The solarium was all glass except for the wall leading into the rest of the house, giving an incredible view of the night sky. It was a clear night and the only light in the room was a dim glow from the dining room, so the sky was like a huge sheet of black velvet, covered in a myriad of sparkling diamonds.
“Grandfather,” Paul, the children’s father, said “I think tonight it would be good if you would tell us all something about you experiences in space. I know we usually ask you not to as they do too much bragging in school. But with such a view as we have tonight, it would be an appropriate subject. Will you, please?”
“Oh, yes, please, Great Granda,” the children lifted their heads and gazed at him, eyes begging.
“Yes, I agree. Especially since tonight we have such a clear, sharp view of the constellations.” He picked up a laser pointer, and aimed it, saying: “This is Aquila, The Eagle, can you see it?” They all looked, and after some help, even the children saw it. “All right, see that very bright star?” he aimed the pointer at the star. “It is called Altair, and it is the southern-most star in the Summer Triangle. It is 16.73 light years from earth. It’s a variable star. That means that it is sometimes really bright and sometimes fainter. Its surface temperature varies from 6,900 to 8,500 Kelvins. That would be, at its coolest, 11,960.3 degrees in Fahrenheit. So it can get really really hot.
“We found a planet that was just in the habitable zone. It had more water than earth, and was very hot and humid. We found an area partly up a mountain that was solid enough for a landing craft, and put down there. From space, we could see that where there was land, it was green, so we thought it might do for human settlement. Higher up the mountain was drier, and rockier, but the slopes around us were covered in trees, very like the pines, cedars and other firs of earth.
“Lower, the trees were more like oaks, maple, and beech. We followed a river than ran down the mountainside, and eventually came to a large delta area. Here the trees were different. The leaves were somewhat like elms, but they were very thick. On some branches, they were small, and almost normal elm leaves. But as they grew bigger, they thickened, until they were fat. At the stem end, they were as big around as two green apples, joined; about four and a half inches wide by four inches thick. Where the stem was, there was a dip that went down in a crease back and front, forming two separate but joined heads. And I mean heads.
“At first we didn’t realize it, but when we looked closer, we saw that there was a set of eyes on each side of the front of the head. From there the ‘leaf’ narrowed like an elm leaf, until it was about two and a half inches from back to front, and about two inches wide. From there it divided into two floppy legs. In all, they were about six inches long.
“From where an ear would be on a normal head, a tentacle grew, about three inches long, with six small tentacle fingers. Later, we saw that they had retractable thorn-like claws. These were used for digging, or fighting the insects and other pests that would have infested the trees.
“When a Greenleaf, as we called the, was fully grown, it dropped from the tree, and immediately started working. Some of the insect types were domesticated, so some tended them. They were used to pull their version of the plow, and wagon, and as food and fertilizer. The tentacle arm could attach to an insect and all the liquid was sucked out though it. What was left they piled around the roots of the tree as mulch.”
“Great Granda, I don’t think it was nice of them to do that to their tame insects,” Susie said.
“Hmm. Susie, do you like roast beef?” Rob asked.
“Sure, it’s really good!” she grinned.
“And where does the roast come from? And I don’t mean the butcher shop.” Rob waited.
“From the farmers,” Susie said
“Where do they get it?”
Susie paused, then he saw it come to her. “From the cows.” She was sad.
“Right and we used the skin for shoes, and belts, and other things. Even the bones can be ground up and added to fertilizer. So the Greenleafs were only doing the same as we do.
“That’s how we realised that they were intelligent. They herded ‘cattle’, protected their families, fought predators, and gathered food for the herd. When the big rains came, we saw them build levees to keep the water from drowning the home trees, and their crops and herds.
“They didn’t have mouths, so they couldn’t talk, but we did communicate with them. Several of us had been hearing high toned, almost bell-like sounds, from the first contact. Sarg. Brown turned his translator’s audio to the highest sensitivity, and was suddenly hearing voices. It took a while, but eventually we were able to talk with them. They were excited to meet people from another planet.
“Some of them had spent years studying the stars. They could see the other planets around Altair and had come to the conclusion that there must be other worlds around other stars. We carried some of the elders up the mountain to see our landing craft, and showed them the mother ship through the telescope, where it orbited the planet. They were highly impressed, but sad, too. They knew that they would never be able to make such vehicles themselves.
“We spent the better part of a year there, and arranged for an ambassador and crew to come. The forests on the mountains were a big draw, as earth had few forests left, and most of the planets we’d settled were still short on them, too.
When we left, they were looking forward to the ambassador, making plans for trade, figuring out what we could bring them.” Rob leaned back in his chair, and took a sip form his glass. “Now, I understand, we have a small thriving colony there, and trade is good. They were very pleasant folks, the Greenleafs. I like to look at Altair, and remember them.”
They all sat in silence for a while, looking up at the sky, and thinking about the strange little leaf-like creatures who lived far away on that hot, humid planet.