Here’s this morning’s excerpt from my current work-in-progress, an epic science fiction novel. I’ll keep the name to myself, for now. I’m not sure how long this will be here, but here goes.
For the first time since leaving the alley, she had and chance to bend over and catch her breath. “Are you okay, sweetie?” she asked Blue panting.
Blue called over her shoulder. “I’m fine, Mommy.”
Starr’s lip curled. “Don’t be rude. I’m not being your mother, but you are …”
“I know. I’m your responsibility.”
“I was going to say friend. I’m not your enemy, honey.”
Blue turned to look at her. “I’m sorry. You’re being sweet. I’m safe, I promise. Those smelly, yellow, blobby guys dumped me here, and I found him.” She pointed to a young male who looked surprisingly human. Were it not for his height—well over seven feet—Starr wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.
“He’s from Xigán,” Starr said.
Blue squinted at her. Her big blue shades sat against her forehead, looking like a second set of eyes. It made Starr laugh. “What’s so funny?” Blue asked.
“Your sunglasses. I just realized some of these beings probably think you have a second set of eyes.”
“I might. You don’t know me.” Her purple lips pulled into a smile, her first of the day.
“I’ve missed those,” Starr said. She meant it.
Blue’s smile widened. As quickly as that, she was the enthusiastic teen again. “We have to help him,” she said.
Starr looked at the leggy giant sitting in the alley. He wore blue jeans torn at the knees and a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. “Definitely been to Earth,” she said. “Hey, buddy. Are you okay?” She’d asked him in English.
He lifted his headful of shaggy, dirty blond hair and looked at her. His eyes were moist, red, and unfocused. “Not really. I could use a meal.”
“Shit,” Starr said and turned away. To Blue, she said, “Come on. We can’t help him.”
“What do you mean, ‘We can’t help him?’ Look at him. He’s, like, a million feet tall and skinnier than me. We can at least buy him some food.”
Blue held Starr’s arm and turned back. “Hello, do you want us to buy food? We bring it back to you.” She was speaking in Ukrainian-accented English.
Not using her translator. This kid is quick.
“What is your name?”
“Danny,” he said, letting his head flop.
Starr knew she was in trouble when she heard Danika “Blue” Plotz gasp. “My name is Dani too, but I get mad when people call me that. Call me Nika.”
“Hi, Nika. Can-can you help me out with a couple of BUCs? I know a flophouse that sells food cheap. I can grab breakfast and a bed with a couple of bucks.”
Good scam. Throw in the “I need a bed” and you’ve hooked her. She’s smart enough to bring you food. She can’t bring you a bed.
Blue, right on cue, reached in her pocket and pulled out a five-BUC note. Starr touched her back. “Honey, look at his eyes. He’s on the Gleam. You can’t help him.”
“He needs food, Jemini.”
“Yes, and he needs it because people on the Gleam won’t eat. They use all their money buying more drops. If he wants us to find him a rehabilitation center, we can do that. Hell, maybe that would be our mission. But we can’t force him there, and if he doesn’t go, he won’t make it.”
Blue looked Starr in the eye and said, “Bullshit. I’m sorry, honey, I love you, I really do. But you’re wrong.”
She tightened her backpack, walked to Danny, and pulled him up. “Come on, honey. Let’s get you some food.”
To Starr’s surprise, the man stood. His knees wobbled and his long frame threatened to buckle at any moment, but he stood. And, leaning on the five-and-one-half-foot ballerina, he took his first step. He was massive, vertically, standing easily seven feet four inches barefoot. In his oversized boots, he was fully two feet taller than his savior. He took another step, this one less shaky than the first, and he looked at Blue with the same sense of pride Starr remembered seeing on her baby girl so many years earlier. Starr melted.
Blue beamed back at him. “We’ll do it together, baby. Don’t you worry. We’ll get there. Just take your time.” Blue glanced at Starr, not with anger, but with a look of joy she’d not seen on her before.
“Oh, hell.” Starr tossed aside her overnight bag and rushed over, taking Danny’s other side. Blue gave her an air kiss. Together, and to Starr’s great and everlasting surprise, Danny pointed directions down the street, across another, and up another narrow alley to a dimly lit doorway with a red sign over it that read, BREATHING SPACE.
Starr wasn’t sure why, but Blue began sobbing.
“Are you alright, Nika? Danny asked.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she said, smiling through her tears. “You just made a really bad memory a lot better.”
Danny looked confused but kept walking. The flophouse’s workers took over from there, sitting him down, getting him an IV, then, when his skin began to soften and flush with blood, some food. He had a bed; he had food, and he had care. She’d saved him, and Starr would have never, never going even tried. She had seen a million Dannys, heard a thousand such sad tales. He’d taken a silent schooner on an illegal jaunt to the off-limits Earth at age fourteen, having heard of their sports legacy. Since there was no such thing back on Xigán, he figured he had nothing to lose. Most Xigáns were over seven feet tall, but few humans ever were.
He’d made it as far as the European League, having fought his way through basketball camps in England, minor leagues in Lithuania and Croatia, and finally, to his big break on a Spanish team. In his bravest moments, he even dared to dream of America and riches. But in Barcelona, in the first five minutes of his first big-league game, he’d blown out his knee, destroying his anterior cruciate ligament and with it all of his dreams. Sure, he had followed up his injury with rehab, but his therapy included some unapproved medication, namely, at first, skunk and then cocaine, and after a failed drug test, he was banned. Rather than stay on Earth and work his way out of the hole he’d dug, Danny slid from one venue to the next, eventually hopping a silent schooner back to Xigán, where friends turned him onto the Gleam. He had no memory of how he’d gotten to Maydán Kuulä and no clue as to how to get home. Blue had left him in better straits than he’d seen in years.
The next morning, as soon as they’d showered and dressed and Starr had purchased clothes and a rucksack to replace what she’d lost, they headed back to the flophouse to check on Danny. They were met at the door by a nurse.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her normally gentle Farran face blank. “Danny passed away early this morning. I’m afraid his heart just gave out from all the years of abuse.”
Blue never heard the rest of the nurse’s speech over the sounds of her own sobs. She’d left, inconsolable, even after being told that he’d died peacefully, smiling in his sleep or that he’d told the nurse he wondered if the pretty girl would go out with him after he cleaned himself up a bit. She never heard that he’d have perished alone and uncared for, if not for her.
She never heard a second of it. Tears fall far too loudly.