“The exercise will do me good!” she says, and he agrees, so she has her suit modified to fit her growing belly, and keeps on with the excavations of a place long abandoned.
“The fresh air will do you good.” he says, so she walks her weakened body through the gardens to a hidden place near the curve of the dome. Where the bluish sunlight dappled through orange leaves, and small birds the colours of jewels, with impossibly long tails, flitted through trumpet-vines and bushes dripping clusters of flowers. She bends, and tucks the tiny artifact into the soil.
“The baby is alive.” they say. “We just don’t know what the impact has been.” The walks to the hidden vine-glade become a daily routine. No one is allowed to follow her. She adds bits of stone and shell and glass from other excavations to her growing shrine. Her hand caresses her shifting belly. “This will be your place.” she whispers.
“It’s a girl!” he celebrates, counting ten little fingers and ten little toes. Her mother sees the too-pale sheen of her skin, and the strange hue of her eyes, but she reaches for her baby, and tucks her to her breast. Her child, and yet…not.
“Her eyes are very sensitive.” the doctors tell them, so they keep her inside, in shadows and dimness. She wilts, and wails, and her skin takes on a sickly grey hue. Father is distressed. Doctors order more tests. Mother binds a bit of cloth around the tiny girl’s eyes, and takes her in secret to the glade. She thrives.
“She’s a freak.” they whisper. Even in a place where they are exposed to many species from many worlds, strangeness in one of their own is too much. Not when so much had been cured. Not when “abnormal” has never been an experience. So she avoids them, and wanders through the gardens to the glade. She’s used fallen wood to make a small bench, and added her own little offerings to her mother’s shrine. She misses her mother.
“Once upon a time…” she reads. She has found a collection of ancient stories, and she delights in sitting among the vines and bushes, reading them aloud to the flit-jewels. Her voice is soft, but she reads with all the dynamics of a virtuoso actor. She makes props out of vines and twigs, and costumes from petals and leaves. Anyone watching (there never is) would see the birds a rapt audience around her.
“Patience! Patience!” she laughs, the little flit-jewel birds vying for her attention, and the cup of sweet syrup she carries in her hand. They settle along the branches, and she drips nectar into their waiting beaks. She talks to them of her day, her plans, her dreams, and they sing sweetly back at her. Were you to ask her what she sees, she would describe the flits in colours you’ve never dreamed of.
“It’s a solid match.” Father tells her “And they’re willing to overlook your… differences. The genetic assay was sound.” She stands stoically, looking at her feet, her hands clasped behind her back. She knows protesting will do nothing- he hasn’t loved her in years, she’s too strange for his social circles and ambitions. She waits for the moment he is distracted, and slips quietly out of the house.
She has no words to say. The glade is filled with nothing but tears and sobbing. The flits sing mournful little songs… all but one. One little flit who sees a glow in the dirt, a shimmer coming from an artifact placed years ago. The flit hops and pecks, uncovering the treasure. The glow grows. Her weeping stops. A slender figure, with pale-sheen skin, and luminous eyes reaches out their hands. She sees herself reflected there.
“What is your name?” they ask. “Hope.” she answers.