Love changes us, sometimes in the most miraculous ways, his mother would say in her sudden fits of romanticism. It's one of Harlan's first memories of her; he must have been about four, and the most important person in his life at the time was his mother. He looked up to and adored her and so he knew that she was talking to him, because what other love could exist in the world than a boy's love for his mother?
She planted Gardenias every fall. It was an old Earth flower that she cultivated and cared for with such intensity that Harlan always enjoyed watching her. He would sit nearby – still and quiet, for once – and marvel at the way his mother's hands would delicately caress new leaves and the way she would carefully water each shrub. Everything deserves a kind touch, she would tell him.
And that was when Harlan got his first inkling that another kind of love could exist. He could see it in the way his mother smiled and hummed while she worked and Harlan was always too frightened to interrupt her happiness in case it should disappear.
He thought that his mother loved flowers as much as she loved him. The thought did not create jealousy but rather an awareness that people could love more than one thing at once. And this realization caused him to love his mother even more, for it meant that she must be capable of great amounts of love.
Harlan had a pet once, a white hamster that he kept in an airy cage. He was allowed to bring it home and take care of it because his father thought it would be good for him to learn to care for another living creature. Over the next few weeks, Harlan proved his devotion to the small animal by giving it all his attention, caring for it and feeding it. His feeling of pride as it grew bigger and began to thrive was enormous and he thought that he knew what loving something else might mean.
But just as soon as his hopes were raised, his pet died suddenly, after Harlan had become irrevocably attached. His parents didn't know the cause and it left Harlan feeling bereft and guilty for weeks on end.
It was only his mother who helped him past it, telling him that sometimes we lose those we love and Harlan nodded and put on a cheerful face for his mother who kissed his forehead gently.
They were words that he would remember again.
In the following years when Harlan began to find himself and began to be aware of others around him, he witnessed another form of love.
It was the way his mother greeted his father when he arrived home. Her small kindnesses to him, the lingering looks, the soft smiles. The way they sat close, fingers entwined, when they thought he wasn't around.
He wished that someday he'd find someone who would look at him the way his mother looked at his father.
Very soon Harlan discovered that even if you love someone, that does not keep them safe from the dangers of the universe. It was his second clue that love can also be accompanied by loss.
Even though he did not love anyone as much as he loved his mother, he felt the absence of his father even more deeply than he thought was possible. He wasn't sure if it was the way his mother's eyes lost their spark or the way she would sit, for hours on end, staring into the face of his father portrait.
He always sat by her side, feeling it shameful to leave his mother alone for such mourning, and with a hollow sort of sadness he noticed that even as she hugged him and kissed him, her once comforting hands had lost their grace.
No one ever saw how much that loss affected him, because Harlan learned not to show it; he had to be strong for his mother's sake. The ramifications of it would lie in wait as the hatred of a species built up inside of him.
It was his image of the violent and vicious creatures that killed his father which made the pain easier to bear and the blame easier to place.
And some years later, when it seemed as though his mother had moved on and married another man, Harlan could not open his mind to the possibility of having another father. And though he still loved his mother more than anything, no one could ever possibly fill that empty space inside of him that ached and echoed and he swore that no one ever would.
In her own way, it was his mother who first taught him about love, and who never stopped teaching him, even while they were separated. He always carried her words with him, close to his heart and secret, because it was the only thing he had to remind him of home.
Her words were also the only things that could help him befriend someone that, in his own mind, he had recognized as the enemy.
They hadn't started out as friends and Harlan carried a vast amount of resentment towards his species, but being stuck inside a spaceship for long stretches of time forced them into each others presence more often than Harlan would have liked.
But eventually Harlan began to think back to the words his mother had said to him over her garden and soon enough experienced himself how a kind touch could be returned with a kind look and Harlan felt as though everything his mother had ever told him was meant to join together into the ultimate sort of love.
And he realized how foolish he had been before to lock someone out of his life before they had even met.
In many ways, Harlan thought that love must have already changed him and so his love for Radu hadn't emerged from the darkness of space as he had first thought. All those years of witnessing kindness and happiness and love had already prepared him for the time when he would no longer have to watch from a distance.
He could reach out and touch love now. He felt that he had reached the pinnacle, that he could go no further, and if he looked back, he would see all the paths that had led him to where he was now.
And Harlan knew that once he saw his mother again, the first thing he would say to her would be that being in love means never having to question who you are.
And she would hug him like she used to and say yes, my son, and that is the greatest joy.