The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying of the sun.
Looking back, the Mothers would say they knew her straightaway, and were glad the next savior would be one of their own. A rose-colored half-lie to obscure a darker truth. They knew, indeed, but hoped against hope they were wrong. They wanted to spare their daughter the pain forced upon all Messiah’s, the burden of guiding the flock through an unforgiving wilderness.
Maraya did not cry, not once. Not when exiting the womb. Not when they cut the cord. Not when blinking as she adjusted to the light in the ‘sky’ that mimicked the sun. She watched with quiet gray eyes as the conclave swaddled her, as if when first coming into this world, she remembered their births. As if when she closed her eyes to sleep that night, she could see the blue and the clouds of the world that was. Maraya smiled in her sleep, like she felt the long-forgotten stars kiss her plump cheeks in the night.
She was a precocious child. For the first year she watched and listened. Every moment she was learning, and on the eve of her first birthday she spoke, broken and malformed English trickled out her soft palette.
“Ee ha’e so fa t’go.”
At first, the Mothers took it as little more than the pidgin gurglings of a young girl. Sounds with no more meaning than the emotion behind them.
“You hungry, baby child?” One cooed, her Birther, baring herself for feeding.
Maraya shook her head. This struggle, to make herself understood. She swam upwards from the bottom of the sea of infancy, flexing the long arms of language that she had grown, but never before used.
“We… ha-ave… so far… t’go.”
The Birther, Belledonne, stopped with her arms by her side. Language? In a child so young? She exchanged a glance with the others. All knowing what such precocity forecast for her future. The Captain had to be notified at once. With a nod, the Farmer—Ertrude—left the nursery and quickly wound her way through the reeds towards the door in the sky.
And so, as the lights dimmed to mimic twilight, she came. A lithe figure in gray-suit, the mothers were always surprised by how small she was in truth. Compared to the power of her spirit, the way she loomed in memory. To see her was the remember that she herself was no bigger than a child, though there was no denying the ancient wisdom in her eyes. Dark and black like space itself, they betrayed nothing, but remembered everything.
She pursed her lips, clenching and unclenching her hands as she approached the babe at the center of the room. She knelt before the bassinet, feeling the gray eyes watching her as she brought her face to the child’s height. They watched each other a while before the Captain deigned to speak.
“We have so far to go.”
The child spoke slowly, deliberately, recalling a ritual she only half-understood, wanting for every word to be clear.
“Our… world is… only… a memory.”
“Only the Captains remember.”
“Only… they… shall… see… us… home.”
“Ee, We… are…”
“The Captains.” They finished in unison, not once blinking as they held the other’s gaze. The Captain, white hair curled up around her had in a shock of an afro, nodded, her lips a thin line of grim satisfaction. Here lay not a child, but an equal.
She turned to the Mothers, who gave the two a wide berth as they commiserated.
“She is the one. When she’s old enough. Send her to me.”
Belledonne was frightened, but not too frightened to ask what needed asking.
“And when, O Mother, will we know the time is right?”
The Captain did not turn back, only paused briefly at the burlap flap that hid the nursery from the glare of a false star.
“You’ll know.” And she was gone, making her way back through the tall grass.
The Mothers stood in silence a while. Then crowded back around the crib of their beloved Maraya. She whose name would be stripped away. Whose very identity would be subsumed in time.
“I’m sorry, my darling.” They crowed in unison. “I’m sorry! Roan has claimed you. There is nothing left but to go.”
The child did not speak, talking correctly to the Captain had drained her. All that remained was the energy to be a baby in truth. But she thought, and the tenor of those thoughts was clear in her gaze.
This was always to be the way. This was always my fate. There is no use regretting the things that are certain.
Regardless, tears streaked her cheeks. She closed her eyes and remembered the night sky. The true night sky. The darkness with its countless distant lights that they streaked past and towards in the Arc, their vessel, its payload humankind’s only hope. The stars weighed upon her like a hundred thousand piercing eyes. Each perhaps with a world or two of their own. One perhaps with a world meant for her flock… but perhaps not. Perhaps they would die in space, lost and cold and forgotten. Perhaps thiswould come to pass on her watch.
And for the first time in her short life, on the morning of her first birthday, Maraya, the next Captain, began to wail.
The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one;
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.
--Francis William Bourdillon