She Holds Up The River

Slow work, this.

Pythia has need of her, so has stirred her from sleep and set her loose. She leaves the colony behind, leaves the still-sleeping forms of her sister brothers, moves beyond the anserine gate with nothing on her back but the water-resistant coat the sunken ship wove for her and her own rust-red teeth, but it will be enough.

She smells water, so bears south. Comes to a hill overlooking a creek painfully fast, thunderingly straight, cracks arms fingers knees and jaw. She has no tools, but her ship-forged teeth will do. She splits a trunk and hauls it to the creek. Old woman creek, she bucks against it, shoves hard at the ends, but she’s well-learned in this and it holds. She spits mud to pin it in place, and cycles back again.

Hours, days, weeks, months, years. She follows the creek to the river to the sea, digging and gnawing and recoursing. She gives birth once a year, to daughters who carry her grandchildren within them, leaves them behind to settle in, dig deeper, spread wider. Fish and birds trail in their wake.

It has been decades since ship spoke to her. She has forgotten the trick, but when that voice comes tolling in her ear, she knows it, leaves her work half-finished and unmourned. Turns north, past family, toward home.

Three in Canaan

This is Pythia’s one Law: in a closed system, every part has to work. Disobedience means death, if not immediately, then soon, death without appeal or mercy. What mercy can the fall show for the cliff?

Someone has died. Their pod failed, and the meat inside shuddered, went hot, went cold, went still. She doesn’t let herself remember a name; there will be time for that later, but for now meat is just meat. Still, she avoids eye contact as she unloads the meat onto a lift, concentrates on weight, leverage, the stale air. She breathes through her mouth, thankful for Pythia’s assiduous filters.

She takes the lift and the meat out into the fields, where she works the earth until it opens its mouth to her. She plants the meat there, a morsel beneath Pythia’s vast tongue. “Thank you,” she bids the meat, “flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, bone of my bone. Everything is renewed.”

It’s superstitious, but she avoids meat for the next several weeks anyway. The vegetables are no less suspect, but still: she avoids eye contact, avoids anything that might have eyes.

The great wheel spins on, a restless wanderer away from Earth.

Through Me Tell The Story

Seven long generations since Landing and she sleeps through the alarm, wakes to find herself alone and abandoned in the ruins of Parnassus, no warm line of her brother/sisters pressed against her sides, no cool voice in the bones of her ear, just a sky swept clean of clouds and a half-finished road churned to mud. They went east.

She’s seven long strides in their wake before she thinks to ask herself: why? Why follow them? Why stay? Why was she left? She asks Pythia, and in return only the empty air and the drone of the swarm to the west. Shivers in the cold, hugs herself for warmth, arms a poor substitute for her brother/sisters. What now?

They will follow the road, that much she remembers, the swarm that turns noon to night; even with all the warning Pythia can give there are still dozens that fall when the swarm descends. To chase after is death; alone she can only die soonest. She grabs a webpack from the armory, and her longboots, both waiting for her (planned? or forgotten? either or both? she can’t think it straight) and worms her way into the trees to the south.

Seven long days of blackberries and starvation later Cleo (meaning, history: she remembers) climbs a tree black with spiders. The swarm is a low smudge to the north and west: past her. To the south, a long finger of smoke, where no smoke can be. She boggles at it, and wonders again: forgotten, or planned?

Held to High Standard

In the thick of the fighting all that long summer: a leather-lunged voice raised in stern dispute, and a pen worn down to the rachis with writing, Pythia of Mericourt is hounded on all sides, by those who love her as much as those who hate her. “Whore of the people,” they call her. “Every son’s mother.” She rattles her saber against her thigh, and keeps her guns loaded and lashed against her side.

In the long march to the palace, she is there at the front, high and mighty and furious on a horse, whipping them on, a voice crying out for justice. She has herded cattle and sheep; revolutionaries are no harder.

There is a moment — just one, not long — when they break down the doors, where she feels the world shudder and tilt toward change. For that heady second, all seems possible, everything become thinkable.

Alas, no: the world is vast and the groove of history is deep. Twenty years later they have locked her away, “for her own good,” and she bears them prophesy; witness of another world, where the women she led were armed and unbroken, where the banner of empire was never sewn from the skin of revolution.

Above Their Heads Tongues of Fire

She has forgotten — for the moment — that life exists beyond the many-curved wheel of the hull. She has written a word in the false sand beside the reservoir, without meaning or import, washed away by a regulated tide.

Pythia shivers, the deep heavy tone that means — she feels the memory stirring — that the shield has fallen away at last. The universe beyond the shipsoil exists once more. She sinks her fingers into the shaggy trunks of Pythia’s cedars and climbs beyond the spinning clutch of gravity, climbs to the endless, spiraling fall of the hub.

She kneels as well as she can in weightlessness, tucks her clothes in tight. “Oracle,” she cries, “Snake eater!” A pealing as of many bells. Incense, mountain air, the taste of laurel. She nearly chokes on nutmeg. The hub irises open and she shudders before the many blazing eyes of the universe, stares out at stars — stars, she remembers now — never seen before.

“O all your wonders,” she whispers, and Pythia tolls in sympathy.