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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 grandmother’s 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. “You’re trees! You’re walking trees!”

To Wychwood’s 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. “What’s your name?”

“Pavel Andreievich.” Pavel remembered in time his grandmother’s warning that a lot of people did not understand about patronymics and added, “Chekov.”

The Tropaeolumi extruded a tentacle and wrapped it around Pavel’s 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 being’s seven eyes turned on its stalk. “Inquiry?”

Oh, Pasha, what have you got yourself into now? We’ve only been on the Moon an hour and you’re 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 grandson’s name for me,” Helena explained.

Pavel thought that was unnecessarily complicated. “Nana is my grandmama. She’s my mama’s mama.”


“Inquiry is permitted.”

“You would defend your young?”

“Ferociously!” Helena answered and decided to make matters absolutely clear. She would not spoil this for Pavel, but Helena had had the standard high school course on the history of the Federation; she remembered some of the difficulties of first encounters, and how many problems simple misunderstandings could cause. The expressions of the Starfleet officers certainly indicated this contact was not going well. “I will permit my grandson to talk to you, as you invited, but I specify I want him back in the same condition in which I entrusted him to you, and within what I consider a reasonable period of time!”

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?’”

“You are. That designation is exclusively for the use of my grandson and any other grandchildren I may have.” Helena sent a frantic glance to the senior Starfleet officers who had moved closer during the conversation. One, whom she saw was an admiral, merely gave her a covert thumbs-up sign. “My designation is Helena Bondarenko. If it suits your customs, you may call me ‘Helena’ and my grandson ‘Pavel’.”

As she paused for breath, Pavel piped up, “Please may I ask your designation?”

Ttchcht,” the alien answered. “Tree of Ccchchtt of the Blue Mountain Forest. You may call me Ttchcht. We did not know Humans acknowledged ancestors and descendants as we do.”

Pavel tried the alien name. He was not, his fond grandmother noted, apparently at all disconcerted by being held in the alien tentacle. “That’s 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, Helena.”

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 mama’s tummy, and they can’t walk by themselves for a long time. They’re nice to cuddle, but they can’t play. My cousin has just come out of her mama’s tummy, and she’s 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 wouldn’t be so interesting meeting you if we could both do the same things, would it? It’s a lot more interesting finding out about people who are different.”

“You consider me a person?”

Pavel’s dark eyes widened. “Of course. You don’t have to look the same as me to be a person. It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside; what’s important is if you’re a nice person on the inside.  And I’m 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.

“Ooh, yes!”

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, “I’m 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!”

Helena responded to the request she could read in the admiral’s expression. She did not know quite how she and her grandson had got so tangled up in what was evidently a diplomatic meeting, but the Starfleet officers clearly did not want to risk upsetting the aliens, and it was the duty of a good Federation citizen to help. Not to mention the fact Pasha would never forgive me if I refused! “Of course, Admiral.”

“How do you walk, Ttchcht?” Pavel bent over to look at the base of the alien. “I can’t see any feet.”

Stubby tentacles appeared. “These are modified roots, Pavel.”

Pavel watched as the alien glided forward before trotting along beside him. “If they’re 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 don’t know what evolve means.” Pavel turned to his grandmother. “What does it mean, Nana?”

“I’ll have to tell you, later, Pavel Andreievich. It’s 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. We’re still good climbers though, especially when we’re young, as my grandson would no doubt be delighted to demonstrate.”

“You climb beings such as us?” Ttchcht inquired.

“Plants on Earth aren’t 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 wouldn’t cut you down, Ttchcht!” Pavel was horrified at the idea. “Not now that we know you’re a person! We like our plants, even though they can’t 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, don’t they need to be in soil? Aren’t you hungry walking on this hard surface? Plants can’t grow without soil.” He looked worried. “You’re not going to die because you don’t 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 didn’t 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. “We’d have brought soil from your home world with us.”

“We can plant you,” Pavel put in practically. “With Earth plants, it’s 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 soil’s 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 you’re a guest, you mean?” Pavel inquired, adding helpfully, “When I’m a guest I have to be good and say ‘thank you’ when I leave.”

White’s 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 you’ll 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.”

“That 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 Helena forestalled it.

“I realize you all know a great deal more about this sort of thing than I do...”

“Mrs. Bondarenko, I assure you, you’re doing fine.” Admiral White grinned at her ruefully. “Please, go on.”

“What about water?” Helena suggested practically. “Every life form of which we know needs that to a greater or lesser degree.”

“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 isn’t Starfleet doing better than a small boy?

“The level of obligation imposed was not stated.”

“You mean you didn’t drink anything all the time you were on the Constitution?” Taunton looked appalled. “But you might have died! If you’d only told us...but you opted to remain together in your quarters throughout the trip here.”

“We are able to endure long periods of drought.”

“Enduring isn’t the same as liking,” Helena countered. “What is your normal requirement of water during a day? Never mind. Just tell me how you can best absorb what you need. By your roots?”

“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.”

“We’ll do all we can to make sure you don’t, Ttchcht,” Admiral White assured it.

It isn’t likely to rain on the Moon! Helena looked at him. “Admiral, where’s the nearest shower?”

“You have an eminently practical mind, ma’am!” 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. “I’m 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.

“You’re bigger! You’re 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.

Helena was grateful she was not the only one gazing at the alien with her mouth open; even the Starfleet officers seemed taken aback by Ttchcht’s transformation. The being had changed from a slim yellow trunk to one patterned in various shades of green, and with twice the circumference. Actual leaves now sprouted from its top, and it was taller. “You look really different,” Pavel commented.

“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.


“Pasha, please try to be a little easier on my nerves during the rest of this trip,” Helena requested, as she tucked her grandson into bed in the quarters Starfleet had given them.

“It was exciting, wasn’t it, Nana?” Pavel was not too tired for delight at the way he had spent his day.

“It was.”

“And we helped with a diplomajic meeting, Nana.”

Diplomatic, and yes, we did.” Helena took a careful breath, as she wondered how to explain to a seven year old that the most exciting day of his life was something better not mentioned when they returned home. “Pasha, you realize Mama and Papa won’t be very interested, don’t you?” She considered her words. "Well, maybe your mama would, but not in front of your father."

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 didn’t want to hear one word about the Moon when we go home.”

“So he did, Pasha, so he did.” Helena smiled. “So it’ll be just something we talk about when it’s only you and me.”

“Papa wasn’t going to let me come, was he?” Pavel acknowledged soberly. “Not until you made him.” He hugged her tightly. “Thank you for that, Nana.”

“You’re very welcome, Pasha. I’m enjoying myself too.” As her little grandson grew, Helena had been delighted to find he did not seem to have inherited a trace of what she thought of as his mother’s spinelessness. She was even more relieved to find he did not seem to have inherited anything of her loathed son-in-law’s character traits. Andrei Chekov might have been gratified when his small son had won a prestigious junior chess championship, but he had not cared how much distress he had caused Pavel by decreeing he would not accept the prize of a week long trip to the Moon.

Helena Bondarenko had stepped in then. Her grandson’s 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 the Moon. Helena did all she could to ensure Pavel’s childhood was as happy as possible, and he repaid her with boundless love. That neither of his parents could see it was a love which should have been given to them she regarded as their misfortune. That it was his grandmother to whom he had appealed after that autocratic statement, Helena regarded as their tragedy.

“I’m going to be a Starfleet officer and meet aliens too, Nana.”

Helena smiled at the light in his eyes. “Now that definitely ought to be our secret, Pasha, right up until you apply to the Academy. Promise?” Pavel was far too young to understand his father would decree how his son’s life would be spent; his grandmother had been equally certain her grandson would follow his own path. Now, for the first time she knew where that path would lead. Perhaps not only character traits can skip a generation. Perhaps dreams do, too.

“I promise, Nana.”


Helena stood with Admiral White and watched as her grandson leapt enthusiastically over the Moon’s surface, Lieutenant Wychwood and a security team in close attendance. The admiral had asked Pavel what he would like as a thank you for all the help he had given them with the Tropaeolumi contact. Pavel had considered for a clearly anguished moment before he had replied he could not decide between asking to visit the Constitution, which was waiting to take the Tropaeolumi to Earth, or going on the surface of the Moon. White had only laughed and arranged both.

The admiral smiled as he watched. “A prospective Starfleet officer needs to learn how to work in vacuum, wouldn’t you agree, Helena?”

“Ah, Pasha’s 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 I’d be happy to sponsor his application?”

“The best thing I can do for my grandson is not to tell his parents. Pasha’s had more encouragement and kindness from your people, especially that nice Henry Wychwood, in one week than he’s had from his father in seven years.” Helena answered bluntly. “And he’ll have a fight on his hands when he does tell Andrei Ivanovich what he wants, but he’ll have my backing.”

“Even though it means you won’t see him for years on end?” White asked gently. Only a few hours in their company had shown the close bond Helena had with her grandson.

“You can’t live other people’s lives for them, Admiral. I learned that when I couldn’t prevent my daughter marrying a man she knew was a domineering bully. If Pasha’s heard the cry of the wild geese, I won’t say one word to stop him following his dream.”

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This story can be found in printed form in ORION ARCHIVES 2229-2265  THE BEGINNINGS3
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