Gestation tubes line the walls of a great cathedral far from the knowledge of space-borne humanity, far from the prayers of children, far from the white light of Truth. The columns line up like glowing sentinels, inscribed within their guardianship the future of an entire race; the future of a lone Woman’s children.
These are the nurseries: shrouded in blackness, lit by the cyan glow of children’s minds and bodies yet unformed; their bodies floating in capsules stacked row by row down the vaulted, endless space. Their bodies are the only lights in this darkness. And the tubes, sculpted in pristine, black metal, hold in each of them the sphere of an artificial womb—a womb for growing souls, a loom upon which a girl’s body is spun and spun. Bubbles, little ones, caressing the figures inside; children—children of the castes. Children of Falin. This is where each new generation of a perfected, pearl-white race built in the image of Eve is born into life from the darkness of a nursery cathedral.
A bubble caresses a body in one of the many capsules—it contours to the flesh. It morphs, licking the child; moving across the heel and up the leg, running, tickling; up the back; neck; skull’s crown of the unborn, but fully-developed child’s head. It lingers then, caught in the hair, whose silky-pure strands have grown to the jawline, but show only white.
Slowly, carefully, the bubble makes its way to the top, and floats to the beginning of the sphere to circle around again.
The flesh of this one is crystalline white—white like sculpted porcelain, white like the skin of a pearl, white like alabaster.
White like the color of her Mother’s hair. White like all the skin of the Falinian race.
The body the bubble once licked now convulses slightly—the first pangs of life’s breath entering the body.
The pearly child expands from the fetal form and the graceful, long legs of a newborn feel the power of movement, creating more gentle bubbles as she moves, slowly and gingerly about.
The eyes open fully-formed as crystal-blue irises, as cyan as the liquid that envelopes them. They blink, and the lips part.
This is the waking. This child is aware and her mind now alert, though her consciousness is yet a blank canvas in the endless expanse of possibility. She is a girl. Such a beautiful girl, though only in form and not in biological function nor power. She has no breasts, nor ever will—she has no womb, nor entrance to it. Only her face and supple limbs hint she has a gender, and female-like in form and beauty—but that gender is one alone, for there are no men in this world.
Her jaw is graceful and thin, her cheeks straight and smooth. Her nose slopes down from a beautiful bridge to a roundness in the cartilage. Wide-set eyes, large and able to show the full circle of jaded iris. Every part of her body, perfectly designed by Mater Fali, the God of her race. The child’s fingers are long and thin; her arms and legs are supple and strong at every curve. From toe to torso, this is the Falinian form: perfection. Everything became it. And in this first waking up, a single word rose through the void and into her mind: her name, Tiana.
This is how Tiana awoke: the minute her mind gained consciousness, the minute her eyes focused for the first time, and from the first moment she took her hand and felt the contours of her face, the contours of her chest and leg, the tone of each muscle—
She thrashed. With fear, anger, and grief, she thrashed in the womb. It wasn’t normal for most of her sisters, but long-silent, long-hidden prophecies attested to her singularity. For Tiana, however, who yet knew no prophecies of Fali, it was the horror of being, the horror of the existent and coiled self that entered her first, following her name—the immediate gain of knowledge: her race, her desires, her fears. Images formed into words, and words became realities. But in the last of the images, after which no word followed, was a vision of Mater Fali drowned, echoing in the distance—and replacing it, the open, omnipresent eye of Mater Thea.
The image—the words—faded, and Tiana stopped. The sound of her legs and feet against the sphere’s boundary echoed through the chamber cathedral. There—she placed the pads of her soft, delicate fingers on the glass, and peered out from the spherical window. The color faded as she moved closer to the edge, seeing more and more of the world outside. Her eyes focused.
And when they did, her child-borne mind was awed with the confirmation of the horror and fear of birth. She saw rows and rows—an infinite hallway, of capsules. Capsules like her own. Ever repeating, filled with the same white bodies like hers. Some were like hers totally—fully formed, but not awake. Only the faces were different from hers—the bodies were all the same. It awed her—the stillness that pervaded her just an instant ago was still in them. Their bodies; corpses, as if dead or dying, but in reverse—waiting to wake up rather than to be at rest. But her sleep was done.
She saw ones not yet fully formed: crystal-white babies; infants. Fetuses. Then ones that weren’t even fetuses, but embryos; pinpricks that were only as big as the bubbles that carried them.
Among all the sensations, among all the feelings, Tiana could make out one against all the others: regret. She wished none of it was real. She pushed herself away from the sphere’s edge. And in those first moments—she longed forever to sleep in the silence, never to be woken again.
But these were only the beginnings. It was Tiana’s time to be born. It was then that the dream came.
She stood on an island, rising up from a sea like jagged cliffs, with the black-blue water frothing below. She looked to the horizon. The sky was dark, and clouds blotched out the sun so that everything was muted, deep, and inky.
It was humid and Tiana was fully clothed. Black, glossy materials for her legs and hips, then a white cloth for her torso, all of which hugged the corners of her flesh. Was this all real? It felt real. The fabric rubbed her skin, the air felt cool in her hands. She was on Falin, the home world; this was evening. Ink-like blue, pastel pinks, greens formed around the sun on the horizon. And questions: why was she here? But the answer quickly followed.
A rushing wind came; the long grass on the island flattened in ripples and a glowing image of the Mother, Mater Fali, came to greet Tiana. She was godlike, at once magisterial and wonderful, yet alien and frightening—if it was not for the encompassing warmth of the Mater’s presence, which surrounded Tiana immediately then like a palpable aura. Falling from the sky, Fali was tall, beautiful; her eyes were large and blue; her face long, smooth, and regal. She was clothed in a white tunic, and the wind whipped the tunic up around Tiana so that it was like a pair of raging wings—and her hair! Her hair was uncolored; pure, serene, shining White, and long as her tunic. The color gave Tiana holy awe. White—the sacred color of the Mater, she remembered.
And then Tiana wondered—remembered from what? Remembered from when?
Mater Fali smiled then—at once sensing Tiana’s confusion. She reached out a hand to Tiana. It was a gesture of offering, of inviting the daughter to touch the Mother’s fingers, and to know her presence, fully.
Tiana stared at the hand, seeming to glow with its white skin, then took her own pure-white hand, and placed it on Mater Fali’s, looking up at her.
Mater Fali smiled once more; a glorious, radiating smile that gave Tiana overwhelming peace and tranquility, despite how the winds tore at her clothes and her hair. The confusion faded, and on seeing the iris of the Mother’s eye, Tiana understood her purpose—knew the love, the first apprehension—the thing beyond the horror of being. A comforting presence—a knowledge of existence in knowing: no, I am not alone. It is She who carries me within her Self.
But in that moment, Mater Fali’s hand slipped out from under Tiana’s, and she blew away softly, back to the sky from where she came. Tiana tried to follow her—she ran all the way to the edge of the grassy cliff, following Fali, but Tiana couldn’t catch her. Mater Fali watched serenely, but now sad.
She was gone. The winds subsided.
But Tiana looked again and there, before her, appeared another image. This was not of Mater Fali; this was of Mater Thea, and she was rising up from the cliffsides, down beneath where the sea roared.
Thea’s face was of molten bronze; her eyes made of sphere-cut sapphires; she was clothed in all kinds of thick, deep-colored linens. Her hair was black, and shot out from her head towards the horizon, whipped sheer and straight as spears’ blades that could cut the skin. Her face glowed with fire, and from her mouth dripped ichor, the holy substance that passed her spirit from one body to the next.
Tiana knew her place as Thea stood before her. Thea was the caretaker, the watcher, the keeper, and arbiter for all of Falin; the reigning sister-in-place—the Vicar—of Mater Fali. And Tiana’s state was submission; her duty was to serve Thea, as a daughter of Fali.
Mater Thea nodded, her face like that of Fali, but with no hint of emotion nor motherly care. Only a cold, steely gaze requesting already-guaranteed allegiance. Where Fali had a palpable aura of warmth, Thea exuded the pressures of the sea’s darkest depths.
She reached out her hand for Tiana.
Tiana stared at Mater Thea, tension and hate growing inside. She was repulsed by Thea—a kind of inexplicable hatred, steaming up from deep inside. Images of Thea destroying the loving mother Tiana had just known and met flashed through her mind—Fali, drowning in the sea beneath Thea’s fiery, vengeful face.
Tiana stood still. She refused to put her hand upon Thea’s. She rejected her place as Fali’s speaker.
Mater Thea tilted her head—as if to confirm the challenge.
Tiana refused to move.
Mater Thea strained her arm, shook it, compelling Tiana to touch her. Voices in Tiana’s mind whispered—a chorus of the obedient—begged her to take the Mater’s hand. Yet Tiana remained frozen, gripped in her inexplicable anger.
The voices grew louder. They started shouting, shouting as one and many for her to accept the allegiance to Thea.
Tiana shook her head, first as an answer, then to stop the voices. They grew deafening. Thea’s golden, brazen face burned brighter; her sapphire eyes grew darker. Tiana strained, her hand even lifting up, seemingly of its own accord, to touch Thea’s—but Tiana continued to work, remembering the image of Mater Fali that embraced her. Peaceful, caregiving, a Mother—but Thea: a master. A regent; a ruler made to pain Falinian society, to pain Tiana; to fill her with dread and guilt for things she had not done, or had not yet done.
Tiana thrashed again, just as she had within the womb. At the crescendo of voices, screaming at her and begging her to take Mater Thea’s hand, Tiana drew one last will, drawing on the memory of Mater Fali and her womb within which Tiana had grown, and rose it to the top with all her power.
The voices silenced.
Tiana looked up to Mater Thea, whose face no longer burned in its rageful luster. She tilted her head again—this time confused. Tiana felt the victory of her will surpassing the thing greater than her. Her love for the Mother, for the source, and not for any present power that may construe holy Truth—this, she realized, was victory.
Tiana smiled, spreading her lips wide, showing her teeth.
Mater Thea opened her mouth to decree in defense, but before Tiana would hear another voice, she lunged towards the image, reaching out towards the molten face of Thea—
And, plunging her arm into the rippling bronze, tore out the right eye of Thea. She held the dark sapphire in her hand, shock written on the Mater’s face. Then the wind came, and the sapphire crumbled, rising into the sky as dust.
The vision dissipated, and Tiana awakened to her body in the womb. As quickly as the vision passed, a great pain came through her head. It started from the depths of her brain and worked outwards, searing and licking over her scalp like a burning knife.
Tiana held her head and shook it once more, feeling the follicles of her pure-white hair. They twisted together, forming tight bonds of their own accord, flowing inwards with the pain. Pigment seeped from the roots to the tip: a deep, royal, violent hue. All Falinians are divided into castes, and each caste is identified with hair color. Tiana’s became deep Purple—
The pain subsided, and the girl—now a woman, now a sister—could not run her hand through her hair. The locks, twisted up and so tight, formed a curtain of royal knives round her face. And the tips faded to black, as if they were stained by darkness and oil.
Tiana could feel her full, conscious self again, but her soul was changed. Indeed, a great piece of herself woke, more than just the body itself, and she was fuller; her purpose was revealed within. But still, the blackness, the peaceful dreaming of time-before-time; the essence of Mater Fali, tugged. And in that, a deeper pain was buried in her heart; the same pain when Fali was blown to the horizon, never to return. In the womb there was the purity of pre-birth, deep inside the soul of the mother—but outside the womb, only death and sin remained. And those were of Mater Thea.
The bubbles that licked her body stopped. The water around her stilled. A silent, ominous pause first, then a great roar came and all the water, with Tiana, sucked upwards. Up, up, against her will; the feeling of a ribbed birth canal bumping up against her skin—and twisting, turning, seemingly forever.
But then, freezing air met Tiana’s white skin. Skylight pierced her newborn eyes. She rolled upwards against cold metal. She made a hundred revolutions, rolling up an artificial ravine by the force of the vacuum that brought her there, bruising her limbs, unable to stop the momentum on the hard, curving surface—until the inertia ran out and she was forced the other way, falling back down to the giant lips, now closed at their crevice.
The liquid burst out of her mouth and she lay there—breathing first breaths of air with great pain in her lungs, coldness ravaging all over her, and light flooding her eyes. She could feel pools of fluid at her lips, and she tried to breathe it in for comfort, but only swallowed it instead, and it tasted sour. She coughed—air mocked the water that was once her breath and bed.
No more time had passed when her ears, too, were overwhelmed with another great roar, but wider and rumbling, gaping and coming from the sky. There was a shadow from above.
Something unfurled itself over her and she felt cold tendrils wrapping her up, turning her over and forcing her to face the sky and see.
She saw a great floating ship, reeling up the umbilical cord that wrapped her; spotlights from the thing’s hull blinded her. She could recognize all the ship’s parts—even that it was a ship. The knowledge was already ingrained in her. The hull was curved, hooked, and ribbed; sculpted protrusions made it a graceful, fearful flying machine. Four bulbous pods on alternate corners came out, and from these the spotlights shined.
Tiana could see no more as she was drawn up to the belly of the ship where a gate opened up, and more light poured from inside. Tiana’s eyes were overwhelmed and she could not see anything of where she was nor what was around her. The air was cold and she was laid on the floor, hands touching her on all sides. But she was too weak to move—too tired to speak or hear, and she fell into a terrible, shivering sleep.
That ship, with her inside, flew away from the black structure, the womb, and over frozen wastes, white and gray under an eternally overcast sky. That nursery cathedral was built upon the planet’s southernmost pole—
Formed in the shape of a monumental, obsidian-black face. The face of Mater Thea, with gaping lips, staring at the sky; the lips from which Tiana was spat.