Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
The Thorian, who stood just inside the galley door, eyed the three approaching crewmembers with some interest, and perhaps expected what was coming. From where Boro was sitting, it was hard to truly discern the Thorian’s expression behind the glasses that shielded his eyes from lights that had been attuned to the brightness of Humanity’s homeworld. The Nabak took first honours – built like a boar and with an ugly mug to match – the Thorian had more than a foot on him but still took a broad shoulder into the kidney, or whatever Thorian equivalent resided in that part of the abdomen. Eframe followed in close second, this time jostling the Thorian shoulder-to-shoulder. Boro thought that Meslina would opt for something more creative but she repeated Eframe’s gesture, the Thorian swaying back with each collision like a jammed revolving door.
It was juvenile stuff, reminiscent of how cadets elbowed within the pecking order at the Academy. Boro’s only regret was that Surch had just stepped out and missed it.
Boro had always heard that a Thorian’s forehead horns, though more akin to mere bumps, did something funny when they were steamed. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like Boro or the others remaining in the galley were in for any sort of show. The Thorian attempted to discretely take a deep breath, straightened his shirt, and approached the counter of Meeron’s kitchen.
“What do you have for me today, Meeron?” The Thorian asked, propping his elbows up on the counter.
Meeron stood with his arms crossed for a moment, chewing on his lip, and then responded, his colonial accent sounding thicker than normal. “Only fish.”
The Thorian gave him a tight-lipped smile and surveyed the room without moving his elbows. There were only two fish dishes in the place, while the rest ate salad, or chicken or some packaged protein paste that may once upon a time have contained a certain percentage of a cow. He turned back to Meeron, who shrugged.
“Then fish it is.”
When the Thorian turned around after receiving his fish portion, notably with no sides, Boro flagged him down with a curt wave.
“Mr. Mikarik,” Boro greeted him as the Thorian lowered himself into the chair across from Boro. Early on in their journey, Mikarik insisted that there was no “Mister” or anything of the sort attaching to Thorian names, but eventually gave up on the corrections.
“Commander,” the Thorian answered, poking at the fish with his fork.
“Take it you’re not a big fan of fish?”
“Not particularly. It’s far too …”
“Fishy?” Boro suggested.
“Yes, I suppose for lack of a better word. We’re not exactly keen on sea food. Especially the little ones, so this is a learning experience for me.”
“In that case, here’s to learning experiences,” Boro said, lifting up his own forkful of flaky white meat, and after swallowing, continued. “So, I’ve been reading your file.”
“A solid indicator that it's about time you put yourself in stasis.”
Boro forced a laugh. “Yes, true maybe. You’ve flown during the Nabak Insurrection, haven’t you?”
“That’s what I like about you, Commander, never afraid to go straight to the point.”
“Should I be afraid?”
“Not at all. But I think maybe there’s reason for me to be?”
It annoyed Boro that he couldn’t tell whether the Thorian was smiling or not. Pretty much every sentient species smiled, a quirk of convergent evolution that seemed to be in ample supply in the Known Reaches. The Thorians that he chanced to meet though, were not as generous with the expression, and this one in particular seemed to always have his lips curled slightly to confuse Boro’s Human-adjusted eyes. More to avoid the Thorian’s expression than to refresh his memory, Boro picked up his personal computer tablet and, selecting a conveniently located shortcut, pulled up Mikarik’s file.
“You’ve seven confirmed fighter-to-fighter kills during that campaign,” Boro said, without lifting his eyes, and getting some satisfaction in the Thorian making the slightest move to try to read the tablet from where he was sitting.
“I’m a decent pilot.” The Thorian leaned back in his chair.
“And a decent shot it seems.”
If a single Thorian possessed an ego outside whatever collective selfishness drove the species, Boro thought that he could see it behind the tint of Mikarik’s glasses and around the corners of his mouth.
“If I recall, you’ve also distinguished yourself in operations that took down three larger vessels, one of which was …”
The sparkle of pleasure and faint smile vacated the Thorian’s face, and instead took residence on Boro’s.
“A Mraboran humanitarian ship, was it?”
After a moment, Mikarik put his elbows on the table, the sides of his arms facing forward, and his hands clasped under his chin.
“Have you ever been in a battle, Commander? I mean a real battle. Not a training exercise, or hanging back on the sidelines while two heavy ships engage in nothing more than a cursory exchange of fire just so they can report back to their superiors that they tried? Your father has. I’ve heard of him. Captain Avanthy Stevin? Admiral by now, I gather. Probably the only Human of note that I’d heard of until your friends from Intelligence picked me up on Kargoosh. But beyond that, Humanity is young, and small, and in all fairness, ambitious, but it’s inexperienced and is hardly in a position to criticize a power like the Empire on the conduct of war.”
Sometime last week I happened to come across one of those “You have $15 to do X. Who do you choose?” graphics where it lists a bunch of things/people at $5/$4/$3/$2/$1 costs and you share how you would put together whatever “X” is. For “X”, I’ve seen everything from music festival lineups to sports teams to your ideal Marvel superhero team-up. So seeing these, I wanted to put together my own, and inspired mostly by how hard I’ve been writing my space opera web fiction recently, came up with this Pick Your Own Space Crew graphic:
First choice I made was confining selections to one from each category. These are a less common variant, and I’ve mostly seen this with putting together sports teams (confining the choices to one per position). However, since I’m pushing for an actual crew here, and wanted to include ships as well as people, I thought this would be the best way to present.
Second, I needed to figure out what franchises to dip into. On the one hand, I wanted to keep it accessible, on the other hand, other than Star Trek and Star Wars (and Guardians of the Galaxy, if you can really put it in the same category) sci-fi doesn’t exactly have a wide audience. So I dipped into things somewhat more obscure including Battlestar Galactica, which, I’m going to go ahead and admit right now at the risk of excommunication, I haven’t actually seen, though of course heard a lot about. Also I think given that I have four individuals from Star Trek and two of them are from Voyager, its easy to tell which television series was the first one our whole family got into when we moved to Canada.
Third, and it’s not like I hadn’t already known this, but man does sci-fi have a diversity problem. There’s been some improvement in this area recently. Star Wars is making some strides, though the abysmal treatment of John Boyega proves there’s a whole lot of work that needs to be done on that front. I also hear Star Trek: Discovery is great and it’s been on my “want to watch” list for a while. But overall, and especially with the most culturally prominent roles and characters, this is an area that is still predominantly white and male.
I tried to push back against this with how I organized my graphic, and I probably could have done a better job of it but the limited material was challenging to work with. This is one of the major reasons I try to break this trend with my own writing, but as with any aspiring writer the odds of me ever making any kind of cultural impact are pretty slim. Here’s hoping though.
In addition to the difficulties created by the diversity problem I just described, generally picking and organizing what was included in the graphic was not a straightforward task. I wanted to represent multiple franchises without spreading myself too thin, which worked to an extent. I expect few people to actually recognize John Sheridan and Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5, but it being my favourite sci-fi show, I couldn’t resist.
Then once the actual elements have been selected, picking which cost categories they go into was its own challenge. The entire $5 tier is Star Trek and Star Wars. Is it really because I think these are worth the theoretical $5 or because that’s what I think other people will value them as? It was a little bit of both, which is why the lesser known franchises occupy the lower tiers, sometimes unfairly. Is Han really a better pilot than Po? Definitely not. But rank the original fan favourite below the new guy, all hell will break loose. Or in the case of Serenity – it literally has no weapons, but at the same time it’s a far more iconic vessel than the Milano, even though more people have seen the Milano in action than Serenity. Will a million offended fanboys tell me that Obi Wan should rank higher than Ahsoka? Probably. But Ahsoka is my favourite lightsaber duelist in the whole franchise, and I’ll die on that hill.
There’s definitely places where I could have been braver putting this together. But overall it as just something fun to do while watching TV, so it is what it is. And if anyone’s interested, my selection would be: Captain Janeway, Harry Kim, Ivanova and Ahsoka on the Millennium Falcon.
Drop a comment to let me know who you would be choosing.
Boro hovered patiently trying not breathe too loudly behind the Head Engineer.
“You’re not going to leave before I allow Maggie access back into my systems, are you?” Aimi asked without looking up at him, fingers busy at the console.
“I know this is an unusual situation for you, and if I was in your place, I’d have some choice words about the Navy too.” Was it possible to see someone rolling their eyes while looking at the back of their head? Boro shrugged and pressed on. “But first and foremost, this is a military ship.”
“Spare me, Commander. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Captain Pueson and I don’t need him to send an echo up here.”
Boro realized this was the longest she had kept still, but just as the thought passed through his mind, she was on the move again.
“On the books, the Forseti is a research vessel. As far as its organized, the Forseti is a research vessel. In its mission, the Forseti is a research vessel. But then there’s the command crew, and don’t get me started on your little weapons dungeon which frankly the less I know about, the better I feel. Why a research vessel needs to be armed as if we’re going to fight off the entire Empire by ourselves is – anyway. At the end of the day, I make sure you have air to breathe, I make sure you have running water. My team and I are busy getting the ship where you say we need it to go, and making sure that no one sees it while we’re getting there. But what do I know? I’m just a lowly civilian,” she gave him a cruel smile. “I’m not invited to the officers’ table and yet I’m supposed to accept being bossed around by a glorified personal organizer.”
“Is that what this is really about? A seat at the table?”
To her credit, Aimi did her best to hide that she was grinding her teeth.
“What this is about, Commander.” Never before had his title sounded so much like some sort of derision, “is that it’s my job to make sure the ship doesn’t come apart at the seams. And you need to do a better job of making sure the crew doesn’t do the same. You can let Maggie know she can have full access again, but from now on, this is a partnership. Not a chain of command. Understood?”
Boro’s mind was torn between having to acquiesce to the ultimatum and repeating Pueson’s words about the Forseti being first and foremost a military vessel. Both options seemed to lack the nuance that recognized that the Forseti was, on the books, a research vessel; a research vessel that was outfitted with what Aimi had so lovingly referred to as “the dungeon”.
“I will speak, to Maggie.” His response, spoken coolly despite the pounding he felt in his temple, didn’t satisfy him, but it at least left him in the position of a benevolent compromiser. Whether that registered with the Engineer remained a mystery to Boro, since without any kind of acknowledgement or even a nod, she returned to her work.
Back on the bridge, it took Surch one look at Boro to say, “I see that went well.”
Boro wanted to laugh it off, but everything in his head sounded clumsy and peevish. “To Ishikawa’s credit, she runs a tight ship, even if we’d apparently failed to provide one.”
“What’s that?” Surch asked.
“I’ll fill you in later. The important thing is to remember that it’s expected that our civilian crew will have some adjustment difficulties, but it’s in everyone’s best interests to cooperate.” As he said this, he cast his glance over to Maggie, who stood in the same leaning position she had been in when he left.
“I take it the threats against my life have been rescinded?” She asked.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Good. I like Ishikawa. She knows her ship.”
“Of course,” Maggie answered with a vague smile, “it’s ours.” She then placed her left hand, the one with lighter grey veins running through her otherwise deep brown skin, over five circular holes in her console, each only a few millimetres in diameter, and metallic tubes wriggled from between her nails and each of her fingertips and inserted themselves into the entry ports.
Most of the time, the galley was a fairly deserted place, with only a handful of people in it a time, but there were peaks, especially between shifts, when as much as half the population of the ship ate and drank together, their chatter melting together into a cheerful din. For whatever reason, though he had struck Boro as a largely solitary creature, the Thorian preferred to make his appearances during these times. Perhaps he derived a sort of pleasure from the reactions of some of the crew that filtered towards him through the room, which wouldn’t have surprised Boro, because who knew what these Thorians truly derived their pleasure from. So it caused little surprise, but no small amount of irritation, when the Thorian deigned show up during the last such peak before the start of the next stasis rotation, which was about to effectively deprive the Thorian of his audience for a week.
Most heads perked up at his entrance, faces adorned with a mix of idle to disgusted curiosity as well as freshly-sharpened eye daggers being sent towards the door of the galley. Head Engineer Ishikawa and Dr. Sufai, who often sat at the same table, were some of the few that hadn’t bothered even looking up.
The deliberate scrape of three chairs across the floor made Boro shudder, not entirely from the sound. Meslina, a junior engineer named Eframe Gonsyn, and the Nabak all rose. They left behind plates of unfinished food and headed for the galley door.
There was some sort of occupational requirement for Techevers to be a bit different. A generous way to describe them would be ‘loopy’; however, Boro suspected that “absolutely unhinged” was a more appropriate label. And though some of the kinks have been worked out of this experiment that was now in its second decade, as self-induced attrition among them was at an all-time low, Boro still believed they were largely a hindrance, rather than the promised ultimate link between human and machine.
Boro took a deep breath and cocked his head to the side. “Okay Maggie, you’re going to have to walk me through this one.”
“Very well. Engineer Ishikawa made it very clear that if I go rooting around her systems again without her permission, that she will personally, and I quote ‘Rip all those little dangly things from my fingers and shove them all the way – ’”
“Thank you, Maggie, that’s enough.”
“Are you sure? It went on for quite some time and I’ve got it all pretty much committed to memory.”
“No, that’s alright.”
“Too bad. Aimi has a fantastic command of language and an absolute arsenal of synonyms for various body parts.”
Boro had no answer but threw back a pleading look at Surch, who shrugged and said, “That sounds like your bread and butter, Commander.”
When he entered the engine room, nothing told Boro that anything was out of the ordinary. Aimi moved in fits and spurts, punching at buttons in a way that put about five times more wear and tear on them than necessary, but this was standard operating procedure for the Head Engineer. The engines themselves hummed away peacefully, stretched along either side of the room. As Boro walked between them towards the back of the room where the reactor was located, Aimi continued to ignore him as the two other engineers on duty cast furtive glances between him and their boss. At the heart of the reactor stood a translucent chamber where, suspended at its centre, was a black glassy ball about the width of Boro’s thumbnail that not only provided the ship with power but also the necessary touch of inexplicable magic needed for it to skim the surface of subspace at speeds that were magnitudes above the speed of light. When he leaned in to take a closer look at the quivering shadow that enveloped it, Aimi appeared behind him and asked, “Surely, we shouldn’t have to expect an inspection every time there’s a minor hiccup down here?”
“Inspection?” Boro feigned surprise with two innocently raised eyebrows. “I’d think of it as more of a house call.”
“Whatever you prefer to call, I think it hardly warrants any attention.”
“And what is ‘it’, exactly?”
“Just the drop being temperamental, nothing new, especially with this one.” Aimi threw up her chin in the direction of the black sphere behind Boro.
“How do you mean?”
“I don’t know where it’s been repurposed from, but it’s seen some things over its lifetime. Not sure who in their right mind thought that it was a good idea to make it power a skimmer and keep the ship ghosted for several months at a time. It acts up here and there, so I’m forced to make decisions as to what bears the brunt of its moods. And considering that the ghost is what’s keeping the ship alive, a figured a little drop of speed would be nothing to write home about.”
Boro’s lip curled into the start of a smile, wondering how it was that the time Aimi and Surch were evidently spending together had slipped past his attention.
“Maybe we could have skipped this whole conversation if you allowed Maggie to do her job,” Boro suggested.
“Ah, so that’s why you’re here.” Aimi, as if having completely lost all interest, continued her rounds of instruments and displays.
“I hear there may have been an exchange of words.”
“In all fairness to Maggie, it was a very one-sided exchange.”
“I figured,” Boro said with a smirk that must somehow have been audible since Aimi wheeled on him.
“Commander, maybe it’s easy for you, squirreled away on your bridge, to forget what’s going on elsewhere on the ship, but from where I’m standing, it’s hardly pretty.” Her glasses slipped down a slightly long pale nose, the lights of the engine room accentuating the hard set of her jaw. “Some genius, in the Navy, mind you, these are your friends here, gave us a drop that’s more fit to power a very large toaster instead of an ORC starship. Some other genius, or maybe it’s the same genius, decided to give a Thorian free reign of the ship. My second’s a Nabak, gitang it, how do you think that affects him when that smug bumpy-headed asshole pokes his head in? And on top of that, no matter what I’m doing, no matter what I’m in the middle of, I’ve got that Techever rooting around in my systems, telling me how to do my job.”
Boro barely opened his mouth to speak when Aimi put up her hand, her fingers spread. “I know they’re the Navy’s favourite toy right now, but I’ve never worked with a Techever before. No one even bothered to tell me there was one on board this ship until one day Maggie calls down and tries to tell me how to run my engines. Commander, I’ve been an engineer on a comet chaser that was basically just cobbled together spare parts and I feel like that was run better than the Forseti.”
“I think you’re exaggerating.”
“Well if you’re finding nothing unusual, then I’m really concerned about the state of our Navy.” She turned away before she finished her sentence, and Boro followed her silently as she walked to a panel at the opposite end of the engine room and started typing in commands.
Recently I was doing some preliminary research for a future project that’s currently in the “dream” phase, that is, it’s not a full-fledged project that will currently take up time (as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I just added a new work to my plate and even I’m not so deranged as to spread myself even thinner). This particular line of research led me to 19th century Russian literature where I discovered a curious but quintessentially Russian pattern – in order to be a great Russian writer in the 19th century, all one had to do was die.
Some of these names won’t be familiar to you. Western readers tend to focus on those that were prolific towards the end of that century, like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, but some of these names are bigger in Russia than even the three I mentioned. Alexander Pushkin, for example, is considered by most to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. He’s a household name with a multitude of statues honouring him. Yet, he had died at the ripe age of 37 in 1837, shot in the stomach during a duel (the 29th of Pushkin’s career) by a man allegedly trying to seduce Pushkin’s wife.
Mikhail Lermontov, the greatest figure in Russian Romanticism who carried the mantle of Russia’s greatest poet after Pushkin’s death did so for only four years, dying at the age of 26, also in a duel. Apparently, he had teased one of his military cadet school friends so mercilessly over his attire that the man, despite likely having the knowledge that Lermontov planned to throw away his shot, still shot the poet through the heart.
No less tragically but far less colourfully, the previously mentioned Chekov died of tuberculosis at age 44. And Nikolai Gogol, the author of Dead Souls, one of my all-time favourite novels, passed after refusing food for nine straight days amidst a struggle with mental health issues and a crisis of spirituality. He was 42.
The worst fate of the lot befell Alexander Griboyedov, one of Pushkin’s mentors and Russia’s appointed ambassador to Iran. After Griboyedov provided sanctuary to several Armenian slaves who had escaped a harem, a frenzied mob broke into the embassy and murdered the Russian ambassador [GRUESOME DETAIL WARNING] It was said that Griboyedov was promptly decapitated, his head displayed on a spike by a kebab vendor, while his body ended up atop a garbage heap after enduring three days of abuse in the streets [END OF GRUESOME DETAILS] As part of the reparation for Griboyedov’s death, Russia received the Shah diamond, which formed part of the Russian crown jewels until the Revolution, and is now displayed in the Kremlin.
To be fair, some folks around this time did have some longevity, including those names most familiar to Western audiences. Tolstoy lasted until he was 82, while Dostoyevsky reached a more modest 59, his health having been impacted by five years of Siberian exile … because Russia.
Aside from maybe Griboyedov, with all due respect to his accomplishments, the four I had mentioned were not some minor literary notes in the history of Russia, but were some of its biggest names, despite their untimely passing. The deaths of Pushkin and Lermontov in duels likely contributed to cementing the role of this honour dispute in Russian culture. I knew what a “second” was (the friend chosen by each of the duelists to assist them in the conduct of the duel) in Russian as early as ten years old. Whereas I’d hardly known what the term was in English until years after getting to Canada, and the only reason I even recognized it in context was because of its passing similarity to the Russian “sekundant”. It’s also why when I was watching Bridgerton and the dueling scene came up, I was bizarrely giddy with excitement before I realized I was just feeling nostalgic for a plot device I’ve hardly come across since my childhood (Hamilton musical excepted, of course).
As I mentioned at the start of this entry, there’s something peculiarly Russian about all this. The authors, much like many of their heroes, shone bright, died early and left a heavily romanticized corpse. Affairs of honour, diseases, mental illness – the darkness of the art that has become so associated with Russia is reflected in life itself, fitting for a country whose history can be summed up in the single sentence “And then things got worse.” It’s incredible how these people left such a mark on their culture in such a short amount of time, but if this is the prerequisite to being a successful Russian author, I’m going to have to take a hard pass and die in obscurity.
Hopefully I can instead take a cue from the Russian people who’d made their name writing in English. Vladimir Nabokov’s 78, Ayn Rand’s 77 and Isaac Asimov’s 72 are not exactly impressive, but are far more palatable.
What Boro did know, is that Drain Vortexes were, by and large, a useless cosmic phenomenon. Appearing within or around the Known Reaches once every twenty or thirty years, they allowed for well-shielded ships to travel through them over great distances in a fraction of what it normally took, which on the surface sounded appealing, but the wormholes usually led to some random desolate spot in Dead Space and had the irritating tendency of collapsing on themselves without warning after only a few months. When the Iastret lost several ships to the sudden closing of the last Drain Vortex, leaving more than a hundred of their people stranded about six years from Iastret space with provisions to barely last a year, one would have assumed all interest in the wormholes would have faded. This would have been true for pretty much any other species, except the Iastret were crafted from a different cloth, and as though proving the utility of the wormholes would somehow avenge their lost people, they set out to dissect the data they had collected in earnest.
What they found was whereas the technology currently used for faster-than-light travel was able to skip a vessel along the surface of subspace, the Drain Vortexes acted as a whirlpool that created a passage of normal space through the surrounding subspace. They further concluded that with the right equipment and technical expertise the details of which made Boro’s mind slip through his own Drain Vortex to a secluded beach somewhere in the Mer Pacific, a ship could penetrate through the walls of the wormhole, and find itself fully immersed in subspace. From there, provided that everyone on board the ship survived the journey, which the Iastret whole-heartedly assured they would, the data that would be collected would be analyzed to allow the ship to puncture a hole back into normal space, and then freely back and forth, cutting down interstellar travel times down to fractions.
To get this mission financed, the Iastret had essentially promised the whole galaxy – if there was anything of worth out there beyond Dead Space – a crossing that would theoretically take almost half a century would take less than a year. And similarly, a crossing of the entire Known Reaches would be a matter of a mere couple days and not six months.
The Iastret were smart. This was a truth generally acknowledged, like the fact that the Thorians were arrogant bastards, and that the Hatvan were stuck-up bastards. But were the Iastret smart enough to break through the surface of subspace without crushing the ship to the size of a grain of sand? Boro wasn’t sure how keen he was to be a willing participant in that experiment.
Not to mention that what remained unsaid during that briefing, despite hovering like a cold razor against the necks of the whole crew, was the main reason why the ship had to maximize its provisions at Yshot Station. This wormhole’s other end was flung out about a four years’ journey into Dead Space. If it were to collapse when they were on the other side, or worse, while they were still in it, best case scenario was being stranded several years’ journey from home without a single planet with even a shred of organic life along the way.
Less than a week after the incident in the galley, just when Meslina started showing her face there again and even shared a laugh with Meeron as if nothing even happened but for the slight undertone that if something were to ever happen again, one of them might not live to laugh about it, Boro thought that he could make it to the end of the rotation without another pressure valve releasing all over his day.
He was on bridge duty, a place that had frequently grown more crowded and where he was forced to appear more and more often. Yshot Station itself was in a far-flung corner of Iastret space near the frontier of the Thorian Empire, but the quickest way there lay through relatively dense confluence of Iastret and Vaparozh space, which required a bit more vigilance to stay off sensors. Increased vigilance, however, was pretty much where the excitement peaked and Boro spent most of the time on the bridge talking to Surch and trying not to gag whenever the Parsk Nahur moved and wafted some of his strong aroma in Boro’s direction.
The little cautioning sound that came from Surch’s console nearly startled Boro into a call for red alert.
“Report.” Boro ordered.
“Report?” Surch chuckled. “I know you’ve got your infinite love for paperwork, but I don’t think I can squeeze an essay out of this one.”
“Just tell me what’s going on.”
“Rounding down? Absolutely nothing. Looks like there’s a small drop in power to engines, but nothing worth writing home about.”
Surch had been using the phrase more and more frequently as they neared Yshot Station – the one time they would be given the opportunity to write home before going off the grid as they entered Thorian space. The way Surch joked, nothing ever happened on the ship that was worth writing home about and claimed that the only content of his communication back to Earth would be, “Hey ma, send samosas.”
The alarm and the problem it identified were trivial, but trying to sneak a ghosted ship through a narrow strip between busy shipping lanes made Boro all the more aware that all trivial problems had ambitions to become something greater. Even if Surch, who was used to mostly flying single-person starfighters that required looking at issues with a narrow lens, was unphased by it, Boro liked to think there was a reason he had earned a command position well ahead of his classmate, and that was his ability to see the big picture. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a reliable insight into the big picture was conspicuously quiet.
Maggie Okoth, the Techever, was standing leaning with her back against the far curved wall of the bridge. She never sat, which for whatever reason bothered Boro.
“Maggie, you have a read for me on that engine trouble?” Boro asked.
Surch cleared his throat.
“On that minor engine abnormality that Lieutenant Guraty guarantees won’t kill us in the long run.”
“Nope,” the Techever answered, a baffling smile across her lips.
“Pretty much a big ‘nope’.”
Sometimes my past writing decisions make me scratch my head and wonder why I insist on doing this to myself.
Alright, I get it, as The Bloodlet Sun was ramping up last summer before its release in September, I had to give it undue attention in order to fill up my buffer. I can respect that. I can also understand that because of this redistribution of time, I sidelined my goal of churning out two new revisions for my novel. I even, under different circumstances, would have understood not even finishing that first revision, especially since we then had a baby and it took me a while to get back into my writing routine.
What I refuse to understand, as I finally pick up my Wake the Drowned again to see if I can take a crack at one more revision before going on the attempted publication journey, is abandoning that revision with three(!) pages left. Seriously, between the three pages left to edit on physical paper and a dozen pages left to input into my digital version, this is, at best, forty minutes of work. Forty minutes! When I had like five months in the year that I could have done it.
So instead of putting a tidy ribbon on one revision, stewing on it for half a year, and coming back to it with a fresh approach, I have to deal with this scrawny little tail end of my work, shake it off and dive right back in. So naturally instead of just getting it over with, I’m letting the daunting task of my next revision weigh on me, scaring me away from finishing the last few pages, even though this particular task is so small and discreet.
I know I come in here saying that writers shouldn’t see themselves as some special tortured souls for their writing. Yes, we share some common traits and there’s no shame in that but doubling down on it just seems exclusionary. And I know it sounds like this is what I’m doing right now, but it’s really just an example of my own neuroses translating to my writing work. I personally also find it ridiculous and a colossal waste of my time.
I know in the end, I’ll tear this Band-Aid off at some point. Right now, I’m constructively procrastinating by pulling up a short story that I started writing a couple of years before the pandemic started but that touches on themes of quarantine and giving it some final edits using lessons learned from the actual quarantine we’ve all experienced. Not a waste of time by any means, but still not the thing I need to be working on to clear the logjam that’s been preventing me from putting the finishes touches on this novel and finally letting it rest.
So I’ll just say this one was a lesson learned – procrastination now can only lead to worse procrastination later. Sounds like a tidy morale, but knowing how easily I get distracted from project to project, let’s see if this one has any chance of sticking.
I you hadn’t realized this by now, the best solution to having too many projects on the go and feeling that you’re barely keeping up with what you have on your plate is to put more onto your plate. This has obviously worked for me at buffets, the ensuing bellyache but an irrelevant detail, so surely it will work with my writing. Okay, yes, no rational part of my brain believes this. Unfortunately, the Venn diagram of the rational part of my brain and the writing part of my brain are two non-overlapping circles, so somebody please send help, I’ve done it again.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve recently set out to find new audiences forThe Bloodlet Sun and joined Royal Road – one of the internet’s premier homes for web fiction. You can find the page here. It currently follows the same release schedule as my blog, but an account on Royal Road makes following stories easier if you prefer.
Growing my story on Royal Road has been a slow process, which comes as no surprise so I’m not kicking myself over it. My installments tend to fall below average in length and frequency, and science fiction is not the genre that does best on the site. Still, I have five followers, which is success any way you cut it. Looking round Royal Road for the stuff that does do well, which is frequently hardcore progression-style LitRPGs, I had a brilliantly terrible idea – to try my hand at one of those stories myself.
I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy genre, but outside of the story I’ve been telling to my kids over the last two years, haven’t made a serious attempt to write in it. This would be a great opportunity to flex those muscles, and on the off chance that I’m actually decent at it and the story attracts an audience, then I can use that platform to cross-promote The Bloodlet Sun and my other writing. Worst case scenario, the story is bad or falls flat with the website’s audience. It will get deleted and I will pretend it never happened. Either way, I would have had some crucial practice in and hopefully even get feedback out of it as a bonus. Time spent writing is never wasted.
The other benefit of this particular project or experiment, however you want to label it, is I’ve had an idea for a fantasy story that I’ve been developing in my head for years now, unable to figure out what medium to commit it to. I’m sure other authors have that dusty shelf in their mind where ideas gather other ideas but mostly dust, never to see the light of day. So it felt good picking that up, plucking out the stray hairs and dust and whatever gunk collected on it, and then actually trying to polish into a full-fledged plot now that there’s some pressure of delivering a coherent product. Not sure if I ever would have tackled it without finding the web novel outlet for it, but I am certainly intent on giving it all I’ve got now that I’ve started.
As of the time of this entry, I’m about 9,000 words, which translates to maybe 6-7 installments. However, we’re talking rough first draft here where most names are still placeholders and there’s a sea of red underlines and probably some unfinished sentences that I was totally going to complete later but “later” hasn’t arrived yet. If I had to guess, release is still three to four months away depending on how big of a chapter dump and buffer I want to start with. So it’s not exactly like it’s a slipshod hasty solution to getting more exposure for my other story. My whole writing career is a long game, and this is no exception – I’d rather take the time than put out some hot garbage out there.
Speaking of things I’m putting out there, I just want to say that this decision isn’t easy. My writing will now span the entire gamut from a light(ish) fantasy story released on the internet to my continued attempts to get my novel-length contemporary fiction traditionally published. Whether fair or not, there’s a fear that delving into these genres and publication methods would hamper my ability to market myself in this other world I’m trying to break into. And maybe the fear is justified. At the same time, I’m not a fan of trying to cater myself to the tastes of others just because they might unfairly judge me. Life is too short to hide.
So if you’re looking forward to a plucky orphan discovering the world, developing special powers and fighting great evil (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), then look forward to my own take on this, The Second Magus, coming some time this spring/summer.
“You have to pardon my crude metaphor,” Boro replied in response to the Intelligence officer’s assurances over the Thorian’s viability as an asset, “but if you tell me a lion’s got no teeth or claws and ask me to spend a night in its cage, it doesn’t mean I’ll be sleeping. Between Nabak, the Hatvan Troubles, and the Last Gasp, we’ll have people who either fought against them or knew somehow who did.” He could feel Meslina stiffen in the chair next to his. “There’s got to be a better way. If you can just go back to the previous screen.” The Intelligence officer obliged. “Admiral, you said we’re getting a full load of provisions at Yshot Station in any event. So why not just take the longer way around – would be far easier to snake down the border of Vaparozh territory, head a ways deep into Dead Space and then follow the borders of the Thorian Empire. And with barely any ships around, we can make better time without comprising our ghost.”
Admiral Fan stepped in then and the Intelligence officer once more took a step away and absorbed nearly her entire presence back into herself. Boro made a mental note to keep track of her, but moments later found himself neglecting to remember that she was around.
“Your proposal, Commander Stevin, would still put you almost a month outside of your estimated arrival,” Admiral Fan explained. “A month that you likely don’t have.”
“Better get there a month late, than not get there at all.” Boro hadn’t bothered to consider the possibility that his retort was out of line, but then Captain Pueson added his voice to the conservation.
“We will get there, Commander Stevin. And we will get there on the timeline urged by our Iastret allies.”
“If the Iastret want to get there that badly, then they should fly there themselves, they’ve got a much shorter trip, and the wings for it to boot.”
“That’s quite enough, Commander.” Pueson’s voice dropped by a few degrees and Boro made sure to keep his eyes on Admiral Fan and off his Captain. “One of the founding principles of the Outer Rim Confederacy was to show that we could do better; that the rest of the Known Reaches had been missing out while Humans languished in their own little corner of space. This means showing that we have an ability to work with anyone out there, even with someone who had formerly been an enemy.” The Captain stood then, walking in measured steps to stand next to the Admiral. He may have initially chosen to sit with his people, but now he stood in front of them like a class of sullen schoolchildren – the message was clear as to who was in charge at the end of the day. “There are aspects of this mission that are uncomfortable, I’m not going to deny you that. But at all times you have to keep in mind that if we’re successful, we may be able to redraw the political map of the Known Reaches with the ORC, and by extension, Humanity, at its highest place. And once we’re there, I expect that we can show that military and technological superiority can be shared instead of hoarded, and it will start on this ship. Is that understood by everyone?” Captain Pueson’s expression was a mix of warmth and sternness that only made Boro queasy, but he nodded and agreed along with the other two, and the Captain seemed sufficiently pacified, though did not relinquish his new spot at the head of the room.
If this sermon was any indication, this was gearing up to be a longer trip than Boro anticipated. To either side of him, some of the tension seemed to go out of Surch and Meslina’s spines, and they nodded. Boro always suspected this soft spot in Surch ever since their Academy days, one of the things that likely prevented him from rising as high as Boro had if they were in the same graduating class. Meslina though had initially struck him as someone who would have resisted this gradual erosion of the pride that Boro believed should have been the core tenet of Humanity’s continued foray into the Known Reaches.
Boro, for his part, believed that it was no coincidence that the Human feet that included his father had been so instrumental at the Battle of Krevali and the Thorian’s defeat in the War of the Last Gasp shortly thereafter. Humanity, as other races would put it, even those who spent millennia under the boot of someone else’s empire, was late to the party. What these others had not considered, and what apparently more and more of the Navy high brass were losing their grasp on, was that the outsider’s perspective gave Humanity a fresh outlook, a clearer view into the stagnation that gripped the Known Reaches, where, save for the Last Gasp, the landscape had for years been defined by minor tussles. As a countermeasure to the Thorian Empire, came the ever-increasing idea of cooperation amongst all those who were not Thorian, which solidified the status quo, and therefore Humanity’s place on the periphery.
“To your earlier point, Commander Stevin,” Admiral Fan continued with a light smile, “part of the Iastret research team that has been studying Drain Vortexes since their last appearance and that have been instrumental in identifying their potential will be joining you on board as well.”
The Admiral then continued into a more detailed breakdown of what they were up against, complete with slide after slide of charts and graphs that made Boro think that if he hadn’t paid much attention to astrography during the Academy days it was decidedly too late to start now. And in any case, he had sufficient understanding to let the Iastret do their business without confounding him too much.
It wasn’t hard for Boro to imagine how things had probably gone down in the galley between when he left and when they received Dr. Sufai’s call. Meeron was born and raised on Bykol, a largely agricultural world near the borders of the Human Interstellar Dominion, and had only moved off-world a few years earlier. Meslina had cut her teeth out of the Academy almost twenty years earlier during the Unification Resistance, when some of Earth’s outermost colonies, particularly the self-sufficient ones including Bykol, rejected the authority of the newly formed ORC – Outer Rim Confederacy, which joined the Humans, Winti and Fusir into a single alliance. Unlikely that Meslina and Meeron ever actually saw any combat on opposite sides of each other, but the tension was still there. Someone looked at someone sideways. Someone probably dropped the word “rockhopper”, used by homeworlders to elicit an image of tiny insignificant rocks even though they were sometimes two or even three times larger than Earth itself. That’s probably when “milkweed” was tossed back. Normally these things could be laughed-out, a sort of competition as to who could take the worst insult without breaking a sweat, but this whole mission was beginning to take its toll.
The complete radio silence that was necessary to keep the ship ghosted had left everyone feeling more alone in the darkness of space than any of them were used to.
“That’s a lot of time to be flying ghosted,” Surch had said, his mouth hidden behind the brown hand that stroked his trimmed dark beard, when the Forseti’s senior officers were first presented with a flight plan at their mission briefing back on Earth. Admiral Sarita Fan stood by the display, hands clasped in front of her, waiting for the room to process her presentation. Captain Pueson sat at attention, while Meslina had her arms crossed and was leaning back in her chair like Surch.
Boro interlaced his fingers and pointed towards the map. “At least there’s the layover at Yshot Station.”
“I’m afraid it’s not that kind of layover,” Admiral Fan corrected. “The Station has been made to look mostly decommissioned, and there will be no disembarking. You’ll be flying there light to make good time and then stock up to the brim for the next leg of your journey.”
“Yeah, about that, Admiral,” Surch said. “From Yshot Station out beyond the Thorian frontier in what’s basically a straight line? No offence to all you good folks in Intelligence but unless you’ve got someone on the inside steering this, I don’t see how we can stay off the Thorians’ sensors, even when ghosted.”
The other woman with Admiral Fan, shorter by a head and with the kind of presence that made Boro forget that she was even in the room, stepped into the light of the wall projection. “Your concerns are perfectly valid, Lieutenant Guraty, but you will have all the help you’ll need.” The Intelligence officer, who thought that introductions were an unnecessary frivolity and therefore didn’t choose to share her name, looked down at her personal terminal.
“I have a feeling we’re not going to like this,” Surch said and shifted uneasily in his chair.
“Me too,” Meslina added.
The display switched to a photo of a now-familiar Thorian face. The three officers of the Forseti groaned, while Captain Pueson sat implacable but for the air escaping through his slightly pursed lips.
“If there’s anything you’d like to say,” Captain Pueson said without taking his eyes off the display, “now is likely the only time to do so.”
The officers cast each other brief glances, professionalism and outrage vying for control under the surface, but before anyone of them could formulate a coherent sentence, the Intelligence officer continued.
“We had been working for quite some time to identify a viable asset. Mikarik may not be the ideal candidate to take down the whole Empire,” the pause and expression on her face suggested that this had been an Intelligence idea of a joke, but the room didn’t budge from its stone-faced stare, “but his experience should serve to be useful on this mission. He spent two decades doing commercial freight including a stint with the Anthar Kai where he also served for a year aboard a pirate hunter. Nearly six years in the Thorian Navy.”
“The Navy?” Surch asked with a whistle but the interruption was ignored.
“Deserted several years ago during the Nabak Insurrection where he earned two Hard-to-Kill medals – an honour that only a Thorian mind would be twisted enough to cook up for enemy combatants.” That one actually did get a chuckle out of Surch and Meslina. “There’s no place for him left in the Empire, and he’s been doing for-hire work on the borderlands. He knows enough about both commercial and military ship movement across the Empire to be able to plot a course that would keep you ought of sight.”
Surch threw a sideways glance at Boro, who was starting to feel a bit unsettled under the Thorian’s digital gaze.
“I understand he’s got a colourful resume,” Boro started, “but he’s still a Thorian. Doesn’t their little collective hive mind prevent them for serving other interests?”
The Intelligence officer shifted a little and put on a smile. Boro was certain that it was not meant to be friendly. “A ‘hive-mind’ is not exactly how we would describe Thorian collective empathy, and individual Thorians have almost as much capacity to be self-serving as the species itself. That said, it had long been rumoured that there are those among them that are severed from this collective ability to feel the mood of the species. ‘Netkarthi’ is what they’re called in their general parlance, though mostly the concept is dismissed as a bogeyman, either a myth or a figment of foreign propaganda. But regardless of what the Thorians’ official line is, it is our understanding that they do exist, and that Mikarik is one of them. If there’s anyone to rely on for this mission, it’s him, and you can be assured of that.”
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.