The Kitchens Are Southwest

At Pythia there are six hills, two to the north west, one west, one south, one southeast, one northeast. They do not have names, not yet; they have not been here long enough to discover a mythology. The river runs from the north to the southeast, but winds through the valley, in no hurry to leave. The soil is fertile there, beans, corn, and squash in the north, wheat and hops in the southeast. The animals have not matured yet in their uterine replicators, and there’s some discussion about when to birth them; she isn’t following any of it particularly closely, to be honest.

She’s a strong back more than a planner, but that’s fine, there’s always need for a strong back. She works the fields most days, not particularly enjoying the work but enjoying the company of her sisters east and west of her in the rows. Nights she spends in the kitchens washing dishes, blissful in a haze of crockery, hot water, yelling. Not a talker, either, but she loves to listen to talk.

The fires and houses are on the western hill, above the flood line. Probably higher than necessary, but safe is better than sorry. She sleeps one out of a dozen in a longhouse, a tumbled pile of limbs, face to heel, head pointed east toward the door, east towards the river.

Would That I Knew You When You Were Young

He was 34 when he gave birth to his fourth child. Late, all things considered, but not uncommon; some people didn’t push out their last one until late in their forties. He wasn’t in a rush, but he didn’t want it looming over his head, either. Four lives to Pythia, that was the rule; four seedbank colonists out to work the curving fields before landfall. Better to get it done and out of the way, so he could focus on other things.

The E had made his hair grow back, the one change he didn’t rue in the process. A younger face in the mirror, softer; the spin of the ship dragged at him more, pulled him in strange ways. Glad to have it above him and done, but he will miss his hair when it goes again. Ah, well.

He gave birth to this one in one of the forest pools, air sharp with amniosis, cedar, eucalyptus. The water was cool, not cold, Pythia warming to his need. He cried out her name and dug his fingers in her soil for the final push, but otherwise it was an easy birth, and him an old hand at it. Born swimming; that was the way. Good for engineers, good for fishers; who knows what the future would need, other than Pythia?

Another life, another step through the narrow pass of extinction. In that moment, ship to skin, he could feel a little of her, sense the high walls passing on either side, an inhuman tension easing for a moment. Duty discharged; his life and hers spun on.

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?