Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | March 18, 2008


San Francisco, California. October 7, 2006

Birds silhouetted against ship

Photo by Samuel Shaw (see more here)

On a gray morning in late autumn, three women let loose three birds, one from each mast of the tall ship.

The birds lifted on wind that would not lift the heavy canvas sails. They called out hoarsely with voices tired from years kept caged, just in case. Their captors watched them fly, each with her own answer to the question every being on the ship now wondered. Would the birds remember the taste of air without salt, or the greenness of dry land? Would they return?

The first woman doubted. She despaired at the whole exercise. Why bother? If the gods willed, the wind would rise and the ship sail on towards land. If not, they would perish. The birds were mere grains of sand flung against the thick rope of fate.

The second woman, really no more than a girl, hoped. She saw tiny blue flowers and cozy villages and steep mountain trails and closed her eyes, willing the birds to take these dreams, to find a place she could call home.

The third woman neither doubted nor hoped. She knew. She had planned this voyage in the first place, a hundred years ago. Not that any of the others believed it. Her straight spine and crystal clear eyes told of a woman several decades younger. But she had been born in an age when time was not the plague it was now, when humanity scoffed in the face of wrinkles and weak bones and cancers. Her body was fortified with a network of nanomachines and special vitamins that the first woman would believe to be works of the devil. The second woman would only think it an amusing fairy tale. But it was true.

This third woman called herself Farsail. She had left her old name behind the day the cities fell and the sky blackened. Even then, she had known of the voyage that must come, and its inevitable end.

The birds would return, and the people would find land. But it would not be what they expected. No, the life that awaited them on the other side of the sea was beyond even the youngest woman’s ability to imagine.

A week later, the third bird saw it. A vast, silver landscape, like a great fish lying on its side. Reflections danced off hundreds of scale-like windows and the sea pored in through a great mouth fanged with white beams. Soon, the ship would sail through those gates and be forever swallowed by this gem of civilization. The place they might someday learn to call home.


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