When you're a Controller whose Yeerk is a member of the Peace Movement, and your younger brother is the head of a resistance, and you're both teenagers, things are never really normal. Sure, we both have to act normal around our parents and at school, but we always have our eyes and ears open for information about the Yeerks. At least, now, Jake and I were both on the same side, and Jake could be open with me about how he was dealing with everything, and I could help him as much as I could. In addition to emotional support, Terlin and I would collect whatever information we could from Sharing meetings, and me from the voluntary area. Just in case there was a higher level voluntary host whose Yeerk was feeding at the same time as Terlin, and they were inclined to share information.
Yeah, highly unlikely. But still, no reason not to keep my ears and eyes wide open. Just in case.
While I didn't see Mr. Tidwell, and Terlin didn't see Illim, as much as when we were being recruited, they hardly disappeared from the Yeerk Pool. We usually "shared a feeding", as the phrase went, at least once every couple of weeks. We had to be careful, because everyone knew he was a teacher. And, since I couldn't bring my History book or notes with me to the Yeerk Pool, we couldn't pretend that he was meeting with me to tutor me.
Nor could he hold us after class every day without the risk of drawing attention.
Not that we didn't have ways around this. I was doing some "extra credit" work for him, or giving Jake sample tests to try before he took the main one. Mr. Tidwell was one of the few teachers who taught at least one class in every grade, and the fact that Jake and I both had him at the same time was more than a little unusual. Unless, of course, this had all been prearranged by him.
The point is, we managed to communicate. I was the contact person for the Animorphs, and he was kind of the contact person for the Peace Movement. There were other students in high school who were in the Peace Movement, but no one in my grade.
When you thought about it, the amount of effort we spent keeping in contact could have been the same amount that Jake or Cassie would have provided, for similar results. Then again, they had appearances to worry about, and at least Terlin and Illim were Yeerks and could spend time together in our bodies (or, so the empire thought) without raising any major red flags.
Midget and I were closer than ever. We both felt like we were making up for lost time, and I guessed that, really, we were. He told me everything, except details about his relationship with Cassie, and his time being controlled by Temrash.
Both of which I could understand.
If our parents thought it was odd, they were more happy about our renewed friendship than anything else. After all, we'd always been close, and going the better part of two years without much communication and no hanging out had to be a lot stranger to them than us suddenly spending most of our free time together.
Then, Grandpa G died.
Jake had always been closer with him than me, and he was our great grandfather, so he'd lived a long life. Still. It was a surprise, and not a good one.
Worse was the fact that we'd be away for four days.
Yeerks can't survive more than three days without the Kandrona, and if you reach the three day mark, you're practically at the point of no return. Some Yeerks who were being executed over a period of weeks would reach the fugue point and then be returned to the Yeerk Pool, so the "fun" could continue. Rinse and repeat, until they would beg for death even after they'd just fed in the Pool. Because, they knew that each time, the amount of time they'd be allowed in the pool would be shorter, until finally, it would be a matter of seconds, and then they'd outright die.
Some empire Yeerks, probably scientists, basically perfected the torture technique for those they deemed traitors.
For, oh, the twenty-thousandth time, I thanked God that Terlin was only in empire Yeerk on the surface before joining the Peace Movement. He'd called himself pragmatic in the early days, but really, he had always been a softie.
(These are the options we have at hand,) Terlin told me, once we'd escaped to my room, before Jake had come home to hear the news.
(Go on,) I urged him.
(You're not going to like one,) he cautioned.
(Infest and/or kill Dad?) I guessed.
(Which won't happen. But the empire will certainly view it as an option,) he reminded me, gently.
(Yeah, well. Not for us. What are the others?) I pressed.
(Somehow obtain a portable Kandrona, or convince Chapman's Yeerk to allow you to go free for the duration of the trip,) Terlin answered.
(Aren't portable Kandronas for really, really high up Yeerks? Like vissers?) I asked.
Marco had mentioned, during a meeting, that he'd seen his mom when Visser One was feeding in one. Her head was in some kind of restraint, and only the Yeerk could unlock it. Later, Terlin had told me that they were all made that way.
Of course, it was up to the Yeerk to determine whether it was actually necessary to lock their host in. A voluntary one like me wouldn't need it.
Anyway, if you were fortunate enough to be a visser with a voluntary host, I imagined that they wouldn't use the restraint. Not just because it could cause ill will, but those things had to give a host a major neck ache. Which would become the Yeerk's problem as soon as they slithered back into their host's head and took control.
Host comfort wasn't a priority, until it became a problem for the Yeerk controlling said host.
Terlin gave me a mental nod. (I think our best chance is freeing you for the duration of the trip. After all, you have a good record as a voluntary host. Your infestation might not have been standard, but you were voluntary as early as my first trip to the Yeerk Pool. They would hardly have to threaten you to "let" you return for infestation four days later.)
(And that was before we joined the Peace Movement,) I noted. (Obviously, I'd come back. The question is, would they even allow that?)
Terlin went quiet for a minute. (I'm not sure. They might decide that it would be easier to eliminate the problem entirely, meaning infesting or killing off your father. Which is not an option, even if they think it is.)
(Personally, I'd opt for the portable pool. No chance of me getting the wrong Yeerk later, or them storming my home if we arrive an hour late,) I told Terlin. (Obviously, you wouldn't use the head restraint on me.)
Terlin gave a mental shudder. (Certainly not.)
(Chapman and Illim are at least civil to each other, right? We could talk to Illim, and he could try to convince Chapman. I bet they could borrow a portable pool, and all that,) I offered.
Terlin nodded. (Yes. Even if they're only supposed to be for the higher ups, I'm sure that Chapman's Yeerk could get his hands on one.)
(Also, if they bring up making Dad not a problem, you could say that this would lose you a voluntary host,) I added, reflectively. (You know how much they value voluntaries.)
(The thought has crossed my mind,) was Terlin's rather dry response. (All right. We'll approach Illim, first, and have him contact Chapman. See where things go from there.)
Jake arrived, then, and I heard Dad explaining to him about Grandpa G. He was kind of quiet, from what I could hear from upstairs, and then I heard a knock on my door.
I opened the door, and Jake stood there, looking tense. "You heard?" he asked, without preamble.
I rolled my eyes. "Hey yourself, Midget."
"Sorry," he mumbled, looking abashed.
"I was mostly teasing." I pulled him into a hug. "Anyway, yeah, I heard."
Jake relaxed against me for a minute, then straightened up. "This is kind of a problem for Terlin."
I rolled my eyes at him again. "We were going to head to Tidwell's. See if he had any ideas."
Jake shook his head. "We need a group meeting, with Erek. He told us awhile back that he can produce Kandrona rays. If that's the case, we wouldn't need to involve Chapman, or Tidwell."
"Wouldn't they know that we're gonna be gone for at least four days?" I pressed.
Jake shrugged. "Why would he? Tom, Dad's just going to clear us for Monday and Tuesday. For all he knows, the funeral is local, or you convinced him not to leave until Sunday. As long as it looks like you've fed then, no one will be any the wiser."
I had to admit it, I was pretty impressed.
"That's pretty smart thinking, Midget. No wonder you're the leader. Here we were, about to go to Chapman about a portable Kandrona or leaving Terlin with him for that time," I praised, tousling his hair.
Jake laughed. "Yeah, this is way safer."
An hour later, everyone was assembled in Cassie's barn, including Erek the Chee. This was the first time I'd met him, knowing what he was, and while I'd seen his hologram as a regular teenage boy from our school and at Sharing meetings, I could now see that, unmasked, he looked a lot more like a robotic dog. Jake had given me the five minute version of the story on the way there. The Chee were created by a peaceful and advanced race called the Pemalites, but they had been destroyed by another alien species called the Howlers. Jake and his friends had actually fought the Howlers, and they were kind of like kids who didn't know any better. They were no longer on the run to destroy other alien races, but what was done was done, and the Pemalites were extinct. Erek and the other Chee were incapable of violence, which was a shame, because they could do some heavy duty harm to the empire. They fought in other ways, mainly by spreading intelligence to Jake and his friends. Erek passed as a Controller and was actually infested, but the Yeerk was basically trapped in a wire cage in his mind, and Erek was the one who probed the Yeerk's mind for any useful information.
(Remind me not to get on Erek's bad side,) Terlin half joked, once he'd heard that part.
(Yeah, tell me about it,) I winced.
Once everyone was caught up, I asked about the logistics of Terlin being able to feed.
"Erek, I know that you have a Yeerk in your head, but I'm not sure that setup would be comfortable for Terlin, even if we're only talking about four days," I stated, as diplomatically as I could. "Can you provide Kandrona rays for him without him being...attached to you?"
"Oh, very easily," Erek assured us. "My android body can become a Kandrona, so all that your Yeerk friend would need is a glass of water to reside in. While I can not remain there for the entire four days, you only need me for one or two feedings, and Terlin can remain in the water without me."
I nodded. "Cassie, where's the safest place to put the water? I know your dad still comes into the barn, and he might do a double take if he saw an oversized grey green slug on his rounds."
(You know, Tom, I seem to remember you asking me to remain in a glass of water in your bedroom for a near feeding cycle,) Terlin teased me.
(I was also getting on your nerves, with my constant thinking about joining the Peace Movement,) I shot back, with a mental grin. (You just had to stick with being in your annoying host during that time.)
He chuckled. (While I'm relieved that I won't be confined to a wire cage during this time, it will be dull in a glass of water,) he sighed. (Perhaps, I will keep a runny tally of how many times I can swim around the water before you return.)
I gave him a mental shrug. (I know. That part stinks. If you didn't need to feed so often, you could come with me. I'm sorry, Terlin.)
(It's all right, Tom. I'll survive a few days of boredom,) he promised me.
Cassie, I noticed, hadn't said anything in response.
"Cassie?" I repeated. "Where should we put Terlin?"
Cassie looked around the room, her gaze stopping at Jake for a few seconds. Then, she looked at us.
"He could stay in me, while you're gone," she suggested, her voice soft.
Terlin sort of furrowed my brow. "Wait. You're offering to be my host for the duration of Tom's absence?" he asked, clearly amazed.
"Well, I know I'm not Tom, but it's better than having nothing to do than swim around in a glass of water, right?" she replied, almost teasingly.
"It's a very generous offer," Terlin protested. "I'd be in your head, Cassie..."
"I know." She studied us. "I've had Aftran in my head, twice. The longest was two days, before she became a nothlit. I know what it's like, to have a Yeerk in my head." She turned to Jake. "A decent one, anyway."
Jake had been infested for three days, with a very not decent Yeerk. He hadn't given me the play by play, but I knew that the Yeerk had tortured him.
I stood a little closer to Jake, then spoke up. "It's Tom. You don't have to, Cassie. I mean, I know you're the only one who would even consider it, and it's really generous of you even to make the suggestion. Terlin's great and all, but he's still a Yeerk. I mean, he can still read your thoughts, even though he would stay out of your memories and not control your body. I'm used to it, but it's really invasive, at first."
"I know," Cassie reminded me. "I also saw all of your memories with Terlin, Tom. He's been a friend to you. I'd be happy to let him in my head while you're gone, if he...doesn't take control much, and tries not to look at my memories."
She seemed to add the last part as an afterthought.
"It's Terlin," my Yeerk piped up. He put a hand on Cassie's shoulder. "I would treat your mind with the same respect that I give Tom, Cassie. You can be assured of that. We just want you to know that you shouldn't feel obligated to let me in your head. I promise, I won't die of boredom in four days."
"That usually takes five days?" Jake quipped, with a smile.
We turned to my brother. "Six and a half, to be precise."
Jake outright grinned, first at me, and then at Cassie, shrugging a little. "I mean, there's no real security risk with this. So, if Cassie doesn't mind, I'm not going to try to convince her otherwise."
"That being said," Terlin put in, "Cassie, if you change your mind, or need a break halfway through, I won't be offended. As I said, it's very kind of you to make the offer."
Cassie smiled, a little sheepishly. "Well, you know, Terlin taking up residence head takes care of the problem of hiding him from my parents."
(We might know something about that,) I laughed.
(Just a little,) Terlin agreed, with a chuckle.
Marco rolled his eyes at the group. "I'm not going to say this is insane, but it's weird. Jake, your girlfriend is taking temporary custody of your brother's Yeerk while you guys go to a funeral. Let's not forget that she also infested your brother a couple weeks ago to make sure this Yeerk wasn't torturing him. You're taking family and dating to a whole new level."
Rachel, very appropriately, gave him a punch on the shoulder. "Marco. Shut. Up."
Marco cradled his shoulder in his arm, clearly exaggerating his pain. Then again, maybe not. "Jake, Xena punched me, again!" he whined.
Jake rolled his eyes. "You know you totally deserved it that time, dude."
Neither Terlin nor I could disagree, there.
With his life no longer in the balance-the potential cause no longer death by Kandrona starvation nor death by boredom-things broke up after that. Side chatter took the place of the meeting, and by the time we left, Cassie, Terlin, Erek, and I had agreed on a meeting time for me to drop Terlin off.
"I will also play Tom on Sunday night at the Yeerk Pool," Erek offered. "My Yeerk schedule is such that plans to 'feed' the previous evening, so there will be no conflict. Tom, do you want a second appearance on Tuesday night?"
"That would be great. We leave on Saturday morning, so Terlin can feed the Friday before. If you could show up at Cassie's on Sunday before you feed, and right after school on Tuesday, that should take care of everything," I agreed.
"Certainly," Erek nodded his Chee head.
We turned to Cassie. "And, I'll see you on Friday evening, after Terlin feeds. I'll call before stopping by your barn, okay? And look, if you change your mind..."
Cassie nodded. "I won't, but thanks. See you in a couple of days."
(Be extra nice to her, okay?) I teased Terlin. (And if you see any mushy thoughts with her and Jake, ignore them.)
(I know that!) Terlin retorted, mock offended. (I certainly wouldn't be cruel enough to tease her about them.)
(You know, I fully support Rachel for punching Marco for what he said, but he's not totally far off. Cassie infesting me to make sure you were legit was one thing, and her agreeing to host you was sweet. However, since she and Jake are sort of dating, there's a point where it can get a little...weird,) I admitted.
(Your brother and his friends are turning into animals to fight off an alien invasion,) Terlin mused. (Weird has passed a long time ago.)
(You've got a point, there,) I conceded.
We spent the next couple of days getting ready for the trip and finishing up as much homework as we could manage before leaving. Chapman called us into his office when he heard that we'd be gone for two days, but Terlin assured him that although he would not be able to attend any Sharing events that weekend, feeding would not be a problem.
We did tell Mr. Tidwell the full story, after class on Friday. To be honest, he seemed less surprised about robots who could produce Kandrona rays than we would have thought. Then again, that might have been one of the things that Aftran had told him about before her capture.
"Stay safe, both of you," he told us, almost parentally, just before we left his classroom.
"Always," Terlin promised.
We headed straight to the Yeerk Pool after school. As we waited in line, trying to ignore the cries from all around us, I spoke to my Yeerk.
(You know, I'm kinda going to miss you, being gone for four days,) I admitted.
(I'll miss you, too, Tom,) he murmured, as he wrapped me in a mental hug.
(Am I too dependent on you?) I half teased, half legitimately wondered.
(I don't think so,) he answered, truthfully. (We've been sharing your brain for nearly two years, with only a couple of hours of a break. Compared to that, four days will feel incredibly long. It's normal to feel like there's an absence without there being a dependency.)
(I'm glad you'll have Cassie to hang out with. It was good of her to volunteer, and save you from dying from boredom,) I told him.
(Yes. It's extremely kind of her,) Terlin agreed.
It was our turn, now, so we said a quick goodbye, and then I headed to the voluntary area to watch TV until he came back.
Of course, this time, the reunion would only be for a couple of hours, since we'd be heading to her house right after dinner.
When it was time to leave, Jake offered to go with us.
"I thought you could use some company on the way back," he offered, almost hesitantly.
I wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "Honestly, Midget, that would be great. Thanks."
I meant it, too. I hadn't really thought about what it would be like, driving back by myself. The idea sounded almost depressing, but Jake being there would take the weight off.
On the way, Jake suggested that we stay with Cassie while Terlin infested her, for moral support.
"Good idea. He'll have to take full control, since it's his first time infesting her. I know that Cassie's been through that with Aftran, but it's still a freaky process," I noted. "Probably worse than morphing."
Jake nodded. "I was unconscious when the Yeerk took over, or mostly, but I'm sure it's not exactly fun."
"From what I understand, the only similarities are that it's totally random. When you morph and when you get infested, I mean. It's never the same way twice?" I asked.
"Pretty much. Cassie can control the morphing process better than any of us can, but I don't think she can control the infestation process," Jake explained.
(I can't, either,) Terlin pointed out.
I repeated this for Jake's benefit.
"That's kind of weird, isn't it?" he asked us. "The Yeerks evolved as parasites, but they can't control how they take over their host's body?"
I shrugged. "It's not like it was a matter of life or death, on their home planet. Anyway, the whole process doesn't take that long, so..."
Jake nodded. "Yeah, I guess."
As there wasn't a whole lot else to say after that, we made the rest of the trip in silence.
When we arrived at Cassie's, there weren't any water glasses in the immediate vicinity, so I took that to mean that she hadn't changed her mind about hosting Terlin. She greeted all of us with a smile, and then closed the door behind us.
"Now, before you ask, yes, I still want to do this," she told us, after we'd all said hello.
I nodded my head. "Fair enough. We thought we'd wait with you, if you wanted. Emotional support and all of that."
Another smile, and I could see there was relief in it. "That would be great, Tom."
(Okay, guess this is it for a few days. Be good, okay?) I teased my Yeerk.
He rolled his eyes, wrapping me in a mental hug. (I will. See you soon, Tom.)
Once again, since he hadn't been in control, the whole disengaging from my head process didn't take very long. I recalled when he'd first done this in front of Jake, a sort of "laying down your weapons" in a time of war. The ten or so seconds had felt a lot longer, then, and I'd been afraid that Jake would try to kill Terlin before he was fully out of my head.
There was no danger of that, this time. I simply handed Terlin over to Cassie, and she placed him to her ear.
Jake took her hand in his, and I was on the verge of commenting to Terlin how cute that was-when I remembered that he was out of my head. I felt a brief sense of disorientation, at least mentally, but it didn't exactly hurt.
It's just for a few days, I reminded myself.
Cassie stiffened as she must be staring to lose control, and Jake squeezed her hand and wrapped an arm around her back.
I felt a spark of pride at how well my kid brother was growing up.
Cassie squeezed her eyes shut for a minute, then opened them again. She looked fearful, but then forced herself to relax.
"It's okay," I reassured her, taking her other hand. "I know it's really freaky and scary, but he'll let go once he's connected."
"Yeah, I know," she whispered, forcing a smile.
About a minute later, Terlin spoke up. "It's Terlin. I'm fully connected to Cassie. Now, I'll return control to her."
Cassie's face relaxed, and she took a couple of deep breaths. "Okay, it's me again. I'd forgotten how scary that was."
I gave her a gentle smile, remembering my own first infestation all too well. "The good news is, you got through the worst of it. When he leaves your head to feed and comes back, or if you kick him out for a few hours because you need a mental break, he can enter your head again without taking control."
Cassie nodded. "Yeah. That's a relief." She paused. "You know, Tom, his voice isn't what I expected."
"Oh yeah? What were you expecting?" I wondered, with a grin.
She shrugged, slightly. "Sort of like a teacher, I guess? He sounds like a regular guy, maybe a few years older than us."
"Hmm. He's always sounded like an adult to me, but not in a bad way," I admitted. "Well, maybe more like an older cousin or something. I wonder if he sounds different to different people?" I asked.
Another shrug from Cassie. "We don't know."
"Well, as long as you're still okay with this," Jake cautioned, his arm still around her back. "You can back out, or take a break whenever you want."
"I'm fine," Cassie reassured us, and I saw her squeeze Jake's hand, again. "See you Tuesday evening?"
"Yeah, but we'll call first," I promised. "It's an eight hour drive, and you never know how traffic is gonna be."
Jake and Cassie hugged, briefly, and then we headed out.
I wrapped an arm around Jake's shoulder. "You picked a great girlfriend there, Midget."
He rolled his eyes at me. "We're not really dating."
"You could have fooled me," I laughed. "It's not that hard, is it, Jake? To ask her out?"
"Tom," Jake half groaned, half pleaded.
I raised my hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. Mum's the word."
A/N: Out of all of the versions of "The Conspiracy" out there, and this being the second version I personally have written, I would say that this is the most optimistic. Tom has a decent Yeerk but hasn't been tortured before receiving said Yeerk, so he and Terlin have a fairly normal good Yeerk/host relationship, instead of Tom being (understandably) dependent on the Yeerk. There's no need to infest or kill Jake's dad. And, of course, it goes without saying that the Yeerk will end up alive after all of that. At the same time, there's plenty to explore, even if this work might not fit a more rigid definition of having a "plot".
Stay tuned for the next installment, and don't forget to leave feedback!