Disclaimer: if I owned Animorphs, it wouldn't be as well written as it is now. And Aftran would never have become a whale. I don't own any of the characters, species, situations etc. that you recognise in this fanfiction.
Author note: I can't get the thought speak symbols to work on here, so thought speech is indicated by ordinary brackets (). If anyone knows a magical secret to make them work, please let me know in a review or private message. Thanks!
My name is Aftran Nine-Four-Two of the Het Simplatt pool. I am an alien, a Yeerk. And I am about to die.
The only uncertainty is how it will happen. The human Cassie is currently deciding, along with her fellow Animorphs, whether they will kill me quickly, at my request, or whether I will be fated to wait for another two days until my body starves to death from lack of Kandrona rays. It is the most painful death we Yeerks know. I do not have much hope. Cassie hates killing, even for the best of reasons. To kill a friend, even to save her pain, will be even worse. In a way, I cannot blame her. I cannot stand violence either. I do not envy her this decision. Perhaps I should not have asked, but I could not help it. Maybe I am a coward, but I could not help but take a chance, however slight, of gaining myself a slightly less painful death.
When I told her, she tried, with typical human determination, to think of a way out. She offered to let me stay in her, to take me to the Yeerk pool herself. An unacceptable risk, as she really already knew. There is no way out. Perhaps, if they take their decision quickly enough, I can see my mate Illim before I die. Cassie did promise to let me infest her again before the end to let me know their decision, so at least I will see colour one last time.
My thoughts are interrupted as the touch sensors along my body detect a vibration in the water. I aim my echo-location upwards to detect the shape of an ear above me. Cassie's ear. This is it, then. Slowly, I swim upwards to learn my fate.
I secrete the usual numbing chemicals and slither into her ear, probably for the last time. I am glad of the distraction of infestation: I no longer have time to think as I struggle to wiggle through the tight ear canal and carefully rearrange the small bones of her middle ear to make way for me.
Eventually, I sense the pulses of electricity ahead and, with trepidation, begin to make the first connections to her brain. I know I will know my fate before I fully connect to the brain and am able to speak to Cassie's consciousness.
The first thing I notice is that Cassie's mind does not seem particularly distressed. As I move further into her mind, the memory of her recent discussion with the other Animorphs opens up for me: she is clearly holding it at the top of her mind, and I have no need to search for it. Nervously, I begin to play it.
"We can't let her die," Cassie's voice says in her memory. I can see the other Animorphs and Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill arranged around her. They look ill to varying degrees after their experience. Marco is lying on the hay bales, looking pale; Jake sits in a chair, a bowl strategically placed not far away, and Tobias is perched close to Rachel, resting his hawk head against her arm. Aximili is lying down; the first time I have ever seen an Andalite doing so.
"It doesn't sound like we have another choice, Cassie," Rachel said gently.
"No," Marco agreed. "She's right, staying in you is far too risky. You'd get caught eventually. It's just not worth it."
"You're talking about her life, Marco!" Cassie exclaimed angrily.
"And she agrees that it isn't worth losing the war for, Cassie!" Marco shot back.
(Let's not argue,) Tobias said.
"I don't know if I can kill her," Cassie said, tears running down her face.
(I never thought I would say this about a Yeerk,) Ax interjected, looking disgusted with himself. (But she has fought bravely and not betrayed us. She deserves an honourable death. I would be willing to carry this out, if my Prince agrees.)
Cassie and Ax both looked towards Jake. He had been quiet, his brow furrowed.
"Are you feeling OK, Jake?" Cassie asked.
He nodded. "I was just thinking."
"Quick, someone get him a card," Marco quipped.
Cassie whirled round, opening her mouth, but Tobias beat her to it.
(I don't think it's really the time for jokes, Marco. We're losing a friend today.)
"Maybe we're not," Jake said.
"Jake, she can't stay in Cassie," Rachel pointed out.
Jake shook his head. "I know. That's not what I was suggesting."
(What is it, Prince Jake?) Ax asked.
"You're not going to like this, Ax," Jake said. "But I think we should use the blue box again."
There was silence for a moment.
"That didn't work out great last time," Marco pointed out.
"Aftran's no David!"
"Anyway, I don't see how it solves the Kandrona problem," Marco added, ignoring Cassie.
"Normal morphing wouldn't. But it would if she was a nothlit," Jake pointed out. "And then there'd be no risk of another David. I'm saying we give her the power, she chooses a morph and stays in it for two hours while we stand guard."
Cassie sat down, suddenly, tears flowing down her face. "Oh, Jake, thank you. Thank you."
My sentiments are similar. I don't need to see any more.
(We all voted in favour of the morphing option,) Cassie says to me, sensing me disconnect from the memory. (Even Ax, in the end. Something about saving a life deserving an equal return. Like that, anyway.)
I remain silent for a while, unable to speak. It's all too much… not only life, but a life with mobility and hearing and eyes… my own eyes, without a host crying for their freedom. I had never imagined I could feel so much joy and relief at once, but now I do.
(Thank you, Cassie,) I manage to say through the emotions flooding my mind. (Thank you so much.)
(All you need to do now is choose your morph,) she replies. (Maybe you'd better stay in me for now: you can look at the memories of my morphs, and what I know about animals?)
I take her suggestion, and begin to search through the memories of Cassie's morphs. As I look at the memory of her osprey morph, I feel expectation rise within her. It's true: I loved that morph, the one time I tried it. The eyesight and freedom of flying were superb. Nevertheless, the lifespan is short, and the ability to communicate with other sentient beings limited to thought speech. I move on, looking at the wolf, the horse, the humpback whale, the Hork-Bajir. I linger for a little on the last one. I have been a Hork-Bajir. They are strong, they can manipulate objects, they have decent eyesight, and most of all they can communicate.
(You'd need permission,) Cassie says uncertainly.
(From more than one Hork-Bajir, if I can,) I agree. (I want my own identity: I do not want to be a clone of someone else.)
(I could try and find out if they would, but-)
Cassie needs say no more. I can understand her doubts from her thoughts: she doesn't know if I will get permission. Toby the Seer is a possibility, but she doesn't know if the other Hork-Bajir will understand the situation well enough to give DNA to a Yeerk. Especially after some of the things that have happened to them at the hands of the Yeerk Empire. I disagree: I think they might, but it would be a long wait while the Animorphs found time to travel to the valley, explain and ask. I would be in a lot of pain from the lack of Kandrona by then.
I hesitate. I want a sentient species, really. Non-sentient morphs are all well and good for a short time, to enjoy their senses or their unique view of the world, but to become a nothlit as one by choice… no. It means you are alone. Oh, you can talk to others by thought-speak, but there is no other sentient being who truly understands your perspective of the world. You have no way of communicating naturally, other than by thought-speak, with another sentient being. They do not understand the body language or the natural communications of your species, and you may well find it harder to interpret theirs. But then, Hork-Bajir gestures were not easily understood by humans, and I wanted to be able to communicate with my human as well as Yeerk friends. Also, I do not want to get involved in violence again. I already transitioned to a human to escape physical violence once…
Hang on, that was it! My joy is short-lived, though. Is it even going to be possible?
(Have you decided, Aftran?) Cassie must have felt my sudden certainty.
(Yes,) I reply. (Human, if possible. And it needs to be more than just your DNA,) I add quickly, in response to her thoughts.
(I hadn't expected that,) Cassie says.
(I know. Not sure how, it's not like I see everything that you think or anything.)
(Will anyone else agree?) I ask, becoming serious.
(I'm sure at least one will. Jake, at the least,) Cassie says.
(Let's hope Marco or Rachel do, as well. Otherwise I bet you a dollar the first words out of Marco's mouth once I morph are: 'so that's what your future kids will look like, Jake'.)
Cassie laughs again. (I don't think I want to take that bet.)
(Speaking of, did you and Jake ever finally admit that you like each-) I break off, seeing a memory rise unbidden to Cassie's mind. (You kissed!) I exclaim teasingly. The sudden relief is making me giddy, and I want to laugh.
(Aftran, I need to ask the others-)
(Oh, don't begrudge me this; it's my last chance to look at a host's memories and tease them mercilessly about them. Have you kissed again? Oh yes, there we go. Oh, actually I'm not sure I want to watch any more of that. Humans really are disgusting creatures.)
(Aftran, stop it!) I feel my host's emotions change from humour to a more serious embarrassment, so I disconnect myself from her memories.
(Sorry. I promise not to tell Marco.)
(Don't you DARE.) Cassie is smiling mentally now though. (I'll never live it down. Are you going to let me go and ask them now?)
(That's probably a good idea. Should I leave you?)
Cassie thinks for a moment. (I don't think that's necessary. Just let me do the talking at first, just to say that you're in me. Then I'll let you explain.)
(Good idea. I'll explain how you are completely in love with Ja-)
(Okay. I'll be serious. I promise.)
(I've never seen you quite like this,) Cassie says curiously.
(Yeerks aren't Andalites. We do have senses of humour. Especially when we've just found out we're not about to die after all.)