Editor's Introduction: This week Sirius Science Fiction brings you a well-written, clever and entertaining tale that involves shape-shifting - and espionage!
The smell of the fertilizer the gardener was applying to the flowerbeds beneath the open window was becoming a bit too distracting, so I flew down the hall to see what was happening in the kitchen. Gustav Seguin was playing World of Warcraft on the computer. If he had accessed his offshore accounts, he’d done it before I was in the room. I doubted he was going to check them anytime soon.
As I did, the sweet smell of manure was replaced with the sweet smell of cooking. Whatever it was, it smelled delicious. The cook was adjusting the temperature on the oven. I took advantage of her back being turned to land in some spilled sugar.
Before I tell you how I ended up in a Venus-Fly trap, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Austen Glosser. I’m an agent of W.E.R.E.
# # #
I hadn’t eaten all day, so I wasn’t paying attention the way I should have been. The sugar really hit the spot.
Then the flyswatter hit me.
Now your ordinary housefly would have been an icky smudge in the sugar. Me, I’m made of sterner stuff. I’m not sure just what species of fly I become when I shift, or if I’m even a known species, but I’ve reason to believe there’s some tsetse fly in my makeup somewhere. Those little guys are hard to smash.
I took off, much to the surprise of the gardener. I guess he’d come in for lunch or something.
I headed straight for his face, coming in for a landing on his rather prominent nose. His eyes crossed, and let me tell you, it was something to see. My compound eyes are better than a normal fly’s. I still have the near-sighted vision and respond to movement and changes in light pretty much way a fly does.
The gardener’s eyes crossed, and he stumbled backwards as I zoomed in. Panicked, he swung the flyswatter back and forth. It wasn’t hard to avoid him. He wasn’t aiming, just, well, swatting. I circled his head.
“What are you doing, waving that nasty thing all over my kitchen?”
The cook had turned around. She wasn’t pleased.
I flew behind her and landed on her rather ample rear end.
The gardener fell over himself apologizing. When Jacobsen had briefed me on this mission, he’d said they were married. Consuela Martinez was both cook and housekeeper, while her husband Felipe’ was the gardener and general handyman. I guess I knew who wore the pants in the family.
Consuela turned back to take whatever she was baking out of the oven. Felipe’ saw me. His eyes widened to the point that I could see them bug out. Really, bug eyes don’t look good on humans. Trust me on this, I know.
Felipe’ approached me with an exaggerated tip-toe walk. It wasn’t as silent as he thought it was. And he kept waving the flyswatter back and forth like he was winding up to take a swing at me.
But I was ready for him. Tsetse flies have a proboscis that packs a powerful sting. Not all of my habits after I’ve shifted are those of a tse-tse fly, such as what I eat and what smells attract me, but I do have the stinger. Just before Felipe’ struck, I plunged my proboscis into Consuela’s right buttock. She squealed, jumped higher than I thought a woman of her size could, and put her hand in the place I had just occupied.
Right as Felipe’ brought the flyswatter down on the same spot.
I didn’t stick around to watch Felipe’ try to explain why he had just smacked his wife on the butt. It was getting a bit too unsafe for me. I flew to the back door, crawled under the gap between the door and the doorsill, and flew off to the woods behind the back yard where I’d hidden my clothes.
# # #
W.E.R.E stands for stands for Weres and Elementals Recruited for Espionage. Yeah, I know, it’s not exactly something that’s going to trip off the tongue. What do you expect from some classified committee in the U. S. House of Representatives?
Anyway, W.E.R.E is a government spook agency, in more ways than one. If it’s clandestine, shady, or ethically questionable, and it involves abilities normal government agents don’t have, then W.E.R.E. is most likely involved.
Gustav Seguin, the object of my current operation, was laundering money. He was a small fish, barely a minnow, in the whole operation. But if we could get him to crack, he was ours, and he could lead us to the bigger fish.
My part in the whole scheme? Get the access codes to the offshore accounts he was using and clean them out. Or at least get the codes to another operative who would. Then someone else, probably not connected to W.E.R.E., would approach him and offer to make a deal, hopefully before the big fish came looking to make a meal of the minnow. Protection in return for giving up the people who would be looking to extract what they’re owed one way or the other. Who says only the mob can make offers that can’t be refused?
Jacobsen wasn’t happy that I didn’t have the codes, but he wasn’t surprised. We knew that this operation might take a little time. Seguin had some sort of hot date that night, so I didn’t go back in. Most college dropouts I’ve known usually end up in jobs that require them to say a lot of words that begin with the letter “W” (“Would you like fries with that?” or “Welcome to Wal-Mart.”). They also tend not to have steady girlfriends. Seguin didn’t date the same girl twice.
I slept in the next morning. Seguin wouldn’t be getting up before noon. So just before lunch, I slipped into the woods behind Seguin’s house, hid my clothes in the hollow log I’d been using, and shifted.
Now if my life were a Hollywood movie, this would be a big dramatic scene, probably filled with disgusting special effects. The reality is a bit different and a whole lot more dull. One minute I’m five feet, one inch tall with perfect 20/20 vision. The next I’m buzzing about seeing the world in all it’s compound glory, with colors I can’t describe because you can’t see them.
The windows were open once again, so I flew in through the kitchen. There was a fresh apple pie on the counter. Consuela had set it out to cool. Felipe’ was mowing the lawn, and I could hear a vacuum cleaner further back in the house.
Now apple pie is my favorite, something I just can’t resist. Weres are subject to instinct more than you would think. And usually at the most inconvenient times. I quickly shifted back to my human form. I searched through some drawers and found a fork. I didn’t even bother to cut the thing, just dug in. I thought I would know if Felipe’ or Consuela were approaching because I would hear either the vacuum cleaner or the mower stop.
I’d eaten about a third of the pie when I heard a shriek. Consuela was standing in the doorway. That’s what I get for thinking.
Of course, it could have been worse. I have, I mean I had, a friend named Tab, who was a werecat. He’d infiltrated the home of a Washington madame. Then he got into catnip while a high ranking Senator was in the house…
I have no trouble imagining what Consuela saw, given that I have seen myself in a mirror. A small naked man with a wiry build, covered in black, bristly hair, bow-legged, with a nose worthy of Cyrano de Bergerac. The man standing in her kitchen had eyes that seemed to pop out of his face. (I told you I knew what I was talking about when I said that human eyes shouldn’t bug out.)
She’d caught me with a mouthful of pie, but as soon as I saw her, I stopped chewing.
We stared at each other. She stood there gasping with a hand pressed to her ample bosom. I stood there hunched over the debris of her pie like I was about to pounce on it. I started chewing again, slowly and with a definite sideways motion to my jaw, while we continued looking at each other. Other than that I didn’t move until I’d finished chewing.
I swallowed the mouthful of pie. Then I shifted.
Consuela screamed. Then she fainted.
I flew to the ceiling to hide. Then Felipe’ came running into the kitchen a few seconds later.
From my vantage on the ceiling, I could see the self-propelled mower move across a flowerbed in the back yard. Felipe’ must have locked the drive mechanism in place.
Felipe’ knelt on the floor and lifted his wife’s head to his lap. He gently patted her cheeks with his hand.
Consuela’s eyelids fluttered, and then she opened her eyes.
“Oh,” she gasped, her voice coming as a harsh exhalation of air. “He was horrible.”
“The man who was just here. Oh, he was the most hideous man I’ve ever seen.”
Felipe’ leaned back and regarded his wife. “I didn’t see any man come into the house. The front door is locked, and I would certainly have seen a man in the backyard if he tried to enter the house.”
“He was here. I came into the kitchen and he was standing right over there, eating the pie.”
Felipe’ stood up, dropping Consuela’s head in the process. It hit the wood floor with a thunk. I knew it was going to leave a lump.
Felipe’ didn’t say anything, just grunted.
“He was naked,” she continued, her voice barely more than a mumble. “And it was so big. The biggest I’ve ever seen.”
“What?” said Felipe’. “What was the biggest you’ve ever seen?”
Consuela didn’t seem to hear his question. “I didn’t know they could be so big.”
“Bigger than mine?” Felipe’ was getting red in the face.
Consuela seemed to remember that he was still there. “Of course bigger than yours. Yours isn’t very big at all.”
Felipe’s face grew even redder. I didn’t know it was possible for a man to get that red in the face without having a heart attack. Considering Felipe’s reaction, I wasn’t sure that wasn’t what was happening.
“What. Do. You. Mean?” Felipe’ was using a tone that probably would have resulted in a duel a few hundred years ago.
“Your nose, silly. What did you think I meant?”
“Oh.” Felipe’ looked relieved. “So where is this man?”
Consuela struggled to her feet. “I don’t know. He just vanished.”
“Like into thin air?”
“Yes, Felipe’, like into thin air.”
Felipe’ waved his arms. “But men do not vanish into thin air.”
“Well, this one did. How do you explain the pie?”
Consuela staggered to her feet. “This pie.” She pointed to the remains of the apple pie. I had dropped bits of it all over the counter. We flies are not known for being the cleanest of eaters.
Felipe stared at the remains, made some hmm-ing sounds, and asked, “Are you sure you haven’t been nipping at the brandy?”
I took that as my cue to leave and headed for the dining room. I’m not clairvoyant, but I had a vision of not being the only flying thing in the room in a few seconds. Sure enough, Felipe left the kitchen a minute later with apple dripping off his ears and headed for his and Consuela’s suite of rooms, presumably to shower.
# # #
I headed to Seguin’s office to wait for him. A sound passed under the window. It seems the self-propelled mower was still propelling itself.
The door was at one end of the office, where the desk was. The desk faced the length of the room. The room itself was long, almost but not quite narrow, and occupied the corner of the house. The middle of the room contained some tables with various games and books scattered across them. Shelves lined the inside wall between the door to the room and what I presumed was a closet. Seguin had some plants at the far end where they could catch the light coming in from the south-facing windows. I’ve never gotten excited about plants. They just aren’t that interesting in terms of behavior.
Or so I thought at the time.
I took up my post on the wall behind Seguin’s desk, but close enough to the window that I could fly out.
I didn’t have long to wait. Seguin came in, booted up the computer, and got to work. There was an email that got his attention. He opened a second window and started doing something. It looked like he was transferring funds to his offshore accounts. This was the big break we were waiting for. I just needed to distract him, get him away from the computer long enough to get the information.
I flew out into the hall, shifted, and knocked a vase off a shelf. It shattered on the hardwood floor with a satisfying crash. I shifted back to a fly and headed into the office.
And immediately was caught in a glass. Seguin was quick, but I didn’t realize just how quick. He’d scooped up a glass from his desk and used it as an impromptu net. I flew right into the bottom of the glass and bounced off. I turned around to see Seguin’s hand over the top.
I was stunned. I’d hit the glass hard. Fortunately tse-tse flies are tough. Unfortunately, Seguin was smarter than I gave him credit for. What I should have done was sting his hand. While I was still gathering my wits about me, Seguin started shaking the glass, bouncing me back and forth and preventing me from collecting myself enough to fight back.
He carried me towards the windows.
“Gotcha, ya little bastard. I’ve seen you buzzing around here the last few days. I don’t see how there can be a connection to you and all the disruptions around here the last week or so, but I’m not taking any chances.”
Last week or so?
He stopped at a row of plants, gave the glass an extra hard shake, and dumped me out into a Venus flytrap. The petals closed about me.
I heard Seguin head out of the room, presumably to check on the crash I’d caused. I had to get out of this plant, and soon. Otherwise I was dead. So I shifted.
And my life changed forever.
# # #
There’s a lot we don’t know about Weres, like just about everything. Only half the stuff you hear in folklore about people who can shift and take on the forms of animals is true, and even most of that is inaccurate.
For instance, up until this case I was working, no one thought that one Were in close proximity to another could cause both of them to shift. We really don’t understand how shifting happens in the first place. But no one ever thought that one Were could shift another.
When I shifted, I went from being embraced by a Venus flytrap to being embraced by a very beautiful, very naked woman.
I stared into the greenest eyes I’d ever seen, realized what I was looking at, and screamed. At least I think I did. Maybe she screamed. Or maybe we both did. I don’t know. All I know is that I flew to my feet and backed up.
The woman quickly hid herself behind an overgrown ficus. I jumped behind a fern.
“How did you do that?” she asked. Her accent was foreign, but I couldn’t place the nationality.
At the same time I asked, “Where did you come from?”
We looked at each other a few seconds before I said, “I just shifted, that’s all. Where did you come?”
“I was the flytrap. Where did you think I came from? And how did you shift me to my human form?”
“I don’t know. Look, we don’t have a lot of time. Shift back.”
“No. You’ve compromised my mission.”
“To use Seguin to help bring down the cartel he’s working for.”
“Really?” I said. I started to step out from behind my fern and thought better of it. The air in the room suddenly seemed too warm. “What organization are you with?”
“INTERWERE. Who are you with?”
I’d never heard of INTERWERE, but it made sense. Why should one government be the only organization to use weres?
“I’m with W.E.R.E., a covert agency in the US government.”
“Ah, I have heard of your organization. Something of a startup, no?”
“No. We’re not, I mean we are not a startup.”
She made a noise that in most cultures signaled disbelief.
“Listen,” I said. “We’re on the same side here. I’m trying to get access to Seguin’s offshore accounts. Now that he’s out of the room, let’s not waste time bickering.”
I headed for the computer, modesty be damned. The woman must have felt the same way, because she followed. Seguin had been thoughtful enough to leave everything open. I could hear him hollering to Consuela to sweep up the mess in between cursing the loss of the vase. Seems it held his sainted mother’s ashes.
I opened the web browser and used it to open a special file transfer program, one only W.E.R.E. agents had access to, and loaded a virus onto Seguin’s computer. Within seconds the virus was transferring all the data on the computer to a secure server somewhere in eastern Montana. (No, I don’t know why eastern Montana. Maybe because it’s the last place anyone would think of?) I closed the web browser.
My job here was done. By the time Seguin returned, his entire system would be compromised.
I looked up and once again found myself gazing into a pair of green eyes (eventually). I thought I could get used to that.
“What did you just do?” she asked.
“I loaded a virus onto his computer. W.E.R.E should have all access codes and passwords on Seguin’s computer very shortly. When one of our agents contacts him, he’ll be begging to switch sides just to save his sorry hide.”
She looked at me for a moment. “So what do we do now?”
“We’ve get out of here.”
I straightened and looked at the door. Then I looked at the window. “Although I’m not sure how.”
“You can go. I can’t. I’ve got to wait for my pickup. That won’t happen for at least 48 hours.”
Something occurred to me so I had to ask. “How did you get in here anyway?”
“I rang the bell, then shifted. Seguin found a plant and a note from a lady admirer saying I was a gift on his doorstep.”
She looked me straight in the eye and batted her eyelashes. “I really don’t want to have to stay here. I thought I was going to wilt from boredom. Not to mention starve to death.”
“I see.” I’m usually a bit more articulate than that, but for some reason my mind wasn’t entirely on the conversation. “I can fly out, but you’re stuck here until you can be retrieved.”
“That’s about it.”
I heard footsteps. Seguin was coming.
“Do you trust me?” I asked.
“Do I have a choice?” she said and shifted.
I scooped up the Venus flytrap on the floor and exited the room just as Seguin was entering.
He let out a yelp of surprise just as I cold cocked him. Seguin folded like a tent in a windstorm. I headed for the kitchen.
Consuela was just taking another pie out of the oven as I raced through. She shrieked and tossed the pie up into the air.
“Aiee! It’s him again.”
I reached out and grabbed the pie as I passed.
Bad idea. I juggled it one handed, being careful not to drop the plant in my other, and went out the back door. The first thing I saw as I came out the door and down the steps was the lawn mower heading my way. Felipe’ was in hot pursuit. His eyes bugged out again. He really needed to stop doing that.
The pie was too hot to hold, so I tossed it at him. Roscoe Arbuckle would have been proud. The pie caught him square in the face.
I sped off into the woods and didn’t stop until I reached the hollow log where I’d hidden my clothes. I set the Venus flytrap on the ground. The flytrap shifted, and once again I was looking at a lovely and naked woman. Not that I had any room to talk. I was as naked as the day I was born.
“I don’t even know your name,” I said.
“What else could it be?” She asked with a smile. “It’s Venus.”
“I should have known.”
We stared at each other, maintaining eye contact I might add, although it wasn’t easy.
“So now what? I’ve got clothes in this hollow log. But what about you?
She shrugged. “I’ve got clothing, money, and identification in a safe place, but I can’t get to it until after dark.”
“So we’ll have to hide out here in the woods until then?”
“Something like that,” she said, and a crooked smile appeared on her face. “Did anyone ever tell you you have a large proboscis?”
Keith West has been a fan of the science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and historical adventure genres for more years than he's willing to admit. By day he teaches impressionable young people his bad habits (of which there are many) and by night he tells lies for fun and profit (more fun than profit). He commits dayjobbery in the field of Physics where in addition to teaching he occasionally writes cross genre documents known as grant proposals, consisting of science fiction (the proposal), fantasy (the budget), and horror (the reviewers' comments). He and his wife make their home in West Texas with their son (adopted from Kazakhstan) and two dogs (adopted from the animal shelter). He denies having an addiction to using parentheses. Keith can be found online at www.adventuresfantastic.com.