Web Shifters Book # 1
Otherwise known as Esen-alit-Quar.
The adorable blue blob.
First Published in 1998 by DAW Books Inc.
Cover art by Luis Royo
Finalist for the 1999 Prix Aurora Award
On the 2001 Preliminary Nebula Ballot
Editor’s Choice for the SFBC
I froze, which as a Ycl meant dampening kinetic movement at the molecular level. There’s a saying in the Web: what’s seen depends on the beholder's eye. Could this being see some inconsistency in my current form? I fretted to myself. Did he know? Ragem’s fingers drummed softly, yet I thought in warning, on the side of my box. The vibration distracted me.
“Old news, Sas,” Kearn said impatiently, obviously irritated by the interruption. “Liaison's database is every bit as good as Security's —,”
“Really, Acting Captain Kearn?” Keeping teeth exposed in that carnivore's grin, a sign of nervous tension if nothing more, the new arrival moved past Ragem and myself to push a small disc into a slot on the wall across from Kearn's desk. “You must understand that there was no time to check the remotes before lift. I thought to do so before going offshift. What you'll see will startle you, Sir. Be prepared.”
I tasted salty moisture in the air — Ragem had broken into a sweat. In a tense puddle of my own, I turned my attention to the images on the screen. There was the Kraosian camp as seen through a lens that had to be high atop the ship. The scene played itself out once more: the appearance of the queu-pulled stretcher, the seemingly insane attack of what looked to be a serlet, ending with a crisp and unmistakable image of the beast blurring, melting, pouring itself into a clear, gleaming mass of plasm over the Ragem’s convulsing form.
Having never watched myself before, I spared an instant to be impressed. Ansky herself, a self-acknowledged expert on the shapeless Ycl, couldn't cycle as smoothly than that.
Thud. Down came the lid.
My box vibrated with the aftershock. Four separate clicks marked the locks on each side being closed.
This was an interesting twist. I could conceivably pass through the crack between the sides and the lid, but I really didn't expect Kearn or the Security Officer to watch me ooze forth without taking some even more regrettable action.
Of course, given another few minutes and the lack of oxygen in the box would change matters again. I would not be able to hold form once my life was truly threatened. And my current energy load would ruin Kearn's desk at the very least. On the plus side, I might destroy that damning recording.
Suddenly my world, the box, turned sideways and rose. Someone must have picked my prison up. Before I could be more than a bit dizzy, the locks clicked, the lid vanished from sight, and I was poured out on to the deck.
And on Ragem's boots. I eased myself clear and looked around.
Kearn was behind his desk. Literally. I could only see the shiny top of his head and the knuckles of his hands. The Modoren was, for who knows what reason, on the desk — snarling and spitting so quickly it wasn't translating into comspeak. Ragem was waving his hands. “It's all right!” he was shouting.
Fanged mouth open on a roar, the Modoren leaped at us, scattering what was left of Kearn's careful piles of plas on the floor. Kearn squealed something incomprehensible. Ragem threw up his hands in a futile reflex.
I blew up.
I couldn't help it.
Fortunately for the Modoren, his leap had been somewhat short of me. He wound up back on the desk, where he blinked like an owl through soot-blackened fur.
The smoke and soot also hid my grab for the only non-sapient living mass in the room. I hoped Kearn would forgive me. Need satisfied, I cycled faster than ever before. I turned to Ragem. He was trying to sit up, having been thrown to the carpet near one wall; he rubbed one shoulder absently. “Sorry,” I said, going over to him. My tail had a tendency to curl between my legs. “Stress reflex.”
Kearn let out a whimper. I twitched my nose, suspecting he'd experienced a reflex of his own.
Things were definitely not going well.
Excerpt from Beholder’s Eye © 1998 Julie E. Czerneda and DAW Books Inc.
Used with Permission.