About The Book
She could barely look after herself. Now, she’s looking after the entire planet.
After an incident with a hot-air balloon causes college-dropout Sally Webber to lose her job, she sets off to find direction in her life. Crashing into a teleporting alien, however, is not on her to-do list.
Now she’s on the run from TV-drama-loving aliens, and things are just getting started. Zander won’t stop reeling her into life-or-death situations to save her planet, as he waits for his laser-wielding sister to search the universe for him. Though Sally isn’t quite sure if he wants to save Earth from annihilation, or just quell his curiosity of all things human.
Sally has to find lost alien emissaries, as well as a job, and stop the planet from getting incinerated in the process. But with Zander as her roommate, what could possibly go wrong?
Before there was the universe, before the endless cities, the ships, or the Dread, before the Alliances and higher dimensional parties, there was only sleep.
I was pretty happy just sleeping.
Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I had taken the day off and just slept. If I had called in sick to work, sick to the party, and had never left the apartment at all.
I think about that a lot.
I awoke to the sound of a jackhammer. It broke through the morning gloom, tearing me painfully from sleep. The noise made my entire nightstand shake and with it, my mattress and pillow. It jolted me awake quite violently; I should have known then what sort of day I would have.
I wasn’t fully aware yet, my brain was still waking up, but I knew enough to throw out my hand and try to stop the dreadful noise. Ugh. My other hand clutched the sheets, begging the universe for just one more minute of warm, comfortable sleep.
The universe denied my request.
I finally found the source of the noise and slapped it as hard as I could, knocking several items to the floor in the process. The music kept playing. So I did the only thing that seemed logical—I hit it again.
By that point, my hand stung, and I concluded it wasn’t the alarm clock making the ruckus. My phone sang and vibrated all over the place. I fumbled for it, missing it completely. Finally, my fingers found its cold surface, and I dragged it under the covers. I accepted the call and held the tiny speaker to my ear.
“‘Lo?” I grunted, expecting a full word to come out.
“Sally?” came the anxious voice on the other end.
This early in the morning, I had no idea whose voice this was. It could have been Sir Patrick Stewart or God himself trying to wake me. Whoever it was—I was mad at them.
“Who is this?” I mumbled.
“Marcy,” the voice replied, worried as ever—or could it have been cheerful? People who could be cheerful at this ungodly hour were not to be trusted. “I wanted to know if you had a grill?”
“Hold on, what?” I sat up way too fast. The blood rushing from my head gave me the worst morning headache in human history. And the cold—the cold! I shivered as the air touched my skin. “You want a grill? What on earth for?”
“For tonight. Jenn’s is busted.”
There was a painful silence on the other end of the line. I used the pause to my advantage, pulling the sheets over my cold, exposed shoulders. Finally, Marcy spoke again, slowly this time, the worry all the way back in her voice. “It’s my birthday,” she said, but then her cheery self returned, “Birth-day par-tay. My birthday party. Tell me if any of this rings a bell? Like, if there’s something you’d like to say to me?”
“Marce, I would absolutely love to jump into a rendition of the birthday song, but not this early in the morning.”
“Well, sorry,” Marcy replied, mock-hurt, “I assumed you’d be at work.”
“At this hour of the morning? It’s pitch-black still.” Oddly enough, my alarm clock, which was usually within reach on the night stand, was nowhere to be seen. “I can’t remember my own birthday at this hour.”
“Um, Sally, you’d better check your clock.”
“I would if I could find the damned thing!”
I turned my head to look at my window—my dark window—and saw a strange sliver of light in the darkness of the universe.
Or maybe it wasn’t the universe. Maybe it was the tarp draped over the window.
“It’s 9:30!” Marcy screamed. “Sally, get up now!”
I swore as I flew to my feet, words so harsh that I could hear Marcy shudder over the phone. Then she was the one screaming, yelling at me to hang up and get dressed. Advice I could not process with my head reeling in shock.
Late, so late. I staggered as I tried to throw on my pants, but as most people who have tried getting dressed in a hurry know, trying to put on pants faster takes longer: The pants paradox. I practically fell over trying to get the legs all the way up. I realized then I hadn’t turned the light on, so I threw out an arm to hit the switch.
Soft yellow light illuminated my small bedroom. The place was the cheapest I could afford, but it was comfortable, with enough space for a bed and closet. The floor was a mix of clothing I hadn’t washed and clean clothes that hadn’t made it as far as the shelves. My alarm clock was probably in that mess, swatted away in my sleep.
The first shirt I tried had a stain down the front, which I didn’t remember getting, but I had no time to think about that now. No time for a sniff test. Off went the stained shirt, and on went a passable-for-clean one.
I rushed into the living room, hoping there was some food I could grab, but it seemed my roomie, Rosemary, had eaten the apples that were usually in the bowl on the counter.
“Oh, Sally, do you have a minute?”
Speak of the devil. Rose poked her head out of the bathroom, her hair wrapped in a tight, white towel turban. Her nose was red and puffy, and she wiped it repeatedly with a too-small piece of toilet paper, which only seemed to make it worse.
“Allergies?” I asked. “Wait, no, I don’t have time. We’ll talk later.”
The irrational part of me—which was quite loud when I was in a whirlwind of panic—was mad she wasn’t in the same rush I was, and the fact she was trying to delay me rubbed me the wrong way. I glared at her, shooting imaginary daggers her way, trying to get her to back off so I could dash out.
“It’s super important. I need your advice, it’s—”
“Look, Rose, not to be rude, but I’m about to lose my job,” I said, already halfway out the door. “Tell you what, if I’m fired, I’ll be back in an hour. We can talk then. It’s that or this evening. Or you can text?”
I didn’t wait for an answer. My stomach growled as I ran down the stairs, wishing I’d had time to eat something, anything. By the time I’d reached the street outside, I was fully awake and completely ravenous.
It was then I saw the tarp. Only it wasn’t a tarp but a deflated red-and-yellow hot-air balloon draped across the roof, hanging over my window, and my window alone.
What. The. Heck.
“Is that yours?” asked a voice next to me. I turned to see Jules, my next-door neighbor, standing next to his car.
Jules was an overall stand-up guy. He never bothered me, and I never bothered him; he kept my mail for me when I went to visit family, and I fed his fish when he went on vacation. He kept his parties at reasonable sound levels, and I never complained about how late they ended. It was a good situation.
“The balloon?” I scoffed. “Yeah right. That thing might have just cost me my job.”
“Oh, crap. Good luck with that.”
I didn’t have the time to ponder further. I jumped behind the wheel of my car and sped to my demise. I probably ran a few lights, but I impressed even myself at the full one-eighty I pulled to get the last spot in the service parking lot at the mall.
In that minute, nothing mattered more than getting to work on time. I had only one chance at this. I could be late so long as I showed up before Valerie Price did. And, if Ms. Price was already here, then beating my co-worker, Justine, to the store was just as good.
I caught my reflection in the rearview mirror. My hair was a wreck. I rummaged through the layers on the passenger seat, found an elastic between two Subway napkins, and threw everything into a messy bun. It looked pretty good, all things considered.
If I called in sick, would I be in the clear? Maybe, but I was here now.
Of course, I know now that wasn’t the best decision. The best decision would have been to stay at home and figure out why a hot-air balloon was draped over the effing building. But, you know, hindsight is always 20/20.
Breathe in, breathe out; you can’t walk in there looking like you got chased by a bear. After all signs of outward panic were gone, I slipped out of the car, straightened my blouse, and marched into Price’s Boutique.
I scanned the shop floor, trying to assess how deep in shit I was. The store was empty—thank your highest entity for that—of customers, at least. The imposing silhouette of my boss grew from behind the register, and I rushed to relieve her of my job. “I am so sorry I’m late, Mrs. Price.”
The look she gave me told me my apology had fallen on deaf ears. Perched behind the desk like an overstuffed hawk, she glared at me with those beady eyes of hers. I felt as if I was going to be sent to the principal’s office or something.
This was not the first time I had gotten such a look from her, either. She had made me feel uncomfortable since day one. The way she scrutinized my every single movement, or the passive aggressive notes she left for me to find. I always felt as if, at any minute, she would swoop and pluck me up in her blue-varnished talons and drop me into a nest thousands of miles away where no one would ever find me.
“Ah, Ms. Webber, how kind of you to grace us with your presence.” A smile stretched across her face. Oddly enough, this reminded me of the Grinch, right before his heart grew two sizes larger.
But alas—this wasn’t a Christmas miracle. It wasn’t anywhere near Christmas, and nothing miraculous ever happened to me.
“I really am sorry,” I repeated, getting to work on sorting out the poorly-folded shirts on the display closest to me. “My alarm clock died. I can assure you this won’t happen again.”
There was a snort from the back of the room, and there she was—a tall girl of seventeen, her hair pulled back in pigtails because she knew it increased her sales. They swung like pendulums as she moved the broom back and forth across the floor using short, jerky motions.
I could almost feel my hair fluttering in an imaginary wind and my eyes filling with fiery rage as I glared at the girl.
“Justine,” I mumbled.
It was petty, really. We were close in age but lived very different lives. Part of me sort of resented the fact that she didn’t have to work for a living. Though we didn’t talk much, I knew she came from wealth. Her mom wanted her to work to understand the plight of the working class.
Justine said that a lot. Mostly when she was on the phone with friends lucky enough not to have moms who made them work—her words, not mine.
So, you can understand my—albeit petty—feud with Justine. Right?
Not that any of it mattered because that was the last day I ever saw her.
“Justine has been here since eight,” Mrs. Price said, lifting a battered Cosmo and pretending to pay no attention to me, or, at least, not wanting to seem like she cared. Which she didn’t, so it wasn’t a hard act to pull.
“I’ll buy some batteries for my alarm clock as soon as my shift ends.”
“No need,” she said. “Go and buy them now. And don’t bother coming back.”
I guess it didn’t come as much of a surprise, but it still hurt, and a lot more than I expected. Bile rose in the back of my throat as I built up to say something, anything, that would sway my now-former boss. I wanted to scream and shout and throw a tantrum.
But I was so tired.
My stomach twisted in knots. All I wanted was to get out, far away. Get in my car and drive until I reached the edge of the horizon.
I couldn’t think of anything to say so I just stood there, frozen, mouth agape, my mind racing through every possibility. What was there to say? No, please? There was no hope there. You’ll regret this? Too theatrical. It would come back to bite me.
“Um, okay, thank you.”
Are you kidding me, Sally?
Talk about a weak exit. With a sudden burst of dramatic flair, I ripped my nametag from my chest, slamming it on the desk. A little too dramatic, but it was too late now to search for a middle ground. I left the store in a huff, only just realizing I had destroyed my blouse. And now, I couldn’t feel my arms or legs.
Once I was out of the mall, I dropped my pace from a ‘dramatic storming out’ to a ‘shuffle of shame.’ It felt like I was walking through thick gel; everything was heavy and dark around the edges. When I finally got back in the car, I just sat there, staring forward, brain numb.
I made eye contact with my reflection and froze as a sense of dread washed over me. Dang, she looked worried. And tired. Her sand-colored hair was stacked in a weird knot on the top of her head, dry tendrils floating down to frame her somewhat gaunt face. Her lips looked as if the blood hadn’t reached them in a few days. The only sign of life was the brown eyes, which met mine and held my gaze, begging me not to let go. It was like looking at a stranger.
I didn’t know when I got back on the road. Everything was running on automatic, like I wasn’t really in my body anymore. I gripped the wheel tight enough to turn my knuckles white and my fingertips red, forcing myself to follow the way back home.
I had been gone for less than an hour, but the hot-air balloon was already gone. A mystery I would probably never find the answer to. Maybe Rosemary would know something about it.
Except she had gone too; her room was completely cleared out. As a matter of fact, half the furniture was missing from the apartment—the rug under the coffee table, the cat statue that sat by the door; all the little tidbits we had accumulated over the years were just … gone.
Holy shit. Had I been robbed, on top of everything else? A quick check showed my things were here; my laptop was still on the edge of my nightstand, and the old TV still comfortably in its place in the living room. Only Rosemary’s things were gone.
That’s when I saw the note, a napkin placed strategically on the kitchen counter, black scribbles in a fast cursive announcing, “we’re eloping.”
Luckily, there was more, a note in the trash on a page ripped from a yellow legal pad. Some words were scratched out. The writer had obviously stopped and started a few times, scribbling over the failed beginnings before tossing it out entirely. But there was some sense to it.
Sorry, Sally, I couldn’t risk you spilling the beans to my mom. Sally, I wanted to say something this morning, but you were in such a rush. Ben and I are going to Vegas, and we’re not coming back. I’ve taken my stuff and left this month’s rent on the bed. Wish us luck! – Rosie
That’s when I burst.
Call it a nervous breakdown. An anxiety attack. Panic attack. Or all the above. My mind shifted from clear thought to murky territory, running the events of the morning through my head over and over, a highlight reel of personal failure. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe anymore; my lungs refusing to do their work. I hiccupped as my eyes filled with tears. It was illogical, all of it, but even so, I couldn’t stop. The energy welled up inside me and spilled out in such an ugly way, the terror shaking me back and forth and making it impossible for me to think straight.
I sank to the floor and let it spill. Everything hurt.
What was I supposed to do now? A college dropout with no prospects and only a few dollars to my name. I had nothing going for me, no ambition, no dreams, no passion. There was no direction whatsoever for me to go in.
Loser. Loser. Loser.
The rational part of my brain shut down, leaving me with anger and tears—tears that burned and drained me. And in the back, dark thoughts I couldn’t find words for.
The weight on my chest pressed down on me, choking out my air. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t do anything but weep and try to keep myself together.
I didn’t know how long the attack lasted, but slowly, it began to let up. The tightness in my lungs eased, and I breathed deeply again. My eyes stung like they had been doused in salt, even on the backside of the eyeballs.
What was I going to do?
I needed a job, fast. I needed to get out of retail, focus on a career, but there wasn’t much available for a girl without a degree. Maybe I could apply for a job at the new power plant that was opening outside of town? Nah, they needed someone with experience—and probably some kind of university diploma. So, retail work it is, I guess.
I shuffled to the couch and saw Rosemary had taken half the cushions. Great. I guess they were hers in the first place, but I still wished they were here. I wished she were here, too. We weren’t the best of friends, but we enjoyed each other’s company. And right now, I didn’t want to be alone.
I pulled off my shoes and discovered my socks were two completely different colors. I shrugged it off. I’d had those kinds of days before, though never to this extent. With my feet now freed, I stretched on the couch and tried to ease my aching body.
I needed another roommate. I couldn’t afford this place on my own, and that was when I had a job. I needed someone to split the rent, or I was going to be out on the street in less than a month.
The best thing to do would be to call Marcy. She’d know what to say; she always did. And I really, really needed to hear her voice.
She picked up after not even a whole ring. “Sally? What happened?”
“What makes you think something happened?”
“Fired,” I replied, my false confidence making it sound like pride. I reached into the candy bowl on the table and popped a peppermint in my mouth. At least Rose had the decency to leave those.
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“I’m telling you, it’s okay,” I said, sucking on the candy for a minute, feeling the cool taste of mint across my tongue. I probably should have started with one of those; it was already starting to soothe me. “I was going to leave eventually, anyway. Price had it in for me.”
“Is that a peppermint in your mouth?” When I didn’t answer immediately, Marcy kept going. “Yup, thought so. You only eat candy when you’re worked up. So, what can I do?”
“Find me a new roommate?”
“What happened to Rosie?”
“So, they finally eloped?”
“I read into the situation,” she replied casually, but there was a definite hint of pity in her voice. “Anything I can do?”
“I guess your party will cheer me up. What time is it again?”
“Starts at seven. And we’ll be at Jenn’s.”
“I’ll be there. But why were you asking me about a grill? You know what I own better than I do. Did Jenn’s break or something?”
“Nah,” she scoffed. I expected her to go on, but she offered no answer. Instead, there was an awkward pause. “So, no grill?”
“You know I don’t have one.”
“Drat.” She sighed heavily, the sound saturating the microphone for a split second. “Well, Mike says he has a friend that could bring one if we ask nicely.”
“Do you even know how to grill?”
“I will soon. I’ll be on WikiHow for the rest of the day. What are you going to do ‘till party time?”
“I’ll figure something out. See you then,” I said, hanging up quickly.
If I had stayed on any longer, Marcy would have coerced me into coming over or convinced me she needed to come to mine. And I didn’t want that for her, not on her birthday. She had been planning this party for months; it’s not every day you turn nineteen.
I felt guilty about the abrupt responses, but I hoped Marcy would forgive me. Right now, my body felt limp and useless, my mind slow and numb. Not that I was all that surprised. I was used to the letdown the universe dragged me through. I’m not the kind of person to blame it on divinity, chaos, or destiny. I guess I didn’t blame it on anything. I had long since accepted my lack of luck as being my lot in life, though I wanted something or someone to blame it on right now.
Curse you, universe! I shook my fist in the air, falling back into the cushion-less couch and right back into sleep.
Anyways. This is getting pretty dark. Let’s skip forward to the party. That’s where things get really interesting.
"S.E. Anderson's debut is a hilarious galactic romp with loving nods to Hitch Hiker's Guide to Galaxy but with a voice all its own. It's quirky, fun, and utterly enjoyable."
"Starstruck's pages burst with personality, action, and humour. A must-read for science fiction fans."
About the author.
S.E. Anderson can’t ever tell you where she’s from. Not because she doesn’t want to, but because it inevitably leads to a confusing conversation where she goes over where she was born (England) where she grew up (France) and where her family is from (USA) and it tends to make things very complicated.
She’s lived pretty much her entire life in the South of France, except for a brief stint where she moved to Washington DC, or the eighty years she spent as a queen of Narnia before coming back home five minutes after she had left. Currently, she is working on her PhD in Astrophysics and Planetary sciences in Besançon, France.
When she’s not writing, or trying to science, she’s either reading, designing, crafting, or attempting to speak with various woodland creatures in an attempt to get them to do household chores for her. She could also be gaming, or pretending she’s not watching anything on Netflix.
Alienation (Book 2)
Earthstuck (Book 6)
Traveler (Book 3)
Inalienable (Book 7)
Celestial (Book 4)
Starbound (Book 5)
Starstruck (Book 1)
Alienation (Book 2)
Traveler (Book 3)
Celestial (Book 4)
Starstruck (Book 1)
Alienation (Book 2)
Subscribe to Bolide Publishing’s newsletter for news, updates, and special offers