Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Yarmar told him told to sleep; told him that he wasn’t doing anyone any favours by dwelling on the ship that was floating silently above him. Hilosh knew she was right and even went so far as to listen to her. He would close the curtains in his office, crawl into the recessed cot underneath the overhanging shelf, roll up into three layers of blankets to keep the cold out, and stay awake for hours, thinking of nothing but the Raire.
The Anthar Kai supply vessel had sent out no more communications since the last transmission that consisted of mostly a lone voice repeating “Why am I?” in Native Thorian before cutting out. The ship arrived on schedule a day later and its automated systems allowed it to dock with the transfer station orbiting the inhospitable rock that was home to their mining operation and the almost sixty crew that worked there. It had now been there five days, without a single sign of life coming from the ship.
The mining crew knew that something was wrong when the deadline towards which they were pushing had come and gone and there was no word on how well they did against their quotas. What was worse, five days later there was still no word on food rations or increasing the temperature in the barracks, and their dinners were now a far cry from the breakfast that had fueled their labour spree a week earlier. That night, they had to bunk two to a bed to use body heat to fight against the further reduction in heat.
Yarmar estimated that they could last another month, maybe even two if they stretched a handful of the crew past their breaking point. Hilosh was not a fan of her grim math, which she simply dismissed as realistic. Unfortunately, what could not be factored into her math, realistic or otherwise, was the arrival of the next supply ship, as none had declared their mining world on their scheduled route yet.
On the second day after the Raire’s docking with the transfer station, Hilosh, Yarmar and Charosar took the shuttle up to get a closer look at the supply ship. It was a typical long-haul freighter – a great bulbous body attached to a smaller command centre at the front, all properly docked at the transfer station with no visible signs of damage or anything out of the ordinary.
When the three Vaparozh docked with the station, they discovered it empty, the path to the Anthar Kai ship never having been opened. They banged on the doors of the Raire and heard no response back; tried to beam a message directly with a personal tablet and were met with similar silence. For a moment, Hilosh did think that he heard something, a distant scratching sound, though after a while the other two decided it was likely an auditory hallucination brought on by wishful thinking and they called it a day. Walking back to the shuttle, through the fruits of their labour stacked high and ready to load onto the supply ship that would have delivered the product a step closer to its final destination, they dragged their feet as if carrying the silence like sackfuls of ore.
The trip was not entirely a waste. As the shuttle descended towards the silvery cloud cover, Hilosh craned his neck to see the light of the sun one last time. It may have been a dim affair, this being the fourth planet in the system, but it was starlight after all.
They didn’t speak the whole flight back, even as the shuttle landed on the platform adjacent to the mining operation, as if the deathly silence from the Raire had wormed its way into their own heads and they brought it down to the surface. There was a tunnel that led straight from the landing pad to the barracks, one that docked against the shuttle’s exit ramp, to allow for passage without the need to put on atmospheric gear. Hilosh and Yarmar let Charosar go ahead of them and hung back at the shuttle.
“She’s going to talk the moment she gets back,” Yarmar said as she stood leaning with an arm against the door of the shuttle, watching Charosar disappear down the passageway.
“I don’t doubt it,” Hilosh answered and reached with both hands behind his head to massage the mass of flesh that rested there. “They’re going to want to know what happened to the ship.”
“And we know about as much as they do. So what are we going to say to them?”
“What can we say?” Hilosh walked by Yarmar down the ramp and the co-supervisor followed behind.
“We tell them to keep working,” Yarmar suggested and Hilosh glanced over his shoulder at her. “There’s plenty of storage space left on the transfer station, and another ship will be by at some point. That way we can be ready and keep them occupied enough to keep their mind off things.”
“It might be another month before the next supply ship gets here. How will we feed the crew if we keep them working?”
“I’m sure whatever we can salvage from the Raire will be more than enough.”
Hilosh stopped, his hand frozen midway through setting the shuttle ramp to close up again, and stared at his co-supervisor. There were all sorts of death wishes rolled into this scenario, but the one that came to him most prominently had a Thorian face on it.
“Yarmar, it’s bad enough we already have a dead Anthar Kai ship docked overhead that we can’t account for. Now you want to break into it as well? That’s how you get the Shoaman Kai here before we can even blink twice.”
“Good,” she said, her voice even, “Maybe they’ll also bring supplies.”
Hilosh wanted nothing to do with the Raire. If it was up to him, he’d have the transfer station undock itself and give the Anthar Kai vessel a good shove towards the star, then pretend it was never here. In the end, he struck a compromise with Yarmar. They would have the crew work half shifts for five days, and if at the end of that time nothing had changed with the Raire, and the next supply ship wasn’t yet scheduled to arrive within an acceptable time frame, they were going to board the ship.
And now that day had come.
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.