Relationships get complicated when you don’t know who—or what—you really are. Esen must find a way to rescue a hapless group of chimeras, beings who are a new and unique blend of species she knows, when she can’t become one herself. When Evan Gooseberry tries to help, he is shattered to learn he himself isn’t entirely Human and begins to suspect his new friend Esen isn’t what she seems.
Complicating matters, a mysterious contagion has killed the crew of the ship that brought the chimeras—and Evan—to Botharis. Everyone’s been quarantined inside the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture, including over a hundred disgruntled alien scholars.
The risks climb as Skalet and Lionel continue their quest to solve the disappearance of Paul’s mother’s ship, the Sidereal Pathfinder, only to find themselves caught in a tangle of loyalties as Skalet is betrayed by her own Kraal affiliates.
All of which would be quite enough for one Web-being’s day, but Paul Ragem hopes to rekindle the romance of his first love. A shame Esen hasn’t told him who’s hiding in their greenhouse.
“As always, there are plenty of oddball alien hijinks, misunderstandings, and intrigues, all illustrating how badly the library is needed while providing excellent entertainment.”Locus
Web Shifter’s Library
Excerpt from Mirage (With some spoilers)
“Shut the doors!”
“Get the nets!”
Pounding footsteps smother the words from their mouths. Alien feet don’t appreciate the correct response to alarm is to seek sanctuary. Alien mouths don’t know silence is safer.
Every Sacrissee knows better. She does, though her ears ring from the deafening concussion that shook the world moments before, filling the air with dust and stink. She struggles to move–suddenly can move as lights go dark, taking with them the strange blanket that had held her flat.
Flat is wrong.
Staying here is wrong.
When her feet find the floor, she runs.
Nasal bulb rigid with distress, she cowers before the opening of what had been a wide doorway, hiding within piles of still settling debris, coated in dust.
OUT is dangerous, every Sacrissee knows.
But the IN behind her offers no safety, only distraught Humans and the too-big, too-bright room where she’d been before the flat and blanket. There’d been Sacrissee in the room with her, too many and all young and all wrong.
She isn’t sure why she believes that, but it is true.
Too much here is wrong, starting with the blue Human symbols where her fur thins over her hand. OOLA-TB333401. She tries–always tried, they all did–to rub them off. Her skin has grown red and sore. Leave it, Oola, as Humans called her, putting their creams on her skin, unable to say her proper name with their mouths. Easy, Oola. Lie down, Oola. You’re doing well, Oola.
“Make it quick.”
A whisper from outside the once-door. Oola crouches lower, pulls in her tail lest it betray her. Are these more sensible Humans?
Her first impression is favorable. These keep to shadows, are like shadows in their black garb, but keep talking, which isn’t sensible. “First corridor left, straight to the fourth door,” says one. “That’s secure storage.”
“And locked. Be ready to blow it too. Carefully.”
They hadn’t been careful with this door.
One steps too near, flushing Oola into the open. She runs, dashing across the perilous OUT with its sun-baked stones. She isn’t alone. Others run too, this way and that, coated in dust and panting with distress. Some are younger, smaller. She pushes them out of her way.
Some are older, much larger. She dodges those, aims for the welcoming shadow cast by the aircar parked across the stone.
Is stopped by a warning “Ssssuppptt!” and tail slam, for the shadow is occupied.
There are three, large and mature enough to feel the rut and be angered by youth, and Oola freezes in place, as she should.
Tails subside at her courtesy. “Come with us, little one. We will take you to a good place. A new IN.”
Another: “We just got out ourselves—”
The third: “Would you leave her?”
When she hesitates, a hood is pulled back. The eyes regarding her kindly are yellow.
Oola leaps away before she thinks. Others collide with her. She collides with them. She leaps and spins, heart pounding. Moves ever forward, toward the gate. They all are, all but the wrong three, clinging to their shadow.
Through the gate is Rattisila, her beautiful city, with its comforting walls and arches, unlike this terrible, Human, place. Her IN. Sanctuary.
She is within the gate when a second explosion trembles the ground. She glances back. Smoke rises from the windowless building. They were not more careful. Giant words in Sacrissee and Comspeak drop from their place over what had been the door, letters tilted and thus wrong, but she can read, and reads them as they fall.
1: Greenhouse Morning
When the first snow stuck to the last leaves of fall, I’d found the effect charming and hauled Paul out to see. Multiple times. However, by this point of winter, snow in trees meant wet frozen lumps landing on my head if I wasn’t careful or even if I was.
Oh, I liked snow, under the right circumstances. Thinking of those, I held out a paw as I walked, catching plump snowflakes. My useful fingers were covered in warm purple knit, courtesy of Ally Orman who loved a creative challenge. I’d received an embarrassment of such gifts from the staff of the Library, who thought there were two of me.
There were, as far as they were concerned. Esolesy Ki, who oversaw the Garden, cheerfully did vague non-important tasks, and was the only Lishcyn on Botharis. My other identity here? Esen-alit-Quar the Lanivarian—also the sole representative of that species on this cheerfully backwater world, not that I’d planned it—and curator of the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture. Which I had.
With Paul Ragem, who was himself Human, born here, and my first, best friend.
I scuffed my feet along the path, wishing his home planet had more to offer in boots than rubbery sock things meant for sick bovines.
There were far more mes, of course, none of whom I’d shown our staff. I’d particularly not shown them the real me.
The real me? Esen-alit-Quar is my name, as Lanivarian is the form of my birth. Esen for short, Es between friends or in a hurry. My real nature—my species, if you will? Web-being.
Not an informative name, granted, unless you knew more about us, which very few did and if my web-kin, Skalet, had her way, no others would. On that, we’d come to an understanding.
I wouldn’t tell anyone else and Skalet had agreed, as if granting a great favor, those who already knew of our existence—because of me–could continue to live. She’d even, in unguarded and rare moments, admitted Paul was an exceptional member of his species, which he was, despite being perilously curious.
Along with compassionate, brilliant, stubborn—