Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
There was an emergency kit in the cockpit. It was one of the first things Kviye’s mother had shown her when Kviye had first boarded the ship, tapping on its metal cover and going, “If you’re ever in trouble, everything you need is in here.” Kviye remembered exactly where it was, but couldn’t recall what had actually been in it, as she’d never had to use it before, and right then she hoped it didn’t solely contain a picture of her parents as some sort of cheesy metaphor. The real problem was that even though it was located only a couple of metres to her left, the distance seemed insurmountable from where she was sitting. It was either force herself to move her leg or wait and hope for the best, and Kviye never considered herself as a particularly patient person.
Attempting to shift herself out of the seat, Kviye found that her other leg could still support her weight. Even so, the smallest tug trying to get her right leg free sent a stabbing reminder that something was very wrong with it. Without wasting any time mentally preparing for the maneuver, Kviye heaved herself out of the chair hoping that it would dislodge her. Her leg had been freed, but nearly so had her consciousness.
Propped up on her arms on the floor, she threw up, and ignoring the new searing sensation in her chest, Kviye crawled forward, dragging her right leg behind her. Although she had known the ship inside and out since she was a child, in her state and with nothing to guide her but touch, she wondered if she would somehow veer dangerously off course in this simple task, and spend her last hours in the engine room instead. As it turned out, reaching the wall was the easy part, and now she had to leverage her body and one good leg to push herself up to the hatch where she kept the emergency kit.
Finally, her fingers found the metal ring of the latch and after a few pulls, the slightly warped panel came open and she slid back down to the floor with the kit, propping herself with her back against the wall and her legs thrown out in the front her. Inside the kit, she felt a hand-cranked flashlight – a useful tool in theory but with her cracked ribs, an agonizingly complicated contraption.
Through gritted teeth she wound the flashlight enough to survey the ship and confirm what her own imagination vividly suspected. The beam of light revealed gutted wires and protruding sinister shards of paneling. The passageway that led to the engine room was blocked by a mangle of metal and Kviye wasn’t even sure if there was any ship left on the other side. Above her, a gash in the cockpit a couple of feet across exposed the silver needles of rain illuminated by the flashlight.
Inside the kit, she found the basics: bandages, painkillers – something she briefly considered but decided she preferred having her mind cloudy with pain instead of drugs – and other basic survival materials including a red flare. She considered the hole in the ceiling and the distance to where she sat and concluded that on a good day it was an easy shot. Only having one crack at it, with perhaps her entire life hanging in the balance, made for less than ideal conditions, but with Valyen’s calls barely reaching Kviye through the wind, the time for second-guessing was quickly running out.
Kviye positioned the flashlight in her lap, pointing up at the roof of her skiff and the narrow window that was her target and held onto the flare with both hands. They were shaking. Beyond her hands, her right leg was bent at a nauseating angle. She finessed her aim trying to keep her breathing slow and steady without forgetting to breathe altogether, a task she failed several times and had to take a deep breath and reorient herself. Finally, she dropped into a steady rhythm, let out the slightest exhale, and released the flare, which, after bouncing off the edge of the hole, hurtled upwards, and went off somewhere outside the ship.
As she lay back against the wall of her skiff, of her mother’s skiff, of the skiff of a hundred generations before her, going back to a people she now knew were intrepid voyagers, she wondered if the calls for her name were getting louder because someone was nearing the ship, or because she was nearing those who had come before her.
The next time Kviye opened her eyes she was floating towards a bright light. The light was pouring out of an open doorway and Kviye thought that there was some poetic beauty in her version of the afterlife being Valyen’s family home. Of course, it had been Valyen’s home in Zhakitrinbur, on the east side of the single continent of the moon of Tanfana, circling a grey gas giant, and the floating sensation she was experiencing was her being carried along, one arm slung over Valyen’s shoulder and the other over the shoulder of Valyen’s uncle. Someone was standing in the doorway, black against the light, and as Kviye drew nearer the dark figure let out a yelp that was a mixture of horror and relief.
As she was rushed into the house, Kviye recognized the person in the door as Valyen’s mother. Kviye tried to tell her that she was okay, but instead produced a sound that seemed to upset the woman even more, a hand coming over her friend’s mother’s mouth.
Valyen’s younger brother Adri had poked his head out of his bedroom door, groggy with sleep and then startled wide awake by the sight of their approach.
“Don’t just stand there catching flies. Go call a doctor,” Valyen ordered him.
Adri said something Kviye didn’t catch and Valyen snapped in response, “I don’t know, I’m not a doctor, that’s why I told you to get one.”
Now they were lowering her onto a bed, her body screaming in relief at the horizontal position and the slight sinking sensation of the mattress. If only she had also been dry. Then, remembering the blood on her leg and not wanting to ruin Valyen’s bedsheets, Kviye tried to rise. A firm shove to her shoulder forced her down, and the admonishment of “Don’t be ridiculous” sent her back into unconsciousness.
Hushed worried tones reached Kviye through a dark veil. They were talking about her, like she wasn’t there, and for all they knew she wasn’t. It was just that her eyes were so heavy, she thought it would be easier lifting the skiff and throwing it back up to the stars than opening them, so instead she listened. Only when Valyen put her face close to hers and shook her did Kviye manage to pry her own eyelids apart.
“Hey,” Valyen said. Her face was smeared with dirt, hair matted down to her face and somewhere during the rescue she got cuts on her forehead and cheek.
“You look terrible,” Kviye wheezed.
“Ha!” Despite the outburst, Kviye could see fresh tears form in Valyen’s eyes. “Good thing we didn’t drag you in front of any mirrors.”
“Me? I’ll be okay.”
“Damn right you are.” Valyen blinked away whatever was in her eye. “The doctor will be back in a couple of hours to set your leg. Other than that, and a couple of cracked ribs, somehow, you’re in one piece.”
Kviye rolled her head back on her pillow to stare up at the ceiling, from which the memory of her mother’s photograph gazed down at her. Somehow indeed, she thought.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Valyen pacing. Her friend had been right and wrong about how Kviye’s voyage would go. Kviye’s breaking the atmosphere with relative ease revealed that the skiffs were meant to head into open space – it was probably where they’d come from in the first place Valyen though was right that in Kviye’s excitement, in her allowing her dreams to block out everything else, Kviye had underestimated what it would take to get there. Valyen knew something like this would happen. Kviye saw it in her face as the skiff took off from outside her garage earlier that day; that her friend had been preparing for this and worse. And now that it came for her, that she lay broken but alive in Valyen’s bed, there didn’t seem to be even an inkling of desire to tell her “I told you so.” Even if Kviye’s own mind now repeated it as a mantra, she knew she’d never have to hear it from Valyen. Even when they’d be old and grey and watching the sun set over the sea, Valyen would never even joke about how that time many years ago Kviye should have listened. And if she did, Kviye would still have agreed; that yes, she should have, and that she should have probably been better at learning from her mistakes. Yet there she now was, feeling with a sense of relief the little black sphere in her pocket, the one that had let her see the stars, and already calculating the ways in which she would be able to return.
“I saw, them, Val. I –”
Either not hearing or pretending not to, Valyen walked up to the bed and interrupted.
“We’ve radioed your father. He said he will get out of Vingu as soon as he can.”
“And the ship?”
“The ship?” Valyen repeated startled, looking away for a moment and then turning back to Kviye. “There’s only spare parts and scrap metal left, Kvee. There’s no ‘ship’ anymore.”
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.