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Out of the Mouths of Babes

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"Mother, when I grow older, what shall I become?"

I look down at my boy. His face is expectant, his eyes are hopeful, his hands are clasped tightly upon my skirts.

Every day we walk through the garden just before the sun rises. It is a routine to which I have wasted no time acclimating him. He must learn not to fear the sun, for though its rays may damage us if we are not careful, it gives life to all the bounties of our world.

There are many flowers in this section of the garden. From where I stand I can see common ones like lilies of white, and amaranths, and delicate pink carnations. There are rarer ones in the distance; they lack names, and my child will not name them. I do not goad him into appellating them, and I will not take from him the subtle joy of knowing he has given life and personality to the gentle plants of the earth.

"I know not, child," I tell him. "I know only that you are special."

He stops in the center of the gray-brick path and stretches his arms up to me. Although he is nearly too large now for me to bear him to and fro, I lift him up and rest him on my hip.

"Why am I special, Mother?"

"Ah, this is an easy question." I smile a little and brush aside the eternally messy locks of hair that rest upon his forehead like a black nimbus.

"Answer!" he cries. He flattens his hair down over his forehead. Doubtless he thinks I fuss too much about his appearance. For all my efforts to cause him to devote some interest in the condition of his dress and countenance, he is content to gallivant about our outpost in nothing but oft-patched trousers and a petulant attitude.

"My dearest heart, you are special because you are the only little troll in the great wide world who has a mother."

He has heard all of this before, of course. He knows he is special; he knows why he is special. The boy's sense of self is rapidly burgeoning into something that will unquestionably get him into trouble someday. His ego is matched only by his desire to play at being unexceptional.

"Even among my friends?"

He speaks now of those few afflicted with kindly friendship towards him: an avid listener of perhaps two and a half sweeps (his own age), a Psiionic of four or five, a Neophyte Legislacerator of eight. I do not worry about the discrepancies in their ages, for my boy is a precocious one. I myself have attained nearly thirteen sweeps, and often I find myself taken aback by the wisdom that comes from the think pan of this youngling whom I cannot help loving. Intermittently I think we must be fated of soul, for it brings me joy to see his erudition flourish and his tempers calm.

"They revere you, dear one."

When I found him, I confess, it vexed me greatly that he would not lead a normal childhood. I pondered deeply on his never having triumphed over the gaping hatching caverns; I became troubled when his first half-sweep passed and he had not given himself a name. I thought long on his lack of a lusus and on the fact that he would never build a hive for himself. I concerned myself with his mutations and signlessness.

He has adjusted well despite my quasimaternal worries. He has given names to his friends, and to me--but he still refuses to name himself. He has shown great ingenuity despite never being nature-forced through that enervating test of courage and wit and dexterity. He does not fret over his lack of a hive, but shares mine gladly. He is strong for his caste, and though he lacks any sort of psychic ability, he far makes up for it with his silver tongue. Perhaps he will eventually choose a sign, perhaps he will adopt mine when I am gone, or perhaps he will purloin the sign of someone else.

"I am nothing great, Mother," he says softly, jarring me out of my reflections. He is staring over my shoulder. The sun is peering over the horizon. "I am merely a troll. I am no more special than you or Cattaria or Mercutio or Xollmise."

The air is stolen from my lungs for a moment. I stop walking and look down in awe at my boy. His chin rests on my shoulder; he speaks as serenely as a slumbering grub.

My love, my love, this is what distinguishes you. You are humble, kind, and careful. You speak your mind with eloquence. It matters not that you are young, that you are a genetic anomaly, that you are signless and nameless and hiveless. You are a wonderful boy, and you will become a wonderful man. Empires will shift over as you walk by; they will whisper, "Here passes the Signless!" Yes, my darling--you are a marvel!

"May we sit now, Mother?" he mutters, embarrassed by his own insight.

"Yes, dear one." I kiss each of his blunt horns in turn and he grimaces indignantly.

I sit us down under a tree I did not plant, a tree that has been here since I broke the earth of this oasis. Perhaps it has been here since the earth itself broke out of Chaos' belly six hundred billion sweeps ago. Its branches are as white as the sand that surrounds the garden like a miles-wide ribbon, and its jade-green leaves glimmer in the breeze. I have not dared to label it for fear of dulling its pulchritude.

Without a word more, we watch the sun pull itself out of its starry grave. It is beautiful.