Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
“The Thorian avoids the stasis pods. But he does sleep.” Boro said. “Looks to me like you missed him by a couple of hours. I suggest next time you steer clear of the drink.” Boro eyed his own, and took a long sip from it. “Now go, get some sleep. It’s going to be lonely and quiet here for the next week with most of the crew in stasis, Lieutenant Guraty and myself included, at least for the next couple of days. Even the Captain’s got a few days off shift, though he generally also avoids the pods.”
They all heard him, but he knew that it was Meslina who was the only one who understood. She finished off her tea, and rose from the table; the other two following suit.
“Goodnight, Commander, Lieutenant,” she said.
“Night Mez.” Boro gestured at her with his own drink, and soon Boro and Surch were alone as Meeron, taking the hint, left two dinner specials out for them and made himself scarce.
“You can order them all into stasis, you know,” Surch suggested when the double doors to the galley stopped swinging after Meeron’s departure.
“Why would I need to do something like that?”
“I don’t think Intelligence will be very happy if we kill their Thorian.”
“Intelligence aren’t the ones having to cart him around.”
“The Captain won’t be, either.”
“We’ll be fine without him. The way he talks, I don’t understand what his angle is in all this, and I think we’re better off navigating through the Empire without his help. But they won’t kill him either, not with Meslina around.”
“She lost her dad in the Last Gasp, never even had a chance to meet him,” Surch reminded Boro as he rolled his empty glass on the table.
“I know.” Every file; off by heart. “But I trust her. The worst he’ll get is a few dents to go along with those bumps.”
Boro watched Surch’s face, the pilot clenching and unclenching his jaw muscles as he righted his glass again. It had been fifteen years since they graduated and ten years since they’d last seen each other after serving five months together on the starship Astarte. Since then, Surch moved from one non-descript assignment to another, stints that hardly deserved footnotes in a surprisingly bare file – mostly patrols around the periphery of the Outer Rim Confederacy, as far out as the borders of the Adaract Hive. Boro wondered what happened in the meantime that would allow Surch to land a gig like the Forseti and how Surch managed to lose sight of what Boro was struggling against here, despite the long and lonely nature of Surch’s own deployments, and what the two of them experienced when they were cadets.
“You remember the Academy, that one Winti who always got the better of you?” Boro asked.
Surch rubbed his eyes – dark brown, tired and seemingly looking off into that distant past, and took a deep breath. “How could I forget?”
“You were a better pilot, of course, but he knew how to use every quirk of the simulator to his advantage, even if it would have been completely irrelevant in the real world.” Even so many years after graduation, Boro could see that this was more than a little water under the bridge for Surch. “Remember that night when our groups tried to settle it with a brawl?”
Surch chuckled and shook his head. “We thought we planned it out so well.”
“And yet …”
“The Admiral had me doing gravity simulations until I threw up. Then had me clean that up and start over.”
“Same. That didn’t solve anything though, did it?” Boro asked and watched whatever smile Surch had drain away from his face.
“Hated each other more than ever. Until that one live exercise.” Surch was frowning, avoiding eye contact. He didn’t need Boro to remind him of where this was going, but Boro pressed on anyway. “You and the Winti were neck-and-neck for the most of it, I was bringing up the rear with a couple of his friends, until one of them had that power failure. I might have clipped their wing, or the other in the Winti’s crew did. We never did figure it out. But we did receive a short burst of a distress call before they cut out. You did too, as did the Winti. We were all within range and were supposed to hold back until help arrived. But we weren’t that far off the finish line. Less than an hour was it? And we assumed the pack would have been bringing up the rear, or at least that the damaged ship wouldn’t drift so far from the course.”
Boro paused then, listening to Surch’s even breathing in the dim light of the after-hours galley. There was little left in Boro’s glass, but it was enough. This was for the best. Surch knew it. It was how things have always worked.
“Two months in the hospital,” Surch whispered, “and then never returned to the Academy. Never flown again.”
“But the rest of us, the ones that stayed on, we were fast friends then, and helped each other succeed instead of getting in each other’s way. Do you see what I’m saying?”
“I see more than you know,” Surch answered, putting his palms on the table and pushing himself back in the chair. Boro watched him carefully as the pilot returned the empty glass to the counter, straightened his uniform and gave a small cough. “I tell you this as a friend, Boro. But not all of us recovered as easily as you. Good night.”
“You’re not staying for dinner?”
And with that, Surch Guraty left the galley, and went to put himself in stasis, and Boro was left alone, in a living breathing ship, with the responsibility to keep its lungs fresh and its arteries clear resting solely on his shoulders.
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.