Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
The comms room was not where the sound they heard earlier had been coming from, but that didn’t stop Yarmar from having the neural devastator gun at the ready when the door slid fully open. It was quickly apparent that there would be no need for it here. There was a body on the other side of the door, the trapped arm twisted at an odd angle. It lay in a pool of dried blood, though it was not immediately clear where it came from. Further inside there were two others, also both Thorian. They lay close to each other, one on their back, the other bent forward with the side of their face pressed into the floor. Both corpses had significant bruising and bleeding on their foreheads, their Thorian cranial bumps smashed to almost beyond recognition. Sickened to his stomach at even being able to draw such a conclusion, Hilosh thought that it looked like the body that was lying on its back had died days after the one with its face on the floor.
“What in the green divinities happened here?” Charosar whispered, but with the three of them connected by their mics, the chill of her voice was loud and clear in Hilosh’s ear.
“They certainly didn’t go as peacefully as the one in the cargo hold,” Yarmar said, a cold distance in her voice, the muzzle of the neural devastator she was holding still pointed towards the bodies. She was right, if the one down in cargo looked like they passed quietly into the beyond, these were sent there abruptly, and possibly by each other’s hands. Hilosh remembered the voices in the background of the message they received from the ship. In all likelihood, they had come from these grotesque distorted faces when they still ranked among the living, or from whatever or whomever had done this to them.
The flashlight beam found another corpse in the far right corner of the room, crumpled unnaturally against the wall, its head displaying a similar kind of damage as the others, the front of its shirt soaked in blood from the head wound and a wound on his neck. Hilosh was reaching his limits. His breath shallow, and a tightening discomfort around the flesh in the back of his head, he had to stop, arms braced against the communications console, and looked at the floor to escape from the carnage, only to find a bloody footprint. He closed his eyes, taking a few breaths, while the other two paid him no heed, continuing to survey the room.
The Anthar Kai, whenever they come to learn of this, would be all over them. Normally they took little interest in small outposts like theirs. Flung so far out into Dead Space, the administration of something so small hardly made it worth it and there were other ways they could exploit them. But this, just being here on this ship, leaving their own footprints in Thorian blood and with Charosar formerly posted on Rosha Chot’hagh. Throwing up inside his helmet was not an option, taking it off to throw up in the comms room was similarly off the table. Hilosh opened his eyes to ground himself again, and peered over the console he was leaning on. There, he spotted the top of another head.
“Come take a look at this,” he said, and waited for the other two to come by before he walked around to have a look himself.
This body was similar to the one they found in the cargo hold, sitting against the console with its knees up against its chest and its head resting on them. The visible skin on their hands and forehead was similarly wrinkled and dry-looking and there were no signs of severe physical trauma that could have contributed to the death.
“I wonder if he’s the one who sent the message,” Yarmar echoed Hilosh’s thoughts. Were these words, spoken across the coldness of space to a tiny mining operation of mostly Vaparozh, where only one person even understood their meaning, the final words of this Anthar Kai crewmember? “Why am I?” indeed, Hilosh thought, completing the sentence with “about to drop on you all like an emissary of death?” Hilosh had just about enough of the Raire and its ghosts.
“I think we’ve seen all that we need to here,” Hilosh said, trying to find a spot to focus on in this room without seeing death and not finding any.
“We still don’t know what happened.” Yarmar had knelt down by the corpse behind the comms panel and gently prodded its shoulder with the muzzle of the neural devastator.
“We can leave that to the Anthar Kai. We did what we needed to, which is check for survivors.” Hilosh wished he could whisper this to Yarmar, away from Charosar’s ears, but they were on a shared frequency. “Now’s not the time to satisfy our personal curiosity.”
“It’s not personal curiosity, Hilosh. Something actually brought down a ship full of Thorians. And you know they would sooner burn the Raire down than let anyone else know how or why.”
From the corner of his eye, Hilosh could see Charosar straighten-up at this suggestion.
“I know. I know if the Anthar Kai takes over, we’ll never know what happened here. But do you really want to know? What do you think they’ll do if they suspect we might have this knowledge? We’re a small group of Vaparozh out in Dead Space and they’ll have no problem making sure that no one will ever miss us. Is that want you want for our crew?”
For a while, Yarmar didn’t move, communing silently with the dead Thorian she’d been studying.
“We might have already seen too much,” Hilosh added.
“You’re right, you’re right,” Yarmar said finally, getting up. “Let’s get off the ship, and pretend we didn’t see anything. Charosar?”
“You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve dreamt of being in a room full of dead Thorians,” the engineer answered, “But now that I’m here, I’m not so sure how much I prefer them to the lives ones.”
They piled out of the communications room, and behind them, Yarmar shut the door over the arm of the body that either never fully made it in or out. It closed on the appendage with a gut-wrenching thump and Hilosh had to remind himself that they weren’t the ones responsible and were just putting everything back in its rightful, or in this case, wrongful, place.
Season's Greetings to You and Yours
With Christmas Eve being tomorrow, instead of the usual weekly update I just wanted to share my season’s greetings with all of you who may be reading this blog.
If you’re here, I want you to know that I appreciate it. I think one day I might look back on these years as my humble beginnings, and if there’s any time for dreams and wishes, it’s around Christmas.
I know this year won’t be easy for a lot of you. If there’s loved ones you’re not able to see, I wish you a speedy reunion. If there’s something you didn’t get a chance to do, I hope it’s coming your way soon. If you sit at the end of the year lamenting it was unkind, I wish you only the very best in 2022.
I know sometimes the road isn’t easy, I know sometimes it’s hard to see why it is so. I know that we all feel tired, one way or another. Every day I am in awe of how fortunate I am to have a loving family by my side to steer me trough all of this. Whoever you are out there, either hug your anchors tighter, or take heart that families can be made.
Whatever you’re looking for this holiday season, I hope that we can find it together.
At the sound of the metal clang ringing through the cargo hold of the Raire, the speaker in Hilosh helmet picked up Charosar’s groan.
“And now we need to go in there,” Yarmar said, ignoring the sentiment.
“Why? Why do we ‘need’ to go in there?” Charosar demanded, voice rising.
“Because there could be someone alive out there.”
“Yes, someone Thorian.”
They let Charosar stew for a minute, the heavy exhales whistling through their earpieces.
“I don’t like this any more than you do, Charosar,” Hilosh said, “but Yarmar is right. If there’s still anyone alive in there we need to help them.” As if to sound its agreement with what Hilosh was saying, the faint metallic clang rang again from the direction of the door leading out of the cargo hold. Charosar turned her head slightly towards it. Hilosh may not have not known much about people, but what he did know was that if this had involved anyone but the Thorians, Charosar would have been the first one prying those doors open even in the absence of any signs of life from the other side. Personally, he considered himself lucky to have had few interactions with them outside of Anthar Kai supply runs, yet it was enough to help him at least understand Charosar’s sentiment, though not necessarily agree with it.
“Alright,” Charosar said finally. “You better have a good grip on that thing, Yarmar.” She nodded in the direction of the neural devastator gun in Yarmar’s hands.
“Don’t worry about me, Cha,” Yarmar assured and led them away from the fallen Thorian. Just as they were about to round the corner, Hilosh took one last look at the body, a shadow amongst shadows. Whatever happened to them, it was a lonely death.
The door leading out of the cargo hold also gave way to the transfer station’s safety protocols and soon the three Vaparozh were in the Raire’s main corridors, no less gloomy than where they came from.
“Would it kill them to install a brightness switch or something?” Charosar grumbled, even though the glasses she was wearing allowed her to be the only one of the three to have the ability to see half-decently in that light. For most species, this level of illumination resembled twilight on the planet they’d evolved on. For the Vaparozh, however, with their eyes were built for the bright sun of their own homeworld, this environment posed a particular challenge. The Thorians had a tendency to make themselves at home anywhere they went, even if they only comprised a miniscule minority of the population of the planet or moon they were occupying. So despite the fact that most of them had small surgical implants in the bridge of their noses to attach the darkened glasses they carried off-world to protect themselves from brighter suns, they made sure most interior environments were catered to their sensibilities. It was this exact environment on Rosha Chot’hagh that destroyed Charosar’s eyesight to the point where she had to wear the ocular enhancing glasses that now made her the unspoken volunteer to lead them through the Raire. Yarmar was a half-step behind her with her finger a hair from the trigger of the neural devastator, and Hilosh was at the rear.
Their progress was slow, in large part due to none of them having the appetite for suddenly coming face-to-face with another gruesome sight. They walked cautiously, studying every door and dim corner for any signs of the corpse’s fellow crewmembers, and when they finally found one, it presented itself matter-of-factly, in a take-it-or-leave-it way, just sitting on the wall, at waist level, without commentary, as if they had to simply accept it, and move on about their day. It was a smear of blood, about the width of a palm and twice as long, dried on the corridor wall. They stared at it in silence, Hilosh not even bothering to imagine what the other two were thinking. The body they’d found in the cargo hold, though a body it was, had just been lying there as if to make a simple statement – here is a dead body. This smear, even though it lacked a corresponding body, represented evidence of violence. Gone was any hope that this was an environmental system malfunction that righted itself too late. This was tangible evidence that they’d hardly even scratched the surface of what happened on board the Raire.
As Hilosh grimly suspected, it was a sign of what was to come, as up ahead they found the continued blood trail – drops that here and there formed into dried pools, some of them streaked across the floor. Hilosh believed in his crew more than he believed in himself. He wanted to suggest they turn back, that they’d seen enough, that another Anthar Kai ship would come along to investigate, that the clanging sound that drew them in was probably some persistent mechanical malfunction. It would take some time but he could convince himself that it was alright to change his mind, to turn back knowing that fifteen minutes earlier he thought investigating was the right thing to do. The other two, even Charosar despite herself, would not likely be so easily persuaded. Hilosh was thankful to them for not hesitating and, like any good leader, he knew when to follow.
They’d followed the trail of blood up two levels, to the deck where the bridge was likely located, but there it disappeared abruptly, and they hadn’t heard the metallic clang for so long that they suspected it might have stopped altogether.
After a minute of standing motionless listening to the ship, it was Charosar who asked, “Should we turn back? This is a ghost ship if there ever was one.”
“A supply ship like this wouldn’t have had that much crew to begin with, so it’s not a surprise we haven’t seen anyone,” Yarmar replied, conveniently glossing over the one crewmember that they had seen. “We should at least check out the bridge, and then we can go.”
They both turned to face Hilosh – a decision like this required both co-supervisors to be on board – and he wasn’t about to be the one who chose to run.
“I think it makes sense to check as far as the bridge. Then we can head back to the surface so we can think about putting together a proper salvage run.” He added that last part for his own benefit, because it made him feel that much closer to being off the ship.
He wondered what his son, Rachek, would think of his father then. Rachek had a penchant for opinions lately – they burst out of him with a destructive force that leveled everything in their path. What would Rachek make of his father’s fear; his reluctance in the face of the unknown? He’d probably say something like “this is why we lost” – something weighty that meant a lot to Rachek, but left Hilosh feeling mostly empty, like the Thorians had built a wall between him and his son.
They never did make it to the bridge.
Up ahead of them stood the door to the comms room, the source of that initial call that Viri played for them back at the mining facility, and it was only partially closed, because blocking its way was an arm. Presumably, Hilosh thought, the arm would be attached to a body still inside the room, though he wasn’t sure if he preferred that to the arm being disembodied. Perhaps if they never went in, and he didn’t have to find out for sure, he could go on pretending there was nothing beyond the door at all.
Yarmar, though, moved forward with determination.
“What –” Charosar managed to start but against his instincts Hilosh walked past her after Yarmar and Charosar had to join them.
I’m sure I’ve said this already but I can hardly believe it’s December, so I wanted to take this moment to go through a bunch of minor updates for this month
Launch of Second Magus
Just about a month to go before I finally start posting my LitRPG-inspired fantasy story on Royal Road. Expect a teaser cover here next week before I can on a short holiday break.
Second Novel Length
I keep thinking I’m about to finish the first draft of my second novel but yet it just keeps going. It recently broke 100,000 words making it only my second work that has crossed this threshold – the first being a mostly-for-fun project called Cassia and Mateo which was originally written for my kids. I already one of the ways to trim this one down though, having chosen to abandon a problematic subplot. Still going to need a whole lot of revising once it’s done to get it to a usable length.
Bloodlet Sun Chapter Musical Chairs
I remember a little while ago I wrote that the most recent chapter of The Bloodlet Sun I finished ended up being way too long, but I thought I needed to keep it that way because there was something in it that tied to the previous chapter. Now that I’m editing it, I don’t think I can go through with it anymore. There’s a pretty significant plot turn in the middle of this chapter that I think would serve much better as a mini cliffhanger, so I just might split this one into two, but only put one other character’s POV chapter between the two halves.
If anyone follows me on Twitter they would have discovered much to their annoyance that recently I’ve tweeting almost exclusively about hockey. I don’t know what it is, considering I can’t actually remember when the last time was that I watched a game. But my beloved Vancouver Canucks seem to be turning a corner and possibly leaving a dark era behind them by getting a new General Manager and coach. Hopefully this means that better times are ahead and I will have less of a need to send out bitter tweets.
Year in Reviews
As the year draws to a close though, while I lament how quickly it passed by, I’m still looking forward to doing my review posts. The writing one is especially exciting because it’s been an exceptionally productive year for me. The reading one, well, it hasn’t been great, but I did read some fantastic things so I’ll be happy to highlight that. Might even add a quick exercise in review entry, if only to motivate myself to try to beat my goals for the following year.
Speaking of the year-in-review. As many of you had experience in early December, I was pretty stoked for my Spotify wrapped this year as it perfectly hits on two favourite areas of mine – lists and egoism. My kids again managed to eff up my top songs, as four of the five entries were from my five year-old’s Disney villains playlist that he insisted we create for him. One of these days this thing will actually be accurate for me. With top artist I ended up with Green Day, mostly because they appear the most in my ridiculous everything-and-the-kitchen-sink playlist. Still made it into the top .5% of listeners which just goes to show that no else listens to them anymore.
Princess Switch 3
Okay if you’re all looking for lighthearted holiday entertainment, oh, and seeing one of the best acting performances of all time, may I recommend the Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star? If you want to see Vanessa Hudgens not only play three different characters but also those characters cosplaying as each other (who doesn’t?) then this is the right one for you. I’m not even kidding. Whatever you say about the third installment in the series, Hudgens is so good at blending her characters, it’s worth it for that alone. Do recommend the prior two movies first, both to understand the plot/characters but also because they are admittedly much better movies.
Anyway, I think that’s it for fun December things. Still can’t believe the next one will be in 2022.
Nothing had changed since the last time they were at the transfer station – the Raire looked the same, still idle and pristine, docked into the station’s main loading port while their shuttle approached the smaller entrance on the opposite side. Inside the station, the panel by the airlock door that separated them from the Anthar Kai supply vessel indicated that there was nothing wrong with the atmosphere or the temperature in the Raire. Still, they opted for full-body environmental suits with their own oxygen supply before they attempted entry.
“Looks like everything’s docked properly,” Yarmar said as the enormous station-side door began to open to fit the dimensions of the Raire’s cargo door. “So as long as the Raire’s crew didn’t bypass any standard security protocols, which I wouldn’t put past them, we should be able to open the ship from this side.”
After a few more keystrokes and some ominous beeping, the seam in the Raire’s doors started to open and as the two halves slid part, it gave the three Vaparozh their first glimpse of the inside of the Anthar Kai ship’s cargo hold.
“Must be an all-Thorian crew,” Yarmar commented. The lighting inside the Raire resembled twilight with a slight red tint – not too dark to make out shapes but not optimal for climbing onto a starship with a mysteriously disappeared crew.
With the reddish colour and general dimness, the cavernous cargo compartment, which was five times their height and one of several that comprised the overall cargo space of the supply ship, looked like the open mouth of an enormous beast. The image had not made it any easier for Hilosh to take a step forward, but Yarmar headed in, neural devastator at the ready, so him and Charosar had no choice but to follow. They had to walk past rows of crates and large containers on the way to the door visible on the other side of the vast room.
“Keep an eye out for anything we might want to bring down to the surface.” Yarmar motioned in the direction of a refrigerated container, which may have been filled with consumable goods. It still didn’t sit fully right with Hilosh to be pilfering anything from the Raire, but having now been on the ship and seeing no signs of life, the idea started to become more palatable. Much to his annoyance, even salvage wasn’t going to be an easy task since most of the containers here were marked only with serial numbers. They’d either need to find a way to access the Anthar Kai ship’s manifest or go through each container with brute force. And this was only the top deck of the cargo hold, with several layers beneath their feet to scour. Going through the daunting task in his head only swelled the desire to find at least one survivor that could aid them in the search.
They had nearly made it to the door leading to the rest of the ship when they encountered the first of the crew.
All three of them almost walked by it, but an unusual dark shape between the crates caught Hilosh’s eye and made his knees buckle momentarily. Yarmar turned sharply at that, devastator pointing at the narrow space. The shape, however, was not moving, though it was clear to them that sometime previously, it would have been able to.
They approached slowly, and Hilosh wondered whether dragging the process out this way was better or worse for his twin hearts that seemed to be competing as to which one could beat the most desperately in his chest. There was a new kind of dread that filled him when they were close enough to distinguish the position the body was lying in – fetal, arms wrapped around its knees and head mostly tucked in. It was wearing the crisp black uniform of the Anthar Kai, with the silver buttons up the sleeves and short coattails on the back. Of the head, only the hair was visible, so it was difficult to tell whether they were Thorian, and no one was eager to move the body to confirm.
It’s not that Hilosh had never seen a dead body before. Working at mine sites and construction sites, there was no avoiding coming face to face with the aftermath of an accident. But there was a sense of obviousness about those incidents – a fall, getting crushed by machinery, malfunctioning equipment that exploded. Here, there was nothing clearly wrong with the victim – no blood, no visible injury, just the crumpled shell of something that used to be alive, now discarded like the outer skin of some insect or crustacean. There was nothing revolting about it, and their respirators would have dealt with any smell, but it left Hilosh feeling hollowed out. He turned away, and noticed for the first time the reactions of his crew – Charosar with the distant stare of someone who’d seen enough senseless death up close and Yarmar with her mouth slightly pursed, her eyes moving in small rapid motions.
“What do you think happened?” Yarmar asked, which made Hilosh worry that she would bend down and inspect the body.
“No idea,” Hilosh answered refusing to look back.
“I don’t know,” Charosar admitted, “Hands look weird though.”
At this, Hilosh looked over his shoulder in time to see Yarmar take a step forward and push with her boot against the corpse’s hand.
“They look shriveled, almost dried. And what’s that?” Yarmar’s nudge revealed busted darkened fingertips covered in what looked like dried blood.
“We should get out of here,” Charosar said, “We have access to the cargo, so we should just find what we need and go.”
“We need to find out what happened here,” Yarmar’s tone was even, like she was quoting from somewhere instead of speaking for herself.
“What more do we need to find out? They’re dead.” Now it was Charosar who turned around abruptly and walked back in the direction of the main passage between the containers. “The Anthar Kai will come pick up their ship eventually, there’s nothing else we can do.”
They’d all clearly heard it, as even Charosar stopped in her tracks and turned her head in the direction of the sound. Hilosh would never have imagined that within the silence that the curled-up body seemed to have enveloped them in, a single distinct metallic clang coming from deeper within the ship could invoke such terror.
Oh dang someone has exploded Christmas all over this house.
With the kitchen renovations behind us and a sense of normalcy returning to our lives (ignoring for a moment that our youngest is doing a weird sleeping thing where we’re not able to put him to bed for the night before two am and are therefore slowly turning into zombies due to lack of sleep), we finally had a chance to set up the house for the holidays.
This weekend we actually got some dry days for the first time in what feels like forever, which meant we had a nice trip to the Christmas tree u-cut farm. This time I was armed with measurements and a measuring tape so we got a tree that actually fits our place pretty nicely. You wouldn’t believe how much smaller they look in the open field next to trees that mostly top seven or eight feet. Then you pick something that looks puny and you bring it home and have a hard time fitting it through the door. This year’s is a bit more modest, though it was still bushy enough to swallow a tonne of lights, which I’d set up while the kids watched that (relatively) new Grinch movie. I think the end product turned out quite beautiful.
I also had a chance to catch up on some of the other decorations. For example, my wife picked up a set of fairy lights from Costco a couple of weeks back and I found a place for half of them. Although I love fairy lights, one problem is they just don’t string like other lights, and these Costco ones are battery powered so I can’t even put them on a socket and a timer. Still, the kids asked for their room to be more festive, so I ran a couple of the strings between their bookcases:
The important thing is that they enjoyed it, so thank you Costco buyers once again.
Speaking of Costco, for the last couple of year what’s been missing from our Christmas décor was a wreath. This year Costco was selling ones with lights, so we figured why not, probably the cheapest nice-looking wreath of that size we could buy. Only problem was that it was of a size that seemed much smaller in the store. On our door though it looks something like this:
I commend the hook on our door that’s been managing to hold up this monstrosity. Also, I know it’ll probably look less ridiculous if I lower it, but I only have energy for so many things.
So with all the lights up, I managed to put the boxes away, and with only a few more things to move back into the pantry after the renos, it might be time to relax before the new year rolls around.
It helps too that I only have two weeks of work left before taking a break before the new year, which would have been made easier if it wasn’t for whatever reason extra busy at work, but the countdown sure helps.
Until then I can daydream maybe sleeping in (baby permitting, see previous comment about zombie-like state) and drinking more hot chocolate and eggnog than is recommended for any normal human being.
The preparations for their return trip to the Raire passed with little fanfare and involved the same three individuals that had gone up to check on the transfer station earlier – Hilosh, Yarmar and Charosar – to match the number of environmental suits available on the shuttle. As for the rest of the crew, the departure time was chosen to coincide with when they’d already be retiring to their barracks, unaware of the shuttle’s liftoff, Yarmar and Hilosh figuring that no hopes can be dashed if they weren’t made to begin with.
The only thing that was truly different about this flight versus the one five days prior was the neural devastator gun they brought with them and whose presence was so heavy that it sat like a fourth passenger between Hilosh and Charosar on their ascent, as Yarmar had the controls of the shuttle.
“Have you ever used one of these things?” Hilosh asked, deciding to break the silence since the neural devastator didn’t seem to be interested in doing it.
“No,” Charosar answered, her hands clasped at her lap and eyes fixed intently on the weapon, “Been too close to one when it was though.” She leaned in and looked up at Hilosh. “On Rosha Chot’hagh.”
“Oh,” Hilosh straightened up, his hands stiff at his sides. “You were there when –”
“When the Shoaman Kai moved in? Yeah. Five hundred years we’ve had it, as far back as the Exodus. I’d grown up on neighbouring Dayuna, where my family moved from the homeworld around that same time.”
“Mine too, moved early in the Exodus far too close to Thorian space.”
“Tell me about it. We on Dayuna used Rosha Chot’hagh as a supply world all that time. So many of my family worked there over the centuries. Funny how you always think that whatever was there when you were born seems eternal. An easy assumption to make about something that’d been around for half a millennium. Especially since even though we’d officially become part of the Empire after the Last Gasp, they didn’t seem all that interested in us.”
“So what suddenly happened?” Hilosh asked. He’d been stationed on Rosha Chot’hagh early in his career, still had some former colleagues on there when it all went down.
“Who knows with Thorians?” Charosar said and let out a joyless chuckle. “Someone somewhere decided there needed to be more of them. We were just unlucky. Anthar Kai started shipping them onto Dayuna in droves. In one of her letters, my mom said that half her street had been relocated and replaced with them. Our new co-supervisors were both Thorian-educated Vaparozh who chose not to tell us that most of our shipments were now being directed to the Anthar Kai network instead of Dayuna and other nearby systems. They knew damn well we wouldn’t work as hard if we were feeding those bumpy headed sleaze balls, but we found out anyway, and acted accordingly.”
Hilosh wanted to say something but found his throat tight. He’d heard the rumours; it was only ever rumours when it came to the Shoaman Kai, the military enforcement branch of the Anthar Kai, the Thorian corporation that was responsible for running the fringes of its Empire.
“Our cowardly co-supervisors called it in. Couldn’t have been the Thorians since they prefer not to get their hands dirty when they can and didn’t actually have boots on the ground at the time. We were sitting one morning in the mess hall – the early crowd – when we see a flash outside the window. They targeted one of the workers’ barracks, disintegrated it right from orbit. A moment later the shockwave hit us, knocking out some windows and sending us into a panic. They’d already landed a battalion by that point, so when we rushed out of the dining hall, they yelled for us to stop, gave us no time to react, and fired. I was right in that second wave who would have been next if we hadn’t frozen in our tracks. I remember them reading us our rights, but hearing nothing, just watching the breath of the person lying under my feet. Their back rose and fell, and rose and fell, and never rose again, a slight twitch in their leg from their central nervous system disintegrating. Only other thing I remember is the smell. Not of blood or anything, these things don’t make you bleed, but they have their own smell. Smell of electrified evil.”
Her eyes drifted back to the weapon, and Hilosh’s followed hers and rested on the top of the gun, where underneath a plastic safety cover was the trigger, seeming to weigh more heavily than the whole gun itself.
“We’d been told we’re no longer at-will labourers, and that we were working fully in service to the Anthar Kai and its customers and shareholders, and given that the Vaparozh colonies out there were included as its customers, they assured us that we still technically worked for our own people. Only consolation was that there were now Thorians stuck there with us, though they were sure to remind us of their displeasure at this as often as possible. Those of us who were there at the beginning, fifteen years they kept us on Rosha Chot’hagh until the contracts we never actually signed supposedly expired. Still, despite all of that, I was mostly angry for the ones we lost on that first day. Just like that. Not even a chance to surrender, to weigh your options, to chose life or death. Just blinked out of existence. The ones that were left felt like we owed it to them to survive because we were at least given the opportunity to do so. For those of us who did make it to the end, the stipend that they gave us was barely enough to get to Dayuna and most had settled down on Rosha Chot’hagh by then, built a new town from scratch. Not me, I just wanted to get off. My mom though by then had moved as far away from the Thorians as she could – to the borders of Dead Space on a mostly Iastret colony. So I figured if I took this job, I could get a free ride to be closer, then make some proper Vaparozh money and move back in with her.”
“That sounds like a good plan.” What else was there to say? How did people generally know what to say in these situations, how many little noises of disbelief and sympathy did Hilosh need to make to sound caring, how many before he sounded disinterested?
“Well, dying here because an Anthar Kai ship’s life support failed wasn’t part of the plan. Hey,” Charosar put on a smile that seemed to Hilosh to be entirely too wide, “Looks like they managed to get me in the end.”
“We’re going to be docking in a few,” Yarmar called from the controls, the first sound that came from her since Charosar started speaking. They were practically in the same space, the cockpit separated from the seating area by a thin partition with a single door that remained open. How much did she hear, or was she simply too focused on her piloting to respond? “Once we get there, I think maybe I should handle the devastator.”
“Why?” Charosar asked, finally returning to her regular laid-back seating position that vaguely projected some kind of attitude. “You think I might blast whoever’s on that ship just for being Anthar Kai?”
“No, it’s because it seems like I’m the only one’s who’s actually fired a neural devastator before.”
“Of course you have.” The annoyance in Hilosh’s voice surprised even himself. “Did you by any chance learn to use it in the same place you learned Native Thorian?”
“I spent a few years in security work before being assigned here.” Hilosh appreciated Yarmar ignoring his outburst but nevertheless noted that she didn’t answer his question.
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.