The universe had closed around it like a wound.
The memory of her death was now blessedly opaque; the conscious mind had blotted it out with the rough, unfeeling tissue of oblivion. Blessed be the Merciful, for the gift of forgetfulness.
But the void was still there, and it would never go away. This was not the creative void of the cosmos or the womb, but a different and malignant emptiness. No breath was drawn but had Lhior's absence engraved on it; no draught of water was taken but had Lhior's loss dissolved within it.
Even now, Khalfid winces at the memory. Even now, she cannot look at another woman without remembering the one whose embrace was everything. Making love with her, and sharing the intertwining of their souls, had taken Khalfid into another dimension and another world - a world so vast it could encompass even the barren landscape of the lifeless, nameless rock they called their home.
You are not you,
not even a star;
you are a hole through which
I see only shining. ...
Khalfid remembers the lines from an obscure Human poet; their child had written the verses down, first in translation and then in the original language. She can smile now, knowing that she still has something left of Lhior: their child. The child Lhior bore, the child whose face reflects Lhior's features - but the spirit, perhaps something of the girl's spirit is Khalfid's own.
She knows how tempting it would have been for her to cling to the girl, to turn the restless, inquisitive child into a surrogate for Lhior - and she knows too how destructive it would have been for the child. And after all, Khalfid's role as a bondmother was not to nurture - that was Lhior's domain - but to guide the growing girl into the greater world. And so, she held the girl at a distance.
The homeworld is the soul's cradle - but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.
It was a quote the girl had come across in one of her books, and one she recited endlessly. The first time Khalfid had heard it, she thought it was a verse from one of the Gilkesh classics, perhaps The Way of Power or the Cypher, but she'd been wrong.
The girl never gave much of herself away. Following the construction accident that had killed her birthmother - a strange accident it had been, too - she'd grown even quieter, but her work in school never suffered. Her fierce intellect and her interest in alien cultures stayed as keen as ever. She studied hard and trained assiduously in the school's gymnasium, where the girls were exposed to their mandatory hour of Standard Gravity - the only place on the planet with artificial gravity - to prepare them for the unlikely possibility that they might one day journey to the Homeworld.
And now? She's out there somewhere now, Khalfid thinks.
Her steps are listless and fluid as she paces the floor of the small domicile. She gazes at the walls, at Lhior's belongings in a corner still untouched, at the pictures of Lior and their daughter on the walls. She thinks about what might have been and weeps without tears. She closes her eyes, and - from her home deep below the surface - looks up at the imagined stars. As if reciting a mantra, she repeats their daughter's name.
Joli. Joli. Joli. ...