It was the same story as always. In between planets and galaxies, Silver always managed to find himself sitting in some run down pub, drinking what was guaranteed to be well out of date ale and casually eyeing the other ruffians that just happened to be his company that evening.
This particular night, however, there was an unusual murmur going around the pub. Apparently something big had happened somewhere, and it had a lot of the patrons buzzing excitedly. Many of them held newspapers, all from different planets and some in languages that Silver didn't even recognize (from what his mechanical eye could see). The story was always the same though: A military spacing ship had gone down somewhere. Half of the crew was missing, a few were captured by enemy armadas (or so the rumors said), and a small quarter of them had actually been properly rescued. On the face of it all, there had been a back draft from a nearby nebula which had utterly destroyed the boat. The crew members that were missing had been presumed for the most part dead, and those who were injured were not expected to survive. Wind burns, solar burns, and poisoning from adjoining toxic gas clouds had left most of them in lamentable conditions. The ship itself had disintegrated within a few hours, and by the time the first rescue boat had arrived to the spacers' aide there was very little to be found of it at all. The crew and passengers that were fortunate enough to have been found had already been drifting like dead weights through space for hours, and it had been declared by leading medical experts that they were, at this point, better off dead. As for those who were missing, search parties would be initiated, but it was clear that they expected to come up empty handed.
This, just from listening in on the conversations of other clientele at the pub, was what Silver had learned within the last hour. He did not ask questions, and in truth did not even think about it much. Ships went down all the time in space. It was one of the many dangers of the trade. The Legacy itself, the last ship Silver had ever served on, had had its own near fall outs as well. One from a black hole, and another from an exploding planet. Both of which they had barely escaped with their lives, and would not have done so were it not for the spectacular efforts of one teenage boy. Silver was suddenly forced to conceal a smile at the thought of the young Jim Hawkins, who had just a few weeks ago come home from his second year at the Interstellar Academy. Silver had received a letter upon Jim's arrival home asking whether or not he could expect another visit from his old spacer friend anytime soon. He had yet to reply, but had high hopes that he would not have to let Jim down. Truthfully, Silver himself had been long awaiting the day in which he could return to the comfort of the Benbow Inn (he had visited once the previous summer) where Sarah would cook her fine meals and Jim would share with him the many great tales that oft came from going to the very prestigious Interstellar Academy, where, as the school often bragged, the galaxies finest spacers had been educated. Of course, now that Jim was enrolled (and doing well, he was proud to say) Silver could agree finely on that note.
He took another swig of his ale as two motley alienoids took a seat at his side. He paid them no attention, and was hardly surprised to hear that they too were discussing, with great fervor, the incident which had suddenly been entitled the military's greatest tragedy. Or plunder.
"Three hundred, all together," commented the tallest of the two alienoids. He had three sets of eyes embedded in a high skill, with a mouth and nose that reminded Silver instantly of a snake. Fangs pricked the foreground of his mouth, giving the sickly sensation of vampirism to any who caught a first glance. His voice, however, was as normal as they came, and he seemed for the most part unconcerned about his appearances, regardless of how disturbing they were. His partner, however, was as short as he was tall, and as round as Silver. He, however, had only one glowing eye and no teeth. Instead, his tongue slivered in and out through the empty void that was filled only by his gums. The very tip of it opened into it's own mouth, through which the spacer guzzled a very fine mixture of mead and hard liquor.
"You don't say," said the fat alien. His voice was heavily accented, and held the slightest air of an aristocrat. Needless to say, this didn't really seem like his place. "Three hundred all together. eh?"
"Well, not dead," retorted the tall omni-sighted alien. "On the ship as a whole I mean. There's about two hundred plus crew and passengers missing. It's unlikely they'll find them of course." He flung his hands forward and made a great 'whooshing' sound as though to imitate the effects of a gaseous nebula cloud. His friend laughed.
"Yeah, same goes for those sailors I'm sure!"
They both shared a hearty cackle at that one.
"And of course, about fifty survivors over all," the tall alien continued. "Found 'em floating around in space. Some of their skin burned clear off parts of their body. Others just kind of had it hanging off 'em. Others got it worse though." He leaned in closer to relay more grotesque details about injuries. Silver was appreciative that the man had taken into account the fact that some people were trying to digest half-way decent food and ale.
"'Orrible!" the fat alien gasped. He paused for a moment, knocking the edges of his glass mug about on the counter. He was plainly in deep thought. "I can't help but feel bad for them."
"Yeah," agreed the other. He cast his gaze down almost guiltily, peering into his own mug and sneering. "Of course most people aren't happy about it."
The small alien looked incredulous. "Why's that?"
"Cause a lot of the crew were kids."
"What? Why in the blazes would they have kids as crew?"
"From the Academy of course!" said the tall alien very matter-of-factly. "Every student has to take at least one summer on sabbatical. Gives them on the job training."
Silver coughed and sputtered for he had just involuntarily inhaled half of his drink through his nose: the repercussions of having let out a gasp at this overwhelming news. His present condition did not go unnoticed by the two beside him.
"Are you all right, sir?" asked the chubby alien, his eyes curious.
Silver nodded, though he was still coughing terribly. He left a few drubloons on the counter and hastened to his room. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he shakily locked the door. Immediately he turned to sift through the great many pockets in his coat which had been hanging up on a nail that protruded from the wall. He was searching for Jim's letter. He hadn't been certain, but something inside of him had made his stomach churn at the mention of it from the two men down at the bar. Had their been mention of a month of sabbatical in Jim's letter?
With a cry of triumph he found it, nearly tearing it in his attempt to calmly undo the creases and lay it flat out in plain view. He read it, over and over again, finding no clue concerning Jim's plans. In fact, the letter was very vague concerning anything. All it stated was that he was going to be home for a while and wanted to know if Silver could make it for another visit within the month.
'Within the month?' Silver thought with a new streak of panic. What did that mean? Had Jim taken his sabbatical this summer?
A knock sounded at the door to Silver's room. He jumped, frightened half to death at the suddenness of such an intrusive noise. Silver made his way to the door, desperately urging his body to calm. Upon opening the door, he was surprised to find the Innkeeper staring back at him.
"This just arrived for you, sir," he said with very little significance. Silver nodded his thanks and took it with shaking hands. He then closed the door immediately and hoped that the innkeeper would not take much notice of his uneasy state.
"Just breath, John," he told himself as he collapsed into the nearest chair. "Just breath. Even if he did go on sabbatical, there's dozens of ships out there he could have been assigned to. What, in all honesty, was the possibility that Jim would have been assigned to this one?
'There isn't,' he immediately told himself. He closed his eyes, continuously breathing in and out. Silver wasn't even certain really why he was acting the way he was. 'Overreacting,' he told himself immediately. Silver laughed. Yes, that's exactly what he was doing. Overreacting. He was being stupid, ridiculous, and...dare he admit to it?
Jim wasn't his son. The former pirate had no responsibility to the young man whatsoever, but that wasn't what Silver had allowed himself to believe privately. Jim needed a male figure to look up to. Someone to guide him and teach him, in some matters, how to 'be a man'. Silver had always believed that he had, if not completed that task, at least given the boy a push in the right direction. And, of course, in return, Jim had saved Silver's life more than once. He owed it to Jim to be there for him. And even if he didn't, Silver had no doubt in his mind that he would be there anyway.
This thought, however, turned into pale dust at his fingertips when he realized who the letter was from. Shaking hands traced the familiar name and address that decorated the back of the envelope. Although he did not recognize the handwriting right away, he had reason to believe that this was Jim writing him to let him know that everything was fine.
He hastily opened the envelope and felt his heart turn to ice in his chest. This was not a letter from Jim at all. It was from his mother, and inside was many portions of a newspaper article clipped haphazardly to its front. Silver skipped the article at first, although the headline was all too familiar to him by now: SHIP DOWNED IN UNEXPECTED VIOLENT WINDS FROM NEBULA. DOZENS MISSING.
The letter was much shorter then the article, and Silver did not take this as a good sign.
I don't know when this will reach you, but I hope it will be soon. As I am sure you have already heard, a ship was downed not too long ago. What you may not know is that many of the crew were cadets at the Academy. And, what I know you don't know is that Jim was one of the working cadets on this ship. I have received no word on him from the Academy, and can only assume that he is one of the many missing.
I am writing to you, not only to inform you of this, but to ask if you would, as Jim's friend, grant me a large favor.
An emergency headquarters has been set up on the planet nearest the accident; Salvus, butI cannot get there immediately. If it is not too much to ask, would you please go there and keep updated on the events taking place. I know that, though they have not released this information yet to the public, they are still finding survivors (and bodies) of the crew and passengers that had been onboard that ship. I am to be notified at once when they find Jim, but I have also informed them that I would like to come to Salvus in hopes of being there in case he is found.
The article I have sent to you contains the most accurate version of the story, as well as a list of the missing and dead upon the ship. Please let me know if you can go to Salvus before me.
With much love and appreciation,
Silver observed that the handwriting was very unsteady compared to its normal artistic flow. How she had somehow stemmed her tears long enough to write a legible letter, he wasn't sure. His own forced up through his one flesh eye, while his mechanical one twitched for the lack of tear ducts. He sighed heavily, resting his face in his flesh hand. Before he had finished the letter, He had concluded that he would go to Salvus for Sarah. Perhaps by some mark of fate Jim would turn up. But even that seemed a horrible thought, because those who had been saved from the Etherium had turned up horribly scathed and half dead. Although Silver did not appreciate the concept of never seeing Jim again, he also did not wish for him to be in such pain. It was a paradox, but one that Silver had decided he would no longer think on. He had a duty to fulfill and an old friend to find. He would surely do just that.
As he tucked the letter away in his pocket, Silver's eyes fell over the other articles that had been attached to Sarah's letter. It was not a fulfillment of the report, but instead a list of names of those who had been on the ship. It was defined into two categories: MISSING and DEAD. He scrolled down the missing column until he found it:
Hawkins, James Pleiades; Academy Cadet, Year 2
Silver sighed sadly and tucked the letter, envelope, article and all into one of his numerous pockets. Grabbing his hat and everything else that he had brought with him, he made a beeline for the door. Finding the innkeeper, he turned in his key and left the inn without waiting to get the money back for his room.
He was out the door in minutes, and within the hour had already boarded a small boat on its way to Salvus.