The Stranger

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Authors: K. A. Applegate
Ax said.
     Jake said.
    The darkness around us split open suddenly. I caught a glimpse of Ax’s scythelike Andalite tail slicing the Taxxon open from the inside.
    Air! Air rushed in. Stinking, foul, vile air, but air.
    We exploded from the inside of the Taxxon, wrapped in its guts, covered with green-blue slime.
    We were not fully human yet, still some awful melding of human and bug, but we were finishing our demorphing as fast as we ever had.
    Air! I sucked it into my still-forming lungs.
    The Taxxon lay ruined and reeking all around us. The room full of Human-Controllers eating dinner was no longer frozen by the Ellimist.
    Now they were frozen by sheer disbelief.
    â€œLet’s bail!” I yelled. “Before they can think about it.”
    We ran. Slipping and slithering through the Taxxon’s guts, still forming the last of our fingers and toes, we tore out of there.
    â€œGet them!” a human voice yelled. “Get them, you fools, or Visser Three will chew your bones!”
    Suddenly, with a roar, the Human-Controllers surged up out of their chairs.
    A Hork-Bajir near the door moved swiftly to cut us off. Ax swung his tail with blinding speed. It hit the Hork-Bajir in his shoulder.
    â€œHead for the dropshaft!” Marco cried as he led the way from the room.
    â€œEveryone but Ax, if you can morph again, do it!” Jake yelled as we raced for the dropshaft. “We need firepower!”
    I didn’t need to be told. The only one of us who had any kind of natural ability to fight was Ax. I was already trying to focus my mind on the bear that I had made a part of me.
    Part of me knew it was foolish. I should morph the elephant, or a wolf. I knew both of those morphs; I could handle them. But I also knew the elephant might not fit in the dropshaft. And I wanted power.
    Something hit me and I went sprawling across the dirt.
    A man stood over me. A grown man! He had slammed into me. For some reason, this outraged me. What kind of a creep would hit a girl half his size?
    Of course I knew the answer. I knew the man was not really a man at all, but a Controller. The Yeerk in his head didn’t care about chivalry.
    The man bent over me and began to put his hands around my throat.
    Suddenly he only had one hand.
    â€œAaarrrgghhh!” he cried, falling back.
    â€œThanks, Ax,” I said.
     he said.
    I looked past him. The others had all reached the dropshaft, a hundred feet away. Between the two of us and them was a small army of Human-Controllers and Hork-Bajir.
    As I watched, Marco, and then Cassie, were swept up the dropshaft. Only Jake was still standing there. He looked back at us with an expression of horror.
    â€œJake, get OUT of here!” I screamed. “We’ll be okay!”
    Several of the Controllers began closing in on Jake. But most of them only had eyes for Ax. They could see that he was an Andalite — the deadly enemy of all Yeerks. I don’t know what they thought I was, still dripping with Taxxon goo.
    Suddenly a pair of Hork-Bajir warriors rushed at us. Their bladed arms slashed the air. They came at us like a pair of chainsaws on high speed.
    Ax struck!
    But the Hork-Bajir were too fast.
    There was a deep gash down Ax’s flank.
    He struck again and again, his scorpion tail almost invisible. The Human-Controllers stayed prudently back, as much afraid of getting sliced and diced by the angry Hork-Bajir as by Ax. But more Hork-Bajir were rushing up, and Ax was losing ground.
    Then … I realized I was no longer afraid.
    A deep confidence had welled up inside of me.
    Utter confidence. Utter fearlessness.
    I realized I was no longer standing erect. I was on all fours. When I looked down I expected to see my two hands splayed on the dirt. Instead I saw massive paws.
    Coarse, dark brown fur. Black claws, each like the point of a pickax.
    I had become the bear. It was his confidence I

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