Edward Willett

Free Novel Saturday: Star Song, Chapter 1

 With this post I’m starting something new: a free, full novel, which I’ll offer one chapter at a time, every Saturday.

The novel is Star Song, a young adult science fiction novel that was the first thing I seriously tried to sell (which is why astute readers will find echoes of Heinlein in here, and more than a soupcon of Andre Norton)…and came oh-so-close.

Back then it was called The Minstrel, the same as the short story (which I posted a while ago) which is the first version of the tale. In the early ’90s, the late Josepha Sherman was editing for Walker & Co. I had sent her The Minstrel, and she had sent it back saying she liked it but she felt there needed to be several chapters added in the middle, where I’d kind of jumped over a considerable amount of time. I wrote new chapters, polished the whole thing one more time, and sent it back…and she still didn’t take it.

But, she told me later, and said publicly at the World Science Fiction Convention in Winnipeg in 1994, she had in fact been “ready to make an offer on it” when the publisher of Walker & Co. died, his son took over, and the son decreed that Walker & Co. would no longer publish science fiction.

And that was it. The book Josepha Sherman thought was good enough to be published never was: it never did find a home, and I haven’t even submitted it in years, figuring I’d need to re-edit it anyway after so long.

But enter the brave new digital age. I can publish it, myself, as I have The Chosen and The Haunted Horn, and at least a few readers might find it that way. There’s still the need to re-edit it, though.

Which is why I’m going to publish it serially here. Every Saturday, I’ll post another chapter, which I’ve freshly re-edited. When all the chapters have been posted here, I’ll have re-edited the entire book, and then I’ll put it together as an ebook and paperback and put it up for sale on Amazon and elsewhere.

But you get to read it first, for free.

Comments are welcome! What works, what doesn’t…I’d be happy to hear your thoughts. This isn’t necessarily the final edit, after all: this is still a work-in-progress.

Enough blather. Enjoy Chapter 1!

***

Star Song

By Edward Willett

Chapter 1

Kriss Lemarc swore, hopped once or twice, and finally sat down in the prickly dry grass by the roadside and pulled off his left boot, turning it over to dump out a pebble that must have magically migrated through the worn brown leather—he could see no other way something that large and sharp could have lodged under his heel. He pounded on the sole a half-dozen times just to be sure no other bits of gravel were lurking inside, turned the boot right-side up again prior to slipping it back on—and unexpectedly found himself thinking of Mella’s wrinkled hands, patiently working the heavy needle through the thick leather while she complained mildly about the way he seemed to outgrow each pair of boots almost before she could make them.

He ran a finger over the boot’s fine stitching, then roughly shoved his foot back inside it and stamped on the heel. Mella, and all his first sixteen years, lay dead and buried eight days behind him, beneath a fresh black mound of earth beside the trampled garden and the now-cold embers of the burned-out farmhouse. His future lay over that next ridge, a quarter of a mile away, and over an unknown number of ridges beyond that, until this road finally took him to Stars’ Edge. He should start walking again.

But the memory of Mella wouldn’t let him go; the memory, and the hurt it brought with it. The villagers, he thought yet again, for the thousandth or ten-thousandth time since he had set out on this endless road. It must have been the Black Rock villagers.

He couldn’t prove it; he had been miles away when the farm was looted and burned. But he knew—he knew.

He knew as surely as he had known that every time he went into Black Rock the villagers would stare at him, and whisper behind his back. “Offworld bastard…what did she bring him here for?…alien…not one of us…”

Kriss held up his hand, closed it into a fist. If only he were short and dark, like the natives of Farr’s World, instead of tall, blond and green-eyed. Maybe then Mella would still be alive.

But wishing changed nothing. He opened his hand, and angrily brushed away moisture from the corner of his eye. Crying wouldn’t help, either, and he had finished his that first night after Mella’s death. Now he had to think about the future…

Except, of course, his future was inextricably bound to his past. Kriss shrugged out of his backpack, lifted its flap, and took out a triangular bundle wrapped in white leather. Gently he undid the rawhide thongs that held the wrapping in place, and pulled what it had protected out into the sun.

Soft black wood gleamed; seven silver strings, stretched tight between two burnished copper plates, glittered in the hot light. Kriss ran loving fingers over the three gently curving sides and the smooth, swelling back, then rested the broad base on his legs, so that the slender neck rose by his left ear. As he touched the copper plates the strings shivered with cool, formless sound, like wind passing through ice-laden reeds on the verge of a frozen lake, and his spirits lifted. In his hands he held his future: the instrument which had once belonged to his parents, his only clue to their identity, passed on by Mella on his twelfth birthday, in the standard Earth years Mella had always insisted on. Since that day he had nurtured a dream he’d never shared with his guardian: a dream of striking out among the stars, and, by tracing the instrument’s past, finding the world he could truly call home, and whatever family he might still have there.

The strings whispered into silence as he lifted his fingers. Now, with no other choice, he had set out to fulfill that dream…and he would have given it up in an instant to have Mella alive again.

He carefully packed the instrument away, then stood and hoisted the backpack once more. He could not change the past, and the future he had mapped out for himself would never happen unless he made it happen. Sitting by the side of the road wasn’t going to do it. Taking a deep breath of warm, humid air, cinnamon-scented by the crushed telgrass, he set out again.

After only five steps he stopped as a flock of starklings rose, squawking, from a bright-orange stand of bushes. An instant later he felt a deep, rumbling vibration in the ground and air—a rumbling that swelled to a full-throated, crackling roar as a tiny, glittering needle leaped into view above the ridge, riding a pillar of bright fire. Kriss stared, head thrown back, as it dwindled skyward to a white-hot speck, then vanished, its thunder following. With it went all thoughts of his dead past, while his future narrowed to one goal: to get to the top of the ridge.

With sweat stinging his eyes and his heart pounding, his initial dash reduced to a stumbling trot, Kriss crested the ridge and at last saw his destination: Stars’ Edge, capital and only spaceport of Farr’s World, sprawling across a vast plain, huge, smoky, and more daunting than he had ever imagined. And at the very center, beyond the rough wooden buildings at the city’s edge, the tumbled structures of brick and stone further in and the handful of glittering glass towers, the slender spires of four starships shimmered like mirages under the hot sun.

Faced with his goal at last, Kriss suddenly felt very young and alone. His pack contained the instrument, enough bread and cheese for two skimpy meals, a half-full canteen, three quarter-feds, some clean clothes, a blanket, and a knife. It didn’t seem like much with which to challenge the universe.

But behind him lay only fire and death…a death, he reminded himself, he still had to report to the police. He tugged at his black leather vest in a futile attempt to unwrinkle it, tried to brush some of the dust from his shirt and pants with even less success, and finally wiped grimy sweat from his forehead, took a deep breath, and started down.

The turquoise native stormtrees gave way at the bottom of the ridge to green Earth wheat and corn growing in rich black soil, and the trail Kriss had followed so long joined another road that swept in from the north, bringing with it all kinds of people—on foot, on horseback, in wagons, and—

Something bright red roared past, so close Kriss jumped back, tripped, and rolled headlong into the muddy ditch alongside the road. He struggled back up the slippery slope, wiped his face with his sleeve, and stared after the disappearing vehicle. A groundcar! He’d heard of them from Mella, but he’d never thought to see one; complex machinery, electronics and other high-technology devices were enormously expensive on Farr’s World, because none were produced on the metal-poor planet. Kriss started forward eagerly. What other wonders might await in Stars’ Edge?

He soon found out; as he entered the outskirts of the city the road became more and more crowded. More groundcars passed, at more sedate speeds, plus massive transports and, most of all, people—more people than he had ever seen. With his offworld coloring and height and his rumpled, muddy clothes, he felt painfully conspicuous, but no one gave him a second glance. Within a few blocks he began to relax and enjoy a sensation that was new to him: anonymity.

Aside from the vehicles, Stars’ Edge at forst seemed to be just a larger, dirtier and much more crowded version of Black Rock—until, when he had already been walking long enough to have passed through Black Rock fifty or sixty times, the wood-and-plaster structures of the outskirts gave way to brick and stone shops and houses, and finally to big, blank-walled warehouses that seemed to close in on him, leaning over him threateningly. And then he rounded a slight bend and saw the spaceport.

Ignoring traffic, he dashed across the wide paved road that circled the vast landing field and clung to the high, wire-mesh security fence, relief at being again surrounded by open space mingled with awe at his first close view of starships.

Enormously tall, they soared even above the steel-and-crystal spires that housed the world’s government. Needle-sharp prows, blazing in the sunlight, swelled gracefully into curved, mirrored flanks that cast back sharp reflections of the city. The ships literally pointed the way to the stars—to his future. He gazed at them thirstily, with a silent promise that he would be on one of them when it left.

Then something much closer and smaller drew his attention: two men, just crossing the field, dressed alike in gray uniforms; two very tall and very pale men, who walked with a strange, fluid grace. Offworlders!

One of them looked up and saw him staring, and elbowed the other, who glanced Kriss’s way and laughed. Kriss flushed and turned away, the assurance he had felt a moment before gone like a pricked puffplant. He looked up at the impersonal government towers. He had yet to talk to the police, and the afternoon was half over. It would soon be night, a night he would spend alone and without shelter in a strange city.

One thing at a time. Maybe the police could help.

When at last he found the police tower, halfway around the spaceport, he ran up the imposing flight of steps—and stopped, staring at his mud-stained reflection in the mirrored surface of the door. He couldn’t blame them if they just locked him up.

Well, if they do, at least Ill have a place to spend the night, he thought. He stepped forward, and the door slid aside, taking his reflection with it.

On to Chapter 2…

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