I gasped for air as soon as I regained consciousness. I took many deep breaths, trying to remember exactly what had happened and how I had ended up in this situation in the first place. I remember being paralyzed. I don't know why I was paralyzed or why I would have been paralyzed, but I was paralyzed nevertheless. And there was also something about a talking gorilla. Gorillas couldn't talk; they shouldn't be able to talk. So what was this talking gorilla doing here? And why is he named Marco? I had so many questions…
I lifted up my head so I could rest my neck and moved my arms to get the blood flowing again. Or at least I tried moving my arms, but something stopped them. I looked down, and that was when I noticed these two metallic square things wrapped around my wrists. They appeared to be magnetically attached to the chair on which I had woken up, and they must have very strong magnets because no amount of force on my part could even dislodge these square blocks from the armrests.
I then looked down at my feet and saw more of the same, two metal blocks around my ankles securing them to the chair's feet. Now fear was beginning to not only replace my confusion but overwhelm it. Where am I? What am I doing here? Why am I here? Why have I been tied up like a hostage?
((Lilly? Lilly! Lilly!)) I called out in my mind. I couldn't believe that the Yeerk wrapped around my brain was going to be my last remaining link to normality, or at least something resembling it, in my current situation. If Lilly was still in my head after all this, then at least I had somebody to commiserate with me. If not, well… I guess I'm screwed.
((Not just yet, Jane,)) Lilten Eight-Six-Two-One of the Sulp Niar Pool replied. ((I'm still here. You're not about to go crazy just yet.))
((Well, that's a relief,)) I snorted sarcastically. Just my luck. I already needed this damn slug to maintain my body's functionality (which, I may add, she took away in the first place) and now she could very well be the only thing keeping me from losing my sanity.
((Well, now you're stuck with me whether you like it or not,)) Lilly retorted. ((If we're going to survive this, we might as well start working together!))
Again, more proof why I couldn't live with Lilten and why I couldn't live without her as well. ((Damn it, worm. You're right,)) I said. ((Now what do we do?))
((Ah, yes, about that,)) Lilten mused. ((For that, I do not have an answer.))
I looked around the place, hoping against hope that maybe somewhere I would be able to find a clue as to where I was. I was in a room with walls made of red rock. The lines were straight, but there was something distinctly… Yeerkish about the construction of the room. This room looked like something that wouldn't be out of place in a Yeerk Pool. So was I in a Yeerk Pool? I couldn't be though; all Pools in America were under the control of both the Human-Yeerk Alliance and state governments. Or was it the federal government itself? Anyway, my point is that if I was indeed in a Yeerk Pool, then that Pool (and by extension me) could not be anywhere in America because there is no way that the people responsible for the Controller abductions would be able to get away with it if they were keeping their captives in a Pool in the States.
So where else could I be then? There had been talk of establishing other Pools in Europe, with the UK, France, and Spain among the prime candidates. Apparently there was some progress on the part of the Brits, but no Pools had yet been excavated. Unless someone had already dug up a Pool and had "neglected" to mention it in a report. Yeah, that's how I imagine corruption to work.
But the red rock didn't appear British, at least to my uncultured American eyes. Maybe Africa, or South America? Or maybe Australia? Wasn't there a story about the Animorphs getting stuck in the outback and having to fight off the Yeerks from taking over an Aborigine tribe?
((Well, if we are anywhere in those places then we cannot expect any sort of rescue to come in the foreseeable future,)) Lilten muttered. ((I just hope that these people remember what they're dealing with.))
((Oh, yeah, right,)) I muttered, nodding along mentally. ((Well, there's only two ways that this could go: these people either have a Pool and a Kandrona generator handy, or they're going to starve you out.))
((Oh, please, not starvation,)) Lilly groaned, her mental voice trembling ever so slightly. ((Jane, if these people do intend to starve me then I want you to make me a promise.))
((Okay, I don't know about this,)) I replied hesitantly. ((But what did you have in mind?))
((If these people end up trying to starve me out, promise me that you will step on me before I go through the fugue.))
((I mean, I don't know if I can even if I tried,)) I said honestly. ((My legs are tied up after all. And that's also if you can make it out of my head in time. But okay. If I can crush you before you fugue out then I'll do it.))
((Thank you, Jane,)) Lilly said. ((No, seriously. I remember a time in the past when you would have been perfectly happy to let me starve and fugue out.))
((I just don't want your soul pestering mine in the afterlife. If there is an afterlife,)) I added. Now I'm not categorically saying that there is or isn't an afterlife, but I do know that none of us will ever really know the answer to that particular question.
((Well,)) Lilten said after an awkward silence had descended upon the both of us. ((This conversation turned a little… interesting, wouldn't you say?))
((I don't know,)) I shrugged mentally. ((Something about our lives potentially being in danger makes it somewhat easier to contemplate death.))
Another silence fell upon us, and I hastily thought up of another topic, any other topic, to distract the both of us from those dark thoughts. ((Wonder what day it is now, and what time,)) I said.
((How would I know? I'm not an Andalite with their internal biological clocks,)) Lilten snorted. ((Don't you have a device on your wrist that tells you the time?))
((Well, I would, but whoever took us took my watch as well,)) I groaned. ((At least it was the Rolez and not the Rolex Dad gave me for my birthday.))
((Ah, yes, of course. Remind me again which one of those is the cheap one.))
Before I could respond, a metal door built into the rock slid open, and two Hork-Bajir walked in. One was carrying a miniature Yeerk Pool, a bowl-shaped container that looked like it had been carved from stone but surely had to be made of a much more advanced material. The Hork laid the mini-Pool down to my left and walked out without a word. The other Hork-Bajir had a device that looked like a slide projector, and this he placed on a table right in front of me. And before I could even think about why my captors would put a mini-Pool and a projector inside my cell, a portion of the wall in front of me turned into a window. My little cell had suddenly turned into one of those interrogation rooms you regularly see in cop shows. There was even someone, or something, on the other side of the glass.
The figure on the other side moved closer, and I saw that it was actually an alien, one that looked like those Grays that always loved to abduct people or some shit. I had heard or maybe read somewhere that the Grays were just misidentified Skrit Na, but the alien on the other side of the glass looked nothing like the images and memories of the Skrit Na that Lilten had shown me.
((What in the name of the Kandrona is that thing?)) Lilly asked me.
((Hell if I know,)) I replied. ((I'm just as much in the dark as you are!))
"Joanne Jane Young," the alien called out, and I immediately froze. How in the world did he know my name? I asked the alien just that, but instead of replying he continued, "You are the host to the Yeerk Lilten Eight-Six-Two-One of the Sulp Niar Pool, are you not?"
"Why would you want to know?" I asked back.
"I don't want to know," the alien replied. "I already know who you are, Jane, and I know that Lilten is in your head right now. But forgive me. I believe that it is only fair that you know my name since I already know yours. I am Orryst Three-Nine-Nine of the Talb Bannu Pool. And unfortunately for you, I am the Yeerk assigned to make you suffer."
"What? Suffer? Why? I didn't do anything to you!" I cried out. "Lilten didn't do anything to you! She's not even Peace Movement! Hey! Answer me! Why are you doing this!?" But Orryst refused to answer my questions; instead, the window turned opaque once again and the projector began to light up. But instead of a white light as I expected, a red beam shot out of the lens and landed on my head. All sorts of ideas began running around in my head about what this beam could possibly do to me, and as I heard the humming from the machine grow louder and louder, I closed my eyes and braced myself for what was to come.
I was back in high school, on the beach where the Sharing was holding one of their usual "community outreach" events. I had been an "associate member" (the last level of membership before "full" membership) of the Sharing for almost the whole of the school year. Three months before, I had been told that I was on the fast track to full membership so I was assigned to a full member for some sort of apprenticeship. The full member, a woman named Amanda who was probably just a year or two older than me, would show me the ropes, so to speak, and generally just prepare me for the moment when I was finally considered ready to become a full member myself. Amanda seemed really excited for me to have been on the shortlist; too excited in fact. I had asked her about it, just what exactly it was about being a full member that was so amazing, but on that matter Amanda remained tight-lipped. "Let's just say that it's… life-changing," I remember her telling me when I asked her for like the thousandth time already.
So there I was on the beach, minding my own business and helping out the other Sharing members when they asked me. I had finally managed to find a spot to sit down after helping to distribute food and drinks, but it felt as if I had barely settled my bottom on the bench when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw that it was Amanda. "Hey, Jane," she said. "Are you ready?"
"Ready?" I asked back. "For what?"
"Ready to become part of something bigger than just yourself, of course," Amanda replied with a laugh. "Haven't you been listening to me these past few months?"
I must have had the most dumbfounded look on my face at that moment because Amanda immediately clarified herself. "It's time, Jane," she said. "It's time for you to become a full member of the Sharing."
"Oh, wow," I muttered. Now that I had not been expecting. "Really? Right now?" I asked.
"Yes, Jane, right now," Amanda nodded. She was still smiling but now I could sense a bit of annoyance from her.
"I mean, seriously? Right now? Right in the middle of a beach party?" I continued. "Is it normal for you guys to initiate full members during beach parties?"
"We initiate full members 24/7, Jane," Amanda replied. "It just so happens that you are one of the lucky few who have been chosen for full membership today. Now come on. The Sharing does not like to be kept waiting."
I followed Amanda to the hotel that the Sharing had rented for this event. But instead of going to the lobby as I expected, Amanda led me to the service entrance used by the employees to get to work out of sight of the guests. "What are we doing here?" I asked her. "Shouldn't we be not here at all?"
"Don't worry, Jane," Amanda said knowingly. "We won't get caught." The certainty of her tone caught me off-guard, along with what came next. "Now, better save all your questions until the end of the orientation or else you might have nothing left to ask."
"Okay," I said, mostly out of getting a little bit weirded out than anything else. But I decided to set my doubts and fears aside. Maybe the Sharing just loved scaring and hazing their full members a little bit, and Amanda was enjoying the experience because she was finally dishing it out after having been on the receiving end during her initiation. Oh, if only it were that simple…
Amanda walked up to the emergency stairwell and pushed it open. She then led me down the stairs into the basement parking, but instead of going there she went to a door marked AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. There wasn't a knob on the door, just a tumbler lock and a metal plate. Amanda laid her hand on the metal plate for a few seconds, and then I heard the door being unlocked. That should have told me that something deeper than just a regular initiation was afoot, but yet again I ignored the warning signs.
A tunnel lay beyond the door that Amanda had just opened with her hand. It appeared to have been carved right out of the soil. The floor had been paved with concrete and the roof made out of soil packed to smoothness. We walked down this tunnel before finally entering a room built into the side. There were a few people already inside the room, either on their own or in pairs. The way that Amanda greeted some of the people in the pairs told me that these ones were also full members with their protégés. Most of the people inside were around my age, but there were a handful of adults as well as a girl and boy pair maybe between seven and nine. "Take a seat, Jane," Amanda told me, and I took up a spot behind the two kids. Amanda sat down beside me and said, "I'm really excited for you, Jane. I'm really happy for you. You're about to become part of a better future for this planet."
"Um, okay, whatever you say," I muttered. Amanda must be really dedicated member to the Sharing if this was how she felt about me becoming a full member.
We waited in this room for fifteen minutes before two men large enough to be bouncers went in from a side entrance with a table that had a large rectangular thing on top. The two bouncer dudes then went out and another man, this one looking more like a surfer (long hair bleached blonde by the sun, lean muscles, and a perfect tan) went in. He stood before the table and clasped his hands together. "Hello, everyone," he said. "Some of you in this room already know me, but for the others who don't, let me introduce myself. My name is Sam, and I am a full member of the Sharing, just as you are about to become.
"Now you're probably wondering, 'Why have I been chosen for full membership?' For some of us in here, that process took only a few weeks, a month at month. Others have spent years as an associate member before finally getting elevated to full membership," Sam continued. "So why now? Well, the answer to that is simple: we need new full members. Yes, it's as simple as that."
People began to murmur and talk between themselves about what Sam had just talked about. Some of them seemed genuinely excited by the prospect of becoming a full member. I can only imagine what those same people were thinking of these events now.
"But what's not so simple," Sam added, "is how exactly you become a full member of the Sharing. On one hand, it's easy. You just make a choice, and that choice won't even affect your becoming a full member. The mere fact that you are in this room means that you have been destined to become a full member. On the other hand, the choice you make will determine how hard, or how easy, the process of becoming a full member will be for you.
"Now, let me tell you what exactly is this thing behind me," Sam said. "But before I show them to you, let me describe them first. Imagine, my friends, a creature, born without eyes or ears or any other sensory organs. This creature, not only is it blind and deaf and mute but it's also small, too small to defend itself against any predator. But this creature has an amazing and uncanny ability. This creature that you are imagining may have no senses at all, but it does have the ability to enter another organism's head by way of the ears, and once it's gone past the ear, this creature can flatten and mold itself to the other creature's brain and then share and even take control, not only of the second organism's senses, but also its whole body. Walking, running, talking, eating, everything that the second creature had taken for granted before is now being used by this first creature now in its head, a creature that most certainly appreciates all these senses a lot more than the other creature ever could. Can you imagine such a creature? Are you imagining it right now? Well, my friends, imagine no longer, for before you I am about to show such a creature that actually exists!" Sam took hold of the cloth covering the rectangle thing on the table and pulled it away, revealing a fishing tank filled with a translucent grayish liquid. And, within this liquid swam, or floated, at least half a dozen greenish-gray… slugs, for lack of a better word for them, although I was about to find out what they were really called.
"What the hell are those!?" one of the male teens shouted.
"These, my friends, are Yeerks," Sam said calmly. "These are the very creatures that I have told you to imagine before. Yes, they are real. Yes, they exist. And yes, everything I have just told you about them is true. Even the part where they crawl into someone's head and take control of the senses and the body. Especially that part. That part is actually what makes Yeerks unique from every other race in this galaxy."
"Bruh, are you serious about this?" the same guy who had yelled out upon seeing the Yeerks demanded to know.
"Yes, Derek, I am indeed serious," Sam replied.
"No," Derek shot back. "You know what? Fuck this. Fuck you. I don't know what you guys are smoking but I don't want any part of it. And I don't care if this is part of some fucking initiation. This shit ain't worth it." Derek then stood up and left the room through the same door that all of us prospective full members had come in. Another guy, the one sitting beside Derek, stood up and chased after his friend. "Yo, bro, wait up!" he called out as he went through the door as well.
"Ah, such a shame," Sam said, shaking his head. "Some people are simply not ready for this grand revelation. But I am sure that he can be persuaded to believe in good time. But let me get back to the matter at hand. The Yeerks, they have come to this planet from thousands of light years away to this planet, our planet, with but one simple request: that we share our senses, our body, with them."
There was a pause before someone spoke up again. "That's it?" a woman with short blond hair asked Sam. "That's all that those… things are asking of us?"
"Nothing more and nothing less," Sam replied with a straight face. "So, Linda, will you do it? Will you share your body and your mind with one of our extraterrestrial friends?"
Linda hesitated, whatever answer she had decided on dying on her lips. Another silence descended upon the room before a third person, a man maybe in his mid-thirties, asked another question. "This… this isn't deadly, right?" he asked. "Because I've seen the movies, and usually when the alien takes over a human the human dies and only the alien is left behind. If I let one of those Yeerks in my head, and I'm not saying I will yet, what's my assurance that I will still be me, and not just some alien impostor?"
"I assure you, Bronson, that you will not be harmed by our Yeerk friends," Sam said. "You will retain your memories, your personality, the things that make you you. All you have to do is share your body with your Yeerk so that it can carry out its duties. You will still be able to perceive everything that your Yeerk does through your body. Nobody needs to die or be harmed by this. All we ask of you is a little cooperation."
"So you're telling me that to become a full member of the Sharing, we all have to let those slug things, whatever you call them, into our heads and use our bodies?" Bronson asked.
Sam nodded his head. "I believe I've mentioned this more than enough times," he added.
"And you said that you were a full member, right? Which means that you've got one of those things in your head. Can it speak to us?" Bronson asked. "Will it speak to us? Or is talking to us humans beneath its duties?"
"There is no need for sarcasm here, Bronson," Sam said. He then straightened himself out, adopting a more formal standing pose. "I am Eldril One-Nine-Two of the Kes Shaan Pool. I am the Yeerk currently residing in the head of the human known as Samuel Chase. In truth, I have been the one speaking to you all along. I merely pretended to be Sam in order to make your introduction to our species an easier and more palatable experience for you humans to comprehend, and for that I apologize. But now, the truth is finally revealed. Welcome to the Sharing. Now who here will lend their bodies to help my Yeerk brothers and sisters?"
Another silence descended upon the room as those inside who were not yet full members absorbed and tried to understand what they had just heard from Sam or Eldril, whoever really was speaking to us. There were uneasy glances at the other full members in the room, the mentors who had been guiding us on the path to full membership. I looked at Amanda, my Sharing mentor, and tried to imagine one of those Yeerk things hiding inside her head, looking back at me through those steel gray eyes. Amanda, or more likely the alien inside her head, smiled back at me, as if to reassure me that everything was all right between it and her. I turned away, unsure of what I would have done or said if I kept on looking at her.
And then, to everyone's surprise, the little boy stood up and said, "I'll do it." There were a few gasps and murmurs from the adult would-be full members in the room at the sight of this seven-year-old boy being the first one out of all the people in the room to make the leap of faith with the Yeerks. A smile went across Sam/Eldril's face, and he walked over to the boy. "Your name is Joey, yes?" he asked.
"Yes," the boy nodded, and at that moment he sounded quite a bit more scared than he had when he stood up and said that he was going to be the first one to give up his body to a Yeerk.
"Good, good, excellent," Eldril nodded. "And your mentor is Kathleen, I see," he added, referring to the girl with Joey. "Kathleen will take you to where you will receive your Yeerk, Joey. Thank you for taking what has to be a big step for a juvenile human. Welcome to the Sharing."
Kathleen nodded at Joey and took his hand, and together they went through the side entrance from where the two bouncer types had wheeled out the aquarium with the Yeerks floating inside. Eldril then turned back to the room and asked, "Who else here would like to make the leap of faith and secure your place as a full member of the Sharing?"
Once again there was hesitation among the rest of us; nobody wanted to make the first move but nobody wanted to be the last one through as well. Then Bronson stood up and said, "I'll do it too."
"An excellent choice, Bronson," Eldril exclaimed. "Your friend Carl will help you along to the place where your Yeerk awaits. Welcome to the Sharing, Mr. Reitlinger." Once the two men had gone through the side entrance as well, Eldril asked again, "Anyone else?"
To this day I'm not sure why I did what I did. Maybe the fact that there was no escaping this had not gotten through to me just yet. All I knew was that I stood up, and Eldril looked at me expecting me to say I'm gonna do it too, only for me to say, "I'm sorry. I can't do this."
"I'm sorry?" Eldril repeated. "What do you mean, you can't do this, Jane?"
"I can't do this. I'm not ready for this. I'm sorry. I just can't!" I said, and then I scrambled out of that room as fast as my feet could take me, an attempt not helped by the fact that I had to get around Amanda before I could even run for the main door. But I managed to make it out, but I had barely made it a step away from the door before I heard Amanda calling out to me. "Jane, wait!"
"I'm sorry, Amanda, but I just can't do it!" I shouted back at her. "When you said becoming a full member would be life-changing for me, I thought you were just exaggerating!"
"But why?" Amanda asked me. "What's wrong? Are you not interested in sharing your body with another being who lacks the basic senses that you have?"
"Look, I don't wanna talk about any of that right now, okay?" I said. "It's just… I'm not sure I'm the right person for this! I'm not sure you even need me for this. You've got lots of other guys who might actually agree to putting an alien in their heads!"
"But you're about to become a full member of the Sharing!" Amanda replied. "Surely this is a small price to pay for the chance to be part of history."
"Look, Amanda, or whatever your name really is," I continued, "maybe I don't want to become a full member anymore. Maybe I never wanted to become a full member in the first place. Maybe I'm just fine with being an associate member!"
Amanda's shoulders sagged, and a frown formed on her face. "I'm sorry that you think that way, Jane," she said. "But I'm also afraid that you are misunderstanding something. You have been selected for full membership in the Sharing, and that is not an honor that is given lightly. And the Sharing doesn't like it when someone refuses to become a full member."
"What are you trying to say?" I asked, the alarm bells starting to ring inside my head.
"It means that, like it or not, you are going to walk out of here a full member, Jane," Amanda said sadly. "And unfortunately for you, you have chosen the difficult path to initiation. Now."
"What?" It took me only a moment to realize that the last word was not addressed to me, but it would be a moment too late for me to react. Without warning I felt two huge presences behind me, and then two pairs of arms covered in sharp-looking blades grabbed my arms. "The fuck!?" I exclaimed. "What's this all about?"
"I told you, Jane," Amanda, or more accurately the alien hiding behind Amanda's face, replied. "You will become a full member of the Sharing. And unfortunately for you, you chose the difficult path. Take her to the Pool," she told the two massive walking blades flanking me.
I tried to escape from the two walking blades, to break free from their grasp and get away from this place as fast as possible, but the two aliens (they had to be aliens; there's nothing on Earth that looks remotely like these things) lifted me off of the ground and literally carried me down the earthen tunnel. The screams reached my ears soon after that, and when I was dragged into what I was about to learn was the Yeerk Pool, I made a terrifying conclusion: Hell was a real place, and it had arrived here on Earth from space.
"Have you collected the necessary samples?"
"Yes, we have, Sub-Visser. We have more than enough samples on which to run the entire test battery."
The red beam on my forehead blinked and faded away, and I slumped down exhausted on the chair holding me. A middle-aged human wearing glasses and a white lab coat was standing beside me, and he had a strange device in his hand that looked like a cross between a syringe and a gun.
"Take the prisoner back to their cell," Orryst, the Sub-Visser in the Gray alien-looking being, ordered, and two Hork-Bajir entered the room to comply with his order. They lifted me up out of the seat and carried me out of the room, through more tunnels carved out of the rock, and then they deposited me into a small cell. The Hork guards walked out of the cell, and a Gleet BioFilter flickered to life between me and them.
((Lilly? Lilly?)) I called out in my mind. ((You still there?))
((Yes, Jane, I'm still here,)) Lilten replied, but her voice sounded weak, distant. She sounded like she was not completely connected to my brain at that moment.
((What are they doing to us, Lilten?)) I asked her. ((What do they want with us?))
((I wish I knew the answer, Jane,)) Lilly muttered back. ((I wish I could give you an answer that I knew or believed in.))
A/N: What's up, guys? Yes, I'm back. This chapter took me a long time to get through, mostly because I've been busy with dealing with real life as well as other things. However, I can't say that this is my return to regular updates, but this is my assurance to you that I'm still here and working on this stories, as well as all my other stories. And as always, feel free to leave a review or a comment, a follow or a favorite or some kudos. I always appreciate feedback. Thank you! – GR