Robert Clarke tamped the tobacco down in his pipe as his eyes roved over the children. Johnny was staring disconsolately out the window at the rain. It was coming down in sheets, as it had been doing for the past three days. The other children were on the floor desultorily colouring, putting puzzles together or reading. Susie had been staring at the same page for five minutes.
“Great Granda,” Johnny said as he turned from the window, “do you suppose it will ever stop raining?”
Rob drew on the pipe to get it going as he turned to look at the boy. “Well, now, son, I don’t know. Might be, it will rain for forty days and forty nights. The river is already flooding the low lands. Maybe we should go out to the barn and start building us an ark.” His eyes twinkled as all the children gasped, staring at him, wide eyed. “Well, probably not. The Good Lord did promise never to do that again. It will probably rain for a couple more days, though.”
Johnny sighed. “I’m so bored, Great Granda! If Mom and Dad were home, maybe they’d take us to town, to a show, or even just to the shopping centre. I want to go climb trees and chase the goats, or something!” He flopped down on the floor, as the other children voiced their agreement.
“Well, I guess I could bend the rules a bit and tell you about one of my trips in space. Would that help?”
The children sat up straighter, faces brightening, and cheered. “Oh, yes, please, Great Granda, please!” they chorused.
“All right, I will.” Rob settled more comfortably in his chair, took a sip from the glass by his side, and smiled. “I’ll tell you about the Kaptites, as we called them. They live on the planet Kap Three. It obits the M1 star Kapteyn, in the small, faint constellation now called Pictor, Latin for painter. Originally, it was called Equuleus Pictoris, the 'painter's easel'. It is about 13 light years from Earth.
“Since Kapteyn is a smaller, cooler star than Sol, Kap Three orbits closer to it than Earth does to Sol. We were looking for more planets where humans could settle, and this was the first possible candidate. However, when we orbited the planet, we saw signs of intelligent life. Since our mission included trying to make friends with other intelligent species, we went closer, and tried radio contact, with no result.
“The captain called for a landing party, and I was chosen as the botanist. We had a couple of linguists, a geologist, and other scientific types, and a squad of twenty marines. We landed in an open, empty field within sight of what appeared to be a small town, disembarked, and waited.
“After about two hours, we saw wheeled vehicles coming from the town, four of them. The second one had some kind of flag or pennant flying from the windshield. ‘Looks like someone important is coming,’ Lieutenant Nelson said. ‘Look sharp, people, we want to make a good impression. All weapons holstered or grounded, we do not want to seem threatening.’
“The vehicles arrived, and the people got out. There was a loud gasp from everyone. They looked a lot like us! Any one of them could have been dropped in the middle of any city on Earth or Mars, and blended right in.
“They formed up in ranks and surrounded the one who was dressed in what seemed to be a formal suit. It was one piece, in a very deep red, with gold piping on the collar, sleeves and down the outside of the legs. He stepped forward, a pace or two in front of the others, and raised his right hand. He was about five foot seven inches tall, with faintly reddish skin, a round face and dark red hair. His eyes were a deep blue, and when he spoke, his voice was in the tenor range. The language was strange to our ears.
“’Tien glomet Binh. Dreet braggin pless wegrain, barishen,’ he said.
“Lieutenant Nelson turned to Sergeant Brown, the linguist. ‘Can you make anything out of that?’ he asked.
“Brown looked at his translator. ‘My name is Binh. ‘Much pleasure gives welcome, stranger’, according to this.’ He tapped the translator. ‘Never had it work so quickly, Lieutenant,’ he looked up with a grin. ‘This might turn out to be easy.’
“We stayed there three months, and it was as easy as Brown predicted. Binh was the Blenishtreen of Kap three, or President of the world. He invited us all to his city, where we mingled with the citizens; we were accepted freely by all, and feasted at least once a week by different people. Not all of the feasts were given by those in government, many of the citizens invited groups into their homes. Usually they were botanists, geologists and other scientists, gathering together to compare knowledge with ours. Some were just ordinary folk, shop keepers, woodworkers and such. I enjoyed those banquets more than the formal ones.
“At last the Captain radioed saying we had to return to the ship, as the astrophysicist aboard had found indications of another possible planet approximately 32 light years away. We said our reluctant goodbyes, and told Binh that Ambassadors from Earth would arrive within a few months. They would set up trade and communication with the Kaptites. He expressed his pleasure at that, and his sorrow that we must go.
“And that is the story of Binh, the Kaptite.”
“Thanks, Great Granda,” Johnny said. “Will you tell us some more?”
“Not now, Johnny. I have talked as much as I can, for now. Another time, perhaps.” The children chorused ‘aww!’ and then thanked him.
“I would like to see those Kaptites,” Billy said. “I want to be like you, Great Granda; I want to be an astronaut.”
“That would be good, Billy. But to do that, you have to do really well in school. Study hard and you just might make it. Now, I must rest.” Rob settled back in his chair, touched a button and the chair adjusted so he was reclining, and closed his eyes. The children went quietly back to their colouring and puzzles, content for a while. But they still wished the rain would stop.