|#23: The Pretender|
Detailed Plot: Tobias has been having trouble hunting lately because another hawk has moved into his territory. He's also dealing with added weirdness involving dreamlike flashes that make him feel like he's the prey he's about to attack right before he strikes. He's resorted to eating roadkill when he realizes Rachel's watching him at the bus stop, and he flies away, pretending he's just some other hawk.
When Rachel wants to see him, he assumes it's about seeing him eating roadkill, but it turns out to be something else: a supposed cousin named Aria is asking about where he is. Chapman, the Yeerk-infested assistant principal, was contacted by this family member, and he's reported that Tobias hasn't been in school for months. Now this Aria is looking for him and wants to take him in, but the Animorphs smell a trap.
Tobias assumes human morph and goes to the office of a lawyer named DeGroot who represents his father's estate. He says that he has a document he's supposed to read to him on his next birthday, and Tobias has totally forgotten what his birthday is. He says Aria is his cousin--his great-aunt's daughter, and that she may want to take care of him because she's discovered the situation after coming back from her travels in Africa, where she does photography. From the look of things, this document may reveal that Tobias's father wasn't actually his father. He's unsure of what to do, and leaves DeGroot's office very confused.
Tobias gives a pre-determined signal to his friends that everything's okay, but then Jake thought-speaks to him that he's being followed by a guy in a suit. Tobias loses the guy and morphs to hawk, and after he's in the air he starts thinking about the implications of someone wanting to take care of him. He wonders whether this is actual family--someone who cares about his well-being--or whether it's someone who wants to kill him. He isn't in the mood to explain the situation to his friends and have them analyze it and figure it out, so he flies ahead and they eventually figure out he needs to be alone. He flies to the free Hork-Bajir valley, where they seem to be expecting him for some reason.
When he gets there, the free Hork-Bajir tell him that a young Hork-Bajir named Bek is missing and may have left the valley. If he's made a Controller, that could be terrible. Tobias has to help find Bek, but it doesn't look good. Toby, the child named after Tobias who is a Hork-Bajir seer, tells Tobias that they have been freeing their people at night all along and that they must continue doing it so their numbers can increase, especially since after the Yeerks are gone they need to be able to defend themselves if humans use and abuse them next. They've learned that they have to watch out for their own, and Tobias can't blame them. The Hork-Bajir have been able to free their people sometimes because the Yeerks are building a new facility, and Toby doesn't want to tell Tobias about where it is because she's afraid the Animorphs will destroy it and deprive them of their ability to build their ranks. Tobias promises not to let that happen if she'll show him where it is, because that may be where Bek has gone.
When Tobias returns to his meadow, the other hawk is still there, and he's able to zoom in on prey the other hawk didn't see, but yet again just as he's closing in on his prey he experiences a mental switch and feels like he's the prey. He has no idea what's happening to him. When he gets back with the others, Cassie tries to analyze the DeGroot puzzle and Marco comes up with ways the whole thing could be a scam, and then Tobias drops the story of the missing Hork-Bajir and everyone goes nuts. They break into teams to try to find lost Bek, and Rachel becomes a bald eagle while Tobias admires her, feeling like he's seeing her personality come out in her physical form. They fly over to the hotel where his supposed cousin Aria is staying. Rachel can see through the window despite the glare because her bald eagle eyes are built for seeing through water, while Tobias can't see really, but Rachel says Aria was changing so that was probably good. When the glare lessens they're able to see that Aria is fairly young, with a tan and camera equipment in the room. She gets a phone call and excitedly leaves, so Tobias and Rachel try to follow her.
They hold onto a cop car and then attempt to even hitch onto a helicopter to keep up with her cab, and finally they find out where she was going. Turns out she was heading to a roadside attraction place that claims to have a "midget freak" that's a "living razor." Of course, inside is the baby Hork-Bajir. Tobias and Rachel investigate and find that the animals in the attraction are not well cared-for, and when Aria comes in she wants to take photos and suggests the guy who sold him the critter could have sold it for a lot more; she says she's a nature photographer and has never seen an animal like that, and it's so unfamiliar it could be an alien. Tobias wonders who exactly Aria is as they watch her leave in a limo.
An Animorphs mission to save the baby begins. Rachel and Tobias go to the roadside attraction and trick their way inside, then Rachel morphs into an elephant and Tobias uses his Hork-Bajir morph (which is Ket Halpak). Rachel knocks down some walls while the others turn out some lights, but when Tobias goes in to get baby Bek, Controllers with Dracon beams show up as well and seem surprised to see an adult Hork-Bajir. They think Tobias is one of the escaped hosts. Chaos ensues, with the other Animorphs coming in to fight the Controllers and Tobias in Hork-Bajir morph just trying to get Bek to safety. Tobias gets shot, though, and when Visser Three finally arrives after the other Controllers have signaled him, he addresses Tobias as Ket Halpak and assures him that soon he'll be a Controller again. Visser Three begins morphing into something called a Kaftid. It's a creature that can spit acid, and Visser Three uses this to try to burn the baby. Tobias leaps in front of it to protect Bek and gets burned himself, then washes it off in one of the attraction's little ponds. But after that Tobias doesn't know where Bek is and it's clear the Yeerks got away with him.
Back in the meadow, Tobias blames himself for letting the pain distract him as he's looking for his next meal. The other hawk is still there, and Tobias prepares himself to fight the bird, but Ax comes by and distracts him, and suggests the two of them go watch Aria again. Ax is suspicious of the fact that she keeps going back to her hotel to use the bathroom, but Tobias tries to explain it away. They witness her saving a child from getting hit by a bus, which makes Tobias sure that she can't be a Controller (though Ax just says it's true she's not acting as a Controller would). Tobias, feeling that Aria is probably what she says she is and wants to take care of him, figures he should morph to human and stay that way to get trapped in his old human body. That way he won't have the issues with hunting that he's been having, and he won't be worried that Rachel pities him for being the type of bird who would eat roadkill.
Tobias flies to Rachel's at night, and she's left her window open for him. They have a conversation; Rachel says Jake is figuring the Yeerks took Bek to the Yeerk facility as bait, and Tobias worries about destroying it and bringing Bek back, because he promised the Hork-Bajir. Then Tobias tells Rachel that Aria isn't a Controller and therefore she's his family like she said. Rachel suggests he morph to human and let himself be cared for, and though he pretends he has no idea what she's talking about, he wanted her to suggest it rather than do it because he thought of it himself. But Rachel also reveals that she has very deep feelings for him that she can't express when he's a bird, since they can't hold hands or be physically intimate . . . and she says if he becomes human for good she can stop worrying about him. He's horrified and offended by her pity and protectiveness, and he leaves her alone.
The next day, Tobias is very hungry and can't seem to decide whether to fight for his meadow or not. He feels he can't stand up to the other hawk and he also feels he is too weak to go on the mission if he doesn't eat, so he resigns himself to eating roadkill again so he'll have strength. He feels that after the mission, he'll morph to human and stay that way, and it's his birthday so that's a good day to be reborn.
The group meets with the free Hork-Bajir and some insist on going with them to the Yeerk facility where they are probably using Bek as bait. Toby the Hork-Bajir seer thinks that even if they have to kill other Hork-Bajir, they must use the attack to send a message--the Yeerks can't tempt them with hostages or ever take one of them back once they're free. It makes Tobias think about how humans will treat the remaining Hork-Bajir stuck on their world if the Yeerks are wiped out, and he also thinks about human nature with regards to himself and his friends. He ponders when it might be right to fight and when it might be right to give up.
Toby shows the others where the Yeerk facility is and they make short work of the patrol that comes to stop them from coming in. Then the Animorphs hide on four Hork-Bajir who are posing as if they're coming in for one of their usual raids. They're quickly caught and put in cages, and Bek is there in the cage with Jara. Tobias thought-speaks to Jara Hamee and tells him to form a shield with the other Hork-Bajir so he can morph behind them. He morphs from flea to hawk, exits the cage, walks behind a shed, and morphs to a Hork-Bajir. He comes up to one of the Hork-Bajir guards, tells him "they want to see you," and gets the key to the cage, then frees his people. They also hope to destroy a big Dracon beam the Yeerks are building. Once Tobias is himself again, he provides the lookout view, but he spots something wrong. A helicopter is coming.
When Tobias sees what human is in that helicopter, he realizes the figure looks like his supposed cousin Aria. From context he figures out that Aria was a human morph for Visser Three and that the business with her going to the bathroom every couple hours was to preserve the morph, plus the child-saving business was a ploy to show whatever spies might be around that she was selfless and probably NOT a Controller. Tobias berates himself for not seeing it because he'd been blinded by wanting her to be for real. He ends up unable to continue to fight and just lies in the dirt until Toby Hamee comes and gets him, passing him on to Rachel, who protects him. The battle has gone badly for the Animorphs but they've managed to get the Dracon beam weapon to explode. Tobias has no idea what to think about his future.
So, alone, Tobias goes to meet DeGroot and hear his birthday letter. Aria is there, and since Tobias knows "she" is Visser Three he is pretty creeped out when she tries to hug him. DeGroot is ready to read the letter and Tobias acts like he doesn't care unless his dad left him money. But when DeGroot reads the letter, it's only Tobias's habit of not making human expressions that saves his life; it's a letter from his real father, who is of course Prince Elfangor himself. The letter explains how Tobias is the son of the human morph Elfangor did when he was on Earth posing as Alan Fangor (explained in a previous book), and it contains apologies for not being there. DeGroot clearly expects a reaction from Tobias, but all he does is act disappointed that his supposed dad was a lunatic and reaffirms that there's no money, and wonders aloud whether Aria still wants to take him now that it's clear he's not inheriting anything. Visser Three in Aria morph claims that she still wants to take Tobias in but has to go back to Africa to shoot photos of lions. Tobias grumps that he has a lunatic for a dad and a fake for a cousin, and leaves. He morphs to a hawk again so he can't be trapped as a human, and then he morphs back to human so he can have a good cry about it. Hawks, after all, don't cry. Tobias acknowledges to himself that his father went on to fight and play his part, and that he will do the same. He also now has an explanation for why he felt a connection with the Andalite prince as he watched him die.
Finally, back in his meadow, Tobias successfully hunts a rabbit. He kills and eats a mother rabbit (after acquiring her DNA), and then he morphs the mother and hides the babies from the other hawk. He acknowledges that he'll always be both hawk and human: both killing to eat and regretting what he does.
New known controllers:
New morphs acquired:
Cassie: Northern harrier (maybe a mistake?)
Tobias: Rabbit, flea
In this book Tobias mentions the Ellimist and this is the first time the narration suggests there might not be more than one Ellimist. Ax always suggests the Ellimist is part of a race of Ellimists. But this book is the first time when it's been suggested "the Ellimist" might be the only one of his kind. (That's actually the case, but the Ellimist prefers to pretend there are more.)
Cassie is recognized by Ax in a harrier morph. Up to this point she's never used a harrier morph, so it's assumed she acquired it in this book or shortly before. However, she never uses it after either, so it's possible the author just forgot that Cassie's usual bird morph is an osprey.
In this book Tobias points out that Rachel's eagle morph is male, and that eagles and hawks don't mate anyway. This is pretty close to discussing actual sexuality, which doesn't happen often in these books. But since Tobias and Rachel like each other, this was an interesting place to put it. However, unless he just didn't realize he was wrong at the time, Tobias identified Rachel's eagle morph as female in a previous book.
Twice very close together in this book, the narration brings up "controversial" issues of the time. In discussing Tobias and Rachel being different species (which makes it difficult for them to date), Rachel brings up Jake and Cassie being different races and how "no one but a moron cares about that," so clearly a message is relayed in favor of interracial relationships. And shortly after that, in discussing humans' failure to get along with each other, Tobias's narration suggests it's unlikely humans will accept Hork-Bajir if they can't even tolerate gay people in their Boy Scouts. So, pro-homosexuality as well. Unusually progressive for a kids' book to just slide these issues in without actually focusing on them . . . and very refreshing!
Tobias uses a flea morph in this book, but it is not acquired in this book unless it's just not mentioned. Tobias could not have gotten a flea morph when everyone else did because he was not morph capable during the events of #2, and in #21 when most of the others became fleas he didn't go with them. He also uses the flea in later books, but this is the earliest in the series he uses it.
It's unclear why Aria is in the helicopter at the exact time when Tobias can see her. Visser Three clearly had to have a human morph to fit in the helicopter in order to come to the facility, but since he almost always uses a male human morph and has more than one, it seems a little too convenient that he happened to be using the Aria morph at the time he was called to the facility.
Tobias: Worst of all was the leaden pull of gravity. Not that a hawk ignores gravity. It's just not so . . . final when you have wings.
Tobias: Ax's human morph face was smeared with something I could only hope was chocolate.
Tobias: Someone wanted me. Family. Wanted to take care of me. Unless, of course, what they really wanted was to learn my secrets. And then kill me.
Toby: "The Hork-Bajir trusted Andalites to save us from the Yeerks. The Andalites failed. The Andalites took care of their own. We must do the same. We are grateful to the humans called Animorphs. But do you say we should trust all humans?"
Rachel: "Before we became Animorphs your entire day consisted of figuring out which girl to annoy next."
Tobias: Homework. I guess when you're fully human and a kid, there's just no escaping homework.
Rachel: "Hey, did Jake say knock down one wall? Or did he say knock down some walls?"
Tobias: "Hey, Ax-man, what's up?"
Rachel: "What am I supposed to do, Tobias? I'm a girl. You're a bird. This is way past Romeo and Juliet, Montagues and Capulets. This isn't Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio coming from different social groups or whatever. It's not like you're black and I'm white like Cassie and Jake. No one but a moron cares about that. We are . . . we can't hold hands, Tobias. We can't dance. We can't go to a movie together."
Tobias: Humans didn't have a great record of getting along with people different from themselves. Humans killed one another over skin color or eye shape or because they prayed differently to the same god. Hard to imagine humans welcoming seven-foot-tall goblins into the local Boy Scout troop when they couldn't even manage to tolerate some gay kid.