Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Neither Mikarik nor Sivian, the ship’s Nabak engineer, had expected or particularly enjoyed their first meeting, a week into the Forseti’s journey. When he’d accepted this assignment, Mikarik had expected the Humans to keep him on a short leash, practically confining him to house arrest in his quarters. So he was as surprised as the crew of the Forseti to see that he was given immediate free reign of the ship apart from the bridge. The Forseti wasn’t a particularly large vessel, so there were only so many places his wanderings could take him. Towards the end of that first week, he had decided to visit the engine room and take a glimpse at the black pearl at the heart of the starship.
While Mikarik found that most treated the ancient substance with a sense of detachment – a technology forged by beings long since moved on from the Known Reaches, he had always seen something kindred in the dark spheres, an organic presence, if not a silent sentience. He had the kind of respect for them that could not be afforded to a simple machine and when he first laid eyes on the one that ran the Forseti, Mikarik realized that this particular specimen deserved a level of respect he’d never given a black drop before.
As he watched it struggle in the containment field deep in the back of the ship’s engines, Mikarik could tell this one had clearly seen some things and came with a long rich history of abuse at the hands of inexperienced and careless handlers. If this was the poor drop that was supposed to power the Forseti’s subspace skimmer and also to throw up the dark cloak of dispersing energy that should have kept them off Thorian sensors as they weaved their way through the Empire, then perhaps death would come sooner than expected. The engineers on duty mostly avoided him as he watched the drop strain and groan under the pressure. The only exception was a Human named Kamira Shim who said “Hello” with a slight nod, and seemed to wonder if she should ask him what he was doing there before thinking better of it. Another one by the name of Eframe Gonsyn ignored him entirely, but with so much intention that he might as well have been shining a spotlight on Mikarik.
“If you’d called earlier, I would have given you the grand tour.” Mikarik turned around and found Chief Engineer Aimi Ishikawa standing at the head of the engines, her expression not bothering to hide anything about how she regarded his presence there.
“Oh wait, no,” Ishikawa said, her one hand grasping her personal tablet while the other one motioned chaotically about her, “There it is.”
“It’s an impressive ship,” Mikarik said.
“It most definitely isn’t,” the Chief Engineer responded, approaching a panel and comparing it to something on her tablet. “If you’re trying to find something flattering to say, don’t bother. And if you think this is representative of other ships in the Outer Rim Confederacy fleet, don’t get your Thorian hopes up.”
Mikarik couldn’t help but smile, though Ishikawa, eyes fixated on her work, wouldn’t have seen.
“Well it certainly is an interesting ship,” he said.
“That, Mr. Mikarik, we can at least agree on.”
“‘Mikarik’ is fine.”
“‘Mikarik’, sure. Look, I don’t know what purpose you have for this visit other than, you know, to be in my general vicinity, but we are really busy right now and –”
“Hey Chief I think I’ve figured out what’s been overriding our system –” The Nabak looked up from his tablet and stopped dead in his tracks, black eyes focused on Mikarik as sharply as his tusks.
“Gitang it,” Ishikawa muttered. “Sivian? Why don’t you take the rest of your shift off? I’ll see you back here tomorrow.”
Sivian didn’t move and Mikarik could hear his breathing from the other side of the engines, despite their constant hum. He inclined his head slightly towards Sivian and the Chief Engineer, said “It was nice meeting you,” and headed towards the exit. Sivian though was going to make it as inconvenient as possible, standing with his stalky wide frame in the middle of the passage. All Mikarik had to do was pass by him, say nothing, and everything would be fine. That’s what he promised himself.
Just as he was passing Sivian, trying not to make eye contact, the Nabak growled, “What’s the matter, Thorian? Didn’t think you’d actually have to come face-to-face with one of us?”
Mikarik was tempted to tell Sivian how the Insurrection ended for him, but the truth was the person who deserted the Thorian Navy was the same person who’d shot down Nabak starfighters. And even though it’s been years, Mikarik still wasn’t sure which of those people was the real him. His people accumulated their share of sins; to be expected from the oldest Empire in the Known Reaches. But they were not the only ones who spilled blood to achieve their goals and despite their shared emotional kinship that bound them across the aether, they were not opposed to turning that energy inward either. He could still clearly see the explosion against the clear skies of Sankoal, the wreckage of the freighter raining down into the waters of the bay. Why was he the one made to answer the call, when others had just as much to answer to and more?
“Face it, Sivian, if it had been the Hatvan instead of us, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Mikarik said, the cumulation of his frustrations amounting to nothing more than a deflection.
“What was that, Thorian?” A dangerous note had entered the Nabak’s voice.
“Nothing, Sivian. Enjoy your day off.”
‘Nothing’ is what he should have said in the first place. Mikarik realized that later, once those first few weeks had passed and he discovered that his lashing out wasn’t making life easier for anyone, including himself. Amongst Thorians, he was little more than a suspected netkarthi, a being severed from the empathic consciousness that permeated the species. Here, it was the same thing.
They didn’t see Mikarik, they saw a Thorian.
In the galley that evening, Sivian, Eframe and Meslina came to find a Thorian, and so a Thorian he intended to be.
The Forseti wasn’t the worst ship.
There were worse places he could die. Acknowledging this; however, provided Mikarik little comfort while he roamed the corridors of what was already essentially his tomb. Nor was his mood elevated by the fact that he had to spend his remaining time among Humans, each of whom seemed to be their own shade of surly. It even made him wonder if he would prefer the company of the Hatvan, the only species capable of making even a Thorian question their superiority just by the power of the withering arrogant looks that comprised the Hatvan’s neutral expressions.
The Human crew of the Forseti were enough to make Mikarik count the hours down to the next stasis rotation so he could have the ship mostly to himself. Never entirely though, and less frequently than he would have liked. That was one in a litany of reasons for his dissatisfaction with the Thorian Navy – too many people were always busying about.
The week-long collective nap the Forseti was taking prior to its scheduled arrival at Yshot Station was a welcome reprieve for Mikarik from its inhabitants. The worst of the lot was their Second-in-Command, Boro Stevin, pale for a Human, with a shrewd face and dark eyes that were somehow calculating and blank at the same time, like those of a predator roaming while sniffing out prey. The man wasn’t clever enough to hide that he had an angle but competent enough to hide what exactly that angle was. All this amounted to was a level of unpredictability that would do Mikarik no favours in the next phase of the mission.
A few days after resupplying at Yshot Station, the Forseti would enter Thorian space, and it would fall to Mikarik to ensure that they threaded the needle and remained undetected as they wound their way through Imperial space. All he had to do was get them deep enough. Everything that happened from there, he preemptively washed his hands of.
That also meant that soon some of his time would be spent on the bridge. Not only would this cut into his forays to other parts of the ship, but it would bring him into closer contact with Boro, an arrangement that didn’t promise to be pleasant for either of them; however short it might end up being.
Mikarik shook the thoughts from his mind, annoyed with himself that they kept returning to him that evening, though suspecting that it had something to do with the creeping feeling that had been following him. Every ship he’d ever been on, whether military, commercial, or pirate hunter, had its own rhythm, its own breath and its own pulse. Within days of boarding, Mikarik would seep into the ship and let the ship seep into him, able to intuit if anything was wrong – from an engine malfunction to a drop in morale. And that evening, something was quite clearly amiss.
Mikarik had gotten used to it by then – the feeling of eyes on him, both out in the open and those not wanting to be seen. At times, he could admit, it bothered him – to be walking around as a bumpy-headed embodiment of a five-thousand-year-old Empire that had long cast him to its periphery and left him likely sharing more in common with some of the Forseti’s crew than most of his own species. Other times, there was something almost enjoyable about the attention he was garnering, a certain kind of power he was able to wield with his presence alone, sowing discomfort and fear as he went. For Mikarik on the Forseti, the feeling of being watched was not a fancy of a paranoid mind, but the plain reality.
This new feeling of being ill at ease though was entirely different. There was something foul clogging up the arteries of the ship.
When he turned a corner on the way to the galley, he thought he momentarily saw a figure up ahead. One advantage of being up during the stasis rotation was that the Forseti’s lights were dimmed to a more natural level, so he had seen this shape with his own eyes instead of through the darkened lenses that were safely stowed away in his pocket.
He’d battled with space psychosis before – the social creature’s mind and its desperate attempt to manifest some company when it realizes it’s the only sentient being in a lightyear radius. For weeks he would wait as live bait in his modified freighter for pirates to strike, battling his brain’s urge to split itself apart to have lively conversations with itself. It had been, he believed, the main reason why he ultimately lost the ship he spent years saving for and then rebuilding – a lack of focus at the worst possible moment.
No, this figure near the galley wasn’t psychosis. The shape was real, squat and familiar. There was, in Mikarik’s estimation, plenty of good reason to turn back, to go to sleep on an empty stomach; maybe even to crawl into a stasis pod until they reached Yshot Station. There was; however, little they could do to hurt a dead man.
When he entered the empty galley, the lights came on automatically, meant to replicate the angry glare of the harsh yellow sun of the Human homeworld. He manually put most of the lights out, turning only a dimmed spotlight at his own table. The windows around the room that normally displayed passing landscapes were off, and Mikarik kept them that way. Meeron was kind enough to have prepped some food for those who were on shift during this period of stasis. Mikarik was sure that Meeron had no intention for his meals to fall into Mikarik’s hands, which made them taste that much better.
He had taken his time getting comfortable – heating the food to just the right temperature, adjusting himself in one of the more comfortable booths, pulling up the latest book he was reading on his tablet and propping it up into position at just the right angle next to his plate. It was one of those classic pieces of Thorian literature – lauded by outsiders as masterfully describing true Thorian nature but which for those who lived that nature came off as dry tomes suitable only to torture schoolchildren. His first forkful had almost made it to his mouth when the doors to the galley opened and Officer Meslina walked in.
She did not immediately walk out. That was a concern.
Moments later, he heard the other door open and looking over his shoulder found that the Human Eframe Gonsyn and Sivian the Nabak had walked in. The Human and the Nabak stood in silence with such deliberate grimness, Mikarik had to keep himself from laughing. “There’s still some food left over in cold storage. So pull up some chairs?”
“You talk a lot, Thorian,” Sivian said, his voice gravelly with that distinct Nabak growl.
“Oh, Sivian, I thought we’d be on a first name basis by now,” Mikarik said.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
“Beautiful isn’t it?” Captain Mokob said, the black pearl held out between his fingers drawing the attention of his eyes to the exclusion of those he was speaking to. “You’re a mechanic, Valyen, I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of these before – the backbone of all advanced technology in the Known Reaches. Interstellar travel at the scale we see it would not be possible without them. The money you’d fetch for one this size will let you live comfortably for a couple of months anywhere in the Known Reaches. This particular specimen is very dear to me – the last remaining piece of my share of the biggest windfall I scored on a comet chaser when I was hardly older than Samir here. The rest of the loot I spent to live like a royal for a few years and after that I bought the Oshken and founded my own crew.”'
“I find that very hard to believe,” Valyen said, her mouth full of food that was being chewed with some hostility.
“It’s not surprising,” Mokob answered. “It is a wild tale of riches. But these beauties can’t be made, you see, they can only be found. And the places they’re found are often remote, hard to get to, and unpredictable. Which means finders are in high demand and get paid accordingly.”
Mokob slipped the sphere back in his pocket and its hold over Kviye dissolved.
“I’ve always wanted to know,” she said, “What are they, exactly? I’ve asked this question before, but nobody’s been able to give me a straight answer.”
“That’s because no one has one,” Captain Mokob replied with a slight shrug before sipping his drink.
“What do you mean?” This time, it was Valyen’s turn to ask, placing her left forearm on the table and leaning forward.
“What I mean is, even though everyone uses them, no one really knows what they are or where they came from. There are theories of course. Some believable, others less so. One I hear the most is that its ancient technology so advanced that it seems magical to us. I don’t know what use the ancients had for shoving their tech into comets and other odd corners of the universe, though there’s plenty of theories on that too. I think it’s just folks trying to come up with something that will let them continue to close their eyes to the fantastical.”
Samir nodded, and then offered his own, “I once heard it could be leftover material from the Big Bang. The distilled essence of creation itself.”
“Ah yes, another very ‘scientific’ explanation, if you will,” Mokob said.
There was a brief silence at the table. Captain Mokob and Samir seemed to consider other theories that they’ve heard, while the first mate Nmala looked his usual stoic self, but it was the first mate’s turn to speak.
“Blood of ancient gods,” Nmala said leaning in across the table with a wicked smile surprising Kviye with the realization that his face could, in fact, move. “If that tickles your fancy.”
Kviye stared back at him dumbly. Something the Captain must have found amusing because he chuckled and said, “Yes, certainly one of the more fanciful tales. Usually, they’re a bit more in the middle.”
“Oh, the confluence of the ethereal material that binds the whole universe together!” Samir said.
“That’s a good one!” Captain Mokob said. “Not sure if I’ve heard of that one before.”
“This is ridiculous,” Valyen mumbled.
“It is, isn’t?” Mokob said, his look suddenly distant. “We rely on them to get us to the stars, to keep us alive in the unforgiving black void of space, but we don’t even know how they work. You travel the Known Reaches as much as I have, though, and you discover that there’s a whole lot of ‘ridiculousness’ out there.”
The rest of the dinner was far less eventful, for Kviye anyway, whose mind disappeared into the unknown Known Reaches, full of mysterious alien technology and teeming with billions of Humans going about their business. It was this last fact that troubled her most; the sheer scope of it. By all estimates, there were no more than a couple million of them on her home moon and even in her wildest dreams she thought to encounter maybe as many others or a few times more. Not thousands of times more, numbers that slipped beyond her comprehension and into the fantastical, the realm of the black spheres themselves. How much knowledge was that amount of people capable of producing? What kind of miracles could they work?
At the end of dinner, when their guests had excused themselves and started heading towards their temporary lodgings, Kviye snuck away from helping with the dishes and sought out Samir.
She caught up to him in the yard between the main house and the guest house, where he stood with his face to the sky in admiration of the massive quarter-dome of the gas giant that bathed them in a gentle blue light.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” She asked, following his gaze to the night sky.
“It is. It’s easy to forgot how much better it all looks from the ground, but,” he turned to her then, his prominent brows casting his eyes in shadow, “On the ground, the view never changes.”
“Hey, I know you’ve had a long day but there’s something I wanted to talk to you about that I didn’t want to bring up in front of the others. Do you have a moment?”
If he had been tired, Samir managed to wipe the fatigue off his face. “Sure.”
“Let’s walk,” she suggested.
Like the crew of the Oshken indicated in their call to Valyen, their ship suffered significant hull damage while they were prospecting the ice rings around the furthest planet in their system. By Valyen’s own estimation, even though she made it no secret that she wanted them off the landing platform outside her house as quickly as possible, it would take at least ten days to fix. In the meantime, most of the crew moved into the guest lodgings, with a few choosing to stay behind on the ship, while Kviye moved into Valyen’s room and her father stayed in the single guest bedroom.
There were fifteen of them in all, mostly a Winti crew with Samir, two Fusir brothers and a member of a species Kviye had never seen before called Mraboran.
The first evening after they landed, Valyen’s mom invited Captain Mokob and his first mate for dinner at the family table. The Captain chose to bring Samir along as well.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think we made enough for extra guests,” Valyen said flatly when she opened the door to admit the Wintis and their tagalong Human.
“Nonsense, Valyen,” her mother said sharply from the kitchen, trying to soften her tone in front of the guests, “We have plenty to go around for everyone. Please come in.”
“I have to say we really appreciate the invitation,” Mokob said. “We haven’t eaten planet-side in months and everything smells absolutely delicious.”
“You mean you’ve been only on your ship that whole time?” Kviye asked.
“Well, we did waylay at two space stations, which is a step up from floating around in the confines of our ship, but can’t compete with fresh ingredients taken right off the land.”
The Captain and Nmala took their seats, awkwardly stretching their ungainly limbs under the table, while Uncle Dekan brought in an extra chair for Samir.
“Thank you,” Samir said and Uncle Dekan grunted in return. Within the family, it was only Valyen and Kviye that were comfortable with Trade Thorian. Valyen’s mother could get by if she had to, while the others had no knowledge of it whatsoever, so the two of them served as translators during dinner to the best of their abilities.
“I didn’t think it possible,” Captain Mokob said after a few bites, “But the food tastes even more delicious than it smells.”
“You’re too kind, Captain,” Valyen’s mother said, tilting her head to the side.
“Not at all. Nmala here does most of the food prep on board our ship and he’ll be the first to tell you how astonishingly good this is by comparison.”
Nmala made a grunt that could as easily have been a declaration of a life-long vendetta as a statement of acquiescence.
“Well, second to tell you anyway,” the Captain added with a slight shake of the head.
“So that last world you’d visited. What was it like?” Kviye asked.
“Oh, it was that small Human colony on the edge of Winti space, nothing remarkable. What was it again?”
“Nkagan” Samir answered.
“That’s right! It’s where we picked up this fine lad to join our crew.” The Captain put his arm round Samir and shook him a bit.
“Is that where you’re from Samir?” Kviye asked, trying yet failing to not make her conversation sound like an interview.
“No, I grew up on another world elsewhere in the HID.”
“Right, sorry, the Human Interstellar Dependency – it’s the name of all the Human colony worlds. I grew up on an insignificant little rock in one corner of it, not that much bigger than what you have here, and ended up moving to Nkagan because they’re going through a construction boom right now. It’s a boom alright, the workers though hardly get any benefit from it. And then one day I bumped into old Nmala here at the pub after my shift and he talked my ear off about their little venture.”
“Did he now?” Valyen said, looking at Nmala who seemed to only have eyes for his food.
“And now been flying with the crew of the Oshken for the last few months,” Captain Mokob said.
“So what is it that the crew of your ship does?” Kviye asked.
“They’re scavengers,” Valyen interjected, not lifting her eyes from the fork that was approaching her mouth.
“Hmm?” Must have having sensed her daughter’s tone but not recognizing the word, Valyen’s mother leaned into Kviye for a translation. “Valyen!” she chastised when she got the answer.
“That’s alright. It’s a fair assessment a lot of the time. A little salvage here, some minor prospecting there, you know, little things to make ends meet. But it’s the comets that give folks like us our name is where the money really is. Comets are temperamental beasts. And they need a particularly bold kind of crew to tame. They’re not beholden to the confines of our stellar systems and often visit us from far outside the Known Reaches. And sometimes they bear unspeakable riches. Mostly its rare ores, sometimes organic particles used for research and medicines. And if fortune’s favour truly smiles on you,” Captain Mokob dropped his voice low and smiled, putting his hand into an inside pocket of his coat. “You may find yourself a lode of these.” Pinched between his fingers he held an instantly recognizable black orb with its shadowy halo. A little smaller than the specimen that had taken Kviye to space and now sat securely in her pocket, the sphere in the Captain’s hand called to Kviye with its familiar ominous song. Kviye glanced at Valyen and thought her friend looked like Mokob brought an actual bapa zhaga into her home.
The ship that contained their newest customers was an ugly conglomeration of parts, the big belly suggesting that it may have once been a smaller cargo freighter. The hull was covered by a decades’ old patchwork of repairs, while the great arms that made it look like an insect appeared to be welded to the body using little other than the hope that the ship wouldn’t fall apart.
After a few minutes of the comet chaser hissing and creaking as it adjusted to their atmosphere, there was a low thud in the hull. The entry ramp lowered after getting jammed in place for a moment and two Wintis ducked their heads and stepped into the daylight. Built for few ships other than their own, the Wintis stood at least a head taller than most Humans, owing mostly to their long toes. Kviye had never seen them because Wintis wore boots up half their leg, but she had heard that the toes culminated in hooves. The Wintis’ eyes, which sat wide apart on a slightly triangular elongated face, were round and mostly black, with only thin slivers of white visible on the sides. Flattened noses with narrow vertical nostrils were surrounded by thick short fur that covered the bottom half of their faces, while the Wintis’ hair was generally short, culminating in a slightly longer tuft at the top of their head.
Of the two Wintis that disembarked, the one on the right was taller, with lighter auburn fur that stuck out messily from his cheeks. The other was chestnut brown, had a flatter nose and a scar running from his brow past his eye and down the length of his cheek. He stepped down the ramp more cautiously than his companion, holding with both hands a metal rod wrapped partially in gauze that Kviye did not immediately recognize as a weapon.
“You can put that neural devastator away or walk right back into your ship.” Valyen spoke in the language common to spacefarers.
The Winti with the lighter fur looked around for a moment, then patted the other on the arm.
“Apologies. My first mate has seen more than his fair share of pirates so he tends to be a little too careful sometimes.” The Winti with the scar didn’t take his intense gaze off Valyen but did place the rod into a metal holster behind his back. “I’m Captain Mokob of the comet chaser Oshken, and this is Nmala.”
“My name is Morozo Valyen and this is Hon Kviye.”
Kviye nodded, wondering if Valyen spoke for her because she mistakenly thought Kviye couldn’t keep up with the language.
“If you don’t mind me saying, I didn’t really expect to encounter any Humans this far out.”
Kviye and Valyen glanced at each other at the unfamiliar word.
“Humans?” Valyen repeated.
“Humans, yes,” Captain Mokob hesitated, “That is the name of your species, right?”
A ringing rose in Kviye’s ears and a heat bubbled in her chest. Her mouth went dry but still she managed to speak in a tongue much rustier than Valyen’s. “You know of others like us?”
“Why sure. You’re not a common sight, mind you, but,” the Captain’s eyes widened and his mouth opened into a smile that revealed his flat blunt teeth, “One of my crew is Human. I’ll go get him.”
As Mokob walked back up the ramp, Nmala stood immobile, regarding them. The ringing in Kviye’s ears only grew louder, making it hard for her to hear her own thoughts as they raced through the endless possibilities of what the next minutes could bring. She glanced briefly at Valyen and found her frozen with cruel determination, a look Kviye had never before seen on her friend’s face. She thought that maybe if the weapon was in Valyen’s hands, both the Wintis would be dead by now and the ship blown up into scrap.
“Hey Samir!” Captain Mokob shouted into the open door. “Samir.” A muffled reply came from within. “Ngado? … Could you get Samir for me?” Mokob turned back to rejoin Nmala on the ramp, resuming his smiling disposition right where he left off. “He’ll be right out.”
Kviye’s fingers found Valyen’s hand and grabbed it and she appreciated that Valyen returned an assuring squeeze back.
A young man, with a sandy light brown face partially obscured by dark grease stains, and with a head full of short dark hair wound into dense coils, stepped out of the ship into the light. To Kviye’s eyes, he was unmistakably one of them. His eyes lit up when he saw them, and he rattled off a sentence in a tongue that was unfamiliar to Kviye. Judging by Valyen’s silence, it was equally foreign to her.
The man’s face shed some of its enthusiasm which was replaced by confusion. He spoke in the language again, this time making it sound like a question, but Kviye and Valyen remained lost.
“Do you speak Trade Thorian at least?”
“Yes,” Valyen answered, “Though I didn’t know that’s what it was called.”
“Great, perfect. Sorry, I guess I shouldn’t assume you’d know StEC this far out near the Adaract Hive. Still, it’s nice to see some familiar faces. Though, I have to ask, are you okay?”
He was looking at Valyen when he said it, and she narrowed her eyes before replying, “Me? Why?”
“I’m sorry, I’ve just never seen a Human so pale before.”
Valyen looked like she was about to dig deep into her knowledge of informal Trade Thorian when Kviye stepped in with her own question. “You mean there are others?”
She wasn’t sure if it was her accent or the fact that the words caught in her throat but she repeated, “Like us. Are there others like us?”
“Humans? Oh, like … billions. On Earth and on the colonies and oooooh I know what’s going on here!” His mouth was agape in wonder as he shook the arm of his captain who’d watched the conversation with increased fascination. “This must be one of those lost tribes. The ones that lost contact after the Great Fire. I would have thought they’d found all of you by now but I guess not.”
“The Great Fire?” Kviye wasn’t sure if she liked the taste of those words on her tongue.
Captain Mokob’s honking laugh startled her momentarily. “Well isn’t it just the most fortuitous thing that we landed here? Looks like you have a lot to catch up on. And you,” he pointed a finger at Valyen, “Look like the person to talk business with.”
“Your crew should disembark,” Kviye offered. “They can sleep in the lodgings behind the garage.” She gestured with her head towards the white building where her and her father had lived for the past few months.
“What are you doing?” Valyen hissed at her in their native tongue.
“Offering them a place to stay.”
“But at your place?”
“That’s not our place. That’s –”
“Please, my apologies,” Captain Mokob interrupted. “We didn’t mean to intrude.”
“You’re not intruding,” Kviye said.
“It’s nothing really, my crew is fine to sleep aboard the ship. It’s where we live anyway.”
“You can sleep on the ship, Captain. I need a break from all that metal,” Samir said, and elbowed past his Captain to walk down the ramp.
Mokob looked over his shoulder and then back at Kviye and Valyen. “Believe it or not, it does look better on the inside.”
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.