On planet Yellowsand, Theophilus Merlan courageously saves an alien boy's life and acquires some of the youngster's DNA. The boy is royalty...and the present though currently dying leader of the boy's people, the Speaker of the Shakk, must leave him in Merlan's care. He tells Merlan that he is now part Shakk himself and must be the next Speaker of the Shakk people, a position he feels certain that an admirable man like Merlan is well-suited for. It's hardly the future a shy geologist aspired to, but what choice does Merlan have?
Hour by hour, Merlan finds himself changing mentally and physically, from human to Shakk. Even more terrifying is the Speaker's revelation that the Shakk's two vile and vicious alien enemies, the Xanteans and the Merotox, are about to visit Yellowsand. These invaders seek to conquer Yellowsand and enslave the Shakk, and only Merlan can save his new people. But to do so, he has to use all his wits and courage. As if Merlan doesn't have enough to deal with, the old Speaker's grandson vows to kill him, because his grandfather has chosen a human to be the next Speaker in his place.
Merlan finds he must do more than just keep himself alive, hold onto his sanity, stop a war and adjust to his changing abilities and perceptions. He must also be a father to an alien boy and cope with his growing love for Ann Benson, the mission's navigator. As he becomes increasingly alien, Merlan wonders if they have any chance at happiness. His task of saving the Shakk race seems hopeless, yet he feels he must try...even if it costs him his life.
John B. Rosenman is an English professor at Norfolk State University in Virginia. His first novel, The Best Laugh Last, won Treacle Pressís First Novel Award and was published in 1980 and 1981. He has published 300 stories in places such as Weird Tales, Starshore, Cemetery Dance, The Age of Wonders, Hot Blood, Whitley Strieberís Aliens, and Treachery and Treason.
Ann left the tunnel. He followed her, emerging into a large enclosure just as she gasped.
Not ten meters away from her stood a giant Xantean, his eyes glistening, his great pincers gleaming in the light of yellow sand.
Merlan swung around. Dozens of the aliens surrounded them on all sides, their long knifelike teeth bared as if ready to eat them. Here and there a pincer twitched, and a mighty leg shifted.
Lord help them, the whole place, some fifty meters across, was a meeting hall for the damned creatures! They had blundered right into it.
Ann pointed her weapon at the closest alien.
"No!" he shouted, then went to her. "It's no good. There's too many of them."
She nodded, then slid her weapon back into her holster. He took her hand and held it. They waited.
From the walls, on every side, the Xantean army watched them.
But the Xanteans didn't attack. Seconds passed, and the aliens continued to stare at them. Lethal pincers twitched, mighty legs and torsos flexed and shifted, but the Xanteans didn't shout and rush forward to tear them limb from limb.
"Theo," Ann whispered, "why don't they do something?"
"I don't know." He studied the nearest Xantean, who stood ten meters away. After a moment, Merlan took a step toward him.
Ann grabbed his arm. "What are you doing?"
Gently, he shook her off and went on. There was no escape. If they were going to be killed, he was at least going to investigate.
When he was a mere meter away, the Xantean raised his pincer. Merlan's heart surged into his throat.
"Theo!" Ann cried.
The pincer froze. Merlan suppressed an urge to run and forced himself to examine the alien. Take it easy, he thought. The Xantean didn't attack. He only raised his pincer.
Glancing about, he saw several other aliens move as well. Heads turned, legs shifted. The Xanteans are playing with us and savoring our fear, he thought. They must have watched us from space, known we were coming here, and beat us to it. Now they've set up a welcoming committee to frighten the hell out of us.