This was written (belatedly) for the Robot Rainbow sub-challenge where everything had to be titled after a color name generated by a neural network. "Blue Child" and "Flower" were some of the more reasonable (and relevant) names on the list.


"Okay, Ax," I said. Giving him water seemed to have helped, but he was still fading in and out of lucidity. "Tell us about hanahaki."

[Disease,] he said. [Immune reaction. Hormones in my Tria gland.]

Whatever was going on with him had followed him into his human morph at the dance, and persisted in his Andalite body. So it wasn't something that morphing could cure. "What does the Tria gland do?"

[Regulates...emotion. Memory.]

[That's good, right?] Tobias asked.

[But if it bursts-bad. Disease cells get loose.]

"How do we stop it from bursting?" Jake demanded.

[You must take it out, said Ax.] [But I will...forget.]

"Forget what?"

[When temperature normal. Take out Tria gland.]

"Where is is your Tria gland?"

[Head,] he said. [My head.]


So that was how a rescue mission that should have involved four kids, a hawk, and a blue centaurish alien turning into eels to rescue a slug from a hellish underground cavern became a slightly smaller rescue mission involving four kids and a hawk turning into eels to rescue a slug from a hellish underground cavern, while the blue centaurish alien got babysat by a dog-loving android. Just another day in the life of the Animorphs.

It almost came as a relief to have Aftran in my head. It was still very creepy, in the usual "why am I putting an alien who could take over my entire life in my brain" way, but it meant she was safe from Visser Three. That she couldn't give us away. That we'd done our job. And that I had a friend, a friend who knew me as well as I knew myself.

[Give Illim my thanks,] she said.

[I will,] I told her.

We went out back to the stalls, where Erek was hiding Ax behind a hologram. "How's it going?" I asked.

"Not great," said Erek. "He's lucid, occasionally, but still feverish."

That was sort of good; it meant we didn't have to remove the Tria gland yet. Not that we were any closer to figuring out how to do that.

"Did you learn anything about hanahaki?" I asked.

"Just that the Tria gland is in the back of the head, and that it can be difficult to remove, because there are side effects," he said. "I got the sense that it was kind of...embarrassing for him. Oh, and these." Erek bent down to pick up some bright flowers that were mixed in with the hay. "They came out of his hooves."

"His hooves?" As I looked closer, the textures looked similar to the alien plants I'd seen in his Dome Ship. But I'd only gotten a glimpse of those.

"Well, they eat with their hooves, so, I don't know. Some kind of allergic reaction."

Fevers, flowers, and delirium. What were we supposed to do? Then it hit me. Us, I should say. "Erek," I asked, "is he just asleep? Or really unconscious?"

"I can't tell," he said. "We were playing rock, paper, scissors before you got back, and he was relatively with it then. Then he just kind of conked out."

Putting a Yeerk in his head without asking him first sounded like, well, the kind of thing the Empire did. But what if we waited, and he said no? If he wasn't willing to talk about something that might save his life, I knew he definitely wouldn't want Aftran searching his brain.

[Just a few minutes,] I said. [Find out what he knows. If you can.] Aftran had said that she usually could get impressions from Karen's mind when she was asleep, although Aftran herself often "drifted off" in her own way. [Then come back.]

I knelt down beside Ax, and she crawled out of my ear and into his. I was worried for both of them. Worried that Ax wouldn't have the answers, or wouldn't forgive us for searching. Worried that Aftran resented being used as a tool. And trying not to think about what came next. Sure, we'd gotten her away from Visser Three, but where could she go?

[Cassie?]

"Yeah? Are you awake?"

[Ax is still asleep.]

"If he's asleep, how can you hear me?"

[Just-hold on. There's a lot to take in here.] Was Ax twitching in his sleep, or was I just seeing things, my fears making mountains out of horse droppings? [Okay, I'm coming out.]

She squirmed into my head; I could tell she wasn't exactly settled in, but still relieved to be talking with me instead of Ax. [So, he told you about the Tria gland?]

[Sort of.]

[It's a little bit like the...] She was searching through my memories of veterinary jargon. [The amygdala in your Earth mammals, I guess. It gets activated during periods of strong emotion and preserves various memories.]

[So if we take it out, that's bad, right? It means Ax loses his memories?]

[Well, not all of them. Just of the episode that triggered this illness.]

[What?]

[Andalites have theorized that hanahaki is caused by unrequited romantic love. Aximili has a romantic desire for someone who doesn't love him back. If you remove the Tria gland, he could lose all the memories he has of that person.]

[Ax is in love?] I blurted. [But this just started a couple days ago! Who's he crushing on, Alloran?]

[Ha-ha,] said Aftran. [It's Marco, actually.]

Marco? It seemed ridiculous, but then, who was I to know what Ax found attractive? Other than anything semi-edible, when he was a human. [So without the Tria gland, he won't remember Marco. What about the rest of us? The stuff we've done fighting the Yeerks here?]

[He doesn't know,] said Aftran. [Which is why that shouldn't be the first step.]

[The first step? He's feverish and he demorphed in front of Tidwell-if Illim hadn't been one of your friends, we'd all be Controllers by now. What else is there?]

[Well, we can ask Marco how he feels.]

[Seriously? Setting aside the fact that I don't think Marco is into aliens, or to dudes, the disease wouldn't have started if Ax's feelings weren't unrequited, right? And besides, you can't just pressure someone into falling in love by being like 'our friend's gonna forget all about you if you don't.' That's creepy.]

[Well, attraction in humans often involves a disruption of homeostasis, if someone's neurochemistry were artificially changed they might find themselves drawn to someone unexpected-]

[You are not infesting Marco,] I cut her off.

[Of course I'm not! I'm just saying.]

[And I don't want you screwing up my brain, either.]

[I would never,] said Aftran. [Besides, your brain is pretty decent as it is. For a human.]


Unfortunately, Aftran had a point. And even with our collective brainpower, we couldn't think of any better ideas.

So I caught up with Marco after school. "What do you think about Ax?" I asked.

Okay, so it was maybe not the smoothest opening line, but give me a break; I'm an estreen, not a champion flirter. It had taken me long enough to kiss Jake, and even then, it didn't really feel like anything had changed between us. We were friends and warriors and kept each other's secrets, but going to the dance had felt like a chore even before Ax got sick.

"I'm worried about him," he said. "Any change in the fever?"

"Not yet," I said.

He blinked, looking around the neighborhood. "How do you even know? Shouldn't you be checking up on him?"

"Well, yeah. But, uh, Erek and I were thinking of things that might help."

Marco narrowed his eyes. "Okay?"

"Do you, uh, you know, like him?"

"He's all right, I guess. The dog thing is a little weird, but nobody's perfect."

"Ax! Not Erek."

Marco gave an awkward shrug. "Sure. Of course. One part noble samurai and two parts seven-year-old at Chuck-E-Cheese's. What's not to like."

"Well, of course we're all friends, I mean-do you feel differently about him?"

"What is this, sixth grade? Did he send you a little note in cursive, check the box if you like-like me?"

"Marco," we hissed, "this is important. Cassie thought it was dumb too, but-"

He flinched before we realized what was wrong. "Who are you today?"

"Ssh," I said. "It's me, Cassie. Aftran is just hanging out, she didn't have anywhere else to go-"

"So you left her inside you all day? This is bad. This is so bad."

"Unless you have any brilliant ideas, we need to focus on what we can do something about, which is Ax."

"How is you giving me the third degree going to help anything? Unless this is a new thing of Aftran's. Join The Sharing, we don't judge you even if you think aliens are sexy, actually it's kind of a plus."

"We're probably going to have to operate on him," we said, "in which case he might forget a lot about you. Us. The war. We don't know. So, if you have anything to say to him, might as well while it's not guaranteed to stick." I'm not sure how much of that was Aftran and how much was me. We were both trying our best to tell the truth as we knew it, but use it for our own ends, too.

Marco rolled his eyes. "You are so weird. Whatever, I'll be over later." About as much as could be hoped for, under the circumstances.

His osprey circled the barn a couple hours later; Ax was sleeping again. [Helloooo, incoming? Anybody around?]

"Just us," I called. "My dad thinks I'm playing horse."

[You play H-O-R-S-E? How did I not know this?]

"Never mind."

He wheeled in, and instead of demorphing, perched on the rafters where Tobias usually hung out. [Hey,] he said. [This better not be like a Snow White thing where I have to awaken you with true love's kiss, I mean, for one, you don't even have a mouth, and also, there better not be seven little Helmacrons stalking you. Also-why are there flowers down there, is that part of Erek's hologram? Whatever. Uh, I hope you don't lose your memory, I don't want to have to explain again why you can't eat cigarette butts or program my dad's computer to communicate through Z-Space. Or that my mom is Visser One, that was awkward.] Did he realize he was thought-speaking publicly? I felt it would be even weirder to interrupt. [But, uh, it's better than you being dead. So I'd do it again, if I have to.] Then he turned his focus to Erek and me. [Let me know if there's anything I can do.]

"I've got it under control," said Erek. "As much as I can, anyway."

[Thanks,] he said, and took off.

[Told you,] Aftran said smugly.

[Told me what? We don't even know if this will work.]

[Mmhmm.]

[We need to figure out where you're going to go,] I said. [Could you stay in me? I could just be a 'voluntary Controller' and then you can get information at the pool.]

[Too dangerous,] she said. [I'm still wanted, and there are too many Yeerks who could recognize me. If the wrong one got into you, they'd know everything.]

[Okay, well. What if...we still have the morphing cube! We could give you the morphing power, and then you could acquire some Earth DNA.]

[That would be nice. I'd like to be one of your birds, or maybe a dolphin.]

[A dolphin? Out in the ocean?]

[It's like the Pool, but more...open. More senses to experience.] She called up my memories, but there was no need; I could remember the joy, the glee of being a dolphin. Still, I'd had my human mind, and human friends to speak with.

[You could make a human morph like Ax did. A combination of me and the others. Then you could live on Earth, keep in touch with Illim and all of them.]

[I can't just appear out of nowhere and try to fit into human society. People will ask questions.]

[The Chee,] I said. "Erek, could you help?"

"Help what?" And we had to fill him in because he wasn't listening in my head.

"It'd be feasible," he said. "Not easy, but with time, yes. Worst-case scenario, you can stay underground in the park."

[Or in the scoop with Ax,] I pointed out.

[I am not going to cohabitate with an Andalite,] she said. [Even if he's dating your friend Marco.]

[You are very confident about this for someone who's met them twice.]

[Humans,] she said, [not quite laughing.]


Ax's fever broke a couple hours later, and Aftran avoided telling me that she'd told me so. I couldn't really say I was going to miss having her in my head; humans hadn't evolved to share everything with another mind. Still, it had been much less uncomfortable than I expected.

[You'll adapt,] she told me.

The others took Ax's news well; it was rare enough for things to go right. "So you're saying Andalites vomit flowers when they're crushing on someone?" Rachel teased. "And everybody can tell? That'd be so awkward."

[That's why they live in scoops,] said Tobias. [More isolated that way.]

[No it isn't,] said Ax. [It is because we enjoy the open spaces to graze freely.]

"Human humor, Ax," said Jake.

"Don't worry," said Marco. "He's got me now to teach him all about the nuances of sarcasm."

Rachel rolled her eyes. "Great. Stick to Cinnabuns."

"Bring Aftran along," I suggested. "Now that she's human, she'll want to explore taste as well."

"I am familiar with the sense of taste," said Aftran. "It's not that overwhelming." The others shifted uneasily; Aftran knew what taste was because she'd been infesting a young child. As if realizing this, she quickly added, "But I would like to tour the human world in my own time."

"You'll like the Gardens," I said. "Lots of animals that are cool to look at, even if you can't turn into them. And have you ever been on a roller-coaster?"

"No," she said. "Unless you count the constant ups and downs that come from being a spy."

I laughed. "Well, you've seen nothing yet."

Her eyes glittered-they were a mix of all of ours, Jake's wisdom and Rachel's bravery and my hope-and I started to see why Marco found the Frolis morph cute.