Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
“Hmm,” Boro heard Meeron say and turned his head to find the provincial colonial staring intently at his manifest and then looking at the readout on the display of the latest crate to be delivered from Yshot Station by Tuka and Ryo.
“What is it, Meeron?”
“Probably just sloppy record keeping. No surprise really, if Intelligence was involved.” Meeron lifted his head and looked towards the two Intelligence officers with a slight eye roll. Boro followed Meeron’s gaze and found that for the first time, the two Humans were not looking ahead, but the one with the black eyes and long face was giving the one with the mismatched green eyes a hard inquiring look. Boro’s stomach twisted, and as he approached Meeron, he kept one eye in their direction.
“What’s the issue?” Boro asked, picking up the tablet from Meeron.
“Weights don’t match on these. Here.” Meeron pointed to the displays.
“Looks like at least we got more instead of getting shortchanged.”
“Yeah, boss, but we should probably open it up anyway.”
This was already taking longer than it needed to, but something that Boro would later attribute to his keen Commander senses told him that Meeron was right.
“Tuka, Ryo, do you mind holding off on the next crate while Meeron and I check this out?”
The two maintenance crew workers were already inside the station releasing the maglev clamps on a crate to move it onto the gurney. This order, too, Boro eventually ascribed to a ‘Stevin-ian’ intuition that flowed through his blood.
“Commander Stevin,” said the Intelligence Officer with the ever-present pout, “Is this really necessary? We’re behind schedule as it is.”
“Your schedule is not my concern, Officer. This is coming aboard my ship, so we’re going to do it my way.” Boro bent forward to help Meeron open the crate and caught movement from the corner of his eye. The next sequence of events happened so quickly that Boro would only be able to piece it together from security footage.
As the lid of the crate Meeron and Boro were inspecting hissed open, the Intelligence officer with the black hair and eyes broke the stare she’d previously fixed on her partner and vaulted over the side of the crate Tuka and Ryo were handling in order to get to its control panel. The Parsk Nahur, as ordered and without hesitation, fired twice at the Human. The first shot missed the mark, while the second one hit her in the chest right below the shoulder, though not before she managed to reach the crate’s controls.
Her partner though, the man with the green mismatched eyes and who had been closer to the crate, in an apparent attempt to finish the job, arrived at the panel and slammed his open palm against the crate’s controls, a mere moment before the Parsk Nahur got another shot off and hit him in the arm. The crate was sent hurtling backwards into the depths of Yshot Station’s cargo hold, pushing Tuka long with it. When it hit a stack of crates nearer to the back wall, it detonated. Boro had the presence of mind to order “Get back!” the moment the crate started moving, which gave Ryo and the Parsk Nahur just enough time to return inside the Forseti before the shockwave hit them and sent them flying forward.
The force of the explosion compromised the seal between ship and station. The loss of pressure jerked Boro forward as he tried to help the fallen Ryo, but the emergency seal kicked in before he was sucked into the hole that had formed between the Forseti and Yshot Station. The Forseti’s loading door was having a rough time closing. Another explosion slammed against this side of the ship and shook the cargo hold, this blast likely coming from Yshot Station itself due to the damage it sustained from the exploding crate.
Boro lifted himself from the floor, his head ringing and his vision blurry. Somewhere to his right the Parsk Nahur had gotten up and was pointing the neural devastator at something Boro was unable to make out. He reached Ryo who was lying sprawled on the floor, his arm bent under him at an awkward angle, and found that that the maintenance worker was still breathing. The Forseti, he could feel, continued to list without power and another shudder went through it.
Boro reached for his tablet and found it lacking, so he used a communication panel on the wall to call in an update.
“We’ve got casualties down here, send any assistance you can.”
“Got it,” came the curt and strained reply from Surch.
The pilot would later report to Boro what happened on the bridge when the initial explosion shook the ship. “Detonation out of Yshot’s hold,” Maggie announced, her voice to Surch sounding almost amused, like she was glad it had broken her out of her boredom. “Contained in our cargo hold, retained with emergency membrane, no other hull breaches, but Yshot’s coming part.” All of this was reported almost before Surch was back in the pilot’s chair, just as the Techevers were designed for.
As the engines came online, Surch struggled to pull the Forseti away from the station before another explosion from within Yshot rocked the ship. “Minor engine damage and a near breach of the emergency membrane,” Maggie reported, trying to slow her speech down so that the bridge crew could keep up. “You need to go easy on it Surch or the membrane might rupture.”
“Any easier and Yshot will ease us right out of existence.”
“Their power core is still stable. Yshot will hold for now. We might not.”
To undermine Maggie’s assertion, another piece of the Station blew and hit them with debris.
It’s this final blast that knocked the Forseti to a safer distance from the Station but that also resulted in the jamming of the cargo bay door, more than two thirds of the way to its destination.
Maggie knew about this immediately of course, as Surch called in a moment later.
“Boro, we gotta get that door closed if we’re getting out of here in a hurry.”
“I know, I’m on it.” Boro grabbed onto the door’s manual release, but here things were not so simple. Due to the damage to the membrane, the air immediately by the door was frigid and losing oxygen. Another pair of hands may have helped, but where was the Parsk Nahur when you needed him? It was Meeron who finally came to Boro’s aid. The steward’s impressive arms struggled only briefly with the mechanism before shutting the door.
Boro should have told him to step back, should have seen what was coming next – the part of the door that sharply descended, missing Meeron’s head by a mere inch and then slamming into his thigh and knee before it fell into place with a definitive hiss. Meeron’s blood had already started to pool under him as he clutched his leg, the deathly white of bone protruding from the wound when the ship’s vibration changed. They were under full thrust now, though unable to start skimming subspace just yet.
Help was coming, yet help should have already been more forthcoming. What had the Parsk Nahur been doing? Getting up from Meeron’s aid, Boro looked back into the Forseti’s cargo hold and realized what had been preoccupying the ship’s weapon’s officer this whole time. The Parsk Nahur stood aiming the neural devastator, at the end of which was their newest passenger – the Intelligence officer with the mismatched green eyes.
To say that 2021 was not my best reading year would be an understatement – this was my worst reading year since 2011, when I’d graduated law school and moved back to Vancouver. I’ve talked about this before but a lot of it is pandemic related. Given that my primary reding time was during my public transit commute to and from work and because I’ve been working from home all this time, it’s been harder for me to find time to read. One of my New Year’s resolutions has been to try to get my reading more on track, so we’ll see how that goes.
That said, I’ve read (and listened to, which I count as reading and will fight anyone who suggests otherwise) some great books this year. I ended up joining the book club that was organized at our housing cooperative and was exposed to novels I probably would not have turned to on my own. It was a great experience but by the of it, I had trouble keeping up and also with my poor reding schedule wanted to branch out into my own selections.
There were a few other notable reading events that happened for me during the year that don’t quite make the last below including:
Thanks, but Let’s Not Do This Again
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I suppose I could have used The Way of Kings for this one, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the absolute trip that was this novel. I had to actually stop in the middle of the audiobook to catch up my knowledge on its context because I needed to confirm how much of it was based on what actually occurred and how much of it was just inspired by true events. Turns out, Hunter S. Thompson wanted the book so accurate that he actually lamented mashing up two separate trips into one because he thought it hurt the authenticity of the narrative.
To actually believe what was happening stretched the limits of my imagination, especially considering how horrible the two main characters were to a lot of the people they encountered along the way, but well, I guess that’s drug and drinking binges for you. In any case, it was a super fascinating window into a world so far removed from mine I’m not sure I’ll ever understand it, but I think one such trip is more than enough.
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso. Good heavens was this graphic novel ever a depressing read – from the heinous crime that launches the events of the book, to the various characters’ reactions to it to the crushing proliferation of conspiracy theories and how they affect the people closest to the events. The illustrations are also done in a particular style that minimizes the expressions of the characters which further adds to the sense of sadness and detachment that oozes from every page. As heavy as the book was though, I think it was also brilliant. That said, I think the only way I could read was the way I ended up doing – a few pages at a time.
Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. I’ve read the Scott Pilgrim series before, about ten years ago when I used to live in Toronto where this graphic novel (or comic, whatever, labels are stupid) is set. I encountered a couple of Instagram reels about the movie recently and got nostalgic so decided to pick it up again. I feel like it’s got one of the best main character introductions I’ve ever read since basically on the very first page you’re told Scott is twenty-three and has a new girlfriend who’s still in high school. It’s like, “Yup, there’s Scott, he’s a giant loser by the way”. I’m already halfway through volume four out of six and having a lot of fun getting back into this world that is basically like ours except with certain video game elements woven into reality. I highly recommend the read, but the movie stars both Captain America and Captain Marvel so you could watch that, too.
Best Book of 2020
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden. There is not enough I can say here about just how much I enjoyed this book. In fact, I prepared a whole separate post to go on and on about how great it is, but for whatever reason I had neglected to publish it. It’s a science fiction graphic novel, though the soft sci-fi aspects take a back seat to the gorgeous art and touching story. I’m going to be rereading this one again and not that long from now I just known it. In the meantime, at the risk of going on too long about it here, I’ll just leave this as a placeholder when I finally post that full entry and link to it.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Funnily enough, I have the same deal with this one as I do with On a Sunbeam in the sense that the book struck me so much I went and wrote a whole post about it and then just never ended up publishing it. Again, I think I’m just going link to it when I finally do get around to posting it. What I do want to say is that this was one of our Book Club books, which again is why I’m happy I joined, and one of the books I really enjoyed with how much it got into the descriptions of the landscape and the local wildlife without losing sight of what is essentially a coming-of-age story with a background undercurrent of murder mystery that suddenly ramps up to such a pace that you find yourself surprised you can’t put the book down.
I think that about wraps it up for this year. Here’s hoping for a more productive, but at least just as fun, reading year this year.
Finding two passengers in the cargo hold of Yshot Station when they were led to believe that the station was decommissioned and fully abandoned, the Parsk Nahur raised his weapon, his finger moving to the trigger. Then, likely noticing that the unexpected persons were Human and therefore, on their face, not hostile, he began to lower the neural devastator.
“Hold up.” Boro raised his hand to the height of his waist. “Don’t lower it yet.” There was something immediately curious about these two, and it wasn’t that they weren’t supposed to be there, but that the woman and man seemed to show absolutely no distress at having the weapon raised at them.
“What are you doing here?” Boro asked. “We were told there were no more personnel on Yshot.”
“There have been security breaches, Commander,” said the woman on the right, “They have forced a change of plans, and someone needed to oversee the transfer.”
“And so they sent you two?”
“They sent whoever was least likely to be compromised.” The woman who was speaking for the two of them had jet black hair, cropped short into an unflattering haircut that made it look like her hair oozed over her head. Small black eyes sat beneath a dark brow and a long nose pointed towards a mouth that seemed constantly puckered forward.
“So then you’re from Intelligence?” Boro asked, itching to have the neural devastator in his own hands instead.
“That is correct,” the woman with the long nose and long face said.
“You don’t look like Intelligence to me.”
“Think about it, Commander,” the man stepped in. “If this station was discovered, would you rather they find two Intelligence officers here or two abandoned maintenance workers?” This one spoke in a voice that was oddly paternalistic, and what stood out about him to Boro were his light eyes, a pale green, with one being noticeably smaller than the other.
“You have credentials on you?” Boro asked, trying to anticipate every asinine question the Captain would ask him.
“Commander, again, this is not a time to be carrying credentials.” Why did Boro feel the man with the pale mismatched eyes was trying to pat him on the head with his words? Tuka and Ryo were standing at the threshold of the of the door leading into Yshot Station, shifting their weight from foot to foot but otherwise keeping quiet and watching the interaction. Boro stepped a few paces back, and they followed suit while the Parsk Nahur maintained his position, hands firmly around the devastator.
Boro called Captain Pueson on his personal pad and was brought up on the bridge’s viewscreen.
“Trouble, Commander?” the Captain asked with a slight smile which disappeared when he assessed Boro’s expression.
“I’m not certain yet, Captain,” Boro said before recounting the situation with the supposed Intelligence Officers and then providing his recommendation that they ought to proceed, but with extreme caution.
“That seems to be our only option,” Captain Pueson said. “We haven’t received any advance warning on this, which isn’t really a surprise considering that the intention was to not send any pings our way.”
“Doesn’t seem to be anything in the Station’s onboard computer either,” Maggie Okoth, the Forseti’s Techever reported from behind Captain Pueson, “A clean slate since the last Iastret left.”
“You can interface with it from here?” Though Boro was generally suspicious of the Techevers, Humans engineered and trained to interface with machines, he was repeatedly struck by the extent of their abilities.
“In a limited way. Though it doesn’t like me being in it no more than I enjoy rooting around inside it,” Maggie said, then cocked her head to the side and gave a tight-lipped smile.
“You are of course, free to go, Commander,” said the Intelligence officer with the pale green eyes.
“Though we’re not sure how well that would serve you in the long run,” added the one with the jet-black hair.
They certainly talked like long-time partners, playing off each other as a single unit, though doing little to put Boro at ease, which ought to have been their goal. In any case, they were right. There was no turning their back on these supplies, but that also didn’t mean that they had to turn their back to the Intelligence officers either.
Before giving Tuka and Ryo the order to proceed, Boro approached the Parsk Nahur and said under his breath, “If either of them try anything funny, you shoot them.”
“To kill?” Came the vibrating voice from inside the Parsk Nahur’s speech organ.
Boro looked from one of the Intelligence officers to the other and then said, “Just one of them.”
The loading of the cargo itself went smoothly. The crates were fitted with maglev facilitators which allowed Tuka and Ryo to haul them easily from station to ship using a single gurney, while Meeron then checked the contents of the delivered crates against the manifest. The Intelligence officer with the black eyes and long nose made a move to help at first, but Boro sharply told her that it wasn’t necessary. The constantly puckered mouth on her face made her look almost pouty at that, but truthfully her expression hadn’t changed in the slightest when she was forced to step aside and let the Forseti crewmembers handle the operation.
Boro almost had to admire the Parsk Nahur at that moment. An imposing frame with a larger head, and for most species an unreadable expression, given their lack of mouth and large recessed eyes that didn’t provide for much of a brow. The two Humans aboard Yshot station, whoever they were, even if they were from Intelligence, would think twice about attempting anything.
And for the most part they waited patiently as the cargo was loaded crate by crate, filling up the storage hold of the Forseti.
As one crate moved past Boro, who stood nearer to the doorway that connected Yshot Station and the Forseti, he heard some murmuring between Tuka and Ryo, which culminated in Tuka asking in hardly a hushed tone when the crate arrived by Meeron’s side. “This is the one where the good stuff is, aight Meeron?” Tuka tapped the crate as it settled on the floor beside the quartermaster.
“Pipe it, will you?” Meeron said, though he also didn’t bother lowering his voice.
“Oh you talking about the Commander?” Tuka looked over his shoulder to where Boro was standing next to the door, just slightly behind the Parsk Nahur, looking at the inventory charts on his personal tablet. “He’s one of us, ain’t he Commander?”
“Can’t hear you Tuka over the sound of how busy I am,” Boro called out, eyes not lifting from his tablet. He was still firmly committed to the idea that a certain amount of slack was required, and that undue tension was far more dangerous for the crew than the occasional, and mostly harmless, disrespect for the rules. Captain Pueson may have liked to do things by the book, a very flimsy paperback book as it was, but if he didn’t want Boro to do things the Boro way, then he shouldn’t have delegated anything to him in the first place.
Tuka and Ryo left the latest crate in Meeron’s hands and headed back into Yshot Station, whose cargo bay was no longer so crowded near the doors.
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.
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.