Alienation, page 1part #2 of Starstruck Series
© S.E. Anderson 2017
Cover Art by S.E. Anderson
Editorial: Michelle Dunbar, Cayleigh Stickler, Anna Johnstone
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, scanning, uploading to the internet, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher and/or author, except in the case of brief quotations for reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination, or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental.
First published in 2017 by Bolide Publishing Limited
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Art if space travel and human repair
A whole new world. A whole fantastically unsettling view
In which Zander is an actual fashion thief
Culture shock as an olympic sport
Turned on by mystic space pizza
Exactly what I didn’t want to have happen, happens
That’s dark dude
I hear wedding bells: Make them stop
Meet the inlaws
Under the city, under the city
The world beneath the world
Mission: impossibly weird
I climb the anti-social ladder
The alien-father and totally legitimate space business
The weirdest bath of my life
Heist planning 101
Webber, Sally Webber; interstellar woman of mystery
Making friends in high places, on top of high buildings
In which I am rescued by my own geekery
It’s only a trap if you don’t see it coming
What’s worse: alien uprising, robot uprising, or an alien robot uprising? I’d say the latter
Time to save the world again. Now with lasers!
What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, but also gives me anxiety
You’d think at this point i’d catch a break
Well, this sucks
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
For my family
Sugar on it!
Wow! Book two and twice the amount of people to thank for getting the Starstruck Saga this far! How can I start anywhere else but with my fabulous editor? Michelle, you’ve believed in Starstruck since the very beginning, and you keep pushing me to put my best on the page. I could not have done it without you – period. Alienation would be a little draft sitting on my hard drive with the rest of my abandoned projects. Thank you for everything.
I also have to thank the amazing editing team for making this book a reality: thank you, Anna, for convincing me to make those rewrites and, Cayleigh, for making it perfect.
And, of course, a massive thank you to my beta readers! Brianna, Keri, and KarenJo, your honest opinions were invaluable.
To my parents, who put up with all the bad language and a whole lot more from me, thank you. Your support means everything. And to the rest of my family, thank you so much for sticking by my side!
To Hugo, for always letting me bounce ideas off you and for offering up some pretty killer ideas. For allowing me to freak out from time to time and encouraging me non-stop.
To Madeline, for being the most amazing writing buddy and beta reader. You’re an incredible friend who pushes me to be a better writer!
Thank you so much Ronnie, Jeff, and Andrew for the immeasurable support! You guys are too cool. It’s so much fun being your fan and your friend.
And to Cora, for making me feel like a bestselling author every day!
And finally, to Joanna. Always to Joanna. Thank you.
The Art of Space Travel and Human Repair
The universe was a cold, dark, and empty place.
And I loved it.
I drifted in perfect silence, my legs dangling, useless, in the void below, my senses a mere whisper in the back of my head. Everything was pure in the quiet: there was no worry, no stress, nothing to get wrapped up about.
It was amazing.
The darkness extended forever, though it seemed to have some depth. Unlike a cave or a pitch-black room, this kind of darkness had no end.
So it was a little weird I could see my hands. Strange, perhaps, but I wasn’t worried. Nothing worried me.
There was no up or down; no left, no right; just eternity. And while I knew it was cold, the temperature didn’t bother me. It could have been warm; I didn’t care.
For a minute, I thought I must be dead. What did death feel like, anyway?
And then the stars came out.
They blinked into existence, one by one, little holes pocked with pins on a distant black fabric. I reached out as if to touch them, but they were too far away, so very far away. Even so, I felt the heat radiating from them, the warmth that pulsed as they pulsed. They were so beautiful. I wanted to pick them up, pluck them off their celestial shelf, and bury them in my chest, keep their warmth forever.
Once again, I wondered where I was. I remembered feeling intense pain, like someone had tried to force me through a slivered crack in a window, yet all that was left was a dull, vague ache, like a long-forgotten memory bobbing slowly to the surface. I felt my chest with my hands. It was still there, intact. I was fine.
And it didn't matter, anyway.
The stars almost looked like diamonds. They didn't twinkle like the stars watching over Earth. I wondered why they didn't twinkle like they were supposed to. Twinkle, twinkle.
“Is she … singing?” The voice was angelic, the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. Ethereal. It wrapped me in a sweet, heavenly blanket, lifting me higher in space and filling me with a deep sense of satisfaction. My bliss grew tenfold. The pretty lights around me made me grin.
“Um … she might be?” another voice answered, just as beautiful, if not more so. It was deeper, resonating in a timbre that took my breath away. I turned, swaying awkwardly in the emptiness, searching for the sound. I listened without hearing, letting the voices wash over me. The pain I thought I remembered was a lie. There was nothing but beauty here.
“Has this happened to her before?” the higher voice asked. A woman, I realized, wondering why I hadn't noticed before. I could find no sign from where the voice came, but I was in no rush to find out.
“I can’t remember if we’ve jumped Terrans this far,” the other one replied, worried. “Who knows what we're meant to expect?”
“If her brain’s fried, just remember it was your fault; you were steering.”
“I thought you were.”
“No. Your friend, you drive.” The voice, though still beautiful, sounded harsh.
“Really?” There was a pause. “We should have
“Yeah, like we have a lot of those.”
And as she stopped talking, so the angel left. I reached out for it, letting out a small moan. I begged for the voice to return, to warm me once again.
It was getting cold now.
There was a quiet sigh in the distance—neither melodious nor divine. I realized my arms felt heavy. Were the stars rising? No, I was falling, slowly at first, so slow I didn't notice until it was too late. The stars rushed past me in a dizzying ballet, going faster and faster.
My world shattered, my universe ending. The tightness in my chest grew, and I could do nothing to stop it. I drew wildly at the space around me, wanting to scream, but the pain clutched my windpipe and kept me silent.
“You're saying I screwed up, huh?” the male replied, almost savagely, but beneath it I heard fear—the same fear in my chest. His voice sent a tremor through my universe. “What should I do? Do I wake her up, or do I—”
“Better not,” the other voice said, and I wondered how I ever have found it angelic. It was harsh, gruff; crude. “Don't mess with her. She should be fine once it washes over.”
“Are you sure? These people can die in their sleep, you know. Combusting spontaneously, just like that! Poof, they're gone.”
“Urban legends, surely.”
“It's no joke,” the man assured her. “I need to make sure she's okay. I don't want her to—”
“Fine. Your guest, your responsibility. You mess up her brain, it is not my fault. Clear?”
The voices went silent, and the world returned to normal. The stars slowed, and I bobbed amidst them but the sense of peace was gone. I worried about where I'd gone and what I was doing here. My legs and arms, still dangling beneath me, hurt from their own weight, and it annoyed me that my chest still felt constricted.
And then, suddenly, there was a chill. The cold hit my muscles, making them contract and spasm. The space around me melted. The stars didn’t race; they disappeared as if to say they were done with me.
I stifled a scream as the universe crumbled around me. The world was bleak and black, then gone, and then nothing at all.
I threw out my hands to grab the void, to clutch at everything, anything, and found warm flesh. Bouncy, springy skin. I grabbed onto what I assumed, and hoped, was a hand. My anchor to reality. My mind finally pieced itself together, the thoughts flying and reassembling until it all made sense again.
Like rising to the surface after being underwater too long, I floated upward. My eyes pushed themselves open to reveal a gray ceiling and a face with a hand clutching it from forehead to chin, from cheek to cheek.
“She’s opened her eyes,” the voice muttered from under my hand. I pulled it back quickly. My face, which I realized was damp, felt hot—was I blushing? But the man smiled, unperturbed by my facial groping. The next step was to figure out who he was, and what he was doing there.
The woman put her face in front of mine, her halo of bright hair fanning out from her sharp, olive-toned features. Red, pink, blue, and purple strands fell away from her face, the deep, gray eyes scanning me just as intensely as I scanned her.
“Doesn't look too screwed up,” the woman muttered. She snapped her fingers next to my ears then threw up a stiff index finger and brought it back and forth across my line of vision. The man looked annoyed, practically glowering, but if he had anything to say to her, he kept his mouth shut.
“Reactions seem normal enough, but I don't have much of a baseline to go with. This appears to be the norm for lower cognitive life forms. Wait until the word processing boots up and you can have a normal conversation with her. Might take a while but count yourself lucky: she has all her limbs.”
I turned my head to the side and let out the contents of my stomach. My throat burned, but I was more focused on how the vomit sloshed and hit his shoes. My eyes and nose felt clogged and hot. Instantly, there were hands on my neck, but they were there to hold my hair, gently, as I sat up and retched once again.
Ugh, gross. I felt rung out, hungover. Not only that, but I was pretty embarrassed.
It wasn't the woman holding my hair but the man. He stared at me with a worry so intense I could barely process it.
Was I dying? Sure felt like I was. He looked at me like I had minutes left to live.
I opened my mouth, but before I could utter a sound, it snapped shut. I tried again, taking a deep breath before forcing my jaw open, but the sound leaving my vocal cords didn’t resemble words in the slightest. Instead, a prolonged squawk left my throat, my body's awful attempt to take up birdsong. The sound was loud, unstoppable, and most certainly pungent.
The woman let out a snort. The man glared at her, shutting her up. “Not a word,” he ordered.
When he turned back, I coaxed my jaw into moving at my command. My lips danced before they managed to let out a sound.
“Hey,” I croaked.
“Hey, Sally.” A smile spread across his face. “Are you all right? You can hear me okay?”
“Pressure,” I said, forcing a yawn to pop the bubbles in my ears. It didn't do much to help. The world was becoming clearer, and their names floated back to the surface. I was not a fan of the real world lagging.
“Zander?” I sputtered, and his eyes lit up.
Zander, the man I hadn't seen in two years, who had returned in the middle of the night to take me to the stars, the man I had hit with my car, the man who had blown up my workplace, the man not of this earth. Or, my Earth, anyway.
I'm pretty sure we weren't in Kansas anymore. Well, not Kansas, but our solar system probably wasn't anywhere near here.
He had promised to come back and made good on that promise, even if it did come a little late. I wanted to be angry about that, angry at how he had abandoned me to deal with the aftermath of the plant’s explosion by myself.
But for him, so he claimed, only a week had passed since leaving Earth, a side effect of his kind of space travel.
As for me, I promised myself I wouldn’t mention any of that. I wouldn’t let anything ruin this trip, the one I had been waiting for since seeing the stars as a child for the first time. If this was my only shot at leaving my planet, I sure wasn’t going to ruin it.
I took his arm, and he helped me up, my legs wobbly and weak. I narrowly avoided the puddle of vomit on the floor. I felt empty and drained, but my muscles were slowly coming back to me.
“Are you well?” the woman asked, perched on the impossibly high windowsill above us, giving me only a second of her gaze. The large window was the only one in the room, and she was staring at the world beyond it, as if she were a sentry, keeping watch, keeping us safe from the shadows. She almost looked comfortable up there; how she had gotten on the sill, I had absolutely no idea, but it was likely she was doing it just to show off.
It sounded like something Blayde would do.
Blayde, the living weapon, an amazingly dangerous military panoply in the form of a petite, muscular woman. Not human, though she sure looked it. I had no idea what she was, seeing as how she and her brother hadn't told me about their planet of origin or anything.
Not that it would have meant anything to me if they had.
“I'm fine, I think, thank you.” I pretended I didn't know that Blayde didn't care about my well-being. I regretted speaking almost instantly. The words rang like cymbals in my ears, crushingly loud, every syllable a blow to my eardrums.
She was colder now, despite only having been gone for a week. Was that normal? I had thought Blayde was warming up to me when we brought down Grisham. She had allowed me to come along on this trip, and I was under the impression that was massive coming from her. But it seemed whatever I had done to deserve merit in her eyes had washed away in her week with the Killians. I guess liking me a tiny bit wasn’t the same as wanting me to tag along.
I tried to take a step on my own, shaking off Zander's hand. My feet shuffled zombie-like on the cold stone floor, legs shaking as I put weight on th
“What happened?” I asked, teetering on my still weak limbs.
Blayde shrugged. “You blacked out.” It was obvious from her tone she didn't care.
“Nothing bad or anything,” Zander was quick to say, his face all smiles and nods. “Your body reacted a little differently to the jump than expected. There's nothing to worry about. The first time can be a little traumatic for some. It's not a very pleasant process, having your body reduced to atoms and sent to the other side of the universe in less than an instant.”
“Oh, okay.” I smiled sheepishly at my crutch. “I can see why that’s problematic … for some.”
I gave him my best attempt at a reassuring grin. The look on Zander's face said he didn't buy it.
“You sure you're all right?” he asked.
To prove it, I distanced myself from his grasp and managed a few tentative steps. I really was fine, it seemed. What a relief.
I wondered why the floor felt so cold, even though my Chucks. And then I wondered where in the universe we could be, and the cold faded. I had more interesting things to think about.
“You see?” I cracked a real smile this time, the excitement pulsing through me. “Totally fine. Nothing to worry about. So, where are we?”
At first glance, the answer was simple: we were in someone's garage. The room looked somewhere between a barn loft and a cathedral with vaulted ceilings and the one large window high on the wall. The floors looked like they were made of stone and the rafters of wood; nothing seemed otherworldly in the slightest. We could have been anywhere in the U.S.
A large tarp covered a vehicle in the middle of the room, something bigger than a car but smaller than a truck. Larger in sheer bulk, maybe, but it sat on the floor rather low, only reaching my hip. I had an incredible urge to rip off the tarp, go aha, and discover a spaceship. But we were technically trespassing, and I should probably limit what I touched.
No matter how exciting those things were.
by S E Anderson have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes