The next day after Nathaniel’s visit to Gruezhe, the Mama-And-Daddy inform Nathaniel and Haticat that they will soon be arriving on a planet named Earth. Earth has just a bit more water and a bit more gravity than Gruezhe. The atmosphere is roughly the same. The Mama-And-Daddy lands on the edge of a magnificent forest. Nathaniel and Haticat are amazed at the sight of green mountains against white clouds and blue sky. There are many different kinds of plants and trees all around them. The Mama-And-Daddy announce that they will be climbing to the top of the nearest mountain and that Nathaniel and Haticat are free to walk or ride as they choose. Nathaniel opts to walk. Haticat does as well, but finds that he must walk on all fours due to his boneless legs being inadequate to support him under Earth’s gravity otherwise.
“It’s a bit cold here; Nathaniel, go put on a coat,” Mama and Daddy speak.
“It’s not much cold. I like it,” Nathaniel says.
“Put it on anyways; I don’t want you to be cold,” Mama and Daddy speak. Nathaniel doesn’t understand what the Mama-And-Daddy is so worried about. What’s the risk? He obeys anyways. He finds a blue-grey coat in the nearest closet. It is just his size.
Mama, Daddy, Nathaniel, and Haticat set out into the woods in the direction of the nearest mountain. There is a clear trail to follow. “Why is there a trail here?” Nathaniel asks.
“Lots of people walk this same way, following the trail, and their feet keep plants from growing on it,” Mama and Daddy explain.
“Oh,” Nathaniel responds.
Nathaniel is soon overwhelmed by the diversity of plants and fungi. There are trees with long, thin, pointy leaves and there are trees with broad, flat, veiny leaves. There are leaves with smooth edges and there are leaves with wavy or rough edges. There are trees with shaggy bark, trees with scaly bark, and trees with smooth, papery bark. There are trees with cones and trees with nuts. There are trees with one-winged seeds that spiral down to the ground as they fall. Shorter plants sprout berries of several kinds. The air is laden with the spicy scent of decaying leaves. There are brightly-colored mushrooms. He sees moths, mosquitoes, and mayflies. He sees bees, beetles, and bugs. He sees robins, chickadees, crows, bluebirds, squirrels, and chipmunks. “What’s that called?” Nathaniel asks again and again every time he sees something new. Using his pre-programmed language, he knows category names, such as “animal” and “plant” but he doesn’t know the name of every animal and plant that has ever existed.
“That’s honeysuckle,” Mama says.
“What are those?” Haticat asks, joining in.
“Those are bladderworts,” Mama replies. Nathaniel realizes the Mama-And-Daddy knows a lot. It is a very helpful being sometimes.
“What’s that furry animal?” Nathaniel asks, spying a small creature on the trunk of a tree.
“That’s called a wolf spider,” Mama and Daddy answer together.
“What is this?” Haticat asks, finding some short shrubs.
“Hmmm…I don’t know,” Mama says.
Haticat turns to Nathaniel and says, “I discovered something new! I’ll share half the fame with you!”
“Okay!” Nathaniel agrees.
“Help me make a name for them,” Haticat says.
“How about ploppjing plants?” Nathaniel suggests.
“Okay,” Haticat agrees.
Soon, they pass through a grove of balsam. Nathaniel loves the smell so much he breaks off a twig to keep in his coat pocket. After that, their path becomes steep and rocky. Haticat climbs onto Nathaniel’s back. The couch unit simply levitates high over all obstacles. By the time the path levels out again, Nathaniel feels hot. He takes off his coat and carries it.
“Why aren’t you wearing your coat?” Daddy asks sharply.
“I’m too hot,” Nathaniel claims.
“You’ll get cold. It’s cold outside,” Mama counters.
“It’s hot right now,” Nathaniel says.
“Put your coat on!” Daddy yells. Nathaniel grudgingly obeys. His parent starts to test his nerves.
They walk a bit further. “Hey, there’s another trail this way,” Haticat points out, seeing a second path branch off from the first. Looking as far as they can, Haticat and Nathaniel see that the trail wraps between two mossy boulders wrapped by roots and then sharply descends. It looks interesting.
“What’s that way?” Nathaniel asks his parent.
“We aren’t going that way,” Mama and Daddy answer.
“Why?” Nathaniel asks. It is a fair question.
“We’re going up the mountain,” Mama and Daddy answer.
“We already know this trail goes up the mountain, I want to find out where that one goes,” Nathaniel tries to explain.
“Don’t argue with us!” Mama and Daddy yell.
Nathaniel is shocked. He hadn’t realized he was arguing; he thought he was having a civil discussion about where to go. It is still early in his day (Nathaniel recently woke up, but it is late afternoon on this part of the planet) and his parent is already upset. “Maybe we can check when we come back,” Haticat proposes.
“Yeah,” Nathaniel responds.
The trail turns rocky and steep again, crosses a gulley, and finally runs along a ledge. The trees part, and there is a wide view. Everyone stops to look. Nathaniel tries to find his spaceship below and gets excited when he sees it nestled behind some trees. They can see for many miles. Other mountains can be seen in the distance. Nathaniel tries to guess how big they are and how far away they are. Haticat disagrees. After asking Mama-And-Daddy, they decide that Haticat is the better estimator, temporarily sparking Nathaniel’s interest in what makes some people better estimators than others. Nathaniel had seen comparable views on the volcano planet, but without trees they were without scale, and so not as awe-inspiring. The bigness of it all intrigues Haticat and Nathaniel both. This is the fourth amazing planet Nathaniel had visited in four days. What an amazing universe!
Moving on, they encounter several more stone outcroppings with great views and pass by several more side trails before reaching the top where they can see in all directions. From the top, Nathaniel sees the lower outcroppings where they stopped before. There is wind on the top – much more than there was below. In fact, it is very windy. Nathaniel lets it cool him down. He is still hot in his coat and tired from his climb. They all relax for a bit.
While on the top, Nathaniel sees many things. He finds a short cliff to look off, perhaps five meters high. Mama tells him to stay away, claiming he might fall. Nathaniel wonders why the Mama-And-Daddy is so risk-averse to worry about such a short cliff. He knows how to land on his feet so he doesn’t get hurt, and he knows that he knows, running the simulation through his mind. Haticat finds a soft, fat, velvety caterpillar on a leaf. Nathaniel and Haticat take turns petting it. Mama yells at them not to touch it. Nathaniel sees a column of ants and follows it a ways to discover where it leads. Daddy yells at him not to wander too far away before he even has a chance to get more than twelve meters. Finally starting to get bored, Nathaniel and Haticat spot a tree on the edge of the clearing with low, moderately-spaced branches and start climbing it. “Nathaniel! Haticat! Don’t climb on trees!” Mama calls. They aren’t allowed to have any fun at all!
“Why?” Nathaniel asks.
“It’s against the rules,” Mama says, the couch-unit moving closer.
“I saw Meekons climb on trees on Gruezhe, and nobody cared,” Nathaniel says.
“You’re not a Meekon,” Mama says.
Nathaniel and Haticat climb back down the tree. Soon, they begin to descend the mountain again. They are not allowed to follow any of the side paths, but they are getting a bit tired anyway and no longer care as much. It is nearing sunset when they return to the ship.
“Why is the sun turning orange?” Nathaniel asks.
“Redder light can go further through the atmosphere without scattering than yellow or blue. When the sun is near your horizon, the light has to go through more atmosphere to get to you,” Mama and Daddy speak together.
“Why?” Nathaniel asks.
“You’re making us tired,” Mama and Daddy say.
After a quick meal of candy, the Mama-And-Daddy takes off and settles on a different part of Earth. They announce that they are visiting a museum/library. When Nathaniel and Haticat exit the ship, they find they are in the parking lot of a large, white, stone building. It is mid-morning on this part of the planet. “Go have fun,” Mama exhorts, staying behind.
First, Nathaniel and Haticat enter a large room detailing the feats of explorers of Earth. There is a model of Mount Everest and books telling the stories of expeditions to the area. There is one of the actual submarines once used to explore deep sea hydrothermal vents and collections of photographs taken on the wall.
“Let’s split up and each learn as much as we can so we can tell each other later when we have time. That way, we can learn twice as much while we are here, Haticat suggests.
“That’s a great idea!” Nathaniel exclaims.
“I just invented it!” Haticat informs.
“You’re smart!” Nathaniel comments. Getting busy, Nathaniel reads about tube worms and chemosynthetic bacteria at the bottom of the ocean. He climbs in the submarine and realizes how cramped it is. He peers through the thick windows built small to better handle the immense pressures deep under the sea. “Wouldn’t be able to see much,” he thinks to himself.
Meanwhile Haticat skims copies of the journals of those who had to find ways to cope with strong wind, cold, low oxygen levels, and unstable terrain. Three times he comes across the word “frostbite” and wonders what it refers to. It seems to be something bad that happens to exposed feet. He looks over and tries on some of the equipment used to get a feel for it. Even adjusted to the smallest, the straps are still too loose for Haticat’s waist and the shoulder straps slide off his shell.
Nathaniel moves on and is amazed to hear about sand dunes in certain deserts that emit deep tones when sand runs down their surfaces under the right conditions and how scientists solved the mystery. A video screen displays a simulation of how the sound might be created. He is excited to hear that nobody yet knows whether the sound is caused by the sand grains rubbing against each other or by the compression of air between the sand grains. There is still more to discover!
Haticat moves on and is excited to hear about the tree kangaroos that live in the mountainous jungles of Papua New Guinea. There are many more animals and plants on Earth than they saw on their earlier walk, and some types only live in certain areas!
“Hello, I’m the librarian. Is there anything I can help you find?” asks an adult human, surprising Haticat. She wears a dull, red dress, a grey, knit coat, and has grey hair.
“I want to go someplace nobody’s been to before,” Haticat says.
“No, you should leave that to others. It can be dangerous. Just learn about places from past explorations,” the librarian says.
“Why is it windy up on mountains?” Nathaniel asks, hoping the lady might know the answer.
“Well, as wind moves close to the ground it gets blocks by little hills and trees and buildings and rubs along the ground, slowing it down. Up in the mountains, wind can travel long distances with nothing to block it. Also, the air is thinner up higher and doesn’t get in its own way as much, either” the lady says.
“Oh,” Nathaniel says, “Where does wind come from?”
“When sunlight (or another heat source) warms the ground, the ground warms the air above it. Warm air rises. When the warm air rises, cool air from all around blows in to fill the hole, becoming wind,” the lady says.
“Why does the warm air go up?” Nathaniel asks.
The lady explains about atoms bouncing off each other and relative pressure until Nathaniel is satisfied, which takes a long time. Haticat stands in rapt attention. The lady finally says, “Well, if you have a question, ask me. I know a lot. Anything I don’t know, I probably know where to find out.”
“How does rain get into the sky?” Haticat asks before the librarian can get away.
The librarian explains the water cycle. Nathaniel is fascinated. He has never seen rain before and was unaware that water fell from the sky. The librarian then explains why water ice floats, but ices of other compounds do not. Then she explains the seasons of Earth, how they differ from place to place, and how they differ from seasons on other planets. “The strange thing about Earth is that the Earth is closer to the sun when the northern hemisphere is pointed away from it, and farther from the sun when the northern hemisphere is pointed toward it, thus partially cancelling the effects, lessening the severity of the seasons in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, the Earth’s orbit reinforces the effects, making the seasons more severe, but since the southern hemisphere is covered by a greater percentage of ocean, the water mixes to spread the heat more evenly. It’s a lucky balance,” she drones. Nathaniel doesn’t understand why this adult isn’t more excited. She actually seems to be getting tired from his and Haticat’s questions. He almost doesn’t notice.
“I want to know everything about every kind of animal!” Nathaniel blurts out.
“Well, there are different ways to classify animals into different kinds. There are sentient and non-sentient animals. There are racial and aracial animals,” she drones.
“What does that mean?” Haticat and Nathaniel each say almost at the same time.
“What does what mean?” the librarian queries.
“Sentient,” Haticat answers.
“Sentient and aracial,” Nathaniel says.
“Well, sentient animals use language and technology and are self-aware. Non-sentient animals live mostly by programming and don’t really have capacity for choice. There are some that are somewhere in between, but those are the two major groups. There are also a lot of animals that have isolated populations that are different from the rest of their kind. For example, humans are sentient almost everywhere in the galaxy they are found, but not on planet Zanko. The humans that live on Zanko are very stupid. Raccoons are another example. On Earth and most other places, raccoons just live by instinct, but both on planet Defitt and planet Vango live raccoons that speak, build tools, weapons, and vehicles, and engage in trade with other races. Nobody knows why,” the librarian lectures, “Racial animals are those that belong to groups of very similar individuals. There are billions of humans, and they look pretty much the same. There are also billions of raccoons. Earth doesn’t have any aracial creatures, but there are many on other planets and many that travel between planets. Aracial creatures are unique. There is only one of each kind. For example, King Morp of the planet Morp is an aracial creature.”
“Is the Mama-And-Daddy an aracial creature?” Haticat asks.
“I don’t know. I’ve never heard of it,” the librarian says.
“How do we find out?” Nathaniel asks.
The librarian begins walking away. “Follow me,” she sighs. She leads them into a long hall filled with books of all sizes and colors. Finding the right one, the librarian pulls out a large book from a shelf and opens it. “This book has the thousand most famous aracial beings of the galaxy and it’s in alphabetical order for easy searching.”They search under “Mama” and they search under “The,” but cannot find it. They stop to read about King Morp and study his picture closely. He has two legs, one eye, one mustache-like organ, and a spiral head. He has many powers. “If you find a book you want to take home to have more time to read, tell me so I can put it on my list. You can borrow up to ten books at the same time. If you need to find me, follow the blue arrows on the floor to my desk.” The librarian leaves them alone.
Nathaniel turns to the front of the book to read the introduction. “Hey, aracial creatures tend to be very powerful and resistant to death, making killing them just as difficult as tracking down all members of a race to kill them,” he reads aloud to Haticat.
“Let’s borrow this book, so we can look at more things while we’re here,” Haticat suggests.
“Yeah,” Nathaniel agrees, placing the book under his arm.
Moving on, they peruse a collection of skulls from dozens of Earth species, including human, tyrannosaur, and triceratops. One comes from a giant fish called Dunkleosteus. Haticat marvels at its doubly-attached jaws. They also see an extensive taxidermy exhibit, including specimens of many mammals, birds, and reptiles. They look at cases of crystals and other minerals and learn why they take the shapes they do. Nathaniel takes some time to memorize the names and properties of each.
There are few others in the museum that day, and Nathaniel and Haticat are too engrossed in learning to notice them anyways. They are all humans, about three-quarters of them children, running around and making lots of noise. “Slow down! Be quiet!” an adult yells, “Stop having fun or we won’t bring you here ever again!”
“This is a fun place! I can’t help it,” a kid in a yellow shirt says.
“Why did you bring us here if not for fun?” another kid asks. Nathaniel hears this confusing exchange, but quickly forgets it as he watches the exhibits.
Seeing a gigantic mural breaking down all Earth animal life into phyla, classes, orders, and families, with a tiny picture of a typical individual for each family, Nathaniel and Haticat both stop and are overwhelmed. They have to climb up ladders and on catwalks to see most of it. Nearby, they find books covering every animal group and race to learn as much as they can in one day. They can’t learn fast enough! Haticat reads about spiders and snakes while Nathaniel reads about echinoderms and annelids.
“Let’s borrow some of these too,” Nathaniel says, “I’m getting hungry.”
“Okay,” Haticat agrees. They snatch up the unfinished books on snakes and annelids. They grab a book on genetics and a book about Gruezhlings. They also grab a book on the special adaptations of many animals and plants. It has many colorful pictures.
Exploring the rest of the museum/library is difficult. It is comprised by many looped hallways and they find they keep coming back through the same areas to get to the areas they haven’t been to before. Video screens play continuously on the walls, explaining each exhibit. Nearly every surface is covered by blinking, whirring, and buzzing. It is a cornucopia of overstimulation! There are also tall rooms that cut through many floors, housing large exhibits, including dinosaur skeletons. Nathaniel loves the stairs. The Mama-And-Daddy has no stairs. “These are stairs. I’ve seen them on Gruezhe. They’re for playing on,” Haticat informs. At the top of one flight of stairs, they enter a faraday cage surrounded by lightning. “Wow!” Haticat says. Nathaniel excitedly jumps up and down.
The next room has a maglev train exhibit. Then they explore a room of lenses, mirrors, and telescopes. They play with levers, pulleys, and gears. They read placards and pick up books to borrow covering the subjects of volcanoes, nuclear fusion, nuclear fission, astrophysics, and more. There is so much to know and it’s all concentrated into one place! Nathaniel soaks in the knowledge and feels smarter and smarter. Several rooms contain collections of cultural artifacts from other planets. They sit in glass cases to protect them from being touched and the lights are kept dim to protect them from light. “Earth must be a science planet,” Nathaniel concludes.
Finally, they find their way to the librarian’s desk. Nathaniel is tired, hungry, and struggles to carry Haticat’s books in addition to his own, since Haticat can barely carry himself in Earth gravity. At the desk, they count out twenty of them.
“What books did you get?” Daddy asks Haticat and Nathaniel when they return to the ship.
“We got books on adaptations, snakes, worms, fusion, fission, astrophysics, volcanoes, genetics, magnets, Gruezhlings, aracial creatures,” Nathaniel says. Daddy begins to feel very tired. He had not expected such a long answer and Nathaniel still continues, “Snails, medicinal plants, viruses, quantum physics, sea squirts, elastics, robots, refrigerators, and facts about planets.”
“Yup,” Haticat adds.
“That’s nice. Okay, get ready; we have to go pick apples,” Daddy says, recovering quickly. With that, the door closes and the humming of the antigravity engines increases. Soon, they are whisked away to another part of the planet. “Don’t eat too much candy, we’re going to eat apples soon,” Daddy warns, catching Nathaniel getting into the candy.
They settle just outside an orchard where humans can be seen picking and collecting medium-sized, round fruits from short, scraggly trees. Nathaniel notices the relatively wide spacing of the trees and says, “This is a thin forest.”
“This is called an orchard. Humans grow apples here,” Daddy says.
Nathaniel and Haticat ride the couch unit out into the orchard and it rises up to allow them to pick a few of the fruits that Nathaniel sticks in his pockets. Haticat doesn’t eat, but Nathaniel eats three different kinds: granny smith, golden delicious, and Cortland. He even eats the cores. “Save your appetite,” Daddy says, “We’re going to a restaurant later.” There are many apples to try, but Nathaniel can’t eat them all. Mama and Daddy also eat apples, stuffing them whole into the tops of their polyp-heads. “Yum,” Daddy says.
Near the center of the orchard is a wooden building, emitting a wonderful smell. Inside are many strange-looking products. Haticat and Nathaniel run around, looking at and smelling everything. Nathaniel counts up the number of types of products he sees. He sees apple pie, apple crisp, apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple sauce, apple butter, apple juice, and apple cider. There is even hot cider spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Humans man the booths. A lone Candy Wizard hands out apple jelly, apple candy, and caramel-coated apples.
“Hey, there is a Candy Wizard on Earth,” Nathaniel says.
“Candy Wizards have outposts on a lot of planets,” Mama says.
Haticat and Nathaniel continue to look around. “This must be a food museum,” Nathaniel remarks to Haticat.
“Yup,” Haticat agrees.
Mama and Daddy decide to sample some apple pie. Mama digs into a groove in the side of the couch unit, pulls out some small, metal disks, and hands them to one of the humans. The human hands her a slice of pie. “What are those?” Nathaniel asks, leaning in and looking intently at the coins.
“That’s money,” Mama says. Nathaniel doesn’t know that word. It must be a complex concept. Nathaniel may have been created knowing basic language, but he doesn’t know every combination of simpler ideas ever invented. He understands trade and tit for tat, but not currency.
“On Earth, the people take money for the things they give. That way, they have money for others to take when they need to be given things. It’s easier than carrying around a lot of pies, especially since not everyone wants pies,” Daddy says.
“What if they don’t want money?” Nathaniel asks.
“Humans always want money, only because they know that everyone else wants it,” Daddy explains.
“What if everyone wanted pies?” Nathaniel asks.
“Then pies would be called money,” Daddy says.
“Oh, I get it,” Haticat finally says. It makes sense to Nathaniel too. The Mama-And-Daddy is smart. Mama stuffs half the slice into the top of her head with a fork and teleports the other half left on the plate to Daddy, who grasps the plate in his tentacles and does the same.
“That’s good pie!” Daddy exclaims.
Mama hands the human some more coins and receives another slice. “Here Nathaniel, eat this,” she says. Nathaniel was not expecting pie and is not certain he wants it, but it does smell good. He grasps the slice in his claws and bites into it the same way he did with the apples he picked not long before. “Nathaniel, use a fork!” Mama scolds.
“You’d better start learning the rules!” Daddy admonishes.
“You don’t tell me all the rules!” Nathaniel yells. He can’t believe he is in trouble again.
“Don’t talk back to us!” Daddy yells back.
“Who makes the rules?” Nathaniel asks, frustration beginning to creep into his voice.
“Rules are rules! Don’t ask questions! Asking questions is against the rules!” Daddy yells.
“Why?” Nathaniel asks.
“Because I said so!” Mama and Daddy yell.
“That’s not a reason; you could also not say so. I know you said so. I want to know why!” Nathaniel yells, angry at The Mama-And-Daddy for not taking him or his questions seriously.
“I told you not to talk back!” Daddy yells.
“You can’t have any pie now,” Mama and Daddy declare. The pie teleports over a nearby trash can and falls in. Not knowing what else to do, Nathaniel says nothing, but merely glares at them.
“Do you want to go home?” Daddy asks.
“Do you want to go home?” Mama rapidly follows up with.
“Do you want to go home?” Daddy asks immediately after, urgency straining in his voice. Nathaniel wonders if he should answer, but knows he can’t answer without “talking back.” Is he allowed to respond now? He opens his mouth to say something, but doesn’t know what to say.
“You’re going home,” Mama and Daddy proclaim. Immediately, Nathaniel finds himself teleported to his room on board the ship. Haticat is teleported with him.
“Aaargh! The Mama-And-Daddy is so stupid!” Nathaniel exclaims.
“They’re very stupid,” Haticat agrees.
“How do they not know to tell me the rules?” Nathaniel questions.
“It didn’t even give you a chance to learn the right way. Now I don’t know if you like pie or not,” Haticat complains.
“Yeah, I might never know if pie is good, and it’s their fault,” Nathaniel adds.
“Yeah, it’s their fault,” Haticat agrees.
“Why is it even a rule? Why are forks important?” Nathaniel says.
“I don’t know,” Haticat says, “I think it’s not important. The rule is stupid.”
“Yeah, the rule is very stupid,” Nathaniel says. He picks up his astrophysics book, starts to leaf through it, and then stops. “I’m too angry to read,” he says, throwing the book down and jumping into his pile of pillows.
Later, after sulking a bit, Nathaniel and Haticat decide to play indoors, but find they cannot leave the room. After pushing on the door a while, they finally decide to have a pillow fight. Suddenly, the Mama-And-Daddy polyp-heads activate.
“Stop playing!” Daddy yells. Surprised, Nathaniel and Haticat stop.
“After you clean up this mess, you can come out of your room; your punishment is over,” Mama and Daddy say together.
“We hope you understand that we have to punish you so you’ll learn the rules,” Mama says.
“Why don’t you just tell me the rules?” Nathaniel snaps, still angry. Mama and Daddy completely ignore him and the polyp-heads deactivate. They don’t speak again the rest of the night.
Finding the doors to their room unlocked again, Nathaniel and Haticat decide to explore the inside of The Mama-And-Daddy more thoroughly than they ever have before. They find many locked rooms and wonder what might be inside. After a meal of freeze-dried fruit and the last of Nathaniel’s chocolate mix-ball, they decide to settle down and read. Haticat learns about magnets, while Nathaniel learns about venom and all the different types of Earth animals and plants that use it. Finally, they go to sleep.