Lieutenant Henry Wychwood cast a last harassed glance along the ranks of security guards then brought them to attention as he saw the doors begin to open. Every member of Starfleet on the base had been briefed about contact with the strange Tropaeolumi. Despite the best efforts of the officers of the Constitution, the initial contact had not gone well and they had been astonished when the aliens had asked to send a delegation to Earth. Now, for a reason which was far from clear, the Tropaeolumi had asked to visit the Moon first, just as they had insisted on beaming down to the civilian side of the base. His guards were as much an attempt to keep the aliens from the civilians thronging the huge vestibule as they were an honor guard. He heard the murmur of astonishment from behind him as the tall aliens appeared. He saw a movement under his elbow and the appearance of a small boy in the middle of the wide avenue he and his guards had created.
Pavel Chekov had seen the people looking at something beyond the line of security guards, and he had promptly dropped his grandmothers hand in favor of wriggling through the crowd to see what was happening. Now, he gazed in wonder at the strangest aliens he had ever seen. He had begun to learn at school about the other members of the Federation, but they were all beings with much the same body shape as his own. These aliens were not, and, as he saw the Starfleet officers escorting them, Pavel realized they had been the ones to meet the aliens for the first time. He imagined himself as a Starfleet officer, someone who made first contacts, unaware he was lighting a flame inside him which would burn for the rest of his life. Youre trees! Youre walking trees!
To Wychwoods horror, before he could pull the child back, one of the Tropaeolumi left the group and glided swiftly over as the others waited. It stopped in front of Pavel. Inquiry?
Inquiry is permitted, Wychwood assured it, as he found himself hoping fervently the little boy would not panic.
The being is very small. Is it a budling? the alien asked.
The being is an immature Human, Henry Wychwood replied. Inquiry?
Inquiry is permitted.
Wychwood could feel a trickle of sweat crawl down his back, as he saw the anxious expressions of the captain of the Constitution and her officers. I hope he did not offend you by the question? The child was curious because he had never seen a member of your race before.
Does the child have an individual designation?
Wychwood looked down, relieved to see the little boy was eyeing the alien in fascination. Whats your name?
Pavel Andreievich. Pavel remembered in time his grandmothers warning that a lot of people did not understand about patronymics and added, Chekov.
The Tropaeolumi extruded a tentacle and wrapped it around Pavels body, lifting him into the air. Curiosity in the young is to be treasured. Would you like to come with us and learn about us, Pavel Andreievich Chekov?
Yes, please! Pavel responded enthusiastically. He was so entranced by the prospect of talking to a real alien it was a moment before he added belatedly, If Nana says I may.
One of the beings seven eyes turned on its stalk. Inquiry?
Oh, Pasha, what have you got yourself into now? Weve only been on the Moon an hour and youre talking to a Tree! Helena Bondarenko came forward, as Wychwood hastily murmured a few words of instruction. Inquiry is permitted.
What is nana?
Humans have two sexes, male and female, and the females such as me bear live young and are the primary nurturers. I cared first for my
female child, and now for her male child. There is a great deal of affection between
Humans and their
descendants. Nana is my grandsons name for me,
Pavel thought that was unnecessarily complicated. Nana is my grandmama. Shes my mamas mama.
Inquiry is permitted.
You would defend your young?
The skin of the Tropaeolumi, which up to now had been yellow, turned briefly to various shades of green before becoming yellow again. We could not negotiate with a race who did not care for their young. Am I correct in thinking I should not call you Nana?
That designation is exclusively for the use of my grandson and any other grandchildren I
As she paused for breath, Pavel piped up, Please may I ask your designation?
Ttchcht, the alien answered. Tree of Ccchchtt of
Pavel tried the alien name. He was not, his fond grandmother noted, apparently at all disconcerted by being held in the alien tentacle. Thats hard to say. Did I say it right?
Nearly. I will help
you practice. For the first time since its people had encountered the strange and
powerful aliens who had landed on its planet, Ttchcht
felt it was succeeding in communicating. The difficulties so far had seemed
insurmountable; the beings belonging to the group Starfleet were courteous,
but they did not seem to pay due attention to important things. I will return your
grandson to you as specified,
Pavel tugged at the tentacle. I would like to go down, please. Only babies need carrying.
Babies? Ttchcht queried another new term.
Babies are Human people who have just come out of their mamas tummy, and they cant walk by themselves for a long time. Theyre nice to cuddle, but they cant play. My cousin has just come out of her mamas tummy, and shes only this big. Pavel demonstrated as the Tropaeolumi lowered him to the floor. He watched as the tentacle that had gripped him vanished. How did you do that? How many tentacles have you got?
The one you saw was a manipulatory tentacle, and we have this many. Ttchcht demonstrated, waving a dozen tentacles an impressive distance. The interested crowd which had gathered to watch the developing scene moved back rather hastily. The tentacles retracted, and the Tropaeolumi continued, We also have defensive tentacles. Will it alarm you to see them?
No, Pavel assured it. It will be interesting.
Suddenly six more tentacles sprang out of the being, this time, as Ttchcht had warned, they were for defense, and they were evidently evolved to move rapidly. Three were armed with clubs on the end, the others with scimitar-like blades and the security guards automatically tensed, their hands going to their phasers. Nothing they had so far discovered about the Tropaeolumi had revealed anything so plainly dangerous.
Can you do that, Pavel? the alien asked as the defensive tentacles retracted.
No, Pavel answered cheerfully. Can you do this, Ttchcht? He walked across the floor on his hands before turning cartwheels back to the alien. It wouldnt be so interesting meeting you if we could both do the same things, would it? Its a lot more interesting finding out about people who are different.
You consider me a person?
Pavels dark eyes widened. Of course. You dont have to look the same as me to be a person. It doesnt matter what you look like on the outside; whats important is if youre a nice person on the inside. And Im a nice person on the inside too, so we can be friends. Nana told me that a long time ago. Nana says the next person you meet might always be the next friend you make.
Would you like to be my friend? the alien asked.
Admiral White moved smoothly forward. The reports coming in from the U.S.S. Constitution about this contact had not been reassuring. The Tropaeolumi had colonized four nearby systems and were an advanced and powerful race, but Harriet Taunton, the captain of the Constitution, had reported that while civil, the Tropaeolumi were so alien there was a real difficulty in establishing communications.
This accidental contact with the little boy had produced more information about the aliens and more interaction than anything the Constitution's crew had managed so far, and White did not want to risk spoiling that. He heaved a silent sigh of relief Pavel had not even been alarmed when Ttchcht had wrapped a tentacle around him; White could only shudder as he thought how some children and their parents would have reacted. The whole contact could have been ruined beyond any hope of repair. The admiral smiled, Im Admiral William White. Please let me welcome all of you to the Moon. Perhaps, Mrs. Bondarenko, you and your grandson would like to join us? That way, Pavel and Ttchcht will be able to satisfy their curiosity about each other. You come along too, Mister?
The lieutenant stiffened into a brace. Lieutenant Henry Wychwood, sir!
How do you walk, Ttchcht? Pavel bent over to look at the base of the alien. I cant see any feet.
Stubby tentacles appeared. These are modified roots, Pavel.
Pavel watched as the alien glided forward before trotting along beside him. If theyre roots, then you really are a plant, a big plant, like a tree?
We evolved from trees, yes, Ttchcht agreed. From what did Humans evolve?
I dont know what evolve means. Pavel turned to his grandmother. What does it mean, Nana?
Ill have to tell you, later, Pavel Andreievich. Its a long answer. In reply to your question, Ttchcht, Humans evolved from arboreal primates, but somewhere along the way we opted both to become ground dwellers and to walk upright. Were still good climbers though, especially when were young, as my grandson would no doubt be delighted to demonstrate.
You climb beings such as us? Ttchcht inquired.
Plants on Earth arent people, Pavel explained as a worried White led them down a ramp into the Starfleet section of the Moonbase.
While the admiral wanted to get the Tropaeolumi safely away from all the attention they were attracting, he did not like the turn the conversation had taken.
Pavel was making a good impression, but it was unrealistic to expect a small boy to be aware of the implications of all he was saying. It would be interesting if we could talk to them, and get answers, though not if we were eating them or cutting them down to use their wood.
I would not like you to cut me down for wood, Ttchcht agreed. It appreciated the honesty of the child in not pretending his people did not exploit plants. Tropaeolumi exploited the non-intelligent animals and plants of their home worlds.
We wouldnt cut you down, Ttchcht! Pavel was horrified at the idea. Not now that we know youre a person! We like our plants, even though they cant talk to us. We grow plants at home because we like to grow flowers and fruit and vegetables. Nana and I grow plants indoors, too. Ttchcht, if you have roots, dont they need to be in soil? Arent you hungry walking on this hard surface? Plants cant grow without soil. He looked worried. Youre not going to die because you dont have any soil, are you?
We can go for long periods without sustenance, but we are more comfortable resting with our roots in soil, Ttchcht agreed. It had discussed this with its government before the delegation left. Ttchcht and its companions had known they could only endure so long without food or water, but if they were returned during the specified period, they would eventually revive. It was worth the risk to assess how dangerous these aliens were to the Tropaeolumi. It was worth the risk of admitting this now to discover what the Starfleet people would do about it.
Ttchcht, why didnt you say so before? Captain Taunton exclaimed in dismay. She and her science officer had inquired very carefully about the aliens needs only to be assured they required nothing. Wed have brought soil from your home world with us.
We can plant you, Pavel put in practically. With Earth plants, its very important to put them into the proper type of soil and give them the right kind of plant food or they die. Is it the same with you?
The alien considered for a moment. It was difficult deciding how much it was safe to reveal, but it found itself comforted by how much even the Human child seemed to know about the needs of other forms of life.
We have analyses of your soils composition, including the minerals, Captain Taunton added. We can easily duplicate that for you.
We cannot accept without knowing what obligation is imposed, the Tropaeolumi stated. This was the difficult point. Its orders were not to let any obligation be imposed and to make very certain none were accepted unknowingly.
Because youre a guest, you mean? Pavel inquired, adding helpfully, When Im a guest I have to be good and say thank you when I leave.
Whites lips twitched, even as one of the problems with this contact became clearer. Basically, Ttchcht, that is all we expect of you, too: that you behave well. We also hope youll enjoy your visit here enough to thank us when you leave, but that is not obligatory. We have invited you here without intending to impose any obligation; that is not our custom when inviting guests or when we meet with a newly discovered race. We would consider we were failing in our own obligation as your hosts not to make you as comfortable as possible, and one of the ways we expect to do that is by feeding you. Please, allow us to provide you with the soil and minerals you require.
would be satisfactory. Appreciation is expressed, Ttchcht
responded gratefully to an honorable statement. It began to wonder if it could express a
greater need before
I realize you all know a great deal more about this sort of thing than I do...
Mrs. Bondarenko, I assure you, youre doing fine. Admiral White grinned at her ruefully. Please, go on.
But there was abundant water in the quarters we assigned the Tropaeolumi. Captain Taunton looked at the aliens in dismay. This contact had been difficult from the first. The Tropaeolumi life view had proved truly alien. So why isnt Starfleet doing better than a small boy?
The level of obligation imposed was not stated.
you didnt drink anything all the time you were on the Constitution?
We are able to endure long periods of drought.
isnt the same as liking,
We are able to ingest more quickly by absorbing rain directly. Water will greatly increase the chances of my budlings surviving. It lifted a flap of what looked like bark to show a tiny replica of itself attached to its body. This is my new budling. The tentacle then raised a second flap of bark to show a much larger replica. This one is nearly ready to leave me and grow independently. I had thought I might lose them both.
Well do all we can to make sure you dont, Ttchcht, Admiral White assured it.
likely to rain on the Moon!
You have an eminently practical mind, maam! White looked round, before waving to an ensign who had just emerged from nearby quarters and was watching interestedly. Would these be your quarters, lad?
Yes, sir. The ensign had heard the exchange, and he had been present at the briefing on the aliens. He keyed open the door. Please be my guest. Shall I roust out some of my friends?
Please, Ensign. The sooner we have all our guests under a shower the better.
Not me, Pavel replied promptly. Im clean! Shall I show you how to work the shower, Ttchcht?
As other ensigns appeared in response to the signals of the first to invite the rest of the Tropaeolumi into their quarters, Ttchcht slithered gratefully into the shower. It was puzzling to find it had apparently not been its hosts intentions to impose any obligations. The Starfleet people had seemed actually horrified by the very idea. The Captain Harriet Taunton, whose facial expressions it had learned to read, was genuinely distressed by the revelations her alien guests had needed food and water she had failed to provide. The female ancestor of the child who had opened so clear a contact and who seemed, as the Admiral White had commented, reassuringly practical, was suggesting lukewarm water. As the child obeyed and water began to spray from a duct in the roof of the tiny cubicle, Ttchcht began to absorb and expand gratefully.
Youre bigger! Youre a whole lot bigger! Pavel studied his new friend, impressed. The holiday had already exceeded his wildest expectations.
I am not thirsty now. Ttchcht had never expanded to such a size so easily.
When we met the Starfleet, we were in the middle of our region's dry period. It is a hard time, but necessary for our life form. This is how we look during the wet period, Ttchcht explained.
please try to be a little easier on my nerves during the rest of this trip,
It was exciting, wasnt it, Nana? Pavel was not too tired for delight at the way he had spent his day.
And we helped with a diplomajic meeting, Nana.
and yes, we did.
The dark eyes fixed on her held far more understanding than she wanted. You think it ought to be...a secret? His face lit suddenly in the mischief she encouraged. Papa told us he didnt want to hear one word about the Moon when we go home.
did, Pasha, so he did.
Papa wasnt going to let me come, was he? Pavel acknowledged soberly. Not until you made him. He hugged her tightly. Thank you for that, Nana.
very welcome, Pasha. Im enjoying myself too. As her little grandson grew,
Helena Bondarenko had stepped in then. Her grandsons
relationship with his domineering father was strained enough, without trying to explain to
a seven year old his father had refused because Andrei Chekov was a xenophobic bigot who
was simply too afraid of space and the aliens he might meet there to take even a voyage to
Im going to be a Starfleet officer and meet aliens too, Nana.
I promise, Nana.
smiled as he watched. A prospective Starfleet officer needs to learn how to work in
vacuum, wouldnt you agree,
Ah, Pashas told you too?
According to Mister Wychwood, a week with Pavel asking questions about Starfleet is the equivalent of his Academy finals. White smiled. But if he holds to that ambition, would you tell his parents Id be happy to sponsor his application?
thing I can do for my grandson is not to tell his parents. Pashas had more
encouragement and kindness from your people, especially that nice Henry Wychwood, in one week than hes had from his father
in seven years.
though it means you wont see him for years on end? White asked gently. Only a
few hours in their company had shown the close bond
You cant live other peoples lives for them, Admiral. I learned that when I couldnt prevent my daughter marrying a man she knew was a domineering bully. If Pashas heard the cry of the wild geese, I wont say one word to stop him following his dream.
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