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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 44.

That evening, she noticed that Max seemed to be spending more time at his computer again. When she checked in on him, he was keyboarding a homework assignment. She worried about his eyes, but felt too overwhelmed to challenge him. At least, it kept him out of trouble; for now...

Roger called. She broke into a broad smile. "Well, what a surprise."

"I wanted to thank you for coming camping with us."

"I had a wonderful time. Max did too."

"Maybe you'd like to do it again sometime?"

"I think we have no choice. Max has already set up a camping part in his closet."

"I was thinking about you today."

"You have crossed my mind once or twice too, Roger."

"That has kind of a warm tone, the way you say that."

"Sounds kind of warm to me too. Make more calls like this."

He laughed. "Let's plan something soon."

After they had hung up, she sat back with a warm and fuzzy feeling that quickly turned into a warm and scary feeling. What if (a thousand things)? After Max was asleep, ZoŽ sat in the living room with a mug of hot chocolate. She was unable to sleep, and the old Burtongale book from Father Lawrence lay open by the TV. She picked it up and flipped idly through. What if, somehow, he too could not handle someone with a special child...? Or if she wasn't educated enough? Or...?

Wallace Burtongale I, she read, had abruptly ended his explorations and settled in San Tomas to be a prominent citizen in this and that. He had taken a rudimentary botanical garden and expanded it into what would, by Civil War standards, become one of the leading zoological gardens west of the Mississippi River. She found a brittle news clipping, brown with age, that someone had long ago inserted. Startled, she read:

CHICAGO (Hearst News Service)—The annual Congress of Zoological Associations ended today with an award ceremony at the Shawnee Gardens Lodge. Participants, recently returned from the War with Spain, noted the unfortunate death recently of a prominent member who will be sorely missed. Wallace Burtongale of San Tomas, California, passed away while residing at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington. Dr. Burtongale, who was very active in zoological affairs, had been suffering from a state of complete mental and physical exhaustion resulting from his arduous travels in Africa. Members of the family indignantly denied rumors that Dr. Burtongale's sanity had been affected by his

The clipping ended there, the rest lost in time and eternity. But someone had written long ago in fountain pen or quill (the forked nib's quick strokes were evident:) "Went insane!" and this was underlined. ZoŽ studied the truncated article, wondering if Father Lawrence were aware of it.

Hearing a sound outside her window, she folded the book away and rose. Looking out the window, she saw a shadowy figure crossing the foggy street to a parked van glistening with condensation. Her heart missed a beat or two. The man, whose features she could not make out, opened the rear door of the van and got in.

Heart pounding, she stared at the van. A glow seemed to emanate around it. Terror rose in her soul. What if Roger came to think she was crazy? She had not really let him in on the things that were going on inside of her. She stared at the van, feeling angry (a snowy mountain cabin: what was this thought?) and the van just sat there unmoving, perspiring with condensate in the fog. If she could SEE the man, then she'd remember WHO the third man was with them the night Charlie Best was killed. Impulsively, she threw her robe on and ran outside with bare feet. Wet concrete and grass felt icy cold to her bare feet. In the drizzle, as she ran into the street, she saw two blood-red taillight-swirls as the mysterious van slipped into the night.


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