As a young man, then barely into his second decade, my grandfather, Sven, was one of the First.
Born aboard the ESS Hope, grandad never walked upon the Earth, but was actually the 117th human to set foot on the planet the indies simply called Home.
Unable to grasp the concept of other worlds, with other lifeforms, the indigenous Homies simply accepted the interstellar visitors as new friends from a different part of Home.
So they stayed, so they flourished, so they were at peace on this strange, new, friendly, world.
My grandad told stories of that first contact, the years that followed and the Homie friends he'd made.
And what strange friends they were!
Imagine a seven foot-fox (without the brush), then imagine the fur tinted green, the face hairless, the jawline draws your eyes, bottom jaw bi-jointed. The Homie mouth capable of being extended horizontally and vertically, giving the fox-like creature a strangely reptilian appearance.
Alarming at first sight, but we came to realized this was no threat, indeed the extended jaw simply signified puzzlement or amusement, but it made the native Homie language almost impossible for humans to speak fluently.
The Homies had no economy. Food was provided by the vast forests that covered Home. Fruit, nuts, game, fishes in the waters, the bounty was endless.
Food, shelter, protection from the few predators, the woods provided for all. Heavenly. Without the need for Gods.
The Homies seemed to have a belief system based on a form of reincarnation. They simply described the absence of one of their kind as 'moving forward", convinced they would be reunited at some predefined point yet to come. No Heaven, no Hell.
With no economy to serve, no religions to defend or promote, abundant food and land, no wonder the Homies had no word for war or conflict in their strange native language.
A mix of spoken word, facial gestures and body positions. Given the physical differences between human and Homie, conversation was kept simple, and that suited the Homies perfectly.
The few spoken words that could be translated made simple conversations possible, and mutual learning could be achieved, but deep concepts were literally impossible to share between species.
Should such a discussion present itself, be it politics, theology, philosophy, or ideologies, the Homies would smile politely, extend their lower jaw to signal concentration, air being forced out in a strange sound that almost resembled a child laughing, shake their shaggy heads in amusement and (more often than not) offer the humans a drink.
The Homies drank copious amounts of spirit distilled from the fruits of the Whisper trees. Similar in taste to a rough red wine, but more potent than any spirit or liquor.
The Homies were unaffected by the alcohol content, the drink merely akin to fruit juice to their physiology.
So they were thrilled when the drink was requested and much loved by their human friends. And many friendships were forged around the evening fires, sharing many, many bowls.
Grandad tells us of one such great friendship. Built at the time of the First, a friendship forged in mutual learning, trust, and, eventually, love.
Laughing John (the Homies' native name was alas unpronounceable to human mouths) spent twenty-five years (Earth Standard) alongside my grandad, living and working side by side, inseparable they were, according to grandad.
Then, one evening, as the suns went down, and the moons lit the magenta skies, Laughing John stopped laughing.
He told my grandfather it was time to move forward, but they'd maybe see each other again, not soon, but sometime.
Grandad was horrified, Laughing John showed no sign of physical illness, and, although it was hard for humans to judge age, or indeed lifespan, of the Homies, grandad was sure John was of a similar age as himself.
Laughing John, in turn, was puzzled and slightly amused at grandad's reaction - surely his human friend looked forward to the day he would move on, see what was to come, take another step into infinity?
Unfortunately there were simply no shared words that could convey the concept adequately. So grandad hugged Laughing John and bade him goodbye, Laughing John hugged him back and told him they may meet soon enough in the After.
The next morning the suns came up and Laughing John was simply gone. No body, no funeral, no mourning, simply gone from the surface of Home.
Time moved forward.
Grandfather settled in the valley near the Whispering Woods, shunning the thriving human coastal town of Hope Harbour, met his wife, my dear grandmother, and started a family, one of the First Families on Home.
Time moved forward.
Mother and Father, born on this new planet, native Homies, no longer aliens like the First, but still human in their outlooks, stayed in the Valley, prospered, growing old alongside their parents, having family of their own.
Time moved forward.
My grandfather, now in his nineties smiled as he poured another drink and passed the beautifully carved Whisperwood bowl to me.
I took a deep pull, savouring the tang and burn of grandad's brew, smiling my thanks (as I tried to be manly and not cough).
'You know, lad, you know the planet we came from, yes?'
I didn't know where this was leading, presumed it would be another of his wonderful tales, so said simply, 'Earth, Sol 3'.
Grandad nodded thoughtfully, 'Never saw the place, never . . .'
He breathed a deep lungful, the scent of Whisperwood sap heavy on the air,
'. . . never smelled that dreadful poison they called air. This place, this has truly been Home, my boy, but how I wish I could see what will become of it! See my great-great-grandkids, see what kind of world the humans and Homies will build together.'
I took another gulp, uneasy as to where this conversation was going.
'Laughing John, that big, skinny, green oaf! He knew when it was his time, moved forward without a backwards glance, left us all to grow old.
Laughing John. What I'd give to see that ugly mug again, maybe I will, soon my lad, soon I believe.'
'Come on Pops that's the Whipskey talking, plenty of years left in you yet!'
But I knew from the look in those old grey eyes, knew from the sad smile on his face, I was wrong, and he knew it, too.
We sat, watched the moons dance above our heads, drank some more, but said little, content to have this moment.
In the morning my grandfather was gone.
We buried him in a beautiful spot beneath the trees he loved so much. The Homies stood, baffled but respectful, jaws extended as we lowered him into the ground.
Time moved forward.
I watched as my children chased each other through the blue grasses beneath the trees. The branches whispering commentary upon their game.
From the heart of the wood came a faint glow, orange in the blue essence of the valley.
Fire? I stood, the better to see over the undergrowth.
Then the brief glow was gone, indigo shadows filled the space between the Whispering trees.
I turned to look for my kids. The clearing suddenly, unnaturally still, the Whispers holding their breath.
Momentary panic, primeval urges to protect (although I knew full well the last predators capable of harming a human had been hunted down decades before, trapped and released by the kind Homies, many miles across the waters), then, relief as the sound of children laughing reached my senses, the trees whispered their merriment as heads popped out of hiding, kids pleased they'd fooled their dad.
'Daddy?' (pronounced Daaddeee, so I knew a particularly hard question was coming from the six-season old) 'Daddy...why did the trees shine, Daddy, why?'
'Now, there's a good question, little one! You know, Daddy wondered the same thing! Maybe the Twins light bounced off hidden treasure...so...maybe we could go on a treasure hunt tomorrow?'
The children beamed their approval and, as we ate lunch amongst the Whispers, we made plans to solve the mystery in the morning.
In the indigo shadows, an unseen figure watched.
I opened my door, eyes bleary in this ungodly hour.
A rather agitated Homie stood on the threshold, jaw extended, eyes bright.
Before I could speak, I was wrapped in a mighty hug, the Homie sniffing at my face in a display of friendship.
'Sven! Friend Sven, I am returned my friend, Laughing John has missed Sven!'
If I could I would have extended my lower jaw in shock and disbelief.
The fact that I'd been mistaken for my dear grandfather was surprising enough, but being mistaken for him by a Homie who'd been dead for fifty years was a different kettle of fish!
Over the following hours, and copious amounts of Whipsky, I explained that grandad Sven had passed away a decade earlier, that he'd told his children of his great friendship with Laughing John, talked about him constantly, and his last words to me were that he hoped they'd meet again.
Laughing John took another drink, discomfort plain on his jaw.
'Laughing John moved forward, Laughing John believed friend Sven moved forward too. Why Sven no here Svenson?'
'Sven believed you had died, Laughing John, humans use different words to mean that, death, he thought moving forward meant you had passed away, erm, gone to heaven?'
Again that extended jaw as Laughing John puzzled the strange human customs.
'Moving forward not end of Laughing John, Svenson. Moving forward is what all Homies do. Homies move forward every fifty cycles, Laughing John has moved forward many, many times. How do human friends see how World progresses if life ends so quickly? Why human friends not want to move forward, see the After?'
'Sadly, we humans can't, John, we simply..' I searched for words to explain, 'Well, we simply stop. We live our lives and have kids, jobs, friends, but there has to be an end, my friend, nobody lives forever! We all stop eventually.'
'But why? Why not move forward? Meet old friends on return, see the world, see Home, then move forward again?'
'We simply can't, Laughing John, I truly envy the Homies, from what I understand you can skip through time, what, every sixty or so years? Humans, we just can't, we're obviously born different. A hundred cycles, if we're lucky, is a good, long, life for us. What I'd give to see Home a thousand years from now, but it's impossible!'
Laughing John thought deeply, lower jaw extending and retracting in concentration as he tried to digest this information.
'No, not impossible for Svenson, only possible. Human friends can move forward! I will show. Laughing John will teach Svenson. We will listen to the trees!'
The last remark puzzled me, I'd been born beneath the sound of the Whispering Woods, grew up with the constant whispers as the soundtrack to my life. Indeed, one would have to sail far away from the land to escape the sounds of the forests.
'Come, come now, Svenson, we will hear together, then Svenson can move forward, not end. See the After with Laughing John!'
His jaw was bouncing wildly, noises like laughter coming from his mouth with each bounce, merely air being forced out through his upper teeth, but Laughing John certainly fitted his name that morning.
Time moved forward.
I stood in the faint orange glow as the Whispering Woods solidified around me, indigo greeting my eyes, as the glow faded, and I was once again Home.
How many times since that morning Laughing John had taught me how to listen to the trees?
How many years, centuries, have passed since the Message was learnt, that moving forward was as simple as hearing, understanding the planet?
Maybe fifty times now?
Each time (how silly that word sounded in my mind! Time; a silly human invention, a barrier to experiencing the true universe.) I'd moved forward, returning Home, always returning Home.
And what wonders I'd seen since I'd moved forward that day!
Skipping through the After, like a pebble skimming a pond, touching down every sixty years or so, reuniting with family and friends, seeing the planet thrive.
Each time, my physical body is reset, all aging reversed.
I tried to calculate just how old I'd be in standard time, probably into my 5th millennium, wow, think of the candles on THAT cake!
But anyone seeing me emerge from the trees would recognise me as being a human in his mid-thirties.
If I spent half a century at Home, obviously I'd age, but then, ah, the wonder, when I decided to move forward, that seventy-year-old would walk into the woods, move forward, returning Home as a young man, although another fifty, sixty, years had passed for those standing still.
And, trust me, many humans chose to stay, refused to move forward.
My own great grandson, content in his lot, living his life slowly, staying at Home with his family, living out his short life and being laid to rest alongside his wife in our sparse family plot in the Whispering Woods.
I'd like to think their voices joined the trees, guiding their kin, helping them move forward and then guiding them Home again.
Maybe, one day, in the After, I may have seen enough, want to stop (as Laughing John still teases me for saying all those centuries ago).
For now, in this place, I'll spend a moment, maybe sixty years or so, reconnect with loved ones, learn a little more from my great friend Laughing John, then move forward.
I'm sure we may meet again, maybe not for a few skips, but certainly one day, in the After.
For now, I'll just listen to the Whispers and enjoy our Home.