"So that's it?" asked Rachel, sounding disappointed. "You just went home? No prizes or anything?"
The last pizza box was empty, and the sun had set a little while ago. Ax was running one of his fingers across the cardboard to gather up the grease and then sticking it in his mouth.
"Well, when we arrived back in Edriss' office, we found that no time had passed, despite the fact that we had been gone for at least a day," said Eva. "She put in a call to the others, and they reported the same thing. Curiously, Sia Ren was still hatched and my socks were still wet. Nobody really knew what to make of it."
"So the Ellimist wanted to show you the robot bodies, because he wanted the Yeerks to use them instead of taking hosts," I said. "Why didn't it work? I mean, they didn't seem to get it. But you did. So Edriss should have gotten it, too."
"For all his power, the Ellimist doesn't seem to know much about Yeerks," said Eva, collecting up the paper plates. "From what little I've seen, he seems to play favorites with species. He likes Andalites and, if what you say is true, humans. But he lacks a fundamental understanding of Yeerk psychology. Perhaps he does not care to understand. If he did, he would know that an empty, artificial body holds no appeal for a Yeerk."
"Why not?" I asked. "Nobody screaming in your head, no merciless taunting when someone gives you flowers…"
"Yeerks are not like humans," said Eva. "They don't like to be alone, not even in their own heads. In the pool, they are surrounded by their family. In a host, they have a second mind to interact with and draw experiences from. It's what they've evolved for. Yeerks who have a skill that they can transfer from host to host are rare. They don't have to learn things because it's easier to take a host who already knows. It's unthinkable, to a human, but normal for them. In any case, I don't think the artificial body concept was completely without merit. An organically-grown body might work if it was self-aware and programmed to coexist with a Yeerk. Unfortunately, nobody seems to be exploring the possibility very much right now."
"But Yeerks treat their hosts horribly," I said, remembering Temrash. "Don't even try to deny it."
"Aftran told me that most Yeerks see their hosts as animals, not equals," added Cassie. "The reason the Peace Movement started was because they started to realize that wasn't really true."
"The first hosts ever taken by the Yeerks were Gedds," said Eva. "That probably contributed to the view that hosts were dumb animals. Next were Taxxons, with their complete lack of restraint, and Hork-Bajir, who had very poor reasoning skills. Until humans were discovered, those were the most common hosts in the galaxy."
<Hork-Bajir are way more complex than that,> interrupted Tobias. <If anyone actually gave them a chance—>
"I'm not saying the Yeerks were correct," said Eva. "Only how it appeared to them. And the Empire supported the idea that hosts were merely objects. It's hard to overcome ideas that have been reinforced since the day you were born."
"Propaganda and brainwashing, you mean," said Cassie.
"Yes. Luckily, the Ongachic and the Nahara and the Mak—along with some others—were less subtle in their complexities. From what I understand, the Peace Movement began with these races, and then gradually spread to those with Hork-Bajir and Taxxon hosts."
"So, the whole adventure was a complete waste of everyone's time," said Marco. "Typical Ellimist. Really."
"Well, I had fun," said Eva with a smile.
"What about Crayak?" asked Ax. "You never mentioned him in your narrative."
"Who?" asked Eva.
"Crayak. He's…like the Anti-Ellimist," I said. "When we had to fight the Howlers, we were the Ellimist's team and they were Crayak's."
"I've never heard of such a being," said Eva. "Perhaps the Ellimist did this without his knowledge."
"Crayak wouldn't want the Yeerks knowing about an alternative to stealing hosts," I said. "It goes against his whole…thing. So the Ellimist must have offered him something to get him to agree."
"Either that or he knew it wouldn't work, so he didn't care," said Marco.
"Rawr, I'm Crayak!" said Rachel, raising her arms and waving them around like they were claws. "I like wars and death and I hate kissing! Why should I let you attempt to murder the top five generals in the Yeerk army and also an egg?"
"Because…Rachel, stop making that face, I can't focus," I said.
"This is my Crayak face!"
"He doesn't have a face," said Marco. "He's just an eye."
I sort of wanted to beat my head against the tabletop, but I resisted.
"What about the baby?" asked Cassie, changing the subject. "What happened to Sia Ren?"
"You've met Sia Ren, Cassie," said Eva. "She's Emiki's current host. Osa Ren passed away about two years ago."
Nobody said anything for a little while. There was something I wanted to ask, but I didn't know how to say it.
Anyway, maybe it was none of my business.
Rachel was the one who finally broke the silence.
"Crap," she said, looking at the stovetop clock. "My parents are gonna flip out if I'm not home soon."
"Same," said Cassie, getting up. "Thanks for dinner."
<And for the narrative,> said Ax, morphing back to Andalite. <I now have much to consider.>
I knew I should probably be getting home soon, too, but I wasn't quite ready to leave yet. Home didn't feel like home anymore. So I stood on the front porch and watched the others vanish into the night, but made no move to actually go anywhere myself.
"Do you feel any better, Jake?" Eva asked me once we were alone.
"I don't know," I admitted. "I mean…I'm still worried."
"There are ex-Controllers who would never go back to being a host," said Eva. "I am one of them. But I know that there are just as many voluntary hosts who knew exactly what they were getting into from the beginning, and accepted it."
"I know," I said. "We saw them, sometimes. In the pool."
"Your brother has made a decision that you probably will never fully understand," said Eva. "And you don't have to agree with him. But you do have to live with him, at least for the next few years. And deep down, you're going to love him no matter what. He's your brother. At least try to talk to him."
"How do I know when I'm even talking to him?" I demanded.
"What, you can't tell the difference between your own brother and an alien?" asked Eva with a smile.
"Not if the alien doesn't want me to, I can't," I snapped.
Eva put both of her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the face.
"Repeat after me, Jake," she said. "The war is over."
"The war is over," I said.
But I still didn't believe it. Not really.
Maybe someday I would.
* * *
Cassie was waiting for me at the end of the driveway. We walked home together, safe from any errant journalists under the cover of darkness.
We didn't say anything until we got to my house.
"You okay?" she asked at last.
"I'm gonna have to be," I said.
She took my hand in hers and squeezed it.
I had to go inside using the front door because I'd forgotten to leave my window open. I'd been hoping to sneak up to bed without having to face anyone, but Tom's bedroom door was open. I tiptoed past and saw he was sitting at his computer. It looked like he was doing homework but I wasn't sure.
He must have sensed someone was watching him, because he turned around in his chair. He looked surprised to see me.
"Oh, hey," he said. "You're back."
"Uh, yeah." I struggled for something to say. Finally I blurted out, "How was practice?"
Tom looked surprised. "Practice was great. Uh. Are you okay?"
"Uh, yeah," I said.
We looked at each other. I was acutely aware of the third presence in the room, the one we hadn't acknowledged yet.
I thought about the voluntary human-Controllers down in the Yeerk pool, eating popcorn and watching TV while the involuntary hosts screamed in their cages. And then I looked back at my brother, looking up at me with hope and worry in his face.
In a sudden moment of clarity, I realized that the universe is a weird place.
"So, I was at Marco's," I said. "I talked to his mom, and…"
Tom's face changed. I don't really know how else to describe it. I just knew, immediately, that I was talking to someone else.
"Edriss' host?" he said excitedly. "She's amazing! She did that custard thing, didn't she?"
"I guess you're Ithin," I said.
"Uh. Yeah. You've heard of me?" Ithin looked surprised.
"Yeah," I said. "Something about a prototype bug fighter and a Safeway."
Ithin's…Tom's…face turned bright red.
"Is there anyone who doesn't know about that?" he asked.
"I don't know the details," I admitted. "Just that it happened."
"I really, really don't want to talk about it," muttered Ithin, covering Tom's face with his hand.
"Alright," I said. "I'll let it drop…but in return, you have to tell me what exactly the custard thing was."
Ithin brightened up immediately. "You didn't hear about it? It was amazing! I mean, a couple people died, but it was an accident…"
"Uh," I said.
"Visser One used to have a Blade Ship," said Ithin, "and I say 'used to' because of what happened next. See, they were due to check in at a supply warehouse. I don't know how her host got away from the pool, but I guess everyone just assumed she was Edriss…"
PS ADAM DREW ME A THINGY ISN'T HE AWESOME?
|In case you are too derp to figure it out, it's a Zasan minus his robot suit|