“Now is the time to crush the fruit / And brew the wine of memory.”
Six years old, she stands before me, my doppelganger. She has recited the seventeen stanzas of the Poem on Deep Space better than I could have myself. Her scabbard swings empty at her belt; someone tied the sash and sword-knot with ceremonial correctness. She stands at attention like a miniature of my own cadet-portrait.
The man who wrote that poem–well, my name is on it, but the man who wrote that, the young man who called himself middle-aged, the poet Martisset, is dead.
I don’t remember these hands writing that poem, but all of the collateral descendants recite it. He wrote it seven years after he bowed to his clan-patron’s wishes and cut the leads to the Ship’s-Heart, and four years after his clan-spouse, another retired Captain, died in a skimmer-crash.
They had imagined pursing clan-politics and botany for decades. Ship’s-Widows, they had called themselves, not entirely in jest.
Twice-widowed, he called himself, in earnest.
The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins; the songs of dead empire whirl away into the smoke and silence of legend. Seventy years ago now, they first offered me the position of Admiral.
I quirked an eyebrow. “There are only Captains in space.”
And Captains only serve at Crew’s Discretion, and the Ship’s, but you can’t explain that to planet-siders. They were a beautiful couple, full of antique virtue, and my elders. A poetic form retains inertia, and they were animated by zeal for an imaginary past and an even more imaginary future.
I was far their junior, so did not explain myself, only declined the honor.
They conceived a son, so it’s said, by the Genetic Pantheon. His mother is his mother, or was, but his father is Antis yr Astok, the Builder of Cities.
After the parents died (no one called it an assassination) the son came to me and repeated the offer.
This time I was the elder.
“Accounts of galactic empire are attested in the lore of the Original World,” I said dryly, “but textual analysis has established that those tales far predate the era of interstellar travel.”
His face was inhumanly symmetric in its beauty, but I do not think that I ever looked upon Void that shook me quite like his golden eyes.
“Very well, then,” he said. “I have time. There will come another chance.”
The child looks at me, waiting patiently for my judgment of her recitation.
“Very admirable,” I say. “Your clan-patron has no need to fear for her honor.”
She clicks her heels and bows, a short clipped gesture. The scabbard swings on its knot, bumping softly against the floorboards.
“So do you know how we come to share a name?” I ask. Idle curiosity, and not. What sort of ambitions do her parents cherish for her?
The morning sun catches on her pale skin, like mine, and lights her green eyes–what on Sarronny they call leaf-and-water–and pale hair.
“Martis or Mortis, the Pale Rider,” she replies. “Martisset is a child of the Pale Rider.”
“And what gender is that deity?”
“None,” she replies in her high clear voice. “Death has neither gender nor sex. Not any more than the sea.” That sharp face, with its hard lines, might belong to a child of the Pale Rider in earnest. We remember that deity, but do not worship it. Martis/Mortis, so the legend says, invented the organized warfare that ravaged the Original World for millennia and (some conjecture) drove us to the journey-ships.
However much my many-times-grand-nephew would like to revive the practice, and in space no less, the great-clans resist him. We might feud among ourselves, but it stops far short of what our remote ancestors might have done.
The Pale Rider might take any of us. The criminal disappears after the inventor, becomes General, or Admiral, or Dictator, or as on the fortress planet of T-7, the Immortal–no longer a criminal, but a god.
“And what are the colors of Martis?”
“White,” says the young one, reciting a lesson. “White is the color of death.”
“Only in antiquity.”
This week’s flash fiction challenge from Terribleminds.
Constraints: under 1000 words, must contain one of the following three sentences.
- The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins.
- A poetic pattern retains inertia.
- The criminal disappears after the inventor.
As an inveterate completist, I went for the win.