Chapter Five -- ~10,000 MD: The Planetship Forest

Flashes of memory, snippets of being, a name floating into her formless sea and with it comes a self…

Roan Oake has been walking for a long time. She can feel it in her bones. Where she is headed she knows not. There is nowhere left to go. At night she dreams. Planets swaddled in pools of blue and layered greens, life humming merrily away on the surface, unharried by imminent doom. The silence of the infinite vacuum she travels through. Dreams of an old man alone in the desert, melting away into nothing. Of his voice, ever present in her ear, chasing her across the galaxy. Of the forest that grows gnarled and rangeless around her. Of being born, and born and born again, on a bed of stars. In her ears there is constant, quiet chatter. The silent whispers of things without lips.

Deep into the forest she wanders, wherein the oaks’ recumbent branches reach out to her, where giant redwoods consume her with their immensity and fragile willows bend and bow with the breeze. The wind rustles the leaves and they echo her name, a haunting murmur chastising her for the failures. This forest is her journey’s greatest triumph. Ironic that it serves as home and hallmark to its most singular failure.

I am alone, Roan thinks, with the sanguine nature of the timeless creature she has become, On Motherlode alone with naught but this forest and a false sun and the billions of ghosts who watch reproachfully from the shade.

She walks up to a tree, feels its heartbeat, the mournful soul trapped within begging for freedom, a freedom that she has denied herself for untold centuries. How many millennia has she spent in this prison? This façade of an ark that has carried her and the species of primate, once her flock, for so long.

What have I become? She wonders to herself on occasion. The last of man? Something more? Less?

“I’m sorry. I failed you.” The first words she’s said aloud in years. Perhaps decades. Whether she addresses the tree or herself she no longer knows. Why she persists in this life, these lives bereft of hope, she can no longer remember.

She does, however, remember her birth:

A young woman of sixteen tumbles forth from an upright pod full of viscous fluid. She can’t breathe, coughing until nearly a liter of fluid expels itself from her lungs. She tries to find words, but they are fast, too fast, whizzing through a mind that still accustoms itself to being alive. She does not even scream. She blinks, eyes open for the first time blinded by the brightness of her birthing chamber. She sees double, and is woozy, and for a spell does not try to stand.

Wheezing, rattling breaths, not her own, punctuate the silence. She sees an aging women, not yet elderly, but dancing around the fringe. Black hair streaked with white, dark skin cracked like the bark of her prized forest’s trees. In her face, she sees her own. The face of her mother and hers in kind. In that moment she sees herself growing old again and again, living and dying alone over and over. She remembers.

“My child…” The old woman—Her mother? Herself?—speaks. She reaches out to the young Roan with a knotted hand, fingers curved like a claw. “Come closer. Come closer. I- I haven’t much time.”

Still bewildered, still overwhelmed, the young woman, with open grey eyes and skin like iron-rich tourmaline, inches closer on her hands and knees, not trusting the strength of her legs or the sense of her tongue.

“My dear. Listen. The transfer. Was incomplete. There is so much you do not know, and need to. We are almost there. Our last hope… you, you are our last hope. The trees. In the trees…”

She pauses and closes her eyes, breaths growing more shallow with each moment. Opening them again, her unfocused gaze stares past the young girl into the distance. Perhaps she sees her death fast approaching in the horizon. Perhaps she sees the unseen, the susurrating intelligence of Motherlode herself. Her last words she speaks with uncommon clarity.

“Watch over her, my friend. Ready her if you can. She will need you. When the time comes.”

With those words, her eyes close, and the second to last human life passes from the Earth. With her passing, the passing of the woman young Roan knows is both her mother and her self. Whose face she can see reflected in her own. Roan, the newborn babe, wails, and weeps and cries and knows she is incomplete. What she is missing she knows not. Yet doom creeps over her like a crowd, she can sense it coming towards her. And it chills her to her core.

She flees. She flees this crypt. This crib. Out into Motherlode, covered by woods entire. She breathes the crisp air, and is warmed by the ‘Sun’. The heat of simulated roaring from Motherlode’s core. She looks up and around her in awe The light barely reaching the canopy at her feet leaves the world a dim relief compared to the bright crèche of her birth. She disappears into the forest. Her new, old, only home.

 

…Roan? Roan? Please, you must listen. We do not have much time. We may never get another chance…

The old man’s face marks each passing tree. His voice lances the air. She walks on.

Roan?

He appears before her, a plaintive scowl marking the lines of his face, darkening his already dark features.

Roan, where are you going?

She walks on, as Motherlode hurls through the black, descending like Prometheus on a pristine world covered in blue. If only Roan remembered. If only she knew…