ZYGO: A NOVEL is a story of beginnings. The place is Zepher, a world of more than one world. It is home to Zack, but also to the zygo, a perilous and sometimes hungry beast who comes for him when he least expects it. Zack is a spy who never knows why he must do what he does. On one of his assignments, he meets Tracy, who is in a similar position, and together they make their way.
Inside this book...
The chapters of ZYGO, though not always consecutive positive integers, like 1, 2, 3, are nonetheless happily read in the order in which they appear.
The walls shake, as yet another round of pounding from a jackhammer operation in the early morning hours, a ruckus of a rattler with the words "creative writing" flashing off it in neon green spray paint, a rattler bouncing in the hands of a doughty girl in a smart tuxedo, vibrates the house, causing a majestic painting to fall off the wall, and in a way vaguely reminiscent of this run-on sentence, it lands, THUD!, upright and doesn't fall over. It is the painting of the Zygo such as you see on the cover of this book. I hung it a year ago this very day.
"Did you hear that?" I call to my cat Mincy. "This is madness. When the Zygo painting falls, it is written that a quirky story shall be written. But more importantly the prophesy says that when the painting of the Zygo falls, the Zygo himself or herself shall suddenly appear and eat you and me alive unless I am very clever. And then it is said, and we know this to be true, because it happened only last week in one of our alternate pasts, the Zygo will devour everyone else in the world, or as many as possible, before something or other drives her back to her den to hibernate. Last week we lost half of the world's population before she fell asleep. So a great wave of denial has spread across the land like a highly contagious flu, and most won't even admit that the Zygo exists, let alone take precautions to evade her. I fear we had better keep a very low profile."
No sooner do I finish speaking than the zygo crashes through the front door. Mincy and I only just barely make it out the back door and onto the recumbent bike. I pedal madly over the grass and through the back gate with Mincy in the basket.
In between other chancy escapes from the zygo, I look for work. I have to find a way into the club. It's not easy when your starting point is scrubbing floors, painting walls, doing laundry, answering phones, drafting correspondence, attending staff meetings, opening offices, closing them, waiting for antiquated computers to do something, stocking shelves, cleaning up messes, moving furniture, ordering supplies, assembling furniture, handing off paperwork, completing forms, completing training, training others, sorting mail, making travel arrangements, attending conferences. One figures one will remain office assistant and odd jobs help for the rest of one's life. But if you catch a break, one day you might find the company director grooming you for greatness. It's a far shot, and if you don't work your tail off, you don't stand a chance, but that's how it is.
Or maybe it's something else, such as a Tuesday when the jefe on U Street pulls out your resume from the pulp pile and taps it twice.
"Call him," he says to his office assistant.
The very next day I stand opposite Mr. Black, ready to do anything and everything.
"Do you speak Portuguese?" he asks.
"No. Yes. Via online translation tools."
"Have you heard of Clarice Lispector? Do you type, run errands, lift twenty pounds, and wear a wig?"
"Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No wig." I gamble that he wants to hear more. "Clarice. Brazilian literary genius of massive intellect. Unusually crafted prose. Characters constantly reflect on things existentially and go from one extreme to the other. Makes me squeamish when she talks sex."
"THAT'S THE ONE!" booms the master. "You're hired. No one else had a clue who she was. Stick close to me and you will go far. Unless I get clobbered. In which case, you too are herstory, more or less. Or at least you'll have to look for a new situation. You might not get another chance though. I understand it's hard landing a job these days."
"Quite," I say, horrified to hear myself air British-casual on U Street, Zepher.
I last half a day in the slot. When it becomes clear the jefe will only pile work on me until he crushes me flat, I say, "On second thought."
He loses no time, but takes me by the collar, and throws me, with my help, out the door.
I admit it straight away. My application lands me the spy job with surprisingly little effort. I must be a fool to start my best job yet with the Zygo on the way, but my imagination has the upper hand. When I sleep, I hear the heavy breathing of a hungry beast.
My wife Lacy punches me in the face and kicks me out of the house the morning of my first day at my new situation. You see, she doesn't like spies. I mean she doesn't like them A LOT. I have no idea why not.
Humor me a moment as I slip into past tense. You see, I had planned to lie about the job. But as I'm figuring out the details about how I'm supposedly a confidential law clerk in a law office, I absent-mindedly leave my cover letter for clandestine affairs on the kitchen table for my wife to discover. I arrive at the office in a bandage and displaying a doozy of a bruised eye.
The director of section Z intelligence puts down his newspaper when I enter his office, and starts without introduction. He says, "Your first detail is a care of broken loyalty. Be ready for every contingency. Enter the Hauser suite holding the purple sign askew. When the woman asks your name, decline to give it. Say it's for her own protection that you evade every question. Slam your fist on the table, shed a tear in pain. Ask the way to the toilet. Enter the w.c. and stand in the rainfall coming down through a hole in the ceiling. The hole you made five minutes before that nobody know about yet. Return to the affrighted secretary. Do not ask her name. You don't have to know why you must do these things, or what their significance is or is not. Just follow your nose."
So begins my new career, because in Zepher, we do things the Zepherian way.
I put the painting of the Zygo back on the wall. The Zygo comes, but spares me. She has me in her jaws, but suddenly loses her appetite. She promises she'll come again and devour me when I least expect it. She tosses me to the floor. It all happens so fast, I have no time to reflect on my past. I'm extremely lucky is an understatement. I get away with only cuts and abrasions.
In the beginning, my spy instructions include the reason behind what I'm to do in a word or two, such as a case of broken loyalty. But then the director stops giving reasons. He just says, "Go to Such and Such place and do Z, Y, and X."
An excerpt from ZYGO: A NOVEL.
Copyright 2022 by Pete O'Brien. All Rights Reserved.