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an extract from the novel
by Jay Caselberg

"An adrenaline rush of a debut. Jack Stein is a dogged hero at the centre of a psychic mystery as dark and original as the setting of Caselberg's creeping Wyrmhole by Jay Caselberg (US edition)city. On this showing, Jay Caselberg is Philip K Dick gene-spliced with Raymond Chandler. Complex, layered, black as night, unputdownable."
Stephen Baxter

"A terrific read, combining all the elements of great science fiction: originality, speculation, and consequence. I'll be eagerly awaiting Caselberg's next book."
Julie E Czerneda

"Jay Caselberg weaves SF with mystery for a new spin on the PI genre. In a fluid, dream-like world where everything is changing, Jack Stein, psychic investigator, uses sharp edged dreams to solve a case of miners vanished off a distant planet. An adventurous romp of a first novel, Wyrmhole keeps you guessing. The Philosopher's stone and alchemy shifts into the digital age."
Wen Spencer


He boarded the shuttle along with a group of commuters, all leaving for home from one of the staggered shifts that operated throughout New. He shouldered his way past a group in conversation and settled into a corner seat in his usual favorite spot. He was only half watching the crowd; there was too much on his mind right now.

It had to be more than just luck that the particular clerk -- Gleeson, he'd said his name was -- should happen to be on duty at the very time Jack showed up to ask for the records. Just too convenient ... for Jack. And yet, Warburg had seemed to want to get rid of him as quickly as he could. But he hadn't missed a beat when Jack had asked for the personnel files. Normally companies were a little more sensitive about employee records. Maybe there was something to what the clerk had been saying. And the whole Ouroboros thing ...

Just as the shuttle's doors were about to close, someone forced their way between the closing doors. Jack caught the movement from the corner of his eye. There was nothing unusual about it; people did it all the time, but something about the man seemed familiar in the brief glance he'd snatched between the crowded bodies -- something that snagged at his memory, and from not too long ago. Well cut clothes, finally sculpted hair. He strained, trying to catch a glimpse between rocking people as the shuttle passed stop after stop. People boarded. People left. Still he failed to catch proper sight of whoever it was. By the time the shuttle had cleared somewhat, there was no sign of whoever it had been.

"Get a grip, Jack," he muttered to himself. Now he was finding things where there was nothing to find. He settled back in his seat and closed his eyes, running the tips of his fingers over the smooth-edged data card that sat in his pocket.

"Jack! Jack Stein!"

Jack's eyes snapped open. The shuttle had just drawn out from the stop and an emaciated figure was loping down the car toward him. The man was tall and thin. Hollow cheeks and sallow expression heightening his corpse-like appearance. A loose gray coat hung from his bony frame and his big tombstone teeth were grinning as he bore down on Jack's corner seat. Others in the car frowned or looked away uncomfortably as the man passed them. It was no wonder; he bore an almost palpable aura of the unclean. Pinpin Dan -- the last person Jack had expected to run into.

Pinpin Dan was another fringe dweller. He had talents for getting into places and things that people didn't want others to have access too. That made him popular in certain sectors of the Locality's community. They'd worked together once or twice when Jack had had need of the man's unique talents.

Jack nodded as Pinpin Dan collapsed into a heap of bones onto the seat next to him.

"So what are you doing up in New, Jack? Slumming it, eh?" Pinpin grinned a feral grin and gave a donkey's bray of a laugh.

It was not only Pinpin's profession that kept him on the fringes. His personal habits and predilections left a lot to be desired.

"Yeah, you could say that."

"Or are we up here wooorking?" He drew the last word out, loading it with special significance, and tapped the side of his nose, looking at Jack knowingly. Lank strands of graying hair plastered to the top of his head barely disguised his mottled scalp. He slumped back into the seat and scanned the other passengers. "So, which one is it?" he whispered. "Who's the subject?"

"No, nothing like that, Pinpin. I just came up here to get a bit of headspace."

"Yes, yes, yes. All right. Be serious with me, dear Jack. You never did have much of a sense of humor. So are you wooorking?"

"I've got a couple of things happening."

"Good, good. Good to hear that you're gainfully employed. And before you ask, you know me -- Pinpin Dan never wants for work. So, enough of that. I'm trying to remember when was the last time I had the pleasure of your company. How long has it been? It was ... " He held up long spatulate fingers and started counting. "Ah, never mind. Too long, dear boy. Too long." He grinned.

He scratched at his bony chest and peered around the car, giving a sniff. Jack watched him sidelong. Not only had he forgotten about Pinpin Dan, he'd forgotten how much he disliked the man. Probably why he'd never thought to ask how and when he'd acquired his peculiar name. Also probably why he was reluctant to ask what he was doing here. He'd likely been cruising the park, looking for -- no, Jack didn't want to know that. He narrowed his eyes, watching as Pinpin Dan unashamedly scrutinized their fellow passengers, each in turn.

Licking his lips, Pinpin Dan became bored with the car's occupants and turned his attention back to Jack.

"You must come and visit," he said. "Come and see my sumptuous new accommodations. I've moved on since last I had the pleasure of your company." He leered. "It really has been far too long, Jack. I have fond memories of the times we worked together. Now, wait just a minute. Here." He dug around in his coat and slipped Jack an iridescent card. Jack turned it in his fingers, watching the way the light sent shattered colors over the card's surface. "All the details are there. The card's readable too. No need to copy things down. So handy."

Jack slipped the card away. He'd noted the address as he did so -- somewhere up in the mid-range section of New. Pinpin Dan was moving up in the world. Somehow, Jack found the idea distasteful. Pinpin leaned closer.

"So, really," he said into Jack's ear. "You can tell me what you're working on. I'm always very interested in what you're up to, Jack."

Jack drew back from the hot fragrant breath in his ear and shook his head. "Not right now," he said.

"Ahhh. Never mind. You always did keep things close to your chest, Jack." The shuttle slowed and Pinpin glanced up. "Here's my stop anyway."

Pinpin leaned over to grasp Jack's shoulder as he stood, then leaned close. "Now, you come and see me, Jack. Catch up on old times." He grinned again, all teeth, tainted breath whispering in Jack's face, then loped off down the car. Jack closed his eyes, waiting till the shuttle had pulled out of the stop before opening them again.

Pinpin Dan. Visit Pinpin Dan? Not bloody likely. He fingered the hard edges of the card in his pocket.

It was peculiar running into Pinpin Dan after so long. He did the sums himself. It was well over a year since the last time he'd seen him. He scratched his chin thoughtfully. Things didn't happen by chance to Jack Stein. Coincidence was always loaded. First, his time in the military, then later, events seemed to coalesce around Jack, pushing him in directions he hadn't expected. People, places, events, chance happenings, all worked together to keep him alive and lucky. There'd been that time out on maneuvers when he'd twisted his ankle on a rock where no rock should be. The rest of the squad had gone on, leaving him sitting, cursing his own stupidity. Three minutes later, the point man, the one who had taken over from Jack, stepped on a mine, taking out half of the squad. After that, he'd been more aware of the sorts of coincidences that happened around Jack Stein. A chance meeting was invariably more than simple chance.

He'd be in a bar, just at the right time to overhear a conversation. He'd run into someone who would point him to someone else who just happened to be the key to solving a particular set of problems. The thing was, it always happened to Jack, not anyone else. As he became more aware, he started noticing patterns in his dreams. At first, he thought he was imagining things, the old déjà vu syndrome, but slowly, somewhat reluctantly, he realized that it was more than that, that Jack Stein was somehow different. He told no one about the dreams, but people had started to notice his peculiar prescience. Of course he denied it, even to himself at first until he could do so no longer, but things stacked up. Then he'd started to pay attention to the strange uncomfortable feelings that worked deep in his guts, warning him that something wasn't right.

No, things didn't happen to Jack by chance. So, why Pinpin Dan? He tugged at his bottom lip as he considered. None of the possibilities was very attractive. Not a single one of them.

...continues in the print edition

© Jay Caselberg 2003.

Jay Caselberg's Wyrmhole is published in October 2003 Roc in the US (ISBN 0451459490).

Wyrmhole by Jay Caselberg (US edition)
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