The Disappearance
~Early 1998~

"We can't keep going on like this forever," said one human.  "We have to go back to the city.  Everything I have is there, we can't just--"

"Amy, If we go back, we'll be caught for sure," said another.  "I will die before I let them put one of those things back in me."

"I know, Scott," she huffed.  "This isn't about greed or anything, it's just that we need supplies if we're going to stay out here, which I have."

A young hork-bajir, nowhere near full-grown, sat at the edge of the forest clearing where the two humans were arguing, curled up in the roots of the tree as though he were back in the egg.  He didn't quite understand why the humans were arguing, when this place was so beautiful compared to the nightmare they just came out of.  There was bark everywhere, so much better than the mulch and sawdust he'd been forcefed the past months of his life, and no voice forcing him not to climb anywhere.  He tried to smile again, but it wouldn't stick with the others arguing and fouling the mood.

"Why mad?" he said, cutting in with a low whine.  "We free!  Why mad?"

The humans paused and stared at him, as though they'd forgotten he was there or that he could speak.

"We're not mad," the one called Amy said, speaking in a placating tone.  "It's just that we can't eat trees, so we have to go get some food that we can eat."

This confused Tork, as he had plainly seen them taking the fruit off a tree earlier and eating it.  However, he didn't bring that up.  They could eat the gross parts of the tree if they wanted.  He looked away and picked at the bark of a nearby root with his claws.  Fortunately, his interjection seemed to have defused some of the tension, and the humans began talking in lower voices again.  

Some time later, they appeared to come to a resolution, and told Tork to follow.  They would go to Scott's house first as a compromise, then Amy's.  It was a long hike that took most of the morning and into the afternoon.  Tork had an extremely pleasant time walking, looking around, asking questions to his companions about the forest.  They were happy to answer, but there was still the ever-present undercurrent of stress and fear that Tork couldn't consciously notice, but still felt.  It was enough to put him slightly on edge.

Eventually, they reached the strip of blacktop that separated the forest from a row of houses.  "I'm going in," Scott said, brandishing his stolen dracon.  "You two wait here, I'm going to grab a few changes of clothes, bottled water, and any canned food I have in the pantry, then we're out of here."  With that, he struggled to climb the fence of a backyard, tumbled his way over, and entered the house.

Amy took up watch with her own dracon, hidden behind the treeline.  Tork got bored waiting after just one minute had passed, and decided to climb a nearby tree.  Up here, he could see clearly into all of the nearby backyards, one of which contained a dog that he found amusing.  It took the edge off of his boredom, at least.

Collin had family here too, family that knew what he was and had been coerced into taking him in.  She was his human caretaker’s grandmother, and she could be grumpy at times but she was more than sociable enough.  It was a long plane ride here and difficult for an alien that could only stay in form for two hours at a time, so they made it last.  He usually stayed with her for a few months before returning to Texas.

And right now, he was in morph:  that of the Siberian Husky he had acquired a while back.  Being a dog was so much different from being a human or an alien.  Dogs weren’t sentient, but they certainly did have all kinds of senses that other species did not.  The sense of smell was utterly overwhelming, and—even without having 360° vision—he could process what was happening around him faster than he could when he was human.

It was also a great way to observe humans in their ‘natural habitat’.  They would say things when there was just a dog or a bird around, that they wouldn’t otherwise say.  He liked to sit and listen.  Watch them go about their day.  Though, he wished he could be a part of the pool parties, barbecues, and other functions people had.

And Collin also liked how accepting people were of dogs.  Dogs were a normal part of any neighborhood.  He was tame enough that often he got rubbed behind the ears and told he was a good boy, and how cute he was.  Both the dog, and the alien, liked that.  It felt good to be liked and appreciated by anyone.  It was a great coping mechanism for when he was feeling down.  Not to mention, dogs were so happy.  It was like his main form’s optimism, but a dog’s happiness was that much more deliberate.

Who didn’t like a sweet and beautiful Siberian husky?

He’d chosen this spot because he could go and demorph in the woods.  This was also his place to feed privately while he was here.  There was a nice clearing in the woods that he rarely saw any humans near.  It had a stream he could drink from, as well.

But as he was making his way back into the woods, he picked up a few strange scents.  One of them was human, and this human was apparently still here.  The other was completely unfamiliar.  He was intrigued…but should he follow?  He decided to…and then he saw the bladed creature in the tree.  Something about it was familiar, but he couldn’t recall what.  It felt…threatening, to him.  It represented something bad…

The dog wanted to bark at it, but Forlin stopped himself from doing so, and ran off towards his meadow.  He closed his eyes and began to focus on his Andalite self.  The first thing to appear were his hooves, forming like a large toenail upon his pawed feet, then spitting.

Sproot!  Sproot!  Stalks burst from his head.  Tipped with eyes that couldn't see just yet.

A blade was growing from the tip of his tail already, weighing it down somewhat.  And his legs were growing.  He was sure he looked like some sort of free, half-dog and half-centaur.  More like a dog-horse or something.  His tail was elongating, still lying limp on the ground weighted down by the blade.  As bones were growing or changing direction, there was a sickening snapping sound.  It should have hurt terribly, but for some reason, it never did.  It was as if there was pain but it was numbed.

His beautiful blue husky eyes shifted to an almond shape and the irises turned green.

And finally, he was growing to his alien proportions—much larger than the dog.  There was the sound of sloshing within him as some organs appeared, some disappeared, and some rearranged themselves.

This was when his torso was beginning to form as well, growing from his dog neck.  Small arms were sprouting from that, tipped with little hands.  He was like some weird dog-centaur at this point.  Morphing was strange, like that.

The dog left the backyard, and Tork was unfortunately left with nothing to look at besides the back windows of the house, idly trying to figure out what might lie inside this odd squarish structure.  He eventually gave up and hung from a branch with one hand, his feet against the trunk, gently swinging sideways, letting out a sigh.

"Tork bored," he eventually said.  "Want do something."

"Sshhhh," Amy said, looking over her shoulder at him.  "Don't make noise right now, and get down from there before someone sees you."

"'Kay," he groaned, and let himself fall to the ground on all fours.  He sullenly loped past her and leaned against a tree nearby, lazily gnawing a protruding knot on the trunk and getting drool everywhere.

A rustling noise caught his attention, and he perked up.  Something was hidden in the brush not too far from here, going fairly quickly into the forest.  He leaned his head out to see if he could spot what it was, but didn't see anything.

"What was that?" Amy asked, a note of fresh panic in her voice.  She whipped her dracon beam back and forth, scanning for intruders.

"Not know," Tork said, not fully relaxed anymore.  With worry creeping in on his mind, he slunk down against the tree trunk, curling up under its boughs.

It was silent for a moment, before she relaxed her grip on the weapon.  "Probably just a squirrel," she muttered.  "Just a stupid little squirrel."  She growled in frustration.  "What is taking him so long?!"

"We be okay?" Tork said.  

There wasn't an answer.  Amy turned to look at the house once more.

Tork let out a whine, not happy with the general mood.  Another rustling noise, this one more distant, and curiosity got the better of him.  Remembering some of the training the voice in his head had put him through, he got up and moved quietly through the trees in the direction of the sound.  

After about a minute of padding carefully along, he heard a strange new sound, not unlike knuckles popping, but with more muffled snaps underneath.  Then, an odd sloshing accompanied it, like a ziploc bag half-full of water.  Curiously, he peeked around a nearby tree, and wasn't quite prepared for what he saw.

It was the dog from earlier, only... not.  Its form was stretching and changing in a grotesque manner, sprouting new limbs and shifting colors.  Tork couldn't make sense of it, just cocked his head and continued staring from behind the large trunk.

That strange was back again. Then it was gone, as his nose flattened and turned into slits. His tongue and teeth retreated as his lips sealed up. His tail continued to grow, reaching its full length. He was able to raise it now, it and his lower half being fully formed. For a moment, it was almost like he was an alien with the fur of a husky. If only he could manage this look every time! But his arms were still stubs, and his fur was shortening, a blue hue rippling across it. His arms grew to their full length, seven slender digits appearing on his hands.

Collin was fully demorphed, now. He flexed his tail and rolled his shoulders, scanning the area around him with a stalk-eye. There was movement in one of the trees.

<Hello?> he called out. <Don't worry, I won't hurt you.>

Tork let out a startled meep as he heard the voice addressing him.  He pulled his head back behind the trunk and rubbed his ear, not sure where the voice had come from.  It sounded like it came from all around him, or inside him, but he couldn't tell.  It wasn't like the voice that made him do things before, this one was much softer and less mean.

Carefully, he placed both clawed hands on the tree and snaked his head back around, peering sideways with one eye at the now-blue newcomer.  The young hork-bajir's nervous demeanor and childlike proportions made it quite obvious that he was definitely not a threat.  He was still far too intimidated to say much, but he did manage a shaky, "H-hello."

Whatever he was...he was adorable. And though Earth was very bio-diverse, Collin wondered if it was from this planet. It didn't look like anything he had read about or seen on nature shows. And it was small...what if it had an angry mother nearby?

The instant he said hello back, though, Collin realised that he was sentient. He had to be alien. The only things on Earth that could talk were humans, and creatures called parrots. But parrots mimicked spoken voice. Instantly, he wanted to know where this little alien was from, and if there were more of him.

<My name is Collin,> he said. He tried his best to appear non-threatening. He lowered his tail to the ground behind his back, and slowly approached the little one.

<Are you lost?>

Tork retreated as the much-taller blue creature strode towards him.  He half-heartedly stepped backward away from the tree, which left him in the open just in front of the Andalite as he twiddled his claws against his chest.  He looked nervously to either side before craning his head up at an angle to look at the other, larger alien standing over him.  The thoughtspeak voice still confused him, but now he was at least sure it was this being addressing him.

"Lost?" said the young hork-bajir.  He considered the question, tapping a claw on his chin, then shook his head.  "Not lost.  Tork following."

<What are you following, Tork?> Forlin asked the young creature. He wasn't sure what he was, but he wasn't sure how to ask him what he was, either. That was a really...weird question to ask someone. Especially since he didn't know what he was, himself.

"Humans," Tork said, pointing with an arm extended towards the house.  "Nice humans help Tork free.  Can show Collin."

Feeling slightly less on edge now that he was talking to this stranger, he relaxed his posture, picked up a twig and chewed on the end of it.  Then he realized, it was the color that was worrying him.

"Collin look like deer," he said after a moment, thinking back to the one he'd seen earlier on his trek through the woods.  "Blue mean high rank deer?"

Oh my gosh, he was just so cute!  Collin loved watching the adorable little creature.  <Humans helped me, too,> he said.   <I would love to meet them.>  He eye-smiled at him.

And then Tork said Collin looked like a deer, asking if he was a 'high rank deer'.  That made Forlin burst out laughing.  That way to put it.  <Sorry, that's just...a funny observation.  Nah, I'm not a deer.  I don't know what I am.  An alien of some sort.  I'm not from Earth.  Neither do you seem to be.>

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