Green_light_delivery_cover_final

Anne E. Johnson grew up in Wisconsin but has lived in New York City long enough to feel like a native. She even married a Brooklynite, the playwright Ken Munch. Anne writes for children, teens, and adults, including nearly a hundred short stories and several novels. Of all the characters she has created, Webrid is her favorite. Learn all about Anne's writing on her website, AnneEJohnson.com

Green Light Delivery by Anne E. Johnson

Webrid is a carter, like his mother and grandfather before him. It's not glamorous work, but it mostly pays the bills, and it gives him time to ogle the sexy women on the streets of Bexilla's capital. Mostly, he buys and sells small goods and does the occasional transport run for a client.

Then he gets mugged by a robot.

Now, with a strange green laser implanted in his skull and a small fortune deposited in his bank account, Webrid has to make the most difficult delivery of his life. He doesn't know who his client is, or what he's carrying, but he knows that a whole lot of very dangerous people are extremely interested in what's in his head. Literally. And they'll do whatever it takes to get it.

With the help of some truly alien friends, a simple carter will journey across worlds to deliver his cargo. And hopefully keep his head in the process.

 

REVIEWS

  • "There are plenty of alien sounding words in this story, and it's pleasing to find them merely mentioned without long explanations as to their origin or meaning. Without insult to the reader's intelligence, they're used in such a way one can infer from the context and move on."

    – New York Journal of Books
  • "The book's joy lies in the humorous prose."

    – Publishers Weekly
  • "For sci-fi authors, the establishment of a story world is a challenge, a balancing act. In "Green Light Delivery," we receive only the barest of tantalizing clues about what Webrid's world looks like and how it works. But these details are provided just as they are needed, and we build that world for ourselves, clue by hilarious clue."

    – Amazon verified purchaser review
  • "I found myself captured right away with these creatures' descriptions from the very beginning. I rated the book five stars~ I found myself wanting to know more and more about Webrid's journey."

    – Goodreads review
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Ganpril Webrid, carter for the Bargival district, handed a clod of jamboro cake to the blue-skinned businessman. He took a dendiac note in payment. "You stayin' here?" Webrid asked, "or can I bring my cart into your space?"

Obviously pretending that he hadn't heard, the fellow closed his window and sucked the cake down whole through a slimy blue mouth.

Webrid hated these commuter types. Somehow, they never learned the basic courtesies of urban interaction. And they were always in Webrid's way. So he tried again, louder this time. "Can I use your space, mate?" He enunciated clearly. "How long you stayin'?"

"Bivisher! Braaap!" came the reply, the first word being an expletive, the second a burp.

"Fine. I'll go somewhere else." Webrid knew when he'd been licked. But he couldn't just keep rolling along. He needed to get off the street for a while, after several hours of selling cakes to commuters, pushing his cart through the hot afternoon smog.

As he thought about how tired he was, Webrid realized that someone was standing next to him.

"Yeah? I got cakes today, friend," was his automatic response. Then he turned his head and focused his eyes. This guy did not want a jamboro cake; he could tell that much for sure.

For one thing, this "guy" didn't appear to be biologically-based. Webrid could see the wires at its joints. A great metal head lowered itself on a slender tube of a neck. A brace of digital cameras absorbed the features of Webrid's face, which made him squirm.

"Like what you see, sailor?" he joked, but only to hide his fear. This wasn't a Vox police robot. Not one like he'd ever seen, and he'd seen them all, what with parking tickets and contraband searches every few days. The Vox, always watching and listening, seemed to be after him constantly for one thing or another.

head came closer to his face. Webrid pulled back. Maybe it was a cop bot after all. "I ain't parked wrong. I'm on the move, in search of a legal space, officer."

The robot responded with a mechanical buzz and a series of clicks. A door retracted into its central chamber, revealing a speaker. Somebody—somebody biological—spoke. "Ganpril Webrid, Second-State Licensed Carter," it announced.

That voice! Icy snakes of déjà vu scuttled up Webrid's spine. Clear as the bot hovering before him, he pictured the squalid back alley where he used to play with his cousins when he was a kid. Webrid huffed and shook his head, chasing away the random vision.

"Ganpril Webrid," the voice repeated. "You have been called."

"Eh?" Webrid had just spoken this syllable when a delicate feeler came flying out of the robot's head and wiped across his forehead. It stung. "Hey, now, what's the idea?"

But the thing was gone. Upward. Out of sight.

Webrid felt a headache coming on, and a strange green light pattern was starting to flicker in one eye. The light coalesced into a shape. It was not a very familiar shape, but after a moment of painful concentration, Webrid thought he recognized it. A tree? There weren't any trees in Bargival, or on the entire planet of Bexilla. Webrid had only seen trees in pictures at school years ago. But now there was one floating in front of him, made of a green cloud. Then its particles dispersed, and there was nothing to see but the comforting grunge of the Bargival streets.

Webrid decided he needed a drink.

He noticed a fine, lean Entra woman clinging to a shop window. There was a possibility there, he felt, if only he could find a place to lock his cart. Webrid pulled over near the shop where the woman had her four midriff suction arms stuck tight against the pane.

"Hey, sweetheart," he called. It was always worth a shot. He clicked his right and left tongues in a sultry syncopated pattern that had taken years to perfect. "So, uh, you see somethin' you like in there? Maybe I know the guy that owns the place. I know pretty much everyone in these parts." No answer, so he kept up the schtick. "I don't believe I know you, though, sweetheart. Wanna turn around and show me? I just know your front side's as fine as your backside." He was some smooth talker, no doubt about it.

This gorgeous creature popped just enough suction to allow her to turn her head. She took one glance at him and snarked, "Buzz off, carter."

Now Webrid knew what he was dealing with. "I don't need none of your classist garbage," he snapped, and it was true. "I can get a date hotter than you without the attitude." That was maybe not so true, but saying it made him feel better.

What was it with the social atmosphere in Bargival today? Sure, Webrid was used to being looked down on a bit. Because most carters had at least some Yeril blood, they were often hulking and hairy, with unsightly claws. Webrid was pure Yeril. Still, the good folks of Bargival appreciated their carters, even if they didn't want their daughters to marry one.

A carter was a useful member of the community, transporting things or people from one place to another. Sometimes Webrid provided a simple delivery service, but other times he'd be commissioned to sell the wares he was carrying, like today. Webrid's mother had been a carter, and her father before her. In fact, his grandfather had given him the velancium-alloy cart he still pushed through the streets of Bargival, thirty Standard Raralt Years later.

"People will laugh at you when you tell 'em you're a carter," Grandpa used to say. "But once they need your cart, they won't be laughing anymore."

They were fine words to live by. Webrid usually grinned through any derision he came across, and most days even made a few dendiacs in profit. Being a carter wasn't such a bad life, normally, but today it was all getting him down.

His head throbbed, and another spray of green light shot across his vision. But Webrid wasn't the sort to run to the doctor. Instead, he focused on finding that drink.

He considered heading to Joolo's Skinny Dip Club. He often carted items to this particular establishment, and the management relied on his discretion. He didn't ask what was in the packages, but he could well imagine what a high-end pleasure palace would need regular deliveries of in unmarked polyurethane cartons. As an unspoken exchange for keeping his mouth shut, Webrid felt entitled to use the club gratis. Through the back door, of course. It wouldn't do either party any good to draw too much attention to an impecunious carter frequenting a fancy joint like this.

But tonight even the lure of bare Prushaskian flesh couldn't interest Webrid. His headache was getting worse, focused strangely in the center of his brow. And now everything he looked at had a slightly green cast. Or was that his imagination? Screw the drink—what he really needed was to lie down.

No surprise, he hadn't even been able to sell all these damned jamboro cakes he'd taken on commission. Bargival was just too hot and crowded this time of year for baked goods, and Webrid should never have agreed to hawk them. Since he couldn't afford to buy groceries now, they might as well become his dinner. Webrid took a dry cake from his cart and shoved it into his mouth. Heavy as a stone. No wonder they called it a clod. He gummed it without enjoyment, as if in penance for his poor business sense.

He headed home. Turning into his alleyway, he was comforted by the voice of Dengel, his neighbor's little son, greeting him from a window high up in the tenement building. "Hi, mister carter," the voice wafted down, like a silk ribbon. Webrid found the heart to lift up his arm and call back, "Hiya!" But that was all the energy he had. Slowly, he lowered his cart into its usual spot in the stairwell. Every muscle ached and his vision was interrupted by pale green wisps of light. At least that tree hallucination hadn't returned. Locking down his pathetic livelihood for the night, he lurched into the lobby.

Webrid put his palm on the handprint lock to open the door to his elevator. Of course, it wasn't working. He'd only called management about it four times. Sometimes if he polished the scanner with his sleeve and smacked it swiftly in the upper right corner, he could get it to flicker back to life. Before he tried it this time, he said a little prayer: "C'mon, let me catch one break."

And it worked. The lift door opened, speaking in a soothing female voice, "Override," which it repeated in the Raralt Planetary Circle's six most common languages. "Override. Please command."

"Floor eighty-three," he said in a flat, clear voice.

"Floor eighty-three," repeated the computer, sounding perkier than Webrid felt. Up they went.

*

Next morning, Webrid couldn't even remember going to bed. He had the hangover of a man who'd drunk six flagons of Valestin hundred-proof, but he was pretty sure he hadn't had a drop. The headache! The center of his forehead burned deep into his brain, and his right tongue was sluggish. A pulse of alarm shot through him. Maybe he'd had a stroke? Was his medical card still valid? Was he going to puke right then and there?

The answer to the last question was yes. His stomach felt better afterward, but his head felt worse. Hauling his sorry carcass upward like he was fighting the gravity of Rada-2, poor suffering Webrid felt his way to the bathroom. There must be some drugs in there. Pretty much anything would do at this point.

Before he could reach into the medicine cabinet, Webrid caught his reflection in the mirror. He assumed he was delirious, so he leaned in closer. But the sharp green light between his eyebrows wouldn't disappear no matter how much he squinted.

"Wha'ZAT?" he quite reasonably demanded. He swatted the air in front of his face. "WhaTIZZ-at?" He weaved his head from side to side, as if a laser was shining at him and he could move away from it. But the dot was stuck there in the center of his forehead, clearly giving off its own light.

Grabbing a cotton swab, he poked at it, as he might at a dead rodent. "Aaah!" That hurt. The light source was implanted in his head somehow, and the flesh around it was raw.

"Malady?" asked the Vox. Apparently his healthcare dues were paid up after all, because the medicine cabinet was trying to help him. "Malady?"

"How the hell should I know?"

"Malady?" It wasn't going to stop.

"Great freaking headache."

"Headache," it confirmed.

"Damn straight."

Two aspirin clinked into the dispensary slot. When Webrid laughed at the understatement, he thought his skull would split from the pain. "You're killin' me here."

With a shaking hand, he grabbed the pills. But doubt came with them. "I didn't pay," he said, thinking of his healthcare tax. He distinctly remembered not paying.

The medicine cabinet obligingly said, "Payment of 50 thousand dendiacs processed as of yesterday. Thank you for participating in the Bargival Common Weal, Ganpril Webrid. We look forward to healing you."

Fifty thousand dendiacs? Webrid hadn't had that kind of money…well, ever. That was payment for the highest level of healthcare, four levels above what he could occasionally afford. He hadn't thought he could get more confused, but this was doing it.