❯ The Daughter – The Traitor ( Chapter 5 )
We froze like rabbits caught in headlights. Two Hork-Bajir stepped in behind him, but all my attention was on the figure in front of me. He radiated absolute confidence. Slightly shorter than Uncle, he was also more powerfully built. Deer-like lower body met humanoid upper body. The mouthless face was twisted into a sneer. Stalk eyes were positioned so that he could see everything around him.
I stared into that face, a face that radiated malice, a total disregard for life, for anything living. The face of Visser Three. The Abomination.
My fists clenched, and I had to keep myself from attacking him with my bare hands. This…thing had killed my grandfather, Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul. Had eaten him. Had tried to subjugate the entire human race. Had ordered the attack on Earth, simply to cause damage to the fledgling Alliance. He had the blood of millions on his hands.
Visser Three looked at us, and laughed. <So, children,> he said, sneering, <how have you enjoyed your stay?> Then he laughed again, like it was the funniest thing in the world.I drew in a hissing breath, and my body tensed, like I was going to leap at him. Daren touched my arm, and shook his head, almost imperceptibly. I breathed out slowly, and forced my body to relax. Attacking the Visser as a human would be useless, unless I happened to be backed up by several dracon beams and other explosives. That didn�t make me like it any more.
�Yes,� said a new voice from behind the Visser, �how are you enjoying the ride?�
Behind Visser Three stood a human. Tall, with blond hair, and cold brown eyes. Eyes that told you that this person didn�t care about anything or anyone, except when they were useful to him.
Behind me, Daren hissed. �David,� he said, his voice low and filled with disgust.
My eyes widened, then I narrowed them. David. Human boy who had once found the morphing cube, and had thought of nothing but how it could make his life easier. Who the Animorphs had saved, only to have him betray them. David, the Traitor.
That was all my uncle had ever called him. He�d never mentioned any last name. David was the Traitor, and nothing else.
�Very good!� David said, mocking us. I ground my teeth together, trying to convince myself that strangling this creep would be suicide. I hated this guy. Just hated him. He was a representative of all the things that could be wrong and evil in humanity. He smiled, a cold, cruel smile. �So, the children of the two people I hate most are now in my power. I think I like that idea.�
<The news from Earth?> the Visser asked. Not demanded, asked. As angry as I was, I noted the fact that Visser Three treated David like an equal, not an underling. A partnership?
�It is as I predicted,� David responded, raising an eyebrow. �The spy is off balance, and the Andalite fool is in a mire of guilt. This had affected the self-righteous Admiral and the insipid tree hugger. Idiots, all of them.�
�Those �idiots� screwed you up pretty good,� Daren sneered. David�s face darkened momentarily, then cleared.
�I�m not going to waste my time trading insults with children,� he said, turning to leave.
�Haamalith,� I gritted through my clenched teeth, using the worst Andalite curse-name in the language. David whirled, eyes burning. He brought himself back under control, with difficulty. He walked up to me.
�So like her,� he said, putting his hand under my chin.
I grabbed his arm and jerked it away. �Don�t touch me,� I gritted. He grabbed my arms. I tried to pull away, but he was stronger than me. I forgot all my defence training. I was far too angry.
�Brave child,� he mocked.
I spit at him, hitting him in the eye. He snarled, and backhanded me, hard enough that I fell. Daren leaped forwards and punched David in the eye. One of the Hork-Bajir guards grabbed both his arms, immobilizing him.
<Enough!> the Visser snarled. He focussed his main eyes on David, and I got the feeling he was adding something. David also snarled, silently, but nodded reluctantly. He turned and stalked out of the room.
<Drop him,> the Visser ordered the Hork-Bajir, and the guard threw Daren aside like a doll. Then Visser Three left, leaving us to glare at the door in useless fury.
Cassie wandered through the house, picking up Karen�s coat and sneakers and putting them away.
�That�s funny,� she said under her breath. �I could have sworn that I told her to put these away.�
�You did,� said Jake, coming in from the kitchen. �She said she�d do it in a minute, and then completely forgot about it.� He smiled, and kissed her on the forehead. Then he looked over her head, out onto the balcony, and sighed. Cassie turned and followed his line of sight. Ax was standing out there, staring off to somewhere in the distance.
She shook her head. �Is he still out there?� she asked, rhetorically.
Jake nodded. �He feels personally responsible for the fact that Loren got kidnapped. I tried talking to him earlier, but I had the feeling that he wasn�t really paying attention.�
�If Tobias were here…� she started, trailing off. Tobias had always been able to talk Ax through this kind of thing. Jake smiled wryly.
�If Tobias were here, Ax wouldn�t feel this guilty in the first place,� he pointed out. Cassie sighed, exasperated.
�Well, for lack of a better option, I�ll have to try to talk to him,� she said, decisively.
Jake rolled his eyes. �Good luck,� he said, as she walked across the room to the balcony doors. �I think you�ll need it.�
Cassie shivered as she stepped outside. Even in late summer, the night wind had a cold edge. �Ax?� she called, trying to keep her teeth from chattering. He continued to stare out into the distance, unresponsive. She tried again. �Ax, I�m not going away until you talk to me.�
<I failed them,> he said, and even though he was using thought-speech, he still managed to sound like he was speaking through clenched teeth. <I promised to take care of Loren, and I failed them.>
�And exactly how do you figure that?� Cassie demanded. And suddenly, she�d had enough. All the stress of three days of having everyone jump at every message, of having Tom alternately mope and stomp around the house, because his friends were in danger and he couldn�t help them, of seeing Marco loose yet another family member, and, most of all, of not being able to do anything about it ran together and caused her to do something that she rarely did.
She lost her temper. �How exactly did you fail them? You�ve managed, with almost no help, to raise a child that any parent would be proud of. She�s bright, she�s confident and she�s aware of the rest of the world, which is more than I can say for most girls her age. You�ve taught her, you loved her, you�ve kept her happy and safe for thirteen years. And now, because of something you could not possibly predict or control, you failed them? None of us ever thought they would come after our kids, and even if we had, how far can we protect them? Would Loren have accepted a guard, or restrictions on her freedom in a place she saw as safe?�
Ax was staring at her, amazed. <No,> he said slowly, shaking his head. <She would have eluded any guard, and would probably have disobeyed any rules that she saw as unnecessary.>
Cassie nodded, vindicated. �The same follows for Daren, and he�d probably be even better at it, having Marco for a father.� She would have said more, but she shivered hard instead.
Ax narrowed all four of his eyes at her. <Didn�t it occur to you to get a coat before you came out here to jerk me out of my guilt?> he asked, in that tone of �voice� that no-one could be sure if he was serious or just had a really dry sense of humour.
�Why would I do something sensible like that?� she asked, and smiled.
�Well, if you�re done feeling guilty, can we go inside before I freeze to death?�
<Certainly. Although I do not think that it is that cold out here.>
Cassie shot him a suspicious glance, not quite sure if he was laughing at her or not. His face could have been carved from marble. Well, blue marble.
As they reentered the house, Jake looked up. But before he could say anything, both his and Ax�s shiplinks sounded. The shiplink was a small, hand-held communicator that linked ships to their commanders. It could transmit only recorded voice, but could transmit it anywhere in the galaxy. Because of its limitations, it was used only for emergency communications that could not wait for the normal channels. Jake and Ax traded grim looks, then held the links up to their ears. Their faces got grimmer.
�What?� Cassie asked, concerned.
�Advance scouts have passed back reports of a Yeerk task force massing at the Taxxon homeworld. Two Pool ships, ten wings of Bug fighters and three Blade ships. Give or take a few.�
<High Command has called the HeartSword and the Millennium to the Alliance-held sector nearest to the Taxxon homeworld,> Aximili said, obviously hating the fact. Cassie could understand that. Any news of Loren would probably come here first, and here Ax would be in a position to deal with it.
There was something about all this that bothered her. �It seems very convenient that the attack would come now.�
Jake frowned. �Why do you say that?� he asked.
�Because there�s no real, tactical advantage to attacking now, at least that I can see. There are, not one, but two Dome ships in a position to deal with the threat. Tactically, it�s suicide.� Her face became very grim, an expression that she didn�t use very often. �However, if they look at it from the emotional and psychological point of view…� She let the sentence trail off.
�Then they have us by the proverbial short hairs,� Jake finished. �They�ll use Loren and Daren against us, to try and push us into doing something stupid.� He clenched his teeth and swore, using all the curses in all of the three languages he was fluent in. Ax looked like he wanted to attack something.
Cassie made a quick decision. �I�m coming with you. Karen can go to my parents until we get back.�
�Tom?� Jake asked, waiting to hear her out.
�Tom�s coming with us,� she said, and held up her hand against protests. �He�s old enough to understand what he�s going into, he�s going crazy with inactivity here, and I don�t trust him not to try and steal a ship and go
after Loren and Daren himself, if he�s left unsupervised.�
Jake nodded. �Alright then, wake him up and tell him to pack. We have to leave within three hours.�
He turned and left, going to contact his superiors and to prepare. Cassie looked at Ax out of the corner of her eye.
�Are you going to be alright?� she asked quietly.
He returned her look. <Do I have a choice?> he asked, just as quietly.
She shook her head. That was exactly the problem. He didn�t. None of them did.