Ululation, the steady beat of drums, and the spirit of celebration hung in the air. Bold, beautiful black bodies swayed and danced, their voices singing praise to the ancestors, who watch from the ethereal beyond. In my arms, my son, an infant, innocent, blissfully ignorant, with eyes and ears that have yet to see and hear the horrors of the celestial frontier.
I look around and see raw, pained joy. I hear in their voices, --in their chants and songs-- elation tinged with sorrow, hope battered yet enduring as they welcome this life into the world.
And a lump of anger and pain forms in my throat as I am forced to sit through this farce of a ceremony.
For we are not truly on our world. Instead, on a ship. The Arkship, adrift in the silent vacuum of space, carrying what could likely be the last remnants of our people. Forced to retreat from our homeworld.
I look into my son's eyes, eyes that may never bear witness to the gold-adorned, ivory-paved beauty of his home. His ears, that may only ever hear mere echos of the sounds of his land. His heart, that might never fill with pride for his powerful, magnificent and beautiful people. Feet that may never walk in the footsteps of his legendary forebears. Skin that may never enjoy growing darker under the healing warmth of our twin suns.
And a soul that might never connect with his ancestors. Forever deprived of their wisdom and guidance. A tree forced to grow without roots.
My heart aches as I think of what has been taken from him --his history, his heritage, his legacy.
There are others like him, born on the ship, not on the homeland. Small, soft souls, their entire world limited to the metallic, empty, vacuous confines of The Arkship, and the intangible, starry expanse visible out of its portholes. The Lost Generation.
Hence the reason for this foolish, imitative ceremony: a chance for them to see, and for us to hold on to, a semblance of home. A last gasp, a desperate attempt to preserve our traditions.
Yet it felt incomplete, artificial, its faults glaringly obvious. And those faults were a painful reminder of what we had lost.
And tears fill my eyes as I think of that loss. Being driven offworld. Hunted by an unrelenting enemy. An enemy acting seemingly not only out of self-interest, but an incorrigible desire to see all my people rendered extinct. Even upon our retreat, they scoured the galaxy, rooting out any and all traces of us. They had sent scouts, attack ships, and had found us once. A gruesome battle ensued, one that we and our ship still bear the scars of. We narrowly escaped, and have been hiding since. Drifting among barren, eerily quiet solar systems, forever peering over our shoulders, listening for danger. We were never ready for an enemy so resentful, so charged with hate. So intent on distruction.
All we could do was pray.
And for a moment, it seemed, our prayers had been answered.
The ship's technicians and navigators picked up on a subspace signal. To most in the galaxy, it was indecipherable, they would have assumed it to be merely the natural activity of celestial bodies, or a malfunctioning of their equipment. But in reality, it was a relic of our world. A means of deep-space communications.
A message from home.
After running it through the decryption cycle, they were apprehensive, awaiting my order.
"Play it," I said.
The message was delivered as only the most special were on our home: through the songs of The Jali, the sacred keeper of history past and seer of history yet to come.
His low, sombre notes recounted the story, of the war, of our retreat, of the homeland and her plight. The parasitic invaders gutting her, cruelly extracting her wealth, carelessly ruining her beauty, silencing the voices of many of her denizens.
A baritone of mourning.
And then, a rise. Higher notes, quicker tempo, the strings of his Kora played louder and more cheerful, a crescendo of hope, as he sings of our people's success in repelling the invaders. And in the end, a call for us to return home.
When the message concludes, and his voice trails off, I am conflicted.
It is simply too good to be true. To have yearned for so long, and to suddenly have our wish made real did not seem possible. As General, I bore the blame of our defeat, I could not afford to lead our people into the shrieking maw of death again having so narrowly escaped it.
I grappled with the risks.
A chance to return home. A possibility we return to a wasteland.
A call from our brethren. Or perhaps our enemies in disguise.
A chance to be reunited with our families, to feel our planet's soil between our toes. To hear the sweet chorus of all creatures endemic to her, and to sing praise to her in return.
And the all too real chance we shall be greeted by our tormentors, who may silence us upon arrival. Or worse, subject us to the unspeakable and unknowable horrors that dwell in the thoughts behind their hateful eyes.
I am wary.
But the Jali's voice proves too compelling. Hope triumphs over fear.
The ship's denizens stare wistfully at me, their joy palpable. With bated breath, they await my decision.
I, in turn, gaze at my son. I think of what he has lost, what has been taken from him. Of how he has been wronged. And how now it can be set right.
"Listen, little one, do you hear the call?" I say, my voice as soft and delicate as he is.
"You're going home." +
"We are going home."
Songs of Home is a winner story of April 2018: Beacon prompt in SciFi Competitions and Challenges. So far there are 2 short stories on MbekoSifolo's profile (see dedication) and we are looking forward to reading more from this promising author.
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