Usually for Veterans' Day we'd be enjoying a day off of school. Volunteering at the Sharing or doing something good for the community. The midget's been reading some military history books lately—I had no idea he was such a dweeb, but I guess that counts as patriotism.
This year? This year we're up at the lake, visiting Grandpa G. For what nobody wants to say is probably the last time. But Grandma and Grandpa have been spending a lot of time up here lately, and this isn't the kind of lake that you visit if there's anything better to do. I mean, it's beautiful here—I'm surprised it hasn't been built up more—but we're not here for the weather. We're here to visit Grandpa G while we still can.
I guess it tells you something about a person if they want to live on a lake fifteen miles from the nearest town. It's fun if you like to fish. I don't really remember my great-grandmother, but after she died, Grandpa G found this place. My grandparents say he likes the peace.
When we were here as little kids Mom would get out Grandpa G's footlocker and ask him to tell us stories about the war. I wonder if she wrote any of it down. I know I wasn't paying much attention. Memories are only good for so much.
Then again, I'm the one who's writing this diary. As if anyone's going to care what happens here. The biggest news of the day would be if Grandpa G strung more than four or five words together, or if Mrs. Molloy shows up with dessert.
We're just a normal, boring family.
He's dead. He died last night. I don't know what we're going to do. I don't know what anyone is going to do.
I feel bad for Mom. And Grandma and Grandpa. And Mrs. Molloy, who now has two abandoned cabins to look after. But Grandpa G? Maybe there are things maybe worse than I feel like I barely knew him at all. Just memories.
Mrs. Molloy didn't bring any groceries and now I'm really hungry.
It's dead, and I don't know what to do.
It happened during the wake. We'd been shaking hands with a bunch of strangers from the VFW and I started to shake. It was Grandma who noticed and asked if I was sick. Said I should go to the bathroom or lie down.
Thanks, Grandma. Yeah, I was sick. Just not with anything you'd ever heard of.
When it was over, when I'd flushed all that was left in the toilet, I almost collapsed on the floor of the big handicapped stall. I had to learn how to do everything all over again. Walk. Talk. Smile. Eat. Without a puppeteer pulling my strings.
It was worth it, of course. Every bit of the pain and screaming and instability was worth it. But I don't know what happens now.
Even my handwriting looks different on the last page. It was never good, even before, but Verlan 581 had gotten used to scribbling on autopilot.
We didn't go to church that much growing up. Synagogue, either. I remember the shofar being neat. I guess the bugle was kind of like that.
Mostly I listened to try to piece together what people up here thought of Grandpa G. Some of what the pastor said, I don't know. But I guess there are stranger things than miracles.
My name is Tom Berenson. Mine. Me.
I'm not sure why anyone would be reading this. But I guess if you are, there are some things you need to know. Starting with the fact that the Earth is in danger.
We're being invaded by aliens. Not the kind that fly spaceships in plain sight or smash skyscrapers together just for fun. The Yeerks invade by taking over your body. They have access to all your memories, can answer every question as if they were you, move your limbs and eyes the way you used to. You become a prisoner in your own head, unable to speak or warn those around you that it's not really you they see. They could be anyone: your teacher, your neighbor, your boss.
See, Yeerks have to get energy too. But instead of eating plants or animals, they soak up rays from a Kandrona—a copy of their planet's sun. Every three days, they need to go swim in a pool with their brother and sister Yeerks to replenish their energy. Their slaves—humans or other aliens they've conquered—are locked in cages so they can't escape. Without Kandrona energy, Yeerks starve to death, a slow, painful, torturous process.
I don't really know what to say. I'd like to say I had some secret, that I escaped because I was brave or clever or strong. But really, I was just lucky. Lucky that my great-grandfather died when we were already out of town and couldn't go home.
A Pool entrance could be anywhere: at a restaurant or a mall or a convenience store. Anywhere that humans would come and go on a regular basis. Their main cover organization is "The Sharing," which bills itself as a welcoming and inclusive community for everyone. Community with a slug in your brain. If you're reading this, avoid that group at all costs.
Yesterday I said you should avoid The Sharing at all costs. What did I do today? Go to The Sharing, of course.
See, I'm not the only one that's starved. A couple months ago, the main Kandrona downtown was attacked and destroyed, and a lot of Yeerks died. It was great. Until they started "disappearing" the Controllers who had survived. ("Controllers"—that's what they call us.) I would love to just have everyone forget about me, but I tend to stand out in a crowd. Literally and figuratively. When I was in junior high I was the basketball star.
I know, I know. Ridiculous that I think that's still a big deal, right? Well, it's not paranoia when they really are out to get you.
I didn't go down to the Yeerk pool, of course. Just hung out in the lobby. Playing pool. Trying to act like I wasn't having a good time—which wasn't hard—hopefully making it look like the "full members" weren't that cool. A "full member" is a person with a Yeerk in their brain, as opposed to a clueless recruit who doesn't know what they're getting themselves into.
Funny thing. When I got back, my mom was like, "where've you been?"
"At the Sharing," I answered.
She shook her head. "I don't know why I ask. It's the new 'hanging out.'"
Verlan would have said something peppy and cheerful about how it was really making a difference in my life and she should consider it too. Instead, I said, "I had some projects I promised I'd help out with. Bake sale, that kind of thing. So I figure I need to follow up. But I think I'm going to quit after that. It's not really that interesting."
Then Jake, my little brother, snapped his head around from the TV. "They let you quit?"
"I mean, a lot of people just show up to have some volunteer experience, it looks good on college applications," I said. "But I don't really feel like I'm doing anything that meaningful."
Jake stared at me, well, like I had an alien in my head. If only he knew.
"I know I was pushing it kind of hard, and I guess I was pretty annoying. Sorry about that. The truth is, I just wanted to impress a girl."
"You don't need to apologize," said Jake, dazed.
"True," I said. "I'm a big brother. It's my job to be annoying."
And then he hugged me. My dweeby midget brother actually hugged me. And you know what? I appreciated it.
So, my cousin Rachel fell into a crocodile pit. And then her house collapsed.
Thankfully everyone's fine. Aunt Naomi is staying with Jordan and Rachel at their other grandma's, and Rachel is with Uncle Dan, who's visiting in a hotel. Still. Bizarre. Very bizarre.
Speaking of crocodiles, apparently some movie star guy almost got eaten by one on a talk show. Like, live on camera and everything! I know they probably need the ratings, but come on.
Jeremy Jason McCole. I know I've heard of him from somewhere. Was he in that football movie?
So I remembered where I know Jeremy Jason McCole from. Iniss 226 and Verlan were trying to recruit him into the Sharing. Become a high-profile member and all. I remember thinking I've never heard of this guy, is he really going to make a difference but apparently he's popular. I guess that's why the Yeerks try to infest all different kinds of people, so they're not dependent on what high school jocks think.
Too many coincidences.
I called Uncle Dan that I wanted to hang out, could I pick up dinner and bring it by? He was fine with it, of course, and happy to catch up. Apparently his new job is pretty exciting, though maybe not as exciting as movie stars on the run from crocodiles. I let him talk; it was easier than trying to summarize what I'd been up to.
"What about you, Rachel?" I asked. "Falling into any more pits lately?"
"Ha-ha," she said, unimpressed.
Dan laughed. "Tell him about the scholarship."
"Scholarship?" I echoed.
Rachel rolled her eyes. "It's not a big deal. They want me to apply for the Packard Foundation award, but it's just a fancy certificate."
"Well, that's more than I ever got when I was in junior high," I pointed out. "Too busy playing basketball."
"Mhm," said Rachel, picking at the takeout. "And now you've got The Sharing."
"I did," I said carefully. "I've been winding that down, actually. Turns out it's less pool games and more 'who wants to run for assistant vice-president of note-taking.'"
Dan gave a broad smile. "Are you sure? Sounds like good practice for the real world."
Rachel looked disgusted—more startled than she'd been in the pictures of her after her house collapsed. "Don't tell me they have branches out there, too."
"No, no," Dan said. "I've just seen the type before."
Rachel gave him a glance that seemed to say what I was thinking: I'm pretty sure you haven't, actually. Maybe I was just putting words in her mouth.
"Well," I said, "Rachel's a celebrity now, she doesn't need busywork. If you want to volunteer maybe you can go back to the zoo—give tours of the kiddie farm. Something low-stress."
She cracked a smile. "Beats being a trained monkey, I guess."
Jake looked like he had fallen asleep on his math homework, but he roused himself when I came downstairs. "So, Marco was teaching me some lay-up stuff," Jake said. "Do you think you could help me practice?"
"Sure," I said. "You mean, now?"
I nodded, lacing up my cleats. I remembered Jake's friend Marco spending a lot of time with us after his mom died and his dad went into a funk. "Isn't he kind of…"
Jake tensed. "What?"
"Short. For basketball, I mean."
He gave a weak grin. "Be careful, or I'll tell him you said that."
"Oh yeah, and what's he gonna do about it? All five feet of him?"
We headed outside, jackets and all; the nice thing about Southern California is that the driveways never get snowy or slushy. There were a couple birds sitting on power lines across the street. Jake dribbled aimlessly, eventually taking some long steps up to the basket before bouncing it off the backboard.
"That's traveling," I pointed out.
"Yeah, yeah. I actually don't care." He tucked the ball under his arm, then faced me. "Temrash 114."
I froze. Was this some kind of test? If Jake was a Controller, too...Except, he'd never been to The Sharing. And even if he was, he'd know that Temrash hadn't been in me for months.
"What?" I said. Not exactly playing it cool, but I needed to buy time. If the Yeerks knew I'd gotten free, they would send more than just Jake to recapture me. Worst-case scenario, I could fight him off or cause enough of a disruption that the human authorities got involved. Was he senior enough to carry a Dracon? That was impossible.
"You heard me," he said. "I know you know the name."
"This is Verlan 581," I said carefully. "For all I know Temrash is rotting in some Gedd."
Jake, or his Yeerk, frowned. That wasn't the answer he wanted. "When was the last time you fed, Verlan?"
"Half an hour ago," I reminded him. "At dinner."
"I'm not talking about when T—when your host eats human food. When were you last in the Pool?"
"I'll feed when I'm good and ready to feed," I said. "What business is it of yours?"
A long silence, as if he was getting directions through a headset. "Tom," he finally said, "if the Yeerk is dead, you can say so. We're safe."
This was definitely a trap. "I don't know what you think you're doing, but stay out of it."
"You can watch me for three days if you need to. Make sure I'm telling the truth."
"Who are you?" I blurted.
"It's just me, Jake. I—I used to be one of them. But now I'm free."
"How…" I trailed off, already suspecting the answer. "It was when the Kandrona was destroyed, wasn't it? They left you for dead."
"I—yeah! Yeah, the Kandrona," he sputtered. "Uh, I think Chapman had me on his list, but they got to Mr. Pardue first, and—"
"And you hadn't been in their records long enough for them to reinfest you," I said.
"Yeah," said Jake. "I got lucky."
I nodded. We were so far beyond weird at this point, I figured I had nothing to lose by rambling. "When we were up at the cabin, visiting Grandpa G? Verlan expected us to come back the next day, cutting it close, but he didn't want to make a scene. Instead, Grandpa G died, and we had to stay several more days…"
"And he starved," Jake realized. "I should have known, I should have figured it out."
"You were distracted," I pointed out. "Our great-grandpa just died."
"Yeah," said Jake. "Distracted by footlockers."
"Never mind. I'm just glad you're safe."
"You too, midget."
He rolled his eyes. "Did Temrash make that name up, or was that you?"
"Both of us," I admitted. "He needed to sound just as annoying as I would."
"For what it's worth," said Jake, "he's, uh, dead too. The one who infested me recognized you and then told me how he'd been demoted."
"Yeah," said Jake. "Very good riddance."
My name is Tom Berenson. My brother's name is Jake. And he's free, too.
I still wonder if there's something he's not telling me. If Rachel was involved. Or Jeremy Jason McCole. But if he thinks I'm safer knowing as little as possible, I can't blame him. I'd do the same.
If you're reading this, now you know two people you can trust.