Aftran vividly remembered eating pizza before, when she had lived in Karen's head. It had been one of her host's favorite foods, and while Yeerks were discouraged from indulging in food with little to no nutritional value, the Yeerk of a small child could hardly be expected not eat treats set before her by her parents or other adults with authority and not draw suspicion to herself. At least, that's what Aftran had told herself at the time. She remembered refusing the mushrooms that Cassie had foraged shortly after they first met. Karen's body had been hungry enough at the time, but the combination of her host's dislike for them (she'd tried them-on pizza, of all things-and had only eaten the required "two bites" before picking them off the rest of her slice) and the fact that an Andalite was feeding her had been enough to suffer hunger instead.
Most likely, had Cassie been able to find, through some unknown Andalite technology of transforming one material into another, a full pizza pie with all of Karen's favorite toppings (none), Aftran would have either refused, or eaten but refused to enjoy it.
Now, Aftran remained at the back of Cassie's mind as her host heated up the meal in the oven. She did not take control, nor ask to take control, as Cassie prepared the dish. She supposed that she could ask for them to share control again, but it felt too soon. Cassie's head still throbbed, slightly, and Aftran could not deny that she had experienced some dizziness. No, it would be better to have Cassie remain in control for the duration of the evening.
She felt Cassie set the timer on top of the oven, then sit down at the kitchen table. Aftran took in the surroundings without moving Cassie's eyes.
The kitchen was a different model than the one Karen's family had utilized. More open, newer appliances. At the same time, Aftran could detect the similarities. The refrigerator was covered with all sorts of papers. Reminders about various events, a few papers from school that received high grades, and a couple of letters and postcards. The last part intrigued Aftran the most.
(Cassie, who are the letters from?) she asked.
Cassie beamed. (The first voluntary Controllers after the war, mostly. People who had lived with Peace Movement Yeerks, and didn't want them to have to become nothlits. The feeling was mutual on their Yeerk's part. Once the law was in place and they could be reunited, I got a few thank you notes from them. I have more, upstairs-these are the first ones.)
Aftran returned her host's smile. (I'm glad.) She paused. (Reunited?)
Cassie nodded her head. (Immediately after the war, all Yeerks had to leave their hosts. The plan was to give them the morphing power after checking on their background with whatever records we could find, and with their hosts. We-everyone-didn't want war criminals to get the morphing power.)
(Those are the ones who are now in the separate pool?) Aftran guessed, imagining a Yeerk Pool quite unlike the one that Cassie had shown her earlier.
(Yes,) Cassie confirmed, now removing the pizza from the oven and turning it off. As she placed it on the stove to cool down for a few minutes, she continued. (Separating the war criminals was the first priority, and after that, it was pretty clear that nearly all of the Peace Movement hosts-well, the ones who were humans-felt very strongly about remaining with their Yeerk. The feeling was mutual. So, after a couple of months, the law was put into place, and since we already had another Pool ready for the criminals, it wasn't much of a stretch to make some changes to the main one you used. It took about six months, in all, for every Peace Movement Yeerk and host to be reunited. There were other Peace Movement Yeerks who didn't have hosts, but that was hardly a problem, because a ton of voluntary hosts whose Yeerks were due to become nothlits were willing to take on a Peace Movement Yeerk instead of going without one.) Cassie paused, letting Aftran take a moment to digest this. (And when we discovered the number of Yeerks who couldn't take on the morphing power, we had to create a wait list because there were still a lot more people who wanted Yeerks than there were Yeerks available.)
Another reason, Aftran imagined, that forcing an entire species to permanently change to another species had been a mistake. The empire had always been the enemy. Not the mere body of the Yeerk.
Still. The indoctrination had gone to such lengths by the time that Aftran had been born that it would take a lot of time and patience for most Yeerks to see that other species were more than simply potential hosts. And that all hosts should be treated with decency and respect. Because Yeerks were visitors, guests, in the mind of any species who wanted them. They might have the physical ability to take charge, but they should never have utilized it against their host's will.
Realizing that she'd been quiet for too long, judging by her host's sudden concern, she gave Cassie a mental smile.
(Did you ever think that you'd need to recruit Yeerks to infest humans?) she teased.
(Never,) Cassie laughed. (I guess, I figured that there'd be some people, like Mr. Tidwell, who would have a hard time going without their Yeerks, and Peace Movement Yeerks with voluntary hosts, I mean, the ones who really wanted them there, even after there was no empire and they could leave without risking their lives or their Yeerk's life...but I never would have imagined the demand there would be.)
A few decades ago, Aftran might have been insulted by this assessment, but the truth was that The Sharing had always targeted the weak, or those who they deemed susceptible to manipulation. If a rare Yeerk managed to find a host that was not simply compliant but actually wanted them there, good for them. For most, simply finding a host that did not cry or fight was the most you could expect. The Yeerk empire had taught Yeerks to hate their bodies, while viewing all other species as inferior and suitable only for infestation or death (if they could not be infested). Having lived outside of the empire for so long, Aftran found it very ironic that they could simultaneously teach Yeerks to hate their own bodies while believing their species were the greatest and destined to conquer the galaxy.
(Yes,) Aftran mused. (Isn't there a human saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar?)
Cassie laughed. (Yes,) she echoed. (Of course, when you catch the fly, it ends up dead either way.)
(Well, I'm glad that we're allowed to exist now in our own bodies,) Aftran admitted. (And with hosts who want us, who we don't have to control...)
(That's the universal opinion,) Cassie mused. (I'm glad we reached that point.)
(After the war would have been too early,) Aftran allowed. (I suppose that allowing most of my species some body was better than being destroyed.)
Or kept in the Yeerk Pool indefinitely, after so many of them had embraced the empire propaganda and had already experienced infestation firsthand.
Cassie sat down at the table, pizza in hand. (I'm glad we're infesting the Yeerks before we let them infest others. Keeps any war criminals we missed away from someone, and lets them experience what they do to others. Well,) she amended, (not entirely. A Yeerk's infestation has to be worse than how most humans will experience it, now.)
Aftran knew that she was referring to the complete control the morphed Yeerk would take, as well as the immediate and complete full search of the memory. Even during the empire, many Yeerks performed this search while their host was sleeping. If it could be considered more gentle this way, it was also a far more effective way to "get to know" their host. She didn't blame Cassie, and she had a new appreciation for what friendship Cassie felt for Aftran, that even now, she was willing to be her host.
Privately, she wondered how much of this would have been allowed to occur if the other Animorphs had been on Earth. Cassie had always been a gentle soul, even as she fought a war. She'd been the one to ask the hard questions, and even if her actions weren't always in accordance to what she believed, at least Cassie had tried to do what she believed was right. If it had been up to Marco, or any of the other Animorphs, Aftran would have been killed that first night. Or, perhaps, starved out of Karen's head. Cassie had tried to understand her, and while the others had let her live when Cassie had trapped herself as a caterpillar, it had only been to honor them friend and fallen soldier.
What would they have said to Yeerks being allowed to resume their natural, parasitic forms, and take hosts again?
Aftran imagined that they would have been against it. They would have used their influence to stop it.
At any rate, Aftran mused, as Cassie took her first bite of pizza, she was a Yeerk again, with a host who cared about her.
What more could any Yeerk really want?
A/N: It's been awhile since I've updated this, mostly because Tom has been very persistent in my head with his stories. Not that Aftran hasn't played a role in most of those, but it means that this story has taken a hiatus. A part of me wants to make this chapter the last one, but there's still a little more of Aftran's story to tell. So, probably, we have another chapter or two before this is finished.
As always, please, please, take a minute or two and leave feedback.