himself leaning on the plane. Once Jen’s mother saw me, she ran over to me and wrapped her arms around my—Jen’s—body. Jen called this human interaction a “hug,” and she always felt embarrassed whenever her mother did this to her. But now that I was experiencing it myself, I could see nothing in this act which could possibly cause embarrassment.

“Oh, Jen!” Mrs. Carson said. “Thank God you’re alive! Your father and I were absolutely worried about you! We thought you were dead when we couldn’t find you on the plane!”

“She was hysterical,” Mr. Carson chimed in. “I was just worried.” Apparently, this was typical human parental behaviour, or at least it was typical behaviour for Jen’s parents. According to Jen, her mother’s role was to blow everything that happened to her way out of proportion, while her father’s role was to downplay everything that happened as just unfortunate coincidence.

“Are you okay?” Mrs. Carson asked me. I still couldn’t bring myself to call her “Mom” when I’m speaking for myself, but apparently I can do it very well when I’m talking to her as Jen. “Are you hurt? Are you still… you?”

I knew where she was going with this line of inquiry. A right-eyed wink meant that Jen was in control. A left-eyed wink meant that I was in control. So I quickly closed and opened my left eye while saying, “I’m okay; don’t worry about me.” Mrs. Carson nodded her head in acknowledgment and said, “Well, at least you’re all right.”

I don’t know if she was actually worried about me as Yemra, or whether she’s just concerned about Jen. Not that I blame her, though.

((Oh, man,)) Jen said as she finally regained consciousness in the back of my mind. ((All right, Yemra, time for me to get back in control,)) she told me. ((It’s my body now.))

Wait a minute, I told her. Wait for it, wait for it… And then Mrs. Carson wrapped me in another hug. “Oh, I’m just so happy that you made it,” she said.

((Oh, Yemra, I am so wishing for you to go to hell for this!)) Jen said. But far from being a condemnation of my eternal soul to the all-consuming fires of the human underworld, it was just an expression of Jen’s that she likes to say whenever “things are not going her way.” ((All right, now you’re just trying to embarrass me,)) Jen sighed.

And… that should be good enough, I said. Have fun! I told Jen as I returned control of her body to her. I watched silently, wearing a big mental “shit-eating” grin as Jen tried to squirm her way out of her mother’s embrace. “All right, Mom, that’s enough,” she said. “I’m back now!” She even winked her right eye for effect.

((Oh, God, my arm hurts!)) Jen shouted mentally at me. ((Why didn’t you bother to tell me that my arm was broken?!) she demanded.

You didn’t ask me, I replied.

((Bitch,)) Jen muttered mentally, and then out loud, she said, “Okay, Mom, now you’re hurting my arm!”

“What?” Jen’s mom turned to face her properly. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Well, somebody decided that it wasn’t important enough to tell you!” Jen replied. ((Yes, Yemra, I’m looking at you!)) she told me.

((Oh, you,)) I told her. ((I’m sure it will heal.))

Far away in the distance, we could hear the sirens which signalled the coming of the human “paramedics.” It looked like we were now finally going to be fine, but Sinan’s words about the holdout Yeerks and how they were treated by the humans stuck to me. And there was also the matter of those internment camps in which the majority of the planetbound Yeerks were held immediately after the war. Something really bothered me about these things. I guess I would just have to ask Jen to help me look deeper into these things later.

Chapter Text


I opened the beer can, or at least tried to open it with difficulty as my left arm was in a cast and I had to put the can between my thighs so that I could get some leverage on it. But finally, I did manage to get it open, and I did it without spilling beer on my lap and my knock-off designer jeans. I lifted up the can to the sky, and said, “To surviving.”

“To surviving.” The guy who was sitting beside me on the patio, the same guy who gave me the beer and had me make the toast, was my cousin, Jude Law. No, I’m just kidding. His real name is Jude Rivers, and he’s my cousin from my mother’s side. Jude is similar to me in many ways: he’s smart—too smart for himself just like me, if I may be honest; an underachiever just like me, too; and a fellow not-so-devout Roman Catholic. In fact, you could even say that Jude is a younger, male version of me, except he’s never had to live with an alien body-snatching slug in his head for the majority of his life. It’s one of the few things that I envy about him.

Actually, Jude’s presence there on the patio hadn’t been expected. The entire family—meaning Mom, Dad, and me—had just come back from the hospital, where we had been recovering because of the crash. From what I’ve heard in the news, the three of us were among 23 survivors of the crash of Regional Air Flight 6569. Hahaha, sixty-nine. Insert appropriate (or inappropriate, however you want to think about it) sex joke here. Alright, that’s enough now. Anyway, there were 23 survivors, and 21 casualties, not including those onboard the Greyhound bus that we crushed before we crashed, if you get what I’m saying. I heard that those who died in that bus numbered between thirty and fifty. Man, the things that add up to create a disaster…

Where was I? Oh, right. I wasn’t expecting Jude to be there on our patio. I had planned to just sit there, all alone, watching the sunset and letting Yemra reconstitute herself in some water. You see, Yemra’s a special kind of Yeerk. You know how Yeerks require Kandrona rays every three days or else they’ll die of starvation? Well, somehow, Yemra doesn’t need the Kandrona. She found out the hard way when she was forced out of the Pool underneath my home town all those years ago, and she thought she was going through the fugue but it was actually just her imagining things. She’d been four days out of the Pool when she went into my head, and now we have this agreement in which she plops out of my head every three days just because of force of habit. I tried to make her stay in my head for more than three days once. Let’s just say that she didn’t like it. Long story short: Yemra’s basically an immortal Yeerk. But since she’s a Yeerk and all—no sight and not much else in other senses—she doesn’t want to live forever like a Yeerk, if you know what I mean, and so that’s one of the reasons why she’s now living in my head. To be honest, I don’t even know how she gets her nourishment. Personally, I think that she’s sucking my blood, like some kind of vampire slug. Ooh, scary.

Wait a minute, though. That means I’ve got an alien mind-controlling body-snatching vampire slug in my head. Goddamn it.

Thirteen! Yemra said in my head. Thirteen years I’ve been sucking the blood meant for your brain! Ahahahaha! To be honest, though, that was a pretty good imitation of Count von Count. Anyway, enough of my brain’s wanderings. My plan after getting out of the hospital was just to get Yemra out of my head and watch her swim around in a glass of water like the freeloader she is. But then there was Jude, waiting for me with a can of beer, and I just had to indulge him. He almost lost a cousin, for God’s sake! Besides, after Yemra told me about her conversation with the stewardess Controller, Donna/Sinan, I grew curious about the treatment of Yeerks immediately post-war, and so I asked Jude to help me look into it. But what I didn’t expect was him going personally to my house to tell me everything he found out. Weird, right?

So there we were, two cousins sipping beer on the patio, doing what cousins usually do on a slow day. Finally, after a few moments of silence, Jude took the initiative and said, “Man, Jennifer, you and your parents sure were very lucky to have survived that crash.”

“I know, right?” I said as I drank my beer. “And I still can’t believe that more than half of us onboard survived.”

“Y’all were sitting by the middle of the plane, right?” Jude asked me. I nodded in confirmation. “Man, y’all really are all lucky, y’know? They still couldn’t find the poor bastards who happened to be sitting on top of the bomb when it blew up, y’know? Well, to be honest, they found bits of blood and bone and gore and DNA. They’re trying to find out who those guys who were unfortunate enough to be sitting on top of the bomb were.”

“Sucks to be them,” I muttered. “Both the dead guys, and the poor bastards who’re trying to piece them together again.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Anyway, Jen, I’m here for something else other than the fact that my cousin has just returned from the land of the dead.”

“Of course you are,” I muttered. “I expect you to be here for more than just familial reasons.”

“Oh, no need to go sarcastic on me, Jennifer,” Jude said. “Anyway, remember when you were still in the hospital, and you asked me to help you look up those internment camps for Yeerks that the government built immediately after the invasion?” I nodded in reply. “Well, I looked them up, just like you told me. They’re these long rows of pre-fab buildings smack dab in the middle of Arizona’s deserts. You know about how the government forced Japanese-Americans into similar camps in the interiors following Pearl Harbor in World War Two, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” I replied. The internment of those Japanese Americans during World War Two was a colossal mistake on our part, in my opinion, but looking at it from the perspective of the Forties, and the war, it was probably understandable. “But why are you asking me about it, though?” I asked Jude. “Is it important for what you’re about to tell me?”

“Actually, it is important to what we’re actually about to talk about,” Jude replied. “When the Yeerks lost, every Yeerk and Controller who was still on Earth were rounded up and sent to these internment camps, except you obviously, because no one even knew about your Yeerk until after the fact. Of course, it was inevitable that there would be holdouts, Yeerks who fought back, but the Army eventually tasered those holdouts into the camps. There, the Yeerks were divided along their personal and ideological convictions or some shit like that.

“There were five classes, if I remember correctly,” Jude continued. “We took the way that the Yeerks classified alien species, and adapted it to them. Ironic, huh? Anyway, Class One Yeerks were those Yeerks who were like Esplin 9466 Prime and the late Edriss 562; you know, the ‘your body is mine now, untermensch, go cower in your mind, puny Earthling’ kind of Yeerks. Class Two Yeerks were slightly less power-hungry and insane than Visser Three and Visser One, but still the type that would regularly abuse their hosts just for the fun of it. Class Three Yeerks were the one that fell between the ‘mind-torturer’ and the ‘peacenik’ stereotypes, in that nobody knows if they still believe in the Yeerk Empire, or if they’re convinced that meekly surrendering and existing with fellow sentients is the best thing that’s ever happened to them. Class Four Yeerks were those who believed that they shouldn’t have to go around the galaxy forcing themselves into other sentients’ heads, but they liked it better if they had control of the body instead of the host. Class Five Yeerks—oh, man, these are the perfect Yeerks, at least according to current US government doctrine. These Yeerks firmly believe that a symbiotic relationship can be achieved between them and the humans, and they are quite happy with letting the human have control most of the time, and that the important thing for them is that they can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. Like I said, the perfect Yeerk for the government. You know, Jen, if they caught Yemra up there in your skull, she’d probably get back in there about as quick as they got her out, because she appears to be a Class Five. Or are you a Class Four, eh, Yemra?” Jude asked my Yeerk directly.

Oh, Jen, Yemra told me, if only I had fists, and if Jude wasn’t your cousin, and I didn’t know that this is how he acts for his whole life, then maybe I would have already punched him.

((Whoa, Rocky Balboa,)) I told my Yeerk, ((easy back there. Can’t have you waving my fists around.))

Okay, I’m calming down now. But I have to get out of your head soon.

((Oh, come on, Yemra, can’t you just try to stay in my head for at least four days?))

Sorry, Jen, no can do. I mean I really can’t do it, even if I forced myself to. The instinct to get out every three days is very strong, if you get what I’m talking about.

((Oh, come on. You know I hate it whenever you’re out. Why can’t you try just three days and one hour?))

Like I said before, Jennifer, I really can’t do it.

((Whatever, slug.))

“Anyway, as I was saying,” Jude continued, none the wiser about my internal conversation, all the Class One Yeerks we captured were quickly tasered out of their hosts and put on trial. To be honest, Jen, I thought those trials were just kangaroo courts. I mean, we already knew that these Yeerks were guilty of various things like torture, summary executions, and impersonating enemy combatants—“

“Impersonating enemy combatants?” I parroted.

“Yeah, you know, with the whole shoving their slimy bodies into your ear and taking over your brain and body thing.”

“Ah, all right. Continue.”

“Like I was saying, the Class One Yeerks were already guilty the moment that they stepped into the International Criminal Courts in The Hague in Netherlands, or Belgium, or wherever. We only put them on trial to show that we humans at least gave everyone, even aliens, the right to face a court of law, because we’re better than these barbaric Yeerks. But what actually happened in The Hague was something like what the North Koreans did when that American surveillance plane crashed there back in the Sixties. We all knew they were guilty, and we wanted to see people--er, Yeerks—being held accountable for all the things they did to the people they infested. Many Class Ones were sentenced to death by Kandrona starvation, using techniques that their own Vissers invented and perfected. Once again, note the irony. The others were stuck into those mysterious Andalite-built purple boxes, just like Esplin 9466 Prime.

“Meanwhile, many Class Two Yeerks and almost all the Class Threes were made to take animal or human morphs, and then forced to stay in those forms for more than two hours. In effect, we made them nothlits. Only the Class Fives and some of the Class Fours were allowed to remain as Yeerks, and only those Yeerks whose hosts consented to their presence were allowed to remain with their hosts. It’s a strange and sad situation, really. It’s pretty much got a segregation or apartheid feel to it. Only those who conformed to the program were allowed to stay and live. All the others were arrested, executed, or forced to become animals.”

“Jesus Christ, Jude,” I said once my cousin had finished. “When you say it like that, it sounds very depressing.”

“I know, right?” Jude told me. “I’m thinking of trying to write some depressing books or stories. You know, become this generation’s Edgar Allan Poe?”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” I snorted. “We all know that you’ll find a way to procrastinate that.”

“Yeah, you’re right, Jennifer,” Jude conceded. “I probably really won’t do it anyway.”

“Oh, come on now, cuz,” I told him. “Don’t beat yourself up just because I am. You will become this generation’s Edgar Allan Poe. It’s just a matter of when you want to do it.”

“Nah, maybe not Poe,” he said. “But I will definitely try to become a bestselling author.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“Hey, I got an idea,” Jude said, sitting up straighter on his seat, the way he always did whenever the gears in his head were turning. “What if Lewinsky was actually a Controller, and she tried to infest Clinton, but the plan was foiled, so instead they just turned it into a sex scandal?”

“That’s a conspiracy theory, Jude,” I told him, “not a story. Don’t feed the trolls and the crazies.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Jude conceded once again. “Seriously, though, it sounded much better in my head than when I said it out aloud.”

“Everyone has those moments, cousin.”

“Anyway, while we’re on the subject of Controllers,” Jude said, “did you know that the highest ranking Yeerk to be classified as a Class Five was someone named Visser Five, and that she and her host girl are living here in Pennsylvania too?”

“Really? I didn’t know that! No, really, I didn’t. Visser Five? A Class Five Yeerk? No way. You’re probably just pulling my leg, man.”

“No, no, I’m serious. Rumor has it that this Visser Five gal was the one behind the Yeerk Peace Movement, not Aftran as the Animorphs books made us believe. The rumors also say that she’s living right here, in Pennsylvania, although exactly in which city she’s living right now, nobody’s sure.”

“Probably not our city, anyway,” I muttered. “Still, that’s gotta be something, right? Girl hosting the Yeerk that founded the Yeerk Peace Movement that eventually got the government to go easy on the good Yeerks. Wonder if she’s got a fan club, or groupies.”

All right, Jennifer, Yemra told me, you and your cousin have been talking for long enough now. Now it’s time for me to come out!

((Oh, come on, Yemra,)) I told her, ((can’t you even try to stay for just one hour longer, or maybe one day?))

No chance in hell, Jen! Now catch me!

As I felt Yemra disengage from my brain, I turned to Jude and said, “D’you mind if I let Yemra out right now in front of you?”

“Well, that explains the water,” he said. “Sure, go on ahead.”

My right ear began to tingle from the sensation of Yemra making her way out of my head. I squinted from the pain, at least until Yemra released the painkiller that numbed the sensation of her pushing out of my ear. Eventually, she got her whole body out of my ear, and I caught her with my right hand just before she fell to the ground, and I placed her in the water.

“You know, Jen,” Jude said, “sometimes I think you do the things you do just to freak me out.”

“Oh, no,” I groaned sarcastically. “You found out my secret plan.”

Jude laughed. “Knew it,” he said. “Hey, Jen, have you heard? The Hork-Bajir have made a lot of history in the time that you’ve spent in the hospital.”

“Really? Why’s that?”

“Well, it’s just that all Hork-Bajir are now American citizens, and that they now have permanent, voting representation in both the Congress and the Senate. Man, you should have seen the lines for the immigration and naturalization centers. Bark-eating aliens with bladed bodies as far as the eye can see!”

“I’ll take your word for it,” I said. “How about Hork-Bajirs in the Senate and Congress, though? How does that work?”

“Ah, well, you know, the government treats the Hork-Bajir like they’re a state of their own, and so that’s two senators immediately. As for representatives, I think they’ve got about five or six thanks to their relatively low population. But it’s still higher than Alaska’s, would you believe?”

“Really?” I said. “Hork-Bajir finally have representation in good ol’ ‘Murica? Good for them!”

“Oh, and have you seen the latest viral videos? They’re all about Hork-Bajir going nuts now that they’ve got all the privileges of us Americans. You know, McDonald’s, Starbucks, the Second Amendment, and Obamacare. But there’s a bunch which you have to see to believe.”

“All right,” I said. “But I want you to tell me about them first, so that I’ll be the judge if I really have to see it to believe it.”

“Okay, all right,” Jude said. “There’s this Islamic State video that was supposed to show them ragheads executing yet another hostage, but then out of nowhere a Hork-Bajir pops into the picture and kills every Johnny Jihad in the picture.”

“All right,” I said. “Now I really have to see it to believe it. Wait a minute, a Hork-Bajir? Aren’t they, like, pacifistic to the core?”

“Yeah, well, rumor has it that it’s not really a Hork-Bajir,” Jude said as he pulled out his iPhone, “rather, it’s a CIA agent in a Hork-Bajir morph that killed all those jihadis.”

“Okay, I know that the military and the CIA experimented with the morphing technology immediately after the war,” I said. “But I thought they abandoned it almost immediately after they found out that you could morph only with skintight stuff like t-shirts and leggings and all that.”

“Yeah, well, some people say that the military have finally developed stuff that could allow someone to carry arms and ammunition even while in morph, while others say that people with the morphing power don’t need to carry guns around because, well, they could morph into whatever dangerous animal they could think of and attack, or they can morph something small like an ant or roach to escape. Anyway, that’s all rumors for now.” Jude handed over his phone to me. “Enjoy,” he told me.

I watched the video that Jude had playing on his iPhone. It started just like your ordinary terrorist video, with the executioner promising to kill more hostages until the “Western crusader infidels” withdraw their armies from the Middle East. Yeah, fat chance of that happening while you’re still around, Johnny Jihad. And then, just like the meme, it escalated quickly. One of the black-clad figures in the background of the video suddenly began growing higher, and then blades ripped through his clothes, revealing himself as a Hork-Bajir. This Hork-Bajir then began cutting through the ISIS fighters with his blades.

“Here comes the best part,” Jude said, as he leaned over to watch the video with me. “Look at the would-be executioner kneeling on the sand, begging for mercy and crying like a little bitch. Look, the Hork-Bajir’s lifting up his arm blades, and… chop!”

It was already a gruesome sight, without Jude adding color commentary to it. When the Hork-Bajir lopped off the executioner’s head, fountains of blood spurted out of the executioner’s neck, like high-pressure hoses. “Oh, my God,” I muttered. “Is this even real?”

“Oh, it’s legit, all right,” Jude replied. “Obama just announced the successful rescue of one of ISIS’s hostages, and ISIS itself has denounced America for using aliens to, quote, ‘carry out the infidels’ crusade in the Middle East while the Westerners themselves cower in their own countries,’ unquote.”

“Man, they’re really messed up in the head,” I said. “The extremists, I mean. I like Islam, and Muslim. I’d like to have a Muslim friend. It’s just these fucking extremists that kill the deal for everyone else.”

“Well, everybody’s got extremists, Jen,” Jude told me.

“True that.”

We sat in silence once again, as an awkward silence fell upon us. Finally, Jude turned to me and asked me, “Can I ask you a question? I mean, a personal question?”

“Sure, go ahead,” I replied, bracing myself for the worst case scenario.

“How do you take a bath with that thing on?” he asked, pointing at my cast.

I had to laugh out loud for that. “That’s it?” I asked him back. “Man, I was expecting something much, much more personal than that!”

“No, I’m serious, Jen,” Jude continued. “I’m genuinely curious. How do you take a bath with that cast?”

“Well, sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do.”

“Oh, don’t you start with that philosophical bullshit now!” But he was grinning. He knew what I was actually talking about, since he had gone through almost the same thing himself. Well, it’s actually more like he broke his arm playing football rather than in a plane crash, but he did get his arm broken too, and therefore he also knew what it was like to have a cast. Maybe he thought that I took a bath differently from him. Sometimes even I don’t understand what goes through my cousin’s mind. He can be so random, sometimes.

I glanced at my watch. “All right,” I said. “Time for Yemra to come back.” I took Yemra from the glass of water, put her up to my ear, and waited as she reinfested me. Throughout all this, Jude was watching me silently. “There has got to be something wrong or creepy about watching your cousin wilfully let a mind-controlling slug into her head,” he said once Yemra was fully connected to my brain once again.

Well, then, maybe, you shouldn’t be watching your cousin getting infested, Yemra teased. I relayed this to Jude, who grinned and said, “Love you too, Yemra.”

Jude’s iPhone rang. “Well, that’s the signal that my parents are looking for me,” he told me. Guess I’ll be seeing you next time, Jen. You too, Yemra.”

“Bye, Jude,” I told him. “Get home safe.”

“Don’t worry, I will. Oh, but before I go…” Jude took the glass where Yemra had just swum around and drank it. “You do realize that that water’s probably full of alien slime, and my blood and my brain juice?”

“Who cares?” Jude said, wiping his mouth. “It’s water.”

“Yeah, well, just before she infested me when I was nine, Yemra had spent some time in the sewers.”

Jude did a spit take. “What?”

“Hey, look at it from my perspective! I’ve got sewage in my head! And that’s not counting the Yeerk!”

Haha, Jen, Yemra said. Real funny. And real mature.

((Oh, you,)) I told her. ((You’ll get over it soon enough.))

“You’re a weird girl, Jennifer Carson. That’s why I love having you as my cousin!”

Yeah, that’s life for the Carsons and the Riverses. We would do things to each other that other people would see as offensive, but for us it was how we showed our love for each other. Just like me and Yemra. I might call her many things—bitch, slug, and body-snatcher come to mind—and she might call me many things herself—like puppet, meatbag, mask, and now puny Earthling—and yet we’re the closest of friends. War certainly makes for strange bedfellows, doesn’t it?

Chapter Text

Sunday afternoon. Usually Sunday was one of my least favorite days, second only just to Monday, and sometimes Sunday even managed to trump the beginning of the week as my least favorite day. The whole family—meaning Mom, Dad, and I—went to Mass every Sunday morning, and then after that we would all go back home and just laze around doing nothing much. When I was still going to school, Sunday was the day when I would do most of my homework, because I always managed to convince my parents that Saturday was supposed to be a free day. But now that I was a fresh new college graduate… well, let’s just say that everyone ends up stewing in their own juices every Sunday.

This Sunday was just like every other Sunday. We all woke up early because we usually attended the nine o’clock Mass. I dragged through the bathing part and the dressing up part like I usually did, but even while I was doing that, I felt this desire to go to church as quickly as I could. Maybe surviving that plane crash may have something to do with it. I had tried to make contact with the pilots of Flight 6569, but so far I’ve had no replies from either of them, so I just passed on my thanks to the next best person: the guy upstairs, the higher authority.

Anyway, I sat through Mass as best as I could. Yemra kept quiet, and mostly to herself during the Mass, but I was sure that she was also quietly observing my daydreams. But today, I couldn’t concentrate on letting my mind fly, because I had this itch underneath my cast that I just cannot reach. The cast was due to be removed tomorrow, and I had this sneaking suspicion that my body knows that the cast is about to be removed soon, and so it started up the itch so that I was in at least some kind of mild discomfort for the last 24 hours that I would have to wear the cast.

I finally managed to get through the Mass without fidgeting much, and the best—and only—way I could think of to remedy my under-cast itch was to imagine scratching it, without really scratching it, if you get what I mean. After that, we all went back home, and began doing our respective things. Dad went to the living room, turned on the TV, and watched that Ancient Aliens “documentary” on the History Channel (I don’t believe in ancient aliens, but I certainly know for a fact that modern aliens exist, ie. Yeerks and Yemra). Mom took out her laptop and began working on her thesis for her master’s degree, which she was only taking now because I had finally graduated. Meanwhile, I went back to my room, turned on my computer, and began searching the Net for new news about Flight 6569, such as updates as to who brought it down, and why. Most of the results that appeared on the search engine were already ones that I had read before, and almost knew by heart their contents. The articles were mostly in the same format: bomb brings down Flight 6569. Flight crew manages to save more than half of their passengers despite the plane’s conditions. Suspects in the bombing still unknown. Well, now it wasn’t so much unknown as being narrowed down. They’ve managed to rule out al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, the drug cartels, and all the other usual suspects when planes get bombed, and that has surely narrowed down the suspects considerably. But apparently they were still not sure as to who else could have done the bombing, so they kept saying that they didn’t know who exactly did it.

I narrowed down my search by typing in “regional air flight 6569 news” and then adding some other parameters, such as links made within the past 24 hours. Most of the results that popped up were purple, meaning I had already read them. But then I saw a blue hyperlink, right down at the bottom of the page, and of course I knew I had to click it, because I probably hadn’t seen it yet. The article itself was short, but what was within it would give me a lot to think about for the coming days.


PENNSYLVANIA – NTSB investigators have finally managed to uncover the identities of two passengers aboard Regional Air Flight 6569 that had been supposedly disintegrated by the bomb that brought down Flight 6569, and killed nineteen more people onboard the plane and almost forty people on the ground.

DNA samples gathered from the wreckage of the aircraft have been confirmed by forensic investigators to be “perfect matches” for two people within the Yeerk nothlit registry. The missing passengers, previously identified as Nestor Ocampo and Amelia de Barcelona, have now been discovered to be actually Yeerk nothlits, Yeerks who were forced to assume human or animal morphs and then made to stay in said morphs for more than two hours to effectively trap in their new bodies. “Ocampo” and “de Barcelona” were actually two nothlits named Yaheen Sulpniar and Cherug Hettsimplat, respectively. Sulpniar and Hettsimplat were two Class Three Yeerks that were controversially allowed to take human forms despite the fact that repeated interrogations had shown that both of them were still loyal to the Yeerk Empire, and that both of them had been very abusive to their previous hosts.

Sulpniar/Ocampo and Hettsimplat/de Barcelona were residents of the Honeywell Apartments district in Reading, Pennsylvania, and had been since the conclusion of the Yeerk invasion of Earth. Travel in and out of the Honeywells, as well as other “designated nothlit habitation areas,” is strictly regulated by local police forces, or sometimes the National Guard or even Army Military Police units. It is currently unknown how the two nothlits managed to get out or escape from the Honeywells without raising suspicion from the Reading Police Department, although it was immediately apparent that some cash transactions occurred, and that false documents were certainly procured and used.

“As of now, we still have no idea how two nothlits managed to get onboard Flight 6569 without raising attentions or suspicions,” said Vera de Quilla, the NTSB lead investigator into the bombing of Flight 6569. “We do not know why they had to use false documents to board this flight, although some of our investigators think that it may be because of discrimination and the like. For all we know, they could have just wanted to experience flying on a plane, and ended up in the worst position possible. On the other hand, they could even be the bombers themselves.”

Discrimination against Yeerk nothlits is not unheard of, and the airline industry has certainly had its share of incidents regarding airlines’ and crewmemebers’ refusal to let nothlits board flights just for the reason that they are nothlits. And while the issue of nothlit discrimination is currently not as divisive as slavery and African-American civil rights used to be, it still remains as a black spot on the Land of the Free. Anti-discrimination laws for nothlits have been passed in only a few states, and these states are the likes of Alaska, Hawaii, and Idaho, where there are few if any nothlits living. No national anti-nothlit discrimination bill has yet been passed through Congress as of press time, but congressmen from California and Pennsylvania are reportedly currently working on such a bill.

The NTSB is currently still keeping all possibilities open even as they have released this new information to the public. With the number of possible suspects rapidly dwindling by the hour, the NTSB has now turned its attention to the home front; with homegrown terrorists currently at the top of their suspects’ list. It will take some time before the identities of the bombers are finally revealed, but the NTSB hopes to accelerate this once the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security begin helping out in the investigation.

((Oh, man, Yemra, can you believe this?)) I told my Yeerk as I read the article. ((We actually had nothlit Yeerks with us onboard that flight!))

Honestly, Jen, Yemra replied, while I am surprised about the presence of other Yeerks onboard our flight, I am by no means as surprised as you are. However, I am very much surprised by who exactly was on the flight with us.

((Huh? Really? You think you know those Yeerks in the article? The ones that pretended to be real people just so they could get onboard?))

I know of them, Yemra clarified. Yaheen Seven-Five-Two of the Sulp Niar Pool was Visser Eight when the invasion was still going on, and Cherug Two-Zero-One was his aide; his right-hand man, you humans would say. Actually, it would be more accurate to call Cherug a right-hand woman, because she had a female personality and certainly preferred female hosts over the male ones.

((Okay, so they were some high-ranking Yeerks when y’all eventually lost,)) I said. ((How come the government allowed them to take human morphs if they were so bad and abusive to their hosts?))

It’s not as simple as that, Jen, Yemra said. Like the article said, they are loyal to the Empire. And while they didn’t really believe in all the Imperial propaganda on how it was our right to take every living creature’s senses all for ourselves, they were certainly dedicated to achieving the Empire’s goals, however they could. They will surely resent being forced into becoming nothlits after the defeat. Sure, they’ve got human forms, but let’s face it, Jen; nothlits today are lower down the pecking order than even the illegal immigrants. They’ve even been compared to the slaves and Negroes, by the Kandrona!

((Wow. Since when did you start using the word “Negro”?))

I thought you were a daughter of the Confederacy, Yemra told me.

((Sure, I may have ancestors and relatives living in the South,)) I replied back, ((but I’m pure Pennsylvania born and bred.))

Whatever, Jennifer. Still, though, that article makes you think… What if it was indeed the nothlits that bombed the plane?

((What? You’re seriously considering that? Why would the nothlits want to even bring down a plane? What’s their motive? Do they want to tell us something by bombing that plane? Because that’s certainly one of the reasons why we humans will resort to terror attacks. Remember September 11? Those planes that were flown into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the one that crashed into the ground across the state in Shanksville? The guy that did it, Osama bin Laden, did it because he wanted to say that he can strike America anywhere, even right in its homeland. Are the nothlits going for something like that?))

Ah, Jen, truth be told, I don’t even know now, Yemra said. The nothlits probably don’t want to send that kind of message, but who knows? If they were the ones behind the bombing, then maybe they are trying to tell us something, and that something probably ain’t good, as you humans are fond of saying.

Yemra and I decided to leave our conspiracy theories behind for the meantime, and instead we just concentrated on getting through the day. I went onto Facebook and checked my emails, and then I played some of the games that Jude had introduced to me; games such as Total War: Rome II and Europa Universalis IV. But by the time I finished playing, only two hours had passed, and it was just noon.

I ate lunch with Mom and Dad. We had hotdogs, scrambled eggs, gravy, and mashed potatoes. Sure, it’s not the healthiest of lunches, but then again Dad wasn’t really Gordon Ramsay or anything. After lunch, I went back to my room and continued playing. It was really quite literally the only way to let time pass now that I wasn’t a student anymore. At least Jude introduced me to his grand strategy games after I finally graduated, or else I wouldn’t have been able to do any kind of schoolwork at all.

Anyway, I was halfway through roflstomping through Muscovy as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth when I received a text. I sighed, paused my game, and then read the message.

Jen!!! Soccer practice at 4! I know you’re okay cause I saw you at church today. Come here now!

I had to rack my brain before I suddenly remembered what exactly in the world my friend Julia was talking about. And then it clicked. Oh, yeah! I was supposed to go to soccer practice today! How could I have forgotten that? Maybe surviving a plane crash had something to do with it, but who knows, really?

Just a few months before, I had been approached by a local amateur girls’ soccer team to manage their team. Back in my high school days, I had been a fairly good soccer player, with my preferred position being a striker. I had helped my school win the county championship during the junior and senior years, and the memory of my senior year championship was one that I would never forget for quite probably the rest of my life. We were playing against our local rivals for the championship, but our semifinals game against our other rivals had tired us out so much that our opponents managed to get three goals against us in just the first half. But just like the movies, we managed to get back into the game thanks to a real-life sweaty goal from me, assisted by my other friend Carina; you know, the other friend of mine that really saw Yemra coming out of my head when we were like ten or something. The second goal was a successfully converted penalty courtesy of yours truly, because one of the opponents’ defenders tackled me hard inside the box. Carina scored the equalizer when I crossed the ball into the box, and she caught the ball with her head and steered it into the back of the goal. But it was the winning goal, my third goal in this game, that will really stay with me forever. It was deep into stoppage time, and we managed to get the corner kick. Everyone agreed that it was going to be the last attack in regulation time. The ball flew right over the clump of players that had formed near the mouth of goal, and it began to curve towards me. My back was facing the goal, which meant that my positioning was very awkward if ever I did try to attempt a shot at goal. So I did what had to be one of my most desperate gambles: the aerial scissors kick. I hit the ball in the angle between my leg and my foot, and I just smashed it into the general direction of the goal. It wasn’t only after my teammates began mobbing me that I realized that my Hail Mary play had worked, and that the ball had gone beyond the reach of the unsuspecting keeper.

Anyway, I was talking about managing the local amateur girls’ soccer team, not my high school soccer career. Since there wasn’t much in the way of a Little League Soccer in the good old United States, there wasn’t much to do with this team, except keep them sharp by constant practice. Training usually took place in Thursdays and Saturdays, and if someone wanted to play a game, they were also scheduled in the aforementioned days. The deal was that for every game and day of training, I would get three hundred dollars. In exchange, I would get near-absolute control of the team for as long as I was contracted to them.

My family wasn’t exactly very poor, but we’re also not that rich. We’re pretty much straddling that middle-class line. But still, that’s three hundred dollars straight to my pockets. It feels nice to have my own source of income.

I saved my game, put on some relatively new clothes and a pair of sandals, and rushed out of the house. I gave only a bare-bones explanation to my parents, who knew what it was about anyway. I didn’t even bother to hear their replies as I went out, because I knew what they were gonna say by heart already. Stay safe, look both ways before crossing the road, don’t get injured—more than I already am, anyway—and come back home before seven; and if you can’t come home before seven, text us immediately so that we won’t worry ourselves to death. Yeah, it’s one of the drawbacks of being an only child: you’re the only one your parents worry about, and so they worry about everything they can.

The park—if it could even be called that—was just a flat patch of trimmed grass surrounded by a few benches and terraces that the builders and owners had generously called a soccer field. It also had no official name—nothing snappy like Emirates Stadium, Allianz Arena, or the like—so everyone just called it “the park.” Come on, let’s face it; it’s a very far cry from the likes of Wembley, Camp Nou, and the Maracana. Even San Marino wouldn’t probably dare play a game in this park, even if they knew they would win against whomever it was who wanted to play them there. But it was still my team’s home ground, and I had to like it whether I really liked it or not.

As I stepped onto the sidelines of the field, I saw that the girls—twelve of them—were already on the field, doing the same drills that my coach had taught me back in high school, and the same ones that I had now passed on to them. But my eyes were then drawn towards a flash of golden blonde hair. Oh, yeah, Jules was definitely already here, and she looked like she was the one in charge during my absence, but the term “in charge” as it applied to her management of the team was… tenuous, to say the least. Remember when I was approached by the team to become their manager? Well, I managed to convince them to bring on Jules as my assistant, but it was soon painfully obvious, to me at least, that while she was a very good winger out in the field, once she was on the sidelines, Jules was painfully lacking in leadership and management skills.

“Oh, God, Jen!” Jules said as soon as she saw me. “Thank God you’re finally here!” She then ran over to me and wrapped in a bear hug that was surprising, coming from someone as small and lithe as she was.

“Oh, come on, Jules,” I said with what little air still remained in my lungs, “hugging me like that makes me think that I almost didn’t survive the crash.” Which, in retrospect, was the unbiased truth. I had looked up some statistics, and I found out that people who were thrown out of the plane during a crash had a fifty-fifty chance of living or dying. The dice had rolled in my favor when my seat had fallen out of the plane during the crash, but I was very well aware that that could have been my last moments on this earth. “But seriously now, Jules, you’re hugging me too tight,” I told her.

“What? Oh, sorry.” Jules disengaged, only realizing her own innate strength. “Oh, shit,” she muttered. “I’m sorry, Jen. You know me,” she said sheepishly. “Sometimes, I can get very emotional.”

“It’s all right,” I said, waving off her apology. “What’s going on, though? Why are there only twelve girls here? Where’s the rest of them?”

“It’s a long story, Jen,” Jules replied. “Last Thursday—the day of the crash, if I’m correct—I took care of the girls, just like you told me to do before you went to DC. It went along okay—the girls were having fun, and I was just chilling out, not knowing that my BFF had almost died just a few kilometers from where I was. And then, just fifteen minutes into the practice, these Boy Scouts showed up and said that it was their turn to use the park now.”

“No way,” I muttered.

“Yes way,” Jules said. “There was some shouting, some trash talking, and maybe even a spitball or two, I don’t know. Eventually, the girls just up and walked away, and I didn’t even do anything to stop them.” Jules was beginning to tear up now. “I can’t do anything right with these girls, Jen! I try and I try, but I know that they think I’m a shit assistant manager, and they all laugh at me behind my back, but when they really absolutely needed me, I couldn’t do anything!”

“Oh, Julia, don’t say that,” I told her as I hugged her and patted her in the back. ”You’re a good girl, Jules, remember that. And sure, you’re not the best assistant manager the girls have ever seen, but then again that’s why I’m the manager and you’re the assistant. But forget that! You’re a good girl, a good player, a good winger, and just because you’re bad at doing something doesn’t mean that you’re automatically bad at everything. In fact, because you’re bad with at least one thing means that you’re human. Nobody’s perfect, right?”

“But how about you?” Jules asked me. “You’re not absolutely shit at anything.”

“I just know how not to show it,” I replied. “Oh, come on, Jules. Don’t you remember that you had to tutor me for algebra and trigonometry because it was Fs all over the place for me when it comes to math?”

“Oh, yeah,” Jules said. “Now I remember.”

“Also, now I’m back,” I continued. “I’m here to help you help me manage the team, and if those Boy Scouts come back here looking for trouble, they’re gonna find me waiting for them.”

“Thanks, Jen, I guess,” Jules said after a few moments’ pondering. “I guess I do feel better now that you’re back.” Then she glanced at something or someone beyond my shoulder, and she said, “Speak of the devil,” she muttered. “Here come the Boy Scouts.”

A bunch of boys stepped onto the park, led by a big burly boy who looked to be twelve but was most likely just ten years old. All of the boys were wearing plain blue kits, except for their leader, who was wearing a shocking pink kit. He must be their goalkeeper, if his kit was different from all the others.

“Hey, Suzie!” the goalie boy called out. “I thought we told you that this was our park now!”

“This is a public park, Johnny,” Suzie, the girl Johnny had called out, retorted as bravely as she could. “That means anyone can use it anytime that they want. And we’re using it right now!”

“Oh, yeah? Well, we want to use it too, and we want to use it without you girls!”

Oh, man, this was so hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that there was probably definitely some kind of bullying involved here now. It was just an extension of the age-old battle between man and woman. Hmm, that reminds me of Mom and Dad. They’ve had their quarrels and fights and bickering and all that, but in the end they both got back together like nothing happened. Also, their names were Adam and Eve; Adam Carson and Eve Rivers (before she got married and took on the Carson name too, of course). Yeah, my parents are literally Adam and Eve. We’ve got this inside joke where they were gonna name me Cain or Abel or Seth if I had been a boy, but then it turned out that I was actually a girl, so they decided to name me Jennifer Yelena Carson instead.

Uh, Jen? Yemra asked. Shouldn’t you be doing something to help your girls out? Beside me, Jules’s expression mirrored Yemra’s sentiments, even though I was sure that Julia had no idea what my Yeerk was thinking about.

“All right, all right,” I told both my BFF and my Yeerk. I walked over to where the boys and girls were facing off with each other, and I stepped into no man’s land, the gap between their two groups. “Okay, what’s going on here?” I asked in what I hoped sounded like a bored tone.

“These boys are at it again, Jen!” Suzie told me, and she even pointed the accusing finger at Johnny and his boys. “They’re trying to kick us out of the park again!”

“Oh, so it’s your park now?” Johnny retorted almost immediately. “Whatever happened to this place being a public park?”

“Okay, everybody shut up!” I shouted above the screaming of two dozen prepubescent boys and girls. “I want everybody’s mouths shut unless I talk to you directly! Got it?”

Ooh, Yemra commented. You’re gonna go for the Visser approach now, aren’t you?

((That includes you, Yemra,)) I told her.

Okay. I am going to shut up now.

I turned to the big boy named Johnny. “You!” I said, pointing at him. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Johnny Medici,” he said, “but everyone calls me Gandalf because ‘You shall not pass!’ Why do you wanna know, anyway? Who are you?”

“Who I am is not important to you,” I told him. “But what you should know is that these are my girls. And if you pick on my girls, then you’re also picking on me. So, Gandalf, huh? I assume you’ve made lots of saves, judging by your looks and your name.”

“You bet I have!” Johnny the Gandalf said confidently, even puffing out his chest a little bit as he said it.

“How’s this, though?” I said. “One penalty kick. I assume you know what that is. You save my shot, my girls and I will leave you here with your precious field without a fight. However, if I make the penalty, you’ll have to leave my girls, and this place, alone. Deal?” I even stuck out my hand, putting Johnny in a bit of a bad position. If he refused, then his pals wouldn’t ever let him live it down. However, if he accepted, then there was the chance that I would beat him in the penalty. I had counted on his confidence, arrogance and pride getting the better of his decision-making, and I also let him see my cast. ((Wait for it,)) I told Yemra.

The Medici boy looked at me, then his teammates, then my cast, then back at his teammates. ((Wait for it,)) I repeated.

Oh, no, Jen, Yemra said. You’re not planning on doing that to that poor kid, right?

((Oh, yeah, Yemra, I’m gonna do it!))

Jen, it’s one thing to use the trick shot during the championship, Yemra told me. It’s another thing to use it on such a young and unknowing kid such as him!

((Well, it’s for a good cause, Yemra. I make this, then he’ll stop picking on my girls.))

But what if you miss? Or what if by some miracle, he saves your shot?

((Then we walk out of here without a fight, just like I said.))

Johnny Medici took my hand and shook it. “It’s a deal!” he said.

I took one of the balls that the girls were playing with and brought it over to the penalty spot. Everyone else had their eyes on the both of us, and even though the park was virtually empty, I had the feeling that I was about to make a vital, game-winning shot.

Yeah, sometimes, I fall into these weird moments where I imagine I’m doing big and important stuff when I’m actually just doing small and mundane stuff. Sometimes I’m weird like that.

The Medici kid was already on the goal line, jumping around in an attempt to distract me. But every goalkeeper trying to save a penalty did such antics, and so I just watched him calmly while he made an absolute ass of himself jumping around and yelling randomly and stuff.

What are you gonna do, Jen? Yemra asked me.

((Uh… bottom left corner!)) I made my run and swung my right foot hard, trying to angle the ball towards the bottom left corner just like I said. Medici totally went the other way, jumping towards the right. As the ball rolled its way to the back of the net, the cheers from Jules and my girls sounded like the cheers of an entire stadium, and I thought back to the moment when I realized that I had scored the winning goal for my high school to cinch us our second championship in a row.

“Can’t even save a penalty from a girl in a cast and daisy dukes,” I said as my girls mobbed me in celebration. I turned to Jules and said, “What did I tell you? I dealt with those boys good, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, well, thanks, Jen,” Jules replied. “Oh, and there’s someone looking for you.” She pointed up at the benches that we generously called stands, and I saw a lone woman sitting at the topmost bench. She was wearing these old school shades with the big lenses, most probably because the sun was shining high and bright over the park. But even from such a distance, and with her shades, I still managed to recognize her.

((Isn’t that the stewardess onboard the flight?)) I asked Yemra.

Yes, that is Sinan, my Yeerk replied.

((You mean Donna.))

As you like it.

“Hi,” Donna/Sinan said as I walked up to her. “We’ve met, but I don’t think we’ve been introduced to each other. I’m Donna Spencer.” She held out her hand for me to shake.

“Yeah, I guessed as much,” I said. “Jen Carson.” Meanwhile, I asked Yemra, ((Who’s in control?))

The human, Yemra replied.

((How do you even know that?))

“Yes, I remember you telling me your name when we first met,” Donna said. “And you also said something about hating the nickname Jenny.”

“Well, I’m not sure if I said it,” I replied, “but I know a certain someone who could have told you that.” I looked up at my forehead, and then Yemra showed me a mental image of a big shit-eating grin.

“Hey, Jen,” Jules called out from the bottom bench, “are you gonna come down from there or am I supposed to train the girls by myself again?”

“I think the answer’s obvious, isn’t it?” I replied with a grin. “Now go and run along with the girls, and let them see you fall down on the pitch after just one lap around.”

“Whatever, bitch,” Jules retorted, but she also had a smirk on her face. “You’ve just survived a plane crash and now you’ve found yourself a new BFF? It hurts so much, Jennifer! It hurts!” The theatrics was a nice touch on her part, but Jules and I both knew that we’re as inseparable as a peanut butter and jelly combo. Or a Yeerk and a brain.

“What’s the deal between you two?” Donna asked me once Jules was back to training the girls.

“Like she said, we’re BFFs,” I replied. “But sometimes Jules can be such a drama queen. In fact, she won our high school drama club’s best actress award because she was a very convincing Sleeping Beauty, but then she told me that she was actually really sleeping during the entirety of the play. Anyway, Donna, what brings you here to the colonies?”

“Oh, don’t talk to me like I’m an imperialist Brit,” Donna replied. “Although apparently my family’s very distantly related to Lady Diana.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. Her surname was Spencer before she went and married Prince Charles, right?”

Donna nodded her agreement. “Anyway,” she said, “have you heard the latest news about the missing passengers?”

“If you’re talking about the fact that those missing passengers were actually nothlits, then yes, I have heard the latest news.”

“Well, something new has come up once again,” Donna told me.

“What? What is it?”

“It turns out that those two nothlits were actually the ones behind the bombing of Flight 6569,” Donna said.

“What?” I blurted out. Yemra expressed the exact same sentiment, even though both of us had been thinking along similar lines just a few hours earlier. “How did they find out that it was the nothlits who were responsible?”

“Your NTSB investigators went into the apartments where the nothlits had been staying after the war,” Donna said. “They found a video where the two former Yeerks openly admitted to planning the bombing of Flight 6569. Just a few minutes after, the news agencies received the same video file from anonymous senders.” Donna shook her head. “You know what, Jen?” she told me. “You’re better off just watching it for yourself. You’ll probably understand it better that way than if I tried to tell it to you. Hang on, let me get my mobile.” She took out her cellphone from a small black purse hanging from her left shoulder. She found the video that she was looking for, and then she handed over her phone to me. “I don’t know how long it’s going to stay on Youtube before it gets taken down,” she said, “so I downloaded it as soon as I could.”

“Why would you even do that?” I asked her as I took her phone, genuinely curious.

“Call it a favor from one Controller to another,” Donna replied. “Just watch it, and then you’ll probably understand it better than I ever did.”

I pressed the play button. And it was a decision that I regretted almost immediately.

Chapter Text

Before I tell you what I saw in the video that Donna/Sinan showed me, let me give you just a quick recap of what happened before all that. While holding a practice with my team of amateur Girl Scout soccer players, Donna Spencer, the flight stewardess onboard Regional Air Flight 6569, and also incidentally a Controller, came to visit me. She told me that the two nothlits who had been onboard Flight 6569, far from being two beings just wanting to experience the miracle of human flight, had actually been the ones that tried to bring down the flight in the first place, using bombs that they had apparently strapped onto their bodies. The video that she was about to show me was supposedly the video that the two nothlits had made just before they had embarked on their one-way trip to their deaths.

I pressed the play button on Donna's phone. And almost immediately after, I regretted ever doing it in the first place.

The video began with a man and a woman sitting in front of either a camcorder or a webcam. "I am Yaheen Seven-Five-Two of the Sulp Niar Pool," the man said. "I am Cherug Two-Zero-One, of the Hett Simplat Pool," the woman continued.

"Thirteen years ago," Yaheen began, "I held the rank of Visser Eight. I was one of the leading officers of the Yeerk invasion of Earth. And thirteen years ago, following the defeat of the invasion at the hands of the humans, the Andalites, and the morph-capable humans known as the Animorphs, I was forced to become a nothlit. I was made to give up my old Yeerk body, and take on a new, human one.

"As a Visser, I was not like Esplin Nine-Four-Six-Six Prime, known more popularly as either Visser Three or Visser One, in that I tortured my hosts, or summarily executed any of my subordinates for failing the missions that I had given them. This was supposedly the main reason why I had been given the dignity of acquiring a human morph, instead of just being forced to take an animal morph.

"I have no problems or regrets with trading my Yeerk body for a human one, and so does Cherug here," Yaheen continued, indicating at the woman beside him. "Freeing ourselves from the necessity of Kandrona rays was a most… liberating experience. But I am not here to talk about life as a nothlit. No, I am here to call attention to the great betrayal that the human species, as a whole, has committed on the Yeerks.

"The government of the human politico-national entity known as the 'United States of America' has promised equal treatment for all men through their so-called 'Constitution,' and, following the ratification of the Bush-Aximili-Tarash Treaty, this treatment was supposedly extended to all other sentient and sapient beings from other planets, stars, and even dimensions, that take up residency within the sovereign territory of the United States. But this is actually not the whole truth. Yes, the Hork-Bajir have been given their own lands within the United States, and all of their species are about to be considered fellow Americans, and they are about to have their own representation in the American Congress. Yes, they have allowed the Taxxons to become snakes and anacondas, and to live the rest of their lives in the jungles of the continent of South America, finally free from the eternal hunger that not even Yeerks could control when they once infested the Taxxons. They have even allowed those Yeerks who have declared themselves members of the so-called 'peace movement' to retain their bodies, and in some cases, they have even kept the same host that they have had during the invasion!

"But what of the nothlits, those Yeerks who took on human forms out of choice or force? Nothlits like me or Cherug? Despite the promises of the Bush-Aximili-Tarash Treaty, we nothlits have not been given the same rights that the United States Constitutions says, and the Americans believe, is the very essence of their freedom. We nothlits do not have the right to vote. We do not have the right to bear arms—a particularly contentious point of disagreement among the humans themselves, I might add. We do not have the freedom to believe that which it is we want to believe, and in fact we nothlits are being constantly reminded by the atrocities and crimes that we have committed on the humans during our invasion of their planet, atrocities and crimes we have committed upon the orders of the Vissers and Sub-Vissers, the commanders and leaders of the invasion. And, most importantly, we nothlits do not have the freedom of speech, which appears to be one of the most important and treasured rights of the American people. If one nothlit tries to speak about something concerning the war, then a thousand humans will converge on him and accuse him of being an imperialist, a historical revisionist, or whatever juicy insult is the latest rage with them. Tell me, my fellow Americans, where is the equality that you so love in such an arrangement?" He practically spat out the words my fellow Americans like it was the worst insult in the history of insults.

"Today, I speak to you not as just a nothlit, but as the spokesperson of the Movement for the Provision and Protection of the Civil and Political Rights of Nothlits," Yaheen said. "Our objectives are simple. We only want to see the United States government give full civil and political rights to every Yeerk nothlit residing within its sovereign territory, and that the granting of these rights upon us are maintained, and upheld.

"It has become a firm belief of mine that the government of the United States would actually let us nothlits rot out in the streets of their cities but, in a pitiful display of so-called 'commitment' to the agreements made in the Bush-Aximili-Tarash Treaty, they have constructed settlements within their cities that are supposed to be habitation and housing for nothlits. In reality, these habitats are just combinations of ghettos and prisons. Travel in and out of these 'housing districts' is heavily regulated by the American police and military, and crime within these settlements are much higher than even the worst cities in the United States. No human policemen even bother to patrol the streets of the nothlit settlements, and nothlits are being forced to fend for themselves against the inevitable human criminal encroachment into our settlements.

"This situation of ours is very serious, if not outright deadly. But there is a stupidly simple solution to all this: give us nothlits the rights we so clearly deserve, both according to your Constitution and the articles of the Bush-Aximili-Tarash Treaty. Give us our basic sentient rights, get us out of the death traps where you have thrown us and into some real housing, and all of these problems will be solved immediately.

"All we ask for is simple: give us nothlits the rights we deserve. A civil war is brewing, my fellow Americans, and the only way to prevent it is to give us what we ask. If you do not acquiesce to our entirely reasonable demands, though, I, Yaheen Seven-Five-Two of the Sulp Niar Pool, speaking on behalf of the Nothlit Rights Movement, will be personally leading the charge against the unfair treatment of nothlits at the hands of humans."

The video ended with a simple black-and-white logo of a human head and a Yeerk side by side, encircled by the words MOVEMENT FOR THE PROVISION AND PROTECTION OF THE CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS OF NOTHLITS. Below the logo was a quotation. It said, "For universal equality is the only true equality."

"Whoa," I muttered once the video was over. "Is this legit?" I asked Donna.

"Yes, Sinan confirms that that video is very much legitimate," Donna replied. "She also says that apparently, Yaheen has combined a beshtophsan with a kavakanum."

"A what and a what?" I blurted out.

Those words have no direct translation to your language, Jen, Yemra told me, but the closest I could come up for you are "letter of demands" for beshtophsan, and 'declaration of war' for kavakanum.

((What!? A letter of demands and a declaration of war? Jesus, are these nothlits that desperate to get out of their ghettos?))

The look that Donna gave me showed that Sinan had also told her what beshtophsan and kavakanum meant. "How are the people reacting to this?" I asked her.

"What do you expect?" Donna asked rhetorically in reply. "Of course they took it for what it really was: a declaration of war. You should have seen some of the comments on Youtube. I even have a picture of one of it." Donna took her phone and called up the image that she was referring to. My Yeerk and I read the comment that Donna/Sinan had managed to capture with her phone.

REMOVE NOTHLIT REMOVE NOTHLIT remove nothlit you are worst yeerk. you are the yeerk idiot you are the yeerk smell. return to your planet. to our nothlit cousins you may come our country. you may live in the zoo… ahahahaha, Yeerk Empire we will never forgive you. body snatching rascal FUCK but fuck asshole yeerk stink empire galard galard… pool ship genocide best day of my life. take a bath of dead yeerk… ahahahahah YEERK EMPIRE WE WILL GET YOU! do not forget invasion. Yeerk empire we kill the emperor, yeerk empire return to your precious kandrona… hahahahaha idiot yeerk and nothlit smell so bad… wow i can smell it. REMOVE NOTHLIT FROM THE PREMISES. you will get caught. humanity+andalite+hork bajir+more humans = kill yeerk empire. you kill invasion/animorphs alive in california, animorphs making morph of california. fast morphs animorphs california. we are rich and have gold now hahahaha ha because of animorphs. you are poor stink yeerk… you live in a ghetto hahahaha, you live in unheated apartment.

animorphs alive number #1 in california… fuck the yeerk empire… FUCK asshole yeerks no good i spit in the mouth eye of ur Council of thirteen and vissers. animorphs alive and real strong morphers kill all the yeerk farm animal with morph magic now we the humans rule. ape of the zoo visser three fuck the great satan and lay egg this egg hatch and yeerk empire was born. stupid baby from the egg give back our bodies we will crush you like the slug you really are. Humanity greatest species.

Wow, Yemra told me once we were finished reading. You humans certainly have a way of getting your point across bluntly.

((I know, right?)) I told her. ((And to think that that copypasta used to be just about some Serbians looking to kill some Bosnians. Now we've managed to turn it into humanity's war cry. Look at the screencap! That comment's got like ten thousand likes and no dislikes at all.))

Is that bad?

((At this point, I can't say for sure, but for the sake of argument, let's just say that it is really, really bad. It's like we're telling these Nothlit Rights Movement guys to bring it on.))

Oh, crap.

I told Donna/Sinan about the conversation that Yemra and I had over the "remove nothlit" comment. The shock on Donna's face showed how much both human and Yeerk weren't expecting such a reaction from us humans.

"You Americans will really do that?" Donna asked me once I was finished speaking.

I nodded in reply. "And it's probably not just us Americans, too," I said. "Everyone else with an Internet connection or a TV that can pick up a news channel's probably gonna join in too. You British will certainly join in. The French, the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese, everyone. Have you heard of Ferguson?"

"Yes, of course," she replied. "Who hasn't?"

"Then you know what's happening around the country because of that. Multiply it by a hundred, and that's probably just the most optimistic scenario."

"What?" Donna asked as blood drained from her face in shock. All this was obviously shaking her up. Or maybe it was shaking up Sinan. Or maybe both of them? Who knows? What's your worst case scenario?" she asked me with trembling lips.

"Take the immediate aftermath of the revelation of the Yeerk invasion to the public. Multiply it by a hundred. No one involved with the Yeerks is safe: not the nothlits, even those that aren't part of the Nothlit Rights Movement; not voluntary Controllers; nobody. The Yeerk-hunting mobs will return in full force. Let me ask you one thing, Donna: do you have any friends?"

"What do you think?" Donna shook her head. "What little friends I had before left me when I decided to become a Controller."

"Wow, that's a bit harsh, isn't it? Anyway, that's both a fortunate and an unfortunate situation," I told her. "The best thing you can do for now is distance yourself from your so-called 'friends,' because they could end up throwing you to the dogs if this anti-nothlit hysteria reaches the boiling point."

"Now that's harsh, Jen," Donna told me. "What makes you think my friends will do that to me?"

"What makes you think they won't?" I retorted. "Look, my friends also know that I'm a Controller, but even I'm not sure where their loyalties are gonna lie when people begin attacking nothlits and Controllers. Look, Donna, my point is that we should living by the Scouts' motto starting right now: always prepared. Whether it's for the best or the worst, just be prepared."

"Or maybe this is all just in your overactive and hyped-up imagination," Donna told me.

You do have a quote-unquote "overactive and hyped-up" imagination, Yemra added.

"Look, Donna, Sinan, Yemra, all of you," I said. "What Yaheen and his Nothlit Rights Movement made in that video of theirs isn't something that we humans are going to treat lightly. Y'all wanna know why? It's because we think that we hold the moral high ground. The Yeerks invaded us, the humans. They forced their slimy bodies into our heads and took full control of our bodies and thoughts, and they used those they have already taken to take even more of us. But then we defeated them, and we gave some of them the choice of becoming like us by taking on human morphs, and then we gave them only what we thought they needed. They took the very essence of our freedom and free will, so now why should we feel obligated to give us the same rights that we have, now that they're all playing by our rules?

"I'm not trying to say that these nothlits are evil. In fact, I think none of them are inherently evil. And now I kinda understand where they're coming from, now that I know a little about how they've been living these past thirteen years. But they shouldn't have tried to declare war on us on our home turf. Osama bin Laden declared war on America when he sent those planes into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Ten years later, we finally found him and killed him. That was, what, three years ago now? My point is that humans in general and Americans in particular really don't like it when people go around threatening to attack them. And now that the nothlits have brought down a plane… that's basically when we're realizing that shit just got real."

"But what about the Andalites?" Donna pursued. "And the Hork-Bajir? Won't they try to stop any of this from happening?"

"The Andalites? Helping us 'lowly' humans?" I had to chuckle at that. "Dream on, Donna. They don't care about what happens to us, or how we're gonna deal with the nothlits. Besides, for an Andalite, a cinnamon bun is much more desirable than inter-species relations. As for the Hork-Bajir… well, they have spent an awful lot of time under the Yeerks' thumb. They're not exactly very keen on helping out either nothlits or Controllers."

"Well, at least the humans know the difference between a nothlit and a Controller, right?"

I sighed. "Let me tell you a little something something, Donna. Truth is the first casualty of war. And, if this does indeed escalate into a war between humans and nothlits, the difference between nothlits and Controllers is probably one of the first facts that's going to be 'conveniently forgotten.' A Yeerk is an alien, whichever way you look at it, and an alien is not a human, nor will it ever be, even if it looks like a human and acts like a human. Xenophobia will happen. But only time will tell if this xenophobia will just be isolated or if it will spread among everyone."

"What do you suppose we should do?" Donna finally asked after a few minutes of silent contemplation. Or maybe she had been talking to Sinan during that time.

"Like I said earlier, stay away from your non-Controller friends for the meantime," I repeated. "Stick with any Controllers in the area that you know. If you don't know any Controllers here, then go to the feeding center and stay there. I think they've got some free lodging for transient Controllers or something like that. Whatever's gonna happen in the next few days, we Controllers are gonna have to stick together."

Chapter Text

First of all, the good news. No Yeerks, Controllers, or nothlits were harmed in my city, at least. The bad news? The same can’t be said for the rest of the country, or at least the 48 states plus Hawaii. In the last few days since the Nothlit Rights Movement video was leaked to the public, it had gone viral, sparking dozens of pro-human rallies, demonstrations, and in some cases even riots in almost every major city in the country. Most of the time, it was just a bunch of people waving around signs and cards saying that the nothlit Yeerks were even lucky that they were allowed to live with us humans. Some were even comparing the nothlits with illegal immigrants, and were calling for their immediate deportation, although wherever they want the nothlits to be deported, I had no idea.

Meanwhile, in California, riots almost like the ones it had in 1992 broke out, due to the fact that there were a lot of Yeerks and nothlits in the area, which was understandable because their biggest invasion pool was located in that state. People were practically rushing into the nothlit housing districts and destroying everything they could lay their hands on, just like 1992. Three nothlits were already reported to be seriously injured during the riot, and there were unconfirmed reports that a man that had been mistaken for a nothlit had been lynched, with his actual species only coming out after the fact.

#removenothlit was a nationwide trending topic on Twitter. People on Facebook also began posting tips—mostly made-up—to tell apart a nothlit from a real human, and how to kill them either quickly or very painfully. But there were a few brave souls that were trying to bring common sense to the mob that was social media, telling everyone that would listen to them to not give in to their base desires of revenge and turn a deaf ear to the fearmongers. All in all, just your average social media stuff.

I was just thankful that the city where I lived wasn’t falling victim to the anti-nothlit hysteria. Being in such a peaceful environment (relatively speaking; there were still some people picketing in front of City Hall because of the nothlits) gave me time to think about the current situation. First of all, I read the Bush-Aximili-Tarash Treaty. Not the treaty itself, of course; just some bare-bones summaries of it on the Internet, and of course the obligatory Wikipedia article. From what I understood of the treaty, there were indeed clauses in it; nay, entire articles; which bound the US government “to regard, with equal status to its own citizens, all Yeerks which henceforth agree to become human nothlits and take up residency within the sovereign territory of the United States.” All the basic necessities were supposed to be available for the nothlits: food, water, shelter, work and a steady income, social security, and even health insurance. However, instead of doing that, the government just decided to build some “special housing districts” in most major cities for the nothlits, dumped them all there, and pretended like they didn’t even exist. Man, if I was a nothlit, then I would be pissed, too.

But I also had to take into account the human perspective. In his video, Yaheen said that all they wanted was what was promised to the nothlits in the Bush-Aximili-Tarash Treaty. That was understandable. But to threaten to blow up a plane when their demands weren’t met? That was already terrorism! And instead of dividing us by our opinions, the Nothlit Rights Movement—or at least its more radical members—may have actually united us against them.

The Yeerk Peace Movement (yes, it actually exists, and I think they call themselves the Human-Yeerk Alliance now) had declined to comment on the matter. However, a spokesperson of theirs did come on to 60 Minutes to speak about the NRM, and how the movement had apparently grown a radical or extremist offshoot, and with Anderson Cooper to boot! Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember much of what she said; probably something about violence not being the solution to everything. Sorry to burst your bubble, though, sis, but pacifists have been singing that same tune for since pacifism became a thing, and still we’ve got thousands of wars, murders, and general violence in the world.

After talking with me in The Park, Donna Spencer eventually decided to stay in one of those free rooms in the Human-Yeerk Alliance Community Center that they give to Controllers who were just passing by. Kind of like a transient barracks for the military. And while we weren’t actually friends already, we did survive the crash of Flight 6569, and we were both voluntary Controllers, and therefore we had a few things in common. It seemed like I had scared her with my “worst-case scenario” for the aftermath of the NRM video leak, so she was following my suggestion to cut off all contact with her other friends; at least the ones that didn’t take her decision to become a Controller well. I tried to pay her a visit once a day, since I felt responsible for her cutting herself off from her family, friends, and acquaintances.

I was waiting for Donna down by the Yeerk Pool in the community center. Yemra had to come out of my head for her three-day “regeneration,” which was left over from when she thought she still required Kandrona rays every three days to survive. Of course, now she knows that she can survive without the Kandrona, but she still comes out of my head every three days. She says that it’s to give her body a chance to contract after being stretched like thin putty all over my brain for three days. I think that either she’s just claustrophobic, or she’s afraid that if she stays in my head for more than three days, she’ll get fused to my brain, meaning that we’re stuck with each other forever and ever.

Oh, I’m sure you wish that I do end up fused to your brain if I stay in your head for more than three days, Yemra said to me as she read my thoughts.

((Oh, come on, Yems,)) I told her, calling her by the pet name that I had given to her. ((It will be beneficial for the both of us! You don’t have to come out of my head and risk getting crushed, and I’ll always have you along with me everywhere I go!))

Don’t I already go everywhere you go? Yemra asked me in reply. And don’t call me Yems! Honestly, it sounds embarrassing.

((Oh, don’t be like that,)) I told her. ((It’s not like anyone else can hear me calling you Yems. Or maybe you want me to call you Yemsy from now on?))

Oh, by the Kandrona, Jen! That’s much worse than Yems! That’s just like Yelena for you!

((The only difference between Yemsy and Yelena is that other people know that Yelena is my middle name. No one knows that Yems and Yemsy are my nicknames for you!)) I said with a mental grin.

Okay, that’s enough, Jen, Yemra said. Now I really want to get out of your head ASAP!

((All right,)) I conceded. ((But come back ASAP too!))

Yemra slithered out of my ear. Don’t miss me too much while I’m gone! She said just before she fully popped out of my head. I caught her almost as soon as her whole body was out, and I put her in a water bottle that I always brought along in case of situations like this.

I put the bottle on the table in front of me and rubbed the ear where Yemra had made her exit. Man, she had a way of making my ears itch all the way to hell whenever she came out of them.

I waited for Yemra’s latest snarky comment, and then I remembered that she was out of my head. Right at that moment, I realized how much I had gotten used to Yemra’s presence in my head. It sent a wave of loneliness through me. I’m sure that if Yemra had been my Yeerk for just the past two, three, or five years, then I wouldn’t be feeling the kind of loneliness I’m feeling right now. But thirteen years? Man, if you’ve been stuck with an alien in your head for thirteen years, then that alien might as well be a part of your body and your personality. Yemra certainly feels like she’s a natural part of my body, and I know that she’s as much a part of my personality as my own personal faiths and beliefs. Every time she’s out of my head, I feel like I’m missing a part of myself, and knowing that makes me just that little bit crankier. It’s a bit like an addiction, really. Every time Yemra infests me, I want her to stay in me forever; and whenever she’s out of my head, my mind can be all over the place.

At least she’s not feeding in the Pool itself. I would have to walk over to the infestation pier just to get her back in my head, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to do that in case of an emergency. I didn’t want to go down the river to fish her out if ever that history of ours repeated itself, but I knew deep in my heart and soul that I would do it just to keep the two of us together. Although that sounds like the kind of thing a creepy stalker would say or write down, now that I think about it.

Man, Yemra would have some kind of joke about that if she was in my head when I thought about it.

I saw Donna enter the Pool, probably to let Sinan feed. I waved at her, and she waved back at me before walking over to the feeding pier and dropping off Sinan in the Pool. Once her Yeerk was in the Pool, Donna walked over to me and took a seat in front of me. “Hey there, Jen,” she said. “Thanks for coming here once again.”

“Oh, don’t mention it,” I replied. “It’s the least I can do for you after scaring you out of your wits all those days ago.”

Donna laughed a little at that. “Yes, you did scare me and Sinan a lot back then,” she said. “Speaking of, your prediction doesn’t seem to have come true. None of my friends have handed me over to these Yeerk-hunting mobs that you speak of. In fact, I don’t think there are even any Yeerk-hunting mobs today, at least here in the city. I can’t say the same for the other places, of course, like California for example.”

“And you have no idea how I’m glad that my predictions actually didn’t come true,” I told her. “My head is quite twisted in some ways. I always assume the worst out of everyone in every situation, and as you can see, the results aren’t that pretty. It’s actually good to see that people are actually better than I sometimes assume them to be.”

“Maybe,” Donna said, nodding. “Maybe.” She then noticed the water bottle where I had placed Yemra. “Is that--?” she asked.

I nodded. “Yep, that’s Yemra,” I replied.

“What’s she doing out there?” Donna asked. “Isn’t she supposed to be in the Pool, or something?”

“I know,” I replied. “Apparently, she can survive without Kandrona rays at all. It’s a long, weird story, but that’s the truth. Yemra’s a Yeerk that can survive three days and more without the Kandrona. Imagine if people found out about that! Who knows what’s gonna happen to me just because of that?”

“Now I understand why you became a Controller,” Donna said. “You need one to keep your mad brain in check. And it can’t be just any Yeerk, too. It has to be a Yeerk that’s at least half as barmy as you are. In fact, I don’t think old Sinan over there could handle you and your hyper-active imagination!”

“I don’t know if I should take that as an insult or as a compliment,” I said honestly.

“Trust me, Jen, that’s a compliment,” Donna replied. “Rarely do you ever see a Yeerk and a host who have been together since the invasion that are as compatible as you and Yemra are.”

“Yeah, honestly, I’m surprised that Yemra and I have gotten as close as we have. I mean, she just wanted to see and feel once again, and I wasn’t even aware of the invasion until when she infested me. And look at me now! I’m missing her like I haven’t seen her for a long time. And I feel like an empty jar whenever she’s out of my head.”

“Ah,” Donna said, nodding in understanding. “I think I’ve heard about this before. There were some studies by some psychologists that showed that people who have been infested by Yeerks for at least ten years were generally sadder whenever their Yeerks were out feeding. Some of the people in the study were even reported to have exhibited behaviors almost like that of withdrawal symptoms, and further research revealed that these people were mostly those with introverted personalities.”

“Oh, that should explain it,” I said. “When I took that MBTI test, it had me as an INTP, and my introversion is like eighty percent!”

“You’re an introvert?” Donna asked me. “Sure doesn’t look like you are one.”

“I’m just a more confident speaker now than I used to be,” I replied. “Yemra’s always been there to give me that extra confidence boost.”

Donna nodded her head once again, and then the two of us stared at the undulating colors of the Yeerk Pool. “You know,” I said, finally breaking the sudden awkward silence, “it’s actually good that these Pools are now all for voluntary Controllers now.”

“Yeah,” Donna agreed. “I’ve heard the stories and read the books; how the Yeerks caged up the involuntary hosts. That was downright inhumane, that was. But then again, what can you expect from aliens?”

“I’m just glad that not everyone’s going back to the stage where attacking aliens, nothlits, and voluntary Controllers was fair game for the xenophobes.”

“But how about that Nothlit Rights Movement, though?” Donna asked. “They really think that they’ve been given the short end of the stick. The good thing is that they haven’t done anything else after they tried to blow us up.”

“And thank goodness for that,” I muttered. “I wonder what they’re planning on doing right now, though?”

“Hopefully they’ll just continue demanding their rights without threatening to blow stuff up,” Donna replied. “But if they’re planning something even bigger, then I wouldn’t want to be there when they do that.”

“I’m with you on that, sister,” I said. I then stood up and stretched my arms and legs. “Yemra should be done by now,” I muttered.

“Already?” Donna asked, looking at the water bottle where Yemra was swimming around.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told her. “Yemra’s always been a fast feeder, so to speak. We’ll be fine.” But, as I reached into the bottle to get Yemra, I felt my insides shaking. All those talk about withdrawal symptoms and the NRM’s possible next move had got me quaking all over inside. It set off this feeling in me that’s telling me to get Yemra back in my head RIGHT NOW, where I know she’s safe.

I took a deep breath and touched Yemra to my right ear. I felt her feelers moving around the hole, and then she practically shot out of my hand and into my ear canal. I felt a kind of weird pain as the Yeerk went down my ear canal, but Yemra sent out a painkiller that numbed the feeling as much as it could. As Yemra made her connections to my brain, I felt as if the parts of my body that she was making contact with were becoming more, well, alive, I guess. It’s like life itself is flowing into my limbs and feet and basically my whole body every time Yemra infests me. I know it’s weird, but I like it. Once I felt Yemra’s familiar presence touching my consciousness, I felt more secure and satisfied.

Once Yemra was firmly connected to every facet of my brain, she said, My God, Jen, you were absolutely shaking when I infested you! What gives?

((Just take a look at my memories, Yems,)) I replied. ((You’ll understand it better that way than if I just straight up told you.))

She accessed my most recent memories. Wow, she said once she was done perusing them. You’re all scared just because the nothlits have gone quiet?

((I’m just worried, not scared,)) I replied. ((And I’m not worried because of those guys. I’m worried that if something happens, we might end up separated from each other.))

Oh, man, listen to yourself speak, Jen! Yemra said. You sound like a lovesick teenager! Also, don’t worry about me, girl. Worry about yourself first!

((You’re part of me, Yemra. That means when I’m worried about myself, I also worry about you. Besides, it’s definitely much easier for the both of us if you just keep there in my skull forever. No more of that “getting out of my head every three days” business!))

Yemra laughed. You really are crazy, Jennifer Yelena Carson, she said. Sometimes even I am astonished at how much of your craziness I manage to put up with!

“Well, Donna, it looks like it’s official now,” I said. “Both you and Yemra think that I’m crazy!”

“Just don’t go around preaching it to everyone else,” Donna told me. “Some people probably won’t take it the right way.”

Chapter Text

It was a slow day in Mr. Tenkiss’s diner. It was only five o’clock in the afternoon, and yet the last customer had already left the place just about ten minutes ago. Granted, it was raining heavily outside, but then again, Mr. Tenkiss’s place is usually still packed to the gills at this time, even when it’s raining or snowing.

Yeah, aside from being the manager of those Girl Scout soccer players, I also had a part-time job in Mr. Tenkiss’s diner. Sometimes I’m a cashier; sometimes I’m the waitress taking orders, and sometimes I’m even the cook. But that rarely happens. Anyway, as I was saying, today I was at the cash register, but since no one has come in for like ten to fifteen minutes already, I was actually listening to the songs in my iPhone, trying to find some inspiration for my first book. Yeah, I’m an aspiring writer too, alongside everything I’m already doing.

The song that I was listening right now was some kind of German heavy metal song that Jude had introduced to me a few years ago. And while metal isn’t really my style, I quite like some of their songs. Especially this one, which was about how a guy mourns for the loss of his loved one, or at least that’s one way of interpreting it. It’s one of the reasons—and one that I won’t dare admit to just anybody—why I took up a German language course once. Sure, you can find dozens upon dozens of English translations of these songs online, but it’s still much better if you can just listen to it and know that you understand it without even reading some kind of translation. Yeah, a lot of these lyrics really struck a chord in me, like “Without you, I cannot be” and “Without you I am also alone.” I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a Yeerk in my head.

Hey, maybe you can use that for your story, Jen, Yemra said, bringing me out of the trance-like state that listening to music usually puts me in. It’s about a Controller who’s gotten so dependent on her Yeerk that she thinks that she might actually be addicted to her Yeerk.

((What?)) I snorted mentally. ((I’m too young to write my autobiography, Yems.))

Oh, so you think that you’re addicted to me, eh? Yemra teased. Well, there’s a shocker. Anyway, you don’t even have to say that it’s you. Just change a few details here and there and call it young adult fiction. That’s what’s selling right now, right?

((You may be onto something right there, Yems,)) I agreed. ((But I’m just kidding with the autobiography part. There’s no way I’m addicted to you.))

Yeah, right.

I took out one of my slightly used (read very, very used) notebooks from my bag, along with a pen, and put them down on the counter. I was just about to write the first sentence of my potential bestseller when the door of the diner opened, and two men walked in. They weren’t quite your average ordinary men, if you get my drift. They were both wearing overcoats too big for their bodies, leather gloves too small for their hands, scarves that would have been tacky even in the 80s, and matching fedoras or trilbies or whatever those hats are actually called. Basically, the two of them had dressed up like Al Capone’s gangsters, and they were not quite succeeding at it too.

“Can I get you guys anything?” I asked them as I yanked off my earphones.

One of the gangsters took a look at the menu above the counter and said, “Get me a turkey club.” He even spoke with some kind of accent, probably New York or Joisey. I so much wanted to tell him to drop the obviously fake accent because it wasn’t suiting him at all.

“How ‘bout you?” the man asked his friend, or buddy, or associate, or companion, or whatever you want to call it. “Whatcha want?”

“Get me a turkey club too,” the second man replied.

“I’m sorry, guys, but the turkey club is for dinner only,” I replied.

“Then why in the Kandrona did you put it on your menu?” the first man asked.

“Don’t ask me, ask the boss,” I replied.

“Bright girl,” the first guy said. “Ain’t she a bright girl, Gedis?”

“Definitely a bright girl, Temrash,” Gedis replied. Now I was quite nervous. Nobody—no human at least—would name their kids Gedis or Temrash. Those were definitely Yeerk names. And these guys in front of me were definitely Yeerk nothlits. But as to why they were dressed up like old-time gangsters, I had no idea at the moment.

By the Kandrona, Jen, Yemra said, it looks like trouble has a way of finding you whenever it wants.

((Maybe you mean us, not just me,)) I retorted. In the “privacy” of my own mind, of course.

“Hey, bright girl,” Temrash said. “What’s your name?”

I considered telling him my middle name, the dreaded Y word. But my pride got the best of me, and I obviously didn’t want some stranger calling me “Yelena”—shudder—so instead I just settled for my full first name. “It’s Jennifer,” I told Temrash.

“Jennifer,” Temrash repeated, rolling the word over his tongue, still sounding like the guinea that he most certainly wasn’t. “Beautiful name for a bright girl. Ain’t it a beautiful name, Gedis?”

“Very beautiful,” Gedis parroted.

((Fuck, Yemra,)) I told my Yeerk. ((I’m really scared right now. I have no idea of what they want or what they’re doing here in the first place.))

Just keep calm and carry on, Jen, Yemra replied. Let’s see where this is going first.

((That’s easy for you to say. No one can see you almost shitting yourself in fear.))

“So, Jennifer,” Temrash asked, “what can we eat here?”

“We’ve got spam and egg sandwiches,” I replied.

“Whatcha got to drink here?” Gedis asked. “Scotch, bourbon, whiskey, vodka, anything hard?”

“We only have water and some soda here,” I said. “Mr. Tenkiss doesn’t serve any liquor in his diner. If you want some hard drinks, then maybe you could try his bar, but’s it’s most probably not open yet.”

“Well, that’s a shame, that is,” Gedis said. “Just give us the sandwiches, and while you’re at it, why don’t you get Mr. Tenkiss here too?”

“Whatever you say, man,” I muttered. I walked over to the kitchen and knocked loudly on the wall. “Yo, Ed!” I said. “Two spam and egg sandwiches, and I need them yesterday!”

“I’m up!” Ed, the cook, said as he was startled awake by my knocks. You know it’s a very slow business day if your cook ends up sleeping on the job. Just before I left the kitchen, I heard the sizzling sound of meat being cooked on the grill. I then walked over to Mr. Tenkiss’s office, where I found him deep into balancing the books. “Boss, we’ve got a customer who wants to talk to you,” I told him.

“Really?” he asked me, not looking up from his ledgers. “Can’t you just take care of what he wants?”

“He asked for you personally.”

Mr. Tenkiss sighed. “All right, I’m coming,” he said, and he followed me out of his office. As I returned to my place behind the cash register, Mr. Tenkiss turned to our two customers and said, “How can I help you gentlemen?”

“Your girl over there says that you don’t serve any liquor here,” Gedis asked, jerking his head in my direction. “That true?”

“This is a diner, gentlemen,” Mr. Tenkiss replied. “It’s not a bar. And unfortunately we’re fresh out of Coke and Pepsi, so we’re really only serving water tonight.”

“Well, Gedis, if the owner says it, then it must be true, right?” Temrash asked.

“Maybe, Temrash,” Gedis replied. “Maybe.” Mr. Tenkiss’s eyebrows rose when he heard the two men calling themselves by name. So he knew that Gedis and Temrash weren’t human names, too. I had no idea how he would react to that, though.

“All right, give the two of us some water,” Gedis said.

“You heard the man, Jen,” Mr. Tenkiss told me. “Get them some water.”

I filled two glasses with water from the dispenser while Mr. Tenkiss walked back to his office, and I handed the glasses over to Temrash and Gedis. While Gedis sipped his water, Temrash turned to face me and said, “So, Jen’s short for Jennifer, huh? Funny. I thought you were the Jenny type of gal.”

“Please, don’t call me Jenny,” I mumbled.

“Why?” Temrash snorted. “You don’t like it, bright girl?”

((Oh, shit, Yemra,)) I thought. ((I’m really scared right now. What kind of game are they playing?))

Like I said before, don’t rush things, Yemra replied. Let’s see how things go.

((Damn it. I’ve never really liked waiting.))

Hah! Like I can’t tell.

“Spam and eggs,” Ed called out from the kitchen. He laid two plates on the window between the kitchen and the counter. As I took the plates, the smell of grilled spam and eggs tickled my nostrils, and Yemra said, If we weren’t in such a very strange situation right, I would already be fantasizing about that spam right now.

((Don’t worry, Yems,)) I replied. ((If these two nothlits just wanted to eat out and happened to look like some old-timey gangsters while they’re at it, then we’re gonna get some spam and eggs for ourselves.))

I’ll be sure to remember that, she teased.

I laid the plates down in front of Temrash and Gedis. Temrash stared at his sandwich and then lifted it up with his gloved hands. “Is this it?” he asked.

“All or nothing,” I replied. “Any complaints, take them to the cook.”

“Huh.” And then Temrash tucked into the sandwich. Beside him, Gedis did the same. They ate with their gloves on, and they ate noisily, slurping the yolk and the leftover oil in the Spam, and they chewed very loudly. I found the noise somehow disturbing, so I just stuck my earphones back in and turned up the music.

“Yo, bright girl!” Temrash called out. He clapped off the breadcrumbs on his gloves to get my attention.

“Huh?” I blurted out, yanking off my earphones again.

“Do me a favour and get your manager back here.” Almost as an afterthought, Temrash added, “And while you’re at it, get the cook up front too.”

((Oh, man,)) I thought. ((Now what?))

Just wait and see, Jen, Yemra repeated.

I knocked on the kitchen walls once again. “Ed, up front!” I called out in a much braver voice than I thought I could possibly muster. I then walked over to Mr. Tenkiss’s office, stuck my head inside, and said, “They want to talk to you again.”

“Really? Again? Come on!” But Mr. Tenkiss still went out of his office and to the counter. There, we saw that Gedis had stood up and was now standing in front of the diner door, looking out for anyone who might enter. Temrash nodded to him once Mr. Tenkiss and I were on the counter, and Gedis moved back beside him.

“All right, this is what we’re gonna do,” Temrash said. “Mr. Manager and the cook will be going to the back. Bright girl over here will stay on the counter. Gedis, take the guys out back.”

“All right, what’s this all about now?” Mr. Tenkiss asked.

Temrash opened his overcoat and revealed the butt of a pistol sticking out of the waistband of his pants. Mr. Tenkiss’s hand immediately went for his right hip before he realized that he wasn’t armed. I’d heard that Mr. Tenkiss had once been a cop in Baltimore or DC before coming up here to Pennsylvania, but I’ve never seen any proof of it until now. “Okay, man, there’s no need to be waving weapons around here now,” Mr. Tenkiss said.

“Oh, don’t worry, sir,” Temrash replied as he drew out the pistol, a Beretta 92. “We ain’t gonna use these on you. At least not yet. Now, come on! Off to the kitchen with the both of you!”

“As for you,” Temrash said, looking at me right in the eyes, “you’re gonna stay here and shoo away anyone who tries to come in here.”

“Why the hell would I do that?” I asked with more courage than I knew I had in me right now. “And what if whoever they are keep at it?”

“This is what you’re gonna tell ‘em, bright girl,” Temrash said. “You say that the cook’s out, and if they still wanna eat, tell ‘em you’re gonna cook their food, and it has to be takeout. Got that?”

As Gedis led Ed and Mr. Tenkiss into the kitchen, Temrash took the seat right in front of me and laid down his gun on the counter. “Look, bright girl, don’t look so scared at my gun,” he said to me. “Depending on what happens next, I’m not gonna use it on you or your boss or your cook. Besides, it would be an absolute waste to use it on a bright girl such as you.”

I kept quiet. It was my default danger-avoidance mode, on the quite probably faulty assumption that if I keep silent, then maybe the danger would pass and not notice me.

“Hey, Jennifer, bright girl,” Temrash called out. “You wanna know why we’re doing this?” I kept my mouth shut, as one should do in a situation such as this. “I’m-a tell you anyways,” Temrash continued. “Gedis and I are here to kill a Yeerk.” There was no hint of irony in his voice. It was like he was just stating a fact.

Uh-oh, Yemra said. Now I’m scared. I hope he’s not talking about me.

((I don’t think Temrash is talking about you, girl,)) I replied. ((And weren’t you the one that told me to just sit back and look at what happens? Why don’t you do it?))

That was before he said anything about killing Yeerks!

((You’re just a big coward like me, admit it.))

“There’s a Yeerk in this area,” Temrash continued, unaware of my conversation with my Yeerk, “goes by the name of Yibey Nine-One-Five. But sometimes he’s also known by other names. Like Ken, for instance.”

Yibey Nine-One-Five? Yemra repeated. In my mind, of course. I think I remember that name.

((You know this Yibey guy?)) I asked my Yeerk.

Yes, Jen, but it’s been so long… I wonder if he’s a nothlit, or if he’s managed to keep his real body and his host.

“Do you know this Yibey guy?” I asked, breaking my own rule of quiet compliance in danger situations.

“No,” Temrash admitted.

“Then why do you want to kill him?”

“Because he’s a traitor, that Yibey dapsen is,” Temrash replied. The hatred was dripping from his tone. “He chose to hide among you humans instead of living with his Yeerk brothers and sisters as nothlits. Yibey chose the good life of a hosted Yeerk over the suffering that we nothlits experience on a daily basis. He’s a traitor, a fucking collaborator! Fuck that dapsen!”

“Okay, I can see that you’ve got some hate for the guy,” I said, but some would be an understatement. “But still, why would you want to kill him?”

“Bright girl like you should know why by now, what with what I’ve already told you.” Temrash’s hand was on his gun once again, but he wasn’t pointing it at me yet. “And you should also know when to talk, and when not to talk,” he added with a hint of menace.

A few minutes passed, and then I saw a taxi stop right in front of the diner. The driver of the taxi hopped out and went into the diner, but not before Temrash hopped over the counter and hid behind it, gun in hand. The taxi driver walked right up to the counter, looked around, and asked me, “Where’s everybody?”

“Out,” I replied. “Cook’s sick, and Mr. Tenkiss asked me to hold down the fort for him while he’s running some errand or something.”

“Well, that’s a shame,” he said. The driver looked around once again and sighed. “Well, I gotta go,” he said. “I was looking to get something to fill my stomach, but I guess I’ll just have to wait. What the hell, it’s just thirty minutes more.” And having said that, he left the diner.

“Good job handling that guy,” Temrash told me as he rose up, jumped over the counter once again, and took his seat.

“Hey, Temrash!” Gedis shouted from the kitchen. “Is the dapsen here already?”

“Not yet, Gedis,” Temrash replied. “Traitor usually eats here at six o’clock for his dinner. He’s running late, the filshig.”

I dared to glance at the clock hanging just above the door. It was already six-fifteen PM. Shit, I thought to myself. How much longer was this going to take? If this wasn’t over any sooner, I could just end up peeing my pants out of sheer fright. And just when my period had finally ended…

More minutes passed, and another car stopped in front of the diner. The guy that got out of the car and went into the diner was Mr. Thompkins, a familiar face. He was a regular in the diner, and he looked like one of Mr. Tenkiss’s old acquaintances from when he was still a cop or something like that. Once again, Temrash jumped behind the counter to hide before Mr. Thompkins went in. Mr. Thompkins walked over to the counter and said, “Hey there, Jen. Where’s everybody?”

“Out,” I replied. “Ed called in sick, and Mr. Tenkiss asked me to watch the diner for him while he ran some errand or something.”

“Well, that’s a shame,” Mr. Thompkins replied. Oh, great. This scene was playing out almost the exact same way that it did a few minutes before. I seriously did not want to add some Groundhog Day-style shit to my already long list of problems today.

“All right, Jen,” Mr. Thompkins said. “Why don’t you just get me some of those spam and egg sandwiches of yours?”

“Okay, Mr. Thompkins,” I replied. “But I don’t make them the same way that Ed does his.”

“I’ll live,” Mr. Thompkins joked. I walked over to the kitchen and heated up the grill. Ed still had more than half a can of Spam left over from when he made Temrash and Gedis’s sandwiches an hour ago. Man, was it just an hour? It had felt like entire years had already passed by.

I sliced off some more Spam from the leftover block and put them on the grill. The smell of Spam being fried tickled my nose once again. Jen, this is your chance, Yemra said. Make us a sandwich, woman!

((Oh, come on, Yemra!)) I screamed in my mind. ((Don’t you try telling me what to do! Especially not now!))

Don’t make me take control without permission!

I tuned out Yemra and walked over to the walk-in freezer to get the eggs for the sandwiches. Just before I entered the freezer, I saw what Gedis had done to Ed and Mr. Tenkiss while I was busy shooing off would-be customers. Ed and Mr. Tenkiss had had their arms and legs bound with duct tape, and more tape was on their mouths. Gedis was standing over them covering them with his own pistol, a SIG Sauer by the looks of it. Seeing my boss and co-worker tied up like pigs to the slaughter brought mixed emotions within me. Ed was the type of guy that I expected to see being tied up by even the most inept robber. But Mr. Tenkiss? The dude’s a freaking former police officer! He even looks like Channing Tatum, for God’s sake! He should be out there, beating these two would-be killers into submission, not tied up in the back like a regular guy. Maybe he had decided that any violence now would just cause more problems for the long term, and so he decided to cooperate with the wannabe assassins.

“Come on, bright girl,” Gedis said, pointing his gun at me. “Nothing to see here.” So I walked out of the storage room with the eggs I needed for the sandwiches. And because I was already at the grill, I decided that I might just indulge Yemra with her Spam and egg sandwich, just to shut her up and not cause any more problems.

Good girl, Yemra said, showing me a mental image of a hand patting my head.

((Not now, Yeerk. I am not in the mood for your mind games!)) I flipped the Spam, added two more slices for Yemra’s sandwich, and then I cracked open the eggs and poured them in those metal rings that cooks use to shape their eggs into circles and squares and hearts instead of just letting them form into formless blobs. You know what I’m talking about.

Finally, the sandwiches were done. I put the Spam and eggs on some sliced bread and wrapped them in paper napkins before putting them in a brown bag. I held onto the third sandwich as I walked out of the kitchen and to the counter. “Sorry it took so long,” I said to Mr. Thompkins, who had taken a seat while waiting for his food.

“That’s all right, Jen,” Mr. Thompkins replied, taking the brown bag from me. “Oh, and when Eugene comes back, tell him I dropped by.”

“I will,” I said, smiling a smile so fake I might as well be wearing a mask.

“Have a good night, Jen,” Mr. Thompkins said before he left.

Oh, you have no idea how much I’m wishing for a good night right now, Mr. Thompkins, I thought to myself. ((All right, worm,)) I said to Yemra. ((Do you want to enjoy this sandwich or not?))

I didn’t say anything, Jen, Yemra replied, but yes, let’s enjoy that sandwich.

As I began to eat the sandwich that I had made, I looked at the clock once again. It was just six-thirty in the evening. Was the diner in some kind of distortion in the space-time continuum? Time seems to be running real slow in this place right now.

“Is he here already?” Gedis called out from the kitchen.

“No sign of the dapsen yet!” Temrash replied.

“Temrash, we’ve had this place under observation for weeks now!” Gedis said. “If Yibey is coming to eat, then he would have come by now! I don’t think he’s coming tonight.”

“You really think he’s not going to come, Gedis?”

“If Yibey was indeed going to eat here, then he would have definitely already arrived by now. He’s not going to come, Temrash.”

Please, please, just get out of here and leave us alone! I practically shouted in my mind. No need to be so loud about it, Jen! Yemra said. Oh, and your egg is running.

“What?” I said out loud. I looked at my sandwich and saw yellow drops of egg yolk running down my fingers and onto my jeans. “Oh, man!” I moaned. “These are JC Penney knockoffs!”

“You got a problem, bright girl?” Temrash asked.

“Shit,” I muttered. “I’m sorry,” I told Temrash. “But these were my favourite jeans. I gotta clean ‘em up.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” Temrash said, and he pointed his gun at me. I immediately raised my hands. “Nobody goes anywhere without my say-so!” he said. “Bright girl like you should know that. Now go clean yourself up with some napkins, but you’re not leaving my sight.”

“Son of a bitch,” I muttered. As soon as this ordeal was over, I was going to have to get my jeans washed, and quickly. That egg yolk would take a very, very long time to get out of the denim. I had no idea how long I wouldn’t be able to wear them. I wiped off as much of the yolk as I could with the thin paper napkins on the counter to save my knockoff designer jeans as best as I could.

Even more minutes passed, and no one else came into the diner after Mr. Thompkins. Finally, Temrash looked at the clock one more time, sighed, and said, “He’s not coming.”

“I told you he wasn’t,” Gedis said. “Now what do we do?”

“Cut them loose,” Temrash replied. “We’re not here to kill these people, just Yibey.” Temrash slipped out of his seat and stuck his gun into his pants. “Bright girl, look at me,” he told me. “You can do whatever you want after this. Call 911 or not, or whatever, we don’t care. We’re just here to do a job.” And with that warning, or reminder, or whatever it was, the two nothlits left the diner, leaving behind three confused and fearful humans, and unknown to them, one confused and fearful Yeerk.

“Well, that was odd,” Mr. Tenkiss said. “Jen, I heard that Temrash guy talking to you about why they were doing this. What did he say?”

“Temrash said that he and Gedis were gonna kill somebody,” I replied. “Some guy named Ken or Yibey or something like that.”

“Ken Fuchs?” Mr. Tenkiss asked. “Why in the world would they want to kill Ken Fuchs?”

Ken Fuchs? Yemra repeated. Now I know that I know him! So the two of them are still together, huh? Well, good for the both of them! Yibey’s one of the good Yeerks, and Ken’s one of the good humans.

((Okay, by the way you just said that, it looks like you and Yibey know each other very well,)) I said. ((Why didn’t the two of you keep in touch after the war?))

What do you think? Everyone from that part of my life thinks that I’m now dead. Also, Ken and Yibey probably wouldn’t even believe you if you walked up to them and said to them that I’m your Yeerk.

“Okay, Ed, Jen, that’s probably enough fun for all of us tonight,” Mr. Tenkiss said. “I say that everyone should just go home and try to forget about this. I’m going to tell the police about this, but I don’t think they’re gonna do much about it. No one got killed, and while they did tie us up, they didn’t really mistreat us. If anyone wants to leave now, I’m not gonna stop you.”

“Yeah, I think we should all go home now for tonight,” Ed agreed.

“I’m with you on that, bud,” I told him. “Besides, I gotta change my jeans after I dripped eggs all over them.”

“All right, guys, good night,” Mr. Tenkiss said. I took my notebook and pen, stuffed them into a plastic bag, put that plastic bag into my real bag, stuck my earphones back into my ears, and walked into the rain away from Mr. Tenkiss’s diner.

Chapter Text

It was still raining heavily by the time that I had gone out of Mr. Tenkiss’s diner. Good thing that I had brought a real jacket with me, one that was thick and had a real hood. I wore my hood over my Phillies cap, so now my head was doubly protected from the rain, just the way Mom would have wanted it. I had both of my hands tucked into the pockets of my jacket, and Rammstein was once again blasting away in my earphones. We’re all living in Amerika/Amerika ist wunderbar… Oh, yeah, America is definitely a wonderful place. It’s the only place where you can face two aliens-turned-humans seeking to kill another alien hiding inside a human’s head and walk away to tell the tale. Wunderbar, indeed.

At least the rain was soaking my jeans almost to saturation point. That would make it easier for me to wash them and get them back into my wearing cycle.

Jen? Yemra said suddenly.

((Yeah? What is it?)) I asked back nonchalantly.

I think we’re being followed.

((What?)) That stopped me right in my tracks. ((Who? Where? How? Why would someone be following us?))

I don’t know, Jen, but I can sense… whoever it is.

“Oh, crap,” I muttered physically as I slowly began to walk again. My left hand gripped the object that had been in my pocket, and even though I know it’s a biological impossibility, I thought I felt Yemra tighten her grip on my brain.

Just so you know I’m still here, she said.

((Thank you, Yems,)) I replied, genuinely meaning it. I removed my earphones as I continued walking down the road. If I was being followed, then I would very much like to hear if they were coming closer to me or not. As I walked, I heard clearly the splashes that my feet made as they waded through the puddles of rainwater, and I also felt the swaying of my hips as I continued on down the street. Strange, the things that you only notice when you feel that your life is on the line…

A hand suddenly grabbed my shoulder. I twisted away from the hand and drew out the taser in my left jacket pocket in the same motion. “Who are you and what do you want?” I shouted at my would-be attacker, making sure that the electric arc on the taser was clearly visible.

“Whoa!” the man said, raising his arms up in surrender. “Calm down now, miss!”

Wait a minute, is that—And before I knew it, Yemra had taken control of me, and without asking for permission, too! I’m sorry, Jen, she said, but I had to do it. And then, using my mouth, she said to the man before us, “Yibey?”

“How did you know my--?” The man blinked, and then he lowered his hands. “Yemra?” he asked. A hint of a smile began to form on his lips, and I could feel Yemra influencing my own mouth to do the same.

Yemra turned off the taser, put it back in my pocket, and then she ran over to the guy—Yibey, if I remember correctly—and wrapped my arms around his waist. The guy did the same to me, although he hugged me on my shoulders because he was a bit taller than I was. ((Okay, so you and this guy totally know each other well,)) I said to Yemra.

He is Yibey Nine-One-Five of the Culat Hesh Pool, Yemra confirmed, although we both knew that already since just a few minutes ago, two nothlits with the intention of killing him had turned up at the diner where I worked part-time. His host’s name is Kendrick Fuchs. Ken, for short.

((Shit, I knew that, Yems,)) I replied. ((Okay, this is getting awkward now. I hope nobody sees us like this. He looks old enough to be my dad.))

Yibey/Ken finally released me from his embrace, but he still held my shoulders in his hands. “How did you survive, Yemra?” he asked. “We saw Mallory die before we got out. How did you manage to escape?”

“You have so many questions, Yibey,” Yemra replied. Talk about déjà vu. That was like one of the first things that Yemra had told me after she infested me for the first time, all those years ago. “I can’t hope to answer them all immediately. And I’d rather that we did that out of this rain.”

“Yes, Yemra, of course,” Yibey/Ken replied. “There’s a bus stop over where we can stay.” The two—or four of us, if you’re that kind of person—walked over to the bus stop that Yibey had indicated. Once we were in the shade, Yemra took off my hood and cap, letting my soaking wet hair hang down all over my face and my back. She brushed away the strands of hair that clung to my eyes, nose, and cheeks, and tucked them behind my ears. While Yemra was doing that, I took that time to give Ken, Yibey’s host, a good look. He was a man who looked like he was nearing middle age, and he had a very high hairline. He actually looked like one of those actors from one of the shows that I like to watch. Yeah, that’s it. He looked like Will Arnett from Arrested Development.

“I still can’t believe that you’re alive, Yemra,” Yibey said. “When we saw you coming out of the diner, we thought that Mallory had somehow managed to live again. But Ken and I knew that Mallory was long dead, when the invasion was defeated. Nevertheless, we decided to follow you, and when we got close, I recognized you, even as you were within your new host.”

“Yes, of course,” Yemra replied, using my mouth and voice to speak once again. “I could sense a Yeerk nearby when you were following me, but I had no idea it was you until my host, Jen, confronted you. Oh, and I don’t know if you know this, but two nothlits were just in that diner looking to kill you. What was that all about, Yibey?”

“I don’t know, to be honest,” Yibey replied. “Why do you think I was hiding in the bushes until you came out? Did they tell you anything about themselves, why they wanted to kill me?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, they were quite open with their plans for two nothlits planning to commit a murder. I do remember them saying that they were Temrash and Gedis, respectively.”

“Temrash and Gedis, huh?” Yibey repeated as he rubbed his—Ken’s—chin. “Temrash is a common name for Yeerks, just like Iniss and Carger. I’ve met a lot of Temrashes during the invasion, but I can’t think of any one of them that would have a reason to kill me. But Gedis, though… The only Gedis I know is Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine of the Makat Dol Pool, but once again I have no idea why he would want to kill me. But enough about that for now, Yemra. How did you manage to escape Mallory and the Pool after the defeat? You have to tell me at least that!”

((Dude’s hiding something, Yems,)) I said.

I know, Jen, she replied. But I know Yibey. Just indulge him with his stalling tactics, and then I’ll ask him what’s really up.

((All right, girl. It’s your call. But everyone keeps saying that I look like your old host. Can you at least just show me what she looks like?))

Yemra sighed, and then she showed me a mental image of Mallory Brunner, her host during the Yeerk invasion of Earth. To be honest, I don’t think she looks like me. In fact, I think Mallory looks like Ariana Grande, although I’m sure that Ariana was only as old as I was during the last days of the invasion.

“It’s kind of a long story, Yibey, to use the human term,” Yemra told him. “Yes, Mallory did indeed die when the human military and the Andalites stormed the Pool underneath this city, but I managed to get out of her before she died, and somehow I managed to escape the Pool before the Andalites poured Shredder fire into it. I then ended up in the city’s sewage system, a concept that still ‘grosses out’ Jen even until now.”

((Oh, come on, Yemra,)) I said. ((Do you know what’s going through our sewers?))

“So, how did you end up with Jen?” Yibey asked.

“The sewers eventually led out to the river,” Yemra continued. “I spent four days in the river or something like that before I met Jen. Would you believe that I infested her while she was almost drowning? Sometimes, Yibey, I still can’t believe my luck.”

“Wait a minute, Yemra; did you just say that you just spent four days in a river?” Yibey asked, surprise evident on his face. “That’s supposed to be impossible! You didn’t go through Kandrona starvation?”

“I know!” Yemra replied. “I thought I was actually going through a fugue while I was in the river, but it turned out to be only my imagination! Anyway, I somehow managed to convince the human authorities that I had been Jen’s Yeerk just a few weeks before the invasion was completely defeated. And now, thirteen years later, we’re talking to each other once again.”

“Wow,” Yibey muttered. “Four days in the river, and not suffering through Kandrona starvation to boot? You really are a lucky Yeerk, Yemra Six-Four-Zero.”

“Indeed,” Yemra said. “I was almost swallowed by a fish, believe it or not!”

“Thank the Kandrona that you manage to escape, eh?”

“Yes.” Yemra went silent for a moment, and then she said, “Look, Yibey, while I really do love that we’ve managed to catch up with each other’s lives, I really do have to ask you why someone, a nothlit, even, would want to kill you.”

((Wow,)) I said. ((Right to the point, sis.))

Sometimes it is what it is, Yemra replied to me. And then, to Yibey, she said, “Earlier, you said that one of the nothlits who wanted to kill you was Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine of the Makat Dol Pool. Now, I happen to remember that Gedis was the adjutant of Visser Eighteen. Visser Eighteen was Temrash Nine-Zero-One-Seven of the Culat Hesh Pool, and he was a ruthless visser, although not at the level of either Esplin or Edriss. Despite all that, he’s still a Yeerk that the humans definitely would have wanted to be turned into a nothlit, but why he was allowed to take a human form instead of an animal one, I don’t know. I can’t remember you doing anything that would have pissed him off, as the humans say, so why would Visser Eighteen and his adjutant want to kill you?”

Yibey sighed. He ran a hand over his host’s face, and then he inhaled and began to speak. “Surely you must have seen that video of Yaheen and Cherug threatening to blow up the humans’ airplanes if they weren’t given the freedoms promised to them in an old treaty,” he said. “The Nothlit Rights Movement—or at least some of its more militant members—firmly believe that the Yeerks of the Peace Movement, those that have been allowed to retain their real forms, are part of the conspiracy to deny the nothlits their rights. They believed that the hosted Yeerks have gone native, and that they had fallen in love with the concept of living like a human among other humans. It’s the human attitude of ‘us versus them,’ and now it’s also infected the nothlits. Ken and I are in favour of giving nothlits the same rights as humans and recently Hork-Bajir have in this country, but they should not have to go around blowing up aircraft and killing humans just to get their message across.”

“Jen feels the same,” Yemra replied. “And I admit to having some reservations about giving nothlits equal rights as humans, but I know that it can be worked out. In fact, Jen’s exact words for what’s happening right now are, ‘Everyone’s entitled to believe what they want, but it’s the extremist wacko nutjobs blowing things up that ruin it for everyone else.’”

Yibey actually burst out laughing. “Oh, yes, that is true,” he finally managed to say after a minute or so of sniggering. “Ken believes the exact same thing, too,” he added.

That got some laughs from Yemra too. “Ah, yes, speaking of our hosts,” she said through her giggles, “I think that it’s time that we stopped talking and let our hosts get to know each other by themselves.”

“Yes, that is true,” Yibey replied. “We have been talking for too long ourselves.”

Yemra nodded my head, and then she returned control back to me. In front of me, Ken blinked once, and then he immediately held out his right hand. “Ken Fuchs,” he said, a grin on his face.

Don’t worry, Yemra told me. He doesn’t bite.

I gently took Ken’s hand. “Jen Carson,” I said.

“Jen, you should know that you’re very lucky to have Yemra as your Yeerk,” Ken told me. “Yibey and I have known her since we first arrived on this planet. Yemra’s a good Yeerk. She’s loyal to whatever she believes is right, and she really cares about her host. Although I have a feeling that you know about that already.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I replied. “You know, Ken, this is actually the first time that I’ve talked to someone from Yemra’s past.”

“I’m not surprised,” Ken said. “The surviving Yeerks have kept mostly to themselves immediately after the invasion, although some Yeerks are already beginning to reconnect now that thirteen years have passed, but they’re discreet about it, and they’re mostly catching up in the feeding centers. Can’t have people thinking that we’re planning a second invasion, can we?”

Even though Ken’s joke was as corny as Iowa, I laughed, both out of courtesy and because a small part of me thought that it was actually pretty damn funny.

I felt my right pocket vibrating as someone was trying to call my cellphone. Actually, it wasn’t a call, but a text from Mom, asking me if Mr. Tenkiss had sent us home early because of the rain, and if I was adequately protected. Of course, that wasn’t actually what she texted me, but you get what I’m getting at. Okay. I had five minutes to reply before she would begin calling me incessantly, so I turned to Ken and said, “I’m sorry, but I gotta go. My mom’s already looking for me.”

“All right, Jen, don’t let me keep you,” Ken replied. As I got up from the bus stop, he asked me, “How old are you? Nineteen?”

“Twenty-one, actually.”

“That strict? Have you even had a boyfriend yet?”

“Not yet, actually. I’ve had lots of crushes, but never anything as serious as a boyfriend.” I don’t know why, but something is making me open up to Ken right now. Maybe it’s because he’s a fellow Controller. But I don’t know.

“Don’t worry about it, Jen,” Ken said. “Sooner or later, your parents will eventually loosen up with you.”

“Yeah, man. I really hope that it’s sooner rather than later.”

“All right. Goodbye, Jen Carson.”

“Goodbye, Ken Fuchs,” I repeated. “Sorry for almost tasering you earlier.” Ken waved off the apology.

As I finally began walking back towards home—but after I answered Mom’s text—Yemra said, If you do finally get to have a date, I’m your chaperone. No buts, no negotiations; the decision’s final.

“Somehow I thought you were gonna say that, Yems,” I said out loud.

Chapter Text

It was raining heavily once again as I walked down the street that my house was on. The rain was soaking every fiber of my being, from my jacket to my jeans to even my bones. I couldn’t even remember the reason why I had decided to walk home from wherever I had come from. Whatever, man. I’d probably remember soon enough.

Jen, someone’s following us, Yemra told me suddenly. I can feel them following us.

I looked around, searching for my stalker, and my hand gripped the taser in my pocket just that little bit tighter. I continued walking, hearing my footsteps in the puddles a lot more clearly than I had before.

I heard more footsteps behind me. I steadied my breathing as best as I could, and then I turned around, took out the taser in my pocket, and aimed it at the general direction of whoever was following me. But he—whoever he was—he moved very quickly. In just one motion, he had taken my wrist and shook the taser out of my hand. He picked it up, turned it on, and jabbed it right at my chest. Powerful electric currents raced through my body from where the taser had made contact. I heard Yemra yelp in surprise as the electricity hit her, and soon I couldn’t even hear her anymore. I collapsed to the ground, all control of my muscles lost in the current.

I felt a pain in my ear as Yemra struggled out of my head, trying to escape the electricity. I heard a soft splash as she landed on the pooled rainwater. Then I heard footsteps. I tried to command my head to turn towards the source of the steps and eventually, through much pain, my head finally followed my orders.

I saw Yemra, a small gray slug trying to scrunch-thrust her way out of trouble. And then I saw a big black shoe near where Yemra was. The shoe then went up, and then went down hard on the struggling Yeerk.

“Yemra!” I shouted. And then I woke up, realizing in that moment that it was all just a dream, and that I had just been shouting out the name of my Yeerk out loud. I was back in my room, in my home, sitting up on my bed. My heart was practically trying to jackhammer its way out of my chest.

Jen! What’s going on!? Yemra asked, proving that she was still in my head, and that it was all a bad nightmare.

((I just had a nightmare, Yemra,)) I said. Yemra then accessed my memories and watched my dream, as it happened. Even seeing it for the second time and knowing that it was all just a dream, I still whimpered a little when I saw the black shoe crush Yemra.

Okay, Jen, calm down now, Yemra said once she was finished looking at my memories. It’s all just a dream. It’s over now. It’s okay. I’m still here. She then showed me images of her wrapped around my brain.

((I can’t stand to lose you, Yemra,)) I said as the tears flowed down my cheeks. ((I’m not the same person without you, Yemra. This Jennifer Carson would not be the same without you, Yemra. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you!))

Hush, Yemra said. Don’t talk like that, Jen. Even without me, you’re still very much Jennifer Carson.

((No, Yemra,)) I retorted. ((You’ve been with me for more than half my whole life by now. You’ve been there for everything that’s ever happened to me. You were there with me at my highest, and you were there for me when I was at my lowest. You’re practically part of my life now! You’re as important to me as breathing! I can’t lose you, Yemra!))

All right, Jen, Yemra said with a sigh. What do you want me to do?

((Stay with me, please, Yemra. Just keep talking to me. Keep reminding me that you’re still up there.))

What do you want me to talk about, Jen?

((Anything! Just let me keep hearing your voice.))

All right, Jen. And as Yemra began talking about the first thing that came to her mind, I curled up into a fetal position on my bed and cried a little more. I didn’t even pay attention to what Yemra was saying; just knowing that she was still able to talk to me was more than enough reassurance for me. I stayed in that position for what felt like an eternity but was most probably just an hour or two, crying myself dry while Yemra talked about anything and everything under the sun. Finally, after those two hours had passed, Yemra asked me, Are you okay now, Jen?

((Yeah, I think so,)) I replied. I finally mustered enough strength to get up from my bed and walk towards the bathroom. It was seven in the morning according to my phone, and weak sunlight poured in through the bathroom window. It was bright enough for me to not have to turn on the light, but it was still dark enough to say that it still just a bit after dawn. I walked over to the sink and washed my face with water. If I didn’t do that, I would end up with crusty grits in the corner of my eyes and the valleys between my cheeks and my nose.

I chanced a look at myself on the mirror. I looked like hell, to put it lightly. My hair was all messed up, but then again that was to be expected. Nobody except people in the movies and TV woke up with good hair. But my eyes were all bloodshot from all the crying I’ve been doing. My mouth was a thin grim line between my lips.

Do you see that, Jen? Yemra asked me.

((Yeah,)) I replied. ((That’s me after crying my eyes out just trying to get you to stay with me.))

Well, you’re right about that, Jen, Yemra said. But that’s not my point, actually. She took control of my right arm and pointed a finger at my head. Do you know what that is, Jen? she asked me.

((Uh, my forehead?)) I replied.

Exactly, Yemra said. And behind all that skin and bone is me, wrapped around your brain. Yemra traced a circle on my forehead with my finger. If you cut through all the skin and bone there, you’ll see me, Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool, wound like tape around your brain. Isn’t that what you want?

((I’ll take your word for it, Yemra,)) I said. ((But there’s simply no way that I’m gonna do brain surgery on myself.))

You shouldn’t do that, actually, Yemra said. Anyway, that’s where I am, and that’s where I’m always going to be. We’re already two of the closest beings on Earth. Nothing could ever have a hope of separating us. Remember that, Jen.

((Aw, Yems, that was so sweet,)) I said. ((If I could kiss you, then I would have kissed you already.))

Yeah, I don’t think I want you kissing me, Jen, Yemra said. Remember when you accidentally bit that guy’s lips when you had your first kiss?

((Don’t worry about that, Yems,)) I said. ((I certainly will try very hard not to bite your head off if I kiss you.)) And just like that, I felt all right again. Once Yemra and I were back to friendly ribbing with each other, I knew that we were both okay. I stepped out of the bathroom, combed my hair so I didn’t look like I had just woken up, and then I went downstairs to the kitchen to drink some water. When I got down there, Dad was already cooking breakfast. It looked like we were going to be having eggs and bacon today.

“You’re up early today,” Dad said as I entered the kitchen. He took out another plate, a knife and a fork, and laid them down on the table at my usual place. As he ladled eggs and bacon on my plate, he looked at me more closely. “Have you been crying?” he asked me.

“It’s nothing, Dad,” I replied. “Just a nightmare that I had.”

“Well, it can’t be just a nightmare if you cried because of it,” Dad said. He sat down and continued, “Come on, Jennifer, let’s talk. What was the nightmare about? Was it about the crash?”

I looked up at Dad and raised an eyebrow. “Look,” he said, “it’s absolutely all right to be crying about something like the plane crash. Hell, I’ve been having dreams about the crash myself, and I’ve really come close to shedding some tears because of them.”

“Look, Dad, I don’t want to talk about it, all right?” I said as my nibbled on my bacon. “Please?”

But Dad still persisted. “Was it about Yemra?” he asked.

I almost dropped my fork when I heard my father say my Yeerk’s name out loud. I mean, I have introduced Yemra to my parents, but in general, Dad acts like she’s not even there. To see him talking about Yemra just like that… well, it surprised me, to say the least. “I heard you screaming her name out earlier,” he said in reply to my unasked question. “In fact, I think the whole neighborhood heard you.”

“Was it really that loud?” I asked Dad meekly.

“Don’t worry about it, Jen, I was just exaggerating,” Dad replied, patting my hand. “Look, just because I don’t talk much about Yemra doesn’t mean that I don’t think she should be here. Jen, don’t think for one second that I don’t like Yemra, because I do like her. She’s practically a part of the family now. And I’ve noticed the impact that she’s had on your life. When you were young, you were the shyest kid that I’ve ever seen. But then Yemra came and, well, infested you, and while the changes have been gradual, I’ve noticed that you had that extra spring in your step, and that you’re now more confident and assertive. You’ve done things today that I’m sure the young you would have hesitated doing if you didn’t have Yemra in your head.”

“Well, Yemra did help me become more confident and comfortable with myself,” I said. “And it also helps a lot when you’ve always got your BFF with you.”

“I can only imagine how you feel about that kind of arrangement,” Dad said as he began to attack his scrambled egg.

“She sees everything I see, Dad,” I said. “And she knows everything I know. And she goes everywhere I go. Sometimes it gets on my nerves because, you know, some of these things are supposed to be private, like, well, going to the bathroom. Sometimes, it’s hard to pee when you know you’ve got an alien creature in your head watching everything I do—“

“Okay, Jen, we’re beginning to stray into no-go territory now,” Dad said. “Why don’t we just eat breakfast?”

“Okay, Dad,” I said with a grin. “I’m shutting up now.” But even as I began tucking into my bacon and eggs, I turned to Yemra and said, ((See? Even my dad agrees that you’ve become a very important part of my life.))

All right, all right, Yemra sighed. I will admit defeat, for the moment. Now stop gloating and eat your food.

I had to concentrate really hard not to laugh at that. Man, it felt really good to be able to laugh after all that happened just when I woke up.

Chapter Text

It was just a day after I had that nightmare in which I thought I had lost Yemra forever. Unfortunately, today was also the day that Yemra had to come out of my head to “reconstitute” herself, or so she says. Usually we did that in the comfort of my own room, but today Yemra had decided that she wanted to visit the feeding center, for what purpose she wouldn’t tell me. Of course, I protested, since it was just a day after I had that nightmare where I saw her get crushed by someone’s foot, and the memories of that bad dream were still fresh in my mind. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t easily forget stuff like that, which I am, then those bad memories will be stuck in your head for a long, long time.

Oh, come on, Jen, it’s the middle of the day! Yemra told me as we were walking over to the feeding center. No one’s gonna go to the Pool to pluck me out and squash me right in front of you!

((But still, Yemra, I don’t want to take that risk!)) I replied. One of the few disadvantages that humans had when it comes to Yeerks is that a Yeerk can immediately take over its host’s functions whenever it wanted, while the human was powerless to take control back from the Yeerk. It’s one of the many reasons why people are still distrustful of the humans that wanted to become Controllers and those Controllers that decided to stay with their Yeerk after the war. Sure, there was some kind of chemical or something that was currently making waves because its makers claimed that it could help humans regain control of their bodies from their Yeerks if some kind of situation that required that kind of change in control was needed. It was confusing, honestly, and I’m not the kind of person that could stand confusing.

When I had refused to go to the feeding center as part of Yemra’s “experiment,” she just up and took over without my permission. She made me take some of my notebooks and pens and then she returned control to me once we were already within sight of the feeding center. That was just one of a handful of times that Yemra had forcefully taken control of my body, but this was the first time where she didn’t give me any warning at all, she just went and took over.

That brief glimpse of life as an involuntary Controller made me see why there were still people who didn’t trust the Yeerks, even the ones in the Peace Movement. Even though they did not forcefully take over their hosts’ functions, they still had the capacity to do it, and that was what was making people still nervous and edgy about them.

Look, Jen, I’m only doing this because if you had your way, then you wouldn’t even let me out of your head anymore, Yemra said. Besides, it’s only going to be two hours of me wading in the Pool, maybe gathering some gossip from the other Yeerks in there. Besides, you’ve got your stories to occupy your time!

((But I don’t want my stories, Yemra, I want you!)) I replied.

Oh, don’t be such a crybaby, Jen, Yemra said. Besides, who knows what will happen to me if I stay in your head for more than three days. I could end up getting permanently attached to your brain!

((That’s even better, Yemra!)) I said. ((That way we’re stuck with each other for the rest of our lives!))

Oh, by the Kandrona, no! Please! I can’t stand being in close proximity to your crazy brain for more than three days!

((Oh, so that’s the real reason why you won’t stay in me for more than three days. You don’t think you can handle twelve consecutive years of being right next to my crazy?))

Puh-lease, Jen! I’m actually the one that reins in your innate craziness to normal and acceptable standards! Without me you’d probably already be locked up in some mental hospital or whatever their politically correct name is now! Besides, it’s probably good for the both of us if you got used to me being out of your head for extended periods of time. It’s a good way to dissuade you that you’ve got an addiction to me.

((I’m telling you, Yemra, I’m not just imagining it. I really am addicted to you!)) I protested. ((You’ve seen what happens to me when I’m faced with the possibility of losing you forever. I’m a wreck if I don’t have you!))

Don’t talk like that, Jen; I’m telling you. But before I could reply, we were already at the Yeerk pool inside the Human-Yeerk Friendship and Community Center. I knelt down on the feeding pier and waited as Yemra disengaged from my brain and plopped out in the Pool. Of course I felt a little resentment towards her because of the things that we’d just talked about, but then I remembered how lonely I felt whenever she was out “feeding,” and so whatever resentment I may have felt for her was quickly replaced by a longing feeling in me wanting her immediate return into my head.

Since I was already there in the feeding center, I decided to indulge Yemra and wait for some time before coming back for her. When you’re a writer, times flies fast, and sometimes that can be a good thing.

Yemra’s somewhat twisted sense of humor had struck again. The notebook that she had made me bring was the one where I had written that story about the girl who thought she was addicted to her Yeerk. How ironic or coincidental is that? Thanks for keeping my mind off of you while you’re feeding, Yemra, I thought. Real classy.

Since I was in the right frame of mind anyway, I decided to go on ahead with my story about the Controller who thought she was addicted to her Yeerk for all the right and wrong reasons. And apparently my muse was with me because I somehow ended up producing some long-winded ramblings which overall gist was that my character—obviously based on yours truly—absolutely loves her Yeerk so much that she can’t stand the thought of being separated from her, and she therefore starts hating her Yeerk for turning her into such a person. There was a lot of raving and ranting, and some shouting and swearing, but basically it’s just me angsting.

I was so engrossed in my story that I didn’t realize that two hours had already passed since Yemra went out of my head. Of course I had stopped for a few moments to buy some snacks and drinks, but it wasn’t like I hadn’t looked at my watch the entire time that I was working on my story. So when I finally noticed that two hours had passed, I almost yelled both in surprise and happiness. Additional proof that time flies when you’re having fun. At least now I’ll have Yemra back in my head once again.

See, Jen? Yemra asked me once she was fully connected to my brain once again. That wasn’t so hard, was it now? That’s proof that you’re not actually addicted to me.

((Oh, come on, that wasn’t fair!)) I replied. ((First, you took control of me when I wouldn’t indulge you in your little “experiment,” and then you used my own stories to distract me from missing you!))

But it worked, didn’t it?

((I guess so,)) I conceded.

Look on the bright side, Jen. Now you’ve got three whole days to bombard me with your absolute craziest!

((I’ll be sure to do that, Yems,)) I replied. ((As soon as we’re back home.))

We went out of the Pool area and went up to the ground floor. The area that could be called the lobby of the community center was lined with shops that could be considered the standard fare for community centers like this one. There were food stalls, cheap clothing boutiques and maybe some cheap stationery supplies and a second-hand bookshop. Now that my Yeerk was back safe and sound in my head, I was feeling much better, but I still hadn’t forgiven Yemra for forcefully taking control from me just a few hours ago. But it wasn’t like she was enslaving me, so I was pretty sure that I would end up forgiving her for that in just a few more hours too.

Also, since Yemra was back in my head and would stay there for at least three more days, I could now look forward to those three days. Some of my friends had invited me to go out with them later tonight. It would be a good chance to get out of the house and just have some fun.

Little did I know that those plans were about to come flying out of the window.

I was just a few paces away from the community center’s exit when I noticed this dude just about to come in. I don’t know why my eyes felt drawn to him. Maybe it was the way that he carried himself; maybe it was his clothes. I just don’t know. And then, suddenly, he reached into his jacket, pulled out a gun, brought it up to eye level and fired.

My reaction at seeing a gun being pointed in my general direction was automatic, almost reflexive. I bent my body and dived low and to the right towards the nearest available cover. There weren’t a lot of people inside the community center, but once the gunman fired his first shot, the panic and chaos that immediately followed was almost deafening in its intensity. People went every which way in their rush to escape the terror that had suddenly come upon them. The gunman fired at least four more shots, and I heard the distinctive sound of four bodies hitting the floor. People everywhere were screaming: they were screaming in pain; they were screaming for help; they were screaming because there was nothing else that they could do. It was deafening and maddening, and it was especially deafening when you’ve got a Yeerk in your head screaming along with them.

((Yemra, for the love of God, shut up!)) I tried to shout mentally above her shrieking, which oddly enough sounded like a little girl’s scream. All the while I was trying to squeeze myself behind an upturned table in a café that served some kind of cheap Starbucks rip-off coffee.

Oh, shit, Jen, I’m sorry! Yemra said in apology. Her thoughtspeak sounded quite raw after having expended most of it in screaming her imaginary lungs out. I got a bit carried away, she said.

((That’s the first time that I’ve heard you say sorry and mean it,)) I thought, a bit sarcastically of course. But even as I said those words, I noticed a woman standing in the middle of the concourse, like a paper target in a shooting range. She looked like a target just waiting to be hit because, honestly, that was what she was right there, a sitting duck in a shooting range that was the community center concourse.

Maybe one day, aliens like Yemra will finally understand why humans do the things we do. But I don’t think such a thing would be likely today, since even the humans who do the things that make them ask such questions can’t easily answer those questions. Take me, for example. I could have just yelled at that woman to take cover. It was the safe and reasonable thing for me to do. In doing so, I would have remained in my cover, safe and sound, never risking life or limb. But sometimes humans like to go for the risky and dangerous options. Maybe it was for the adrenaline rush. Maybe it was the thought of playing with your own life that makes them tick. Nobody knows, actually.

I tightened up my bag’s shoulder strap to keep my bag close to my body. I then lifted myself up to a crouching position, kind of like a runner preparing for a sprint around the track, and breathed in deeply.

Jen, what are you doing? Yemra asked.

((I’m going to save a life,)) I replied matter-of-factly.

I launched myself from behind my cover, my legs acting like springs that brought me both upwards and forwards. I used my forward momentum to break out on a run, right towards the woman in the middle of the community center concourse. I admit that I wouldn’t be able to beat Usain Bolt in a competition, but for a soccer forward player, my sprint and pace were good enough.

As I neared the woman, I bent my body forwards and shrugged my shoulders. I was already a bit short for my age, but this woman was probably half a head shorter than I was, so I had to bend myself really, really low.

I hit the woman in her midsection with my right shoulder, which absorbed most of the impact on my part. It was a classic football tackle, and it would have done my dad and cousin Jude—both football fanatics—proud. As we fell towards the floor, I felt a bullet whizz by the spot where the woman’s head had been just a second or so ago. The passing shock wave of the bullet rippled the top of my head, and Yemra actually yelped in surprised fear. Or was that supposed to be fearful surprise?

The woman and I laid down on the ground, and then I half-carried, half-shoved her towards the nearest store that I could see, some kind of bookshop for second-hand books and the like. I pushed her behind the first bookshelf in there that I saw, and then I followed her soon after.

Shit! Yemra said. That one almost killed me!

((Oh, so it’s all about you now once again, huh?)) I said. ((I could have had a hole blown through my skull too! Not to mention that we’d both be dead if that bullet got you.))

Oh, shush, Jen, Yemra said. You’ll get over it.

Well, she was right in a way. I can’t help being a bit sarcastic, even in life-or-death situations. It’s kind of in my blood.

Meanwhile, I turned to the woman whom I had just saved and asked her, “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Thanks for saving me back there.”

“It’s nothing,” I said. “You’d probably do the same thing in my place.”

“Maybe,” she replied, with a hint of hesitation. “But I’m sure it wouldn’t be like the way you just saved me. I never was good at athletics.”

“Let me guess; you were one of the last kids to be picked for the teams during gym class.”

“You guessed right.”

I held out my hand. “Jen,” I said. Since we were probably going to be stuck behind this bookshelf for the foreseeable future, we might as well get acquainted with each other. Also, I did save her life, after all.

She took my hand and shook it. “Emily,” she replied.

“Are you a Controller?” I asked. “Or are you just tagging along with a friend?” In any other context, if I asked someone if she was a Controller then that might be considered rude, but since we were in the Human-Yeerk Friendship and Community Center, I was with a more open-minded bunch.

“I’m a Controller,” Emily replied matter-of-factly. “How about you, Jen?” she asked me. “Are you a Controller, too?”

“Since I was nine,” I replied. “Or maybe when I was eight. It was all so long ago that I can’t remember exactly how old I was when it happened.”

“That young? Were you voluntary?”

“It’s a long story,” I replied. Both Yemra and I noticed the look of intense curiosity that Emily gave us when I had told her that I had been a Controller since I was eight or nine. But my gut was telling me to not ask about it just yet. At least, not as long as we were stuck inside the community center Die Hard-style. Not that I had any illusions of being some kind of John McClane or something like that.

“You just fed?” I asked Emily. “Or were you about to feed?”

“Thankfully, my Yeerk had just finished feeding when all this happened,” Emily replied. “Why? Was your Yeerk just about to feed before this?”

“Nah,” I replied. “Good thing she also just finished feeding before this shit happened.” As I said shit, I noticed Emily wince just a little bit. I let out a big and quite possibly exaggerated sigh. “Oh, come on!” I said to no one in particular. “First there was that guy who shot up Ottawa, and then that guy in Sydney that held up that café, and of course there was that attack in Paris! Is going postal the new in thing now or what?”

“If it helps, Jen,” Emily said, “I don’t think that man is inspired by radical Islamist fundamentalism.”

“You think so?” I asked her.

“Well, either that or he decided to hit the first public place that he saw.”

“Christ, that’s a thought to chill you to the bone,” I muttered. And then another thought struck me. “Do you think this could be motivated by the Nothlit Rights Movement attacks?” I asked her.

“Who knows, Jen?” Emily replied. “Maybe he has issues with Controllers. Maybe he’s a nothlit, trying to kill as many as his quote-unquote traitor brethren before the police get onto him.”

“You really think he’s a nothlit out to kill those who remained Yeerks and got hosts?”

“That is possible,” Emily conceded. “But then again, nobody knows I’m here. I’ve made sure of that.”

I gave Emily a closer look. There was something about her that really got my interest. “You know, you look familiar,” I told Emily. “Have I seen you anywhere before?”

“If you’ve seen me before, then it’s surely not because I’m from here,” Emily said. “Perhaps you’ve seen me on the news or on the Internet. I will tell you this, Jen. Once I tell you who I really am, then you’ll probably kick yourself for not recognizing me.”

Uh-oh, Yemra said. I sense a big revelation of some kind coming. Gah! The suspense is killing me! Ask her already!

“Who are you, Emily?” I asked. “Really?”

“I am Tarash Five-One-Four, founder of the Yeerk Peace Movement. And I am the reason why you and your Yeerk are still together.”

Chapter Text


“Nuh-uh,” Jen said. “No way you’ve got Tarash in your head. You’re pulling my leg now, Emily.” But even as she said it, we slowly both came to realize that Emily was indeed speaking the truth when she said that she was the host of Tarash Five-One-Four. We had seen Tarash in Emily in pictures of the Bush-Aximili-Tarash Treaty that we looked up just some time after the crash. And she had also been on TV being interviewed by the human called Anderson Cooper for the “news program” on human television called “60 Minutes.” By the Great Kandrona itself! Jennifer Carson, my host, had just saved Tarash Five-One-Four and her host from certain death without realizing it!

“Believe it, Jen,” Emily/Tarash told us. “Here I am, the founder of the Yeerk peace movement in the flesh.”

“No way,” Jen muttered once again. “I thought Aftran was the founder of the peace movement. The books said so!”

“A necessary lie,” Emily/Tarash conceded. “Besides, the Animorphs were active mostly in California. And there is some sort of funny irony in having the assumed founder of the peace movement vanish into thin air, like what happened Lore David Altman. It also allowed us to operate behind the scenes without interference.”

I had to admit that there as a certain genius in letting others assume that it was Aftran Nine-Four-Two that had founded the peace movement, and not Tarash Five-One-Four. Even Jen was in agreement with me. In her words, it was a very neat bit of misdirection. ((Some people really do love their decoys,)) Jen told me.

“Anyway, since I’ve introduced myself to you,” Tarash said in Emily’s voice, “I think it should be fitting that your Yeerk introduce herself as well. With your permission?”

Oh, by the Kandrona, Jen, please do! I said. Come on, let me see her, touch her, talk to her myself!

((Oh, man, Yems, you sound like a fangirl about to meet her biggest idol!)) Jen replied. ((Besides, we both know that unless you and Tarash pop out of our heads, you’ll never be able to talk directly.))

Oh, who cares about being literal, Jennifer? I retorted. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! It’s not every day that you get to meet one of the Yeerks that allowed the two of us to live in peace after the end of the war!

((Okay, Yems, I get that she’s the real founder of the peace movement,)) Jen said, ((but what did she have to do with Yeerks and hosts staying together after the war?))

Hello! Bush-Aximili-Tarash Treaty?

((Oh, right,)) Jen muttered. ((All right, fine, Yemra, you can have full control. Just promise me that you won’t go--))

I took control of Jen in a blink of her eyes, and soon I was just positively gushing in admiration over Tarash. ((--full retard,)) Jen trailed off.

“It is a great honor to finally meet you, Tarash—er, Visser,” I said using Jen’s voice. I even took Emily’s hands in Jen’s. I hoped they wouldn’t mind what we were doing to them.

“Please, you can just call me Tarash…” Tarash trailed off, waiting for me to introduce myself.

“Oh, of course,” I said. “I am Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool. Listen, I know you probably already got this thousands of times from other hosted Yeerks, but I just wanted to thank you for all of the efforts that you’ve made to make voluntary symbiosis between humans and Yeerks possible.”

((Jesus H. Christ, Yemra, can you even hear yourself talking?)) Jen asked me. ((You’re practically grovelling at Tarash’s feet!))

I know, I told her matter-of-factly. And I don’t even care!

“Yes, I have indeed received much of the same compliments from almost every symbiont that I have met,” Tarash said. “They have tended to say the same things you have said whenever they’ve met me for the first time. And while I am glad to see and hear from people who have benefited from my work, I do believe that we should be focusing on how we are going to survive what is happening right now.”

“Yeah, about that…” I said. “I have no idea how to survive in a situation like this, but Jen might.” Then to Jen herself, I said, You better have something, Jen. I’m getting a little bit nervous about this myself.

((Okay,)) Jen replied. ((Ask her if she’s got her cellphone on her or something.))

I asked Emily/Tarash. “How is that going to help us?” she asked.

“She wants to make a call,” I said. “Jen, I mean.”

((Okay, Yemra, get my phone from my pocket and dial the number I’m about to tell you,)) Jen told me. As I reached for Jen’s cellphone, she gave me a three-digit number. ((That shouldn’t be too hard for you to memorize.))

Ha-ha-ha, I told Jen. I dialled the number that Jen had given me on her phone and put it up to my ear. The line rang once, and then a female voice picked up and said, “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

((Tell her there’s a guy in the Yeerk community center who’s got a gun and is shooting everyone he sees,)) Jen said.

“There’s a guy in the Yeerk community center, and he’s got a gun!” I told the 911 lady. “He’s shooting at everyone he sees! I’m lucky I got away, but he’s still shooting up the place. I don’t know how many people he’s shot already.”

“Yeah, ma’am, we’re well aware of the situation there in the community center,” the woman replied. “We’ve already dispatched units there as we speak. We will deal with the situation as fast as possible.”

“Checking it out?” I repeated angrily. “People are dying out here!” Right at that moment, another shot rang out in the community center, followed by the pained scream of the woman who had been hit. “Did you hear that?” I asked the 911 woman. “Don’t you think that’s enough to get you dealing with the situation as fast as you can?”

“Look, ma’am, I’m sorry, but we’re just following procedure,” the operator apologized. “We are well aware that there’s a gunman in the Human-Yeerk Friendship Center, but we still have to go through the stages of escalation before we can do anything against him. Please try to stay calm.”

((You heard the lady, Yemra,)) Jen said. ((I think you need to calm down a little. They don’t take it lightly whenever their callers get angry at them. And your shouting might attract the shooter!))

I’m sorry, Jen, I told Jen, not very apologetically. Sometimes I just hate your human bureaucracy.

Right then we heard heavy footsteps walking down the community center’s lobby. It wasn’t the panicked run of a fleeing survivor, but the steady and measured walk of a man who was out for blood. The shooter.

“Who is it?” Emily/Tarash asked us in a hoarse whisper. “What’s he doing?”

I put my fingers to my lips, the universal gesture for silence. Emily/Tarash nodded, and I nodded back and poked my head from behind the bookshelf just a little. The shooter was facing the cheap Starbucks knockoff shop where Jen had hid just before she had tackled and saved Emily and Tarash. He was holding up a pistol, a Beretta 92 according to Jen, and he was pointing it at the coffee shop. He said, “Everybody out! Get out of there or I will shoot!” Both the voice and the gun seemed oddly familiar, but Jen and I couldn’t quite put our finger on it. Jen’s brain was too busy trying to find a way out of the situation that there simply was no time to invest in memory recollection.

When no one from within the coffee shop responded, the shooter fired his gun. Another scream, from a man this time, rang out from within the now-silent community center, but I also happened to hear the sound of the ejected casing clattering on the ground. Wow. The human body’s senses really do become more sensitive when that chemical called adrenaline is introduced into the bloodstream.

“Once more, I ask everyone hiding in this establishment to come out of your hiding places and go to the lobby,” the gunman said in an icy tone. “Or else I will come in there and shoot all of you myself, one by one.”

((Jesus H. Christ!)) Jen said. ((Whatever his cause is, he’s one very dedicated motherfucker.))

We heard more footsteps, this time coming from within the shop. I saw a few people coming out of the shop, hands and arms raised up in the air.

“A wise choice,” the gunman said. “Now walk over there and kneel.” He pointed his gun at where he wanted his captives to go and kneel down, over to the stairs leading to the Yeerk pool.

“What’s going on?” Emily/Tarash asked me.

“I don’t know too,” I replied truthfully.

“Wait a minute!” an elderly man said to the shooter. “We did what you wanted! We came out of the shop peacefully, just like you asked! Are you still going to kill us?”

The gunman hit the elderly man in the face with his gun. The elderly man fell to the ground, hands on his bleeding temple. A man who was about Jen’s father’s age and a female teenager went over to the elderly man to help him.

“No one is allowed to speak to me again,” the gunman said. “But, to answer your question, no, I will not kill you. Yet. But you will all serve to delay the police’s response against me for as long as I tell you to.”

((Oh, my God!)) Jen said. ((He’s gonna turn them into human shields!))

It seems that that is what the gunman has planned for them, I told her.

As the gunman turned to escort his hostages, I pulled my head back to our hiding place behind the bookcase. ((Okay, now’s the time to really get the hell out of Dodge,)) Jen said. ((Here’s the plan, Yems. Once the guy takes the hostages down to the pool, we’re going to make a run for the door. Go and tell Emily and Tarash about it.))

After I had told Emily and Tarash about Jen’s escape plan, they gave me a look that made me think that Jen and I had just become a little bit dumber in their view. “Run for the door?” Emily asked me. “What kind of a plan is that?”

“It’s the only one Jen can come up with right now,” I replied. “I don’t have any better ideas. Do you?” When Emily shook her head, Jen muttered, ((Thought so.))

“We are seriously going to be running for the exit?” Emily asked me once again.

“It’s just eight steps to the door from the bookshop, or at least that’s what Jen says,” I said. “Eight steps to freedom, or so she says.”

“What about the police outside? What if they shoot us by mistake?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen. I mean, look at us. We’re two girls dressed in casual clothes. We’re not exactly mad gunman material, are we?”

“No, I guess not,” Emily/Tarash conceded. “But what if the shooter turns around when we make our run?”

((Shit,)) Jen said. ((I hadn’t thought about that.))

“It’s a risk we’re just going to have to take,” I said. Emily and Tarash didn’t seem convinced. That was all right. I don’t think I’ve convinced even myself. I know Jen was surely not convinced.

“Move,” the gunman told his hostages. When no one seemed to move, he fired a shot into the air. “Next time, I will kill one of you,” he said. That finally got the hostages moving. Their footsteps echoed down the now-mostly-empty lobby.

I stood up, still hiding behind the bookcase, and Emily/Tarash followed suit. I returned control back to Jen, and she said, “On my signal,” she said to Emily/Tarash, “run.” She waited until the footsteps had receded into the distance, and then she said, “Go!” She pushed Emily in front of her, and then we followed and began our mad dash for the door, towards the police, towards safety. However, just before we broke out on a flat-out run, we heard a voice that made our blood run cold.

“And just where do you two think you’re going?”

Emily and Jen stopped cold on their tracks. ”That’s right, I’m talking to you two,” the gunman called out to us. “Where do you think are you going? Put your hands in the air, turn around slowly, and face me.”

“Shit!” Jen said under her breath. ((I knew this kind of fucked-up shit was going to happen,)) she told me. Slowly, she and Emily complied with the gunman’s orders. Jen moved between Emily and the gunman, and I swear I had nothing to do with that. And then when Jen finally turned to face the gunman, her heart quite literally stopped beating and then began beating as fast as a jackhammer. I think my heart would have done the same if I had one.

It was Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine, would-be killer of Yibey Nine-One-Five and Ken Fuchs.

Chapter Text


Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine recognized me at the same moment that I recognized him. A smile slowly formed on his lips once he had figured out when and where he had last seen me before. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t bright girl,” he said. “I never thought you were the type to consort with my traitorous brethren.”

“Do you know him?” Emily asked me. “He seems to know you very well.”

“It’s a long story,” I told her.

“Such a shame about you, bright girl, really,” Gedis continued. “I would really like to let you live, but sadly I can’t do that now, not with one of my traitorous brothers and sisters hiding behind that pretty face of yours.”

“Why are you doing this, Gedis?” I asked him. “Why do you want to kill Yeerks with hosts? Are you one of those Nothlit Rights guys?”

Gedis fired his gun into the air as a warning shot. “Do not speak of that which you do not understand!” he shouted at me. “What do you know of our movement, our noble cause? What do you know aside from the vile slander that that filthy dapsen slug in your head has been feeding you?”

“Then tell me!” I said. “Make me understand!” My God, is this what being a police negotiator is like? Good thing I never wanted to be one.

“Make you understand?” Gedis let out a harsh barking laugh. “While you’ve got one of those filthy collaborators in your head? Please! Bright girl such as you should know that your Yeerk will just color everything I say!”

“I’ll let her out of my head,” I offered. “If that’s what will make you talk.” Please, dear God, don’t make him say yes, I thought.

“No,” Gedis replied. “You might as well keep your slug,” he said with a sneer. “That way she can hear firsthand the truth I am about to deliver.”

“When you humans defeated us with the aid of those filshig Andalites,” Gedis said, “you forced a lot of the defeated into becoming trapped in your species’ bodies. To be honest, a lot of us were glad to be finally free of the need of the Kandrona. But what we nothlits find unacceptable is the fact that while we nothlits had been all but abandoned to ourselves by your government, the Yeerks that had declared themselves to be of the peace movement havee been allowed to keep their original forms, and by extension they now have the same rights as their hosts! Tell me, bright girl, where is the equality in that?”

“Wait a minute,” I said, feeling a very microscopic and quite possibly imaginary seed of confidence taking root in my gut. “So all this is just about because you nothlits feel like you’ve got the short end of the stick? Why do you have to kill people just to get your message across? Why not just sit down and talk to us about it?”

“Do you think your government will listen to the nothlits?” Gedis asked, his fingers turning white as he gripped his pistol tightly in anger. “Of course the government will listen to the nothlits! They will listen just as surely as Russia will withdraw from Ukraine! They will listen to us as surely as China will finally give Hong Kong actual democracy! They will listen to us as surely as the Islamic State will accept a peace treaty brokered by Israel!”

Okay. For an alien stuck in a human body, he sure knows a lot about what’s happening in the world right now.

“Do you want to know why your government will not listen to us nothlits?” Gedis continued. “This is because there are humans and Yeerks that feed your government lies and slander about the nothlits! There is a plot to kill every living nothlit in the United States! They want to get rid of the prisoners that they received after the end of the war. Less nothlits mean less mouths to feed, not that you’ve been feeding us much for the past thirteen years. And one of those responsible for the plot is standing right behind you.”

I turned slowly towards Emily and Tarash. Somehow, despite all the craziness going on around me, I just couldn’t see her, or them, as being possibly behind some kind of nefarious anti-nothlit plot that was most probably just cooked up by some very crazy nothlits that had had a little too much mary jane. “Who? Her?” I asked Gedis, pointing at Emily/Tarash.

“Yes, indeed she is,” Gedis replied. “Hello, Visser Five,” he said to Emily. “Or should I call you by your host’s name now? To think that I used to look up to you back in the day. I should have seen it back then. The ratio of voluntary hosts to involuntary ones in this area was unbelievable: twenty voluntaries per involuntary! The next best thing the others could only achieve was ten voluntaries to one involuntary. And then, after the war, Visser Eighteen and I found out that you, Tarash Five-One-Four, Visser Five of the Yeerk Empire, was actually the founder and leader of the ‘peace movement’ collaborators! Right then and there, we realized that no nothlits can have equal rights with the humans until we have eliminated the traitors, the collaborators working against their fellow brother and sister Yeerks.”

By then the group of hostages that Gedis had ordered to the Yeerk pool to serve as his human shields had stopped in their tracks and were watching the three of us. I felt Emily stiffen a little behind, and when she spoke, I knew that Tarash had taken control of her. “There is no plot to eliminate the nothlits,” she said. “Not from the peace movement, anyway. Nor has there been any. The Human-Yeerk Alliance is actually working with the human Congress to give you nothlits the rights that you have asked for. Why would you have to kill me to get those rights? Or all the other people in here, for that matter?”

“Of course, that is what you’re going to say in front of all these humans and the collaborator slugs inside their heads,” Gedis said. “All the more reason to kill you, to get rid of your poisonous slander and lies once and for all. Do you have any last words, Visser? Perhaps I should start first. Your ancestors should never have come out of the sludge they call their home pool.”

Oh, no, he didn’t, Yemra said.

I didn’t expect the reaction that Gedis’s words would get from Tarash/Emily. She tried to step forward, possibly to get within range of Gedis and attack him. I managed to hold her back, but it proved to be a difficult task. “You take that back!” Tarash shouted at him. “You take that back, you filthy piece of pond scum!”

“Go ahead!” Gedis shouted right back. “Give me yet another reason to kill you right here and right now! I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for many years now!”

“Why do you have to do this!” I shouted above their shouting. That managed to shut the both of them up. “Why do you have to resort to anger and hate and violence just to get your message across?”

“This is the only language that you humans and we Yeerks know how to speak,” Gedis said. “You all claim to have no common language with each other, but we all know the truth. War is your common language. Violence is your common language. Death is your common language. Besides, this plan has been in motion for thirteen years now.”

“Then why don’t you do it?” Tarash said to Gedis scathingly. “Go on, then! Kill me! Kill me now!”

“If only it were that easy, Visser,” the nothlit replied. “If I were to kill you right here and right now, then your death will be on the headlines of the human news. You will become a martyr for the humans, and the traitorous Yeerks collaborating with them. I do not intend to do that, Visser. See, this attack of mine on the community center is just the beginning. I can’t have the human police knowing that you’re my real target, so I have to go to the pool and commit as much bloodshed as I can so that no one will realize that you were one of the victims until it’s too late.”

Now I see the genius in Gedis’s plan. If he had killed Tarash at any time before this shootout in the community center then it would have been very obvious that an assassination had taken place. However, if he was to go on a shooting spree, like he was doing right now, Tarash and Emily would just be one of the many victims that he had claimed. Just like that infamous quote from Stalin: “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

However, just because I realized how devilishly clever of a plan it was doesn’t mean I liked it one bit. And it still isn’t right to kill another person or being. And Emily and Tarash count for both.

“You would do all that just for your cause?” Tarash asked Gedis. The anger was now gone from her voice, replaced by... I don’t know, really. Resignation? Pity, maybe?

“It is the only way,” Gedis replied, also with the same near-emotionless tone. Then he turned to me and said, “It is such a pity to kill you, bright girl, but it must be done. For the sake of the nothlits. And your death will help muddy the waters for when your police finally come to investigate this crime.”

“Jen,” Tarash said, “I am truly sorry that you were dragged into this unsavory mess.”

“Don’t be,” I replied. “I think there’s still a chance that we can walk out of here alive.”

“What? How can you possibly think that?”

“I have a plan, Tarash. And I also know something that he doesn’t.”

Gedis pointed his gun at me and then pulled the trigger. That moment, everything went into slow motion. I saw his finger curl over the SIG’s trigger and with a little motion from his finger, pushed it. The hammer flew up from its resting position and then slammed hard into the chamber. Except this time there was no more bullet in the chamber of Gedis’s gun, meaning the hammer struck only empty air. There was a slightly comical clicking noise that had come from the gun when the hammer struck air, and for a split second, I saw confusion and wonder and frustration enter Gedis’s face.

“Run,” I told Emily/Tarash. “Fast. Now. Go!”

Emily didn’t even need to be told twice. We took off like gazelles being chased by lions. In his all-consuming anger, Gedis had failed to notice that his gun had run out of ammunition. He probably shouldn’t have been firing madly into the ceiling when he could have been using those bullets to shoot people up, but then again emotional people were hardly the best rational thinkers. Also, hindsight gives you a much, much clearer look at events than when they’re happening to you live.

Emily and I burst out of the doors leading to the community center just as the SWAT were preparing to move in. An officer dressed in black everything: suit, armor, helmet, gun—took the two of us out of the way of the incoming SWAT team, and as this was happening, I could hear the SWAT shouting at Gedis to drop his gun while at the same time telling the people still inside the community center to get down to the ground. Then we heard a burst of gunfire, and I just know that the SWAT had just done in Gedis, most probably because he refused to drop his gun, and maybe he was even pointing it at them in a futile attempt to scare them off, which wasn’t a good thing when you’ve got an empty gun and they’ve got lots and lots of bullets.

When I turned back to the community center, I could see at least three SWAT officers in black and muted yellow surrounding a body lying down on the ground in an awkward way, and I just knew in my gut that Gedis was dead.

May the Eternal Kandrona shine down on you, Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine of the Makat Dol Pool, Yemra said.

((Even when he tried to kill us, Yemra?)) I asked her.

Personal feelings should not get in the way of granting a brother Yeerk the dignity of a peaceful passage to the afterlife. That is the difference between him and I.

((You know, when all this is over and everyone else has calmed down, I’m going to want a crash course on your Yeerk mythology and religion, if you’ve got those things.))

Chapter Text


So what exactly did happen in the Human-Yeerk Alliance Community Center on that fateful day? Let’s start with the “official” story, the one that the media will be repeating to us for as many days before the next big news item comes along. Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine, or Gedis Makatdol as the media will refer to him now, entered the community center with the intention of killing as many people inside as possible, and he managed to claim the lives of at least three people. But what wasn’t revealed to the media—or anyone else who wasn’t inside the community center at the time of the attacks—was that Gedis’ shooting spree was actually just a way to disguise his attempted assassination of Tarash Five-One-Four, the founder of the Yeerk Peace Movement and an instrumental figure in the “Yeerk question,” the issue of integrating Yeerks and Yeerk nothlits into human society following their defeat thirteen to fourteen years ago.

As for me and Tarash, the police and the SWAT had already been camped outside the community center, waiting for an opportunity to enter and/or negotiate with Gedis. We had made our break at just the same time that the police had decided that there was no use negotiating with Gedis, so they went in just as we were coming out, and in the ensuing confrontation, Gedis refused to lower his empty pistol and received a face-full of lead for his trouble.

What was my part in the whole thing? Well, I was just content with being the one person—or should that be one person and her Yeerk?—who managed to save the founder of the peace movement, but Tarash just had to go and praise me and my actions on national television, and now I was being hounded by reporters who wanted to know my side of the story. Also, apparently I—or that should probably be Yemra, because she was the one who made the call in the first place—had left my phone on after calling 911, and the operator heard every word in the battle of words between Tarash and Gedis, and that was apparently what had influenced the cops to go in hot on Gedis even though he’d held the community center hostage for just an hour or so at most. All I know is that I’m not going to like the look of my phone bill when it comes next month.

Because of my “heroic acts” on that fateful day, I was now some sort of local celebrity in my city. To be honest, I really didn’t like all the attention and publicity I got, my introverted side really wishes that the whole thing had never taken place at all so she could just curl up at home without worrying about anyone recognizing her on her way to her job at a local diner. Speaking of home, my parents’ reaction when they found out that I was right in the heart of the crisis as it happened was something you should see to believe. Mom was crying a flood of tears because I, Jennifer Carson, her only child and daughter, had been right in the middle of the community center shooting and was very lucky to have escaped with her life, and then she praised me for being so brave as to save the life of a fellow person. Dad was much, much calmer than Mom was, but on his part, he did admit that those few minutes in which he saw me and Tarash running out of the community center were some of the most heart-stopping minutes of his life.

Now that the “fun” part—if it should even be called that—was over, the survivors of the attack who weren’t injured or hurt that much had been brought over to the PD’s headquarters for their statements. They were treating it as a crime even though it was basically a mass shooting and Gedis had all but admitted that he was part of the Nothlit Rights Movement, or maybe a branch of it that had become radicalized. Or maybe Gedis had gone lone wolf and abandoned the movement in favour of doing something big by himself.

I had just finished my signed and sworn statement and was waiting for nothing in particular when I saw Emily/Tarash walking towards me. “Hey there, stranger,” I said as she sat down beside me.

“What are you still doing here?” she asked me. “You look like the kind of person who would want to go home immediately after something this had happened to her.

“Don’t worry about me, Emily,” I told her. “I am going home. It’s just that my parents have told me to stay put until my uncle comes over to pick me up. The perks of being an only child,” I added with a laugh.

To my surprise, Emily laughed along with me. “I know that feeling too, Jen,” she said.

“Really? You’re an only child too?”

“No, not really, but I’ve got two sisters and no brothers, so my parents are very much worried about the three of us whenever we go out.”

I nodded. “I wish I could relate to that,” I said. Then, after a few moments of awkward silence, I continued, “So what were you doing in the community center in the first place?” I asked her. “I mean, I know that you live here in Pennsylvania and all that, but as the leader of the Alliance, I’m sure you move around a lot.”

“Oh, yeah, that,” Emily muttered as she smoothed over her skirt, and then she straightened her back a little bit. “This is Tarash speaking now, Jen,” she said. “What I am about to tell you is confidential and must not leave this room.”

“Ooh, I like this,” I said, sitting up straighter on the couch and leaning closer to Emily/Tarash. “I feel like I’m a secret agent or something; you know, Mission: Impossible style!”

“I wish it were that simple,” Tarash sighed. “Emily also wishes that it were that simple. But, unfortunately, it isn’t. When the video of the two nothlits stating that they were the ones who had attacked Flight 6569 was released to the public, the Human-Yeerk Alliance was worried about a more militant and extremist branch or offshoot of the Nothlit Rights Movement that had arisen and was planning further attacks on both the humans and the hosted Yeerks,” she said in a lowered voice. “The HYA maintains a presence in all fifty states of the Union, and we were aware that this more extremist branch of the NRM was planning more attacks following the bombing of Flight 6569, but we were not expecting it to happen here in Pennsylvania. I was here to talk to someone in the area who possibly had information for the Alliance before Gedis attacked the community center, but I still have not managed to talk to that contact since then, and I do not know if she survived the attack or not. And Gedis also said that the attack was a plot to kill me. This has me worried and anxious more than I thought it would.”

“Don’t think too hard about it, Tarash, it’s understandable,” I said. “I mean, if I found out that that someone was out there planning to kill me, I’d be very worried about myself too.”

“I’m worried not only with just myself,” Tarash continued. “I worry for Emily’s life and safety too because, not only is she my host, she’s my friend too. If I am killed, Emily will also probably be killed too. And I don’t want that to happen to her.”

((Aww, isn’t that sweet?)) Yemra said to me in my head. ((Visser Five cares about her host as much as you do with me!))

Well, duh, I told my Yeerk. She is the founder of the peace movement, after all.

I wonder what Emily thinks of that arrangement, though, I thought to myself. And right at that moment, Tarash smiled. At first, I was spooked, because some little conspiracy theory corner of my mind thought that Tarash had the power to read minds, but then the rational part of my brain kicked in and saw that Tarash was not looking at me when she smiled, but rather at the ceiling, or maybe the top of her head. Anyway, she was probably smiling because of something that Emily said.

Tarash then looked at me once again and said, “I have to be honest with you, Jen. Something about what Gedis said in the community center is troubling me. He said that he had been planning this attack ever since the invasion was defeated. This has me thinking that the rumors that I had heard in the last days of the invasion, when it was becoming clearer and clearer that we were going to lose, may actually have a grain of truth in it.”

“What kind of rumors?” I asked, even though I had no idea if I was ready for that kind of information.
“This was an idea that the Vissers came up with in the final weeks of the war. The Vissers, having access to a vast array of human military knowledge and history, developed a plan for a secret war against the humans and the Andalites in the event of our defeat, to attack the humans in their cities and encampments—“

“Like a guerrilla war?” I asked.

“Yes, I think that’s what it was called,” Tarash replied. “But they were unable to contact the Council to ask for permission for the plan before the final defeat. I can only assume that some of the more… fanatical Yeerks who remained here have continued with the plan, and that is what is happening right now.”

A secret guerrilla war by the Yeerks who were left on Earth? Now I knew that even the likes of Tarash also had conspiracy theory corners in their minds. But the way she said it, and the fact that she had been a Visser in the last days of the invasion, made me think that there might be more than just rumors going around in her head…

I let out a long breath and took another deep one before speaking again. “Look, Tarash, I know that this day has been probably one of the longest in your life. I’m sure you probably can’t wait for it to finally end, but let’s just sit back for a moment, relax, and thank God that we’re all still alive. You, me, Emily, and Yemra. No one else is going to make an attempt on your life, at least not in the foreseeable future. Unless, of course, that what you’re saying about the Yeerks’ guerrilla war is true, and one of their main objectives is killing you.”

Tarash laughed. “Thank you for giving me hope and then taking it away immediately,” she said.

“Yeah, I have been known to do that to my friends more times than not,” I replied.

“But you are right, Jen. If the radical members of the Nothlit Rights Movement, which may now have actually been inspired by the Vissers fighting their guerrilla campaign against the humans, believe that I am collaborating with your government to deny them their basic rights, then I am still a legitimate target for them, especially now that Gedis has failed in his mission.”

“Sucks, doesn’t it?”

“Indeed, it does suck.” Tarash/Emily then stood up and said, “If you will excuse me, Jen, I now have to talk to someone here. Once again, I offer you my thanks for saving our lives.”

We shook hands. “No problem, Emily, Tarash,” I said. “If we were in each other’s place, you would’ve done the same for me.”

“Even if I doubt my ability to do what you have just done for me, I think you may be right,” Tarash said. Then she blinked, and I knew that Emily was now back in control. “Good night, Jen, Yemra,” she said as she walked out of the PD’s lobby. Man, she’s certainly one of a kind, isn’t she? I asked Yemra.

((That she is, Jen, that she is,)) Yemra replied. ((Wait a minute. Are you talking about Emily or Tarash?))

Does it even matter now? I mean, they’ve both got that charm and charisma that just naturally attracts people to them.

((Ooh… Are you turning gay for Emily, Jen?))

Ha! You’re one to talk, Yemra! Who was the one who went full retard when Tarash introduced herself to us again? Care to answer that?

((You win this time, Jennifer Yelena Carson. But next time, I won’t admit defeat so easily!)) she said as she sent me a mental image of an evil grin.

Oh, you’ll get over it soon, I replied. I then leaned back on the couch where I had been sitting for a long while now, feeling my upper body sink into the soft material. I yawned. My mind was well and truly exhausted from all the crap that I’ve seen today, and since I wasn’t really in the mood to go out of the PD and face the press once again—God knows how hard that was—I decided to close my eyes and let my exhaustion wash over me.

I was standing in the middle of the hallway of the community center. Blood and bodies were all over, and they were the victims of the man standing before me: Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine. He was pointing his gun at me, and me alone, because this time there was no Emily or Tarash behind me. The entire thing looked like the aftermath of what could have happened if Gedis had been allowed to do his thing in the community center.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked Gedis. “Why do you want to kill all these and their Yeerks?”

“Nothing personal, bright girl,” Gedis replied. “But you should’ve been able to figure that out already. I’ve got a cause, and I believe in that cause. I believe it so much that when I’m asked to jump, I ask how high? And now my cause has told me that I have to kill all of my brother and sister Yeerks who betrayed us to the Andalites and the humans. They would rather pretend that we are all equal and have the same rights when in reality it is they, the hosted Yeerks who collaborate with the oppressive regime, who have everything, while we nothlits have nothing. I’m just here to show them the error of their ways.”

“What the heck, man? You’re not making any sense!”

“That’s the point!” Gedis shouted. “These attacks are not supposed to make any sense!” He then gripped his gun with both of his hands and said, “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, bright girl, but you have a traitor in your head, and you will have to die with her.” Gedis then pulled the trigger without a blink.

I was jolted awake by the gunshot in my dreams. The shot had sounded so loud and so real that I thought that someone must have fired a gun in real life, and then I remembered that I was still in the police station, and therefore it was probably one of the CSIs firing a gun to compare the bullet to one of their cases or something like it.

And then I realized that there was some kind of commotion going on in front of the PD building, just outside of the entrance. All the cops had their hands on either their guns or their radios, and they were running for the front door. From what I could understand from all the chatter that they were saying, it seems as if someone fired shots at the building outside, and at least one of them had fired back. But why would someone do something as silly as that?

((Maybe one of Tarash’s guerrilla Yeerks are finally starting their uprising,)) Yemra said. ((Or maybe they’re just trying to say that they’re everywhere and can hit anyone anywhere whenever they like.))

And you say I’m the one with the crazy, messed-up mind, I said. Wanna check it out?

((I wouldn’t recommend that, Jen,)) Yemra said. ((But imagine that, though. You managed to survive a planned terrorist attack on the community center, only for you to kick the bucket after getting caught in the crossfire while trying to get a glimpse at a retaliation shooting on the police department. You’ll be both a funny and dark anecdote for generations to come!))

All right, here’s what I’m going to do, I told her. I’m going to stand up, walk over there, and try to see what’s going on. It’s your choice if you want to stop me or not. With that said, or thought, or however the hell you communicate to an alien slug in your head, I stood up and began making my way towards the front of the PD building. Yemra kept quiet, but she didn’t take control or tell me to stop. I guess curiosity is natural for every living thing in the universe, even for those nefarious mind-controlling, body-snatching brain slugs. I knew it, I thought to myself as I couldn’t help but let a smirk form on my lips.

But that smirk was quickly erased as I made my way to the makeshift human barricade of police officers trying to stop exactly what it was that I was planning to do: snoop around and see what’s happening.

A ring of policemen had surrounded a small area of the pavement across the street from PD. A few people were trying to look over the shoulders of the police, but I had a much better view of what was going on inside from my vantage point at the entrance to PD. There was a man lying on the ground. Blood was seeping from a hole in his chest, and a gun lay beside him. There was some kind of black bandanna-like thing wrapped around the top of his head, and there were some white markings or writings on the bandanna, but I couldn’t read them.

I turned to a policeman who was still holding his gun in his hands and asked him, “What’s going on?”

“Some guy tried to shoot up PD,” he replied. “Must be working with that guy in the Yeerk Pool shootout earlier. He was shouting something about rights for nothlits or something like that, and then he went postal and fired at the PD. We had no choice; we had to take him down. Shame that I didn’t get here before they finally took him down. I would’ve sent one into his head for my sister, the body-snatching fucker.”

((Wow, still not over it after what, thirteen years?)) Yemra asked in the privacy of my mind.

Yeah, I replied. Still, there’s something fishy going on here, and I don’t like it.

“All right, everybody, make a hole!” one of the policemen shouted at the forming crowd. “Let the paramedics through!”

Why in the world would a nothlit shoot up the PD just hours after one of his fellow nothlits had been killed while trying to massacre everyone in the Yeerk Pool? If this was some kind of terrorist plot, surely they would wait and lie low before their next attack? I hate to repeat myself, but something doesn’t feel right. And then there was that cop that I talked to who had wanted to put a bullet in this second shooter for his sister. People have killed for much, much less, and could it be possible that this whole shooting was staged? I had fallen asleep when this went down, but I’m pretty sure that I would wake up if I heard someone shouting from just outside PD, but you never know. Besides, those last few sentences have probably made me sound like a conspiracy nut.

Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine had killed four people in the community center in an attempt to disguise his assassination attempt on Tarash Five-One-Four, and the police had had to kill him after he refused to put down his gun despite being surrounded. That was surely a terrorist operation if nothing else. But walking right up to the police station and opening fire in front of dozens of on-duty police officers was just suicidal and stupid. Or maybe that was the point, whatever point that was. That nothlits could strike us at any moment of their choosing, without care or concern for what’s happening before?

“Jen?” a familiar voice asked. I turned and saw Uncle Earl standing at the foot of the stairs to the PD. “Come on, let’s go now,” he said.

As I walked up to him, he threw an arm over my shoulder and said, “You know, Jen, if I was your age and I had gone through the same things that you’ve just gone through today then people would think that I’ve had a very tough time. I say that you need a nice, long break right now.”

Chapter Text


“Jen! What are you doing here?”

“I’m getting sick and tired of being cooped up in the house, Mr. Tenkiss,” I replied. “I just needed some fresh air. I had to get out.”

It was just a few days after the nothlit Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine had attacked the local Human-Yeerk Alliance Community Center and Yeerk pool, a few days after I had become a local celebrity for playing a small but vital part in ending Gedis’ rampage of terror and saving the life of the founder of the Yeerk peace movement. While I couldn’t compare myself to an actual celebrity, the amount of attention that I had been getting from the local press, while something that I could handle, eventually just got on my nerves. I eventually shut myself in at home because of it, and for a self-admitted lazy-ass couch potato like me, I liked it at first. I could just pig out at home and binge-watch whatever I wanted. But eventually even I grew tired of this life. I needed to get out of the house, plain and simple; I needed some fresh air, like I told my boss Mr. Tenkiss. So I slipped out the back door and made my way to Mr. Tenkiss’ diner with my hood up so that no one would recognize me on the way and mob me once again with questions and whatnot. That was the story of why I went to Mr. Tenkiss’ diner and he and Edward the cashier were looking at me like I wasn’t supposed to be there.

“I told you to take the weekend off, Jen,” Mr. Tenkiss said. “I’ve seen this before, back when I was with the Baltimore PD. Guys who had been in high-risk situations like hostage crises and the like were ordered to take time off, they come back early thinking that they could still handle the stress again after just three days and then something happens which makes them snap just like that.” He even snapped his fingers to press his point.

“Oh, come on, boss man,” I said. “It’s not like we’re cops now or something like it. I’m just a cook here, remember?”

“Sometimes, you put oil on a hot grill, it sounds like a gunshot.”

“I can handle it, boss man,” I assured him. “Besides, I’ve been around guns a lot. My folks like to fire off some guns down at the range in their spare time, and I like to pop a few caps myself. We’re pro-Second Amendment like that, you know.”

“Are you sure that you can handle this, Jen?” Mr. Tenkiss asked me once again.

“Positive, boss man,” I replied.

“All right,” Mr. Tenkiss muttered, nodding his head slightly. “Go warm up the grill and the fryer and then come back here ASAP because we need to have a talk.”

As I entered the kitchen, I heard Edward mutter, “You didn’t let me take a week off after those two guys tied you and me up while they were trying to kill that guy.”

“That’s another matter for another time,” Mr. Tenkiss said. A few minutes later, with the grill warming up nicely and the fryer boiling the oil evenly, I went back out to the counter, where Mr. Tenkiss and Edward were still waiting for me.

“Okay, Jen, I’ll get to the point,” Mr. Tenkiss said. “I know that it’s not my business to ask my employees about what they do with their own time but… I have to ask you this, Jen. What were you doing in the Yeerk pool in town? Before you answer, Jen, I just want you to know that you shouldn’t take this question the wrong way. I’m not going to judge; I just want to know.”

((Oh, so it’s the question, huh?)) Yemra said. ((Man, after working at this joint for three years, one would think that you guys would already know each other well enough to know that one of you has a body-snatching slug in their heads.))

Just shut up and let me handle this, all right? I told Yemra mentally.

((What, like the way you handled the interview for your college entrance exam? Hah! Have it your way, Jen.))

She used to be the host of Sub-visser Seventy-seven, Yems! Cut the woman some slack. And anyway, she’s not Mr. Tenkiss, is she?

((I don’t think so, unless she was actually an Animorph or something and morphed into Mr. Tenkiss.))

Girl, I think I need to keep you the hell away from Jude. He’s corrupting your little mind with all sorts of conspiracy theories and shit. Besides, Mr. Tenkiss is quite the open-minded guy. I hope.

((And therein lies your problem.))

What problem? Are you honestly hearing yourself right now? And even if he doesn’t like Yeerks or Controllers, it’s not like he’s going to rip you out of my head, is he?

((Not unless he’s actually a Vanarx in human morph.))

Yemra, just stop talking, please, okay? I got this.

Now, it might have taken you a minute or two to read that bit of dialogue between me and Yemra, but as it happened, in my head, between the two of us, it was probably just milliseconds or so.

“Boss man, Eddie, I think it’s pretty obvious what I was doing in the Yeerk Pool,” I said out loud. “I’m a Controller, a voluntary one. I have a Yeerk in my head. She was feeding in the Pool when Ge… the attack happened. I was just about to go out when the place got attacked.”

Mr. Tenkiss took a deep breath and leaned back on the counter before he sighed and nodded his head. He then asked one of the usual questions that I get asked once I’d said that yes, I have an alien slug living in my head. “How long have you had this, uh, Yeerk, in your head?” he asked me.

“Since I was nine, I think,” I replied. “Or maybe when I was ten. It’s a long story; I can’t remember every detail.”

“How does it feel like?” Edward asked, his forehead a mass of wrinkles and curls.

“It feels strange, you know,” I said. “I mean, I’ve got a real voice speaking inside my head now; it’s not just a figure of speech for me anymore. And she’s literally wired to every nerve in my body; everything I feel, she feels. And whenever she goes out to feed and stretch her body out, I just, you know, feel a little empty inside. If she was taken away from me, I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it.”

“How do we know that that’s you talking to us, Jen?” Mr. Tenkiss asked. “How can we tell if it’s really you talking and not just your Yeerk acting like you in front of us?”

“Yeah, honestly, that’s one of the problems people have with Controllers,” I replied. “People have no idea if it’s the person speaking or the Yeerk which makes them think that there’s a lot of room for abuse to go on without them knowing about it. Some Controllers say that they can tell whether a person or a Yeerk is in control of somebody. Besides, I think you can tell if Yemra’s talking through me. She’s a little bit more formal than I am when she’s speaking to others, but like I said, Yemra can pass off as me just because she’s in my head and knows how I speak and do things and stuff.”

”Yemra?” Edward repeated. “It has a name?”

((Well, talk about being rude!)) Yemra exclaimed. ((I don’t have eyes for myself, Jen, but even I can see the emphasis on the word it when he said it!))

“Her name is Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool,” I said, looking Edward in the eye. “And I don’t know about you guys, but Yemra thinks it’s very rude that you just called her ‘it.’”

“It’s your life, Jen,” Edward said, raising his hands to his chest in mock surrender. “I ain’t saying anything anymore.”

“Look, if you guys haven’t got any more questions, then I’d like to get back to work,” I said. “I don’t know about you, Ed, but I plan on earning my keep.”

Man, you work with someone for three years and you think you know the guy, I fumed as I went back to the grill to cook up the first burgers of the coming day.

((That’s the disadvantage of not being able to be in someone’s mind, I always say,)) Yemra said.

Tell me about it, I snorted.

The day went on normally after that, or as normally as possible when one co-worker finds out that her co-worker might quite possibly hate her for her conscious decision to host an alien slug who had once been part of an invasion aimed at said brain-invading slugs stealing people’s bodies for their own nefarious purposes. No one mentioned anything about Yeerks, at least until one guy walked up to the counter and asked to change the channel on the flatscreen TV had Mr. Tenkiss had put up just a few weeks ago. “Hey, it’s Victory Day today,” the guy told Edward. “You know, the day when those kids who can turn into animals beat back those body-snatcher slugs once and for all. I hear they’ll show it live from Santa Barbara.”

“Those body-snatcher slugs are called Yeerks, sir,” Edward said pointedly. “They don’t like being called slugs.” He then turned to give me an accusing look, as if to say, “You started this.

Go fuck yourself, Edward, I thought.

((Yeah, Edward, go fuck yourself,)) Yemra repeated.

“Pffft, whatever,” the man who had requested the channel change said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Edward changed the channel nonetheless, and I found myself watching snippets of the live coverage of this year’s Victory Day parade. This particular Victory Day was often called V-Y Day to signify victory over the Yeerks; hence V-Y. The other Victory Days were V-E Day on May 8 (victory in Europe, the day when Nazi Germany finally surrendered to the Allies) and V-J Day on August 15 (victory over Japan, the day that Japan surrendered after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), just to set the record straight and set them apart from each other. From what little I could see from the kitchen, the parade was a bright, loud, and noisy affair, just par for the course for the People’s Gay-public of Drug-and-porn-ia, as one guy who lampooned Republicans for a living called them. I’m not sure how to describe it myself; probably a mix of Mardi Gras and the Rio Carneval. It was all drums and whistles and cheering and floats and reenactments (but nothing about the seventeen thousand Yeerks which got ejected into space from their Pool ship as that was too insensitive for these politically correct times) and even gunshots—

Wait a minute. What the hell were gunshots doing in the middle of a Victory Day parade?

((Probably just some guy going a little too trigger-happy, Jen,)) Yemra told me as the question popped in my mind.

But then the next thing I heard from outside the kitchen threw that particular theory right out the window. “Holy shit!” one of the diner patrons shouted, and my curiosity got the better of me and I rushed out of the kitchen to look at the TV. At the same time, the gunfire I had noticed before became more controlled and accurate, as if the shooter was now actively targeting someone or something. And then came the screams, the human screams, the screams of living people realizing that they could be living their final moments on this earth. All thoughts of fixing up my grill flew from my mind as I watched the horror unfolding before us in real-time HD 1080-pixel glory.

((Oh, by the Kandrona,)) Yemra muttered.

The parade had become something almost like a war zone. A man and a woman were standing in the middle of the road where the parade was going through and firing what looked to me like AR-15 carbines into the crowd, and judging by the large number of people on the streets, they had already killed or wounded a lot of folks. The woman then threw something at a group of people trying to hide behind a float. Some of the people tried to run away but the explosion from the grenade got most of them. Those that did survive were ruthlessly gunned down.

It was very much a surreal experience, like watching a war movie and getting to the point where the bad guys occupy a town or a village and proceed to go on a killing spree for some reason or another. But the images on the TV weren’t a movie; they were real life. Those two gunmen, whatever their ideology may be, were not choosing any sort of targets. They were just firing indiscriminately, shooting for maximum effect. Everyone was fair game. Men, women, cops, civilians, old people, kids… They didn’t stop to think about who they were killing; they just killed and killed and went on killing some more.

“Turn that thing off!” someone shouted, maybe Mr. Tenkiss. “No one needs to see this!” But no one moved to turn off the TV. We were all paralyzed with the events on the screen, too caught up in the unfolding drama to do anything but watch helplessly as our fellow countrymen were gunned down by these terrorists.

I don’t know how long we spent watching the massacre that used to be the Victory Day parade, but that was all we could do, really: watch. Whatever the reporters and anchors were saying were not registering in our ears and minds; all we could really see were the numerous bodies on the ground. This was much bigger and much grander than what Gedis Eight-Seven-Nine had planned here in my city; here, all Gedis wanted to do was to kill Tarash and then massacre everyone else to hide the fact that his attack was actually an assassination plot; over in Santa Barbara, where the carnage was happening, it was simply a matter of killing for the sake of killing, but on a very big and public scale. Was this the moment? Were the nothlits finally beginning to rise up against the government for the abuses and maltreatment done unto them? I shuddered at that particular thought. It could just very well be the start of a new American civil war.

The shooters had by now gone their separate ways, with the news chopper following the woman’s progress as she shot up several floats with two AR-15s in her hands. Finally, SWAT teams in their large armored trucks arrived at the scene, and the woman was forced to back into a stand of trees in a nearby park. Having run out of ammunition, the woman threw away her guns even as SWAT approached her cautiously, and then she reached for something in her jacket and she ran for the SWAT guys.

Plumes of red mist appeared from behind the woman as SWAT opened fire on her, much like how Gedis had been finally taken down by the local SWAT here all those days before. My God, was it just days ago? It felt like I had been watching this attack for years now. The woman went down to her knees still holding the thing in her hand, and then even more bullets went into her body. The woman finally collapsed to the ground, dead, but as SWAT approached the body, it exploded, taking down quite a lot of policemen. “Oh, my God, she just blew herself up,” Edward said to nobody in particular. I couldn’t speak, and for that matter, Yemra couldn’t, too. I was just standing there with my hand to my mouth in mute shock.

The reporters were saying something about the fact that the woman still exploded after her death even as the news chopper now followed the male shooter, who had thrown away his backpack and was making his way through the streets armed with just his rifle. The police were already closing in on him but, for the moment, he still had free rein to carry out his rampage of terror.

The male shooter then literally stumbled upon a group of kids who were hiding in an alleyway. Deep in my mind and my heart, I already knew what was going to happen, but a little part of me still wanted to believe that he wouldn’t shoot, that he wouldn’t pull the trigger, but he did, and even as I turned away from the screen, I could still hear the screams. I was breathing very fast. Tears were already falling from my cheeks. Gedis’ words from that fateful day echoed in my mind: >em>Violence and death are your common language, bright girl.

Tarash told me that night that the nothlits were planning even more attacks after the bombing of Flight 6569. If this attack on the Victory Day parade was the work of the nothlits… then that meant that they had a point to prove, were not afraid of the consequences of proving it, and had the means to carry out whatever they wanted to prove their point.

When I finally summoned the courage to look back at the TV, the last shooter was now fighting hand-to-hand with another man. Both of them were fighting over the rifle in the shooter’s hands. The shooter eventually won the fight though, and he shot the man who had tried to take away his weapon. But even as he did that, the shooter just stood there, as if he had been paralyzed by the realization of what he had just done. The shooter just stood there, looking down at the man he had just shot, even as the police and SWAT closed in on him. Did the shooter know the person he had just killed? I would never know the answer as SWAT finally opened up on the last shooter and brought him down with extreme prejudice.

“Jesus Christ,” Ed muttered, breaking the silence that had enveloped us all. “What is the world coming to? Even the aliens are becoming terrorists! What the fuck is happening to our world?”

I didn’t say anything. I don’t think I could have even spoken after that. I just ran to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and cried and cried until I could cry no longer. And even after that, I sobbed without tears and didn’t come out until much, much later. And even then, no one knew what words to say because we were all at a loss for words.

Chapter Text

People were calling it many names now. The Victory Day attacks. The Victory Day massacre. The 2016 Santa Barbara Victory Day mass shootings. It was much easier for people to process such a horrifying event by giving it a name.

It was also easier for people to process such a horrible thing by reducing it to pure statistics and numbers. The attack occurred at 2:45 in the afternoon, Pacific Standard Time. There were two perpetrators, Odret Culathesh and Nersal Telinkaalit, two nothlits who were believed to be members of the same radicalized wing of the Nothlit Rights Movement which had also bombed Flight 6569. The attack happened over the course of 33 minutes, and in those 33 minutes, over 120 people lost their lives. There was no discrimination by the attackers between man, woman, and child; anyone who was unlucky enough to have been part of the Victory Day parade or celebrating the occasion was targeted, shot, and killed. Dozens more were injured, some critically.

Of course, it was one thing to look at the raw data and imagine the horror that had been inflicted. It was very much another thing to have seen the whole thing live. Sure, maybe there’s the distance thing seeing as I just saw it on television as opposed to being right then and there when it happened, but all of those images which I saw were now forever seared on my mind. Yemra sure didn’t escape the whole thing unscathed, either.

I thought of the bombing of Flight 6569 (of which I was a passenger, remember) and the attack on the Yeerk Pool here in my hometown, and I assumed that they would be the most terrifying and traumatic things I would ever see and experience in my life. Boy, was I wrong. I’ve never had so much as a dream or a nightmare about the crash or Gedis’ attack on Tarash and the Controllers (well, except for that one dream I had right after the attack while I was waiting for Uncle Earl to pick me up at the police station) but the images of the attack in Santa Barbara just wouldn’t get out of my head. Every time I would fall asleep and then I would dream about that day in Mr. Tenkiss’ diner, and I would find my eyes glued to the television as I watched the attack unfold over and over again. In real life, I turned away from the screen when Odret began shooting those kids in the alley, but in the dream, I couldn’t move my head so much as an inch away from the screen. And here’s the incredibly funny in a cruel way thing about the mind: it has a very interesting way of filling the blanks using the imagination, and because my imagination was very active and also slightly morbid, my mind made me see what I imagined the horror of Odret shooting those kids looked like on the big flatscreen TV in Mr. Tenkiss’ diner. And then I would wake up with tears I couldn’t remember shedding in my eyes and on my cheeks, and I would wipe those tears dry and try to sleep again, only for the whole thing to repeat itself over and over again until the morning finally came and I would have to wake up without having so much as slept a wink the whole night.

Mr. Tenkiss’ words that day proved prophetic for me, at least from a certain point of view. I was sure though that he wasn’t expecting something to the extent of witnessing a live terrorist attack when he said that maybe I should have taken a leave of absence from working at the diner just days after I’d survived the attack on the local Yeerk Pool, but that was what happened, and I had to take the leave of absence that Mr. Tenkiss had offered me that fateful day.

It’s been three days since I witnessed the attacks live on TV. The only time that I had gone out of the house was when the police invited me down to the station once again for both debriefing and counselling. Both the debriefing and counselling helped me to finally be able to process some of the things. In a way, it felt good to finally be able to tell somebody else about what I had witnessed. It was a catharsis of sorts, and I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders as soon as I finished telling the police what I had witnessed. The counselling also helped me a little bit. I was told that everyone had different ways of processing and interpreting traumatic events such as the terrorist attacks on Victory Day and that everyone took different amounts of time to process. I felt a little better about myself when I was told by the counsellor that I stood a chance of recovering faster than other people by virtue of my alien brain worm bestie Yemra Six-Four-Zero.

Anyway, it was three days since the attacks. I was at a point where I was no longer crying about my dreams, probably because what they said about constant violence eventually desensitizing people was true. I mean, you can only see people and children get massacred, even if it’s just in your mind’s eye, so many times before it doesn’t affect you anymore. Hang on, I just shuddered at the thought that I had just so callously dismissed the deaths of so many people. Anyway, there I was, lying on my bed, thinking about those nothlits and the reasons why they would attack the Victory Day celebrations when Dad knocked on the door to my room and peeked his head inside. “Jen, there’s someone looking for you,” he said.

“Who is it?” I asked, removing my arms from underneath my head.

“Uh, some girl, maybe a little older than you but a little shorter than you too,” Dad replied. “Her name’s Emmy or Emily, I think.”

Emily! Tarash! What are they doing here? Yemra asked me. Since I didn’t know the answer, I repeated the question to Dad.

“She just told me that she wanted to talk to you about something but she doesn’t want to tell me about it,” Dad said.

I got up from my bed and walked out of my room into the living room. Emily was there, sitting on one of the couches. “Jen, Yemra,” she said as she stood up to greet me. “There’s something that we all have to talk about, but we need to do it in private. Can we talk in your room?”

“Um, sure, yeah,” I said quickly. “But, uh, do you mind if I go clean up a little first? I wasn’t expecting visitors, you know.”

“Yes, it’s all right,” Emily said. She followed me as I went back to my room, and I kicked a box of my stuff underneath my bed, straightened out the sheets a little, and removed some books I had piled up on the chair in front of my computer. “Please, sit down wherever you like,” I said, and Emily chose to sit down in my computer chair. I sat down on the edge of my bed.

“Can I speak to Yemra, Jen? This is Tarash speaking, by the way,” Emily/Tarash said. “I know that you’re going to hear everything we will be talking about anyway, Jen, but I would feel a little bit more comfortable knowing that I’m speaking to a fellow Yeerk.

((All right, Yemra, go ahead,)) I told Yemra. I closed my eyes for a few milliseconds and then, just like that, Yemra had taken full control of my body. “This is Yemra speaking, Visser,” she said in my voice.

“It’s true, Yemra,” Tarash said without preamble. “The rumors are true. Some of the nothlits are indeed planning on finally carrying out Operation Vengeance.”

“Oh, by the Kandrona,” Yemra muttered, clasping my hand over my mouth.

((Um, excuse me, Yems, I don’t mean to interrupt,)) I said, ((but what in the world is Operation Vengeance? It doesn’t sound good to me, to be honest.))

You’re right, Jen, Operation Vengeance is not good, Yemra replied. It’s what you would call a ‘contingency plan’ in the event that the Yeerk invasion of Earth was defeated, as was the case over fifteen years ago. Operation Vengeance was actually inspired by human warfare, specifically guerrilla warfare. The plan was conceived with the assumption that the Andalites would come down to Earth and serve as an occupation force and that the Yeerk guerrillas would be attacking Andalite forces.

To Tarash, Yemra said, “But the invasion was defeated over fifteen years ago, Visser. Why would Operation Vengeance only be carried out now?”

“We didn’t expect the humans to intern the majority of our surviving invasion force in the aftermath of the defeat and to force them to become nothlits,” Tarash replied. “And, from what I’ve heard from my sources within the Nothlit Rights Movement, the Yeerk nothlits who are behind Operation Vengeance have been inspired by the terrorist attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Stockholm, Westminster, and Manchester. And Operation Vengeance itself was conceived, I believe, after the September 11 attacks in New York. I’ve been told that Operation Vengeance is only being carried out now because it is only now that those who support Operation Vengeance finally have the finances, weapons, and support from a large number of fellow nothlits and humans who are sympathetic to the cause of attacking the American humans.”

((Wow, Yems,)) I said. ((I think Tarash just told us that we humans have inspired you Yeerks to become terrorists. That’s a new low, even for the human race.))

Yeah, I have nothing to say to that, Yemra conceded.

“But why are you telling me this, Visser?” Yemra asked Tarash. “Why not tell, you know, the public?”

“I do not want to cause even more unnecessary panic and anger from humans against Yeerks and nothlits,” Tarash replied. “Just imagine how the people would react if I said publicly that there is currently a plot for the Yeerk nothlits to initiate guerrilla warfare against humans and Andalites? It can only lead to even more bloodshed against Yeerks, both Controllers and nothlits. And that is not what we want, yes?” Yemra nodded her head silently, at a loss for words, which was a first for her. Yemra usually always had something to say no matter what the topic was.

“As for why I am telling you this, Yemra, it is because I trust you and I trust Jen,” Tarash finally replied. “You and Jen saved Emily and I when Gedis attacked us. This isn’t to say that I don’t trust my fellow Yeerks as well, but I feel that you are specially placed to be able to make a difference with the knowledge of what I am about to tell you so this is why I am telling you this. Besides, the nothlits behind Operation Vengeance already see me and the other Yeerks who opted to remain with their hosts as species traitors. They already have a bounty on my head, as Gedis’ attack proves. But that’s not all. There is something else I need to tell you and you two only.”

“What is it, Visser?” Yemra asked.

“The bombing of Flight 6569, the attack on the community center by Gedis, and the Victory Day attacks are just the beginning of things to come,” Tarash told me and Yemra in barely a whisper. “The nothlits behind Operation Vengeance are definitely planning something bigger. My primary sources tell me that the nothlits are planning to attack multiple cities across the whole Union. This city is definitely one of the primary targets, according to my source. I do not know when the attacks are going to happen, but I am sure that they will happen very soon.”

“What do you want us to do, Visser?” Yemra asked once we had finally managed to absorb Tarash’s words.

“I need you to tell every Controller you know in this city to prepare themselves for the next couple of days as the nothlits are planning something big in this city,” Tarash ordered. “They should prepare themselves to either evacuate the city or to stay behind to help defend the city. I’ve already told you that the nothlits are especially angry at hosted Yeerks and Controllers so everyone is at risk, even you.”

This was definitely something that was easier said than done. I knew a few Controllers in the area and I hoped that they knew other Controllers who knew other Controllers and so on so the news would filter through to all of them eventually but I had no idea if what Tarash had just told me to tell them would reach them before the nothlits made their move. And then I realized something about what Tarash had just told me, and Yemra realized it at about the same time that I did. “What did you mean by choosing to stay behind to defend the city?” Yemra asked Tarash. “We’re not going to try to fight off the nothlits ourselves, are we?”

“I really hope that it wouldn’t come to this, Yemra,” Tarash replied, “but the radicalized nothlits already appear to be on the warpath. My source tells me that they have already acquired weapons and flags and are also beginning to refer to themselves as ‘the Nothlit State’. And no, I cannot tell the public this yet because it will both cause panic among the humans and endanger the life of my source within the group. I need my source alive to keep us updated on the group’s plans.”

My head was spinning from all this new information I had just heard from Tarash herself. The nothlits, or at least those who had been radicalized and inspired by our own human terrorists, were apparently now planning to create their own country, this so-called “Nothlit State”. Three guesses as to where they could have possibly gotten that name. And they were probably planning to establish it right here in my country, my state, my city! Oh, now I wanted to go out there and do something to stop those nothlits myself, but wanting to do something and actually doing it were two different things altogether.

“We’ll see what we can do, Visser,” Yemra told Tarash.

“Thank you, Yemra, Jen,” Tarash said. “We will keep you both updated on matters as much as possible.”

“Yes, of course,” Yemra nodded.

As Tarash/Emily stood up to leave, Yemra turned to me (metaphorically, of course) and said to me, Well, aren’t you going to ask her something?

((Should I really ask her about it, though?)) I asked back. ((It might be an awkward or embarrassing question. The answer might be classified!))

How are you going to find out if you don’t ask, hmm?

((All right, fine, I’ll ask her. Now give me my body back so I can ask her!)) Yemra returned control to me, and just in time, as Tarash/Emily were almost out of my bedroom. “Emily, wait!” I cried out.

Emily turned around to face me. “Yes, Jen, what is it? You wanted to ask me about something?”

Wow, how in the world did she know about that? I asked myself.

Probably because we spent a whole second arguing about it, Yemra replied.

Loudly, I asked Emily, “Do you know anything about the nothlits who attacked the Victory Day parade? And do you know who’s leading this Nothlit State thing?”

“Ah, yes, of course you would want to know about that,” Emily muttered, although I wasn’t sure if it was actually her who said or Tarash. “We’ve tried to keep a lid on this but perhaps you deserve to know about this,” she finally said. “The attackers’ names were Odret One-Seven-Seven of the Culat Hesh Pool and Nersal Four-Nine-Three of the Telin Kaalit Pool.”

“Why did they attack the Victory Day parade?” I asked. “Aside from the fact that they were ordered to do so. And who made them do it?”

“I do not have all the details, Jen, but I can tell you that Odret and Nersal were recruited by the nothlit whom we believe is the leader of the Nothlit State, and his name is Eldril One-Nine-Two of the Kes Shaan Pool.”

Oh, shit, Yemra said. That’s definitely not good.

((What? Why?)) I asked Yemra. ((Why would this Eldril guy being the head of this Nothlit State thingy be definitely not good?))

Eldril used to be known as Visser Eight, Yemra replied. As far as Vissers went, he could certainly give both Edriss and Esplin a run for their money. But the main thing about him is that Eldril is loyal to the core to the Empire. If ever someone needed a picture to describe “loyal and faithful servant of the Yeerk Empire,” Eldril would fit that bill very easily.

“I can see by the look on your face that Yemra has already explained to you who Eldril One-Nine-Two is,” Emily/Tarash said once I had tuned back to the real world. “We know that he was intimately aware of the details of Operation Vengeance. We also know that he was able to use his position within the Nothlit Rights Movement, which as well all know was established with the purpose of securing equal rights and privileges for nothlits, to recruit and radicalize other nothlits who felt that they were aggrieved by the current system. Right now, we don’t know how Eldril was able to get his hands on the finances or weapons which my sources have told me that he’s acquired, but we all know that the United States of America has a lot of enemies who would bite at the chance to hurt this country right at its heart. And we can only assume that Odret and Nersal had their own reasons for wanting to attack and kill humans.”

I nodded my head and said, “Thank you for answering my questions, Emily, Tarash,” and then she went out of my bedroom door. I said and waved goodbye to her as she went out of our front door. As soon as Emily/Tarash closed the door, Dad looked up from the 76ers game and asked me, “So, what did you and Emily talk about back there? It sounded pretty serious.”

“Oh, it was nothing much really, Dad,” I replied. “She thanked me for saving her life by telling me something that I need to tell you and Mom. It’s something about our city.”

“What about our city, Jen?” Dad asked.

“Our city might very well be the next target of the nothlit terrorists,” I said.

Chapter Text

So I told Mom and Dad about what I had learned that the nothlits were possibly planning in our city as told to me by Visser Five. Naturally, Mom freaked out about the whole thing. She’s scared that any one of us (or, in the worst case scenario, all of us) could get killed if what the nothlits are planning succeeds. Dad, of course, was quite a bit calmer about it. He’s a glass-half-full kind of guy. He’s glad that I found out about the nothlits’ plot through the Visser and that I told him and Mom about it because forewarned is forearmed, of course. “At least we won’t be caught with our pants down,” he had said when we talked about it. “Now we can be at least a little bit prepared for this one.”

We had taken to sleeping with travel bags packed with food, water, some medicine and clothes at our bedsides just in case whatever happens comes to pass and we had to get out of the city ASAP. However, I had a feeling that whatever the nothlits had planned in our city wasn’t the kind of thing that would force a quick exit for the people living in it. Dad had learned about these go-bags when he was going through his survivalist phase.

It was three days after Visser Five had come to the house and told me and Yemra about the nothlits’ plot against the city. I keep half-expecting to wake up to the sound of an explosion or even a gun battle over in the direction of the city proper, but as it turned out, it was neither of those things which would eventually get us moving out of our house. No, actually, it was my Uncle Earl who was going to do that.

Uncle Earl knocked on the door of our house at seven in the morning. He was already wearing his National Guard uniform. Did I mention that my Uncle Earl is in the Pennsylvania National Guard? Anyway, I knew all of this because I was in the living room when Uncle Earl knocked. It was Dad who answered the door. “Earl! What are you doing here so early? And why are you in fatigues?” he asked Uncle Earl in surprise.

“Adam, this is a serious matter,” Uncle Earl replied. “Something very big is happening in our city right now. There’s a battle going on in the airport right now. The police were called in to deal with it at the start but now they’ve called for backup, and the governor has activated the National Guard to deal with what’s happening in the airport. He’s also declared a preemptive evacuation of the city, and if we can’t contain it here, this could extend all the way to Philadelphia. You need to get Eve and Jen out of here, man. We already have reports of more armed men wreaking havoc in the city center, and the PD is basically getting overrun at this point. If we can’t contain whoever it is attacking us here then Allentown and Reading might be next.”

“Where are we supposed to go, Earl?” Dad asked.

“The Gap,” Uncle Earl replied, referring to Fort Indiantown Gap. “It’s already being prepped to deal with the flood of evacuees about to come down on it. Honestly, Adam, I never thought that I would see this day come,” Uncle Earl admitted to my father.

“Yeah, and none of us believed in aliens before, and now my daughter’s got an alien mind-controlling slug in her head,” Dad said.

Okay, Jen, I know that your dad likes me even though he doesn’t always say it out loud, Yemra said to me, but right now I really can’t tell if he’s happy about the fact that I’ve been living with you and your family for the past fifteen years or not.

((Oh, don’t mind him,)) I told Yemra. ((You know how Dad is. Sometimes you just roll with the things that come out of his mouth.))

“So you still remember how to get to the Gap?” Uncle Earl asked Dad.

“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry about it,” Dad replied. “If Eve, Jen, and I go right now then maybe we could beat the inevitable flood of evacuees trying to get out of the city through the interstate.”

“Right. See you at the Gap, brother,” Uncle Earl said as he put his cap over his head. “That is, if my unit doesn’t get assigned to defend Scranton, Pittsburgh or even Philly first. And give my best to Eve.” Dad and I said our goodbyes to Uncle Earl and once he had closed the door, Dad turned to me and said, “Well, Jen, you know what to do.” I nodded my head and went to my room to pick up my bug-out bag. I looked around my room, trying to think of something that I might have forgotten to pack in my bag which I would need for the evacuation and the stay at the Gap. I couldn’t come up with anything that was really vital to me so I went out of my room and locked the door. I wished that I would be back home very soon but I had this sinking feeling in my stomach that soon wouldn’t come for a very long time.

I was waiting at the living room for Mom and Dad to pick up their stuff in their room when someone knocked on our door again. Thinking it was Uncle Earl coming back to update us once again, I opened the door without looking through the peephole. It wasn’t Uncle Earl, though, but it wasn’t someone I was really expecting to come knocking on our door either. It was actually Ken Fuchs. “Ken, what are you doing here!?” I, and I mean me and not just Yemra, blurted out in surprise. “How did you know where I live?”

“Tarash, er, Visser Five told me,” Ken replied simply. “Listen, Jen, Yemra, you need to come with me quickly. I have a message for you from straight from Visser Five herself. It’s very important that you hear it.”

At that moment, Mom and Dad arrived at the living room after having gone through the rest of the house looking for things that needed to be secured from possible looters looking to take advantage of the citywide evacuation. “Jen, who is this?” Dad asked me, pointing at Ken. “Do you know him?”

“Yeah, he’s some guy that I met,” I replied. “We have… something in common.” I tapped the side of my head to show them what exactly I was talking about.

“Jen, Visser Five has a message for you,” Ken told me. “She wanted to give it to you personally but she had to go away to coordinate with the rest of the peace movement with regards to the nothlits’ attack on the airport. We have to get to the Yeerk Pool ASAP.”

“Why can’t you tell me the message right here and right now?” I asked him. Ken was being so mysterious about the whole subject. Even Yemra was curious as to why Ken was acting like this.

Ken looked at Mom and Dad and then back at me. “It’s really quite sensitive, Visser Five’s message,” he finally replied. “Top secret stuff, you know. I’m sorry, but that’s all I can tell you until we get to the Pool.”

“Oh, no,” I muttered. “You have got to be kidding me.” I then turned to Mom and Dad and said to them, “I’m sorry, Dad, Mom, but I have to go to the community center. It’s something about Yemra and her fellow Yeerks. Apparently they want me, need me there for something important. Remember what I said about what could happen a few days ago, right?”

“Wait, Jen, do you really have to go now?” Dad asked. “Can’t you have the others hold it off? And why would they want you there?”

“I don’t know, Dad, that’s the problem,” I admitted. “And it’s Visser Five who wants me there. You remember the girl who visited us a few days ago who told me about this? That’s her. That’s Visser Five. Look, Mom, Dad, I have to go now.”

“Wait, Jen, no!” Mom called out. “We’re not leaving without you!”

“Your mother’s right, Jennifer,” Dad said, and I had to mentally stop as he rarely if ever used my full name unless he was very, very serious. “You heard what your Uncle Earl said. These guys, these nothlits, have already pushed the police out of the airport and are now putting the city center under attack. And the community center is right next to that. You don’t have to go with the other Controllers. You don’t have to fight with them.”

“But that’s it, Dad,” I replied. “I have to fight with them. That was one of the things I agreed to when I let Yemra into my life. We have to fight and defend ourselves from these people, these nothlits, from threatening our way of life. Yes, we really shouldn’t have denied them all those rights that they wanted but at the same time, this armed revolution thing that they’re doing isn’t the solution to the problem. I’m fighting for our city, our country, us. That’s why I have to go.”

“We really have to go now,” Ken said, grabbing my arm. I tried to say no, tell him hang on because I haven’t talked over this with my parents, but he was adamant. I tried to stop Ken but Dad told me, “It’s all right, Jen, you can go. But just make sure that you come back. You make sure that you come back!”

“I will, Dad,” I replied. “I’m going to come back when all this is over.” I finally allowed myself to be brought outside the house by Ken. “I love you, Dad! I love you, Mom!” I called out just before I got into Ken’s car, an old Chrysler Fifth Avenue, and the last I saw of my mother and father was the two of them boarding their own car, a Pontiac Aztek. As our two cars went on opposite directions, I leaned back on the passenger seat of Ken’s car and sighed, and then I turned to Ken and asked him, “All right, what is it that Visser Five wanted to tell me that you couldn’t say in front of my parents?”

Ken sighed, apparently composing his thoughts, and then he finally said, “Look, Jen, before we get into that, you have to know that the situation is quickly deteriorating for us. The nothlit rebels have already pushed the local PD and some of the National Guard out of the airport, and now there’s fighting going on in the streets of the city center. They’re already on Twitter and Facebook announcing the establishment of a ‘Nothlit State’ with our city as their capital. I don’t like to think about why they’re calling themselves that now or what they have planned for the people that are sure to get trapped in the city during the fighting. And word from my friend in the National Guard says that they’re planning on pulling out of the county to focus their defense on Allentown and Bethlehem. The hope, obviously, is to contain the nothlits right here in the city and then weed them out if they have to because, if they can’t contain the nothlits here, then there’s no telling where they will go next. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are both in immediate danger, and if the nothlits take them as well, who knows where they’ll go next? New York, New Jersey, Baltimore; heck, even D.C.’s fair game for the nothlits if they conquer Pennsylvania.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding my head. “But you still haven’t answered me. What is it that Visser Five wanted to tell me?”

“Just hear me out, okay?” Ken replied. “All right, here goes. A while back, Visser Five and I were talking, and I made a suggestion, and she agreed to it after certain provisions and changes, that maybe we Controllers should band together, stay behind in the city, and watch the nothlits’ movements and report them back to the authorities.”

“Well, that sounds simple enough,” I said. And then I understood what Ken was trying to say and I blurted out, “Wait, does that mean that Tarash wants me to spy on the nothlits?”

“Not just you, Jen, all of us Controllers,” Ken replied. “At least those of us who haven’t evacuated the city with their families yet or those who chose to stay behind. But that’s just what the Visser finally agreed to. See, my—this is Yibey speaking, by the way—original plan was to gather the Controllers and create a force to fight against the Nothlit State. As you can see, the Visser wasn’t too keen on that idea. She still believes that we can negotiate with the Nothlit State and settle for peace. Sure, maybe we can do that with the more moderate nothlits in the Nothlit Rights Movement but I doubt we’ll get the same kind of reception from Noesh.”

“Wait, what’s Noesh?” I asked.

“Noesh, it’s the Nothlit State,” Ken replied. “Like how Daesh is the Islamic State, Noesh is the Nothlit State.”

“I don’t think it works that way,” I said. “Because Daesh is short for Dawlat Islamiyah, which is Islamic State in Arabic, and the ‘da’ in Daesh is dawlat, which means ‘state’…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Ken waved off. “At least it sounds the same. Anyway, I told Visser Five that we should look into creating a force to fight against the Nothlit State. She didn’t like that, so we talked on and on until we finally settled on asking some Controllers to stay behind and watch the nothlits. But I still think that we will have to fight these nothlits, especially if our worst fears are true and this is a prelude to Operation Vengeance. Now, Tarash is off gathering support for the moderates of the NRM and, as her second-in-command, I’ve been left here to manage all this spying stuff. No, seriously,” Ken said when he saw my disbelieving look. “I—Yibey—was Visser Five’s sub-visser back during the invasion. Ask Yemra; she remembers. If we’re going to fight the nothlits, I might as well resurrect the old chain of command.”

((Is it really that bad, Yemra?)) I asked her.

Think of it this way, Jen: if Ken thinks that fighting back is the best way to deal with this “Nothlit State”, then things must be pretty bad out there, Yemra replied.

We drove on in silence for the rest of the trip to the Yeerk Pool. I got a good look at the road leading to the city center for the first time since I left our house in the suburbs. It was just like one of those scenes in those disaster movies in which one side of the road was just clogged with cars and people trying to make their way out of the city before they got caught up in the fighting. The evacuation was quite a bit more orderly than the ones we usually see in the movies, though, but nevertheless there was still a seething mass of humanity trying to escape the fighting quickly and failing at the “quickly” part. Also, just like the movies, there was always that one car going in the opposite direction as the one the rest of the people was on (although thinking back on it, it was probably just the first Independence Day movie in which this happened, and is it strange that I can clearly remember that it was Jeff Goldblum in that scene?)

Eventually we made it to the city center, and Ken drove his old jalopy right up to the front doors of the Human-Yeerk Friendship Center, under which the Yeerk Pool in this city was located. Unpleasant memories of what had happened to me in the community center very recently rushed back to me at that point, and I had to take a deep breath to calm myself down and remind myself that that particular episode of my life was now over and in the past. Ken stopped the car, killed the engine, and hopped out. I got out a little more slowly, which allowed me to notice that yellow crime scene tape was still all over the metal frames of the entrance of the community center, which used to have glass in them before they were shattered by the SWAT forcing their way into the center during the hostage crisis. Ken ducked underneath the tape without so much as missing a beat, and Yemra and I had to focus on my legs to keep up with his pace.

It felt very strange and weird to see the community center this devoid of life and activity. I remembered going down here and, during those times when Yemra wanted to take a dip in the Yeerk Pool, I would wait for her in the second-hand bookstore while perusing all those paperbacks that I liked but couldn’t afford if I were to buy them in an actual bookstore. That was how I had managed to nearly complete my collection of Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler books, and… oh, damn, I just remembered my books, which I had left behind at home since it wouldn’t make too much sense for me, or Mom and Dad for that matter, to be carrying all those books around while they were evacuating the city. Once again I found myself wishing that this whole mess with the Nothlit State had never happened and was just a very terrible nightmare on my part.

I’m sorry, Jen, but as you can see, this is no nightmare, Yemra told me. It is very much real.

And I was also reminded once again of another, sadder part of my life when I looked around the empty and closed-off community center once again. Those yellow plastic standing things with big bold numbers that the police used to mark the places where bullet casings fell in those police shows absolutely littered the place, although the casings they were marking were nowhere to be seen now. The crime scene cleaners had also done a good job of cleaning up all the blood in the crime scene, but I felt like I could still see some crimson stains throughout the tiled floors on the places where Gedis and his victims had fallen. I hoped that they were all just tricks of the light, but even then, I couldn’t be too sure about that.

“What are we doing in the community center, Ken?” I asked. “And where are all the policemen? Aren’t they supposed to be guarding this place because of the investigation into Gedis’ attack?”

“To answer your first question, this is the only place where Controllers can meet in some secrecy,” Ken replied. “As for your second question, well, you already know the answer to that.”

That’s not good, Yemra said to me. If they’re pulling cops this far away from the airport then the fighting must be getting really intense.

“You don’t have to remind me, girl,” I muttered out loud.

“What was that again?” Ken asked as we went down the stairs leading to the Yeerk Pool.

“Nothing, just something that Yemra said to me,” I replied, and Ken nodded and we continued on down to the Pool. The tiled walls of the stairwell eventually gave way to carved rock and earth. I could also see a faint gray glow emanating at the end of the stairs. Finally, Ken and I arrived at the Yeerk Pool, a dome carved right out of the earth, and once again I was reminded of the stories from the first Yeerk invasion of Earth, of the involuntary human hosts kept in cages at the edges of the Pool moaning and wailing for their freedom in the few hours that their Yeerks were feeding on Kandrona rays in the Pool just because they could, as their voices and bodies were once again theirs, even for just those few short hours. And I also recalled the stories of the voluntary Controllers, those humans who had accepted subservience to the Yeerks in exchange for certain privileges such as chambers where they could be spared the pain and suffering of the involuntaries. I was only a child when all this was happening beneath my feet, and I didn’t come across a Yeerk (as far as I can tell, although there may have been times where I may have bumped into a Controller or two on the street, but I can’t say for sure) until Yemra infested me on that fateful day in the river. I have asked myself many times whether I would have chosen to become a voluntary host had I known about the invasion at the time, and I have never come up with an answer to that question that would satisfy even just myself. Some of my answers also have additional hypotheticals and conditions to it, such as agreeing to be a voluntary Controller only if Yemra was going to be my Yeerk and that kind of stuff. Like I said, not entirely satisfactory.

But that wasn’t why I was here in the Yeerk Pool right now. Right now, I was in a Yeerk Pool with other Controllers, all of them voluntary. Some of them were discussing something about how the leader of the so-called Nothlit State, Eldril One-Nine-Two, the former Visser Eight, had not been spotted in Santa Barbara, California since the last week. I remembered all the fan speculation about Santa Barbara being the city where the Animorphs books supposedly happened. For me, personally, the jury’s still out on whether the events depicted in the books actually happened in real life or if they were just fictionalized to be more marketable, so to speak. Oh, and I also call BS on the ending of Book #54, and I firmly believe to this day that the ending was written that way just so people wouldn’t try looking for the Animorphs in real life. So there.

Anyway, now that my little deviance into the ending of the Animorphs series is done, I can focus back on what I heard from the other Controllers who had made their way to the Yeerk Pool for Ken’s army (that was what I was beginning to call Ken and Yibey’s plan to create an army of Controllers to fight against the Nothlit State, even if just in my mind). They were talking about rumors that nothlits were also rising up in some of the other cities in Pennsylvania, like Scranton—Wilkes-Barre, Erie, and Pittsburgh. Other cities mentioned in the conversations were Indianapolis, Green Bay, Provo, Boise, the Iowa Quad Cities; Charleston, West Virginia; and even Las Vegas (although all of those places seem a bit too far-fetched if I have to be honest). If I were to take these rumors for what they were worth, I would say that no place in America was truly safe from the Nothlit State, but personally I find that hard to believe. Even then, I had to admit that aliens had succeeded where a lot of terrorists and other bad people had failed, and that was to cause a lot of chaos and fear right in the heartland.

“Jen, Yemra, over here,” Ken/Yibey called out, bringing me out of my reverie and back to the present. He was standing just inside a room which looked like one of those soundproof rooms for the voluntary Controllers. I went in there and saw to my surprise that Belladonna Spencer, the British flight attendant from Flight 6569 and host of Sinan One-Nine-Five of the Sulp Niar Pool, was also inside. “I’m going to explain everything in due time,” Ken said as he saw the surprised look on my face and Donna’s. “We don’t have a lot of time so I’m gonna make this quick,” he added. “Oh, and the Visser doesn’t know about this so when she asks you about this, you didn’t hear it from me. I’m going ahead with my plan to fight against the nothlits toe to toe with our fellow Controllers. And I’ve also learned of a few things since Visser Five made contact with you two just a few days ago. Remember how everyone’s saying that the self-proclaimed leader of the Noesh, Eldril One-Nine-Two of the Kes Shaan Pool, the former Visser Eight, was last spotted in California over a week ago? Well, Visser Five and I managed to find out that he’s on his way here to the city to take physical command over the Nothlit State. We all remember that he was one of the more ruthless Vissers during the invasion. But he was also the one that laughed off Operation Vengeance because he didn’t think that it was remotely possible that the humans could beat back our invasion, or that the Andalites would be able to get to Earth quickly enough to turn the tide. I daresay that the fact that the invasion was actually defeated and he was forced to become a human nothlit was more than enough for him, and he broke. But now he also remembers Operation Vengeance, and now he has a chance, a way to strike back at the beings who had beaten him down so low. Operation Vengeance is no longer about just waging a guerrilla war against the humans; he now wants to use this Nothlit State to do to the humans what they had done to him, minus probably the force them into a permanent morph part as he doesn’t have the Escafil Device with him, thank God.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding my head. “Is there any particular reason why you’re telling me and Donna about this, Ken?” I asked him.

“Stay with me for a sec, girls,” Ken said. “There’s nothing we can do about Visser Eight right now. He’s in transit and we don’t know where he is or whether he’s actually going here to the city. But there is something that we can do to strike at the Nothlit State. Visser Eight’s subordinate, Immib Two-Seven-One of the Irres Bhek Pool, the former Visser Twelve, has been named as the Visser in charge of the occupied Pennsylvanian area of the Nothlit State. Now, before he became Visser Twelve, Immib used to be Visser Eight’s sub-visser, kind of like how Yibey’s Visser Five’s sub-visser. Immib was Visser Eight’s lap dog, always eager and ready to do his master’s bidding. Add that to Immib’s innate bloodthirstiness, which almost rivals that of the former Visser Three and Visser One, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster for those humans unlucky enough to get trapped in the city with the Nothlit State. The only way that we can stop this, or at the very least put a dent in Noesh’s plans, is to eliminate Immib.”

“Ken, are you asking us to kill this Immib guy?” Donna asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

“I know that it will be difficult, guys,” Ken said, “but I assure you, the sooner that Immib is eliminated, the better for the people and state of Pennsylvania.”

Right at that moment, the ground shook, and dust and bits of rock fell down from the carved earth ceiling above us. “That’s not good,” Ken/Yibey breathed out. “That’s Dracon artillery.”

“What!?” Yemra blurted out through my mouth. “How in the name of the Kandrona did the nothlits get their hands on Dracon artillery?”

“That’s not good,” Ken said. “That really is not good. And that changes everything on a fundamental level. But that’s not our concern now. What we really should be concerned about is getting out the Pool alive. If Noesh has Dracon artillery then the Yeerk Pool could very well be one of their first targets as it’s a giant symbol of the human-Andalite oppression for them. Come on, let’s get out of here before the cavern caves in on us.”

As we raced through the stairwell leading from the Yeerk Pool back to the community center, I asked Ken, “How in the world are we supposed to kill this Immib fellow if I don’t even know what he looks like?”

“I’ll give you and Donna a picture as soon as we’re out of here,” Ken replied. “But right now, we really should be focusing on making it out of the Pool before we get a face full of Dracon artillery.”

“And how can I take a shot at the bastard if I don’t even have a gun?” I asked.

“I’m sure you can think up of something,” Ken replied with a smile.

The three of us eventually reached the entrance of the community center. We all ducked past the crime scene tape and ran for the road. The streets were empty and abandoned, kind of like in a disaster or zombie apocalypse movie or TV show. Loose bits of paper fluttered down the empty streets like an urban version of tumbleweed. There was literally no one else around for miles except for me, Ken, and Donna. The distant snap, pop, and crackle of gunfire served as the only reminder that we weren’t the only humans left on this world, or even just in this city. At least Ken’s car was still there; even carjackers valued their lives more than the chance to steal a car out in the open. Or maybe there was no more profit to be gained from jacking Ken’s old jalopy.

I felt through my feet more than heard with my ears a mysterious rhythmic and pulsing thumping from somewhere far away. Me, being the ignorant human being that I was, didn’t have any idea as to the significance of those rhythmic pulses, but Yemra, being the knowledgeable Yeerk who knows all about this stuff, did know what those pulses meant, and this proved to be the key to saving our lives.

My legs moved backwards, as if they had a mind of their own. This was Yemra taking control of my body to save ourselves. She made me jump backwards, away from Ken’s car and back towards the community center. As I landed on my backpack, butt and left arm (which was itself just barely healed from being broken after the crash of Flight 6569, of which I was a survivor), Ken’s old Chrysler went up in a big fireball. I curled up into the fetal position and felt the heat of the explosion wash over my back and my calves. All I could think at that moment was that feeling the heat on my body was a sign that I was still alive. “Oh, my God!” I shouted once the last of the explosions had finished. “Holy crap! What the fuck was that?” I asked nobody in particular.

That, my friend, is a salvo of Dracon artillery, Yemra said to me matter-of-factly. And that wasn’t even a full salvo. If the nothlits had unleashed a full salvo on the community center then things would still be exploding. Anyway, one of the things that we Yeerks had always talked about but never seen was the fact that as long as you can feel the pulses of Dracon artillery through your host’s feet, you’ll live, but only if you jump backwards. Oh, and you’re welcome, Jen.

I took a deep breath as I cradled my left arm, which felt like it had been broken again, and I sat up on the tiled floor of the community center to collect myself. I saw blood coming out of a few cuts that I had gotten from Yemra making me jump backwards into the broken glass littering the entrance of the community center. But aside from that, I was very much alive and intact.

I couldn’t say the same for Ken’s car, though. The old Chrysler Fifth Avenue was basically a flaming wreck by now. At least neither Ken nor Donna had gotten into the car when the Dracon artillery landed, but speaking of Ken and Donna, I could see neither hide nor hair of them as well. I can literally see no trace of either of them. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad one, but I was sure about only one thing: I was well and truly fucked now.

Well, Jen, this is it, Yemra told me. We’re all alone now against the Nothlit State.

“Yeah, girl,” I said out loud. “I’m definitely not looking forward to that.”

Chapter Text

It was one thing to play at being a survivalist. It was quite another thing to actually have to survive when the world goes to shit, just like it did for me today. This was the situation in which me and Yemra found ourselves in after a salvo of Dracon artillery fired by the Nothlit State into the city had landed right in front of the community center built on top of the Yeerk Pool in the city. My two companions from before the artillery landed, Ken Fuchs and Donna Spencer, were nowhere to be seen. I didn’t know if the Dracon artillery had literally disintegrated them or if they were somewhere else away from me. What I did know was that I was literally alone in the middle of a city that was turning more and more into a war zone. Well, “literally” is literally the wrong word. “Practically” would be more like it, as I was not truly alone: I had my Yeerk, Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool, with me. And right now, I had two choices: find the rest of Ken’s army and fight against the Nothlit State, or make like a tree and leave the city and the fighting behind and make my way over to Fort Indiantown Gap, where Mom and Dad and the rest of the city’s evacuees were being temporarily quartered. The latter option definitely had the bigger appeal for me but Yemra’s sense of duty to her fellow Yeerks, especially the Yeerk named Yibey Nine-One-Five who was being hosted by Ken Fuchs and was the real grand architect of Controllers taking the fight to the nothlits, was unfortunately for me stronger than my desire for self-preservation, mostly because Yemra could control my body whenever she liked and there was nothing I could do about that.

The first thing that I did after recovering from the Dracon bombardment was taking shelter back inside the community center and trying to determine what I had with me that I could use to actually survive. I upended my backpack onto the ground to dump out its contents, and I began to sort through the things that I had. I had two bottles of water, two small packs of cookies (Oreos and Chips Ahoy!, if you’re really curious about it), so that was my food and drink sorted out immediately. I looked through the counter of the coffee place and took those that didn’t look too stale (although I’m not a very good judge of staleness in food, I have to admit). I had two shirts and a pair of jeans, which I guessed really wasn’t too much of a necessity when surviving in a battlefield. Well, I had packed my bag on the assumption that I was going to the Gap alongside my family as an evacuee. But then I noticed something that I had tucked into my jeans while packing, and it was this item that could very well mean the difference between life and death for me right now. It was a Walther PPK pistol, the type of gun that James Bond uses in the movies. The gun was mine; it was registered under my name. Have I mentioned that Dad and I are firm supporters of the Second Amendment? Anyway, the important thing was that I had brought the gun with me, and although I didn’t know what use it would have had in an evacuation center, at least now I had something to protect myself when I ventured back out into the mean streets. I even packed some ammo for the gun; about thirty rounds in stripper clips and three empty magazines waiting to be loaded. The mags were empty because Dad taught me that the magazine springs would lose their elasticity and tension if they were kept around with bullets in them for too long, and that I should never load the mags until the time came for me to use. And this time was that time.

I loaded as many of the bullets as I could into the three magazines and put the remaining bullets in my jacket pocket. I then loaded one of the magazines into the Walther, chambered a round, took out a magazine and loaded another bullet into it. The spare mags I also pocketed, and then I turned on the safety on the PPK before tucking it into the waistband of my shorts.

((Well, this is it, Yems,)) I said to my Yeerk. ((The way I see things, we have two options: one is to get out of here immediately and make our way down to the Gap and get back with Mom and Dad. The second option is to go out there, look for Ken’s army, and hope that they’re actually still around. What do you wanna do?))

You know what I want to do, Jen, Yemra replied. I want to look for Ken and Yibey first. I want to know for sure what happened to them. I don’t want to live the rest of my life not knowing if the two of them, who had survived so much for so long, are actually alive or dead. Once we’ve found out their fates one way or another, then we can make the decision to either fight or run.

((Oh, come on, Yemra,)) I moaned. ((I was really hoping you’d just want to get away from this place. I know that that’s what I want to do.))

But Yibey and I have been friends even before we arrived on Earth, Yemra persisted. If this was Julia or Carina or anyone else of your best friends, wouldn’t you do the same?

((Damn it, girl, when you say it that way….)) I muttered. ((All right, let’s go look for Ken and Yibey. And then will you please consider just going back to the Gap?))

Yes, I’ll consider, Yemra replied. But I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that no matter what happened to Ken and Yibey, Yemra would want to link up with the rest of the Controllers he had recruited to fight against the Nothlit State and force them out of the city. Still, with my gun in my hand, I was a little bit more comfortable heading back out into the city, but only just. I would really rather be as far away from this place and the fighting as possible but something, call it fate, an act of God, or whatever, had put me here in this place and in this situation, and I was going to have to go through with all of it.

I finally ventured out of the community center with my pistol in front of me. The empty streets, faraway sounds of gunfire, and the smoldering remnants of Ken’s car which had been hit by the same Dracon artillery salvo that had almost killed me made the whole thing feel like some massive video game like Call of Duty or Battlefield. The main difference between video games and real life is that in video games, you could always reload or restart the game when you die. In real life, there is only one big and massive game over. You can’t reload your last saved game or go back to a checkpoint. There’s only death and whatever lies beyond.

Another difference between video games and real life, a difference that’s not as distressing or terrifying a prospect as death, is the fact that there is no minimap, checkpoints, or objectives in real life. Well, the last part is not true. Real life is full of people setting objectives; they’re just not as clear-cut as video game objectives would be. And you have to survive on what you have. And right now, I didn’t have much on me.

What was there for me to do, though? Yemra had wanted to look for some sign on whether Ken and Yibey survived the Dracon or not. But after that, what? I can’t just go around looking for Immib, the former Visser Twelve, by myself; that would be suicidal. Sure, it would be very good to suddenly see Visser Twelve alone in the next corner and shoot him myself, but not only had I never ever killed or even shot another person before, there were a lot of other factors to consider when going for a kill shot with a meagre pistol. I have to get really close to the target, and even then, a shot to either the heart or the head would not necessarily mean an instant kill.

What else, then? I could try to strike out, look for a group of survivors trying to get out of the city and hope that they’re also headed for Fort Indiantown Gap. I could look for the police or the National Guard, but I would have to hide my pistol from them because they might mistake me for one of the Nothlit State fighters if they see me packing heat. Or I could look for Ken’s army, hope that they’re still around looking to disrupt Noesh’s operations. But where in the world do I start looking? And what if I run into the Nothlit State itself? That would be game over for me.

I also couldn’t stay at the community center. Not only would Yemra keep annoying me to finally go look for Ken and Yibey, but the fact that Nothlit State had already bombarded the center at least once shows that they’re not messing around when it comes to that place. Or maybe I didn’t have to stay in the community center itself. Maybe I could go down to the Yeerk Pool itself and hide out there and wait for some kind of rescue to arrive. But then I thought about how the Nothlit State believes that all the Yeerks that had chosen not to become stuck in morph and actually be placed into new hosts, and suddenly the Yeerk Pool didn’t look so inviting to me at all. What if the Nothlit State decided to occupy the center and the Pool and find me hiding inside? What use would I be in the fight against Noesh if I had a bullet hole in my chest or my head? And what of my poor parents, not knowing the fate of their only child until it was too late? No, getting away from the Yeerk Pool was by far my best chance at survival. And I also had to start going someplace. Yemra was practically chomping at the bit to go look for her Yeerk friend.

My first decision was to go in the opposite direction of where the gunfire was coming from. That seemed like a good way to not die. As I could hear the gunfire to my left, I went right, and I was able to make it past five intersections before I heard the somewhat familiar sound of a Humvee engine approaching. I turned around and saw a Humvee in the markings of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard approaching me from the direction where I had just come from. I immediately ducked behind the corner, hoping against hope that the Guardsmen hadn’t seen me yet. As the Humvee got closer to the intersection where I was hiding, I slowly crept into an alley and ducked behind a Dumpster so that the Humvee wouldn’t see me when it passed by.

“This is the National Guard,” the soldier in the passenger seat of the Humvee announced on a radio which was attached to a megaphone just outside his window. “All civilians are ordered to evacuate this area immediately. Your lives are in imminent danger. The enemy is approaching the area. Evacuate the area immediately. If you are planning to defend yourselves against the approaching enemy then do not go ahead with that plan. Leave the fighting to the police and the National Guard. Do not get involved in the fighting. I repeat, this is the National Guard…” The Humvee passed by the alley, but I didn’t dare move a muscle until I was sure that I could no longer hear its engine over the gunfire in the background.

What was that all about? Yemra asked me as we stepped out of the alley and back onto the street.

((I have no idea, girl,)) I admitted.

What was it they said? “Don’t get involved”? Why would they say that?

((I don’t know, Yems,)) I replied. ((Maybe Tarash knows Yibey so well to the point that she knows that he won’t give up the counter-army idea and she told the National Guard that there might be Controllers staying behind to fight the Nothlit State. And these National Guard guys? Well, I know that Uncle Earl’s one of them, but they’re weekend warriors. They get to train and play with the Army’s toys for one day a week, and they also probably don’t want anyone else stealing their thunder now that they’re actually in combat once again. Besides, what’s their experience compared to the nothlits and the Controllers?))

Um, I hate to break it to you, Jen, but I don’t have much combat experience myself, Yemra said. I was a guard when I was still in Hork-Bajir and not yet promoted to humans, and the vast majority of my combat experience involves a handful of blade fights against other Hork-Bajir trying to escape infestation. Even back then, I was starting to realize that maybe what we the Yeerks were doing, forcing ourselves into other species’ heads, was not the right thing for us to do, but I was a guard and I had to do my job. I had to do my job. Those were my orders.

((Hey, Yemra, you’re not going Nuremberg on me, are you?)) I asked. Yemra was beginning to sound like someone using the Nuremberg defense to explain away their actions: “I did what I did because I was following my orders; nothing more and nothing less.”

I’m sorry, Jen, I was just remembering some of my past actions, Yemra replied. But I stand by what I said. And that is indeed all of my combat experience. I didn’t have any combat action to speak of when I was finally promoted to human hosts, and you have to remember that Pennsylvania had the second-largest number of voluntary Controllers coming into the last days of the Yeerk invasion.

((Well, that’s it, then,)) I muttered. ((We’re fucked.))

Oh, don’t be so harsh on yourself, Jen, Yemra told me. Your father taught you well when he used to take you out to the shooting ranges, and I’m sure that your video game experiences will actually come in handy right now.

((Girl, that’s not very reassuring.))

Well, I felt like I had to say something.

I took the first right turn that I saw after encountering the National Guard Humvee. I was aiming to put as much distance between me and them as possible as I was not sure how I could explain adequately my presence in this place to them. Well, honesty is always the best policy, and if Yemra was right about Tarash telling the National Guard about Yibey’s plans to form an army out of Controllers to fight against the Nothlit State then maybe they would just make me get into the Humvee and drive me out of the city with a convoy of civilian evacuees to FITG.

I mean, I wasn’t always the most extroverted person out there, but even I had to feel lonely (and that’s with a Yeerk already in my head) at the sight of the city’s empty streets. I had become so used to them being chock-full of people and cars that now that there was no activity in the area, I honestly felt like I was the last woman on Earth. And that thought depressed me a little.

((Still no sign of either Ken or Yibey, girl,)) I said as we continued walking down the streets of downtown. ((And for that matter, I haven’t seen neither hide nor hair of Donna or Sinan, either. Man, I really hope that they didn’t get killed in that Dracon artillery strike, but things are looking less and less bright, I have to tell you….))

No! We can’t give up hope! Not yet! Yemra persisted. Until I haven’t seen their bodies, I refuse to believe that Ken or Yibey are dead! And not Donna or Sinan too, for that matter!

((Girl, remember how you described a Dracon beam to me?)) I retorted. ((You said it was basically a Star Trek phaser made real! You know they showed phasers disintegrating people at their higher settings in the show. Imagine the settings for Dracon artillery, if they even have them! I’m assuming they have them. Do they have them?))

I wouldn’t know, Yemra replied honestly. I’ve never been assigned to the Artillery Forces. But you’re trying to derail me. Even if Ken and/or Donna were indeed disintegrated by the Dracon artillery, they would still leave some trace marks on the ground where they were hit if they were hit! And we didn’t see any marks on the ground where we last saw them before the artillery came, did we?

((Absence of proof is not proof of absence, Yemra,)) I continued on. ((Yes, we didn’t see any marks on the ground after the Dracon artillery, but what if they were set at so high a setting that they incinerate even the scorch marks left behind by those unlucky enough to get hit?))

Yeah, and what if they never got hit in the first place and now they’re both looking for us as well? What if we had just stayed at the Pool and waited for them there? What if---? Suddenly, Yemra’s words were cut short by a now-familiar vibrating and thumping sensation beneath my feet. I didn’t even need her warning that it was more Dracon artillery before I jumped backwards. Nothing exploded in my immediate vicinity, but I did hear the artillery hitting their targets; their far away targets.

((Do you think it’s finally over, Yems?)) I asked as I stood rooted to the stop, unwilling to move anywhere else lest it was my movement that would mark my position to the artillery.

I mean, it should be, Yemra replied. I can’t feel any more pulsing beneath your feet right now.

((And that’s a good thing, right?))

Of course. Unless this is the Dracon beam that has our names on it, in which case we are screwed.

And of course, it was right after that moment that the world suddenly turned into fire and brimstone and went absolutely crazy. I felt myself flying high in the air and turning a full 360 degrees. My screams from my mouth mixed with Yemra’s screams inside my head, and we were both able to see in full Technicolor the ground rushing by underneath us, and then I felt my backpack hitting the ground. The bag cushioned my fall to the ground, but not enough to fully arrest my momentum, and the last thing I heard was a sharp cracking noise as the back of my head hit the asphalt of the road, and then the last thing I felt was a very intense pain radiating from the spot in the back of my head where it had hit the road. Yemra’s screams cut out right then and there, and then I closed my eyes and the whole world went black.

Chapter Text


Every person, every being, has memories of entire days which they will always remember no matter what, and I am no exception to that. There are a lot of days that I will remember to the end of my own life. Those days include the first time that I acquired my first ever host, a Gedd; the day that I was finally promoted from a Gedd host to a Hork-Bajir host and seeing the universe from a Hork-Bajir’s eyes for the first time, and finally being able to walk around without thinking about the shortness of one of my legs; and the day that I was promoted once again, this time from a Hork-Bajir host to a human host, and learning for myself that everything that they said about taking over a human for the first time was true. I also remember the days that I was washed out of the Yeerk Pool and into the city’s sewage system during the final days of the Yeerk invasion of Earth, and I remember the day that I crawled into the ear canal of one Jennifer Carson in my quest to finally get some semblance of safety from the river and learned that I had somehow managed to survive more than three Earth days without bathing in the all-important Kandrona rays which are essential to the life of a Yeerk. But one specific day that I will also always remember is the Earth date September 11, 2001.

To Andalites, Gedds, Taxxons, Hork-Bajir, and those Yeerks who weren’t in human hosts, the day September 11, 2001 does not hold any special significance for them. But for the humans, and the Yeerks who were in human society by virtue of the Yeerk invasion of Earth, September 11, 2001 is a most significant day indeed. Ask any human where they were on the day that the Yeerk invasion of Earth finally became public and they would have a hard time remembering just that, but ask that same human where they were on the day of September 11, 2001 and they will tell you everything that they did and happened to them on that day in addition to telling you where exactly they were on that fateful day. Because the simple truth of the matter was that September 11, 2001 was a day in which humanity saw both the worst and the best of the species, and the ramifications of that one day in Earth year 2001 are still being felt by the humans today. In fact, humanity still considers September 11, 2001 as the day that they and their world were changed forever, and not the actual day that the Yeerk invasion of their planet became public knowledge and especially not the day that the Andalites ratified their “Treaty of Recognition of the Independence and Free Will of the Human Species” with the human representatives of the United Nations.

I remember the start of September 11 as being just another summer day. My human host at the time, Mallory Brunner, had just finished a midnight shift at work and we were on our way back to her apartment when Mallory received a call from Yibey Nine-One-Five, who back then was already hosted by Ken Fuchs. It was Mallory who had answered the call, but when we heard Ken’s voice say, “Yemra, it’s Yibey,” I took control of Mallory and replied, “Yes, Yibey, what is it?”

“I need you to come over to the Pool now,” Yibey replied. “We have a problem. A plane has crashed in New York. Some of our brothers and sisters were on board, and we have no idea about what happened to them.”

((A plane crash in New York?)) Mallory asked me. ((What has that got to do with us? Were some of the passengers Controllers? I’m guessing yes because Yibey mentioned something about your ‘brothers and sisters’ being aboard.))

Yes, Mallory, I have no idea why Yibey would want us in the Pool for this, but as our sub-visser, we have to do what he asks, I replied, and I steered Mallory away from the bus stop that would have taken us back to her apartment and to the nearest Yeerk Pool entrance. After ordering the Happy Meal with extra happy, we went through the walk-in freezer and down to the Yeerk Pool. While Pennsylvania did indeed have the second-highest number of voluntary Controllers in the 48 contiguous states of the United States, they were still outnumbered by the involuntary Controllers, and Mallory and I had to pass by the cages where the involuntary hosts were being held while their Yeerks swam around in the Pool. Mallory’s qualms about the invasion resurfaced, and I had to reassure her that what we were doing was right. I know that what we Yeerks have done to these people is wrong, I told her, but if we are to help eventually gain a lasting peace and cooperation because humans and Yeerks, we have to ignore the involuntaries. We have to pretend that I’m just an ordinary subservient Yeerk loyal to the Empire and that you’re just a meek and quiet voluntary Controller and not do anything that would mark us out as members of the Peace Movement.

((But still, this can’t be right, can it?)) Mallory asked me.

This is the only way we can do things without risking our lives, I replied.

I walked over to the Yeerk Pool offices where Yibey, as Sub-Visser Three-hundred-eighteen, was entitled to one such office. As Yibey’s Vex’not (something between an aide-de-camp, a personal assistant, and an adjutant), I was entitled to walk into his office at any time, but it turned out that he wasn’t there. Instead, he was in Visser Five’s office. They were both watching the news about the crash of American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. The news anchors were wondering how such a thing could have happened, as the airplane had flown straight into the tower without seemingly making any moves to avoid it. There were all sorts of speculation going on as to why the plane crashed into the tower itself, almost all of them to be proven wrong by what was to come, but none of us knew it yet.

“I’m here,” I said to Yibey and Visser Five in Mallory’s voice. They turned to face me and nodded their heads to recognize my arrival, and then they both turned immediately back to the television. “Yibey, you said that some of our brother and sisters Yeerks were onboard that plane when it crashed,” I asked him. “Is that why we are interested in it?”

“They’re not just brother and sister Yeerks,” Yibey replied. “They’re fellow members too.” This meant that they were members of the Peace Movement as well. “Patrick and Memrak were on Flight 11. So was Ellen and Innass.”

“Memrak Two-Zero-Five and Innass Two-Zero-Nine?” I asked. “Weren’t they reassigned to the Pool in Boston just five months ago?”

“Yes, they were,” Visser Five replied. Her host back then wasn’t Emily as it is now, but an older woman who bore a resemblance to an Earth actress whom Jen would have recognized almost immediately had she been there at the time. When I asked her about it later, Jen told me that Visser Five’s previous human host looked like Marisa Tomei. “Just a few days before, I made contact with them and they told me that they were going to fly to Los Angeles and meet with Illim and the other members of the Peace Movement in the Pool there,” Visser Five continued. “They said that their flight would be on September 11, and the newspeople say that this flight was from Boston to Los Angeles, so this must be their flight.”

Memrak Two-Zero-Five and Innass Two-Zero-Nine were not only brother and sister Yeerks, the two of them were also brother and sister in the human sense of the word. They had come from the same Yeerk trifecta, and they had come to do everything together just like human brothers and sisters would. Keeping them together had not been a problem as their hosts, Patrick Flanagan and Ellen Sims, were in a human pairing known as a “couple”. The humans had joked that Memrak and Innass were practically committing something called “incest” by virtue of being in Patrick and Ellen, and when I perused Mallory’s knowledge for the meaning of “incest”, I found out that it was the term used to refer to human siblings or family members engaging in, well, reproductive activity. Incest is practically an alien (get it?) concept to Yeerks as any three Yeerks can form a trifecta that gives birth to a new generation of Yeerks, but for humans, incest is taboo; an unspeakable act, something committed only by deviants and perverts. But both Memrak and Innass and Patrick and Ellen didn’t see it that way, and that was the end of it. To learn that all four of them were now gone really saddened both me and Mallory, as I knew Memrak and Innass really well, and Mallory was good friends with Patrick and Ellen.

And then, right before our eyes, we three Yeerks and our human hosts watched as a second plane, which we would all later find out was United Airlines Flight 175, crashed into the second, undamaged tower of the World Trade Center, and I knew right then and there that this was no accident. The airplane was flying straight for the tower, making no attempt whatsoever to avoid it. It was just like some of the stories I’d heard of critically damaged Bug fighters that had tried to crash into Andalite dome ships in a last desperate attempt to cause damage to the enemy fleets, which incidentally sounded like the Japanese kamikaze attacks of World War Two that I learned about when I eventually had access to Jen’s body of knowledge and memory. And then, seemingly moments after the images of Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower, more news came in that yet another plane had crashed into another building, this time the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and then a fourth plane was reported to have crashed in Somerset County in Pennsylvania afterwards, and we were left wondering what else could possibly happen on this day.

The humans were forever changed by the events of September 11, 2001. But what they didn’t know was that the Yeerks, or at least the Pennsylvania faction of the Yeerk Peace Movement, were also deeply affected by the events of that fateful day. We found out that when Memrak and Innass were relocated from our Pool to the one in Boston, they had managed to establish a new Peace Movement faction there, and the reason why they were headed for Los Angeles to meet Illim and his fellow Peace Movement members there was to introduce these new members to the group. I would also come to learn the names of those Yeerks and their hosts who had perished aboard Flight 175: Victor Andres Gomez and Tahyab Seven-Five-Four-Seven; Hildegard Sorenson and Amepp Two-One-Three; Bronson Reitlinger and Subyak Four-One-Seven-Two; and Amy-Lynn Covert and Bahmed One-Seven-Four-Nine. We, the members of the Peace Movement who had known the two Controllers aboard Flight 11, mourned for them, and then I mourned privately for all six Yeerks and their hosts. I mourned particularly hard for Memrak, Innass, and Amepp, who had all come from the same trifecta and very much brothers and sisters in every sense of the word, and were also close friends of mine.

I have to say though that when the September 11 attacks happened, the nation known as the United States of America was for all intents and purposes at war with itself. The Yeerk invasion of Earth had become public just a few months before, and because we had infiltrated almost the entirety of the fabric of American society, people simply couldn’t tell who was friend and who was foe. People turned against each other; friends attacked friends, families tore themselves apart, and even the military units tasked of assisting the Animorphs with combating the Yeerks mostly ended up fighting against the other military units whom the Yeerks had infiltrated and taken over, and all because no one could tell who was infested and who was free. This internal division of the United States had proved beneficial for Esplin Nine-Four-Six-Six, the newly-promoted Visser One, at least for the early days of his command over the invasion, as it meant that he could now pursue his policy of open warfare against the humans.

But September 11 would change all that. Everyone stopped fighting in the aftermath of the attacks. The attacks united the American people, both free and infested, and the attacks also sowed the seed of fear into the figurative hearts of the Yeerks. Nineteen humans hijacked four civilian aerial transports with the full intention of crashing said transports into places with large concentrations of humans, and over three thousand humans would lose their lives on that fateful day, and it would prove to be a turning point in the war between Yeerks and humans. If humans could do such horrific things to each other, what was stopping them from doing it against creatures who were not from their own planet?

We Yeerks know of the stories of those human hosts, almost always involuntary, who would rather die than suffer another second of infestation and enslavement by a Yeerk, and we were also aware of humanity’s, or rather individual humans’ tendency towards suicide and self-sacrifice in desperate times against a more powerful opponent. But we were all caught completely by surprise by the magnitude and the brazenness of the September 11 attacks, and it wasn’t long before the Yeerk high command made the inevitable leap of logic: what if the humans decided to do the same thing to us? Yes, the Yeerk Pools were underground, beneath the humans’ cities, but all that was needed was for one human airplane loaded with as much of that powerful explosive called “jet fuel” as it could carry to make it past the defenses and crash right into the Pool. It would result in the deaths of thousands, and those were just the Yeerks. Humans, Hork-Bajir, Taxxons, and Gedds will certainly be among the casualties as well.

The possibility of such an attack, a mass casualty event, put the invasion on the back foot and we were forced to wait for the inevitable. Or at least it had seemed inevitable until some cooler heads finally prevailed and we realized that the humans weren’t going to use the tactic that had so deeply affected them so quickly, even against invaders from another planet entirely, and the invasion began to calm down somewhat. No suicidal humans in fully fueled airplanes came crashing into our Pools, and within a month of the attacks, the American humans were preparing to engage a new and faraway foe (faraway in the sense that it was far away from the physical location of the United States of America and not truly far away like an enemy in the stars far away). The Americans had invaded the nation known as Afghanistan to topple the organization known as the Taliban and kill or capture the person whom they believe to be the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, a man called Osama bin Laden. There were humans who believed that it wasn’t Osama but rather the American government who were the real masterminds of the attacks, but even as I do not believe that, I will not get into that conversation for the sake of everyone reading this.

Seeing the Americans deploy large numbers of troops to faraway Afghanistan restored some confidence among the Vissers, some of whom still hoped to turn around and gain a victory in a war which we didn’t yet know we were very rapidly losing. But there was one Visser for whom the fate of the invasion of Earth was finally decided, and that was Visser Five.

Visser Five had called for Yibey on the October day after it was announced that the United States had invaded Afghanistan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Yibey then called for me as both his Vex’not and as a member of the Peace Movement, and Visser Five had allowed me to sit in on the conversation as she trusted me and Mallory both.

“I think you know why I called you here, Yibey,” Visser Five said to Yibey as he and I arrived at the Visser’s office in the Pool. “The Vissers, especially Visser One, believes that we have been given a golden chance to claim the final victory from the humans and the Andalites after the Americans sent their military forces to Afghanistan. Visser One thinks that the time is now ripe for us to return to the offensive, reclaim lost ground, and claim victory over the humans. But, Yibey, I firmly believe that the invasion is lost, at least as a military force. The Animorphs have got the word out that we are here to conquer the humans, and I fear that that will make them more than reluctant to find a diplomatic solution to the situation.”

“Are you sure about that, Visser?” Yibey asked. When Visser Five nodded her head, Yibey lowered his voice and said, “You best make sure that no one else hears you say that. You could be arrested, stripped of your rank, and sentenced to starvation if the wrong ears hear you say that.”

“I do not mean to sound like a defeatist, Yibey,” Visser Five replied. “I am only trying to be pragmatic. Earth is lost; of that much I am certain. Any attempt to reclaim it will only result in more needless deaths both for us and the humans. The Andalites will have already received the Animorphs’ distress call and are right now assembling a mighty fleet to bear down upon us. All the other Vissers can hope now is to infest as many humans as possible to turn on the Andalites when they finally arrive and land on this planet, but even that will not guarantee us victory. There is no more victory waiting for us, Yibey, only the singular shame of our defeat at the hands of the Andalites and their new human allies. All we can hope for is that we survive to after the war and that the humans will be lenient on us Yeerks. The Andalites will certainly not be.”

“But what will we do when the Council gives us the order to fight to the last Yeerk?” Yibey asked. “Eldril, Visser Eight, will surely carry out their orders. What about you, Tarash? What about our brothers and sisters in the Peace Movement?”

“Then those who will choose to fight will be fighting a losing battle,” Visser Five replied. “And we cannot do that. If we want to prove to the humans that we, the Peace Movement, want to coexist with them, then we cannot fight. Our only hope will lie in the humans seeing that not all of us are bloodthirsty and warmongering body-snatching slugs; that all we really want is to see, hear, and feel the universe.”

“But if Visser Eight forces us to fight?” Yibey pressed.

“We cannot fight. We must not fight,” Visser Five concluded sadly. “We must not fight. For the good of Yeerk-kind and for the good of mankind.”

Once again, I regained consciousness to a sea of aches and pains. But unlike the last time that both Jen and I had been knocked unconscious, I was still very much attached to Jen’s brain, and I was able to gain complete control of her body in the first few seconds since I woke up. And the mere fact that I was in Jen’s brain and in control of her body also showed to me that the two of us had somehow managed to survive that salvo of Dracon artillery despite it falling practically on top of us. The survival rate from a direct hit from Dracon artillery was very, very rare, but somehow both of us had made it. Jen, are you all right? I called out into the depths of her mind.

((Right here,)) Jen replied weakly. ((Would you mind handling everything for me for a moment? I’m just gonna take a long, long nap. I don’t think I can take this anymore.))

All right, Jen, but remember, don’t go into the light. Stay away from the light. Once you go into the light, there’s no turning back.

((What are you talking about, Yems? I’m not gonna die!)) Jen retorted. ((I’m just gonna take a nap, like I said. You and your imagination, Yemra Six-Four-Zero! Sometimes you’re just too morbid! Go do things as me, girl; I’m just going to sleep all this pain away. Just make sure you don’t return my body to me even more battered and bruised than it already is.))

Hah! I don’t know if I should say that that’s easy or difficult because you are a natural klutz, Jennifer Yelena Carson.

((Shove off, you worm.))

I commanded Jen’s eyes to open, and I was so surprised by what I saw in front of me that I actually reached out and grabbed it.

“Easy there, Yemra,” Sinan One-Nine-Five in the body of Belladonna Spencer said to me. “It’s just me.”

“What’s that? What’s that thing in your hand?” I asked in Jen’s voice.

“It’s a healing device, of course,” Sinan replied, and then I finally recognized the healing device and its central cell stimulator in the palm of Sinan/Donna’s hand. “How are you feeling?” she asked me.

“In pain,” I replied as I made to sit up, but Sinan laid a slim but firm hand on my shoulder. “Don’t move just yet, Yemra,” she told me as she forced me back down gently but firmly. “Jen’s body is still going through the healing process. You’ll do more damage to her if you try to move anything significant. Why don’t you just lie back down while you’re healing up, yeah?”

“Okay,” I muttered as I laid back down on the cot on which I woke up and watched as Sinan ran the healing device over me. The healing device was a contraption that was not necessarily purely a Yeerk invention; we copied it from other aliens’ technology just like how we copied our Dracon beams from the Andalite shredders. Only the oldest Yeerks would probably remember from which species we copied the healing device from, but the cell stimulator in the palm of the hand of the user wielding the device was proudly Yeerk-designed and Yeerk-made. Directed at any injured part of a host body, the cell stimulator does what its name says and stimulates the cells into healing themselves. I watched as blue and red rays emanated from the healing device and landed on the injured parts of Jen’s body and then, without daring to look at Sinan, I asked her, “Can I still talk, though?”

“Sure you can,” Sinan replied. “I don’t know if this is right, but from Donna’s first impressions of Jen, she says that Jen is the kind of person who would suffocate if she was told to keep her mouth shut.”

“So, you two made it through the first Dracon artillery salvo at the Yeerk Pool entrance,” I said, but more like a question than a statement.

“Yeah,” Sinan replied in Donna’s British accent. She didn’t elaborate any further on it though.

“How about Ken and Yibey? Are they all right?”

“They should be. They should be back any minute now, barring something really bad happening to the both of them.”

Well, that was good to know. “What day is it?” I asked.


“Saturday!” I repeated. “So does that mean that I’ve been asleep for a whole day?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

The memories of what was now yesterday’s events quickly came back to me: the briefing in the Yeerk Pool, Yibey’s assertions that we needed to fight fire with fire against the Nothlit State, Ken and Donna disappearing in the first Dracon artillery attack, and then the National Guard guys in the Humvee telling people to leave the fighting to them. Strangely enough though, I couldn’t recall the exact moment that the second Dracon salvo landed with Jen and I right in the middle and almost killed us. Even a quick perusal of Jen’s most recent memories revealed nothing. So this was what amnesia feels like.

“It’s called retrograde amnesia,” Jen’s mom’s voice said. “It’s the mind’s way of making you forget something really bad that happened to you. It’ll pass eventually, although the time is always different for different people. Sometimes it could take hours or days, and sometimes it could take years or decades or almost a person’s whole life. The thing to remember is to not to force the issue; it’ll just hurt real bad if you do so.”

“Yemra?” Sinan called. “Are you all right? You zoned out on me a little bit back there.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” I replied. “I just remembered something that Jen’s mother said.”

The light finally went out on the healing device, and Sinan slipped it off of Donna’s arm. “That should do it,” she said. “That’s all that the device can do. Try to keep still for a few minutes, Yemra. Let the stimulated cells do their work.”

It felt strange, having to stay still with Jen’s body while her stimulated cells went on with the job of repairing themselves and healing her up. Jen was the kind of person who couldn’t sit still if her life depended on it. She was always bursting with energy, always walking around her room, the house, and even the campus back in her college days, whenever she wasn’t doing anything much. These wanderings were very quick to happen especially if she was very deep in thought about her next story or tactics for the next soccer game. People had always told Jen that her constant wanderings drove everyone crazy and dizzy. It was such an infectious habit of hers that even I was already feeling an urge to just lift an arm or shake a leg just for the sake of moving, but I restrained myself. I had seen the effects of overstimulated cells, and I didn’t want to experience it firsthand. It’s not a pretty sight, I can tell you that much.

“So what’s happened, then?” I asked Sinan. “While I was out?”

“The world hasn’t gone quite to shit just yet, if that’s what you’re talking about,” Sinan replied. “But it’s not all fine and dandy out there as well. The nothlits still managed to enter the city center despite the best efforts of your police and National Guard, especially now that the nothlits have got Dracon artillery to help them. They, the nothlits, now occupy a number of blocks and districts around the airport and the Yeerk Pool. We’re in a place just a few blocks away from the nearest nothlit-occupied block, and that’s why Ken and Yibey are gone. They’re surveilling the nothlits for Visser Five.”

((Hey, bitches, what’s up?)) Jen suddenly called out mentally.

I gasped, both physically and mentally. By the Kandrona, Jen! I said. Don’t sneak up on me like that! Don’t take a mental nap and then just up and wake up on me like that!

((Jeez, Louise, Yemra, I’m sorry!)) Jen said. ((What’s happening that’s got you all riled up and nervous anyway?))

We’ve just been treated by a healing device, I replied. We’re not supposed to move for at least five minutes so the stimulated cells only have to work on the actual injured parts of your body and not all of the miniscule stuff that results in moving. I’m not supposed to move, and then you surprise me all of a sudden? Do you want to know what happens when you try to move with stimulated cells in your body? I then showed Jen some mental images of the times that I witnessed aggressive stimulated cell healing, and Jen mentally recoiled from the vivid images.

((Hey, Yemra, I already said that I’m sorry!)) Jen said. ((You didn’t have to show me all of that! Now I will never unsee those images ever!))

Good. Now let that be a lesson to you and don’t talk to me while I talk to Sinan.

((Sinan and Donna? They’re alive? What happened to them? Did you ask them about Ken and Yibey?))

Well, since you were mentally asleep the whole time… I filled Jen in on what Sinan and I had been talking about. Once I was finished with that, Jen asked me, ((So now what?))

I haven’t been able to ask her that yet. But just as I was about to open my mouth to ask her, though, Sinan beat me to the punch and said, “Okay, I think you can move now.”

I immediately sat up on the cot and stretched out my arms and legs, and my new position made me feel like I had a new purpose in life. And then, before I could ask Sinan what we were supposed to do now, two people walked into the room where we were. Well, I say two people but it was actually one human and two aliens. The human was Ken Fuchs and one of the aliens was his Yeerk, Yibey Nine-One-Five, both of whom I had almost given up for dead after the first salvo of Dracon artillery absolutely destroyed his car. The other alien was seven feet tall, covered from head to toe in wicked-looking sharp blades and had the feet of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

((That’s a goddamn Hork-Bajir, Yems,)) Jen told me.

Chapter Text


“That’s a Hork… That’s a Hork….” I sputtered as Yemra returned control of my body back to me.

“Yes, he is,” Ken Fuchs, host of the Yeerk Yibey Nine-One-Five, said without missing a beat.

“But wait a minute!” I said to the Hork-Bajir. “You’re not just any Hork-Bajir. You’re Shal Gurree!”

“Yes, is me,” Shal Gurree, the Hork-Bajir, replied.

“Hang on,” Belladonna Spencer, host of Sinan One-Nine-Five, said. “Jen, how come you know who Shal Gurree is?”

“Who doesn’t know Shal Gurree?” I replied. “He’s just gone and fought with the Kurds against ISIS! It was all over the news!”

“Yes, is true,” Shal Gurree said as he carefully placed his Dragunov sniper rifle on one of the tables inside the room. I could see notches carved into the wooden buttstock of the rifle, notches which signified the kills that Shal Gurree had gotten during his time with the Kurds and which I was reasonably sure had been made there by Shal’s own blades. “Is true, I lead Bajireyn brothers fight against Daesh,” Shal continued.

It was very big news back in the day (which was just about two or three years ago). Everyone knew about those people from all over the world who were going to Iraq to fight with the Kurdish Peshmerga against the Islamic State. And don’t ask me how I know that because I’m just a geek. And among those people were a handful of Hork-Bajir. Like all volunteer fighters or mercenaries, the Hork-Bajir who fought with the Peshmerga had their own different and varying reasons for fighting. Some were like human combat veterans who just wanted to return to the fighting in any way possible. But Shal Gurree was one of those handful of a handful of Hork-Bajir who truly wanted to fight against ISIS and their radical fundamentalist ideology and stop its spread throughout Iraq, Syria, and the Middle East.

Shal Gurree had a very colorful history behind him too. He was basically a veteran of the Yeerk invasion of Earth, one of the hundreds of thousands of Hork-Bajir infested by the Yeerks and used as their foot soldiers and shock troops against the Andalites. After the end of the invasion, Shal Gurree joined his Hork-Bajir brethren first in that secluded valley in California where the Animorphs’ Free Hork-Bajir friends had stayed out the duration of the invasion, and then over to the East Coast.

The integration of the Hork-Bajir species into American society was not seamless to say the least, but they didn’t encounter some of the other problems faced by Yeerks and voluntary Controllers when hosting a Yeerk was finally legalized. And the Hork-Bajir were certainly accepted into society much, much quicker than the nothlits. You can say that this was because of the Animorphs books, which depicted the Hork-Bajir as mere pawns in the Yeerk Empire’s deadly game against the Andalites, thus making them very much sympathetic to human eyes. Of course, once you got past the “walking blades of death” part of the Hork-Bajir and move on to the “kid-like bark-loving vegetarian” part, Hork-Bajir are actually very funny, friendly, and chummy fellows. In the sixteen years since Hork-Bajir were officially recognized as a separate sapient species now living on Earth, the pace of their integration into society was staggering to say the least. Sure, they preferred living in the forests, mountains, and natural parks, but as thinking and feeling beings, they still got the privilege of US citizenship, and nowadays a Hork-Bajir walking down the streets of any given city in America and going about their business like a human being is becoming a more and more common sight. I remember a Hork-Bajir actually stood for election somewhere someplace, most probably California (because that’s where the vast majority of them live), and Hork-Bajir are also becoming commonplace in the media, mostly as comic reliefs for the main characters, but sometimes in some very serious roles as well.

Speaking of which, nothlits and human-Controllers are also beginning to appear in the media as well. Sympathetic or even friendly nothlits and Controllers are still a rarity in films and TV shows, however. I think the first good Controller character I ever saw was Annie Edison from Community. She joined the Sharing for extra credit, got infested, and then she got her Yeerk back when hosting Yeerks was finally legalized. Another Controller character was one of Raj Koothrappali’s girlfriends in The Big Bang Theory, thus finally fulfilling one of his fantasies of having sex with a Controller (although seeing as Raj has had a lot of girlfriends over the series, I can’t remember who exactly it was; maybe it was the one who loves slasher flicks). And speaking of The Big Bang Theory, now is probably not the time to mention all those fan theories about Sheldon Cooper being a nothlit (which ended up getting thoroughly discredited when Young Sheldon came out, but some people out there are still pushing it). And I think there was one actress who actually revealed herself to be a Controller, and she proved it by letting her Yeerk out of her head on national television (I think it was on Ellen as well). I think someone actually called it a coming-out party (kind of like a person coming out as gay or lesbian but with a Yeerk in their head instead of their sexuality).

But back to Hork-Bajir. Hork-Bajir have also been recently allowed to join the military. Nothing was really stopping the Hork-Bajir from joining the military; it’s just that none of them really thought about joining the military before, and there was also the matter of Hork-Bajir having the mental capacity of a human toddler, which meant that the military would have to dumb down their aptitude tests to make them Hork-Bajir friendly. There’s just no other way to say it. But then a new generation of Hork-Bajir finally reached maturity and saw it as their sworn duty to fight for the country that had finally freed their race from Yeerk oppression and gave them a new planet to call home, kind of like a lot of young American men and women who join the military for reasons ranging from patriotism to fighting against America’s enemies to being in a job where killing is legal.

Shal Gurree was one of those Hork-Bajir who decided to join the US military, but he was definitely not a spring chicken when he joined up. Shal was one of the first Hork-Bajir to enlist and also one of the first Hork-Bajir to make it through to basic training and beyond. Truth be told, though, military insiders have revealed that Shal Gurree was pretty bang average for a boot except for the fact that he was somehow an exceptional marksman despite the fact that Hork-Bajir eyesight wasn’t exactly adapted for our planet. Shal Gurree was eventually blooded in combat during the last days of America’s war in Afghanistan, before the last combat troops pulled out of the area, and I remember that he actually managed to get a Purple Heart after nearly being overrun by Taliban fighters. There was a big show about how Shal Gurree was the first alien to be awarded the Purple Heart in the history of planet Earth.

Then, after a relatively quiet honorable discharge for the first alien Purple Heart recipient in history, Shal Gurree next popped up in the spotlight when he was seen fighting the Islamic State alongside the Kurds and a bunch of both human and Hork-Bajir fighters. Some of the Kurds didn’t like it that both human foreigners and outright aliens were taking wages and places in their Peshmerga that could have gone to their fellow Kurds, but most of them appreciated the help nevertheless. And he was practically racking up kills in Iraq like a video game character. Shal Gurree’s story made headlines all over the world, and people were very much interested in the story of the alien who was working in his own little way to clean up his adopted home planet. Heck, you could practically make an Oscar-winning movie about Shal Gurree’s exploits with the US Army and the Kurds. I just don’t think that there’s enough makeup in the world to make Bradley Cooper look remotely like something resembling a Hork-Bajir. Well, maybe they can just get a Hork-Bajir actor and then have Bradley Cooper do the voice-acting. And cue the political correctness people moaning about “underrepresentation of minorities” or such shit.

Seeing Shal Gurree here in the States was a surprise because, the last I had heard of him, he was still in Iraq fighting against Daesh. I know that he, like all other Hork-Bajir on Earth, had once been Controllers and had only regained their freedom after the Yeerk invasion of Earth was defeated, so I had completely no idea what Shal was doing here alongside human-Controllers (even though all of us were voluntaries). And unless some of the Hork-Bajir also wanted to become voluntary Controllers (and I don’t see that happening anytime soon; there’s still a lot of resentment between the two species; and Shal Gurree didn’t look to me like the type to become a voluntary Controller), then I can only assume that Shal has his own reasons for fighting the nothlits with us.

“So, have you three found out anything about the nothlits from your little scouting trip?” Donna/Sinan asked.

“Nothing much, to be honest,” Ken/Yibey replied. “But the nothlits do seem to be very agitated about something, or someone. They’re worried about the arrival of someone or something in the territory that they control, and the nothlits are getting nervous. In turn, the mercenaries that the nothlits got to fight for them are also getting nervous and agitated. The mercenaries are getting paid, and well at that, but the mercenaries still don’t trust them much because, well, they’re nothlits. And they also used to be the body-snatching alien slugs that tried to conquer this planet just about twenty years ago or so.”

“Hmm,” Donna/Sinan said. “It’s not really what we expected, but then again, what can you expect out of this?”

“Yeah, sure, but none of us are asking the really important question here,” I suddenly blurted out. Everyone’s attention turned to me. “Is Shal Gurree a Controller?”

“No, me no Controller,” Shal replied. “No Yeerk in here.” He pointed at his bladed head. “Can show,” he offered.

“No, please, don’t!” I had read that Animorphs book about Tobias finding the free Hork-Bajir and helping them establish their little colony in that valley, but only after Jara Hamee had shown to him that he was not infested. My imagination was no help at all. And I don’t need to see that shit in real life.

“Oh, shame,” Shal Gurree muttered. He really looked like he was relishing the chance to show me his live brain.

“So what exactly are you doing here, Shal? Aren’t you supposed to be still in Iraq or something?” I asked him.

“Shal come home after Mosul captured,” Shal replied. “Me live with Bajireyn in valley when Sub-visser call and ask if Shal help do something for him.” Shal pointed at Ken to show that he was the sub-visser he was talking about.

“We’re keeping watch over the nothlits whenever we can,” Ken/Yibey replied. “My army is scattered in little pockets throughout the city so we can’t fight the nothlits head-on just yet, which is why we’re conducting surveillance on them for the moment. However, I can now say with absolute confidence that both substantial planning and funding were involved to bring about the Nothlit State into existence. If Visser Five is right about her theory and the rest of the Vissers have decided to go ahead with Operation Vengeance, then it must have taken communication and coordination across all of the various states in which the government spread the Vissers so that they wouldn’t get any bright ideas about working together once again. Fat lot of good that did now that we live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And there’s still the fact that the nothlits are getting worked up about something that must be coming soon.”

“And what do we do with the information if we get it?” I asked.

“We send it back to Visser Five, of course,” Ken replied matter-of-factly. “She’s over in California trying to piece together this puzzle, which she thinks involves more than just the nothlits themselves. Donna, how’s that coming along?”

“I’ve been trying to make contact with the Visser for some time already,” Donna replied. “I know that you and Yibey taught me how to do this, get this thing working, but I think it’s stuck or something. I can’t seem to pick up the Visser just yet.” Donna/Sinan then began fiddling with the disc-shaped thing in her hand that was the size of those tiny CDs that didn’t really take off. Suddenly, a blue figure emerged from the top of the disc thing, and I recognized it as Visser Five’s human host. “Yibey? Sinan? Do you have any updates for me?” she asked.

“Yes, Visser, we do,” Yibey replied, stepping into view of Visser Five’s figure. “Shal Gurree and I have just come back from our reconnaissance of the areas of the city newly occupied by the nothlits. It appears as if the nothlits are preparing for the arrival of someone or something in their area of control. We don’t know what it could be, but the fact that the nothlits are troubled and agitated and look like they are congregating around the municipal airport makes me believe that whatever it is that’s coming, it’s going to come from either the air or from space.”

“It is funny that you should mention that whatever this is could come from space, Yibey,” Visser Five’s holographic figure said. “Now, Yibey, Sinan, Shal, listen to me carefully because what I am about to tell you could determine the course of Earth’s future,” she said. I’ve just met my own contacts, and they say that Operation Vengeance and the Nothlit State might both very well be plots by the Yeerk Empire to reestablish a foothold here on Earth.”

“What!?” I shouted all of a sudden, taking everyone inside the room by surprise. “The Yeerk Empire is still out there!?”

“Oh, Jen, Yemra,” Visser Five said in surprise as well, noticing me in the picture for the first time. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

“We found her unconscious on the street after one of the nothlits’ Dracon artillery barrages,” Donna/Sinan said to the Visser.

Visser Five nodded her head in acknowledgement. “As I was saying,” she continued, “to answer your question, Jen, the invasion force sent by the Yeerk Empire to Earth is massive, I grant you that, but it is still only a fraction of the true power of the Yeerk Empire. The invasion force was defeated, yes, its leaders like Esplin Nine-Four-Six-Six captured and most of those Yeerks forced to become nothlits, but the Council of Thirteen is still out there somewhere, and they still control substantial fleets and forces, not to mention both the Hork-Bajir and Taxxon homeworlds, despite the best efforts of the Andalites. My contacts have told me that because the Empire has suffered setbacks in their invasions of the Garatron and Anati homeworlds, it appears as if the Council of Thirteen has not yet fully given up on the idea of conquering Earth.”

All of this was very much a sledgehammer blow delivered to the gut by the one and only Triple H. This was completely and utterly fucked up. The Yeerk Empire was back! Or make that the Yeerk Empire is still around! I mean, at first I thought it was completely fucking impossible, but then it starts making perfect sense. Nobody ever said that we brought down the Empire in one fell swoop when the Animorphs defeated the invasion almost singlehandedly back in the day. It was always just the invasion force that lost. Sure, the defeat at Earth must have been a very awful experience for the Council of Thirteen, but at the end of the day, the Council is still out there in the stars, plotting and planning against their Andalite enemies. But never mind the facts; we humans thought that we had won the war, and the Andalites certainly did nothing to tell us otherwise. But for the Council of Thirteen, it might as well be just a setback. A very heavy and costly setback in terms of Yeerks and hosts lost, sure, but still just a setback. The Empire still had the Hork-Bajir and Taxxon homeworlds, as well as some of those other species that they had conquered like the Nahara, the Ssstram, the Mak, as well as partially conquered species like the Garatron and the Anati.

I had no idea what a lot of those species conquered by the Yeerks looked like (the Animorphs books barely touched on them unless necessary, and Yemra also had no idea because she was born, or hatched, or grubbed, or whatever it is that Yeerks call coming to life, on a Pool ship bound for Earth), but if they were anything like the Hork-Bajir or the Taxxons (of course they won’t be, but who knows what kind of other abilities they have?) then that must explain why the Empire is getting so bold as to plot another invasion of Earth. They certainly have the means to make contact with those stuck on Earth and who had remained steadfastly loyal to the cause and plot the return of the Empire. Hey, that sounds like a Star Wars title.

But getting back to my point, if the nothlits and the Empire were working together to set the stage for a second invasion of Earth then why is the Nothlit State just supposedly about “granting equal rights to the nothlit and the human”? Unless that’s the point of the whole thing. The whole world still considers itself indebted to the Andalites for saving the Earth (when it was actually the Animorphs who did the lion’s share of the work, no pun intended, and the Andalites only arrived in time to get all the credit for the victory) so probably any attempt to openly declare that the Yeerk Empire was planning a comeback tour of Earth would put fleets upon fleets of Dome ships in orbit and kill of the plan before it’s even started. Who’s to say that the mercenaries working for the Nothlit State haven’t already been infested by new Imperial Yeerks? Who’s to say if the nothlits themselves hadn’t been made into Controllers themselves? (Wouldn’t that be ironic? Or coincidental. Or whatever word it is you use to describe that.) What if the second Yeerk invasion of Earth has already begun?

“We must find out who, or what, is arriving at the airport which has all the nothlits agitated,” Visser Five said. “Yibey, you and your forces will have to keep an eye on the nothlits for me while I continue gathering more information about this over here and try to make sense out of all this.”

“Your will, Visser,” Ken/Yibey said, placing a clenched fist over his heart in what could probably be a Yeerk salute.

“Good. Visser Five out.” And the Visser’s blue holographic head vanished from the Z-space communicator on Donna’s palm, which she closed and stowed inside a box containing what had to be other Yeerk gadgets.

Ken then turned to me and said, “How would you like to go to the airport, Jen? Help us keep an eye on the nothlits, just like the Visser said. Shal here can show you the ropes if you want.”

Upon hearing his name, Shal lifted his head and gave me one of those happy-go-lucky Hork-Bajir grins. “Shal teach Jen how move without sound and without see,” he said.

“Um, okay, that’s great, I guess,” I muttered. Oh, Yems, what have we gotten ourselves into? I asked Yemra in the privacy of my mind.

((I don’t know, Jen; I don’t know,)) Yemra admitted.

Chapter Text

I know that I’ve had quite some time already to process all that just happened to me, but I still feel like I’m in some sort of unreal dream state. But there was no denying what was right in front of me now. I was standing beside a real live Hork-Bajir! The Hork-Bajir were my absolute favorite species of all time (over even the Yeerks, believe it or not!) and not just because I always felt like they were sort of the underappreciated species to come out of the Yeerk invasion. I already said that I loved the Hork-Bajir for being the big lovable dolts underneath all of those blades, and I’ve come to love and appreciate the bladed bastards the more I found out about their story from their sentience to their being enslaved by the Yeerks to ending up here on Earth. Now is probably not the time to mention that when I first read about the Hork-Bajir, saw how they had been described, I initially imagined them to be like Gungans with blades. Yeah, you read that right. Gungans like Jar Jar Binks with blades. (Shout-out for some Prequel Trilogy love, yeah!)

And now here I was, standing beside not just any old Hork-Bajir but the one and only Shal Gurree, the Hork-Bajir Sniper himself. It was practically a dream come true. I wouldn’t necessarily call Shal an idol of mine but he’s certainly up there with the other people that I admire like Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Reagan, John Hancock, Nathan Hale and Martin Van Buren (MVB need some love, yo). And to think that I’d never thought I would ever be standing beside not just any Hork-Bajir but a Hork-Bajir that I really looked up to. One of the things I liked about Shal Gurree was that he didn’t make himself out to be some sort of hero. He just goes and does his job like it’s nothing, and that is what makes him a really good guy in my book, so to just be standing near him was just so incredible for me. You can’t tell at the moment just by looking at me, but inside I was absolutely squeeing like a fangirl over Shal Gurree because I was indeed fangirling over Shal Gurree right at that moment. It was taking both the sheer force of my willpower and some gentle dissuading from Yemra to stop me from reaching out and touching Shal’s bicep even though it was just within arm’s reach of me. Instead I just settled for sitting there and staring at Shal like I had never seen a Hork-Bajir before.

“Please stop,” Shal Gurree suddenly said, shaking me out of my awestruck reverie. “No look at Shal, please. I cannot ebewed.”

Girl, you’re creeping him out, Yemra told me. The dude can’t concentrate on what he’s supposed to do with you looking at him like that. You look like Michael J. Fox when he met his dad for the first time in Back to the Future. So quit looking!

“Uh, yeah, of course,” I said out loud, and then I finally took my eyes away from Shal Gurree and turned them towards the airport.

Since I was now part of Yibey Nine-One-Five’s army of Controllers fighting to keep the city from falling into the hands of the Nothlit State (whether I liked it or not, although I have to say that the mere fact that I went with Ken/Yibey when they knocked on the door of my house says that I wanted to fight for the city), I had to follow his orders, and Yibey’s first orders to me had been to go with Shal Gurree and learn the ropes about surveilling the nothlits at their airport headquarters. Yibey and Shal had already established a sort of listening post on top of the cargo sorting and transportation facility right next to the airport, which gave us a good view of the tarmac and the terminal so all I really had to do was keep an eye on the instruments and make sure that they were working and recording all that the nothlits were doing. I was surprised to find out that the equipment that we were using to spy on the nothlits was nothing more than a pair of parabolic microphones that could be bought at any self-respecting spy gear shop and a video camera, and not even a high-end videocam at that. All three of these were hooked up to a bog-standard laptop, something like my very own HP laptop. Shal Gurree had been typing commands into the laptop while I was busy fangirling over him, which was a surprise for me, and not just because Shal somehow wasn’t impaling the keys on his finger claws. Remember that Hork-Bajir reportedly have the mental capacity of a toddler, so to see one of them typing code that Anonymous hackers could only dream of making was a surprise for me. Either Yibey or Sinan taught Shal how to code or we should really give the Hork-Bajir more credit than we have.

Either way, Shal was finally able to do what he needed to do, and once he was done he handed the laptop over to me. “Now watch feed while Shal scope place,” he told me. I took this to mean that I should watch the feed on the laptop while he scanned the area around the facility. We were deep in the heart of Nothlit State-controlled territory, after all, and if they found us up here watching and eavesdropping on them then we were pretty much dead meat.

I still had my own reservations about Yibey’s army and how he could possibly be planning to take the fight to the Nothlit State, but I also found a little something to keep my spirits up during this time. “I have to say that this is so cool,” I said as I took the laptop from Shal, being careful not to graze myself on one of his numerous blades. “This is like some FBI-style shit right here,” I continued. “We’re practically wiretapping and surveilling the nothlits right now! So badass. I feel like Dana motherfucking Scully right now.”

As I looked at the feed coming in from the camera, I noticed that the video was unbelievably clear. Like, high-definition, 1080-pixel and 60-frames-per-second clear. Must be some sort of Yeerk technology modded into the camera’s lens, optics or image-capturing system. I could practically see the Nothlit State guards pacing about nervously left and right on the tarmac. Boy, Yibey and Shal weren’t kidding when they said that the nothlits were worried about something. Some of the guards that I could see on the feed look like they could lay an egg already.

Oh, and speaking of eggs, I heard the cawing of a flock of birds somewhere above our heads. I silently prayed that none of those birds would think that it was now a good time for a toilet break. Shal Gurree grunted as he lifted his eyes to the sky to look at the birds, and then he made one more visual sweep of the place with his binoculars before he said, “All clear. We good to go.”

“We good, huh?” I asked.

“We good,” Shal replied. He then flashed me what I could only imagine was the Hork-Bajir version of a grin. He did give me a thumbs-up as well so that probably aided in my recognition of the Hork’s facial gesture.

“Hey, Shal, can I ask you something?”

“Yes, what is?”

“I don’t know if you’re the right person to ask this, but Andalites and humans are supposed to be friends now, yes?”

“Suppose, yes.”

“Well, if humans and Andalites are supposed to be friends then why the hell are we humans still living in a world that’s not much different from the world before all you guys came along?”

“Shal no know, honesty,” Shal Gurree replied. “But Shal remember some US Army soldiers with Dracon or shredders.”

“Well, of course it’s the military who has all the toys,” I muttered. “They’re probably working on making Dracon beams or shredders more energy-efficient or more efficient at killing people too. Now I wish I hadn’t asked.” But it was true, though. When humanity and Andalites signed that Treaty of Friendship with each other, a lot of us humans thought that we were about to join the Andalites and journey to the stars. But it hadn’t turned out that way. All those talk about Z-space drives making colonization of the Moon, Mars and the whole Solar System possible as well as exploring the galaxy came to nothing. We’re still waiting on the likes of Richard Branson and Elon Musk to heave humanity to the stars. And Kerbal Space Program looks like the only way that most of us will be able to go into deep space. We probably should have seen this coming though when the Andalites demanded that all Bug fighters on Earth following the Yeerk surrender be turned over to them. Just a thought.

Suddenly, Shal Gurree looked up at the sky, and I looked up as well. It was the classic black starry night, no clouds and stars twinkling. I never really thought much about the night sky when I was young (well, I didn’t really have a reason to look up at the sky so I didn’t; simple as that), but when I got Yemra in my head and grew older, I would sometimes look up at the sky in some sort of melancholy mood (kind of like how people act and move about in sad music videos; you know what I’m talking about) and wonder about all the species living up there and how they all came down here on Earth and changed an entire planet. Not to mention how a tiny alien slug changed the life of this Pennsylvania chick.

And then I remembered where we were, and why I was looking up at the sky in the first place. “What is it, Shal?” I asked.

“You feel that?” Shal Gurree asked in reply. I didn’t feel anything; I just looked up at the sky when Shal did so I didn’t say anything. “Ship just jump out Z-space.”

“Really? How did you even feel that?”

“Is like wave, but of air not water,” Shal said. Well, since I didn’t feel it in the first place, I just decided to keep my mouth shut.

“Over there,” Shal said. “One o’clock. Bug fighter!”

“Wait, what! Where?” I turned to look in the general direction of where Shal had said the Bug fighter was coming from. It was tough to see at first because all I saw were stars and sky, and I was aware that there was a possibility that I was looking in the wrong direction entirely, but then I saw one object that was both too bright and too near to be a star. This object soon resolved itself into a sleek spacecraft that looked very much like a metallic cockroach without all the limbs. “No way!” I muttered. My mouth dropped open as I laid eyes on yet another object that I had only ever read about in books before this point in my life.

No, it’s not, Yemra quickly countered. That’s not what a Bug fighter looks like. It hasn’t got the Dracon beams on the sides. But no, she then said, contradicting herself in the same paragraph. It makes perfect sense. It must be a Bug fighter.

((But if that’s a Bug fighter but not the Bug fighter, then what is it?)) I asked her. ((Is it like a new model or something?))

It must be. Has to be, Yemra replied.

I stared at the incoming Bug fighter with my bare eyes while Shal Gurree looked at the spacecraft through his binoculars. As the Bug fighter descended onto the airport tarmac, I turned back to the laptop to watch the video feed from our surveillance equipment. The Bug fighter touched down in front of the patch of tarmac where the Nothlit State guards were pacing around, and a rugged-looking and solidly built man wearing a red-and-white flannel shirt and dad jeans along with a bulletproof vest stepped out of the terminal towards the Bug fighter. “That Immib Two-Seven-One of Irres Bhek Pool,” Shal Gurree said. “Or Immib in human nothlit,” he added. Well, that was a bit of a letdown, I had to admit. I admit that I imagined Immib to be a much more intimidating figure based on what I’d heard of him from during the invasion. In his nothlit form though, Immib looked just like your average Pennsylvanian redneck.

“Immib maybe meeting Bug fighter,” Shal added. “Bug fighter maybe carry important guy. Big wig.” I could only nod my head in agreement.

A slot slid open on the side of the Bug fighter as it settled down on the tarmac, and a ramp extended from the slot down to the ground. A very strange creature stepped out of the Bug fighter, down the ramp and onto the tarmac. It looked like a centaur with the arms, torso and neck of a man and the body of a horse starting from where the man’s torso ended. The creature’s head was shaped like a cyclist’s helmet and had eyes and a nose but no mouth, not even a crease or a valley where the mouth should be. The creature’s arms looked pitifully thin and frail, like they would barely be able to lift even a paper clip. Nevertheless, despite the creature’s alien appearance (and the fact that it was an actual alien to boot), that form looked vaguely familiar to me. Yet if the Bug fighter did come from the Yeerk Empire then it should be impossible. “Is that… an Andalite?” I asked breathlessly.

No, it can’t be, Yemra replied. It’s not an Andalite. It looks a little like an Andalite, but trust me, Jen, it’s not an Andalite. The tail doesn’t have a blade at the end; it doesn’t have eye stalks on top of the head; the nose is different; the head itself is different. And it doesn’t carry itself around with a swagger, arrogance and confidence like an Andalite. I think it might be a Garatron.

“Wait, what’s a Garatron again?” I asked. And then I remembered what a Garatron was. I remember reading about them in some Animorphs book or other when they encountered a Garatron inspecting the Yeerk invasion or something like it. According to that particular book, the Animorphs killed the Garatron-Controller through Marco’s cobra morph, injecting the Garatron host with venom to discredit Visser Three’s leadership of the invasion. Where could this Garatron have come from?

Remember, Jen, the Yeerk Empire is still out there, Yemra told me. Who knows how many Garatrons they’ve already infested by now? Who knows if they’ve already conquered the entirety of the Garatron species?

((Progress-report-Immib)) the Garatron-Controller demanded immediately. As the Garatron didn’t have a mouth per se, I assumed that the Garatron had spoken through thoughtspeak, and I immediately wondered if our equipment was capable of picking up and recording thoughtspeak or if the Garatron was simple speaking loud enough for his thoughtspeak to carry across a long distance.

“My apologies, Visser,” Immib replied. “There has been little progress in our attempts to claim territory in which we can safely infest the humans once again. But I can tell you, Visser that I believe that the American human military suspects that the Nothlit State is being supported by forces or entities outside of this planet.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Did Immib just call the Garatron Visser?” But Shal Gurree held up a slim bladed finger to shush me.

((Yes-that-realization-in-the-part-of-the-enemy-camp-is-somewhat-problematic-and-troublesome)) the Garatron conceded, ((but-is-it-really-important-for-me-to-find-out-about-this-already?))

“I believe that you should know about this immediately, Visser,” Immib replied. “We have reason to believe that the American military has already deployed their morph-capable soldiers against us.”

((And-now-this)) the Garatron-Controller sighed. ((What-is-this-now-about-morph-capable-soldiers-deploying-against-you?))

“Visser, remember that it was these morph-capable humans who helped to stifle and stymie the first invasion of this planet,” Immib said. “We all thought that they were Andalite bandits as we believed that only the Andalites had the capability of utilizing morphing technology at the time. But now we know that despite the Andalites depriving the humans of their technological advances, the morphing technology still managed to find its way into the hands of the American human military and they will surely use those morph-capable soldiers against us. They’ve already used the morphing soldiers against their fellow humans. Surely they will use those soldiers against nothlits like us.”


“Our own soldiers and the human mercenaries that we are paying for with the Nahara gold have spotted numerous animals loitering around our headquarters, this human airport,” Immib said. “The human mercenaries were not exactly cooperative when I ordered them to eliminate the animals so my fellow nothlits had to perform the task themselves. And yet the animals still keep returning. They must be morph-capable soldiers! They demorph to heal themselves after we had shot at them and that is how and why they are able to return to continue their monitoring and surveillance of us.”

((What-care-I-for-animals-that-keep-returning-to-this-place-after-getting-attacked-by-your-troops?)) the Garatron-Controller asked. ((All-I-care-about-is-you-and-your-Nothlit-State-preparing-this-planet-for-the-infestation-and-conquest-by-the-Yeerk-Empire!))

“So it is true!” I said out loud. “The Yeerk Empire is behind the Nothlit State, and they are indeed planning a comeback tour of Earth!” And then I realized just what exactly this meant, and my excitement of having helped to prove that particular theory right was suddenly replaced by a cold sweeping dread. “Oh, crap,” I muttered. “We’re about to be invaded once again.”

But wait! Haven’t the Yeerks learned their lesson already? We humans already beat them once! (Albeit mostly thanks to five teenagers and one Andalite cadet but still…) Surely we can do it again, even if the only new advantages we’ve got against the Yeerks this time are more morph-capable soldiers and reverse-engineered shredders and Dracon beams.

Um, Jen, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Yemra said, but I think some of that Andalite arrogance has rubbed off on you humans. You humans and the Animorphs and the Andalites, when they finally came, didn’t defeat the whole Yeerk Empire. You just beat the invasion force. Those are two completely different things. Yes, the Animorphs did finally succeed in stopping the invasion, but in no way did they bring down the Yeerk Empire in its whole.

Let me explain it in terms that you can understand, Jen, Yemra continued. It’s just like what probably happened in Star Wars, at least in the books. Just because the Rebels destroyed the Death Star and both Palpatine and Darth Vader died doesn’t mean that the Empire collapsed just like that or that they even gave up to the Rebels just like that. It’s the same thing with Earth, the Yeerks, humans and Andalites. Yeah, you may have beaten back the invasion. You may have freed the likes Alloran-Semitur-Corrass from the likes of Esplin Nine-Four-Six-Six but the Council of Thirteen is still out there, not to mention the vast majority of their empire, probably still holed up in the Hork-Bajir and Taxxon homeworlds if the Andalites haven’t evicted them from those places yet. The Empire was beaten, yes, but they’re not broken. Far from it, by the looks of things, actually, if they have the time to refine the design of the Bug fighter.

Let’s face it, Jen, you fell for the Andalites’ propaganda machine big-time too, Yemra added. And by that I mean the Animorphs’ book series. But the truth is that the Yeerk Empire is still alive and out there, much as you and your fellow humans would rather believe otherwise, Jen. And they’ve probably been biding their time as well. They wanted to see if you humans would be uplifted by the Andalites and then, when they saw that you humans are basically stuck at practically the same technological level as when the Empire first invaded Earth, they made their move. Still, though, I feel like this is more about pride on the Empire’s part than anything else.

I was struck silent by the magnitude of Yemra’s words, and it was some time before I was able to find my voice again. ((How come you never told me about all of this before, Yems?)) I asked her.

I’m sorry to say that I can’t give you an answer that will satisfy you, Jen, Yemra replied. On the bright side, we now know why there’s been lots of Z-space activity over the airport recently.

((That’s not much of a bright side, Yems,)) I said. ((Oh, God, this is so messed up.)) I then decided to just listen in on the conversation between Immib and the Garatron-Controller and keep any more comments to myself until all of this was over.

“If you want us to continue the mission of preparing this planet for the second coming of the Yeerk Empire,” Immib said, “then we need more weapons. We have no shortage of volunteers from our nothlit brothers and the humans themselves, at least those humans who feel aggrieved by this United States of America.”

((These-human-volunteers-can-you-trust-them?)) the Garatron-Controller asked. ((Can-you-expect-them-to-continue-fighting-for-you-once-you-reveal-the-true-purpose-of-your-rebellion-to-them? Yes-I-remember-that-there-were-some-humans-who-were-willing-to-give-up-their-precious-freedom-to-make-life-easier-for-themselves-during-the-first-invasion-but-the-humans-value-their-precious-freedom-too-much-too-much-to-continue-fighting-for-you-and-your-cause-once-you-reveal-the-truth-to-them. How-many-of-your-volunteers-will-accept-being-infested-by-the-first-batch-of-Yeerks-we-will-bring-here-to-reinforce-your-forces?))

“The humans need not know until our brother Yeerks have finally arrived,” Immib replied. “My people are already hard at work constructing a new Pool underneath the airport until such time that we can expand out into the rest of the city. We can still use the Pool in the city itself even though it has been used by the collaborators before.”

((You-must-ensure-that-this-place-is-ready-to-become-the-landing-place-for-the-Yeerk-Empire’s-return-to-Earth)) the Garatron-Controller demanded. ((As-the-days-pass-our-leadership-increasingly-turns-their-eyes-back-to-Earth-and-its-seven-billion-hosts. Now-more-than-ever-we-need-Earth’s-humans-if-we-are-to-succeed-in-rebuilding-the-Empire-and-usher-in-a-new-golden-age-for-Yeerk-kind. The-invasion-of-Leera-was-a-complete-disaster. We-lost-a-substantial-part-of-our-fleet-in-our-attempt-to-ambush-the-Andalites-at-the-Anati-homeworld. The-conquest-of-Garatron-has-turned-into-a-quagmire-and-the-invasion-of-Puhluff’nan-is-proving-to-be-just-as-difficult-as-the-first-invasion-of-Earth. Even-the-cooperation-of-the-Puh’luffwek-in-providing-us-with-host-bodies-adapted-to-Puhluff’nan-has-not-helped-our-cause-as-the-Puh’luffi-are-proving-to-be-just-as-stubborn-as-the-humans-which-is-why-the-Council-believes-that-humanity-is-the-key-to-victory-in-Puhluff’nan-Garatron-and-the-Andalites. And-the-Empire-will-also-love-the-chance-to-steal-the-Andalites’-greatest-ally-from-beneath-their-noses-as-well.))

“When can we expect the arrival of the reinforcements?”


“Very well, then. It is as commanded by the Visser, the Council of Thirteen and the Emperor. I have nothing more to report.”

((If-you-succeed-with-your-task-Immib-I-will-see-to-it-myself-that-you-are-made-a-Visser-once-again)) The Garatron then turned around and walked back to the Bug fighter. The ramp retracted and the slot closed, and then the Bug fighter hummed as it lifted off from the tarmac and shot up into the atmosphere and quite possibly into Z-space for the jump back to the Yeerk Empire’s territory. Immib watched the Bug fighter depart before he turned and went back into the terminal.

((Oh, this is definitely not good,)) I muttered in my mind.

“No get used to this,” Shal Gurree told me. “We get lucky. Usually guards just walk around and watch. This special occasion. We get lucky get it all on tape.”

I nodded my head. I had read about it in some of the books about World War Two, about how war is ninety percent waiting and ten percent all-out terrifying pants-shitting combat. I took it to mean that our surveillance of the Nothlit State was going to be pretty much the same. I don’t mind not having to fight. It was the boredom that I was sure would do me in.

Hey, at least you’ve got me, right, Jen? Yemra asked. ((Yeah,)) I replied.

Suddenly, there was a great hue and cry among the Nothlit State guards as they began pointing both fingers and weapons up at the sky. “Holy shit!” I cried out as I watched the scene unfold on the video feed on the laptop. “What! What is?” Shal Gurree asked, scooting over beside me but still taking care not to impale me on his blades.

And then, before I could reply, the guards opened fire, both with conventional weapons like AR-15s and AKs as well as Dracon beams, probably acquired from the black market. They were all shooting at something up in the sky, and my mind made a connection between the flock of birds from earlier that night and Immib’s reports that they had been shooting at animals venturing too close to the airport in the belief that they were the Animorphs or even just “morph-capable” soldiers. At least they’re not shooting at us, right, Jen? Yemra offered.

((Yeah, Yems, I’m really reassured by the fact that the nothlits are shooting at a bunch of birds and not us,)) I said sarcastically.

I heard the cawing of the birds as they made to fly away from the airport and all the bullets and Dracon beams coming their way. “Oh, shit! They’re flying towards us!” I said as the birds turned towards the cargo transport facility where Shal and I were eavesdropping on the Nothlit State. Most of the human weapons stopped firing as the birds flew farther away from their effective ranges but the Dracon beams still kept firing as, being lasers and all, they had a practically unlimited range. One bird with dark feathers got hit by one, then two beams but didn’t disintegrate as apparently Dracon beams lose their atomic-bond-breaking properties the farther away the target is from the shooter. But the hits still must hurt as the bird dropped out of the sky and fell towards us. I watched open-mouthed as the bird fell from the sky and then landed on the concrete roof beside us with a small but sickening thud.

Then, right before my eyes, the bird began to transform. The bird’s wing feathers were sucked back into the bird’s now-fleshy wings like the way that I would sometimes suck at Mom’s homemade spaghetti, and then the plucked wings (I can’t think of any other way to describe it) turned into human arms. At first I thought that the arms were black-skinned, and then I saw that the arms were actually in black long sleeves and the hands were also in black gloves. Next, the bird’s legs turned into a pair of tight black cargo pants and combat boots. More feathers also shrank back to reveal a human torso wearing a black shirt and a ballistic vest (a bulletproof vest with pouches for ammo and such) until only the face remained covered in feathers. Then those face feathers melted back onto the face until only a plucked bird’s face remained.

Slowly, the bird face transformed into a human face and then the bird finally began to grow in size into a man-sized bird. Then the bird’s beak melted back into a nose and lips, and I was now staring at a human being with blonde hair and somewhat pale skin. In my shock at having seen someone morph right in front of me for the very first time in my life, I barely even recognized the face attached to the person until I finally got a good look at said face. Yes, he was much older now and he had grown himself a thin but lush beard and mustache, but I still recognized him.

I was looking at none other than Tobias, the Red motherfucking Baron of the Animorphs.

But even as I absorbed this in my mind, I saw a watch-like device on Tobias’ wrist begin flashing red like an alarm. Tobias looked at it and then he looked out of the corner of his eye towards me and Shal Gurree. He looked at us like for maybe a couple of seconds or so and then suddenly, Tobias stood up and was already pointing a pistol at us. For a guy who just got shot twice by a Dracon beam, he moved very spryly. “Hands where I can see them!” he shouted. Shal and I had no choice but to comply.

“Meep,” I said to myself as I raised my hands.

Chapter Text

So, to recap, there are a bunch of nothlits who have become, for lack of a better term, terrorists. They first struck when two of their number tried to blow up a plane bound from Washington, DC to Pennsylvania but the plane was able to make a crash landing just before it could get to the airport runway. Then a nothlit “lone wolf” gunman (who was either affiliated with or inspired by the nothlits that tried to blow up that plane) attacked a local Yeerk Pool with the intent of killing a high-ranking Yeerk Peace Movement member and disguising the assassination as being just part of the gunman’s rampage, but this was thwarted by a 22-year-old Pennsylvanian girl named Jennifer Carson, who just happened to be at the right place at the right place (or in her own words, the right place at the wrong time). But this group of nothlits wouldn’t be deterred, and they finally pulled off their deadliest and most daring attack to date with the attack on the Victory Day parades in Santa Barbara, California. And then, just when America thought that things possibly couldn’t get any worse, here comes the Nothlit State with their aims of carving out “a country by nothlits for nothlits”. But, as always, there’s a hidden agenda behind this Nothlit State, and as it turns out, the Nothlit State is actually just a cover for the Yeerk Empire to get back to Earth following reverses in their other interstellar invasion campaigns. Jennifer Carson (that’s me, by the way) got stuck in the city that was first invaded by the Nothlit State with a bunch of other Controllers (humans with Yeerks in their heads) and one Hork-Bajir but, just before we could tell the others about the truth of the Nothlit State, those guys shot at a bunch of birds, one of which fell down right beside our position and morphed into a human. Not just any human, however; it was a human whom avid readers of the Animorphs series would recognize almost immediately.

“Put your hands up!” Tobias “Lerner” (not his actual surname; the Department of Homeland Security has some sort of restraining order going that requires every person writing about Tobias to either not reveal his real surname or give him a fictitious surname to protect his identity since he’s now serving with the SEALs or Delta Force or whatever), Hawk-boy, the Red Baron of the Animorphs, the First Nothlit himself, said as he drew the handgun in his side holster with the speed of a gunslinger and then pointed it at me and Shal Gurree. “Hands where I can see them!” he continued.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” I said even as I raised my hands to my head. “We’re not enemies!”

“Oh, yeah?” Tobias asked back. “Then why is my Yeerk detector going crazy right now?”

“Is that what your watch does?” I asked. “Detect Yeerks? Then it makes sense because I’m not a nothlit. I’m a Controller.”

“You’re a Controller?” Tobias repeated.

“I can show you,” I volunteered. “I’m going to let my Yeerk out of my head. I’m gonna show her to you. I’m gonna put my hand next to my ear because that’s where my Yeerk is gonna come out. Don’t panic; don’t shoot! I’m just gonna show you my Yeerk.”

Wait, Jen, are you sure you wanna do that? Yemra asked me. You still remember the last time that you got me out of your head for some show and tell?

((I’m sure that this time, Tobias isn’t going to want to poke you just to see you jiggling, not like what those other kids did to you,)) I replied. ((Now get out of my head so I can show you to Tobias so he has doesn’t have a reason to shoot us.))

I felt a familiar numbness in my right ear as Yemra crawled her way out of my head. I waited until Yemra had plopped down into my hand before I moved it away from my ear and I slowly moved my right hand towards Tobias to show him Yemra’s contracting form. Tobias saw the Yeerk in my hand and I could see the instinctual reaction to recoil away from Yemra. He fought it well, I have to admit, but I could still see the thought passing through his mind. And I can’t fault him. He had spent nearly his whole adolescent life fighting against these body-snatching slug aliens so I was sure that the concept of a Yeerk as being a “friendly” was still taking its sweet time to sink in for him. I would have said “an alien concept” but considering as there were not only one but two aliens present at the time (Yemra and Shal Gurree) would’ve made it a bit tasteless on my part.

But I ramble. Even as Yemra was contracting herself back to her normal slug form, I saw that Tobias was ready to acknowledge that I was not a nothlit. “All right, all right, I believe you,” he said, lowering his pistol and holstering it. “You can get your Yeerk back in your head now.” The look on his face showed that he had never thought that there would be a time that he would say that to anyone in his whole life. And I would like to say that I was in no hurry to get Yemra back in my head but I still shoved her into my ear just the same. You didn’t have to push me too hard, Jen, she said once she was connected to my brain once again.

Meanwhile, Tobias was now squatting down on his haunches and appeared to be contemplating his next move. “So did you two see me morph?” he finally asked me and Shal. I nodded my head and he muttered, “Oh, crap.”

“You’re a Controller, right?” Tobias asked me just to confirm it once and for all. (You would think that me physically showing Tobias a Yeerk going out and coming into my head would have already convinced him of my status but sometimes a person has to ask just to be sure.) I nodded my head once again and he said, “Oh, well. At least I know that this thing still works.” He took another good look at the watch thingamajig on his wrist and turned it off.

“That’s the thing that detects Yeerks and nothlits, right?” I asked. “How does that do it, exactly?”

“Apparently Yeerks produce some kind of chemical that other Yeerks can detect so they can tell who’s infested and who isn’t,” Tobias replied. His face looked like he didn’t particularly like divulging what could be considered top secret stuff to a girl who currently had what had once been an “enemy alien” in her head but since I had already got him talking, he had no choice but to continue. Well, we’re all supposed to be one big family now, weren’t we?

“After the war, our scientists isolated this chemical—the Yeerks call it nik’iili—and they experimented on it until they finally found out how and why it reacts to nik’iili in the bloodstream,” Tobias continued, “and then they put some of this nik’iili into a watch face. When the nik’iili reacts due to the presence of another Yeerk, whether they’re still in slug form or as a nothlit, the reaction triggers the alarm on the watch, and there we have it: our Yeerk detector. We certainly could have used at least one of these back in the day so we could have just pointed it at anyone whom we suspected of having become a Controller and not watch them for three days whether they went near a Yeerk Pool entrance.”

I merely nodded my head, words having failed me once my own brain realized that Tobias, freaking Tobias of the Animorphs, was talking to me. Once that sunk in, my inner fangirl just began squealing in glee. This is probably a good time to mention that I got a huge crush on Tobias as soon as I laid my hands on the first ever book of the Animorphs series and read it. And it was more than just a crush too, you know. I felt a real connection with Tobias, or at least with the Tobias that was depicted in the books. I also didn’t care that Tobias and Rachel were being set up as a thing all throughout the books and that he was now a more of a bird than a boy as the series went on; Tobias was my first love. What? A girl can have her own crushes on fictional characters.

And just like that, I extended my hand towards Tobias and introduced myself. “Hi, my name is Jennifer Carson but you can call me Jen,” I said in very much a rapid-fire fashion. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tobias hadn’t caught any of it. “And you’ve already met my Yeerk. Her name is Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool.”

Tobias seemed taken aback by my sudden decision to introduce myself as well as the words that literally came tumbling out of my mouth. Nevertheless he seemed to take it in stride and he accepted my proffered hand. “Well, hello then, Jen and Yemra,” he said. “I’m Tobias.”

Of course he told me his full name. But like I already said before at the beginning of this chapter, I’m legally bound by some kind of legislation enacted by Homeland Security to not reveal Tobias’ full name (although I could give him any kind of fictional surname that I wanted, and I had chosen to name him Tobias “Lerner” for the entirety of this story) so I can only refer to him as Tobias and nothing else. I can however confirm right here and right now that Tobias’ real surname is most definitely not Fangor. It’s something else entirely, and that’s all that I can say without getting into all sorts of legal trouble with Homeland Security.

“So, your name’s Jen, huh?” Tobias said. “I have to be honest with you, Jen. When I first saw you, I thought that you might be the type of girl who goes by Jenny.”

“Oh, no, I’m most definitely not a Jenny,” I said, shaking my head vigorously. It may also have been an attempt to spread out my brown locks towards Tobias. “I’m Jen, have always been Jen and will always be Jen, but you can call me Jennifer if you want. I just really, really hate the name Jenny. I can’t even begin to describe just how much I… don’t like that name. I guess you could say that I loathe it. It’s an irrational hate that I just can’t explain. Once, there was this song called ‘Jenny’ that came out on the radio and my cousin just wouldn’t stop playing it whenever I was around. I was this close to whooping my cousin’s ass because of that stupid ‘Jenny’ song.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Jen,” Tobias said with a smile. And I swear to you, my heart skipped at least one beat or maybe two when he smiled at me. It was only when Yemra said to me, Get a grip, girl that I was finally able to find my voice once again.

I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry if I’ve been rambling, Tobias. It’s just that I’ve never ever thought I would ever see a real live living and breathing Animorph for as long as I’ll live. I mean, I know that the Animorphs were based on actual people but I never thought I’d ever see one of the people the Animorphs were based on. You guys were like myths. The Andalites have this thing where you never see them but somehow you know that they’re always here, and the Yeerks, well, I’ve got one in my head so that makes them very much real for me. But now I’m standing right here talking to you! Tobias, Bird-Boy, the Red Baron! Dude, you were my first crush! And I’ve got so many questions I wanna ask you, I don’t even know where to start!”

“All right, let me help you out and make it a little bit easier for you,” Tobias offered. “Is there anything that you want to ask me personally?”

“Oh, about you?” I paused, thinking about what would be a good question to ask Tobias that wouldn’t be too embarrassing or personal for him. “Okay, are you a boy who can morph into a bird or a bird who can morph into a boy?”

“Well, let’s see,” Tobias said, thinking long and hard about his answer. “Well, last time I checked, I’m still a bird who can morph into a boy.”

“So that was actually real?” I asked. “Getting stuck as a red-tailed hawk after your very first mission and then the Ellimist helping you reacquire yourself as a morph? I always thought that you just told the writers to make you a nothlit so you wouldn’t have to deal with the popularity and the paparazzi.”

“I mean, the publishers themselves thought that the Ellimist would be too much to swallow if we added it to the series,” Tobias said. “But one of my conditions to agreeing to getting my story published was that they wouldn’t cut out the part about the Ellimist. And it looks like they kept that promise at the very least. I wanted to help tell the story of how a group of five teenage humans and one Andalite cadet managed to keep the Yeerk invasion of California at bay until the Andalites could finally come in force to Earth, and I wanted to tell that story as it is, without any embellishments and without any subtractions as well. But Ax was right about how humans were great at speeding up the progress of technology. Within twelve years of acquiring samples of the morphing technology, our scientists have now found a way to extend the morphing timer to one whole day. I agreed to be the test subject, of course. If it succeeded then I could now stay in human morph for one day. If it didn’t then at least I would get to become human again finally. And, as you can see, it works.”

“Is there anything in the books that was way different from what happened in real life?” I asked.

“I think the writers began changing some of the things that happened starting in book 46,” Tobias replied. “The biggest changes that I could think of off the top of my head is that both Rachel and Tom didn’t die in real life. They asked for their characters to be killed off at the end because they didn’t want to go through all of the publicity as well. Tom’s been through a lot; of course, being host to a number of Yeerks, especially the ruthless, ‘this body is now mine’ kind of Yeerks, does that to you. And Rachel?” Tobias sighed and shook his head. “The whole war just changed her, you know? I suppose you could say that this war changed us all. About as much as September 11 did.”

“I mean, I couldn’t agree more,” I said. “But speaking of Rachel, did the two of you, you know… get together?”

Tobias sighed once again, and this time I felt it coming from the depths of his heart. “Like I said, the war changed Rachel and I a lot, and I do mean a lot. We had both become warriors and soldiers and fell in love with each other as warrior and soldier, and that was how we went about until we finally won and peace finally came. The thing about peace though is that it makes you realize just how much of a monster you’ve become because of war. And because of that, we both couldn’t even recognize each other anymore, let alone the Tobias and Rachel that she and I fell in love with. War makes for quick loves, and it makes for equally quick separations as well. I remember that Rachel went out with Marco for some time but that didn’t last long as well. But we still talk and keep in contact, Rachel and I. We’re still friends. We see each other when we Animorphs decide to hold a reunion. But no, Rachel and I didn’t get together and get married and have a bunch of kids. Not everybody gets a happy ending.”

“Wow,” I muttered. “That’s sad. I mean, honestly. People I know who’ve read the books as well were all rooting for you and Rachel to get together in the end. At least she didn’t actually die but still… It’s a shame that the two of you couldn’t get together again.”

“I know, I know,” Tobias said with a smile this time. “I spoiled the party, right? Well, let me just spoil it for you a little bit further. Jake and Cassie? They didn’t get together in the end as well. What happened to me and Rachel happened to them as well. The war changed everyone so much that aside from the biological aspects, none of the Animorphs that went through that construction lot shortcut were the same when the war finally ended. But Marco did get rich. He’s the kind who actually thrives in publicity, Marco. He milked his book persona for as much as it was worth and raked in a lot of moolah for it. And his dad also started up his own software company using some of the code that Ax made when he accidentally created a Z-space communicator on Marco’s dad’s computer and Marco is now a Silicon Valley bigwig as well as the most famous Animorph in history.”

“Well, good for him,” I said.

“But enough about me and the Animorphs,” Tobias said. “What about you, Jen? Or should I say Yemra? Who’s in control right now? Is that how voluntary infestation works? The two of you split up the time that you’re in control?”

“Ah, well, most of the time, I, meaning Jen, am in control,” I said. “But sometimes, when we’re around other Controllers or when I feel tired or if I just don’t feel like dealing with the crap that life deals to me, I let Yemra take over. She’s a part of the peace movement, you know,” I added. “Yemra’s more than happy to just be a passenger in my head and enjoying the world as it happens to us. But she’s still a Yeerk so I let her have control sometimes to keep her primal urges satisfied.”

Hey! I resent that statement. Kind of, Yemra said. I’m perfectly fine taking control of you without needing to satisfy any sort of primal urges on my part, thank you very much! Do you want me to take control right now and tell Tobias that he was the first guy that you were thinking of when you got a bit touchy-feely with your—

((All right, that’s enough, Yems!)) I said. ((You have made your point abundantly and absolutely clear. Nobody is gonna mention anything about primal urges ever again.))

Good. And never ever forget that particular lesson.

“Are you all right, Jen?” Tobias asked me back in the real world. “You zoned out on me a little bit back there.”

“Oh, it was nothing,” I replied. “That’s just what happens when Yemra and I have our talks. So, how about you and your guys flying over to the airport and dropping in on the Nothlit State. Looks like you were all in a tough fight back there. Can I ask you about that or is that classified?”

Tobias seemed to think about his answer long and hard. “I’ve heard of you, Jennifer Carson,” he finally said. “I know I have. You’re the girl who saved that woman with the high-rank Peace Movement Yeerk. And you also distracted the gunman long enough for the cops to get in and take him down. Now I don’t know why you chose to let a Yeerk into your head, but that’s your choice, and I respect that. And I also believe that you’re still on the side of humanity so I’m going to tell you this. You’re right, it’s all classified and I can’t talk to you about it, but I think you could say that you already said it to me. There are some things that I can tell you, however. Some of the Animorphs—me, Jake, and some of the auxiliary Animorphs—went into the military after the war to help them train with the morphing technology and soon, some of America’s special forces had morph-capable soldiers in their ranks. And remember when I said that I could now stay in human morph for one day? Well, it’s because of our special forces. Jake went out of the military quickly too—he was just here to train the soldiers, but I stayed and now I’m here talking to you. We knew that the Nothlit State had Dracon weaponry in their arsenal but we weren’t expecting them to respond to us that quickly and now here I am waiting for my feathers to heal up.”

“But why did the military send you guys out here?” I asked. “Why are you going after the nothlits here?”

“Now that’s firmly in classified territory right there,” Tobias said, “but what the hell. We found out that the Nothlit State had set up shop in the airport terminal. At first glance, it seems to be an odd choice for the headquarters of a wannabe rebel state even though we have intel that they plan to move to either the Mall or City Center once they get that far into the city. But then someone in the Air Force analyzed air, space and Z-space activity on or near the vicinity of the airport, and they found that something or someone was coming and going in and out of the airport. Something or someone with a Z-space-capable ship.”

“So what you’re saying is that someone is in contact with the Nothlit State from outer space?” I asked. Tobias nodded his head. “Could that someone be supplying them with weapons and stuff as well?”

“Probably not,” Tobias replied. “Most of the Nothlit State’s funds and arms have still come from Earth sources. But things like the Dracon artillery… now that’s something they simply couldn’t have gotten anywhere here on this planet.”

“But did you manage to track down the ships coming in and out of the airport?”

“Unfortunately, no. And that’s why my team and I are here. We were supposed to keep an eye on the airport and finally positively and conclusively ID the source of the Z-space activity over here.”

Red Baron, Red Baron, this is Oriole. Can you hear me?” the radio earpiece in Tobias’ right ear called out.

“Oriole, Red Baron is right here,” Tobias replied.

Are you all right? Are you hurt? I saw you get shot up by a bunch of Dracons. Did you manage to demorph in time?

“Yeah, I did. Listen, I’m about to morph right back. I’ll catch up with you guys soon enough. Red Baron out.” Tobias then turned to me and said, “Well, I guess it’s time for me to say goodbye. Maybe we’ll see each other again next time, Jennifer Carson.” Tobias then morphed back to his red-tail form and he flapped his wings and lifted off from the roof, and he waggled his wings before he went off to rejoin his flock.

“I know I’ll see you again in my dreams, Tobias,” I said to the receding form of the red-tailed hawk.

Chapter Text

“Can you repeat your last, Ken, Yibey?” Visser Five said through the communicator hologram. “You saw Immib Two-Seven-One, the former Visser Twelve, there in the city airport?”

“Yes, Visser,” Ken Fuchs and/or Yibey Nine-One-Five nodded his head.

“And you saw Immib talking to the Garatron-Controller, whom he also referred to as a Visser?”

“Yes, Visser.”

“And this Garatron Visser, he told Immib that his main mission with the Nothlit State is to prepare the Earth for a second invasion of the Yeerk Empire?”

“That is pretty much it, Visser,” Ken/Yibey said.

Shal Gurree and I had wasted no time getting back to our little base just outside of town and near the airport where the Nothlit State had established their headquarters in preparation for moving into the city. After that little encounter with Tobias the Animorph, let’s just say that Shal and I felt that we had more than enough information and intelligence to bring back to Ken and Yibey. So now we know that the Nothlit State isn’t just simply about getting equal rights for nothlits but a stepping stone for the return of the Yeerk Empire to Earth, and we needed to relay that information to someone who could make better use of it than our little group at the moment, and in this case that someone was Visser Five. I mean, I know it sounds unbelievable. I mean, even I’m having trouble believing it myself, and I’ve already heard and seen the evidence for myself. And while making contact with Visser Five was easy enough, getting her to believe what we were saying was another matter entirely.

“This is most troubling,” Visser Five said as she pondered this new information. “My contacts in California have told me that there were rumors circulating throughout the nothlit housing blocks in the days leading up to the declaration of the Nothlit State that the State was actually a cover-up for some kind of larger plot, possibly involving the Yeerk Empire. I now believe that you and your group have uncovered the proof that these rumors are actually true, at least with regards to the involvement of the Yeerk Empire behind the Nothlit State. The proper authorities must be informed of this. I shall get in touch with my contacts with the American government and make sure that this information reaches its appropriate recipient.”

“As you wish, Visser,” Ken/Yibey nodded his head.

“Anything else to report, Yibey?” Visser Five asked.

“Well, there is one other thing, Visser,” Yibey replied. “Shal, Jennifer and Yemra encountered human special forces soldiers, and these soldiers told them that the military is preparing to move in on the occupied sectors of the city. These soldiers have told them to get out of the city before the human troops make their decisive strike on the city and the Nothlit State.”

Visser Five’s holographic representation on the communicator disk shook her head. “I knew that this was going to happen sooner or later,” she said. “My sources and contacts have informed me that the military is indeed planning such moves so that they can remove Nothlit State forces from the city. I warned you that this was going to happen, Yibey, and yet you still decided to call upon our brother and sister Yeerks and their hosts to form an army that you wish to deploy against the Nothlit State.”

“In my defense, Visser,” Yibey said, “I had no idea that the United States government was going to respond to the threat of the Nothlit State this quickly.”

“The city lies just sixty miles away from Philadelphia, and Philadelphia itself is just 140 miles away from Washington, D.C.,” Visser Five replied. “Of course the US government is going to respond quickly to end the Nothlit State before it becomes a threat to its capital!” The Visser then closer her mouth and her eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm herself down. Finally, she spoke again. “I am sorry for shouting at you, Yibey,” she said. “But you must understand that like you, I am also going through intense stress and suffering my own problems. I don’t need to have all that compounded by my worrying about your safety and the safety of our brother and sister Yeerks and their hosts now fighting with you.”

“I understand, Visser. My apologies.”

“Now, that being said, I have to agree with those special forces soldiers have said to Shal and Jennifer,” Visser Five said. “Yibey, you must do as they say and get yourself and your troops out of there.”

Yibey blinked furiously and shook his head as he processed the Visser’s words. “What?” he finally managed to ask.

“Yibey, I am sorry to be the one to tell you this,” Visser Five said. “I know how much this plan of yours means to you but you must stand down now, given the circumstances. The National Guard is preparing to move in on the airport. They want to bring down the Nothlit State now, once and for all; nip the flower in the bud before the Nothlit State could expand into the other states in the Union and put even more people under the risk of infestation from the Yeerk Empire. You cannot get caught in the crossfire, Yibey. Do you understand me? If the nothlits get their hands on you, you will all be shot as traitors to the Empire. And if it is the National Guard who encounters you, who knows how they will react? How will you know if they will let you through or shoot you and then claim that you were the unfortunate victims of a Nothlit State attack? Remember that some of these humans still do not accept us living among them and in some of their fellow humans as well.”

Yibey nodded his head silently. “I understand, Visser,” he said. “Is that an order, Visser? Are you giving me a direct order?” he asked defiantly. But not too defiantly, mind. Too much defiance by a sub-visser to his visser would be highly inappropriate.

“Yibey, you are my friend,” Visser Five said. “We have been through a lot together. And as your friend, I am asking you to get out of the city before you and our brother and sister Yeerks are harmed by the humans or the nothlits. Please do not make me order you to get out of there, Sub-visser Three-hundred-eighteen.”

I mean, she tried. She really did. And Visser Five nearly was able to talk Yibey into leaving without pulling rank. But in the end, she finally slipped up. It must have slipped from her mind, I guess, but the damage was already done. Yibey looked like a defeated man. Or at least Yibey was making Ken look like a defeated man. You could see on Ken’s face the disappointment that Yibey must surely be feeling now, and I guess you could say that there was some of Ken’s own disappointment showing through on his face alongside Yibey’s. This army of Controllers that he had envisioned leading in the fight against the Nothlit State (kind of like in Tom Clancy’s The Division) wasn’t even barely an army, to be honest (about twenty people or so who decided to go along with Yibey, and that twenty included me, Shal Gurree and Donna Spencer). And now his boss, his superior, his friend was asking him to drop it all and walk away. Personally, I agreed with the Visser both objectively and subjectively that we should all be getting the hell out of here before the National Guard came in to confront the Nothlit State, but according to memories of Yibey that Yemra had shared with me, Yibey had always envisioned himself as some kind of battlefield general who could lead his troops to victory in battle. But the present situation was such that if he tried to do that now, it would only get us all killed. And surely Yibey must know this but he, like any other being with ambitions, was finding it hard to let go at the moment.

Thankfully though, common sense prevailed and Yibey finally said, “Yes, of course, Visser Five. We will get ourselves out of here.” In his case, his addressing of Visser Five by her hank was completely intentional. “Yibey out,” he said, ending the transmission. He then looked around at the rest of us and said, “Donna, Sinan, Shal, go clean this place up. Neither the nothlits nor the military can know that we have ever been here. I will make contact with our brothers and sister still in the city and tell them of the change in plans, that they all must now evacuate. Oh, and Jen, Yemra, go help them out however you can.”

“Wait, what?” I was busy watching Yemra swimming around in a glass of water that we had placed beside our battery-powered portable Kandrona generator (thank God for miniaturization, right? Otherwise we would probably still be using those pet transporter-sized things) when Yibey had given me my marching orders. Yemra may not need to soak up Kandrona rays every three days but she still needs to get some of it from time to time. We did an experiment about it, and while Yemra somehow still couldn’t feel the effects of Kandrona starvation after spending over ten days in my head, she eventually called it quits then because she was, quote, “not taking any chances.”

I quickly fished Yemra out of the water and shoved her into my ear, the faster to get her into the safety of my head. You didn’t have to push me in so hard, Jen! Yemra complained once she was fully connected to my brain. I was already going in as fast as I could!

((Hey, I’m just making sure, man,)) I replied. ((We’re getting the hell out of Dodge. I don’t wanna do something else first and end up forgetting that you were still swimming around in that glass of water. And I also didn’t want to drink from that glass by accident and swallow you up by accident or drop the glass and then accidentally step on you because I wasn’t looking.))

All right, Jen, you have made your point, Yemra replied. The morbidity of your mind never ceases to amaze me. Now how are we supposed to help the others clean up?

((Uh, I don’t know, actually,)) I said as I looked around at Shal and Donna/Sinan trying to clean up the place as best as she could while Ken/Yibey talked to the rest of his little “army” to tell them to stand down and get out of the city. ((But I’m sure that something will come up eventually and they’ll need our help with that.))

Yibey did eventually get Yemra and I to help Shal Gurree work on dismantling the surveillance equipment that we had used to spy on the nothlits. At least we didn’t have to smash up the camera, the parabolic mikes and the laptop. That would have been a complete waste of perfectly good things, especially the laptop, even though it was on the basic starter pack end of the gadget spectrum. Ken took the laptop with him; Donna had the camera and Shal took the mikes. I was handed the portable Kandrona generator, and a part of me wondered if I could keep it after all this was over. And the generator was the last thing left in that room that would tell the owners or anyone else who went in that at least one Controller had stayed there for at least four days.

“Okay, everybody,” Ken said once we were all packed up and ready to go. “I’ve already called ahead for some wheels to pick us up and get us out of here. I told my guy to use anything that he could get his hands on so be ready for anything and everything coming our way.”

Right at that moment, an ambulance siren wailed down the street beside which the apartment room that had once been our “camp” and I heard the sound of a large vehicle approaching. Finally, the ambulance popped into view with its lights flashing but otherwise making no noise other than the engine itself and the one short honk of the horn that the driver used to signal his arrival. “That’s our ride out of here,” Ken/Yibey said. “Let’s go!”

The driver of the ambulance, a thin, scrawny and pasty fellow with bulging eyes and a perpetually annoyed look on his face stuck his head out of the window of the driver’s side door and said, “Yo, Ken, is this thing really legit? Do we really have to get out of here now?”

“Visser’s orders, Georgie,” Ken replied. “They don’t get any more legit than that. Well, maybe the president is higher up, but you can’t imagine that orange guy to be the type to give orders to a bunch of aliens, is he?”

“No, he isn’t,” Georgie agreed. He then looked at the rest of us and asked Ken, “Who the hell are they? And what’s up with the Hork?”

“Let us in first and then I’ll do the introductions,” Ken said. We then piled into the ambulance, with Ken going into the cab with Georgie and the rest of us hopping into the back of the ambulance with the stretchers and defibrillators and that kind of stuff.

“Everybody, this is George Islington,” Ken said as George ground the gears to get us moving forward again. “Georgie and I go way back.”

“Don’t forget Moxach, bro,” George said.

“Oh, yeah, right. Everyone, this is also Moxach Five-Nine-Four of the Ras Zamant Pool. He and Yibey go way back as well. Further back than even Georgie and me, if you know what I mean. George, this is Shal Gurree, Donna Spencer, and Jen Carson. Georgie, bro, you will never believe who’s in Jen’s head right now.”

“Well, don’t keep it all to yourself, man,” George said. “Who is it?”

“Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool, that’s who!” Ken said.

“What? No!” George turned around to look at me, and when his eyes met mine, I felt some kind of electrical tingling throughout my body, but it’s not quite like what you would expect. Ken had to tap George’s arm just so the driver could turn his attention back to the road and we didn’t end up driving on the sidewalk. “Ken, I thought Yemra and Mallory were both… you know…” he finally stuttered.

“Yeah, I know, George, but Yemra survived and now she’s in Jen,” Ken replied. “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you all about it once we’re far enough away from the city and the battle zone.”

“All right, I’ll take your word for it,” George said. He cast one more glance at me through the rear-view mirror and then he resumed driving with a shake of his head.

((Hey, Yems,)) I asked, ((what did I just feel back there when that George guy looked at me?))

Don’t worry about it, Jen, it’s just the nik’iili, Yemra replied. Usually detecting a Yeerk through nik’iili is an autonomous thing; both the Yeerk and the host sense the other Yeerk in the host and that’s it. But sometimes a Yeerk can actually concentrate the nik’iili and detect not only if there’s a Yeerk in a potential host but if there is a Yeerk, is that Yeerk someone that the detecting Yeerk knows? Something about how the nik’iili feels to the Yeerk.

((Okay. That’s totally not creepy at all. But now that you say it, do you know George and/or Moxach? Did you know them back during the invasion?))

I know of Moxach, Yemra replied. I know that Moxach was like Yibey’s right-hand man, his quote-unquote ‘troubleshooter’. Moxach takes care of the problems before they get big enough or high enough for Yibey to have to deal with as a sub-visser. I don’t think any of his troubleshooting actually involves any shooting, though. I think.

By then both Moxach and Yibey had taken control of George and Ken respectively and they were now busy conversing about the status of the rest of Ken’s “army” of Controllers and the road that we were supposed to take to get us away from the airport and the incoming National Guard force. George then made a right turn and suddenly cursed in both English and Galard. “I don’t like this one bit!” he said once he had finally regained his composure.

“What’s going on over there?” I asked, looking up and out of the ambulance windshield. I saw only a regular city street outside, if a bit abandoned and devoid of human life (aside from us, of course), but apparently either George or Moxach (or both of them, really) could see something that I couldn’t that was putting them on edge, and now because of that I was also feeling on edge.

“I think we just done drove right into a perfect ambush,” George/Moxach said. “Okay, nobody panic right now. I’m just gonna reverse us out of here real slow, and then the rest of you keep an eye and get ready for shit to drop. If we turn around, they’re just going to shoot us in the ass.”

“Everyone heard that?” Ken added. “Eyes peeled, everyone! Stay sharp! Okay, Georgie, get us out of here.” George popped the clutch and shifted to reverse, and then he slowly began pressing down on the accelerator. It was exactly like in the movies where the heroes, the good guys, or just the good side’s people were moving through an unknown area and any threat could come from anywhere, and any noise that we weren’t expecting made us jump out of our skins. There weren’t unexpected noises in our particular case but conversely, that only made us even more nervous. Beside me, I could see Shal Gurree gripping the wooden handguard of his Dragunov sniper rifle tightly. His finger was off the trigger, which only showed that he had good trigger discipline, but you could tell by his overall demeanor that at the first sign of trouble, he would be popping off shots from his Dragunov faster than you could say “Fire!”

I couldn’t say the same for myself. I had my Walther PPK pistol in my right hand, but my gun felt tiny compared to Shal’s Dragunov. I felt tiny, insignificant, inconsequential, but most of all, I felt powerless in the face of the situation in which I had just found myself. This was a situation in which it seemed like there was no possibly way of escaping it at all.

“I think I see some movement up ahead,” Ken/Yibey said breathlessly as the ambulance continued to reverse away from the intersection.

“Yeah, no, I don’t see it, man,” George/Moxach replied. “Where is it, man?”

“Check your one o’clock!”

“One o’clock? That’s the one to my left, right?”

“No! One o’clock is to your right! The one to your left is eleven o’clock. Although now that I’m looking at it, I think I can see guys on eleven o’clock as well. Oh, shit, things are about to get ugly…”

I looked through the windshield of the ambulance one more time, just in time to see a streak of white smoke headed right for us. Something then exploded right in front of the ambulance, and then the windshield starred and shattered as bullets hit it. Everyone ducked down to get into as much cover as they could from the onslaught, although I had a feeling that the best that both George and Ken could do were to make themselves as small as possible by sliding under their seats. At the first break in the gunfire, George got up and mashed his foot on the accelerator in an attempt to drive us away from the ambush, but all that happened was that some white smoke began pouring out of the ambulance’s hood. “Engine’s dead!” he called out. “Engine’s shot!”

“Everybody get out and fall back!” Ken yelled even as he was already opening his door and firing rounds back at the ambushers from his Colt sporting carbine (the civilian version of the M4 carbine, if you really must know). Shal Gurree was the first one out from the back, and I probably wouldn’t have gone out after him had Donna Spencer not practically pushed me out of the ambulance. I ran immediately for the cover of a mound of rubble before I finally dared to look back at the others. George had an MP5 SMG in hand and firing off short three-round bursts at the ambushers. Both Shal and Donna were standing behind the ambulance as their cover. Shal as both a trained soldier and sniper was picking his shots methodically and pulling the trigger one shot at a time, and at a slow and steady cadence. Meanwhile, Donna/Sinan was both firing blindly and indiscriminately, going full rock and roll with her gun (firing long bursts of full auto fire).

And through all that, I was just crouching behind this pile of rubble doing nothing. Yes, I had a gun in my hand, but I was doing absolutely nothing with it at all. All I could do was hide myself away behind the rubble and watch as these four people (well, three people, three Yeerks, and one Hork-Bajir) fought for their very lives. At that moment, I remembered something that I had either read or heard before about humans in combat: the very first time a human experiences combat, they do one of three things: either they freeze, they go crazy, or most commonly they grab the nearest available weapon and begin fighting back.

I had just frozen solid in my very first taste of actual combat.

And when once my Walther had felt tiny and insignificant, it now felt as massive as Jupiter and as heavy as the core of a neutron star. My arms were too weak to even lift up this small gun past the rubble and aiming it at wherever the ambushers were firing their shots from. Even Yemra had been unable to take control and move my body. I remember Yemra once mentioning that all of her combat experience amounted to a couple of blade fights against other Hork-Bajir when she was still in a Hork-Bajir host. A fat lot of help Hork blade fights were to me right now. Shal Gurree, an actual Hork-Bajir, was actually doing much better than me right now in this firefight, but then again he was a trained soldier and had actually gone through this sort of thing quite a few times over in Afghanistan.

Smoke was also beginning to cover the battlefield like a thin but perfidious blanket, obscuring both friend and foe from view. Perhaps that was also playing a factor in my freezing up at the moment. I didn’t want to hit anyone on our side by accident, but I didn’t think that I could try to hit someone by design as well. Firing guns in a range was one thing; trying to fire a gun in actual combat with the actual intention to harm or kill was quite another thing altogether. I’m not a killer; never have been and, I hope, never will.

But I also needed to do something to help my fellow Controllers. I can’t do squat to help them fight off the ambush; I think we’ve already established that. But I can help make sure that the others don’t get killed. “Guys!” I shouted. “Get over here! It’s not safe to stay there!”

“What?” Donna called out.

“Jen’s right,” Ken yelled back. “We can’t stay here and fight. If we do that, this is where we’re going to die! We gotta fall back! George! Shal! Cover us!”

“On it!” George Islington shouted, and he let loose with his MP5. Shal Gurree added the gunfire from his Dragunov to the covering fire that George was providing, and both Ken and Donna ran their way towards me. Donna took cover in the rubble beside me while Ken ducked behind a parked car a short distance away from our pile of rubble. “What now, Yibey?” Sinan/Donna asked as she reloaded her gun.

“Shal and Moxach will make their way towards us,” Yibey/Ken replied. “The three of us will cover them as they run to us. When the two of them are finally level with us, we’ll all make a run in the direction from which we came. I know that that’s going to put us all at risk once again, but it’s the only choice we have. On the count of three, I’ll call out to Shal and Moxach to get them moving. When I do that, we’ll cover them, and then when they get to us, it’s our turn to get moving. One, two, three. Shal, Moxach, on me!”

At the same moment that Shal and Moxach/George moved away from the ambulance and towards us, both Yibey/Ken and Sinan/Donna opened fire with their weapons. And once again, I sat frozen behind the rubble, unable to move or provide covering fire for the Hork-Bajir and the human-Controller. And this time, it didn’t go unnoticed. “Jen, what are you doing just sitting there?” Sinan yelled. “Shoot! Do something! Help us out!”

“I can’t!” I yelled back. “I can’t! I can’t!”

Soon, both Shal and Moxach/George were level with us, and Yibey/Ken yelled out, “Let’s go!” He and Sinan/Donna took off immediately behind Shal and George like sprinters while my body took a full second to react and run as well. All throughout this time, the only thing that you could hear in my head were the words I can’t being said in my voice over and over again. Because that’s the sad truth. I just couldn’t do anything in my power to help these people out.

But of course, just as I had finally gained some speed and momentum, the car behind the pile of rubble where I had been hiding and cowering exploded behind me, and I felt the pressure wave lifting me off of my feet, and the last thing I remembered was Yemra yelling ((Oh, shit!)) in my head before I was slammed down hard on the ground once again and I blacked out.

Chapter Text

Consciousness took a very long time to return to me. Flashes of the most recent events to happen to me from the past few days, from meeting Tobias to finding out that the Nothlit State was just a cover-up for the return of the Yeerk Empire to planet Earth, and the ambulance that was supposed to get me and some other people out of the city before the National Guard came to kick the Nothlit State out of the airport, played over and over in my mind’s eye. And when consciousness finally did return to me in its own sweet time, I woke up to find myself tied down, or chained, but most definitely bound, to a metal folding chair that had its legs bolted down to the ground. I saw that my body was still pretty much intact and that some kind of metallic block things were keeping my feet cuffed together. I looked behind me and saw a glimpse of the same block things binding my wrists.

Okay, so that was the visual check done. Now it was time for the kinesthetic check. I tested out every part of my body that I could at the time (wriggling my toes, fiddling my fingers, clenching my stomach and… other parts of my digestive system) just to make sure that nothing in my body was damaged or missing. Once I had confirmed that I was more or less still pretty much intact, I made to check upon what I would consider to be the most important part of my self, not just my body. ((Yemra?)) I called out in the expanse of my mind. ((Yemra, are you in there? Yemra, girl, if you’re still in my head, answer me.))

Well, that was strange. Usually Yemra answers me within a few seconds of my calling out for her, but right now I’ve got nothing from her at all. ((Hey, Yems, what’s the hold-up, man?)) I asked. ((Are you, like, just floating around in my head or something? Come on, Yems, talk to me. I can’t feel you in there, Yemra. You better talk to me now before I lose my head, okay? Yemra! Can you hear me? Are you in there?))

And that was when I noticed that not only could I not hear Yemra in my head, I also couldn’t feel her throughout the rest of my body. Whenever Yemra is in what we call “default mode”, just sitting back in my head and experiencing life through me and my body, I could feel this strange sensation that someone was moving along with me whenever I made a move. It’s a very strange sensation that I can never fully and accurately describe in words, but I guess probably some Controllers who have laidback Yeerks who let their hosts do most of the living life stuff could maybe relate to what I’m saying. But my point right now is that I couldn’t feel that someone moving with me when I wriggled my toes and fiddled my fingers and whatnot. I can’t feel Yemra wrapped around my brain as well. Trust me, after thirteen years of living with a Yeerk in my head, I know the feeling of one wrapped around my brain. And I couldn’t feel that right now.

A slowly creeping sensation of cold dread and fear began flowing through me from the tips of my fingers and toes to my limbs and finally to my heart. That familiar yet uncomfortable feeling of emptiness that I have whenever Yemra is out of my head was upon me right now. I felt like I was just a shell, a shadow of my former self. If Yemra was still in my head then, even if she was disconnected, I would still feel her bumping around in my skull. Or at least I could imagine feeling that. But I was getting none of that right now.

((Yemra, girl, don’t leave me hanging like this, please,)) I practically begged inside the emptiness of my mind. ((Yemra, please, just answer me. Talk to me even just once.)) But I was beginning to lose hope. The last thing I could recall from before I woke up cuffed to this chair was that something had exploded behind me, and I was flying in the air because of that, and then I felt my head smash hard onto the ground before I blacked out. And while I don’t think that it’s physically possible for a Yeerk to get ejected out of her host’s head just by sheer impact force against a hard surface, I didn’t want to be the first case of that very thing happening either.

Or maybe whoever had locked me up to this chair had electroshocked Yemra out of my head and was now keeping her away from me, or worse, Yemra had already been crushed to death by my captors. We were still technically in Nothlit State-controlled territory, after all, when we were ambushed, and while I didn’t know the fates of my other companions that time (Ken, Yibey, Donna, Sinan, Shal, and the others), if it was indeed the Nothlit State that had captured me, either scenario I had described was both plausible. Except I really, really didn’t want to think about the second one. Even right now, relating it to you all those years after, I still can’t help but shed a tear or two just thinking about it. But look at it this way: the Nothlit State (or at least its members which I had seen) really resented those Yeerks who not only managed to keep their natural bodies but also managed to get human hosts in later years. The Nothlit State felt that these hosted Yeerks had collaborated with the humans and the Andalites to not only get themselves the same rights that their hosts enjoyed but also to deny those same rights to the nothlit Yeerks when they were forced to morph and stay into human forms.

And as I began to absorb the very real possibility that I may never get to see, hear or feel Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool in my head ever again, the tears began to fall. I cried. I cried at the possibility that I may have just lost my alien worm slug BFF, my sister from another mother, my Yeerk, one of the most important beings ever in my life. ((Yemra, please, just answer me, tell me that you’re still with me,)) I begged in my mind with tears streaming down my cheeks even though I knew that if Yemra was anywhere outside of my skull, there was no way in hell that she could hear me crying out for her.

“Please, God, just let Yemra talk to me one more time,” I prayed through my sobs. “Please, even if it’s just for one more time, let Yemra talk to me.” Already I could feel a void beginning to form within my soul, a void that had once been occupied by Yemra which was now lying hollow and empty. I cried, and I cried harder after that, and then I cried some more, and then I couldn’t cry anymore because I had run out of tears to shed. Even my snot had joined my tears in going down my face, and there was nothing that I could do to wipe away the salty tears and mucus that were making their way into my mouth. That was how pathetic I felt when I thought I had lost Yemra forever.

And then suddenly, I felt a very small jolt of micro-electricity spark to life in my head. My emotions then swung all the way from dark soul-crushing despair to unbounded hope and excitement. Could it be real? Could it really be? I knew exactly what that infinitesimal jolt of micro-electricity meant, but at the same I didn’t want to get my hopes up prematurely. ((Yemra?)) I called out tentatively. ((Yemra, is that you?))

Jen, a very small and distant voice in the back of my head called out in reply. Jen, it’s me. It sounded like it was coming down a tube in which the speaker at the other end was all the way over in Bangladesh.

((Is that really you, Yems?)) I asked. I was still having a hard time believing what I was hearing as it was just a few moments ago that I had convinced myself that Yemra was gone from my life forever, but now that here was possibly the last bit of hope I have left of getting her back, I just didn’t want to let go.

Yeah, Jen, it’s me, Yemra replied. I got disconnected from your brain when your head hit the ground so hard after that car exploded and you blacked out. But don’t worry about that now. I’m here, and that’s all that matters.

((Yems, do you remember what I thought had almost happened to you just before we met each other?)) I asked her.

Oh, that, Yemra said. Yeah, I sure do. You imagined that I had almost been eaten by a fish before I crawled into your ear and your head, and then when I told you that I had emerged from the sewage system into the river, you imagined chunks of sewage waste floating around in your head with me. Already, I could imagine the mental grin that she was forming as she recalled that particular memory.

Yep, this was Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool, all right. I’d recognized both her voice and her tone of speech already, and I knew that I would be able to tell her voice and tone from anywhere else. I mean, that’s just common sense, right? You don’t live with an alien worm for thirteen years, grow up and go through puberty, high school and college with her without getting to know pretty well how she speaks and how she sounds like when speaking. Also, I know that I can only hear her voice inside my head and that she doesn’t have a real voice that we would recognize as such, but Yemra has such a distinctive voice when she speaks to me. It’s like a cross between Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor’s voices, and it’s also unbelievably high-pitched. I have to admit that there are some days where I just can’t stand her voice but right now, I’m just relishing the fact that I’m getting to hear my Yeerk’s voice once again.

Once again, tears began to flow from my eyes down to my cheeks, but this time these were tears of joy that I was shedding. ((Oh, Yemra, thank God!)) I practically exclaimed. ((For a moment, I thought I’d really lost you forever! But now I’m just so happy that you’re still here with me!))

All right, Jen, calm down now. Take it easy. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere else, Yemra assured me. She then tickled the part of my brain that controlled the endorphins to release lots and lots of that stuff, and then she sent out waves of microvolts that was the direct result of her connecting to the rest of my brain and by extension my body. It gave me a sense of wholeness, completeness, and confidence. I’m telling you, the difference between the Jennifer Carson with her Yeerk and the one without is night and day. The Jen Carson without her Yeerk is a quiet, shy, timid and nervous person who wouldn’t know what to do or say to save her life. Jen Carson the Controller, on the other hand, now she was, is, a world-beater. She could go against the Yeerk Empire single-handedly if she felt like it. And, depending on how this particular situation pans out, she, meaning me of course, could very well have to do that.

I’m right here, Jen, Yemra said to me. I’m not going anywhere, tamli.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t have taken note of what it was that Yemra had called me right then and there, but Yemra gasped when she had said that last word, and that was why I noticed that word. ((What did you just call me, Yems?)) I asked.

I had the very distinct feeling that if Yemra had a mouth and a pair of hands, she would be using those hands to cover her mouth right now. Oh, by the Kandrona, Jen, it just slipped out! I hope you don’t mind… she said.

((I just hope that it’s not offensive,)) I said. ((I know I’ve been calling you worm or slug all these years so I don’t know if this is just you finally getting back at me after all those times I called you slug. Heck, I don’t even know if this tamli word means something like ‘slave’ or ‘junkie’.))

On the contrary, Jen, Yemra said. I’d say it’s actually the complete opposite of slave. Tamli literally means “my heart” in Galard, but in the Yeerk context… it’s hard to explain, but I guess you can say it’s when the bond between Yeerk and host goes beyond just friendship and even love. It’s kind of like I’m saying that if there’s only one host that I could have for the rest of my life, I’d choose you to be that one host.

((I guess that doesn’t sound too bad, actually,)) I said. ((But then what’s up with you being shocked and all about calling me your tamli?))

You have to understand, Jen, that the Yeerk Empire wasn’t built on sympathy and winning the hearts and minds of the conquered species, Yemra told me. With the Empire, it’s all about domination and proving that the Yeerks are the master race, so to speak. Any sort of sympathy by a Yeerk to their host is frowned upon at best and treasonous at worst. And tamli, oh boy, tamli… Any Yeerk who was heard saying that to their host would be convicted of treason because to see a host as an equal was completely against Imperial doctrine. Even Yeerks in the Peace Movement like me didn’t use the word casually. And, I hate to admit it, but I’ve never had any occasion to call anyone tamli until now.

((Really? Not even Mallory?))

I mean, Mallory was all right as far as hosts go, Yemra admitted, but she had made it very clear to me that she was only working with the Peace Movement to make sure that the Yeerk Empire wouldn’t take over the Earth and that both people and Yeerks can have the choice to infest and be infested, and that once that was over, she wanted me out of her head.

((But you two were still friends despite that, right?))

Yes, that’s true, but not as close as ours, Yemra told me in an attempt to seemingly assure me. Not that I would have minded.

((So you really think of me as tamli?)) I asked Yemra.

Actually, yes, I do, she replied. You are my host, Jen, and I am your Yeerk.

((That’s actually very sweet of you, Yemra,)) I said. ((So I guess that makes you my tamli as well.))

I don’t think a host can call their Yeerk tamli, but sure, you can call me tamli, Jen, Yemra replied with a mental smile.

((Well, that’s good to know,)) I muttered. Once the tears on my face have finally dried out, I took a good look at where I was being held. I appeared to be in some kind of roughly constructed room. There was a folding wooden table in the room with me and the chair, and all in all it gave off the impression of being a makeshift prison cell, although it wasn’t bars holding this particular prisoner in but some kind of force field or maybe a Gleet Bio-Filter.

Suddenly, the force field or Bio-Filter flickered out, and my cell was now open for anyone to come in or out. Right on cue, three humans, two men and one woman, entered my cell. The woman and one of the men were carrying assault rifles while the other man carried what I can only describe as a gray plastic spatula-like object with a circular head as opposed to the regular square head of a normal spatula. The guy with the spatula then walked up to me and ran the spatula thing over my head and across my temples. A row of yellow blinking lights lit up across the spatula thing and it began emitting crackling and beeping noises like that of a Geiger counter. I mean, the thing literally lit up and went off as soon as they pointed it at my head and it didn’t let up so long as it was near my head.

The man then withdrew the spatula thing and said, “As I suspected. This human is host to a filshig traitor, a collaborator of the Andalites and the humans. The dumak’sa tells me that the Yeerk has recently fed; we will have to wait for three days to starve out the traitor. Make sure that this human does not escape and get the Yeerk to a Kandrona source,” the man then ordered the others. The two of them nodded their heads and then all of them left my cell without so much as a backward glance. Well, I think the girl did look at me once. She looked at me with a mix of hatred, unpleasantness, and probably a little bit of jealousy as well, although I might just be imagining that last part. I would have to remember her face so that I would be prepared for whatever kind of trouble she might have in store for me. I wonder why she looked at me that way, though.

((Well, that doesn’t sound good,)) I muttered in my mind. ((I mean, I don’t care if they’re Nothlit State or Yeerk Empire. The way that that guy with the spatula said that I should be kept here until they starve you out… yeah, it really doesn’t sound so good. And what in the world was that spatula thingy anyway?))

Ah, yes, the dumak’sa, Yemra replied. I guess the closest approximate translation I can give you for it is ‘synaptic mapper’. It scans for the presence of a Yeerk in a potential host. It’s very useful if the being using the dumak’sa is unsure if they’re actually sensing another Yeerk inside the potential host or just some residual nik’iili left behind in the host’s bloodstream.

((That kind of thing must have happened a lot of times to you guys if you actually had to create a device for the express purpose of telling you if this human or Hork or Taxxon or whatever has a Yeerk in their head or not,)) I mused.

You have no idea, Jen, Yemra sighed. You have no idea.

((Also, why is it so important that they have to starve you out of me? Why don’t they just electrocute you out of me and be done with it?))

Oh, Jen, I don’t think you’re going to like the answer to that question at all, Yemra said with a sigh. This was a technique that the Empire particularly favored back in the days of the invasion. Imperial interrogators would starve out a Yeerk suspected of treason or some other such crime from their host by the standard three-day Kandrona feeding cycle, and then once the Yeerk had gone maybe two and a half days without the Kandrona, when the first signs of starvation begin to appear, the interrogators would leave some Kandrona-infused Pool liquid nearby so that the Yeerk would immediately pop out of their host’s head to feed, and then the interrogators would put a specially trained Yeerk into the host’s head to access the memories of what the Yeerk did through their host. If the host doesn’t have the information the interrogators want or need then it’s the Yeerk’s turn to get interrogated, and that’s not very pretty as well.

((I’m guessing that you had experience with that kind of thing during your time with the invasion force,)) I said.

On both ends, actually, she admitted.

((Really? Someday, you will have to tell me all of your stories and experiences with the Empire,)) I said. ((But how about this whole POW thing, though?)) I continued. ((I’m guessing by these guys’ attitudes that they won’t be too bothered with putting out some Kandrona for you, though.))

Well, they don’t know that I don’t need Kandrona rays as much as the average Yeerk, Yemra said confidently, and that I only get out of your head out of habit and to stretch myself out.

((And you’re not going to do that right now, right?)) I asked.

Of course not, Yemra replied bullishly. And even if they do manage to get me out of your head, I, ahem, know ways of keeping certain information out of the prying neurons of snooping Yeerks.

((Something you learned in your Peace Movement days, I presume,)) I quipped. I meant it as a friendly joke, of course, but I wasn’t really expecting the answer that she would give me right then and there.

Yes, you could say that, Yemra said wistfully. And now I was really, really curious as to what she had done during the invasion, or the first invasion if the Nothlit State succeeded in preparing the slate for the second coming of the Yeerk Empire to Earth. But before any of us could do anything about it, we had to survive our time in captivity with the Nothlit State.

Chapter Text

Time passed us by in fits and starts; sometimes it would feel like hours passed by in minutes or seconds while other times, seconds felt like hours upon hours of waiting for something to happen. I had to assume that my captors had taken my watch away from me since when I woke up inside my cell, I couldn’t see or feel my watch around my wrist. It was a classic interrogation technique I’d read and heard about before; the captives are deprived of any means to tell the time as a form of mental torture so that when the time came for the captors to question them, the captives would be a little less resistant. My case was a little bit different from all the other times I’d read about this technique, however; this was most probably just to keep my Yeerk on tenterhooks as she would have no idea of how long she had until she had to feed on Kandrona rays. Or at least that was my captors’ plan, but they had completely failed to take into account that Yemra was not like your average Yeerk; she didn’t need to feed on Kandrona rays every three days to survive. Oh, she still needs Kandrona rays, all right, just not as frequently as your average Yeerk would.

My arms were already cramping up from being tied up behind me by these weird metal block cuff things. Just from that you could tell that they were not your ordinary Earth handcuffs or zip ties, and I can also tell you that I think that these cuffs were made of some kind of magnets which are definitely beyond the capability of humans to make at the moment, at least not at this small size. And even if I was somehow able to gain the Hulk’s strength and break free of these cuffs, where the heck would I go next? I could probably go through the Gleet Bio-Filter without too much damage if I ran fast enough but then I would get lost in… wherever I was being held. Since I had no idea where I was, I also didn’t know the layout of the place, and so any escape attempt on my part would just result in me getting recaptured or worse...

That got me quickly thinking about what the outside world knew of my fate. What had my parents been told about me? If Ken and the rest of the guys had somehow managed to make it out of that ambush then they could have told my parents that I had gone missing. Did my parents think I was dead? Or that I was still alive but stuck in the middle of what is now surely a war zone between the National Guard and the Nothlit State? Shit, I could already imagine what my parents are going through at the moment. Mom would be typically and understandably hysterical, while Dad would be telling her to calm down even though he was himself worried about me in his own understated Dad way. Dad was also probably trying to find a way to get to Uncle Earl so that he could ask Earl about me and whether I’ve been found or not or just any sort of news about me. Any sort of news about me was still better than no news about me, from their point of view. At least that would give them some sort of certainty and closure about my fate as opposed to not knowing anything, which was all that they had right now.

Anyway, I don’t know for how long I sat there thinking about myself and my life, thinking about my parents thinking about me, and generally just waiting for something to happen. What I wouldn’t give to have an Andalite’s sense of time right now. Andalite body clocks are just so fucking impressive. Not only can they tell how much time has passed but they can also internally shift their clocks to the units and measures of time on whatever planet they may be on and continue telling the time as if it was all natural to them. Maybe it is just natural to them. I don’t know.

I was brought back to the present when I noticed two guards approaching my cell once again. The Bio-Filter force field flickered out of existence and a woman, the same woman who had given me that odd and unpleasant look from earlier, walked into my cell. She was carrying a metal tray with a soup bowl on it. The two guards, not the ones who had inspected me with the dumak’sa, kept watch outside of the cell’s force field boundaries. Once the girl with the tray was inside the cell with me, the Bio-Filter flickered back on.

The girl put the tray down on the folding table in the cell with once again just more than a hint of displeasure and annoyance, and then she dragged the table towards me. She then stood in front of me, with the table between us, and gestured at the tray, as if commanding me to eat. I mean, seriously, girl, what is your problem with me? All right, then, if you wanna play rough then I can also play rough.

I lifted up my legs as much as I could to show her that there was no way in hell that I would be able to eat while bound or cuffed or whatever like this. The woman rolled her eyes and she walked over to the Bio-Filter field and called out, “Go unbind the captive’s cuffs,” while keeping an eye on me the whole time. I also noticed the eye roll that she made as she called out for my cuffs to be unmagnetized or whatever, and that was more than enough reason for me to look back at her with a furrowed brow. I could also imagine a sigh of exasperation coming from at least one of the guards, and then finally the magnetic bonds keeping my handcuffs and footcuffs (is that even a word?) together went away, for lack of a better term, and I was finally able to move my hands and feet freely. Well, as freely as you could move your hands and feet with these metallic blocky cuff things still on them. “How about these things, then?” I asked out loud this time, hoping that I’d get lucky and get these things off me as well.

“Don’t push it,” the woman said as she walked back towards me and the table. She took the other folding chair inside the cell and set it down in front of me and sat down. It was now pretty obvious that she was going to watch me eat my lunch or breakfast or dinner or whatever meal was eaten at whatever time of day it was whether I liked it or not. I gave her my best soccer diva impression, grabbed the spoon beside the bowl and began digging into the soup. The soup was some kind of thick goopy thing with bits of chunks of rice mixed in with it. I vaguely recall having seen or even eaten this goopy soup somewhere but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was called or where I had eaten it. Still, it wasn’t until I put that first spoonful of soup in my mouth that I realized how hungry I was, and I began tucking into the soup with some gusto.

Hey, Jen? Yemra said. ((Yeah?)) I called back. Take a look at your guardian angel here, Yemra told me.

((Yeah, what about her?))

Look at her eyes, man, Yemra continued. She looks like she’s about ready to rip me out of your head right now.

I glanced at the guard and, just as Yemra had said, she was looking at me with such a ferocious intensity that I actually began to legitimately fear for my bodily safety with her locked in my cell with me. But what reason could she have for hating me so intensely like that? As far as I know, I had never even so much as lifted a finger against her in my whole life. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was a voluntary Controller and she was a… What was she, actually? Was she a nothlit, and she hated me for having one of her “traitorous” sisters in my head, or was she a former Controller herself who had chosen to side with the Nothlit State for whatever reason? Why did she hate me? That was the question, to quote Shakespeare.

((Yemra, can you check if this chick is a nothlit or not?)) I asked.

Hang on a sec, Jen, she said. I had a mental image of eyes scrunched closed in concentration, and then I suddenly felt a cold shiver emanate from my spine down to my back and then down to my hands and feet, and I also had the sensation of being a submarine or a bat emitting sonar or echolocation waves. ((What was that all about?)) I asked Yemra.

That was me actively pinging our guard for nik’iili, Yemra replied. It works like sonar; there’s a passive and an active mode. Anyway, I can certainly detect nik’iili in her, but not in enough quantity and concentration to suggest that she’s a nothlit. She feels to me more like a former human-Controller, but don’t quote me on that just yet. What I wouldn’t give for a dumak’sa right now.

((Well, that’s interesting,)) I said. ((If she’s a former Controller then why is she fighting for the Nothlit State? I assume that she doesn’t know about the Nothlit State actually being some sort of advance party for the Yeerk Empire, but then again to assume is to make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.))

Or maybe she does know about the Nothlit State being actually the advance party for Yeerk Invasion 2: Electric Boogaloo, Yemra countered, and that’s exactly why she’s fighting for the Nothlit State.

((But once again, why? If she’s a former Controller, she would probably want the Yeerks kicked way out of Earth and even the solar system and out to space. Unless…))

...Unless she was a former voluntary Controller, Yemra continued, and she thinks that helping the Yeerk Empire return to Earth through the Nothlit State is going to put a Yeerk back in her head, and she doesn’t care if that Yeerk would like to cohabitate and coexist or if that Yeerk would suppress her and take full control and advantage of her body.

((Shit, Yems, you might be right,)) I said. While it may sound unbelievable and farfetched, there have been cases of former Controllers, both voluntary and involuntary, who had wanted to be infested by a Yeerk once again after the invasion was defeated and all the Yeerks were collected in their Pools and would do anything just to get a Yeerk back in their heads. The vast majority of them applied for infestation when it was finally legalized by President Obama back in 2010 or 2011, but there have been well-documented cases of former Controllers running into the Yeerk Pools and jumping in, hoping that one of the Yeerks would instinctively crawl into their ears and infest them. This happened both before and after the legalization of Yeerk infestation. And there were also reports of some former Controllers committing suicide because they couldn’t host a Yeerk anymore (this was obviously before infestation was legalized) or because when it was finally legal to do so, their application was rejected on all sorts of grounds.

Could it be that this girl sitting before me, staring at me angrily and defiantly, was one of those people who wanted to be infested by a Yeerk once again, despite or because of their experiences with one back in the invasion? She looked old enough to be a teenager during the latter stages of the invasion, if I have to be honest. Could she be willing to do whatever it takes to get a Yeerk in her head, even if it meant killing another Yeerk or her host? It was a question to ponder, but probably not right now. But right now, I wanted, needed to know something about this girl, but I wasn’t too sure how I was going to do that exactly.

Maybe trying to reduce the tension in the air would do the trick. “Hey, can I say something?” I asked. “I can’t help but notice that you’ve been looking at me quite intensely since you first walked into my cell. If it’s because you like me, then I hate to break it to you like this but you’re not really my type. Sure, you’re hot and beautiful and all that, and I’m sure you’ve got both guys and girls lining up just to know you, but I don’t think we’re playing for the same team, girl.”

Well, that worked very well. As in it didn’t work at all. The woman was still scowling at me in her own deep and imperturbable way. Or maybe she didn’t like my little joke at her possibly being a lesbian just for looking at me that way. Okay, time for a new tack.

“Say, you look familiar,” I said to the woman. “Do you play soccer? Because I remember this one time where my team played against this team from Philly, call themselves the East European Casuals, and they had this player who looks just like you. Are you that girl? Maybe probably not,” I shrugged. “She was nice to me when we shook hands in that game. But then again, if she was you then you couldn’t have known that I was a Controller, and now that you know that I am a Controller, you’re looking at me like that because you can’t believe that you shook hands with a dirty species traitor. Well, I can’t say that I haven’t experienced discrimination for being what I am, but it’s okay. You can talk to a filshig collaborator like me. We’ll keep it between the two of us. I’m sure the guards on the other side of the Bio-Filter won’t mind. Heck, I don’t think they can even hear us—”

“All right, enough of this nonsense!” the woman suddenly said, and I was stunned into silence by her unexpectedly explosive and harsh reaction. (Well, it was for me.) “Are you actually able to shut yourself up or does your Yeerk have to shut your mouth once you get talking?” the woman asked me. “Do you even need to breathe once you open your mouth? Because I am prepared to swear by the Great Kandrona that you did not take a single breath once you had started talking before I finally stopped you!”

Okay, so maybe I had finally managed to get the dialogue rolling after some time and effort, if not exactly in the way that I had thought it would happen. This was still progress, though; we were communicating, and that was good. “Honestly, miss, what did you expect?” I asked back. “I’m just trying to make polite conversation here. You’re the one who wasn’t talking and forcing me to take up all the slack in what’s supposed to be two-way communication.”

“All right, then, you got what you want,” the woman said. “I’m talking to you. What do you want to talk about?” she asked through gritted teeth.

“I saw the way you looked at me when you guys went into my cell and shoved that dumak’sa into my face,” I said. “Don’t think for a second I didn’t notice. And you’ve been giving me the same look ever since. My question to you is this: what gives?”

“Do you really want to know why I hate you so much, Controller?” the woman sneered. “Because I don’t think you can handle what I’m about to tell you about your precious Yeerk and her friends.”

“Go ahead, try me,” I shot right back, although inside I was not as confident as my voice and demeanor would say. The venom dripping from the word Controller in the way that she had said it was more than enough proof that she hated my guts for being one.

“You must think you’re on top of the world with your Yeerk, namarak,” the woman told me. “I don’t know how old you are; if you were already old enough to have been infested back in the first invasion or if you got your Yeerk only afterwards, but it doesn’t matter to me.”

Wow, she really does hate you, Jen, Yemra said to me. She just called you bitch. Like ‘prison bitch’ bitch.

“You don’t know how lucky you are to have a Yeerk in your head,” the woman continued. “Your Yeerk wasn’t on the Pool ship when your beloved Animorph hero Jake Berenson vented seventeen thousand Yeerks into the vacuum of space just because he could. You humans and you Peace Movement Yeerks go on and on about Esplin Nine-Four-Six-Six and his war crimes and yet you never stop to think that your own hero, the great and powerful Jake Berenson, committed mass genocide with just the push of a button. This is why I hate you, Controller; because your hero is a war criminal and a mass murderer with the blood of seventeen thousand sentient beings on his hands and yet has the balls to accept the unquestioning adoration of the human race, and because your Peace Movement helped Jake kill the only friend I have ever had on this world. That is why I hate you, that is why I hate Controllers, and that is why I hope that your Yeerk holds out for the next three days until it goes through the fugue.”

The woman then stood up and took the bowl of soup away from me before I had even been half-finished with it, and the guards took this as the signal to drop the Bio-Filter to let her through. So now I was left alone in my cell with only my Yeerk and my futuristic handcuffs and magnetic stocks for company. ((Okay, um, wow,)) I managed to say after a few moments absorbing her words. ((What the hell just happened there? I did not see that coming! That shit was completely unexpected. You agree with me on that, right?)) I asked Yemra.

Yes, I did not expect her to react like that as well, Yemra repeated.

((I didn’t think she would blow up just like that!)) I said. ((I thought she would just tell me to shut up. I really didn’t think she would tell me her whole story during the invasion and after just like that. Shit, I didn’t expect her or even anyone like her—a former Controller, I mean—to be that angry about what Jake did on the Pool ship. Hell, I don’t even know of a human who thinks that badly of Jake because of what he did. I don’t even think Jake is that awful, and you know how much of a Yeerk-o-phile I am. Sure, objectively speaking it is mass murder, but it happened in the middle of a war. Like some guy, maybe Sun Tzu or Stalin, said, one death is a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic. Or in Jake’s case, seventeen thousand deaths is a statistic. Man, I just got chills for saying that. And I also can’t believe that I’ve become that callous.))

I mean, I have to tell you that the day that Jake vented all those Yeerks from the Pool ship is a dark day for all of Yeerk-kind, Yemra said. Yes, the Peace Movement assisted Jake and the Animorphs in infiltrating the Pool ship but they had no idea that Jake was going to do what he did. There were a number of Peace Movement Yeerks aboard the Pool ship when Jake vented it, and he knew about it because Illim, Kahsen, and Tarash told them about our brothers and sisters in the Pool ship, but he still did it anyway. We in the Peace Movement didn’t like it that you humans chose that day to commemorate your victory over the Yeerk invasion but what can we do about it? It was the day that the invasion force surrendered, after all, but I guess now the Nothlit State has given you humans a reason to mourn the passing of Victory-Y Day.

((But it’s just so sad, though, isn’t it?)) I asked back. ((And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after what she told me about her, I now feel sorry for that woman. I really do. No, really. To think that a Yeerk is the only real friend you’ve ever had and then hating the whole of humanity just because of the actions of one man. I mean, she can hate Jake all she wants for all I care. No need to lump the rest of us humans and even you Yeerks in with him. There’s no way of knowing with any sort of certainty if anyone else would have done what Jake did in that situation or if they would have done something entirely different.))

You’re certainly right about that, Yemra agreed.

Chapter Text

((Hey, is there any way for me to get these magnetic handcuff things, whatever they are, off me?)) I asked Yemra. It was just right after the moment when I had tried to talk to the girl who had been looking at me with the evil eye ever since I had woken up to find myself a prisoner of the Nothlit State, right after the moment that she had revealed to me that she was a victim of the Yeerk Pool Ship venting in the last days of the invasion. I was in a little room or cell inside some kind of building or location with no windows, and my captors have just said that they intended to starve Yemra out of my head in three days by depriving her of Kandrona ray nutrition, which could very well have succeeded except for the fact that Yemra somehow takes longer than three days before she begins to starve of the Kandrona.

((I mean, I’m not sure if I should do it, but seeing as they haven’t magnetized them back together…)) I trailed off. ((I thought that maybe I could, you know, get them off now.))

Okay, um... I need to take control of you for this, Jen, Yemra replied. Is that okay?

((Sure, go ahead,)) I replied. It’s not that Yemra rarely asks me for permission before taking control, but I just found it strange that she would do it right here and right now.

All right, I will lay them together flat on the table like this, Yemra said as she moved my arms and made them do what she wanted them to do so that she could demonstrate to me. If I remember correctly, this is still how to get these cuffs off of us by ourselves. Yemra then made sure that the cuff on my left hand was flat and stable on the table before she dug my right hand’s fingernails into some kind of notch or recess that I hadn’t seen on the cuff before because it was a black crack on a black surface. Finally, there was a clicking sound and the cuff split in two, the two halves connected by a hinge at the bottom. Okay, Jen, now it’s your turn, Yemra said.

((Wait, how was that again?)) I asked. Yemra sighed and was about to do it again when I added, ((I’m kidding; I’m kidding. Still, I hope that I’m doing this right.)) I then tried to imitate what Yemra did by digging my left fingernails into the cuff on my right hand and wrist. It took me a little more time to get that cuff off since I had only seen the procedure to remove it once in my life and my instructor didn’t really give me detailed instructions on how to deal with it, but I was eventually able to do it. Once the cuff on my right hand was free, I went to work on the cuffs on my feet, the ones that looked like foot stocks. That went much faster simply because I now had two hands to work with, and once I had them all off I tossed aside the magnetic cuff things and sat down on the cot in my cell. I sat there staring at the wall at the opposite side before I finally summoned up the courage to address the elephant in the room. ((Yemra?)) I called out.

Yes, Jen? Came the reply.

((The nothlits plan to starve you out of my head so they can shove another Yeerk in my head and blab all of my secrets and the plans of the HYA to stop the Nothlit State to them, right?))

That seems to be their plan, yes.

((But they have no idea that you can actually go for more than three days without Kandrona rays, yes?))

No, I don’t think so.

((So the nothlits have no reason to suspect that you’re nothing but an ordinary Yeerk who just managed to finish feeding before they captured us?))

Yes, I would hope that that is so.

((Okay, so that means that you have to stay in my head for at least three whole days for us to make this work,)) I said.

I don’t think I am following you now, Jen, Yemra admitted.

((What I’m saying is that you’ll have to get out of my head first right now if we want to fool the nothlits into thinking that you’re an ordinary Yeerk who gets hungry for Kandrona rays every three days,)) I said. ((When was the last time you’ve stretched yourself out anyway? And you know that I’ll need to see you one more time before we go for this three-day scam.))

Well, I remember feeding before we had to evacuate with the others and Moxach the driver, Yemra said. All right, fine, she agreed. Now where do you say I should make a quick exit from your head so that you can see me at least one more time?

I looked around my cell, now unsure of what to do next. Certainly I wasn’t going to do it right there on my cot. The guards would surely see what we were going to do and rush in and snatch Yemra away from me faster than you can say “Don’t!” Right then and there though, I saw a concrete wall or partition that didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling. It had to be hiding some kind of privy or latrine behind it. ((There,)) I said. ((That looks like a good spot.))

Okay, first of all, eww, Yemra said. Second, what about my aquatic environment?

((Oh, we’ll just wing it,)) I said as I walked towards the latrine cubicle. Good thing these nothlits knew at least a thing or two about properly taking care of prisoners. Regular meals and now my own bathroom… I’d say that I was now living the prison life. So this latrine had a wall separating it from the rest of the cell, but this wall didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling, like I’ve already mentioned before. As I walked past the partition and into the latrine, I saw a metal bucket that at least was brand new. Its function was obvious: to hold all of my bodily functions so that it could be eventually disposed of somewhere else. The partition was there to give me some modesty and keep me out of sight of the guards while I did my business.

I turned the bucket over so that I could sit on it and then, once I was seated, Yemra asked me, Are you sure you want to do this, Jen?

((Yeah, I’m sure,)) I replied. ((I mean, you will have to stay in my head for the next three or four days or however long this takes. This is gonna be the last time that I see you in the flesh before that, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to us once the nothlits find out you can go more than three days without Kandrona rays. You know how important this is for me. Please, let’s just do it one more time.))

All right, Jen, I’ll do it because yes, I do know just how much this means to you, Yemra replied. But have you thought about what’s going to happen if one of those guards walks in to check on you while you’re supposedly doing your business and then sees me in your hands?

((I’ll risk it,)) I said, and then Yemra disengaged from my brain. My right ear went numb so I tilted my head that way and held up my right hand right below the ear hole so that I could catch Yemra immediately on her way out. After a minute of my right ear going numb and then deaf from the Yeerk’s passage through my ear canal, I felt something soft, wet and squishy plop down to my hand. Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool was nothing more than a wad of gray flesh no thicker than a pencil and that could fit easily in the palm of my hand. The wad of flesh then began flexing and contracting before it finally formed the slug-like shape of a Yeerk in its natural state.

To this day, it still amazes me just how much this tiny little creature from another world has become such an important and even integral part of me and my life. The mere thought of being potentially separated from Yemra was more than enough to give me chills, and I’ve even had nightmares about losing Yemra like you wouldn’t believe. And my obsession over my Yeerk has gotten to the point where I legitimately believe that I can identify Yemra in a Pool full of Yeerks. More than likely it’s not gonna be true when put to the test but I am seriously not exaggerating when I say that I believe that I have a good idea of what Yemra looks like. Do you want me to demonstrate, describe her as well as I can? Okay. Yemra has this brown spot right between her sensory stalks, and on her back she has this brown scale or patch that looks exactly like a map of South Carolina. Is that good enough for you?

Also, looking at Yemra in her natural state also drives home for me the fact that the Yeerks do what they do and are what they are because that was how they evolved. They’re basically small squishy slugs that need the safety, security and protection of being inside the heads of larger, stronger and more resilient hosts just to survive. Which is kind of sad, really, when you think about. They didn’t choose to be this way. But they could have also gone about asking for hosts more nicely instead of just popping in over our heads and saying “All your base are belong to us.” If I was one of the first Yeerks to decide how we should spread ourselves out as a species and I knew what I knew now, I would probably suggest asking the Hork-Bajir and the humans nicely if they wanted to have a slug in their heads.

And now I found myself running Yemra through my fingers, marveling at how small, soft and squishy she was. Yeerks aren’t kidding around when they say that just closing a fist around them would be more than enough to kill them. They were just that fragile. I then turned Yemra over onto her back and began poking and prodding her just because I could. I know that I would have hell to pay for it once she got back in my head, but while she was still in my hands, I was the one who had the power over her and not the other way around. It’s yet another point of contention on why people are so reluctant to accept Yeerks, because they have the ability to take control of your body whenever they want and you can only sit and watch as they do whatever they want with your body. Even though most of the Yeerks hosted by humans today are Peace Movement members, there are still some people doubting that there could ever be such a thing as a good Yeerk, which is why they’re against the voluntary infestation movement in the first place.

I took my time examining Yemra from head to toe, or stalk to tail flipper. This was going to be the last time in a little while that I would be able to see her in the flesh before we embarked on our journey to deceive the nothlits, so I wanted to memorize every detail of Yemra that I could before she went back to the safety of my skull and saw the very memories that I was trying to create here.

I finally put Yemra next to my ear and she practically shot out of my hand and into the canal. She squirted out painkillers to dull the feeling of her pushing aside my eardrum, ear bones and inner ear structure to grab onto the auditory nerve and make her way into my brain. I guess she wanted to be back in the safety of my head ASAP. All right, Jen, you’ve had your fun, she said to me once she had completed her connections. Now it’s time for us to wait these nothlits out.

((Yeah, it’s time,)) I said as I went out of the latrine and back to my cot.

Oh, and uh, what in the blessed name of the Kandrona were you doing to me when you flipped me over? She asked me. Yemra then accessed my most recent memories and saw exactly what I did to her at that moment, and I distinctly remember her blurting out What the fuck? Once she came across my memories of playing around with her like she was a wad of cheap gum. All right, enough of this nonsense, she said, returning the memories into my recent unconscious. Let’s just get through these three days, hopefully without trying to kill each other.

((Girl, you know how I’m going to react if you die,)) I retorted.

Nothing much happened to the both of us after that heated exchange with the girl who had once been a Controller and who lost her Yeerk to the Pool ship venting at the end of the war. My captors did bring me food at what had to be set intervals but I couldn’t tell exactly what time they were serving me because I didn’t have my watch with me. Once again, it was Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl who served me my food (a Yeerk version of a combination of microwave rice and instant noodles) but this time she didn’t stay in my cell so I could chat her up. Instead, Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl (what a mouthful, eh?) laid my soup down on the table then immediately walked out so that she could watch (or glare angrily if I want to be more accurate) me eat through the Bio-Filter wall. Then, once she saw that I was done with my food, she walked back into my cell (after the Bio-Filter wall had been shut off, obviously) to grab my bowl and walked out without even so much as an angry huff.

Two guards stood ready outside of my cell in case I tried to escape, but escaping was not really on my mind right now. I didn’t know where I was in this place, and I also didn’t know where or what this place was in relation to the rest of the city, so even if I could get out of my cell and escape the two guards and Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl, all I would do was get lost and eventually recaptured by the Nothlit State.

Yemra and I didn’t talk much after dinner (I choose to call it dinner because it feels like the right word to describe it, as opposed to breakfast or lunch). I don’t think that we would have had that much to talk about given our situation. We reminisced on happier times though, times when we didn’t have to worry about armed nothlits trying to carve out their own country in the middle of the Eastern Seaboard, when all we had to worry about was the odd bit of discrimination here and there from people who couldn’t or didn’t want to understand why a human would choose to allow an alien slug into their head. Eventually my eyelids began to grow heavy, and I instinctively glanced down at my wrist to look at the time, only to remember that I didn’t have my watch on me anymore. So maybe I was right in assuming that I had just eaten dinner after all. Or maybe my circadian rhythm was already beginning to go out of whack.

I yawned, sat down on the cot, stretched out my legs, and took off my jacket. It wasn’t actually a real jacket though, just an oversized shirt that you can wear over your other clothes if you wanted, but I call it a jacket because I don’t know what it’s really called. There was already a small pillow on my cot so my jacket was going to be my makeshift blanket. I untied my boots and slipped them off, but I kept my socks on because my feet get cold quickly, especially if my blanket isn’t long enough to cover my body, like my jacket.

I laid my head down on the pillow, which was basically a car pillow and therefore small, hard and uncomfortable outside of its natural environment of a car interior. I closed my eyes, and then I opened them again as I remembered to do something that I haven’t done in quite some time: I prayed. Now, I will admit that I’m very much what would be called a “lukewarm Catholic” since I’ve pretty much lapsed on my faith even though I was born, baptized, and confirmed a Roman Catholic thanks to the influence of my two very religious parents, who had taught me to always lean on my faith when the going gets tough. For me though, it was much easier just to let things be, let them happen as they would happen, but there were also times where I have become convinced that there is indeed a higher power or being out there, a higher being that I have come to know by the name of God, who watches over me and protects me. I mean, look at that Dracon artillery attack for example, or maybe the Nothlit State ambushing us on our way out of the city. There was no way that I should have survived any of those events, but I did, which just goes to show that maybe there is someone up there protecting me.

And, I also realized at that point that Yemra survived all of those events with me and in me as well. I don’t know if Yeerks could die of causes other than Kandrona starvation while inside their host’s head, and I was glad that I did not find out about that. Add that to the fact that I legitimately thought that I had lost Yemra forever when I woke up in Noesh captivity before she came back in contact with my brain battered and bruised but not broken (too much, I think), and I knew that this was all the work of the Man Upstairs, and for that I was grateful to Him.

I made the sign of the cross and clasped my hands together in prayer. I took a deep breath, and then I thanked the Lord for giving both me and Yemra this second chance at life. I thanked Him for letting me make it through both the Dracon artillery bombardment (both of them) and the Noesh ambush as well as those few moments when I thought that I had lost Yemra forever. I also thanked Him for keeping Yemra inside my head during all those moments when she could have slipped out and keeping her safe from harm inside my head. And then I prayed for God to watch over us while we were in the hands of the Nothlit State and that we could make it through those three days or more before the nothlits tried to get Yemra out of my head.

“In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen,” I said under my breath.

Amen, Yemra repeated, and then I made the sign of the cross once again and sighed as I finally allowed myself to relax on the cot. That was the easy part done. Now to prepare for the next three days.

Hey, Jen, Yemra called out in my mind as I laid my jacket blanket over me.

((Yeah?)) I replied.

I know I’ve already said this to you a million times, Yemra said, and I also know that you’ve heard me say this in some way or another, but I still want to thank you for letting me stay in your head after we met, in the river, through the post-war days, through the campaigns for voluntary infestation, for everything.

((And I know that you’ve heard me say this to you a million times already,)) I replied, ((but thank you for coming into my life the way that you did, and for being my bestest BFF. Thank you for always being there with me through the good times and the bad.))

And thank you for praying for me as well, Jen. I know that we don’t always see eye to eye in terms of what we believe in but still, the fact that you took your time to pray for me and my immortal soul means so much to me. It makes me really thankful that it’s your ear that fell into the river when I was there trying to escape and survive.

((Well, I just wanted to make sure that we’ll still be together when we finally bite the dust,)) I said with both a mental and physical smile. ((I just want to make sure that you’re still with me in the afterlife.))

And here I thought you really cared about me. But really, all you care about is yourself, Jennifer Yelena Carson! We then had a good laugh at that, even though Yemra had used the Y word. Also, don’t talk about that, Jen, Yemra added. The two of us still have a long ways to go before we die, and we are both not going to die here. That’s a fact.

((Good night, Yemra.))

Good night, Jen.

Having said our good nights, I closed my eyes, curled up inside my jacket blanket as much as I could, and immediately fell into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

It felt as if I had closed my eyes for only a few seconds before I opened them once again, and I felt really confused because I didn’t know where I was for the first few seconds since I woke up. This wasn’t my room, I thought to myself when I woke up, but then I remembered what had happened to me and things made sense once again. I glanced at my wrist to look at the time before I remembered that my watch was gone once again.

Good morning, Jen, Yemra said as she woke up inside my head. If it is actually morning at all.

((Yeah, I know, right?)) I replied.

At least you managed to fall asleep quickly this time around. Do you know how difficult it is for me to get some sleep while you and your mind go racing on and on about ideas and whatnot?

((That’s the human mind paradox,)) I said. ((When it’s day, the mind can’t think of anything except to go home and sleep, and then when it’s time to sleep, that’s when the mind makes up all these new ideas and scenarios that keep you awake for however long it takes to run through all those ideas.))

Tell me about it, Yemra muttered. You and Mallory both have that particular problem.

By then, the guards outside my cell had noticed that I was finally awake and they soon had some food brought up for me. Yet again it was Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl who brought me my food, and once again it was the powdered soup thing that she brought me. This time though, it came with two slices of bread. It’s not the worst or best meal I’ve ever had, but I was in no position to complain about it.

((Hey, Yems, do you think I should apologize to her?)) I asked.

Well, if you think it will help then go ahead, Yemra replied. But I’m not holding my breath for her forgiveness.

((Bitch, you don’t even breathe at all,)) I retorted. ((At least you don’t breathe in air in your normal state.))

As Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl made to leave my cell to watch me eat from the other side of the Bio-Filter, I stood up and said, “Hey, I just want to apologize for my behavior yesterday. It was way out of line for me to ask you why you’ve been giving me the stink-eye the whole day and the day before that. It’s just that I’ve had enough of people looking at me weirdly just because I allowed a slug to live in my head. And I also didn’t mean to pry into your personal life. That was very much uncalled for, and I’m sorry for having made you bring it up.”

Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl stopped when she heard me saying sorry to her. She didn’t speak, but then when I was finished speaking, she walked out of my cell immediately without a word. However, while I didn’t know it at that time, I had actually managed to get through to her, and she would end up having a very massive impact in my life later on. But right now, she just stood at the other side of the Bio-Filter watching me eat my soup and bread.

((Well, that was very strange,)) I said to Yemra as I sat back down to eat my food. ((Did she accept my apology or not? I have no idea.))

Oh, don’t worry about it too much, Jen, Yemra replied. I have a strange feeling that we’re going to find out soon enough if she did accept your apology or not. Now eat up, but don’t eat everything too fast because we don’t when your, our next meal will come. Yeah, I’ll admit it; I do tend to eat very quickly because I just want to get breakfast, lunch or dinner done and dusted with so I could move on or continue on what it was that I was doing before I stopped to eat.

I began tearing up the bread into little chunks and I dropped these bread chunks into the soup to fill it out a little bit. I tried eating as slowly as I could, I really did, but when all was said and done, I had taken only probably thirty minutes to eat my food. Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl went in and took the now empty soup bowl out of my cell, and I spent the next few hours waiting and walking around in my cell. When I got tired from walking around the confines of my cell, I sat down on my cot or on the chair in front of the table where I ate my meals. I think I took a nap or two while whiling away the hours. And Yemra and I would chat sometimes if we had something to talk about. Now I have a feeling of what prisoners must feel like in their cells, and I felt glad that I haven’t ever done anything that could have gotten me in jail. And then I remembered that time in middle school when I went to a book fair that was being held in our school and I put a book or two inside my jacket and then walked away without paying for them.

Ooh, Jen, that was particularly daring of you, that was, Yemra said as I recalled that memory. I mean, what were you thinking? You could have just asked for the money from your parents and then paid for those books like everyone else does.

((Well, they were just kids’ editions of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not books,)) I replied. ((And I’m not going to pay for them at those prices. And admit it, Yems, you got a thrill out of it too, didn’t you? You could have taken control of me and stopped me shoving those books under my jacket, but you didn’t.))

You have a point there, Yemra conceded. I mean, three dollars for a book that’s barely a hundred and fifty pages long? That’s highway robbery, that is.

I stood up from my cot when I heard the Gleet Bio-Filter disengage, and I saw Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl come into my cell with more soup in one hand and my watch in the other. She set the both the soup and my watch down on the table and sat down in front of me. “I was told to give you back your watch,” she said as she slid my watch over to me. I looked in surprise and her and then slowly, warily took my watch back and put it on my wrist. I noted the time as being just five minutes past twelve noon.

“Actually, I shouldn’t be talking to you as well,” Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl continued. “I shouldn’t have talked to you back then and I shouldn’t be talking to you now.”

“But why?” I asked. “Why are you talking to me now?”

“Because you are the first person in this place to talk to me who actually sees me as another person and not just some mercenary or someone who sold their soul to the devil.”

Her response to my question had caught me completely off guard. That was not the reason I had expected to come from her. “Wait, what?” I asked.

“You said that we both got off on the wrong foot, right?” Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl said. “And I agree with you, so let’s both start all over again, shall we? Hi, my name is Amanda Barzaglio, and I am a former Controller who wants to be infested by a Yeerk once again.”

So Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl has a name after all, Yemra mused.

((Shush! I’m trying to connect here!)) I said to my Yeerk. Then, to Amanda, I said, “Okay… Hi, my name is Jennifer Carson, and I am a Controller.”

“He or she?” Amanda Barzaglio, AKA The Girl Formerly Known as Angry Bitter Former Controller Girl, asked me.

“What?” I asked, not understanding.

“Your Yeerk, do they identify as he or she?”

“Oh,” I said, nodding my head. “She identifies as female. Her name is Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool.” At that moment, I wondered if I had just said too much about me and Yemra, but it was too late. I was on a roll with getting to know this woman, and I had to continue with this.

Amanda sighed as she recalled better times. “My Yeerk identified as female as well,” she said. “Her name was Mallek Four-Nine-Two of the Sulp Niaar Pool.”

“How long were you together?” I asked.

“Three years,” Amanda replied. “Two and one-third cycles.”

“And Mallek was on the Pool ship when…” I trailed off.

Amanda nodded her head sadly, and I could already see the tears forming in her eyes. “But you already know that, didn’t you?” she asked, trying to bring back some levity into our conversation. “I practically shouted it at you yesterday, I think.”

“Look, if it’s all the same to you, neither Yemra nor I think that what Jake did in the Pool ship was the right thing,” I said. “Then again, neither of us knew what the situation was aboard the Pool ship when Jake made his decision or his state of mind.”

“It was genocide, what Jake Berenson did,” Amanda said forcefully and with conviction, as if merely stating it would be enough to get Jake condemned by the world and even the whole universe. “Jake vented the Pool ship with the intention of killing all the Yeerks onboard, all seventeen thousand of them. Other men have been vilified for killing less, but not Jake Berenson. The Andalites and the Animorphs have protected him from facing the repercussions of his actions by making him the Hero of Humanity, and people out there practically worship him, the nirenig dapsen! And he killed Mallek, the only real friend I ever had. I should have told her not to go to the Pool ship when she did. I shouldn’t have let her go!”

“But you couldn’t have known that that was what was going to happen in the Pool ship,” I told her. “No one could have known that the Animorphs would be able to capture the Pool ship and that they would be attacked by the rebel Yeerks. No one could have known that Jake would do what he did.”

“But if I had talked Mallek out of going to the Pool ship, I would still have her with me,” Amanda continued. She didn’t appear to have heard me at all. And then she turned to look me in the eye and asked, “Am I talking to Jennifer or Yemra?”

“Jennifer here,” I replied. “Although if you could just call me Jen, that would be all right.”

“Jen, you’re a Controller,” Amanda said as she leaned forward. “I don’t know for long you’ve had your Yeerk, but surely you must know that feeling of emptiness you get whenever your Yeerk leaves you.”

I recalled all those times that Yemra had left my head, and that feeling of emptiness that Amanda had described was both unsettling, unnerving and deeply saddening all at the same time. “Yes, I know all about it,” I replied.”

“Then imagine feeling that way every day for the last thirteen years!” Amanda suddenly shouted, making me jump a little in my seat. “That is how I feel every day! That is my situation! Do you think you can handle it, Jennifer Carson? Because I know that I can’t! But what can I do about it? Nothing, that’s what!”

“But didn’t you apply for re-infestation once it was finally legal to do so?” I asked her.

“Don’t you think I’ve already done that?” Amanda asked me back. “I have applied for infestation in every active Yeerk Pool out there in the country, and they all rejected me. Why? Apparently, it was because I was too mentally unstable! What were they expecting though? I lost my Yeerk to the fucking Hero of Humanity! Here I am, trying to piece my life back together by trying to get another Yeerk and then I get told that I’m too crazy to have one! And you wonder why I’m angry at people like you who get to have a Yeerk while I don’t!”

Jeez, if that was how Amanda reacted when she was told that she couldn’t host a Yeerk, no wonder all the other Pools got told she crazy, Yemra observed.

“Is that why you joined Noesh?” I asked Amanda.

“The what?”

“Noesh, you know, the Nothlit State,” I clarified. “A friend of mine came up with it. He said he got it from the Islamic State because Daesh is the Islamic State, so Noesh is the Nothlit State.”

“I have no idea what you just said,” Amanda admitted. “But yes, you could say that. Well, I mean, since we’re already talking and all, what’s a few more words? There’s something that you should know about the Nothlit State. It’s not what you might think it is.”

“What is it really then?” I asked.

Amanda looked around furtively as if trying to see if anyone or anything was listening in on us, and then she leaned closer to me and said in a whisper, “The war is not yet over.”

“What war?” I asked.

“What other war could there be? I’m talking about the war between the Yeerks and the Andalites!” Amanda replied. “When the Yeerks surrendered in 2002, did you really think that that was the whole Yeerk Empire brought down to their knees by that? If you did, then you’re just as arrogant as those Andalites. The Council of Thirteen was nowhere near Earth when the Andalites finally arrived, and their armies are still mostly relatively intact. It would be like if D-Day had failed and the Allied forces surrendered to the Germans in Normandy. That’s a lot of troops and forces gone but the Allies themselves haven’t given up just yet. It’s the same thing with the Yeerk Empire and their war with the Andalites. Battles are still raging in Leera and the Anati and Garatron homeworlds as we speak, and while the Andalites are focused there, the Council of Thirteen has decided that now would be a good time to invade Earth once again. And the Nothlit State is going to be the vanguard of the second Yeerk invasion of Earth.”

So there it is, right from the horse’s mouth. The Yeerk Empire was back, possibly stronger than ever, and the Nothlit State was how they intended to get back onto planet Earth. I mean, it was one thing to make theories and hypotheses based on what you got from eavesdropping on certain beings, but it was most certainly another thing to hear the truth straight from an actual member of the Nothlit State.

But then I thought about things a little more critically, and I began to wonder if I was just being told what I wanted to hear. At this point, I couldn’t take everything that Amanda Barzaglio was telling me without a grain (or a mountain, let’s be honest) of salt. She has admitted to hating me for being a Controller, after all. But even as I was wondering if Amanda was just telling me what I wanted to hear, another part of me was convinced that Amanda was telling the truth; she was playing me straight and telling me the truth and nothing but the truth about the Nothlit State. Frankly, I didn’t know what to think at the moment.

“And what’s in it for you?” I asked Amanda. “Do you get a Yeerk as a reward for joining the Nothlit State? Is that why you joined them?”

This time Amanda hesitated noticeably, and I could see that she had carefully framed and worded her reply when she finally spoke again. “Eldril promised me that he would make sure that I would get my reward for helping the Yeerk Empire return to Earth,” she said.

“Sure,” I said, nodding my head. “And what if the Yeerk that Eldril shoves into your head when the Yeerk Empire arrives here is actually a homicidal megalomaniac like Esplin Nine-Four-Six-Six? Or a dominating domineering type like Edriss Five-Six-Two? What then? I doubt you’d like to remain a Controller if either of those Yeerks was dropped into your head. And if the Yeerk Empire takes over Earth, I doubt you’ll have a chance to say that you’d like to switch Yeerks.”

“And what about you, Jen?” Amanda asked back. “Did you get to choose your Yeerk when you were infested?”

I thought back to that day in the river when I first met Yemra (although I didn’t know it at the time) and it was then that I realized how I was really lucky that it was Yemra who infested me that day. If it was any other Yeerk who had escaped the Yeerk Pool under the city by escaping through the sewers, would I agreed to have become a voluntary Controller like I was now? If I had been infested by an Esplin or and Edriss, would I want to have a Yeerk in my head afterwards? I shivered at the possibility that I could have become a prisoner in my own head had another Yeerk other than Yemra crawled into my ear that fateful day. “No,” I finally replied to Amanda’s question.

“Well, there you go,” Amanda said, a small but triumphant sneer forming on her lips. “You got lucky with your Yeerk when you were infested, as did I. And I can only hope that my luck lasts for as long as the first Yeerks from the Empire finally arrive here on Earth. The other human mercenaries who agreed to fight for the Nothlit State because it gives them a way to attack the United States don’t know it yet, but they are going to be part of the first batch of new Controllers loyal to the Empire on this planet. After that, when the Nothlit State expands its territory, the Empire will be unstoppable here on Earth. The Andalites will have to release another Quantum virus and eradicate their precious humans if they want to have a hope of stemming the Yeerk advance on Earth.”

“Is that really what you want to happen to Earth?” I asked. “All because Jake killed your Yeerk?”

“No, it’s not just that,” Amanda replied. “It’s because the humans practically worship at Jake’s feet.”

“You know, for someone who likes to shit on Jake at every opportunity, you seem to be quite taken by all the propaganda about him,” I retorted. “Not all of us hero-worship him, you know. Yes, he saved the planet, but I’m sure he paid a very high price for it. And believe it or not, there are people out there who condemn him for the thing with the Pool ship.”

Amanda squinted her eyes at me. “Now why does it sound like you’re trying to tell me things that I want to hear?” she asked me.

“But it’s the truth,” I pressed. “It’s the truth.”

“If I had my way, Jake Berenson would have already stood trial and be found guilty,” Amanda muttered in a way that told me that she didn’t want to talk about this particular subject any longer. And then out loud, she said to me, “You should really finish with your lunch. I have to return the bowl and the tray to the kitchen soon.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” I said. “Before you go, though, can I ask you one more thing?”

Amanda shrugged. “What the heck. In for a penny, in for a pound,” she said. “Go ahead. But don’t get used to this too much, Jen. This might be the first and last time we get to talk like this.”

“When we first started talking, you said that I was the first one to talk to you and treat you like another person,” I said. “Why is that?”

Amanda took her sweet time before replying to my question at the end. “You know what I am, Jen,” she finally said. “I’m a former Controller who lost her Yeerk to the Savior of Mankind, and now I’m collaborating with Yeerk nothlits to bring the Yeerk Empire back to Earth just to get another Yeerk into my head. I’m a fucking mercenary, and the lowest kind of mercenary at that. The nothlits look down on me for being so desperate to have another Yeerk in my head that I would basically sell out my species for it, and the humans look at me as a good-for-nothing species traitor for very much the same reason. Is that a good enough reason for you?”

At that moment, one of the guards approached the Bio-Filter sealing off my cell from the rest of this place and called out, “Suhlahlak! Is the prisoner done eating?”

Amanda sighed. “Finish your soup, Jen,” she said to me. “I’m overdue at the kitchens already.”

Okay, please tell me that the guy did not just call Amanda that, Yemra said.

((Why? What did he call her again? What does it mean?)) I asked back.

It’s not a very nice word to say to anyone at the very least, Yemra replied. The closest translation I can give you for it is “sycophant” but it’s way much more offensive than that. “Ass-kisser” and “sellout” are more what it means when it’s used by regular people but still, they’re not quite as offensive as “the S-word” is among Yeerks. But I mean, talk about kicking a girl when she’s already down!

((You obviously feel really bad about this word,)) I said. ((I don’t think I’m ever going to say it to anyone ever.))

Once I was finished with my soup lunch and Amanda had taken the bowl back to the kitchen or wherever it was she was supposed to take it, and I was once again alone in my cell with only my thoughts and Yemra for company. ((Man, now I really feel sorry for Amanda,)) I said. ((I didn’t expect her story to be like that. And I can’t believe that she would hate humanity so much that she wouldn’t bat an eyelid if the Andalites dropped a Quantum virus on us just to deny us from the Yeerk Empire once and for all.))

You’re definitely right about that, Jen, Yemra said. And I think that you would definitely go crazy like she did if you lost me. Heck, every time I go to stretch myself out of your head, you’re practically groveling at me to get back immediately.

((I wouldn’t exactly call it groveling, you know,)) I retorted. ((And we’ve already talked about this, girl. I’m going to say the same things and you’re going to say the same things so let’s just not go through the whole rigmarole once again. You know how I feel. I think I have a bit of a pretty good idea of how you feel. All in all, I guess that makes for a good understanding of our relationship between us. Does it?))

I guess it does, Yemra conceded.

Chapter Text

For the next two to three days, my daily routine consisted of this: I would wake up between seven to nine in the morning according to my watch, and then Amanda would come in with my breakfast exactly thirty minutes after I woke up, and we would talk about our lives before the Yeerks and before the Nothlit State. I would be given lunch at noon on the dot and dinner at seven before I would go to sleep sometime between ten and eleven. I can’t remember the last time that I got to sleep at such an early time; recently I’ve been going to sleep between twelve midnight to two in the morning, sometimes even three o’clock. Anyway, that was my daily schedule as a prisoner of the Nothlit State, and when the next day comes, rinse and repeat.

Also, my conversations with Amanda revealed to me a very tragic story about a girl who, like a lot of people before and after her, joined the Sharing to become a part of a larger group, something bigger than she was, to feel like somebody more than she was. In many ways, Amanda Barzaglio before the Sharing was just like me before Yemra infested me: shy, quiet, and timid (although I like to think that I probably wouldn’t have joined the Sharing anyway even if it meant that I would get more friends). I’m just not really the type to make a lot of friends, although I do appreciate the friends that I do have. Jules, Carina, Sonia, Leo, everyone else, that’s you guys. Shout-out!

But back to Amanda’s story. She was lonely and she didn’t have many friends, and the few friends she did have only remembered her when they needed something from her. The Sharing offered her both “true” friendship and a family that was way better than her own broken biological family, which consisted of an abusive Italian father and an alcoholic Irish mother, as well as three siblings who all see and treat her as the unwanted sister. Amanda’s father was in and out of jail due to his associations with the mob while Amanda’s mother finally passed away of liver cirrhosis at the arrival of the new millennium, but despite that, she was still able to treat her first three children well enough to get them to have significantly better lives. Not Amanda though. To her mother, Amanda was an unwanted child, the daughter that she hadn’t planned to have but had anyway because she as an Irish woman didn’t believe in contraception. Amanda was forced to work for minimum wage at her father’s family’s pizzeria, where she was also bossed around relentlessly by her siblings. She was, in essence, the perfect Sharing recruit.

The Sharing offered Amanda a way to regain control of her life and become successful in her own way. It did involve one massive trade-off though, and that was giving the freedom to do with her body as she wished to a tiny alien slug called a Yeerk. I wouldn’t say that Amanda was desperate enough to fix her life that she would allow an alien worm into her head and take control of her body, but Amanda did tell me that she didn’t hesitate when she said yes to the Sharing’s offer. And that was how she met Mallek Four-Nine-Two of the Sulp Niaar Pool.

According to Amanda, it was Mallek (or Mal as Amanda had nicknamed her) who had taught her to become a more assertive person. It was Amanda’s timidness that had allowed her siblings to push her around the way that they did, and it was only through Mallek’s urging and pushing that Amanda finally found the courage to stand up for herself and quit her job at the pizzeria to become what she really wanted to be, an event planner and organizer (the Sharing of course became her most regular client). It was also Mallek who helped Amanda finally come to terms with her grievances with her family, especially her mother. Essentially it boiled down to Mallek listening silently while Amanda ranted and raved and cursed her family, mostly her mother and her siblings but mostly her mother. It was real Cleaning Out My Closet by Eminem stuff, Amanda told me, and when she told me some of the stuff she had said during that time, I’m inclined to agree with her.

And Mallek and Amanda became best friends for the simple reason that that they had both seen what the other truly was and still stuck with each other through and through. Mallek had seen all of Amanda’s life up to the point that she had infested her and decided that she would love to keep this human as her host, and when Mallek revealed as much of her life as she could to Amanda, Amanda decided that it was still worth it to keep Mallek as her Yeerk. Amanda’s relationship with Mallek once again reminded me of my own relationship with Yemra, and there were just so many parallels between my life and Amanda’s that at this point it was practically eerie.

And then came that fateful day in early 2002 when the Yeerk invasion of Earth was on its last legs. It was Mallek’s scheduled feeding time, and as the Animorphs had destroyed the original Yeerk Pool underneath their city, all the Yeerks in the SoCal area were now ordered to feed at the Pool ship. Amanda had not wanted Mallek to go to the Pool ship because, and I quote, she had this bad unexplainable feeling that something bad was probably going to happen. But Mallek had assured Amanda that she had nothing to worry about; security in and around the Pool ship was supposed to be airtight and no intruders could or would be able to get through. But the Animorphs did manage to breach the Pool ship’s security and take control of the ship itself (with the help of the Peace Movement and the unwitting assistance of a bunch of separatist Yeerks), and the rest is history. Sure, it was a part of history that had been glossed over time and again because it didn’t fit the narrative of the Animorphs being the saviors of humanity but it’s still a part of our history nonetheless. A dark chapter in the history of humanity but still part of history.

Amanda slipped into a state of catatonic shock when she heard the news of the Pool ship being vented by Jake. When she finally recovered from her catatonia, she was inconsolable over Mallek’s death. She wasn’t alone in her grief, of course; lots of voluntary Controllers also lost Yeerks in the Pool ship venting. But how could she and they mourn for their Yeerks when the rest of humanity was busy celebrating the species’ first ever victory in an interstellar war? The first few post-war years were very, very difficult for Amanda. There were points where she just aimlessly drifted in and around the Los Angeles area, sometimes hoping that she would finally die so she could be reunited with Mallek in the afterlife. Amanda was eventually forced to go back to working for her siblings in the family pizzeria, and she was mistreated even more now because of her connection with the Yeerks. Amanda did manage to get away from the pizzeria eventually, but that was also the same time that she turned to drugs to cope with life without Mallek.

When President George W. Bush finally signed the legislation recognizing the rights of the few remaining human-Controllers to retain their Yeerks, Amanda couldn’t care less. She didn’t have a Yeerk in her head anymore so what was the point of celebrating when the only thing she could keep hold of was her memories of Mallek? However, when President Obama finally signed the Voluntary Infestation Act into law (the VIA had been proposed during the Bush administration, right after the passage of the Yeerk Recognition Act, but took such a long time to go through Congress that it took until Obama’s term to get it signed), Amanda did take notice. Here now finally was her chance to regain a semblance of normalcy in her life by getting a Yeerk in her head once again. Sure, it wasn’t going to Mallek who was going to go into her head, but she didn’t care. All she wanted was to be infested by a Yeerk again; simple as that.

Sure enough, Amanda applied for voluntary infestation in the rebuilt Yeerk Pool underneath the SoCal area. When she was contacted for a physical interview, she thought that she was on her way to finally getting another Yeerk. But it turned out that the real reason why she had been called over for a face-to-face interview was just to tell her that she had failed to meet the criteria for a voluntary infestation candidate. Chief among the Human-Yeerk Alliance’s reasons for rejecting Amanda’s application was her history of substance abuse, specifically narcotics like cocaine and heroin. The HYA had hoped that by telling Amanda the reasons for her rejection in person, she would take the news more lightly, but of course the exact opposite happened. Amanda got angry and began yelling at the HYA members, saying that they were refusing to give her a Yeerk because her former Yeerk hadn’t been a member of the Peace Movement during the invasion. That wasn’t true, of course (the part about the HYA denying her application because Mallek wasn’t a Peace Movement Yeerk) but at that point, Amanda was on a roll. She was at that point displaying paranoid-depressive behaviors, classic symptoms of former voluntary Controllers who were no longer infested with Yeerks.

Once Amanda had calmed down though, she decided that she was going to apply for infestation in places other than the SoCal Pool, hoping that there was someplace which would accept her as a candidate. Using her savings and her pension as a former Controller, Amanda flew to places like Phoenix, OKC, Minneapolis and Buffalo in the hopes that the Yeerk Pools there would accept her application. But everywhere she went, her application was denied, and all for the same reasons as the ones given to her by the SoCal Pool. After the bouts of frustration and anger that inevitably surfaced once again when she learned of her rejections at all the aforementioned Pools had finally subsided, Amanda decided that she would plead her case directly to the leader of the Human-Yeerk Alliance herself, Tarash Five-One-Four, Visser Five. As she had used up the last of her money flying from Minneapolis to Buffalo, Amanda had hitchhiked her way to Pennsylvania to talk to Tarash but when she got there, she was told that Visser Five was off promoting the HYA in Europe in the hopes of establishing a worldwide Yeerkish presence. Amanda had to settle with talking to Tarash’s assistant, who based on Amanda’s descriptions of him I can only assume to be Yibey Nine-One-Five and Ken Fuchs. Yibey/Ken had promised Amanda that he would bring up the matter with Tarash and that he hoped to get word to the Visser soon enough.

That was two years ago. Amanda had ended up working odd jobs all throughout the city while waiting for word from either Yibey or Tarash about her application for voluntary infestation, but in the end she got nothing. I can only hope that Yibey genuinely forgot to tell Tarash about Amanda because he seemed like the guy who would try to reduce his superiors’ workload as much as possible. Whoever said that aliens don’t know the concept of red tape and bureaucracy? And that was the point when Amanda had finally grown disenchanted with the Human-Yeerk Alliance as well, thus paving the way for her recruitment into what would eventually become the Nothlit State.

Anyway, that was the story of the girl Amanda Barzaglio and her Yeerk Mallek Four-Nine-Two. Why did I write her story down right in the middle of my story, you may ask? Well, all will be revealed as you read further and further into my story, but for now, all you need to know is that this is all for posterity, and that it is also the fulfillment of a promise that I made.

But back to Yemra and I. It’s been three days since we were captured by the Nothlit State while trying to escape the coming battle between them and the Pennsylvania National Guard; three days since they started their plan to starve Yemra out of me. Of course, if it was any other Yeerk that was in my head, the nothlits’ plan would have worked liked a charm, but the problem is that Yemra is not like any other Yeerk. Through forces still unknown to the both of us, Yemra had been blessed (or cursed, who knows?) with the ability to somehow survive for more than three Earth days without having to swim around in the Kandrona ray-rich sludge of a Yeerk Pool. She doesn’t know why or how she was able to do that, and I have no idea as well, and right now we both don’t really care.

I woke up at eight AM according to my wristwatch. The nothlits had taken my watch on the first day that they had made me their captive, but then gave it back to me through Amanda the day after as part of their process to starve Yemra out of my head. Apparently a constant reminder of the time of day speeds up the arrival of Kandrona starvation for a Yeerk. But that was the furthest thing from my mind as I stretched out my arms and legs, and I called out in my head, ((Morning, Yems.))

Morning, Jen, Yemra replied, and she sent me a mental image of a mouth yawning, and that mental image caused me to yawn again. ((So, looks like it’s already day three, am I right?))

If your watch says so, then I believe it, Yemra replied.

((So are you still okay up there, Yems? Not feeling hungry or thirsty or anything, girl?))

Nope. I actually feel great, Jen, Yemra told me. If I was feeling hungry or thirsty or in any way inconvenienced by our current situation then I would have already said something to you last night, right? Remember the last time that we tried to see how long I could last without Kandrona rays.

((Yeah. Who could forget that though? Everyone thought that we were going crazy. Or at least they thought I was going crazy. I hadn’t told anyone about you yet back then, right? God, those were crazy times.)) I sighed and leaned back on the edge of my cot. ((But are you really sure that you can do this, though, Yems?)) I asked my Yeerk. ((You’re not going to just suddenly pop out of my head and beg for Kandrona rays right now, right?))

Of course not! Yemra retorted. You and I both know how long I can actually last without the Kandrona. If the nothlits are that patient, they can eventually do it after thirty days, but if they’ve only got three days to do it, they won’t be able to do it. They just simply can’t.

We both had a good short laugh at that as a way to release the tension around us. I smiled at the thought of Yemra holding some sort of tea party inside my head while the nothlits kept shouting at her to get out because they have Kandrona rays. And then my thoughts returned to our present situation, and the smile quickly faded from my lips. ((You know, Yems, by doing this, you’re going to reveal that there is a way for Yeerks to survive without the Kandrona for more than three days, right?)) I asked.

Yes, Jen, I am fully aware of that particular fact, Yemra replied. We have both already talked about this, and we both agreed that this is the best course of action that we have.

((Well, what if the nothlits become really interested in that fact? What if they decide that what they now want to know is how you can survive without Kandrona rays for more than three days? These nothlits, Amanda says that they’re working for the Yeerk Empire to get some new Imperial Yeerks back on Earth. They’re really going to want to know how it’s possible for a Yeerk to survive more than three days without Kandrona rays. Have you really given it some thought? Have you wondered how you survived like the way you survived?))

No, Jen, I still haven’t come up with any theory, plausible or not, as to why I can go up to thirty Earth days without the Kandrona, Yemra replied. Nor do I really care, to be honest. The universe has decided that I should become like this and I have long ago accepted it.

((But what if the nothlits decide to torture us for the secret to your immunity?)) I pressed.

Yemra showed me a mental image of a furrowed eyebrow. Well, shit, was all that she could say.

At that moment, the Gleet Bio-Filter blocking off my cell from the rest of the Nothlit State’s new command post flickered away, and Amanda Barzaglio walked in carrying my breakfast for the day (more powdered soup if you were wondering) as always. However, Yemra and I both realized that this day was not going to be like the others as instead of sitting down across the table from me to chat as had been our routine for the past three days, Amanda simply put the tray with the soup bowl down on the table and said to me, “You have to tell the nothlits what they want to know, Jen, Yemra. That’s the only way that you can make them consider letting your Yeerk get some Kandrona rays before she goes through the fugue.”

“What the nothlits wanted to know” was the Human-Yeerk Alliance’s plans to counter the Nothlit State and their plans to bring the Yeerk Empire back to Earth. Truth be told, I was absolutely the worst person that the nothlits could have captured for that particular purpose as I simply really legitimately knew nothing about the HYA’s plans to counter the Nothlit State. Sure, there was Yibey’s Army, but Tarash had already ordered him to pull out of the city and let the National Guard do the dirty work, but I know nothing about that aside from the fact that I was part of Yibey’s Army for only a few short days and wasn’t really involved in all the deeper strategic planning on Yibey’s part. If the nothlits really wanted to know the HYA’s plans then they should have captured someone like Ken Fuchs or George Islington. Not that they would have blabbed on the HYA’s plans as well, at least according to Yemra.

“I’m sorry, Amanda,” I replied. “But I already said this a lot of times. I really don’t know anything about what the HYA is planning. And even if I did, it’s not like I’m going to talk to anybody about it, would I?”

“All right, I’m going to give you that,” Amanda replied. “But you do know that if you do know something and you’re not telling us about it, the nothlits are just going to starve Yemra out of your head and then, once she’s out, they’re going to force another Yeerk in your ear to blab out your deepest and darkest secrets to them. The first batch of Yeerks from Imperial territory has already arrived, and they’re shuttling those new Yeerks down as we speak. One of those Yeerks is going to end up in your head and you’ll be made their host until the Empire takes over Earth once again, or until the National Guard smashes them into the ground.”

“Sure, they can do that,” I said. “But they’ll still get nothing because I really don’t know anything.”

Suhlahlak!” the voice of Immib Two-Seven-One, the appointed leader of the Nothlit State in Pennsylvania, called out from beyond my cell. Amanda cursed and quickly walked out of my cell just in time for Immib to see me in my cell. “So, has the prisoner talked already, suhlahlak?” Immib asked Amanda.

“No, Visser,” Amanda replied, keeping her head down and not looking at Immib at all. “The prisoner refuses to talk about anything other than things which are completely irrelevant to the information which you are after.”

“Perhaps the traitor worm is refusing to let the host speak,” Immib said, more to himself than to Amanda or anyone else. “But a few hours from now, the Yeerk traitor will starve and the prisoner will finally be free to speak of her own accord, with the help of one of our own loyal Yeerks, of course. Speaking of which, has the Yeerk shown signs of distress from starvation already?”

“I don’t think so, Visser,” Amanda said. “The prisoner looks completely fine and unaffected by any distress from the Yeerk, if indeed there is any. The Yeerk also appears to be completely unconcerned with the time of day.”

“Maybe not now, but it certainly will in a few hours,” Immib said confidently. “Report back to me when the prisoner’s Yeerk is finally in distress.”

That’s what you think, Immib, Yemra said in the privacy of my mind. There was quite a bit of seething venom and hatred oozing from her when she said those words.

Chapter Text

The next few hours went by in a bit of a blur. I remember calling out to the guards for a glass of water because I was getting thirsty, and that got the nothlits excited because they thought that that was Yemra’s Kandrona starvation displacing itself into my body’s own needs, but really, I was just thirsty. That was why they probably looked surprised when I straight up drank the water that they gave instead of holding it up to my ear so my Yeerk could crawl out of my head and immediately drop into an aquatic environment so that I could be spared the pain of the fugue. I also remember dribbling and doing some tricks with an imaginary soccer ball. I have to keep active and my skills sharp even if I was incarcerated as a Nothlit State hostage (although I don’t know if soccer, or any other sports for that matter, are going to be played in my city in the near or even far future). The guards looked at me as if I was crazy. Why would I be trying to do things like keepie-uppies when my Yeerk was supposed to be already on the early stages of the starvation fugue? How come I was walking around my cell looking none the worse for wear? Where was the starvation-induced madness? I knew the answer to those questions, and so did Yemra. But the nothlits didn’t, and that was the key to it all.

Finally, as my usually scheduled dinnertime approached, Immib went back to my cell once again to inspect me. “How is the prisoner?” he asked the guards. “Is the Yeerk finally starving out?”

“No, Visser,” both of the guards replied at the same time. “It’s such a strange thing, Visser,” one of the guards continued. “Even if the Yeerk somehow managed to feed on Kandrona rays right before we captured their host, the Yeerk should still be at the very least immobilized by the intermediate fugue stage. But the prisoner is still up and walking. She shows no signs that her Yeerk has been affected by starvation at all.”

“Have you inspected the cell for possible sources of Kandrona rays that the Yeerk could use to feed and evade the limit?” Immib asked. “Have you?”

“Yes, of course, Visser. There are no possible Kandrona sources in the cell whatsoever.”

Immib grunted in frustration at the guards, and then he turned to face me. “Stand up, prisoner,” he commanded me. “Stand up from your cot and walk towards me.” I grunted and stood up and did as he said, walking right up to the Bio-Filter force field. “What do you want, Lumbersexual Dad?” I asked him in my best annoyed prima donna impression. I think I even struck my best supermodel pose: hands on hips, hips struck out at an angle, and lips pouted like I was Angelina Jolie. “What do you want from me, man?” I repeated.

“I wish to speak to the Yeerk,” Immib said.

You heard the man, Jen, Yemra said to me. He wants to talk to me.

((All right, man, go ahead,)) I replied. ((Just don’t say or do anything that will get both of us killed.))

In just the blink of an eye (and I do mean a blink of an eye; Yemra took control while I was blinking) I went from being in complete control of my body to being just a passenger in my own head. The transition, the transfer of control was so seamless, no one could have and would have known that a Yeerk, an alien slug, was now controlling my body and my every move. Even my breathing fell into Yemra’s control. The only way that the nothlits could tell that Yemra was now in control was the fact that Yemra took me out of my supermodel pose and made me stand up straight. You looked ridiculous in it anyway, Jen, Yemra told me before she focused her, our attention to Immib. “You wished to talk to me, Immib?” she said in my voice.

Immib seemed slightly surprised by the fact that the Yeerk in my head knew his name, his real Yeerk name and not whatever name he may have taken up during the rapid rise of the Nothlit State. “How do you know my name?” he asked. “How do you know my Yeerk name?”

“So I was right,” Yemra said calmly. “You are indeed Immib Two-Seven-One of the Irres Bhek Pool.”

“How do you know my name, Yeerk!” Immib shouted. “Answer the question!”

“Who doesn’t know your name, Immib?” Yemra replied. “You were promoted to Visser Twelve just before the invasion force was defeated. But despite your surprise promotion to the ranks of the Vissers, you were still very much Visser Eight’s lapdog. You still followed Visser Eight’s orders even though supposedly both of you were now equal in rank. And now it looks like he’s left you in command. He’s left you in command of a city that’s soon to fall back into the hands of the human military.”

Immib was stunned. He seemed really taken aback by the fact that my Yeerk knew so much about him, especially his life from during the first Yeerk invasion of Earth. “Who are you, Yeerk?” he asked. “How do you know so much about me?”

“I don’t think you know me, Immib,” Yemra replied to his first question. “But I used to live in this city, in the Yeerk Pool underneath this city. And I was there when you and Visser Eight were caught here by the Andalites and the humans when they came to destroy this Pool as well. You were captured along with Visser Five and her sub-vissers, but Visser Eight somehow managed to escape the Pool and evade the authorities for three days before he was forced to turn himself in because of his own Kandrona starvation plight.”

“Do not speak of the siehp traitor Visser Five in front of me,” Immib spat out. But even as he said that, he appeared to be regaining some of his earlier composure and swagger. “It is funny that you should mention Kandrona starvation, though,” he finally said as the first hints of a sneer began to lift the corner of his mouth. “Are you not feeling in any way hungry or thirsty? Do you starve for Kandrona rays, Yeerk?” he asked.

“My host is hungry,” Yemra replied. “In fact, she is both hungry and thirsty. She wants me to ask you when her next meal will come.”

“There will be no food for your host until this conversation is finished,” Immib replied straight away. “And even then, that will still be up for debate. However, there is one way that you can finally solve that particular conundrum. Tell me, are you, Yeerk, feeling hungry or thirsty right now? Surely you must be starving for Kandrona rays, filshig traitor. You may be trying to deny that fact, but it is an inevitable and inescapable part of the life of Yeerks, or at least Yeerks like you who managed to keep your true form and live with the humans. But to deny the starvation is to delay the inevitable. Sooner or later the fugue will begin to consume you, and it is sure to bring tremendous pain to both you and your host. And wouldn’t you like to spare your host the pain of the fugue?”

“But I am not the one who’s hungry,” Yemra replied. “My host is feeling the hunger but I myself do not. I do not hunger or thirst for Kandrona rays.”

“That’s impossible,” Immib said with a smirk. “You may not feel the hunger just yet but I am sure that your little body is busy converting the last Kandrona reserves that you have as we speak. I assure you, Yeerk, that your fugue is coming, and there is nothing that you can do to save you from it. You have decided not to tell us the Human-Yeerk Alliance’s plans against the Nothlit State so we would rather you got out of the way by getting out of your host’s head so we can extract said plans from her brain. Unless, of course, you have finally decided that you are going to tell us all about the plans of your fellow traitors.”

“I honestly do not know what you’re talking about, Immib,” Yemra replied. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you anything anyway.”

“So you are determined to die of starvation then, traitor,” Immib said. “Very well, then. We shall all wait until you finally succumb to the fugue.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Yemra said. “If you do that, we will all be waiting until the end of time.”

Immib cocked his head and squinted his eyes at us as he began approaching the Bio-Filter wall. “What do you mean by that, Yeerk?” he asked.

“Use the dumak’sa, Immib,” Yemra replied. “That should give you the answer to your question.”

Immib examined us very closely, as closely as he could without touching and triggering the Bio-Filter himself. Eyes still on me, he eventually called out, “Suhlahlak, get the dumak’sa! The advanced one!”

“Yes, Visser,” Amanda Barzaglio, who had joined in with the other guards in watching the conversation between Yemra and Immib, said quietly before she ran off to retrieve the dumak’sa, the gray spatula thingy.

“On my signal, turn off the Bio-Filter,” Immib commanded the guards. Amanda then returned with the gray spatula thingy, now with an iPad or tablet attached to it via a USB connector of some sort. ((Uh, Yems, what are you doing?)) I asked.

I’m trying to buy the two of us more time, Yemra replied.

((And how are you trying to do that?))

I know Immib. Or at least I know of him. The Yeerk is absolutely obsessed with discovering the key to Yeerk immortality. Well, that’s what we’ve called it but all it really means is extending the period in between feedings from the usual three Earth days. If Immib thinks that I might hold the key to Yeerk immortality then he might decide to keep both of us alive.

((I don’t know about that plan, Yems. I don’t think I like that plan at all.))

“Remove the Bio-Filter,” Immib ordered. “Guards, secure the prisoner.” As the Bio-Filter vanished, the two guards walked into my cell, grabbed me by the arms and made me sit down on the folding chair where I usually sit to eat my food. Immib then extended the dumak’sa towards me and began scanning my head, or more probably Yemra’s status inside my head. The dumak’sa beeped and blooped and bleeped and did its best impression of the love child of R2-D2 and a dial-up modem. Immib glanced down at the results popping up on the tablet’s screen, and even as his brow furrowed in curiosity and frustration, I already knew (or at the very least had an idea) about what he was seeing on it.

“This is impossible,” he said loudly, shaking his head. “These results do not make sense. The dumak’sa says that the Yeerk in the prisoner’s head has fed three days ago, but yet the dumak’sa also says that the Yeerk has the same amount of Kandrona concentrated in its body as that of a recently fed Yeerk. These results should be impossible. They are impossible!”

“See, Immib?” Yemra said through my lips. “I told you that it was my host who was really hungry. Waiting for me, the Yeerk, to starve is an exercise in futility.”

“Never mind your host, Yeerk,” Immib snapped. “How can you survive for more than three days without Kandrona rays? How did you know you can survive without Kandrona rays for three days? How long can you survive without Kandrona rays?”

“I don’t know how I survived, Immib,” Yemra said, “but I do know that I lost track of time once and I only found out that I had survived for four days outside of the Yeerk Pool when I acquired a new host out of desperation. I never felt much hunger or discomfort in those four days, Immib, but I have managed to push myself even further and I have determined that I can go thirty days without the Kandrona before I have to feed again. If you want me to crawl out of my host’s head and beg you or anyone else for Kandrona rays, you would all have to wait for that long before that will happen.”

((Yemra! What the fuck are you doing!?)) I demanded.

I told you, I’m trying to keep the both of us alive, Yemra replied. I’m giving Immib just enough information to keep him interested in me and the fact that I can survive longer than three days without the Kandrona. He wants, he needs that information bad.

((And you? What do you hope to get for us from that?))

I don’t know, Yemra admitted. Maybe I’m trying to distract him from the fact that we both don’t know anything at all about either Tarash or Yibey’s plans to counter the Nothlit State.

((And we know absolutely nothing about that, right? Right?))

Immib pondered all the information that Yemra had provided to him so far about her survival without Kandrona rays for more than three days. At first glance, it seemed as if Yemra’s ploy had worked; Immib appeared to have completely forgotten why he was trying to starve Yemra out of my head in the first place, why the nothlits had decided to capture me when they did. Immib’s silence went on for quite a while actually, and I was actually starting to believe that Yemra might have just finally done it and saved the both of us when Immib opened his mouth and said, “Bring the prisoner to the interrogation room.”

Chapter Text

“What!? What interrogation room? What are you talking about? Get your hands off me!” Yemra did a mighty good job of trying to fend off the nothlit guards trying to haul me up from my seat to take me out of my cell, but in the end those two burly and muscular nothlits still managed to grab my arms and drag me out of my cell. Yemra thrashed my legs all about but then one of the guards punched me in the gut, and I felt all of the wind in my body rush out of my mouth and nose. Yemra dropped her control of my body in reaction, and the pain of the blow struck me front and center one second after it had actually happened, and all I could muster after that was a choked groan while the guards took the chance to drag me out of my cell.

The guards followed Immib down a corridor with rounded edges that, even through the intense pain that I was feeling at the moment, seemed oddly familiar to me, and yet I couldn’t for the life of me put a finger on where I had seen it before. Immib went into a room that appeared to have been carved out from the side of the hallway, and the guards dragged me inside that room as well. The guards plonked me down on a chair with leather restraining straps on the armrests and the front legs, which they used to secure me to the seat. As the guards left I felt the pain in my body disappear bit by bit, but I only realized that it was actually Yemra taking control of me when I couldn’t draw in a breath on my own. Sorry about that, Jen, Yemra told me. I wasn’t expecting the guard to punch us. Now let me take your pain away, she said as she began to feel said pain for herself.

((Way to leave me hanging back there, girl,)) I muttered. ((Well, crap. Now we’re both about to get interrogated.))

You speak to Immib this time, Jen. I don’t think I can take one more second of talking to him right now.

Speaking of Immib, the nothlit was now standing beside a device that looked like an old-fashioned movie camera or projector but had three lights colored white, blue and red in front instead of a lens. “Do you know what this device is, traitor?” he asked.

“If I knew what that thing was, I would probably be pissing myself already,” I said in my best impression of Yemra-as-me, but as soon as the words left my mouth I knew that Yemra would never use a word like “piss” in conversation (unless of course she was pretending to be me and there was a situation where I could conceivably use the word “piss” that would make sense in context).

“Aha, so I speak to the host now,” Immib said, picking up on the shift in tone and language. A sneer began to form on the corner of his lips. “But that won’t save you from your coming fate, Yeerk. Say hello to the Anti-Morphing Ray. You and your host should know all about it. After all, one of those Andalite propaganda books wrote in detail about it.”

Oh, shit, I said to myself. I had read that particular Animorphs book that Immib was talking about. The Animorphs had discovered that the Yeerks had developed an Anti-Morphing Ray which they now hoped to use against the “Andalite bandits”. Tobias volunteered to be captured and used as the AMR’s test subject because the Yeerks, not knowing that Tobias was now a morph-capable red-tailed hawk instead of a human or even an Andalite. In the book, the Animorphs were able to do what they intended to do, which was to make the Yeerks believe that the AMR didn’t work, and then destroyed it for good measure. I managed to regain my composure a little bit upon realizing that I was about to be subjected to an Anti-Morphing Ray and nothing else, and I actually got brave enough to throw in a little verbal jab. “Oh, no, I’m scared. It’s an Anti-Morphing Ray!” I said in my most couldn’t-care-less voice. “How am I going to escape this predicament? Hey! I’m not an Animorph, genius!” I shouted. “I’m not an Andalite! I’m just a girl! In the wrong place! At the wrong time!”

“Yes, the Anti-Morphing Ray wouldn’t affect you at all, human, because you and your Yeerk are both not morph-capable beings,” Immib replied, the smile on his face growing wider by the second. “But I am a Yeerk who needs information, and I need that information now. Since you cannot be starved out of your host’s head, Yeerk, it is time for me to get creative. Perhaps this will get either or the both of you to talk.” He pushed a button on the side of the machine, and the red light on the AMR began to glow. I saw and felt some kind of laser beam lock on to the middle of my forehead, and then the red light began to glow brighter, and then everything went white, and I was ten years old again.

I was sitting in the principal’s office. I think this was in the third or the fourth grade, probably because I remember that this happened literally the week before Yemra infested me and came into my life. I was seated in front of the principal, Mr. Ferrer, a man in his sixties who wore thick glasses with a solid black plastic frame and had his thick salt-and-pepper hair slicked back with old-fashioned pomade. Mom was on the other chair in front of Mr. Ferrer’s desk, still looking like Major Carter from the Stargate TV show. I was feeling afraid of Mr. Ferrer because of what he was about to tell Mom, and I was definitely afraid of Mom because I knew that she was not going to like what Mr. Ferrer was about to tell her. And also because I knew that I was in for a hell of a scolding from Mom when we got home.

Only Mom and Mr. Ferrer were talking to each other. I just sat there quietly keeping to myself, not making any noise or even eye contact with either my mom or the principal. Mr. Ferrer was shaking his head even as my mother looked on the verge of tears as she apologized for my behavior. Mom and I had been called to the principal’s office because of my grades, which had been getting lower and lower with each passing year. Oh, I was doing fine with my schoolwork, or at least the schoolwork that we had to do in school; it was my homework, or rather lack of it, that was slowly but surely dragging my grades down. My teachers were also concerned about me because I had not been paying any attention to their classes. Either I was doodling or daydreaming or reading a book that was completely unrelated to their subject or even sleeping in class. But that wasn’t the worst that Mr. Ferrer had in store for my poor mother. The real reason why we had both been called to the principal’s office was because I had been cutting classes.

Mom went ballistic when she found out that I had been cutting classes. She had been dropping me off at school on her way to work so she had completely no idea how I could be cutting classes when she could see me going to school every day since the start of the school year. She kept saying sorry many times, over and over to Mr. Ferrer, and she promised that she was going to have a very, very long talk with me about it. That was the part that I really dreaded the most about Mom getting angry, the very long talk. I already knew what was going to happen during the very long talk: Mom would ask me why I did what I did. I would tell her what I honestly thought, which was that it was way more interesting than staying at school and learning stuff that I already knew because I had read all about it in a book when I was younger. Mom would tell me that I should still try to do well in school because it would benefit me in the future. I would say that grades are just a bunch of letters that don’t mean anything anyway. Then we would shout and argue and Mom would end the whole thing by telling me that she’s only doing this because she wants what’s best for me, and then she would inevitably ground me.

Mr. Ferrer then said that I wouldn’t be allowed to play on the school’s soccer team unless I stopped cutting classes and made a marked effort to improve my grades. Now that was a real sucker punch in the gut for me. I knew that I was already going to get grounded, and I was sure Mr. Ferrer knew it too, so why did he have to keep me away from soccer as well? Soccer was the only thing that I really looked forward to at school, so to have it taken away from me just like that… Well, let’s just say that I was getting a little bit angry myself. I may not really have any right to be angry in hindsight, but at that moment I didn’t care. Why are you all ganging up on me? I wanted to shout at them.

Mom and I drove back to the house in silence. I was trying my best not to look anywhere in the general direction of Mom because I knew that for her, that was the signal to start her very long talk. But sometimes she didn’t need me to look at her before she got started, and today was one of those times. And it went exactly as I had expected it to go, and by the end of it, we were both crying. And then, at that particular moment, Mom went off from the script for the very first time by asking me, “Are you doing all of this on purpose, Jen? Are you doing all of this just to get my attention? Because you very well now have all of my damned attention, Jennifer. Did I do anything wrong in raising you? Was I not there when you needed me the most, Jennifer? Where did I go wrong with you?” She said that last line tearfully as a fresh wave of sobs hit her, and she had to stop the car lest her crying cause us to crash.

“I know I’ve already told you this a million bazillion times before, Jen,” Mom said once she finally had her crying under control, “but everything I’m doing, I’m doing it because I love you. I work hard and spend a hell of a lot of time away from you just so you can keep going to school, and this is how you pay me back? By not handing in your homework and skipping classes just because you think that school is boring because you know everything? You don’t know everything yet, Jen. Far from it. You still have a lot, and I do mean a lot, to learn. But you know what? If this is how you want to show your appreciation for what me and your father has done for you then so be it. I’ve had enough of it, Jen. I’ve had enough. You want to follow your own path, Jen? Then go ahead and do it. Do whatever you want. I’m out. I don’t care anymore. If this is what you want for yourself then this is what you’ll get. But don’t expect any help from me when you find out that you actually can’t take it because I told you, I don’t care anymore.”

The red light faded away, and I was back in the present. “Do you wish to speak now?” Immib asked me.

“I swear to you, man, on my mother’s life, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said weakly.

“Perhaps your host’s memories aren’t strong enough to have an effect on you, Yeerk,” Immib said. “But let’s see how well you can stand up when faced with your own memories.” He pressed another button on the side of the Anti-Morphing Ray, and the red light lit up once again and the laser settled on my forehead. There was a humming noise, and then I was transported back to the Yeerk Pool, except this wasn’t one of my memories anymore. I realized that I was witnessing one of Yemra’s memories, back when she was still hosted by Mallory Brunner.

“Get to your positions!” Visser Eight, Eldril One-Eight-Two, shouted to the other Yeerks as both human-Controllers and Hork-Bajir ran for their defensive positions. It was the final days of the first Yeerk invasion of Earth, and the war was all but over for the Yeerks, but there were still a few die-hards like Eldril who refused to admit defeat even as a substantial Andalite fleet had entered into Earth orbit and the United States military was already rounding up human-Controllers in the majority of cities with Yeerk Pools of a similar size to the one underneath our city. There were still a few cities in places like Texas, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania who were resisting and holding out to the bitter end, and in fact Pennsylvania would have already surrendered on Visser Five’s orders were it not for the surprise appearance of Visser Eight and his lackey Immib, the new Visser Twelve, after both of them had escaped the chaos that was the capture of the San Diego Pool.

“Tarash! Prepare your guards! Have them form ranks with my troops!” Eldril shouted. Although he was just the Visser Eight to Tarash Five-One-Four’s Visser Five, Eldril was still barking out orders left and right like he was the higher-ranked Visser between the two of them. Immib was also there, still acting like Eldril’s right hand man even though he was now supposedly a Visser of his own right.

Meanwhile, Tarash kept quiet even as she and her trusted deputies kept pace with both Eldril and Immib. Flanking Tarash were Yibey Nine-One-Five and Moxach Five-Nine-Four in Ken Fuchs and George Islington respectively, both of them looking very much younger than in the present, but of course that was to be expected. Yemra and Mallory followed behind all of them as Yibey’s vex’not. All of them were carrying handheld Dracon beams, but both Yibey and Moxach were also packing human weapons (specifically Colt Sporting Carbines, the civilian version of the M16).

“Visser Five! Your men! I need them with mine on the defensive positions now!” Eldril demanded once again, but yet again Tarash remained resolutely silent. “Tarash, this is not the time to worry about trivial things like rank!” Eldril said. “We are probably the last Yeerk Pool that still hasn’t been captured by the humans and the Andalites, and that means that we must make a stand right here and right now. For the glory of the Yeerk Empire, we must stand here! We must stand and fight and show the Andalites that we will not go quietly!”

“I am sorry, Eldril, but I cannot do that,” Tarash finally replied after a tense silence. “I cannot do that. We cannot do that.”

“What? What do you mean, you can’t do that?” Eldril asked.

“I cannot fight for the Yeerk Empire anymore, Eldril,” Tarash replied. “We cannot fight for the Empire anymore, not like this. The Yeerk Empire is a thing of the past. We Yeerks cannot keep living on conquest after conquest forever, Eldril. Sooner or later we will have to accept the fact that not all of the species that we have conquered are going to keep themselves beneath our feet. We’ve always had problems with getting more hosts from the humans, and now even the Hork-Bajir and the Taxxons are finding in themselves the strength to revolt against our rule. We cannot keep thinking of other species as merely hosts and bodies to control. They have minds of their own too. The future of our species is not in conquest, but cooperation. The war doesn’t have to end this way, Eldril. We can live in harmony with the humans, the Hork-Bajir, the Taxxons, perhaps maybe even the Andalites in the far future! Maybe not the Andalites, but we can definitely coexist peacefully with the humans and the Hork-Bajir, especially the humans. There are other ways of living as we are and also in harmony with other species! That is why I cannot fight for the Yeerk Empire anymore, Eldril. How about you? Why do you fight for the Empire?”

Eldril stared at Tarash in blank wonderment. It didn’t appear as if Tarash’s words were having any effect on the other Visser. And then a stark realization finally dawned over Eldril, and his face became a contorted mixture of shock and anger as he finally made a horrifying (from his perspective) connection between Tarash’s speech and dying embers of the Yeerk invasion. “You’re all in the bloody peace movement, aren’t you?” he asked. “All of you! Filshig filthy traitors! Nirenig sympathizers! Andalite suhlahlaket! I should kill all of you right here right now! You peace movement bastards! Especially you, Tarash, you siehp!”

“Hey, watch your filthy mouth, Eldril! Before I wash it with soap, and by soap, I mean the bullets from this human weapon!” Yibey shouted back, pointing his M16 in the general direction of Eldril. He and Immib responded to this apparent provocation by raising their Dracon beams at Tarash and her party, who responded in kind as well (except Tarash, who didn’t have a Dracon beam to begin with). Even Yemra found herself joining the Mexican standoff, although both she and Mallory were silently wishing that the situation wouldn’t escalate even further.

“So even a Visser could fall for the poisonous lies and slander of Aftran Nine-Four-Two and her Peace Movement,” Eldril muttered as he kept his Dracon beam pointed at Tarash’s torso. Or at least it would’ve been pointing at Tarash’s torso were it not for both Yibey and Moxach blocking her off from Eldril and Immib’s view. “I should kill all of you traitorous dapsenil right now! Except for you, Visser Five. I will take you to the Council of Thirteen myself and show them the depth of your dereliction of your duties. When the Council is done with you, Tarash, I shall become Visser Two! And Immib, he can take your rank from you and become the new Visser Five.”

“Come near the Visser and I will blow you out of your host’s brains,” Yibey said in a low seething hiss as he adjusted his sights and settled it on Eldril’s forehead.

“Is this what you teach your deputies aside from the lies of the peace movement, Tarash?” Eldril asked Visser Five. “Insubordination? It’s like I barely know you at all! You have very much changed since our days in officer school, Tarash.”

“So have you, Eldril,” Tarash replied calmly. “And you are right, Eldril. You know nothing about me. If you wish to sacrifice your Yeerks to the altar of futility then go ahead. But do not expect me and my Yeerks to follow you to the gates of hell.”

“US Marines! Drop your weapons and drop to the ground or we will shoot!”

Once those Marines entered the scene, everything became a chaotic mess. The last thing that both Yemra and Mallory saw before the Marines arrived in the Pool was the standoff between Eldril, Immib, Yibey, and Moxach, and then all they heard was the sound of both Dracon beams and rifles firing. Hork-Bajir, human-Controllers and Marines were all fighting one another, and then the next thing Yemra knew, Mallory was on the ground. Yemra looked down and saw a small hole that had been burned through Mallory’s chest. A Dracon beam had hit her there. Oh, God, Mallory said to herself. This is how I’m going to die.

(No! That’s not true!) Yemra had shouted at her. (You are not going to die, Mallory! This is not the time or place to think that!)

But because of the Dracon beam hit that Mallory had taken, Yemra had reflexively dropped control of her body, and it was because of that that Mallory began crawling towards the edge of the Yeerk Pool even as battle raged between the Marines, Eldril’s supporters, and Tarash’s Yeerks. (Mallory, what are you doing!?) Yemra asked.

(I’m saving your life, Yemra,) Mallory replied. (You don’t have to die with me today.)

(Stop this! You are not going to die! You’re going to live! You’re not thinking clearly because of the Dracon hit! Don’t make me take control of you without permission!)

(I’m saving your life because you’re my friend, Yemra!) Mallory shouted. (And I don’t want my friend to die because of me, and I don’t want my friend to die when I have even the ghost of a chance to save her life!) Through all of this, Mallory had managed to crawl and drag her way to the edge of the Yeerk Pool. It wasn’t the feeding pier but the Pool liquid was still only a short drop away from the lip of the Pool.

(Now go! Get out of here!) Mallory commanded Yemra. (If I die, you die with me! And I don’t want that to happen to my friend!)

(Do you really think of me as your friend, Mallory?) Yemra asked her quietly.

(Yes! Now go! I can’t feel my arms and my legs anymore! Go! Before you die in me…) Already Yemra could feel a strange numbness enveloping Mallory’s limbs and beginning to spread to the rest of her host’s body.

(Goodbye, Mallory, my friend,) Yemra said to Mallory for the last time before she disengaged her connections and crawled out of Mallory’s ear. Yemra made both a human and a Yeerkish prayer for Mallory’s soul, and then the Yeerk dropped into the Pool and through a fateful journey in the sewer and the river to her destiny.

“By the Kandrona, Mallory, why?” Yemra asked in my voice even as we were returned to the present by the fading of the red light on the Anti-Morphing Ray. Oh, Mallory, why… she continued in my mind. Yemra must have taken control in those final moments of the memory because I never felt her take control up until the moment that the red light faded and we returned to the present day. I could also feel tears sliding down my face, although I didn’t know if it was Yemra’s or mine. Or maybe it was from both of us.

“So, Yeerk, are you finally going to talk?”

“I’m telling you, guy, I know nothing,” I said. I must have been screaming all the while because my throat felt raw and dry. “Don’t do this anymore, please. You can’t get anything from me because I just don’t know anything at all.”

“Ah, still stubborn,” Immib muttered. “Perhaps a turn on the pleasure ray will finally loosen that tongue of yours.” He pressed yet another button on the AMR, and this time it was the blue light that began to glow. Another blue laser beam shot out onto my forehead and buzzed, and once again I was transported back to the past, specifically my high school days.

It was the final of the State High School Soccer Cup. The score was 3-3, and it was also the last minute of the game to be played. My team had just completed a remarkable comeback after having gone down 3-0 against our bitter rivals the Maroons. Our team had won itself a corner kick, which was most probably going to be the final kick of the game meaning that we would have to play for at least thirty more minutes if we couldn’t find our winning goal this time.

Julia “Jules” Baker (my first ever BFF and the friend I was closest to apart from Yemra, obviously) took the corner kick, and she sent the ball straight into the middle of the penalty area. Time seemed to slow to an absolute crawl as my eyes tracked the flight of the ball. I leaned my shoulder and elbow just a little bit into the back of a girl wearing maroon and then, when the moment felt just right, I jumped. I felt the leather of the soccer ball strike me squarely on the forehead, and then I turned my neck to steer the ball to where I wanted it to go, although at that point I had no idea where that was because my eyes were closed both in concentration and the neck pain that I’ve had ever since Yemra infested me. But I knew that I had managed to score because the small crowd that had gathered in the high school football field were cheering their lungs out, and when I opened my eyes again my teammates were all on top of me screaming and shouting. “You did it, Jen!” Carina (another BFF of mine) shouted at me. “We won! We won!”

“No way!” I shouted back. I soon found myself being carried by my teammates on their shoulders, and I had to tell them to stop and let me off because I was afraid that I would fall off. As the team captain, I had the privilege of lifting the trophy first when it was finally presented to our team, and then the referee also gave me the match ball because I had scored a hat-trick (three goals) in the final. And it wasn’t just any other hat-trick, either; it was a perfect hat-trick (one goal from my left foot, one from my right, and one headed goal).

Still, the reality of our achievement didn’t really sink in for me until Mom and Dad walked up to me and said, “We’re both really proud of you, Jen.” That was the moment when I finally broke down and cried. Yeah, I cried. I’m not ashamed to say it. I cried because, not only did I finally help my high school win its first ever soccer trophy in ages (and beat our rivals in the final while doing it), I had also finally done something that had made my mother and father proud of me.

Once again I was back in the present day, and once again there were tears down my face, but this time I knew full well that those tears were very much mine and mine alone. “Now will you finally speak, Yeerk?” Immib asked quietly but angrily.

“Please,” I said weakly. “Stop this. I don’t know anything.”

“One more round then.” Immib began pressing the buttons on the side of the AMR and then the blue light lit up once again. And so it went on, blue alternating with red, pain alternating with pleasure. My memories, both painful and pleasurable, mixed with Yemra’s, sometimes so much so that I can’t even tell the difference or where mine ended and hers began. Yemra seeing the universe for the first time ever through the eyes of a Gedd was pleasure for her. Mom slapping me in the face because I had said some kid who really wanted to study could study in my place was pain for me (granted, I had said that in the middle of an argument so it would always be painful but it was the fact that Mom slapped me that really hurt me the most). Yemra’s Hork-Bajir host getting burned by a Dracon beam and almost dying was pain. Bungee jumping for the first time ever during spring break was pleasure. Pain. Pleasure. Pleasure. Pain. Laughter. Tears. Despair. Giggles. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, and not the good one. “I don’t… know anything,” I blubbered. “I’m just a girl… in the wrong place… at the wrong time. Please… stop it.”

The lights from the AMR finally faded away, and when I finally returned to reality, I was absolutely spent. There were no tears on my face anymore, but that was probably because I had run out of tears to shed long before this point. My body was aching all over from all the pain sensations that the pain ray had induced in me. “It looks like that both the Yeerk and the host indeed do not know anything about the Human-Yeerk Alliance’s plans against us,” Immib said. “Take the prisoner back to her cell. Make sure that they both remain healthy. If we are all still around after thirty days then we must gather as much information about how the Yeerk can survive for that long without Kandrona rays. That information will be most valuable to the Empire, as long as we can get it to them.”

I was dragged out of the seat in front of the Anti-Morphing Ray and taken back and thrown into my cell. I managed to pick myself up from the floor to crawl to the bunk. Once I was finally lying down in the cot, I immediately curled up into the fetal position and shivered. So this was what being tortured, being violated feels like. My whole body trembled as my mind replayed all of the painful and pleasurable memories that the pain and pleasure rays had dug up from the recesses of both my mind and Yemra’s. And, for the first time in a long time, my Yeerk had nothing at all to say to me.

Chapter Text

I didn’t sleep peacefully that night. All those bad and painful memories that the Anti-Morphing Ray had dug up from the recesses of my mind and Yemra’s kept popping in and out of my dreams, or should I say nightmares. I couldn’t sleep for long stretches without waking up once again shivering and in a cold sweat thanks to a nightmare induced by a memory that the AMR had brought back up to my conscious. It was for that reason that I woke up at ten in the morning according to my watch, which was more along my usual waking up time from before this whole Nothlit State thing started. I was slow to get up from the cot in my cell and I was in no hurry to greet this new day because I was really not looking forward to what the nothlits had in store for me next.

I rolled over to my side and saw that a soup bowl and some saltine crackers had been left on the table in my cell. And even though my stomach was absolutely growling in hunger, I couldn’t bring myself to get up and eat.

I remained on my cot for the rest of the morning. The memory flashbacks had finally subsided but they still happened frequently enough that I couldn’t consider myself as having successfully weathered the storm just yet. Even now while I’m writing this story, a memory still comes out of nowhere to haunt me and I have to take deep breaths and step back from what I’m doing to calm myself down once again. My hunger did eventually get the best of me, and I finally rolled out of the cot and took my place at the table to eat my solitary meal. It was supposed to be my breakfast, the soup and saltines, but now that it was high noon according to my watch, it would have to be my lunch as well. Amanda Barzaglio, aka The Girl Formerly Known as Angry Bitter Former Controller, was nowhere to be found, and even if she was there in my cell with me, I don’t think I was in the mood to chat. I certainly was in no mood to chat with the Yeerk in my head after all. Still, that made the silence very awkward and unnerving.

A male guard, not one of the ones who had been standing guard over my cell since I first woke up in the clutches of the Nothlit State, arrived to take away my soup bowl once I was done eating. “Where’s Amanda?” I asked him, out of both curiosity and genuine concern.

“Who, the suhlahlak?” the guard asked in reply. “She’s been sent back to the kitchens. And not another word from you. The Visser is not yet done with you.” Seeing no further need to elaborate even further, the guard took my bowl and left my cell without another word.

“Good God, Yems,” I said loudly. “What’s Immib gonna do to us now? Not another round of the AMR? I don’t think I can take it anymore.”

We can only hope that that’s the only thing that Immib has planned for the both of us, Yemra replied. There are worse things in Immib’s arsenal than the Anti-Morphing Ray.

“Oh, dear God,” I muttered. “They were right. They were right all along!”

Who’s “they”, Jen?

“The guys I keep reading about who say that torture is the worst because the really good torturers make the tortured do the torturing to themselves,” I replied. “Look at me! I’m already imagining all those ‘worse things’ that you say Immib can do to us. And I’m already willing to say anything just to get Immib to stop with all this.”

But we both don’t know anything about Visser Five and Yibey’s plans, Yemra said to me. Along with the fact that I can survive longer without Kandrona rays. I don’t see the point you’re trying to make, Jen. I can’t make sense of it.

“What I’m saying is that at this point, I’m now ready and willing to say just about anything just to get Immib to back off of the both of us,” I replied. “It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Whatever Immib wants to hear from me, I’m ready to say it to him.”

No, Jen. There is no need to do that just yet. We both can still get through this. You do not have to say anything to anyone. There is nothing for us to tell them because we simply do not. Know. Anything. We can make it through this together. Trust me on that.

“Maybe you can, Yems,” I said, “but I don’t think I can. I just don’t want to deal with this shit anymore. I’m tired, Yemsy.”

I get what you’re trying to say, Jen. But that’s still no excuse for you to call me Yemsy, much as there is no excuse for me to call you Yelena.

((Go to hell, Yemsy,)) I retorted privately.

Some time passed after that, and I noticed that a few guards were passing by my cell here and there. One guard that got my notice was a female, with pale skin and hair so blonde it was practically white. I noticed that she had been passing by my cell almost regularly, as if she was pacing around the hallway thinking of something. Once, we locked eyes with each other, and while her face was unreadable, I had the feeling that I was her objective, if that even makes sense. It was like she needed to do something, and that something somehow involved me. It was strange, but at the same time it wasn’t really that uncomfortable. At this point I felt like all I wanted to do was roll with the punches.

Eventually, the woman guard approached the male guard who was actually assigned to my cell and said, “Open the cell. The Visser wishes to speak with the prisoner again.”

Uh-oh, Yemra said to me. Here it comes.

((I’m not ready, man,)) I said back. ((I’m just not ready.))

“Are you sure about that, Charegh?” the male guard asked back. “Where are the others?”

“The Visser asked for only one escort for the prisoner this time around, and I have been given the order to take the prisoner back to him,” the female guard replied. “Now are you going to follow your orders or do I have to bring the Visser himself down here confirm the order?”

“No, of course not,” the male guard mumbled. “Yes, I’ll open the cell.” He turned off the Gleet Bio-Filter and walked into my cell. I stood up and held out my arms in front of me, waiting for the guard to slap on those magnetic cuffs and haul me back to Immib and quite possibly the Anti-Morphing Ray.

Then, before the male guard could even pick up the magnetic cuffs, he suddenly let out a pained cry and collapsed into a twitching heap. “Holy shit!” I cried out. I was not expecting that to happen at all. And I was also not expecting the woman guard to appear behind the guy, taser in hand. The other guard kept twitching around on the ground even though the woman was no longer touching the taser to him, and somehow it had me convinced that the guard was a Yeerk nothlit and not a human mercenary working for the Nothlit State.

The woman holstered her taser and walked up to me. “So, are you ready to go?” she asked me.

I have to admit that at this point, my mind had gone completely blank due to the speed and confusion of what had just happened before my very eyes. Simply put, I was not thinking at all. The first words to come out of my mouth at that moment were, “Who are you and why did you just tase him?”

“My name is Charegh Zero-Zero-Two of the Ban Yaseg Pool,” the woman replied. “But you can call me Cherry. And I’m here to break you out of here.”

“Wait a minute,” I said as Cherry’s words sunk in. “You’re a nothlit.”

“Yes, I am,” Cherry replied with a roll of her eyes. “I’m also Visser Five’s contact inside the Nothlit State.”

“What?” It was as if my ears had become disconnected to my brain. Cherry’s words were taking their sweet time to sink in, and when they did, I was still having trouble comprehending them.

“I’m a spy,” Cherry continued. “Maybe even a snitch, if you want to call me that. But I’ve been feeding info to Visser Five from inside the Nothlit State since the start. Heck, I’ve been giving her intel since even before there was a Nothlit State, when we were just a more radical Nothlit Rights Movement.”

“Once again, what?” I asked. I really was having trouble comprehending everything that was happening to me right now.

“I’ve been spying on the Nothlit State for the Peace Movement,” Cherry said once again. “I’ve been sending out intel and info from inside the state to Visser Five, Tarash Five-One-Four, the leader of the Yeerk Peace Movement, to keep her up to date on the state’s plans so she can then pass these on to the National Guard.”

“Wait a minute now,” I said. “If you’re supposed to be spying on the nothlits for the Peace Movement then why are you breaking me out of here now?”

“I told the Visser that you had been captured by the Nothlit State after the ambush in downtown,” Cherry replied. “And I was also the one who told the Visser about how the Nothlit State and Operation Vengeance are all just covers to help bring the Yeerk Empire back to Earth. I have basically done all that I can for the cause now, and the Visser has ordered me to return to the fold and bring you and your Yeerk back with me.”

“So what you’re basically saying is that your final mission for Tarash is to bust me out of here?”

“Yes, it actually is.” Charegh, or Cherry, then bent down and picked up the weapon that the other guard had dropped when Cherry had tasered him and handed it to me. It was an Uzi submachine gun, small but terrible in both senses of the word. It was terrible in a good way because it was a powerful and devastating weapon in the hands of a trained soldier (who is also most probably Israeli) and it was also terrible in a bad way because it was a dangerous and woefully inaccurate weapon in the hands of a noob like me. Nevertheless, I took the Uzi from Cherry and performed the standard checks out of habit, like checking the chamber for a round, checking if the magazine was fully loaded, checking if the safety works.

“Have you ever killed a man before?” Cherry asked me. The question came completely out of left field and it took me by surprise. “No,” I replied. There was no reason for me to lie about it anyway. And video game kills don’t count in the real world, do they?

“Then you better get ready to do it anyway if you want to make it out of here with me,” Cherry said matter-of-factly, as if telling other people that they might have to kill someone else was an everyday occurrence to her. “Now come on! If we move fast and quiet then we might be able to sneak out of the Yeerk Pool through one of the emergency exits.”

“Holy shit, you’re telling me that the nothlits have been in the Yeerk Pool this whole time?” I asked as Cherry and I stepped out of my cell. “I’ve been in the Yeerk Pool the whole time?”

“Yes,” Cherry replied. “Where else would the Nothlit State set up their headquarters anyway? Now pipe down! We need to get out of here before the other nothlits find out that I set you free!”

Oh, this is unbelievably cruel, even for Immib, Yemra said to me. Keeping us in the Yeerk Pool… Why, if I was a regular Yeerk and I knew that the Pool and all those Kandrona rays were just a few steps away, I would probably go crazy from the starvation.

((Well then, good thing you’re not a regular Yeerk, right?)) I asked her back.

“Follow me,” Cherry said as we went down a tunnel going away from my cell. The tunnel was lit by fluorescent tubes, giving it a harsh and utilitarian look.

“So, how long have you been spying on the nothlits for Tarash?” I asked Cherry as we walked down the tunnel.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it spying, especially not when I started doing it,” Cherry replied. “I’ve been in the Peace Movement since Illim recruited me. I chose to become a human nothlit after the war, like Illim and a lot of other Peace Movement Yeerks, and I kept my head down and tried to live as well as I could under the conditions. I mean, let’s face it, nothlits really are underpaid and overworked right now, which is why the Nothlit Rights Movement is working to improve our conditions and basically give us the same rights as everyone else, but the Nothlit State is another thing entirely. Things are going wrong for the Yeerk Empire in their other wars, and apparently they haven’t given up on Earth just yet, so the Empire wants to get back here planetside and try another invasion.

“Anyway,” Cherry continued, “I happened to know a bunch of other nothlits who had a human contact who was willing to set them up with human IDs and stuff to get them out of the tenements, for a fee of course, and I decided to join in and get myself a human name and ID so I can go to work in better-paying jobs. I became Cherry Greer, and once I was Cherry and not Charegh, I managed to make my way to college and a medical degree. I actually managed to get an internship in a hospital morgue. I was practically living a life of luxury compared to my fellow nothlits, and I didn’t see anything wrong with that.

“And then I came across a flyer for the Nothlit Rights Movement while paying a visit to some fellow nothlit friends, and I was curious about it, so I attended a meeting. Eldril One-Nine-Two, the former Visser Eight, happened to be the speaker for that meeting, and when I heard him speak, I was immediately hooked. I was swayed by Eldril’s words. He had a way of speaking which made me feel like he was talking to me directly even though we were in a room full of other nothlits. We nothlits have thoughts and feelings too just like the humans, Eldril told us, and therefore we deserve the same rights as they had. We deserve to be treated the same way that the humans treat the Hork-Bajir and even the hosted Yeerks, but we had been relegated to the status of second-class citizens simply by virtue of being on the losing side, and it was all the work of the Andalites, the humans, and the hosted Yeerks. Those three groups were the ones responsible for keeping the nothlits crushed under their collective boot, but he was going to put an end to all of that. Eldril was going to change the status quo, and he was going to lead his nothlit brethren in glorious battle against the humans, the Andalites, and the hosted Yeerks and force them to give us the same rights that they had.

“I was taken in by his rhetoric. I really was,” Cherry admitted. “I recalled the conditions that I lived in before I got myself a human identity. I remembered the friends I had who were still stuck in the tenements with no way for them to get out. I remembered how I had to pay the same human who had given me my human identity obscene amounts of money so he can make human identities for some of my friends as well and give them a way out of the tenements. I remembered how I had thought that it was unfair that we had to languish in these conditions while both the Yeerks who couldn’t morph because of their ‘allergy’ to the morphing technology or whatever they wanted to call it and the ones who actually chose not to morph were now living in luxury in their human hosts’ skulls, and you could say that I was ready to die for the cause if it came to that. But then I inadvertently stumbled upon Eldril and his second-in-command Immib talking about how they had managed to make contact with the Yeerk Empire and were now offering the Empire a chance to return to Earth and take a second stab at conquering the planet and the humans. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I had finally managed to get away from the Empire and its crazy policies and vissers. But now these two guys were talking about bringing the Empire back to Earth. Being a nothlit may suck, but it’s still a better life compared to being a foot soldier for the Yeerk Empire, so I made contact with Tarash, Visser Five, and told her about Eldril and Immib’s plot. And because I was so angry at Eldril having betrayed my trust like that, I actually offered to keep Tarash informed and up to date about the plot to bring the Yeerk Empire back to Earth as well as any other plots that those two dapsenil were cooking up. To my surprise, Visser Five actually accepted my offer, and now here we are.”

“But if you’re Tarash’s contact inside Noesh then how come you didn’t tell her anything about Flight 6569 or the Victory Day attacks?” I asked.

“I do not what this Noesh that you speak of is, but to answer your question, there was simply no way that I could have known about those attacks until it was already too late,” Cherry replied. “Eldril was bloodthirsty but he was also paranoid. I don’t know if he was the one who thought up of the plans for the attacks or if someone else did, but he would be smart enough not to spread word of the plans except for the nothlits who were actually going to carry them out. Eldril would have kept the plots for Flight 6569 and the Victory Day attacks compartmentalized. And if I had indeed found out about them, I couldn’t have told Visser Five about them without the nothlits realizing that there was indeed a mole in their ranks. And I also doubt that the authorities would have acted had Visser Five tipped them off as well, at least not immediately.”

I mean, Charegh has a point, Yemra told me with a mental shrug. If I was the cops, I probably wouldn’t believe the Visser either if she told me that the nothlits were going to bomb a plane and attack the Victory Day parade in Santa Barbara within the span of a few months.

“Over here,” Cherry said, pointing at a small tunnel carved into the side of the main one. “This tunnel should lead us to an emergency exit that leads to an old strip mall a few blocks away from the community center over the Yeerk Pool. We need to get out of here in…” Cherry consulted her watch. “…twenty minutes before the Andalites deep-fry this place from orbit with their shredders.”

“What!?” I said loudly. “The Andalites are here already?”

“Of course they are,” Cherry replied. “The President called for the Andalites’ help as soon as the Nothlit State took control of the city’s airport. Or more likely, the Andalites found out about the existence of the Nothlit State through CNN or NBC or Fox News and then the Andalite ambassador then offered to send POTUS some help to deal with the Yeerk filth threat. Of course, this ‘help’ was already halfway to Earth via Z-space so he has no choice but to accept. You know how that orange-skinned mop-haired human is. He doesn’t like either the Andalites or the Yeerks because of his stance on the aliens, but on the other hand, it’s not as if he has any other alternative, does he?”

By this point, everything had gone well with my escape. No alarms had been raised, guards weren’t running around checking the shadows or the cracks in the tunnel walls for me. Everything was going perfectly. Of course, Murphy, being the sadistic and cruel bastard that he is, couldn’t let this state of affairs go on indefinitely. You know those times in a movie where the good guys are just one step away from finally getting away from their prison or captors or whatever, and they are this close to making the great escape, only for something to happen that causes everything to come crashing down? Well, that shit actually happened to me. No kidding. The only difference was that neither Cherry nor I were just one step away from escaping from the Yeerk Pool and the Nothlit State. Heck, we weren’t even that close to the emergency exit before we got caught.

“Halt! Stop right there!” a frighteningly familiar voice shouted from behind us, following up from the usual dramatic gun cock. “Where do you two think you’re going, eh?” Amanda Barzaglio asked. “I know that it’s you, Jennifer Carson. Game’s over. There’s no escaping this place for you. Now drop the gun, put your hands up and turn around slowly. Same goes for your new friend.”

I did as Amanda commanded, dropping the Uzi onto the ground and then turning around as slowly as I dared. Amanda was standing stock still, and she was holding her M16 rifle from the hip even as she pointed it at my chest. She then turned the rifle on Cherry when she dropped her weapon, and I could see the shock and the hurt on Amanda’s face when she recognized the person who had helped me escape. “Cherry!?” Amanda asked in disbelief. “You’re the one who helped the Controller escape? And I thought you were one of the better nothlits!”

“Amanda, usually I would say that this isn’t what you think it is,” Cherry said, “but right now that would be a lie plain and simple. Yes, I am helping the Controller escape.”

“Well, I’ll be…” Amanda trailed off. “I don’t even know what to say anymore. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that you’ve been helping the prisoner from the beginning! I would have said that you were helping the prisoner by taking her Yeerk to the Pool to feed on Kandrona rays and stave off starvation! But that’s impossible! I was the only one allowed to have contact with the prisoner in those four days. You couldn’t have helped her. I certainly didn’t help her. And I saw the dumak’sa’s analysis myself. The Yeerk in the prisoner’s head is the same Yeerk in her head when she was captured, and that was four days ago! There is no way for a Yeerk to survive four days or more without Kandrona rays! It’s impossible! And yet here we are! How is that possible!?”

“Look, Amanda, even I don’t know how it’s possible for Yemra to survive without Kandrona rays for more than three days,” I said. “Even Yemra doesn’t know! Nobody in here knows how it’s possible! It just is! And that’s the worst part about it all! I could be holding the key to the future of Yeerk evolution and I don’t even know why it happened in the first place!”

“All right, Amanda, I’ll cut to the chase,” Cherry interrupted. “I’m Peace Movement. So are Jennifer and Yemra. And right now, all of us in here want the same thing: for humans, Yeerks, and nothlits to all have the same rights as each other. Do you think that that’s going to happen when the Yeerk Empire takes over Earth thanks to the Nothlit State, just like you wanted?”

“I don’t care about nothlits’ rights or anything else anymore!” Amanda shouted back. “I only care about one thing, and that’s my reward for helping the Empire return to Earth. And my reward will be another Yeerk in my head. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, Cherry, another Yeerk, and you know it.”

“No, Amanda, you’re wrong,” Cherry replied. “You don’t want another Yeerk in your head. You want Mallek back in your head, even though we both know that that is never going to happen.”

“Don’t you dare talk to me about Mallek, you backstabbing slug!” Amanda cried out, but Cherry could see that she had struck a nerve, and she was not about to back down now.

“You know why what you want is never going to happen, Amanda? It’s because Mallek is dead! She’s dead, Amanda,” Cherry pressed. “And yes, you might get another Yeerk as a reward for helping the Empire return to Earth, but you know what? That Yeerk is not Mallek. It will never be Mallek. It will be a different Yeerk from Mallek, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if the new Yeerk in your head will be a pro-Empire Yeerk or a Peace Movement sympathizer; that Yeerk is not Mallek and will never be Mallek. I know it. The Empire knows it. And, deny it all you want but you know in your heart that what I’m saying is true.”

“Shut up, Cherry,” Amanda muttered through gritted teeth. I could see her face turning red, but whether it was because of anger or grief or even just plain fury, I couldn’t really tell. “You shut the fuck up! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” But I could tell that Amanda was very, very close to pulling the trigger on Cherry and shutting the nothlit up permanently.

“It doesn’t have to be this way though,” Cherry continued. “Come with us,” she offered. “Come with me and Jennifer. We will tell everyone that you helped us escape the Nothlit State. I will put in a good word for you at whichever Pool you want. You will get to choose your own Yeerk. Yes, I know that whichever Yeerk you choose still won’t be Mallek, but wouldn’t it be much better for you if you could choose the Yeerk that you will share your mind with instead of accepting whoever it is the Empire shoves into you and not being able to say a word of complaint about it?”

“Well?” Cherry asked when Amanda hadn’t moved so much as a finger after the former had offered the latter a chance to defect, switch sides, start playing for the other team, however you want to call it. “Who would you rather have in your head, Amanda? Would you rather have a nice and friendly Yeerk whom you handpicked yourself or would you rather risk your mental health and sanity on the Empire, who might give you a Yeerk who’s actually worse than both Esplin and Edriss combined?”

I could see the intense indecision written all over Amanda’s face. I could only guess as to the internal diatribe going on inside her head. And I guess that that would make Amanda acutely aware of the present emptiness in her head, and I was hoping that it would finally force her into making a decision. At this point I didn’t even care as to what her decision could be; I just wanted this standoff to be over with. But I did hope that Amanda would come to our side and help us out anyway. I know that Amanda doesn’t really care about nothlit rights, but I also knew that she was only fighting for the Nothlit State because she had been promised, probably by either Eldril or Immib, that the Empire would reward her service with a Yeerk in her head. She probably thought that she doesn’t even care about what happens to the Earth after that point. But I hoped that Amanda was a good person deep down, whatever her personal convictions and beliefs were right now. I also believed that Amanda deserved a second chance at meeting a decent Yeerk who, even though they definitely won’t be the same as Mallek, would still give Amanda the chance to establish a decent rapport with each other.

“You can choose to come with us, Amanda,” Cherry offered, “or you can choose to step aside and let us get out of here, but I will not let you stop us from getting out.”

But of course, before Amanda could make her decision on her own, someone else came along and made it for her. Someone entered the tunnel where our little standoff was taking place. I recognized the man as one of the guards who had dragged me off to the Anti-Morphing Ray on Immib’s orders. Like Amanda and some of the other guards I had seen in the Pool, he was armed with an M16 rifle. “Barzaglio!” he called out when he saw Amanda. “I see that you have caught the prisoner and the traitor who helped her escape. You will be rewarded for this, Barzaglio. You shall become host to at least a sub-visser as soon as the first one arrives here on this planet. Now, as for the two of you, it’s time to get a move on!” he said to Cherry and me. “It’s time for you to face the consequences of your actions, your treachery, Charegh Zero-Zero-Two. I shall enjoy making you suffer for as long as your human body can withstand the pain, traitor. And as for you, collaborator,” he said to me, although obviously he was referring to Yemra, “the Yeerk Empire will know the secret to your survival away from the Kandrona. It is only a matter of how easy or hard you will make us work for it. Escort these two back to the detention cells, Barzaglio!” he commanded Amanda.

When Amanda refused to move, the guard asked, “Are you deaf, suhlahlak? Did you hear me? I said get a move on!”

Wrong move, guy, Yemra muttered in my head. And I had to agree with her, because she was right. I could see the very moment when Amanda finally snapped, and she made her decision. She turned around to face the nothlit guard with a newfound steely determination in her eyes. You couldn’t see it if you weren’t looking for it because the changes in Amanda’s demeanor were subtle to say the least, but I could see that the indecision was finally gone from her face. She had made her choice, and now she no longer cared about the consequences of that choice.

“What are you doing, Barzaglio?” the nothlit guard asked. “Don’t look at me like that! I am not the escaped prisoner or the traitor who helped her! They’re behind you! Arrest them! Deal with them or I will take all the credit for their capture, suhlahlak!”

Amanda pulled the trigger on her rifle, sending a short burst straight into the nothlit’s chest. The gunshots were deafening inside the confines of the tunnel, and for the first few moments after Amanda had opened fire, all I could hear in my ears was this dull and hollow ringing noise. “Holy shit!” I shouted even as my hands rushed up to cover my ears. “Holy crap,” I repeated as Amanda turned around once again to face us, and I stared down the smoking barrel of her M16.

“You better make good on your promise this time, Cherry,” Amanda hissed through gritted teeth. “But remember this: I’m not doing this for you, for Jennifer or anyone else. And I have also had enough with these goddamned nothlits!”

Welp, that’s it, Yemra said. She gone. Amanda done gone cray-cray now.

Chapter Text

The alarm sounded throughout the Pool tunnels. I don’t know if it was because someone had finally discovered the guard guarding my cell whom Cherry had knocked out or if someone had heard Amanda fragging the other guard with her rifle. Personally, I think it was the latter, but then again I never really knew.

“Follow me,” Amanda Barzaglio said, a new steely determination coming into her voice. “I know a few side tunnels that will get us to the main emergency exit tunnel and the surface much quicker.”

The nothlit spy Charegh Zero-Zero-Two and I followed Amanda down the tunnels even as the alarms blared all around us. We had no choice, really. Neither of us were really in a position to argue with a woman who had just gone postal on someone whom, literally just seconds ago, she was working with. Amanda turned right and took us into a small side tunnel that was barely big enough to stand in and looked like it had been carved out of the earth only recently. We ducked into the tunnel, and as we did so, I could hear the sound of shoes and boots running here and there as the nothlits began searching for us. Tunnels could do that, you know, make the audio version of an optical illusion and make you believe that the sources of the sounds you’re hearing are actually much closer to you than they really are.

As the guards’ voices and footfalls began to grow louder and closer behind us, a new concerning thought occurred to me, and I asked Amanda, “How can we be sure that you’re not just leading us back to the nothlits, Amanda?”

“I just shot one of them nothlits,” Amanda replied without so much as a backward glance at me. “Not just a human merc. An honest to goodness nothlit. That means that they are now going to kill me for killing one of them, even if I did lead you two back to them. I killed one of them so that means I’m now dead either way. And that’s a path that definitely doesn’t lead to a Yeerk back in my head.”

She’s right, you know, Yemra told me.

((Shut up! Now is not the time!)) I retorted.

The shouting ahead of us got louder. Our little group rounded a corner and came face to face with a pair of Nothlit State guards. I screamed and pressed myself against the tunnel wall, but there was no longer any fear or even hesitation in Amanda’s eyes and movement. She lifted her AR-15 rifle to her shoulder and fired at the two guards on full auto. She emptied her clip into the guards’ bodies even as both were already on the ground and no longer moving. “Come on! We’re nearly there!” Amanda shouted at us.

Ahead of us was a steep flight of stairs going up that, like the tunnel around it, appeared to have been carved out of the soil very recently. “This is an emergency exit that leads to the mall above the Pool,” Amanda told us. “At the top of these stairs is a door that opens into one of the mall’s regular emergency exits. Once we get out of that emergency exit, the mall’s main entrance will be just a short distance away. There won’t be any guards up there because the nothlits are trying to hide themselves from the satellites and the drones. But then again, the CIA do see everything after all, so make of that what you will. Don’t underestimate the CIA, is what I’m saying.”

The emergency staircase was just ahead of us. It looked so near and yet so far at the same time. I also had the strange feeling that no matter how fast I ran, no matter how fast I commanded my legs and feet to move towards the stairs, those stairs were not getting any nearer to me at all. And then the gunshots rang out. I heard automatic fire erupting behind us, and I instinctively ducked and covered my neck with my free hand. I heard Cherry cry out in pain, and I turned around and saw blood seeping from a wound that had been carved through her left hip. Cherry turned around to face our attackers and fired a long burst from the hip, and I saw one guard fall down to the ground.

“It’s okay! I’m fine!” Cherry shouted as I moved nearer to help her. “It’s just a flesh wound! Don’t worry about me!” She turned back towards the stairs and began to limp towards it.

As if on cue, another guard peeked out from beyond the corner and fired a burst of his own. Cherry screamed once again, shrilly this time, as another bullet went through her left thigh. “Kandroneg!” she shouted as she fell down and clutched at her wounded thigh. Amanda appeared by my side and fired a burst of her own to drop this latest guard.

“By the Kandrona, it hurts!” Cherry groaned as she was forced to sit down and lean back on the tunnel wall. “Oh, that’s going to leave a mark,” she muttered darkly.

“No time to think about that, though!” I said as I grabbed her arm to help get Cherry back on her feet. “Come on! Grab my hand! I’ll help you up!”

“No! Leave me alone!” Cherry shouted, tossing aside my helping hand. “I’m no good to you guys anymore now. I can’t help you two anymore!”

“That’s not true, Cherry!” I shouted back. “This is not the time to give up! Not when we’re so close to getting out of here! I can help you up the stairs! Amanda will help you get up too! Right, Amanda?” I asked.

“No! Forget it!” Cherry insisted. “Face it, Carson. You and I both know that I’m just going to slow you two down. If you and Amanda try to help me get up those stairs then the nothlits will shoot all of us before we’ve even gotten halfway up! It’s the end of the road for me. It’s been a good run, but now it’s time for me to go. Just leave me here, let me buy you two some time from the nothlits to get out of here. All three of us can die in here or it can just be me. Now listen to me very carefully. The National Guard has set up a perimeter at Pike Street. Jen, I’ve been told that you live in this city so you should know it well, like the back of your hand. Tarash and Yibey and the other Yeerks should be with the National Guard.

“Look, Cherry, you don’t have to die down here!” I insisted. “You don’t have to sacrifice yourself for me or for Amanda! There must be a way that we can do this and still help you get out as well!”

“There’s no time, you idiots! Don’t you understand?” Cherry hissed through gritted teeth. “I’m just going to slow you down. If the military or the president can’t talk the Andalites out of shredding the Pool then this place will be blasted right back to the Stone Age! Trust me, if you think a Dracon artillery bombardment is bad, wait till you’re in the middle of a shredder blast from a Dome ship!”

As if to drive home Cherry’s point, more nothlits and human mercenaries appeared from around the corner of the tunnel leading to the exit stairs, and Cherry practically pushed me away. “Go! Get out of here!” she said. “I’ll hold them off for as long as I can!”

“Jen, Yemra, we have to get out of here, now!” Amanda said to me, and this time it was her turn to drag me away from Cherry. I tried to fight back, to pick Cherry back up and bring her with us, but my legs were already moving of their own accord. Yemra had taken control of my legs and it appeared that she agreed with both Cherry and Amanda about our current situation. I was still able to move the rest of my body though, and I turned around and saw Cherry adjusting her position so that she was now facing the corner of the tunnel. She loaded a fresh magazine into her rifle and chambered a round.

And then Amanda and I were finally at the stairs, and then as we went up it, I heard Cherry exclaim, “I am Halayk, Protector of the Lapug Elt Pool, Scourge of the Vanarx, and you shall not pass!” followed by short and loud staccato bursts of gunfire. I heard the sound of the brass casings clattering on the tunnel floor as well as return bursts from the guards whom I was sure was on the other side of that corner. By the time that we had gotten to the top of the stairs, the gunfight below us was still going on, but Charegh Zero-Zero-Two was no longer shouting and channeling her inner Gandalf. Then there was one more gunshot and the fight finally ended.

Amanda pushed open the door at the top of the stairs, and we found ourselves in a white and gray stairwell that looked just like any other emergency exit in a public place. We went up a few more stairs and then Amanda pushed open another door, and just like that, we were in the community center mall. I could still remember the last few times that I had been here recently, but most especially that moment when the nothlit gunman Gedis Eight-Nine-Seven had shot up the place in an attempt to get at Tarash Five-One-Four, the secret and actual founder of the Yeerk Peace Movement. Gedis had shot and killed other people to make people think that he was just another mad mass shooter and hide the fact that Tarash was his real target. My spine shivered as I recalled that I wouldn’t have gone to the Pool that day were it not for Yemra, and therefore I probably wouldn’t have been there to save Tarash and Emily’s lives, and Gedis would have succeeded with his objective.

“There! The entrance is just over there!” Amanda shouted, and we ran for the glass doors that was the main entrance into the Human-Yeerk Alliance Community Center and the Yeerk Pool below. We ran through the gaps left behind in the doors by the shattered glass and out to the street beyond. The nothlits finally caught up to us and they opened fire with their human guns and their Dracon beams but strangely enough, just as Amanda had said, none of them appeared too keen to follow us out of the safety and shelter of the community center. And then I looked up at the sky, and I finally saw the reason why.

“Oh, my God!” I shouted as I saw the thing floating right above the community center. “Holy crap! That… is… huge! That… is… large!” I could barely form any coherent sentences as I watched the massive Andalite Dome ship hovering menacingly over the city and directly above the community center. Sunlight peeked through the thin cloud cover and glinted off of the big glass dome at the top (yeah, I know it most probably isn’t actual glass but it looks like glass so there) that had given these Andalite capital starships their English name. “By the Kandrona, Charegh wasn’t kidding when she said that we didn’t have a lot of time left!” Yemra said through my mouth. We were both so completely shocked by what we were seeing that Yemra just had to take control to give herself the ability to react physically to the Dome ship over us.

This was how a lot of us had imagined first contact, or more accurately an alien invasion, would be like. We humans had always thought that alien invasions would mean starships hovering above our cities, ready to rain down hellfire upon the hapless Earthlings. This was the alien invasion that we had come to know and fear, or at least just one type of it. This was how alien invasions were supposed to be like. They weren’t supposed to be secret and clandestine affairs like the plan that Edriss Five-Six-Two, the former Visser One, had planned out to help the Yeerks conquer humanity, even if it was only because she wanted to keep her human children away from the Empire’s clutches for as long as possible. Imagine looking out your window one day and just suddenly seeing a Dome ship hovering right above your city. That would surely strike fear and terror in your heart, wouldn’t it?

“Okay, we’re now out of the Yeerk Pool,” Amanda said, bringing me back to reality as we ducked for cover behind a parked and abandoned car. “But we’re still within the blast radius of the Dome ship’s shredder. We can’t stay here forever, Jen. We have to go somewhere else. Before we left, Cherry said something about Pike Street. Do you remember what it was?”

“Oh, crap, Pike Street,” I muttered. “Cherry said that that was where the National Guard was. If we can get there without getting shot then maybe we can turn ourselves over to the National Guard, and maybe then the National Guard can take us back to Tarash and the Peace Movement Yeerks.”

“Should we do that?” Amanda asked me. “I mean, you could probably do that. You can surrender to the National Guard and they’ll probably turn you over to your fellow Controllers no problem, but what about me? I don’t look anything like Charegh. They’re going to know that I was with the nothlits before I went with you. What’s stopping them from shooting me at the spot?”

“I’ll vouch for you,” I replied. “I’ll tell the National Guard that you helped me escape. Actually, I’ll do you one better. I’ll vouch for you to the National Guard and then I’ll vouch for you personally to Tarash Five-One-Four herself. She’s the leader of the Peace Movement, remember? I’ll vouch you for her and I’ll tell her everything that you had to go through after the war, and then hopefully she can set you up with a new and decent Yeerk when all this is finally over. Sure, your new Yeerk won’t be Mallek, but I’m sure that you can talk it out and work it out with them. It’s the very least I can do for you, and it’s the very least that you deserve after all that you went through.”

“Really?” Amanda asked, disbelief all but evident in her face and voice. “You’ll really do that for me?” she asked again once everything that I had just said finally sank in. “Even after how I had first treated you when you had been captured?”

“Yeah, I will,” I said, nodding my head. “That’s a promise. And Carsons always keep their promises.”

“Okay. Okay,” Amanda said, nodding her head as well. A small grin finally began to form on her lips. I had never before seen Amanda smiling like this, and if I had to be honest, it really suited her to smile. It was as if she had finally found the light that would allow her to dispel the personal darkness that she had built up around herself in the many years that she had spent angry and loathing at the rest of the world. I could actually see the excitement coming back in her eyes at the thought of finally being reinfested by a Yeerk and no longer having her mind to herself. Her pain and grief would finally be coming to an end.

Of course, had I known what was about to happen next, I wouldn’t have said any of those things to Amanda. Maybe, probably, I would have told her to duck her head instead. But I didn’t tell her that, and it was something that I would regret for the rest of my life.

There was a loud and sharp crack, like that of a bullwhip, followed by the sound of glass breaking and shattering, and then there was a splatting sound and Amanda suddenly fell down to the ground. She was already lying in a pool of her own blood before I could even react, and when I did, it was already too late. “Holy shit!” I cried out. “Holy Mother of God!” Those were the only things that I could have said, or even done, at the time.

Amanda Barzaglio was dead, killed by a sniper’s bullet. And the ghost of her last smile on her face was a sight and a memory that I was never ever going to forget so long as I live.

Chapter Text

I couldn’t stop staring at the bloodied face of Amanda Barzaglio. The smile on her face, the excitement in her eyes, those were now permanently etched and frozen on her now lifeless features. Bright and dark red blood began to coat the right side of Amanda’s face, the blood coming out of a large ragged hole on her right temple. I couldn’t stop looking at that face, and I couldn’t stop looking at the hole in her skull, where I could see the pulpy pink and gray mass that was her brain.

And then the realization of what had happened finally hit me front and center, and I screamed. I screamed in fear, I screamed in horror, I screamed in anguish. And then after the screaming came the tears. I had just seen two people die right before my very eyes, and they both wouldn’t have died if it weren’t for me. They had died because of me. Charegh Zero-Zero-Two had died to buy me and Amanda more time to escape from the Yeerk Pool where the Nothlit State was holding me hostage, and Amanda had died because I had told her that I would help her get another Yeerk when I should have told her to duck because the nothlits might have a sniper waiting for a chance to nail the two of us before we got very far from the community center. I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of a sniper hanging around and waiting for a chance to shoot at us until one of them had shot Amanda through a car window and right in front of me, but now I knew that I had to be this sniper’s next target so I had no choice but to keep hiding behind this car and hope that I can get a chance to escape before the Dome ship unleashed its shredders on the community center.

I remember alternating between sobbing and screaming, and all the while Amanda’s dead, blue and smiling face kept staring back at me. I turned myself away from her but I knew that the damage was already done. That face was going to haunt me for the rest of my life, and I was sure that it would keep haunting me even to my deathbed, and probably beyond.

There’s a theory that states that there are five stages of grief. I know that this theory is about terminally ill patients who are told that they only had a limited amount of time left to live (well, much more limited than what we usually have), but I’ve seen it applied to people who are grieving too. And right now, I guess you could say that I was grieving. These are the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I entered the first stage of grief in the first few moments after I had rubbed my throat raw from all the screaming, when I began to mutter, “This isn’t happening,” to myself over and over again. “This isn’t happening! This isn’t real! This is just a dream! I’m just dreaming! I’m not really stuck in a war zone. I’m gonna wake up, and I’ll be back home, and everything’s back to normal!” I told myself.

But deep in my mind I knew that I was just telling myself stuff to calm myself down, rationalizing things so that I could steady myself in mental and emotional terms. But all that talk could only last so long before it was eventually replaced by other thoughts, and those thoughts consisted of me killing the nothlits. Yeah, that’s it, I thought to myself. I’m gonna kill these nothlits. I’m going to kill these sons of bitches for what they did to Cherry and Amanda. I’m going to kill them even if it kills me in the end. I looked down at my hands and saw the Uzi SMG that Cherry had handed over to me after she had tased the guard assigned to my cell. That must have happened only a few minutes ago, maybe a quarter- or a half-hour ago at most, but to me it felt like whole decades had passed since that moment. But now I didn’t care about that at all. I now had the tools to carry out my new mission to kill all of these damned nothlits, and sure as hell I was going to use it. It didn’t matter to me that I was inexperienced with the Uzi. I knew how to use it and that would have to be enough.

I took a peek above the hood of the car and looked back at the community center, trying to find the place where the sniper who had shot and killed Amanda was camping out. I saw a lot of windows, as well as the massive glass doors, but nothing else to indicate that a sniper was out there, searching for me as well. Fuck that, I thought. I didn’t need to find a target now. I just wanted to do something to these nothlits. I lifted the Uzi up to my shoulder, looked down the iron sights, checked that the fire selector was set to full auto, and then I yelled out and pulled the trigger, unleashing a hail of hot lead on the nothlits cowering inside the community center and trying to stay out of sight of the Andalites above.

And this was how I entered the anger stage of grief.

I fired the Uzi in the general direction of the community center. I didn’t know where the sniper or any of the other nothlits that I knew to be inside the building was, but I didn’t care. I fired blindly, and I fired wildly. The Uzi, being on full auto, blazed through the one and only clip that I had for it in a matter of seconds, and the firing pin clicked on an empty chamber after just two seconds of me pulling the trigger. “Shit!” I shouted, and I threw away the now-useless gun.

Looking back on it, I could never explain what came over me that day that turned me into a near-suicidal gunman. All I could remember was that I was angry, plain angry. I was angry at the nothlits for torturing me. I was angry at the nothlits for killing Cherry. I was angry at the nothlits for killing Amanda before she had even gotten a second chance to being able to living a life with a Yeerk in her head once again. And I was also angry at myself for not realizing that the nothlits could have had a sniper and not telling Amanda to keep her head down. I was full of anger and hatred. Palpatine could have, would have turned me into his apprentice if he had been there looking at me. And it was that anger and hatred that finally led me to go to Amanda’s body and take her weapon and ammunition. I made the mistake of looking at Amanda’s face once again while I was doing this, and I knew that the gruesome combination of her eerily peaceful face and the two ragged holes on the sides of her head would haunt me for the rest of my days.

I slid Amanda’s eyes closed with my left hand and said a brief prayer for her soul, and then I ran back for the cover of the car and checked the chamber and fire selector of Amanda’s AR-15 rifle. There was a round already in the chamber, but the selector was on safe, so I put it on full auto and steadied the buttstock on my shoulder. I laid the barrel of the AR on the hood of the car where I was hiding behind, and then I pulled the trigger once again. Smoke and fire and hot lead poured out of the AR’s barrel, and steaming hot brass flew out of the rifle’s ejection port. I wasn’t aiming for any particular point in the community center; I just wanted to take action on my own part and make the nothlits feel what it was like to be under fire.

“How do you like how that shit works, huh, assholes!?” I shouted.

Jen, a very small voice in the back of my head called out. I ignored it as I was busy raining lead down on the nothlits even though I was sure that they were more than adequately protected by the concrete walls of the community center.

Jen, the little voice called out again, a little more insistently this time, but once again I ignored it because it was just my imagination acting up at the most inopportune time. The AR-15 finally ran out of ammo, and I ducked back behind the car, waiting for the inevitable reply of gunfire from the nothlits in the community center, or even just a couple of potshots from the enemy, but nothing happened. I made to reload my rifle, but my right arm seemed strangely numb and unresponsive, as if it was actively stopping me from reloading my weapon. I almost dropped the magazine that I was trying to load into the AR because of my right arm acting up, but I eventually managed to shove it into the receiver, but once again my hand refused to move and cock the rifle.

And then I heard Yemra shouting at me, Snap the fuck out of it, Jen! And she took outright control of my right hand and used it to slap me hard in the face.

“You bitch!” I cried out. “What the fuck was that for!?”

You need to snap out of this funk that you’re in right now, Jennifer Carson! Yemra shouted back at me. Now is not the time for you to go crazy!

“I’m not going crazy, Yemra! I just want to kill these goddamned nothlits!”

No! You are not going to kill anyone today! I am putting my foot down! I am not letting you do this! And to prove her point, Yemra seized full and total control of my body. This was the first time that Yemra had ever done this to me, take total control, and she did so without even asking for my permission. ((You bitch!)) I shouted inside my mind. ((What the fuck are you doing, Yemra? Give me my body back!))

No! Yemra replied forcefully. Not until you have calmed down and thought things through!

((What is there to think about!? Those nothlit bastards killed Charegh and Amanda! They deserve whatever they’re going to get from me!))

And what do you think is going to happen to us, to you, if you do that? Yemra asked me. You are not a soldier, Jennifer Yelena Carson! You are just a girl in the wrong place at the wrong time! You charge that community center and you, we are both going to end up like Charegh and Amanda! You are going to get killed if you continue what you are doing, Jen, and we both know that you do not want to die, right?

And for the first time in a very long time, something else other than the overwhelming thought of killing all of these nothlits and avenging the deaths of Cherry and Amanda entered my mind, and it was the realization that deep down, I knew that Yemra was right. I was not a soldier; I was just a girl, a Controller, and any attempt on my part to attack the Nothlit State all by myself will only result in one of two things, both of them disastrous: either I will get killed or I will get captured once again. And I had no intention at all of dying or being recaptured.

Just think about it for a moment, Jen, Yemra continued, her voice and demeanor much calmer this time, Cherry and Amanda would not want you to do this, not even for them. They both risked and gave their lives to save you from the nothlits and get you out of the Yeerk Pool. Do you think either of them would want you to come rushing back to the Yeerk Pool just because you wanted to avenge their deaths? Believe me when I say that I have been through this before, Jen. I haven’t said anything to you before but I am still angry at whoever fired the shot that killed Mallory. Even after all these years, I’m still angry. And after I relived that memory again thanks to Immib and his Anti-Morphing Ray, my anger has only been rekindled. I still want to kill the person who killed Mallory even though I know that I will probably never know his or her identity ever. But I didn’t act on my anger, Jen. I didn’t go around looking to kill the Yeerks or the soldiers who could have killed Mallory because I know that that was not what Mallory would have wanted me to do.

In a strange way, the fact that Yemra was now telling me all of this for the first time in the fourteen or so years that we have been together, opening up to me all of her own pent-up anger and rage, had the strange effect of dousing the flames of my own fury and calming me down from my agitated state. I was breathing in and out rapidly, but as Yemra was still in full control of me, it had to be her who was making me breathe in and out this fast. I, meaning Yemra, was also on the verge of tears, and I could already feel one or two rolling down my cheeks, but Yemra made no attempt to wipe them away. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you, Jen? She asked me. You cannot always give in to the desire to avenge your friends or do right by them. Sometimes you have to learn to let go of your anger and fury, especially when holding on to it will only get you killed. Do you hear me?

((Okay, Yemra,)) I replied slowly and quietly. ((Yeah, I hear you.))

Besides, look above you, Jen, Yemra continued, and I looked up at the Andalite Dome ship hovering menacingly over the city. The Andalites are going to finish off the Nothlit State once and for all. Sure, they might destroy the Yeerk Pool as well as a large chunk of the city in doing so, but the nothlits will still be dead all the same. Let the professionals do their job, Jen. All we need to do now is to get out of the shredder’s blast radius and get back to friendly lines and safety.

((Okay, Yems, I understand,)) I said, nodding my head mentally inside my own mind.

Now I am going to give you back full control of your body, Yemra said. You can do one of two things, Jen: you can try to attack the nothlits again, and I will take control of you once again and I will be the one to take the two of us as far away from the blast radius as possible. Or you can stay calm and take us out of here yourself. It’s your choice that will determine how the two of us will get out of here. Now I am going to give you back your body. Make your choice. I’ll be waiting.

And in the blink of an eye, I was in control of my body once again. I took the time to pat my hands all over my body, making sure that everything was right where they were supposed to be. So that was what it felt like to be an involuntary Controller, I thought to myself. What the involuntaries had said were true: I really was powerless to do anything once Yemra decided to take full control. I was trapped inside my own mind, helpless and only able to watch as Yemra could have done anything that she wanted with my body. Good thing for me that Yemra was one of the good Yeerks (I believe we’ve established that a long, long time ago). I couldn’t cry out; I couldn’t say anything or do anything. I could only have shouted inside the cell that was my own mind. No wonder a lot of involuntaries went crazy. I don’t think I could have handled even just a few hours of being stuck in a prison made in my own image.

Don’t worry, Jen, I’m not about to turn into a secret pro-Empire Yeerk all along, Yemra reassured me. But I needed a way to make sure that you were going to stay put and it was the only thing I knew would do the trick.

“Well, it certainly worked,” I said out loud, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I was able to feel my mouth, tongue, lips and vocal chords move on my command.

And isn’t that a good thing? All right, Jen, let’s get out of here before that shredder vaporizes the both of us!

“Yes, let’s,” I agreed. I cast one more look at the stark beige walls of the community center, now pockmarked with bullet holes, most of them of my own doing, and then I picked myself up and bent down into a half-walking, half-crouching stance and slowly made my way away from the cover of the parked car. When I began to move towards Amanda’s AR-15 rifle that Yemra had made me throw away while she was in control, I felt her presence begin to lean on my mind, the Yeerkish equivalent of someone making a little “Ahem!” at someone who was maybe stepping out of line a little. “It’s not what you think it is, Yems,” I said. “But you don’t really think I’m going to run around the city without some protection of my own, are you?”

Fine, Yemra conceded. But if you make so much as one move, you know what I’m going to do.

((Don’t worry about it,)) I replied mentally. ((You know what I’m going to do even before I do.)) I picked up the rifle and then, still in that half-walking half-crouching stance, I half-walked, half-ran away from community center. I turned a corner and then I finally stood up to my full height and began to run as fast as my legs could take me. I ran away from the community center, I ran away from the Yeerk Pool, I ran away from the Dome ship, I ran away from Amanda Barzaglio’s body. I ran until Yemra finally told me to stop as we were now sufficiently far away from the Dome ship shredder’s blast radius to get fried immediately. As I leaned on the brick wall of a historic building, exhaustion finally caught up to my adrenaline-addled body and I sunk down to the pavement to catch my breath.

Except I wasn’t able to do that, because after the exhaustion came the emotions, and I was unable to hold back the tears from flowing out of my eyes. I began to cry. I cried for Charegh. I cried for Amanda. I think I even cried for Mallory, even though I only knew her from Yemra’s own recollections that she related to me, and even then there wasn’t a lot of that. And deep in the recesses of my mind, I knew that Yemra was also mourning for Mallory, Charegh, and Amanda, and she was also crying at the hopelessness of our current situation. We both felt as if there was little if any chance that we were actually going to make it out of this situation alive, and for the both of us, it was little to no comfort at all that we were both thinking the same thing.

Chapter Text

I was in a daze for the next few hours, or days, or however long it took for me to wander the streets of the city, navigating the roads and the alleyways in an attempt to find my way back to friendly lines, to safety. I was still very much seething at Amanda’s death at the hands of the nothlits, but the past few hours had also allowed me to rein in my anger and control it, keep it in check and in the back burner of my mind, so to speak. Yes, I was still angry, but now I wasn’t letting that anger control me and consume me like it had in the immediate aftermath of Amanda getting half of her face shot off by a nothlit sniper. No, no, it wasn’t affecting me anymore at all. I was calm, I was cool, I was trying to find my way out of this labyrinth that had suddenly appeared in the middle of my city and towards the safety of the National Guard’s frontlines that Charegh had told me about. If only I could remember where it actually was…

((Cherry said that it was on Pike Street, right?)) I asked Yemra as we navigated the dark and deserted streets of downtown. ((Or was it Van Dyke Street?))

I’m not too sure about it too, Jen, Yemra replied. To be completely honest, somehow I remember Charegh say that it was actually Frankreich Street. But I have to agree, Pike Street makes much more sense. I don’t think there’s any Van Dyke or Frankreich Streets here in the city. Now our only problem is that we don’t know where we are in relation to Pike Street.

((Where’s the Pagoda when you need to see it, eh?)) I joked as I continued walking down the road. I was still carrying the AR rifle that I had taken from Amanda’s body, along with her ammo and tactical vest, before we had made a run for it, away from the community center and the Yeerk Pool and the nothlits and the Andalite Dome ship. I was also acutely aware that I looked very much like a Nothlit State fighter in my current state (civvies under tactical gear as well as a backpack behind me) and that the National Guard could shoot at me if I stumbled upon their frontlines or bumped into one of their patrols. But as I thought that I was still deep in Nothlit State-held territory, I had no plans of dropping my weapon anytime soon.

Another strange thing that I had happened to notice during my escape from the Yeerk Pool was that the Dome ship that had been hovering over the community center was no longer there. What I mean to say is that the Dome ship was still in the sky, but it was very high up and no longer directly above the community center. Charegh had said during our escape that the Andalites had offered to deal with the Nothlit State once and for all by sending a shredder right down their throats, into the Yeerk Pool where the state had set up its new headquarters (and where the Yeerks coming from Imperial-controlled territory would be housed for the time being while the Nothlit State fought to take territory from the US). Yemra and I had already felt that something was wrong when the Dome ship didn’t blast the Pool into smithereens when Charegh had said it would, and now that the ship was hovering so high up in the sky, I wondered what could have made it back off.

Maybe the President said no to the Andalites, eventually, Yemra offered as I took cover in a street corner. He doesn’t seem to like the Andalites, or any other aliens for that matter. He made that very clear in his campaigns.

((Yems, we both know the real kind of aliens he’s talking about,)) I retorted. ((I may not have voted for him but right now, as things stand, I really think that he’s actually handling the situation much better than my candidate. She might have made things much, much worse in that particular timeline.))

Good thing we’re not living in said alternate timeline, right? Yemra muttered.

I crossed the street once I saw that there was nobody there, and then, as if on cue, just as I got to the other side of the road, I heard voices coming down the street that I had just crossed. I flattened myself against the wall of the nearest building and tried to listen carefully if the voices were from friend or foe.

“I cannot believe that the traitors would be able to plant spies within our own ranks,” a loud and harsh voice said. “And I also cannot believe that one of those spies turned out to be Charegh! She was a believer; she was fully committed to the cause! If the traitors could turn someone who was so dedicated to the cause then who else among us could be spying for them, waiting for the chance to strike and bring the State down?”

“What about you, Wassoub?” the gravelly and husky voice of Immib Two-Seven-One asked back. “How do I know that you are not one of the very spies that you are talking about?”

“I just shot the suhlahlak who helped the human-Controller escape, Immib!” the loudmouthed Wassoub said back. “If that isn’t enough to prove my own loyalty to the cause then I don’t know what is!”

I tried to peek out from behind the wall where I was hiding to get a better glimpse of Immib and his friends. I saw Immib and another male nothlit standing in the middle of the street, while a third nothlit stood guard a short distance away. Immib and the guard were both armed with AR-style rifles while the nothlit beside Immib carried what appeared to be a Dragunov sniper rifle. As the nothlit with the sniper rifle got into Immib’s face, Immib put a firm hand on the other’s chest to force him out of his personal space. “Back off, Wassoub! No!” he shouted. “This is exactly what the humans and the traitors want us to do! They want us to fight amongst ourselves and not trust each other so that when it is time for them to finally strike, they will attack and pick us off one by one and not as a single large and united group! We cannot fall into that trap, Wassoub, we cannot. We will not give the enemy the chance to see us destroy ourselves. We will not destroy ourselves. It is the enemy whom we will all destroy.”

“You’re right, Immib,” Wassoub growled. “We will destroy them. We will destroy them all!”

“Yes, we will,” Immib repeated. “Yes, we will, Wassoub. But we must set that all aside for the moment and find the human-Controller with the Yeerk that can live without the Kandrona for more than three days on this planet. We only have a few genetic samples from both Yeerk and host, so we must extract more genetic material from them for Wizzer and his scientists to work on. If we are to finally wean our brother and sister Yeerks from their dependence on the Kandrona then the Empire will finally be a real force to be reckoned with! And we also cannot let the Controller escape to tell her fellow humans about the truth of the Nothlit State, and the research that we are conducting on behalf of the Empire! The Controller should still be around here somewhere. We must find her and capture her. Again.”

Well, it sounds like someone’s very popular around here, Yemra quipped.

((Yeah, well, I’m not going to let any of them get their hands on me, or on you,)) I replied. And then, as the three nothlits began to walk away from my hiding spot, an idea, a plan began to form in my mind. It was a crazy plan and it was a stupid plan no matter which way you looked at it. But this was a point in my life where I was just about ready to throw away any and all caution and rationality into the wind.

I knelt down, lifted the AR to my shoulder and looked down the iron sights. I could see the nothlit with the sniper rifle clearly through the sights, and I settled the sights on the sniper’s center mass, his chest, just as I had been taught to do at the firing ranges. I could have gone for a headshot, but the head is such a small target compared to the rest of the human body, making the chances of missing a shot much higher than if I had just gone for center mass. I flicked off the safety, made sure that the sights were settled on the sniper’s back, and I began to breathe slowly and rhythmically.

You better be sure about doing this, Jen, Yemra cautioned me.

((Yes, Yemra, I’m perfectly sure about it,)) I replied.

Once you pull that trigger, the nothlits are going to know where we are, and they are going to do everything in their power to either kill you or capture you again.

((I’m willing to take that risk,)) I said. And then physically, but still under my breath, I muttered, “This is for Charegh and Amanda.” And then I pulled the trigger.

A short three-round burst went out of my rifle. They all hit the nothlit sniper in the back, and I could see spatters of blood come out of his chest where the bullets had passed through his whole body. And even as the sniper was going down, Immib and the other nothlit instinctively ducked their heads and began looking around for the source of the gunfire. Then the nothlit guard saw me kneeling behind the corner of a brick wall, and he yelled out and pointed in my direction. Immib turned his gun at me and pulled the trigger, but not before I had managed to get back behind my cover. I told you that this was going to happen! Yemra shouted at me. Now let’s get out of here before they find out who we really are!

((No, not just yet,)) I replied. It wasn’t because I was frozen in fear. Quite the opposite now, actually. The truth was that, even though a part of me was still reeling from the fact that I had just killed another sapient being, a much bigger part of me wanted a bigger piece of that action. A third part of me was yelling at me to follow Yemra’s advice and get out of there ASAP, but they were now both being drowned out by that second part of me screaming into my ear, “Kill them all! KILL THEM ALL!” And, if I remember correctly, someone (either Visser Five or Yibey) had told me that killing Immib was the key to stopping the Nothlit State, or at least the part of it that had taken over my city. Gone was the girl who had frozen under fire and said over and over again that she couldn’t shoot at someone else. In her place was a woman with a gun, a Yeerk, and a desire to avenge the deaths of a nothlit and a former Controller.

Immib and the other nothlit opened fire on my position. They couldn’t see me directly, but they did know where I was or had been, but all they were hitting with their bullets was the brick wall behind which I was hiding. Puffs of brick dust and mortar made by the bullets striking the wall created a cloud that stung at my face and shins and showered me with chips of debris. I waited for a lull in their gunfire, and then I poked my AR from behind the corner of the wall and fired some bursts of my own. The AR was equipped with a bump stock that enabled me to fire it at rates almost like a full-auto rifle, and I made sure that the gun was tilted so that the hot brass coming out of the chamber dropped directly to the ground and didn’t fly straight into my face. I didn’t know how effective this was in pinning them down, but I did know that I had pinned them down.

Immib and the other nothlit replied to my gunfire with bursts of their own, but even though I couldn’t see my targets, I could feel as if they were trying to keep themselves out of my line of fire so they couldn’t unload as many rounds into my position as they would have wanted. Eventually though, my rifle ran out of ammunition, and as soon as I pulled it back into cover to reload, Immib and the other nothlit let loose with the full might of their weapons. I let the now-empty magazine drop to the ground and inserted a fresh one that I had taken from my vest, the same one that I had taken from Amanda before I had run away from the community center. It was the second of three twenty-round magazines that I had acquired from Amanda, and this meant that I now had only forty rounds left to fire at the nothlits. It was now time for me to make my shots count.

I waited for another lull in the gunfire from Immib and his friend, and then when I heard the both of them call out for the other to cover their ass, I made my move. I took a deep breath, and then I stepped out from behind my cover, knelt down, put the rifle to my shoulder, looked through the sights and settled it on the first target that I saw, and pulled the trigger. That target turned out to be the nothlit guard, and a five-round burst from me was enough to turn him into a bloody and crumpled heap. “Ni! Kensoh!” Immib shouted as he watched the nothlit fall dead to the ground. He then turned around and saw me, and he immediately brought his weapon to bear against me and opened fire, but not before I had already rolled back for cover. Taraka! Yemra yelled out. That was a close call, Jen, and you know it! she told me. If you hadn’t moved as quickly as you did, we would both be dead already! I actually think one of those bullets flew through your hair!

((Well, I had planned on cutting off my split ends anyway,)) I replied, and then I resumed my tactic of firing blind from around the corner as Immib peppered my position with bullets of his own.

“You have just made the biggest mistake of your life, Controller, and it will also be your last,” Immib called out. “I would have kept you and your traitorous laklat of a slug alive because it was in the best interests of the Empire, but no longer. You have helped kill your schrellatna, traitor, and I cannot let this transgression pass. For this, you must die!”

“Not if we kill you first, asshole!” I shouted back. Probably not the best move to make in hindsight, but I was feeling cocky at that time, and whenever I got cocky I tended to tempt fate.

Immib’s reply to my taunt was a fresh volley from his gun. I waited him out, and then when he had run out of ammo, it was my turn to suppress him. Unfortunately for me, because my weapon had smaller capacity magazines, I couldn’t suppress him for as long as he could suppress me, and as soon as I ran out, Immib was able to rain down lead on me once again almost immediately.

Come on, Jen, let’s get out of here! Yemra urged me.

((Just one more, Yems,)) I replied. ((Just one more.))

I loaded the final magazine into my rifle. Or at least that was what I would have done had Immib not suddenly appeared from around the corner and kicked the rifle out of my hands. My hands went numb at the point where Immib’s booted foot had made contact, and I cried out in pain as I fell to the ground.

“Prepare to meet your death, traitor,” Immib said, and he pointed his MP5 SMG and pulled the trigger, and at that point, everything seemed to slow down from my perspective. So this is it, I said to myself. This is how I’m going to die. Turned into Swiss cheese by a fucking nothlit who wanted nothing more than to return the Yeerk Empire to Earth. Well, if I was to be honest, there were much worse ways to go. Drowning was one of them. So was getting burned alive. And don’t forget about falling from a very tall height. Those were nasty ways to die, so nasty that having thirty rounds go through my body was very much a more palatable alternative.

But the muzzle flash never came, and no bullets went through my body. Both Immib and I were very much surprised by this turn of events, and had I been paying any attention to my surroundings, I probably would have noticed the spent casing that was lodged in the MP5’s ejection port, jamming it and preventing the bolt from feeding a new round into the chamber. But I was too busy trying to survive to notice or even care about the jam. “What in damnation is wrong with this thing!?” Immib cursed as he fiddled and fumbled with his gun.

I reacted purely by instinct. I picked up my last remaining magazine and hurled it at Immib’s face, and it hit him right on the bridge of the nose. He reeled back from the pain of the impact, and I could see blood oozing out of the wound. While he was reeling, I picked myself up from the ground and tackled Immib like I was Khalil Mack going after a Hall of Fame quarterback in the dying seconds of the Super Bowl. Well, that was what I was going for, but reality was much different. I was a 120-pound girl trying to tackle a man weighing at least fifty to sixty pounds more than I did. No way was I getting him to the ground quarterback sack style. Still, I tried making up for it by punching Immib wherever and whenever I could, never mind that I was probably not getting enough force behind my punches to hurt him or knock the wind out of his lungs in the slightest. But this was no organized boxing or MMA fight after all; this was an all-or-nothing winner-takes-all street brawl.

To be honest, I didn’t have any plans beyond shooting at Immib and his boys and hoping that I hit all of them, and now that he and I were in a physical fight, I was just lashing out at him at this point. I had no more weapons on me other than my fists, and my body was already taking a beating from Immib’s own punches while my own fists seemed like they weren’t doing any damage to him at all. And then I noticed the pistol holster on Immib’s thigh, and a new plan formed in my mind: grab the pistol and shoot Immib. At this range I shouldn’t miss. I couldn’t miss. Could I? Unfortunately though, that plan was quite literally easier said than done.

Immib fired a trio of punches into my gut, and I felt the wind leave my lungs. Then he wrapped his arms around, lifted me up, and body-slammed me into the ground. I definitely felt and heard something crack in my back, and even if it was just my imagination playing games with me yet again, I knew that my body was going to be rekt no matter how this fight would end. And then Immib put his hands around my neck and began to squeeze. “You picked the wrong side, parsum,” he muttered as he choked me. My eyes popped out and I struggled to get air back into my lungs, but then I saw that Immib’s pistol was now within reach, if only I could just reach out and grab it before I fainted…

Now it was a race against time. I had to get Immib’s pistol before he choked me to death. I had some luck going for me in that Immib was too focused on strangling me that he failed to notice me going for his gun. But unfortunately for me, the gun was just out of reach, and I was already extending my arm to its full extent (I didn’t have the longest arms to begin with, anyway). I threw some punches of my own and even tried to choke Immib back in an attempt to get the pistol closer to me, but he had the advantage over me in every sense of the word. I was growing more and more light-headed as less and less oxygen was able to make its way into my brain, and a black fog was already beginning to creep into the edges of my vision. My struggles to grab Immib’s gun were getting feebler by the second, and I could feel my strength leaving me. ((It’s been nice knowing you, Yemra Six-Four-Zero,)) I said in what I thought were going to be my last moments.

Yemra didn’t reply. Well, she didn’t reply like she normally did. Instead, I felt my arm move on its own accord and take hold of Immib’s pistol. I don’t know how Yemra did it; she just did. And just like that, the black fog around my vision shrunk away, and everything became crystal clear. I knew what I was supposed to do next. I pulled Immib’s gun out of the holster, pointed it at his body, and pulled the trigger.

The effects were immediate. Immib’s stranglehold around my neck loosened up, and I could finally gulp in as much air as I wanted, needed, to reinflate my lungs and windpipe. The murderous expression on Immib’s face was still there, but now there were hints of surprise and pain mixed in as well. I fired the gun twice more, and now Immib’s face had shock and horror written all over it as he realized that somehow, against all the odds, it was he who was about to die and not me.

Immib toppled over to his side and went still. I was still breathing very fast to the point of hyperventilating even as I rubbed my neck with my left hand. I coughed a few times, and then I lifted myself up to my feet with great difficulty and effort, my body and bruises complaining all the way. I looked at Immib Two-Seven-One of the Irres Bhek Pool, the man who had tortured me using the Anti-Morphing Ray and the man who had ordered the deaths of Charegh Zero-Zero-Two of the Ban Yaseg Pool and Amanda Barzaglio for helping me escape. And just like that, all of the anger that I thought I had managed to bottle up inside me broke loose, and I screamed and emptied Immib’s gun into his body. “Die, you motherfucking son of a bitch, die!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. “Die, you fucking asshole! Fuck you and your Empire!”

The gun eventually clicked empty, and I could still feel my body shaking in anger, fury and shock. I let the gun fall to the ground, and its clattering sounded like nuclear explosions to my ears even though I should already be half-deaf from all the gunfire I had put myself through. My knees buckled, and I had to sit down on the pavement to steady myself. That was when I looked down at my hands and noticed the fine spray of blood coating my right hand. “Oh, my God,” I said. “What have I done?” Tears began to stream from my eyes down to my cheeks, and I began to cry once again.

So this was what it felt like to kill another being. No grand revelation that killing was either horrible or great; it’s just the fact that you know that you have killed someone else, someone who had his own thoughts, dreams, and wishes. Sure, his thoughts, dreams, and wishes may have all involved the Yeerk Empire taking over Earth, but still, the fact remained that I had just extinguished another life. Immib may have deserved to have his life extinguished anyway, but that didn’t make it any easier for me to process what had just happened at all. Kill or be killed, that was the rule on the battlefield. And if I hadn’t killed Immib then he would have killed me without so much as a second thought.

This was what it was like to be a soldier. This was what it was like to fight for your life, fight for the very freedom of your own planet. I don’t think I want to be in this situation ever again.

I tried to wipe away the blood on my right hand on the nearest available surface, like the pavement or the brick wall, but no matter how hard I tried, there were still some small specks of crimson that stubbornly remained on my hand that no effort of wiping away could remove. I stared shakily at this bloodstained hand of mine, and then I put both hands over my face and continued to cry. “My God, what have I done?” I repeated even though I already knew the answer to my own question.

A/N: A short glossary for some of the Yeerkish/Galard terms used in this chapter.

Suhlahlak – Yeerkish. Literally means sycophant. In conversation, it means a being who will do anything no matter how humiliating or debasing in order to achieve their personal goals. In the context of the situation, however, it refers to a being who will do what it takes in order to be infested by a Yeerk once again. Insulting and derogatory.

Taraka – Yeerkish exclamation. Has no direct literal translation to English but in the context used appears to be similar to “damn” or “goddamn”.

Laklat – Yeerkish. Literally means a non-sentient animal. In conversation, used as an insulting term for Yeerks in the Yeerk Empire. In the context of the situation, used to refer to the Yeerk itself, perhaps implying stupidity. Unknown if laklat is appropriate for the situation or not.

Schrellatna – Yeerkish. Plural of schrellatie. Literally means “our brother and sister Yeerks”, defined as an affectionate and respectful way for Yeerks to refer to unrelated Yeerks.

Parsum – Yeerkish. Has no direct literal translation into English, but in the context used appears to refer to “scum” in the sense of both “traitor scum” and “pond scum”.

Special thanks to Kharina for letting me borrow the terms schrellatna and laklat for my story.

And if you could take even just a short moment to leave a review for this chapter or story, I would very much appreciate it. It will not take too much of your time and it will also let me know what you think of my story so far. Thanks! - GR

Chapter Text

It took me a few minutes to finally stop crying after the aftermath of my attack against Immib and his nothlit goons, but it took me a few more hours to finally get my butt off the ground and begin to make my way back to the relative safety of the National Guard lines, away from the Yeerk Pool, away from the Nothlit State, and away from Immib’s bloody corpse. The gravel crunched beneath my boots, providing a dull but steady rhythm as I tried to make my way back to safety.

Along the way, I noticed that the city was quiet, very quiet. No horns, no engines, no humming streetlights, not even the crack of rifles or the pounding of Dracon artillery. Granted, that was probably because I was half-deaf from all of the gunfire that I had had to endure a few hours previously, but even then, things were just so, so quiet.

I have to say that I have never seen the city like this before, never seen it like it was right now. I had always seen the city as this brightly lit place where the streetlights always kept the shadows away. Sure, we might not be the biggest or the most famous city in Pennsylvania, or even just a city that people have heard of, but it was still my hometown. And seeing it as it was right now, dark and silent and abandoned; well, it really tugged at my heartstrings. I wasn’t supposed to see my city like this. Nobody was supposed to see their city like this. It was enough to put even the most stoic person in a melancholy and contemplative mood. At least the darkened city finally allowed the stars to shine down on us, and I guess that starry sky made the picture of the dark and abandoned city just that little bit easier on the mind’s eye.

((Man, I wonder if the Yeerk Empire is on any of the stars up there right now,)) I said to Yemra as I stopped walking and looked up at the sky. I still couldn’t breathe as deeply as I would have liked; I thought I could still feel Immib’s fingers around my throat, trying to crush it and cut off my lungs from the air. I knew that that was impossible since I had already left behind the nothlit leader’s body in that street along with his cohorts, but I was sure that the bruises were going to leave a lasting impact on my body. At least the bruises didn’t hurt as much when I looked up.

I wouldn’t bet on it, Jen, Yemra replied. The vast majority of the stars visible on Earth don’t have many planets orbiting around them that are worth the effort of colonization or conquest on the part of the Yeerk Empire. In fact, I don’t think you can even see the stars with the Yeerk, Hork-Bajir, and Taxxon homeworlds from here.

((I mean, yeah, our telescopes right now are quite a bit shit,)) I conceded. ((Even with all the advancements that we got from your tech and the Andalites’ to improve our own tech. But just for argument’s sake, can you point out to me where those stars are?))

All right, I’ll try, Yemra said. Over there, by the constellation you call Eridanus, there is the Hork-Bajir homeworld. She pointed both my eyes and my right finger to the approximate spot of the Hork-Bajir homeworld’s star. And to the northwest, near the horizon is the Taxxon homeworld. Over to the south is the Andalite homeworld, if you’re interested, and last but not the least, above us and just southeast of Polaris, is Kandrona and the Yeerk homeworld. The Empire’s aim was always to reclaim the homeworld from the Andalite blockade around it. Conquering the Hork-Bajir and Taxxons and humans was just a way of amassing an army that would be able to take on the blockading force for the final battle. I don’t know if the Empire has finally managed to retake the homeworld, but given that we lost about eighty thousand Yeerks here on Earth due to the surrender, I’d say that that is highly unlikely right now.

((I wonder if we humans will eventually be able to not only see those stars and planets through our telescopes, but also to see them with our very own eyes, in spaceships in orbit around those planets? I know that we have tech from both your Bug fighters and the Blade ship as well as what the Andalites are willing to share with us for Cinnabons, but how come we humans are still stuck on Earth? I mean, at this point surely the International Space Station is now supposed to be the final, well, station before we all head out to deep space?))

Well, Jen, you never know. Maybe the advancements are taking their sweet time trickling down to the masses, like your smartphones and your Wi-Fi. Or maybe they’ll all come in one fell swoop since the president announced that he wants to put humans back on the Moon as well as Mars.

((Yeah, Yems, maybe,)) I nodded.

All right, enough stargazing for us now, Yemra said. Let’s finally get back to the National Guard lines.

((Yeah, I really hope we finally find them tonight,)) I said. ((I’m not really keen on sleeping in the streets tonight.))

I’m with you, girl.

I started walking down the street once again, eyes back to ground level. ((Hey Yems, can I ask you something?))

Sure, Jen. Ask away.

((Remember that time when I was going crazy and I was shooting up the Yeerk Pool for all it was worth?)) I said. ((When I was trying to reload and my arms wouldn’t follow me? That was you trying to stop me, wasn’t it?))

I think the answer to that question couldn’t be more obvious, Yemra replied.

((Okay, I guess I deserved that,)) I said with a physical sheepish smile. ((But why was it that you could only control my arms and hands back then, and even then it didn’t feel like you had total control over those as well? You only finally had full control of me after… I don’t know. Something happened?))

It definitely has something to do with the biochemistry of the human brain, Yemra said. And it definitely has something to do with the host’s emotions as well. You’ve read about how some involuntary hosts were able to seize control—very briefly, I might add—from their Yeerks in times of stress. Something about the cocktail of chemicals that the human brain produces in times of stress causes the Yeerk to be unable to maintain control over the host’s body. The Yeerk usually takes control back almost immediately since they have a tight hold over their host, but me… I think I struggled to take control of you because I only had a loose connection to you, meaning that I can feel everything that you feel but I’m not moving your body at all. That’s not the usual way for a Yeerk to control their host, at least in the Empire, hence why we weren’t trained to retake control in a situation like that.

And it was really, really hard for me to get through to you, you know, Yemra continued. It was like I was trying to talk to you through a brick wall. I kept calling out to you but you either couldn’t hear or were straight up ignoring me. And then when I tried to stop your arms from moving and reloading, it was like they were stuck in quicksand. I really think that I only got through to you because you became more confused than angry because I was fighting with you for control. I think I finally got through to you because your brain chemistry finally replaced the stress chemicals with… I don’t know. Something else, definitely.

((Yeah, I think I’m definitely much more confused now,)) I said. ((Forget I ever asked, Yems.))

Sure thing, Jen, Yemra said with a mental smile.

I took advantage of the silence in my mind and the world around me to take in the sights once again. Gravel crunched underneath my boots, and the pale half-moon cast long shadows onto the pavement. My backpack felt light on my shoulders, mostly because I had already thrown away the empty water bottles and food packs that I had gone through during my time with Yibey’s Army. The road I was on seemed to stretch to forever, and without any prompting, a song that I would describe as being very apt for the situation began to play in my head.

I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known,” I began to sing softly. “Don’t know where it goes, but it’s home to me and I walk alone…

Well, that’s not entirely accurate, is it, Jen? Yemra interrupted me. I’m right here with you.

((Shut up, Yems! You’re killing the mood.)) Nevertheless I continued to hum the tune to Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and I began to strum an imaginary guitar as I went through the notes of the song. Yemra eventually chimed in, providing some backing vocals of her own even though I was the only one who could have heard her singing. It was a nice moment, a little respite from the craziness of the real world. In that moment, I could imagine that there was no war, no Nothlit State, no conflict going on in my city, and that I was just on a nice little late night stroll with my Yeerk for company, wrapped around my brain and giving me a nice little mental hug. I mean, I kind of needed a hug right now because of all the shit I’ve been through, but even though all that Yemra could give me was the sensation of a hug, I appreciated it all the same. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like I had my favorite blanket around me. It’s always the little things that make life worth living.

Suddenly, a pair of bright lights shone on me. I covered my eyes with my right hand so that I could see who or what was shining the lights right into my face.

“Stay right there! Stay where you are!” someone shouted. I squinted my eyes to block out some more of the light, and that was the moment when I saw that the lights were actually the headlights of a Humvee and that the person shouting at me was a soldier of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

“Hold it right there, miss! Stay right where you are!” another National Guardsman shouted at me, and I froze on the spot immediately.

“Don’t shoot me! I’m not a nothlit!” I shouted back. “I’m not a nothlit! I’m a Controller!” Huh. Never thought I would say that to save my life.

“What did she say?” a third Guardsman asked. “What did she say, Jenkins?”

“Sir, I think she said that she’s one of them Controller whatsits,” the first National Guard trooper replied. “That’s one of them folks with the slugs in their brains, right, sir?”

“Yeah, you definitely got that right, Jimmy. Now can somebody please turn off the high beams so this poor girl doesn’t get blinded?” The headlights dimmed, but I still couldn’t look at them directly without my eyes tearing up and afterimages getting burned onto my retinas. My hands were still covering my eyes even as I watched the National Guard officer walk up to me and ask, “Now what’s a girl like you doing out here in the middle of an active combat zone?”

“I’m with the HYA!” I blurted out, it being the first thing that came to my mind (and also because it was the truth). “The Human-Yeerk Alliance! I’m with Yibey Nine-One-Five and Tarash Five-One-Four! Ask your superiors about them, and then ask Tarash and Yibey about me! They know me! They know who I am! My name is Jennifer Carson, and my Yeerk’s name is Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the Zek Danet Pool! Ask them! They both know who we both are!”

“Yeah, sure, right, that’s your story,” the officer snorted. “All right, sweetie, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to take your backpack off and put it on the ground, then you’re going to put your hands above your head, and then you’re going to stay right where you are and wait for these soldiers to come to you. When they get to you, they’re going to pat you down, and then you’re going to follow them to the Humvee, so don’t worry about where they’re going to take you. No funny moves, though. You make one funny move or wrong move and things are going to get uglier for you.”

I did as the National Guard officer wanted me to do: I dropped my backpack and put my hands on my head as two soldiers approached me with their rifles to their shoulders. Once they got to me, one soldier walked up behind me, took my hands and wrists, and put them into those plastic cuffs that cops use to restrain arrestees when they don’t have handcuffs. This same soldier then patted me down, taking out my wallet from my inside jacket pocket as he did so, and then he picked up my backpack and looked inside. “Nothing but some Oreos, a bottle of Evian, and a few changes of clothes in here, sir,” the soldier reported.

“All right, bring her in,” the officer said, and the two soldiers took hold of my cuffed arms and walked me over to the second Humvee, the one without its lights shining. The officer was already on the radio, talking with his headquarters. “Hey, yeah, Captain, sir, we just found this girl walking around in the frontlines,” he said. “I mean, she walked straight into our checkpoint, sir. She claims she’s one of them people with the alien slugs in their heads. Can’t remember what they’re called off the top of my head, but she did tell us she had a worm in her head.”

“Get in,” the Guardsman escorting me said as he led me to the rear door of the second Humvee. He opened the door and helped me get in, as getting into a Humvee with your hands tied behind your back was actually a very difficult thing to do. “Watch your head, don’t bump it,” the Guardsman told me as put a hand on my head and made me bend down a little bit. It gave me the distinct impression of being arrested.

Oh, Jen, you’re just exaggerating things, Yemra told me in an attempt to keep the mood light. The National Guard doesn’t have the authority to arrest people, right?

((Yemra, please, not right now,)) I replied. ((Right now, I need you to shut up and let me see where this is going.))

All right, your call, Yemra said, and she gave me a mental image of two hands being raised to chest level and then backing away.

“Sir, I found a wallet in the subject’s jacket,” I heard the first Guardsman say to the officer. “It’s going to help us identify her, prove that she really is who she says she is.”

“First bit of good news I’ve heard in a very long time,” the officer replied. “All right, Captain, we have a Pennsylvania driver’s license here,” he said to the radio. “According to this, subject’s name is Jennifer Yelena Carson, birth date is November 23, 1990, place of residence West Reading, Pennsylvania. Yes, sir, I know it could be a fake but it looks real to me. Wait, hang on, sir, looks like we’ve got an HYA membership card here as well. Jennifer Yelena Carson… yeah, the name matches the one on the driver’s license. And the Yeerk’s name is… Yem… how do you say this? Yem-o-ra? Yem-e-ra? Yemra Six-Four-Zero of the… Sick Dante Pool? Zek Danet Pool, sir.”

((Why do you have to keep reading my full name, man?)) I wanted to ask the National Guard officer. Anyone and everyone who knows me knows that I hate my middle name Yelena. I can’t even type it out without feeling a little bit sick or disgusted. I mean, why would my parents think that that’s a good name to give to me? Do we have, like, some kind of Russian heritage or something? Neither Mom nor Dad have really given me a good answer to that particular question though, so I guess I’m stuck with it for the rest of my life. Still, it’s nothing compared to (blech) Jenny. Now that nickname, I really can’t stand.

At least he didn’t butcher your name in any way, shape, or form, Yemra replied. I mean, how do you get Yemora or Yemera from Yemra? How hard can it be to say Yem- and then -ra?

((Holy shit, I just realized this now. Yemora sounds like Gamora. I don’t know how that’s connected to anything happening to us right now, but I just realized that right fucking now.))

Your mind is always full of surprises, Jennifer Carson, Yemra muttered sarcastically.

“Hey, you there!” the officer called out to me. “Yeah, you! Come out here and let me see your eyes again!”

“Why would you want to see my eyes for?” I asked back, but nevertheless I made to comply with his order. I slid my butt out of the Humvee’s rear seat and walked over to where the National Guard lieutenant was standing.

“Captain told me to look at your eyes and see what color they are, that’s why,” the lieutenant replied. “Now hold still while I take a look.” He then removed the flashlight attached to his rifle and shone it into my eyes.

What in the name of the Kandrona is going on here, Jen? Yemra asked. What in the world is the meaning of this? What exactly are they doing to us? Why are they doing this to us? Is this some sort of ritual or test? To prove that you are who you say you are?

((I have no idea what they’re doing, Yems,)) I replied mentally as I fought the urge to blink because of the light in my eyes. ((But if they’re trying to really identify me, there’s easier ways to do it than looking at my eye color. I mean, they’ve already got my license and my Pool card, for God’s sake!))

The lieutenant seemed satisfied with what he had seen, and he walked back to the radio in his Humvee to report. “She’s got one blue eye and one gray eye, sir,” he said. “The blue eye is to the left and the gray eye to the right. Her left, sir, meaning my right and your right.”

“How about a scar on the back of her neck?” the voice at the other end of the radio asked. “You see a scar on her neck?” The voice sounded a little familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on where I had heard it before just yet.

“Standby, sir,” the LT said, and he walked back to me and ordered me to turn around. I felt him sweep back the hair on the back of my head and my neck, and then I felt a gloved finger running over the small scar at the base of my skull, at the fleshy part where the head meets the neck. Like I said, it was a small scar, only about as long as my fingernail and well hidden by my hair, but it was still there if you knew to look for it. It was a souvenir of the accident at the river where I had slipped on some rocks and banged up my head on the very same day that Yemra Six-Four-Zero crawled into my head and forever denied me the privacy of my own mind.

“Yeah, subject’s got a scar there, all right,” the lieutenant reported over the radio once he was done examining my scar. “Right on the base of her skull like, sir. It’s hidden by her hair but I still managed to see it.”

There was silence at the other end of the radio for what felt like an eternity. For a very brief moment, I thought about the possibility that the National Guard’s headquarters in the city (wherever it may be) had been attacked and destroyed by the Nothlit State’s Dracon artillery, but then again there was none of that distinctive ground booms that I had come to associate with the damned things, and in any case I was proven wrong by the reply that eventually came over the waves. “Then what in the world are you dolts still standing around there for? Bring her right to the field HQ ASAP! Some people here need to talk to that girl immediately!”

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Yemra asked me. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, Jen. Help me out here, man!

((Hey, man, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for me too,)) I replied. ((At the very least, we’re finally getting out of this hellhole of a situation, right?))

“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant said on the radio. Then to the other Guardsmen, he ordered, “Jenkins, Robson, take the Humvee and get this girl to HQ ASAP. Captain says some people there wanna talk to her.”

“Yes, sir.” Two Guardsmen saluted the officer, and one of them grabbed me by my cuffed wrists and dragged me back into the same Humvee where they had stashed me before their lieutenant had ordered me out to look at my eyes and my scar. This time though, they put me in the shotgun seat. “What the hell is going on?” I asked them. “Where are you taking me? Why are you doing this to me?”

“Just shut up and let us do our thing, worm,” the Guardsman now at the Humvee’s driver’s seat replied to me while the other Guardsman tossed my backpack right onto my lap, and then he hopped into the rear seat. The driver started up the engine, turned the Humvee to the left, and then he drove away from the checkpoint. As we drove past the dark and abandoned streets of the city, Yemra couldn’t stop speculating as to why the National Guard would want the both of us taken back to their headquarters. What are they going to do to us? she asked me. They’re not going to kill us, dump our bodies on the side of the road, and then claim that the Nothlit State got to us first, are they?

((Stay calm, Yems,)) I replied. ((Calm the fuck down. Now is not the time for you to be paranoid. And is that really what you think of America’s soldiers? Our very own boys in green and camo? They’re not some secret police force thing who make undesirables disappear on a whim. They are Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and they were ordered to take the two of us to their HQ, and right now that’s what they’re doing.))

I’m glad that you think so highly of them, Jennifer. It saves me the trouble and effort of doing it myself.

The drive went on for a few more minutes until we passed by more Humvees parked on the sides of the road to create more checkpoints. And then beyond those checkpoints appeared a basic but substantial camp that had been erected on the parking lot of the city’s baseball stadium. The Humvee drove through the checkpoints without stopping until it finally skid to a halt in some sort of large space between some tents in the camp. A large flagpole had been erected in the middle of this large space, and the old Stars and Stripes flapped in the soft night breeze.

The Humvee stopped in front of a large tent where I could see soldiers and officers conversing or planning or whatever soldiers and officers did at camp, and then one of them noticed the Humvee in the middle of the camp. This same officer walked out of the tent and approached the Humvee. “All right, let’s see who this Controller girl is,” he said.

“What in the hell are you doing to my niece!?” a loud and familiar voice suddenly shouted from inside the tent. And just like that, Uncle Earl, aka Captain Earl Rivers of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, burst out of the tent and confronted the other officer. “Why the hell did you order your men to put my niece in cuffs?” Earl asked the other officer. “Someone cut her loose immediately or else there will be hell to pay from me! She ain’t no danger to any of us! Someone’s ass will definitely get kicked!”

Never have I been so happy to see such a familiar face. Sure, it might not be the handsomest of faces, or actually even the face whom I wanted to see right now, but it was a familiar face nonetheless, and boy was I glad to see my uncle once again. Some semblance of normality was finally returning to my life.

As soon as the Guardsmen had cut away the plastic ties around my wrists, I immediately ran over to Uncle Earl and embraced him as tightly as I could. It must have been a strange sight for the Guardsmen to see, a grown woman in her twenties hugging and practically clinging on like a scared toddler to a man who was easily at least twice or even three times her age. I don’t know if the others knew that I was Uncle Earl’s niece (he did shout it out loud at least twice in the span of a few minutes when he was ordering them to cut me loose) so I could only hope that they didn’t think that this was weird in some sort of way, any sort of way. I wouldn’t say that Earl Rivers was my absolute favorite uncle in the world, but we shared some of the same interests like cars, guns, military memorabilia, and old coins, and that had to count for something, right?

“Oh, I’m just so glad to see you, Uncle,” I said as I struggled to keep back the tears threatening to fall from my eyes once again. “I’m just so happy that I’m back here!”

“Easy there, Jen, take it easy,” Earl told me as he patted my back affectionately. “Calm down, lass. You’re safe now.”

“I know that, Uncle,” I said in a shaky voice. “It’s just that I’ve been through some shit. I’ve seen some shit. I’ve done some shit. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do now!”

“I know what you should do, Jen,” Earl replied. “I need you to calm down and pull yourself together for a little while longer because you’ve got some friends here who have been looking for you, and I expect that they’re gonna wanna know everything that’s happened to you out there. But after that though, you can do exactly whatever the hell you want. Now let go of me and let me take you to where your friends are, all right?”

“Okay,” I nodded as I wiped some snot off of my nose. I then picked up my backpack and held it close to my chest like one of my many stuffed animals as Earl led me deeper into the National Guard’s camp. He finally stopped in front of another tent which looked like a facsimile of the one where Uncle Earl had just come from, and he said, “Well, this is where your alien friends are holed up with us for the time being. I’ll leave y’all to talk about whatever it is you need to talk about.” Uncle Earl then nodded his head and left me standing in front of the tent. I looked around nervously, backpack clutched so tightly in my hands like it was the only life preserver for miles around, and then I took a deep breath to steady myself and ducked into the tent.

Chapter Text

I don’t know what I was expecting to see inside the tent, but I was certain that it was nothing like whatever I had imagined it to be. It was just like the National Guard command tent with a map and markers for the units deployed on the field, except the map was actually a massive table-sized screen and the markers were holographic projections instead of actual plastic thingamabobs. The symbols on the map screen thing were also very much alien to me and nothing like regular or actual map markings, meaning that this table map thingy had to be of either Andalite or, judging by the people around it, Yeerk origin. A short woman and a man who was of normal height but looked much taller in comparison to the woman were standing around the table pointing at places and moving the holographic units around as they talked in a combination of English and Galard. The woman wore a long dress that went down right to her ankles while the man had on a plaid shirt and dad jeans. Both wore bulletproof vests over their civilian clothes. And then right on cue, Ken Fuchs, host of Yibey Nine-One-Five, looked up from the map and saw me. “Jen! Yemra!” he said, the surprise obvious in his voice. “You made it! Both of you!”

“Yeah, I did,” I replied quietly. At that moment I felt like an automaton, a robot moving, working and operating on autopilot. I knew that I should have already felt safe that time but instead all I could feel was a cold numbness that hung over me like a dark and heavy raincloud.

“Are you all right?” Emily (surname redacted by order of the Department of Homeland Security), host of Tarash Five-One-Four, the former Visser Five, asked me. “Did you say anything to the nothlits? Charegh had told me that the nothlits had used the Anti-Morphing Ray on you to make you talk.”

“I’m okay, Visser,” I said. “The nothlits didn’t break me. I didn’t tell them anything. I didn’t know anything about what they wanted to know from me but still, I didn’t tell them anything.”

“Speaking of which, where is Charegh?” Emily, or rather Tarash, asked. ‘Her last communication said that she was coming back with you and another human. Where is she? And where is the other human?”

It was just an innocent, innocuous question. Tarash just wanted to know where her spy in the Nothlit State was. But it was often the simple things that set off all the other bigger things. She had just asked me a question, but just like that, everything that I had gone through in the past few days came rushing back to me. It was like I was being hit by the pain ray once again. I remembered Charegh getting hit in the leg and then deciding to sacrifice herself so that Amanda and I could escape, and then I also remembered in excruciating detail the look on Amanda’s face as that sniper’s bullet went through the car window and her head to claim her life. Tarash couldn’t have known that this was what I had gone through. Neither could Yibey. And neither Emily nor Ken could have known that those few words were going to trigger an outburst of sadness and negativity from me.

“Cherry’s dead!” I suddenly shouted. “Charegh’s dead! Amanda’s dead! They’re all dead! I’m the only one who made it! You have no idea what I saw out there, what I did out there! I listened to someone make a last stand before she got killed where she stood just so I could escape the Pool! I watched someone die right before my eyes, saw the exact moment the light went out from her eyes! So guess what? Maybe I’m not actually okay, Visser! Not even after I killed the bastards who killed Cherry and Amanda! Immib, Wassoub, whoever that third guy was, I killed them all! Immib almost killed me but I killed him in the end too! So I hope that that answers your question, Visser. Yes, three of us got out of the Yeerk Pool, but I was the only one who made it all the way here!

“It’s not fair, I know!” I continued. My mind was now connecting things faster than I could comprehend in my rage, and my motor mouth did the duty of spewing all of those thoughts out. “It’s not fair! But life has never been fair, is it? It’s not fair, it’s never been fair, and it will never be fair!” Hot tears streamed down my cheeks throughout my outburst, and I didn’t make any move to wipe them away because I didn’t want to. I wanted to cry. I needed to cry. And I didn’t care who I was crying in front of or who I was shouting at. I was bawling my eyes out in front of a Visser and a Sub-visser, and I didn’t care. Their ranks didn’t mean anything to me, not in this world that I lived in right now. And I also didn’t care that I had all but chewed out the highest-ranking hosted Yeerk on planet Earth. I was just that mad and frustrated at my situation.

Through my tear-blurred eyes, I saw Yibey nod his head at Tarash, who nodded her head back in silent reply. Tarash/Emily then walked over to me and softly laid her hand on my shoulder. “Just let it all out, Jen,” she said. “Let yourself cry. Don’t stop yourself. Let it all out.”

“You wanna know what really sucks?” I said. “I promised Amanda that I was gonna take her to meet you so you could hook her up with a new Yeerk. She lost her Yeerk when Jake vented the Pool ship, Amanda. And she had been going around the country applying for re-infestation once it was finally legalized but no one would accept her because she had been through rehab and was on meds! She was angry at the Controllers, angry at us, and she joined the Nothlit State because of it! Cherry and I got her to switch sides because she believed me when I told her that I was gonna get a Yeerk back in her head soon, but just as we got out of the community center, she… fucking bites the dust!”

“Oh, Jen, I am so sorry,” Tarash/Emily muttered softly. “That must have been horrible for you to see. And I am also sorry to hear about both Charegh and Amanda. They did not deserve their fates. But the Kandrona will shine upon them forevermore for what they have done.”

“And so it shall,” Yibey continued, completing the Yeerk ritual of offering condolences to the deceased, specifically those who had died in battle. “That name does sound familiar though,” he added. “Amanda. And her story also rings a bell, but I cannot put my finger on it at the moment.”

“I’m not surprised that you don’t remember her, Yibey,” I said. “She tried to approach the Visser herself but Tarash was apparently in Europe at the time promoting the Yeerks there, so she had to deal with you. But she told me that you forgot to mention her to Tarash at all. So what is it, Yibey? Did you really forget about her or did you actually decide not to mention her to the Visser?”

Ken’s eyes widened as both he and Yibey finally remembered why they had recognized Amanda’s name in the first place. He then put a hand over his face as it begun to sink in that, indirectly though it may be, he had played a role in someone’s death. “Oh, by the Kandrona!” he whispered angrily to himself. “There was this woman, Visser. She came here while you were in Europe and asked; no, begged to become a host. She had lost her Yeerk during the Pool ship venting and had wanted to be infested again. But I didn’t think that she would have passed our criteria for consideration because of a prior history of substance abuse and rehab for said abuse.”

“Yibey, you know that the requirements were already being revised even while Emily and I were in Europe,” Tarash told him. “Under the new rules, Amanda would have been considered for infestation. In fact, she would have gotten priority over others because of her prior history. Why didn’t you tell us about her when Emily and I got back?”

“I’m sorry, Visser, I forgot about her, honest,” Yibey replied, seemingly determined to avoid Emily’s gaze. “And maybe I also thought that she wouldn’t have been worth your time,” he admitted.

“This must never happen again, Yibey,” Tarash said. “We must always be there for those who ask for our help. This is how we will convince even more humans that we Yeerks, the ones who are stuck here at least, mean no harm to them.”

“Yes, Visser,” Yibey nodded.

Tarash then turned her attention to me. I wasn’t the shortest girl in the world, let alone the city, and by that point I was already sitting down on a folding steel chair, but Emily was still able to look me in the eye without even bending down a little. “You did good out there, Jen,” she told me. “You did very well to make it back here in one piece. And yes, it would have been better if all of three of you had made it back alive, but Charegh knew the risks. She knew what her mission was, and I had ordered her to save you once she told us that you were with the nothlits. And Amanda… it’s a shame about Amanda. I would have loved to have met her. But you have done everything that you can to survive, Jen, Yemra, and now it’s time for the both of you to rest.”

“No, I can’t!” I said. “I can’t rest! What about them? What about their bodies? Cherry and Amanda deserve a decent burial. They don’t deserve to be left behind like this! Someone has to tell the world about them! They can’t be forgotten! They don’t deserve to be forgotten!”

“And they won’t be,” Tarash assured me. “I just know that you will not let them be forgotten. But my point still stands. You have to rest. Get some sleep. Yibey will take you to your sleeping quarters. And Yemra, if Jen doesn’t want to rest, make her. Do you understand?”

Yemra took control of me and made me look at Tarash and Emily right in the eye. “Yes, Visser, I understand,” she said in my voice.

“Good girl,” Tarash said, patting my shoulder. “Now go get some rest.”

“Yes, Visser,” Yemra repeated.

“Come with me, Jen,” Yibey/Ken said. “I’ll show you your place for the night.”

Yemra gave control back to me, and I stood up from my chair to follow Ken, backpack still clutched tightly in my arms. He led me out of the Yeerks’ command tent and towards a larger and longer tent, inside which we stepped. I saw two long rows of metal frame beds set up on either side of the tent. I noticed at least four humans (three men and one woman) lying on the cots, and one Hork-Bajir (who had to be Shal Guree) who appeared to be sleeping while sitting up straight on his bed. Maybe that was how Hork-Bajir slept. I don’t know; I’m not a Hork. Ken pointed me in the direction of a cot beside a man whom I recognized to be George Islington. “Jen, Yemra, you heard the Visser,” he told me. “Get some sleep, and then tomorrow maybe we can talk about what you saw and heard while you were with the Nothlit State.”

I nodded my head silently, and Ken made sure that I was sitting down on my assigned bed before he walked away. “Good night,” he said softly, and then he went out of the tent. I took a deep breath and finally let go of my backpack, which I had been clutching close to my chest for almost the entirety of my stay at this camp up to this point. I dumped my pack on the side of my bed, and then I bent down and untied my boots and left them on the ground. I hitched up my socks so that they wouldn’t roll down my legs and feet while I slept, and then I laid down on the bed’s thin mattress and settled my head on the pillow. I have to say that this was a very massive upgrade from my sleeping arrangements with the Nothlit State though.

All right, Jen, you heard what Tarash and Yibey told me, Yemra said. We both need to sleep. Now I know a way to make you fall asleep immediately so if you want, you can get into a more comfortable position. Or would you like to go to sleep like this?

((Okay, hang on, just let me get a little bit more comfortable,)) I said, and then I grabbed my backpack and embraced it again before I turned to my side and curled up into a semi-fetal position. ((All right, I’m ready,)) I said. ((Good night, Yems.))

Good night, Jen, Yemra said back, and then I closed my eyes and just like that, I slipped into a dreamless sleep.

A/N: Okay, so this was another short chapter from me, but this time I well and truly intended for this one to be short. You could say that I simply didn’t see the need to extend this chapter further than that point. Anyway, if you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions about my work then feel free to leave a review or a comment. It only takes a few minutes of your time at most and I will appreciate it. Thank you! – GR

Chapter Text

Life at a military camp was actually much better than I thought. Granted, that may have been because I was actually a civilian who happened to be staying at a military camp for a short period of time. But for the short period of time that I was there, the soldiers seemed to be enjoying themselves. Of course, they weren’t really looking forward to having to fight the Nothlit State to retake control of the city but they knew what they had to do, and if they had to pay the ultimate price to win then they would pay it. And the food was actually great, if a bit repetitive. All we ever had to eat were MREs, and you could only do so much to tweak and change things around before the food began feeling like same old, same old. But we couldn’t exactly just walk down the street to the McDonald’s at the corner, could we?

It wasn’t all fun and games though. I spent the vast majority of my time at the camp being debriefed by both Tarash and Yibey. They both wanted to know everything that I had seen and heard during my time with the Nothlit State. They wanted to know who the leaders were aside from both Eldril and Immib. They wanted to know who reported to who, who was on the same level as their peers, how many fighters there were in the Yeerk Pool, and if they were determined to fight to the death. Tarash seemed to be particularly interested in that last bit because, and don’t quote me on this because I only heard about this second-hand, she thought that she could talk the nothlits into laying down their arms. Yibey meanwhile was more interested in the pain and pleasure rays that Immib had used on me. I had no idea why the sub-visser was so interested about the pain and pleasure rays. Maybe he wanted to use them on someone that he didn’t like.

I had always been awed by how well Tarash and Yibey complemented each other. If you only knew of them by reputation then you’d probably scratch your head wondering how and why Tarash became a Visser and Yibey only a sub-visser in the Yeerk Empire. Yibey seemed just like the kind of Yeerk who would make for a great Visser, especially under the invasion-era Empire, while Tarash would have been the sub-visser that could have been promoted if only she had the mettle to make the big decisions. Except in reality it was actually the other way around. Tarash was a shrewd and calculating Yeerk, and knew exactly when to go all in and when to dial it back, and it was actually that which got her noticed by the Yeerk high command and placed on the fast track to her Visser-ship (is that even a real word?) but despite that still lacked that killing edge that truly separated the Vissers from the other Yeerks. Meanwhile Yibey was ruthless to the point of being bloodthirsty, and the other Yeerks must have seen something in him (or not seen something in him) that turned them off of Yibey, and it wasn’t until Yibey was assigned as Tarash’s Vex’not that both of their Imperial careers finally took off.

It was pretty much a match made in heaven, or whatever Yeerks call the good place beyond. Tarash served to temper Yibey’s bloodthirstiness while Yibey gave Tarash that killer touch that she sorely needed to finally rise up the ranks of the Vissers to become Visser Five. Yibey was rewarded himself, becoming Sub-visser Three-hundred-eighteen leading up to the final days of the Yeerk invasion. And as humans and Yeerks began to reconcile under the efforts of both former and current Controllers (and even Cassie the Animorph), Tarash and Yibey began to complement each other as they began to build the Human-Yeerk Alliance. Yibey served as the yang to Tarash’s yin, the tactician to her strategist, the executor to her planner. They had done this same thing before during the Empire days, with Tarash calling the shots and Yibey making sure that things were being done officially as well as doing things himself in an unofficial capacity. One of the other things I’ve heard said to describe the Tarash-Yibey partnership is that Yibey is the warmonger to Tarash’s peacemaker. Don’t know how that really relates to them in the post-invasion world, but certainly they’ve both had lasting influences on each other. Yibey had helped to temper Tarash’s optimism while Tarash had allowed Yibey to see that sometimes there is indeed good in people (and Yeerks). Like I said, a really good and fruitful relationship.

Anyway, when I wasn’t busy being interrogated (or debriefed as they liked to call it) by Tarash and Yibey, I spent my time hanging around the cafeteria, or rather the mess hall. Sometimes Uncle Earl would be there and we would end up talking about all sorts of things from the actual fighting (“I’m sure that I’m not allowed to tell you anything about this, but we’ve finally managed to kick the Ns out of the library on the corner of 183 and Windsor and cut off the Pool from the airport”) to sports (“Don’t let your mother hear me say this, but I don’t think the Steelers are gonna be able to win anything this year”) to even my collection of old coins (“Even if someone tries to loot the house, Uncle, I put the coins and my other valuables in a place where they won’t dare look”). But eventually the topic turned to my capture and subsequent escape from the Nothlit State as well as how both Mom and Dad had had to endure while I was behind enemy lines.

“I mean, I couldn’t exactly lie to your folks about what happened to you, could I?” Uncle Earl told me. “I’ve never been a damned good liar, Jen, and besides, they deserved to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. I didn’t know much about it though, to be honest. All I had to go on were what your friends Crash and Yippee told me, that the last time they saw you, you was hiding behind the ambulance before the smoke and the rockets hit.”

“Oh, I wonder how Mom and Dad took to that,” I said with a roll of my eyes.

“Come on, Jen, what else were you expecting? Of course they both went crazy!” Uncle Earl said in reply. “Your mother, Eve, she was bawling her eyes out, tearing her hair off! ‘What’s happened to my baby girl? You gotta find her, Earl! Promise me that you’re going to find her!’” he said in a shrill imitation of Mom’s trademark panicky voice. “But what really surprised me was how Adam, your father, took it. You know how your dad isn’t really the type to blow up or raise his voice no matter the situation. But the Adam I talked to on the day you disappeared, he was nothing like the man I knew your father to be. I’ve never heard Adam that angry or furious before, swear on my life, and even then he still wasn’t raising his voice at all. He told me pretty much the same thing your mother told me, but I could hear something in his voice that had me convinced that I had to bring you back to them alive and well or else I’m gonna be sorry. I’m telling you, Jen, I’ve never been scared of anything like that before. I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, but nothing that ever happened to me over there gave me the chills quite like that day with your daddy.”

“But you don’t have to worry about Dad killing you anymore,” I said. “Because you found me. And I’m right here, talking to you.”

“I know,” Uncle Earl nodded. “You know, you really should have been over at the Gap by now.” The Gap, known more formally as Fort Indiantown Gap, was this big National Guard base over in Lebanon County where the people who had been evacuated from the city because of the Nothlit State’s occupation and siege were being quartered until the city was finally declared safe and free of all enemies. “You should already be back at the Gap with your folks, Jen,” Uncle Earl repeated. “But your little slippery slimy friends Crash and Yippee insisted—insisted!—on keeping you here for ‘strategic reasons’. And they’ve got Major Kang’s backing to do it. It’s because out of all of us in this place right now, you are the only one to have seen the nothlits’ HQ inside and out. Everyone wants to know what you and your little wormy friend in your head saw over there.”

“But I already told them everything,” I replied. “I told them everything I saw in there, everything I heard. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve told people that that’s all I know. I just don’t know what else they want from me, and neither does Yemra.”

“Well, your friends definitely think you’re still keeping something from them,” my uncle noted. “The way I see it, Jen, you can do one of two things. Either you can finally ‘fess up and tell ‘em what they really want to know, or you finally set the record straight and tell ‘em you don’t know nothin’ no more.”

“Oh, Uncle, believe me, I tried.”

“In that case then it’s definitely a problem on their side now,” Uncle Earl said. “If they don’t believe you now then they definitely won’t believe you when you say it again.”

After that conversation, Uncle Earl and I never talked about the reason why I was still at the camp again. We still talked about some of the more banal things. And both Tarash and Yibey still wanted to talk to me about everything that I had seen inside the Nothlit State HQ, but at least it was finally beginning to feel more like an actual conversation than an interrogation. This was how camp life was for me for the next few days. Life was good here, at least compared to when I was held by the nothlits. I could walk around wherever I wanted (so long as it was inside the camp, of course) and not have to spend all day cooped up inside my tent lying on my cot. Then, one morning, everything changed.

I remember being asleep when it happened. I was sound asleep, not dreaming of anything, when I felt myself being shaken awake. “What the hell is it?” I remember asking.

“Jen, Yemra, you gotta wake up,” someone said. “The Nothlit State is gone. They’ve surrendered!”

“What?” I blubbered. I didn’t bolt straight up on my cot like in the movies, but the strange and improbable combination of words that had entered my ears slithered around in my mind like an infesting Yeerk and piqued my interest all the same.

“The nothlits, they’ve surrendered,” George Islington repeated himself as I rolled over to my back from my side.

“What? What do you mean, they surrendered?”

“They gave up! Waved the white flag. Threw in the towel. Laid down their arms. Gave up the fight,” George said.

“I know what surrendering means, George,” I muttered as I got up to a sitting position to face him. “What I meant to say was, why in the world did the nothlits surrender? I thought they were all about the ‘fighting to the death’ thing. Tarash talked them into surrendering, didn’t she?”

“Well, she wishes that that could have happened,” George—or was it Moxach?—replied. “But apparently they really didn’t want to fight to the death. Not all of them anyway. And your killing of Immib may also have something to do with it. Immib’s the real fanatic, you know? The one who makes sure everyone else is doing what Eldril wants them to do. Eldril’s a pretty great Visser, don’t get me wrong, but as a leader he needs someone like Immib to keep his troops motivated.”

“Oh really? Okay, Immib’s gone, but what about Eldril? Surely he’s got something to say about this surrender.”

“See, that’s the thing. The nothlits claim that Eldril is gone. Nowhere to be found.”

“No way. Really? How? And where the hell did he go?”

“I don’t know. The nothlits didn’t say. And something tells me that they don’t know either. Anyway, time to get up, girls!” George said as he stood up from my bedside. “Rise and shine. Tarash and Yibey want to go to the Yeerk Pool ASAP, and they want the two of you with ‘em. They want to see the cells, they want to see the barracks, and they want to see the Anti-Morphing Ray. Yibey really wants to see the Anti-Morphing Ray. And they were hoping that you could, you know, guide them around the place.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” I asked. “Shouldn’t they both know the Pool like the backs of their hosts’ hands?”

“Yeah, sure, that may be,” George nodded. “But what if the nothlits changed around the Pool’s layout so they could better defend it?”

“That is one big pile of bullshit, Moxach, and you know it,” Yemra said in my voice. “Just let me get my boots on and then I’m going,” I added once Yems had given me back control.

I laced up my boots and followed George/Moxach out of the tent and into the middle of the camp where a line of National Guard vehicles were lined up. “Here, wear this,” he told me as he tossed me a bulletproof vest and a helmet. “National Guard says that the nothlits in the community center have already surrendered but there are still a few holdouts scattered about who might not have heard of the order to surrender or have chosen to ignore it,” George explained. “Oh, and you’re riding with the Visser today.”

“What? Why?” But too late, George and Moxach were already gone, and I had no choice but to put on the vest and helmet. I cinched the vest as tight as I could around my body while still being able to breathe using the Velcro straps on the sides, and then I put the helmet onto my head and clasped together the chin straps. I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve always enjoyed the sensation of putting on a cap or a helmet or any sort of headgear. I just feel safe. Maybe it’s the sensation of the cap or the helmet sitting on top of my skull and brains, protecting it from external threats like the heat of the sun or flying shrapnel. Or maybe it’s because Yemra’s told me that she always feels like she’s in a cocoon of coziness every time I put on a cap. Maybe it’s a bit of both things.

Anyway, I managed to get my helmet on just as the soldier manning the machine gun on the roof of the Humvee thumped his hand on the roof and said to me, “Okay, miss, time to go! We gotta move!” I nodded my head and got inside the Humvee where I saw Emily sitting and apparently waiting for me. Seeing the Visser herself wasn’t a surprise for me—Moxach had just told me that I was riding with her—but seeing her wearing a vest and a helmet over her full-length dress made me think of Emily as a teacher or librarian preparing for the apocalypse and not the leader of the Human-Yeerk Alliance. “Hello there, Visser,” I said.

“Hello, Jen, Yemra,” the Visser replied. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you and woken you up so early but we need your help. I don’t know if Moxach has already told you this but since you are the only person in here to have been in the community center while it was occupied by the Nothlit State, we were hoping that you could help guide us through the place, show us where the nothlits stayed and where they held you captive.”

“Oh,” I said simply. “Um, well, I don’t exactly really know where my cell was right now, but maybe when we get there and I see the tunnels and the rooms I’ll probably remember.”

“Thank you, Jen,” Tarash said. “I know that we have asked a lot from you, and now I have to ask you this one last favor before I can let you return to your family. Is that all right with you?”

“Don’t worry about it, Visser,” I shrugged off. “Taking one for the team, right?”

Chapter Text

The National Guard convoy traversed the streets of the city at a decently moderate pace. A little part of me began imagining that I was traveling through some sort of urban battleground like you would see in Afghanistan or Iraq or, more recently, Syria. In a way, though, I wasn’t that far off from the truth. My city was indeed an urban battleground, or it had been until the National Guard had finally defeated the Nothlit State. The National Guard had won back the city after almost a whole month of battle against the Nothlit State, with the final nail in the coffin of the nothlits being the death of their field commander Immib Two-Seven-One and the mysterious disappearance of their self-declared leader Eldril Eight-One-Two. Well, technically speaking, it was only the main body of Nothlit State fighters concentrated in and around the Yeerk Pool underneath the city which had surrendered to the National Guard. There were still reports of tiny pockets of resistance, usually lone fighters but sometimes pairs and even a fairly decent-sized group once, scattered throughout the city continuing to fight for a group that had already given up the ghost. I could hear other National Guard units reporting making contact with and engaging these pockets of resistance on the radio in the Humvee where I was riding with Tarash and Yibey. Most of these radio contacts were interspersed with short bursts of gunfire from rifles and the occasional machine gun, but other reports coming in only had units telling other units where they were in relation to the city and to each other.

It took me a few moments to realize that the convoy was now passing through the very same route that I had traveled while escaping from the Nothlit State. I recognized the intersection where the National Guard had stopped me because they thought that I was a nothlit myself before they confirmed my identity (with the help of Uncle Earl) and brought me back to their forward base. Remind me to thank your Uncle Earl for saving both of our asses that night, Yemra said to me once I had completed the previous thought. I don’t want to admit it, but I really thought we were going to die that night. First Charegh, then Amanda, then you going Rambo on Immib and his friends, and then I thought we had made it through all that only to get killed by an overenthusiastic private with an itchy trigger finger.

((Oh, God, Yems, here we go again,)) I said, rolling my eyes both physically and mentally. ((How many times have I told you, sometimes you just gotta trust some people.))

Yes, well, I have been on the receiving end of some angry soldiers before, Yemra said with a tone that hinted that as far as she was concerned, that was the end of this particular conversation for her. Then I remembered that there was still a lot of Yemra’s life that I didn’t know about. She had promised me many times that one time, she was going to tell me everything, but that “one time” still hasn’t come yet.

We then passed by the street where I had killed Immib. Where we had killed Immib. Yes, the decision to shoot at Immib and his two friends or bodyguards or whatever they really were was mine and mine alone, but when it was all between Immib and me in the final fight, it was Yemra who helped me get the gun in the former Visser’s holster and shoot him before he strangled me. ((Thank you,)) I told Yemra. ((For helping me out there.))

Yeah, well, it’s not like you’re the only one he’s going to kill if he did choke you to death, my Yeerk replied with tired sarcasm. If you die, I die. And not just in some mystical, magical, “our souls are connected and intertwined with each other” way. It’s biological. I’ll starve if I’m stuck inside your dead body, and that’s if Immib didn’t blow out your brains just to make sure.

((Yeah, Yems, like I said, I’m really glad for the help,)) I repeated, sensing that my Yeerk was about to go off the rails about Immib once again. She takes this nearly getting killed stuff very seriously.

I looked at the street where I had fought Immib, stared at the brick wall that had served as my protection during our little gunfight, and then I noticed some patches on the asphalt that looked like they could very well have been where Immib and his friends had fallen. I even saw, or thought I saw, what I thought were drag marks through one of the patches. ((So maybe one of Immib’s goons might have made it through all that, after all,)) I mused.

To be fair, you were just spraying and praying after you nailed the first guy.

((Not Immib though,)) I continued. ((He’s dead as a dodo. I made sure of that. We made sure of that.))

The convoy turned a corner and I saw that we were now on the road leading directly to the community center. It was here where the scars of war on this city were most visible for everyone to see. I could make out bullet holes on the sides of buildings and scorch marks where grenades and other explosives had landed and blown up, sometimes finding their targets and sometimes not. We passed by what appeared to be a hastily constructed defensive position on one intersection. There were a number of soldiers standing around the defensive position, rifles on their backs and surgical masks on their faces. Two soldiers were loading something that looked like body bags into the back of a truck, and said truck appeared to be already half full of said body bags.

As our Humvee passed by the position, I managed to see two more soldiers carrying the body of a woman and putting it into a body bag. Both of her legs below the knees appeared to have been torn off suddenly and violently. Blood both bright and dark red caked the parts of her jeans nearest the stumps. ((Oh, my God,)) I muttered. ((That’s a bad way to go.))

That must have been a very horrible last few minutes for her, Yemra agreed. She then uttered a Yeerkish prayer for the peaceful passage of the woman nothlit’s soul to the Yeerk afterlife. I also prayed for her in my own way.

The convoy rounded yet another corner and I now saw the community center itself up ahead. Memories of the last few times that I had been there or near it played back in my head, from the time that I had to save Tarash from that nothlit gunman-slash-assassin to the time I was held captive by the Nothlit State to that ill-fated escape which saw both my saviors get killed. I didn’t let myself linger on the memories. If I did, I knew that I would start crying again and no one, not even Yemra, would be able to stop me for a whole hour. It was better not to dwell on things like that anyway.

That’s a wise choice, Jen, Yemra agreed with me.

The convoy suddenly came to a screeching halt. My first thought was that we had been attacked by one of those pockets of resistance that the radio keeps talking about, and then I was forced to reconsider that when I didn’t hear so much as a single gunshot. No gunshots from the convoy or from any of the buildings surrounding us. It was then that I began to look around more closely and saw that we were already in front of the community center. We were parked right in the middle of the main parking lot to be specific. “All right, everyone, it’s time to go,” the driver of our Humvee said once he had turned around to face us. Ken Fuchs turned around to look at Emily, and Emily turned to look at me and nodded. I took that as the signal to get out of the Humvee. As soon as all three of us were out of the Humvee, a protective diamond of National Guard soldiers had formed around us. “Looks like we’re walking the rest of the way,” Ken said with a smile.

Our little group began walking across the parking lot, and ahead of us a small and steady stream of nothlits were walking slowly out of the community center, hands raised to their heads in the universal gesture of surrender. Okay, maybe it was not actually universal as in every single species in the universe knew, recognized, and used the gesture. But according to Yemra, Hork-Bajir, Skrit Na, and Ongachics raise their arms when signifying that they no longer want to fight, and the Andalites are also familiar with similar gestures even before they became a space-faring species. Anyway, these nothlits were being made to walk out to the parking lot, where they were told to lie down on their stomachs and wait. More National Guard soldiers walked up and down the lines of the surrendered, making sure nobody was making any funny moves. Another group of soldiers went out of the community center carrying bundles of weapons like assault rifles, submachine guns, and even the odd machine gun and sniper rifle. They laid these guns down side by side on the other side of the lot, sorted out by type.

We then passed by a painfully familiar silver car abandoned in the middle of the parking lot. The sound of the shattering glass once again echoed in my mind with sickening freshness, and I gritted my teeth and balled up my fists to keep myself from crying out. Two soldiers wearing surgical masks had just finished zipping up a body bag beside the car when we walked by, and I had to close my eyes as we passed them. I knew who exactly it was that they had just put in the bag.

Kandrona, that was such a waste, Yemra muttered, mentally shaking her metaphorical head. Amanda deserved better than this.

((I know, Yems,)) I said back, not really willing to dwell on that particular matter right now.

As we got closer to the community center, Ken Fuchs/Yibey Nine-One-Five turned to face me and said, “All right, Jen, Yemra, I think both of you know why the Visser and I have asked the both of you to come here. We need your help to guide us through the Nothlit State’s headquarters and take us through all of the important places like the cells, the barracks, and the room where they had their Anti-Morphing Ray. Now we know that the both of you have had… a not really pleasant time in this place, and the less said about the AMR the better, but we need to find that AMR in order to learn how and where the nothlits could have gotten it. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want, though. Just say the word and we’re going back to the FOB.”

I mean, he’s right, Jen, Yemra said. You really don’t have to do this now. You can do this another time and it would be perfectly all right.

“No, I want to do this,” I replied, both to Ken/Yibey and to Yemra. “I wanna get this over with. Let’s do this.”

“All right then,” Yibey said once he had exchanged a meaningful look with Tarash. “Lead the way.”

We moved ever closer to the community center, which now looked both familiar and alien to me. Maybe it was because of all the National Guard soldiers milling about both outside and inside. Or maybe because I was now able to take the time to look around and see the sights, so to speak, instead of just running for the nearest exit. Whatever it was though, I knew that I would never be able to look at the community center and the Yeerk Pool underneath it the same way ever again.

We went inside the community center, stepping over broken glass, debris, and spent bullet casings. I walked past the shops lining the main hall and headed for the emergency exit tucked in between two shops. There were two National Guardsmen standing on either side of the exit, and they immediately stepped closer to each other to block off access. Ken raised his hand at them and said, “We’re with the Human-Yeerk Alliance. We’re here to inspect the Pool tunnels for damages and modifications by the nothlits. Major Kang has already approved this.”

The two Guardsmen looked at each other. One nodded, and the other shrugged, and then they both stepped away from the emergency exit to let us through. I took a deep breath to brace myself for what was about to come, and then I descended down the stairs and into the Yeerk Pool tunnels. It wasn’t like the tunnels that you may have heard or read about, the tunnels behind the McDonald’s counters and the Gap changing rooms; this tunnel was connected to the community center’s emergency exit and was itself an emergency exit for the Pool.

The three of us went down the emergency stairwell and through the doors leading to the Yeerk tunnels. As I set foot in the tunnel I remembered the last time that I had been here, evading the pursuing nothlits with Cherry and Amanda. I saw a bloodstained spot on the concrete floor where Cherry had decided to make her last stand in order to give me and Amanda a better chance of getting out of here alive. More bloodstains and spatters in and around the area made the morbid part of me wonder how many nothlits Cherry was able to take down before she bit the dust herself, and also if the nothlits eventually dragged her away or just left her to rot where she lay. Ah, the human mind is truly a strange and wonderful thing, Yemra mused.

((Well, Yems, if I took this way too seriously, I wouldn’t even be able to do this in the first place,)) I muttered. It was true, though. The world was such a dark and dangerous place that if I didn’t just sit back and accept that sometimes shit happens, I knew that I was going to go crazy. Crazier than me letting an alien worm living inside my head anyway.

Originally I had thought that I wouldn’t be able to lead Tarash and Yibey around the tunnels when I went back in, but as soon as I stepped foot in the tunnels I felt like I knew the whole place like the back of my hand. I couldn’t explain it back then and I can’t explain it right now. I just knew where to go. Maybe I had been subconsciously memorizing the layout of the place for reasons, or maybe it was Yemra doing the memorizing. I don’t really know.

I took Tarash and Yibey down the warren of tunnels, remembering every single turn that I had taken during my escape. And then I walked past a number of rooms that appeared to have been carved right out of the living rock, and then I stopped. “Here, right here,” I told the former Visser and Sub-visser. “These are the cells,” I explained.

“Interesting,” Yibey/Ken said. “These were definitely not here the last time we were here. The nothlits must have had access to construction-grade Dracon beams to get these cells carved out of the bedrock in just a few days. Weapons-grade Dracons can’t get nearly a tenth of the penetration that construction Dracons have, and Dracon artillery would have caused a cave-in. Snam, it would have collapsed the entire Pool system if they tried to shoot an artillery-grade Dracon into the rock.”

“And the cells themselves look like they’ve been built for long-term containment,” Tarash/Emily added. “They were planning on staying here for a long time. And with the number of cells in here… They were planning to keep a lot of prisoners as well.”

“But why would they want to do that?” Yibey asked. “If they were planning on bringing in their own Yeerks, why have cells for prisoners that they might capture? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just infest their captives and turn them to their side immediately?”

“I agree; none of this makes much sense,” Tarash nodded. She and Yibey then began talking about other things related to the nothlit uprising, things that I can’t really talk about because of national security and other such stuff. They walked around the cells, stepping inside and looking at the amenities (if they could even be called that) that the nothlits had laid out for their captives. They examined the Gleet BioFilters lining the edges of the cells and talked about how they were apparently more advanced than the invasion-era models that they had last seen back in the day. Finally, they walked out of the cells, and Yibey said to me, “I think we’d all like to see that Anti-Morphing Ray now, Jen.”

“Yeah, sure. Of course,” I nodded. I then walked past the both of them and went back down the way that we had come. This time I fully remembered where I needed to go. I remember every single moment that those nothlits dragged me out of my cell and into that little room, their little torture chamber. I remember every single fucking detail, every turn, every corner, even the individual grains of rock in the tunnel walls. I remembered them all.

In just a few moments I had arrived at the “torture room”, as I had come to call it. The Anti-Morphing Ray was still there, standing right in front of the lone chair in the room. Once again I had flashbacks to the last time I was here, all of the memories (both the painful and the pleasurable) that that infernal thing had brought right back up to the forefront of my consciousness and forced me to live through again. I didn’t know why either Tarash or Yibey would be interested in the AMR but I did know one thing for certain: I didn’t want to experience the effects of the AMR ever again. I wouldn’t even wish it on my enemies. Well, maybe some of them probably deserve a little zap or so. You know who you are.

The weight of my past experiences with this room and the AMR within eventually got the better of me, and I excused myself out of it while Yibey and Tarash continued to examine the ray projector. I went down the tunnels and found myself in a large cavern filled with tables and medical stretchers. There were a number of people, or should I say nothlits, lying on the stretchers, and there were also a few National Guard soldiers standing watch. I realized then that this was the nothlits’ infirmary. It couldn’t have been anything else. Where else would the nothlits put their wounded?

I passed by a row of tables with bodies covered in sheets, for humans the universal sign that the people underneath said sheets were recently deceased. “Recently” being a relative term as always, but consensus puts one week ago as the furthest date that could be considered “recently”. Despite all that though, there was only the slightest hint and whiff of rotting flesh and expelled excreta coming from the bodies, probably because the whole thing was deep underground and thereby slowing down the decomposition process. But why were there still bodies down here? Surely the nothlits could have just vaporized them with Dracon beams if they wanted to dispose of them. Were they trying to keep a record of every single nothlit killed in the fight against the humans? What was it?

Don’t ask me, Yemra muttered. I know nothing about how the nothlits think.

We passed by a body on a table that, unlike many of the other bodies on that row, was not yet covered with a cloth. Maybe he had died right around the time that the Nothlit State had finally surrendered to the National Guard. The body seemed oddly familiar, mostly through the clothes he was wearing. Some kind of plastic tubing was sticking out of his chest. Then I realized why this man had seemed so familiar to me: he was one of the two nothlits with Immib that I had shot during that fateful battle in the streets. The sniper, to be exact.

So the nothlits did manage to drag him all the way back here, Yemra said.

((Didn’t do him a lot of good though,)) I replied. ((I mean, he still died.)) I then remembered my experience with the Yeerk healing device and Yemra’s warnings about aggressive cell regeneration, and I wondered if this guy had fallen victim to it. No, I don’t think so, Yemra replied to my unspoken question. You know what someone with aggressive cell regeneration looks like. He doesn’t look like that’s how he bought the farm.

((Still, you’d think that the Yeerks would know how to deal with a sucking chest wound like this,)) I said.

Maybe their shipment of healing devices hasn’t arrived yet.

“Miss, excuse us, we’re coming through,” someone said from behind us. I turned around and saw a line of soldiers wearing masks and gloves standing behind me, and I stepped to the side and into a gap between the tables to let them through. The soldiers walked past, carrying more bodies upside for collection and burial. Some of the bodies were already in body bags or covered in sheets, but there were some that like my late sniper friend beside me weren’t covered by anything at all.

I happened to glance at one of the bodies when I noticed a flash of eerily familiar platinum blonde hair. And when I looked closer at the body, my suspicions were confirmed. It was none other than the late Charegh Zero-Zero-Two, aka Cherry Greer. Her face had turned as white as her hair; the only color that I could see there was the dried blood on the corners of her mouth. Her face was peaceful and serene in death, but her body was a whole ‘nother story. I got only as far as seeing a bunch of ragged holes on her chest before I had to turn away to catch my breath. I gotta get out of here, I thought to myself.

I barged my way past the line of soldiers carrying bodies from the nothlit infirmary back upside without even bothering to say “excuse me”. Normally I’m a polite person, but the situation just demanded that I get out of there as soon as I could. I rushed through the tunnels to get away from the dead bodies as fast as possible, and then I ran out of the community center. I didn’t stop until I got to a wall to the left of the center, and then I leaned back on it to catch my breath. I ripped off my bulletproof vest and took off my helmet, and I tossed both away as I began to hyperventilate, but I managed to stop myself in the nick of time before I made things worse for myself.

“Oh, God,” I muttered. “Oh, God, why? Why does this keep happening to me?” I said as tears began to fall from my eyes once again. I sat there on the pavement like that, lightly rocking back and forth on my haunches as I tried to understand whatever it was that was happening to me. I just couldn’t get my mind around it. Was I being taught some kind of life lesson? If I was then I don’t think I’m getting it.

((Hey, Yems,)) I called out. Yeah? she responded.

((You’ve been through this before, right? Combat? Seeing your friends, Yeerks you know getting killed? Tell me, honestly. Does it get any easier?))

If Yemra had lungs, she would have taken a deep breath. You would think that it gets easier, she finally said. But it never really does. You’ll always remember the ones you lost. They might not be in your thoughts all the time, but the simple fact of the matter is that you will never forget anyone. That’s all that I can tell you from my experience.

((Thanks for the chat, Yems,)) I said with a weak smile. ((It’s not the best speech by a country mile, but thank you nonetheless.))

That’s what friends are for, right? Yemra asked, giving me a mental smile of her own. And she was right about that.

Chapter Text

Tarash and Yibey finally let me go to Fort Indiantown Gap a day after we went into the Pool tunnels to check out the modifications that the nothlits had done to it. The two of them stayed behind in the temporary National Guard FOB in the local ballpark to… I don’t know, to be honest. Probably sort out some more stuff between the Peace Movement and the National Guard. Don’t ask me; I’m not the expert. But me and the rest of “Yibey’s Army” was brought back to the Gap in a truck, with Uncle Earl volunteering to lead the squad taking us back.

I sat at the end of the truck, staring silently outside as we drove down empty country roads and passed by the occasional Army checkpoint. My arms were once again wrapped around my backpack like it was the life preserver keeping me from drowning in the maelstrom of my thoughts. Yemra was, of course, right in the middle of all this seeing as she was connected to every single neuron in my brain and therefore able to see every single thought passing through my head. Usually she would have a comment or a wisecrack ready for every other thing she would see me thinking about, but right now she kept quiet. Yemra knew not to say anything to me while I was in this deep contemplative mood. Besides, it allowed her to enjoy the sights while I stewed in my own thoughts.

We eventually arrived at Fort Indiantown Gap after fifty minutes, maybe an hour. It was totally and completely nothing like anything that I had seen before. I don’t know what I was expecting though, really. I mean, when you say “fort”, the mind conjures up images of these great big stone things meant to keep invaders and angry natives out of your hard-fought castles and colonies. Fort Indiantown Gap was nothing like that at all. In fact, it looked much more like a golf course than any sort of military installation. If I remember correctly, tanks used to train here by fighting in mock battles, and in the 80s, the government used FITG to house hundreds of Cuban refugees who had sailed or even swum their way from their country to Florida until they could all be processed. Now the Gap was once again being used to house refugees, except this time they came from much, much closer to home.

The National Guard had erected a lot of the same barracks-like tents that they had used in their ballpark FOB to house the thousands of people who had been displaced from the city by the Nothlit State. After we got off the truck, Uncle Earl went with me and took me to where my parents had been assigned. “At least they should still be there,” he said as we walked past rows upon rows of tents. “Unless they’ve been relocated by the camp commander so he can stage out more troops.”

We passed by dozens upon dozens of tents which all looked the same that had been erected on a low grassy hill. People were coming and going from the tents, and it was difficult to make out familiar faces, if there were any. Campfires burned all around, and the snatches of conversation that I managed to overhear ranged from missing home and hoping that we could all come back soon to people saying that they would personally kick the nothlits out of the city even though the Nothlit State had already surrendered a few days ago, but these people didn’t know that yet. The mood in the fort wasn’t the happiest, obviously, but then again it wasn’t all doom and gloom either. Like I said, the word of the nothlits’ surrender most probably hadn’t gotten through to the people yet, but I was pretty sure that it only had to be a matter of time.

“Yup, I think that’s it,” Uncle Earl said, pointing at a row of tents which looked like just about every other row of tents in the fort. Like there was literally nothing that could differentiate it from all other rows of tents in the Gap, and yet Uncle Early looked sure that he had found the right place. And as we got closer, I finally saw them, my parents. God, I’ve never been so happy to see Mom and Dad before. Maybe that time that I finally graduated from college, but really, nothing comes close to this. I’m just so glad to see them again. I am so close to finally being home.

My parents looked up and saw me at right around the same time that I saw them. Mom and Dad stood up and watched as Uncle Earl walked me towards them. I couldn’t even wait that long. I ran for my folks like a kid running up to their mommy and daddy after their first day in kindergarten. I was crying even before I had even reached them. I hugged both Mom and Dad at the same time, and God knows that I didn’t want to let go of them. “Oh, God, thank you so much! Thank you so much for bringing her back. And thank you, Earl,” Mom said through her own tears.

“Just looking out for family, that’s all,” Earl nodded.

I had no words. I literally just have no words at all. I was just so happy to be with my parents again, and to be around normal regular people. Not that I would ever be part of the regular boring people unless I did the unthinkable and gave up Yemra, but then again I never really wanted to be regular and boring anyway. I just wanted to be around normal and boring people again.

And let’s face it, Jen, Yemra said when I happened to tell her about this particular observation one day. You would never be able to live normally without me, by choice or not.

((True that, true that,)) I nodded mentally, and Yemra flashed me a mental smile of her own.

Speaking of living normal lives, when are we going to go back? Yemra asked me, and from her tone I now knew that this was a serious conversation. If the nothlits had already surrendered then why are we still here? I’ve been looking forward getting back to your room and sleeping in your bed ever since we found out about the surrender.

((Yemra, how many times do I have to tell you? It’s our room and our bed.))

So you keep telling me, Comrade Carson.

((Anyway, I don’t know why they still haven’t let us back,)) I answered seriously. ((Maybe there are still some nothlits out there who don’t know about the surrender or refuse to surrender altogether. We don’t know where they are; we don’t know where they’ve gone, so maybe the National Guard and the cops are just checking every nook and cranny in the place to make sure that they’re all gone before they let us back.))

Okay, I get that, Yemra said. It just feels so, I don’t know… argh! We’re so close yet so far! It’s like we’re downloading this huge file and we’re already at 95 percent, and then suddenly the Wi-Fi cuts out! It’s just so frustrating! I hate waiting for this!

((We’re in the same boat, girl; don’t worry,)) I reassured my Yeerk, giving her my own mental smile.

Finally, after five days in the Gap, the announcement that we were all waiting for came: the city was now free of all enemy combatants. We were all free to go back to our homes. Of course, there were caveats: people who lived in the city center (an area defined as being to the west of Route 222 and north of Spring Street) still had to stay behind at the Gap while their homes and businesses were being fixed of the damage that had been incurred during the fighting. But the farther away from the city center you lived, the bigger chance you had of being able to go back home. And for the Carsons, who lived in the literal suburbs, we were free to go back home ASAP.

I remember crying with joy as Dad pulled the SUV into the driveway of our garage. I’ve never been so happy to see the house again. It was just your average suburban cookie cutter bungalow and looked identical to every other house on the street (except for the roof, which had been repainted green because Dad somehow wrecked the gutters cleaning out three years’ worth of autumn leaf litter), but damn it, it was my home, and that’s what matters.

I immediately headed for my room as soon as Dad had unlocked the main door. Everything looked untouched ever since that day that I left with Yibey to take part in his “guerrilla army” against the Nothlit State. I dropped my backpack on the floor and plopped down onto my bed, coughing and sneezing at the dust that I had stirred up from my plopping.

Hey, Jen, remember that 95 percent download we were talking about before? Yemra asked suddenly.

((What was that again?)) I asked back.

That big file download? The one where the Wi-Fi suddenly cut out? Well, the Wi-Fi just went back up, and the download’s complete, Yems explained.

((Oh, yeah. That. Yeah, I guess you’re right, Yems. It’s finally done. We’re finally home,)) I acknowledged.

After wallowing a little bit in my dusty and musty bedroom, I went back to the house to help Mom and Dad make sure that our valuables were still where we had left them. My old coin collection was still underneath my feminine care products and other such unmentionables, and Mom and Dad’s valuables were still right where they had left them. Oh, you thought I was going to tell you where we kept our valuables? Well, tough luck. You won’t get a single word out of me. We then cleaned up the house as much as we could, wiping off the dust that had settled over everything inside and turning it back into a place where a family of three could live. You have no idea how even just a light layer of dust could turn a house into an asthmatic’s nightmare.

You could say that we were lucky. We lived in the suburbs, quite a ways away from the city center and the airport where much of the fighting between the National Guard and the nothlits had taken place, so everything stayed very much the same during our time away. And we the Carsons were also one of the first ones allowed back into the city, and we were the first family on our street to be allowed back. Our neighbors did start slowly trickling back over the next few days, usually in ones and twos but there were days where three families would move back in on the same day. Yeah, what’s up with that? Yemra asked as we watched the Tates, the Obafemis, and the Bergmanns all pull into their respective driveways three days after we came back. Can someone please explain to me why this is happening because I have no idea why this is happening?

((Hey, man, I’m in the same boat as you are,)) I replied. ((I’m just like Jon Snow: I know nothing.)) Not that I can claim to be following Game of Thrones as religiously as some of my friends. ((Maybe it has something to do with traffic and not trying to congest the interstates with all these refugees—excuse me, internally displaced people—coming back to their homes.))

Maybe, maybe, Yemra nodded mentally. Oh, and another thing: how are we doing on those Kandrona rays? I know, I don’t need them as much as my brother and sister Yeerks, but I still need them all the same. Good thing Yibey gave us that portable generator, but I’m craving for some time in the Pool to soak up. Is there any chance we’ll be able to get back to the Pool anytime soon?

((Yeah, Yems, about that,)) I said. ((I don’t think we’re coming back to that Pool ever again. I heard Tarash and Yibey talking about relocating the Kandrona generator someplace else because rebuilding the city center is obviously going to take some time, and your brother and sister Yeerks won’t be able to go without Kandrona rays as long as you can.))

Well, taraka. Hopefully they relocate somewhere where there’s an easy commute.

((True that,)) I nodded.

I also made contact with my friends as soon as cell coverage and Internet services were restored to the city. Most of the girls, like Julia, Sonia, and Haley were all back in their old places, but Carina and her family were still unfortunately stuck at the Gap because their house and restaurant were inside the “red zone”, the place in the city marked as unsafe by the cops and National Guard. After all that time I spent alone in Nothlit State captivity with only my Yeerk for company, it was nice to be able to talk to my friends once again and shoot the breeze with them. I hadn’t been able to get in touch with any of them back at the Gap because I had both completely forgotten about them, and even if I did try to look for them there, I would probably get lost in all those similar-looking tents.

“The feds still haven’t let Carina and her folks back, have you heard?” Jules asked me a week after we’d been allowed to go back.

“Yeah, she sounds absolutely bummed about it all,” I replied as I sat down on one of the chairs on our front porch. I held a can of Coke in my right hand, and the pocket-sized Kandrona generator and a glass containing Yemra in some water in my left. My cellphone was tucked between my ear and my shoulder. Mom and Dad were away at the bank dealing with some issues about some unpaid dues or some such stuff, so I was stuck with the duty of watching the house and making sure nothing bad happened, either to the house or to me. “I mean, her Twitter has been a running commentary of everything her folks have been doing to let them back to their place. You would think that looters are running rampant all over the place with how desperate they want to get back. And let me guess,” I continued as I sipped on my Coke, “Carina’s calling out a certain someone for not letting them bunk with her, isn’t she?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Jules replied, and I could imagine her rolling her eyes as she spoke. “Basically the gist of it is that the rich bitch has more than enough room for all of us to stay in there while Mr. and Mrs. Russolini talked with the city to let them back to their place.”

“Yeah, Haley would’ve ridden everything out in luxury if only her house wasn’t inside the city limits, right?” I muttered. “Has she said anything about Carina calling her out?”

“Not really. What did you expect?” Jules asked. “Besides, you know Haley’s got no filter on her mouth. She says what she thinks. And it’s probably for the best she’s keeping quiet; otherwise she and Carina probably wouldn’t be friends anymore. In any case, how did we end up being friends with Haley again?”

“I don’t know. Soccer, probably,” I said jokingly. “But in all seriousness, I’m pretty sure I’m the reason why we’re all friends,” I added. “I was the first person Haley met at school when she and her folks had moved here. I told her how to get to her classroom, which turned out to be our classroom as well, and I guess that’s how we all met each other.”

“Dude, seriously?” Jules asked. “Haley’s first day? You’re the first person she met? Wait a minute, isn’t that the same day that you went to school with Yemra for the first time?”

“Yup. One and the same,” I nodded. “It was also the day I got my first period, but you didn’t need to know that.”

“Oh, wow. Really a day of firsts for you, huh?” Julia muttered. “So how’s the old brain slug doing? She in there with you right now?”

“Nah, not really. I’m watching Yems swim around in a glass of water soaking up Kandrona rays while I’m drinking some Coke,” I said as I did exactly those things.

“Well, tell her I said hi. I mean, I know that she’s gonna know that I told you to tell her that I said hi as soon as she gets back in your head… You know, this is confusing as balls,” Jules said, and I could imagine her shaking her head at the other end. “I know Yems is one of the good Yeerks, but still, better you than me.”

“Yeah, that’s all right. I’m so used to having Yemra in my head that not having her in there is gonna be weird at the least and unthinkable at the worst.”

“I feel ya, sister, I feel ya. Except I don’t really, but I still do. You know what I mean, right?” Jules asked.

“Yeah, sure, sure,” I said, rolling my eyes this time. There was a lull of a few moments before we resumed our conversation. “So, I heard that you didn’t go to the Gap with your folks,” Julia said in a tone that made it more like a question.

“Hmm. Mom told you about that one, huh?” I asked.

“She didn’t have to tell me anything,” Jules retorted. “She was telling anyone who would listen that you had run off with the other Controllers to fight the nothlits and that she hasn’t heard from you since.”

I sighed and rubbed my forehead with my free hand. “Sounds like something Mom would do, all right,” I quipped. And I knew that had Yemra been in my head that time, she would have said the same.

“But what’s up with that though?” Jules asked me. “I know that you like to shoot a few rounds downrange in your spare time, but did you really go out there to fight against the nothlits?”

“It’s a long story,” I said. “But no, I didn’t go out there to shoot bad guys. I mean, that’s not why I got dragged off there in the first place.” I then explained to Jules everything that I could tell her about Yibey’s Army and everything that we did up to the moment that I got captured.

“And then…” Jules paused as she tried to find the words to say. “Or can I not talk to you about that? Can I talk to you about that?”

“Yeah, it’s probably fine,” I nodded. “I mean, it’s not like I’m getting any Vietnam War flashbacks yet, you know what I mean?”

“Come on, Jen, don’t say ‘yet’,” Jules said. “It’s like you’re actually planning on getting some flashbacks yourself. It doesn’t sound good, girl.”

“Don’t worry, girl, I get your point,” I agreed. My phone then began to vibrate and I had to take it away from my ear before the alarm deafened me. “And that’s the signal that Yemra’s Kandrona bath is over,” I said to Jules once I had turned off the alarm. “Oh, yeah, that reminds me. I gotta ask the other Yeerks where the Pool is going to be while the feds are rebuilding the red zone.”

“Mm-hmm,” Jules nodded. I then heard her talking to someone else away from her phone, and then she came back and said, “Looks like I gotta go, Jen. Dad needs some help in the kitchen, again. Say hey to Yems for me, will you?”

“Don’t worry, I will,” I said even as I took Yemra out of the glass and put her right next to my ear.

“Bye!” Jules said, and I said goodbye as well just as Yemra shot out of my fingers and into my ear canal. I sat still for a few minutes as my Yeerk made her way back to my brain and reestablished her connections. So, what did I miss? Yemra asked once she was fully reconnected. I drank my Coke while she sifted through my latest memories. She laughed when she settled upon the memory of me saying that Mom telling anyone and everyone who would listen that I had run off to fight the Nothlit State, quipping, Yeah, that definitely sounds like something your mother would do.

((I know it’s harsh on her,)) I shrugged. ((But it’s also true. Harsh, but true. I guess that sums up Mom pretty well.))

Yems then got to the part about Jules saying hi. Do you think I should text her back, say hi to her as well? she asked me. Maybe even a call or a Facetime?

((Sure, maybe sometime. But I think she’s busy at the moment, so now would probably be a bad time to call her. Oh, speaking of calling someone…)) I picked up my phone again, scrolled through my contacts, and found Ken Fuchs’ number, which I dialed. I waited for a few moments before he picked up. “Hey there, Jen, Yemra,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Yeah, we just wanted to ask about where the new Pool’s going to be,” I said. “We’d heard about the reconstruction project for the area around the original Pool and community center and how that means the old Pool’s going to be closed, and we just wanted to know.”

“Oh, yeah, that,” Ken replied. “Yeah, Yibey and I were just about to call you about it. The Visser and I were able to find a new place over in Whitfield to serve the Controllers in the area. Thank God for that, or else we all would’ve had to go all the way to Allentown if we don’t want our friends to starve. You can never be sure you’ll get there in time with the traffic, you know.”

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” I nodded. “Okay, Ken, Yibey, thanks for that. Yems and I owe you two one.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just helping out our alien friends.”

“Okay, I’ll let you two get back to your work.” I ended the call and reclined into my seat. ((So, Whitfield, huh?)) I said to Yemra. ((That’s going to be a tough commute, what with it being on the other side of the interstate.))

But like Ken and Yibey said, it’s still better than going all the way to Allentown, Yemra said. Remember the last time we had to go there? Ugh! Never again!

“Tell me about it,” I said out loud, shaking my head as I drained my Coke.

That night, I dreamed. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but when I do, it’s usually because they’re vivid and strange, to say the least. Not to mention that they cover a very wide range of subjects ranging from reliving a certain day to strange and fantastic circumstances. They’re also usually linear, kind of like a movie. This time though, things were a bit different.

It started with me sitting by myself inside of an airplane. I could feel Yemra in my head wrapped around my brain, but aside from her there was nobody else inside the plane. Literally there was no other sign of life inside. The plane appeared to be flying, but the engines were weirdly quiet, not making any noise. Suddenly, the airplane split apart right in front of me, and my seat broke off from the rest of the aircraft and fell to the ground with me still strapped in it. I screamed as I twisted around, alternating between facing the sky and the ground. The ground rushed towards me awfully fast, but at the last minute my seat turned around so that I was facing the sky when I hit the ground.

Except there was no sudden impact, no deceleration or sensation of organs flying through my bones and skin. It’s like one minute I was hurtling towards the ground at speed, and then the next I was already on the ground, having somehow broken away from my seat. I couldn’t feel anything at all… well, that wasn’t entirely true. I could feel the wind blowing over me; I could feel my hands and feet, but I couldn’t make them move. It was like I had been paralyzed, or that a Yeerk had taken over complete control of my body, but it wasn’t like Yemra to take control right after such a traumatic event. And I could still move my eyes around and draw air into my lungs, so my paralysis was definitely not the work of a Yeerk.

I tried to call for help, but my mouth wouldn’t move or open. I couldn’t even moan or groan or make any other sort of sound. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a lone figure walking across the field towards me. The figure appeared blurry at first; I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. But then the figure got closer and I recognized it to be Charegh, Cherry the nothlit mole. Her skin was ghostly pale; even paler than it had been when she was still alive. Blood trickled from her mouth and the wounds on her body, and her stark blonde hair fluttered in matted strands around her face. I struggled to speak as Cherry walked closer to me, but only once she was close enough to look into my eyes did I finally find my voice. “What… what’s going on?” I asked her. “What’s happening? Why is this happening? Why are you here?”

“You think you’re a survivor, don’t you, Jen?” Cherry asked me back. “Is that what you think of yourself? Well, I’ll tell you what: you’re not. You think you know how to survive, Jen? You don’t. You’ve just been lucky. But the thing is, you’re still alive. So now what are you going to do about it?”

“What? What are you talking about?” I asked, but in the blink of an eye Charegh had been replaced by Amanda Barzaglio. Like Cherry, Amanda appeared to me as she had in death, with blood and gray matter streaming from a fist-sized hole on the side of her head. I didn’t want to look anywhere near there, and yet my eyes were drawn, compelled to settle there and stare. I thought I could see her brain through the wound, along with some kind of lighter gray band with brown striations on it.

“Look at you now,” she sneered. “Jennifer Carson, the survivor, the Controller. Remember what you told me, what you promised me before the nothlits shot me?” she asked. “You said that you were going to tell my story, and Charegh’s story, to everyone. But now look at you, lying there unable to move a muscle. Empty words, like your promise to help me find a new Yeerk. Great lot of help you are to me now.”

“Amanda, please,” I begged. “You know that I had nothing to do with all of this. And you know that I didn’t want any of this. I didn’t want for you or Charegh to die. You know that if there was a way for me to save you both, I would do it.”

“Well, it’s too late for that now, don’t you think?” Amanda said ruefully. “Besides, I’ve taken care of myself before. Why should now be any different from that? Thank you, Jennifer Carson, for absolutely nothing at all.”

“Amanda, please, don’t do this to me,” I pleaded once again, but once again Amanda vanished, and this time she had been replaced by Immib Two-Seven-One, who was now standing over me with his MP5. “No, please! Don’t kill me, please!” I begged him, but this time I was truly powerless to stop him. I couldn’t raise my arms to protect myself from the burst of gunfire I was sure was coming from him, not that they would have made any difference at all. I couldn’t even close my eyes; I could only brace myself and watch as the ghost of the man I had killed made to take my own life in return. Immib raised his weapon to his shoulder and pulled the trigger.

“Fuck!” I cried out, but now I was back in my bed, safe and sound and in no danger at all. Sunlight streamed down from my windows, and I could see traces of white clouds and blue sky outside. Everything was peaceful in the real world, a very far cry from the dream world from which I had just awoken. I reached out for my phone and looked at the time. Exactly 7:30 in the morning.

“Oh, my God,” I muttered as I took in my surroundings. What the fuck just happened? That was a fucked-up dream, if you’ll pardon my French. But no, seriously. What the fuck was that dream all about? What in the world was its message for me? Did it even have a message in the first place? Am I just overreacting or overanalyzing once again?

Hmm, morning, Jen, Yemra said as she stirred awake in my head. You’re up awfully early today. What’s up? And then she hooked up to my most recent memories, and I could imagine her jaw dropping open in surprise, if she had one. You’re goddamn right it would have dropped if I had one, she said once she had recovered from what she had just seen. And I have to agree with you. What in the name of the Beloved Kandrona was that dream? What was it all about?

((I don’t know, Yems, to be honest,)) I replied. ((I think it’s trying to tell me something. I just don’t know what it is.))

Are you going back to sleep?

((After that dream? Hell no. I’ll just have to find a way to catch some Zs somehow.))

I got out of bed and walked towards my desk. I sat down, and then I stared at the wooden grain on my desk while I tried to forget about this dream, or nightmare, or whatever. I tried thinking of the most random things like the number of Lester Ivory’s shoes; how Carina Russolini’s family had relatives in both Syracuse, New York and Syracuse, Italy; and Giorgio Tsoukalos, the Ancient Aliens guy. But the dream would keep intruding into my thoughts every time, so I decided that the only other way that I could forget about it was to write it down. That usually works in my case more times than not. I would write down a particularly interesting dream right after I woke up, and then immediately afterward I would already forget about it, and I would have to read my dream journals to even remember what had happened.

I looked around for my latest dream journal and put it down on the desk. I flipped to the first available page, hovered my pen over the paper, and then I paused. How was I supposed to begin this? Usually I would just put down the very first thing that I could remember had occurred as near to the start of the dream as I recalled it and then work from there. But this time I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know how to start this entry. Where should I even start? Should I even write this dream down? Doubts and questions crept into my brain once again.

And then, seemingly on its own, my hand began to move. It began to write on the page slowly, and it wrote down five words that would soon become the core of everything that followed it. I read those five words as my hand wrote them down: My name is Jennifer Carson.

((All right, Yems, I know that’s you,)) I said. ((But why that? Why did you write that?))

I don’t know, Yemra admitted. It just seemed, you know, right. It seemed like the right way to start it off.

“Huh,” I said out loud. I read the first line a few times, and then I began to follow it up with a description of myself, and at that moment, everything finally clicked into place. ((OMG, Yems,)) I told her. ((I think I now know why I had that dream.))

Oh, yeah? Why?

((Someone needs to tell the story of what happened here, Yems,)) I replied. ((And, I think, I should be the one to do that.))

Sure, okay. Whatever you say, Jen, Yemra nodded.

And that story is this one that you are reading right now. It took me many months to put all of this together just so you can read about it. I know that I will inevitably forget some things, and that some things will inevitably be cut from the manuscript and thrown away, but I am pretty sure that the really important things that I wanted to be published will be published. And to think that it all started with five simple words:

My name is Jennifer Carson.