Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
In the morning, although she hadn’t given her decision to anyone, not even Captain Mokob, they were all treating her as though she was good as gone. The conversation around the breakfast table was subdued, and she knew it wasn’t because they were going to miss their guests of the last few days. Even Adri, who would normally try to catch her attention with a shy smile, kept his eyes mostly on his plate.
The notable absence at the table was her father, but Valyen’s mother took it upon herself to share some stories about Kviye like it was some kind of living wake.
“I remember when your family first relocated to Zhakitrinbur for the stormy season. I guess it’s been nearly eighteen years now. You were three and Valyen was six and you insisted on following her everywhere to the point where she had to push you out of the bathroom anytime she needed to go. She goes up to me one day and say ‘Mom, we need to do something about Kvee. Maybe sell her to some fishers.’ I nearly died trying not to laugh but then I put my serious face on and said, ‘Val, don’t be ridiculous. This is what true friendship looks like. You find something like this, and you must never ever let it go.’ And that’s what you’ve been since, pretty much inseparable.”
“That’s us,” Valyen said with a cheek-full of food.
After breakfast, Kviye caught up with Adri.
“Hey, sorry, just so you know, I didn’t tell anyone anything but they’ve been treating me like I have anyway.”
“So, are you leaving?”
There was no accusation in his voice, no anger or even disappointment; this more than anything is what caught her off guard.
“Yes, I am.” Her heart skipped a few beats and she had to look off to her side. “Oh, that was really weird to actually say out loud. But hey, this isn’t a forever thing,” she said, her eyes back on him. “It’s only until we get back on our feet, when I have enough for my own ship and can come and go freely. Maybe I can take you with me.”
“You know where to find me.”
She could see it around his eyes – it was not one of his good days and yet he still joined them for her last breakfast on Tanfana. She pulled him into an embrace then, holding him tight against her.
“I’ll see you again. I promise,” she said, and all Adri could do, was to pat her on the back.
The few hours it took to get the Oshken all tested for launch, with the windows of the house vibrating at the roar of its engines, were the longest of Kviye’s life. She wondered, more than once, how she was supposed to spend months aboard a starship when only a few hours in Valyen’s room suffocated her to the point that she wanted to exit out the window. Still, when the ship was all prepared, she’d come down with her single bag, ready to start anew.
In the kitchen, she found Valyen’s mom and Grandma Morozo. When Kviye leaned in or a hug, the old woman said, “Make sure to say hello to my Mitya for me.”
“Ma!” Valyen’s mom gasped. “She’s going to space, not dying.”
“Bah! We always say they go somewhere out there when they die,” Grandma Morozo made a vague waving motion over her head, “Who’s to say that our Kviye here won’t bump into him, you know, ‘out there’?”
Kviye let out a small laugh. “I’ll be sure to give him your best.”
“Ha! He doesn’t deserve my best. You make sure he knows that.”
Valyen’s mom walked Kviye outside, and thrust a heavy bundle into her hands as she put her hand on Kviye’s shoulder.
“Now, we made sure that the Oshken had some fresh stock, but I know this one’s your favourite, so it’s just for you and not even –”
A heavy bag dropped next to Kviye and she looked away from Valyen’s mom to find Valyen herself standing next to them.
“What’s this?” Kviye asked, looking down at the bag.
“My travel bag,” Valyen said gruffly. “You got one too, so I don’t know why you’re so confused.”
“Val?” Kviye managed, her voice so faint even she hardly heard it.
“Look, I said, ‘whatever you choose, I’ll be there’. You chose, I’m here.”
Some of her last breaths of fresh atmosphere, and Kviye could hardly breathe from her tight throat. She dropped her bag and enveloped Valyen in a squeeze.
“C’mon Kvee, let’s not start by embarrassing ourselves in front of our new crew.” Valyen’s wanted to sound aloof, but Kviye could clearly hear Valyen’s own voice was breaking. Kviye looked behind her and found Captain Mokob and Samir standing near the entrance of the Oshken. Then she turned to Kviye’s mom and mouthed “thank you”, knowing that attempting to speak directly to her would have only ended one way.
“You take care of each other, okay?” Valyen’s mom said to Kviye before saying her goodbyes to her own daughter as Kviye watched them from the base of the ramp. Uncle Dekan was there, looking morose. Adri hung back towards the entrance and out of earshot. And if Kviye looked hard, she could even make out Grandma Morozo through the window, watching intently, even on days where there was nothing to watch.
“He’ll be here,” Valyen said, rejoining Kviye by her side, her bag again over her shoulder.
“No, he won’t.” Kviye looked up into the expansive Tanfana sky, the faint outline of their paternal gas giant visible opposite the sun. “He wasn’t there to see my mother go and he won’t see me.” Kviye took a deep breath. “Read to go?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be. That is to say, not at all. But I’m not turning back now.”
They headed up the ramp together, independently making the decision that the time for looking back was over. Captain Mokob and Samir disappeared into the ship ahead of them. Inside the comet chaser, Kviye found that its metal corridors were darker and more cramped, and their rusty orange colour colder and more foreboding. Behind the two of them, the loading door of the Oshken closed with a hiss, and wouldn’t be opened again for another three months.
Writing away so furiously for the last year, it almost comes as a surprise when I look up and realize I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my second novel. My first novel, meanwhile, languishes in editing purgatory, but let’s say no more on that for now, and focus on the positives.
The thing about Maple Vodka, which remains its working title because I’m nowhere nearer to figuring out what this book will actually be called, is that it’s one of those projects that has been with me far longer than it has taken to write. The idea for it started ages ago – back when I was in my short-lived screenwriting phase, which means it’s been with me for a good fifteen years now. This novel has been brainstormed, outlined, plotted, started and restarted, into absolute oblivion until I finally said enough is enough and that the first draft will be written one way or another.
I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I was on here saying that the wheels finally started turning and that I had a legitimate project on my hands. And now my main character is on a plane flying towards his climax, which will soon hit him over the head like a ton of bricks, and then off to the denouement, which shouldn’t take that long. If I had to guess, I’d say I should be done before the end of the year, or the very least would close off this draft before the end of February.
Once I’m done that, it would be two novels whose first draft I have written, which, to me, is pretty crazy to think about. Five years ago, I was still struggling with ever finishing one novel, writing only short stories and novel projects that were abandoned before their completion. And now this would mean that I’ve run the marathon that is writing a novel not once, but twice. It means I’ve proven that I can do it, and which means I can do it time and time again.
Actually completing a novel, on the other hand, is a different question. As I’ve said, novel number one remains in editing mode, and I’ve recently talked about which projects are stealing the time away from that. Adding another novel into the mix complicates things, and I don’t know yet how will be able to find time to edit both Maple Vodka and Wake the Drowned. However, that just feels like one of those problems that will find a solution as some point, so I just need to be patient.
What I should be focusing on right now is wrapping up a plot that has been with me nearly half my life. Scenes I imagined for over a decade are about to finally be put into words and I want to do them justice – bring them to life in the exact ways that imagined them. One way or another, the wait is about to pay off and the story of Paul/Pavel will draw to a close. What lessons will our protagonist learn from one day waking up and finding himself in an alternate universe where he never immigrated from Russia as a kid, which led to his life and even himself, turning out quite differently?
I mean, I know the answer. I just hope one day you get a chance to read it for yourselves.
Kviye followed Captain Mokob up to the engine room which was located in the upper back of the ship. A platform opened up to a space about two stories high, wide across but otherwise only a couple of metres from the railing to the wall, with the engine array taking up the whole back wall and curving up into the ceiling.
“Laubraz, do you mind showing Kviye here our drop?” Captain Mokob called as he leaned with his hands on the railing at the top of the platform. Laubraz was the Oshken’s chief engineer, a Mraboran with fur the colour of Tanfana’s reddish soil, who kept most of her tools attached to the leather straps that formed her clothing, so she clattered and clanged anytime she moved.
“Sure, come on down,” Laubraz motioned for Kviye to descend down the ladder.
Kviye had met Laubraz several times before, but she was still in awe in the presence of the alien. Covered almost entirely in fur, only the palms of her powerful hands and the soles of her feet were covered in rough padded skin. Her large tapered ears could move anywhere from being open and forward-facing to being tucked back flush against her skull. And while her mouth revealed itself to be undeniably carnivorous, especially when she laughed, there was a warmness to the large golden eyes that sat on her somewhat triangular face.
Within the mess of jutting pipes and wires that Kviye was convinced only Laubraz could understand, the engineer located the chamber that held their black sphere and opened it. Here, the sphere was held pressed into clear conductive gel sandwiched between transparent panels. Kviye always marveled at the fact that it didn’t seem that any two setups were identical. It was a small drop, hardly bigger than the one she’d used for her failed space flight, with a ragged worn aura.
“I hear this one had quite an history before coming here.” Laubraz’s Trade Thorian was quite accented, some of the sounds coming off as purring, which made it more difficult but not impossible for Kviye to understand her. “Most recently from terraforming equipment, then before that a pirate hunter, and all the way to the core of a Thorian capital ship dating back as far as the days of the Thorian Civil War.”
This was true. How she came to know this, Kviye couldn’t say, but she also felt something deeper, connections to an ancient presence that somehow touched her through the dark sphere.
“Thank you, Laubraz, I needed that.” The Oshken’s chief enginner shrugged and gave a small smile before sealing up the chamber. “Captain,” Kviye called up to Mokob, who watched her as he leaned on the railing. “I’ll have my answer for you tonight.”
That evening, Kviye was glad that Valyen was off having her clandestine conversations or whatever she had been up to with her family, which allowed Kviye to have her room all to herself. Kviye had been pacing for over an hour before she accepted that she would never be fully ready to have this discussion. None of her practiced openings felt right. Every time she imagined her father’s face, she could see the unreachable expression he wore in the months before and after her mother’s death. She had already watched him say goodbye to someone he loved once. She never thought she’d have to watch him say goodbye to her.
Waiting though, out of fear or compassion, was serving neither of them.
She found her father where she expected – in the guest bedroom, a space hardly big enough for a bed and an armchair, where he sat reading a book by the lamplight.
“Dad,” she asked, still lingering in the doorway, her arm resting on the frame, “Can we talk?”
Kviye’s father regarded her from where he sat and then lowered his book with a heavy sigh. “Is this something that really needs a discussion?”
“Dad?” Kviye asked, lowering her arm.
Another heavy sigh, depositing itself as a rock atop of Kviye’s chest.
“I can’t have been the only one who knew this conversation was coming. Truth is, Kviye, you’d already left me, you just haven’t had a chance to make it final yet.”
That had explained the silence between them the last few months. He hadn’t been angry; to him, she had simply never come back.
“I’m not mad, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he said, as if reading her mind. “It’s just that I’m not going to stand in the way of you getting out there and finding out who you are or where you belong.”
“That’s not fair.” Kviye’s throat tightened and a burning entered her eyes. “That’s not why I want to go.”
“No, Kviye, it is.” Her father looked and sounded exhausted, the wrinkles around his frowning mouth and forehead exaggerating his age, and his eyes shone with his own welling tears in the light of his desk lamp.
Whatever other reasons you might think you have are just convenient excuses.”
She recognized that voice then, knew when it was the last time she heard her farther talk so softly and distantly.
“It’s just like with mom,” she said, her voice catching slightly, “You buried her before she even died and you left me alone.”
If that hurt him, he didn’t show it and instead said, “Both you and your mother flew too high for me, and now you’re both going to leave me behind.”
“It’s not about you, dad. Not with mom certainly, and not with me either.”
“Please, Kviye,” there was a pleading tone in his voice and his fingers wrapped determinedly around the book as if he was about to pick it up whether she was still there or not, “Don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”
“Alright, then,” she took a few deep breaths, but no other words came. “Goodbye, dad.”
Like she expected, up the book went, and no more words were spoken between them.
Back in Valyen’s room, Kviye lamented the fact that this was not her room, or at least, not her space in the annex building. Had it been, there would have been a few things that were tossed across the room with much gusto. So she had to content herself with screaming into her pillow until her voice grew hoarse and she was ready to pass out for the night.
There was one other goodbye she owed, one that, before her failed space flight, would have likely been satisfied by a few kind words and a hug, and now she’d gone and complicated things. In order to know how to say goodbye, she would have had to know what they were, something they’d not quite figured out over the last few months. And her conversation with her father made her just want to crawl into the Oshken’s cargo hold early in the morning and have them all figure out what happened by the time she was already on the other side of the gas giant. This, however, was not something she was willing to do to Valyen.
I am once again confronted by the fact that there is nothing good to be had from our ability to constantly be plugged into something.
I’m not a luddite though, by any means and scoff at the Boomer-esque finger-wagging that kids these don’t even know what a book is. And as an introvert, group chats and text messages have allowed me to keep up with people in ways I wouldn’t have bee able to before. So no, I don’t have a general aversion to technology and social media, but man do I have an issue with its ubiquity, and not only that, but the drive it sometimes creates to be plugged in lest one feel like they’re “wasting their time”.
I’ve expressed these concerns in earlier posts where I’ve postulated that one of the worst things for our mental health is the news cycle and that boredom is an essential ingredient of creativity.
As someone who apparently needs to learn the same lesson more than once, its this latter realization that struck me again recently.
By a congruence of circumstances, the details of which we don’t need to get into, I found myself on an impromptu walk with my nephew in a baby carrier, and the kid fell asleep within a minute of being put in.
I was in this rare instance where there wasn’t much for me to do – I had no older kids around to talk to, no adults, a phone whose battery was running low and AirPods that I left at home and didn’t want to fetch because I’d risk my passenger waking up too early from his nap.
So there I was, at the mercy of however long he would be dozing (if experience was any indication, it could easily be more than an hour) and no tech to help me pass the time – no news cycle to browse or I’d drain my battery, and no AirPods to tune into any podcasts or audiobooks. It was blissful rare silence.
Oh my fingers definitely itched to do something, and my brain, suddenly deprived of electronic stimuli to constantly process was worried that this was wasted time. I lamented the forgotten AirPods, thinking that this was a half hour or an hour where I could have caught up on Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, an audiobook that never seems to end. What am I doing if I’m not utilizing every second of my time to do something “useful” and not multitasking in the process?
Then once the silence became more familiar and my mind settled down about being constantly stimulated, something amazing happened – my brain did not atrophy from disuse. On the contrary, it found new things to enjoy, like the quietness of the park and the warmth of the day.
In the space created by not constantly jamming information into my head, creativity came unbidden and my mind started to wander to my writing projects, solving problems, creating plotlines, moving through dialogue.
Here’s where a continued attachment to technology continues to be useful. I didn’t have my Moleskine notebook about me, but I still had my phone with whatever amount of battery it had remaining – just enough to run the Notes app and to let me jot those thoughts down. So completely out of the blue, I got to sketch a skeletal outline of the next chapter of one my works, and got to brainstorm a few things for upcoming chapters of another work.
There is so much pleasure to find in “boredom” – if you can even call a pleasant walk around the neighbourhood “boring” – that I can’t stress it enough, for writers, or anyone else for that matter.
I’m very thankful for the circumstances that conspired that day, and for my nephew clocking out before I even got a chance to get all my ducks in a row. I hope this doesn’t remain as a lesson that I have to keep learning over and over – that I can make more space in my day to have these periods of quiet solitude where I can think and move pieces of my writing in place that just wouldn’t settle down in the face of all the hustle and bustle. So please take my advice, even if I might not.
When I relaunched The Bloodlet Sun here a year ago, I honestly didn’t know how it would go. I’d been optimistic for the original launch as well, but that first effort died after a single chapter was posted, and then the story went quiet for more than a year. I promised myself that if I were to try again – posting a sci-fi web novel on my blog in weekly installments – that I would have to do it right. Well, now that I’m officially more than a year into this second attempt, I think things are going as well as I could have hoped (okay that’s a bit of a lie, I could have also hoped for droves of readers but that’s beside the point).
I’ve recently completed my first full cycle of POV character chapters, introducing the readers to all six characters that are spotlighted in the first “book” of this sci-fi epic. With established characters it’s beginning to get easier to move the story forward and it’s personally exciting when I get to dive back into each story.
My buffer, though it’s not quite as robust as when I started (I was taking no chances so it was a hefty one) is still quite healthy and has grown in the last few months. No chapter has given me quite as much grief as much as chapter 2, which is what had originally derailed the publication in the first place. This chapter was Kalirit’s first chapter (released as chapter 3) and I’m coming up to writing her second chapter so let’s see if she was the real culprit here all along. But other than that little ominous aside, things have been going well.
Since bringing The Bloodlet Sun back to this blog, I’ve also searched for other publication outlets for the space opera, launching on Royal Road late last year, where I’ve gathered 24 readers, and then launching on Tapas a couple of weeks ago, where only have a handful of views and 2 subscribers. Now I admit it doesn’t sound like much for something that’s been up for a year and I’ve learned to be okay with that. I kind of have to, otherwise it becomes too easy to get discouraged.
What I have to remind myself is why I started publishing The Bloodlet Sun in the first place – that it was a project I had been contemplating for years and I could no longer see any other viable outlet for other than through the web novel format. I think though looking at my current commitment to it, what was intended to be a side project has actually become the main focus of my writing resources. Sometimes I question this path, but I have to remember just how much fun I have writing it, and also sharing it with the world. That handful of subscribers is my one true tangible readership, and I can’t dwell on how small it might be compared to anyone else, because it’s the most I’ve ever had.
What I’ve learned over this past year is how much I still love this project, that once it started taking shape, I was not bored of it, but rather only became more excited as to where it could go, and already I built more on top of my original outline than I could have imagined just a couple of years ago. I’m finally, in my 30s, beginning to learn to write for the fun of it, and not for some hard-to-pin-down external concepts such a publication, praise and accolades. Maybe it’s this new attitude that would inadvertently lead me to all three. Or maybe I just continue to have fun with it and to spin these tales set in the Known Reaches two thousand years from today.
The next day, Kviye was back on the Oshken, working alongside Valyen to get the ship ready to chase down its next quarry. Uncle Dekan had also been called down to assist, and on account of it being one of his good days, so had Adri. For Kviye, it was all different this time. Work during the previous day felt just like what it was – a job. Now, it had become more intimate. Until this point she couldn’t imagine becoming as familiar with another ship as she had been with the family skiff that she destroyed. Every open conduit, every inch of hull, every piece of temperamental equipment; she realized that what she was doing was potentially exploring the inner workings of her new home, a realization that more than once sent waves of nausea through her, and she was glad when the day was done.
The work led them into the next week, which gave Kviye the phantom impression that it could last indefinitely, forever postponing her need to make a final decision.
“So did you think about what I said?” Samir, who had until then given her distance and not once brought up their earlier conversation, asked as he joined her in descending the ramp in the darkness of the evening.
She had. She had thought about nothing else the whole day to the point that her and Valyen hardly exchanged any words that didn’t directly relate to what they’d been working on.
“I guess,” Kviye answered with a shrug, not meeting his gaze.
“And it’s a lot to think about.”
He laughed quietly almost to himself. “You’d be surprised.”
“What do you mean?”
Samir stopped walking, which forced Kviye to stop as well and turn to face him.
“All I’m saying is,” Samir said. “If you knew what you were missing, you’d realize that there isn’t much to think about at all.” And before she could answer, he walked ahead of her, throwing up one hand to wave goodnight and heading for the guest house.
Despite the exhaustion from consecutive days of hard work, it made it no easier for her to fall asleep at night. There were so many conversations she would still need to have, but in what order, and what of the fact that she wasn’t sure if she was ready to pull the trigger? It didn’t help that Valyen had not yet turned in for the evening, her place on the floor conspicuously empty. They should not have been spending potentially their last days together apart. This also went for the many of the others under that roof but in Valyen’s case, it particularly twisted Kviye’s heart to wonder where her friend may have been away so late.
Sometime past midnight, it was the hunger that got the best of her, so Kviye got out of bed and made her way downstairs. She found a light streaking out of the kitchen door, unusual for the Morozo household at this hour, and inside she found Valyen, and her mother and uncle huddled at the table deep in conversation. They hadn’t noticed Kviye until she made a few steps into the kitchen.
It was Valyen that had best managed to act as if there was nothing going on out of the ordinary, like she’d just looked up from welding or tightening a bolt. Her mother and uncle on the other hand, looked startled, eyes a little too wide and mouths slightly open, unmistakable siblings.
“Oh, Kviye honey, why aren’t you sleeping?” Valyen’s mom asked, folding her arms across the table.
“Sorry, I was hungry.”
“No need to apologize. There’s plenty of leftovers in the fridge.”
Whatever the conversation was before she arrived, it had not resumed while Kviye was there. On her way to the fridge, she had the feeling that all eyes were on her as they sat in complete silence, save for the frequent forced sniffling coming from Uncle Dekan, as if the man didn’t know what to do with his face in the meantime. Kviye originally intended to eat there but now thought it best to taker her plate upstairs.
“Goodnight, honey,” Valyen’s mom called after her, while her daughter kept quiet, her mouth in a hard line, looking just off to Kviye’s side and Kviye noticed that the bottle of Grandma Morozo’s special drink stood un-stoppered on the table between them. Just as Kviye left the kitchen to head back up the stairs, she heard Valyen call from behind her, “I’ll be right there.”
By the time Kviye was back in her room, her appetite had faded and she put the plate aside and went to bed. It was going to be a long day tomorrow, one way or another.
The following day, they were well on their way to completing the work on the Oshken. There had been a large gash in their hull that forced them to decompress a part of their cargo hold. This is what Kviye had been working on, repairing the severed connections on the interior part of the hole when Captain Mokob found her.
“So, what do you think?” He asked, putting his hands behind his back and holding his head up high as only the proud Captain of a veritable hunk of junk could.
“Well, all this,” the Captain gestured expansively, speaking as if the question were the most obvious one in the world. ‘All this’ to Kviye looked like the Oshken bit off the business end of a rock slide and had a difficult time digesting it.
“What is it?” She asked, climbing down the ladder.
“It’s our latest score! We hadn’t had a chance to process it because of the decompression but from what we can tell there’s a few goodies in here.” He walked slowly between the rubble strewn about the floor of the cargo hold, passing his hands over some of the boulders. “We’ve detected diamonds. Not terribly rare, but useful in industry, and with these amounts, should fetch us a decent sum.” He tapped on an iridescent yellow sliver on one of the rocks. “This is anstakite. Purely decorative, but highly sought after. If these flakes are any indication, there should be more inside.”
“Are there any of those …”
“Drops? No, not in this load, I’m afraid.” She had known that though, if there were, she would have felt them. “We are chasing down a lead out here near the Adaract Hive that might just pan out. And hey if not, there’s a whole lot of Known Reaches left to explore, all the way to the Thorian Empire, if we have to.”
“Are you planning on heading to any Human worlds?”
“Sure, why not. We’re not far from Human space in any case. That’s the best part about being a comet chaser, we can go anywhere we damn please.”
“I see,” she said, distractedly looking at the speckled boulder, each dot a star around which a cure could be revolving.
“I heard that Samir told you about our opening. What do you think? Ready to chase the ice-tailed beasts with us?”
“You mean you would actually take me?”
“Sure.” Captain Mokob walked past her, hands still behind his back and she noted that her head didn’t even reach his shoulder. “Why wouldn’t we?” He stopped to look up at the section of wall that Kviye had been working on.
“It’s just that I’ve never even left Tanfana before.”
“So?” He turned around again, surprisingly agile for such a cumbersome beast, though the Wintis in general looked almost frail due to their lankiness. “I can hardly see why that should matter. All you need is the drive and the ability to figure out how to make yourself useful around the ship. And it looks like you won’t have any problems with that last part. The question is then, do you have the drive?”
She looked up into the Winti’s big dark eyes that stared back at her with some form of amusement. “I do. It’s just not that easy to leave.”
For a moment, those eyes turned distant and melancholy. “We’ve all been there, I can promise you that.” And after a pause, the previous jovialness returned to Captain Mokob’s face. “You have some more time to decide, though if things go well from now on, we should be taking off tomorrow afternoon. I hope to see you here again, Hon Kviye.”
With that, the Winti Captain strode out of the cargo area, ducking his head through the door. Tomorrow afternoon. It was far too soon.
“Captain!” She called and Mokob poked his head back through the door. “May I see your drop?”
Captain Mokob was quiet for a moment, a cautious expression on his face, as if he was looking for far-off danger. “Sure, come this way.”
There’s something about me that has not come out on this blog often, if at all, though I have mentioned it elsewhere on social media. It is a deep and dark part of my personality that I sometimes tend to hide from the world lest I not be judged for it unfairly. And folks, this secret that I have been sort of not keeping from anyone is that I am in fact … a runner.
I know it’s quite shocking – as a writer I’m expected to be devoting all my time to strictly cerebral pursuits. I ought to be crafting myself into a tortured soul that subsists on nothing but ramen noodles and three-day old reheated dumplings, reading obscure Lithuanian authors well into the late hours of the night, only to sleep three hours and power through the day on seven cups of coffee and a pot of green tea I should have emptied a week ago. Instead, I sometimes set my alarm for 5:40 in the morning to go for a six kilometre run so that I can feel refreshed and energized for the day.
But seriously, I feel like I don’t talk enough about my running here, considering that it forms such an important part of my routine and is an essential element of managing my mental health.
First off, I want to clear the air about my first instinct when I say that I’m a runner – and that is that I want to clarify that I’m not like a “runner” runner. Why the hell do I want to do that, and what does it even mean? It actually reminds me a lot about the label “writer” and all the baggage that comes with that. What’s a writer? Is it someone who’s so successful at writing it forms the sole source of their sizeable income? Is it someone who gets routinely paid for the writing? Someone who got published once? Someone who’s written five novels that have never seen the light of day? Someone who writes short stories and publishes them on their blog? Someone who writes the occasional poem when the mood is right and then burns the original? Who is gatekeeping this term “writer”, when a writer is someone who writes and sees themselves as a writer?
Same in my case. Why do I find trouble owning the term “runner”? Partially of course is that I don’t see myself as that serious of a runner, and partially because its other people who expect a “runner” to be something that I’m not. I’ve never run a marathon, nor do I expect that I ever will. My last two races have been the 24-hour Easter Seals charity relay I was roped into in my first week at my first legal job, and the Grade 4/5 400 metre race back in elementary school. I hardly buy myself any running gear and my primary thought any time I go for a run is not “how far and how fast can I run” but “how far and how fast can I run without messing up my knee/shin/ankle/foot?”
So in that sense, in that specific conceptualization of what it means to be a runner, I’m not a runner. But I am, in fact, a runner, because I’ve had an on and off relationship (mostly on these last few years) with this form of exercise for more than 15 years. It’s because even though to go for a run I have to haul myself out of bed around 6 am before the kids are awake, I’m disappointed when something comes up and instead I sleep in for an extra hour. It’s because I enjoy the bar graph that the Nike Run Club spits out for me to track my running distance for the year. It’s because when my wife got me a Garmin watch for Father’s Day I couldn’t stop looking at it for a week and now obsess over every metric it tracks. It’s because without it, I would have a hard time figuring out a way to stay physically active. It’s because when I run I feel good both in my body and in my mind. For all these reasons and more, I am undeniably a runner.
Yet it’s not a relationship without its difficulties. Even though I feel good after the run, I hate every second of the first ten minutes. Even though I willingly set my alarm, it’s a struggle to actually haul myself out of bed to get my running clothes on. And even though it’s good for me, there’s no joy in icing my joints and muscles every other week. I’m not doing this for accolades or personal Everests, I’m just doing this because after all the grueling work it at least gives me a chance to feel good.
So yeah, obviously a lot going on there, but in writing this entry I’ve decided that I’d share more about this hobby on this blog. I know it’s a blog meant for writing, but at the same time, my header does state that it’s an “author’s journey”. And running for me forms part of my journey in surprising ways. I would not have the mental acuity to be the writer I am without having exercise in my life. And though there is much to hate about running, it is, by definition, the most accessible form of exercise – no equipment, no set gym times, just open the door and go. And even though there’s no exercise easier to start, that is not to say running itself is easy at all, and I want to use this platform where I can offer encouragement to those that like me, may find it life-changing to incorporate running into their life, even at this kind of amateur level.
So expect to see more occasional posts here about running and running related things. And who knows, hopefully I could inspire someone to be just like me and at the age of 20 to go for their first run since high school and after three minutes, standing wheezing and with a stitch in both sides thinking this was the worst idea they’ve ever had, only to not ever fully give up for the next fifteen years. Just don’t think you’ll catch me opining on things like, what the best running shoes are, because honestly outside of “get what’s comfy” I really have no clue.
Kviye walked Samir back down a boardwalk that thinned out somewhat, both in terms of pedestrians and the shops that remained open, and judging by the noise coming from the tavern, it seemed that they had all funneled there instead. On their way back to Valyen’s home, Samir shared stories of the space stations he’d visited, mostly Human and Winti though their intention was to reach the borders of the Adaract Hive before heading to Iastret and Mraboran space, perhaps all the way to the Thorian Empire itself. The names meant little to her, shiny distractions as she planned conversations she wasn’t sure how to have.
They parted when they reached the garage – Samir returned to the guest house while she inserted herself into the remnants of the evening clean-up in the kitchen as if she’d never left, silently grabbing a pot from Kviye’s mom and scrubbing it. She was certain her absence was noted, but not even Valyen had bothered to comment on it.
Well after the whole house had gone dark and quiet, Kviye lay in Valyen’s bed with her eyes opened, promises from the whole galaxy whispering in her ear.
Her friend insisted that as a guest, Kviye would have the bed and Valyen would have the thin mattress on the floor, and when Valyen was in that kind of mood there was no fighting it. So for the sake of not having to hear Valyen sulk in her own bed refusing to sleep, Kviye acquiesced, though now it was her who was unable to fall asleep, and not for a lack of trying.
“Seriously Kvee, I can’t sleep with you thinking this loud,” Valyen grumbled in the dark.
“Sorry, I’ll try to keep it down.” Was she breathing too hard? Or sighing unintentionally? In any case, Kviye had no interest in making this Valyen’s burden, so she turned on her side and tried to keep her breath low as she went through the possibilities in her head, all the ways her life could go if she went through with the decision she had already made – watching her father struggle to find work, leaving him for months or possibly years, finding her way out there without him, without Valyen, without Adri. And the stars, always the stars in the background promising a thousand different worlds to see.
“I can still hear you, you know?”
“How?” Kviye sat up in bed looking in the direction of the lump on the floor, hardly visible in the reflected planet-light streaming through the window.
“I don’t know, just do,” the lump grumbled back and then reluctantly unfurled and also sat up. “You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you?”
“Samir said there’s space for me on the Oshken.”
Kviye didn’t mean to leave her friend in silence. She had been looking for a response – the right mix of lightness, earnestness and apology. Instead, it was Valyen who had to break the silence.
“Do I need to break your other leg?” She asked with a sigh of resignation.
“You might have to.”
It was Valyen’s turn to soak them in quiet as she stared off into some indeterminate point in the darkness of her room.
“Are you mad at me?” Kviye whispered.
“Me being anything won’t make a bit of difference, will it? You’re gone either way.”
“That’s not fair. You make it sound like it’s just about leaving.”
“Then what is it, Kvee?”
She had for Valyen only part of an answer. Samir couldn’t make any promises and neither would Kviye, nor would she feed Valyen’s hopes just to justify her own burning desire to leave behind everything she knew and everyone she loved.
“You heard Captain Mokob,” Kviye said. “He was able to buy the Oshken with the money he made comet chasing, and I don’t need anything that big. Just something to replace the skiff, maybe connect our moon to our closest neighbours. Who knows the kind of things they might have that we would find helpful.” If Valyen didn’t hear it then, then she wasn’t ready for it.
“Kviye, these comet chasers are all about tall tales and talking themselves up, they’re worse than the fishers. And besides, I’m sure your dad will be the first to tell you that this is a ridiculous idea.”
“I’m not sure my dad will be the first to tell me anything. I don’t know if you noticed but we’ve barely talked since the crash. He’ll say ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ but other than that, any conversation we have is just listening to each other talk to other people at the dinner table.”
“He still loves you. The crash didn’t change that.”
“That’s’ about the only thing it hasn’t changed.” Kviye sat looking out the window; there was a light on in a window of the guest house and the pale storm on the surface of the gas giant was visible just above the top of the building. “If I could make enough to get another ship, things could go back to normal. I would be flying, and he would have something to do. And we could forget the crash ever happened.”
Kviye knew though that the crash would never allow itself to be forgotten. On clear days when she looked up into the sky, it would transform into the fast-approaching ground and the wound in her leg would groan. Or when she’d sit alone in the dark, she could hear the wind and the rain and a voice calling her name from a distance, first her mother’s and then Valyen’s.
She wondered if Valyen was experiencing the same thing from her own perspective – entangled in the memories of the skiff streaking white across the sky, coming down somewhere behind the hills that encircled Zhakitrinbur.
After a long while, Valyen said, “Kvee, I want you to know, that no matter what I may’ve said, whatever you decide, I’ll be there.” She finally looked at Kviye then, her eyes pale and determined. “Do you understand?”
She didn’t then, as Kviye would later realize, but she agreed anyway. “I understand. Thank you.”
Kviye led Samir through a few deserted streets to the boardwalk. Here, some of the stores were still open, spilling their lights, smells and sounds onto the street. Kviye didn’t know where to start her question and Samir seemed to be in no rush to have her get on with it. He walked slowly, hands in his pockets, turning his head this way and that and taking in his surroundings. He studied the ships that docked for the night, some darkened, others with their cabin lights aglow, and others where the fishers still worked to set everything in order, barking terminology at each other that Kviye had never become familiar with. At a florist, Samir stopped to admire their fresh-cut selection – yellow morning dragons and green opaleyes. She supposed if there was anything that was unique to a place it was its flora and fauna, and wondered if he would be amused by the grazing beasts of their plateaus, creatures she hardly ever thought about.
They passed an establishment that would be open well into the late hours, music and laughter flowing freely from within. Samir peered through its windows with particular interest, as if noting its location for future reference.
“I like your town.” Samir said, craning his neck one last time at the pub, “It reminds me a bit of where I grew up – quiet and isolated.”
“Not as isolated as this I imagine.”
He laughed. “No, not quite. But there’s fewer and fewer places like that in the Known Reaches. ‘Civilization’, as they call it. There’s no stopping it.”
Kviye turned from the boardwalk, and led them to the end of an empty pier.
“I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around how many of us there are out there.” Kviye said, taking a seat at the edge of the pier and staring straight ahead at the stars shimmering over the water.
“I know we don’t get starships passing through here often, but no one’s ever mentioned having encountered Humans before.”
Samir took a seat next to her, stretching his legs out over the dark water that reflected the light from the gas giant.
“That’s not surprising. Our kind is pretty new to this, so we haven’t really spread all that wide from our little far-flung corner of space.”
“What do you mean by ‘new’?”
“Well, other species claim they’ve been travelling the stars for thousands of years, but I think we left Earth only about two hundred years ago.”
Earth. That word sounded almost divine, like an ancient mother goddess who had resided nameless in the heavens but now descended, tangible and named.
“Earth,” Kviye whispered, just to hear it again. “You said something earlier about a Great Fire?”
She assumed maybe he was lost in the stars as much as she was because the question seemed to startle him.
“What? Oh, right. They say we’d been to the stars before, a long time ago, but then there was a great fire, and we nearly destroyed our planet and ourselves. It took us thousands of years to get back to where we used to be. That’s what I was talking about before. We started exploring again and sometimes we’d find old colonies of Humans who survived all this time in isolation. I used to read stories like that as a kid, you know – somebody finding a lost tribe of Humans who went back to their primitive wild ways.”
“We’re only a little bit primitive.”
He laughed again at that, a thing that came out of his mouth freely and breezily, and turned to look at her, though her eyes were only for the stars.
“You wanted to ask me about something specific, didn’t you?” He asked.
She did. But she was also treading on the possibility of hope being dashed and it was difficult to cross the threshold.
“Have you ever heard of something called ‘the grey’”? She asked.
“Uh, you mean like the colour?”
“No, no.” The words came dry from her mouth. “It’s a disease that effects our people.”
She could feel him tense up next to her, make the slightest move to put some distance between them.
“Sorry, no, it’s nothing like that,” she said. “It’s not contagious, in that sense, but it has been killing my people more and more recently. Our loved ones waste away before our eyes as their skin turns grey, and then they’re gone. Does that sound familiar to you?”
He seemed to relax, but there was a new note of sheepishness in his voice. “Can’t say that it does. But I’m no expert in medicines. All I know is that there’s all kinds of doctors out there, Human and alien, and they can work all sorts of miracles you and I wouldn’t understand.”
Kviye could see it clearly enough – walking into a hospital on this “Earth” and describing the symptoms to a doctor who, after laughing about the simplicity of these savages, hands her a small vile of salvation which she then delivers to her people across the stars.
“You want to be out there, don’t you?”
“What’s that?” She asked, crossing lightyears to come back from her daydream.
“You have that look. I’ve seen enough friends in the months before they jump on some random passing freighter to recognize it. I probably had the same one leading up to grabbing that job on Nkagan. So what about you? Dreaming of getting off this rock?”
She made a dismissive sound that somewhat resembled laughter. “You know, I dreamt about it all my life. To get out there and find others like us. But now it all just seems too big.”
“That it is. No matter how much you think you understand, you really don’t get it until you’re out there – how endless it is. But that’s the best part, because nothing beats that kind of freedom. I thought I had it when I moved to Nkagan, but on the Oshken, it’s something else. You should join us.”
“What?” She asked, startled at her own thoughts being projected onto his words.
“I’m serious. We’re a little shorthanded and I’ve seen you on the ship today, you seem to know your way around the mechanical stuff.”
“Me? No. I’ve only really ever worked on one ship, and it went to space once. Valyen’s the real mechanic.”
“The pale one? Sure, there’s room for her too.”
Kviye burst out laughing and had to stop herself after seeing Samir’s quizzical look. “Sorry, the thought of Val on a starship is just …”
“Well think about,” he said, that crooked smile returning to his face. “You’ve got a few days.”
“I will,” she said. “I will definitely think about it.”
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.