The beginning of the next mission was quite mundane. The pilots reported to their ships and inspected them. They did the preflight check. Everything was the same as the very first launch, with the exception of the personal greetings. All ships were prepared and launched in the same two ship pairs they had done before. They tracked the broadcast signal to its source and found the planet. Then they discovered that something was wrong. The broadcast signals weren’t coming from the planet. They discovered that the planet’s atmosphere was two thick and full of poisonous gasses. In fact, the signals were coming from the largest of three moons that the planet had. It was also the closest in, possessed an atmosphere very similar to that of earth, and even had artificial satellites in orbit around in. The astronomers on this world watched the approach of the ships. Some of them were afraid.
The approach of the ships was normal. The Grapevine began receiving communications, first mathematical then shapes. Again they responded in kind. Their arrival made the newscasts. Then Lt Arden signaled the ships intention to land. He received back a map of where they should land and adjusted course. He sent back images of what the ships should look like when they landed and what he and his crewmates would look like. He also sent images of what the women on the other ship would look like and that one of the males was darker than the rest.
Two of the scientists on the planet were Achubac and Shearbar. The male, Achubac, was the senior astronomer and the female, Shearbar was his assistant. They had been starting to look for intelligent life in their solar system. Now it had come knocking on their door.
“Achubac?” Shearbar asked the male, who was her mate. “Are our nesting places safe?”
“Of course they are,” Achubac assured his mate. “You know me better then that. I would never leave our nesting places undefended. If these people are like us, if they have any understanding of people and families -homes, then they will leave them.”
“But I have heard that they take their families-homes with them,” Shearbar said.
“I do not know about this,” Achubac said. “I only know that ours are safe.”
“Well you know,” another male said, by the name or Shoshubar, “the only way we can be entirely sure of that is to meet them. So we must decide where they will land and whether they will allow us to examine them and their ships. If they refuse any of those things we know that they might have something to hide and we cannot be sure our family-homes are safe.”
Meanwhile, on the Grapevine the translating began. As per usual it was difficult at first. Then, as the computer got more and more words and phrases correct it got easier. But the one thing that continued to be a problem was family-homes. Finally it was actually Jabin Jones who figured it out. “They think of family and home as the same thing,” he told Lt. Arden. “I’d be willing to bet that they have not moved their homes for generations.”
So the issue was discussed and the information was finally sent to the ‘Grape -vine’ via drawn pictures. Lt. Arden sent back more exact pictures of their home world and the place finally got marked out for him. In the meantime the ships kept working on a dictionary. They found these semi-feathered beings as interesting as they found humans.
The humans, of course, immediately underwent the physical examina-tion. Lt. Clearwater commented to Lt. Arden when they were alone together, “I thought you were kid-ding when you said I would have more physicals on this trip then I have ever had before in my whole life. So far this year I have had a through physical exam every month. “
“I know,” said Alexander. “I’ve gone through them with you.”
When it was determined that they did not carry any viruses dangerous to their kind, the life scientist let the social scientists take over. “Tell me,” one of them asks, “Where are your family-homes. Are they on the moon?”
“No,” Alexander said. “In fact we have discovered that this is the moon. That body which you think of as your moon is actually much larger than this one which you live on is. You are living on its moon. It is unusual, but not unheard of.”
The scientist made a note of what they said. But it did not make any sense with what he had been told to expect for an answer, so he was not able to do anything with the information. “But where are your family-homes?” he asked again.
“Well I am not sure what your question means,” Sgt. Jones said. “But my family is in the ship that will be joining us soon.”
“You mean to say that you have brought your family-home with you?” the scientist asked. “Then how can you guarantee the health or well being of your children? Are they not constantly sickly and dying?”
“No,” answered Jabin Jones. “So far as I know they are fine and healthy.” Then he thought of what he had figured out on the Grapevine . “Our families don’t require to live in a certain place to stay healthy,” he said.
“You must understand,” Achubac said. “For our families our home is so important that the young do not survive if removed from it. To maintain good health they must breath the air, drink the water, and feel the soil under their feet for an extended period of time. No one leaves their family-home until their feathers are well developed. Then the male leaves his family home and joins the female’s family-home. Once a nest -ing place is established, people do not leave it because the young will die. All of the wars we have ever had were because families out grew what the area could support and had to move. If they choose another area were another group had their family-home they would fight to the death. It was always best to choose an unoccupied site. Even then the females would have trouble laying and the first young were likely to be lost.”
“Yes,” Sgt. Jones said. “It would appear that you use the same word for family and for home.”
As per usual the word began to get out about these aliens, that they were very different. One of the most frightening things about them was that they had brought their dependents with them. Among these people that simply was not done.
When all that was finished the Schevachians, for such was what they called themselves, had to return the favor. Achubac agreed to visit the Lizbet and take a physical to give the humans a base line for what was normal for them. Shearbar, who was his mate, went with him. ‘Leach’ McInnis ran the physicals with his usual charm. While they were there they noticed what looked to them like quite young children being brought in for check-ups and vaccinations. Shearbar was still somewhat unsure about this. She felt a very strong connection to her nesting place. Her family had been using it for many generations.
Alexander decided to try to explain. “You see we do not always return home to bear and raise our young. So we can bring them with us. That way they are with their parents.” Shearbar finally came to a sort of decision. “Lt. Arden,” she said. “If you and your family would like to visit our family-home, I would think it a very good thing.”
“Fine,” Alexander said. “My father will probably visit your president before we leave. He usually does that. If you are willing, I will take you up on your invitation at that time.”
So the invitation was made and accepted. It was made clear to the president that Alexander was too junior to be a part of the General’s official party. Lt. Gen. McCoy was there as were the heads of other departments. Alexander was free to visit the home of his friend.
While there he got a chance to look in on the children. The boy was playing video games and Alexander sat down next to him. He soon got the hand of it. It was about flying through space while avoiding bodies of a variety of types. Unfortunately it had its violent side. The premise seemed to be that there were evil beings who were attacking and trying to destroy your people. It was up to you to destroy them first. For some reason that always had its allure.
Alexander enjoyed playing their video game. “It is a lot like flying in space really is,” he told Achubac.
“Yes,” the male admitted. “But not completely. We did not understand until you showed us that we actually live on a moon. We had thought that Axuba was our moon. So it cannot be too much like flying in space really is.”
“Well it is,” Alexander said. “Here you have a ship orbiting something. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent doing just that.”
“And you really do take your family-homes with you?” Achubac asked.
“We do not feel the same loyalty to place that you do,”
Alexander said. “But we do under stand loyalty to people.”
“You have said that your father will come for you soon, and that he will bring Jabins’ family-home with him. How can one exist without the other?” Achubac asked.
“Our species does not require a certain place to go back to in order to survive or be happy,” Arden explained. “But we do greatly prefer the company of certain persons. These are usually refered to as our kith and kin, our friends and family.”
After supper it was time for the little boy to go to bed. “Daddy, tell me a story,” he begged. “I can’t,” Achubac said. “We have a guest tonight.” “Pleas daddy,” the boy pleaded and whined and wheedled. “But he might not want to hear a story,” Achubac explained to his son. “But I do,” Alexander said. “Stories are very important to us,” Alexander told Achubac. “They can be a very important cue to cultures and civilizations. Do not ever be afraid to tell us about your stories and legends. We will never make light of them.”
Achubac thought about this for a few minutes. With a nod and a slight grunt he made up his mind. With a wry smile he began one of their creation myths. “This comes from the story of Atrakcix and Bushiva. Atrakcix was a warrior and a hunter. It is said that his mother had a prediction that he would be a great hunter and warrior, but that a woman who knew him for what he really was would kill him. So he left his village and traveled long from sunrise to sun set. Finally he saw a beautiful woman. Her name was Shiara. He said to her, ‘You are the most beautiful woman that I have ever known’. ‘If you truly mean that,’ she said, ‘then you may come to my village and live with me and we will have children.’ ‘You are and I do mean it.’ he said. So he went to her village and he lived with her. Now in the village was Shiara’s friend Bu-shiva. BushIva was not so beautiful as Shiara, but was wise. ‘Come,’ Shiara said to her, ’See who I met. He is the most beautiful man in the whole world.’ So Bushiva went with Shiara and met Atrakcix. ‘You are beautiful,’ Bushiva said to Atrakcix. ‘But I think I would like another better.’ So Atrakcix stayed with Shiara for a time. He went hunting, but he was always back by evening. Soon Shiara conceived. She bore a son while Atrakcix was away from home. Bushiva went out to tell him. But when she came near he thought she was an enemy and he fled from her. He ran very far and very fast. She wanted to be the first to tell him that he was a father so she ran after him. He ran to every point of the earth and still she pursued him. Finally he was too tired to run any more and she caught him. ‘What do you want?’ he finally asked her. ‘I wanted to tell you something of great importance,’ she said to him. ‘But you made me chase you so long and so far that it doesn’t matter any more.’ She said. ‘I wanted to tell you that you were a father. Most men want to know that. But you don’t seem to want that. Your son is raised by now by his mother. But you are not really his father; you were just an animal in rut. Come to me now. I wish to have a child too, but I have not met any other men.’ So he slept with her and she too conceived. ‘I have conceived,’ she said. ‘You may leave now.’ But he did not wish to leave then. ‘Then,’ she said. ‘I shall have to kill you for being no more then an animal in rut. They can be dangerous to children.’ She killed him that very day and went back to her village. There she gave birth to her daughter who became the bride of her brother. To this day the rising and setting of the two moons is said to be Bushiva chasing Atrakcix, and when she catches him she will kill him to show that people should be more then rutting animals.”
When the Lizbet was ready to leave this system they followed the same procedure they had before. There was a press conference and the President made a speech. The gen-eral was used to the idea that this was also something of a reelection bid. The President of the Schevach-ians, President Varshish, said “I have been told that it is time to say good-bye to my friends. I have visited their ship-home and I am sorry to see them go. But they have orders to continue on. I am looking forward to our people joining their Interstellar Systems in peace. So good-bye General Evander Arden.” He turned and gave the general what the humans considered a salute. His honor guard did the same. The general and his guard returned a Schevachian salute. That was like the human salute but with the fingers more splayed apart. That was to allow for the feathers the Sche-vachians had on their hands. Akchu-back gave a short speech too and also said good-bye. Even his small son was allowed to say goodbye to Alexander, “Good luck Lt. Arden.” “Thank-you Shivaz,” he said, “and good luck to you.” Then he saluted again and turned and followed his father to the ships. They launched and soon were back on the Lizbet .