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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 45.

Wallace Burtongale unhappily stepped from his office, locked the door, and walked toward the rear utility lot in the zoo. What if the ship flew away? What then of the Burtongales?

The full moon rode on a raft of clouds.

With a soft whine, the cart carried Wallace out of the utility parking lot. He drove to the maintenance parking lot which lay deserted and padlocked in moonlight. Wallace found the air/sea container from Southeast Asia, arrived earlier in the day.

The seals and straps took a few minutes; he did not have the right cutters. The doors swung open easily and he began loading box after box of generic computer equipment onto his cart. As he worked, he thought about the nightmare his life was.

He drove across the zoo. A familiar feeling of well-being wrapped itself around him like a narcotic, overlaying his depression, as he entered the pagoda. A light of indeterminate color oozed out of the walls. The light reminded him of blots on an old photograph. One second its tinge was greenish, the next second it might be bluish or white, or even flicker off for a moment.

The Pilot had lived in the back of his mind for as long as he could remember. The secret knowledge was passed down through the generations from one Miss Polly to the next Miss Polly. The oldest son carried the Pilot and when he died it went to his son, in whom the seed of the Pilot was already planted. But the Miss Pollys had Knowledge about what had been brought from Africa so long ago. The Pilot did not speak words to Wallace. It spoke Feelings. It had always been that way, and he never questioned it, though he knew he was Different From Other People. That had been drilled into him since childhood, as it had been drilled into Gilbert; ...that You Did Not Tell Anyone. The Pilot welcomed Wallace to its sickly radiation. WE ARE GROWING STRONGER...WE ARE PUTTING THE SHIP BACK TOGETHER...

Wallace stepped forth carrying the first of tonight's laptops, and the Pilot was pleased. Already the others he had brought were tied together and glowing. It was a faint glow, for the screens were turned dim as possible. What the Pilot needed most were the chips and the data buses inside. Already, a conductor had seemingly grown out of the air—bits of wire, patches of crystal or quartz, scraps of cloth with metallic threads woven in, anything that could carry a faint pulse. The Ship manufactured its own insulators from styro peanuts, from limitless supply of silica in the earth, even from human hair and fingernails and spider and ant chitin…

Wallace heard a little throbbing, like a machine, already a little louder...

On command, Wallace poured out the plastic peanuts. A wind kicked up inside the pagoda. The dessicant light flickered. Power was marshaled from elsewhere. The peanuts began to tremble. They levitated ever so slightly. And then, with only the faintest whisper of a whoosh, they skittered away to disappear in the licorice darkness among the pumps and other machines. There were explosive sounds, like popcorn popping, and Wallace hunkered down, covering his face. He peered between his fingers and saw the most amazing sight. The plastic foam forms lifted into the air and then exploded. A light grew inside the pagoda as energy was marshaled from other places. Lines began to appear on the walls, like fishnet, only made of plastic foam melted to a chewing gum consistency and then sprayed onto the cold stone. And even as this went on, metallic threads began to snake through the plastic foam lines. The Pilot was rebuilding his ship.

Five, six more times Wallace made the trip. In the end, all that was left was a tall stack of flattened cardboard boxes near the pagoda. The maintenance crew in the morning could be ordered to retrieve them and they would ask no undue questions. Reluctantly, like an addict coming out of a fix, Wallace backed out of the pagoda when his work was done. He stole one more glance inside. The glow in the pagoda was more pronounced now, because there was more conducting lineage. And even with their screens dimmed as if they were asleep, all the laptops attentively faced in the same direction toward the darkness among the pumps.

As Wallace stumbled toward the golf cart, the depression hit again. He knew that once the ship was reassembled, the Burtongales would not be needed any longer. And the Pilot would have no mercy on them.


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