Evernight

Category C: Highly Commended (2021) Monash Short Story Writing Competition

Author: Nikki Bielinski

Title: Evernight

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Clarissa bathed her firstborn with great care. Only three months old, the soft fleshed girl child kicked and splashed in the meagre quantity of water. Kneeling by the long tub, Clarissa glanced again at the common bathroom door. It irritated her when other crew members barged in during their monthly bath.

Her daughter splashed in the bath, gurgling contentedly, deep dimples in her cheeks and eyes full of laughter. Clarissa found it hard to believe that such a helpless being could ever understand the dark side of humanity.

Clarissa scooped warm water over little Saaya. "One day our spaceship will return to Terre II. Perhaps in your lifetime, you will climb trees and feel the warmth of a yellow sun."

Saaya blew bubbles and punched her chubby arms in the air. The girl child seemed to love listening to her speak, and Clarisssa loved talking to her.

 ‘The Evernight has stars, galaxies, nebulae and many other beauties, but I want you to feel earthy dirt under your fingernails, wind in your hair and rain on your face.’ 

She knew parents shouldn’t project onto their children what they wanted for themselves, but her desire to go ‘home’, even after seven generations of travelling through space, was fundamental to her very being. She could never deny that genetic memory of nature within herself.

Clarissa glanced up to the space porthole, into the Evernight. Through the darkness Sirius twinkled at her, and Clarissa felt a yearning for a sun that at times would shine too hot, and at times be golden dimmed. The constancy of darkness irked her heart.

She’d never seen a rain cloud. She’d read stories where clouds hung in a blue, blue sky. She wondered what it must be like to live somewhere where thunder stormed, wind gusted, and a yellow sun rose and set over a mountain horizon.

Saaya kicked and splashed the recycled, grey water. The spaceship had few luxuries, and baths were her favourite. The scarce supply of water meant it was constantly manufactured, recycled and reused. Only the elite few were deemed able to have them, but it was by her weaving she managed to obtain the right to bath. 

Clarissa pulled the bath curtain aside. She’d spent many hours weaving fibres saved from the original generation’s clothes together, creating an artwork picture.

The Elite had to let her have a bath once a month after she’d woven a foretelling into it. Old star magic was ignored by the Elite, and inspiration was in short supply on the spaceship, but they all noticed this archetypal image.

 

She lifted her girl child out of the shallow water, placed her on a utilitarian, green towel, then deftly, swiftly whipped off her own synthetic clothes and undershift, grateful they had communal bathroom to themselves. She picked up Saaya, wriggling enthusiastically, trying out the primal movements of her species - and climbed into the bath.

Flesh to flash, skin on skin, Clarissa sunk into the bath and illicitly turned on the tap for more water. Hot and steaming, but not too hot for her baby. She let Saaya suckle at her breast, while she enjoyed the soothing water embrace.

She pulled the curtain around the bath. It showed a comet storm passing through the Evernight, with a Shadow Walker holding the focus. One day, the foretelling went, they would encounter their own comet storm.

She knew, from deep in her genetic memory, Shadow Walkers existed. Unfortunately, the others didn't believe her. They were all scientists.

Clarissa pulled the woven cloth of her creation, the special cloth that doubled up as a curtain, across the bath. Cocooned, she looked out again, into the Evernight of the space port hole. She wondered what was out there for them, whether her daughter would one day make it to Terre II, before her own foretelling of a comet storm.

Saaya gurgled in delight, breastmilk spilling out of her mouth and down Clarissa’s abdomen, mingling in the cooling bathwater.

Clarissa splashed her. “I hope you can one day swim in an ocean with real waves, swim with the fish and the dolphins.’

She could see it all so clearly, the stories of old, the knowledge, the genetic knowledge that had been passed down through generations, it was always fresh in her mind, and she was the keeper of this knowledge and story weaver on board the spaceship.

Telepathy had disappeared two generations ago, but she hoped the genetic knowledge of earth she had would be passed to her daughter. They’d travelled and fought in the cosmos for seven generations. Not many babies born on the spaceship survived. Nor mothers… Clarissa grimaced at the thought. She hugged her baby gratefully.

A loud knocking at the door, a shove - and the inefficient lock gave way.

She rolled her eyes. ‘Can I not have a bath in peace?’

"Captain?"

She flicked back the shower curtain, exposing only her face and hair tied in a topknot. "I am indisposed, Dimitri." She glared at him - he knew better than to disturb her once a month bath.

"We have news from the top deck…"

She sat up in a rush. Water splashed over the bath side, and Saaya squawked in surprise as the nipple pulled from her sucking mouth.

"A comet storm?"

He nodded, his face pale. He exuded an anxious, sweaty smell, and she thought he could do with a bath after them. 

He wiped sweat from his upper lip. “The comet storm is approaching at speeds we cannot fathom. We have to abandon ship and take the pods, they may survive by travelling between the comet debris. Our spaceship is so large, we would be annihilated."

Horror rose in Clarissa. Since she was a child, they’d had many practice drills for this, but not now. Not with her daughter.

There was only one thing to do.

"I'm coming." She stepped out of the bath, naked and dripping.

Dimitri averted his eyes.

"Oh Dimitri, I know I'm a rank above you, but we've grown up together. You have fathered a child. Don't be prudish," Clarissa snapped. Full of concern, she hurriedly dried Saaya with the towel.

 

Everything would fall into meaninglessness now, the belongings, the studies, the research they had all done. Abandoning ship and into the pods was a dangerous last resort. Her mind raced as to which galactic stations were nearest and any planets nearby which could support life.

"She looked up at Dimitri. "Are we going into pod 16?"

He stared at her in disbelief and shook his head. "I will be in pod nine. You are our Story Weaver, the unbroken line. You have foretold the comet storm and must travel in pod 12 with the other gifted crew."

He glanced at her baby. ‘You know what you have to do.’

Clarissa remembered a story about wolves tearing men to shreds with their teeth. "I'm taking her with me. I am not leaving my baby behind."

Dimitri paled. "You know the rules, Captain. Babies are a liability. They do not travel well in hyperspace. She will take time, oxygen, food and water. We can survive better without a liability."

Clarissa hugged Saaya to her chest. "Bring her travel capsule to my room, now.”

Dimitri bowed, and left.

 

By the time he returned to her room, she was in her full Captain outfit, and deftly placed her baby in the capsule.

"Hurry Captain, the pods are leaving now, the comet storm is upon us.’

She nodded curtly at him.

"You go. Make fast your pod. Hopefully we will make it through the comet storm and meet on the planet, Green 17."

Dimitri grabbed her hand. "You are our Story Weaver, the foreteller. The community needs you. As much as science builds the stations, we need your sixth and seventh senses to survive in the galaxies. "

She stared deeply into his dark eyes, so different from her daughter’s. She placed a hand over his dimpled cheeks. "Do not worry. All will be well."

‘You will always be her mother.’ He glanced nervously at her, then Saaya. He turned and ran.

The sirens started full pelt. Clarissa winced as the sound pierced her ears.

"All personnel evacuate. Go to your allocated pods, leave all children under the age of 10 behind."

"I repeat, all personnel evacuate."

Clarissa kissed Saaya’s warm forehead one last time.

She wrapped her in the comet storm curtain. Saaya reached up and touched her mother’s face. Clarissa gasped in pain, as though a wolf had bitten into her heart. But she continued stoically on and locked shut the lid of the travel capsule.

She always felt her daughter was the Shadow Walker. Saaya would make it alive to the planet Green 17, and the people there would look after her and help her fulfill her destiny.

Saaya’s future was mapped out. Clarissa hoped the old star magic she’d woven into the cloth was strong enough to sustain her.

The Shadow Walker that travelled through the comet storm in the Evernight, would be the leader of the new galactic order. And all she could do as a mother, was to protect her.

Clarissa programmed in the directions and co-ordinates on the capsule, kicked open the latch to the sky chute, and sent her baby daughter, suspended in the travel capsule, on her way into the Evernight.

Clarissa slammed the chute shut and sunk to the cold floor, her face in her hands. She’d done her ultimate duty and saved the lineage of Story Weavers, and the one who would be Shadow Walker. She would ride out the comet storm in the spaceship. Her genetic knowledge, buried deep within her cellular consciousness, would explode and diffuse throughout the galaxy if the spaceship was hit.

That was the only way she could support Saaya through her life of being a Shadow Walker, the one who could access the dark side of human consciousness and had ability to make it good.

Clarissa pulled out her metallic, ergonomic chair and sat at her desk. From the basket of crafting and weaving materials, she plucked out woollen fibres of green, blue, golden yellow and red. There was a future where anything was possible, and she would call it hope.

 The first blasts of the comet storm rocked the spaceship, and hot tears blurred her vision.

 

 

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Last updated: 02 September 2021