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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 64.

The Gilbert Thing danced around the fallen clergy. He kicked them. He stomped their precious books and talismans into the ground. He laughed ferociously.

ZoŽ heard their cries, prayers, formulas, exhortations, efforts to exorcise him, as the monstrum poured boiling pitch on them.

The Gilbert monstrum was alone now. Its human companions had fled. The clergy cowered in a tangle around him, screaming in pain as he poured boiling pitch on them.

Then: that faint keening grew louder.

A long black car sailed into view.

Going about 90, ZoŽ thought.

A red light twirled on its roof.

Its front grill flashed blue, white, blue, white...

Its siren keened like a knife being sharpened on a whetstone. The car turned into the park, bouncing over a curb. Fishtailing onto the grass from Canoga Avenue, it missed the driveway into the ball field. The detective car thudded across the sidewalk. From there the car skidded slightly on the grass, on the White Stuff, then corrected itself and kept flying.

The Gilbert Thing raised a large, swiney-hairy hand with vicious claws. From the center of the hand, a bluish ray of light flashed. A ball of light impacted the police car, putting out a headlight. Still the car came. The Gilbert Thing roared with rage and shot bolt after bolt of light. Then it turned

"Oh Jesus Help Me" ZoŽ whimpered

aimed its palm

"Oh Jesus Please"

and fired a ball of cold blue light past her face. The shot nicked the wood so that splinters stuck in her cheek. Gilbert picked up the pot of burning pitch, and ran toward her.

"Oh My God My God..."

The madness and rage in his eyes were clearly visible through the jackal mask; or was it a mask? For the first time, she thought Gilbert was really in there. Until now, she'd thought of this creature as being a genuine demon. Now it seemed more like Gilbert in a disguise, which was more likely in the first place, only in her panic since the moment of Perry's death, she'd been to hysterical to think clearly. Gilbert (or was it really Gilbert? she wasn't sure) raised the burning pitch high to throw it over her.

But bullets rained into its back, and the arc of the throw faltered. Tongues of spilled fire bannered over Gilbert's shoulder and he (it) screamed in pain.

The police car skidded to a halt in a fan of White Stuff. Its door flew open and out stepped Vic Lara, M-16 assault rifle in one hand, shotgun in the other.

ZoŽ managed to loosen her gag, and screamed: "Vic! Help."

The Gilbert thing drew near to her. TOGETHER MY LOVE, WE WILL PERISH BUT LIVE ETERNALLY...

Vic was afraid to hit her with a shotgun blast. He threw the shotgun into the car, and raised the rifle to aimÖ

ZoŽ screamed.

Red eyes glowed hungrily, teeth bared in a grin. ZoŽ felt the Cold Thing, stirring under its rock, unperturbed, in the back of her mind.

Vic shot, and echoes slammed between the basilica and the hills somewhere in the Jungle as the M-16 fired—again, and again, a whole clip, carefully aimed, one by deadly one.

The Gilbert Thing's jackal head exploded as a round entered its skull. Holes tore through the body, and it began to fall, jerked this way and that, and flaming pitch fell backwards on it, enveloped it. It rolled on the ground, arms upraised as claws that wilted in the heat...

Vic, holding the smoking M-16, hopped over the cemetery wall with flying coattail. A shot rang out. One of the Satanists, kneeling behind a grave stone, had aimed at Vic and missed. Vic fired on the run, rattling out a string of bullets on rock'n roll, and the man never had a second chance.

There were some seconds of silence during which ZoŽ, bloodied and dizzy, coughed at the smoke rising from Gilbert.

At that moment, she realized that the Cold Thing had lived inside Gilbert also. Gilbert was dead, but the Cold Thing lived on. In her. In how many other persons? Gilbert was gone, discarded, and so would she be when her usefulness ended, but the Cold Thing prospered, intent on accomplishing its mission—to do what?

Vic erupted from the blackness among the tombstones spraying fans of flaming tracer bullets. ZoŽ saw a shadow fly away, a gun slip from a hand.

I LOVE YOU, a last thought emanated from Gilbert as his innermost candle went out—not the Jackal Thing, but Gilbert the real person, slimy, perverted, and pitiful. For the first time, despite all the evil Gilbert had stood for, she pitied him.

A wailing caravan of marked police cars hove into view on Canoga. The lead car slowed. When its driver saw Lara's car, he speeded up again, turned, and the other cars followed.

A dozen sirens piped.

Red white and blue flashes illumined the night sky like fireworks.

High beam headlights rolled forward in a wave.

Vic cut ZoŽ loose, and she collapsed in his arms. "Oh God, Vic, they killed Perry."

He held her tightly as she cried in his arms. "I told you to stay home," he muttered while squeezing her to him.

The park swarmed with uniforms. Abruptly, a stillness descended. The organ music stopped. They had found Perry.

ZoŽ did an assessment of herself. Bloody cheek, aching bones, cuts and bruises, a couple of burn marks from spattered pitch.

Ambulances rolled in.

A policeman sprayed Gilbert's charred and melted corpse with a fire extinguisher.

EMT's in white jackets checked the dead priests.

Policemen with dogs and shotguns poured into the cemetery.

Flashlight beams, and the thicker beams of police spotlights, played among the trees and tombstones.

ZoŽ thought of having lost Perry and cried out loud. "I never should have come here. I got Perry killed."

"You bet you never should have," bellowed a powerful voice. Bishop Mulcahy, dressed in a long silk bathrobe, stood with arms akimbo. He had a large cigar in his mouth, and his steel rimmed glasses glinted sternly. "You were warned to leave this in competent hands. I warned Lawrence too, and he warned you! Now he's dead too."

"Oh shut up," ZoŽ said wiping her eyes. "Father Lawrence was doing what your church trained him to do. I made a mistake I'll always regret, but at least I did something."

Bishop Mulcahy's mouth fell open.

"For a hundred fifty years," she said, "you and the bishops before you have sat in your house by the church and done nothing but smoke cigars and fart to yourself."

"Quiet," Vic said, giving her arm a tug. "He's doing the best he can. We all are."

Mulcahy whisked his cigar out of his mouth and cleared his throat. "Young Lady," he said, "Hah-Rumph!" Red white and blue lights danced in his glasses.

"Don't Young Lady me," she said. "You old phony."

"Young Lady, er, rum." He stared, jammed his cigar back into his mouth, and stalked off trailing a scarf of expensive smoke.

A car rolled in, and Martina Strather got out. She walked up to Vic, put her arms around him, and kissed him. ZoŽ stared at them. Martina helped ZoŽ up. "Vic and I recently fell in love. But I guess you knew that, Detective ZoŽ."

"I kind of thought you'd make an interesting pair," ZoŽ said.

Vic said: "ZoŽ called me. Ten minutes later Martina called me. Then Father Lawrence called me. Finally the bishop called me. Then Martina called back and said she thought you were all going to be out here. Meanwhile, I guess Lawrence must have called all his buddies-in-god and they all came out here together. About time they did something other than bicker and call each other names."

He paused to look back at the ambulances arrayed around the dead and injured clergy. "There I am, stuck guarding some jewelry store. Then Martina comes by, and that's all I need. So I said, fuck these lifeless jewels and whoever owns them. I can't be sittin' here drinking cold coffee and eating stale donuts while you guys are all getting killed. I put in an emergency call to the County sheriff's office, and headed out here as fast as I could."

"Brought me along," Martina said with hands in pockets, and shoulders modestly hunched, "for moral support, I guess."

ZoŽ put her hands over her face to wipe away the tears. "Thanks."

Vic produced a flashlight and waved its beam over the crumpled body by the cross. "Finally," he said, "I nailed that son of a bitch. ZoŽ, I'm so sorry it cost us Perry to cream this piece of dog shit. I've been after him for a long, long time."

ZoŽ looked down at the furry face and its antlers. Its (screaming?grinning?) mouth was open in death. EMT's had backed their ambulance close. Vic told them: "Double-bag this one for me, okay you guys? He's extra stinky garbage."

"Vic," ZoŽ said, looking at the creature, "I thought for sure it was Gilbert. Now it really looks like there wasn't a mask. It was real." Even as she spoke, she knew it wasn't true. It had been Gilbert, with the Cold Thing inside him, and his features distorted to resemble the Pilot of the lost alien ship.

Vic's flashlight beam poked about. "You must have been mistaken," he said, "there's no mask anywhere around. That's just Gilbert."

She looked down, and sure enough—the scorched, shattered face was that of the last Burtongale heir. The last trace of little crooked antlers melted away as he regained what was left of his human form. He really had been an avatar of the avatar, an avatar of the Pilot.

The line was finished. The Burtongale family's mission was over.


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