Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
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.”
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.