Every Saturday I post a chapter or two of my young adult science fiction novel Star Song. Coming in in the middle? The whole thing starts here with Chapter 1 and an explanation.
By Edward Willett
Kriss entered the common room early the next morning to discover Andru already seated at the table by the window. The innkeeper motioned him over and, as he took a seat, said, “Someone broke into your room last night.”
His tone was even, but Kriss couldn’t help feeling he was being accused. He nodded, and Andru looked out the window, not exactly frowning, but certainly not smiling, either. Zendra emerged from the kitchen, and winked at Kriss as she set toast and hot oatmeal on the table. Then she strode briskly away to serve a yawning offworlder who had just come down the stairs.
Andru faced Kriss again. “Why?”
“All that money I made last night, I guess.”
“There are easier ways to steal fifty feds.” Andru picked up a piece of toast and Kriss hungrily followed his example. He hadn’t felt he could start eating until his employer did. “The amount is not as great as you seem to think,” Andru continued, buttering the bread.
Kriss chewed and swallowed and said nothing. After a moment’s silence, Andru said, “I must report this to the police. You will come with me.”
That concluded the conversation. After several more minutes of wordless eating, the innkeeper rose. “Come.”
Kriss gulped down his juice, grabbed the last slice of toast, and followed Andru’s broad, gray-clad back down the street, still chewing.
He told himself not to worry. He’d put his money somewhere safer, that was all. He had a job, a place to live, food to eat, and he was in Stars’ Edge, gateway to the galaxy. Why should an inept burglar trouble him? The police would track him down in no time.
Like they tracked down Mella’s killer? he thought, and between what that did to his mood and Andru’s dour appearance, more than one smile on the face of a shopkeeper out sweeping his sidewalk died as they passed on their way to the police tower.
Appropriately, the gray-haired dragon once more guarded the gates. If she remembered Kriss, she gave no sign. “Yes, sirs?”
“I’m here to report a break-in,” said Andru.
“Fifth door. Constable…” she glanced down. “Rico Barron. Second door on your left.”
“Come,” Andru said to Kriss, who followed him across the room, feeling a bit like a well-trained dog.
The white corridor beyond the fifth door was indistinguishable from the one that had taken him to Lieutenant Elcar, and Constable Barron’s office was identical to his colleague’s, except for a painting of a moonlit lake behind the desk and a potted fern in the corner.
Barron looked a lot like the homicide detective, too, Kriss noted…except Elcar had never smiled, he amended, as Barron rose, grinning, to shake hands with both of them. “Sit down, please.”
Feeling a sense of déjà vu, Kriss complied, but Andru remained stiffly upright. “I am here to report a break-in.”
“Indeed.” The constable tapped the glassy surface of his desk, and blue light glowed beneath it. “Name?”
“None.” Kriss glanced up in surprise, but the constable took it in stride.
“Andru’s. One nineteen, Boulevard C.”
“Ah, yes, the inn. And the boy?”
“Kriss Lemarc. Same address.”
Barran glanced down at the desk top and frowned. “You were here two days ago, Kriss.”
Kriss leaned forward eagerly. “Have you found something?”
Barron tapped once. “Lieutenant Elcar has filed his report. The investigators found the site to match your description, but could discover no useful clues so long after the crime. The case has been declared unsolvable and the investigation abandoned.”
Kriss leaped up. “You can’t do that!”
Barron spread his hands. “It’s already done.”
“But they killed Mella!”
“Calm down, lad. I’m sorry, but…look, our force is simply too small to waste effort on a hopeless case. And it is hopeless. We can’t track someone into the wilderness. All we can do is warn other residents in the area to be careful.” He sighed. “I know how unsatisfactory that must be for you, but there’s nothing to be done about it. The case is closed.”
Kriss slumped back into the chair and rubbed angry tears from his eyes with the heels of his hands. “What is this all about?” Andru growled, more to Kriss than to the constable, although only Barron answered.
“You’ll have to ask the boy, sir. Now, if you’ll give me your complaint…”
The innkeeper gave Kriss a hard stare before turning and telling the story crisply. Barron looked to Kriss when he was done. “You confirm this?”
He nodded, though he’d hardly been listening.
“I’ll send an investigating team. Anything else?”
“No,” Andru said, and turned to go. “Come,” he said to Kriss.
As he got up Barron rose, too. He met Kriss’s gaze. “I’m sorry, son,” the constable said softly.
Without a word, Kriss turned and followed Andru out.
On the front steps the innkeeper glanced at him. “Later you will tell me what that was all about, when I return from my business in the spaceport. I expect to be back at the inn by noon—see that you are, too.” He strode away.
Kriss sat down heavily on the bottom step and watched Andru thread his way through the people and traffic on the crowded street. He had been right; the police would do nothing about Mella’s murder. They’d closed the case.
But he hadn’t. He couldn’t. Losing Mella, and not knowing why…it added to the pain he had borne all his life, the hurt of not knowing who his parents were and how and why they had died, abandoning him on Farr’s World. Maybe Mella would have told him about them some day, but now she, too, had been cut out of his life.
He raised his head and looked at the glittering spires of the starships, pillars of light in the morning sunshine, tantalizingly near, yet inaccessible. His only hope for answers lay in space. Somewhere out there might be a planet where he yet had family—grandparents, uncles, cousins. Perhaps they could tell him about his parents. Someone had to know who they were, why they had come here, why they had died. He had to find out. How could he understand himself until he knew those whose love had formed him?
Somehow he had to get on one of those ships.
And then he saw the offworld girl, Tevera, coming through the spaceport gate—alone. He scrambled up, not really sure what he intended, and dashed across the road, spooking a horse and earning an angry shout from its driver. He ran up behind Tevera as she walked briskly along the perimeter fence.
“Hello,” he ventured after a moment.
The effect startled him. Tevera jolted to a halt, saw him, and gasped; then she quickly looked around, pointed across the street to a small alley and hurried toward it through a gap in the traffic.
Puzzled, Kriss followed, almost getting run over by a long black groundcar. “What’s going on?” he asked as he joined the girl in the shadowed street.
“What do you want?” she whispered furiously.
“I just want to talk to you—”
“Then where?” he snapped, annoyed. “You act like I had kilva plague or something…”
She hesitated, glanced anxiously into the street, then said in a rush, “I heard you play last night. It…I…I’d like to talk to you, too. But I can’t, not in the open like this. So…tonight. We’ll talk tonight, after you play, outside Andru’s. I’ll leave first, you follow a few minutes later. All right?”
Speechless, he nodded.
“Good.” She dashed away, back across the road. A rumbling cargo transport hid her for a moment, and when it was past, she had disappeared.
Kriss stepped out of the alley, shaking his head. None of that had made a bit of sense to him. But she had agreed to talk to him. His spirits lifted a little.
A big man with the dark skin but not the slim build of most Farrsians stared at him as he passed the spaceport gate on his way back to Andru’s. Thinking he had been at the inn the night before, Kriss nodded and smiled, but the stranger didn’t smile back. “Everyone’s a critic,” Kriss muttered, and forgot him.
Back at the inn, he asked Zendra how he could get his travel-stained clothes cleaned, and she showed him a special fixture in the little bathroom off his room. Fascinated by the way he could drop his filthy clothes in, press a button, and a few seconds later pull them out as clean as the day they were made, he almost wished he had more dirty clothes.
After the noon meal, Andru summoned him to his office and pointed him to the same straight-backed wooden chair in which he’d auditioned. “You know what I want to hear,” the innkeeper growled.
Shifting his weight frequently, unable to get comfortable, Kriss told his story. The innkeeper watched him steadily and impassively with his fathomless gray eyes. When he’d finished, Andru folded his hands on the desk and said, “I see no reason why this should affect your employment here. But from now on I will put your money in my safe. You may of course withdraw any amount from the total you wish at any time.” He paused, and his eyes narrowed. “Perhaps I should put your instrument there, too.”
“The touchlyre?” Kriss blinked. “You think that’s what he was really after?”
Kriss felt cold. It made sense, too much sense. Andru was right; fifty feds seemed like a fortune to him, but to a thief? He had to have been after something else, and what else of value did Kriss have but the touchlyre?
But he didn’t like the idea of being separated from it. “No,” he said. “I don’t want it locked up. I’ll keep it safe myself.”
“As you will.” Andru dismissed him.
Kriss climbed slowly to his room, where he lay on his bed and stared at the pattern of sunlight on the wall. All his life he’d had questions without answers, questions about his past, his parents, the instrument. Now he could add questions about why the cottage had been attacked, why Mella had been killed, why someone had broken into his room…and why Tevera was afraid to talk to him.
Always questions, never answers.
Maybe he would never have answers to some questions. But he intended to look for them anyway, beginning that night, because one thing he knew: some of the answers were locked in the stars.
And Tevera, he thought, just might be the key.