The battle is still raging, and it’s out-and-out war. Jake, the other Animorphs, and Ax have found a way to slow the Yeerks down, but now the Yeerks have decided the best way to win is to just destroy everything and everyone who gets in their way.
Just when things look more than hopeless, Jake and the others discover help where they least expected: Taxxons. Creatures so foul and heartless it’s almost hard to believe that they are capable of having any feelings. But Jake and the others soon discover that the Taxxon resistance has its own problems with the Yeerks. And, for once, it looks like Earth may have a chance....
The ground-based Yeerk pool has been destroyed, and without any source of Kandrona to sustain them, the Yeerks require another source of food - and fast. Tobias, Marco and Jake, in various bird forms, watch helplessly as huge swarms of Bug fighters ("Maybe fifty of the things") begin to destroy the Animorphs' hometown with Dracon beams, while a news helicopter films (the Yeerks let the copter film; they want the citizens of Earth to fear them). A squadron of jet fighters attempts to engage the Bug fighters in air combat, but they are quickly neutralized by the Yeerks' superior weaponry.
Initially, Jake believes that the complete and total devastation is a message to the rest of the world; a threat, should anyone try to resist the Yeerk's sudden sledgehammer tactics. However, Marco realizes that both the Animorphs and the Yeerks are "way past sending messages", and sees that the Bug fighters are creating a sort of desert of ash and cinder so no enemy can get close, unseen. "But what were they protecting?" Jake wonders, "The ruins of the Yeerk pool?"
In the free Hork-Bajir valley, the Animorphs and their families have a council of war. If the Pool ship can be destroyed, the Animorphs would almost surely win the war - without a food source, the Yeerks would starve. However, Cassie's, Marco's and Rachel's parent(s) argue that any mission to destroy the Pool ship would be too dangerous, as Visser One would expect an attack - the Pool ship is too valuable a target for the Animorphs to resist. Toby (the leader of the free Hork-Bajir) instead suggests capturing the Pool ship, in order to control its weapon systems and free the Hork-Bajir onboard. Jake begins to formulate a plan to infiltrate and capture the Pool ship.
Jake orders three things. First, he orders Marco to establish contact with the Chee (the King house has been destroyed by Bug fighters, but the underground complex has been left undamaged). Secondly, he orders Tobias on a reconnaissance mission, to determine the origin of a pillar of smoke the three saw earlier in the city. Finally, he reveals that his plan requires a large-scale human military force as a diversion. Jake makes no effort to conceal the fact that the human soldiers' diversionary mission will be suicidal, as the Pool ship can simply lift off the ground and fire at the soldiers from orbit with its massive Dracon cannon; however, a diversion is necessary in order to mask the fact that the Animorphs are already on board the ship.
The pillar of smoke, as it turns out, is due to a new Yeerk pool that is being hastily constructed. Visser One wants the new pool functional as soon as possible, so he can fly the Pool ship back into the safety of orbit, out of the Animorphs' reach.
Jake infiltrates a military base (Alien Task Force One) to establish contact with General Doubleday, who is in charge of all military forces in the area. After being captured three times by the General's men (who believe him to be an alien), Jake tells the general that his men must be kept under lockdown for three days in order to determine who is a Controller and who isn't. After Visser One's forces attack the base, the General agrees; however, this means a three-day delay before Jake's plan can be put into action. Jake realizes that the construction on the new Yeerk pool must be halted for the time being; if a new pool is made functional, Visser One will fly the Pool ship into orbit, out of the Animorphs' reach.It is Cassie who, uncharacteristically, suggests killing Taxxons (the "digging equipment") as a means of halting construction. The others agree, and that night the Animorphs and the Auxiliary Animorphs attack the unfinished Yeerk pool, killing a slew of Taxxons. Jake, however, is captured by a split faction of Taxxons (led by an Andalite, Arbron, trapped in Taxxon morph) who want the morphing cube. The Taxxons cannot endure living with their excruciating hunger any longer, and they see that the only way out is to permanently morph to something else. However, because Visser One would never allow a Taxxon to morph, the only way that this would be possible is if the Animorphs, rather than the Yeerks, are victorious. The Taxxons, in short, want to defect.
Jake returns to the camp, and tells the Animorphs and their families what has happened. Unfortunately, Ax informs the group that the Andalite High Command, instead of coming to Earth's rescue, has arrived to destroy Earth from orbit in order to neutralize the Yeerk threat once and for all, caring little for humankind's extinction. Jake realizes that he needs to achieve a victory very quickly, to prevent this from happening.
Jake returns to Arbron's Taxxons, telling them that he approves of the deal they suggested, and morphs to Anaconda to show them the possibilities that Earth species hold. Suddenly, Tom also arrives, unarmed and alone. Tom's Yeerk reveals that he, too, wants to fight against the Yeerk Empire, but his motivations are far from noble; he wants a hundred of his chosen people, the morphing cube, and the Blade ship, to make war on other species. Tom also says that he wants Visser One dead, as the visser never properly compensated him for "carrying" him for the last three years. Tom's Yeerk tells Jake that, in return for his help, he can offer Jake Tom's and Jake's parents' freedom, as well as the codes necessary for cracking the Pool ship's weapons systems. Tom also has a plan to get the Animorphs into the Pool ship right underneath Visser One's non-existent nose. Jake agrees, albeit reluctantly, as his gut tells him that Tom is lying, in part. Cassie has problems with making deals with Tom, as she sees the immorality of letting such a powerful warlord escape with the morphing cube and the Blade ship to make war on some other helpless species.
Later, Jake runs through Tom's story again and again, trying to figure out what is bothering him about it. Suddenly, he realizes: Visser One is not the only one to blame for Tom's Yeerk's frustration. The Animorphs, in frustrating Visser One, have doomed Tom's Yeerk to a low rank. That is why Tom needed no assurance from the Animorphs that they would make good on their part of the deal: he expects them to be dead. Jake sees that Tom intends to betray them, and begins altering his plan to use him. Unfortunately, without Tom's codes, the Animorphs need another way to capture or disable the Pool ship.
Marco was successful in establishing contact with the Chee, and he brings Erek back to the valley to meet the Animorphs. Jake reveals that he needs Erek's direct participation and presence onboard the Pool ship; Erek tells Jake that his programming can't allow him to do that. Jake has anticipated this, and brings out his hostage: a very unhappy Chapman. Jake tells Erek that if he will not help, Jake will kill Chapman; this manipulates Erek's programming, forcing him to help them. Erek is, obviously, very mad at Jake (" 'This is so low,' he grated. 'This is so far beneath you, Jake.' ") Jake also gives Rachel orders that he keeps secret from the rest of the group.
The Animorphs pretend to go along with Tom's plan, and Erek disguises himself as Cassie. Tom beats up "Cassie" to make her capture seem legitimate; however, he thinks that Erek is the real Cassie. The Animorphs, except for Tobias, hide underneath Erek's force fields, in very small morphs.
As Toby's free Hork-Bajir mix in with Hork-Bajir-Controllers, Tom brings "Cassie" to Visser One, and Taxxon arrives to inform Visser One of the imminent Taxxon betrayal (Arbron's Taxxons plan to destroy the unfinished Yeerk pool while the military, along with the Auxiliary Animorphs, attack the ship from the ground). However, the visser, unsure that an Animorph could be captured so easily, suspects a trick. Tom, who believes that the Animorphs are hiding on "Cassie", orders the Taxxon to eat Erek, and the Taxxon complies without hesitation.
The Taxxon, however, is Tobias in morph, and the rest of the Animorphs have already jumped off Erek's body. Tobias gorges on an illusion, and Erek's holograms throw up the appearance of Cassie being eaten alive. Visser One and Tom buy it, and Tom suggests that he take temporary control of the Blade ship to destroy the Taxxons. Visser One agrees, unsuspecting that Tom will use the Blade ship against him. As Tom leaves, Rachel's private thought-speak to Jake fades.
The final battle begins. Human forces appear and begin firing at the Pool ship, with little effect. The Auxiliary Animorphs are with them, to trick Visser One into thinking that the Animorphs are on the ground, and not on the ship (remember, the Yeerks think there are only six Animorphs). Jake stays on the bridge with Visser One, who orders that the Pool ship lift off the ground and use its Dracon cannon to kill the human forces on the ground. Meanwhile, Ax, Erek, Marco and Cassie work on cracking the Pool ship's codes to take control of it. Visser One uses minimal dispersion to systematically kill the Auxiliary Animorphs one by one. After he kills all the Auxiliary Animorphs, he orders wide dispersion to kill the human soldiers all at once. However, just as the military is about to suffer total casualties, the bridge loses control of the engines; the rest of the Animorphs have cracked the codes to the engines. Visser One realizes that free Hork-Bajir are onboard, and brings a detachment of Controllers to engineering to kill them. Jake meets up with the Animorphs, who escape the battle that ensues as Toby's Hork-Bajir fight Visser One and his Controllers.
The Animorphs, sans Rachel (she still hasn't joined them, as per Jake's orders), realize that the Blade ship will now attack the Pool ship, either destroying it or disabling it completely. The Animorphs have no access to the Pool ship's weapons, however, as the Controllers on the bridge will only take orders from Visser One, who is in engineering. When the others press Jake to tell them where Rachel is, he finally reveals his orders: he has sent Rachel to kill Tom on board the Blade ship. (" 'I can't let him get away,' I said dully. 'Tom's Yeerk... the Blade ship, probably the morphing cube? You were right, Cassie. I can't let that happen.' ")
The Animorphs demorph and assume their battle morphs, intending to create as much damage as possible; once Visser One hears that they are onboard, he will rush back to the bridge to head them off, where they can use him to attack the Blade ship. The Animorphs, however, encounter too little resistance. They head directly for the onboard Pool ship, and Jake gives the orders to flush it, killing around seventeen thousand unhosted, defenseless Yeerks. This act, later described by Jake himself as a war crime, will haunt the leader of the Animorphs for many years to come.
Needless to say, the visser hears about this, and returns to the bridge at full speed. When the Animorphs arrive at the bridge, they find the visser defeated, as he now sees the full extent of his defeat. He realizes that Tom has betrayed him and intends to kill him using the Blade ship. That fact, combined with the murder of seventeen thousand of his Yeerk brethren, cause the visser to suffer total psychological defeat. The Animorphs tell Visser One to attack the Blade ship with Dracon beams, but Visser One informs them that someone is draining power from the ship's weapon systems. That person turns out to be Erek, who flat out cannot enable a major weapons system because of his programming. The Blade ship opens fire on the Pool ship, destroying its engines.
However, the Pool ship can still get out one or two quick shots, but the more agile Blade ship easily dodges both (aided by the fact that the Pool ship no longer has propulsion). Tom opens communications with the Pool ship, and Visser One tells Tom that the Empire will track him down and kill him for his treachery. Tom reveals that he has lied to Visser One more than he knows; the Andalite fleet is already bearing down on Earth, and will be ready to completely destroy Yeerk forces (" 'The Andalite fleet is rather close by,' Tom's Yeerk said cheerfully. 'It's possible that I misled you on that point.') Tom soon sees Jake in tiger morph and realizes that the Animorphs are still alive. He orders his crew to target the Pool ship's bridge to kill them, but he doesn't know that Rachel is on board the Blade ship itself. Before Tom can destroy the Pool ship's bridge, Jake orders Rachel to attack.
- Auxiliary Animorphs (Death)
- Erek King
- General Sam Doubleday
- Rebel Taxxons
Contributions to the Series' Story Arc
- The Auxiliary Animorphs are killed by Visser One's Pool ship's Dracon cannon.
- Arbron and the Taxxon rebels make contact with the Animorphs and from an alliance.
- Rachel sneaks aboard the Blade ship with Tom, while the others board the Pool ship.
- Jake forces Erek King to aid the Animorphs by threatening to hurt Chapman.
- Jake proposes to Cassie, but she declines.
|Morpher||Morphs Acquired||Morphs Used|
|Jake||Anaconda||Peregrine Falcon, Dragonfly, Siberian Tiger, Bat, Anaconda, Fly|
|Rachel||--||Human (Soldier), Hork-Bajir (Jara Hamee), Grizzly Bear, Bat, African Elephant, Flea, Bald Eagle|
|Cassie||--||Wolf, Bat, Flea, Osprey|
|Marco||--||Osprey, Silverback Gorilla, Bat, Cheetah, Flea|
|Tobias||--||Hork-Bajir (Ket Halpak), Bat, Taxxon|
|Ax||--||Human (Soldier), Bat, Flea, Northern Harrier|
|James||--||Peregrine Falcon, Lion|
- The cover quote is "All questions are about to be answered...".
- The inside cover quote is "An even trade...?"
- The top of the book's front cover has the tagline "It's countdown time. Only one more book until the end...." This tagline was present on books 51, 52 and 53.
- This book and #54 were the only two of the numbered books not to be translated into Italian.
- The UK edition combines both "The Answer" and "The Beginning" into one book.
- French books resume publication with this book, after skipping books #47-52.
- ANIBASE: This book marks the return of a classic Animorphs character: Arbron, who we first met in The Andalite Chronicles. The idea for having Arbron return originally come about when K.A. Applegate was asked to do a Taxxon Chronicles but was stuck for what the story could be about. She realized that Arbron's struggles in leading a Taxxon resistance would make a great book -- but, unfortunately, the Taxxon Chronicles never came to be. To keep the legacy of Arbron alive, however, K.A. brought him to Earth in this book, and it was with his help that the Animorphs figured out a way to beat the Yeerks once and for all.
- In this book, Jake finally breaks the "I can't tell you my last name or where I live" tradition, and reveals that his last name is Berenson and that the Animorphs have been fighting the Yeerks in California for a total of 3 years. This approximately brings them to 16 years old, as it is assumed that the kids are around 13 when the series began.