Is he ready?
I need a moment, please. Let me hold him. Let me be his mother, even if just this once.
The world of Motherlode. Rock and iron. Jagged edges where the land meets the coast, the seas and tempestuous skies. Mankind’s cities reach for miles, up into the air and deep in the earth and out to shores lined with abrupt cliffs. Acidic oceans churn, rancid and choked with malformed life. Hairy creatures with wing-like fins and hundreds of eyes. Hazy shapes in the yawning seas. Cities shine like new under translucent domes, singing with desperation trapped behind pristine façades. Buildings stretch from the land right up into the sky, crossing each other in the middle. Structures thousands of kilometers long. Moving stairwells at their bottoms leading into the metal hallways and sit-rooms of the transport levels, where an automated crew maintains Motherlode’s course.
In a blinding white room, soft light emanating from the walls, a maternité hangs off a cliff over the vast, black ocean. A child lies in a learning crèche therein, hours old, mind unformed and unfettered. The quietly pinging crèche bathes him in a multi-hued glow. A worried mother, eyes revealing an age not shown in her face, looks in on the boy, gurgling happily. 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 veil of ignorance, one typically pulled away over years. No time for that now. The veil 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 sterile room sweats. The taste of iron stains the air. A tinny, reedy voice speaks in beats, counting down to the Enlightment. The consumption.
Transference begins in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… confirm operation?
An alarm bell rings. The knell of understanding. The call of all-encompassing purpose.
The woman nods tersely and it begins.
Knowledge floods from the well of ‘we’ into a fresh mold. A catalyst, born in 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 ever knew, a whole world blown away.
We are the ones who built the world anew on a ship that creeps through the Void.
We are the Captains.
Welcome to your life.
And so from this new ‘it’ is birthed another I. Another drop in the lake of—
More sounds. That sad, familiar voice speaks again. Words garbled, but I… yes, I now, not it any longer. I know.
I, I remember…
The touch of man, and of woman. Laughing in the darkness. The comingling of flesh. Giving birth. Watching as my children are born
Earth, the old homestead, a world of blue and green leveled to dust. I watch it swept away.
The beginning. Building a world inside a soaring prison: Hard winters and dry summers and cruelly lifeless autumns and tepid springs. A fledgling ecosystem slowly brought to life.
Slaving in the dark and cold, sailing through the sky with ease. Suffering lives in industrial wastelands and flourishing in tropical utopic paradises.
Centuries of discord, the delicate peace in between.
Yearning for the true stars while under the simulcron of a night sky. False lights glittering in the ether like emeralds. Rocketing past an illusive sun, flashing through steel and wire towers crisscrossing Motherlode. The ship where we are all born and where we have all die. Where humanity is trapped as it pitches through the universe.
Possessing 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. 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 child, but because, in his mind’s eye, he is both a child and an adult who has died again and again. He can imagine the sundry corpses, once his, hers, rotting in Motherlode’s topsoil.
Assimilation complete. Congratulations Roan. Hello, Roan.
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 Mother’s sorrow, and his own bewilderment, and their shared 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.”
A long, terrified pause, then understanding. “You mean-”
“Yes, 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 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 his name. To distinguish him from the faces of old flames. Ben? Ewen? Morgana? Brewth? No… “Fox,” She says haltingly, crawling back into the moment. “Meet… your son, Roan 39.”
Fox regards the baby, head bowed like he would to an elder, which, Roan supposes, he is.
“Bless you for your sacrifice. My, uh… do I call him, er, son?” Fox chuckles nervously, belying his usual confidence. Facing a child with a memory longer and a station higher than his was a situation few were accustomed to.
“For now,” Roan regards her son, who unblinkingly meets her gaze, “But soon… soon you will call him Captain.”
“Captain,” Fox lapses to the military de rigeur where he is most comfortable, “Son, it is an honor. When the time comes, you will lead us well.”
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. The techno waste that litters 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, experience drawn from the many quelled infancies that came before. She thinks of her bridge and the stars rushing by, Motherlode onto her next destination on a timeline measured in generations.
Roan and Fox and baby Roan sit for a long time, each overcome by dread.