What PROJECT VAGABOND is about
GARY MATTHEWS, a janitor in a subatomic research facility, unwittingly finds himself taking part in a world-shaking struggle between opposing factions within this institution.
As a result of his accidental involvement, Gary becomes a reluctant hero who travels to bizarre worlds that are not of this universe; and, to make matters worse, he doesn’t always make these interdimensional journeys all in one piece.
This mind boggling adventure is also an extension of Gary’s ongoing ironic quest for the brainy, sexy, yet old-fashioned woman of his dreams. It seems that this unlikely creature may exist, but before he can find her, he must first try to save his own home-universe from invasion by grotesque and repulsive aliens.
Because of all this, Gary finds that he’s slated to do battle with an incredibly powerful being–yet one who doesn’t exist except in the world of rejected concepts.
PROJECT VAGABOND is a gritty, exciting story that, on a deep psyche level, goes where no science-fiction novel has gone before.
For a sneak preview of this book read the sample pages below:
ONE: EVENA AND THE GLOBE
EVENA HAD NEVER cared much for the concept of looking into the future, but all her friends and relatives had already used up their future-viewing time allotment, and she was beginning to feel like a misfit. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to change her attitude. Her decision to turn on the globe came mostly as a result of loneliness and frustration. She was a grown woman, exceptionally beautiful–according to what others said as well as in her own judgment–and she also had every reason to think there was nothing wrong with her personality, for she had many friends and almost as many suitors. The trouble was, as she often told herself, that none of the suitors suited her. Would she ever find that special man who would be everything her heart cried out for?
She stayed in the lab one evening after the others left, knowing what she was going to do. Evena removed her lab coat and hung it on a peg, then rearranged a few stray wisps of her yellow hair, as though the globe or its images would be capable of seeing her. She pulled a chair up to the four-foot sphere and activated it so that it filled with luminosity. Hesitating only briefly, she silently made her request. I wish to see the man I will marry, she thought, but I wish to see him before our wedding rather than during or after. The computer mind of the globe acknowledged her request and then ran by her all the warnings and prohibitions and time limits, as she knew it would. A clever operator could bypass the automatic safeguards set to prevent infractions of the rules, but this was seldom done. After these warnings had run their course, her request had to be made more specific in regard to the time, somewhere between the present and her wedding, that she wished to view; but apparently the globe was still digesting the basic request already given, for a special and unusual message abruptly overrode everything else and came through to her mind:
Your request cannot be granted without the approval of the High Council of Varnstead, for the time and place you have chosen to view also reveals information of importance to the governing bodies of all members of the United Association of Free Dimensions, according to Search Request Number 75640.
Evena’s heart was pounding. Although she knew the globe would not reveal the nature of the information to her, it was common knowledge that Search Request Number 75640 was the only government future search query remaining unanswered–and that it was a request for the identity of the next ruler of the United Association.
Some information about the future could be received easily through the globe, and some could not, because the philosophical programmers had deemed it undesirable that too many future facts of certain kinds be readily available; for it seemed rather obvious that too much of some future information could negatively affect the present. The programmers themselves knew no more about things to come than anyone else; they simply inserted a number of types of blocks into the program that made certain areas more difficult to access, and some impossible.
The search for the revelation of the next ruler had proven to be one of the most difficult. It seemed she had come across this by accident. And could it be that…. No, it was too far-fetched to think that she, a mere lab technician, should one day become the wife of the Emperor of the United Association of Free Dimensions–made up of a good half of all the known worlds! And there could, after all, be some other explanation. No doubt the man she would marry was not the future emperor, but for some reason that individual would be in the same time and place she had chosen to view regarding her future husband.
That must be it, but it still had possibilities. Maybe her man would hold a prestigious office in the emperor’s palace–the Blue Castle. One thing she was sure of: she needed to make an immediate report to the authorities, for that was law. She had accidentally come across the answer to Search Request Number 75640, the final future-search request of the High Council, and there would be severe penalties for failure to report such a momentous event. On the other hand, instant fame would be hers from the moment her report was received and verified. She deactivated the globe and hurried across the room to the communicator.
Her report was received with great excitement that resulted in the initiation of immediate steps to verify the matter and to proceed with all that needed to be done. She was told that an air carriage, of the brilliant silver type normally used only by government officials and people of renown, would be sent to pick her up at the lab and would take her to the Blue Castle for an interview. When she objected, explaining that she first needed to go home and take a bath and dress for the occasion, she was told that a room was already being prepared for her in the palace, and that she would there be supplied with everything she needed–for, in spite of the necessity of the verification procedure to be completed, it was assumed that she was telling the truth and that all was in order. Lying on Free Shore was virtually non-existent–if one did not consider the traitorous smordoffs, to whom lying and deceit were a way of life.
These smordoffs, shadowy creatures who had a natural ability to blend into their background whenever they chose to do so, and whose intelligent but perverse minds were set on undermining the government of Free Shore and other worlds of the Association, were the main reason for the fervent awaiting of the next emperor. It was hoped, even expected, that he would be a mighty hero who would defeat this wily enemy of long standing. The present emperor was a good man, but old. He no longer had a strong grasp on things. He was quite willing to step down the moment the right man, or woman, was found to replace him, but so far the search–both in normal ways and with the future-scanning globe–had been unsuccessful.
The required standards of intelligence and virtue (particularly virtue) for this office were far beyond the normal level of the reasonably virtuous and intelligent inhabitants of the Association worlds. Since the globe actually looked into the future and saw not what might happen, but what would happen, it was taken for granted that when it showed them their next emperor, he would, in fact, be a person who measured up to the required standards, for the Association laws prevented anyone from becoming emperor who did not.
Evena hadn’t seen a smordoff for thirty-four star loops, and was annoyed–not to mention scared–when one showed up just as she climbed into the open elevator that would lift her to the hovering air carriage. The elevator began to ascend, but four silver-clad palace guards had remained on the ground. Evena thought the lone smordoff looked frightened, and she remembered that frightened smordoffs sometimes lost their camouflaging ability.
Afraid or not, the shadowy humanoid shape, now quite visible against the gray wall of a nearby building, brought his weapon into play. It was a small device, almost hidden in the palm of his hand, but its potency was already being felt by Evena and the guards as large chunks of semi-transparent material appeared in the air near them, crackling loudly and then crashing to the ground. These represented clean misses on the part of the smordoff, who looked to have a shaky hand, but the results were violent and dangerous nevertheless. Evena was almost sucked out of the rising elevator by the instant mini-storm resulting from the vacuum created by the coagulated air, and one of the falling chunks glanced off a guard’s arm. But it was the only chance the smordoff had to use his weapon. Four silvery arms raised four black metal rings, each large enough for a normal-sized man to pass his body through, had it not been for the sighting device in the center. It was all over; at this point the smordoff could no longer move. Evena’s blood chilled as she clung to the railing of the elevator, bracing herself against the artificial storm and looking down, in spite of herself, to see the smordoff’s demise. The rings were silent and showed nothing; but they worked on a principle of destroying a tenuous connection between matter and the abstract concept of place, so that a cell thus affected found itself placeless, which the laws of physics quickly translated as nonexistence. The smordoff appeared to multiply into an infinite number of replicas of himself in an overlapping lineup, like the images of a mirror held up to another mirror; but these replicas were slightly transparent. They drew together, suddenly, like a gigantic accordion being slammed shut, and then there was nothing.
Later, as Evena sat in a great hall in the palace, surrounded by the nobility of the land, she couldn’t help but laugh at the irony involved. She hadn’t planned on even telling anyone about her rendezvous with the romantic future, and here she was with about a thousand people looking over her shoulder, in a sense. But she couldn’t really mind, for this was one of the most exciting things that had ever happened to her. She was sitting in the place of greatest honor, between the royal governor and his wife, at a central and medium-high point in a semicircle of tiered seats that faced a twenty-foot globe–the largest in the world.
The governor’s wife said, “You surely must be excited, Evena, to think that in just a moment you’ll see not only our next emperor, but also another man who’ll perhaps be even more important to you.”
Evena supposed that the lady, as well as the others, had thought of the possibility of the future emperor and Evena’s future husband being the same man, but had dismissed the idea. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m shaking like a leaf.”
The governor laughed and put a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t mind if you shake, so long as you’re happy.”
“Oh, I’m happy all right,” she smiled back at him.
“When this is over they’ll be putting you through quite a schooling, but I think you’ll enjoy that too.”
His wife said, “Why talk about that now?”
“Why not?” he replied, finally removing his hand from Evena’s shoulder. “It’s really not that difficult. The main rule is to behave as though you don’t know the future, from a certain point on, until it actually happens. If you make a little slip now and then, well, no harm done, more than likely. After all, no one has ever figured out what the harm could actually be. Still, our greatest scientific and philosophical minds have never reversed their decision about it being best to behave as though we don’t know the future on a particular point, even when we do, with some exceptions. What those exceptions are will be made known to you. Therefore, on the day when you’ll meet the man who’ll be your husband, and that likely in the presence of the emperor-to-be, you’ll start out for your day’s work in the lab just as you always do, with no outward signs of anticipation; and we’ll all do the same in our own places. That way we won’t complicate things.”
“I understand,” said Evena.
The governor’s wife said, “Ferdron, I do believe that dear man is waiting for you to stop talking so he can make a proper introduction before activating the globe.”
“I think you’re right, my sweet syrup,” said the governor as he leaned back in his chair and thereafter remained silent. There was an introduction, although Evena couldn’t remember anything about it later. When the man was done with that he held his hand out toward the royal chairs in a signal for the governor and Evena to mutually think their signals to the globe.
The governor asked that the answer to Search Request Number 75640 be revealed, and he was now able to give the proper time-and-place slot that Evena had come upon accidentally; and Evena reiterated her desire to see her future husband in that same slot. Next, the globe told them what they already knew, that both of these requests would be viewed at the same time, and, of course, all the rules and regulations had to once more be endured.
But then, abruptly, the great globe was filled with the bright colors of a three-dimensional scene–Evena, leaving the front door of her beautiful hewn-stone mansion and walking along the pathway to the street. She was wearing an ankle-length maroon gown and matching bonnet–not a lot nicer than what she usually wore when she went to work, but she admitted it was her favorite dress. Otherwise there was no noticeable difference in her demeanor–no show of excitement and anticipation. Her uncle was there at the curb, waiting to pick her up in his runner-drawn carriage. Even the two runners–sleek, long legged creatures captured as babies from the swamp country to the south–looked more excited than her Uncle Kram. He also was following the rules well.
Evena watched herself climb up into the closed carriage, and honestly had to admit once again that she was remarkably beautiful. Because none of the viewers knew at what point the revelations would come, the ride to the lab grew in suspense with every graceful stride of the lively runners. Maybe, thought Evena, she would meet her future husband as she was getting out of the carriage onto the walk–maybe he would step forward from somewhere to help her down. It was a bit disconcerting to realize that the Evena in the carriage already knew what was going to happen, for she had seen all this in the globe, whereas Evena of the present, only now watching the globe, still did not know the outcome.
Nothing happened all the way to the lab, and it was her uncle who helped her down out of the carriage. Evena of the present noticed that her uncle was carrying his best cane–the brilliant gold one. Was that cheating? No more so, she supposed, than herself wearing her favorite dress. But she definitely had to give her uncle and herself credit for being good actors. No one would have guessed, from watching them standing there beside the carriage exchanging a few casual words, that their hearts were pounding, as they surely must be, with the excitement of anticipation–his because he expected at any moment to meet a man who would be the next monarch of a thousand worlds, and hers because her lover was somewhere only a few steps away.
Evena, watching the globe, knew that time was running out. Where were the marvelous people they were waiting to see? Her uncle climbed back into the rig and drove off. Evena, as always, took the key out of her handbag and walked toward the door of the lab.
It had to be now. It all had to take place in the lab. There were only a few seconds of time left, and the globe had never made a mistake.
The great hall, filled with noble men and women viewing the globe, was as silent as a calm night on the snow plains. All eyes were riveted to the globe as the image of Evena opened the lab door and stepped through.
The scene shifted to the interior, first showing a close-up of Evena standing stock still, her lips slightly parted, a look of wonder and total absorption on her face. Evena of the present, watching the image, realized that it could not be a look of surprise, for her future self would already have known what she would find in the lab.
Then the viewers were shown what she was looking at. Standing approximately in the middle of the lab floor, surrounded by a shambles of broken lab equipment, was a young man. He was totally naked but held his hands folded in front of his genital area. He was not remarkable to look at–not exceptionally tall nor heavily muscled; but he was, nevertheless, nicely put together and had a handsome innocent face with clear blue eyes looking out calmly from under tousled brown hair. His body displayed several small cuts and scratches.
Evena, watching the globe, knew that everyone was at that moment thinking exactly what she was thinking: Is this the emperor or the future husband?
The globe now presented a view that contained both Evena and the naked man, standing there facing each other. The man smiled, and it was like the sincere, artless, beautiful smile of a child.
Then the globe went blank, except for a wavering luminosity, because the time limit for viewing the future had expired.
The governor rose to his feet. After solemnly looking about at the great gathering, he said, “Dear People of the Association: As the Governor of Free Shore, I ask you all to kneel before the future Queen of the United Association of Free Dimensions.” He turned to Evena and, smiling, said in a low voice: “Please stand to receive the honor.” So she got to her feet, her knees shaking under her floor length blue-and-silver dress.
And they all got off their chairs and knelt, facing toward Evena as best they could. The governor and his wife also went down on their knees before her.
TWO: SCHULTZIE AND BLOTCH
THE FALL OF COMMUNISM in Europe was still fairly recent history. It had, like its symbol, the Berlin Wall, shattered suddenly into jagged pieces over which freed people stumbled and bled. But they were free.
And deadly nuclear power, in the form of the knowledge of how to manufacture doomsday weapons, first leaked and then flowed like a river. It flowed farther East. And, in the new millennium, the cold war was back.
It was a time of runaway technology and science-fictionlike accomplishments, but this Chinatown alley looked as though it had been lifted out of a 1930s gangster movie. A wayward strain of jazz seemed in sync with the equally lost blinking rays of light from a nearby electric sign. Both music and sign-light died together as these attempted to penetrate deeper into the narrow trench of brick and concrete. Where the sign-light left off, enough poorly reflected light from distant street lamps remained to reveal indistinctly the typical alley shapes of garbage bins, empty cardboard boxes, windblown newspapers, and other assorted trash.
There was a momentary, silent wisp of movement that might have been a small slinking cat–or maybe a large rat. And there were also larger moving shadows, accompanied by the furtive scuffle of two sets of walking footsteps–a woman’s light step, and the heavier, slightly limping shuffle of a large man.
They were supposed to be walking together, but Morris Blotch was having a hard time to keep his bulky old body from falling behind. His limp gave him a sinister look, which was magnified by his apparel–a narrow brimmed black hat and dark suit.
His bad knee was bothering him more with every step. He spoke to the woman in something halfway between a whisper and a growl, “The night’s young, baby. Let’s not rush into things.”
The woman fell back a step. She was wearing a dark-gray coat, belted at the waist, and had an equally drab kerchief around her hair. Although it tried, this clothing could not quite make her look dowdy, mainly because it failed to adequately disguise her classic big-girl statuesque body. She whispered, “Can’t you ever think of anything but sex? Well, never mind thinking, we shouldn’t even be talking.” Immediately she regained her lead, waving him on with an overhand scoop of her arm, like a cavalry sergeant ordering an attack. Blotch cursed under his breath as his limp grew worse, but he managed to keep up with her.
The alley came to an end by joining with another that ran at right angles to it in both directions. It was well lit by towering lamps from a vast parking lot behind a high chain-link fence with a vicious roll of barbed wire all along the top.
“If you’re thinking of having me climb over that,” said Morris Blotch, “forget it. Impotence can come with age, by why rush things?”
The woman replied in a harsh whisper. “I told you to quit talking! We have half a block to go down that alley before we get to any cover. Follow me closely now, and please!–no more talking.”
As she turned away from him to follow the alley to the right, he managed to deal her a pat on the rump, which she ignored, before he got his bad knee in gear again and painfully tried to keep up with her.
They had walked about fifteen yards when a car moving within the big lot threatened to sweep them with its headlights. The woman took a quick look in all directions, then whispered, “Hurry! This way!” She grabbed Blotch by the sleeve and hauled him along a few feet to some volunteer shrubbery growing close to the chain-link fence. They crouched behind this low bush as the lights swept across them, hurting Blotch’s lensed eyes through the meager shielding of the branches.
“We should have kept walking,” grumbled Blotch. “No one pays attention to anyone walking down an alley.”
“Can’t chance it,” the woman whispered back. “Just about everyone in there knows me.”
Blotch considered using this opportunity to put his arm around the woman, but the crouching posture was ripping his knee apart. He felt like cursing loudly–which was what he usually did when the pain was extra bad.
Although the headlights were no longer directly on them, the car continued to approach. It became increasingly obvious that the driver planned to park somewhere close to the prowlers.
“Blast the rotten luck!” whispered the woman. “We have no choice but to stay here now. Make sure you don’t talk when they get out.”
“Seems to me you’ve been doing most of the gabbing lately,” breathed Blotch through grinding teeth. No longer able to stand the pain, he straightened his leg and balanced himself on the other foot and a hand. He felt so relieved he immediately put his free arm around the woman’s shoulders. It was too late for her to object vocally or even to move. The car had pulled to a stop in a parking spot close to the fence, only a few feet away.
The driver’s door opened and a man stepped out spryly. A nearby light was sufficient to show him to be medium-sized, slim but well proportioned, in his late twenties or early thirties, and too good-looking for a man according to Blotch’s way of thinking.
Blotch felt the woman tense up. He looked at her face to see what he could read there, but there wasn’t enough light behind the bushes.
The man at the car still hadn’t closed the door. He was eating something he held in one hand and was apparently brushing crumbs off his pants with the other. He wore some kind of uniform–close fitting dark pants and matching short jacket. When he reached into the car and pulled out a stiff-brimmed policeman-style cap, Blotch was almost convinced this was a security guard, only he couldn’t see any badge or shoulder crest. In any case he was obviously no problem so Blotch lost interest in him.
For a moment Blotch looked past the man and the parking lot to the massive ten-story building that stood beyond–the Brubetner Research Facility. It hadn’t been there for more than ten years. A lot of Manhattan’s tenements had fallen to make room for it and its surrounding parking and park areas. He knew that the intrigue he had gotten involved in this night had something to do with the Facility–that much Schultzie had told him. He also knew it had to be something pretty serious for a level-headed woman like her to drag him out here, particularly since she knew he would look for an opportunity to try to seduce her. And she had never given him any indication that she appreciated that kind of interest. No, she was seriously concerned about something going on at the facility, and she had chosen him only because he had a star-studded reputation as an investigative reporter. And maybe because they were old friends.
That had started twenty years ago when she was a brainy college kid fighting her way up out of a poverty background, and he was an unknown newspaper reporter sent to do a human interest story on her. They had hit it off right from the start and after that had always kept track of one another.
The young man had closed his car door without locking it and was walking away toward the facility building. Blotch turned to try to kiss Schultzie before she got to her feet, but he was too late. She got up so quickly she unbalanced his precarious one-legged crouch; he fell on his side and lost his glasses. The alley turned into an abstract painting.
“C’mon, let’s go!” whispered Schultzie’s indistinct form above him.
He had also lost his hat, a 1940s type with its brim bent down in the front. His clothes were all like that–well over a half century out of date and therefore hard to find, but he worked at it. He found his glasses first and put them back on while he picked up his hat and struggled painfully to his feet. Why the hell hadn’t he brought a flask of whiskey? Schultzie was already hurrying on down the alley so he limped after her.
They drew close to a street and now it was plain that they were in one of those confused areas between Little Italy and Chinatown that didn’t know whether it was a business, residential, or industrial section. Blotch was surprised when Schultzie turned aside onto the fenceless backyard of a home situated on the corner where the alley and street met. The old two-story house had no light in any of its windows so far as he could see from this angle. Blotch was surprised again when Schultzie hurried to the back door, whipped out a key, and let herself in exactly as though she lived there. But he knew she didn’t. He followed her inside and eased the door shut behind him.
“Don’t trip over anything,” she cautioned, no longer whispering. “We can’t turn on the lights on the ground floor, so just follow me carefully.”
“I can’t see a damn thing,” said Blotch. “Let me hold your hand.”
“Oh, all right,” said Schultzie. She had moved closer to him and it sounded like she was relocking the door. In a moment they were feeling their way down a narrow flight of stairs, and each step put Blotch’s knee into a fresh spasm of agony. At the bottom she pulled him into absolute darkness and closed a door behind them. Then she switched on the lights without warning, causing his retinas to curl up around the edges.
Blotch squinted in all directions in the large basement room. “What the hell is this?” he asked. There was a lot of dirt piled up and a door-sized hole had been hacked through the concrete of one wall.
“It’s known as a tunnel,” said Schultzie. The bright light brought out the full-lipped, soft-eyed beauty of her face, and also affirmed that she was no baby. Blotch had never learned her age but thought her to be somewhere in her mid-forties. That made her about twenty years younger than him.
He was still thinking about the depressing matter of their age difference as he continued to study the basement with its dust covered freezer, an old wooden table and two chairs, the piles of dirt, the shovels, the gunny sacks, the boarded windows, and the gaping black tunnel leading downward–into a pit full of headless hobgoblins, for all he knew, or the secret lab of a mad scientist collecting cheap spare parts from worn out newspaper reporters. He said, “I don’t know, Schultzie, I’m getting a bit old for this kind of stuff. Sneaking around in back alleys is one thing, but tunnels into the bowels of the earth….”
Schultzie said, “I’m glad I’m used to your bickering and know it doesn’t really mean much. Otherwise I’d be going out of my mind right now with fear that you’d back out on me.”
“Yeah, I’ve treated you all right over the years. I grumble a lot, but I’d do anything for you. Isn’t it about time you reward ol’ Blotchie? And you’d enjoy it too. All you have to do is lay down on that table over there. I’ll take care of the rest.” He took off his wire-rimmed glasses and began to clean the alley dust off them with the edge of a red handkerchief.
For a moment Schultzie stood there motionless, just staring at him, and he had a sudden hope that she might actually be giving in. The thought gave him a heart palpitation; he did his best to not show any discomfort.
But then Schultzie said, “You know, as one friend to another, I have to break down and tell you that you’ve got the lousiest approach of any man that’s ever tried to come on to me.” Her face was serious and he knew he had at least sparked something in her; maybe that was progress. She continued, “I can’t help but contrast you–and I’m telling you this for your own good–with that man we saw out there in the parking lot.”
“Oh, yeah? You know him? I thought I felt some sort of reaction in you when he climbed out of the car.”
“Get off it–what reaction? But I do know him, and if you want to know the truth, he has a reputation for driving women wild.”
Blotch limped toward the table and chairs. “Maybe I should become a security guard.”
“He’s not a security guard–he’s a janitor.”
“Well, I’ll be goosed,” said Blotch as he faced one of the dusty chairs toward Schultzie and sat down. “Outclassed by a mere janitor. What’s this world coming to?…. Well, he’s young and good looking–too good looking to be a real man, I’d say.”
Schultzie hadn’t moved except to turn more toward Blotch, which indicated that she was pretty revved up about her lecture. “It’s true he’s good looking, but that has very little to do with his … his power over women.”
“Power over women,” echoed Blotch. “That’s pretty strong language, especially since men and women are supposed to be equal these days. And you like the idea of him having power over you?”
“I didn’t say he has power over me. But I know at least a dozen women at the facility, from secretaries to scientists–and some of them exceptionally attractive–who would hop into bed with him the moment he’d ask them.”
Blotch’s heart palpitation had passed and he was beginning to enjoy this sexual discussion with Schultzie. But the hard wooden chair was hurting his hemorrhoids. He shifted his weight to one side and said, “What do you mean? Doesn’t he ask them?”
Schultzie hesitated a moment. “Not as far as I know. But that’s not the point. The point is that he knows how to turn on women–and you don’t.”
Blotch tried to look nonchalant by leaning the old chair back on its hind legs, but it was difficult with his weight on one buttock. “All right, then, how does he do it?”
Schultzie thought it over. “By being the exact opposite to what you are. You feel like a constant threat. Gary makes women feel loved and secure. You’re rough and vulgar. Gary treats women not only like women, but like good people, with respect. When you look at a woman she starts to cringe, feeling her clothing being stripped away in your mind, but when Gary looks at a woman, those baby-blue eyes have nothing in them but gentleness and sincere concern.”
Blotch couldn’t help but burst out laughing, not that he was trying to restrain himself. “Well, Baby Blue Eyes sounds like a first-class wimp to me! Schultzie, you really could do better, you know, than to go gaga over this effeminate broom-pushing kid. After all, you’re a mature woman, and a renowned scientist at that. Shame on you! What all have you done with the little boy. You can tell ol’ Blotch, I won’t snitch on you.”
“Oh, shut up.” She finally relaxed from out of her stiff posture and walked toward the table and chairs where Blotch sat. “I haven’t done anything with him. But I see him and hear him every day, talking to other women–younger women. And they tell me about him and how they feel about him, and I can understand how they feel.” She sat down on the other chair, moving it so she was facing Blotch. She added, “I had a short conversation with him once, and even that was enough to zap me. But he still doesn’t know my name. And there’s no reason why he should. Anyhow, with his kind of attraction I’d rather not get too close to him.”
“Good girl. Now let’s see how close you can get to me.”
“Haven’t you learned a thing from what I’ve told you?…. Well, forget it. We’ve wasted enough time. Although there’s no deadline, the sooner we get this over with the better I’ll like it.”
“Okay, I’ll dust off the table.”
“Enough. We have to get back to business. If you knew what was down at the end of that tunnel you wouldn’t feel like joking, and you wouldn’t be thinking about sex.”
Blotch realized that his heart palpitation had been for nothing. If he was ever going to seduce Schultzie it wouldn’t be tonight, at least not before this subterranean adventure was over. He let his chair rest on all four legs. “Well, you’ll have to admit you’ve given me only a few crumbs of info about this … this Armageddon situation you’ve been hinting at. Why should I get excited?”
“I’m afraid to tell you more until you’ve seen it for yourself.”
“Because if you knew what was down there I’m afraid you wouldn’t want anything more to do with the whole thing … and I need you.”
“Schultzie! How can you say something like that? I may be a failure when it comes to scoring with you–so far–but you know I’ve never backed down on a good story.” He realized he was actually a bit angry with her now. “How do you think I got my reputation?…. Now give me some straight information. What the hell’s down there?”
“I’d rather show you,” insisted Schultzie, “but I’ll say this much. What’s down there means that our government could be destroyed and replaced in a single day, and the governments of the rest of the world all together in another day–maybe in even less time.”
“C’mon, Schultzie, who the hell else is there?–aliens from outer space?”
“Even more alien that that,” said Schultzie. She got to her feet and her gloved hand fished a small, slender flashlight out of her coat pocket. “Come on. I’m gonna get you down there while you’re good and curious.”
Blotch got to his feet, his bad knee torturing him. “It’s not some kind of disease, is it?”
“No,” she said, “I wish it was.”
She walked over to the light switch at the doorway through which they had entered and flicked it. The basement was in solid darkness for just a moment before Schultzie switched on her flashlight. The beam and its source moved by Blotch toward the opening of the tunnel. He followed.
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