Little Mother


                                  Cary C. W. Thomas

               Copyright 1996, 2003 The Cary C. W. Thomas Trust, dated

          7/11/90; All Rights Reserved


               They had moved in during the night. At first he had thought

          the foot tracks in the hall's dust and filth meant some bums had

          come snooping around hoping to find some of his food caches. Then

          he had seen that all the tracks led to a single door only a few

          yards down the hall from his room.

               He stood in front of the door listening, his head cocked to

          one side.

               As he listened, his eyes roamed over the door's surface. Its

          paint was peeled and faded by time, dimmed by the years' layering

                                            Thomas / Little Mother / Page 2

          of fine dust. Now, the dust was splotched and tracked about the

          rusted doorknob by finger marks. None of the new, stray marks

          were higher than his stomach. The footprints had been small. Kids

          and their drugs ran through his mind. He didn't need that.

               He reached out and grasped the door handle, twisting it. The

          handle moved, but the door would not budge. He pressed against it

          a couple of times, turning the handle in the opposite direction.

          The door would not open.

               He was about to release the handle when it pulled gently out

          of his hand as the door swung away. He shuffled back a step or

          two, squinting to see the small figure in the partially open


               The room beyond was in total darkness. They had covered up

          the windows.

               In the dim light coming into the hall from the dirty window

          at the end of the hallway he saw that the child-like figure was

          white, the hands gripping the door and jamb, emerging from the

          darkness like shafts of light, revealing how pale the skin was;

          so pale that it appeared to be almost translucent. The face was a

          milky orb barely perceptible through the room's sheltering


               The child did not start or flinch at the disheveled and dirty

          black man in his tattered and stained clothes. The child's calm

          attitude disconcerted him momentarily. It was rare to see a white

          in this part of the slum, but when they did pass through, almost

          always in cars, never on foot, you could see the apprehension

          they felt, in their furtive manner, in their almost panicky

          acceleration of their cars.

                                            Thomas / Little Mother / Page 3

               "What the hell you doin' here?," he grated.

               "Living." The voice was soft and pleasant. The pronunciation

          was studied, making him think they must be foreigners, illegal

          immigrants most likely.

               "Look, don't get smart with me...," he growled, stepping

          forward and reaching with his right arm for the child. The door

          began to close as the child dissolved back into the room, away

          from his advancing hand.

               He checked his motion on hearing the foot falls of others in

          the room approach the door. He balled his fists anticipating some

          kind of attack, then relaxed slightly when the footsteps stopped

          just behind the door.

               The child stopped the motion of the door and moved forward

          again, although now more deeply cloaked in the dark. The child

          stood silent, waiting for him. Frustrated, he brought his forefoot

          back and stared through the smaller opening, his fists clenching

          in aggravation.

               "Listen, I don't want no drugs, you hear me?"

               "No! We have no drugs, nothing."

               "What the hell you doin' here, anyway? Don't you know this


               "They gonna kick your butt or worse you show yourself out in

          the street. An' I don't want that kinda trouble, you hear? None

          of it!"

               "No, we won't bother anyone -- you -- no one. We leave when

          mama gets well."

               "Wuddayou mean? You hidin' someone? They cut up, shot --what?"

                                            Thomas / Little Mother / Page 4

               "No. Just sick. Regular sick. She'll be well soon, then we'll

          go. Don't worry."

               They were using his place for a hospital! Or maybe it was

          all lies.

               "Look," he said, pointing a finger at the child, "you just

          keep yourself and your friends outta my business and outta my

          way, ok? And if you're tellin' me the truth about a sick Mama

          this ain't no place she's gonna get well in. She's gonna die in

          this hole and I don't want no bodies. You understand?"

               The ghost of a head nodded.

               "Yes, you won't see us. We won't bother."

               And with that, deciding the black man had ended the

          conversation, the child shut the door in his face. He heard

          footsteps of possibly five people moving around beyond the door,

          then quiet.

               He raged within himself, at his age and debilities. He

          couldn't afford to provoke them. They could probably easily beat

          him up, so all he was left with were tenuous verbal threats.

               Now he would have to start asking for cash, and break into

          his small stash of money, to buy some muscle from one of the slum's

          gangs (if he could find one to trust to keep a contract) to move

          these punks out. It would take him at least a week to get a minimum

          of cash even if he sold some of his foodstamps. Maybe there was a

          mother and maybe in a week she would be better. More likely dead.

          Either way, they might leave then. He could drop the body down

          one of the ventilation shafts, for the rats. He hoped there was a

          Mama. It would all be so much easier. And he knew he was deluding


                                            Thomas / Little Mother / Page 5


               On his way out he discovered something he had missed before.

          Leading away from the stairway, which the kids had used during

          the night, and which he used regularly because they were the least

          dilapidated, he saw foot tracks trailing off toward the opposite

          side of the building. He had missed these tracks earlier because

          the dawn light had barely illuminated to the stairs. Now, when

          the sun had risen up above the tenements to the east, enough light

          streamed in to make the floor beyond the stairs visible.

               He followed the tracks down to the next intersection where a

          shattered window was boarded up and turned right where the tracks

          ran along the hall on the opposite side of the building from where

          they and he lived. They stopped before a wide doorless opening

          that gave way to the vertical shaft of the building's freight

          elevator. Long ago, when the building had been abandoned, the car

          and cables had been removed. But now, the new tenants had mounted

          a compound pulley in the shaft, its ropes dangling down into the


               They had hauled something up here. Something, he imagined,

          more than just a sick mother.


               He existed by the cards. On days when he felt like it and on

          days when he had no other choice except to go hungry he would go

          into the slum and work with his cards. He would work on his old

          customers and try to cultivate new ones.

               Foodstamps were his main revenue. Those extra he pried out

          of his clients augmented his own that he got monthly at the

          government office.

                                            Thomas / Little Mother / Page 6

               But almost more important than reading for his customers was

          listening to the slum: the people, the gangs and their various

          alliances, the rumors and the slanders. In this way he was able

          to embellish his readings of the Tarot with other than the mystical

          interpretations. He was able to make the strange cards with their

          colorful images seem an integral part of the slum and its


               He was well known in the slum. Not in the sense of being


               No, he knew that would work against him. He was known as

          someone who lived on the fringes of the slum where no one else

          lived. An odd man in ragged clothes, even more ragged than most

          slum dwellers, who wandered through every once and a while, making

          visits to those who would pay, hooking others on his cards through

          the young children who he read for free, knowing a certain small

          percentage would lead him to gullible parents, or better yet,

          lonely grandparents. He was a fool who threatened no one, allied

          himself with no one. Unless he was actually working in the slum

          most people didn't think of him or care. And that's the way he

          wanted it. To be a well known myth that occasionally made a

          personal appearance.

               He was scrupulously careful in choosing who he read for with

          regards to paying customers. At least he tried to be. And always

          careful in how detailed his readings became. He had learned long

          ago how closely the two aspects of his profession were related.

          To be successful he had to select people who were incorrigibly

          gullible but not simple enough to go about acting literally on

          his statements. In his teens he had learned to avoid those people.

                                            Thomas / Little Mother / Page 7

               One of his readings had resulted in an ugly situation involving

          adultery. His subject had not only acted on the reading but had

          given it a bizarre interpretation, far beyond what he had

          originally implied. He had left the town and county quickly and


               Yet even his care could be overcome by an unexpected windfall.

          Only a year and a half ago he had compromised his careful

          procedures when a local gang leader had become interested in the

          old Tarot reading man from the south. He had heard of the leader,

          Firespark, who was said to be deeply involved in organized arson,

          and of his fascination with the mystical aspects of the Bible.

          And his rumored ties with the mob. So, he had consented to read

          for Firespark when the man had requested. That first reading he

          had kept as general as any other he did for his other clients.

          Then he saw how well Firespark had paid, and remembered how the

          man had shown a slight dissatisfaction at the lack of specificity

          in the reading. Firespark had asked him to return and that had

          begun his departure from his conservative strategy. He had found

          that he had to spend less time with his other customers and more

          time on the street trying to find out how the world revolved around

          the gang leader so he would not slip up on his readings. The

          lucrative relationship had ended abruptly when he learned Firespark

          had acted on the readings, taking their content literally.

          Something had failed or worked against Firespark and he had come

          out stalking the mystic Southerner. Firespark had been killed

          going through the territory of some rival gang that felt it had

          something to gain with one of the mobs by Firespark's death.

               He had lain low for weeks, living off his caches of canned

                                            Thomas / Little Mother / Page 8

          food, now and then dressing up and attempting to work in the park,

          always having to move to a different path when a cop ran him off.

               Such was his existence, inherited from an ancient woman who

          had lived alone in a shanty on a neighboring property. Over the

          years of his adolescence he had learned the cards, often having

          to sneak away to her hut after his parents had found out and beat

          him for associating with a follower of the occult.

               Eventually the old woman had been driven off and her shanty

          burned when his parents had told their preacher of their son's

          continuing infractions of their prohibitions. He had consulted

          the deck of cards the old woman had given him, about her the night

          her hovel burned. Distrusting his first reading he had redrawn

          the cards, amazingly obtaining the exact same cards as first. The

          third time had resulted in the same draw even after he had shuffled

          and reshuffled.

               And the dominant interpretation had terrified him: monumental

          transition. Since then he had never done a reading for himself,

          only for others.

               Now, as he trod to the heart of the slum, he wondered if he

          might still be able to incorporate aspects of the meteor shower

          which had assaulted the city and captured the nation's rapt

          attention eight weeks ago, into his readings. The unprecedented

          occurrence had done much destruction. And much was made that

          fortunately the largest objects had descended into the waterways.

          Numerous expeditions were underway now to locate and study any

          remnants. Destruction and holocaust were always dramatic themes.

          He had many threads of interpretation which he might still weave

          into his readings, but here in the slum the interest in that

                                            Thomas / Little Mother / Page 9

          apocalyptic event had waned substantially.


               When he returned that night to the ancient five story

          apartment building where he lived on the fourth floor, he found

          that they had removed the compound pulley from the service shaft.

          Stopping in front of their door, he listened. So complete was the

          silence that he thought maybe they had moved out. But when he

          tested the door he found it to be as solid as he had that morning

          and he thought he heard some light shuffling inside when he turned

          the door handle. He went to his room trying to bolster his attitude

          about the whole matter with the apparent fact that at least they

          were quiet about their affairs.


               Later that evening, as he relieved himself down the

          ventilation duct he had broken into when he had first moved in,

          he realized what had been nagging at him all evening; that had

          made him jerk his head up during his meal and listen for what he

          was sure to be a fading sound that never repeated itself; that

          had made him uneasy and fidgety as he tried to drift into sleep.

          The small sounds that the numerous rats made, who shared his

          building, were gone. For the three years that he had lived here

          the rats' evening patter had become part of his aural image of

          his home. Now, he detected its absence through his heightened

          anxiety. And he wondered what had stilled the beasts. Or had they

          abandoned this part of the slum?


               The first week passed uneventfully. He never saw or heard

          the new tenants. He was having second thoughts about the money he

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 10

          had accumulated during the week. He found it easy to think of

          other things on which to spend his money. Every day he would try

          the door of their room at least once to see if they were still

          holed up. Each time it was still locked but he no longer heard

          any sounds come out of the room in response to his disturbance.

          He would sniff at the keyhole and around the door trying to

          discover any hint of a decomposing body. He smelled none each


               Perhaps the woman was really getting better. He imagined her

          children must be stealing drugs for her. They were also getting

          out to relieve themselves. He smelled no waste.

               During the next two weeks he would forego his examinations

          of the door, sometimes actually forgetting that they were there.

          At night when he was tired he would remember with a mental twinge

          that he had not given the intruders a moments thought all day

          long. This disturbed him a little because it meant he was becoming

          less cautious and attentive, not just in his general routine but

          in his very home. At other times he would counter that realization

          with the rationalization that they weren't worth the bother. They

          stayed out of sight and weren't noisy. So he vacillated, never

          admitting to himself that he didn't want to deal with the

          situation, hoping it would resolve itself.


               They were growing a goddamn tree. At the beginning of the

          fourth week, as he was leaving for the day, he noticed some dirt

          tracked on the floor down the hall from the stairway. Looking

          closer he saw a fine trail of dry, crushed earth leading away

          from the small clod that first attracted his attention.

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 11

               The trail led to one of the outer rooms which ran a continuous

          course about the perimeter of the floor. He opened the door slowly,

          peering through the opening, knowing in part what he would see.

               The outer wall of the room was gone allowing the daylight to

          illuminate the room's interior. The wall had undoubtedly been

          burst when the neighboring structure was torn down. The room had

          been completely empty when he had made his original examination

          of the building. Now there were at least four inches of earth

          covering half the floor, most of it lying towards the inner wall.

               He stepped into the room looking at the foot high, two inch

          diameter trunk that thrust up out of the center of the field of

          dirt. It was more vine than tree. Seven stems reached out radially

          from the top of the trunk to lie on the earth surrounding it.

          Large magenta leaves, the smallest four inches broad, grew off

          the vines. Where the vines approached two of the inner walls he

          saw that small tendrils led off the vine to embed themselves into

          the weathered plasterboard, anchoring the vines so they could

          lift themselves up the wall. Along the third wall, adjacent the

          door, a clean path was left that led around the earthen field.

          Along the pathway the vines had been trained back into the field

          of dirt.

               He moved along the path, crouching down here and there to

          part the blanket of leaves. He found small pillow shaped growths

          (fruits?) growing on short stems on either side of the vine, a

          pair at each interval between the leaves.

               He didn't go down to the end of the pathway leading from the

          door afraid the floor might not support him where he knew the

          outside wall was also missing from the room below. Again the

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 12

          thought of drugs crossed his mind as he noticed how well kept the

          soil was, loose and adequately moist. As before, he was not

          completely sure. He had never heard of a drug derived from a plant

          with such striking characteristics.

               Possibly his intruders were the originators, or among the

          first to cultivate it on this continent. Scenarios ran through

          his mind.

               When he had first glimpsed the splash of red and the expanse

          of earth he had been incensed at the intruder's audacity. He had

          warned them to keep out of his business and he certainly considered

          his home part of that. Now, though still distressed at their

          effrontery, he ameliorated his attitude toward their action. He

          would watch the vine's progress and note when they started

          harvesting. Somehow he would have to get into their room and

          discover if they processed the stuff themselves and, if they did,

          how it was done. Then he would decide which interested parties

          would be most remunerative for his information. In the interim he

          would probe the market more closely for likely purchasers and

          investigate to make sure he had not missed some bit of critical

          information floating about the slum that indicated this plant was

          not unknown in the city.

               Before he left for the day, carefully closing the door as he

          returned to the hall, he went to the service shaft. The compound

          pulley was not there but he found traces of crushed earth that

          led to the vine room.

               They had certainly kept themselves quite busy during his

          daily excursions.

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 13


               He was amazed at the prodigious growth of the pillow-like


               At the end of the fourth week the fruits were seven inch

          squares. They had turned a pale aquamarine from their earlier

          bland white.

               His adopted referent -- fruits -- upset him. As the days

          went on he suspected all his hard work in the slum, gathering

          information surrounding the drug traffic, would all be for nothing.

          As the vine's product matured he began to believe more and more

          that they really were just fruits. They had softened much since

          he had found them, then quite hard with tough skin. He had

          immediately jumped to the conclusion that they would be treated

          like poppies: their skin scored and the sap taken. His earlier

          enthusiasm now waned. It seemed that his easily aroused rapacity

          once again had subverted his common sense.


               At the end of the fifth week, returning to his room from a

          lucrative day, he found the child he had spoken to that first

          morning arranging the cards of his spare deck of Tarot on the

          table at the center of the room. The child looked up silently at

          the black man, stopping his (her?) distribution of the cards. He

          was so shocked at seeing the child that he stood for a moment,

          dumb and immobile, in the doorway. From the cards in the child's

          right hand his gaze was drawn to the plateful of deep aquamarine

          colored fruits in front of the layout of cards.

               The child put down the deck of cards.

               "Mama said we should share." With a pale hand the child

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 14

          gestured to the fruits. In the daylit room the child's paleness

          was startling.

               The skin looked fantastically delicate. The eyes were a

          strange light grey. Specks of brilliant red dotted the grey irises.

          The hair was so light, sparse and thin that the boy (he didn't

          know why he thought of the child as male) appeared bald.

               An unenthusiastic anger rose in him.

               "What the hell you doin' in here? Dinna I tell you keep outta

          my way?"

               He threw down the loaded paper bag he was carrying onto the

          tattered sofa which served as his bed. The boy stepped back and

          away from the black man as he advanced to the table.

               "Mama said to bring you some food for the upset we've caused


               "We've been quiet, haven't we?" The boy exhibited a bit of

          fright now.

               It was oddly exaggerated and theatrical: wide eyes and

          minutely trembling hands.

               His anger abated, more from fatigue than magnanimity. He

          glared at the child as he eased himself with a sigh into the couch.

               "Your Mama still alive, then?," he asked cruelly.

               "Yes, mister. The fruit makes her happy." Again the boy

          indicated the plate.

               "Whudda mean 'happy'?" He perked up a bit, his primary

          assumption about the fruit returning to the fore.

               "She's not so depressed. The fruit's from home. It reminds

          her of home. It's good. Have some, that's why I brought it."

               Skeptical, he leaned forward, reaching out and picking a

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 15

          fruit off the plate.

               "You eat one, boy," he said as he examined the fruit's surface

          and color, feeling its texture, not looking up at the child.

               "But they're for you, mister ---"

               "Eat one, goddammitt!," he screamed at the boy, his left arm

          thrusting out and riveting the child to the spot with the

          commanding javelin of his pointing finger.

               The child jumped at the loud order. He timidly reached out

          and took a fruit, bringing it to his mouth and biting into it

          without looking away from the man. In another second the remainder

          was gone from the boy's hand into his mouth.

               "Now sit down, I wanna ask you some questions," he said,

          pointing to a straight backed chair near the boy.

               As he hefted himself out of the couch the boy bolted for the

          door. He growled out some threat at the fleeing child but the boy

          ignored him, sprinting down the hall. The boy's footfalls stopped

          as he reached his door, then there was a slam as the child entered

          his home.

               Disgusted, the black man kicked his door shut, almost losing

          his balance in the process. He turned back to the couch and lifted

          the bag of groceries onto the table. He was unloading the bag

          when he noticed the array of Tarot cards. They were not randomly

          strewn on the table but ordered into one of the patterns for a


               As he moved around the table to view the cards squarely a

          tingling chill flashed over his skin. When he had first entered

          he had been so shocked at seeing the boy for the first time in

          five weeks that he had not observed that the child had laid the

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 16

          cards out in a rigid structure, assuming the boy had been looking

          at the illuminations. Now he saw something he had not seen in

          forty-five years; something he had wished to never see again in

          his life.

               As he stood before the cards he began to hear a wailing.

          Over and over his mind's voice screamed the same words that the

          cards drew out of his youth.

               - MONUMENTAL TRANSITION -

               For a few moments he felt panic stricken. He pulled a chair

          up and sat down in it heavily, staring at the cards. With a swipe

          of his hand he obliterated the display, collecting the cards

          together, returning them to the deck. With the offending

          arrangement gone he found it easy to calm himself. Fantastic

          speculations filled his mind. The odds against the child drawing

          those cards must have been immense. Yet this explanation he dearly

          wanted to retain. If he moved away from accepting the idea of

          shear chance he found himself imagining even more unlikely

          tableaus. The old woman couldn't be alive. She had been clearly

          ancient in the days when he had made his treks to her shanty.

          Anyway, how could she have known the cards he had drawn that night

          after her shanty had burned?

               Abandoning that explanation his mind ran towards ideas of

          clairvoyance and other supernal abilities. Each he rejected as

          too absurd. Somehow the child's draw was a fantastic fluke. Even

          accepting that, he still felt uneasy the rest of the evening.


               As he finished the last few morsels of his meal he eyed the

          plateful of fruit. He reached out and picked one up. He ran his

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 17

          thumb over its surface. It was dry and firm with a fine velvety

          fuzz on its surface, reminiscent of a peach. He pinched one side

          of the fruit and tore it in half. The inside was moist and colored

          a brilliant carmine. He smelled it. Unexpectedly it had little


               Raising it to his lips he licked at the moist meat. The effect

          the flavor produced was so astonishing that he dropped the piece

          he had licked, while he squinted his eyes. The fruit's taste seemed

          to race around on his tongue, alternating from sweet to sour in

          rapid succession, eventually seeming to accelerate to such a rate

          that the two opposite sensations mixed in fantastic combinations.

          The entire effect lasted only seconds, finally subsiding like an


               Though the phenomena had ended he gulped three more times as

          he had when it had begun, trying to clear his mouth of the juice.

               He slowly opened his eyes and looked at the remaining piece

          of fruit in his hand. He had never experienced anything like this

          before. While the initial response was striking he was not put

          off by it. The whole feeling was quite exhilarating and, in

          retrospect, very pleasant.

               He considered the fruit carefully now. Could this taste effect

          be an indication that the fruit was some form of drug base? He

          dearly wanted to believe so, but as he stared at the red meat he

          saw no more than a bizarre fruit. It was so unique, though, that

          even as a fruit he might possibly profit from it.

               Convincing himself that if it were a drug it would probably

          not affect him much (the child had eaten a whole one and the boy

          was much smaller than he) he placed the fruit half in his mouth.

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 18

          As he squeezed it with his tongue the juice flowed out. This time

          the sensation was much less. He chewed the pulp and skin. Its

          texture was rather punky and unpleasant at first then, suddenly,

          the meat fell apart as it mixed with his saliva. It felt as if he

          chewed on a teaspoon of sugar, yet without the excessive sweetness

          of sugar. Also, the apparent motion of the flavor on his tongue

          deteriorated more swiftly this time. As he swallowed, the mixture

          left his mouth with a new sensation: a flavorless, ice cold

          tingling. And for a fraction of a second, when he ran his tongue

          around his mouth, he thought that he actually felt his mouth

          frosted with minute ice crystals. Before he could begin another

          circuit in his mouth with his tongue the sensation was gone,

          leaving his mouth feeling as it had before he had first licked

          the fruit.

               He pressed himself back into his chair letting his head loll

          back, a large grin growing upon his lips. Here was something better

          than drugs.

               Something undoubtedly legitimate and something people would

          flock to buy.

               As methods and procedures ran through his mind he leaned

          forward and picked another fruit off the plate, biting into it as

          a chuckle rose in his throat.


               He woke late the next morning, something he had never done

          since coming to the city. Lying on his couch he felt utterly

          relaxed. His muscles were completely flaccid and leaden. Only at

          a few other times in his life could he remember feeling this fine.

          He recalled awakening from an afternoon nap on a grassy, sun

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 19

          drenched hillside near his home ages past and decided this was

          very similar.

               His gaze rested on the dirty windows beyond his feet. The

          sun was high in the forenoon casting almost vertical rays of light

          through the window onto the floor. As he concentrated on the light,

          made visible by the airborne dust, he thought he saw the very

          light turn into long, hair-fine crystals that lanced through the

          carpet sending up small puffs of dust. The illusion snapped away

          as he saw a large black fly buzzing away from the sunlit floor,

          its wings creating the puffs of dust.

               He rolled his head to his left and saw, from below, a curving

          portion of the plate, which held the wonderful fruits, projecting

          over the edge of the table. He smiled widely. The fruits apparently

          did have some kind of narcotic effect, even if it was mild. So

          much the better.

               He reached out from his supine position toward the plate. As

          he began he realized he could never reach the plate from the couch;

          he would have to get up.

               As his arm moved, his eyes were attracted to its motion.

          When he had initiated the action he distinctly felt the conscious

          contraction of the muscles. Now that his arm was well on its way

          he experienced a perspicuous dissociation of the motions of his

          arm from his will. With a rising anxiety he watched the unexpected

          and disturbing gyrations of his arm and hand. He could not control

          any of these motions nor the overall direction of the arm.

          Throughout the whole episode there were six minute intervals when

          he seemed to perceive that his arm would become as flexible as a

          hose. As his arm passed through its uncontrollable arc toward the

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 20

          floor his trepidation built. He felt his heart pounding as his

          hand came to rest on the ulcerous rug. The moment his hand touched

          the floor he felt his arm had been reconnected to him, the course

          mat of the worn carpet tickling the hairs on the back of his


               Just as he imagined himself lifting his arm and returning it

          to his side preparatory to getting up a powerful wave of languor

          swept across him, his consciousness fading into an undisturbed



               A wetness caressed his lips, passed between them into his

          mouth. He swallowed automatically, opening his eyes at the same

          time. They were trying to keep him drugged. The youths from the

          other room were lined up like monolithic dominoes alongside the

          couch creating a visual barrier between him and the rest of the

          room. In the darkness, he had slept into evening, the wane

          moonlight silhouetted five figures standing motionless, slightly

          stooped. The sixth stood by his head, leaning over him, holding

          out its arm over his mouth and squeezing the juice from a handful

          of square fruits onto his lips. This sixth child was the one he

          had met the night before. He turned his head away from the drops

          of juice. They splattered uselessly onto his cheek. He tried to

          rise, to swing his feet over the edge of the couch but, as he

          began to move, ten arms swung out from the phalanx of bodies and

          pressed him to the couch. The free arm of the sixth youth pressed

          down powerfully on his left shoulder as the other arm waved above

          his head with the fruits trying to correct the drip.

               He struggled feebly against their restraining hands, twisting

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 21

          his head back and forth violently to keep the juice from his mouth.

          He groaned in his struggles but did not call out, desperate to

          keep his lips clamped shut. He was still weak from his first

          ingestion of the fruits, although now he did not experience any

          inability to control his muscles. When his defiance flagged

          momentarily, the juice wielding youth released his hold on the

          black man's shoulder and caught the man's jerking jaw. The grip

          was tremendously powerful, reducing the swing of the head.

               The boy held his lower jaw and pressed in on either side

          pinching the old man's cheeks against his teeth. The pain grew to

          a point where the old man began to squint tears from his eyes.

          Slowly, the black man gave way.

               The youth pried his lower jaw open further.

               As his lips parted he inhaled quickly and deeply, holding

          his breath.

               The boy squeezed his fruits and a stream dribbled to the

          back of the man's throat. Unable to hold his breath longer the

          man coughed violently, spraying the liquid onto the boy and his

          own face.

               Frustrated, the boy cast away the fruits with a swing of his

          arm. The boy spoke to his companions in a staccato stream of words

          the old man did not understand. Clearing his throat the man let

          out a loud bellow. Instantly the youth clamped a hand over the

          man's mouth. After a few more words from their leader the group

          began to work their arms under the squirming man. They lifted him

          up and moved out of the room with him. He continued to twist and

          wriggle in their embrace as they moved down the hall to their

          room. They stopped before the door and the youth at his feet

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 22

          disengaged himself and opened the door.

               In his struggles his head swung about to allow him a glance

          at the door handle as the youth grasped and turned it. Weak

          moonlight came into the hall from the window at the end of the

          passage so his perception was of a lighter, moving darkness against

          the deeper darkness of the door. Still, what he saw sent him into

          a new frenzy of motion. The boy's arm did not end in a hand, rather

          the forearm bifurcated some twelve inches from the elbow. The two

          "fingers" ran for six more inches and seemed to be articulated

          the last three inches like normal jointed fingers. The sight lasted

          only a second before the boy disappeared into the room. The others

          hustled the man through the door and he was enveloped in complete

          darkness. He heard the door slam shut. The boy at his head released

          his mouth as the others lowered and pressed him to the floor. He

          began to scream loudly, overcome by hysteria.

               The leader moved away from him into the room. Gasping

          violently the man was unable to keep from inhaling the fine dust

          that the returned leader blew in his face sending him into a swift



               He woke slowly, his eyelids remaining shut. He remembered

          the nightmare vividly but he felt too good at the moment to let

          it bother him. He started to twist about to roll over onto his

          side when he simultaneously felt the hard flooring beneath him

          and the stricture of bindings about him. He opened his eyes

          immediately, to darkness, and knew the incident had been no

          nightmare. Quickly he looked about but he could see nothing as he

          worked against his unseen restraints. They were so tight that he

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 23

          could not even roll over. He lifted his head and saw that the

          windows were beyond his feet.

               A sliver of light sneaked through the window coverings at

          one place and illuminated a couple of square inches of wall in

          the shape of a fan.

               The area was too small however to reflect light into other

          portions of the room. Blood began to pound in his ears from the

          strain of holding his head up. He lowered it back to the floor

          and listened.

               He heard the soft breathing of the youths off to his right.

          He assumed they sat along the wall.

               "Hey, you bastards!," he yelled out, his loud voice

          disconcerting him in the suspiring darkness. A shuffling sound

          returned to him immediately from the wall suggesting that someone

          was rising. Footfalls moved parallel to the wall and the individual

          picked up a wooden object. The footsteps then moved towards him.

          He turned his face away when the feet stopped by his shoulder. A

          cool hand touched his jaw and brought his head back round.

               He did not resist, remembering their strength. The hand left

          his jaw and a second later he heard the muted sound of wood

          scraping against wood above his head. He clamped his mouth shut

          tightly the moment the spoon touched his lips. He turned his head

          to one side, the moist implement leaving a trail of juice on his


               "Eat," a voice said calmly from above him.

               He cursed them vigorously, screaming at the top of his lungs.

               The youth did not try further to feed the man.

               "You will eat," the boy said quietly, placing the bowl by

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 24

          the man's head. But the man did not hear, his yells masking any

          other sounds in the room.


               He was famished. The gruel was marvelous. He spooned it into

          his mouth as fast as possible. He began to reach out with his

          spoon to scoop up more food but found that his arm was now at his

          side. The arm would not move. It was being held back. A grim anger

          rose up in him. He yelled out at the uncooperative world and awoke

          as a wooden spoonful of the mashed fruit was thrust into his mouth

          causing him to sputter and choke. He swallowed to clear his mouth.

          He did not yell out or plead with his captors, he simply whimpered.

          The feeder stopped proffering him the mash and placed the bowl by

          his head. The youth walked back to the wall. He had lost track of

          time. He only knew, as he stopped whimpering and looked toward

          the blocked windows, that it was night.

               The sliver of light was wane moonlight. As had happened

          before, and here also the number of times blurred together so

          they were uncountable, he had awakened to find himself eating in

          his sleep. Every time he slept they fed him. He found it difficult

          to stay awake to refuse the food and his periods of wakefulness

          grew shorter each time.

               Early on he found that his loud protests and invectives did

          no good.

               He knew he would not be heard outside the building. This

          area of the slum was sparsely inhabited and no passerby would

          investigate the source of the yells nor report them to anyone who

          might act on the news. He had turned to pleading with his unseen

          and silent abductors. He had given up quickly when they responded

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 25

          to none of his words.

               During an early conscious period he heard what he assumed

          was his feeder refilling the bowl against the far wall where they

          all seemed to continually lurk. Then he heard someone spitting

          where the feeder had been filling the bowl. The spoon scraped

          against the bowl in a continuous motion. He had thrown up as the

          feeder returned to him. The youths had cleaned him and the floor

          up immediately. Why they spit in the mash he did not know. He had

          asked but they were ever silent. He was thankful that at least

          their vile and cruel adulteration was not detectable. The fruit's

          strong juice dominated the flavor.


               Something was missing from the ambiance of the room. He lay

          on his side fighting the drowsiness that weighed on him as he

          tried to figure out what was different. It was sound. The ever

          present whispering of their breathing was gone. Where they had

          disappeared to he could not guess. He did not care.

               This was the first time they had left him alone that he was

          aware of and he would take advantage of the absence.

               Resisting the terrible fatigue that fogged his mind he rolled

          onto his stomach and began to inch along the floor to where he

          believed the door to be. He had to stop often and make a conscious

          effort not to fall asleep. He would often bang his head against

          the floor so the pain would bring him round. He twisted about

          after many minutes of exertion and looked for the chink of light

          from the window. The daylight fan was directly behind him. Good,

          the door was in the wall opposite the windows. He continued on

          his way.

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 26

               A few minutes later his head bumped into the wall. Now, which

          way was the door? He decided it must be to the left and moved

          that way along the wall. He had moved only a few feet when his

          head ran into some cardboard boxes stacked along the wall. He

          moved away from the wall and again slid along. As he pulled himself

          along he felt his elbows project into the open tops of the boxes

          which were laid with their openings facing the inside of the room.

          He moved further away from the wall so his elbows would not drag

          against the boxes and continued on.

               Just as he caught sight of a faint line of light along the

          floor indicating his goal a loud staccato chirruping and clicking

          came from a far corner of the room. He moved as fast as he could

          as the raucous noise continued. He began to whimper through his

          gasps when he heard the running of many feet in the hall outside.

          The door burst open and the youths scrambled in, moving to all

          parts of the room in seeming confusion. The old man turned his

          head away from them as they gathered their forces and understood

          the nature of the alarm.

               The door remained open as the youths moved toward him. Their

          shadows danced on the stacks of cardboard boxes. In the

          intermittent light he saw the contents of the boxes. Rats: one or

          two to each box. Or what had once been rats. They were clearly

          dead. Through tears that he squinted from his eyes he saw the

          dried fruits that lay in some of the rat's cells. He saw their

          deformed bodies; bodies not mutilated or broken but grown to their

          present distorted shapes. The boxes were not screened, rather

          each rat had been tethered inside each box. They picked him up

          and returned him to the interior of the room.

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 27

               His eyes fell on the open door as one of the youths moved to

          it. He saw the silhouette clearly. The boy's head was grossly

          pointed and the arm that swept out to push the door closed twisted

          and flopped about as if it had no skeleton.

               Oh God, he thought, as they propped him on his side with

          rags behind his back so he would not choke when fed, what are

          they doing to me?


               He woke and they were not feeding him. His persistent hunger

          had wakened him. Around him he heard them rubbing the walls for

          some unknown reason.

               He didn't care. He was going to die just like the rats.

               He didn't care.


               He could see. He swallowed the mouthful of mash that his

          feeder had just spooned into his mouth. He saw the faint silhouette

          of his feeder put the bowl down by his head and walk over to the

          far wall.

               They had not removed the coverings from the windows. He was


               As he became accustomed to the light he saw that the

          illumination came from the walls. It was a weak blue light. Not

          all four walls glowed. Only the wall along the hallside and half

          of the two walls in front and behind him glowed. The ceiling and

          outside wall were dark. The illuminating surfaces appeared fuzzy.

          The luminosity was not even over the surface. There were wide

          streaks running and intersecting all over the surface.

               They had rubbed something on the walls that glowed. He saw

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 28

          only in silhouettes, unless one of the youths came close, then he

          could barely make out facial detail. If one of the youths he

          watched walked into the portion of the room where no illumination

          came from the walls the boy would disappear into the darkness.

          The light was not strong enough to reflect off the uncoated


               Unless they went in or out of the room he saw only the boy

          he had originally spoken to. This was the youth who fed him.

          Although he could not see the boy's features clearly he knew it

          was him. The others all had some form of deformity that was

          distinct in silhouette.

               At all other times they kept themselves in the dark part of

          the room.


               He was naked. The chill in the room cleared his head more

          quickly than when he had been clothed. He was still bound tightly.

          The bonds bit into his skin.

               He complained loudly but no one came. As he looked around he

          realized something was wrong with his vision.

               He could no longer see the fuzzy aspect of the glowing

          coating. His sight was blurring.


               He woke coughing and choking. His abdomen convulsed and

          tightened. A searing pain spread through his belly. The crisis

          passed and he gasped for breath. He looked up and saw the boy who

          had been feeding him. The youth seemed to be studying him closely.

          The boy set the bowl down and walked into the darkness. There was

          a chattering in the language the man could not understand, then

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 29

          came the chirping and clicking voice. He ignored them and tried

          to get in a more comfortable position against the rags stuffed

          behind his back. As he moved, his arms felt strange against his

          body. He bent his head up and looked down his body.

               He tried to wiggle his fingers and felt and saw at the same

          time that the flesh of his fingers and arm had fused with the

          flesh of his body. He screeched a wail of torment then fell into

          a fit of sobbing.


               He believed a long time passed as the pains in his body

          increased. They reached such an intensity that he could barely


               He found himself passing out more often than sleeping. He

          would eat while awake now. The food seemed to alleviate the pain

          somewhat. Or possibly the mash only relieved the increased hunger


               He began pleading with the youths again, and again gave up

          in the face of their silence. Through the haze of his pain he

          noticed that his arms were now no more than long ridges rising

          out of his sides. His legs were fused as well.


               He rose out of a period of unconsciousness gagging. He thought

          he was going to suffocate. He felt like vomiting but nothing would

          come up. He felt his stomach contract. The muscles in his abdomen

          convulsed and he believed he felt his viscera being physically

          rearranged. He could only see blurred outlines. His sight had

          deteriorated badly.

               The youths gathered round him watching intently. What they

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 30

          were looking for in him he did not know. He did not care. He barely

          remained coherent in his thoughts anymore. The visceral

          rearrangements came frequently now. He hallucinated freely. During

          those short spans when he could put together a string of lucid

          thoughts he prayed he would soon be one with the rats in their



               He was blind.

               He could feel his eyelids opening. He could not see the blue

          light from the walls. Twisting his head into a position where he

          thought he would be looking at the covered windows he couldn't

          see the sliver of light. He lay his head back down on the floor.

               The abdominal pains had subsided. He was now only sore.

               He passed through a long period of semiconsciousness. He ate

          large amounts of mash. At one point he thought he experienced a

          loss of body hair. Whenever he would move slightly he could feel

          the changes occurring in him. He was no longer anxious or panicked

          about these changes. He knew it was useless to worry over them.

          He released himself to the narcotic effect of the fruit mash that

          grew stronger with the advancing changes. He felt two rows of

          cartilaginous protuberances emerging along his chest and what had

          been his legs. The skin on his back and the back of his fused

          legs began to thicken and grow out from the sides of his body to

          form a shroud of flesh. His skull and spinal column changed in

          ways he could not describe.

               His mind remained, however. He was aware of himself and of

          what he had been, of the life he had lived.

               Eventually he slipped into total unconsciousness.

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 31


               He woke as if from a deep sleep: slowly, comfortably. He

          opened his eyes and saw the room brightly lit. His perception was

          different but he could see the coated walls clearly. He saw the

          door and the stacks of cardboard boxes. The rats were still there.

               He tried to bend his head up and look at the covered windows

          but found he could not articulate his neck properly. He licked

          his lips nervously. A wave of panic swept through him. His mouth

          was a completely different shape. When he thought of running his

          tongue across his lips, compound motions of many bony mouth parts

          tickled a conical tongue that slipped in and out of his mouth

          like a snake's.

               He raised his arm to his face and found that his whole left

          side writhed in response to his thought. The action tipped him

          off his balance on his right side and he rolled onto twenty, eight

          inch high foot pods.

               He was standing on his chest. His kinesthesia was of his old

          form. For a few moments he stood quietly, his mind in a shocked

          haze. He tried moving his arms again. But he had no arms. The

          thought only made his side fringe of flesh ripple from head to

          tail. The fringe projected down off his back to the floor making

          his new form appear to have a shroud draped over it. He felt like

          panicking. But he fell into shock, standing quite still for some


               His head was like a dog's. Not in shape or appearance but in

          attachment. His spinal cord entered the rear of the skull instead

          of from beneath. His head was no longer round but elongated like

          a reptile's. His mouth was very complex, a compound structure

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 32

          without a simple upper and lower jaw. All this became clear to

          him after she manifested herself.

               But before her advent he experienced one more trauma ....

               Slowly he came out of his shock as he experimented with his

          new self. He began to gain control of his twenty, five inch

          diameter footpods by imagining he crawled along the ground by

          pulling first one shoulder forward then the other combined with

          wavy undulations of his back and legs. He barely moved forward

          though, most of his footpods moving out of synchronization. He

          got a strange exhilaration out of all this. He tried creating

          rhythms with his two rows of pods and found that he gained greater

          forward movement at times as his pods accidentally moved together

          properly. Suddenly he felt a restriction at his tailend. They had

          tethered him. He could not twist his head around to the side to

          see how he was held. He realized he had not yet seen the youths.

          They must be in the dark part of the room. He faced the door. It

          took quite a bit of experimentation before he could move sideways

          with his new feet. Slowly he came round to face the covered

          windows. The dark corner was no longer dark. Somehow his vision

          made better use of the light reflected from the uncoated walls.

          He clearly saw the six youths standing in a line, blocking off a

          corner of the room. They all looked at him.

               They suddenly moved toward him. He tried to back up but failed

          miserably, moving only inches to their feet. They laid hands on

          him and held him tight on the floor. He saw what stood behind


               About two and a half feet high and ten feet long it had a

          head like some turtles he had seen. It stood on many stump-like

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 33

          legs that ran in two rows the length of its body. Its back was

          covered by a thick skin that swept off onto the floor shrouding

          the creature. He saw his new self in this other and knew this

          other was Mama ... He screamed. Loud clicks and chirps escaped

          his mouth. He struggled beneath the hands but lacked coordination

          to be effective. Mama moved forward toward him. A mask of some

          sort was strapped to a portion of Mama's head. He saw a valve

          flick on the mask. A tube ran from the mask to a large rectangular

          case strapped to the creature's back. He breathed inward sharply

          and felt the air whistle in around a flush opening on an upper

          portion of his head.

               A scurry of movement caught his eyes. A small metal box with

          a screened opening lay on the floor behind Mama. Although Mama

          kept drawing his attention he saw what had once been a rat in the

          box, alive.

               Its head was distorted but recognizable. The rest of its

          body, however, was shaped like the creature that approached him.

          It did not have a full complement of footpods. Its two forefeet

          remained and it used these to drag itself around the box. The

          sudden movement in the room had agitated it to motion. Another

          rat foot dragged uselessly from beneath the fleshy shroud.

               The rats had been a test. And this monstrosity was probably

          the only one who had survived the changes worked upon it. An image

          came to him, as Mama drew up to him, of the youth who had fed him

          kneeling before Mama and the being spitting into the bowl of mash.

               His speculations fled as he saw a tentacle arm pull out of a

          groove in Mama's head. The tentacle ended in a disk that popped

          out of a cavity at the front of Mama's head. The tentacle turned

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 34

          the disk's face toward him. The face was moist, and convoluted

          like the face of a sunflower.

               It moved up to his head and above his field of vision. He

          swung his head around to keep the disk from making contact but

          failed. He felt the cool touch of the disk. It griped his skin. A

          wave of vertigo passed over him and he became unconscious.


               He dreamed, or remembered, or hallucinated, he could not

          tell which. He saw the Ship's interior (no, remembered the ship

          from her memories which derived from the Ship's Operations

          Recorder) and the bizarre passengers, the smakokul. (Why did he

          have a name for these animals?)

               They were three legged. A single leg longer than the other

          two projected to the fore. The two powerful, shorter legs made

          the smakokul's T-shaped body slope. The smakokul moved by thrusting

          its two back legs forward, using its long fore leg to vault ahead.

          Once the two side legs were planted firmly the foreleg would be

          brought out to the front. Projecting ahead of the foreleg was the

          "head". It was nothing more than an extension of the sleek body.

          A small, very human-like mouth was positioned at the lower portion

          of the head's blunt end. An extremely flat nose was situated in

          the middle of the head's end. Atop the head and set back from the

          end about six inches a broad muscular eye base rose three inches

          from the animal's back. Two flexible eyestalks extended off the

          base to end in large eyes. He saw that most often the eyes moved

          synchronously but he noticed one smakokul looking down at some

          control surface below its head. The ten inch eyestalks would lay

          themselves on either side of the smakokul's head extension. A

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 35

          thick tentacle arm grew out from each side of the mid-body ending

          in delicate, four-digit, spatulate hands. A "thumb" projected out

          of the base of the palm. The smakokul were colored a pure white

          overall except for their lips. Looking closely he saw that the

          deep rainbow colors that striped their lips varied from animal to

          animal, sometimes only subtly. Was this how they identified


               Suddenly, her (???) view changed from the Control Bay to an

          exterior scene. For a moment he was disoriented. There was no

          ground, only an expanse of sharp pinpoints of light. He felt

          himself turning and, since he saw no ground, falling. His mind

          reacted but he could no longer feel his body.

               As he turned, a tremendously brilliant globe of light came

          into view and he knew he saw the sun from space. Turning more, a

          multitude of objects came into view.

               He saw the Earth, the size of a large marble. To one side

          hung the luminescent sliver of the moon. And all about him hung

          the vessels of the Envoy fleet: hollowed out asteroids equipped

          with the smakokul's star spanning technology. A little awed by

          what he saw and wondering how he came to know so much about what

          he saw, he was distracted for a few seconds before he realized

          that one of the ships was breaking up. A violent burst of light

          came from one of the escort vessels and the asteroid split up

          into many large chunks. He thought he saw spinning bodies and

          parts of bodies flying away from the sundered structure. Suddenly

          he was within the Control Bay of a ship. He could not tell if it

          was the same ship he had first observed. Smakokul scurried about.

          He wanted to watch the action occurring against a broad console

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 36

          but his attention was drawn against his will to a limited portion

          of wall where a smakokul was pressing a sequence of lighted

          buttons. The creature would pause at certain points waiting for

          some kind of acknowledgement from the device it worked with. It

          waited impatiently during these pauses, a finger poised over the

          next button in the sequence. The smakokul pressed a final button

          and turned away from the wall. A heavy metal shield slid down

          from the ceiling over the wall, sealing the Regeneration Module.

               He followed the smakokul as it moved across the Control Bay


               As he watched he felt himself being drawn toward the

          Regeneration Module. He tried to halt his movement but again he

          could not feel his body.

               When the smakokul had reached the center of the Bay floor

          the room was filled with an intense light. For a moment he thought

          he was blinded. An after image played across his retina as the

          white light dimmed. He saw a liquid ovoid at the center of the

          light. It had come through the wall, burning an opening some ten

          feet in diameter. It passed through the Bay vaporizing a few

          smakokul then burnt through the Bay floor, continuing through the


               After the brilliant plasma had passed on he saw the burned

          bodies of the smakokul sucked toward and out through the hole in

          the hull. The moisture in the air crystallized and his vision was

          clouded by ice fog. Suddenly he was rising, moving away from the

          Ship. For a short while his view was obstructed by the walls of a

          shaft, then he was looking down at the exterior of the vessel he

          had just left. Directly below him was the circular hole that had

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 37

          contained the Regeneration Module. The RM had been jettisoned

          just in time for now the ship was breaking apart, sections flying

          in all directions. A large piece of asteroid approached him head

          on. It spun swiftly, throwing a shower of reflected sunlight into

          his eyes. He tried to move to avoid it. He tried to push against

          something, anything to propel himself away. But the object only

          grew larger and more fearsome, overwhelming him with its immensity.

               As a corner of it tore through him he passed out.


               She awoke, rejecting the image that had held the man's

          attention. The human had not understood. The artificial structure

          that had jettisoned away from the interstellar vessel was not the

          Regeneration Module, only a survival capsule that was capable of

          growing her. She was the RM. She looked around the room. Her

          proxies were finishing spreading the luminous fungus on the

          previously shaded portion of the room. Her previous incarnation

          lay dormant before her. The transference arm with its disk sagged

          down one side of the head. She reached out with a tentacle which

          extended from beneath her shroud of flesh and carefully tucked

          the transference arm and disk back into the recessed groove. She

          backed away from her former body and clicked to her proxies to

          move the body to one side of the room. She noticed the breathing

          mask and inhaled. At least one problem had been overcome: she

          could breath the native atmosphere without artificial aid.

               Now the difficult task of checking her own biological system

          modifications could begin. She would check her reproductive system

          first since that area had given her trouble since her emergence

          from the escape capsule's womb. She hoped the correction of the

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 38

          reproductive dysfunction that had kept her from swiftly

          regenerating the Captain and senior scientific members of the

          smakokul Envoy fleet had carried over during the metamorphosis of

          the human. The reproductive problem had occupied her since the

          escape craft had landed along with the other debris of the smakokul

          fleet. She had suspected the problem immediately upon emerging

          from the womb, barely escaping from the badly damaged and leaking

          capsule in an extravehicular pod with the casket containing the

          germ plasm and persona chips of the crew of the vessel from which

          the escape capsule had jettisoned. She had then followed her

          priority set and begun to grow a test organism. Even if a

          reproductive dysfunction had not been apparent she would have

          grown the test organism before attempting to reproduce the

          smakokul. The organism was little more than a biological engine,

          unintelligent. It would be examined after being brought to term

          and she would determine if its metabolic functions were performing

          according to its designed specifications. In this way she would

          be able to identify the dysfunction and correct it over many

          experimental growths of the test organism. Three faulty test

          organisms emerged from her before she corrected her problem. The

          fourth was normal. Ingesting the last test she considered her

          next priority.

               The smakokul had found that proxies were extremely useful in

          establishing a secure center for the regenerated smakokul to begin

          contact with the dominant indigenes in the event of a forced

          landing. Had the escape unit been able to establish itself in a

          stable orbit about this world proxies would not have been required.

          She could have begun reproducing the smakokul immediately after

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 39

          making her reproductive corrections. The damaged and grounded

          capsule had changed all that. She had made nocturnal excursions

          onto land looking for a donor that could be easily overcome. She

          found a youth sleeping in the open near the riverbank whom she

          had stunned and sampled, recording his mind's identity for future

          use. She returned to the security of the pod which she maneuvered

          into an underwater niche. There she went into her analytical torpor

          learning the chemical coding and definition of the youth's genetic

          structure as a direct experience, not in abstract terms. She

          understood the DNA structure and its expression manifestly.

          Recovering from her learning stage she had looked over her food

          supply calculating the amount that would be required and comparing

          it with her stored food and with her estimate of how much she

          could harvest from growing the fleval vine. She had eventually

          chosen not to risk moving about the alien landscape to look for

          safe locations to grow the vine. It appeared from her reckoning

          that there would be just enough food in the pod's storage to grow

          one specimen. The effort would greatly diminish her supplies though

          and leave her in a less tenable situation if the specimen was

          incapable of acting as her proxy. Just enough food would remain

          so she could make those undesirable trips to find secure growing

          beds for the vine. The margin was narrow but there. The operation

          had been a partial success. The proxy was functional but severely

          deformed. But while it had grown within her she had learned much

          about the growth of the alien that would allow her to correct her

          development of the next proxy. The imperfect proxy had been able

          to sow and harvest the fleval vine for her, journeying into the

          decayed portion of the native city to plant many vines in safe

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 40

          locations. With an established food base she experimented further

          with her reproductive system, growing other proxies from her

          original tissue sample. She brought forth five more full grown

          proxies, each successive one less deformed than the previous. The

          sixth and last proxy was the least imperfect, able to pass, she

          believed, among the native populace with little difficulty. She

          was pleased with her mastery of the unfamiliar germ. Shortly after

          the advent of the sixth proxy she decided to establish a base on

          land. The pod was becoming too crowded and she did not like

          maneuvering the pod from its shelter to the shore with the

          increased activity of the humans in the water as they went about

          exploring the celestial debris. Now a base in the empty portion

          of the slum would be more secure and give her a more flexible

          position to work from. She had the proxies scout for her a suitable

          location. Then one night they had moved. She would keep the casket

          containing the smakokul seed with her. She could not trust that

          the pod would not be found by the humans even though she would

          have it return to the hiding place where she had stayed since

          abandoning the escape capsule. Two proxies carried the heavy casket

          between them. The other five carried her in an old blanket they

          had found somewhere. Along the way a pack of wild dogs had attacked

          the group. The casket was dropped as the proxies defended

          themselves. Soon she was dropped as the battle grew heated. A

          couple of the proxies ran off drawing a few of the dogs with them.

          But the greater number of dogs stayed around her breaking through

          the proxies and attacking her.

               Her tailend was severely damaged before the proxies gathered

          makeshift weapons and drove the hounds off. Fortunately, her

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 41

          breathing unit had not been damaged nor torn off. The group limped

          along to their new home. She was able to recover from the

          lacerations, but she found herself infected with an indigenous

          disease that soon became intractable. It was severely effecting

          her nervous system. She tried utilizing the immune capabilities

          of her proxies, but that failed. The most she could do was to

          isolate the disease within herself. But that tactic left her

          reproductive center useless while the disease continued to ravage

          her tailend. There was one drastic option she had that would

          alleviate her predicament, but the risk of failure was high. She

          left it till the last possible moment. She could attempt to

          metamorphose a human into her functional equivalent.

               She had the proxies scout again, this time for a subject.

          The black man had been ideally located. She had the proxies move

          her into his building. Then, while fending off the man's inquiries

          through her most perfect proxy, she had begun her experiments

          with the fleval vine, modifying it so her proxies and the man

          could digest it. She then had the proxies begin sowing this new

          vine, planting several in this building.

               Then there came the tests on the rats. She manufactured viral

          agents she believed would carry out the proper changes, spitting

          her biological programs into the fleval mash that was fed to the

          rats. Dozens had died but she learned much from each failure.

          Finally came the rat that had survived and been substantially

          reformed. She was acutely aware of the massive differences between

          the human and her test animals. Desperation moved her to begin

          with the man. The further refinements needed for the human system

          would have to be done on the man as he was transformed. Time was

                                           Thomas / Little Mother / Page 42

          precious now, her tailend was festering terribly.

               She feared she would become infected in her disease free

          body from the floor or objects she handled.

               The refinements had been needed and she had done them as the

          man slept. And now, apparently, she had succeeded. Many more days

          would be required to check her new biological milieu to be sure

          her transformation had not neglected a crucial structure. Two

          other obstacles had been overcome through the metamorphosis. She

          could breath the atmosphere without aid and she believed she could

          now eat native food. She had integrated the human's digestive and

          respiratory systems with her own structure. She relegated an area

          of her large, manifold mind to the task of checking her biological

          systems. She clicked to one of her proxies to bring her a sample

          of native food. Another part of her mind began to fully assimilate

          the man's personality. As she masticated a piece of canned beef

          flesh, she had a proxy fetch her a deck of the Tarot cards from

          the man's room. Here was an ingenious symbolic system.

               As she examined the cards carefully, drawing an understanding

          of them from his mind, she was intrigued by how effective the man

          had been in manipulating his fellow humans through the cards.

          This was surely something her smakokul creators might find useful

          in contacting and interacting with the humans. As she flipped the

          cards about on the floor with her tentacles, an image of an ancient

          black woman rose up out of the man's mind and began to teach the

          alien the intricacies of the cards.

                                       THE END