Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
There was little distinguishing the darkened Yshot Station from the other minor satellites that orbited the rocky planet below them and Boro knew this had been a major reason why the station was chosen for their mission. It didn’t make it any less disheartening though that after a month of flying under the stealthy cloak of the Forseti’s “ghost” technology, the scenery was hardly less drab than the complete darkness at the edge of subspace.
“We’ll be at Yshot in less than ten minutes,” Surch Guraty announced, sitting in the pilot’s chair in the recessed centre of the bridge, appearing to be more at ease flying under propulsion engines than having to do minor course corrections to the mostly autopiloted flight that brought them there.
“Everything look normal down there?” Captain Timofie Pueson asked.
“Nothing unusual, far as I can see.” The answer came from Maggie Okoth, the starship’s Techever. The visual display that covered the back half of the wall of the rotunda-shaped bridge was a video display, rather than a true window to the outside of the ship, as the Forseti’s bridge was located closer to its centre, away from exterior walls. Maggie, however, with the five wires running from underneath the fingernails of her left hand and plugging into her computer terminal, could see so much more, as the Forseti’s systems were essentially wired through her brain at that moment, allowing her to process all of its visual and other scans into a coherent picture.
As Surch indicated, in ten minutes the ship was ready to dock with the recently decommissioned Iastret Station. Decommissioned solely to accommodate their arrival. The planet Yshot itself, after which the station that was orbiting it and the entire stellar system were named, was an uninhabitable rock located in the fuzzy borders between the Iastret Commonwealth, the Vaparozh Interdependency and the Thorian Empire. Until about a century ago, it was home to a mining colony, until a glut in the resource it produced forced its abandonment. After that, Yshot Station was staffed by a skeleton research crew studying the adaptability of a non-native lichen on the planet below. And now several months ago, the local Iastret government ordered a recall of the science crew pending a needlessly bureaucratic review of its research mandate. It was an advantage of bureaucracies – a single cog moved the whole mechanism that was not aware of why it was moving. For good measure, it had also done the same thing to two other innocent research teams, just to keep whoever may have been watching on their toes; most likely the Thorians.
Surch eased the flat forward part of the ship against one of the docking ports of Yshot Station. The pilot’s hands were placed on the dome-shaped controls built into each armrest of the pilot’s chair, corresponding to the similarly-shaped propulsion engines on either side of the Forseti.
“Ship is safely docked, Captain,” the Techever announced from behind them.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Guraty,” Pueson said in his soft, almost-quivering voice. “Commander Stevin, I trust that you’re still planning to supervise the onboarding of the cargo.”
“Yes, Captain, I’ll get the team ready right away,” Boro answered. “Indario, I’ll see you down there.” There was no rational reason why Boro couldn’t wait a moment and head to the cargo bay doors together with the Forseti’s Parsk Nahur weapons specialist. Boro found the smell emanating from the digestive sacks of their species, located between their sagging cheeks and their shoulders, to be overwhelming and the less time he spent in closed quarters with Indario, the better.
The task of overseeing the loading of cargo from an empty station was a babysitting job that didn’t really require Boro’s presence, but protocol was protocol and with his Comms Officer in a cast and walking boot, Boro was the next logical candidate to oversee the operation.
The Thorian, as Boro had predicted, was alive. Boro checked with Dr. Sufai if he’d been in to see her, but citing patient confidentiality she refused to confirm or deny it. Even then, the fact that he hadn’t appeared since the stasis rotation ended meant that the Thorian was probably in need of some serious convalescing, which was consolation enough for the second-in-command of the Forseti.
What Boro did not expect, even with his prior knowledge of the general fighting prowess of the Thorian species, was how much damage Mikarik would inflict to Boro’s crew. Not only did he now have an officer with a broken leg, a third of the engineering team was also laid down. As far as he heard, Chief Engineer Aimi Ishikawa really let her crew have it for their lack of judgement, and if the full force of Engineer Ishikawa had already descended on their concussed heads, Boro found no reason to follow up personally.
After exiting stasis, Surch seemed to Boro to have been in a changed mood. Or at the very least, the fact that the pilot failed to make a quip about Boro’s exciting cargo transfer mission as Boro left the bridge was an indicator that something was amiss. If Surch was still troubled by Boro’s methods – the Commander’s decision to let the fight between the Thorian and his crew play out undeterred – all Boro could say was that no one suffered any permanent injuries, save possibly the Thorian, and he could tell that already some tension had left the ship.
When Boro reached the cargo hold doors, everyone who needed to be there, except for the Parsk Nahur, who would join them momentarily, was already gathered. There was Meeron Thuliga, the ship’s steward and quartermaster, as well as Tuka Rose and Ryo Sutanto, two Human members of the maintenance crew.
“How are things looking from this end?” Boro aske no one specifically.
“Docking sequence went pretty smoothly,” Tuka answered in a heavy rockhopper accent – a form of Earth Standard Commercial that was careening towards being unintelligible. “I thought she may be a bit rusty with the crew being off for a few months but she did alright.”
“Good. Meeron, you have everyone you need?”
“Doesn’t need to be complicated,” the shaved-headed quartermaster said, “Everything we need is nearest the door, so we should be quick.”
“Just the essentials?”
“Of course, of course,” Meeron steepled his eyebrows in a show of innocence.
The Parsk Nahur arrived holding a neural devastator gun, his fleshy fingers a hair away from the trigger.
“You think that’ll be necessary?” Boro asked. A neural devastator in the hands of anyone but a Human had always made Boro uncomfortable, doubly so in the hands of a Parsk Nahur, though by all accounts their species were not known for violence, just everything else unsavoury.
The Parsk Nahur merely nodded, a gesture that Boro had figured out was for their species the equivalent of a shrug. Indario could talk, he just chose not to most of the time, and Boro wasn’t sure if that bothered him more than if the Parsk Nahur was incapable of speaking at all.
“Alright, let’s get it over with,” Boro said and gestured to the loading doors’ control panel, which Tuka was quick to activate. The doors whirred to life, rising slowly and revealing not only the stack of crates that they expected to be waiting for them, but two accompanying Humans standing to either side of their cargo.
Whatever else I can say about the year 2021, it was absolutely amazing for my writing. I had not set out with the goal of writing every day of the year, but as the streak started to build in the first couple of weeks, I fully committed, and in the end, succeeded. 2021 became the first year where I managed to write even a little bit all 365 days of the year. The absolute rush that this ended up giving me – the feeling that not a day went by that I did not hone my writing skills was one of the most accomplished I’d felt as a writer. As an aside, I don’t by any means think this is a necessary thing to do, in fact, it can even be unhealthy if you put to much pressure on yourself, but for me personally, I’m so glad I achieved it.
With great day-to-day productivity came great total productivity. When it comes to the final word count at the end of the year, here too the previous records were smashed. My most productive year until now was 2020 when I clocked in at just over 150,000 words. This year, I more than doubled that amount to 330,000. Again, this was something I could not predict at the beginning of the year but was absolutely stoked by the result.
This also means the story is not just about total days but the average daily productivity this year. Out of the days I wrote, compared to last year, the average word count was 902 versus 718 for 2020 I also had 174 days with 1,000 words and more versus 58 the previous year, and only 38 days where I wrote less than 200 words.
All of this is not just about numbers, but being twice as productive as my previously most productive year led to some important milestones as well.
My fantasy web novel that is coming out on Royal Road in two weeks was hardly even started in January, but is now approaching 80,000 words. The children’s adventure story Cassia and Mateo, which is just a side project for my kids, became the first writing project to surpass 100K words, and then the first draft of my second novel followed suit only a couple of months later. That draft should also be wrapped up in the next month or so, leaving room for the first major milestone of 2022.
This was also the first full year where I have been posting The Bloodlet Sun continuously both on this blog and on Royal Road. And it’s been my most productive year in terms of updating this blog on a weekly basis.
That’s not to mention that a variety of little side projects found their way into my year, including catching up on writing down some stories I’ve been making up for my kids, and then launching a few short story and novel ideas that will hopefully take hold as future projects.
Let’s also quickly have a look at the bullet journal entry that provides a visual representation of my writing production for the year:
Nothing really stands out as far as patterns go except you can quickly spot my June/July burnout which I talked about here, the November kitchen renovation which took all of my energy, and the Christmas slowdown where I had a bunch of under 100 days that were mostly used to just keep the streak alive. Also looking back at this now I noticed that January wasn’t the strongest month either, so I have a good opportunity to have a quick start now and get ahead of last year’s production early.
Overall, I think the story of this year has been consistency – from daily writing, to regular updates to not dropping major projects in favour of the newest shiny thing that has happened to cross my path. This had allowed me to gain confidence over the last twelve months and even just by the shear force of the volume of my writing I felt like I’d significantly improved over the year. And this improvement is not just confined to the quality of the writing but to my comfort with it – I’m finding that I’m able to power through more difficult sections with increased ease and find myself getting stumped less and less.
No writing year before has had me so pumped for the year that’s ahead. I have to remember to set realistic goals in the face of this success – just replicating the writing production of 2021 in 2022 will be enough, but if I can average out at 1,000 words per day, that would be my new Everest.
Looking forward to everything I’m going to be able to write in 2022, and hoping that with increased productivity follows the increased chance that I might write something good enough to be accepted for publication.
The pace of their exit from the Raire was determined, boots ringing hollowly in the corridors as they made their otherwise silent way back to the cargo hold. They were almost out, Hilosh already daydreaming of removing his helmet and taking a refreshing breath of the recycled air inside the shuttle, when the clang, long silenced until then, rung out in their ears through the wall they were passing.
The three Vaparozh stood in a tense triangle until Yarmar, one hand firmly on the neural devastator, placed her other hand on the wall. It didn’t take long for the sound to ring again and for her to conclude, “It’s coming from inside.”
Charosar took a step back examining a low-security door with a simple metal handle. “What is this place?”
“The galley,” Yarmar answered approaching the door, but looking at Hilosh before she made a move to go inside.
“Open it,” Hilosh heard himself say from somewhere very far away, as far away as their little colony world on the fringes of Thorian space, with his son Rachek at his side, his wife and daughter dining in the adjacent room, and he wasn’t asking Yarmar to open the Raire’s galley door but rather telling Rachek that he should go to a Thorian University if he wanted a brighter future than his own people could offer him.
“Charosar?” Hilosh prompted.
He’d tell himself later than it made perfect sense – Yarmar’s hands were occupied holding the neural devastator gun, and as for Hilosh, Hilosh was a co-supervisor, which, he supposed, left him with certain responsibilities, and in this case those responsibilities meant that he also had to hang back. So, by an impartial process of elimination, it had to be Charosar to open the door and head in first. Why did it feel like these decisions were what defined one as a person, small spur-of-the-moment choices that eclipsed anything else one might have done? Charosar though, despite that brief look in her eyes that asked him the same questions he asked of himself, faced the door, pulled the handle and gave it just enough of a push for it to open all the way.
Charosar stepped inside first – again because of various reason that would be later washed out of his memory – and led them into a room that was completely ransacked. Some chairs had been strewn about haphazardly while others were piled into a heap at one end of the room. Containers of food, some opened, others not, lay about the floor, which in places was covered in spills of various hues. There were, to Hilosh’s relief, no bodies in sight, which gave his mind enough space to feel discomfort at finding itself in a place where males and females ate together. To further drive this point home, there was a single ring-shaped table in the room, large enough to accommodate the whole crew, and the one thing bolted down to the floor and not out of place.
Something shifted behind the pile of chairs and Yarmar raised her gun in that direction. Hilosh’s throat seized up but Yarmar seemed to have the right word for the occasion. “Sakhshi?”
Another Native Thorian word, but at least he recognized its counterpart “Sakashi”, the Trade Thorian word for “hello”.
There was no answer.
“Sakhshi?” Yarmar repeated, and this tame there was an unmistakable questioning grunt from the far side of the galley.
“Laitir thosh? Kashikti nishi. Kashikti ifri.”
This one was a bit trickier for Hilosh, but he recognized “nishi” and “ifiri” – the words for “friend” and “help”, which gave him a good indication of Yarmar’s chosen approach.
This time though, the lone occupant of the galley, a Thorian male, emerged from behind his hiding spot. Something was terribly wrong with him.
It wasn’t just that the only thing that remained of his Anthar Kai uniform was his jacket, or that his hair was wild and matted with sweat, but that his eyes, open wide and rapidly darting between the three of them, looked to be infected with a deep confusion. His posture too, was not properly upright, and slouched slightly as if poised to strike whether in offence or defence.
“Something’s not right here,” came Charosar’s voice through Hilosh’s earpiece, a slight quiver in there that Hilosh had never heard before.
“Hold on a second,” Yarmar said, slowly approaching what appeared to be the last survivor of the Raire.
“Taraktir elai? Taraktir shakesh?”
The Thorian cocked his head to the side, the confusion, or fear, or whatever it was, growing in intensity in his eyes, as if he understood of what was said even less than Hilosh did, who only picked up “shakeshe” the Trade Thorian word for “hurt”. He assumed that Yarmar meant to say that they weren’t going to hurt him. The neural devastator held tightly in Yarmar’s hands would have indicated otherwise, though the Thorian seemed to pay no mind to it and only focused intently on Yarmar’s eyes. And that’s when Hilosh realized to his horror that the Raire crewmember had no idea what the weapon was.
“We should go,” Hilosh said with no reservations about the urgency in his voice.
“It’ll be okay,” Yarmar said. Was this directed more at Hilosh or the Thorian? It didn’t matter, because regardless the assertion had been wrong. In the next moment, the Thorian lunged forwarded with an incoherent growl, pushing past Yarmar and heading straight for Charosar, knocking her to the floor and falling on top of her, and proceeded to beat down on her with fists and forearms. Hilosh lunged to try to get the deranged Thorian off her, stopped only by Yarmar’s firm command of “Move!” His fellow co-supervisor was holding up the neural devastator and aiming it in the general direction of Charosar and the Thorian, steadying herself for the shot. Charosar was trying to catch the Thorian’s arms with her hands as they smashed against her helmet and chest, the terrible mix of bangs and Charosar’s grunts heavy in Hilosh’s ear. He wanted Yarmar to hurry up and take the shot, but also feared that Charosar might be caught in the crossfire.
A greenish-yellow starburst escaped the muzzle of the devastator and flew halfway across the galley before absorbing itself completely into the Thorian’s back. His curt gasp was immediately followed by silence and the full weight of him dropping on top of Charosar.
“Get this rotten – ugh – off me,” Charosar wheezed and Hilosh helped drag the dead Thorian onto the floor.
“Are you alright?” He asked, offering a hand to get her off the floor.
“Can’t say I am.”
“Cha, I’m so sorry, he –”
“Forget it,” Charosar stopped Yarmar with a slight wave, “I just need to get off this ship or I swear to the green divinities I will personally set charges to blow it to dust.”
No one spoke a word until the Raire was sealed and their shuttle had left the transfer station into the blackness of space. Charosar carried herself well, considering Hilosh would later learn that she had four broken and three cracked ribs, one of which had cut, but thankfully not punctured, her middle lung. They told Ladis, their designated medic, that a loose crate had fallen on her, which probably wouldn’t have fooled a real doctor but was good enough for Ladis.
If the crew hadn’t yet been suspicious about what happened up on the Raire, then Charosar’s stay at the infirmary and Hilosh’s absence during dinner the following day would have certainly set them over the edge. He knew his people needed him to pull himself together, but Hilosh was coming undone.
There is something to be said of delayed gratification, and that is that plenty about it totally sucks, but also, that it can pay off big time.
Sometime last December, I was thinking that it would be cool if I could increase Royal Road traffic to The Bloodlet Sun by writing a story in a genre that does well on that site and cross-promoting the stories if the new one does well. I had an idea for a fantasy story in the dusty bookshelf of my mind for quite some time, so I thought it would be the perfect thing to use. What I thought I was setting out to do was giving it a fair shot, but it turned into something much more.
Looking for a quick short-term reward, I thought I would be able to launch the story that would come to be known as The Second Magus in late spring, and obviously that didn’t happen. Now we’re a full year since I started writing it and it’s ready to debut – not something I wrote simply on a whim but a story that has grown on me deeply since its inception.
To give a flavour of how excited I’d been to launch it, I put together a cover for it about a month after I started writing it, and I’ve sat on that cover ever since, because I didn’t want to start publishing the novel until I thought it was good enough.
Is it actually good enough? Well, I guess I’ll start finding out January 22, when I submit it for approval and publication to Royal Road. Is it actually the fun exciting adventure I thought I cooked up? Or am I suffering from the rose-tinted glasses of an author – too attached to my baby to realize it’s kind of ugly?
In any case, I hope you can at least share in my excited that comes with not knowing what the outcome would be, and dreaming the biggest dreams I possibly could. In the meantime, please check out the cover that I’ll be using for the story:
As I’m sure it shows, I prefer to make these things myself. Maybe one day I’ll feel like I’m ready to engage a professional. I also know that the whole fire and ice thing is a cliché, but when I sat down to do this, the imagery just felt right and I think the image blend turned out pretty good.
See you here again in January with the link to the story once it’s posted.
The final quiet before the new year will fully kick in has settled over the house. The older kids are in bed snugly, my wife is settling our youngest down. I’d just done with the kitchen – and everything is put away. As I hope that 2021 can be put away after this, a year that offered its own host of challenges, that tested our ability to make the right choices, that continued to strengthen us by testing us.
And yet, tonight, I’m feeling hopeful – a hope that comes from within and not because I’m told I need to be hopeful. It’s the peace that comes with new beginnings. Today, I sit in the calm after the storm; tomorrow, I can weather anything.
The comms room was not where the sound they heard earlier had been coming from, but that didn’t stop Yarmar from having the neural devastator gun at the ready when the door slid fully open. It was quickly apparent that there would be no need for it here. There was a body on the other side of the door, the trapped arm twisted at an odd angle. It lay in a pool of dried blood, though it was not immediately clear where it came from. Further inside there were two others, also both Thorian. They lay close to each other, one on their back, the other bent forward with the side of their face pressed into the floor. Both corpses had significant bruising and bleeding on their foreheads, their Thorian cranial bumps smashed to almost beyond recognition. Sickened to his stomach at even being able to draw such a conclusion, Hilosh thought that it looked like the body that was lying on its back had died days after the one with its face on the floor.
“What in the green divinities happened here?” Charosar whispered, but with the three of them connected by their mics, the chill of her voice was loud and clear in Hilosh’s ear.
“They certainly didn’t go as peacefully as the one in the cargo hold,” Yarmar said, a cold distance in her voice, the muzzle of the neural devastator she was holding still pointed towards the bodies. She was right, if the one down in cargo looked like they passed quietly into the beyond, these were sent there abruptly, and possibly by each other’s hands. Hilosh remembered the voices in the background of the message they received from the ship. In all likelihood, they had come from these grotesque distorted faces when they still ranked among the living, or from whatever or whomever had done this to them.
The flashlight beam found another corpse in the far right corner of the room, crumpled unnaturally against the wall, its head displaying a similar kind of damage as the others, the front of its shirt soaked in blood from the head wound and a wound on his neck. Hilosh was reaching his limits. His breath shallow, and a tightening discomfort around the flesh in the back of his head, he had to stop, arms braced against the communications console, and looked at the floor to escape from the carnage, only to find a bloody footprint. He closed his eyes, taking a few breaths, while the other two paid him no heed, continuing to survey the room.
The Anthar Kai, whenever they come to learn of this, would be all over them. Normally they took little interest in small outposts like theirs. Flung so far out into Dead Space, the administration of something so small hardly made it worth it and there were other ways they could exploit them. But this, just being here on this ship, leaving their own footprints in Thorian blood and with Charosar formerly posted on Rosha Chot’hagh. Throwing up inside his helmet was not an option, taking it off to throw up in the comms room was similarly off the table. Hilosh opened his eyes to ground himself again, and peered over the console he was leaning on. There, he spotted the top of another head.
“Come take a look at this,” he said, and waited for the other two to come by before he walked around to have a look himself.
This body was similar to the one they found in the cargo hold, sitting against the console with its knees up against its chest and its head resting on them. The visible skin on their hands and forehead was similarly wrinkled and dry-looking and there were no signs of severe physical trauma that could have contributed to the death.
“I wonder if he’s the one who sent the message,” Yarmar echoed Hilosh’s thoughts. Were these words, spoken across the coldness of space to a tiny mining operation of mostly Vaparozh, where only one person even understood their meaning, the final words of this Anthar Kai crewmember? “Why am I?” indeed, Hilosh thought, completing the sentence with “about to drop on you all like an emissary of death?” Hilosh had just about enough of the Raire and its ghosts.
“I think we’ve seen all that we need to here,” Hilosh said, trying to find a spot to focus on in this room without seeing death and not finding any.
“We still don’t know what happened.” Yarmar had knelt down by the corpse behind the comms panel and gently prodded its shoulder with the muzzle of the neural devastator.
“We can leave that to the Anthar Kai. We did what we needed to, which is check for survivors.” Hilosh wished he could whisper this to Yarmar, away from Charosar’s ears, but they were on a shared frequency. “Now’s not the time to satisfy our personal curiosity.”
“It’s not personal curiosity, Hilosh. Something actually brought down a ship full of Thorians. And you know they would sooner burn the Raire down than let anyone else know how or why.”
From the corner of his eye, Hilosh could see Charosar straighten-up at this suggestion.
“I know. I know if the Anthar Kai takes over, we’ll never know what happened here. But do you really want to know? What do you think they’ll do if they suspect we might have this knowledge? We’re a small group of Vaparozh out in Dead Space and they’ll have no problem making sure that no one will ever miss us. Is that want you want for our crew?”
For a while, Yarmar didn’t move, communing silently with the dead Thorian she’d been studying.
“We might have already seen too much,” Hilosh added.
“You’re right, you’re right,” Yarmar said finally, getting up. “Let’s get off the ship, and pretend we didn’t see anything. Charosar?”
“You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve dreamt of being in a room full of dead Thorians,” the engineer answered, “But now that I’m here, I’m not so sure how much I prefer them to the lives ones.”
They piled out of the communications room, and behind them, Yarmar shut the door over the arm of the body that either never fully made it in or out. It closed on the appendage with a gut-wrenching thump and Hilosh had to remind himself that they weren’t the ones responsible and were just putting everything back in its rightful, or in this case, wrongful, place.
With Christmas Eve being tomorrow, instead of the usual weekly update I just wanted to share my season’s greetings with all of you who may be reading this blog.
If you’re here, I want you to know that I appreciate it. I think one day I might look back on these years as my humble beginnings, and if there’s any time for dreams and wishes, it’s around Christmas.
I know this year won’t be easy for a lot of you. If there’s loved ones you’re not able to see, I wish you a speedy reunion. If there’s something you didn’t get a chance to do, I hope it’s coming your way soon. If you sit at the end of the year lamenting it was unkind, I wish you only the very best in 2022.
I know sometimes the road isn’t easy, I know sometimes it’s hard to see why it is so. I know that we all feel tired, one way or another. Every day I am in awe of how fortunate I am to have a loving family by my side to steer me trough all of this. Whoever you are out there, either hug your anchors tighter, or take heart that families can be made.
Whatever you’re looking for this holiday season, I hope that we can find it together.
At the sound of the metal clang ringing through the cargo hold of the Raire, the speaker in Hilosh helmet picked up Charosar’s groan.
“And now we need to go in there,” Yarmar said, ignoring the sentiment.
“Why? Why do we ‘need’ to go in there?” Charosar demanded, voice rising.
“Because there could be someone alive out there.”
“Yes, someone Thorian.”
They let Charosar stew for a minute, the heavy exhales whistling through their earpieces.
“I don’t like this any more than you do, Charosar,” Hilosh said, “but Yarmar is right. If there’s still anyone alive in there we need to help them.” As if to sound its agreement with what Hilosh was saying, the faint metallic clang rang again from the direction of the door leading out of the cargo hold. Charosar turned her head slightly towards it. Hilosh may not have not known much about people, but what he did know was that if this had involved anyone but the Thorians, Charosar would have been the first one prying those doors open even in the absence of any signs of life from the other side. Personally, he considered himself lucky to have had few interactions with them outside of Anthar Kai supply runs, yet it was enough to help him at least understand Charosar’s sentiment, though not necessarily agree with it.
“Alright,” Charosar said finally. “You better have a good grip on that thing, Yarmar.” She nodded in the direction of the neural devastator gun in Yarmar’s hands.
“Don’t worry about me, Cha,” Yarmar assured and led them away from the fallen Thorian. Just as they were about to round the corner, Hilosh took one last look at the body, a shadow amongst shadows. Whatever happened to them, it was a lonely death.
The door leading out of the cargo hold also gave way to the transfer station’s safety protocols and soon the three Vaparozh were in the Raire’s main corridors, no less gloomy than where they came from.
“Would it kill them to install a brightness switch or something?” Charosar grumbled, even though the glasses she was wearing allowed her to be the only one of the three to have the ability to see half-decently in that light. For most species, this level of illumination resembled twilight on the planet they’d evolved on. For the Vaparozh, however, with their eyes were built for the bright sun of their own homeworld, this environment posed a particular challenge. The Thorians had a tendency to make themselves at home anywhere they went, even if they only comprised a miniscule minority of the population of the planet or moon they were occupying. So despite the fact that most of them had small surgical implants in the bridge of their noses to attach the darkened glasses they carried off-world to protect themselves from brighter suns, they made sure most interior environments were catered to their sensibilities. It was this exact environment on Rosha Chot’hagh that destroyed Charosar’s eyesight to the point where she had to wear the ocular enhancing glasses that now made her the unspoken volunteer to lead them through the Raire. Yarmar was a half-step behind her with her finger a hair from the trigger of the neural devastator, and Hilosh was at the rear.
Their progress was slow, in large part due to none of them having the appetite for suddenly coming face-to-face with another gruesome sight. They walked cautiously, studying every door and dim corner for any signs of the corpse’s fellow crewmembers, and when they finally found one, it presented itself matter-of-factly, in a take-it-or-leave-it way, just sitting on the wall, at waist level, without commentary, as if they had to simply accept it, and move on about their day. It was a smear of blood, about the width of a palm and twice as long, dried on the corridor wall. They stared at it in silence, Hilosh not even bothering to imagine what the other two were thinking. The body they’d found in the cargo hold, though a body it was, had just been lying there as if to make a simple statement – here is a dead body. This smear, even though it lacked a corresponding body, represented evidence of violence. Gone was any hope that this was an environmental system malfunction that righted itself too late. This was tangible evidence that they’d hardly even scratched the surface of what happened on board the Raire.
As Hilosh grimly suspected, it was a sign of what was to come, as up ahead they found the continued blood trail – drops that here and there formed into dried pools, some of them streaked across the floor. Hilosh believed in his crew more than he believed in himself. He wanted to suggest they turn back, that they’d seen enough, that another Anthar Kai ship would come along to investigate, that the clanging sound that drew them in was probably some persistent mechanical malfunction. It would take some time but he could convince himself that it was alright to change his mind, to turn back knowing that fifteen minutes earlier he thought investigating was the right thing to do. The other two, even Charosar despite herself, would not likely be so easily persuaded. Hilosh was thankful to them for not hesitating and, like any good leader, he knew when to follow.
They’d followed the trail of blood up two levels, to the deck where the bridge was likely located, but there it disappeared abruptly, and they hadn’t heard the metallic clang for so long that they suspected it might have stopped altogether.
After a minute of standing motionless listening to the ship, it was Charosar who asked, “Should we turn back? This is a ghost ship if there ever was one.”
“A supply ship like this wouldn’t have had that much crew to begin with, so it’s not a surprise we haven’t seen anyone,” Yarmar replied, conveniently glossing over the one crewmember that they had seen. “We should at least check out the bridge, and then we can go.”
They both turned to face Hilosh – a decision like this required both co-supervisors to be on board – and he wasn’t about to be the one who chose to run.
“I think it makes sense to check as far as the bridge. Then we can head back to the surface so we can think about putting together a proper salvage run.” He added that last part for his own benefit, because it made him feel that much closer to being off the ship.
He wondered what his son, Rachek, would think of his father then. Rachek had a penchant for opinions lately – they burst out of him with a destructive force that leveled everything in their path. What would Rachek make of his father’s fear; his reluctance in the face of the unknown? He’d probably say something like “this is why we lost” – something weighty that meant a lot to Rachek, but left Hilosh feeling mostly empty, like the Thorians had built a wall between him and his son.
They never did make it to the bridge.
Up ahead of them stood the door to the comms room, the source of that initial call that Viri played for them back at the mining facility, and it was only partially closed, because blocking its way was an arm. Presumably, Hilosh thought, the arm would be attached to a body still inside the room, though he wasn’t sure if he preferred that to the arm being disembodied. Perhaps if they never went in, and he didn’t have to find out for sure, he could go on pretending there was nothing beyond the door at all.
Yarmar, though, moved forward with determination.
“What –” Charosar managed to start but against his instincts Hilosh walked past her after Yarmar and Charosar had to join them.
I’m sure I’ve said this already but I can hardly believe it’s December, so I wanted to take this moment to go through a bunch of minor updates for this month
Launch of Second Magus
Just about a month to go before I finally start posting my LitRPG-inspired fantasy story on Royal Road. Expect a teaser cover here next week before I can on a short holiday break.
Second Novel Length
I keep thinking I’m about to finish the first draft of my second novel but yet it just keeps going. It recently broke 100,000 words making it only my second work that has crossed this threshold – the first being a mostly-for-fun project called Cassia and Mateo which was originally written for my kids. I already one of the ways to trim this one down though, having chosen to abandon a problematic subplot. Still going to need a whole lot of revising once it’s done to get it to a usable length.
Bloodlet Sun Chapter Musical Chairs
I remember a little while ago I wrote that the most recent chapter of The Bloodlet Sun I finished ended up being way too long, but I thought I needed to keep it that way because there was something in it that tied to the previous chapter. Now that I’m editing it, I don’t think I can go through with it anymore. There’s a pretty significant plot turn in the middle of this chapter that I think would serve much better as a mini cliffhanger, so I just might split this one into two, but only put one other character’s POV chapter between the two halves.
If anyone follows me on Twitter they would have discovered much to their annoyance that recently I’ve tweeting almost exclusively about hockey. I don’t know what it is, considering I can’t actually remember when the last time was that I watched a game. But my beloved Vancouver Canucks seem to be turning a corner and possibly leaving a dark era behind them by getting a new General Manager and coach. Hopefully this means that better times are ahead and I will have less of a need to send out bitter tweets.
Year in Reviews
As the year draws to a close though, while I lament how quickly it passed by, I’m still looking forward to doing my review posts. The writing one is especially exciting because it’s been an exceptionally productive year for me. The reading one, well, it hasn’t been great, but I did read some fantastic things so I’ll be happy to highlight that. Might even add a quick exercise in review entry, if only to motivate myself to try to beat my goals for the following year.
Speaking of the year-in-review. As many of you had experience in early December, I was pretty stoked for my Spotify wrapped this year as it perfectly hits on two favourite areas of mine – lists and egoism. My kids again managed to eff up my top songs, as four of the five entries were from my five year-old’s Disney villains playlist that he insisted we create for him. One of these days this thing will actually be accurate for me. With top artist I ended up with Green Day, mostly because they appear the most in my ridiculous everything-and-the-kitchen-sink playlist. Still made it into the top .5% of listeners which just goes to show that no else listens to them anymore.
Princess Switch 3
Okay if you’re all looking for lighthearted holiday entertainment, oh, and seeing one of the best acting performances of all time, may I recommend the Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star? If you want to see Vanessa Hudgens not only play three different characters but also those characters cosplaying as each other (who doesn’t?) then this is the right one for you. I’m not even kidding. Whatever you say about the third installment in the series, Hudgens is so good at blending her characters, it’s worth it for that alone. Do recommend the prior two movies first, both to understand the plot/characters but also because they are admittedly much better movies.
Anyway, I think that’s it for fun December things. Still can’t believe the next one will be in 2022.
Nothing had changed since the last time they were at the transfer station – the Raire looked the same, still idle and pristine, docked into the station’s main loading port while their shuttle approached the smaller entrance on the opposite side. Inside the station, the panel by the airlock door that separated them from the Anthar Kai supply vessel indicated that there was nothing wrong with the atmosphere or the temperature in the Raire. Still, they opted for full-body environmental suits with their own oxygen supply before they attempted entry.
“Looks like everything’s docked properly,” Yarmar said as the enormous station-side door began to open to fit the dimensions of the Raire’s cargo door. “So as long as the Raire’s crew didn’t bypass any standard security protocols, which I wouldn’t put past them, we should be able to open the ship from this side.”
After a few more keystrokes and some ominous beeping, the seam in the Raire’s doors started to open and as the two halves slid part, it gave the three Vaparozh their first glimpse of the inside of the Anthar Kai ship’s cargo hold.
“Must be an all-Thorian crew,” Yarmar commented. The lighting inside the Raire resembled twilight with a slight red tint – not too dark to make out shapes but not optimal for climbing onto a starship with a mysteriously disappeared crew.
With the reddish colour and general dimness, the cavernous cargo compartment, which was five times their height and one of several that comprised the overall cargo space of the supply ship, looked like the open mouth of an enormous beast. The image had not made it any easier for Hilosh to take a step forward, but Yarmar headed in, neural devastator at the ready, so him and Charosar had no choice but to follow. They had to walk past rows of crates and large containers on the way to the door visible on the other side of the vast room.
“Keep an eye out for anything we might want to bring down to the surface.” Yarmar motioned in the direction of a refrigerated container, which may have been filled with consumable goods. It still didn’t sit fully right with Hilosh to be pilfering anything from the Raire, but having now been on the ship and seeing no signs of life, the idea started to become more palatable. Much to his annoyance, even salvage wasn’t going to be an easy task since most of the containers here were marked only with serial numbers. They’d either need to find a way to access the Anthar Kai ship’s manifest or go through each container with brute force. And this was only the top deck of the cargo hold, with several layers beneath their feet to scour. Going through the daunting task in his head only swelled the desire to find at least one survivor that could aid them in the search.
They had nearly made it to the door leading to the rest of the ship when they encountered the first of the crew.
All three of them almost walked by it, but an unusual dark shape between the crates caught Hilosh’s eye and made his knees buckle momentarily. Yarmar turned sharply at that, devastator pointing at the narrow space. The shape, however, was not moving, though it was clear to them that sometime previously, it would have been able to.
They approached slowly, and Hilosh wondered whether dragging the process out this way was better or worse for his twin hearts that seemed to be competing as to which one could beat the most desperately in his chest. There was a new kind of dread that filled him when they were close enough to distinguish the position the body was lying in – fetal, arms wrapped around its knees and head mostly tucked in. It was wearing the crisp black uniform of the Anthar Kai, with the silver buttons up the sleeves and short coattails on the back. Of the head, only the hair was visible, so it was difficult to tell whether they were Thorian, and no one was eager to move the body to confirm.
It’s not that Hilosh had never seen a dead body before. Working at mine sites and construction sites, there was no avoiding coming face to face with the aftermath of an accident. But there was a sense of obviousness about those incidents – a fall, getting crushed by machinery, malfunctioning equipment that exploded. Here, there was nothing clearly wrong with the victim – no blood, no visible injury, just the crumpled shell of something that used to be alive, now discarded like the outer skin of some insect or crustacean. There was nothing revolting about it, and their respirators would have dealt with any smell, but it left Hilosh feeling hollowed out. He turned away, and noticed for the first time the reactions of his crew – Charosar with the distant stare of someone who’d seen enough senseless death up close and Yarmar with her mouth slightly pursed, her eyes moving in small rapid motions.
“What do you think happened?” Yarmar asked, which made Hilosh worry that she would bend down and inspect the body.
“No idea,” Hilosh answered refusing to look back.
“I don’t know,” Charosar admitted, “Hands look weird though.”
At this, Hilosh looked over his shoulder in time to see Yarmar take a step forward and push with her boot against the corpse’s hand.
“They look shriveled, almost dried. And what’s that?” Yarmar’s nudge revealed busted darkened fingertips covered in what looked like dried blood.
“We should get out of here,” Charosar said, “We have access to the cargo, so we should just find what we need and go.”
“We need to find out what happened here,” Yarmar’s tone was even, like she was quoting from somewhere instead of speaking for herself.
“What more do we need to find out? They’re dead.” Now it was Charosar who turned around abruptly and walked back in the direction of the main passage between the containers. “The Anthar Kai will come pick up their ship eventually, there’s nothing else we can do.”
They’d all clearly heard it, as even Charosar stopped in her tracks and turned her head in the direction of the sound. Hilosh would never have imagined that within the silence that the curled-up body seemed to have enveloped them in, a single distinct metallic clang coming from deeper within the ship could invoke such terror.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.