Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
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The preparations for their return trip to the Raire passed with little fanfare and involved the same three individuals that had gone up to check on the transfer station earlier – Hilosh, Yarmar and Charosar – to match the number of environmental suits available on the shuttle. As for the rest of the crew, the departure time was chosen to coincide with when they’d already be retiring to their barracks, unaware of the shuttle’s liftoff, Yarmar and Hilosh figuring that no hopes can be dashed if they weren’t made to begin with.
The only thing that was truly different about this flight versus the one five days prior was the neural devastator gun they brought with them and whose presence was so heavy that it sat like a fourth passenger between Hilosh and Charosar on their ascent, as Yarmar had the controls of the shuttle.
“Have you ever used one of these things?” Hilosh asked, deciding to break the silence since the neural devastator didn’t seem to be interested in doing it.
“No,” Charosar answered, her hands clasped at her lap and eyes fixed intently on the weapon, “Been too close to one when it was though.” She leaned in and looked up at Hilosh. “On Rosha Chot’hagh.”
“Oh,” Hilosh straightened up, his hands stiff at his sides. “You were there when –”
“When the Shoaman Kai moved in? Yeah. Five hundred years we’ve had it, as far back as the Exodus. I’d grown up on neighbouring Dayuna, where my family moved from the homeworld around that same time.”
“Mine too, moved early in the Exodus far too close to Thorian space.”
“Tell me about it. We on Dayuna used Rosha Chot’hagh as a supply world all that time. So many of my family worked there over the centuries. Funny how you always think that whatever was there when you were born seems eternal. An easy assumption to make about something that’d been around for half a millennium. Especially since even though we’d officially become part of the Empire after the Last Gasp, they didn’t seem all that interested in us.”
“So what suddenly happened?” Hilosh asked. He’d been stationed on Rosha Chot’hagh early in his career, still had some former colleagues on there when it all went down.
“Who knows with Thorians?” Charosar said and let out a joyless chuckle. “Someone somewhere decided there needed to be more of them. We were just unlucky. Anthar Kai started shipping them onto Dayuna in droves. In one of her letters, my mom said that half her street had been relocated and replaced with them. Our new co-supervisors were both Thorian-educated Vaparozh who chose not to tell us that most of our shipments were now being directed to the Anthar Kai network instead of Dayuna and other nearby systems. They knew damn well we wouldn’t work as hard if we were feeding those bumpy headed sleaze balls, but we found out anyway, and acted accordingly.”
Hilosh wanted to say something but found his throat tight. He’d heard the rumours; it was only ever rumours when it came to the Shoaman Kai, the military enforcement branch of the Anthar Kai, the Thorian corporation that was responsible for running the fringes of its Empire.
“Our cowardly co-supervisors called it in. Couldn’t have been the Thorians since they prefer not to get their hands dirty when they can and didn’t actually have boots on the ground at the time. We were sitting one morning in the mess hall – the early crowd – when we see a flash outside the window. They targeted one of the workers’ barracks, disintegrated it right from orbit. A moment later the shockwave hit us, knocking out some windows and sending us into a panic. They’d already landed a battalion by that point, so when we rushed out of the dining hall, they yelled for us to stop, gave us no time to react, and fired. I was right in that second wave who would have been next if we hadn’t frozen in our tracks. I remember them reading us our rights, but hearing nothing, just watching the breath of the person lying under my feet. Their back rose and fell, and rose and fell, and never rose again, a slight twitch in their leg from their central nervous system disintegrating. Only other thing I remember is the smell. Not of blood or anything, these things don’t make you bleed, but they have their own smell. Smell of electrified evil.”
Her eyes drifted back to the weapon, and Hilosh’s followed hers and rested on the top of the gun, where underneath a plastic safety cover was the trigger, seeming to weigh more heavily than the whole gun itself.
“We’d been told we’re no longer at-will labourers, and that we were working fully in service to the Anthar Kai and its customers and shareholders, and given that the Vaparozh colonies out there were included as its customers, they assured us that we still technically worked for our own people. Only consolation was that there were now Thorians stuck there with us, though they were sure to remind us of their displeasure at this as often as possible. Those of us who were there at the beginning, fifteen years they kept us on Rosha Chot’hagh until the contracts we never actually signed supposedly expired. Still, despite all of that, I was mostly angry for the ones we lost on that first day. Just like that. Not even a chance to surrender, to weigh your options, to chose life or death. Just blinked out of existence. The ones that were left felt like we owed it to them to survive because we were at least given the opportunity to do so. For those of us who did make it to the end, the stipend that they gave us was barely enough to get to Dayuna and most had settled down on Rosha Chot’hagh by then, built a new town from scratch. Not me, I just wanted to get off. My mom though by then had moved as far away from the Thorians as she could – to the borders of Dead Space on a mostly Iastret colony. So I figured if I took this job, I could get a free ride to be closer, then make some proper Vaparozh money and move back in with her.”
“That sounds like a good plan.” What else was there to say? How did people generally know what to say in these situations, how many little noises of disbelief and sympathy did Hilosh need to make to sound caring, how many before he sounded disinterested?
“Well, dying here because an Anthar Kai ship’s life support failed wasn’t part of the plan. Hey,” Charosar put on a smile that seemed to Hilosh to be entirely too wide, “Looks like they managed to get me in the end.”
“We’re going to be docking in a few,” Yarmar called from the controls, the first sound that came from her since Charosar started speaking. They were practically in the same space, the cockpit separated from the seating area by a thin partition with a single door that remained open. How much did she hear, or was she simply too focused on her piloting to respond? “Once we get there, I think maybe I should handle the devastator.”
“Why?” Charosar asked, finally returning to her regular laid-back seating position that vaguely projected some kind of attitude. “You think I might blast whoever’s on that ship just for being Anthar Kai?”
“No, it’s because it seems like I’m the only one’s who’s actually fired a neural devastator before.”
“Of course you have.” The annoyance in Hilosh’s voice surprised even himself. “Did you by any chance learn to use it in the same place you learned Native Thorian?”
“I spent a few years in security work before being assigned here.” Hilosh appreciated Yarmar ignoring his outburst but nevertheless noted that she didn’t answer his question.
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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.