Animorphs #28: “The Experiment” by K.A. Applegate
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 1999
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: The Yeerks are ready to control humans where it counts — in their DNA. They’re working on a drug that saps humans of their free will. But the Animorphs show them that human free will runs deeper than any drug can reach.
Plot: I have clear memories of the cow portions of this book, but as I discovered reading this again, that’s only, like, that last third of the whole thing! So let’s get started on all the rest of the book that I had somehow completely forgotten!
Ax has built himself a scoop and also managed to get a TV. He and Tobias now have an afternoon ritual of watching some good, old quality “The Young and the Restless.” One afternoon, Marco shows up, bored, looking for mall trip buddies. On the way, they run in to Erek who has a possible mission. Apparently the Yeerks have been involved in some animal testing facility. The Chee don’t know what they’re doing, but with the Yeerks, it’s always safe to say it’s bad.
The group meets up in the barn and decide that yes, of course they must check it out. They all fly over to scout the place out. The building is highly fortified behind an invisible force shield that has been frying any animal that gets too close. But as they scout, they see a van pull up full of chimpanzees. There’s their in. The next day, Ax and Tobias scout out the route that the van with the chimps takes and note that it goes through a very long tunnel. And thus a very insane plan is sprung!
Together, all of the Animorphs in bird morph dive bomb the truck just as it heads into the tunnel. There, they all demorph and form a human chain, lowering Cassie down to open the back of the truck. They all jump in and quickly acquire the chimps. At a stop light, they release the other chimps (this doesn’t go well for some passing cars), and lock themselves in instead. At the facility, they are all carted into another room that is full of other caged chimps. Cassie demorphs to let them out, but just then they hear none other than Visser Three approaching down the hall. She races back to her cage and begins remorphing. To distract Visser Three and the others, they, of course, throw poo at him. Enraged, he leaves and they overhear him saying to release the Taxxons on the chimps, as that stage of testing is finished anyways. In chimp morph, the Animorphs release the others and fight off the Taxxons, making their way out of the facility. However, the mission is a success and they learn that the “next stage” of whatever is going on is taking place a meat packing plant.
Again, the next day Tobias and Ax scout out the plant. Later, in the barn, they report on what they found. While not covered with a force field, the plant is using the same Gleet BioFilters that now guard the entrances to the Yeerk pool, making it impossible to get in as anything but the poor, doomed cattle. The steer, however, are kept in a field some distance away. Cassie, however, comes up with a solution. Two of them morph steer, and the rest hide up in the steer’s nostrils as flies: organisms within other living creatures don’t trigger the BioFilters. Jake decides that Ax and Tobias will morph the steer, as they can demorph without revealing that they’re all humans if things go south.
That night, Marco, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax head out to acquire the morphs. While there, they have a close run-in with a few drunken cow tippers. Ax tries to disguise himself as a cow, but they spot him, and it’s only with some quick tail blade action that he able to knock them out.
The next day, they all head back to the field. Tobias and Ax aren’t concerned about the morph, as, obviously, cows are pretty docile. That is until they actually do the morph and realize that while they acquired steer, the DNA was that of bulls, so that’s what they become. Cassie is barely able to stop them from charging each other or her. But they now have a problem: any transport unit will definitely notice the fact that their cargo are bulls, and will call in about it. Jake has another brilliant plan: Marco driving, take two! Gorilla!Marco knocks out the two men when they arrive with the truck. Jake, being fairly tall, puts on the uniform of the passenger with the clipboard to confirm their cargo at the checkpoint. And gorilla!Marco, puts on what clothes he can manage (he’s too short to reach the truck petals in his human form).
What follows is yet another example of Marco’s terrible driving. The truck almost goes over on its side at least once, and several fences are damaged in the process of getting to the plant. Once there, the guards are convinced the driver is drunk, but pass off on letting them in. After they park, they morph flies and join Cassie and Rachel in bull!Ax and bull!Tobias’s noses and are able to successfully get through the Gleet Biofilters.
Once in, the others bail to begin scouting and create a diversion. Ax and Tobias are left in the line, slowly making their way towards execution. Ax is in front. They wait as long as they can, but Ax reaches the front of the line. He tries to avoid the man with the gun, but he gets tasered several times. Just before he’s shot, grizzly!Rachel shows up to rescue them. Controllers and Hork Bajir pour into the room, and Tobias and Ax frantically demorph.
The three of them charge off to find the others, who are not doing well, backed into a corner with a locked door. Visser Three shows up and begins his usual threats. Grizzly!Rachel can’t force the door, but Ax manages to quickly hard wire the key pad, and they flee into the next room. Ax rips out the wires behind him, effectively barricading it.
In the room, there are several cages with humans who look to be in some sort of bio-stasis. A computer screen is open and on it they discover what is going on. The computer, with lots of sucking up to Visser Three included, informs them that this is Project Obedience, a biochemical component that can be injected into the food supply and remove the free will of anyone who eats it. The others are horrified and feel defeated, but Cassie scoffs, saying that it is impossible to remove free will. Even Controllers have free will beneath the Yeerk who is forcing them to do things.
They then notice a lab worker who has been hiding in the corner. He quickly breaks down, saying that they might as well kill him since Visser Three soon will anyways, once he learns that the lab worker lied. He confirms what Cassie said, that the whole project was impossible from the start, but that Visser Three wouldn’t accept failure, so the lab worker has been faking it. Just then, the door begins to give behind them.
They quickly wake up the sleeping humans and get them out of their cages. The lab worker would rather make a run for it than confront Visser Three, so he leads the Animorphs and confused humans out of the plant.
The next day they meet back up at the mall. Cassie is feeling smug that she called it on the free will thing, but Marco says that she’s the only one who could look at the last few days as anything other than a giant waste of time: at least they saved some animals! Other than that, the whole project had been a bust from the start, so all of their work was for nothing. But at least they can enjoy some tasty burgers free of concern! Cassie is horrified, but the others all chow down.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: For an Ax book, he doesn’t really have a whole lot as far as character moments in this book. There’s the running gag about various TV shows he’s watching, and his general narrating voice is as great as always. We again get to see his morning rituals, and it’s nice to see that he’s finally built himself a scoop.
Towards the middle of the book, he does reflect on the different challenges that humans face living on a world that still has predators that could kill them and by being omnivores. He reflects on the easy balance on the Andalite homeworld, that they have no natural predators and that they are vegetarian. It’s a nice exploration of the balance that has to be struck between being a human capable of moralizing, but also being a type of being that evolved to supplement its diet by eating meat.
More clearly, he is horrified by the treatment of chimpanzees, especially after they all morph them and he realizes how closely related they are to humans. Cassie, of course, has many strong opinions on this, and Ax becomes equally perturbed by whether they crossed a line morphing them. Towards the end of the book, he asks the scientist whether the free will injections worked on chimpanzees, in an attempt to finally answer the question about their sentience. The scientist says it didn’t work on them either, but wasn’t sure whether that’s because they had free will and it was affected, or whether they didn’t have free will to begin with.
Our Fearless Leader: Jake doesn’t have a lot in this book, other than the HIGHLY questionable decision of putting gorilla!Marco behind the wheel again. He also quickly picks Ax and Tobias to morph the steer, because they can demorph more easily without giving away their secret. I feel like this same reasoning would come into play more often than it seems to, but it’s a solid choice here as well.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel also doesn’t have much in this book. She comes to the rescue as a grizzly just in time at the meat packing plant. Tobias is fairly sarcastic about this, but she handles it well (aren’t they cute??). She also tells Marco to shut up quite a lot, but nothing new there!
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias gets a lot of action and page time in this book. Ax spends a good amount of time discussing his close friendship with Tobias, and the fact that, by earth standards, he is Tobias’s uncle as well. It’s nice to read their little friendship moments. Tobias trying to explain TV and that maybe Ax shouldn’t remove power lines to enhance his TV as it caused a power outage in Jake’s neighborhood. Tobias saying that he sometimes wishes he had a ritual similar to Ax’s that could help him prepare on days where they have dangerous missions. He’s also, notably, the other one to go in with the bull morph.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, of course, has a lot of thoughts about the morality of animal testing, as well as the Animorphs’ own code of not morphing sentient species. Aside from these opinions, she also has a good amount of action in this book. She’s the one who is lowered down to open the door on the moving truck. She stands between two bulls (Ax and Tobias) and manages to get them calmed down. And she also immediately call the bluff on Project Obedience’s supposed success.
The Comic Relief: Marco, too, has a decent amount in this book. He’s pretty harsh on Cassie as far as some of her double standards go, and she doesn’t really even deny it. He notes that Cassie seems fine with morphing chimps since their mission will also save animals, but had they been doing it for any other reason (to save humans), she would have been very against it. She doesn’t really defend this point, which is kind of unfortunate for her. There’s also the highly entertaining driving sequence.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When Ax first morphs human in the very beginning of the book, there are some overly graphic descriptions of his mouth forming first, but without lips to speak of. Also, when they’re all flies up the nose. As we know with some upcoming Marco book, I think, this “in the body” stuff gets much worse before it gets better!
Couples Watch!: Really, nothing at all. Fly!Rachel hangs out in bull!Tobias’s nostril? Super romantic, that. I guess, also, Ax is very confused by the whole process and point of kissing as he’s seen it on his favorite soap opera. Tobias assures him it has a purpose, but awkwardly evades any further questions on the subject.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: I’m still never a fan of times when these books fall back on the body humor, like the poo throwing at Visser Three. But it did lead to him cutting off some poor Controller’s hand, and Ax commenting that Visser Three was not the type of leader who thinks it’s important to be popular with his subordinates. Also, when Visser Three shows up at the meat packing plant, he makes some pretty great, campy orders to the Controllers to “butcher” the Andalite bandits. Very clever, Visser Three. The best part was probably the sycophantic manner in which the computer program spoke about the Visser’s role in Project Obedience.
“Project Obedience is the brilliant insight of our great and glorious leader, Visser Three, hero of the Taxxon rebellion, Scourge of the Andalite fleet, Conqueror of Earth.”
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This was definitely one of the more comedic books, so there wasn’t that much sadness to go around. As they are running out of the animal testing facility, Ax doesn’t describe what he sees, but that’s because he says it’s too terrible to discuss, likening it to torture. He also mentions that though they all tried, they didn’t have much success leading the freed chimps out, as they were still chimps, and not capable of really understanding what was happening.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!:
<How come Marco drives?> Rachel demanded.<He has experience.>“Oh man, don’t even mention that,” Cassie said. “My dad cried over the twisted remains of that truck.”
Um, Jake? You do remember Marco’s last experience at “driving”? I mean, technically this plan works, but there is definite damage done. It’s a fun scene and call back to that book though!
Good Rachel snark after they get to the meat packing plant:
<These cows are going to be looking forward to a nice, easy death after this ride,> Rachel said.
And, of course, just Ax’s general way of narrating the story:
[Human humor] is inexplicable, and Andalite readers should simply resign themselves to never understanding.
Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12
No change! Marco says it best (though it was still a fun ride from the reader’s perspective!):
“In the annals of stupid, screwed-up, pointless missions that was the stupidest, most pointless of them all,” Marco said.
Rating: For all that this story does nothing to progress the plot, it’s just a fun ride! Ax is always a great narrator, and his thoughts on TV (and his preference for the show “These Messages”) was a fun running gag throughout the story. There’s also some good action scenes, like the caper getting into the truck through the tunnel, and their various escapes from the facilities. I also enjoyed the trifecta that was Marco, Cassie, and Ax as far as the moral aspects of this story. The three provided a good spectrum of perspectives, and it was particularly interesting seeing much of it through Ax’s point of view, an alien who comes from a world where these challenges don’t exist. So, a pretty solid entry, all told!
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!