Two covers of Animorphs Book 4 'The Message'. One shows a girl transforming through a series of images into a dolphin leaping into the air. The second shows her mid-transformation as a semi-dolphin with eyebrows.
Cover of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's famous early hiphop album, 'The Message'. A group of young Black men in very 70s outfits are standing on a street in New York.
So I knew that if I morphed into a squirrel, all that nervousness and fear would become a part of me. It’s something we’ve all had to deal with: controlling the animal instincts, the animal mind that comes along with the animal body.
Anyway, that’s where I was, in a gloomy barn with just the yellow overhead bulbs to light the room. Why was I there? Because someone, or something, had been sneaking in and getting at the birds.
Some morphs are easy. Some are terrifying. When I was a horse, that was cool
Then, the wildest thing! My tail sprouted out of my body!
He ran back to his cage, got in, and — I swear this is true — closed the door.

The whole time I just kept thinking how someone could fry me and serve me with tartar sauce.

And I don’t like tartar sauce.

If you’ve never been a squirrel — and let’s face it, you haven’t —

However, the squirrel knew just what to do.

ZOOOM!

That torrent of squirrel energy would not let me stand still for long.
<Well, why didn’t you tell me?!> he said, sounding grumpy in my head. <I was considering eating you.>
<Cassie? Why are you out here at midnight turning into a squirrel?>
Jake once took a picture of me doing exactly that. He has it next to his computer in his room. Don’t ask me why.
“Is someone in there?” “My father!” <You still have a tail!>
I stuck my hands behind my back and tried to hold my big squirrel tail down while I attempted to morph it away at maximum speed.
I’ve had weird dreams about my sheets trying to strangle me.

<Dreams?> he snapped. <What kind of dreams?>

I shrugged. “I don’t know. These kind of weird dreams about the sea.”

<The sea,> he echoed. <And a voice, calling out to you from beneath the water.>

“You have dreams about Elmo?” Rachel asked him. She put on a worried look. “I see.” She shook her head slowly and made a tsk, tsk sound.

I drifted over to the bulletin board and read “Don’t think there are no crocodiles just because the water is calm. — Malayan Proverb.”

Just beside that was “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. — Sun Tzu.”

It made me a little sad. In the good old days, Rachel would have had a bunch of quotes about being a good person or whatever.

In a very short time we had all grown accustomed to a world of fear and danger.
He wears his brown hair long and has these amazing eyelashes that I would love to have myself.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, are hawks like seagulls? I mean, do they poop while they’re flying?” <Depends on who’s down below,> Tobias shot back. <Let me just put it this way — if you get on my nerves, you’d better buy a hat.>
It’s like all along there was this Amazon warrior locked up inside of her, and now she has an excuse to bring it out.

He pulled a videocassette out of his bag.

“Cool. A piece of prehistoric technology,” Marco said.

“So now we’re interested in hairy old guys who should be wearing shirts?” Marco asked.

I was falling, falling, falling.

Falling into the sea.

If you hear me… come. If you hear me… come.
<I know this sounds crazy, but… but it’s like someone is sending out a distress signal. Like they are calling for help.>
“Oh, big surprise, Rachel is ready to go."
We had been hiding, cringing in terror, when the Yeerks caught up with the Andalite.
Something really deep had gone on between the Andalite prince and Tobias.
There is nothing as big as the ocean.
“Duh. You can’t pick up girls when you’re a bird.”
“Why Cassie and Tobias?” Rachel wondered aloud, ignoring Marco. “Why would they get these images so clearly and the rest of us barely felt anything?”
The Sharing is very subtle
The wings are great, but I’m thinking of something bright red with about four hundred horsepower.”
“Besides, you know you like animals more than humans, so it’s like you’re halfway into morph, anyway.”
New members have no idea what it’s all about at first. They think it’s just fun and games.
<Up ahead on the beach. There’s a bunch of people moving in a line with flashlights, like they’re searching for something.>

“It’s because of Visser Three’s Andalite body,” Marco said.

“That’s the connection. These dreams or visions or whatever they are must be some kind of communication that’s only supposed to be heard by Andalites,” I said.

But running across the sand was like running through quicksand.
“If they’re human, why don’t we see them out there?” Tom asked. “Four sets of human tracks. No humans in the water. Is it possible … is Visser Three wrong? What if they’re not Andalites at all?”
I feel like my scales are burning up. And my gills are on fire.
Plus she got to go to this ceremony where her mom received some award for being Lawyer of the Year.

“Hi, Jake. Did you come by to help me shovel manure?”

He grinned. He has a great smile. It appears kind of slowly, like it doesn’t quite belong on his serious face. “I don’t know. Did I?”

“Yes, you did,” I told him.

“Cassie,” he said, “I would rather shovel manure with you than do homework without you, any day.”

“They have sea lions. And dolphins. But we can’t morph them, can we?”

“Why not?”

“I … I don’t know. It’s just that, I mean, dolphins? They’re highly intelligent. It seems kind of, I don’t know, kind of wrong.”

I have a pass to get in anytime I want, but the others all have to pay, which is kind of a drag because Marco never has any money. Ever since Marco’s mom died, his dad has been kind of messed up. He just takes temporary jobs, and they’re always broke.
I did some homework on the bus (math, gag, yuck!)
“That used to be the coolest thing in the world to me,” he said. “But ever since I morphed a falcon, it just hasn’t seemed like any big deal.”
This morphing stuff does kind of change things

“So what’s the difference between porpoises and dolphins?” Marco asked. “Both are just fish, right?”

SPLOOSH!

She nodded toward the dolphin, who was just exploding
Joey, whom you’ve met, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Rachel.
“Not our kind of intelligence, but still, I guess they’re one of the two or three smartest animals around.”
May I? I asked her silently. But of course she couldn’t answer… .
That night I dreamed again of the voice under the sea
The next day was Friday. There was no school because of some teacher conference, so we had a three-day weekend ahead of us.
I looked closer and saw a very small digital timer strapped to one of his legs.
I mean, I’ve watched while Rachel does her elephant morph, and I can tell you, it is the creepiest, scariest, most disgusting thing you’ll ever want to see.
Let alone watching people go from human to fish.
The first change was my skin. It lightened from brown to pale gray. It was like rubber, tough but springy.
And fortunately, I did not find a true thinking, conscious mind. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Was I okay? I asked myself. <Yes, Tobias. I’m … happy. I feel like … like I don’t know. Like I want you to come and play with me.>
Jake went zipping by, shooting up from beneath me to explode into the air.
I was a missile.

<Are you guys just going to play all day?> It was Tobias. <You realize you’ve wasted forty-five minutes already?>

Minutes? I laughed. Who cared about minutes?

Suddenly we weren’t playing anymore. The others had all found the same instinct in themselves. The echolocation indicated that there was a large shark nearby.

And we knew one thing for sure. We didn’t like sharks.

<I know!> I cried, as if I had just won a contest. <It’s a shark!>
Wikipedia: Some large shark species, such as the tiger shark, the dusky shark, the great white shark and the bull shark, prey on the bottlenose dolphin, especially calves.
Suddenly, from the murky depths, Jake and Rachel zoomed upward, like missiles aimed at the sharks.
<Jake! He’s on your tail!>
Jake scraped across the shark’s sandpaper skin,

Then I saw that they were following the shark I had wounded.

They were following the trail of blood.

They were at the limits of my sight when they struck. They ripped into the injured shark with wild, uncontrolled fury.

Then I saw the wound. I think I would have screamed, if I could have. His tail had almost been bitten off. It was hanging by a few jagged threads. It was useless.

We were miles out in the ocean. And Marco could not hope to swim back.

<No. Morphing uses DNA, right? The basic pattern of the animal. Marco morphs back to human. I don’t think the injury will affect him, because it doesn’t affect his human DNA.>
His shattered, injured tail split in two. Legs formed from the halves, toes appeared. Human toes. At the end of human legs.

But at that moment the most incredible part of an incredible day happened.

My mind, human, dolphin, both minds, opened up like a flower opening to the sun.

And a silent, but somehow huge, voice filled my head. It spoke no words. It simply filled every corner of my mind with a simple emotion.

Gratitude.

The whale was telling me that it was grateful. We had saved it. Now it would save our schoolmate.

For a while he didn’t answer. He just came over and leaned on the railing beside me. “I’m scared all the time now, Cassie,” he said at last. “I’m scared to fight the Yeerks, and I’m scared of what will happen if I don’t. I look at Tobias, and what happened to him scares me to death. What if I get stuck in morph someday? And most of all, I am scared of … of him.”

I didn’t have to ask who Marco meant by him. Visser Three.

“That first time, in the construction site, when he killed … when he murdered the Andalite.” Marco made a twisted smile. “I see that in my head every day. And the Yeerk pool.” He shook his head. “That’s something I would like to forget, too.”

“Yes, but can you decide to do nothing? That’s a decision, too.”
“Weird? Weird?” Marco crowed. “The talking bird wants to know if getting information on the location of an alien from a whale, that you’ve just saved from sharks, by turning into dolphins … You’re suggesting that’s weird?”

Suddenly I stopped walking. I don’t know why, but I had this need to tell him something. I took his hand and held it between both of mine. “Jake?” I said.

“Yes?”

It was on the tip of my tongue, but then it seemed ridiculous to say it. So instead I said, “Look, don’t ever get hurt, okay?”

He smiled that smile. “Me? I’m indestructible.”

<Whoa! That’s half a 3 Musketeers bar by that car!>

<Oooh, ooh! Look at the Dumpster behind that McDonald’s!>

My seagull mind was not searching for mice or scurrying animals. It was much more open-minded. My seagull intelligence looked for anything — anything—that could even possibly be food.
We flew low, just a few dozen feet above the water. Not like hawks, who can ride the thermals up to the bellies of the clouds.

<Still, it is cool,> Rachel said. <There’s a ship up ahead,> Jake announced.

<You just now noticed it?> Tobias laughed. <Wow. Seagull eyes aren’t exactly great, are they? It’s a container ship called Newmar. It’s from Monrovia. You want to know what color the captain’s hair is?>

Jake made a “who knows?” face. “I figure this ship is going, like, what, twenty miles per hour?
<I fly along the roads sometimes and watch the car speedometers. So I have a pretty good idea how fast I’m flying. When we were flying alongside the ship, I clocked it.>

“That would put us within a couple of miles of where Cassie thinks we should go.”

I winced. Every time anyone said something about me deciding where to go or what to do, it made me nervous.

He grabbed Marco’s flipperarm.

Aaaaaaaaaaahhhh!”

I fell for what seemed like a very long time.

PAH-LOOOOSH!

“I’m nock koink to …” he started to say. But his mouth no longer worked.

PAH-LOOOOSH!

I hit the water feetfirst

I was a dolphin in a dolphin’s world. The human clumsiness, the human cold, the human fear of an alien environment, all evaporated.
<Well, that was fun,> Marco said sardonically.
We all watched as a helicopter flew low and very slowly over the water. It was just a few hundred yards away, and with our dolphin vision, we couldn’t see it as well as we might have with our human eyes.
We leveled off and skimmed across the ocean floor, like low-flying jets racing at treetop level. Over waving fields of seaweed. Through darting schools of fish. Over jutting extrusions of rock, encrusted by barnacles and home to a thousand bizarre crabs and lobsters and urchins and worms and snails.
I’ve become used to seeing impossible things — aliens, spaceships, my own friends turning into animals. But this was just plain mind-boggling.
A park, in a plastic dome, at the bottom of the ocean.

<I think that may be a hatch down there,> Marco said. <You see the part that sticks out?>

<Let’s try it,> Jake said. <I can’t hold my breath much longer.>

The door slid open. I felt a wave of warm, incredibly fragrant air rush in. I caught a glimpse of … Then a brilliant flash of light … And suddenly I was unconscious.

He stood on four delicate hooves, looking, at first glance, like a pale blue and tan deer or antelope.

But he had a strong upper body, like a mythical centaur, with two small arms and many-fingered hands. His face was almost triangular, built around two huge, almond-shaped eyes. There was a small vertical slit where his nose should have been, and nothing where his mouth should have been.

From atop his head rose twin horns. Only they were not horns. They each ended in an eye and turned this way and that, independent of his main eyes.

He seemed gentle, quizzical, almost delicate. Until you noticed the tail. The tail was like a scorpion’s. It was thick, powerful, and ended in a wicked scythe blade that literally glittered along its razor-sharp edges.

<Prince Elfangor? No one could kill Elfangor. He is the greatest warrior ever. No one could kill him!>
Rachel caught my eye and silently mouthed the words He’s cute. Then she winked.
<I have seen images of your kind. My call was to my cousins. How did you hear it?>
The Andalite closed his main eyes for a brief moment. <My brother was a great warrior. His cousins loved him. His enemies feared him. No more can be said of any Andalite warrior.>

“What is this?” Rachel asked. “This dome, I mean. It’s like a park or something.”

<This is the main part of an Andalite Dome ship.>

<During the great battle in orbit over your planet, the dome was separated from the rest of the ship.>
Yeerks are killers of worlds. Murderers of all life. Hated and feared throughout the galaxy. They are a plague that spreads from world to world, leaving nothing but desolation and slavery and misery in their wake.
But the Andalite had stepped forward. He bowed his head and lowered his tail. <I will fight for you, Prince Jake, until I can return to my cousins.>
<I am Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill.>

“Wait, wait. I don’t think I understand you. What do you mean, they eliminate species?”

<They eliminate them. They will make Earth as much like the Yeerk home world as possible. They will destroy most of the plants and all of the animal species except those they eat.>

“Two years!” Jake looked stricken. I went to his side and slipped my arm through his. “Five kids against an enemy that has destroyed half the galaxy? Five of us?”

“How did these Yeerks get this far?” Rachel demanded. “How did this happen? If you Andalites are so tough, why didn’t you stop them a long time ago? How did a bunch of slugs who live in dirty ponds manage to become so powerful?”

Ax looked at her. <I am forbidden to tell certain things.>

<Then, Prince Jake, shall we deal with these Taxxon scum?> <Don’t call me ‘prince,’> Jake said.
I powered toward one of the Taxxons as he powered toward me. We were like two trains running on the same track. Head to head.
<Oh, good choice, Ax,> Marco said. <You morphed a shark?> <Is it wrong?> the Andalite wondered. <Your species and ours are mortal enemies,> I explained.
I expected it to be like the shark—hard, tough, unyielding. It was not. It was like hitting a soggy paper bag with a sledgehammer. The Taxxon burst like a dropped watermelon.
Scientists believe that sharks are one of the oldest species of animals still in existence. Nature built them as perfect predators. Perfect killing machines. Nature hasn’t had to revise or update them much. They were built right the first time.
I don’t know what sea the Taxxon race evolved in. I don’t know what natural predators they faced there. But they were not ready for this ocean. They were not ready to go one-on-one with the masters of Earth’s deep seas. They were no match for dolphin or shark.
WHUMP, WHUMP, WHUMP.
WHUMP, WHUMP, WHUMP.
WHUMP, WHUMP, WHUMP.
WHUMP, WHUMP, WHUMP.
WHUMP, WHUMP, WHUMP.
BAH-LUMPH!

<A mardrut is a beast that lives in the oceans of one of our own Andalite moons. To think of that filthy Yeerk scum on our own moon! Acquiring our animals!>

<Ax, look, what is a mardrut?> I asked him.

<It is a very large creature that swims by shooting water out of three large chambers. It makes a sound —>

WHUMP, WHUMP, WHUMP.

<A sound like that?> Marco asked.

We had all been exposed to Visser Three. Ax had not. He seemed to shudder, even in his shark body. The dead shark eyes showed no emotion, but his swimming became erratic.

<Ax,> I said to him. He did not answer. <Ax, we have heard his voice before. We’ve heard his threats. And we are still alive.>

<He will kill us,> Ax said. <He will kill us! He killed Elfangor!>

<Ax, hang in there. Don’t answer him. Don’t think about him. Just swim!>

We stopped. We turned to face the mardrut. <Jake?> I said. <I wanted to tell you …> <Yes. Me too, Cassie,>
The two big males who had struck first had heads like sledgehammers. Sperm whales. Sixty feet long. Forty-five tons. The weight of twenty cars.
And then a more recent memory surfaced. The whale. I remembered his huge, gentle silence filling my mind. I could even hear his song. Wait! I could hear his song. That wasn’t memory. I was hearing his plaintive, haunting song, reverberating through the water. He was not far away.

FWOOOMP!

Visser Three shuddered and stopped dead in the water.

Jake nodded. “I think if you could ask the dolphins, they would say it’s all right to use them. Since what you’re trying to do is save them.”

“Nah, they would just think it was all a big game. They would never understand.”

We both laughed. Even if they could talk, the dolphins would never really understand what we were so upset about. We knew that better than anyone.

“I guess that’s true,” Jake said. “But we do understand.” He met my gaze. “We do understand what’s at stake. And we’ll do whatever we have to do to win.”

I knew what he was trying to tell me. We’d used the dolphins to save them. We’d used other animals to save them, too. And that made it okay.

And even though I don’t really know what a soul is, I know this—if humans have them, then so do whales.

Then, to my surprise, Ax walked over to me. He placed one delicate, many-fingered hand on my face.

<With your permissions,> he said.

I felt myself getting spacey. Not sleepy, exactly, but sort of like I was in a trance.

I realized what he was doing. He was “acquiring” me. He was absorbing my DNA.

The scorpion tail shrank and disappeared.

He reared up and stood erect.

“Um, you know, I think we better give Ax some privacy,” I suggested.

“O-o-o-o-kay,” Jake said. “A few small adjustments needed. Ax, are you male or female?”

“I chose to be-be-be-be-be male.” He stopped suddenly, eyes wide. He was surprised by his mouth. It was not something Andalites understood.

“I chose male because I am male. Word. Male. Is that a good choice? Ch-oy-ce? Chuh chuh choy-yuss?”

<Prince Elfangor was your brother?> Tobias demanded. His hawk’s eyes glittered.

This definitely got their attention. All six dolphins swam around, looking up at me, sideways at me, back at me as they passed.

And slowly I became one of them.

One of them came over, gave me a nudge, then shot toward the surface. She exploded