My name is Aftran Nine-Four-Two of the Hett Simplatt Pool. If you've been reading Tom and Cassie's accounts, you know that I am a Yeerk from the Peace Movement. You also know that Tom is now my host, and we are friends. Together, we work for the Peace Movement and the Animorphs, working to provide them with information that can be used to win the war against the Yeerk Empire.

Now, Tom and his brother decided that I should receive the morphing power. While they had not been against it before, after Tom had come to trust me, it had always been an abstract concept. Now, they were going to do it.

Now, I was going to be able to morph, and receive a DNA mix of the Animorphs.

As well as Tom, in case I ever needed it.

While I was excited, I was also very scared.

Of being in a body that was not mine.

Of mixing the DNA of several humans together to create "my" own human morph.

Of what it could mean for my people if the humans and Andalites won the war.

The Peace Movement wanted to end involuntary infestation, and the empire that forced this on us. They did this, in part, by propagandizing at us that our natural bodies were inferior. That the only redeeming aspect to our disgusting, slug bodies was that we were parasites, and could live inside the heads of other intelligent species. We might be denied the senses most species take for granted, but if we crawl into their heads and take over their senses, we would no longer be deprived of what should have been our birthright, as equally intelligent species.

Some races wanted us there. The Gedds, who were as smart as human monkeys, which were native to our home world. We evolved with them, and there has never been an involuntary Gedd Controller.

The Taxxons, who gladly welcomed our presence in exchange for endless meat. Their species had evolved with endless hunger, so much so that they would not hesitate before killing one of their own to eat.

The Hork-Bajir. Evolved enough to develop a language, but with the intelligence of a human toddler. Covered with blades to eat the dark from trees. Despite their fearsome appearance, they were quite gentle species. Unfortunately, they were intelligent enough to resist our control.

Then, the humans. A race of people on a planet called Earth, so abundant that their numbers exceeded a billion. Their bodies might not be covered with blades, but their number made them a perfect species for us to infest.

For most of my life, I believed that the only creatures that could not be infested were ones too small or decentralized to be incapable of infestation. All others were-or would shortly-belong to us.

How very naive I was to believe this. It is not the right of a Yeerk to enslave a host. A Yeerk should only live inside the mind of another creature if they freely consent to it.

If they want you there.

And, of course, if you respect them as a fellow intelligent creature, and do not abuse the privilege of living inside their mind.

I was happy living inside of Tom's head, but more importantly, he was happy with me being there.

His other Yeerks had mistreated him. No, that is too kind a way of phrasing it. They had tortured him. Broken him. Denied him all use of his body, but also the freedom of his mind. For nearly three years, he lived as a slave inside his head, subject to the whims of the Yeerks there.

At least, those Yeerks can no longer cause him-or any other creature-any pain.

I now live to help Tom to become whole again, and to work at defeating an empire who would subject any other species to similar treatment.

There are many like Tom, both human and alien.

After learning that I was to be made morph capable, while still keeping my body, I felt excited. But also very scared.

Tom knew this, of course. While he is not able to read my mind, he has lived with me for nearly three months, and was very adept at reading my emotions.

That night, before he fell asleep but after I had tucked us into bed and held him in a mental hug, he broached the subject with me.

(You're okay with this, right?) he murmured. He was tired, but awake enough to be able to communicate freely. (I mean, you want to be morph capable?)

(I do,) I reassured him.

He wanted me to say more, I knew. I kept silent longer than I should have.

(Aftran?) he urged.

I sighed, inwardly acknowledging my selfishness. It wasn't right to make Tom worry, especially now.

(Oh, I'm just nervous,) I explained. His emotions and thoughts wavered, waiting for me to continue, so I added, (Mixing the DNA, and actually morphing on my own.)

Tom registered this, taking it in. (Mixing the DNA I get,) he allowed, (but you and Cassie have morphed before, right? And didn't you become a bird when you controlled her, the first time?)

I had to laugh. (It's silly, I know,) I admitted. (It's just something else when it's your body doing the morphing, and not your host's.)

What I didn't add was that, with the exception of the first time I had been in Cassie's mind, Cassie always controlled the morphing process. I was merely a passenger, an observer. The first time-the only time-I had morphed in her body while controlling her, I didn't think much of it aside from this being another skill my host possessed that now belonged to me. She could morph, so I could morph.

Tom frowned, acknowledging this, but still working it over in his mind. (Yeah, I get that.) Then, he had another question. (When you and Cassie morph, does your body stay inside the animal's? It's got to be a pretty tight fit.)

I frowned, thinking this over for the first time. Whoever said that humans were inferior in their intelligence to Andalites or Yeerks had clearly never infested an intelligent human!

(I'd always assumed so,) I began, (but you're right. Maybe, a part of my body goes to zero space? I can always ask Ax.)

I spoke the last part with hesitation. Ax and I were hardly enemies, but we were also hardly friends. While he had forgiven me for infesting him to save his life-and we both knew that he would have died otherwise-I was a Yeerk, and he was an Andalite. Moreover, I had saved his life. I would not have claimed that he "owed" me, but many humans and, yes, even Andalites, would have determined this to be the case.

It was hardly conductive for friendship.

Fortunately, Tom was neither very interested in having that type of conversation with Ax, nor oblivious to the fact that it could cause all of us some level of discomfort.

(Only if you want to know that badly,) he teased me.

I giggled inside my head. (Good point. I'll just be grateful the technology works for Controllers, and leave it at that.)

(Bet the Andalites didn't know that until they witnessed Visser Three morphing,) Tom noted, as he wrapped the already tight blankets around him more securely.

He wasn't cold, but he needed their emotional warmth. I considered holding him in a mental hug, but knew that he was happier where he was at. Mental hugs were wonderful, but they couldn't be used as a "cure all", as humans might put it. I knew how important it was to give Tom what he needed and what he asked for, but allow him to make the choice and be able to acknowledge and understand his needs.

(I'm sure.) I grimaced at the scene playing out. Among fellow Yeerks as well as Andalite warriors. (Then again, even if Visser Three couldn't morph without surrendering control to his host, or there was some sort of quirk in the technology to prevent Controllers from morphing...well, Tom, you know firsthand that he can still be extremely dangerous.)

(Yeah,) he agreed. (Good thing my Yeerks always stayed on his good side.)

He reached out to me, then, so I wrapped him in a solid mental hug. He didn't ask for a positive memory, or a lullaby, or even for me to continue speaking to him.

This was enough for him to be able to fall asleep.

I slept, too. Some people, even Controllers, didn't believe that Yeerks sleep. Preferring to see us as hardened parasites-a description that certainly fits many of my fellow Yeerks, and even myself for most of my life-they thought that we were so deprived, so unemotional, so uncaring, that somehow, this trait for survival passed us by.

It didn't. We hardly needed the full eight or so hours that humans claim to be ideal, but we can hardly go without it entirely. The Yeerk "ideal" is six hours each night, but we can make do with an hour every forty-eight Earth hours, and survive without for an entire feeding period. Yeerks with Taxxon hosts must undergo this regularly, which is one reason I was grateful never to be assigned such a host. From what I learned in training, if a Yeerk needs to spend an entire feeding cycle without sleeping, they will feel the hunger pains far more acutely by the time they are due to feed. It will feel as though they are about to enter the fugue even if they have only gone sixty-five hours without their last visit to the Yeerk Pool.

I have never experienced this, and hope that I will live the rest of my life without needing to do so. Since a host body can function without a Yeerk taking control, it's likely that a Yeerk can sleep inside an awake host. Tom and I have never attempted this, nor had any need to, since his sleeping schedule is fairly regular.

Cassie and her fellow friends/fighters have not been as fortunate. While it hasn't been the case during the time I've lived inside of Tom's head, I knew that there were times when they hardly slept due to an upcoming battle, or the anxiety of one.

That night, I remained partially disconnected from Tom's head, with my hold on his mind in "gentle control" mode. Even though I technically operated all parts of his body in this "setting", I purposely kept my "hold" loose enough that he could also move without any additional effort. This enabled him to feel, as he once put it, "not like I'm tied up and totally helpless". Other Yeerks called it sharing control.

He slept very soundly, with images taking hold of his mind in what humans call "dreams". Based on my time in the heads of Karen, Cassie, and Tom, I could provide witness that what human scientists claim about humans not remembering most of their dreams by the time they wake up to be entirely true.

Yeerks never dreamed, so when I fell asleep approximately ninety-seven minutes after Tom, I only experienced the restorative rest of a sound sleep. When I woke up five hours and fifty-nine minutes later, I felt fully refreshed and patiently waited until Tom would wake up another two or so hours later. Currently, he was dreaming about flying with his younger brother, but neither were in bird morph. Human dreams can be extremely illogical, and entertaining, in that way.

Once, Karen dreamt that she was swimming in a swimming pool full of Skittles. She enjoyed that dream so much that I didn't have the heart to tell her that this would be a complete waste of candy, and would surely feel much more painful against her skin than water.

Even then, I was not that unkind to my child host.

Except when necessary for maintain our cover, I gave Tom full control the following day. We were both nervous and excited about what would happen afterwards, and if you asked either of us about any details of the school day, we would have to answer that it was a blur.

Finally, after the final bell rang, Tom was able to drive Jake to Cassie's barn. As I sat back in Tom's mind, not even taking loose control, Jake explained what we planned to do, and then asked for anyone who wanted to add their DNA to Aftran's human morph to speak up. Since everyone was willing to provide me with their DNA, my morph was bound to look different than Ax's. After all, Tobias and Tom had not been there to provide Ax with DNA for his human morph.

Tobias even stated as much.

(It would look weird if she looked too much like Ax if we were all in public together,) he told us, still in his hawk body. (Even with Tom adding his own DNA.)

(I cannot provide DNA from my Andalite body for the human morph, and because my human morph is that, I am unable to assist with that,) Ax determined, sounding a little apologetic.

It would be for the best, though. If the goal was not to look like a female Ax, the last thing we wanted was a male human Ax adding his own DNA.

Tom observed that he wasn't exactly saying that he wouldn't provide his Andalite DNA, except he pretty much was.

I hardly minded.

(It would be far too much to expect an Andalite to give a Yeerk like myself their DNA,) I reasoned. (As you know, I would rather not be involved in the combat part of the war, if I can help it. Better to stick with providing information.)

(Likewise,) Tom told me, reassuringly. (It's part of the reason I'm glad they're not making me morph capable.)

Even though everyone agreed that it would be borderline cruel to have Tom fight with the Animorphs, he often still felt like he was a coward for this.

(You're hardly a coward for not wanting to be involved in their battles, Tom,) I soothed him. (You've been through so much, and besides, our role is one of providing information.)

Tom gave me a mental smile, which I returned.

Reverting to gentle control, I asked, "I understand that the person whose DNA I am acquiring goes into a sort of trance?"

Jake nodded his head. "Yeah. You won't, when you acquire us. But we do, for several seconds or so. It doesn't hurt us, and we jump out of it pretty quickly."

"And...becoming morph capable? What should I be prepared for, with that?" I asked.

Meaning, of course, the experience of having my natural body being placed on the Escafil device. Cassie had experienced a pleasant sort of warmth, but she had only needed to place a hand there. Besides, the Yeerk sense of touch-outside of a host-is more acute than a human's.

"Would it hurt?" would have been a more accurate way of phrasing the question, but it would have sounded childish.

"It's weird," Marco explained. "Kind of like a spark, but not the whole plugging your finger into an electric socket kind. There's warmth, and then, not."

An electric socket? I raised Tom's eyebrows.

"Marco!" Rachel rolled her eyes. "When was the lack time you put your finger in an electric socket?"

"Five," he remembered, and he winced. "I only did it once. Obviously."

(And here, I thought I was the one with the awful childhood,) Tobias observed.

Marco simply shrugged his shoulders, now grinning. I recognized this as the tell tale sign he was about to make a joke. "Probably, my dad was in charge of me that day, and he was watching TV instead of me. It happens. You learn."

(I don't know, Aftran,) Tom teased. (Still want his DNA?)

I had to laugh. (Well, I can't exactly say "no, thank you" now. Anyway, I'm sure I can refrain from putting my finger into electric sockets when I am human.)

Tom mentally rolled his eyes at me. (Good to know.)

Well, no use putting this off any further. If it hurt, it would be over with soon enough.

"All right. I am ready," I announced. "I'm leaving Tom, now. Cassie, you have the clothes ready?"

"Yeah, they're right here." Cassie motioned to a large bag, and Tom and I noticed a dark curtain pulled up around part of the barn.

Ohh. Of course.

As though it weren't obvious enough, Cassie explained, "Since you're going to be naked when you morph, and we don't know what your size will be, I collected stuff from everyone. Anyway, morphing outfits are supposed to be tight fitting. Not so tight you can't breathe, but skin tight."

Yes, Cassie. Thank you very much for pointing this out.

Oh, I knew that she meant well. Anyway, humans were far more concerned about seeing a naked body than any other species I'd encountered. Still. She didn't need to spell it out.

Maybe, it was Tom's awkwardness of the situation taking over. He did not want to be imagining me-his Yeerk-without any clothes.

I would have reassured him, but I knew that would only make things more awkward. Best to just get this over with.

Before I left Tom's head, though, there was something else to address. Tom knew, of course, but he might forget, and the others ought to hear it from me.

"I should probably acquire Tom the second time after morphing human," I pointed out. "But I don't need to morph him, so once I demorph to my Yeerk form, Tom can hold me, acquire me, and then place me back in my ear."

(You got it,) Tom promised me.

I gave him a mental smile, but he might have missed it, since I immediately started to disconnect from his brain. As I'd only been using gentle control, the process was ten seconds shorter. I felt Tom's hands on my body, smelled his familiar scent, and became aware of the rigid sensation of the morphing device. Someone-probably Jake placed a hand on another side, because I felt a warm sensation all over my body. It was not unpleasant, but I was surprised at the strength, and I felt myself twitch in surprise. Then, it was over.

I felt myself being passed to one person, and based on the order we had agreed on, I summoned Tom's face in my mind, concentrating on acquiring his DNA. I knew that he would go into a trance, and hoped it wouldn't be strong enough that he would drop me.

Or any of the others, quite frankly.

Going by memory, I focused on Tobias as I felt myself being passed to the next hand. Then, Marco. Jake. Rachel, and finally, Cassie.

Tamli, I thought to myself.

The Galard term for "my heart", used by symbionts who had pledged themselves to another, platonically.

Naturally, a treasonous term in the Yeerk Empire. I smiled to myself, reveling in my new life, as I worked with Tom and the Animorphs to fight against the Empire.

Becoming morph capable was another way of fighting. Another way of throwing back the propaganda in the empire's face.

If Karen knew, she'd be so happy for me.

Well, maybe, someday.

Time to focus on the mission at hand. I summoned up the images of everyone, placing them together in my mind as I focused on the changes. I felt myself being moved as I began to grow, and assumed that I was now behind the curtain to preserve my human morph's respectability.

I tried not to think too much about the changes as they occurred. I remembered Cassie showing me her memory of morphing Illim. How Mr. Tidwell appeared to be screaming, at one point. Even though she had a gift for morphing, she claimed that no one could make this morph look pretty.

The reverse was probably true.

Once I was fully human, I felt...strange. In one sense, it was like being back in Cassie's head, except I was aware of having very long hair, and when I glanced down at my body, it was thin, rather than muscular. Much lighter in skin tone than Cassie's, too. Then again, she was the only dark colored human of the group, although Marco's DNA was hispanic. Privately, I expected to resemble Tom and Jake more closely than any of the others...

I tried not to think too much about this. Better to alert everyone that I was human, but without clothing. Which I would remedy shortly.

"Okay, I'm morphed," I told them, speaking on my own for the first time. "Now? I just have to figure out what fits me."

I focused, now, on the next task. Find clothing that would fight snugly and be able to morph with me. Andalites didn't wear clothing, so their morphing technology would not have taken this into account. Really, the fact that the Animorphs had been able to morph anything was proof that they were as resourceful as intelligent.

Based on my frame and the options at hand, I could dismiss some articles outright. After some trial and error, I found female undergarments that fit comfortably, and then outer clothes. Why humans needed undergarments as well as outer layers was another puzzle, even if it made enough sense to them.

Once I had dressed myself in clothes that were neither too tight to be uncomfortable nor too loose to fail to morph with me, I moved outside of the protection of the curtain. My human instincts told me to be nervous, that I would be judged and evaluated on my appearance.

They all stared, and Tom's face grew red. Immediately, he took his gaze off me, or rather, not entirely off me, but to the side of me. I smiled at the others, glancing around at them. I stopped smiling, simply because I could, and decided I enjoyed it. I experimented with a laugh.

No one spoke-they just kept staring at me.

"You're all staring at me," I told them. A little worried-had I gotten the order of clothing wrong? Picked out something that was too small for me, revealing some part of the body that should have remained hidden?-I stared down at myself. "Is this okay? It's tight, but I can breathe and move around okay. I think it will work for morphing..."

I would have continued to babble, but then, Rachel reached into her purse and pulled out a large mirror.

"Here. Take a look," she commanded.

I studied myself, nerves returning. "Okay?" I demanded, still not finding anything wrong. "What, am I wearing the shirt backwards?"

Cassie rolled her eyes at Rachel, then walked over to me, placing an arm around my shoulder. It felt...protective.

"I think Rachel means that you're, you know. Pretty," Cassie explained, gently.

"More than pretty," Tom put in, then stared at the ground.

Oh. Ohh.

I would have liked to roll my eyes at them. All this because I was attractive?

"You're downright hot, Aftran," Marco explained, as he studied me. "Boys will be all over you."

(All over her?) asked Ax. (What? To apply to become hosts?)

Good old Ax. Yes, at least I wasn't the only one to fail to understand human norms without being inside of a human host body.

Granted, I had a human level of intelligence, and my experience being inside of Tom and Cassie's minds, but without their minds with me, I could only guess at half of their social cues.

Well, at least I could make a snarky retort at Ax without sounding like an empire Yeerk. That would be expected of me, and I was happy to comply.

I rolled her eyes. "I already have two hosts, thanks," I pointed out, dryly.

"And you infested me yesterday, and I survived," Jake added.

Everyone grew silent as they turned to him. "You did WHAT?" Marco demanded, turning to Jake, then-to my horror-at me.

Acting on human instinct, fear of a group of angry humans, I held up her hands, thinking that someone (probably Marco) was going to try to hit me.

I stopped when I saw that Tom was standing next to me. Not touching me, but making it clear from his posture that he wouldn't be messed with.

Emboldened, I spoke up.

"No," I managed, then locked my eyes on Jake's. "Not against his will! I'd never do that."

Jake joined Tom in standing next to me.

"Definitely not against my will," he agreed, firmly. After a second, he added, "I just...you know. After having Temrash in my head, and seeing that Tom and Cassie get along well with her, I figured..." He shrugged his shoulders. "Anyway, while I'm not going to apply for partial Yeerk custody, I'm glad I did it." He smiled at me, then at his older brother. "Really glad."

Marco and Rachel looked like human language had failed them, but at least they were no longer in attack mode.

Tobias spoke first, clearly attempting a joke. (You do realize, Aftran, that you've essentially infested half the people here? Tom, Jake, Cassie? Who's next, Marco?)

(You're forgetting me,) Ax spoke up, but there was no anger in his thought speech. (When I needed my Triaa gland removed, Cassie placed Aftran inside my head when I was unconscious. She assisted Cassie by locating the gland, and Cassie was able to remove it.) He then added, (It is highly probable that I would not be alive today, were it not for her.)

There was another long silence, broken by Marco. "That's four of us."

A snarky part of me wanted to applaud Marco for his ability to do basic human math, but I clamped down on that part of me, the way I might have on Karen in the early days.

The comparison made my face pale, but no one seemed to notice. Good.

"Yeah, and with the exception of Ax, and only to save his life, she had all of our permission," Tom practically growled. "In case you forgot, she freed Karen and joined the Peace Movement. She is the reason I am here, speaking to you guys on my own, instead of a prisoner in the back of my head."

Marco, recognizing this as a lost cause raised his hands in the universal gesture of surrender. Rachel glanced at Cassie, but didn't speak up.

"Okay. Let's not argue about this, guys," Cassie pressed. "The important thing is that Aftran is not doing anything to us against our will, and she's certainly not hurting us. If Jake ever wants to talk to her inside his head again, I'm not going to tell him not to. If he doesn't, that's his choice, too. Our war is with the Yeerk empire, not Aftran. Can we please remember this?"

Everyone nodded, but I noticed Marco covering his ears as he dramatically stepped backwards from me.

I had to grin. His idea of a nonverbal joke.

"Thank you, Cassie," I told her. Addressing the others, I continued, "As she said, I promise that I will not infest any of you against your will. And, for those of you who I have infested, I certainly will not continue to do so without your consent."

At this, I raised my hands in a plaintive gesture.

Everyone seemed to accept this.

(We get it, Aftran. It's just a surprise,) Tobias told me, and I could tell he used private thought speech.

I gave him a small smile to indicate that I heard-and understood-what he meant.

"Okay." Jake nodded his head, but looked like he wanted this whole thing to be over.

That made two of us. I couldn't wait to return to my Yeerk body-and to Tom's head.

"So, now, Aftran, do you want to stay human a little longer? Or go back to Tom's head?" Jake glanced at me. "Tom?"

I realized that there was something I needed to do. Or, at least, offer to do.

"There is something I'd like to do before I resume my Yeerk form," I admitted, my voice softening. I turned to the others. "I'd like to give Cassie and Tom hugs. Jake, too, if he would like one." She then addressed the rest of us. "Really, anyone else who would like one."

"I don't mind," Jake answered, smiling.

"Me neither," added Cassie, grinning.

"No problems here," Tom put in.

No one else spoke up, but I could hardly have expected them to jump at the offer.

I wrapped my arms around Tom, holding him close to me. He closed his eyes, and I knew he was imagining a mental hug. Perhaps, the next time I gave him one, this memory would be added to the ones he experienced.

Cassie stepped forward after Tom let me go. We laughed and then hugged, holding onto each other tightly.

(Tamli,) I whispered to her in private thought speech. (Thank you.)

When I let go of her, Cassie gave me a little nod.

Jake was last, and clearly the most uncomfortable with the whole idea. At first, he held onto me a little stiffly, but then relaxed into it, probably remembering the mental hugs I have given him the day before. His eyes opened when I let go.

Then, relieved to be able to demorph and return to normal, I smiled at the rest of the Animorphs. "Okay. I'm going to resume my Yeerk form, and then acquire Tom. Then...you know the drill."

I didn't bother moving to the place behind the curtain. My borrowed clothing would come with me, after all. I felt myself shrink, my vision dim, and the other changes begin. Worst of all was the coat of slime, covering my entire body.

Soon, though, it was all over. I was back in my regular body. If I had lungs, I would have sighed with relief. I felt myself being lifted by Tom and remembered to acquire him before he lifted me to his ear. Several seconds later, I felt myself being moved upwards, and, finally, my palps as connected with his ear. I was sure I was going to dry out at any second, even though I knew that this was only instinct, and I was in no danger of dying. I forced myself to be careful, as always, I approached the entrance of his ear. I did not want to cause him any undue pain. I dosed the entrance of his ear with ample amount of painkiller and crawled inside, as I had done so many times before. I resisted the urge to take control of his body as I made my way to his brain. I experienced his senses, welcomed them, but did not let myself clamp down on them, taking these for solely for myself. Within a minute or so, I was connected to his brain, but Tom remained in control. I let myself relax as his mind and emotions welcomed me back.

At the same time, the memory of him staring at my human morph and calling me "more than pretty" was all too apparent in his thoughts. There was no way to avoid his awkwardness around me.

(Tom!) I reassured him, laughing gently. (It's fine. You're a human male teenager. Besides, you didn't, you know...)

This seemed to work, as Tom gave me a mental grin. (Yeah, well, at the time, it was pretty much the scariest thing I'd experienced since you first infested me. Thinking, even for a minute, that your Yeerk is hot isn't exactly something that you want your Yeerk to see.)

(You also thought I had an understanding face,) I recalled, speaking gently. (And you stood up for me when I was sure Marco and Rachel wanted to throw some punches in my direction.)

(They're...)

Tom trailed off, clearly not sure what term to use.

(Scared,) I finished for him, gently.

Needlessly. It was hardly one of my goals to infest every member of the Animorphs. Deep down, they must realize this.

(Yeah.) Tom gave me a mental shrug. (Well, it's their loss,) he teased.

I had to snicker at his assessment. Especially coming from a once involuntary human. (Thanks, Tom.)

We were quiet for a little, happy to be back in each other's company.

(Hey, Aftran?) Tom asked, a little hesitantly.

(Yes, Tom?) I urged, as though I didn't already know what my host was going to ask me.

(What was it like? Having a body, but without...you know?) Tom queried.

(Well, oddly enough, I had no desire to stick my fingers into an electric socket,) I quipped.

Tom sent me a mental eye roll, snickering at my attempt at humor. (Good to know.)

(But,) I added, knowing that I could be honest with Tom about this, (it was...strange. There was no mind there beside mine, because there were only the human instincts. It felt like being in a broken host.) I couldn't hide a shudder as I recalled what wasn't present in the human mind I inhabited. After a moment's hesitation, I added, (It almost...felt wrong.)

I felt Tom process this, understanding what I meant, comparing it to what he'd learned about voluntary and broken hosts from his previous Yeerks. Recognizing how close he'd come to becoming shattered, not just broken.

(You don't want to morph, then?) he finally asked me.

Honestly, I wasn't sure. Maybe, human bodies were the exception. Animal morphs could be different.

I just knew that I would never want to remain in a morph long enough to become a nothlit. I didn't think I would be able to handle the emptiness.

I shrugged. (I would, if necessary. I'll acquire other morphs, animals, in case they can be useful. I'm glad-I'm honored-that you gave me the power. But, becoming a nothlit?) I paused, trying to figure out what I should tell Tom. (I mean, I'd do it if it was a choice between that or death,) I admitted, (but if I was ever told that I could never have a host again, that it was either a choice between my Yeerk body or a body that wasn't my own...well, I'd choose my Yeerk body over becoming a nothlit.)

Tom recognized this to be a pretty important, powerful, announcement. He also realized that the others wouldn't understand this. Except, perhaps, Cassie.

Well, no one was making me become a nothlit. Allowing me to become morph capable was a gift, a way to help them, as much as me.

Besides, I knew that Cassie and Tom would always welcome me to share their body. War or no war.

(Well, we'll do what we can to make sure it doesn't come to that, okay?) Tom promised me. (Anyway, you have two people who really like having you in your heads, so hopefully, when the war's over, we can make sure that people who want Yeerks can still have them. Well, the decent Yeerks, anyway.)

I smiled at Tom, then gave him a mental hug. (Thank you, Tom.)

"Okay," Jake was saying. "Ready to head home?"

We realized that that, with the obvious exception of Cassie, the others had left.

"Sure." Tom draped an arm around Jake's back. Turning to Cassie, he added, "See you soon, fellow Yeerk sharer."

Cassie laughed. "See you later, Tom."

End

Author's note #1:

In case you're curious, I envision Aftran's morph to look like a teenage version of a mashup of actors Evangeline Lilly and Shawnee Smith. Specifically, Kate from Lost and Amanda from the Saw movies. Her face would have more an an "Amanda" vibe to it, but her hair is definitely Kate's, only maybe half a foot longer. My mental image is someone beautiful but not in the Disney princess sense (although, if you made me choose one of them, the closest would be Belle from Beauty and the Beast, the animated version), and someone whose face just reads understanding.

Author's note #2:

I taught myself to swim when I was nine years old, which was the oldest of any of my friends. Despite being able to make the transition between swimming in shallow water and deep water without too much effort, I experienced a lot of fear when it came time to jump off a diving board. I blame this on a bad dream the night before I was going to-literally-make the first leap. My friends, knowing that I had been late learning how to swim in the first place, were all very patient and supportive when, during that last day of camp for the summer, I slowly made my way closer and closer to the end of the diving board before finally being able to make the plunge! How does this have anything to do with the story? Well, one of my friends offered me the advice to pretend that the pool wasn't filled with water, but with candy. So, I pretended that the swimming pool was filled with Skittles. It was probably thanks to this advice that I succeeded in jumping off the diving board before the end of the last day at camp!

Looking back, about twenty-five or so years later, I realized that if the swimming pool HAD been filled with Skittles, my first jump might have been my last!