Shifter

Thanks to Wrin and Vema, who pointed out some very stupid spelling mistakes I made. Paranoid disclaimer: ReBoot and all its concepts copyright Mainframe Entertainment.

Mail me at: Silvertig@yahoo.com

* * *

The virus cursed the web.

Leaping from one rock to another he dodged the blast of energy that sizzled over his shoulder. Crouching down, he snatched up a good-sized rock and whipped it at the creature. The Webriderís mount reared up and bellowed as the virus nearly took out its eye. The Webrider said something in that shrieking language of theirs that set Megabyteís teeth on edge.

"We remember your kind, virus!" The sprite said. "Do you know how many of us were exiled here because of them? Stand and fight!"

"Really," the virus rumbled back, staying in a crouching position. "I canít IMAGINE what Iíve done to upset you..."

The Webrider clenched a fist. "You destroyed my herd!"

"Those creatures were yours? Now thatís unfair. How could I have possibly known that-"

"You chased them and drained them dry after knocking me out!"

"Theyíre hardly dead."

"Their energy levels were so low I had to destroy them!"

"Oh. Well, that IS a pity. But I do have to eat, you know."

The Webrider angrily pointed his gun towards the virus.

"I suppose youíd be more sympathetic if I hadnít broken your companionís legs and drained him?"

"*Her*!"

"I beg your pardon. Itís just so difficult to tell under all that armor. And if she hadnít *struggled* as I was snacking I wouldnít have had to use such undue force..."

The Webrider snarled and narrowed his eyes behind his helmet. "Enough! Face the consequences of what youíve done!" Grabbing the reins on his mount he took aim.

Megabyte took the moment to stand and make the tentacle heíd burrowed into the rock rise up to grab the riderís throat.

The shot from the Webriderís gun went wild. His mount screamed and thrashed below him as another tentacle snaked directly towards its underbelly. A third grabbed the riderís gun arm, pinning it to his side.

The sprite instinctively clutched at his throat, berating himself for forgetting one of the first rules of the Web: Nearly ANYTHING could have tentacles out here. His legs kicked in the air as the virus jerked him off his mount.

"Such a show of bravado," The virus commented. "It reminds me of the sprites back home. Unfortunately, it-" He cut off with a screech as the Webrider lashed out.

The rider used the knife heíd secured in his free hand to cut a long line across the metal, almost an inch deep. Energy flowed. Snarling, the virus retracted the tentacle, knocking the Webriderís helmet off and pulling the rider towards him.

The last thing the unfortunate sprite noticed was that in addition to tentacles, the virus had long, curved claws on the end of its hands that looked extremely deadl-

There was an unpleasant sound.

Megabyte watched the sprite fade away, leaving only the armor made from webskins behind. He brought his wounded tentacle up to eye level. It would take at least three seconds to heal.

"I suppose thatís what I gain from trying to be sociable." He sighed and picked up the Webriderís armor. "Still...what did he have in here?"

The virus searched through the suitís contents. Several pockets revealed nothing more than food rations, clean energy, an extra set of knives...and a compact. He flipped it open. A picture was set in one frame, a mirror in the other. A couple was nestled in each otherís arms in the photograph, smiling happily at the camera. The man on the left looked strangely familiar...

With a shudder, the virus realized that it was the Webrider himself, pre- Web. If not for the similar skin and eye color he would never have guessed that that was the sprite heíd just deleted. The mutation had been that bad.

Curiosity overcame him. He could see most of what had happened to his body in the web, but what about his face? The virus rubbed his chin. How had he fared there? Megabyte flipped the compact open again and looked in the mirror.

He winced. There was a slightly organic look to his features now. It almost looked as if there were bones underneath his skin. And his lips were all...wrong. His eyes had taken on a hint of blue and the top of his crest ran further down his forehead. He opened his mouth and blinked as he realized just *how* pointed his teeth had become. And if that wasnít bizarre enough now he only had ONE row instead of the normal three.

Turning his head, Megabyte decided that all in all it wasnít bad. He was still recognizable, more than he could say for most of the sprites trapped in this User-forsaken place. But if the Web degenerated them to that degree why was he still fairly intact? Viruses were no more structurally sound than sprites were. In fact, how had Bob survived the Web looking nearly the same?

Megabyte tried to remember the photograph his spies had shown him of the post-web guardian. It was no use. He had only studied it for a few nanoseconds, occupied with thoughts of leaving the system at the time. Whenever he pictured Bob he thought of the original sprite with his normal hair, face unblemished by scales and with that self-confident air he always found so *infuriating*, especially after seeing a scheme fall apart because of the wretched blue sprite...

A wave of vertigo overtook him. Megabyte shook the dizziness from his head and looked in the mirror once more. Someone different stared back at him.

The virus almost dropped the compact.

"What in the *Net*..." He choked at the sound of his voice. No! It sounded like... He brought a hand up to his throat in a gesture reminiscent of the Webriderís. Megabyteís eyes widened as he caught sight of his arm, then the rest of his body.

"I would have thought Iíd notice going mad," said the virus, numbly.

Bobís voice sounding strange and almost flat coming from his throat.

He inspected an arm. It was Bobís, down to the silver bracers and creamy blue shading of the skin. All he lacked was a keytool. Impossible. He wasnít the *guardian*, he was himself!

With that thought the virus felt dizzy once more. He held up a metallic, clawed hand. Megabyte shook his head. It must have been a hallucination, most likely caused by something in one of the web-beasts heíd taken energy from. Who knew what those things ingested anyhow? And this ability to drain energy the way webcreatures did was still new. Another ďgiftĒ from the Web. He flexed his claws as he remembered feeding. An interesting way to consume food, but perhaps his body wasnít used to it yet. Yes, that had to be it. Imagine. Thinking for a moment heíd been BOB.

The virus turned to leave the rock island when another surge of dizziness hit him and he noticed he was wearing boots.

Megabyte took a breath then thought of himself. The clothes fell away. Then he deliberately pictured the guardian and could almost feel himself growing shorter.

Hesitantly, almost delicately, he traced a finger down his cheek. Flesh. Warm, living flesh. Experimentally he thought of the boy, trying to bring that scowling green face to mind. Looking down the virus saw that he was still blue. Then the websuit caught Megabyteís eyes and he morphed into the Webrider, even wearing identical clothes. And was that an ICON underneath the armor?

"A Trojan," The virus said softly. "Interesting. And there are far worse types of my kind to turn into..."

He changed into Bob again and was struck by an idea.

"I..." he began hesitantly. How had the guardian said it? Ah yes. He struck a pose and put on a straight face.

"I donít *think* so!"

The virus held the pose for a moment then laughed, marveling at how much like his enemy he sounded. The voice still held all that *earnestness* Bob had radiated. It was ridiculous! He didnít know *why* the guardian was the only one from Mainframe he could copy, but still...

A smile that would never have come from real Bobís lips crossed the Trojanís face.

"This opens up a realm of possibilities," he whispered.

* * *

A bright orange and blue figure zipped through the Web. Dodging and weaving, he rode the crest of an energy wave before it dissipated into the atmosphere. Ray smiled broadly as he coasted from the waveís push. Daemon defeated? He could hardly believe it. But the strange virus heíd met briefly had apparently spread through the Net with a cure for them all...

He happily did a roll in another surge of energy. Finally he could get back to Mouse and Mainframe. The surfer readied himself to open a portal when a flash of color wrong for the enviroment caught his eye. Odd. Where was it...there! He flew down.

The Web had several fields of rocky debris simply floating in the middle of nowhere. Standing on one such rock, waving his arms until he was sure heíd been spotted was a data sprite. Ray raised his eyebrows as he came close enough to make out a face.

"Bob?"

The sprite startled. "I... Yes! Itís me."

"I thought you were in Mainframe. And..." Ray blinked. "Youíre not degraded!"

"Mainframe?" Bob shook his head in puzzlement. "I... I donít remember. The last thing I recall is Megabyte shooting me into the Web."

"Mind if I check you out then?"

"Iím sorry?"

"I can do a quick scan of filetypes. Just a precaution. You need it out here in the Web. May I?"

Bob blinked then shrugged. "I... Sure. Go right ahead."

The Surfer nodded and a soft curtain of energy surrounded the blue sprite. Ray concentrated. The scan was nothing indepth but something websurfers came with to sort out general file types. As far as he could tell, whatever was in front of him was a sprite. The curtain faded.

"Youíre clean." Bob looked relieved. "And mate," Ray lowered his board to the ground. "Iím afraid itís been a whole ten minutes since you were shot in here. And last I checked you were still in the city."

"Thatís impossible! And... Iím sorry, I donít remember your name..."

Ray raised an eyebrow. "Well, you only *met* me after that chap who threw you into the Web got tossed here himself."

"Megabyte? Heís in *Web*? When did that happen?"

"Just after you got out. I have a feeling weíre not going to get any answers here. If we stay any longer, youíll start to degrade."

"I do feel sick, now that you mention it."

Ray motioned to his board. "So hop on."

"What?"

"Sorry, I keep forgetting we havenít met yet. Iím a websurfer. Iíll open us up a portal to Mainframe. They know me there."

"Ah... Right. Sorry, I didnít recognize your format."

"No worries. Bet youíve got plenty of other stuff on your mind."

Bob stepped on. "So thereís another Bob in Mainframe?"

"It seems that way."

"It sounds like the Web may have made a back up-copy of me when I was sent here."

"That could be it." The surfer levitated his board an inch above the ground. "Youíre going to have to hold onto me when weíre flying."

The sprite hesitated for a moment then loosely gripped the Surferís waist. Ray zoomed up and Bob instinctively clutched harder as the scenery flew past. The Surfer flung out a hand and it began to glow.

"Thank you...Thanks for getting me out of here."

"No problem, friend. Iím glad I spotted you before anything nastier did."

"Oh yes. Who knows what you could have found?"

A portal opened up in front of the Surfer. He spoke cheerfully. "Next stop, Mainframe."

Bob smiled. "Itíll be good to be back."

The End

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