“Hello Earth. This is Captain McTavish. I’m sure at least a few people out there are eager to hear news of me. Unfortunately, my craft passed through the tail of an uncharted interstellar comet during my voyage. I can’t tell you where, for reasons I’ll get to later, but I had to put it down in a nearby star system, on what was luckily a life supporting class E world.
I offer immense thanks to whatever designer opted for the full survivalist package. The all-terrain unit equipped with a modular helium gas turbine fission reactor held up quite nicely on that icy world in winter, and the rechargeable laser-rifle could have come in handy had I wandered around there longer.
Anyway, I set it down on a glacial plane in the southern half of the world, which world I cannot tell you, and began moving downhill, hoping to find liquid water.
The engine of the survival module was more than capable of providing me that water, along with a lifetime supply of bacterially grown nutrition pucks, but after eating one I decided that should the local flora and fauna prove edible I would greatly prefer them, and if nature documentaries taught me one thing it’s that on a living planet with liquid water, the food hangs out by the water, and the water is always downhill.
The terrain was less than helpful. Besides the twelve-foot-deep snowdrifts, the plants were enormous and seemed to grow without limitation. Whatever paths I found were the narrow foot trails of game, not the roads of an intelligent species. I was not surprised by this. Intelligent life is as rare on life bearing worlds as life bearing worlds are among worlds in general.
I did not set up the homing beacon on my craft, fearing pirates. I assumed that as I did not stray greatly from my planned course, a rescue party would eventually locate me. I did leave a short-range encrypted transponder running, strong enough for a craft already in atmosphere and within a few thousand miles to pick up.
I found a stream and followed it to a river. I opted to keep straying downward, hoping lower elevations would be warmer. When I reached the lake, I was stunned.
Long, six limbed, chitinous skinned, purple creatures with sunken black eyes and no discernable heads. Four feet in length, perhaps two in height. Their faces set in the centers of their chests. Their grasping hands had finger like structures which more resembled the arms of squid than digits, suction cups and all. In this job, the appearance of a life form doesn’t surprise me much, but what did surprise me was the ball and the net.
In the sand of the lake’s beach, which appeared to be dredged like a recreational Earth lake, was a group of them surrounding a set-up which appeared something like volleyball, except it was played with bats, six or seven balls, and the court was circular, with one team inside a circular net and the other, on the outside.
As my vehicle pulled up, they all understandably stopped and stared, their balls flopping on the ground. A few of them fled, with smaller ones I assume were their children, into the lake and disappeared.
I decided I should exit my vehicle and attempt to communicate. Because I had come upon bathers, and this was a first contact scenario, I opted to do so unarmed, aside from a concealed derringer-type laser pistol. I put on the universal translator necklace, and expected some long awkwardness while it calibrated, and then a lot more after that.
I started by saying my name and grabbing my chest, as the cliché about how to introduce yourself to a sentient alien says you should. She rattled his forked tail in a manner which made some rather bizarre clicking noises I could never attempt to replicate. The closest sounds I can compare it to are a rattlesnake and an old induction stove. She probably felt the same way about my windpipes.
We started saying things and grabbing things. I gestured to the sky and made a crashing sound with my mouth, thinking maybe an onomatopoeia would perhaps break through before saying crash. I knew damn well I’d never be able to understand what they were saying, until the translator kicked in, and I was starting to fear it would prove useless. I started noticing patterns. It wasn’t just the clicks she made, it was posture and gestures. I wasn’t sure if this was just a space Italian or if they used a sound and sign language hybrid.
After twenty minutes of aimlessly naming things, the translator dinged and spoke.
“Device error code 115: Subject language involves physical signing which the human body and this device are incapable of. We can translate their speech to you, however you will need to attach the visual add on or develop improvised communication techniques for such motions. This device can translate the auditory components based on limited data.”
“Shit,” I said, pointing at the device.
The device clicked, and my companion shook and clicked as well.
“She laughed,” the device said.
“Well, at least it kind-of worked.”
My crabby companion looked on blankly.
Then suddenly, out of the water came several more of them, at least seven, carrying a small box, which when turned on projected a hologram. It began showing me things, and I immediately realized that this culture was far more advanced than I had initially thought.
I realized this was their version of a universal translator, and it was showing me scenes to describe. After an hour of that, one of them shook and clicked.
“I think we have enough data now, greetings alien,” the box bellowed.
“Hi, I think I’m gonna be stuck here for a while,” I said, stating the obvious.
“That was clear to us the instant you entered our atmosphere,” the large invertebrate said, “but what we need from you, is a promise, in accordance with your government’s provision 532C not to ever inform anyone that intelligent life exists on this world.”
Now some of you may be balking, because I told you this, and others may not have ever heard of provision 532C. To put it simply, provision 532C is something a species can invoke during first contact, or in this case an accidental subsequent contact, to have their world left off the star charts. It’s an isolationist provision that planets invoke for various reasons. I’d never heard of a species actually invoking it before now, because that’s how it’s supposed to work, the whole point of it, so to speak.
I am telling you about this species now, because for one, the spirit and text of the provision are to allow a species to isolate itself from the interstellar community for various reasons such as fear of disease or conquest or loss of self-determination, or the like. I believe, that as the purpose of my journey was to be the first single manned flight to fly the outer circumference of the galaxy, and all information regarding how long I was stranded or how far into that my flight I was when I crashed, as well as how far I deviated from my course, have not been revealed, I am certain that it will be nearly impossible to locate this world based on this account.
“…in return for your promise not to reveal the location of our world, we will repair your craft.”
I balked at that notion. Keeping my mouth shut about how to find the crab people wouldn’t be too hard, but expecting them to be able to repair the fastest ship in the galaxy seemed a tall order, even with the full schematics stored in its computer. Isolationist worlds, I assumed, didn’t care much for space travel, so the very idea that they might posses or even have a desire to possess faster than light travel seemed illogical to me.
After some consideration, I relented, figuring that this hologram translator was evidence of some level of engineering prowess. It was far superior to my useless necklace. “Fine. I’ll let you try.”
The crab people shook their claws. “Excellent, we will send a party to retrieve your craft immediately. Unfortunately, as you do not appear to us to have the capabilities to breathe underwater, you will not be able to accompany us to our city. You also appear to not be biologically suited for the temperatures we prefer as well, so we believe it best you stay here in your mobile survival unit. We will supply you with food, however, we recommend you verify it is edible for your species and suitable for your appetite.”
“Alright by me.”
So they left, back into their lake, leaving the translator in the sand on the beach. A few hours later, a tracked buggy of sorts emerged carrying a heavy lift hexa-rotor type vehicle, which took off and headed in the direction of my craft. The operator of the tracked vehicle came over and spoke to me.
“We plan to work on you craft over there, gesturing to a spot in the open landing zone near where the hexa-rotor had lifted off.”
“Good, I’m not certain it would handle being submerged particularly well.”
“Obviously. Spacecraft generally are not well suited for submerged pressures. Some of our residents will be along shortly with food. There may be a crowd of them. A being from the stars is a bit of a curiosity on our world.”
What followed was a parade of foods, in what I can only describe as an enormous potluck picnic set up to welcome a marooned alien. I got the feeling it was less about the curiosity of seeing an alien, and more of an excuse to throw a party at the beach that happened to include a strange bipedal sideshow. Most of them just wanted to take pictures with me. A few posed those gawking questions that come only from a complete lack of understanding of our culture or species. “Where’s your shell? Did you molt recently?” “What is the string on your head for?” “Why are you like a statue when you talk?” I didn’t mind it, though. During my drive to the lake, I’d been mentally preparing myself to live in solitary confinement on a vast, unending, and uninterested world. Finding another intelligent species that seemed friendly towards me was a relief. Sure, I was alone on a voyage that was going to take half my life, but I had planned stops every few years on large-habited worlds, where I had intended to party on my celebrity. Wandering in the wilderness was not what I had in mind.
The isolationist desire, though, was a nagging in the back of my mind. If I knew politicians and military tacticians, especially among paranoid races, which any isolationist species must be, they would be worried that my word wasn’t good enough. They would know I was vulnerable now, easy to kill, and with my ship in their possession, any traces of me could easily be disposed of. I worried they may have offered to repair my ship as a means of tearing it apart to further their own research, but knew that had they wanted to take it by force, I would’ve been powerless to resist.
As a counterpoint to those thoughts, the crab people I was with now seemed friendly enough, and I found it sincere, although I had no experience with their behavior while being dishonest. I also knew that in any intelligent race with no contact to the larger universe, some portion of its population would certainly be excited by an extraterrestrial arrival and seek to party with it, so I accepted their hospitality, and took samples from the buffet and ran it through the mass spec before consuming for fear of biological threats. Unknown food of other species is commonly poisonous. I regret that I had to heat it to temperatures that made it hardly edible, for fear of unknown bacteria, and I must say, their palates seemed to prefer bitter food, which made me resolve to eat my bacterial pucks or food I caught and cooked myself for the rest of my stay.
In the back of my mind, though, was the constant nagging that among these sincere partygoers lurked intelligence agents, looking for a reason to order an assassination.
After the food and drink were spent, they returned to their lake, promising to return tomorrow. The novelty, I guess, hadn’t worn off. I was a bit disappointed by their drink. It appeared that their species had an immunity to methanol, and as such did not distill it out of their distilled alcoholic drinks, as is the custom on human worlds. They had a wine-like drink as well, brewed from algal like prokaryotes that grew in their lake, but the bitterness was too much for me.
One crab person stayed behind after the rest had returned home, or at least most. Some stragglers were still keeping the party going by stumbling around the lake and clicking as loudly as possible.
“I was hoping I’d get a chance to speak with you,” it said.
“I got all the time in the world now.” Lamenting my status as marooned.
“I suppose you do.” She laughed.
“I have to say I’m surprised that you look so similar to an (untranslatable word, ape-like creature native to this world.)”
I smiled and said, “When my species started finding life on other worlds, a lot of people were highly disappointed to find it was not so bizarrely different from our own. No sentient gas clouds, no walking stones. Just things that would look strange, but still at home on Earth, our home planet. Convergent evolution, we called it. When different evolutionary streams reach the same results. You look a lot like a giant lobster to me, except you have tentacle hands instead of claws.”
“It seems logical. Our species is not even native to this world.”
“Oh?” I responded.
“We are the descendants of a group of separatists who fled during the Hurienger dynasty.”
“Nasty bit of galactic history, that was. I am glad my species was not discovered until long after it.”
“Yes, well, our ancestors hijacked a space cruiser and lit off to the outer rim, eventually settling in the caves here. Our original home-world, we believe, was glassed.”
“From what I’ve heard of the Hurienger’s rule, I’m not surprised. Although I do find it odd that you are not cousins of a race that I’m familiar with then.”
“If you knew the legends that we have of our treatment by the so called civilized races of that era, you wouldn’t be surprised at all knowing we are extinct outside this world.”
“Explains the whole provision 532C thing.”
“Yes, which brings me to… I’m a historian. I find it disappointing that our species has such little knowledge of the universe beyond, despite having come here from it. We have our own history, but it is greatly shaped by fear of what is out there, of which we know nothing outside the legends of those who came here, and our one brief contact with the Collective scouts who first discovered our world and offered us the provision.”
“I don’t see any harm in telling you.”
And so I went through the fall of the Hurienger dynasty, the story of how the Collective was founded, explained that it is more of a lose agreement that any aggression from one world will be met by the aggression of all others, and explained that with the latest technology species really had no reason for war, with the almost limitless resources available on countless dead worlds.
She followed up asking why then was my ship armed, and I explained that in some regions there are still pirates and individuals who are willing to kill to get ahead, and she shook with what was translated to a sigh.
I explained that a lot of worlds, although self-governed, are selfishly governed, speaking of our own human planets' tendency to drive its poorer residents into such poverty that they often turn to piracy, but are dealt with swiftly wherever they are found.
Which was wishful thinking. In truth we all know the pirate lords reap all the real profit of their ill-gotten cargoes, and the laws which drive their recruits to the desperation of piracy were written by senators whose pockets were lined by pirate gold, passed through a network of shell corporations and non-profits, of course.
Escape from the shit on Earth is what drove me to want to spend half my life alone, flying in a single enormous circle.
I asked her about her world, its history.
She said that her kind had come here and built vast societies in aquatic freshwater caves around the planet, but soon started fighting for resources. Their governments had all been as corrupt as ours, fascist, direct democratic, constitutional republican, monarchic, communist, the like. When the people learned that they had started constructing doomsday machines, capable of destroying the world to hold as a threat against aggression, a global revolution had occurred, and in its wake they tried a new system of government.
All laws were posted on a system similar to our internet, and on each was a petition. If two thirds of the population had their name on the petition, the law was in effect. If two thirds did not, it was merely a bill. Anyone could add or remove their name from a petition at any time, and people could give other people senator status, the power to add their name to petitions that they had not directly chosen to sign or not signed already.
If two laws were in effect but found to be contradictory, they were both negated. This had led to bad things briefly becoming legalized, but in those situations, new bills were drawn up and petitions quickly filled. Often the lapse only lasted a few days, and their laws were so plainly written that conflicts like that seldom arose, for reasons I’ll get to later.
Anyone able to read a bill was allowed to sign a petition.
And last, as a culture they all refuse to sign anything they don’t understand, she told me, because legend has it that the Hurienger dynasty had destroyed their home-world using a legal ore mining permit so full of Hurienger legal jargon that the representatives of their species had not understood what they were agreeing to.
She told me they are extremely distrustful of any outside government because of their history with the Hurienger, and their own attempts at self-governance prior to this.
Besides that, my stay on their world was uneventful. There were more parties for a time. Eventually, they got bored with my novelty until we approached the time of my departure. The assassination attempt I feared never came. My historian friend did tell me as I was leaving that there had been a petition to shoot me down during liftoff, but it never reached more than thirty percent of the signatures, similar to a bill to sabotage my ship, but slightly less than the bill to damage my craft beyond repair. In any case, none were ratified. As agreed, I deleted their location from my star charts, and I honestly would never have spoke of them were it not for the remarkable system of government they posses.
They have no wars, as no vocal minority can drive them to it, no poverty as the economic injustices that bring it about in technologically advanced society cannot maintain their legal backing, crime is almost nonexistent as funding is allocated to educate and nurture those with criminal impulses into rejecting them, all made possible by a societal abandonment of the high-minded rhetorical vapidity brought about by politicians and lawyers. In my time with them, I felt that these overgrown lobsters’ ideals were more than ideals. They were actual behaviors.
To conclude, I have resumed my trip around the galaxy, although I have significantly modified my planned route to further conceal the location of this planet. To those hoping to find it based on the details I’ve given of its topography or the reasons for my crash, I’ll remind you that I am perfectly capable of lying on minor details, and that setting the scene is important in any story.
To my family, friends and fans, I hope to meet you at Galgatarius X9 on 567.43.11592.”
“What a load of crap,” the helmsman belted out of his bunk.
“What?” a group of machinists said, looking up from their poker game in the crew room of their light freighter. Their shift would be starting soon.
“That damn radio show,” the helmsman said again.
“Captain McTavish, the great explorer of the stars. My cousin, the cargo loader MEO at Highlands 1103B, says he saw him getting absolutely loaded on Tillarmiok for the last two weeks straight at the bar near the port with some absolutely gorgeous Chelaryanikan girls.”
“You’re just jealous.”
“Yeah, who wouldn’t be? You ever been with a Chelary?”
“I ain’t got that kinda money.”
“Yeah, we know, we work here too.”
What do you think about my stab at inventing a new system of government? Would it work, or be just as absurd as all the forms humans have tried so far? Comment below.
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