If this is your first time dipping into the Animorphs Re-Read, I strongly suggest you head back to the beginning and start there unless you’re already familiar with the books. Alternatively, check out the Animorphs Re-Read tag page for a list of every post in the series.
AND WE’RE BACK.
Today’s Animorphs re-read post is brought to you by hammerhead sharks. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by sharks. Whales, too, but mostly sharks. I had a ton of those kid’s nature books with all these amazing illustrations, and I’d spend hours reading them. As I may have mentioned before, I now have a crippling phobia of open water and most forms of sea life.
Those two things are entirely unrelated, though.
So, you know how Cassie likes to use her morphing powers to free animals and stick it to unethical business owners? This volume sees the entire crew being swayed to her nefarious brand of tree-hugging socialism, which makes me hopeful that we’ll get to see a Fox News anchor frothing at the mouth over the series when this volume is re-released in 2014.
Our narrator this week is Marco, which makes me hopeful for some snarky commentary mixed in with surprisingly angsty character development. (And I’ve already read the book, so when I say ‘makes me hopeful for’, I actually mean ‘this is what we’re getting’.)
Our loveable band of eco-terrorists are trying to help out some parrots being held captive in a cheesy theme restaurant, which they do by morphing into the parrots and squawking about how the food at the Amazon Café will give you botulism. It’s all clean, wholesome destroy-capitalism-at-the-roots fun, BUT WAIT:
I knew the face. Erek.
Erek, the Chee.
Erek the Chee used to be Erek this guy I knew from school. But Erek is a lot more than just some guy.
Marco’s soul-mate an android! Which you already know.
He has some important news for Marco: Visser One (who is Marco’s mother – or more precisely, the Yeerk inside Marco’s mother’s head) is overseeing an important project in the waters around the Royan Islands, which according to Wikipedia are off the coast of France. Only in this book it’s a small island ‘twenty miles off the coast’, so probably not the same Royan. I’m going to quote part of his infodump here, because it raises an interesting question about the Yeerks:
“Look, I … we weren’t sure whether to tell you about this. But we’ve learned all we can. And I felt Marco had a right to know she was back on Earth. But you guys have to be clear about something. Visser One didn’t get to the top of the Yeerk hierarchy by being nice. She is brilliant
So…do Yeerks have specific genders, or what? Is the Yeerk known as Visser One ‘female’? And is Visser Three male? Or do they just assume the gender of their host? (Or, alternatively, is Erek just referring to Visser One as ‘she’ because he’s also talking about Marco’s mother?) Most of the time this isn’t an issue – the characters talk about ‘Visser Three’ or ‘this random Hork-Bajir Controller’, and you sort of forget that the Yeerk and the host are two different entities. The only reason it stands out here is because it is important that “Visser One” and “Marco’s mom” are two different characters, which uncomfortably highlights how difficult it is to talk about creatures in a symbiotic relationship using ordinary pronouns.
It turns out the Yeerks are using Leeran Controllers near Royan Island. The next day, Ax helpfully explains that Leerans are a species of psychic aliens – thus, they should be Controller-proof, since they would immediately know if the Leeran next to them had been infested by a Yeerk. They decide to go and investigate, which will mean Tobias acquiring a dolphin morph and hold the phone:
“I’d say that’s a yes.” I laughed. “You’re not afraid to be a mile up in the air, but you’re afraid of water?”
I HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON WITH TOBIAS. My push to become president of the Tobias Fan Club just got a major boost.
Anyway, Tobias acquires himself a dolphin. This goes about as well as you’d expect, given that his plan is ‘swoop down at the dolphin as it jumps out of the water in the middle of a show’. He gets stuck, almost drowns, and is saved at the last minute by seagull-Marco.
They fly out to the island which is not in France, which features a giant house and a lot of armed guards. They wade into the sea to morph, and there’s another case of ‘They’d-better-change-this-for-the-rerelease’ syndrome:
“Let’s get fishical, fishical,” I sang.
Rachel groaned. “Olivia Newton-John? Have you been listening to dinosaur-rock radio again?”
“How about you? You actually know who sang that song.”
The kids all morph dolphins, while Ax morphs into a Tiger shark. This is a great combination, naturally:
But he looked at me with those dead, blank shark’s eyes, and I couldn’t help but feel a chill, despite my dolphin playfulness.
Have I mentioned that shark eyes are creepy? Because SHARK EYES ARE CREEPY. (Fun fact: I was about to Google for a picture of a shark’s eye to use here, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wasn’t kidding about that phobia!)
They find an underwater office building near the island (yes, Marco explicitly refers to it as an underwater office; he even makes a Dilbert reference), but are attacked by hammerhead sharks before they can work out what it’s being used for. They run, just barely escaping, and spot a weird transparent Yeerk submarine thing. Of course, Visser One is commanding it. (Oh, and just to remind everyone: only Jake knows that Visser One is Marco’s mother.)
They regroup and speculate on what the hammerhead sharks could have been doing there. Ax doesn’t think they were Controllers, since a shark’s brain wouldn’t support a Yeerk, but they were clearly guarding the underwater compound all the same. Everyone decides to go acquire a shark morph, which involves breaking into an aquarium. (Man, they do a lot of breaking and entering in these books.) Unfortunately, they’re almost immediately spotted by a guard. The guard isn’t a Controller; his superior is, though.
A chase ensues, and the Animorphs end up in one of those cool water tunnel things:
<Now, this is an interesting human concept,> Ax said approvingly. <This hologram makes it almost appear that we are under the water.>
“Ax? It’s not a hologram,” Rachel said.
<Then … we are underwater? Protected only by badly made human plastic?>
<Why do you humans do things like this?>
They get caught again, so Ax uses his mighty tail to cut through the badly made human plastic above them. The tunnel floods, and Marco and the others manage to acquire a hammerhead shark in the ensuing chaos. Mission accomplished!
Marco has some angst over the fact that his mom is fake-dead and also one of the leaders of a brutal galactic empire (man, there’s gotta be a support group or something for that). The next day, they all head back to the island in shark morph. Here’s where things start to get a bit…uh, horrifying.
Morphing is one of those fictional concepts that lends itself to all sorts of interesting thoughts experiments. For example: what would happen if one of the animorphs got pregnant in morph? The two hour limit would presumably prevent it from being an issue in most cases, but what about a hypothetical species with a rapid gestation period? Would the embryo disappear when they unmorphed, or would it end up just…floating around in their body somewhere?
In case that wasn’t gross enough, here’s another one: what would happen if, theoretically-speaking, they were in shark morph and the Yeerks used an a machine to inject a brain-enhancing thingie into their heads in an attempt at making intelligent hammerhead sharks? And then let’s say (hypothetically) that they tried to unmorph and turn into flies, only the implant is larger than their entire fly bodies?
Oh wait, that actually happens. Yeah. Luckily our intrepid hero Marco realises what’s happening before their little fly heads explode, but it’s still a fairly nightmarish scenario. (Oh, and the implants are still there when they’re in human form. Needless to say, they’re all a bit perturbed by this.)
They break inside, and Marco quickly ends up face-to-face with Visser One in her office. This is a bit of a problem, since he’s in human form. Here’s some highlights of their big reunion:
Same dark eyes, same mouth, same movie-star hair. But there was a different soul looking out through those eyes. They were hard eyes. Mean eyes. Ruthless, pitiless eyes.
Like the eyes of a shark. No more gentle or sweet than the cold, eerie eyes of a hammerhead shark.
I was glad. You see, I had wondered whether she had been a Controller for long before she faked her own death. I had wondered whether it was a Yeerk kissing me good night, and teasing me about my vanity, and laughing at my dumb jokes.
But now I felt like I knew. It couldn’t have been, see, because she did look different. I could see the evil inside her. I would have seen it back then. Right?
“We’re having a bit of a problem with the Andalite bandits Visser Three has still failed to exterminate,” Visser One said calmly.
All I could do was nod.
“I see,” she said. “Obviously your host mind is giving you some trouble. I’m sure you are aware that your host body is the biological son of my own host body.”
You must learn to control your host more completely. My own host is in here creating an awful racket,” she said, tapping her head. “But I do not let her weeping and wailing disturb me.”
ANGST FOREVER. Man, K.A. Applegate knows how to twist the knife.
Visser One confirms her hatred of Visser Three and wishes that the ‘Andalite bandits’ would just hurry up and kill him. Amen to that!
Ax uses his haxx0r skills to totally backdoor-crack the Yeerk’s main database-terminal and confirms that the Yeerks are indeed creating infestable hammerhead sharks for use on the aquatic planet Leeran. They devise a plan to switch off the force fields keeping the seawater out of the facility, which will completely destroy it and trigger an emergency ‘liquidation’ program in their implants. Two birds, one stone, tons of potential casualties! This is one of those situations where the kids get a bit morally ambiguous, since they could be killing dozens or hundreds of Controllers in the process of destroying the facility.
Marco confronts Visser One in gorilla morph. A Leeran Controller arrives and tells her that the ‘Andalite’ standing in front of her is really a human, but she thinks it means that the gorilla is human. She explains that gorillas are only closely-related to humans (meaning she’s apparently brushed up on Earth’s biology a hell of a lot more than Visser Three ever did) just before Marco knocks the Leeran unconscious.
Visser Three shows up to make everything worse as usual, but Marco punches him until he goes away. With only two minutes left before the force fields go down, Rachel decides to go and ‘finish off’ Visser One. (Interestingly, she seems to have no particular qualms about killing the good Visser’s host. The Animorphs always brushed uncomfortably close to becoming killers, though, and it’s highly unlikely that they never accidentally killed a sentient host while fighting Controllers. I’d interpret this as Rachel deciding that killing a human who was already lost to the Yeerks would be worth it to take out a high-ranking Visser. I mean, any one of them would happily kill Visser Three despite his host being an innocent Andalite, right?)
A fight ensues. Marco is still undecided as to whether he should let Rachel kill his mother to put her out of her misery, but in the end stops Rachel by revealing the truth just as she’s about to delivering the killing blow. The forcefields drop, the whole place implodes, and the kids just about manage to escape with their lives.
On the way back, Rachel claims to hear the engine noise from Visser One’s invisible submarine thing (I just realised I should have made some sort of ‘Wonder Woman’ joke about that), but Marco isn’t sure whether she made it up just to comfort him. The book ends on the following completely upbeat note, after Marco tries to decide whether he should resign himself to the fact that his mother is dead or carry on hoping that he might be able to save her:
See, it was my mom who taught me that the world was funny.
And if she was alive, we’d maybe still get that day in the future to sit down and laugh together.
ANGST. ANGST ETERNAL.
Come back next week for Animorphs #16: The Warning, which features Jake turning into a rhino and lots of hilarious-outdated internet shenanigans!