Anicka felt the Change sweeping over her seconds before the actual announcement of the ukase. It caught her off-guard, and she suffered several minutes of disorientation in her new ungulate form. Marcellus was getting more and more sloppy recently, she thought. The ukase was clear enough--"All figures of authority will take on quadruped form, for ease of recognition by the bipeds." But some of her juniors had only experienced a few changes, and without the warning of the ukase to adjust themselves, the disorientation could even be fatal.

She flipped on the intercom with one of her shoulder-tentacles. "Lauchland? Report. Is everyone okay?"

After a few moments, a voice that Anicka barely recognized as Lauchland's said, "Anicka? Sorry, didn't quite recognize you at first. And these new appendages are a bit clumsy. We all seem to be okay--everybody's reported in, asking what the hell happened. What did happen? Was there some lag with the ukase, or what?"

Anicka shook her head. "No, I think that Marcellus is just getting sloppy. I've been noticing a few things here and there, and I really question Banasik's judgement in putting him in charge here. This project is just a bit too delicate for his ham-handed adjustments." She heaved a sigh. "I'm going to have to go over Marcellus' head on this one, and talk to Banasik myself. I guess you're in charge while I'm gone..."

"Good luck, Anicka," Lauchland said, and then the intercom clicked off.

Damn. He didn't even try to talk her out of it. She hated going to the Upper Planes--she always felt so out of place and overclassed there. But she really couldn't let this situation with Marcellus go on any longer. At the very least, she'd ask for transfer. No--on second thought, she couldn't leave Lauchland and whoever replaced her to deal with Marcellus either.

Opening a drawer on her desk, she pulled out a Protector and attached it to her back. She opened a door she'd only had to use once, when she'd first arrived here. The Portal was still there in all its incandescent glory. She intended to just step through it, but somehow her current form translated the impulse into a leap forward.

The Portal was like a semipermeable membrane, or at least that was how Banasik had described it to her. "It filters out the mere physical, allowing only the spiritual to enter the Upper Planes. The physical wouldn't survive there long anyway." The Protector would keep her body intact until her return. Assuming that one of Marcellus' ukases didn't turn it into a giant slime mold before her return, she added snidely.

Anicka felt the transition as a ripping sensation--not painful, exactly, but leaving a bit of an empty feeling in what used to be the pit of her stomach. She floundered around in the Stuff of the Upper Planes for an indeterminate length of time, until a deva wafted up to her officiously and said, "May I help you?"

"I'm here to see Banasik," she said. "Anicka, Liaison Coordinator, Plane Project 453," she added to forestall the questions she could see coming.

The deva nodded and said, "Wait here." As if she was going anywhere, Anicka thought as it wafted away in several directions.

It returned within an indeterminate span of time and said, "Banasik will see you." Then it disappeared and was replaced by Banasik and his homey-looking office. That was the best thing about Banasik--he spared no effort to make even lowly Plane-dwellers comfortable.

"What can I do for you?" he asked her, putting his feet up on the desk and taking a puff from his pipe.

"It's about Marcellus, sir," she said. "Recently he let loose a Change without prior notification by a ukase. It was only a lag of a few seconds, but still, it could induce a fatal Change-shock. Even I was disoriented for several minutes."

He puffed on his pipe as she ground to a halt, and then for an indeterminate length of time afterward. Then he said, "I know you didn't approve of my putting Marcellus in charge of 453, but I honestly thought he could handle this one. Or, if not, that you'd be able to backstop him well enough to keep him from embarrassing himself inordinately. But it looks like he's just getting sloppier and sloppier. So, I admit I was mistaken." He pressed a button on his desk. "Wil, fetch me Marcellus."

"Right away, sir."

Sure enough, a very short(but still indeterminate)span of time later, Marcellus was sitting with the two of them in Banasik's office. It was clear from the look on his face that he knew just what he had done, and that he was going to face the consequences. Still, he opened his mouth to try to explain. Banasik cut him off. "Marcellus, I'm transferring you back to Training Centre -3. You'll be in a higher position than before--in charge of Consistency Maintenance."

Marcellus closed his mouth and said, "Thank you, sir." Then he vanished.

Banasik turned to Anicka, and scrutinized her closely. "Anicka, I know you've been Plane-bound for longer than most of your stratum. I know you've never been Upwardly-mobile to any great extent, and I thought that your talents could be most useful down at that level. But I see from Marcellus' example that your talents can also be useful at higher levels, too. So, I'm going to recommend you be approved for apotheosis."

"Sir, I don't know what to say." Anicka was struck with feelings of mixed relief, anxiety, revulsion, and pleasure. It was a perfect opportunity--and yet she didn't know if she was ready for apotheosis yet. Well, if it were left up to her she'd never be ready, so she said, "If you think I can handle it, sir, then I'll try not to disappoint you."

Banasik nodded. "Good. I'll send a deva for you tomorrow, your time. Lauchland will be filling your position. You'll be taking over for Marcellus in charge of 453, as soon as you're fit--Wil will fill in for you in the meantime. Any other questions? No? Well, see you tomorrow, then."

The office faded out and Anicka found herself back in her body, in front of the Portal. Then she heard a ukase--"Previous ukase regarding figures of authority is revoked. Previous forms will be resumed." Anicka sighed as the Change put her back in her original form. Of course, tomorrow she'd probably abandon it forever, but tonight she'd enjoy it as much as she could.

<andru gave me


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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey /