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fly away free

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When you were little, you wanted to be an astronaut.
A normal aspiration, for a normal little boy.
Later, you wondered if it was some latent gene, some way of knowing, but just then, you’re happy to play with spaceships. You want to see space one day. You wonder if it’s as boring as your uncle said it was when you brought it up.
When you’re a little older, your aunt gets you a babysitter so she doesn’t have to look after you for the rest of the day.
You go to a museum. At first, you are reluctant, but then you see the bones.
Huge, magnificent, beautiful.
Dinosaurs.
You want to see a real one. You want to see one so bad, and you say this out loud.
Your babysitter laughs a little. She explains that they are all dead and gone. You can’t help but wonder if they’re in the same place as your mother and father. Maybe they got to meet these amazing creatures, somehow. Maybe you will too, one day. But since you can’t see these awful, wonderful, beasts for real, you’d settle for finding them instead. Maybe, you thought, maybe you could be an archaeologist when you grew up.
You moved around a lot as a kid, shuttled between your aunt and your uncle on opposite sides of the country. You get a cat, named Dude. He is your only constant. Your only friend.

 

On the first day at your new school, you get your head shoved down a toilet, and that’s how you meet Jake. He’s tall, imposing, a jock- he has everything. He has the world.
You want that. You want his life, his loving family, his stability, his happy-go-lucky attitude that you can’t afford to have.
Marco doesn’t like you, but that’s okay. You tag along as they walk back to class. You learn that Jake has a crush on a girl named Cassie and a cousin named Rachel. You have no idea how important these people would one day be to you. For now, you smile and nod as Jake babbles.
Maybe this was a story about the underdog. Maybe, you think, this was the year you would rise above your unloved life in a dirty house with bullies everywhere you turn. Maybe this was the year everything would change.

 

Then you met the alien, and learned of a war, and oh, this was a science fiction story.
Spaceships, lasers, morphing fills a hole in your life you didn’t even know was there.
Fighting the Yeerks feels like an adventure at first. You’re a cat, and you’re a bird, and every time you morph back it gets harder and harder to be human.
As you lie in bed, listening to your aunt shout at some hapless passerby, you wonder if, maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad to just not morph back one day. Let the time run out and be free. Fly away to the open sky.
It’s tempting. It’s so tempting.
And then you have your first mission, and things go terribly, awfully, wrong.

 

You can’t morph back, and this is a horror story.
Being human held nothing for you, but now you see your friends risking their lives while you’re trapped in the freedom that the sky gives, and you’d give anything to be risking your life with them.
Rachel, a bear, roaring as she attacks, mouth and paws sticky with blood, and you know that not all of it is alien.
Jake, a tiger, calm amongst the chaos, snapping out orders that keep them alive, blood on his hands and his tongue.
Ax, an Andalite, his own body, tail snapping back and forth too fast for even your eyes to see, exhausted but still fighting.
Cassie, a wolf, darting back into the fray again and again and again until she can’t stand anymore, fur slick with blood.
Marco, a gorilla, loyal even as he presses one hand against his stomach to keep his guts inside, bellowing a challenge.
They are bloody and screaming as you swerve and dive and call their names, helpless.
Late at night, as you try to sleep under the open stars, you know that the worst thing that’s ever happened to you is being cradled in that blue safety, only able to watch as your friends die far below.
You hate it. You hate it so much, as much as you love the ability to fly free.
Would you trade it? Would you trade your wings for morphing? Trade your freedom for humanity?
You don’t know. You never will.

 

You still have human desires, tucked in with the killing instinct and the miracle of flight. And you know this: you have fallen in love with Rachel.
Careful, though. Careful. You’re a bird, and she’s… amazing. Gorgeous. Smart. Human. Everything you’re not.
But then you got to know her, really got to know her, and you realized that this was a love story.
You eat burgers together and fly around town and dive-bomb seagulls.
You do not go to the mall or see a movie or have dinner together at a restaurant or even at Denny’s.
Sometimes, you wish you could. Other times, you’re happy with what you have.
You wonder later what might have happened if you decided to become stuck again, and lived out the rest of your life with her.
You’ll never get that opportunity… but even as you wonder, you know (you think, you hope) that it wouldn’t have done anything.
(If you could have prevented her death, you will never forgive yourself.)

 

Sometimes, as you flew along, you thought about your life and wondered if you were in a comedy instead, written by some sick, twisted author.
You have an alien for a father. Your mother is gone. You’re a hawk, but your girlfriend is a human. Your best friend is your uncle and an alien. You’re a teenager fighting an intergalactic war against a race of slave masters. You are a shapeshifter, and your friends are shapeshifters, but you were born a normal human boy.
Irony at its finest.
Maybe it’s not a comedy. Maybe it’s a soap opera.
You laugh internally a little at the thought and soar towards Cassie’s barn to help plan your next mission. Rachel said something about bombs on the phone, but that could have just been the spotty payphone-at-the-edge-of-the-woods reception.

 

It’s the final battle, the last alien do-or-die situation you’ll ever be in, and you can’t find Rachel.
Jake says she’s doing what needs to be done, but oh, God, you can’t find her. You can’t lose her, she’s everything to you. Where is she? Where is she? Where is she?
You almost wish you’d never found her.
Rachel’s smiling at you from the screen, and then she’s gone, and she’s dead, and you’re human again, sobbing on the floor and you’ve won but you’ve lost everything.
You were wrong all along. This wasn’t a science fiction story, or a horror story, or a love story.
This was one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.
Hawks can’t smile, hawks can’t cry, hawks can’t love, but oh, you can because you might have a hawk body but you have a human heart.
When I grow up, I want to see space.
When I grow up, I want to fly.
When I grow up, I want to be free.
Congratulations.
You got everything you ever wished for.
And are you happy, Tobias?