Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
At the sound of the metal clang ringing through the cargo hold of the Raire, the speaker in Hilosh helmet picked up Charosar’s groan.
“And now we need to go in there,” Yarmar said, ignoring the sentiment.
“Why? Why do we ‘need’ to go in there?” Charosar demanded, voice rising.
“Because there could be someone alive out there.”
“Yes, someone Thorian.”
They let Charosar stew for a minute, the heavy exhales whistling through their earpieces.
“I don’t like this any more than you do, Charosar,” Hilosh said, “but Yarmar is right. If there’s still anyone alive in there we need to help them.” As if to sound its agreement with what Hilosh was saying, the faint metallic clang rang again from the direction of the door leading out of the cargo hold. Charosar turned her head slightly towards it. Hilosh may not have not known much about people, but what he did know was that if this had involved anyone but the Thorians, Charosar would have been the first one prying those doors open even in the absence of any signs of life from the other side. Personally, he considered himself lucky to have had few interactions with them outside of Anthar Kai supply runs, yet it was enough to help him at least understand Charosar’s sentiment, though not necessarily agree with it.
“Alright,” Charosar said finally. “You better have a good grip on that thing, Yarmar.” She nodded in the direction of the neural devastator gun in Yarmar’s hands.
“Don’t worry about me, Cha,” Yarmar assured and led them away from the fallen Thorian. Just as they were about to round the corner, Hilosh took one last look at the body, a shadow amongst shadows. Whatever happened to them, it was a lonely death.
The door leading out of the cargo hold also gave way to the transfer station’s safety protocols and soon the three Vaparozh were in the Raire’s main corridors, no less gloomy than where they came from.
“Would it kill them to install a brightness switch or something?” Charosar grumbled, even though the glasses she was wearing allowed her to be the only one of the three to have the ability to see half-decently in that light. For most species, this level of illumination resembled twilight on the planet they’d evolved on. For the Vaparozh, however, with their eyes were built for the bright sun of their own homeworld, this environment posed a particular challenge. The Thorians had a tendency to make themselves at home anywhere they went, even if they only comprised a miniscule minority of the population of the planet or moon they were occupying. So despite the fact that most of them had small surgical implants in the bridge of their noses to attach the darkened glasses they carried off-world to protect themselves from brighter suns, they made sure most interior environments were catered to their sensibilities. It was this exact environment on Rosha Chot’hagh that destroyed Charosar’s eyesight to the point where she had to wear the ocular enhancing glasses that now made her the unspoken volunteer to lead them through the Raire. Yarmar was a half-step behind her with her finger a hair from the trigger of the neural devastator, and Hilosh was at the rear.
Their progress was slow, in large part due to none of them having the appetite for suddenly coming face-to-face with another gruesome sight. They walked cautiously, studying every door and dim corner for any signs of the corpse’s fellow crewmembers, and when they finally found one, it presented itself matter-of-factly, in a take-it-or-leave-it way, just sitting on the wall, at waist level, without commentary, as if they had to simply accept it, and move on about their day. It was a smear of blood, about the width of a palm and twice as long, dried on the corridor wall. They stared at it in silence, Hilosh not even bothering to imagine what the other two were thinking. The body they’d found in the cargo hold, though a body it was, had just been lying there as if to make a simple statement – here is a dead body. This smear, even though it lacked a corresponding body, represented evidence of violence. Gone was any hope that this was an environmental system malfunction that righted itself too late. This was tangible evidence that they’d hardly even scratched the surface of what happened on board the Raire.
As Hilosh grimly suspected, it was a sign of what was to come, as up ahead they found the continued blood trail – drops that here and there formed into dried pools, some of them streaked across the floor. Hilosh believed in his crew more than he believed in himself. He wanted to suggest they turn back, that they’d seen enough, that another Anthar Kai ship would come along to investigate, that the clanging sound that drew them in was probably some persistent mechanical malfunction. It would take some time but he could convince himself that it was alright to change his mind, to turn back knowing that fifteen minutes earlier he thought investigating was the right thing to do. The other two, even Charosar despite herself, would not likely be so easily persuaded. Hilosh was thankful to them for not hesitating and, like any good leader, he knew when to follow.
They’d followed the trail of blood up two levels, to the deck where the bridge was likely located, but there it disappeared abruptly, and they hadn’t heard the metallic clang for so long that they suspected it might have stopped altogether.
After a minute of standing motionless listening to the ship, it was Charosar who asked, “Should we turn back? This is a ghost ship if there ever was one.”
“A supply ship like this wouldn’t have had that much crew to begin with, so it’s not a surprise we haven’t seen anyone,” Yarmar replied, conveniently glossing over the one crewmember that they had seen. “We should at least check out the bridge, and then we can go.”
They both turned to face Hilosh – a decision like this required both co-supervisors to be on board – and he wasn’t about to be the one who chose to run.
“I think it makes sense to check as far as the bridge. Then we can head back to the surface so we can think about putting together a proper salvage run.” He added that last part for his own benefit, because it made him feel that much closer to being off the ship.
He wondered what his son, Rachek, would think of his father then. Rachek had a penchant for opinions lately – they burst out of him with a destructive force that leveled everything in their path. What would Rachek make of his father’s fear; his reluctance in the face of the unknown? He’d probably say something like “this is why we lost” – something weighty that meant a lot to Rachek, but left Hilosh feeling mostly empty, like the Thorians had built a wall between him and his son.
They never did make it to the bridge.
Up ahead of them stood the door to the comms room, the source of that initial call that Viri played for them back at the mining facility, and it was only partially closed, because blocking its way was an arm. Presumably, Hilosh thought, the arm would be attached to a body still inside the room, though he wasn’t sure if he preferred that to the arm being disembodied. Perhaps if they never went in, and he didn’t have to find out for sure, he could go on pretending there was nothing beyond the door at all.
Yarmar, though, moved forward with determination.
“What –” Charosar managed to start but against his instincts Hilosh walked past her after Yarmar and Charosar had to join them.
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.