Summer is upon us and I am no longer an intern! Slowly but surely things are starting to get polished up and put together for Forsaken Lands 2. To keep the new words flowing, I have been working on a short story featuring a new character named Dmiri – I thought I’d share a clip from the rough draft in the absence of inspiration to blog anything else recently. I hope you like him as much as I do. 😉
I’m not a nervous person – at least, that’s what I tell myself. I’ve been a part of the Celet military since I was eight years old – 24 years. Absent gods, does that make me feel old.
I pride myself on being calm and well-conducted under pressure, but with the way I was wearing a four-finger dent in my desk with my incessant rap, rap, rap on the wood, any bystander would assume I was plagued with the mental disease. I was starting to wonder that about myself. Perhaps I misjudged my vices all these years.
I was grateful when there was a knock at the door to my quarters. I laced my fingers together in the hope that they would calm themselves. “Come in,” I called.
The door clicked open to reveal my visitor, Second Eling-Mai Nyugen. Fully clad in the Celet officer blues with her dark hair pulled back in a severe-looking bun, Mai was totally within aesthetic regulations. Her pistolet hung at her side practically halfway down her leg – though Mai was small even among the Celet people, she carried with her an imposing presence. Her thin fingers rested on the grip of her weapon, a sure sign of her own apprehension. She had nothing to fear inside this room; it was what waited for us outside on the previously-unknown outpost called ‘Zhyra’ which set her nerves on edge.
True to protocol, Mai closed the door and stood just beyond its threshold, waiting for my instructions.
I waved at her inelegantly. “I think we’re well beyond rules by now, don’t you?”
Mai’s shoulders remained stiff and strong when she approached my desk and sat down. I imagined I looked a wreck in my rumpled two-day-old uniform with sleeves pulled up over my elbows. I hadn’t properly slept in as much time, of course. The mess of classified documents I’d managed to procure from one of the shipments we dropped off two weeks ago were sprawled out in front of me, marked up by my own hand so haphazardly that even I couldn’t read it.
Mai’s sharp eyes took all of it in with one sweep. Her cheek twitched.
“The watchers are reporting land,” she told me. “We’ll be there by sundown, unless you’d like to postpone.”
“Is that what you want to do? Postpone?”
“I…” Mai trailed off uncharacteristically. She shook her head. “I just thought I should ask before we proceed.”
I couldn’t fight the smile. I tried to straighten up, pulling the wrinkles out of my uniform jacket. “This is still a voluntary mission. You can still go belowdeck. I will happily call you my prisoner.”
I might have been hallucinating, but I thought I saw her fight off a smile. Instead she just blinked. “And you can still turn this ship around.”
Non-answer. “Mai, I’m asking you as your friend – are you sure you want to go down for this?”
“If I wanted to abandon the Resolute I would have jumped off at Tayk like everyone else,” she caught herself just in time, “sir.”
“In as many years as we’ve known each other you still can’t call me Dmiri,” I mused. Ever since we’d graduated from the academy together she used my rank or title when speaking to me. I supposed that was partly my fault for keeping people at a comfortable distance. My reputation amongst the fleet was a good one – I was trusted, even liked by most, yet I could count on one hand the number of people who might really know me.
Mai would be one of those people. She knew me all too well. She pressed her lips together – clearly my attempts at distraction were not appreciated.
“Dmiri,” her voice lowered, the use of my name so surprising that I jumped and hit my knee against my desk. She acted as if she didn’t notice. “Are you sure you want to go down for this?”
I couldn’t hold her gaze; instead I rested my eyes on the papers. The sting of fatigue jabbed me with each blink. She asked a question I’d been asking myself constantly since I saw that cage.
I swallowed. Damn and hell, this anxiety issue would kill me. I tried to grin. “They cannot court martial a legend.”
Mai replied with a grunt of disapproval. “Not all of us are legends.”
“They will be reasonable,” I told her, and impressed myself with how confident I sounded. It was a skill I’d had since I was too young – I could convince and charm people by making them think I knew what I was doing. What I’d learned by practicing this skill was that I was not the only one pretending; in reality, no one knows that they are right. Leadership is a costume, nothing more. “We’re just asking questions.”
Mai, of course, knew this secret too. Her dark eyes sparkled silent understanding. “You should change,” she remarked, standing and folding her arms behind her back. “I will bring us in.”
She half-bowed to me, as was custom, and turned to leave. “Mai?” my voice crackled. I would need to exorcise my uncertainty before I showed my face to the rest of the crew, let alone to my adversaries.
Mai looked at me over one shoulder. “Yes, Dmiri?” her own voice was soft.
The silence between us felt warm, if just for that moment.
“Captain,” she said curtly, then disappeared beyond the door.
Friendly interactions over. Time to get back to business. When I stood my muscles ached, and not with good reason – they ached from sitting, keeping my spine jammed vertical in a chair for much too long. I traced a finger along one piece of paper, despairing at how little my work had won me.
Codewords and cooked numbers. The ledgers were full of shipments marked as if they were simple supplies – food, water, containers, bandages. Deep in the paperwork was much darker stuff: thousands of bullets, hundreds of weapons, and medical equipment I wasn’t qualified to judge. Jamming devices – a few dozen of them – more than the entire continent had produced in a decade. The military hadn’t employed jamming devices since the Rice-Wheat Uprising nearly fifty years ago.
Goods befitting a peaceful mission of resource-gathering they were not.
I strode across the room, fussing with the buttons on my jacket. One of them popped off, clattering on the floor. I didn’t bother to hunt after it. The jacket, undershirt, and pants hit the deck just before I reached my bathing suite.
A cool shower would focus my mind. The light clicked on in the cramped space, and I was greeted with my reflection, inescapable from the position of the showerhead.
I could deceive myself into believing I was less vain than the masses, but this would be folly. For all I felt like a jaded old man, I was still young, particularly for my position. The bits of gray peeking out from my slightly-too-long-for-regulations black hair were my penance. I was the youngest captain of a Class 1 naval vessel in Celet history, a journey requiring a level of physical training and academic rigor which most people would find unreasonable. I could have saved the stress and accepted the usual course in life, and I would have arrived in the very same position just five years in the future. No one would have been disappointed.
No one, that is, except me.
I turned the knobs, tensing when the frigid water coursed over my forehead, my chest, my back, a procession of shivers jolting me from my anxious fog. Ideas of what would or would not happen when I set foot on the Zhyra outpost fled from me. Speculation wasted energy, anyway.
For all I would tell anyone who asked otherwise, I still wished I could have achieved what I did without inviting the gray in my hair.