Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Hours later, Hilosh stood at the mouth of a recently unsealed tunnel while the elevator platform shrieked metallically as it hauled the bore machine and its load up to the surface. They said that it may have been in this very tunnel that the cursed black pearl had been found, or perhaps one of the adjacent ones. Either way, it seemed like today was not the day they would find anther one, but soon perhaps. As he watched the cargo shuttle take off in the direction of the orbital transfer facility, Hilosh permitted himself, for the first time since arriving at the mine, to believe that there was hope buried somewhere within these rocks.
“Hilosh?” His mask radio crackled to life with the sound of Viri’s voice.
“I hear you.”
“You, uh, better come up to comms.” What fresh hell could the meteorologist have cooked up to torment him with now?
“Are you serious, Viri? I’ve got an extraction operation I need to supervise.”
“Yarmar is already on her way.” Naturally, one of them had to have been contacted first; he just wished it would be him for once.
“Alright, I’ll be right up.”
He was hoping to at least catch up with Yarmar before reaching Viri, but she likely had a head start and he could only move so fast without attracting the attention a supervisor hastily leaving a worksite would garner. By the time he had taken off his gear, the whole time thinking ahead to when had to put it back on again and cursing Viri for his shortsightedness, and walked up several flights of stairs from the airlock to the comms room, he found Yarmar and Viri already huddled over a sector map display.
“What happened?” Hilosh asked.
“The Raire missed their check-in ping today,” Yarmar announced, turning away from the screen.
“That doesn’t seem too bad.” It was customary for supply ships to check in with their destinations on a daily basis to confirm schedules, though this was an Anthar Kai vessel and Thorians were no strangers to following rules and customs only when it suited them. “Is that them?” Hilosh gestured with his hand toward a slightly brighter blurry blip on the map.
“As far as I can tell, still moving and on schedule,” Viri confirmed.
“So what’s the problem?”
“Well I didn’t think there was one,” Viri replied. “At first. And then I got curious and reached out to them, twice.”
“Not exactly.” Something about the shimmer in Viri’s eyes put a cold hard chill through the mass of flesh at the back of Hilosh’s head. “I think you guys need to hear this.”
At first, Hilosh appreciated the courtesy that the two of them at least waited for him to join up before diving into this next part, but when the message they received from the Raire actually played, Hilosh wished that they had instead neglected to include him, purged it from the system and let him blissfully go on about his day.
The recording opened with growling noises – five distinct voices, not quite animal, that prowled in the background. Then there was a clash of metal followed by yips and a whimper that rose above the other growls until a new voice spoke directly into the microphone. “Akir.” It sounded like it was on the verge of breaking, pulled up from such a deep bout of despair that it threatened to drag Hilosh down into it. “Akir?” It said again and Hilosh thought it sounded more like a question this time. “Akir? Akir. Akir!” The voice grew in urgency until cutting out and dropping the room into silence. Hilosh thought he could hear not only his own heartbeat but that of Viri and Yarmar as well.
Hilosh glanced at Yarmar and found her wide unreadable eyes affixed to the comms terminal.
“What was that?” Viri asked, searching the faces of his supervisors for answers.
“What is ‘akir’?” Hilosh asked and was surprised to find his voice come out as a hoarse whisper.
“Not ‘akir’,” Yarmar answered, “‘Akhir’. It’s Thorian.”
“Thorian?” Hilosh asked.
“Not Trade Thorian. Native Thorian. Means roughly ‘why am I?’”
“You know Native Thorian?” Suddenly the transmission they received had competition for being the oddest thing Hilosh heard that day.
“Enough to get by,” Yarmar answered without looking at him, then leaned in to replay the message from the moment the voice rose to be heard above the inexplicable growling in the background.
“Akhir? Akhir. Akhir!” The Thorian reached his agonizing crescendo to be rewound again and again by Yarmar. Hilosh heard Viri make a few laboured swallows and when Hilosh looked down he saw that Viri’s fingers had dug into the desk so hard he expected at any moment to hear Viri’s knuckles snap.
Yarmar played the recording back too far.
“What are those noises anyway? Some kind of animal?” Viri asked.
Animal, yes, in the strictest sense of the word, Hilosh suspected. “Let’s just turn it off,” he asked and Yarmar obliged. Her gaze softened and she took a full step back from the infernal comms terminal.
“Keep trying to contact them,” Yarmar instructed. “Every two hours. And if you get anything back, call us up before you even listen to it.”
Viri sagged noticeably and let out a small feeble breath. “Thank you.” He continued to sit, while his co-supervisors stood; all in silence.
Yet the Thorian’s final question and proclamation seemed to seep into the walls of the communications room and continued to play faintly into Hilosh’s eardrums.
“So what do we do now?” Viri broke the quiet, perhaps to escape the same ghostly echo.
Hilosh looked at Yarmar. “We work,” he said and she nodded in reply. “The ship is still on its way, and we have ore to move. When it gets here, that’s a problem we can deal with at the 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.