The shuttle glided to a stop on the surface of Aris. Travis Mayweather, the pilot, got out first, stretching his old bones. Native Arisians approached, all with beautifully detailed patterns on their foreheads. They were all bearing huge gifts.
They were all male.
“My name is Milit,” stated the leader. “I recall meeting your acting captain, Malcolm Reed, about twenty years ago, when he and Jonathan Archer and some others came to Aris.”
“Uh, yes. And I remember,” Travis stated, “you were all really interested in Hoshi.”
“You have brought her, yes?” inquired an anxious alien behind Milit.
“Of course I’m here!” Hoshi emerged from the shuttle, her two children and her husband behind her. “How have you been?”
Milit didn’t respond; he just bowed to her. “Andaara Trea Hoshi!” he exclaimed.
The remainder of the Arisians answered, shouting, “Andaara Trea Hoshi!”
Then they could hear more remote people, also yelling, “Andaara Trea Hoshi!”
And then there was a rumble, as if there were people proclaiming the same three-word sentence even farther away.
Hoshi’s daughter, seven-year-old Yoshiko, came over. “Uh, Mom, what are they saying?”
“Well, Trea means mother of the world, as I recall. But I don’t know what Andaara means. And I really don’t know why everybody’s saying it. Milit,” she asked, “I don’t mean to be ungrateful or unappreciative, but this reception, it’s over the top.”
Milit arose. “I, here, this is for you,” he presented her with his gift, which was a crystalline bowl. The others began presenting their gifts.
Fabrics in beautiful colors, with sumptuous textures. Twittering birds in glassine cages. Foods with many different aromas. Jewelry of every description. What looked like a baby goat, but with six horns, twisted together to approximate a capital H. Pitchers of liquids, perhaps they were wines.
The trail of gift-bearers went on and on.
“I think we’re gonna need a bigger shuttle,” Travis said, eying the many presents.
“What’s all this about?” asked Hoshi’s husband, Takashi Kimura. Next to him stood their son, nine-year-old Toru, who was also trying to take it all in.
“You are Hoshi’s husband, yes?” inquired Milit.
“Andaario T’ranqiteh Hoshi!”
And so on and so forth, they repeated, shouting, “Andaario T’ranqiteh Hoshi!”
Hoshi just shrugged, looking a little hapless. “Milit. Milit!”
“Yes, my lady?”
“When I was last here, a little less than twenty years ago, I remember there were no women on Aris. And your scientists took some of my hormones, and you made a baby girl, Trea Hoshi. But so far as I was concerned, that was it. We, my family and I, we wanted to visit because I’m trying to show my kids a lot of the nicer places where the NX-01 explored, back in the day. But I was not expecting a reception like this. Please, these presents! They’re beautiful and they’re endearing, and don’t think I don’t love them all. But Travis is right; there’s just no room for them. I’m sorry.”
“Everyone on Aris,” Milit explained, “wishes to thank you. For you are the initiator of the mother of the world. Of all of the mothers of the world, that is. Andaara means initiator. And your husband, he is the consort of the initiator – T’ranqiteh is consort.”
“And my children?”
“They, they have a lot of sisters. May I show you some of them? It would be the greatest of honors.”
“Um, sure.” Takashi came over, and he took her hand. “Just smile,” Hoshi said to him quietly, “these are good people who, um, might not have the same notions of boundaries that we do.” He nodded. “Stay close, kids. Yoshiko in particular.”
Hoshi wasn’t afraid; she was more cautious. After all, the last time she’d been there, her hormones had actually been stolen. And, in their place, she had been injected with an experimental ingredient intended to enhance attractiveness.
She’d become irresistible to all of the straight men on the ship. And that was unnerving to a woman in her twenties. If something like that happened to Yoshiko, how damaging might it be?
Every step they took, more supplications were made. The gifts were less formal and clearly a lot less expensive. There were rough flaxen tunics offered, or sacks of grain, or first fruits. There were more of those six-horned goats, but their horns were regular spirals. Apparently the first one offered was either bred that way, or maybe the horns had been somehow molded and trained that way as the animal had grown.
The men, too, were rougher and poorer. But they smiled, wearing garlands. They often thrust young boys out to the front of the aisles, hoping the boys could be touched or smiled at or even just glanced at by the initiator or her family.
Travis had a phase pistol with him, but he kept it sheathed. But he was mindful that it was there, just the same. The whole thing was the very definition of unnerving and strange.
“Ah, here we are,” Milit reported, as two male attendants opened huge doors to what was obviously a palace.
The first thing anyone could hear was giggling. Lots of it.
Milit clapped his hands twice, and it all stopped. “Trea Hoshi!” he called.
A young girl, about eighteen or so, looking just like Hoshi had at that age, but with the same lovely Arisian pattern on her forehead, came forward. And she was followed by a few hundred identical girls.
“Mom, why do they all look the same?” asked Toru.
“Cloning, right?” Hoshi asked Milit.
“Yes. We reproduce via cloning. But, you see, Trea Hoshi here and the others, they will marry soon. And they will reproduce in a different way. We are glad you are here. You can help choose Trea Hoshi’s mate.”
Hoshi’s jaw dropped. “Um, how many girls are there?”
“We passed a law. Six per each of the one thousand clone stocks. And each clone stock has six males. And so everyone can have a mate,” Milit explained, “even someone as old as I am.”
Trea Hoshi, who was from Milit’s clone stock, raised an eyebrow slightly. “I am honored to know you, Initiator.”
Hoshi smiled at her. After all, Trea Hoshi was just a girl, not unlike she had been, not unlike Yoshiko would undoubtedly become. “Trea Hoshi, who do you want to be your husband?”
Trea Hoshi’s eyes flitted from one face to another. “No one has ever asked me this.” Behind her, maybe a thousand identical girls giggled nervously.
“Trea Aqili and Trea Mirana and I often speak of such things. The governmental ministers are most interested. They bring gifts, much like you have been provided with today.”
“But none of them appeal to you, not that way, am I right?” Hoshi asked her near-doppelganger.
“No, they do not.”
“Does anyone appeal to you?” asked the older woman.
“We have the experimental ingredient number thirty-six,” Milit stated, “it can enhance attractiveness.”
“But I bet it can’t replace what’s not there in the first place. Milit,” Hoshi said, “don’t you and the other men think these girls can’t make up their own minds? Instead of assigning them husbands because of computer matching or maybe political expediency, maybe the thing to do would be to allow them to be courted.”
“Look at all these presents. I can’t use over 99% of them. They’re just too much. Give the presents to the girls. And let that be the ice breaker for, for all of you. And you will figure out compatibility.”
“I do not know,” Milit stated honestly.
“There will be some mismatches,” Takashi explained, “but you’ll sort it out. We’ve got faith in you.”
“It doesn’t have to start off perfectly,” Travis added, “it just has to start.”
“Just like that?” asked Milit.
“Just like that,” Travis confirmed.
About three weeks later, while they were back on the USS Cochrane and Captain Reed was leading them back to Tellarite space, Hoshi received a message on her console, just after the date slid by, May the sixteenth of 2179. “Communiqué from the Arisians, sir.”
“On screen, Lieutenant Kimura,” commanded Malcolm Reed.
It was Milit. “I should like to announce to you my marriage.”
“Congratulations,” replied the captain, “and who is the bride?”
“Here name is Trea Aquili. She, too, will be the mother of the world, thanks to all of you.”
“Our pleasure, Reed out.” As soon as the connection was cut, the captain looked at Hoshi, “Well done. Are you available for matchmaking anywhere else in the galaxy?” he joked.
“I don’t know about that,” Hoshi replied, eyes sparkling, “but Lili might want to clear her calendar for the next few years.”
“There’s going to be a demand for catering a few thousand Arisian weddings.”