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Young Adult Fiction General

From the Street to the Stars

by (author) Edward Willett

Publisher
Shadowpaw Press
Initial publish date
Jun 2020
Category
General, General
Recommended Age
12 to 18
Recommended Grade
7 to 12
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9781999382728
    Publish Date
    Jun 2020
    List Price
    $19.95

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Where to buy it

Description

Short-listed for the Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award

An Our Choice selection of the Canadian Children's Book Centre

After a lifetime of sleeping in alleys and flophouses, Kit’s musical talent is discovered, and he is remade into Andy Nebula.

Well-fed, content with a warm bed and contract, Andy begins to wonder why every previous “Sensation Single” star was a flash-in-the-pan. Little does he know that the answer lies with the off-world Hydras and their taste for music and flash, a drug forbidden to humans...and that he is their next fix.

Originally published as Andy Nebula: Interstellar Rock Star, this exciting outer-space teen adventure has been completely revised by the author for this new edition.

About the author

Edward Willett is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction for all ages. He won Canada’s top science fiction award, the Aurora Award, for Best Long-Form Work in English in 2009 for Marseguro (DAW Books); the sequel, Terra Insegura, was shortlisted for the same award. Other science fiction books from DAW include Lost in Translation, The Cityborn, and the upcoming Worldshaper (September 2018), which will launch a new series. He’s also the author of the fantasy novels Magebane (written as Lee Arthur Chane) and the Masks of Aygrima trilogy (written as E.C. Blake). Other titles include the five-book Shards of Excalibur series for Regina’s Coteau Books, and the young adult fantasy Spirit Singer, which won the Regina Book Award at the 2002 Saskatchewan Book Awards. Ed began his career as a reporter, photographer, columnist, cartoonist, and eventually editor for the Weyburn Review, then spent five years as communications officer for the then fledgling Saskatchewan Science Centre. He’s been a fulltime freelance writer (and actor and singer) for twenty-five years. His nonfiction runs the gamut from science books and biographies to local history. He lives in Regina with his wife, Margaret Anne Hodges, P.Eng., their teenaged daughter, Alice, and their black Siberian cat, Shadowpaw.

Edward Willett's profile page

Excerpt: From the Street to the Stars (by (author) Edward Willett)

Chapter 1: An Unexpected Roommate

Cold wind lashed my face. Cold rain dribbled down my back. My fingers throbbed like I’d slammed them in a door, my toes squished in my waterlogged boots, my throat felt as rough as rusty iron, and my nose was both stuffed up and dripping, but I kept playing my beat-up stringsynth and singing the best I could. My open case barely held enough soggy cash for a mug of red-bean stew, much less a bed in Fat Sloan’s flophouse, and I didn’t fancy a night on the streets in this weather.

But the few people who splashed by me on their way into the tube station had eyes only for the dry warmth promised by its flickering blue holosign, not for a skinny, ragged streetkid.

That did it. I broke off in the middle of a soulful, wailing note—it was threatening to turn into a cough, anyway—and flicked off the stringsynth. If I’d sunk to feeling sorry for myself, it was time to lift. Feeling sorry for yourself is just another way of saying you think somebody else ought to be taking care of you. First thing I’d learned after escaping the orphanage seven long years ago was that I was the only person I could trust to take care of me.

I fished the thin, dripping handful of feds out of my case, counted them, and shook my head. Sometimes I can’t even trust myself. Unless I could talk Sloan into a discount, it looked like I’d have to settle for a mug of stew and a night of shivering.

Lightning flashed, thunder quick-marched across the sky, the rain beat down even harder, and I decided to give Sloan the chance to be generous. None of the nearby hidey-holes I knew would be any good at all in this kind of weather—they were mostly under bridges or in burned-out basements, and I knew from experience that if they weren’t flooded yet they soon would be. Besides, on a night like this the free spaces would be crawling with rats, both the kind that squeak and the kind that run around on two legs. I could wake up stripped naked and robbed blind—I knew that from experience, too.

Or, I might not wake up at all.

I put my instrument into its soggy case (my ancient, all-metal stringsynth was impervious to rain), slung it over my shoulder onto my back, and started down the street—but I stopped at the first corner and looked back, feeling a strange itch between my shoulder blades.

Under the tube-entrance holosign stood a man in a long black weathercoat, the expensive kind that repels raindrops a full metre in every direction. I ducked out of sight. Can’t be a ’forcer, not with that coat, I thought, but that wasn’t a comfort. The Fistfight City peaceforcers generally treated me all right. Sure, they’d chase me away from a place if they got a complaint, but they didn’t say anything when I went back a couple of weeks later. But lots of other people took an interest in kids on their own. I had my music, but a lot of kids had nothing but themselves—and they still had to eat.

Some were on the next street over. They stood in purple-lit doorways, watching for the occasional slow-moving wheeler or talking to shadowy figures uncomfortably like the man in the weathercoat. As I splashed past one of the doorways I heard a man cursing, and the sound of a hand meeting flesh, then muffled sobs that broke off as a door slammed.

Nobody on the street took any notice. They wouldn’t pay any more attention if that guy in the weathercoat grabbed me, I thought, and broke into a run, ducking into the next alley. Several twists and turns later I arrived at Fat Sloan’s, out of breath and shivering. I pushed through the heavy front door into the sour-smelling warmth of the lobby. A man lay unconscious on the shiny, lime-green couch—but only one. Slow night, I thought.

Fat Sloan deserved his nickname. A mountainous bubble of bloated flesh, he must have moved off the stool behind the counter sometime, but I’d never seen it and found it hard to imagine. He smiled at me, yellowing teeth showing briefly between pendulous lips. “Young Kit! What a surprise.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “You know I berth here when it’s hydrating, gladeye.”

Sloan spread his hands and shrugged, which made his neck disappear in rolls of fat. “Busy night, Kit. You want a room, you’ll have to share it.”

I held up my money. “I’ve got feds for a single.” I didn’t even have feds for a double, but he didn’t have to know that yet. Maybe I could get him to knock down the price.

“Maybe, but I haven’t got a single to give you.”

“No flashman roomie for me, Sloan!”

“Kit!” Sloan, attempting to look shocked, put one hand in the general vicinity of his heart. “Would I do that to you? This…fellow…is a perfectly respectable freespacer. He’s just between ships at the moment. And I know he’ll be happy to meet you.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. I remembered the street with the purple-lit doorways. “No street-trade either, Sloan.”

“Would I even suggest such a thing? This is a legitimate establishment.”

Sure it was. “Then what’s his interest?”

“He told me he likes music, wants to meet a musician. Didn’t know you’d be in tonight when he said that, but here you are. A match made in heaven.”

Huh. I still didn’t like it—but thunder rattled the door, and rain—or was that hail?—rattled on the window, and the truth was, I’d always wanted to talk to a spacer. If I were ever going to escape this interstellar slimepit, I needed a space-friend. And if he really is interested in music…

I didn’t let any of that show on my face. If Sloan knew I was actually intrigued, I’d never talk his price down. “Still comes down to economics, Sloan. Fewer feds for a double.”

He shrugged. “So sleep in the street.”

I put a little wheedle in my tone. “Come on, Sloan, flexibilize for your old gladeye.”

He squinted at me for a moment, then grunted. “All right. For you, ten percent off.”

“Forty.”

“Kit, synchronize with reality. It’s raining. I’m a businessman—supply and demand. High demand right now, low supply. Fifteen percent.”

“Thirty.”

He shook his head. “No deal.”

“Nominal with me. I’ll REM in the street—and spread the data you’re defunct.” I turned toward the door.

Sloan laughed, a remarkably unpleasant sound. “All right, Kit. Tell you what—twenty-five percent off. Just for you.”

“Orbital, gladeye.” I turned back to the counter and paid him, then tossed a couple of extra feds his way. “And add a mealpac to the program.” With the discount, I could actually afford to eat.

“Sure.” Sloan reached under the counter, pulled out a keyrod and a mealpac, and slid both across the stained countertop. “Room 206. Knock first. I told your roommate he’d probably be having company, but you don’t want to surprise a freespacer. He might cut you in two and regret it later.” He snickered. “Or he might not even regret it.”

“Worthless data, gladeye.” As if I’d be stupid enough to burst in on any stranger. How did Sloan think I’d survived this long?

I turned toward the stairs, but Sloan wasn’t finished. “Oh, one other thing, Kit.”

I glanced back. “Yeah?”

“Someone else was asking for you. Not just a musician. You, specifically. Man in a weathercoat. Looked like a high-power meatman to me.” He grinned. “Sleep well.”

“Not after seeing those teeth,” I shot at him.

But as I climbed the stairs, my gut clenched. I’d been approached by street-level meatmen before; I told them “no,” and they lifted. But if one of the herd-owners had his eyes on me...

And the guy in the weathercoat had been asking about me the same day this freespacer showed up at Sloan’s asking about musicians? As I reached the dim and grimy second-floor corridor, I could almost feel the jaws of some hidden trap closing on me. Maybe I should take my chances on the street after all…

But the window at the end of the hall lit up with lightning, thunder crashed and rumbled, and wind howled, and I shook my head. I’m inside. I’m warm. I’m dry. And it could all be coincidence. I’d just be careful. Really careful.

I found Room 206 and stopped outside the door, listening. There was plenty to hear elsewhere in the flophouse: a man and a woman screaming obscenities somewhere; the latest Sensation Single pounding from the next room down the hall. I grimaced; I hated that pre-packaged fluff. But I could hear nothing from Room 206. Was that a good sign or not?

I took a deep breath, then knocked.

“Who’s there?” said a voice, and my eyes widened. Sloan had said the spacer was a man, but the voice was soft, high-pitched—like a woman’s!

I grinned. Things are looking up! “Your roommate,” I said.

“Come in,” said the feminine voice.

I stuck the keyrod into its port and, as the door swung inward, stepped through—

—and then jumped back out again, tripping over my own feet and falling on my butt with a thud. I pushed myself backward, crablike, until my stringsynth case pressed hard against the wall.

Two purple eyes on moist reddish-orange tentacles slid around the edge of the door and focused on me. A third eye joined them. “Are you unhurt?” said the voice that had told me to enter.

I found my own voice. I also found I couldn’t do much with it. “I—I—”

“My name is...” The creature made a noise like tearing metal. “In your words...Water that Falls from the Sky?”

“Rain?” I croaked. I resolved to kill Sloan.

“Yes, Rain! Like what it is doing outside.” A fourth eye rounded the corner, and then the entire creature.

Picture a stalk like a plant’s, reddish-orange and dotted with irregular patches of silver and gold. Give it four insect-like legs, positioned equidistantly around the stalk, so it can move instantly in any direction. Top the stalk, about four feet up, with eight writhing tentacles, four of which end in the purple eyes that had been the first thing I’d seen. Add a mouth at the tentacles’ base and breathing slits in the stalk that slowly open and close with a wet sucking sound, and you have my roommate. “You’re a hydra!”

“That is what your race calls us, yes.” The alien sounded slightly miffed. “We would prefer you to call us...” It—I didn’t know if it was male or female—shrieked something well above high C.

“Not since my voice changed,” I muttered.

“What?”

“Uh—nothing.” I remembered I was sitting on the floor and scrambled to my feet. Fat Sloan’s floors were nothing you wanted to sit on for long—or short, for that matter. “I’m sorry I yelled. Fat Slo—uh, the man who runs this place told me I’d have a roommate, but he didn’t tell me he’d be—uh, one of you.”

“Ah. Well, certainly I have the advantage of you there, for I did expect that my roommate would be human.” Although the hydra’s voice had that odd, almost feminine timbre, its Fedspeech was easy to understand, perfectly unaccented. “Won’t you come in?”

“Uh—yeah. I mean, thanks.” Clutching my synth and my mealpac to my chest, I edged into the room. The hydra made room for me, but not very much, and I dreaded the thought of bumping up against one of its—

I jumped as it laid a tentacle on my arm. Its orange skin felt very warm and slightly moist. “Your pardon,” the hydra said. “I believe it is a human custom to exchange names. I’ve told you mine; you are...?”

“I’m called Kit,” I said, a little breathlessly.

“Kit? Do not humans usually have two names or more?”

“I don’t.” I looked around the dingy little room. There was only one bed, but the hydra wouldn’t use one, anyway.

I hoped.

“Is that usual?” the hydra said.

I tossed my stringsynth case on the bed and sat down beside it, then undid the laces on my left boot, wriggling my toes and hearing squelching sounds as I did so. “Most people have an individual name and a family name, but I don’t have a family. My parents abandoned me when I was a baby.” I pulled off the boot with rather more force than was necessary. “The orphanage didn’t give me a name, just an ID number. I was supposed to choose my own name when I was twelve, local. In the meantime, they called me by a ‘pre-name’—Kit.”

“But surely...I am not a good judge of human ages, but surely you are older than twelve now.”

I attacked the right boot. “Yeah, I’m fifteen, local—something like sixteen or seventeen, in Earth years—but I left the orphanage when I was ten, and I’ve had other things to worry about. Kit’s good enough.”

The hydra—Rain—said nothing, though its tentacles continued to move slowly. They made me queasy, so I stood up and went to the wash basin in one corner of the room, where I dumped the water from my boots. The rough towel Fat Sloan provided wasn’t all that clean, but it was dry. I took off my coat, vest and two shirts; hesitated, then shrugged, stripped off the rest of my wet clothes and began rubbing myself dry. Being naked in front of a stranger hardly seemed to matter when it was a multi-tentacled alien who wasn’t wearing any clothes itself. (And yet, I still didn’t know if it was male or female—how could you tell?)

Rain spoke up again abruptly. “What is in this?” In the cracked mirror I saw the hydra lay one tentacle on my synth case.

“It’s a stringsynth,” I said. “A musical instrument.” I towelled my tangled hair furiously. “I’m a street musician.”

“A musician! A human musician!” All four of Rain’s eyes focused on me suddenly. “I have been hoping to meet one! I am honoured!”

I wrapped the towel around my waist. “Well, that’s a first.” Great. I finally get a groupie, and it’s an alien.

“Musicians have great prestige in our society.” Rain caressed the synth’s case. “And we admire human musicians especially. Your vocal apparatus is limited, but you create melodies we have never dreamed of—and your harmonies...! I am honoured, indeed.”

I shook my head. “I’m just a streetkid with a beat-up old stringsynth. You’ve got nothing to learn from me.”

“You are wrong, Kit. I have already learned much from you. I will choose to keep much of it.”

Whatever that meant. “So, you know who I am. What about you?”

“What would you like to know?”

I reached for the mealpac and pulled its tab; the rich, nose-stinging odour of peppered greenfish steamed out of it, making my mouth water. “Well, first of all…if you don’t mind my asking…are you male or female?”

His tentacles waved. “You really can’t tell?”

“No.”

“I am currently male.”

“Currently?”

“We cycle among three sexes as we age. All hydras you see in Earth space are male. Neither our gender-neutral younglings nor our much-honoured female elders leave the planet.”

Okay, then. At least I’ll know next time I meet a hydra. I dug into the stew. “And what are you doing in Sloan’s flophouse?”

“Flophouse?” Its—no, his, at least for now—tentacles waved. “What is—?”

“Hotel.” I gestured at the yellowing walls with my spoon. “This place.”

“It is as I told Mr. Sloan: I am a spacer, but I am between berths. I came here to enjoy new experiences.”

I’d just taken another mouthful of stew, and I almost choked on it. “You mean you’re here—in Fat Sloan’s—as a tourist?”

“I believe that would be an accurate—do you need assistance?”

I swallowed before I gagged on laughter and fish broth. “No, no, I’m fine. Rain, if you want new experiences, stick with me. I’ll show you a side of Fistfight City you can bet your—uh—bottom you’ve never seen before.”

“Thank you!” Rain crowed. “I am in your debt, Kit. Will you also play some of your music for me?”

“Count on it.”

Thunder shook the room and the wind shrieked through a crack in the window, but I was warm, dry, and eating. In my life, I’d learned not to ask for more than that.

Of course, as my roommate proved, sometimes we get things we don’t ask for.

Editorial Reviews

“The action in Andy Nebula moves along at a cracking pace and the characters are well-drawn…Andy Nebula is fast and furious enough to keep even reluctant readers turning the pages, and young teen fans of fantasy and science fiction will not be disappointed.” – John Wilson, Quill & Quire

“… gritty and clever…Willett tells a fast-moving tale that has plenty of colour. He wastes few words and presents some good characterizations…All in all, a worthy addition to a young reader’s shelf of SF books.” – A. L. Sirois, SF Site

“It’s the combination of the familiar with the speculative that lifts Andy Nebula above the crowd…From page one we know we are in another time and place thanks to Willett’s deft and never-faltering use of a convincing invented slang…. There’s a whole lot of story packed into the 166 pages of this trade paperback…Get one copy for yourself, and another for a young person.” – Donna Farley, NCF Guide to Canadian Science Fiction and Fandom

“Willett writes in a humorous and flamboyant style not unlike an old-style detective novel…The novel is fast and exciting with lots of action. It also involves broader themes like differentiating between the authentic and the contrived, values and measuring success, drug addiction and tolerance between species…The writing is trim and humourous but far from vacuous. This book is fun to read. Kids will like it, too.” – Jocolyn Caton, The Regina Sun

Other titles by Edward Willett