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Animorphs: New War - #58 The Negotiation

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Chapter 1

  

   My name is Cassie.

   Some say that I’m a politician, or an activist. I guess in some ways, I’m both and neither. I work alongside a lot of politicians, and a lot of activists, but I’d never call myself one of them.

   After the Yeerk War, I did what I could to help extra-terrestrials on Earth. I knew that there would be tension, because Humans have a tendency to be a little xenophobic. Because of my status as an Animorph, I had a lot of influence, and I used it to push forward ideas that I thought would help. That’s why they call me a politician. That’s why they call me an activist.

   All I want is peace between us. It’s hard, and it always will be. I do my bit to help.

   But that mind-set clouded me to something that was just as important. I had abandoned a friend. Ax – or Prince Ax as I should call him these days – was taken from his ship, Intrepid. I let Jake convince me that I had more important things to worry about; that I should allow somebody else to take responsibility for finding him.

   Who was I kidding? Did I really think that I alone was the main cog in the alien-acceptance machine? That there weren’t others who could take my place?

   And so when they came back, I had to do something. I had to join them and help them find Ax. I couldn’t turn my back on him again, after all we had been through.

   That led to this: I was aboard a Mak vessel called The Shadow, carrying a Kelbrid General and three soldiers. We had used Andalite technology to shield us as we escaped Kelbrid Space, and were fast approaching the nearest Andalite Dome Ship. The intention was to pass on the General, and the Andalites would negotiate a trade for our friend, who was amalgamated into some bizarre computer called The One. We assumed he was still alive.

   We were all present on our ship’s bridge as the Dome Ship came closer. Jake, Marco and Tobias were there, forming the remnants of the old Animorphs team. Then there was Santorelli, a US Army ranger who seemed a little gung ho. There was Menderash, who had been on Ax’s ship when it was taken. He was a Human nothlit, and it affected his outlook a lot.

   Jeanne… Now, she was very different.

   Menderash was overlooking the navigation, and he reported to Jake. “This looks like… Yes, this is Araj Humi. Translates as Steadfast. She’s not moving. Last I heard, the captain was one War-Prince Arpush.”

   Jake watched on with a mathematical gaze. It was hard to see him so devoid of emotion. “Open communications with them.”

   Menderash shifted to another set of controls and went about opening communications, which Steadfast quickly accepted. An Andalite head appeared in a hologram that shot up in the center of the bridge, grabbing everybody’s attention.

   <State your vessel and intent.> The Andalite spoke through the bridge’s thought-speech transmitters.

   “My name is Jake Berenson, captain of The Shadow,” Jake announced in return. “Our intent is to bring a Kelbrid General to War-Commander Torceran. We have returned from Kelbrid Space with prisoners.”

   The Andalite looked shocked, but pressed for clarification. <Who are your prisoners?>

   “One Kelbrid high-ranking officer. And three soldiers. Their capture was incidental.”

   <Three prisoners,> The Andalite reiterated. <Very well. We will permit you to dock in landing bay six, Jake Berenson. An escort party will collect you and the prisoners.>

   He disappeared. With that permission, Menderash set a course, and the Dome Ship aided us in docking.

   We were eager to get on board. It had been a tense journey out of Kelbrid Space, and some had suffered more than others. I feared for Marco. I hadn’t seen him all that much since he became a big TV star (aside from his regular on-screen appearances), but he was really shaken up. I could see that is was some kind of PTSD, and it really hit hard when we were imprisoned on Kyritlyp. He hadn’t recovered too well, and hardly spoke to anybody until we had finally breached the boundary back to Andalite Space. He needed help desperately.

   We landed gently onto our platform in the Dome Ship’s docking bay. Through the bridge we could see the bright open space, occupied by three other massive transporters, similar to what I’d regularly seen back on Earth. Andalites stomped around dutifully beneath, preparing machinery and computers for our arrival.

   The voice of the communications officer came through our transmitters again. <Vessel stable. Please deactivate engines and report to your escorts. They are waiting outside.>

   We powered down and exchanged our relief through stony glances. In single-file, we moved for the center of The Shadow where we could make our exit. When we turned the corner, the extreme lighting of the bay struck us, as did the noises of clopping hooves and active machinery.

   A group was standing patiently, awaiting our arrival. Five Andalites. They didn’t look as disinterested as perhaps I’d expected.

   They were mostly warriors. That much I could tell from posture alone. One of them looked distantly familiar…

   Jake was first off the ramp, and so received the formal greeting from the central of the five Andalites. <Jake Berenson,> He hummed, gifting a courteous Andalite bow. <And the rest of the famed Animorphs. It is an honor to meet you at last. I am the Executive Officer, Prince Erasutt-Errik-Asgarroun.>

   “Likewise, Prince Erasutt,” Jake muttered, returning the bow. “I’d like to pass my thanks for allowing us to dock in Steadfast. I’d also like to ask that we get some help for our friend.”

   Prince Erasutt twisted a long stalk eye to peek over Jake’s shoulder. Santorelli was guarding a visibly shaking Marco, whose eyes were locked to the ground, his lips trembling.

   <Of course,> Erasutt replied, signing to a group of lower-ranked Andalites that had accumulated nearby. They rushed over. <We’ll see to it that he is taken care of. What is wrong with him?>

   Jake responded as the Andalites gradually took control of Marco and led him slowly away. “We were imprisoned on the Kelbrid Planet, Kyritlyp. He’s been suffering from panic attacks since.”

   <I see. Nothing that we can’t handle. Now, Jake Berenson, about these prisoners you have brought for us…>

   I lost track of the conversation. My focus turned to the Andalite that I recognised. I could tell that he knew me, too. Three of his eyes trailed on me, and he was curious.

   As Jake and Erasutt moved away in discussion, the familiar Andalite found space to open our own conversation. <Ms Roberts! It’s been a while!>

   I remembered his voice, and it brought with it his name. I grinned as the memories returned. “War-Prince Axtana, it’s good to see you again. I thought you’d still be on Earth.”

   <I was reassigned,> He explained. <I’m here on inspection duty, since Steadfast is undergoing repairs. She’s broken, you see.>

   “Did you take enough Pop Tarts to last?” I said with a knowing chuckle.

   <Of course. I was never going to leave Earth without a plentiful supply,> He stated formally. <Forgive me for avoiding such trifling conversation, but I’m very curious… Why have you come here?>

   I shrugged, despite knowing my reasoning entirely. “I felt that I had to.”

   He looked stunned, and I saw his fingers twiddling awkwardly. <We need to talk, Cassie. Once we have secured these Kelbrids. You will come to my temporary office once your accommodation has been settled?>

   I nodded. “Sure.”