Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Boro found that in his experience, rules were not only the best prophylactic against chaos, but also one of its insidious causes. Where a complete lack of rules was a recipe for inevitable anarchy, a blind adherence to rules against all reason was an impediment to progress. And it seemed to him that no one fit that latter bill better than ship or station doctors. The Forseti’s doctor was no exception. Although the crew for a week now had in its custody a dangerous terrorist that attempted to destroy the ship, neither Boro, nor anyone else on the command staff had been able to gain any access to him.
The reason for this was Dr. Sufai; and the fact that of the survivors, the fake Intelligence officer had been closest to the blast and suffered greatly in the explosion. Shortly after his admittance to the medbay, Boro was informed that there would be no access to the prisoner, or as Sufai was sure to remind them at any opportunity, the patient, until he recovered sufficiently to be able to take visitors. When Boro explained that they would not be visitors, but rather, interrogators who needed to get to the bottom of who was behind the attempted sabotage of the mission and therefore, by extension, an attempt on the doctor’s own life, Dr. Sufai retorted that she wasn’t sure how that was any better and said that she would call them down when the time was right and not a minute sooner.
If it were up to him, Boro would make sure that every chief medical officer would have to spend a year in ship’s command before being handed their first doctor commission, in order to learn what it was like to make hard decisions in the face of Hippocratic obstinance.
A full week this charade of rules and procedures persisted, but now Boro had received the long-awaited call, and attended at the medbay himself.
“How is our prisoner doing?” he asked without pausing for greetings. His hands itched to get at this traitor, even though Boro knew he was forgetting himself.
“My patient is doing better, Commander,” Dr. Sufai said, walking out of her office and placing herself conveniently between Boro and the room where the prisoner was kept.
“I thought since he’s all better now he’s no longer your patient.” Boro meant this as a joke, but Dr. Sufai showed no intention of laughing.
“My patient is not fully recovered,” she said, “Once he is, you can move him to the brig and call him whatever you want. While he’s here, he’s a patient.”
“Well depending on how this goes, maybe he’ll stay a patient a while longer,” Boro said, cracking some knuckles on his left hand.
“Is this supposed to reassure me about allowing you to talk to him?” Again, he had said it in jest but the doctor chose to take him completely seriously.
“No, Ory,” Boro said while trying to soften his tone, “But it was intended to make me feel better about having aboard my ship someone who would betray his own kind.”
“Actually,” the doctor’s face changed – the severe brow smoothing, “That’s not entirely true.”
No, this was too much, Boro thought. He’d seen the tapes, he’d read the reports – no, he’d written the reports because he was there – there was nothing this medic could tell him about his understanding of the incident that would make him think he was wrong about the man’s intention. But, never minding all of that, he was going to remain professional.
“Which part?” Boro asked, jaw tight.
“The being Human part. He is … not entirely so.”
Boro wasn’t sure he quite heard right – there were so many headcases on this ship that seemed to want to mess with him for sport – but Dr. Sufai looked entirely genuine.
“What do you mean?” Boro asked cautiously.
“Come see this.” The doctor turned towards her office and Boro followed her in. “When he first arrived in here, his wounds were quite bad,” Dr. Sufai explained as she pulled up whatever she intended to show him on her computer. “The rate at which he healed though, well, it was unusual enough that it made me dig further. And here’s what I found.”
On the computer was displayed what appeared to be the stereotypical double helix of DNA, with several regions highlighted in bright blue.
“He’s Human on the outside, and as far as I can tell he’s Human on the inside. But looking deeper into his DNA, you could see there’s something that isn’t right. The DNA is, again, Human, but there are markers, dummy sequences that don’t do anything, everywhere where they don’t belong, and all sharing similarities that I can’t explain. It’s like someone had taken whatever DNA was there and rewritten it to be Human.”
“Who would have the technology to do something like this?”
“I don’t know, but I’m willing to guess not even the Thorians.”
Boro looked over his shoulder but there was no direct line of sight to their prisoner. “So what is he then?”
“Well that’s the thing, isn’t it? Really, he’s Human. It’s what he used to be that’s the real question.”
“Let’s see if I can get some answers, then.” Boro was nearly fully out the door of the doctor’s tiny office when he heard her say, “Uh, Commander?”
“It’s required to have two people present at the interrogation.”
Not this again. There was an abom freak masquerading as a Human in their medbay in the middle of hostile territory and they were counting how many people were in the room with him.
“So? You’re welcome to join me.”
“I am joining you – the doctor also has to be present while the patient remains a patient, you need someone else.”
Incredible, it was like everyone on board this ship was hell-bent on getting killed except himself.
“I suppose the Captain would be willing to join us in a bit.” Captain Pueson was the last person Boro wanted down there – another slave to a rule book written by those without ambition, but including two officers without the Captain would have been bad optics.
“This one dates all the way back to the Great Fire,” Boro started, crossing his arms and shifting his weight to one foot. “They say it all began with an alien invasion – a great attack force bent on destroying Humankind and taking Earth for its own. On their way to our homeworld though, the invaders’ first stop was the proto-colony on Mars – long before we’d terraformed it. Yanus Susin was the leader of the colony at the time, one of the first second-generation Martians, and he was brought before the alien admiral in charge of the invasion fleet and offered a deal. If Yanus assisted them with the invasion, told the aliens the best place to strike against Earth and how, they would leave their puny little colony in peace. Yanus had thought long and hard and with a heavy heart agreed to the aliens’ demands. He was taken aboard their flagship, and he directed them to the continent of Aremiga, convincing the aliens that little of the Earth mattered outside of it, and if they struck at the heart of Aremiga, the planet would fall easily.”
Boro paused there, letting this supposed betrayal of Humanity linger in his audience’s mind, and then moved on. “What the aliens didn’t know; however, was that Yanus had instructed his family to signal ahead and warn the residents of Aremiga of the coming invasion and of Yanus’s planned betrayal, not of them, but of the invaders.” It had been impossible to read Maggie’s expression, eyes almost vacant, a vague smile on her lips, but she was watching him, and nodded slightly. “So Yanus Susin directed the invaders to land on the great mostly-empty plains of the Aremiga continent. These aliens though, they weren’t stupid. They questioned why they could see plenty of populated centres elsewhere while Yanus was leading them down to a place where few seemed to live. Yanus was a humble and charming leader of his people, and knew how to build trust. He convinced them that the bulk of Human civilization, the ones that were particularly advanced, moved to live in a grand underground city to hide from the worsening weather on the surface. He’d explained to the them that their numbers were so great, the only way the aliens could win is they would land their entire invasion force there and surround the underground Humans.” Boro smiled then, as if Yanus’ success and his wit were somehow his own.
“So there it was, the entire alien fleet, a veritable armada that had briefly blotted out the sky,” Boro made a vast gesture with his arm over his head, “And they had landed in the middle of an empty plain. Their ships touched down, their troops began to disembark, and Yanus was pushed ahead to find the location of the entrance to one of the secret underground tunnels. Yanus felt no fear. He had, ever since he agreed to leave Mars and guide the aliens, known that this would be his end. He was merely guiding the invaders to an end he had chosen for himself. For he also knew the strength of the people of Aremiga. They used to be his people – brave enough to venture to new planets and to do anything it took to save theirs. At the moment the last invading ship touched down, the full ordinance of the Aremiga continent descended on those plains. Yanus looked up in the sky and smiled as he saw the hundred trails of smoke approach from the distance. In a single day, the entire invading fleet and the continent were destroyed so that Earth could rebuild among the ashes and move on, free of the yoke of alien oppressors.”
“That’s quite the story,” Maggie said when he finished.
“Isn’t it? Who knows if it’s true, of course, but where I come from, there’s a common saying whenever someone’s leading you somewhere and it looks like they might be lost, you ask them ‘Where are you taking us, Yanus Susin’?” Boro thought the Techever would at least be amused by this, but she had merely nodded her head a couple of times and said, “Oh I’ve heard it before.”
“I didn’t want to hear the story, Commander Stevin,” she answered, “I wanted to hear your version of the story. You can tell a lot about a story from the different versions that people have, and you can tell a lot about a person about the version that they choose to tell.”
Boro felt his ears grow hot and a rising pressure behind his left eye. Maggie, meanwhile held his gaze and then she did that thing that always gave Boro the heebie-jeebies, where she’d throw the interface wires from underneath her fingernails a few inches out of her hand and then suck them up again, her smile fading and face hardening while she did it.
“Does your family have roots in Aremiga, Commander?” she asked.
“Yes,” Boro answered, not sure what this had anything to do with the story of Yanus Susin, “One branch on my mother’s side.”
“You can always tell if someone hails from Aremiga,” Maggie Okoth said, and then when Boro was silent, added, “One can always tell.” Unphased by the number of perplexed eyes that were staring at her, the Techever said nothing for a few moments before plugging herself back into her console and saying, “Anyway, I better keep an eye on things here, in case something goes wrong.”
“Yes, in case our own little Thorian Yanus Susin leads us astray,” Surch said with a grin.
Boro knew Surch said it merely in jest, but it served a purpose in any case. Thanks to Maggie, Boro had almost forgotten what it was that prompted him to mention the story in the first place. At least with the ship’s pilot swooping in to close the loop, Boro hoped that the requisite seeds of doubt would be planted in the minds of the rest of the bridge crew.
“How sure are you they’re military?” Boro asked Mikarik, who was still absorbed in the screen he was studying with Pueson, “They could be an Anthar Kai convoy beefed up to withstand pirate attacks.”
“Maggie, can you pull up those readings?” Mikarik asked, taking a few steps closer to the wall-to-wall display at the head of the bridge. What was this first name familiarity the Thorian now had with some of the bridge crew, Boro wondered. He now lamented that Meslina did not manage to cave Mikarik’s skull in, though he wasn’t sure if even that could put a Thorian in their place.
The curved display, which in the middle of battle was capable of projecting a spherical representation of the space surrounding the Forseti, now displayed an array of numbers. It was gibberish to the untrained eye – piecemeal energy readouts that the long-range sensors could pick up. In capable hands though, it could provide much information about the starships being observed.
“I am a pilot, Commander Stevin.” Mikarik said and Boro noted the use of the present tense, “I’ve spent my life identifying vessels, particularly Thorian ones.”
“More mixed results with Mraboran ones,” Boro suggested, reminding Mikarik of the humanitarian ship he helped shoot down during the Nabak Insurrection. The Thorian ignored him, taking another step towards the numbers.
“No, even accounting for pirate hunter escorts, this can’t be a commercial convoy. These are definitely navy starships.”
“So what is this concentration of navy ships doing way out here?” Boro asked.
“That,” the Thorian paused, his eyes scanning the numbers on the display, “Is something that I can’t actually help you with. It’s an odd place to hold war games and … there’s something else about these numbers that’s not quite right, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Mikarik, we need more than just a hunch to go on,” Captain Pueson said, the sternness lost in the general softness of his voice.
“Oh don’t get me wrong, we should still steer clear of this … mess,” Mikarik said. “The systems we’re going through are at a decent distance from usual military patrols and preferred Anthar Kai shipping lanes. We should be safe enough, and can get mostly back on course when we’ve cleared the swarm.”
“The swarm,” Meslina repeated from her station, shaking her head, and Boro thought he caught a bit of an eye roll. The Thorian though seemed undeterred, only creeping ever closer to the display, craning his neck more and more to see the full list.
“Yes, something’s definitely odd,” he trailed off towards the end, the last word barely audible, and then the display went blank and he turned around with an “oh.” His tone indicated mild surprise, though his eyes were frustratingly difficult to see behind those darkened lenses.
“I think we got everything we need for now, Mikarik,” Captain Pueson said, “We’ll see you again in ten hours, or if there’s anything unusual about …” Pueson cleared his throat, “The swarm.” This elicited a small smile from Meslina, which is about the most one could expect from her.
“Very well,” Mikarik said after a pause. “Just make sure you keep a close eye on it. These Thorians,” he smirked, “They’re an exceedingly clever lot.”
There was no reaction to Mikarik’s quip except stony silence and perhaps a look of patronizing amusement from the Captain – something Boro was pleasantly surprised Pueson was actually capable of. The Captain’s actual retort was an order given to the ship’s weapons officer, “Indario, please help escort Mikarik from the bridge.”
The Thorian lowered his eyebrows, his mouth crooked with an uncertain grimace. “I think I know the way out, Indario,” he said, but the Parsk Nahur had already moved towards him. Mikarik breathed in deeply, though he tried to hide it. “Alright, if you think I’ll get lost on the way to the door, we can do it your way.”
As soon as the door closed behind Mikarik and Indario, Boro walked with heavy steps down to Surch’s seat.
“What do we know about the area he’s leading us through?”
“Seriously, Boro?” Surch asked, with a sigh pulling out the tablet inserted into his pilot’s chair. “It’s mostly uninhabitable rocks, one of which is a failed Iastret terraforming effort that had been quarantined.” Surch scrolled through the rest of the information on his display and gave it a gentle slap with his palm. “Most interesting thing here is a tiny Anthar Kai outpost hardly even worth a mention.”
Boro murmured a long “hmmm.”
“Is there anything specifically you’re concerned about, Commander Stevin?” Captain Pueson asked.
“It’s just that …” Boro paused, putting his hands on his hips and facing the rest of the bridge crew that stood slightly above him. “Is anyone else reminded of the story of Yanus Susin?”
Captain Pueson frowned while Surch let out a slight groan. No one though had voiced their agreement.
“Have you all heard of the story?” Boro asked. He’d personally been told it since childhood – a tale of false betrayal and sacrifice for the good of one’s people in the face of an invading foe, but wondered if others had the same childhood fable in their repertoire.
The others nodded, with Meslina adding a curt “yes” and Surch a relaxed “sure have”. That was too bad, since Boro found his own rendition to be quite rousing. Then Maggie Okoth, the ship’s Techever, who was so in tune with the ship’s computer that when she was plugged in it was almost as if her own presence had been subsumed into the ship, stepped back into their real world and said, “I haven’t.”
“Really?” Surch muttered behind Boro, who ignored him in the face of this new potential audience.
“I want to hear it,” Maggie assured him, the interlink tubes that connected her hand to the machine slipping out of the holes in her console and retreating to their resting spot inside her fingers.
As promised, it had taken less than a day for Boro to return to bridge duty, happily still not inhabited by the Thorian, but just in time for Meslina to deliver a troubling report.
“We’ve still not received anything from the satellite.”
“Were we supposed to?” Boro asked. “I thought we wouldn’t hear from HID Intelligence for at least another week?”
“No,” she said slowly, dropping her voice, “I mean that the satellite itself is unresponsive. I should have received a ping if our message was relayed, but there’s only silence.”
“Hmm,” Boro murmured loudly and walked over to Maggie’s station. The Techever had always looked zoned-out when she was plugged in, but Boro had come to learn that she had the ability to be fully present in both worlds, regardless of perception. “Are you getting anything, Maggie?”
Her eyes darted back and forth before her, still staring past and above him, until she brought them back into focus on him and answered, “No. Though it’s small and ghosted and even with our long-range subspace sensors concentrated on its anticipated approximate location I wouldn’t expect to see anything.”
“The ping’s the only way of knowing it went through,” Meslina said behind him.
“Then we try again.”
“I have, no confirmation on that one yet. I also went ahead and targeted a further satellite. Anything beyond that and we risk not hitting it, or someone intercepting the message.”
“Focus on those two then, and let me know if anything comes back. Maybe when we’re not moving we’ll have better luck.”
On the morning of Tuka’s memorial, after two days of sitting idle on the frontiers of the Thorian Empire, Captain Pueson made the call to abandon any further attempts to get their message back to the Human Interstellar Dominion. Both satellites remained silent, and no amount of scanning turned up even the slightest indication that they were actually there. Similarly, they could see no friendly ships anywhere within range, and there was nothing to suggest that anyone had bothered to investigate what happened to Yshot Station. On the other hand, there was growing evidence of distant Thorian activity, and after much pressure from Boro, the Captain agreed to resume the mission, which meant that nothing about the incident at the Iastret station would reach home for months, and no one in Tuka’s family would know that his role in this undertaking was already over.
It was a day that was destined to be sour, one that, at the moment of the imagined dawn on board the Forseti, had chosen to make miserable whoever dared live through it.
The day of the memorial was also going to be the day that the Thorian started proving his utility to the ship and would join them on the bridge. Boro had to admit that if they’d been properly prudent, Mikarik would have already been called in to advise on the Thorian activity they’d picked up on their long-range sensors, but part of Boro was heartened to see that even Captain Pueson didn’t appear to be in a rush to invite the arrogant bony-headed alien into their presence. Still, he would not put it past Pueson to make too big of a deal of the Thorian joining them, possibly a stunted stumbling speech about the possibilities of cooperation even between the unlikeliest of allies. Nothing Boro wanted to be present for, so he took several detours after leaving the memorial before finally heading to the bridge.
According to the window screens that lined the hallways of the Forseti, today they were flying over something Boro could recognize – his own home planet, Earth, the cradle of the Human species. There was no strange vegetation, or impossible rocky outcroppings, or a shade of sky that gave just that uncanny feeling that this was not where he was born. As far as he could tell, they were soaring over the west coast of the northern Aremiga continent, one of the areas hardest hit during the Great Fire and that remained sparsely populated even to this day, lying across the entire Mer Pacific from where he was born and raised.
By the time Boro reached the bridge, the Thorian was already there, standing just behind Captain Pueson and reading some displays over his shoulder. What had Intelligence intended to be their end game here? If the Forseti survived the entirety of its mission, what would they do with the Thorian to ensure that he wouldn’t immediately run back to the Empire and reveal everything he’d learned? They must have had some kind of retirement plan in mind; one with limited freedom that did not quite amount to imprisonment. This wasn’t Boro’s problem to solve, and certainly not right there and then.
“Mr. Mikarik,” Boro said curtly.
The Thorian turned slowly, cracking the faintest of smiles. “Commander Stevin. I hope you had a restful sleep.”
Ten years of sleep wouldn’t have been enough to prepare him to work alongside the smug bumpy-headed bastard.
“So where has our guide guided us to today?” Boro asked instead, making sure to put just the right tone of derision on ‘guide’.
“Mikarik has advised us that we need a two-day detour in order to avoid the Thorian activity we’d been monitoring,” Captain Pueson said.
“Two days?” Boro tried to stifle his incredulity, keeping a straight back to appear at least somewhat comparable to the Thorian in height. “His first hour advising us and we’re already changing course that would delay our mission by another two days? And I didn’t think we could afford much more lost time.”
The Captain did not look entirely pleased with Boro’s outburst but did not get a chance to voice his objection as the Thorian stepped in to interrupt. “Well, Commander Stevin, I may not know too much about your ghosting technology in particular, but in my experience the more ships there are that could triangulate your position based on the little energy distortions you inevitably leave, the worse shape you’re in. And that,” he motioned at the display he and Pueson were studying, the string of yellow blobs almost connecting at the side of the screen, “is a formidable amount of navy ships.”
Without proper competition that NHL players bring, what is even the point of Men’s Ice Hockey at the Olympics?
While every other sport brings its best and brightest to the Games, Men’s Ice Hockey has to dig deeper than an NHL team looking to fill its front office with domestic abusers. Canada, for example, who should be dominant any other year, in 2022 sent a roster of players that were deemed too bad, too young, too old, and too ethnic for the NHL. The result? A swift defeat in the Quarterfinal, made palatable only by the United States accomplishing the same feat.
The only team that seems to benefit from this format is the one whose players comprise the majority of the players in the Kontinental Hockey League, the preferred destination for NHL players to escape the consequences of their actions, both criminal and otherwise. And even with a gold medal practically handed over on a silver platter, the Russians still have a difficult time closing. They almost managed to lose the 2018 final to Germany, a team that has not been relevant internationally since there were two of them, and then dropped a narrow 2:1 decision to Finland, a nation with 1/30th of the population that keeps giving them trouble in all things Winter related.
Historically though, the Russians dominate non-NHL Olympic Men’s Hockey. Under four previous banners, none of which actually include “Russian Federation”, they have won 9 gold and 2 silvers out of the last 13 NHL non-participation Olympics.
So whether the winners are the Soviet Union, the Unified Team, Olympic Athletes from Russia or the Russian Olympic Committee, for whom really is this spectacle intended? Papa Putin, the greatest sniper in Russian hockey history? One can only imagine him sitting at home with that devilish smile of his (one that likely got wiped off today), enjoying the unexpected fruits of setting up a league specifically designed to keep half of the country’s international squad from playing against the best in the world on a daily basis. After all, it’s gold medals, and not Stanley Cups, that keep getting one re-elected (actually, it’s polonium, but let’s not get too bogged down in details).
So, while we have been spared in 2022, before the next gold medal is awarded to something like “The Athletes Formerly Known as Russian Olympians” or “Soviet Union 2.0”, perhaps it’s time to abolish this one-sided charade. If you need another good reason, consider what will happen if the US ever wins again and everyone else has to listen about their newest Miracle for the next 50 years.
Another alternative is taking Gary Bettman’s suggestion and moving ice hockey to the Summer Games. That way the IOC can force another high-capacity venue on a city that does not need it and will never use it. Who wants to see an NHL-grade arena in Brisbane, Australia? I hear the Arizona Coyotes are still looking for a new home.
The more sensible alternative is to just watch Women’s Ice Hockey instead, where the best of the best actually show up to compete in a tournament worth watching.
Or if you’re particularly sick and twisted, you can tune into the World Cup of Hockey, the NHL All-Star Game of international hockey, or else watch the World Junior Championships, and then spend Monday cyberbullying a teenager that failed to give you a good reason to shotgun a beer and scream “Woo! Go Canada!”
Last Saturday marked the first full week that The Second Magus has been published on Royal Road. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t taken the website by storm, though it has done noticeably better than The Bloodlet Sun did. That story reached its first 1,000 views in 65, while The Second Magus did it in 8. Still, what I have to show for those 1K views is 17 followers, 1 favourite, and two ratings that amount to a solidly mediocre 4 stars out of 5.
It’s hard to really talk objectively about how the story is doing right now. On the one hand, I should be more than happy about 17 followers. That’s seventeen more than I had two weeks ago; those are actual readers that were interested in my story enough to hit that follow button.
And yet it’s shy of the dreams I’ve crafted in my head. I always said when posting updates in the run-up to uploading The Second Magus that I enjoyed living in the fantasies. The daydreams couldn’t die before I had actually posted my work. And I recognized them for what they were – daydreams. Because even though it’s not impossible to have the success I hope for, I know it’s still a rare thing that few writers attain.
But, just like the lottery ticket whose numbers are not yet called, it was nice to dream.
And, just like with that lottery ticket, even though you knew in your head you weren’t going to win, there is still the disappointment of not walking away a millionaire and then having to shake off your day dreams.
This is the stage I’m at now. My numbers were read, and I didn’t win, and even though I didn’t really think there was a big chance of me winning, the sting is still there.
Except this isn’t about a stupid lottery. Being a writer is who I am, so this sting goes much deeper, and its barbed tip is much more difficult to pull out.
It’s just what you do when you’re a writer and hope to get published – you put yourself out there knowing full well you can get smacked down, knowing full well that even those who find success will need to get smacked down a hundred times first. And yet, we go out there and get knocked down and get up and dust ourselves off.
This time, the getting up part has been more challenging. I feel like I’m sitting in the middle of that dusty road, wondering if it’s worth it to get up again, taking deep breaths to hype yourself up because the road is still beautiful despite the setbacks.
It’s not hard to see even on this blog evidence of the wind being taken out of my sails. This entry is about a week later than it should be. I also only just picked up editing again after not touching it for a week, and for the same amount of time the only writing I’ve done was to just maintain my streak. Every novel project, including The Second Magus, has been on unofficial hiatus.
I don’t mean to be a sad-sack about this whole thing. It’s not a tragedy by any means. But sometimes this stuff does get hard and does get to you. And then in the end, it feels like you’re just talking in a circle – on the one hand you know this is what a writer has to go through, and on the other hand you do want to embrace that it’s okay to still feel bad when it happens to you.
Anyway, it was not the way I had wanted to start the year and maybe it’ll take a little while longer to gain back some of that confidence. I think finally finishing and posting this entry is a good first step in that process.
Eventually, it might just become one of those things I remember with a laugh as I fondly look back on the rocky road that led me towards whatever future success I might find.
Boro tried to keep his upper body stiff as he shuffled from foot to foot. His collar felt tight and he wondered if the environmental systems were keeping up with this many people crammed all at once into a single space. For the first time since the Forseti had launched, he was in the same room as nearly the entire crew of the ship; the dozens of lives he was responsible for gathered only because he had failed one of them. That is how they saw it, he knew – he was the senior officer in the cargo hold that day, and he knew what they were thinking when they saw him. They didn’t have to say anything, not that they ever would.
It wasn’t the first time the ship he was serving on had lost one of its own. It was the first time though that it had happened so directly under his watch; a civilian, too, which didn’t make things any better.
The image of Tuka Rose was displayed on the screen at one end of the galley, smiling at those gathered with the innocence of not knowing what had transpired days earlier. The other screens that normally served as faux windows into a moving landscape had remained motionless. No video footage was available in the Forseti’s database, so they instead showed still shots from Tuka’s home planet – a piddly world on the periphery near Winti space, rolling hills with bright yellow grasses against a sky that looked too blue.
Nobody had known Tuka before his time on the Forseti, so the most time anyone had with him was the month they had been flying together, take away a few weeks in stasis. Meeron, who probably worked with Tuka the most, remained sitting with his leg wrapped in recovery bindings and his head a bit fuzzy from the pain suppressors, and did his best to describe an eager young man who was just happy to be here, who managed to brighten everyone else’s day and not ask for anything in return. When it was Boro’s turn to speak, he had little else to add, except with how he ended it: “Tuka had died while serving his crew, his ship, and his people. Any of us should be so lucky for our death to have the same kind of meaning.” There were no nods of agreement, and with a “Thank you, Commander” from Captain Pueson, Boro slid back into the crowd.
Shortly afterwards, everyone dispersed. They’d all been aware of the dangers. Now though, forced to face them head on when their mission had barely even begun, some were moving on better than others. He’d said as much in his short speech, but Boro wondered whether there actually was any meaning to this death, or to any other, considering this part of the mission was supposed to have been a time for mundane travel through space, and also considering that anyone who would be truly affected by the young maintenance worker’s death did not even realize that he would have already been in danger, and still did not know about his passing. They wouldn’t learn of it for a long time, as the command crew had decided earlier that day that they would not be sending any news dispatches in the direction of Earth.
Their original intent, before they had left the safety of Human Interstellar Dominion space, had been to avoid all incoming and outgoing transmissions throughout their journey, lest any intercepted messages comprise their mission. With the attempted destruction of the Forseti at Yshot Station, decisions needed to be made about the future of the mission, including whether to continue to maintain the established radio silence.
Once Chief Engineer Aimi Ishikawa’s team, two of whom were still recovering from concussion, got the subspace skimmer and engines functioning, they put a couple of lightyears between them and the damaged station, in case the explosions attracted any unwanted attention.
Boro had been in medbay when Captain Pueson, Surch and Officer Meslina, still in her walking boot, came to see him, a few hours after the explosion and after the Forseti was moving again. Ryo was in the adjacent room, not in any immediate danger, according to Dr. Sufai, but not entirely out of the woods. The doctor was meanwhile in the other occupied room, operating on Meeron’s leg with the assistance of Neelam Das, one of the few other crewmembers with any kind of medical training.
“Commander Stevin, it’s good to see you’re well enough to meet with us,” the Captain said entering Boro’s room. Boro was already sitting up on the bed, even though Dr. Sufai said he should rest. He was not so incapacitated that he would be caught doing work lying down.
“It’s not my first choice to be here, Captain,” Boro said, “It’s all precautionary, really.” He winced and grabbed the side of his head for a moment, slowly letting out his breath and looking back up at Pueson’s imposing frame. Hamming up how much pain he was actually in, on the other hand, was not something Boro was above at all.
“Easy Commander, there’s no need to rush yourself,” Captain Pueson said with a magnanimously raised hand, “We do however need to talk about where the mission goes from here.”
“What do you mean, Captain?”
Surch stepped forward, arms mostly crossed while his left hand stroked his bearded chin. “Boro, the Captain believes that the covert nature of the mission has been compromised, and it may be too dangerous to continue.”
“Indario’s preliminary findings indicated that this was not an accident,” the Captain continued. The Parsk Nahur better have found more than that – any idiot could have figured that part out. “The crate that Meeron had identified as suspicious was similarly equipped with an explosive and I’m not sure the ship would have survived that detonation.”
“Why it didn’t explode though, remains to be answered,” Surch said.
“As well as why it was two Human Intelligence officers that were supposed to make sure these bombs made it on board,” Meslina added, her face stern, dark eyes almost turned inward in thought or speculation.
“I think the fact that they’re not actually with Intelligence is becoming fairly clear,” Boro said, wincing again, though not quite so dramatically as the previous time.
“But even if there was a security leak,” Surch said, “I’m not aware of any faction in the HID or the Outer Rim Confederacy that would have any interest in sabotaging this mission.”
“You’re assuming that because they’re Human that they’re working with other Humans,” Meslina said and Boro noticed that out of the other three, she was the only one standing straight and at attention despite her injured leg. “Maybe this mission attracted more than one supposed traitor to their race.”
“Where was Mikarik during all of this, anyway?” Boro asked.
“Right here, according to Dr. Sufai,” Surch answered, “I don’t think there’s any sense in exploring that path.”
“So why are we questioning the mission?” Boro asked, standing up and sucking air through his teeth while he closed his left eye, “We survived. All the more reason to keep pushing ahead.”
“The whole point of this mission, Commander Stevin,” the Captain said patiently, “Is that the Thorians don’t know we’re coming.”
“And as far as we know right now, they’re not the ones behind this,” Boro protested.
“Yes,” Meslina said, “But someone knows we’re here, and we’re not equipped to find out who that is. Unless,” she paused, turning her head to the Captain and waiting for him to acknowledge her before proceeding, “We try to contact Intelligence ourselves.”
“Can’t say I feel good breaking our ghost again,” Surch said, but Boro could feel the rising tone of hope in his voice, “But I don’t expect sending a message would be any worse that lighting up the entirety of Yshot Station.”
“We aren’t so far out of HID space that we couldn’t tight-beam through one of our military satellites,” Meslina offered. “There should be a few in range we could try.”
These satellites floated under their own ghosts in interstellar space, and though whenever the Forseti pinged any message they risked discovery, the satellites were likely their best bet at getting a message back under the noses of anyone who may have been listening.
“It could be almost two more weeks before we hear anything back.” Boro was pacing the room by this point, forgetting the recurring head pains that he was supposed to have been having. “Captain, I thought the Iastret and Intelligence were very clear we don’t have those extra weeks.”
“Hmm,” Captain Pueson murmured, a sound that was supposed to have been contemplative but to Boro just sounded like a way to buy time while the hamster wheel in his skull spun out some kind of answer. “We’re no good to anyone if we don’t make it to the Drain Vortex alive. I think in this case Officer Meslina and Lieutenant Guraty may be right. We can do a three- or four-day skim closer to the borders of the Empire and await our response there. That should also give us some time to … recover from this incident,” Pueson finished with a slightly awkward smile and a nod.
“I told you Captain,” Boro paused and brought his palm up to his temple, “It’s just precautionary, I’ll be on the bridge in no time.”
“Hmm,” Boro heard Meeron say and turned his head to find the provincial colonial staring intently at his manifest and then looking at the readout on the display of the latest crate to be delivered from Yshot Station by Tuka and Ryo.
“What is it, Meeron?”
“Probably just sloppy record keeping. No surprise really, if Intelligence was involved.” Meeron lifted his head and looked towards the two Intelligence officers with a slight eye roll. Boro followed Meeron’s gaze and found that for the first time, the two Humans were not looking ahead, but the one with the black eyes and long face was giving the one with the mismatched green eyes a hard inquiring look. Boro’s stomach twisted, and as he approached Meeron, he kept one eye in their direction.
“What’s the issue?” Boro asked, picking up the tablet from Meeron.
“Weights don’t match on these. Here.” Meeron pointed to the displays.
“Looks like at least we got more instead of getting shortchanged.”
“Yeah, boss, but we should probably open it up anyway.”
This was already taking longer than it needed to, but something that Boro would later attribute to his keen Commander senses told him that Meeron was right.
“Tuka, Ryo, do you mind holding off on the next crate while Meeron and I check this out?”
The two maintenance crew workers were already inside the station releasing the maglev clamps on a crate to move it onto the gurney. This order, too, Boro eventually ascribed to a ‘Stevin-ian’ intuition that flowed through his blood.
“Commander Stevin,” said the Intelligence Officer with the ever-present pout, “Is this really necessary? We’re behind schedule as it is.”
“Your schedule is not my concern, Officer. This is coming aboard my ship, so we’re going to do it my way.” Boro bent forward to help Meeron open the crate and caught movement from the corner of his eye. The next sequence of events happened so quickly that Boro would only be able to piece it together from security footage.
As the lid of the crate Meeron and Boro were inspecting hissed open, the Intelligence officer with the black hair and eyes broke the stare she’d previously fixed on her partner and vaulted over the side of the crate Tuka and Ryo were handling in order to get to its control panel. The Parsk Nahur, as ordered and without hesitation, fired twice at the Human. The first shot missed the mark, while the second one hit her in the chest right below the shoulder, though not before she managed to reach the crate’s controls.
Her partner though, the man with the green mismatched eyes and who had been closer to the crate, in an apparent attempt to finish the job, arrived at the panel and slammed his open palm against the crate’s controls, a mere moment before the Parsk Nahur got another shot off and hit him in the arm. The crate was sent hurtling backwards into the depths of Yshot Station’s cargo hold, pushing Tuka long with it. When it hit a stack of crates nearer to the back wall, it detonated. Boro had the presence of mind to order “Get back!” the moment the crate started moving, which gave Ryo and the Parsk Nahur just enough time to return inside the Forseti before the shockwave hit them and sent them flying forward.
The force of the explosion compromised the seal between ship and station. The loss of pressure jerked Boro forward as he tried to help the fallen Ryo, but the emergency seal kicked in before he was sucked into the hole that had formed between the Forseti and Yshot Station. The Forseti’s loading door was having a rough time closing. Another explosion slammed against this side of the ship and shook the cargo hold, this blast likely coming from Yshot Station itself due to the damage it sustained from the exploding crate.
Boro lifted himself from the floor, his head ringing and his vision blurry. Somewhere to his right the Parsk Nahur had gotten up and was pointing the neural devastator at something Boro was unable to make out. He reached Ryo who was lying sprawled on the floor, his arm bent under him at an awkward angle, and found that that the maintenance worker was still breathing. The Forseti, he could feel, continued to list without power and another shudder went through it.
Boro reached for his tablet and found it lacking, so he used a communication panel on the wall to call in an update.
“We’ve got casualties down here, send any assistance you can.”
“Got it,” came the curt and strained reply from Surch.
The pilot would later report to Boro what happened on the bridge when the initial explosion shook the ship. “Detonation out of Yshot’s hold,” Maggie announced, her voice to Surch sounding almost amused, like she was glad it had broken her out of her boredom. “Contained in our cargo hold, retained with emergency membrane, no other hull breaches, but Yshot’s coming part.” All of this was reported almost before Surch was back in the pilot’s chair, just as the Techevers were designed for.
As the engines came online, Surch struggled to pull the Forseti away from the station before another explosion from within Yshot rocked the ship. “Minor engine damage and a near breach of the emergency membrane,” Maggie reported, trying to slow her speech down so that the bridge crew could keep up. “You need to go easy on it Surch or the membrane might rupture.”
“Any easier and Yshot will ease us right out of existence.”
“Their power core is still stable. Yshot will hold for now. We might not.”
To undermine Maggie’s assertion, another piece of the Station blew and hit them with debris.
It’s this final blast that knocked the Forseti to a safer distance from the Station but that also resulted in the jamming of the cargo bay door, more than two thirds of the way to its destination.
Maggie knew about this immediately of course, as Surch called in a moment later.
“Boro, we gotta get that door closed if we’re getting out of here in a hurry.”
“I know, I’m on it.” Boro grabbed onto the door’s manual release, but here things were not so simple. Due to the damage to the membrane, the air immediately by the door was frigid and losing oxygen. Another pair of hands may have helped, but where was the Parsk Nahur when you needed him? It was Meeron who finally came to Boro’s aid. The steward’s impressive arms struggled only briefly with the mechanism before shutting the door.
Boro should have told him to step back, should have seen what was coming next – the part of the door that sharply descended, missing Meeron’s head by a mere inch and then slamming into his thigh and knee before it fell into place with a definitive hiss. Meeron’s blood had already started to pool under him as he clutched his leg, the deathly white of bone protruding from the wound when the ship’s vibration changed. They were under full thrust now, though unable to start skimming subspace just yet.
Help was coming, yet help should have already been more forthcoming. What had the Parsk Nahur been doing? Getting up from Meeron’s aid, Boro looked back into the Forseti’s cargo hold and realized what had been preoccupying the ship’s weapon’s officer this whole time. The Parsk Nahur stood aiming the neural devastator, at the end of which was their newest passenger – the Intelligence officer with the mismatched green eyes.
Top Books I Read in 2021
To say that 2021 was not my best reading year would be an understatement – this was my worst reading year since 2011, when I’d graduated law school and moved back to Vancouver. I’ve talked about this before but a lot of it is pandemic related. Given that my primary reding time was during my public transit commute to and from work and because I’ve been working from home all this time, it’s been harder for me to find time to read. One of my New Year’s resolutions has been to try to get my reading more on track, so we’ll see how that goes.
That said, I’ve read (and listened to, which I count as reading and will fight anyone who suggests otherwise) some great books this year. I ended up joining the book club that was organized at our housing cooperative and was exposed to novels I probably would not have turned to on my own. It was a great experience but by the of it, I had trouble keeping up and also with my poor reding schedule wanted to branch out into my own selections.
There were a few other notable reading events that happened for me during the year that don’t quite make the last below including:
Thanks, but Let’s Not Do This Again
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I suppose I could have used The Way of Kings for this one, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the absolute trip that was this novel. I had to actually stop in the middle of the audiobook to catch up my knowledge on its context because I needed to confirm how much of it was based on what actually occurred and how much of it was just inspired by true events. Turns out, Hunter S. Thompson wanted the book so accurate that he actually lamented mashing up two separate trips into one because he thought it hurt the authenticity of the narrative.
To actually believe what was happening stretched the limits of my imagination, especially considering how horrible the two main characters were to a lot of the people they encountered along the way, but well, I guess that’s drug and drinking binges for you. In any case, it was a super fascinating window into a world so far removed from mine I’m not sure I’ll ever understand it, but I think one such trip is more than enough.
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso. Good heavens was this graphic novel ever a depressing read – from the heinous crime that launches the events of the book, to the various characters’ reactions to it to the crushing proliferation of conspiracy theories and how they affect the people closest to the events. The illustrations are also done in a particular style that minimizes the expressions of the characters which further adds to the sense of sadness and detachment that oozes from every page. As heavy as the book was though, I think it was also brilliant. That said, I think the only way I could read was the way I ended up doing – a few pages at a time.
Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. I’ve read the Scott Pilgrim series before, about ten years ago when I used to live in Toronto where this graphic novel (or comic, whatever, labels are stupid) is set. I encountered a couple of Instagram reels about the movie recently and got nostalgic so decided to pick it up again. I feel like it’s got one of the best main character introductions I’ve ever read since basically on the very first page you’re told Scott is twenty-three and has a new girlfriend who’s still in high school. It’s like, “Yup, there’s Scott, he’s a giant loser by the way”. I’m already halfway through volume four out of six and having a lot of fun getting back into this world that is basically like ours except with certain video game elements woven into reality. I highly recommend the read, but the movie stars both Captain America and Captain Marvel so you could watch that, too.
Best Book of 2020
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden. There is not enough I can say here about just how much I enjoyed this book. In fact, I prepared a whole separate post to go on and on about how great it is, but for whatever reason I had neglected to publish it. It’s a science fiction graphic novel, though the soft sci-fi aspects take a back seat to the gorgeous art and touching story. I’m going to be rereading this one again and not that long from now I just known it. In the meantime, at the risk of going on too long about it here, I’ll just leave this as a placeholder when I finally post that full entry and link to it.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Funnily enough, I have the same deal with this one as I do with On a Sunbeam in the sense that the book struck me so much I went and wrote a whole post about it and then just never ended up publishing it. Again, I think I’m just going link to it when I finally do get around to posting it. What I do want to say is that this was one of our Book Club books, which again is why I’m happy I joined, and one of the books I really enjoyed with how much it got into the descriptions of the landscape and the local wildlife without losing sight of what is essentially a coming-of-age story with a background undercurrent of murder mystery that suddenly ramps up to such a pace that you find yourself surprised you can’t put the book down.
I think that about wraps it up for this year. Here’s hoping for a more productive, but at least just as fun, reading year this year.
Finding two passengers in the cargo hold of Yshot Station when they were led to believe that the station was decommissioned and fully abandoned, the Parsk Nahur raised his weapon, his finger moving to the trigger. Then, likely noticing that the unexpected persons were Human and therefore, on their face, not hostile, he began to lower the neural devastator.
“Hold up.” Boro raised his hand to the height of his waist. “Don’t lower it yet.” There was something immediately curious about these two, and it wasn’t that they weren’t supposed to be there, but that the woman and man seemed to show absolutely no distress at having the weapon raised at them.
“What are you doing here?” Boro asked. “We were told there were no more personnel on Yshot.”
“There have been security breaches, Commander,” said the woman on the right, “They have forced a change of plans, and someone needed to oversee the transfer.”
“And so they sent you two?”
“They sent whoever was least likely to be compromised.” The woman who was speaking for the two of them had jet black hair, cropped short into an unflattering haircut that made it look like her hair oozed over her head. Small black eyes sat beneath a dark brow and a long nose pointed towards a mouth that seemed constantly puckered forward.
“So then you’re from Intelligence?” Boro asked, itching to have the neural devastator in his own hands instead.
“That is correct,” the woman with the long nose and long face said.
“You don’t look like Intelligence to me.”
“Think about it, Commander,” the man stepped in. “If this station was discovered, would you rather they find two Intelligence officers here or two abandoned maintenance workers?” This one spoke in a voice that was oddly paternalistic, and what stood out about him to Boro were his light eyes, a pale green, with one being noticeably smaller than the other.
“You have credentials on you?” Boro asked, trying to anticipate every asinine question the Captain would ask him.
“Commander, again, this is not a time to be carrying credentials.” Why did Boro feel the man with the pale mismatched eyes was trying to pat him on the head with his words? Tuka and Ryo were standing at the threshold of the of the door leading into Yshot Station, shifting their weight from foot to foot but otherwise keeping quiet and watching the interaction. Boro stepped a few paces back, and they followed suit while the Parsk Nahur maintained his position, hands firmly around the devastator.
Boro called Captain Pueson on his personal pad and was brought up on the bridge’s viewscreen.
“Trouble, Commander?” the Captain asked with a slight smile which disappeared when he assessed Boro’s expression.
“I’m not certain yet, Captain,” Boro said before recounting the situation with the supposed Intelligence Officers and then providing his recommendation that they ought to proceed, but with extreme caution.
“That seems to be our only option,” Captain Pueson said. “We haven’t received any advance warning on this, which isn’t really a surprise considering that the intention was to not send any pings our way.”
“Doesn’t seem to be anything in the Station’s onboard computer either,” Maggie Okoth, the Forseti’s Techever reported from behind Captain Pueson, “A clean slate since the last Iastret left.”
“You can interface with it from here?” Though Boro was generally suspicious of the Techevers, Humans engineered and trained to interface with machines, he was repeatedly struck by the extent of their abilities.
“In a limited way. Though it doesn’t like me being in it no more than I enjoy rooting around inside it,” Maggie said, then cocked her head to the side and gave a tight-lipped smile.
“You are of course, free to go, Commander,” said the Intelligence officer with the pale green eyes.
“Though we’re not sure how well that would serve you in the long run,” added the one with the jet-black hair.
They certainly talked like long-time partners, playing off each other as a single unit, though doing little to put Boro at ease, which ought to have been their goal. In any case, they were right. There was no turning their back on these supplies, but that also didn’t mean that they had to turn their back to the Intelligence officers either.
Before giving Tuka and Ryo the order to proceed, Boro approached the Parsk Nahur and said under his breath, “If either of them try anything funny, you shoot them.”
“To kill?” Came the vibrating voice from inside the Parsk Nahur’s speech organ.
Boro looked from one of the Intelligence officers to the other and then said, “Just one of them.”
The loading of the cargo itself went smoothly. The crates were fitted with maglev facilitators which allowed Tuka and Ryo to haul them easily from station to ship using a single gurney, while Meeron then checked the contents of the delivered crates against the manifest. The Intelligence officer with the black eyes and long nose made a move to help at first, but Boro sharply told her that it wasn’t necessary. The constantly puckered mouth on her face made her look almost pouty at that, but truthfully her expression hadn’t changed in the slightest when she was forced to step aside and let the Forseti crewmembers handle the operation.
Boro almost had to admire the Parsk Nahur at that moment. An imposing frame with a larger head, and for most species an unreadable expression, given their lack of mouth and large recessed eyes that didn’t provide for much of a brow. The two Humans aboard Yshot station, whoever they were, even if they were from Intelligence, would think twice about attempting anything.
And for the most part they waited patiently as the cargo was loaded crate by crate, filling up the storage hold of the Forseti.
As one crate moved past Boro, who stood nearer to the doorway that connected Yshot Station and the Forseti, he heard some murmuring between Tuka and Ryo, which culminated in Tuka asking in hardly a hushed tone when the crate arrived by Meeron’s side. “This is the one where the good stuff is, aight Meeron?” Tuka tapped the crate as it settled on the floor beside the quartermaster.
“Pipe it, will you?” Meeron said, though he also didn’t bother lowering his voice.
“Oh you talking about the Commander?” Tuka looked over his shoulder to where Boro was standing next to the door, just slightly behind the Parsk Nahur, looking at the inventory charts on his personal tablet. “He’s one of us, ain’t he Commander?”
“Can’t hear you Tuka over the sound of how busy I am,” Boro called out, eyes not lifting from his tablet. He was still firmly committed to the idea that a certain amount of slack was required, and that undue tension was far more dangerous for the crew than the occasional, and mostly harmless, disrespect for the rules. Captain Pueson may have liked to do things by the book, a very flimsy paperback book as it was, but if he didn’t want Boro to do things the Boro way, then he shouldn’t have delegated anything to him in the first place.
Tuka and Ryo left the latest crate in Meeron’s hands and headed back into Yshot Station, whose cargo bay was no longer so crowded near the doors.
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.