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Generated: Apr 10, 2020 6:32 PM
Post last updated: Jun 09, 2019 11:36 AM
or we shall all hang separately
asher, lev, imrainai, draconis, & king ben in animorphs
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Dennis is in detention. This has literally never happened before, so he's not a hundred percent sure when detention is supposed to end, but he's pretty sure it was a while ago. Probably sometime after the teacher left and didn't return. That would make sense.

 

"So at what point do we accept that we've been abandoned?" he asks the room in general.

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"If the teacher isn't here, I say we should be allowed to leave."

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"Is that, like, truancy or something?"

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"Well, I had to skip practice to get punished for some bullshit I wasn't even involved in, so I don't care."

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"I don't wanna get in more trouble."

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"Honestly, I feel like if the teachers can't even keep track of where we are, this is sort of a point in our favor if we're gonna argue that we're only here because people are super incompetent."

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Lev is making a face like he wants to vomit. 

"My parents are going to kill me."

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"I say we go."

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"...are we all gonna go?"

She's looking at Lev.

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"My parents are going to kill me."

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"Yes."

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Karen is also pretty sick to her stomach, but at least if they all go they can only get in so much trouble. Probably. 

She doesn't stand up. She drills a hole in her paper with her eraser.

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"We're not gonna be in less trouble if we sit in this room all night."

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That seems like a good argument to Lev. He stands up.

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With a profoundly annoyed expression, Asher opens the door.

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Then Dennis will follow.

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Karen will follow if they're all really definitely leaving together. 

There are no obvious signs of life. Most of the clubs have already wrapped up.

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Lev has recovered enough from being in detention to realize that he is, in fact, in detention with Karen, whom he has a crush on, and he has decided to deal with this issue by staring at his feet and not saying anything.

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Asher, bored, does a pirouette.

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"We should... maybe go to the office. If we're gonna call people to pick us up."

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"Seems reasonable." Asher twirls.

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Karen really really hates having to take actions without other people taking them first, but she feels like standing in the hallway for an extended period of time with a bunch of boys from detention that she doesn't know is probably even worse than taking actions, so she heads to the office.

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Oh no Karen is so pretty.

What does he do. 

Right now he's following her. 

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Asher smiles broadly at Karen. "What are you up to for the rest of tonight?"

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She's going to die. She's going to fail to get into the office and there will be no familiar people around and then something indescribably horrible will happen to her, and because it is indescribable she will probably be unable to properly describe it, and everyone will assume that it was all her fault and that she could have avoided this by thinking about the situation for two seconds, and then she will die.

"Probably dealing with my parents asking me to explain myself."

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"Sounds horrifying." He jumps up and hits the ceiling with his palm.

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Asher, Lev decides, should clearly be pushed off a cliff.

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Karen briefly considers whether she should be worrying about being horribly raped and murdered sometime in the next hour, immediately decides that this would be a really rude thing to worry about, and goes back to intense but very nonspecific dread about whatever horrible thing is going to happen to her. 

"Probably."

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Dennis has better things to worry about than whatever is going on with everyone else, like trying the office door.

"It's locked." 

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"If we cut through the construction site we can go to that one convenience store, and it has a pay phone."

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Aaaaaaaaaaa.

"Is that a good idea?"

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"It's better than trying to break into the office."

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"I can keep you safe from rogue cement mixers."

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He really, really hates Asher.

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Yeah she's just gonna keep internally screaming. Possibly also praying. Praying is good. 

(Hey God! How are you? Me, I'm fine, I just might be coming home sooner than expected. I'd like to not, but if now's more convenient for you then it's whatever, really, I wasn't super doing anything here anyway. Your will be done and stuff.)

"I - guess as long as we go straight there. If there isn't anyone else here."

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"Of course," he says, and bows. "After you."

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Death. Horrible agonizing death.

She heads for the construction site.

 

There's no one at the construction site, either. It's getting pretty late - not quite late enough to see the stars, but close. She's looking up, mostly so she doesn't have to look at the ground or at any of the people she's escaping detention with. This is why she notices the lights in the sky, flying in some weird complicated arc. Probably not a plane, she's pretty sure planes can't fly like that.

She pauses.

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Lev, who has spent several years in robotics club, is very sure that planes can't fly like that, and also that nothing can fly like that. 

"What are those weird lights?"

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" - model helicopter, or something?"

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"Could be one of those military projects you're not supposed to hear about."

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"I don't think model helicopters can fly like that. Maybe it's military."

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"Yeah. Maybe."

Whatever it is, it's coming closer. A lot closer. It's actually maybe headed right for them.

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Oh cool, they can find out what it is.

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Asher does a handstand while he watches.

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Something that looks for all the world like a smoldering alien spacecraft slams into the ground about fifty feet away from them.

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"Are - should we be finding someone to help - "

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Asher walks up to the spaceship. "Are you okay?"

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Probably "how does that make sense in terms of physics?" is not the reaction he should be having right now but it is definitely the reaction he is having.

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Dennis is wondering if maybe he should be getting out of here before the feds swarm over this place and detain all witnesses.

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The ship's door slowly cracks open.

There's - something that looks like a blue centaur inside. A very badly injured blue centaur, judging from the fluids that are matted in their fur. It also has one fewer mouth than it should, two more eyes, and a sharp blade on its tail. 

<Please,> says the alien, calling out telepathically. <There isn't much time.>

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TELEPATHY IS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE?!

ALIENS ARE REAL?!

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"What do you need?"

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<I am dying,> says the alien, clearly and silently. They are, actually, sending more than words - there's pain behind them, not quite blocked out.

<I cannot protect you. You must know what you need to protect yourselves.>

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"Is everyone hearing that?" She's whispering very quietly.

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Yep, nodnod, he sure is hearing the telepathic alien centaur say things in his head.

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"What do we need to know?"

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<There are aliens among you. Not like me.> 

The alien sends an image, a gray-green slug about the size of a rat.

<They are called Yeerks. They are parasites. They require hosts to live, to interact with the world. When they enter the brain they are known as Controllers, taking total control of the host body. They have come to destroy you.>

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"That's... not great."

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How do they know that what the telepathic alien centaur says is true? Wars are usually more complex than one side of the war will tell you.

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This is a lot. It's actually enough to distract her from her internal screaming.

 

"We should get it to a hospital."

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<This wound is mortal,> says the alien. <My people, the Andalites, fight the Yeerks wherever they appear. We had intended to stop them here. We were taken by surprise, and now - they will be tracking me. Very shortly there will be no trace of me or my ship. It may be as much as a year before more forces arrive, possibly more. By then the Yeerks will have infested enough humans to achieve total control of this planet.>

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Lev is very very suspicious of the telepathic alien centaur.

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"Okay, so we'll stop them," Asher says, as if that wasn't ever in question.

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The Andalite - doesn't smile, exactly, you need a mouth to smile properly, but their eyes suggest a smile. 

<They are powerful. They may already have infiltrated your governments. I am sorry I cannot help more.> There is a short pause. <I may be able to give you some small powers to assist you in your fight.>

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AWESOME.

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Oh no this is bad he is going to turn into a scientific experiment.

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Yeah they're pretty much all going to die.

"What... kind of powers."

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<There is not much time.> says the Andalite. He turns to Asher. <There is a small blue box inside my ship. I cannot reach it. Bring it to me and I will give you the power to morph, to change yourself into any animal you can touch.>

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He is going to ENTER the ALIEN SHIP and bring the DYING CENTAUR a blue box.

His life is SO AWESOME.

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It's a sky-blue cube, maybe four inches on each side. There isn't much else inside the ship - a few controls, some oval-shaped objects, a three-dimensional holographic picture of a blue centaur family with two little baby centaurs.

<All of you,> says the Andalite, beckoning to the others. <Come forward, if you wish to save your people. Press your hands to this cube.>

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Karen is not really sure any of this is a great idea, but she steps forward and does as instructed.

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Dennis looks at Lev.

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There are lots of really good reasons not to press his hand to the cube.

But he wants to know what it does.

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Asher has no internal conflict about getting superpowers whatsoever.

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Well, as long as they're all making very questionable alien decisions. Sure.

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When everyone is touching the morphing cube, it sends a tickling, tingling sensation through all of them.

<No human has ever had this power. It is a piece of Andalite technology the Yeerks do not have. We have never shared it, but your need is great. With this power, you will only need to touch a creature, to acquire its DNA pattern, and you will be able to become that creature. It requires concentration and determination. You must be strong. And you must remember not to remain in animal form for longer than two consecutive hours, under any circumstances. If you stay longer you will become trapped, unable to return to return to human form. Do you understand?>

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Lev makes a note to figure out which kinds of animals can read books.

"I do."

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"Humans are animals, can we morph into humans?"

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<You can.>

The Andalite turns their main eyes towards the sky, where their stalk eyes have been scanning. There are other ships descending.

<Quickly. You must hide. Any other questions will have to be asked from a distance.>

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Yeah, hiding sounds good. Dennis is gonna run.

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Asher runs significantly faster than anybody else.

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Lev attempts to run for thirty seconds, doubles over wheezing, and then decides to walk very fast instead.

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Karen spends entirely too many seconds deciding whether to ask something else, but eventually she does run. 

When she passes Lev, she grabs his hand and pulls him behind her until they can duck behind a pile of rubble.

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(Dennis is actually just gonna keep running. He's not sure what the range on whatever weapons those ships have is, but things in Star Trek can fire from orbit, so he figures he's not far enough away yet.)

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KAREN IS TOUCHING HIS HAND!!!!!!!!

KAREN IS TOUCHING HIS HAND!!!!!!!!!!!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

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Asher ducks behind a pile of rubble to observe what's going on.

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Karen is mostly focused on watching the aliens. She's also not gonna let go of Lev's hand, entirely because she doesn't know whether Lev is otherwise going to do something incredibly dumb, like continuing to run and giving away their position.

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Bright red spotlights light up the Andalite vessel as the other ships descend. There are two small ones, each a little larger than a school bus, and a larger one that vaguely resembles a battle axe.

You'd think someone else would notice all of these ships landing in the construction site, even though it's getting darker now, but no one comes.

<The Blade ship,> says the dying Andalite. <Commanded by Visser Three, the only Andalite Controller in existence.> 

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Okay. Aliens. Focus on the aliens.

(KAREN IS HOLDING HIS HAND!!!!!!!!!!!!)

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Andalites must have some kind of protection against getting Yeerked.

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<We do not allow ourselves to be taken prisoner. But they cannot use me, I will die within the hour.>

The ships open to reveal more aliens. Some of them are tall brown almost-dinosaurs that are covered in long blades. Others are large black centipedes, twice as long as an adult human. All carry things that look like weapons.

<The tall ones are Hork-Bajir-Controllers. They are a good people, but they have all been enslaved now. Each of them now carries a Yeerk in his head. They are to be pitied. You must be silent; they do not see well in darkness, but their hearing is very good.>

<Those with many legs are Taxxon-Controllers. The Taxxons are evil.>

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This is probably a massive oversimplification but she's not really focusing on that right now. She's mostly focusing on trying to breathe very quietly.

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Lev is really very very skeptical of the guy who goes around saying that people on the opposing side of the war are evil, although he gives them one nuance point for not saying the Hork-Bajir are also evil.

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More aliens exit the ships. The Hork-Bajir scan the darkness for movement. Some of them wander closer to the piles of rubble. One of them ends up ten or fifteen feet away from where Karen and Lev are hiding.

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She's breathing so, so, so quietly.

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At least he's going to get to die holding Karen's hand, which is an improvement on the previous situation where he was pretty sure he was going to die alone.

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<Courage, my friends.>

A moment later the Hork-Bajir return to the ships and appear to stand at attention. Their commander appears. As promised, he's an Andalite. Accordingly, he has telepathy.

<Well, well,> says the other Andalite, in a tone of pure disgust.

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He really, really hopes the commander isn't reading his mind right now.

He tries to think quietly. 

(Karen is so pretty.)

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Karen is peeking around the rubble while trying to keep as much of herself hidden as possible. If their minds are being read then they're pretty much done for, so she has to hope that's not how this works.

 

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<He cannot hear your thoughts,> says the wounded Andalite. <Not unless you direct them at him. Visser Three is directing his at everyone in the vicinity.>

The Visser keeps on talking. <What have we here? A meddling Andalite? Ah, but no ordinary Andalite warrior. Prince Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul, if I am not mistaken. An honor to meet you. You're a legend. How many of our fighters have you shredded? Seven, or was it eight by the time the battle ended?>

He goes on. Talking, taunting, assuring Elfangor that all of the other Andalites in this system are dead and that his dome ship has been thoroughly destroyed. He confirms that his plan to enslave all of humanity. He promises to follow this up by invading the Andalite homeworld and enslaving Elfangor's own family. He hopes they'll resist, so that he can hear their minds scream.

Elfangor strikes. His bladed tail catches the Visser in the shoulder. There's blood; he screams. And then there are lights, beam weapons coming from both sets of ships. 

And then the Visser morphs.

He becomes a horrible monster, a creature with jaws large enough to snap a human in half.

He eats Elfangor, dropping the Andalite prince into his mouth and crushing him. There is a haunting, final telepathic scream as the alien prince is ripped apart.

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Karen bows her head and silently prays.

She doesn't super know where aliens go when they die, but it can't hurt, can it.

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Lev has the same impulse. He mouths the Mourner's Kaddish. 

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Eventually the remaining aliens fire their beam weapons again, several times, this time successfully destroying all traces of the Andalite ship. They pile back into their own crafts and take off. It's pitch-black outside by the time the construction site is silent again.

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Karen realizes she's still holding Lev's hand and lets go.

 

"So that... happened. Probably. Maybe."

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He is so disappointed and also mad at himself for not letting go first. What if he touched her when she didn't want to be touched."

"I don't think collective hallucinations usually happen so if we both saw the same thing it's probably true."

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"That's... concerning."

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"Not the best way to find out aliens are real."

He is excited to talk to Karen, and terrified of saying something stupid, and mad that this is what he's thinking about when aliens were literally just happening.

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She is, like, zero percent prepared for this situation. Less than zero percent. Actually maybe, like, four percent, she has seen every episode of Star Trek, maybe you could technically do worse if you got someone who had never thought about anything.

 

"We should find Asher and Dennis and see what they remember. And - see if the thing works. The morphing thing. And come up with - figure out what we're going to tell our parents."

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He starts walking in the direction he remembers Dennis running.

"My parents are going to kill me."

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She walks. She's pretty sure he headed off in the direction of the convenience store. "Yeah, well. Not if the aliens get you first. Uh - I'm Karen, I don't remember if I said."

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"I know," he says. "We're both in art class."

AAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHH.

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"Yeah, I just - don't wanna assume people remember. You're Lev, right?"

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SHE KNOWS HIS NAME.

"Yes."

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Asher is running back towards them. 

"So," he says. "Aliens."

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"Aliens," agrees Karen. "How much did you see?"

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"The whole thing, I want to know as much as I can about the alien fucking invasion."

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"Yeah. We don't know how many of them there are, or how far along they are, or - almost anything, other than that it's happening and everyone else doesn't know."

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"Sounds exciting."

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"I am pretty sure if I become a child soldier my parents will kill me."

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"Figuratively or literally, though, because the - Yeerks? Looked pretty literal about it."

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"Fig... uratively?" He sounds less sure about this than one would usually hope.

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"Well. We don't have to tell them everything if they wouldn't believe us. And - we don't even know if it's safe, right, Elfangor thought the Yeerks might have already infiltrated the government?"

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"Yeah, we shouldn't tell the government. We can't trust anyone except the four of us."

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"I don't... think... I am going to start a war against an alien species with three other teenagers?"

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"We don't know enough about what's happening. We probably can't do anything by ourselves, but at least if we learn more maybe we can figure out someone we should be telling about this?"

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"I mean. I have to like. Get into college and things."

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" - I mean don't know if there'll be colleges if everyone gets enslaved by aliens?"

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"But like. Until then? I need to make my parents happy?"

Even as he says it he realizes this is a stupid argument.

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"That's incredibly dumb. We're going to fight the aliens. Where's Dennis?"

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"I think he ran over to the convenience store?"

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Dennis is still in the convenience store. He's staring at the refrigerators full of milk. He's maybe been staring at the milk for a long time.

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"Welcome to the alien fighting team," Asher says.

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"I'm not going to fight the aliens."

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"What all happened?"

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"We should probably go somewhere else to talk about - everything."

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"Good idea."

Karen, he has decided, is clearly going to be one of the MVPs of his alien-fighting shapeshifter team.

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Oh man is she gonna have to keep making decisions.

"We could... head over to the football field, I guess, it should be deserted and not be the site of any very recent murders?"

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"Sounds like a plan. On the way there we should catch Dennis up and then talk about what skills we have so we know what resources we have for alien fighting."

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"Not going to fight any aliens," Lev protests.

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She leads them out of the convenience store.

"We don't actually have a chance of straightforwardly fighting any of those people anyway. They had, like, phasers, or whatever, the four of us are not going to be able to defeat them by turning into... whatever we can even turn into. We need more information."

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"I'm not getting involved in this at all."

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"First, we should explain what happened to Dennis so that we're all on the same page."

He does.

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"So you realize this is all, like, crazy."

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"Uh, yeah, but I also saw a blue centaur alien, so."

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"It's crazy that you wanna fight them ourselves."

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"Do you see anyone else gearing up to fight aliens?"

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"I don't think that automatically makes us capable of it?"

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Karen sits on the bleachers and pulls a notebook out of her backpack.

"All right." Sigh. "What do we know."

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"Anybody could be Yeerked. We can turn into animals and into other humans. --We should experiment with our powers."

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She writes these things down. "They've already enslaved at least two other alien races. They definitely have - phaser things. The Andalite thought they didn't have morphing. Visser Three is not very nice."

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"The Andalite probably isn't telling the whole truth."

Gosh. An opinion.

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"He did seem very black and white thinking-y. Which, fair, given that his enemies just ate him, I guess, that probably does not bring out the forgiveness in people. We should still note his opinions, since he knows more than we do, but we should note that they are opinions. He thinks Hork-Bajir are 'a good people' and that they are to be pitied, and that Taxxons are evil."

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"There aren't any wars where one side is good and one side is evil. That's not how wars work."

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"They're aliens. It could totally be how aliens work."

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"It is not how aliens work, there is no plausible evolutionary reason to wind up with a species that is all evil and lots of reason to believe that alien species would have to compete with each other over resources and rationalize it by claiming their enemies are evil."

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"I dunno what to tell you, man, I'm pretty sure the mind-control slugs are evil."

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"I think... if someone who had just survived the Rape of Nanking said that the Japanese were evil, they would be wrong, but they would be, like, understandably wrong? And I would not want to go meddling in any of the parts of world war two while assuming that everyone involved was being basically reasonable."

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"I'm just saying, if we're going with World War II analogies, the Nazis said the Jews were evil."

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"They're literally mind control slugs that are taking over the Earth, I''m pretty sure they're the baddies."

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"I think the Jews probably didn't eat any Nazis alive? But - point taken. We can be skeptical."

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Dennis sits on the bleachers and figures he'll object whenever someone says something extraordinarily dumb.

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"Do we have any way of figuring out if a person is Yeerked?"

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"He didn't give us any. They might or might not get access to people's memories and stuff. I feel like maybe if a bunch of aliens were going around trying to speak with human mouths for the first time, it would be hard, even if they knew the language?"

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"I haven't noticed anybody talking oddly, have you?"

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"No. They might just absorb it or something, I dunno."

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"Or they haven't taken that many people yet."

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"Yeah. That's possible. But Elfangor thought they'd take over within the year if no one stopped them."

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"So we can turn into animals and we have to somehow use this to prevent an alien invasion despite not knowing who our allies are, who the aliens have on their side, or how we can fight them."

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"I don't really get the sense that he ran this plan through a committee while he was dying. 

"I think we need to know more."

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"That sounds like a good plan. I'm going to go home now."

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"OK.

"...do we wanna, like, decide where we were all night?"

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"There's literally no explanation for this my parents would be happy with."

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"OK, but if your parents are secretly aliens, there are some things that'll be more suspicious or less suspicious?"

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"I guess. --I'll probably just say the teacher abandoned me in detention."

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"Until - ten? Or whatever time it is now?"

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"Yeah. They'll believe me, I don't break rules."

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"OK," she says quietly. "Good luck and stuff."

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She wished him good luck!!!!!

"You too."

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"We should meet after school to talk about things."

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"Sure. Fine. I'm gonna go home too."

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Karen sighs heavily and puts her notebook away.

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"Hey. It could be worse."

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"We could all have been found and killed, I guess?"

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"Yeah. We could have been interrupted before we got the shapeshifting, or before the Andalite had the time to explain as much as he did. The Yeerks could be spiders. You could have tripped over a brick at the construction site and smashed your toe. Think of all the horrible things that didn't happen."

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It occurs to Karen that she's actually been way more - capable, or less dumb, or whatever, since she stopped having to worry about some unspecified terrible thing happening to her and started having to deal with it. This aspect of everything could probably be less convenient.

"Yeah, I guess. Spiders aren't so bad, though. ...I'm gonna go home."

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"Cool. I can wait with you while your parents come to pick you up?"

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"I'm just gonna walk home, I think. Take care."

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"You too!"

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Levva goes home, tells his parents he was late because the teacher disappeared while he was in detention and he waited until ten o'clock before going home on his own, and endures their ambient disappointment. 

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Dennis calls his parents and gets his grandmother to come pick him up and has a long but very vague discussion with her about what to do when friends from school drag you along in making bad decisions with them. He gets home and can't sleep. He pets his cat and thinks about what he would even do with the ability to turn into a cat, and at some point the cat goes very still and he has the sense that he's gotten something from it.

He morphs a cat. It's an incredibly weird experience, sort of being himself and sort of being a cat with cat priorities.

He morphs back after a few minutes.

He makes a list of animals that would be useful to have, and a different list of animals that he can easily access, and ends up getting like four hours of sleep and only a little bit of his homework done.

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Karen walks home. It's an unreasonably long walk, almost an hour. Her parents and sister are sitting up waiting for her. 

     "Where have you been?" her mom wants to know. 

"At school," she says, lamely. "There was a - I got detention and the teacher left and by the time I realized he wasn't coming back the whole school was locked, and I tried coming home alone but I got, like, super lost until I finally found a Wendy's with someone in it who happened to know where this street was?"

     "Where were you really," asks her mom, deadpan.

She flounders for words. Concepts. Anything. " - I dunno, selling drugs, probably?"

     "Karen, this isn't OK, we were so worried - "

There's more in that vein. More attempts to get her to say where she really was. More hammering home the idea that this isn't OK. She is grounded for three weeks and is not to be alone for any reason unless she's at school or at youth group. She is given reheated stir fry for dinner.

She curls up in a ball on her bed and surprises herself by not crying. Her sister knocks on her door. She's wearing one of her Sharing T-shirts, to remind everyone that she is cool, responsible Azalea now, that she has her life turned around and is going to be a great role model for everyone from now on. But she's still her sister, and she still remembers what it was like to do dumb things and not be able to say why you did them, and she wants to let Karen know that she still thinks she's a good kid, and if she ever needs to talk about anything, she's here.

Karen wants more than anything to tell her sister exactly what happened. To tell her about the dead alien prince and the spaceships and the possible invasion of Earth and the fact that she has no idea what her first step in dealing with any of this should be. To admit that she kind of wants to be a bird and fly away and never have to deal with being grounded or disappointing people ever again.

She doesn't. 

She sleeps.

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Lev takes out a piece of paper in homeroom and draws pictures while he thinks.

Fact: if the salvation of the earth from an alien invasion comes down to four teenagers, they're fucked. Either there's someone competent handling it already, or there isn't and the're all doomed, but either way four teenagers with the power to turn into animals cannot fend off an invading army.

Fact: he can't rule out the possibility that he's gone insane. If he had been thinking he would have had them all write down what had happened, separately, and see if it was the same, but human memory is fallible and what Asher said happened has probably overridden all the details of his memory. 

Fact: if he tries to fight off an alien invasion, either he'll tell his parents and they will point out Fact #1 and be very disappointed in him (if they aren't Yeerked already), or he won't tell his parents and they will be disappointed in him because his grades will drop and he'll have to quit all his extracurriculars.

Fact: if he turns into a raccoon permanently, no one would be able to track him down, and he would be able to live on raccoon food, and he will probably still be able to read books, although he should probably check that last thing before he deliberately gets stuck as a raccoon. 

Fact: fighting aliens is an excuse to hang out with Karen. She probably doesn't actually like him but maybe there will be a reason for him to hold her hand again and maybe she will smile at him. 

Fact: he wants to know what's up with the aliens.

He tries, in the interest of good judgment, to think about the first five facts and weight them appropriately, but he knows as soon as he sets pen to paper that the last one will win.

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Karen has actually not figured out what she's going to do about the whole being grounded thing by the time she makes it to school. She decides she's gonna sit by Lev in art class and, like, pass notes.

Parents grounded me for three weeks. Any idea where we're supposed to meet up after school today?

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Note from Karen!!!!

Asher says outside AP Calc, because he and I are in the same class.

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Makes sense. Does Dennis know?

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Asher says he can talk to him. Do you think we should try to meet up at lunch instead because you're grounded?

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Yeah, that would actually be really good.

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Awesome. I'll tell him.

 

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Thanks.

You decided whether you're going to stop having anything to do with us at some point?

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He bites his pen and thinks about how to phrase it and finally says:

I'm in.

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Oh good. :)

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Eeeeee smiley face.

He writes:

I'm looking forward to it. :)

and sends it to Karen before he loses his nerve.

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Well, at least the earth is like one percent less doomed than it was previously.

She does her unfinished homework in English class, as is her custom, and looks around for alien-fighting team members when it's lunchtime.

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Lev is bouncing on his heels a little bit when he sees her. 

"Hi!"

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Asher is following him, doing a moderately physically improbable ballet jump. "Hi, Karen!"

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Oh god, everyone else on this team is at least 50% focused on how to impress this one girl. The earth is completely doomed.

"Hey."

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She is.... moderately concerned about this level of enthusiasm about her presence, but probably they're all just excited to discuss aliens and it has nothing to do with her and she should ignore it because aliens are legitimately pretty exciting.

"Hey! Any idea what we should get started with?"

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"We should probably figure out our powers first. And, uh, try to learn anything about how Yeerks work."

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"Yeah. I was thinking, like, there are probably animal forms that we can use to spy on people without being noticed? Except that we don't actually have any leads on where to find out about the - things." She looks around. "I dunno how much we should be using - certain words we shouldn't really know, in public spaces, in case someone overhears?"

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"That's a good idea, we shouldn't. --We could acquire flies, probably? I don't know how morphing interacts with mass, I hope we wouldn't wind up as enormous flies like in a bad horror movie."

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"You go down to the size of the animal you morphed. At least if the animal is cat-sized. I morphed a cat last night. It was - weird."

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"What was it like?"

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"Well, uh, I was me? Like, I had all of my memories and stuff? But I was also a cat. Especially at first, like - there was this rush of, like, I really cared about movements, and I was kind of concerned about the other cat even though I knew it was literally just my pet cat, and I kinda wanted to go find some mice to chase? But after a few minutes it wasn't so bad."

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Lev wants to turn into EVERY animal and write down what they think like.

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"If we find a Yeerk, it sounds like," Asher says, "we can acquire it and learn more about how Yeerks work."

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"Not using words we shouldn't know in the high school cafeteria, again. We'd have to find one outside of a human somehow. But it seems like a good idea if we can pull it off."

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"We should come up with a name for them that isn't words we shouldn't know." He pauses. "Varelse?"

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At least the cool guy also has bad taste in science fiction.

"That's making some assumptions, isn't it?"

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"I feel like if you're capable of lecturing someone about your evil plans, your problem isn't so much being varelse."

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"I can't believe every single one of you is a hopeless nerd."

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"You recognized it too! --Fine. What about Trill?"

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"Fine, Trill. Where are we gonna find a Trill."

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"Stupid idea: turn into a bug or something and buzz around the mayor or someone else you might take over if you're trying to take over the city."

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"It's not a terrible first pass. I'm - concerned that bugs might not have enough brain to do anything, and I don't know if they can hear stuff, and I don't know how long we'd have to follow the mayor around to find anything out, even if he is... part of this."

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Asher attempts to swat a fly and instead kills it. 

"I think this might take a while. Keep talking."

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"If I were a mind control parasite trying to take over the world, what would I do? --I think it depends on whether there are a lot of parasites or a few. If there are a lot what you need is hosts, you'd want something that could get people alone so you could slug them-- a doctor's office, maybe, or a religious group. If there's only a few you'd want to target powerful people. Political leaders, generals, media people..."

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"I'm not sure either of those narrows it down enough. But I guess we only need to find one, right, and then they'll be connected to others?"

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"Yeah, that seems right. --Unless they're also telepathic. We just do not know enough." 

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"Yeah. Poor dead alien couldn't tell us enough. I guess maybe out first priority should be figuring out how the powers work."

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"That sounds right. But you're grounded."

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"...yes. Yes I am."

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"You could probably sneak out in the middle of the night. Especially if you turn into a bird or something to head somewhere else. Of course that interferes with, like, sleep."

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"Sleep is important," Lev says. "Sleep-deprived people make mistakes. The three of us can experiment and report back, and you can try once you're not grounded."

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"That gives the - Trill three whole weeks. But it might be the best we can do."

She is totally gonna test this in the dead of night anyway, just... in her room, probably.

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"Got one," Asher says. "Quick, get it before it dies."

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Lev touches the fly.

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The fly goes very still. Lev gets the indescribable sense that something has passed from the fly to himself.

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Karen touches the fly, too.

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Sure. Flies are probably useful, if becoming one doesn't leave you basically brain dead and unable to remember that you need to stop being a fly at some point.

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"The Trill have probably had more than three weeks already. --In the long term we'll have to figure out a way to survive without our parents, or stuff like this will keep coming up."

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It's - easier to let go of her parents than she would have expected. She'll miss them. She'll really miss her sister. But once the Andalites come save them and blow the conspiracy open, it'll all be explainable anyway, so it's not like it's forever.

"Yeah, that's fair. We should be thinking about that, too. We're old enough to get jobs and stuff, so it shouldn't be that hard, right? I just want us to be thinking about timelines because we don't know when our deadlines are, but we do know that the only source we have thinks we've got less than a year  if we don't slow them down."

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"If we can eat in morph and have that apply to our human bodies we might not need jobs."

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"That's true. We can check that pretty easily."

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"I have a car."

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"That's... good, probably."

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"I mean, you're talking about running away from home, so..."

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"No, I mean, it's good. We'll probably be - more mobile than most kids anyway, at least if we can figure out turning into birds, but cars are useful too."

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"We can live in a car, I mean, if we're homeless."

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"Ohh. That makes sense, I guess."

She has no idea where she was picturing living but actually really doesn't want to live in a car with any of these people who she met literally yesterday. 

She pulls out her notebook.

"All right, so, to-do list. Experiment with morphing. Figure out whether eating in morph makes you less hungry out of morph. Probably morph something dumber than a cat but less dumb than a fly before we try flies. Test whether flies can hear things, if we think flies are safe. Think about all the stuff we would need to live without parents. Brainstorm which places the Trill are probably targeting and which of those places we can access and how. Figure out how to access more animals."

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"That sounds right."

Gosh, Karen is so smart.

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"Anything else?"

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"Check out the construction site, see if the Trill missed anything?"

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"Acquire something that can break into a zoo."

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"That's probably not that hard, anyone have one of those squirrel traps?"

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Asher and Lev don't but Asher guesses he can figure out how to make one.

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"All right. That's probably enough for now, unless anyone has something else? We can meet for lunch from now on and go over whatever we've figured out."

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"Awesome!"

Lev has friends now! Sort of.

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Karen is really not thinking about whether these people are her friends or not, because if she did she would probably melt. 

"All right then. Nobody do anything totally crazy."

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"That's hard. I can aim for 'not anything more totally crazy than usual'?"

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"Nobody do anything likely to torpedo our chances of responding appropriately to the Trill, I think."

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"All right. I will fail to do my homework and almost break my neck dancing, as usual."

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"I hope that works out for you. I'll - see you guys tomorrow."

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"See you."

Lev is not even pretending to pay attention in his classes for the rest of the day.

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Neither is Asher, but that's more normal.

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Dennis pays attention to everything and only occasionally scribbles animal names in the corner of his notebook.

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Karen's attention is completely shot. This is pretty usual but it isn't usually this bad. Her primary concern is whether she can somehow get un-grounded early, possibly by coming up with a plausible cover story for whatever she was doing last night. It'd also be good to practice morphing, but she doesn't want to start with flies, and her door doesn't lock, so she'll have to be careful and maybe shouldn't test this at all until she has better options. 

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Her sister picks her up from school.

"Hey. Tough day?"

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"They all are. Where's mom?"

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"Making a very involved dinner. You have homework?"

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"Literally always."

Dinner's not a good enough reason to call in Azalea; Azalea probably offered.

 

"It's not like you didn't do worse stuff."

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"I'm not here to scold you. I'm just concerned, it's not like you. Maybe wondering if I haven't been there like I should."

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"Nah. You're fine."

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They drive a couple streets. 

"You know, you can make cool friends without having to do stupid stuff. I thought for the longest time you couldn't, but it turns out there are lots of better ways, y'know? If you came to the Sharing sometime I could introduce you to all the cool people."

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"I'm grounded and stuff."

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"You're not allowed to be alone. If I'm with you, you're not alone, are you? It's a brilliant plan, if I do say so myself. A work of absolute genius."

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Weak laugh.

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"I really think you'd like it. We do camping trips and volunteer work and stuff."

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"Maybe. Maybe this weekend or something, if Mom says it's OK."

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"Cool. I'll talk to her. You're gonna be OK, kid."

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"We'll see."

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Dennis waits around for the other members of this insanity once classes are over.

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Asher walks over on his hands!

This probably does not help Dennis's conclusion that he is insane.

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Lev is clutching a notebook to his chest.

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Sigh.

"You guys have plans about what to do first?"

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"Step one is to experiment with morphing. I don't know if there's a cap on the number of things we can morph so we should try to choose something useful to be on the safe side. Maybe cats or dogs."

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"Well, I have a cat. We could... I guess if we go to my house and say we're studying that's probably less suspicious than not being anywhere any of our parents know about?"

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"I'll text my parents on the way there."

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"I'm gonna be pretty suspicious regardless because I am going to have to quit dance."

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"Are your parents, like, super invested in ballet or something?"

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"No, I'm super invested in ballet. When I turn 18 I'm going to go to New York and become a professional." He pauses. "Well, probably I'm going to have to save the world instead."

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"Good luck with that. You know, if there's still a world and stuff."

 

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"Eh, unless saving the world goes surprisingly quickly I'm going to get out of shape and lose my chance."

(This is a moderately implausible statement from a teenager built like a Marvel movie protagonist.)

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"...I see. Tough luck then, I guess."

They can head to Dennis's house. Dennis's parents don't say anything notable, but they're definitely glad that he's bringing friends here and not wherever he was last night.

He does, as promised, have a cat. It's pretty tired and not very into doing things. He lets them know that it's basically like this all the time.

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On the way there, Lev texts his parents about how study groups get you better grades, really, there have been studies, and he promises he's going to work the entire time and not get distracted with gossiping. 

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Asher squats and touches the cat. "Hey, kitty."

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"Is it going to be an issue if we all end up having the same cat?"

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"Probably depends on what we're planning to do with the cat."

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(The cat is very still. It was pretty still anyway, though.)

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Asher keeps touching the cat. Is something supposed to happen at some point.

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"I guess most people aren't going to blink at three weirdly similar-looking cats. --It's not, like, a sick cat, right?"

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"I don't think so? Just kinda old. - You have to, like, think about becoming the cat, once you've got it."

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Asher thinks about becoming a cat. What do cats like. Mice? Sunning yourself next to windows? Bowls of milk? Probably not milk, he heard that was a myth.

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If he pictures becoming a cat and focuses, he'll start becoming one. He'll become one in - not the order that you'd expect, not a smooth transition at all. It's more like his hands get smaller and catlike and his skull rearranges itself, his heart gets smaller and starts beating much faster, some internal organs rearrange themselves, his bones make concerning creaking noises as they shift, and then he sprouts fur, and then he's a cat.

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Awesome, he's a cat.

He instantly pictures becoming a catboy.

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Yep! It'll take some effort, and some focusing, but if he tries for a few minutes he can control the process much more finely and get something about like he's picturing. He might want to regather his clothes at some point.

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Lev is bright red and staring very very intently at the floor.

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Asher pulls on his underwear and pants and says, "I can be a CATBOY."

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Dennis is staring at the wall, but he's been doing that since the first set of super gross concerning transformations. He had not realized that turning into a cat looked that concerning.

"Looks like."

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"This is completely useless for any practical purpose but I'm really happy about it."

He morphs back to human and pulls his shirt on.

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Great. Now he gets to have a really unpleasant-looking transformation and then people are going to be able to see him naked. This sounds like an absolutely great set of things to have happen.

He touches the cat, picks up the morph, and concentrates on turning into a cat. 

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Super gross cat transformation!

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And now he's a cat and it seems weirdly appealing to take a nap in a sunbeam.

That's cool. 

He sort of thought being a cat would be more alien. 

Can he morph into a catboy? 

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No. He can try, but his de-morphing sequence ends up another jumbled mess.

The process isn't exhausting, but it's tiring enough that if he tried morphing again right now it would probably be a lot harder.

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"How come Asher can turn into a catperson and I can't?"

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"Natural talent?"

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"Dunno. I don't think I had that kind of control either, though I didn't think to try something like that last time."

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"Seriously, I have spent most of my life in really intensive training to have good control of my body and neither of you have, I think that's probably the difference."

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"That makes sense. Maybe if we practice more. - Or maybe it's really hard and you shouldn't give up dance classes after all, assuming that kind of control has any practical applications?"

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"There is a lot of space between 'good enough to be a professional dancer' and 'good enough to be way better than people who haven't ever danced seriously.'"

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Shrug. "Too bad Elfangor didn't run into the cheerleading team."

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"Maybe we're going to need a diverse skillset!"

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"I can do math? And robotics but I'm less good at robotics."

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"I guess we don't know what we're gonna need. We can probably check whether eating in morph keeps you full out of it, if anyone wants to skip their next few meals."

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"I can."

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"Cool."

Dennis can supply him with cat food.

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Then he can morph and eat some cat food. 

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"Who would I grab if I were a Trill?"

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"I dunno, the president? If you don't have very many of you."

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He writes it down on a page labeled RPG NOTES.

"Other world leaders, religious leaders, celebrities..."

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"Military leaders? If you had whole military units you could probably get a lot of stuff done."

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They can keep brainstorming.

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Brainstorming is good. At least until they can figure out how to acquire more morphs and who exactly they should be spying on.

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Karen hugs her sister when her sister finishes driving her home. She brushes her hand against the back of her sister's neck and acquires her. She has no idea how to obtain animal forms safer than a fly, but this isn't going to prevent her from practicing morphing entirely.

It's not that hard, morphing her sister in the bathroom. Like, she has to do it naked if she doesn't want to mess her clothes up, and that's sort of weird, but it's not hard. 

She meets up with everyone else the next day at lunch. "We learn anything?"

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Lev has several plates of lunch. "You can't live off food you eat in morph."

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"Good to know, anyway. How was it? Morphing cats."

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"I really wanted to take a nap in a sunbeam, and Asher can turn into a catperson."

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"That's... cool? Have you tried doing anything else with partial transformations?"

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"What were you thinking of doing?"

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"I dunno exactly. It seems plausible that if you can get down to fly size without actually becoming a fly, for example, there could be practical applications for that?"

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"I can try that."

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"Cool. Your next order of business is probably figuring out how to break into a zoo?"

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"Stray cats can probably just wander in."

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"That makes sense. Might be a little more complicated in practice, and I don't know what kind of nighttime security they tend to have, but you probably have what you need to try?"

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"Do you think you'll be able to sneak out and come with us?"

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"I could try. It might backfire spectacularly. Alternatively you guys can go first and I can go a different night, while one of you morphs me just in case my parents check in late at night. But obviously that's way more effort and might not be worth it." Also she kind of doesn't want any of these people to have a Karen morph because they'll probably do something unspeakably horrible with it. "Alternatively alternatively, I don't get any morphs right now and just try to get ungrounded early for good behavior. Sort of depends on what our plans are and how much manpower we need for them, although since we're probably gonna end up taking several stabs in the dark, it does seem like more manpower is probably pretty important."

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"I think you should sneak out. We don't have a lot of time to waste."

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She hates her entire life.

"Yeah. That might be the best option."