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This Shoal of Space:

Zoë Calla & the Dark Starship

(World's First E-Book—Published On the Web in 1996 For Digital Download)

a Dark SF novel originally titled Heartbreaker

by John Argo


Preface   Chapter 1   Intralog  Part I-Chapter 2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   37   38   39   40   41   42   43   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   51   52   53   54   55   56   57   58   59   60   61   62   63   64   65   Part II-Chapter 66   67   68   69   70   71   72   73   74   75   Outlog


Heartbreaker

Chapter 54.

That evening, she sat on the couch in Dr. Stanislaus' office. "How do you feel?" asked the doctor, scrupulously avoiding use of her name.

"Pretty good." She looked up and damned if it didn't seem as though the ceiling was swirly gray again.

"No more mental intrusions?"

"Down to a dull roar."

"How is your love life?"

She told Dr. Stanislaus about Roger Chatfield ("Not a pinscher, not a poodle, maybe a shepherd.")

"Ah. Function is important. A shepherd, you said?"

"Maybe one with a tail at each end and no head. Or two heads and no tail. No, spots. A Dalmatian."

"Humor! Splendid. We are making progress. These are the creative moments. Would being shepherded make you feel good?"

She felt embarrassed. "I've figured out what I like in a man. Where there's smoke there's got to be fire. There definitely has to be fire in my man. That's why I like the Dalmatian type. Lots of spots, a red hat, boots made to run, a partying animal."

"Is a Dalmatian just fun?"

"I've never had one."

"No, but do you imagine it would be a just for fun animal? Or do you see some utility? Could he be coming to the rescue? Could he be supportive? Be both shepherd and Dalmatian?"

She laughed. "I honestly don't know, Doctor. You may be weirder than I am." But she understood his efforts to engage the dark underbelly of her mind with shapes and concepts you could play with in the light. If he was amused, he did not show it. "Next week then, same time?"

"Okay, but... Dr. Stanislaus?"

"Yes?"

"Are you from outer space?"

Pause. Then, dry voice: "The patient exhibits humor." He tapped his microphone nervously.

"I keep thinking I see faces up there," ZoŽ said pointing into the gray mist. Dr. Stanislaus stared at her. Slowly, he said: "The patient's keen perceptions mar continuation of the experiment."

"We're on the Enterprise, right, and any minute now Mr. Spook is going to step out and make that face, right?"

"We should switch to Plan B," Dr. Stanislaus said.

ZoŽ gaped. There was a sound like a switch being thrown. The ceiling changed colors. Now it was clear glass. A plain lemony light bulb shone through. And several faces were looking down at them. They were Zorillian faces, horrid distortions of the human physiology rendered hideous by years of living close to the nuclear furnaces of Pasta-Fazoolia. A door opened in the wall, and two men in business suits stepped out. As they entered the subdued but normal and restful light of the treatment room, their features lost that alien look and assumed more of a U. S. Government look, which was nearly as grotesque, but nowhere near as efficient as the maniacal Zorillians. (Hell, when had she read that novel? She must have been twelve. And maybe it wasn't Zorillians but Floridians. But who cared?).

"I'm sorry to startle you," Dr. Stanislaus said, "but you were too clever for us. Now I see no alternative but to let you in on our little secret. Meet Dr. White and Dr. Black of the Centers for Disease Control."

"I don't believe it," ZoŽ said as they bent politely to shake her hand.

"They really do work for the U.S. Government," Dr. Stanislaus assured her.

"No, I mean the names."

Dr. Black, a white man, shook her hand. He had a long neck with a big Adams apple, and a small crew cut head. He had a face like a boy, with no beard shadow, though the wrinkles put him in his early forties.

Dr. White shook her hand. He was, indeed, a very dark-skinned black man with thick cheeks, stout shoulders, and twinkling brown eyes. His hair was a close-cropped shiny mat. He smelled of expensive musky perfume, as though he wanted to go dancing.

ZoŽ clapped her hand to her forehead. "You know, of all the places to finally at last lose the last remnants of your cotton picking sanity, why does it have to be in my shrink's office?" But she was secretly glad that governmental things were being done.

Dr. Black said: "We're here to investigate."

"I met your Air Force counterparts yesterday," she said.

They exchanged looks. "So we heard."

"Is the world going to blow up?"

Dr. White smiled. "You've been having really, really bad dreams, haven't you?"

"There's no indication—." Dr. Black began, but was interrupted.

"What we should tell you," Dr. Stanislaus said. "You are not the only one. This phenomenon, whatever it is, seems to involve telepathy. The California Association of Psychologists has recorded at least forty cases, locally, of patients with manifestations such as yours in the last few weeks."

ZoŽ said: "I'd better call my exorcist and see how business is on the other side of the Great Debate."

Dr. Black said: "We know of at least ten people who claim they have something like an eel living in their brain. Sometimes it's a fish. Sometimes a kind of underwater dinosaur. Always in the brain and underwater."

Dr. White cut in: "Lately, we've been getting two or three octopi with a sun's face..."

ZoŽ squealed, covered her mouth. "Me too!"

"...and one parrot," Dr. Black said.

"Did he have a broken wing?" she asked.

"Maybe. I'll check my notes." Dr. Black looked at her. "We are looking at all the angles. For example, does the perception of underwater translate into some sort of pressure on a certain part of the brain? Does the fact that it's in multiple patients mean it's an epidemic, perhaps a virus that goes to a certain spot and sits there causing edema, etcetera, etcetera."

Dr. Stanislaus said: "So you see, you are not alone."

"Also," Dr. White said, "we need to find out why people all over San Tomas are dropping into this coma. Perfectly healthy people, most of them; it is as though a part of their mind has left their body and gone for a walk someplace."

"You should feel good too," Dr. Black said, "to know that you are advancing the cause of science."

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Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.