Are you ready?
I need a moment, please. Let me hold him. Let me be his mother, just this once.
In a white room, a maternité hanging off a cliff over the vast, black ocean, lies a child, days old, mind unformed and unfettered. A spark of consciousness swelling with the potential of the newborn. Ripped from silence into the dissonance of being. Wailing. Wailing. Comes from within without realization, with barely a self to realize. It has been alive for seconds. Soon it is destined to have lived for centuries.
There comes cooing. Soothing waves of warm emotion. There come sounds meant to comfort. Words trapped behind a wall of ignorance, one typically chipped away over years. No time for that now. The wall comes down today, and all at once. Then comes a different sound, one of mourning.
Whispers: Good night little one. Good bye.
A metallic humming. The taste of iron stains the air. A tinny, steady voice speaks in beats, counting down to the Enlightment. The consumption.
An alarm bell rings. The knell of understanding. The call of all-encompassing purpose.
Knowledge floods from the well of ‘we’ into a fresh mold. A bright spark, born in the dusk, is overwhelmed by a myriad of radiant stars. Reaching from the past, old lives leach into the fledgling soul, reflecting upon it before it becomes anything else. Their innumerable presences dwarf the flash of youth.
We float through space, watching Earth die from afar. Baked, then consumed by fire.
We lost everything we had ever known, a whole world blown away.
We are the ones to build the world anew on a ship that creeps through the Void.
We are the Captains.
Welcome, Roan, to your life.
And so from this new ‘it’ is birthed another I, another reflection.. Another drop in the lake of—
More sounds. That sad, now familiar voice speaks again. Words garbled, but I… yes, I now, not it any longer. I know.
I, I remember…
The touch of a man, and of a woman. Laughing in the darkness. The comingling of flesh. Giving birth watching on as children are born
Earth, the old homestead, a world of blue and green leveled to dust. I watched it swept away.
I was there at the beginning. Building a world inside a soaring prison: Hard winters and dry summers and cruelly lifeless springs. A fledgling ecosystem developed and slowly brought to life.
I slaved in the dark and cold, and I sailed through the sky with ease. I suffered life in industrial wastelands and flourished in warm utopic paradises.
I endured centuries of discord and maintained a delicate peace.
I dreamt of real stars under a simulation of a night sky. False lights glittering in the ether like emeralds. Rocketing past an illusive sun, flashing through steel and wire towers that crisscrossed Motherlode. The ship where we are all born and where we have all died. Where humanity is trapped as it pitches through the universe.
I possessed the warmth of a man, the hardness of a woman, and vice versa. The gentle fusion of genders. Of being both and none. Times when such distinctions were so meaningful and then so meaningless.
I remember that I am, and that I was simultaneously. I remember that one day I won’t be. The echo of a hundred not quite identical me’s.
I am Roan Oake XXXVIIII, heir to the captaincy of Motherlode. carrying my million human wards. My planet. My ship. My charge. The crises that came before, and the great effort spent in overcoming them, each time dancing closer and closer to extinction. I… I…
Roan, the child, the son, blinks quickly, eyes flitting around the sterile room. The remembrance is too much, the identity too vast. He cries again, not because he is a just born child, but because, in his mind’s eye, he has died again and again. He can imagine the sundry corpses, once his, hers, rotting in Motherlode’s topsoil.
The infant cries.
No. No. I don’t want this! Take it back!
Only the gurgles of his unformed palate emerge in protest. He closes his eyes, fleeing the burder. Onward comes the light, obliterating the life that might have been. The light of his mother, and her father and the Roans of before. He can remember cradling his mother in his arms. He knows that his child, son or daughter, will see this moment through two sets of eyes. And knows that they will feel his mother’s sorrow and his own bewilderment and their collective rage at the impotence of men lost in the depths.
His knowing, grey eyes, fix on his mothers, and in that moment her cries join his, a strident harmony. They lament their quest. They, the Roans, the immortal shepherds.
Face lined with centuries of grief, his mother lifts him from his crèche, glowing blue to signify a successful birthing and transference. They sit, peering out the window.
“Did you have a successful transference?” A young man, dressed in a pressed tunic the color of dark bronze, approaches from the corridor, “Is he-“
“Your son is dead.”
“Your son that might have been. I hear him screaming. I see him scattered in the fog.” Finally she turns from the window, child in hushed shock, to regard her lover. Their bodies = the same age, but she sees him with the refracted light of three dozen different lenses. He seems so… insubstantial.
She holds the child in one arm, and cups her husband’s cheek in the other. It takes a minute to recall member his name. Ben? Ewen? Morgana? Brewth? No… “Fox,” She says haltingly, crawling back into the moment. “Meet… your son, Roan 39.”
Fox regards the baby seriously, head bowed like he would to an elder, which, Roan supposes, he was.
“Bless you for your sacrifice. My, uh… do I call him, er, son?” Fox chuckles nervously. Usually so confident, facing a child with a memory longer than his was a situation none would be accustomed to.
“For now,” Roan regards her son, who unblinkingly meets her gaze, “But soon… soon you will call him Captain.”
“Captain,” Fox lapses military de rigeur where he is most comfortable, “It is an honor sir. I’m sure you will lead us well, when the time comes.”
Roan watches the waves lap at the cliff below, black sludgy waters eating the shore into a sheer drop over the course of centuries. She watches the lights of the nearest Metropol, expanding for miles in every direction. One of many techno wastes that litter Motherlode in this epoch. Out the window, she sees not the city, but Motherlode’s humble quiet beginnings. Open spaces, wild and overgrown. Tribes of men growing together, rediscovering—then passing—the advances of Earth.
She knows the child in her arms recalls the same changes, sees the same growth. She knows that only time will alleviate new Roan’s discomfort, remembering the many quelled infancies that came before. She sees the stars blurring past on the bridge, Motherlode rushing to her next destination on a timeline measured in generations. Roan and Fox and baby Roan sit there for a long time, each preoccupied by a different worry, and for a long time no one says anything. For a long time, nothing is left to say.