The Others Who Sacrifice
Ailana, a young mother in quiet chambers sits and dreams of a life that will never be. The child in her belly, an unformed mind full of promise destined to be extinguished. On her cheeks lie the faded riverbed of tears gone by and by, of unceasing melancholy caused by the daughter within her, and her preordained fate.
She wonders at the other lives that never were, the countless children who, just born, new to the world and terrified, were erased and replaced by an ancient soul, stuffed into bodies to small and fragile to match its avarice. She wonders if, hijacked, any piece of them remains, drifting among a church of memories built inside of them, lost on the outerskirts of Roan, the mind-palace papered over their ruin.
It’s cruel to deny this child its life, what life it may have led here. It’s cruel to force eternity on her shoulders. She had said, upon learning of her first pregnancy to her husband—the Captain. He was adamant then, and is still, to pass on the curse that burdens him… them, the creatures Roan.
Why her, why not… some other child?
You would steal some other infant, snuff another’s life? That would not be fair to ask of anyone Ailana. This is my family’s burden, ours and ours alone.
It’s not fair to ask of me!
Don’t play innocent, or pretend ignorance. You knew the score. I warned you when you fell in love with me. Our first child, male or female, our first healthy child belongs to the collective. Its identity to be subsumed into a mass of others including my own. It is what I sacrificed, what my mother sacrificed. What we all have lost in service of this species
You? You sacrificed nothing! You are the parasite! A soul leeching off the host of some innocent child.
Ailana, don’t say th-
Do you hear him? Hmm? Tell me, do you hear him wailing inside of you at night?
Captain Roan didn’t respond to her then, merely sighed sadly and rose to leave her alone. Alone among her cabin’s lights, humming at a near subsonic level, her biometric screens, attached to monitors that remotely examined her child, track its continued health and growth. In her stomach lies her child, her daughter, but more importantly (at least to the Captain, her husband, and mankind at large) therein lies the future. The leader to be.
At the door, Roan turns back to her, lying in bed, hands on her belly as if to protect her daughter from the vagaries of the life she must inherit.
“This is about more than us, than you and her, you know that. This is how our race must survive. I’ve long known this is the only way. That I remember, that *I* endure.”
Alas, in the end he was right. She had agreed. But it was one thing to make such a promise when you are young and foolish and in love. The Captain offers you his hand, his smile, his deep-grey eyes—eyes that have seen much, the recall the passing of centuries. He offers you a view into immortality, to become part of something vital, safeguarding humankind. It is one thing, yes, to then promise him the soul of your child. But to do it? To allow… Roan to consume the poor babe, kicking and growing within? To shape it into an extension of his/herself? On the eve of its birth, such a thing seems untenable. And as it grows, so too does defiance.
“Are you ready?” At Roan’s voice, Ailana shudders with surprise. She did not hear the Captain enter. “The doctors would like to surveil daily in the final weeks, nothing can go wrong this time.”
They lost the last two pregnancies. One miscarriage and one stillbirth. Ailana was healthy, and this male avatar of Roan perfectly virile. Part of this mother-to-be wondered if her fetuses could sense her fear, could sense the erasure awaiting them, which Ailana had come to dread. Ailana nods absently at his words. On their face they make sense, but she cannot help but hear their subtext:
I need to keep you under control, just in case you lose your resolve. Just in case you try to deny Motherlode its continued Captain. It was as if he whispered these thoughts in her ear. She read them plain as Motherlode’s simulated day on his face.
He gestures to a chair beside him, floating in the air. The seat of the Mother, her throne, her prison. She wonders how many of Roan's previous partners had been shackled to it. Mothers and Fathers fated to sit in it, or walk alongside, and watch as their child was dragged to the chopping block and replaced by a clone that had already lived several dozen lives.
Behind him, several guards enter the room. The weapons on their hips were just for show, she knew. Roan couldn’t risk anything happening to this child, but they would force her to the medics if they had to. She sees his temples growing gray, and knows the source of his desperation: Ensuring their succession, ensuring they bear a child, and that he lives long enough to see that child assume the mantle of Motherlode’s living ghost. There can be no risk of overthrow, Roan must remain the guide of the human race. How many times had she heard that screed, that almost doctrinal belief in the self? She would call it arrogance, to Roan, it is merely the inheritance given by prior selves.
I am in control here. Roan’s face screams in its silence. What she once loved is warped to ugliness by duty; Roan’s wisdom becomes aloofness; Roan’s impassive features become the emotionless distance of a God. She turns from the captain, the creature she no longer recognizes, to the guards as they exit the compound and she floats into open air. They walk along the tree-line, tall pines, nettles breaking quietly beneath their feet In their faces, she sees sycophancy, absolutely in the memories of Earth sustained in their species by the one life that still remembers the lost planet, in Roan’s Godhead, assumed in all but name. She sees the patches on their shoulder, gold with a red R emblazoned in their centers, and knows they are her husband’s creatures. Bought and paid for with title, the greatest honorific that can be given. A title displayed proudly on the chests of their dark jumpsuits: MOTHERLODE’S BRIDGE CREW.
In every face she sees this hopeless devotion… every face but one. The youngest, the newest member of the bridges’ crew. Roan’s prized guard. A young man… Adlai, his name is, she thinks. Face not handsome, but earnest. A frown on his lips as he marches at her side, opposite Roan. He returns her gaze, blue eyes troubled, perhaps reading her own distress. And though they share no words that afternoon, she wonders if perhaps they may someday share a cause, if perhaps…
…perhaps her child may yet be saved.
“You asked me if I hear him.” Roan interrupts her fantasies of rescue, speaking out of brooding silence as he walks beside her.
“You once asked me if I hear him, the child whose place I took. Do you still want to know the answer?”
She doesn’t reply, but notices Adlai listening, and wonders if he shares her curiosity.
“Well, Ailana, I do. Every night. I don’t know if it’s just a dream. But… I’m confronted by a man. A mirror image to myself physically, but… nothing I am is there. He looks at me, disapprovingly. Most nights he does not speak, we just stand there in silence. But sometimes…”
“…sometimes?” Ailana finally relents, prods Roan into continuing.
“Sometimes, he opens his mouth, speaks with three dozen voices. The voices of all the children I-” Roan lapses once more into silence.
“And what do they say?”
“‘We would have made great captains too, great mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. We would have been the future. Humanity would still be fine. Let us go. Let us live.’”
“How do you respond to that?”
“The same thing I say to you. I cannot risk it. I must see this through. I am Roan. I was chosen. I am your captain and I have become something greater than…”
Roan does not respond to her insinuation, her accusation of the immortal’s narcissism.
He speaks again, this time quietly, a whisper only she… and she supposes by proximity Adlai, can hear.
“I, I have to see this through. To whatever end. I can’t live this long and not… know.”