[I enter this with some diffidence, and am not so enamored of it to even put down $5. It is part of a longer project I am working on, and I am curious to see if it has 'legs' so to speak, part of a series called "Tales of the Pan-Galactic Empire." So, with hesitation, I ask, promising, or not? As for the Spirit Duck, see Eliade "On Shamanism"]
"Thank you, Space Cadets, for coming. This is a mandatory lecture in a mandatory course." Lieutenant Commander Watson-ffyre paused a moment for the mandatory groan from her listeners and resumed. "I know you don't want to be here and I don't want to force this, but Training Command of the Imperial Space Fleet sent a memo concerned with legalities. You may go through an entire career and never need the information about first contact with lost colony regulations, but if you do find yourself in that situation, hopefully the lecture will come to mind."
Watson-ffyre looked up at the students of the Reserve Space Cadet program, crammed into the little auditorium, and could see she was correct. They didn't want to be here. Attention was kept focused by the knowledge that she had, very publicly, posted two of her best students, Clevermann and Perkins, at opposite corners of the room. They had come up through the enlisted ranks, and could be counted upon to help her. One would take notes for the pair, the other would watch for miscreants.
She looked first at one, then at the other, and spoke to them as much as to all the others. "If you're ready, we'll stomp through this..." Both nodded.
Elsewhere in the galaxy, on a planet far, far, away, another conversation was taking place. The old shaman was giving final instructions to his assistant.
"The rains are coming, Rinq. You can see the cloud there on the horizon, with the dark slashes falling to the ground. It will be here soon enough. I go now to the hut by the river, to chew the kanna leaves, and use the phylota mushrooms. When I return from seeking the Great Spirit Duck, I will know who is to lead the people in battle."
Rinq asked, "Will you pick Salan of the Horsefolk or the choice of Pelq, Gara of the Griffinfolk? You've had many gifts from both and one or the other is bound to be upset, Harq."
Harq stood by the door of the hut and said, "I do not know which the Duck will choose, but, tell Salan to be of good cheer, whatever befalls."
Watson-ffyre was encountering heavy weather herself, as she gave her lecture. "The reason first contact of lost colonies is even an issue, is because human beings evolved on Planet Home, and only there. When the hyperspace engine was invented, anyone who could afford a ship was free to explore and colonize, and many did. Whole nations got up and moved, thus my own home on the Halconic Complex. Others fled persecution or perceived persecution like the Predestinarians on Stratford..."
A breath and an angry mutter arose from the cadets, and Watson-ffyre perceived her mistake at once. Even Clevermann and Perkins gave her an angry glance, and she knew they would speak with her later, privately. Planet Stratford, she understood, marched to its own beat, two hundred and fifty years after being settled. Even now, the grievances and the persecutions weren't just "perceived."
Better to press on, apologize and plead ignorance later. She wasn't from Stratford, after all.
So she continued, "Not all of the colonization expeditions were successful. Most of the failures perished, but not all. Records from the period weren't always kept, and so as we explore the systems near the Empire, we periodically find many that carried on, entirely out of contact..."
"I enter the hut now," Harq shouted, "to commune with the Great Spirit Duck who will, if he favors us, send us a sign. When I return I shall give you his words."
The first heavy drops of rain splashed down big and wet and chill. The wind picked up and howled, cutting off the last part of Harq's speech as he retreated into the hut. Presently, wisps of smoke from a fire rose through a little hole in the roof of the hut. Most people wandered off, not enjoying the rain. Rinq and Pelq drew well apart one from another, and waited, their friends around them. They stayed well apart, for there was little love one for the other.
"What does the old man mean, Rinq? 'Be of good cheer whatever befalls?' Haven't I given him enough gifts?" Salan of the Horsefolk was a little annoyed. That was the problem with shamen, he felt. You could buy them, but they didn't stay bought.
"I think he does mean to announce you, actually. But he wants the approval of the Great Spirit Duck first. And he wants me to tip you off before hand, in case Pelq causes trouble. So go gather your folks and come back."
"Rinq, you don't really believe in the Great Spirit Duck, do you? I mean, all Harq really does in that hut is fall entirely off his horse by getting fired up on the kanna and the phylota, and the fermented mares' milk."
"Do not profane the Great Spirit Duck, Salan. Others can hear you. As for what I believe, I believe you should lead us. I also believe the old legends that we came down from the stars above. The Great Spirit Duck may have carried us, or maybe it was something else. But if the Great Spirit Duck helps us find a good leader, then yes, I believe in the Great Spirit Duck."
"The initial phase of any lost colony contact is a preliminary assessment of the situation. That will lead to the creation of an observation post. If the assessment shows the colonists willing and capable of joining the Empire, that post could be as simple as a patrol cruiser visiting the planet. If things are more difficult or if the colonists seem hostile, then a proper research orbiting station will be stationed. If the system has resources that can be exploited without disturbing the colony, then, of course that will happen. Other installations are usually set up if there is an asteroid belt..."
Perkins had a hand up. "By other installations, ma'am, you really mean, 'usually a prison asteroid.'"
"Yes, Mr. Perkins, usually, but not always, a prison asteroid." Watson-ffyre looked round the room. No other questions? Going on..."
Far above Rinq, Salan, and the rest, tempers were getting a bit warm at Orbital Research Station Thirty-One.
"Right, ORS-31? This is Komet Sanitary and Pumping Vessel A-X 20. We've got your waste tanks running again and pumped finally. We'll just gather our team from your station and toddle off now. Must get them back to the correctional house. Smethers, Sammuelsen, Flood, get your gear and come back to the ship."
A babble of voices came over the channel at once.
"This is Smethers. Flood got caught short again, and is using the gents' facility himself for a moment. He'll catch up."
"This is ORS-31. What was wrong, anyway?"
"Same as always. You really must not flush your biological specimens from the planet when you THINK they are dead. They aren't goldfish. And the keyword here is THINK. We're still chasing one of your pets round the waste tank. It's growing and now not even the most deranged killer convicts will go in there after it. Your boss can expect a bill from the home office when we get back."
"That's fine A-X 20. There's the last of your workers caught up so you should be all away now. Just send your bill to our boss, and we'll pay."
The captain of A-X 20 muttered to his crew, "The next time his boss can unclog his own thrice-bedamned plumbing."
"I'm sorry A-X 20, we're breaking up. What was that?"
"Oh, just saying bye bye, Research Station. Thank you for using Komet Sanitary, and remember, 'You'll always go well when you ride on a Komet.'" The captain of the ship switched off the communicator. "Right, home everybody. Smethers, Sammuelsen, get cleaned up then report to the guard. Where's Flood?"
"Gents' again, sir." Smethers was oily as ever.
On the surface of the planet, the rain continued to pour down. Smoke now billowed from the hut. "Well, Old Harg's comfortable, at least," Salan muttered as he went off to gather his friends.
The bridge of the A-X 20 rang with shouts. "Captain, we have a visitor. Another ship running with no lights and no pinger. It's bearing down on us. Surely they can see we're a septic pumper. What pirate loots a honey-wagon?"
"We're not armed to fight 'em and we can't run. Let's stand by and see what they want. Hail them." No one on the A-X 20 was visibly worried yet. Smethers ushered Sammuelsen to one of the "Space-Deployable Portable Comfort Stations," which doubled as life pods, and tried to look small.
A moment later it was clear what 'they' wanted.
"You can give us the incontinent jewel thief, Major Flood, or you can give us your lives and we'll go away with Flood anyway. " The captain of the marauder was quite emphatic on the point. "Decide quickly. We can't wait."
The captain of the A-X 20 turned to the prison guard. "When we asked for reliable inmates to work on the holding tanks you sent us Flood? Flood who half the criminals of the Empire want in their gang? Flood the jewel thief? Flood the insurrectionary? Flood the regicide?"
Flood, whatever his crimes, had emerged from the gents in a rare appearance just in time to catch the last jibe. "No, not a regicide. Even an inmate can take offense at...oh damn." He retreated as quickly as he arrived.
The captain resumed his complaint. "What possessed you to do that?"
"Flood was never violent, and we thought if we gave him some more company, and a loose regimen he might say something. We still don't have all of the Imperial regalia."
The captain's expression showed that the Empire might be short a prison guard in a moment. "Has Flood said anything."
From down the corridor a door opened. "Oh damn," came a voice. The door closed again.
The guard answered. "That, mostly. We were hoping Smethers could get more, being former military himself."
On cue, Smethers took Sammuelson by the collar, hauled her bodily into the escape pod cum porta-loo, and shut and locked the door. The guard bristled.
"Oh never mind him. We can deal with him later. I've made a decision." The captain responded to the marauder. "Very well, Flood's all yours. Send a shuttle over and you can have him."
The transfer was quickly arranged. After the pirate shuttle was clear, the captain of the A-X 20 spoke to the marauder again."You have what you want. Let's all be on our way."
The marauder responded with a broadside at the hapless sewage hauler.
"Marauder, marauder, you said you'ld let us go. What are you doing?"
"Did I? I meant, give us Flood and give us your lives. Conjunctions are so confusing sometimes."
Another broadside followed, and the wreck of A-X 20 spiraled into the atmosphere of Rinq's planet. It soon began to glow from the heat of re-entry. Smethers and his companion fired the separation bolts on the "escape capsule" and descended towards the planet alongside the stricken ship.
On the surface of the planet, the storm exhausted itself and the rain quieted to a gentle sprinkle. Smoke still puffed from the hut. The overcast sky completely hid the brilliant flares falling from above until the very last moment, when the clouds, heated by the craft, boiled away and seemed to part as if by magic.
"Look, the Giant Spirit Duck itself descends. It favors us above all other people in the Sea of Grass." Rinq looked heavenwards as he heard the cry from the crowd. Before anyone could do a thing, the giant, flaming fireball that had been A-X 20 landed squarely on the hut by the river. The smoking roof of the hut was replaced by the smoking ruin of a space ship and a huge smoking crater.
Most of the people watching simply ran away. Rinq and Salan stood and watched, as did Pelq. So it was they saw a smaller glowing capsule fall into the shallow water of the river. A vast cloud of steam rose up.
Rinq watched a bit longer. As he stared, the little capsule opened, and two figures, clad in filthy orange clothing, stumbled out, and floundered around in the water.
Rinq tugged his friend Salan by the arm, and led him forward. "Come on. I see how to make this work for us. Forget Pelq. There's our new leader."
"What about me?" Salan was a step behind in many different ways.
"Either he was sent by the Great Spirit Duck, in which case you will be the first warrior to pledge your allegiance to him, and so can justly claim first place at his side, or he came from the stars in some other way, in which case you will do the thinking for our new divine leader. Now come on."
Rinq began yelling at the newcomers.
"Gammarow! Hou art tha?"
Smethers looked at his companion in disbelief. "I think I understand them." He turned to the fur-clad warriors and called out, "I'm Frank Smethers and this is my companion, Sammuelsen."
Salan yelled, "Thayen, Franksmethers, tha shalt laede us-n. We-self shalt be y-clept th' Riparian Franks."
"Because you live by the river here?" Smethers called back.
Sammuelsen said, "I think that name's taken, Frank."
Salan heard, and corrected immediately. "Thayen, us-n bae y-clept th' Riparian Smethers. And we shall conquer all the Sea of Grass and steal many cattle and horses."
Frank Smethers whispered to Sammuelsen, "These sound like our kind of people. I think I'm going to like it here. No hurry on getting rescued." He finished wading to shore. Sammuelsen followed.
Back at the auditorium, Lieutenant-Commander Watson-ffyre finished her lecture.
"Right, because this is a mandatory topic, be sure to sign in on the attendance list here in the front, and show your identidisc to Mr. Clevermann before you go so he can check off your name. He's keeping the counter-audit of the attendance for me. Any last questions?"
A hand went up. "Yes, ma'am. I still don't quite grasp why this is so important. Can you elaborate a little more?"
"Certainly. We usually think of contamination as environmental, or biological, and strictly in those terms. But in this case we also have to think of 'sociological contamination.' If just anybody dropped in on a planet, there's no telling what bad habits, or social pathology might spread. It's good to be an honest person, Space Cadet, but if you stop thinking like an honest person for just a moment, the whole matter should become clear. Anything else? Class dismissed."