Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
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.
I’m not entirely sure where this month went. Scratch that. I’m not entirely sure where this entire year went. I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or aging or perhaps three kids, but I feel like we were celebrating the last New Year’s not that long ago.
Not to say that it feels like nothing has been accomplished this year. On the contrary, it has been a rich eleven months full of events and milestones, including those related to my writing. Just recently I had surprised 300,000 words written this year, never having before broken even the 200K barrier.
About 70K of those words is my upcoming fantasy web novel The Second Magus.
Good thing I said I was going to launch it in January instead of November as had been my most recent goal. While I do still think that I will meet the announced release date of January 22, I know at this point I will at the very least be cutting it a bit close for comfort. Not sure at all what I was thinking when I said I might be able to be ready in November.
This is especially given that we had kitchen renovations here for a week and our whole house was upside down. Only now life is returning to normal and I’ve got most of the Christmas lights up. To think that I thought I would be able to manage the release of a new writing project at the same time? I’m just glad my common sense prevailed.
What I did say at the time was that I was expecting for a synopsis to be dropped here in November. Since it’s still November, it means that this is another deadline that I technically managed to meet. So without further unnecessary preambles, here it is, the Royal Road synopsis for the upcoming The Second Magus:
"For fire mage Miro Kaldoun, the multitude of low-level magic users scattered around the countryside was a relief. He could leave the dreams of questing for glory to others, while he was content to live as a farm boy, and use his spells to impress the local village girls.
When unexpected visitors arrive at his doorstep, Miro has no choice but to be dragged into adventure, and comes to learn that much like the father he had never known, he is far more than an ordinary mage. With old enemies stirring, and the stability of the entire Kingdom hanging in the balance, Miro must quickly learn whether he has what it takes to follow in his father’s footsteps.
But how closely should he trace that path, considering that his own father’s story ended with the deaths of both Miro’s parents and nearly Miro himself?"
But how closely should their paths follow? At the end of his father’s journey lay the deaths of both Miro’s parents and nearly Miro himself.
I know I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it actually is, after all, it’s not like there’s anything exactly groundbreaking here, but that does nothing to reduce my excitement. Although I’ve lived with these characters for a year now, it’s cool breathing in new life into them by sharing their names with the world.
There’s always that pipe dream too in the back of my head that Miro Kaldoun will one day become a household name. Longshot? Understatement. But what’s the harm in a little dreaming?
Yarmar told him told to sleep; told him that he wasn’t doing anyone any favours by dwelling on the ship that was floating silently above him. Hilosh knew she was right and even went so far as to listen to her. He would close the curtains in his office, crawl into the recessed cot underneath the overhanging shelf, roll up into three layers of blankets to keep the cold out, and stay awake for hours, thinking of nothing but the Raire.
The Anthar Kai supply vessel had sent out no more communications since the last transmission that consisted of mostly a lone voice repeating “Why am I?” in Native Thorian before cutting out. The ship arrived on schedule a day later and its automated systems allowed it to dock with the transfer station orbiting the inhospitable rock that was home to their mining operation and the almost sixty crew that worked there. It had now been there five days, without a single sign of life coming from the ship.
The mining crew knew that something was wrong when the deadline towards which they were pushing had come and gone and there was no word on how well they did against their quotas. What was worse, five days later there was still no word on food rations or increasing the temperature in the barracks, and their dinners were now a far cry from the breakfast that had fueled their labour spree a week earlier. That night, they had to bunk two to a bed to use body heat to fight against the further reduction in heat.
Yarmar estimated that they could last another month, maybe even two if they stretched a handful of the crew past their breaking point. Hilosh was not a fan of her grim math, which she simply dismissed as realistic. Unfortunately, what could not be factored into her math, realistic or otherwise, was the arrival of the next supply ship, as none had declared their mining world on their scheduled route yet.
On the second day after the Raire’s docking with the transfer station, Hilosh, Yarmar and Charosar took the shuttle up to get a closer look at the supply ship. It was a typical long-haul freighter – a great bulbous body attached to a smaller command centre at the front, all properly docked at the transfer station with no visible signs of damage or anything out of the ordinary.
When the three Vaparozh docked with the station, they discovered it empty, the path to the Anthar Kai ship never having been opened. They banged on the doors of the Raire and heard no response back; tried to beam a message directly with a personal tablet and were met with similar silence. For a moment, Hilosh did think that he heard something, a distant scratching sound, though after a while the other two decided it was likely an auditory hallucination brought on by wishful thinking and they called it a day. Walking back to the shuttle, through the fruits of their labour stacked high and ready to load onto the supply ship that would have delivered the product a step closer to its final destination, they dragged their feet as if carrying the silence like sackfuls of ore.
The trip was not entirely a waste. As the shuttle descended towards the silvery cloud cover, Hilosh craned his neck to see the light of the sun one last time. It may have been a dim affair, this being the fourth planet in the system, but it was starlight after all.
They didn’t speak the whole flight back, even as the shuttle landed on the platform adjacent to the mining operation, as if the deathly silence from the Raire had wormed its way into their own heads and they brought it down to the surface. There was a tunnel that led straight from the landing pad to the barracks, one that docked against the shuttle’s exit ramp, to allow for passage without the need to put on atmospheric gear. Hilosh and Yarmar let Charosar go ahead of them and hung back at the shuttle.
“She’s going to talk the moment she gets back,” Yarmar said as she stood leaning with an arm against the door of the shuttle, watching Charosar disappear down the passageway.
“I don’t doubt it,” Hilosh answered and reached with both hands behind his head to massage the mass of flesh that rested there. “They’re going to want to know what happened to the ship.”
“And we know about as much as they do. So what are we going to say to them?”
“What can we say?” Hilosh walked by Yarmar down the ramp and the co-supervisor followed behind.
“We tell them to keep working,” Yarmar suggested and Hilosh glanced over his shoulder at her. “There’s plenty of storage space left on the transfer station, and another ship will be by at some point. That way we can be ready and keep them occupied enough to keep their mind off things.”
“It might be another month before the next supply ship gets here. How will we feed the crew if we keep them working?”
“I’m sure whatever we can salvage from the Raire will be more than enough.”
Hilosh stopped, his hand frozen midway through setting the shuttle ramp to close up again, and stared at his co-supervisor. There were all sorts of death wishes rolled into this scenario, but the one that came to him most prominently had a Thorian face on it.
“Yarmar, it’s bad enough we already have a dead Anthar Kai ship docked overhead that we can’t account for. Now you want to break into it as well? That’s how you get the Shoaman Kai here before we can even blink twice.”
“Good,” she said, her voice even, “Maybe they’ll also bring supplies.”
Hilosh wanted nothing to do with the Raire. If it was up to him, he’d have the transfer station undock itself and give the Anthar Kai vessel a good shove towards the star, then pretend it was never here. In the end, he struck a compromise with Yarmar. They would have the crew work half shifts for five days, and if at the end of that time nothing had changed with the Raire, and the next supply ship wasn’t yet scheduled to arrive within an acceptable time frame, they were going to board the ship.
And now that day had come.
For nearly two weeks now most of my energy has been usurped by the kitchens and baths renovations that are taking place in our unit. This was a project that was years in the making and has been going on at our housing cooperative since early August. It’s been a huge undertaking by a handful of volunteers here who have generously donated more time than I can image. I gotta say, as much as I appreciate it, it has been quite the adventure actually having to go through it, especially with three unvaccinated kids in the middle of the pandemic.
Last week, when the bulk of the renovation was being done, we just lived at my sister-in-law’s (who had gone trough the same thing months earlier). Their poor three-bedroom unit had to accommodate nine people, including five kids, three of whom are toddlers (though don’t tell the oldest toddler that she is one, or she will cut you) and as fun as it was all hanging out together, by the end of it, I couldn’t keep track of what day it was.
Then over the weekend we managed to move back in, spent two days entirely on getting the kitchen organized and then clearing out Monday morning so they could get floors installed, hoping that by staying out of the house, we could move back in at the end of the day and finish setting up the pantry. Note too that because we’re keeping the kids safe during the pandemic, we’re keeping them out of indoor spaces, and we live in a city where it seems to rain entirely through the fall and winter, we basically ended up living out of the car that day only to find out that we need touch ups the next day, so we were at it again on Tuesday Not blaming anyone in particular … except perhaps the “contractor” that’s spearheading this project. The less I say publicly what I really think about them, the less legal trouble I might get into.
I ended up taking 8 vacation days for this and nothing about the time that has passed feels like anything like a vacation. I guess this is a rite of passage into adulthood – surviving a renovation or contractor work. I remember my dad was only a few years younger than me when he basically had a contractor build our new apartment in Moscow, and was so much up their asses for the various deficiencies that they ended up going bankrupt months later. I actually missed him being able to provide a sympathetic ear during this time, and sharing his favourite stories of all the things they’d mucked up.
At this point, I just want a sense of normalcy to return – I want to be fully moved back into our place and have our home back. I want to get the Christmas lights up and get cozy. I want to be able to freely write instead of stealing a few minutes here and there just to continue my daily writing streak. I want to have the time to go for a run, I want to not feel like I need caffeine first thing in the morning in order to properly function. But mostly, I just want my kids to be able to settle in and enjoy their home again.
Anyway, that was a lot of griping about essentially ending up with some shiny new kitchen cabinets. Just got to remind myself that it will all be back to normal soon.
“Well,” Dr. Sufai continued, “I don’t know if this particular taishir is going to fall out, but …” she stepped out of the patient room and into the main medbay area, programming something into a machine that a few seconds later produced a medical syringe. She finished her sentence as she came back inside, “but we can at least try to do what we can to make sure it doesn’t. Hold still.” Almost painlessly the needle went into Mikarik’s arm next to the taishir and after she’d pulled it out, he could feel an uncomfortable cold sensation spreading up his forearm. “How does that feel?”
“Weird,” he said, rubbing the area even though it had no effect on the mixed sensation of pain and numbness entangled within his arm.
“You’re going to have discomfort for a few hours, but you need to come back every day for the next four days so that we can prevent any infection and strengthen the muscle so it gets a tighter hold of that taishir again.” Mikarik had hoped to be done with the doctor indefinitely, but those tales of lost taishir meant he wasn’t going to take any chances.
“Anything else you want to tell me about?” Dr. Sufai asked and when Mikarik looked into her eyes, he saw in them the same penetrating darkness of the medical scanner.
“There’s my back … I guess.” He made the laziest movement to reach behind him to point out the problem but she interrupted.
“I know, I already saw it.”
“Just some deep bruising. There’s a cream I can give you before you go. Use that topically and you’ll be fine in a few days.” For a moment she seemed entirely too pleased with getting that out of him, but then a cloud drifted over her face. “That was quite the fight you were all involved in. And as ship doctor I actually prefer when it’s quiet around here.” Mikarik was about to shrug nonchalantly but her next question stopped him. “So why did you let it get that far?”
“What do you mean ‘I let it’?” It was almost amusing to imagine what kind of twisted version of events the other three have been spreading about what went down in the galley that night.
“Well I’ve read your file.” Her voice, which until then carried with it a breezy aloofness, had grown more serious, complemented by her dark eyebrows crowding into a furrow.
“You know, it would be really nice if someone shared with me this secret Mikarik file that’s apparently the preferred choice of leisurely reading on this ship.”
“Why didn’t you tell them what you did after you deserted? That you fought for the Nabak?”
Not for the Nabak, but for those two words – blockade runner – and what they meant to him.
“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Mikarik said, looking at his hands as he buttoned up his sleeve.
“Why wouldn’t it have?”
“Because they weren’t fighting me, they were fighting a Thorian. So what I’d personally done would make no difference to them. And besides, what I did or didn’t do three years ago doesn’t change the fact that I still wear my Thoriannes on my sleeve.” He held up his arm and gave it a little shake, which failed to get a laugh or a smile out of Dr. Sufai. “What I mean is, I’m still Thorian. Those are still my people.”
“And you see yourself that way even though you fought them during the Insurrection?”
“That’s not entirely true. I never fired on my people.” He was fully dressed by then, fully medicated except for the cream she’d promised. He could have left the conversation, but found himself continuing to sit on the edge of the bed.
“What did you do then?”
“Got goods through siege lines.” The ship rose and disappeared into the clear sky, as it should have done that day until it didn’t. For years the fireball had not appeared to him in his memories. And now twice in a few days. “Let’s just call it a family tradition.”
“I’m guessing there’s a whole lot more to that story.”
“Maybe for some other time, Dr. Sufai,” Mikarik said, hopping off the bed, surprised to find that he meant it more than he thought he would.
“Ah, that name still sounds weird.” The doctor went ahead of him to grab his other medication from the dispensary machine before he headed out.
“You haven’t been a doctor for long then?” Mikarik asked, a notch more skeptical of his treatment.
“No, I’ve been fully trained for almost ten years now.” She handed him his cream, her hands still wearing her gloves. “The name just doesn’t fit. My mom had always been ‘Dr. Sufai’, and anywhere but inside this office I’m just Ory. So hopefully the next time we run into each other won’t be here, but in the galley. You should sit with Aimi and me.”
“Not sure if Chief Ishikawa would be too pleased with that.”
“Oh you’d be surprised how much she –”
There was a crack of dulled thunder that reached them through the walls of the medbay and in the next moment the ship lurched, sending Mikarik forward, bracing against the wall with his hurting arm, while Dr. Sufai was knocked backwards, hitting her head on a wall and almost falling to the floor but catching herself.
“You okay?” Mikarik asked, offering his hand.
“I’m fine,” she answered and ignored his gesture. In the glow of the red lights that now flashed along the seem between the wall and the ceiling, gone was the warm friendly demeaner that was there moments earlier, her face now showing the same kind of edge as the sirens that blared throughout the ship.
“We’re moving already,” he observed; early, by his estimates.
“I know.” Dr. Sufai peeled off her gloves and dumped them in a receptacle before picking up a new pair and pulling them on. The intercom sounded and Mikarik tapped it for her.
“Dr. Sufai, this is Officer Meslina.”
“Doctor … you have incoming.”
Mikarik did as Dr. Sufai told him, stretching out the length of the patient bed, hardly realizing then how it would be far from the last time. Dr. Sufai again scooted closer on her wheeled stool and reached down below the table to pull out a glossy black arc, about the width of a hand, and after raising it over Mikarik, clipped it to the other side of the table. Mikarik stared up at his faint reflection in its smooth surface for a few moments before the arc started slowly gliding down the track in the table towards his legs, while the doctor rolled herself away to the computer display in the corner of the room.
“Hmm,” Doctor Sufai murmured several times as the machine did its work, at its core the same kind of black droplet that powered the ship, though this one the size of a large grain of sand.
“Everything looking good?” Mikarik asked after a fourth such “hmm”.
“Well, it’s not like your people exactly like sharing your detailed medical information, but as far as I can tell, your head will be just fine. There does seem to be something going on in your arm area. Mind if I take a look?”
“It’s nothing really.” Mikarik hadn’t come here to be scrutinized in this level of detail, but at least his back hadn’t caught her eye.
“Please, for my curiosity’s sake,” she asked, rolling into his field of vision. He agreed and she waited for the scanner to reach his toes before disconnecting the machine and letting him sit up. He didn’t have to take off his shirt to reveal his arm, since in typical Thorian fashion his sleeves were buttoned up with hard dome-shaped buttons all the way past the elbow. Meanwhile, she’d rolled to her desk and back, grabbing a pair of surgeon’s goggles and putting them on.
As he pulled back his sleeve, he exposed the four stubby bony structures rising out from his skin along the outer part of his forearm. Once in the not-so-distant evolutionary past, they were legitimate bony blades, several inches in length and with a significant point to them. Along with their skulls, they were once used by prehistoric Thorian ancestors to determine which of them was worthy of carrying their genes into the next generation. With the advent of Thorian collective consciousness, the point in their pre-history that Thorians considered themselves to have been elevated above all other creatures, the need to carry these specific genes lessened, and now the former deadly weapons lived on only in media entertainment set in Kai Thori’s brutal past, and as remaining vestigial bone structures, which still included some tactile sensitivity, and were used to manually operate technology affixed to their arms, a set-up that in turn formed the basis of most Thorian weaponry, thus completing the full circle of their original evolutionary function.
It was one of these bone spurs that was causing Mikarik the most grief – tender to the touch and bruised purple, it continued to ooze more than just blood. He studied Dr. Sufai’s slightly open-mouthed stare.
“It’s fatal, isn’t it?” He asked.
“What? Oh, sorry,” she looked up and seemed startled at how close she’d gotten. “Like I said, Thorian medical information isn’t an easy find, so it’s my first time seeing these …”
“Right. May I?” Mikarik lifted his elbow slightly in her direction and Dr. Sufai took his arm in two gloved hands, turning it this way and that, adjusting some settings on her surgeon’s goggles, presumably to increase the magnification. She pressed one finger against the tip of the affected taishir and a pain surged through Mikarik’s arm and elbow and up into his neck, causing him to wince with a barely audible grunt. “Sorry about that,” the doctor said distractedly, just as she pressed the taishir in the opposite direction causing the same sensation. “Sorry,” she repeated, this time more earnestly and actually making eye contact.
“It’s fine,” Mikarik answered, feeling more and more exposed as Dr. Sufai conducted her examination.
“These are so interesting, you know?”
“Never thought of them as anything more interesting than my thumbs.”
“Thumbs are interesting, too. But lots of us have thumbs. These … I’ve seen them in anatomy books, obviously, but it’s a whole other thing to see them up close.” Again, there was nothing comfortable for Mikarik about seeing himself as a living and breathing anatomy illustration. “It’s very neurologically sensitive, but I guess you know that better than I do. Yet if I remember right, they’re used in combat by your ancestors.”
“That’s right.” She went back to the computer, pulling up an image of Mikarik’s completed scan and focusing in on the damaged taishir. “The connection from these taishir into your arm and your central nervous system, just from a biological perspective, it’s really fascinating. It looks like this one though can be a little loose in its socket.”
“That sounds bad.”
“It doesn’t sound good, I guess. But hard to say how bad it is.”
“I hear they can fall out if they get roughed up too much.” Mikarik was somewhat surprised at suddenly discovering this hypochondriac side to himself. He’d generally been in pretty good health, and despite some of the risks he’d taken over the years, tended to steer clear of injury. So maybe it was the novelty of the experience that gave him the jitters, or possibly the insurmountable distance between him and nearest Thorian doctor who actually knew what they were doing. Or even that, on the whole, he was starting to reach the age were things were no longer running at full efficiency. At his age he was at least a decade younger physically than the average comparable Human, but this was the time where he could no longer expect to be as hardy as he was at the height of his youth. It was in that moment that he decided that he generally did not like doctors.
It’s the second week of November so it’s time for those random little updates that weren’t worthy of their own separate post.
Four rejections in one day
The heading pretty much says it all. I’ve recently set my own personal dubious record for receiving four short story rejections in a single day. Hard to stomach on any regular day but it just happened to be my birthday too. I swear the writing gods are sometimes conspiring to test my resolve. Did it feel good? No. Did I have a great birthday anyway? Absolutely, thanks to my family. Will this discourage me from submitting in the future? No, the next day I sent out stories to five more journals. So yeah, nice try, but I’m still here and fighting.
Back to the Office
After nearly twenty months of working exclusively remote, our office had our fist full day back last week. A bittersweet event, to be sure, for this introvert who has really thrived working from home. By cutting out the commute and being around my kids, my working situation had actually been far improved during the pandemic, and challenges remain with constant mask wearing at the office and just being worn out at the end of the day. That said, I can’t stress enough how nice it was seeing my colleagues face to face rather than through Zoom calls, and feeling more like I was physically part of something. For now we’re doing one day a week until December when we’ll ramp it up to a minimum of two days a week, so there’s still a lot of flexibility to look forward to.
November Running Lull
The last time I managed to get out for a run in the month of November was 2018, a lot of it having to do with the fact that this is when it starts raining forever in this city. Looking at the forecast, this month will be no exception, but I still want to break the streak even if it means being cold and soaking wet. Doesn’t help that it’s also pitch black when I run so I just happen to find every single puddle out there to step in.
*Update for this one: by the time I’ve uploaded this entry I did manage to find a time to run – thankfully it was only drizzling that morning. Going back the previous four Novembers, the most I’ve even run this month was twice, so I’ve got my new goal to beat the previous November record.
The rain has also put a dampener on my ability to catch up with my reading. Used to read on my public transit commute but with that being gone, I implemented reading into my morning walks and audiobooks into my morning runs. With the rain coming in, it’s not just my running that’s affected but reading as well. Fortunately, the stuff I have read this year has been mostly amazing, but it’s still slim pickings to choose from when I’m doing my end-of-year review.
Speaking of weather, anyone want to tell me that climate change isn’t real can just go ahead and live through the day we had – the first waterspout tornado right in our city in my memory, and one that apparently briefly touched down ashore only a couple of kilometres south of where we were, not to mention being pelted with hail the size of large peas. Our summers are getting hotter and drier and our winters are getting wetter (something I didn’t even think was possible). I mean, it was fun while it lasted and the kids got a kick out of looking at the hail I brought in, but the long-term implications are still looming large
Monster Chapter of Bloodlet Sun
I’ve finally completed the first draft of Chapter 11 of The Bloodlet Sun and it clocked in just shy of a monstrous 14,000 words. That puts it at nearly twice the size of an average chapter. Believe me, I’ve struggled with the decision as to whether or not to split up this POV character’s chapter into two and deliver the second segment a few chapters later. However, I found that there were plenty of reasons not to, including that the first half was not so strong that it could stand on its own and I really wanted the ending of this chapter to follow closely with the previous chapter so readers could make a specific connection. Oh well, no going back on it now, just a lot of editing left to do.
Looking back at these now that I wrote them out it seems like these are mostly downers. October ended here with a gorgeous fall weekend last week. I managed to take the kids on a long walk through the forest where we had a tonne of fun and Halloween itself was great. Since then, it’s been non-stop rain so maybe that’s affecting my mood. Hopefully in December when the lights are going to be up and Christmas approaching maybe it will be a bit cheerier.
At the end of last week, I learned a very important lesson – you don’t just get to affect your writing, but your writing affects you as well.
What happened was that I was going through some serious sections on three separate projects. In the same week, I was moving from climactic event to climactic event in my second novel, was writing one of my main characters in serious peril in The Second Magus, and was wrapping up the monstrous 14,000 word eleventh chapter of The Bloodlet Sun. All three contained intense scans but also all three required a lot of attention because of how important those scenes were to the overall work.
The week itself didn’t turn out to be exceptionally productive, though decently so, but by Friday it had left me absolutely drained. It took me a little bit to figure out exactly what was going on but then I traced my mood back to my writing.
It’s easy to forget the two-way street here when as the creator the temptation is to see ourselves in total control of our work. These worlds exist only in our heads and therefore should not have any external influence on us whatsoever. Except that’s not entirely true is it? The things we create we end up processing. The emotions that we spill onto the page have to come through us. If something in our writing is intense, then we’re the ones that put it there, and we experienced that intensity to make our writing authentic. Even if what you’re creating is completely fictional, and not drawn upon your real-life traumas, there is still some reality in there for us.
In the end, we want to make others feel something with our writing, and how would we able to do that if we don’t feel anything ourselves? And so we also need to remember to be kind to ourselves. We’re not typing machines that are tuned to spit out a certain word count on a daily basis. For this reason, we have to allow ourselves to regroup and take whatever time we need to jump back in.
For me, I had basically written off that Friday and took the weekend away from my writing, except the cursory minimums to maintain my daily writing streak. There were a few guilty feelings there I had to chase away but otherwise it was good for me, and I was able to pick up those same projects the following week without experiencing burnout.
So I would recommend the same to you – be in tune with how your writing makes you feel, and react accordingly.
The Forseti returned to its usual hustle and bustle a few days after Mikarik’s confrontation with the two Humans and the Nabak in the ship’s galley, and the next day the ship docked with Yshot Station on the edges of the Iastret Commonwealth, with the intent of being out of sight of both friend and foe alike. Mikarik spent all that time in his quarters. He figured that if he were to at least give the impression that he was off licking his wounds, it would give the rest of them some added satisfaction without any additional cost to him.
Still, even his thick Thorian skull could only take so much abuse before he started feeling the ill effects and he was not so stubborn that he would unequivocally refuse to see a doctor. In any case, the ship’s doctor, Ory Sufai, struck him as one of the more reasonable members of the Human species.
He picked the timing for his medical visit to coincide with the docking at Yshot Station. While the transfer here wouldn’t involve any crew boarding the station for time off or a change of scenery, the expectation being that they would only load the supplies necessary for the remainder of their journey and cast off as soon as possible, it should have made the maintenance crew, engineers and officers busy enough to pay little attention to Mikarik’s own activities. Mikarik may not have had too much pride that he would avoid heading to the medbay entirely, but that was no reason for him to be seen doing it by anyone but the doctor, and surely Humans had similar oaths of confidentiality that the Thorians’ own medical professionals took.
It was an odd sensation, being enveloped in silence after weeks of the hum that filled the ship as it skimmed along the surface subspace. Mikarik was one of the few who’d claimed that he actually felt this low vibration, a sound and feeling just above his level of perception, though a number of crewmates over the years had told him it was all in his head. Sure, everyone felt the occasional jolt when a ship was flying on sub-light thrusters. Skimming along the edge of subspace and regular space, on the other hand, was supposed to evoke nothingness – the great void before there was even a universe.
It wasn’t nothing to Mikarik, though. Then again, most people also failed to perceive the moods in the drops that powered that skimmer to begin with and he wondered if this connection he experienced is what moved into the hole left by his inability to hear the mood of his own species.
As he walked down the corridors of the Forseti towards medbay, Mikarik ran his fingers along its walls, the wood grain just out of reach of his touch, separated by a thin film of preserving plastic. He admitted that the windows were a nice touch, and surprisingly realistic for a video screen. His fellow Thorians would have likely found them tacky as any wall decorations on Thorian ships were limited to light screens meant to simulate the Thorian sun streaming in through opaque glass, while the freighters he’d been on chose the “metal coffin” aesthetic. On the Forseti, though, they were flying over some lush deep green forests, possibly on Earth, though at other times he’d recognized Mrabr and the now-pristine wilderness of Vaparozh.
When Mikarik entered the Forseti’s medbay, a round open space with six private rooms radially adjacent to it, he could see Dr. Sufai through the glass window to her tiny office whose entrance was at the far right of the main room. She had been staring intently, almost angrily, at the tablet on her desk as she twirled a pen in her hand and looked up almost at the exact moment he popped his head into the medbay. The intense expression on her face melted away, replaced by a smile that seemed to go out of its way to hide her teeth.
“Mr. Mikarik, how can I help you today?”
“‘Mikarik’ is fine.” What was it with Humans and trying to slap a label on everything? A name was a name and that should have been enough.
“Right, sorry, habit.” She stepped out of her office, wiped her palms on her shirt and extended her right hand in the customary Human greeting, which Mikarik returned.
“Come in, please,” Dr. Sufai gestured in the general direction of the patient rooms. Mikarik took a hesitant step forward as her small wave covered at least three of them. “Oh, whichever one, it doesn’t matter,” she clarified and Mikarik split the difference by choosing the middle one. “Sit, please,” Dr. Sufai waved at the cot while she herself pulled up a small rolling stool. Mikarik lowered himself on the bed, which was soft yet somehow stern, a patient bed meant to be comfortable but also easy to clean. He could hardly remember the last time he was at a doctor’s office, likely for a checkup during his last few months at the Navy, which would have put it at almost four years ago. There was something always so awkward about the process, more so when you were out of practice and even more when you couldn’t just leave the doctor behind you in their office and had to co-exist with them in closed quarters for an indefinite period of time.
“So,” Dr. Sufai was sitting on the stool, her hands in her lap, one hand holding onto the thumb of the other one, “What’s troubling you?” It was actually a trifecta that was bothering him, but Mikarik thought he’d keep to just one, which, upon later reflection, he shamefully had done to appear more gritty.
“It’s my head, actually,” he winced, though he experienced no new pain up there.
“Really? And I’d heard that Thorian skulls were practically indestructible.” She scooted her stool closer to him.
“‘Practically’ being the operative word here.” Mikarik raised his hand to pull back hair that now reached down to his brow but was normally combed back, and revealed the bruise that crept all the way up under his hairline.
“Wow.” Dr. Sufai leaned in closer, her right eye half-closed, and gently ran her fingers over the bruise, “That’s quite the disagreement you must have gotten yourself into.”
“You should’ve seen the other guys,” Mikarik said with a crooked smile.
“Mmm-hmm,” the doctor murmured, pushing back in her chair and putting her hands on her knees, “I have. How do you think I’ve heard about the sturdiness of a Thorian skull?”
“I see.” Mikarik wasn’t sure why he was suddenly so embarrassed about the incident now that he was under the doctor’s gaze, when up until a minute ago he would have worn the scuffle as a badge of pride. In any case, that smile of his was now in retreat. “How is Officer Meslina’s leg?” He asked when he found nothing else to say.
“She’ll have to wear a brace for the next week, but otherwise she should heal just fine.”
“And the other two?”
“Concussions for both, but they’ll also recover. I would say it was getting too lonely here before your fight, though it’s never good news when I’m woken up early from stasis.”
“Sorry about that.”
“Oh it’s fine. It’s what I’m here for. Now lie down for me please.”
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.