My name is Rachel.
Her name is Cassie.
Cassie is my best friend in the world. She's like a sister to me. I love her, to the fullest extent one girl can love another while keeping everything platonic. And I'm pretty sure she feels the same about me.
But Cassie does not understand clothing.
"These jeans are perfect for you, Cass." I held them up for her to see. "Crawford double-front. Durable denim, so they won't wear out for a while. Black -"
"Like me?" Cassie replied with a smirk.
I rolled my eyes. "Black, so no one will notice when you come into class wearing chicken poop."
She was stalling. School let out half an hour ago, at three-thirty, and I was supposed to be home by six. She was trying to get me off track and frustrated. But I was determined. Cassie was going to walk out of this mall with no less than three new pairs of jeans.
Even if it killed me.
"Look, Mom just got me this credit card. It's got a thousand-dollar limit, and she told me to go nuts." I pulled two more, identical pairs of jeans off the circular rack. My parents are divorced. Mom works for a big-money law firm down in the Bay, so she's loaded. Sometimes I wished I lived with her instead of my dad.
"And as much as I appreciate you sharing your good fortune," Cassie said, "I don't need new clothes."
I snorted. Cassie's current jeans were worn through at the knees, covered in stains from God knows what, and ended just above the top of her boots. I looked past her. "Tobias? Help me out, here."
Tobias was standing off to the side, hands in his pockets and face directed towards the ground. That irked me. Tobias was the school geek, almost as far down the high school food chain as he could get. But, he was a fellow Animorph, so I was trying to be his friend. I figured, maybe if he was seen hanging around me, a girl, he'd be a little less of a bully magnet. So I specifically invited him to come shopping with Cassie and I today.
The least he could do was contribute to the conversation, instead of standing there looking flustered. Something about being smack in the middle of the women's section of JC Penny always makes guys act weird. Like they think they're somewhere they're not supposed to be.
Maybe it's the mannequins wearing matching underwear. I've been known to appreciate the ones on the guy's side.
"You need new jeans, Cassie," he muttered obediently.
"See?" I handed her the jeans. "Tobias thinks so, too."
Cassie chuckled and refused to take the jeans. Typical. I held them up against her hip anyway. They would fit her perfectly. I tucked them under my arm and headed for the checkout counter. Cassie and Tobias followed me.
The lady at the counter gave us a fake smile. "Find everything you need?"
"Yes, thank you," I replied automatically. I passed her the jeans, the credit card, and my school ID. As she rung me up, I watched her, seeing if I could spot anything...off, about her.
You see, she might have been a Controller. A Yeerk. And the last time I'd run into one, I was stuffed into the trunk of a car, and driven off to be killed. Or, made into a Controller myself. Which would have been even worse.
What's a Yeerk? I'm glad you asked!
You see, Earth is under attack from a hostile race of aliens. A little over a month ago, a Yeerk invasion force met another race called Andalites in battle near our planet. The Andalites tried to run the Yeerks off to keep them from enslaving humanity. They failed. And ever since, the Yeerks have been running rampant all across the world.
Why haven't you seen them anywhere? Another excellent question! It's because the Yeerks aren't like you and me. They don't walk around out in the open, doing their kidnapping and murdering the polite way. Oh, no. They crawl into your head and make you do their dirty work for them.
In their natural state, the Yeerks resemble slugs. They're less than a foot long, and they're blind and deaf. Almost defenseless, they would have stayed confined to their home planet had the Andalites not taken pity on them and offered them a path to the stars. The Yeerks had previously made do with the other, barely-functioning natives of their own world, but once they met the Andalites and realized there were far superior hosts offworld, they stole an Andalite ship and went on the warpath.
How many races have they enslaved? We're not sure. There are their original hosts, the Gedds. The Skrit Na, which resemble what humans think of when we think of space aliens. Bladed, goblinoid monstrosities called Hork-Bajir. At least one Andalite. And these massive, cannibalistic, centipede-looking things we have yet to learn the names of. And now, it's our turn.
What are we doing to stop them? Well, we got lucky. A survivor of the battle, an Andalite warrior named Elfangor, crash-landed near our school. My friends and I found him. He told us all about the Yeerks, and gave us the power to fight them. The power to morph into any animal we touch.
Any animal. I've only been two, so far. A dog, and a crow. But I acquired the DNA of a rattlesnake (that's what we call it, when we gain another morph) a while ago, and I've been itching to try it out.
Who's we? We're the Animorphs. There's Cassie and Tobias, who you've already met. There's Jake, my cousin and our duly elected leader. Marco, Jake's best friend and our resident asshole. He's the one who named us.
And me. Rachel. The suburban white girl that can actually kick butt when she has to.
Don't confuse me with some stuck-up valley girl. What I was talking about earlier, being stuffed into a car trunk? A Controller had accidentally discovered that Jake and I had met Elfangor, and kidnapped us at gunpoint. My other cousin and Jake's brother, Tom, tried to stop him. And the Yeerk killed him. He almost got my sister, too.
But, he didn't know we could morph. The Yeerk tossed a human girl into his car. When he opened it, I came out as a malinois. Sixty pounds of teeth and attitude. I tore him apart.
Jake took his gun and finished him off, but that didn't matter. I was the one who got us out of that jam. Me.
It was our first battle. And I won the day.
And it was awesome.
Well… not the part where Tom was killed. I mean, we weren't as close as Jake and I were. But we still grew up together. I'm still wrapping my head around the idea that he's gone forever.
And definitely not the part where he almost got Jordan. She only lived because I sent her to find help.
Still. The enemy, or at least one of them, found us. And I stomped him.
So I wasn't too worried about the Yeerk invasion. But that didn't mean I was going to act reckless. I couldn't trust anyone but my friends. Anyone could be a Controller. This checkout lady. Any of the shoppers around us.
Or Jordan. Or my dad.
Even you could be a Controller.
Transaction completed, I gathered up Tobias and Cassie. I was feeling peckish, and the Cinnabon was calling me, so we started making our way over to the food court. I made Cassie carry the jeans. They were hers, after all.
Tobias started lagging behind. "I don't have any money," he told us.
I reached out and grabbed his wrist. "I'm buying. Come on."
Well, technically Mom was. But, he was still being rude. I'd have to teach Tobias about socializing like I was teaching Cassie about fashion. He was as hopeless as she was.
I was so wrapped up in thinking about Tobias, I almost missed the crowd milling outside the food court. Cassie stuck her arm out in front of Tobias and I, and stopped us from walking through them.
"What?" I asked.
She just pointed.
I followed her finger. Cassie was pointing through the crowd at a kid about our age. He was wearing a Subway uniform, minus the hat. And his shirt was on backwards.
He was standing over one of the tables in the food court. And he was doing everything he could to cram a gigantic sticky bun down his throat.
Along with the plate it was served on.