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 and red as rusty iron and my nose was both stuffed up and dripping, but I kept playing my beat-up silver stringsynth and singing the best I could. My hat barely held enough soggy cash for a mug of 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 I escaped the orphanage seven years before was that Iwas the only person I could trust to take care of me.
I fished the thin, dripping handful of feds out of my hat, counted them, and shook my head. Sometimes I couldn’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 freespaces 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—if I woke up at all. I knew that from experience, too.
I slapped on the shapeless mass my hat had become, then started down the street, but I stopped at the first corner and looked back, feeling a strange itch between my shoulder blades. Under the holosign stood a man in a long black weathercoat, the expensive kind that repels raindrops a full metre. “Couldn’t be a ‘forcer, not with that coat,” I muttered, ducking out of sight. That wasn’t a comfort. The Fistfight City police generally treated me all right; they’d only chase me away from a place when they got a complaint, and they wouldn’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 a girl a year or two younger than me burst out and clutched my arm. “Please, you’ve got to help me, he’ll kill me—”
I shrugged her off and walked faster. I had my own problems. Behind me I heard a man cursing, and the sound of a hand meeting flesh, then muffled sobs that broke off as a door slammed. Nobody else on the street took any notice.
They wouldn’t pay any more attention if that guy in the weathercoat grabbed me, I thought then, 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. Only one man lay unconscious on the shiny lime-green couch; looked like a slow night.
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.”
YOU ARE READING
Andy Nebula: Interstellar Rock StarScience Fiction
Kit is a tough streetkid from a backwater planet, living hand-to-mouth as a musician. Then he meets Rain, a tentacled alien, and Qualls, a talent scout. Overnight, Kit becomes Andy Nebula, interstellar rock sensation. But as his star starts to fade...