Susie put her book aside and got up, walking over to the tree. She gently fingered some of the ornaments, lifting one cupped in her hand. “Great Granda,” she turned to look at him, “this looks like the one you told us about on the planet near Kapteyn. I think you called him Banh.”
She dropped that one and lifted another, higher up and farther around the tree. “Oh, and this one is like the Greenleafs! It’s cute, I liked them, they were so funny.”
The other children went over to the tree, and began studying the ornaments. Many of them represented everyday things, animals, birds, people, but there were two dozen new ones that caught their attention. With exclamations of delight, they examined them.
Rob lifted his cane, stood, and walked over to join the children. “I had them made,” he said, “so you could see what other people in the universe look like. At least, the ones I helped discover. Now that you have stopped bragging about me, I can tell you about all of my trips.”
The children cheered. “What about this one, Great Granda?” Johnny reached up, stretching as high as he could, to touch one that was shaped like a tortoise. “Where do they live?”
Rob reached over and lifted the ornament from the tree. It did look like a tortoise, with a yellowish brown carapace and lighter shade plastron. The head, neck, legs and tail were chocolate coloured. It was depicted with its neck stretched up, standing on its back legs.
“That is from my last trip. I was Admiral of the fleet by that time, and we were on a long trip. Their star is Kepler 69, found by the Kepler satellite in the first quarter of the twenty first century. It is 2,700 light years from Earth, and it took us five years to get there. We would never have made it, except for the advances that made it possible to travel through hyperspace.
“There are four planets orbiting Kepler 69, but only Kepler 69c is habitable. It is mainly a water world, but there are places where underwater mountains break the surface as islands. Many of these have sandy beaches, and that is where the females go to lay their eggs.
“Like the sea turtles of Earth, once the eggs are laid, they are left to fend for themselves. Their main enemy is a huge bird that nests in the higher regions of the islands, and at hatching time, they fly over the area, watching for the hatchlings as they try to make their way to the water.
“Each female lays two to three hundred eggs, so even with death flying and diving overhead, at least half make it. Once in the water, they are mostly safe from predators, though there are some fish that snack on them when they can.
“We found an island big enough for the lander and a few shelters. Once there, we launched boats, and did our best to make contact. We had seen structures on the beaches that were not natural, so knew there was some kind of intelligence there.
“We finally made contact with the head of one clan, Flextoo by name. At least, that is the closest we could come to his name. He was 8 feet long, and about five feet wide, and his eyes were large and emerald green. It was odd to see him on land, as there he stood on his hind feet, and could use his front feet like hands.
“I had many long talks with him, and found him highly intelligent, and eager to hear of other worlds, and other peoples. They used pearls to decorate their shells, the biggest pearls I had ever seen. I suggested that they could use them, and the nacre from the shells, as trade items. We showed him many things we could trade for them, and he was intrigued with some of our tools.
“In the end, we figured out how they could be adapted to fit their feet instead of hands, and how to power them using the ocean water. I know you have seen the decorations on the city Holiday tree, in the main square.”
“Oh, yes, Great Granda,” Lilly said. “They shine so, and I can see so many colours in them. The tree looks like it has little lights on even in the daytime. They are beautiful! And the orb on top, it glows, and it’s so big!”
“Right,” Rob said. “The decorations are made from the nacre from the shells of the oyster-like creatures that make the pearls. And the orb on top is one of the pearls. I like to look at them, and remember that I was in command of the fleet who found Flextoo and his people, and made friends and trading partners with them.”
Rob carefully hung the ornament back on the tree, and stood for a moment contemplating it. Then he turned and made shooing motions at the children.
“Sit down again, youngsters; it’s time for the Tree of Life pledge, and the life drink.”
Johnny ginned up at him. “Aye, aye, Admiral sir! He saluted, giggled, and ran back to the fireplace. The adults were all standing and smiling, glasses in hand. They raised them in salute, “To the Admiral!” they all cried, tipped glasses to lips, and drank. Rob smiled. He was so proud of his family, and pleased that he had been able to see a fourth generation well on its way. His daughter in law busied herself refilling glasses for the solemn ceremony to come.