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The Sudden Star [MultiFormat]
eBook by Pamela Sargent

eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: The appearance of a white star bathing the world in a deadly glare turns Earth into a nightmare of fear and death. Rape and murder are as common as suicide. Medical help is allowed only for certain diseases, and only the most resourceful and corrupt survive. Dr. Simon Negron dares to defy the medical code by giving insulin to a diabetic. His crime makes him a fugitive with only a young prostitute as an ally, a haunted man running for his life in a nightmare world of increasing madness. Published in the UK under the title THE WHITE DEATH.

eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, Published: 1979
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2012




ONE

Loren Rullman
* * * *

Death was in the nighttime sky. Loren Rullman tilted his head and gazed out from the corners of his eyes. Mura's Star, only a pinprick now, still shone. Loren remembered when it had been the brightest star: a sudden star which had appeared in the sky, pouring out energy in a white glare, bathing the earth in deadly light, changing life in a thousand subtle ways.

He turned away from the star and saw two people standing under the streetlight on the corner. Loren, seated on the curb, squinted at them so he could see them more clearly. The man wore a dark tunic and slacks; both garments fit him perfectly and had no rips or patches. His handsome face, with its straight nose, hollow cheeks, and large dark eyes, was framed by a mass of unruly black hair; his skin was pale gold. The woman was clothed in a long yellow robe. Her short brown hair was a stiff cap; her eyes were restless, roaming over the dancers who swayed and shook in the center of the street.

Loren was sure that they were rooftop people. They did not belong here. Their clothing marked them; it made them a target and yet protected them at the same time. Anyone robbing them might be shot by an unseen guard. Even so, the two were taking a risk. He wondered why they were here.

Losing interest in the pair, Loren began to watch the street dancers. There were seven of them, children fueled by dope and booze, sashaying and swaying to the music of worn drums and empty bottles. The musicians, nine young men in the center of the street, played a monotonous, rapid beat: tum-DUM-tum-dum on the drums, ping-ping-ping on the bottles. Loren's old bones ached as the children danced past him, their feet pounding against the broken pavement. There were plenty of fools like them, he thought, kids who wanted to be screen dancers or holo bodies, hoping for talent buyers to find them.

Suddenly one of the children whirled away from the others and began to dance alone. She spun on one foot as her red hair whipped around her head. She leaped high into the air, flipping backwards, then circled the others, who had now stopped dancing and only swayed, watching her. For a moment, Loren could almost believe that she might one day dance on a screen before the entire city.

He had not expected to live in such a world. He could remember when there had been no Mura's Star. He counted the years in his mind, almost losing the chain of numbers; seventy-five years. It must have been that many, for he had been six years old when Mura's Star first appeared.

Named after the astronomer and astrophysicist Miriamne Mura, the star had at first been an aesthetic delight and the subject of numerous papers. Mura had been the first to spot the new pinprick of light which had blossomed and had come to dominate the heavens, visible even during daytime. She was also the first to declare publicly what the star was: a white hole spewing light toward the earth. Somewhere in the universe, a dying star had collapsed, becoming a black hole, opening a tunnel through space and time, and at the end of the tunnel, light-years from the earth, the white hole had shone brightly. It had been an omen.

Loren had lived to see the quiet world of his childhood disintegrate. He had been a good student then, dreaming of a career in law. His legal training had become obsolete. He had survived because he had a quick mind and good health.

He sighed. He was old and weak now, almost unwilling to struggle any more. It was more difficult to supplement his food ration by foraging and stealing. The doctors at the public hospital had muttered about his cataracts and turned him away, unwilling to spend time on a man who could not live much longer. Loren had lost track of his children long ago.

Loren's stomach rumbled softly. He could not remember when he had last eaten. The day before, he had been unable to stop thinking about food; now he had almost no appetite. The redheaded girl still danced, leaping and spinning around on one foot. Laughing suddenly, she turned and ran down a side street. The other children, as if unwilling to risk comparison with her, did not resume their own dancing. The band, after a few more halfhearted beats, stopped playing.

Someone coughed nearby. Loren turned slightly and saw a skinny figure staggering down the street. Two of the children skipped stones near the figure's feet until it stumbled and fell.

I wish I had never seen this world, Loren thought. He had lost control of his own life as the society around him crumbled. Mura's Star, appearing in the year 2000, had welcomed the new century. Twenty years after its appearance, Loren, just out of law school, had begun work on the staff of an ambitious congressman. Ten years later, he was a go-between for New York's mayor and the heads of various gangs who had parceled out control of the streets among themselves. Loren, able to get along with the gang leaders, many of whom had pretensions to literacy and culture, rationalized his work; his young wife, Alma, was a frail, nervous woman, who needed to be protected from the chaotic world around her. Forty years after the appearance of Mura's Star, Loren, a bystander, had been swept up by police trying to stop a riot. He was in jail for several months before the authorities managed to get him out. A few years later, after Alma's suicide, he had managed to get his two sons papers that would allow them to immigrate to the Midwest before he was arrested and thrown into prison during a political power struggle. He had survived the prison work gangs and, after his release, lived by doing odd jobs for some of the gang leaders he had known.

Now he was too old even for that. He lived in a hallway and got handouts from those who needed someone who could read and write. If the light was strong and he looked out of the sides of his eyes, he could manage. He had never heard anything from his sons.

Loren sat on the curb, trying to summon enough strength to get up and go back to his hallway. In a few hours, it would be morning, and impossible for him to sleep through the noise of the hallway traffic. For a moment, he had a vivid picture of a careless passerby striking him on the head and bringing about Loren's painless death. That would be best, he thought.

Suddenly one of the children was in front of him, weaving uncertainly. Someone grabbed him around the neck and he heard a childish giggle. The boy in front of Loren said, OStick your fingers around him, like this.O He made a wringing motion with his hands. A little girl was rummaging through Loren's pockets.

The old man was afraid. This was not what he wanted--dying in the streets at the hands of these children while others looked on. Loren would have to live through this, too, the way he had forced himself in the end to live through everything else. He pushed the girl away, then grabbed the hands around his neck, freeing himself from their grip. Two more children ran up and poked him painfully with sticks. He heard a rip; one stick had torn his shirt. OBlow away, blow away,O the boy in front of him yelled. Loren heard a sharp slap.

The boy reeled away from him. Loren struggled to stand and felt a blow on the side of his head. He was suddenly dizzy. He fell again to the curb, unable for a moment to move.

The children ran into the street. Loren looked up and saw his deliverer, the well-dressed, dark-haired man from the rooftops. The children had not risked attacking the man. He watched Loren, averted his eyes, then began to turn away. His yellow-robed female companion grabbed his arm.

"Cet come ira," she said in a low voice. The dark-haired man pushed her away. She moved closer to Loren, motioning to him with her hand.

"Come with us," she said in rapid, accented tones. "Simon is a doctor, he will help you." Her eyes gazed past him as her hands clutched nervously at his sleeve.

"No," the man said.

"Yes." She helped Loren up. He swayed a bit, still dizzy. His left arm was numb. He tried to flex his fingers and failed. "He's half-dead already," the woman went on. Loren felt fearful of the pair. He tried to pull away and fell against the woman. Her strong hands held his right arm. "Come with us," she insisted.

Her companion shrugged. They began to walk down the street, Loren shuffling, unable to move his feet more than a few inches at a time. "We will give you some food, eh?" the woman continued. "You are hungry, are you not?" She laughed.

Loren looked at her. Her frantic, wide-open eyes seemed familiar. He tried to remember and finally called up the image; she had Alma's eyes.

"I love you," Alma had said once before trying to plunge a knife into his chest. "I love you," she had said again after her release from the hospital. He had found her dead body two hours later on the bathroom floor.

For a second, Loren thought that this woman had said the same words.

He shook his head. She gestured with her free arm, waving it toward a nearby building. "It is not far," she murmured.

Exhausted now, Loren thought only of food and rest. He wanted to sleep in a bed, in a room where he would not hear shouting, footsteps, arguments, and the rumbling of tanks in the streets, where he would not smell piss, sweat, and the grease which cooked bad food. He looked up at the building toward which the woman had gestured. Above it, he saw the light of Mura's Star.


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