Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




Sing in Me, Muse

O Mother, dear Mnemosyne! It is I, Anisah, fifteenth of my line! Here is my song.

Long have I waited for this, the end of my first shift; at last I am a daughter grown old enough to sing. I have sat at my post—I have looked out my mirrored window—I have logged my report with the cousins who keep the histories. But for you, my mother, on my first night’s watch, I will confirm that, port and starboard, there is nothing out my window but the black and endless sea.

My sister Tara calls me to our berth. Until tomorrow, then, my mother!

• • • •

O Mother! It is I, Anisah! Here is my song.

The sea is endless, o my mother. My sister Rachel, oldest of us all, says you wish it so. My sister Tara, born with me, worries that our music disappoints, though her words are sweet and she sees more things port and starboard than any other.

You will hear Tara’s song soon enough, for she shares the same shift as me, but here are my own poor words: The sea is black. The fishermen’s floats move slowly in the current, and so I know our ship continues. Port and starboard, there is no land.

A song not sung half as well as Tara’s, but it’s the only song I have.

• • • •

O Mother! It is I, Anisah. Here is my song.

We sisters sing of the sea outside. Who sings to you of us?

Tara thinks our history cousins must, though Rachel says that you knew us all from the moment we were born. And that sounds right, but then, how can you know that Beatriz plans her verses against the braiding of her hair, or the sound of Soon-hee’s laughter over mealtimes?

Surely, Mother, our shift-songs can’t be all you hear. Tara thinks you must know us too from the songs the cousins sing, of history and of farm yields, of powerstats and partheno-tanks. You must receive them all, says Tara, and that is how you come to know us.

And as for the sisters at our mirrored windows: well, if nothing else, says Tara, you know how much she sings of me. And, my mother, I of her.

Port and starboard, there’s still no land, but the soft sea stretches onward.

• • • •

O Mother! Here is a song by Anisah, but Tara has helped my words.

First: The sea is dark and ever-constant, black and endless. The ship you built for us, so long ago, continues strong. The corridors maintain their seals, and the oxygen stays pure.

The first song any of us hears is this: Ten hundred thousand songs ago, our mother’s land began to drown. With strength she built a ship for us; with hope she crewed it all with daughters; with sorrow she begged us report our distant travels. We sing so that she might someday join us; we sing so that she might know something of the children she set upon the waters.

But now, o mother, now: We have found the lyrics to an older song. Tara, brave Tara with water-dark hair, has brought me to the engine room, the hidden heart, full of mighty drums that drive us through this endless ocean. We have seen the true words you left your wandering children, and we will weave them into our songs.

Tara touched the scratchings you left upon the walls, and found our words turned backwards. The fisherman’s floats, bright bobs, are stars, and these stars float not in water but in space. Our ship travels, and we search, and these words are yours, Mother, and they are beautiful. How many reports do you collect and add to your algorithm? How many ships did you send out searching for somewhere habitable? Your song, mother, your song will be so strange, strange and wonderful, when a daughter finally finds a home for you, and you can call us all to join you once again.

I cannot wait to hear your voice, my mother. I dream it, as I dream of you.

• • • •

O Mother! This is Anisah. Here are words lodged in my heart, though I know not if you hear them.

Mother, listen: There is the song that we are born with, and there is the old song that you gave to us. And now, now, Tara has sung a song just for me.

Her hair is dark, and her eyes are like the fishermen’s floats, glittering in the lamplight. Tara sings to me the hidden words, of space instead of sea, stars instead of floats.

Love instead of sister.

The ship has a heart, and so too do I and Tara. We beat as one.

If we find land, let it not be tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough.

• • • •

O Mother. This is Anisah. Here is my song.

I hope someday to understand.

The berths are cold. Tara would sing, even when there was nothing to report. Is that why you took her? Did you seek her voice?

I have seen neither port nor starboard since my last song. I was sent to the ship’s farm, away from the heartbeat and my window, to work with my cousins for a measure. We sing different songs, my cousins and me. Should my song sound like theirs this time?

The ground is rich, and our water is pure. Cousin Nesreen says that the new kind of meat will be ready before my next song. We will eat it with joy, I am told, and our voices will stay strong.

I hope this pleases you, o my mother. I miss the beat of the heart. I miss you. I miss many things.

• • • •

O Mother, this is Anisah. Here is my song.

Rachel says that I must sing to you of the dark sea, and let you know what I see port and starboard. My sisters and I, this is our task, and you take the songs from our transmissions and make of them a symphony to understand our travels.

Do you live still on your drowned land, Mother? Here, then, is the sea. Cup your hands closed, and look into the well formed there. There is no light, but your eye takes a moment to adjust, and in that moment a bright halo forms and fades again. That is the sea when you look out port and starboard.

Here is what the history cousins say we are to look for: A float like a perfect fish holding still beneath the waters, green like the farm’s algae, blue like our ship’s uniforms; a land as your land, Mother, but neither drowned nor dying.

The fishermen’s floats—no, stars, they are stars—shift, brighten, dim, and like fish to the fishermen, so too should our green and blue land have another float nearby, large and bright and burning.

(Who are the fishermen? I never learned that hidden word, and Tara is gone from me.)

Sometimes we see other ships, though I never see their sisters looking back at me. We do not stop to speak to them, though surely the history cousins must share their songs across the waters. Or maybe everyone just sings to you, my mother, and you make sense of it in the end.

Did you know that Tara’s eyes were gray and sharp like ships? Ships full of sisters, watching me as if I was long-awaited land. I thought of her again today. I miss her, Mother, very much. I hope her voice continues as well as I remember it.

I wish I could listen to the songs she sings now for you.

• • • •

O Mother, it is I, Anisah. Here is my song.

Our sister Rachel left the berth, and brought back with her another Tara.

She is not my sister Tara, eighteenth of her line. The cousins in the crèche have made her up anew, nineteenth now and strange to me. My Tara had eyes like stars and hair she kept loose about her shoulders. My new sister keeps her hair netted up, and her eyes are ships that have no windows.

Or perhaps she is just the same, except she does not know me.

She sings of calm waters and joy at our travels. She sings only to you. Do you like the new Tara’s songs? I hope my Tara keeps your favor, or—

O Mother, tell me that my Tara is with you. Let me dream of her and you together.

• • • •

O Mother, this is Anisah. Here is my song.

Rachel tells me my songs are wrong, discordant. I must sing to you of port and starboard, the dark sea and whether there is land.

There is no land, Mother. Of what then should I sing?

• • • •

O Mother, this is Anisah. Hear my song.

The heartbeat of the ship is this: warmth against my cheek as I hide within the engine room, the heart’s beat rising from the floor and tripping my tongue until I sing for you.

Mother, do you forgive wayward children?

I think Tara is not with you. I think Tara was sent to the cousins at the farm, and now the ground is rich, and the water is clean, and she is in the air and the new meat and the empty sheets of my berth.

She sang me songs sometimes, and they were of land we never saw, and ships of many colors, and sisters that we could never know. She sang of motherless women, and sisters standing on solid ground. She sang of silence. She sang when she should not, and was quiet when she was supposed to sing, and I think that there are cousins who listen to the songs meant just for you, my mother, and so Tara was taken from me.

There is another heart now, beating at the door. I am between two drums. Your scratched words are pressed against my skin. This morning I sang a song to my sisters, loud and long, until Rachel tried to stop my mouth and strange cousins tried to steal me.

Sisters, what are we truly searching for? Can our mother hear us here? There was a woman whom I loved, and she was taken for her doubts. I have never heard our mother’s voice. Have you, dear sisters? Do you know the secret words? We dream of land both blue and green. If we see it, will we stop our voyage?

My sisters, o my sisters, I tell you this: There is no land. There is no home. We are a ship unmoored, adrift, alone.

Forgive me, Mother. I think this must be my last song. The door is bending inward from the cousins’ work outside. I will be sent to you, or to the farm, or wherever sisters go when they sing songs they are not meant to know. Will there be a new Anisah? Will the next one sing like she ought? Will she grow up with the heartbeat in her ear, dreaming words she might never get to sing to you? Will there be another Tara?

O Mother, my mother, so many songs away from us, please, please forgive me, please sing to me at least once before

• • • •

O Mother, dear Mnemosyne! It is I, Anisah, sixteenth of my line! Here is my song.

Long have I waited for this, the end of my first shift; at last my time has come. I have sat at my post—I have looked out my mirrored window—and with joy I sing that, port and starboard, there is nothing out my window but the dark and endless sea.

Katherine Crighton

Katherine Crighton is a genre writer with over twenty years of experience in SF/F publishing. They have read slush for Tor Books, proofread for Baen Books, written reviews for Publishers Weekly, and worked as a production editor of environmental nonfiction and STEM textbooks. They’ve been published by Strange HorizonsLightspeedNightmare, and a variety of other markets, and are one of the sibling presenters on the No Story Is Sacred podcast, taking apart and putting stories back together again. They also spends their days working for Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Robotics Engineering program (with very many robots). Visit them at