Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
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The pace of their exit from the Raire was determined, boots ringing hollowly in the corridors as they made their otherwise silent way back to the cargo hold. They were almost out, Hilosh already daydreaming of removing his helmet and taking a refreshing breath of the recycled air inside the shuttle, when the clang, long silenced until then, rung out in their ears through the wall they were passing.
The three Vaparozh stood in a tense triangle until Yarmar, one hand firmly on the neural devastator, placed her other hand on the wall. It didn’t take long for the sound to ring again and for her to conclude, “It’s coming from inside.”
Charosar took a step back examining a low-security door with a simple metal handle. “What is this place?”
“The galley,” Yarmar answered approaching the door, but looking at Hilosh before she made a move to go inside.
“Open it,” Hilosh heard himself say from somewhere very far away, as far away as their little colony world on the fringes of Thorian space, with his son Rachek at his side, his wife and daughter dining in the adjacent room, and he wasn’t asking Yarmar to open the Raire’s galley door but rather telling Rachek that he should go to a Thorian University if he wanted a brighter future than his own people could offer him.
“Charosar?” Hilosh prompted.
He’d tell himself later than it made perfect sense – Yarmar’s hands were occupied holding the neural devastator gun, and as for Hilosh, Hilosh was a co-supervisor, which, he supposed, left him with certain responsibilities, and in this case those responsibilities meant that he also had to hang back. So, by an impartial process of elimination, it had to be Charosar to open the door and head in first. Why did it feel like these decisions were what defined one as a person, small spur-of-the-moment choices that eclipsed anything else one might have done? Charosar though, despite that brief look in her eyes that asked him the same questions he asked of himself, faced the door, pulled the handle and gave it just enough of a push for it to open all the way.
Charosar stepped inside first – again because of various reason that would be later washed out of his memory – and led them into a room that was completely ransacked. Some chairs had been strewn about haphazardly while others were piled into a heap at one end of the room. Containers of food, some opened, others not, lay about the floor, which in places was covered in spills of various hues. There were, to Hilosh’s relief, no bodies in sight, which gave his mind enough space to feel discomfort at finding itself in a place where males and females ate together. To further drive this point home, there was a single ring-shaped table in the room, large enough to accommodate the whole crew, and the one thing bolted down to the floor and not out of place.
Something shifted behind the pile of chairs and Yarmar raised her gun in that direction. Hilosh’s throat seized up but Yarmar seemed to have the right word for the occasion. “Sakhshi?”
Another Native Thorian word, but at least he recognized its counterpart “Sakashi”, the Trade Thorian word for “hello”.
There was no answer.
“Sakhshi?” Yarmar repeated, and this tame there was an unmistakable questioning grunt from the far side of the galley.
“Laitir thosh? Kashikti nishi. Kashikti ifri.”
This one was a bit trickier for Hilosh, but he recognized “nishi” and “ifiri” – the words for “friend” and “help”, which gave him a good indication of Yarmar’s chosen approach.
This time though, the lone occupant of the galley, a Thorian male, emerged from behind his hiding spot. Something was terribly wrong with him.
It wasn’t just that the only thing that remained of his Anthar Kai uniform was his jacket, or that his hair was wild and matted with sweat, but that his eyes, open wide and rapidly darting between the three of them, looked to be infected with a deep confusion. His posture too, was not properly upright, and slouched slightly as if poised to strike whether in offence or defence.
“Something’s not right here,” came Charosar’s voice through Hilosh’s earpiece, a slight quiver in there that Hilosh had never heard before.
“Hold on a second,” Yarmar said, slowly approaching what appeared to be the last survivor of the Raire.
“Taraktir elai? Taraktir shakesh?”
The Thorian cocked his head to the side, the confusion, or fear, or whatever it was, growing in intensity in his eyes, as if he understood of what was said even less than Hilosh did, who only picked up “shakeshe” the Trade Thorian word for “hurt”. He assumed that Yarmar meant to say that they weren’t going to hurt him. The neural devastator held tightly in Yarmar’s hands would have indicated otherwise, though the Thorian seemed to pay no mind to it and only focused intently on Yarmar’s eyes. And that’s when Hilosh realized to his horror that the Raire crewmember had no idea what the weapon was.
“We should go,” Hilosh said with no reservations about the urgency in his voice.
“It’ll be okay,” Yarmar said. Was this directed more at Hilosh or the Thorian? It didn’t matter, because regardless the assertion had been wrong. In the next moment, the Thorian lunged forwarded with an incoherent growl, pushing past Yarmar and heading straight for Charosar, knocking her to the floor and falling on top of her, and proceeded to beat down on her with fists and forearms. Hilosh lunged to try to get the deranged Thorian off her, stopped only by Yarmar’s firm command of “Move!” His fellow co-supervisor was holding up the neural devastator and aiming it in the general direction of Charosar and the Thorian, steadying herself for the shot. Charosar was trying to catch the Thorian’s arms with her hands as they smashed against her helmet and chest, the terrible mix of bangs and Charosar’s grunts heavy in Hilosh’s ear. He wanted Yarmar to hurry up and take the shot, but also feared that Charosar might be caught in the crossfire.
A greenish-yellow starburst escaped the muzzle of the devastator and flew halfway across the galley before absorbing itself completely into the Thorian’s back. His curt gasp was immediately followed by silence and the full weight of him dropping on top of Charosar.
“Get this rotten – ugh – off me,” Charosar wheezed and Hilosh helped drag the dead Thorian onto the floor.
“Are you alright?” He asked, offering a hand to get her off the floor.
“Can’t say I am.”
“Cha, I’m so sorry, he –”
“Forget it,” Charosar stopped Yarmar with a slight wave, “I just need to get off this ship or I swear to the green divinities I will personally set charges to blow it to dust.”
No one spoke a word until the Raire was sealed and their shuttle had left the transfer station into the blackness of space. Charosar carried herself well, considering Hilosh would later learn that she had four broken and three cracked ribs, one of which had cut, but thankfully not punctured, her middle lung. They told Ladis, their designated medic, that a loose crate had fallen on her, which probably wouldn’t have fooled a real doctor but was good enough for Ladis.
If the crew hadn’t yet been suspicious about what happened up on the Raire, then Charosar’s stay at the infirmary and Hilosh’s absence during dinner the following day would have certainly set them over the edge. He knew his people needed him to pull himself together, but Hilosh was coming undone.
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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.