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Leap Point

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Leap Point

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Author: Kay Kenyon
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 1998

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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In 2014, Medicine Falls is just another rural town with a dying economy and a way of life that has become increasingly irrelevant. The lure of the Net and virtual-reality games has replaced the malls and movie theaters. The hottest game of all is Nir--short for Nirvana--with its promise of escape into a world of addictive pleasures.

When Abbey McCrae's teenage daughter dies mysteriously, everyone calls it suicide. But Abbey believes it's murder, somehow connected to her daughter's addiction to Nir--and to the cultlike Dimension Institute, led by the charismatic Zachariah Smith. As more and more townspeople fall under Nir's spell, Abbey and a cynical detective uncover a horrifying conspiracy involving the game, the Institute, and the secret "guests" Zachariah Smith keeps at his ranch. And Abbey will learn that she alone can stop an alien threat that seeks to consume all of humanity....


November 10, 2013

They chose Medicine Falls for the Leap Point because it was average and unremarkable in every way--except for being just a little desperate. At the same time the town was isolated, twenty-five kilometers from the closest node of civilization.

Gazing up at the starry night sky, a typical citizen might remark how the stars were like diamonds sprinkled on velvet, or how bright the Milky Way was, far from city lights. Or a few odd ones might wonder if the sun was a twinkle in someone else's night sky at that moment. As, of course, it was. A signal fire. What some might call a lighthouse beacon.

But Medicine Falls didn't look up very often. Folks were preoccupied with alfalfa to be baled and shopping to be done. And at night most people gave themselves up to vids and the Net, never looking up.

Except for Rachel.

At the moment she was gazing up into the recesses of the station's ceiling far above, where a flaw in the roof metered out a slow plunk, plunk of melting snow.

Zachariah Smith followed her gaze upward, seeing more, immeasurably more, than the cracked and abandoned roof of the Lowell Street Rail Station. In his mind's eye he saw a bustling tide of shoppers and travelers under the brilliant station lights. The glory days of Medicine Falls revisited. The glory days of Zachariah Smith--lightning rod to the city's new jolt of life.

It wasn't the kind of life that most folks probably had in mind, but they were about to get it anyway.

"Can't you tell me what it is?" Rachel asked for the dozenth time. Her voice reverberated in the empty mall hall, with its row of dead viewscreen storefronts.

"It's a secret. Like I said." He kept his voice low, but the echo swooped out like a long, velvety tongue to snap up the remains of Rachel's question. The only other sound was the slap of their boots through the oily, tie-dyed water.

A spray of light bulged into human shape in front of them. "Say, neighbor," the promo holo said, causing Rachel to nearly climb up Zachariah's arm. "Does your cyberware compare?" The female image was wearing a short gel-fit, with tiny fish swimming through its transparent depths. She turned her forearm to display the glittering band of light nodes from her high-fashion cuff computer.

As the holo disintegrated, Rachel pushed at her hair, trying to force it back under her woolen cap. "My hair is crashed," she said, pressing for some compliment, perhaps. Poor dummy, to worry about her hair at a time like this, trying to compete with a holo, to trivialize what was about to happen. They passed the sagging remains of a food-o-mat, with its boxes full of desiccated pie and long-dead mildew. It wasn't the smell, but it was bad enough. He hurried her along.

Leaving the retail corridor, they entered the central rotunda. Here, the great domed ceiling loomed over them, with a few meter-long icicles marking the roof's slow leaks.

Rachel looked up at them dubiously, as though one might pick this very moment to come stabbing down.

Like most folks, she didn't know much of anything. But then, he had to admit, there was plenty he didn't understand, either. Like what they did with his donations. He succeeded in keeping that curiosity at bay, tucking it away in a little box to open later, if need be.

When, for instance, it was time to come back here.

Behind them in the mall area, another promo holo strobed in and out of life. For a fleeting moment it festooned their shadows out in front of them, across the glistening pond and up the far wall. Ghosts, Zachariah thought, the station is filled with ghosts. Ghosts of other Rachels, ghosts of past glory, the bustle of commerce, the piercing whistles of trains coming, trains going: Minneapolis, Duluth, Madison, Great Falls, Jackson Hole, Sioux City, and points beyond.

"Zachy..." Her voice wheedled at him....

He sighed and turned to face her. "Rachel, if you want to go home, just say so." He threw in a snappish edge to his best, creamy deep voice.

Her eyes turned flinty. "This place stinks," she said. "What if there's freakers here? What's so damn important, anyway?"

"Well, you won't find out unless you come look, will you?"

Another glance up at the toothy dome. "How far is it?"

Rolling his eyes, Zachariah took her by the arm, sloshing ahead. "The longer we stand under those things, the better chance there is of becoming a kabob."

"Zachy!" she giggled, in feigned delicacy.

If she called him that again, he'd slap her silly. Unwillingly, the image bobbed into his mind, of shutting up that high-pitched shred of a image he quickly subfiled out of sight. Violence was not his way. He was a healer, a Server. In truth, it wasn't Rachel that set him on edge. It was the smell.

And here it was again.

They entered a corridor leading out to the eastbound-train platforms. In this darker and more confining space, he felt Rachel stiffen slightly as he kept his hand on her upper arm. With a quicker step now, he pulled her along, their boots clicking on the tiles as they left behind the orange pond in the rotunda.

"What's that smell?" Rachel asked, stopping and planting her feet solidly.

"Could be a cat died or something." In fact, the smell was so thick he could taste it, as though he'd licked something foul. But Rachel was the sort who looked to others for validation of her own senses. "Guess you never smelled a dead cat before, eh Rachel?" he said, and she started on again.

Halfway down the concourse he stopped at a door, a door like all the others. "This is it. We'll just stay a second."

She placed her hand on the doorknob, and looked back at Zachariah irritably. "Are you coming?"

Well, no. Not that he was afraid. Ordinary people feared new things. That was the difference between them and him, between Rachel and him. He was pretty sure she'd throw a fit--probably fry her motherboard--in that room. No spirit of adventure, at all.

Rachel looked at him, and he nodded his encouragement.

She opened the door.

In that instant he shoved his hand into her back, just hard enough that she staggered forward into the room. Quickly, he slammed the door shut behind her, holding the doorknob firmly as Rachel banged on it from the other side.

"Zacheeee!" she wailed. Then: "Please Zachy," her voice soft and close, through the crack next to the doorframe. "It stinks in here."

Her uncanny, normal voice sent a little shiver over his scalp as he gripped the door handle, now twisting slowly first in one direction, then the other. For a few seconds he heard the sound of shuffling, and the soft scrape of her clothing against the door. Then:

"Oh..." Her voice broke into a surprised crack, and began ratcheting up in pitch. "Oh. Oh. Ohhh..."

He would have plugged his ears but the door needed holding shut, so he squeezed his eyes closed. But still he heard several rhythmic gulps of air, which might be Rachel, filling her lungs to accuse him...and then a thumping sound, and a brief, soft buzzing, like an insect incinerated in fire.

After a few moments the room grew quiet, and he opened his eyes.

Head pressed against the door, he was forced to pull that hot stench into his lungs while fighting to distill some oxygen. He pried his fingers loose from the molten door handle and waited for a semblance of calm. Then he slowly pried the door open and looked into the room.

A glint of light from the hallway struck the shattered faces of built-in computer wall displays. He stepped into the room, leaving white tracings in the fine dusting of ash as he walked. On the ceiling, a scorch the size of a tire surrounded the cracked globe of the overhead light.

Rachel was gone.

In the center of the floor lay a heap of oblong packets coated with long, waving tendrils that snapped as he touched them. He fumbled the packets into his knapsack. Then, looking up, he saw it, lying in a pile of glass near the wall: Rachel's wool cap, with a thread of steam rising from it.... Zachariah crammed the last few packets into the sack and stood swaying in place, eyes riveted on the hat.

"I'm sorry, Rachel," he said finally. Then the stench really did get to him, and he stumbled backward from the room, slamming the door and sprinting down the hall. At the main doors he sidled through the hole he'd cut, staggering out onto the old train platform, inhaling great gulps of searingly cold, sweet air.

Copyright © 1998 by Kay Kenyon


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