They wondered about their youngest, born as he was in the maelstrom of a supernova, amidst the debris of an exploding star. His birth, thought Papa, had given Terra an unfortunate taste for garbage.
“If only he would stop playing with byproducts,” he sighed, sending gusts of hydrogen and plumes of helium across space. The plasma of his stellar vessel roiled in agitation. “Why can’t he turn from his dratted rock-marbles and look to the stars?”
“They all began with rocks,” soothed Mama, her dim-yellowness steady and calm. “He’ll move on to greater things, like Gravitas and Cerulaea did.”
“He’s too old for such playthings now,” grumbled Papa, but he conceded the point. Gravitas and Cerulaea made him proud, but they concerned him, too.
Gravitas had grown big and dark and silent. His very presence sucked everything toward him. He swallowed up light and laughter and words, giving nothing back. Papa wished he knew what had happened when Gravitas had gone a-journeying.
And Cerulaea, their brilliant, high-strung one, burning ever so brightly. He was afraid that she’d wink out too soon, the way she poured herself into her work.
Yes, they were doing great things in the universe, his older two, pushing the limits the way the children of others didn’t.
And then there was Terra. Little Terra who—his father guiltily thought he shouldn’t even think such things about his own son—was more matter than energy, almost falling off the lower end of the chart. As if he almost was one of the dull material things he played with so incessantly.
“Are you ready?’ Terra glimmered with mischief. It shone out of the thin brown-roughened body that he had kept for longer than a star cycle. Not done, thought Papa, indignantly, ready to lay down the law, but he caught Mama’s look and subsided.
“Yes, yes,” said Cerulaea, with a toss and a fidget, trailing sparks. Even in her stripped-down form, the heat emanating from her was almost unbearable. Yes, Papa needed to talk with her, too. “Can we get this over with? I have work to do.”
Gravitas said nothing as usual, wedged into a corner, separate and shadowed. They didn’t look upon him—no one did these days—but they felt the drag of his silence on their words, the way their energies streamed towards him.
In my house, too! Papa twitched a warning flick of energy at his oldest child. Gravitas took the hint and the headache-inducing pull released.
Cerulaea was still talking as Terra opened the portal with a flourish and they all passed through. “I mean, we all cut our teeth on this play-rock. After my electromagnetic experiments, there’s not much left to do on this rock, save smash something into it and see what happens—not that Gravitas left me much to work with anyhow—oh! Oh.”
She stopped, speechless for once.
Where once there had been just rock and ice and metal, there was now…. other stuff. Delicate, growing stuff that tickled their senses in new ways: thousands of shades of yellow and green, intricate traceries in patterns never before seen, complex molecules that flowed, wafted, interacted, tingled.
As Terra scampered around in glee, like a child half his age, calling out names and explaining processes in that breathless way of his, Papa knew only one thing:
His son, the one who played with trash, was special. He had done something not great, but small. Beautifully, wonderfully small.
As they gazed in wonder, Gravitas spoke, for the first time in a long while. His voice fell across them all, suffocating their speech, but for once Papa didn’t mind.
“This,” said Gravitas, slow as rock cooling, “this must be protected.”
No one answered him. But they didn’t have to.