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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 74.

Roger decided it was time to stop feeling sorry for himself. He washed his face in the bathroom and went back to work. Working late meant to avoid going home. As deeply and passionately as he loved ZoŽ, he must put the well-being of Rudy and Elisa first.

The phone rang after dark; Vern LeGrier, the Earth Sciences meteorologist at UCST. "Roger, interesting news. We analyzed the iron residue in the statuette. It's not iron really, but a very ingenious alloy. The metallurgy people think it's a light-weight ferrous molecule that has somehow been bonded with some complex ceramics. Apply a current, and this thing lays out a long, low magnetic field that you could detect several buildings away, even on low amperage. We are talking here probably artifact beyond any technology we have right now. It has a crystalline structure AND it's a near superconductor!"

"Vern, not my field."

"Roger, every phone line out of here is buzzing right now with chemistry and physics experts calling their buddies at other universities. This may not be the perfect superconductor, but this is one that works. If we can duplicate it, we can have an energy efficient world, better computers..."

"Vern, that sounds very nice."

"Roger, Roger, this particular structure is so perfect it could not have been manufactured on this earth..."

"Back to the alien spaceship, Vern? I thought that's out."

"We are talking pure space manufactured, zero-g, zero-atmosphere crystal here. They're still cranking it through the electron microscopes, going deeper into the structure. You're an animal man, right?"

"I've been told that."

"I was watching a flight of birds recently," LeGrier said. "They were flying along in the familiar V-formation. I looked closer and saw that they seemed to drift into a vaguely wave-shaped formation. I wondered to myself: Could these birds be setting up the carrier wave, a very low frequency brain wave, by forming the tight V like an aerial, maintaining it by brain waves? Does our mystery material somehow tie together human brain waves? Wait! One more thing. These little pieces we've been looking at are picking up scads of White Stuff. Know what? I think the iron compound manufactures it."

"But how?" Roger asked.

"Hell if I know. Or why. I thought you might be interested in helping me think. Want to meet me? I have an idea."

Roger thought of ZoŽ, of the kids, that he should be with them. "Sure," he said wearily, "why not?" Part of him longed desperately to be with her, to charge in like a white knight and make everything better. The other part of him could hardly face her anymore. Still, he loved her, and the pain tore him up inside. He must think of his own children before anything else, and yet Max was such a loveable kid—

"Earth calling Roger, Earth calling Roger."

"Huh?"

"You still here, buddy?"

"I'm sorry. Got a lot on my mind."

"Why don't you meet me, and we'll go have a look."

Dr. Vernon LeGrier owned an ancient, classic VW bug. He drove with a quick, sure hand. "I understand. Let's find some more of that dark metallic stuff and then we'll get you home."

"I'm game," Roger said.

"I think I know where to look."

"Okay," Roger said, his mind on things at home. He wanted to get Elisa and Rudy out of here. He was just putting off going home and asking ZoŽ to move out.

"Under the theory that the White Stuff proliferates near this crumbly magnetic material," Vern said, "we have to find any more mountains of White Stuff. There is a mountain of White Stuff around the Pagoda, and we've found two objects inside, the statue Frank and Attila stole from the museum years ago, and the statuette the theologian brought with him. There was another piece stolen from the same museum, and Vic Lara thinks it's somewhere in San Tomas. There's a hill of White Stuff up the grade eastward." As he drove, he rambled: "Imagine, a comet comes in. Hits the atmosphere. Its core blows up. Chunks streak away as meteorites and explode further down..."

"No," Roger said, "number one, comets are not artificial. Number two, explosions would destroy your crumbly material."

"Right," Vern said. "Okay, let's revise it. A space ship comes in, crashes in the sea out there, and all this White Stuff comes up." He corrected himself. "The Air Force would have seen anything coming in, so this would have happened years ago. There are no Indian legends, so we can say ages ago..."

"Too much guesswork," Roger remonstrated.

"A spaceship," Vern said, "is coming to earth. Why? who knows. To collect seashells. It explodes. Parts rain down. A nut here, a bolt there, a melted circuit board..." He stopped and scratched his head. "That doesn't make sense somehow."

As Vern took the VW east on Canoga, White Stuff roiled on the streets. There were almost no cars out, except an occasional police car or ambulance headed to some small disaster. And lots of fire engines. "My God," Vern said as they started uphill on the outskirts of town, "look back there."

Roger looked back, and saw a city in flames. At least seven huge pillars of black smoke were rising from scattered locations. People were dropping in their kitchens, in their reading chairs, in their beds. They were dropping lit matches, smoldering pipes, burning cigarettes which in turn caused fires. "Looks kind of like the end of the world," Roger said.

For the next twenty minutes the car chugged up State 495. "Hey hey hey," Vern said, slowing abruptly. "What have we here?" He halted. A mountain of White Stuff reared up. A charred sign stuck out of the White Stuff, askew: "Harleigh Hale, Bookstore/B&W Arts." They got out in the chilly mountain air looking at this mountain of White Stuff that looked like a kid's theme park someone might have dreamed up. All it needed were garish signs and lights. But there were only the stars above.

The mountain of White Stuff was about thirty feet high and made a wavy, irregular cone maybe forty feet in diameter. Bushes, a pear tree, part of a picket fence, an old tire, newspapers, a black book with a gold embossed title ("Satan And You"), even the stiff legs of a dead jackrabbit stuck out. Roger tested the White Stuff with his foot. It felt vaguely spongy. He tried the pick. The axe went in and out easily, though the material was a little sticky. Within an hour they had cut their way straight through the mountain without encountering anything noteworthy. Their feet crunched on the debris of Harleigh Hale's former habitat, the abode of Winky, as ZoŽ had related to Roger. They sat on a tree stump in the starlight next to the mountain and inhaled the night air.

"Gives you an appetite," Roger said. His cheeks burned pink. Vern went to his car and brought back a paper bag. "I forgot to eat today. My wife will kill me if she sees it, so let's do lunch."

"Mmm," Roger said. Two ham sandwiches, an apple, a kid box of chocolate chip cookies, a box of apple juice. It all went down well. Vern even let Roger have the apple. "Maybe this was a waste of time," Vern said afterwards, as they walked around their mountain.

"Wait a minute," Roger said. Something drew him. Something warm mysterious exciting. His midsection felt that youthful flush of anticipation. He felt his sex swelling as though he were an adolescent, aroused for no discernible reason. He laughed. Vern looked worried. "Roger. Roger? Roger!"

"Hang on," Roger said. He felt drunk. "What did you put in that apple juice anyway?"

"Come back here," Vern said.

Roger walked into the tunnel of White Stuff. This had to be some kind of kid's story, he thought, a play land. He looked at his hands and they had a faint glow. He got on his knees in the middle of the tunnel. Vern shouted something. Ignoring Vern, Roger leaned close and probed with his fingers. The dry stuff crumbled as his fingertips crushed it. Like snow without the wet or cold.

Already, in the tunnel, new crystalline stalactites were building up...

He crushed them, forcing his hands in, until he encountered something mushy. And hard. He worked frantically. His heart pounded, ready to jump up his neck. He had to had to had to had to...

What he pulled out was a crushed cage. He frowned. The wire came apart in his hands and he pulled it away from the base. A big cage. A big bird. Of course. Winky. He brushed White Stuff away with his elbow. Inside the cage were Winky's things. His glass drinking bowl. A plastic dish filled with a mixture of fat, mue, and birdseed. A rotten apple; at the zoo, Roger knew, Winky was very fond of apples. "Vern!" he called, lifting the flimsy paper bottom out. "Vern!"

Vern's feet thrashed in the White Stuff as he came running.

Roger felt his skull singing full of electric, no, magnetic, no, telepathic energy as he lifted the paper bottom away. There, under a replaceable bottom meant to keep the cage clean, was a black cylinder about a foot long and of the same diameter as a flashlight.

"Jesus," Vern said, reaching out.

Roger dropped the cage and raised the cylinder up. Foam rose from its sides. "It's the missing core from the statuette."

"Look at that," Vern was saying.

Roger felt his heart patter into his jaw. As he pitched forward face down, he thought oh no I'm dying and then his face flopped into a pillow of White Stuff.

Is this heaven or hell?

Roger was underwater.

Crazy.

No really.

He had no trouble breathing.

He couldn't see, but did not panic. Instead, he pushed through the wall of mue and there, thereÖwhy, that was the pagoda in the zoo.

Everything was dark. Bubbles rose in a few places.

A light shone from the pagoda door. A tall, slender figure waited there.

He ran toward her.

It was Susan, very shapely in her black magician's tuxedo and top hat. She opened her arms to him. Her eyes glittered as she spun in a ballerina dance of joy. Her face...

He spun with her until his lap filled with seed. How cool she felt. How bright she looked. But she was she. It all came back to him; the tossed hair; the wink; the serious smile full of love.

Oh how I love you! he thought

I love you too, darling. Come, I have wonderful things to share with you. She turned and walked into the light, into the pagoda, and he followed gladly.

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