Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
The conversation with the Thorian stayed with Boro during the days that followed. It irked him like benign parasite residing beneath the skull in the back of his head. A new stasis rotation had begun, and with that, half the military crew and most of the civilians went into their pods for a week, scheduled to come out about a day before they reached Yshot Station.
But not the Thorian. He lurked somewhere in the ship, and it bothered Boro to acknowledge that even as second-in-command, he actively avoided the galley to steer clear of their next conversation. Tonight though, after a long bridge shift that ended at an hour when even the Thorian would be sane enough to head to bed, he thought he would be safe.
“Want to head up for a bite to eat?” Surch asked. “Meeron said he’s left hot meals to last a few days.”
“I hope it’s fish,” Boro answered under his breath.
“What’s that?” Surch chuckled.
“Careful there, Boro, who’s going to do all that paperwork once you’ve cracked as well?”
Boro tried to laugh, but all he managed was an exhale and to walk slightly less slumped.
“Speaking of which,” Surch added, glancing behind his shoulder. “You think Maggie will be okay there all by herself?”
“She’ll be fine. She breathes this ship. If anything, she’s better off being plugged in. Without all that data flowing through it, I imagine a mind like hers would get bored pretty fast.”
“Must take a weird one to do what she’s doing.” Surch’s voice dropped, even though they were well out of earshot of the bridge by then. “I hear that half of them crack before they’ve had the implants for a full year.”
“I hear half of them crack before they even get them.”
When they reached the galley, they were surprised to find that Meeron had not in fact turned in, and that he had company to boot. In the dimmed lights of the galley, they could see Meeron pouring three drinks from a dusty bottle full of dark liquid, as the intended recipients sat huddled at a nearby table – Meslina, the Nabak, and Eframe Gonsyn. The little scene froze upon the entry of the two officers. Meslina, who had her back turned to them, let out a resigned sigh.
“Commander! Lieutenant!” Meeron started cheerfully, then paused, and in a swift motion downed a drink with one hand and pulled out two more glasses from underneath the counter with the other. “Care to join us?”
Boro looked at Surch, who shrugged and said, “Count me in.”
Boro took the empty chair next to Meslina and Surch pulled one up from the adjacent table and sat on it backwards, his legs straddling the back of the chair and arms resting over it. Surch maintained a smile while Boro tried to keep his expression cold and level, playing the part of the stern Second-in-Command who’s willing to listen.
“So, might I ask what brings you all here at this unsightly hour?” Surch broke the silence after it had lasted for a sufficiently uncomfortable amount of time. Eframe and the Nabak looked at each other, and then at Meslina. Meeron stepped in, placing the drinks in front of everyone but the Comms Officer. Surch gave it a short sniff, and then drank it in one gulp. “And don’t tell me it’s the fine drink. Meeron, do us all a favour, if you’re going to smuggle something on board, could you at least make it good?”
“Got some choice things coming our way at Yshot Station, but, uh, you never heard it from me.”
In the silence that followed, Meeron returned with a mug of steaming black tea for Meslina, who hovered her nose over the drink and took a deep inhale with her eyes closed.
“And I can see that it’s not the lively conversation that’s the draw of the hour either.” Surch moved his gaze from one person to the next, but all three avoided eye contact with both him and Boro. “Hey Meeron,” Surch called, looked down at his drink. “I didn’t say stop.” Meeron nodded and the refill was swiftly delivered.
Surch sipped it this time, and looked like he was about to make another attempt to break the ice, when Boro stepped in. “Look, we can pretend that I don’t know everything that happens on this ship, and that I don’t already have a pretty good idea of why you’re here. If I was in your position, I might have been at this table too, who knows. But we’re here now, and we can either continue to avoid talking about why, or we can accept that we’re all on the same team.” Boro laid his hands on the table in front of him, intertwining his fingers.
Meslina shrugged slightly, her hands wrapped around her mug, and the Nabak spoke in his gravelly half-growl. “It’s the Thorian.”
“Yes, I recall a couple of days ago here you made your feelings about him very clear.”
“Any chance I get.”
“Get a lot of chances, do you?”
“You know how he is, roaming about the ship like it’s his. It’s how his kind treat everything … and everyone.”
“Like they treat Nabak?” Boro prompted.
Boro couldn’t tell whether the Nabak was looking directly at him, or taking his cues from Meslina – their species’ eyes were almost entirely black, with little by way of discernible pupils or irises. It made it harder to maintain eye contact than even with the Thorian and his damnable glasses. The dense stubble that covered their entire face and the two vestigial tusks on either side of their mouth made for an ensemble that Boro did not find altogether pleasing.
“You know it’s not just about Nabak, Commander.” Meslina paused to take a long sip of her tea and in that time Boro again wondered why she never addressed him by his name. “Not many of the crew are happy about this arrangement.”
“Yeah, we’re just the only ones not afraid to show it,” Eframe added.
Boro tried to soften the withering look he wanted to give Eframe, which seemed to work, since the engineer’s expression didn’t falter.
Surch shifted in his chair, the second drink left unfished before him. “Have any of you actually tried to talk to the guy?” He asked.
“I think that’s more of the Commander’s area, isn’t it?” Eframe remarked, while the Nabak let out a grunt that sounded to Boro like a burst of laughter.
“Yes, Sivian?” Surch prompted.
“I tried once. Not sure what I was expecting. He just listened to me, with that stupid look on his face they all have where they don’t try to hide that they think they’re better than you. And then he said we Nabak should be so lucky that the Thorians got to us before the Hatvan did.”
“Charming,” Surch said after clearing his throat.
“You were on Nabak during the insurrection?” Boro asked. Every file, he’d read them all, able to recite them all, opening his tablet only to make it seem like he didn’t. He knew the answers before he asked the questions.
“No.” The Nabak’s mouth contorted so it looked like all four of his tusks were aimed at a single point just in front of his face. “We escaped to the Mraboran Protectorate during the last exodus, before they really tightened it up. I had family left there though, less now after the Revolution. Even less with the Butcher in charge.”
Boro said nothing to this. He let the dark cloak of this silence descend over the table. Soak into all present, especially Surch, who for whatever reason seemed to have some kind of soft spot for the Thorian. Surch finished the remainder of his drink. This was a good sign.
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.