The Song Became
by Calie Voorhis
“Are those missiles, Captain Margolin?
“I don’t know. It’s been a long time since I’ve been Home. Try singing the greetings again.”
“Home is arming their defenses, Captain.”
The suns of Home shadowed the fields with the double-edged penumbras of wings, while the tribes feasted, flitted, and flirted through rakkis red blooms swaying in gentle breezes. Chirpy chirkies littered the air of the holiday trade fair with constant buzzing, but they didn’t bother Margolin because the nectar tasted sweet and Tavornya was back. In the twilight, the tribes merged and converged and mating patterns flickered above her, all sixteen of her wings shivering in anticipation of his touch.
Will he or won’t he or should she sing the songs of love first? Her clutchmates had paired long ago, in their first flush, but this was her third.
Then Tavornya pranced, puffing feathers, strutting around on the vulnerable ground, and her heart leapt with laughter, even more so when he twisted their songs together into the mating psalms, quirky high notes tumbling, trills trembling. She soared in response so high that the air grew thin and her lungs tightened, her eyes aching from cold. Far below, Tavornya’s feathers sparkled with dew, and the moment was frozen in mating song.
And then the ships came again, falling through the sky to hover over the fields.
And then the nets sizzled around her, made of numbing ice.
And then the fall – Tavornya broken on the hard ground where only a moment ago he’d strutted his love. Tavornya, a last song: “Flee,” he sang, urging her towards the west, towards his nest.
“Run,” he sang, his notes cracking, his wings twisted.
“My love,” he sang, and she tried to crawl to him, to join her wings with his.
But the nets had her with their strange frost, and the more she beat at them, the more they tightened, and her feathers burned cold. The taste of ash and her dying kin filled her mouth.
The strangers harvested the flock. They took her family, her clutch, her world away from her, but they’d left broken Tavornya.
“I will sing your song,” he stuttered, the notes ragged and sharp. “I will sing your memory. Until you come Home.”
No one had ever come Home. He knew, she knew. Still, she sang her belief, she sang her trust, she sang with her feathers burning, pressed against the aliens’ net, her love, her rage, until they collared her throat and clipped her wings and caged her.
“We come in peace. We are not the ones who came before.”
“Home isn’t listening. The missiles are closing. We don’t have a counter solution, Captain Margolin.”
Every night, Margolin sang for the feast until her throat ached. They, the lofty invertebrates who’d taken her, taken them all from a thousand worlds, didn’t care what the words were, only that her tune suited their mood. She hung in her cage over their banquet, spread with flesh from her kin, while their tentacles slurped, and each set of mouths not busy eating hummed along with her happy songs.
During the days, she paced the confines of her gilded cage on claws made for perching, not walking. In the brief moments she slept, she dreamed, and her wings ached with memories of flight – the air cold and crisp in winter, the scent of lavitrix blossoms in the meadows, and the rustling of shedding pitin needles in the forest when the newest hatchlings played catch-me-can in flirtatious swirls.
One season passed, then two. They clipped her wings again.
And sometimes, she sang – just for herself, just to remember. Not the songs of duress, but memories from her home – rainy days spent with Tavornya, long nights singing together under the moons. Others began to join. First, a Hellanian, who added a counterpoint of growling hatred. Then an upper line of crystal trills as the Gemonites joined, then another, and another, until during the long afternoons, a symphony evolved, a requiem for the death of their future.
One night she realized that her past was gone. They were too far away, but worse, too long away in the dilation of space-travel time. Tavornya was dead and she’d never again tangle her wings with his in excited flutters. The rest of her clutch was dead. No one would sing her melody in the Song of Songs, no clutchmates, no paired parent bonding, no eggs of her own. Did anyone still sing her song? Did anyone remember those taken?
So she sang a new canticle – a few lines of rhythm, a staccato beat, and there the notes settled in the background, just a few tiny measures of resistance. If love was dead and her people had forgotten her, then all she had left were the songs of revenge. If the others had joined her in a requiem, perhaps they would take up the song if she conducted a revolution.
“Our shields will not hold, Captain. I need your instructions most urgently.”
“Tell them who we are, who we were. Sing them my song. See if the people remember.”
“The planet’s gone quiet, Margolin. Completely silent.”
And the song swelled, spread through the cages, leaping from one to another when their captors hummed her tunes and spread the word throughout the ship, among all the races the aliens had stolen.
The songs of their slavery became an opera.
The chorus of revolution grew.
Margolin added attack plans, coded in the Hellanian’s roars, and the Gemonites inserted release codes in their soprano trills, each species passing along information in the beats of measures, in the accents on triplets. Here a sharpened semiquaver meant danger, guards approaching, there a flattening sixteenth the location of a weapons locker. The guards carried the sounds with them, humming along to irresistible tunes – nonsense melodies, or so they thought, while their tentacles flashed like whips and they whistled the plans from prison to prison, across the entirety of their fleet.
The song became a war for freedom and she the conductor, the director, the composer.
One day, when her wings had atrophied with age, though her voice was still as sharp as ever, the song exploded in a final battle, and she led the peoples of every captive species to the bridge, where in a wealth of fire and chaos, she sang them free and headed the fleet for far-away Home, hoping they would listen, hoping they would remember.
But how could any species remember a song so old?
“They don’t remember, do they?”
“I don’t think so, Captain. Five clicks to missile impact.”
“Silence is unusual for my people. Evasive maneuvers. Brace for impact.”
“Wait. They’re responding.”
“They’re playing you, Margolin. Your theme. On every channel. Variations and riffs, as though they’ve been adapting your song for generations. Transformed and enhanced, but you. The missiles are altering course. Planetary defenses are down.”
“Tavornya remembered,” Margolin said. “He kept his promise and my song. We’re welcome Home.”
Calie Voorhis is a short story author and poet. She has work appearing or forthcoming in over thirty venues around the world, including Anywhere But Earth, The Urban Green Man Anthology, If This Goes On, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a lifelong fan of the fantastical, an Odyssey Workshop Alumna, and she holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. You can visit her at the world’s fourth worst writer’s website: www.calievoorhis.com.
Fiction by Calie Voorhis:
"The Song Became" August 2021