Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
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Kviye led Samir through a few deserted streets to the boardwalk. Here, some of the stores were still open, spilling their lights, smells and sounds onto the street. Kviye didn’t know where to start her question and Samir seemed to be in no rush to have her get on with it. He walked slowly, hands in his pockets, turning his head this way and that and taking in his surroundings. He studied the ships that docked for the night, some darkened, others with their cabin lights aglow, and others where the fishers still worked to set everything in order, barking terminology at each other that Kviye had never become familiar with. At a florist, Samir stopped to admire their fresh-cut selection – yellow morning dragons and green opaleyes. She supposed if there was anything that was unique to a place it was its flora and fauna, and wondered if he would be amused by the grazing beasts of their plateaus, creatures she hardly ever thought about.
They passed an establishment that would be open well into the late hours, music and laughter flowing freely from within. Samir peered through its windows with particular interest, as if noting its location for future reference.
“I like your town.” Samir said, craning his neck one last time at the pub, “It reminds me a bit of where I grew up – quiet and isolated.”
“Not as isolated as this I imagine.”
He laughed. “No, not quite. But there’s fewer and fewer places like that in the Known Reaches. ‘Civilization’, as they call it. There’s no stopping it.”
Kviye turned from the boardwalk, and led them to the end of an empty pier.
“I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around how many of us there are out there.” Kviye said, taking a seat at the edge of the pier and staring straight ahead at the stars shimmering over the water.
“I know we don’t get starships passing through here often, but no one’s ever mentioned having encountered Humans before.”
Samir took a seat next to her, stretching his legs out over the dark water that reflected the light from the gas giant.
“That’s not surprising. Our kind is pretty new to this, so we haven’t really spread all that wide from our little far-flung corner of space.”
“What do you mean by ‘new’?”
“Well, other species claim they’ve been travelling the stars for thousands of years, but I think we left Earth only about two hundred years ago.”
Earth. That word sounded almost divine, like an ancient mother goddess who had resided nameless in the heavens but now descended, tangible and named.
“Earth,” Kviye whispered, just to hear it again. “You said something earlier about a Great Fire?”
She assumed maybe he was lost in the stars as much as she was because the question seemed to startle him.
“What? Oh, right. They say we’d been to the stars before, a long time ago, but then there was a great fire, and we nearly destroyed our planet and ourselves. It took us thousands of years to get back to where we used to be. That’s what I was talking about before. We started exploring again and sometimes we’d find old colonies of Humans who survived all this time in isolation. I used to read stories like that as a kid, you know – somebody finding a lost tribe of Humans who went back to their primitive wild ways.”
“We’re only a little bit primitive.”
He laughed again at that, a thing that came out of his mouth freely and breezily, and turned to look at her, though her eyes were only for the stars.
“You wanted to ask me about something specific, didn’t you?” He asked.
She did. But she was also treading on the possibility of hope being dashed and it was difficult to cross the threshold.
“Have you ever heard of something called ‘the grey’”? She asked.
“Uh, you mean like the colour?”
“No, no.” The words came dry from her mouth. “It’s a disease that effects our people.”
She could feel him tense up next to her, make the slightest move to put some distance between them.
“Sorry, no, it’s nothing like that,” she said. “It’s not contagious, in that sense, but it has been killing my people more and more recently. Our loved ones waste away before our eyes as their skin turns grey, and then they’re gone. Does that sound familiar to you?”
He seemed to relax, but there was a new note of sheepishness in his voice. “Can’t say that it does. But I’m no expert in medicines. All I know is that there’s all kinds of doctors out there, Human and alien, and they can work all sorts of miracles you and I wouldn’t understand.”
Kviye could see it clearly enough – walking into a hospital on this “Earth” and describing the symptoms to a doctor who, after laughing about the simplicity of these savages, hands her a small vile of salvation which she then delivers to her people across the stars.
“You want to be out there, don’t you?”
“What’s that?” She asked, crossing lightyears to come back from her daydream.
“You have that look. I’ve seen enough friends in the months before they jump on some random passing freighter to recognize it. I probably had the same one leading up to grabbing that job on Nkagan. So what about you? Dreaming of getting off this rock?”
She made a dismissive sound that somewhat resembled laughter. “You know, I dreamt about it all my life. To get out there and find others like us. But now it all just seems too big.”
“That it is. No matter how much you think you understand, you really don’t get it until you’re out there – how endless it is. But that’s the best part, because nothing beats that kind of freedom. I thought I had it when I moved to Nkagan, but on the Oshken, it’s something else. You should join us.”
“What?” She asked, startled at her own thoughts being projected onto his words.
“I’m serious. We’re a little shorthanded and I’ve seen you on the ship today, you seem to know your way around the mechanical stuff.”
“Me? No. I’ve only really ever worked on one ship, and it went to space once. Valyen’s the real mechanic.”
“The pale one? Sure, there’s room for her too.”
Kviye burst out laughing and had to stop herself after seeing Samir’s quizzical look. “Sorry, the thought of Val on a starship is just …”
“Well think about,” he said, that crooked smile returning to his face. “You’ve got a few days.”
“I will,” she said. “I will definitely think about it.”
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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.