Novel by Jon Batson
When Starwort Bacchus finds herself running from her landlord, skipping out on the rent, she jumps aboard an automatic repair vessel and hitches a ride to the next port. But the search for her father’s legacy, the inheritance her uncle nearly decimated, takes her to planets where friends and enemies are hard to identify, and her best ally is a computer. With a pocket full of “Universals” and a ceramic blade strapped to her thigh, she travels the darkness looking for a home. Instead she finds a growing list of places she cannot go to again, including a place she has never been – Earth.
Midnight Whistler Publishers, LLC; (October 1, 2014)
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Adventures of a Space Bum: Book 1 – Starlost Child
Call me Starwort, my parents did.
They could have said it in French, Astére, or in the original Latin, Aster, but then, that would have implied planning. I was, like the small aquatic weed, an afterthought.
As a rose is for beauty and an olive is for peace, the Starwort, genus Stellaria holostea, is for afterthought.
That was me: unplanned. But then, planning was not a great part of my life, then or now. I hadn’t planned on finding no work, hadn’t planned on my previous employer not paying me and I certainly hadn’t planned on the landlord demanding the rent one way or the other, necessitating my sudden departure by way of the window.
It was only a single room and only for a few months. My time on Copernicus was an experiment to try staying in one place for a while. Who knows? Maybe I might meet a guy, have a romance, save some money, make a life. But the cold season found me still broke, climbing out of the window just ahead of the authorities, with one small bag and a grub-toter, headed for the free-dock and hoping to catch a transport out.
As I sat, straddled the window ledge, one foot in and one foot out, I questioned why I was bringing any of this stuff with me. I suppose one has to have something. One just cannot go into the world with nothing at all. I was a girl, for Achelous’ sake! Girls need things. The accumulation of stuff marks humanity as different from the rest of the life forms of the universe.
This thought filled my head as I tumbled, unladylike, out of the window onto the multi-colored tiles of the dwelling complex.
Only humans collect things as they go, like bits of metal to a magnetized deck plate. Sure, there are some strange races we have heard of on Horus-Prime or Shu, some wild beasts on the outer planets, where men do not go, who gather and keep things, but when a bird flees her nest, she takes nothing with her.
And yet there I was, a frightened little bird, skittering along the tiles wearing two of everything, carrying a bag of collected junk and my next meal.
Of course, the constable leaning out of my window above me also had things: he had a large club, a nasty-looking pistol and a set of shiny manacles dangling at his belt.
“If I am slow,” I thought, “he will make them a present to me.”
Dropping first to the trash receptacle, then to the alley, I looked back to see the constable gone from the window, which meant he ran headlong down the stairs, shouting to the others and reassuring the landlord, “We have her now!”
Left, right, each seemed equally unattractive, but a decision had to be made. Up!
Despite a full skirt, I climbed the trellis on the other side of the alley, onto the flat roof of the store and over to the next. A short drop found me on a freshly tarred surface. “Not good!”
There was a temporary walkway erected so workmen could lay the tar. I grabbed the rail and pulled myself up before my boots could sink too far for retrieval. Shouts came from the alley below as uniformed constables pushed past those merely living their lives in peace and therefore in the way.
It was a short sprint to the rear of the store. The scaffolding was still there but the workmen had yet to arrive. I clamored down, watching for the searchers who had me as their sought-after prize, and onto the street.
The crowd was just starting to thicken as people came out of their dwellings and into the market square. Partly to blend in and partly because it was getting warmer, I removed my outer coat and threw it over my arm, lining out, covering my grub-toter. My lighter coat beneath was deep red.
“Be the chameleon, changing at need,” said Thummin, the thief who stole me from Lars, my boyfriend in Miletus, and kept me in grand style for two months. The day he got drunk and hit me was the day I broke his jaw and sped away in his Osiris VI. He loved that hover-craft!
But I had to shake off the memory, unbidden and occupying my attention; I was running for my very life. Visions of old lovers would have to wait.
The large, feathered hat I grabbed out of vanity was easy to spot, so I dropped it casually onto a passing cart filled with Dodonas. The paste-filled wraps were completely lacking in flavor as well as nutrition, so I didn’t eat them. They looked like giant snails lying across the table.
“Too bland for my taste,” I reflected, remembering the hot, spicy wraps I could not pronounce in the seaside village of Cybele. My friends called the red-hot treat ‘Phoenix,’ for we rose from its ashes. I wore that hat then.
With one last look at my beautiful chapeau as it rode down the cobbled road on the bouncing cart, I turned to wend my way through the crowd toward the free-dock.
As the crowd thinned by the ports, I heard a cry behind me.
“There she is!” It was the unmistakable yowl of the landlord, always screeching at his wife, his daughter, his lazy son, the dog – whoever was near and therefore offending. I got the distinct impression he was not happy in his life. He therefore had to see no one else was either.
With the cries of the landlord, and then the constables behind me, I looked to what was before me – the free-dock! I darted around the large crates stacked on the dockside to lose sight-line from my pursuers and pointed myself toward the tie-downs along the landing platform.
There was a single vessel, small and brown, looking like a seed-pod that had rid itself of its seeds and now lay on the ground having been abandoned even by the wind. It was this or nothing and the doors poised to close; another moment and my choices would be nothing or nothing.
Sharp cracks and pops behind me told me to put a burst of speed into the mix. Silvery pits appeared in the metal plating of the free-dock suggested these men were not the best marksmen. “These people are far too serious about their work, and they may get off a lucky round,” I thought.
As I closed in on the craft, a shadow over my head told me another ship was landing and I was in the way. The roar of retro-thrusters was like the crashing of the falls on Baalim, but not with the chill of those glittering waters, more like hot, molten metal. I rolled forward as the ship lowered onto the free-port deck and barely missed being crushed, but for the moment out of sight from the men chasing me with guns.
On my feet again, I saw the doors on the craft closing. If the vessel took off without me, I would have nowhere to go. I sprinted to the closing doors and threw my bag in before me, then made a leap through the doors just as they slammed shut. On the rough, metal floor I sat panting as the noise and vibration told me the engines were already warming for lift-off.
“That’s good,” I thought, a quick exit and a swift journey, leaving the constables behind me. But there was something wrong, an alarm began to sound, barely audible over the growing noise of the engines and vibration of a thousand metal parts in need of tightening. There was another set of doors behind me; I was in the air-lock!
Leaping to my feet, I began beating on the door, searching madly for a button, a switch, a knob, something to turn, push, press, pull or throw to open the inner doors.
Once we broke atmosphere, there would be no air in this compartment; I would be turned to a thin coating of Starwort that would take hours for the crew to wash off. My cries could not be heard, even by me, above the howl of the engines. The vibration was enough to tear the ship apart. There was no window, no see-through partition to alert the crew of the person about to be disintegrated in their air-lock.
Slumping to the floor, the thought flickered in my mind, being caught by constables for running out on my rent didn’t seem such a bad alternative. Then another sound pushed the thought from my head; the inner-doors were opening.
Not one to think twice when offered a kindness; I rolled backward through the opening doors, bag in hand. But the ship lurched upward as the inner-doors closed. My foot became twisted as the floor rose to meet me, jamming my knee. My head crashed into the deck as I rolled back against the aft bulkhead, falling into darkness blacker than the cold, empty space that enveloped the ship.