Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
“I’m not going to lie to you.” Hilosh addressed his crew with no prior preamble, but had the whole room turn in his direction by the end of the sentence. “The next time we all see each other, we’re probably going to wish we were dead, but, you know, we won’t be, which is the important part.” Too many young faces here to laugh. “The Raire is about a day and a half out and I believe if we work at full burn from now until then, we should have a decent shipment ready. So we’re going to have all boots on the ground for this one, including Yarmar and myself. Oh, and except Viri. We need someone to keep an eye on things here and I don’t want him accidentally falling into a gorge when no one’s looking.”
This elicited a few chuckles from across the room and a nervous groan from the part-time meteorologist.
“So get your fill, suit up, and I’ll see you all out there in a bit.”
This could have gone worse, he thought. Oh well, the real test would be to see if by the time the Raire arrived, whether it would not be him that they would be tossing into the depths below.
For the first time in weeks, Hilosh suited up into his outdoor gear, which was limited to heavy duty boots, gloves, a thin insulating outer layer, and a respirator that required a change of filters every few hours rather than a dedicated air supply. Light gear made for lighter work, and Hilosh admitted that all things considered, a Dead Space world could have been far more grueling than this. Thankfully, he hadn’t needed to head out of the barracks too frequently, an advantage of his position and what some would consider his advanced age, which was a good thing, because Aler would not have approved of those rickety guardrails. Hilosh’s wife warned him that if he wasn’t coming back in one piece, he shouldn’t bother coming back at all.
When the doors of the airlock hissed open, Hilosh was hit with a cold he could immediately feel even through his insulating outer layer. The forceful wind made him glad even for the shabby guardrails. The ground under his feet vibrated with the workings of the bore machines that were emerging from their hiding holes. He switched his respirator’s comm channel to the one that received everyone’s chatter simultaneously at low volume, the kind of din that could drive someone mad but that he found oddly comforting. It allowed him to pretend that they were working in the open air with everyone freely hearing each other, to keep an eye on the general mood of the site, and to immediately be alerted to any emergencies. When he first told Yarmar about it, she laughed and said that only the chronically bored mind of an old man would be able to withstand such noise, but ended up adopting it anyway shortly afterward.
It was a short walk to the bridge slung across the width of the gorge, and his boots left fresh footprints in the fine white powder that covered the brown, almost raw-meat-coloured stone. It wasn’t snow, and looked very much like salt, but no one here had been brave enough to confirm if it was. Hilosh had worked at sites where there’d be plenty of volunteers. The staff turnover at those was incredibly inconvenient for a co-supervisor, with much unnecessary paperwork. Though even here, where a general undercurrent of common sense prevailed, accidents were not unheard of, and the only medical help around for lightyears was someone who cut their teeth on a ranch and likely fell into this side business when asked if there was anyone in the room who knew how to do their best to reattach a leg and didn’t botch it up too badly after volunteering.
His first task that day was to oversee the removal of their lowest rig, making sure none of the less experienced workers were crushed between the slowly moving machine and the walls of the bored tunnel. Glorified babysitting though it was – they only seemed to ever be crushed when no one was looking.
Hilosh walked lower down into the canyon along the metal steps that doubled back on each other in a zig-zag pattern and could swear they were creaking harder after the storm. Perhaps a detail he ought to omit from his next letter to Aler. Truth was, the stairs had been there for decades before him, possibly through worse weather, and they would be there for decades after he was gone.
Above him, and seeming that much further away when squeezed between the two edges of the cliff, was a murky sky that never revealed its true colours or shown them any glimpses of the sun. To his Vaparozh eyes, evolved on one of the brightest habitable worlds in the Known Reaches, it was an altogether murky affair. From what he knew, it was much like the sky had been over the Vaparozh homeworld – a planet that had been dying until a centuries-long exodus freed it from ninety percent of its inhabitants and allowed it to thrive again. Many Vaparozh, including Hilosh’s own ancestors settled on worlds on the fringes of Thorian space not fully claimed by the Empire and loosely managed by the Anthar Kai, only to find themselves three hundred years later satisfying the last greedy gulp of the Empire during the War of the Last Gasp. And then hardly a generation would pass until the children – no, Hilosh stopped himself. The only children that mattered now, his only real responsibility, were the young workers he was coming to assist; the rest, anyone outside of this cold rock, were not relevant.
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.