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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


Chapter 28.

Next day, ZoŽ and Perry went where Wiz's body had been found. Great billowing rain clouds rolled in from the ocean. The sky was pen and ink colored and about as stark. Dotted with police cars, the mouth of the Jungle looked less formidable. The basilica looked small and gray. Uniformed police moved about in small conversations. Forensic people had a van pulled up and were examining the burial site inch by inch for clues. Several figures in drab clothing stepped from the bushes. ZoŽ's heart leapt when she saw Mabel Stork and Evvie. Mabel had a dull look.

"Did you get the blankets?" ZoŽ asked. The little girl's face was dirty but her cheeks looked full. She had circles around her eyes and as she hid behind her mother's skirt she coughed deeply, rackingly. "The blankets," ZoŽ repeated.

Mabel's grimy face turned toward ZoŽ. "What," she said flatly. ZoŽ realized the human being before her in castaway clothing was probably insane with no business on the streets or in this Jungle or worse yet dragging a small child with her.

"I gave some blankets to Moonboy for you."

Mabel hooted as though this were a joke. Evvie coughed again and Mabel wrapped a freckled ham arm around her.

"Your little girl's got to be seen by a doctor," ZoŽ said. All the years of worrying about Max welled up in her. She wanted to take Evvie in her arms. As she felt this she realized how much she'd always wanted to have just one more child, a girl.

"She'll be looked at by a physician," the policewoman assured ZoŽ. ZoŽ watched sadly as Mabel climbed into the police car. Evvie's large eyes, floating amid Mabel's skirt, remained fixed on ZoŽ with an intense pleading. Or was it warning. Or was it simply insanity? As she stood there with Perry, they heard a whistling sound that grew into a scraping sound and grew until she got frightened. The ground was shaking. She looked at Perry, but he was looking up. A shadow darkened the already somber sky. Perry whistled. "That's a big one, huh?"

A jet aircraft, so massive and sprawled it did not seem possible it could fly, crawled overhead slowly and ponderously at about two thousand feet. Air Force stars were clearly visible on the wings and fuselage, as were small windows for peering out.

"A C-5A Galaxy cargo plane," Perry said. "What in the hell are they lugging around in our skies?"

That afternoon ZoŽ left work a few minutes early, determined to find Vic Lara. She was having a change of heart. Maybe she should buy him dinner. She was happy that her car was back and maybe she'd give him one more chance. She left messages at his office, and received no reply. She'd tried dialing his car phone, and received no answer. A female Sergeant Somebody at police headquarters assured her he was working. ZoŽ figured he'd probably be someplace near the zoo or the Jungle.

It was getting dark, and beginning to rain again. The windshield wipers kept a beat as she cruised along looking for his car. Leaves and papers rattled across the street. Palms bent their green crowns. The rain fell hard and straight, banging on the car roof. Visibility was down to a few dozen yards. She nearly gave up.

Then she saw Vic's car. It was pulled up at an odd angle, one wheel on the curb. She pulled her raincoat over her head and got out. "Vic?" she called. "Vic?" Her voice sounded thin. The air rattled loudly with water punching the street and the sidewalk. "Vic?" Each time a gust of wind cut through, the water turned white like sheets of glass thread.

The dark car stood at an unnatural angle pointing toward a copse of trees. Three of its doors were open, the driver's and both rear doors. Worried, she sloshed through the overflowing gutter. Her feet grew chilled, her shoes soaked, her stockings gritty with roiled sand and debris. "Vic?" She peered into the car. Nothing out of place that she could see except... the lock on the shotgun rack was open and the shotgun was gone...

"Oh my God," she whispered. Something had happened to him.

Lightning forked overhead like veins and arteries full of neon. Thunder followed almost immediately rolling around and growling bearishly, slamming against her ears. She held her hands to her ears and looked about frantically. The raincoat fell away and she barely noticed.

Lightning flashed, then thunder rolled close; lightning again, then thunder.

Amid winks of lightning, she spied something beyond the trees. Dancing? Singing? A small globe of lemon light dimly flashed about and kept changing shapes. "Vic?" She hurried through knee deep grass that tore her nylons and gashed the soft skin of her calves.

Lightning: a figure jumping.

Lightning: a pair of arms waving in supplication.

Thunder: and in it a man calling for help.

She climbed up a minor grade and emerged between two giant pines. Except for the wildly gyrating bubble of light, it was blind dark. She heard voices in the prattling rain and could not make out the words but she could feel the intensity of emotions. Even as she formed the word Vic her lips fell slack and she sank down on her knees at the sight. It was as if her body was giving out. What she saw next was like a defective movie clip, visible only in short stark frames of lightning and whenever the globe of light found a target.

Vic Lara, dressed in starchy clothing now saggy and soaked, held a shotgun on three street people and was whipping them with a long steel flashlight. It was, she recognized, one of those heavy police flashlights designed to double as a nightstick. The men were bleeding and crawling dimly begging for mercy. ZoŽ held her hands over her mouth not knowing what to do. Should she run? Her legs felt paralyzed. Should she call out his name, ask him to stop? He might turn and shoot her, for he was in such a frenzy that his mouth hung open. Whipcord strong, he kicked and beat the men.

Lightning, lightning, thunder!

The heavy flashlight whacked one man's back so loudly that each slap, each dull boom of steel on bone, jerked ZoŽ's head from side to side as if she herself were being beaten.

Lightning, thunder!

Rain streaming down her face, she rose and screamed his name. "Vic!"

He turned, swinging the shotgun around ready to fire, and for an instant she looked death in the face. She saw his face only twice for a fraction of a second as lighting flashed. Horrified, she saw who he was, what he had become. His eyes were like black holes filled with insanity and she wondered if a man had to be drunk to do something like this. His mouth was a slit of fury. There was a gash on one cheek where something had raked him. His skin lay stretched over his bones as though part of some alien anatomy.

The lightning gone, she stood blinded and transfixed in the powerful beam of his light. Somewhere thunder growled. The rain streamed down. There was a moment of waiting, of imbalance, of dread, during which she heard the rain, and her choppy breath chugging piston fashion in her throat, and the deep racking sobs of the two conscious men.

Then the light swung away. It fell first on the man who lay unconscious. Then on the man still trying to crawl away holding his bloody head. Then on the untouched man who now was in turn on his knees with folded hands.

They were just boys, ZoŽ saw. She screamed, "Vic Lara, you motherfucker, let them go." She screamed again in a voice that fought thunder: "Let them go!" The third time her voice cracked and nothing came out of her mouth. She beat the air with her fists.

He turned away and barked: "All right you fucking clowns. Now get this. I'm gonna be up your assholes and down your necks every minute until you deliver to me the son of a bitch who's down here killing your own people. Help me, before you're next, you stupid loser assholes. Got that?"

ZoŽ heard no more because she whirled and ran. She heard him behind her. "ZoŽ!" he yelled.

She ran heedless of the cutting grass. "ZoŽ!" he yelled again. She ran across the sidewalk. Past the skewed police car. Splashed through the overflowing gutter. "ZoŽ!"

Her car was on the other side, locked... she slowed to fumble with her keys... She heard a loud click behind her. The shotgun. She whirled in slow motion, knowing she was going to die. Of course. She was a witness. He was aiming to blow a hole in her the size of a tunnel. As she turned she fell, landed hard on her butt.

He stepped into the light of a street lamp. The shotgun lay over one forearm, open and impotent. "ZoŽ," he pleaded. It was good old Vic Lara again. Easy going, smiling. He extended a hand from twenty feet away in an offer to help her up.

She backed away, rising. She shook her head. "No, Vic, no. Don't come near me. Don't ever touch me again."

"But ZoŽ, I can explain..." His voice had that purr to it. His teeth gleamed in the streaming rain.

ZoŽ got the car door open, hunched like a madwoman, fumbling. "Don't you ever, ever, ever come near me, do you hear?"

He stood watching as she drove away. She looked back once more. The body was Vic Lara's but the face was Frank MacLemore's.

Safe in her car and headed home, she realized she'd lost her raincoat. No matter. Let the street people have it. It was a good price to pay in tuition for this rare opportunity to spy directly into a man's secret soul and come away having seen the devil.


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